You’ve been aware of Jen Macro, lurking on the periphery, in the shadows. She was there in the background of Graham Coxon, Robyn Hitchcock or Charlotte Hatherley bands. Most recently she’s been a quiet onstage presence amid the sonic onslaught of My Bloody Valentine. A decade or so she’s been there, gestating. And now, with her own almighty blast of noise, she’s careering centre-stage.
Hurtling: they certainly sound like a culmination. A fusing of the sumptuous grunge melodies of Smashing Pumpkins and Throwing Muses with the glacial sci-fi tones of Warpaint, The Cure or The Cocteau Twins; they’re both immediate and timeless, the band that the back of your head has been waiting for decades. And for Jen, drummer Jon Clayton and bassist Simon Kobayashi it’s been quite the wait too.
Straight outta Suffolk, Jen and Jon met at music college, Jon studying classical music and Jen on a popular music studies course, aiming for film score composition rather than the life of a post-grunge superstar. Their first band together, Blusher, were briefly managed by Ricky Gervais when he was ULU Ents Officer: “we did a single or two with him but that didn’t quite work out, but is it was fun for a while,” Jon recalls. Indeed, Blusher were the archetypal nearly band, almost signing to Food records but finding their deal scuppered by internal EMI business.
Out of the wreckage came contacts. Jen and Jon found themselves recruited into Charlotte Hatherley’s backing band, and from there Jen moved on to play with Robyn Hitchcock and Graham Coxon on his A&E tour. She and Jon, who launched the OneCat Studio in Brixton in the late-‘00s, kept making their own music as Something Beginning With L too, but after their album Beautiful Ground was released on Scottish DIY label Armellodie and Jen got the call to join the touring line-up of My Bloody Valentine, the band fizzled out.
“I just got this Facebook message saying ‘we’re looking for an extra member for touring would you be interested?’,” she laughs, recalling her MBV ‘interview’. “The stupidest question ever. It was fantastic. What was really nice was that as I got to learn how I’d been asked that they’d asked around other people and it was people from different dots of my musical journey who’d said ‘Oh, she’s cool, ask her’. It was roadies from Graham and people that they knew and trusted and asked, the Venn diagram went ‘Jen Macro’, which was lovely, really cool.” How did she cope with the volume? “Ear protection was a priority.”
Jen’s own creative forces wouldn’t be ignored, though. As she toured the world with MBV, broadening her horizons and making pilgrimages to Seattle that felt like “going to Mecca” for this diehard grunge fanatic, she started drawing out the melodies that had been swirling around her head. “It was just me, often not plugged in, waiting for sound checks,” she says. “Being away and not having my buddies to play with shaped a lot of the initial Hurtling songs. I was basically filling up the space of the people that weren’t there. I remember saying to myself in a hotel room one day, ‘you’re never gonna be cool’ and being completely okay with that. Just knowing that the songs were being what they were, for the first time it didn’t matter where they slotted or where they fitted or who liked them. It was very liberating.”
The grand vistas of the states gave the noises in Jen’s head a panoramic Americana feel; the grind of the road, though, gave her lyrics a confessional, melancholy air. “I’m not great at writing happy songs,” she admits. “It was probably from those thankfully rare dark moments that can happen when touring, where you have to look after your mental health, the booze is free and you’re missing home. You’re having the most amazing time but it’s not a family holiday, you’re stuck to a schedule, you’re doing a job, you’ve got to be at this place at this time and you just wanna go ‘I wanna just run across a field!’ And then you feel really ungrateful for the opportunity you’ve been given but you’re still human with human thoughts.”
A prime early example was the brutal, gritty grunge track ‘Feel It’, eventually released as Hurtling’s debut as a split single with Creepy Neighbour on the Brixton Hillbilly label. “It was about not being afraid to feel uncomfortable feelings and go with them and see them through to the end,” Jen says. “My mum passed away and someone said to me about grieving, ‘don’t be afraid to feel what you feel. It’s all okay. If you want to shout, shout if you want to cry, cry, just let them all happen’. It’s about the discomfort but let it happen, feel it.”
When Jen brought her new songs back to London in 2014, Jon was so excited by them he learnt to play drums so they could play them live and often filmed Jen playing songs like the beautifully brooding ‘Alone’ in case she forgot them: “It’s quite a good test of a song,” Jen says, “if you go to play it again the next day and you can remember it you go ‘that’s a keeper’.” Recruiting Simon from Smallgang on bass, they set about working up demos that resembled a 21stCentury take on The Breeders, Belly, Sebadoh, Throwing Muses and Sparklehorse, lashed with cavernous, sci-fi tones and frantic futuristic fuzz. Slotted between tours over several years, sessions were sporadic but inspired – Jon and Simon recall hearing Jen toying with a new riff in a recording break, racing back into the studio and working it up into ‘Summer’, their second single, set for release this August to make the most of its blissed-out heat-haze melodies and space-grunge guitars that explode from the final chorus like a sunburst.
The chorus line is ‘awake for the summer’, Jen explains. “That idea of when all the vitamin D is happening and you’ve got all that light and everything feels good, you want to stay awake and eat it up as much as you can. It’s like when you’re at a festival and suddenly it’s four o’clock in the morning and you’re having a great time.”
Having trialled the songs live to bring out the adrenaline, Hurtling finished recording the album over two weekends at OneCat in late 2017 and early 2018, sticking to what Jen calls a “manifesto. I wanted us to do an album where it was just us three, there wasn’t loads of overdubs.”
“The idea was to make a full sounding record without adding other things,” Jon adds. “You can’t go ‘this guitar part’s not amazing but we’ll just stick some strings over it’. No, you can’t stick some strings on it, make sure the guitar part is really well played.”
The result was a record by turns joyous, ferocious, maudlin and deeply atmospheric. Where a cartwheeling tune like ‘Memory Cassette’, on which Jen spins such lines of dark catharsis as “I’m the charred remains of a girl that we both knew before” and “I can write the future from here” into a grunge pop classic to rival the Muses’ ‘Not Too Soon’, rubs up against spacious mood pieces. “You can imagine some of the songs on the third series of Twin Peaks,” Simon argues.
And then there’s the growling, slavering “outlier” ‘Don’t Know Us’. “You see riots, we see strength in numbers,” Jen howls, beautifully. “You see rivals and you want to dumb us down/You don’t know us and you never will… haters, liars, fakers”. Is this a Brexit song?
“It’s a political song, which I’d love to do more of,” Jen confirms. “It is about the them-and-us of people in power. I kind of had this fantasy of like, ‘Oh, you don’t know what we’re capable of, you don’t know us, we could tear you down’ but also at the same time ‘please don’t know us, don’t talk to us at a party!’ People in power are hideous and see us as data to be manipulated and we’re not, we’re more intelligent than that.”
There are certainly smarts at play here, harking back to prime early ‘90s guitar pop while aligning themselves cleverly with Wolf Alice, Warpaint and the fresher faces of scorched guitar revivalism. Hurtling: coming on fast.