“Never been a detainee of fate/ I ask why restrain your mind in chains?” So begin the lyrics to “This New Technology,” a drama-fueled, cataclysmic anthem off the Midnight Juggernauts’ The Crystal Axis LP, which hits shelves on December 14. (By Jove, that’s tomorrow!) With their sophomore effort, Vincent Vendetta (keyboardist/vocalist), Andy Szekeres (bassist/vocalist), and Daniel Stricker (drummer) continue to deliver ascendant tracks chock-full of the kind of grandiose gestures that only the foolish attempt, and only the wildly talented pull off—if you ask us, these Aussies clearly belong in the latter category.
The trio sat down with Anthem backstage before going onto dwarf the Bowery Ballroom with their herculean performance last month.
Did you guys end up doing anything for Thanksgiving?
Vincent Vendetta: We actually went to a friend’s house for a fancy dinner.
Andy Szekeres: It was more like lunch/dinner.
VV: Yeah, we ate in the afternoon. I hadn’t eaten anything since then until about 10 minutes ago. I think we had enough food for like 45 people and it was just the 7 or 8 of us there. It was my first Thanksgiving and the guy who hosted the dinner/lunch/whatever first sat us down in front of the TV. He showed us the history of Thanksgiving and prepared us for all the food that we were about to dive into. So we learned a lot that day—and ate a lot.
Daniel Stricker: I had a great day yesterday. The whole day was so relaxed. You wake up really late, eat heaps of food, and drink with friends afterwards.
VV: You’re forgetting the 4-hour session of us just lying around.
DS: Yeah, we watched like every episode of The Walking Dead.
Do you guys get extra homesick when you’re on tour during the holidays?
VV: Well, we’re brothers now, so we’re family. But it’s strange not having a connection to a lot of people back home who don’t know where we are or what we’re doing.
DS: Thanksgiving was good fun, but it’s not something that we normally celebrate. It’s not like Christmas.
VV: We’re usually at home during Christmas. If we do play, it’s normally in Australia and we tend to be home. But a lot of birthdays are spent on planes flying between countries.
AS: That can actually be a very weird feeling when you realize that you’re away from home and you’re on a plane during your birthday.
DS: I remember two years in a row I was on a plane on my birthday going somewhere overseas. I missed the day because of the time change and it’s like your birthday never existed. [Laughs]
It feels like you guys have been touring The Crystal Axis for forever because the last time we all sat down together was in Los Angeles over a year ago talking about the same album. Which leads me to ask, how do you keep the shows feeling fresh so you don’t grow bored of playing the same songs over and over, night after night?
VV: Well, when we last spoke, I think we were still finishing the album. Even now, we’re writing the next record and I guess we’re nearing the end of the cycle of The Crystal Axis. But it’s definitely strange when you live with songs for so long. When you’re doing these promotional tours, you definitely have to find a point where you move onto the next record. It’s a big world out there and there are new territories to explore. You come to realize how big the world is when you go to places like Columbia and Ukraine. And we returned to Mexico last week, which was amazing. I think next year we’ll be prepared for the next record, which we’ll promote with a world tour for another two years or something. This has been a good tour, though.
In terms of sightseeing and all that, do you normally make a checklist of things to do beforehand or do you find things on the fly?
DS: It really depends; it’s a little bit of both. Sometimes, there are things you want to do. We just played in Columbia where we had a couple of days off and there were definitely things that I wanted to do there. At the same time, the guy who was looking after us took us two-and-a-half hours south of Bogota to this town with beautiful, old cobblestone streets surrounded by mountains and fields of mushrooms. It was just an amazing place.
VV: When we’re touring locations outside of places like London and New York where we’ve played many times, we’ll try to get time off and experience these stranger parts of the world. We do try to make it fun, but this tour has been a lot of work.
DS: We’ve done so much in such a short amount of time with this tour. We’ve pretty much spent every single day in a new city.
In terms of writing—dare I say it—the next record while touring, what do you find is the most opportune time and place in which to do that?
VV: Personally, a really good time and place is on a bus. It’s this little capsule with nothing to distract you from the world and you don’t know what country you’re in or what time it is. You could be in there for 4 to 8 hours at a time. When you’re in a scenario like that, you have no television or a girlfriend asking you if you want to go for a walk or something, you know? [Laughs] I won’t go down that road right now… I personally find myself more productive with writing and other creative stuff when we’re touring because there are less distractions.
What was the concept behind your latest single, “Lara Vs. The Savage Pack”?
AS: That was an idea you started with, Vin.
VV: It initially stemmed from looking at a girl’s blog. I remember looking at this girl’s blog and she had all these negative comments on there and it made me think about how easy it is for anonymous forums to tear people down in cyberspace. It built from there and then went in some other direction. I don’t know if it’s about that anymore. It could be something totally different.
DS: A lot of the tracks on this record started out as ideas more so than the previous one. We’d all get together in a room to discuss the ideas and then work on them individually with our computers, and electronics and stuff. But with that song in particular, it had this 60s/70s kraut thing when we demoed it, and then we pushed it into a more 90s soul/rock kind of thing. I don’t know… It’s somewhere in the middle of a bunch of those kinds of genres.
VV: A lot of these songs came out of our jamming sessions and input from our producer. We’re trying to remember what we said in our last interview. [Laughs]
AS: I think it’s a dance track, but not in a typical way with the 4:4 beat, you know what I mean? There’s a looped break beat, which is more indicative of what they were doing in the 90s and stuff like that.
What normally comes first, the lyrics or the melodies?
VV: It’s always totally different. Sometimes, I don’t even know where the lyrics come from. I often find myself asking, “Where did those words appear from?” It’s a strange process.
I thought that “Lara Vs. The Savage Pack” had something to do with Tomb Raider at first because I remember you, Daniel, talking about your Nintendo DS a whole lot the last time we talked. Aren’t you guys into video games?
VV: [Laughs] We are, we are. It’s always interesting to see how people interpret the lyrics. There are quite a few people named Lara in the world, so there are a lot of people who ask things like, “Is this song about Brian Lara Cricket or Lara Bingle, the Australian B-grade model?”
AS: When you put a name on something quite specific—a title, especially—people will always make associations.
DS: They’ll come up with their own conclusions. We were probably more sonically inspired by video games. I used to play this game called Final Fantasy when I was a kid.
Final Fantasy has incredible music. When I was little, I recorded all the songs on my Talkboy and just carried it around everywhere.
DS: [Laughs] Yeah, the music in that game is amazing. I was listening to the soundtrack on YouTube the other day. It actually reminds me of prog bands like Yes and their albums, Tales from Topographic Oceans and Relayer. Those records by Yes are very similar to these Japanese video games and Studio Ghibli films. I’ve always liked that kind of fantastical element and the music that accompanies it whether it’s prog bands or Final Fantasy. I think it influenced us in some capacity.
What other things are you currently inspired by?
VV: It’s interesting that we spent Thanksgiving watching “The Walking Dead” even though it’s not really an inspiration. It’s one of those kinds of shows or films where there isn’t a great deal of plot, but it’s all about the eerie atmosphere, and that’s something I definitely carry with me when I’m writing music. I definitely like those kinds of eerie moods that you can get lost in.
What should we expect from you guys with the follow-up to The Crystal Axis?
VV: I think we want every album to have a distinct personality. The music is always evolving and going in different directions. We’ll always challenge ourselves and our fans—and our followers on Twitter. [Laughs] That makes it more fun for us. It’s interesting when you look at long-term artists who have particular eras in their careers. Maybe the Midnight Juggernauts will have the Berlin era or the Columbian era or something where it feels like each new album has a different personality and character. There will always be a thread that runs through all of our releases, but it’s more interesting if it feels like there’s a definite sense of progression. We want to continue to explore new territories within our music.
DS: We’re finishing up the US tour next week and then we play Singapore. After that, I’m heading to Vietnam and traveling up north. I’m basically trying to find—if anyone out there knows—gospel samples.
VV: Contact Daniel!
DS: Contact me if you have gospel libraries.
I remember you guys talking about incorporating field recordings into The Crystal Axis.
DS: Yeah, we used a bunch of 70s field recordings. With “Vital Signs,” for example, it’s full of samples from Cambodian music and stuff like that in the breakdown.
Since this is our third sit-down together, I wanted to change it up a bit and bring some guest questions into the fold. The first one comes from the winner of our recent ticket giveaway for your show at Lunario in Mexico City. Luis Ploennig asks, “If you were to come back and play in Mexico City with another band of your choosing, who would it be?”
DS: Santana, circa 1969.
VV: Make sure you specify “circa 1969.” [Laughs] Let’s go with that one.
The next question comes from one-half of Krozm, Chris Hill, who directed many of your videos.
VV: “Why haven’t you paid me, you asshole?” [Laughs]
Uh-oh. Chris asks, “Do you have any need to buy new underwear while you’re on long tours?”
VV: We’ve been very fortunate in the past. We played Japan where these girls gave us underwear in the lobby one time, which probably sounds a bit strange, but it was practical and it was appreciated. And then we got asked to do this Tommy Hilfiger party at the last minute in Milan and part of the payment—it was paid really well—was free clothes. They took us down to the Tommy Hilfiger store and we just grabbed all this free stuff, including underwear. On tour, you always jump at the chance to get free underwear. Sometimes, that’s more valuable than a $500 jacket. [Laughs]
DS: So if you want to make friends with us, just give us underwear.
The next question comes from Olivier Oliver of Bikini, who’s opening for you guys tonight. He asks, “Do you ever get nervous playing a show? And if so, how do you chill out?”
VV: Sometimes you get anxious. It’s probably a bit different from being anxious, but there’s just a lot of waiting around before shows. That’s the story of playing in a band. You probably wait 23 hours and 40 minutes before going on to play on a given day and that can create anxiety.
DS: We just listen to Bikini and try to calm ourselves.
VV: We spend a lot of time on our laptops.
DS: It’s not a good thing.
VV: It’s important not to read messages from ex-girlfriends before jumping onstage. [Laughs]
Do you guys update your own Twitter, Facebook, and Myspace?
VV: Yeah. I had just spent the 5 minutes sending messages to people before you came. We spend a lot of time making new friends—and enemies.
This question is also from Olivier: “Who are your non-musical heroes?”
VV: Steve Martin even though he’s quite an amazing banjo player.
DS: I’d say Animal from The Muppet Show even though he’s a quasi-drummer. [Laughs] But he’s 100% muppet!
AS: I like Hendrick’s Gin. That’s mine.