“Meet Bonnie Jarvo – the South London bluesy rockers that have turned heads with their charming tunes and DIY sensibilities. We had the chance to sit down with the band and discuss new music, perfectionism and that one venue in Winchester.”
WORDS BY ALI GRICE AND GAYATH MADAWELA
As the Zoom call sucks me into a variety of bedrooms across south England, I’m met with the glowing amicable faces of Alex, Rob, Leo and Matt. Together they are London’s energetic blues rock foursome Bonnie Jarvo. Sound vaguely familiar? Well it should. Not only a jaunty spoonerism of bumptious 90s cartoon bombshell Johnny Bravo, but pre-lockdown they had been whipping up a storm with tracks off their seminal EP Little Suzy, garnering praise at live shows with their relatable bluesy jams.
With the lockdown causing an unexpected cancellation to their first Brixton Jamm performance, we sat down with the band and talked new music, DIY perfectionism and peculiar venues.
If you would like to introduce yourselves.
Alex: I’m Alex, I sing in Bonnie Jarvo, play games in my spare time and buy big chunky headsets.
Rob: I’m Rob, and I play bass in Bonnie Jarvo. I take photos sometimes and make a lot of noise.
Leo: I am the other guitarist.
Alex: (aside) Rhythm guitarist… I only say this because you are clearly the lead guitarist.
Matt: I’m Matt. I am the drummer rounding up the Bonnie Jarvo lineup.
Leo: He’s the eye candy from the back.
So you were going to play Brixton Jamm before the coronavirus shook the entire world?
Leo: Yes we were meant to, but then coronavirus happened so everyone decided against that.
Alex: It has been postponed indefinitely [but] we still want to play.
With that in the past then, what was your most recent gig?
Leo: It was The Raven at Tower Bridge.
Rob: We played The Water Rats as well which was a good one, and we started off in the St. Moritz.
Leo: I have a real soft spot for St. Moritz… The sound is disgusting and the sweat comes off the walls.
Alex: That’s why I like it too, I like it because of the sweat.
I’ve also seen you’ve played some quite eclectic venues? I saw one of your recent gigs was at the Tattershall Castle?
Alex: That was the boat!
Leo: A sunday evening… jaunty boat ride.
Alex: It was a real cut your teeth gig.
Rob: It was an interesting one, we had some pretty peculiar bands around us as well.
So besides the questionable locations, what’s the best venue you’ve ever played?
All: Raven was the best one.
Alex: The Raven was really good because again it’s a small venue and we managed to bring enough people so it was really packed.
Rob: It was a pretty packed out house to be fair because it wasn’t just our mates.
Leo: There was about 70 people in an 80 person room.
Alex: I also really liked it because it was a floor stage, there’s no levelling up.
Rob: Water Rats was the most professional, it was set up with monitors. I think we enjoyed the Raven though, we got the most feedback.
Leo: We played new songs we hadn’t played before.
So despite the 3 brilliant songs from the Little Suzy EP out on Spotify, do you have anything else in the works?
Rob: We’re in the midst of recording the new single, and we’ve got a few in the pipeline. Everything is tracked apart from the drums and then mixing. We’re hoping to have something soon, then we’ve got a few more singles we want to put out and then a slightly longer EP… what 10 tracks now?
Leo: Maybe 7 or 8 we would want to play in a set (jokingly), and a couple of old ones we’ve put to the side.
Talking of live sets, I caught a live video of you online at St. Moritz Club…
Alex: Our first show!
Leo: Was that the synchronised head bobbing?
Rob: It’s not intentional.
Alex: There’s more video bits on Instagram, Instagram is more what we’ve done than Youtube.
Rob: We’ve been focusing a bit more on gigging over recording, it took us a long time to get through the mastering.
Leo: It was all done live and required tidying up a lot but we learned a lot from it.
Rob: Leo spearheaded our recording; we needed one experience to figure out what we can do to make it sound better.
So have you had history playing live together or individually?
Alex: This was our first venture together, but we all separately have experience playing in bands. Leo and I have been in a band previously when we were in college, and Rob was also in a band in college. Matt was playing drums over in Kiwi land.
Matt: I was in a cover band in New Zealand, we played a few pub gigs, entered a few Battle of the Bands, but coming over here I wanted to keep that going but give it a nudge from an original perspective.
Which bands did you cover?
Alex: This is funnily enough the reason we wanted him!
Matt: We covered a number of Foo Fighters tracks, we also did our own versions of stuff, like funk and rock stuff but our own versions. Weddings, 21sts… (jokingly)
Leo: We haven’t as of yet got any booking for Weddings yet, so fingers crossed. (jokingly)
Alex: Leo and I used to play in tiny little pubs, there’s a place in Winchester called The Railway. It’s like my first gig place. Everyone that makes a band in college in Winchester, that’s where you go.
Rob: I’ve played there with three different bands.
Leo: Everyone that makes a band in Winchester plays at The Railway.
From the Railway and upwards! Do you have any dream venues you want to play at?
Leo: How big are dreams in this reality?
Alex: Realistic dreams Leo.
Leo: I want to play The Windmill soon, that’s just round the corner. Shacklewell Arms would be great, and it gets really sweaty which is perfect.
Rob: Medium size like Koko would be fun… medium like a couple 1000 heads.
Leo: A couple of my mates played Koko… it’s really annoying (jokingly)
Rob: Iconic small venues are up there like Scala and Hawley Arms.
Despite the lack of gigging, has the lockdown affected your ability to practice?
Leo: Lots of practicing on acoustic guitars, I don’t like the idea of doing an online band practice.
Alex: All the timings will be wrong.
Rob: That sounds terrible (collective laughter)
Logistically I can see why you haven’t chosen to do that, so whilst practice is on stall what are you up to?
Leo: I’ve been going through recordings of The Rise which is going to be one of our next singles, so I have been doing a bit of that in the meantime. I’ve been trying to figure out how to get… because when you listen to an album and listen to the song live it’s normally a very different experience. A recorded track is very rarely an accurate representation of a live performance. I want to get our production level where it’s more than a live performance, and add some production value in. I’ve been messing around with software and instruments so we can… this is going to sound really wanky… inform timbre.
Alex: You’re a knob, but you’re a knob that’s going to make us sound cool.
Are you writing anything whilst all this is going on?
Leo: We pretty much have the makings of 3 new songs… 4 actually. There’s lots of material coming. Normally it would be a case of bring some parts in and having an idea of structure, then everyone puts their own parts to it, everyone decides how it should be rearranged etc.
Matt: The songwriting process is Leo is the catalyst for a riff, same with Alex… I guess it’s the same with all the string instruments. (laughs)
Alex: One of us brings a riff, then we write a song around that – its a very collaborative experience. I don’t think we have a song that someone has written fully and said “You’re playing this”.
Did this collaborative method of writing contribute to you recording the tracks off your EP live?
Leo: That was more out of necessity. (laughs)
Alex: That was not a stylistic choice…it was more due to budget.
What if budget weren’t a factor? Would you have changed the process?
Leo: If budget wasn’t an issue I’d still be in the studio.
Rob: That’s because he’s a tinkerer, It sounds a bit more professional than previous releases. It did take quite a bit of work to get the best out of it. We didn’t realise how much work it would be and had to rush the release.
Leo: It was a lot of trial and error. After the fifth time it got to about the best it could’ve been. After restarting a few times, we finally got the sound we wanted, it was a huge learning process.
Rob: We did it all in 8 hours.
Matt: In terms of efficiency it’s the way to go. (laughs)
And finally, where did the name Bonnie Jarvo come from?
Leo: We started with Fat Blue.
Rob: We hadn’t played a gig we were still practicing and pulling ourselves together. We were driving back from Kentish Town and we were just shouting potential band names at each other.
Leo: We had Bones Malone and the Spooky Boys which was Rob’s.
Matt: I thought that was a cool name.
Leo: Basically Bonnie Jarvo is a spoonerism of Johnny Bravo. We’d been searching for months and months. One night after band practice, going home on the tube, we were just saying words backwards to each other until someone said: What about Johnny Bravo?
Alex: We were a bit tired.
Rob: I actually didn’t know this was how it started…
Leo: Somehow we latched on to Bonnie Jarvo.
Rob: Also we had a gig, we were pushed for time, we kind of realised we should decide a name and get on socials.
Alex: We’re not that even that bothered about J. Bravo… there are many better cartoons.
Matt: We do not reflect the views of the cartoon Bonnie Jarvo.
Alex: You could say the name Bonnie Jarvo is the opposite of Johnny Bravo.
It’s convoluted but it makes sense.
Rob: There’s better band name stories I’m sure.
Leo: No there’s not!
Thank you Bonnie lads! Enjoy the remainder of lockdown and we look forward to catching you in October.
As charismatic in character as they are on stage, Bonnie Jarvo are only at the beginning of their journey. With new releases and a reorganised Brixton Jamm show due post-lockdown, their flaming passion for good music and effortlessly catchy tunes are sure to lift the spirits of anyone suffering isolation blues.
Little Suzy is available on all streaming platforms and you can get tickets to see them at Brixton Jamm on October 3rd here.
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