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Reinvention can be the best form of inspiration. Through a period of silence and solitude Kiss Reid has reemerged with an intriguing new sound that represents a strong departure from his musical origins with The Scare.
It might have been a while since you’ve heard anything from Kiss Reid – the man behind KSSR. Once the leader of punk band The Scare, Reid has found a new calling that has taken him far away from his punk origins and lead him to a new found territory in the form of 90's electronic music.
Just like some of the fashion crimes of the same decade, the sounds of the 90's made a dent in music history but these days it rarely gets the starring mention. This fact dawned on Reid who saw an opportunity to fill that void with an eclectic but contemporary new approach for the genre and himself. Being a child brought up on 90's music it’s any wonder that these stylistic influences were woven into his formative years which are now surprisingly bubbling back to the surface. But if you’re a fan of The Scare then don’t expect to find hints of the old Kiss filtering through your headphones. So – where did all the punk go?
Before The Scare ended their reign in Fortitude Valley Queensland in December 2010 the band were living in London touring the world and endeavouring to 'live the dream'.
The Scare did accomplish what they set out to achieve but Reid knew they had reached their peak and deep down he realised it was time to call it quits before things began to deteriorate. In the months leading up to the band's demise, Reid became sick of all the banter and politics that surrounded him so he chose not to speak for 3 whole months. “The only way people could correspond with me was via paper with Yes or No questions”. He felt that he had outgrown the people surrounding him and there was nowhere else to turn but inwards. “When we would do band interviews I would just sit there in silence and make somebody else do all the talking - this was probably around the time I realised it was all coming to an end.”
There was alot of hype around The Scare and with that kind of attention inevitably comes notoriety. At one point it was quoted that Alice Cooper was a close friend. Reid tells me they met backstage once at the MTV awards and they shared a simple conversation that was enthusiastically seized by the media and social sphere – “That all kind of blew up over a chat we shared – I hate how that shit happens.”
London was not all bleak. During his time there Reid was exposed to the underground dance culture that thrives within London's iconic clubs and radio waves. “I’ve always loved dance music, even on tour when we would jump into our tour van I would put on dance tunes.” Revitalised by his new found inspiration in London, Reid returned home and met with Songwriter/Producer Stylalzfugeo of rapper 360 fame. They had an instant connection and quickly immersed themselves in setting a new course designed for a new audience and a new beginning.
KSSR taps into many different moods throughout the record. At times you can feel the dark grimy clubs he frequented in London, while other moments sound more like big pop anthems you'll hear at this years summer festivals. All in all it's a collection of music that will keep you up till the sun rises and back again. Reid was very keen to add that the music he so graciously let us preview was very much a work in progress, but it certainly embodies his ongoing direction.
The first solo record from KSSR represents a new challenge for Reid. “I don’t want to ride on anyone's back, its time to do it on my own.” He admits that at times he’s lazy and has spurts of inspiration which inevitably run parallel to the highs and lows of music making. Most of the tracks from these new recordings are about love lost; experiences that are close to Reid's heart. The track I Know Things sounds alot like a dance anthem – something that could possibly be found at Mardi Gras. Reid surprisingly agrees and welcomes tapping into a new audience and set of fans. When you hear these new tracks for the first time the track that has you wanting for more is the Two Step sound on Break It- a mixture of UK Garage and Soul to Soul.
For now Reid is following the dance music influences that surround him and hopes that his new body of work can attract appreciation from new and existing fans. He wants to create music that will stand the test of time while tapping into a musical niche that may not even exist yet. He likes to call it ‘Honest Pop’. A form of pop that contains all of the ingredients that appeal to a diverse range of listeners but enough personality and innovation to give the music a sense of identity and soul. It's a response to the sausage factory production lines that fill the airwaves and make each successive pop hit even harder to distinguish from it's predecessor. Taking this philosophy of honest pop on board KSSR is hoping to become one of the more memorable artists of his time.
Remaining memorable also relies on constant re-invention, so Dance music might not be the only style of music Kiss Reid will dabble in either. When asked about his thoughts on Hip Hop Kiss says “I just love all types of music, Hip Hop always has a great beat behind it and the vocal melodies that accompany it always sound great together.”
It's unavoidable that fans of The Scare will either love or hate this new sound. The mere mention of the genres in this article might be enough to turn people off, but hopefully the intrigue from such a radical shift will be the key to KSSR finding its way into to people's playlists. Reid is awaiting the judgment of his new collection. It can be a lonely and sobering experience but he’s not afraid of the critics and reviews.
It’s been a while coming, but its time for the real Kiss Reid to stand up. 90's two step dance mixed with the dark vocal style of Kiss Reid – curious? You should be.
Indie-pop female singer-songwriters seem to be the order of the day but thanks to Elizabeth Rose we won't need to endure another guitar strummed love song. We're ready for a female songwriter who's embraced a different path.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that, if you really wanted to do something creative in your life, you would have done it by now. So for example, if you haven’t already began writing that novel or started that band you keep talking about, it’ll probably never happen. Indie-pop singer/producer Elizabeth Rose on the other hand has always wanted to write and perform music, as evidenced by the fact she’s been writing and performing since she was seven. This year, following numerous festival appearances, a tour with Brooklyn’s Chairlift (who, via Twitter, seems to love her) and with the imminent release of her debut EP, she’s finally ready to go.
We’re sitting in a busy thoroughfare cafe, a half hour before she needs to head to a day job I can’t see her needing for long, and Elizabeth Rose (her first and second names - she omits her surname, Maniscalco, because it can be awkward to pronounce) comes across excited yet grounded about her music, completely open and entirely unpretentious. When I ask her about the origins of her musical aspirations, she reveals it was keyboard lessons, prompted by her parents at age seven. “I loved it! I remember I did this program in primary school called Kids On Keyboard – that’s when I got my first crap Casio kids keyboard. And that’s when I started song writing, because I used to play with the presets. “The first song I wrote on my keyboard was to this latin salsa preset - I made up a melody to go with the rhythm. I used to play it to Mum and Dad after dinner. The same thing, every night. I’d say, “Okay it’s after dinner can I play this for you now?” It’s a pretty embarrassing memory!” She laughingly recalls. “I was singing as well [in primary school]. I used to sing along to all the R’n’B pop stars I loved - Destiny’s Child, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, all of them. I’d buy the CD singles, because you know how they’d come with the instrumental? I’d write songs to those instrumentals.”
Then, in year six, at the age of 12, Elizabeth Rose recorded her first song. “My (older) brother, who’s a DJ and producer, gave me an instrumental he’d written to play around with, and I wrote a song called “Follow Your Dreams”. It’s so bad!” She cringes at the memory. “It’s me trying to be all wise, but I’m only 12. But I sent it off to MacDonald (Performing Arts) College, and I got a 2-year scholarship off of it.”
Throughout high school (first at MacDonald, then finally at a local Catholic school), she continued to write and perform, eventually being awarded a school prize for her HSC music marks. “It was a prize named after a nun.” is all she can remember of it. After graduation, she was keen to continue with music on a tertiary level. “I decided to go to AIM (The Australian Institute of Music). But after going there for two weeks, I realised I didn’t like it, and quit. Everyone had too much money, and wanted to be a rockstar.” I paused at this point. This seemed like an odd thing to say, in the midst of an interview about the beginnings of her professional music career. I counter, but doesn’t she want to be a rockstar (of sorts)? Elizabeth clarifies: “Everyone wanted to be famous, I just wanted to have fun, and enjoy it. So I studied fashion at TAFE for a year instead, and after that I did a year and a half of music at TAFE. “I’m still interested in fashion – I don’t sew anymore, but I make a conscious effort to bring that side of things into my performances.” Post-study, she’s working part time, while music takes up (in her estimation) 70 percent of her week. Without management (yet), that 70 percent involves a lot of emailing and a lot of phone calls, on top of writing and producing. “I pretty much just stay in my bedroom the whole time, on my computer!”
Speaking of producing, I ask her how her songs come together.“I work in Ableton [production software], and I always start with a beat, cause I have a huge sample library, from which I like to pick and choose to form little loops. Then I build a melody on that. And it’ll sit as an instrumental melody for three weeks, or four weeks, while I keep listening to it and turn it into a song. I eventually come out with a vocal idea.”
While we’re speaking generally about her writing process, the conversation turns to ‘Ready’, the first single from her debut EP. At the beginning of the song there’s this amazing loop - a chanting, deep-voiced vocal sample that sounds like some bizarre Deep Forest/The Knife mash-up, and I ask her how it was created. “That’s me singing.” She explains. “That song started out with a sample of Lollipop by The Cordettes. I reversed it and pitched it down, and I really liked how that sounded. When I realised I wanted to make a song out of it, I recorded myself singing the chorus [to avoid copyright issues], and I reversed it and pitched it down again.”
As we’re talking about the specifics of the song, I remark on the surprising shift in tone when the sample gives way to a driving pop vocal, and ‘Ready’ becomes something of a pop anthem. When I mention this, Elizabeth recoils a little at the mention of the p-word.
“I guess it is [pop]. But I hate the word ‘pop’. I associate ‘pop’ with mainstream American crap. I don’t listen to those artists anymore, that was just my childhood. At the time, I liked their melodies, and I liked there voices - so I guess that’s influenced how I sing, a lot.”
Pop or not, the immediate future for Elizabeth Rose is looking bright - building on her recent momentum, she’s got a self-produced 5 track EP out October 12, featuring a collaboration with British producer Sinden of The Count & Sinden fame; there’s a Chairlift remix in the works; and perhaps the thing she’s most excited about, a possible collaboration with Gotye (he’s a fan, has been mentoring and giving advice on her demos, and they’ve spoken about doing something together down the line).
But before we get ahead of ourselves, we return to ‘Ready’ once more, as it has this amazingly forthright chorus in which she sings, “I’m ready to go!”. Is it a direct lyric about herself and her music?
“Yeah. I guess that song came about because there’d been a lot of umming and ahhing about which label I would go with, and I just felt like: screw a major label, I just need to release something soon, cause otherwise I’ll lose momentum. I wanted to just do it. It’s pretty obvious that I’m ready to go.”
With a vast set of skills, experience and past incarnations with other outfits Jagwar Ma has all corners of the music industry queing up for a piece of them. But leader at the helm, Jono Ma has resisted all forms of temptation to make the music on the band’s own terms. It’s perhaps this stroke of genius that makes everyone want them just that little bit more.
Amongst the cornfields and forestry, wild hares and pheasants, Jagwar Ma are recording their debut album in a studio situated in the middle of nowhere: Hommes in France. Sitting close by is an abandoned chateau and a church, which sometimes doubles as a recording space, as Jono Ma admittedly states: “I’m a bit of a reverb addict.”
The confines of isolated rural France has given Jagwar Ma, composed of former Lost Valentinos’ Jono Ma and Ghostwood’s Gabriel Winterfield, the focus they need to push out their debut, with a typical day mounting to nothing more than pure dedication to their music with the duo sharing duties writing tracks together, whilst Ma laces the beats, and Winterfield the vocals. “I’ll wake up, head upstairs [to the studio] and just start making a beat,” says Ma. “Then I’ll start to add a little colour to it, maybe flesh it out into an arrangement. By that time, Gab [Winterfield] has hopefully woken up. Then he'll enter and I’ll stick a mic in front of his face and then we'll record until we have to eat. Then we repeat the process.”
Ma is possibly best known as producer extraordinaire having worked on numerous soundtracks for commercials (Nike, Johnnie Walker, Levi’s — just to name a few), TV shows, and films including the award-winning Australian movie, Animal Kingdom. Working on a solo project, free of directors has allowed Ma complete artistic freedom, as he claims: “when working on Jagwar I only have myself to answer to.” He has also worked alongside British band Foals, producing their recent demo and pre-production material: “I actually just saw them [Foals] last week in London and heard the record,” says Ma. “They did the final recordings with Flood and Mulder and the record is sounding fucking amazing.”
Unlike Winterfield who comes from an incredibly artistic family (allegedly Winterfield’s session guitarist father has played alongside Prince), things could have worked out differently for Sydney-sider Ma, who studied film at university. You could say his road to music was a fated one. “I went to uni [sic] and I was kind of focusing on film,” recalls Ma. “I just happened to get into soundtrack work and sound design, and then made a film. The film ended up winning an award for the soundtrack and the guy that presented the award ended up giving me a job working at his studio… things just developed from there.”
Climbing up the Australian music scene side-by-side with their respective former bands Ghostwood and The Lost Valentinos, the duo, despite crossing paths numerous times, eventually came together in a rather organic way. “Last year I spent most of my time mixing and producing other people’s music, which I love but I always work on my own stuff on the side,” says Ma. “And Gab [Winterfield] actually came to me wanting me to record a side project of his and he played me a bunch of tracks that were really great, and then I played him a track of my own that needed vocals that sort of sounded a bit like what he was doing only a bit more electronic. So I got him to sing on it.”
Their band name, ‘Jagwar Ma’ also shares a similar fate of things falling into place. “I did a remix for my friends, the Bumblebeez, and a dear friend of mine Gus (of Bang Bang) was putting the remix out and I didn't have a moniker at the time,” says Ma. “So he just called it the Jagwar Ma remix and then it kind of stuck. Gus also gave me this painting of a jaguar that he found on the side of the road years before the remix.”
Despite only having just released their debut single, Come Save Me, the duo have already been causing much hype amongst international music bloggers. The laid back track has a nostalgic throwback meets electronic effect, that delivers a nod to ‘60's pop beats coupled with the tangible echoey texture of a vinyl slow churning in the background. For the inspiration for the vinyl feel of the track, Ma chocks it up to a recent shopping spree of the musical medium during a recent trip to London.
“I’m obsessed with the medium again,” says Ma. “I think there's an added emotional attachment I have to anything I find on vinyl. There's a filtering process you go through to find something, there's an element of chance, and then there's the physical side to it: the larger artwork, something to hold and look at, the act of placing it on the turntable — there's an intent and a commitment we go through.” Despite the fact that there's something undeniably sentimental about honouring tradition, Ma is quick to say, “I champion the digital world and I love computers and think they can be a great way to interact with art in general. I'm not a purist; I like different things for different reasons.”
A unique blend of old school meets digital age is something you can expect from Jagwar Ma’s upcoming album. Ma’s penchant for electronic instruments tied in with the band’s current “influence from ‘50's and ‘60's soul and rock — Joe Meek, George Martin, Phil Spector — those cats, The Motown stuff,” makes it a highly anticipated debut. “If I have to break it down,” says Ma, “the sound is like a hip-hop electronic approach to making old music that makes you move… it’s beat-driven music kind of people like Phil Spector used to have so many players all moving as the one unit — the ‘wall of sound’. I can't afford to have 40 players in a studio so I make do with my laptop and samplers instead and drum machines.”
However, for the moment, there is still a lot of work to be done. “We are focusing on output, just getting any idea down, good or bad,” explains Ma. “There's loads of material already so the next step is going to be selecting which ones makes sense together, and then developing them. I'll go to Berlin to work with Ewan Pearson; he will mix the record, so there's still a long journey ahead. But there is loads of great stuff already.”
Jagwar Ma play their first Australian shows at Big Day Out 2013.
How can you capture the musical chemistry that only siblings can create? It's a formula that's often proven successful so there's no surprise this band of brothers are making their mark.
On first listen to The Rubens, your ears prick up. It’s not a sound that is currently flooding the airwaves, but strong enough to hold its own. Sure, a path was carved by other rock 'n' roll blues enthusiasts The Black Keys, but the more soul layered and crooning voice of The Rubens front man and Australian-point of view still makes this band stand apart.
The Rubens' very first bedroom recorded single, ‘Lay It Down’ was so well received that it got voted in at number 57 in Australia's largest annual music survey the Triple J Hottest 100. A massive feat for a band who just loaded the track up on Triple J’s Unearthed website and let the song take them on their own ride. No press, no label and no management team at the time… but how the world can change in just one year, so let’s go from the start.
The Rubens consists of brothers Margin - Sam, Zaac and Elliott along with friend Scott on drums. The Margins grew up in a large family of 6 and all played some sort of instrument. “We all did it because we wanted to, and luckily we all chose different instruments,” says frontman Sam. They also have a younger brother Jethro, who does in fact play the drums, and whom they used to nickname Ruben but he’s not actually in the band…yet. “Rather than kicking our drummer out when he gets old enough, we’re just going to have both of them play I think”.
Sam, the frontman and eldest of the brothers always had music-making is his blood. In 2008 he set off on a gap-year to London which turned out to be an extended 3 gap-years. He embarked on a singer-songwriter career (“nothing really amazing happened in that period, there were a lot of maybes”) whilst working in a bar and when he returned back to small-town Menangle he found an aching hole. “When I got home I realised how bored I was, and me and my brother Zaac were pretty bored working in the service industry and not really enjoying it.” Zaac and Sam started laying down some tunes and so birthed the beginnings of a new band. “I think we started off trying a few different genres me and Zaac, when we first started playing around and probably did some Vampire Weekend stuff.” Luckily for us, indie-jangly guitars were out and the path they chose to take is what they knew growing up, “we both learnt blues guitar.”
Plugging away, writing at home, The Rubens could not have dreamed the start of their career happened the way it did, but there were a few key turning-point moments that sent them down the right roads. The first fortuitously came “thanks to a friend of ours, while he was working in France with the producer David Kahne, he just dropped ‘My Gun’ one of our tracks, and they all really loved it. I guess it shows a song can do a lot of work. We had no following. They knew that.”
New York based, award winning – David Kahne loved what he heard so much, that he insisted working with the band and they knew they had to take the opportunity whilst it was there. “We were going to borrow money, we knew with the opportunity we had in America and the contacts we knew we’d make through our record producer David Kahne, we would have to find money ourselves, but in the end David Kahne said he would fund it.” This is a monstrosity of a gesture for any producer to be so confident in a project that he would fund it himself. And so this was the next sharp right hand turn leading them toward that elusive music success that only some bands are lucky to grasp. But in the end and just like Kahne always knew would happen, a label picked up the band even before the record was finished. From then on the journey from being a band of brothers in their bedroom to thousands of potential ears hearing their music happened so swiftly that within weeks, they had been added to Triple J, were being hunted down by multiple record labels, booking agents and managers, and all while still writing their first record.
With the first and second label released singles Don’t Ever Want To be Found and My Gun taken from the recently released album already gaining massive support, sonically it sounds much bigger than the original unearthed demos – but will the lo-fi blues be lost? “With any of the demos we recorded we tried to keep as much as we could. We upped the anti with the drum sounds.” Of course they weren’t going all the way to New York to work with a producer who has worked with some of the greatest artists including Paul McCartney abd The Strokes, and not have a big sonic sound Sam says, “it doesn’t sound like its been done in my bedroom anymore.”
Coming home after the first few months of the year in New York, The Rubens returned to Australia with a swelling following, eager to catch the band live. So much so, it translated to sold out club shows around the country and a spot on Splendour in The Grass. The guys added a bass player to round out the sound of the live set up, “now we’re going to try make our live show sound as big as the album, which is going to be a challenge.” Consider the challenge met as seeing The Rubens live is lo-fi blues not lost, with the gentle moments kept and the new building grander moments finding a solid home.
The Rubens debut self titled record has just been released through Ivy League followed by a national album tour.
It can be a challenge to find both a unique voice and a unique song. Gossling manages to end the search with her distinctive vocal style and intruiging collaborations.
Helen Croome is the singer/songwriter better known as Gossling and is setting up tonight for her gig at The Basement in Sydney. She has the opening slot for Adam Cohen – Leonard Cohen’s son and ironically Leonard is playing through the speakers of the Basement for our interview. The tablecloths have been laid out and it’s dinner and a show on the menu tonight. There will be a stripped back and raw Gossling playing as its just Helen solo with her instruments, a setting that the Gossling woman doesn’t mind. In fact her favourite type of gig to play are the intimate ones. “I get a massive adrenalin rush from a dead quite audience... It feels like people are listening to my lyrics
I get a real buzz from that”
Everywhere you turn these days you can hear Gossling’s music – from the catchy hook in the 360 collaboration Boys Like You or to the new single Wild Love produced with Dann Hume from Evermore, Gossling feels quite at home featuring and collaborating with other artists. “For me being a singer/songwriter I find it more motivating and inspiring to play with other people even just to hang out for a day jamming and then when I’m on my own I find I’m more creative and get more material… Same with the 360 collaboration it was just a bit of fun to play in a different genre – its been interesting to be in a different world and to experience that side of the music industry”. Gossling decided to take a stab at Hip Hop teaming up with 360 – not a collaboration you would instantly pick. So how did this come about? “360’s label had a track they needed a female vocal for and my name sort of popped up.” In fact she appears on two more tracks on 360's album Falling and Flying and Miracle In A Costume. Whether it’s supporting Adam Cohen, featuring on the line up at a festival or even in her solo shows, the sounds of Gossling have reached an audience of different ages and genres around the country.
Born in Albury Wodonga in Victoria, Helen’s home town had a thriving music scene. So when she was growing up alot of bands passed through, as Albury runs between Melbourne and Sydney. “We had a lot of bands like Magic Dirt and Jebediah play at the local disco”. Her musical inspirations came from the bands that she would get the chance to see, combined with the instruments she would pick up to play. “I played in the Albury Eiesteddfod every year which was good. I’ve still got all the little medals. I played piano and clarinet and went into the eisteddfod and won a few awards.” Her first musical instrument was the Casio Keyboard, an instrument alot of us might have picked up at some stage in life. “I use to hit the demo button on the Casio and pretend it was me playing”. From the bedroom to the classroom Helen’s love for music transcended from practical to a more serious study, later taking on a Bachelor of Music at University.
But Helen decided it was all too much and decided to take a break from music, something her Mum encouraged her NOT to do. “I said “No I want to go and do Psychology” so I sort of had a year doing that in Melbourne and I just hated it!” Mums are always right hey! That was the year Gossling really started to discover songwritting “I hadn’t done that before – I was just use to performing so I sat in my dorm room and started learning guitar and songwritting. That was when I started to think I really miss music”. It took a year off her musical path for Helen to realise that this was the one she needed to explore in life.
Helen got right back on track and you can trace back the musical history of Gossling to Box Hill where her study partners naturally formed a musical community that would jam together and inspire each other. Some of these musicians would go on to become the foundations for Gossling. “It was such a fantastic place to come from the country and then move to Melbourne and start up a network of Muso’s and have people to play with and collaborate with...”Those actual aural foundations of Gossling are hard to describe and Helen knows what sound Gossling is NOT but she usually describes the sound as Folk/Hip Hop. Someone described her new stuff as Goth Country recently she says, laughing “I thought it was kind of cool so maybe I’ll go with that as well” but the new stuff definitely has a country edge to it.
The one thing that you can’t help but notice with Gossling is her voice, a bit reminiscent to that of Portishead, “I get that alot actually when I first started singing a few people compared me to Portishead.” But on further investigation of this unique vocal style its apparent that what people refer to as ‘the voice’ has purely just developed over the years, she’s never had singing lessons and just began singing early in life with Helen crediting a singing inspiration in Jewel. Her admiration of Jewel’s vocal talent and guitar playing skills made her realise this was something she wanted to do too.
Gossling’s own vocal talent has also been admired from afar and was picked up in the United States by the FX Television Series – American Horror Story who used her song ‘Hazard’ as a feature in one of their episodes. “They called me up and asked if I’d like my song featured on the show I was like “yeah!” I saw the scene that my song features in; it’s on a car stereo in the background. I’m surprised at all the fuss I received for it.” Writing scores for film is something that Helen is a fan of so be sure we haven’t heard the last of Gossling’s music featuring on the television or in fact in a jingle on the radio. Majoring in Film Score whilst doing her Bachelor of Music its any wonder Helen finds this a natural part of her musical day. “I’d like to do more for film and advertising I find it really interesting. I love to get a brief for a scene and to write the music for it.”
This is the humble beginnings of Gossling and after observing the set up of tonight’s show at The Basement, it's safe to say her dream type of show will come true tonight. The lights are ready and the stripped back set up for Gossling is the perfect grounding to hear a pin drop.
Shifting between his role as Artist, Designer and Creative Director - Jonathan Zawada's thoughtful and thought provoking creations have framed some of the most memorable music projects in recent times. Jonathan took a few moments away from his new L.A. life to describe his creative philosophy.
Above. Jonathan Zawada
Photography. Pierre Toussaint
Music and Visual Art have long gone hand in hand acting as a source of influence and inspiration for each other. Do you find that music has been a strong influence in your work and your creative process? Music definitely feeds in to my creative process but it kind of sneaks in sideways. I don’t ever find the aesthetic (for lack of a better term) of the music itself to be directly influential, it’s more like there’s a motivating energy that can come from music that I think helps me focus in the creative process. It helps distract my brain and allows me to work without being entirely conscious of what I’m doing.
Album artwork both digital and printed can be described as a form of packaging. It is a visual representation of what lies beyond a mouse click or the opening of an album sleeve or CD case. Because products rely so heavily on explaining their contents through packaging do you think that album artwork should reflect the musician/artist’s point of view or can it be a disconnected experience? Is album artwork about giving insight or creating intrigue and impact? I’ve worked in both ways – artwork that is completely disconnected and artwork that is in some way informed and there’s definitely something I personally find more rewarding about the latter variety but the fusion of the two is what makes for a successful cover. My aim with album art has always been that it should help expand the universe that the music creates, when I was a kid I loved packages that you could pour over for little details and insights to this world that the musician had both created and was inside of. The challenge is to do this while also creating something that has some degree of impact, or at least the ability to arrest the market’s attention.
In light of the question above - do you believe that album artwork can have an impact on the sales of an album or the popularity of an artist? I think the correlation is indirect but I do believe that the art can effect the sales. Even if somebody doesn’t initially buy an album because of the artwork I think the imagery associated with the music helps frame how that music is perceived when you listen to it. It sort of assists you in figuring out in what way the musician intended it to be listened to, in what cultural framework. Pop music can be packaged as throwaway, shallow and unconsidered or as avant guard art and that initial impression is hard to get out of your mind when you’re listening to and evaluating new music. In turn I think that has an impact on how you recommend it to your friends and that’s really how a lot of us get exposed to and end up buying new music. I’ve bought plenty of albums simply because people like Barney Bubbles or Peter Saville designed the covers.
Above. Lost Valentinos
Can you nominate one of your own album cover projects and provide some background as to how the project came about, your relationship with the artist and the outcome. How did you go about translating their music into your art? I recently did an album cover for a musician on Warp Records called Rustie. It was a long time dream of mine to do an album cover for Warp, I used to obsess over all of their Designers Republic covers. The process was actually the complete opposite of how I normally like to work but the outcome seems to have been successful so it’s kind of an interesting anomaly for me. The label emailed me out of the blue about working on a series of EP and album covers for this (at the time) new artist and after the first ep cover went well they came back to me for the album. Normally I really like to get to know people who I work with, to chat to them a bit and get a feeling for what they’re like as people as I find this helps a lot when you have lots of little design decisions to make, you can kind of put yourself in their shoes and put yourself in their world. In this case though I never got to speak to Rustie, I got one email which really just mentioned that he liked the colours in a specific scene in a Star Trek film and that was it. I watched the movie, didn’t really think much of it, hassled the label to send me the music (which they begrudgingly did) and then just started thinking on the title which was Glass Swords. The music has a really distinct flavour to it, a kind of hard, sparse aesthetic that is also somewhat fantastic and spacey so between that, the title and the Star Trek reference this idea of some sort of crystal monolith came into my head. There’s a great old fantasy art painter called Boris Vallejo, I looked at some of his work and work by a Japanese artist by the name of Minoru Nomata who paints these incredibly peaceful unreal monolith buildings. A compositional idea pretty quickly popped into my head where light was fragmenting through two giant crystal shards which are crossed like swords - the fragmented light spoke a lot to the kind of fractured but weightless sound of the music and I thought that was a nice visual association. From there I drew up a couple of ideas to an almost finished state, picked the one I thought worked best and emailed it over and got the all clear from the label to finish it off. It was definitely one of the most straight forward album covers I’ve ever done, there was so little communication about it that I was really shocked that it all went ahead. Its ended up being one of the most popular covers I’ve done, it even got a little mention in the Guardian which was a bit of a thrill.
Your ability stretches between traditional art and contemporary design skills – do you think traditional craft/art skills are being forgotten in a digital culture? How important are both skills in the way you work and create? I don’t think traditional craft skills are being entirely forgotten but there are definitely quicker and easier ways to do things nowadays which means a lot of the older methods get skipped over or replaced by modern shortcuts. Technology and production methods are always changing and its important, especially in a commercial environment, to be able to keep up with those changes otherwise you can get left behind pretty quickly - or at least priced or timelined out of competition. I never really think much about the method of production of a piece of work to be honest, there always seems to be a medium that is intrinsically linked to the idea and the two sort of work hand in hand. I get bored pretty easily and I’m also very impatient so I tend to chop and change between mediums a bit. Working this way also helps prevent me getting too comfortable in a particular method of production which hopefully means I don’t end up creating repetitive output.
Above. The Presets
Do you think that expressing yourself through art and personal work (e.g. exhibitions) has delivered more commercial success? How do you find a balance between the two or are they one of the same? My exhibition projects started off as an outlet for me, it comes from a very different place from my design work and I’ve always tried to keep the two things quite separate and I’m never really able to do the two things at once - I have to demarcate my time quite clearly. I think that the exhibitions can be a bit of a double edged sword when it comes to assisting in my commercial design practice, on the one hand it creates a lot of exposure that I wouldn’t otherwise get from just my design work but I think it can also be off-putting for potential clients who can get the impression that an “artist” isn’t going to be a professional or reliable designer - or somebody who can be worked with to realise an idea that isn’t necessarily part of their signature style. Luckily lately the art side of things has been able to sustain itself economically so striking the balance between it all isn’t quite the challenge it once was.
Typographic artworks are a signature of your collection. How important do you view words and language in your work? Believe it or not I’m a bit of a minimalist at heart so if something can simply be said with words rather than elaborate extraneous decoration then I’d rather do that. Straight Helvetica on a coloured background isn’t much fun for anyone though so if the words can be presented in an interesting or engaging way that can expand on or play with their meaning then the work can become more than the sum of its parts - which seems economical to me. There’s a series of covers for the band Chicago which has always embodied this best I think and when I first discovered them it was a real eye opener for me. Its also a challenge to achieve this sort of thing successfully, it creates some boundaries to work within which make it easier to define the goals.
Your work regularly invites the viewer to take a second look to find a hidden idea or reveal an alternative meaning. In your work I can see an exploration of humor, irony and playfulness. Is this something that you feel comes naturally or are they themes you keep in mind through your creative process? I’m sure there are probably subconscious themes which raise their heads in my work but its not something I ever keep in my mind or try to do. The humor and the playfulness is all very unconscious, I think it ends up in there out of boredom as much as anything. I’ve never been much for revering the virtues of design, its all a big commercial enterprise cloaked in a veil of “creativity” and for me its important not to take it too seriously. Things can be beautiful but that beauty can be transient, or the product of style, adding layers to it like humor and play make it a little more timeless to me - this is something I learnt in spades from the awesome Hipgnosis, a design team who basically designed every old record cover that you love.
What was the last album you bought and why? The Psychic Paramount’s “II”. I heard a track from it on NPR’s All Songs Considered and was reminded that a friend had told me how great it was months earlier when we were both very drunk (hence my forgetting). I was also working on some very large paintings at the time which required a lot of stamina and stuff like that, or F*** Buttons is great for getting shit done!
What is one of your favourite album covers of all time and why? I have a ton of favourites that I’ve discovered over the years but the one that has had the biggest impact on me and was probably the last album cover I saw just as an audience (before I started working on them and my ability to just appreciate them like a normal person was altered) - is Björk’s Homogenic. I still struggle to understand how something so perfect could have been created. There are a lot of elements to it but superficially its very elegant and simple. I’ve always loved that all of her covers play with the essential pop album cover format of the headshot - it works in exactly the same way as a terrible Katy Perry cover might, it’s just the performer’s face but with Björk and with Homogenic it becomes so much more. There’s a heap of beautiful little details in it, like design of the entire package physically mimics the dress she wears on the cover, silver on the outside and a deep red on the inside. The digital crispness of it and the augmentation and distortion of her image that still somehow remains beautiful is a direct reflection of the music itself. Its also probably my favourite album of all time musically so its hard to know where one stops informing my appreciation of the other but when the two elements become so totally entwined that can only really speak to the success of the art.
Can you give us a preview of what lies on the horizon for Jonathan Zawada? I’ve recently moved to LA in an effort to focus more on my art projects which was big a scary undertaking. I have a show of oil paintings here later in the year which will be followed by another in New York. I’m also looking at putting together an exhibition, or series of exhibitions for Tokyo, London and San Francisco but we’ll see how that all pans out! I’m just about to start working with my long-time friends The Presets on visual elements for their third album and I’ve been working with a few other musicians here in LA on some projects which are really exciting and interesting so at the moment it feels like things are all new again for me!
News & Opinions
For both music fans & artists it can be a confusing world out there in the digital space. Where do you put your music? Where is the best place to discover it? And do you cover all grounds or focus on a select few to channel all plays and interest into one area? We ask 3 experts what their take on music in the digital space is.
CH. Craig Hawker
Head of A&R / Creative
Sony/ATV Music Publishing Australia
CN. Carney Nir
Secret Service Digital
TW. Todd Wagstaff
Parker & Mr French
1. The Social Set
If you could choose only 2 social media tools for upcoming bands, what would they be & why?
CH: Why limit it to 2 when you can have a suite of solutions? Be ready to adapt and make the most of the all the tools at your fingertips. Make your content relevant and interesting and don’t tweet dumb shit.
CN: Facebook. Let's face it, it's the biggest, and you can use a variety of apps within it to get your music out there, promote your band and target fans of similar artists that might be interested in your music. And fans expect to be able to communicate and find out info about their favourite artists on Facebook. 2. Soundcloud. If you want blogs to talk about your band and post streams of your music, you need to be on Soundcloud! And if I was allowed to pick 3, I'd choose YouTube. As important as Soundcloud for discovery!
TW: Any social media site for a band is only as good as the music you upload, but if you're ready I would say make yourself popular by uploading music to Triple J’s Unearthed which I would call social media, and then capture a database and communicate with your audience via Facebook which obviously right now has an unequaled social domination and application.
2. Exit Fees
Which digital music service are you excited about? Will you continue to use it if you need to start paying fees or do you prefer a pay-per-download platform like iTunes?
CH: Spotify for me. I’ll be more than happy to pay for the subscription. It’s a great platform for discovery and the integration and ease of use is awesome. As much as I love the convenience of streaming, I still like owning something physical and digital that I don’t have to rely on a network connection for.
CN: The launch of streaming services in Australia has been long overdue, so I'm excited about that. With the launch of mobile and iPad apps I think we'll see a good take up of streaming services here. Personally I think the streaming services are better for discovery of new artists – albums that I absolutely love will still see me visit the iTunes store, and iTunes have made it easy for that download to be available everywhere you go through iTunes Match. I'll be interested to see how streaming affects sales in this market and what the uptake of paid subscriptions will be – they vary pretty dramatically between countries overseas. In some European countries it's pretty hard to chart without having your music available on streaming services, so we'll soon see what happens here!
TW: Spotify feels likes a true evolution. When I started in the business I walked the floor of the cassette plant and the vinyl pressers with my trolley handing out peoples pay packets every Friday morning.
I remember the arrival of the CD and other formats. Nothing before feels like the arrival of subscription and I would say downloading is just a phase.
3. The Story So Far
Who has been your favourite new artist so far in 2012 and why?
CH: My album of the year so far is Hermitude’s incredible HyperParadise - a new Australian classic. In terms of new artists, Galapagoose from Melbourne – his Commitments album is a really interesting electronic record full of pulsing blips, beats and melody. There’s a bent heart and soul to the song writing that I love. Also loving Swimwear, the side project of Tim Derricourt of Dappled Cities.
CN: Electric Guest – Mondo is just a fun album. It can't help but put you in a good mood!
TW: Thrupence – a cavalier music adventurist from Melbourne. Talented and original, he is the real deal.
Advice & Insight
Words. Mel Nahas
Photography. James Nelson
You get the sense from Jai Al-Attas that he’s never been afraid to take on a challenge that extends beyond his comfort zone. He's managed to navigate from success to success across multiple mediums within and beyond the music industry. We caught up with him to gather some advice for young entrepreneurs and musicians with big aspirations.
Above. Jai Al-Attas. Founder & CEO. One Meaning Communicated Differently
Your personal evolution in the music industry has gone from creating a record label, directing a music documentary, founding a music marketing company and now a mobile app company. Talk us through the reasons you chose those specific avenues within the music industry. None of these events have really been pre-meditated. Before I started a record label at 16 I never had any intention or desire to work in the music industry. I don't think I even knew what a record label was until I started one. Everything else has just been a natural evolution from that point. Music has always been a lifestyle influence for me. I really got into 90's punk rock from my interest in Surf and Skate videos. From there I started trying to make my own films at school and marry them with the punk rock music I loved. Out of that came a pop punk label: Below Par. Then a few years later, I started toying around with making films, music videos and documentaries which lead me back to making a feature length documentary on 90's punk rock that focussed on the surf and skate subcultures of southern California.
I founded ONE (a creative agency and tech start up hybrid specialising in the subcultures of youth and young adults) after I got pulled back into the music industry by helping out my friend's band who were signed to a major label. At this point I tried to figure out how I could get back involved within music while integrating my passion for technology. I began looking at what technologies could be used to help market music and Artists. The biggest technology staring me right in the face was mobile – I mean what is more powerful than being able to communicate with someone directly through one of the most prolific personal devices ever made? It just all made sense, so I started ZAPPP – a company that specialises in mobile apps. Like I said – none of my past was really pre-meditated. It was just where my interests have taken me.
How has timing and the changing landscape of the music industry affected your choices throughout the years – is it important for people to innovate? It's 100% different to when I entered the music industry in the year 2000 compared to 2008 when I left to move overseas and make my documentary. I see a lot of old thinking in the music industry still and it's kind of a shame because the tools and technology have been available for so long. Everyone is so scared of technology in the music industry it seems. For an industry that's meant to hang it's hat on creativity there's a lot of conservative thinking out there - and I'm not even talking about the major labels!
There's a lot of great technology that music fans are building to help Artists but they're being turned away or shut down because the industry is trying to hold on to an old platform that doesn't exist or work anymore. I'd love to see more innovation inside the music industry, where solutions were being created by people within the industry - to me that is exciting.
If you asked me if I'd be interested in starting an indie label today, my answer would be 'no'. I've done that and had some of the best times of my life doing it. I think there's a lot more out there to explore but I think whatever I do it's always going to have music or lifestyle in its DNA.
Your current company ONE and ZAPPP seem to be able to stretch outside clients in the music industry – do you work with non music clients and do you think the music industry is too small in Australia to sustain companies that are music specific? 90% of our clients are probably music based but we do work with clients outside of the music industry. The budgets inside the music industry have obviously shrunk for what companies like us do but we're trying to find ways to support Artists with the services that we offer. With ZAPPP for example, we're democratising mobile apps because we think it's the most powerful marketing tool a Band can have and we want every band to be able to have one regardless of their size. We're interested in lifestyle. Music plays a big part in that but so does action sports, film and video games. If we're working within these subcultures we're happy.
How are ZAPPP and ONE performing at the moment? What are some current projects you can share with us? ONE and ZAPPP are going really well. On the ONE side we've just started working with The Presets which is awesome. We're huge fans and being able to play a part in the roll out of their new album is a lot of fun. With ZAPPP we have a lot coming up. We're focussing on Bands, Brands, Artists and Athletes. We're launching our first Athlete app for pro surfer Taj Burrow at the Nike US Open Of Surfing in Huntington Beach California which is exciting. We're also building out our ZAPPP feature which basically allows our clients to ZAPPP their fans with exclusive content directly to their mobiles based on their real time location, gender or age. Once again super powerful stuff that hasn't really been done before.
How important is it for bands to make themselves fully accessible within the mobile landscape and what are the easiest tools to help new bands get themselves mobile friendly? I've spoken about ZAPPP democratising mobile apps for Artists of all sizes. That's our ultimate goal. We really believe mobile technology is the future and it's already proven that it's where everyone is consuming content. Once again there are local barriers and the fear of technology that lead back to the old conservative mentality but in a year or two I can see every Artist having an app and having a much greater relationship with their fans because they're rewarding them for engaging with them in real time. For example someone with the Josh Pyke app we built may get a ZAPPP on their birthday saying Happy Birthday from Josh here's a free track.
Do you think bands should create mobile specific sites? If not what should bands focus on to get their music heard in the mobile streaming space? I think every band should make sure their website is mobile friendly. Artists should also have a mobile app if they want to have a deeper relationship with their fans. There's a whole argument happening right now regarding Native vs Web apps. 'Native' apps are applications developed specifically to run on the architecture of a mobile device while Web apps are applications that are accessed by users over a network such as the Internet. The truth is that the powers that be at Apple and Google aren't going to allow the same functionality in Web that Native offers. So tools like ZAPPPing fans based on their locations or birthdays can't happen in a Web app. There is a barrier to entry for Native apps which is simply the fact that you have to download it. The benefit however is that you will get more engaged fans rather than say the passive Facebook fan who just has to click like.
What would be your advice for bands in setting up their digital assets – what are the do’s and don'ts? The simplest piece of advice is just use what makes the most sense to you. Look at all the channels available to you and see if they fit into your overall strategy. For example will you have videos? Well then a YouTube and Vimeo channel would make sense. Do you have a lot to say, are you having conversations with your fans? Then Twitter probably makes sense for you. But are you interested in showing people what fashion or art interested you? No, well maybe you don't need a Pinterest account. It's just about working out what is right for you and not having channels there just because they're available. Every channel you use should have it's own specific function.
Sydney Music Art & Culture Awards
Words. Tom McMullan
Photography. James Nelson
Sydney is quickly becoming a creative hub in the Asia pacific region thanks to a flourishing creative industry and the talent it's producing. It’s hard to keep-up with all of the creativity flowing throughout the city but community radio station FBi has managed to curate, capture and encourage our local vibrancy through their annual Sydney Music Art and Culture Awards.
Above. Alice Fenton. Creative Director. FBI Radio
The Sydney Music Art & Culture Awards (or the SMACs as they’re more commonly known) are Sydney’s truly interesting annual awards. Founded by Sydney community radio station FBi, the SMACs are given to the local creators and culture makers who keep Sydney’s creative heart beating. Former FBi Program Director and co-creator Meagan Loader explains the genesis of the awards:
“There were a lot of awards and awards ceremonies around, but we didn’t see any with real meaning or credibility. With the SMACs, we wanted to highlight and give media space to the people doing the really creative stuff in Sydney - not just those at the top of their game.”
I spoke with FBi creative director Alice Fenton about where the SMACs are now, found out exactly how they work, and why you should be paying attention.
What did you think of the SMACs before you became FBi creative director? In the first year they weren't really on my radar until I saw lots of photos of hotties at the Opera House afterwards and thought "Hey, I want to go to that!" FBi clearly read my mind because the next year Even Books (of which I'm one half) was nominated for an award. We didn't win but had an amazing night and walked away very much convinced that the SMACs were an important part of Sydney's cultural landscape.
What’s your vision for them now you’re in charge? I feel very fortunate to have been handed such a great event to work on and my aim isn't to change the nature of it, just to make it bigger and more widely respected while still representing the heart of what's happening in Sydney. I worked on the last two events, both held at the National Art School in Darlinghurst, and we added a new category to each: the first year it was 'Best On Screen', for music videos, and last year it was 'Best Eats'.
In 2012 we plan to move to a bigger venue and possibly include a ticketed element so a wider audience can come and get involved. We included a live broadcast last year as a bit of a trial and it worked well so we'll be doing that again this year, as it's a nice way to engage people who can't be there on the night.
How do the awards come together? As with most events, through lots of hard work and a fair bit of last minute panic. It's entirely unglamorous but at the same time a whole lot of fun. The awards would absolutely not happen without the help of FBi's incredible volunteers, who work across everything from poster and stage design to guest lists, stage management, bar service, photography, social media and schlepping (soooo much schlepping).
Who gets nominated? People who are doing interesting/brilliant/world class stuff in Sydney.
Is their any curation involved in the selection of nominees and winners? The process works like this: we do a public call out for nominations while also approaching a variety of prominent Sydney people who are actively involved in music and/or arts for their recommendations. We pull all of these suggestions together into a long list, then sit down with a panel from within FBi to work out the shortlist. That shortlist is then presented to the public, who decide on the winners. So yes, there's curation involved in cutting the long list to a shortlist and in who we approach for recommendations.
Are there any issues with the awards being decided by popularity? It can mean that the people who go hardest with the promotion and social media campaigns have an advantage, but not always. EARS, who won the Best Artist category this year, isn't into self-promotion at all and opted not to use any of the materials we offer nominees (little 'Vote For Me' stickers and the like) to help get the word out. He won just because he's really, really talented, which is how I hope things continue to work.
What happens at the actual award ceremony? Each year's a bit different, but generally we have performances from a couple of nominated artists, jokes from a dashing MC (Max Lavergne last year, Chris Taylor the year before) and we present the winners with some ace li'l trophies and ALL OF THE GLORY. Then there's lots of drinking and talking and sometimes dancing and falling over.
How do the winners benefit from receiving a SMAC? The winners themselves could probably better answer this one, but we think an FBi SMAC Award is a great thing for them to be able to hold up as an indication that what they do is important and valued by their peers and the city they live in.
How does Sydney benefit? The SMACs celebrate the people, projects and ideas that make Sydney interesting and vibrant, and by doing so we hope that they encourage more people to do more amazing things!
What do you hope will be the legacy of the SMACs? I hope that they continue to show the wider community of Sydney the special things happening right here under their noses, and I hope that this contributes to Sydney becoming recognised globally as an important and interesting city.
Final question – I’m a local who is doing, or trying to do something cool in Sydney.
How do I win a SMAC next year? The first step would be to make sure that we know about you! We have eyes and ears all over the place but the easier you make it for us to find you, the better.
Behind the Scenes on DEMO Issue #5
Another artist joins the ranks of young YouTube sensations – so what does Sydney-based rapper Miracle have to offer the Australian hip hop scene?
Miracle is grinning a wide-toothed, face-splitting grin – and telling me about how he sold his soul to the devil. “Not at a high price though,” he hoots, collapsing into laughter. The ‘devil’ here is none other than Sony BMG, and the ink is still wet on the teen’s late 2010 contract.
The secret recipe for musical success has undergone a revolution – artists no longer flounder on sidewalks and dive bars brandishing demo tapes. They do not fly to New York or L.A. to stalk industry execs. They do not languish for years in a run-down studio apartment or gritty basement. Instead, they play roulette with the natural democracy of the online community. It is the raw Idol concept without the Coke cups, ad vomitus montages and cringe-worthy phone bills.
Fast-forward through the Numa Numa Song, the crazed Bieber fans and the horror of Rebecca Black. In the new and improved formula for internet success, a young unknown from Sydney’s Western suburbs finds fame and fortune through the shrewd use of YouTube and other social media sites. As Miracle describes his overnight claim to fame, it would be far too easy to write off his serendipitous success. After all, his first single Better Dayz was the rap-tastic product of a high school music project. With the help of a friend and a handheld camera, the duo cobbled together a simple black-and-white video, filmed against graffiti-stained walls, posted it up on YouTube, ‘shared’ it on Facebook and let it go viral. A handful of music blogs took notice, musing about the adventurous hip hop take on Pete Murray’s Better Days. Australian producer and rapper Israel Cruz proposed working on a project together for the latter’s label, Nufirm. Local radios started giving him air time. Then Sony came knocking with a lunch offer that turned into an album contract. Not too shabby for a track that didn’t exactly hit high notes with the music teacher.
So who is this latest social media darling racking up over 190,000 YouTube views, 15,000 Facebook fans and 7,000+ Myspace friends? What do we make of the daily updated Tumblr account and the free-to-download mixtape? I expected a tech-whiz, a marketing genius with perhaps a bit of free-styling rap and gangster signs thrown in for good measure. Instead, I sit down for coffee with a quiet and unassuming 18-year-old in a nondescript orange tee, his eyes shaded throughout the interview by a pair of black Ray Bans.
Born Blessed Samuel Joe- Anbah in Zambia, his mother dubbed him ‘Miracle’ after he died and came back to life at birth
Born Blessed Samuel Joe-Anbah in Zambia, his mother dubbed him ‘Miracle’ after he died and came back to life at birth, and the sacred moniker stuck. And what of his Ghanaian nationality? “Well, I say I’m from Ghana so it wouldn’t be so complicated for everyone,” he says with a smile. “I was actually born in Zambia.” However, since moving to Melbourne and then Sydney as a young child, the rapper considers Australia his home. “I’ve only been back to Ghana once and I didn’t really like it,” he says sheepishly. “It was too hot!”
His early foray into music was no less routine than his nomadic childhood: as an avid skateboarder, Miracle started playing the lead guitar in a punk rock band. Head-banging may have had its charming moments, but the aspiring rock star picked up an affinity for hip hop after watching skateboarding videos. “A lot of [the videos] had punk rock music, but a couple of them had these old-school hip hop beats,” he says. Inspiration kicked in, and like so many other musicians, Miracle found himself experimenting with different beats in his bedroom, accidently coming up with one or two original riffs in the process that eventually led to his budding hip hop career. “Sometimes it takes me days and sometimes it takes me a couple of hours,” he says of his creative process. “It just depends on the vibe of the day.”
He is currently working on his first album for Sony and refuses to divulge any details, or impending plans with the label. “I’m not allowed to talk about it,” he says, almost apologetically. Yet Miracle is still drumming up attention via his 14-track mixtape Before We Meet – click onto the website and you will find an intriguing mash-up of original tracks featuring Top 40 samples. Two things stand out: first, he doesn’t sound eighteen – in fact, he sounds older, deeper, and cooler than you’d expect. Second, he’s not rapping about chillin’ with da homies in da hood, and money can’t buy that sort of inherent lyrical maturity. Given that a song featuring Pete Murray’s Better Days launched his career, Miracle sticks with likeable samples, taking a stab at Diddy’s Coming Home and Angus & Julia Stone’s Big Jet Plane, mashing in his own beats and original lyrics. “I like to sample a lot of tracks that I like, and I like to show people my own version of songs that they like,” he says.
He cites Frank Ocean as one of his major inspirations. “I love his melodies,” he says, of the controversial artist who has collaborated with Odd Future. Other influences include Melbourne-based Illy (“He’s a really good artist.”), The Notorious B.I.G., Kanye West and Pharrell, though Miracle is careful not to let them colour his style entirely. “I definitely want to sound original,” he says.
“If it weren’t for YouTube, it may have happened in the end but it wouldn’t have happened as fast.”
Given the speed of his ascension from sidewalk-skating youth to Sony artist, Miracle admits that he may have lucked out. “If it weren’t for YouTube, it may have happened in the end but it wouldn’t have happened as fast,” he muses. Original plans involved going to university and “studying something” before hitting the big time, but the fast-moving hand of social media apparently deemed it his moment to shine. Yet Miracle is surprisingly level-headed and soft-spoken for a teen recently inducted into the heavy-hitting world of bling, bottles and booty. I quiz him on whether that lifestyle is appealing. “That’s not really me at all,” he says earnestly. “I don’t really go to clubs unless I have a show; a lot of people say its weird but I just don’t want to be there.”
He sounds earnest enough now, but it might not take too long for Miracle to change his tune. He has already been strutting his stuff live, most recently receiving billing alongside seasoned hip hop vets like Snoop Dogg, Nelly, New Boyz and Keri Hilson at Supafest 2011. Like other adolescents, meeting his heroes left him star struck. American artist Bow Wow left a deep impression. “He’s one of the best,” Miracle says. All of sudden; his face splits into a cheeky grin as he recounts a memorable live experience in Brisbane. “I didn’t really expect anyone to get into it but when I got up [on stage] people were screaming. I walked down and hundreds of girls were coming down and taking photos of me.” His smile is beguiling and shy, and not entirely without some incredulity. He perks up when I suggest he should incorporate skateboarding into his live repertoire. “I’ve thought about that,” he nods. “I could roll in, kick flip and then get the show started!”
Getting an early, adolescent start into the hip hop arena isn’t exactly new – just look at Lil Wayne, or even Willow Smith and her whipping hair. So where does a rising star go after he’s plucked from obscurity? Miracle sits in thoughtful silence as he ponders what his future now holds. “Making music is something I will do for the rest of my life, but as for being an artist?” He pauses. “No one can do that for the rest of their life.” After some prodding, he admits that he is considering a future in music production, and venturing into the retail industry. He is already poised to launch a new line of street wear in Australia, although he remains decidedly tight-lipped about the details for now. After all, it is early days yet and much can change in the blink of a fickle eye.
“I like the Australian hip hop scene [but] I definitely want to go abroad,” he says. “[I want to] show people that there’s more than just fluffy hip hop in Australia.”
In the meantime, Miracle is focused on his upcoming album and the work at hand, while maintaining his local fan base. “I like the Australian hip hop scene [but] I definitely want to go abroad,” he says. “[I want to] show people that there’s more than just fluffy hip hop in Australia.” It is a tall order to represent a country for one so young, much less as a fresh hip hop sensation. I ask him if he has any advice for other aspiring musical artists; he hesitates slightly. “Work hard, stay focused, and that’s it,” he shrugs. I give him a slight nudge and he cracks up. “Yeah, and upload videos on YouTube!”.
DZ Deathrays may have been around for a little while now, but their escalating success is brought down to nothing but hard work and relentless touring. You can’t put them in the overnight sensation category, but you can put them down as a sensation. And with NME recently knighting them as one of the top 10 bands of 2011 so far, this is a local Aussie band to hedge your bets on.
Shane Parsons, one half of Brisbane party-punk duo DZ Deathrays is sitting on his bed in his bedroom. I know this because I can see him – we’re talking via Skype, after a few failed attempts to catch up in person. It feels a little invasive on my part being able to peer into his private world, but Shane doesn’t seem to mind. He’s perfectly chilled.
“I don’t know, that’s just what we started off doing. If anyone was having a house party we’d say ‘Can we play?’ and they’d say, ‘Sure’. So we’d play in a tiny room in their house around 10 o’clock or something, and then they’d have music on for the rest of the night.”
Shane Parsons. DZ Deathrays.
You may know that DZ Deathrays (pronounced the American way) used to be called DZ – but did you know they were originally called Denzel? “At the start, we (Shane Parsons and Simon Ridley) had another drummer, and we were a sort of Sonic Youth style grunge band. Then our drummer left and went overseas, but we’d been jamming as a two piece anyway so we decided to keep going like that and write upbeat, but sort of heavy party music.” To mark the musical shift (and tightened line-up), they shortened Denzel to DZ.
At the time, Shane and Simon were living in the same house and jamming everyday, developing their self-described thrash pop and motivating themselves with inspirational notes. “We wrote a list of bands we liked [DFA 1979, Justice, Girl Talk, The Bronx, Shy Child are some Shane can remember] and put it on the fridge door, so that every time we walked past we’d remind ourselves what direction we wanted the band to go in.”
Mid 2008, when they were comfortable with how they were sounding, DZ began playing house parties.
Considering the usual/accepted band obscurity-success route begins in shitty venues, not to mention the logistical issues that must arise setting up your gear in someone’s living room, I ask Shane why they took this alternative route.
“I don’t know, that’s just what we started off doing. If anyone was having a house party we’d say ‘Can we play?’ and they’d say, ‘Sure’. So we’d play in a tiny room in their house around 10 o’clock or something, and then they’d have music on for the rest of the night.”
Taking what they learnt about entertainment from playing house parties, they next began playing gigs in aforementioned shitty venues. But once again, disregarding convention, they did so without the aid of either a manager or a booking agent. “We’d been in bands for years, so we sort of knew what we should do. We knew how to email agents and stuff a little better than we originally did, so we just did it.”
Pretty soon they were pulling 80-100 people at venues like Brisbane’s The Zoo at shows they’d organised themselves. Their future manager first saw them at one of these Zoo shows. “The show had a good turnout, and we always try and do funny shit, so at that one we had a motorbike helmet with a strobe gaffa taped to it, and one of our friends ran over during the last song and jammed it on Simons head. She saw that, and really liked it, and then the next week everything happened.”
“Everything happened” equals DZ recruiting their manager, then a booking agent, and being hand-picked by Crystal Castles to be national support on their first Australian tour.
After the high of everything happening, and after the Crystal Castles tour, they went back to work on raising the DZ profile with a process Shane refers to as ‘The Gradual Build’. “We just toured and toured and toured Australia, and then released our first EP [DZ Ruined My Life]. Then we decided we wanted to go to New York. We applied for CMJ, didn’t get in, decided we wanted to go anyway, so we did. We ended up playing about nine shows around CMJ.”
For most bands, the first trip overseas is a sobering experience, but DZ had no illusions of grandeur. “We go to New York, and no one knows us, we don’t have a release over there, we don’t have any press, we’re just playing shows. And sometimes you play to thirty people, sometimes just five. But it’s not like we expected to go over there and actually have a big crowd or anything, we just wanted to go over and play – just to have that feeling coming back to Australia that we’re actually doing stuff, making an effort.
I’ve always been a fan of bands who are hardworking, that go out and do things for themselves without a label paying for it. We both work full time jobs just to be able to do that.”
Shane Parsons. DZ Deathrays.
Returning from New York, and for the second time in their band’s short lifetime, they had to alter its name – this time out of necessity. “There’s a DJ – he’s a dubstep DJ – also called DZ. When we first called ourselves DZ we knew about him, but he had put on his Myspace that he’d quit or something, because back two and a half years ago dubstep wasn’t big in the states. But in the last year or so it’s exploded, and so he’s back, and he did a tour of Australia and there was so much confusion online. So we thought he doesn’t know who we are, but we know who he is, so we might as well change our name now, after one EP, and just work on from there. And I think it’s worked out alright – we get to keep DZ in there, we just added another word, and people know us as that name. It was about having our own online identity, cause that’s so important.”
Their new name comes from the first song on their new Brutal Tapes EP, Rad Solar – a song which, if the band were a cartoon show, would be what their theme song would sound like. “Before we were called DZ Deathrays, that song was called Deathray, which I thought was a cool word. I looked it up, and found this article about this Las Vegas hotel where a death ray was accidentally created. There was this shape in the architecture which created a concentrated beam of sunlight, and it’s so hot out there that it was burning people down at the pool. Then there was this kid who created one using like a billion little mirrors which he put into a concave shape, and he’s able to burn timber just off the sun. It’s really crazy that people would actually make this stuff in their backyards.”
Brutal Tapes is more a compilation than an EP – featuring studio tracks, a demo, remixes and a live set recorded at a friends house party (taking them full circle), it’s a good indication of where they are now in 2011, before they start work on their debut full-length.
Before that though, there’s more touring. They’ve already been back to the states for South By South West – which they played officially this time – alongside more shows in L.A. and New York. They’ve just finished touring Australia again in support of Brutal Tapes, and then they’ll be off to the UK.
Considering the motorbike/strobe light stunt back in Brisbane in 2009, I wonder how their live antics have escalated over their relentless touring schedule. “We’ve been trying to do things for the crowd a little more, and on this tour we’ve brought along our own lighting rig. It’s 4 LED bars, and a couple of strobes. We also brought these fireworks glasses, which if you look at a lot of light it kaleidoscopes the light so people have been filming our shows with the glasses of their camera lens on their phones and stuff, and it looks awesome! They’re just made of paper, so we’ve been getting fifty of them per show and handing them out to the crowd. It’s really cool to watch, because people put them on, and at first it’s dark and they’re like ‘What the fuck are these for?’ and then all of a sudden we switch on the big LEDs and everyone’s eyes go crazy and they’re all ‘Holy Crap!’
It’s always the best feeling when you see someone going crazy and having fun, jumping around and crowd surfing and stuff like that. I just want everyone to stand in that one area in that room, and feel like they’re somewhere completely different, sonically and visually, and just be able to do whatever they want, and have fun doing it. I’ve always loved that feeling when you’re at a festival in a tent watching a band, and you’re in the middle of a crowd – and for a minute you forget that your standing in a paddock, you feel like you’re just where you are.”
While she tells stories through other people’s eyes – award winning singer-songwriter Emma Louise has the music world’s attention firmly focused on her.
It might have been the first time we had ever spoken, but talking to Emma Louise is like chatting to a friend – speakeasy, relaxed and welcoming. At the time of our online-video interview, Emma Louise Lobb, or simply, Emma Louise is at home in Brisbane, her short, usually carefully styled hair is a wayward bed head mess, yet no less fetching. And somewhere, lurking noisily in the background is Henry, a sky-blue Indian ringneck bird – the singer’s pet – that found its way into Emma’s shared house as the result of an impulse buy.
We were first introduced to the singer-songwriter in 2007 when the then 15-year-old high school student won the Q Song People’s Choice Award for her track, Kim’s Song. Back then, the youthful singer sported a head of long locks before shaving all of it off after a bad hair makeover at a salon she used to work at. Even now, if you scour through her website and YouTube Channel and you’ll find that four years on, the track Kim’s Song is still highly requested by fans.
“Kim is a chick I went to high school with in grade nine, and she was really special,” explains Emma. “She used to be really sad because she had some family problems, and so I wrote her a song and it turned out that people liked it.” Despite its popularity, Emma says that it has been well over a year since she has sung Kim’s Song, and to break the cycle, she reaches over from behind her and pulls out a guitar and begins singing it. A minute into our private cyber gig she stops, unable to remember how it goes.
From the little that was played, Kim’s Song encapsulates the musical beginning of where Emma Louise is now: a girl with a guitar whose utterly simple and raw talent has produced some melodic tracks and beautifully constructed lyrics well beyond her 19-years of age. And you can’t blame her for forgetting Kim’s Song, after all as a musician, she’s incredibly prolific, and one who truly utilises music as an honest form of self-expression.
“Most of the time I have a subject I want to write about – like I have this feeling and I need to write it,” says Emma. “Then I just sit down for ages and try and think of a guitar riff that suits that kind of thing. It’s not really a thinking kind of thing; I don’t really think about it. It comes differently too; I can be walking around the house and be like, ‘that’s a cool lyric’, and then I turn that into the idea for a song. The subject comes first, then the guitar riff and then the melody and then the structure.”
“I find myself writing songs about other people a lot, and through the eyes of other people. Every one of my songs is really honest. I think the more honest the song, the better because they’re honest things that people can relate to. A big part of the reason why my people listen to music is to feel stuff, and I know that I feel a lot of things so I kind of put that in a song.”
“I find myself writing songs about other people a lot, and through the eyes of other people.”
Our mini cyber gig included a song that Emma is currently working on. The track, like a lot of her uploaded songs on YouTube is simplistic in style; her soothing vocals perfectly accompanied by the rhythmic strumming of chords.
“It’s about my back-up singer but she doesn’t know it yet,” explains Emma. The song is called Darts; the significance of the title resting the fact that the back-up singer the song is written for undergoes acupuncture to help her sleep. “I found out that her mum died of cancer but I had known her for a really long time and we had been really close, but I didn’t know this and she told me and it was really intense.”
For lack of a better word, Emma is incredibly sweet. Her music, while accessible, possesses the lyrics of a well-seasoned observer of life. But beneath her lovely down-to-earth persona, one can’t help but suspect that there’s a wild child harbouring in there too, or perhaps, just under her head of hair.
“I didn’t plan to have it done,” says Emma about the tattoo on her head. “[But] I decided to get one where my mum and dad couldn’t see it; at least if I had to cover it up I can just grow some hair over it!”
Although she never came from a musical family, music came to Emma naturally at a young age and soon became something she was determined to pursue. “When I was in grade 7, my friend had a guitar and I thought it was pretty cool and I started playing it,” she recalls. “Then I got a guitar for Christmas and I used to play other songs like, Kiss me out of the bearded barley and stuff… I think I first fell in love with music when I started writing my own music because it’s really special. You have what you’re thinking in music and then I just went crazy and music was everything.”
Though she was, as she says “pretty shit” at the guitar when she first picked it up, Emma is a completely self-taught musician. “I’m pretty lucky in that a lot of my friends are really good musicians and really good guitar players, so I kind of just learn off them. I’m like, ‘hey teach me how to do that harmonic thing’, or whatever, and they teach me.”
As her guitar playing has improved over the years, so has the development of her own musical style, especially evident in her latest EP, Full Hearts and Empty Rooms. The four-song latest release includes three brand new tracks including an old favourite, 1000 Sundowns inspired by the love story between her uncle and aunty. However, possibly the biggest track from the EP is Jungle, an up-tempo, moody pop song, which went straight into high rotation on Triple J.
“Jungle is about being in that place in a relationship when you’re like at a fork in the road and you don’t know what you’re feeling, and you don’t want to stuff things up,” explains Emma. “Sometimes, I guess, it’s hard to explain what we’re feeling like, ‘I know there’s something wrong … but I don’t know what it is!’”
Originally from Cairns, Emma decided to move to Brisbane after high school - a move that was supported by artists such as Sarah Blasko and Tim Rogers. Full Hearts and Empty Rooms was produced by fellow Cairns native, Mark Myers, who in the past had worked with bands such as The Middle East. After having worked with several different producers, Emma felt most at home working alongside Myers. “I’ve known Mark for a while because we both lived in Cairns … I don’t know how it [working together] started but we just decided to do it and it was so good because he captured what I did, and I could be myself but he just put a grander edge to it. It was still myself but it was a little bit more.”
Certainly from listening to Full Hearts and Empty Rooms, there’s the sense that the guitar-playing vocalist is very much there, with the exception that the tracks have been given a richer, full-bodied sound, which merely compliments the often foetal stages of Emma’s works-in-progress. The result is an EP full of anticipated potential and the feeling of new beginnings for Emma Louise.
Over the last couple of months, the Cairns native has been touring nationally with indie folk band, Boy and Bear. “I played a show at the Gold Coast and Steven Wade from Select Music, who books Boy and Bear, flew down and saw me play and asked if I wanted to support them. I couldn’t believe it. Boy and Bear are one of my favourite bands at the moment and have been ever since they released their EP.
"I don’t really find anything else interesting. It sounds so cheesy to say ‘it’s my one and only thing that I do’, but I kind of was really determined because it’s the only thing that I can do.”
Looking to the future, the singer-songwriter who pays the rent by busking at a market every weekend, hopes that her music could one day become her livelihood. “The cool thing would be to make a living off doing what I love, which is kind of what I’m already doing with busking and stuff, but just on a bigger scale. I’d love to record all these songs that I’m writing and have people like them. At the moment it’s just on YouTube, and I’d love people to be able to listen to them fully produced and stuff. And just be respected I guess,” she says.
“I don’t really find anything else interesting. It sounds so cheesy to say ‘it’s my one and only thing that I do’, but I kind of was really determined because it’s the only thing that I can do,” says Emma. “Not saying that I’m a massive loser, but I like sports and that kind of stuff, but music’s definitely something I know.”
The un-boxable weirdness of Ghoul leaves an acquired taste in your mouth. So why are they finding success now? Find out why weird equals wonderful.
It’s not an easy task to attempt to box Ghoul into any musical genre. Though they’ve been likened to a range of polarising artists from Talking Heads to Radiohead to Antony and The Johnsons, their sound is simply best described as uniquely Ghoul. This is not to say that their music is easily consumed – it’ll take more than one listen to get hooked onto the electronic, experimental, indie mash-up the band delivers, but it sure is worth it. Here is the kind of music you take the time to unravel, and upon doing so, you’ll find yourself getting more from it than you did during your last listen.
“We got a lot of responses from people saying they thought it was good but that it was too weird, or different things like that.”
Andrew Hannaford. Ghoul
“We got a lot of responses from people saying they thought it was good but that it was too weird, or different things like that,” says Ghoul drummer Andrew Hannaford about the band’s latest LP, Dunks. Even though their latest release came out in February this year, it was completed more than half a year ago and since then, the band has been signed to Sydney record label, Speak ‘N Spell.
“They [Speak ‘N Spell] don’t do anything but encourage us creatively. The reason we got involved with them in the first place is because they approached us saying they enjoyed the music and they enjoyed our approach to music, so I think that’s something [creative freedom] we’ve got a pretty wide rein on.”
Ghoul formed almost three years ago and is made up of four members, namely, Andrew Hannaford on drums, Anthony Warwick on guitar, and brothers Pavle and Ivan Vizintin on bass and lead vocals, respectively. Each of their backgrounds is as eclectic as their music; for example, Anthony is currently studying science at university, Andrew is a medical student and Ivan has just completed his Masters in sound production, which, incidentally, is a useful tool for the kind of music Ghoul produces.
Whilst the tracks on Dunks are beautifully and carefully constructed, its multi-textured layers creates something similar to a smooth, musical rollercoaster ride. Loops, distortions, beats, guitar riffs, samplers and that distinct vocal interject at unpredictable rates but the result is, oddly enough, an often melodious tune, making the production process an interesting study when listening to the sum of the tracks’ parts.
“Dunks wasn’t planned,” says Andrew. “We did it on a track-by-track basis and not trying to produce an outcome. We’d throw something in the mix, and then try out different things with it and that would completely change the dynamic of it, and be like, ‘oh OK, it’s this kind of song now’ and we’d take it that way. It might start with a few electronic glitchy sort of things or a loop, and you might add a guitar riff to it, and it’s suddenly a different song, and so you have to then respond to what the song is telling you it’s turning into … [Though] it’s not too smooth and quick as that.”
With the complexity it takes to create each track in the studio comes the challenge to recreate the same songs in a live setting. “It took us a while to get a live set that we were happy with,” explains Andrew. “We kept getting to these shows and people would turn up and so we felt there was an expectation, so we felt that we should be able to have a good live show but we were dissatisfied with how we were playing for a long time … I guess our recordings had a lot of different electronic elements, or different sounds that you can’t recreate faithfully with just three instruments or something on a live setting. So it took us a lot of experimenting using different equipment as to how we can recreate sounds a bit better.”
Laptops have joined the band’s stage but even so, recreating one of Dunks top tracks, The Slip has been a struggle. So far, it is the only track to elude Ghoul’s live set but as if to make up for it, their music video for the song is a stunning, moving, Memento-like film sequence directed by John-Paul McElwee.
Three years on and Ghoul is now a band that’s a far cry from the group that brought us the EP, Mouthful of Gold in 2008. Whilst they have evolved since then, what remains is the complete and honest originality the band brings to Australia’s music scene.
“Mouthful of Gold was [released] pretty soon after we started working on this project together, so a couple of years down the track, we’re better musicians in terms of our practical ability,” says Andrew. “Ivan has two more years experience of sitting behind a computer fiddling around with sounds to get exactly what he wants with different software. We have better instruments because we saved up for longer, but also as a band, our approach to making music together has developed as we got to understand how each other contributed. And the stuff since Dunks, because for us Dunks finished up probably six or seven months ago has been a different approach again because we’re constantly evolving.”
Despite the recent success Ghoul has experienced over the last few months, one can’t help but feel a slight sense of self-deprecation from their end in regards to their current achievements. Though outside the band each member has his finger in a different pie, there’s a drive for perfection and a hunger to create music with a refreshingly humble approach.
“We’ve never been desperate to achieve some level of success,” says Andrew. “When we started at the start, it was just to see what would happen, and I think since then the only focus and the only thing we’ve gotten more demanding on has just been on ourselves to make something we’re interested in, or try something a bit different that we haven’t already done. But I don’t think we’ve ever been like, ‘oh we haven’t played these sort of shows yet’ or ‘we haven’t been able to sell these many CDs yet so that’s not good’. So I don’t think we judge what we do based on that.”
“At each point, when one of these opportunities have come up we were always really surprised by it. Maybe we’re a bit self-deprecating or something because we almost expected that we would get the responses, ‘it’s a bit weird’ or ‘we’re not interested in getting it out’. Because of that we’re constantly surprised when someone does show an interest in it, or that we do get to do some show – pleasantly surprised is how I would say we’ve reacted to the recent events.”
Photography. Christopher Ireland
Words. Thomas McMullan
Perfect harmonies and imperfect recordings born from a freindship made in music. Add a mariachi band and you will find the playful folk music of Evil J & Saint Cecilia.
On record, the folky music that Sydney duo Evil J & Saint Cecilia create is at times playful, clever, intimate and harmonious. In person, Eliza-Jane Barnes and Cecilia Herbert are much the same. We’re hanging out in a stucco booth deep inside Sydney venue Good God Small Club, where in a couple of hours time they’ll be launching their debut album, recorded at Evil J’s parents’ house in 2010.
After only a few introductory questions, it becomes clear just how musical their world is. Cecilia was named after (and circuitously gets her nickname from) Saint Cecilia, the Patron saint of music (Evil J isn’t sure where hers comes from; all she remembers is overhearing her dad refer to her thusly when she was fifteen). They both come from very musical families. They’ve both been playing music since they were young, and during the blossoming of their friendship played each other the first songs they ever wrote.
When I ask them what their first songs were about, they wince at the memory. “Oh, you know, fucking teen angst shit...” Evil J says, cringing. “Yeah, like unrequited love,” Saint Cecilia continues laughingly, “or something hideous like that.”
There was never a definitive moment when they decided to make music together. Rather, an affinity for sharing music has always been a big part of their friendship. Right from the start, they bonded over a shared love of artists like Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits and Neil Young. And they’ve always loved to harmonise – at one point during the interview, while their support is sound-checking in the background, they stop answering a question mid-sentence and sing along in a perfect two-part harmony. It’s a wonderful moment, and I ask them whether they have harmony ESP.
“Sometimes. Though other times we both go to the high part, and then both go to the low part – it’s like when you’re walking on the street and you’re trying to get around someone coming from the other direction, and you both walk one way and then the other. It’s an awkward moment.” Says Saint Cecilia.
Before they played together, they played with other artists including Liam Finn and Lawrence Arabia (Evil J) and Guineafowl (Saint Cecilia). Although perfectly happy doing so, they wanted to work on something of their own. They explain that, since they were already comfortable playing other people’s music on stage, they wanted to get to a point where they could be comfortable playing their own material as well. So this time last year, they decided to do something about it.
“We had a month staying in my family home by ourselves, so we decided just to try and make a record.” Says Evil J.
It’s important to note that Evil J’s family home is far better suited to recording an album than most. Not only does it have its own studio space, rehearsal space and instrument collection (!), but at the time was also home to a new reel-to-reel tape recorder – a machine the duo were eager to put to good use. So over the course of the month, they wrote, practiced and recorded what would eventually become their first album, Strange Beasts.
“There are so many times in your life when you figure out a band name before you record anything or even write any songs, so we were quite proud of ourselves for actually getting something done.” Says Saint Cecilia.
With a shared love for “music that’s imperfect and not so clean sounding or produced”, they discovered the tape recorder was the perfect recording device to use. Firstly, the heads need cleaning often – a labourious and precise task that requires cotton buds and alcohol – so this became a morning ritual during the recording process. More importantly though, due to their lack of analog editing know-how and the half-life of audio tape, they needed to record everything in a single take.
“You don’t wanna go over and over cause you ruin the tape – every playback is deteriorating the quality.” Explains Evil J.
Their quest for imperfection didn’t block their ambition however. Something you notice on Strange Beasts is the surprisingly wide variety of instrumentation employed, most of which they had to teach themselves on the job. They are quick to downplay my admiration at their ability to do this, as Evil J counters that they “mostly used guitars and stringed harp things” (although after teaching themselves bass in such a short amount of time, they found themselves with massive blisters that threatened to halt the process).
Along with the wide variety of instrumentation, there is also a plethora of guests – mainly drawn from their inner circles. “Late at night, we would get both of our family and friends to come over for backing vocal and percussion takes.” Explains Saint Cecilia.
Like, for example, a mariachi band! Evil J elaborates, “My parents know this man Victor Valdez who has this troupe of mariachi players, and he plays this Mexican harp and sings. They met him at Womadelaide a couple of years ago, and ever since, Victor and his troupe have been turning up at our house on a regular basis to play music and drink rum. But this time my parents were away and they turned up around midnight, so we grabbed them into the studio, like “well, while you’re here …”
At this point the venue doors have opened, so we wrap it up and say our goodbyes. I stick around to see them play a gorgeous set to a bustling crowd, before heading home.
A few days later, while transcribing the audio I’d recorded, I started wondering about something: just who are Evil J’s parents that have such a musical house, such crazy friends (that they meet at music festivals of all places) and who are away for months at a time? It’s only then that I take notice of Eliza-Jane’s surname – “Barnes”! Evil J was a Tin Lid!
Melbourne based artist and creative director Leif Podhajsky’s work has gorgeously graced the covers of some great new records over the last 12 months including Tame Impala, Gypsy & The Cat, Lykke Li and Wim. DEMO was able to steal a moment of his time to examine what goes on inside that seemingly mirror-bending head of his.
How did you get into working with musicians? I have always been interested in music and vinyl artwork especially when the two gel together seamlessly to create a unique statement both audibly and visually. I am a very visual person and always create an image in my head when listening to sound, so I think it was a natural instinct that led me to work with musicians.
Above. Lykke Li Album Artwork
I never really set out to do album covers specifically, I sort of just fell into it with the development of my style and approach to creating artwork. This led to bands contacting me for commissioned work and it just escalated from there.
Do you take a lot of inspiration out of the actual record before doing the artwork, or do the musicians usually have a lot of say on the visual outcome? I definitely take a lot of inspiration from the record I am working on. I think it’s very important to get a feel for the album and form my own ideas based on the music. This is where I start seeing images flash in my head which is usually a great place to start!
It really depends on the band or musician as to how much involvement they have with the artwork, some are happy for you to run with it, with little input at the start. In this case I usually will start with a set of concepts to present until we find something everyone likes and wants to develop further. On the other hand a lot of people come to the table with ideas they would like to explore, which is a great opportunity to collaborate and get insight from the artist on what they want to say. In the end it will always be an interpretation from everyone’s ideas.
Sometimes it’s difficult to communicate when there is a lack of face to face contact and just relying on the internet, which of course can make it seem like you’re physically with the person, but it’s never as good. I went over to New York at the beginning of the year to work on the artwork for the Lykke Li album and spent a week with Lykke working face to face, which is a unique experience when working in a fast paced world, it was definitely a nice change for me. If I could somehow fuse more travel into my job and less sitting at a desk that would be ultimate …that and getting to do artwork for bands that aren’t around anymore, wouldn’t mind doing a Floyd, CAN, or Hendrix cover.
“By creating patterns or cycles I try and transport the viewer to another place to examine these higher planes as somewhere where we can gain a sense of harmony, a place of knowledge and wisdom to gain a better understanding of ourselves and our surroundings.”
Leif Podhajsky. Artist/Creative Director
Repetition and mirroring seem to be a common thread in your work. What’s the reasoning behind that? I use certain techniques to try and emphasise and enhance particular concepts I am exploring or evaluating. Methods like repetition or recursion I use to delve into altered or higher states of awareness. By creating patterns or cycles I try and transport the viewer to another place to examine these higher planes as somewhere where we can gain a sense of harmony, a place of knowledge and wisdom to gain a better understanding of ourselves and our surroundings.
Above. Miami Horror Album Artwork
I also use symmetry, colour, tone, and texture to explore concepts in this same way. I am especially interested in themes like the connectedness of all living things, with nature being at the centre of all life and balance on earth. I believe we need to take a good look at how we are living and how far we have strayed from what is good for us and our environment. I think we have a delusion and a devaluation of time. Instead of focusing on natural cycles we have forced an un-harmonious view of time upon ourselves which has put us out of alignment with the natural movements of the earth. We need to restore some balance to avoid a lot of the problems we are facing both now and in the future as a species.
By using these techniques as a tool I try and figure out a lot of things in my own life and the world around me.
As we see across your Tame Impala body of work – do you think artists should maintain a consistent aesthetic in their cover artworks from Single to Album? I think its great to develop a theme or story that flows throughout. With design especially I think its important to have consistency, like having the logo always in the same position or a re-occurring border, it enhances the story you are trying to tell. You can also go deeper and have the artwork continue across many mediums. It’s all about communication and engaging with an audience.
With the Tame Impala work we definitely thought about this, even though all the work is quite different you can tell straight away that it’s Tame Impala. Its most likely the repeating elements that are recognised although two of the singles didn’t have this, Expectation is a mirrored wave and Why Won't You Make Up Your Mind is a hazy desert landscape, but somehow they all still work together as a unit, reinforcing the album as a whole and also communicating individually a single song from that larger piece of work.
This can be a challenge as the album as a whole may have an overall theme or feeling to it and when you break it down into singles each song has its own feeling and concept. So trying to stay consistent and true on all levels can be hard but it usually stems from getting the initial album cover right. Challenging but fun!
With the scale of cover artwork becoming increasingly smaller (from record sleeve to iTunes thumbnail) – do you consider how your designs work on a micro level? Yeah this is a hard one, I probably should but I don’t really think about it that much. I like artwork big, vinyl cover size! I believe if it works at this size and is engaging then fuck it, it will probably work smaller. Its pretty hard to design something for thumbnail size and album cover size at the same time.
"A lot of people have been saying that the focus on album covers has been diminishing but I believe there has been a huge resurgence. It’s so hard for bands to stand out these days and a good visual identity can really express what they’re all about in a saturated market."
Leif Podhajsky. Artist/Creative Director
If its done well the artwork can stand alone as a piece of art which can be appreciated on its own and engage with a wider audience that have never heard the music, so it works both ways. With the Tame Impala work I have had people email me and say they bought the album because they like the cover, I think that’s really nice – it also doesn’t hurt that Tame Impala absolutely shred. I guess what I am trying to say is there are a lot of avenues in which the artwork will be viewed. A lot of design and art blogs also pick up great covers and display them at larger sizes so it’s not just your traditional outlets like the iTunes store. People often research a band and get to see a larger overall picture, I know on my iTunes I have it set to cover-flow and I meticulously go through and find every album cover, it somewhat makes up for my limited vinyl collection.
What are you currently working on? I have just worked with recent Modular signing WIM for their new album which is looking really great. Its a lot more abstract than some of my other work which is something I would like to develop further. I am also very excited to be working with The Vines for their new album.
Above. Tame Impala Album + Single Artworks
I have continued to work with Tame Impala on all the Innerspeaker singles plus their 2011 merchandise which looks really cool. A deluxe Innerspeaker album will also be out soon. Lykke Li merch and singles, Miami Horror tour artwork, Young Magic. I have also been working on some video work and art that I had in the recent Sugar Mountain Festival exhibition. I am not sure how much I am allowed to say, what’s the rule here? Maybe I’ll just say I have some other exciting projects coming up really soon.
What do you listen to whilst working? The band you’re working with, or some old favourites – if so what? A mixture of both. I most definitely listen to the album I am working on to draw inspiration from, but I think once I have a foundation I use music that gets me deep into my creative zone, like long songs that rise and fall and lull me into a trance. Music plays a huge role in how I work, letting go and forgetting all about what I think I should do and letting the composition form organically is key to creating strong work.
There can be way too many distractions in life sometimes, especially if you are working on a project for someone else and with a deadline. I definitely have favourites that I fall back on, bands like CAN, Sun Araw, German Oak, Teebs, Shigeto, Mustafa Ozkent, Sweet Smoke, Voice of the Seven Woods, Floyd, etc., as I said, anything that has real feeling and takes you far away.
Advice & Insight
Want to know how to find the money to achieve your music dream? Or ever thought what a record label truly cares about when selecting new artists? DEMO sits down with two people who could make your dreams a reality.
Director of Music
Australia Council for the Arts
Following a musical career path can often be a financially crippling decision. While your creative passion consumes your whole life, it can be difficult to find someone who’s willing to pay for it. That’s where Paul Mason can help.
Paul is the Director of Music at The Australia Council for the Arts – the Australian Government’s arts funding and advisory body that supports Australia’s arts through funding, initiatives and resources. Each year, they deliver more than $160 million in funding for arts organisations and individual artists across the country so we asked him how local artists can get a piece of the pie.
So what is the role of The Australia Council for the Arts? Mostly what we do here in the Music Division is provide money for musicians, songwriters and composers to create new work. We provide funding for all types of musicians at different stages in their careers.
Why is that important? Why should musicians receive funding? I suppose that’s a good question to ask the artist. It provides people with the cash that they might not necessarily have to help them create the work they are intending to make – and that’s a really important piece of assistance we can provide.
Unfortunately we are not in a position to support everybody. It’s incredibly competitive and there is an enormous demand for support which tells me there is a great need to help people. Our support can go towards the actual costs of creating a project but we also provide funding for things like people undertaking mentorships and residencies, where other sorts of career development opportunities can be created.
So what exactly is a music grant and how does it work? A grant is an amount of cash that’s given to you based on a case that you make through an application process. An application describes what you are trying to do and why you need the money. The best way to form an application is to provide a budget and examples of the work you’ve already created to show the quality of the work you are making and then we assess your case against all of the other cases that we receive at any one time.
What makes a great application – what makes you sit up and take notice of an artist? We’ve got some things we are particularly interested in at the moment. We talk a lot about the benefit of collaboration – so we are really interested in seeing collaborative projects. We’ve created specific grants that encourage collaboration between composers and musicians, choreographers and dancers. We’re also interested in innovation, so we’re interested in people who want to find new territories, who want to stretch the boundaries of what they can do. We’ve specifically designed a category for people who are seeking to innovate in contemporary popular music and it’s called 'Sound Clash' which has been running for a couple of years.
It’s supported people like Pikelet, Naked on the Vague and Seekae – it’s for individuals and groups who are tying to do something a little interesting within the popular music space.
In terms of what makes a good application: clarity. Be really clear about what you are trying to do so that it jumps off the page. Applications need to be easy to understand and that’s as much about knowing yourself and who you are, as it is about having a realistic budget that is clear about what the costs are and what the potential income streams are. And finally, having really good support material and examples of the music you’ve created.
What is a reasonable cost to ask for when applying for a grant? The application process itself helps people through that. We provide templates for people and we’ve also got staff here which can focus in on the specifics of your application. Above all your budget must reflect real costs – they can't be fabricated or made up.
How does the selection process work? It’s a huge process and there’s a lot of work involved looking through all of the applications. As you can imagine – we receive hundreds of applications and they’ve all got 10 minutes of music attached to them so there is a lot of material to wade through.
The actual decisions are made by a board who are appointed by the Minister of the Arts and they are people who are practicing musicians, composers, songwriters and sound artists. At the moment we’ve got 8 people on the board including Lawrence English from Brisbane who is a sound artist and runs his own record label; Johannes Luebbers from Perth who is a young jazz arranger and composer and we’re very happy to have Kath Letch who ran Three Triple R radio in Melbourne for a number of years.
So it’s a fascinating blend of people who represent all different forms of music making coming together to try and find which projects are worthy.
"We're driven by what artists tell us is going on. So that’s where we want to be – where the artists are. What’s exciting about that is it keeps changing and it's unpredictable."
Paul Mason. Australia Council for the Arts
Are there any success stories you can share with us? We’ve been running an international touring program for over 10 years which has supported artists like The Presets and John Butler Trio in the very early stages of their careers. We’ve funded a lot of people to help them take on international tours. Beaches for example has received funding twice now for international tours. It’s really pleasing to see a band like that get some backing for an initial foray into the United States and then see the progress in their careers as a result – it’s really exciting.
What kind of dollar figures are we talking about when it comes to some of your grants? To make it easy we have limits within categories. It ranges from $10,000 for quick response international touring grants and scales up to $30,000 for some of our presentation grants. The 'New Work' grant is an exciting grant for people to look at – that’s about giving someone the money to take the time out to write new music which is an important part of the process that we really want people to value. By taking time it helps artists improve their skills, develop their careers and improve the quality of the music they are writing and producing.
Mid career artists are able to apply for ‘Project Fellowships’ and ‘Fellowships’. So someone like Dexter Fabay has a Project Fellowship with us – he’s working on some of the Gorilla Step material and some of his own work. We have given him $25,000 for a year to take time out and focus on his work.
The fellowships which are more substantial – they are $45,000 a year for 2 years. Archie Roach has a fellowship from us at the moment to take time out and write new work and really immerse himself in new material he wants to develop.
So that gives you a sense of the range. We work with smaller immediate grants to get touring funding, mid size grants to write new work and then more substantial grants to take time out for larger projects.
What is the future of the Australia Council for the Arts? We’re interested in collaboration and innovation. What we’re doing is trying to reflect what’s going on in music practice. Given that we are ultimately lead by artists and we report to a board of musicians and composers – we’re driven by what artists tell us is going on. So that’s where we want to be – where the artists are.
What’s exciting about that is it keeps changing and it's unpredictable. As long as we are responsive enough to move where artists are going, that’s what is most important.
For more information on the Australia Council for the Arts and how to apply for a music grant visit: australiacouncil.gov.au
Director of Marketing
Sony Music Entertainment
Getting through to record label decision makers can be near impossible at the best of times so DEMO asked Shae Constantine – one of Australia's leading music minds how to stand out in the crowd.
Shae’s experience stretches from his beginnings at Phantom records to his current role at Sony Music as Director of Marketing. He’s been an Associate producer at the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA), a founding member of MGM Distribution and Director of Domestic Music at Warner Music Australia. Throughout his career he’s worked with the who’s who of Australian artists including The Whitlams, John Butler Trio, Sneaky Sound System, Eskimo Joe, Thirsty Merc, Evermore and more recently Pete Murray, Jessica Mauboy and Kate Miller-Heike.
Is the increased level of competition through the internet making it harder or easier for voices to be heard and found? On one hand I think it’s actually harder because artists are competing with more static noise than ever before. It’s made the natural selection process even harder to push through because there’s even greater access to more potential artists than ever before. You simply have to consider the amount of content that A&R people at record companies have to digest every day just to get through the masses of artists on offer.
However, on some levels it’s easier because once you are discovered or ‘found’ the people that have found you can easily consume more of you and your art at a much faster rate.
At the end of the day it still boils down to those tried and true basics that the business was built on and that is songs, artist proposition and getting out there and working for it. Sitting in your bedroom and writing some songs then putting them up on Myspace, Facebook or Twitter is great and yes bands get discovered every now and again through that process but 20 years ago there was still that one in a million band that got discovered without all of those modern tools.
"At the end of the day It still boils down to those tried and true basics that the business was built on and that is songs, artist proposition and getting out there and working for it."
Shae Constantine. Sony Music Entertainment
Generally, traditional hard work is still the key. Getting up and playing to live audiences, real word of mouth and proper interaction with real people in a real space is still the way you get discovered. It’s about the inner circle of label people talking to each other and talking to the greater industry that includes everyone from agents to venue bookers, photographers and other artists. It’s that enduring network that still exists today and in reality it’s the network that drives the business.
Because young artists having incredible access to more sophisticated tools than ever before (everything from sound production software to being able to produce their own merchandise) are your expectations higher than ever before? Expectations are as high as they have ever been but it’s fundamentally about the art and the song. It doesn’t matter how you wrap it or how you present it – at the end of the day it’s about who they are as an artist and the songs they write. It’s as simple and as complicated as that – end of story. Everything else including social networking is great but you know what – an artist can have a million followers and friends but if they don’t have the songs they have nothing. You might have a one hit wonder and the industry is scattered with the bones of those types of artists. And they might sell a million records but the longevity of a career still depends on the ability to create and perform meaningful songs and art.
What do a lot of young artists do wrong in your opinion – where do they fall over? I don’t think they are working hard enough. Look at all of the artists that are really successful and they “work”. And when I say work – they work the online space without a doubt which is really important but their connections with real people in real time is their strength.
The great artists are the people who out there playing – even when they are lucky enough to be signed with a record label behind them, they are still out there working their arse’s off. It’s essentially the art of working. It’s one thing to be a great artist but if you are not working then it’s hard for people to truly experience your art.
I think the online crowd is not a fanatical space. Facebook and Myspace is a “no barrier” concept where it’s very easy to ‘like’ something but it’s not really that engaging in a direct conversation or experience. It’s more of a status thing- where people follow a trend or a perception of what is cool. “I like the Beatles because I should” or “I like Led Zeppelin or Jimmy Hendrix” but do they really, really like them? If Facebook produced a ‘love’ button I think people would be more careful about what they are willing to align themselves with.
My simple advice is don't be mediocre. There’s no bigger crime than being mediocre – either be really, really good or really, really bad because mediocre is forgettable and very time consuming which is the worst crime in the world!
News & Opinions
We ask 3 music-industry experts what has been some of the most memorable and forgettable Australian music to come out in the last 6 months. And are international showcases really worthwhile for upcoming bands to save and spend on?
JS. Jade Skelly.
Big Day Out. / Meiyu. / The Cheap Seats.
KM. Kirsty Medynski.
John Watson Management & Eleven: A Music Company.
JZ. John Zucco.
Music Media Promotions Consultant
The Right Profile
1. The Worst Of
What’s the most recent worst Australian release and why?
JS: Pendulum: ABC Theme Remix. It was funny when Grinspoon used it as their walk-on music when the election was happening.
KM: Brian McFadden: the song that wasn’t meant to come across as a drunk date rape song but did. I dislike this song for obvious reasons. Not sure what he was thinking or not thinking at the time? BTW, does this count as an Aussie release now that he’s been de-Delta-fied and supposedly heading back to the UK? Sorry Brian. Major fail.
JZ: In terms of the worst – I tend to delete shite songs from my mind, they are bad for my mental health …
2. Two of the Best
Name 2 of the best Australian songs released in the last 6 months and why?
JS: 1. Adalita: The Repairer. Adalita is hands down one of the hottest women in music and is just so effortlessly cool. I love the minimalism and simplicity of this song – it’s all about Adalita’s voice, lyrics and emotion. I’m a fan of anything “harrowing” and for me this song is (especially if you watch it with the music video – harrowing and beautiful).
2. Miracle: Better Dayz. I’m in love with Miracle. Is he not the coolest kid in Sydney?! I totally love that he has taken a Top 40 commercial song like Pete Murray’s Better Days and made it his own. He’s taken catchy and turned it into cool. And who cares if his accent is more American influenced than Australian. Let’s just call it “International”.
KM: 1. Birds of Tokyo: Wild at Heart. I love this song because a) it’s always good to see an Australian band breakthrough with killer tunes after many years of hard work b) at the time of release, this song was only one of a handful of Australian artists who remained in the upper reaches of the ARIA chart (especially iTunes top songs) amongst the sea of international urban/pop artists who continue to dominate the charts (bring back the rock!) and c) but most importantly, it’s a bloody good sing-along song.
2. Gypsy & the Cat: Time to Wander. I didn’t want to ride the hype on this band, but I got their record and I fell in love with it. I love this tune because it makes me feel like I should be laying in a floatation tank, drifting off to la la land.
JZ: 1. Songs of Rico: Miss Adventure. I’m digging the debut album from Songs of Rico called Reactions. It’s one of those albums that has a flow from start to finish. They have a alternate/vintage rock thing going on with loads of melody. The singer songwriter Alex MacRae is a talented gent. One of the highlights is a track called Miss Adventure.
2. Drapht: Murder Murder. The other is Perth MC Drapht and his new album The Life of Riley.
He pushes the boundaries of Aussie hip hop. It’s really broad and I keep hearing something new after multiple listens, in my book that makes a great record. Heaps of hooks and melody with some cool trick shots. Even if you don’t dig the genre this album may change your mind. I like the song Murder Murder.
3. Success Rate
What’s the real success rate for Australian artists trying to break the international market through showcasing at SXSW and other showcases like CMJ?
JS: Unless you already have an agent, publisher, lawyer or label, then don’t expect too much except a bag full of business cards and a big hangover. SXSW & CMJ have now become showcases for tastemakers and media. If you’ve already got a team and release plan behind you, then there is definitely advantages to playing. But don’t waste your money going over there to get “discovered”. Labels are too busy seeing all the artists they have already signed. Agents are too busy trying to get their artists on the festival circuit. Schedules blow out, the crowds are insane and people’s time is so limited. There is definitely more opportunity to get noticed outside of SXSW if you play shows either side in NYC and LA.
KM: The real success rate is transparent. All you have to do is look at the international charts over the last few years and see which Australian artists who ‘showcased’ at the likes of SXSW and CMJ have shown up on there. There you will find your answer. I’m pretty sure you’ll find it’s less than 1%. Gone are the days when playing at SXSW or CMJ was considered head turning. It seems like these days, as these events have grown in size, they’re less selective about the artists they accept … completely watering down the pool of outstanding talent to be discovered. If you’re up for a party and networking then it’s an expensive exercise for little return. If you’re just starting out, save your money and spend it more wisely on touring in Australia and building your fanbase/story in order to deliver a more targeted set-up with international contacts.
JZ: If you break though you’re in the 1% that make it happen, it’s tough.
As We Go To Print
A few things that are happening around town right now.
EMI Music Australia has moved its head offices in Sydney to Surry Hills. Not really big news, but when you throw 2 huge art window installations into the mix that are changed every 6 weeks – then yes, it becomes newsworthy. EMI head-honcho Mark Poston saw the potential in the busy Flinders Street facing windows and says “I had this idea to make two of the street-facing windows art installations that showcase local talent. I really believe in the synergies between music and other aesthetic disciplines like design, fashion and art.” First up the windows feature Archibald Prize entrant Stuart Hall with a portrait of EMI artist Paul Dempsey and local street-artist Beastman.
The follow up to Gotye’s (Wally De Backer) platinum selling record Like Drawing Blood, is due for release August 19. The album artwork features a small painting made by Wally’s father in the 1980’s. Whilst rummaging through an old pile of bills, newspapers and letters Wally made the discovery of work and found a synergy with it for his new record, Making Mirrors. The haunting pop track Somebody I Used to Know featuring Kimbra has a video directed by Natasha Pincus and is well worth the YouTube search.
Papa Vs Pretty
UNITED IN ISOLATION
The debut album from Papa Vs Pretty, United In Isolation has been out for a few months now featuring lead singer Thomas Rawle’s elaborate interactive digital album cover artwork. Standing as a visual guide to the album front-man Tom has illustrated drawings for every song, and as you move through the tracks like “co-ordinates on a map” each comes up with a unique drawing, song lyrics, photos and videos. An amazing interactive and visual portrayal of the record, from the musician himself who is also a self-confessed “computer fan”.
Music Meets Art
For 2 years Sydney’s MART Gallery has been showcasing the visual philosophy behind the music industry. Here’s a snapshot of what’s coming up in the in the months ahead.
SEPT 1 – SEPT 20
With only a couple of months till the summer festival season hits again, MART whet’s your appetite with some of the best live shots around. The new wave of photographers have finally come into stride and Kane is part of that crew. Showcasing his creative portraiture, live and candid imagery from both international and Australian artists, Searching With My Good Eye Open features original portraits of Dave Grohl, Metallica, The Living End, Birds Of Tokyo, Peaches, Cut Copy, Slipknot, Bring Me The Horizon, Tim Rogers, Karnivool, The Bronx and more, as well as select images from his work as the official Soundwave Festival Photographer.
OCT 21 – NOV 5
A self-taught illustrator, Little Gonzales works across a range of mediums; drawing, screen-printing and spray painting to bring life to his quirky characters and scenes. From robots to cityscapes to geometry, his work finds itself on t-shirts, albums, posters and recently the book What Song Is That?. He was shortlisted for the 2010 Qantas SOYA awards for Visual Communication.
Behind the scenes on DEMO Issue #4
The Jezabels Exhibition
Above. The Man Is Dead EP.
Art Direction and Design. Christopher Doyle
Photography. Robbie Powell
Last night saw the opening of 'The Jezabels - An exhibition by Christopher Doyle' at the MART Gallery in Surry Hills. One of our favourite DEMO Magazine Issue #3 graduates - The Jezabels have gone on to release a number of successful EP's and their debut album 'Prisoner' which has received critical acclaim. In between writing and some international touring, the band have also managed to produce a captivating set of record covers which are all on show down at the gallery.
"Fans and critics alike are always commenting on how beautiful our covers are. We agree and are so thankful that our relationship with Chris came about.”
Sam Lockwood. The Jezabels
The show will be running until Thursday the 15th of December. We highly recommend you experience the show first hand and purchase some of this fantastic band's history. Everything is quite affordably priced, perfect for first time buyers.
Top. The Dark Storm EP
Art Direction and Design. Christopher Doyle
Photography. Christopher Doyle
Bottom. Prisoner Artwork
Photography. Pierre Toussaint
Ironically, despite what the name suggests, Oh Mercy is not at the mercy of anyone at all.
Whilst these days, the term ‘indie’ has been thrown around to mean nothing more than a dress code, a lifestyle, an asymmetrical haircut and an op-shop sense of chic, Alexander Gow, the lead vocalist of Oh Mercy, is careful to refer to his group as an independent band; one that survives through funding, touring (the band has clocked more than 50,000 km worth of travel and counting), continued interest from their fans, and enjoys complete creative freedom.
I meet Gow at a bar in Melbourne’s CBD. He’s pleasant, boyish-looking and comes off a little bit shy; from some angles, particularly when he smiles, Gow looks freakishly similar to Edward Norton.
At the time of our meeting, Oh Mercy, composed of guitarist/keyboardist, Thomas Savage, Eliza Lam on bass, and drummer, Rohan Sforcina, had just completed their latest EP, Keith St., which shares the same name as their new single. I learn that the title of the song, Keith St., bears no significance to anyone outside the band; it’s an inside joke entangled so deeply into the intimate nooks of being around the same group of people for long periods of time that Gow brushes off any prospect of letting me in on it. He does, however, reveal the catalyst behind feel-good, acoustic pop, country-esque song, which as the video suggests, is the perfect soundtrack for rainy days.
“I dated someone who was, like in the spotlight,” he explains. “She’s a popular singer and it just didn’t quite work out. More to the point she kind of worked out [and] after a while that she didn’t quite belong to me as such; she belonged to everyone, and that’s why it was difficult.”
The single, which could have easily been just another song of lost love, is enriched with this revelational insight, providing an intimate back-story you don’t often get with most songs. In Keith St., Gow sings: “You’re everybody’s baby, but you’ll never be mine”.
“It was hard to have that kind of personal thing between two people when the other person is such a celebrity (for the lack of better words). It was just a bit disappointing,” he finishes.
For Gow - as arguably with most artists - songwriting has always been of a biographical nature. “I’ve sung about what I know and what I’ve experienced… All the songs are reflections of my experiences, which I felt was all I was capable of writing about because it’s all I know.” Songwriting has, and seems will always continue to be, the cornerstone of the group.
“When I started writing when I was really young, I always wrote about myself, maybe that was because the songs I was listening to and listen to are usually quite personal. Well I said, ‘if I want to be like these guys, then these are the kind of songs I’ve got to write’,” says Gow, who credits Paul Kelly (“Paul Kelly I think is my favourite,” he confesses) and Leonard Cohen as being songwriters he admires the most. “But what I do find difficult is writing in the third-person, which is something I think I’m going to be doing a bit more of.”
In regards to the future of his songwriting process, Gow suggests the possibility of taking his fly on the wall approach of observing relationships, outside of his own, as a source for his lyrics. “When you’re taking on a new character, there’s a whole set of dialogue that opens up that you can use that I wouldn’t be able to use if I was talking about my own life,” he explains.
“I’m more interested in relationships rather than love as an idea. I’m more interested in the complexity of how people relate to one another. I like girls; I like the way they look and I think about them a lot. But as to whether there’s been love or not? I don’t think it has ever gotten to that point.”
Alexander Gow. Oh Mercy
Oh Mercy is probably best described as a ‘no-frills’ band, which adds to their charm and authenticity in an industry where controversy sells albums, and bravado draws attention. Refreshingly, there are no trivial pursuits here - no gimmicks, no quirky personalities – just the simple pursuit of music that has taken Oh Mercy from their humble, early beginnings in South-East Melbourne, to 2009’s Qantas Spirit of Youth Award (SOYA) winners.
It’s been a steady rise for the band, which was named after a 1989 Bob Dylan album, though I’m told: “It’s got no relevance to the particular part of his [Bob Dylan’s] career that I like or anything like that. It’s just one of those things that you do when you’re young and need to find a name for your band.” Interestingly, the words ‘classic’, ‘folky’ and ‘lyrical’ seem to always pop up in descriptions of their music. Like Gow, there’s an old soul embedded beneath the delicately jovial heart of youth that encapsulates much their sound.
“It’s understated and it’s lyrical and it’s melodic. There’s not much that’s aggressive about it at all but it’s not too fragile either - like it can hold its own in its own way,” explains Gow. “Our grooves are sung in an understated way, but the groove is always there. It’s not quite Metallica, but it’s not quite Jack Johnson.”
There’s a humbleness and simplicity that exudes from Gow, which in turn is embodied within Oh Mercy’s style of music. Their songs aren’t so much influenced by ‘classic’ musicians – the Bob Dylans, the Leonard Cohens, the Burt Bacharachs – but adopts what Gow refers to as a classic mode of songwriting.
“There are certain bands that you can listen to and you think that they’re a rip-off of certain groups from an era,” says Gow. “The thing about classic songwriting is that it is classic for a reason in that it transcends an era or a genre. It’s more of a mode, so if you’re prescribing to that mode, you’re not going to sound derivative purely by the nature of what you’re doing.”
Their debut album Privileged Woes was famously recorded in a small spare bedroom. The single mattress had to be propped up against a wall to make room, but with the help from The Panics’ Myles Wootton, the sophisticated production showed no signs of amateurism. The record went on to be nominated for the 2009 J Album of the Year award.
Earlier this year, Oh Mercy was in the States for the South by Southwest festival. Whilst there, they also recorded their second record due March 2011 with American producer, Mitchell Froom, who was responsible for the first two Crowded House albums, and by the time this piece goes to print, Oh Mercy will have toured alongside Sally Seltmann as well as Crowded House in venues across Australia.
In an interview a few months back, Gow expressed being a little apologetic towards Privileged Woes despite the success of the record. When I ask him about that incident, he’s quick to clarify what he meant: “If I said I was apologetic then I take that back – I’d apologise for murdering someone or something but not for making an album. It’s not something you should apologise about. I do acknowledge that it was a bit of a sketch of Oh Mercy in that album. We didn’t know we were making an album, we didn’t know it was ever going to be printed, so there are certain considerations had I known that I probably wouldn’t have taken.”
If anything, his pseudo-apology is indicative of being free from complacency, and a conscious awareness of being driven to improve, not only as a musician but as a songwriter also. The love of music is palpable, and there’s a sense that this love is firstly as adoring fan of music itself, rather than an as a music-maker – but of course, there’s that also.
“It [music] is the way it makes me feel. I love nothing better than to drink a couple of cups of coffee and put my headphones on and go for a walk,” says Gow. “It’s not an overwhelming urge to feel like I need to express myself and that’s the only way I can express myself – I don’t really feel the need to express myself at all. I just love music. It’s a strange and beautiful thing and I’m really lucky that I am OK at making it myself.”
Like any artist, the desire to turn his passion for music into a somewhat breadwinning career, is very much something Gow longs for. And if commercial success takes Oh Mercy to that level, Gow has no qualms in welcoming it – the term ‘sellout’ is far removed from his concern.
“I have no expectations of success in the commercial sense or anything like that… I’ll keep doing what I love, and I just hope that the people will continue to enjoy it. The only thing that my expectation is – it’s not an expectation as such – it’s to keep my faith in music for a long time and have a career. As to what path I have to take to get to that point? I’m neither here nor there,” he explains. “Commercial success will definitely help – but I’ll try either way.”
“I think luckily for us, from the start we’ve always been a band that likes pop music. If we do a song that crosses over, I doubt it’s ever going to have a huge step beside from what we do right now.”
There are many parallels to draw between Gow, the person, and Oh Mercy, the band. His shy disposition masks an unassuming confidence in himself as an artist and his music, as well as the band’s place in the industry. Similarly, Oh Mercy, with its collective seemingly mellow, talented members, marches to the beat of their own drum.
“I have no obligation to any kind of genre – I don’t feel obliged to anyone or anything. People that know our band understand where we’re coming [from]” says Gow. “I just want to try and get better at writing songs, and I’ll go where that path takes me.”
My interview with Freya Berkhout and Alyx Dennison of Kyü occurs at a mid-week, modestly attended arts festival launch. Kyü have been asked to play as an example of the festivals’ cultural breadth, alongside a drummer who plays with his eyes closed and a contemporary dance troupe that convulse with harmonicas. They perform a pitch perfect rendition of Pixiphony, the rousing standout from their self-titled debut, to a largely quiet audience of RSVPs.
Afterwards, as we’re sitting down on a bunch of couches, I ask them how they feel about being asked to play an ‘arts’ event like this.
“We feel like pop-stars compared to everyone else!” Laughs Alyx. Freya Clarifies this. “When we play at things like this we feel so normal - and then when we play other gigs we feel so fricken’ weird.”
Kyü’s music is certainly hard to pigeonhole. Combining sparse soundscapes and tribal drums with soaring harmonies of startlingly down-to-earth lyricism, they sound like a local incarnation of Björk (though they’ll mostly dismiss this comparison if you mention it). It’s an incredibly well formed sound, considering that just this August, Freya and Alyx celebrated their friendship’s second anniversary. Like many band bios have read before them, they met at Uni.
“I know the exact date!” Says Alyx, excitedly. “It was August 7, because the semester started on the fifth, and I’m pretty sure our class was on a Wednesday. It was English, and the only reason I was in her tutorial was because mine was on at nine in the morning, and I slept in every day and would literally roll out of bed and run to Uni, and hers was on at 11.”
At this memory Freya interjects (as they often do when speaking together), “Yeah, and Alyx came into my tutorial, and she had really long hair, and I thought she was so weird!” They both laugh. “She came in and was like, “I’m sorry! Can I join this tute?” And I was like, what the fuck?”
Nine months later, they started Kyü. “It’s our baby.” Says Alyx, upon the fact. Before this though, they were both independently practicing musicians - even if, as Freya admits, they didn’t play all that many shows.
“Alyx and I both were singer-songwriters before we met, and even for a little while when we did meet, and I remember people used to always ask me, “So what do you do?” And I’d say I was a musician, and they’d say, “So when’s your next gig?” And I’d say I’m on a break,” She laughs, “because I never used to play!”
Freya Berkhout. Kyu
Things fell into place when they decided to join forces. “In the beginning, Freya and I would often sit down and have a cup of tea and talk about the song that we wanted to write, and we’d completely intellectualise it before we’d even played an instrument.”
“We’ll start off with a chord progression, or something really simple,” Freya adds, “and then we write the vocals to it, and then everything else comes. So we always need a little seed at the beginning of a song, but the vocals are what makes it grow.”
Listening to their music, it’s pretty obvious that their vocals are the star - and not just their formidable ranges, but the odd, non-lyrical sounds the girls’ are able to conjure. “We try to use our voices as instruments,” says Alyx, “and a lot of the time we’re singing in a way that’s not so dignified, or pretty, and the point of that was to manipulate and do things with our voices that people don’t normally do.”
So where does the heavy tribal drumming come from? “That was kind of an accident.” Freya admits. “There was a tom in the space we were rehearsing in, and it wasn’t ours, it belonged to another band who used one on stage.”
“And we still use the same tom,” Alyx laughingly confesses, “We just kind of took it out of the studio. I think I know who it might belong to, and one day they’ll be like, “Where’s my tom?””
They laugh, and Freya explains. “It was just hanging around. It’s the same with Glockenspiels, we never planned on using that stuff.”
Alyx finishes the thought. “It was just out of necessity, and this really naive boldness we had at the time to play anything. I still can’t believe we did that!”
As this period of musical discovery progressed, the pair soon realised they didn’t have time for their studies. “I’d go to Uni with Freya and wait outside her classes.”
“And I’d go to tutorials and sign my name and then leave after five minutes.”
“We were in such a world of our own back then!”
Kyü’s first show was the Sydney Uni band competition, which, like many great Sydney bands before them, they won. But even before this first, fateful performance, they had an inkling of the effect their music might have.
“A really funny thing happened when we were catching the train to Uni.” Narrates Freya. “It was probably a couple of days before the band comp, and we were practicing one of our drum sequences on the train - because that was what we’d do, we’d sit on the train and drum on the seat in front of us - and there was this guy behind us one day when we were doing that-”
“In a suit!” Alyx interrupts excitedly.
“Yeah, and he was getting really into it in his suit, and it was really funny, we were like, Yeah! Drumming!”
Returning to the present, I ask them what they think about their recently released album’s favourable reviews. “It’s a bit odd, because there are parts that are really – (and I think we notice this a lot when we’re playing live) - slow. They’re slow songs, that have really gradual build-ups, and it’s nice that people give it enough time to appreciate that.”
“[When we recorded the album] we were in our own world. We were always together, and music music music, and always at the studio, so we really weren’t expecting the reception of the album to be as good or widespread as it was.” Says Alyx. “There was this real naivety, and we weren’t considering the fact that it would be played on radio, or that people were expecting it. And then the build up happened this year while we were waiting to release it, rather than before we recorded it.”
In a moment of clarity, Freya comes to a realisation. “I always knew that I’d do music, but I didn’t know how, and I was thinking tonight, wow, now I can really call myself a musician, and that’s really cool.”
A lot’s changed in Sydney in 40 years, especially around Bar Coluzzi. The iconic café lies on Darlinghurst’s Victoria St, an arterial road that leads traffic out of Kings Cross and onto Oxford St. It moved to its new home from the top of William St in 1970, and still the seating arrangement’s the same: there’s about ten small, round tables on the footpath outside the café, and you can fit about four wooden stools around each. If the weather’s great, you’ve got about as much chance of seeing Netanyahu and Fayyad share a beer as you do scoring a table. Of course, some days you’re just lucky.
This is where I’ve chosen to meet John Hassell, one third of Sydney electronic outfit Seekae. It’s midday on a glorious, lucky autumn Saturday. We squeeze onto a table near the curbside; John has his back to the road, and I’ve got a great view of the carwash directly opposite Bar Coluzzi, as well as the never-ending parade of traffic that flows interminably along Victoria St. If I were sitting here in 1970, it would have looked a lot different. Back then, Darlinghurst and its surrounding suburban neighbours played home to the city’s seediest malcontents and dirtbags. But that’s all changed, and now it’s the kind of place where you’ll find Baz Luhrmann’s mini-mansion tucked away at the end of a leafy cul-de-sac. As the fabric of Sydney has evolved over the past four decades, so too has its music scene. What was once the domain of pub rock bands has morphed into a completely different beast. Seekae is one of its limbs.
Seekae is emblematic of a new wave of emerging Sydney bands. In a town traditionally concerned with fashion and commercial appeal, Seekae is decidedly uncommercial and unfashionable. (They wear shorts on stage.)
So too are many of their peers: bands like Megastick Fanfare, Ghoul and Kyü play the kind of music that doesn’t appeal to A&R heavies at major record labels. It’s music that doesn’t concern itself with radio-ready hooks or common song structures. Instead, these acts opt for progressive song structures, textures woven from myriad synthesisers, tribal beats and the odd guitar melody. So what’s the catalyst for this new, more experimental movement of Sydney music?
The story of Seekae begins in 2007. Hassell and Seekae drummer Alex Cameron are playing in a high school band when they meet the third piece of the puzzle, George Nicholas. It’s their mutual love of the Warp Records back catalogue and Brooklyn acts like Animal Collective that brings the trio together. “No one was into that kind of music [in high school] so we were almost proud to be into electronica,” explains Hassell, his soft, rounded vowel sounds hinting at his English upbringing.
At that time, “indie” was the musical buzzword. A few years earlier, Sydney had experienced a boom of acts wearing tight jeans and playing songs heavily coloured by the late ‘70s post-punk movement. It was rock music you could dance to, and bands like The Valentinos (now Lost Valentinos), Van She, The Presets, Mercy Arms and Red Riders were all over Sydney’s newest independent radio station, FBi 94.5FM. “Seeing bands like Mercy Arms – who else, like Ghostwood and other Sydney bands - playing music we were aspiring to make originally,” recalls Hassell, “we kind of were like, ‘Oh, we’ll never get a chance now.’” So they decided to make electronic music instead.
But while the trio embraced the synthetic sounds of electronica, Hassell explains it was always important that it was still a band, rather than a couple of guys on laptops playing in derelict warehouses. “We wanted to immediately play at the Hopetoun or the Annandale,” he says, referring to Sydney’s traditional live band haunts. Hassell describes their early jams as “pretty shitty”. He continues, “There wasn’t really anything coming out of it, it was just us kind of making noise. It was almost like a punk band with our parents going ‘Shut the fuck up!’ while we played weird, jibberish music.”
Two years after those shitty jams, Seekae refined their sound and released the stunning album The Sound of Trees Falling On People. Heavily influenced by electronic outfits such as Autechre, Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin, the glitchy beats and ambient melodies found Seekae being labelled “Intelligent Dance Music”, or IDM as it’s often known. Basically it’s electronic music that’s a bitch to dance to. It was also an uncomfortable tag for Seekae. Hassell explains he felt the band was garnering attention because they were one of Sydney’s only IDM bands, rather than for the actual music they were creating. “A lot of the comments we were getting were like, ‘Oh, finally a band in Sydney doing this’, as opposed to, ‘Oh we like your tunes’. But I dunno, I think that maybe that’s changed now. Hopefully it’s changed now.
“We never wanted to be just [IDM],” he continues, “but that will always remain whether we like it or not. I think we want to now prove ourselves as a band that people like our music, not just the fact that we’re this genre.”
Which brings us to Seekae’s new record – or, perhaps more accurately, the concept of Seekae’s new record. Hassell says the band feels inspired by a lot of the newer styles of electronic music, like wonky and dubstep. It’s the kind of music that fuses glitch with hip-hop, so what you get are these incredibly fragmented beats over undulating bass lines. “We’ve really gotten into Flying Lotus and Hudson Mohawke, a lot more hip-hop orientated stuff,” he explains. “I think there is so much talent coming out beats wise. Flying Lotus and Hudson Mohawke, for us, have just opened our eyes to this whole new genre. And that concept of really wonky beats has really drawn us in. The thing is, though, we’ve been so obsessed with it that we don’t want the record just to be that.”
There’s probably not much chance of that. Hassell talks passionately about incorporating cellos and “the misunderstood” clarinet into Seekae’s new material. “We’re trying to really mix together the polar opposite, like raw recorded cello and piano and stuff like that, with synthetic, poppy synths and stuff like that. Not saying that hasn’t been done before but, I dunno, they’re things that we feel could bring something new to the table so people wouldn’t just go, ‘Oh it’s another Seekae album’. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
What’s so interesting about Seekae is that their approach to music feels aberrant against other Sydney bands. Well, at least it used to. Bands like Seekae are helping to change the musical terrain of their home city. Traditionally, Sydney has been a competitive town, with artists hell-bent on securing a record deal. But Seekae is working to break that all down with the formation of the oneofour (“One Oh Four”) Beat Collective, the brainchild of Alex Cameron from the band. The idea was simple: invite anyone who wanted to make electronic music to join the collective. They would then meet once a week to discuss and showcase their ideas, and at the end of the month one member of the collective would make a mixtape of the works which people could download for free off the internet.
The collective gathers every week at Hibernian House in Surry Hills, a heavily-graffitied warehouse next door to an Indian restaurant, in room 104 (hence the name). Seekae are regular members, along with other Sydneysiders such as Ivan Vižintin from Ghoul, FBi presenter Max Gosford and producers Cleptoclectics and 48/4. This idea of artists working together, rather than competing, has always been at the heart of vibrant music scenes such as Melbourne’s. Hassell recalls a time when Seekae performed there, watching musicians play in multiple bands, sometimes at the same show. “And I was like, ‘My God I’ve never seen this in Sydney, these people are just loving it,’” he says, slightly bewildered. “They don’t really give a shit whose record sells better or which band’s seen as the cooler one, they’re just all having a good time. That whole vibe was so, I dunno, so awesome.”
There are other factors at play, too, that are helping shape a new musical philosophy in Sydney. You have things like a shift in government regulations, and a new generation of artists reacting to their predecessors, but there’s one monolithic structure that may have had the greatest effect of all: the internet. Some pundits have labelled it the democratisation of music, because now you have a vast resource of bands and a beautiful, eclectic mix of songs at your beck and call. The music you’re exposed to isn’t a narrow stream determined by record labels or radio stations anymore. It’s a whole river of sound, and that’s having a profound effect on Sydney musicians, because there’s so much more music to be inspired by. Hassell agrees: “My cousin lives in London, and he was saying, yeah, people are starting to hear bands like Pivot, who are on Warp Records, [and say] that Sydney could potentially become the new Manchester or something like that.” He tempers it by saying, “It’s very much an underground attitude, but just this idea… I feel like Sydney’s starting to get a voice of its own now.”
Flying under the radar for the past two years, The Jezabels have finally established themselves as one of the crown jewels in the Australian indie scene. It just took a little while for the industry to catch up.
In their time out of the spotlight the Sydney-via-Byron Bay four piece have matured into an elemental force. With their second single ‘Hurt Me’ making a splash on alternative radio and a ferocious live reputation, The Jezabels are finally a band on the move. In that light, their pallid brunette singer Hayley Mary makes an arresting centerpiece.
Pale, brittle, brilliantly angry and sad, Mary is unquestionably a star. And better yet, she has a story to tell.
Despite being in her early twenties, the angular brunette doesn’t present as trivial. Travelling a classic arc, The Jezabels evoke courage, danger and weakness in equal measure. Onstage, Mary seems plugged into the same high-tension pulse that keeps your blood moving and can break your heart.
“The ingredients of a good show are what you go onstage with, and a great show is generally typified by a feeling,” she says of live performance. “It’s really ruthless. It’s like you push away everything you care about in your mind.”
Hayley Mary. The Jezabels
In the dark, dressed simply in black, Mary swoops her menacing falsetto like a searchlight through dense narratives filled with love and violence. Like a young Kate Bush, she plays out high-stakes drama against a rich backdrop that sometimes sounds like The Arcade Fire or The National, and at other times embodies the simultaneous gravity and strut of Nick Cave.
“In the frame of mind that I go onstage with, I can’t talk to anyone,” she says. “I get anti-social. I want to sit and be alone. I get a lot of nerves, but you have to get above them. My best shows are never the ones where my parents or lovers are there. Because they know me, and when I’m doing the gig, I become someone else.”
Mary grew up on Australia’s North coast, in Byron Bay with pianist Heather Shannon and guitarist Sam Lockwood. Lanky, ex-hardcore drummer Nik Kaloper joined after the group re-located to Sydney during their university tenure. It’s a meeting of quite different minds.
Shannon and Lockwood are a solid unit of harmonic force onstage that frames Kaloper’s thunderous, detailed drumming. They accentuate the scope of Mary’s storytelling, lending her stories tidal weight and pull, creating a chordal platform upon which the singer might sketch the face of something greater. As a lyricist and performer Mary is concerned with articulating the divine and the monstrous in people - the essence of angst and longing.
“I get really anxious in my day to day life,” she says. “I get upset and worry that I can’t express things to everyone. I don’t feel like a very good communicator in reality. …But I feel I can say things in songs that I would like to say to people’s faces. Things I would like to do, I would like to be, I would like to be a part of…”
The Jezabels hit their stride with 2009’s ‘She’s So Hard’ EP, the second installment of a trilogy of EP’s rounded out by 2010’s ‘Dark Storm’. Earlier this year their sophomore single ‘Hurt Me’ showcased newfound restraint and maturity in composition, arrangement and performance.
A masochistic epic, the song charts a bitter confrontation set in a nightmare of submission and emancipation. Mary’s female protagonist is martyred, willingly served as a meal for her lover. Delivered with intellect and grace, it’s one of the darkest love songs you’ve ever heard, placing Mary as Australia’s romantic poet laureate. Lifted from ‘Dark Storm’, current radio single ‘Mace Spray’ furthers those grandiose themes of love, violence and gender reversal, voicing modern paranoia via distinctly gothic imagery. Taking a narrators role, Mary casts herself as male, and her female counterpart as an avenging anti-heroine.
Although she can’t say where her stories come from, the singer agrees it’s gut-level drama that often dips into philosophical examination.
“I make it… not cryptic, but not about reality. And in that sense, it’s excusable,” she explains, before changing tack. “You know how Eastern philosophy says the bottom of the body is the center of power? That has a strong hold on me, an imminence. My rationality is affected by the cycles of my body, and I write about that; irrationality and physical truths.”
“You’d think physical truths are aligned with rationality, but MY physical truth throws my rationality way out of whack. Sometimes people are saying things they presume are rational, but I can see underneath that… I’m honest about being irrational, I have this understanding about why I am that way.”
“In some ways, that feeling can be articulated, but I struggle” she says. “I try to find words to put to melodies or to the irrational thoughts.” She pauses, deadpan. “I was premenstrual.”
Mary goes on to discuss Serge Gainsbough and how much she respects groove, in between touching on hopes for The Jezabels, their as yet unrecorded debut album, and the potential for overseas popularity. “There was a point at which there was resistance, and radio didn’t really like us for some reason,” she admits. “We felt that we didn’t have a place in Australia. (But) we have this blind dedication. We don’t know what our plan is, but we’d go anywhere with it. Ambition does help, but instead of ambition we have dedication.”
There’s a lull in conversation, and she’s distracted. “There’s a really beautiful bird here, and I’m just going to stare at it for a while… Oh no!” she exclaims, shocked. “It’s being eaten by bugs!” I ask whether she thinks of the Jezabels as a beautiful bird with bugs in its eye, and she is quick to retort, laughing. “I think we are more like a giant bug with a bird in its eye.”
The year was early 2000-and-something and Perth, Australia was swarming with, with… well maybe not swarming so much as stirring with the rise of bands like The Sleepy Jackson, The Panics and John Butler Trio. Then there was Leo Thomson and Ryan Grieve.
“We were into all this stuff that no one else was doing (in Perth anyway).” Grieve tells me, “We couldn’t go anywhere and hear that sort of thing; we couldn’t dj because no one wanted to hear it… [It’s not that] there wasn’t interest but it wasn’t a ‘scene’.”
And so Canyons was born from Thomson and Grieve’s desire to fund their growing record collection and enjoy themselves while listening to them, “You’re buying records and records are expensive so you may as well try subsidising that by dj-ing and having fun.” But don’t be fooled by the ‘f’ word, Canyons means business.
While chatting in their lofty, heat inducing studio above a shoe selling shop, it was instantly apparent that Canyons are very serious musicians.
“I think we got the first Watermelon Man years and years ago” Grieve tells me, while a mini watermelon figurine sits smiling, with legs dangling down over the top of an unused air-conditioner, staring back at us.
He adds, “My old man saw the watermelon and the broccoli and thought I was into those things so he bought me the lemon.” The broccoli and lemon also have faces and legs, but let’s not ignore the other figurines - dinosaurs, zebras and owl clocks, scattered around the room, adorning their equipment. This is what it takes to make and inspire Canyons.
“We make serious music [but] humour’s a big part of our daily lives” Grieve says both himself and humour seeps through into their musical personas. “We always put different dj names on our MySpace because we find it funny when you see [genuine dj] names like DJ MegaDanceFloor so we try and have fun with that.” Adds Thomson.
But travelling under pseudonyms like ‘Leo Holiday’ and ‘Ryan Sea-Mist’ and never appearing in their own video clips, album covers or promo material (we may have twisted an arm or two to print their portraits here), suggests these two are not your stereotypical, ego-driven musicians.
Thomson confirms that although they love having fun, they’re serious about wanting people to take them seriously.
“I think the main thing was that we didn’t want to be pigeonholed as anything in particular. We wanted it to be left open for us to make whatever kind of music we wanted to make and not be seen as a production duo, or a band, or whatever. Once you start putting imagery to things, people start making up their mind about who you are so we thought, ‘let’s leave it a little mysterious’.”
Although having released EPs and 12’’ on their own label, A Hole in the Sky, as well as French label, I Am Cliché and NY based DFA, Canyons have just released their first single ‘My Rescue’, from their yet to be completed and named debut album. It’s been in the making for well over 18 months now, or so we thought…
“Well, it’s kind of strange.” Grieve admits, “We went around saying we were working on an album way before we were to try and get a record deal and to make what we were doing sound interesting – even though we hadn’t started.”
Ryan Grieve. Canyons
Well, it worked. The guys were signed to Modular in 2009, giving them the opportunity to create an album that’s musically and visually coherent when they recruited San Francisco based photographer Neil Krug to shoot their cover art.
“[Neil] went out and did a big shoot for us out in Death Valley so we’ve got somewhere near 160 images we can use.” Thomson says. “When we started writing the record, ‘the [musically] unknown’ was sort of a big thing for us. From viewing his work, his photographs have a sort of mysteriousness and other-worldly kind of feel to it.” That, and a grainy nostalgia for their love of record sleeves and old vinyls.
“We’re more interested in the warmth of the sound that was being created then [when vinyl was being produced] and I think visually, his art definitely has that visually – it’s warm you know?” Adds Grieve.
‘My Rescue’ is a hedonistic blend of psychedelic reverb, disco-esque beats (Grieve mentions Boney M’s Rasputin inspired the beat) and percussive riffs. It’s a ravishing preview of Canyons ability to juxtapose genres and the musical eclecticism you can expect to hear on the album. It’s also an example of the duo’s progression from sample-based music to more intense, original song writing.
“Nick [Allbrook] from Pond [who are also signed to A Hole in the Sky] sings on My Rescue and a couple of other songs,” Grieve says and Thomson mentions “Nite Jewel from L.A. and also Kevin [Parker] from Tame Impala sings on another song.”
This new recording process has been somewhat of a challenge in itself.
“We’ve given people reference tracks and said ‘this is the vibe’ and then just given them lyrics and a rough idea for melody.” Thomson says, “The whole idea is that we want to work with that person and we want them to bring some of themself to [the creative process] as well, instead of us dictating every little thing. The only problem is doing that when they’re not it in the room… that’s the hardest thing.” As was the case with Nite Jewel.
He continues, “In order to get her vocal to work, we’ve pitched it down five semi-tones so she sounds like a man now!” (“You’ve got some range!” Grieve jokes, laughing).
Thomson mentions that, “the way we’ve recorded vocals has definitely influenced the way we’ve written this album” and Grieve admits that making it flow into one coherent listening experience is going to be a challenge.
“That’s going to be the hardest thing, when we put it all together – making it feel natural. From what we’ve already done, everything has been pretty different. There’s some rock stuff on there, some dance stuff on there some weird stuff on there.”
Having written and played basically every instrument on the recordings, I quizzed them on whether they’ll also be singing vocals. Thomson shrugged the suggestion off. “We’re just not good at it. It’s the major focal point of a song and to not be 100% comfortable with that is kind of daunting for us.”
But Grieve isn’t totally ruling that out yet, “We have sung on a few things but whether that will make the final edit [of the album], we don’t know.”
Thomson and Grieve’s fascination with the ‘mysterious’ and ‘unknown’ is clearly an indication of their curiosity to push musical limits and explore that musically unchartered terrain, but what does that mean for Canyons’ future? “We have plans for Canyons. We just basically want to write really good music!” Grieve laughs.
Thomson adds, “And we want to make it interesting, where it’s a real experience.” He continues, “We want it to be about what people are experiencing through that music and music you can actually g
Get lost in, that makes you feel something, gives you energy and inspires you. Rather than this disposable thing that you’re going to forget about in two weeks when it’s not cool anymore. We’re interested in longevity.”
The passion rises in his voice as he finishes, “When you hear a song that gives you goosebumps – that sort of thing is what makes music magic you know? That’s what makes you say, ‘I want to be a part of that. I want to create that –‘”
In keeping with their candid attitude towards their work, Grieve’s completes the sermon teasingly, “I want to create magic!” There’s a feeling in my bones that the mysteriously unnamed and yet to be released album just might fulfil that wish.
Behind the Scenes
It was love at first sight. And first listen.
As I stood in a smoky underground venue tucked away amongst the brothels and strip clubs of Sydney’s Kings Cross in the spring of 2006, I witnessed a musical performance of beauty and majesty entirely incongruous with its seedy surroundings, as one handsome guy and four pretty girls in elegant vintage attire purveyed a beguiling mix of indie, jazz and folk to a handful of punters. The band was intriguingly named Bridezilla and their musicianship was incredibly accomplished, beautiful and mature, and – if we must pigeonhole it – dissected the sound of The Velvet Underground and The Dirty Three. As a music reviewer tiring of a moribund live circuit made up of skinny-jeaned, angular-haired indieboy clones staring vacantly through fringes as they churned out second-rate Jesus and Mary Chain-inspired noise, Bridezilla’s show had a mesmerising effect on me akin to when the screen turns to colour in The Wizard Of Oz.
A kaleidoscopic frenzy of sound and movement washed over me as, amid a framework of drums and guitar, a violinist departed the stage and whizzed around the room like a whirling dervish while a saxophonist ripped the roof off with her lung-busting sax solos. Sashaying twixt them was a sassy, confident frontwoman, wonderfully named Holiday Sidewinder, whose vocal jumped between breathily sultry and a powerful bass growl that would turn Björk’s eyes green with envy. She wore a cat mask, robot danced and totally owned the stage. She was fifteen-years-old.
Her fellow band members were similarly tender in their years. Of them, drummer Josh Bush was the oldest, and even he wasn’t at an age where he could buy a drink from the bar. The girls were all still at school.
Fast-forward a couple of years and Josh sits wearily in the corner of a warehouse party, having spent the day at DEMO’s photo-shoot. Quietly nursing a beer and avoiding the incessant buzz of the party, he peruses some photographs of the shoot on his mobile phone. A smile cracks his face – dissecting pride and disbelief that anyone would go to the trouble to take such shots of his little band. The next day, violinist Daisy Tulley is back at work in a local record store. She is slightly cranky yet still has a trademark devilish glint in her eye. Like Josh, she seems just as incredulous at the attention the DEMO shoot afforded her. Unassuming doesn’t come close to describing this band’s attitude. It’s as if they have no idea that the world might just be Bridezilla’s oyster.
When frontwoman Holiday and I meet in trendy Sydney suburb Surry Hills one overcast afternoon, she has more pressing matters on her mind than an exciting future in music. “I didn’t think I’d be this busy,” she gasps as she gallops into the restaurant a few minutes late with stacks of paper under her arm.
When Daisy and guitarist Pia May left school in 2007, the youngest members of the band, 17-year-olds Holiday and saxophonist Millie Hall, had another year to go, and therefore found themselves in the strange position of having to juggle becoming burgeoning teen icons with completing their HSCs. As if to underline such a strange juxtaposition, in the two years since I first chanced upon Holiday in Kings Cross she has gone from being a puckish brunette girl to a dazzlingly beautiful bleached blonde young lady who looks every inch the superstar frontwoman. Whether facing an audience of thousands on a festival stage or absently picking at some vegetarian sushi in an empty restaurant, the statuesque aura about her usually remains.
Yet, judging by her uncharacteristically weary demeanour, studying and fronting one of the country’s most exciting young bands make uncomfortable bedfellows. “I don’t have any time for school,” she sighs with a resigned glance toward the pile of paperwork on the table as the restaurant’s radio plays middle-of-the-road hits that decorate the atmosphere like beige wallpaper. “I handed in a speech that was 14 minutes long when it should have been seven. We’d gotten back from Melbourne at nine o’clock the night before it was due. I wrote it and recorded it the next morning but I didn’t have time to send it before we went to Triple J. I had to send it from the ABC studios.”
It’s a dichotomous lifestyle that they have grown used to, and, as they have all discovered since they formed, being in a band while still in education meant that, rather than being the most popular kids in school, they became increasingly detached from their peers. After all, when you spend your evenings mixing in much older circles made up of industry people and musicians, it is not hard to become alienated from the kids at school who are too young to get in to any of your gigs.
While Holiday [who completed the final year of her HSC by correspondence] has confidence that belies her age when nestled comfortably within the music scene, her time at school highlighted an uncharacteristically introverted side to her, and she would spend her lunch-breaks in the library rather than hanging out in the playground. “It was awful. So depressing,” she remembers. “I changed my name to Holly because I was too embarrassed about being called Holiday. I never let anyone call me Holiday. I was also taller than other girls and a bit more developed. I don’t know…” A long pause ensues, as unhappy memories seem to bounce haphazardly around her mind, before she goes on to explain how she even tried to conform by “buying bikinis and reading Dolly magazine.” A grimace follows. “I don’t even want to talk about it.”
Compare this to their life away from school, and the difference is night and day. “Broken Social Scene love us and stood side of stage at our shows,” Holiday beams when talk turns to how Bridezilla has a host of gushing fans within the usually too-cool-for-school indie world. “I met Spiral Stairs [aka Scott Kannberg] from Pavement. I didn’t recognize him. What happened was, I was walking with one of the guys from Broken Social Scene who I’d made friends with and he was like, ‘Oh, there’s my friend. Do you know a band called Pavement?’ I was like, ‘Do. I. Know. A. Band. Called. Pavement? Are they not my favourite band of all time?’” As she doubles over laughing at the ridiculousness of it all, I ask if meeting such a hero led to her going all tongue-tied and red-cheeked. She giggles. “No. What happened was I went up to him and he was like: ‘Hey, you’re from Bridezilla.’” More uproarious laughter follows.
Mixing with indie musics’ glitterati is clearly something that the quintet is still adjusting to. Being made up predominantly of young females, Bridezilla had grown used to being treated with disregard by promoters and club owners. As under-agers, they were often unceremoniously kicked out of venues’ doors by nervous licensees the second their set finished. Once when, having supported American folk-act Midlake, Holiday and Daisy spent the headliner’s set in the alley outside the venue with their ears pressed against the stage door, trying to hear the music that emanated from within.
Those days are long gone though. “At our Wilco show we went to our dressing room and there was a table cloth and a bottle of vodka and everything was really pretty. I said: ‘Oh this can’t be our room. This must be Wilco’s.’ So I just walked out, but they were like, ‘No it is your room.’” The previous time Bridezilla trod the boards at the same theatre, in support of Eskimo Joe, the five of them were crammed into a room that was the size of a closet. And not a very big closet.
Let’s rewind to the beginning. Like so many bands, Bridezilla formed in inauspicious circumstances, more by default than anything. Their story began in Holiday’s bedroom in 2005. “We’d all sit around eating spaghetti Bolognese, playing songs and having a fun time being the losers that we were. Geeky kids talking about not having boyfriends.” Holiday smiles as she thinks back. “Millie was playing at some band camp in Bondi and they asked her if she wanted to do a song to fill a spot. She came to us and said: ‘Hey guys. We can do a show if we want.’ So we worked out a song. Pia is good with structures and Daisy was the main part. That’s how it started and then we thought it’d be nice to have a drummer. I knew Josh. He wasn’t a drummer but he used to slap his thighs all the time.”
This one show soon led to more performances, and it wasn’t long before Bridezilla found record companies falling over themselves to sign them. An eponymous EP was released late in 2007 to critical acclaim.
Bridezilla’s heritage actually stretches back far further than 2005 though, and it seems that music has always flowed through their lives like blood through a vein. Holiday’s first exposure came through her mother – famed actress/musician Loene Carmen.
“At age zero I was sleeping on floors and suitcases in pubs while Mum played shows,” she says, as though it was the most ordinary upbringing in the world. “I’ve been writing songs since I was two or something. I’ve still got the little scribbled down notes from when I was a kid. [sings] ‘The sun is in the sky.’”
Indeed, it was Carmen’s influence that eventually gave Holiday an exit from the disaffection of school and inspired her to team up with a gang of misfits to form a band in the first place. “Lots of Mum’s friends got me tickets to shows. I saw The White Stripes and The Strokes from the side of the stage. This was when I was thirteen so of course I was pretty inspired by that.”
As well as her beloved Pavement, Holiday has a love of Dolly Parton, while her Grandfather [pianist Peter Head] exposed her to blues and jazz. Millie also leans towards jazz, while also having a thing for the Rolling Stones and The Velvet Underground. Yep, these youngsters certainly desire more from their music than something catchy to have as their ringtone.
Indeed, when Millie and Holiday went to see Lou Reed at Sydney’s State Theatre in 2007, they literally wept tears of joy. Most 16-year-olds wouldn’t know Lou Reed if he slapped them in the face while saying ‘I’m Lou Reed,’ yet Millie queued on the street for 12 hours overnight to buy tickets to the show. Elsewhere, the folkier aspect of Bridezilla comes from Pia, while the classical edge is Daisy’s. And as for Josh? Well, Josh has a love of Silverchair that borders on obsessive.
And so, in 2008, Bridezilla find themselves experiencing the calm before the storm. With Holiday and Millie finally finishing their HSCs, the band is set to head straight into the studio to record a debut album, which will hit the shelves in the next few months when, for the first time, all five members will be over 18, free from the shackles of school and ready to take on the world.
Exciting times then, and one might think being in such a position would lead to Bridezilla’s members being the wild-children of the Sydney scene who live out the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle to the max. In fact, the opposite is true. How best to illustrate this? Well, before their debut headline show, while an anticipatory crowd filled the venue, sweet-as-sugar Millie wasn’t getting pissed, bigging herself up to fans or bitching about the rider, but instead sat quietly on a sofa at the back of the venue, wearing a dress with a Winnie The Pooh logo stitched into it and reading a Charles Bukowski book.
It’s fair to say that these are not your average teenagers.
Even now that three of the five Bridezillians are old enough to drink, you’re still unlikely to find any of them causing a drunken scene outside a club in the early hours of the morning. Holiday explains. “I’ve become ultra conservative and anti-drugs.” She pauses briefly, her attention diverted by a passer-by she recognises. Probably someone in a band. Everyone in Surry Hills is in a band. After carefully picking up some rice remnants with her chop-sticks, she remembers her thread and continues. “I’m more conservative than I’d like to be and I almost feel like a bit of a fascist when it comes to drink and drugs. I’m a bit counter-culture, because some of my friends are taking drugs, drinking and being with as many people as possible. I was at my Uncle’s wedding and my whole family and all their friends were getting drunk. My Mum came up to me and said, ‘Come on Holiday, you and I have got to have a drink, they’re calling us pussies.’ I’ll have a glass of champagne or one vodka and lemonade, but I don’t think it emphasises things. It subdues things. For me, to feel raw emotion and to be uncomfortable in a social situation is something that you’ll learn more from than drinking and feeling overconfident.”
It may seem unusual for such wise words to come from such a young person, but Holiday’s attitude sums Bridezilla up perfectly. Regardless of the fact that they look like natural-born luminaries, to dig a little deeper is to discover a straightforward bunch of music nerds who consciously stay a step outside of the scene.
And so Bridezilla look to an exciting musical future with fire in their bellies and level heads on their shoulders. Even if they become the biggest band in the world, it’s safe to assume that they’ll always remain the down-to-earth kids that they are today. They are just five dear friends making beautiful music, and the bond they have will endure, regardless of what the future brings. “We started off with such a special relationship and we love each other to death,” Holiday says with a warm smile. “Josh always says: ‘Why don’t we all just get married?’ We all feel like that. We aren’t capable of loving anyone else more than each other.”
It’s a summery afternoon in Surry Hills, the creative hub of Sydney. Snob Scrilla (or Sean Mullins as his mother knows him) is casually sitting on his couch in an apartment littered with sneakers and musical equipment overlooking the city. He is relaxed and engaging, charming, funny and intriguing. I instantly like him.
There has been a lot of attention directed Snob Scrilla’s way lately, he has become a buzz word for cool-kids in the know and highly sought after as a songwriter, producer and solo artist from within the industry.
It has to be because of the unique brand of hip-hop he is offering up, it’s at once original and familiar, diverse and focussed – the antidote to the lowbrow trite currently being served up as ‘hip-hop’ across the nation. You will hear no references to meat pies and BBQ’s in these lyrics.
Snob Scrilla has made his soon-to-be-released debut album with the grandest of intentions. There will be no swearing, there will be no references to guns or bling or bitches or niggers. The album will be hip-hop for people who are interested in thoughts, feelings, ideas and harks back to a purer version of the genre that once proudly couched itself in social currency and reflection. “I didn’t want what I was talking about to be limited or for people to feel turned off to what I was saying because of the mode of delivery” Sean explains. “When I first started the project I thought, I wanna say something, I wanna be conscious – I wanna talk about issues. I wanted to make sure that as many people would hear it and be receptive to it and so I wanted to take away the barriers that I felt were posed. I wanted everybody to feel that it is accessible.”
It’s this acknowledgment of the wider world and understanding of people’s personal connection to music that gives Snob Scrilla his edge. He is leading an intellectual backlash from within his own genre at a time when hip-hop really needs it; no longer should artists be forced to conform to stereotypes totted up by rich grey-haired marketing men in their high-rise office blocks, miles away from reality. For a message to mean anything, it must be based on truth.
“I despise people who take a negative situation and think it’s alright to try and paint it as a positive because they are profiting from it and say ‘well it’s cool, I did what I had to do to get by and now I’m gonna rap about it’ or ‘that’s entertainment’. Well I don’t think that is the case! You hear that stuff over and over and over and it gets ingrained in your head. As a young adult you might be formed into the person you want to be, but as a kid- you’re still building your ideas about the world and creating your ideologies about how it works.”
He continues passionately, “I think that it gets perpetuated by the people in charge of the gateways to information. There are people who decide what will be popular and what won’t be popular and they will say, ‘this needs to be more glamorous, it needs to be bigger, it needs to be more shocking in order to appeal to our audience. Go back and make it like this’.”
“It’s like throwing more gasoline on the fire”
This distrust of the music-machine seems to stem from Sean’s childhood, growing up in suburban California in the ‘80s and ‘90s and being exposed to the full brunt of MTV’s slanderous effect on hip-hop from an early age. As a teenager, Sean would have seen less and less Public Enemy or Grandmaster Flash on his television- instead, the rise of shiny, saleable “gangsta” rap was king, where the number of bullets you’ve taken correlates directly to the number of ho’s in your video and the millions of records you could potentially sell. “As a kid growing up in California, I saw how my friends were effected by it – not just the music they were listening to but the way that music was effecting their environment and how that impacted on them – like just hearing them use catchphrases in songs and they won’t even realise what they are saying. They don’t identify it as an idea in a song, it’s just part of who they are. They accept that and almost wear it like a medal on their chest, a badge of pride.
“I’ve lost contact with a lot of them – but my old group of friends, I don’t even know how many of them are dead or in jail…I saw them change from 7th grade and watched them get to that point, because we used to hang around and shoot the shit – stupid kids stuff…” he trails off laughing, “Now I wasn’t the best kid either, which is part of the reason I can see both sides. I was from the suburbs. I was fortunate, so I had this unique ‘outside looking in’ situation where I could go and kick it with them on weekends but I got to go home and not live like that everyday. That always stuck with me.”
As Sean speaks about his time in America, there is an obvious feeling of disconnect in the air, a trace of melancholy in his voice hints at a troubled or difficult relationship with his past. Leaving America for a music career in Australia seems like the exact opposite way of doing things (if you actually want to be successful) but for Sean, the escape was more about finding inner peace and salvation than it was careerist or strategic in nature. “Leading up to it I was going a bit off the rails. Bumping heads with everybody, hating authority. I wasn’t angry, I was blasé… I didn’t care- I had no ambition and I felt like things didn’t apply to me. Saying all that, I also think it was just an excuse for me to do nothing at the time. I was just in a funny place...”
As soon as he could, Sean made the choice to leave his family behind and make the move to Australia. “I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I needed to leave. I was thinking about a bunch of different places – Mexico, the Caribbean, Germany and then I just randomly decided on Australia. I’d been here and I liked it so I came and decided on Newcastle of all places. I wanted to be near Sydney but I didn’t want to be in the city because I thought I’d just get back into the same things again.”
As clichéd as it may be, to fit in with our famously laid back attitude and casual approach to life Sean quickly realised he’d have to change his perspective on a number of things. He shares an anecdote that seems fitting, illustrating the layers of anger and confusion falling away as the realities of culture shock set in. “I felt like I didn’t fit in at all. I remember once [in Newcastle] I saw cops as I was walking down the street with some friends, they drove by and I made some offhand comment – ‘Ah the fucking cops’ and my friends went ‘What? They’re just driving?’ and I said ‘Yeah, I know but I just fucking hate them’. They were confused. ‘Why? We don’t understand, what’s the problem?’ and I was like ‘I can’t believe you guys have no issues with police officers?’ Wow. Because where I’m from, everyone has issues with the police. Everyone. It was totally different and the place changed me a lot… Slowly, I released all this angst. I think I had to come this far to get away from it.”
Currently, Sean is applying for permanent residency. His decision to settle here surprised him more so than anyone else it seems. Although this restless soul is his harshest critic, unsure of how deserving he is of good fortune and troubled by his past mistakes, it is no wonder he comes off as unsure over this major life decision.
Sean confides his feelings of loneliness and discontent with ease, the hallmarks of someone who has thought long and hard about every action, whose brain churns at night when it should be dreaming. “I said that I would stay here so long as things were progressing- which at the time meant career wise and music wise which has now merged into one. I’m very lucky. I’m so lucky. But I get to the point sometimes when I feel sad, because I didn’t do the things to be in the place where I am.”
Atypical of unwarranted Gen-Y self-pity, Sean’s words are laden with the weight of the world. We find ourselves sunk in the couch, snacking on biscuits and talking about the sad tragedy of modern life, in which we are more connected and yet more removed from each other than the people who created the internet could have ever imagined. “No matter where I am, the one theme through my life is that feeling of isolation. I’ve always felt cut off to what is going on, I always felt like I wasn’t in-sync with what others were doing and so at the end of the day I don’t act accordingly. Even in a group of people having a great time I am so highly aware that I do not belong… I really do not feel like I belong. As much as I can assimilate or act or blend in, no matter where I go or where I am, I’ve become a very good chameleon. That’s why I’m able to write tracks and it’s very easy because I’m just looking and writing and always observing.”
The album, Sean confesses was like “major therapy” acting as both a creative outlet for his love of music and a place for him to digest those complex thoughts. It shows, as the tracks I heard were eclectic and vibrant (a song called Heartbreak Scorcese is particularly good), while also being deeply considered. “I’ve got a certain voice, certain opinions and the album is about my life. I’ve been very open, I can’t think of anything that I don’t talk about. I made the decision -and even very recently with a couple of tracks I was like, ‘I’m gonna leave that off’, and I just thought ‘nope’ - everything that I’ve got to say I’m just gonna lay it all out on the table. Whatever is happening in my life I’m gonna put it all to music, which is also why the album is such a schizophrenic child. My life has been like that for the last couple of years - extreme highs to extreme lows and everything in between.”
For this album to find a home its creator had to find one first. Sean Mullins the man has always known this even if Snob Scrilla the artist did not; for fate can only take you so far.
It’s not hard to imagine that the seed of Hot Little Hands was planted in the steaming asphalt somewhere between Victoria and New South Wales on the Pacific Highway, a hot, serpentine stretch of road that hugs the coast of Australia’s eastern states.
Picture, if you will, the three Harvey siblings – Tim, James and sister China – sitting in the back seat of their family car, traveling to another one of those camping trips the family loves so much.
This all exists in a time before cars had CD players, so you have to remember that the cassette tape rules supreme on lengthy road excursions. In the case of the Harvey family, the choice of cassette ranges from The Doors to Talking Heads, as well as The Best of The Beatles and a dubbed Best Of The Beach Boys. In the words of older brother Tim, the siblings would be teaching themselves backing vocals by “just being in the car, sitting next to each other and tearing stuff apart”.
It’s a cute and rather fitting anecdote to introduce the Melbourne quintet known as Hot Little Hands. In keeping with our familial train of thought, it’s fortuitous that one third of the Harvey clan, Tim, is on the phone from his mother’s place in Warrandyte, thirty kilometres North East of Melbourne. The elder Harvey is the musical brainchild of Hot Little Hands: a multifarious player, it’s he who gives birth to the majority of the band’s songs; their genesis found on either guitar or piano.
The voice at the other end of the line is slow and considered, routinely pausing, as if he’s internally masticating on his thoughts before converting them into laconic sentences. It’s the opposite of what I expected after listening to Hot Little Hands’ decidedly confident debut, Dynamite in Black & White. Positioned in front of an arsenal of guitars and synths that sublimate funk, soul, rock and electro influences, Tim Harvey’s voice is bold and strident with a husky touch of soulful impishness.
The first thing that strikes you about Dynamite in Black & White, even though it shouldn’t, is the album’s diversity. Since the birth of pop music twenty years ago or so, our ears have been numbed by homogenised, derivative output that panders to one particular genre, never varying. Dynamite in Black & White, conversely, runs the gamut of musical styles. “It seems to be coming up quite a lot, like kinda more than I expected,” begins Harvey when I comment on the genre-spanning nature of Dynamite in Black & White. He pauses before listing the bands he and the rest of Hot Little Hands grew up listening to, such as The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Talking Heads, Miles Davis and Ween, “you know, bands that are just diverse. So it doesn’t seem that weird.”
It might not seem weird to Harvey, but Dynamite in Black & White certainly eschews a recording status quo. I suggest to him an album that centres around one genre is easier to market and sell because it’s subsequently easier for record stores and radio stations to classify. “Yeah, I think that’s it,” he considers. “Our bass player Royce [Akers] and I were talking about it this morning. We were trying to figure it out, and I think you’ve nailed it: people must feel like they have to pigeonhole themselves or something.”
Thankfully for us Hot Little Hands choose not to pigeonhole themselves. It’s what gives Dynamite in Black & White a heavy dose of panache. It does offer up it’s own categorical conundrum though: where the hell do you begin trying to slap a label on Hot Little Hands’ debut offering? Opening with ‘Where Are You?’ which is housed in a shimmering Eighties pop aesthetic, Dynamite in Black & White traverses indie rock (‘Love Unusual’), dirty synth pop (‘Easy Way Out’) and New Wave gleam (‘Just Can’t Seem to Care’) with a smooth fluidity. Any genre tag you throw at it – alternative, pop, soul, avant-garde – falls well short of hitting the mark.
In lesser hands, a combination of funk guitars, old school synthesizers and the occasional trumpet flourish would be a murderous mélange. Even though they’re not the usual ingredients bands mix into the musical broth, Hot Little Hands make it work in a way that feels natural. Dynamite in Black & White sounds like a band intuitively connected. “That’s good. I’m glad it comes across,” Harvey beams. “It’s a band playing. The record sounds largely like the band when we play live.”
Was capturing the live spirit essential to the record? “Well,” he ponders with a pause, before answering, “Yeah. It wasn’t the band’s notion to do that, but the producer that eventually came on board and helped us finish the album, Franc Tetaz, also mixed it and mastered it, so I think that must have struck him. He must have liked our live sound because that’s what he encouraged through the recording process and the overdubbing process.”
Tetaz’s influence isn’t noticeable from the listener’s perspective, but Harvey is glowing in praise of his friend and mentor. They met when Harvey was studying sound design at Melbourne’s RMIT University and Tetaz was the independent assessor for his final piece. Following graduation, the two kept in constant contact. Harvey would often turn to Tetaz for feedback and advice on his songwriting, and when Hot Little Hands needed a producer, Tetaz was the obvious choice.
RMIT in the 1990s was a breeding ground for many a Melbourne band. Harvey’s course alone spawned a wide range of acts including Architecture in Helsinki, Qua, Bliss N Eso and The Small Goods. At the same time, Harvey was exploring his own musical possibilities, experimenting with synths old and new while attempting to coalesce his diverse tastes into a sound he felt comfortable with. “The quickest way for me to get a picture of a group of vocals was to get my brother and sister to sing with me while I played guitar or keyboard,” he recalls.
From these familial beginnings, band members came and went, including drummer James Cecil who eventually went on to join – and subsequently depart – twee indie popsters (and fellow RMIT alumni) Architecture in Helsinki. Harvey recalls it was towards the final months of 2005 when the band’s lineup solidified. His brother James had moved to the drumkit, while his sister China had moved to Arnhem Land to “teach and tutor Aboriginal kids up there and I think she wants to teach them music and do video stuff with them, which is something that she’s studied, which is really amazing. She’s really loving that.” Brigitte Hart was brought in on keyboards, percussion and backing vocals, and Hot Little Hands was finally a complete, stable band.
Undoubtedly the strongest bond in Hot Little Hands is the brotherly duo of Tim and James. If history has taught us anything, it’s that siblings in bands are a recipe for success. Trying to illuminate what makes this connection so special though is as futile as catching sunlight. Yet from the back of the family car to the well-trodden boards of The Tote Hotel stage in Collingwood, you’d be mistaken for thinking that the Harvey boys had always harboured plans to perform alongside each other. Not so, says the elder statesman Harvey. “I sort of suspected we might [form a band] down the track,” he drawls in such a slow and pensive manner, implying uncertainty over the resulting decision. “It was kind of frustrating,” he continues, “because he didn’t really have a very good attention span when we were younger.” Harvey remembers a childhood where he and James were “at different points” when it came to playing music. “But our voices always sat really beautifully together. Mine’s a little bit more nasal or something, and his is really warm and soft, and they just compliment each other really beautifully.”
Surprisingly, Harvey’s family tree is nested with artists rather than musicians. His grandmother was an early pioneer for female graphic designers, while his father was a prolific children’s book writer, creating gorgeous picture books with hidden in-jokes for the young Harvey clan. He admits that initially this was a vocation he wanted to pursue, but ultimately “I think I couldn’t really see a future in art,” he muses slowly and thoughtfully. “I just felt that art was a bit of a closed shop to a certain extent but I still think there’s a lot to explore in music and certainly pop music and outside of that, music for screen and more abstract music as well.”
Harvey remains optimistic about the progression of music, despite a slew of music journalists and so-called music “fans” lamenting the current state of the industry and its paucity of fresh ideas. “I think there’s a lot left to explore,” he ponders. “I feel like hip-hop is pushing a lot of corners, pushing the darkness back a bit and things like that. Every time that happens there’s crumbs of other stuff to be kicked over.”
Ultimately, Dynamite in Black & White may not succeed at creating some never-before-heard style of music, but Harvey’s grand dreams propel Hot Little Hands forward; if nothing else, his sense of wonder and ambition is perceptibly evident in the songs that he writes. Harvey knows it’s not groundbreaking, but that’s not going to stymie his creative output. “Ideally that’s something I’d like to move towards,” he states. “I don’t think we’ve done that yet. I guess that’s the challenge isn’t it, to try and do something that no one else has done, but how many can say they’ve done that?”
Not many, but challenge maketh the band.
Kirin J. Callinan is a perverse, magnetic fellow. Blazing away with brooding Sydney indie rockers Mercy Arms, Callinan’s presence is obvious, but it’s once he’s put down his guitar that you really notice the nuances of his quirk and charisma. If anything, it grows.
We’re sitting in an office kitchenette, with Callinan perched on a chair opposite. His big, expressive eyes are ringed with makeup, and he’s wearing a button-down waistcoat in pea green. Hair slicked back and a thin dilettante’s moustache lining his lip, Callinan is part Basil Fawlty and part frog. “I feel uncomfortable walking around in a T-shirt and jeans” he explains. “If I don’t feel different, I feel really uncomfortable.”
“When someone watches a show, there’s a distinct difference between audience and performer. It’s us and them. But as soon as you’re up there in your everyday clothes…” he trails off, laughing. “My everyday clothes are still weirder than most.”
Kirin J Callinan.
Callinan is nothing like your average 23 year old. Despite his reputation for flamboyance, he’s watchful and well-spoken. You can’t help but note his intellect and sensitivity, but the predominant impression left is one of sly charm, and a playful, comically anarchic personality. “Towards the end of high school I had an urge to be completely different and confrontational, but who didn’t?” he says, almost earnestly. “Not to say I haven’t ‘fit in’. I played sport and had friends. (But) whether it was dressing up in women’s clothes or pursuing drama…” he trails off again. Some are just born different, and Kirin J. Callinan is one of them.
Venture to his myspace photos and you discover Kirin has always been dressing up, playing the guitar and dreaming of stardom. There’s a shot of him at 14 in leggings, a velvet Stetson and scarf combo that would make Bowie and Gram Parsons weep tears of joy.
Working for electronic manufacturer Roland, Callinan Senior offered his son the pick of guitar pedals and technology. Kirin spent his childhood experimenting with the pools of delay and distortion that now cloak Mercy Arms’ songs like an impressionistic fog. He considers Mercy Arms the radio outlet for his art-guitar leanings. Mixing 80’s influences like The Church, The Cure, Joy Division and New Order, plus a whole gamut of classic punk acts, Mercy Arms are a darkly energetic outfit best exemplified by Callinan’s galloping riff on single ‘Half Right’.
“I think Mercy Arms is as poppy as it gets,” he says, referring obliquely to his genre-defying solo material. “…And with this (Mercy Arms) record there’s, with the exception of ‘Half Right’, not a pop song on there. And that has an instrumental chorus.”
Barely out of school in 2006, the young band went through the wringer - their timely combination of new-wave, new-romantic and punk influences dropped them in the middle of an A&R feeding frenzy, and when the dust settled, the fledgling group had signed a three-figure deal with Capitol Records.
Months later the company began downsizing and Mercy Arms were dropped.
“It was a really full-on thing to have happen to you, and it’s had an effect on all of us, especially (singer/songwriter) Thom,” says Callinan. “It was so extreme. I remember standing on the roof of the Capitol building doing a photo-shoot, holding a guitar worth tens of thousands of dollars. The president of Capitol was talking to us about making a film clip where we drove an amphibious vehicle from England to Spain! I mean- that’s madness!”
Kirin J. Callinan.
After the fall, Mercy Arms went from pro-bono amphibious vehicles and supporting The Strokes and The Pixies to playing half-full indie nights at small Sydney venues. Despite the setbacks, Callinan projects no sense of opportunity squandered. He is upbeat and optimistic, and seems quietly self-confident. As the virtuosic reach of his solo demos attest, he has a great deal more going on than simply Mercy Arms.
Although a relatively new pursuit, his songwriting spans genres with an ease of expression and genuine invention, mixing cinematic guitars with guttural Tom Waits-esque blues and orchestral composition. That the kind of clarity and scope of tracks like the thunderous ‘013’ is coming out of a 23 year old is staggering. Callinan is similarly striking as a singer.
“I focus on pouring myself out there” he says, explaining his extreme approach to performance. “Whether it’s completely honest or a story, I want to give one hundred percent of the emotion in it, every single time.”
His voice dips in and out of character on the folky ‘Meoxhwa’, occasionally lapsing into lines of ecstatic gibberish. It’s brilliantly free, moving and very funny too. “I have songs that are very close to the bone, about things I can’t talk about, but you wouldn’t know what was true or wasn’t” he says. “I’ve written a song that’s about having a car accident with my friend. He dies and I take the blame. It’s completely false, but I’ve worked it up to the point where it feels real. People come up afterwards and want to know about the friend.”
“That’s why I love performing” he says with a grin.
Callinan’s grip on melodrama and wit is informed by some of the best. “On an artistic level it started with The Smiths. My dad gave me a cassette of their first record. As far as influences go, it’s Scott Walker and Bowie” he says. “I’ve heard things that defined parts of my life, but I’ve never thought ‘I want to make music like that.’”
Noisy US pop/punk act NOFX also rate a mention, and there’s something of the absurdist juvenile delinquent to Callinan too. His school days at Barrenjoey High in Sydney’s affluent Northern Beaches were spent devising ways to tip the status quo. “I was school captain, something I never intended” he says. “The students voted on the captaincy. I got up, poked fun at the school, and the students voted for me. Teachers were very unhappy, and I got kicked out the next year.
“I got up at a formal assembly to induct the year seven students to school council. All the parents were there” he explains. “The principal was giving a speech, and these birds flew into the hall, shitting everywhere and chirping. I realised no-one was listening to the principal, so I walked over, saying ‘Excuse me, miss. I can restore order. Please give me the microphone…’”
“I said ‘Everybody, some birds have come into the hall and it’s obviously very distracting. I speak their native language, so I’m just going to ask them to leave, and we can get back to proceedings.’ I spent the next minute walking around like a bird, and making bird noises” he says, smiling. “They sent me to the principal’s office. A teacher was in tears about it – I’d ruined the school’s reputation.”
Was anybody laughing, though? “Oh, the whole place was laughing” he says. “They scratched my name off the board that had captains’ names on. It’s very funny.”
The fear of being ordinary goes deeper than simply standing out - for Callinan, difference is a tool used to transcend setting in performance, to make himself otherworldly. “Bowie did it literally,” he explains, “conjuring the idea that he was from another galaxy, another planet.”
Mercy Arms have just completed their first national tour as an independent band, launching their eponymous debut album Mercy Arms via distributor MGM. Callinan is refining his solo material in the meantime. “I just want to make it as free as possible. No rules” he says. “In fact, if there is anything that resembles a rule, I want to do the opposite.” As well as getting the original material under his belt, Callinan is trying to work out a way to do covers. “…But I can’t seem to do it without becoming normal.”
The strange thing is, despite his extravagant appearance, Callinan never seems arrogant. Listening to the emotion and texture he’s capable of wringing out of his limited home studio, you get the sense that his self-confidence isn’t misplaced. But there’s a limited audience for his music in Australia.
Kirin and the band travelled to Europe and the UK in November for a run of support dates with Australian electro-darlings Cut Copy, and Callinan is under no illusions about the necessity to make his name abroad before being taken seriously at home.
“We’ve got to go overseas” he concurs. “I’m good friends with Pip from Ladyhawke, and you can see what going over to the UK has done for her versus a band like Van She. Pip is able to headline Modular (Records) events whereas Van She, who’ve put time into touring Australia, are playing third line down at local festivals. It’s tough. You’ve got to get away to be taken seriously,” he says.
Despite his extravagant attitude to costume and performance, being taken seriously as an artist is clearly of foremost importance in Callinan’s mind. He and his Mercy Arms bandmates received a several hundred-thousand dollar payout from Capitol to compensate for their being dropped, and Callinan is currently living off the interest.
“It’s great to be able to do this full-time, and it’s a big advantage that I don’t have to concentrate on working a part-time job” he says. When asked about his plans for the future, there is a brief pause before he answers with a combination of sincerity and self-parody. “I want to be an international pop culture icon, if that’s possible.”
With a strange, off-kilter virtuosity present in everything he does, from the way he dresses and plays to the quirk and character of his conversation, Kirin J. Callinan is every bit an intriguing young man and one suspects, a significant emerging artist.
He may be the Master of Radness, the Scorpion of Sex, the Creator and Destructor of Good and Evil, but put him on stage in a tight-fitting suit then send him off into the crowd and you’ll quickly notice that Spod sweats just as much as the next mere mortal. Probably more.
Please, for the love of all that is pure and beautiful in this world, bring on the promised ventilated cat-suit…
Clambering offstage and running somewhat amuck amongst a crowd at a recent show in Melbourne, he left a suspiciously Spod-shaped sweat stain on any audience member who was jumped on by the marauding electro-pop God. Of course, this occurrence has been a regular facet of Spod’s worldly existence. They will walk away from a Spod show feeling dirty, but somehow cleansed; as though their path to sexual freedom has suddenly been cleared by the High-Priest of Debauch.
Here is a supreme being whose alien, sex-crazed Astronaut-of-Awesome has attributed an entire song to the various, glorious elements that make up the mysteriously lurer of men – ‘Norx’. The best part is that, even while he’s reeling off the names of ladies who have inspired his fascination and myriad fantasies concerning breasts, he never manages to sound less than ultra-sleazy.
But in a good way. Of course.
It’s like Neil Diamond if he didn’t have those ‘I slept with your mum’ eyes or a rhinestone suit. Although, Spod would probably kill for a rhinestone suit. So, let’s say it’s like Neil Diamond if he hadn’t delved into family-friendly entertainment that didn’t once ever utilise the simple phrase ‘cock-sucker’.
Spod: one. Diamond: zero.
Having touched - quite literally - a generation of now sexually expressive Spod-monauts, the man with the radiator sleaze smile has finally touched down on planet Earth once more, surrounded by an army of evil-eyed kittens, spewing mountains of lava and ponies trained to kill at the slightest sign of weakness. After an epic journey through his heart of darkness, Spod.Is.Back.
Strangely enough, it always seemed that with his deranged sexxx-bomb stage persona that it would be more fitting that after long hiatus, he would suddenly re-emerge as a glorious glam-child in the eye of a electro hip-hop rawk storm, or be gritting it away behind a piano in a seedy Vegas bar. Kind of like a poor man’s Engelbert Humperdink. Which, funnily enough, is how he comes off anyway, just a little more energetic. “That’d be the best,” the Scorpion Of Sexxx laughs freely, “I’d do shows at the Hilton every Friday night. I’ll be all about that,” he chortles. It’s not hard to believe him. “Either way, it’s an incredibly heart-breaking, sad comeback,” he admits. “If I wanted to work, you know, ‘properly’ I guess that could be a very real option,” he smiles, “but it’s really too depressing to actually ever contemplate.”
Spod as the lounge-singer. Hell, it’s as we’ve always imagined it to be.
“I might actually take that on board,” he sniggers cheekily, “I’ll age myself a bit more - put on an age suite or something. It’s like ‘here’s the comeback’ and I’ll come back and be all like fat Elvis. People will be saying, ‘holy shit! He has been gone for a while’.”
All we need now is a tour of the nation’s casinos. Crown, Jupiters, Star City – tell me there’s not a generation of baby-boomers throwing money hand-over-fist into the ether that wouldn’t love to be entertained by a sweaty electro-baby with a tight brown suit, ruffled shirt and red rose in his breast pocket. There are red velvet curtains, a tinkling piano and a long, thin ‘70s microphone with no blowback cover. “Yeah,” he admits with a long drawl, “it’s all part of my unbelievably elaborate career plan. You see, I started this entire caper with a 50-year plan. We’re getting through it, you know. It’ll have everything; the rise, the demise, the dizzying highs, the dazzling lows – the crashes will be spectacular,” he chortles. “So this lounge crooner stage will be perfect,” he reflects, “when I hit my 25th anniversary – it’s going to be a nice fall back.”
Of course, the Spod we know and love – for now - is an amalgam of all things ultra-contemporary and epically mythological. Therefore, his ‘first’ comeback is simply limited to a tome that reveals all about life stuck in the body of a mortal God. It’s title – Superfrenz. “Well yeah, it’s exactly what I’ve always wanted to do,” Spod decrees in his put-on suburban stoner brogue, “I guess it takes a little bit of the vibe from the first record and a little bit of a vibe from the Animals cover. I’m going into a big Nordic space theme for this album. I’ve always loved all that sort of fantasy guff, but I can’t do that anymore - other people have done it.” Thus, the Nordic epic-ality? “Umm… yeah. Because it’s awesome and epic,” he chuckles heartier than a drunken sailor. Which also might explain some of Superfrenz’s content.
“I’ve kind of gone a bit more….” He pauses contemplating just what it’s about, “well there’s a lot more content that’s sort of about sex.”
“I kind of thought that with this album, I could steer away and have no sex on there. I thought it was pretty even and easy. Actually, I thought I wasn’t being offensive at all…then I played it to some people and they said, ‘fuck that’s brutal’, I was like ‘oh man’!”
Here’s our man, believing that he’s created a piece of sacred art, and well, turns out he’s got a tune called ‘Time Maggots Eating The Flesh Of Destiny’. “I’ve grown up now, and I’m properly ‘thinking’ about stuff,” the Eternal Champion of Radness chuckles demurely. “I don’t know how, but I got obsessed with making an album about death, considering the first album (2003’s Taste The Radness) was all fun times and party. So I wanted to do this horrendously dark album about death, but to still have it sound like a giant party. A couple of those songs have slipped onto the record - there are some pretty dark songs on there actually,” he admits with a grin. “Like ‘Time Maggots’, that’s pretty heavy, pretty dark, but it covers a lot of ground lyrically in my mind, but when I play to other people they’re like ‘you’re still a smutty arsehole’.”
More party, but more hearty morbid idiocy? “Yeah,” Spod beams. “Death smut.”
But even with the gloomy ideas lurking behind a couple of tunes, it’s hard to argue that this blend of ridiculously over-the-top electro, glam rock, scuzz punk, banging hip-hop and outlandish pop will leave anyone with half a heartbeat pantless in the middle of a dance floor. For a man who has a custom built Stormtrooper helmet, a lot of this might also have to do with the sci-fi nerdiness on show, permeating his music to such a scary extent - it’s always been a curious facet of the Spod idea and it turns out it stems all the way back to his childhood.
“When I was a kid I was pretty obsessed with Star Wars,” he admits, “but I think the nature of Space, in general, I was really obsessed with that when I was little. I think that’s washed through to me being a full-grown man. I like that aspect of music as well,” he continues, “I guess a lot of my music is living inside my mind, as well being very much based on imagination and all that kind of shit. I think all that sci-fi stuff, for some reason, seems to seep into my music. I tend to associate it with everything I do and for some reason, I have never even thought about that until right now.” Really? “You’re onto me and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say…”
“It all first happened when I was seven…” he chuckles. “Don’t you just love that kind of stuff? Nah. You know, I’m always attracted to things that are considered… things that most people would want to stay away from. Like… I get excited by finding awesomeness in stuff that other people would find embarrassing. I was obsessed with fantasy art for a long time and I used to cop a lot of shit for that. But that’s why it’s so good that I now get to make albums like this, because I just wanted to do a fantasy, electro, rock, whatever, albums.”
The back story behind Spod’s second record is just as remarkable as the record itself. It turns out, over twelve months ago, Spod lost this entire record. The entire fucking thing. Bam. Gone. A laptop, a floor and in between, a fall. Its backup hard drive, also containing the record, was attached as well. Goddamn.
As you can imagine, this resulted in a couple of tears. “Yeah,” he sighs, “I was moving and someone just sort of cleaned it up off the top of the table it was on, and sent it crashing down. I was hoping we could maybe save something, but nah. There were definitely some eyeball drips from me.”
The resulting albums’ title Superfrenz is Spod thanking those who helped him rewrite and finish the record (by way of donations from friends and fans), having started from scratch once more. What a guy.
“Yeah, it was a pretty fucked up time,” he admits. “I’d written an entire record in the time between the first record and this one, then poof! Gone. So, everyone was awesome. It was also a blessing, really, because I got to start over, completely fresh and the record is all the better for it. I think I managed to step away from the mishmash that I had and was able to make what I wanted to make in the first place. There was probably more metal stuff before hand, or more hip hop stuff (both presumably stemming from his projects with Black Level Embassy and Quan from Regurgitator’s Blox collaboration) – and now this feels far more like the companion piece to my debut. I guess,” he sniggers.
That said, it has also given him time to look at the ‘idea’ of Spod. The amazing thing about him as a character is the limitless deconstruction as to where Spod ends and the man behind him begins. Is that sex-crazed onstage persona of our sarcastic, quietly spoken off-stage protagonist, an amplification of himself or just a schizophrenic reaction? We can ask ourselves endlessly what Spod is, but the biggest question of all is simply, who is the real Spod?
“I don’t know,” Spod (real name Brent) laughs, “it just falls into place. I never thought I was going to start doing music and partying really hard like I do onstage. I went through a stage,” the Master of Radness continues, “where I didn’t want to do it so much. It comes down to wether or not I’m having fun and I was just going through a period when I think all I wanted to do was stand there with a guitar and just go ‘ahh…’ I wanted to be that dude for a while. I’m dictated by how much I’m actually enjoying it, but it’s weird… its pretty amazing to get back into ‘character’ again and you forget how much you love it. Even when you’ve been living it and making the record. It’s a headfuck.”
Headfucks or not, he’s still got a goddamn Vegas show to plan for us. Seriously – as if Spod doesn’t have the greatest highs-to-lows, crash-to-re-emergence story ever not told. Fuck you Nikki Sixx – give us Spod any day. There are legions of people who want to see that damn brown suit with the Eternal Champion of Radness wrapped in it. Then, it seems, he could score that hefty retirement sum.
A champagne spa, no?
“I’m doing all of this for a champagne spa. Then, when it’s over and I’ve done the nerd-Vegas-crooner thing I’m just going to sit in it...”
Behind The Scenes
Their name says it all. It’s a mixture of fire and brimstone smeared by a lashing of lipstick, a combination of hard firing rock lyrics laced with a purple cheetah skin bandana. If the Devil and Liberace were ever going to hitch a ride together, their destination would be a Hell City Glamours gig.
On arrival they’d find four young members of the one rock-and-roll band. At 23 years of age each member exhibits textbook symptoms of a Keith Richards road to destruction. The Hell City Glamours are
living out their dreams of delivering dirty, bluesy rock-and-roll to the masses. The band is comprised of Oscar McBlack on lead vocals and guitar, Archi Fires on bass, Robbie Potts on drums and Mo Mayhem on lead guitar.
With Archi and Robbie having known each other since childhood through their skating roots, the band formed in 2002 in the western Sydney suburb of Forestville. Being outside the influence of inner city trends and sounds they found themselves naturally evolving into a glam rock band.
“We didn’t know this was cool – in fact it wasn’t. We didn’t know anyone else was doing it, it just felt right and being out in the west we weren’t affected by any kind of ‘scene’.” Oscar declares – “We could have easily become another punk skate band but we didn’t”.
In a baptism of fire the band found themselves performing their first gig at a Tsubi party at the City Hotel in Sydney’s CBD. Although they admit their performance was far from brilliant, the crowd
responded by bringing the roof crashing down. The prospect of a rock-and-roll lifestyle was too hard to refuse so the group set out to exhume some glam rock demons that had been laid to rest decades ago.
A night with The Glamours can lead in any direction. There’s no warm-up required in this stage show, it’s a lunge headfirst into a pit of rock-and-roll soup, thick and gooey, and the stain won’t come out no matter how much Omo mum puts in with the wash.
Like Mo says, “Our shows get pretty messy for both the crowd and the musicians. It’s a good thing we can play well drunk because we’ve all had to be carried out of venues at one point or another!”
While the groupies perch themselves at the side of the stage like a pack of dogs at a butcher’s back door, The Glamours rock on amid gulps of Jack Daniel’s and drags on cigarettes. With each glance in their direction, the girls’ heart rates approach critical and in a matter of seconds they are forced onto the stage to souvenir a kiss. The Glamours are no doubt happy to oblige.
The crowd is getting off by the second song and the band’s shirts are off by the third. With elbows out the girls fight their way to the front while in the back, the guys are questioning why they never learnt guitar at high school. Make no mistake – The Glamours are here to bring the house down with unashamed entertainment so if your parents are the worrying kind – call them now because you’re going to be home late.
“Our music and show is about escapism mixed with entertainment. We’re saying life isn’t that bad. Shit sucks but let’s just get wasted!” says Oscar with his classic rock persona oozing out of him.
On stage, the whites of Oscar’s eyes are blazing behind a lick of black mascara. Dressed in skintight Levis and little else he engages the crowd with true frontman showmanship. His wild trash-talking antics and bare chest command the spotlight but behind the stage strutting and layers of jewellery there’s a sharp character. Oscar lives the rock-and-roll life but he’s definitely aware of the world outside guitars and groupies. Combined with drive and ambition he’s determined to take The Glamours beyond their current standing.
To the left and lurking behind long black curls is lead guitarist Mo. From your first handshake you might be led to believe he’s a reserved gentleman, but once his fingers strangle the neck of a guitar he’s swinging from the rafters with the best of them.
“It’s kinda funny – friends of mine come to the shows and are like, ‘DUDE I’ve never heard you talk and move so much in your life!.’ Getting on stage ain’t no problem, I can play to hundreds of people no sweat. It’s the rest of life that’s the hard part” Mo explains.
Tall and lean, Archi stands like a towering landmark on the edge of the stage. More reserved in his movements, he personifies the smooth bass player. His white leather shoes shine in the stage lights while his black Alice Cooper eyes glare back at the crowd.
While the guitars captivate the front row the whole venue feels the power of Robbie’s drum set. With his teeth gritting he pile-drives each beat in painful pleasure. His nice guy personality is shredded to pieces as he commits assault and battery on the cymbals and skins. As with all of the members of the band, Robbie can turn the heat on in the spotlight when required. But if you’re expecting these guys to be biting the heads off bats for breakfast you’re mistaken. It’s easy to believe that rockers like these have intimidating personalities but you will quickly find they are as friendly as girl scouts flogging brownies.
A show might last upwards of 1.5 hours but there’s no doubt that The Glamours are slaves to their passion beyond the Saturday night gig. As Oscar jokes clutching half a loaf of bread –
“This is my dinner man – this ain’t lifestyles of the rich and famous! We make the most money off our T-shirts! We’re in there printing them ourselves and flogging them as well! But we love it – it’s great because it’s us.”
From printing T-shirts to filming their own video clips the band has fuelled their own enthusiasm. This has been rewarded with a far-reaching and devoted audience with a number of Hell City Glamour tattoos appearing amongst their disciples. They’re no strangers to the Pacific Highway after retracing the traditional east coast tour route a number of times – racking up a strong following from Melbourne to Brisbane. They have completed their rock apprenticeship by supporting the likes of The Young Heart Attacks, Brides of Destruction and Rose Tattoo. A fresh highlight was a spot with Alice Cooper on his recent ‘Dirty Diamonds’ tour in July 2005.
With their Maiden LP ‘Les Infidels’ behind them they released their latest offering ‘Broken Glass Beatless Hearts’ in late 2005 which has received solid support across the board. But all of their successes aside it’s never been smooth sailing for The Glamours. It’s safe to say these guys have a love-hate relationship with a lot of people…
“Our detractors don’t really understand us – people think we’re decadent. Decadent? Coming from Forestville, living in an ex-housing commission house and having lost my job because I’m touring with this band up and down the east coast – and people have the hide to call us decadent!” declares Oscar shaking his head.
Image and talent aren’t automatic bedfellows in the music industry but the Hell City Glamours undoubtedly possess a stage presence that would place them on level pegging with any number of their own idols such as Aerosmith, AC/DC and LA Guns.
“People see the way we dress and look and they can’t see past it. Looks are easy to categorise but it’s typical of the Australian music scene. If we had proven ourselves overseas people would love us. It’s like not loving your girlfriend until someone else screws her.”
Many people have tried to stick them in a mould or place them in a category but The Glamours are defiant. They’re not afraid to admit it – they’re about a good time and pure entertainment. Their music doesn’t support a political cause or rebel against the tyranny of ‘The Man’ but they do concentrate on writing songs that reflect personal experiences. While their songwriting focus is personal, The Glamours manage to balance their style with the simple pleasures of great rock-and-roll. Anything from a girl with long legs, a fast car on Route 66, or a bar fight in the wrong end of town will get a mention.
“We like to enjoy our music. We take a new piece and we all look at the merits of the song, but more importantly we all want to enjoy playing it because we are a live rock-and-roll band” says Oscar.
Taking bits and pieces from their idols The Glamours reinterpret the classic rock sound with their own lyrics and rock persona. They are happy to take influence from their idols but refuse to follow a copycat style. At the end of the day their focus is live music – gritty, sweaty, and ‘ball tearing’. They silence their critics and ignore their detractors by maintaining their following while continuing to rise through the Australian rock ranks. With their self-produced video gaining momentum on Channel V and increasing airplay on Triple J, the group is aiming for an album in late 2006 followed up by an eagerly anticipated trip to the United States.
“We’ve never had the chance to travel because we spend every cent on this band. Have you ever tried living off 5 bucks a day on tour? Do you know anyone who wants to live like this – I doubt it. We are definitely not in this for the money otherwise we would have given up years ago.”
If you’re going to see the Hell City Glamours leave the music intellects at the door – better yet, lock them in the cloak room because whether you love ’em or hate ’em you’re guaranteed to have a good time.
Clear & Projecting
Photographer. Uri Auerbach
Words. Clara Iaccarino
Artworks. Simon Hong
Vibrant and determined, Emma Sholl is a 25-year-old musical wonder.
Keen to dissolve the stereotypes surrounding classical musicians, the associate principal flautist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra oozes musical passion. She’s modest, but assertive, dedicated and enthusiastic, and she says the flute has become an integral part of her life. While Emma maintains she’s just like any other 20-something with everyday pursuits, she’s also one of the youngest musicians to achieve her position.
It’s always in my hands like it’s just another appendage. I always find myself going to open the jam jar or something and realise I’ve got my flute in my hand, you just become so used to it. After nearly twenty years of playing almost every day, it really does become a part of you.
When I was seven, my dad took me along to the music store and said a piano’s not going to fit in the house so you’ve got to choose a wind instrument. He played clarinet and a bit of guitar so he loved music. He always had his head phones on listening to classical music, he’d listen to it all day. My mum hated the recorder which I was learning in school so they wanted me to try another instrument.
I instantly liked the flute. It was little like me and I just loved it from the beginning. I also loved my teachers, I think that’s really important. If you’re inspired by your teachers they make music fun and challenging. I doubt I’d have the passion for music if I didn’t have those teachers.
I guess any sort of talent in one facet of your life doesn’t automatically mean you are talented in other areas of your life. You might be really good at one thing and then terrible at everything else. I still do lots of things other than playing the flute. I don’t want to be a narrow-minded person so I swim, play tennis, and hang out with my friends and all those normal things. But I just have one thing that I’m really passionate about and really focussed on.
It’s really exciting [being part of the orchestra]. The music’s fantastic, it’s a real joy. It’s an amazing feeling to really connect with the people around you and play as one instrument. I don’t feel stifled or claustrophobic in the orchestra because the quality of the musicians is so high. The people are world class and I feel like I’m constantly learning. I’m still growing as a musician and by no means do I feel like I’m at my peak.
People often say to me, “You don’t look like a classical musician’’. What’s that supposed to mean? The funny thing is when people meet a bunch of classical musicians, they’re just not like the stereotype. They love to party, they love to have a laugh and they’re quite often very extroverted people. I think it’s great to shatter the stereotype. I love the idea of making classical music appealing to young people.
In terms of where the talent comes from I guess a lot of it is inherent. Some of my teachers said to me I’ve got a natural facility for the flute and I’ve got a lot of music in my history. My grandmothers on both sides were musicians. One was a music teacher, the other was a pianist and her grandmother before her was also a pianist. I believe people have natural ability for sure, then it has to be nurtured in the right way. Clearly Roger Federer wouldn’t be number one in the world if he didn’t get out and play for six hours a day. It’s the same with anything. A lot of it has to do with inherent talent and the rest of it is hard work.
People have said you make the sound of the person that you are. I’m quite a straightforward person, I’m quite open. I’ve been told that my sound is clear and projecting and very pure, sort of sparkling.
I love the sound of the flute. There’s a misconception that the flute can be high, shrill and horrible. That’s very true, in the wrong hands. But it can also be rich, mellow and pure. You can see different people’s personalities in the orchestra when you watch. I love trying to make my sound ring across the orchestra. The clarity of the sound helps it carry right to the back of the concert hall. It’s definitely the right instrument for me.
When his day job is really a night job, there’s no wonder it’s taken 3 phone calls and 2 text messages to get DJ and sound engineer Peret Mako out of his Maroubra apartment early on a Saturday morning.
He finally appears from behind a fly screen door and trundles over the front lawn before apologising for his lateness. Today he’s getting shot by legendary Australian photographer Gary Heery but only hours ago he was in front of hundreds of Sydney night owls thirsty for dusk till dawn beats and body shifting sounds. With Sydney jammed full of clubs and venues – all equally populated by hundreds of DJ’s, it’s easy to believe that there is one mould that has created them all. But below the crust of Peret Mako is an intricate wealth of technical and creative ability that clearly diferentiates him from the typical Saturday night party crowd.
His livelihood of big events and electro beats are far from his past life in the nation’s capital Canberra, where he began his schooling as a young saxophonist. Mako reluctantly picked up the instrument in the 7th grade but with the help of an influential teacher, he was quickly introduced to the world of soul and jazz through the sounds of Monk and Coltrane, Dizzy and Parker, and Sonny Rollins.
“That’s pretty heavy shit to take on at that age you know?! I was into RunDMC and hip-hop, as well as Fugazi and Dead Kennedys and bands like that. These guys are great and I still listen to their music but the depth of feelings you get out of listening to ‘Lover Man’, ‘Round Midnight’ or ‘Salt Peanuts’ is a shock!”
Mako’s attraction to the vintage sounds of Bebop and the pace of complex harmonies and melodies that embodied this sound, began to naturally cross over into other areas. The rich characters and stories of this musical era fuelled his fascination of contemporary styles –
“You start reading about the characters they were and you’re in love. This infatuation just kept happening with techno, hip-hop and house. I have caught a couple of big influences throughout the years but Bebop was first. It’s the first layer, it colours everything.”
With his attention slowly shifting towards hip-hop, Mako continued to raise his profile with his jazz band at a number of local clubs and bars but unfortunately, Canberra could only contain him for so long. In 1993 Mako decided to challenge himself in the brighter lights of Sydney where he finally traded the saxophone for a sampler. He is now a regular at some of the most progressive avant-garde nights across Australia, supported by a loyal following and respected amongst Australia’s DJ community.
Similar to the diverse offerings of Peret’s past influences, his sound transcends many music genres and styles. He’s an expert in capturing incoherent sounds and weaving them together to form a seamless architecture. Through his experimental style he finds that he rarely uses the same approach to any composition.
“I have developed so many approaches to both the creative and technical sides of writing that I forget them and enjoy remembering them again later. They pop up at opportune moments and rescue me when I’m in a fix.”
The power of Mako’s music lies in its engineered subtlety, as his sounds bypass the resistance of the mind and target the receptiveness of the heart. His music is triggered by innovative tactics, using the vision of sound engineering technology to take handcrafted sounds to a new and advanced level.
Mako’s track ‘Export’ off his debut album ‘The Devil’s in the Detail’ to be released late this year, is the perfect specimen. Every sound on the track is handmade – ranging from vocals, recorded sound effects, and instruments of which he plays 3 throughout the track.
“For me the track is about travelling. The mixture of loneliness, excitement and melancholy are all mixed up so much, you begin to enjoy the feeling of loneliness. There is a stupid amount of synthesized programming in there and an even more stupid amount of automation. The original loop on the track is me playing guitar and that is where most of the drum sounds ended up being created from. I then gave the track to Tanya Bowra to sing on. All I gave her was a scale and couple of parameters and she gave me back those beautiful vocals.”
Combining these elements provides a challenge but for Mako it is the source of his inspiration.
“If I had to name one continuing theme that exerts itself in my writing it is the need for ideas that feel new to me and a feeling that I am out of my depth. You can only get this by constantly writing through ideas and by doing so you subject yourself to a lot of self-doubt. You feel a lot of the time like you don’t know what you are doing and you think: “did I just fluke that”. But! The only reason you got that great idea is because you worked for it through twenty or thirty other ideas.”
Capturing, creating and combining sounds as a DJ has enabled Mako to transplant his passion and ability into his career in commercial sound production. In 2004 Mako signed with Floating Point Music- an Australian label set up as a collaborative space for DJs, producers, composers and engineers, allowing them to focus on releasing their own recordings while providing music composition and sound design services for music, film, TV, and advertising industries. For Mako it is the perfect way to combine his creative talents and earn a living doing what he loves.
“I have, in the last couple of years, gotten the taste for engineering as the final stage of writing a track. It plays into my personality. It’s like the musical equivalent of acupuncture with all of these fine adjustments and then everything slides into place. All of these parts – which can be over two hundred channels for one song – find their spot and the track gains it’s independence from me.”
For Floating Point’s first release in their recording and publishing division, Mako was teamed up with 2001 Bedroom Bangers winner and break beat expert, Bass Kleph to produce ‘Like, Abort Juan!’. The track received an enthusiastic reception by industry authorities and was described as a bridge in the gap between deep tech-house and electro with elements of breakbeat thrown in. Combining professional expertise and creative pursuits has allowed Mako to make inroads in both fields but balancing the commercial nature of sound design and the independent soul of track writing is met with many challenges.
“You have to trust your creative filter, your history and your integrity. You have to trust that you know what you are on about – enough to follow your own feelings, to give up sounds that you know will be readily accepted, or stick with ones that are cheesy or overt depending on where you are on that day.”
Like the transition between night and day, Mako utilises the two sides of his talents to get the most into his music. With upcoming releases with Floating Point, the release of his debut album and a series of collaborations with other artists such as Alpha Town, Bass Kleph and Qjumper, Mako is distinguishing himself beyond the average nightclub experience of wallpaper soundscapes.
“The biggest goal is to attempt to be honest. I’m not going to allow myself to pretend that I am something I’m not through my art, which is the easiest thing to do in the world. I am a lot of different things but I am certainly not cool all the time or happy all the time.”
DEMO asks – Who is Macromantics? Romy Hoffman replies…
I am a hip-hop artist. A cultural and social commentator trying to make sense of myself and how I’m placed in the world. I evoke emotion, I reference times, places, people, genres and other things which are of importance to me. I weave words. My music is humorous, serious, self-reflective and occasionally self-loathing. It is a healthy balance of all things needed to face this crazy world we live in.
This is her story told in her words.
High up on the hills where cherry blossom trees provide shade for heated thoughts and blow a crisp blackcurrant wind forth, sits a girl whose wafting the silence with her pinkie. She signals for it to transcend the pollution of speech that further greys the seemingly invisible uncertainty.
Today she believes that silence is God. But, she also knows that there is no such thing as utter silence. There is always the resonance of what exists way up there. Deep beneath the shelves of dark matter, amongst the big bang’s left-over whimper, a rotating planet crackles and distorts the glitter-shimmer of nebula.
She is Macromantics, who is Romy Hoffman. Who is she? Indecisive. Drink-jolt-scream. The ’lil wink-wink wuss who don’t take risks, unless it involves love. Miss all-or-nothing. Romantic. Death-death. No balance. Contradictory. Light sleeper. Severe sweet tooth.
Absurdist wordsmith. She draws chandeliers and teapots and people and chairs. Obsessive-compulsive, passive-aggressive. More alive than ever, obedient to self, elated, in a beetroot pickle state of growth. Skin glowing, recently kissed, post-broken heart sewn with liquorice and silk threads, veins and ventricles laced back together from being shattered and schooled, deservedly. The collector who can never throw away, for that would be parting with the tangible corpse of memory, now wouldn’t it chappies?
And way before this liberation of blessed imperfection, and post-chapter pre-phase, her guilt laid stuck, bubble gum chew glued to her jigsaw thoughts and salty desires. In those days, she was dangerously introverted, playing with fire in her palms and pin pricking her skin, waiting to bleed diamonds. Her bottling of exquisite mental webs and general longing was stunting her growth and conquer. Though, the spiritual waver she felt tugging at her gut, pulled at her soul, nourishing her confusion with a deep stab of jolting perplexity. It was time for her to discover and cling onto the scraggly safety pins that hinged onto the jacket of punk rock music. Finding that subculture at a young age saved her life. How? She cannot really say. But it put her on the right path, and she waved to Dorothy and Co. whose yellow brick road fate squiggled off into the bright sunshine, adjacent to hers. She was guided to the truest, seemingly symbiotic science of all: hip-hop. And it changed her real good in the belly. From that day forth, her heart pumped different, in a spray-can tinge red with bom-bom bass undercurrents and
a gush of blood that flowed rhyme and reason.
It was during this time that she took to pen and paper more needily, with paramount austerity. Surfacing all the voices in her head, coating characters with shells to concrete their existence. Embracing the double scoops of self that melted to form her sweet strawberry core. She listened to the apple pips within that wanted to tango with the worms who shared her fleshy fruit within. Her raps began to really take shape at this point. They become labyrinths whose corners housed peepholes into the world, in all its seriousness, humour, beauty and chaos. She completed her studies and took to the land that fed her all her teenage pop-culture candied bliss, in search of the Beat ghosts and Punk spirits.
The USA, in its post-terror soaked tuxedo became her playground, the highway that led to her slogan, and her future gravestone header: Love, Truth, Beauty, Chaos. It is here, on this twister dot where things got interesting, where horsey’s reigns couldn’t get pulled hard enough so as to stop her marshmallow crash bang into self-discovery. She fell in love. She cemented her purpose of penning over-analytical gaga, becoming the medium for the message. She sucked in the grime of foreign streets, traced the ghouls fingertips and lurked through the ashy exits and alleyways of San Francisco. It was her home for a year, where she waltzed with destiny towards friends and producers whom she makes music and memories with till this very day.
So was born Hyperbolic Logic. Her first proper release. A tongue twister ride through the peaks and troughs of one plaited ribbon hair comb thimble, one girl’s swivelling emotion. A declaration that all things grow and weed and weave into their concrete course that will crack over slingshot time. A complex game of role-play minus the dress up. Though, aliases festered and hid behind her signature look – hair slicked back, as an ode to beautiful ballerinas. White canvas shoes, jeans, shirts and jackets. Nouveau princess haute couture. This one template was a disguise for the social and cultural commentator, the predictor, the larrikin, and the self-loather. The wizard, the pauper, the hairdresser who untangled the strands of knowledge, the florist who picked roses for her lovers and the chef who fed the minds of those in her peppered proximity. This was she. Tickle intensive. In her chemistry element and nail biting climax, the battle with the self that would be judged by forever. Let nobody win, but everybody.
Everyday she awoke knowing this, staring into a mirror who sometimes blew a kiss, and who sometimes spat back. She’d pledge to live in fulfilled footsteps and mean her grins when she shaped them. She swore to honour the things that privileged her into this knighthood of escalator steps of understanding and attempts to live wholeheartedly and rekindle her cyclical extinguished polka-dot hope.
By now, she was used to the minor third pains and life’s Tetris levels of intensity and stick poking at inquisitive bones. She hopped along with the bunnies to find nature’s next meal and blend in with the seasons, as the one who stood out. Seeing with stir-fried eyes, strutting with stitch gripped feet, speaking with love stuttered speech, unchapping her lips, not with the scented balms of medicine, but with the same wind that caused them to be rough and pained. All the while painting her tired wide eyes with dreams.
Performance became the mechanism by which she could unleash her beasts, cleanse her sin-drenched self, run amok, stomp her truth and be her diamond-sided self. The stage was her cacophony cache, her piece of mind, her plank and pillow. It became the meeting spot for her past, present and future, the tip of the blade that cut through her own goosebumpy skin with cursive rhythm.
She is being, right now. Accumulating, hand stitching and signing every sine wave and sentence of her upcoming album. She is testing her limits and pushing her own boundaries, dissecting the universe within and the world around. Turning wonder and wows into audio auspices. She is running her fingers through the futures tackled hair, looking for the lost silver lining of a sheepish cloud. She will get to fulfilment, taking the long road of deprivation and heartache, and wouldn’t want to get there any other way. Quick… look! She is dancing on the broken eyelids of a dead fairy. Oops, she lost her limb while picking the petals from a daisy. It was an eye for an eye.
She paralyses her tears with a needle and silk thread in the hope that she will get to know memory better.
She pretends she is the bride of the right angles of a square. She means what she says. She licks the dripping water on its way down from the forgotten pipes, with her picky pointed tongue. She draws portraits of saints clothed in cinnamon kisses and levitates towards the death of gravity. See, she knows she is chosen, and for what and as to why and it’s dawn’s dusk.
She picks berries and feeds them to lucky. She moistens her soft skin with apostle desire and want. She tiptoes over language and sings it shutter speed flashes.
She cups her hands over a pot of gold-studded understanding. She provides depth for the shallow plains of swaying baby trees. She throws bones to the shaggy dogs and lets them run until they pant dreams. She uses the rainbow as a rope and skips over the destitute rules that need not apply.
She carries the burdens of much of the cluttered soul crushed world. She kneads a necklace out of dough and bakes time with the ashes of instinct. She swallows toboggans so lovers can get to her heart easily.
She likes to dine with reason, eating hors d’oeuvres of lettuce leaf whats, liquid lavender why soup entrée, steamed rationality for the main course and daydream dessert. She will shave the frothy layers of complex to reach the seed-bearing core of simple that will make babies for the world to pat and ponder. And then, she will choreograph them towards her. ’Cause the radio knobs know her best; her movement intervals and crush on a slinky.
She will rap until her breath wretches an exclamation mark. She will evenly distribute her love until her heart pops roses. She will jot and compose, strum and play until her fingers weep laughter. She will be Romy Hoffman, who is Macromantics until this life flatlines the kinetic wagon wheels that are now in motion.
She’s tired and worse still, it’s Monday morning...
Her arms hurt from packing and unpacking the van at every gig. But that’s a two month east coast tour for you. The keypad lights up and avoiding smudging her fresh black nail polish, Sophie presses the button and speaks into the headset;
‘tech support, good morning’
‘won’t turn on? when did this first happen?’
‘brand new hey?’
‘it is plugged in isn’t it…?’
‘not at all sir, happens all the time.’
And rolling her eyes she turns her attention back to the notepad next to her keyboard. Last night’s dream is vivid in her mind as she reads the lyrics written there;
‘The mode was norm,
until it happened – no way,
I saw it first, still time to escape…’
Humming to herself, she picks up the pen, smudges her nail polish, curses to herself and begins to write again.
Memories of the past weeks fill her head, screaming crowds, seamless performances. She remembers their first gig in 2002, and each of the two hundred they’ve played since then. Each time getting better, tighter, more unified.
“It really brought playing levels up. Now we’re like a machine!” she jokes. The exhilaration of playing what you love throws the dullness of 9 to 5 into sharp perspective. A slight hangover doesn’t help.
It’s 11.30 and Greer slips Nirvana’s ‘Bleach’ into the CD player. Settling back on the couch, she sips her tea and watches ribbons of smoke rise and twine lazily from the joint in the ashtray.
Always the one responsible for getting the others out of bed on tour, it’s her turn to relax and muse. She remembers growing up with Sophie in Tasmania, watching her sister on the Fisher and Paykell microphone, getting nervous when her mum asked her to sing for visitors.
Learning the guitar, step by step Mel Bay’s books, its awkward shape destined to become an extension of herself, drawing notes sweet and easy as her singing. She picks up her phone from the cushion beside her and habitually scrolls to the text message she’s kept for years. The one Sophie sent her, that marks the point when dreams began to take root in reality; “Let’s just get off our arses and make a band so we don’t have to go to work anymore.” Smiling to herself she stands and looks around for her keys. Time to go meet Sophie.
‘There we were,
such a bright sunny day,
the time was noon,
lunch at Martin Place…’
They meet at their usual spot, the giant rectangle, walled in on four sides by the glistening cliff faces of high-rise blocks. The regular throng of workers bustle in all directions, lunching, phoning, talking, their voices blend into a comforting hum that surrounds the girls as they sit on the steps.
Greer hands Sophie the roast duck pancakes she’s picked up from Chinatown and in between mouthfuls they reflect on their good fortune; “Do you know how lucky we are to do this? Not many people get to do what we’re doing. It’s a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time. We were lucky to get picked up when we were.”
But good management (Black Yak; The Whitlams, Magic Dirt) and good fortune only count for so much. “It takes a lot of guts, putting your whole persona out there. It’s hard work too. You can’t be lazy about it.”
They talk about what motivates them and find one common thread; “Being lovers of music gets you motivated to gig. It’s us getting together and just playing. You’re just creating. If you’re playing to a big crowd it feels amazing.”
Despite the synchronicity of their performance, two distinct personalities make up Modular Lounge and these are revealed as they talk about what lies ahead;
“Gain the respect of the industry”
“Not have to work anymore!”
With their Debut EP ‘4 songs’ currently in stores and album ‘See What You Are’ on the horizon, the future will be big enough for all of them. Discussing their residency at Spectrum, airplay on Triple J and another tour planned for the upcoming months, they look slightly weary, but the emotional charge of performance offsets the physical hardship.
Sophie leans over and takes the last pancake from the container, “I feel like kissing some people when they come up and say they loved the show.” she grins but the expression falls from her, the hum of the workers has fallen to a murmur, a whisper, she looks across at the girls. She calls to them, but they don’t hear her, suspended an eyeblink away, beyond her voice’s reach.
She shivers and realises she is sitting in shadow somehow taken root in the day, dark tendrils unfurl across the square like the blossoming of a plant of pure night. Looking up she sees a shape, impossibly large and angular, has stolen half the sky and is settling closer toward them through the still, silent atmosphere. Cargo bay doors peel back gently, a plane then? And from the open frame of darkness, something descending.
The lunchtime crowd are frozen, mouths agape and pointing, Sophie alone moves to reach Greer. A wooden crate, dropping with maddening slowness, nears the ground, and as the timber scrapes the tile of martin place they are scrambling backwards.
‘We turned and ran, the bomb was ticking away,I looked around, and did not wish to see, the fuse so short,detonator flashing, the explosion destroying, all we could see.’
The force of the blast lifts her from her feet and throws her forward, she feels the sharp bite then dull throb of shrapnel piercing her skin, but picks herself up surprised to find herself and Greer the only survivors.
“Could this be happening to me?
Pinch me, wake me from this dream…”
Rushing around a corner, they find a doorway set in concrete, it opens easily and they climb endless flights of stairs upwards, somehow Sophie knows exactly where they’re going and eventually guides the them along what is now a hotel corridor. Stopping before one of the doors, she knocks.
Michael Hutchence, complete with leather pants and cheesecloth shirt, stands in the open doorway. He welcomes them in to safety and ushers them to the room’s huge window.
With arms linked, Modular Lounge look down at the destruction,
‘The burning town,
upon the river that bleeds.’
Behind The Scenes
DEMO is a filmclip on paper. It's a free independent music magazine that uncovers the most exciting and interesting emerging talent Australia has to offer.
Created in 2006 by award winning creative agency Moffitt.Moffitt. - DEMO has gone on to fill the void between street press and mainstream music magazines through its unique combination of music, design, art, fashion and photography.
Described as a film clip on paper – DEMO’s reputation is built on it’s bold and compelling creative style and it’s original approach to revealing an artist’s story, style and sound. The bespoke content is all contained within an inspiring full colour, high quality large format unlike any other publication available.
DEMO has been internationally loved and locally adored by a legion of music fans, readers and a multitude of creatively minded leaders and individuals.
DEMO is published by Moffitt.Moffitt. - a creative agency founded by twin brothers Andrew Moffitt and Mark Moffitt.
Together they have shaped creative solutions for multinational brands, cultural arts organisations and private clients from here and around the world.
Andrew and Mark have over 20 years combined experience establishing and evolving some of the worlds leading brands.They have been agents of change for brands including Qantas, Jetstar, 3 Mobile, Voadafone, Westfield, Luxotica, Microsoft, Warner Music, Westpac, Maquarie Bank, BT Financial, Marcs, Carla Zampatti, Sydney Theatre Company and Sydney Film Festival to name a few.
With their local and global experience Andrew and Mark have come together to form Moffitt.Moffitt. – a partnership that unifies creativity and commerce.
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