Sydney based folk noir duo Jep and Dep, comprised of Darren Cross (ex Gerling) and Jessica Cassar, are about to release their debut album Word Got Out. Les Thomas caught up with Darren Cross to talk about the unusual musical road he has taken, the producers that inspired him and working with his partner in music and life.
Given your background in Gerling playing alternative and electronic music, how different does it feel playing and recording in a more acoustic, stripped back way?
Yeah, it’s super different. With electronic music I find you don’t really have to try as hard to conjure up emotion; the instruments do most of the hard work. With just vocals and guitars you really gotta make it work. We purposely keep it stripped back because that’s how we like it, to be able to feel the nuances. I recently got personally criticised by a ‘music journalist’ for keeping my solo stuff stripped back, as if that was a bad thing. From my point of view, I love footage of Townes Van Zandt singing on Youtube in a Hotel in Amsterdam or something, so stripped back, just him and a guitar. We love this aesthetic. When it’s just a song and an acoustic guitar and some vocals it’s a special thing if done right.
How did you and Jessica Cassar’s musical partnership begin? And, excuse the possibly silly question, but are you a couple?
Yep, we are an item. It’s funny ‘cause as we met I had my musical epiphany and decided I wanted to just perform music as an acoustic folk performer – just some songs and a guitar – with the ability to play my music anywhere anytime. I guess to break free from any type of reliance on electronic instruments. So I was trying to learn how to play Townes Van Zandt fingerpicking patterns at the same time me and Jess met each other. Jess had messed around on the piano before and we just made up a song. Well, she forced me into it to be honest and we made up our first song together. We wanted Jep and Dep to be like this smart ass anti-folk Adam Green, Kimya Dawson type thing at first, but it just naturally grew into this serious folk noir creature.
You’ve adopted a very noir visual style. Was that your idea of Jessica’s?
It was definitely a decision we both made. It just suited our music so much. All the videos except one we’ve edited ourselves, so it’s all the way we like it. Jess has a photography background, so between the both of us it takes about three minutes to get photos and art done. It’s very easy and costs us nothing, punk rock art mentality, visually inspired by Wim Wenders, Anton Corbjin and Jim Jarmusch.
On the recording side, you can definitely hear strong influences of producers like Lee Hazelwood and Phil Spector. Were you guided by those kind of big sounds?
100%. Phil Spector is cruel son-of-a-bitch but god damn his work is genius. He made that wall of sound and it personally has such an emotional effect on me. I guess listening to those songs when I was a kid coming through an AM radio just gets me every time. I love it, all the classics from the Righteous Brothers to The Ronettes. He is the master as far as I’m concerned. Lee Hazelwood as well. He has this lo-fi epic grandioseness to his music production as well. I mean, it seems to be a contradiction to the whole stripped back thing I was talking about before, but sometimes I cannot stop or help myself. I produced the Jep and Dep album for five months. We recorded the heart and soul of the album live to tape – just me, Jess and my 1973 Gibson Deluxe J-50 acoustic – we recorded the album in 1.5 hours and then I produced for 5 months at my Bernstein Studios. I played all the bass guitar parts, string composition and arrangement, live Celtic-inspired percussion, everything. Jess did the finger clicks live. (Laughs) Ben Corbett played the banjo on ‘My Man’ and Peter Holz engineered the recording session at Damien Gerard’s Studios.
When you’re talking about influences, Mick Harvey’s work with Nick Cave is a super big influence as well: that atmosphere. Fuck, without Mick Harvey I’m not sure what would have happened to some of those Nick Cave songs. I love all these people with a passion.
It sounds like you’ve had a good chance to visit parts of Europe as well as Australia. How have you found those experiences?
Amazing. Jess and I toured Germany before we even went to Melbourne. I have loved Berlin since I first went there 12 years ago. I think Europeans in general respect musicians a hell of lot more. Over here it’s talk over the performer with the acoustic guitar .In France and Germany , The Netherlands, everywhere else, you play music in a bar or a coffee shop and people respect the musician and listen, enjoy it. It’s quite a beautiful and profound experience.
Touring highlights: supporting Johnny Marr from the Smiths and Kristen Hersh were amazing experiences. Local highlights were supporting Matt Walkers Lost Ragas and singing backups with Jen Cloher and Courtney Barnett on Jen’s gorgeous song “Save Me From What I Want”.
What are you looking forward to most about getting this album out there?
Touring and meeting people who love our songs as much as we love them. Jess and myself did everything ourselves on this album. Our vision was not compromised one bit. We also self-funded everything –no Pozible campaigns or record company grain feed – so we are also proud of that. We have worked hard for that.
JEP AND DEP AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES