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A Harlot's Life
We’re loath to call them the thinking man’s Arcade Fire, but there’s no denying that grandiose Aussie rockers The Jezabels have the book smarts to back up their swooning sound.
Celina Murphy, 26 Mar 2012
“I feel like such a wanker saying this,” begins Hayley Mary, the very lovely but very pensive 24-year-old who leads self-proclaimed “intensindie” quartet The Jezabels, “but whenever I come up with names or lyrics in a song, they have so many meanings to me, the layers are quite unbelievable in my head. I sometimes just tell people a simple answer ‘cos it’s easier…”
I’ve asked about the significance of ‘Prisoner’, the title of the band’s debut album and, at the risk of opening the door to some kind of metaphysical introspection jungle, I’d like the long answer, please.
“It’s a very Australian album,” she tells me, “in that it’s partially concerned with the Australian sense of the Gothic. Imprisonment has always been a big theme in our history, but it’s also about an individual’s imprisonment within their own mind, which I think you can get from the opening line, ‘So you say you’re a prisoner…’ It’s a bit of a, ‘Shut up! Get over it!’ I don’t want to deny that there are very real things that keep people down, but I also think that the biggest imprisonment you need to break free of is the one in your head.”
Little is written about this emphatic Sydney foursome without mentioning the band’s feminist leanings, and understandably so; there’s a contentious edge to Mary’s lyrics and the word Jezabel is misspelled for a reason.
“I struggle with my strong opinions,” she admits, “because I know they can be alienating. I’m afraid to say the word feminism a lot because it’s thought of as dead or passé by a lot of people. So what I find myself doing is exploring that complex relationship that I have with my ideals in the songs.”
I see her point. I very rarely hear someone exclaim, “Oh goody! A feminist goth pop record!” Does this mean that the reeling organ that often punctuates their epic, thundering sound is an exploration of their religious beliefs?
“I’m always conscious when I’m speaking to the Irish about religion,” she sighs. “I watched Sinéad O’Connor at Electric Picnic and I heard people yelling out at her, ‘We’re ashamed of you!’ and I was like, ‘Wow’ – and I’m assuming that’s because of what she’s said about the church. I don’t think we’d say anything as specific but there’s an edge of feminism in our music and it follows that there’s an edge of criticism of the church and patriarchy… but it’s not necessarily criticising religion.”