Scaling the vast peaks of Montes Jura

One of the most diligent bands in Sydney right now, Montes Jura discuss their tunes, their Velvet Underground tribute and the future

The year has waded in darkly, but hope hangs around the corner: 2016 will be the year psychedelic quartet Montes Jura releases their debut album. If the name’s familiar, it should be, or will be soon, and not simply because you’re acquainted with the mountain range formed on the nearside of the moon from which the band takes their name. “The sunlight hits the peaks once a month apparently and it lights up in a jaunty semi-circle which we thought was interesting,” lead vocalist and guitarist, Sam Vallellanes, explains of their namesake.

montes jura interview

We take a look at the vast peaks of Montes Jura, the tunes, their views on loneliness, their Velvet Underground tribute album and what’s on the horizon.

The four-piece, who mingle their musical states of mind in Sydney’s Inner West, all met in high school, although Sam is from the States. “I think we’ve all personally wanted to start a band since we were in school,” he explains, adding that the final push manifested itself when he and guitarist and vocalist Steve Schouten were living in London and unearthing Europe, in which they were witness to a serious amount of talent, inspiring them to constantly write. Head over heels for the psych scene in London and Berlin, the two were keen to create their own music “in the hopes that something similar would manifest itself in Sydney.”

Upon their return, Sam and Steve recruited a drummer and percussionist in the form of Beau Clements, and a bassist, now Jordan Buck, and began the process of ‘incorporating our material into a band sense’, pulling in influences and inspiration from 70s Krautrock, 60s and 70s garage and blues, and, notably, Thee Oh Sees ‘for their unorthodox production styles, layering and song writing’.

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Their two-track EP, Island Universe, landed in July 2014, full of mesmerising, interpretative riffs, languorous and elongated lyrics. Both tracks explore the theme of loneliness through their lyrics: The first single, hypnotic and buzzy with reverb, and which takes the EP’s name, reassures us: “Oh who wants to feel it so small/Islands aren’t so lonely after all”, and longer track Lazy Lazarus promises: “Lonesome soul/don’t you know that lonely is only a state of mind”, interspersed with indulgently sweeping chords that gradually give way to foggy distortion.

“I like to challenge ideas,” Sam says, of the band’s fascination with the loneliness theme, “so it’s a deeper look into a negatively construed notion. Society is so afraid to be on its own; it’s one of the deepest fears of mankind. But philosophically speaking, we are always on our own in the way that we will only truly understand our own perspective. I think people should embrace the idea of ‘self’ and explore themselves more instead of always trying to fit in to counteract being ‘alone’.”

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In October 2015, the band curated compilation album Reloaded, a tribute to the Velvet Underground, with 10 psychedelic bands from Sydney each producing a track in accolade of the New York band, 45 years after Loaded was released (see what they did there?). Intended too as a means to strengthen the ties between bands in the psych and garage scene in Sydney and the surrounding areas, Reloaded was released, fittingly, on the anniversary of Lou Reed’s death.

Montes Jura themselves provided the languid exiting track, Oh! Sweet Nuthin’, and other modern interpretations of Velvet Underground classics were provided by likeminded obsessives, including The Grease Arrestor, Salvador Dali Llama and The Pinheads.

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Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ has such a nostalgic but uplifting feel to it, and we really enjoy how it can seamlessly meld the two together,” Sam explains, “we wanted to keep the initial feel of the track intact when we were recreating it. In hindsight, we probably made it happier and more of a celebration than we intended. I think given the fact the project was going ahead and everyone was so on-board, it felt apt to treat it as a celebratory track. We also added a lot of instrumentation, and messed with the structure, adding an intro and rethinking the outro.”

Like Oh! Sweet Nuthin’, Montes Jura’s currently in-production album is being created in the band’s home studio, and is set to showcase more sophisticated song writing when it’s released later this year. “It’s going a lot smoother than we expected,” assures Sam, “our studio is very DIY, so you can expect some unusual production and lo-fi sounding tracks. The album will be eclectic in nature from fast, drivey garage goodness to swaying, warbling creations all with a psychedelic flavour to it.” We can’t wait.

Montes Jura’s debut album should be with you in March or April 2016.