All posts by nathan

Interview – Katie Noonan

Katie Noonan’s voice is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable in Australian music.

As a member of the band george she reached the pinnacle of success in Australia with the group’s debut 2002 album, Polyserena, going to number one and the group being awarded the ARIA award for Breakthrough Artist of the year.

Since then, she’s gone on to cement her position as an icon of the local scene, with her distinct, stunning, acrobatic voice becoming instantly identifiable to many a music fan through various projects and endeavours.

It is that distinctive sound and identity that has led Noonan to be the perfect mouthpiece for a project that is whole-heartedly dedicated to raising funds and awareness for charity through music.

Noonan was the mastermind behind last year’s immensely successful Songs That Made Me tour, that saw some of Australia’s finest female musicians team up for a tour that would not only showcase each others’ talents and stories, but would also raise money for the Cancer Council Pink Ribbon Campaign.

Now in 2014, Noonan and her musical sisters are once again embarking on a Songs That Made Me national tour to raise funds for the cause, as well as release a collaborative covers album of the same name, featuring the talents of Renee Geyer, Deborah Conway and Angie Hart to name but a few. The album will also dedicate 100 percent of its profits to the Pink Ribbon Campaign.

MAX writer, Nathan Wood, spoke with Noonan about both the Songs That Made Me tour and album project, including why she hopes the tour becomes an Australian institution; being surprised by some of the amazing singers and song choices that appear on this new album; why she chose to cover Jeff Buckley’s lauded ‘Last Goodbye’ herself; and how she’s managed to ensure the profits from this project go 100% to charity.
NW: You’re set to embark on your second Songs That Made Me tour. Obviously the first tour was a huge success and it must have been thrilling for you as an artist to have taken part in such a collaborative project. Do you have any particular favourite stories from that first tour experience?

KN: It was my idea to tour so I kind of curated it and so it was a little bit of a gamble to see as to if it would work the way I thought it would, but yeah it absolutely did. The combination of women was just perfect and we felt very, very comfortable with each other and a very kind of nurturing environment and we shared stories – pretty private stories about our lives and moments behind particular songs, either songs that we’ve written or songs that we haven’t.

It went so well that I wanted to make it an annual concert series and so it went from there.

Did you learn anything about yourself as a performer or as an artist on that first tour?

Yeah, I guess I realised I could take on a bit more of that MD (Musical Director) kind of job, putting the show together. But every gig has something to teach you. It’s great working with musicians that have different strengths that you can learn from. Yeah, every gig you learn something.

Was it obvious straight away after the first Songs That Made Me tour that you would be doing a second one? And do you have hopes that it might become an institution one day?

Yeah I do. I would love that. I would have loved something like this being around when I was starting up. I would have really tried to get on the bill. I think it’s important for women to nurture women in the industry because we do need to stick together and I just think it’s important to look after each other and nurture each other’s work and encourage each other.

Well I was going to ask you about that because you have some up-and-coming artists on the line-up for this project now, including Melody Pool who is a country star on the rise. This is the perfect platform to expose her to a bigger audience.

Yeah she’s going to be the baby of the tour but not the baby of the album – I think the baby of the album is Sahara Beck, who’s only 18 or 19. But yeah Melody’s the baby of the tour and it will be good to see how everything works out the way it works out but we’re all at different stages of our careers and I think it’s important for more established artists to nurture the younger, up-and-coming artists. Absolutely.

You’ve also got the new collaborative album, Katie Noonan’s Songs That Made Me, which has pulled together an immense amount of talented artists. Do you have any personal favourite cuts off the record you’re excited for people to hear?

Look, I’m really proud of the entire album. And I genuinely mean that – I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t mean it. But hearing Renee Geyer doing ‘It’s A Man’s World’ was pretty phenomenal and mind-blowing. She’s the queen of that style in Australia. No-one even comes remotely close. So that was a pretty amazing track.

One of my other favourite tracks was Ainsley Will’s version of Feist’s ‘Let It Die’ – that is just beautiful. So beautiful that in fact when I heard it I thought, well there you go, we’ve got our opening track. So gorgeous.

How were the song selections made? Did you approach the artists and then did they pick their songs?

Yeah they came back with two options, so that I could say, “I think that one would suit this album better,” just in relation to all the other tracks, because I really wanted it to sound like an album, and not like an arbitrary compilation that wasn’t connected properly. For me I think it sounds like one, continuous body of work, which is not easy to do when you have so many artists, but which I think we have managed to do.

Were you surprised at all by any of the choices?

I was! I think when Sam Buckingham suggested ‘Another Day In Paradise,’ by Phil Collins, I went, “Whoa! Not what I was expecting at all!” But then she talked to me about how she was going to do it and I love the lyrics in that song – the story is really beautiful. So once she’d spoken about the idea I said, “Oh yeah, I can see that working. That could work beautifully.”

You yourself are singing Jeff Buckley’s ‘Last Goodbye,’ which is a song with huge amount of importance to a lot of people. What led you to picking that song? Did you think of it straight away or did you have to sift through your mind to come to it?

I pretty much thought of it straight away. I love that song so much and it was such an integral part of my journey to becoming a musician and helping to define my sound. It’s been 20 years since that album came out, when I was in grade 12, and the album just blew my mind. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. It gave me great inspiration that I could make music that was somewhere in that vein.

The project is also doing a lot to promote and raise funds for the Pink Ribbon Campaign. When you’re working on a project like this, is there a sense at all that, as opposed to a traditional tour or album recording, that there’s a sense of specialness or importance because you know ultimately it’s for such a good cause and in some ways has a different level of importance?

Yeah there’s a certain extra sense that what you’re doing is important. We all did this for free – none of the artists got paid. The guest session musicians that we had did it for much, much, much cheaper than they normally would for a normal session. And so everyone was putting their good intention forward, as well as their beautiful performance. So that really envelopes the whole project in a sense of beauty and good intention. It’s really special. But 100 percent of the profits go to the Cancer Council and the Pink Ribbon Campaign. A lot of albums say “a percentage of profits” and often it will be like 10 percent, whereas this is 100 percent of profits, and the reason we were able to do that was because we got some fantastic support from an independent owned vitamin company called Bloom, who were able to put the money on top for us to make the album, so that all the basic expenses were covered. So that’s made it fantastic and when you say “100 percent of the profits,” it really is 100 percent of profits.

For those that haven’t been before, what can fans expect to see when they come out to see these shows? Is it a mixture of both song and storytelling?

It’s a super fun night. There’s lots of going down memory lane about certain things, like the first gig we ever did or the first concert we ever saw. It’s lots of stuff and it’s very natural. The story telling really evolves as we go and it’s a fun, special night out.

The Katie Noonan’s Songs That Made Me album is out now and you can buy it here via itunes: Katie Noonan’s Songs That Made Me – Various Artists

Interview – Frente

If you were alive in Australia in the early ’90s, then you know Frente.

The quirky alternate-folk group dominated every radio and TV in the country in 1992 with their hit ‘Accidently Kelly Street’ and its retina-disabling video clip. Their début album Marvin The Album went platinum back in the days when record sales actually meant something and they recorded one of the most memorable covers of all time with their take on New Order’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle‘.

The band never reached the same heights of Marvin, despite releasing four subsequent records, but what they failed to achieve in the charts they more than made up for in cult status and notoriety. Front woman Angie Hart, in particular, is still recognised by many as an icon of the local scene.

The group recently announced they’d reformed and are set to do a special Marvin The Album tour, playing songs that, at one stage, they’d vowed never to play again.

MAX writer Nathan Wood caught up with Hart to discuss coming to terms with the music of her past; how trying to match the huge success of early albums is like trying to compete with an older sibling; and what she thinks of songs written about her.

NW: What made it feel right about now to reunite and tour Marvin The Album?

AH: We’ve put it off a few times. It just feels right now. There’s no particular reason – we’ve attempted it a few times and haven’t felt good about it. It just does feel like the right time.

Because I was doing research for this story and I read an interview you did a few years ago you did with Fasterlouder where you said that you never really wanted to play ‘Accidently Kell Street’ and that you had “a little learning and growing up to do and some forgiveness of myself for that to happen.” I’m assuming if this tour is going ahead you’ve gotten to that place of forgiveness?

I think age really helps. I just listen to everything with a different perspective now. I finally removed myself from being that person I was back then and I feel a lot more compassionate towards the journey that we went through and understand it a lot more and have a lot less cringe about all of it.

How do you reflect on this record in the context of Frente’s career as a whole? Was it one of your favourite albums?

I think you have a different opinion when it is your band and when they’re your songs. I don’t see them the way other people might. They all serve for different periods of my life and Marvin was a pretty big time in my life and it changed everything. It was kind of an iconic thing for us I guess – that was the moment when we became a household name. I identify with it that way and that’s a really important thing for me.

You were one of the first artists to really embrace your Australian accent and put that at the forefront of your music. That’s still something that’s not really common in Australian music 20 odd years later. Do you lament the fact more musicians here haven’t embraced their national and cultural identity?

Yeah my thing really is about being true to yourself. I don’t think you have to sing with an Australian accent. I think you’ve just got to sing from the heart and make music that expresses who you are. I’m not campaigning for everyone to have to sing in Australian accent. I like to listen to something and have it hit me in a way that I know it was true for the person.

 

You’ve had a diverse and varied career away from Frente. Is it refreshing to come back and sing this music you created when you were a much different artist and re-live the thoughts and ideas you had when you wrote these songs?

Yeah, it’s great. I’m struggling at the moment – I’m writing a book, I’m trying to write a memoir. It’s bloody hard [laughs]. I can’t remember anything. So I’ve been having a good look at the whole time in Frente and trying to remember what we did and trying to think about who we were back then. It’s really great to visit after having done all of that and also after having really explored music for myself. Now I can come back and see where it all came from. I can see our influences a lot more clearly, which is kind of fun.

It’s almost staggering to think that an Australian record sold 1.2 million copies these days, but that was a feat achieved by Marvin. That’s such an impressive figure, particularly considering modern music sales numbers. Was the popularity of the album at the time it was released an all-encompassing experience? Did you feel overwhelmed by its popularity at the time?

You know, for anybody that goes through that it’s a first. I was quite young when it happened for us and I didn’t really have that on my mind; I don’t know if any of us did. We were still working out what we’d like to be as a band and what we liked about music and getting our relationship together with the four of us. It just came out of nowhere. It was a real sideways way to approach being in a band.

Was it something you had to adjust your expectations to when you released subsequent albums? Was there a lot of pressure to follow that success up?

I think it’s a life long journey once you’ve had anything like that happen. Everything that I do, that’s always in the back of my mind and it’s a funny relationship to have I guess. Comparing yourself – I guess the successes almost become like an older sibling at this stage and I’m always looking up to it and wondering how what I’m doing is comparing to that and you do get a lot of outside commentary on how you measure up to that. So it’s a long journey to coming back to what it is about your craft and what you want to do regardless of all of that.

You’re almost a cultish figure to a generation of Australian music fans. Even speaking with people in the office about interviewing you, people still say your name with almost hushed tones of reverence. Is that something that’s strange to deal with when you speak with fans of the band and yourself, particularly on these tours?

I’m always presently surprised when I hear stories about the fact that people still know who Frente is and that it has relevance in peoples’ lives – I can’t really grasp that concept completely. But at shows Simon and I are so down to Earth I think we have a pretty good report with our audience as far as definitely getting down there and having a good chat and a hug with everybody. I think we’ve been pretty lucky as far as our crowd and how we respond to each other.

This is more of a personal question rather than about the tour but I’ve just recently discovered this band Modern Giant from Sydney and they wrote a song about you and I was wondering if you were aware of it?

I have! I’ve actually formed this great relationship with Adam Gibson [the Modern Giant frontman] because of that track. I wouldn’t have been aware of them otherwise. I’ve also been trying to do some spoken word and writing poetry and stories alongside the memoirs and he and I ended up doing a spoken word together – we put together a spoken word show with some of our favourite artists and based it on what Australia means to us. And it was such a beautiful experience to be up on stage with him. He’s incredibly talented. He’s a great raconteur.

 

You’ve had ups and downs in your career and troubles with record labels, but the record industry has evolved a long way since even the mid-2000s where you can have a much more direct and engaged control over your career. Are you feeling that new control? Do you feel a lot more powerful when it comes to you and your music?

I just feel more control of it in my mind [laughs]. I’m like the least practical person in the world, so as far as admin and self-management goes, my career has desperately suffered. I feel like my creative world has really benefited from the fact that there is no structure like that and there is no great big music industry to answer to. It is coming back to really about being an artist and I think that’s my most important life’s journey with music if I’m going to do it.

Originally published on maxtv.com.au

Interview – Tommy Lee

It’s set to be one of the biggest music events of 2015.

Mötley Crüe, the most legendary, debaucherous remnant of the excess drenched outlaw rock stars of the 1980s are finally saying goodbye.

Unlike so many so-called “farewell” tours before them (*cough* Kiss *cough*), the band has signed a legally binding cessation order commanding them to disband that will take effect after their final show in L.A. on New Year’s Eve, the final day of 2015.

But before they ride off into the night, the enduring rockers are performing a globe-trotting tour to say goodbye to their fans, including final Australian dates with shock rock pioneer, Alice Cooper, in May.

For drummer and larger than life personality, Tommy Lee, it will be the end of a massive chapter in his life, after all Mötley Crüe was the vehicle that brought him to fame and ultimately infamy. But the legendary skins man appears to be in one of the most positive places in his life and career right now, and is relishing his final experiences with the band of brothers he’s shaken the world with for more than 30 years.

MAX recently spoke with Lee about the emotions and energy surrounding these farewell concerts; the extreme drumming he’s pulling off as part of these last shows; how he ended up working on the latest Smashing Pumpkins album; and what he’s got planned for post-Mötley Crüe life.

MAX: How have the farewell shows been going so far? Full of celebration and maybe nostalgia and a bit of melancholy?

TL: It’s been really amazing. All the shows have been sold out and the fans are coming to see us one last time. It’s insane. There’s a lot of celebration and also some sadness because, you know, it’s the last time the four of us are going to play for these guys. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, but it’s awesome because at the end of the day it’s truly incredible. We’ve done about 72 shows in America and a couple in Canada and we’re off to Japan in just about two days, and we’re coming out your way man. So we’re hitting the rest of the world.

What has the energy around the shows been like as you all kind of know this is a last hurrah?? Is the band going hard? Are the crowd going hard?

Yeah, for sure man. There’s something that happens to you when you’re up there and the show begins, knowing that this is going to be the last time that you’re playing for this particular crowd of your fans. Everyone’s bringing it. All the guys in the band are playing their asses off. You can’t suck on your way out – dude, that would just be the worst! So everyone’s in great form playing it and enjoying it and it’s an incredible show too. The production is out of control, as usual.

Have you had any moments of regret during the tour – like you’ve thought “ah man, we should keep doing this?” Or does it feel final and a good note to go out on?

Well, I don’t know about regret, but there’s definitely those moments of a little bit of sadness towards the end of the show. When I’m sitting on the piano playing ‘Home Sweet Home,’ it’s really the first time in the couple hour show that I get to calm down for a second and look around and look out in the crowd and see people. Some people are crying, some people are celebrating the end with us and we get a little bit emotional and a little bit teary eyed once in a while, but knowing that it’s all good. This is not something we decided to do a few months ago. We’ve been talking about this for [big sigh] five, maybe close to six years. How do we want to go out, you know? And in true Mötley fashion, the way to go out is to go out on top and to go out with all cylinders firing instead of – there’s nothing worse than seeing your favourite band hobbling around with two original members. It’s just like we’ve accomplished everything that we set out to do and we decided let’s kill it and let the legacy live on and we’ll set a date and this is where we’ll take our final bow and we’ll be done.

Do it on your own terms.

Yeah I think it’s pretty cool actually. It’s an awesome way to do it.

And you get to go out strong and say your proper goodbyes and then retire rather than break-up.

Yeah, exactly. And it’s not even about retiring. God, that word makes me feel a little nauseous. I’m certainly not done, I’ve got plans for post Mötley. But you’re right, there’s nothing worse than watching your favourite band fizzle out. I think it’s the honourable thing to do. And trust me, a lot of people think we’re out of our fucking minds! They’re like, “Why? What’s the problem?” And we’re like, “We’ve done it all, man. It’s time, so we can get on to some other things in life too.”

Alice Cooper is going to be your touring partner when you head to Australia and he was doing an interview a couple of weeks ago where he said the perfect finish for you guys would be to cut all your heads off with his famous guillotines at your last gig in LA. Does that sound like a pretty good way to go out?

[Laughs] I know, he’s funny and he brought that up after I was trying to get him to ride the drum roller coaster and he was like, “No way, you’re out of your mind.” So he came up with he’d ride the roller coaster if I stuck my neck in the guillotine. I was like, “Nah, I’m cool.”

It’s crazy that he’s going so strong. He’s such a legend and a pioneer and he doesn’t seemed to have slowed down.

Nah man, he tells everybody he’s booked into the next century. Basically he’s never going to tap out, but yeah he’s great man. He’s been wonderful on the tour and a show with Alice and Mötley is pretty insane. It’s pretty much a four hour freak show, basically.

You mentioned it before but the the Cruecify, the drum roller coaster, I’ve been watching videos of it online. That thing looks fucking nuts. What’s it like to be in that thing physically? Does it take a toll on your body? Do you have to train to be in it?

Yeah it does! It is insane. The thing goes out 150 feet over the audience, and it climbs up to the very first peak and goes down and that first dip for me is insane. I’m literally shitting my pants. I think I’m about 60 feet in the air and it is just, the gravity, that’s brutal. Hopefully I make it look easy and cool and fun and all that shit, but it’s not easy at all. When you’re in the upside down position, you’re literally pushing up and gravity is working against me, if that makes any sense. I’m in that thing about nine minutes – four minutes out and three and a half back or something like that – and I’m whooped. My ass is kicked.

Do you have to prep before you go out, like not have too much lunch or drink too much water, so you’re not hanging up there and feeling a bit queasy and chunder on the crowd?

It would be quite punk rock wouldn’t it. I should just eat or drink a lot before I get on it! But I actually don’t eat before the show just because it wouldn’t be cool. I wait till afterwards, but that’s kind of the only prep, apart from strapping your ass in and just hanging on.

You are one of the most physical drummers going around. Do you do a lot of training apart from just playing in preparation for big tours to get your body right?

Yeah, I go to the gym and throw some weights around and run and do the things I need to do so I can stay strong. I mean, we literally play for two hours, two hours and change, non-stop and, like I was saying earlier, I don’t really get a chance to get a breather until the very end of the show when I’m playing the piano. So it’s pretty much non-stop dude. It keeps you young man!

Are there any songs that you’re getting a particular kick out of playing live at these shows? The new one, ‘All Bad Things’ is a banger. Is that fun to jam out? And are there others that you’re relishing to be able to play live and savour these final crazy moments.

Well, you know what they’re all fun to play. Like I said earlier, we’ve played 72 shows in the states and a couple in Canada. That’s a lot of shows to be playing the same songs, so we might switch some things in the set and ‘All Bad Things’ just came out so we might add that shortly, but for the most part man it’s fun banging out these songs that everybody loves so much.

That song, ‘All Bad Things’ was clearly written with this final farewell in mind. Are you happy for that song to be the final musical statement you make as Mötley Crüe?

Yeah, that’s what we set out to do – one last piece of music and I think we nailed it. It’s nice and aggressive and has a killer chorus and the lyrics are on point for exactly where we’re at in our lives right now, so it’s a good one.

What do you think will be the saddest part of when there’s no Mötley Crüe in the world anymore. You guys represent rock stars in their purest form and there really aren’t any bands going around these days that are anything resembling you guys. Do you think that the world will be missing out on that kind of outlaw element that you brought to the music industry?

Yeah, it’s gonna be a weird thing, isn’t it. I haven’t really thought about that too much, but there will definitely be a void in that spectacle and that whole lifestyle. And yeah you’re right, there’s no-one that I know of that’s kind of bringing it like that.

Yeah, it’s kind of been taken up by rap stars instead of rock stars.

Yeah, right. It will definitely be a weird void. Unless there’s some kids in a garage figuring it out right now, going “Hey man, Mötley’s going to be done soon. Let’s get our shit together!” Maybe there’s a new crew or something like that in the works now that we don’t even know about. I hope for the rest of the world there is.

Are the band tailoring their performances to different crowds and different countries when you show up to play? Like will you have any surprises up your sleeves when you hit Australian stages?

I don’t know about anything in particular. It’s a little ways away, it’s not until May, so we’ve got some time to put some stuff together. I know that we are working on – I shouldn’t say it until it’s finalised, but we are bringing it to Australia – it’s another production thing that involves the fans that we’re going to be adding to the show. I can’t really say anything about it but I will say “probably.”

Ok, that’s a good tease at least. Looking back on your career with Mötley Crüe is there a particularly favourite period you have the most nostalgia for?

I think the middle of our careers was a bit of a blur, but the very beginning and the very end, like right now, saying goodbye to all the fans and touring the world. The very beginning, like when you’re young and dumb and naïve and don’t know really anything about anything and every single day you’re taking in, “Holy shit! This is insane! Whoa, we’re going to Russia! Whoa we’re playing in Japan! Whoa we’re going to Australia! What the fuck is happening?!” You’re just so stoked about everything. The middle really is a blur because now you’re all over the place. So I will say the beginning and the end, here, I will never forget.

And you recently also worked on a record that’s been getting a lot of attention in the last few months, the new Smashing Pumpkins album,Monuments to an Elegy. How did that come about and have you known Billy for a while?

Oh sweet, thanks man. I’ve known Billy for a long time, but never worked with him. When he approached me to play drums I was honoured because I was a fan and I was like, “I would love to man, but I really need to hear the music.” And he came out from Chicago to my home in Los Angeles and played me the nine tracks on the album and I was literally blown away. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a record that all nine songs that are killer. There’s usually a couple that are like meh, and I think that’s why he made a shorter record, too. I think that’s very smart. I think the long records these days are – I prefer quality over quantity myself and he had nine bangers and I was like, “Whoa dude, you just wrote an amazing record and I would love to do this record with you.” And he went back to Chicago and finished up some of the demo recordings and then he came out to my studio at my home in Los Angeles and we got at it man and recorded it. It was killer.

So you’ve written an autobiography, you’ve been in one of the biggest bands on the planet, had your own TV show, worked with other big names – you’ve achieved so many cool things as an artist. What will the next thing be for Tommy Lee?

I can’t really talk about it but what I can tell you is I’ve been working incredibly hard for this last year writing a bunch of music and kind of putting it aside for after Mötley. So you will be hearing from me. I’m not going anywhere man. I’ve got some plans and I’m very excited about getting into some new, crazy shit.

Originally published on maxtv.com.au

Interview: Alice Cooper

 

When I interviewed Tommy Lee a few weeks ago, he told me his touring partner, rock icon Alice Cooper, would say that he’s going to be touring into the next century.

And when you look at the itinerary for the man for whom we are all not worthy, it doesn’t sound like Cooper was kidding.

When he’s not busy accompanying heavy metal legends Crüe on their farewell tour across the world, he’s busy touring with his own electrifying band, starting new bands with Johnny Depp and Joe Perry, making cameo appearances with the Foo Fighters, performing out of character in classic rock cover bands, and hosting his own radio show.

On top of all that, he’s just become a grandfather for the first time.

I caught up with the The Godfather of Shock Rock to talk about the crazy production and energy that comes along with being on the Mötley farewell tour; why it’s impossible to shock audiences these days; his new project with Depp and Perry Hollywood Vampires; and why his 15 week old grandsons have no choice but to be rockers.
MAX: You’ve been touring for the last few months with Mötley Crüe for their farewell tour and you’re all set to head to Australia in a few months as part of it. What has the energy for these shows been like?

AC: You know that’s the thing about this show, we did 85 cities in the united states and every single show was sold out. We were the biggest grossing rock concert of the whole summer. And you take Mötley Crüe and Alice Cooper, two bands that bring it every night, there’s no such thing as a down show. Every single show is like full out energy and I think the audience are taken off guard because they’re not expecting it. They’re not expecting the energy and the power that comes from these two bands. Every song that you hear you’ve heard on the radio and the Alice Cooper band is just relentless. We don’t give the audience a chance to get their breathe. It’s the best band I’ve had in probably 30 years. As soon as one song ends the next one starts, and like I said, we’re at full blast and don’t give ourselves a chance to rest. Put both shows together and the audience walk out of their exhausted.

Do you guys feel like you’re feeding off Mötley Crüe and vice versa?

Yeah Mötley has their own style, their a big rock band, a big production band. Alice Cooper is a lot more sinister in a way, but at the same time there’s a lot of comedy in our stuff too. There’s sort of a dark comedy that the audience gets so it’s a lot of fun.

Speaking of dark comedy I interviewed Tommy Lee a few weeks ago and we talked about how you were keen to end their final gig by beheading the band with your guillotine. He also said that he’d challenged you to take a ride in his Cruecify drum coaster. Has he been able to convince you take a ride in that thing?

So far neither one of us has said yes. He won’t put his head in the guillotine. The guillotine is a 40 pound blade that literally misses me by four inches. And I’m not gonna get on that roller coaster of his because he’s used to it. When that thing goes upside down and stays, it’s pretty amazing. It’s one of the seven wonders of the rock and roll world is this roller coaster. So like I said, you have two things – one is legendary in the guillotine and the other is something you’re never going to see again. You put that all in one show and it’s really going to be pretty startling.

You’re renowned for having one of the most intricate and spectacular live rock shows on the planet. Do you still search and look for new ideas to evolve your show and have you taken any inspiration from surprising places to incorporate into your act?

Oh absolutely. When I go to New York, I’ll go to see a Broadway show and I’ll be sitting there and I’ll be watching the show – even if I don’t like the show – and I’ll go, “Oh wait a minute, that lighting thing they just did is great!” and I’ll write it down. Now it’s not stealing from them because I’m going to use it in a totally different context, but the idea is great and I go, “That’s a great idea.” I’m always looking for new things; for new ideas on “How can I make this song come alive?” or “Can we make the song come alive a different way?” What if we stretch this guitar solo out a little bit. We have three guitar players in the band now. We just added, we had Orianthi from Adelaide whose one of the great blues / rock players around. And then she went out to do her own album and then I got this other girl, Nita Strauss, that is just a pure shredder. And it when it comes to letting her loose, she just rips up there. It’s just that – just bringing in a girl guitar player is something they would never expect Alice to do, but yet this girl guitar player is a monster.

We’ve recently had the Soundwave festival take part in Australia and that was headlined by Slipknot and Marilyn Manson, who have obviously been inspired by you. But it got me thinking that those two bands were the last time I remember society actually being scared by a music act or shock rock. Do you think with the saturation of violence and craziness in today’s media, there can ever be a real shock rock band like you created all those years ago?

I don’t know if you can shock an audience anymore. In the ’70s if you’ve got the guillotine and your name is Alice and you wore make-up and you had a snake, there was no parent in America that wanted their kid to look like Alice Cooper. After that every kid wanted to be Alice Cooper, because this character was a villain. He was a stone cold villain of everything their parents believed in. And yet there was comedy involved in it and it was kind of hard not to like it. Even if you didn’t like Alice and you walked away going, “Well that was kind of good.” But now, try and shock an audience – they cut my head off on stage, you know? Now you turn on CNN and there’s somebody really getting their head cut off. Reality is so much more shocking than anything that Marilyn or I or Slipknot could do up there. A I’ve talked to Marilyn about this and both of us say, “Shock is a part of our show but we don’t really expect the audience to be shocked by it.” If it were the ’60s and ’70s, yeah it would have been shocking but it’s now just part of our style. I’m not expecting the audience to go, “Oh wow! We’ve never seen that before.” I mean you could cut off your arm and eat it, but you could only do it twice. [laughs]

Your last record Welcome 2 My Nightmare is a few years old at this point. Do you have any plans to head back into the studio again soon?

The new album is out this year. It’s already done. We did a tribute to all of my dead drunk friends. Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix and Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson. We put a band together, Johnny Depp is in the band and Joe Perry is in the band, the Hollywood Vampires. We did this album and it really was a tribute to these guys we used to drink with that are now gone. So that album is coming out probably September or something like that. It’s all done and I’ve never done a covers album before so being on this covers album is something interesting for me.

What was it like trying to get that band together because I’m assuming you’re all really busy guys?

No it was actually really easy. Once we started talking to the guys – and Johnny’s a good guitar player. Johnny Depp can really play, he’s a really good guitar player. Once we got in the studio and started knocking off these songs, people started coming and going, “I want to play on that and I want to play on that.” I can’t mention who’s on the album right now but it’s a ridiculous line-up. McCartney dropped in one day, so let’s put it that way.

I listened to some of the recording of the radio show you do and you talked about how you’ve been stepping out more and more out of character to perform at bars and clubs and play classic rock songs. What made you want to start doing that?

It’s fun to do that. You have to remember every single band, from the Beatles to the Stones to the Kinks, all the way up to the Foo Fighters and us, every band started out being a covers band. The Beatles did Chuck Berry and all these old songs they revamped and made Beatles style. The Stones’ first two albums were nothing but American blues songs. So we all started like that. You know we’ll sit there and I’ll go, “Let’s do ‘Backdoor Man’ by The Doors,” and it gives the band a chance to go, “Yeah, let’s improvise a little on this,” or ‘Break On Through’ or ‘Foxy Lady’ or ‘My Generation,’ ‘Brown Sugar’ – we do a great ‘Brown Sugar.’ Every once in a while someone will come up before the show and go, “Hey, ‘Back In The USSR” and everyone will go, “Yeah!” [laughs]

You’ve got an enormous back catalogue now, so does that mean that the setlist evolves much? Or do you have specific song lists that are cued in to match the production?

Yeah you’re dead right on that one. We’re actually on two tours. When we do our full show, I get to say “We’re gonna do ‘Lost In America’ instead of ‘Hey Stoopid’” and everyone goes, “Okay.” Or I’ll go “Tonight I want to do this song instead of that song.” When we do a show with Mötley, it’s basically really set because the lighting is all set and the special effects are all set and I can’t really play around with it too much. So it’s pretty much set for this show. But I know what songs I have to do up there. I have to do ‘School’s Out,’ ‘Billion Dollar Babies,’ ‘Poison,’ ‘No More Mr Nice Guy,’ ‘Under My Wheels,’ ‘Eighteen,’ I know those songs have to be in the show. So now it’s how to make those songs work and give them the energy they had when they came out and it does, it works great.

You mentioned the Foo Fighters before and you also played Dave Grohl’s birthday party a few weeks ago. What was that night like? It seemed like a lot of fun.

Well, they’re one of the true rock and roll bands that really bring it every night. I’ve done a couple of things with them. I went up on stage in London with them – 80,000 people – and we did ‘Eighteen’ and ‘School’s Out’ and ‘Under My Wheels’ I think, and it was like having my own band. They play my songs dead on. They do my songs like the record. And they learned my songs when they were in Nirvana and stuff like that, doing Alice Cooper songs. So when I got up on stage I was totally at home with the Foo Fighters. I could be there lead singer! David Lee Roth came up that night and Paul Stanley, everybody can come up with that band and just plug in and sound great because they are such a good band.

And I mentioned before you’ve got your own radio show Nights With Alice, which seems like a lot of fun to do. How long have you been doing that and what do you enjoy about doing the show?

I’m into my eleventh year now with that show and what it was was Dick Clark, before he passed away came up to me and says, “If you had a radio show what would it be?” And I said “I would take it back to FM radio where the disc jockey was the personality and played the records that were whatever they wanted to play and was just really off the cuff and would say, “Well I was going to play the Beatles there but I’m going to play Iggy.”” Or “I’m gonna play Them with Van Morrison.” I will play Led Zeppelin and ACDC and all the bands you expect to be on classic rock, but then I’ll play Love or the Yardbirds or bands like The Move and groups like that that don’t get a lot of airplay. And people love to hear the backstage stories. There’s not one band that I don’t play that I don’t have a story about. So people love those stories and it gives them a feeling that this guy was actually there. When they talk about John Lennon and Harry Nilsson’s lost weekend, I was the bartender [laughs].

And just finally I know you recently became a grandfather not long ago. Are you excited to help shape a couple of little rockers of the future?

Yeah their names are perfect – Falcon and Riot. They’re identical twins and they’re only about 15 weeks old and you can just see they’re gonna be rockers.

If not the most bad ass accountants you’ve ever filed your tax with.

That’s exactly right. My son’s in the band, he’s the one that named them and they’re probably going to end up being physicists [laughs].

Originally published on maxtv.com.au

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

Could the conservative walls of country music culture be breaking down?

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For the longest time, country music and its community has been viewed as overtly conservative in its views towards sexuality and gender – and in many ways it still is. When you look at the major stars of today – the Luke Bryans, the Florida-Georgia Lines, the Blake Sheltons – the dominant image of country stars continues to be the straight, white, women-loving man. And that’s a status that seems to have been further cemented by the popularity of the “bro country” sub-genre that currently dominates the airwaves – known for its worship of barbecues and beach parties, and even more so for its celebration of women in bikinis and Daisy Dukes.

However, with the changing nature and opinions of society towards the LGBT community, so too appears to be a change in conversation in the country music culture, as alternate views, opinions and identities continue to gain greater traction and recognition.

This has become particularly more evident overnight with the announcement that not one but two male stars in the US have come out as gay.

Ty Herndon, who has had 17 Billboard hits over the last 20 years, announced in an interview with Entertainment Tonight that he was “an out, proud, and happy gay man.”

“I’ve been dreaming about being in country music since I was six years old and it’s my life, it’s what I do, it’s who I am and I went to great lengths to cover up that fact to be a country star,” Herndon said.

Inspired by Herndon’s announcement, former child star, Billy Gilman also came out as gay, revealing his sexuality in an emotional Youtube message to his fans.

“It’s difficult for me to make this video, not because I’m ashamed of being a gay male artist or a gay artist or a gay person. But it’s pretty silly to know that I’m ashamed of doing this knowing that because I’m in an genre and in an industry that is ashamed of me for being me,” Gilman said.

However Gilman, who had a massive hit in the year 2000 as an 11-year-old with the song ‘One Voice,’ also added that people he was friends with in the industry already knew about his sexuality and had been extremely supportive.

“I want to say that all of the artists I literally grew up in front of – Keith Urban and Vince and Leann Rimes and all of these wonderful friends of mine have been wonderful friends of mine have been nothing but supportive.”

Of course they are far from the first country artists to identify themselves as gay – ‘Single White Female’ singer Chely Wright came out in 2010, while Australia’s own Beccy Cole revealed she was gay in a special about her life on the ABC’s Australian Story in 2012.

Singer-songwriter, Steve Grand, also caused a stir last year when his ‘All-American Boy’ video went viral with over 3 million views, achieving him widespread acclaim for being the first openly gay male country artist to write a song about a male love interest.

There’s also been a fictional exploration of homosexuality in the major country music scene in the hit TV series Nashville, with one of the lead characters, Will Lexington, being an in-the-closet gay country star.

And maybe biggest of all has been megastar, Garth Brooks’ return to the mainstream scene. Brooks, a long-time, vocal supporter for the LGBT community, released his first new album in a decade, Man Against Machine, with the first song released from the record, ‘People Loving People,’ calling for universal acceptance of love in the face of evil:

“All the colors and the cultures circle ’round us on a spindle

It’s a complicated riddle, the solution is so simple…

It’s people loving people”

The song follows in the same vain as his 1993 hit ‘We Shall Be Free,’ that featured the lyrics “Cause we shall be free / When we’re free to love anyone we choose,” and thus became a LGBT anthem, leading to Brooks being awarded a GLAAD Media Award. His re-entry into the business could become a major contributing factor in a shift away from bro country and its typically sexist ideals.

Even Kenny Chesney, whose celebration of beach culture many have associated with the rise of the bro scene, opened up in an interview earlier this week that he wants the role of women in country music to change from the way they are portrayed in videos and by “bro country” artists.

Do all these elements signal vast and sweeping change? No. Herndon and Gilman are admittedly fringe figures of the scene, and their coming out will unlikely have a major impact on the culture as a whole. But it does seem to indicate that some serious changes could be on the horizon for the industry and its dealings with sexuality and gender – particularly with the support of the likes of Brooks and Chesney.

What is safe to say, however, is that just like what the sporting world has seen with the likes of Michael Sam and Jason Collins recently coming out, a major country music figure will eventually identify themself as gay. Until then though, it’s great to see Herndon and Gilman have finally found the courage to share their story and hopefully help to usher in change and broader acceptance in the country music community in the future.

Originally published on countrymusicchannel.com.au

Review – The Rolling Stones, Sydney Allphones Arena 12/11/14

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If this were any other band, this review would have been jaded as all hell.

I’d paid $200 for my ticket and I was sitting in the second back row of the stadium (look at the above picture for scale). I was in fact so far away from the stage that there was a stall renting binoculars for $10 next to the gate I had to go through to get to my seat. Not that they would have helped, seeing as the woman in her mid-50s in front of me stood the whole way through the concert, wobbling her bum and flapping and clapping her arms in the air with all the rhythm of shoes in a tumble drier. Minus the context, if you’d have told me I was going to spend $200 to watch a woman dance all night, Sheryl, the primary school teacher from Corrimal, wouldn’t exactly have been what I had in mind.

But from the opening roar of Keith Richards’ perfectly toned Telecaster as the band ripped into ‘Jumping Jack Flash,’ through to the tinnitus ringing in my ears as I lay down to sleep, still singing ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,’ nothing was going to detract from the experience of seeing the world’s greatest rock band performing in all their glory.

Simply put, the Rolling Stones are an anomaly. Comparing them to any other band would be like comparing LeBron James to my lazy, fat arse because we’re both humans. It’s just not the same thing and makes no sense when you try.

Sure, it ‘s easy to make fun of their age, but if I’m even able to mow my lawn with some capability in my 70s, I’ll be stoked. To see Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie move and shake and bend and groove with such un-wavering swagger and attitude, is nothing short of a modern marvel. Mick Jagger alone was like a perpetual motion machine, shimmying round and round the stage for what must have accumulated to kilometres in distance.

That’s not to say it was explosions from the start. A slightly soft opening greeted the adoring crowd, surely the result of Mick returning from well-publicised throat issues. But as the performance rolled on the band seemed to feed off the crowd’s energy like it was a complicated form of applause photosynthesis, growing stronger and stronger through the night.

A particular highlight was Keith taking the lead vocals for a three song stint of ‘You Got The Silver,’ ‘Before They Make Me Run,’ and ‘Happy.’ He’d been given “extra duties” to compensate for Mick’s health it would seem. But that extra time between us and Keith was extra time we’ll cherish for a lifetime. “It’s all rock and roll,” Keith quipped – a cliché line for anyone else in the world – and words you feel like you should run out and get tattooed on your forehead when you hear Keith say them.

It was one of those sets that you felt like screaming, “I can die a happy man now!” after every single song. I’m usually bashful when it comes to singing along with the music when in a seated position at a concert, but I was “wooing” my heart out to ‘Miss You,’ screaming “Pleased to meet you!” to ‘Sympathy For The Devil,’ and pointing at the stage like an idiot at ‘Start Me Up’ (I don’t even really like that song). For fuck’s sake, I even high-fived Sheryl.

An encore of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ featuring the Sydney Philharmonia choir was so spine tingling my teeth chattered like I was hypothermic. And finishing with ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ was the perfect definition of irony, as they couldn’t have played anything more satisfying from their entire catalogue.

This will probably be the Rolling Stones last ever Australian tour, and seeing as they’ve been making their way to our shores for more than 50 years, this concert felt like the perfect final lick from that drooling iconic tongue.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Rolling Stones have left the building.

Here’s the night’s set-list:

‘Jumping Jack Flash’ (single, 1968)

‘It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It)’ (It’s Only Rock N Roll, 1974)

‘Respectable’ (Some Girls, 1978)

‘Tumbling Dice’ (Exile On Main Street, 1972)

‘Sweet Virginia’ (Exile On Main Street, 1972) (crowd request)

‘Bitch’ (Sticky Fingers, 1971)

‘Paint It Black’ (Aftermath, 1968)

‘Honky Tonk Women’ (single, 1968)

‘You Got The Silver’ (Let It Bleed, 1969)

‘Before They Make Me Run’ (Some Girls, 1978)

‘Happy’ (Exile On Main Street, 1972)

‘Midnight Rambler’ (featuring Mick Taylor on guitar, Let It Bleed, 1969)

‘Miss You’ (Some Girls, 1978)

‘Gimme Shelter’ (Let It Bleed, 1969)

‘Start Me Up’ (Tattoo You, 1981)

‘Sympathy For The Devil’ (Beggars Banquet, 1968)

‘Brown Sugar’ (Sticky Fingers, 1971)

ENCORE

You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Let It Bleed, 1969)

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (Out Of Our Heads, 1965)
Originally published on maxtv.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