Sunday, March 16, 2014

Robert Scott of The Bats Interview

It was one of the big surprises as a Kiwi migrating to Australia (insert dole-queue jibes here) that many Australians have more than peripheral knowledge of the 1980s to early-‘90s South Island New Zealand music scene largely associated with the record label Flying Nun. There’s an expression back over the ditch, ‘World famous in New Zealand’, which in a typically Kiwi self-effacing way seemed to apply to bands like The Chills, The Clean, Able Tasmans, The Dead C and The Bats. Yet it became clear once removed from the shaky isles that, in fact, these bands were actually pretty world famous in certain circles.

What became even clearer was the level of influence bands like The Bats have had on music in their 30-odd years together. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Australia right now. Take Twerps, Songs, Boomgates, Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, New Estate, etc; there’s little question these bands have spent time exploring the Flying Nun label.

The Bats’ singer/songwriter/guitarist Robert Scott reckons he knew they were onto something back in the ‘80s, and he’s gratified that bands today can find stuff in their songs worth referencing, however understated the allusions may be. “I think we realised in the late-‘80s onwards that it was pretty cool, it had a lot of integrity and form and it was carrying on, it had a lot of good momentum,” he says. “There was a lot of bands joining in and doing similar stuff in a way and the crowds kept coming and the reviews kept being good...

“It might be [that] some bands that are listening to you and enjoy the music and then they go off and write their stuff and there’s elements of what we’re doing in the work. It might be subconscious as well, in terms of, y’know, when a band is referencing stuff they’re not necessarily going to be saying ‘Oh we need to change that chord sequence [because] we want to make it sound more like The Bats’. I think it’s more that maybe they enjoy the music and take small elements or even attitude or some kind of meaning from it and then that comes through in the music... It is gratifying and it’s kind of a good indication and validation of what you’re doing being relevant or that people are still listening to it and enjoying it and getting something from it.”

Longevity is a word often associated with The Bats. The band have maintained the same line-up of Scott, guitarist Kaye Woodward, bassist Paul Kean and drummer Malcolm Grant throughout. Scott says the intermittent creative bursts of the band have been crucial to their ongoing collaboration. “We have been around for a long time but we’ve had very big gaps in what we do we won’t play for like four or five months at a time, so that helps,” he says.

The inherent Bats-i-ness of their tunes stems from this strength of membership and hinges largely on the guitar interplay and vocal harmonies of Scott and Woodward. “We don’t analyse it too much,” says Scott of the collaboration. “I’ll come up with my chord sequence and the Kaye will write some kind of pattern over that, whether it’s the lead or a set of chords. It all seems to work out, I think it’s one of those lucky accidents that when we write something it comes out like that.

“Kaye, in some ways, is unconventional in her playing, so that’s a good point of difference in terms of what she chooses to put over top of it. Quite a few of my songs, if a trad rock lead player was to put their stamp on it the songs wouldn’t be nearly as good, so what Kaye and Paul and Malcolm bring to the band is a huge thing in terms of making the songs sound the way they do.”

In terms of writing songs these days, Scott says growth is important to the band – much of the focus is on differentiating their new songs from their older material. When suggested The Guilty Office of 2008 and Free All The Monsters of 2011 could possibly be the best Bats albums, Scott responds: “There’d be nothing worse than putting out records and everyone prefers the older ones and compares them to the older ones and finds them lacking or wanting...

“[It] can be hard because I don’t employ a lot of different tactics,” he says of writing songs these days, “I sort of draw from the same bank of chords, I s’pose. I’ve got a few more techniques and ideas that I’ve picked up over the years but basically the approach is the same... Inspiration is still pretty much the same things: people relationships, how people interact; and also it’s landscape and physical forms around me... Seeing different things or meeting new things for the first time, that can give me ideas. Often it starts from a very small idea and grows from there. I don’t tend to like take a big idea like the meaning of life, I like smaller things.”

Harmony Interview with Tom Lyngcoln

On paper it’s always seemed frightful: three doo-wop women bringing gospel harmonies to what can best be described as some kind of deconstructed punk outfit playing slow, heavy, gristly tunes. But anyone who’s caught Melbourne’s Harmony live or listened to their slightly antisocial self-titled debut would understand that this most unlikely of cocktails actually works.

Harmony find strange symmetry in their double-pronged “mongrel concoction of lost-in-the-wilderness blues and heartbroken balladry”. There’s the darkness at the back – though drummer Alex Lyngcoln brings the look of the thing up a few notches from the unshaven beasts either side of her – but the front-end harmonies lift the sound out of the slough. It’s somehow got decent feng shui. It’s a mixture you’d struggle to invent if you tried and, says guitar player/dark vocalist Tom Lyngcoln, he sometimes has to double check it’s really a ‘thing’. “There are times when I’ll actually catch myself and I’ll be singing and I’ll look across and be like, ‘What the fuck is going on over there! How did this happen!’ he says. “It’s a pretty strange phenomenon.”

2013 was a massive year for the band. They busted out performances at the Drones-curated I’ll Be You Mirror ATP event, played Victorian favourites Golden Plains and Boogie festivals and even hit the road with The Drones for their I See Seaweed album-launch tour. Better still, they had their new record, Carpetbombing, recorded and pretty much done while their bumper year unfolded. “We started it about three years ago and, I dunno, it’s kind of been a long process,” says Lyngcoln of the record. “We’ve really kind of sat on it for a long time... There is a lot of work that went into it as opposed to the first one, which was pretty kind of ragged and slap dash. This one, a lot of man hours went into it.”

As with their debut, on Carpetbombing Lyngcoln took control of recording and mixing duties. Born out of pragmatism, it’s a role he’s finding himself increasingly familiar with – he’s played a hand in recent recordings of Spinning Rooms, Batpiss and Hoss, amongst others. “I can’t really convey to other people how I want things to sound,” he says. “It makes it really hard when you’re in a band and you’re playing music and you can’t tell people how you want a record to sound, so I just figured I’d have to do it myself... I’ve had a lot of help from friends too. Alex MacFarlane from The Stevens and Mikey Young both guided me a lot and showed me some neat tricks too, and other stuff I’ve just picked up along the way.”

There’s a lot of space on the new record. You can feel the earth beneath the band members’ feet. It sounds as though they set up in a suburban dungeon somewhere and thrashed the thing out in a matter of days. This, says Lyngcoln, couldn’t be further from the truth. “If you take us and put us in a thousand-dollar-a-day studio, the music just can’t withstand that,” he says. “It needs a layer of shit in between the listener and the band to kind of take any kind of notion that maybe it’s some kind of slick production – you wanna blow that out of the water. You don’t want it to be like some kind of tribute soul band – something that it isn’t. Slick production will do that, it’ll just make the songs sound like shit. So it kind of needs to sound shitty for the songs to kind of retain a bit of weight, I reckon.”

In a nutshell, the approach they adopted was for Tom and wife Alex to play guitar and drums live together, lay down the bones of each song then allow the other members to build their own parts. “It was completely almost built from the ground up, which is how we did the first one too,” says Lyngcoln. “As soon as I’ve written a song I give it to Alex and we go into a room and as soon as we get the first take then that’s what goes on the record...

“[Harmony]’s definitely a weird kind of alchemy, that’s for sure. It’s is the sum of its parts. I think if one person left the band then the sound would change dramatically. It’s a collaborative process despite it being a fragmented process.”

Through Poison City Records, Carpetbombing will be released on CD and gatefold vinyl and any physical purchase will come with a bunch of downloadable bonus material. As well as a spoken-word appearance by Don Walker on the album proper, Harmony enlisted the likes of Adalita, Qua, Spinning Rooms, Heinz Riegler and Mick Turner to record reconstructions of the band’s songs. “It’s pretty interesting to let it go and just let people do what they want,” says Lyngcoln. “There’s some pretty wild deconstructions of stuff, that’s for sure... The whole idea was that they could take a single note from a song and just sample it and just do something else with it. The only thing that would remain was the song title.”

The invited guests are mostly friends of the band, but Lyngcoln being Lyngcoln (he’d previously wrangled Marc Ribot to collaborate on their debut) he was prepared to push the limits of stalkerdom to get a couple of heroes on board. “Mick Turner I hadn’t met but I had crapped myself in front of [him] on numerous occasions,” he laughs. “He’s the one person in Australia... Actually there’s two of them ‘cause Don Walker’s the same. Don and Mick are the two people that I can’t be in a room with ‘cause it freaks me out too much.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I was lucky enough to chat with Chris Pugmire and Melissa Lock from outstanding Melbourne outfit New War a couple of weeks back and they left me with a feeling not dissimilar to smugness. Not in a self-satisfied conceited sense was I feeling smug, no – the feeling I was experiencing was more a warm inner glow and it was brought on by a topic of discussion very dear to us all at our particular cafe table in a particular inner-northern Melbourne suburb: the state of local music. The general crux of this discussion was that the state of live music here is very good – great even – so good, in fact, that we hope somebody is documenting what’s happening right now because we’re experiencing something special.

Silence, Naysayers! Pugmire and Lock have the unique perspective of recently returning from years living in Seattle, USA, a town that is synonymous with live music (and also experienced an ‘important’ period in recent history). Their consensus is that what we have here – several dozen live venues of varying capacity and suitability, hundreds of local artists and bands gigging on a regular basis and fabulous community radio – outshines anything they experienced in the USA. What is most exciting is that what we have here is not restricted to a certain strain of music at all. There is enough around that those of us with broad musical tastes can get a fix of several different flavours in one weekend, even, often, in one bill.

The venues in this city have been copping their fair share of media these days, and rightly so, as the SLAM movement continues to gain momentum and Music Victoria gains traction at the tables of power. The perpetual struggle of the bands and artists to gain recognition for their work as more than a hobby continues, though it must be noted the access to equipment, recording facilities and promotional mechanisms becomes exponentially less strenuous with each passing year. The one, often under-recognised, cog in the gears of our thriving music community is the only non-profit-making outlet for the stuff and the beating-heart of the organism: community radio.

It’s around this time every year that Triple R ask for their own little piece of recognition in the form of money from your pocket to keep the station alive for another year. As much as half of the station’s annual operating costs come from subscriber funds and this enables Triple R to retain a truly independent voice, non-reliant on advertising or governmental dollars (and inevitable influence), and the ability to play what they want to play and for their broadcasters to – within the community broadcasting codes of practice – say what they want to say.

Every day, Triple R, and others within the community broadcasting realm, stimulate discussion, introduce ideas and new music to the listening public. These outlets are the first stop for local artists and provide the one thing that every creator, regardless of discipline, seeks out: exposure. As listeners, we are exposed to the cutting edge of what is being created here and around the world. We are presented with this stuff by passionate volunteer broadcasters who serve to inform their listeners through their own depth of research and knowledge of their chosen speciality (be it specialist music programming, wider arts, politics, community information or pure entertainment).

The winners here are the listening public, the artists, community organisations and society in a wider sense. The losers, as far as I see it, are the people who would have it that every act has a dollar value attached. Community radio rages against the dumbening corporatisation of our society and allows us the freedom to choose how we receive our daily dosages of information. If you give a shit about the health of your community, answer the call and reach into your pocket during Triple R’s Radiothon. It runs from this Friday through to Sunday 26 August. CALL +61 3 93881027 TO SUBSCRIBE

Friday, August 10, 2012

New War interview with Chris & Melissa

(Previously printed in Inpress)

It was late in 2010 that New War turned up as a pulsing glob of bright light on the local music radar. On a Tote Hotel bill that featured a couple of other brand new outfits that would go on to relatively big things (notably Lower Plenty and Harmony, both of whom have albums out and more on the way) New War exploded onto the stage and seized the status of ‘a band to watch in 2011’.

We watched them build a support base in a relatively short period of time and we waited for an album (or at least rumours thereof) to surface. They teased us in September with a sexy-as-shit release of their single Ghostwalking on 12” vinyl and we held out through summer in the hope that the album (of which rumours were now circulating) would hit us before the winter crept in. It wasn’t like it was a bad time, great music was sprouting up all around us – Dick Diver, Lost Animal, Royal Headache, Harmony, Lower Plenty et al managed to release exceptional albums in the interim – but still we waited, knowing full well it was going to be special, for New War to follow up what had now become incredible live performances with album number one.

It turns out the record was ready to go a while back. The self-titled debut struck a few minor hurdles but is finally ready to drop via US label Fast Weapons and Local imprint Sensory Projects. “There were big delays with Ghostwalking and it ended up [that], by the time it came out, there was too little of a window to put out a record,” says a remarkably softly spoken New War frontman Chris Pugmire (remarkable given his stage presence and howl). “We didn’t want to just smash ‘em together ‘cause we didn’t want Ghostwalking to just get lost. So we decided to delay it a bit.” Bassist Melissa Lock adds, “Then our keyboardist was having a baby, so we couldn’t put it out then ‘cause we wanted to promote it.” Though Pugmire reckons it may’ve been a blessing in disguise given the quality and quantity of Australian releases in 2011.

New War emerged out of the musical partnership of Pugmire and Lock, which developed in the USA a few years back when they were playing in a band called Shoplifting. Lock describes a nostalgia for the way the “old Melbourne” music world was as integral to her pursuing something different in the States. “When I left [Australia] it was very rock dominated, like Legends Of Motorsport, and I wanted to do something a little bit different,” she continues. “I missed the old Melbourne and what was going on and I was really looking for a different thing. When I came back, I was like ‘Oh my god! There’s such amazing music!’ I was so glad to be back in Melbourne, it was an exciting time to start playing different kinds of music and we purposefully left out the guitar – I was like ‘I don’t want to play with guitar, let’s think of something different’... As much as I love the guitar and guitar music, I just felt like I wanted to do something different and let’s just see what it would sound like taking the guitar out and what could we do with it? If we put the guitar in, I thought we’d be just another rock band.”

On arrival back in Australia, the pair had the basis of some songs penned. The sonic direction of the thing (whatever the ‘thing’ was destined to become) lay in a basis of dub and a fiendish love of bass. Pugmire’s abstract lyrics would become the centre of whatever it was they would do; the rest fell on the selection of the players they’d combine with and those decisions were made on more of a personality level than necessarily a musical one. “Me and Chris had written songs together,” continues Lock, “so we already had a bit of an idea of what we were wanting before the others came along. Now we’re a full band where we all have total control and everyone’s kind of brings in ideas, which is exciting for the next batch of stuff.”

Another shift for Pugmire was to tone down the level of politically-focused lyrical content. Where his work with Shoplifting had been dripping in “gender politics and was involved in the Kill Rock Stars kind of Pacific Northwest super-political scene”, New War takes a more lateral approach. Though the content still bubbles with concepts of the inner-workings of power, the often bleak vocal lines pulse with a more personal longing. “It’s kind of like lots of intertwining short stories,” says Pugmire of the narrative thrust of the album. “It’s lots of weird kind of historical and current events that I’m obsessed with for one reason or other.

“Calling From The Inside is actually about where I’m from. There’s this inlet that’s called the Puget Sound, that comes out from the ocean and Seattle comes right up to the water there. There were some rivers that ran off of it and they’ve all been covered over. It’s kind of this ghost story of colonisation and almost a homesick song as well... Seattle has totally disappeared due to gentrification. It doesn’t even really exist; the Seattle I grew up in, it isn’t there anymore.”

Through the dense, often despairing, lyrics (“oxidised by a dead sea scene/I’m killing in a solar daydream/silted in a sea dredged dry/carboned out in a junked up sky” – Slim Dandy) the coursing rhythms and vivid keys actually evoke ecstasy more willingly than sorrow. It’s a complex listen, rewarding, and as close to the live New War sound as the band could capture.

“I think Lindsay [Gravina, producer] was keen on getting as much of the energy of the live show, obviously you can never exactly capture that in any kind of recording. All the instrumentation was done live. We weren’t into the idea of separating the instruments and recording them separately,” says Pugmire of the process. “We tried to create similar moods, and get ourselves into similar headspaces and similar aggression – we tried to keep it as how we feel when we play. We tried really hard to keep that and Lindsay did an amazing job,” says Lock.

Though enthused about the release, Pugmire and Lock are more so buzzing on the community they find themselves a part of. There’s no doubt in their minds that we are experiencing something special in Australia. “We’re so lucky,” says Lock of the support they’ve received from community radio (PBS and RRR both airing live performances from the band even before the sniff of an album). “It’s so much harder to get on radio [in the US]. College radio is something I never really understood... It made me very proud that we’ve got such great support for local artists.” And they’re surrounding themselves with these artists at their local and interstate launches – veritable showcases of what’s hot. “Being here now reminds me of growing up and going to shows in Olympia and Seattle,” says Pugmire. “It’s not as wild or punk or whatever, but there’s just as much of an exciting array of music going around.”

Rick Froberg (Obits) Interview

Rick Froberg is a name synonymous with the Southern Californian punk scene of the last two decades (the good San Diegan scene, not the poxy pop-‘punk’ of a nearby city at the same time). During this period he contributed vocals and guitar to hugely influential outfits Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu and Pitchfork, amongst others, but he also contributed to the aesthetic of the ‘movement’, producing album art for label Swami (created by fellow Hot Snake John Reis), which included cover art for bands like all mentioned above, Reis’s hugely successful Rocket From The Crypt and Beehive & The Barracudas.

When Hot Snakes entered the millennium with album Automatic Midnight, it took a hose to the shitty washed-out weasel piss that ‘punk’ had been diluted to and finally washed it down the toilet where it belonged. Obits continue in a similar vein – they’re not rewriting the rock’n’roll rule book by any stretch, and though the attitude is less confronting, their sound similarly conjures a time and place. Nowadays Froberg lives in New York City, a world away from the relatively sleepy northern counties of San Diego where he grew up. As a successful artist (both musical and visual), based in one of the true global arts hubs, it seems this rocker has landed on his feet. When I offer that he’s basically living out my rock’n’roll fantasy, he dryly offers, “I’ve only been this so I don’t know what it is to be anything else. I guess it’s goin’ okay, I’m still here.

“It’s a balance,” he says of his lifestyle. “Visual art is also my job. Some of it could be considered commercial art y’know, where I work and I try to get paid enough together to pay the rent. As much as I can, I like to do music because I get to travel and I get to play and drink beers with my friends and what not.

“We’re not that promotion-oriented, we don’t go out on tour to promote ourselves, we go out on tour to have some fun and take advantage of it... We do this because we want to and because it’s fun. This isn’t professional, it’s maybe semi-professional, I don’t make enough from this to pay for my life and neither do most of the people I know who play in bands... I get to travel, I get to go to Australia, I get to meet people and most of all I get to play my crappy rock’n’roll music and have a good time.”

Given Obits’ sound isn’t a million miles from that of his earlier bands, I query how much of an impact living in NYC has had on his writing and art? Is it quantifiable how much of an impact surroundings can have on an artistic pursuit? “It would be difficult to do,” he considers after a long pause. “I could quantify really obvious things, like I moved from a smaller town to a much bigger town and in a smaller town you know most of the people who are involved, intimately or at least casually, whereas here you don’t. What we do has much less value here because there’s so much of it – there’s so many bands and so much entertainment’s competing for your attention. It’s more anonymous in some ways, it’s a very urban environment and that affects how you see things and your aesthetics. If you move from Alice Springs to Sydney or something, it probably wouldn’t be the same experience, but it’s just a different thing.”

In terms of inspiration, music-wise the basic tenets are similar for Froberg now as when he was cutting his teeth with Reis way back when. Obits aren’t out to change the world, just to play some rock music. “I think the same principle always applies,” he says of his drive to continue, “it’s about self expression and it’s about fun and getting off your arse and seeing things.”

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Justin Townes Earle

(prev printed in Inpress)

Justin Townes Earle plays it down but, whether he felt it or not, his musical pedigree (son of Steve Earle, stepson of Allsion Moorer and named after famed country musician Townes Van Zandt) placed a huge weight of expectation on his musical development. His rocky road is well documented, but what’s unusual in his story is that from the cinders of heroin addiction he stands as a man, now 30 years old, who has emerged from the shadows of his lineage to a reputation as one of the strongest country voices of his generation. Set to release his fifth album Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now this month, Earle is hitting Australian roads for a tour in April and, as he was duly pointed out by his manager, he’s received equal billing for Byron Bay’s Bluefest with his father.

“I was a little freaked out when I first started doing it,” he says of his first forays into writing songs, “but I really didn’t spend a lot of time around my father and his friends.” This was to change dramatically when at a young age he was recruited by his father to tour with his band The Dukes, but, at least initially, he was shielded from the spotlight. “I was a Mama’s boy and I lived with my Mama so I wasn’t as intimidated as a lot of my friends, who actually grew up going to the industry parties and hanging around with musicians,” he continues. “I was a little more cavalier because I was a little more ignorant I guess. I pretty much started writing songs and within a few weeks of writing my first songs I was already performing live, and pushing things as far and as hard and as fast as I could. My Dad told me ‘If you wanna be good, don’t worry about sittin’ around, just go out and play shows and you’ll get better and you’ll become a better writer’. So that’s what I did, I just played and played and played and did all the shows I could.”

The initial spark came via writing poetry and short stories as a youngster. Encouraged by a teacher who saw a glimpse of promise, Earle entered and won a few “little stupid county writing contests” but it wasn’t until his adolescence that he began dabbling with songs. “I found [songwriting] an interesting style of writing because you have to leave a certain amount of room and you have to not say a certain amount of things in order for a song to be good,” he says. “You don’t have page after page to say it, you’ve gotta get it in there and you’ve gotta get it in in the most condensed form that you can. It’s very challenging.”

Earle’s songs are personal affairs, close to himself. Often penned in the first person perspective, they are songs about love, loss, family and life on the road – typical country fodder. Mama’s Eyes from 2009 album Midnight At The Movies directly addresses his at-times tumultuous relationship with his father (I am my father’s son/I’ve never known when to shut up/But I ain’t foolin’ no one/I am my father’s son); new number Won’t Be The Last Time appears to tackle addiction-associated regret. His subject matter never strays too far from his story’s central character – himself. “It does expose me somewhat,” he says about his writing approach, “but the things that are in my songs, I’m addressing things that people already know about me and I’m just clearing up the hearsay.”

A move from Nashville to New York City has allowed Earle the luxury of anonymity. There was a risk associated with the move in that the country ‘muse’ may be less apparent in the big city. For Earle it was all about taking a breath and gaining perspective. “It hasn’t hurt me in any way,” he says. “I definitely thought like living in the big city might change me as a musician but all it did was inform me more. [Now] I have a broader idea of human nature, which is what a lot of my writing is based on. In New York you have a lot of human contact... I love everything about it, it’s so inspiring. If anything it made me wanna move too fast, I had to kinda slow myself down.

“I’m kind of ‘bar humbug’ about going to see shows. Especially in Nashville, a lot of bands that I’d like to see, I don’t get to listen to them because people just talk. In a small club people are just poking at me all the time going ‘Hey! What are you doin’ here?’ Nashville people drive me crazy; I go out a lot more in New York ‘cause nobody gives a fuck who I am. Nobody cares in New York.”

Writing from experience opens Earle’s material up to a broad audience. We’ll get a good gauge of this when he tours here in April as he’ll be playing to very different audiences at festivals like Bluesfest and Boogie, and in clubs ranging from inner-city venues to country halls. Having seen him perform in a variety of settings over the years and witnessing vastly dissimilar audience demographics won over, I ask him whether he ever takes stock on stage and wonders how the hell these people found him? “I’ve done that several times,” he says. “Especially out here in the States, I get the traditional country fan sometimes – not many of ‘em these days but y’know, they’ll be there. But y’know, I remember this one guy with a big handlebar moustache and a giant cowboy hat standing next to this little girl with cut off shorts, a tattoo across her chest and a ring through her nose. My shows have definitely gotten more on the young side every year but it’s a pretty wild mix... I do ask myself all the time. I think something bad’s gonna happen one day ‘cause maybe they’re all gonna realise they’re all really different and hate each other at one of my shows.”

It could be seen that he’s bringing people together through his music? This is a concept Earle embraces wholeheartedly. “I think that it’s a very important thing,” he continues. “I made a decision through watching my father’s career that I would not include political statement in my music. Just because somebody votes differently doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to come out and listen to music and have a good time. My father, without question, alienates a certain part of the population.”

Despite their past conflicts, Earle and his father are on much better terms these days. As they both appear on the same Bluesfest bill this year, it seemed logical to ask what are the chances of some kind of father/son duo? “It probably will [happen] if we have the time,” he says. “Unfortunately in this business what we always run into is that we don’t have any time to do the things we wanna do – we just gotta do what we gotta do. Hopefully I’ll be able to catch his set. I haven’t seen my father’s show in... It’s been two years since I’ve seen him perform because of touring and not having the time.”

The father and son appeared together in HBO TV series (the incredibly good) Treme season one. There’s a coffee-shop scene in which the Earles share a table with John Goodman and you can almost see the younger Earle’s cup shaking with terror. Steve had already acted in HBO smash The Wire – the two shows share the same creators – so for father what may have been just another day at the office, was for son a harrowing experience. “It was absolutely terrifying,” he laughs. “One of the first scenes I was in was the coffee shop scene with John Goodman, it was horrifying. [Acting]’s something that I’m open to but it’s not something that I’m trying to do. I got enough shit goin’ on. Acting’s a pain in the ass! You’re on set all day, you do the same shit over and over. I don’t know if I have the patience for that shit. Those people are crazy.”

Charles Bradley Interview

(Prev printed in Inpress)

“My Mamma always told me, ‘You’ve got a sweetness in you, you’re a very gentle human being. Of all my kids, you’re the gentlest and the kindest, but be careful ‘cause they’re gonna eat you up out there, ‘cause you’re just like a lamb,” says Charles ‘The Screaming Eagle Of Soul’ Bradley down the phone line from a freezing New York City. “And she always told me that ‘cause I could never try to hurt nobody... It’s like if I had a piece of my bread and I see you’re hungry, I give you a piece of my bread.” And to an extent, Bradley’s mother was right – his life has not been easy.

Bradley grew up on the tough streets of Brooklyn in the 1960s. Around 1962, his sister took him to see James Brown and, he says, he instantly knew he wanted to be an entertainer. He got off the streets by entering Job Corps (an initiative helping underprivileged youths into employment) and landed in Maine where he learned to cook. It was here that he initially got a band together but his bandmates were drafted into the Vietnam War and Bradley was forced to move to Wassaic, New York to cook for 3500 people a day in a hospital for the mentally ill. He stayed in this role for nine years before making his way, gradually, to California, where he lived and worked as a chef for 20 years.

“Job Corps was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he says. “I was livin’ in the ghettos; I was livin’ in the streets from the age of 14 until I went to Job Corps. If I hadn’t gone to Job Corps, I’d be pushin’ up daisies or in somebody’s jail ‘cause I didn’t have nowhere to go, no one to look up to. They give you a job, they give you training, they give you education and they give you self respect and that’s why it helped me.”

Though Bradley sang and performed in various neighbourhood bands and picked up small gigs throughout his time in California, his ‘break’ wouldn’t come until much later. Laid-off from his job of 17 years, he decided to move back to NYC and took up handyman work to free himself up in the evenings so he could perform.

Here, he met with mild success performing a James Brown routine under the moniker ‘Black Velvet’, and it was at one of these shows that Bradley, in his 50s, was discovered by Gabriel Roth of soul label Daptone Records. “Now at my age, I was completely shocked,” Bradley says. “It was at my giving up point and things just... I just can’t believe I got to this point, it just kinda happened over night. I travelled all around the United States searchin’ for my dreams.” But when I offer that maybe he’s finally found that pot of gold, he’s not so sure. “Everybody says that, I’m not really that sure yet see. I just found my open door and I’m just pushin’ in and tryin’ to show them all the love that I am and the person that I am and keep beggin’ for this opportunity and reachin’ out to the world and let them know that hey I’m for real. I ain’t playing y’all, ladies and gentlemen, I’m just tryin’ to give the love of me... I got this opportunity to show love and give love.”

In some respects, for Bradley to find success later in his career after working hard all his life, the recognition of his talent must have been all the sweeter. “It’s bittersweet sometimes,” he says. “I’ve been lookin’ for this opportunity my whole life. I been on my own since I was 14 years old. I’ve been searching for my music a long time. It’s just one thing I’m really holdin’ on to it and keepin’ on doin’ the best I know... I just kept my mind and heart and soul clean y’know. I want this chance and I want to be able to give it with the honesty of myself.”

His impending visit to Australia with band The Extraordinaires, will see him take the stage at Golden Plains Festival. When I relate that fellow Daptone Records soul sister Sharon Jones has been responsible for one particular festival defining performance at the same venue for (Golden Plains’ sister festival) Meredith in 2010, his excitement levels double. “I was shocked by attracting so many young people,” he says of his wide audience. “I thought I was doin’ it for a much older audience. I got young peoples, old peoples, middle-aged peoples comin’ to watch me... Anybody who really love music and listen to the music and listen to the lyrics and that’s what they’re comin’ to me for.”

He goes on to say that he’s doesn’t necessarily adhere to the thinking that it’s soul music as a ‘genre’ that allows this broad appeal. For Bradley, if the music comes from the soul and is of the soul then that’s all that matters. “When, you know, you got it goin’ down and you go out there and reach people’s soul, they feel it in the love in their heart and they know it and they relate to it. It’s not about any label you can give it – soul music, rock music, country and western music – but if you’re givin’ somethin’ that human souls can share and know it’s for real, it don’t have to have a label. You have to open up to the audience and let the audience know who you are. You’re not talkin’ to a machine on stage, you’re talkin’ to a human being. And the human being is lettin’ you feel the way you feel in your heart and sharing his heart or her heart with everybody. You look inside their heart and say ‘wow, that person’s not a bad person’.

“I have nothin’ to hide,” he says when asked if he ever feels exposed through the honesty of his music. “It’s nothin’ but the spirit that you feel inside, to tell you the truth.” And how he got labelled The Screaming Eagle of Soul? “Sometimes when I get on stage and the spirit hit me and I can’t find no words to say and it hurts so bad, so sweet and sad, I don’t know what to say so I just scream it. That’s the truth there man. When things hit me and it’s so good and it’s so sweet and you just can’t say the words, there’s just no words in my vocabulary that’s strong enough to taste that sweet as what I’m feelin’ in my heart right there, I just scream it.”

Total Control -- Interview with Dan Stewart

Everybody was talking about Total Control from the moment they appeared a couple of years back. It’s impossible to talk about the group without mentioning their musical lineages, and in mentioning their pedigrees it becomes obvious why the buzz surrounding them resonated and morphed into a storm. With their debut Henge Beat out last year and recently back from a national tour of the US with San Francisco firebrands Thee Oh Sees (and an ATP appearance at the invitation of Les Savy Fav), the band have paddled into this wave of interest and are well and truly up and riding.

Now comprising members of almost every corner of Melbourne’s guitar music royalty, Total Control began as a collaboration between Mikey Young (Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Ooga Boogas, Brain Children) on guitars/keys and Dan Stewart (Straightjacket Nation, UV Race) on vocals, but expanded into a five-piece with Alistair Montfort (UV Race, Lower Plenty, Dick Diver) playing additional guitars, noted photographer Zephyr Pavey on bass and James Vinciguerra (The Collapse, AIDS) rounding out on drums. Listening to Henge Beat, there’s far more driving kosmische-inspired space jams than jabbing punk or garage, and you quickly realise you’re not going down any path well trodden by any of the conspirators’ groupings thus far. Still, elements of all of the band member’s musical histories shine through – you couldn’t get a more recognisable bunch of players (at least the front three) together in this town if you tried – but Henge Beat is entering into bold new territory and the record rendered any hype surrounding the band well-informed and justified.

Being who they are, there is always the risk that a step away from a more signature sound may equate to a step away from audience. Stewart doesn’t see it that way, however, and seems slightly irritated by the suggestion that they bring an air of expectation, and even a ready-made audience, through the chops of the members. “I guess in a lot of ways we try to... we personally try to avoid the ex-member thing in regards to pushing the band to play shows and stuff,” he offers apprehensively. “Generally a lot of people that like the other bands, especially Eddy Current, will come watch and that’s kind of unavoidable.

“I haven’t really thought about it that much, would be the most polite way to answer. If I had to guess, I’d probably say that we’re playing to a similar audience. We approach music – with all our bands, and the bands that are kind of peripheral to us but are trying to do the same thing – with the same kind of ideal, which is kinda trying to avoid the trappings of just the way music is in 2012. We’re trying to avoid giving people something that’s insulting I guess. I feel like a lot of music and the way it’s presented to people is a bit insulting to their basic intelligence. I think a lot of the bands that come around, even bands that base themselves on delivering real primal idiotic music like UV Race, I think there’s something very honest and direct about it.”

In terms of sonic directives, Total Control, growing in numbers the way the band did, managed to incorporate the swelling size into the sound and deliver something larger and more challenging to their listeners. Stewart informs that while the parameters were far from laid out on the table, there were some specific pools of inspiration. “Before the LP it wasn’t really a band it was just songs that we were writing together,” he continues, “but the LP was definitely when the band came together. At that point we kinda knew what we were doing; we just took a lead from the songs we’d written around the early singles. We wanted to use synths and use electronics in the songs... We definitely talked about some other bands – we talked about The Screamers, Adolescents and Swell Maps – but apart from that, we just started playing and writing songs with the band. We didn’t really talk about what we were bringing to it. Some of the songs we’d been working on for a long time, so it was exciting to see it come together. Because it was such a gradual process – everything else that I’d done was like over one weekend, like it was direct and then it was done – this was over a month or something, it was weird.”

From there, the invitation to tour in the USA with Thee Oh Sees and a further opportunity at ATP opened up. The band pushed further to get a split eight-track out for the US tour and here they’ve managed to change it up again. The split opens with some moody guitar drudgery, more indicative of goth-centric ‘80s gloom pop than the pulsing kosmische of their album. The remaining three tracks draw similarities to some of the Henge Beat material, but you get the impression of a band pushing harder than most. “[The] split with Thee Oh Sees, that was songs that we put together at practice,” Stewart continues. “Mikey had demoed one of them, Al had demoed one and one of them we kind of put together on the spot from a song Al had written. This was far more a band-type thing. We were just kind of jamming at a rehearsal studio and playing them until they sounded right. They’re a lot more abrupt than the other ones because they were written more on the spot and to a time schedule, ‘cause we wanted to get them out in time for the tour. They definitely have a more raw kind of punk energy, whereas the LP songs had been planned for a while.”

Thee Oh Sees’ tour was a real opportunity for Total Control to expose themselves (now, now) to US audiences with an established name ensuring crowds will turn out. For Total Control, many of whom have travelled in the States with their lesser-known outfits and lived the grind of turning up to empty rooms in strange towns, this represented a chance to prove their worth on the ultimate touring stage. “As far as presenting music with total confidence and really making each song burst, [Thee Oh Sees] kill it every time I’ve seen them play,” Stewart continues. “When you play shows with a band like that, you’ve really gotta work a lot harder and that’s what I really love about touring is the work side of it. Like every night for five weeks or so, I just love that feeling that every night you’ve just gotta work a bit harder than the night before. Not only are you tired and the accumulated driving is getting to ya, but you’re with this other band that are pretty well seasoned and they know what they’re doing. They’re gonna be like that guy at work that will see ya every time you’re slowing down and you know you better get your shit together, you’d better work that extra bit harder. It’s good to have that person around.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


On 23 February 2010 the Victorian public marched to the steps of Parliament House in a 20,000-strong show of support for a live music community under threat. Organised by grassroots group SLAM (Save Live Australian Music), it was the largest cultural protest in the nation’s history. The message was clear: we do not accept that live music is in any way associated with violence and we expect live venues to be treated as the cultural hubs that they are, not lumped in with seedy beer halls and gambling dens by association through alcohol alone. And, it seemed, the government listened. The Live Music Accord was drawn up and, accordingly, an exemption process was established whereby venues could apply to have their ‘high risk’ status lifted, thus relieving the financial burdens associated with security and insurance costs. Also, a peak body, Music Victoria, was set up to oversee and facilitate the implementation of change. Things were looking up... But that was an election year.

With a change of State Government came hope for further progress. In June last year Arts Victoria released a report: “The economic, social and cultural contribution of venue-based live music in Victoria”. For the first time, this report quantified, in economic terms, what live music is worth to Victoria – the contribution is staggering. Politicians jumped on the numbers; there were cringe worthy photo opportunities at the Tote Hotel and grand statements about the ongoing support of live music. The Government acted to change the Liquor Control Reforms Act to take into account the needs of live music in liquor licensing decisions. “It was an election promise and they were under a lot of pressure to do it,” says SLAM organiser Helen Marcou. “When Arts Victoria released their report into live music... we found out for the first time ever that it’s worth half a billion dollars to this state, which is substantial. So [the State Government] came out with a big statement that we want to nurture and grow live music, so they changed the law, but at the same time they slashed a lot of funding – for example to Freeza Central [and] they’ll be reducing funding to Music Victoria in the future.”

A major concern for SLAM in Victoria is that the regular ‘round table’ meetings outlined in the Accord have not been implemented. There has been much progress at a municipal level and there are concerns that the now Ballieu Government is stepping away from the then Brumby Government’s promises. “Ted Ballieu’s Government via [Minister for Consumer Affairs] Michael O’Brien have come out and said [the Live Music Accord] is a commitment from the last government, so they’re not going to go out and revisit that,” continues Marcou. “We think that’s contradictory to the statements made at the Tote on the day of the release of the [Arts Victoria] report into the contribution of live music when they stood up and publically stated ‘we support it, we’re gonna nurture it, we’re not gonna let unintended consequences from regulation affect it again’.”

In recognition of the significance of the sector, Melbourne City Council has written up a Live Music Strategy that has been worked on with various industry stakeholders. “Once you get the City Of Melbourne involved [it’s a] big statement [that] they support live music,” says Marcou. “They’ve put a motion forward to change zoning to protect live music venues... They’ve also started the Melbourne Music Week.” But these positive steps are in danger of being undermined by a State Government reluctant to talk at all.

One key discussion Marcou and her round table delegates are keen to have centres around the increased density of housing in the inner suburbs and how best to protect existing venues from noise complaints from new occupants. “Our major concern is always first amenity: that people can move in next to us, complain and get us shut down,” says Fitzroy’s Old Bar owner, and musician, Joel Morrison. Old Bar plays an integral role in the music community as one of the few venues that shows live music – largely smaller, emergent artists – seven nights a week. “There’s a certain decibel reading that you’re allowed and that’s measured from the closest residence. If somebody moves in right next door, then your closest residence, which may’ve been two bloody blocks away, is right next door.”

Marcou believes the implementation of order of occupancy legislation must be clearly defined in statutory law before venues will be protected at all. Without the planned round table discussions, it’s impossible to get the ball rolling on this and other areas of concern, including best practice codes for venues and preventing liquor licensing from impacting negatively on live music in the future. “Planning can be interpreted by different councils,” she says. “High density living is the way of the future but we can’t plan positive culture out of existence.”

SLAM are taking these initiatives to every state and territory in the country by way of a national ‘SLAM Day’ celebration this Thursday. Over 120 venues (including over 60 venues showing more than 130 acts in Victoria alone) have registered gigs in a show of solidarity for a cause. “Part of the reason we have gone national is that after the SLAM rally we’ve constantly received letters and emails from all around the country and other cities around the world asking for help with their own campaigns,” says Marcou. “There’s similar problems of gentrification, land values rising, artists being forced into the peripheries of society, and the same themes of no protection for these cultural clusters.”

As well as entertainment hubs, these cultural clusters form the centre of communities, provide jobs are crucial for the development of talent. Local musician Tom Lyngcoln is a figure synonymous with the local band scene. Not only has he played in bands in Melbourne for years, but he’s the guy lending and lugging gear at small gigs, he’s in the shadows at pretty-well every rock gig in town; he met his wife through music, his friends through music, he lives and breathes what it is to be part of the music community. “The most important part of this community is the live performance,” he says. “It’s the ritual: you get together and you meet; you meet new people, you get to see all your old friends. For me that is social interaction, it’s the foundation of my life.”

For Lyngcoln, the cutting of funding for youth development groups such as Freeza Central could have dire effects for the local scene. “If they said that you can’t drink any more in venues, I wouldn’t give a shit, I’m there for the music,” he continues. “Growing up, that was the thing that was most frustrating to me, I wanted to be in these rooms and see these bands and hear the music and they’d tell me I can’t because there’s alcohol there... My wife Alex and all her friends met through going to all-ages shows and all those people went on to form bands. It’s a no brainer, and something that I’ve realised as I’ve grown older is that constantly playing to your peers is nowhere near as beneficial as playing to younger people who may draw a bit of inspiration from it and get involved themselves.”

The SLAM rally, for Lyngcoln, will remain synonymous with his discovery of political cause and effect. In celebration, he and his band Harmony have signed on for the SLAM Day event, registering a gig at Smith Street venue Yah Yah’s. “As an adult and a voter I’ve never really had any other impact on a decision. I can’t recall any other time that there’s a direct correlation between an action taken and a result given. It’s an extremely powerful movement and it has to keep going.”

This Thursday, whether you make it down your favourite venue, write a letter or call up your Minister, pass some information on to a friend or buy a bit of locally produced music, SLAM Day is about engaging with your surroundings and being part of a community. Even a stroll around your neighbourhood will reinforce what you or potentially stand to lose, or perhaps have already lost. “They’re a soft target, live music venues,” concludes Marcou. “It’s much cheaper to just put on a big telly screen or run poker machines or sexually explicit [entertainment] or just straight drinking than to run live music. People tend to drink less in these venues, they have a cultural focus and it’s a little community that teeters on the edge. We can’t see our culture planned out of existence.” Or as Joel Morrison puts it: “What else are ya gonna do? It’s music, it’s fantastic!”

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

La Bastard Interview

La Bastard are this band that’ve seemingly sprung up from nowhere and started gigging their way into the collective consciousness of the live music-going public. They moosh together rockabilly, soul, spaghetti western and garagey sounds and create what could be described as dancey surf pop, but it’s about something more than the tunes alone. Each band member brings their own je ne se quois to the stage and through a swelling culture of one-up-man-ship, their shows are becoming known for the unhinged-ness of performance.

Turns out La Bastard as a concept had been germinating for a while before they found themselves playing their first show about a year ago. There’s every chance they may’ve found their feet a lot earlier, had it not been for a slight misunderstanding and an overserve of funk. “I was in a band when I was only 15 with one of my oldest friends in Bendigo,” says singer Anna Lienhop. “Funnily enough,” chimes in guitarist Ben Murphy in the first of many interruptions during the course of the interview, “when we were about 17 and Anna was playing in this band, Sugarfiend, with her friend – kind of like Bikini Kill meets L7.” Lienhop adds, “And Veruca Salt. It was an all girl band.”

Murphy continues: “There was this battle of the bands competition in Daylesford and my brother Josh had a band who were playing and these girls were as well. Anyway, they beat my brother’s band.” And the prize? “We got to support Bodyjar,” Lienhop says.

The two met at the Daylesford show but weren’t to meet again for about six years. Both working at JB Hi-Fi, Murphy recognised Lienhop from the Daylesford show and had an accusation to level. “What had happened at that gig,” he explains, “was that my brother had taken all his pedals and leads and stuff and kept it in the storage area on the back of the truck and they’d been stolen by another band. I think my brother always suspected that these girls had taken them.” Lienhop clarifies: “I think it was the really shitty pop-punk band.”

From there they got together and jammed out some funk tunes but something wasn’t working. Lienhop opines that it may’ve been a lack of horns. “I have to say,” says Murphy, picking up the conversation, “it was probably my fault because I was bringing too many funk standards. Too much funk.”

They gave it away but an epiphany, of sorts, was to occur soon after at a Six Foot Hick show. “We were watching this band,” says Murphy. “We won’t name them,” adds Lienhop. “They were a support band for Six Foot Hick,” Murphy continues, “and they kind of had this swampy, garage, psychobilly kind of thing. They looked really cool and had really cool clothes on and had the right gear and the right kind of amps but they just kinda sucked. I think I said to Anna ‘it annoys me that you can just try to be a southern rock or garage rock or rockabilly band and just because you have good aesthetic you can get good support’.”

“We were just standing at the back of the room bitching about how we could do this so much better,” Lienhop says. “When we were watching that band no one was dancing, everyone was just kind of standing there. When Six Foot Hick came on, it was amazing. They kind of barrelled through the crowd and it was very interactive, so that was one of the things we tried to take from that.” They will bring some crazy shit to the Retreat this Friday. So if playing on top of bars and tables, crowd on stage, pillow fights, crowd surfing, and witnessing bassist Jimi Edwards’ lying down circle-walk while playing bass sounds like your cup of tea... You really should try and catch the show.

Orbweavers interview with Marita Dyson


Listening to Orbweavers is a mixed experience. Their tunes snatch light into darkness, turning what sometimes could, if treated differently, be rendered bright and light pop tunes into soft but quietly snarling beasts. Their mid-tempos create an urgency to the songs that defies the delicacy of instrumentation, yet complements the oftentimes bleak lyrical content, which explores our fragile human-ness and the inevitability of death. Listening to Orbweavers is indeed a mixed experience, but their investigation of darkness in light ensures their music is enriching.

Orbweavers’ second album Loom was released late last year. A concept album of sorts, the thing lingers around the factories and ex-industrial zones of Melbourne’s inner-suburbs. It’s a record that instils the feeling of Melbourne; it somehow captures the essence of what it is to stroll the bike paths and waterways on a cool winter’s eve. “I’m so glad that you have that feeling and a connection to the songs and places,” says singer/multi-instrumentalist Marita Dyson when I suggest many of the tracks on Loom create a minds-eye view of the Melbourne I know and love. “That’s not something that we consciously set out to do. We did want to write an album where the songs related to one another in some way. Maybe also with this album, we were writing songs that were about our lives and the environment around us because we were spending so much time in it.”

It’s the time spent in this city’s urban natural environments that lend Dyson and her Orbweavers’ songwriting partner Stuart Flanagan their thematic content, but equally it’s their method of exploration, on foot, that helps generate the rhythms. “I think a lot of songs, we write at a walking pace because we’re just walking through the streets,” Dyson continues. “When you’re walking, I imagine other people feel like this, you take in everything around you and there’s a certain pace and rhythm and so images and ideas fall into place. The Melbourne feeling of the songs maybe just comes from being in those environments, and the songs are just a response to those environments. They’re written in Melbourne thinking about Melbourne.”

An area of Melbourne that features on the record is the Merri Creek. The stretch of waterway runs from Wallan in the north and covers 70-odd kilometres to Dights Falls. The creek shares this conflict of darkness and light. Culturally significant for the Wurundjeri People, the creek was wrecked by the industrialisation of the city’s inner-north and to this day remains one of, if not the most polluted waterways in Victoria. Yet walking the banks there are many beautiful stretches of regenerating bush – there have even been platypus sightings in the northern reaches of the creek – it is, in a way, a symbol of healing. “Merri Creek is a very special place that I didn’t know about until we moved into that area,” says Dyson. “I didn’t know there were so many creeks in Melbourne until I read a book about waterways in Melbourne... So much is hidden by buildings and development and the only way to find some things is by stumbling upon them and even walking into them. Even the first few times I went to the creek, I wasn’t really sure what I felt about it. But then the more time I spent there I became really obsessed about finding new things. Whenever I’d go down there and find a new area I’d go ‘cool, I’ll have to come back to this bend or up a random path for a look’.”

Given the Melbourne-ness of the Loom material, it’s unsurprising community radio were quick to latch on to the recording – Triple R even granting the release Album Of The Week honours in October last year. “I felt like I was walking on a cloud to find out it was album of the week,” Dyson continues. “The making of the record is so internal and we spent a lot of time listening to it before it was released and... you bring it out into the world, there’s this feeling of not knowing how people will react to it. All the emotions that I felt during the making of the record can kind of make you, at the end of it, unsure what people will make of the recording. So it’s very heartening and very humbling when people react well to what’s been made. It makes me feel like I’m a child again, the happiness.”

The band also played a show in the station’s performance space. Part of the Cry Baby Sessions, they played a matinee show where parents and children were encouraged to attend. It could seem an odd combination due to the heavy content of many of Orbweavers’ songs. Dyson contests that the open-mindedness of children allows them to transcend any one element of a song or a performance and uncritically respond in an open and honest way. “Some of my friends who have children have told me that they sometimes find the record relaxing for getting their children ready for bed,” she continues. “It’s not that the content’s very soothing either, or the imagery.

“It was amazing to see children tapping along with pencils. Some of them were sitting really attentively and others were kind of climbing around and others were colouring in pictures. I really love children, I don’t have any of my own, but when I see them I’m inspired because they just don’t have any, not agenda, but they’re just very open and responsive to the world around them – I always find them very cheering.”

When asked how she now feels about Loom, having been granted a few months to breathe on the release, Dyson, in typically considered style, again draws comparison to the natural world. “When I hear it now I keep returning to that time,” she says, “which was last year during winter. Some of the songs aren’t that dark, but maybe have this undercurrent of, not sadness but... I just feel in my daily life this transience of life and I will die at some point and every day is just a strange experience and a strange moment to be alive and to know that I’ll die. Maybe that feeling might be a layer underneath everything. It’s not that I feel scared or worried about dying, it’s just something that’s there, in the environment as well in plants and animals and just the experience of life. It’s always there, this feeling that time’s passing and it’s not going backwards, it’s just going forwards and on. I don’t mean it in a heavy way. I’m looking at some pine needles that have fallen from a tree and they’ve dried out and reminding me of time passing.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Harmony interview with Tom Lyngcoln

“You have all these worries when it comes to playing in a band,” says Harmony “slave master” and singer/guitarist Tom Lyngcoln, “particularly when you’re organising things. The one thing I never have to worry about is just how fuckin’ good Jon [Chapple] the bass player is.” Looking around the rest of the cast, you’d imagine he doesn’t lose a lot of sleep. Born out of a (very cute) newlywed agreement between Tom and wife and drummer Alex to set aside some time every weekend for songwriting, Harmony quickly morphed into a six-piece aural explosion. Along with Chapple on bass, the couple brought in the nothing short of exquisite vocal triplicate of Quinn Veldhuis, Amanda Roff and Alex’s sister Maria Kastaniotis.

Those who caught Harmony’s Melbourne Music Week performance at Pony a few weeks back will attest to the band’s near-flawless execution of their innovative and matchless songs. Key to their sound is that the treble of the vocal harmonies be cut by Chapple’s bass. Mr Lyngcoln enthuses that it’s not only bass playing that Chapple brings to the band. “The guy’s a machine,” he says. “[Harmony]’s the first time he’s played bass since Mclusky and I reckon that’s a crime. He brings an energy, this unpredictable tension to things. At first I was like ‘Jon, can you please not leave the stage to take a piss halfway through the set, can you not go to the bar halfway through the set’. Then I got bored and thought ‘You know what, just let him do what he fuckin’ wants’... We accept that if you give him slack he’ll produce genius.”

Armed with the songs carved out of Mr and Mrs Lyngcoln’s matrimonial lounge room, the band came together in waves. “We didn’t take it for granted,” he continues. “Every single person who we discussed and thought about said yes so that really helped. It’s just worked really well. Everyone has completely different personalities and for some reason everyone just tolerates each other really well.” But, regardless of musical pedigrees, the misshapen songs were difficult to nail. According to Lyngcoln, it was hard work and touring that bent the music into shape – though the moulds may have been lost along the way. “It’s like this slave master who’s holding people captive and making them perform things they don’t wanna do, like some kind of war experiment,” he laughs. But of creating the material, he reckons they had to loosen the reins and let the music take its own form. “It comes from wide and varied listening. You take all the things you’ve been listening to and you have a theory and you try to punch out that theory and no matter what it’s going to come out as skewed as your perspective of things. I guess my perspective’s a little white, creepy soul type of thing – it’s pretty horrid. On paper it looks like a hate crime which we perpetrate on music.”

Testament to the quality of the songs (and quite possibly one of the local music coups of the decade), Lyngcoln managed to land bona-fide living legend and Tom Waits collaborator Marc Ribot for guitar duties on Heartache. “I’ve got this mate in the UK who’s played [sax] with Tom Waits,” Lyngcoln continues, “and I thought I’d get him to do something, but he was kinda lukewarm about it. Out of frustration I turned around thought ‘Fuck it, I’m gonna track down whoever represents Ribot and have a crack’, fully expecting the standard response that is: ‘Mr Ribot is really busy’ and ‘you write shit songs’. He came back to me and said he really wanted to play on this and this, and I said ‘Well, that’s not what I asked’.” The resulting number is the next single to be released from their outstanding self-titled debut album. Lyngcoln doubts Mr Ribot will make it out for the launch.

Samson McDougall

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Future Of The Left

'Polymers Are Forever' (Remote Control)

(previously published on ArtsHub)

The only thing in the world more exciting than getting my hands on Future Of The Left’s hot new six-song EP is that I, amongst a few thousand friends, will be seeing them at Meredith in a couple of weeks – that and the fact they’ve got an album out early next year. With FOTL there’s never a pang of ‘what if it’s not as good as the last one’ as they are and ever will be a band at the cutting edge of wit and social commentary. More than that here (and more to the point), their deformed structures and perverted guitar stabs act as cruel extensions of their wrath.

The EP opens with possibly the most overblown Mike Patton-esque theatrics we’ve seen from Falco (no minor accomplishment) and this buzzsaw bass and keyboard combination. The title track is so fuckin’ sexy, subversive and far beyond anywhere they’ve been thus far, you’ll be jamming it on repeat and rendered useless for the next 20 minutes or so. (Hint: if you’re suffering at work, take it into the dunny and bliss out for half an hour – a definite anger buster.) Once you get past the opener, you’re grabbed around the throat by the rapido punk gem that is ‘With Apologies To Emily Pankhurst’, which comes about as close to Mclusky’s ‘Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues’ in tempo as FOTL have managed yet (though I’m certain Falco would despise the comparison).

The thing bounces along through the mid-section and third number ‘New Adventures’, despite lacking in the instrumental dynamics of the previous two, rewards in a purely lyrical sense: The daughter had his laugh/ but not his smoker’s cough/ it must have been the lack of tar in heroin. ‘My Wife Is Unhappy’ brings a delicate guitar line into a keys-heavy listen and also that sick feeling that FOTL are on the edge of eruption – it burns slowly but with intense heat.

The final couplet of ‘Dry Hate’ and ‘’ boil over and inject the memory of this listen with a bile-y combination of the stained cartoonish chest poking and out-and-out spleen bursting tantrums that only FOTL can deliver. This is as well-rounded-a punk EP as you’ll find anywhere right now and will result in much breath holding leading into their Meredith show and near-future album release. And that’s punk in the (proper) say what you fucking think subversive sense.

Samson McDougall

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fucked Up interview with Damian 'Pink Eyes' Abraham

Never to be labelled as anything near conventional, it’s a strange concept to see Toronto punk kings and queens Fucked Up touring the world with Foo Fighters. It’s not an irony that lost on ferocious vocalist and basically most-punk-man-on-the-planet-right-now Damian ‘Pink Eyes’ Abraham – yet he maintains there are strong links between each member of the now stadium rockers and his punk rock upbringing. “When we first met the Foo’s on Toronto, we’d heard from our friends The Bronx who’d opened up for them, that they are the coolest people you will ever meet, prepare to be shocked,” he says. “And so I was like, yeah, how cool can they be? Let’s be honest, I’ve met some cool people.

“Nate [Mendel] from the band was in Brotherhood, one of the greatest hardcore bands of all time. They were one of the bands that got me through high school, I loved that band to death... Basically all of the band – with [members of] Sunny Day Real Estate and The Germs – played in a band that was so pivotal for my musical awareness.”

To backtrack, Fucked Up are now ten-year veterans of the punk rock scene. In that time they’ve delivered over sixty releases (mostly singles and odd-length 7”s and 12”s) including three studio albums. Their second full-length, The Chemistry Of Common Life, scored much critical acclaim and won them the Polaris Music Prize. Their live shows are notoriously brutal and their onstage antics have garnered respect and disdain in equal measures (MTV won’t be calling them back in a hurry). They famously played a 12 hour set at the Bowery in New York City in 2008 to celebrate the Chemistry... release and were joined by members of Vampire Weekend, Dinosaur Jr, Les Savy Fav and others on stage. They’ve (unsuccessfully) sued Rolling Stone Magazine and Camel Cigarettes, they’ve played ATPs and pretty well every other major festival in the world, they’ve just released their third album – an 18-track rock opera set in Thatcher’s England called David Comes To Life, for which they’re apparently penning a prequel – and they’ve even covered Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas for a fund raiser with members of Yo La Tengo and Broken Social Scene, along with Tegan & Sara, Bob Mould, Kyp Malone, GZA and more.

There’s no doubt they are a big fucking deal, yet Abraham’s warmth and modesty is disarming down the phone line. When I suggest the new record had me reaching for the liner notes like I was 14 again, he recalls a similar youth. “The best thing you can hope for in a band or for anyone who’s trying to do anything creative is that something you make is engaged with by other people... We live in a world now where you don’t necessarily have to engage with music, there’s not necessarily any cost to it so you can go and listen to it and process it and then move on. There was a time where I would pore over the liner notes and where I knew the lyrics to every single song.”

Though their roots run deep into the American hardcore of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Fucked Up express a variance in song constructs that suggest wider influences. Abraham confirms that his musical upbringing was as much Sonic Youth as it was Black Flag, and elaborates that it was more the idea of punk that moved him more than any particular sound. “A lot of the stuff that’s perceived as punk these days runs against what I perceive punk to be,” he continues. “But there’s always been a legitimate beating heart to the scene and y’know, you can’t stop an idea. The idea of DIY punk is a very powerful one if you’re a kid and a fan of music. You don’t really wanna be a cast from the heavens rock star, you just wanna be someone that plays music because you love it. DIY punk is a great way to make music and be involved in music because you just do it yourself and you literally take complete control of a situation. As a kid you have very little power in your life and here you’re given power. You don’t like the music you’re hearing then start your own band; you don’t like the bands that are coming to your town then book another band; you don’t like the records that are coming out then put out a record. It’s just so awesome that this idea never really died. And I don’t think it ever will die. It will continue getting co-opted and bands will keep ‘selling out’ and moving on but it’s gonna stay pure because there’s always a kid who’s gonna say ‘fuck that band in the mainstream, I want a band like this’.”

The early stages of Fucked Up saw distributors refusing to carry their material as it did not adhere to the usual confines of what a ‘release’ should be. They found like minds in Deranged Records who were happy to carry whatever they produced. The albums came slowly as the band grappled with the gravity of stringing a group of songs together in some sort of continuum. But after the success of Chemistry... they were confronted with an entirely new pressure. “After the last record we felt that we had an insurmountable amount of hype on us y’know. I really felt like we had hit a point where we were like ‘where the hell are we gonna go with this record?’ Chemistry... really felt like, it was really flattering, but it felt like they’d painted us into a corner in a way.”

Thankfully this external pressure played a large part in the development of the concept of David Comes To Life. “We thought we’d do this record that we wanted to do anyway and we were kinda like if people don’t like it, they don’t like it. So we made it a concept record with this idea we’d been playing around with for a long time.”

There has been much conjecture in recent weeks over the band’s future after Abraham was quoted as saying that he is sick of touring and needed a break. At least during this interview there is little indication of the band’s imminent demise, though he talks of an altered course. “I have a feeling this will be the last full LP with me as the sole vocalist of the band,” he says. “I’m pretty sure that’s the direction we’ll end up going in and that’s for a variety of reasons. Number one, I don’t wanna get the band to a point where it gets stale and you can’t really dial it back from a concept record. Where do you go? I guess a quadruple live record’s the logical progression [laughs]. We’re at that stage now where there’s gonna have to be some changes. And that’s not gonna happen tomorrow, but definitely down the line.” He adds that they’ve just completed The Year Of The Tiger and that they’re planning a prequel EP to the new record surrounding Veronica – the album’s leading lady. Diehard fans fear not... It doesn’t seem likely they’ll be tossing it away just yet.

Samson McDougall

Royal Headache interview with Joe Sukit by Samson McDougall

“It’s hard to explain the way that it’s just changed over the last three or four years,” says Royal Headache bassist Joe Sukit of his base of Sydney and the resurgence of live music. “It started out as a very, at least when I moved to Sydney, as a really DIY warehouse kind of space thing. Bands couldn’t play at pubs, that was pretty much it, there were no pubs to play. But over the years, there’s all these bands and kids that couldn’t really play their instruments being forced into this situation where you make it happen however you can. But it feels like in the last couple of years at least they’ve just evolved into these really great bands and everyone’s writing really great songs and making really great records. It’s really an inspirational place to be and it’s exciting because everyone’s behind each other – and y’know, if you don’t support each other what have you got? We’re on our own, so we make do.”

As a definition of the punk ethos, the above statement reads about as conclusively as I’ve ever heard it put. Through venue closures and the might and power of the Australian Hotels Association that reigns supreme in New South Wales, emerging musicians were forced into a situation of creating their own realm, completely independent of any existing structures, which had become more suffocating than supportive. And waddaya know, the music is coming out on top.

A sweet product of this transition are Royal Headache. A mish mash of members of established Sydney bands, they converged in the garages and warehouses of the city to produce something unique, untried and ultimately satisfying. “Every person in the band is obsessed with music and not just one type of music either, but everything,” continues Sukit of the sonic thrust of the band, which sits somewhere between the realms of punk rock and soul. “Essentially, at the core of every single kind of music that we like, there’s a rawness and a realness to it. Whether it’s hip hop or whether it’s punk rock, you’ve gotta believe what they’re saying. And also you’ve gotta sound authentic and real otherwise what’s the point? That’s the main thing that we try and get across; definitely that’s the main thing that inspires us to do real shit.”

They dropped a self titled debut album earlier this year and it was jumped on by independent radio. Though they haven’t been regular visitors to Victoria thus far, their few shows will remain etched in the minds of anybody lucky enough to have caught them. The quality of the shows they’ve played here speak for themselves – Flip Out and Golden Plains before they even released an album – but their first full-length release and subsequent release party visit this weekend, have been a hell of a long time coming. “We actually recorded it about a year and a half ago,” Sukit continues. “We recorded it in one day and then it was just a process of... Shogun wasn’t happy with a couple of vocal tracks so he was back in for another couple of gos, going back and recording with a couple of different people and then... Ultimately it was about us going to America and our trip over there for Goner Fest that sort of kicked our arses and we thought all right, we’ve gotta get this thing mixed and ready and out. If it wasn’t for that, we probably still wouldn’t have the record out. It was just a matter of getting the record to sound the way that we’d sort of envisioned and do the songs justice really.

It has been worth the wait. The album is dripping in this old world soul built out of solid straight-up garage jams. “It worked out for the best in the end. It was a bit dumb that we laboured over it for so long in the end, but to tell the truth we spent a lot more time just not talking or thinking about the record, so it just sat there doing nothing. To eventually get it out was just a huge relief. It was taking a huge toll on us, y’know, we weren’t able to just get out and do what we wanted to until we had that gone. We just had to get past it I guess. The aim is by next year to have a completely new set and never have to play these songs again until the reunion tour in 2020 or something.”

On the band’s recent US tour, they drove the interstates on a steady diet of fuck all – sleeping on floors and hangin’ in bars until gig time. Sukit was not overly convinced of many of the bands they caught on the tour, and he tells me that apart from Goner Fest, a lot of the music they experienced while there was less than inspiring. But if there’s a positive to be drawn from the experience, it’s the reinforcement that Royal Headache are on the good path. “We went over there with no expectations and just figured that we’d go over and have a holiday and take the band so we could make enough money to make it to the next city on the map,” he continues. “We didn’t really expect to go over there and do anything or for people to come to shows, so every single night was a different thing and a surprise. It was fun; we spent a lot of time in the van just looking at highways and stuff. Then you get to the city and sit in the bar for four hours before you play. That side of things, after a month of doing that, and going back to stay with the two people in the club that want to put you up for the night – so you’d go back to their ghetto apartment and sleep on the kitchen floor – after a month it can get draining, but we had fun. America’s a weird place.

“You’re going around and most of the bands that we played with each night, it’s like they’re afraid to show themselves or be themselves within their music or as a band. It’s like a show. They’ve gotta come up with a character or have a gimmick and this is what they are, but it’s not actually who they are as people. There’s something really confronting or ugly about Royal Headache when they see that. To go and watch a bunch of people pretend to be someone else is not exciting to me, I don’t find that interesting. We’d rather just get up there and do our thing. It was a strange thing, the type of thing they’re used to... Like even the punk bands, it’s like they’re this kind of band and they sound like this band and they’re influenced by this sort of band. I don’t think Royal Headache are really like that at all. I think that was a little confusing and confronting for them.”