The Rumjacks Talk New Album ‘Hestia’, Lineup Changes, Lack of Touring and More (INTERVIEW)

The Rumjacks is a Celtic punk band whose members live in five different countries. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the band was able to gather in Milan to record the new album Hestia (named after the Greek goddess of home and hearth), which was released earlier this year. It is the fifth studio album from the band and first with its new vocalist. Despite the lineup change, the 14 songs provide plenty of the hard-hitting punk you expect from this band.

At the time of this interview, the album had been streamed more than two million times. Via Skype, Johnny McKelvery (bass) discussed the new album, the addition of Mike Rivkees (vocals), and how the band has dealt with the inability to tour.  

Glide Magazine: How is the new album different than previous albums?

Johnny McKelvey: There’s a few obvious ones. There was a change of frontman. Mike Rivkees from Boston joined us. The environment was a lot more positive and enjoyable. We honest to God enjoyed every second of demoing it, talking about it, writing it. Every single step of the process was more enjoyable compared to previous ones. Those are the first two that come to mind. Also working with a songwriter like Mike as well was another change that Hestia brought along. We didn’t re-invent The Rumjacks. It’s still The Rumjacks with a little something extra sprinkled on top.

GM: How did it come together with all of you being in different locations and the pandemic?

JM: The stars aligned in the European summer. All five of us live in five different countries. At one point, there was some relaxation of the rules in regards to international travel. Somehow we were all able to make it to Milan in July and started the process. We started demoing months before that. We were ready, but we had lots to get on with. It was a perfect combination. It was a lot of planning too. We got together, rented an apartment, and lived together for a couple months. We were in the studio every day.

GM: How long did it take to knock it out?

JM: We had done a lot of the work through the joys of technology where you can live in five different countries and record an album together and send ideas to each other. We had a lot to start. When all five of us were together, we just hit the ground running. From all five us practicing, playing, structuring, and finishing off the songs we already had semi-written to finishing the album, I would say it was about six solid weeks. That was at least six days a week in the studio.

GM: What does it mean to you that the album has been streamed so many times already?

JM: It means a lot. It’s funny how music changes. Once upon a time, record sales and stadiums and whatnot. That still does exist to a certain degree. Things have changed and the access fans have to music is incredible. When you’re making music, you can sit in a room and say, “This is great!” When you put it out to the world, even if you’re super proud of it, it’s kind of up to other people to go, “Yeah, that’s not as good as you thought it was.” If lots of people say that you say, “We kind of have to take their word for it a little bit.” That’s what music is all about. When you do get a positive response, especially after a lineup change, which I know can make fans uncomfortable, we were really taken aback by it. We knew we loved it, and we’re proud of it, and put a lot of work into it. To have that reciprocated meant a lot to us all.

GM: When you have a lineup change, you never know what the response will be from fans.

JM: Especially singers. How many bass players and drummers have been replaced, and not many fans have batted an eyelid? It is a big change. We knew it was a big change before we announced it. It could go one of two ways. We’re glad it went the best way possible. The longer it’s been out too, we’ve been seeing a lot of responses like, “I really wanted to sit back and wait, and you’ve proven me wrong.” Getting responses like that is quite nice as well.

GM: How have you dealt with the inability to tour?

JM: Individually, really really hard. It’s such a big part of your life: moving around so much, seeing different people and places every day. It is the most fun part of the job to get up on stage and play every night. So that really sucked. Overnight, you’re not allowed to do that anymore. It took me a couple months to wrap my head around that. People are working out “Is this going to be a few weeks, a few months?” We’ll just take a few months off, get fat, and watch TV. Cool. Then we went down the wormhole of what went good, what went bad, and we’re still here not touring. It was such an odd feeling. You get so used to being on the move. Then it stops overnight. As a band, it was quite difficult as well. Touring for a lot of bands is the major source of income. It happens to be the most fun part of the job. It was a bit of a shock. We all just wanted to put out what we knew was good and tour. It kind of forced us to work with what we’ve got. We’ve gotta keep writing. We put out some videos. Let’s put out some acoustic songs. It changed our mentality a little bit, but you have to adapt. Now we’re looking forward and things are getting better. You just have to go with it.

GM: How have you filled your time without touring?

JM: Touring develops very bad habits. Mine is beer and food. I decided to change all that. When we were recording Hestia, the Italian food in Milan and the beautiful beers in the pub every night over the summer did not do well with my waistline. Hestia got me fat, and I decided to to and change all that around. I started getting into a bit of fitness. All of us just kept playing our instruments. Lo and behold, we started accidentally writing more music. Really, that’s all we want to do: write, record, and tour, and play music live. We’ve been working hard at that. There was quite a hit to the wallet, so we all had to re-arrange life, getting a few part-time jobs where we could. Again, just work with what we’ve got, keep playing, and find a way to pay the bills. I think some artists did really well with it. I watched some great livestreams. Some awkward ones. But credit to every band. It’s a bit weird staring at three cameras in an empty venue while you jump around and play a livestream. Tip of the cap to every band that did it and entertained their fans. While everyone was suffering, bands were too. Everyone pulled their socks up in life in general. People wanted entertainment. You still wanted to play for people, and luckily there are ways for bands to do that.

GM: What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?

JM: Wow! That’s a very hard question. I would probably be begging someone who was making music to stuff me in the van and let me sell t-shirts for them or something. That or painting houses like I used to do before music became a job. I would much rather be stuck in a van with stinky guys and sell t-shirts if I was unable to play it. That would suit me just fine.


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