Youthful naivety can produce flashes of rock & roll excitement, but genuine experience and the passage of time can turn a good band into a truly great one. Now, eight years on from when the young Fremantle trio leapt onto the national stage, Eskimo Joe are taking a big, bold step towards Australian music greatness with their third album, Black Fingernails, Red Wine.
“I always think of things in a concept-record kind of way. So I wanted to make a record as if we were a stadium rock band,” explains songwriter and bassist Kav Temperley. “If we were like INXS, what kind of record would I want to write?”
Black Fingernails, Red Wine is a brazen step forward for a band borne of a scene that doesn’t always encourage grand statements. But Kav Temperley, Stu MacLeod and Joel Quartermain have never been ones to ascribe to the status quo. Now more than ever at home in their own skin, the trio raise the bar set by 2004’s double-platinum, ARIA Award-winning A Song is a City with a new album that soars with unashamed, unguarded personality. Oh, not to mention equally great pop songs.
“I had it in my head, ‘Right, I’m going to go away and write a total rock record. If I’m going to do it once in my life, this is going to be the time,’” Temperley explains. “And with the whole record, we’ve tried really consciously to not be self-conscious in our songwriting. It’s really easy to want to play it cool – and as soon as you do, the songs always suffer.”
Armed with fully realised demos of songs written over the past two years, the trio spent half of summer at The Grove Studios, in remote bushland on the N.S.W. Central Coast, crafting an album from their solid blueprints. Enlisting the talented engineer Matt Lovell (The Mess Hall, Jebediah, Sleepy Jackson), Eskimo Joe also stepped up to the desk and took on production duties for the first time. “It took a bit for all three of us to come around to that idea, because it’s a bit more responsibility,” admits Quartermain. “But in the end we backed ourselves and it worked well.”
As such, the 12 tracks of Black Fingernails, Red Wine not only showcase a startling development in Temperley’s songwriting, but shine the spotlight on the entire band’s expertise with arrangements. No track is given more than it needs; while throbbing drums, warm keyboard atmospheres and ethereal guitars offer enduring depth without weighing down the melodies. From the memorable and haunting keyboard hook of “Comfort You” to the closing piano-tinged melancholy of “How Does It Feel”, it’s a captivating and complete listen.
“We’ve always strived to have a cohesive thread or tone through our albums,” says MacLeod. “The first couple of songs we wrote seemed to have a bit of a feel to them; they were darker and had a bit of a dramatic, almost theatrical edge. So we continued that through the rest of the songs.”
The bold production brushstrokes cleverly reflect material that has, thematically, just as much personality on display. If A Song is a City was a metaphorical study of Temperley’s life and those within it, Black Fingernails, Red Wine takes a more universal stance, the singer confidently slipping in and out of character. Succinct yet subtle, the songs hit you immediately and then steadily creep into your consciousness.
“I sat down to write a more pop-rock record, as opposed to just writing emotional Kav stuff,” Temperley laughs. “It was time to put a bit more smoke and mirrors back into the whole thing.”
So, after eight years together, some lesser bands may ponder what roads are left to travel. As Eskimo Joe prove, there’s a whole world of possibilities to explore – if you simply follow your heart, listen to your muse and make the most of your talent. And Black Fingernails, Red Wine is the ambitious sound of a trio that has grown, both inside the studio and out.
“No-one in our band is in it for their ego; it’s all about the songs,” says MacLeod. “We’re very lucky to have this relationship between the three of us; it’s getting stronger and stronger, and it’s much more of a brotherhood now than it ever was.