Recently I reviewed Chungking’s incredible new album, Defender. It was a rave review during which I gave the album very high praise, comparing it to some of the greats, like Goldfrapp and Ladytron. I highly recommend that you read the review before reading the following interview with Chungking’s charismatic lead vocalist, Jessie Banks! But, if you want to skip the review and just hear it straight from the singer’s mind, that’s fine, too.
Whose idea was the reunion? How did you and Sean reconnect? Or were you always in touch during the years you weren’t making music together?
The three of us are the best of mates. The band is kind of an extension of the friendship, so in that sense the band could never break up. We made music together throughout this time (between albums) as we were writing for sync companies doing music for TV and film. Some of the songs on Defender are from this period. There was the odd song that we just knew was for Chungking because we didn’t want to let it go.
What are Sean and Ben’s roles within the group? Are they both producers? Who plays which instruments?
Both Ben and Sean are writers, producers and players .
Ben is a great drummer but we initially asked him to join the band when we needed a keyboard player, many moons ago, just because we liked him so much .
“Can you play keyboards? ”
“Who cares ? You’re in”
Luckily we were playing full on pop at the time that didn’t require too much skill just loud bleepy riffs. But he is now pretty nifty on the old Joanna.
Sean is an old school singer songwriter and plays guitar,sings and produces ..When i first met him, over 20 years ago, he was the front man of a trippy, hippy hip hop band in Brighton. He produced this album.
Ben and Sean also have their own band called Black Rock with a mutual friend Declan. The music is grand and dark.
Do you play any instruments or handle any of the production? Who writes the lyrics?
I can play most things badly but well enough to write a song. My guitar playing is the same standard as twenty years ago which suits me fine. I’m involved in the production, I absolutely love it . Apart from the techy side which I can’t bear …I’ve got no patience for that. Most of the lyrics come from me although the occasional song can be written entirely by the boys.
I sing a lot of the instrumental melody lines (and then force people to play them),
or sing the drums … “Can they go BOOM BAP BAP BOOM BAP ?”
I’m told I have ‘good ears’ .
Also, how does the songwriting process usually happen in the band? For example, do you come in with lyrics and then you all come up with music to fit them or is the music composed first with lyrics/vocals only being added at the end?
Pretty much always melody first ! I’m far more about melody and harmony than lyrics. So either a straight up song …or an instrumental that later gets a vocal added. But we always change and rewrite about 100 times . We just can’t help it.
I didn’t think you could possibly make an album better than Stay Up Forever, which is an all-time favorite of mine, but I must say you’ve out-done yourselves with Defender. Do you think it’s your best work? Why or why not?
Oh thanks! It’s definetly our best work yet. It’s a real cross over of all the previous albums …pop, folk, disco, ballads they’re all in there. This time we are releasing on our own label Black Volta and so ultimately the decisions about style, content and production are down to us which makes for a better album. We’ve learned to pare down the production. There’s a feeling of space and maturity that we didn’t have before.
I know Chungking hails from Brighton, but I hear some of the Bristol sound in Defender. Was that an influence when you were making the record?
Yes we are all Brighton born and bred which is pretty unusual, so i suppose Defender must be the ultimate Brighton sound ! That’s interesting about the Bristol sound. No not consciously …. I’m not sure I even know what the Bristol sound is right now? Our first album probably did as it was labelled trip hop by many people.
I used to think of your sound as electro-pop meets electro-clash. And it seems like the electro-clash influence is even stronger on Defender, “Next To You” in particular immediately coming to mind. Were you listening to a lot of that when you were making Defender?
No. To be honest I don’t listen to music much when I’m writing or recording. I tend to switch off. We do ridiculously long days during the recording period. I can go without listening to music at these times. Next to you was written as a neo classical keyboard piece and slowly winged it’s way towards nu soul meets MGMT … It was all a bit of a journey that one …it kept evolving. Having said that I’ve no idea what the others were listening to, they might have been going to electro clash conventions ( I don’t think album sounds at all electro clash …maybe I need to investigate.)
I especially adore Defender’s closing track, “Heaven.” It’s kind of ironic, I’m not an atheist, yet hearing the line “I don’t pray but I hope you’re in heaven” touches me more than it would if it were “I’m praying that you’re in heaven.” Were you aiming for it to give people that kind of response?
Sean wrote Heaven as an ode to his friend Dave who very sadly is not with us any more. It is a very truthful song, written from the heart and was really written so that Dave might hear. By the time I came to recording it I had lost my dad. It was an extremely emotional song for me to sing but I really wanted to record it as i just love it so much. It’s my favourite song on the album. i think we nailed it. I’m not sure there was an ulterior motive in how Sean intended people to feel … It was really how he felt. The chorus lyrics are quite clever really I suppose … as they invite everyone to dream of Heaven regardless of religious belief.
What was the easiest track to create on Defender? What was the most difficult?
Jonny was written in literally 5 minutes. Ben was playing the piano and I was kind of messing about doing amateur dramatic style ballad singing. Within about a minute we looked at each other and said “Woah! That’s actually really good !!!” It’s my favourite song to sing live …it makes me feel like Dusty Springfield.
The most difficult song to sing was Heaven. Because I kept crying! In terms of writing they all had their difficult moments, days or weeks.
What are your thoughts on Spotify and streaming in general? Have you ever actually seen any money from that? Having read countless articles about it, it sounds like it’s very difficult for artists to make much money out of it with that weird system they have for figuring out how you get paid.
Oh don’t get me started !!!! .Streaming has it’s place I’m sure but it’s a killer for artists. I try not to think about it. We truly don’t do it for the money. It’s just not viable. It’s a passion. Not a job.You could make yourself mad. I suppose more people hear the music because of streaming which is a good thing. But i think many people have lost the ability to recognise that a real human being made the music …it’s as though it appeared form the ether to be consumed.
Is Defender going to be released on vinyl? With the way it’s making such a comeback during recent years, it almost seems like you’d be better off not pressing it on CD and just pressing it on vinyl instead.
Yes !!! It is on vinyl which thrills me greatly. I think there’s a place for cd’s and downloads. I think people can be very snobby about what format the music comes in. But who cares really ? As long as you’re listening to music ( and buying it ) that’s all that matters. But i do think physical releases are important, I would be upset if music was download only.
A couple of random questions:
What’s your ideal night out?
Laughter !!! Lots of it…. Nice drinks in nice glasses…Dancing like you’re the best dancer in the world .
What’s your favorite movie soundtrack?
Butch Cassidy and the sundance kid.
A big thanks to Jessie for taking the time to do this!