"I had a weird secret plan for a couple of years ... I was, like, 'I reckon we'll play again.'"
From an outsider's perspective the original tenure of Sydney outfit Philadelphia Grand Jury — which spanned 2008-2011 — burnt brightly and then exploded into pieces like some rock'n'roll supernova, the trio making a huge splash in a hurry and then disintegrating when it seemed like the world was at their feet. But now hatchets have been buried and they're back firing on all cylinders, with the original line-up — Simon "Berkfinger" Berckelman (guitar/vocals), Joel "MC Bad Genius" Beeson (bass) and Dan "Dan W Sweat" Williams (drums) — back armed with a second long-player, Summer Of Doom, which we're hoping isn't some harbinger for a coming apocalypse.
"I'm psyched!" enthuses Berckelman. "I had a weird secret plan for a couple of years — I knew the band had broken up, but I was, like, 'I reckon we'll play again.' I've always been holding out for it a little bit and championing the 'getting back together' cause, so I'm glad that it's actually happening."
In 2013 Berckelman released Be Kind Unwind — the debut album from his solo project Feelings — and when he tapped Beeson and Williams to join him on the road the seeds of the Philly Js reunion were sown.
"I've always been holding out for it a little bit and championing the 'getting back together' cause, so I'm glad that it's actually happening."
"That wasn't a masterminded thing at all — Dave Rennick (Dappled Cities) was playing with Feelings and he couldn't make the tour, and I was, like, 'Who do I know that can play keyboards and guitar and bass who I like and who's in Sydney?' Then I was, like, 'Oh shit, it's Joel! It's MC Bad Genius!'" Berkfinger laughs. "I think he was really shocked, because I just kinda wrote to him and said, 'Hey dude, do you want to come on tour?', and he wrote back, 'I'm really shocked to hear from you, but 'yes!'"
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Berckelman concedes that the original split was sort of really messy.
"Yes and no," he hedges. "We were working on a second album originally, and we'd just come back from a UK tour and everyone was really tired, and I think if we'd taken a short break at that point then the band probably wouldn't have imploded. But I and our manager stupidly really pushed to make a second record — I was making plans for us all to fly to San Francisco to this studio we really like to go record, and I think Joel was a bit, like, 'Are you kidding? Are you serious? I need a holiday!' Then everyone was all a bit, like, 'I hate you and you're ruining my life!', but that went away about six months later, everyone wrote back later and said, 'Hey, sorry I said that stuff — no hard feelings, huh?' So it was messy for a short period, then it was a little bit Cold War and then we slowly, slowly got back into it."
They played a handful of shows in late-2013 to cement the return, then to record Summer Of Doom they decamped to Berckelman's Berlin studio with producer Tim Whitten and laid down some ground rules.
"The guys just came over here to Berlin and there was no plan except that we decided to make certain recording rules, like we said, 'Ok, we're not allowed to micro-edit things'," the frontman continues. "We recorded it all to a computer — if we had a tape machine we would have done it on that — so we operated the computer like it was an old tape machine, so if you wanted to make a chop on a song you were only allowed to do something that would be equivalent of a tape splice. There was no planning except for the rules we set out and the process.
"We just thought we'd do the opposite of everything else we'd done, so it was scary and weird but a lot of fun — the only thing I'd say that wasn't fun was that I didn't finish all the lyrics in the two weeks that the guys were here when we had that incredible energy, so I thought, 'Well, I'll really think about my lyrics' and it ended up taking about four or five months to finish them. By that time the whole band was in this weird limbo in their lives again and doing other stuff, so it took a while to get the energy back again. It took us until we'd mixed and mastered, and then suddenly Joel was, like, 'Oh, the album's really good!' But for those four of five months no one knew what was happening with it, which scared everybody — they remembered that they'd had a fun time, but they didn't really know what I was going to do with it. For the next album — which we're going to do in Sydney in November — I'm going to turn up with all of my lyrics written, so hopefully we can put it all down on the spot."