A sonic kind of equilibrium

Photo: Marija Grech

This interview was first published on the Sunday Times of Malta Culture section.Photo is by Marija Grech. 

Many may be unfamiliar, as yet, with the name Jane Doe but do not let this fool you into thinking that this is a band made up of newbies. Even if you listen to their debut EP, the intriguingly-named Homeostatic Cover just once, it is enough to dispel any such notion.

They might not gig much (I myself only heard them live once at the last edition of Rock the South) but the four-piece band have been hard at work, perfecting sound and technique, for years.

For about 10 years to be exact, pretty much since siblings Margherita and Edward Bonello, together with bassist David Bugeja founded the band.

Fast-forward to today and a couple of line-up changes, hours of practice and auto-criticism and the addition of drummer Lesnich Vassallo (himself a respected name on the scene even through his work with Relikc), Jane Doe are ready to leave a stronger mark on the local scene.

Their self-confessed perfection-ism – which they describe as being both an advantage and as “terribly annoying” – has certainly yielded fruit.

The first time I hear Homeo-static, I am captivated. The music is gorgeously multi-layered. Margherita’s haunting vocals, which are produced just to the right degree, combine with classic rock elements that, in turn, almost morph into the electronic. A vaguely ‘pop’ feel permeates all the tracks in a good way.

Homeostatic is not an EP to listen to while trying to focus on something else, at least not if you would like to experience the music properly. My second listen yielded even better stuff. Certain motifs find themselves repeated throughout the five tracks, turning it into not quite a concept album (if the term is still used nowadays) but certainly into one, connected storyline.

Because yes, there is a story to be gleaned from the music, one that I will let you discover for yourselves and one that is told – albeit subtly – even through the track titles themselves.

The mood is decidedly on the darker side of romantic, except for Got Me, a happy-go-lucky track that is very easy on the ear and that stands a very good chance of being picked up on main-stream radio.

However, it is the other tracks that I find more beguiling – from the effectively understated Breathless to Breathe with its refrain so reminiscent of French pop and the glorious, emotionally-raw Goldrush.

I start out by asking the musicians how long they’ve been working on the EP. A long time, it turns out, and this is where they confide that their perfectionism can backfire at times.

“We listen and re-listen, we change things, we ask ourselves whether this is the best version we can give,” Edward says. “Sometimes it’s almost like letting go is the biggest challenge through the whole process.”

Margherita nods in agreement. “He’s right. Knowing when to stop, when to accept that it’s finished and that we need to go ahead with releasing it.”

Is this part of the reason why they do not gig so often? David disagrees. He says that the band has a strong online following and that they tend to focus on cultivating that, before taking on more live performances.

“We enjoy working in the studio, it’s where everything happens.”

But don’t they miss external feedback? Lesnich assures me that infrequent gigging does not mean that they do not have opportunities to get feedback.

“There are a number of people who get to listen to what we are doing and whose evaluation we trust.”

The band works on every element that makes up their music themselves

Like a true artist, he adds that “however, Jane Doe is very much our baby – we like to be in control every step of the way”.

At this point Edward interjects, explaining that this statement is to be taken literally. The band works on every element that makes up their music – from marketing to design, videos and even production and recording – themselves.

“We have worked very hard to reach this stage,” he says. “We want to make sure that the result is what we had in mind.”

All four members take a very active role in the whole process and this passion is reflected in the way they talk about their music. It is easy to see that this is a very tight-knit group; with everyone on the same wavelength, there is no awkwardness arising from ‘creative differences’.

“We are not just band mates, we are also good friends and we genuinely love the music,” Margherita says.

“Even as teenagers, we’d spend every Saturday night practising, instead of going out.”

This, despite the fact that the band had not yet actually formalised itself as one, and everything they did was simply for the sheer joy of doing it. Then came the first performances and everyone decided to take things more seriously, with a view to eventually recording.

“My father was one of the first to encourage us to record and to do it ourselves. At first we were unsure whether that would work, but then we realised that we coud do it,” Edward says.

What about the name itself – why Homeostatic? All four burst out laughing. What would I like, they ask me cheekily, the long version or the shorter one? Both, of course.

“The word homeostatic refers to the tendency for interdependent elements to find a relatively stable equilibrium. An unexpected line-up change some time ago had shaken us up somewhat – however, then Lesnich showed up and we realised that we could survive even drastic changes by finding our own equili-brium. Hence, homeostatic,” Edward says.

And the short version? David bursts out laughing. “We liked the sound of the word.”

Homeostatic will be launched next Sunday at Django, Valletta. Tickets available at the door.