Jagd, the Amsterdam-based band behind “All work/all play”, are usually a little less forthright. Their music has been described as a “hell of heavenly noise”, and their stylistic influences sit at the intersection of the surreal and the macabre. On the surface, “All work/all play” (the lowercase letters are intentional: it comes from their upcoming album, Talking to yourself to others) is more straightforward and accessible, a piece of punchy, crunchy alt-rock candy in the vein of Pixies and The Breeders. But those bands were no strangers to surrealism themselves (the former even wrote a whole song based on Un chien andalou), and even with a more grounded sound Jagd’s wild spirit shines through.
“All work/all play”’s sound is crisp and satisfying, with hooky guitars and drums that hit with a satisfying, Albini-esque thump. Meanwhile, the frontwoman’s vocals have an appealing sugared-sandpaper rasp to them, not far off from a more girlish Kim Deal. Even if the lyrics aren’t exactly straightforward (even the title has an oxymoronic twist on a common phrase), her delivery makes it sound not only sensible but thrillingly catchy. “We are a joke/A joke that will never get old,” she sings, and for a moment it sounds possible.
What was going through your mind when you were writing “All work/all play”? What was the impetus?
I mostly write about things that frustrate me, but I can’t seem to understand or communicate in a more “normal” sense. All work/all play is the third single of our upcoming debut album Talking to yourself to others and that title reveals a lot about my writing. I still don’t completely get why I’m able to put myself out there with Jagd, oversharing in a way, but can’t really seem to communicate about that stuff with people that I love or even confront myself beyond the safe confines of creativity.
I have been frustrated with that disconnect on a broader scale, because I don’t think it’s just me. There’s this culture of avoidance for which the sensory overload of modern society is partly to blame. It’s so easy to distract oneself from internal stuff and even necessary in a way: if you want to function well within Western society you need to work, a lot, status derives from success and money, there’s entertainment everywhere and you can’t avoid the internet. We’re all just coping, not facing ourselves.
The influence of 90s alt-rock is obvious, but it doesn’t feel derivative. How do you strike that balance of tapping into that sound without rote copying?
First of all, thanks for the compliment. I believe all music, like everything else, is rooted in its history and that’s important to acknowledge at the very least. It’s impossible to make something completely original, but the challenge lies in taking traditions and making them your own. Our writing process is as democratic as possible and most of our songs stem from jams. This song began as the four of us just jamming, having fun, obviously influenced by the music we love and listen to ourselves, but also playing around with themes and sounds etc. It’s an organic process at first but becomes more well-thought out in later stages of making demo’s, pre-production and recording. We evaluate a lot. The “ohoohoo hoohoo” for instance, was added exactly because of the 90’s vibe of the song: it’s our way of acknowledging the influence, directly referencing it, but in a distorted manner, that adds to the irony of the song.
I must also point out that our producer, Jurriaan Sielcken, made everything sound a bit more up to date and fresh. He was able to capture the intensity of our live shows, while preserving the crisper sounds and fresh feel we were going for.
Your music and aesthetic has been described in such heady terms as “David Lynch meets Alice in Wonderland”, and others describe a “hell of heavenly noise”. But this song is more restrained and accessible. Is that an intentional choice on your part?
Granted, this is probably the most accessible song on the album. When writing we don’t take that into account – it’s not like we “needed” a song like this on the album. We’re not in this for anything other than ourselves: we control what we make. Truth is, the album might be more accessible than our previous work. That’s not a commercial thing or anything, we’ve just matured and gotten better at songwriting, I think. We’re not trained musicians so songwriting is something we’ve had to grow into. In my case, I started to use my voice differently, more dynamic, mainly because I evolved as a person and got more confident about my writing. I now feel like I can convey the same intensity without having to scream all the time. There are many ways to tell a story without having to compromise on impact.
What’s the music scene in Amsterdam like?
I actually don’t know too much about this to be honest, I don’t go out that much. We never went there, but from an outsider-perspective most of the music scene seems to revolve around the Pop Academy at the Conservatory. Besides the obvious Paradiso and Melkweg, smaller venues like Cinetol are quite popular, and there is this bar called “de Koe” that is frequented by a lot of musicians. There’s also a few competitions for upcoming Amsterdam bands, the main one being the Amsterdam Pop Prize. Winning that in 2016 started the professionalization of Jagd.
Has the pandemic interrupted your plans?
Big time. We’re releasing our debut album this year and we’ve been working towards that for almost six years. Now tour’s cancelled and we’re dependent on the internet for promotion and for connecting with our audience. Live shows have always been our strong suit and the main source of motivation and income. We had to adapt and are now mainly focused on writing new material and ensuring our existence.
What are your hopes for the future?
A big break would be nice, haha. More relevant right now though is staying healthy as a band. We’ve always been very on top of everything but with COVID-19 there’s only so much we can do. If all goes well, we’ll release our debut album, Talking to yourself to others, on November 6th in Paradiso. Hopefully the album will gain some traction, with or without touring, and the music and event industry won’t collapse. We had some big things planned for next year, so fingers crossed