It’s Australia Day Eve, it’s hot as hell, and thousands of thirsty Brisbanites are looking to cut loose.
Sunnyboys are at the Tivoli and Foo Fighters’ brand of bro-rock is across town at Suncorp Stadium, meaning Fatboy Slim, aka Norman Cook, has some big-hittin’ competition for the collective attention of Brisbane’s gig-goers at Electric Gardens Festival at the Showgrounds.
The question of whether Cook is able to top his triumphant performance at Riverstage exactly two years to the day is another uncertainty hanging over the gig – that was a hell of a show.
Needless to say, the night proves to be business as usual for the EDM renegade master – complete with a typical array of hits, mesmerising visuals, tantalising sonic snippets, air horns and high energy.
After sets by Tim Fuchs, Motez, MK and Gorgon City, panic sets in at the drinks line when ‘Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat’ kicks off a couple of minutes before the slated 8:30 start time. After ten minutes of high-quality Fatboy, however, the party is well-and-truly underway.
From here, the master is in control of his disciples.
Brief blasts of ‘Eye of the Tiger’, ‘Seven Nation Army’ and ‘Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine’ get huge responses, as do ‘Renegade Master’ and ‘Star 69’. Two years ago it was Bowie featuring in a brief minute-or-so tribute, and this time it’s Prince; the Purple One’s image on the big screen is a nice touch.
Much like Foo Fighters were probably doing over at Suncorp, Fatboy drops some Queen into his set with a bit of ‘Radio Ga Ga’, as the audience claps when he demands it. It’s not quite Freddie at Live Aid (nothing is), but it’s a lot of fun.
By 9:50pm another hit is well overdue, and ‘Praise You’ does the job, evoking an atmosphere somewhere in the region of bedlam. It only takes ‘The Rockafeller Skank’ mixed with ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ to put the icing on this sweaty, leg-weary cake.
Longevity in the entertainment business is an elusive concept. Slippery as an eel. Statistically pretty bloody unlikely.
Evidence shows that lengthy success requires an artist to either (a) regularly reinvent their showbiz persona and take a punt (see: Bowie, Madonna, Prince), or (b) find something they do particularly well and just keep hammering away (see: AC/DC, The Rolling Stones).
For every rule there are exceptions, however, and it could be argued that Fatboy Slim is pretty unique in that he has done a bit of both.
On one hand, the Englishman has spent over 20 years honing an instantly-recognisable DJ-ing style and hasn’t put out a studio album since 2004. On the other, he’s the guy with an armful of aliases, a continually-evolving method of effecting euphoria, and a back story as interesting and varied as most.
With appearances locked in at the third Electric Gardens festival in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide through January, the bonafide EDM legend is bringing his unique party-starting style (and trademark Hawaiian shirts) back to Australia just two years after his last shows here.
It’s safe to assume he’ll be bringing his A game, as always.
“Australian crowds, they’re not shy,” he told Red Bull last year.
“And that’s always my favourite kind of crowd. It’s also a beautiful country to visit.”
While music-lovers now have a pretty good idea of what to expect from a Fatboy Slim show, it’s been a long journey for the 54 year-old to get to where he is today.
The man also known as Norman Cook has come a long way, baby, since being a skinny, pale Housemartin singing a cover of Isley-Jasper-Isley’s ‘Caravan of Love’ on Britain’s Top of the Pops in 1986 or reinventing The Clash’s basslines for Beats International’s smash ‘Dub Be Good to Me’ at the turn of the ’90s (and the coming of ecstasy).
In 1996, his world changed. The Fatboy Slim moniker was born (a name plucked from “thin air” he told NPR in 2001), he released the triple-platinum-selling You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby album a couple of years later, and a swag of awards and international recognition in the process.
A superstar DJ was born.
The transition required a new persona, meaning he became “like James Brown without the band,” he told The Guardian recently.
“I started cheerleading the crowd and showing off. Whenever I play, I kick off my shoes, put on my Hawaiian shirt and revert to being a 17-year-old who’s had one too many ciders.”
More hit records and a never-ending whirlwind of parties, festivals, gigs, travelling and even more festivals, gigs and parties lead to him not only becoming one of the biggest names in dance music worldwide, but also alcohol-dependent – a situation he didn’t address until 2009.
Sobriety called for further transition so the Fatboy Slim party didn’t suffer. He says a genuine love of the music and his audience keeps him as keen as ever.
“The people I play the music to … keep me inspired and amused,” he told Time Out this year.
“Last year was fun and I fully intend to deliver more of the same. I just try and makes sure there’s a little bit of everything for everyone.
“If you wanna party, age doesn’t matter!”
“It’s strange, especially when you travel around, [but] I always have a look at the crowd before I go on to see roughly how I’m going to approach it,” he told Noisey.
Naturally the transition to a sober life was a more serious affair than simply adjusting his approach to a show.
“I kind of lived the life of Fatboy Slim 24 hours a day for about a decade, and it nearly killed me,” he said in an interview with Digital DJ Tips.
“It’s untenable to try and live like that all the time, you’re not a responsible citizen, and you shouldn’t be left in control of children.
“So I kind of figured that the only way I’d do it was quit drinking, for starters, just to give me a bit more longevity, and also just to separate the onstage person from the offstage persona.”
Fans old and new are benefiting from the change too.
“[Sobriety has] prolonged my DJing life,” he told Noisey.
“And my actual life. It’s nice to be 54 and able to jump around at 5am. A lot of that is through being fit. But seriously, the whole thing is just vanity; self-preservation.”
Now a veteran of EDM and a stalwart of the music business, he’s in a good position to assess the scene – with the help of a clear head.
“A lot of the old school DJs are properly weird characters, whereas the new school are young, good-looking, but not hugely interesting,” he told Noisey.
“A lot of them are interchangeable.”
With fire still clearly in his belly and a desire for playing shows stronger than ever, Fatboy Slim is not in the mood to hang up his headphones just yet.
Retirement is an impossibility when he’s only just successfully learned how to separate his onstage and offstage personae, he recently told The Guardian.
“For me, Pete Tong, Carl Cox, we are the first wave of big DJs so there’s no precedent [to retirement],” he said.
“As I get older, Norman’s increasingly obsessed with fridge management and being a responsible dad and husband. He only lets Fatboy out of the box on stage now – Fatboy’s still a lunatic hedonist.”
For someone who has been there from the start to still be at the top of his game more than 20 years later is more than unlikely; it’s almost impossible, and Fatboy Slim’s long and eclectic contribution to music has arguably earned him the right to dictate his own future.
“I’ll step down when either the crowds or I stop enjoying it,” he told The Guardian.
It’s been four long years since Jen Cloher’s last solo album, and while she’s been far from idle or out of our collective eyeline in that time, it’s bloody good to have her back putting out new material of her own. That’s because 2017, and everybody involved with it, needs a healthy dose of Jen Cloher’s fire, and if you don’t feel like you’ve had a savage, if eloquently-delivered, kick to the pants after a run-through of these excellent 11 songs, then you’re probably not wearing any pants and you should do something about that immediately. When she’s not using Rolling Stones lyrics to weave tales of missing her partner while she’s on tour on lead single ‘Forget Myself’ or meandering in perfectly off-kilter fashion while questioning the Australian dream on ‘Regional Echo’, she’s raining blows on the “feral right” on ‘Analysis Paralysis’, and the over-privileged and (gasp!) music critics on ‘Shoegazers’. It’s all well and truly called-for, and Cloher delivers on every track, while her other half is pretty damn handy on lead gee-tar, too. We should be happy Jen Cloher is on our side. What an outstanding album.
The Philadelphian singer, songwriter, producer, and purveyor of delectably laid-back indie-folk tunes has been a guest in our country a smattering of times, but he’s got his audience pretty well sussed.
“I think Australians, in general, really feel music,” he says. “It’s a record nerd, gut-level or emotional thing; maybe an obsessive thing, which is very similar to the way I am. But there’s also a ball-busting, bullshit artist type of thing they can tap into, and [they] can have a good laugh. I feel they are really serious about music but also they can just bullshit and bust balls; they’re both equal. You know how to fuck with somebody to show that you love them. I feel a lot of Australians have those kinds of humour and emotions, you know?”
The 36 year-old will tour Australia solo for the first time in February and March, leaving his band The Violators at home. Successful previous sojourns and a recent surge in popularity here mean the idea of playing venues and shows the size of Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Taronga Zoo and Golden Plains Festival doesn’t faze him.
“I’ve been to Australia enough – this will be the fourth time coming up – to feel like it won’t make a difference,” he says. “I’ll be zoning out; kind of in my comfort zone. I’m sort of comfortable over there because, I don’t know, I’m just used to it over there. With The Violators we try to mix it up with keyboards and stuff like that, but [this time] I’ll just be by myself and my acoustic. I’m sure I’ll bring a banjo. Maybe one day I’ll have more of band with more instruments than a four-piece. I like to just go out, zone out, and not try to recreate the record.”
After leaving The War on Drugs, which he founded with long-term friend Adam Granduciel, and releasing his debut record in 2008, Vile has released six solo records and a collection of EPs of top-drawer folk, rock and psychedelia, with each record marking a musical and thematic progression from the last.
“I’m usually most proud of my newest album,” he says. “But that wears off once I start working on a new record. I look back and am proud of them all, but I would say maybe most of all ‘Smoke Ring for My Halo’; all those songs have a similar melancholia in the lyrics – there was a good theme going on there. The next few records obviously had themes going on too, but there is an interesting melancholic tone to ‘Smoke Ring for My Halo’; I can go back and listen to that one. There’s something about it. I wouldn’t say I’m most proud of it, but it’s some kind of statement.”
Not keen to rest on his laurels, and despite 2015’s ‘b’lieve I’m goin down’ not having been played in Australia yet, the hard-working Vile has already started on its follow-up.
“I’ve been in and out of the studio throughout this touring cycle because I feel like the last two records, in particular, took so long out of the touring cycle,” he says. “I don’t want to just get lost in this dark, black cocoon world in the studio. So I’ve been going in and out of the studio between touring for that reason. I probably have about half of the songs for the next record in some form. I think [fans] will recognise the sound; it’s not like it’s a drastically different record, but there’s always evolution. I think there’s a steady American roots thing going on in my music, and I don’t mean that it’s going to come out like ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ or something too country, but it’ll be some kind of roots scenario. I’ve always been into country and have been getting more into it lately. I read Jerry Lee Lewis’s biography – ‘Hellfire’ by Nick Tosches and George Jones’ autobiography. Since then I’ve basically been out of control reading about nerdy music things; especially Nick Tosches. I guess I’ve been a bit obsessed since my record came out.”
With talk of music nerdiness and an obvious knowledge of music history and lineage, Vile could be assumed to be a hardcore musicologist and collector. The truth is more interesting, however.
“I prefer to not have too many obscure records,” he says. “I have old country, blues and soul records. The stuff I get into is usually popular at one time or another. These days, if I go to the record store the records I want only cost two dollars or something anyways; ‘Country’s Greatest Hits’ or something. I usually space out and don’t even know what comes out in a particular year, but my buddy Luke Roberts put out a record which was great. Heron Oblivion’s record was great. I’ve had my head in the clouds listening to a lot of old music.”
Despite constant touring and having critically-acclaimed albums on his resume, the amiable Vile keeps his feet on the ground. As recently as 2009 he was working in a brewery while recording his third album.
“The constants are my two little daughters and my wife,” he says. “We just moved to a bigger house. It’s not a mansion, although it feels like it because I’ve never had any room my whole life. We’re also keeping our little house so I can go back to my roots and record there. So my everyday life lately has been carting things between these two houses and driving around. I’m pretty comfortable driving around in general, listening to music and zoning out. I’ve also done some little side projects. I did some songs with Courtney Barnett when I was in Australia last time; I’m not sure when they’ll come out or anything. I recorded in Nashville with a bunch of legendary old dudes. I’ve been in the studio with the Violators and I’ve been getting my home studio together, so I’ve kind of got my hands on a lot of different things and it’s all coming along.”
With 2017 mere days away, February comes quickly for Kurt Vile fans.
“The Violators are playing New Year’s at the Fillmore in Philadelphia, and a couple more shows in New York and Boston,” he says. “We have one more tour around Florida late January, then that lines me up to go solo and see you guys.”
Kurt Vile plays Taronga Zoo on Friday 3rd March and QPAC on Thursday 9th March
Okay, before I begin, let me say this: our very existence is on a knife-edge and everyone dies alone. In a world of uncertainty we have to grab hold of whatever takes the edge off the grim reality on the front pages. The country’s going to hell in a Hanson-shaped handcart, so the time for plunging worried fingernails into the small certainties that make life worth living is upon us. One of those certainties is the ability of a good rock band to soothe the soul and free the mind, and the four Findlay sisters of Stonefield have been a good – hell, great – rock band on the national scene for close to six years. This release, their second full-length along with a couple of EPs, is a work of maturity and drive that expands on their instantly-riffy, ’70s-soaked psych-rock sound and pulls in other influences from the wider rock realm to make quite the gut-kicker. The sludgy, Sabbath-esque ‘Sister’ and organ-driven ‘Dream’ let you know they haven’t gone soft since their 2013 debut, while ‘Love’, ‘Eyes’, and ‘Higher’ (what’s with all the one-word titles, guys?) sound like they will be monstrous on stage. There’s a lingering feeling this is much more of a ‘band’ album than previous Stonefield records. Rather than four talented individuals ripping into their instruments, it has a cohesion most likely forged by constant touring at home and abroad, including dates with Fleetwood Mac. Country Victoria can be proud of the Findlays, and the rest of us can take heart from the knowledge that while just about everything is slipping through our fingers, some things remain steadfast.
RANDY HANSEN, guitar virtuoso and one of the few guitarists in the world to be recognised by Jimi Hendrix’s family, is bringing his acclaimed Hendrix Revolution tour to Australia for the first time.
Dedicated to maintaining the memory of the virtuoso guitarist and his ground-breaking music, Hansen has created a show celebrating everything great about the man born James Marshall Hendrix, and openly gushes about his fellow Seattle native who died in his prime aged only 27.
When and how did you decide playing the music of probably the best guitar player who ever lived was for you?
That had a lot to do with it right there, what you just said. That’s what he was to me also. I was already playing the guitar and I really thought I had heard everything: the Stones, Beatles, the Ventures. Then when I heard Hendrix it just changed everything. That’s really when I started learning Hendrix’s [music], but I didn’t get real serious about it until he died. He was my main guy at that point and I panicked. It was really a situation where I thought I was going to follow this guy for years and years, then suddenly I heard he had died; it scared me to think there would be no more music to come from him. I started really getting serious about learning his music right then.
And you saw one of his last shows.
I saw his last show in Seattle, which is where I’m from too. One of the big reasons I was glad I saw it is because I could hear what he sounded like for real, not just on recording, which is what most people know of. They’re great and everything, but it’s way better to be there than just see a recording of it.
This will be your first tour of Australia. Why has it taken so long to get here?
It’s probably mainly because I’ve never really pushed my career at all. I just love playing Hendrix, and the whole time I’ve been doing this I’ve only ever played shows which have been offered to me. I’ve never really pushed myself out there. There are a lot of places I’ve never been and I’ve been doing this since 1975. I play what people come and ask me to play. The whole time I’ve been doing this I’ve been very careful to make sure I’m actually doing a tribute to Jimi Hendrix, because it’s about celebrating his music, style and everything. I’m trying to stay true to it. Not that Jimi needs it, you know? He doesn’t need a cheerleader like me, but it’s so much fun playing his music and I’ve received a lot of encouragement to keep doing it.
Do you play solely Hendrix material?
I have a new album out right now called Funtown. I’ve always been writing but I really haven’t concentrated on that. I try to be a human being and enjoy other things in life, without being too caught up in music. As far as Jimi is concerned though, when I approach it, it’s deadly serious to me. But Jimi was a lot of fun too, you know? So I approach it from every angle. Someone once said to me if I can portray every emotion, then you’ll pretty much get everybody and they will want to listen. That’s pretty easy to do with Jimi’s stuff.
Do you share Hendrix’s love of improvisation?
Oh man, yes. When you hear Robin Trower; he improvises a lot. You can tell his solos are very Hendrix-influenced. For me, it’s kind of like that, although I’m playing a Jimi Hendrix song. I won’t know how long I’ll play the solo and Jimi didn’t either. I pointed this out to someone the other day; they said I had played a part wrong and I said “Hey, wait a minute. I know how to play that part and I’m doing it on purpose”. If you listen to Jimi’s whole discography, and that includes bootlegs and everything else, when he gets to that part he never plays it the same and he never repeated it. So there’s no such thing as ‘wrong’, unless you just hit a really stupid note or something. So, improvisation is everything about his music; it’s all wide open for improvisation. And I don’t shy away from it [laughs].
You’re officially recognised by the Hendrix family. What does that mean exactly?
I guess it means they don’t sue my ass [laughs]. They say they love what I’m doing and they’re close friends of mine. They’re beautiful people and if they told me to stop I would. They’re glad that I do what I do, I guess.
How do you feel about the recently released Hendrix albums? Are they to be celebrated or possibly left alone?
Anything he recorded I want to hear. I try not to look at it with too much of a judgemental ear, because a lot of the things were works-in-progress, and by no means were meant to be released. It’s still interesting to hear where he was coming from or where he might’ve been headed. Would you rather it didn’t exist or that it did exist and you can get a peek at it? I’m glad to be able to have a glimpse at something.
Which of Hendrix’s stage theatrics are a part of your show?
You know, if someone throws a can of lighter fluid on the stage at the right or wrong time… [laughs]. I’ve done my share of smashing guitars and everything, and sometimes it’s pure fun and there’s a lot of frustration you can get out, believe me. A lot of the tricks I try to do are Jimi-influenced. A lot of other tricks I do are things I’ve figured out; it’s all entertainment. I’m probably easier to coax into entertaining you than Jimi was. When I saw him he was really at a point in his career when he just wanted people to listen, so he was toning back the antics. [Whereas] I am kind of a ham and a showoff, and I like to goof off and have fun with it too.
A lot of people know you from Apocalypse Now. Do you still get asked about it a lot?
I get asked about it all the time. It was really fun; I got to work on for about a month. I lived with Francis [Ford Coppola] for about a month. It was really an honour to be a part of it. When I found out I was going to work on this movie called Apocalypse Now, I thought it was going to be some tiny B movie. I had no idea what I was getting involved with in the beginning and it was only later I found out it was huge. I’m still getting paid for it actually. Four times a year I get a cheque and it’s all because of Apocalypse Now.
What can you tell me about your new album?
It’s a bunch of songs I wrote when I came down with this really bad flu. It kept me ill for about three months. In the middle of the flu I noticed I wasn’t getting any better and thought “Damn, this thing might take me out”. After three months I wasn’t getting any better and was convinced it was going to kill me, so the songs got more and more serious as I went along. I thought if I was dying and I wanted to say something, I’d better say it now. So the album is my little messages I have for the planet, the people, how I view life, greed and things like that. There are political statements in there, and human statements, things I love, things that are amazing to me. Everybody is telling me they like the album, but friends aren’t really going to walk up to you and go “That really sucks” [laughs]. It’s one of the first albums I ever recorded that I listen to the fun of it. Funtown to me is the planet Earth and there’s a lot I’m saying that is to do with how we treat the planet. Funtown is supposed to be an amusement park where you get to do whatever you want, and that’s kind of how we treat the planet; we do whatever we want to it. If you list everything that a human being has done on this planet, it would be pretty fucking crazy to listen to. I just kind of wanted to point that out; maybe we should just kick back a little bit and take it easy.
Randy Hansen plays the Hendrix Revolution tour on the following dates:
18th May – Sydney (Enmore Theatre)
21st May – Melbourne (The Palais)
24th May – Perth (Concert Hall)
25th May – Adelaide (Thebarton Theatre)
31st May – Brisbane (Concert Hall)
There’s a reason it took until just recently for someone to have the gonads to call their band Australia: it’s a moniker that will invite all manner of cliché and lame comment. It’s a good job then that the Sydney group, formed by core members Guy Fenech, Oliver Marlan and Nick Franklin, have the musical chops to give anyone who hears them something else to consider; mainly that they are an indie-pop band with imagination and talent coming out of their ears. The lead single from their debut album, ‘Wake in Fright’, provides one of the best examples of this. A foreboding bass line, Fenech’s crooning, and distorted guitars make for a track that ticks boxes on many levels. There’s big production to match all the big synth numbers, while things get softer on the more sentimental ‘In My Dreams’ and ‘Not the Place I Know’, on which Fenech does a decent melancholy Bowie for an impressive five minutes. The jewel in the stereotypically-antipodean synth-pop crown is the danceable ‘Love is Better’, which brings the ’80s kicking and screaming into the present with unstoppable momentum and a shout-along chorus. Overall, it’s a lot of fun and it’s clear the band doesn’t take itself too seriously despite the lofty name (their T-shirts read “Australia – the band. Not the country, not a country band”). Tip: for best results, type ‘Australia – the band’ when Googling.
IN welcome news for fans of classic rock, legendary Runaways lead singer Cherie Currie has announced a debut five-stop Australian tour in May.
Having waited nearly forty years for the opportunity to see the iconic ‘Cherry Bomb’ singer in the flesh, Australian audiences should go wild for the rocker who, as a 15 year-old in 1975, joined Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Jackie Fox and Sandy West in forming the influential band.
Under the watchful eye of manager and rock svengali Kim Fowley, The Runaways grabbed headlines with their powerful rock shows and punk-rock jailbait image before imploding in 1979. Currie overcame alcohol and drug dependency before The Runaways found a new audience when a biographical film, inspired by her memoir, was released in 2010, with Dakota Fanning playing Currie.
This will be your first Australian tour. Why has it taken so long?
It’s been so long because I haven’t been in the business, really. I went into acting, got married, had a kid, then became a chainsaw artist. I had always written songs and recorded; a couple are on the new Reverie record as well as the live record that will be available when I come and see you guys in May. I was doing other things, and I think being a chainsaw artist really did fill that void, but every time I get on stage I realise it is something I was born to do. It’s the place I feel most comfortable, believe it or not.
Did you deliberately stay away from music, or just naturally fall into other things?
The thing is, it wasn’t that I stayed away, it just didn’t happen. After my Capitol record I did a lot of writing and worked with some great people, but sometimes it’s just not the time and there’s nothing we can do about it. This happens to be the time for me now, and it’s a good time, because when you get to be 56 years old you really don’t care and just want to enjoy life. You want to be the best you can and you’re not fighting for, or insecure about, anything any more; you’ve grown past that. Plus, you’re not full of yourself, like a lot of people who have a lot of success at a young age and believe all the hype. I’ve been around long enough that I don’t believe any of it [laughs]. I just like really good people who are down-to-earth, because that’s the person I am, and that’s how I am on stage. With maturity comes a better performer.
What do you play in your sets these days?
I want to give the fans what they want. I want them to reminisce. I get to reminisce when I go to see bands I love; it’s disappointing when you don’t hear the songs you love. I’ll be doing Runaways stuff, new things, and a couple of tributes.
How does it feel playing songs you first played as a teenager when the band image was fairly sexualised?
The only sexualised part of the Runaways, really, was ‘Cherry Bomb’, which was me putting on a corset for three minutes [laughs]. Otherwise, we wore jumpsuits and it wasn’t that sexualised. We were much more covered than anything you see today, that’s for sure. I came up with the corset because the band had just come out of the gate and I thought it would be something that would bring attention to the song, and it did. But it’s great to be doing songs that I’ve been doing for forty years; it never gets old for me. Never. I have as much fun doing them as the audience does listening to them.
What was the catalyst for making a new album after so much time?
I made a record in 2009 with Matt Sorum from Guns ‘N’ Roses; he produced a record for me. Unfortunately my management company at the time did not want to put it out, so now I’ve finally negotiated a contract where they’re finally going to put it out within the year. It’s a great record. Billy Corgan wrote a duet that he and I do together. I’ve got Slash and Duff [McKagan], and of course Matt, Brody Dalle and Juliette Lewis. It’s a real fun record. Reverie, which I put out on my own, is the one Kim Fowley approached me on when he was very ill. I wanted to take the opportunity to create some memories with this man, instead of living in this place of all my memories of him came from being a child. They’re not good memories and I feel like I needed to face that and make new memories. So that’s what we did, and I’m very grateful we did that before he passed away.
[Last year, former bassist Jackie Fox (real name Jackie Fuchs) told the Huffington Post of having been raped by Fowley in 1975 after having been given quaaludes by a roadie, with differing accounts of exactly what happened being offered by various bandmates.]
What are your feelings about Fowley now?
I was there. What Jackie claims happened is not what I saw. And again, I did stand up and walk out when I couldn’t seem to stop it or they didn’t seem to want to stop. Regardless, it was a different time when young girls really wanted to be with older men, and I think what Kim Fowley did was deplorable and horrible, and that’s why I wrote about it in my book. While he was alive I faced him on it. But again, it’s forty-something years later and the person is now dead, and she had a very good relationship with Kim up until the time he got sick, and I never understood why she didn’t address it before then, because I gave her ample opportunity. But you know what? People do things in their own time, and I wish her well, like I wish everyone well in this band. I hope only the best for her.
Do you have a relationship with Jackie now, or is that gone?
Not now. Simply because she was well aware of what I witnessed, but for some odd reason – and it’s documented in interviews I did back in the ’80s – she tried to stop me even though I changed the name. She did everything she could to stop my book from coming out in 2010, even though my kidnapping; where I was beaten half to death and brutally raped by a madman, she didn’t care about any of that. She just didn’t want me to tell a story about something I witnessed, even without her name attached. To me, that’s really somebody who’s pretty self-serving. I gave her every opportunity to write it with me, you know? Not only was she aware, but the Huffington Post was very aware of what I had witnessed, as well as two other people who have passed away. There was one other girl who collaborated my story, but they chose not to include that. It had to be this narrative, and I guess that’s the only way that Jackie feels uncomfortable, but you can’t include a 16 year-old of sitting there, doing nothing and watching something that I did not see. I did not see what she claims; that did not happen. If she’s going to do that on national television, she’s doing it for another reason. She’s not doing it to benefit victims of rape. She’s doing something else and using me and Joan [Jett] to blame, and I’m never going to let that slide, I’m sorry. I just can’t tell a lie, and I won’t lie for her. That’s the bottom line. Trust me, it would be so much easier if I just went with her narrative, but the bottom line is I have to be true. I’m sorry Jackie can’t be, but it’s not my problem; I wish her the best, I really do. I know what it’s like to be abused by someone.
Did you feel the movie was a fair and accurate representation of the band, overall?
I really, really wished that Jackie and Lita had been involved. Unfortunately Lita never read the contract. I guess her husband read her the first page of the script and they threw it in the trash. Of course Jackie then went to the Linsons [producers John and Art Linson] demanding four times the amount of money Joan and I were making, and demanding to be a producer, so they just wrote her out. She then said they could use her name but they said no; she did not make a good impression, and that was unfortunate as Joan and I really wanted her to be a part of it. So that meant we didn’t have hers or Lita’s input, and of course we didn’t have Sandy with us any more, so that was really sad. But I think that visually, it’s phenomenal. [Director] Floria Sigismondi captured the seventies in a brilliant way, and of course Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart and Michael Shannon did a superb job, just superb. I mean, who gets to make a movie made about them? I’m just going to say “Job well done, thank you very much” [laughs].
What are your plans for the rest of the year and beyond?
I’m excited about the live record as I just came out of the studio the day before yesterday after fine-tuning some mixes, and it sounds great. I’m looking forward to the Suzi Quatro film that I wrote a song for; actually, the production company is there in Australia. I have a lot of carvings I have to catch up on, but coming to Australia will be a high point in this gal’s life, I’ll tell you that much. I’m just so happy and blessed to have this opportunity, and I’m very grateful for it.
BLUESFEST Byron Bay is almost upon us and American blues-rock maestro Joe Bonamassa is seeking redemption.
His two exclusive Australian shows at the Easter long weekend event, while hardly requiring a crossroads-like pact with the devil, will provide the hugely talented singer-guitarist with a chance for atonement.
“I played Byron Bay one time; I believe it was 2010,” he says. “I had the shittiest backline and came off the stage thinking I had ruined my entire career in the country of Australia. I thought my guitar sound was just dreadful, but sod’s law meant that I had more people, artists included, coming up to me asking me ‘Man, what were you using up there because it sounded great?’. So I go ‘What fucking show were you watching?’. This year I’m actually shipping my own gear over there, so it gives me a fighting chance; at least me personally. But probably nobody will say anything. ‘Oh it sounded shit, never mind’ [laughs].”
The garrulous and amiable New Yorker’s 12th studio album, Blues of Desperation, will be released just in time for his Australian shows, and represents somewhat of a return to his roots.
“After exploring so many avenues – I was in a hard rock band, I did two years of doing traditional blues, we did The Three Kings tour, the album with Mahalia [Barnes], the stuff I do with Beth Hart – I woke up one day and thought that what I am really good at is blues-rock,” he says. “That’s actually probably what I’m best at, and I should get back to doing what I do best. The album represents that; the urgency to get back to swinging the heavier bat and playing heavier stuff.”
Blues of Desperation sees Bonamassa once again teaming up with producer Kevin Shirley; an arrangement that is unlikely to change any time soon.
“Kevin and I came up with the title based on the song,” Bonamassa says. “It has this weathered kind of feel. It was brought to my attention it was maybe too dark of a title, and for a minute it was changed to Drive, before I finally decided that my life should not become a focus group thinking about who will be turned off by a title. Frankly, it’s not going to sell one more or less copy either way, and I’ve always done things in my career that just felt good, natural and organic. If I saw the record in a store, I would stop and look at it. But if I saw an album called Drive; it’s too vanilla for me. [Kevin and I] have been together for 11 years now. I told him that I think the reason we get on so well together is that everyone sticks to their job; I’m the travelling salesman, Kevin does the records, and Roy [Weisman, manager] runs the business. Kevin is great about putting me into situations that challenge me, and with musicians I would never think of. He has such a great vision of what I’m capable of, even when there is some resistance. I come in with the songs and we hash out the arrangements and we’re pretty much always on the same page. I’ve also learned to appreciate the inspiration of a single take, rather than grind the inspiration out of it, if you know what I mean?”
At only 38, Bonamassa has already been a working musician for 26 years, having opened for B.B. King when he was 12. The idea that a true bluesman never really retires might not apply here, however.
“I reckon I have another 24 years left before I can officially retire after 50 years in,” he laughs. “I’m not a run-of-the-mill blues guy. I tell you, I’m not going to be a lifer. The problem is to do this at a high level and to keep the quality up, it takes a lot of preparation. I’m not one of those cats who just walks on stage and it all just comes out of me. I think there’s more to life; I don’t want to look down the line when I’m too old to pursue something else and think I squandered the opportunity [to do something else]. Not that having a career in music is a bad thing; it’s an honour to do this for a living, but there’s more to life than plugging a Gibson guitar into a Fender amp, you know? There’s a big world out there. I get to travel it, but I never see it. I go to all these great places, and I see the hotel and the gig. I could get up super-early and see some museum but I don’t feel like doing that after singing the night before. I’d like to be a tourist once in a while, you know?”
On top of his abundant playing and writing skills, Bonamassa has been a student of the blues since childhood, starting with the ’60s British blues guitarists who brought the form to the masses.
“It was my original gateway into blues,” he says. “As a kid, to hear blues music that was basically early heavy rock was very appealing to me. As a six or seven year-old, it’s very hard to get the subtleties of Robert Johnson, as you can barely hear it on a record player. Only 20 years after the fact did I realise the true genius of those original masters, and even now I’m discovering them and realising how many of their ideas were, let’s say, borrowed by the British blues-rock scene of the ’60s. My first introduction was the Jeff Beck Group, and that was the gateway. After that it was Fresh Cream, Disraeli Gears, all the Free stuff – I was enamoured with Paul Kossoff, Rory Gallagher, Gary Moore. [Gary Moore album] Still Got The Blues was one of the most pivotal albums in my early teenage years because it taught me I could overplay and people would still like it [laughs].”
While Bonamassa is a big fan of Australia and its music, he admits he lives in a bubble when it comes to what music is most popular here, or anywhere. Luckily his Queenslander girlfriend keeps him informed.
“I have a lot of ties to Australia,” he says. “Mahalia [Barnes] and I were literally just a week ago at Carnegie Hall; she was singing with me. I kind of know what is going on. I’m wilfully ignorant about the pop music scene. I mean, sometimes I’ll run into somebody and my girlfriend knows I have that what-the-fuck look on my face. She’ll be like ‘That’s actually a really popular artist’, and I’ll be like ‘Great! Congratulations’. One guy I love is [blues slide guitarist] Dave Hole, who lives in Perth. He’s one of the best.”
JOE BONAMASSA PLAYS BLUESFEST BYRON BAY SATURDAY MARCH 26 AND MONDAY MARCH 28. BLUES OF DESPERATION IS OUT MARCH 25.
THERE’S a little corner of northern New South Wales that really floats Steve Earle’s boat, and given his country-rock pedigree, it’s perhaps surprising it’s not Tamworth.
Luckily for music lovers it’s also the location of one of the world’s premier blues and roots festivals: Bluesfest.
“Byron: it might be the best beach town in the world,” Earle says. “It’s my favourite, anyway. I’ve had some really good shows there over the years; the last few years particularly. I had a really good show there with the band on the last tour, and I had a really, really good solo show there on the trip before that. I got to ride back to town with John Paul Jones and Donovan in the same car, you know? I got to interrogate them about all those great records, because Jones played on all those great Donovan records, so that was pretty cool. [Bluesfest is] one of my favourite festivals, period. The other big blues festival I play is in Ottawa, but it doesn’t have that beach.”
The 61 year-old Texan released his sixteenth studio album, the bluesy Terraplane, last year, and is set to appear at the Easter weekend festival with his band The Dukes alongside similarly-billed legends Brian Wilson, Tom Jones and Taj Mahal.
“I don’t know [if I’m a legend]; I’m more of a rumour,” he laughs. “It’s weird. It’s the thirtieth anniversary of Guitar Town this year. We’re going to try to do a few things to commemorate it. The Australian tour is actually the last leg of the cycle we have been on all of 2015; the very last leg of the Terraplane tour. I’ve already recorded the record with Shawn Colvin, and that’s what I’ll be doing next summer. Then I’m going to make another record with The Dukes, which will come out in 2017. I decided I was going to make a blues record [with Terraplane], but it’s a big deal when you’re from Texas; it’s a high bar. So I decided my next record was going to be a country record, whatever that means. Sometimes I think it means what I might have done after Guitar Town if [producer] Jimmy Bowen hadn’t pissed me off, but mainly it’s going to be based on honky-tonk. I’ve been putting aside the country-er things for that.”
Terraplane came into existence just as Earle was going through his seventh divorce, resulting in an album that was not only steeped deeply in the blues, but intensely personal at the same time.
“I don’t know how cathartic [writing] it was,” he says. “At the time, they were the only songs I could write. You know, I’m not writing jingles. I mean, I can write projects; I can write for somebody else, for a television show, or for a movie, and put myself in a certain place. This was a very personal record, because there wasn’t much else I could do. It might be I made a blues record because it was the only type of record I could have made last year.”
Having survived major drug and alcohol problems in the 80s and early 90s, Earle is now able to help others in a similar position, but does admit to being suspicious of why his past addictions are still interesting to people.
“I’m doing this residency at clubs in the States right now,” he says. “I’m doing a song from every record I ever made. There’s only four of those records that I was taking drugs when I made them. So it seems silly to be talking about it now. It’s still a big part of who I am; right now I’m writing a memoir, so I’m right back into that shit again. I have no problem with talking about it if it’s going to help somebody, but I get tired of talking about it with people who I suspect don’t have any other reason for talking about it except the lowest common denominator reasons. That part of it gets on my nerves from time to time.”
When not writing top-notch blues and country songs or warding off questions about his past, Earle is heavily involved in political activism. He is vigorously opposed to the death penalty, has argued in favour of access to abortions for all women, and his most recent work has been both close to home and on a national level.
“I’ve been raising awareness for schools with autism, because I have a son with autism,” he says. “Politics gets personal sometimes. My son gets the best care we can get him, but I have to lawyer up to get it. Luckily, the law says the city has to help me and my neighbours’ tax dollars have to help me. I’m the poorest guy in New York City, I think. Manhattan, anyway. I live here by the skin of my teeth, so I can’t imagine what happens to people who have regular jobs and four or five kids. I’m also very actively supporting Bernie Sanders’ campaign; ‘The Revolution Starts Now’ plays at almost all of Bernie Sanders’ rallies, and I’m very proud of that. I’m a socialist and he is a socialist. Normally if there’s one thing I can do for a political candidate I want to see elected, it is to stay as far the fuck away from them as possible. In the case of Obama I was able to say in the second term that I was a socialist and Obama definitely wasn’t. Hillary [Clinton] is, left to her own devices, almost a Republican. She’s very much a creature of Wall Street. I’m having the luxury of having a viable candidate running right now, and that’s Bernie Sanders.”
Away from the concerns of national politics, time spent in the southern hemisphere will not only allow Earle to rekindle his love for Australian beaches, but also his fondness for our musicians.
“It’s where I met Kasey Chambers,” he says. “I was there with Buddy Miller and my band, and Buddy was also opening our shows. Julie Miller didn’t make the trip, and Kasey, when she was 18 years old, sang with Buddy on that tour. On a bill before that, I saw a great show by The Saints there, although the first time I saw The Saints was at the Cat Club in New York years before, but I saw a great Saints show ten or twelve years ago in Byron. I’ve known Paul Kelly since before I even went to Australia for the first time; I met him in ’86 when he was [in the States]. That’s one of my favourite things about Bluesfest; you get to see a lot of good music, as you get to play twice.”
STEVE EARLE PLAYS BYRON BAY BLUESFEST MARCH 25TH AND 26TH
What do you get if you cross a Sex Pistol, David Bowie’s guitarist, and a drumming Stray Cat?
The result is Matlock, Phantom & Slick: a trio of legendary musicians set to serve equal portions of anarchy, glam and rockabilly on their upcoming Australia tour.
The band – Glen Matlock on bass and vocals, Earl Slick on guitar, and Slim Jim Phantom on drums – has been a going concern for around two years, and while former Sex Pistol Matlock is keen to talk about a range of subjects, the band’s live playlist is another matter.
“I’m not going to tell you,” he laughs. “It’s a bit like telling the punchline of a joke too soon. Not that it’s a joke, but you’ve got to have some surprises. But, there are certain songs [to be expected]; if I went to see the sadly-deceased David Bowie and he hadn’t done ‘Heroes’, I’d be going home disappointed. So we all know there are certain songs people expect to hear, and I’m sure you can work out which ones they might be. We do songs from all of our careers. That’s fair enough, innit?”
Refreshingly humble for a co-writer of what is often considered one of the most influential rock albums of all time in Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, Matlock is keener to talk about the future than his illustrious, if short-lived, punk past.
“We’ve actually got an album in the can of mainly my material,” he says. “We did it about a year ago and have been talking to people about getting it out. We went to a studio in Upstate New York with this guy Mario McNulty who engineered the Bowie album before the one that’s just come out. It’s cracking stuff and I’m proud of it. We do a cover version of ‘Montage Terrace (In Blue)’ by Scott Walker, believe it or not, and Jim plays kettle drums on it. You’ll have to hear it to understand where we’re coming from. It’s hard to describe your own music. The record business is quite different now; everybody is chasing the latest 17 year-old they think are going to be the new Beatles, but invariably aren’t.”
A big fan of Australia, Matlock is looking forward to making his fifth appearance Down Under.
“The first [visit] was in the eighties and the America’s Cup was on in Perth,” he says. “I remember when the sailing started in Fremantle, the boats were so far in the distance you couldn’t see anything, so that was a bit of a washout. That was in ’85, I think. I came back with the Pistols in ’96 for four weeks, then I’ve been over playing with Robert Gordon at the Byron Bay Blues Festival. Then I was there about two or three years ago with a guy called Gary Twinn, who had a band called Supernaut. His mum and dad were Ten Pound Poms. Also I have some relations there; my cousin lives in Melbourne and my ex-wife lives in Sydney. All good reasons for coming, and the weather’s a bit better over there.”
Having individually played parts in many historic moments in rock history, Matlock, Slick and Phantom have direct playing connections to both the recently-departed Bowie and Lemmy Kilminster: a possible hint to that live playlist.
“I knew both of them,” Matlock says. “I was fortunate to meet Bowie quite a few times and I got on really well with him. I met him in ’79 and then in New York in the early eighties and he was fantastic; really magnanimous and interested in people. He sought other people’s opinions and listened to what you had to say and took it on board. But he was a laugh as well, you know? Lemmy – I’ve known him for years. He used to knock around with all the punks not long after he’d left Hawkwind and was trying to get Motörhead together. The last time I played in the States with the Pistols at the Whisky a Go Go he came backstage to say hi and everybody had a lot of time for him. We’re just that generation now where people are shuffling off their mortal coil. I suppose they’re the ones who survived all the immediate excess of being rock stars, but it has ultimately taken its toll.”
While all four founding members of the Sex Pistols are very much alive and kicking, hope remains for another reunion tour.
“[There’s nothing] I know of as yet, but never say never,” Matlock says. “It’s the beginning of 40 years of punk this year, but also 40 years of the Sex Pistols, if you want to hang it on something. It’s down to John [Lydon’s] whims quite a bit, but I know my bank manager would be happy.”
Matlock was famously dumped from the Sex Pistols in 1977 in favour of the chronically-untalented Sid Vicious. Claims by manager Malcolm McLaren the reason was “for liking the Beatles” have been repeatedly refuted over the years.
“That was bollocks for a start,” he says. “It was just something McLaren said. I left because John could be really hard work. When you’re 19 going on 20, you don’t always see the wood for the trees. When we reformed in ’96 I felt vindicated, because of all the people in the world they could have asked, they asked me again, so they possibly came round to my way of thinking a little bit more.”
When it is suggested he might not have been given fair dues for his song-writing contributions to the Sex Pistols, Matlock shrugs it off with characteristic humility and humour.
“I think I’ve managed to claw a bit of that back now,” he says. “I think people have [recognised] my contribution to the band. But I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about how I used to be in the Sex Pistols; there are lots of things to do in life. The phone always rings with interesting projects and invitations to go and do this, that and the other. The only time I think about the past is when [journalists] ask me about it, you know what I mean? So neh neh neh neh neh [laughs].”
Dubbed the ‘Men of No Shame Tour’, the upcoming run of shows will see the band perform seven times along the east coast, with a pre-show Q&A session giving the audience a chance to verbally prod their hosts.
“I would rather have called it the ‘Tough Cookies Tour’ because that’s what we are,” Matlock says. “[The Q&A] is something the promoter dreamed up, but I’m used to it. I’ve done similar things at the Edinburgh Festival; playing acoustic shows, telling stories and inviting questions. That was during the show, but before the show will be a bit different, because you’re usually worried about where you left your eye-liner, you know? I’m a big boy and I can deal with it.”
WITH a sixth album, Caught Up in the Dreaming, set for a January release and a heavy touring schedule locked in, Luke O’Shea is a very busy man indeed.
While many artists in a similar position would be tinkering with songs day and night, O’Shea, however, decided this would be exactly the right time to escape the daily grind and immerse himself in the landscapes and cultures that weave their way through the rich tapestry of his music.
“I just had a really special four months with my wife and three daughters,” he says. “Mainly spending a lot of time up around the Kimberley, Ningaloo and the Coral Coast. It was a chance to steal time; a chance to remember what it’s all about and to spend time with ones I love in this magnificent backyard we have. We’re normally all so flatstick and running around like chooks.”
Like many of the best Australian singer-songwriters, O’Shea focusses on telling stories about the land and people on which the history of the country stands. His songs are at once evocative and revealing, and are influenced by the beauty and defiance of the work of artists and musicians past and present.
“I met up with so many exceptional Australians out there,” he says. “I travel so much around Australia and you do start to acknowledge the really distinct regions we have. I also start to identify the magnificent Australian artists out there, be they poets, painters, authors or songwriters. We are greatly shaped and inspired by our landscapes, and so it was great to meet mates, total strangers and people who struck me as being unique to their geography and their art; people like Warren H. Williams in Alice Springs, Tom Curtain in Katherine, Al Pigram in Broome, and Tim Winton in Exmouth. Everyone’s stories are remarkable, and they’re united in [thinking] just how magnificent this country is. Family and music are first and foremost to me, but as I get to travel around, it makes sense to share the beauty of what you see and the marvellous people you meet; that’s worthy of singing up.”
It’s safe to say it’s been an eventful twelve months for the Sydneysider. After winning three Golden Guitars at the CMMAs in January, he took part in a well-documented protest against the Whitehaven coal mine in north-western New South Wales with his father, Rick. There isn’t a single hint of regret in his voice when he relates the story of his arrest after chaining himself to a water pump.
“It was a pretty crazy time after the success with the Golden Guitars,” he says. “After the action my father and I took, 99% of the feedback was really positive. Most people understood the reasons why I was doing it. The song I won the male vocal for, ‘Sing You Up’, clearly stipulates what side of the fence we stood on when it comes to coal mining and CSG, particularly in our food-producing regions, where they’re putting the water tables at risk. I’ve never not pretended to be totally against that, so people understood my political stance when it comes to protecting our food and water in Australia. With that level of media spotlight after I was thankfully successful at Tamworth this year, it would have been the height of hypocrisy if I had not shone that spotlight on a cause that needs a lot of attention and awareness from the general population. We had to show it was warranted. Also, I have to walk my talk. I can’t have a song about the country without acting upon it. It was the right action, and the fact it was taken on land my father was born made it deeply personal.”
Long-time fans of O’Shea will recognise the theme of appreciating, and drawing inspiration from, the natural environment in his music; a subject he examines further on the new album, most notably with ‘My Country My King’.
“‘Protect food and water for our sons and daughters’ is a line from that,” he says. “I think there’s a growing concern in Australia that our leaders are selling us out. I don’t subscribe to the idea of a monarchy because we like to see in Woman’s Day and Women’s Weekly what outfit [the Queen] is wearing. It has to be far deeper; a real love, respect and vision for Australia. I’m a republican; I want Australia to stand on its own legs and I can’t understand this holding-on to old ways, so my country is my king. I know we’re going to be faced with a change of monarch soon and I can’t think of a better time to bring up the discussion of a republic again in Australia.”
When asked about finding the right level of politicisation in his music, O’Shea lets out a larrikin chuckle.
“Obviously you’re at risk of dividing your audience by having that stance, but what are they going to do, not buy another one of my CDs? They’re going to continue not buying my CDs [laughs].”
It is this clear purpose and sense of striving for a better future that drives much of what O’Shea does, but he is equally connected to the Australia of the past. It is a mixture which adds another level of depth to Caught Up in the Dreaming.
“From travelling across the country, you really feel those song lines and the connection to the place and how powerful it is,” he says. “We are so young, the European settlement on this land, and we’re only starting to understand its power and beauty. There’s good mojo in that, and if we can build that respect up for the land, then perhaps we won’t be so quick to rape and pillage it and send it off overseas. I really want to build that respect for this country, and hopefully it catches on.”
First single ‘I Will Catch You’, written and performed with Amber Lawrence, has been building excitement for the January release. The video for the track features Lawrence and Damien Thomlinson, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan; a fitting choice given the subject matter.
“Amber had just picked up the female artist of the year, and we had both been announced ambassadors for Defence Care, which is an amazing organisation set up to help returned veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. We thought we really should be doing something with it, so we whacked it down and it came out a treat. Thankfully it’s really resonated with a lot of people with its message, which is raising awareness that you’re not alone, whether you’re a farmer who’s having a hard time, a policeman or fireman or someone at any level of service who is experiencing trauma; there are people who can help.”
Despite a raft of awards, accolades and well-received albums fifteen years since his debut, O’Shea isn’t prepared to rest on his laurels or seek safety in familiar territory. Indeed, Caught Up in the Dreaming is set to throw up a few surprises.
“It’s very progressive,” he says. “There are songs that are identifiably where I’ve came from. There might be some songs there that burn a few bridges, but hopefully build a few more. That’s my journey as an artist; I want to keep pushing myself in unique ways that best sing up this land and this people.”
With a new album to promote and plenty of shows on the cards, O’Shea is looking forward to a busy few months, as he explains with another larrikin chuckle.
“It’s been fantastic; being up in Queensland touring and finishing off the mix of the album, the Sydney Country Music Festival, in Melbourne for shows with Damien Howard, then shows in New Zealand. Sometime soon I’ll probably collapse [laughs].”
Ahh; take a deep breath and suck in the smell of stale beer, man sweat and fetid urinals: pub rock is back and it’s as welcome as an icy stubby to a parched throat in the summertime. Adelaide’s Bad//Dreems are perfectly placed to provide Aussie rock with a shot in the arm with this debut album, having put in the hard yards touring at home and overseas and recently soaked the Splendour stage in much of the contents of their rider. The result is their music is no longer left of the dial, as their songwriting hero Paul Westerberg would say, but easily accessible to anyone with a penchant for heart-on-sleeve rock and wonderfully raw live shows. An early highlight is ‘Bogan Pride’, on which frontman Ben Marwe announces “Friday night and I’m five pills deep, I can’t think straight,” before questioning the motives of those overly-muscular boneheads every festival-goer loves to hate. Gutsy singles ‘Cuffed and Collared’ and ‘Dumb Ideas’ provide the rockier moments, but the real magic is to be found among the nostalgic ‘Hume’ and ‘Ghost Gums’; moments of sunburnt Australiana which mark this album as a guitar-rock classic. In true Westerberg style, though, the quartet know a record isn’t complete without at least three minutes of devastating loneliness; provided in the form of ‘My Only Friend’. Top-drawer production by the legendary Mark Opitz helps their honest and often bleak Australian world view come to the fore, on an album that will sound just as good at home as it will down the pub. Tip: best served with a refreshing pint of West End.
HAVING a love of maps and map-making might not be the most rock ‘n’ roll thing to admit to, but Sydney’s sleepmakeswaves aren’t your average rock band.
The instrumental post-rock quartet have just released their new album, Love of Cartography, which will take their live performances to a new level, says bassist Alex Wilson.
“The whole album title came from a discussion that me and our guitarist Otto [Wicks-Green] were having about how we really love maps,” he says. “We wrote a couple of songs on acoustic guitars and we were trying to come up with some sort of mid-western indie-rock meets Kurt Vile kind of side-project called Love of Cartography, and it never eventuated. When we were actually trying to come up with names for this record, it just kind of stuck, and it’s this whole metaphor of map-making as a touring band, but also being at a time of your life where you’re making maps for the rest of your time on this earth as well. It’s got a bit of mystery and hopefully people can take something away from it in an individual way as well.”
It’s been three years since the band’s debut album, and in that time they’ve racked up eight Australian tours, three European tours, a US tour and an appearance at SWSW; experiences which affected the making of Love of Cartography, Wilson says.
“One of the things was we realised was that a lot of what matters to us these days is our live performances. We started getting this idea that we wanted to reflect the energy and importance that we placed onto the live show, and there was a conscious effort to balance that new-found obsession with the live performance and making a record in the studio. I don’t think we would have been brought to that place or developed the capability to do that record had we not spent so much time playing our old songs on the road and finding out what about them worked live and what was more a studio kind of thing. It’s interesting for an instrumental post-rock band, because so much of the power of the music comes out of that sternum-rattling volume we can get out of a big PA. I like to think we got closer this time that we did before.”
Turning to their fans for help to make the album is an approach that could have gone either way, but luckily a crowd-funding campaign paid off – and then some.
“It all comes down to the economics of being in a band at our level,” Wilson says. “We’re not trying to put the boot into any fans at all, but the realistic thing is that people don’t pay as much money for your music as they used to, but they’re still demanding the same level of quality. We thought long and hard about it, and decided on balance that it would be possible to run a campaign in an honest and authentic way, and deliver extra quality and that step up people want. It was an interesting process for us because we always came out of a DIY scene and had done everything up to that point off our own backs, so it was a bit of a change to the way we saw ourselves as a band. On the plus side, there was the amount of support and goodwill we got; we asked for $25,000 and I was on the edge of my seat thinking ‘what if this is a total failure and absolutely bombs?’ So, to actually overshoot that and wind up with $30,000 to spend alongside what we were putting in ourselves, it was an amazing, gratifying experience that blew us away. But it’s that Spiderman thing: with great power comes great responsibility.”
So, how have four guys with no vocalist managed to engage with so many audiences around the world?
“What we’ve tried to do is create a physical vibe between the four of us on-stage,” Wilson says. “I think we’ve always been inspired by punk-rock in that way; the sort of bands that were really big influences on me and Jonathan [Khor, guitar] were old post-hardcore bands like Alexisonfire and At The Drive-In. Even though they had vocalists, the lyrics were never so much the point. It was more about the energy of four young men trying to leave a bucket of sweat on the stage and hopefully break a few things in the process.”
The band are currently in the middle of the Australian leg of their tour, with one eye on a homecoming show to rap up the jaunt.
“We’re really looking forward to finishing up the tour on August 16th at Manning Bar,” Wilson says. “We’ve had a lot of good times there before and it’ll be really great. We want to try to get back to Europe later in the year and do some shows. This is the first time we’re doing a serious, worldwide, coordinated album release, so from my perspective it’s all new territory. I’m just waiting to see what happens.”
SLEEPMAKESWAVES PLAY MANNING BAR AUG 16. LOVE OF CARTOGRAPHY IS OUT NOW.