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Much-travelled James McCann (ex-The Drones, Harpoon, James McCann And The New Vindictives, James McCann's Dirty Skirt Band, Nunchukka Superfly) is back with a new LP, a new band name - and even a different first name.

The Melbourne-based singer-guitarist’s latest recording, “Hit With Love” – under the moniker JJ McCann Transmission - is 12 cracking, original tracks that combine elements of ‘80s hard rock, pop and post-punk, and a few that are almost impossible to compare to any others.

Produced by Rob Younger, “Hit with Love” is another solid entry onto McCann’s already exceptional back catalogue. For me he’s one of the country’s great singer/songwriters of the last 20 years. We spoke with JJ via telephone.

JJ McCann (right) with Rick Studentt on bass.

I-94 Bar: On this new record your billed as JJ McCann as opposed to James. Why?

JJ: I just got sick of hearing my own name you know (laughs). JJ’s been my nickname since I was born. Friends and extended family call me JJ, its funny sometimes out the blue someone will shout “Hey JJ”, and I act immediately. So, I thought I’ll use JJ McCann, try and shorten it. I should have used it years ago. Don’t know why I didn’t, its catchier.

I-94 Bar: You’ve also changed the band name from the New Vindictives to Transmission. Same reason, got sick of the old name or something else?

JJ: It’s still Jackson Kite on drums and Tim Deane on guitar, he also played keys. I thought it’s been a few years, James McCann and the New Vindictives needed a change, a freshen up, that was after a few years of lockdown, so we had time to finish the LP off, and we got in a gig at the Tote, in 2021. Its all been a blur the last few years, nothing to really hang your hat on. So I decided to change it to  something a bit fresher.

I-94 Bar: Who’s in the line up now?

JJ: It’s now a three piece. Pange Niemoeller on drums and Rick Studentt on bass. It’s a three piece and has been for about a year, we had another bass player but Rick’s on board. His first gig will be at our launch. It’s been a revolving cast of bass players, which it has been for about 10 years. Which is weird as its usually drummers. Jackson and Tim were both round for 10 years. Best years of their lives (laughs).

I-94 Bar: You mentioned the revolving cast of band members, and you’ve got two new members in the band, who didn’t play on the record. Is that odd playing songs with a new band that you didn’t record with or is it business as usual?

JJ: it has the potential to be weird, you’re looking for people to fit in, and its hard to tell of course until you play, kick around a bit. So, it is stressful starting something with a new line-up, it takes time to rehearse and see where it all fits. But I’m happy with it, it’s the same thing whenever you change. Jackson and Tim were in for 10 years but with bass players it seems like we’ve had eight. Mitch Dillion played bass on the LP. I don’t know why it’s bass players, can’t figure that one out (laughs).


I-94 Bar: Rob Younger was on production duties for this record. He’s worked with Civic on their new LP, but I don’t think he’s done much production lately, so must have been a huge score to secure his services.

JJ: He’s been busy the last year, he’s been working with a few bands, I think there was a few years he didn’t do much production wise. I heard him on Triple R a while back, he said something like he’s looking to get back into production. We were opening for New Christs at Cherry and I mentioned we were writing an LP. So, he was there from the start when the songs were being knocked around in rehearsal.

We would send him what we were doing over a few months, so the songs devolved and changed in the writing and rehearsal in the months leading up to recording. He threw a few ideas with arrangements being chipped in.

I’ve been wanting to work with him for a long time so it was very exciting. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a teenager, it's great to work with him and get to know him. He’s a good guy. He’s very thorough in his approach to producing.

Gave me some good ideas with vocals, how to approach certain vocals on songs.  without being intrusive, he would say 'How about you do it this way?' and he’ll show you, 'Sing it a bit this way'. You’re not going to say no, I do it my way (laughs). You have Rob Younger in the room. And it works every time and I can hear it on the record, and you can hear his phrasing on a couple of tracks.

I-94 Bar: Did he came down to Melbourne for the recording?

JJ: Yes. He came down once at the end of 2019, when we did most of it, then the pandemic hit, then he came back for four days of mixing with Loki Lockwood. Then we bounced around mixes for months on end after that. Slowly but surely, between Loki myself and Rob, we got it done. Took us some time but it got done.

That was a good thing about working with Rob, I like to work fast, but he’s very meticulous which I appreciate. I learned a lot from that process, not rushing it making sure you got it right. And I think it shows.

mike johnston robRob in the studio. Mike Johnston photo. 

I-94 Bar: You mentioned Rob and his ideas when it came to doing the vocals, one of my favourite tracks is “New Machine”, your vocals on that are not quite singing not quite ranting, but certainly something different, and has a post punk feel. Was that a Rob touch?

JJ: That’s a funny one, some of the songs have a post punk feel, even thought that wasn’t the idea when I wrote it. It has that changing riff, and the vocals awkwardly fit in around it, it has a strange feel that song.

I-94 Bar: Track four, “Don’t Bother Me”, I thought had a Heartbreakers feel, but the first three tracks for me are tracks I find hard to put into a genre, and it doesn’t really compare to any other bands.

JJ: That’s great, Rob said something, a few songs he said “if this was in the 80s this would be a hit”. That was the era when I was buying the Saints and all sorts of stuff, absorbing 80s underground rock.

I-94 Bar: Was that a sympathizer or keyboard I heard through the LP?

JJ: It could be one or the other. We worked on this for so long and so many gaps in-between doing things, I know who’s playing. That’s Tim Deane I think it’s a sympathiser and keyboards, distorted Sydney sound on a couple of tracks, buried in it just to create this feel underneath.

I-94 Bar: “Forces at Work”, track three. Did you co write that with Spencer P Jones?

JJ: No, I read that’s somewhere but that was a mistake. “Piss on Demand”, I wrote with Spencer. But in the fashion, I finished it after he passed away, it’s something we kicked around for a few years. He played me the chorus and he was playing it slower, he said he wanted a Flying Nun feel, and I gave it a punk feel. We forgot about it, then he got sick, and it never got mentioned again. But we had it on recording. So, I found it, he had the chorus, so I wrote the verses, and that was that. It’s about 1 minute 30, it’s fast, nothing like Flying Nun, maybe another version should be done.

I-94 Bar:  Was track 11, “Sentimental Crap” about anything?

JJ: Actually, that was written about the last time I saw Spencer. He asked about a badge I was wearing, he said he liked the design, I said I got it in New York, and he said, ‘Ah, sentimental crap’. I laughed, I thought, ‘Wow, no time to be sentimental when you’re dying’. You’re living for every moment, so I wrote about the experience of that day, the things we were doing, sitting around smoking joints, showing me books he liked, pictures he liked, showed me his favourite picture of John Lennon.

forces lyrics

I-94 Bar: The SPJ Tribute LP that came out a few years ago, was that true you were the director of the project at his request?

JJ: How it happened was, I was playing shows in France, I was in Reenes, and the Beast Records guys, Seb Blanchais, the head of Beast Records, said in passing he would like to do a Spencer tribute LP. This was 10 years ago. Then I kept it in mind. This was before he got sick. The bass player of the New Vindictives at that time had a little recording studio on Johnson Street, near the Tote. So, I contacted Spencer and Seb and said, ‘Look we have this recording studio, we’re hanging out here most days trying to find things to do and we’d like to start recording bands’.

We started recording slowly but surely. The first band we had was Rhinosonics from France. They did “The Bogans”, that was the first track. But they said: “Oh we can’t sing it”. So, I wrote down all the words and I ended up singing it. It’s quite a high song so I had to change my style, which isn’t how I usually sing, that nasal high. It snowballed from there, word got around.

Jack Howard teed up Violent Femmes to come in one arvo. It’s a one-room, tiny studio, everyone has to sit outside, so you try and do everything in good weather (laughs). The project got bigger, and Dave Nicholls from Spencer’s band, he also had a studio. He started recording a few bands, free-of- charge, as we all were.

It kept going for a few years, up to the pace Spencer could handle. I would go over to his house with CDs, and bands from all over Australia, Europe and the States would send us tracks, we would be in contact asking them to record something. Some bands already had tracks recorded; Johnny Casino, I think. released “Trick My Boat Wrong”, on a seven-inch already.

I put all these songs on a CD, as it went along. Update them, go to Spencer, and we would sit and listen. The way he would sit he would tilt his head and listen. If he liked something he was quiet, then halfway through he would go: ‘Yeah’. You didn’t know which way he was going to go. It was his call which tracks would go on, and it was all with his blessing, and he said, ‘You are the co-producer of this with me’.

He got Kid Congo in the studio, so he (Spencer) was producing as well and getting bands in. You know Spencer and how much people love him, all these people saying we want to do a song, but the project was limited to how many we could fit. So, we recorded 40 tracks, released 20, and the other 20 will be out on Volume 2 next year. Loki Lockwood and I finished off Volume 1; it did well, sold out pretty quick. It’s pretty cool - posters, autographs, and cool songs. And Spencer did choose the running order for side 1 and 2.

I-94 Bar: Also recently you became a member of Moler, how did that come about?

JJ: Helen Cattanach called me and asked me to fill in for a few shows. I did, it worked really well, so they asked me to become a full time member. We’ve written an LP which we’re about to record when we have time over summer. We’re doing more and more shows, playing Geelong next week with Magic Dirt and Rye. I love just playing guitar. There’re a few songs I sing a little bit on, and it gives Helen a break so she’s not singing 100 percent. And Dave sings a bit, and writes, so we have three writers in the band.

It’s takes the pressure off me, being a front person, and I can concentrate on playing. It’s improved my playing a lot and inspired me to have JJ McCann Transmission as a three-piece. I enjoy the dynamic between the three-piece. It, makes me a little more aware of what I’m playing.

“Hit with Love” is out now via Cheersquad Records and Tapes. Buy it here“Hit with Love” will be launched with Moler at the Cactus Room, at Thornberry in Melbourne on December 2.