Monday, September 15, 2008
Taking a chainsaw to the high table of the Australian music industry, NED COLLETTE has no fear of where the chips may lie when the dust settles. ANDY HAZEL takes a few steps back.
It doesn't take long for Ned Collette to distance himself from the fairly broad field of similar-styled singer/songwriters. It takes about twenty minutes in fact, for Collette to get to the core of what is driving his approach to making music in the ever-shifting state of industry and what fires him up. "I understand that a lot of music industry people are being freaked out by these changes that are happening; goodbye music industry, good riddance. There are so many positives you can take out of it," he says, reaching a cruising altitude of conversation. "This friend of mine Byron, who mastered the new record, was talking about how the recorded music industry didn't exist 100 years ago. Now we can go back to how music was before, when it was the domain of musicians. The artists never made money anyway so all we're losing is a bunch of people who weren't actually making the art and whose jobs didn't exist a hundred years ago. So really, the artist is in exactly the same position they've always been, except now they have better means to get their work out there."
Getting his work out there is something Collette has, since his 2004 début release Test Patterns, taken to with aplomb. Film clips, an EP, two critically lauded albums last year's Future Suture and 2006's Jokes and Trials and ceaseless gigging has seen his profile lift steadily via a surge of peer respect and hard work. Currently pulling everything together in a nerve-wracking final few weeks before leaving the country for an extensive European tour, Collette, bassist Ben Bourke, drummer Joe Talia and filmmaker Nat Van den Dungen are the latest in a long line of Australians who, via friends and contacts, piece together tours from grant money, late night emailing, favours and luck.
"People there treat you so much differently to here," he says of last year's European tour born from an impressed Joanna Newsom who took him from weekends at Wesley Anne to playing to 1400 people at La Cigale in Paris. "I've not got a lot of contacts through the previous tour, they were really big shows, this time it's all our own shows. Playing fairly small venues really suits me. I have no idea what the audiences will be like; if forty people show up I'll be stoked. Does the exoticism of Australia kick in? I don't know how this works." He says crinkling his forehead. "When we tour country Australia you think the locals would show up just because there's something on, but they don't. I don't know if that's the same over there. My experience was pretty strange, and that's all been very well documented. For us it's all about the future now - the future of music and finding new ways around the old model."
And it's true, the future is on the mind of Mr Collette a great deal these days, and as with anyone involved in music, concern about our music is heading. "There is such a lack of acknowledged music in Australia, or music in general with passion or risk in writing and production," he says opening up about what he believes is an under-reported talking point. "Someone like Kes is a real rarity. Last week at a gig he went into a 12-bar blues breakdown in the middle of a song and did this amazing, screaming solo. I mean...who does stuff like that anymore? There is a real risk in doing something like that. An institution like Triple J is missing a whole movement, and they're absolutely not paying attention to what we'll view as important in 20 years time. They're scared of their demographic and always the last to the party. Musicians who I consider in the generation before me; Cat Power, Dirty 3, Smog, Slint, there was nothing flashy about them. They seemed so much more about honest artistic expression. Their reputation is safe and that's really attractive to me. They never fell into the game of 'You'll do what for me?' 'You'll fly me where?' 'I have to wear what sneakers?' Even at my level you're always being offered things you wouldn't normally do, always being pulled away from the reasons you started making music in the first place."
The music that Collette does create is unassuming, personal, quiet, absolutely a product of his time and place and by virtue, exotic. "I feel a sort of folk pressure. Because I play quiet songs I've found people kind of expect me to be a folk musician and it's take me a while to realise I can do whatever I want, I can write whatever I want. Or I could stop writing. I was a teacher a while ago and one day I was just sitting there and decided that I hated it and I didn't have to do it. It's easy to get caught up in the momentum of doing something and you forget that you don't have to do anything or what your making doesn't have to be anything," expounds Collette, echoing an increasing wave of creative Melbournians who simply release a record and rely on the music to do the work in it's own time, "I made the first EP based on the advice of: 'just get the thing out there. Just put out a record, it doesn't matter who listens, it doesn't matter about money or airplay or publicity'."
While admitting to a fear of the unintentional yet corrupting power of Pitchfork and similar sites, there is another place Collette admits to being intrigued by. "I find sites like last.fm fascinating because there's no editorial. You find your own way around there. I've had guys write to me from New York who've found me because my music is apparently similar to Michael Rother (of Neu and Kraftwerk)! I like him, but I don't know how that worked," he replies bemused.
Liking Ned Collette is, it seems, a contagious state. With Future Suture still gathering fans, a new album in the can and foreign audiences about to get an insight into Collette's Australiana, it's unsurprising that there will be some reciprocal inspiration. 'We've got a gig in Geneva then a couple of days off before we play in Vienna and we've been talking about going the long way down through the north of Italy. I want to go to Milan and pretend I'm in a Visconti movie or something, see if I can find any remnants of that stuff from Rocco and his Brothers. I'm a huge fan of that whole time and place.' Wonder if they'll be fans of his?