Noise Annoys: Stevie Lennox quizzed about Junk Drawer's debut LP, Ready For The House
Belfast's premier psych and krautrock informed slacker rockers Junk Drawer release their debut album Ready For The House in a couple of weeks. We quizzed guitarist/singer Stevie Lennox about its creation
CONGRATULATIONS on a fine debut LP. Are you still excited to be putting it out or has the ongoing lockdown situation taken the shine off things?
I honestly think it's been quite useful in the sense there's a lot more time to bother people like yourself to give it some coverage and hopefully people are getting more music listened to in this time off. On the other hand, playing live is our lifeblood and the loss of the run of live shows we'd spent ages planning and were really excited for is a huge bummer.
There's a huge amount of great music coming out over the next while, so we are but droplets in a vast ocean. But if a few people out there get something out of it, that's all we can hope for. We promise to get back out and celebrate the release as soon as it's safe.
The album captures a definite progression from the sound of the band circa 2016's For The Cult Fat Guy EP – has that been an organic shift?
I guess every band discusses what they want to sound like, and there were definitely things and challenges we set ourselves – incorporate electronics, expand on textures, experiment with song structure – but we're also quite an intuitive band first and foremost. I don't think we'll be fully shot of our love of indie rock that we went harder on early on, it being such an important part of the shared band DNA.
You never really know a song until you've road-tested it, and touring has melded us into a single unit much more than any conversation ever could. Our musical taste has gotten further into the world of psychedelia, krautrock and the experimental, and being in this band together means absolute freedom to explore what we want, regardless – it's not like the stakes are high – so we collectively got further into the influences you can hear on there and ultimately, I guess, became more capable of articulating those sounds and ideas we wanted to express.
The new single is Temporary Day. What were you going for there, musically?
Well, we're all big fans of finding that sweet spot between blissful psychedelia amidst a certain amount of discord, but I had just picked up an old 70s Yamaha synth, and Jake was exploring some work he'd done on the synths. Brian's improvised anti-solo on there is probably my favourite piece of guitar playing on the entire album. Without that moment of absolute expulsion, the song wouldn't be what it is.
How does the songwriting within the band work?
It's actually surprising how much we generally agree on songwriting. There's never been one big disagreement over where something's heading. If there's any issue, it's probably that tendency – that I'm sure any musicians reading now will recognise – to just beat yourself up over your lack of creativity. One person being down on something can easily snowball, so it's trying to put that aside.
We lean into trusting chance. For example, the main lick for Year of The Sofa was spontaneously written on Jonny from Wynona Bleach's Jaguar [that's a nice guitar, not a big cat or fancy motor] in his tuning after I broke a string in our shared practice space, and the rest of the song came soon after. [EP banger] Do You Ever Think About Existence, Adrian? was a spontaneous Coney bass riff, and the basis of the song was more or less formed within 15 minutes.
Rory is one of the most talented and natural all-round musicians I've ever met. Jake (very helpfully) tends to come with a traditional pop songwriting approach and is great at bringing in his own more fully formed ideas to the table, but it's a heavily collaborative process, with each of us learning and borrowing from one another.
There's no way this band could function as it does without this combination of people. Some ideas take months, though, and we're probably guilty of overthinking it lately – hopefully the break will excite things and encourage that 'leave things to chance' mentality that's served us well.
Sometimes we'll explore an idea, have a chat, go again, try to keep our morale high: great ideas can be destroyed by a single bad vibe. Everyone needs to be into it, though – that's the key.
Where and with whom did you record the album?
We recorded most of it live at the brilliant Start Together Studio, Belfast, with Chris Ryan (Robocobra Quartet) over two main sessions spread many months apart, with further vocal takes and overdubs in rehearsal spaces and his house to keep things econo, casual and efficient. It was initially to be an EP, before he encouraged us to round it up to 40 minutes. Best thing we ever did.
Chris gets what we're after as well as we could hope for from an engineer. He'll challenge us on things that either aren't necessary and offers us a way of seeing things in a different light, and normally we'll arrive at the same conclusion. We need someone who knows us well enough to keep our spirits up (we're each our own worst enemies) and get the dynamic and, most importantly, knows how to straddle that line between tight performance and good art.
We're never going to sacrifice capturing a unique energy for clinical perfection – leave that to Steely Dan.
Favourite lyric on the record?
A) Stevie's best lyric, by Jake: "Allow the many thoughts undulate into themselves, you into twists and turns, the likes of which you’d only read in a Richard Madeley novel". I love this line and this whole song because it's very performative, as if Stevie's playing a character with this absolute certainty in the meaning of life. The lyrics say a lot, but funny and powerful go hand-in-hand regularly. Think Woody Allen before he married Soon-Yi.
B) Jake's best, by Stevie: I'll go for "I've seen people at monuments still looking for something to see" from Ego Death. I think that sums up the mood of the album – Jake also picked this as his favourite. It plays on people's ability to poke holes in perfection and inability to achieve fulfilment despite having met all the goals they'd ever imagined.
How did you hook up with Art For Blind in Sligo to put out the album?
We were already big fans of what Art For Blind were doing for Irish independent music. Dany and Edel who run the label are wonderful people, heavily involved with the film and arts community in Sligo too, and were busy with their own stuff. They said recently that the label almost called it quits, but have decided to keep it going after hearing our LP, which is incredibly flattering (and hard to believe, haha!). They placed trust in us to get our end of things done, while they had access to those resources, and it's been a lovely ongoing dialogue.
What were/are your plans for the album launch?
We were going to play the album in its entirety at The Black Box, as well as a cheeky cover or two. We had a bit of stage design in mind too with some projections, and the chance to play with some of our favourite bands around Ireland – but we're happy to wait until it's safe. It's gutting, but we'll have another chance once we're shot of The Event.
:: Ready For The House is released on April 24, pre-order now via Junkdrawerbelfast.bandcamp.com