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FEATURE: Kurt Vile

KURT VILE

KURT Vile is no mug.

The Philadelphian singer, songwriter, producer, and purveyor of delectably laid-back indie-folk tunes has been a guest in our country a smattering of times, but he’s got his audience pretty well sussed.

“I think Australians, in general, really feel music,” he says. “It’s a record nerd, gut-level or emotional thing; maybe an obsessive thing, which is very similar to the way I am. But there’s also a ball-busting, bullshit artist type of thing they can tap into, and [they] can have a good laugh. I feel they are really serious about music but also they can just bullshit and bust balls; they’re both equal. You know how to fuck with somebody to show that you love them. I feel a lot of Australians have those kinds of humour and emotions, you know?”

The 36 year-old will tour Australia solo for the first time in February and March, leaving his band The Violators at home. Successful previous sojourns and a recent surge in popularity here mean the idea of playing venues and shows the size of Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Taronga Zoo and Golden Plains Festival doesn’t faze him.

“I’ve been to Australia enough – this will be the fourth time coming up – to feel like it won’t make a difference,” he says. “I’ll be zoning out; kind of in my comfort zone. I’m sort of comfortable over there because, I don’t know, I’m just used to it over there. With The Violators we try to mix it up with keyboards and stuff like that, but [this time] I’ll just be by myself and my acoustic. I’m sure I’ll bring a banjo. Maybe one day I’ll have more of band with more instruments than a four-piece. I like to just go out, zone out, and not try to recreate the record.”

After leaving The War on Drugs, which he founded with long-term friend Adam Granduciel, and releasing his debut record in 2008, Vile has released six solo records and a collection of EPs of top-drawer folk, rock and psychedelia, with each record marking a musical and thematic progression from the last.

“I’m usually most proud of my newest album,” he says. “But that wears off once I start working on a new record. I look back and am proud of them all, but I would say maybe most of all ‘Smoke Ring for My Halo’; all those songs have a similar melancholia in the lyrics – there was a good theme going on there. The next few records obviously had themes going on too, but there is an interesting melancholic tone to ‘Smoke Ring for My Halo’; I can go back and listen to that one. There’s something about it. I wouldn’t say I’m most proud of it, but it’s some kind of statement.”

Not keen to rest on his laurels, and despite 2015’s ‘b’lieve I’m goin down’ not having been played in Australia yet, the hard-working Vile has already started on its follow-up.

“I’ve been in and out of the studio throughout this touring cycle because I feel like the last two records, in particular, took so long out of the touring cycle,” he says. “I don’t want to just get lost in this dark, black cocoon world in the studio. So I’ve been going in and out of the studio between touring for that reason. I probably have about half of the songs for the next record in some form. I think [fans] will recognise the sound; it’s not like it’s a drastically different record, but there’s always evolution. I think there’s a steady American roots thing going on in my music, and I don’t mean that it’s going to come out like ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ or something too country, but it’ll be some kind of roots scenario. I’ve always been into country and have been getting more into it lately. I read Jerry Lee Lewis’s biography – ‘Hellfire’ by Nick Tosches and George Jones’ autobiography. Since then I’ve basically been out of control reading about nerdy music things; especially Nick Tosches. I guess I’ve been a bit obsessed since my record came out.”

With talk of music nerdiness and an obvious knowledge of music history and lineage, Vile could be assumed to be a hardcore musicologist and collector. The truth is more interesting, however.

“I prefer to not have too many obscure records,” he says. “I have old country, blues and soul records. The stuff I get into is usually popular at one time or another. These days, if I go to the record store the records I want only cost two dollars or something anyways; ‘Country’s Greatest Hits’ or something. I usually space out and don’t even know what comes out in a particular year, but my buddy Luke Roberts put out a record which was great. Heron Oblivion’s record was great. I’ve had my head in the clouds listening to a lot of old music.”

Despite constant touring and having critically-acclaimed albums on his resume, the amiable Vile keeps his feet on the ground. As recently as 2009 he was working in a brewery while recording his third album.

“The constants are my two little daughters and my wife,” he says. “We just moved to a bigger house. It’s not a mansion, although it feels like it because I’ve never had any room my whole life. We’re also keeping our little house so I can go back to my roots and record there. So my everyday life lately has been carting things between these two houses and driving around. I’m pretty comfortable driving around in general, listening to music and zoning out. I’ve also done some little side projects. I did some songs with Courtney Barnett when I was in Australia last time; I’m not sure when they’ll come out or anything. I recorded in Nashville with a bunch of legendary old dudes. I’ve been in the studio with the Violators and I’ve been getting my home studio together, so I’ve kind of got my hands on a lot of different things and it’s all coming along.”

With 2017 mere days away, February comes quickly for Kurt Vile fans.

“The Violators are playing New Year’s at the Fillmore in Philadelphia, and a couple more shows in New York and Boston,” he says. “We have one more tour around Florida late January, then that lines me up to go solo and see you guys.”

Kurt Vile plays Taronga Zoo on Friday 3rd March and QPAC on Thursday 9th March

For Scenestr

Cale Fisher of The Floating Bridges: “Our music has a very positive vibe”

floating bridges

SUNSHINE COAST roots quintet The Floating Bridges are aiming to bring their tropical vibe to as many sets of ears as possible with a new single and upcoming tour, says bass player and vocalist, Cale Fisher.

“Our music has a very positive vibe in our lyrics,” he says. “It’s about day-to-day living stuff; how you treat other people, what you do when you go out and setting examples for others. That vibe comes across in the music and people latch onto it. It’s a really positive, uplifting sort of vibe.”

After coming together following high school, the band got into roots music and found their sound. A line-up change earlier this year saw Fisher move from rhythm guitar to bass, and the acquisition of Johnny Curran – brother of Jeff Curran of Dallas Frasca – to play additional guitar. It’s this line-up which wrote the as-yet unreleased single.

“He came and had a jam with us and it’s going really well,” Fisher says. “He had some neat little licks and just kind of fitted in. We’re just putting the final touches to [the single]; it’s called ‘Dreamcatcher’. We’ve got a heap of songs written, and it’s basically just a matter of narrowing them down at the moment. We’ve always had a bit of a rule that if a song is written we don’t disregard anything. Even if it sort of gets shelved for a little while before we come up with something new to make it better, we’ve always had this rule not to write anything off. We go from there and work on it all as a group. We’re group writers and everyone has their input into the band.”

The band hails from Yandina, in an area which Fisher says has helped shaped the band’s sound.

“We believe that where we live is one of the most beautiful places in Australia from what we’ve seen,” he says. “So we’re pretty lucky like that. There is a really strong roots music scene up here, especially over the last three years, and definitely a lot of our influences that we draw locally come from other bands here and Brisbane bands that are similar to us. We’ve never had any issues or blues at our gigs. People just enjoy the vibe.”

Refreshingly in touch with social and racial issues, Fisher says a part of the band’s approach is to raise awareness of cultural respect and fairness.

“We’re really passionate about Indigenous culture in Australia,” he says. “We’ve got a very big connection to our local elders in our area; the Gubbi Gubbi people. We’re very well connected with those guys, and we think it’s really good as a young person these days to be culturally aware of what’s going on and what’s happened in the past. We don’t want to cause any arguments or anything like that, but we just want people to be aware of what’s happened here before and everything, so when you make your decision on cultural awareness [issues], you’re well educated, you know? A lot of people make uneducated comments about different things, but we believe it’s really important to know where you’re from and to know what happens.”

With a new single and EP in the works, the rest of the year is set to be a busy one for the group.

“We’ll get a heap of shows under our belts around the country first,” Fisher says. “Then we’ll be looking to release the single, probably some time in the next three or four months. We’ve got our single release, then an EP release later in year and we want to lock in as many festival dates as we can. Basically, we want to enjoy the journey.”

For Beat and The Brag

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.

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.