Sunday, November 16, 2008
Style may never go out of fashion, but neither does faith or a strong work ethic, as ANDY HAZEL discovers chatting to ETIENNE MAMO of The New Black.
Listening to The New Black you could be forgiven for thinking the 80s never happened. Spending the last two years garnering hype and fans while working away at their debut album A Young Man’s Death, The New Black are not afraid to suffer for their art; the album’s title inspired by the second job lead singer Etienne Mamo took in order to pay for it’s completion. “Working at a call centre is a rite-of-passage I guess,” he confesses. “Being the good customer service person I was I’d read magazines while talking to people and I came across this series of pictures by a Swedish photographer. It was art about isolation…the death of identity and personality, death from TV and marketing. The photographer gave us the rights to use the pictures for the cover and the name came from that. There are silver linings everywhere I guess,” he laughs.
Though the band are already planning their second Australian tour for February, and Mamo is calling after what he describes as a ‘really great gig’ in Sydney, the band don’t see themselves as typically Australian. “Me and my brother Chris [Raphel, bass] are from Malta, [drummer] Paul [Gatt] is from New Zealand and Scott [McArthur, guitarist] is half-Maltese so I think of us as international. Starting out, we didn’t want to sound local – even the artwork – we didn’t want to make it look like it was from Melbourne, more like we could be from anywhere.”
Certainly the band’s music can be seen to draw from the Bowie’s sharp swagger, The Kinks’ brittle melodies and a hint of Creation Records’ finer moments, while Mamo admits to being inspired by Urge Overkill. “They got dressed up to the max!” he enthuses. “I love that. When you’re out there on stage for 45 minutes you do want to put on a show, it’s not just about the music. All the best shows have a strong visual side. All the bands I like look good too - people don’t want to see you in your tracksuit pants. Maybe people in Australia are afraid, you know, of being called a wanker for making an effort, but in other parts of the world it’s just not like that.”
Unsurprisingly, this attention to minutiae carries to the album, a creation that Mamo is particularly proud of. “We’ve been working on the album for the last year. It cost us shitloads to record it but we wanted good studios and to really explore sounds – we didn’t want to not do something just because we didn’t have the cash. We just worked on a few songs at a time and took months off to save up money. We worked with the same guy all the way through and were really aware of continuity. When we write, Scott and me work on each other’s songs so we have different styles, but they end up flowing really well. We put a lot of thought into the sequence – not just Track 1 and Track 2 – but our set list has been the album track-listing for a while now. We wanted to think of every song as a potential single.” Seeing this level of confidence so barefacedly expressed is odd for local bands, and why self-assurance sets a band apart in Melbourne isn’t something Mamo loses sleep over. Despite stating early on in their press release that they are ‘from inner Melbourne’ and naming their band as an ironic gesture toward the transience of city fashion, the band have bigger aspirations than simply setting themselves apart from contemporaries – many of whom, like The Skybombers, they respect. “We’ve been getting great support from people in the UK, LA and New York,” he says excitedly. “We’ve been offered a few festivals overseas too, so we’re saving money to do that.” That’ll be back to the grindstone for Etienne Mamo then, but not before a show or two.