Tag Archives: music journalism

Feature interview: Sleaford Mods’ Deep Discontent

Sleaford Mods Paul McBride interview 2020

At first glance, Sleaford Mods might seem easy to pigeonhole, but scratch just below the surface and there’s a seething mass of contradictions and complexities ripe for discovery.

The English duo of vocalist Jason Williamson and musician Andrew Fearn has been aggressively yet cleverly ripping apart the ruling classes, societal norms and austerity-era politics across 13 years and 11 albums, but not everything is as simple as it seems, Williamson says.

“I’m wary of the fact that I don’t have to struggle any more, so sometimes I feel that I’m not the person to ask about frontline politics,” he says. “I personally don’t want to repeat myself on each album by saying how shit everything is, do you know what I mean? At the same time, I want to talk about how shit it is, but you can’t just talk about things in a clichéd manner, because that’s just fucking rude. These things are serious; they affect people. You have to talk about things like that in ways that people will feel. I’m not talking about some fucking bolshy, middle-class audience that just wants to hear you say ‘fuck whoever’, but real fucking connection with misery. It’s a bit of a tightrope; you’ve really got to think about it.”

Embittered rants about unemployment, working life, human rights, pop culture and capitalism layered over punk/hip hop sounds are the duo’s bread and butter. Williamson is hyper-aware of the power of words and forthright about his process of getting his lyrics to the right place.

“I just make sure I’m checking myself because it’s easy to fall down the cliché trap,” he says. “It’s easy to be lazy. If you’re talking about a situation you’ve experienced or a feeling or somebody you don’t like, it’s important to dress that with something that is as potent as how you feel about that subject. [Writing is] cathartic to a certain degree, but I can be a very resentful person, a very bitter person, or full of self-doubt. I’m never fucking happy really [laughs]. You could see me as a successful singer in a successful band, but I’m never content about it. I feel good about myself a lot of the time, but, at the same time, I get pissed off and take things personally when things don’t change. It’s swings and roundabouts, innit?”

Williamson, who has been teetotal for over three years, and Fearn are making their first visit to Australia to play WOMADelaide and a run of shows starting 29 February in Wollongong.

“It was always something we wanted to do but just weren’t in a position before,” Williamson says. “I don’t want to sound like a complete idiot, but, in the past, we would have been literally paying to come over and we’d have no money to take back. We were a grassroots band and we came up together. We were doing it on our own and didn’t really connect with the proper industry until later. It feels like the time spent in Australia will be put to good use, although I can’t fucking be doing with wankers on drugs in my face, talking shit [laughs].”

Wankers aside, Williamson is keen to connect with audiences here, and isn’t worried about his often bleak, UK-centric subject matter resonating with fans in the southern hemisphere.

“People get the gist, do you know what I mean?,” he says. “The music speaks for itself. It’s kind of a universal feeling you get from listening to it. Yeah, the lyrics are a bit alienating, I guess, but, generally speaking, it’s a sound that’s familiar with people. It carries a lot of aspects of sounds that have gone before, but it’s also got a modern, new approach to it as well. Nobody really sounds or operates like us. We’re kind of on our own.”

For Mixdown Magazine

Feature interview: A hell of a trip with Kikagaku Moyo

kikagaku moyo paul mcbride interview

From busking outside train stations and having to pay to play in Tokyo’s live music venues to becoming a leading light for Asian music internationally, Japanese psych-rockers Kikagaku Moyo have come a long way since their 2012 conception.

The band, whose name translates as ‘geometric patterns’, has toured non-stop, released four albums and two EPs, and spawned a record label in drummer Go Kurasawa’s and guitarist Tomo Katsurada’s co-run Guruguru Brain.

Much of that success was down to early push and pull factors that saw them leave their homeland and discover new communities and audiences abroad, Kurasawa explains.

“When we started, people were beginning to care more about music outside of where they were,” he says. “At that time in Japan, media would see you as either a Japanese band or a foreign band; different things were expected from domestic and international bands. There was a tendency at the time for Asian bands to be like American bands; to sing in perfect English and those kind of pressures. But we’re not from L.A. and I like being different. Also, in Japan at that time, bands had to pay to play, whereas in Australia we found you could get paid, even if it was gas money or dinner money. So, we thought, ‘let’s go to Australia’. It gave us confidence quickly after our first show in Melbourne.”

Guruguru Brain – founded in 2014 – is a major focus for Kurasawa and Katsurada this year, as the label seeks to expand into new territories and make connections internationally; albeit with a focus grounded by a DIY approach and communal aesthetic.

“It’s nice to feel that we’re supporting the community,” Kurasawa says. “This is something I see in Australia because, geographically, it’s so hard to tour in America, so the community has to support each other. That’s kind of what we are trying to do for the Asian music community. This is a big mission for us; even more than the band. The band is nice; hanging out, playing music with friends and touring, but we’re also trying to focus on the label, so we’re meeting new bands from Taiwan and some others. I look for originality and identity in the music. It’s interesting that a garage band from Taiwan can be so original but you can hear influences from, say, New York or Chicago. You can connect over feelings that maybe we grew up listening to the same types of music.”

Kikagaku Moyo’s mind-bending sounds range from hard-rocking psych to mellow, sitar-drenched folk and much more in between, and every live experience is a very different beast, with about 20 to 30 per cent of the show being improvised. The band will tour New Zealand and Australia beginning 28 February, with a show at the Croxton Bandroom on 4 March.

“Every day we change the setlist and we have songs that can change and become improvs,” Kurasawa says. “We just kind of have to see what we feel, and it depends on how the song is affected by the atmosphere and the audience setting etc. This will be our third time touring Australia. The first time we came was in 2013 when we had just started the band, so it’s really nice to come back to where it all started in terms of touring. Last time we played Gizzfest, we connected with lots of audiences and other bands. It’s a very nostalgic and special place for us. I think we are going to stay in Japan after this Australian tour to do some writing. We will record this year and hopefully [a new record] will be finished this year. Since we are self-releasing we can do it any time we want. There is no pressure.”

For Mixdown

Live review: Elton John – Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane – 18/12/19

Elton John Brisbane Entertainment Centre

It was a night of big hits, storytelling, sequinned blazers and a masterclass of musicianship as Elton John and his band brought their Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour to Brisbane on a humid, midweek evening.

The 72-year-old may be around halfway through a 300-odd-show run for a tour which began in September 2018, but the energy level didn’t let up for over two and a half hours as the British Knight Bachelor showed he still has the Midas touch when it comes to mesmerising an audience – a task the old master has been succeeding at for close to 50 years.

A lack of supporting artist made little difference to the palpable level of anticipation echoing around the dated walls of the Boondall venue as an army of Elton diehards found their seats while adjusting flashing glam-era spectacles, removing layers of glitzy clothing and chomping on boxes of hot chips with eyes affixed to the big screens for signs of movement on their hero’s part (kudos to the tour team for the acknowledgement of the Turrbal and Yugara people as the Traditional Owners of the area).

If anyone was feeling a tad lethargic or in the depths of a midweek funk, the first few bars of “Bennie and the Jets” changed all that. Its delivery was one of power, poise and nonchalance; tossed off by a master in perfect control of his realm and with nothing to prove. The fact that we were witnessing a man who has created some of the most perfect pop hits for several decades hit like an embarrassing reminder that we shouldn’t have expected anything other than utter brilliance.

“All the Girls Love Alice” followed quickly, before the man himself addresses his people. “We hope you like what you see and what you hear,” he says, before launching into “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” and “Border Song”; the latter before which he takes the opportunity to relate how Aretha Franklin’s decision to record it in the early ’70s gave him and co-songwriter Bernie Taupin great confidence as young musicians. This is the first of many such reminiscences and nods to the skills and input of Taupin of the night.

The anthemic “Tiny Dancer”, as fifth song in a 25-song set, is almost thrown away without a care, but not before getting the biggest response of the evening with a spine-tingling sing-along in the 13,000-capacity venue. It’s a similar situation for “Rocket Man” in eighth position, although the band take their time with the classic track; each taking a masterful solo to transform it into an extended, bluesy jam. Elton takes his bows and laps up the adulation between hits, and a genuine connection is felt between performer and audience.

There may be moments for the diehards only, including “Burn Down the Mission”, and patches of lower intensity that follow, but towards the pointy end of the show, the hits start rolling again, with “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”, “I’m Still Standing” and “Crocodile Rock” which perfectly set up an encore of “Your Song” and obvious closer “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”.

The overall feeling as the frenetic applause finally fades and the satisfied hordes dissipate into the night is that they just don’t make them like Sir Elton any more.

For Best Before

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

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.

Record review: The Love Junkies – Flight Test (2014, EP)

the love junkies flight test

Perth trio The Love Junkies have been busy blowing eardrums up and down the country for the past couple of years with their sweat-drenched, everything-up-to-eleven live shows. Their 2013 debut album Maybelene was an impressively pulsating mix of grunge riffs, alt-rock face-melting and bluesy jams, and this five-track home-recorded EP continues in a similar vein – to a point. You’d be forgiven for thinking the band had gone soft with a mellow space-rock 90-second intro and the poppy opening minute of single ‘Chemical Motivation’, before the point in the song long-time fans have come to expect and love; when singer-guitarist Mitch McDonald lets rip with a throaty scream that would peel wallpaper and probably knock out a donkey at ten paces. ‘Storm Troopers’, penned by bassist Robbie Rumble, is an introspective shoegaze-y affair that never fully kicks into gear and ‘Gloria To My Dysphoria’ is a somewhat solemn, slow-burning psychedelic epic. Closer ‘Blowing On The Devil’s Strumpet’ gets closest to the vein-busting screamo found on Maybelene, and just when you think McDonald’s voice can’t hold out, he goes for another couple of verses. This is another fine release from one of Australia’s best and most promising young rock bands.

Record review: Eagulls – Eagulls (2014, LP)

eagulls album cover

Holy Ian Curtis: this ain’t no sunny pop record. English post-punk up-and-comers Eagulls have already gained a metaphoric mountain of music press attention since their 2009 formation; a situation that can be potentially favourable or fatal to a band yet to release their debut album. Thankfully the quintet seems to have dealt with the pressure of expectation well, as this self-titled ten-track collection is a solid and confident effort. All angry, bleak disillusionment and despair carried off with stark vocal arrangements, chugging bass-lines and apocalyptic guitars, this is an absorbing album that grabs you by the lapels and doesn’t let you go until it’s battered your eardrums to within an inch of their life and left your spirit just a little bit crushed. The blistering ‘Yellow Eyes’ and ‘Amber Veins’ are highlights, as is closer ‘Soulless Youth’, which could explain the basis of most of the lyrical content throughout. Singer George Mitchell rants and caterwauls with the best of them as his band recalls the sounds of Savages, Joy Division and Iceage, and it’s all topped off with flawless production. While there’s not much variety and the album is a little exhausting to listen to from start to finish, this is an important and promising addition to the post-punk genre. (Popfrenzy)

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.

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.

Record review: The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream (2014, LP)

the war on drugs lost in the dream

The War On Drugs’ Adam Granduciel doesn’t get anywhere near the amount of recognition he deserves. The Philadelphia native’s visionary songwriting over the course of his band’s three albums is the perfect example of a musician single-mindedly ploughing his own furrow, with the finished product benefiting as a consequence.

2011’s Slave Ambient was a momentous and enthralling release which spawned over two years of touring for Granduciel and his three bandmates; out of which sprung this follow-up. Like Slave Ambient, the indie-rockers’ third album repeatedly slip in and out of focus, while maintaining the yearning for forward momentum present in all of his work, as on nine-minute opener ‘Under The Pressure’. Six minutes of unashamedly expansive guitar rock evoke images of the open road in the vein of Bob Seger or Jackson Browne, before over three minutes of shimmering, hazy instrumental psychedelia leaves the road altogether and drifts along in the breeze; making the clearest reference to the album title thus far.

Given the album took two years to record, the pace inevitably shifts; as on melancholy piano ballad ‘Suffering’, while – like a dream sequence in a sci-fi film – chilling instrumental track ‘The Haunting Idle’ divides the layers of hazy textures spread over the road-weary ‘Eyes To The Wind’ and the point at which the muscular momentum is picked up again on the excellent ‘Burning’. You get the feeling that Granduciel could probably bust out a solo with the best of them, but he’s too clever to let something as showy as that detract from the mood and rolling rhythms that make this such an absorbing release from beginning to end. (Secretly Canadian)

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.

Taasha Coates of The Audreys: “It’s a really strong friendship and creative relationship”

audreys

ADELAIDE folk and roots duo The Audreys may be triple ARIA Award-winners, but it’s mostly producer Shane O’Mara’s fault, explains refreshingly down-to-earth singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Taasha Coates.

“I reckon we’d still be a shitty folk band playing in the local pubs if it wasn’t for Shane,” she says. “He heard something in our music that we hadn’t heard ourselves, and pushed it in a direction that’s made it a better beast than when we started out. We just really like each other and push each other in the right way. Early on I had a tendency to be too precise and be really anxious about minute details and mistakes and he was always [saying] ‘no, get over it.’ He taught me that it’s about the performance and not about being perfect. We’ve made four records with him now, and it’s a really strong friendship and creative relationship.”

The band’s new studio album ‘Til My Tears Roll Away follows 2010’s Sometimes The Stars, and is set to propel Coates and guitarist/banjoist Tristan Goodall back into the spotlight.

“I think it’s a rockier album,” Coates says. “The label picked ‘My Darlin’ Girl’ as the new single. It’s great if you have a good relationship with your label and you trust them; that’s the kind of decision they are much better at making than you are. We gave them the record and basically told them to do whatever they wanted. You can be much too close to your own music, and the few times we’ve tried to write something for radio it’s been shit; radio is a fickle beast. When I first started making records I was conscious of making music to play live, but Shane always told us not to think about it. Now we try to make the best record we can and then worry about playing the songs liven once they’re recorded. I think it’s hard to listen back to yourself, but I absolutely loved every moment of making the last record; it’s something I’ve grown to love. We did most of it in five days; all the tracking was done live, then we re-recorded most of the vocals at Shane’s studio back in Melbourne and brought in guest players and singers and did all the mixing as well. We had a doo-wop group sing on one of the tracks, and lots of mates of Shane’s and local musos; there’s a sing-along song at the end that has something like 24 singers on it or something. It was great fun.”

A new album of course means touring, albeit with an extra person on the tour bus this time around.

“I’ve had a baby since the last album,” Coates says. “When I got pregnant I was really nice to myself and gave myself the time to enjoy motherhood, but then started to miss music after a while. It’s actually quite a good career to fit in with a child as you can fit it around everything, unless you’re away touring. When you’re playing, it’s at night when they’re asleep, or they can come along. We’re doing a tour soon; a national tour all around the country. We’ve been playing the new songs as a duo for about six months now and it’s been good fun. We can’t wait to get on the road with the band.”

THE AUDREYS TOUR NATIONALLY IN MAY/JUNE. ‘TIL MY TEARS ROLL AWAY (UNIVERSAL/ABC MUSIC) IS OUT MARCH 14.

Tord Øverland-Knudsen of The Wombats: “At our first practice we all had massive hangovers”

The Wombats

NEW year’s eve for Wombats bassist Tord Øverland-Knudsen normally means snow and family times in his native Norway.

The band’s upcoming appearance at Falls Festival will change all that.

“On a personal level it’s going to be strange,” he said. “I’ve never been away from Norway for New Year’s Eve; I’ve always been back with my family. I’m always home for a white Christmas and a really cold winter, so it’s going to be really weird to not have snow around I think. We’re really looking forward to the shows – Australia is our favourite part of the world to play in, and playing a big gig on New Year’s Eve is going to be pretty special. We’ve done a few pretty hot shows in America and Dubai and different places, so hopefully we can cope.”

The Liverpool-based trio have kept themselves relatively out of the spotlight in recent months, with work on a new album already under way.

“We’ve been in Liverpool working on new songs,” Øverland-Knudsen said. “We’ve been making the demos and trying to finish the third album. We’ve been to LA to record one song properly, and we’ve done a few gigs here and there in between. We went to Brazil, which was a nice experience; we did some headline shows in fairly small venues in both São Paulo and Rio. It was the first time we’ve been there and it was amazing; the gigs were packed and people knew our songs, which was kind of crazy. Hopefully we’ll finish the writing this year and record half of it before Christmas, and the other half in January, with the idea of a release around March or April, but you never know with these things. It depends on when producers are available and stuff like that as well.”

It has been a long road from when the band first got together in 2003 for them to arrive at the synth-led sound they are now known for.

“We met in university,” Øverland-Knudsen said. “At our first practice we all had massive hangovers, and in the beginning we were just really crap, but I’d like to think we’re not crap any more. Murph’s song-writing is still recognisable in the early stuff, but it was more like Pixies or Weezer; except more garage-y and immature, and his voice was softer and more high-pitched in the early days. After we released our first album we didn’t stop touring for about two and a half years, and we only wrote one song in that space of time. I think we almost forgot how to write a song, and I think you have to keep doing it for a while before you can make anything good. We had to get refreshed, take a month without doing anything with The Wombats, then get down to writing again.”

We wanted to do something different, and there was only so much we could do as a three-piece, and that’s when we brought the synths in. We had a couple of synths in a practice room and brought a couple more in because we didn’t know much about them before we started experimenting with them. After we wrote more and more songs, they became an integral part of most other songs, and it’s really great that we got to learn how to handle them. We’ll still be using them on the third record. I think that as soon as you experiment with something it’s really hard to go back – especially in the studio. I really love experimenting and using technology, but maybe at some point we’ll get really bored of that and just do a guitar album again, just the three of us.”

The band’s upcoming appearances at Falls, a New Year’s Day set at Field Day, and a gig at Southbound Festival on January 4th will allow Australian fans to sample new material.

“We’re really looking forward to coming back and doing some big gigs,” Øverland-Knudsen says. “We haven’t done that many shows recently, and it’s really exciting to be able to play some of the new songs. It’s going to be nerve-wracking as well; it always is with new songs, but it will be great to play them live in a place that we know appreciates our live shows. We’re really looking forward to it.”

THE WOMBATS PLAY FALLS FESTIVAL AT BYRON BAY JAN 2.

Live review: Foals + Alpine – The Tivoli, Brisbane – 2/10/13

It’s a school night and one of Brisbane’s biggest and best venues is sold out – this is something very few bands have been able to achieve in recent months. Such is the diverse appeal of English indie-rockers Foals that it’s obvious this is one of those gigs that attracts people who don’t often go to gigs. Hipsters too; lots and lots of hipsters.

Support for tonight is Melbourne indie-poppers Alpine. Having just jetted back into the country from North America after playing a number of shows there, they admit to being exhausted, but put in an energetic and typically tour-tight performance, heavy with songs from their excellent album A Is For Alpine. Singers Lou and Phoebe are charming and enchanting as ever, and they finish with ‘Gasoline’ to a huge show of appreciation from the audience. With more tour dates in Canada the States on the cards in the next few days, life is only going to get more busy for the six-piece, but they’re looking and sounding mean and lean.

Foals’ stage setup is pretty impressive. A small army of dudes spends quite an amount of time setting up a lighting and sound rig that could fry the retinas and burst the eardrums of an audience several times the size of this one, but it’s all part of their live appeal. By the time the quintet take to the stage amid a haze of pink and blue lights and kick into ‘Prelude’ and then ‘Total Life Forever’ to huge reverberating cheers, the Tivoli is as rammed as I’ve ever seen it, and the phrase “losing their shit” could be applied to the audience collectively.

Holy Fire hasn’t been around that long, so there are plenty of tunes from that album on show, including ‘My Number’, ‘Providence’, and ‘Late Night’. Frontman Yannis Philippakis’s crowd-surfing-from-the-balcony-thing may feel a bit contrived (come on, we all knew he wasn’t gonna not do it), but again, the audience responds by almost to a man losing their shit. You’d definitely feel a little hard done by if you had suffered an “immediate eviction”, as the sign says, if you’d been caught crowd-surfing at any point before this event, but I guess you can’t evict the main man.

With an encore including ‘Inhaler’, many people have gone home after this gig claiming that this has been the best live show they’ve ever been to; such is the effect of this band’s music.