Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Elizabeth Rose. Photo by Rochelle Flack
Northcote Social Club, March 15 2014

The sold out sign is up long before the rainstorm outside eases and the tropicalia rhythms of Fishing's set begin. Their inventive Clams Casino-style sampledelica and cartoonish approach to electro hip-hop is instantly appealing. That the duo's clumsy approach to triggering and cutting - rather than sequencing their slippery beats, squelchy synths and airy chords - only adds to the party vibe.

Safia, a tighter and less charismatic act, have Muse-size ambition and get a passionate response from a near-capacity room. Initially, their sparkling and banging production doesn’t seem worthy of the often-formulaic songs it inhabits, but as the set progresses and singer Ben Woolner’s neo-soul voice limbers up, the gig takes off. The punchy swagger and mammoth beats of early track Stretched and Faded, Listen to Soul, Listen to Blues and their remix of the Aston Shuffle’s Tear it Down best showcase this production/voice combination. Safia are bound to be killing it at a festival before the year is out.  

The curtain parts, symphonic synth chords boom, clouds of purple dry ice billow and tonight’s star Elizabeth Rose arrives wearing a gold Lame top with an open blue eye. Blasting us skyward with her instantly addictive intelligent electro pop, opening track Is it Love? buzzes like a head full of nitrous oxide. Breezing through technical glitches like a seasoned pro, Rose works her way through a set heavy on R&B rhythms and spiralling melodies. Rose's songs Ready and Out of Step  showcase her fresh approach to sampling and her deft way with a chorus. In a genre that often feels limp and exhausted, to see so much energy and a complete lack of cynicism fills the heart with joy. Again (Rose's 2012 single produced by UK star Sinden) still sounds futuristic, which is amazing in such a fast-moving field. Songs such as Sensibility strike that rare balance of a 9.1 from Pitchfork and MMM high rotation, the sort of quality that makes her cover of Corona's Rhythm of the Night feel infantile and silly, even while it sends hands in the air and gets the room jumping. The Good Life - her closing anthem of defiance and the opening track of tonight's launched EP is final proof that we've all witnessed a monumental talent on the way up.


Corner Hotel, 09/03/2014

“We noticed Yo La Tengo were doing two sets tonight, a quiet one and a louder one.” observes Dick Diver guitarist and singer Al Montfort. “We've stolen enough from them in the past so we thought we steal that idea too.”

In acoustic mode, the four-piece open with one of their earliest songs Walk For Room, the 12-string acoustic guitar and jar of pistachios as percussion lends their songs an even humbler sound. “I'm even more Tracey Chapman than Tracey Chapman!” laughs Steph Hughes, who, despite her fears, sounds like no one but Steph Hughes. Plugging in and switching instruments, the band move from such crackers as Water Damage, Lime Green Shirt, the prophetic Gap Life (‘Today Tonight will be gone tomorrow’) and New Start Again, before closing with Calendar Days. Responding to recent online labeling by describing their sound as “jobwave” or “zumba-wave”, whatever it is, it’s worth catching.

Opening with Ohm, the first of many songs from last year's career high point, Fade, Yo La Tengo ease comfortably into a rhythmic and spacious set. Acoustic guitar, brushed drums and throbbing bass underpin their sparse, floating melodies. From Black to Blur and Is That Enough follow and the propulsive rhythms cast their spell. Locking in and zoning out, Yo La Tengo’s songs occupy strange real estate. Sublime and bewitching takes on Fog Over Frisco, Cornelia and Jane, and Tom Courtney they seem to enter the brain by a sixth sense. With a near total lack of dynamic shifts, songs drift past with distant lyrics and stumbling lead guitar parts, odd for a band celebrating their 30th year in the game.

Most of Fade that wasn’t reinterpreted in the first set is thoroughly ripped apart in the second. The odd magic continues with opener Stupid Things. A gorgeous version of Autumn Sweater and hypnotic take on Ohm aside, this set comprises ‘songs’ that are merely suggestions for the opening minute or two before they’re reduced to a metronomic beat, three bass notes and guitarist (and cross between Ben Lee and Geoffrey Rush) Ira Kaplan’s effects-heavy free-forming. In the hands of a more sensitive (Neil Young), smarter (Robert Fripp) or bolder (Tom Verlaine) guitarist, substituting in-album subtlety for extended jams can be mesmerizing. Kaplan’s lack of imagination ages fast.

Decora, Before We Run, and new single Super Kiwi are all deconstructed in this ultimately disappointing way that only highlights the importance of production and editing in their recordings. Instrumental parts, vocal melodies, and lyrics – the pieces are wonderful, that they are sacrificed over and over for Kaplan’s aimless rambling is frustrating. Closing with a mammoth take of I Heard You Looking, its phenomenally evocative riff highlights the strongest and laziest traits of this most obdurate of bands.


Daughter of renowned singer-songwriter Chris Whitley and a woman with “a low tolerance for bullshit”, soul icon-in-the-making TRIXIE WHITLEY teaches ANDY HAZEL about her ‘career in reverse’.

If you were raised in Ghent, Belgium, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, recorded at Electric Lady Studios in New York aged 10, danced with a French ballet ensemble and were crowned Europe’s youngest ever resident DJ by 11, would you ditch it for a job as a dishpig in Queens dear reader? Un-bloody-likely. Not unless you had a truckload of faith and a very good plan.

Trixie Whitley, daughter of awards-laden blues icon Chris Whitley however, did just this. “I guess I just wanted to be normal for a while,” she says humbly. “I was born in Belgium, and my Mom is from there, but I’ve spent most of my time in New York since I was a child. My dad is from the States, and my mom and I followed him to New York when I was barely a year old, so it has always felt more like my home. This is where I learned to walk and talk and read and write, but still, I’m a total nomad. Honestly, I’ve had a life journey that trained me to live like this.”

Constantly travelling with her father as a child, and moving between Europe and the United States, her transience lends a thematic tone of connecting and disconnecting from people and places to her gritty, bluesy neo-soul. “Travelling is a big part of my songs. Up until now, they’ve been carried more by introspective metaphors than a specific line of storytelling or narrative, and not just from my background and my childhood, but from travelling so much as an adult,” she says in a tired, brittle voice. The current Arctic climate in New York and the occasional sniff lends a frailty to her words, which sound like they’re coming from somewhere warm and cosy. “In a way, I’ve had a career in reverse. I started touring so early– long before I released any records - and I’ve been in travelling with music for as long as I can recall. In all the time I’ve been writing, before my first record came out, a lot of my songs had this nomadic spirit about them.”

The death of her father from lung cancer in 2005 marked a turning point in Whitley’s life. From expressing herself in a multitude of mediums, she focused instead on songwriting and singing with openness, similar to that of her father’s near genre-less range of styles. Since the release of her debut album Fourth Corner last year, the talking point has shifted from being “Chris’s girl” to “my God, her voice!” Whitley’s raw expressive instrument attracted the attention of a disparate bunch of musicians before she switched to singer as a full time occupation.

“I’ve never really thought of myself as a singer,” she says, to the disbelief of anyone who has ever heard her sing. “Well,” she laughs, “I always sang, but I didn’t perceive it as a dream I wanted to fulfil, as in ‘I want to become a singer’. In the society we live in we’re all asked ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ And I never thought of singing as a job I would have. I’m so grateful that I‘ve turned my life and entire being into a profession.”
When her first EP, 2008’s Strong Blood, produced by influential bassist, singer and songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello, found its way into the hands of super-producer Daniel Lanois (U2, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Martha and the Muffins), a phone call resulted in the two forming a band, Black Dub. This became the outlet for much of Whitley’s work, though in the background she released three EPs and recorded what would become Fourth Corner. “I feel like making Fourth Corner was such a turbulent journey,” she explains with a sigh. “It came from years of not only music industry stuff, but being in the shadow of more famous people and years of working with Black Dub and Lanois. We were recording a lot of my own stuff, and I was so thankful for that opportunity, but I’d been working on my own stuff for years before Black Dub. Making Fourth Corner seemed like a process that dragged out for such a long time; some of those songs had been around for years and I’d never put them out. I’m making a new album now,” she says, audibly perking up, “and it’s very exciting for me. Recording new songs and taking a different journey in the writing process, it feels like a big step, and I feel very free in a lot of ways. I can’t tell you who I’m working with, because…” she trails off enticingly before changing tack. “I think definitely for Australia I’ll let the first record have a chance, because it’s all new for you guys.” Bringing a four-piece band with her, Whitley promises a mix of Fourth Corner as well as some of her newest material, songs she is midway through recording when we speak. If the live footage of her concerts online is anything to go by, it will be a galvanising show.

One quality that threads through all her work is a sparseness of her arrangements, a move that foregrounds her voice and makes listening to her music an uncommonly direct and affecting experience. Having so many talented friends who would doubtless lend a hand, that Whitley chooses such minimal instrumentation turns out to be an ethical as well as a musical choice. “I can definitely say that I’ve been a strong advocate for trimming the fat wherever you can,” she says audibly warming to the subject. “I have a low tolerance for – and excuse the language - bullshit. Especially for the world that we live where there is SO much excess in everything. For me, I think ‘don’t fuck with our natural instincts and our intelligence as a species. I don’t want to be numbed and dumbed down by a massive amount of stuff’, and that really resonates in everything I do,” she says brightening. “I’m very philosophical and I tend to bring this sort of language into my work, which is largely an outcome of what my values in life are. I like things to feel honest and pure in a way, and touching. Anything that doesn’t or can’t allow those things to flourish I am very willing to lose.”

Thankfully, one of the things she did lose along the way was her job in Queens. After failing to be ‘normal’, Whitley puts her subsequent step from kitchen to stage down to factors she says are beyond her control, and part of a basic human need for freedom. “There has always been a force inside me,” she explains keenly. “A force that is untameable in many ways. I don’t want to be confined to anything when it comes to this language of expression. I feel like that’s all I can identify myself with.”

With the release of her first three EPs and now debut album, one place that has taken her to their heart is her home country of Belgium, proving it by recently awarding her a Music Industry Award for Best Female performer. “It was very weird,” she says laughing. “Belgium is a very small country and I haven’t lived there in years. It’s a little strange, my relationship with there, because I’m half-Belgian but I don’t really have a lot of ties left. It was a little awkward, but to win was a great honour because it’s voted for by the public and it’s wonderful to see that even being there so little and being so inactive in the scene, I still got recognition. It was like when Gotye won some of these awards, because he has a Belgian mom or something!”

Learning to write music is hard. Unlearning to write music is harder. To help you unlearn here are some tips from Trixie Whitley to cut out and keep:

  • -      ‘We’re all influenced by life in general, but to stay true to your essential core you have to unlearn every influence you’ve had to develop a language that is truly your own’
  • -       ‘Everyone I’ve ever worked with has had some impact on me, but it’s dangerous to look up to someone or something so much that their influence designs your sound’
  • -       ‘I think it’s inevitable that people are influenced by everything that has touched them in life. I can name a few people who have been important to me on my journey. Meshell Ndegeocello; I grew up listening to her records, and then I worked with her early on. She had a big impact on me for sure. The same as Brian Blade and Daniel Lanois, Daryl Johnson, they had an impact on me because I worked with them too. I actively…and respectfully…work to not let them influence what I do now.’
  • -       ‘It’s one thing to learn from every crossing path, and to make those experiences deeply inspiring in a positive way, but negative experiences are also essential and equally important. Learning how to do this is part of unlearning.’

Friday, March 14, 2014

CALLING THE SHOTS: An interview with Calling All Cars

On the verge of their first headline tour in two years, the release of their third album and moving to the UK, ANDY HAZEL finds Adam Montgomery and Haydn Ing of CALLING ALL CARS pretty damn excited.

After several years of solid touring and becoming regular features in both the Top 50 charts and on Triple J, rock trio Calling All Cars has been mysteriously quiet since 2011. Despite a 2012 tour with Kingswood, and several secret shows under the name Werewolves, the band explain their absence as both by design and accident. A year off to write and record soon turned into three.

“It was down to a lot of things,” explains singer and guitarist Haydn Ing, sitting in a cafe in Melbourne's inner north. “Record labels, who we were going to get to produce and record with. We had a lot of options and we wanted to try something different, but we’re always thinking about international as well.”

“That was the whole focus,” adds bassist Adam Montgomery. “We wanted a label where we were getting international support. We had to hang out for it a bit longer but it worked out for the best. We’re moving to the UK at the start of May, as soon as this tour finishes,” he says happily. “We don’t really know where yet, the label wants us to go to London, but we’re thinking maybe Manchester; it’s better for touring. We thought it’s stupid not to go, we’re a rock and roll band. We’re just going to pack up, take our guitars and see how we go.”

Signing to Cooking Vinyl, a label with a base in London and an office in Australia seems like an ideal move for a band with one of the best honed live shows in the country and who are keen to break new ground. With new album Raise the People about to be released, the timing couldn’t be better. Not named for political or zombie-related reasons, the album instead serves to remind audiences what the band does best; move people.

“Big Day Out this year was really interesting,” explains Ing. “Everyone was like this,” he frowns and crosses his arms.
“There was a lot of indifference,” adds Montgomery. “When high energy bands like Grouplove or The Hives came on, they got the place moving and it was so cool to see that.”
Renown for their blazing live shows and relentless touring schedule, Calling All Cars have not only played to tens of thousands of AC/DC, Foo Fighters and Queens Of The Stone Age fans, but bring the same energy to all-ages shows in country towns, as they’re planning to do on their typically thorough forthcoming national tour.
“Country towns don’t get bands through as much, so they tend to get more involved,” muses Montgomery.
“But it doesn’t matter where you are,” continues Ing, “it’s down to the band playing a good show. Big Day Out ten years ago, bands that got the opportunity to be on the main stage really went all out; they’d spend money on backdrops, looking good and play for their lives. Now…I don’t know…” he trails off. “A lot of the bands we saw were really lazy, there seems to be a theme going on,” he laughs.
“It’s a lot of lazy bedroom techno,” adds Montgomery adding to the laughter.

Though sonically different from previous releases, the Raise the People maintains focus on tempos and rhythms. “It’s always better not to think about the live thing, and just focus on making a good song,” explains Ing, a statement perhaps more attuned to a ‘lazy bedroom techno’ artist than a kicking three-piece.
Demos for the album, as for the band’s previous two, was recorded with friend Tom Larkin. Chasing further challenges, and resisting complacency, the band aimed high, with legendary producer Tchad Blake (The Black Keys, Phantom Planet) on the top of their list. Busy with recording a time-rich, better-financed major label band, the trio waited before choosing to go with local producer Steve Schram (San Cisco, Eagle And The Worm, Little Red). “I’ve always been a massive fan of big pop hooks,” says Ing, explaining the curious choice. “When his name came up we said ‘sweet’. We hit it off straight away, we wanted to push ourselves and he wanted to push us even further.”

“We wanted to do something weird,” agrees Montgomery. “He’s a bizarre guy to work with, doesn’t give a fuck about the process of recording as such, it’s all about vibing.” Schram, who turned out to be friends with Blake, passed the album on, the big man’s advice: ‘don’t rerecord’. “He dug it, he said it was an eclectic album,” says Ing. “So maybe 60% of the album is the original demos we recorded in Tom’s studio live.”
After we finished the demo we cut things up and moved things around and that’s more the production he [Schram] did. They came together a bit more as a cohesive thing after we spent time with him,” adds Montgomery.
The first taste of this collaboration, Werewolves (a song Ing describes as being about “a night of really intense sex”), and its suitably NSFW video has divided fans, a reaction that didn’t come as a surprise to the band. “We’re not surprised,” laughs Montgomery. “But there’s no pressure. We’re just excited to finally play it live.”

Monday, March 3, 2014

OLYMPIAN: An interview with Katie Stelmanis of AUSTRA

"I wanted my voice to sound like Adele’s," confesses AUSTRA singer Katie Stelmanis, talking about the recording of her band’s latest album Olympia. "I was obsessed," she tells ANDY HAZEL.

On the road promoting Austra’s second album Olympia, singer Katie Stelmanis is glad to return to the country that gave her ‘summer camp with bands’. “The Laneway Festival was a fun show,” she says of her 2012 visit. “There aren’t any festivals in the world like it, except in Australia. Usually you’re just in and out of a place really quickly so it was very cool to travel with other bands and make friends.”
That world tour saw Stelmanis begin the partly collaborative process of writing Olympia. “I don’t actually work that well with other people,” she laughs. “When it comes to actually coming up with ideas, I come up with them myself then I work with other people to shape them.”

While still putting her distinctive, operatic voice front and centre, Stelmanis is currently inspired by the unprocessed and raw sounds of 1980s house music. Putting her band through a bold reimagining of the sounds of that era, her sonic ideas dictate the album’s pallet. “I had just begun to get into dance music at that time and I was influenced by a lot of producers from the UK. I was really inspired by that sound; before they had the quantise button and a lot of it was performed live on drum machines, which doesn’t happen so much anymore. It’s so easy to sound perfect and perfect isn’t interesting. Electronic music is so easy and accessible, we have to find ways to factor in the human aspect.” Stelmanis and fellow member Maya Postepski both have classical training, a background that she believes hinders as much as it helps.

“So many innovative musicians have no background in music at all,” she continues freely. “I recall seeing a talk by Brian Eno where he said that the best musicians are often the ones out of art school who see music conceptually rather than a technical thing. They’re trying to find ways to do something different, seeing music as an art, and so many people with classical training get stuck in their habits and unlearning those was a very important process for me.”
Having earned critical praise and a sizable international fanbase with their first album Feel It Break, the band had their choice of potential collaborators with whom to explore this sound. “For me, it was just about the vocals. I was obsessed with getting a particular vocal sound,” Stelmanis explains. “With Olympia, we mixed with Tom Elmhirst [Adele and Amy Winehouse], which was a…contradiction with what we were going for,” she laughs. “I wanted my voice to sound like Adele’s. On previous recordings, it sounded strangled; he mixes the biggest female voices and they all sound amazing. I led that Idea,” she reflects thoughtfully. “I don’t know if Maya would have chosen him, but for me it was all about my voice.”
Translating this live has presented a series of challenges that Stelmanis has countered with imaginative programming and instrumentation, and a smaller band. “We tour so much that we constantly find new ways of playing live. It’s a weird process. Most times with bands you’ll write lots of songs in the studio then you’ll start to play them live and you think ‘oh man I wish I had a chance to put it down on record’,” she laughs. “That’s true for us.”


Corner Hotel, 22/02/14

The spacious atmosphere concocted by Sydney-based Ernest Ellis, a five, (usually six)-piece is a strange place to find a wafting saxophone. It’s even stranger to have all aversions to said instrument happily vanish. Confident to the point of cocky – a quality rare in a young band – singer and songwriter Roland (Ernest) Ellis is a discomfiting, galvanising frontman with a rich expressive voice and swooping range. Nephew of Dirty Bad Seed Warren, Ellis sings and thrums his guitar with eyes closed, occasionally waking to stare transfixed and sing as if narrating events we can’t see. The gathering crowd approves of the two-chord swells, Ellis’s howling over near silence and the band’s emphatic refrains that make them sound a publicist away from Cloud Control-style adulation.

Scuppering any chance for a break in the front bar due to their instantly captivating tunes, Roller One settle into a comfortable bluegrass swagger and barely shift a gear for their set. Singer and guitarist Fergus McAlpin has a Bill Callahan-like oak-aged quality to his voice, and a gawky toothy grin like the Simpsons’ Cletus that he beams between songs. In partially unbuttoned shirts, the trio (all from the equally mesmeric Silver City Highway) satisfyingly close their set with the subtle urgings of Jasmine Breeze and the somnambulistic splendour of Pornography.

With the venue now full to bursting, red curtains part and Okkervil River explode to life, with a set full of emphatic and articulate rock. It Was My Season, On a Balcony, Pink Slips, Where the Spirit Left Us are the highlights of a breathless batch of opening salvos; no middle eights, no gaps, no banter, no letup. For twenty minutes it’s Okkervil River giving us the first side of their most recent album The Silver Gymnasium.

Sounding like a less pretentious Arcade Fire, singer Will Sheff explodes with the energy of a young Springsteen. The Valley and ‘a happy song about suicide with a portion of plagiarism’ John Allyn Smith Sails are mid-set high points, with the multi-instrumentalism of Lauren Gurgiolo a boon to both. 

Playing through a broken string to give us a searing take on Kansas City and a fist-pumping version of Our Life is not a Movie Or Maybe seem not to tire the band, but does end the set with the crowd grinning at each other. Sheff returns for a show-stopping solo A Girl in Port and A Stone, which seem to suck the breath of everyone in the room before sending us out into the White Night.