Jinja Safari’s Savvy Seven

jinja safari

Jinja Safari burst onto the scene with such vim and vigour, permeating the consciousness of music fans across the country, that it’s difficult to believe they’ve only existed for five years, two of which they’ve been relatively inactive for (solo/other projects aside). The band began as a duo when Marcus Azon and Pepa (born Cameron) Knight recognised each other as kindred spirits at a beach party on the Central Coast of NSW, and their very first public gig was supporting a little band you may have heard of called Miami Horror. Jinja Safari’s joyful world music inspired sound caught the attention of a nation, and by the end of their very first year of #bandlife they were already triple j mainstays – and had been handpicked by the station to play at Splendour in the Grass. Joe Engstrom, Jacob Borg, and Alister Roach rounded out the band that we know and love today, and together they’ve rocked the stages of Falls Festival, Southbound, Bestival and the Big Day Out. After a two-year hiatus, Jinja Safari released brand new single Find My Way and have now announced an accompanying tour to celebrate their return. Lead vocalist and guitarist Marcus Azon spoke to us on the phone while amping up the rehearsals ahead of the tour in this week’s Savvy Seven

The best live music venues in my area are… 

I live in Hobart, and some of the local venues there are really good. It’s a really supportive local scene – everyone plays in each other’s bands. There’s a venue called The Republic which is a classic rock venue, it’s been around forever, since long before I was born and it’ll be there long after I’m gone! Then there’s a place that I’ve been going to a couple of gigs by myself called The World’s End Brewpub, I think it was the old Mayfair bar. It’s kind of fun just turning up and going to see bands that you don’t know performing, cos you kind of get stuck in your ways a little bit, you only venture out to go see people that you know or people that you’ve heard something about. But just turning up to a venue and seeing someone you know nothing about is like a lucky dip, and it can have a big payoff.

The music scene in my hometown is…

I grew up [in Hobart], but Jinja Safari is based in Sydney, and that’s where I am at the moment, I’m just coming up for rehearsals every week. But the music scene in Hobart I can talk about, cos I’ve seen the inner workings of it from the outside – I’ve never actually been a part of the Hobart scene, but I’ve seen lots of friends in bands, Seth Henderson and Chris Colman, Sam Forsyth with Dark Matter of Storytelling, all these guys… they all play in each other’s bands. There’s maybe like six groups, and they just keep playing and keep revolving. It sounds a little bit incestuous, but it’s actually kind of the most beautiful thing about that support in original music, you don’t see that in a lot of major capitals in my experience. Because I’ve had friends there and I’ve never actually played in a band in Hobart, I’ve always just been able to go and see them supporting each other. The lead singer of one band is the guitarist for another band, who is also the drummer for one of the other bands. No one’s getting paid anything, but they just really enjoy each other’s music, each other’s songwriting, and it’s not about [money] – you probably get $100 a gig and a rider to share with your mates. It’s that kind of purity in the creative process, and songwriting, and approaching a career in music. That definitely gets forgotten when you’re only thinking about triple j and major labels and being a part of a touring festival band, like what we sort of became over the past few years.

My top business tip for new artists is…

Diversify! That’s all I can say. You’re kidding yourself to think that you can just be the singer of a rock band forever. There’s a small handful of guys that can be, but as I’m getting older I’m finding that I enjoy so many other aspects of the music industry. I really love writing for other people, I love touring for other people, writing for commercials, and I find other ways to keep the money coming in so I don’t have to find another job while Jinja’s had this big break. It’s actually forced me to diversify. I did about twenty shows touring as the singer for The Aston Shuffle, and I wrote a couple of songs that are gonna be on Josh Pyke‘s next album, I wrote with him. Then a couple of other different Australian artists as well – some pop artists, some dance artists, some R’n’B stuff – and it’s as exciting to me as writing, recording, releasing and touring my own music.

In my opinion, the most important issue facing the music industry is…

Geez – I dunno. I suppose there’s always issues, and it’s just a very easy trap for young creative people to sit around and complain about the issues, come up with great ideas on how to solve it, and then do nothing about it. I’m really not that interested in that sort of a conversation, because there are so many issues – like, “How the f*ck am I going to pay my rent?” is a big one! And then there’s issues with copyright, and what sort of streaming services are going to become available, what’s the next best platform… you know? There’s much smarter people than me out there trying to figure that out and having a hard time doing it. So really, I think the most important thing is to just keep writing songs that are coming honestly to you and from your perspective of life and your experience of life, and not trying to imitate someone else’s experience.

Almost like talking about the issues too much becomes an issue in and of itself?

Exactly!

When on the road, my favourite pit stops are…

[laughs] There’s always a seedy late night joint in every city that we go to. We had a particularly – I’m going to say “wonderful”, but I really mean “seedy” – tour manager, who I’m not going to name, but we love him still, he knew a spot in every place. He’s the sort of guy who’s like your older cousin or your uncle or something that takes you to get your first tattoo. Actually, we did all get our first tattoo with him one night after a show! But he’s got these spots in every town, like there’s a bibimbap place down in the markets in Adelaide – the markets are always nice to go to there – and there’s lamb on Brunswick Street in Melbourne that we always go to. Like I say, really seedy places. It’s always just the tradition, the mecca of each city, you’ve just gotta go get the bibimbap or you’ve gotta go get the lamb, the charcoal chicken at Petersham in Sydney. But in terms of pit stops, it’s just such a funny across the board tradition for every touring band – when you’re doing that east coast drive in the early years, every time you start off saying “There’s not going to be any fast food on this tour, we’re not going to be eating McDonalds”… and every time you see the golden arches it’s like, “Oh, let’s just go and get a salad from there, or let’s get a wrap” and then you get in there and you’re like, “Yeah, but look how diverse the menu is! Let’s get some beef this time!” [laughs] I’m trying to glamourise a little bit, but really, I think if every touring band was honest with themselves and honest with you, it’s like, McDonalds!

My biggest career mistake has been…

There’s a few. I don’t know what the long-term repercussions of them are yet. Our new management that we’ve got are really fantastic, but we had a really great manager when we first started, they were like an integral part of the band. We used their amps, we used their guitar pedals, we slept on their couches, we were so close with them. And then through creative differences, and after our first album didn’t make the sales that Universal and Island Records hoped that we would make, everyone turned on each other. I definitely played a part in it, and I take responsibility for that. The way that we ended with our management was amicable for the most part, but I just think it’s very hard for bands to leave their managers and keep the same sort of momentum. I feel like we needed to, it was the right time, but I’m yet to see whether that’s going to be a mistake or not. Another mistake was before our biggest Falls gig – we’ve played some big gigs, maybe bigger than that Falls one, but this was like four o’clock in the afternoon on the main stage – we hadn’t rehearsed for a week beforehand because everyone was away, at that time of year it’s crazy, it’s family time, and we just made an absolute shambles of a couple of our songs. We tried to get them back throughout the songs, and it felt like they were coming together but they just never did – it was five boys onstage playing what felt like five different songs at the same time. That was a very long trip home from Lorne back to the airport. It was just one of those bad gigs, it was unfortunate that it happened in front of so many people. We played a set the next day at the Marion Bay Falls, which is where I’m from, and all my friends and family were there, but luckily, we pulled that one off quite well. Ten times better than the day before – so that’s the bit that history needs to remember. That I need to remember!

But it’s not healthy to keep thinking about those mistakes. It’s a much better train of thought to think about what’s coming up next, what other people can I work with, what other gigs have I got? Right now, we’re rehearsing four days in a row, so we’re pretty keen to get these new songs up and going for this tour.

My best general advice for emerging artists is…

Advice is so contextual – some advice can work for some people, but then the exact same advice may not work for someone else. You’ve just got to do your thing. There’s nothing that I can tell you about how to do it, you’ve just got to do it and just hope that you’re in the right place at the right time with the right sound, and [Richard] Kingsmill happens to like that sound at that time. One thing that I’m fairly passionate about is not talking about what you’re working on until it’s done, it’s finished, the contracts are signed or the record’s released with whoever you’re working with. It’s not productive to talk to your friends about what you’re doing, what you plan to be doing, who you plan to be going on tour with and this and that. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just talk. Talk isn’t tangible. Put your head down and get the work done.

Catch Jinja Safari (supported by Sea Legs) on their upcoming Find My Way tour, tickets available here.

Sydney – Oxford Art Factory, July 31st

Brisbane – Woolly Mammoth, August 1st

Melbourne – Howler, August 7th

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