Aggression and fury are fundamental to most modern metal, but it’s rare to find a band who express their darker urges with quite the same degree of conviction as Jonestown. Hailing from sunny, relaxed Brighton, you could be forgiven for wondering exactly where the bug-eyed rage that drives the band’s debut album,
Aokigahara, comes from. Speaking to Hammer, vocalist Harley Anderson reveals that his lyrics and barbarous roar come from asincere and distinctly uncomfortable place.
“My mum moved here from South Africa when she was pregnant with me, and my dad was British and coming back here to sort his life out,” the frontman explains. “But he was immediately met with a prison sentence when he got back for nefarious deeds. I grew up on a very bleak council estate. There were a lot of murders where I grew up, a lot of crime. We lived in a women’s hostel for years. We were homeless. The public attitude towards my mum, as a white South African woman, was horrible. My mum was just some poor, abused woman who was with a horrible man and she was getting spat on in the supermarket for her accent. My mum kept getting with the wrong kind of guys. It was all just fucked, really.”
The pursuit of catharsis and redemption through heavy music is common enough, of course, but there is something particularly powerful about Jonestown’s ultra-modern brutality, as if Harley’s desire to defy his hard and humble upbringing has imbued his fellow musicians with supreme confidence.
“We wanted to make something straight up that had the heart and honesty of Rollins-era Black Flag and the New York hardcore scene,” says Harley of Jonestown’s sound. “We realised there’s no British response to bands like Gojira, Meshuggah and Strapping Young Lad. Those are the kind of bands we’re influenced by. It’s straight-up metal but it has to be honest.”
Jonestown’s debut album is named after a forest at the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan; a place believed to be haunted by ancient spirits and a notorious site for suicides. Clearly the Brighton quartet are dealing with some pretty intense and dark themes.
“The title encompasses the feel of alot of the songs,” says Harley. “It’s beautiful and it’s hopeless. What I’m trying to put across is ultimately redemptive. This is underdog music. It’s about harnessing all those dark things and create something better. I don’t think we reach that redemption in the songs, but that intent is definitely there. It’s like that quote from Chuck Palahniuk: ‘The greatest revenge is living afucking happy life instead of letting the bastards win.’ Aokigahara is a place where people go and they can either give in to all the things they’ve been beaten down by, or they can overcome them. That’s what this album is about.”
Within days of speaking with Hammer, Jonestown were snapped up by Heart Of A Coward frontman Jamie Graham’s Siege Music imprint, which suggests that the band’s message is already beginning to have a significant impact on the UK and beyond. Many bands would take a rapid ascent for granted, but not this band. For Harley and Jonestown, this is about rising above life’s cruelties and making music that matters: “Without metal, without knowing that someone else has felt the way I feel, I don’t know how I’d have survived,” Harley states. “That’s what I want to give back, to other kids like me. Even if they’re from happier backgrounds, it’s about knowing that you are not alone. Heavy metal really has that power.”
AOKIGAHARA IS AVAILABLE DIGITALLY NOW, WITH A FULL RELEASE VIA SIEGE MUSIC IN JUNE