Interview: Just Jinjer

2010-01-08 16:07
Has South African music has become a different place since you first jetted off to London?
Denholm: There’s a lot more bands, a lot more succesful bands. It’s definitely grown since then. Those days, in the rock market, it just seemed to be us and Nude Girls that were making the waves. Now there’s a bunch of bands, which is good to see.

The South African public is interested now, just like in the boom in the mid 90s, and then before that in the mid 80s with eVoid and all those bands. It became cool to like South African music, and then it went through a dip. I think right now with MK and all the online presence and a lot of the youth and varsity students: they're really getting behind it. It used to be a couple of bands, fighting for a small percentage’s attention, now there’s a bigger market so there’s more bands that can fight for attention. It’s still a small market in South Africa, but it’s cool to be a part of it. There's a big buzz now, especially being a musician.

How would things be different if Just Jinjer had formed in today’s South African music industry?
Denholm: To give you an example, when we first came out, the first record and second record, the were people literally building venues to capacitate for crowds in areas where there never was a big live following.
I think we were part of creating an infrastructure for the bands to follow, the Watersheds & Prime Circles. We didn’t really have anyone to follow. There were bands like us, The Nudies, that were kind of forging a way. So now, we’ve set up a bit of an infrastructure, now we get to ride with bands that have been here for the last six years, growing and building that infrastructure, while we've been in LA. I don't know, if we were to start now, how that would work, but it seems that there's a lot more of everything. I don't know if that would make it easier or harder.

You're one man lighter since coming down from LA? How has that affected the band?
We've always been a four piece (although we went as a five-piece in London). Now we're just playing as a three-piece, and it feels like we've got this new, fuel-injected, 16 valve Opel. We definitely feel invigorated and inspired at the moment and we’re loving the band more than we ever have in the last few years. We’re really having fun on stage now, which is an important factor that was missing.

Musicians often feel the need to branch out into other projects. Do you guys play in other bands?
As you say, musicians have big personalities and big egos and need a lot of artistic space, so one band can't always cover that. The reason why twelve years later, we're still so passionate about this is because we genuinely love it. We all have sacrificed and proven how much this means to us. Brent and I have done a lot of session work in between and during Just Jinjer and it's just not as rewarding.

You can play for other people because you're proficient and technically capable, and you take the money... but I would rather play for free in Just Jinjer than get paid to play for somebody else.

Tell us about the recording of Milk and Honies.
These are actually songs that I had built up since the last record. I just demoed a lot of them. We recorded most of them in America and we actually recorded the last three in Cape Town. We're really excited, hey. It’s the first time we've recorded with just the three of us. What's good to know is we're still super capable as a trio, if not more efficient, because there's less paperwork to get through with three personalities. The three of us are pretty cool with each other. Two out of three opinions win the vote and if something hectic comes up we'll find a way to get around it. The artistic expression is a lot easier, it’s been a lot easier to create. We have nothing lacking, not for a second were we going "We need a session guitarist," or another musician. We were like: "F**k it, between us we can play what we need for the record, without a question."

And where are you coming from, lyrically?
Normally it's just a little snapshot of the moods that I'm in. There’s a song called "Mr Morgan", which is a Zimbabwean protest song, not against Mugabe or anything, but just against the inhibition of democracy, which was allowed to happen at the beginning of last year [in Zimbabwe’s general election]. So I supported Morgan Tsvangirai, simply for the fact that his name was not on the ballot at the time of voting, when there was only one name on it.

That struck a chord with me but it could have been any country, it could have been anyone. I'm not about to commit my life to the cause of Zimbabwe. there’s a lot of sad things happening over there, but there's a lot of sad things happening on the streets of Cape Town, which I am very passionate about. We’ve never been a really political band, but as I say our lyrics come from whatever I happen to be feeling at the time.

Denholm: The first record actually had quite a bit of voicing of opinion as to what was going on [in the country]. There was "Traffic Light Blues", there was "White Riot", "No God", and people seem to forget that because when the band wrote "What He Means", they were suddenly like: "Oh, you're getting political," or religious, or preachy, "this is a new step for Just Jinjer". But the original recordings had a lot of that. Maybe it wasn't as obvious in the lyrical content or the message of the song, but Ard's always written in that kind of way.

Then the band went through a period where we were chasing our own success, which a lot of bands fall victim to. Most bands actually do. You taste success with a debut record – Alanis Morissette, the list goes on – and then you try and replicate the formula. You go, "Why was that succesful?" The thing is: no one knows. If you try and replicate, it starts sounding old and tired and you don’t have that success anymore. Right now, this EP has got some opinionated music, some of it's optimistic...

Ard: Some of it's just dreamy, just flat out dreamy. Denholm's got a point. To answer your question, where am I lyrically, I'm exactly where I was in 1996, which is all I've ever done. Now because we're heard slightly more than when we started, people sit up and take notice, but these are actually the same things we’ve been talking about for a long time.

Brent: I think we’re the most creative we’ve been, and probably, will be. Purely because we've been through it all and, to say it very bluntly... we don’t give a f**k anymore. Now we do whatever we want to do, whereas in the past we went: "Oh, now we have to sell records, we have to follow a formula." Now we can actually be creative because people will listen to it and the beauty of it is that what we have to offer creatively is actually pretty damn cool, and fresh and unique. And although it’s still Just Jinjer to the core, it’s Just Jinjer like you’ve never heard before.

We can't wait to hear it. Is there anything else you'd like to say to your South African fans?
Art: Thank you for supporting us for all these years. You have afforded us the life that we have and that we consider to be an extremely privileged life. Without the yearly injection of South African love and faith we probably would have collapsed long ago. We’re truly indebted to South African audiences and we’ve never been more proud to fly the flag for the country.

Milk and Honies is available to buy now from and all leading music stores.

We chatted to Just Jinjer just before the release of their brand new EP, Milk and Honies. The band has just re-settled in South Africa, having spent years making a (substantial) name for themselves in London and the United States. This is what they had to say....
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