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Interview: Edwyn Collins

Edwyn Collins

As a founding member of cult post-punk band Orange Juice and as a solo artist in his own right, Edwyn Collins has made a thirty-year career out of blending the best of indie, Northern Soul and punk. His 1994 smash ‘A Girl Like You’ saw him find fame on a global level, before a near-fatal cerebral haemorrhage in 2005 changed his life forever. After a long period of rehabilitation in which he learned to walk and talk again, the Scot returned to making music with a passion as strong as ever. I took some time to chat with the bona fide legendary musician and producer before his appearance at Sydney Festival in January.

Hi Edwyn, it’s been almost nine years since you fell ill. How are you health-wise right now?

I’m great. I had six months in hospital when I couldn’t say a thing except “yes”, “no”, my wife Grace’s name, and “the possibilities are endless” over and over again. I’m getting there slowly; recovering my speech and so on. My speech is still dodgy, but I’m getting there.

What songs are you planning to play when you come out to Australia? What can fans expect from your shows?

The first song is ‘Falling and Laughing’ which is one of my very first songs from 1980, and I still play it today; I like the verse and chorus. ‘Rip It Up’ of course, ‘A Girl Like You’ of course, and my new album Understated and so on. A selection from my entire career basically; all my indie hits! I’ll be bringing James Walbourne on guitar, Carwyn Ellis on bass, and Sean Reed on keys.

You’ve always had the ability to write simple and brilliant pop songs. What’s your method?

Before my stroke I found it easy to write. Now I still find it easy to write the music, but the words take a long time to do. Thinking about the subject matter is hard for me to do. Before, it was easier to sit down and think about things and visualise them, but now it’s somewhat harder to do, and takes time. The music still flows well, but the verses and choruses especially take more time. I can still use a guitar with my left hand to form the chords – C, D, F minor and so on – and use a Sony tape recorder to record ideas. Sometimes I’ll think “oh, that’s excellent” when the ideas are flowing and when I’m travelling I’ll take the tape recorder with me.

What are the pros and cons of not being on a major label and being managed by your wife?

It’s relatively easy. Grace and Susan do all the donkey work as my managers. I’m concentrating on being in the studio at the moment. It’s really fine. My wife has been an angel to me, helping me to communicate and to get on with my life, as well as helping me to understand the world. Understanding and visualising the world once more was the hard part. During the six months in the hospital I was not normal, and even now some people say something is daft within my brain, but it’s all fine. During the six months in hospital I was so frightened and disturbed. It was such a weird experience. I was asking myself who am I and what’s gone wrong, and nowadays it’s much easier I have to admit.

Do you enjoy producing other bands or making your own music the most, and what new music has caught your eye?

It depends; probably fifty-fifty I’d say. It’s all good stuff and worthwhile I think. I like The Cribs and Franz Ferdinand, but I’m 53 now and I must admit I’m getting old and a bit detached from new music, but I say bring on the young pretenders! I like my indie, Northern Soul, punk and hip-hop, and that’s it.

What are you most looking forward to about coming to Australia?

I came to Australia around the time of ‘A Girl Like You’ and I really enjoyed it immensely, so I’m really looking forward to it this time. It’s a long journey, but it’s going to be great.

EDWYN COLLINS APPEARS AT SYDNEY FESTIVAL 18-21 JANUARY AND AT MELBOURNE’S KELTON CLUB 17 JANUARY.

Book Review: ‘Seasons of War’ – Christopher Lee (2015)

seasons of war

THE Battle of Gallipoli may be one of the most widely-covered in Australian military history, but now and then something new comes along that provides a fresh take on the campaign that tragically and needlessly took so many young lives a hundred years ago.

Former journalist and foreign correspondent Christopher Lee – author of Bush Week and Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War – has said that his hope for his latest work of fiction is that people will read it and be moved by the plight of young men who are sent into the awful chaos of war, and this aim is an unavoidable consequence of reading this excellent piece of work.

The story follows Michael, his brother Dan and his mates as they make the trip via Egypt to the slopes of Gallipoli and their collective fate. In straightforward and detailed fashion, the reader is introduced to the seemingly endless list of deprivations and pain the soldiers faced for months on end. Unlike other similar works, however, Seasons of War doesn’t seek to romanticise the slaughter; more speak on behalf of the people who took part.

The brutal but masterful language shoots straight to the heart as early as page one.

“I am sitting here beside Dan in the dark… Beside Dan is Knobby. Beside Knobby is Mack… In one hour Knobby will be dead and in pieces.”

A few pages later and reality is setting in for the soldiers.

“Two hours ago we were different. The scarring begins.”

The story follows Michael and Dan as they manage to survive through the seasons, with meticulous detail to the everyday trials facing a frontline soldier; from disease, dead bodies and fraternising with the enemy. Ultimately it’s a story that goes nowhere, because there’s nowhere to go in a battle so pointless. Seasons of War only serves to speak for the soldiers and the suffering they endured, and the utter waste of it all. The story of an ordinary bunch of men thrown into an extraordinary situation is told with respect and honesty, and nothing is held back, so the suffering is laid bare for the reader in all its horrific detail. It’s a stark warning for all future generations to never forget the horrific consequences of war.

Lee – through the words of Michael – even offers ideas about how the battle fits into a national identity:

“Australia came out of Gallipoli and decided we are different now. We are better because we were called up to the first XI and gave it a good shot. That’s all.”

And

“Australia is a little country on a big stretch of land. No-one knows what Australia is. They think they do but they don’t.”

A fittingly devastating read for a truly devastating battle.

Seasons of War is available now.

For The AU Review

Book review: ‘My Bon Scott’ – Irene Thornton with Simone Ubaldi (2014)

bon scott

Most biographies or memoirs of great rock ‘n’ rollers take the sensational approach – get to the dirty stuff and get to it fast. After all, why do rock fans worship these guys after all? Besides the music, it’s sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll that people want. Mostly sex and drugs, if Mötley Crüe’s landmark rock bio The Dirt is anything to go by.

Perhaps this is what makes this new book about AC/DC’s Bon Scott so interesting. It’s not a tell-all tale of heroin and orgies (although there are hints of both at various points), but it relates the story of the Scottish-Australian singer’s life from his wife’s point of view, just before, during and just after he hit the big time.

The result is perhaps the truest written record of the ‘real’ Bon Scott in all his complex glory, told through the affectionate and highly personal memories of a young woman living in a man’s world; someone who loved and stuck by her guy when she had every reason to turn her back on him. The inclusion of 15 never-before-published letters only serves to make this even more of a personal insight into the head of arguably Australia’s greatest ever vocalist.

In 1974, Australian rock music was in a fairly grim spot. Skyhooks (or ‘Cunthooks’, as Scott referred to them in a letter to Thornton) dominated the charts and Bon Scott was a washed-up singer pushing 30 who had failed with his two chances at stardom with the Valentines and Fraternity. It took the Young brothers and Scott to make AC/DC kick it into life with their high-octane, fuel-injected brand of rock ‘n’ roll that stole much from Chuck Berry yet still sounded fresh.

That much everybody knows, but it’s Scott’s life just before his big break which is much more fascinating, and it’s all here.

Thornton enters the scene when Scott is plying his trade in the pubs and clubs of Adelaide with prog-rockers Fraternity, earning next to no money and spending all his spare time partying in the Adelaide hills. A quick marriage later and the two head off to London with the band in an attempt to make it big, but the strain of living in a communal house takes its toll and the band and relationship fall apart. Throughout this time Thornton paints Scott as, perhaps unsurprisingly, selfish and chauvinistic, although there’s never any malice or bitterness in her words. In fact, it seems she could have said a lot more.

It’s at this point Scott joins AC/DC and never looks back, and despite a string of obvious affairs and general bad-boy behaviour, he still sees Thornton as his wife and keeps in regular contact via the letters that make this book better than your average rock biography.

“Not bad for a 29 year-old, 3rd time round has been,” he writes in one, describing record sales of the High Voltage album.

In some ways the story of the start of Scott’s success with AC/DC is hinted at being the beginning of the end of the true period of happiness in his life, although that, of course, is probably truer of Thornton. As she grows tired of his constant boasting about sexual and business conquests and moves on with her life, he catches her off guard with a few lines that don’t sound like the normal Scott cockiness.

“I just wanna be famous I guess. Just so when people talk about ya it’s good things they say. That’s all I want. But right now I’m just lonely.”

This isn’t high literature, but then Scott’s lyrics never were either. It’s simply an affectionate and fascinating look at the makings of an Australian legend, told from a never-before-heard point of view.

MY BON SCOTT BY IRENE THORNTON WITH SIMONE UBALDI IS OUT NOW.

For the AU Review

Interview: James Williamson of Iggy and the Stooges

james williamson

IN 1973 Iggy and the Stooges – Iggy Pop, James Williamson, and brothers Ron and Scott Asheton – released Raw Power; a seminal rock album that stunned audiences of the day and introduced the music world to the first spewings of punk. After the band fell apart in 1974, guitarist Williamson left music behind and had a successful career in the electronics and software industries, before rejoining the band in 2009. In 2010 the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and released their latest record Ready to Die last year. Williamson’s new project involves re-workings of songs from the Raw Power era; a collection which will be released as an album entitled Re-Licked.

Why did you decide to re-visit these songs?

You know, it was a series of things. I’ve always kind of wanted to hear those songs recorded properly. Back in the day we thought when we wrote them that they would be on a studio album, and we toured with them. Then we changed management, and unfortunately we didn’t get the option for another record from Columbia Records after Raw Power, so all that existed of those songs was the bootlegs for all these years. I started out wanting to find a female vocalist, as I thought ‘Open Up And Bleed’ would really be good for someone who sang kind of like Janis Joplin, and so I looked and looked and a friend of mine in Austin, Texas sent me a link to Carolyn Wonderland singing, and I just said ‘that’s my girl’. I got in touch with her, and she was totally cool; didn’t know me from anybody, but was totally cool to record it. That’s the first single [and is] coming out on Record Store Day on the 19th of April. I was pretty inspired to go on and continue doing them, and I’m so glad I did as all these singers have stepped up and done a fantastic job. Really, I think you’re going to be pretty amazed at some of these performances.

What other singers do you have on there and how did you come to work with them?

The next single is with a girl called Lisa Kekaula of The BellRays; she just completely rocks on ‘I Gotta Right’ and ‘Heavy Liquid’. That’ll come out around June-ish. I’ve got Ariel Pink on ‘She Creatures From The Hollywood Hills’, Jello Biafra on ‘Head On’, Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream is going to do ‘Scene Of The Crime’, Jim Reid from The Jesus and Mary Chain, Mark Lanegan, Alison Mosshart and on and on. There’s thirteen of them altogether; it’s a real showcase for singers, if you will, and a tribute to our song-writing.

Did you originally want Iggy to sing on the album?

Well, you know, initially I did. Initially he and I discussed it as a possible album instead of the last one that we did. We decided against it because of the obvious comparisons between the young Stooges and the old Stooges, and so it just didn’t seem like a good idea to get bogged down in all these comparisons. I feel like we made a good album with Ready To Die, but I still had it on my bucket list to do these songs properly, and so the obvious way for me to avoid the comparisons was to have a fresh look at them, re-arrange the songs and bring in other singers. Then it becomes a tribute to the song-writing, rather than an attempt to compete with your younger self.

What makes Raw Power so damn good?

I think it’s the song-writing; pure and simple. Those songs – and God knows, they’ve been mishandled in every way possible by many different people – still sound good, even if the mix is crap or whatever. It just doesn’t matter. The song-writing is the most essential ingredient, but also the playing was ground-breaking. That was my first album, so I didn’t know anything about the studio and had to defer to Iggy. Iggy’s not the most technical person in the world, and he’s a very creative guy and wants to push the envelope, but sometimes in the studio that’s not a good idea. With that record we made the engineer do a lot of things he probably shouldn’t have done, and there were some technical problems; the bass was like mush and the drum track was almost non-existent. Given what Bowie had to work with, he did a pretty good job, albeit a little bit arty. Anyway, he made me sound great, and I’ve got to be thankful for that [laughs]. For an album which is essentially guitar and vocals, it’s pretty good. Jack White has made an entire career out of it.

How did you feel when people said Iggy and the Stooges couldn’t play properly or weren’t real musicians?

Well, I think we proved them wrong. History will probably show that we were good musicians, and we were also very creative and willing to take chances, and not just try to to imitate what was popular at the time. God knows, when we made Raw Power, they were still tying yellow ribbons around the old oak tree, you know? That was the popular music at the time. We pushed the envelope, and although it didn’t do us any good career-wise until much much later, we were successful; it just took a really long time.

There seems to be so much of the Vietnam War in Raw Power. Was that a major influence on the recording?

Yes. No doubt about it. Certainly the riffs from ‘Search and Destroy’. The genesis of that was me in the rehearsal room screwing around with the guys, playing ‘machine gun’ on the guitar. They kind of liked that, and that’s how that song started. There was a little bit of influence on our playing, but there was a ton of influence on Iggy’s lyrics. He’s a very topical writer; if you look at any of his stuff, it’s stuff that’s in the newspaper at the time. That’s the way he writes.

Any chance of a trip to Australia any time soon?

I’ve been asked that question a lot and I’d absolutely love to do it. The thing is trying to organise thirteen singers to show up anywhere is daunting, never mind get them all to Australia. It’d be a challenge, but I’m up for it, and if we can find a promoter to step up and do that, I’d love to. I love Australia; I’ve been there a couple of times now. The Stooges aren’t touring this year, but when we do start touring again, Australia is certainly a viable venue for us.

Do you think you’ll ever retire from music, like you have done from your electronics career?

I’m sure I will, but before I do I’d like to work on a different type of music. Because I was out of music for so long I’ve got a lot of music still in me, and that’s part of what doing this new album is about. The stuff has a fresh new look and sound to it, and I feel good about that. How long more The Stooges go on; I don’t know. There’s not many of us left, for one thing. What I do on-stage is just stand there and play, and assuming I don’t get arthritis or something and can’t play – like Keith Richards or someone like that – I can do it for a long time. But Iggy; he’s 66. When we go back out again he’ll be 67, 68. How many guys are going to stage dive at that point? If anybody will, he will, but I’m just saying, you know?

JAMES WILLIAMSON AND CAROLYN WONDERLAND’s NEW LIMITED VINYL SINGLE ‘OPEN UP AND BLEED’/’GIMME SOME SKIN’ WILL BE AVAILABLE AT INDEPENDENT RECORD STORES WORLDWIDE ON RECORD STORE DAY, APRIL 19TH 2014.

Live review: Richie Sambora – The Tivoli, Brisbane – 20/2/14

Richie Sambora

IF YOU BELIEVE EVERYTHING that you’ve read in the majority of music press, it would seem that the past week has been a turbulent one for Soundwave. Bands pulling out of the festival, a multitude of timetable changes and a flurry of what promoter AJ Maddah has referred to as “pissing contests” between bands have all contributed to an impression of a festival in trouble. If you look past the melodrama, however, you’ll realise that there remains a festival of almost a hundred bands of such impressive diversity and talent to make any such trivialities irrelevant, and with more rock credentials than any music fan could spend a day shaking several sticks at.

A pleasant bonus to having Soundwave roll through town is of course sideshows, and tonight’s gig from ex-Bon Jovi member Richie Sambora would be a more than pleasant addition to that roster.

With a set beginning at the early time of 8pm and with no support bands on a stiflingly humid Brisbane evening, it could be suggested that Sambora might have his work cut out to make the gig work, but this is one rock stalwart who has played more stadium gigs than some of the fans here tonight have had hot dinners, so it’s no surprise that the old master works the audience into a frenzy with a series of classic rock tracks and plenty of between-song banter. The only question remains is how much Bon Jovi material will he play, and will he mention his old song-writing (and latter day sparring) partner?

At around 8:30 the lights dim and AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ comes over the PA, announcing the arrival of the healthy looking Sambora and Australian guitarist Orianthi among a six-piece setup. Starting off with the first two tracks from his most recent album Aftermath Of The Lowdown, ‘Burn The Candle Down’ and ‘Every Road Leads Home To You’, he directs his audience to “wave your hands motherfuckers,” and said motherfuckers respond in the appropriate fashion. Explaining that his last album was a cathartic one for him to write and record, and receiving an amiable ribbing from a few people in the crowd for drinking water instead of alcohol, the 54 year-old says that “there’s too much shit around music now; people just want to hear people communicate music and jam out,” in reference to over-production and adding too many electronic elements.

Working through ‘Taking A Chance On The Wind’ followed by an excerpt from ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, Sambora leads the first huge sing-along of the evening for Bon Jovi number ‘I’ll Be There For You’, although there’s no mention of Jon as yet. Platinum-blonde guitarist Orianthi is a hard-rocking delight throughout; trading riffs and owning large sections of songs, while not stealing the limelight at any point. Its easy to see why she has been voted one of the top female guitarists in the world by several guitar magazines.

A cover of INXS’s ‘Don’t Change’ is wedged appropriately into the show at this point, before ‘Sugar Daddy’ and ‘Weathering The Storm’ provide rocking riffs and a spot of cheese-rock balladry respectively.

“I wrote this song about my fucking ex-wife,” says Sambora, to ridiculous levels of cheering, before playing the opening chords of ‘Learning How To Fly With A Broken Wing’ and finally the first reference to Jon Bon Jovi comes as he introduces ‘These Days’. “This is the title track of our 1995 album,” he says. “I know which songs are mine, and which were his.” Cue more cheering. “When he coughs up some dough I’ll probably go back.”

By now, everyone can feel that a big number is coming, and as Sambora dons a hat that looks like it was picked due its resemblance to that of Crocodile Dundee, the band kick into ‘Beds Are Burning’ by Midnight Oil, which after a couple of verses becomes ‘Living On A Prayer’. Like a time-bomb going off, the release of energy is inescapable, and for three or four minutes it feels like a stadium gig circa 1987, or every bad birthday party you’ve ever been to.

An obligatory encore including ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ is enough to finish off this audience, and if tonight’s gig reinforced anything, it’s that Soundwave is going to be special. Oh, and Richie Sambora doesn’t need the help of any old ‘friends’ to put on a kick-ass rock show.

RICHIE SAMBORA APPEARS AT SOUNDWAVE FESTIVAL STARTING IN BRISBANE FEB 22.

Interview: Paul Smith of Maxïmo Park

paul smith maximo

FORMED in 2001 in the north-east of England, Maxïmo Park are true mainstays of the alternative and indie-rock scenes. Their fifth and latest album, Too Much Information, has just been released, and was recorded and self-produced by the band in Newcastle and Sunderland with additional production duties from The Invisible’s Dave Okumu and Field Music’s David and Peter Brewis. The album is the follow up to 2012’s critically acclaimed The National Health. I spoke to singer Paul Smith, currently touring Europe with the band.

Hi Paul, how are you? How do you feel now that the new album is released?

Yeah, really good. I’m just on the tour bus; up bright and early. We’re in Amsterdam today after being in Brussels last night. [The album release] feels really good. I think if you believe in a bunch of songs and think other people are going to like them you should put them out, and if not don’t bother. Other people put records out just because it’s part of their job or something like that, but for us it has to be something that’s worth offering to the world. We’re feeling very good about the songs and it’s nice to go out and play them after completing them before Christmas. There’s a kind of honeymoon period where you think you’ve made the best record in the world (laughs), then everyone else gets to hear it and some people probably don’t think that. You put it out into the world and go out and try to spread the word about it.

How have the songs been going down so far?

Really well, it has to be said. Every time you put something out there is an element of nervousness as we wonder if anyone will like it. We like it, that’s a given; but what’s the response going to be? I think people have really enjoyed songs like ‘Brain Cells’ and ‘Leave This Island’ which we’ve offered to the world a little bit earlier than the rest. It’s almost like getting people used to the idea of the evolution of the band and putting out songs that prick up the ears of those who haven’t heard the band before, or perhaps have preconceptions of what the band is. Again, that could potentially put some people off; those who like a certain sound about your band, but we try to transcend any issues people might have with the songs and they’ve just taken them to their hearts and responded really well. The nervousness is over now.

You mentioned the evolution of the band. In what way has this album evolved your sound?

I think we’ve probably become more confident. After the last album and having a break we were never quite sure how it’d be when we got back together, and sure enough it was quite difficult to start writing again. Once we got back in the groove we wanted to keep going and write songs in a certain way, and move on and put more things like literary references into the songs. I think beforehand they had been more subconscious, but this time around there are mentions of Lydia Davis and Audre Lorde and in the album booklet I’ve put in a few recommended readings and things that inspired the songs. That’s one way the lyrics have moved on a bit; there’s more of a storytelling thing there and each verse is kind of episodic. In saying that, we’re not throwing the baby out with the bath water, yet there are moments on the album where there are no guitars, which is something that we wouldn’t have done before. We’ve been more bold on this record, and we decided that whatever the song needs we’ll do it and not be bothered about an album being really coherent or something like that. One of the earmarks of the record is that it’s pretty eclectic. If we needed no guitars we removed them, if we needed loud guitars we turned them up, if I needed to sing soft I did it, and so on and so forth. It’s an album of extremes, but it’s nice to still have the essence of Maxïmo Park in the end.

Tell me a little about some of the bonus tracks on the album. You have ‘Middlesbrough Man’, a slightly altered cover of ‘Edinburgh Man’ by The Fall. Why did you pick that?

There are a few songs that we all really love, and a few albums that we all really love. After that, we all have quite individual tastes. With the covers on the album, we decided to just do things we like. ‘Edinburgh Man’ was a song we used to play when driving down to London or somewhere to play gigs before we got signed. It’s a bit of a sing-along for The Fall; some of their tracks are quite out there, and when we were doing this cover I started singing “I want to be in Middlesbrough” instead. Syllable-wise it all fitted in, and we did two versions before deciding to go with the Middlesbrough one as I’m from the area. Somehow all the lyrics fitted; from going walking on bridges at dawn and the cobbled streets which reminded me of going to football matches at Ayresome Park when I was a lad. There’s even a folklore festival in my hometown, and [Fall singer] Mark E. Smith sings “keep me away from the festival”, which is obviously about the Edinburgh festival, but it reminds me of being a kid.

What do you think he’d make of your cover? Did you have to ask his permission?

We did have to ask permission and we regretted it, but he’d probably hate it! (laughs)

You also have some Nick Drake on there.

Yeah, Nick Drake was one the first people who got me more seriously into music. I was listening to stuff like The Smiths and grunge when I was 12 or 13 years old; that’s what was happening at the time. Then I heard Nick Drake for the first time and it got me really into folk music and made me want to pick up the guitar. My dad had a Spanish guitar and we would get it down and strum it and it wouldn’t sound very good, but listening to Nick Drake’s beautiful finger picking would encourage me to play more. Having said that, it’s me playing the guitar on the record and it’s more strum-y. I had played at a Nick Drake night with people like Robyn Hitchcock and Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside and played ‘Northern Sky’. The version you can hear on the album is my demo they used to play the guitar at the event as I was too scared. But yeah, I’m a massive fan of Nick Drake; his music strikes a chord with where I’m from and where I grew up.

What are your plans for the rest of the year? Touring?

Yeah, we’ve got loads of touring to do. Once you’ve got the songs you’ve got this puppy dog-esque enthusiasm for wanting to play the songs and for people to hear them. You want to mix it up and play old songs next to the new ones. People have responded in a very enthusiastic way. If we can get across to Australia, that would be great. We’re off to Japan soon as well; we’re playing there on the third of April. That’s one of the perks of being in a band, being able to see a little bit of the world, as well as being a rock star! (laughs)

TOO MUCH INFORMATION BY MAXIMO PARK IS OUT NOW.

Live review: Pond + Doctopus + Peter Bibby – The Zoo, Brisbane – 14/12/13

Pond

In the future, when I think back to the time I saw Pond just before Christmas 2013, the main memories I’ll have – besides the outstanding performance of the bands themselves – will be ones of sweat, perspiration, humidity, and even more sweat. That’s what happens when Brisbane’s aircon-less The Zoo is sold out in summer, but what the hell; it’s Saturday night, the cold beers are flowing, and everyone’s getting loose in preparation for Pond.

After a set of folky, charismatic songs by Peter Bibby, the ramshackle trio of Doctopus take to the stage and batter their way through a fantastic collection of sweaty, lairy and hairy tunes, complete with sometimes unintelligible banter between. Theirs is a straight-up, fire-’em-off approach that is both exciting and catchy at once; a coarse but finely-executed set of rough-at-the-edges garage rock. Any band with an instrumental song called ‘QI/Stephen Fry’ and who fly-kick each other in the middle of songs is okay by me. (TIP: their album Buddies is free on Bandcamp – get on that thang).

The Zoo is heaving long before Pond is due to take the stage, and it’s refreshing to see that the crowd is seemingly entirely full of good vibes and enthusiasm for the head-liners, and there’s a generally great atmosphere despite the amount of perspiration going on. The Perth six-piece are in fine form, as they power through ‘Whatever Happened To The Million Head Collide’ and ‘Xanman’ early on, before moving through a set heavy with Hobo Rocket numbers. I’d seen Pond previously (at Laneway Festival last year) and while they put on a good show on that occasion, something about being enclosed on the smaller stage makes frontman Nick Allbrook a more engaging and entertaining mix of rabid posturing, banshee-like wailing, and clear enthusiasm for everything the band is doing.

‘Fantastic Explosion of Time’ is an obvious highlight, but it’s the pulsating juggernauts of extended jams throughout and a manic finish (including the expected level of crowd-surfing) that make the gig – and the band – such a unique one.

Interview: Matt Neumann of Scotdrakula

scotdrakula

MELBOURNE’S Scotdrakula are currently supporting the outstanding Mac Demarco on his Australian tour. I caught up with the band to find out what they’ve been doing this year, and if Christmas songs suck.

Hi Matt, how are things in the Scotdrakula camp? What have you been up to recently?

Things are hunky dory. Recently, we’ve been writing some new stuff and releasing our new single, ‘Break Me Up’. It came out a few weeks ago and since then, we’ve just been rehearsing and hanging out.

How did you meet and start making music together?

I met Evianne at The Empress where I was bartending and she was bar-flying. Dove and I met through our mutual friend Amanda and a bunch of beer.

Supporting Mac Demarco sounds pretty awesome. What can fans expect from your show?

I think it would be safe to expect roughly forty minutes of rock ‘n’ roll music interjected with some dancing, eye contact, quippy and somewhat obtuse onstage banter and smiling. Then we’ll leave all sweaty.

What’s the reaction to ‘Break Me Up’ been like so far?

Pretty good! I read someone describe the video we made for it as ‘genuinely unsettling’, which is massive compliment. It’s weirdly great to hear that something you made could unsettle someone. Wow…

You’re in the tour van or dressing room before a gig. What music is playing?

We’d just be tossing and catching switchblades and staring at the door.

You seem to have a reputation as a bit of a party band. What would be on your ideal rider?

The ideal rider would probably be just a few hundred dogs in a room to roll around with before and after we play.

Christmas songs: are they just a bit of fun or a festive pain in the arse?

It depends. Some are great, but every Christmas song written after my birth is a piece of shit. The worst Christmas song of all time is that Beach Boys song, ‘Santa’s Beard’. It sounds like they fucking made it up as they went. The best one is ‘Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)’ by The Ramones.

What has been the band’s highlight of 2013?

We got to do some awesome stuff so far this year, but the standouts were probably playing Camp A Low Hum and getting to go play in Singapore. That was friggin’ neat.

SCOTDRAKULA PLAY THE ZOO BRISBANE 18th DEC.

Interview: Vinnie Fiorello of Less Than Jake

Less Than Jake. Vinnie Fiorello, second right.
Less Than Jake. Vinnie Fiorello, second right.

SKA-PUNK legends Less Than Jake will head to Australia in 2014 to play Soundwave Festival, bringing with them over twenty years of finely-honed gigging experience. Drummer and lyricist Vinnie Fiorello tells me why the Gainesville, Florida band’s hunger for making music and performing is stronger than ever.

Hi Vinnie, what’s been happening in the Less Than Jake camp of late?

We were just on the Fat Wreck Chords tour around the United States; that was a five-week tour with Anti-Flag and a few other bands. A few weeks back we released our ninth studio record called See The Light, and that was on Fat Wreck Chords. Generally speaking reviews have been good, and we had a great time writing and recording it, and there you go; you’re caught up, man.

Tell me a bit about See The Light. How does it sound compared to your previous material?

Well, I think it’s most definitely the sum of all its parts. We took our time in writing and crafting the songs, and it progressed naturally as we let it kind of percolate at its own pace. We wrote and recorded it at our bass player’s studio in Gainesville, and from that point we had friends of ours mix it, and frankly, because of those parts it sounds like Less Than Jake, or a very refined version of the band that people have come to know for the last twenty years. There’s parts of very gruff point rock, there’s some minor punk in there, there’s classic ska-punk, and there’s some third wave ska. It’s very much influenced by ourselves and only by ourselves. It’s a very weird and crazy thing to be able to say that, but it’s true.

How much do you enjoy the recording process? Some bands find it a chore.

Not to fuck around, but there’s been times in the studio when it’s been a chore, and times when it’s been way too dramatic or silly. This time around we did it in Gainesville, and it was a very relaxed atmosphere and fun. It was cool to do it where I could go home at night as well.

I saw an interview you did a couple of years ago in which you said the album format is dead. Why change your mind now?

For the last five years we’ve mainly been doing EPs, and firmly I think that the album format is limping along. In the case of our album, when we started writing songs, we wanted a collection of songs that were similar thematically, and not only musically but lyrically too. You can’t really get that with EPs, so we went back to the full-length format. When we started to write it it fell together naturally and it was cool.

Do you still think albums have a future?

I guess it depends on the genre. I mean, the album format for pop music is already dead. If you take Katy Perry; she can sell one million singles, but only 100,000 copies of her album, and while those numbers are nothing to sneeze at, they are definitely not what they were three, five, eight, ten years ago. It’s insane how much it’s down. Punk rock has never been about the single, it’s been much more about the album format, and I think that might be the last stand, so to speak, for the album format. I had a great time doing the EPs, and I think it’s good for fans to be able to get music every eight or nine months instead of waiting three years.

What have you got planned for Soundwave Festival?

I think we’re prepared to have a good time like we always are. We’re going to show up, we’re going to play some songs, take some requests, rile the crowd, and have fun playing. It’s twenty-one years in, man, and if you’re not having fun being in a band and playing live there’s a serious issue, so we’re going to do what we do best; have fun and make the crowd have fun with us.

An outdoor gig in Australian summer. How do you deal with the heat?

Dude, I’m from Florida, and Australian summer has nothing on Florida. So to answer your question, I’m going to feel exactly like I feel when I’m at home, so therefore it’s going to feel good. It’s funny that you should mention it, because every time we’ve been in Australia prior to this, it’s always been Australia summer, it’s always been a great time, and it always feels like Florida to me. When I’m there it always feels like home, so it’s a great place to be. The crowds always love music and are always there to have a good time. They’re always passionate about the music they’re paying to see, and that’s exciting for anyone in a band, and certainly exciting to me.

Is there ever any trepidation playing new material live?

There’s always nerves. We sort of had a trial by fire this tour just finished. We would come straight out and do a new song, and people would look at us like they had no idea what it was. Later, when the record came out, you could see the slow surge of people knowing the songs.

What are your plans for 2014?

We’re just back from tour four days ago, so we’re off for a few weeks. Starting next year, we have an eighteen-date tour in the U.K.. Then we have three days off, then we come over for Soundwave Festival, then we come home. I can’t say what tour it is, but we just confirmed a summer tour for the United States, so we’re just working for the rest of the year. I’m sure there’ll be Europe in there for late 2014, and there’ll be South America in there somewhere. We have a new record out, so we have to put our feet as many places as possible.

SOUNDWAVE FESTIVAL DATES & VENUES – FEBRUARY/MARCH 2014

SATURDAY 22 FEBRUARY – BRISBANE, RNA SHOWGROUNDS
SUNDAY 23 FEBRUARY – SYDNEY, OLYMPIC PARK
FRIDAY 28 FEBRUARY – MELBOURNE, FLEMINGTON RACECOURSE
SATURDAY 1 MARCH – ADELAIDE, BONYTHON PARK
MONDAY 3 MARCH – PERTH, CLAREMONT SHOWGROUNDS

TICKETS ON SALE NOW: http://soundwavefestival.com/

Interview: Paul Van Dyk

paul van dyk

If there ever was such a thing as a DJ royal family, German superstar Paul Van Dyk would probably be considered the king. Having sold over 4.5 million albums worldwide, consistently been voted the number one DJ of all time by industry magazines, and been in the business longer than most, he is a bona fide legend of the DJ-ing and electronic music world. An album of new material is in the works for early 2014, before he graces our shores to play Future Music Festival in March.

Hi Paul, what can fans expect from your show at Future Music Festival?

I have a new album in the pipeline, so there will be a lot of new music, but people always ask me to play some of my music that I’ve done in the past, so it’s going to be a very intense combination of both. The other thing is, of course, the way I perform and play my music is somewhat different because I use keyboards, computers, and custom-made mixers on-stage, and all sorts of different things that enable me to actually play very, very lively.

What can you tell us about your new album? What does it sound like?

Well, it’s electronic music and it consists of a lot of collaborations with people I really admire, as well as people that are up-and-coming and very talented. I can’t wait for it to be out and about. Some of the collaborations are in the early stages, so I can’t tell you yet!

How have you managed to stay at the top your game for such a long time?

Well I’m very passionate about it, and I’m not bending my back towards whatever is the latest trending sound whatsoever. That authenticity is what I believe people appreciate about it. The other thing as well is I’m not just pressing a button and raising my hand to the audience. I’m entertaining people in a much more intense way, by playing instruments and I believe that’s a very successful element of why I’m still around.

What’s more important to you, putting out albums or performing shows?

They come together; you can’t really take them apart. From the very beginning I have been a recording artist as much as a DJ or musician or performer or radio presenter. All these things always came naturally to me as one thing, so I can’t take these things apart at all.

How important has it for you to change and evolve throughout your career?

It’s always been a normal process for me. It’s not like I’m sitting down with a marketing team and saying I need to change this or that, or only wear green, or only wear red. To me, music and the art-form of electronic music comes in a very natural way. I’m always interested in something new, so my music and the way I perform always evolves. For me, electronic music always had something to do with breaking boundaries on the creative side, and on with people using new technologies as well. A lot of my production gear and stage set-up is always evolving as well, so it’s not something I strategically plan, but it’s more like an artistic progression.

How do you keep on top of all the new technology available to you?

Whenever there’s something new, I read about it and try it. In terms of production technology, there are so many possibilities these days, and I’ll find out about things and learn about them. What I do is never about resting on what I have achieved; it’s always about looking forward towards the next element that can enrich the performance or production. My set-up is like a mobile studio and everything is necessary, and I can actually construct a track completely live, going from channel to channel by first programming some drums, and adding a bass-line or some strings. That in itself is a very creative tool. I also have a custom-made controller that enables me to do all the levelling that is necessary completely organically, which is something that is very special. I also have a mixer, and there are only three of them in the world; it’s kind-of like very organic media mapping if I want to; if I feel like I need the top left corner button to do something, I can just quickly do it. That in itself makes it a very lively way to bring the music across, and that is what I enjoy about it.

Do you write a piece of music with a collaborator in mind, or finish the track and find a vocalist to suit?

It depends. If I’m actually working specifically with a vocalist from the beginning of the track, then of course it’s a planned thing. But it’s usually during the process that I develop or imagine a sound or feel of what the voice is like, and develop an idea that can bring that process to life.

What are you most looking forward to about coming to Australia?

The shows, of course. The audience in Australia is always very open and excited about new music. Whenever I come to Australia these are the memories I take back home. It’s very energetic, very powerful, and in a positive way, extremely crazy. I’m really looking forward to it.

PAUL VAN DYK PLAYS FUTURE MUSIC FESTIVAL MAR 1-10. http://www.futuremusicfestival.com.au/

Live review: Muse + Birds of Tokyo – Brisbane Entertainment Centre – 10/12/13

Muse

You know those people who seem to be at every gig, the ones who wait until the head-liners have just come on stage before pushing their way through the crowd to get a good spot at the front, and pissing everyone off in the process? Yeah, those guys.

Those guys don’t exist at a Muse gig as far as I can tell, such is the desire for this audience to get into the dreaded arena of Brisbane Entertainment Centre early to get a good vantage point to absorb the spectacle that is the Devon trio’s live show. Making people more polite; that’s quite an achievement, even by Muse’s lofty standards. Winning hearts and minds even before the show starts; well played Sirs.

A result of this is that the arena is already almost full by the time Birds of Tokyo take to the stage, and despite seeming a little swamped by the size of the venue at times, the Perth band put out a strong set of songs, including ‘When The Night Falls Quiet’, ‘The Gap’, ‘This Fire’ and ‘Wild At Heart’.

As Muse‘s almost U2-sized inverted-pyramid lighting rig descends from the ceiling to form a bank of retina-melting screens, the band ready themselves behind to face their followers and an Iron Maiden-like voice-over and eerie piano hints at horrors unknown. In almost simultaneous explosions of light, sound, smoke, and collective audience orgasms, the darkly-dressed trio appear and launch into ‘Supremacy’ and hundreds of kids down the front appear to lose their minds in some sort of cult-like pact.

‘Supermassive Black Hole’ is next, followed by the funky ‘Panic Station’, allowing Christopher Wolstenholme to stylishly slap the wood of his illuminated bass fretboard. Front-man Matt Bellamy is a tiny ball of energy and beats his black boots across the stage and down the runway into the audience throughout, dandily strutting like a prog-rock Freddie Mercury and shredding like a hard-rock Brian May. It’s an undeniable fact that the light and laser show are a large part of the overall ‘wow’ factor of a Muse gig, and these elements are what most people end up talking about afterwards, but it’s nice to see it backed up with top drawer musicianship from the three band members, backed up by touring member Morgan Nicholls.

A short blast of AC/DC’s ‘Back To Black’ precedes ‘Knights of Cydonia’, the excellent ‘Feeling Good’ (Nina Simone can’t be beaten), and ‘Follow Me’, before Bellamy has the crowd aping his every move during ‘Undisclosed Desires’. He puts his right hand up; hundreds put their right hand up. He bellows skyward; hundreds bellow skyward. Things are getting biblical in Brisbane at this point in the evening, ladies and gentlemen.

Later numbers ‘Time Is Running Out’, ‘Plug In Baby’, and an encore of ‘Starlight’ and ‘Survival’ make the audience act in what can only be described in a manner approaching going totally ape-shit, and after one last blast of searingly painful lasers to the eyeballs, the band is gone and all that’s left is to rub our eyes better, tackle the gridlocked traffic surrounding the venue, and wonder just how in the world Muse will manage to top this performance next time they visit.

Record review: D.D. Dumbo – D.D. Dumbo (2013, EP)

DD DUMBO

This debut EP from Castlemaine, Victoria producer and all-round talented guy Oliver Hugh Perry – a.k.a. D.D. Dumbo – is completely captivating from the off. Genre-bouncing between bluesy psychedelic jams, ambient electronica, experimental indie-folk and earthy African rhythms, yet somehow retaining a composed coherence throughout, this five-track, nineteen-minute EP showcases an intriguing and original new Australian talent worth getting excited about.

While Perry makes his music in his house 120 kilometres north of Melbourne in the gold fields of rural Victoria, opening song and lead single ‘Tropical Oceans’ is a classy summer-y beach song if there ever was one, evoking images of crashing waves and a blinding glare; you can almost smell the warm salty breeze as the smooth harmonies and crisp guitar lines break from the speakers. “My eyes blew out, I can finally see, warm magical tropical oceans,” he sings in an almost slacker drawl, followed by the ridiculous “I opened my skull and you were looking at me, oh you and your cousins chihuahua,” before the EP highlight: a chiming and cascading guitar riff that is both simple and engaging in its execution.

‘I Woke Up Covered In Sand’ continues the beach-themed titles, yet its lyrics read like they came from a book of Jim Morrison’s poetry. “I run as fast as I can, couldn’t scream, coughed out milk and a man,” being one cryptic example. The inclusion of a sparsely-done cover of Roy Orbison classic ‘Crying’ only serves to highlight the quality of Perry’s voice and the strength of the vocal harmonies he puts together, while the punchier ‘Dinghy’ is much more lo-fi, and closer ‘Alihukwe’ thumps and stomps to tribal drums and spiky melodies.

For less than twenty minutes of music, there’s a generous wealth of ideas here and this EP sounds like nothing else being made in Australia right now, making D.D. Dumbo one of the most promising ones-to-watch of recent months.

D.D. DUMBO’S SELF-TITLED EP IS OUT NOW.

Live review: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club + Immigrant Union – The Hi-Fi, Brisbane – 17/11/13

It’s hard to believe that Californian rock band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has been in existence since 1998. For me, their near-perfect blend of neo-psychedelia and barely-restrained garage-rock aggression transcends time and trends, owing to the fact that throughout their seven album, fifteen year career they haven’t ever tried to be anyone but themselves. Originally on the line-up of the now deceased Harvest Festival, the band delighted their Australian fans by swiftly responding to the cancellation of their festival shows and announcing a headlining tour of their own. Tonight’s result is that Brisbane gets to experience Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in West End’s The Hi-Fi. Game on.

An already quite full venue greets support act Immigrant Union; a band of mish-mashed styles (both musically and hair-wise), featuring Dandy Warhols’ drummer Brent DeBoer on frontman duties. Written descriptions of their music often feature the word ‘folk’, but tonight’s performance is a quite exhilarating mix of bluesy roots and country, with extended jams only being beaten in length by the awesome hair of singer-guitarist Bob Harrow.

Lighting in a now packed Hi-Fi is sparse and ominous as the effortlessly cool trio of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club walk onto the stage, amid reverberating roars of welcome and gasps of shock (come on, people) at guitarist/vocalist Peter Hayes having a solitary cigarette perched on his guitar neck, the light trail of smoke heading ceiling-wards from the red-hot tip while reflecting the light and adding to his already smooth exterior.

Starting with the grand ‘Hate The Taste’, the trio build a monumental sound from their respective instruments, before heading into ‘Beat The Devil’s Tattoo’ and a cover of ‘Let The Day Begin’ by bassist Robert Been’s father’s band The Call. Switching styles, instruments, pace, and groove comes easy to the three-piece throughout, as an ecstatic crowd are treated to the likes of ‘Ain’t No Easy Way’, ‘Screaming Gun’ and ‘Conscience Killer’, before a final blast of scathing, fiercely powerful guitar rock with ‘Spread Your Love’.

Obviously an encore is called for, and BRMC oblige with a further four-song outing, including ‘Whatever Happened To My Rock ‘n’ Roll (Punk Song)’. With pounded ears, a sense of dark elation, and the foreboding doom of the working week ahead, we make for home. What a bloody great gig.

Interview: Gary Jarman of The Cribs

gary jarman

Having recently celebrated ten years in the business of making top-notch punk-tinged indie-rock and with a new record full of songs spanning the band’s career, Gary Jarman, the refreshingly down to earth bassist for The Cribs, is looking forward to coming to these shores for a run of shows next month.

What can fans expect from a Cribs show in 2013?

Usually when I’m asked this question it’s a pretty tough one to answer, because we’ve always hoped that, idealistically, it’ll be somewhat unpredictable like it always used to be when we first started out. We always thrive off the idea that we never really plan stuff too much, and we’re never a particularly slick prospect, as that was the thing that used to drive us and keep things interesting. With these tenth anniversary shows we’re trying to mix in a bunch of the older stuff for people who didn’t see it the first time round, as we never toured the first album in Australia. The shows will be smaller, and I think that’s the right way to do it, and will hopefully be the best representation of where the group is coming from and from where we first started out.

If someone told you ten years ago that you’d be touring Australia for your tenth anniversary, how would you have reacted?

It would have been a real thrill, you know? But that never goes away; we’re still the same band that we were when we started out. We still have the same motivation and we have the same feelings about things. I think that comes with being in a band with your brothers; we’re still kind of amazed to be able to travel that far away from where you’re from and have people be interested in it. We never lost that sense of disbelief that a project you started with your kid brothers will be something that people will not only care about, but care about for a decade, and then to travel pretty much as far away from Wakefield – where we’re from – as possible, and have people come and be excited to see you play. That’s something we’ve never taken for granted, and being in a band with your brothers has been key to that. If I’d been in a band with other people I might have become jaded over the years, although it’s never been plain sailing for us – far from it. But the fact it’s a family thing makes us such a close and tight unit, and it makes us so honoured that it’s resonated in some way with people, no matter what level.

Some bands with several family members end up hating each other over time, but it obviously works well for The Cribs?

I think so, because the key thing is that we trust each other, and we grew up with the same stuff, and when we formed the band it was out of necessity as my brothers were the only people who had the same tastes as me, because we grew up with the same music. So it was basically a really convenient and ideal scenario for us. Over the years, we’ve managed to retain that, even though we all live in different places thousands of miles apart, and that’s been really good for us as we can all bring different things to the table from our different experiences. Rather than being alienated, it helps us.

Obviously Johnny Marr is no longer in the band, so what challenges does that bring when playing live?

Well, as far as live goes, we never expected to be a four-piece when we started the band, and we never expected there to be a fourth person there, as we didn’t have a fourth brother! Johnny coming along was like a really surreal and exciting thing for us, so we had to adapt to being a four-piece rather than re-adapting to being a three-piece, so it was really natural to go back to being a three-piece. But we do have another person playing guitar with us, who is like a live member, so we can add extra things to records and still pull them off live.

What do you miss most about having Johnny in the band, besides his guitar playing?

The camaraderie. While it lasted, it was a good way of dissipating the intensity in the family dynamic. Everything becomes really extreme in that sense; when the shows are good they’re really good, but when they’re a bit off they can be destructive. So having another person there makes it easier to reduce that intensity. There’s a different dynamic with your brothers or with your family than what you’ll have with anybody else, and you can often forget that unless there’s someone else in the room. It’s easy to forget how full-on it can be and how differently you speak to people you’ve grown up with. It was nice to have someone, not necessarily to mediate, but to see things a bit more rationally, instead of the emotionally-charged way we would always do things.

You won the Outstanding Achievement Award from the NME, and just released what’s essentially a Best-Of album. How do you feel about reaching milestones like these when you’re still so young?

Winning the award was such an amazing thing for us. When you can step away from things and look at them from a distance, it’s really a crazy kind of scenario. To get a lifetime achievement award like that, and to have a greatest hits record – if you started a band aiming for things like that, it’d be an egotistical and cut-throat thing. We never set our sights on that sort of stuff; we came from more of a punk-rock background, but it’s nice to be able to sit back and look at all the ups and downs of the last ten years and lay them all to rest and move on, in some ways. We’ve been playing a lot of these songs for ten years now, and that’s a kind of insane proposition, so this is a nice way to wrap it all up and move on to the next chapter I guess.

You’re known for having a DIY and independent approach to things. Is that something that will change as the band gets older?

If anything, it’s got a lot more pronounced. Initially, it wasn’t something strange to us, as we had no choice. But when the band started doing well, we didn’t feel the need to deviate from that, and we enjoyed doing a lot of things that way, and we took satisfaction from it. For example, we used to love playing on the main stage at the Reading Festival, and we’d be the only band who had a van; there was something perverse and appealing about that. But, from a different point of view, we’ve never been signed to a major label in the UK, so there was never a great deal of money flying around. We’re actually a really efficient band, you know? We do things on a level that avoids all that rock-star shit, and even when we’ve had top-ten records it’s been business as usual, and that’s possibly why we’re still here after ten years. We get a lot of satisfaction from adversity; we’ve always been so independent and nothing’s changed. Nobody makes money from record sales any more, and it doesn’t bother us at all; we’re used to existing on a shoestring anyway. We’ve never been dependent on anything and although it sounds like a bit of a cute statement, the only people I’ve ever depended on is my two brothers. If we get offered a show and we want to do it, we find a way to make it happen one way or another. It’s an idealism thing. I hate the idea of being dependent on things that other bands depend on to make things happen.

What are you most looking forward to about coming to Australia?

We had such an awesome time last time. We came out there in January, and it was one of the most fun tours we’ve ever had, so it’s not that I’m looking forward to one single thing, just the knowledge that we had such a really awesome time last time is enough to be really exciting for us.

THE CRIBS TOUR AUSTRALIA STARTING OCT 23 IN NEWCASTLE