Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is arguably the greatest living human being on the planet. And we only include “arguably” because we dare you to argue with us so that we can bring up the 1.38 million things that actually make The Rock the greatest.
After all, the Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment turned Hollywood superstar has been kicking ass in all forms of life for almost 20 years now. He famously started out as the greatest wrestler to ever enter the ring, successfully transitioned to becoming a Hollywood A-lister, and is now a renaissance man – hosting TV shows, doing charity work, and running the world’s best Instagram account.
He’s now set to appear as a badass, world-saving helicopter pilot that has to rescue his wife and daughter from a devastating earthquake in his new movie San Andreas, which is out Thursday in Australia. Although I haven’t seen it, I’m assuming he stops the earthquake by beating the world’s tectonic plates in an arm wrestle. That’s just good science.
He’s also set to star in a new HBO series, Ballers, which looks like ifEntourage and Jerry MacGuire gave birth to a body builder driving a Lamborghini and is definitely destined to be the highest viewed TV show since The Rock convinced Ross and Rachel to get back together.
To celebrate The Rock dominating The People’s big and small screens, we’ve collected 10 of the most awesome moments in recent Rock history, to marvel at this mythic man.
So listen up you Jabronis, before we lay the smackdown on your candy asses. Can you smeeeeeellllllll why The Rock is the greatest?!
1. That time where he casually set the world selfie record
The Rock is the kind of superstar that if you see him IRL, it’s mandatory to get a pic with the great one. Kind of like if you see Jesus on your toast. Even The Rock knows how important it is to get a selfie with himself and recently set the Guinness World Record for taking 105 selfies of himself with fans at the London premiere of San Andreas in three mins. He didn’t even break a sweat doing it.
2. That time he got emotional when Steven Spielberg wrote him a personal letter
The Rock maybe cut out of granite and able to bench press semi-trailers, but what makes him a real superstar is his giant beating heart. That heart was perfectly on display in this recent post where he showed off a letter he’d received from one of his childhood heroes, director Steven Spielberg. Stop it Rocky, you’re making us cry!
3. The time we found out about his truly epic diet
We all know that apart from being an international wrestling and Hollywood superstar, The Rock is essentially a giant lump of muscle. And that muscle doesn’t come from nowhere. As well as an insane workout regimen that sees him wake up at 4am to do cardio (I’m usually getting home at 4am eating a kebab) he has to match his massive physical output by an even bigger physical intake of food.
The Rock shared his diet with a men’s fitness magazine earlier this year, and the shopping list of foods was so impressive, it went viral.
Here is a typical day in the life of The Rock’s plate:
2 whole eggs
2 cups oatmeal
12oz sweet potato
1 cup veggies
2 cups white rice
1 cup veggies
2 cups rice
1 cup veggies
1 tbsp fish oil
12oz baked potato
2 cups rice
30 grams casein protein
10 egg-white omelette
1 cup veggies (onions, peppers, mushrooms)
1 tbsp omega-3 fish oil
4. The time we found about his even more epic cheat days
If The Rock’s diet didn’t impress you (liar, you know it did), then his legendary cheat days definitely will. Take for instance this one legendary cheat day where, after 150 days straight of eating clean, he got to go to town on his favourite foods. And by go to town, I think he actually went to a town and took all their pizza, pancakes and brownies. For those of you playing at home, that’s 12 pancakes, four double dough pizzas, 21 brownies, and what looks like a cow of milk.
5. When he stopped for a photo with a fan and then told the greatest Easter story ever
As we articulated earlier, The Rock is never one to shy away from a photo. But every now and again, the People’s Champ takes a photo with a special fan that makes you remember why he’s the actual greatest. We’ll let The Rock take it from here:
6. The time he schooled Jimmy Fallon with a lip sync of ‘Shake It Off’
The Rock is the definition of masculinity and that even extends to when he busts out his feminine side to bring the house down with Tay Tay classics in lip sync battles. Because The Rock is completely comfortable with his, yours and everybody’s sexuality. Also, he thumped Fallon, which is great because Jimmy’s starting to get a little tiring IMHO.
7. The time The Rock voluntarily married one of his super fans
Can you smell what The Rock is officiating? Seriously, it would have been super tough for this dude to look at his bride for the whole ceremony. You know he wished he was holding The Rock’s giant mitts as he says “I do.”
8. The time he reminded us even Obama is a fan of The People’s Champ
Even the world’s most powerful man is impressed by The Rock and as Dwayne rightfully points out, the two great men have more than a little in common. The Rock for President? We vote YES!
9. The time he totally pulled off this outfit
Because no-one does #tbt like The Rock.
10. Pretty much everything he’s done as a wrestler ever
At the end of the day, no matter how many pancakes you eat, how many earthquakes you stop, or how many Oscars you win, The Rock will always be The People’s Champion.
There will always be something undeniably charming about the hiss of the playback on a cassette tape.
For those old enough to remember the heydays of TEAC, that slight, mechanical wheezing contains the memories of hours sat next to giant stereos, capturing the latest craze single from the radio, or making mixes from CDs to give to friends for their birthday.
It’s that lingering nostalgia that has seen the resurgence of tapes as a physical medium – thanks to record labels like Burger in the USA and Rice Is Nice in Australia – and also why the hiss of cassette is a texture that continues to sneak its way into modern composition, as evidenced by the latest album from Sui Zhen, Suddenly Susan.
Sui Zhen (pronounced “Sue-ee chen”) is a Melbourne artist with a knack for making the dated and kitsch seem modern and poignant. Her deconstructed pop tunes sound like they were stolen from John Hughes’ car stereo in 1986 – zooming synths, syrupy vocals, plodding bass lines. But she also absorbs world music and elements of electronica into the fold to produce a rich and sonically diverse sphere of influence, that gradually reveals itself from track to track across the beautiful album.
Channel [V] chatted via email with Sui Zhen about the music onSuddenly Susan, the diversity of her songwriting, actually getting benefits from corporate sponsored talent programs, writing songs in the mail, and – of course – how she got that lovely tape hiss to happen. [V] : I first heard and fell in love with your music after you released ‘Take It All Back’. That’s such a stunningly simple, yet warm and textured song. Did you know you were onto something special when you finished recording it? And did you record it to tape – if not how did you get that gentle hiss in the recording?
SZ: That’s so nice to hear. I never know if I am onto something that will work for others in the same way that it works for me. There’s so much that can come in between someone connecting with a song that I keep my expectations modest, and try to be patient and hope that it finds its audience. We recorded a cassette tape player hiss onto a Tascam Reel to Reel recorder, and that mixed with the hiss of the Roland Juno 60 so we could get a (in my engineer Todd Dixon’s words) “a complicated, deep and textured hiss.”
The aesthetics of the colours and design for the album and single releases and the videos are really striking. Are you responsible for all the design and artwork as well? I did notice you’d directed both videos.
Yeah, I did the design & artwork for the cover, singles & posters you may have seen around. The colour palette was well defined ahead of shooting, and I drew sketches of the kind of shots I wanted or found image references for the layout, mood & tone I wanted to achieve. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Phebe Schmidt for the images. The design largely lets that imagery speak for itself so a lot of the aesthetic a result of our collaboration. Video-making is another outlet for me, it’s great to finally marry the two mediums into one project.
The three singles you’ve released – ‘Take It All Back’, ‘Dear Teri’, and ‘Infinity Street’ – are really clearly defined from each other, and cover a really broad range of sounds and approaches. Does the record pack a lot more surprises across its entirety?
I think each song encompasses it’s own sonic terrain. Maybe due to the particular synth used, live percussion versus a drum machine or the mood it conveys. I sing about death, love & loss and our growing dependence on the internet. Maybe after a few listens when the lyrics soak in, it might be surprising to understand what the songs are actually about. Sometimes the happy melody isn’t all that it seems.
That being said, ‘Take It All Back’ is the closest song to a straight up pop composition. It reminded me a lot of someone like Casiotone For The Painfully Alone – in that it’s clearly pop, but it’s been deconstructed to its elements so that it feels like something completely different. Would that be an accurate assessment of your approach to that song?
I am glad you are enjoying this song so much. The original demo for this track is pretty minimal, and not much changed in the arrangement during the recording process. I focused more on the vocal performance and making sure I hit all the right moments and sang the lyrics honestly with heart. The approach was to tell the story with my vocal, and allow space for contemplation. It’s probably also influenced by the studio set-up I had at the time – I was writing more on the Juno 60 and programming the beat as the first step as opposed to writing melody on guitar first. In this way, I set a moody scene with the instrumental to perform vocals over as the final addition.
How do you present this music live? I saw a snapshot where it looks like just two people on stage. Is that the full set up? If so would you ever consider expanding to a full band?
I perform with a live band and also solo. It’s flexible, because it needs to be. For the listening parties & in-store I played recently, I had Ashley Bundang (Totally Mild, Zone Out) on keys, percussion & backing vocals. Alec Marshall (Hot Palms) on guitar, bass & samples and the newest addition of my bandmates from NO ZU, Cayn Borthwick on saxophone & Mitch McGregor on Congas. It would be amazing to play each set with the full band, but that is not always possible due to the expenses involved. When solo, I perform with backing tracks on keyboards & guitar. It’s a different experience for me, and sometimes I feel I can connect more deeply that way because it’s just me and the audience. If I am playing in a club I might amp it up a bit a play remix versions of my own songs that are more uptempo and better suited to that environment. It’s fun to play with the songs in this way.
You always hear about up and coming artists taking part in these talent scouting programs like the Red Bull Music Academy, but you’re never quite sure how much of an effect on their careers they have. Whereas yours seems to have had a significant impact on your career – introducing you to both new influences and new collaborators. Would you agree?
It did have a big impact on me personally, though it’s not the same for everyone. I responded really positively to being introduced to and having the opportunity to collaborate with people from such a diverse range of countries with such varied styles. Attending lectures from musicians including Steve Reich, Mark Ronson & Cosey Fanni Tutti was eye opening. Learning their different approaches to music and the commonalities we shared in our approach to living a musical lifestyle was reassuring. I came back confident that I would continue to make music for my whole life, and that there was no need to be in a rush about it. We all create our own path within our musical career and looking after other areas in my life would be integral to enjoying and sustaining this, because I need to feel healthy and engaged in all aspects of my life to work really hard at something. The Academy also taught me to never stop asking questions and learning new things to inspire my music. I started to recognise my own taste and style a lot more objectively (if that is possible) after I came out of that experience.
‘Dear Teri’ arrived out of a letter-song exchange you had with the singer from Le Butcherrettes. Explain how that process worked between the two of you and are there any more songs set to be released from that exchange – on either of your ends?
I’d love to work with Teri on a specific project. I think our exchanges were more so intended just for each other. They may not be so relevant to others – but then who am I to say what will resonate? I’ve never showed many people. We actually made a funny video shot in the grounds of a housing estate in San Diego. It was for a demo we made in her walk-in wardrobe when I visited in 2010. I think the lyrics made mention of a Pro Hart painting, Pandas and sung conversation between us. Perhaps I will upload that one day.
You’ve also recently started DJing as DJ Susan. How has that endeavour influenced you as a creative person, and are you taking cues from the tracks you play and how audiences react to them and saving that knowledge for how you’ll approach your own music going forward?
I am more actively seeking new tracks to play since DJing which in turns shapes what may influence my own writing. I had thought I might make a techno-house record cos I was listening & playing lots of that music when DJing, but at the core I think I am at best a songwriter and I’ve been hooked on Sade and people of that calibre, who write universal songs that span decades and still remain relevant. DJing is quite a separate mental process to writing and performing my own music. It’s about sharing something special with other people. It’s such a rewarding challenge to keep the dance floor happy, but also not compromise on your own selection. I think DJing has been a really positive addition to my life, it keeps me a lover of music, connected to the reason I do it in the first place.
At a time when nostalgia is ripe for the song writing and sound recording traditions of the ’90s, as killer acts like Cayetana, Hop Along, Speedy Ortiz, All Dogs and Dilly Dally emulate the music from their teenage record collections, Bully have emerged from that class as favourites of critics and fans alike.
Part of that can be attributed to just how brilliantly their debut albumFeels Like sounds. It’s deliciously rough and crunchy – like you want a rock and roll record to sound – but it also features extreme clarity; each instrument slicing cleanly through the mix despite its jagged edges.
That can be attributed to the band’s creative force, Alicia Bognanno who not only fronts Bully, but also produced and engineered the record. A former student of producing icon Steve Albini, Bognanno used her engineering expertise to hone her band’s sound in a way that perfectly highlights her poignant and honest lyricism, while still feeding the right amount of grit into the mix to make sure the sonic cement sets right.
Bully are now set to tour Australia, including as part of the famed Meredith Music Festival, so Channel [V] spoke with Bognanno about people connecting with her art, why she thinks all musicians should get some engineering experience, why her hometown of Nashville is becoming a home for alternative music – and we educate her about Meredith’s famous nude race, the Meredith Gift. [V]: Your songwriting has become renowned for how honest and personal it is. A lot of the time songwriters take a while to reach a place where they feel comfortable to, or even realise they are able to, express themselves honestly in their lyrics. Do you have a specific song or moment of songwriting where you maybe got a sense of clarity and honesty and realised that was going to be your style?
AB: I would say the first lyrics I wrote where I was kind of like, “This is the path that I’m going to follow for the rest of the record,” was when I wrote the lyrics for ‘Trying.’ Or the first time I kind of realised what I was writing might be a little confrontational and a little – I don’t want to say “too open,” I think it’s fine – but that was definitely the first half of ‘Trying.’
I’ve seen an interview with your band members where they described how they’ve all been in other bands before but that when they first started working with you they instantly realised there was something special about your songwriting. That’s clearly evident with how many other people have also found a connection with your music. What’s it like to learn that people are drawn so strongly and relate so much to the art you create?
It’s a really great feeling. I mean it’s awesome because it’s just something that I feel like I’ve been working towards for like forever, so to think that it even has the tiniest little bit of a voice is a really comforting thing. And it’s just cool to know that something that you care so much about that people can relate to it a little bit and don’t hate it [laughs]. So yeah, it’s really good.
Being an engineer and producer on your own record is obviously a great way for you to be able to express yourself and your music more clearly because you know how to control the way the sound comes out. Do you think, considering the way the music industry works these days where musicians are responsible for a lot more aspects of their career, that more musicians should be taking steps to educate themselves on how things work on the other side of the desk – not only with home studios but in real studios?
Yeah, I mean I think that it can be really important and super beneficial for you to know how to operate, just on a really basic level, recording, so that you can take care of your own demos. It really kind of opens the door for you to do the baby work yourself – the song writing and having rough demos. But I also think on the other end of it I don’t necessarily think that it’s a musican’s responsibility to be a professional engineer because I think sometimes you have to be conscious that your music isn’t suffering so that you are engineering – if that makes any sense? And I think you need to make sure to keep conscious of making sure that it’s not kind of crossing that line, and that it is separate a little bit. At least that’s what I try to keep in mind.
Like when we went to make a record it was like if I ever get to the point where I feel like I’m not really focusing on the song or the music, I’m focusing more on the engineering side of it, then I need to ease up and have a little bit of help. But I think that yes, on the other end of it, it’s great and you should know how to do it, especially when you know how inexpensive you can create really rough tracks and recordings of things. And it’s just cool to be able to do things yourself and not have to rely on somebody else to it for you and make it happen for you.
Are there any particular moments on Feels Like where you hear a certain element of production and are particularly proud of the sound you achieved using your own expertise?
It’s weird. I feel like the songs are mixed kind of differently throughout the record. I really like ‘I Remember’ but the mix I definitely spent the most time on was ‘Trying’ and I think that’s because I knew everyone wanted to push that as the single and I was psyching myself out a little bit, so I was trying to make it a little bit more polished than I usually prefer. Maybe ‘Trying’ – I haven’t listened to the record in a while [laughs].
You’re kind of being grouped with a sound or a movement of artists that are coming out of Philadelphia in bands like Cayetana and Swearin, and Ohio in All Dogs – do you feel or have any affiliation with those bands and if not do you have any inklings on why you guys have all kind of landed on a related sound and emerged simultaneously?
No, I don’t. I haven’t heard or speak to too much those bands that you mentioned, except that I think that we played a show with Swearin a while back, but yeah I’m not sure. I know a lot of people like to say that it’s reminiscent of the ’90s, so maybe they think those bands are too and it ties us together. But I’m not sure.
You’ve got a lot of fans here but obviously we haven’t yet had a chance to experience your live shows – what can we expect when Bully finally performs in Australia? What do you think separates you guys live from anyone else?
The whole kind of thing I was trying to keep in mind for the recording process was that we could replicate the record live and vice versa, so I would say if you like the record you will probably like the live show.
You’re playing Meredith Festival when you get here, which is a pretty legendary event. Are you familiar with it at all and maybe some of the practices and customs of the festival?
Only from what I’ve heard when we were offered to play it and I’m so excited. I heard there was just one stage. Is that true?
Yeah it’s pretty magical. It’s one stage, it’s on a farm and the sun sets behind the stage. It’s also BYO drinks, which is pretty rare.
Yeah, but it’s got a strict no dickheads policy, so if you are acting like a dickhead you can be kicked out of the festival.
And it also has, at the very end, a nude race around the entire festival.
[Laughs] How has no-one told me that yet?
I was going to ask if that had come up in conversation at all. It’s called the Meredith Gift and there’s a mens’ and womens’ race and the winner of each race wins a ticket to next year’s festival.
Wow! So cool. Yeah this festival sounds amazing!
There aren’t many indie rock bands emerging out of Nashville at the moment that are reaching the scale of you guys, but there seems to be an increasing amount of eclectic artists coming from the city that aren’t just country acts. Considering the cost of living in cities like New York and LA, do you think that there’s the potential for cities like Nashville and other smaller cities to become alternate options for artists from the indie rock and alt worlds in the future?
Yeah, I really do. I mean I already know so many people that have moved here from New York and LA for the music scene. I mean, it’s a lot more affordable to live – it doesn’t have great public transport but that doesn’t really matter if you’re driving around in a van with all your gear anyway. It’s just a great place to be because of all the resources, which I’m sure there is plenty of them there [NYC and LA] but you can do it at a more affordable cost. Especially if you’re never home. Who wants to pay crazy rent and then never be there. It’s just been expanding like crazy here too. I mean rent prices have gone up so much in the past two years. But still, they’re still great compared to New York. So I can’t complain, it could be so much worse. But yeah I definitely foresee it to keep expanding and it’s cool that the music scene is so diverse and leaning more towards that direction and a little bit further away from country.
You kind of touched on it then, but you’ve been touring more relentlessly than ever before since the release of the album. Have you discovered much about yourself or the band as a unit while you’ve been on the road? And how are you surviving that life because I know it can be tough at times?
Yeah it can be very tough. I think one thing that we all do well when we travel together is everybody just puts on headphones, so nobody is forcing anyone to listen to something they don’t want to hear, which helps. And we’re all really good about not being offended if someone wants personal space, and most of us want it. So that’s really cool, that we can all relate on that level. And everyone on every tour kind of gets better and better at new tricks they can do or activities they can do in the van to pass time or just try and stay healthy and just try and not kill each other. But yeah it can be rough but it’s really awesome to be able to play every night.
Have you been approached by other artists and bands that are now keen for you to come and work on their records?
I wouldn’t say any bigger or recognisable bands have asked me to work on their stuff. To be totally honest I’m not really thinking about that because I just know how crazy our schedule is for the next year, so I couldn’t really do it. And I don’t have much interest in producing other things, but I would if I had the time to engineer records. So yeah, but not be any notable artists, they haven’t asked me to.
Because I know Steve Albini has been a big influence on your career to date as an engineer. Do you hope to emulate Steve’s career one day – spend most of your time in the studio and the rest of the time out playing with your own band?
Yeah maybe. I would say a lot in the future, when I’m sick of being gone and just crazy busy with Bully stuff all the time, it would be cool to focus more on the engineering side of things. But if it’s hard to say right now when I’m all kind of wrapped up in this and I love being able to – I think I would rather play a show than be in the studio. Just because it’s a huge sense of relief that I don’t necessarily get from engineering. So at the moment I’d rather be playing and just working on my own stuff. But in the future I can definitely see myself going towards that direction.
Is it rock? Is it punk? Is it metal? Is it hardcore? Is it fucking blues?
Most bands spend years trying to define their voice, whereas Captivesseem to have arrived with their own snarling sonic signature – like a champion greyhound exploding from the gate with the fluffy bunny already torn to shreds in its jaws. It’s a sound that kicks you in the back of the skull with every drum beat, slices at your eardrums with every guitar lick, and tears at the back of your throat with every shriek – and is so distinctive that they had to give it a name themselves:
“Tasmanian Forest Horror.”
Emerging (as their self-named genre suggests) from our great island state, the five piece has made a big impact with their intense second EP Butterflies, Diamonds and Lightning. Produced by Shihad’s Tom Larkin (whose credits include High Tension, Calling All Cars and Bodyjar) it’s a studio combination that saw lead single ‘Insomnia’ score the barely two-year-old band wide-rotation radio airplay and force their momentum to accelerate from a steam roller into an avalanche in no time.
[V] writer, Nathan Wood, recently caught up with the group’s frontman, Aaron Damon, to find out a little bit of the history of Captives; ask how their unique home environment has influenced their music; and, as you’ll read from the outset, find out why their website has got everyone feeling like they’ve taken a tab of the brown acid. NW: Not the first question I normally ask a band, but who the fuck designed your website? I just went on there to try and do some research and ended up tripping balls.
AD: It’s a little trick our guitarist came up with. He’s an IT guy and does a bit of teaching and likes to play around with computers, so we let him loose on the website and I’m the guy that has to keep facing the interviews and talking to people about why the website’s tripping them out.
I’ve talked to two or three bands that have an IT dude in the group before and it’s the same thing every time. It’s like they experiment with their own band on making the most crazy site they can.
Yeah I think he’s just trying stuff out with us. It kind of blows me out a bit. But I’m open for anything.
You guys are relatively new on the scene in terms of how old you are for a band and you’re definitely fairly new to the general [V] audience – how would you describe your music? It’s a bit of a mixed bag.
Everyone kind of calls it punk or heavy rock. But we came up with our own genre because we couldn’t quite put a finger on it – so we call ourselves “Tasmanian Forest Horror.” It’s a blend of whatever you want to put into it.
So as your name kind of suggests, are your surroundings and your home environment a big influence on your sound?
Yeah, I think the isolation of Tassie maybe creates a monster that is Captives because you’re kind of cut off from the rest of the scene and you’re doing your own thing down there and not really competing with anybody else. But I think when we put the band name together and the artwork and a lot of the imagery, it was definitely designed around having Tasmania in the back of our minds – hence Captives and everything about it just seems about where we’re from and who we are.
Does that isolation of coming out of Tassie open you up to maybe more experimentation or delving into places that you intuitively feel as you play music? Because it seems to me that there is a level of your music that is experimental, for lack of a better term.
Yeah, a lot of our songs we write the music first. We jam and just get in a room and do a lot of it on the spot, and then we’ll record it on our phone and just play it back. So a lot of that ends up in the songs – the experimental part.
A lot the sound we have is described as kind of like an ’80s vibe in there, so maybe being from Tassie we kind of missed out on a lot of the new stuff that everyone’s into at the moment and we’re still rocking that ’80s vibe. And then we moved to Melbourne and put this blend of new stuff in there as well. So I don’t know. It’s a bit of a monster.
And how did you all come together? What’s the band’s story?
Different bands in the same scene. Me and my brothers were in the same band – Matt and Mitch. We’ve been playing together in bands for years. We went to try our luck overseas and then came back when things didn’t work out. And then we met up with the other guys who we’d also been playing gigs with together in the scene but had never played together. I think we got one of the guys to fill in for a gig somewhere and one of the other guys did the same thing down the track when we needed a bass player, and that’s how it all kind of came about.
We had this plan to put an album out so we headed to Melbourne and just got told to do an EP with the producer we were working with and we just put it out. That’s where we started and it’s kind of snowballed from that point.
Was there ever a moment where you were playing together and things felt noticeably different or special about Captives compared to your previous bands?
Yeah, it was probably when we went into the studio to record. We’d done a lot of stuff live and we’d done a lot of writing and we took a lot of songs into the studio – probably took five songs into the studio to do an EP. We ended up trashing parts out of them and trashing songs, so we needed a couple more songs to fill the EP. We were burning dollars in the studio and the pressure was on to on-the spot write a song and that ended up being the first single off our first EP, ‘Zombie Dog.’ That just fell into place in the matter of an hour. At that point everything felt like it was just gelling and it was kind of like a magic thing came across the band. It’s hard to try and recreate that vibe sometimes but every now and again you get those killer songs that just fall out of nowhere.
You worked with producer Tom Larkin, who’s got a pretty huge reputation for working with great local rock acts now – what did he bring to your sound?
Well the first EP we did with Tom as well. The first stuff we took in and it was kind of like ’80s rock stuff and Tom put a fire up our arse and said, “You’ve got to try and push the boundaries a bit more,” and that made us work a bit harder and that’s where those songs came about.
The second time we went in we worked with Tom again and we just went in this time thinking in the back of our minds that we just tested the waters with the first EP. There were five songs on there and probably three different genres. We found the songs that were working and we pretty much put that spin on the new EP, and pushed ourselves into a genre and an area that was working for us. In the back of our mind we wanted something that was going to be a cracker of a live show – something you could stomp your foot to and have a beer and get in people’s faces. With the new EP I think we definitely stepped forward in that direction.
There definitely seems to be a live presence on the record, like you recorded it in full flight rather than pulling it together in a studio. Was that a big focus for you when you went into record?
Yeah, previously all the stuff I’d ever done has always been tracked and layered up and you do lose that vibe. As a live rock band you really want to capture that energy. You can’t really get that out of us when you’re tracking things and layering it up.
Ever since we did the first EP we tracked the band stuff live and just overdubbed some vocals. Everyone’s in the room and you’re looking at each other and if anyone stuffs up – sometimes you do a song a hundred times and it’s really hot and you just want to kill the guy that misplays or stuffs up that note and you get to a point where you’re working that hard that you get good at it and you get that right take. It’s an energy you can’t really recreate by tracking up.
You’ve managed to do a fair amount for a fairly young band including getting some decent radio play. How are you guys feeling at this stage of your career – like you’re cruising on some solid momentum?
Yeah, ever since we started and we played our first show in Melbourne on a Thursday night to not many people and we played first on a bill and we were just stoked to be doing that – and then a year later we were in Melbourne doing our own shows. You’re always looking forward and the momentum seems to keep building for us. But when you put out the second EP you’re always a bit iffy if it’s going to work but I think everything we’ve done so far has been gradually moving in an upwards direction, so I think we’re doing pretty sweet.
Yeah, there’s heaps of bands in Melbourne and it’s such a good scene and there’s so many different pubs and yeah I think everyone’s been really accepting of Captives. Also it fits in a punk scene and it fits in a rock scene as well, so we’re able to switch around and support a gig with everybody and anybody at any venue, really. Not classical music or anything like that, but anything that’s rocky or punky, Captives can fit in there no worries at all.
The EP’s been out for a little bit now. What’s the reaction to it been like?
Yeah they added the first single to triple j rotation and people have been digging the song. When you go to play live it’s good to hear people singing along to your music and as each song on the EP gets out there as time passes, the faces come out to your shows and they start to notice more of your songs throughout the set, which is a killer thing.
Malkmus used to be the frontman for a band called Pavement. They were amazing. They pretty much invented indie rock, which is where you get your Chet Fakers and your Courtney Barnetts from.
Here’s a sample:
Pretty terrific, right?!
Malkmus quit Pavement about 16 years ago, and apart from a reunion tour back in 2010, has spent the majority of his time since 1999 performing and recording with his band The Jicks.
Stephen and The Jicks are currently in Australia to play a series shows, including a spot on the fantasgreat Golden Plains festival line-up this weekend, so we caught up with him on the telephone a couple weeks back to chat about it.
Although he sounded pretty dozy after a day of skiing, he still managed to talk between yawns about the band’s scheduled gig at Melbourne Zoo, heckling Nirvana, ex-bandmates talking shit about you publicly, and why he doesn’t mind playing old Pavement hits.
[V]: Are you home in Portland?
SM: Sort of. Not far. Like in a little holiday place. We went skiing today. That was pretty cool.
You’re about to ditch winter and return to Australia for Golden Plains festival, as well as some of your own shows. Are you excited about that?
Totally. It’s going to be fun.
Apart from Golden Plains, which in itself is a fairly boutique affair, you’re playing some pretty intimate, small venues. Is that the kind of place you prefer to play these days?
Meh, doesn’t matter. Real big ones aren’t always fun. I’ll play wherever. If it sounds good in the room, I’m into it. If the PA’s alright and there’s a dressing room and stuff like that. Otherwise I don’t really care how big the place is. We’ve played some kind of gross places in England, that was kind of like whatever. The CBGBs of Liverpool or something and [puts on a sarcastic voice] that was punk rock. That was cool, but I don’t really want to go back [laughs].
You’re also set to perform at Melbourne Zoo. Bit of a weird venue. Are you interested to see what that’s going to be like?
That’s pretty strange, yeah. I thought it was just a venue called that but they were like “literally, you’re in the zoo.” That’s cool. We have in our town some summer program of zoo shows and – I don’t know. Weird Al is playing one of them. Weird Al Yankovic, you know who he is?
If he can do it, we can do it. I like to see strange wildlife, besides our fans.
I went to a similar gig a few weeks ago and it’s a strange setting. You get to hear a lot of weird animal noises during the show.
That will be fun. Anything different at this point is welcome. Again, I can paint a picture of it being un-fun too, if things go wrong. But I come in with an open heart.
Well the strangest thing I saw at my zoo gig was the smokers being all caged up. They were the most endangered species there, fenced in away from everyone else.
Right! That’s true. I didn’t think of that. They’re also going broke from the $30 cigarettes there.
Please don’t get me started on that.
These will be the final shows for this record. How are you feeling about the songs this far into the touring cycle? Are you tired of them yet?
It’s cool, yeah. It’s fun to play. There’s some difficulty in bringing back up some things to what it was after a couple of months break. There’s a lot of muscle memory. It’s definitely not boring. We don’t play that many shows. In Pavement we did sometimes. We would just really play a lot and I would feel a bit numbed by the repetition. But yeah, it’s alright and plus we have a big back catalogue and we know people just want to hear all the good tunes they like. They want to hear this one and just see us be good. That’s how I treat it. I go see a band, I don’t really care what they play if they’re good. Like, I went to see this band Deerhoof from San Francisco and I really didn’t know any of their new songs, or their album, or their last three albums, but it was amazing, you know? They just played so well. It was like, I don’t care what you play, just keep playing.
It’s the true sign of a good band, right?
Yeah, I guess so. You can tell when it’s good.
I did read on Twitter that you’ve got a bunch of new songs ready to play. Can you tell me much about those tunes and will you be threading any of those into your Aussie shows?
Mmm, now and then. We’re not just gonna do all – well, now that you mentioned we’re playing small venues maybe we will, because it will just be our core fans. But yeah bands get pretty gassed about their new stuff. That’s how we are, like “look at our new show,” but we also know children all look alike to people who aren’t theirs, so we won’t bore you with it too much. We’ll mix it up.
That being said do you have plans to go back into the studio soon?
Yeah probably in May, we’re talking. That’s coming up pretty soon. I’m working on some stuff by myself, some electronic things for fun. No real drums, just electronic drums. But we’ll see where that goes. I gotta see if it’s good. I’m just taking chances right now.
Do you feel pressure to out-do Wig Out At Jagbags with the next album name?
Oh thanks. I like the title. I think I can do it. I think I’ve got a pretty good chance to make a good album title, just objectively looking at the competition these days [laughs].
Especially when they’re just using maths signs as album names.
Yeah, I can hold my own in that way.
You guys still perform the occasional Pavement song, which I’m sure is thrilling for the audience, but what are your feelings around it? Is it kind of like you’re being asked to make out with your high school sweetheart in front of your wife?
It’s not really, no. If my wife was into it, it would be like that, I guess. If she was like “Yeah, I really want to see when you kiss somebody else,” because the Jicks are like that. They like to play those songs. We all do. Looking forward, that’s what keeps us alive, but we like to play those songs and we like to make people happy and we know where the bread is buttered. People like that, you know? It’s alright. We’ll play a tune like that; I guess we don’t do it every gig but it’s always there. It’s not part of our duty either. Sometimes it’s fun. We were doing it our last tour. I think people like it.
There were a few news stories going around today based on an interview Bob Nastanovich [former Pavement member] did where he talked about recent attempts to get a new Pavement reunion happening and that those pitches are usually the others approaching you and you saying no. Does that give you the shits when he talks about that stuff publicly?
[Laughs] No, not really. It’s no big deal. Bob’s a friend of mine and he’s just being honest. I feel bad if I don’t know the level that the guys in the band… how important it is that we do it. You know? I feel bad about that sometimes because I want them to be happy and relive and do something they’re really proud of. But if you’re not feeling it, you don’t want to do something like that to the audience. It’s just going to be fake. I value the history of the band and what’s gone on up to this point. I think it’s special enough and I don’t want to take a chance at fucking it up.
He did tell a pretty funny story about being at an early Nirvana gig with you and Dave Birman and Dave heckling the band.
Yeah, I was there.
What memories do you have of that night?
I remember they just took too long to come on, the band. It was getting on around 2am and yeah, I know we’re supposed to be young hipster people that want to stay there all night but when you’re in a really crowded club and they’re playing bad music like the Pyramid [the famous New York club where Nirvana played their first NYC gig], you’re just like, “Come on, let’s get this show on the road.” So we were just like a little bit fed up with everyone there being a little precious and some heckling started and I really don’t think they’d been heckled before. It was New York, they were really nervous and excited about their New York show because probably, like, Thurston Moore was there or something and they were probably nervous [laughs]. I don’t know, they did react to it. I don’t remember it exactly like Bob. I remember they were good though, when they played. I enjoyed it. They sounded good when it finally got going. It was the Bleach record I remember. It was pretty cool. Yeah, I thought they sounded pretty good for a three-piece.
I watched you and the Jicks performing for KEXP radio online and you were wearing a Speedy Ortiz shirt. Are you a big fan of them and that East coast punk/indie scene?
I like them. We toured with them. I like Sadie the lead singer and bass player Darl is a cool guy. I do like them. They’ve got a new thing coming out soon, I haven’t heard it yet but I’m excited to.
And just finally, you’re a man that’s lived a pretty fascinating life. Have you ever considered penning a memoir?
Yeah, lightly. I’d want to write it myself completely, so that means it might be bad. It wouldn’t be great, so I don’t know. But I think it would depend maybe, like how much money someone offered me with an advance to be honest [laughs]. Then I might consider it but I’m not dying to tell my story. But I kind of would with somebody telling me what they could do for it, I might do it, I hate to say. But I’m not the only one that thinks that way [laughs]. I like my amount of publicity as it is.
If you go on Cancer Bats’ website and have a quick squiz at their tour schedule, one thing becomes obvious immediately – these men work the road hard.
It’s a surprise their publicity shots don’t feature them all decked out in animal furs with mohawks and missing eyes Mad Max style. They’ve pounded the asphalt for so long and so far, there should be at least one guy in the band with a claw or something.
But those millions of miles and thousands of shows under their belts exhibits itself in another, incredibly telling way on the band’s latest record, Searching For Zero.
A record that combines elements of influence from their life as a successful road act, as well as some difficult personal turmoil wrapped up in some of their most honest songwriting to date, pulls together a piece of art that wears its heart on its sleeve emotionally, while combining it with a musical dexterity and ruthless sonic onslaught that was helped steered by influential producer Ross Robinson (Korn, ATD-I, Norma Jean to name but a few).
We caught up with the band’s frontman, Liam Cormier, over the phone while the Canadian four-piece were launching an all out assault on the SXSW festival, where he discussed the different ways their decade of experience worked its way onto Searching For Zero; why Ross Robinson has the best “vibe” of any producer out there; why playing Black Sabbath covers has made them a better band; and how they managed to not blow up their drummer while firing $700 worth of fireworks at him for their latest video. You’re in Austin right now for SXSW, right?
Yeah, we played one show yesterday, which was super fun. We drove like 14 hours from St Louis and basically drove straight onto stage and played for 15 minutes, in like proper SXSW style. They were like, “Sorry, everyone’s over-run their set, so you guys have to go short,” and we were like, “Perfect!” So we crushed for 15 minutes. We didn’t talk, we didn’t do anything, we just blasted through songs and then we went and hung out.
How are the new songs going live? Are people reacting to them strongly?
Yeah, it’s been going great. So far we’ve just played a handful of shows but we had a big record release show in Toronto and people sang along. ‘Satellites’ went off, everybody was singing the chorus, so I couldn’t be happier.
Because you finished this new album, Searching For Zero, late last year, right? And you spent a lot of time working on it, so I’m assuming it’s a huge relief that you can finally share this music with your fans?
Yeah, it’s one of those things where we’ve been sitting on it for almost six months and we worked on it for so long too, so just to finally have it out – I feel like we would go back and listen to it after a couple of months just to be like, “Ok, it’s still good. I’m stoked!” [laughs]
Like you said, it’s a record you spent a lot of time on making. Would you say that it’s the most pure Cancer Bats album to date in that you had the most time to refine and perfect everything?
Yeah, I think also being our fifth record and having 10 years’ experience in just kind of being this band, so that we can even sit back and take our time, and be like, “Ok what do we want to do as a band? What do we like about the songs we have already? What do we want to try and push?” You know what I mean? Not just to dive into Dead Set on Living 2. So it was really great that we got to have that time, just to reflect on.
I know that in some ways it was a deeply personal record as well. You guys write about the deaths of some close friends and the emotional turmoil that goes along with that. Was making the album a cathartic experience?
There was definitely a lot of that going on. We were leaving a friends’ memorial and that’s exactly when I decided what ‘Arsenic In the Year of the Snake’ was going to be about. Even to just channel some of that and be like, “I’m not going to drudge this up and talk about it in vague kind of terms.” Two of our really good friends died in one year and that really f*cked all of us up, so it was just like, yeah, let’s rock right behind any of this stuff. I think, also, the whole fact that we made this record though and we played these songs, I think that working with Ross Robinson and him talking us through a lot of it, he was like, “This is still a celebration, though, in this way that you guys have even written a record about your friends and that none of these events made you want to stop being a band, that whole side of things makes such a positive outlook and makes this celebration for all these songs.” That was really nice as well, to have a perspective on that while we’re finishing it, to just be like, yeah the fact that we did it just means that none of this stuff could keep us down. So I think that was really powerful to have that as well.
In that sense then do you feel you have a heightened connection with the songs off of this record as a result?
I definitely think that there was elements of that, but I think it was something that we’d come up with in other songs before. The first time we started touring ‘Sorceress’ and DSOL [2012’s amazing Dead Set On Living album] and put songs like that out, the response we got from people when we did start to write honest and serious songs about personal things that have happened to us, that’s when we had so many people coming back to us over the years and being like, “This helped me through some really hard times.” Especially with DSOL, it was a ton of people that said, “I know what your friend went through and that’s something similar to what I went through and I really looked to this record for a way to get through that.” So I think we’ve always had a bit of that element and that’s why when we were grieving the most, that’s when we go into these songs – as a release for ourselves.
You mentioned it before but you worked with Ross Robinson, which must have been a really crazy experience. That guy has an insane resume. What did he bring to the record and was it difficult to work with him without constantly asking him for Korn or At The Drive In stories?
Well that’s the thing that rules about Ross, is that he just as stoked and all of the stories he brings up. While we’re working on something and he’s like, “Oh man when we were recording this bit it totally reminded me of when we were recording Glass Jaw and how awesome that was,” or, “This reminds me of working with Norma Jean,” and he just has like a million, crazy stories. And he’s never bringing it up because he’s bragging to you about how cool he is, he’s bringing it up because he’s just so excited about what’s going on and the vibe that we have in the studio, so that was really awesome too. To have this person that’s worked with so many great people and could easily have the biggest ego of anyone and he’s like the most down-to-Earth, stoked person you’ve ever met.
Do you think then that now you’ve worked with Ross you’ve set a new bar for the band with this album or a template for how you will approach making records going forward?
Yes, I mean working with someone like Ross and seeing all the ways that he approaches recording, I think that there’s no way that you could go back to a general studio. Even just recording our friends’ records, all I want to do is inject that same reality into it, where you’re like, “You’re going to play these songs live.” I think that will never change style with any of us.
Was it Ross’ approach that was the major difference or did you use specific recording techniques that you guys clicked with?
I feel like his approach to everything is like nothing any person I’ve worked with in the studio has ever done. He’s just all about vibe. Right off the back we were recording off a click track. He doesn’t do scratch on any instruments. When we’re playing, I’m singing with [drummer] Mikey in the room and we’re all just vibing with each other and we just record that back track and we’re just building from there. For him, everything is just about feeding off of each other and trying to basically make sure the record stands up to what a band sounds like live, and if anything he wants to try and out do that live sound, which I feel is like the complete opposite of how most recordings are approached.
This record really has tapped into a raw energy and a raw nerve that so many bands strive to achieve.
Yeah and I think the other side of it too is that when you’re a new band, you don’t realise how hard it is to pull it off in a studio. When you hear those old records of like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and all these guys that recorded in two days, it’s because they were phenomenal players and they were miles ahead of anyone who’s gonna plan it and just try and track it on computer and can sound like that same vibe. We couldn’t have made this record six years ago because we weren’t even at that point of being confident musicians. We just hadn’t toured enough, we hadn’t put enough time in. So I think that for that element, this is the perfect time for us to actually take advantage of somebody like Ross, who could get a best performance out of us.
And your Black Sabbath cover band, Bat Sabbath, seems to have had a big influence on the record too. I read somewhere that playing covers influenced all of you guys and you in particular as a singer?
Yeah I totally think that. That summer of 2012 I was singing Cancer Bats and we were also doing Bat Sabbath shows on the side and then I was also touring with Axe Wound at the same time [Axe Wound is Cormier’s supergroup along with members of Bullet for My Valentine, Glamour of the Kill, ZOAX and Pitchshifter], so that whole summer I was singing with basically three different bands, with three completely different vocal styles, all in a three-month stretch. That triathlon of vocal performances is what kind of pushed me to be able to take on some of these different ideas and even working on how my voice would adapt to those different tunings and different playing styles. But I think especially learning all those Ozzy songs, I didn’t want to just kind of scream my way through it, I wanted it to sound like Ozzy. But I knew my voice wasn’t going to reach as far as that, I’m not going to be able to kill it like Ozzy does, but I can sing it in my own way. So to try and come up with my vocal patterns and approaches to those things is what lead me to be more comfortable to approach any of this stuff.
The first single, ‘Satellites,’ that video is f*cking rad but looked pretty dangerous. How much prep went into making it, or was it more of a “F*ck it, let’s just blow some stuff up and hope for the best” scenario?
It was a fun, muck around thing. We made that video ourselves with a bunch of friends who we know that work in film and TV, so we were just like we have this idea where we came up with the concept of, “You know what would be funny? To just shot Mikey.” So we fixed him out in as much motorcycle based gear that we could get and wool, and luckily my girlfriend owns a motorcycle store, so we were able to get some good stuff that would make sure he didn’t blow up, so that was awesome. And nobody got hurt! We bought $700 worth of fireworks, took them to a field and had some fun.
And then you’re touring pretty relentlessly after these SXSW shows. How do you guys survive for such long stretches on the road? Is it just a part of your DNA now?
I feel like it’s part of our DNA now, where we just have fun with it and try not to get too beat up and too tired and think about the fact that we’re going to have these shows for not only the next day but the next two months. I feel like once you’ve done it for 10 years you kind of have it figured out.
Are there plans for future Australian trips?
Yeah we’re definitely trying to figure that out right now, to come down as soon as possible. It’s difficult getting things worked out and everything but we’re definitely looking to do a serious Australian tour.
In the space of just two albums, Everything Everything have cemented themselves as one of the premier acts to emerge out of the UK in the last five years.
Having been nominated for Mercury and Ivor Novello awards, the Mancurian four piece are revered for their ability to constantly evolve their sound, while still managing to retain an essence that is defiantly Everything Everything. No more is that clearer than on their latest album Get To Heaven.
Initially inspired by the unrelenting barrage of horrific news stories that fell on us like an avalanche in 2014, the record is an examination of the primitive nature of humanity in the face of brutality, and traces a very us against The Man mentality.
Musically it reaches right deep down into your consciousness, drawing upon tribal beats and primitive rhythms to connect with the listener on a primordial level, and in a way help them rediscover that pure human connection to music.
Thrillingly for Australian audiences, Get To Heaven is set for release on June 22, just before the group returns to Australia for their second appearance on the Splendour In The Grass line-up in late July.
We spoke to the band via email about their thoughts and motivations behind the new album, how the events of 2014 actually played apart in the album’s construction, the process they went through picking the brightest / most horrific image they could conjure as an album cover, and what we can look forward to when they return to Oz in July. [V]: Your frontman, Johnathan Higgs, said in interviews that when you set out to record Get To Heaven last year you were going to let yourselves be informed by the world events of 2014. Can you hear those influences on the final finished product as it stands now, or did you evolve away from that idea throughout recording?
EE: You can definitely hear the influence lyrically throughout, though the emphasis did change from a very negative and violent angle to one of transcendence and escapism as time went on. One of the ideas behind the title ‘Get to Heaven’ was to say ‘don’t let them win’ and try to be positive and have hope. Musically it’s impossible to pin down anything that is directly relating to a real world event but there is a general sense of urgency and strong emotion that veers between negative and positive.
There’s a definite tribal sound to the first two singles ‘Regret’ and ‘Distant Past’, and a lot of that has to do with the rhythm of both songs and certain elements of the vocals that sound like chanting. Has world music been an influence on this record at all? It reminds me of Yeasayer, who often cited the influence of international music.
I wouldn’t say ‘world music’ exactly but perhaps more primitive, basic music and ideas. We tried to ‘go with our gut’ a lot more when we were writing and recording, and those sounds; chanting, drumming, etc are the ones that hit you deepest and first.
The video for ‘Distant Past’ is a battle between two wild men atop a cliff who have survived some sort of apocalypse. While the video for ‘Regret’ is about a cult watching their leader burn in a forest. As well as the brutal nature of both videos, they’re both back dropped by scenes of stunning wilderness. Has human nature vs natural beauty been an undercurrent theme of the record? They seem to be two elements that tie the videos together.
Yes I think that duality is something we’ve always talked about, human nature and what is ‘natural’ and what’s right or wrong with it. I always wanted the visual elements of this record to be violent, full of energy and passion, partly as a response to the extreme level of international violence in the media in 2014, and also as a comment on desensitisation and ‘terror in the every day’.
Where else did you look for inspiration on this record? Did your own lives and experiences edge their way into the fold?
Yeah our own lives always get in there whether we like it or not! Every part of all our records is informed by our experiences. I think we a felt quite beaten down by the last year or so, and we all wanted to rise above it on this record.
You worked with Stuart Price to produce the record. What did he bring to your sound? He’s worked with everyone from Kylie to Example to Missy Elliott. There are some really danceable moments in the songs, and almost a level of rapping in the delivery of ‘Distant Past’, was that part of his influence?
Distant Past was actually demoed in pretty much the same format before Stuart came along but he certainly helped bring it to life. He brought lots of great detail and balance, he really knew how to adapt himself into our world, which was amazing. Drum sound and synth work were his greatest attributes specifically I think, but overall he was a kind of ‘mood man’ and had this amazing positive attitude and unflappable sense of management.
The album cover art by Andrew Archer is really stunning. How did you find his work and was the cover art a collaboration between him and the band?
Yeah it’s cool isn’t it! We wanted something outlandish for the cover, and we found Andrew by searching through loads of extreme illustrators and artists. His work really stuck out as being colourful and bright, yet also quite horrific. We really liked the way he took violence and gore and made it childish and palatable, surreal and fun. Yes it was a collaboration, we mocked up the image using old photos of a faith healing and then he drew it in his style. It took ages to get the expression in that eye right!
You’re set to play the Splendour In The Grass festival for the second time this year in July. You’re all now veterans of some fairly massive festivals across the globe. How does Splendour compare on an international front?
Well we did Splendour once before as you say, and it was mind-blowing to be honest. Our first time in Australia and people were singing every word of our songs. Unbelievable! We can’t wait to get back, it’s been one of our favourite festival experiences.
I’m assuming you’ll be playing a few new songs live when you arrive in Oz. Are there any tracks off the new record you’re particularly excited for fans to see on stage?
We have a song called ‘No Reptiles,’ which has been going down really well everywhere we’ve played it, so we are very proud of that one. 99% of the new record is really lively and high energy so it’s perfect for the live circuit, and we can’t wait to play it Down Under.
There aren’t many more glamorous artists on the scene than Ms Mr.
The NYC two piece, electro / indie outfit made up of Lizzy Plapinger andMax Hershenow have been carving a fabulous trail in their wake ever since releasing their debut album Secondhand Rapture in 2013.
Frocked to the nines and lighting up the dance floor with their equally sensual / danceable formula of disco meets dark wave, they’re one of the more perfect examples of the ever closing gap between genres – one minute you’re convulsing to the beat, the next you’re pashing the stranger next to you in glorious ecstasy.
The duo is now set to return to Splendour In The Grass, just weeks after releasing their sophomore album How Does It Feel, with the electrifying single ‘Painted’ ready and waiting to inspire some serious d-floor grinding.
We caught up with Max Hershenow to discuss the uncomfortable DIY process of recording the new album, why he finds it easy to stay glamorous on the road but not so much at home, and how the feelings of plants inspired their latest video.
I was looking at your schedule of tour dates, as well as the places you’ve played over the last couple of years. You’ve been touring the world relentlessly and in that time you’ve managed to record a whole new album, while Lizzy also runs her own label – Neon Gold. Do you guys ever get to sleep?
Well, part of it is that we’ve carefully planned it out so that there’s a façade that we were on the road more than we actually were [laughs]. We basically started wrapping up the last record cycle at the beginning of last year and started sporadically writing over the first half of 2014. We were still touring a little bit, so we’d tour and come back, tour and come back. And then we were sort of distracted and a bit all over the place for the summer and then really decide to knuckle down.
So we took three and a half months off into the fall and rented a little studio in Bushwick in Brooklyn, and really just hashed it out. We spent every single day in this gross, windowless room, where it was incredibly hot in the summer and really cold when it got cold and no ventilation and super, super DIY, which was really the goal of trying to recreate, as much as we could, the environment from the first record. So over those three months we really hashed it out and forced ourselves to get everything out that we needed to get out.
Well, I was going to ask you had your experiences over the last couple of years and the rise and success of the band find their way onto the album’s themes and sounds and feelings. But now I have to ask was it a hybrid of the two – your external experiences and that environment of where you recorded – did they both have a strong influence?
Yes, absolutely! There were so many things that we learnt from being on the road that we wanted to bring into the writing process while staying true to ourselves and that was the balance that we were trying to strike. And honestly, when we first started writing we had lost our way a little bit and it took us a few months to sort of come back in and identify what made us “us” again. But while we were on the road we spent two and half years becoming better musicians and better vocalists and better writers and also developing a better vocabulary for talking about music and knowing what we wanted. We love performing and we love dancing on stage and we wanted to make music that people could dance to and move with and that felt like it was intentionally for festivals and for the live environment, which is something we never even considered for the first record. So we went into the writing process thinking about songs that were bass and drums driven that forced you to move – and not just fist-pumping move – but music you could grind to a little bit and that were sensual and sexy and more up tempo.
That being said, we realised that we had something very special and that we have a very unique identity that feels very much us and we wanted to keep that alive. So we tried writing in big fancy studios and we tried writing with engineers and things like that, but ultimately we realised that our best work comes when it’s just us in a room with a computer and a microphone and our vocal booth is like a f*cking blanket tacked onto the wall. It’s not fancy but it’s ours – there’s no lable breathing down our neck, there’s no-one asking us how we’re doing or why we don’t have the perfect single yet and really allowed us to have the space to explore.
And you can really hear that division between wanting to make people move as well as capture that sensual sound perfectly articulated in the first single ‘Painted’. Is that a good barometer for the rest of the record? Does it set the tone for what else we can expect or are there more twists and turns on there than what people might suspect?
Well, there is definitely a lot more high energy and up tempo songs. But I think ‘Painted’ misleads a little bit. I think the rest of the record is a lot more like our first record, but it combines some of the elements from ‘Painted’ with more of our original-ness or sound. But it’s cool – I think if you were a fan of us before you won’t be disappointed, but we’re opening up our musical landscape and hopefully more and more people will be into it. And honestly we’re so excited to be coming back to Splendour because we had such a f*cking good time there. It was honestly one of the first shows where we were like, “Oh my god this is so cool that we get to do this.”
Did you feel much pressure with this album to follow up on the success of Secondhand Rapture? Or was it the other way round in that you knew that there was a concrete audience there for you guys to deliver music to?
Honestly, I think when we went into the studio – there’re days where you get distracted or you feel like you’re collapsing under the pressure and there were still shitty times with it. But honestly, we really focused again and just made sure the music that we were making was music that we liked and that we loved first and foremost. And I think the record feels as genuine and heartfelt and real as the first one because we were able to put those things aside in the writing room. Some days were more successful than others but generally it was really focused on making sure the music itself was what we imagined it being. And I really feel like this record is the perfect next step for us. It’s like the songs we always imagined we could create but just didn’t have the skills to create on the first record.
You guys are synonymous not only with glamorous music but really glamorous looks – you both are always pictured with really fabulous outfits – are those kinds of looks difficult to maintain on the road?
No it’s not hard. It’s really fun! Looking amazing is an extension of our visual brand, which is so important to us, that we can carry with us all the time. So if we’re going on a festival stage where there’s not time to have your own background or your own set, it’s like you’re bringing the aesthetic with you at all times. And mostly it’s really fun. Honestly, we spend so much time vintage shopping when we’re on the road. We always go home with two more bags than we came with. And there’s this weird vortex where you go into tour world and you sort of forget what is normal to wear because your world is just so different. I’ll get off tour and I’ll go out with my friends and I’ll be like, “Oh my god, what am I wearing?! This looks ridiculous in any other normal setting.” It’s this weird world that its own entirely.
And those outfits obviously found their way into your latest video for ‘Painted’, which came out about a month ago and is a really, visually stunning shoot, with crazy costumes and an intricate, retro, sci-fi looking set. Who came up with the concept for the video and where did the idea of, I guess the duality between the humans, yourselves and plant life come from?
Like with all our videos, it’s always a collaboration with whichever director we work with, for this we worked with a director out of LA called Tabitha Denholm, who is pretty astonishing. And we all really liked the idea of the complex between nature and man made and of the idea of exploring that space and playing off the line “What did you think would happen when you put me in a natural space?” which is in the song. And we had been referencing a lot of Stanley Kubrick,A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Oddissey – we liked that aesthetic a lot. And then Tabitha had been a big fan of this documentary called The Secret Life Of Plants that is where they did all these studies on plants where they attached electrodes to them and measured their responses to the environment. They would like, cut down another plant that was right next to the plant with the electrodes on it and you could see it basically screaming on the screen. So we liked the idea of this retro-futuristic, pseudo-science of nature, I guess. The idea of hallucinating our performance into existence felt really cool to us, and like a fun way to explore the song.
And finally, you’re set to perform at Splendour In The Grass just a couple of weeks after the release of the record, which is super exciting for us. What should fans be ready for?
I think they should definitely get ready to dance as hard as they can. They should be ready to sing along – there’s a lot of songs that we wrote specifically “How Does It Feel” which came out two days ago was written to be chanted along with at a festival, and they should be ready for some intimate moments. We always encourage a good make out in the middle of a Ms Mr set.
How is it that Miami Horror are only two albums into their career?
It feels like the indie electro outfit have been on the scene for an age, lighting up festival stages and setting dance floors on fire with bangers like ‘I Look To You,’ ‘Sometimes,’ and ‘Moon Theory.’
But alas the Melbourne outfit only just released their second record All Possible Futures back in April and after electrifying crowds in South and North America for the last few months, they’re now set to return to Oz in August for an Australia-wide tour, with supports from rising producers and artists Young Franco, JOY and Cleopold.
We spoke to the band’s musical leader Benjamin Plant about getting comedic inspiration from their time in Nashville, why it’s great to have their chance to bring some of their favourite artists on tour, and taking their time to make timeless music.
[V]: So you guys are touring through America. Where are you guys at now?
BP: We just got to Nashville and we have been on the road for a little while. We’ve been hearing all this really bad country music, so we went into a studio and recorded a “best of” of this guy that doesn’t exist – we made up this guy, Travis Tanner, which is Aaron [Shanahan – MH guitar/vox], and then the rest of the band dressed up in country outfits and made this video of the “best of” and we’re gonna do this skit for fun.
I reckon you’ll be able to fool a fair amount of country fans just with that name alone. You’ve been on the road for a while now. How have the shows been going?
Really good. We’ve played some really good shows that we would have never suspected. Like Boston – usually when the venues are really great it makes our job a lot easier, so yeah it’s been fun. We played a lot of good shows in New York which was amazing, as usual.
Are there any particular songs off the new album fans are connecting with when you perform them live?
It’s hard to know. We’re not playing the whole album. We’re playing seven or eight new songs but they’re connecting with them all well. Obviously ‘Love Like Mine’ being the single definitely gets the most attention, but we also play a song from later off the album called ‘Who Is Gonna Save Us,’ which is more of a down tempo song and that works really well live in an interesting way.
Your Australian tour is going to also feature support slots for Young Franco, Cleopold and JOY – three prominent rising producers and artists in Australia. Do you guys try to give a leg up to young artists wherever you can?
Yeah, we were able to do that really well recently on the West Coast of America tour. We had this band Deluxe, which we more excited about having on tour because they’re one of our favourite bands at the moment. So when you’re talking about, I guess helping in a way, we’re actually really excited to have people on tour with us that we’re really into. It’s not always easy to get the acts that you want to support, so when you do it’s really great.
It’s seems pretty crazy to me that All Possible Futures is only your second album, because I feel like I’ve been reading your name and seeing you guys play shows for a long, long time now. Was it always the plan to take a controlled and deliberate approach to releasing albums or is that just how it’s worked out?
Yeah, there’s this really deliberate thing to make albums that last a lot longer and stand out. The thing we found that even though we didn’t have an album for four years or whatever we were still touring pretty large places in South America and Mexico and the States from the first album from new fans still discovering and the fact that it worked four or five years after it came out was a pretty amazing thing and I guess shows that the intention worked. Like I was talking in an interview yesterday about an album where everything is just a vibe of the singles and almost filler. But with our albums we like to make sure every song is its own thing. It’s not really just the B-side of another track. In that way I think a lot more variety on albums really helps.
Going off that then, I found there’s a real shimmer across the whole new album and that although the tracks are all really distinctive on their own, there’s a definite feel or sensation that carries from song to song. Was that how the album was written, or was that something that happened in the studio or was that just something that occurred organically?
It happened organically over a long time because I was actually quite worried about how that would turn out because we were making such different songs from one end to the other and three years apart and that’s why it kind of took so long because we didn’t want to stop until it felt cohesive. And it was the same thing with the first album. You can put ‘I Look To You’ next to an interlude off the first album, it sounds like a completely different band, but if you listen to the whole first album you have those tracks in between that join everything up.
And now that you’re on the road have you found that any of the songs may have evolved when you perform them as opposed to how they sound on the album?
Yeah, exactly. We perform in a much more energetic, live way. Lots of guitars and energy.
And there are clearly a lot of influences worn on your sleeves in your music, but like you said there’s a timeless quality too it – is that a badge of honour to you guys, that I guess it’s impossible to really shelf you as any one genre or time?
That’s what makes it kind of hard to describe when people ask me what genre it is or this or that – it’s so broad. I guess that was just part of the intention. It makes it harder for you later when – I mean you don’t have to really justify it it sounds like its own thing in its own way. We try to bring an element to it that people can’t just copy. So you can look at all the songs on the album and if somebody wants to sound like us, I don’t really know what they would do – they couldn’t really. That’s a good thing I think. Once you get yourself into a position where you can’t just have a bunch of young producers copying you then you’re ahead of the game in that. Way. Like anyone can create synthy kind of beats at home. But once they’re adding a lot of percussion and guitar elements and different sounds and textures, that becomes your own thing.
Are there any new songs in particular you guys as a band are really getting a kick out of performing?
Obviously all the big singles on the last album get a big reaction. Now we’re playing some of the more Talking Heads, post disco stuff instead of some of the more dancier things we had out earlier – because we didn’t have the album out and we had these dancey sections. But now the new songs the whole thing flows so much better and having two albums out.
So we can expect a really flowing set from your shows once you finally return home in August?
Yeah, not only that but we’ve worked really hard to make it flawless. I think it was quite loose four years ago – we were doing our best, but now we just accept no little mistake and we’ve got heaps of technology to makes sure everything’s running as good as possible and sounds good and really helps having a sound guy with us that is more permanent and can record our shows and give feedback and stuff like that.
And fans don’t have to worry about you guys turning into a country act then?
No definitely – there will be no country cross over but we are gonna start posting pictures and videos of this thing soon.
Hey, never say never – Keith Urban is about to release an EDM song.
It’s undeniable that male R’n’B stars have made a huge comeback to the mainstream in the last few years.
Whether it’s been through the rise of the ‘PBRNB’ sound – the indie/alternative variant of the genre favoured by hipsters, and dominated by the likes of Frank Ocean, The Weeknd and Childish Gambino – or through the mainstream charts, via the likes of Miguel, Sam Smith and Drake, soulful vocals over sensual beats seem to be more in demand than ever.
The climate’s even proved fertile enough to herald the comeback of kings of the genre, including D’Angelo and Justin Timberlake – who have both found comeback success after long hiatuses away from releasing music.
And it doesn’t seem like the movement will be fading any time soon – not with artists like Dornik emerging on the horizon.
The UK crooner started his career as the drummer for another R’n’B / electronica-pop star in Jessie Ware, but a couple of years ago gradually began stepping out from behind the kit, instantly winning acclaim with early singles like ‘Something About You’ and ‘Rebound’. He kept critics and fans salivating over the subsequent couple of years by drip feeding singles online, steadily but assuredly building himself a loyal audience, all the while cementing the confidence required to take up the mantle of frontman.
But earlier this month he completed his metamorphosis – releasing his brilliant debut, self-titled album to widespread acclaim. Channel [V] caught up with him via email to discuss some of his musical influences on the new record, as well as discussing making that transition from drummer to vocalist, and how he thinks he’s evolved as an artist over the last few years to be at the point he is now. [V]: You clearly wear a lot of r’n’b influences on your sleeve. Who are some of your all time favourite artists and have you found as you’ve started working on the Dornik project that you’ve honed in on any particular records or artists for inspiration?
D: Michael Jackson, Prince, D’angelo, J Dilla, The Roots, James Brown,Sting, Bob Marley & The Wailers. To name but a few.
There’s a definite, shimmery, “west coast” feel to your music, particularly in the guitars and keys on ‘Drive’ and ‘Something About You.’ Was that a sound that you had in mind when you started writing this music – or did it organically mould that way?
It just came out that way. I do like a lot of music from the west coast so maybe subconsciously that’s why it came out that way.
You used to drum for Jessie Ware’s band. Did you learn anything from your time on the road with Jessie that you now apply to your own music and career?
Yeah I learned a lot.I learned that it’s important to believe in what you do and to remember that you’re the artist.
There’s been a definite rise in appreciation for r’n’b again in the last few years, with the likes of Frank Ocean and The Weeknd rising to prominence as well as artists like D’Angelo making their long awaited return. Do you feel that this is a really fertile period now for the kind of music you are making?
Yeah, it’s defiantly started to become more popular again. I don’t think that kind of music ever really went away, I think it just become cool again to say you like R’n’B.
You first released ‘Something About You’ a couple of years back. Was it a deliberately slow process for making a record over the last couple of years and drip feeding tracks as you went along? Or was that just the way things played out?
It’s just the way things played out. I was on tour with Jessie when ‘Something About You’ and ‘Rebound’ were released, so that’s the reason why my album took a while. I only really got the chance to fully concentrate on it after I left Jessie’s band. Making the transition from
session drummer to solo artist was quite a big and daunting step for me. It certainly doesn’t come over, night that’s for sure.
Has your music or your approach to music evolved much during that period? Going from a song like ‘Something About You’ through to the recent single ‘Drive’, there’s a subtle, yet noticeable change in tone. ‘SAY’, for example, is a little more chill wave, with a big sonic landscape. Whereas ‘Drive’ is a little more focused on each individual instrument having its own space and voice, which brings a bit more focus to your voice. Can you hear your own progression as an artist through that period?
Yeah, obviously I grew during the period of making these two particular songs. ‘SAY’ I made as a 20 year old in my bedroom at my parents house and ‘Drive’ I made when I was 24 through a collaboration with Pop Wansel and Flippa in my own studio in West London. Theres a big difference there. I’m feeling more confident in my voice now, when i was making ‘SAY’ I still didn’t even see myself as a singer to be honest.
Can you hear the r’n’b revival infiltrating other areas of music as you dive deeper into this world. There are definitely elements of it on the new Tame Impala record. Do you think there’s potential for that sound to become cluttered as more and more people embrace that style?
I think music in general is getting more cluttered due to everyone having the ability to record and upload to the internet. I think that good music always shines through.
Is there a song on the record that you’re particularly proud of and think best encapsulates you as an artist?
I do like ‘Blush’ but I think ‘Mountain’ perhaps is the best representation of me as an artist right now.
What can fans and new fans expect from your debut album as a whole? Do you think they’ll be surprised by anything on the album?
No, I think the singles I released previously show variety and so if people liked them they’ll definitely appreciate the other tracks on the album. I think there may be a surprise with the songs on my new album though as I’m interested to explore new avenues.
When do you think we’ll get the chance to see some of these songs performed live in Australia?
Hopefully someday soon. I love Australia and it’d be great to get back out there again!