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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 – The Ocean Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did he impart any pieces of wisdom on you guys?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oof, nice.

It was an absolute disaster.

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

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

Originally published on vmusic.com.au

 

Interview – Christopher Owens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yeah [laughs]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah that’s pretty much exactly what happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published on vmusic.com.au

Interview – Frank Iero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published on vmusic.com.au

Review – The Weekender 2014

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Standing in an unkempt and uneven backyard somewhere in Carlton under a freakishly cloudless August sky, I was surrounded by 30-odd similarly hungover people. A longneck nestled in one hand, a ciggy dangling in the other – we all smirked and swigged as a bunch of blokes dressed in silly hats, afro wigs and uncomfortably tight shirts played a shed-storming set of Oz rock covers – from Paul Kelly’s ‘Dumb Things’ through to the Divinyls’ ‘Boys In Town’. The band was called TNNL CNTS (pronounced tunnel-… you get the rest), and I drunkenly captioned an Instagram video of them performing the Screaming Jets’ ‘Better’ with, “Saturdays in Melbourne.” It was a brief acknowledgment of the joy I’d been experiencing the previous three days / all the words I had the capacity to type at the time. Someone pointed out to me that the guitarist dressed as an Essendon Bomber wasn’t wearing “footy shorts” as it might have appeared, but had instead pulled his legs through a pair of cut-off cricket pants. It hurt to laugh as hard as I did at this pure slice of Australiana, but it was a pain happily earned from the previous days’ festivities. And standing here, with a group of people that were mostly strangers, in a place I’d never been before, I felt totally at home.

But I’m way, way ahead of myself here.

Although I’m a proud Sydneysider, I’ve always had a soft spot for Melbourne. The coffee, the beer, the art, the culture, the footy, the souvlaki – if they cancel tram fares at the next state election, I might pack my fucking bags. But there’s one reason why Melbourne stands head and shoulders above the majority of our other fine capital cities in my power rankings – its music scene.

Melbourne in recent years has carved itself a deeper and deeper reputation as one of the most thriving punk and rock melting pots on the planet. If Philadelphia has the most exciting punk rock scene in the US, Melbourne is its Australian counterpart. From the Smith Street Band, to The Bennies, Harmony and Clowns – the city is burning a brilliant flame for alternative music in this country and nowhere is that more on display than The Weekender.

For the uninitiated, The Weekender is a festival hosted by Poison City and Resist Records – the former being the small Fitzroy skateboard/record shop and record label that not only stages the festival, but is also home to a majority of the bands on the event’s line-up. Hosted in multiple venues across the city, it’s become a celebration of the music of the local scene, as well as the venues and the community of music lovers that support it and have helped it earn an international reputation – a reputation that was leading me to make the pilgrimage to the event for the first time.

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It was a bizarrely mild winter night for Melbourne when my flight arrived late on a Thursday. I met my friend Anastasia at Tullamarine and we caught a cab together into the city – our excited conversation discussing the days ahead of music in direct opposition to the eerily quiet night outside. As we drove across the Westgate Bridge and past those giant, Duplo-like statues, the streets seemed deserted, as if the entire city was battening down the hatches in preparation for what was to come. Even as we arrived at The Reverence Hotel, the joint looked dead from the outside. But we entered to find a raucous, buzzing mass of bodies, clasping pints and comparing Violent Soho t-shirts. The Weekender was in full swing.

Tonight was deemed the Pre-kender, a way to get your ears and your liver ready for the onslaught that was about to happen. We arrived just in time for the final band of the night, US visitors Knapsack. Their melodic and passionate emotive rock struck a chord with me instantly. “Their music makes you feel happy and sad at the same time!” Anastasia yelled in my ear. “That’s called ‘nostalgia!'” I smart-arsedly replied/shouted, not sure if she could hear me through her protective earplugs. Everyone wears earplugs in Melbourne. Not only do they have better taste than the rest of us, but they’re also more health conscious.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDCAqdmEZ8w?rel=0]

We shuffled into the pub’s courtyard for a few late night brews and I was introduced to several people as being from Sydney; each time greeted with mixed levels of surprise and excitement that I’d made the journey down south. It was an indicative snapshot of this community and the fact that this scene has largely built itself independently from mainstream and widespread media support / radio play that it might be afforded in other countries – and how it humbly appreciates any outside recognition. In the meantime I was constantly distracted by familiar faces flying through the crowd, shaking hands and grappling hugs. Members of The Bennies, Smith Street Band, Luca Brasi – all engaged in conversations and laughs with friends. As someone who’d been longing to come to this event year after year, as my record shelves filled with albums from each of these bands, it was surreally satisfying that it was pretty much everything I’d imagined it to be.

The next day, I popped my head into Poison City’s Fitzroy store and as I ran up my credit card debt with t-shirt and record purchases, I spoke with Andy Hayden, the owner/founder of Poison City Records, retail clerk at his own store, and from what I gathered from our brief interaction, helluva nice dude. I thanked him for granting me a press pass to cover the festival and he seemed equally stoked anyone from Channel [V] was interested enough to come down and give the shows some love. I then walked down the street to meet Bec from Deathproof PR at their Fitzroy offices. A major part of the reason I was down here was Bec and her business partner Em [with assistance from the aforementioned Anastasia], who run an amazing little firm that promotes the best the local and international punk, hard rock and hardcore scenes have to offer. It’s been through them that I’ve already had the chance to interview a lot of the acts on the bill in recent years – thus flaming the fires of my passion for it. Bec, myself and my mate Nick ascended a local bar’s rooftop and drank day beers in the blazing sunlight, trying to think of reasons I shouldn’t move to Melbourne. After we watched the sun set, we knew it was time to prep for the first official Weekender evening.

The night’s festivities were held at The Corner in Richmond. Inside, the venue is quite an awkward, bendy one, with giant, annoying load-bearing pillars sticking up in the middle of the dance floor. At the start of the night I was frustrated at the lack of visibility because of them – by the end I was thanking the heavens they were there, holding the roof up amongst the chaos and calamity in what would be the rowdiest of nights at The Weekender. With The Bennies smoking six foot bongs on stage, Clowns frontman, Stevie, hanging off roof fixtures like they were designed for gymnastics, and Tassie imports Luca Brasi whipping the room into a frenzy – legs, arms and shoes flew around the pit like tumbleweed threaded with human bodies.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKcUOnqiJ7I?rel=0]

Knapsack headlined the night – but unfortunately I missed them this time ’round as I was much busier having an arm-in-arm sing-along to Blink 182’s ‘Josie’ with some girl I’d met in the beer line who was similarly overcome with a need to spontaneously karaoke. The sense of comradery was so palpable, it felt like everyone in the room would be happy to give you the last smoke in their packet, without even mentioning it.

The next morning (afternoon) with a throbbing noggin and a big brekky + three lattes under my belt, Nick, Bec and myself grabbed a couple of armfuls of beers and started the long (short – felt long) walk to a suburban house in Carlton North where we would attend the unofficial Weekender Backyarder recovery BBQ.

The aforementioned TNNL CNTS were phenomenal, but almost as good was the opening act, whose name I was too “tired” to recall. They played a set that may as well have been lifted from my 17-year-old self’s CD wallet – RATM’s ‘Bulls On Parade,’ the President of the United States of America’s ‘Lump’, and Andrew W.K.’s ‘Party Hard’ to name but a few of the hits. I felt like my hair was dyed purple and my shorts were cargo all over again.

An afternoon power nap later, we made our way to the John Curtin, named after Australia’s most hardcore Prime Minister. Sloppily anthemic indie rockers Freak Wave proved to be a great opener, but Infinite Void were simply hypnotic from the moment they took the stage and were definitely one of my biggest personal discoveries of the weekend – their music like a throwback to the grimy punk rock of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=3309252571/size=small/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/track=1587950210/transparent=true/

Hardcore outfit High Tension were always going to be a highlight, and like a footy team playing in front of their home crowd they rose to the occasion, playing a blistering, meaty set. It was almost unfortunate they performed so well, as they capped off a round of local acts that almost outshone the night’s headliners, Pity Sex, who had again made the long journey to cross the Pacific ditch and perform for us. Hopefully they’ll go home with stories of our excellence.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lFRmd79GrM?rel=0]

Sunday rolled around and things by this stage were shady, to say the least. Livers hurt. Brains swelled. Sleep was needed. A day of napping and sipping Gatorade while watching the footy was the only activity I could muster myself to achieve ahead of the push for the final night of the festival. But again, the last evening felt more like a celebration than a gig.

Arguably the strongest line-up of the weekend came together once again at The Rev. Hoodlum Shouts were raw and intimidating. Harmony were simultaneously brutal and ethereal, as always. But it was always a night that was going to belong to Wil Wagner. If there is an unofficial leader of this Melbourne movement, it’s Wagner. The Smith Street Band frontman, whether he intends to or not, walks around the room with a truckload of charisma, and his solo, acoustic performance was evidence of why that is. Leading teary-eyed, multi-person-hug sing-alongs to ‘Young Drunk’, and ‘Ducks Fly Together’, he, more than anyone, has the ability to concisely sum up the emotions and mateship that is so essential to the fabric of this movement – the same spirit I’d been getting drunk on all weekend. When you listen to Wagner or any other band on The Weekender line-up, you know they’re singing to you, for you, about you, and most importantly with you.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBh547s1mNg?rel=0]

And finally, Lincoln le Fevre served as the ideal closer to the weekend, like a camp counselor bringing the kids together for one last campfire ‘Kumbaya My Lord’, before our parents would be there to pick us up and take us home in the morning.

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Sitting there, in my fresh, new Poison City Records T-shirt, eating a disgusting breakfast sausage wrap thing at the airport Hungry Jacks and waiting for my Jetstar flight to stop being delayed, I pondered the weekend that had just fallen. In an Australia where pop, EDM and Aussie hip-hop seem to have an ever-increasing stranglehold on the airwaves, it was exhilarating to witness the rock resistance first hand. Maybe I was still slightly sick with the nostalgia from watching Knapsack, all those bands ago – maybe it was the horrible sausage wrap – but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d just tapped into the same feelings I’d had as a teenager over a decade ago, during the final glory days of rock in this country, when you’d turn on the radio or TV and it wasn’t a surprise to hear or see Magic Dirt, Bodyjar, Jebediah, Frenzal Rhomb or Grinspoon. The Weekender showed me that although those glory days maybe well and truly dead, the spirit of them is alive and well.

In just over an hour I would return to being a Sydneysider, but it was comforting to know I’ll always be part of a Melbourne music community.


Originally published on vmusic.com.au

Interview – Apes

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

1. Bunch of mates get together.

2. They play a battle of the bands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you guys first get started?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you noticed the effects of that exposure already?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Nathan Wood (@altcondel)

Interview – Spiderbait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published on maxtv.com.au