‘Yaaaah! Eeeyaaah!’ shrieks Kav Temperley suddenly over the edge of his back porch, breaking the peace of a warm morning in Fremantle. He was demonstrating how the chorus of ‘Losing Friends Over Love,’ one of his band Eskimo Joe’s new songs, developed from his impersonation of a soul choir. ‘I brought out this fantastic bottle of tequila from America. I’d just had a shot, and did my best black woman’s choir impression. That vocal, from one of those takes, is the actual vocal used.’
Even before its release, the band’s new album, Inshalla, from which the song is taken, was generating buzz for its bold new style. Lead single ‘Foreign Land,’ featuring a sample lifted from a traditional Turkish folk song, had been discussed as a particular departure for the band. Kav thinks otherwise, though. ‘That song, more than any other song on the record, sounds like Eskimo Joe as we have already been. It just sounds like a bigger, rockier version of Eskimo Joe.’
Kav points out the songs that feel most different to him are those that ‘lend themselves to being real pop songs.’ Songs such as the aforementioned ‘Losing Friends Over Love’ and ‘The Sound Of Your Heart’ may come as a pleasant surprise to fans of the band. The real difference on Inshalla, though, which may not be immediately obvious to listeners, was in the song-writing and demo process.
‘Our first three records felt like a bit of a trilogy, in the way we put them together,’ Kav elaborates. ‘We’d sort of use certain chords and go “This chord is for the chorus, this one’s for the bridge…” and so on. When we started doing that on this record, it was just really boring. We did kind of go through that process [for Inshalla], and then we’d mute the piano and guitar – what we’ve traditionally based our songs on – and we’d start from the rhythm track onwards. We’d do drum loops or some bass. It has made it a groovy kind of thing. It sounds cool and different.’
Eskimo Joe enjoyed the freedom of self-producing their last album, Black Fingernails, Red Wine, but for the complex sounds of Inshalla have brought in a producer to ‘throw a spanner in the works and learn some new tricks.’ The band approached Gil Norton, since they were fans of albums he had produced for the Pixies and Foo Fighters, though his work with engineering sounds for more exotic arrangements with Gomez seems more identifiable on Inshalla. Kav says that Norton was particularly influential in that early development of the songs.
‘Each producer seems to come with their own slant on producing. It’s always a different kind of flavour each time. Gil came on in pre-production, and worked a lot on the rhythm section – on the drums, and the bass, and the dynamics of the songs. You can hear that. He was partially responsible for that quiet/loud dynamic that the Pixies were famous for inventing. He really brought in amazing dynamics and a really interesting way to start the production of a record, which was to sit down and look at the actual dynamics of it. You can hear that on this record. Black Fingernails, Red Wine almost sounds like a band on cruise-control – everything just kind of cruises through. This record has a bit more light and shade to it.’
With the new album completed and released, the band are able to think about touring, and have already booked national tour dates, with regional and festival shows set to follow. Both before and after their appearance at the Sydney leg of the Sound Relief charity concert, Eskimo Joe were touring overseas and especially in Europe, prior to devoting themselves to the Australian release of the new album.
Before travelling overseas, Kav was concerned that their international audiences might be made up primarily of Australian tourists and ex-pats. ‘Obviously we’re happy to play to anybody who wants to see us play,’ Kav says. ‘But if you’re making the effort to go over there you want to spread your wings a little bit. We were really lucky that it was filled with locals. Because the shows are much smaller – two or three hundred capacity shows – we could go out into the audience and sign merch and talk to the people and find out how they got into the band. That was really cool, because we haven’t been able to do that in a while.’
Germany and the United Kingdom, in particular, stood out during the international tour. ‘Germany was fantastic!’ Kav exclaims. ‘Everywhere we went we just played to Germans, which is always nice. People actually wanted to put some energy behind it. Then we finally made the effort to go to the UK and do some touring there and they were awesome! All the shows were sold out!’
With four successful albums under their belt, Eskimo Joe should expect no problems filling large venues when they start their Australian tour. But when asked whether early, pre-album hits – like ‘Sweater’ and ‘Turn Up Your Stereo’ – ever make an appearance on live set lists, Kav shudders.
‘Last time we played those was before they died a very slow death in 1999 or 2000…’ he seems to be thinking aloud. ‘It was in Adelaide – all songs seem to go to Adelaide to die, unfortunately for Adelaide. I guess Eskimo Joe have had like Mark 1 Eskimo Joe – which was the EPs – then from Girl onwards was almost like a new band, like Eskimo Joe Mark 2. The funny thing is, when we did Black Fingernails, Red Wine it was really hard to play songs from Girl and even songs from A Song Is A City sounded really weird within the set. The cool thing about the new album is that it feels like it’s kind of balanced it out a bit. We’re actually talking about going out and playing a lot more of the songs from Girl and A Song Is A City when we go out and play live now. It’s almost put a counter-balance in, so it all kind of sits in a good area with each other now.’
From Buzz Magazine, June 2009.