Record review: Australia – Portraits of People, Places and Movies (2016, LP)

australia the band album

There’s a reason it took until just recently for someone to have the gonads to call their band Australia: it’s a moniker that will invite all manner of cliché and lame comment. It’s a good job then that the Sydney group, formed by core members Guy Fenech, Oliver Marlan and Nick Franklin, have the musical chops to give anyone who hears them something else to consider; mainly that they are an indie-pop band with imagination and talent coming out of their ears. The lead single from their debut album, ‘Wake in Fright’, provides one of the best examples of this. A foreboding bass line, Fenech’s crooning, and distorted guitars make for a track that ticks boxes on many levels. There’s big production to match all the big synth numbers, while things get softer on the more sentimental ‘In My Dreams’ and ‘Not the Place I Know’, on which Fenech does a decent melancholy Bowie for an impressive five minutes. The jewel in the stereotypically-antipodean synth-pop crown is the danceable ‘Love is Better’, which brings the ’80s kicking and screaming into the present with unstoppable momentum and a shout-along chorus. Overall, it’s a lot of fun and it’s clear the band doesn’t take itself too seriously despite the lofty name (their T-shirts read “Australia – the band. Not the country, not a country band”). Tip: for best results, type ‘Australia – the band’ when Googling.

For The Brag

Record review: Ella Thompson – Janus (2015, LP)

ella thompson janus

Listen up, class: no talking at the back and spit out that gum. Today’s lesson incorporates history, music, a multi-talented Melburnian, and a debut album featuring one of the finest female voices in the country right now. Roman mythology 101 tells us Janus was the god of all beginnings, synonymous with doorways and the opportunities they present. He also had two faces to look towards both the past and present, and at times sported a hipster beard. All of these elements are relatable to the form and feel of Thompson’s excellent debut LP (besides the facial fuzz, obvs.); these songs build on her work with GL, Axolotl, the Bamboos and Dorsal Fins and allow her to flaunt her more-than considerable vocal talents in a solo setting. The two-headed depiction of a revered Roman is apt in that there are several styles and moods present throughout the ten tracks. New psychedelia, ‘80s synth-pop, sparse balladry, and layers of distorted, dreamy loveliness provide the backdrop to Thompson’s tuneful talents. Hazy opener ‘Drift’ and Spector-esque ‘Away Too Long’ seduce and spellbind, whereas first single ‘Arcade’ is a honey-drenched slice of synth-pop cherry pie that oozes contradiction, and things get weird on the six-minute ‘Taller’. However, it’s when Thompson gives her vocals some oomph that the song benefits most, as on second single ‘I Go Over’, much like Dorsal Fins’ excellent ‘Monday Tuesday’. This ain’t no sunny synth-pop record by any stretch, though; there’s misery in many of the lyrics (see closer ‘Losing You’), but despair has never sounded so good. With Janus, Thompson has kicked in the door of her solo career, and it’s open for business and for students of music to enjoy. Do your homework right and get on board.


For Beat

Interview: Kevin Baird of Two Door Cinema Club

kevin baird

AUSTRALIA and Two Door Cinema Club are no strangers.

The Northern Irish indie-pop trio have graced our shores a number of times for both headline and festival shows, but their upcoming appearance at Splendour in the Grass will be their biggest test Down Under yet. With a new label and material behind them, expect them to rise to the challenge, says bass player Kevin Baird.

Hi Kevin. What’s the plan to get yourself into a Splendour-headlining frame of mind?

I think we’re going to be super-excited to play. We haven’t really been playing much this year; it’ll only be our second or third show we’ll have played in all of 2014 at that point, so we’ll be really up for it. I think it’ll probably the biggest headline festival slot we’ve ever played, so it’s pretty exciting and we’re just going to go for it. I don’t think we’re going to be too nervous or anything; we’re just going to enjoy it.

How did you feel when you heard you were headlining?

I think if it had been last year or the year before we might have felt a bit of pressure, but the overwhelming feeling now when we get asked to headline things, is like ‘finally’. We sort of feel that we’re ready to do it, and it’s where we want to play on the bill. We’ve played enough and we’ve done enough big slots to know that we can headline a festival, so it’s really nice to know that you’ve got to that point. We always looked at other bands who were in that position when we’d be playing at midday or whatever and hoping we get to that point. So, the overriding feeling is happiness.

Will you do anything differently from a normal TDCC show?

I don’t think we’re too protective of ourselves in that way; even if we’re headlining a festival, we’re not under the illusion that everyone there is a massive Two Door Cinema Club fan. I think a lot of bands make that mistake. We’re obviously aware which songs translate better to someone who’s not a massive fan, and it’s all about pace and speed and not really giving people a chance to relax. We’re not going to be spending 30 seconds between songs talking rubbish, or standing in silence tuning our guitars. It’s all about momentum when you’re in a big outdoor arena; I think at a festival you just got to get on with what you’re trying to do.

Will you be playing any new material at Splendour?

We’re sort of toying with the idea at the moment. We’ve been writing a lot of new stuff while we’ve not been playing shows this year. We haven’t quite decided if we’re ready for an unveiling or not, but if we were to do it, I think Splendour would be a very nice place to do it.

How much have you written?

I think we’ve lost count, but we’re working in double figures in terms of ideas at least. The first album was very different, because there was no pressure. We just arrived with the album, recorded it and it was done. With the second, we sort of wrote 15 or 16 songs and 11 of them ended up on the record. I think this time around we’re trying to be a bit more conscious of having more choice, so we’re just writing as much as we can, hoping to have about twenty or thirty songs to pick from.

Are you looking take your sound in any new directions with the new material?

We were writing the last record in 2011 and a lot has happened and changed about what we are listening to, our perspective of things and our lives in general. It’s more natural to sort of write what we feel like writing, and that just naturally comes out differently. We actually find it much more unnatural to just rip ourselves off, if you know what I mean. Any time we’ve tried to do that it’s come out as a terrible song, so we end up doing whatever feels right at the time. Luckily for us people have liked it so far, and hopefully they’ll like it when we release another record.

After your second album, you left the Kitsuné label and signed with Parlophone. Was there any particular strategy behind that?

We left Kitsuné at the end of our record contract, and we felt like we wanted a change. Parlophone were one of the labels interested in signing us. Kitsuné have always been incredibly amazing and have been a really positive force in our music, image and everything. But at the end of the day we sort of became a bit frustrated – and it’s a horrible thing to say – about money, and although Kitsuné put everything in and we couldn’t ever have asked for more, we’re quite ambitious. We have quite large fanbases in places like Singapore and Malaysia, and we feel like we need to be releasing albums there, so that was one of the things that made us want to go with a big company; to make sure the records come out in these places. The previous two albums; they had to import them from Japan or Australia. Parlophone are amazing; they’re the small family relationship of an indie label, but with a major machine behind it.

If you could have a cameo role in any TV show, past or present, what would it be?

The Sopranos. It’s just the best TV show ever. I’d like to be one of the animals that Tony Soprano loves, but I don’t think that would be possible. So I’ll be some sort of animal keeper, so Tony Soprano will like me.

Which celebrity or musician would you be happy to sit next to on a long-haul flight?

Not the other guys in the band! Someone who’s not very talkative, because I don’t like to talk. Someone who is really boring.

Finish this sentence: fuck the expense, send me a case of…

Umm… Cooper’s Pale Ale. Love it.


For Splendour in the Grass

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.”


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

Will Farquarson of Bastille: “Everyone at NASA seemed to be a fan”

bastille rio

ENGLISH synth-pop sensations Bastille may be in the middle of a sell-out US tour before hitting Australian shores next month, but bass player Will Farquarson has bigger things on his mind. Outer space, for one.

“We went to NASA the other day and met the director,” he says. “We expressed an interest on the Internet and then they got in touch and invited us. He said ‘Oh hi, I became the director of NASA when I stopped flying spaceships’. It’s a surreal thing, the fact that writing some songs and playing a bit of guitar gets you to hang out at NASA. Also, we got taken to the actual place where they’re building the Orion spacecraft, which is the next generation of spacecraft. It wasn’t even like a tourist-y trip; it was the actual laboratory where they’re building the spaceship, and it was all a bit weird. But a lot of things in our lives are quite surreal, to be honest. The strangest thing was that everyone at NASA seemed to be a fan, and it’s a sad thing as they were imploring to be ambassadors of NASA as they need the younger generation to engage and show an interest. When NASA people said ‘Oh my God, you’re in Bastille,’ I was like ‘Dude, you’re literally a rocket scientist’.”

Cosmic concerns aside, Farquarson and his three band-mates are looking forward to a run of Australian shows in June, having sold out venues in Sydney and Melbourne as recently as August.

“We’re always amazed when we sell out shows in our own country,” he says. “So to do it in places where we haven’t spent as much time is just amazing. It’s mind-boggling that we haven’t done much promotion there, and yet there’s this appetite for our music, but it’s very gratifying and we look forward to coming. Our live show is more band-oriented and more heavy, with a harder edge to it than the record. The record was made as a studio project and then when you tour it for a year and a half or two years it takes on a new dimension; it has a bit more guts.”

Over a quarter of a million copies of debut album Bad Blood have been sold in the UK alone; a statistic that Farquarson isn’t keen on analysing too intensely.

“A lot of people in the industry are always looking for the formula,” he says. “I think that it’s just that Dan’s [Smith, vocalist] song-writing is strong. I think sometimes people don’t realise that our stuff just connects with the public, and we were lucky that we were quite a word-of-mouth sort of thing; we never really got much hype or press in the UK. I think we just grew quite a solid, loyal fanbase over the course of the two years prior to releasing the record. [The album] went triple platinum, which is a crazy, crazy number of records to sell.”

As if that isn’t enough, the record was re-released as an extended version in November.

“It can be quite cynical after an album is out to just chuck a couple of bonus tracks on,” Farquarson says. “But there’s quite a lot we’ve done in the last year and a half that didn’t make it onto the original album. There were a lot of B-sides that were recorded that we loved just as much as the ones that were on the album, we did two mix tapes and there were was some material that we did live. So, we wanted everything that we’ve done with a whole bonus section on the second disk, and it was nice to put all the bits and bobs into the one package.”

The band recently covered Miley Cyrus’s ‘We Can’t Stop’ for a UK radio session, with almost disastrous consequences.

“We did an Eminem riff at the beginning,” Farquarson says. “Apparently he’d written a verse on his record dissing her, but then it turned out that was all a hoax. We kind of inadvertently got involved in a beef that wasn’t even real, and nobody wants to be involved in a fake beef. I think generally she gets a bit of a rough deal. I don’t like her music particularly, but she gets flak for doing things that other people do and don’t get flak for. Rihanna and Madonna and other pop stars have done things just as risqué and trashy, and yet she has become a bit of a pariah, I think.”

With an end to touring almost in sight, Farquarson already has one eye on the next Bastille album.

“We’ve got 16 or 17 tracks demoed for our second album already,” he says. “We’re going into the studio in September to record; hopefully by then we’ll have twenty or maybe more. I think it’s always better to have more material and whittle it down. Our producer has gone on tour with us, so we’ve been doing things on our days off and during soundchecks. One of the weirdest things about being in a band is that when you have so many commitments and do so much travelling, making music is sort of a secondary thing to flying around the world, touring and promo stuff. It’s been nice to spend some time being creative again.”


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