With their follow up to 2004’s critically acclaimed record Bows And Arrows, New York 5 piece The Walkmen seem to have thrown caution to the wind and lightened up with their latest release A Hundred Miles Off. Just a little bit anyway.
“As we got going on this record, we started heading for something more laid back and less intense.” States gravelly Vocalist Hamilton Leithauser “ I mean, we tried everything but it was more fun to work on things that were more…lazier.”
Caught midway through washing dishes, Leithauser elaborates on the direction of the new album. “We spend our entire lives driving around so maybe that came through in the music. I think that maybe we’re becoming really boring cause all we can do know is tell stories about being in a car but then again there’s some funny shit that happens when your stuck in on the road.”
As success spread from the release of Bows and Arrows, which included stints on shiny teen phenomenon The OC as well as Late Night with Conan O’Brien, the band found themselves on the road longer than expected.
“We scheduled these two tours and then thought that we’d do the US and England then be done but before we knew it one thing got scheduled after another and 2 years went by. We’ve been to Japan a couple of times. We’ve been to Brazil. They didn’t know what to make of us. We played this festival that was all Brazilian Reggae and stuff and we got up there and slammed out some Rock. It was a little weird for them but we had a great time.
They had this illustration of us that someone had done of us in beach towels and we all look like 5-year-old boys. It was billboard size and plastered everywhere but it was awesome”
Being global jetsetters has also given Hamilton the chance to exercise his linguistic skills.
“The first time we went to Japan it was so weird cause we had no idea where we were and no one knew who we were and so our shows felt strange but overall it was fun. We didn’t even know how many shows we were gonna play when we got over there. A guy would just take us to venues and we’d play on demand. The second time the same guy took us around but this time round there were a few people who knew who we were so the whole thing felt like it made sense I guess. It was funny cause I’d studied Japanese all throughout High School and I went over there and tried to speak on stage and came to realize that I couldn’t say a fucking thing. I’d completely forgotten all of it. Come to think of it, in six years of studying I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying ever.”
Not content with being simply a recording and touring Rock Band, the boys are collectively writing a novel entitled John’s Journey which may just place them in a league of their own.
“We’re totally serious about it but we’ve only written about 50 pages in two years. I think it’s just going to be a really long time before it comes out…seven years minimum. It’s something we do when we’re really bored in the van. We pass it around and everyone types. Theres no rules, you can do what you want. Actually the only rule is that there’s no editing. We’re trying to go for the 700 page novel but until it’s done people think we’re full of shit.”
To add to the bands mysteriously diverse endeavors, they have recorded a track-by-track cover album of the Harry Nilsson Classic Pussycats for an upcoming CD/DVD release.
“I guess that Pussycats was just a favourite of the band as a whole. We’d play tracks during rehearsals so we ended up knowing them really well and at the end of recording A Hundred Miles Off we decided to record some of them which eventually led to all of them. It was a quick session and it’s not something that’ll make us rich but we had a blast doing it”
With a tour Down Under slated for February, The Walkmen are far from easing off their adventures on the road and if it produces tracks like the ones off A Hundred Miles Off, Then it’s something to be thankful for.
In by Benj
When Disposable Heroes of Hypocrisy first unleashed the catch cry of ‘Television, the drug of the nation /Breeding ignorance and feeding radiation’ back in 1991, it seems that you would never get Michael Franti near a television studio. Yet the bands former front man and the current creative nexus of Spearhead is just minutes away from appearing on CNN. “I just grin and smile.” He says in response to my question regarding the aggressive nature of some television journalists. “Its the message that’s important.”
On a mobile phone high up on a mountain where the studios are located, the musician, activist and now filmmaker eagerly discusses music, touring, politics and the virtues of not wearing shoes.
What were your initial intentions when it came to shooting your documentary ‘I Know I’m not Alone’?
“When I first went over there I wasn’t intending to make a film, I was just intending to see what things were like. When I got back I had hours of videotape so we started editing it into a film. As I watched things take shape, a lot of emotions came up so I’d grab my acoustic guitar and write about what I was feeling and the result is both the film and the album.”
How were your preconceptions of Iraq altered during the course of shooting?
“I think the biggest one is that what you see on TV is Journalists and Politicians talking about the economic and political costs of war but you never see human beings on the street. It was really a shock for me when I first got there to see people doing normal things like walking to a café of shopping for fruit while there’s tanks driving by and soldiers jumping off arresting people in the street. The major preconception that I had was that the US soldiers were the problem. When you get there you realize that the soldiers are just there doing the dirty work. The people making decisions are the people who never have to see what’s going on there.”
Traveling round the world must give you an insight into what’s happening with Hiphop on a global scale. How has the Australian Hiphop scene progressed?
“When Hiphop first started spreading around the world I’d go to Germany and I’d see Rappers dressed like Run DMC and talking about life in New York. It was the same in Japan, just a knock off of New York style Hiphop. Then gradually over the years people started to express what they were about and where they come from. That’s really what I’ve experienced with Australian Hiphop. Whether they’re well known artists or whether I’m out somewhere and people are just Freestyling and Beatboxing on a street corner, people are talking about where they’re from.”
There’s an entry on your Wikipedia page that says you haven’t worn shoes since the year 2000. Is that true?
“I was in New Zealand and I spent a couple of weeks out in the jungle with some Maoris who were living a traditional life which included wearing no shoes. I tried talking off my shoes and I couldn’t take three steps with out going ‘Oww! Oww! Oww!’ so when I got back to San Francisco I decided I was going to do a fast, just to see if I could go three days around my house without wearing shoes. I started off just walking round my studio and walking to the corner store and just went from there. I have a pair of Haviana Flip Flops that I wear on aeroplanes. I always tell people my feet are 100% Genuine Leather.”
You’ve spent a lot of time in Australia. Have there been any artists recently that have caught your attention?
“There’s a great up and coming guitarist in Sydney called Kieran and he’s jammed with us a couple of times on stage at Byron Bay. He’s a phenomenal guitarist and he’s only like 16. Last time I was in Byron we were hanging out in my hotel room playing guitar. I said to him ‘Kieran, last time we played together, I asked if you would sing and you said you would next time’. Anyway he started to sing and he just had the most amazing voice. I’m really looking forward to seeing him blossom. I think he’s going to be a great international artist.”
With your schedule, do you write and record on the road?
“I have a studio and a video editing unit downstairs. When I’m on the road I don’t really record that much. I do a little bit of stuff on Garageband and on my computer but I usually just write songs on my guitar, remember them and record them when I get home.”
With over 5,000 artists adding albums onto iTunes a week, how do you think the digital age is affecting the way we listen to music?
“As always, the DJ is really important. And when I mean the DJ, I mean whatever channels deliver people to music. It could be a magazine, a track spinning in a club or a website. I just think it’s amazing that instead of having 25 albums in our record collection we can have 25,000. It’s healthy for music, it’s healthy for the artists and it’s especially healthy for us fans. We’re a band that has never discouraged taping of our live shows or of downloading. We even allow people to take a line out of our mixing desk at our live shows to make their own tapes and it’s totally helped us. The short-term music formula that’s used by Brittney Spears and boy bands like ‘N sync is to put out singles and have a huge first week then move on to the next band until that burns out I don’t think that makes music that is lasting. I’m reading this book right now about music in the early 90’s and at the time who would have ever thought that Guns n’ Roses would have been this band of great artistic integrity but when you listen to a song like November Rain as opposed to say, Slave by Ms Spears or any number of other songs by those MTV bands, they don’t even compare.”
In by Benj
“When I was 19, I was really into Jean Luc Goddard. I thought he was genius and I still do. I’m really into American cinema of the Seventies…Directors like Malick and Peckinpah. I also really love people like Elliot Gould, Warren Oates, George C. Scott. I love horror movies as well…the Giallo flicks by Argento and Bava. Actually Zombie movies are probably some of my favorites. Zombie 2, the Fulci one, that’s awesome. That’s the one that has the fight between the zombie and the shark!”
Owen Ashworth loves movies.
Or it may be more accurate to say that the 28 year old who performs under the Moniker of Casiotone For The Painfully Alone loves stories. After dropping out of film school with the realization that films just cost too much to make, Ashworth set about recording heartbreaking miniature epics onto a four track armed with old synths, keyboards and drum machines. This has resulted in three Lo-Fi LP’s and the latest offering Etiquette which sees CFTPA’s musical palette evolve with strings, flutes and even a touch of slide guitar.
“Etiquette was much more of a collaboration than the other records, even though I recorded of all the songs on a four track beforehand.” He explains. “Jherek Biscoff (The Dead Science and Degenerate Art Ensemble) and Jason Quever (The Papercuts and Pan American Recording Studio) came on board and really helped expand the sound. With the other records I was really limited by relying on synths and so by bringing in other musicians it helped take the songs to a different place.”
Even though a majority of the tracks are laced with a sense of regret and sadness, the tunes on Etiquette wear their Indie Pop roots on their sleeves
with subtle nods to Pavement (New Years Kiss) and The Magnetic Fields (Nashville Parthenon). Was crafting the songs born out of a musical background or was it something that came out of a need to accompany the stories?
“I think I may have taken one piano class while I was at college but apart from that I’m self taught. I really learnt piano through simply sitting down and writing songs. I can also be really stubborn so I guess I wanted to prove that I could play without the musical education.”
Even though Casiotone For The Painfully Alone is one of the great band names (along with Oingo Boingo and Dead Kennedys), how hard was it to get your first gig and what was the leap like from playing in your bedroom to playing to liquored up punters?
“A friend of mine asked me about the music that was on my answering machine so I made her a tape of a bunch of songs I’d written. Along the spine of the tape I wrote ‘Casiotone For The Painfully Alone’ without giving it too much thought. Anyway, she went off and decided to stick me on the bill as the opening act for other friends of hers that were playing. She didn’t ask me…I just got the flyer and saw Casiotone For The Painfully Alone. I remember writing a couple of songs the night before. I set up a keyboard and a drum machine, both coming out of one amp. It was terrible. I was so nervous. Then another friend came up to me after the show and asked if I wanted to play another gig a week later so it all snowballed from there.”
People tend to inevitably lump you in with The Mountain Goats, Bright Eyes and everyone else who released home recordings as albums. Do you see those connections or is it simply something the music media has created?
“People always make those comparisons but when I’m in my living room writing a song the last thing to come into my head is ‘I wonder if Bright Eyes has done something like this’. I grew up listening to bands like The Mountain Goats and the first thing that hits you is the earnestness and the intimacy, no matter how bad the production is. The same goes for Daniel Johnston. The songs are just so personal and brilliant that they outshine the obstacles of the environment they were created in.”
You’ve got quite a large presence on the Web. Aside from your own website and Myspace page, what’s your involvement with Daytrotter?
“Daytrotter is a website run by a music journalist called Shane Moller and it’s basically a place where he posts mp3’s different recording sessions that are made in his studio in San Diego…kind of like small versions of the sessions John Peel used to do for his radio show. We were in town and he asked us to record a few songs (which are available as free downloads at www.daytrotter.com).”
With your first major world tour fast approaching, is this something you ever imagined happening back when you were releasing records out of your house?
“This is just surreal at the moment. I was actually gonna come down to Australia and tour with the last record cause the label that was handling the release there was trying to organize it. Obviously it didn’t happen as they couldn’t quite justify it. To be honest, the whole thing feels like a dream at the moment and I don’t really know what to expect. I’m just grateful to be able to have this opportunity.”
Are you a fan of any Aussie bands?
“I’m actually not that familiar with too many Australian bands, though I will say that I Need You Tonight by INXS has to be one of the greatest Pop songs ever written. Period.”
In by Benj
If you were to think of artists whos music consisted of erotic love songs, chances are stadium rockers Live wouldn't be at the top of your list. Yet the bands ringleader Ed Kowalczyk is trying to convince us otherwise. “Getting in touch with my inner female has definitely made the new record sexier.” He explains. Either we're gonna see the band go the direction Queen did for their I Want To Break Free video or Mr. Kowalczyk is gonna slip into some purple lycra and change his name to Symbol. Whatever the case, it sounds like Live are moving into some uncharted waters with their new release Songs From Black Mountain and we're invited along for the ride.
In Australia as part of a worldwide promotional blitz, the singer seems exceptionally rooted and down to earth despite the band selling more than 20 million albums. Forming at the tender age of 13 under the name First Aid, the band struggled for many years before settling on the name Live and releasing Mental Jewelry and the internationally successful Throwing Copper. With all their rock fixtures intact and overtly spiritual themes, the band found themselves filling sports venues and drawing comparisons to musical giants U2. “My first concert was actually seeing U2 as part of their Joshua Tree tour. He recalls. “Bono has an incredible presence and it was like the entire audience was sharing the same emotional experience. I was heading into college at that point and that show had a huge impact on me. I loved the idea that music could help facilitate unity with people. It's very important to us and it's the main impetus of what we do.”
With the first two records really differing in sound to anything else that was around at the time, the band continued to expand it's dedicated fan base around the globe and establishing themselves as figureheads for many rock groups to come such as Creed and Nickelback. “We really worked hard at creating something that wasn't your typical style. We really wanted to dig deeper and use the music to enhance the emotional experience of the songs.” This philosophy has appeared to work as the song Lightning Crashes topped music charts around the world and paved the way for Live to make their presence felt in mainstream music. “Throwing Copper really solidified us as a band and helped not only to bring us to the next level but define who we were musically.”
Songs From Black Mountain seems to represent a new chapter in Live's career. Working with Producer Jim Wirt (Incubus, Hoobastank), the band recorded 12 tracks in 3 weeks and blew away everyone's expectations, including their own. “It was certainly the shortest amount of time we've ever spent recording an album but I guess the thing that amazed us the most was how good it sounded.”
The first single The River shows Live at their most accessible while keeping true to themselves. “ It has to be the most memorable melody we've ever recorded.” He says proudly. “I really like how we're using something so catchy to convey these abstract lyrical ideas I have about songwriting. When I sit down to write a song, I always feel like I'm wading into a river where a nurturing female presence guides me and pushes me along when I need it.”
So going back to nurturing your inner female and creating those erotic love songs. Is this a theme that runs through the whole album?
“Well, the new songs are really me personifying my muse. Historically muses have always been women from Greek right through to Indian Mythology. I've been sharing this erotic dance with Saraswati (the Hindoo goddess of learning, music, and poetry) for the past 20 years and the songs on this album are a culmination of that. My wife and my daughter are also constant sources on inspiration and the very first song we recorded (Love Shines) was something I wrote for my daughter to teach her about God. I don't want to take her to some boring church. It's a simple lyric about awareness and how it's shining all the time. It's something you can take refuge in. No matter what happens in life, it's always there. No matter what faith, there's a presence - whatever name you give it - that's always there as an internal refuge. I thought that was a beautiful message for kids to learn.”
Spiritually certainly doesn't stop with music for Ed Kowalczyk. Along with Billy Corgan, Matrix director Larry Wachowski, personal motivator Tony Robbins and New Age Guru Deepak Chopra, Ed is a fundamental part of the Integral Naked movement. Although seemingly challenging to grasp as a concept at first, Integral Naked appears to be a collection of writings and Multimedia projects promoting Integral Theory. I'm a little mystified. “Integral Naked isn't a cult or even a spiritual movement but a philosophy to help people exercise body, mind and spirit.” He explains. “In a physical sense it's an advanced network of knowledge for enlightenment.” No…I'm still scratching my head.
With the album starting to receive strong reviews in the US and the first single being exposed to airplay, it looks as if 2006 will be a very good year to be a member of Live. Will Aussie fans get a chance to see Live perform any time in the near future?
“Yeah, we're hoping sometime round December after we've finished playing back home and Europe. We love Australia and it's always great to play shows here.”
The interview is quickly coming to a close and soon after Ed will head back to The States to start an extensive nationwide tour. With all the flying you must get a chance to catch up on some reading. What are you into at the moment?
“ I'm reading The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle. It's an incredible book…really inspiring.”
In by Benj
It would be safe to say that The Psychedelic Furs put their stamp on the 80’s just as much as Punky Brewster, a-ha and Garbage Pail Kids but now, well over 25 years into their musical career, The Furs are still creating new material and are playing to dedicated crowds…which is more than can be said for Soleil Moon Frye.
After deciding to go their separate ways in the early 90’s, the band finally reformed in 2000 and have been playing shows ever since, introducing their brand of Post-Punk to a new generation of fans. “We’ve already made it so now we’re really just doing our thing and it’s great”. Enthuses bassist Tim Butler. After troubled beginnings to climbing to the top of the charts, it seems that the band has finally come full circle by simply playing music they love.
After forming in London around 1977, the band struggled to find footing in the ever-growing punk scene. Mixing liberal doses of Punk, Pop and Psychedelica, the group finally released their debut in 1980 after being championed by DJ John Peel and David Bowie. “We were looking for something that would make us stand out from the rest of the stuff that was out there and a big part of that was in our name. At the time Psychedelic Rock wasn’t very popular and even thought it wasn’t our sound, calling ourselves The Psychedelic Furs was meant to set us apart.” Clarifies Butler. “Our sound wasn’t really part of the Punk ethos. We weren’t a band that played on a three-cord philosophy. We came up with melodies through jamming and the music constantly evolved.”
It would appear that The Furs were influenced by The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol. The 1979 single We Love You was inspired by a quote Warhol made concerning African Americans. Taken completely out of context by the media and audiences alike, the band were labeled as racists and the song gained little airplay. Years later, when the band shifted from London to New York, they ended up gaining Warhol as a fan. “We met him at Jerry Halls birthday party at The Ritz in 1984. He was really sweet and used to come to our shows quite a bit.”
Chart success came in the form of Love My Way and Pretty In Pink, which later inspired the John Hughes film of the same name. “The film really opened us up to a larger audience and we got to rerecord the song for the soundtrack. It was a lot of fun but it also put a lot of pressure on us as a band.” He recalls. “Things became more about our hair and the fashion rather than about the music and I guess we felt like we weren’t being true to ourselves. It wasn’t about the music anymore and if you listen to Midnight To Midnight I think you can hear that.” Front man Richard Butler (and Tim’s brother) was quoted as saying the album was “hollow, vapid and weak”.
“We had grown tired of the whole touring, rehearsing and recording process.” He says in relation to the bands break up in the early 90’s. “We really felt that we needed a break from it all and one another. Richard went off and started Love Spit Love and I wrote for and played on their first album. The Furs ended up getting back together because I guess we felt we still had something to say, both lyrically and musically and we’ve been on the road pretty regularly ever since.”
The last few years has seen The Psychedelic Furs play to ever- growing crowds.
“Not too long ago we played in front of 50,000 people at the KROQ Inland Invasion festival with The Cure and Duran Duran in Southern California, which was amazing.”
Along with festivals and their own tours, The Furs have teamed up with no other than Detroit’s Electric Six (whose exceptionally catchy song Gay Bar drove me insane for about a month) for a number of shows in the US. How did this come about?
“We’d heard their record and loved it. There are so many genres being toyed with and it really reminded us of the stuff we were doing when we first started as a band. It’s a shame that they were labeled as a novelty act because of Gay Bar because it’s really an amazing record. I happened to mention to our manager that it would be great to do a show with them and we got a reply saying they’d be really into it. They’re a great bunch of people and if you haven’t heard their album you should get your hands on a copy.”
You’re in the studio at the moment. How’s it coming along?
“It’s been great so far. We have room to experiment with stuff and go at our own pace. We’re trying to play with our sound a lot more and we have the freedom now to do that. There’s no pressure to churn out a string of hits. The beauty of being able to take your time in the studio means that if you have an idea or hear something that creates a spark then you have time to incorporate it which isn’t always the case.”
June sees the band heading to Australian shores for the first time in quite awhile.
“I think the last time we were there was in 1982.” He laughs. “I’m sure things have changed quite a bit.” Do you like to head out after your shows and hit the town?
”No. I usually go back to the hotel, put on my slippers and have a hot chocolate. We try to relax as much as possible when we’re touring. In The States we tour by bus so we end up watching a lot of DVD’s. The band favourite is at the moment is ACDC – Back In Black. Can never get enough of seeing Thunderstruck live.”
In by Benj
When I was a kid I was actually convinced that Los Lobos was a Mexican wrestler who happened to play the odd bit of music. I was also convinced Fraggles were real but that’s another story entirely. In reflection I really don’t think I was too far off the mark as the Tex Mex combo have slipped in and out of commercial success in their nearly 30 year career with a sense of musical anonymity that has seen play the part of Popstars, Rockstars and Mariachis while still retaining an avid and dedicated fanbase.
After performing together for nearly ten years before reaching commercial success with the Ritchie Valens cover ‘La Bamba’, the five piece built an air of mystery and resourcefulness that other acts could only dream about. So what’s the secret? How do you remain fresh and inspired?
‘I’m amazed that I wake up and I constantly feel inspired and excited by the music I make even after doing it all these years.’ Exclaims guitarist Louie Perez from his home in Southern California. ‘Even though our lives have changed and I have a family now I never feel that things are stale. There’s always a fresh experience to be had. It’s like Keith Richards said, “inspiration just falls out of the sky.” I’ve been writing music with David for 35 years now and it’s always this process of discovery and making emotional connections.’
This would definitely explain the constant playfulness that sees them flirting with so many different genres. ‘When I listen to music I always look for something that moves me as a human being. Like I was watching TV and the Icelandic band Sigur Ros were playing and I was just overwhelmed by the beauty of what they do. I listen to a lot of different types of music…usually in the car. I think I have Social Distortion in the CD player at the moment but I rarely listen to music when I’m at home. It’s too distracting.’
Considering the way the music industry has evolved even in the last five years with the advent of Itunes, mp3 and digital distribution, has this had any impact on the way you record an album? ‘I wanna put something to you and see if you agree. When people make records they structure songs in an order for a reason and with things like Napster people have greater freedom to pick and choose but this also takes away from the overall experience of an album. It obviously depends on the artist but it can be like mixing up the chapters in a book and I guess it just takes some of the sacredness away. We put a lot of effort in structuring the music to create an overall experience and for us that’s important.’
Being the incredibly versatile cats that they are, Los Lobos have also contributed music to films such as Mambo Kings, Desperado and Once Upon A Time In Mexico.
‘When you go to make music for a movie, it can be quite difficult because directors usually don’t have the musical knowledge to express what they want. We’ve worked with Robert Rodriguez a couple of times and he is a one-man industry. Not only is he an amazing guitarist but he is constantly on top of everything. He’s one of those guys who can just hang out and every time we play in Austin Texas he comes up on stage and jams with us. It’s also really nice to see someone being so successful outside the Hollywood system and doing such groundbreaking work.’
Part of being successful means that you’re in a position to give back to the community and Los Lobos are no exception. ‘ We have the Los Lobos Scholarship Fund which goes to helping students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds enter college. We don’t choose the students personally but we’ve been doing that for a while now and it’s been pretty successful. We also have a close relationship with The Farmers Union as well, playing fundraisers when we can. We’re actually playing tomorrow night with Carlos Santana for a charity that he runs. It’s good to be able to give something back.’
Next months sees them coming to Australian shores headlining the 17th Annual Blues & Roots festival Held in Byron Bay playing with Public Enemy, Michael Franti and Bob Geldof among others. ‘It’s such an honor to be playing with such an amazing line up.
Festivals are great places to play as well cause everyone’s relaxed and you get to hang out with good people.”
Los Lobos have now released their first live DVD release entitled ‘Los Lobos Live At The Fillmore.’ ‘Practically everyone has a concert DVD now so we thought it was about time. The Filllmore Theatre in San Francisco is a beautiful venue and we’re glad that we finally got round to it.’ The DVD really captures the spirit of what Los Lobos is about as the band pours their heart and soul into 20 tracks in front of an audience of hardcore fans.
You can tell that these are a group of musicians who simply love playing music together which creates a sense of honesty and intimacy, which is impossible to fake.
Now for the cliché desert island question. If you were stuck on an island and were only allowed to take one book with you, what would it be?
‘Umm…that’s a good question. It’d definitely have to be Ask The Dust by John Fante
(Now a movie with Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek). It’s an amazing story that captures what it’s like growing up in California even though the stories set in the 30’s.’
In by Benj
It’s official. The Mountain Goats are determined to make Australia the new Japan by releasing an exclusive Aussie Only EP entitled Babylon Springs to coincide with their upcoming tour. “It’s not going to be for anywhere else in the world.” Enthuses wordsmith and chief Mountain Goat John Darnielle with enough infectious excitement for you to believe that he may actually be onto something.
“When we first came down to Australia people were so amazing to me. I came down all by myself and played these little shows and people were really cool to me.” He says with genuine fondness. “When we came back last year people were incredibly cool to us and we had the best damn time.”
In regards to the new EP, Darnielle further explains.
“When I was a young record collector I thought it was awesome if you could get the French pressing of something that would have a different track on it. I thought that was rad so when 4AD gave me the opportunity I jumped at the chance. I’m really stoked about it. I’ve always liked the idea of regionally specific recordings and it seemed kinda ripe to be coming back over without anything new so I had these other songs that weren’t gonna fit on the new album anyway for a variety of reasons so we went over to Scotland where Tony Doogan has a new studio, he’s the guy who produced Tallahasse, and we did five songs with him and the drummer from Belle and Sebastian. If you liked Tallahasse your gonna like it. It’s got the same kinda crisp, acrid feel to it.”
It’s not hard to see where the reckless passion that infuses so many of The Mountain Goats tracks comes from. Darnielle has such an intense love of telling stories and talking about music. After releasing a number of tapes recorded on a four track through various Indy labels such as Shrimper and Absolutely Kosher throughout the Nineties, The Mountain Goats slowly built a devoted fanbase, which saw them sign a deal with 4AD and release 2002’s Tallahasse.
“Everyone always says it was a four track but this is something people assume cause it was a home recording.” Explains Darielle. “I actually used to record directly into a boombox. There was no overdubbing or anything, just guitar and voice live so obviously it’s quite different. The writing is essentially the same but I think I’m better at it than I used to be.”
Is there any chance of the tape releases being reissued on CD in the near future?
“The original recordings were made for a pretty small cult audience, know what I mean? People who don’t have any problem listening to something that was recorded live into a Boombox. I’d hate for people who were used to hearing these smooth sounding, clear recordings to rush out and buy something that cost 25 cents to record”
Pretty much all of The Mountain Goat’s songs have a strong narrative drive and an amazing sense of storytelling. Do you ever think there will come a time when you wake up and think “Shit...I have no more stories left to tell”?
“No…I mean the way I think about stories is like when your telling a story to a child. Kids ask for the same stories over and over again and it never gets old for them. There’s no such thing as telling the same story twice. If you play the same song two nights in a row it tells a different story cause everyone’s circumstances are different. So I think stories are permanent and they’re always out there in the air for anybody who wants to grab one and tell.”
Have things such as Myspace and the Internet changed the way you interact with fans?
“Very little changes with the way I interact with fans. I’ve always been pretty easy to approach. I come from the Mid-Nineties Indie Rock scene where the whole where the whole distinction between fan and artist is pretty blurry. At the same time a lot of the songs I write are looking at pain in someway or another looking at pain and a lot of the people who listen to my stuff to do so because they’re wanting someone to meet them in a painful place and so people often come up to me and want to share their stories which puts me in a strange position because I’m all about it. I love to hear them but people often assume that if I’m telling stories that relate to them that I’ve done the sorts of things that they have…which isn’t always the case. I had a guy write to me after Tallahasse came out and it was very clear to him that I knew what it was like to cheat on my wife and I don’t know what that’s like! I’m never gonna know what that’s like!”
With the upcoming tour and an ever-growing number of people discovering Darnielle and Co’s disarmingly potent blend of Lo-Fi Folk Pop, it seems that The Mountain Goats will be feeding on even greener pastures than before. Now if they would just hurry up and release their new album before I wear my copy of We Shall All Be Healed out.
“One of the favourite things about people who listen to my stuff and, knock wood when I say this, is that I tend to be the only thing that people listen to for a while. As a big music fan, I know what that’s like. About a year ago I went through the same thing with Smog and if it wasn’t Smog then I didn’t wanna hear it and wow, that’s kinda cool to think that I make music that makes people feel that they don’t need anything else for a while.”
In by Benj
“I’ve been meditating on the devil for the last few years.” laughs singer, songwriter and storyteller Jolie Holland. Usually when you ask people what their obsessions are, they don’t rise to such a grand level but the sultry Texan heads straight for the jugular and continues to explain her fascination with The Dark Side.
“I’ve been obsessed with The Master And Margherita by Mikhail Bulgakov. That’s the book that Sympathy For The Devil was based upon. Also, there’s The Forbidden Zone. Its this really hilarious and fucked up movie. It’s got the Knights of Oingo Boingo in it and I guess it’s like low budget Marx brothers. It’s also got the devil in it (laughs). It’s really interesting for me what The Devil means to people. In Psychotherapy they talk about how evil is repressed, like it’s this shadow. I mean the devil has really lost his power in the Western mind. No ones really scared of him anymore.”
When she’s not pitying Satan’s plight, Jolie Holland is busy touring and promoting her third album Springtime Can Kill You, which has met mass critical acclaim. Weaving a number of different genres together into a tapestry of light and dark, the result is something that begs to be listened to through a cloud of smoke in a shady bar. She’s been labeled by the press as a ‘Southern Fried Billie Holiday’ who conjures up gothic fairytales. No wonder Tom Waits is a fan.
“It’s strange. I guess people say that they’re Tom Waits fans but I can say the inverse.” She says gleefully. “I haven’t met him but I know a lot of people in common with him like musicians and business people. It’s very cool.”
The album shifts between Blues, Country, Folk, Pop and countless other schools of music effortlessly yet Holland swears that her influences are far from what people may expect. “I don’t understand what influences mean. It’s just a strange concept to me. There are some things that I started listening to when I was a teenager that are still really important to me like The Pouges and John Coltrane. A lot of my influences are my friends who people haven’t heard of so I can’t steer people to websites that don’t exist.”
“If you came to a show of mine, you’d probably understand the whole genre distinction thing for me.” She continues to explain. ”Especially if you came to a show in my neighbourhood you’d see you my friends and fans were. I really try not to limit myself. I’ve always had a lot of friends in the Hardcore scene and the Punk Rock scene. I think of myself as something out of Punk Rock culture. Not so much as some of my friends. I was never in a real Punk Rock band but I used to go see Punk shows when I was a kid. I really know nothing about Folk music. This is just what I do.”
Holland is also part of the ever-growing number of bands that are bucking digital recording in favour for the old school method of laying tracks down on tape and relishing the sound of vinyl.
“The first album was done digitally and the sound quality is not as good. It’s more difficult to produce but it’s sounds so much better, especially on record. Digital on record just doesn’t sound very good at all. I think the vinyl release of Springtime Can Kill You is more of a European thing. It’s definitely impossible to get it in The States. You actually have to order it from The Netherlands if you live in The States. It pisses me off that somebody has to pay $40 to get a record.
I guess that’s like a tribute to me, that they’re doing it out of love for my music but I wish they could buy in a store instead of spending all that money on the postal service. That’s just how it is though.”
Touring with a record that may not be instantly accessible to live audiences due to it being so diverse, intimate and lush may seem like a challenge but Holland doesn’t see it that way.
“I tour with a trio. A drummer and a guitar player.” She says of her stripped down live sound. “I like playing Rock clubs. I think it’s a bit boring playing dinner places. You can’t see anybody’s faces and no one’s standing by the stage. I’m trying to get a better attitude about it but I’m not that into it. There is a real difference though playing shows in Europe as opposed to America. It’s really hard for me to understand any of it. It’s all happened so fast that it’s difficult gaining a perspective and it’s constantly changing. When I go on tour this time it’s going to be completely different from the way it was last time cause the fan base is constantly expanding.”
A sellout appearance at the South By Southwest festival also added to Holland’s growing reputation as a must-see live act. “When I was in South by Southwest I had the best time. I partied until seven in the morning with (US Gypsy Punks) Gogol Bordello. The crowds there were so adoring. It was awesome. Last night I played a secret show here in Brooklyn with some of my hero’s and all time favourite songwriters. I played with Samantha Parton of the Be Good Tanyas and Jan Bell. She’s from Britain and she’s one of my heroes.”
As the interview comes to an end, I realize that my view of Holland 15 minutes ago was completely different to what it is now and the same can be said for Springtime Can Kill You. It changes form with each listen and like all good records shows another layer every time you press repeat.
So….I’d be guessing that Holland would be a big fan of Bloody Mary’s or Scotch straight from the bottle.
“Actually…I’d prefer a natural spring.” She says sweetly.
In by Benj
There’s something infectious about Houston Calls. I usually run in the opposite direction when I hear the word Emo but after a few spins in the old iPod the boys debut ‘A Collection Of Short Stories’ grew on me with its earnest charm and Punk Pop sensibilities and has been lathered with considerable praise since it’s release. It’s a well-crafted mix of youthful optimism and struggle that knows how to bury a chorus firmly in your brain. I guess it’s no real surprise then that bassist Jarrett Seltzer (no relation to Brian Seltzer) is such a nice guy.
“We actually reply to all our Myspace messages personally…it may take us a few weeks when we’re touring but we get round to it. It’s really important to us.”
Judging by the number of fans and messages they have on Myspace (including marriage proposals and desperate pledges of teenage love) that shows some dedication.
“I guess that there are two types of bands. The ones that let the record company do everything for them and the ones that take the resources they’re given and use them to their best advantage. We’re definitely a band that really has a hands on approach ”He explains. Adding themselves the ever growing list of bands being born out of the DIY internet age, Houston Calls started by getting the support of the online community as well as touring independently. “Originally we set up a Myspace page but no one knew who we were so we went to the Drive Thru/Rushmore Records page and we would add as many people as we could. We’d call each other up and it was a competition to see how many people we could get to come to our page. It’s great to have that connection with people because after all the fans are the ones that make all this happen.”
This philosophy hasn’t stopped after signing with a label. The band’s website has journals for each of the members as well as links so fans can chat to the guys on IM. ‘It’s awesome to have that connection.’
Having built up a fan, the band eventually signed with Rushmore Records. “They’ve been amazing right from the start. When the album went over budget, they gave us the extra money. We really wanted this company to do the artwork for our album and they paid extra for that as well.”
The band took a slightly more intimate approach when it came to recording the album. Enlisting producer Ed Rose (Get-Up Kids, Motion City Soundtrack) they then shifted to the solitary space of Eudora, Kansas with its population of 5000 people and never ending cornfields. “We chose to record in Eudora cause it was kind of a spontaneous thing to do. There’s nothing there but cornfields so you really have no choice but to hang out at the local diner and play music. It’s a nice contrast to recording in a city like LA. It was also great to work with Ed. We’ve been fans of his work with the Get-Up Kids for a long time and he was amazing.”
Touring across the US constantly and promoting your record must be exhausting but exciting at the same time. What have been the highlights so far? “ I guess the biggest moment for us so far was flying to LA to sign the deal with Rushmore Records. I always had this dream that we as a band would fly in a plane to experience that cliché rockstar lifestyle. We’re just about to go on tour in Japan with Yellowcard before we head to Australia and this is our first international tour. Playing to much larger audiences than we’re used to. It’s pretty exciting playing with a band like Yellowcard. They’ve sold like over 2 million albums and having the opportunity to share shows with them is awesome. I’ve heard that audiences in Japan can be kinda strange. A friend of told me that they can be really quiet but if you try getting off the stage and running from one end of the venue to the other that you’ll never make it. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit and I can’t believe that were actually playing shows there. We’ve also received a ton of emails from Bands in Australia wanting to play with when we tour.”
Is it difficult playing to so many different audiences? For example, how different are crowds in NY from LA? “ It’s much harder to play shows in LA cause the crowd is a lot tougher and people don’t’ really give music a lot of time but if you go somewhere like Anaheim, there’s heaps more excitement and the kids are more genuine. We’re playing in Long Island at the moment and that’s different again and I guess that’s the great thing about touring. That no matter how difficult one place may be there’s always the next place to go to.”
It looks as if the future for the young lads of Houston Calls is going to be very bright indeed. Bypassing the usual trappings associated with Power Pop and infusing their songs with some insightful storytelling, it’s going to be interesting to see where the future takes them. Are we going to be able to get our hands on another record in the near future? “For the time being we’re gonna tour and just enjoy the whole experience. I love just listening to music and being able to play shows. I’m listening to a lot of Tokyo Rose and Just Surrender at the moment.
I guess we’re just enjoying the moment.”
In closing, I thought I’d go for the jugular with a hard hitting question. Know any dirty jokes?
“I actually paid this bum a dollar and he told me this joke. Why doesn’t Santa Claus have any children?...cause he only cums once a year.”
Come on…my mum can do better than that!
In by Benj
Over their very diverse 9-year career, you could never accuse Gerling of becoming stale. Juggling myriads of musical genres at will, the Sydney boys are once again taking their musical wagon in a different direction with the release of their new LP 4 and this time it seem they’ve left the samplers at home and borrowed Ryan Adam’s producer. Have Gerling finally snapped and decided to become Alt. Country superstars? I grabbed Presser from the band and demanded an explanation.
“We liked the stuff he (Producer Ethan Johns) had done, the two Kings Of Leon records sound really great. We knew that he had a really organic approach and we were trying escape the whole computer world. When he actually came back to us and said he wanted to do it and that there was no computer we were like ’Fuck…this could actually be what we want.’” He explains.
“It was kind of a godsend in a way because we’d had our head stuck in a process with the last two and this helped us break free from it.”
And break free they have. They certainly don’t sound like they could have ever collaborated with either Kylie or Kool Keith. The songs on 4 are, for the most part, guitar and drum affairs that show the three piece as solid songwriters as well as being bloody amazing at everything else.
“It’s probably the closest thing to the first kinda music were doing which was this stripped back two guitars and drums thing That was years ago…round in ’96. We had an EP out in then our first album was released and in between that time our music tastes developed a bit more too. The Daft Punk album came and DJ Shadow released his first. We were listening to a lot of Kraftwerk and that kinda stuff. We were into the idea of opening our little world up and buying a shit keyboard. The first album only took four days to record because we already had half the songs written in our heads and the rest of the time we mucked around with the electronic stuff. When that came out and we were onto our second album, we bought enough gear to have a shitty little studio. I guess once your in that room anything can happen. We just went nuts and just did any musical style we could basically.”
4 also sees Gerling heading overseas for the first time to record an album, in this case North Hollywood to work with Ethan Johns. Johns is well known for being one of the few producers left who still records to tape. It seems like an extreme departure for the former electro punks, right?
“We never really thought we were gonna do the whole producer thing. We went and recorded songs in Sydney, kinda like recording demos but also considering them to be the actual songs that’d be on the album. Once we had the songs done the record company liked them and suggested we work with a producer, not necessarily overseas but just to do a proper recording session. We made up a wish list and Ethan was on that list and he ended up saying yes which we were really grateful for. Even though we recorded it in North Hollywood it was very unflash. We recorded it in a big soundproof studio room that used to be the set for a Mexican sitcom. The studio was amazing…he has a Fender that Keith Richards gave him when he was 6, effects units and all this cool shit but he didn’t have any assistants or anything. It was just himself doing all the work…making the coffee and all that shit, which doesn’t really happen over there or here either. North Hollywood is kinda the Hispanic part of town and it was kinda cool cause you’d go out for a cigarette or a break and you hear the ice-cream man coming down yelling out in Spanish or you’d go to the Milk Bar to get a Coke and realize you were the only white person there. It did give a different sense of ‘what the fuck’s going on?’.
2005 saw Gerling touring the US as part of the Suicide Girls Burlesque tour as well as a number of other shows. Was it hard to compete with a stageful of strip-teasing vixens?
“It was good fun to do. The Suicide Girls shows were hard…to be honest, 90% of the people were just going there to see the girls strip. The shows were kinda tame. Everything’s covered up to a degree anyway. At a majority of the shows people didn’t know who the fuck we were but there were others where people knew us cause they had a CD of ours or something. I think the weirdest thing for us was doing a lot of All-Ages shows with a band called The Red Light Sting at local Rec Centres. There’s no booze and there’s about fifteen bands playing. Apart from feeling like the oldest people in the place we couldn’t drink so…yeah, that was pretty tough.”
Not just content with rampaging across America, the boys decided to shoot the clip for the new single ‘Turning The Screws’ in Shibuya, Tokyo to fully round out their international takeover plan. Any Jackass style harassment in the process?
“We like Shibuya a lot…that’s where we usually hang out when we’re over there. Our friends from Brisbane, these two guys Fifty Fifty came up to us and said ‘Why don’t we do this clip in Japan?’ and we said ‘Why not? That sounds cool.’ They followed us round for 3 days with a handy cam while we ran riot. We were doing shit at that big intersection (the one with the big TV screens from Lost In Translation) where there’s a zillion people walking through everyday and we were just there running amok and no one gave a shit.”
In the age of Australian Idol and overnight musical sensations that seem to come and go every other weekend, is it getting harder for bands who are exploring different musical horizons to make a decent living?
“I think it’s a weird thing now where it’s like ‘Ok…we’ve gotta go chase the next big thing now and give them a million dollar deal’. Before they’ve even packed up the van after their first gig they’re already getting schmoozed and boozed. I think it’s kinda odd and I don’t really understand it. I’m not saying that we deserve that cause we’re doing ok but I don’t know how it would be not having all the shit gigs and all the hard times. I think you need those experiences behind you to really appreciate what you have.”
In by Benj
Grandfathers of Heavy Rock Deep Purple have spent a majority of their 37-year career constantly redefining their genre without a hint of the pretense and pose usually associated with it. Constantly touring and out living thousands of other bands during the course of their existence, the Rock Legends have carved themselves a place beside Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath in creating music history as well as helping millions of kids learn guitar by recording Smoke On The Water in the first place. Beat sat down with bassist Roger Glover for some enlightenment on the world Of Deep Purple.
There are a million and one variations of the story on how Smoke On The Water came to be. Mind telling us yours?
“In a nutshell, we were attempting to make a studio recording in a live setting because we wanted to try and capture some of that excitement that comes from playing live. The place that we picked was a casino in Montrose, Switzerland but it wasn’t just a casino. It had restaurants, a disco, bars and a 3000- seat venue. We’d played there before. Most bands playing a tour of Europe would have played at the casino in Montrose. Before we could move our equipment in there was one more concert to go, which was a Frank Zappa & The Mothers Matinee show. We were invited so we went along and about 50 minutes into the set somebody fired a flare gun into the bamboo ceiling. It didn’t look too much like a fire at first but just as a precaution the music stopped and everybody had to leave. Basically it started a huge fire and the whole place burned down. It burned all through the rest of the afternoon and all through the night. By the next morning all that was left was a ruined mass of blackened timbers and smoking rubble.
About a day or so later I woke in our hotel room, we were staying in a hotel about a quarter of a mile away and said the words ‘Smoke on the water’ out loud to myself…before I’d even woken up. We had this song we didn’t have lyrics for so we decided to write about our adventure in Switzerland and the place burning down. We recorded it in a deserted hotel called The Grand under dire circumstances, little realizing of course that something that was so specific could ever become something so universal.”
There’s a small army of Deep Purple Cover bands scattered across the globe, a personal favourite of mine being Fireball from Brazil. Have there been any that have caught your attention?
“I’ve heard of Fireball. There’s one in Germany called Demons Eye. They gave me a live CD of theirs a few months ago. I was quite amazed at how close to our sound they were…they’re probably closer to it than we are! I mean, we don’t actually listen to our own records and you forget how they go after a while.”
After touring hundreds of times and playing the same songs over and over again, how do you keep it interesting for yourselves as a band?
“Well by actually playing the music, not just going through the motions. We’re not a cabaret act or a cover band. We’re a musical band who loves to play music. The caliber of musicians like Don Airey, Ian Paice and Steve Morse. That’s what keeps it fresh. That, and when you look out into the crowd and see an ever -younger audience with big smiles on their faces and everyone having a good time…it’s just a magical thing. Australia is one of the places we play where the audience is a lot older. I hope that’s gonna change. It certainly has around Europe and America.”
You produced an album for Judas Priest (1977’s Sin After Sin). Metal bands like Judas Priest were targeted during the 80’s for being Satan’s Pin Up boys and even inciting murder but over the last ten years it seems the media has turned it’s sights on the likes of 50 cent and Eminem as being the new corrupting influences on today’s youth. Would it be fair to say metal and hard rock has lost its edge?
“It’s become mainstream. When we started, we were playing and writing music that didn’t get played on the radio and didn’t sell records. It wasn’t recognized as any kind of viable or commercial prospect. We made that music despite all that because that’s the way we felt. When you have that attitude and you make it you end up creating the rules rather than following them.
Getting back to the original question, the whole satanic thing is a joke. People have to write something and it spreads around the world. If you play Judas Priest backwards you hear ‘I like Satan’ or something like that. What stupidity! I mean I mean I know the guys from Judas Priest and they’re far from anything like that.
Having seen music evolve from Vinyl to tape then to CD and now to MP3, what’s your opinion on the whole iTunes revolution?
“I think all progress is a double edged sword. It’s made things worse in many ways. CD sales have slumped. It’s almost gone back to the way things were in the 50’s where the song is the most important thing, not the album. Now you have the ability to buy a song from an album without having to buy the album and I think that’s probably a reaction to the 80’s where people had to buy an album with one or two songs on it and the rest of it being filler. I think record companies gouged the public as well. When CD’s came out they had the ability to re-release albums all over again with virtually no costs involved at a higher price than what the original vinyl cost. They’re paying their dues now in many ways. Record companies did have their uses though and that was to work as filtering system. There’s so much new music around it’s impossible to keep up with it all.
What are you listening to at the moment?
“Theres a lot of new bands that I like. Radiohead were probably the last real band that struck me. I kind of appreciate a band like Jet who come up withy catchy songs and have lots of fire and enthusiasm but not a lot of finesse. It’s fun to listen to but I don’t think see a future for it. But then again, what do I see?”
In by Benj
“For those people who don’t know who we are, we’re just four boys from Brigend that have worked hard to get where we are and we have no shame in say that we want to be the biggest band in the world by this time next year!” Declares Matt Tuck, Vocalist and Guitarist for the very loud and fast Bullet For My Valentine. Being no stranger to bold statements, the front man has already been quoted as saying that he wants to be the ‘Metal John Lennon’ and sure, it’d sound pretty wanky if he didn’t have the goods to back it up but with three Metal Hammer Golden God award nominations, an album that has sold through the roof and over 95,000 Myspace fans, it seems that Tuck may well be on his way. So it only seems inevitable to ask, when did Metal become boring?
“The last ten years, from the mid ninties to a few years ago, have been pretty miserable for Metal world. There’s really been nobody breaking through or setting the world on fire. The last 18 months to two years has been looking really promising with bands like God Forbid and Trivium making me like Metal again which is awesome…it’s making me really happy.”
It seems that people don’t take the Metal scene as a serious threat anymore and it’s rappers with the censored videos and songs. Where’s all the controversy gone?
“Because Metal has died away a bit and he older generation who were bitching about it have gone away. That’s probably got something to do with it. Hip Hop and Rap have got such a worldwide influence and some of the lyrical content is really explicit and harsh so I guess that’s why it’s getting so much attention. I think lyrical content for Metal bands has changed from what people stereotypically think it is to stuff like what we’re writing about which are love songs basically…just portrayed in an aggressive manner with heavy guitars.”
Is that how you’d describe your music?
“Well…the best way to describe it at the moment is Melodic Metal. It’s got everything a Metal fan would require with raging kick drums, ranting, screaming, heavy and harmonic riffs but at the same time I like to make it catchy and melodic so it has that aspect as well. It really works.”
How are you dealing with all the success you’ve had so far?
“We’re still kind of gob smacked at how everything’s gone in the UK and Europe. It’s all happened so quick that we haven’t had time to reflect but the time we knew we were on to something is when we recorded the mini album and released it. It just started going ballistic. It was just a five track mini album but it started flying out. We started placing a few copies at show trying to promote it and we were doing a sell out UK tour before we even knew it, which was weird. After that we went and recorded the album and it’s just gone mental.”
The only other Welsh musos I can think of are Super Furry Animals. What’s the music scene like there and was it hard to break out of it?
“Yeah…it was totally difficult and I sympathize with bands who are still in the country trying to make something of themselves. We struggled for seven years have shelled literally thousands upon thousands of pounds during that time, drove thousands of miles ourselves, playing to nobodies just trying to get somewhere. You have to get out and make the effort if you want to succeed because it very rarely happens overnight. As far as the music scene in Wales, I can only speak for the South Wales area and its very Rock orientated which surprises a lot of people. There’s quite a few Indie bands as well but the majority of it is Hard Rock and Metal.”
What have your touring experiences been like so far?
“We’ve been to the US twice so far…we just got back last Sunday and we’re heading back in three weeks which is going to be a proper test but the two tours that we’ve done so far haven’t been the best kind of tours for us. Firstly we were over there last November with a band and the crowed that they pulled were very much of the Hardcore variety. They had very little musical appreciation and were more interested in beating each other up. Saying that though, the people that were there for the music were totally into it. We just got back from touring with Rob Zombie and again that was a very weird tour for us.”
What was it like Hanging out with Rob Zombie?
“He really kept to himself and didn’t mingle with us at all. His band did though. They were awesome. They were really sweet but Rob was very quiet and never really mingled with anyone apart from the band.”
Any plans to tour Australia?
“Yeah. I believe it’s either gonna be September or October. They’re looking at adding Australian dates after we go to Japan. We’ve been to Japan a couple of times and the audiences there are mental. They actually recorded one of our Osaka shows for MTV Japan and the kids were going off. It was just like playing in the UK.”
Who are your three biggest Metal influences?
“James Hetfield, Bruce Dickinson and Kurt Cobain.”
“Just because he was very mysterious and some of their stuff doesn’t really make sense but it did to him. It’s pretty much a Beatles vibe. Some of that stuff was so wacky and out there yet people just loved the songs. It didn’t matter what he were singing about. He was an icon for a generation because of it.”
In by Benj
While most artists seem to lose their edge in the latter part of their careers, Iggy Pop aside, Reggae legend Big Youth comes across with enough passion and fire in his belly to put most of his contemporizes to shame. It’s been over thirty years since the jeweled toothed rebel cut his first single in 1972 and while his career hasn’t been all smooth sailing, Beat asks, why has it taken all these years for him to reach Australian shores?
“Nobody wanted to pay me!,” He laughs down the phone from his home in Jamaica “ It comes down to promoters and record companies. If you don’t have the support of a big record label behind you promoters are less willing to take chances, you know? It’s very difficult for independent artists at this time because corporations have such a monopoly on the music industry. It’s all about making quick money.”
Born Manley Augustus Buchanan, the name Big Youth was given to him by his co-workers at the Kingston Sheraton Hotel when he was still in his teens. He started to pick up the mike at parties; initially toasting without a DJ and by the late 60’s he had developed a loyal following. In the early 70’s he was DJing with Lord Tipperton’s sound system, which finally led to him cutting singles. It wasn’t until after he had recorded numerous singles with a variety of different producers
(including Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry) that Big Youth found chart success. Tracks like The Killer and S.90 Skank vaulted him to the top of the Jamaican charts where he has been many number of times throughout his colourful career. This also led to success in England in the mid to late 70’s where he was even photographed sharing a spliff with Sex Pistol John Lydon.
“I’d worked with a lot of different people and it helped me develop my sound. The music community in Jamaica is quite small and people tend to follow what only a few people are doing. When Lee Perry left Jamaica people didn’t know what to do because they would copy his sound and ideas. People think he’s crazy but I think he’s just unique. There is no one else like him.”
“Do you know the reason he left Jamaica?”
“(laughs) That’s something you’d have to ask him yourself.”
What Big Youth is predominantly known for is bringing Rastafarianism to the forefront of Jamaican music, heavily influencing Bob Marley and countless other acts by sporting dreadlocks in his shows and on his album covers and spreading the message of Jah and love through his music years before it came to represent the sound.
“I always try and make music for the people. It’s important for me to have conscious lyrics. I am inspired by life and struggle and the desire to educate people. That’s where me words come from. Bob understood suffering and you can hear it in his music. He has a special place in my heart.”
The cult movie Rockers seemed to encapsulate the Jamaican music scene of the late 70’s, showcasing a number of legendary artists including Pete Tosh, Gregory Issacs and a cameo by Big Youth himself decked out as what looks to be a flashy pimp. It paints a picture of a laidback Kingston with parties every night and everyone having a good time. Life couldn’t really have been that good, right?
“Ok. Rockers is just entertainment but it’s not life. It really doesn’t represent what was happening at the time. It’s just a fantasy. It was fun to be part of but it doesn’t represent history.”
With the advent of technology providing cheaper equipment and global communication, the Jamaican music scene has opened up and become more accessible than before. Dancehall is now more popular than ever thanks to the likes of Beenie Man, Bounty Killer and Sean Paul. 1000’s of unknown artists can now get the exposure than would’ve once been impossible. Has life become easier on independent talent?
“It’s easier to promote yourself now but there is also a lot of pressure. Everyone has to have a video for their song. A lot of artists sing and dance with shit eating grins but there is no substance. There’s a lot of disposable music with no message. Everyone simmers down. They’re afraid to say anything important. Now everyone needs to be on the web. Even though there are many Big Youth Websites we hope to have Big Youth Web sometime in 2006 so I can share me music and message.”
Touring with Big Youth in February are the ‘Ambassadors of Reggae’ Third World and lead vocalist Bunny Rugs has seen the industry open up for the reggae underground.
“There’s a lot of amazing music coming out of Jamaica now and it’s really turned into a global movement. The world no.1 Dancehall dancer is from Japan and Jamaican music is very popular there. I’m a big fan of Elephant Man, Bounty Killer and Ky-Mani Marley and there are a lot of innovative producers that are pushing the boundaries.”
Third World have also had an amazing impact on reggae music. After opening for Bob Marley and the Wailers in 1974, they have had a string of hits that have made then one of the most successful Jamaican acts in history, despite purists branding them as more of a pop act then authentic reggae. Blending together Pop, Rock, Dub and, in later releases Rap, They helped launch Jamaican music into an international force.
These days Big Youth releases fewer albums and has even fewer shows but the ferocity and intelligence that showed through on records like Natty Cultural Dread and Screaming Target still remains intact.
“I still make me music because I want to spread the message. It’s hard bein an independent artist but you have to continue and try and connect with the people.
I hope everyone who comes to the shows in Australia can learn something, feel something and enjoy.”
In by Benj
Belle and Sebastian are the best Scottish band of all time. Or, at least according to style guide magazine The List, they are. Holding an international poll, the magazine collected 12,000 votes, which saw the poster children of cardigan Indie Pop triumph over the likes of Franz Ferdinand and Teenage Fanclub. “I guess you have to take that all with a pinch of salt.” says the bands resident trumpeter Mick Cooke. “The funny thing about it was that a lot of the people who voted were actually in places like Brazil and Japan even though it was a Scottish magazine that ran the poll.” I don’t know how seriously a poll can be taken when The Proclaimers come in at 10th place and Mogwai at 20th but it’s safe to say that over the last decade, the seven-piece has gathered a legion of dedicated fans around the globe. Starting out all those years ago, was this kind of success imaginable?
“To begin with it wasn’t really a band but just a bunch of people who got together to record Stuart’s songs. It wasn’t until later when we signed to Jeepster that it became a band project and even at that point no one knew if it was going to go pass the second album. It was really just something small that snowballed into something bigger over a period of time.”
I heard a rumor that you turned down the original offer to join the band.
“Basically the band I had been playing with had split a couple of months earlier so I’d been filling in my time by working part-time jobs and playing with Belle and Sebastian whenever I could. At the time the band weren’t that proactive and they weren’t doing an awful lot so my biggest concern was just about spending more time hanging about cause I’d been hanging about for several months and you kinda get itchy feet. I was gonna do a Post-Graduate computing course cause IT was sorta the big thing at the time so that’s the reason I turned it down. It kinda felt part-time for a long time.”
Belle and Sebastian have had a reputation for playing odd venues. Any highlights?
“Our second gig was in a café…a kinda converted church which is unfortunately no more. I think it’s been turned into flats. Our very first gig was actually in a bedroom.
It was at a house party but I wasn’t there for that one. Playing at (late BBC1 DJ) John Peel’s was pretty enjoyable. Occasionally he would broadcast from his house and record the odd session at Peel Acres. We were one of the bands who had the privilege of being able to record a session there. It was great. His wife made a big buffet for everyone. Chris was playing vibraphone in the toilet cause there wasn’t room for him with the rest of the band. We were in the same room as Peel…it was kind of like his study that he was playing in. He was set up in the corner with his turntables and I sat on the stairwell playing the trumpet. They got us pissed afterwards. It was a great night. They were all a really nice family.”
Some of the early recordings really vary from being Lo-Fi to full studio productions. Was that intentional?
“The Dog On Wheels EP was maybe recorded on the lowest budget because the studio was part of a government training scheme but every record from then on was recorded with the same set up. Tigermilk was actually recorded in one of the best studios in Glasgow. The EP’s were generally recorded in the church hall where Stuart was working but that actually cost more than recording in a studio because we had to take a mobile recording truck and park it outside the church hall and then wire the whole place up to be a recording studio. Even though the recording sound came across as being Lo-Fi it actually cost us more than if we’d recorded in a top studio.”
Does it feel strange to working with producers like Trevor Horn and Tony Hoffer?
“To be working with a producer again is like a breath of fresh air. It’d explain why the new record sounds so energetic cause we don’t have to worry about that side of things anymore. The producer takes it off your hands so all you have to worry about is playing the songs as best you can. It makes it kinda exciting again.”
Did the dynamic of the band change when Isobel (Campbell) left?
“I think that was inevitable as she had a big part in the band. When somebody that crucial leaves it’s going to affect the sound and the dynamic. I’d say that things have taken more of a Rock bent since Bobby (Kildea) joined the band.”
Tell us about your side project, The Anphetameanies.
“It’s a nine piece Ska band though at our biggest we were an eleven piece. It’s kind of a Ska Punk sort of thing really. One of our members used to be Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand. He left to form Franz but he wrote quite a few songs for the band along with myself.
Would it be safe to say that then that the music scene is Glasgow is pretty incestuous?
“Everyone knows everyone else really. Most people have played with each other as well in different bands. If someone’s looking for a guitarist or a drummer they usually just borrow somebody from another band, which tends to get problematic if one of the bands gets busier or more successful. There was a guy actually…a guy called Michael. He was playing in a band and in Franz Ferdinand at one point. The singer of the other band said ‘Look, your going to have to make a choice…it’s either us or Franz’ and he stupidly chose the other band, right before Franz Ferdinand become one of the biggest bands in the world. It wasn’t the smartest decision but there you go.”
In by Benj
So we’re loading The Raveonettes new album ‘Pretty In Black’ into the CD player, expecting the sleazy surf punk and layers of fuzzy guitar riffs that dominated their 2003 release ‘Chain Gang Of Love’ only to discover that it’s gone. The sound that drew comparisons to The Jesus and Mary Chain is nowhere to be found.
What we’re left with is a lush pop record that captures Californian sunsets, Motown doo- wop groups, Twangy guitars and Americana, weaving it into one dreamy and twisted universe all it’s own.
“Well, we got to the point where we weren’t so inspired by the minimalist approach of the first two albums where we working with guidelines within the songwriting and the production.” Explains Nordic rock goddess and Raveonettes vocalist Sharin Foo. “It always seems to be that when we make an album that it’s a moment in time and at the time, this is what came out. It was fun for us to do a production that was bigger and more organic. We wanted to do something more diverse and because this album is so diverse it kinda frees it up to go in any direction without people getting too shocked. It’s kinda liberating.”
Hailing from Copenhagen, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo made their presence known as part of the new garage rock scene in 2002. Using three chords and the ‘nothing over three minutes’ Pop philosophy, Wagner and Foo melded Sixties surfer harmonies with noise and guitars Thurston Moore would be proud of. After a spate of shows in their home country, The Raveonettes generated a tidal wave of industry buzz.
“It was strange because we were gaining a lot of interest from independent labels from places like England but nobody outside the industry really knew who we were. The first show we did was just outside of Denmark. We set it up ourselves. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to be a band that was able to play in all the music capitals of the world which led us to New York.”
Their arrival in New York led to shows at the infamous CBGB, birthplace of Talking Heads, Blondie and The Ramones. While CBGB now struggles to keep its doors open (it’s rumored the venue will be turned into a homeless shelter and the CBGB name be franchised), the chance to play at such a cornerstone of American music history must have been inspiring.
“It was fun for us to play there but honestly…they just haven’t taken good enough care of their reputation. It’s all about the Joey Ramone shrine and Japanese tourists…not that there’s anything wrong with that. There just wasn’t the integrity or the creative vibe that I’m sure that they had at one time. Obviously it’s sad cause it’s historical but you need but you need to stay on it…keep things exciting and engaging.”
It was at CBGB where they captured the attention of producer Richard Gottehrer (Blondie, Joan Armatrading, The Go-Go’s) and Dave Fricke (Rolling Stone writer). This eventually led to a deal with Columbia and the creation of ‘Pretty In Black’.
Recorded in Shokan, New York, just outside Woodstock, the album has a distinctly different dynamic to the past two albums as it was mostly recorded live with a band.
“We’d go in and play a new song for the drummer and the bass player then we’d rehearse it on the spot and record it. It was very much like the old way of working like you would have done it in the Motown days or the days of The Bill building. You bring your band in, show them how it goes, then go one, two three, four.”
The record also features special guests Martin Rev (Suicide), Moe Tucker (Velvet Underground) and Sixties Pop legend Ronnie Spector. “She’s a very wonderfully warm and very musical person. You can definitely feel that she’s been through difficult times. It was flattering to hear her sing a Raveonettes tune….she was doing her trademark woa woa woa’s. It was inspiring.”
The record also embraces a wider scope of influences, much more so than the past releases. “We’re obviously inspired by lots of music from the 50’s like Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valence, lots of the early girl groups from the early Sixties like The Shangri-La’s and The Marvellettes but we always strive to try and reinterpret the sound. The basic songwriting style for those groups is quite innocent and nostalgic and we try and create tension between the present and the future using different lyrical content that you wouldn’t hear back then. In the same way that Tim Burton manages to create his own kinda world, we try to make our own world, which draws from our knowledge of the history of Rock & Roll. We were DJing the other night and we play everything from Ramones, Sonic Youth, Can and punky stuff all the way through to Le Tigre, Miss Kitten and Peaches. At the moment Sune is into his Tchaikovsky period and classical music and I listen to lots of jazz. It’s really a lot of different stuff. ”
After gaining rave reviews for the album, playing to crowds of up to 90,000 people at Denmark’s Roskilde festival, test driving BMW’s for Rolling Stone, rocking out with The White Stripes, gaining a top ten single in the UK with ’Love In A Trashcan’ and contributing a track to the Sixties drive-in inspired Playstation game ‘Stubbs The Zombie, The Raveonettes seem poised for global domination. Any chance we’d be able to control Sune and Sharin in their very own game (ala 50 Cent and Xzibit) sometime in the future?
“Well, it’ wouldn’t be so difficult as our music is very visual and cinematic. I guess they’d have to be lots of opposites…an element of romance. It’d definitely be some seedy, divey nightlife experience in a Film Noir setting…with a bit of Rock and Roll.”
Kind of like The Raveonettes themselves really.
In by Benj