Friday, May 24, 2013


Reinventing his songs with orchestras, working with Australian legends and the inevitable growing apart from Triple J, The Whitlams’ TIM FREEDMAN has a lot on his mind, as ANDY HAZEL discovers.
Despite fronting one of the Australia’s most beloved independent bands of the last twenty years, singer and songwriter Tim Freedman is not content to leave his songs as finished products to sit high in Triple J ‘…of all time’ polls. Reinterpreting them with Australia’s most notable orchestras, he welcomes a chance to perform with the comparatively smaller Melbourne Pops Orchestra; ‘a leaner hungrier beast,’ he describes with a grin, as we discuss the origins of their show, sitting in a busy cupcake café.
“It was actually [Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) leader] Richard Tongetti’s idea,’ Freedman explains receiving a cup of green tea. “He likes to do strange collaborations. He got [drummer] Terepai [Richmond] and I to do a tour and arranged about nine songs. Then the West Australian Symphony Orchestra asked us to do a whole concert with a four-piece band and a symphony orchestra and they commissioned a lot of arrangements,” he pauses. “It surprised us that it worked, so we commissioned more songs over the next four years and did shows all around the country. It just grew organically, and now we’re at this stage where we’ve spent so long polishing the arrangements and the repertoire we can do it reasonably easily. The charts are all in order, musicians can come in for three hours, everything is there for them just to sight-read, and we know how to shut up and let them shine,” he says smiling, sipping his tea. “That’s the secret.”
The experience of rearranging and relearning has brought Freedman into contact with the cream of Australian classical composers, whose breadth of influences he welcomes. “Working with different composers is a blast. Sitting down with Peter Sculthorpe and listening to him compose something on an old beaten up piano; it’s a privilege. He’s one of the giants of Australian modernism. Brett Dean is a world-class composer as well. He just did one song, Buy Now Pay Later, but it’s the most challenging and discordant song in our repertoire. It took me a while to get used to it, but it’s genius. He’s always willing to push it further than you imagine in terms of sonic strangeness. That’s one of the reasons the concert is so interesting I think, because there isn’t just one style of arrangement. There are eight different composers so the orchestras are playing in a different style and configuration every ten minutes. It’s quite playful for the ears.”
The balance of honouring the often very personal subject of songs (“They’re not precious. They’re just songs,’ he laughs dismissively) and keeping things interesting for the those familiar with them is something that the Whitlams have become masters at doing, while still acting as a conduit to a certain era for the audience. “They’re remembering a time in their life, I’m doing the same,’ he says matter-of-factly. “Quite a few of the songs are from the 2006 album [Little Cloud], and some are from the 1993 album [Introducing the Whitlams], so it’s those 13 years. When I’m not playing my new album or playing solo, I’m fulfilling a role that has a nostalgic streak. I don’t mind that, as long as I’m playing it for the people that have come often, and they think it’s changing. Always different songs, different formats, different stories between songs. As long as I don’t feel like I’m sitting still with it.” Unsurprisingly, Freedman is grateful for the work done by the composers for keeping things fresh. “The composers add a lot of melody lines, so in a song like You Sound Like Louis Burdett we got a lot of great Dixie land brass lines coming through, but now I try to pick them out on the piano when I’m playing in the four-piece because I feel like they’re part of the song. Similarly, Sculthorpe added this beautiful solo violin part and it’s part of the song now. He added this kind of sultry Duke Ellington melody on the violin; they’ve improved the songs; made them richer at least.”
Amidst all this looking back and reinvention, Freedman admits that there are other things occupying his mind besides writing new songs. “I won’t lie, I haven’t got many plans,” he says with a chuckle. “I’m a single dad and I made some exotic investments that went wrong. I’m just belting my way through the jungle, because you’ve got to have simplicity again, you need a simple life to write songs I guess,” he pauses before smiling ruefully. “I don’t think a song has ever been written about the land and environment court, which is where I spent half of last year but they’re my trials and I’ll get through them.”
While current financial issues may not be presenting him with inspiration, challenges of a different nature recently resulted in a solo show entitled How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Hate Triple J.
“It was really just a catchy title,” he says happily, “there’s no hatred there. I told some stories about how you get songs on the radio and how that’s sometimes down to who you know. When I turn it on now it’s so in-your-face that I can only handle ten minutes whereas I used to be able to handle an hour, I don’t know whether it’s because I’m old and grumpy or because they’re playing fewer songs. I tend to listen to FBI in Sydney, it’s a bit more eccentric and all-over-the-shop as opposed to focused and in-your-face. Triple J was so important to me; I wouldn’t have a career without them. They were the only station that played me and I certainly acknowledge that.”
The power of the Js to impress Freedman isn’t gone however as he explains after draining his cup. “I started getting texts one day last year from friends saying ‘The Whitlams are on Triple J’, and I was like ‘bullshit’, because we hadn’t been for ten years, so it was a real surprise to turn on and hear these album tracks. I thought someone had dropped acid in my drink but they were playing a whole album because we were like number 17 or something in the Best Aussie Albums of All Time list. That was really sweet surprise, and it was nice for MGM to ring up and say ‘man we just sold 120 of your albums on iTunes last night!’ he laughs. “It’s always nice to be on the radio. It’s not somewhere I’ve been lately, but you live with it.”


Northcote Social Club
Cold temperatures aren't enough to keep lovers of sunshiney electro pop away from celebrating two of its finer proponents tonight, and celebrating is what the crowd does in a very un-Melbournian way.

Swimwear is the one-man project of Dappled Cities’ Tim Derricourt who seems to spend his days making inspired, kitschy pop songs, and evenings unleashing pent-up energy playing them. Like a fun version of Muscles, Swimwear is in love with every programmed beat and nifty guitar lick, and his robust tenor commands and seduces the set into a catchy and hilariously infectious whole. That his occasional exuberant forays into the small crowd are hilarious and not embarrassing is testament to his self-belief and the small but won-over crowd. Even the darker moments of his set are only a minute or two away from some daft bum wiggling and copious mugging. Surely only one ace film clip away from hugeness, he is an inspired choice of support for a band that knows a LOT about the value of an ace film clip. It's still early days, but these are some pretty excellent days.

While almost entirely unknown in Australia (except to those Rubens fans who caught their opening sets last week), tonight's modest turnout is already bedecked in the face-paint the band is never seen without. While their inspired YouTube clips are largely responsible for their success, Ohio's Walk The Moon are uniformly excellent musicians and peerless micromanagers; not a trigger is mistimed, not a riff out of place. Coming out to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's Pure Imagination, the band explode into Quesadilla; I must've tumbled out of a plane / Cause I free-fell all year / My chute is blooming out like spring / And I'm nowhere now, but here. 

It’s rare and heartening to see a half full venue jostling against the stage, reversing the cross-armed D that Melbourne crowds typically fall into. With the four-piece giving all they’ve got, it’s hard to remain unmoved. Every exuberant song calls for clapping and crowd-participation, every chorus is instantly catchy. Soaring electro swoops and copious thwatting of floor toms drive the songs that essentially sound like babies of Death Cab and MGMT. A note perfect cover of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance seems restrained and classy by comparison, as songs like Shiver, Shiver and I Can Lift a Car fuel the young crowd into paroxysms of buoyant glee.
Walk the Moon are more a multimedia project built around a Wes Anderson-directed end-of-year school festival; their clips full of animal costumes, large-scale synchronized dancing and warmly-lit frolicking face-painted teenagers, and live, they are possibly the most fun in recent memory. Whether online hits like Tightrope and the almighty Anna Sun are songs you want to hear outside of their visual augmentation is another thing, but tonight is an unquestioned raging success. For a band’s first headline show south of the equator to be this good, it’s easy to see that fame beckons.


Northcote Social Club 
'This is the last show of the tour,' says Gung Ho singer Michael McAlary to the eight of us in attendance as they begin their show. 'I'm so glad it's a big one.’ Full of singeing chords and screeching harmonies Gung Ho are in fine form, their exuberant indie rock ricocheting around the band room with James Wright in sparkling form as ever, both on the beats and the banter. Twin Rays and single Side By Side are highlights of their energetic set, though songs seem dispatched with less energy than their last NSC show a month ago. Even at an ebb, and when playing to a small but vocal crowd, Gung Ho are one of the better guitar pop bands around. 

Also full of errant charisma and hilarious banter are Step-Panther, tonight on killer form. 'This show is going to be intimate as fuck,' says bassist Jose to the now half-full room. Briskly delivered tracks like Superpowerz, Maybe Later and Skullface all completely rule, and everyone gets totally amped. 'When did I get to be such a disappointment to everybody? / When did I become so integral to their plans? / I don’t want to be here / I just want to get some nachos' sings Steve Bourke between dexterous guitar breaks in Bad Mood; who hasn’t been there? Fight Like a Knight sees a brief interruption for a hilariously inept acapella take on Kiss’s God Gave Rock n Roll To You as their set moves between metal riffs, Reatard-like punk and 50s rock. Step-Panther are kings of whatever planet they’re on and it’s a weirdly euphoric privilege to visit it. 

From the moment Fergus Miller leads the five-piece Bored Nothing into their set it’s clear a wry, fumbling intelligence is at work, though as it turns out, it’s given few constraints. As happens with prodigious songwriting talent, it’s easy to lose sight of the value of editing, and this seems to have happened to Miller. While we get more hits than misses, mystifying and awkward banter often leaves the band shrugging their shoulders and empathising with the audience’s nervous silence, whether this is deliberate or not is unclear. While their version of a Lou Barlow-style slacker pop is instantly appealing, and songs like Shit For Brains, I Wish You Were Dead and the closing Triple J single Popcorn are fantastic slices of Girls-style indie pop, their rendering is dense with keys and guitar, songs are often five minutes plus and most sit around the same mid-paced tempo. All of which suggests a critical ear and some judicious pruning could result in serious brilliance.

Monday, May 13, 2013

RUNNING WILD: An interview with Super Wild Horses

In which ANDY HAZEL looks for clues as Amy Franz and Hayley McKee aka Melbourne garage rock duo SUPER WILD HORSES talk the Melbourne Sound, and explain why they recorded their new album Crosswords in winter, in a butter factory.

When Super Wild Horses first appeared in 2009, pushed into playing their first gig by an insistent friend, Amy Franz and Hayley McKee were high-school friends had no interest in forming a band. Now both small business operators (McKee runs Sticky Fingers bakery and Franz is a jewellery wholesaler), the duo still don’t feel like a ‘real’ band.
‘It was only when I moved to Melbourne, which was six years ago, that I said ‘let’s have a little jam’,’ says McKee. ‘Amy had equipment in her house and we pulled it together and thought we’d give it a go. I bought a drum kit before I moved because I really wanted to play drums, but I sold them for my ticket to Melbourne so I literally had them for about a week,’ she laughs.
‘We’ve both grown up around music and were latecomers to making music,’ says Franz. ‘I would say that we both have a sense of music understanding, but in terms of practice it’s a more recent thing.’
While a lot of friends decide that forming a band would be a cool idea, very few are still going two albums down the track, with one US tour in the bag, another on the horizon and still without an idea of what makes them special. ‘Maybe not aspiring to anything other than making music?’ McKee suggests carefully. ‘We want to do our best for ourselves and to learn new things, but there’s no way we ever went: ‘let’s form a band’.
‘Or make records,’ adds Franz reflexively.
‘Yeah, we were just fucking around and it’s been heaps of fun,’ says McKee. Franz expands on this sense of fun and freedom that Super Wild Horses channel. ‘We’ve always been open to things as they come and get excited about them, it’s not like things went for or against a plan we had, we’ve travelled a very meandering path. We have a similar idea about what we want and what the band is to us,’ she explains as McKee agrees. ‘There haven’t been the arguments that exist in some other bands where people have got different ideas about what they want; if someone wants to be famous and someone else wants to keep it low key say. We have a pretty similar outlook.’
This similarity of view extends as far as not arguing, at all. Perhaps it’s the maturity and lack of ego inherent in an instrument-swapping female duo, but even the legend of the band forming after ‘a bratty argument in a car’ as one printed story told, is a misnomer. ‘It wasn’t an argument,’ says Franz. ‘We just used to sing in cars, we used to wind the windows up and sing weird songs to make each other laugh.’
‘Just to make each other crack up,’ continues McKee ‘that was the primary objective. I don’t think we’ve ever argued,’ she looks to Franz.
‘No arguments, just silences,’ she laughs. ‘We just wait until the other one is exhausted. Normally, if one of us has a really strong opinion on something, the other will say ‘OK, cool. If you feel really strongly about that, let’s roll with it,’ and the rest of the time we’re both either wishy-washy about something or both really into it, so decision-making is generally pretty easy.’
The decision to record their second album, Crosswords in a butter factory outside of Castlemaine is one both thought was a great idea. Previously used by Twerps and Chet Faker, the cavernous interior lends the album a unifying, natural reverb that Franz sees as a big bonus to the band’s guitar / drums / vocals approach. ‘It’s always going to be a sparse sound, but we wanted it to have warmth with that reverb. Even though people often think of reverb as a distancing effect, I always thought of it as the opposite, there’s something close about that beautiful echo-y sound.’
McKee agrees. ‘We were really conscious of trying to fill the gaps that our first record had, which was just two instruments, two vocals and nothing much in between. This is why we wanted bass on a track or organ to push that sound and make it squishier.’
‘We really like getting out of town to do recording,’ she continues. ‘We like getting away and having the space to just commit, really commit, to this period of time for recording.’
‘I think we’re more comfortable when…actually, we’ve never recorded in a studio,’ realises Franz. ‘We like the idea of being able to set up your gear, go for as long as you want to - stay there preferably - and not have all the things that go with being in a space that belongs to someone else.
‘It would just be weird doing it and then going home in your car,’ says McKee
‘And going home and cleaning your house,’ continues Franz
‘Yeah!’ laughs McKee.
‘And that warehouse shell was great,’ says Franz keenly. ‘We shifted in, we took some pictures with us and stuck them all over the walls. It really felt like our joint for those three days. When I listen to the songs I can recollect the moments we were recording them, because it was very cold. We were doing the vocals at nighttime huddled around this little pot-bellied stove, and it was freezing. We had all of our clothes on plus blankets, three pairs of socks and standing next to this potbelly that was hissing and cracking while we were recording. I think you can still hear it a couple of times on the album. When I listen to the songs I can see Hayley looking like some weird wizard from Lord of the Rings,’ she cracks up.
Crosswords shows an evolution from embracing the limitations that made their debut album Fifteen so popular and made them part of the ‘Melbourne Sound’, a ‘scene’ the band have no problem with.
‘I think inherently there’ll always be a bracket there with us,’ ponders McKee. ‘UV Race, Eddy Current, Mikey Young’ that kind of thing will always be floating round. Eddy Current was a bit before us but we all bubbled away together for a while and now I think it gets referred to as that sound. But I think the Melbourne Sound shifted, it’s more Dick Diver, Twerps, Stevens sort of sound now, whereas before it was more garage DIY. It’s still DIY depending on what you do but it’s always been a bunch of friends just getting together and doing it.’
Franz agrees, ‘I think it’s inevitable that people are going to use reference points when they’re writing about a band that no one’s heard of. You see it in almost every review you ever read: ‘they sound kind of like this band or that band’, and I’m happy to be lumped in with this Melbourne scene in general, but I don’t think that it’s necessarily that specific.’
‘I do think we allowed ourselves time to push songs as much as we could rather than the first record where we could write a song and we were like ‘oh my God, it’s a song, we’ve nearly hit three minutes, this is awesome, let’s have a beer.’ Whereas for this record I was like: What about we do this? What about we push it that way? I know when I listen to the record now, I feel confident that the form we chose for it was the right one for that song. We tried out different things and I feel we found the right one.’
‘Well, I think we could always learn more,’ says McKee.
Franz laughs, ‘that’s going to be the headline. We could always learn more!’

Asking the band to explain the title makes both women act as though they’ve never thought of it before:
‘We both like crosswords, you particularly like crosswords,’ says McKee to Franz.
‘I do yeah,’ she replies.
‘You have for ages, especially those scratchy ones.’
Franz enthusiastically interrupts ‘I DO! I love those scratchy ones, you’re so right I really love them! I also buy these books of crosswords when I go on international flights.’
McKee continues ‘I hate cryptic crosswords.’
‘Oh, I don’t understand them at all,’ says Franz her tone changing abruptly.
McKee switches back to explaining the title ‘What we actually meant was that game Wordfinder, because we had so many ideas for titles. We thought wouldn’t it be funny if we put out a record with all the titles we were thinking of, and have it come with a pencil and people could circle the name they like.’
Franz agrees, ‘we were also going to put in the working titles for songs that weren’t the real titles anymore but it was just a way to put in all these words and people could make of it what they would. But Wordfinder is a weird name for an album. Crosswords has that nice double meaning for us for filling out a crossword and you’re trying to find your way…
Hayley interrupts ‘and the clues you need…and it’s black and white…we could just keep going.
Franz continues ‘and then if you split the word in half it’s like cross, words; there are a lot of songs about relationships and about navigating your way through them, so it had this good double meaning.’

Friday, May 3, 2013


Northcote Social Club 
Sydneysider Oscar Lush opens the evening with a small guitar, large beard, tight jeans and an expression that instantly reminds you the comedy festival is over. Musically, however Lush is a far from simplistic categorization. Openers Started A War and Vanishing Point immediately set him apart as a singer/songwriter, with his resonant and expressive voice, evocative lyrics and deft guitar playing. Channeling Phil Ochs and Jackson C Frank, but probably a bigger fan of The National, Lush is a revelation who seems excitingly out of place in 2013. Songs jerk along with slashing strums and a voice made for filling big, old rooms and fire-lit shacks. I Dreamed of My Brother Dying, a song he apparently finished today, is breathtaking in its lyrical acuity, marking him as a major discovery. 

Spender is a tight punchy three piece specialising in a curiously catchy take on math-rock and charisma to spare. Despite a reliance on pre-programmed elements detracting from their live impact, a fascinating mix of genres holds attention, even without the dry, geeky humor of main-man Tommy Spender. Songs like Hotel Home and Magic Man have the audience onside in moments, so that when the saxophone comes out for jazz funk freak out of closer Never Again, everyone is smiling.

With the ‘sold out’ sign on the door long before she arrives on stage, Ainslie Wills instantly shows how this success has found her. Launching her second album You Go Your Way I’ll Go Mine yet writing and performing like a it’s her tenth, Wills and the brilliant band she has assembled manage to fit so much space and charged atmosphere into her songs they seem light years ahead of their contemporaries. One of the most obvious weapons in their arsenal against blandness is the fluid, imaginative work from guitarist and co-writer Lawrence Folvig, masterful in his balance of effects and melodies. Album highlights Mary and Lemon Japan showcase her jaw-droppingly expressive voice and the imaginative confidence of her arrangements to showcase it. Natalie Lewis’s invaluable harmonies are equally stunning during the room silencing build and release of Liquid Paper with its Yorke-esque swoops of melodies and lingering tension. Current single Fighting Kind is a crowd-rousing burst of twisting brilliance with calls to play it again coming as soon as it ends. Closing This is What I Write is skin-prickling in its beauty and with a delicate encore of Radiohead's Nude, closes one of the shows of the year.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

RISING TO PERFECTION: An interview with Laurent Brancowitz of Phoenix

French guitar pop group PHOENIX drop the guitars and buy ‘a shitty keyboard’ to make their sixth album Bankrupt!, but as LAURENT BRANCOWITZ tells ANDY HAZEL, it’s all about struggling for perfection.

Guitarist and quarter of one of the last decade’s most adored bands Phoenix, Brancowitz is amidst the early days of promoting their new synth-heavy album Bankrupt! and fresh from playing Saturday Night Live. “It was very exciting,” he explains, his strong French brogue accentuating his joy. “SNL is totally live so the excitement is at its peak, it makes everything more intense. We are happy with our performance because we did not fail, you know?” He laughs.

Though playing the songs almost daily, he hasn’t heard the album in months. “Actually, it’s good advice you’re giving me. A lot of time you play the songs and forget the original spirit. During [recording] I was very confident and happy, but right now I reach a level of fatigue. I have no idea if it’s good or bad, but that’s OK. I like this feeling of floating in the ocean and letting the stream do its job.”

Few bands break through with their fifth album, as Phoenix did with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Using the accrued wisdom of being in a stable band for ten years, they took a break and left their native Paris to record. Brancowitz explains that they knew the album would take some time to generate, so they went somewhere exciting. “When Adam Yauch from Beastie Boys offered us his studio - his small, cool studio in New York - it was just too good to say no to. For three months, we recorded there, then we finished in Paris, but the beginning was in New York. Some songs are really connected to this period, the vibe…the 80s East Village early Madonna vibe. I don’t know why but I was obsessed by it when I was there,” he explains. “When we were there we were very homesick and so we listened to a lot of French music from our childhood, so being in New York has made this even more French I think.”

The 80s synthesizer and percussion sounds that infuse Bankrupt! can be traced to this fixation. Often sounding as though M83 produced the album with Phoenix, songs like The Real Thing and Bourgeois are full of references to the era and to music the band loves. “We used the same drum machine as Prince…as an homage you know. We love doing that. All our music that is filled with little things like that, little connections, the memories you know, and little things we love. Some are from the 80s…like pre-Batman Prince we love. Actually, I don’t know why, but I was playing more keyboards this time than guitar. One day we went to Versailles to pick up some equipment, there we found a small shitty keyboard in a thrift shop, a 30-euro toy keyboard, and I fell in love with it, now it’s on every song. We love to use cheap instruments and beautiful instruments - the extremes are more interesting than everything that is in the middle, so on this album we have the best and the worst.”

Boasting that Bankrupt! would sound very different to earlier releases, many fans were surprised to hear lyrics and melodies from earlier Phoenix songs in the first single Entertainment and unsure whether this was laziness or an in-joke. “Your theories are true. We know that, and it’s hard for me to explain,” he laughs guiltily. “It just feels right to us, for sure should try to change, it’s more a sign of weakness. We always have the desire to make something very, very different and in the end we fail, we always sound like us,” Brancowitz explains in mock-despondency. “It’s a bit depressing, so yeah I guess this is as different as we can get, you know. We try so hard but we fail,” he laughs. “You can hear this desire in the music I think, to improve, to be better.”

Replacing the dreams that fuelled their early releases and initial success, Brancowitz explains that this failure is key to the band’s motivations. “We are very far from perfection, we are working on this tour but we are very far from what we have in mind.  We have this goal and desire, and without this desire, life becomes very boring, so we are frustrated but at the same time we know if it was good already it would be very depressing.”

Chasing perfection, Brancowitz explains, is a core motivation for the band. Not to deny their humanness (his one-time membership in the band Darlin’ with both members of Daft Punk may indicate a shared fascination with the perfection/human dichotomy), but to celebrate it. “We always try to make perfection, but we never get there. We love things that are opposite; like the clockwork mechanism of a perfect song, but also the charm that is something you cannot describe or understand,” he explains keenly. “The more we grow up the more we know that the charm is the most important thing. You can have very shitty songwriting, but if you have this little thing, this unexplainable charm, it’s great. We try to combine these aspects, and it’s hard because they are fighting against it. Actually, the way we work even on record, we think very hard about the perfect mechanism and then when we have to execute it; record it. We usually use the first take. First take is usually not perfectly played, but the idea is to be good, the intention is to be good, but we’re not going for the perfect take. When we play live, there are a lot of mistakes but we consider them…artistic mistakes,” he laughs. “I am a pretty poor musician so I accept I’m good at necessary artistic mistakes. Sometimes the band does not see it that way, they get a bit angry,” he laughs, “but they are really nice about it most of the time.”

Looking back through pictures of the band, it seems singer Thomas Mars is photographed wearing the same shirt in almost every photo, suggesting that his wife, director Sofia Coppola, must be either incredibly accommodating or have no sense of smell. After unsuccessfully denying Mars’s penchant, Brancowitz confesses, “Thomas is an obsessive. When he has a shirt he likes he has it duplicated. He has dozens of the same thing, it’s more that than being a very dirty person, he is a perfectionist.” Phew.

Unable to say quite when the band is due back to these shores, Brancowitz insists that it is ‘soon’. “We are working on it right now. We love playing Australia and it was where we did the very first recording of this album, at a studio in Byron Bay, so for us it has a special meaning.” 

STRANGELY FAMILIAR: An interview with Bob Evans

With the release of fourth album Familiar Stranger, BOB EVANS loses the acoustic guitars, gets 
louder and thinks harder. ANDY HAZEL takes notes.

‘I think it’s me,’ says Kevin Mitchell (aka Bob Evans) laughing. ‘I’m the Familiar Stranger. Sometimes with introspection you start to view yourself as a different person, when you look at old photos, or a home video of yourself 10, 20 years ago and you think ‘I know that’s me’, but it’s like looking at a different person with different experiences, there’s a weird detachment that happens when you start doing that.’

Mitchell is chatty, relaxed and worthy of the ‘super friendly dude’ reputation that precedes him. Even in states of deep introspection, he’s jovial, likeable and almost impossibly humble. With buzz surrounding his latest singles Don’t Wanna Grow Up and Go (especially the latter’s cameo-boasting filmclip), the album is poised to be his boldest and most respected yet.

‘I like the title because Familiar Stranger summed up the kind of record I wanted to make,’ he continues. ‘I was trying to hold onto the familiar aspects of the last record that were important to me but I wanted to do something musically that was a bit more adventurous and a bit weirder.’

Though Mitchell isn’t about to break out a nose flute and jam with a minimalist Peruvian jazz ensemble, his latest album is more adventurous and daring than his previous three. The first of these allowed him to make the transition from fronting one of Australia’s most successful bands, Jebediah, and the following two won awards and legions of new fans. One thing that hasn’t changed is Mitchell’s sense of humour and sneaky references to other bands in his own songs. Get it Together features the line ‘All the kids queue around the bend / and they’re stuck trying to pretend / they’re in Vampire Weekend / Get it together’. ‘It just amuses me,’ he laughs, ‘its tongue in cheek. I’ve seen in the last few years it seemed like every fucking new band sounded like Vampire Weekend. It was funny, it makes me laugh, it’s like ‘oh here’s this new band…and, oh there it is…that Vampire Weekend influence’. It’s like when Jebediah were first starting everyone was trying to sing like Eddie Vedder, and I remember thinking ‘I don’t care how I sing, as long as I don’t sound like Eddie Vedder.’

Differences this time round though, are manifold both musically and thematically. ‘I’m singing to myself,’ he says changing tack. ‘The last two records there was definitely a sense that I was singing to somebody. On Suburban Songbook I was singing to my wife, almost that entire album is being sung to her, or I’m singing to friends. With this record it’s far more introspective and I really am singing to myself.’

To accentuate this, Mitchell decided rhythm section would be the birthplace of the songs, rather than having them driven by acoustic guitars, a factor that immediately changes their nature, such as the first single from the album Don’t Wanna Grow Up Anymore. ‘If you knew nothing about me, I didn’t want to sound like a guy with an acoustic guitar making a record. I wanted it to exist in its own space and not be immediately tied to a genre. As soon as you feel as though you’re tied to some kind of scene, I think it’s only natural to want to kick against it. I definitely felt that this time round, that I wanted to move out of that before it swallowed me up.’

The rhythm section around which Mitchell built these songs is no ordinary duo, as Mitchell explains. ‘I met Tony Buchan the bass player over dinner last year. We were sitting next to each other and I was telling him about this record I was about to make and what I was trying to do and I think I must have mentioned Joey Waronker (Atoms For Peace, Beck, Air, M83 etc) as the kind of drummer I wanted. Tony said ‘I know Joey, we’ve worked together’, and I said ‘fuck…that’s cool,’ and I guess he was my in. We sent the songs to Joey and he agreed to come out for five days, so I had my rhythm section. I felt so incredibly lucky to have those guys, they were perfect for the record. Tony was enthusiastic, and because he’s a producer as well, he understood what I was trying to do. He understood my references, understood exactly what I meant; it was just really fortuitous.’

Despite deciding that he wanted to get away from Nashville, the birthplace of the last two albums, and record at home, an offer to record at Melbourne’s legendary Sing-Sing Studios proved too good a chance to turn down. ‘I made the first Jebediah records there back in the 90s, and I never thought I’d ever go back there, just because it’s an expensive studio. It was nice because I’ve got such fond memories of the place and because it seemed…almost too good for me,’ he laughs. ‘I guess if I really wanted it to sound like an awesome version of my garage I would have recorded it in my garage, but I don’t have the means. I feel like I’ve only recently started to get good at making records,’ he says with his typical diplomacy. ‘It’s always been such a foreign thing to me, playing live was what it was all about. Making records was this thing I had to learn. For years, I don’t think Jebediah weren’t all that good at recording. Only in the last phase of my life have I started to get the hang of it.’

Seemingly reinvigorated from newfound fatherhood, and following a move from his hometown of Perth to his wife’s home of Melbourne, Mitchell has his next moved planned already should complacency strike. ‘What do you do when you’ve built a career writing about struggle, or losing love or falling in love, and before you know it you’re in your mid-30s, you’re married, you have a kid, you live in a house in the suburbs, you’ve got nothing else to write about? When I was making the Basement Birds album, we were sitting around and came up with the realisation of an answer. Politics,’ he says laughing loudly. ‘The world is always going to have problems; it’s a never-ending well of inspiration. Of course, I speak in jest, but who knows? Maybe I’ll just go on a drug bender and make a record like Tame Impala.’ He says smiling with a hint of danger in his eyes.

Keen to turn his lens outward, Mitchell doesn’t see social issues as being outside the realm of Bob Evans’s forthcoming songbooks ‘I think I could because I am reasonably well informed, I’d have to get over the self-conscious thing in my head saying ‘no one wants to hear you sing about this shit.’ There was a while there where I thought that about other subjects too, and when I starting off doing Bob Evans coming out of Jebediah I was worried ‘can I sing these love songs and stuff? Can I get away with pretending to be John Lennon?’ he says laughing loudly again.’ It’s hard to explain without sounding clichéd, but if you’re doing stuff for the wrong reasons, people can see through you, and can sniff it a mile away. I hold firmly to that belief. I think in Melbourne and Sydney, you’re so close to the internal mechanisms of the industry and fashion, and Perth is so far away from it that it’s a little bit less affected, but there are negatives to that as well. Perth can sometimes suffer from that small town mentality where people can fall into the trap of being big fish in a small pond, and they forget there’s a great big world out there. That’s the great thing about Tame Impala; they’re showing there is a great big world out there and it can be conquered, and you don’t have to change, you don’t have to sound like Vampire Weekend. Who I do love, don’t get me wrong, I just think Vampire Weekend are the best band at being Vampire Weekend.’


The Workers Club, 30/03/2013
From the moment The Red Lights step on stage, the rapidly filling and chatty Workers Club snap to attention. Boasting tight, charging melodies and Dean Valentino’s laser-beam precision for guitar and vocal lines, the three-piece channel a rousing vein of clean guitar pop with bags of swagger. Ghosts, Radio and This Just In are Killer(s) Strokes of harmony-driven indie rock and an irresistible blast from the early 2000s. Their catchy hook-laden tracks let their set rise like a Phoenix from the hypoglycemic slump of a Good Friday evening; they’re the perfect choice for a Bloc Party. I’ll stop now.

Tully on Tully is a shining example how much great music there is in this town, and a reminder of how few great performers there are to sell it. Singer Natalie Foster is a mesmeric presence on stage; totally committed to the performance and fronting an incredibly proficient four-piece. Struggling against sound issues while dispatching their playlisted single Naked, it’s still clear they’re going from strength to strength with every gig a new high point and further evidence of Foster’s evolution to being a genuine star. The twisting heartbreaker So Close to Over is a sterling example of the songwriting chops at work, and with an album due later this year, it's thrilling to see a band this good before the spotlight reaches them. After a monstrous take on current single Stay they close with Going on Like This, its glorious spiraling guitar work and Foster’s bell-clear vocals earning the raucous audience reception. 

Six-piece Lurch and Chief have gone from anonymity to packing out the Espy and now the Workers Club in under a year, and from their opening track it's easy to see why. Psych-pop hooks clash with southern rock attitudes in an intriguing way, and though the rock is played with reverence there is a sense of fun that infuses all they do. Without ever suggesting there is a chance of ‘losing control’ or getting too down and dirty, all the touchstones for an Australian Alabama Shakes/Black Keys are present; hirsute frontman who looks like he drove the band here in his Chevy, wailing girl soul singer, crunching riffs and deep and loose rhythm section. The burgeoning talent, curiously long song structures (essentially adhered riffs rather than verse/chorus) and stage proficiency mean they're only going to get more and more known, and for the right reasons; tonight’s audience are already vocal converts. All the sounds are spot on (particularly single I’ll See You on Planet Z), the look is fantastic and singers Hayden Somerville and Lili Hall work well together, but the ingredients haven't quite found their right amounts yet. It won't take long, and it will be fantastic when it does (I predict a Golden Plains 2014 slot and Jack White to be a fan). Tonight’s single launch for stellar closing track On Your Own is a pitstop on a journey to greatness.

Andy Hazel