INTERVIEW: Desperate Journalist on their new album, Maximum Sorrow!
Since releasing their brutal post-punk concoction of hefty basslines and haunting melodies in the form of Fault a few months ago, we've been keeping a close eye on London alt-rock quartet Desperate Journalist. After a cascade of singles teasing us on what album number four has to offer, their new record, Maximum Sorrow!, is finally out!
Boldly opening with a slow piano ballad that would bookend any other album, Formaldehyde kicks off the record by proving that the band aren't here to play by the rules. Singles like Fault and thumping, sarcasm-dripping Personality Girlfriend bring the album to life with the band's punchy alt-goth soundwaves crashing into your eardrums and drowning you in indie-noir goodness.
Maximum Sorrow! is a richly textured record that sees Desperate Journalist effortlessly present earnest vocals and soaring choruses (Armageddon, Everything You Wanted), spiky punk basslines and fuzzy riffs (Fine In The Family, Poison Pen), and 90s grunge that thrives in its own melancholy and angst (Utopia, What You're Scared Of). Merging nostalgic goth noir, grunge, and synth sounds with fresh post-punk and indie-rock grooves prove that, four albums in, Desperate Journalist are still so delightfully enticing as they continue conjuring timeless soundscapes that are wholly their own.
As if the new album wasn't enough, Jo Bevan (vocals) and Simon Drowner (bass) from the band treated us to a little sit-down where we got to talk all things Maximum Sorrow!
Hi Desperate Journalist, thanks for chatting with the Coven! How have you all been lately?
Simon: Good thanks. The build up to releasing an album is always equally exciting and stressful, even more so with the Covid situation. But I've recently had my second jab and no side-effects, so that's nice!
Jo: In general, OK thanks, apart from the standard pandemic boredom/anxiety. I'm also now double vaccinated thankfully which is helping a bit with the latter. And as above, equal parts excited and nervous to be releasing this album. I'm incredibly proud of it, but it's always a faintly terrifying experience offering up something you care about so much to the world.
What would you say are the differences between Maximum Sorrow! and your previous albums?
Simon: An obvious difference is that we recorded it somewhere new. Up until now literally everything had been done at Dean Street Studios in Soho. This time we did it at Crouch End Studios. The band in-joke is that there are 'no guitars' on this record, because Rob showed a bit more restraint in how many layers he put down, especially compared to our last album.
Jo: As Simon says, the recording situation was quite different. Rollo Smallcombe who engineered was really helpful in getting us to experiment with a few different sounds - in particular percussion and synths - and also holding us to our desire to be more restrained and considered in how we layered everything. As a result it's a very clear, rich sounding record. Lyrically, I started off writing about London and recollections of various places and experiences I've had of moving/living/working here, but then it broadened to being a collection of general desires, rants, anxieties and memories. It's all quite introspective, in contrast to our previous album which was a bit more figurative and which was deliberately trying to convey a particular overall aesthetic. This is more multifaceted.
You chose Fault as the debut single for the album and it immediately grabbed our attention! What made you go for that track as the first taster of the album?
Simon: With the exception of maybe 1 other song from the album, Fault sounded the most different to the singles we had released before, so we hoped it would grab people's attention, and show that we're not just repeating old formulas.
Jo: It's nice to come back with a bang innit. It's also a good introduction to the expanded sounds and textures of the album as a whole.
Personality Girlfriend seems to be an anthem for the anti-Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. What was the writing process behind that track?
Jo: I was just really sick of the whole "great personality" thing, and how it devalues people and puts them into boxes. It's so pervasive that it really gets under your skin - or at least it did for me. I wanted to write a lyric going "look, I'm a bit weird and insecure and I have various unsexy idiosyncrasies, but I know myself and I refuse to be submissive or ashamed about it because that's just what being a real human person is, so fuck you!"
The album title comes from the Kevin Bewersdorf art project of the same name - what are some other inspirations behind this album and how have you tried to incorporate them into your lyrics/sound?
Jo: There are a lot of musical and lyrical nods to specific visual artists/bands/films/books/songs but they are probably too numerous to list here, and besides I think it's more fun if they're left to be discovered by the listener...! I will say though that the main thing I had in mind overall for the album was that it should have the effect of something like Parklife or Post or Soul Mining, not in tone or content necessarily but more in the way that each song - as a whole piece of music and not just lyrically - evokes a distinct set of images and atmospheres, kind of like switching scenes in a film. It's supposed to be kaleidoscopic in the way those albums are but still recognisably us.
With the album title, it's a really interesting concept behind the Kevin Bewersdorf artwork with lots of different layers of irony and melancholy and spirituality, and it fit with how meta-by-default the lyrics are, being as I am an online millennial and all. Aside from that it's also just a great combination of words, and slightly "knowing" in the same way as Desperate Journalist is as a band name.
Finally, with a restriction of live music over the past year, it must feel good to have some shows planned now! What songs are you most looking forward to playing live?
Simon: It did feel good but we've just had a festival cancelled and our Rough Trade East album launch postponed! (now July 28th) After the past 18 months, I'll be happy to be on stage playing any of our songs to be honest!
Jo: We are really looking forward to playing but also not taking anything for granted after the last batshit year and a half the world has experienced. If I have to choose one song however I think it'll be particularly satisfying to do a ridiculously epic live version of Everything You Wanted, whenever we can get to that point!
Thanks so much for your time and for talking with us!
S + J: Thanks!
Review and interview by Chloe Robbins
Photography by Nick JS Thompson