Interview with Babylon Zoo
There is nothing less unique than someone the press tags the new British pop sensation. If we were to believe these "sensations" had the clout the press conferred, the US would once again fall under British rule because of the vast sums the public would funnel into the British economy.

When the Brit press talks about the band's runaway success, it seems a bit...creepy.

Too true dismiss as easily as the Jesus Joneses or the Soul II Souls.

Babylon Zoo isn't like that.

At 24, Jas Mann (who, for all intents and purposes, IS Babylon Zoo) has created "Spaceman," a single which became the number one across most of Europe, a single which sold 250,000 copies within it's first week, a single which sold faster for EMI than any single since the Beatles "She Loves You." The song is a techno-rock hybrid which lodges in the brains delicate ballad receptors with its solid hooks and sardonic wit. It's the kind of song that "alternative rock" detractors love to hate but can't dissuade anyone from purchasing.

Babylon Zoo is Mann's second band. His first, The Sandkings, was a high-school affair which created a minor stir before vanishing completely. Also in his repertoire is the role of film maker, artist, and unabashed science-fiction geek. KD: Your production company is called New Atlantis, and the name Babylon Zoo insinuates some connotations of exotica and a world of wonder. However, in past interviews you infer that you don't consider the name to be a reflection of anything positive.

JM: Yeah, I think it's part positive and part negative, which is what I basically went for. Like any great film, I think the title of the piece sets a sort of common ground, a philosophy of how the film sort of moves on. I mean, I deal a lot with evolution, and I deal a lot with us now, and what we were in the past and what we will be in the future, and in that whole futuristic sense of writing. The word "Babylon," I wanted to use that because it existed before Egyptian times as a paradise where everything was free, everybody was equal, and the word "Zoo," which is maybe society now, this geometric concrete jungle that we live in. This is us enslaved within our boxes. You know, our car, our home, our office. We live in boxes every single hour of the day. You deal with the two, how we evolved from paradise to a supposed modernist paradise, but is it? That's the sort of feel that I was trying to get at with the name.

KD: The theory of psycho-geography is one of the best ways I've found to deal with that, where you play with your notions of space by reacting to each environment on a more associational, sub-conscious level.

JM: Yeah, definitely. The thing is, your space, your environment, is something that you've created and you create. You can change that to a certain extent, but your whole persona. I like dealing with enclosed environments, specific environments, and how you feel within each place that you're in. For instance, the office. People will adopt a different persona in a different room. It all boils down to the size of the room, the dimensions of the room, the actual esthetics of the room, and the situation that you're in. Whether it's in your car, your home, your bathroom, it's a different persona. You actually do take on different alter egos and different facets of your personality. That's something that interests me massively. It's so simplistic, but at the same time, it can be very complex.

KD: Well, the bathroom is the best example, because that's where people do a lot of singing, and reading, because it's the only place that people feel...

JM: Comfortable.

KD: Comfortable and alone.

JM: You are alone. It is comfort. Not in a literal way, but you are there. You are stripped down. It does become you and your one little space. It's quite an innocent environment, that whole feel. I mean, I write most when I'm sitting in the bath. It's the only place where I do feel totally relaxed. You do feel quite isolated. I think it's quite quite good to get into isolated environments. Individuals having to deal with an environment on their own, the thought process completely changes. I do think rooms and environments totally affect our whole persona.

With my recording studio, I wanted to create an environment that was like my environment, something that I wanted. Maybe I wanted to see out there, or maybe this is a futuristic sort of paradise, so I had simulated fish and robots and I've got a mini-jungle going on in there. It's the sort of place that's like a lost world, the new Atlantis, somewhere different. ambition of mine. It always has been.

KD: It must also be nice that with your commercially successful musical projects, you can finance other projects you're working on.

JM: I've always done it. To be honest, the first thing I released was my fifteen minute film. I didn't even release a record. I found a record label, and they actually agreed after much fighting to release my film. It wasn't like successful, but it was shown in small cinemas for independent releases. It spurned a lot of interest. I think it's important that as an artist, as a musician, you don't want to lose the fact that you are a creative person. Obviously, you want success, but at the same time, you want satisfaction and ideas. You want your ideas to be released, and so for me, it is a platform to make the things I want to make, to make the films I've wanted to make, and to put on that whole affair rather than to keep going in that whole formula and keep releasing albums again and again and again. There's plenty of hours in a day to be involved in so many other things. Film is the love of my life. I always want to do something involved with film.

KD: Where do you think your first band, the Sand Kings, went wrong?

JM: Weeelllll, it was one of those things. When I look back to that, it's like a school photograph. You look back at it and think, "Oh, my god, look at that hair." Somebody obviously put a bowl on my head and cut around it. That's what it was, I was fifteen years old. When you're that age, you just do it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. There's no thought process going into it. You just pick up your guitar. You've got your mates, who are at school with you, and you just make a noise. Sometimes it kicks in, and people think it's great, and sometimes they think it's absolutely terrible. That's probably what they thought. They laughed at it. I needed it as experience to understand. You have to go through the bad haircuts to find out what is the good one.

KD: Who do you see as being the main Babylon Zoo fan base?

JM: It's unbelievably weird. It's so flexible. We do shows, and there's kids from 15-16 to 25 plus. And it's strange, we get a mass wide range. It's bizarre, because I don't think a lot of people can actually work it out. You know, those theorists in music, those people that are absolutely detached. The people that put people into little boxes and say, "This is the market you move into." They're completely bamboozled. The press we get in England is not the teen press. It's like The Guardian, The Times, Q, and all those magazines. It defies the other side. It is quite an adult thing. I've just come back from Australia, and it goes from kids to Metallica fans. That's good, though, because I believe music should be flexible. I like such a variety of music, and a lot of my friends do as well. It opens your mind to different forms. It's danger when you get stuck in one rut and start only liking only one certain sort of music.

KD: Then you're drawing from the same well, and that well's eventually going to run dry.

JM: That's the great thing about art. I love Mondrian and I love Mondigliani, two totally different artists, but I love them just as much, can't choose between. That's what I see music as really.

KD: Do you think that your next release could very well confound a lot of fans?

JM: Well, not our fans. Our fans pretty much get the fact that they could get an acoustic song or a computerized tune. They know that they might get either/or. I think I'll strip down a lot for the next one, and have it quite basic, but still use the elements of a futuristic sound. I'm playing a lot with tempos now. I think it will be something that will be quite different than anything else that's been out. It's going to be a rock album with very bizarre tempos going off in it. I want to play around with that idea.

KD: With British pop, bands will frequently rocket to the limelight, and then fade out really quickly. Two that come to mind are EMF and Right Said Fred. Do you think that your evolution and cross-pollinating will prevent that? Or do you have any fears of that happening?

JM: Personally, I don't, because at the end of the day, I still believe in the old classic form of the song, and writing the song. You should be able to play it on a washboard if it's a great song. That's the main thing. That's something I'd never lose. I did. I might paint, and I might use different materials, like car paint or metallics, but at the same time, if a painting's not interesting. The form that's on top won't help it at all. Playing with stars, playing around with movements and ideas is a great thing, but at the same time, the song is so important to me, and it always has been, 'cause I've always been into songs and song-writing. I think you can get completely lot in this mixing in styles and moving around, where it becomes confusing. A lot of these bands have. They sort of fell into a chasm, a sort of black hole of their own, and nobody else is in there. They start trying desperately to get out. I do believe in the real ideals of music that will never get lost in my eyes, and that's song-writing.

KD: One last question: In the Q article that I got in the press kit, there's a photo of you wearing a great silver jacket. Where did you get that jacket?

JM: Oh, you want one? What's quite strange is that all the fans that follow Babylon Zoo around are either stalkers or clothes makers. It's really bizarre. We get sent so much stuff. Somebody sent me that. They send through silver jackets, space suits, all-in-ones, jewelry, the lot. It's quite an individual thing. It's like intergalactic aviation.

KD: I guess that should be my goal, to achieve pop stardom to get a lot of clothing.

JM: Oh, yeah, lot's of free things! Isn't that amazing? You can open your own shop afterwards with all the freebie clothing you get.

KD: So pretty soon we can expect the Jas Mann Thrift Store with all the stuff you don't wear.

JM: I think you'll get the New Atlantis store for all

Maliens and Fembots.

Kulture Deluxe and Kulture mag. All rights reserved. Copyright © 1997.
 
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Jas, fully named 'Jasbinder', was born in Dudley in the West Midlands on the 24th day of April 1971

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