Over the last ten years Trampolene have become one of Swansea’s most loved original bands. ‘Original’ being a key word. Their unique ability to incorporate poetry and indie-rock music have won them plaudits from poetry legend John Cooper Clarke and this year saw the band support the Libertines on a European tour. The band are proudly ‘Swansea’ and Swansea’s proud of them!
I caught up with Jack Jones, who, in true rock’n’roll fashion, had spent the previous night asleep on a studio floor.
For those people that are still unaware of you personally and of Trampolene, could you give them a brief description?
We are a 3 piece, band from Swansea, we play indie rock’n’roll with a bit of spoken word although that’s developing. When I was 14, in school, Wayne was in Llanelli school and I met him playing football, he then left school and came over to live with me when he was still only about 14. I was going to Bishop Vaughan school and he was in my house playing bass.
Then I went to Gorseinon college where I met Kyle. We all then moved to London, I don’t know why, our mates were going to Uni and we wanted to be in this band and so we just got in a van and moved to London at 18. The 3 of us living in one bedroom at first which was pretty stinky. We done the rounds for years and years as a band, eventually we got a flat that was like a Welsh refugee camp. We’d have mates turn up with Tesco carrier bags full of alcohol, it was always full of people. We tried to turn it into an Andy Warhol factory, we’d invite poets, musicians, it was like a rehearsal dancefloor. That’s how we wrote our first album, ‘SWANSEA TO HORNSEY’ it was a biographical album of where we were. Hornsey being where the flat was.
We’ve been together over 10 years now. Kyle, the drummer left the band for a bit, but he recorded the first 2 albums with us. We had 2 different drummers until we realised that we couldn’t function without Kyle. So he’s re-joined after 5 years. He helps us decode our ideas. He’s like this big warm and relaxing, steadying presence which I think we need. It doesn’t work without him. He is extremely talented, grade 8 piano and violin and an unbelievable drummer.
I’m a big fan of Jarvis Cocker, Leonard Cohen, Pete Doherty (who we will speak about later) and their poetry genius. You are in that mould, where the lyrics and timing of the lyrics are key. The pauses, the volume, everything is deliberate. Who are your influences?
When I was first starting out, I was more about the guitar and into that alternative early 90s stuff. It was my own time machine, listening to Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead) and Jack White (White Stripes). I was massively into guitaring, it was weird because when I moved away from Swansea, I had this obsession with Dylan Thomas. I think that I looked back at my life, where I came from, and tried to find myself, the life that I wanted, nobody has walked in my footsteps. The only person that I could look up to was Dylan Thomas and I became obsessed with him and poetry and words. My taste then switched to the likes of Leonard Cohen, I started counting syllables and reading more. I went from being obsessed with the guitar to poetry, rhyme structures. John Cooper Clarke, Jarvis Cocker – a mind boggling genius. One of the first songs I ever learned on the guitar was fuck forever, fast forward ten years and I was playing it as his (Peter Doherty) guitarist.
I just want to share this with you really because I love the man and it’s an excuse to talk about him, but I remember driving back on my own from Worcester and Leonard Cohen hadn’t long passed away. I had a CD with ‘Friends of Leonard Cohen’ on playing his songs. Tower of Song came on, sang by Martha Wainwright and the verse ‘Now I bid you farewell, I don’t know when I’ll be back, They’re moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track, But you’ll be hearing from me baby, long after I’m gone, I’ll be speaking to you sweetly from a window in the Tower of Song’ and I started crying. Genuinely, those words were there, and I was hearing them from the ‘Tower of Song’.
What is your proudest lyric? I suppose I want a verse. What is the verse where you just sit back and go ‘fucking nailed it!’?
Oh my god, such a good question. Well for some reason, when you said it, I thought of ‘already older than I dreamed I’d be’ from the first Trampolene album. There is a lyric at the end of that which goes ‘laughter and pain, cuts like a knife, makes me smile at the meaning of life.’ I always listen to that before the guitar solo kicks in and think that’s the best.
Not a bad guitar solo after that line either may I add! I assume that you are always writing. Are you a lone-writer? Do you write with other people? Do you begin alone and spread it out? How does the process work for you?
I was a lone writer and a classic singer songwriter but recently the boys have been helping me more. I’ve been taking half ideas to the boys more than completed ones. The amazing Mike Moore who helped put our last album two albums together helped me with the writing a too. I suppose that I’m more open, before I had tunnel vision and felt that it ‘has to be this way’. I was maybe in my golden period, and I now need more help – who knows?
Do you specifically write songs and poetry separate or can you start writing a poem and think ‘hang on, lets grab the guitar…’?
That’s totally what happens. I’m always writing poems, they come first and then I’ll look at it and think ‘that works with that chord’ or whatever. Before it was from the guitar, I’d come up with some music and then fit words into the melody. Now I think that its lyrics first. I just think ‘what do I want to say?’ And that’s the most important thing. Peter (Doherty) does it like that too, he can also kill a melody too and add words to that. But I find what I want to say first, and you can hang your hat on it, put out what you want to say in that moment.
What was it like opening the Swansea Arena? That must have been special.
Mate, we were thinking about announcing our retirement after it. It is mad to think, our rehearsal room was in the strand, we’d been rehearsing since we were 14 and then fast forward and we were opening the arena opposite the Strand. All the songs that we were rehearsing we were now playing there. It was surreal, we didn’t expect that many people to be there. It was a special moment. That was Kyles first gig back too. When he left, we were doing gigs to 20 people in Camden, he came back to a full arena.
You have a real core-following, don’t you?
Yeah, it was beyond. It’s funny because when that moment happens (when a crowd sing lyrics back to you), it’s a moment that you have lived your whole life for, I don’t know why I need that validation but when someone sings your poem or song back to you – it’s special. You don’t expect it, people screaming about Poundland or ketamine. It genuinely surprised me; I thought that the poetry side was more for me and not what would define the band in some ways. At the beginning it was just confusion for people, so it was a very special moment.
I was at that gig, and it was the first time that I’ve seen you. I’m not trying to kiss your ass but your stage presence was very, very impressive. You looked in your element and completely at ease. Have you always had that? Because you’ve got to have balls to put out a poem in-between tunes, has it always worked?
It has not always worked. It’s been a disaster for years, when the band first started, we were a punk band and the small amount of people that knew us enjoyed it. Then we introduced the poems into the set, what happened was we would stop playing the guitar for a poem and you’d hear ‘what the fuck you up to?’, ‘just play the guitar!’.
It was odd because I then became the Libertines tour poet, and the Ketamine poem went viral. Then people started to come to see the band on the back of that poem. They didn’t know there was a band and when people came, they were like, ‘what’s with the fucking guitar?’ Half wanted the poems and half wanted the music. It took years for people to realise that it was the same person/band. It has been a long process but the last year I think people have understood it and got what we are about.
I say that’s the first time that I’ve seen you, but I watched the Libertines in Cardiff in 2015 (I think). Did you introduce the band then?
I did yeah and I was pelted with the most beer in the world. Obviously a few people knew that I was a Swansea boy, they (Libertines) were on stage really late because they spent half an hour cleaning the stage. I was doing the poem Poundland and there were so many pound coins thrown at me – I made a fortune! But it was a magic time for me, on the tour bus with Peter, Carl, Gary & John going place to place, it was great.
That was a great gig, I’m a big fan of theirs. What was it like going on tour with them across Europe?
That was the full Trampolene train, and we loved it. It has been really nice to experience it with Kyle too, getting the chance to see him experience it all. We are finally the band that we think we can be – a great band. It was great for me to see the boys getting to know Peter and to play in front of a massive crowd. It is different seeing them (Libertines) in Europe, as in England, Wales, Scotland we are mental people. The audiences out there are respectful and quiet, then they do go a bit mad at times, but it is very different.
You obviously knew Pete Doherty beforehand, both of you were in ‘Peter Doherty and the Puta Madres’, how did that come about, I understand it was very last-minute trip to Argentina?
Yeah, that’s so true. I was doing the Libertines tour thing and I don’t think he knew that I could play guitar – so I was trying to play it on the bus so that he could see me. Trampolene had just done our first sold out gig in water-rats in London, 100 odd people and I had a missed called from Pete’s manager. I called him back and he said ‘how are you, how was the gig? I said ‘great’. He then asked, ‘do you want to be Peter Doherty’s new guitarist?’ and I said ‘does the pope shit in the wood?’ and he said ‘No’ and so I said ‘oh, I mean the opposite then’. He said ‘good because you are on a flight at 7pm tonight’.
We had a gig the next day and so I had to learn 20 songs on the plane. Sitting there learning the songs. Listening through his career. I’d heard a lot of them but had to learn them all. I didn’t sleep. I then saw Peter, and showed him the songs and he then showed me the set list and said, ‘We aren’t playing them tonight’ and showed me the set – I hadn’t learned any of them. He said ‘if you don’t know the tune then jump in the crowd’. He started playing a song that nobody in the band had heard, he’d written it the night before. I looked at him, he nodded and pointed his head at the crowd and so I jumped in the crowd. Crowd surfing and they all roared and they went mental. I thought ‘they love me’ but then looked behind me and Pete had gone in too – they were screaming for him! We were stuck in there for half an hour. He started playing some tunes I knew but that is how it was.
So, this was before the album ‘Peter Doherty and the Puta Madres’ what songs were you playing?
Yeah, I played guitar on that album, and I wrote the second single ‘Paradise is Under Your Nose’ which is on that album. This was before then and at the beginning we were Pete’s backing band. When he does his own show he plays the best of Libertines, Babyshambles and his own stuff. In South America, people started calling us the ‘Puta Madres’. It’s a saying, kind of like, ‘mother fuckers’ but it can be used in a different context – like we use the word ‘bollocks’ but it means mother fuckers. Anyway, they started chanting that and so Pete lovingly called us it.
You went on tour again after the album. It must be frustrating for him when certain sections of fans want to hear the ‘well-known’ songs when he and you have worked hard on new material. What is that like for you? Obviously not being involved with ‘Don’t look back into the sun’ etc…
No, I don’t get pissed off, I don’t mind it. I look forward to playing all the songs. I really love them. it does annoy Pete sometimes. You start a gig and one person at the front is saying ‘Fuck Forever’ for an hour and a half. In Europe that happens a lot less. In England its classic, nobody pays attention to the new songs.
I’m assuming you get that at Trampolene gigs too?
Exactly the same. We get’ when are you going to play Poundland?’ or people just start shouting ‘ketamine!!’. The song we get is ‘Alcohol Kiss’. It’s a classic. ‘Play ‘You do Nothing to Me’ is another. We are there thinking ‘Yeah we will, just calm down!’. If I was in the audience, I would just go along with the band, go for the journey. But I understand that when you’re in the audience then you want to hear your favourite song. It doesn’t bother me.
How important is an album to you?
Mate, it is massive. I love having that something to hold in our hand. Like holding a book, holding the art in your hand – it just connects you to it so much deeper. That’s what I love about it. We will always have physical album, even if nobody else wants it, then we will still do it. It’s important for the flow and the arc of a song, how each song blends into one another. The album we have been working on now, there is so much detail on what comes next, we spend hours on getting the songs in the right order.
Finally, what is the Swansea music scene like now compared to when you started out?
I think it’s improved hugely. When we started the band, it was really only EMO and punk bands about, and we didn’t see ourselves in that scene. It felt like there wasn’t anything for us, there is no real industry, not a record label there I don’t think. So, I think that it is still difficult in that respect. But the venues and the types of bands have got more diverse, there are heavy bands, indie etc.
The bunkhouse is a brilliant sized venue, that’s where I do anything when I’m back. I’m going to do a secret gig there Friday. Doing a pound-a-ticket, nobody got any money so doing a £1 a ticket to celebrate Poundland, hot dogs for tea. It is usually a last minute thing.
Sadly, not only is this interview printed a few weeks after this £1 gig, but I couldn’t make it because I had my mate’s birthday bash on the same day – Cheers Toni!!
A HUGE thank you to Jack for his time. I really enjoyed our chat, incredibly talented lyricist, guitarist and look forward to seeing you again somewhere soon!