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Andrew WK: Philosophising with the King of Partying

Andrew WK

“A professional partier and an amateur human being.”

How Andrew W.K. would introduce himself to someone who doesn’t know anything about him reveals the depth behind the hard-rocking, party-anthem-wielding force of nature his fans have come to adore since he blew up internationally with single ‘Party Hard’ in 2001.

The reveal is appropriate.

Since 2010, the 38-year-old American has stepped back from recording to explore motivational speaking, writing, authoring an advice column, and collaborating with other artists. His work has recently seen him named person of the year by suicide prevention group the American Association of Suicidology.

Now, he’s back with You’re Not Alone: his first album of new songs in nearly twelve years. It’s a typically triumphant collection of rock tracks featuring his trademark big riffs, infectious hooks and buoyant choruses.

While he acknowledges he is lucky to have made another album at all, the finished product was only ever going to have one goal: make the listener feel better.

“I only want to put good vibes out into the world, and I’m very focussed on that mission,” he says.

“I imagine we have a perpetual need for positivity. The best things in life give us the strength and resilience to face the challenges that are worth solving.”

For the King of Partying, partying can mean a whole lot more than just getting drunk with friends.

“I’ve had a lot of experience with getting drunk, but it’s not limited to that,” he says.

“First and foremost, it’s a decision to break away from the torturous debate over whether life is good or bad, and it’s an acceptance of the possibility that it is intrinsically good. Then it’s finding the wherewithal to celebrate all that goodness. It’s basically looking at life as a celebration of not being dead, and trying to find the value in the difficult parts of that experience.”

Taking a philosophical approach to partying is fairly unique among hard-rocking musicians, but Andrew W.K.’s power of positivity reaches further, into all areas of his life. His remedy for feeling low is a common one.

“Music never fails. There are people out there, and they’re few and far between, who don’t get the power of music. I could be in a completely defeated frame of mind and turn to music, and it will instantly change not just my thoughts and mood, but the way my body changes physically. It changes the way it feels to exist for the better. Like so many people, we can just imagine a song, and it sounds so much better in our heads than it does being played. It permeates the best part of our soul, and if we can hold onto that in the face of difficulty, it will see us through.”

Another uncommon thing for a hard-rock musician to do is to include spoken-word pieces in an album, of which there are three on You’re Not Alone. Again, the themes are positivity and overcoming doubt.

“Including those was suggested to me by someone in my management team, and it never would have occurred to me,” he says.

“It’s a very exposed and vulnerable contrast to very dense and celebratory music. I didn’t allow my own fears or trepidation to sway me from recording them. I recorded them at the very last second – I literally could not have delayed putting them off any further. I recorded them in the mastering phase – you’re supposed to be completely done with all your recording by that point. The engineer was very generous, and I recorded them quickly and spontaneously. I didn’t realise it at the time, but when I transcribed them for the lyric book, those words were what I was telling myself through the recording of the album and what I tell myself in everyday life. I thought maybe someone else could relate to them as well.”

While he is reinvigorated and empowered by his new album and seemingly feeling freer than ever, Andrew W.K. is sticking firmly to his stated mission – albeit with 17 years more experience and maturity since ‘Party Hard’ made his name.

“I’ve not yet done most things, as far as what I would like to do,” he says.

“I would like to get better as a person and serve this calling. That’s really all I should allow myself. There were times in the past I felt pressure to be ambitious, to think bigger and broader, and do all sorts of other things. I’m not cut out for those things – I’m barely cut out for this. I just want to get better and better at delivering on the promise that I have committed myself to, and that’s party power.”

Australia, known internationally for its party power, is firmly in mind for a visit.

“We have been talking about coming over for concerts and I’m extremely excited about that,” he says.

“Australia has never faltered in not only appreciating party power, but conjuring it up. It would be great to be re-energised and refuelled with a Down Under trip. Hopefully it will happen this year.”

You’re Not Alone by Andrew W.K. is out Friday 2nd March 2018 via Sony Music Australia

For The Brag

Courtney Barnett: “I don’t feel like I’m some sort of amazing superhero or anything”

courtney barnett

MUSICIAN interviews are often challenging affairs, ranging from something like getting blood out of a stone to verbally wrestling a Herculean ego.

Chatting with Courtney Barnett, however, is a laid-back joy from start to finish, such is the singer-songwriter’s honest and down-to-earth nature. This is especially refreshing given the Melburnian has had two massive years since her debut EP was released in 2012, including a North American tour and an appearance on The Tonight Show.

“I have a little moment every now and then, and think how far from this time two years ago my life has changed,” she says. “I try to go away a lot as well, to be myself and collect my thoughts. Playing huge festivals like Glastonbury has been pretty surreal, as has doing TV shows and shit like that – it’s kind of weird and out of my normal world. Even travelling overseas is a big deal for me. I’d never travelled before, I could never afford it; not even for a holiday. But it’s fun; it doesn’t just feel like work. Obviously it is part work, part fun, but it’s pretty cool. We get to experience a bit of the local stuff – I try to go to galleries and go to parks and stuff like that.”

Being labelled a saviour of Australian indie music by certain sections of the music press isn’t something Barnett is keen to take seriously.

“I think there are plenty of great Australian musicians,” she says. “It’s nice when people say stuff like that about me, but there are so many other great bands and great songwriters. I don’t at any point think I’m some weird saviour for Australian music. I’ve got great friends and people who help me and don’t treat me any different and shit like that. I feel like that my feet are on the ground; I don’t feel like I’m some sort of amazing superhero or anything; that’s kind of ridiculous. Coming from here, where everything is smaller, I’ve realised how much I’ve loved being home since I’ve been here.”

An upcoming national tour starting at the tail end of September will mark the first headline shows for Barnett and her band in Australia, but don’t expect her to be getting complacent just because it’s home turf.

“We’ve always been supporting someone else or doing festivals or something, so it’s kind of exciting to finally be able to do that,” she says. “But I treat every show exactly the same – it’s about the music, not who you’re playing to. I feel lucky to go onto any stage and have people listen to my music. It’s actually kind of more nerve-wracking playing to a home crowd or playing to friends and people who know you – I find that way more nerve-wracking than playing to complete strangers. It’ll probably be a really stressful tour [laughs].”

A recent crowd-funding experiment in support of Barnett’s own Milk! Records label lead to the target being reached in double-quick time.

“I was so blown away by that,” she says. “I’ve never done one of those Pozible things, so wasn’t sure if it would work or what, but I was blown away by the support. I never thought that Milk! records would grow into this real community-driven project, and I’ve witnessed so many of the same people buying stuff when we release stuff and coming to the shows and supporting each band that we pick up along the way. It’s become this beautiful little community family thing, so I was pretty moved when it happened straight away, so it was very cool. We were in a position where we had already recorded our songs as we had money from a Christmas show we did last year, but then we needed the money to do the pressing. We had already created the actual thing, so there was less pressure with creation, and it was more like a pre-order – we just didn’t have enough money to print vinyl.”

A record company that existed for a long time only on paper, Milk! has become one of the hottest names in Australian indie music right now.

“I started it just for my own release,” Barnett says. “Just so my CD looked more professional, so more people would listen to it and more people would review it. Nobody took much notice at first and it took a while, then we started helping other musicians and friends and other people started joining in. When we had the Christmas party last year and sold out the Tote, I realised we’d opened up a little door for a community of people who liked the same bands – it was a very special moment.”

With two critically-acclaimed EPs under her belt, now is the time for the long-awaited debut album.

“It’s all recorded and pretty much finished,” she says. “We’re going to release it early next year. I’m just drawing a whole bunch of pictures for the artwork and stuff. I’m really proud of it; I really challenged myself, tried different things and pushed myself to step out of my comfort song-writing zone and lyric-wise. I’m really happy with it; I feel that it’s the next logical step from the last bunch of songs I wrote. We’ve been playing a bunch of the songs on tour, but we want to save a bunch for the actual release.”

COURTNEY BARNETT PLAYS THE CORNER OCT 2, 3 & 4.

For Beat

Andrew Strong: “Touring with the Rolling Stones was one of the highlights”

andrew strong

HE may be best known for being the singer in Ireland’s hardest-working semi-fictional soul band, but Andrew Strong has a voice that can belt out the blues with the best of them.

Thrust into the spotlight at the tender age of 16 when The Commitments movie made him an international star, Dubliner Strong has enjoyed a long and varied career in music. His upcoming headlining slot at Blues on Broadbeach on May 24 will see the 41 year-old return to his roots and the songs that made him famous, but with a healthy dollop of blues ladled on top.

“It’s predominantly a Commitments show,” he says. “Probably 70 percent Commitments. I do some Jimi Hendrix, some Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, some Spencer Davis songs. I went out to Australia about two years ago with this kind of show and it was very popular, so we’ll go out, put on the suits and sing all the Commitments stuff.”

After distancing himself from the Commitments’ music in the years following the 1991 release of the movie, Strong was reunited with the band for their 20-year reunion.

“To be honest with you, I haven’t done this kind of show in 20 years,” he says. “Prior to this I’d been doing my own stuff. Basically what happened was when [the Commitments] got together to do the reunion a couple of years back, there was a strong void there for me to go out and do this kind of show. I enjoyed it, but I thought it’s not the sort of thing I’m going to keep doing, but there are people out there who really wanted to see this kind of show and me sing these songs. So, this will be effectively my last of this kind of show in Australia. This will be my third tour in Australia; I’ve played probably 40 shows doing this ‘Andrew Strong – The Commitments’ show, so when I come back it’ll be more kind of Andrew Strong-themed.”

Strong’s powerful voice and electric live performances have earned him tour slots with Elton John and Lenny Kravitz, as well as an invitation to perform at the Princess of Norway’s wedding.

“There are a lot of things [in my career] I’m very proud of,” he says. “Touring with the Rolling Stones was one of the highlights. It was great to go out on the road for eight shows with them, then come back home and get a call a week later to go out and do a couple more shows; that was a great buzz and a great experience. After I did the movie, for some reason I got a lot of respect from singers across the board. I look at the movie; I did it when I was 16. To be a part of something that, 20 years later, is still kind of relevant is an achievement.”

Strong’s soul and blues credentials were cemented even further when he was asked to perform with the Blues Brothers Band in the nineties; something which came about in a less-than-direct fashion.

“I know Ringo Starr’s kids,” Strong says. “I met them through the guy who wrote the screenplay for The Commitments. Their mother was married to the guy who owned all the Hard Rock Cafes; he sold those and bought all these Houses of Blues. Basically, the Blues Brothers Band were opening all these venues and they asked me would I come over and sing at it, and I thought it would be great. I got the opportunity to sing with Duck Dunn and Steve Cropper and all those guys; we played in L.A. and Boston. It was great, man. It was great to play with those guys. I remember Steve Cropper came up to me in Boston and said ‘Hey man, I was so happy you recorded my songs, because I needed the money.’”

With two Commitments albums, four solo albums and a greatest hits collection under his belt, Strong is looking towards his next release.

“A lot has gone on in my life over the last year or so; I had a son and moved into a new home,” he says. “This year, I really want to focus on new material for a new album. Hopefully by the end of the year or the beginning of next year I’ll have a new record out. When I come back from Australia, I’ll been doing some shows around Europe; some festivals and stuff like that. I also have a side project band, The Bone Yard Boys; we’ve been working together for about eight years, and I’d like to put an album out. I’d be a happy camper if I could come back Down Under and do an Andrew Strong tour next year.”

ANDREW STRONG PLAYS BLUES ON BROADBEACH, MAY 24.

For Scenestr

Celia Pavey: “The Voice was an amazing experience”

celia pavey

IT’S a long way from the sleepy town of Forbes, NSW (population 7000) to the stage of TV talent show The Voice, but it’s a psychological leap Celia Pavey has seemingly taken in her stride.

Having won over a national TV audience and judge Delta Goodrem, the 19 year-old folkie is now embarking on a national tour in support of her new EP, Bodies.

“I’m very excited and a little bit curious and nervous as to what people will think of it,” she says. “I feel very positive about it, and it was a very wonderful experience to be working on it. It’s good that it’s finally out there. I came off the show and I sort of knew who I was as an artist, but it was good to get down to writing the EP and realising what it was going to sound like and what the vibe was going to be. It did take a while, but good music does take a while and you’ve got to work hard to make it sound the way you want it to.”

Having some songs already part-written, the singer-songwriter has been able to count on some pretty solid collaborators to help finish them off.

“I did a bit of co-writing with Tim Hart [Boy & Bear] on a song called ‘Shadow’,” she says. “We had things in common in our friendship and things we had been through, so it just flowed really well, and the song is a beautiful track. It was lots of fun and it was great to work with him; he’s very down-to-earth and is very in touch with folk music, so he knows what my music is about. I also worked with Jake Stone of Bluejuice on ‘Bodies’, which is the main feature of the EP. Everyone I worked with had really open minds about the style of music and what the songs were about.”

Studying at the Australian Institute of Music before blind auditioning on The Voice meant that Pavey had musical talent on her side, but her naturally shy personality was a potential barrier to success on the show.

“I wasn’t thinking too much about it,” she says. “I usually like to take things as they come. The whole experience was really full-on to start with as I didn’t know what was going to happen. It was full-on, but it was an amazing experience to go through.”

Thankfully, her rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Scarborough Fair/Canticle’ immediately won over judge Delta Goodrem, with whom Pavey teamed up.

“She’s incredible; such a wonderful person,” she says. “She has guided me and helped me overcome my fears of being on stage. She said to me I just have to be myself and know who I am as an artist, just perform and be myself. There’s always nerves, which are important as you need the adrenalin for the performance, but to be able to overcome the fear is important. It’s all about realising you’re up there because you want to be and you’re there for a reason.”

While she has found an audience and built a fanbase on the back of her appearance on The Voice, Pavey is ready to move on and be regarded as an artist in her own right.

“It’s more about finding myself as a folk artist and keeping myself down-to-earth,” she says. “Not just launching into the pop world because that’s what most artists feel like they should be doing to make a career or something. You’ve got to take it slow and wait for people to appreciate what you do as an artist. Television shows can be a little full-on. I’m not quite sure how to explain it as I’m still thinking about all that, but they can exploit artists. Sometimes it can be beneficial and other times not – it’s all a bit crazy. I think it’s definitely important to experience things in life that will help you in the long run. It really did help me positively, although there were some negative parts that I guess will help me positively in the future and help me grow. You just have to give things a go and see what happens.”

She may only be 19, but Pavey probably would rather have been born around 1950, such is her affinity to the hippy/folk movement of the late sixties; something will be evident by her song choices on her national tour.

“I’ve got four songs on the EP, but I’ve got a band and we perform for an hour,” she says. “I’ve brought some more originals into the set – some of which will be on the album coming up. We’ve got a couple of fun covers; ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson Airplane and some groovy sixties songs. I love Joni Mitchell, so I do a couple of her covers; I like to do ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ and ‘Woodstock’. They really take people on a journey; the music back then was just incredible.”

When & Where:

Thursday 11th September
Melbourne | The Toff in Town

Friday 12th September
Traralgon | Spirit Bar

Saturday 13th September
Ballarat | Karova Lounge

Sunday 14th September
Torquay | Torquay Hotel

For Forte

Richard Jupp of Elbow: “It was a proper moment”

elbow

THEY’VE been together for over twenty years and have six critically-acclaimed albums and a host of accolades under their belts, so a lightning storm isn’t going to stop Elbow winning over yet another Glastonbury Festival audience, explains drummer Richard Jupp.

“[English drum and bass act] Rudimental were on not long before us,” he says. “Then the beautiful British summer weather absolutely let rip. It was torrential and then the lightning started. Unfortunately Rudimental had to be pulled off stage, and they were having an amazing set. I was standing at the side of the stage with my wife and son and they were absolutely killing it, but obviously the lightning was a threat. When it did finally stop, Lily Allen – who was on before us – amazingly pulled a couple of tracks out of her set so we could catch up, time-wise. Once she came off our crew played a blinder; they managed to turn over in about half the time it usually takes a band to get on stage, so we were able to get on a couple of minutes early, which was incredible on our crew’s part. Again, we had this sort of Glastonbury moment where the clouds parted, the sun made an appearance and we had that sunset set that we’ve had the last couple of times we’ve played there. I don’t know what’s going on; somebody’s put a word in somewhere, but obviously we were very grateful and it was a proper moment.”

Australian fans can expect similar moments – albeit without the downpour and sunset – as the band has announced a run of October theatre shows, with appearances in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

“When we come to Australia, we’ll be playing the Tivoli again, and a few places we’ve played before; big old theatres,” Jupp says. “Then obviously we’re playing the Sydney Opera House, so we want to do something special there. We’re talking about maybe doing some obscure b-sides like ‘McGreggor’ or ‘Whisper Grass’; I don’t know. Maybe something that lends itself a bit more to the grandeur of the place. I know it’s all seated, and there are a couple of big tunes that might not suit that, so we’ll need to sit down and have a discussion. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can pull out of the bag for that. There’s always stuff we can get better, but so far it’s been brilliant. We’ve been on the road since March; through the UK, a little bit in Europe, America, then back into Europe with Portugal, Holland, Belgium, Moscow and two nights at the Eden Project in the UK. After Latvia we have a couple of weeks off, then well be looking forward to getting to Australia.”

The band’s latest album, the grand and melancholic The Take Off And Landing Of Everything, has received almost universal critical acclaim, and was written at a time when lyricist and singer Guy Garvey had split from his long-term partner. Luckily for the band, the record filled with loss and remorse has gone down well with fans all over the globe.

“There’s obviously a certain amount of ‘thank fuck for that’ when people liked it,” Jupp says. “We have been around for a bit, and you do get a little bit conscious of how we’re perceived. We don’t want to try to compete with all these young bucks, but we really enjoyed the process of writing this one because we all did more a bit more separate writing, then brought it into the studio. It was a new thing for us really, and it worked out really well. Tracks like ‘Real Life (Angel)’; Craig pretty much brought in the complete track and we Elbow-ified it, then Guy spent some time putting lyrics on. Mark wrote all of ‘Honey Sun’; everything on that track is all his. It was a little bit weird; we’re used to doing the writing together all of the time, but it was really nice getting something in a drop box or a transfer with some weird and wonderful sounds that you could take up to the attic and put some beats or a bass-line on. I was able to get into melody, which is always a dangerous thing for a drummer, but it was a really good way of working.”

THE TAKE OFF AND LANDING OF EVERYTHING BY ELBOW IS OUT NOW.

ELBOW TOUR AUSTRALIA IN OCTOBER.

For Scenestr

Directors of Good Vibrations: “It felt like it channelled a bit of the original spirit of that gig”

richard dormer

TORN apart by the violent sectarian divide known as The Troubles, Belfast in the 1970s was the last place you would have expected to see a musical revolution.

Enter Terri Hooley: founder of the Good Vibrations record store and label, which helped kick-start the bomb-ravaged city’s punk scene. The film of the same name tells the story of Hooley’s life and the bands his determination inspired, as directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn explain.

“We became involved in the film while there was just a brief outline written by Glenn [Patterson] and Colin [Carberry], the writers,” says D’Sa. “They had originally come up with the idea. We knew a bit about Terri Hooley through the music scene he was involved in, and we knew of him as an extraordinary man who had lived through extraordinary times. I think what really appealed to us about the story when we came across it, was that we realised that this was just not a story about a local legend, but a really universal story about someone who was a light in the darkness during the worst of times for a lot of people. It was a story about music and youth in general; just that spirit of youth that won’t be downtrodden. This was a time when young people wanted to be going out, meeting people and working out they were, but it wasn’t safe for them be to be out, meeting their friends in town and doing those kinds of things. It’s a story about that compulsion, that determination to go out and live your life, despite whatever dark forces are closing down the city you live in. That was something we felt that audiences all over the world might respond to. We also knew it was an opportunity to tell something that was celebratory with that distinctive dark comedy wit that is born of this place. I think we found that we had the opportunity to show all of that in the story and to create something of a celebratory spirit that was perhaps going to be a new way of looking at it.”

The Northern Irish conflict is not widely known about or understood internationally, but ‘Good Vibrations’ is a story with universal themes, says Leyburn.

“I think there were a lot of things about this story that we hoped would have a universal resonance,” he says. “Especially in the times we live in today. There’s conflict all over the world, and there are kids and teenagers facing the same challenges as those in Belfast at that time. Our story is a positive one; one that we hope has been told with humour. There have been films about The Troubles in Northern Ireland that tend to focus on soldiers or prisoners or whatever. That is the story we’re telling; it’s just about a different thing. It’s about that spirit of resistance and people who refuse to be defined by the dark forces around them. We’ve been lucky enough to travel around the world to film festivals. It’s been played in South Korea, the Czech Republic and the list goes on. A lot of those audiences have connected with it, and there’s a resonance to their own recent histories.”

At 65 and retired, Hooley no longer owns the store, but was an active influence in the making of the film.

“To tell the story, Terri had to be on board,” Leyburn says. “The fact that he was able to get to know us was important to him and to us. I knew of Terri and his legend; I’d seen him around Belfast and bought records from him, but I didn’t really get to know him. Through the process of developing the script and the film I got to know him really well. Terri has a very unique way at looking at the world. He’s a unique story-teller, and tells stories that are very vivid and interesting. I think for us to get to know him as well as we did helped us to bring a bit of his verve for life and telling stories to the screen. Also, just for the spirit of the thing; he came to the set and there was always an open door for him. You can’t make a story about somebody who’s still around and shut them out; I think that’d be the wrong way to approach it.”

While the story is one of inspiration and punk rock, the directors were keen to paint Hooley in as realistic a light as possible.

“He’s obviously a flawed human being, as we all are,” says D’Sa. “He’s a very generous person, and that comes across in the film, and once he was happy for us to make the film, he was particularly generous about it. He trusted us to go and make the film. It’s not going to connect with everyone if you make someone appear like a saint, and we had to tell the story to be true to what we were trying to say. The first screening we had when we finished the film was for Terri himself. We sort of hoped it would be just for Terri and his close friends and family. We wanted him to see what was a potentially difficult portrait of himself in a way, and we wanted to give him a chance to see it without anyone there. Typically for Terri, he wasn’t worried. He did bring a group of close friends, but for Terri that tends to mean about 200 people. We watched it in a room full of people who had been there at the time, and of course we were worried about what his reaction was going to be, but at the end Terri was in tears and made a lovely speech; he was very gracious and said how much he had been moved by the film. He has travelled with us a lot, and come to screenings all over the world. I think it’s just typical of the person that he is that he’s felt good about supporting it and sharing his story with the world.”

Game of Thrones actor Richard Dormer plays the title role, and was an easy pick for the job, says D’Sa.

“From the very first stages of developing this film, we knew Richard was the actor we wanted to cast,” she says. “Not only is he a phenomenal, subtle actor, we knew he was going to be brilliant at inhabiting the role and soul of this character. He also understands the DNA of the place and the time. We did a pilot, and Richard kindly agreed to come and play the role in a few early scenes. That was job done; once we had screened the pilot to the financiers, any of their concerns seemed to wash away at that time, because they could see what they believed, and that was that he was going to do an incredible job. It’s a very dynamic, charismatic performance, but one which also allows you access to the vulnerability to of that character. We’re really glad he’s been cast in things like Game of Thrones and big movie parts, and it’s incredibly well deserved.”

richard dormer

The story culminates with a huge punk gig, organised by Hooley to pay off the label’s debts. Luckily, the directors were able to call on another Belfast band to help out.

“We had a lot of support from Snow Patrol, who are executive producers and financiers of the film,” D’Sa says. “It was really down to them that we were able to get 2000 extras. On our budget we couldn’t afford to do that, but the Snow Patrol guys put out a call on their fan site asking people to show up at the Ulster Hall in Belfast, dressed in appropriate punk clothing for a couple of hours filming. Of course, within an hour, we had our 2000 extras for the scene, and the treat for them at the end was that the guys would play a two-hour acoustic gig after filming. So, we all these extras in punk clothing, the entire cast and crew was there, and it was a really joyous experience that felt like it channelled a bit of the original spirit of that gig.”

GOOD VIBRATIONS IS IN CINEMAS JUNE 12.

For Scene Magazine/Scenestr.

Henry Wagons: “It was good to have more hairy, loud men to aid the cause”

wagons band

IT’S 11am and Henry Wagons is getting ready to start work, even though it’s his day off.

“I’m not very good at resting,” he says. “Even now, on the coast, in my bed, I’m still talking to you.”

It’s this work ethic, coupled with a laddish charm and penchant for ragged Americana that the self-styled benevolent dictator of Wagons has made the basis of the Victorian group’s sixth record, Acid Rain and Sugar Cane.

“It’s our first one in a few years and it was incredibly fun to make,” he says. “It took a long time, but I think all of us are happy with the final result. It was long, loud and pleasurable, and I think that comes across in the record. I’m a proud father and very excited for it to get out there.”

Despite the three-year period since the band’s last record, Rumble, Shake and Tumble, Wagons says getting back with the group was just like riding the proverbial bike.

“The main core of the group all went to high school together,” he says. “They’re the people I like playing with the most. It’s like being an amoeba floating around in the plasma, drifting away from the mothership, then locking into the bacterial network again and pumping out the virus and the disease like nobody’s business. Maybe that’s a strange analogy! With the solo record [2013’s Expecting Company?] I had to make every single decision and more or less play everything as well, so I was looking forward to creating a collaborative record again. This record is more collaborative than any we’ve done before; I really leant on the guys. It was good to have more hairy, loud men to aid the cause.”

A reassessment of their approach to recording led Wagons to work out how to allow the band to play to its strengths.

“I had a very particular aesthetic and way I wanted to record the album,” he says. “I wanted to really capture the live element that we’ve got together. Studio environments can make communication difficult when you’re all wearing headphones and listening to separate mixes between separate glass panels. All too often in the studio I’ll be in a vocal booth with an acoustic guitar, I’ll finish the song and there’ll be 30 seconds of total silence where we’re all glancing at each other through our respective vacuum chambers, wondering how it went and gesturing through mime. You’ll hear a crackly producer from three metres back going ‘that was good, maybe do it one more time!’ We’ll be like ‘what the fuck’s going on here?’ So to cut a long story short, I wanted to record in an environment where we’re all in the one room. I’d kind of been listening to the Bob Dylan and The Band record The Basement Tapes, where you can really hear that they’re all recording in one room, kind of shit-faced. It’s not so much the most high-fidelity recording, à la Sting or Pink Floyd. They were there to have a good time and the actual recording is almost an afterthought. I basically ended up recording it at a place I got on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, where I have basically loaded in all the vintage gear I’ve collected over the years and set up a studio space. It sounds live, because most of the songs we are all playing together in one room. My vocals come through a PA system in the same room as where the drums are, and it creates this space that I think you can hear in the record. Instead of some elaborate setup, where you’re recording the drums with 20 microphones, the ambience actually comes through the vocal microphone, which is placed six metres away. All the instruments bleed into each other as if we’re on the stage, and it’s a very exciting way to record. I don’t think the fidelity has suffered from it at all. We recorded with a whole bunch of gear I’ve acquired over the years, inspired by Elvis’s late ’70s stage setup in Vegas, so we’ve got a lot of fun old gear.”

Despite the familiarity felt within the band, outside help was enlisted from an esteemed source.

“We were able to take our time,” Wagons says. “We weren’t spending our record advance on studio time, where the clock is ticking every day. What it meant is that we could spend money on recording with people we respect. We had Mick Harvey, the former Bad Seed; he’s done amazing production work with PJ Harvey and did the Serge Gainsbourg stuff. So, instead of spending a thousand dollars a day on some hot-shit national studio or going into Sing Sing or whatever, we were able to bring in geniuses around us; these people we really revered. It took a long time to record, but at our own leisure we’d get together and have four-day getaways. I even had a baby in the middle of the recording process, so it basically came together across six months at our own pace. We were able to just press record when it was all ready to go. The record is quite a trip, quite a journey and the songs take unexpected twists and turns a lot of the time. We were enjoying ourselves too much; we didn’t want to just shit out a three-minute song each time. Mick Harvey’s production style is to join the band, essentially, so he’d be playing drums, keys or percussion on every single song on the record. We had all this money left over to pay to get it mixed at Ocean Way Studios in Los Angeles by the guy who did Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, who have some of the most epic sounding records of recent times. I wanted a dose of that on our record, and he has made it sound incredibly full and incredibly live. It just wanted the average way of blowing your record advance; we were very considered and spent it in a way that made us have a whole lot of fun that translates onto the record. I’d do it again in the same way in a heartbeat.”

While every Wagons album release is an event in itself, the live Wagons experience is on another level.

“The album has a lot of horns and female backing vocals,” Wagons says. “For the big capital city shows, that’s going to be represented on-stage. We’re in the midst of rehearsing the new show as we speak. Because the songs are so live on the album, that energy is transferring well to the live stage. There are going to be a lot of really fun new elements to the show. As it is, I love to interact with the crowd and get amongst it, and this show is definitely going to be no different to that; it’s going to be very loud and very fun.”

ACID RAIN AND SUGAR CANE IS OUT MAY 16. WAGONS’ TOUR OF AUSTRALIA BEGINS IN ADELAIDE MAY 22.

Russell Marsden of Band of Skulls: “It’s a tipping point now”

band of skulls

ENGLISH alt-rockers Band of Skulls are probably one of the hardest working bands in the business.

Since their 2009 debut Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, the trio of Russell Marsden, Emma Richardson and Matt Hayward have consistently won fans the old-fashioned way; by touring relentlessly and improving with each album. Singer-guitarist Marsden explains how their hard work is paying off with new record Himalayan.

“It’s an exciting time,” he says. “It’s a tipping point now. The fact now that we have three albums to choose from really makes a difference. Only having one record makes playing a show for more than forty minutes quite a challenge, so now that we have all these records to choose from makes our shows much stronger. We’ve had the record finished for a while and it’s kind of a relief to be able to share it with people. I think that’s probably the emotion that’s going through our minds right now. We’ve been playing the songs live, so we’ve got a little bit of a feeling about how people feel about the new songs, but now people can get the record, take it home and live with it, then come see us play. When we’ll be down in Australia, that will definitely be the case, so that’ll be exciting.”

The band’s second album, Sweet Sour, was released in 2012 and saw their songs evolve with a cleaner, harder sound. This time around, they weren’t willing to sit still either.

“We changed producers for this record,” Marsden says. “That was kind of a big shift. Nick Launay came in to do this one, and we made it in London, so this was the first time we didn’t record in the middle of nowhere. We went into the studio every day and worked on the songs, instead of being stuck somewhere on a farm. It really changed the dynamic of the recording session, and I think that comes out in the music; it was fun to do it every day and we really relished the challenge. Previously it was more intense, but this time we were doing a week together and a week apart. This time we definitely took the work away, then reconvened and kept the best ideas and trashed the rest. We all had to learn to accept that fact that your idea might not be the best idea. We’re quite good at it; we don’t come to blows but we might disagree now and then. Musically, I think the sound has come of age. We know what our sound is, but we also feel allowed to not just be a blues-rock band or just a heavy band, and our audience will allow us to continue to experiment in a few different directions. It’s more of a challenge to be able to play the new songs; we’ve written some that are quite tricky and are just at the edge of our ability. We challenge ourselves, and the first few times we play them live are seat-of-the-pants moments, but once you get over the first couple of times the confidence grows and it becomes more natural. Once we get our teeth into them, it’s really great. The record comes out soon and the songs know it; I think the songs are onto us. But there’s a certain buzz about playing tunes for the first time in front of people, and that’s part of the thrill which we’ve enjoyed so far. There are a couple of tracks we haven’t done yet too, so we’ve still got a couple of those moments left.”

Despite the obvious benefits of having new songs to play live, Marsden admits the expectations the band put on themselves to write the best songs possible is the driving force behind the band.

“We give ourselves our own pressure,” he says. “Outside pressure doesn’t even get a look in. We’re really proud of the two records we’ve made and we loved working with [producer] Ian Davenport on those records, but we set the bar higher this time. If a song isn’t as good as something you’ve done before, then it basically isn’t good enough. Recording is an amazing experience, although it’s not easy. There are a lot of long hours, and it can be relentless and the hours are gruelling. It can wear you down and drive you insane. It’s a bit like sitting an important exam, where the result is going to affect your life in the future, but seeing ideas that you have in your head realised is a thrill. When something comes out well in the recording, you can’t help but sneak a thought about how it’s going to sound playing it to people in the future.

An upcoming June tour of Australia is something Marsden is hoping the group can repeat in the near future.

“We’ve been a couple of times now and the audiences are fantastic and really knowledgeable,” he says. “Your festivals are really good as well; you get a lot of international acts coming over. The competition is stiff, and we know it’s not going to be an easy ride, but we’ll be playing some bigger venues for the first time and that’s really exciting. I wish we could come back to Australia more often, but it’s a long way and it costs a lot of money for bands to come over. Hopefully this won’t be the last trip on this record. If it goes as good as we hope, we can maybe come back and do some more cities as we only have three stops this time. Hopefully we can return not long afterwards.”

HIMALAYAN BY BAND OF SKULLS IS OUT NOW. THE BAND TOUR AUSTRALIA IN JUNE.

Michael Franti: “It’s about tenacity, courage and creating harmony in your life”

michael franti

MUSICIAN, poet, humanitarian, Bono fan; these are just some of the strings to Michael Franti’s bow.

The multi-talented Californian and his band will make a return to Bluesfest next month, as well as playing a sideshow at The Tivoli. “It’s our first time to Australia in three years, and we’re super excited to come back,” he says. “This is actually our twentieth year playing music together; we started in ’94. It kind of crept up on us; one day around Christmas I was sitting around with Carl [Young, bass] and I said ‘Carl, when did we start?’ We realised it was August ’94. We feel more excited about playing music than we ever have, and it’s just really great to be in a band with these guys. We never decide what we’re going to play until about 15 minutes before we go on-stage; we always mix it up every night. There are some songs people want to hear, so we try to play those, and we’ll go through the catalogue and revisit songs we haven’t played in a while. Sometimes we’ll play cover songs and sometimes loud party music that will get people up and jumping around at a festival. We love the festival setting and we’re looking forward to coming back.”

The upcoming gigs will give Australian fans the first chance to hear songs from Spearhead’s 2013 album All People live, as well as getting an advance on tunes that will appear on the as yet untitled follow-up.

“The songs were all written while we were touring and we’ve tried them out in front of audiences, so they’ve all be road-tested, so to speak,” Franti says. “It’s great when you can write a song in the morning, play it to fans in the afternoon and get their response to it. This record is a mix of acoustic music, political songs, roots and maybe more love songs than I’ve ever put on a record. We always have new songs ready for a record, and as soon as I finish writing them I like to play them; so there are a few new songs we might pull out. It’ll probably be another year before we release another record, but we’ve already been in the studio writing this stuff. The last two records had about a two year gap in between, but I don’t think it will be that long this time.”

Known for his political and humanitarian stances, Franti has changed his approach somewhat in recent times.

“My original band put out our first record in 1987,” he says. “I think a lot of us who have been involved in doing political work and political song-writing for a long time don’t know if any of the songs we ever wrote really made a difference to the world, and it’s easy to get frustrated. Right now I’m working on a documentary film about people I’ve met who have really inspired me and made me see the world and the work I do in a different way. Instead of trying to put out the whole world that’s on fire with this little water pistol that I have, I’ve learned how to use the water pistol to sprinkle the flowers in my own back yard and have a bigger impact. Lately, I’ve been writing about that more than specific political things; it’s about tenacity, courage and creating harmony in your life.”

Franti got his first major break when a certain rock quartet with a similar approach to political and social issues took his band on tour in 1992.

“It was really amazing,” he says. “We had a minor hit at the time and U2 saw the video for it, and they invited us to come out on the road. We went from being a little band playing in punk rock and hip-hop clubs and driving around in a tiny white van, to playing Yankee Stadium and all these massive venues. I was a fan of U2’s music at the time but I wasn’t that familiar with the guys in the band, and I remember the first week Bono came up to me and says [adopts Irish accent] ‘can I have a quiet word wit’ ya? There’s this one thing I need to talk to ya about’. I was worried and thought we were getting kicked off the tour, but he said ‘you know my guitar player? His name is The Edge, not Ed’. I had been saying things like ‘yo Ed, nice guitar solo! Yo Ed, nice hat! Yo Ed, you coming to the party later?’ I guess The Edge had gone to Bono and asked him to have a word. We’ve toured with tons of bands, and they’re right up there among our top experiences in terms of being treated well by the headliner. They always made sure we had enough time and space to set up our gear and sound check, and they always hung out with us. Whether we wanted to talk about music, religion or business things, Bono was always really amenable to having a conversation about anything; it was a really good experience for us.”

MICHAEL FRANTI & SPEARHEAD PLAY BYRON BAY BLUESFEST APRIL 21 AND THE TIVOLI APRIL 23.

Scott Owen of The Living End: “I guess we just get along as mates and respect each other”

living end

THE LIVING END have just played five Soundwave shows and will headline The Big Pineapple Music Festival next month; not bad for a band technically on a break. Upright bass player Scott Owen explains why the Melbourne trio doesn’t sit still for long.

“Soundwave was fantastic,” he says. “We didn’t know what to expect as it was all very last-minute; we only got added to the bill two weeks before the festival. It was unexpected, but you can’t complain about getting up in front of audiences like that. Everyone seemed to file in there early and there was a really respectable amount of people there. [Short notice] can work either way for us; sometimes we rehearse our arses off before a show and for one reason or another it’s difficult to pull it together, and then sometimes you just have to jump into the deep end without a chance to rehearse, and they can be the best gigs. We went for the middle ground and only had a couple of rehearsals in the week leading up to it, and left it at that; just enough to dust out the cobwebs a little bit, but not overthink it.”

The band will be the top-billed rock act at next month’s second Big Pineapple Music Festival, which also features Dead Letter Circus and Spiderbait.

“Because we’re at a stage right now where we don’t have a new record out, we’re just kind of getting up and trying to tailor our set – and this probably sounds wanky – to please everyone,” Owen says. “We figure with festivals you’re there for a good time, not a long time, so we just try to play things that we think people are going to know and things people can sing along to; I think that’s our job at a festival. We didn’t really think of doing [AC/DC’s] ‘Jailbreak’ until the day of the gig at Soundwave in Brisbane, but every now and then we’ll pull out a cover and it’s normally something that’s planned. We’ve got six albums, so there’s a lot of catalogue to choose from and it can be difficult to try to think of what will please everyone, but that’s why we tend to rely on the songs most people are going to know. It’s not our own show; people are there to see a bunch of bands, so we just try to offer a good time.”

This year marks two decades since the band formed in Melbourne, but Owen isn’t keen to make a fuss of the anniversary.

“We did a retrospective tour the year before last, where we went out and played all of our albums for seven nights in each city, and that was a good way to look back over everything,” he says. “I think we’re more into looking forward than looking back now, although the plan is to do nothing for pretty much the rest of the year, apart from a few gigs here and there, and then sometime next year we’ll get together again and start thinking about the next record. This is the first time we’ve all not lived in Melbourne. Over the last couple of years we’ve all moved in different directions; Chris [Cheney, singer-guitarist] is over in America, I live in Byron and Andy [Strachan, drums] is down the coast in Victoria. There’s a bit of a distance between us and we figured it’s a good opportunity to just chill out for a reasonable amount of time. Fortunately we’ve never had any major difficulties with each other and we’ve been lucky to continue to get people to want to watch us play. I guess we just get along as mates and respect each other, and just enjoy getting up onstage and playing together. I really don’t know how to read it any more deeply than that.”

The band’s sound includes elements of rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll and punk; a formula that has worked well for the trio, although Owen’s ‘bass stunts’ – primarily standing on his instrument mid-performance – wasn’t always the polished party-piece it is today.

“When Chris and I were in high school we were only interested in’50s rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly,” he says. “Getting up on the bass was always part of the act; it was happening from day one. The funniest time was when Chris and I started playing; we were only about 16 or 17 years old when we started playing pubs around Melbourne. One of the very first times we played a proper pub – and we were still just doing rockabilly covers at the time – Chris climbed up on my bass to play a guitar solo and it all went horribly wrong and we ended up in a pile on the floor. It was devastating; we were thinking we could never get up onstage and show our faces again after such an epic fail. But we got over the hurdle. Luckily it hasn’t happened in front of an enormous audience.”

THE LIVING END PLAY THE BIG PINEAPPLE MUSIC FESTIVAL SATURDAY MAY 17.