A DEAD FOREST INDEX (w- Adam Sherry)
Published in Beat issue 1329
The percussive sluice of Adam Sherry’s voice, layered upon itself like a spanikopita, is given careful room to move beautiful steps on A Dead Forest Index’s EP Antique. The aural world Sherry and his brother Sam have created for it is not threatening, exactly, but it’s a place where light and dark can be oddly interchanged. Having just signed with Denovali Records in Germany and OSCL in Melbourne, the Sherry brothers are about to re-release Antique on vinyl as a joint venture between the two labels. Adam speaks from the home he shares with Sam about how the two came to play together, the imagery evoked by their music, the Federation Bells event of earlier in the year and the international interest their singular sound has garnered.
“They sort of wanted something before an album,” Sherry says of the dual label release, “so instead of doing a single, we had these recordings, and it’s nice for them to be released in a way that has some weight instead of them being so throwaway.” The four tracks were recorded in Auckland, where the boys predominantly grew up. “I was born in London and Sam was born in New Zealand so we go back and forth. We have a lot of family and friends [in Auckland] so we go back quite a bit.” With the project about three years old, Sherry speaks warmly about his musical relationship with his brother. “He’s the only one that can fit in with what I’m doing,” he says simply. “He’s a drummer but doesn’t come from a drumming background; he’s more of a guitarist and singer and pianist so it’s not a traditional way of playing. It’s very instinctive. I think my timing is pretty shabby so it’s really good having Sam here. He’s put so much energy into what we’re doing. It’s equal parts now; the time was right to work together again.” Sherry also plays guitar, but is self-taught. “I have the guitar skills of probably a 14-year-old boy,” he laughs, “but Sam helped me find a way to play that kind of works. I play a few different instruments like harmonium and organ. Harmonium is a beautiful kind of drone instrument; like a reed organ, pretty much.”
In February, A Dead Forest Index played at the relaunch of the Federation Bells sculpture, an installation of 39 harmonic bells. Originally created in 2001 by Anton Hassel and Neil McLachlan to mark the centenary of Federation, it had been closed while various restorations were made including new striker mechanisms, computer controls and lids. “We had an idea to get a couple of bands to intertwine with the bells, and we wrote a few pieces,” says Sherry. “We had a friend with a midi-controlled trigger kind of [set-up]; he controlled the bells for us and we played with them. It was a great experience. It was pretty funny, the actual performance,” Sherry laughs huskily, “because at the MCG there was a Collingwood game that’d just finished. It was surreal, all these football fans streaming out of the stadium.” Pies fans would certainly add a certain something to the ambience.
On the band’s Facebook page there are links to write-ups from Italian and German publications, which Sherry credits Denovali with putting up. “[They] have really good distribution and promotion behind them in Europe, through Cargo,” he says. It’s cool that interest has been sparked abroad when long distances, travels, and faraway lands are some of the ideas communicated through the band’s songs. Images of such are always part of the creation. “I do a lot of line drawings, original little fragments of whatever,” explains Sherry. The band’s tour poster features a simple but evocative drawing of a series of little tipped lines or slashes, “kind of like a blur to another time.” Immediately reminiscent of the symbols in Jim Jarmusch’s 1996 film Dead Man, there’s an odd parallel. Notwithstanding the fact the Sherry brothers’ sound is often very like Neil Young’s incredible soundtrack for the film, Jarmusch’s focus on Romantic writer and artist William Blake resonates with Sherry’s own visual interests. “He’s always been the biggest inspiration because of the kind of atmosphere he created; the power of what he was doing. So revolutionary,” he says. Although Blake is well known for his writings, his art is truly staggering and iconoclastic in its depiction of scenes from Dante, and Blake’s own imagined visions of biblical events coupled with alchemic mythology. “I just came across it in a book in my mum’s bookshelf,” Sherry says. “As a kid I was always fascinated with the imagery. The engravings are just so beautiful. The lines are so strong and precise, and the light source in most of his work is pretty breathtaking.”
Now proper Melbourne boys, Dead Forest are keen to show us a little more of their stuff in their upcoming show at The Toff, a venue Sherry rates highly. “We supported a friend’s band there and the sound was just so good on stage it’s ridiculous. For sound, it’s got to be one of the best places in Melbourne to play, for sure. I’m really looking forward to it.” For a band that is all about light, shade and space, the venue will surely be appreciative too.
A Dead Forest Index play The Toff In Town on Saturday July 21. Tickets here. The newly remastered and rereleased EP Antique is out now.
BENNETS LANE JAZZ CLUB (w- Megg Evans)
Published in Beat issue 1322
“I’m really sorry,” laughs Megg Evans in her sweet, husky voice, “but I was the one who started the door charge. I didn’t even have a tin to put it in, I put it in my pockets. Totally insane.” Evans is referring to her appointment as door person at Bennets Lane Jazz Club in March of 1993, two months after she’d met the owner when she was just 17. Having moved from Perth to Melbourne, the melodious young woman who has now been at the club for almost its life was managing it by her next birthday. In November, Bennetts Lane will be 20 years old and Evans’s path during those years has twisted along in tandem with the venue. Fourteen weeks ago she gave birth to her first child and it’s a beautiful symbiosis, with her describing meeting Bennetts’ owner Michael Tortini and moving into her apartment above the lane in the early ’90s as “like finding a new family.”
Despite becoming a world-class club and hosting musical iconoclasts and legends such as Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Allan Browne, Harry Connick Jr., Chick Corea, Brad Mehldau and one infamous Prince gig, Evans says it’s astonishing the club has managed to make it this far whilst maintaining its integrity and true purpose. In the wider den of Melbourne, her take on the future of musicianship in our city is direct. “I think there’s this weird conflict going on, because we have probably the largest percentage of Australia’s great musicians living here, and yet not really enough infrastructure to support them financially. So they all have to get teaching jobs, which means next year [we’ll] have even more really good musicians and even less places for them to play.” The outcome has got to be noise restriction re-evaluations, better-designed venues, or more “guerrilla” kinds of venues, she believes.
Bennetts has always done a brilliant job of getting our star players on the stage. “It is about putting the really cool musos on,” she admits, but also about “care and respect. Melbourne, or Australia, has this idea that the world is better than them. And I’ve listened to the world’s best. And nine times out of ten I’ll pick an Aussie to play, because their music is incredible.” In 20 years the average charge at Bennetts’ door has gone from nothing, to the $3 Evans instigated in ’93, to $15 today. “You’ve got [American pianist] Brad Mehldau who charges $75 a ticket. Then we’ve got [Australian pianist] Joe Chindamo, who, when he’s overseas or on an international tour, is playing shoulder-to-shoulder with [the best], and he’s just as good. And he’s charging $15 to get in. I mean if you have a look at what cinemas cost,” she points out. She names Jex Saarelaht (her “first musical crush”) as a case in point: “He’s one of Australia’s most amazingly incredible pianists, and yet has no profile. He’s such a perfectionist that he doesn’t perform that often. But on the other side he has no Facebook; he doesn’t get into social media. PR people have a really hard time with him because there’s really only one story to tell and that’s just being a great musical professional.” Evans’s son cries a little in the background of our call and it’s interesting to wonder who the next Aussies to navigate this path and have these conversations will be.
Having sung with my high school jazz band one heady evening several years ago at Bennetts, it’s clear that Evans and Tortini are serious about supporting young musicians from an early age. “I have approached Monash and VCA about getting their students involved in more Bennetts projects, and I’ve started what’s called Jazz Commons, which is a not-for-profit program so I can get young people more involved with creating their own scene, in a sense,” she explains. Having taken on guest lecturer positions at these institutions, she talks to students about “what life’s like on the outside, and how [to] go about getting a gig, what the scene is like out there, considering the death of the record label and seeing the advent of this digital era.” She also aids students with their grant applications, something older musicians could probably benefit from as a number seem to lament their inability to produce something the Arts Council finds compelling. “It’s really interesting to see how kids think about what they find valuable in their own work, and how they position that on a page,” she says warmly.
As for the purple dynast’s secret show in 2003, Evans breathes through the details even though she’s likely been asked about it a hundred times. “He chose the small room. He only let in about 45 people. There was like 5,000 people in the lane: we had to pull down all the roller doors to stop them from breaking in. There were people on the roof next door trying to break into our roof: it was pretty incredible. [Prince and his band] came down the stairs playing Take The ‘A’ Train.” In another tribute to the club’s sterling reputation, Evans recalls the night Chick Corea played. “He has a stage manager, a tour manager and a personal manager, so he’s got three guys on the ball for him, so you know you don’t talk to him. And he’s a Scientologist so we had [a very specific rider]. He hasn’t been playing club gigs for years. And he came up to me, grabbed my arm and said ‘Look, I just want to tell you something: You give me faith in clubs again.’ He wanted to stay in touch because this is the only club he wants to play in now.”
Later this year, Bennetts will be celebrating its birthday with a party Evans describes as “a week of great gigs, with great local musos, to celebrate what we do and the way we do it.” At the suggestion of a giant cake, ideally with someone jumping out of it, Evans gives a trademark sultry chuckle and suggests Allan Browne for the spot. Considering her status as loyal lifeblood of the club, perhaps it should be herself.
BENNETTS LANE JAZZ CLUB marks its 20th anniversary in the last week of November this year. Check the venue’s site closer to the date for more details: bennettslane.com. The club is located at 25 Bennetts Lane, Melbourne.
BITTER SWEET KICKS (w- Jack Davies)
Published in Beat issue 1328
Jack Davies, singer and lyricist for dirty rock outfit Bitter Sweet Kicks, is struggling with his hands-free. Amongst the scraping noises he says, “Have you heard of Seddon? I’m helping a mate pick up some gear. I’m a nice fella.” ‘Nice’ isn’t exactly how the band comes across; ‘hell-bent’ or ‘possessed by rock demons’ seem more apt descriptions. The Melbourne-bred five-piece have recently signed with Beast Records and are about to launch their mini-album (seven tracks), Linea De Fuego, which they believe will cement them as more than a great live band.
“It means ‘line of fire’ in Spanish,” Davies says. “We looked [the phrase] up, told some Spanish friends to make sure we got it right with wording and shit. And we were like ‘Oh yeah, and it’s a film.’”In The Line Of Fire is a 1993 thriller starring Clint Eastwood. “Then I get home. I’ve got this outdoor laundry and there’s a big poster of that film just sitting there that I’ve never fucking noticed. I’m obviously not as observant as I thought I was.”
The album draws from a “four or five year period” of music that Bitter Sweet Kicks have created. “We trimmed a lot of fat, a lot of old stuff,” Davies explains, “and just kind of picked the best of what we had. There’re a few old ones on this new album that we thought we’d dig up because we thought they deserved a bit of recognition.”
Bitter Sweet Kicks are often linked with St Kilda, and Davies acknowledges they spent a lot of time there when they were starting out, but laments it’s reached its “death rattle.” Thankfully there’s still places like Pure Pop Records and Lyrebird Lounge, both of which the band have managed not to be banned from. “Naw, we can’t be banned from there,” Davies cackles, regarding Lyrebird. “Campbell, the owner, is forever in our debt. I think we played some of the first live electric shows there. We started with a residency, and on the first show we completely fucking trashed everything, and we’re like ‘Shit. We’re definitely banned.’ But Campbell came up to us after and was like ‘Oh my God. I’m so happy, can you come back next week and do that again?’ The residency really built and a lot of people started showing up there. I’d like to think we helped him get it off the ground. It’s untouched,” he continues. “You can go there and feel welcome and see really good music and be arseholes, which is really rare these days.” He does admit the band have gleaned a few things since the time of being banned from venues such as The Espy. “We fucked up and completely learned from that lesson. When we play, we kind of just get all the craziness out on stage and then either behave or get the fuck out of there after the show,” he laughs.
The band have a close relationship with the legendary Spencer P Jones: “We adore Spence,” Davies says warmly. “He’s the cool uncle that teaches you shit that your parents don’t want you to know. In a good way; not dodgy or anything. Not Uncle Touchy.” He busts out laughing, then adds “We look up to him and the music he’s made. It’s been the biggest honour to be able to tour with him and play shows with him.”
When I ask where the boys manage to rehearse their massive sound, Davies won’t be specific. “We rehearse in an old bank vault in one of St Kilda’s seedy alleyways; one that still has prostitutes. No one can hear us scream in there. You have to pull the giant door closed. The door used to jam shut which is kind of scary because you can’t get reception in there. So you’d need three dudes kicking on it at the same time to get it to open. There’d be this moment of panic, ‘Argh I’m going to be in here for the rest of my life,’” he shrieks. “We’d definitely eat Johnny first.”
BITTER SWEET KICKS launch Linea De Fuego at the Prince Bandroom in St Kilda, on Friday July 13, supported by King Of The North, Valentiine, and Merri Creek Pickers.
BONJAH (w- Regan Lethbridge)
Published in Beat issue 1323
The Maori legend of the beauty Hinemoa, who swims across Lake Rotarua to reach her forbidden lover Tutanekai, is part of the spiritual landscape which New Zealand’s Bonjah once called home. Three of the five members hail from Tauranga, which is situated in the Bay Of Plenty region of the north island. “It’s absolutely beautiful,” says guitarist for the blues and roots outfit, Regan Lethbridge. “It’s right on the beach; it’s where we grew up.” It also might not be the most difficult of placenames in the area to pronounce (see: Whakamarama, Ohauiti) but perhaps it was their hometown which influenced Bonjah’s decision to initially name their group Bonjahbango. This did not work out so hot when the band moved to Melbourne in 2007, and now on the brink of their first big overseas adventure together, Lethbridge still finds it a bit galling to explain.
“We went on tour in 2008, and about one venue in 22 got [the spelling] right,” he laments. When Lethbridge and his bandmates were still going by their bouncier former title in Melbourne, the days were rough but magic. “When we first got here we couldn’t get gigs so we’d just set up on the street and live off our CD sales. They were really, really awesome days,” he says. “We’d go out three or four days a week and just play music. It was pretty special.”
The journey is set to get bigger when the guys head to London this month, and then jettison over to Germany where they’ll be playing the JuWi festival. Footage from last year’s JuWi depicts some rather incredible scenes, and Lethbridge admits he isn’t entirely sure what they’re in for. “I know that it’s the largest student festival in Germany. There’s about ten or twelve thousand people,” he ponders with that upward inflection. “The festival booker’s sister bought our CD [while we were] busking years ago and gave it to [the booker], and he got in touch. We said, ‘Look, if we’re going to come all that way is it possible to give us a good slot?’ He said ‘How does 10pm on the main stage sound?’ And we’re like ‘Oh… my God,’” he laughs. “We’re playing after the biggest hip hop artists in Germany, so it’s either going to go really well or… [lead balloon territory].”
Having played an astonishing number of shows around Melbourne and Australia in the last couple of years, the trip will also provide a chance for Bonjah to knuckle down to some songwriting. “The inspiration we’re going to get from the trip [will] be awesome, because we’ve obviously never been that far as a band,” Lethbridge says. “We’ve played that many shows – into the hundreds last year – we just want to take some time out from the touring side and spend six months creating the best thing we can create.”
Playing a pile of live gigs clearly takes its toll: not just on the musicians but on the songs too. In order for the boys to continue enjoying the tracks and keep them fresh each time they play for an audience, an effort has to be made to spritz the lettuce a bit. “Each time we play a song there’s little changes and little differences… In the middle [of single Fly] we just said, ‘Right, at this point someone’s going to start a jam. Whether it’s Dan on the drums or Dave on the bass, or myself,” Lethbridge says. “And then we just don’t know where it’s going to go. It’s little things like that that keep it fresh for us.” Soulful, bluesy guitar and bass combined with jaunty woodblock off-beats, dreamy melodies and impromptu reggae yells certainly lend the band to improvisation: it’s a sound that is at once familiar, and also very emotive.
Speaking of emotions, the good vibes go around and around with these guys: paying it forward is very important to them. Having previously been involved with a few benefit causes including the Leukemia Foundation and the Variety Children’s Charity, this year Lethbridge heard about Make-A-Wish, whose mission is to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses. “I just thought, ‘That is such a cool idea,’” he says warmly, “and I contacted them the next day and said we’d love to be involved, and how can we help, what can we do?” In addition to setting up donation boxes and handing out informational fliers, one dollar from every ticket sold to their approaching Melbourne gig will be donated to the charity. The cherry on top was their announcement last week regarding some special guests who will perform at the show: three youngsters from Make-A-Wish are set to sing a song with the boys. “We’re now ambassadors, which is pretty amazing,” Lethbridge beams. “[We’re] putting a bit of good karma out there, which is cool.”
It’s not some slick Bono-type move though, as a recent performance by the band on New Zealand’s Sunrise program will attest. Lethbridge was sashaying about with bare feet, which looked sort of weird when you imagine Kiwi mums with nice powdered hair watching while they sipped their morning coffee. “I know,” he says guiltily. “My mother had a word. I just don’t really like shoes to be honest: to this day I don’t play in shoes. I mean I’m respectful; if I’m going to a wedding I’ll put on shoes.” It’s okay Regan, we don’t mind. Keep spreading the awesome positive vibes.
BONJAH play their final show before heading overseas at The Corner Hotel on Friday June 8, and one dollar from each ticket sold goes to Make-A-Wish. Go Go Chaos is out now through Shock.
BUSTAMENTO (w- Nicky Bomba)
Published in Beat issue 1323
The first single from Bustamento, Nicky Bomba’s neoteric Mento-inspired group, is something pretty special. Mañana (meaning ‘tomorrow’ in Spanish) is a reggae-motivated romp with verses explaining why there’s all this pressing stuff to be done like earn some money and fix the damn roof. In the chorus, the six-piece sing in mariachi harmony: “Mañana, mañana, mañana is good enough for me.” It’s so cute and happy, it’s kind of impossible not to smile even if you’re seriously glum. “That’s great, that was the complete intention,” Bomba laughs from across the waves in his native Malta. “I think I’ve achieved it really well: the cheeky vibe.” Having pulled together his current bandmates from his previous group, Bomba has led the creation of an album which escorts ska, reggae, Afro-Cuban, Mento and calypso sounds into merry company and tied them up with vocals which are spontaneous tales about life, love and fun times.
“The beautiful thing about the album is that we’ve captured it in an old-school format. It goes to the essence of what I like about music in general: how it can be immediate, uplifting, and positive. I wanted the album to have that colour to it,” Bomba explains. The Mañana clip is awesome: shot in a room upstairs from the recording studio, the guys (in matching white singlets and hats) jump, dance and play their instruments around Bomba who sits in the foreground on his kit, flipping his sticks about in joyful abandon. The togetherness communicated is something reflected in the way the album was recorded, too: playing simultaneously in the one room. “[It’s] how all old recordings were done,” Bomba says. “Because there’s only a couple of microphones, all the energies and harmonic things combine to make a sound. The dominant practise to record is to isolate everything and then work on it later on. We went for a different technique. It was an essential part of the process.”
Bomba first heard Mento while in Essen, Germany for the Womex festival, and saw Stanley Beckford’s band play. The style predates both ska and reggae. “When you hear traditional Mento, there’s usually [a rhumba box], a banjo, sometimes a fiddle, guitars, a fife,” he says. “But the big thing about Mento is the vocal comment. It was a way of communicating things, and keeping it cheeky as well. That resonated really well with the way that we perform and the way that I write.” Bomba’s Maltese heritage has also informed this lyrical approach, with the music of the Caribbean very big on “making things up on the spot.” Bomba says the name for the act translates as ‘quickspirit’: “You get up in front of a crowd or at a wedding and you sound out a bit about the people there and you make up songs and stories. And I love that. That’s very much a Mento, Jamaican thing and very much a Maltese thing. I’m glad that I’ve found some link with that for me so I’m able to get the Maltese-Caribbean connection happening.”
There’s a lot written about the differences between Calypso and Mento, especially the apparent betrayal by Harry Belafonte (his version of Day-O is that which we all know and love from the greatest scene in Beetlejuice), and other popular cross-over musicians. Bomba grants you can make those distinctions, but he’s never promoted himself as a purist. “I like the fact that there’s an appreciation and a respect that this type of music was the forefather of all things reggae and ska and dancehall,” he says, “but I’m more the mash-up type. We do do classic Mento things, but Calypso was really the commercialised cousin of Mento. [Harry Belafonte’s tracks] were all Mento tunes. Calypso is kind of associated more with Trinidad than Jamaica; Mento is predominantly Jamaican.”
The poster art for Bustamento’s album is beautiful, the chief image a slightly faded, painterly collage of the band members sitting in a wooden boat at sea. Double bassist Barry Deenick stands with a scarlet macaw on his shoulder, trumpeter Paul Coyle peers through safari binoculars and the others look out to sea with colourful leis around their shoulders. A Hawaiian bobble-head hula girl sits on the boat’s rim and deep, dark tropical foliage covers the mountainous landscape of the island in the background. There’s a few curious items tucked into the scene and it’s rather mysterious, but Bomba chuckles and won’t give up any definitive info. “[The concept of artwork accompanying an album] has been devalued, because of the net: the cheapness, gig downloads. We spent a lot of time getting the artwork right. And I think we’ve scored a lot of goals with that: a lot of people have commented on the quality of the artwork.” Apparently fans have been trying to nab the large promo posters from cafe walls, so Bomba has made them available for purchase at shows.
Having just received a Music Fellowship Award from the Arts Council, Bomba is supremely excited about what this will mean for his future endeavours with the band, and the possibilities it affords him. “It helps in a real world fashion,” he says. “I was really honoured to receive it, and thankful to them for choosing me.” Here’s to furthering the humour and spirit of Mento, and Bomba’s place in the dance.
NICKY BOMBA’S BUSTAMENTO play the Thornbury Theatre on Friday June 15, as part of their Intrepid Adventures tour. Intrepid Adventures To The Lost Riddim Islands is available now through Transmitter Music/Vitamin Distribution.
CAMERAS (W- Fraser Harvey)
Published in Beat issue 1328
Moody four-piece Cameras have had their fingers in an entire bain-marie of different pies, ever since their inception in 2008. From the auspicious start of winning a triple j competition which paired emerging bands with graduating NIDA directors, through re-filming the clip for single June with a Danish auteur, to roping in fellow Sydney-sider Isabella Manfredi to act in said clip, to interest from MTV Iggy, to writing and performing the score for an entire NIDA production; cross-pollination within the arts is central to the way they do things. Even the wolf head in their Defeatist clip was made by a practising puppeteer (you may know her other works from such culinary advertisements as the Dolmio television spots). Bassist, guitarist and vocalist Fraser Harvey spoke about these and other tidbits, as he and his bandmates gear up to tour and promote their excellent debut album In Your Room.
Harvey shares vocal duties with keyboardist Eleanor Dunlop. Keys on single June roll deep and beautiful, played on a grand piano in the recording. But when touring, Harvey laughs about the technicalities of shunting Dunlop’s instrument. “When we’re live it’s one of those fucking ridiculous things that you have to lug around; it’s a massive keyboard,” he says. “When we first started playing I was like, ‘Can’t you just get a little keyboard thing?’ Of course she couldn’t really lift it. Everyone else gets left lugging it around. My skinny whiteboy strength,” he explains irreverently. The clip is a tale, and like that of Defeatist was directed by Jens Hertzum. Hertzum came up with the concept: “He was listening to the song, [and] it’s got that guitar sound which is a bit shaky. I believe they call it ‘delay’ in the industry,” he smiles. “And he got thinking about that. He liked it, and [said] it almost sounds like a weapon, in itself, that weird sound; it would be cool to use that sound as a weapon but against the band. He’s using [the General] as someone who’s conducting experiments using the sound on us.”
In a bunker with dust particles hanging thick in the air, a man in military-looking garb sits at a desk with a stopwatch in one hand and a pencil in the other, consulting various meters and needles that flick back and forth, with a cigarette burning beside him. He makes strange markings on official-looking papers (created by drummer Ben Mason: “he made up his own script and language, and created all the documents”) and towards the build-up and conclusion of the track we see the startlingly diabolical effects of the test. It’s all the more jolting because the listener is lulled by the pace of the music and the raw wash of guitars.
The fourth and newest member of Cameras is Mike Morgan. Morgan has been instrumental in the super atmospheric sound the band produce. “He has been playing with us for about two years,” says Harvey, “but Mike co-produced and recorded everything we’ve done in that time. He and I work quite well in a production sense; we do all that together. It made sense that he would join the band.” Another friend-cum-contributor (although not a member) to Cameras’ portfolio is Isabella Manfredi of The Preachers. Acting the heroine to the wolf-headed protagonist in the Defeatist clip, Manfredi plays a romantic, free spirit who wants to break out from the social structure she’s entrapped in. “We’ve played with them a bunch of times,” says Harvey of The Preachers, “and they’re awesome, and Issy was up for it! She did an awesome job and she looks amazing in [the clip].” Reminiscent of the Smashing Pumpkins’ gorgeous Stand Inside Your Love, the video is well worth a YouTube look.
Cameras’ shows have a reputation for matching their epic sound in live ambiance. “Our shows are good, they’re a bit weird,” ponders Harvey. “Well, they can get weird. When we play it is quite intense, and quite loud, and quite big. Because no one really knows who we are it catches some people unawares.” The idea of ‘not knowing’ about a band, and the ambiguity and excitement that can create, is something Harvey has opinions on. “We don’t really write a lot, ourselves,” he says. “We don’t write a blog; we kind of just come together to play music. To me that’s more interesting in a band. I guess growing up with bands pre-internet we didn’t get all that shit, do you know what I mean? You’d find a bit of music you liked, and there was something about that band that attracted you to them and made you want to find out more. That’s just how I grew up listening to bands and getting into bands. When you start really getting into music, at about 12 or 13, you stay up watching Rage and you catch this video and go ‘Oh my God that’s fantastic, I’ll go into a record shop and see what they’ve got in stock.’ [It’s not how] it’s done today.” Cameras wrap both secrecy and beauty in their huge sound, and will undoubtedly win devoted fans during their upcoming trio of Melbourne shows.
CAMERAS perform at Can’t Say, Platform One on Friday July 13, The Workers Club on Saturday July 14 and Pure Pop Records on Sunday July 15. In Your Room is out now through Speak N Spell/Inertia.
DROPBUNNY (w- Xero)
Published in Beat issue 1311
The contrast between airy, eerie melodies and the thrash of bent guitars bring Melbourne metal rockers dropbunny up another level with their new album, IO. With the recent addition of three new members, the fresh-look seven-piece give it their all in lacing together sometimes disparate elements, which reflects their varied approach to the themes they’re trying to impart.
“Music is only one way to communicate,” explains Xero, the well-spoken vocalist who contributes a lot of social commentary on the band’s blog. He believes that growing up, many people are “very restricted in the creativity that [they] are allowed or are willing to show,” and dropbunny is really “a celebration of doing things which are outside the norm.”
With a children’s book (Lilly, released June last year) and a themed video game also strung in their cross-formatting bow, a concerted interest in social phenomena and psychology is apparent in the quotes and literature included amongst the band’s web material. In particular, Lilly’s message about police violence caused a small stir, with the Herald Sun and a daytime television program picking it up as an example of misspent youth angst. The reaction was “surprising but pretty cool,” says Xero. The moral tale was another attempt, like their music, to get people “out of their normal perceptual day-to-day systems.” Artwork for the book was created by Blackjack, vocalist and guitarist for the band, and copies are available for sale from dropbunny’s website.
As well as words from prominent psychologists about creativity and the conformist systems forced upon young children, there are a number of phony bios hidden in the band’s site. Xero admits there’s a tongue-in-cheek aspect to parts of what dropbunny do, and mixing the “creative and ridiculous” is important; There’s a shared interest in “combining the ‘negative’ emotions that you have with metal, generally, with light-hearted stuff,” he says, “without taking the piss out of the darker side of things that you’re working on.”
The four track preview for the new album showcases some technical proficiency, particularly in the opening track Pentagonal Plywood Prison. Haunting operatic voices are met by a firm rhythm section, with Xero’s vocals in turn moving from a wheedling Brian Molko to violent, spat strength in the heavy sections. There is an accompanying video which depicts a young woman going through the monotony of a cube drone’s morning ritual, preparing for work. In one memorable shot she stares blandly into the camera as she stuffs a piece of toast down her gullet. The other stand-out track is Another Lost Kid, featuring tight, brash guitar and thumping drums meshed together with an artful result.
Although they haven’t trained classically, dropbunny’s members all have experience playing different styles which adds to the “underlying narrative” of their songs, and the ability to mix their methods. An artery of metal still links all parts, and although they haven’t quite reached the zenith of their sound’s maturity, dropbunny’s enthusiastic and eclectic approach proclaims that they are not about to run out of steam. The band’s release will be a grand show with the boys accompanied by Death of Art, Hybrid Nightmare, Moth and BROOZER. The latter in particular Xero credits with creating “very, very unusual music,” and adds that it’s not often you get to play with a group of bands whom you all really admire. With the release date for dropbunny’s album initially scheduled for September of 2011, there should be a slew of fans attending to celebrate the long-awaited occasion.
dropbunny launch their new album IO on Friday March 16 at the John Curtin Hotel, with discounted tickets available if attendees pre-register on their site:dropbunny.com.
ELEPHANT EYES (w- Kate McMahon)
Published in Beat issue 1323
North Melbourne Institute of TAFE has a great reputation for producing confident, business-savvy performers and arrangers, yet the fact that the members of Elephant Eyes all met and created their band while in its warm embrace still seems serendipitous. Even meeting truly like-minded friends at high school is hard enough, when you’re still very malleable and don’t think pretending to like this or that thing is selling out. But the band have managed to navigate that gauntlet and their gorgeous, thoughtfully-paced, Portishead-ish sounds are rapidly winning fans.
“Three out of the four of us have finished now [at NMIT],” says vocalist Kate McMahon, who originally hails from Ballarat; since completing the course she has collected many friends and contacts resulting in Elephant Eyes playing a variety of different gigs. One of these was a performance in her hometown, several videos of which are up on YouTube. Introducing the track A Sinking Ship, McMahon explains: “It’s about a job that I quit not that long ago, and how essentially everyone else was quitting and I was the only one left.” It’s these little things that ground Elephant Eyes’ sultry style, which takes the listener through whimsy but always has its feet planted in genuine feeling.
Perhaps that’s also why the band name seems so apt; elephants are enormous and exotic, but purposeful in their movements and very wise in the eyes. “I originally came up with ‘White Elephant’,” says McMahon, “which is a term for something you have that’s a burden or hard to upkeep.” She thought this was an interesting concept, and through a mutative process the group settled on its current title.
This method is mirrored in the way the tunes are created. “I’ll come up with chord progressions; I write them on piano,” McMahon explains, “and then I’ll come to the band with a ‘skeleton’ of a song. Then they might say ‘How about this chord here or this one instead of that,’ to give it a twist or make it a bit more interesting.” McMahon studied voice and is self-taught on the piano, so appreciates hearing the others’ input and ideas which are based around their own areas of musicianship.
Drummer Stu Hazelman is a decided “multi-instrumentalist,” whose deep singing voice beautifully accompanies McMahon’s on their track I Want To Know. Opening with bassist Tom Fraser’s sweet, slow groove, Hazelman plays with brushes while keys player Michael Mazziotta leans in to his bells sound, to create a simple beauty. During an instrumental in the middle of the song, the clip shows McMahon swaying gracefully down to the ground where she sits like a dropped feather. “I don’t like feeling useless!” she laughs, admitting that she is not playing some out-of-sight glockenspiel during this section.
Along with I Want To Know and the stunning Wake Up (which has a cute stop-motion clip created by McMahon up on YouTube), Elephant Eyes’ next stand out is their single Mother Said which is to be released this Friday. The track has some great background harmonies going on and Mazziotta’s rich piano sounds amazing with Hazelman’s rim-clicking, tambourine accented drums. McMahon’s vocals are particularly mesmerising; she is definitely channelling Emiliana Torrini here. The release is to be a pretty grand affair, with music management group Maths and Magic putting on a ‘showcase’ which comprises Elephant Eyes, young chanteuse Siobhan and the talented Pete Uhlenbruch performing as Owls Of The Swamp.
Uhlenbruch has just arrived back in the country from Berlin where he’s spent the last year or so, and McMahon is stoked he will be performing. “He began the International Melodica Festival,” she enthuses, and it’s clear that the sense of community which events like this provide is important to the band’s ethos. Earlier this year Elephant Eyes played at Moomba, which McMahon describes as a fantastic experience even though many people have misconceptions of the event (such as it being all showbags, goat-patting and those sparkly cellophane wigs). “It was very family oriented,” she says. “We had some little kids dancing along to our set so that was really cute. But it was a great lineup: Josh Pyke played, and The Bamboos. I think [the organisers] are trying to shake off that old idea of Moomba.” It’s true that the infrastructure for the large, outdoor event open to a varied audience is already in place, so why not expand the live music side to include some of Melbourne’s great emerging artists? Not everyone likes goats, and those cellophane wigs can burn your optic nerve right out if the sun’s glinting off them at eye-angle. Elephant Eyes will do nothing so horrifying to your biology but they will definitely affect your mental state in an uplifting, arresting and wistful way.
ELEPHANT EYES release their single Mother Said on Friday June 8, at The Grace Darling in Collingwood (9pm). A presale ticket from Moshtix will get you a three-track Maths And Magic sampler; tickets are also on the door for $10.
EMMA LOUISE (w- Emma Louise)
Published in Beat issue 1325
There’s a certain kind of female that occupies a space in which she’s perpetually young and girlish but also wise and worldly. Goldie Hawn is one, and so is Jena Malone. When they’re young, they’re playful but seem ahead of their years because of a graceful ease, and when they’re mature they are both judicious and mischievous; always they give the impression of being oddly, beautifully not of their age in life. This ethereal mix of capability/vulnerability resides in Emma Louise, the young songstress from Brisbane who lassoed our tickers last year with her debut singleJungle. Having just been signed to American indie label Frenchkiss and with her EP Full Hearts and Empty Rooms recently flying into the gold camp, pixiegirl Emma is back in the studio to concentrate on her next release.
“I’ve put about seven songs down [so far],” she says hesitantly, taking a deep breath while pondering what to say next. She speaks in shorts bursts and then thinks hard, kind of like Bambi trying to get up. “We’re just working on a song now called Seventeen Hours. I recorded piano on it and, h-yeah,” she laughs. “I’m only a beginner on piano so I’m not too happy with what I did. So I think I’m going to hand over to [my bass player], who is exceptional at all instruments.” Her single Boy has a rich, deep organ sound throughout – you can hear the weight of the keys. Considering it’s the base instrument for the track, and yet Emma does not think herself so competent on the piano, she still doesn’t mind explaining the writing process. “I do a lot of writing on piano, but technically I’m not the best piano player. I have trouble playing in time… but it’s a lot of fun, I love piano. Yeah! Well I guess when I’m writing, nobody’s listening to me [singing] ‘la, la, la’… and then have a big gap when I’m changing chords and stuff,” she giggles.
Emma’s primary instrument is guitar, her affinity with which was immediately obvious to fans through her YouTube videos, which she often recorded at her parents’ house in Cairns. “You know, I haven’t uploaded one in a while,” she says thoughtfully. “It used to be kind of, I’d write a song and put it up there so it was somewhere, and it was doing something. So they were kind of my demos. Now anything I write could be on an album so I can’t really put them up there.” On camera, her sweet demeanour and messy hair show her to be calm and unpretentious. It hadn’t really occurred to her that she was performing to a virtual, not-yet-formed audience, but her ability to visually connect is amazing. “I guess it is pretty weird, thinking about it now,” she says. “I tried a few times talking to the camera, saying, ‘Hi, I’m Emma and this song is,’ and then I look back and just end up deleting it because I hate watching myself talk on camera, it’s so awkward.”
The way she plays her instrument is most definitely not awkward. “I love my guitar; I’ve got a new Gibson. Before that I had a Maton, and before that I had a Monterrey or something,” she smiles. “I’ve got a little guitar I bought in London… it cost like 20 pounds and I got it from an antique store. I reckon it’s the length of my arm if I was like, putting it out.” She laughs as she tries to think of how to describe its length without coming up with an actual number which might be wrong. “It’s about from my shoulder to my fist. I love it.”
Frenchkiss, the label which wooed Emma into their exclusive fold, are “just such a nice bunch of people; really relatable.” She speaks about several labels in America taking her and her crew out in flash cars to French restaurants to “talk about money,” but Frenchkiss were different. “[They said] let’s meet up at this place,” Emma explains. “It ended up being this taco place filled with normal people. They’re just really super duper nice. In Australia [the ensemble is] independent. That’s another reason why we went with them. We could have gone with a label that had a big amount of control over what I was doing but I really like creative control and I don’t feel any pressure. They’re really supportive.”
Rocking an obvious love of vintage style, Emma speaks warmly about her friend’s clothing label Alice Nightingale. “She makes these amazing dresses in like, one night. She’s hooking me up with all my clothes; I met her at a market.” Emma’s hair is also something striking, and seems to reflect her fearless nature – not fearless in an aggressive way, but sort of unafraid to be vulnerable. “I used to have long hair, and then I cut it short – but not too short,” she says. “And then I got this day job, where I had to advertise a hair company. They said ‘If you’re going to work for us you can’t have shitty hair,’ so I went in to have a complimentary haircut. I have a tattoo on the side of my head. They saw that and were like ‘Oh my God, can we accentuate that?’ So they shaved half my hair off, like a panel, and dyed some of it bright pink, and I ended up crying.” The next day Emma went to her friend’s house and shaved the lot off, and when she returned to work she was promptly fired. “Apparently you can’t have bald people working for a hair company,” she says grimly. But, she’s come to terms with it now: “It was actually probably the most liberating and best thing I’ve ever done, it feels so good. I reckon I’ll probably do it again one day.”
EMMA LOUISE launches her single Boy at The Northcote Social Club on Thursday June 28 and Friday June 29 (sold-out), and Splendour In The Grass in Byron Bay on Friday July 27 (sold-out).
KIDSOF88 (w- Sam McCarthy)
Published in Beat issue 1324
As he’s calling from New Zealand, it’s prudent to give Sam McCarthy a lick of leeway with tardiness. “There is a little bit of a time difference but I think it’s only two hours, not two hours twenty, so sorry about that,” he chortles. It’s no sweat; I was catching up on trash celebrity news. Miley Cyrus has got a new tattoo you know. “Is it a bong? Oh no, that was salvia wasn’t it. Which I’m pretty sure is way worse than normal weed, so I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. I’m pretty sure it’s just lawn grass covered in fly spray.” The theme of worthy, independent journalism versus dodgy or artificial whispers seems to be a theme with McCarthy. He is one half of KidsOf88, the sweetly feisty electronic outfit from Auckland. Having just released their first track Tucan from second album Modern Love, McCarthy and “straight bestie” Jordan Arts are coming to Melbourne in July to show us their new direction.
McCarthy and Arts forged their friendship at a Catholic boys’ high school in Auckland, but McCarthy admits they weren’t chums straight away. “We were both kind of the young musician types… both really, really amazingly awkward. And we would walk out in the schoolyard and look each other up and down like ‘ah, you think you know your shit’ kind of attitude. But as we got to know each other we were ‘oh, so you do know your shit,’ which was great.” He thanks his luck in having met Arts and finding such a strong connection, as he believes that the “actual integral relationship – bar whatever you work on – has to be established for those kinds of creative ideas to be easily communicated.” The two still operate out of Auckland, from the suburb of Mount Eden. McCarthy likens it to Brunswick, in that it has “the best ratio of happy families and glue sniffers.”
Despite some shifty wording on the band’s Wiki page which suggests the contrary, McCarthy says it is important to show your personality, as well as have specific personal input into any public endeavour your band might carry out. Their official site acts as a gate to the guys’ Tumblr, which is filled with pretty, understated photographs from their travels. “Most band websites have always felt a bit unnatural; always updating in really overzealous ways. We’ve always been more about being personable and just letting people know who we are, as opposed to being hypey. [The site is] basically full of photos of what we do and then we use Facebook to communicate with people. Or what I do is just upload cat gifs,” he clarifies.
The video for Tucan is directed by Levi Beamish, whom Arts has known since he was four, and depicts the gorgeous and misty foliage in a rainforest north of Auckland. “We went about five hours out to where [Beamish] is from, and just kind of captured this amazing region. A lot of people say ‘It’s very New Zealand’… we weren’t exactly going for a New Zealand aesthetic. Moreso, we wanted to show appreciation for the natural side of things, and the rhythms that come with nature and how you can kind of pick that up with music.” The track itself is a dreamy story studded with synths, claps and a great beat which sounds like the drums in classic Iko Iko (“My grandma and your grandma, sitting by the fire…” from the Impulse Alive ad, if you’re a female kid of ’85).
While McCarthy admits the production has always been a heavy part of the band’s music, he speaks about the core song with importance. “Whenever we’re writing lyrics or writing melodies it has to be just with the chords and the melody, so you can play it at a party on a guitar and it would still sound alright even next to the recorded version. If it’s a good song, it’s a good song.” In regards to equipment, he reflects on the duality of electronica: “We really love old analogue synths; the way that they feel. And that is a very tangible thing as opposed to organising everything on a MacBook… there has to be that feeling there and the easiest way to translate that is so you can hear that it’s coming out of someone’s fingers or out of their voice. It’s about an electronic environment with that human feel to it.”
Despite previously saying the band’s Wiki doesn’t know what it’s on about, McCarthy is surprised to hear that information regarding their second single is out of the bag and up on the maligned page. Tucan was not a heavily-promoted release; the boys just wanted to let people hear what they’d been doing, but McCarthy confirms the next “proper” single will be Bad Talk. The video for this one should be something to look forward to as well: “We’ve always been really into visuals, design and photography. I suppose it’s just another aspect of our expression. I think that they’re very important in regards to how you portray yourself.” An independent spirit isn’t something these boys take lightly, and will ensure they remain true to their own sound as their careers progress, undoubtedly, upwards from here.
KIDS OF 88 play the The Espy on Friday June 15.
QUARRY MOUNTAIN DEAD RATS (w- Wishy)
Published in Beat issue 1324
“A squeezebox is a piano accordion,” Wishy begins to explain after I express intrigue with the Quarry Mountain Dead Rats’ debut album title, Bloodhound Killed My Squeezebox. “Before we did this album I used to play piano accordion, because I’m originally a piano player. [Banjo player] Suddsy has got this huge dog, a bloodhound: Earl. He’s named after Earl Scruggs the banjo player. I had my piano accordion sitting on the concrete floor one night. He ran into [it] and it smashed, and I didn’t have any money to buy another. Someone had a shitty old mandolin and it actually worked a lot better. So I’ve been playing that ever since… trying to get as good as I can. It’s a pretty quick learning curve, because everyone plays at a million miles an hour.” Quick time is what the boys’ fast-chopping, gravel-kicking bluegrass sound is all about. Spending this last weekend in Perisher for the Snowy Mountain festival, they will then head back to Melbourne to launch the album.
It was recorded at Foggy Mountain Studios, which is part of Nash Chambers’ property in the Hunter Valley. The band were “stoked” to work with Shane Nicholson, whom Wishy describes warmly as the “most chilled out guy ever; just totally cool.” Recording all the songs live, he says the pace was furious. “Some of the songs we did in one take; most were done in just a couple of takes. It was pretty frantic but it was fantastic to have someone so chilled as Shane working with us. It took the tension away; he was totally pro.”
The band does have one previous EP release, titled The Loungeroom Sessions, and all songs from that have been re-recorded, with the addition of seven new songs. “It wasn’t even a loungeroom, it was the spare room of [guitarist] Lachy’s house,” Wishy laughs. “We had the washboard player standing out in the hallway. We didn’t have quite the equipment that we had at Shane’s house.” It’s odd that washboard player Ben Clements (“AKA ‘Johnny Washboard’”) was relegated to the corridor seeing as apparently he’s the luminary of the show when they play live. “He used to be a punk drummer,” Wishy explains. “I’m not sure exactly how he got into washboard, [but he] does any sort of solo, and the crowd goes off.” Watching Clements play at various festival shows on YouTube, it’s alarming to anticipate his fingers just shredding away like he’s got a grater around his neck instead of an instrument. “He wears thimbles,” Wishy assures me. “He’s got thimbles for every finger and he tapes them on. So he’s totally useless once he’s in thimble-mode, you can do whatever you want to him, he’s completely helpless.” After playing with the Perch Creek Family Jug Band recently, Clements discovered that their washboard player has special gloves that he can just “chuck on”, and the Jugs almost killed themselves laughing at the thimble set-up. It’s cooler though; more DIY country styles.
Wishy himself is pleased with his new instrument. The piano accordion was so heavy that he’d get back, neck and shoulder strain. “Now I’ve got this mandolin, and I pick it up and sometimes I’m not even sure the mandolin’s in the case; I have to open the case up and make sure it’s in there,” he chuckles. “The only thing with it though, it has eight strings. That’s where I pay for it really. Sometimes it’s really hard when you’re trying to tune on a really noisy stage. But it’s so little too, it takes up no room. When we get on a plane everyone’s got to really loosen up [their] strings, because of the temperature change. But I just put my mando straight in the overhead. That’s my carry-on luggage.”
Solo duties are shared between the mandolin, guitar and banjo, as well as singing responsibilities. “I’d say Lachy is the harmonies king,” he says. “There’re a few songs where we do three-part harmonies. I think that’s maybe one of the things that really helps the show, that it’s sort of always mixing up between who’s singing, it’s always changing. And we have a blast playing. The crowd starts getting up and dancing and we have even more fun. It always comes back to the washboard! He’s in the backline there but everyone loves him.”
At the suggestion of adding some spoons in there for authenticity’s sake, Wishy begins waxing lyrical about the old hambone style. “It’s like you slap your thighs, click your fingers. It’s crazy. You wouldn’t think you’d be so impressed by someone just slapping their thighs. You’d have to use some sort of knee protection,” he ponders. “Probably these hambone players have only got a certain lifespan… we wouldn’t want to wear him out too quick.” It’s pretty certain that a hambone player would bash himself to smithereens before the first ten minutes of the show was up, as the energy emanating from the stage and reflected in the crowd is palpable even when just watching footage of the guys play. The Melbourne show promises to be a typically raw exhibit, with the band set to rock the Northcote Social Club on Saturday night. That’s if they make it down without any mental fans kidnapping them. They’ve just survived a kind of weird highway ordeal, during the arduous drive from Melbourne to Manly on the day of our interview. “There was this crazy girl; she was basically veering all over the road, kind of passing us and then falling behind us. She was steering with her knees while rolling these massive joints,” Wishy says. After pulling into a servo for a quarter hour and joking that it would be downright scary if she was waiting for them when they came out, just that exact thing happened. “We ended up having to take evasive action and turning off down some country road, and getting back on the Hume a little bit further down. It was quite good because it ended up adding a little bit of drama to the trip and making time go a bit quicker.” Extra speed is something these guys are clearly not afraid of.
QUARRY MOUNTAIN DEAD RATS launch their debut record on Saturday June 16 at Northcote Social Club, with Howlin’ Steam Train, Sweet Jean and Master Gunfighters. Bloodhound Killed My Squeezebox is out now.
SOPHIE KOH (w- Sophie Koh)
Published in Beat issue 1328; Brag; DB Magazine
Sophie Koh has got that good side of inertia going; she’s just released her third album Oh My Garden completely off of her own bat amongst trips to LA, she has several shows coming up across our great country, and she’s finding the time to compose her grandmother’s memoirs. “She’s 97,” Koh says warmly. “Well, we don’t know how old she is, she could be a hundred. She was sold to my grandfather in Malaysia when she was 16. No one really knows her history, and she’s been sick lately. It’s amazing how you get things done when you’re really busy,” Koh says, stupefied. “I’ve been a machine the last few weeks.”
The sincerely poppy record Koh has created includes synths stretched like boiled sweets, robotic blips, and mechanised ascending glisses alongside the more traditional piano and guitar sounds of her past albums. Winter Sunglasses in particular showcases some awesome production, but the songs still hold a lot of sparse beauty. Deciding when they’re done – as she doesn’t have a typical bass/drums/guitar checklist to tick off – requires a different approach during creation. “The way I record is normally with a producer, and I choose producers that play instruments as well,” she explains. “There’s a lot of conversation between me and the producer. In the end, he’s the most important person of the whole recording process.”
The producer Koh worked with on Oh My Garden was one Brad Wood, and she made four trips to his studio in LA over 18 months to work with him. Through fellow Aussie Ben Lee, Koh cultivated her musical relationship with Wood, who has an intimidating CV. “I was so nervous going over on the plane,” Koh chatters sweetly. “I’ve never been to America number one, and I’d never been to Hollywood. The picture in your head is kind of daunting. [But] when I got there, [the studio] was just in his backyard, in his shed. He had children, and he had pets, so I did a bit of babysitting,” she laughs. “Even though it was in Hollywood, we were still sipping cups of tea and walking the dog.” In this innocuous environment, Koh and Wood spent time in the state-of-the-art studio experimenting with gadgets and sound. “What I love about Brad is, he’s such a dad,” Koh says. “Even though he’s worked with Billy Corgan and Liz Phair, I went over at a time when the American music industry was a little bit slow and people were struggling to find work. He was so happy to work with an Australian artist and was branching out to do a bit more pop stuff too. We’re friends now and he’s kind of like a dad to me.”
Koh’s single I Understand features a chord progression on the piano which is contemplative and quite beautiful, and yet it comes as a surprise that she is not, in fact, a guitarist. “I’m a classical piano player,” she says succinctly. “I’m shit at guitar! When I started out in music the easiest way was to bring my guitar along to open mics and shows and stuff. Because I’m so highly trained in piano, I kind of over-complicate things when I write on piano. It always ends up sounding like Tori Amos; it doesn’t really translate to a pop songs. One day I’ll write that album, probably the next one.”
While recording in LA, Wood and Lee spent an entire day with Koh hooking wires from the studio to the next-door-neighbour’s, which housed a grand piano. Unfortunately, a concert piano is incredibly hard to record. If you think about it, it’s designed to be placed at the head of a hall and for the sound to touch every corner of an audience – not exactly easy to control. In the end they had to can much of the stuff they recorded, and meld what was left with electronic keys. “I don’t know how Tori Amos does it,” Koh admits simply. Her interest in the instrument is palpable though, as we get into the nuts and bolts of Amos’s well-documented love of Bösendorfer pianos.
It’s not just the music that gets Koh going: her video for first single Lo-Fi is a colourful, one-shot affair featuring members of her dance class. Filmed in Piedimonte’s supermarket in North Fitzroy, Koh and her mates from the notoriously fun Body Electric adult dance studio boogie through the aisles. “It worked out really well,” says Koh. “Sometimes I go there now and I feel a bit weird, and people look at me funny.” Pretty sure they’re waiting for you to bust out some polka, Sophie.
SOPHIE KOH launches her new album Oh My Garden at Northcote Social Club on Friday July 13. The record is out now through her own label Crying Ninja Records.
SOPHIE KOH launches her new album Oh My Garden at Northcote Social Club on Friday July 13. The record is out now through her own label Crying Ninja Records.
STONNINGTON JAZZ FESTIVAL (w- Alan Browne)
Published in Beat issue 1320
Like Mr Noir, you may think jazz is just for science teachers and other elbow-patched drips. Do you fear jazz, the lack of rules, the lack of boundaries? Perhaps it’s time to branch out and discover the energy. “That’s what drew me to it, when I was 16,” says Allan Browne, the highly-esteemed patron of the Stonnington Jazz Festival. During his incredible musical career of over 50 years, Browne has worked with numerous international jazz legends, released one hundred and ten commercial LPs and CDs, and in 2000 won the Don Banks Award for his contribution to Australian music. A drummer and Stonnington resident, he has been patron of the Festival for the last three years.
It’s going to be giant. There’s an enormous mixed bag of performances to choose from, including a highly anticipated pair of shows from pianist-composer Barney McAll. “We went to New York together,” says Browne, “and I work with a lot of the younger ones as they grow up.” It’s a specific aim of the Festival to integrate young musicians with established players and composers, and Browne runs a practical workshop with Bob Sedergreen in which they also “talk about making solos, and telling stories through music.” Through the thrill and panic and eventual glee of improvising, player and instrument are brought into a pretty special understanding that you won’t get as rapidly or completely from playing aurally or with sheet music alone. Talking about this process and encouraging its growth in students is a passion of Browne’s. “I love working with the young guys and girls, because they’ve got so much energy,” he enthuses. “They make me keep up with them!” This sounds weird coming from such an energetic guy, it has to be said.
Alongside shows from the heavyweights such as Vince Jones and James Morrison, there are some interesting pairings in the 2012 programme. Rai Thistlethwayte (Thirsty Merc) will be accompanying young Melbournite Josh Kyle in a Saturday night performance. (YouTube Rai’s jazz piano chops if you are sceptical – a link has been doing the rounds amongst my scornful friends and they’re astonished.) The idea to put the two guys together was “certainly the work of Adrian [Jackson], our Artistic Director,” says Browne. “He’s been doing it for years and he has a great ability to put people together, the right type of people, so it’s always interesting to see what he’s going to do.”
Browne himself will play in his six-piece band to launch his first book of poetry, a symbiotic project of words and music which has been his baby for two years. “It’s a book of ‘observations’, from the last thirty years… amongst them are seven poems about people I’ve worked with; legendary jazz figures who aren’t around anymore. So we’ve written seven pieces of music, one for each, and improvised music, and recorded an album which comes with the book,” he explains. “We’re also doing some poetry and jazz on the Sunday at Chapel off Chapel with the New Orleans band.” (Chapel off Chapel is hosting several performances; other venues participating in the Festival include Red Bennies, the Malvern Town Hall and the Prahran Market. “There’s been jazz at the Market for twenty, thirty years,” says Browne, “so that’s an old tradition and it’s a great idea.” The sessions at the Market, on each Sunday of the Festival, will be free of charge.)
Incorporating poetry and music has been an interest of Browne’s for a long time. “When I was young I used to hang out with Adrian Rawlins… If you’ve been down Brunswick Street, you’d know there’s a statue of a guy?” On the corner of Brunswick and Argyle streets, Peter Corlett’s cast iron sculpture ‘Mr Poetry’ depicts the beaming bard mid-tale. “That’s him,” confirms Browne. “He used to do poetry with our band in the 60s. It goes back that far.” He adds that his band members are “local musicians, and they’re all fabulous composers.” Browne’s performances are sure to be rousing and fascinating. He also has a regular gig at Bennett’s Lane on Monday nights, where you can see him and his protégés going off.
So don’t be afraid of the shapes and the chaos. The moment it gets abstract, don’t mess your trousers and run to your mummy. Jazz has an insatiable vitality which comes from its spontaneity. “It’s exciting,” says Browne, “[to think] well I’m going to work now, and I don’t know what’s going to happen, or what we’re going to play or who’s going to do what. You never know what’s going to happen. You’re in the now.”
The Stonnington Jazz Festival runs from Thursday May 17 to Sunday May 27, at various venues around Stonnington. If you don’t know your electorates, that roughly means South Yarra, Prahran, Malvern and Toorak. Full programme details are at stonningtonjazz.com.au.
THE GHOST INSIDE (w- Jonathan Vigil)
Published in Beat issue 1327
Both album titles from Californian melodic hardcore band The Ghost Inside intimate the cyclical nature of life. About Returners, the band’s debut, singer Jonathan Vigil has said: “[I] sit back and wait to return to the places I’ve come to know and face the differences I’m left with.” Their freshly released follow-up You Get What You Give isn’t about waiting, though; there’s nothing passive about it. It says that you must act. “I’ve learned in life,” Vigil explains – having called from Salt Lake City on the eve of the Vans Warped Tour – “that anything you’re going to do, you’re going to [get] back as much effort as you put in. If you half-arse something it’s going to show.”
This theme interlocks with the salient appreciation Vigil holds for Ghost’s fanbase. “Specifically with this band, we’ve put everything that we had into [it]. If we had given this attitude of saying, ‘It’s going to come to us; it’s going to happen; we deserve it,’ then it’s never going to come. ‘You get what you give’ means you’re going to have to sacrifice. You’re going to have to give everything that you have to see the fruit of the labour.” Where many musicians seem to operate with a sense of entitlement (and not established ones, either, but new ones), Vigil’s enthusiasm for the fans is strong and humble. In footage of a show the band played last year, a skinny, eager young man flaps his way from the crowd’s front and onto the stage like a goldfish. He dives out on top of the audience while another fan leaps up on stage just behind. Then another, and another, and then they’re all just pouring up and over like lemmings off of a cliff. It’s almost like Vigil is calling them forth and then sending them off; it’s hard to tell if it’s happening under their own volition or his, but it’s incredible to watch. “We grew up in the hardcore scene; we grew up being those kids that would run on stage to play along with our favourite bands so we know what it’s like,” Vigil says when I express amazement that security doesn’t flatten these young fans and call finito to the stage-crashing straight away. “When it comes time to play a show like that, we just tell security, ‘Hey, if a kid comes on stage he’s not trying to hurt us. He’s not trying to steal from us. He’s not trying to do anything, he just wants to have a good time.’ We tell them that we don’t mind it, as long as they’re not breaking our equipment! They’re paying money to see us. I know what it’s like to go to a show and security is so shitty that you can’t even enjoy yourself. It’s a buzzkill, and it makes you turned off to the hardcore music scene.”
Vigil is an LA native; “born and raised,” he says seriously in that way Americans can do, totally owning the phrase. The connection to his own youth is a vein throughout the singer’s comments, and he enjoys reminiscing about the hardcore and metalcore scenes in LA during his formative years. “The guy who ran [our local team centre] had all these really awesome bands I grew up listening to play [there]. It was three dollars to get in to see these cool bands, and it was just so accessible,” he muses. “You didn’t have to get a ride down there, you didn’t have to find a way to raise the money. It was a great vibe and it moulded me into who I am today.”
Vigil also believes the hardcore and metalcore scenes are expanding, and aren’t as stigmatised as they have been in the past. I know that when I was a senior, anyone who listened to this genre of music was most certainly a freakish lesbian (all girls, Anglican school). “I think this kind of music is becoming more accepted into the quote unquote mainstream,” Vigil confirms. “With its popularity growing, it kind of opens up a fanbase for everyone. We have crossover: we have kids who would normally not see our band come to a show and be into it. It’s great, because it feels more of a community than it ever has before, and we’re stoked to be a part of it. It’s cool that the underground thing is becoming more of a positive thing than a negative thing.”
With some of You Get What You Give leaked about three weeks before its official American release date, the band decided to put the entire album up online so that fans could have a listen on Ghost’s terms, and then decide to buy it if they so wished. Single Engine 45 is a powerful, anthemic message about addiction. ‘All my life I’ve waited for something to break these chains’, the final refrain, soars over technically astonishing drums from newest bandmember Andrew Tkaczyk. The tale told in the video is a rather beautiful but sad metaphor. According to lore, “Eskimos would put blood on a knife, then freeze the knife and put it out in front of their igloos overnight,” Vigil explains. “A pack of wolves would come by and smell the blood, and go straight to it and start licking the blood. But because the knife was frozen they didn’t realise it was cutting their own tongues. And they would slowly bleed out and die. They’re so fixated on getting the blood that they don’t realise they’re killing themselves.” Expect more allegory and passion when The Ghost Inside come to Australia in a few months time.
The Ghost Inside accompany The Amity Afflication, Architects, and Buried in Verona on Friday October 5 at The Palace. There’ll be two shows on the date; one U18 and one 18+.
THE RED LIGHTS (w- Davin Johnston)
Published in Beat issue 1325
For The Red Lights brand new EP, the band chose a suitcase as their ‘Monopoly piece’ of sorts: the theme of travelling permeates the artwork and is encapsulated in its title, Not In This Town. “Getting out of Melbourne, expanding our horizons; it was symbolic of the whole tour,” says Davin Johnston, drummer for the indie-rock trio. The posters for their EP launch show a cutely cross-hatched little guy standing alone on a road, his suitcase held in an outstretched arm. Drawn by a fan who then became the artist for all their printed material, the style is lo-fi, honest and raw. It fits the band’s music – which has received some well-deserved comparisons to The Strokes and The Kooks – like a glove.
The Red Lights are mega cool but not aloof. In addition to the growing trend of bands using the Facebook connection to put up amusing YouTube clips or links to things that interest them (rather than just promo-related stuff), these boys clearly love getting their personalities out there with photos and footage. There’s a video recorded during their time at Woody Annison’s Red Door studio, depicting a tender rendition of Nelly’s Dilemma. “That was uh, really spontaneous,” laughs Johnston. “We were fiddling around with some keys and I just played that line or something, and it was on from there.” At the end of the video, text reading ‘The Red Lights: We Get Shit Done’ slides into view. It looks like they must have recorded the EP pretty efficiently. “We tracked it in four days; we did five tracks,” says Johnston. “We got my close friend and ex-housemate in, Gareth Leach, who used to do a lot of freelance out of Studio One (at Red Door). It all went really well.”
The band is also passionate about sharing the music and art of creatives they’ve worked with. Karlye Sultana, the devotee who drew their EP artwork, is referenced several times; there’s also a highlights reel from one of their producers, and a number of Hunting Grounds videos. “We just played a show with [Hunting Grounds] about three weeks ago,” Johnston enthuses. “We hadn’t met them before but we’d been out to see them a few times. They’re great, such a good band. It was our first experience playing alongside them and meeting the boys first-hand. It was a pretty good gig to score.”
While Dean Valentino is chief vocalist for the group, single In A Daze illuminates the fact backup vocals are shared. “I do a few, I think Dean’s doing his own harmonies, and [there are] parts when all three of us are singing. There’s a bit of a mixture going on,” Johnston elucidates, and says that when playing live, “all three of us are on mics.” Jangly guitars, lively four-four drums, smart lyrics and a melody equal parts sweet and swagger make the track a stand-out. The other single so far released, Dancing With Us, showcases some pretty mashy snare. Johnston says they didn’t do much to fiddle with the sound after it was recorded. “It was pretty straight forward. We trialled a few different snares for different tracks – literally, different kinds of snare drums. And my own: it’s got a bit more ring.” Johnston’s kit is a sight to behold; it’s probably the shiniest thing you’ve ever seen. “My silver kit, it’s a 1980 Pearl. It’s pretty rare these days, there’s not many of them getting around. It’s my first ever kit and I’ve re-done it over the years. It’s amazing how they just last. I’ve got soft cases but I’m generally pretty careful with it, I try to be. I can’t really get the original replacement parts that easily.” Not surprisingly, the crest on his kick drum wasn’t the work of some big cheese marketing guy called Trav. “When I first joined the band I still had a few old parts on my kit and I really needed to get a new front skin for my kick drum, because it was a little bit battered. I ended up getting a skin from Billy Hyde’s and it came with a sticker lettering set. So I just stuck the letters on the front there. Usually you’d have to take the skin to a place, and they’d design it and you pay for it. But I found that vintage-looking 60s skin and just sort of created it.” It looks like something you’d see on the hood of an old racing Porsche, speed stripes and all.
Not completely DIY, the band has had some excellent visuals developed for them by adamNOTeve, a photographic and filmic initiative from the talented Aleksandar Jason. “[Jason] goes out to a lot of gigs and takes photos ‘cause he loves it, really. He’s pretty noble.” One brilliant shot of the band was taken in Jason’s own car. Valentino is in the middle seat, looking a hell of a lot like Adrian Grenier except with a spine. That’s something worth seeing live.
TIMOTHY NELSON & THE INFIDELS (w- Timothy Nelson)
Published in Beat issue 1313
Nicknamed with another interesting acronym courtesy of the initials of our western state, the Western Australian Music Industry Awards (the ‘WAMIs’) are an annual affair, celebrating the achievements of WA’s local, national and international music industry. They’ve lauded many acts prior to the artists’ acknowledgement in other states or nationally, including Karnivool, Little Birdy, The Sleepy Jackson, Gyroscope and End of Fashion. And now a thrice-WAMI-awarded young man and his band of Infidels are receiving critical acclaim and embarking on their first tour incorporating eastern shows, promising to bring their sweet, folk pop sound and brilliantly unaffected lyrics to both existing fans and those yet to be converted.
Speak The Truth In Love, the song which earned Nelson his most recent WAMI, does not include the entire band but does feature a beautiful old harpsichord. “It was awesome! You’ve got two keyboard decks,” Nelson explains, “and the top one, you can push it in or pull it out, and it changes the sound.” Recorded at Bang Bang Studios (now Yo-Yo), the building had recently been flooded by virulent hailstorms. “It was just an empty room with a harpsichord, and you had one light, just hanging over the harpsichord,” laughs Nelson. It’s not difficult to imagine this dreamy ambiance contributing to the sincerely lovely heartache of the song. The beginning is reminiscent of Closet Romantic, one of Damon Albarn’s first tracks unfettered by his band’s stylistic reputation. But as soon as Nelson begins singing, it’s obvious there’s nothing hidden about his communication.
The tracks composed for the 2011 album, I Know This Now, include many messages about truth, love, and songwriting. “I used to write a lot of love songs, which ended up being the main body of the album…I definitely went through a period of writing those kinds of tunes. You kind of write about what you feel comfortable writing about. I think that’s probably half the reason why I started writing songs in the first place: you either write about that stuff or don’t end up talking about it at all. And that doesn’t sound healthy,” Nelson says. “It finds its place in a musical venture.”
The comparisons to his Freedman namesake are apparently quite frequent, although Nelson is certain The Whitlams were not a conscious influence. He counts John Lennon, Bob Dylan and the Gallagher brothers among his greats, although his Western Australian background is definitely manifest in the natural accent of his singing. Concerning accents in films, “any accent that is from a Middle Eastern country or from some European country, they just revert to a British accent and think that that covers all foreigners,” he laughs. “They dress up like them, then they put on all the make-up and then they just put on a British accent. Have you seen The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo?…There’s nothing worse than an Aussie singing in an American accent,” he concludes.
It is apparent that a close partnership was formed between Nelson and the producer of I Know This Now, James Newhouse. “He was very enthusiastic about making it right,” says Nelson. “It was not a case of, ‘Okay, you’ve got ten days in the studio, make the most of it’… He was coming up with ideas all the time. It got to a point where I’d think in my head, ‘Oh, I’ll change that later,’ and then without even telling him he would start changing it.” This symbiosis is shared with Luke Dux, Nelson’s guitarist, who also received a 2010 WAMI for Best Guitarist. “He’s crazy about that sort of country slide guitar…which I am too. So it’s sort of the perfect fit. We think the same way. When we’re working on songs together it all comes together very naturally.” (N.B. Dux is the star of a YouTube video created by Will Stoker titled Gona Kill That Luke Dux, which is highly recommended.) This affection for slide guitar makes an especially divine appearance on track six of the album, Sleeping Alone. It reverberates like bells in the opening seconds and then glissés down to a sweet melody which Lucinda Williams herself would be proud of.
Nelson is particularly looking forward to the show at The Tote, as he hasn’t yet played there with his full band. With musical ties and support between Melbourne and Perth solidifying strongly last year, there should be a great turn-out for all three shows as Nelson’s pure and unabashed album weaves its way into eastern hearts.
TIMOTHY NELSON & THE INFIDELS play three Melbourne gigs during their approaching eastern stint: Pure Pop Records and The Wesley Anne both on Saturday March 31, and The Tote on Sunday April 1.
YUNG WARRIORS (w- Tjimba Possum-Burns)
Published in Beat issue 1324; X-Press
The guys from Yung Warriors are working really hard. Tjimba Possum-Burns says that he and his brother-in-beats D-Boy completed about 70 interviews in just the last day or so. They’ve made a giant impact with their inaugural record Standing Strong, the title track of which is receiving some heavy play on triple j, and they’ve just begun their own first national tour (they’ve arrived back from the US having supported Akon, 50 Cent, Outlawz and The Game). With some seriously stellar collaborations and piles of praise under their young belts, Tjimba’s softly spoken comments about his family and what indigenous hip hop means for him belie the heights Yung Warriors are going to continue ascending towards in the coming year.
Experimenting with different genres was a chief focus for the album, Tjimba says. “We make the beats straight out, because I’ve played all sorts of music; guitar, keyboards. Stylistically, my speciality? I can do a lot of stuff with guitar. I play a lot of Led Zeppelin, metal stuff, all the old school jazz, Larry Carlton and all those guys. And I took that in [to the studio].” One of the stand-out tracks from the album, Black Deaths In Custody, contains some pretty impressive and extravagant scratching, which came about from producer Momo’s input. “He got a couple of people in to work on it, like a flute player, and one of his DJs to do the scratching,” he beams. “I was just like ‘Oh-h-h, wicked!’”
The album has a definite arc to it: beginning with Black Deathsand Standing Strong, it moves from this specific kind of social commentary to some beautiful raps about kinship through an indigenous lens, such as on Family Love and Childhood Days. It’s these tunes which are particularly compelling, because they show a real insight into the guys’ formative years and what it’s been like for them moving between, and attempting to enmesh, two facets of their lives in Australia. When the subject of the anthemic Standing Strong clip comes up, Tjimba’s usually totally peaceful manner becomes animated. It’s a brilliant video, with several young kids rapping and gesticulating along with the Warriors. “Yeah, that’s all our little family! That’s D-Boy’s little sis, and step-brothers,” he says happily. “That’s what we thought with these clips; the album is sort of family orientated. So we thought we’d get our mob in. Especially when we went to Alice [Springs, where the guys are originally from], we went straight to all our mob. Yeah, they’re loving it,” he continues. “and that’s the special thing! It put a smile on your face.”
Earlier this year on Thursday January 26, the Warriors played a number of gigs for Survival Day. “That day’s really busy for us; we did a lot,” Tjimba says. “My father, he’s a guitarist, and I do a lot of stuff for [his band] as well.” Tjimba’s father Selwyn Burns (Mixed Relations, Blackfire) encouraged the boys in their youth to play instruments live, and also accompany him on stage. “I love the band stuff and working with other people; helping them out,” he says. Mentioning performing with his uncle, he starts a deep chuckle: “What’s so funny about him is, he forgets his lyrics and he forgets the music, so we come in and we’re like ‘Here, here it is!’ You’ve got to help the old fellas out too, ‘cause we’re family. Building that empire, you know.”
He admits he misses playing with a whole ensemble when he can’t do so, but still plays as many instruments live as possible. “We’ll have a DJ set with beats and stuff, but then I’ve got a band too. So I’ve got my brother with the bass, and a horn section with drums, then a drum machine that goes with the drums and sounds like the beats, and a guitar, and harmonies. Yeah, I got everything,” he smiles.
The overriding message which the Warriors try to impart to their young audience is to be resilient when obstacles are put in their way, and that dreams are paramount. “It may be complicated but just grab it: grab the opportunity,” Tjimba explains. There’s a sample in track six of the album, Hold On, of a mature male’s voice declaring “We don’t try and explain it: we live our spirituality; we live our Dreaming.” This is what’s so special about Australia’s indigenous stories of the Ancestral Beings, and that resounds in the message the Warriors want to communicate. Because the ancestors did not disappear at the end of the Dreaming but remained in sacred sites, the Dreaming is never-ending, with the past and the present always connected. Yung Warriors hope to help their fans see that you can progress forward through will and determination and by being true to your roots: it’s a circular flow. The two young men have made an incredible start and the rest of 2012 could propel them into places from which their ideas can hopefully reach an even greater number of young people.
Yung Warriors [AUS] play The Workers Club on Saturday June 16.Standing Strong is out now.