I was lucky enough to catch up with Philly punks Ma Jolie in their guitarist’s car to discuss the current happenings in the Philadelphia punk scene, the band’s beginnings and what’s in store for them next.
You can read the full interview below.
DS: This is the first interview I’ve actually done in a car. Would you guys please introduce yourselves?
Jeff: I’m Jeff and I play drums.
Kirk: I’m Kirk, I play guitar and sing.
Frank: I’m Frank and I play bass.
Mark: I’m Mark I play guitar.
DS: Ma Jolie’s music captivated me from the first time I listen to it, but I’m a little bit ignorant on your history. Could you tell me a little bit about the band?
Kirk: Me and Jeff grew up together and started plating music together in an older band. When that fell apart, we started Ma Jolie just to start playing punk rock again. Jeff knew Mark, and Mark pulled Frank in. That’s the short of it, nothing too crazy. We were playing really slow sort of, I don’t want to say depressing, but disinteresting music, and we just wanted to play fast.
DS: You released “Polars” last year, and I noticed that there was a lot of dark imagery and symbolism. What was the writing process like behind that album?
Kirk: Polars is, I mean if you’re talking about the lyrics… A lot of where I was coming from with the lyrics was sort of a transitioning point in my life. I think that our first record was a little bit more of a pop record, and I started to get angrier over the past couple of years. That definitely reflected to where my lyrics were coming for in Polars.
Jeff: In terms of the writing, it was definitely the most cohesive writing we did. Polars was essentially everything we recorded in one year. We did a session in February, and we did seven songs, then we did another two in July. We just made the decision to release all of them, well Lame-o Records made the decision to release them. For us it was the most we felt as a cohesive band, because the first record has some stuff that we felt was kind of like from other projects or just not fully written together. Polars was very collaborative. People would come in with different parts. You could tell. I think it was when we started writing “Cannonball” that started feeling “man, this is a cohesive group”.
Frank:Yeah, I think that’s the first song we wrote together. And then it kind of went from there.
Jeff: We were writing stuff and were talking about it. We wanted to be a little more aggressive. We didn’t want to hold back. With some of the stuff in “Giant” we were kind of holding back, and with this one we wanted to get out there and not be afraid.
Noisey recently put out an article in which they claimed that Philadelphia currently has the best punk scene. Do you feel that there is any truth in that?
Jeff/Frank/Kirk: -Laughs- That article…
Kirk: Topic of discussion, right? I think that everybody that’s involved in the music scene in Philadelphia is really motivated, and I’m really proud to have the friends that we do. Proud to work with people who really want to work with bands. I don’t know. That article was its own thing, but in terms of our city, I love coming home to this city and I love living in this city. There’s five shows a week that I could go to and see a band that I really want to see, and not just to go to a show.
Jeff: And there’s no doubt that a lot of great bands came from this city, and there’s a lot of great bands playing right now.
What are your current favorite bands coming out of this region?
Frank: I really like Cayetana because they don’t sound like any other band because they’re really unique. And to me that’s important. That would be my favorite.
Mark: There’s so many it’s absolutely absurd.
Kirk: Coming out of?
Yeah, coming out of Philly.
Kirk: So not established, I guess?
It could be established too. Just bands that have roots in this city.
Frank: I’m a big fan of Hop Along.
Kirk: Hop Along, yeah.
I actually just heard about them not too long ago, they’re great.
Kirk: Outstanding, amazing people.
Frank: They’re great.
Kirk: Joe, who plays guitar with Hop Along, actually, recorded most of both of our records. That’s awesome.
Jeff: The list is pretty freaking endless, and the beautiful thing about it is that there’s just so many different genres in Philadelphia. The thing that gets annoying to me sometimes is that it’s “only this” IN Philly. It’s not only this. There’s a great band called Fight Amp, who does some great heavy stuff that should really get some credit. There’s people who play folk music. I’m so sick of the whole genre thing. I don’t care about the genre. I will say it, I don’t give a fuck. The thing that really annoyed me about the article was not the article, but the responses of people being like “This isn’t punk”. It’s nonsense, man. It’s fucking nonsense. It’s really counterproductive and I think you should be proud that your city is mentioned, and you should be proud that there were some bands mentioned and they got some credit. I think the article was garbage, but that’s besides the point.
Kirk: I think that in going back to the Noisey question and sort of joining it with the question you just asked, is that all things aside, I think the fact that I have to sit here and like rack my brain as to what’s the one band that I would say I love in this city is is sort of a testament to it.
Jeff: There’s new bands here every week. I hear about new people coming up with new shit and I’m like “This is great.” That’s the beauty of it. Because there’s so much stuff going on and everyone feels so inspired to keep going.
How did all of you guys get involved in the scene here?
Frank: All very different.
Kirk: Actually, in some way all probably through Jeff. When I grew up, Jeff was booking shows in my home town and then when I came to Philadelphia, Jeff was booking shows in Philadelphia. And when I started playing with Jeff, it’s really weird to say that most of how I stayed connected with the local scene over the past ten years, was actually through Jeff and some of our friends.
Before you guys mentioned the comments of people debating what is and not punk. You guys have created your own specific sound with a lot of heavy melodies and punk aggression, and it seems that over the years the genre has been heading in a more melodic direction, branching off from the barebones of three chords that it once was. Do you think it will continue to go in that direction?
Kirk: Punk or us?
The genre as a whole.
Jeff: Punk in general? What it is is a state of mind, if you ask me. In my opinion.
Frank: I totally agree. It’s a way of thinking, it’s a way of approaching music, it’s a way of being creative. Punk is what you make it, and that’s the important thing. So hopefully people keep pushing towards that and doing creative stuff that doesn’t sound like other bands. Expressing themselves the best they could, that would be nice. But I couldn’t guess what’s going to happen.
I heard that this is Mark’s last show with you guys. What are the future plans for Ma Jolie?
Kirk: We’ve been writing as a three-piece and I don’t know. The four of us here have really created something that I think is really hard to break away from or change. And when Mark said that he wanted to leave, it wasn’t a question of replacing him.I think we have this sort of a unit that we want to strive to keep going in the way that it’s going.
Jeff: It’s a new chapter. We’re going to try writing new stuff. We’re really excited about what we’re writing because it’s a different element and a new chapter. That’s what is so interesting about the scenario now is that we have to figure it out. It’s enjoyable, it’s really enjoyable. I think we’re trying to take a lot of risks. Besides that fact if Mark would have stayed or not, we would have continued to be taking a risk. I feel like with each record you’re going to see more stuff that there’s nothing holding us back and we’re using outside influences that aren’t pigeon-holed into what your band is supposed to sound like.
I actually caught you guys opening for The Flatliners a few months ago at Voltage. I know it’s February, and the beginning of the year and reflecting upon the past one has come and gone, but what was your favorite show that you played of 2013?
Mark: Ooh man.
Jeff: Mark, you should chime in.
Kirk: It’s all yours.
Mark: I have to think for a second. The Flatliners and good Riddance show was, aside from the crowd, it kind of sucked at that show but for me personally, Good Riddance was one of my favorite bands growing up and The Flatliners are another one of my favorite bands. I couldn’t believe that we were playing that.
Jeff: I think the Church (First Unitarian Church) with Hop Along. Playing the church is such a big fucking thing for me.
Frank: For me it was the Bowery Ballroom, because I’m from the New York area. I’ve seen so many great bands there so it was pretty special to play Bowery. And you know with The Menzingers, it was a great show, but just being in that room and on that stage was just amazing.
Kirk: What was the name of that festival in Cleveland?
Frank/ Jeff: Weapons of Mass Creation.
Kirk: Weapons of Mass Creation festival was outstanding. Between all the art that we got to be around and all the different avenues that people were expressing and talking about their art. We got to play with the best bands that I’ve looked up to all my life. That was definitely one of my favorite shows.
That’s all the questions I have, is there anything else you guys would like to say?
Kirk: Thank you and Dying Scene for following us and taking care of us with everything we’ve done in the past couple of years. It’s really been a treat.
Jeff: Yeah, Dying Scene has been incredibly supportive of us.We all have different feelings about Mark leaving but we are all definitely moving forward and we’re going to keep doing stuff. The thing is that we never stop writing for this band, from when we first started. And everytime we put out a new record we keep writing, and that’s really been the key. We are trying to expand and play with different bands, and I think that’s important.
Kirk: Mark, you can’t be replaced.
Mark: Two months from now they aren’t going to even remember that I was in the band.
Frank: I feel like as a three-piece, I’m pretty excited to work as a three-piece. And I really do agree, Mark can’t be replaced. There’s a band from the ’90s called Silkworm, they’re one of my favorite bands. They lost their guitar player in the middle of their career and they didn’t replace him. They played all their old songs and they left his spot blank. I think that’s a really cool thing. Not that we are necessarily doing that, but we are definitely sticking to the whole not replacing Mark thing, which I think is important.
Thank you guys so much.
Frank: No thank you.
Kirk: I appreciate you sitting in this car with us.