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

james vincent mcmorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.”



Interview: Melanie Safka

melanie safka

NEW YORK-BORN Melanie Safka – better known simply as Melanie – is true singer-songwriter royalty. Having been thrust into the spotlight as a relatively unknown 22 year-old folk singer by an appearance at the now legendary Woodstock Music Festival in 1969, she has gone on to make a long career out of music and songwriting. An upcoming tour of Australia will allow fans the chance to hear classic songs ‘Brand New Key’, ‘Ruby Tuesday’ and ‘Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)’.

What can fans expect from your shows on your upcoming tour?

They can expect me to do some of my new ones and some of my old ones. They do not have to fear that I will do a jazz version of ‘Brand New Key’ or something. Some people get older and think it will be very clever to do jazz versions of their songs, but I won’t be doing that. It’ll be a good cross section of hits and things that were maybe not even released. Usually I’m really in touch and I’ll often decide at the very last minute what I’m going to do, but I don’t want to disappoint people so I’ll do songs that people know. Honestly, I’ve sometimes got real die-hard Melanie people who don’t want to hear ‘Brand New Key’ and want to hear the newer or more obscure things. There will be something for them too.

How much new material do you have?

I write all the time and I have a new album, which was quasi-released. I’ll be bringing some CDs with me to have at the shows; it’ll be like Melanie’s garage sale. The new album is called Ever Since You Never Heard Of Me. My son and I write together and he just produced a new single called ‘Make It Work For Me’. I’m thinking that we live in a world where people just download a song they like, so I decided to do it that way. But of course, for those people who want a concept album, we’ve been working on an orchestrated Melanie piece. My son is a real composer and has toured all over the world as a solo concert guitarist, and he’ll be with me as well as an Australian contingent. It should be a lot of fun.

Could your new material be called classic Melanie material, in terms of style?

I don’t know; I’ve never really identified myself. When you really think about it, my hits were all over the place; a pretty eclectic mix. One record was a gospel hit, with 46 gospel singers and the next was a little whimsical thing and the next was ‘Beautiful People’, or however chronologically it goes; I know they’re all in there somewhere. I’m always a little all over the map, so is there such a thing as a ‘classic’ Melanie song? They’re all me, I guess.

You’ll probably forever be associated with Woodstock and the hippy movement. What are your main memories of the festival?

I remember everything; I could take three days to talk about it. When I arrived I was totally not an experienced performer. I didn’t have any hit records, just one recording that was being played on underground radio, and if even one percent of that audience had ever heard it, it would have been amazing. I was terrified, and on top of that I was really an introvert – and still really am, but I’ve learned how to handle it. The terror mounted all day long. I went to the festival with my mother, as I was working on a film score in England where my husband was producing and we had been working together. I almost thought that maybe I shouldn’t do this Woodstock thing, but decided that I suppose I should go. I thought it was going to be like a little picnic in a field with arts and crafts, and families with picnic blankets; I had no clue. Communications then were so different; the hype hadn’t hit England and at the last minute my mother picked me up and we drove to Woodstock. We hit some traffic and I thought there was maybe an accident or something, and when I finally got to a phone booth and got someone on the phone, we realised the traffic had something to do with this festival thing; it wasn’t just weekend traffic or anything like that. Then I began to shake, and when we got to the rendezvous place someone told me to go to a helicopter, and I’d never been in a helicopter and asked them why we can’t just go in a car like everybody else. My mother and I went towards the helicopter and somebody stopped us and said ‘Who’s she?’ I replied ‘It’s my mom,’ and they told us she couldn’t come; it was bands and managers only. So I got into the helicopter alone, having said goodbye to my mother, and I get brought to this field where I didn’t even know what this ‘stuff’ was underneath me. I asked the pilot what it was, and he said ‘It’s people!’ I’d never seen anything like it; it was incredible. I was led to a tent where I didn’t have even as much as a backstage pass, so if I wandered too far from the backstage area, Hell’s Angels types would pick me up and bring me back out to the crowd. I would have to say ‘No, no, I’m an artist, I’m supposed to sing!’ and I would sing a line from ‘Beautiful People’ or something, and they took me back. By night time it began to rain and I thought everyone would surely go home, and the announcer made a statement saying that someone was passing out thousands of candles and some inspirational little note. Then someone came in and said ‘You’re on next’. I really, really thought I was going to die; I can’t even say how terrified I was. All day long I was waiting, and people had been telling me all day that I was on next before postponing it, and this time I was waiting for the postponement, but it didn’t come. I went on and had an out-of-body experience and rejoined myself somewhere during ‘Beautiful People’. The thing was, because it started to rain and the announcer was talking about the candles being passed out, I’m forever linked with the lighting of things at festivals even before the song ‘Candles In The Rain’. It was an amazing camaraderie that everyone wanted to continue, and then I wrote that song and bringing something that lit to a Melanie show became the thing to do.

At what point did you realise you’d been part of such an iconic cultural phenomenon?

Maybe when we started doing reunions I realised it was such a monumental thing. I mean, it was a festival and then I did every festival; I became like a festival queen. Every time there was a big festival, Melanie had to be there. I guess the [idea] of me at Woodstock was that I went onto the stage as an unknown and came off as a celebrity. I think that was part of the mystique; after all, there were lots of other people at Woodstock, but I’m so linked to it because of that.

What are your plans for the rest of the year and beyond?

I’ve written a musical based on the life of my husband and I. My husband passed away three years ago; he was my manager and producer for all my albums as well as being the father of our children. So it’s a whole new universe, and from the day he passed away I started thinking of this incredible story. He always wanted me to write my journal and memoirs as an autobiography, and I always said I don’t know what to write or that I didn’t have a lot of pictures as I was always so shy that I would run from the photo op. I just don’t think I’m a person who should have a book. On our last road trip he gave me a leather-bound journal and told me to just write. He said it doesn’t matter where you start; at the middle or about single events that happened in my life, or from singing at the United Nations general assembly or different situations and moments. When he passed, I looked at this empty journal and started to write. My first line was ‘Sometimes you don’t know it’s a story until it has an end’. Then I wrote our story, which is really a strange one. We were married for over forty years, working in a business that is relentless and at the same time we were totally opposite [types of] people. I was very young and he just swooped me up, you know? I looked at it from the perspective of forty-three years later against the backdrop of historic events like the war in Vietnam and it all came together as a musical, with some old songs and some new. We did it once, and I’m still looking to do it; it’s a really amazing show. Maybe we’ll get some theatre people in Australia involved.


Adelaide Cabaret Festival, SA – Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide
Saturday, 7 June 2014, Sunday, 8 June 2014 and Monday, 9 June 2014
Tickets available from http://www.bass.net.au and 131 246

Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane, Qld – Thursday, 12 June 2014
Tickets available from http://www.brisbanepowerhouse.org and 07 3358 8600

Star Court Theatre, Lismore, NSW – Saturday, 14 June 2014
Tickets available from http://www.starcourttheatre.com.au and 02 6622 5005

The Clarendon, Katoomba, NSW – Wednesday, 18 June, 2014
Tickets available from http://www.clarendonguesthouse.com.au/whats_on.html and 02 4782 1322

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

martha davis the motels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Interview: The Orb


Legendary ambient house godfathers The Orb are celebrating their 25th year in the business with the release of a brand new reggae-infused album and tour.

More Tales From The Orbservatory is your twelfth studio album. How does it sound compared to your previous work?

Warmer, fatter, more 23rd century and less 20th century; an Orb take on the future sounds of dub.

What was working with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry on your last two albums like?

It was a real pleasure to work with the genius that is ‘Scratch’. The Upsetter was full of rhythm and sound. He was a constant source of vocal heaven. We completed 17 tracks in 3 days and that is a world record for The Orb. 

How did the collaboration with Perry come about?

From my DJ connection with Lee. I had played on the same line-up in various countries around the world: Mexico, Finland and the UK. 

Did you work with anybody else on the album?

We used a track from earlier sessions we had been working on in a side project called ‘Mad Orb’ and placed Lee’s vocals over the top. 

How aware were you of the fact you were inventing a new genre of music when you first started making ambient house?

We needed to get a name before the press labelled us something horrible. So we invented our own name and gave it to our music so people would remember us by that title. I have to say that was the idea; we never thought it would take off as well as it did!

What are your overriding memories of the early ‘90s, when ‘U.F.Orb’ reached number one in the UK?

Glastonbury headlining on the NME stage and recording in Jamaica . 

What would it take for an album in that style to get that high in the charts today? Do you think it’s possible?

No comment. No one actually buys music. Interesting thought. Will football end up free one day? 

Where did the fascination with alien and space sounds in your music come from?

As a child, I grew up as the Americans landed on the moon (I was 9). The Russian space program was also of interest with my air fix kit.

How has your approach to making music changed since The Orb first started?

It’s faster, fatter, warmer, more thought out and matted out in a true Swiss/ Scottish style . 

You’ve worked with some big names, like David Gilmour. Who would be your ideal artist to make a track with?

Teebs or Kutmah.

What can fans expect from your upcoming world tour?

Old tracks played in a new style for the first time in ages. ‘Toxygene’ and ‘Slug Dub’ are but two. Let it be a surprise, but I doubt it. People want to know these days what they’re paying for in advance, but I promise you, this is the best sound we have ever had. So come along and be impressed. 

Has the importance of playing live shows increased or decreased in the last 20 years?

Increased twentyfold. 

The Orb Headline Rainbow Serpent, Lexton Victoria, January 24-27. http://www.rainbowserpent.net