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Jebediah Remain a Beacon of Authenticity After All These Years

The alternative rock band’s lead vocalist Kevin Mitchell tells Rolling Stone AU/NZ about the making of ‘OIKS’, their first album in 13 long years


Taj O'Halloran

The story of Jebediah’s journey with their sixth and most recent studio album, OIKS, is a tale of perseverance, creativity, testing boundaries, breaking rules, and the enduring bonds of friendship.

The alternative rock band first made Australia sit up and take notice when their debut single “Jerks of Attention” hit triple j’s airwaves all the way back in 1996. Hailing from the same West Australian scene that was producing the likes of Ammonia, Eskimo Joe, Gyroscope, Karnivool, The Sleepy Jackson, and The John Butler Trio, Jebediah quickly became a mainstay of the Australian music landscape.

The process of creating OIKS was a labour of love marked by experimentation and spontaneity. Lead vocalist Kevin Mitchell describes how the band initially entered the studio a few years following 2011’s critically acclaimed Kosciuszko, but nothing came of it.

“We kind of decided to leave that alone,” he says. “Then we did a 20-year anniversary thing in 2015, which was really great, and I guess we kind of came out the end of that and we thought well, do we want to have another crack at making a record? But we weren’t really sure how to go about it.”

Inspired by an article about the making of Blur’s 2015 release The Magic Whip (the Britpop band’s first release since 2003’s Think Tank), Mitchell pitched the idea of booking Perth’s Blackbird Sound Studio in 2018 — where they had recorded Kosciuszko — with Dave Parkin for five days and just see what came up.

“I said, ‘Let’s just book the studio for five days and we’ll set up all out stuff and we’ll go in at night and we’ll just jam and record everything we do, then the next day we’ll come into the studio in the afternoon, and we’ll go through everything we recorded the night before. We’ll delete the shit, keep all the good stuff and see if we can somehow craft songs out of the good stuff,’” Mitchell outlines his pitch. “We did that for about three days or whatever and we came up with ideas for probably 20-odd songs, and a lot of those were just little fragments, but it was enough to get us started.”

The album’s opening track, “Bad for You”, was one of the songs that resulted from those initial jam sessions and was deliberately chosen to open the album for the story it tells, according to Mitchell. “For whatever reason, that was the noise that came out when we first had a crack at making music together again.”

Mitchell reflects that the style of the song may be indicative of the feeling in the studio between himself and his bandmates — his older brother, Brett, along with Vanessa Thornton and Chris Daymond — on that first day.

“Maybe the fact that it starts off slow and quiet alludes to the idea that when we were starting off there was a bit of trepidation — we were sort of feeling each other out a bit?” he ponders. “But regardless of the whys, I just thought it was an interesting way to bring people into the record, by introducing it exactly the way that it came out when we first started playing together.”

COVID hindered the completion of the album, with the Mitchell brothers based in Melbourne and unable to get into the fortress of Western Australia for months on end. Although they thought “for a second” about working on the album remotely, Mitchell admits they didn’t want to mess up the process when it seemed to be working in their favour. All told, however, there weren’t all that many days spent in the studio.

“We were all pretty adamant that we could really kill the vibe of the record by [working remotely], so we decided to wait until we could pick it up again where we left off,” he explains. “So yeah, how many days did we end up spending? Gosh, It probably would’ve been close to a month’s worth of days in the studio… spread out over five years.”

The album’s sonic landscape is diverse, blending the “old-school Jebs” vibe with a newer, experimental, and more mature sound. Both “Don’t Stop” and “Rubberman” appeared by accident, Mitchell reveals, when he and producer Parkin stumbled across sounds while working on other tracks that caused them to fall down a rabbit hole.

“It says a lot about the record – the way we made the record is there was no conventions we concerned ourselves with, and we had the luxury of being able to just take our time and follow inspiration if something came along and it was unexpected,” he says.

“We never used to be able to write songs like that before, because every other time we’ve made records it’s always been like you have to have all the songs written, rehearse them, do pre-production, and then you go into a studio and you lay down all the drums and you lay down all the bass and you lay down the guitars and the vocals, and it’s just such a structured way of doing things.”

Saying farewell to the formulaic method of making music, Mitchell admits, gave him a newfound sense of freedom.

“I feel like now when I’m in the studio with Jebs I have a freedom to just go off on tangents and experiment with things and do things like that, and I have the other guys’ blessing to do it. It’s not looked at as wasting my time or going off on my own, I think now they’re sort of happy for that kind of stuff to happen. And for me, it’s just muck around and sometimes the results are crap, but sometimes they’re good, and I think that kind of experimentation now is really embraced in a way that it never has been before.”

Mitchell laughs as he recalls a reviewer from a local street press commenting on the band’s early days referencing Britpop melodies and American grunge. “That was starting a band in 1995 and growing up as teenagers in the ’90s — those were our cultural touchstones,” he laughs. “That was it!”

Mitchell says that Thornton introduced him to Blur, who are still one of his favourite bands to this day, while Daymond was really into Nirvana and all of the indie rock bands coming out of the American college scene. “That’s just part of our DNA now,” he says. “It’s what we grew up on and it’s always going to be there.”

As for why Jebediah never cracked the overseas market, Mitchell says he has had many years to philosophise the reasons.

“I think the realisation that I’ve come to is that maybe Jebediah was something that maybe only Australians could relate to or get; I think it was a time and place thing,” he says. “I felt like, particularly with America, that it never properly translated that as a band we represented a very particular sort of Australian suburban teenage kind of life or experience that just didn’t seem to translate to other countries and America.”

Mitchell says his vocals were divisive even within Australia at the time.

“When I think about the ‘90s, Silverchair were massive in America, and Daniel Johns has got a very universal voice,” he says. “I mean, these days it’s all different. I think because so many Australian bands have got international audiences now, it’s a lot more celebrated than it used to be and young artists now are really leaning into their accents more than they ever used to be — people like Courtney Barnett, Stella Donnelly, The Chats, and Dune Rats.”

Speaking of the early Jebediah sound, Mitchell starts when I ask if “April Slumber” was intentionally meant to sound like “Teflon” from the band’s 1997 album Slightly Odway.

“Oh god no, it’s not intentional, but you’re the second person to mention it now… I just thought, this is the kind of song we would’ve written when we were teenagers for sure, so I did feel that connection. It wasn’t as specific as the one you are mentioning with ‘Teflon’ but I definitely felt a connection with something from our deep, deep past — that’s why lyrically I leaned into something a bit nostalgic.”

It’s in the vocals and the melody, I tell him.

“I’ve got a funny memory of that song now that you mention it, when I was in the studio in Perth and we must’ve been working on that song, so this is going back to 2018, 2019,” Mitchell recalls. “I was calling home, and I was talking to my youngest daughter, Ivy, and she was saying, ‘What are you doing?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m in the studio, we just wrote a song,’ and I sung her the melody over the phone and I just remember her response when I finished — she just laughed and said, ‘Oh that’s so funny.’ Even then perhaps it had a little bit of ‘Teflon’, a little bit of playfulness that she sort of immediately recognised.”

Although he subconsciously somehow channelled himself for that track, the album’s closer “Aqua – Lung” saw Mitchell accidentally lay down a David Bowie impression.

“We were making jokes and I was kind of mucking around and pretending to be David Bowie” he says. “The trouble is when you start mucking around with silly character voices on a song, when it comes [time] to actually record it for real, it’s really hard because you’re spent so long just taking the piss out of yourself and singing it in a stupid character voice that all of a sudden you have to do it normally and it can really mess with your head.”

In an industry marked by uncertainty and change, Jebediah remain a beacon of authenticity — the same ragtag bunch which You Am I’s Tim Rogers affectionately referred to as “oiks” in a past interview, which inspired their new album’s name — reminding people of the enduring power of rock ’n’ roll to transcend boundaries and connect people across generations.

For fans of Jebediah, OIKS is not just another album: it’s a testament to the band’s legacy and the timeless appeal of their music.

Jebediah’s OIKS is out now via Cooking Vinyl Australia. Tickets for their upcoming Australian album tour are available now via the band’s official website.