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I To Sky

(Interview with Hillary - Taken From Black Velvet 35 - Feb 2003)

By David Jackson

We’re spoilt for choice in Wolverhampton this evening. Not only are Toploader playing the adjacent venue to JJ72, but a fuss involving local radio is also being made in the town centre where a no doubt minor celebrity is turning on the city’s Christmas lights. Cold and wet I’m lurking around arguing with myself, unsure if the 13th November is far too early to be festive in any form.






This evening marks the final date of JJ72’s UK tour. Wolverhampton is hardly the most glamorous location to conclude events before a short break precedes further promotion of the band’s new album in Europe. By now safely inside, dry, and sitting opposite JJ72 bassist Hilary Woods we begin talking about the 19 preceding gigs. “Things have been really good actually,” she begins “the highpoint probably being playing our hometown, Dublin. We just played the one night there. They’ve all been really enjoyable. They all kind of merge into one. It’s been really enjoyable playing new tunes. Every audience is different. We’re still getting pre stage nerves and stuff. It keeps the adrenaline flowing.”

Having vanished from the media spotlight to write and record the follow up to the bands hugely successful, self-titled debut album, JJ72 are back with its successor, ‘I To Sky’.  With some critics challenging the force with which JJ72 may be able to provide a relevant return, ‘I To Sky’ lays any fear of this at rest. Do you think the album firmly puts and JJ72 back on the map? Black Velvet asks.
“The songs are a lot warmer and that’s kind of where we wanted to go, but we didn’t really have any contrived ideas as to exactly how it would turn out. We literally just went into the studio and let whatever happen, happen. We’re happy with it, which I thing is the main thing. As long as we feel we’re evolving musically. It’s weird because with the first album you’re put in a box and when we recorded the first album we were just out of school and it was literally twelve straightforward songs that we had. This album, because we’ve been touring so much from the very beginning we grew up a lot together. We had a lot more of an idea of what we wanted to do with this album. I don’t know if it’s what everyone else expected, but that was the last thing on our minds.”
The album title itself seems to contain a message, almost instructing the listener to look skywards. What is the inspiration behind its title, can you explain things further?
“Mark wanted that title. He wanted the idea of the title to capture where we wanted people to be transported to after hearing the album. But I think any good song transports anyone to a different place, to a different emotion, whether it be pop or heavy metal. If it’s a good song I think it will transcend you in some way. He just wanted to capture that idea in a title.”
‘I To Sky’ immediately sounds a lot more polished that its predecessor. With stronger creative ideas, a diversion away from the formulated alternative rock sound has been made.
“Personally when I went into the studio to record the first album I never thought ‘is this alternative rock?’ It was literally just the three of us playing in our living room saying ‘we want to take this further’. We didn’t really know where we were going as such. I think the first album is a lot more obvious than this one. Distorted chorus and quiet verse.”
“It is miles away from the first album. I do agree, it does hint at a lot more things. It’s a lot more in-depth I think. For some people it works, for some it doesn’t…
“We’ve all changed. I don’t think it’s anything to do with growing up or maturing, it’s just having more of an imagination about things and you realise what freedom you have. When you go into the studio at 17 you’re intimidated by the size of things. This album we felt a lot more like we just really wanted to capture the energy between the three of us playing live onto the record.”

Famed for working with such artists including Nine Inch Nails, U2, and Depeche Mode, Alan Moulder and Flood were once again reunited to mix and produce ‘I To Sky’. The album marked one of the first instances the two had worked together since their phenomenal success with The Smashing Pumpkins, on their epic LP, ‘Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness’.
“We’ve been friends with Flood for about 2 ½ years” begins Hilary. “Flood came to some of our early gigs. He basically really wanted to work with us and likewise. That gave us a lot of confidence and faith in what we were doing with ‘I To Sky’. Flood was in the studio the whole time, he was almost like the fourth member. He never was saying ‘you should do things this way, or that way’. He was literally reminding us it was our album and we had to capture ourselves. He isn’t a muso at all, he’s very much into experimenting with everyone’s input, and he’s a brilliant listener. But sonically the great thing about Flood is that he really gets what you want to get across. For example, wanting this sound really warm and the bass really driven, it’s like a picture, he’d totally know what kind of painting you were trying to draw. He great to work with because he’s so giving.”

Each track on ‘I To Sky’ is accompanied with an old Christian symbol from varying periods of Christianity. Coupled with Mark’s religious upbringing, do you think there is a religious element to the album?
“I don’t think it’s religious as such. If you talk about any sort of spirit you’re seen as being religious which is fine, but I think lyrically this album looks to a lot of ideals and hints at a lot of metaphors to do with looking to a higher power to give you some kind of inspiration. The thing is, Mark isn’t afraid to say that in his lyrics and it’s very much a part of him to express himself that way. It’s just natural for him to write like that, and to write about big romantic ideas. He’s just being himself really. I don’t personally see it as religious, anyone can connect with it I think.”

Not content with being the band’s sole lyric writer Greaney stands as the band’s musical centrepiece. With one man taking both responsibilities JJ72 seem very much his creation. Curious to investigate at what point drummer Fergal and bassist Hilary enter the equation and how they add to the creative process I pose the question to Hilary.
“If he (Mark) wanted to be a singer/songwriter he would, but we started off enjoying playing together in our garage and being a band so that’s the big difference. But technically Mark does write all the melody and the lyrics and that’s always the way we’ve worked.”
Are you happy with the arrangement? Do you ever strive to add to the creative process?
“No, I think I’m very happy with it. I’m happy just playing bass,” she concludes.

Throughout the entirety of the interview Hilary gave the impression of being an incredibly grounded individual. Knowing how lucky a position both herself and the remaining members of JJ72 are in, they’ve continued to build on the firm foundation set by their debut album. With their combination of alternative rock anthems and newly found beauty, the possibility of success is looking that much more a possibility.


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