Monday, December 7, 2009

Interview: BASEBALL - Hitting Hard

Sunday, March 02, 2008 

With glowing reviews across the board, Baseball's debut album Animal Kingdom is a record indisputably unlike others. Few who've heard it could deny its galvanising mix of Middle Eastern history, partying and almost overbearing sense of humanity, qualities that are very representative of band founder, songwriter, singer and violinist Thick Passage AKACameron Potts . Baseball are a band with profound subject matter, full of trans-cultural humour and refreshingly free of irony and sarcasm - Jim Henson with a PhD in Aramaic History.

"This lineup has been going since 2005 and I'd have to say this is the strongest lineup of any band I've played in, it's the only lineup where everything is 25%. Even though I'm coming in with some chords every now and then, I'm letting a lot of the writing go because I trust so much in the people I'm playing with, - I know they're going to come up with something good. It's very spherical in that way." he laughs, and when he laughs, it's nigh on impossible not to crack up too, regardless of the cause. "We're all coming from different directions, none of us can can agree on a single band that we like - which I think is a blessing. The bands that I like - to a degree - Monica (Fikerle, bassist) and Ev (Evelyn Morris AKA Pikelet, drummer/vocalist) will listen to, but Ben (Butcher, guitar) is a stoner rocker from Ballarat so he's always going to play these big fuzzy chords. You'd think that wouldn't work with in a band with me and Evelyn, but it does."

The story of how Baseball came to be the way they are would have to be a fascinating account given the unique melange of overseas adventures, gigs and associated bands that even a cursory glance at the band offers up. In a way, it's a miracle that they exist at all given the many projects the members are involved in. At first listen there is that violin and vocal style that set them apart, but to begin with, it's the subject matter that defines the band. "I'm just obsessed with the Middle East and it's always been that way." says Potts. "That's where those monastic faiths come from, Jerusalem or Arabia if you're talking about the Muslim world. It's pretty much all the same wording if you look at the Koran, the Torah and the Old Testament. It just inspires me and astounds me; the egotistical nature of man. That they create gods so they can go to war to divide and conquer foreign lands and invade, which still happens to this day - nothing has changed in 3000 years. I find that intensely fascinating, I want to get to the bottom of it. All the songs on the album have that as an underlying theme, they're all iced in different ways but the cake remains the same. The lyrics all have double meanings. In once sense I'm talking about a plain story where the listener who doesn't know what I've just told you, will think about something else. But in all these songs there is an inquiry which I don't let anyone know about, that's always essential to the songs; that comes from growing up with the Bible. I just like the aesthetics of the Middle East, I like the palm trees and the deserts of the Biblical world, and I find all those aesthetics of wording a beautiful thing. I could easily be speaking about these things in modern terms but I don't like those aesthetics - that's why they're dressed up that way."

More personally though, Potts' own take on how he wound up with the interests he has is far more personal than distant lands and once-foreign religions. "I grew up in the late 70s and in school I was hit a lot and beaten by nuns and brothers. When you're seven or eight, you don't forget that, you carry that with you for a long time because you're an impressionable child. There were horrible things that happened to me in Catholic schools and that's never going to leave me. That's why there is always this questioning, this fascination with the Middle East, especially with Jerusalem because that's where it all came from." When this fascination became a journey to the Middle East, Potts' need for expression find an unlikely outlet. "I bought my first violin in Cairo, then me and Monica traveled to Calcutta by land, and everything I learned was learned in deserts and bars and cafés. When I got back to Australia Laura (McFarlane, Ninetynine) said, 'You're not playing Western scales dude, you're playing semitones.' And I had no fucking idea, it was just something I knew. And to this day it's not something I want to change, it's a natural process for me."

For a band so honed on live performance, Animal Kingdom has already given their profile a kick, and naturally Baseball had their own standards to live up to when recording. "I think it's the duty of the album to show the second face of the coin. I think the band is powerful in it's own right live to warrant attention, but it needs double layering. With the album there isn't much difference between it and the live show at all; we wanted to take a Polaroid of where we were at the time. The only difference I'd say is the lyric booklet that gives the listener some idea of what's going on." Capturing their whirlwind-of-razors sound was always going to be part of the almost violent integrity Potts' keeps to his subjects and the songs he builds around them. "With any music that is real or means something, it comes form an accidental source. It's just expelled at the time, and at the time we were writing those songs we were just doing something that was natural to us. Lyrically for me that album didn't start speaking until it was done and put on the shelf. Then it started saying to me 'hang on, there is something going on there', something I'd never investigated before, it's been there since I was little, but never in such a concise body of work. Anything real takes on a life of it's own. It's not going to go away, in fact there is more to be learned the more it sits there." And the name? "The name Animal Kingdom came from a conversation Ev and I had about power in society and power in the savannah, how things are very similar in that way. We're all animals, essentially."

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