Category Archives: Interviews

Interview – Tom Delonge

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It wouldn’t be a Tom Delonge conversation without at least one gag.

For our interview he gets it out of the road straight away.

“Hi, can I please speak to Tom?”

“Oh, let me see if he’s here… Oh, he’s in the bubble bath.”

Silence…

“Nah, just joking. It’s me. How’s it going?”

It’s the exact juvenile prank you’d expect/desire from an interview with Delonge, whose earned as much of a reputation over the last two decades for telling dick jokes as he has for concocting infectious melodies and angst ridden anthems as one of the frontmen of pop punk icons Blink 182.

However, when it comes to his work in Angels & Airwaves, Delonge takes a much more serious tone, and when you look at the sheer scale of output from the group, you appreciate that there isn’t a lot of time for joking around. In the nine years since Delonge created AVA (as it’s typically abbreviated as a reference of the band’s logo), the art project has released four albums (including twin concept records Love and Love: Part Two), a documentary (2008’s Start the Machine which documented the creation of Angels & Airwaves), a full feature (2011’s Love), toured the world performing sell out shows, and in the meantime Delonge and his small, independent team have created a comprehensive digital retail service called Modlife that provides artists with direct access to their fans to sell them both digital and physical properties. In fact they did such a great job creating Modlife that is now used by not only AVA and Blink 182, but also the likes of Kanye West, Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, and Jack White’s Third Man Records.

“When Angles & Airwaves started we said we wanted to be a trans-media experience. We want the band to be able to do soundtracks for ideas much larger than ourselves and we wanted to be something that’s different and we wanted to be independent. So we needed to build the infrastructure to do that.”

“The first thing we needed to do was build the technology platform that could handle being independent – something that could monetize digital media and limited edition products that are physical. How do you do that – ya know? And that thing that we had to dream up is called Modlife and it now powers Pearl Jam’s fan club, we do Nine Inch Nails’ releases, we do Kanye West’s releases. And no-one knows how much Angels & Airwaves have paved the way for a lot of different things in the music industry but that’s fine, I just want people to enjoy the art.”

And for all that they’ve already achieved, the group now stands at the precipice of their most ambitious cross platform project to date.

As musicians, they are poised to release The Dream Walker on December 9, a record co-written and recorded by Delonge and Ilan Rubin (best known for his work in Nine Inch Nails) that sees the band explore the expansive, ethereal rock that AVA are known for, but also delves into the world of electronic music on tracks like ‘The Wolfpack,’ or Clash inspired battle cries like latest single ‘Bullet’s In The Wind’.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zxEw3QanhY]

Simultaneously, the group will release the short film Poet Anderson: The Dream Walker, which recently picked up the best animated film award at the respected Toronto Short Film Festival. The anime-inspired short explores the Delonge-created world of Poet Anderson – a ‘Lucid Dreamer’ with rare abilities who can move in and out of his vivid dream life guided and protected by a guardian angel known as the Dream Walker. When Poet’s nightmares begin to break through into his waking life, he is forced to face his demons to fulfill his destiny. It’s a rich and compelling story, enhanced by the music on The Dream Walker, which largely serves as the film’s soundtrack.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuRkHfW8MaQ]

For Delonge, the fact that the short film has already achieved an accolade such as its Toronto win, already feels like acknowledgment enough of the massive amount of work and effort that’s gone into the project.

“I’m freaking. I’m so happy. We spent two years making this thing and it’s been so much work and the animators I’ve been working with are so talented. They deserve it so much and it’s such a head turner. People don’t expect this level of art out of a band but you know, like I always tell people, we’re not a band, we’re an art project.”

It doesn’t stop there either. The group has plans for a Poet Anderson feature film, comic book and graphic novel, all to be rolled out over the next few months to coincide with the 10th anniversary of AVA. Each release is intended to combine for the kind of all-encompassing multimedia experience you might expect from The Wachowskis and a $100 million budget – not a collective of artists and entrepreneurs operating within the ethos of being independent and free from record label or movie studio influence.

“That’s exactly what we’ve worked so long and hard for – to have control over our own art and control over our own destiny and that’s hard to do because the record labels and all the corporations have a monopoly on that and artists have been trampled on for so long. We’ve created an inter system where everyone’s going to be able to do what they love and hopefully thrive from it. Like I say, we’ve got a lot of work to do but this is a big deal. This is as DIY as it gets but it’s also the most ambitious project, I think, any band is doing.

“All the art pieces have to work on their own and work beautifully as a puzzle with all the pieces fitting. So you don’t have to read the book or hear the record or see the movie to get the same vibe. All of them stand as an individual piece and is strong on its own but if you really dig it, it won’t end. You can go and enjoy all the different pieces and that’s what’s exciting for me.”

Analysing it on paper, the vast nature of project is intimidating. Simply organising all its moving parts, let alone finding the time to work on so many aspects at once is enough to make one’s head ache. But Delonge says he gets focus from an unusual source that helps him burn through the tasks at hand.

“I have ADD, so I can jump down and work on a comic book and then I get 100 pages from one of the novels we’re doing and them I’m like “Oh yeah, shit, let’s go do this,” and then I’ll be thinking of some 3D concept art of a motorcycle that glows and I’m like, “Fuck! That’s rad! What if it glows in this colour and what if this was this?”

And at the end of the day, Delonge is never lacking in a source for inspiration. After all, The Dream Walker world is his creation, and he continually draws upon his stories to fuel each aspect of the project.

“All the songs were inspired by either the culture or the tribe from which our character comes from or the dream world itself. ‘Bullets In The Wind,’ that to me reminded me of the Clash in some ways, is referencing the transistor radio and analogue culture when rock and roll was more important. That is the tribe that Poet Anderson comes from. But also ‘Paralyzed’ is about sleep paralysis. That’s a direct hit from what this is all about – the enormity of dreams and the effect that it can have on people. So the whole album has something to do with either the culture or the theme itself.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cV-JS5AxSwc]

Delonge says it’s taken the band 10 years to be ready for this kind of release and the learning process has been a steep, yet ultimately rewarding one.

“This is encapsulating all the ideas – the idea that we could do things that weren’t just an album or an album and a movie but all different forms of art working together. So this is something we always wanted to do. I probably wanted it all to fire a little earlier but now that I’m in the thick of it, there’s no fucking way. There’s no way we could have done this 10 years ago. It’s taken so long to understand how to do this and how to do the business of it, how to do the art of it, how to inspire people, how to set up a work flow pattern where we can work together. It’s been awesome but it’s been difficult.”

He eventually intends to take The Dream Walker on the road, but he appreciates the enormity of the project and realises that it’s going to take some time for fans to let it sink in.

“I just need to make sure that everyone understands it, everyone is excited about it and everyone has immersed themselves into it so that it can be a success.”

Originally published on vmusic.com.au

Interview – Perfect Pussy

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When I ring through to Perfect Pussy‘s Shaun Sutkus, he’s busy watching the Akira Kurosawa epic Ran, after receiving a pretty excellent recommendation.

SS: Guillermo Del Torro, he got asked by Criterion to list his top 10 films and he listed 21 and I’m going to try and watch all of them. I think he’s one of my favourite directors for sure, so I respect his opinion.

NW: Have you seen that he’s working on the new Silent Hill game?

No, I did not know that.

Yeah, him and Hideo Kajima (creator of the Metal Gear series).

That’s going to be terrifying. I’ve never played Silent Hill, but I used to live in Pennsylvania, and there’s a place in Pennsylvania called Centralia and that’s what Silent Hill is based off of and I lived an hour and a half from it. My dream is to do a noise show there at some point. There’s a coal mine fire that’s been burning under it since the ’60s, so the land could just collapse at any time.

I’ve heard about that place! Didn’t everyone have to move away?

Yeah, they made everyone leave but there’s still like four people that live there. All the buildings and stuff are still standing, so if you had a generator you could just show up and do a show.

And know that there’s a burning hell fire below you at all times.

Yeah, you could die. But whatever. It’s a good story, right?
It makes sense that Sutkus enjoys the idea of creating a menacing atmosphere. After all, that’s his chief role as the engineer, producer, and keyboardist for Syracuse noise punks Perfect Pussy, whose popularity has exploded in the last 12 months.

A year ago I was ordering PP’s four-song demo tape, I Have Lost All Desire For Feeling, from their bandcamp page (Sutkus tells me it was probably him that hand packaged and addressed that tape and sent it to me). Within months of the tape’s release, the group had signed to impressive indie label Captured Tracks, begun touring the world, cut a new, amazing album (Say Yes To Love) and saw their lead singer, Meredith Graves, rise as a significant voice in the pop culture landscape with essays examining misogyny in the music industry. Not bad for a band that makes “abrasive” music, layered in chaos and noise, from a city where, “the hardcore scene sucks.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyVrZfyfeZw]

It’s that high profile and a reputation for being a fearsome live act that has made them one of the must-see acts on the 2015 Laneway Festival line-up, and that will probably see their newly announced short string of sideshows sell out quickly.

Speaking to Sutkus though, hype doesn’t really have anything to do with it, as he sees their appeal coming from a distinct musical combination.

SS: I think a lot of the praise comes from two parts. One being the lyricism – Meredith’s writing – people are really identifying to that and that’s really strong. And then on the other side, the music is open to interpretation, because it’s so noisy and so chaotic and so fast and short, I think you can listen to it over and over and over again and hear something different each time.

NW: You almost get something new and something fresh with each listen and the longer you listen you connect with each song in a different way.

Yeah, I mean, that’s what I’ve heard from a lot of people and I feel that makes sense to me. It’s kind of chaotic and, at first – abrasive – but if you sit down with it you can hear these sweeping melodies that are really, really big and open over the whole thing. I like that. I think it’s catchy.

It’s really catchy. I’ve read that the guys on guitars, bass and drums, they kind of put the songs together and then you and Meredith come in afterwards and add more and more layers. Is that true and if so how does that work?

To an extent; more so with her vocals. But the whole recording process, I’m there and very much involved because I’m the engineer, producer and I mix everything. So I’m there the whole time. The song writing process – it’s just Garrett (Koloski – drummer) and Ray (McAndrew – guitarist), just sitting down in a room, fleshing out forms and putting guitar parts together. And then once we all get together in a room, the four of us – without Meredith, usually – most often we won’t make any changes at all. But the layering, I do most of my stuff live, and the vocals are the thing that gets added afterward. And we use guitar amps when we record vocals, that’s why it sounds all fucked up.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_R4YuekVuNY]

Is it hard to get that sound right live? Or is it helped by the fact that you’re the producer and engineer, so you know how to process and work everything?

That’s the tricky part because I can’t do both. So we’re left up to whoever’s mixing front of house for us. We’re not really at the level of being able to bring and hire a professional engineer, so usually the places we play depending on the venue, it’s just us doing our own sound or there’s hired people. But lots of times engineers don’t give a shit [laughs]. They don’t care about doing a good job. On the last European tour we did, at some of the club shows I would set up the soundcheck and just hand the console over and go play. That works pretty well.

I’ve thought about playing from front of house and mixing the show and playing and not being on stage. Maybe I’ll do that in the future. Who knows?

You talked about people connecting with Meredith’s lyrics. She’s developed into somewhat of a high profile cultural critic since the band has risen to prominence. How does that sit with the rest of you? Is that something that helps fuel you and your music and your message?

That’s not on our mind when we’re playing. I think all of us know ourselves and try to keep it real, so we don’t have to stress about that because we’re doing the same thing we did when we started this band. You know? We’re getting up there, we’re playing the songs and doing the same fucking thing. We haven’t changed anything and won’t change anything in the future. Any carnation of this band is always going to be the same.

You guys signed to Captured Tracks late last year. Before that, you were operating on a DIY level – selling tapes and sending out photocopied covers and doing things in a real tradition of indie rock. How has signing to CT helped the band, and are you doing anything to try and maintain those DIY aesthetics?

Yeah, it’s kind of like it changes depending on what the goal of the project is. For us, it was just something we did because we were bored and we were in Syracuse. Since we got offered these shows and offered to travel, you can’t always necessarily do that and come home with some money to pay your rent and pay your cell phone bill, unless you’re changing some things up. So, we’ll still play some DIY shows but we like to do them differently because they’re for our friends and with our friends, so there’s certain expectations at those shows and other shows that the lines don’t really cross and we try to tread the difference between them. Like, we’re not going to show up to a DIY show asking for a certain amount of money and having a rider or something like that, but we will show up to a festival across the world and be like, “Hey, we would like a snack or some beers for free, please.” [laughs]. You just have to know who you’re working with, I guess.

What’s it been like playing to larger and larger audiences and playing to international audiences?

It’s exciting. A lot of us had never traveled out of the country until this year. It’s been an eye-opening experience and playing shows is cool. I mean, I feel really grateful to be able to do that all over the world. I never thought that I’d be doing it, so it’s really cool. I try to just take it each day at a time and have fun.

There is something that seems to be really joyous and cathartic about PP’s music. Is there something cathartic and joyous about performing live in Perfect Pussy?

Yeah,for sure. It’s an outlet for every single one of us. It’s done a lot. It helps me. It’s cool.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_Ky86mFGw0]

You guys appear to be fairly prolific – the tape and the record came out in a fairly brief interval of time. Are you keen to maintain that momentum and do more recording soon?

We’re all kind of scattered right now, so we don’t really have any plans to do any recording any time soon. I mean we’re always writing music but as a group, we don’t really have any plans to record anything that soon. I wanted to do March and spring – writing and recording, but I don’t know what everyone else wants to do.

We’ve been on a break this month. I got back from another tour that I was doing, like two days ago and I haven’t even seen anyone in the band for a month and a half until today. I saw Ray and Garrett today. We haven’t even talked. Random text messages or something here or there. We’re all just trying to reset ourselves from all the touring we’ve done, before we move forward. We talked about going and getting a house – a cabin – in upstate New York and having a writing retreat for a week. That hasn’t been booked yet but that’s definitely the plan. So I’m sure as soon as that happens we’ll have a record a week later. It doesn’t take us long after we have the songs down to record it and finish the final product. It’s a pretty fast process.
Originally published on vmusic.com.au

Interview – The Ocean Party

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In 2003 I played in a battle of the bands at the Ganmain Town Hall.

My band was called The Martyrs and we’d traveled all the way from Wagga Wagga to play a mix of Radiohead and White Stripes covers, with a pretty breath-taking version of Bush’s ‘Glycerine’ mixed in for good measure. I remember we decided to wear suits because that was something the Foo Fighters did at the time, and we figured that if we sounded shit, at least we’d look good.

We didn’t win the night because, well, we did sound shit. That accolade ultimately ended up in the hands of a Griffith band called Regular John, who themselves would go on to mount a successful assault on the radio waves in the mid-to-late 2000s. The band that played before us though, Ian, thought we were pretty awesome. I remember their frontman, Mark, coming up to me and telling me how much he enjoyed our version of ‘Fake Plastic Trees.’ Mark was friends with my sister, Sally, and he was a good kid. Obviously he had terrible taste in music at the time if he thought we were any good, but hey, nice kid all the same.

Fast forward 11 years and nowadays Ian, including Mark, make up half of The Ocean Party, the rising Melbourne guitar pop stars who are set to release their stunning forth album, Soft Focus, on October 31. Sadly I’m no longer a musical hero to those kids, who are busy mixing it up with members of The Triffids and playing New York City showcases, but luckily I also haven’t been left at the music biz wayside, as I’m now afforded opportunities to fan-boy back at them via my job as a journalist.

I recently spoke with Lachlan Denton from the band, and we talked about the solidification of the Ocean Party sound; why they’re trying to move away from “guitar pop” on this new album; not getting your hopes up for US tours; and why playing gigs in Wagga is still shit.
NW: It’s obvious that you guys have put a lot of effort in developing your sound on this new record. Considering this is your fourth record that makes sense in the logical process of things. Do you guys feel like you’ve achieved the sound you set out to reach when you started the recording process?

LD: I definitely think it’s our best record that we’ve made. I usually think that about every record that we make because you’re always trying to progress. Listening back to it, we achieved what we wanted to achieve. We’ve all been living in Melbourne now for coming on five years from when we started, even though we’re all sort of from Wagga. But it’s sort of a thing I think with this record is maybe getting to a place of just caring less about what other people or contemporaries around us are doing and trying to have our own sound. I think on this record we’ve, more than ever, kind of done something that I don’t feel everyone else is doing. It’s not just a straight up guitar pop record like I think our other records are.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCxIOlC_Yjc]

You were more meticulous and used a lot of overdubs when making the record, according to the press release. Sometimes when that happens it can change or shift the energy of songs or albums. Did you find songs evolved in ways you didn’t plan for them to throughout the recording process?

Yeah, definitely. I think it’s kind of the one thing with the Ocean Party is it always happens like that to an extent, just because there’re six songwriters and usually the main idea of a song will be written by one person but it’s pretty free reign as to what happens to that song after we start working on it as a band. In this situation we were all pretty much living in the same house and we had a makeshift studio set up in our lounge room. It was a lot more freedom to just play with things whenever someone had time. There’s a track on there that Jordan wrote called ‘Norman Street,’ which I think the early demos of that are so stripped back, kind of just like a piano and acoustic guitar or something and what it turned into is quite an epic, ’80s sort of pop hit.

And it is a rare thing to have so many songwriters in one band, but it feels like there’s a real cohesion amongst you all at the moment, like you’re running on the same wavelength when it comes to songwriting. Is that something you’re feeling?

Yeah, I think so. There’re certainly places that different people in the band lean towards as far as influences and stuff like that, but as I’ve said we’ve all lived together at one time or another and we tour a lot, so we end up listening to the same music in the van. Everyone in the band are all my best friends, so we’re sort of that close that we can’t help but grow musically somewhat in the same direction. I hope not enough though that it stays different from song to song, depending on who wrote it.

There’s quite a few guests on the record, but the standout name is Rob McComb from the Triffids. How did that pairing come about and what did it mean to you guys to have Rob perform on the record?

Well, it was obviously pretty awesome. I’ve been a Triffids fan for quite a while and I definitely would have never have thought that I’d have Rob play on a record. But it kind of came about because he’s a teacher and he teaches with a friend of mine. I play in another band called Ciggie Witch with my brother and Liam from the band and he did some recording for us on that and we wanted to put some violin on a track and he was the best person for the job, really. So that was awesome.

Did he impart any pieces of wisdom on you guys?

I dunno. Not really. I mean, I’ve had some good chats with him but I feel like it’s more fan-boy chats really. He’s a pretty quiet guy, but no, he’s cool.

I first heard/saw you guys a year and a half ago at the Corner playing with Camperdown and Out. It seems like you’ve been a presence or a force ever since, with new songs and albums and videos popping up all the time. Do you feel a wave of momentum building behind what you are doing at the moment as a band?

Yes and no. I think the nature of the Ocean Party is that there’s so much work ethic that goes into it, everything that comes our way that’s positive – I never feel like it was gained with ease. I guess it’s easy to look at another band from the outside and think that’s the case, whereas I’ve always felt like everything we’ve achieved we’ve achieved because everyone puts their whole life into it. Everyone in the band is on that wavelength where we all work shitty jobs so that we can put all of our energy into music. But I’m definitely thankful for all the opportunities we’ve had and obviously it’s probably a good time to be playing guitar pop music. But I guess there’s some backlash to that as well, which is kind of annoying.

That being said, it’s not just guitar pop on Soft Focus. You use some pretty sexy saxophone on the record as well on songs like ‘Head Down.’

Abolutely! Yeah, that’s actually Liam. He did all the sax parts, which is pretty impressive. He played it in high school but hasn’t really played it a lot until the last year. I think it’s something we’ll definitely do more of in the future.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEZ-HLiUk0U]

It’s an instrument that bands have rediscovered in the last few years. It used to have the stigma of being a tacky, ’80s hangover sound. But when you guys use it and bands like your label-mate Ernest Ellis uses it, it’s a sound that can really change the context of a song or a sound.

Yeah, totally. I think that’s probably just a thing there’s just gonna be a backlash against standard guitar pop and people have to do things now to separate themselves if you want to keep yourself separate from the pack, which is great because it’s pushing everyone to making far more interesting records. That’s part of our whole angle we’re coming from – not just the sax, but a lot more synth work and we had a friend do some clarinet on the record and just little touches here and there. Really kind of producing the songs ourselves and trying to make them stand out.

You’re about to head to the states for your first US tour. Are you nervous at all? Do you have any expectations or hopes for while you’re over there?

Not really. I mean, with us and touring, the only reason we ever tour is to hang out for a period of time and to drive around and see shit together with your friends. You never want to set yourself up for the disappointment that you’re going to get anything out of it. I think it will just be really fun.

I mean, it’s already impressive in the fact that your music is taking you to New York to play. That’s fucking amazing in itself.

Absolutely. There’s things like that that I never would have never really expected would have happened being in a band, so it’s all a bonus.

The album’s out here soon and then you’re heading out on a national tour. Are you excited to be showing that music off to a whole new set of ears?

Absolutely. I’m hoping that we’ll come back from the US super tight and impress Australian audiences. I’m just stoked to be able to play that many shows in that period of time.

Being from Wagga Wagga myself, I’ve got to ask, are there any expectations to go back and do a show in Wagga?

Oh man, we played a show at the Thomas Blamey Hotel a while back.

Oof, nice.

It was an absolute disaster.

I don’t know, maybe not. We’ve played there a few times since we moved to Melbourne. Just like, if we’re heading to Sydney, we’ll stop a night and play a show at The Home or wherever but yeah, it’s always just a bit… There’s not much interest. It’s kind of just a way to get our parents to come along and pay for dinner.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyzhHSxAhwY]

Originally published on vmusic.com.au

 

Interview – Christopher Owens

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There are few artists whose music has evolved as quickly Christopher Owens’ has.

Five years ago he was the darling of the indie world. The frontman for the duo Girls, his band had a fresh and addictive sound that instantly captivated listeners with their unique  song structures and cobbled together influences of classic rock and roll, punk and pop. An intriguing figure with model good looks, a melancholy persona that hinted at a fragility brought upon by a wealth of heavy experiences, and a back story worthy of its own novel, he became the proverbial overnight rock star.

Then, when seemingly at their height, Owens left Girls – driven to follow his own creative path as a songwriter. His debut effort, last year’s Lysandre, was again unique (and somewhat polarising amongst fans and critics) and saw him explore traditional folk music over a brief 29 minutes that left many a little confused and wondering what would be his next move.

Now we arrive at a New Testament and Owens reveling in the sounds of Americana – from country twang and gospel soul, through to sixties-esque r’n’b grooves. The songs feel like a much more comfortable fit for his tender voice, and although this record doesn’t resemble the music of Girls, it feels much more like a logical extension of his songwriting from that period than anything on Lysandre. Not to mention his glam rock meets urban cowboy get up is inspiring me to dig into my cupboard and grab out those old Cuban-healed boots I never wear anymore…

I spoke with Owens about the timing behind releasing an album reinforced by classic country; his motivations behind exploring genre and style; why it takes team-work to get some songs over the line; and the burden of the stories of his past continuing to be applied to his music today.

NW: A large chunk of New Testament is classic country. I’ve read interviews with you in the past few years where you’ve discussed your desire to always make a country record. What about now felt right to embrace the genre in a much more whole hearted way?

CO: Just because I had the chance to now. I wanted to do it in a way that I could really get into it. You know, just try to do it well. I think the fact that I’m working solo now, I can do the albums like this. I can call up a group of musicians and have them come in and do the record like this. It seems to work easier. You know, when you’re in a band you have a sound and a reputation and a fixed group of musicians – it’s harder to do something different like this.

I think for my first solo record I really wanted to tell this first story that I told with that album, but once I did that I thought, well what would be fun? And this is what felt like the right thing to do now.

Was it fun making the record? Did you really enjoy the process?

Oh yeah, definitely. I had eight different musicians that I know really well all come in and play and it was just a really good time. They’re all really talented and easy to work with. I wish I could be recording all the time – I’d be happy if I was just doing that all the time.

Some of those musicians you speak of include reuniting with some of your old band mates from Girls. Did that bring a sense of comfort in that you knew they could articulate your ideas like they had in the past?

Yeah. There were specific things that I was hoping to get done. Once I knew I had certain people, I knew I could do that well and easily. But also, another good thing about working with these people is that they’ve already recorded together before, so it’s not like we’re starting from square one. There’s none of that uncomfortable getting to know you stuff going on. We can just jump in and start and have a good time.

You also tapped into some other strong elements of Americana on the album – there’s gospel music, there’s rock and roll, there’s r’n’b – some of the more simpler conventions of music to what’s on the radio today. Do you feel like stripping music back to its more basic elements maybe allows you to express more complex thoughts and stories and feelings and explore them in a more relatable way?

I think that’s very possible. I think there are people that do that with modern music. I could very honestly argue that you could take a keyboard and play some synthesisers and sing some simple stuff and accomplish the same thing. I don’t think the genre is that important. I think you’ve just got to like it and doing what you like. But I do think that radio – the bigger radio stations in the US, anyway – they sort of alienated a lot of people. They’re so formulated for popularity amongst the masses that if you get too into music at all of any genre it kind of leaves these top 40 songs kind of empty because they’re just sort of a little bit of everything. But I think you’ll find a lot more independent musicians are doing just a more focused version of whatever it is they like, whether it’s rock and roll or punk music or stuff like this country stuff that I’m doing. You know for us it’s nice just to focus on something a little bit more, not simple, but to where it is an actual genre. It’s something where you can say, “oh yeah, that is folk music” or “that is rock and roll music.” I think something about the pop radio in the US is just a little bit too boring.

But that says a lot about you as an artist as well because a lot of musicians can often be afraid to explore different genres and their own versatility. Listening to the record I thought about Stephin Merritt from the Magnetic Fields and the way he explores a vast array of genres and styles in his records, and tries to capture an essence or an element that suits the song and gives it its own personality. I feel on this album you’ve done a similar thing. You’ve captured the spirit of each song in the style that you’ve done it in each way.

Well, thanks. I think some people want to do that and other people don’t. People should just do what they like. I think if you listen to the Beatles, like Sgt Peppers or the White Album or the early rock and roll ones, where they play everything from country to hard rock, some people just think it’s fun to try new things. Other people find what they’re good at and stay in it and I think both are good. But for me I guess it’s become pretty obvious that I like to play around a little bit.

I mentioned before that you explore gospel and r’n’b on the record. You’ve recorded in both styles previously and a big part of those songs is that you’ve enlisted the help of soulful backing singers. Is there something that you find particularly appealing in the juxtaposition between your voice, which like I said gentle and tender, put up against the tremendous power of the women singing on the record, particularly on songs like, ‘It Comes Back To You,’ or ‘Stephen.’

Yeah I think my voice is pretty small – I don’t have a very powerful voice. So in some ways you can just do songs where there’s not much music going on and allow people to hear the intricacies. But I think other times I think it’s good to let there be a lot of music and to fill up the space with music. To me the vocal group is very much an instrument. It’s just like the organ or a string section or something. And at the same time it’s an instrument that’s in harmony with the lyrics – they’re able to communicate the lyrics as well. There’s times when I’d like the song to build up with intensity and I can sort of pass the torch over to Nikita singing backing vocals and she can take the song to a place where I can’t take it, even though I’d like to. I can’t. It’s a team work type thing. It’s like I’m (Spanish soccer star) Iniesta with the ball and I’d really like to score but I can’t get up there so I pass it to (Lionel) Messi and he can score.

The new video has just come out for ‘I Never Want To See Your Face Again’…

Oh yeah [laughs]

… which is really cool and hypnotic in a way. What inspired the clip and what do you thin works so well with that clip and that song? 

Well I wanted to do something that was a little bit more focused on me because the video that had come before it for ‘Nothing More Than Everything To Me,’ focused on this group of kids that were at a party and the band sort of makes a little appearance, but there’s not that much personality shown and it’s a bit busy.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iboUa31Hdzg?list=PLjzO5aCsVEAXKTzCasnqRmSDmfokvOgt0]

So I thought with this one I thought okay, let’s try and explore a different side. Make it less busy and just kind of a one-on-one with the camera. Of course John, the guitarist makes a couple of little appearance, which are cool. But the main idea was to have it look western and romantic but then also be realistic about it. It is just a backdrop and I am wearing a sort of sparkly, tight, red shirt. I wanted to show – this album is kind of just me doing country, to the best of my ability [laughs]. It is very obvious that I like it and that I’ve spent some time in Texas, but I don’t have a country twang or something. I’m not an actual country artist. So the video is supposed to be a musical theatre version of country. It’s not shot in downtown Nashville or something. It’s sort of like we’re putting on a little play and we’re having a little fun.

I’ve got to ask you too – did you nail that dagger throw first go?

Oh yeah! We did it a bunch of times just because I was having so much fun and I tried a bunch of different angles and stuff.  I can throw the knife from about six feet away, every time. It’s when you get about 20 feet away and you’ve got to flip it around that I can’t do it so well [laughs].

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6Zi_CYGm8s?list=PLjzO5aCsVEAXKTzCasnqRmSDmfokvOgt0]

The album cover, is another one of the striking one’s you’ve released as an artist. I’ve talked to you in the past about the beauty in the simplicity of an album cover, so I wanted to ask you about its design and was that something that you came up with and pre-though out or was it something that more spontaneously came together.

It was something I only approached after we finished recording. The big impression I had after recording was that the group really made a big impact on the sound – the people that came in to play, so I thought the best cover would be to show that group, becuase I think really, at the end of the day, the album sounds the way it does because of all of us. I guess, other than that, I just wanted to keep it very simple. I just wanted a white back drop and all of us facing the camera smiling and having a good time. Not posed or stylised in a specific way. Very realistic and simple. Except I wanted that title to be real bold and draw the eye in and be like, BOOM!

It’s almost celebratory in a way like you’ve taken a group photo to mark the end of recording, like it was the end of camp or school or something.

Yeah that’s pretty much exactly what happened.

I’ve read a few reviews for the record already and like a lot of the writing about your music and your career they reference your history and your religious upbringing and some of the struggles that you’ve had. Does it get frustrating at all that people always seem to approach your art with so much baggage and context and maybe not approach it with a blank slate as they might with other artists? Or are you just resigned to the fact that that’s just what happens these days?

I mean it’s been such a big part from the beginning that I’ve kind of had to accept it. But I read an article today for example, in a huge, huge publication and I’ve done stuff with them before and I did have a moment where I thought, “Why does every article start out the same?” You know, talking about Children Of God. It seems to me like if the media busy into that and uses that for the catchphrase for every story, it turns me into sort of a one-trick pony or it makes it seem like that’s the only interesting thing about this person. So I would hope that at some point it goes away. I’ve always thought in mind that over time it would go away. We’ll just have to see, I don’t know.

And then they quoted some song lyrics and they got them wrong! And this is like a huge, American publication.

It’s gimmicky in a way. It’s not like the childhood of other artists is continually referenced throughout their career or at the start of all their reviews. It’s a surprise that it’s such a focal point about you now that you’re an established artist and had so many great records, that the context they should be talking about is your current and previous work, rather than your family history.

Yeah, surely people already know, right? [Laughs] I just feel like people already know that stuff. I feel like if I was one of my friends reading that I would be annoyed that they’re talking about that again.

This record feels like a really joyful album in a lot of ways. Do you hope that it will bring a lot of joy to people when they listen to it?

Yeah, of course! Yeah, I’ve always hoped that with everything I put out. I know I’ve done stuff that’s more sad or, even on this album there’s sadder songs or melancholy songs, but I’ve never thought, “Oh I hope this makes people cry,” or whatever. I’ve always wanted people to get something positive out of the music, so yes. Definitely. Maybe people will have a little line dance together or something.

Originally published on vmusic.com.au

Interview – Frank Iero

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It’s fucking near impossible to do anything constructive when you’re sick.

I’ve been trying to write an intro to this interview for two days, but have had a shocking bout of hay fever that has blurred my brain as well as my eyesight.

Meanwhile, Frank Iero – he of former My Chemical Romance guitardom, now turned solo artist – managed to record an entire album while suffering from an internal illness that rendered him with constant stomach pains.

Not only that, but he made an album that is excellent.

Shifting through gritty punk rock, up-lifting power pop and sludgy industrial grunge, Stomachaches is a snapshot of this bizarre and horrific time in Iero’s life, shifting between shades of depression and triumph while giving the listener a fascinating front row seat to the creativity that can only be inspired when one is confronted with the frailty of their own human existence.

I spoke with Iero over the phone last month, and we discussed the rawness of the music triggered by his illness; the importance of keeping the recording honest to how it was originally made; and what listening to these songs mean to him now.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iX1BRd6V6JY]

NW: So much of the focal point of this record has been that it was recorded during a period of sickness and illness for you, and sickness and ailments have had a history of triggering creative inspiration for a lot of artists. Why do you think that is?

FI: I think because sometimes being ill can go two ways. It can either completely take over and ruin you, or you can find it in yourself to fight that with the only thing you know how to do. Also, I feel like in times of dire straits, when you’re really questioning your mortality, it’s a time when you think, “What am I leaving behind?” You start to take account of your existence and the things that you create.

For me too, it was looking at my children and wanting to be a person that they could look up to and not feel sorry for. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want them to be, “Yeah, my dad was always sick,” or “I don’t remember him being fun to be around,” kind of thing. I didn’t want that, ever. I wanted them to be proud and to be like, “You know, he felt like shit all the time but he did some really cool things.”

You’re quoted as saying in the press release for the record, regarding your stomach problems – “They were my disease and ultimately became my cure.” Do you think you discovered something about music during this process that you’d never experienced before? Maybe a power you didn’t realise music had?

I’ve always had a love hate relationship with creating. And I think in this particular situation, it was about finding that love again – that healing power. On the good days, when I was riding that creative high, I would forget about everything else. Nothing else mattered. I could be the person I wanted to be again. That’s that initial thing that breaks you when you start playing. That feeling that you’re on cloud nine and no-one can touch you and it’s an incredible feeling to have. It’s better than any drug I’ve ever tried. Better than any pain medication I’ve taken for my stomach. It definitely has an incredible effect on your psyche and I think that I’ve found that again through this process.

There’s a distinct energy across the album that at times, I feel, reflects the really earliest, rebellious elements of punk rock, and I think the reason for that is that you’re tapping into the most primitive drivers of punk rock – frustration and anger. Obviously it’s different in the sense that you couldn’t escape your medical condition; whereas early punk rockers couldn’t escape their social or political or class position. But would you agree that frustration and anger is what’s represented in the energy and the pace and, at times, the mania that comes across on the record?

That’s interesting. Possibly. I feel like it was definitely me being defiant against something I had no control over and I felt like was being forced upon me and so I needed to either curl up and die, or take control. Regardless of the outcome. I wasn’t going to just lay there and take it. I was going to reclaim some semblance of myself. And maybe that is the parallel between what you’re hearing – people just being fed up with being controlled by an external or an internal force. I think for this record it was definitely me saying enough is enough; I’m going to do this regardless of how I feel. I’m going to take a stand and really do something about it and do something with it and use these limitations as tools. That was my outlook on it.

Was there ever any hesitation when it came to showing these songs to people – especially seeing as it was coming from such a deep and raw place?

Absolutely. To be quite honest, when I had finished it it took me a while to show it to anybody.

Certain people that I’d been working with for years and had become very close friends with were like, “What’s been going on? What have you been doing?” And I mentioned what I’d been up to and they were just generally interested as friends and wanted to hear things. So after many conversations and coaxing, I started to play it for people and then from there it was like, “I really think this is something. Can I show it to someone else?”

In my mind, the final stage of creating this – the final stage of art – is to unleash it to the world and hopefully affect someone else. That’s really the point. Initially the point is to just make it. And then you’ve made it – you’re done with it. You can just burn it. Throw it away. You can lock it in a box for future you to stumble upon one day. Or you can take that final step and try to affect someone else. That kind of made the most sense to me. That was kind of the point.

So I agreed for people to listen to it and then it was really finding the person that understood the project the most and loved the project for what it was and not for what I had done in the past and I finally found that.

It’s a really fantastic sounding record in that it’s captured that DIY presence of you recording on the fly at home. But it also sounds polished and well mixed and it comes together really well. Was there ever a temptation to take it into a studio and re-record it? Or was there something about the fact that you’d recorded in that style at home that you felt captured a particular moment you may not be able to recreate again?

That’s also a great question, because there is that moment where you realise, “Oh shit, now people are actually going to hear this. This is going to come out. It isn’t just mine anymore.” There’s that temptation to go in and edit it a little bit and change this and make it big and bombastic and do all this stuff to it. But then I really sat down and thought about it and was like, “Then what was the point? That takes everything out of it makes!” It’s manufactured and fake at that point. A lot of people, they’ll go into multi-million dollar studios and make a million dollar record to try and make it sound like you recorded it in a basement. It’s fucking ridiculous. That’s so stupid! There’s something to be said about – really to me – that the record was how it was made and why it was made and the moment. I needed to capture that moment. That was the promise I always made to myself, that these songs are going to be as pure as humanly possible. I want to write them and channel them through me. I don’t want to fuck with them in anyway. I just want them to be this snapshot in time, and that’s what it was.

There’s a lot of light and shade on the record. The juxtaposition between songs like ‘She’s The Prettiest Girl At The Party and She Can’ and ‘Stitches’ for example – they’re polar opposites in terms of two different energies and different styles. ‘Stitches’ is one of the darker songs on the record. When you listen back now to particularly the darker songs on the record, does it bring back memories of that time and is it uncomfortable for you at all? Or is it cathartic to hear that music and to realise how far you’ve come in the time and the process since?

Every song is very much a snap shot, so I can come back to every song, where it started, how it started, how I felt when I did it. And no, I don’t have bad memories of it. I really truly feel like everything that happens to you, every experience that you have, shapes the person that you become. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t go through what I went through yesterday. And I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t go through all that pain I went through a couple of months ago making this. So it is very cathartic and I look back on those times as not sad for what I went through but happy that I got through it and I set out to do a certain thing and I accomplished that goal.

To me, that’s all I ever wanted out of it. And I guess at this final stage of putting it out there into the world and hopefully affecting other people, it’s kind of this added bonus that I never really had the intention to do. So everything’s kind of turning up Milhouse [laughs].

Frank Iero’s new album as FRNKIERO and the Cellabration, Stomachaches, is out now.

Originally published on vmusic.com.au

Interview – Apes

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Here’s how the life of a typical band works:

1. Bunch of mates get together.

2. They play a battle of the bands.

3. They pay a local dude with a shed studio to record some songs for them.

4. They put those songs online and wait for the record deals to roll in.

5. Record deals never arrive, they play a few gigs over the next few years and then break-up –  because they’ve got real jobs/lives/were shit in the first place.

Sometimes though, bands buck that trend. Take for instance Ballarat rockers Apes. Sure, the first few steps are fairly familiar to their story – except Apes actually had talent and drive and after a few years slogging it out on the road that hard work is starting to pay off.

With some EPs, single releases and a couple of hundred shows under their belts (including some stellar support slots for the likes of FIDLAR, Spiderbait and Band Of Skulls), they’ve recently scored high rotation on music radio in Australia with their single ‘Pull The Trigger,’ and even more impressively been named as one of the next bands to watch by the world’s most important radio DJ, Zane Lowe.

Channel [V] writer, Nathan Wood, caught up with band’s frontman, Ben Dowd, to discuss their history; their recent run of success; who ‘that bloke’ is in all their videos; and when we can finally look forward to an Apes album.

How did you guys first get started?

The bass player, Sam (Reale), and I moved into a house together in Ballarat. We played with a few other people and (James) Toohey was a mutual friend between me and a couple of people and he said he wanted to join a band one day, so one thing led to another and there was three of us and things were starting to click together and we needed a drummer and Rowan (M.T.) came along – and that was probably two and a half years ago. That’s where we’ve been at.

You’ve been gigging and playing shows fairly regularly throughout that two and a half years and building momentum over that time – but there seems to be a little bit more wind in your sails now. Are you feeling that a little bit more?

Yeah, definitely. Last year we played something like a hundred shows in the year – it was crazy. But I guess every band’s kind of gotta do that at the start. You’ve got to develop yourself as a live band. So we did that, tried to play as much as we could to become the best live band we could. The last six months we’ve still played a lot but been a little bit more picky on the shows we want to play.

And now ‘Pull the Trigger’ is taking off – it’s getting a lot of radio play both locally and overseas – do you think that song is the product of your sound evolving a fair bit over that two year period? Because I was listening back to your old stuff and there seems to be a lot more melody and even a bit of a wall of sound effect on ‘Pull The Trigger’ in comparison to that older stuff, which was a bit more stripped back and more in the garage rock vain. 

It wasn’t a conscious thing to evolve like that. I think it  was just natural. Like our first EP was songs that I’d just written when I was in my late teens. They were the first things we really started playing in Apes. But ‘Pull The Trigger’ is a good example of where we’ve all pretty much had an input. I find that it really is the first ‘Apes’ release to date. The same kind of thing happened with the writing process. We got in the studio and started writing for an EP and we all just started clicking for the first time in a writing sense, so we’ve just been writing and writing and writing. I think we’re gonna work towards an album now.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOiWA8MTAFg]

And the release of the video for ‘Pull The Trigger’ has done really well too. It’s been shared around the net a lot and was nominated for our Disco[v]er competition. What’s the story behind it?

We shot it at the local town hall actually, which was really cool. We used to play battle of the bands there [laughs], so it was funny to go back there and shoot a video clip. We just wanted something that was visually stimulating and something that more complimented the song. Because previously the two clips we’d done were really story based clips, rather than performance based and it  was kind of our mate (Steven) Tandy stepping out of his shell, because he’s more of a film director who works with actors. For him to do an actual performance based music clip was a big thing for him but he smashed it and done really well. We’re really happy with it.

And the guy who plays ‘The Janitor’ in this video appears in all your clips. What’s that guy’s story?

That’s our mate, Warren. I guess he’s just like a gimmick – what’s the word for someone that keeps popping up in all your things? He’s a recurring character to say the least.  He’s in all our videos and I’m pretty sure he’s in all our live clips as well [laughs].

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zgt-2xyMrQ4]

You also recently got played on Zane Lowe’s radio show on the BBC in the UK, which is pretty fucking mental. Was that a massive surprise for you guys?

Yeah, it’s been surreal for us. We’ve always wanted to focus on that UK kind of scene – it gets the whole Apes thing. But we never expected to get played on Zane Lowe’s show. It’s just crazy and we’re really stoked. We had our previous track, ‘Helluva Time'; he actually spun it one day out of the blue and that was crazy, but he gave ‘Pull The Trigger’ his “hype track of the week”.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21B5WPAKpZ8]

Have you noticed the effects of that exposure already?

Yeah a lot more UK support and a lot more fans and people contacting us, just based off hearing it on Radio One. People over here don’t really understand it. If we say we got played on BBC One, they say, “Okay, that’s cool. I heard the song on Triple J the other day,” and think that’s crazy – and we’re just like, ahhhh man. But I guess that’s just the way that it is.

So is that lending you guys to have more of a focus on the UK and Europe then [the band has announced a UK tour since this interview took place – so nailed it]?

Yeah, we’re trying to. But not to say we’re not trying to focus on Australia as well. I guess we’re going to try and do both the best we can. We’re trying to set ourselves a few goals that we want to achieve in the next six months.

You’ve played quite a large amount of big support slots in the lead up to getting to this spot where you are now – were any of those more memorable than the others?

Definitely Band Of Skulls. When we first got together we kind of named a few bands that we want to sound like – just to kind of start off. You pick a few bands of common interest and Band Of Skulls was in there and just to be able to share the stage with them was a really, really big thing for us.

Full circles – nice work. So when can we finally expect the mythological first Apes album? Have you got much work already finished on it and do you have a set idea on when you guys want to put it out?

I think very early 2015 is probably realistic. We plan on having a couple of singles out in the next couple of months but we’re pretty much writing as much as we can to try and put out the best record we can.

- Nathan Wood (@altcondel)

Interview – Spiderbait

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For an ever-growing generation of music fans, there’s never not been Spiderbait.

Whether it was when they were dominating the alternate airwaves through the ’90s with their unique combination of rock drive and pop melodies; or scoring breakout, chart-topping singles with 2003’s cover of Leadbelly classic ‘Black Betty’;Spiderbait have cast a long and imposing shadow across the Australian music scene for the better part of over 20 years.

After a decade with their foot slightly off the accelerator, only playing the occasional festival gig, the band released their first studio album in a decade last year with the self-titled Spiderbait. Instantly reigniting the burning passion music fans have for the Melbourne via-Finley trio, they’vesince played an array of victorious festival sets that have seen a reinvigorated Kram, Janet and Whit capture a whole new generation of fans, as well as giving a kick up the arse to their old lovers – reminding us why we own all their records in the first place.

Now they’re poised to embark on their first national tour in 10 years supporting Spiderbait, starting with a slot at this week’s gigantic Splendour In The Grass festival, so MAX writer Nathan Wood caught up with Kram to discuss hitting the road for the first time in a decade; what it feels like to have enduring chemistry as a long-lasting band; why their new album has seen them playing more songs from a new record than they ever have before; and their excitement at getting the chance to be playing a hometown (or at least close to) show at the Deni Ute Muster.

When you put out the new record last year, a lot of the talk surrounding it was along the lines of this is the rebirth of Spiderbait and that you guys had never broken up, just taken time to regroup. Now that we’re here, a few months into the process, how is the band feeling – does it still feel like a fresh start and that you’re in a whole new mindset?

Well, we feel great. We’ve always felt pretty good. We were always happy to do it and we’re just happy to be a relevant and successful band. We’ve been doing it for so many years and people still seem to like us and to see us play, so every day is a bonus to us. We really like being in this band – we’re proud of it, I guess. So we’re happy to have done the record and be playing Splendour this week and we’re in a good space.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCJpt1nw3lk?rel=0&autohide=1&iv_load_policy=3&showinfo=0&controls=2&modestbranding=1]

I read an interview with Murph from Dinosaur Jr, who has been arguably one of the most successful bands at making a critically acclaimed as well as commercially successful comeback, and he said that when they first started jamming together after their break, it felt just like it was 1988. Do you still have that same chemistry when you guys get together?

Yeah, it really does. Another good example of that in Australia is Tumbleweed, who reformed after a long time. Richie (Lewis), who’s a good friend of mine, he said when they played ‘Sundial’ at their first rehearsal it was just like ’93 – it’s like they’d never left. And there’s a great machination between people that bands have that I really like about bands as opposed to, say solo artists, that solo artists are very much alone. A band – there’re personalities, regardless of their musicianship or their age or whatever they are, that makes each band different and if you’re lucky enough to have your original line-up together – like with us – we really revel in it. We look around at each other and we can feel each other’s presence and everyone knows subconsciously how it is going to roll out, whether you’re playing in front of 20,000 people or you’re playing in your bedroom. It’s the same sort of feeling. And musically it really creates magic – it really does. You can do things without having to think about it that much and I really like that about it and it feels like that to us always.

It kind of sounds like the old adage about how best friends are the ones with whom the conversation never ends, no matter how long it is between seeing each other.

Yeah, I totally agree with that. We really enjoy it and for me personally, for a big show, I just want it to be electrifying. I want to give every ounce of energy I have to it. I want it to be like it could be the last day of my life and that’s the way I approach music in this band. It’s never just going through the motions. It’s always 100 per cent now and that’s the way that I like to do it.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmWkgZ-b6sk?rel=0&autohide=1&iv_load_policy=3&showinfo=0&controls=2&modestbranding=1]

You’ve got Splendour coming up this week. Do you approach those big festival shows in the same way you approach your own shows?

Absolutely. We’ve got out tour coming up and it’s our first tour for like 10 years. We don’t really tour because we like playing gigs but festivals have become like our tour shows in a way. We do play them and we only play a few a year, so whenever we do play we fully immerse ourselves in it because you never know when the next one will be. So, on the flipside, we’re looking forward to doing the tour because we can kind of get into a consistent frame of mind with our shows and really try and enjoy the whole experience. The tour is almost like one whole show. Playing live is such a big part of who we are and we really love it.

How are you planning to utilise the songs from the record for these upcoming shows? Will you be playing a festival set for Splendour and then threading more of the new stuff into your live show? Or do you guys just play what feels right to you?

We’ve worked out a lot of the new songs to fit into the set. We played Meredith last year and we played like six or seven songs off the new record and that’s pretty much unprecedented for us to do so many new songs in a set. And they fit great! Everyone really seemed to enjoy the songs. I’m not sure how many we’ll do at Splendour, but on the tour we’ll do quite a lot and play some pretty long sets.

You guys have been around for a while now – 25 years or so…

That’s a bit more than a while [laughs].

But that essentially means you’ve played for almost three generations of music fans – is that surreal for you guys in that you keep playing shows and getting older but the crowds are still packed with kids looking to rock out?

Well, that’s the best thing about it. I’m certainly not an ageist person, but it would be a bit sad if you turned up to play and everyone was over 50 or something and were old rockers. The fact is that so many of our fans are really young. We’ve always had young fans, like early teens ranging up to older fans that have been with us right since the start of the ’90s. That means the world to us, having a full range of people that love this band. And really, I know we’ve been doing it for so long, but we’re a really young band – just the way we are as human beings. I think you’ve got to be young to be a musician. It’s such a weird life, it can be a fickle business and it can be fraught with danger and unexpected twists. It’s not the most reliable life in the world, but I like being an artist and I like being a musician because you get to live by being yourself and being who you choose to be. It’s a very freeing life but I really feel like people who like our band and want to see us play, they kind of feel the same way. It’s about letting go of your inhibitions and living your life the way that you can.

You were supposed to perform at the Big Day Out earlier this year and obviously that didn’t happen – but I guess that’s reflective of how much the music industry has changed over the last few years since your last record. Have there been any other major noticeable changes to the local industry that either concern or excite you since Spiderbait’s return?

I think a lot of ticket sales are suffering for festivals and things like that. It was a sad day the day the Big Day Out did fold. We were almost over the line, there was a lot of talk about us doing it, we wanted to – but in the end it didn’t happen. But then after it was on, I remember we programmed Rage and it was in the middle of the Big Day Out [when the Big Day Out would have been] and AJ Maddah, who owns the Big Day Out, sent out this tweet that he was watching us and how much he loved our band and how much he loved our Rage. So it was kind of like, “Thanks AJ, he’s a supporter.” In a way it would have been nice if he’d given us a gig but at the same time it was nice to get the support.

We don’t hold any grudges in this business at all about anything. Pretty much you get gigs and you miss out on gigs. We’re happy to get them and we’re not too fussed if we don’t. We’re pretty confident in ourselves that we can play in a band and headline our own bill. We sort of just do our own thing and when we feel like playing we play and when we don’t, we don’t.

As far as the business goes though, I think it’s pretty strong. There are a lot of great bands and a lot of great musicians and people love music now more than ever in Australia. My main concern is always for the musicians and I think as long as they’re getting looked after, things are good.

You’ve gone through a fair amount of personal changes over the last 10 years as well – with families and things like that. I’m assuming you have had to change how you approach touring. Will this tour be a test to see how to find that balance between home life and being on the road?

We established that a long time ago and that’s basically not go on the road very much [laughs]. That’s basically how we worked it out. I mean, I guess we’re lucky that we don’t have to go on the road all the time. I don’t really enjoy playing 200 shows in a row. I’d rather play less and play better shows. So having a family and making those long tours not really on the cards for us actually worked for us, in a funny sort of way, to adding longevity to the band because we can pace ourselves really well. But full support to bands that do long tours and like them. Go for it, you know? But for us, we’re a fair bit better when we pace ourselves and find a balance between playing music and just living normal lives.

As well as Splendour, you’ve also got Deniliquin Ute Muster lined up, which is a fairly eclectic festival even for you guys.

That will be classic! The reason we really wanted to do that was because it’s our old, local area and it’s very rare that we get chances to play in our area. Deni’s the only festival that’s around there, and while none of us are big ute enthusiasts – although Janet had an awesome ute that when we used to go and jam on Janet’s farm, in the really early days-Janet’s dad had a rice farm and there were all these channels all through it, irrigation channels. So Whit (Spiderbait guitarist Damian Whitty), being the daredevil that he is, gets out the knee board and then puts a ski rope on the side of the ute, and we drive the ute and he knee boards his was down the channel – like slaloming. It was amazing. I wish we got footage of it. It’d be the best clip. He’s probably too old to do it now – but you never know, he’s pretty amazing. And that’s country living for you. So when we got asked to do the show, we were like, “Absolutely, we’d love to.” We’re going to get our folks to come and just play a show in the local Riverina area. It will be really fun.

This tour will be the first time you get to play the new album live for a lot of people. Are there any songs on there in particular you’re pumped to play live?

We’ve been doing quite a lot of them. We love ‘Straight Through The Sun.’ It’s great – we’ve been opening our set with that one. There was a lot of great talk about that song and I was really happy with that. And also ‘I’m Not Your Slave’. The one guest on our record was Dan Sultan and Dan’s a great friend of mine and there’s talk of Dan coming up and playing that with us on a show or two. And we’ve been playing ‘It’s Beautiful’a lot too and it’s been going down well – so there’s quite a lot of tunes off the record that we can play – more than any record for many years. So yeah, we’re looking forward to playing them.

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I know you wrote a lot of songs for this one and left a fair few on the cutting table too – do you feel like it won’t be long until you move on to another record, or are you just going to wait and see how this one plays out first?

I’m not sure. We’ll wait till the cycle is complete. We’ll play it over the next couple of years. There is a lot of stuff in the can and we could probably write more. Janet’s got heaps of shit. She’s really melodically prolific. And Whit and I have heaps of jam stuff that we didn’t finish, so if we wanted to go in and do a post-script record, in a way, it would be a little bit like an In Utero type of record. We could definitely put that together. It just depends on whether we want to do it and when. But there’s never any shortage of material for us. There’s just finding the right time, really.

Originally published on maxtv.com.au

Interview – Wagons

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There aren’t many people as affable in the Australian music scene as Henry Wagons. He’s warm, engaging, funny and an absolute treat to chat to. He strikes you as the kind of bloke that could spark up a conversation with every person in the pub, or know everything about a cab driver’s life before the fifteen minute ride was over. It’s probably the reason he’s begun to forge a second career away from stage and studio as anoccasional television host and interviewer. One can imagine that with the dulcet tones of his baritone voice, he could have been a golden tonsils talk back radio host in another life.

It’s that loveable and relatable quality that has also helped Wagons and his band of the same name to bridge the gap between the indie rock and country music worlds of Australia. A decade ago, the idea of country and indie mingling was unheard of in this country. The likes of Wilco and Ryan Adams had made inroads in the US, but locally the two camps were defined and separated.

“I remember when we put out our first record on Chapter Records, maybe it was 2002, our label manager Guy Blackman, he approached Tamworth to have us play and said, “Look, we’ve got this great country and western band,” says Wagons.

“His email was met with a, “I haven’t heard of a “country and western” band in the last 20 years. Basically his email was sort of slammed, and I guess that initial interaction made me feel like, “I guess we’re not welcome there.” But nowadays Wagons is welcomed with open arms in Tamworth, as well as at other major Australian country music events, including CMC Rocks The Hunter. And listening to his band’s most recent record, Acid Rain and Sugar Cane, it’s no surprise they’ve been able to make the two worlds collide.From crooning opener ‘Hold On Caroline’ through to slow-burn closer ‘Dust In The Hall’, it’s a record that elegantly walks the tight rope between alt and classic country – the kind of album that would sound equally at home pouring out of the speakers at West’s Diggers Club as it would the Northcote Social Club. MAX writer Nathan Wood caught up with Henry Wagons to discuss the universal appeal of Acid Rain and Sugar Cane;making music that’s supposed to be played live and loud; why the use of humour can help get a song’s deeper meanings across; and what legendary local producer Mick Harvey brought to the record.

CMC:
Congratulations on the new album. It really is spectacular.

HW: You know, there’s a weird kind of period, a weird time when you’re putting a record out in terms of all the industry cogs and that kind of stuff. There’s a horrifying void that you face after putting the album in the can and then actually giving birth to it and letting it get out there and it’s a period of time where, particularly with this record, I can honestly say everyone involved is more excited than ever before. I’m a massive devotee to a lot of producers from Steve Albini to Phil Spektor and everyone in between. I love my studio exploration and I also love playing live and there’s that eternal battle between the relationship of the live act and the way it comes across in stereo in peoples’ ears. I think on this album everyone, at least in the band, feels that we got that balance just right and as you can probably tell we’re brimming with excitement about it. I think we’re more satisfied than any time in our 14 year history of making hot air and a whole bunch of noise.

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The record comes across as cinematic in a lot of ways. Whether it’s the cavernous reverb or the horns making it feel like a spaghetti western, and ‘Fortitude Valley’ sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a car chase from the Blues Brothers – there’s even some Bond movie score-esque moments. Do you have a cinematic mindset when you right songs? Do you picture scenes and stories in your head when you’re putting pen to paper and when you’re working through songs as a band?

Well, I think I’m a devotee of visual performers. I see music not just as something I’ll show up and play at a desk and looking at my shoes. When I write I can imagine performing it and I really get off on a 360 degree entire artistic presentation of the whole thing – the visual and the musical. It’s kind of like an epic school project really – cutting and pasting and being across every detail – it’s really exciting. And the visuals, I think, are a really important and often neglected part of the music. So I’m really glad that kind of synaesthesia or that mixture of music and the visual happens. I’m glad we’ve achieved it every now and then on this album. I think that it’s funny, a lot of the songs I was writing hen we were originally on a big tour of Alberta, Canada and dipping into America every now and then and my most belligerent band member, in terms of stealing the auxiliary cable and plugging in his phone into the tour van, is this guy Mark “Tuckerbag” Dawson, who plays bass. He was totally obsessed with 1960s Bollywood soundtracks and I remember driving through the hills of Montana in the states and just hearing the most inappropriate soundtrack – this Bollywood stuff. And he was also playing a lot of Lee Hazlewood as well and there was actually quite an overlap between the two. You know heavily panned string sections and all this arrangement that really helps to punctuate the songs and the narratives. I grabbed the auxiliary cable back and put on Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Shmilsson, which I was obsessed with at the time as well, and I think, kind of between those three influences, you can see the embryos of where the writing for this album began and all of those things are cinematic and visual in their own way.

There’s definitely elements of grandiosity throughout the record but the songs are still honed. They’re not adding layer upon layer for the sake of it. Each layer brings life or space or atmosphere to each song. I assume that comes from, as you said, playing the songs live and then using the studio and the engineering to fill them out.

It just brings a couple of semi-colons, a couple of commas, a couple of quotation marks – just a little bit of punctuation. I wanted all of the horns and the strings to be important and part of the song but never take away from the live core of the band. I wanted it to be the curtains in the lavish rumpus room, as opposed to a water feature in the middle of the room.

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I was having a discussion with another musician the other day and we discussed how it often takes a lot of courage to have humour in your music these days. And, not to suggest anything about this album is laugh-out-loud hilarious, but Wagons has always had a tongue-in-cheek element to its persona. Would you agree that it takes some balls to be light-hearted and still be taken seriously?

I don’t know – some of the most epic songwriters – I find a lot of Bob Dylan’s songs hilarious. There’s lot of humour in there. It’s dark but it is funny. If you look at footage of Johnny Cash – the Death Row ballad king – if you see old footage of him doing his shows, you see him doing the Elvis impersonations. If you see the Rat Pack, you’ve got Dean Martin singing these beautiful drunken ballads, but then they’re absolute larrikins in between. There’s basically this rich tradition of having a good time live that’s been lost a bit at the moment. And I think in yesteryear it wasn’t as difficult a thing to comprehend – the idea of someone singing some more serious songs and also having an element of humour without being accused of totally taking the piss. It’s a line. So many of my heroes inject songs, like Nick Cave – the Murder Ballads album – I think is hilarious. Some of my favourite songs make me laugh and cry at once and it’s always something I aspire to. I’m not sure how much courage it takes, I think it’s just a certain approach to music. Your approach to music as a whole is very important. You can be a bedroom psychiatrist style artist where music is a catharsis for you and you’re getting out your inner demons and that’s sort of its main role and that’s a more insular way of making music and a very popular way of listening to music at the moment. People love that sort of thing. But for me I guess, the very infancy of music was, whilst not ceremonial, it literally started in groups round a fire with people clangin’ shit together and yelling. It was a quintessentially public thing to do. And for me, I actually approach music in that way. I think about it in terms of performance and playing when I write. I think if you’re a bedroom performer, getting your inner demons out, and that’s all it’s for – keep it in the bedroom. What’s the point in going any further. It’s sort of like – I like thinking about the music as being listened to by others. And that for me is really, really fun. I don’t think that it in any way takes away from its integrity. I think it’s just a really fun artistic device. Adding little bits of humour and interest is a great way to keep people listening and to get people off. That’s just what I want – for people to aurally get off. It shouldn’t be about whether you get a subconscious release of your internal qualms. I prefer the idea of everyone metaphorically clanging shit and singing together.
Some of the funniest songs ever written are also some of the most heartbreaking. Paul Kelly often writes songs with tinges of humour but they’re also staggeringly sad. Stephin Merritt from the Magnetic Fields as well, has a really simple, funny and clever style of songwriting but a lot of times his stuff is brutally tender too. It’s a fine line to tread.

‘The Book Of Love’ is a prime example of some lines to make you smile and lines that make you cry and they sit together beautifully. I think there’s a real art to that and it’s something I’ve tried to get to and failed for many, many years [laughs].

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You seem to be performing more and more of a musical splits these days by keeping one foot in the alternate and indie music worlds as well as waltzing with the country music scene, and branching out further and further into that local scene. Do you feel like that split is narrowing with acts like you guys, Immigrant Union and Mustered Courage – and that there is a little bit more fertile ground for bands to branch across multiple lawns of the local industry?

Yeah, I think so. I’ve always been open to playing Tamworth, but the simple matter of fact is we were never invited until a couple of years ago. And though we’re a band that has a kind of country flavour, we’ve been going around for many years and I feel to some degree over the last decade, have helped integrate country sounds into the kind of indie/alternative world. I kind of feel that we’re part of a wave of that. And now, just for the mere fact that we are starting to get asked to play these fairly straight country festivals is a sign that the opposite is happening in the mainstream country scene. I remember when we put out our first record on Chapter Records, maybe it was 2002, our label manager Guy Blackman, he approached Tamworth to have us play and said, “Look, we’ve got this great country and western band”. His email was met with a “I haven’t heard of a “country and western” band in the last 20 years.” Basically his email was sort of slammed, really. And I guess that initial interaction made me feel, “I guess we’re not welcome there. We’ll just do our thing where we’re wanted.”

And then sure enough, a decade later, we’re starting to get asked to these places and I love it! There’s nothing I find more thrilling and exhilarating than a new set of ugly mugs to convert. It’s really exciting to play to new , fresh faces and try to win them over. That’s the thrill of my job. I’ve really loved branching out. And I’m noticing more branching out to all those bands you mentioned. I remember playing on one bill at Tamworth on a sort of an outdoor stage at an alternate country night with Mustered Courage and with The Immigrant Union and yeah, it was exciting. There wasn’t anywhere near the attendance as the likes of Lee Kernaghan, but I think that might slowly change over the coming years.

There’s been a lot made about the fact that you worked with [legendary producer]Mick Harvey on the record. What did he bring to the studio that you couldn’t have done yourself? And how did that pairing and relationship come together in the first place?

We actually had met earlier. There was talk of touring New Zealand together but that didn’t end up happening but it was how the relationship started. I’ve been a long-time admirer, in particular the Nick Cave stuff obviously but the PJ Harvey stuff he’s worked on. And I knew that he was about town and I just sent him an email asking if he was interested. I knew that we’re a band of alpha males and if we were going to relinquish production to someone else, we wanted it to be someone that we totally revered. Mick Harvey totally filled the brief. His production style isn’t behind the desk, it’s more – from what I can tell he’s quite picky in terms of who he works with, which made me even happier that we made the grade. I don’t think that’s it’s particularly status or career driven for him, but he feels that he won’t work on a project unless he feels he can offer something to it. I think for him and from what he could see, we must have not had our shit together, just enough, for he to feel he could help us [laughs].

So he essentially comes in and joins the band. He sees his biggest asset as someone who can help get songs together. And so he’s on every single song. He plays bongos on a song – channelling Peter Allan. He plays guitar. He was great on one song called ‘Summer Licker’ where his part was so The Birthday Party [Harvey’s former band with Nick Cave]. It was just amazing to hear it spew out of the amp. He played some drums. He played a lot of keys. What he did, which we couldn’t have done ourselves – why we have so much respect for him, why I have so much respect for him, was say when we brought a pretty straight forward boogie to him, he’d start playing these piano lines across them and I’m sure that if it was just my keyboard player playing those parts, I would’ve have gone, “What are you doing? This isn’t locking in with the band. What the hell are you doing?” But Mick always brought something different and quite three-dimensional to his parts that I wouldn’t have necessarily let through the net. But because we respect him so much, it was like, “Oh yeah.” In retrospect everything that got through that he ended up playing that wasn’t quite sitting with me but I thought, “Let this go,” it turned out to be sublime. He was relentlessly right. There’s a lot of stuff there that left to our own devices in the studio wouldn’t have added that extra dimension.

It sounds like he brought equal parts experimentation and wisdom at the same time. Yeah, beautifully put. Beautifully put. The album traverses a range of styles but manages to maintain a thematic arc or feeling across the tracks, which is not a new thing, but what do you feel the key is to having a record that hops genres but manages to maintain a certain energy or a certain vibe or a certain flow, despite being in out of style and pacing?

I think there are a few things that do it. I think the recording technique was really important. That glue of recording in the same place and recording in the same way allowed you to leap around a little bit but keep the same broad brush strokes, so you can skip from track-to-track to another. That said, there’s a danger there that if you don’t do it enough, the album becomes monolithic and boring. So it almost gives you a necessity to jump around just to keep the album interesting. We recorded the album in a studio I set up on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. It’s my studio and I finally bought a place where I could dump my years’ worth of collecting vintage gear based on fat Elvis’ Las Vegas band. I have a lot of thin, grey, vintage dynamic microphones, valve pre-amps and stuff, so there’s a heavy aesthetic to the recording of a vintagey, warm, ’70s feel to it.
I think also, writing the songs, being kind of authentic with yourself when you’re writing. All these songs came together at a particular place and time. I wrote them to get excited about playing in Wagons again, but didn’t have any particular need to place it on a certain radio station, or get a particular feel or hit a particular audience. I think if you’re authentic to yourself and your own song writing, there’s going to be a certain undercurrent that’s unavoidable because you’re not trying to put anything on or put anything different out – you’re just doing your shit. You’re doing your thing and that comes across too. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve just had a kid or my wife was pregnant throughout writing a lot of the material but the album turned out to be a retrospect to all the weird and wonderful and often horrific, strange and terrifying journeys that happen after the stage lights go out and the last chord is struck. The people you meet in the dusty hallways you’re lead down and the strange hessian tapestry on the wall that stinks and the incense in the room and you’re sitting on a bean bag and facing a very obtuse set of people. It’s about those times where I look across at my drummer and it’s like, “Let’s get the fuck out of here.” It’s a retrospective of all the twisted hallways we’ve been lead down post 2am. Many and most of them have been glorious and amazing and many have been strange and horrific and the album more or less encapsulates a lot of those kinds of times.

Originally published on the countrymusicchannel.com.au

Interview – Pennywise

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Five years ago, Pennywise were a shell of their former glory.

The LA punk rock stalwarts had lost their fearsome lead singer, Jim Lindberg, who decided to leave the group after growing tired of the rigmarole of life in the band.

Although he was replaced by the more than capable Ignite singer, Zoli Téglás, with whom they released 2010’s competent All Or Nothing(while Lindberg also released a record in 2010 with his new band, The Black Pacific), things just weren’t the same. Sure, Pennywise were still a band, but “still a band” in the same sense that Coke Zero still tastes like Coke.

Fast forward to today – Lindberg has rejoined Pennywise and they’re now poised to release a record unlike any other in their career. Rather than write a new album to celebrate Lindberg’s return, the band has re-visited its earliest demos to create Yesterdays - an album that captures the spirit of the band from a time when they were at their most innocent, most pure and arguably their most punk rock.

With most of the songs written 25 years ago by the band’s late bassist Jason Thirsk, the songs show  a different, somewhat forgotten side of Pennywise. They celebrate the good things in life – girlfriends, partying, surfing – rather than addressing the social injustice and politics for which their lyrics have carved a reputation. It’s heavy music without the heavy baggage, and despite being some of their earliest song writing efforts, shows the chops of a band that were destined for glory.

Channel [V] writer Nathan Wood caught up with Lindberg on the phone to discuss Yesterdays, including why making the record has helped Pennywise rediscover their spirit; why their hometown,  Hermosa Beach, where they recorded the album, has been ground zero for so much incredible music; why Jason Thirsk’s memory still influences the band; and why looking to the past has given the band vision for the future.
[V]: Obviously this has been a somewhat tumultuous few years for the band. When you were officially back as the lead singer and you guys were figuring out your next steps, how far into the conversation of what you guys would do next did Yesterdayscome up?

JL: Well, it was a very tumultuous time and the idea for me to re-join was really spur of the moment. No-one expected it less than I did at the time. But I think that once we decided to bury the hatchet, so to speak, it was just like I never left, really. We have a ton of history together as friends and people who grew up together. But at the same time we also realised that the core unit of Pennywise was most important to us and to our friends and fans and getting back to that original line-up was the most important thing for all of us.

And then, when it came to putting out music, we really thought the best idea was to do a kind of anthology and get back to our real roots. We had a batch of songs from right when we first started out that we had never recorded and had always wanted to put out.  So we just went into the studio and recorded them within the space of two or three days and instead of kind of making a big deal about it, we just went in and banged out all the songs like we remembered playing them 25 years ago. It was really natural in that sense, without trying to make a huge deal about it. We just wanted to get these songs out there that certainly our hardcore fans have all been waiting to hear. We just tried to keep it as simple as possible by going in there and putting all the songs on tape and I think it came out really true to our original sound when we first wrote them.

Everyone’s really happy with it and there’s no more fitting title for it than Yesterdays because this stuff is all from 1989, before we ever signed a record deal and before we had any ambitions to do anything more than to play a backyard party to a bunch of our friends.

Was there any sense that when you were back in the studio recording these songs that you were recapturing the spirit of the band and revisiting why you guys had come together all those years ago?

Oh absolutely. I think any band, once they go from just playing music to then signing a record deal and putting out records, it becomes something that’s very serious and you know the world is watching and you try very hard to make everything perfect. These songs were very much just songs that we wrote for friends. I think we wanted to capture that spirit, so each take we did once or twice and then recorded it. We didn’t do any pre-production or worry too much about how it sounded and just went. I think that was really important because any professional band after years, they really try and make everything sound almost too good, and this one we just played exactly as they went. I think it helped.

It’s amazing hearing these songs now – there’s some real strength and quality to them, especially ‘What You Deserve’. Obviously you guys are bringing a wealth of experience and performance time to the songs when you updated them, but when you went back through and listened to the songs were you surprised by the strength of their content?

Well, I wasn’t. I always really loved this batch of songs and always wanted to put them out. They really represented the core sound of the band when we first started, especially with Jason writing a lot of the songs. I think the person that was most surprised was Randy, our bass player, because he had never heard them and was like, “Why didn’t you ever record these songs? What were you guys waiting for?”

The other cool thing was for a lot of our friends, close friends of the band, this was where we first started out. They [the songs] are a little more melodic than some of our later stuff and a lot of it dealt with stuff in our home town. That song, ‘What You Deserve,’ was about a local police officer who had his way with a female prisoner and basically, it was a strange situation where they agreed to perform certain acts in order to get her off her charges. It was a really crazy case of a police officer gone mad. And then there’s another song called ‘She’s A Winner’ that Jason wrote about his girlfriend and I don’t think Pennywise has ever had a song about girls, so it’s really cool for that side of the band to come out instead of songs about facing the world’s problems. They’re a lot more intimate and personal, so I think that’s what gives the songs a sense of immediacy that the other albums didn’t have.

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You touched on it then, but it seems like a lot of this process has been revisiting the memory of Jason and his song writing.  Has making this album been a cathartic exercise for you guys as you revisit thoughts and feelings that you may not have been able to process as well as you could have at the time of his death and the subsequent years after?

Absolutely. I think you really hit the nail on the head there. It was very, very tragic what happened with Jason and it was really heart-wrenching for all of us to go through. We just kind of dealt with it as well as we could because he was the real emotional core of the band. He wrote most of the lyrics for the entire first album and was such a big part of the band and I think revisiting these songs reminded us of how carefree we were at that time and what a great lyricist he was in the way that he had a positive mental attitude that was reflected in the music and the band when we first started out.

You know I have a smile on my face when we’re playing ‘She’s A Winner’ again because that song is so representative of Jason and our lifestyle back then, which was very much going to parties, having fun and listening to punk rock music and having a good time. They’re really catchy pop punk songs in a sense. It’s still hardcore, but it’s really innocent and that’s what I really, really love about the songs – it’s that it takes me back to that time where we’re just playing in a garage and banging out these songs one after another. I think that when people listen to it they’ll get that vibe and judging on the reaction we’ve got so far, it’s working.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHHgia7bszA?list=PLcZMZxR9uxC-58tY0oJFRt3TDZ80BASe_]

You recorded the record in your old stomping ground of Hermosa Beach. How did that hometown setting influence the record for you all? Was it a surreal setting, considering you could look at it in the context of then, when you first wrote the songs, and now, when you’ve come back to record them all these years later?

Yeah, absolutely, especially because we used to practice down in this area that’s full of recording studios and surfboard repair shops in the industrial section of the town, so it’s all about surfing and playing music in this little area. That was really cool. We had friends that while we were recording would duck their heads in and see what we’re doing and then we’d go over there and talk to them while they were working on surfboards. That was very true to the original spirit of the band. We’ve always been a surf band; a beach band. We all grew up here at the beach in Hermosa and we were just little delinquent surfers and punk rock was something that came around our scene, with Black Flag and Circle Jerks and Decendents all coming from this town. It’s all just interwoven together. It was really cool to record it in our hometown rather than in some studio out in Hollywood where we always felt like a fish out of water. Recording our albums for Epitaph we’d be out on the Sunset Strip and feel like we’d be lost.

It’s funny you mentioned Black Flag and Circle Jerks and Descendents – it feels like someone should make a documentary about Hermosa Beach being ground zero for some of the greatest ever West Coast punk rock and what it is about that area that brought together those people and those bands was so important to punk rock.

I’ve kind of been writing a book about that myself. There are so many influences that come to bare there when you consider all the culture that’s come of this very small area. In addition to punk rock, you have that movie Blow, which was about Hermosa Beach and all the drug trade coming out of here. But you also had the Beach Boys who are from this area and were pretty much The Beatles of America at that time and reflected the California lifestyle, which was at the edge of Western Culture for us. Bands like the Descendents and us were pretty much the Beach Boys of the ’80s and ’90s later on because this was the type of music the surfers wanted to listen to. It was really interesting to see why you had this type of music coming out at the time. A lot of it had to do with you had this middle class here, surrounded by this big industrial complex; you had class warfare; you had delinquent kids whose parents were working in the defense industry – you had everything you need for great punk rock music to happen and it did. It’s a trip to be a part of it.

You’ve said that these songs are Pennywise at their most “purest”. Do you think that revisiting this material will have a significant impact on how you approach music and performing going forward?

I hope so. I think all of us understand that later on in our career, particularly the last two or three albums, it was something we had to do instead of something that we really enjoy doing. It was like, “Well we have to put out the next record so we can go on tour and let’s do our best to make music that we feel is important.” But at the same time I feel like we may have gotten away from that optimism and youthful spirit that is easy to lose once you advance in years.

But revisiting this stuff reminds us that we’re Pennywise – this is what we do and this is the music we make. It’s not about what’s being play on the radio. It’s not about what other people want to hear from us or expect from us – we just have to play the songs that we love and the style of music that we love.

At the time when we wrote these songs, heavy metal was extremely popular here and this type of music wasn’t popular at all. And at that time we played music that we wanted to play, regardless of what was cool or what was in fashion. And in 2014, this type of music isn’t cool or in fashion once again, but at the same time it’s what we like, it’s what our friends like and tomorrow I’m going to go down to the beach – it’s July 4th – we’re all going to be on the beach playing music and having a good time and that’s the spirit that we needed to get back to, instead of getting caught up in the music industry machinery.

Is it surreal that in some ways you’re learning lessons about yourselves and your music from a time when you knew so much less than you do now?

Oh absolutely. I think time tends to make you a little jaded when you’ve been through the ringer somewhat and that’s what was going on when I left the band – I just really felt like we had gone through the wringer. There was such a pressure to tour and there was such a pressure to put out successful records instead of us all getting in a room together and just writing music for the fun of it. The last record we didn’t even practice once. We all wrote the songs on our own and kind of taught them to each other in the studio and then recorded them instead of it being a situation where we worked on all the songs together. This happens to a lot of bands. It’s not something new for groups who have been around as long as we are. You get to a point where the creative process tends to get difficult and I think going in the studio and playing these songs, we realised that it doesn’t need to be that hard. You can just write songs about stuff that’s important to you and stuff that you like. It can be as simple as going out and catching a wave – it doesn’t have to be, “With this song we’re going to change the world.” That’s something I hope we can get back to. I’d rather write a song about eating good Mexican food than climate change.

Would you say that creating Yesterdays has in some ways breathed new life into the band at all? Do you see yourselves continuing on for a lot more years as a result of the project?

I hope so. I hope we’re getting to the point now that instead of putting so much pressure on each other or blame on each other, where, like “Oh, if you would have done this we would have been more successful. If we toured more we would have been more successful,” that pressure isn’t there anymore. We created our legacy somewhat and now we can just go in and say, “Let’s go on tour when it works for everybody with our families. Let’s go into the studio and make music when we’ve got a really cool song we want to record,” and that’s how a band should be. I think a lot of bands get away from that – it’s not hard to do. Eventually people have families and there are a lot of situations where a lot of divorces come out of being a musician for 20 years and I didn’t want that to happen to my family. I know a lot of guys with similar issues as well and I think now we can kind of put it on cruise control while we still play crazy fast music.

 

Originally published on vmusic.com.au

Interview – Tiny Ruins

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Sometimes you hear a voice and straight away you know it’s special.

New Zealand’s Tiny Ruin’s, aka Hollie Fullbrook, has one of those voices.

A haunting mixture of Sharon Van Etten’s poise, Elliott Smith’s fragility, Cat Power’s melancholy and a soul that’s all her own, it’s a voice that has captured the ears and the hearts of many, many fans and critics with her latest record, Brightly Painted One, and caught a massive swell of attention from some of the biggest arts and culture outlets on the planet.

Having expanded to a three-piece, Tiny Ruins have just completed an Australian tour and are about to embark on their first headline tour of the US, including a stint opening for Sharon Van Etten.

Channel [V] writer Nathan Wood had a Q&A session with Fullbrook while she was in the country, where she discussed her career’s new found momentum; what she’s learned from her years on the road; why she still an emotional attachment to lyric books that she loves to share with fans; and why she aspires to follow in the footsteps of some of the greatest ever female musicians.
[V]: Your album has had a lot of seriously credible attention very early on – you’ve gotten plays on NPR, the album was streamed on the New York Times website, lovely write ups from Mojo andQ Magazine – has it been surreal having these major outlets give you their tick of approval?

TR: Our music is sometimes described as “slow burning” stuff, which I’m inclined to agree with, so for it to have had some instant love on release has helped us plan out the rest of the year with a bit more momentum behind us. Just thrilled that people have taken the time to listen to the songs as a whole in a lot of instances…You always have a bit of hope that this thing you’ve put your all into will be enjoyed & taken on by others.

You’ve been performing as Tiny Ruins for a few years now – has there been a noticeable difference with audiences and shows after the recent widespread acclaim?

Well, it’s been several years as you say and a lot of touring. We’ve revisited places time and again, and things have been growing and getting better incrementally. It’s hard to gauge really – you just truck along on a daily basis. But it has felt like a new burst with Brightly Painted One. People are starting to know the new songs and request them and stuff. We are now embarking on our biggest tour as a band through Australia, the US & Canada, and Europe. So I guess we’ll find out how things are down on the ground over the following months. With music streaming and stuff now you never really know how many people are listening to you.

You’ve done an extensive amount of touring over the last few years, supporting some truly impressive artists. Has that time on the road had a lot of influence you as a performer and a musician and do feel you’ve learned a lot for when you head out on your own headline tours?

Yeah, a huge amount. I’d recommend it to any artist. Just playing as much as possible, making it work somehow. It hardens you a bit, but is invaluable for, I guess, whittling you down to who you really are as opposed to being a set part of any one scene. Just logistical stuff, decision-making, dealing with disasters left right and centre – ha! – we are able to cope with our own touring better with each year we do it.

Have there been any surreal or more memorable experiences on the road on those tours?

Surreal moments all the time. Just last night we passed a flower shop in Wollongong and saw these incredible blue orchids that John Convertino from Calexico gave to us to spruce up our hotel room last year on our tour with them. When you see something again that triggers memories from the last time you were in this foreign place, it’s always quite special, like touring reminds you of all these other times you’ve passed through a town, memories you’d forgotten that were stored up in a time capsule. It’s such a constantly stimulating time, touring, that it becomes sort of dreamlike and these triggers pull you back to yourself again.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mZy7ulpdq8]

Now that the band has expanded to a three piece, do you feel there is a little less pressure on you as just a solo performer and that you have some comrades to lean on or gauge feedback from?

Yes, absolutely. Cass & Alex are old friends, and we work well together on the road. Laughing is important, and you can’t always do that on your own.

Have songs from the record as well as older material started to evolve now that you’re playing more extensively on the road and as part of a three-piece band?

I guess we road tested them quite a bit before recording Brightly Painted One and now we are shifting and experimenting with them again. Our recent NZ tour saw us as a five or six piece band, bringing in the brass & violin & organ parts to the album. Different rooms and crowds will always influence the stories we tell or the energy of a song, too. We try and change up our set-list every night and loot through old material too, to keep things fresh. We do the odd cover for fun. But…this may sound corny…the ‘spirit’ of the song generally feels the same every time and I try and zone into that when we play each one.

I noticed that on your website you offer to send a PDF of your lyrics and liner notes to fans that makes a request. I think that’s very sweet, especially seeing as lyrics and liner notes are something that have largely been left at the wayside in the digital age of music. What made you want to make those available and do you receive many requests?

I always loved reading through lyrics booklets. They can be handy for people whose first language isn’t English too. I just think it’s nice, and it’s easy to do. I like hearing from people and sending them the PDFs. It’s a good way to connect to people rather than just tweeting or something. We’re getting more and more requests, so sometimes I’m slow on the turnaround but they get there in the end.

You’re heading on an extensive US/Canada tour straight after your current Australian run – are you hoping to make a lot of inroads on that trip?

It’s the first time we’ll be heading that way as a band. I traveled across the US as a teenager and I’m looking forward to seeing it from a musical perspective this time around. We don’t quite know what to expect – diners, cheap motels and lots of driving, no doubt!

Now that your career is going from strength to strength, are there any artists that you admire whose career you’d like to in some way replicate?

I admire a lot of people, but especially the ones who have sort of disappeared for a while or who have done interesting collaborations or who have just generally been doggedly determined to keep putting good stuff out over the span of decades. Lucinda Williams, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, Bjork – I find all those women incredible. I admire the music of people who have also fallen prey to tragedy or accident and haven’t been able to see out their work, though, so I don’t think there’s any rule. As for my own life, I don’t know… It’s hard to think objectively about your own. You just keep living through the days I guess, and then maybe you can look back on it all.

Originally published on vmusic.com.au