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Live review: Major Leagues + Babaganouj + RINSE – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane – 9/8/13

Lately, I’ve been going to gigs and finding myself more impressed and entertained by the support acts than the headliners themselves; Big Scary, Pigeon, and Jagwar Ma have all put in live performances more memorable than the groups above them in the bill. Is there an argument that support bands have more to prove, so tend to put in more effort? Possibly, although doesn’t every band with enough balls to get up on a stage have something to prove, night in, night out? I’m putting it down to coincidence.

I mention this, as tonight’s support acts at Brisbane’s Black Bear Lodge are both outstanding, as well as being closely related, musically and personnel-wise. First up is local lads RINSE, featuring members of Babaganouj and Jeremy Neale’s band, amongst others. Playing a tight set of heavy shoegaze and dream-pop, the band leave quite an impression, and climax with ‘Coin’; a Buzzcocks-esque number with added keys.

Babaganouj
Babaganouj

Next is Babaganouj, lead by Charles Sale and featuring members of Go Violets (the Brisbane music family tree is a complex and extensive one), each band member comes on-stage one song at a time, until the quartet is complete. Their sound is heavy with mid-’70s radio rock influences, with a touch of The Replacements circa 1984 in there for good measure, and their entertaining set culminates with perhaps their most pop-y track, ‘My Favourite Colour Is You’. Sale is an engaging frontman with a strong voice, and is equally adept at getting the audience out of their seats and dealing with a mid-song tuning issue.

Major Leagues
Major Leagues

The house music cuts out and Major Leagues kick into their first song so inconspicuously that some people in the small venue take a short while to notice that the head-liners have begun their set. The four-piece’s vocals are a little lost amongst the sound of their own instruments at first, inciting the desire to walk over to the sound desk and turn up the relevant dials, but the band’s strong point is their knack with a surf-rock/pop melody, and this makes them pretty special. Major Leagues have the melody gene dripping out of every pore, while drummer Jacob Knauth keeps things from ever getting too light. The single they are here to launch, ‘Endless Drain’, is a typically cheerfully melodic, summer-y pop number with a sneering lyric and plenty of vocal harmonies. While ‘Teen Mums’ is still their best track, this band have a bright future if they keep producing tunes of this calibre.

Interview: Dan Rothman of London Grammar

london grammar

With favourable comparisons to The XX and Florence and The Machine, English art-rock trio London Grammar have barely been making music together for a couple of years, but are already being tipped by some as a band with a big future. I had a chance to chat with guitarist Dan Rothman ahead of the release of their debut album, If You Wait.

Your new album is coming out on September 6th. What does it sound like?

It’s kind of consistent to what people have heard so far I guess. I think that was the idea. We released a few tracks that were representative of the record, as I think we always wanted to make quite a consistent album with a consistent sound, mood, atmosphere, and that kind of thing. That was our intention anyway. There are also a few surprises in there that people might be excited about. It’s quite dark and emotional; I think that’s the warning I would give as well.

Your band has a definite sound that makes you pretty much unmistakeable. Is that something you consciously developed or did it just naturally happen that way?

We definitely developed it consciously in that regard because it’s something we wanted to do, but the fact that we have that specific sound is also a natural development as it’s just what happens when the three of us are in a room together, and we all have different influences which help to make that the case. Generally whether we want to play guitar, sing, or play a song as a whole, it’s really important to have a sound that’s someway recognisable as being our own. And that’s what hopefully separates us from other bands.

Do you sometimes clash over influences?

We’ve clashed a fair few times. Me and Dot tend to have these huge arguments over certain bands which tends to fuck Hannah off for various reasons, mainly having to listen to us arguing. Mainly we argue over The Smiths, as I’m quite a big fan, but Dot despises them.

So, how do your songs come together?

It tends to vary a lot; Hannah has written certain songs on the piano and brought those in and we’ve worked on them from that point onwards, or I’ve brought in guitar parts, or Dot’s brought piano parts, but probably the majority of them – like ‘Hey Now’ for example – were written in a room together in a rehearsal, or in my garage in a jam-like fashion. It does vary; there’s no set format for us.

How was the recording process? Did you enjoy it?

Personally, I really enjoyed it. I think the process for us was long, and it wasn’t quite how I envisaged it; it was quite a choppy process, almost messy and complicated, and I kind of find it difficult to recall what happened, as we spent so much time developing it in different studios, demo-ing it up and getting it to a certain point, and once we had all the songs written, we went into the studio to record the album. From that point I think of really fondly; I really enjoy being in the studio. There’s loads of old gear to look at and lots to learn, but it’s also a bit stressful as we were so concerned about making the right album, so we had arguments over certain choices. It’s a wicked thing to do, and was definitely one of the greatest experiences we’ve had – I think we all really enjoyed it. We spent so much time on the album, and every different part was so arduous that we were so glad to have it finished by the end, and as a result we find it kind of hard to listen back to it now, which is a shame, but it’s just the way we are I guess. I’ve spoken to other bands who’ve had the same feeling after finishing an album, but I think we’re all really proud of it and happy with the final result. When you’re going through the whole process of writing it, producing it, re-producing and re-editing it, and then being involved in the mixing process as well, you’ve heard the songs a thousand times and it’s hard to view it objectively any more.

How do you feel when your band is labelled as an overnight sensation?

It doesn’t feel like that to us, because it’s been such a long process, and it’s even been seven months since we put ‘Hey Now’ out, but a lot of people think that it’s happened really quickly for us, which I guess it has in some ways. I wouldn’t want to disagree with the fact that things have happened quickly for us, and we’re really grateful for it. If people want to label us as that it’s completely fine by me. There was a singer in the ’80s, Paul Young, who said he spent ten years becoming an overnight sensation, so that’s a bit worse than us. His act was just so ’80s, so once the ’80s were finished he was pretty much fucked!

How big a role has the Internet had in your breakthrough?

Pretty much a huge part to be quite honest, although it’s not like one of our songs went viral and had millions of hits or something like that Gotye record did, or ‘Video Games’ by Lana Del Rey. Everything combined – from blogging, Twitter, Facebook – did it for us I think, and a body of stuff on there has propelled it forward.

What are your plans for the rest of 2013?

Touring, lots of promo, and we should be coming out to Australia some time too, although I’d better not say anything, because l got in trouble last time for telling someone we were playing at Laneway and we weren’t!

LONDON GRAMMAR’S DEBUT ALBUM IF YOU WAIT IS RELEASED SEPTEMBER 6TH.

Record review: The Trouble With Templeton – Rookie (2013, LP)

It’s been a rollercoaster couple of years for Brisbane’s Thomas Calder, singer and songwriter for indie-rock quintet The Trouble With Templeton. After releasing the mini album Bleeders in 2011 and expanding his musical project out of his bedroom and into the form of a five-piece band, The Trouble With Templeton have received considerable amounts of radio play and industry attention both at home and abroad, chiefly in the United States. As recently as March this year Calder bagged the APRA Songwriting Award (and $30,000 worth of industry prizes), and has received warm critical appraisal for the maturity of his song-writing.

Rookie is the band’s second release, and is an assured and accomplished effort, by any standards. At times soft and gentle indie-pop, at others shivering, grandiose balladry, Rookie is chock-full of the type of quality stuff the likes of fellow Brisbane act The Art of Sleeping might write.

Opener ‘Whimpering Child’ is as delicate as the name suggests, with Calder’s controlled vocals almost whispered over restrained guitar lines and soaring vocal harmonies fluttering in the background. Single ‘You Are New’ has been played pretty regularly on Triple J and is probably the most recognisable track; “punched in school, I guess that’s what those scars were for,” hinting at the subject matter. Fourth track and second single ‘Like A Kid’ brings a welcome dose of rock to proceedings and ‘Six Months In A Cast’ has an almost Latin feel despite the less than Fiesta-esque subject matter. Calder’s vocal theatrics are most impressive on ‘I Recorded You’ and there are even some brooding synths on the darker ‘Soldiers’.

This is a confident and promising album by a band who surely have a big future ahead of them.

ROOKIE IS RELEASED AUGUST 2ND. THE TROUBLE WITH TEMPLETON TOUR NATIONALLY STARTING AUGUST 16TH IN MELBOURNE.

Record review: The National – Trouble Will Find Me (2013, LP)

The National

Ohio natives The National are back with their sixth album, and are set to continue on the upward trajectory that they have been on since the release of their 2001 debut. With each album they have grown and honed their song-writing talents, so far peaking with 2010’s High Violet, but the self-produced Trouble Will Find Me looks set to take the band’s reputation even further.

Around the time of High Violet being released, somebody wrote a description of the band’s music that has always stuck with me. It was on a YouTube or forum comment, and went along the lines of “this band sound like a group of melancholy cowboys sitting around a camp fire after a funeral.” Cowboys they aren’t, but melancholy they certainly are; and on Trouble Will Find Me they strip back their emotions to their leanest forms yet. Anyone expecting any major sonic shift by the quintet will be disappointed, but if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Opener ‘I Should Live In Salt’ is a gentle and beguiling start, with singer Matt Berninger repeating the haunting line “you should know me better than that.” Lead single ‘Demons’ follows, led by Berninger’s wonderfully rich baritone, and sees him exclaiming “when I walk into a room, I do not light it up… fuck!” Blink and you’ll miss the uncharacteristic expletive.

Berninger seemingly goes through a range of moods throughout the album; sounding desperately fragile on ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’ and ‘Fireproof’, more defiant on ‘Sea of Love’, and stirringly intense on ‘Heavenfaced’. ‘I Need My Girl’ is a late-album highlight; a sparsely melodic ballad with excellent guitar work by Bryce Dessner.

Cameos by Sufjan Stevens, Sharon van Etten, and St. Vincent largely go unnoticed, but add interesting footnotes to another exhilarating album by The National. Trouble Will Find Me won’t cheer you up on rainy day, but it’s still a mighty fine album.

TROUBLE WILL FIND ME IS OUT NOW

Interview: Bill Oddie

oddie 1

Whether you know him best for his work on The Goodies or as one of the most well-known wildlife presenters of recent years, one thing is clear about Bill Oddie: he has had as varied a career as they come. Beginning in the mid-sixties, the multi-talented Englishman has dabbled in acting, comedy, music, presenting, ornithology, and conservationism, and at the age of 71, his sense of humour, energy, and passion for wildlife are as strong as ever. He also likes to go off on tangents from time to time.

You’re coming to Australia next month for a run of shows. Tell me, what will the show consist of?

The simple answer is that I don’t really know at the moment! That’s not because I’m completely busking it and haven’t thought about it, but in a sense things are much easier these days because you can gather together clips and things, whereas before you were stuck with a couple of pieces of film or a few slides. I’m doing research at the moment to see what’s actually available, because if you try to get things off the BBC you have to go under the cover of darkness and steal it. They don’t want you having things like that without paying them vast amounts of money. There will be a certain amount of Goodies-related stuff because I didn’t come on the last couple of tours with Tim and Graham. They’ve come back twice I think – sorry about that by the way! Nobody wants them forcing themselves upon your nation (laughs). I’ve got to find out what they covered then. I think it was about five or six years ago when I came over with them and we did shows at several places, starting off at the Melbourne Comedy Festival and then we ended up doing about fifteen gigs I think, covering mainly – and I hate to call it this – nostalgia; covering how various things occurred and requests and stuff like that. But this is going to be my angle, and the great thing about that is that I can say whatever the bloody hell I like and they’ll never know! (laughs)

Will you be solely telling stories, or doing some music too?

I won’t be directly singing with anybody as such unless I burst into something vaguely self-accompanied. One of my biggest failures in life is not actually getting round to playing something that I felt like exposing the public to, but I can probably plonk through the few chords I might need for a couple of things. So, there might be a bit of music, and there may be questions about that, which is fine. I’m amazed how much appreciation and affection we still get from the audience – I was in Sheffield a couple of days ago to talk about some pretty heavy conservation stuff and I was getting asked questions about having John Paul Jones on bass for a demo I did and things like that. I hope Australian audiences will be curious about how we arrived at where we did when we started doing The Goodies stuff. There’s a big Australian connection there as a matter of fact, as most of my band at that time were from Australia or New Zealand. We were like an early-days Flight of the Conchords!

You’ve been so involved in music throughout your career; do you still follow new music these days?

Oh, God yes! I would consider myself a massive fan. I’ve been accused over the years of wanting to be a pop star, and without being unduly uppity, we were pop stars in a way. We had five or six top-twenty records, and were on Top of The Pops every week. If you’ve been reading about the scandalous times in the BBC dressing rooms and Top of The Pops in the seventies – I’m here. I might be able to shed some light on that, or maybe not!

Well in that case, shed some light!

I don’t know (laughs). I can tell you what it was like, and I can tell you about the atmosphere without getting myself jailed or something. One was aware of a certain atmosphere. Let’s face it; it was a bunch of rock bands together at the BBC, and the recordings at that time had a concert feel to them. It was the age of freedom and groupies and so on and so forth, and I personally wouldn’t have regarded most of it as scandalous, but obviously some of it was. But obviously, some things we knew and some things we didn’t.

So you’re saying there’s substance to the stories, shall we say?

It depends (pauses). I don’t mind if when we do the shows in Australia I get asked serious questions; in a way I even prefer it. We can go on forever about the day we did a sketch with a giant kitten, but if part of what the audience wants comes from other curiosities I’m fine with that. I’m happy with people asking about the seventies and if it was really like the stories, and if it’s all true. If there’s a serious side to that I’m perfectly happy to talk about it, so I’d like people to feel that my shows aren’t just about dragging up the old times. Sometimes I like to throw questions right back at the audience and see what people think, in terms of politics, music, the environment, and whatever else. Am I making it sound too serious? (laughs) That also applies to talking about mental health problems I’ve had in the last ten years; I’ve been on something of a journey it has to be said, although if anyone’s looking for salvation you won’t find it; there’s no easy cure. We tend to get the same celebrity depressives in the UK, and I haven’t made that list yet, which I’m a bit cross about! (laughs) Yes, we know about Stephen Fry and so on, but come on!

Your struggles with bi-polar disorder and depression are quite well documented. How are you these days?

I’m fine at the moment; have been for about three years now. Fingers crossed I’ve got through it. I wish I could actually genuinely say it was with a lot of help from various medical institutions, but I can’t say that. One of the big problems is they really don’t know what they’re doing, in the nicest possible sense. It isn’t a simple matter of just take these pills and you’ll be alright, you know? But it might be, and they never say that because that puts half a dozen shrinks out of a job. (laughs) A bit of cynicism is creeping in here! Anyway I’m very happy to answer questions about anything; I’ve never understood people who go into an interview and set rules – I don’t want to talk about this, I don’t want to talk about that and so on. That’s ridiculous; if somebody asks something you don’t want to answer, then don’t answer it.

You’ve had such a diverse career. Is there anything, career-wise, that you haven’t yet done but would like to?

Well, there are millions of things! I suppose as you get older you have to accept all sorts of limitations and likelihoods, apart from getting old and dropping dead, which tends to put a bit of a dampener on some ambitions. I’ve changed my mind frequently about this, but sometimes I think I would like to get back to the sort of position I was in when I was making natural history programmes a couple of years ago, although I don’t think it’s possible as they’re not making that kind of programme now. I don’t know what they’re doing up there in BBC-land, that nasty place! (laughs) So really, apart from wanting to stay around, stay compos mentis, and frankly enjoy my own family – my daughters and grandchildren. Despite every possible encouragement, almost all of them have managed to go into some branch of show business, and I love it. Get to know them, get to know their mates, and you’ll be very, very pleasantly surprised nine times out of ten. Then, a couple of times you’ll be absolutely horrified! (laughs)

Let’s talk conservation now. Do you think we – as in people – are generally improving the way we treat animals or getting worse?

It’s hard to answer this, because I think roughly speaking one could say that we know a great deal more about what the dangers are, what the threats are, how the loss of habitats is so important and that kind of thing. We know much, much more than we did when I was a kid, for example; we know what the problems are in many cases, and what the solutions are, but that doesn’t mean that people are necessarily going to do anything about it. Awareness amongst the public is unquestionably higher, backed up with far more knowledge than we used to have. However, the same overriding concerns like money and greed; in other words politicians and occasional heads of countries – that hasn’t improved and the unfortunate fact is that they’re in charge, and it’s hard to make them see sense. In Britain it’s every fucking day with our stupid government, if I can be frank. We’ve got an absolute moron as an environmental secretary at the moment, Owen Patterson, and the Prime Minister is nearly as bad. It’s like dealing with a bunch of over-privileged landowners, and the battles are there non-stop. Times have changed so much that If someone asks me what should they do to help the environment, I tell them genuinely to be a politician, if they have a mind and a stomach for it, because we got to get some people in there with the right morality.

Final question, Bill. What are your plans for the rest of 2013?

Recover! (laughs) I don’t know actually, as my whole schedule has changed. When I was doing The Goodies that’s all we did. Because I was doing the music as well, I was probably more involved than anybody, so there wasn’t any spare time. Then, for ten or fifteen years I was doing wildlife programmes, which I gather were never shown in Australia; and those took up all my time. At the moment I’m just concentrating on putting my show together and I hope the people of Australia will think it’s rather good and want a few more. I want them to know that it’s not going to be all comedy, or not all serious; believe me, if you see my attempts at swimming with seals in Cornwall, you’ll see it’s not serious. And we’re going to have a good mix of things, but it won’t be totally schizophrenic; just a little bi-polar! (laughs)

BILL ODDIE’S TOUR OF AUSTRALIA STARTS IN BRISBANE ON JUNE 20th. SEE http://www.billoddietour.com.au FOR DETAILS.