Few bands in Melbourne shine brighter with euphoric, alt-pop boppers than Junior Fiction. Stealing many a heart through performances gushing with infectious energy, their recent sophomore release is sure to tame many more. Littered with uplifting anthems grounded in the reality of James McLean's thematic positivity, Your Love is making waves across independent listening circles in Australia as a saving grace for many in need this year. We spoke to McLean about the story behind the beloved band.
Moving to Melbourne from Albury to study mechanical engineering, McLean bloomed late, jumping into his first band at 28 without any prior musical experience; "When I started playing in bands, I felt very privileged. I felt like an imposter because I didn't have years of experience that brought me to that point. I thought I could come up with ideas and sing and so I backed myself in on that". Endearing himself to the scene, McLean's support proved the bedrock for helping form his own dream outfit; "I was always sure that whenever another band wanted to play with mine I was so appreciative that whenever they played I would make sure I went to see them. I was there to support them because I wanted them to support me. That's how I got to make Junior Fiction. Outside of Sam, none of us knew each other. I just drew up a wish list and took a leap of faith".
Meeting guitarist Sam Gaul through mutual friends, the pair bonded over an affinity for motorbikes before taking a road trip to Adelaide. Shortly thereafter, the pair concocted the idea for the band with McLean inspired by Gaul's musicianship; "I saw him play and I was really in awe of his skill level. I'd never seen anyone play guitar the way he did. He looked so natural and free-flowing and quite improvisational. He's able to turn something that could be quite rudimentary into something quite unique". With Gaul's grounding in post-punk, it would be the guitarist's forgotten hard drive of demos that helped birth the songs for the band's first record; "There were just little riffs but I reckon I pulled 4-5 song ideas instantly out of that and latched onto the poppier concepts he came up with. We got a band together and just tried to get an album's worth of songs and record them". Whilst satisfied with the LP for what was only ever intended as a recording project, it failed to convey the cohesive framework the band would later arrive at; "There was a bit of having multiple personalities with us writing whatever we felt like. Even though the songwriting was good, we hadn't figured out what the band was yet. Knowing what is correct and what reflects the interests of the band is hard".
Wanting to branch out from the pacey punk of prior bands such as Big Tobacco and Platinum Rat, both Gaul's guitar playing and his own "giddy, nervous energy" surrounding a newfound partner helped McLean take a more methodically buoyant approach with Junior Fiction second time around; "When the songs for this record were written, I was in a really positive mindset. In the years before that, I was less certain and more cynical when it came to relationships and life trajectory. I guess a lot of things locked into place and I relished the opportunity to write something a lot more optimistic". Harnessing happiness proved a windfall for McLean's understanding of self as a songwriter; "Things that have an underlying positive theme tend to affect me a lot more than things at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Realising that helped me come into my preferred way of writing". Not without its challenges, he expresses the obstacles faced expressing himself through upbeat music; "It's really hard to be positive without it sounding cliched or trite. I was always conscious of that and, rather than falling back on stereotypical subject matter, tried to base it around the themes of the music rather than the specific events. Quite often it's a lot easier to put your hands on good lyrics when you're talking about things less certain and more difficult because people can relate to that more readily when they've got their own concerns in life".
With Your Life ushering in a new roster of bandmates atop the two founding members, the album reflects a unified work with each musician colouring McLean's concepts with their own expertise; "When I come up with a song it'll be on bass and I'm just trying to figure out the root notes to be able to write the vocal melody over the top. If anyone had the opportunity to listen to the original concepts for these songs, they are a world apart from the finished product to the point that I couldn't claim credit for writing it alone. I'm thankful and happy that everyone in the band has had the opportunity to put their stamp on the songs". Easily perceived on-stage, each member's persona helps contribute to a vivid sensory experience. Drummer Anetta Nevin draws the most attention as somewhat of a funk-infused octopus; "Anetta's such a visual phenomenon and she just has the best time. She really puts her heart on her sleeve and you can see how good a time she's having".
With anthems as big as '365 or 'Your Love', McLean articulates the drive for these songs extends equally from his enjoyment singing at peak capacity as it does the subject matter; "I've never been one for making vocal delivery restrained or downplayed like a dole wave style. I feel really good singing to my full capacity, just really having a go. I don't think I'd get that if I was doing something more subdued or downplayed". This contagious vitality oozes through the record and ultimately emphasises the overarching intention of Junior Fiction's release; "Even though we weren't able to have a launch show, I'm really happy it's out. Not just because of the effort that went into it, but the fact that the subject matter and themes are so positive. If it can give people a little boost, I feel like it's done its job.