Tag Archives: mX

Record review: Johnny Marr – Playland (2014, LP)

johnny marr playland

Beginning his career as the talented one in The Smiths provided Johnny Marr with a pretty solid foundation on which to build his musical world after shedding the Sultan of Sorrow that is Steven Patrick Morrissey. His second solo after album after last year’s The Messenger, Playland is a further opportunity for the 50 year-old Englishman to quietly impress, as he has been doing with a variety of projects for several years. If impressing was the intention, however, Marr has mostly fallen short here. Rather too much of this album sounds badly dated, perhaps most closely exemplified by lead single ‘Easy Money’, which comes off like a wince-inducing mix of Duran Duran and Dire Straits. There are still some fine moments though, as there will always be when a guitarist as good as Marr is involved. ‘Dynamo’ and ‘The Trap’ contain some of those wonderfully ringing and intricate guitar lines we come to expect from his fretboard; the ones he should stick to building all his songs around. The main problems are a lack of quality songcraft and consistently expressionless vocals; a losing combination if there ever was one, and one that leaves you feeling like an opportunity has been missed here. Marr is a vital talent – of that there is no doubt. He simply needs a writing partner to take these songs to a higher level, and then he shouldn’t ever consider himself a lead singer ever again. (New Voodoo Records)

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Jeff Martin of The Tea Party: “We’re making another record”

the tea party

THE TEA PARTY have had more than their fair share of break-ups and make-ups, but frontman Jeff Martin’s confidence in their new album and upcoming tour is higher than ever.

“It’s surreal, but we’re an achievement and an accomplishment,” he says. “I’m very proud of the three of us; that we overcame what seem now to be very petty differences, but at the time we thought to be much more than they were. The music won the battle and brought our friendship and this very important band back together. There are a lot of great rock bands out there, but there’s nothing like The Tea Party, and I think it’s good that we’re back. The mental framework of the band is better than ever, so here we are.”

The Canadian rock trio formed in 1990, but split in 2005 due to the dreaded ‘creative differences’, before reforming in 2011. Their new album The Ocean at the End is their first since 2004’s Seven Circles.

“It’s everything you want,” Martin says. “Everything that The Tea Party is capable of doing is on that record, and that’s a lot. That’s a lot of music on one record. It’s exactly what we need to be like now, you know? For ourselves and for our fans. Over the course of the years we were apart, promoters were calling our various agents with massive offers to get the band back together. The wounds were pretty deep for the three of us, then after seven years my agent called me and asked if I’d entertain the idea, and I was like ‘you know what? Yeah.’ Time had passed and I missed The Tea Party, and I missed Jeff [Burrows, drums] and Stuart [Chatwood, bass]. I was game, and if the other two were ready, so was I. And that was that. Musically, it was on fire immediately from the first rehearsal, although it was icy for the first few months as we tried to feel each other out, since we hadn’t spoken for seven years. That being said, I’ve known Jeff Burrows since I was five years old. Lots of bands say they’re like brothers or whatever, but this band truly is, as we’ve known each other that long. We just had to learn to trust and respect each other again; we’ve each grown with our own individual experiences and I think it’s now better than ever.”

Ontario-born Martin now lives in Perth, so it was an easy choice for the band to re-find their musical feet on Australian soil; the result being a 2012 live album entitled Live From Australia.

“The criteria that the three of us initially held in our minds was firstly, can we be that great rock band again and make that magic on-stage?” Martin says. “Yes, we ticked off that box with the reformation tour. Point two: can we rekindle that beautiful friendship that has to exist for us to continue? We ticked that box off. I had to also prove things to Jeff and Stuart, and also to myself – and we won’t go into it or anything – but towards the end of The Tea Party the ship lost its captain, you know? I sort of went off the rails, so I had to prove to myself, Jeff and Stuart that I could be the captain of the ship again. Then it was time to say we have to make music, but the one thing we did realise was if The Tea Party was going to come up with a new record, it has to stand up to anything we’ve done in the past; it’s got to be that good or else don’t do it at all. That’s why we took our time over a year and a half. We did four recording sessions, two writing sessions and we did them in tiny blocks of time, stepping away and coming back. It’s our statement now; it’s exactly where we’re at, so let’s go forth and conquer.”

An upcoming nine-date national tour will give fans a chance to reacquaint themselves with a band that has made Australia its honorary home in recent years.

“Australians have great taste,” Martin says. “Still to this day, there’s a great rock ‘n’ roll audience in Australia. Many of the great bands that came out of Australia had to prove themselves in the pubs; the INXSs, the Midnight Oils and all that stuff, right? They had to be a great live band to make rock ‘n’ roll fans go ‘yes’. I think that’s why Australian audiences have been so passionate about The Tea Party, because when we’re on we’re one of the best there is. Australians really appreciate the musicianship and passion that we put into it, you know? I want the band to be at its very best when we’re playing here and for it to be firing on all cylinders. It’s going to be a big campaign, about two-and-a-half years, but for music of the band, Australia is very much its home.”

When asked whether The Tea Party are back for the long haul, Martin once again answers with towering confidence.

“I’ll tell you this. I don’t know if it was an e-mail or text, but I got it from Stuart a couple of weeks ago saying he’s already booked pre-production in Vancouver for 2016. So apparently we’re making another record [laughs]. We’ll be touring Australia and making some great memories. Following that, we’ll do Canada, then take a couple of months off. After that, the world is calling. We’ve got Asia, South America, Europe; we’ve made a commitment to ourselves and this music, as well as the fans, and for us it’s the real deal. I’m looking forward to it.”

THE TEA PARTY PLAY:

MELBOURNE PALAIS THEATRE – OCT 12
SYDNEY ENMORE THEATRE – OCT 15
BRISBANE THE TIVOLI – OCT 23

THE OCEAN AT THE END IS OUT NOW.

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Record review: The Ninjas – The Ninjas (2014, EP)

the ninjas ep

Swagger can take you a long way in music, and garage-rockers The Ninjas have it in spades. But when it comes to the crunch, you have to be able to back it up with great tunes, and luckily the Brisbane quartet have come up with the goods on this five-track debut EP. As with many first releases, it’s a record of two halves; first comes the angular lo-fi indie-rock, before the riff-heavy second half cranks the rock up to eleven. Opener ‘Can’t Go Back’ could have been lifted from The Strokes’ underrated Room On Fire album, while second track ‘Kill ‘Em All’ combines Josh Stewart’s towering Britpop vocals with Pat Ferris’s likely-lad guitar glory à la The Libertines circa 2002. What possessed Ford to use the sleazy bass-driven grooves of ‘Yeah Yeah’ in an advert for their latest gas-guzzler we may never know, but it’s a driving and danceable track that’s more suited to a Happy Mondays gig than a used car lot. Pleasingly, the closing double of ‘Boogie On It’ and ‘Never Had Much Time’ show that this is a gang whose hearts truly belong to the golden Gods of rock and roll and all their resplendent glory. While there’s probably not a jot of martial arts talent among them, it’s reassuring to know this particular band of ninjas are slinking around the shadows of Australian music making tunes that pack a punch as powerful as this. (Independent)

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Record review: Elodie Adams – inSUBORDINATE (2014, EP)

elodie adams

There was a time way back in 2003; a dark and confusing period for popular music when Evanescence ruled the airwaves. Nu metal was finally on its way out after long overstaying its welcome and hipster culture was barely a glint in a ’90s skateboarder’s eye, which left a gaping opportunity for Amy Lee and Co.’s dark gothic rock to plant its flag on the summit of contemporary culture. A few million record sales later, and the band slipped from public favour and disappeared. With every trend seemingly doomed to repeat itself, their influence is now being felt in the suburbs of Melbourne, via the violin-toting, neo-gothic, industrial-rock sounds of Elodie Adams. But wait, come back: this six-track debut EP is more than worth a listen, whether you fancy revisiting the fantasy-filled angst of your younger self or not. The action kicks off with dramatic opener ‘Born To Love You’, which has already been hand-picked to appear on Sony PlayStation’s Oddworld: New ‘N’ Tasty game; quite a score for a relatively unknown artist, and ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ gets into even heavier territory before being punctured by a calming violin. ‘Multiplayer’ (going all-out for the gamer market, Elodie?) wades knee-deep in sludge, before the title track sees Adams combining her classical violin skills with an obvious penchant for horror movies in another genre-bending effort. Is it time for gothic-rock to conquer the world again? If so, Elodie Adams will do Team Australia proud. (Independent)

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Record review: Anberlin – lowborn (2014, LP)

Anberlin

Having already decided to disband after this album and one last tour, Florida alt-rock outfit Anberlin have nothing to lose in 2014. With six albums under their belts, the band – formed in 2002 – should be taking this chance to throw caution to the wind and go all-out in one last blast of statement-making rock fury. However, lowborn was pieced together by five musicians recording their parts separately with different producers, and while the sound quality hasn’t suffered as a result, it’s a formula that has produced a fairly robotic and over-polished piece of work that surely only hardcore fans of the band are going to appreciate. Every good album should start with a cracker then take it up a notch, but the plodding opening one-two of ‘We Are Destroyer’ and ‘Armageddon’ fall well short of the epic stadium pop-rock anthems they are meant to be. Elsewhere, the overwrought balladry of ‘Birds of Prey’ provides another forgettable moment among many forgettable moments. While ‘Dissenter’ reveals the first hint of potential perspiration by the band, as singer Stephen Christian lets rip with a vein-bursting, effect-ridden vocal, it’s nowhere near buoyant enough to stop the nine other tracks dragging it under the surface of mediocrity. Overall, there’s really nothing wrong with this album; there’s just nothing particularly right (or even memorable) about it either, so it’s with a whimper that Anberlin exit stage right. (Tooth & Nail)

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Gabriel Lewis of Lowtide: “I’ve battled this for a long time in my head”

lowtide

HAVING EXISTED in various forms since 2008, yet only releasing their debut album this month, Melbourne shoegazers Lowtide aren’t a band you’ll catch making snap decisions. Blame their perfectionist guitarist and all-round nice guy Gabriel Lewis.

“Yeah, it has been ages actually,” he says. “When we recorded it there were lots of overdubs and returning to things. I sort of decided how my guitar was sounding in the studio sessions wasn’t as up to scratch as I’d like, so I overdubbed everything and broke everything down separately, just to get full control over everything and its sound. Otherwise, I think we’d played too much all at once and it got a bit choked. I really like doing that sort of stuff, because the idea is always there when I’m performing the songs, but I know that I don’t have enough fingers to be able to play all the stuff that I’m thinking of. So it’s kind of cool to flesh it all out and to see it realised in a way that we hope to be able to do.”

The quartet’s eponymous debut may have taken an age to see the light of day, but consistently strong live performances have paved the way for its arrival and reception.

“To begin with, we were so relieved just to have it done,” Lewis says. “But now it’s really exciting; the response we’ve had from the single so far has been really amazing. Live, there’s always a pretty strong response. The good sign is that you can’t hear too much talking going on in the room, which is nice. Especially with the quieter songs, people tend to lose attention and be chatty or whatever, but it seems to hold, so I think that’s a win.”

The first single is ‘Blue Movie’; a sparse slow-burner, although any future writing may come about in a different way, or so Lewis hopes.

“When we started there were a lot of songs already written,” he says. “[They] sort of just slotted into place in the band. More recently, we’ve had a few jams and a few ideas started from the two bass players doing parts over each other, then I’d come along and do stuff over that. I’m hoping to do more of that in the future. Everything I’ve written is really kind of taxing as far as performing goes. When we play shows it’s non-stop for me, and everybody else gets to have a bit of a relax now and then (laughs).”

Shoegaze’s original wave of popularity might have peaked in the early ’90s, but Lowtide are just one of a number of new bands taking the genre in a new direction.

“I’ve battled this for a long time in my head,” Lewis says. “You kind of don’t want to knock off what everyone’s done in the past, and if it works so well then why re-invent the wheel? Then there are a lot of bands classed as nu-gaze or whatever, adding their own edge to it to try and stand out from the crowd. I find that generally weakens the concept, and I guess if you look at blues or rock – there are standard ways of doing them, and it’s the same with shoegaze. Shoegaze is a fairly independent or off-the-radar thing, so maybe that’s why people feel that they need to try to make something else of it. But I think it’s now establishing itself, and the sound is still popular, even if it’s still linked to the ’90s because that’s when it first blossomed. It keeps coming and going as well; there have been ups and downs, and it’s just coming up at the moment, which is really exciting.”

As humble a musician as you’ll probably find, Lewis is happy take one thing at a time for Lowtide.

“At the moment we’re just focussing on the album launch,” he says. “[It] is on the 25th of July at the Tote, and after that we’ll be touring to Brisbane, Sydney and over to Adelaide as well. Then we’ll take it from there, I guess.”

LOWTIDE IS OUT NOW.

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J of Jungle: “We almost pictured ourselves in a jazz club, with T doing a door solo over drops”

jungle band

THEIR music has been described as kaleidoscopic modern soul, but being in Jungle is all about feeling before style, says the band’s singer and producer, known simply as J.

“In the real world, I’m is doing all sorts of shit to try to prove myself,” he says. “Whereas J and T are our nicknames; they’re where we go and that’s what Jungle is for us. It’s just somewhere we can go and create and be free, and is a really powerful thing. It’s important that it’s not about any individual. It should always be about the music.”

Along with childhood friend T, J formed Jungle as recently as recently as ten months ago, and despite a much-hyped debut album released this week and an upcoming appearance at Splendour in the Grass, the London-based duo remains as mysterious as ever. Their self-titled record is very much a DIY release, featuring smooth, crisp bass-lines, urban grooves, falsetto vocals and a few happy accidents.

“A lot of the stuff we put down, we put down because it was hilarious,” J says. “There’s a solo that was a door creaking, which some people love and some people hate. Basically, I was on the computer listening to a track and T left the room to make coffee. The door in my bedroom is basically creaky as hell, and creaked almost in tune with the track in a weird kind of way. I was like ‘wow, stop, stop!’ and started pointing a microphone at the door, saying ‘you’re on, it’s solo time’. We almost pictured ourselves in a jazz club, with T doing a door solo over drops.”

Despite mostly being recorded in a home studio in west London, the album is littered with imagery of faraway places, as on tracks like ‘The Heat’.

“I suppose, if you think about it, everything on our album is a visual reference,” J says. “It’s all about how you can be in that place to create that music. For example, with ‘The Heat’; that’s the beach, you know? So, the beach is a metaphor for a feeling of happiness. Rather than just being in a room in Shepherd’s Bush, you can close your eyes and go to that space. Einstein said ‘simplicity is genius’, and it is; I think all the best things in life are simple, and I think we kind of look up to that quote.”

One faraway place Jungle aren’t going to have to visualise is Australia, with the band set to fill a slot at Splendour in the Grass.

“Oh God, I don’t know how big our set is going to be there – don’t tell me!” J says. “I just go around expecting these tiny little hundred-person gigs. Everything for us is about human connection. If you look at our videos, it’s all about the people and what they’re saying through their eyes, which you lose so much of in the digital age. It’s ironic that most people access it through the Internet. I think live we want to make it about having people on-stage, and I think people relate to people more than laptops, and they enjoy it. The interesting point comes when you explore the line between live and electronic; where does the human end and the computer begin?”

Part of Jungle’s mystery has been intentionally engineered; that’s for certain. But as J confirms, the duo are much more down-to-earth than at first glance.

“We finished a song called ‘Son Of A Gun’ and it gave us the energy and confidence to finish more,” he says. “And then you start to build up that archive of stuff. A lot of people struggle – and we have struggled – with finishing stuff or having the confidence to finish it. Its only really a sketch when it’s finished and you can only really judge it when it’s finished. It’s an emotional whirlwind of a process, especially when you’re doing everything and you’re writing, recording and mixing; it becomes one and you have to be quite structured in the way you deal with it, because you can end up producing and mixing before you’ve even written anything. There were probably terms where we were thinking that we hated the sound of a snare drum, but the song didn’t even have a chorus, you know? It was just about taking things one step at a time and doing what feels right. It’s quite a DIY process for us, and we kind of enjoy that. Some of the best parts on the record are the big mistakes, and you have to embrace things that just happened off the cuff. That’s a process that happened from when we grew up. When you first get a family computer and get a little USB mic and realise you can do this without having to go to Abbey Road or do it properly. We’re at an age now where you can create and produce stuff to high standards with these tools, and it’s not necessarily about how it sounds. There are some amazing records that sound like they were recorded in the plushest studios, but just don’t have any emotion in them. Whereas you’ve got some records that were recorded on one mic in a basement, that are the most incredible records ever. Therefore, looking at that, it’s not about where you are or what you’re recording, it’s more about that feeling, emotion and energy in the room. You can waste so much time positioning mics and that sort of thing.”

JUNGLE’S DEBUT ALBUM IS OUT NOW. JUNGLE PLAY SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS.

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Record review: Bob Mould – Beauty & Ruin (2014, LP)

bob mould beauty and ruin

Fans of Hüsker Dü tend to favour either the tracks on which guitarist Bob Mould or drummer Grant Hart sang; the former taking a more brutal approach at the mic and the latter being a more melodic soul. It’s been 26 years since the Hüskers broke up in acrimony and 25 since Mould’s debut solo record, but 2012’s Silver Age saw Mould triumphantly return to the rush of angry alt-rock riffage Hüsker fans loved him most for, and it’s in this vein Beauty & Ruin continues for the 53 year-old. Not that you’d think it after listening to sludgy opener ‘Low Season’; the longest track here at four minutes. With that out of his system, it’s straight into the two and three-minute blasts of rock ferocity, with ‘I Don’t Know You Anymore’ and ‘The War’ being particular stand-outs. ‘Forgiveness’ eases off enough for a mid-album catching of breath, and isn’t unlike some of REM’s earlier work, while ‘Tomorrow Morning’ is Candy Apple Grey-era Hüsker Dü rebooted for the 21st century. It’s refreshing to see and hear a rock musician still doing it better than many bands he inspired, and as Hüsker Dü’s classic Zen Arcade came out 30 years ago this month, maybe it’s time for a re-evaluation of Bob Mould’s standing in the annals of rock. On Beauty & Ruin, he’s a musical force of nature; just like he’s always been. Green Day et. al: this is how it’s done. (Merge)

Record review: Remi – Raw x Infinity (2014, LP)

remi album cover

Last year, Melbourne rapper Remi Kolawole dropped the single ‘Sangria’; a blissed-out scorcher of a tune that spoke of the joys of summer, sun and getting sh#tfaced. There’s always a time and a place for songs like that, but the 22 year-old’s lyrics have moved on from those hazy days in the bars of Brunswick, to somewhere where the present isn’t looking quite as rosy. Like a rabid greyhound out of the traps, Remi – backed by Sensible J on drums, production and DJ duties, and Dutch on beats and production – sets off at speed from the start and doesn’t let up, with many a sacrificial rabbit in his sights along the way. He has insisted in interviews he’s not a particularly political rapper, but lines on the title track like “Tony Abbott and the Government / Need to get on the boat to Iraq and sh#t / Take a walk down the Gaza Strip / They’ll either wake up or get blasted then” say something different and show something Australian music needs a lot more of in 2014: guts. There are party tracks too (never fear), and ‘Livin’ might be the best one here; a controlled diatribe against workin’ 9 to 5, while ‘Tyson’ is brutal braggadocio at its best. While this is only Remi’s second album, after 2012’s Regular People Sh#t, it feels like the work of a seasoned pro. This guy is going to do big things. (House of Beige)

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Will Farquarson of Bastille: “Australian women are very attractive”

bastille band

THE synth-pop juggernaut that is English quartet Bastille returns to tour Australia after selling out venues here last year, and bassist Will Farquarson wastes no time explaining why the band is looking forward to it.

“The women,” he says. “Australian women are very attractive. Actually, you have all the same chocolate and chips and stuff as us; that’s really homely. When you’re travelling it’s really nice to be somewhere that has things from home, like a Twix or something. I know it’s ridiculous. And you have the Queen on your money, which is nice. Architecturally it’s more like America, but the people are closer to English people, so it’s kind of like being at home but in a cool American way. Everyone is so friendly as well, and the fact it’ll hopefully be sunny most of the time is going to be good. We’re just coming for the heat.”

The cheeky Farquarson, speaking from the band’s tour bus somewhere in Central Europe, goes on to dryly explain how the group’s live show has evolved.

“We’ve got more lights and a bigger screen now,” he says. “We’ll jump about more, maybe. We’ve got a couple of new songs. One is called ‘Blade’ and is a bit rock-y; I play guitar on it, and we did ‘Weapon’ with a rapper called Angel Haze. Our fans can be quite surprised when we come on stage with a rapper, although sadly he can’t come to all our shows, so we won’t be doing that at all of them. I can’t rap; I’d have a go but I don’t think anyone wants to hear it.”

Bastille have only existed since 2010 and have released only one album, but that didn’t stop them selling out venues in Sydney and Melbourne in August.

“We’ve been lucky with live stuff generally,” Farquarson says. “It’s surprising that happened somewhere so far away, and given we’d not been there at all beforehand. It’s amazing anyway when you sell a show out, but especially when it’s at the other side of the world. It’s better than nobody coming, which would be rubbish. We’ve [recorded] quite a bit of the new album. To break things up on tour we’ve been recording while we’re away. We’ve got maybe ten or so songs as demos ready to go. In the [northern hemisphere] summer we’ll be going into the studio to get the album done and then maybe early next year it’ll be coming out. We’re not worrying too much about it; I think we’ll be okay.”

The band’s debut, Bad Blood, was re-released as an extended version entitled All This Bad Blood, which means extended periods of touring.

“We wanted to do a double album,” Farquarson says. “It’s everything we’ve done live, mix-tape things and some of the B-sides from the past couple of years. Just because something is a B-side doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t like them, and we still wanted people to hear them. We thought it would be nice to put all the things that didn’t make it onto the main album together. We’re going to be doing a load of festivals – God knows how many – over the summer, which will be wicked fun. Then we’ll be trying to record this album, then it’s back to the grindstone after that. The main objective is to get the album done this year; that’s one thing we all really need to focus on. If we can do that we’ll be laughing. Maybe we’ll have time for a holiday at Christmas, I don’t know.”

BAD BLOOD AND ALL THIS BAD BLOOD ARE OUT NOW VIA VIRGIN.

Bastille tour dates:

Friday 13 June – Brisbane Convention Exhibition Centre
Saturday 14 June – Sydney Hordern Pavilion
Sunday 15 June – Melbourne Festival Hall
Wednesday 18 June – Perth Challenge

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.

Record review: Closure In Moscow – Pink Lemonade (2014, LP)

osure in moscow pink lemonade

If there’s one genre of music in which it’s okay to get more than a little strange, it’s prog-rock. A style once maligned for being overblown and poser-ish, it’s since been rescued from the musical scrapheap by a troop of contemporary bands; one of the best of those being Melbourne quintet Closure In Moscow. Their second full-length album is an eleven-track collection of bizarre-in-a-good-way rock riffs, weird tangents, off-time rhythms and mystical lyrics that combine to make an album that doesn’t just take you on a journey, it makes you forget how to get home again. The band easily flit between metal, avant-garde, hard rock and even a bit of soul, as they do on just one song; the excellently-named ‘Neoprene Byzantine’. There are some serious musical chops contained within the band, particularly guitarists Mansur Zennelli and Michael Barrett, and singer Christopher de Zinque, whose voice is as versatile as they come. With song names like ‘Dinosaur Boss Battle’, ‘Mauerbauertraurigkeit’ and ‘The Church of the Technochrist’, you can guess the album doesn’t contain your average boy-meets-girl style lyrics, and just trying to guess exactly what is going on in each song is half the fun. Just when you think you’re getting it, they throw in ‘Happy Days’; a rockabilly-tinged number that is about as catchy as these guys are going to get. Finished off top-notch production from Tom Larkin, this is an album that needs to be heard, even if it takes a while to work out what you’re listening to. (Sabretusk)

Shane Parsons of DZ Deathrays: “We can pretty much do what we feel like”

dz deathrays

THEIR debut album might have won the 2012 Aria Award for Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Album, but Brisbane thrash duo DZ Deathrays are expanding their sound on follow-up Black Rat.

“Our single ‘Northern Lights’ was one of the first songs we wrote,” explains singer-guitarist Shane Parsons. “It came together pretty quickly. We hadn’t put out a slow song in a long time, so we thought we’d do something that’s kind of like our ballad. We went over to England to do some shows with our other band Velociraptor and we used that time to jump in a studio and do that song over there. We wanted people to see that we could do other things; we’re not always going to be all loud guitars, cymbals and screaming. It’s the slowest song on the record by far; everything else is more upbeat and some songs are the heaviest we’ve done. It was like a bit of a curveball, I think; to see how people would react. We got a lot of good feedback, and we also got some people who were shirty as us for releasing a song that wasn’t exactly how the other songs sounded, which was interesting. But we can pretty much do what we feel like, and some people are going to like it and some aren’t.”

The duo of Parsons and drummer Simon Ridley have had a meteoric rise since their humble beginnings playing house parties, having toured relentlessly and played some of the biggest festivals in the UK and North America.

“We started playing a few of the new songs at SXSW, including the latest single, ‘Gina Works At Hearts’,” Parsons says. “We’ve played ‘Northern Lights’ for a bit, and another song called ‘Ocean Exploder’, which we’ve been playing since we toured with The Bronx about a year ago. It was our third year doing SXSW, and we did ten shows in four days. It was good to have that much to do, but at the same time it began to get a bit tough. We were playing a show at midday and then had a last show at one in the morning, and we were in town the whole time sitting in bars trying to stay sober but also stay a little bit drunk, you know? We played a couple of really great shows, but unless you’re a band that’s really high up on the buzz radar, you’ll play five shows and two will be good, I think. Maybe four out of ten were good for us this time. We only really saw the bands that were on before and after us, and even then I was too busy packing it. That was the worst thing probably; not being able to see other bands that I wanted to see. I had a couple of days off where I went to some showcases and saw a few bands. I went to the Laneway showcase and saw Royal Blood and a bunch of bands in one go, and the pressure was off, so it was good to just mosey around the festival. You go there for the experience, and we decided that we’ll do a lot of shows and push ourselves to the limit, and then we had a week off and went to San Francisco.”

Their upcoming headline tour of Australia will provide the perfect opportunity for fans to hear new material on home soil.

“It’s been great playing the new songs,” Parsons says. “We’ve been putting together the set-list for the Australian tour; being able to chop and change between the new songs is really fun. It’s not hard to reach an hour long set now, with two albums of material to choose from. It was a funny one because we really wanted to get something out last year. We had done a bit of touring at the beginning of last year and had the rest of the year off. We were a bit worried about being away for too long; especially from the UK and America. Then it just took time to actually get the songs together and get them to a level we were happy with for the album, and it’s really good to have it all sorted and ready to go. We did a few writing sessions where we went away into the countryside and came back with ten or twelve songs, and four of those would get re-written again and again. Even up until going into the studio there were a couple of songs about to be recorded that we hadn’t finished and were kind of half done or maybe didn’t work as well as some of the others. We just tried to write as much as possible and eliminate any dead weight. We wanted this album to be shorter in track numbers and a bit more punchy in terms of the songs grabbing you straight away, so we did focus on that a little bit more than on the first record.”

The growth in the band’s sound means an additional touring musician is needed, with a potential long-term opening for the right person.

“The new record has a whole bunch of extra guitars on there, and they’re the best bits,” Parsons says. “We can play the songs without them, but it doesn’t have the same impact as having them there. It’s just an evolutionary thing for the band, and if we could train somebody up on all the songs we would be happy to tour as a three-piece. We had a choice to have another person up there playing or having a backing track, and we’re always going to choose to have another person there. We had Cesira [Aitken] from The Jungle Giants play with us at SXSW. We’ve got a friend playing a few shows on the Australian tour, and Dion [Ford] from Palms – who are supporting us – is going to do all the rest. At the moment, we’re doing four songs they’re going to play on during the tour. I’ve got the guitar parts all tabbed out, so they just have to learn them, but it’s pretty easy stuff. In the future I guess we’ll see if somebody is willing to go full-time with us and tour everywhere. The only thing is it’s quite hard for somebody to go on tour with us, which means they can’t work at a job, which is hard when people have to pay rent and stuff. We’ll see how we go with it all; there are only a few songs which need an extra guitar, and the rest we play as a two-piece.”

BLACK RAT BY DZ DEATHRAYS IS OUT MAY 2ND. AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES:

Thu 8 May Elsewhere | Gold Coast, QLD (18+)
Fri 9 May The Zoo | Brisbane, QLD (18+)
Sat 10 May Spotted Cow | Toowoomba, QLD (18+)
Thu 15 May Karova Lounge | Ballarat, VIC (18+)
Fri 16 May Corner Hotel | Melbourne, VIC (18+)
Sat 17 May Jive | Adelaide, SA (18+)
Thu 22 May Prince of Wales | Bunbury, WA (18+)
Fri 23 May The Indi Bar | Scarborough, WA (18+)
Sat 24 May Amplifier | Perth, WA (18+)
Sun 25 May Newport | Fremantle, WA (18+)
Thu 29 May Transit Bar | Canberra, ACT (18+)
Fri 30 May Rad | Wollongong, NSW (18+)
Sat 31 May Oxford Art Factory | Sydney, NSW (18+)

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.

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.