TWENTY! That was old when Jebediah first shambled on stage in their shorts and sneakers and blue hair and dimples and grins and smirks and started bouncing off the walls with their roaring riffs and soaring pop hooks and tore the lid off the Big Day Out and the Hottest 100 overnight.
It’s impossible for an Australian of a certain vintage to imagine those late ’90s summers without those delirious early Jebs singles — ‘Jerks of Attention’, ‘Leaving Home’, ‘Teflon’, ‘Harpoon’, ‘Animal’ — blasting out of every car radio and festival PA from Summersault to the Falls to Homebake.
Kevin Mitchell, Chris Daymond, Vanessa Thornton and Brett Mitchell were mostly teenagers when they set out: brothers and best mates from some far-flung Perth high school who’d accidentally stumbled into the first division of the global rock’n'roll perpetual and given it a cheeky kick up the arse while running rings around it with guitars in the air.
Twenty years later, of course… um, actually, nothing much has changed.
“We’d easily been going for ten years,” says Vanessa, “before the thought even occurred to me that we weren’t the new kids anymore. For so long, I just felt like we were the young kids from the other side of the country who were allowed to play with the grown-ups. And I was happy with that.”
Who wasn’t? The spontaneous arrival of Jebediah on the alt. airwaves was an act of contagious glee perpetrated by four young’uns who simply knew no better than to crank up the volume and rock. A Jebediah gig was like an injection of youth in all its naïve, joyful, mischievous, uncluttered glory.
In time, naturally, came sneaky indications of real craft, even glimmers of sophistication, in the orchestral intensity of ‘Run of the Company’, the rear-view wisdom of ‘It’s Over’, the philosophical clarity of ‘More Alone’ and the coolly swaggering power pop of ‘Lost My Nerve’. But with some bands, the things that change are far outweighed by the stuff that stays the same.
“I think our music and our inspirations have evolved,” says Chris, “but the process hasn’t. It’s all hands on deck when song writing is happening. Everybody takes responsibility for everything they put in.”
The secret to their longevity, he says, “is nothing more complicated than friendship. It’s just always been such a pleasure being with those dudes. And the chemistry hasn’t changed. It was good fun then and it’s good fun now.”
The story of then has been oft told. Jebediah won the National Campus Band Competition on their 13th gig, in October ’95. Soon after they signed to murmur, Australia’s coolest new label (Silverchair, Something For Kate), they were catapulted out of the mosh pits and onto the main stage of the exploding ’90 festival scene.
Bands they’d idolised yesterday — You Am I, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Weezer, Magic Dirt —became peers faster than you could say Of Someday Shambles.
“Pretty much every gig we played between ’96 and ’99 was a highlight,” says Kevin, “because things happened so quickly for us.
“Even now, we always have a good time together and I think people get that. I think people see it. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing to a sea of people at a festival or 200 people at a country pub. We just have a great time.”
So much so that the reality of their success was easy to overlook from the inside. “I remember watching some footage of our performance at the 2000 Big Day Out,” says Brett. “It was a moment. I was so struck by a scale of it. It was hard to believe I was us up there, evoking this response from so many people. I suddenly thought, ‘Oh, we’re quite good’.”
Showbiz happened to Jebediah too, of course. They were dropped by Sony Music around the time of their third album — distinguished by the barrelling bagpipe rush of ‘Fall Down’ and the cunningly loaded reflection of ‘Yesterday When I was Brave’. At the time, they barely skipped a beat.
“We didn’t go into this with any kind of career motivation whatsoever and I think that’s the difference,” Kevin says. “Observing other bands over the years, I’ve noticed a lot of them break up very soon after they have a lot of success. But we felt the same motivation to keep playing together.”
Even in their hiatus years, between the self-produced triumph of Braxton Hicks and re-energised comeback with Kosciuszko in 2011, Jebediah never stopped grinning at each other over flailing instruments and sweaty t-shirts, either in front of a full house or in the eternal rosy glow of the band room.
So to TWENTY. It’s a compilation. Twenty tracks spanning five albums from the vintage Twitch EP to their most recent single, ‘She’s Like A Comet’. It’s also a tour. The biggest the band has undertaken in many years is a game of two halves: beloved classics and surprises first, then their ’97 debut, Slightly Odway, in its blissful, ballistic entirety.
“The one-off shows are always great,” says Vanessa, “but it’s so cool to get on a long tour again; to be living in the Jebediah bubble and know you can really immerse yourself and get on a roll as a band.”
It’s been some roll so far. Jebediah didn’t set out to change the world, but nor did they leave it as they found it. Listening to TWENTY, the miracle is how easily it all comes flooding back.
“Music is amazing like that,” says Brett. “It’s one of those channels a person can use to return to an earlier outlook. It’s like you’re dragging a long string behind you and if you give it a tug every once in a while, you can bring back some of those feelings. That’s a pretty powerful thing. And it’s a thing we’re really grateful to have.”
Jebediah’s album TWENTY is available at all good record stores on Friday May 29.