john walshe talks to Celbridge five-piece juniper about their new single, Weatherman , and what it was about them that enticed Polygram to sign them for six albums.
asix-album deals are as scarce as international class centre-halves these days, except if you re REM or U2. So for newcomers Juniper to land such a deal with Polygram was quite a coup, not to mention a vote of confidence.
Not that Juniper are exactly bonnie babes either. Formed three years ago in Celbridge, Co. Kildare, they ve been regulars on the live circuit in this country for some time. 1995 s independently released Manna EP, was their first foray into the commercial world: a collection of acoustic-driven songs which promised much but didn t exactly set the world on fire. Undeterred, the band continued plying their trade, writing and gigging around the country, and were snapped up by the recording giant last September for a whopping six-album deal.
The first fruits of this collaboration, Weatherman , is an extremely catchy slice of polished rock, served up by a band obviously not short on confidence. In fact, you may recall that Weatherman garnered a Single of the Fortnight accolade from yours truly in the last issue of Hot Press.
By their own admission, Juniper really gelled as a band at Straffan, Co. Kildare, where all five band members shared a house, or rather an old army barracks (which also contained their own studio) for a period of 18 months.
We killed each other out there, in a sense, opines lead vocalist Dodima, a name which he invented from his own unique language. Throughout the course of the interview Dodima is a multicoloured bundle of energy, arms whirring as he emphasises every syllable with extravagant gestures, the consummate frontman.
That s really where we got to know each other, he continues. Every day we woke up and saw the same faces. You could crawl out of bed and there was a room with all our gear set up, where we could work on ideas and record if we wanted. That was our incubation period as Juniper. That was where we knitted together, got our differences out of the way and honed in on what we wanted from the band.
The five members of Juniper have since moved out of the barracks, and are now dotted throughout the city and the Celbridge area, where they still rehearse.
When you re living and working creatively with the same people it can develop into a headfuck, admits Paul Noonan, drummer, who talks a good game without displaying the intense energy rush of his fellow band member. That s why we left. It was a very intense period of writing and rehearsing. It was around that time when we started playing regularly in the DA Club, which is where we cut our teeth live.
Juniper s live performances soon attracted a rabid crop of A&R men to their shows, but it wasn t until last September when they finally signed on the dotted line. There was a lot of posturing going on but no-one had actually made any moves, recalls Paul. They [Polygram] came to see one gig and offered us a deal the next week. I think the reason for that is because Polygram have plenty of autonomy because of Boyzone. They have made a lot of money for the group, so they are now given that bit more freedom. A lot of the major record companies here don t have the power to sign acts autonomously they have to call people in London or New York, and that just makes the process more difficult.
Surely, though, a six-album deal is more than a little unusual for a band signing their first recording contract?
I suppose so, muses Dodima, but there are a lot of unusual things about the band in a sense. When it came to the actual deal, our management knew exactly what we wanted. What we were interested in was actually getting people within the company who we felt loved our music and believed in the band. If you don t have that, you can have a company grafting for you, but it s not really going to work.
I think we were signed for our potential, our progressive nature and our longevity, interjects Paul, modestly. It s far cooler and makes more business sense to have an act that is going to consistently produce good albums. We weren t signed for any standout this song is going to be a hit single around the world . It was more for the kind of albums that we can make.
Both band members reject the notion that Juniper are under intense pressure to come up with the goods; indeed, they feel they already have done. We have the guts of two albums worth of material, says Paul. Because we have three songwriters in the band, we always have an abundance of songs to work on and the pressure is never on one person to perform.
Both Paul and Dodima feel that their material has progressed from the acoustic, organic sound of the Manna EP and that they have grown and diversified . One of the reasons for this is that they have been given free rein in the studio.
When the time came to record, we sat down with the record company and they told us they wanted to go into the studio and experiment: to push ourselves, remembers Dodima. That was great it was like a sense of freedom. If you let people do what they really want to do, they will come up with something better than if you try to make them do something.
Listening to all three tracks on the Weatherman single confirms this. While the title track is straight-ahead rock, the B-sides, and Little Sister in particular, are not quite as straightforward and not exactly what you would expect, as the band are learning to use the studio as a creative tool. Juniper also promise that their next single, due out around April or May, will be a different kettle of fish again, and are hotly anticipating their debut album, which should hit the shelves in September.
For the moment, however, the band are hitting the highroads and by-roads, playing all over the country in record stores and in more regular venues in support of Weatherman . This is obviously an exciting, not to mention hectic, period for them.
We are doing something tangible, says Paul. We are getting out and playing, but I really love talking about what we do as well. I read about REM on their last promotional job, for New Adventures In Hi-Fi, where they took a week and did all the videos and the press in that week. I can understand that because they have kids and families. But at this age, we are mad for it, as certain Mancunians would say. n
Weatherman is out now on Polygram, and Juniper are appearing at a venue near you. See the Gig Guide for dates.