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GRINDING KOKE

Jackson Koke
Jackson Koke

Jackson Koke are just about the most underrated band in Perth.

He’s obviously been studying at the Steven Tyler finishing school for front people.

Having been through the inevitable intra-band disagreements, line-up changes, stalled recording sessions and patchy live performances that have characterised the early progress of pretty much every band since Adam picked up a rib and started to mark time, you get the sense that, this time, they’re ready to launch.

2019 saw Jackson Koke quietly accumulate a string of live performances that honed their stagecraft and musicianship, and created the sort of buzz about them that bands of the likes of Guns N’ Roses had going on in their early days on LA’s Sunset Strip.  What Jackson Koke do next with that buzz is up to them.

Just about to launch their second single, ‘Axe To Grind’, at the Rosemount, Around The Sound traded words with Jackson Koke’s charming and enigmatic front man, Karlifornia Infirri, and turned up one of the more interesting interviews we’ve done in a good while.

After getting the pleasantries out of the way, we began with the new single, asking what took them so long.

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Seemingly missing the barb entirely, Infirri played a straight bat when he replied, simply saying, “We had line-up changes in February of 2019, so it took a while to get the new line-up tight and up to speed on the songs we had.  It was a reset of the band and it took a bit of adjusting, so once that was sorted out and set in stone it was time to get recording and what better song than ‘Axe To Grind’? It’s a fan favourite.”

He’s dead right, ‘Axe To Grind’ is a fan favourite.  It’s a muscular chunk of bluesy metal with a sing-along chorus that sees Infirri chopping at his groin with an imaginary axe as the audience sings along with him, I’ve got an axe to grind / Axe to grind / Axe to grind.  It’s one of those have-to-be-there moments that make Jackson Koke’s live shows stand out from the pack.  They do more than just play music.

The title of the song begs the question, what grinds Infirri’s gears.  His response was pure rock and roll!

“‘Axe To Grind’ is about the band I was kicked out of maybe a year before Jackson Koke was formed,” Infirri said. “They moved on without me and were playing live and it fucked me off that they were doing that without me, considering the fact I had introduced them to one another. It set a spike in my gut.  So, I was adamant I would form a new band that would trounce them and be better. That band broke up and we’re still standing tall. This is my redemption for all of that shit I went through, and, fuck it, mate, I won!”

Hearing this from a different man you might jump to the conclusion that he’s bitter and twisted and should just let it go.  Coming from Infirri, it’s just another side to his complexity.  Here is a sensitive soul who feels deeply and, like us all, is capable of harbouring resentment.  Unlike most of us, he channels that into his creativity and out the other side come pearlers like ‘Axe To Grind’.  Hopefully he doesn’t get too damaged along the way.  The creative stream can drown you if you’re not careful.

Karlifornia Infirri. “Just don’t eat my cat, snake!”

Let’s dig deeper, shall we?

Infirri started his performance career as a pro wrestler.  When asked about these beginnings, he demurred, saying, “Man, to go into my journey as a wrestler will take up more time than is necessary.”  Pressed to say more, Infirri told us, “Let’s just say for the most part I was fucking good at what I did and I made $20 the whole time I was in that business. It was something I fell in love with as a 12-year-old kid and I know more about it than is healthy.”

Musing on the overlap between wrestling and fronting a rock band, Infirri said, “The similarities are that it’s all performance art.  Wrestling is 100 times more intricate than any performance art in the world. Nobody understands how much goes into it. You are a character, an actor, a stuntman, and you have to get everything right in one take and you have to make people believe for at least a second that what they are seeing is real even though they know it’s fake. You have to get them that invested and suspend disbelief. With a rock show, they are invested from the get-go and they don’t need convincing of anything.”

Um, yeah, well, maybe if you’re Axl Rose fronting his band at the height of their powers, but when you’re just starting out, it’s all about getting the audience to suspend their disbelief, especially when you’re fronting the type of rock band Infirri does.  Jackson Koke’s gauche style of what could be best described as macho hair metal can go south pretty quickly if the performers on stage don’t have the chops, and that means whoever’s out front has to be able to fake it with the best of them.  Otherwise, instead of adulation you get ridicule.  It’s a very fine line.

This is the great conundrum of the rock and roll front person, they rarely see the magnitude of what they do on stage, because they’re usually so humble and self-effacing that they can’t see they magic they weave.  Karlifornia Infirri is most definitely cut from that cloth, all self-doubt and shyness, but get him on stage and he’s a magnetic super conductor channelling energy into the room and sweeping all before him.

Asked how he achieves this, Infirri’s response was, “Alcohol. False bravado becomes bravado.  Dee Snider from Twisted Sister taught me that in his autobiography, and it works. It fucking works. As a socially anxious person I always put myself in a position to beat it by doing stand up comedy, being a wrestler, singing in a band, emceeing a wedding reception, and I always triumphed despite what shit I went through to get on stage to do those things. I forced my own hand and now I can do anything I want. If I go to the shops I dress like I’m going to Vegas; people look at me and think I’m a somebody and that’s a big step to self-confidence.”

It’s a bit like alchemy.  Something happens to the atoms of the performer as they transform from ordinary self to bard.  That’s probably why alcohol and other drugs become part of the mix for many performers, they dull the pain and lubricate the process of transformation.  Costuming also is important, you’ve got to dress like you mean it.  And, as Infirri said, the best among them live it every moment of every day.

Have no doubt, Karlifornia Infirri is among the best in the business.

Having established this, we decided see if we could use our personal insights to dig a little deeper.  What happened next was one of those rare moments when a person bares their soul right before your eyes without even realising it.  It was, genuinely, beautiful.

We started by asking about Inifirri’s cat, Brian Molko, as he’d been posting about him recently.

“He’s my best friend, said Infirri, “and he’s on his last legs, and it shatters me to know he will be dead by 2021, He’s going to die soon, but as Elton John says it’s the circle of life. I have never had an animal look me in the eyes with the love he has for me. When he goes, I will be less of a person without him in my life. I love that little shit.”

Emotion and humour.  This front man isn’t in the serial-killer mould, he’s all scarves and feminine energy.  He’s obviously been studying at the Steven Tyler finishing school for front people.

Speaking of feminine energy, we moved onto Infirri’s love for all things Gwen Stefani, asking him to imagine lunch with his idol.

“I love that woman, was Infirri’s immediate response.  “I would date the shit out of her.”  Then came the kicker.  “The thing is, my interest in her is that I know deep down it would have made sense that I was a girl. I am happy being a boy, I like who I am – but I prefer the idea of being a girl. My best friends in school were girls. I like being around girls. I like gossiping, I like talking to girls, I should have been a girl. If I was one, I would want to be identical to Gwen because she’s the ideal woman to me. That’s what I would spend my time telling her. My attraction to her is that I want to be her.”

Some people might find that confronting.  If you do, you’re only displaying your own bias and ignorance.  Here’s a person who has insight and isn’t afraid of who they are.  It’s rare that someone can articulate their own essence, let alone be willing to share it when they don’t necessarily conform.

But non-conformance is what we need from our performers.  They have to be able to take us to places and states of being we could never imagine.  They have to show us it’s OK to be ourselves, no matter how conflicted that might make us feel.

Karlifornia Infirri is in that mould.  He’s a shapeshifting rock and roll animal, other worldly, beguiling, attractive.  He and others of his kind are everything you ever wanted to be but were too afraid to speak out loud.  He’s the reason people go out to see bands, buy their music and become die-hard fans.

So, the only question now is, where to next for Infirri and his band?

“Well, we are finally releasing our first decent single,” replied Infirri.  “We released a shit version of ‘Cesspool City’ in December 2018 and we took it down.  This is redemption for me because ‘Axe To Grind’ is not only about my old band kicking me out and me planning ahead to best them, and doing so, but it’s also about finally releasing a song I am proud of to avenge how bad the previous launch went.

“Once this is over, and we do Perth Rocks 2020, it’s about recording and releasing everything else we have, making music videos and becoming an important entity. Golden Robot Records if you are out there, we want to be with you, we know you will dig our style. Listen to our shit, I want belief from you that we can be a big deal because, fuck it mate, we can be and we will be.”

Who are we to doubt?

Jackson Koke launch ‘Axe To Grind’ at the Rosemount Hotel on Saturday 22 August with support from Ashes of Autumn, The Silent Deeds, The Midnight Mules and band of Missfits.

More info and tickets links here.

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