It was late March when I first saw the beast called Left Ajar live. It was one night at The Plug and I remember clearly as one band left and they entered. I turned around while snapping some shots and noticed that three quarters of the audience were all wearing a t-shirt with their logo.
I thanked heavens there was no Kool-aid on sight.
Half-expecting a Polyphonic Spree-esque round of shenanigans, I lost my train of thought when their show started. An energetic, brisk half an hour that felt like 3 minutes followed. There’s no way to describe the energy they put on their live show and how their passion for funk (and jumping. A lot) translates into a rabid fanbase that follows them everywhere.
Part of that following and the lasting impression of that show (a fantastic cover of Foo Fighters’ ‘All my life’) led me toarrange an interview with the fellas. We met at a half-empty Pizza Hut in Ecclesall road on a lazy Sunday evening. The PA was bubbling its way into AOR heaven (or hell, depending on the squad you support) and the band was chilling from a rehearsal.
They offer me some food but I already consumed half an orchard worth’s of veg (Sunday roast, innit?) so I skip on pizza and go for the obvious question. “What’s the story of Left Ajar?”.
“We started at school” tells Andy, the guitar player. “And we were asking everyone: ‘do you know a drummer?’ and Russ’ mum actually came along and said ‘My son’s a drummer!’, so he went in!”. Jamie, the bass player, said “I couldn’t play bass, but I’ll get one and learn”.
They had another singer before, but they didn’t gel together that well. At the insistence of people, they went for Wayne(who is Andy’s cousin) and they got him. “I previously only sang on Karaoke, ballads and stuff, and these guys were quite heavy metal” grins Wayne, reminiscing of his recruitment in the band, happy that he proved his worth.
On regards of the name Left Ajar, Andy continues: “The band name, well, we were Andy, Jamie, Ash and Russ, so it was A.J.A.R. and we thought we needed something else to make it memorable, stick it on front, so added Left”
“There were bands names like Limp Bizkit, Scissor Sister, Korn…as long as you had something memorable, we were in” continues Andy. Jamie chimes in “A lot of people put way too much thought on it, but we liked how it sounded”.
Wayne agrees: “I joined and saw the name, and said ‘yeah, I’ll keep that!’”. They tell me how they changed their style from hard rock into funk, as they are all fans of Red Hot Chilli Peppers and noticed how people responded more to the funkier songs than the heavy stuff. “It started with ‘Somedays'” reminisces Wayne “and we worked on that area afterwards”.
We talk about influences. Their Facebook page lists way too many bands, so out of the blue I ask for their fave stuff. “My influences are Freddy Mercury, Meat Loaf, but really, anybody with a powerful voice and a good stage presence” says Wayne. Andy goes for John Frusciante (ex-RHCP), Nino Betancourt (from Extreme), Jimmy Page, Rolling Stones and anything “with a groove”. Jamie mentions Flea (RHCP), Cliff Burton (Metallica) and Dave Wooten (if you don’t know the guy, google him!). Finally, Russ again goes for Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Toto and Led Zeppelin.
About their image, including the logo, the band agrees it was a very democratic process.
Andy describes the whole thing “It was a group decision, really. We just designed together, saying do this, change that, same as we did today with the cover songs. We put stuff together, we come together. If someone doesn’t like something, it’s changed. We are in a band with four people.”
“We thought about images with fire and different fonts, but black and white looked best. And it was easier to print” laughs Jamie.
I ask them about having their logos on the t-shirts and how the fans seem to be happy wearing them. “Fans were always ‘can I take a picture with you’?” says Wayne, then commenting on how sometimes he just gave them the shirt right away. Andy jokes about running low on shirts by now.
Andy behaves sometimes like a spokeperson, he’s good with words and takes the lead when no-one else will, but the band is pretty democratic. They even let their fans help out with the brainstorming of their alt-project cover band name, which, they have already chosen (from a selected few scribbled on the back of the possible songs to cover).
I notice a massive list on the table. It’s four pages of songs, some are famous hits of yore, some are current mixtape material and some are a little obscure for today’s youth, but deserve another spin. Andy tells me that they’ve been planning to do an alternate project, based on covers. They all give their opinion on this new project:
Andy: We’ll alternate; it’ll be a separate name from Left Ajar. We enjoy playing covers live, we get great response from our older songs by fans, but for newcomers, they can hear something they can recognise straight away. We like covers but we also want to be an original act, so we can do the best of both worlds.
Russ: Even more as a gig experience, there’s a wide appeal if they know the songs. Venues might be more welcoming so we spread ourselves more.
Jamie: We like give away free cds, free badges, free shirts and we play free gigs.
Wayne: All the money we make we put on stuff we give away. We need to buy recording equipment and microphones and stuff cost a lot, so we can get some help from being a covers band.
A weird thing happens when we come to the matter of albums. As I ask the ubiquitous question we have been drilling for a while on our interviewees, the PA at Pizza Hut is having James Blunt on full blast. I ask them about albums being a still living and breathing experience or just as dead as disco…
A: the album is there, but the main chart thing is obviously singles, it’s moving away from that sort of ‘Dark side of the Moon’ experience. But for us, it’s better an album, as we can play as many genres as we want, do some hard stuff, some mellow, do the whole package.
R: Our free stuff is a good promo tool for us as it allows people to listen, come to the end of the gig and maybe give them the cd as they enjoyed them. Maybe those songs can make them listen to the whole thing. It’s hard to get people to buy if they cost 20 pounds or so. Maybe cheaper albums is the way forward.
W: Albums are still around, people still like them. We have links where you can download ours for free, put them straight away on your mp3 and listen to them.
J: Albums are not the way to make music anymore. There is still money in music but you make your albums for people to listen to the music.
I ask the band about the online community and they all agree that the fan page on Facebook has been a major help with gigs. “We could pay for an ad on Facebook, but they wouldn’t see it or go unnoticed, but if you talk with people directly, it’s better” says Russ. The faster response times, the direct communication (and more importantly: feedback) with fans has helped them tailor-made their setlists. They even got people to vote for the name (and tracks) for the cover band. It also has helped track down which songs have been played the most and focus on working them.
One of our Sloucher collaborators plays bass, so I ask Jamie about his choice for bass. “I play a Gibson Thunderbird, and I like Spector basses too. We use Dovetail strings too. Me and Andy are proud sponsorees of Dovetail”. Andy chimes in “Tell ’em why you like Spector Basses”. Jamie obliges “Recommendation from Ian Hill from Judas Priest”!
The subject of lyrics comes round and I ask them. Wayne writes more about how he feels the music, whereas Andy Jamie will write from personal experiences. Andy* and Russ sometimes contribute too, and the lyrics, as everything in Left Ajar, is done democratically.
[Editor’s note: We got a note from Left Ajar, it is Jamie and Wayne on lyrics duties, but still a very democratic process! I’ll personally kick Sam in the left shin for this – Q]
Ideas get kicked around, feedback is given back and forth and when they agree, that’s when the writing is done. I ask about ‘Heatwave’ and the family friendly answer would be that is about that special warm feeling you get when you meet someone.
They say goodbye, still in good spirits after a few photographs on the car park. They know that funk might not be a current trendy genre, but hell, they still enjoy playing it.
Words & Pics: Sam