When Jaws first burst onto the music scene, they did so under a spotlight keenly focused on bands emerging out of Birmingham. A few years on and a lot has changed: that initial burst of hype might have faded, but as they continue to play packed out shows across the country it’s clear that the energy and enthusiasm surrounding this West Midlands trio is one thing that’s endured. “There’s a different dynamic to how it all works, but it still works,” Connor Schofield states. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve all got jobs. I live away now…” Growing up might not sound all that appealing on paper, but with the release of their third album Jaws have rediscovered a brand new sense of self. “Things have changed, but we’re still making it work,” Connor affirms. “Not too much has actually changed in that way.”
Travelling between London to Birmingham to rehearse for their upcoming tour, the frontman is in high spirits. With their new album finished and ready to drop, the group have their sights set firmly on their live stage. “We’ve never been a band that can go in a practice room for a whole day,” Connor recalls. “If you start to get frustrated and pissed off at stuff because it doesn’t sound good, or this or that, then it just ruins it. It can make you enjoy it a lot less. It becomes so stressful.” Rehearsal tension can be a destructive thing (see recent Bros documentary ‘After The Screaming Stops’ for some entertaining insight), but that doesn’t enter onto this band’s radar. As they always have been, Jaws are here to have a good time.
“We’ll just have a really nice couple of hours, having a laugh, playing through the songs, trying to work stuff out,” Connor fondly describes. Surrounded by good people, with a soundtrack of good music… In essence, that’s what Jaws’ live shows have always been about. “There’s a couple of songs we haven’t tried to play yet – as the album versions,” he adds. “Right now we’re trying to put setlists together.”
It’s been a long time coming. With the first material written for this new record dating back two summers ago, a lot has gone into making Jaws’ third album everything it could be. “We were so proud of the second album,” Connor expresses. “We saw it as a definite benchmark of what we could achieve.” Having set a new bar for themselves with ‘Simplicity’, the trio had a lot to live up to. “I wasn’t scared of trying to do this new record, but there was definitely an anxiety towards ‘is it going to be good enough?'” Connor recalls. “I think that’s why it took a little bit longer than it should have.”
As it turned out, those worries were unfounded. “It sort of just came together naturally,” the frontman recalls. “As soon as I got that first song where I was like ‘this is in the realm of what this is going to be’, the rest followed.” A year later, and ‘The Ceiling’ was forged. “A lot of bad songs, then every so often you get a really good one,” he laughs. The result of their efforts is an album that pushes the boundaries of who Jaws have come to be. “I feel like it’s a better listen than the last two albums – start to finish,” he describes. “I hate when people sort of go ‘oh, it sounds more mature’, but it does!” he grins. “It sounds like we’re a bit better,” he laughs, quickly adding “in a not-arrogant way? We’re just a bit better at making music than we were the last time.”
The trio’s improved musicianship can be heard through every layer of ‘The Ceiling’. A record of contrasting dynamics, of broadening soundscapes, of surging guitar riffs, and of everything in between, ‘The Ceiling’ is Jaws at their most ambitious yet. “It just started to grow,” Connor enthuses. “There’s a song called ‘Fear’, which is quite electronic, or house-y. That started as me just trying to do something like Four Tet or something, not even necessarily for Jaws,” he recalls. “I wrote the lyrics for it, and looped it, and was like ‘wait, this guitar riff sounds really nice over it’. I was like ‘this would be so good to perform live’.”
Honing their craft as they went, working on this record allowed Jaws to build up their most expansive sound to date. Choosing two guitar-heavy singles to pave the way for the release, that magic remains ripe and ready to be explored. “We’ve released two [songs] that are just guitar songs,” Connor details. “We basically just want to fuck with people a little bit before the album comes out,” he laughs, “so they think ‘actually, maybe this is going to be a little bit more interesting than we realised’.”
Drawing a range of dynamics into play, Jaws have never sounded so nuanced. Powering through thunderous choruses and reverberating rhythms only to strip it all back on ‘Looking / Passing’, an echoing proclamation of “I want to sing it loud” resounds as the quietest point on the album – just one of many contrasts that makes this album what it is, and in turn, makes Jaws who they’ve come to be. “In the future, I’ll pretend that we meant to do that,” Connor laughs. “I’ve always wanted to do a sad song that actually was quite honest,” he explains. “Not that I haven’t written honestly before, but really sort of be truly honest. I am quite a shy person because of my anxieties, and what I want to do is all these things that the song is about.”
Building from introspection to empowerment, the album is at once reflective and assured. Its message is a simple one. “There is no ceiling,” Connor resolves. “You can do whatever you want.” Such empowerment is both a struggle and a source of strength, a duality Jaws have developed a keen knack of unfolding. “A lot of my songs are about my anxiety and how I feel,” Connor illustrates. “I feel like it’s important to highlight the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Seeking that reassurance and celebrating it when it’s there, ‘The Ceiling’ is a candid venture to finding the light through the dark. “It’s like sitting by a fire while there’s a storm going on outside,” the frontman describes (quickly amending to “no, not sitting by a fire – sitting by candles, so it’s still a little bit cold”). “On this record, there’s a bit more about real life and growing up, relationships etc.,” he continues, “which I haven’t really touched on before as honestly as I have on this record.”
Being openly candid in their lyrics as they broadened their sound, ‘The Ceiling’ is a record that transforms expectations. “As much as you appreciate that you wouldn’t be anywhere without the people that listen to you,” Connor considers, “ultimately we’re releasing what we like, not what we think people are going to like. So it doesn’t make me nervous because I know that I’m happy with it,” he concludes. “That’s the main fear before you release anything, but I wouldn’t release it if I didn’t enjoy it.”
And ‘enjoy it’ is exactly what Jaws are planning to do – though, for the moment, they’re still caught up in the process of preparing for release and the upcoming tour. “Maybe when it’s actually out I’ll be able to take it in properly,” Connor grins. “We sort of recorded it, mixed it, mastered it, PR plan, announced it… It was like bang, bang, bang, bang, bang,” he details. “Maybe in a few months, I’ll actually be able to sit down and enjoy it for what it is.”
Taken from the April issue of Dork, out now. Jaws’ album ‘The Ceiling’ is out 5th April.
Words: Jessica Goodman