Jonquil: The Prettiest Flower In The Indie Bouquet


Recipe for the perfect indie band: Start with beautiful voices that can sing the lowest lows and the highest highs. Stir in an assortment of instruments, most especially organs, harmonicas, trumpets and electronic keyboards. Add a dash of British flavor. Lastly, wrap up the package with outstanding lyric writing. If you follow this recipe, you have Jonquil, a band I only discovered through writing for A longtime fan of Euro-indie bands like Belle And Sebastian and The Reindeer Section, Jonquil quickly worked their way into my top indie band list…and I think they’re here to stay. Lucky me, I got to interview lead singer Hugo Manuel over the internets. If you haven’t checked out Jonquil, you’re missing out!

Liz Livengood: Your sound has been compared to that of Vampire Weekend and Wolf Parade. Would you count these bands as influences?

Hugo Manuel: I don’t really know Wolf Parade so much, but Vampire Weekend we are all fans of for sure. I remember seeing them at Glasxtonbury Festival a few years back and it was one of the funnest gigs I’ve ever seen. To be honest though, a lot of what we listen to is actually very removed from the music we make collectively. We all have very different tastes, but we have a very set-out idea of the kind of sound we want to make.

LL: Can you tell me about your new album One Hundred Suns? What can someone who has never listened to you expect?

HM: Well, it was recorded over a period of a year in our basement studio between long tours across Europe. The basement is a tiny, tiny room where you can’t stand up straight. We have a handful of mics and lots of broken amps, but it does the job well. We’ve never really recorded in a real studio and I think this is a big reason why we are what we are. Anyway, it’s a party record split with a comedown kinda record. We like high guitar riffs and rolling drum beats and we try to write songs that sound like they have been around forever.


LL: Tell me about writing “Fighting Smiles.” What was the process? Is there a story behind the song?

HM: It’s the oldest song on the album, and we had stopped playing it live and almost entirely disregarded it (as is often the way with us), but something made us decide to give it another shot, and basically I wrote a whole new melody for the verses, and a new keyboard line for the intro, and there it was, revived! It’s about relationships and the confusion that comes with them.


LL: In your songs, I hear various instruments, such as horns, accordions and keyboards. Who plays those? Are you all just that multi-talented?

HM: We all play a bunch of things, but not well. You don’t need to know how to play the accordion, for example, to make a nice sound out of it. At least, that’s our attitude. I went through a phase of buying all sorts of weird instruments like dulcimers, obscure organs, percussion, and so on, some of that still makes it into our sound, but we tend to just leave it to the guitars, drums and the Hohner Pianet, which I play. It’s like a poor man’s Rhodes.


LL: How did the band form? Why did you choose Jonquil for a name?

HM: The band actually started with an entirely different line-up to the one that it has now, so the details of our history are pretty complicated. Basically though it started in my bedroom, inviting my friends around to make some music, before we even had a name or anything, and we found that we had enough material for an album, and our friend who had his own label released it. The name Jonquil stuck out to me when I was flicking through a book of my mother’s that was basically a catalogue of different flowers, it had really nice pictures too, and I liked the idea of it being named after a flower as I am a big fan.


LL: What bands do you like?

HM: We are all really into the new Twin Shadow album, and I have recently been listening to a lot of Tensnake and other Balearic house records. All of our fellow Blessing Force bands are our faves though: Rhosyn, Fixers, Pet Moon, and Neon Pulse.


LL: Hugo, on your blog, you asked Santa for an organ or a Casio keyboard last Christmas. Did you get it? What do you want this Christmas?

HM: I still really want that Casio CZ101, that would be a dream! But I did indeed get the Hohner Pianet, which is a wonderful electric piano, well Santa didn’t get it for me; I had to buy it myself. Damn him. We need new microphones, so I’m asking for a decent mic for Christmas this year.


LL: What did you all want to be when you grew up?

HM: I wanted to be in a band named after a flower, so I’m doing all right. Sam wanted to be a Jazz trumpeter, so he’s kinda close. Robin and Dom wanted to join the circus, so they are heading in the right direction.


LL: How is your tour with The Foals and Bombay Bicycle Club going? Do you ever get to jam with them?

HM: Those tours have been and gone I’m afraid, they were really special though. The Bombay shows were great because they were at the peak of their popularity I guess and so the shows were really big, and the Foals ones were exciting because it was their first tour for a year or so and the first one with their new album. Some of us lived with Foals the whole time they were writing Total Life Forever; we shared this studio in the basement of the house (different one to the one we have now) and would take it in turns to have practices with them. It was fun watching them writing the album, day by day, listening to the songs develop.


LL: Any plans to tour the United States? Can we come if you have a show in Portland?

HM: You are most certainly welcome! We are coming to SXSW, but that is all we know at the moment. There might be more touring later next year, wait and see!