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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.

James Vincent McMorrow: “It definitely took me by surprise in the most wonderful way possible”

james vincent mcmorrow

JAMES Vincent McMorrow’s music is tailor-made to fill big spaces, metaphorically and literally. Luckily for him – and us – an upcoming show at QPAC and two nights at the Sydney Opera House will allow it to do just that.

“I want [the show] to be something that’s not just song, gap, song, gap,” he says. “I want it to be something that flows and gets bigger as the set goes along. We’ve got this really expansive lighting rig that we’re bringing; it’s kind of the fifth person on-stage. Hopefully we’ll bring a booming big set.”

The 31 year-old Irishman is no stranger to Australia, having been here as recently as five months ago, but he admits the sudden demand for tickets caught him off guard, in a good way.

“I don’t really pay attention to what’s going on in particular countries unless I’m there,” he says. “We were [in Australia] in January and the reaction was brilliant. When we talked about doing these shows, the idea was to do them way later, then all of a sudden I was told things are really good here. About a week after they put them on sale, I got a call saying that the Sydney Opera House was sold out and they were adding second dates. It definitely took me by surprise in the most wonderful way possible. I mean, I’m pretty ambitious and I want to play places like that, but I didn’t expect it to happen this quickly in somewhere as far away as Australia. But then, you can’t predict everything; sometimes things just work. We just finished the US tour, and it was very much big venue to small venue to big venue, depending on which city we were in. I don’t feel any different if we go from 1600 people one night to 600 people the following; I still feel the same. Obviously Sydney Opera House is a special place; it’s like the Royal Albert Hall or Carnegie Hall or somewhere like that. There’s a resonance that goes beyond it being just another show, perhaps. I’ve looked at all the other Australian venues and they are all stunning and look amazing, so I won’t think about them any differently, and they’re all equally important.”

Released in January, Post Tropical is McMorrow’s second album, and sees his sound moving further away from his folk roots in a more soulful direction.

“This record was made for people to live with for a while,” he says. “I didn’t expect it to give itself away to people incredibly quickly. It’s been interesting going from territory to territory and seeing people’s reactions. The first record did very well in Europe, and when we played shows there we could see people starting to wrap their heads around the new sounds and new ideas. By the end of the shows we could really see people understanding it. When we went to the US, people were really into it intensely, and we could hear people singing every word. It was very soon for that for me; with the first record I spent two years working away before people really heard anything. The response to the new record was really quite compelling and drove me onwards to play the songs better and better every night. The response has been how I hoped. I never expect it; I just hope for it when I do these things.”

The first single is ‘Cavalier’, which McMorrow explains is the most accurate representation of what Post Tropical has to offer.

“I chose it because I thought it was the best song on the record, in the sense of letting people know what’s coming,” he says. “I wanted it to be a song that draws a line in the sand, or plants my flag in the ground or whatever you want to call it. It’s a definitive sound; there could have been songs that show where the last record was and where the next one is going, before we deliver something like ‘Cavalier’ further down the line, but I didn’t want to do that. I think people are smart, and I’m not in the business of trying to convince people; you either like it or you don’t, and that’s totally fine. With ‘Cavalier’, I thought people will hear it and either be in or be out. If they hear it and understand what I’m doing and what I’m going for, musically and stylistically, then they’ll like it. I don’t want to waste people’s time putting out songs that might be a little bit like something they might’ve heard before, then when they go to the record it’s different.”

JAMES VINCENT McMORROW PLAYS QPAC FRI 23 MAY. POST TROPICAL IS OUT NOW.

Interview: Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts

andrew savage

BROOKLYN, New York-based indie-rock quartet Parquet Courts will return to Australia to play Splendour in the Grass, having been here as recently as January for St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival. With a new album – entitled Sunbathing Animal – about to be released, their show promises to be heavy on new material, with the band’s trademark energy and witty lyricisms being certain to feature. I talked to singer-guitarist Andrew Savage to find out the band’s plans and why the ‘slacker’ label needs to be taken out of circulation.

Congratulations on the new album. How do you feel knowing it’s about to be released?

Man, it feels great. It didn’t feel real until I held it in my hands. I just got my own copy last week. It’s the coolest looking album I’ve ever been on, that’s for sure; I love the way it looks. It’s my first gatefold, and it’s been my lifelong dream to have a gatefold record, as they were always the coolest ones when you were a kid. So yeah man, I’m feeling good about it. Throughout the whole time of making it, we were aware that we had a new audience, you know? We were very cognisant that we had a fanbase, whereas with Light Up Gold, nobody really knew us and we didn’t have to worry about it. I would hesitate to call what we feel worry, but it’s more of an awareness that kind of resulted in more of a realised album.

Did the realisation you have a fanbase change your approach to songwriting?

Not explicitly, because it was one of those things we knew in the back of our heads and slowly started to realise, but I think it did make me aware of not wanting to give people the same thing they got on the album before, you know what I mean?

Do you think about how the songs will sound live when you write them?

The songs in Parquet Courts are really fully written live, or half-and-half at least. A lot of times we’ll come up with stuff in the studio, and that’s really fun, but a lot of the songs on Sunbathing Animal are a year and a half old, so we’ve been playing them for a long time.

How have they been going down live?

We’ve had songs like ‘She’s Rolling’ that have been in the set since before Light Up Gold was re-released on What’s Your Rupture? Those have become kind of set standards by now. We’ve gotten mostly positive feedback from all the new stuff live.

Sunbathing Animal has come quite quickly after Light Up Gold – do you feel like you’re under pressure to release new material quickly, or do you prefer to do it that way?

It’s not that quickly, because Light Up Gold came out in August 2012, so in August it’s two years old. Even still, when it came out, we had already recorded it about six months before that, so that’s pretty well-worn territory. Honestly, we have been dying for this to come out as we want to give people something new. I don’t feel a pressure though, as there’s nobody who will even give it to me. We don’t go into the studio unless we have at least enough stuff to start; we only record when we’re inspired to.

How was your experience at the Australian legs of Laneway Festival earlier in the year?

It was great – I loved Australia. I had already accrued a few friends down there, so we got to see some people we hadn’t seen in a while. I liked the festival, although we played some club shows too in Sydney and Melbourne, and I think that was probably the highlight for me.

What can fans expect from your show at Splendour?

I hope they give us at least an hour (laughs). It’ll definitely be mostly stuff off Sunbathing. That’s what we’ve been waiting to do for a long time. We’ve held back on doing all new stuff because we realise not everybody knows all that stuff yet, and it might be a bummer for somebody to have a band come and play a bunch of songs nobody knows. We’ll be in Japan the day before Splendour in the Grass, and then two days after we have to be in Chicago, so we’ll only be in the country for about 48 hours.

You so often have the ‘slacker’ label pinned on you. How do you feel about that?

I think that calling someone a slacker is kind of slacker, because it’s lazy. If anyone takes just a little bit of time to investigate who we are as a band, you’ll realise that it’s not applicable. At the same time, I understand half of rock and roll is lore, so if someone says these guys are slackers, then people believe it because that’s kind of an archetype that exists in rock and roll; the slacker guy, or the guy who’s a deadbeat and doesn’t have to work hard for it. It’s a fantasy, you know? People like that are pretty rare. People who get called slackers or slacker artists would surprise people with how non-fitting that term is to them. You can’t keep making art if you’re a slacker; part of being an artist is staying hungry and continuing to do what you do. It’s one of those things that once someone says it, people don’t question it, and it becomes part of the language. Once upon a time someone called us that, and most people just say ‘that’s good enough for me’.

Do you read or care about reviews of your albums or shows?

To me, a bad review is when someone doesn’t really think about what they’re doing. Even if a review is heavily critical and against what we’re doing, if it was done intelligently I would still consider it a good review. To me, the bad reviews are the ones where obviously the person hasn’t listened to the whole record or maybe even made a blind endorsement. To me, that’s a bad review. When you work so hard on something, you want to hear what people think about it. I could pretend to be one of those aloof guys that doesn’t read reviews and don’t care what people think. I’m interested in reading or hearing about how someone analyses what I’ve done; that’s mostly what it is.

Another thing you’re often called is a ‘buzz’ band. Does that have any meaning to you whatsoever?

I think that’s kind of silly. I don’t even know what that means. I guess it’s just a band that’s popular at the moment, which we kind of are. That’s not something I care about. We’re not trying to maintain ‘buzz’ status; it’s kind of a dispensable term. There’s always a new buzz band, but I’d kind of like to be one of the bands that moves past that and becomes just a regular band.

Parquet Courts hasn’t embraced social media as much as most bands tend to do. Is there a particular reason for that?

I don’t have any social media personally, and I’m the only one in the band likely to maintain it if we did. I don’t have Facebook, Twitter or any of that stuff. I’ve got Gmail; I talk to people on that, but it’s really that nobody in the band wants to maintain it. It’s not so much of a statement, and I have certain convictions in that world, but with Parquet Courts it’s a if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it kind of thing. None of us have ever done [social media] with a band, and I was playing music long before the advent of social media and I remember it being just fine for me. In other words, it hasn’t presented itself as a necessity to me. In some ways, it makes creativity harder and is kind of a big distraction. It’s kind of like white noise to me, and I’ve got enough white noise in my life to worry about; I don’t need more.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

We’ll be touring all summer. I’m not sure what’s going to go on in the fall, as my brother – the drummer – is finishing up school and has to take five different math classes. Sean and his wife are expecting a child in September, so naturally he’s going to take time off to be a dad. I can’t exactly say what the future holds after the summer, but definitely this summer we’ll be hitting it hard and going everywhere we can go.

SUNBATHING ANIMAL BY PARQUET COURTS IS OUT JUNE 2nd. PARQUET COURTS PLAY SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS.

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.

Interview: Mark ‘E’ Everett of Eels

eels-credit-piper-ferguson2

SINCE their formation in 1995, the members of genre-spanning Eels have been an ever-changing musical entity that has produced eleven albums of songs filled with themes of loss, love and introspection. The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett is the band’s latest release, and as their enigmatic leader – more often known simply as E – puts it, it’s their most revealing to date. I spoke to E to discover what inspired this period of intense reflection.

Congratulations on the new album. How does it feel knowing it’s in the public’s hands?

Well, I guess it’s a relief. Putting out any kind of album is a hard, vulnerable process, and this one is kind of doubly so as it’s so personal. I don’t recommend doing it.

Yet you’ve been doing it quite a bit in the last few years.

Well, not necessarily; we don’t always work in the typical way. We didn’t make five records in the last five years like it appears or how they’ve come out. There was a four-year gap between the Blinking Lights album and the Hombre Lobo album, and during that period we made the next three records, which all came out in a year. So it’s more like we’ve made five albums in nine years.

How long did you have the songs before recording?

About half of them were done before the last album we put out, Wonderful, Glorious. The other half were done after, so it’s all pretty recent, or about half is pretty recent.

Who did you work with on the album?

It’s the exact same group of guys that made Wonderful, Glorious, but you’d never guess it because it’s so different sounding. It’s just the band, you know? Me and the four guys who’ve been touring the world for several years now. Plus, an orchestra and some outside musicians, but even the orchestral arrangements were done by the guys in the band.

How do you stop your song-writing veering across the line between personal and self-indulgent?

I’m aware of the line. I think someone could take a cursory look or listen to it and go ‘this guy is so self-indulgent’ or whatever, but it’s the opposite to me. Why it’s such a hard record to put out is because I’m kind of throwing my dignity under the bus to make a point and so people can hopefully learn from my mistakes. I think that’s a worthwhile thing to do, but it’s not a comfortable thing to do. I believe it’s a lot more selfless than selfish.

What mistakes would you like people to learn from?

I think it’s plainly spelt out in the record on songs like ‘Agatha Chang’. I was in a situation that was a good situation for me, but I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t appreciate it and I blew it.

So, it’s purely about relationships.

In this case it’s about a relationship, yeah.

Do you take control of every aspect of the creative process, or are you happy to let other band members step in?

This might appear to be a solo type of record, because of the title and the photo on the front, but it’s very much a band record. About half the songs were co-written with guys in the band, they did the orchestral arrangements and they play on everything, so there’s a lot of collaborating going on.

So, Eels is a democracy, not a dictatorship.

No, it’s a dictatorship for sure! The buck has to stop somewhere and the buck stops here, but I’m smart enough to be open to everyone’s ideas and suggestions.

Are you happy for someone in the band to tell you if an idea you have isn’t any good?

Yeah, because that’s what I like about collaborating. You can get a lot of stuff out of someone else that you can’t get out of yourself, and that’s probably the most fun part; coming up with something that you never would have come up with by yourself.

Why was 2007 the right time to release your autobiography, Things The Grandchildren Should Know?

I don’t know if it was the right time. It’s an odd time to write your life story when you’re 40. I used to experiment; no one asked me to do it. I wanted to see what it all added up to, and when I finished it I thought there might be something to offer the world here, and decided to put it out. It was such a nice feeling to do something as an experiment and have it be praised. I probably have more people come up to me in the street and say something about the book than the music at this point, you know?

Is it something you would do again?

Writing a book is very hard and lonely work and isn’t nearly as fun as making music. But if anyone who has read the book is interested in a sequel, the closest thing to it would this new album; the major update on what has happened since then.

The album has received almost universally good reviews so far. Do you read or care about reviews?

Well, it’s always nice if people get something out of it and appreciate your hard work, but I think the best thing to do is to brush it all off; it’s not something that really matters, I don’t think.

What are your touring plans?

Right now we’re about to go across America, then across Europe. We always intend to get [to Australia], but the last couple of times we haven’t because of scheduling conflicts. We’re trying to get there this year, and hopefully we will.

Do you see the release of a new album as solely a vehicle for touring?

I think of them as two different things. When you make a new album, the record company often wants you to go on tour. Touring has become the funnest part of my life; I look forward to it, and whether there was a record or not, I’d want to be doing it.

What will you be doing for the rest of the year after the tour?

That’s it; it’s a blank slate after the tour ends, but I don’t know when that’s going to end yet. I’m just pouring everything I’ve got into that, and there’s nothing in the works. I don’t know what will happen; maybe it’s time for a long nap.

THE CAUTIONARY TALES OF MARK OLIVER EVERETT BY EELS IS OUT NOW.

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.

Interview: Craig Finn of The Hold Steady

craig finn

THERE’S A TRACK on the new Hold Steady album called ‘On With The Business’, and that’s exactly what singer-guitarist Craig Finn is getting. It’s been four years since Heaven Is Whenever saw the band’s music maturing and the then 38 year-old’s lyrics further enforcing his reputation as a rock and roll storyteller of the highest order. It’s easy to see why Finn’s lyrics are what they are, as he reels off names of writers you’ve never heard of.

The engaging and erudite Minneapolis-raised New York native is still telling stories with his literature-rich lyrics on new album Teeth Dreams, and since the departure of flamboyantly moustachioed keyboardist Franz Nicolay after 2008’s excellent Stay Positive, the band has taken on an extra guitarist. With a fatter, Thin Lizzy-esque dual guitar sound, The Hold Steady may have reached a new phase in their musical life cycle, but while Finn is happy to talk up his band’s new dynamic and approach to making music, he’s equally happy to chew the fat on a range of other subjects, from chasing girls as a youngster to Nirvana and the future of rock.

Congratulations on the new album. How does it feel to have it out there?

It feels really good, you know. This is the same as any album, but they take so long to get out; we recorded it in August and it was mixed in October. I’m just excited to be out here playing these songs for people. We went down and did SXSW and played seven times, but they were all these short showcases, and I’m excited to now be playing real shows to the real fans.

How did the new material go down at SXSW?

It went great and continues to go great. It’s always fun to have a new record out; you go and do a new song, and now that it’s out people jump up and sing the words, and you’re like “alright; these guys have got the record”. It feels really good.

Do you feel nervous playing songs live for the first time?

You get sort of nervous, but in some ways it’s also great because you have to pay attention a little more or be on autopilot a little less. In that sense it’s really nice; it’s kind of more of a challenge and you have to think about it, and that’s really cool. You’re maybe paying attention to different things than you are for the rest of the set, in a good way.

Why has it been four years since your last album?

We were going really hard, you know? We did five albums in seven years and toured extensively on each of them. Things were kind of fatiguing; the wheels were falling off the wagon, so to speak. I think everyone was a little tired, and creatively we weren’t in a very good place. We took a break and I made a solo record, which took some time, then we started trying to make this record. The one thing that’s different about this record is that [guitarist] Steve Selvidge joined for it. This is the first record we wrote and recorded with him, and now we have two guitar players. He had joined on the touring for the last record, but this is the first we had wrote and recorded with him. He lives in Memphis and the rest of us live in New York, so there was a bit of a geographic hurdle to get over when we started writing. It was a little formal at first, or a little forced, but we got over it eventually and wrote a ton of songs; maybe even over-writing. We had way more songs than we needed, but once our producer Nick Raskulinecz came in it happened quickly. He was like “you guys have plenty of songs for a record, let’s just go make this thing”.

What makes Steve Selvidge a good fit for The Hold Steady?

We had met him as a guitar player in an opening band years before; a band called The Bloodthirsty Lovers. Tad [Kubler, guitar] and Steve hit it off right away; they started playing guitar together and he seemed a good fit personality-wise, and then we found out that Tad and him were born on the exact same day. We thought if we were going to do a two-guitar line-up, then this was meant to be. It’s a push and pull thing between their guitars; the way they play back and forth and the way they play with each other. That’s come to define this album, and it’s a huge part of our sound now.

Do you enjoy recording or can it be a chore?

There are a lot of parts that don’t have a lot to do with me, you know? There’s a technical aspect to it, and then there are all the instruments that you aren’t playing. Depending on how you’re making the record, there can be a lot of downtime. I like making the records, but there are days which are pretty slow. I really like playing shows, so the record is a way to go out and introduce your songs to people and go out on tour again. I guess I like touring better than recording, although I love to see things fit together, and the creative moments are really fun.

What is it that appeals to you about writing about female characters in your lyrics?

For one I think so many stories we tell – whether it’s songs, books, movies or whatever – are about boy meets girl, so you need girls in there. Being of the opposite sex, there’s a mystery there for me, and I think in many books and movies the female is empowered with his mystery. Ultimately, being in a band whose audience is largely male, I need to find a way to make real women characters who you can really empathise with and that are very human. That becomes important for me.

Why do you think there are so few musicians doing the same thing?

In the big picture, I think for a lot of people lyrics are an afterthought. I’ve always been obsessed with characters in songs, and one of the things I’ve tried to do – rather than just introduce characters – is character development. Sometimes going back to these characters means I can flesh them out a bit more; that may be one of the ways that they might be a little more realised as humans.

In the song ‘On With The Business’ you mention “that American sadness”. Can you define what that is?

I got that from an interview that I read with David Foster Wallace. He’s a writer I’ve been obsessed with; I’ve read all his books and probably every interview he’s ever done. He talks about this particular American sadness, or the understanding that there’s a void inside us. There’s a realisation that no matter what we do, or what we try to fill it with – meaning drugs and alcohol or consumer goods, you know, stuff; there’s still sort of an emptiness. That song is about consumerism and about how these characters are doing whatever they can do to get ahead, and by that it means they just get more stuff. It’s the first time I’ve written about that kind of consumerism, and it made me think of the American sadness quote.

What plans do you have for touring, and can we expect an Australian trip at any point?

I’m hoping we can tour Australia either late 2014 or early 2015. We’ll be in the States for the [northern hemisphere] summer and hopefully get back to Europe in the fall; we have quite a bit of touring planned. I think we’ll probably come for your summer. Our winter, your summer would be ideal.

A couple of off-topic questions to finish up. There has been quite a resurgence in interest in Nirvana recently, surrounding the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. How much of an influence did Nirvana have in your life?

I was pretty entrenched in underground punk and hardcore music by the time Nirvana came into my life. I wasn’t an obsessive Nirvana fan; I certainly appreciated them, but I guess I was already kind of committed to that kind of thing. I have to admit that after Nirvana came out, it sort of became okay for certain girls to look at a guy like me; a more alternative guy or more weird guy. Kurt Cobain definitely helped my cause with a few girls.

Do you see them as being worthy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction so soon?

Absolutely. Even though I wasn’t obsessed with them at the time, the songs absolutely stand the test of time. He was a great, great singer and so many people held on to that and if you look at how many people he moved and the sea change they represented in the early ’90s, they are more than worthy.

The Arctic Monkeys recently claimed rock and roll has returned. How is it looking from your viewpoint?

It doesn’t seem to me to be at its most popular. I feel that younger people seem to like electronic music more, and hip hop is really big. I think the younger someone is, the less likely they are [to be] into rock and roll, but that said, I see die-hards every night we play. I don’t think it’s going anywhere and I don’t think it’s ever gone away. I think it’s always going to be here, but I don’t know if I believe if it’s ‘back’ or at a particularly strong point right now. I think probably in a couple of years a 22 year-old whiz kid will come out and capture the hearts and minds of young people, and that’s when rock and roll will have a resurgence on a commercial level. Right now I think it’s just holding steady; no pun intended.

TEETH DREAMS BY THE HOLD STEADY IS OUT NOW.

Dan Whitford of Cut Copy: “People have really embraced it”

cut copy

IT’S BEEN SOME TIME since Cut Copy played headline shows on home soil, but this is one electronic four-piece who haven’t been sitting still.

Producer, songwriter and vocalist Dan Whitford explains why the upcoming Australian shows are going to be special, and how the band has made new fans in some unexpected places.

“We went to Moscow for the first time,” he says. “We played to a room of 1500 people. It was the same in Lima, Peru; we went there a few weeks ago, and that was a voyage of discovery. But we’ve found that people know our music and we have a fanbase that is excited to see us, so we’ll try to make the effort to get in front of our fans. On one hand, we’ve seen more of the world for ourselves, and on the other we’ve expanded the places we can tour around the world. It’s grown from just doing Australian shows in the beginning to being able to play most places around the world, which is a pretty amazing thing. We were really surprised; I think it’s partly due to people listening on the Internet and that kind of thing. We weren’t aware of any radio play or anything in these places, but obviously people are managing to find our music by other means. When we went to Russia we were kind of amazed that people knew even our first record, which wasn’t our breakthrough and is a bit forgotten or obscure. We found a lot of people requesting songs from that record, and everyone knew all the words; it was quite amazing.”

The band’s latest album, Free Your Mind, was released in November, and it’s one Whitford is keen to introduce to Australian audiences.

“The last time we played in Australia was about three years ago, so we’ve totally revised our show,” he says. “We’ve got a new record out, so we’ll be performing a bunch of stuff from that, and we’ve just got a completely new lighting design, projections and visual stuff as well. Hopefully people will be excited to see something new. We’ve played festivals here in that time, but our last headline show was that long ago; I suppose because we took time to make the new record and this is the first time we’ve been able to book in some headline shows. I’m glad we’ve managed to get it happening again, because obviously we started out in Australia and tour pretty extensively all around the world these days. There are lot of opportunities for us everywhere, but we still love coming home and playing to our longer-serving fans and audiences that have been listening to us for a long time. Often when we play something new people will sort of sit there with a slightly stunned mullet look on their face. They’ll take it in, but not necessarily respond by dancing or anything. We’ve found with this new record that people have really embraced it from the beginning and have responded to the songs as if they have been listening to it for a long time, which is really good. What we look for in terms of a good show is to have people really moving and responding to what we’re doing, and it’s been really good off the bat for the new record.”

Having appeared at just about every major festival in the world, Cut Copy benefit from their music appealing to both dance and indie-rock fans.

“It’s always been a good thing,” Whitford says. “Because we’ve felt that we’ve been able to have a foot in both camps, so to speak. We don’t belong 100 percent to either; we’re strangely between worlds, and sometimes that really does work in our favour. At indie or guitar sort of festivals, playing dance music that’s a bit more energetic or upbeat can make a nice change for people, and at dance festivals where it’s mostly DJs playing, we can come out and play live music and have a more engaging show. Visually, that definitely excites people.”

The frantic pace of the touring cycle doesn’t look to let up for the Melbourne band, with a return to Australia slated for later in the year.

“We’ll be touring for most of the rest of the year,” Whitford says. “With our last record we ended up doing 180 shows in the year, but I don’t think we’re going to try to repeat that this time. Between now and the end of October or November we’ll be doing a bunch of northern hemisphere festivals, then hopefully play a bit more in Australia towards the end of the year if we’re lucky enough to get offered some festivals.”

CUT COPY PLAY:
THE METRO THEATRE, SYDNEY – MAY 8TH
170 RUSSELL, MELBOURNE – MAY 9TH
EATON’S HILL HOTEL, BRISBANE – MAY 10TH

FREE YOUR MIND IS OUT NOW.

Dizzee Rascal: “I’m just trying to make good decisions and stay out of trouble”

dizzee rascal

BARTENDERS TAKE NOTE: Dizzee Rascal would like his champagne served in the traditional fashion when he returns to Australia to play Groovin’ The Moo and a run of solo shows this month.

The East London rapper’s latest album, entitled The Fifth, came out in September, and introduced the 28 year-old to a range of new experiences.

“This was the first one I actually did in America; jumping from studio to studio, working with different big producers and other pop artists,” he says. “I’ve never done that before; everything has always been done at home or in-house up to this one. Going to the clubs out there and seeing the music in its environment can be an absurdity; the crazy, over-the-top-ness, especially within the music industry. I’ve seen things like that in London, don’t get me wrong, but when there’s a line of fifteen girls with fifteen bottles of champagne with sparklers in them that cost a few grand each, or a girl in a rubber dinghy delivering champagne to a table full of fucking drug dealers and rap superstars in the middle of a club while they play the Superman music, it’s a bit much, you know?

“I’m just kind of starting to understand [America] a little bit, so I was linking up with people there, and it just felt nice to record out there and be out of the way. And then obviously – in LA especially – there is a lot of big music being made there; it’s one of the key music places, as well as Atlanta and a few other spots. But LA is the serious one; when you’re there you can bump into anyone. I walked into the studio one day and Chris Brown was there talking to Spike Lee. There’s random shit like that, know what I mean? [My music] was always influenced by American music, but the last few years I’ve spent more time there, on my own even. From 2002 I’ve always spent time there to do shows or a few little tours, but it was always just in-and-out. All I knew about America was just from TV, music and movies, and it wasn’t until the last few years that I actually got to absorb it; mainly Miami, LA, Houston and a bit of New York. You can argue that that’s not even the real America, but those places are their own thing in their own right, and I understand America a little bit more now.”

A seasoned touring artist and grime pioneer, Rascal is confident of putting on a good show.

“There’s lots of energy in our show, and we’ll be bringing it all to Australia,” he says. “There’ll be material from all my albums, from the first up to The Fifth. At the smaller shows I’ll be playing more of the stuff that I won’t be able to fit into the festival set. I wouldn’t call it abstract stuff, but it’s stuff that’s geared more towards the die-hard fans, as well as the big or the more commercial stuff. For the festivals, it’s all the big stuff; things that will work in a festival environment. Big sing-alongs and things that will make people jump up and down, basically. [The new material has] been going down alright. To be fair, we played a lot of the stuff before it came out anyway. A lot of it was debuted in Australia as well, and it’s going to be nice to come back there after the album has actually been out and people have got to absorb it, so I’m looking forward to it. The thing is, for the last few albums, because of the time of year they have been ready to be put out, the music was tested out in Australia and New Zealand first.”

Collaborations have always been a major feature of any Dizzee Rascal album, with his latest featuring a range of guest vocalists and producers.

“Some of it was planned,” he says. “Someone like Will.i.am; I’ve bumped into him for years but we never managed to get anything recorded, or we recorded some shit and never finished it. This time I was working with Jean-Baptiste and he and Will.i.am have done a lot of work together, and that’s how the Will.i.am thing came about this time. Robbie Williams was another one I’ve bumped into a few times and we got on and everything, and I was looking for someone to record that song with. We rang him up and he agreed to do it as long as I came out there and recorded with him, which is rare as these days as most of the time I’m never in the same room with people. It was nice to actually sit down with him as he recorded his vocals. I’ve got number one songs I’ve done with Calvin Harris and we were never in the studio together; it’s crazy.”

Despite having been a recording artist since the age of 16 and already a veteran of the scene at 28, Rascal still feels the pressure of releasing new material.

“There’s always pressure,” he says. “It’s always one of the most stressful things, anticipating how it’s going to do and all that. But once it’s all over, I just want to get stuck in and do it all again. I know what it’s like, but just love doing it and seeing how far I can go. If it works, wicked. If not, I’ll try something new. There’s nothing worse than thinking you’ve got a big tune and when you play it live it’s not quite going that way, and everyone’s looking at their watches. That’s never any good. You got to work harder to perform those songs and get them across, but you live and you learn, innit? Some songs don’t come across as well live either; some are better for radio or albums, and vice versa as well. People get twisted up in asking about what I used to sound like or what I still sound like. What was good about what I did back then was that it caught the moment; I think that’s what the best music does. If I tried to capture that time again it wouldn’t sound right, so I’m just capturing now the best way I can, and so that people will still want to hear it in ten years time.”

While his earlier career was peppered with controversy, mainly surrounding an alleged feud with fellow grime MC Crazy Titch, Rascal insists the future is all that matters.

“I’m just trying to make good decisions and stay out of trouble,” he says. “The biggest thing for me is just trying to not do too much dumb shit; that’s what ruins a lot of artists in this day and age especially. Information gets out there so quickly and people can change their minds about you so quickly. Sometimes it works in your favour, because a lot of people seem to like the whole fucking reality TV idiot thing, but people can get really tired of you quickly as well. The best thing to do is to stay out of the way and let the music do the talking. The most you’re going to get out of me is my Instagram; sometimes I’ll put some crazy shit on there just to have a laugh and show a bit of my personality. I’m always working on new stuff; I’ve got ‘We Don’t Play Around’ with Jessie J, [which] I’ve just approved the video for that a few days ago, so that’s going to be on TV soon. I’ve been surprised [that] it’s been really big in Australia; I never saw that one coming. Even though I’ve played it there, I didn’t expect it to be the song with the most radio play so far. I love the friendliness of [Australia]. It’s one of my top-three places to perform. I like the people, the vibe, the buzz. There’s a really good gauge for live performing in Australia; if they like something you fucking know you’re onto a winner.”

DIZZEE RASCAL PLAYS GROOVIN’ THE MOO BEGINNING APRIL 25 IN OAKBANK, SA. THE FIFTH IS OUT NOW ON UNIVERSAL/DIRTEE STANK.

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.

Ingrid Helene Håvik of Highasakite: “To be singing in Norwegian is pretty special”

highasakite

NORWEGIAN indie-pop five piece Highasakite haven’t had the pleasure of visiting our shores just yet, but singer and songwriter Ingrid Helene Håvik is already busy forming an image of Australia in her head.

“I know you have dingos there,” she says. “And those big animals that jump; I don’t remember what they’re called. And I’ve heard the food there is amazing. Actually, it’s so far away that I don’t know anything about it. I think we are coming to Australia at some point – and I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this – but the plan is to go maybe around September or October some time, and then in maybe February 2015. We’re just starting to plan it now, so it’s not a solid plan yet.”

The Bon Iver-approved band’s new album Silent Treatment will be released on April 11th, and is an ethereal and expansive affair, with all songs written by Håvik.

“We’re really excited,” she says. “We hope a lot of people are going to hear about it and we love playing it for people. The album is already out in Norway, so we have played everything and we’re touring with the material in the States right now. I’d probably call our style indie-pop music, or even just pop music to be brief. [My lyrics] are based on all sorts of things; from dreams I’ve had [which] I write down and use later, and many different things from different places. I can only write at home when I’m really isolated, not on tour.”

The Oslo-based band’s origins can be traced to the Trondheim Jazz Conservatory, where Håvik and drummer Trond Bersu began to write and record together – in English.

“I sing in English because it’s more natural to me,” Håvik says. “I’ve listened to music that is in English my whole life, and I’ve never really listened to any Norwegian lyrics before. English is the music language for me. It’s more natural for most people in Norway to sing in English; to sing in Norwegian is more of a curiosity in Norway. To be singing in Norwegian is pretty special.”

An already hectic touring schedule was recently made busier with an appearance at SXSW, and being added as support to growing global stars London Grammar.

“[SXSW] was really a lot of fun and super busy,” Håvik says. “People came to our shows and that’s all we were really hoping for. We played four shows and had to cancel one; our crowd sizes were never embarrassing, so it was all good fun. We saw a Norwegian guitar trio band too, but that was all I managed to see. Supporting London Grammar on tour has been going really well and it’s been a lot of fun. We’ve had full houses and everything. In the beginning we were really nervous when we started playing the new songs, but we’ve played a lot of shows already with this new material, so we feel pretty good. After the London Grammar tour we’ll be going home to Norway. We’ll be doing some shows in Europe and some summer festivals, and we’re going to the States again in May. Then we’re going to Japan.”

Silent Treatment by Highasakite is out April 11th.

Interview: James Williamson of Iggy and the Stooges

james williamson

IN 1973 Iggy and the Stooges – Iggy Pop, James Williamson, and brothers Ron and Scott Asheton – released Raw Power; a seminal rock album that stunned audiences of the day and introduced the music world to the first spewings of punk. After the band fell apart in 1974, guitarist Williamson left music behind and had a successful career in the electronics and software industries, before rejoining the band in 2009. In 2010 the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and released their latest record Ready to Die last year. Williamson’s new project involves re-workings of songs from the Raw Power era; a collection which will be released as an album entitled Re-Licked.

Why did you decide to re-visit these songs?

You know, it was a series of things. I’ve always kind of wanted to hear those songs recorded properly. Back in the day we thought when we wrote them that they would be on a studio album, and we toured with them. Then we changed management, and unfortunately we didn’t get the option for another record from Columbia Records after Raw Power, so all that existed of those songs was the bootlegs for all these years. I started out wanting to find a female vocalist, as I thought ‘Open Up And Bleed’ would really be good for someone who sang kind of like Janis Joplin, and so I looked and looked and a friend of mine in Austin, Texas sent me a link to Carolyn Wonderland singing, and I just said ‘that’s my girl’. I got in touch with her, and she was totally cool; didn’t know me from anybody, but was totally cool to record it. That’s the first single [and is] coming out on Record Store Day on the 19th of April. I was pretty inspired to go on and continue doing them, and I’m so glad I did as all these singers have stepped up and done a fantastic job. Really, I think you’re going to be pretty amazed at some of these performances.

What other singers do you have on there and how did you come to work with them?

The next single is with a girl called Lisa Kekaula of The BellRays; she just completely rocks on ‘I Gotta Right’ and ‘Heavy Liquid’. That’ll come out around June-ish. I’ve got Ariel Pink on ‘She Creatures From The Hollywood Hills’, Jello Biafra on ‘Head On’, Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream is going to do ‘Scene Of The Crime’, Jim Reid from The Jesus and Mary Chain, Mark Lanegan, Alison Mosshart and on and on. There’s thirteen of them altogether; it’s a real showcase for singers, if you will, and a tribute to our song-writing.

Did you originally want Iggy to sing on the album?

Well, you know, initially I did. Initially he and I discussed it as a possible album instead of the last one that we did. We decided against it because of the obvious comparisons between the young Stooges and the old Stooges, and so it just didn’t seem like a good idea to get bogged down in all these comparisons. I feel like we made a good album with Ready To Die, but I still had it on my bucket list to do these songs properly, and so the obvious way for me to avoid the comparisons was to have a fresh look at them, re-arrange the songs and bring in other singers. Then it becomes a tribute to the song-writing, rather than an attempt to compete with your younger self.

What makes Raw Power so damn good?

I think it’s the song-writing; pure and simple. Those songs – and God knows, they’ve been mishandled in every way possible by many different people – still sound good, even if the mix is crap or whatever. It just doesn’t matter. The song-writing is the most essential ingredient, but also the playing was ground-breaking. That was my first album, so I didn’t know anything about the studio and had to defer to Iggy. Iggy’s not the most technical person in the world, and he’s a very creative guy and wants to push the envelope, but sometimes in the studio that’s not a good idea. With that record we made the engineer do a lot of things he probably shouldn’t have done, and there were some technical problems; the bass was like mush and the drum track was almost non-existent. Given what Bowie had to work with, he did a pretty good job, albeit a little bit arty. Anyway, he made me sound great, and I’ve got to be thankful for that [laughs]. For an album which is essentially guitar and vocals, it’s pretty good. Jack White has made an entire career out of it.

How did you feel when people said Iggy and the Stooges couldn’t play properly or weren’t real musicians?

Well, I think we proved them wrong. History will probably show that we were good musicians, and we were also very creative and willing to take chances, and not just try to to imitate what was popular at the time. God knows, when we made Raw Power, they were still tying yellow ribbons around the old oak tree, you know? That was the popular music at the time. We pushed the envelope, and although it didn’t do us any good career-wise until much much later, we were successful; it just took a really long time.

There seems to be so much of the Vietnam War in Raw Power. Was that a major influence on the recording?

Yes. No doubt about it. Certainly the riffs from ‘Search and Destroy’. The genesis of that was me in the rehearsal room screwing around with the guys, playing ‘machine gun’ on the guitar. They kind of liked that, and that’s how that song started. There was a little bit of influence on our playing, but there was a ton of influence on Iggy’s lyrics. He’s a very topical writer; if you look at any of his stuff, it’s stuff that’s in the newspaper at the time. That’s the way he writes.

Any chance of a trip to Australia any time soon?

I’ve been asked that question a lot and I’d absolutely love to do it. The thing is trying to organise thirteen singers to show up anywhere is daunting, never mind get them all to Australia. It’d be a challenge, but I’m up for it, and if we can find a promoter to step up and do that, I’d love to. I love Australia; I’ve been there a couple of times now. The Stooges aren’t touring this year, but when we do start touring again, Australia is certainly a viable venue for us.

Do you think you’ll ever retire from music, like you have done from your electronics career?

I’m sure I will, but before I do I’d like to work on a different type of music. Because I was out of music for so long I’ve got a lot of music still in me, and that’s part of what doing this new album is about. The stuff has a fresh new look and sound to it, and I feel good about that. How long more The Stooges go on; I don’t know. There’s not many of us left, for one thing. What I do on-stage is just stand there and play, and assuming I don’t get arthritis or something and can’t play – like Keith Richards or someone like that – I can do it for a long time. But Iggy; he’s 66. When we go back out again he’ll be 67, 68. How many guys are going to stage dive at that point? If anybody will, he will, but I’m just saying, you know?

JAMES WILLIAMSON AND CAROLYN WONDERLAND’s NEW LIMITED VINYL SINGLE ‘OPEN UP AND BLEED’/’GIMME SOME SKIN’ WILL BE AVAILABLE AT INDEPENDENT RECORD STORES WORLDWIDE ON RECORD STORE DAY, APRIL 19TH 2014.

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.

Joss Stone: “I’d like to investigate music that was born in Australia”

Joss Stone

SHE MAY HAVE worked with Mick Jagger, Ringo Starr and Jeff Beck, but Joss Stone will be on the hunt for new Australian talent when she tours here next month.

“I’m trying to find people to collaborate with when I’m there,” she says. “I’d like to investigate music that was born in Australia. It’s nice to be exposed to other things; things that aren’t influenced by America or the UK. Maybe I’ll have a little sneak around Byron Bay and see what’s about. I really enjoyed Byron last time; it was more earthy, which I liked. We were only in Australia for a week, but that was my favourite spot. I’m definitely excited to be going back there; hopefully we’ll get more time.”

The 26 year-old English soul singer and her ten-piece band will be part of a mammoth Bluesfest line-up, as well as doing a run of shows with multiple Grammy Award-winner India.Arie.

“Expect a very good band playing what is hopefully very good music,” she says. “I love my musicians; I hold them in very high esteem. I’ve been working with them for a very long time and I just love playing with them. We have a really nice time on-stage; we just ‘soul out’ a bit and try to play a bit of music from each album. So far I have six [albums], and we like to play the songs people know as well as a few new ones. The double bill [with Arie] was just one of those things. Obviously, the second they asked me I was like ‘yes please’; I love her. When I was about 14 or 15 the song ‘Video’ came out and I got her album, and I would play the songs with the tape or CD in reverse, so I could try to learn the way she sang and her little ad-libs. I could never do it; I’m terrible with ad-libs as I’m not really that type of singer, but I would listen to her over and over. I think some days she’ll start the set and I’ll finish it and vice versa, and hopefully if we feel the vibe we’ll sing together, if I’m lucky. I know her songs, but I don’t know if she knows mine!”

Stone’s last release, 2012’s The Soul Sessions Vol. 2, was a collection of 11 soul covers, but her upcoming – as yet untitled – record promises to be more eclectic.

“It’s a little bit different this time,” she says. “A little bit more hip-hop and reggae. There are a couple of tracks on there which are just classic soul, but it’s so hard to talk about right now as we haven’t even finished the percussion yet, so I don’t know what it’s going to turn out like. In all honesty, I could turn round and go ‘oh I fucking hate this, let’s just cut it again’. I’m trying to keep that safety, you know what I mean? New influences come in naturally when I’m beginning writing, then I latch on to whatever that newness is and make that choice to continue in this path; it’s a conscious decision from that point. I’ve got thirty songs, but I’m going to see. I’ve just done two weeks in the studio, and I’ll have to listen back and see which ones I like. Normally an album doesn’t go longer than fourteen to seventeen tracks. I never really like to play a full show where I just play new songs to a group of people who haven’t got the album. Putting in new songs can be cool, but until everybody gets the album, it can be a bit of a bummer to go to a show when you don’t know any of the songs. When the record is out I’ll play them all, but when the Australian tour comes around I’ll just play a couple. I’ll rehearse my band; by now they know all the songs, but we’ll rehearse and learn a couple of the new ones, so when we get to the stage I can kind of call it, you know? I know what’s going to happen in general, but I don’t know what the audience is going to be like until I meet them. In fact, they are the eleventh member of my band. That’s the fun of it.”

Stone was a part of short-lived supergroup SuperHeavy in 2011 with Jagger, Dave Stewart, A.R. Rahman and Damian Marley, and has performed with big-hitters like James Brown, Rod Stewart and Melissa Etheridge, but one musician inspired her more than the rest.

“Jeff Beck; I’m in awe of him and the way he plays,” she says. “When he’s talking to you he’s just a normal guy, but when he plays it’s entirely different; it’s like ‘wow’. If we’re playing on the same day [at Bluesfest] we might even do a little song together. He’s amazing.”

JOSS STONE PLAYS BLUESFEST APRIL 18 AND THE TIVOLI WITH INDIA.ARIE APRIL 20.

Martha Davis of Martha and The Motels: “We’re going to bring Australia some very luscious sets”

martha davis the motels

NEW WAVE LEGEND Martha Davis is in a surprisingly positive mood considering the catastrophe that just occurred.

“I’ve just realised that my basement has completely flooded,” she says. “It’s pretty much a nightmare; I’ve just moved my studio down there and all these rugs and things are ruined. It’s not even raining; we had a lot of snow in the last week and I’m pretty sure I’ll be drying out rugs until the day we fly to Australia. But everything works out in the end, doesn’t it?”

The 62 year-old singer has reason to be upbeat, as a new line-up of a band that formed in California in 1975 looks to bring back The Motels’ sound of old on an upcoming Australian tour.

“I’ll be coming with my ‘new’ band, which has really been my band for ten years; longer than the original Motels were together,” she says. “These boys are amazing; they’re younger, very cute and way-ass talented. I’m also bringing along Mr. Martin Jourard, who was the original sax and keyboard player for The Motels. He and the guys love each other and we have so much fun, and it’s such a joy to have the saxophone back. We’ll be playing a lot of the old favourites and a couple of new ones; we’ve gone back into the catalogue and dusted off a couple of songs we haven’t done in a while, so we’re going to bring Australia some very luscious sets.”

The band scored an Australian number four hit with ‘Total Control’ in 1980 before going through multiple line-up changes, but Davis is clear about what she wants for the band from now on.

“People really missed the saxophone when it wasn’t there,” she says. “Clint [Walsh], my guitar player, has been doing solos and he’s absolutely stunning, but there’s something about when that saxophone kicks in that really makes people go wild. Then there’s Marty’s antics on stage; he’s always been a crazy guy and his keyboard stuff is wonderful. Sometimes I think it’s more a Marty show than a Martha show! The saxophone is so evocative and has a really precise emotion; for me it sums up a wet street or alleyway and is so noir-ish in a way. I love that imagery and the lonely saxophone sound. Is it lonely, or is it just me? That’s probably why I’m a band girl rather than a solo girl; I love how the harmonies and sounds of different things layer to make an atmosphere as opposed to just having a song.

“Our last Australian tour [in 1988] was a crazy-ass tour. I should really pull out that itinerary because we played everywhere from Darwin to Tasmania; we played places that most Australians haven’t been to. I think we were there for 50 days and we played constantly; the drummer ended up in hospital in the end. It was non-stop and we went to every nook and cranny, but it was hilarious. Everything I do is hilarious; it’s a funny job and you can’t get around that. I always say to people that you should watch Spinal Tap and then realise that everything in there is true. But it was long and fun tour, although we were a very different band then; more jazzy. This tour is going to recall the first album more and be true to the record.”

While there will be an element of nostalgia in the upcoming shows, it’s not something Davis is happy to depend upon.

“Me and the boys spent some time in the studio before it flooded,” she says. “We just wrote three new tracks which are really wonderful; these guys are such great players. I’ve always got songs lying around so there’s always stuff to be used. Once we get in the same place it comes together pretty quickly. We’re preparing for Australia more than we are for the album right now, but there will be new songs coming out soon.”

MARTHA AND THE MOTELS PLAY THE NEW GLOBE MARCH 19.