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Jennels "You don't have to have critical attention to be great"

Jennels chart their journey from Stax covers to ironic indie via Nile Rodgers and Elliot Smith.

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Sheffield-based band Jennels release their inaugural belter of an album Once Upon A Time I Was More Fun in September. Now Then caught up with singer and guitarist Adam Tkacz, bassist Karl Ampofo and guitarist Paul M. Burke to talk art, respect, lockdown and Christmas jumpers.

Let’s start at the beginning – how did Jennels come about as a band?

Paul: We were all in a band called The Soul Organisation doing Stax soul covers back in…?

Adam: I think it was 2013 to 2015? It was good fun, but it became quite repetitive in the end. After that, I started doing open mics around Sheffield.

Paul: Karl and I were then in John Dyson & the Bloody Mary’s doing Stooges and Iggy Pop covers with Natasha Allen. I thought if I’m going to play pubs to 30 people, I might as well be playing my own music! So we dragged Adam in and started Jennels. I liked the word. It’s such a local word, but it has a kind of mystique as well. I think the correct spelling is with a G but it looks better with a J.

Are there any particular local bands you’ve drawn inspiration from?

Paul: We have to name some of our friends. Liam is a part-time Jennel, so Speed for Lovers are groove-tastic. The Voltz are great – Richie has been a massive help, as have John’s Cathode Sea and my old mate Ash Grey – the Texan Troubadour! They’re all local and all great, so do check them out.

How did the album get written?

Paul: The album is pretty much the collection of the live set we were doing pre-lockdown, so it made sense to record that. 'O Margot' is new. My friend Sam Beckwith sent me the lyrics and said he heard it with a 120 bpm Motown beat, so I thought it was time to get all Nile Rodgers with it. In terms of writing, I write a full song or Karl does, or we work together on them – then Adam does his thing.

Adam: Generally, Paul and Karl do all the hard work and I just fiddle about singing. It was different recording in lockdown as I was trying to come up with some of the underlying vocal harmonies. I’m not sure what the neighbours thought hearing me sing the same things over and over all night!

Karl: As it was a new start and a new band, a lot of cupboards were raided for old songs that may not have had an outing – like 'Scorn Of Fools', 'Fed Up' and 'Biggest Fan'.

Paul: Songwriting isn’t – thankfully – an issue at the minute as we’re halfway through recording the next album. We have nine songs for that half recorded. That’s lockdown for you.

Plain Sight’ is an album highlight for me – enigmatic lyrics, cascading chords and a psychedelic organ wash that the Inspiral Carpets would die for. What or who inspired the song?

Paul: Thanks very much – it’s the first time anyone has praised my keyboard playing! Musically, the song is influenced by Elliot Smith. I’m a huge fan, so most things are influenced by him. Lyrically? Well, it can be what you want. However you interpret it is up to you. There’s no wrong interpretation.

Adam: It’s always one that stands out at live gigs. For me, it’s that feeling of being present doing something but not really being there – kind of like in body but not in spirit.

Paul: I wrote it about how bands don’t really get taken seriously. I guess once you get to a certain level – I appreciate an irony in talking about this in a magazine – that’s the point where people take your art seriously. Up to then, your mates think you are playing at something rather than trying to produce your art. All local bands need to be taken seriously rather than be dismissed as [your work] has not yet reached some form of critical mass. You don’t have to have critical attention to be great. I think I wrote it after a Bloody Mary’s gig where we’d been ignored.

Jennels built up a solid live following pre-pandemic. What are your plans post-lockdown? Any venue or setlist favourites?

Adam: Every venue we’ve played has had cause to be celebrated. I like having the audience fairly close, so anywhere that facilitates that with some good audience interaction is good for me.

Paul: 'Don’t Wait' is always a good one live, as people sing along. I’m keen to play some of the new songs we’ve been working on too. We’ve had to miss a couple of festivals through Covid.

Adam: I’m also really looking forward to playing 'O Margot' live – I think it’ll go down well.

Paul: We’ll have to learn it first!

Last question. What is it with musicians and their obsession with tote bags and tea towels (there’s a song title for you)? What merch have you seen that makes you think, “Hmm, I’d like to see that with Jennels’ name on it”?

Paul: Nice! We’ll try to work that in as a lyric at least! Maybe a Karl action figure where you pull the string and he tells you an anecdote!

Adam: I saw a Slayer Christmas jumper once – I’d like to see that – or maybe a nice cardigan.

Learn more

Jennels launch their debut album at Sidney & Matilda on Sunday 26 September. Tickets £4.

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