“No, definitely do not tell him about the tattoo,” my friend advises over Facebook Messenger minutes before I’m due to interview Carl Barât and The Jackals. A self-confessed Libertines fangirl, the tattoo in question is the famous “libertine” one adorning Carl Barât and Pete Doherty’s arms on their 2004 album cover. Thinking it would be a funny ice-breaker, I decide against telling Carl that I have his handwriting permanently etched onto my arm and focus on the fact that I’m about to talk to my second favourite Barât fronted band. Soz, DPT.
Formed in early 2014 when Barât put out a call via social media – and after sifting through more than a thousand applicants – The Jackals was formed with Billy Tessio, Jay Bone and Adam Claxton. Putting out their debut LP – Let It Reign – in 2015, the band released a follow up EP – “Harder They Fall” – earlier this year. Heavier and heartier than their debut record, “Harder They Fall” is the band at their best.
Catching up with the guys not long after a triumphant Glastonbury debut, it’s time to welcome in the reign of The Jackals.
Firstly, how was Glasto?
Adam: It was my first time ever playing and it was just such a phenomenal experience over all. Not the first time I’ve been there but certainly my first experience of playing there. It was fucking awesome.
So Carl, it’s been three years since you put an ad on Facebook for a band. What was the idea with doing auditions as opposed to seeking pals?
Carl: My pals come with their own egos and their own standing in the hierarchy, whereas with people I don’t know I still get to be the boss; that was my initial thinking. Then I can sort of mould them into what I wanted my vision to be. It’s a bit harder when you’ve got friends who are like “I like your vision, but that’s not quite my vision.”
What made you guys want to audition?
A: I think for me musically, I just wasn’t getting the satisfaction that I wanted out of music. It was actually my girlfriend who asked if I’d seen Carl’s post on Twitter. I was like “No, what’s that?” and she was like “Oh, he’s auditioning for a band!” So I just thought that I’d give it a go and here we are nearly four years later.
Billy: I moved to London to do music, I’m from Portsmouth originally, so I moved about six years ago with my then girlfriend. We were both musicians and we were both just trying to make it as musicians. That old chestnut, really. I was floating from band to band trying to find the right people and my friend told me Carl was looking for a guitarist and it made a lot of sense. I play the guitar, badly, so I just sent him an email. I was always a fan, to be honest, of what he’s done in the past, Libs and Dirty Pretty Things. I thought why not?
Jay: Yeah, I’m a massive Libertines fan too. I got really into them at school and then my friend showed me that Carl was looking so I thought I’d give it a go!
How did you make the choice?
C: Well, I didn’t really tell people but it’s more about personality than it is about how they play. Not to say the people that I picked aren’t very good. It’s about balance and who you’re gonna spend time with and work things out creatively. Because I wanted the band to be more than just a bunch of sessions, I wanted it to be a real band, thinking and creating, which is what we got. But then of course naturally the final auditions were held in the pub, in a drinking pub as opposed to a playing pub. I wanted to do a meeting of minds really and the rest would follow and it worked out really well.
It’s been two years since Let It Reign came out, and obviously, Carl, between that you were busy with The Libertines. What were The Jackals doing in those years?
C: Sort of mixing around probably. No, they’ve been writing steadily and meeting up and playing in their own right, whereas I’ve been busy. But they knew that that was always going to be the case when they signed up. But I think that they’ve gotten stronger and developed their chemistry together. They must’ve been very eager to get out their traps and start playing so now that we’ve started doing that they’re really buzzing and they’re really on it. Yeah, I think it’s gone from strength to strength and everyone’s happier than they ever have been in the band.
A: We were constantly getting together and writing material. We ended up with a good backlog of 30-40 tracks, not all finished. Jay, myself and Billy, we’ve all got our own influences from different genres and different bands. It was a great time to bond by sharing music, sharing films and when we started to write together, we started to merge all these influences so there’d be some tunes that were quite melodic, almost acoustic kind of vibe, then there’d be your Black Rebel Motorcycle Club/Strokes-y kind of stuff too. It’s quite cool. Then we started to hit the nail on the head and we found our own sound. I think it was after playing and touring Let It Reign. I think the actual album is a lot calmer than how we play it live. I think we took that more energetic heavier live vibe and tried to bring that into the songs that we were putting together.
B: Yeah, absolutely, we’re always writing together. We get together and rehearse, we even wrote in that time as well. But yeah, we’re together a lot of the time. We’re always writing and exchanging ideas – it’s very healthy in that kind of respect.
J: We had so many good songs I remember hoping for the ones I really liked to be put onto the new record. I was really pissed off when some didn’t make it! But we can always save them for the album…
Do you think that your growing friendship had an impact on writing “Harder They Fall”?
B: Yeah definitely. It’s taken a while. I’m quite a timid and bashful bloke as it is anyway so when we first got together, I was very shy and didn’t really know what to expect with the boys. But in the years that we’ve been together and in each other’s company and pissing each other off ’til the fucking cows come home, I think it’s brought us closer together, at the risk of sounding like a corny old bastard. It could’ve gone both ways, it could’ve gone tits up, but fortunately they’re a nice bunch of lads so it went accordingly, luckily. But bands that we all love have gotten together that way, it’s very organic. It’s just the means of how we’d done so. It would’ve been in a magazine 20 years ago but Carl decided to do it over the internet. The Sex Pistols – they didn’t know each other. Johnny Rotten didn’t know anyone. He auditioned in a pub in front of them singing “I’m Eighteen” by Alice Cooper and they were all just sizing him up and didn’t know who he was and it kind of worked for them so…
The second EP came out earlier this year. Can you tell me a bit about it?
C: I always like to work to some sort of vague pattern with these things, like a timeline or an inspiration, and then this one it’s kind of, because it’s all the Jackals as well, it kind of starts with a past that we all had in common which is a small town wasters, drugs and parks and guitars kind of thing. Just talking about that kind of time in the 90s, that’s kind of the inspiration. And of course the history of mental illness, I don’t know if it’s either a product of that or the reason for it. But it’s something that everyone in the band feels very close to and has their own story or understanding about, so we started there.
A: All of us were involved in every part of every song, from down to me suggesting a guitar part to someone else suggesting a bass part. We all sat down and wrote the lyrics together. Especially for “Burning Cars”, we all took influences from our home lives and the way we grew up and the way we all hung out with our friends and what compiled all of our little stories into this one story that sort of meant everything to all of us.
How does it compare to Let It Reign?
B: Well we were only on two of the tracks. I say two – maybe like 40% of that record we’re recording on. It’s more Carl’s record in that respect. That’s the major difference. This is purely Jackals, it’s just all of us, every one. I think it’s got a bit more of a heavier… it’s a lot heavier than the first record. There’s only four tracks so it’s difficult to say whereas the first record was a full length LP. As I mentioned before, we’ve become a lot closer since the first record. The chemistry has definitely progressed and we’ve become a lot tighter and stronger as songwriters since then as well as developed as musicians. So it’s a lot more heavy, the songwriting a lot tighter. It’s just a bit more gnarly I suppose.
C: Yeah, I kind of wrote Let It Reign on my own because I’d only met the boys when we started it really, whereas this one everyone’s been involved in bringing in sections. It feels like everyone is pulling in the same direction. What a hell of a cliche! “Everyone’s on the same page”, that’s another one. Yeah, but everyone’s got ownership of it and everyone is seen equally. It’s like having four parents.
Do you have a favourite song to play live?
A: It’s still quite fresh playing them, we’re still gaining a buzz from people singing them back to us. The first record, people in the crowd know every word which is great and they’re very close to nailing all the new stuff already.
J: Yeah, I remember when we played Camden Rocks and it was mad. People can choose what gigs to go to so the act before you finishes and everyone clears out, but we came on stage and Dingwalls was packed. Everyone knew the words.
B: People go absolutely mental for “Doctor Doctor”. I think we get mosh pits for it, so, you know, “rock on”. Oh my god, I can’t believe I just said that…
Carl, do you ever find it difficult to balance your time between the two bands?
C: Not really, I just stick it in the diary and come what may really. The chemistry of each band is so distinct. When I’m in a room with The Libertines I’m probably quite a different person to who I am when I’m in a room with The Jackals just because of who we bring out in each other. I think that’s reflected in the music. A band is always about the sum of its parts and that was the special thing I was looking for when I formed The Jackals – for it to have its own chemistry and its own magic. I’ve always been a bit schizophrenic. Metaphorically anyway.
So what’s up next for The Jackals?
C: I think the good thing with just doing EPs is we get to do a little bit of writing, a little bit of touring, a little bit of recording and then back in and do it all over again, which is nice. When I get my big studio, which is another project, it’s gonna be a revolving door. We’ll just make loads of stuff there, it’ll be great…