Much is made of The Jacques age. They are, as almost everyone who reports on them notes, a band who started young, and are advertised by the industry forces beyond their control as having an average age of 17. This is an out of date selling point, I soon discover when I meet them backstage, a French town on the border of Switzerland, where they’ve just returned from an hour-long set supporting Placebo.
They take to the stage in the beautiful, but no less intimidating arena with poise and confidence, a set tempered only by a few sound issues at its beginning that sees frontman Fin O’Brien, decked in an urbane pink suit, jittering across the stage with a staccato confidence. Afterwards, however, he’s despondent – the set was not quite as good as he’d hoped. This is part of an overriding sense of professionalism that surrounds the band; they’re young, yes, but they’re experienced too.
Fin bristles when the age question comes up and I describe how they were billed. “Why did you get that information?” he demands. “Heads are gonna roll!” laughs his less aggrieved bandmate and bassist Will Hicks. The band are yet to release their debut album, but already they seem slightly saddled by their past. Discovered by Gary Powell of The Libertines who signed them to his record label 25 Hour Convenience Store and put them on the bill for his band’s mammoth Hyde Park shows, their early EPs, laden with guitar hooks and swaggering vocals, reflect that sound.
But The Jacques I’ve just seen entertain a crowd of several thousand, Hicks points out, is a different group. “Can I make one rude interjection?” he asks as we discuss the band’s early days – Fin and The his brother Elliot, a drummer, playing sets from early age across their native West Country – before pointing out that he and guitarist Harry Thomas are new members, enlisted to help steer the group in a more explorative direction. “They existed as a band for a long time before me and Harry joined, but I think to discuss it as the same band isn’t correct. Since the other two guys left I feel like the direction has changed,” he says.
“Before it was quite Libertines-y, the kind of thing everyone’s into when they’re younger,” he says, “When Finn got me to play bass, he knew I couldn’t play bass for shit, but I I think part of the reason I was asked is because I like stuff like Iceage, more dissonant and abrasive. Also, when they talk about their relationship with the other members they were just a band, but with us we’re friends.”
It’s clear that the group are making a particular effort to progress, evident not only in their live show, which is a decidedly more powerful and angular affair than on record, and in their self-awareness. Fin bristles at the subject of age not because he’s oversensitive, but because he’s aware that such a gimmick can, and has, held them back. “When am I not going to be young?” he demands. “And I hate the connotations that come with it. Like they want to pat us on the head.”
“You know in School of Rock when they’re auditioning for Battle of the Bands and get called ‘The Mickey Mouse Club’?” adds his brother. “Shit like that happens a lot. British bands especially are like, ‘what the fuck are you doing here’. There’s a stigma around young bands, like they’re a gimmick or a joke. You don’t know a band til you’ve heard them.”
“We get a lot of questions about our age, how young we are. That’s fine, but you want to be treated like you’re there off your own back. We’re not a novelty band,” says Thomas. Artifice and engineered promotional devices are something the foursome are actively attempting to avoid. They’re keen to avoid being lumped in as part of any movement or scene. The suggestion that Fin’s gloriously ostentatious pink suit could be construed as an alliance with the growing wave of new glam bands (Starcrawler, HMLTD et al.), is dismissed out of hand. “I just wanted one so I asked for it for my birthday,” Fin shrugs. “I wouldn’t call it a statement.”
“We’re not trying to make this really deep. I went out in this huge Cuban hat once but I just thought it was funny,” adds Thomas.
Hicks goes further: “I remember reading an interview with HMLTD about appropriating a gay aesthetic, with them saying something along the lines of ‘even though we’re all straight, it’s important to give this scene attention.’ I just think it’s a bit cheap, really, to have this aesthetic that isn’t genuine to yourself. Especially when it’s something where that identity means a lot to other people. To appropriate it to make yourself be seen, I’d just like to be in a band that writes songs we think people will like.”
Nor do they want to be associated with the brewing collective of excellent bands springing up in and around south east London in the wake of Fat White Family’s unlikely rise to mass attention. “They brought this Country Teasers thing back. You see this whole scene popping up, all of these bands are playing slightly different versions of each other’s songs. That’s what I don’t want, although I do like The Fat White Family,” says Hicks.
The Jacques, then, are a band who clearly want to take the world on alone; in the healthiest way, it’s obvious they want to be taken seriously. Yet they also make repeated reference to messing around – having fun, says Hicks, is ‘the primary objective’. “But having said that, we do want to feel like we’re making music that expresses ourselves. We don’t want to be playing Strokes songs. I want to make it clear that I’m not comparing us to Wire, but Wire have perfect pop songs even though they’re post-punk. You can still write a pop song, we want the freedom to still write pop songs, but to make them sound how we want them to sound.”
Playing in Europe is a great opportunity for self-expression and exlike we’re quite lucky to come over here. They’re more open-minded, they’ll just listen to you,” says Thomas. “in Britain it’s hard to get people through the door if they haven’t heard of you.”