Long-time friends as well as bandmates – “I think we were best mates within 20 minutes of meeting each other, but we are almost exactly the opposite person, in every aspect of our lives,” says Mark, known to all simply as ‘Bowen’ – the pair share a degree of caution when faced with representatives of the Fourth Estate, but clearly recognise the value of their promotional schedule: when our transatlantic Zoom connection drops for the fourth or fifth time in the opening 10 minutes of our scheduled hour-long conversation, Joe offers up his mobile phone number instead so that we may continue the interview uninterrupted. It’s a small, gracious gesture, but one indicative of the singer’s commitment to laying bare the ideas and intentions underpinning his art. Both men use the word “rebirth” in reference to the significance of Crawler, and their pride in their latest work, co-produced by Mark alongside American hip-hop producer Kenny Beats, is as tangible as it is entirely understandable.
With the benefit of hindsight and distance, Joe is of the opinion that the bullishly one-dimensional and relentless attack-mode ferocity of Ultra Mono “translated badly as a home listening device.” That it hit Number One, says Mark, downplaying the achievement, was “all about the community that’s been built around us, all down to our label and our fans”. Arguably a compendium of great singles rather than a great album, per se, Ultra Mono can be seen to share a spiritual kinship with Metallica’s punishing fourth album …And Justice For All, in that it represents what might be considered the band’s trademark sound pushed to the nth degree. Indeed, speaking to MOJO magazine in August, the vocalist posited his belief that Ultra Mono was consciously crafted as “a caricature of what people thought of us”.
“We wanted to kind of twist that up, and then burn that effigy so we could start Crawler,” he explained.
Today, Joe is disarmingly honest in acknowledging that some of the negative notices the band received last time out – largely revolving around criticisms that his well-intentioned, heartfelt but occasionally sledgehammer-subtle lyrics calling out societal failings lacked nuance – may have some merit.
“I feel like a lot of the criticism that I got for Ultra Mono and a lot of the criticism I got for Joy… is fair,” he graciously concedes. “It’s a perspective on my songwriting, and I learned that I was just being defensive. Instead of turning around and storming off, throwing my toys out of the pram, I decided to like, look at what I was responsible for, and hold myself accountable for the songs I’ve written. And it’s a beautiful thing, I’m excited about where I’m at. Everything that’s happened over the past two years has allowed me the grace and time to improve, both in [my] personal, and in music, life.”