Monday, December 7, 2009


Thursday, July 10, 2008 

When it comes to originality and a true spirit of individualism few bands actually live up to or actively pursue these terms as resolutely as English four-piece Wild Beasts. Like them or not (and many are bound to be turned off within seconds of hearing lead singer Hayden Thorpe's piercing strident falsetto, a reaction Thorpe is comfortable with) they certainly don't sound like any other band on Domino's current roster.
Forming in the English village of Kendal, a place more famous for its mint cake, the four members have ties that run deep, developing without an older local fraternity to turn them onto any 'respected' music. "Growing up in a small place you just sort of know each other, you don't really know when you met. A lot of the kids I grew up with wanted something beyond working in a factory, so to say you wanted to be in a band was a pretty weird thing to say. We decided early on we had to lay our cards out and accept that we were going to have a slight weirdo status, and I think there is a slight arrogance in claiming that your music is good enough for other people to listen to. Particularly in Kendal."

The roots of this band are the key to understanding their odd position of having a decidedly polarising sound, being signed to one of the hippest labels in Britain and resolutely uninterested in, as Thorpe puts it, 'chasing the middle ground'. "We started playing and, right from the beginning, were adamant that it was a pure thing, absolutely untainted by outside influences. We kept it secret. We built our own studio, we hammered it out and learned craft. Me and Ben [Little, guitar] had the same guitar teacher, Jeremy J Jackson...I don't think he was a dwarf but he was really small and when he played out with his covers band around town he had to play a kids guitar. One of the things he taught us was that if you have the impetus to do your own music you have to do it, otherwise you'd end up playing the same 50 covers every week in an old people home like him. It was only once we got to Leeds that we started playing to people. In the beginning it was always received with a sense of minor shock that people would have the audacity to try something new, and a lot of people still think it's the worst thing they've ever heard. When we're playing to new audiences there are those two groups of people, one who can't deal with it and another who we appeal to because we're being a bit audacious and pushing the boat out a bit, and I'm happy to work with those people who are into it."

The move to Leeds was a turning point for the band and it's a place that, while not being home, is clearly very dear to them. "When we moved down to Leeds it was odd. The people we met and know in Leeds are all people we know through being in the band, so my life is pretty insular there. We're lucky we ended up in Leeds actually," Thorpe ponders, "we could have gone to Manchester, but it's a place not weighed down by it's own legacy, it's still inventing itself. We've always valued daringness in musicians and bands because we're so used to the mundane. It's an unusual thing for the musical landscape at the moment, people are actually surprised at genuine individuality and that's something we really value."

To promote the release of their debut album Limbo, Panto Wild Beasts have plans to visit Australia next year. A big fan of Australian author Tim Winton, Thorpe is very familiar with corners of this country, "I lived in W.A. till I was five or so I can buy into that lingo and the way his characters interacting with each other. The way Aussies communicate is quite unique, it's quite similar to England in some ways but it really has some unspoken sort of manners. Winton is an amazing writer, I've ripped off many a Winton line."
Though Winton himself might not see his influence, it's the lyrics that have garnered Wild Beasts some of their greatest compliments and criticisms:

"My top's off I'm a goose-pimpled god! / My girth rests upon the Earth, gunna give it what I got / The messed bottom bunk bed of the dead / This foul fallen nest, this dried up drooping breast / I hold my hips at his cosmic apocalypse / The world's a whoopee wibbling wantingly / On my crooked seat." - Assembly.

"I think the line is very thin," explains Thorpe, differentiating lyrics from poetry. "I don't even like the word 'lyrics', that word gives you the license to write dross with a nice melody. If you're going to sing these words and sing them for years of your life you should really take the time to make them interesting and meaningful. We spend a lot of time with our words, and I hope that in the long run people will value that. Sure they're difficult to understand and quite ambiguous - they tell half a tale, the rest can be made up by the listener. No song references anything. There is a different between poetry and songwriting, poetry has to define what it's about whereas in music the lyrics and melodies make their own setting and the words embellish it."

Describing the band as a pop due to the challenge they embrace attempting to compress their ideas into a commercial four minute package, Limbo, Panto was recorded in the gorgeous surrounds of Malmo, Sweden, a place the band travelled there for one reason only. "Tore Johansson." intones Thorpe solemnly. "Johansson worked with Franz Ferdinand, The Cardigans, Tom Jones even Charlotte Church - a real spread of strange artists. He produces music that is radio friendly yet has integrity and dignity, music that is complex yet has character and can still be played on daytime radio. One of the rules we had was the first record would have limited effects, so we made it very stripped down, guitars straight into amps. We want to make music that isn't dumbed down yet breaks into that league of music that is open to the masses, we'll get there and we want to keep going toward that ideal." With stakes as unique as theirs, it's unlikely that they'll be losing their way anytime soon, and if they do, Kendal will be kind.


Monday, June 30, 2008 

The Evelyn

In a rare show of form The Evelyn tonight plays host to a diverse and exciting array of bands, a lineup that manages to maintain the high standards set by opening act Love Is Science Fiction. Despite the 12 or so people in the room, LISF play like they are in a crowded warehouse party, a venue they better start relegating to their gigging history if this gig is anything to go by. Drummer Steph is a tom-heavy rhythm behemoth matched for sheer hardcore-ness by guitarist Joey who sets his booming riffs amidst sheets of feedback while singer Al is literally all over the place, treating the stage like a jungle gym with scant regard for OH&S procedures. Songs like I Am A Boy, Cat Up A Tree the closing We're Not Going Hunting fly by in a flurry of inverted limbs, keyboard-as-surfboard horseplay, battered drums and wailing guitars. Finally, some music with a sense of danger and fun. Their ascendancy up the gig billings begins here.

In a refreshing left turn, Actor/Model have spent the recent months building on their mid-90s US underground passion and have now fashioned their own house. Eschewing guitars for keyboards for the first part of the set (though endeavouring to make them sound as much like guitars as possible) they even manage a gentle ballad (Mixtape) before returning to their well-worn stretched-out noisy rock. Their guitar and keyboard mix is dense and tightly woven and doesn't leave much breathing space, and their songs work best when there is a variety of movement and colours such as on the provisionally-titled Life Without Electrolane in which keyboard melodies often push through the bass-heavy drums and thick fog of guitar and sound all the better for the shift in texture. When singer Ricky French says 'thank you, it's been a lot of fun' it could well be us saying it to him. A top show.

When it comes to making each instrument count, Baseball should be giving lectures. Such is the obvious musical individuation of each member, this band must be one of the few around that actually don't sound like anyone else and have a very strong sense of self. No one could replace anyone in this band, and hearing them with a good mix is a revelation.The concert is something a tour through Thick Passage's obsessions which he gloriously realises on songs like The Wedding at Susa, the stark Lines and Lines and Lines, crowd-pleasing Soft Boy Factory and the closing fury of She Bakes Cookies. Nothing less than 100% given , and nothing less than their subjects deserve; an astonishing band.

Though similarly intriguing, tonight Kes Band are disappointing; a set only five songs long, only three of which have lyrics is not likely to make a fan happy, though it does provide a grand introduction. What they do illustrate though is their prodigious talent and singer/songwriter Karl Scullin's curious mix of Television/Neil Young and QMS in his imaginatively arranged songs. With Evelyn from Baseball doing a astonishingly tight job of filling in for Julian Paterson the band sound A1. Whether you like Scullin's voice or not, it's a vital part of the striking figure he cuts; back to the audience, fluid guitar, long hair held back in a clip and often perched on one leg - much like the Ken Loach's kestrel Kes, who the band aren't named after. Though it's clear they're not on top form tonight, there is something quite special going on here and their rise looks set to continue.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

A rumour went around Hobart in the late 1990s that a US spy base had been built within a mountain in the South-West Wilderness. People had seen alien spacecraft while bushwalking around there; even Peter Cundell of Gardening Australia admits to having spotted UFOs along the Tasmanian west coast. A lot of this sort of talk went down in Hobart around that time, and alarmingly little of it had to do with drug taking. The pervasive Us vs Them mentality, so much a part of life in an isolated place, thrived on such stories and ignorance often took precedence over information. Which made it all the more strange when a Hobartian was proven right, when something was actually world class and encapsulated what it was to live there and then, simultaneously embodying the frequent longing to be anywhere else.

Along with Sea Scouts, The Stickmen were shining examples of Hobart's resolutely out-of-time music scene. Despite playing only a few shows in Melbourne before their 1999 implosion, the band already seemed mythical; unanimous praise from those that had seen them, few photos, no interviews, no egos, just two scarce yet fearsome CDs and myth, hovering like the stench of hops around the Cascade Brewery.

So, like the rumours of the spy station in the wilderness being proven true, here comes Soar/Sonar with a compilation CD that will araldite itself into your player, even if you are one of the 500 people who already have a Stickmen CD.

Firstly, this is authentic Australian rock and roll. This plugs deeper into history than a bunch of AC/DC wannabes ever could, with energy to burn, control, guts and a hurricane ferocity that astounded live and is very nearly captured here. Who Said It Would Be Good? is of its time and place in a way that few bands seem to be capable of rendering; the bold type of their ingenious simplicity spelling out the themes for the lyrics to smear. It's a time that, though essentially foreign, is universal; nothing says 'I'm pissed off with Brisbane' like I'm Stranded, The Triffids epitomise the alternative to boom-time 1980s Perth, and The Stickmen have Hobart in 1998. "We wait up until the moon is in the sky / It is the nighttime let the darkness begin / It is the nighttime and it gets under your skin" (Night).

The mechanical rhythms feel drawn from the industrial history of the place; they smell of the Bell Bay zinc works and move like overloaded log trucks gunning through the city at night. Guitars sound channelled through a hydroelectric scheme and recorded at the foot of a dam wall, Aldous Kelly's galvanising sneer beamed in from a visiting UFO, full of urgency when not stretching out over the dark, sparse, scattered scenes that the band are equally adept at creating. A sense of borderline paranoia tinges the lyrics, caught up with physical reactions to the environment; bones, skin, fire, the ocean and the city all figure prominently, as does the need to escape ennui up a sinewy, slippery rope ladder. Nostalgic instrument / The machine gone and fractured the bones that hold us together / Calibrate this thing before it tears us apart / Living in boxes within boxes / Cubes within squares / Existence lies between us (Maps of Places). It's hard to believe the music has aged so little.

Secondly, guitar music you can dance to has been given a bad name in recent years, and while The Stickmen possess the force of a speeding train they choose to rein it in for the most part. When it does explode (like the opening 45 seconds of the album) it's like a white-water rapid; you can see the course of the river but it's still full of unexpected surges and twists. Immense respect has to go to drummer Ianto Kelly (cousin to singer, songwriter and guitarist Aldous) and bassist Luke Osbourne who move the songs with a precision that could only have been born from a dedication bordering on obsession.

Instead of '14 Stickmen Songs Everyone Should Know', we get a thoughtful overview of the band's recorded history. Aldous Kelly and Tom Lyngcoln of Solar/Sonar (and of The Nation Blue) have negotiated a collection likely to stand the test of time better than one guy picking his favourite tunes. The tracklisting is paced like the songs, eschewing chronological order for sudden lurches, rollercoaster surges, giddy spirals and dark green calm.

Mysteriously omitting the heady rush and breath-sapping dynamics of Without A Clue for an interesting but inessential demo version is an odd choice, as is the absence of the intro to the CDs title track Wired World, and a cursory version of 7000 live at Risdon Prison does little to represent Andrew Harper's chillingly honest account of the show that comprise the CD's liner notes. Instead we have incendiary examples of the band in various studios and live. The title track's space-time-continuum bending guitar and turntable interplay is a clear highlight, and Strange World's three-note riff the perfect paper plane design; a work of engineering that becomes art by virtue of its simplicity. Matt Greeves' inspired use of a distorted turntable to flesh out the bass/drums/guitar machine is a secret weapon used to minimalist perfection, constantly surprising with its rhythmic accents sometimes opening up to a spectrum of tightly wound noise on songs like Floating Pawns and the epic closer Youthful.

There are elements of surf rock to The Stickmen, but this is once- Antarctic surf lapping at some disused docks. There is nothing sunny about Hobart in the wintertime and this album chills in a most atypically Australian way. It was often said that Tasmanian music had more in common with New Zealand than the mainland, though trends like this matter increasingly little these days, so it's significant to see that it did; more Flying Nun than JJJ. That Aldous Kelly now calls that country home and is still making music that channels his environment should come as little surprise. This CD documents the band with revelatory zeal, and realises Solar/Sonar's intents like the Holy Grail it is. Definitely something for the time capsule.


Sunday, June 08, 2008 
Wesley Anne

Though the Wesley Anne - one of the warmer and more reassuringly consistent venues in Melbourne - is but half-full, those here are clearly gladdened by tonight's performers all of whom soar as a result. Though it's likely that Tom Flatman would exist as a performer were it not for Jeff Buckley releasing Grace, he would probably be a very different one. Clearly at home on stage and featuring one of the quietest trumpeter players ever backing him with his refreshingly minimal electric guitarist, Flatman's voice and songwriting skills - though awfully reminiscent when he goes for the frequent high notes - are mighty talents. He has the room hushed from the moment he begins his set to the rousing end of his cover of Springsteen's Lift Me Up and has us cracking up via an inadvertently hilarious guitar non-solo. A real discovery.

Playing his last show before beginning an enviously comprehensive Icelandic and European tour, Pete Uhlenbruch is on odd but marvelous form. Variously likening one of his songs to "a restless universal spirit that has no home", while another is inspired by the thought that "every atom is popping into and out of the universe, but in more of a personal way" it's to his credit that Uhlenbruch has enough talent and gravitas to his songs to not come across like a cosmic hippy. Instead his supreme confidence and utterly engaging way with the guitar and mic that give his songs the ability to hit home from the first chord. It's easy to forget with his administrative roles as organiser of the Laterra (now Melodica) Festival, coordinator of Undercover Music Lovers and erstwhile promoter that he is also a evocative songwriter. Leaving Too Soon, Heart Of The Mountain and By The Riverside are all worthy tributes to his muses, and we can be sure his ambassadorship is in good hands.

Joining the first three acts this evening is Sydney singer Nicolle Lane, who proceeds to lift Hazelman Brother's show up another notch when she joins them three songs into their set. Missing a third of their fraternal lineup, the Brothers' deftly-picked meanderings work just as well, Hey We Both Like Red, Lane's Break The Silence and Feathered Friend are all curious examples of why five years of playing together pays off, plus there is that phenomenal near-telepathic connection of family members singing together that sets this act apart. Lane's voice is rich and fits beautifully into their songs layering them in an affecting way.

The same which cannot be said for headliners Your New Best Friend who come across like a Oz rock band trapped in Manny's acoustic guitar showroom. Attempting to hype the crowd like they're playing a packed-out Corner show while plugging next week's gig mid-song three times might go down well at O Week parties, but seems laughably out of place tonight. Though songwriter Dima Shafro does have a sharp flamenco edge to his lead breaks (see...lead breaks!), the band only really show what they're capable of when they stop battling the sound system, hassling the venue for closing at 11 and chill enough to let their dynamics work. Still fresh faces around the traps they exude the confidence necessary to go the hard road to success, which it seems Shafro at least is chasing, but adding a drummer, some amps and some professionalism seems the best way to channel the energy. Songs like So Far Gone and Maybe deserve it.

CD Review: JE SUIS ANIMAL - Self-Taught Magic From A Book (Lost and Lonesome)

Saturday, June 07, 2008 

If a band formed with the single idea of making music that depicts winter in a grand Parisian house in the 1920s, it may well be this band. Hailing from the verdant country-as-coastline of Norway, four-piece Je Suis Animal seem to be on a mission to make pop music that refreshes like a tumble in snow after a sauna, and the realisation that you're naked in the dark woods afterwards. In this world of increasingly messy musical cross-pollination, their commitment to holing themselves away from the formulaic and 'popular' and making a self-recorded aural postcard from a world built of their obsessions is a wonderfully realised thing.

Taking their musical cues from mid-80s Glaswegian bands like The Shop Assistants and sharing Broadcast's embrace of the warm ambiance of 60s psychedelic pop group The United States of America, Self Taught Magic... is, almost unbelievably, the 50th release from local label Lost And Lonesome, and it's another firmly thrust feather in their increasingly feathery cap. This one inspiring an odd mix of images; sepia-tainted travel photography, ouija board gatherings, tea parties and Paris between the wars. There is little else like it around yet you can hear sounds that have made it within the walls of the snowy hall in the forest where they recorded the album, glued together by some perfectly-judged and simple production. Teutonic harmonies, winding pocket watches and a penchant for story-telling; it's easy to see how the UK and Scandinavian pop fans have taken to them so keenly and how they stand apart on the festival lineups.

Songs like Amundsen, Rosseau World and the single The Mystery of Marie Roget evoke a world that has little to do with daily stresses and reality and a lot to do with intricately-arranged shadowy guitar pop. Even amongst the heartfelt pledges of love, milkshakes and secret notes of the ruggedly rocking It's Love, Self Taught Magic... is an album that, possibly unknowingly, makes for glorious Europhilic escapism. The overriding feelings here are ones of intimacy, safety and adventures indoors with windows onto cobblestoned streets - perfect for our increasingly north-European winter. With these harmonies, warm chords, combination of nationalities and sense of style, plus the news that they intend to tour later this year, it's unlikely any unrequited love will be unrequited for long.


Saturday, June 07, 2008 
Rod Laver Arena

Obviously he's a consummate professional. Clearly he has the audience in his hand before he's on stage. Yes we know what to expect and what we're going to get, and of course the crowd is 70% female, but yet...there are surprises. The impressive 3D light display marking out his trademark initials in cones of light and colour, mirrored on the flanking screens, set the almost reverential tone in the darkened arena. As Buble later informs us, via song, a sold out Rod Laver holds 11,242 people and each one of us await, breath-bated for the diminutive, nattily-dressed 32-year old to saunter on and carry us away. That he does so over a surge of oestrogen-fuelled screams and applause with a fellow Canuck Leonard Cohen's I'm Your Man is only the first surprise.

On a sloping stage, before his 13-piece band, Buble initially seems a little rusty, singing off-mic and with voice surprisingly gravelly. Fortunately, once he's formally introduced himself, heaped abuse on Sydney, bigged up Melbourne and played up to the many men who's 'asses were dragged here tonight' ('man, some nights I'd rather be at home watching footy highlights too,'), he loosens his tie, loses his nerves and his voice soon commands the attention we crave to give it via a sexless Me And Mrs Jones, cameras discretely cutting away while he mops his brow.

That voice, like it or not, does everything it needs to do. Playing with syllables and phrasing like a toy balloon, Buble is clearly living his rat pack dream to the hilt; pacing the stage, regaling the audience with Melbourne-centric banter (by God has he done his homework and boy does it pay off - lingering shots of trams, Fed Square and Aussie flags projected behind during Home all hilariously present), and doing his utmost to make surly husbands crack. Once each song has ended with a single, white spotlight, silhouetting his hunched figure in what can only be described as a Sinatra-esque manner, Buble does his best to make the show as entertaining as possible - 'seriously, I just want you to have a fun night with that Buble guy playing a few tunes' he tells us.

He poses for photos mid-song, gladhands the front rows and controls the mood pitch-perfectly, via frank asides, self-dissing humour (referring to himself in a thick, and impressive Aussie accent as 'that Buble wanker'), and it works. from a smoky Always On My Mind to the big band bonanza of Feeling Good the attention to detail extends far beyond the monogrammed music stands of the horn section. Gluing together Elvis's That's Alright Mama with YMCA in an extended joke about his masculinity is done so well that whatever remnants of the crowd not already won over have to crack a smile and hand it to him. With only a couple of self-penned jokes and songs not working, it's more than made up for by the extended interlude of play-acting from a hilariously deadpan trombone player, and his Dino impression.

It should be this good, and it is, with his charming everyman shtick holding it together - whether being viciously bum-squeezed while on his way to continue a conversation with a young fan or punching fists with the backing singers during That's Life - it's all effortless. When you've got the ingredients right, as Buble informs us via his personal recipe for chicken and asparagus risotto that features in the glossy programme; do not over-stir.

CD Review: SEAGULL - GOODBYE WEATHER (Two Bright Lakes)

Friday, June 06, 2008 

There is, it seems, no one who writes like Chris Bolton. Despite not printing his lyrics on the sleeve to his debut CD Goodbye Weather, there is a sense of clipped prose and narrative drive to many of the songs therein, and the order in which they sit. With a broad, conversational Australian edge to his gently held phrases, Bolton leads the music to out-of-the-way places. Leading us from meteorological phenomena by the West Gate Bridge (Dust Storm), beneath the 'fading golden light' that haunts album high point and live favourite Not There Yet, via the dawning sun of Joy and the sustained twilight forest sprint of Baby to the closing Sunday morning light of Crow; the version of local reality you're lead through by Bolton and co. is a compulsively realised one. one that moves through time like a camera zoom while keeping the subject in focus.

The cover art of roots descending from the silver sky is a perfect depiction of what to expect from the music; sparse, almost imperceptibly intrusive, permanent and informing all that goes on around you. It's unlikely that Bolton intended it to be read this way, but however you look at it, it's an impressive collection of songs that makes a bold illustration. Despite sounding as though he's just woken up for most of the record, the Jandek-like air of dream-channeling and the gentle control Bolton wields over his voice and it's cracked certainty is impressive. This isn't a voice that grates, implies desperation or is overburdened with emotion, nor does it make him sound like he's pretending to be twice his age. This is the voice of a man buried under autumn leaves and neighbourhood newspapers, battered by advertising campaigns and weather, still clinging to the idea of the world being an almost unbearably beautiful place. Sooner or later people tired of JJJ-ready smoothness will find solace here, as they are already with Bolton's friend Whitley whom he sometimes accompanies. Quite how something so sparse can be almost suffocating must in part be due to the near-invisible production of Nick Huggins and partly due to the way several songs build slowly and gently so that before you know it you're caught up in a slow-motion whirlwind which will often drop away suddenly, leaving you floating. It's amazing how effectively this is rendered; shorn of studio trickery and string sections. Bolton can hit notes sweetly and carry melodies when when he wants to, but, like Dylan, his songs suit a rougher more environment-borne sound and when it guides the transfixing simplicity of a song like Spear or Crow it's hard to come up with a counter argument.


Monday, June 02, 2008 

Courting celebrities, songs on high rotation, exciting big industry movers, living it up in their favourite playground of LA; the rapid and near-vertical trajectory on which Skybombers find themselves let's us see them for what they are; four boys from Melbourne who, when not having a blast (which it seems they do most of the time), are often finding reality a little 'scary'. Like their recent shows at Auckland's Vector Arena with Foo Fighters. 'Man that was terrifying," says drummer Scottie McMurtie, "Very memorable, definitely scary, but fucking sweet at the same time. After the second night we were like...'man, we just played with Foo Fighters!' he laughs, 'I was almost more happy to be there just watching the Foos because their show was amazing. It was [guitarist] Chris Shiflett's birthday and they had a male stripper come on stage and do a dance, it was hilarious.'

With their Sirens EP the release responsible for kick-starting all this attention, and their freshly debuted album already flying off shelves in the US, Skybombers seem almost unnervingly unchanged by it. "Yeah it's pretty weird, I don't think we're huge in The States or anything but it's nice to get the opportunity to get to go over there and give it a shot. It's pretty scary, it's something we never would have expected - this time last year was the first time we'd been overseas, and since then we've been back four times. We recorded our album there, we sold out the Viper Room twice and all these things....yeah, it's pretty scary." says McMurtrie. "Touring with this legendary punk band X was our first chance to get out of LA, we got to do 18 states - we went everywhere - Boise, Idaho! It was fun, 13 000 miles, I've never been in a car for so long. The shows with those guys were great and the crowds were really responsive."
"It would've hate to suck." adds singer Hugh Gurney. "We played a show at SXSW, at Lance Armstrong's bar and had a ball-tearer of a gig. Yep, I just made a cycling joke." he nods, "We just partied. Partied with The Von Bondies, The Donnas...that was fucking sweet. We tried to do the whole meet-and-greet thing so we'd go out and get wasted, go home, have dinner, go out and get wasted." he says wryly, rubbing his eyes.

"The Viper Room show, 22nd of April, that was my birthday." says McMurtrie. "That was a fun night. I met Slash! That was fucking sweet. Lemmy too. No really," he says to a surprised Gurney. "He was just at a bar getting a drink. I said hello. Then I was like: [shouts] 'holy shit man, there's something on your face!" a joke about Lemmy's prominent mole sends them both into hysterics. LA sounds like it's becoming a second home for the band, but that's something he's keen to keep in check. " I couldn't live there, I could go out every night there, but I couldn't live there. I reckon six weeks is the longest you could ever spend there, something about the food and the booze starts to kill you." "Yeah," chimes in Gurney. "Management would like us to be in the States the whole time, but we want to fuckin'..." he trails off, "Man...we have priorities, like playing The Pub and Karova Lounge! We wanna do Australia, I'd much prefer to be a big band in Australia than a band overseas. I want to play to the home crowds, build more of a vibe, playing smaller cities here rather than being scattered all over the place."

All over the place is precisely where Skybombers have been since their signing to Albert Productions (home of AC/DC and The Easybeats), quick ascension into the books of Gold Mountain Management (Neil Young, Nirvana, Beck) in the US, and teaming up with producer Rick Parker (BRMC, The Von Bondies and Dandy Warhols) to produce their new album. Whatever it is Skybombers have that sets them apart from the legions of other rock four-pieces populating this planet besides the 'Livers of Steel!' that Gurney suggests, it's working. "I think a lot of people come across as pretentious and fake." proffers Gurney. "We play music because it's fun performing, I think a lot of people don't do that anymore. What sets us apart from rock and roll bands is the live show and how much fun we actually have when we play, that comes across on the record as well."

Unlike most bands, they haven't made a quantum leap from the EP (recorded in two days for $1000 with a 'let's get in there and do it' attitude), to their album. "We wanted to make the EP as fun and as high-energy as we could, so the spirit of that remains the same." Gurney explains. "We did the album over six weeks and had a million more guitars to play with and time to develop songs and get everything right. We had no idea what to expect, we were shit-scared. We'd heard all these stories about bands going into studios with shit producers and arguing - we just went in there and had the time of our lives, everyone got along really well. We laid a lot of it down in the same room so we got a live vibe. We spent a long time playing with sitars, guitars, amps, tabla, sleigh bells, shakers, maracas...everything, we even had an explosion on Teenage Dreams." Sleigh bells? "You'd be surprised," says Gurney seriously, "If you listen to Oasis their songs are full of sleigh bells, and the Hives use them a lot, you actually hear them but never really notice them. Sleigh bells, doesn't sound rock and roll but it fits well."

Knowing what it takes to fit well into the Indie 103 playlist may be one thing, but underlying this sort of instant acceptance is the band's nous. Clearly they've been saying yes to the right people at the right time. "I mean, we have been lucky, we've fallen into bed with the right people and I really don't want to let them down." says Gurney, "I want to do as best we can, rock as hard as we can, have as much fun as we can and take advantage of what we've got. We write the songs to play live. We're a little bit more ahead here because we've been playing for longer, so I'm looking forward to this tour a lot." he says before pausing. "We party. We try." Right now, they're winning.

CD Review: THE STICKMEN - WHO SAID IT WOULD BE GOOD? (Solar/Sonar / Shock)

Monday, June 02, 2008 

The answer to that is: anyone who saw them, ever.
Sooner or later, quality will always surface somehow, sometime, somewhere. Tom Lyngcoln, better known as frontman for sonic behemoths The Nation Blue is, via his label Solar/Sonar, on a one-man mission to ensure that it happens sooner rather than later for some. After making listeners widen their eyes and take a few steps back from their speakers with 2005's reissue of punk legends (at least in Hobart) Mouth's sole digital release Victim Chant, he's done it again with another formidable and relatively unknown proposition, The Stickmen. A Tasmanian four-piece existing from 1996-1999 and playing only a handful of shows in Melbourne, they here prove themselves as masters of barely-restrained nervous tension; building atmospheres, bending sinister riffs while using dynamics and speed changes in a way few bands before or since have ever thought to.

Guitar, bass, drums, turntable player (not a DJ but a turntable through a distortion pedal and guitar amp) and snarling vocalist and intimidating songwriter Aldous Kelly make the lineup for a band who were one of the most absorbing and fearsome live acts in the country for their time - a claim to which live video footage and recordings still attest. It seems impossible that music this simple and powerful isn't like or reminiscent of any other band, but it's true. 

Like all great bands, they do just as well live as they do in the studio and with all great albums there is a sense of an encapsulation of time and place - time they can seemingly bend within a song. In blindingly illuminating liner notes Andrew Harper explains: "...there was a smell in the air, it was a bright, sharp smell and there was a moment when something could have happened, but nothing did. It never got out of town and perhaps it's far better that way." Perhaps for a few hundred people in Hobart, but for everyone else it's a manifold blessing that this testament exists.

Wasting no time in dropping you into the whirlpool of the title track, Who Said It Would Be Good? proceeds to give you an overview of the band's recorded history; a protracted convincing argument rather than a desperate one-two punch. With disparate sonic elements and tightly-tethered musicianship The Stickmen create space in a refreshingly curious way. Slivers of distorted turntable signal pull ghostly orchestras from thin air before wiry riffs and Araldited drums and bass return to arrest you with repetition as on the slackly sinister Ashtray, the blistering title track, the ear-incinerating No, the belligerent Rider Down, the seasick spaceship ride of Man Made Stars or the spiderweb stickiness of Measure Your Limbs in it's live recording from a Senior Citizens Hall. "Under the electric light we wait for the sun / Nocturnal skin / The air is clear tonight / Salivate, you have desire / Calculate, your next move". - Strange World

The sounds are simple, the lyrics curt Hobartian verse, the production crisp; it's ageless music. Had it been made ten years later (which it sounds like it was), it would have found literally a million ears around the world and pulled the band from Doghouse obscurity to a global stage; were that what they wanted. Evidently it wasn't as few photos or interviews exist. Myth; it's a rare thing these days.
For the few of you who know, it's time to update those CD-Rs. For a band who are short on ideas yet hunger for fame, here's a book to rip from.


Monday, June 02, 2008 
The Toff

The simple delight in seeing a songwriter, any songwriter, so fully be able to express their craft is likely to always be a rare pleasure. Tonight saw evidence that Guy Blackman is a character who has clearly earned great respect from a lot of people through his variously pursued passions for music, and it is tribute to his songs that they aren't overshadowed by the caliber of guests he brings on to flesh them out.

Opening act, the perfectly-titled Always, is a curious prospect. Kneeling - sometimes lying - on the floor, for the most part hidden behind a huge beard and a curtain of lanky black hair, Always proceeds to let us glimpse at an often unholy relationship between man and machine, or man and delay pedal and pitch shifter to be more precise. Variously industrial, funny, animalistic , onomatopoeic yet entirely corporeal in his sounds, Always delivers three very different pieces which, as Laura Jean later states, perfectly sets the mood for his evening.

Laura Jean's ebullient songs rise and fall with measured perfection as rendered by her 5-piece band. With an impassive gaze that more suits appraising farmland than engaging a crowd in an classy establishment, Laura Jean proves to be an engaging and naturally charming presence. From simmering away in the background of the local music scene, her latest album Eden Land provides most of the set's highlights (Anniversary, Mikhail and the closing Love Is Going To Lead Us particularly),  but even those get a close run by No Mystery 'our first foray into political songwriting,' she says, and the impossibly lilting Valentine, a song that showcases her Sandy Denny-ish voice beautifully. The band give us lessons on how to arrange folk songs that almost seem impossibly nuanced and effortless. A perfect choice for support.

"It's a night of nights for me," says Blackman taking to the stage and seating himself behind a Wurlitzer organ. "It's the end of a long journey." With guests lining the wall and there being little room to move by the time he finished the opening I Still Think Of You, he soon seems to feel at home, as he should be, having made a home for himself among the musical community of Melbourne over the last 12 years. Isobel Knowles, Geoff O'Connor, Mark Monnone, Julian Patterson, Mick Turner, Clare Moore, Jess and Nick Venebles, Peggy Frew, Alison Bulger and Nisa Venerosa all lend their considerable talents to bringing most of Adult Baby to life which peaks with a gorgeous Older, a shimmering Johnny, the embarrassingly intimate Act Like You Don't, blistering Carlton North and everyone-on-for-the-final-song thrill of Gayle. Listening to Blackman's impeccably sincere songs you feel you know him well, and he's an incredibly hard guy not to like and be grateful for.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008 
Revolver Upstairs

Unexpected revelations are the order of the evening here tonight. First up is Twin City Radio, a band who instantly knock you flat with the sense that they are going to be totally, utterly, massive. The ingredients are all there; the talent, the ambition, the sense of something not that unusual but different enough to stand out, and a charismatic frontman. Pushing a tightly-reined melodramatic edge to their smart and heavy songs, it's easy to see that industry people will see dollar signs and audiences will swell, should that be the way they want to go. Tracks like Stitches and the closing Longitude seem ready-made for radio and the band deliver them with a maturity and a sense of humour that belies their youth. Granted, vocalist Gustav Gustavenson has overblown lyrics at times (And in the winter of our historical experiment / There is a signal tracing through the northern firmament - Distance), but they are delivered in a totally charming and convincing way; he knows what these words mean, and the Van Morrison-esque understated intensity seals the deal. It's hard to believe it was only their fourth gig. Were this Sydney, they'd already be signed and have a fervent following of kids in Muse t-shirts.

Matching them for upward mobility are Skipping Girl Vinegar. A real rarity in this day and age - genuine songwriting skills and sensitivity without a hint of the smugness that so many Aussie rock bands and solo artists seem to resort to. Mark Lang is a gifted songwriter of the Paul Kelly vein, and his admitting to being on an unfortunate mixture of pseudoephedrine and red wine may be the reason the ballads are lent a weight and space tonight, taking them from good to room-silencing. Smartly-dressed bassist Sare Lang pushes the songs with her high-necked riffs and is on form tonight. From irresistibly rousing opener Wandered via future JJJ-fave Sift The Noise to the glorious Sinking the band don't miss a beat. Mark these words - 2008 will be their year.

Following these guys would be a tough act in anyone's book, and indeed the only level on which The Seabellies can match SGV is hype. The three-quarter-full room thins as the band come on stage and they soon give reason for it. The Heart Heart Heart Out Tour on which they're on seems to have tired them, as the songs, which are perfectly fine, are discharged in an almost disinterested way. Each of the six band members wear tight black jeans and Chucks (bar keyboardist Stephanie Setz) and have nicely sculptured hair, unsurprisingly their songs show a similar lack of freshness or individuality. Clearly they would love to rip drama from the stage a la Arcade Fire, but the multitude of instruments they use seem to only be there for texture; arrangement is not their strong suit. The Los Campesinos!-like charge to Day Of The Bees really should work - it should be tearing up the place - but is delivered with so little conviction it too falls flat. The colder electro Song We Don't Speak Of suits their stylised detachment far better. The songs are fun, but the heart heart heart is out out out.


Friday, May 23, 2008 

Success has given many an appetite for the finer things in life; haute couture, yachts, fois gras and more success, but the same can't be said for Barry Fratelli aka Baz, bassist with Glaswegian rockers The Fratellis. Relaxing at his home in home in England ("shh, don't tell anybody!") he's getting some time in with the missus before hitting Europe, the States and then our own shores. "It's true to say that Glasgow is a place where no one will let you get too big for your boots, and being away, I do miss my family and friends a wee bit, but I love it here in the country; lots of sheep and ducks. I'm my happiest at home." At my suggestion of hiring someone to be Barry Fratelli on stage while he writes, he brightens up "That's my ideal game plan man! But no, I wouldn't change any of it. It's good to get out and see this world of ours and get a different perspective on life."

With the release of the new album Here We Stand Baz is similarly thoughtful about possible interpretations of the title, "It was never supposed to be a profound statement, but it does seem like that now - the fans and us. I mean we did produce it ourselves, it was done it in our own studio and it's exactly the record we wanted to make. We never wanted to do Costello Music mark II, we were always set on it being a different record and it just ended up being a pretty good title." Taking over an old schoolhouse in Glasgow's West End (a place that reminds them "you can't disappear up your own arse"), The Fratellis set about building the record literally from the ground up. "It's definitely different, it's just better in all regards; the songwriting the musicianship and the production. That's what we took from touring so much; the touring improved the musicianship. It was very important to us not to bring out another guitar album, we didn't want to be lumped in with all these other guitar bands, we're better than that." he says with a Gaelic pride. "Improvement, I think the point of any band with every album should be improvement and diversity, I would have been disappointed with a Costello Music mark II and I think the fans would have been too. If you are lucky enough to get the chance to put an album out you should take it to somewhere else and do something different. We removed the safety net and did it ourselves." That they did, nae danger.

Having said that, Baz is keen to point out that the band are still obsessed with the same films and CDs as when they made the first album, "There's been no new influences I don't think, we're rooted to the past to some degree, only now we're a bigger rock band. Costello Music, as good as it was, had a sheen over it. On reflection it's a bit poppier than we wanted it to be. I'm still very proud of it and I still listen to it occasionally, though, having said that, I'll skip certain tracks," he laughs. "I still get a buzz when I see it in a record shop. I had a break in Thailand after the last time we played in Japan and I found it at a little stall in a market in Bangkok, this guy had a handful of CDs and man, it made my day!" he enthuses like someone with half his fame.

The world must certainly seem The Fratellis' oyster. Over a million records sold in the UK, a Brit and an NME award to their name, their bright pop tunes adorning advertisement for everything from iPods to Burburry perfume, their songs so invasive and catchy that you have most likely heard them whether or not you knew it. Chelsea Dagger was used in so many films and trailers that the band ended up saying no to Shrek the Third and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. "It just got to a point where you realise it's starting to get ridiculous, we thought we'd never be able to move away from that track. We're glad it did end up being used for films we liked, like Simon Pegg movies, so we decided we didn't want it featuring in the trailer and not the movie; it became a hook thing, like a media studies thing just to entice people. For some other things though the money was too good, like [lubricant manufacturers] Pennzoil wanted to use Chelsea Dagger for an advert in Texas and they offered a LOT of money. And, y'know, I don't care that much, and none of my mates are gonna hear it, you'd be an absolute idiot if you said no to some things."

It's hard to begrudge a band so down to earth, particularly as they seem so grounded success almost seems to be ricocheting off them. "We were a really young band when we got signed," reflects Baz, "we'd not even played 30 shows, but what a lot of people don't realise was that we went through a lot of shit just before we got signed. We had a really tough time and that really helped us bond as a band. You spend more time with your band than you do your family, and we've got a very weird relationship. We know when to give each other space, when it's time to drink together and when it's time to rock out - that's when you don't bring your missus along."

Straight after playing here, Barry and his missus are tying the knot in Japan, thankfully, she sounds like a woman with few illusions. "She's tolerant of the lifestyle. She knew what she was doing when we got together and knew what I did when we met. It's work y'know? It's a very, very, very good job, and it's got a lot of perks but there are downsides too of course, namely never getting to be at home." This means that the Australian leg of their tour will be particularly special for the band. "Yeah, all my pals have been telling me Byron Bay is the best place to go in Australia," he says referring to the band's Splendour in The Grass date, "So I'm really glad that that's where our first show is. I was really sorry not to make it there the last time - too many gigs, not enough time man!" he laughs. He'll clearly not be making that mistake again.

ALL GROWN UP?: An interview with GUY BLACKMAN

Friday, May 23, 2008 

Guy Blackman is a man rapidly becoming as much of an institution of Melbourne music as a venue like The Empress; modest ambitions, a little away from the fast lane, resolutely independent and constantly offering up gems. Since you may know him through his music, his writing in The Age's EG section, or through his label Chapter Music, it stands to reason that when it comes to assembling musicians for his long-gestated album Adult Baby and live shows, it shouldn't be too hard. In selecting over 20 members of the cream of the Melbourne music scene Blackman found everyone happy to join up. "They were all people I had relationships with already. I moved to Melbourne in 1995 so most people I've known for ten years or more and I can't think of anyone who is better at what they do."

The guest attracting the most attention features on the song A Dark and Quiet Place; Swedish pop sensation Jens Lekman. A beautiful epistle about 'meeting some guy in a sauna' (something Blackman is keen to point out has never happened), it's an unusual deviation from his hallmark first-person paeans but he music, as ever, serves the song perfectly. "I sang it as a solo song for quite a while then it occurred to me that you could divide it up into a duet. Jens Lekman was the one person I was a bit hesitant about asking, but he remembered that song from the first time he saw me play it. He says it's his favourite duet that he's sung, which is really nice," Blackman pauses. "Maybe you shouldn't put that in the interview, I don't want it to sound like I'm talking myself up." he says laughing nervously.

Writing, Blackman shows no signs of self-doubt at all. Adult Baby is a collection of 15 concise and bittersweet songs characterised by their unequivocal bravery, and it's clear that this is a quality that marks all of his work. "All my writing comes from a fanzine background, I did my first fanzine when I was 16, which was when I started writing songs as well; they're inextricable. I always try to push myself to write stuff that's challenging to me, honesty can be confronting as well. Most of the songs are about one person, my long-term boyfriend. He said it can make him uncomfortable watching me play since most of the songs are about him and other people in the audience realise they are too, but he's really encouraging. I'm sure there are places that are off limits, it's hard to say. I do find it hard sometimes being on stage and singing some of the songs, but in a funny way having a band legitimises what you're playing. If other people are willing to play along with these songs then it seems to people in the audience, in my mind, that there must be a lot more to them."

Being a longtime listener, Blackman is acutely conscious of the audience when performing. Though songs are carefully constructed, he embraces a variety of interpretations live. "I like playing with lots of different people. Living in Japan made me see different ways of doing things. When I'd go and see my favourite bands they'd have different people in the band every time; a whole new set of songs with different instruments and arrangements. I'm not quite as spontaneous as that but I do like the idea of entertaining the audience with a different combination of people, keeping things interesting. I really enjoy playing, but I don't really like the whole singer/songwriter thing, I find as an audience member it's kind of boring to watch. It's so rare you'll see one person with one instrument do a whole set that will hold your attention, I don't want to be that person." With songs like these and a band like that, he needn't worry.


Friday, May 23, 2008 
The Afterdark

A minute or so into the opening set the six-foot square projection of the St Kilda/Collingwood game over the band's head is switched off. The Afterdark is a curious place; full of sweet kids with scarves and dyed hair with oddly rough security and an atmosphere of bohemia on a budget. It works, and works perfectly for tonight's bands.
Harriet lead singer Lena channels dreams, slouched against the wall at the back of the small stage eyes closed, singing in a broken voice and thrumming dissonant chords. Sounding like Karen Dalton with half her guitar strings missing, Harriet succeed in creating a trance-like state with occasional simple yet arresting dynamic changes. Closing song Howl is breathtaking in it's intensity and fragile delivery. It's all a revelation after the automatic polish given to so many bands when they put on a 'performance'.
Usually going by the name of Orphan's Project, but tonight opting for Fuck You Astronomy the drum/guitar duo push an anti-folk feel to their short and punchy tunes. Able to switch from hilarious ('I want a girl who fucks like the girl in Bad Santa' - Our Sweet Song) to oddly moving (Superglue) in a matter of seconds they have a charm that lets them get away with anything. Singer Will is a completely fascinating figure, seemingly obsessed with curious sex, disabilities and physical deformities he injects humour and pathos into everything he touches. If there is anyone who should be opening for Kimya Dawson next month it should be these two. Tracks like Upfield Line and My Little Amputee will be highlights of their forthcoming cassette release (with code for free mp3 download!). Ace!

'These ain't our smash hits,' grins non-drumming drummer Martin King, 'we're usually a band.' Missing a member mean Psuche Ensemble opt to be experimental noise-merchants tonight. Occasional songs arise from lush and brutal soundscapes like icebergs in a thawing sea. Fire is an ear-clearing exercise in sine-wave squelching, squeaky shrill voices abruptly shifting dynamics. Using affected vocals, accordion, bowed saw, electronics, ukulele, clarinet and bass the Ensemble sound best when they break things right down and let their songwriting skills shine, though clearly they're experienced at making and destroying atmospheres. The songs featured from their forthcoming album are bravely odd, beautiful, severe, poetic and more open, warmer and more engaging than Coco Rosie - with whom there are stylistic similarities - could ever hope to be. Amazing stuff.

Organiser and Woollen Kit frontman Tom Hardisty has a genre-be-damned attitude toward music. The only links between his songs tonight are the instrumentation of guitar and drums, and his C86/Stephen Pastel-esque vocal style. This is a great thing live as you never know what is coming next; Felt-ish indie balladry, country swagger, brief bursts of noise rock or a smooth Velvets chug. Opening with the title track of tonight's launched album, the gloriously packaged Cupcake Kiss, the interplay between the drums and guitar hold your attention even if his vocals aren't your cup of tea. Playing Zombies and the cross-the-finish-line thrill of closing track I Wonder About Animals indicate there is a talent here that should be getting more attention that it currently is. Indeed the whole night shows that getting off the beaten track of more popular venues is a fantastically rewarding experience.


Friday, May 23, 2008 
The Toff in Town

Five-piece World's End Press have, if nothing else, been a remarkably consistent band. Consistently relying on a sort of Talking Heads-meets-TV On The Radio density to detract from the numbingly repetitive chords that prop up their songs. There is a LOT going on, and individually parts are interesting, well-thought through and work well. If you focus just on the melodies, the drumming or the ceaseless wall of bass coming from their out-of-place bassist, then the music is fine. It's when you listen to it together that it stops being Talking Heads and becomes more Joe Jackson fronting Wang Chung. Which is odd, because it should work, but the density of tom-heavy drumming dynamic-free bass and keyboard chords fills out a suffocating sound that is further burdened by faceless songwriting and formulaic rhythmic shifts.

Which is nothing compared to the excruciatingly painful experience of sitting through the first half of Cuthbert and the Nightwalkers' set. A name that long befits a stage this crowded and with eight obviously talented and well-dressed individuals, it's odd that we can't raise a smile. Finally there is a band playing indie-pop that doesn't 'get' it. Instead we get smug over-acting theatre students, half a band that could be fired without detracting from the songs at all and mannered 'dance' moves which means that by the time Richie Cuthbert sings 'I'm a lot like you / My favourite colour is blue' you want to scream 'NO!!! Please NO!!' and overact as much as his co-vocalist in her Baz Luhrmann-burlesque getup does all night. 'Marmalade is my favourite spread' she coos; it's agonising. The better parts of the set are those that reduce half the band to handclapping and allow the songs to breathe a little. Smokin' In The Basement is a great upbeat B&S-style rocker that lets bassist Brenden push things a little. Closing duo Pogues-esque song Maggie's Health and the literal Big Band are rousing tunes that see the band joined by some of Institut Polaire, and sound all the better for it.

Another eight-piece take to the stage and it's here that the value of arrangement shines. IP do this better than most, not a person is wasted and it's only occasionally that the three guitarists play the same chords. Amply helped out by a West Australian contingent (that seem to have amply helped themselves to the bar) the band are clearly on peak form, with trumpet, violin and keyboard fleshing the songs out beautifully. Highlights from their EP (and there are quite a few) are matched by new songs; a glorious potential album-opener To New Holland and it's Decemberists'-esque segue, plus a great rendition of Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. 'I wish I'd written that' says singer Eric Hecht, he needn't worry, the following The Flora and The Fauna is a wonderful minor epic showcasing his impressionistic lyrical turns. As if to bring home what a great show this is, the drunk couple dancing up the front are soon joined by three more couples, and eventually the entire venue, at the behest of Eric and his sidekick Elliott Brannen, so by the end we are all on their feet dancing and clapping along to a crowded stage for closing song Super!. Fantastic stuff.


Friday, May 23, 2008 

"I'm outside Yankee Stadium! Yeah, I'm with some buddies and I'm going to see the Yankees play. Can you believe it's $10 a beer here? They're big though, you only need two of them to get drunk...well I will." Not the sound of a kid brought up in Northumberland, England to the sounds of reggae you may think, but then Antony Ellis, frontman for Five O'Clock Heroes is not your average Northumbrian.

Escaping the 'shit and cynicism' prevalent in the post-Britpop-slump UK, Ellis relocated to New York and formed the half-British, half-American Five O'Clock Heroes, soon specialising in upbeat, catchy, dry songs that sound like they would kick live, though this isn't what Ellis always set out to do. "For me, we don't go into the room and think: 'We've gotta be new wave'. We've become friends with bands like that because they're good guys. If we we're going to record a song that sounds different then great, but we're not about to start playing hip hop." Interestingly the initially disingenuous hip-hop angle is a factor in Five O'Clock Heroes latest offering their second album Speak Your Language."A guy by the name of Chuck Brodie approached us and said: 'I want to record you guys'. He'd just come from working on the Wu Tang Clan record so I was pretty skeptical. But he said 'the one thing that I would really want to do is overdub the drums.' That got me going, I wanted to have this album focus a lot more on the percussion and the beat. So we recorded snares in the corridors for a boomy sound, bass drums under blankets - whatever we could find, we could do it. It was very fun to do."

Fun is clearly on the cards for punters at a Five O'Clock Heroes gig, but this is more a release of intensity for the band who've not had the easiest evolution. "We were turned down by 16 or 17 labels; majors and indies included. They would say stuff like: 'You need to have another angle on this', 'You need to have a girl in the band' or 'You need to have a keyboard player'. We decided to do it on our own. Some of our friends were in the bands The Paddingtons and The Rakes and they invited on their tours, and basically, we never got off the road. We jut kept going. As a result of this we screwed up all normal occupations, all the relationships and living circumstances we had. I can't help feeling that if you're going to do it, do it right. Go all the way. That's the way to do it. A&R people are not the people to tell you yes or no. I don't like the word no. Mind you, it's a lot easier when you have a band of friends who all think the same way."

Ironically, it's the addition of a girl (supermodel Agyness Deyn) for their latest single Who that has brought them more attention than ever. "I've known Agyness for a long time since her and Josh Hubbard [of The Paddingtons] were together. She was a just a kid then; late teens, she was always so cool. She moved to New York a couple of years back and stayed with me when she first arrived, we were really tight. The song Who was written for a French singer, Amelie Simon, and she wrote the four lines in the chorus in French, and I thought I could translate to into English. I mentioned it to Agyness and she asked me if she could try singing it, and she nailed it. The girl can sing. She was really impressive. I had a great time recording with her and doing the video too, it's blown up a little bit, but England are really good at bringing something up and taking it down just as fast."


Thursday, May 08, 2008 

"You know what? Fuck him. If Anton can say to NME that we were a bunch of molested bedwetters, you can print that stuff about him and Kevin Shields," says Ricky Maymi, long-time guitarist of Brian Jonestown Massacre during a particularly heated discussion about the release of the band's new album. Anton Newcombe is legendary among music circles, not only for his inadvertant starring role in the 2004 Ondi Tiamner film DiG! that concerned the history of BJM and the Dandy Warhols, but for his erratic behaviour, ability to channel 60s-garage rock better than almost anyone else on the planet, and unwillingness to compromise creatively, regardless of consequences. It's fair to say there is little he fears. Working with Anton for longer than most, Maymi is a rare confidente and performer in several other bands including The Triffids, The Church, The Clean and Koolaid Electric Company.

"I'm not particularly fond of the name." he says before pausing for a long time, contemplating the simultaneous 'fuck you' and homage to his friend Kevin Shields' band My Bloody Valentine that the name constitutes.

"There was some talk about Anton recording with Kevin Shields at one point who said: 'That's great Anton, but I want to work with the band. The band has a sound live that isn't represented on any of the records and I want to capture that'. He was interested in the idea of working with us - US - and that's easier said than done. It all looks good on paper but in reality it's not that easy to make happen for a multitude of reasons. It would be a matter of getting the band in the studio, playing new material and recording it live, and that sounds like a simple enough thing to do, but it's just not."

Opening up, Maymi, continues "OK. Last year, northern hemisphere summer, BJM do a tour of England which ends in July. Anton says: 'Right, we'll go to the studio in Liverpool, the whole band, and we're gonna record an album as a band.' And I think that he's into this idea because he knew my mate Kevin expressed interest in doing that. As it turned out the whole band couldn't make it, so that got turned into 'well if you can't all make it then none of you are going to make it - except for the drummer'. He sort of alluded to wanting the rest of us involved but he couldn't give us a date or a time-frame. I can't be standing by in Liverpool for X amount of days wondering if or when something is going to happen and not even knowing how long it will be if it does. So I just assumed that it wasn't happening and the same went for the other guys who were available. He ended up going to Liverpool and doing a couple of songs with our drummer," Maymi continues, "I don't think those are going to be on the album I think that's the start of another album he does want to do with the band so hopefully that will come to light."

"Then Anton decided he wanted to go to Iceland: 'Hey I'm here in Iceland recording. I just flew Mark Gardener [of UK band Ride] up here to do a track with me. I want you, Ricky, to get Kevin Shields and bring him to Iceland, and I will reward you'. I didn't even bother to ask what the reward was - I'm not after any rewards, and I'm not going to try and coax a friend of mine - whoever he might happen to be - into doing something he has only expressed an interest in not doing. So I told Kevin and he said 'well, for how long?' and I said 'I don't know'. It seemed abstract and far-fetched to us, and, as it turned out I was committed to other bands and those had solid timelines, whereas recording with Anton does not, and I can't be standing by spending pounds when I have other bands waiting, so I said to Anton ' I can't make it.' And I think he knew right there that Kevin wasn't coming. Kevin wasn't going to come anyways but he certainly wasn't going to come without me. So I think he kind of resented me and Kevin a bit, hence the title. And every conversation after that was like: 'I'm doing stuff that Kevin Shields can't do without a million pedals, I'm doing it with NONE.'


Monday, May 05, 2008 
Northcote Social Club

Though the crowd are physically restrained in their appreciation of the music tonight, for the most part, it's clear there is a lot of love in the room for tonight's performers. A smattering of pink fluffy tiaras and wands throughout the crowd . Ned Collette and his able rhythm section earn their stripes turning Collette's wordy meanderings into barely discernible rock tunes. No doubt the lyrics are fantastic, the few that do make it through the muddy mix are tantalising: "The day rolled in like innocence / If innocence was grey" and the rhythms and guitar squalls are rock solid, all making for a brilliant counterpoint to his recent subdued set at Laterra Festival. Tonight Collette's trademark moodiness is rendered with a refreshing depth - the music regularly swamping his impassioned soliloquies taking the crowd along with him. Mediocre Days and The Hedonist are accentuated in their sludgy grandeur by Collette's expert used of pedals and become highlights of the set.

Half an hour later curtains part to reveal five guys, the median age of whom is likely a decade above that of the Princess, continuing the Velvets-chug of Collette's set with crisp aplomb. Cam Butler (of Silver Ray) introduces us to the Princess herself who, all smiles, takes her place behind her keyboard and leads us into the land of the smart, simple, and tender song. Few performers in this country are capable of pulling such an arresting about-turn with a few slivers of chords and some breathy vocals in the way that Sarah-Jane Wentski can. Give her a Ronnettes drum intro and she'll take it to places few would dare. After silencing the room with Man In A Suitcase she takes us on a day trip to the beach with the sugary jags of I'm Onto Something Good which is only a playlist-feature away from taking her to major league status. Given the strength of these songs - the burning garage rockers (You) gently swelling surges (There's Got To Be More Than This) and the warmly-received so-new-it's-unnamed track - it's a curious state that P1.5 isn't more famous, a situation the new album Vous Je Vous, launched tonight, will make harder to maintain. One reason her live show may not be making the impression it should is the constant distraction from the mood by her drummer's monkey antics. Perpetually annoying nervous attempts at comedy really don't help the mood or the songs, still, the man can drum. It would be nice to say it's a Björk/Einar Örn relationship, but that would be much too kind. New, and hopefully not temporary, guitarist Ben Grounds is a brilliantly judged addition to the band with his curlicues and sparse arpeggios bringing a gloriously atmospheric edge to the songs. With the sound crystal clear and the audience loving each moment the band should consider it another step on the long and - it seems - inevitable road to success.


Friday, May 02, 2008 

For a woman so clearly focused on songwriting, the associated tasks of performing them live, compiling them onto records and releasing them has happened in quite a contrary way. Main Motif Alexis Hall is, as befits her music, someone discovered rather than found through promotion. "None of my releases have been really conscious on my part. I just made the music and random people offered to release it. Since it was mainly on the Internet it didn't really matter where it was from, so I guess that was why nothing had been released in Australia until now." These releases, 2006's Dots on the Swedish Music Is My Girlfriend label, 2007's Away on Japan's Lost in Found and the WeePOP!'s English release of Matches have had highlights taken from them for the new Cross Paths album, another release at the instigation of a label's owner. "I was asked if I wanted to release something on vinyl. Scott [Brewer, founder of Knock Yr. Socks Off Records and member of local pop group Summer Cats] mainly chose the songs, but it's sort of half of Away, four songs from the WeePOP! EP and three new songs." she explains. Describing the music leaves Hall a little lost for words but listeners the world over lean on the terms dream pop, twee and indie to describe The Motifs quiet yet wonderfully sculpted tunes. "I've never been really good with genres, never been able to describe other people's music," she says hesitating. "The way I'm described often surprises me, and when I get compared to bands it's always because of the sound, never the songwriting, but I kind of like that everyone has their own interpretations. When I listen to music it's always for the melody and the songwriting. I don't care that much about the production, even if the sound is not that good, sometimes that makes me like the song more, the song sounds better."

Motifs' songs themselves are revolutions of their format; their sheer brevity is almost breathtaking with many songs not breaking the minute mark. Perhaps due to a ruthlessly harsh editing process? "Oh no! I think it's the opposite," laughs Hall "I'm really trying to get them longer. I don't want to repeat myself when I write, I guess some people will write songs with four of the same verse, but I'm more interested in having ideas rather than driving them home. I kind of like the idea that you get one listen at that one thing; I have a short attention span. I was thinking that iTunes give you a 30-second preview, which for some of my songs is nearly the whole song! I put in the effort for a short song as much as a long song, and for me that's what I value. I'm putting heaps of ideas into a short amount of space. If you write a really long song you're forcing people to stare for five minutes, whereas with mine you can listen to four or five different songs in that time, and you can listen to them again if you like."

Plainly, a lot of people are doing just that – The Motifs have had over 100 000 listens on and more on Myspace. In explaining their popularity Hall reaches to the reasons she writes. "When I write songs, I'm not going for a sound, and I'm not very good at talking," she says with a laugh. "The way they sound is a result of the resources I have and I'm really interested in the sound you get when you record at home." Translating these recordings live has proved more a case of reinvention than reinterpretation. "I'd never be able to get that same sound. I might record 10 keyboard parts to a song and then I go 'Oh no! How am I going to do this live?' so it is pretty challenging, but I do like bringing in other people, it's more fun."


Friday, May 02, 2008 

Few bands would be brave enough to launch a national tour with the addition of two new members, the loss of one, and debut new songs while road-testing song titles with the audience as they go. Clearly the expansive and smartly-attired Institut Polaire have few qualms. Like the French Antarctic vessel they're named after, exploration and faith are hallmarks of their trade. Multi-instrumentalist Elliott Brannen is fairly used to these changes, but especially happy at the current state of the band. "It's funny, I joined three years ago saw two leave and one join, then there were no changes for two and a half years. With the move to Melbourne, one left and two joined. We'd been looking for a full time keyboard player for a while and the obvious thing was to get Rebecca (May), who is an amazing musician." Rebecca is the girlfriend of original IP drummer Ash who had left the band to move to Melbourne. Incidentally, two years later, the band - except for the drummer - followed him; no prizes for guessing who returned to the drum stool. "This will be the lineup for at least a while," confirms Brannen. "It's sounding great. Our gig last night went surprisingly well for a midweek show. We've just really nutted down and worked, and to have an audience specifically there to see you was really cool."

Relocating a band 3500 kilometers is never a decision undertaken lightly, moving to Melbourne, as many readers will know, is no easy task. Brannen sees the experience as all part of playing in IP, and other band members, particularly Ohio-native front-man Eric Hecht, are clearly no strangers to upping sticks either. "We all generally took about six or seven weeks to find a place to live, with the rental market being terrible it took longer than we'd thought. Everyone has a place to live and full-time work now, which makes it a lot easier. I've moved a few times and it's never easy, it always takes a little while to feel settled. We'll have to work full-time till we can make enough money to do otherwise, but we're happy enough. "

With their debut album due out later this year and an as-yet-unnamed single due in a few months, IP are clearly onto something good. Bands who influenced IP are fans, as are JJJ and pretty much any awards panel they've been considered by. "The album is still at demo stage," says Brennen. "And because of the changes we can't make the record we would have made 12 months ago, so it will be different from the EP. The album has the working title of Make Your Own Mayflower. The Mayflower was the boat the Pilgrims came to America on. Eric was in the military for four to five years and away from his girlfriend for that time. There are a lot of songs about distance and loneliness, being apart from someone." Brennen points out. "It's definitely Eric's band - he does the majority of the writing," he continues "but it's more of a band than some people think it is. The general direction of the band is that it's a democracy no one's vote is worth more than anyone else. There are strong-willed people in the band and we wouldn't have it any other way."

Last year's signing to Sydney label Popfrenzy brought them more attention due to it being the label's first Australian signing. "That opened lots of doors." Says Brennen. "If we were a little band from Perth then we wouldn't be on this tour or doing this interview now. It adds some kudos and takes the pressure off knowing there is someone there who will pay for it for starters and release it when we're done. We trust them, they trust us; it's a really good relationship and makes the job a lot easier."