Interview: Philadelphia Grand Jury’s Simon Berkfinger talks to Kim on all things Philly Jays – 14 September 2009

Kim from LifeMusicMedia (LMM) talks to Simon Berkfinger from Philadelphia Grand Jury – Monday 14 September 2009.
philadelphiagrandjuryLMM – Hi Simon, I’m just looking at your tour schedule for the next few months, supporting Grinspoon as well as touring for your new cd “Hope is for Hopers” – you’ve got a lot coming up, are you looking forward to all the travelling?

SimonWell, it’s not really travelling, it’s more like – well you know the drill, running from town to town, sleeping in a bed for four hours and then getting up and going to the next town, but yeah I enjoy it. I like touring more than staying at home and twiddling my thumbs.

LMM – The tour is for your latest release CD, can you tell me a bit about the album?
SimonWell, what do you want to know?

LMM – How long did it take you to put it all together?
SimonWell, the band has only existed for about two years, but the album has actually been in the making for about three or four years. It started off as just me, but then this guy MC Bad Genius joined the process about two and a half years ago and then we got various drummers in. Those were the last two years. But yeah, it’s taken about four years.

LMM – So , how long have you been writing music yourself?
SimonSince, I was a little kid, so maybe at least ten years.

LMM – How much do events like triple j unearthed help towards getting access to other festivals like Fresh Fest and Parklife?
SimonI have no idea how any of that stuff works, but I’m guessing that it’s helpful. It definitely helped people know who we were and triple J has been awesome like that.

LMM – I’ve noticed that you’ve got a few followers on your site, so you’ve obviously got quite a few fans out there.
SimonYeah, I like to think that in every town we’ve got a couple. You know like whenever we go in with these other bands you go to a weird place for the first time and there’s always a bunch of people down the front who know stuff about us – people they’ve obviously talked to and seen us on the internet or something and people that want us to sign things so yeah, I guess we’ve got fans.

LMM – How do you feel about supporting Grinspoon and Bluejuice like you’ve done in the past? Has that been a big rave for you?
SimonYeah we haven’t been on a tour yet that we haven’t really enjoyed in terms of the people that we’ve been with. Every band that we’ve toured with we’ve been lucky enough to sort of know already from somewhere. I mean, I’ve obviously discovered that over the process of touring you only get booked on a tour if people like the band you’re into. With Grinspoon, I used to work in the studio and Jamo used to come up all the time and say “You’re coming on our tour right?” and he was really imposing about it, so yeah, it’s gonna be fun.

LMM – Well, in that case – you had to do it right?
SimonIt’s funny, because obviously the managers and the booking agents all talk to each other and at the end of the day Jamo looked at me and was like, ‘You’re coming on our tour!” So I had to tell the Managers and the booking agents that we just had to do the Grinspoon tour otherwise we were in big trouble.

LMM – With your clip “Going to the Casino” how hard was it to work with the children?”
SimonWell, it was made especially hard by the fact that they were all like fans little brothers and little sisters that had sort of come along to do a few favours for free. The whole film clip was done for less than a thousand dollars and most of that money went on food for the kids. What happened was, they all arrived and then they had to be there for about two hours before they had to do anything, so they all went completely insane by the time we put them in front of the camera. They were really wild. Also, they were promised all of the cake and the lollies that get thrown in the film clip? They weren’t allowed to eat that for the next hour or so while they had to dance around for the film clip – but straight after the show they could have it, but then the food fight ended up spontaneously occurring and they didn’t end up getting any of it. There were some cranky kids. In fact, if you look at the film clip – if you pause it in certain spots and look at some of the shots you can see some really disgruntled children.

LMM – I didn’t actually see the disgruntled children…
SimonThere was one little girl that just totally lost it, she was wandering around the film clip just crying, and there’s little bits I really like?

LMM – (Laughs) What, you like making children cry?
SimonNo, I just like that there’s many different levels within it and if you watch it you can see little other events occurring and there’s so many interactions. That was out of the plan and it was just chaotic.

LMM – It looked pretty chaotic. I loved the end part where Dan ended up with a cake in the face – classic!
SimonThe kids didn’t like that. It was like – that’s our cake!

LMM – Moving on, you’re music has been described as Big Energy Retro Rock and also Australia’s best/only independent punk-soul – how would you describe your music?
SimonAhhhhhhh, I like to think that we sound like early rock and roll. When it was just starting to turn punk, but also when it still had cruise. Does that make sense? Actually, like the stuff we listen to is Little Richard live recordings and stuff and those guys really punk rock and that was like fifties and sixties. Or like the Sonics still wearing suits and ties, still really straight but singing about really fucked up stuff. Punk and soul – I guess that’s correct, but punk sort of has a bad term these days –it sounds really bad. I don’t like to think we’re punk, but I guess there’s a punk element.

LMM – Yeah, when you think of punk, you sort of think of piercings and spiked hair and black clothing.
SimonYeah, like the Sex Pistols, but we’re not really. We might be a bunch of punks, but we don’t play punk music.

LMM – How did you feel when your songs “Going to the Casino” , “Ready to Roll” and “I’m Going to Kill You” were featured on the TV show Underbelly?
SimonI felt relief because they paid a little bit of money that we were able to use to pay off our debts. I never saw any of the shows.

LMM – What? You didn’t sit down and watch it and listen to your own music?
SimonNo. But it did make it easier to describe to your relatives, what you do at Christmas lunch or whatever. You know the awkward relatives that you only see once a year? It’s like we’re in a band – we play music. But say the music is on Underbelly and they’re like – Oh Right! Underbelly! That’s one good aspect to it.

LMM – So it makes it all worthwhile then?
SimonYeah. It was good for my family I think and it was good for money, but I didn’t actually see what it looked like on the show.

LMM – Well, I can honestly say that I didn’t see it either. I was just wondering how you felt about it.
SimonWell, I’m not angry – (laughs).

LMM – Who first came up with the nickname the Philly Jays do you know?
SimonLet me think. The name Philadelphia Grand Jury comes from a Fiery Furnaces song, because I had a massive crush on the singer from Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor Friedberger and there’s this fantastic song that we all really loved the sound of and we thought so let’s name our band after that song and then our Manager said, you can’t have a band name like that, it’s too long a band name and people would think that you’re from Philadelphia and blah blah blah blah. So he started calling us the Philly Jays, just for fun and at one point maybe they wanted us to change our name to the Philly Jays and then they thought it would be more fun to have two band names. It’s confusing, but it’s a story I guess. If we go to America, we might have to be the Philly jays, because I’ve already spoken to the American people and they just don’t get it. We might just have to cut out Philadelphia out of our touring schedule cause it’s really weird.

LMM – You could just call yourselves the Grand Jury instead.
SimonYeah, yeah, that’d be all right. That’s a good point. I wanna call a band “Childhood”. I don’t think there’s been a band called Childhood yet, or maybe Hobby Farm. I’m always naming things, I love to give things names and it really upsets me to have to stick to one band name. I could change it every six months happily.

LMM – (By this time, I’m laughing – nearly hysterically) That could be a bit confusing for your fans.
SimonI think that band “Cornershop”, I think they used to change their name all the time. I think they had a rule that they had to change their name every year. That’s why we never heard of them ever again.

LMM – After your big tour, what’s on the cards – what do you see as the future for the Philly Jays?
SimonWell, there’s the big tour and then we’ve got a couple of festivals to do which takes us over New Years and all that and then we are going to maybe move our mixing desk up the steps of this abandoned pub on the edge of the city and set up a little studio and record our second album which we’ve just been writing at the moment.

LMM – Right, so it’s just go go go literally.
SimonYeah, I want to get this one done really fast rather than in four years.

LMM – So you don’t intend to take any time off or go overseas or anything like that?
SimonWell, we are going to America next year, so we have to have the album done before we go.

LMM – So, are you going to skip Philadelphia while you’re over there?
SimonYeah, yeah, yeah, for sure. I went to Philadelphia this year and had a cheese steak.

LMM – You had a cheesebake?
SimonNo, a cheese steak. It’s just steak chopped up into bits with cheese…. (At this stage of the conversation, there’s sirens in the background…..)

Oh No.

LMM – Your buildings not on fire or anything is it?
SimonI thought I lost you. I live in Darlinghurst just off the edge of Kings Cross, and there’s a Fire Station and a Hospital and a massive Police Station all on my street. Sirens all night.

LMM – How do you sleep?
SimonI actually have the back room of the house so I don’t wake too much, but I’m in my flat mates room and I guess she doesn’t sleep too much. I don’t know what she does. There’s also a little pedestrian crossing just out the front so every five minutes you hear the byow ch ch ch ch ch ch ch ch ch ch.

LMM – (Laughs) How does it go?
SimonExactly like that! She’s cool, she’s found a way I guess.

LMM – I suppose that after a while everything just becomes a background noise and you don’t notice it that much.
SimonWell, I went to the country recently and I couldn’t sleep it was so damn quiet. I was freaking out – I was like, I want some drunk people to yell some things outside of my house! Just so I could get some sleep.

LMM – (Laughs) Just looking at my notes here, quoting from an interview, where it was said “You’re not the best band in the world – yet” When do you think you will be?
SimonI don’t remember saying that? I mustn’t have been feeling very confident, because I say we ARE the best band in the word. And having heard our demo that we’ve been working on for the next couple of albums, I guess we know that we’re the best band in the world, but you guys will just have to wait and see.

LMM – Well I’ll tell you what, we’re all waiting impatiently for September 25th to come around so that we can get your new CD. Thanks for your time Simon. Hope to speak again soon.