Wednesday, February 2, 2011

LIKE…WHAT???: An interview with TIM AYERS of TIM & JEAN

TIM AYERS of up-and-comers Tim & Jean talks about dealing with being the youngest guys at the festival and proving to their mates that electro-pop can be cool.

Mandurah, Western Australia isn’t known for its musical output. Despite a photograph of the town being used as the cover shot for The Triffids' Born Sandy Devotional album, it’s safe to say that a teenage electronic pop duo is a brightly-coloured aberration in the city’s DNA. Yet Tim & Jean, already riding high on prolific airplay, are now on the verge of getting nationally recognised for forthcoming album Like What and as surprised as the rest of us.

“It’s surreal man,” says singer and guitarist Tim Ayers. “I guess a lot of people would say that if they went through the transition from staying at home and chilling to going out and doing things they’ve dreamed about, it’s definitely not normal yet. I get excited when [manager] Pete [Carroll] rings me up and says we’re going to do this and that, going to New York or talking about the album being released in the UK. I don’t show it but inside I feel it and it’s crazy – I think that’s the best way to handle it. Jean, he’s pretty comfortable with it all. He doesn’t show it on his face but I’d say he’s just like me, buzzing about it but wanting to focus on the job to get it over the line,” says Ayers of his band-mate Jean-Christoph Capotorto (that’s a French Jean, as in Jean Claude Van Damme, not a trouser). “When he started he was 15 which is really young to be touring, but his parents are really cool with it. At the start they were kind of ‘…uhhh’ ‘cause it’s natural for a parent to be concerned about things like their kid taking a year off school, because they could think anything could be going on; he could be wagging. Now they’re all for it, they always come to shows, they’re like my parents who are the most supportive people you could possibly want.”

On the back of their meteoric rise from jamming on an acoustic guitar in Jean’s bedroom in 2009 to being the subject of a multinational major label record bidding war, the first fruits of which will drop April 1 with the duo’s debut album Like What, it’s been a mad 18 months. As with many bands the helping hand has come in the form of love from Triple J, something Ayers is quick to acknowledge. “I never thought that Triple J would take to us like that. From what I’ve done in the past with other bands, I know it’s difficult. When Jean posted our song [Come Around] on Unearthed and we got that drum sign to say that we’d been played once it was amazing, because that had never happened before,” he says as if it happened five minutes ago. “That was in late 2009, and then they went with it we got played more and a bit more and in 2010 they flogged it, and they played Veronica and then we released the new song I Can Show You a few days ago it’s been getting played too.”

Tim & Jean are most commonly likened to ‘an Aussie Passion Pit or MGMT’ says a politely frustrated Ayers, but, he’s keen to point out, most people are basing this on one song, Come Around. “That track does have a Passion Pit vibe on it, because I sing in a falsetto for a part of it - but I wouldn’t go to an opera and say that sounded like Passion Pit cause some guy is singing high,” he says with a laugh. “The rest of the tracks on the album are more natural sounding, there are acoustic sounds on there. I don’t think of it too much,” he says sighing. “We do get that everyone wants to reference us to something and they have to get one from somewhere. I’m looking forward to the time where people say we sound like us.”

Though their age has been a good thing for raising eyebrows and getting some attention, Ayers says it has also made getting taken seriously and recognised as a musicians more difficult. “It’s always been a thing, our age,” he mutters distractedly. “It’s true people don’t take us seriously, even if people like the songs they might not like us because of our age. We do attract a younger crowd and because of the music, we play mainly people our own age that contact us online. Seeing us live is really different,” he says keenly. “From starting our first show to playing Falls Festival, there’s such a big difference into terms of the crowd we play to. It’s not just young girls but…you know…big men too,” he says laughing. “People can get into it more live and see we can pull it off and that we’re actually musicians.” He doesn’t need to prove it, but there are several YouTube clips of crowds getting excited supporting this.

Acoustic guitarists to begin with, Tim & Jean have a history that few other electronic artists can boast. “When we met I was playing jazz and blues guitar in bands and Jean playing guitar in a shoegaze and indie rock band. He was getting into ProTools and stuff, and just recording little things. I heard a couple of things online and thought they were cool. When we met we were just jamming stuff, in fact the first thing we did was a Dave Matthews song,” he says with a laugh. Before this revelation results in Tim & Jean’s cred taking a beating among some readers, remember they were 18 and 15 at the time. “I was really into him and that vibe, I’ve always been more into the blues thing. We were mucking around trying to get a vibe, making tracks and acoustic jamming and just chucked the electronic thing on it.”

It should be pointed out that ‘chucked the electronic thing on it’ is Ayers’ severely downplaying their production achievements. The first thing that jumps out at you when listening to Like What is the remarkable mix of bedroom production intimacy, arena-shaking bass, and his voice. Ayers’ voice, as featured on a variety of YouTube covers he and Capotorto have posted (Fleetwood Mac, Dave Matthews and Tom Petty), is a thing of Idol-slaying wonder and richness, a quality that is even stronger live.

“We produced it in Jean’s bedroom. It was recorded over scattered times here and there and then once we had the tracks we had enough we could pick out what we wanted to put on and what we wanted to do for mixing. We talked about it and decided we wanted to get someone overseas and to go over there and do it, so Pete was like ‘I want to organise someone in New York or LA’ and John O’Mahoney got back to us and we did it. It was so last minute and he was a good choice, he’s a really good dude to work with.” Unfazed by O’Mahoney’s credits (Guns n Roses, Coldplay and…uh, ‘N Sync), the duo stayed focused on the sounds they wanted to get.

“It’s kind of weird,” says Ayers slowly. “Jean is into bands like College and M83, and I was wanting to make it more in your face so you can hear lyrics and melodies; we’ve just taken similar sounds and made them poppier. We were really interested in that kind of music,” he says quickly. “We wanted to make more airy and light sounds - that’s what we were into at the time,” he says of the sounds that anyone over the age of 25 would call ‘kind of eighties’. Ayers laughs at the idea of these sounds being nostalgic for him, but, as a child of the nineties whose parents played pop music, it’s understandable. “Growing up, my parents were always listening to Prince and Michael Jackson because their era was the 80s you know and they were smashing it at the discos. I think we add a different touch to it - a ‘today’ vibe. Jean was really into building up references from different bands, he’s got about two months of music on his computer, he was just constantly listening to stuff and remember things he likes, and it did pay off. We’d never done electronic things before, it was crazy to begin with, especially when we’d play it to our friends,” he says with a laugh.

“It was pretty hard at first, showing my friends who are musicians and coming from a different style of music,” he says with a wry smile audible down the phone. “Obviously I want to impress my friends, and they’ll be honest with you and they’ll tell you if it sucks, and it was hard. My mates didn’t like it at first, but they liked Come Around and then we re-did the first song (Like What), which was the one he didn’t like. Now they’re into it,” he says with a laugh. Don’t think they’ll be the last converts.

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