Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Martha Wainwright interview (2010)


Talking to a member of the Wainwright family about music, one can't help but feel like a student in the presence of a particularly well-informed teacher. This brood of freakishly talented Canadians were seemingly born to keep a musical bloodline going as though it were royal title being upheld at all costs. Yet the family's eldest daughter, Martha Wainwright embodies a performer somewhat less burdened by titles and more intent on getting by on her own steam. Part traveling troubadour and part bluesy mama, Martha and her close-knit band, which includes husband Brad Alberta, are en route to Australia this February, along with a brand new bearer of the famous Wainwright genes. "This tour has changed dramatically since we were last in Australia because we bring baby along now." Martha beams, "It's all very un-rock'n'roll, my show!"

Wainwright's near-annual visits to Australia over the last five years are largely down to a childhood fascination with the place. She happily recalls the thrill of her mother's return from touring here - as part of the famed McGarrigle Sisters – and the tacky souvenirs only one so young could covet. "I remember when I was little, my mother would bring home these cute koala bears you'd clip on the end of your pencil and these painted boomerangs, which was so exciting for me." Martha laughs, "I never knew where Australia was, but I think I did draw the conclusion that there was an Asian connection because she would always go to Hong Kong at the same time as Australia. Later on when I was a teenager I traveled around a bit and would meet Australians in Europe or the US, just backpacking and they always seemed to me like they were from this magical faraway land that I'd only known about from my bizarre collection of gifts."

Martha has arguably become the most loved branch of the impressive Wainwright family tree in Australia. Even her mother never knew the level of admiration her daughter has achieved here, and so, after Kate McGarrigle's death at the start of the 2010, a particular memory for Martha is held dear. "You know the last time my mum was in Australia it was for the Leonard Cohen tribute show at the Sydney Opera House with Rufus and myself and we were together, just the whole time." She adds, "It's kind of cool to think we got to share the same experience in this far-off place my mum had visited when I was just a kid." Many fans would be quick to identify the subject of Wainwright's notorious blues rant from her 2005 self-titled album, Bloody Mother Fuckin' Asshole as being her father, Loudon, but notably absent from both Martha's and Rufus's work is an undeniable ode to Kate. Many fleeting references do appear, however and Martha stoically offers a fine tribute in words befitting any song.

"As an artist she was a very talented and growing up around somebody who already had the basics well and truly down was a great start for me to becoming a singer." She reflects, "But more so, as a female watching her growing up in Westmount, which was a nice neighbourhood, was very inspiring because mum was probably the only single mother, and certainly the only working artist. Through her I understood early on that identity is not about traditional gender roles and also that somebody can be a free spirit and still keep their shit together." Although Martha's first experience of being on stage was through drama class, she wasn't to resist the path each of her parents, and older brother Rufus, took for long. Martha sang and played in Rufus's band while gradually building her own songbook from the wings. It seemed as if a music career was beyond anyone's escape if they were born under the Wainwright name. Risking a burn, I propose that the right of the child is to rebel and oppose the will of the adult, but Martha claims, she was by no means bored by her parent's and their grown-up world of folk-music.

"Kate was not overly ambitious career wise, so music still has this joyful, pleasant feeling attached to it for us  as kids as opposed to just seeing it as a job our mother did." She explains, "If she had been a lot more withdrawn from us and motivated to further her career instead, I think we might have ended up resenting music in a way." With only a few exceptions, Martha Wainwright's songs, are mostly thoughtful, witty affairs but 2009 album, Sans Fusils, Ni Souliers, a Paris (a tribute to Edith Piaf) demonstrated a darker side to Martha, and offered fans a peak into her obsession with a quite tragic figure in music history. Following Kate's passing, Martha's cabaret-style tribute shows for Edith Piaf, have an added gravitas and, the singer explains, an unexpected comfort.
"I think that singing some of these Piaf songs over the last year is very helpful in dealing with pain and suffering. A lot of them are quite tragic in a way, and so that expression feels right to me and gives me some context for my own loss. As an artist it's hard to know how to put into words exactly how I feel right now about Kate's passing because in many ways I'm speechless about it. I'm still in shock and so I can't write about how I feel because I want it to be right and honest. In a way I feel quite paralysed." Martha's re-interpreting of Piaf's work was never just a between-albums-muck-around-project. It has come from a life-long fascination with the star of Parisian cabaret. She elaborates. "Both my brother and I always have been interested in older music from the '20s, '30s and '40s...You know standards, and so I was listening to Piaf as a kid. I was comfortable singing in her style because to me, growing up with that, I understood her and her music already so well. Plus we spoke French fluently at home, and so there was never a language barrier either." Martha's Piaf fixation, not unlike Rufus's keen interest in Judy Garland, was naturally enough exaggerated by the fact that these artists were born out of extreme conditions and died by the very same. Wainwright explains further.

"When I found out she used to sing on the street that intrigued me even more as a young person. I always thought she'd come from café society, you know, but in fact it was more about bar society." The playground of the bohemians in Paris was of course the dive bars and brothels, where many talented but poverty stricken artists gathered to sing/paint/write/fuck for their suppers. Martha adds. "My image of Piaf was the ultimate, exciting Parisian performer, but her life was so tragic and sad." She adds. "Having said that, in my shows when I'm doing the Piaf songs, I'm not trying to conjure her up – I'm not acting her out on stage - I'm really just trying to passably sing some her amazing songs." As her brother's Songs For Lulu concert recitals - which commanded audiences to remain completely silent throughout - are reaching their conclusion, I ask Martha what her impressions of Rufus's own tribute to Shakespeare, death, despair - and their mother – were.
"Well, I toured with him for a month in the US and so I got to see him perform that show every night." She says proudly, "I found that because I didn't applaud, my own reaction was stronger and more palpable." Martha pauses, "it was more internalised and therefore the feeling I think was far greater. When you go to a concert usually there's a release and some letting go of feelings, and that's great as well, but I think it's nice to just observe sometimes and not intervene or participate. Obviously it was different experience for me because it's my brother, but I actually loved not applauding at the end of each song without feeling like it was somehow an insult to him!"


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Kirk Pengilly (INXS) interview: 2010


The sensitive issue of INXS's post-Michael Hutchence years has certainly divided a lot of fans. It seemed as if everyone had an opinion on whether the surviving members should even have carried on at all, and when semi-permanent replacement singers continued to come and go, things didn't look good for the band's future or its legacy. Now that a new album of INXS hits re-arranged and re-sung by seemingly unrelated artists has arrived, the debating is set to continue. The project, titled Original Sin, sees the group teamed up with James Ash of Rogue Traders in the producer's chair, and a cast of widely known guest vocalists from all across the music landscape, with a common thread - each one an INXS fan.

To discuss the handing over of his band's songbook to some of contemporary music's finest singers, is Kirk Pengilly. The official band spokesman, guitarist, saxophonist and sometime leather trouser enthusiast, speaks proudly on the results of an idea that actually pays the greatest respect to their late singer, as well as reminding would-be detractors the undeniable power of some truly great songs. "We knew in doing it, we could receive mixed reactions but all the new arrangements were done by us - the original band - and each singer recorded their parts over the pre-recorded track." Kirk begins. "We didn't have a definite plan, we just knew we wanted to do something along the lines of re-imagined versions of a few songs." He explains, "We started off enlisting James Ash, who comes from a DJ background. You might remember Rogue Traders had a hit with a great remix of Need You Tonight, which is actually what prompted us to do this in the first place. We wanted him to have a go at remixing To Look At You - which was the first thing we recorded for this album - then we mulled it over for about six months and finally got him back in to work with us on the remaining tracks and expand on the remix idea by adding entirely new vocals."

The remainder of the album's re-workings are much less remixed, but rather covered by the band that wrote them, and sung by a few accomplished fans. You get some familiar voices singing in decidedly unfamiliar ways to songs you will know, even if you'd forgotten you did. Surprisingly, they haven't opted for the 'obvious rock hits' from the INXS back catalogue here, but choosing to go with The Stairs as opposed to Suicide Blonde from 1990 album, X for example is hardly an oversight. It's the career-spanning cross section of quality over commerce that ups this projects' interesting stakes dramatically, as does the unusual range of vocalists. Kirk says on how the careful selection process took place.

"We drew up a list of singers we really admire, and who we thought would suit a particular song. Once we started putting each one together it became apparent who would be the ideal vocalist, and in some cases that's actually how it worked out. Some of the singers we approached said they really wanted to do a particular song, but in a couple of cases we already had them in mind for something else and had to twist their arm!" 14 versions of INXS tracks were recorded for the project with 12 making the cut. Present is Pat Monahan (Train) on Beautiful Girl, but there's already a buzz about an unreleased version of this song by Brandon Flowers, which was dropped at the last minute. Kirk discusses.
"As it panned out, his manager I guess felt that it was a bit of a conflict because his solo album was released just before Original Sin. They didn't like the idea of him having a separate, unrelated track clashing with it, and it was most likely going to be the lead single." He says, "It was a remarkable version though, it sounded unlike anything he'd done before with The Killers." While we're in dream guest list mode, Kirk reveals a couple of names that for whatever reason, stayed on the drawing board. "I'd love to have worked with Chaka Khan, to be honest." He smiles, "Also I'd have liked John Mayer to sing on something, but he ended up only playing guitar (on Mystify) because he didn't have the time. The interesting thing we found was the most of the people we did end up working with where huge fans of INXS. Rob Thomas, who I'd known for years, was so humble and nervous about being in the studio with us and you kind of forget that some of these people grew up listening to us and they do see us in a certain way." When re-interpreting the tracks on Original Sin, Kirk explains the band's guests where allowed free reign to make what they would of the task.
"They were obviously restricted by the way we'd re-arranged the songs, but there were no rules really. If you listen to Ben Harper's version of Never Tear Us Apart, he doesn't follow the track, but does his freestyle soul thing, and it still works beautifully. Then there's Nikka Costa's version of Kick which is probably the most distant sounding track from the original in a way. What we found was that some singers were much more comfortable playing around with variations of their track and taking the chance to do something completely unlike what they're known for." Kirk adds that there weren't any 'difficult' artist interpretations that couldn't be used in the end. "No well Jon Farris, being the executive producer, was present at all the vocal sessions in London and Paris and he talked to the artists about what they wanted to do and made sure both parties were on the same page."
Pengilly recalls a surprisingly affable session with one Mr Thaws in London. "Probably the easiest session was with Tricky (on Mediate) actually. How he operates, is you get a couple of takes and if you don't like it, too bad!" He laughs, "He knows exactly what he wants the track sound like, and he gets it done so he can go off and have a joint!" Kirk adds of Tricky's selection, "Having him (Tricky) on the album was a no brainer - Michael was always a big fan of Massive Attack and the first Tricky album (Maxinquaye)." He adds, "Another person we wanted for similar reasons was Nick Cave. He was one of Michael's idols, but Nick unfortunately declined and I can understand why. He was good mates with Michael and maybe he felt a little nervous about being compared with him."

Not completely absent from Original Sin, but hardly prominent either is INXS's current official singer, JD Fortune. He adds his vocal to album closer, The Stairs, and it's perhaps the first indication of a more certain future with the band following the bizarre mud-slinging he engaged in after his first world tour with INXS. But long before Fortune's launch pad, the reality show Rock Star INXS, and various stand-in vocalists for tours, Kirk himself was the pre-Hutchence lead singer of the iconic band. He happily recalls of those simpler times. "When I met the Farris brothers, I had already been fronting my own band in Sydney and so I did slip into the roll of singer/songwriter with them." He divulges, "When Michael came along he didn't play an instrument and so it was very conspicuous him being on stage, although he was developing his confidence as the tambourine player in the early days of the band," Kirk laughs, "but he was also obviously coming into his own as a singer, so what happened was we decided he should take the lead me step into the roll of guitarist and occasional sax player." Kirk claims he never even considered reprising his roll as lead singer following Hutchence's death in 1997, "I would never want to front INXS that would be crazy. Besides I wouldn't have the confidence now to take the knocks from Michael's fans that JD has."

As the band's official archivist who's been keeping daily diaries since their very beginning, Kirk had a major roll in compiling recent biography, Story To Story. On his word, some more embarrassing tales were cut out – "Don't want the kids reading that!" - and on occasion, he had to make the tough call on what Michael's fans might want to read or not read about his life. "The original draft had a much larger portion devoted to Michael and Paula Yates' relationship and that definitely needed to be cut down a little." Kirk says, referring to the late couple's ultimately destructive pairing. "That was a whole other story outside of the band and we had to make a decision on whether fans wanted to read about the demise of these two people, or about stuff that was directly related to the band, and I think it was the right thing to do in Michael's memory."

Considering the memory of their much adored singer, INXS have very likely made their greatest post-Hutchence move yet by recording Original Sin. Its part tribute album and part greatest hits, but it offers more to fans than either of those two things. The care taken in the re-arrangements and matching of voices to songs is undeniable, but putting it in long-time fan's terms, Original Sin is actually good enough to make up for Rock Star INXS... Almost.


Click to watch:  
INXS "Devil Inside" with commentary by Beavis & Butthead!

Michael Hutchence, 1988

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Stephen Fry: Last Chance To See (DVD review)

Last Chance To See: BBC DVD (Madman)

The wild-life documentary field has been, let's face it, exhausted of possible new angles. David Attenborough's engrossing commentary of a lion eating a zebra is an image I can safely say we're all quite familiar with. A recent, excruciating addition to the world of beasts behaving beastly on camera, include awkward English blokes hooning around the African planes offering, in strained excitement, a more hands on approach to the animal kingdom or Kaki shorts-wearing galoots you'd cross the road to avoid. It's funny then that Stephen Fry, as metropolitan as they come, has inadvertently rescued the genre from those agonising adventure naturists, who you always secretly wished would stumble right into an 'un-planned' hungry bear.

The story of Last Chance To See began with the late Douglas Adams, (yes, the author of Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy) who made several pilgrimages to see some of the world's rarest species in their natural habitats during the late '80s. He had intended then to revisit the same locations 20 years on (in 2009) but due to his unforseen death, Fry along with Adams' original travel partner, Mark Carwardine set out to finish Adams' work and report on his endangered animals' progress. Although finding out the level of certain species depletion is the goal, Fry in particular seems also to be on a mission to test his own limits, and gain a personal level of respect for these creatures as Adams had done. Fry is well read and experienced in untold magnitudes, but Last Chance To See reveals a surprising side to him – in spite of a lack of any conceivable comforts, he simply needs to see and touch to fully know what most of us are content to read about. It is however, Fry's ability to bridge the gap between big long science-y things and school boy attention spans that makes him so watchable. 

Before the Amazonian manatee has even been properly introduced and Adams' findings on the creature revealed (in episode one of six in the series), Fry delights in telling a popular held belief that drunk sailors used to mistake the manatees for mermaids and have their way with the blubbery mammals. The fact that their Caribbean-derived name translates as 'breast' is even further cause for his amusement. Not so hilarious though, is the first port of call in Fry's Amazon visit; he despairs at the sight of golf carts carrying chunky American tourists along cemented path-ways. His contempt for the tender-footed "thrill seekers" is barely masked, but the pressing matter of rare sea mammals to track soon takes over. The very real danger of being killed by poachers in the 'lawless' Amazon forest is one of the many challenges that await Fry and Carwardine, but when Stephen actually breaks his arm falling on a boat's slippery deck in the first episode, the viewer is left wondering is he more a risk to himself? Cut to Fry sitting on a beach in Florida – "the absolute closest hospital, darling", arm in cast, and the realisation that a broken bone was a small price to pay for not being shot and dumped in a muddy ditch.

Fry's feverish love of technology is well known - you may already be one of his Twitter-following minions – so watching him struggle through jungle settings without so much as mobile reception is close to painful. The pain is only added to by his frequent mentioning of this fact, but a part of me did want to teleport directly to the Brazilian rain forests and put a comforting hand on his shoulder, while saying something like, "It'll be alright. I'm sure I see a tower around that next bend." But the well mannered, endearing nature of Fry makes even his occasional sulks a charming addition to this adventure series, rather than a blight on its strange landscapes. The big lumbering fellow, in a particularly sorry-for-himself moment, had me in stiches as he patiently waited in driving rain for his obsessed travel companion to catch a glimpse of a manatee - which may, or may not be anywhere near the area. In these moments, Fry can't help but make his ordinary suffering seem fascinating, while others more adventurous pursuits seem tiresome, without a hint of narcissism.
The fact that Stephen Fry's basically the last of his kind, isn't an irony lost on this reviewer. He maybe saw the pipe and slippers looming once his comedic and dramatic roles were replaced by docu-reality films, but it's his obsessive quest for information that's prevented a great mind from wasting. He's never seemed satisfied with knowing that he knows stuff, so now Fry is learning about the Brazilian capybara, (for example) simply because he didn't previously understand very much about them and as the viewer you can't help but be fascinated with him, and hope even a little of his lust for knowledge will catch on.


Fry... Out of his depth?

* A little diversion from my normal blog subject matter... But hey, it's Stephen Fry dammit, and much like a lot of music I write about on here and bands I interview, Stephen's language and work always fascinates me and seems to have a great resonance, I would argue somewhere in the same realm of music. *

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Manic Street Preachers live in Melbourne (2010): review

Venue/date: The Forum, 20/11/10

Among the Metallica shirt-wearing punters filling the streets this Saturday evening, occasional glimpses of glam-attired bodies appear, all en route to the Forum. Tonight it's Christmas for the freaks of Melbourne and their long-awaited gift awaits them at the iconic venue. Long before the our early pressie - the Manic Street Preachers - arrival, fans gather and buzz about all things Manics, including rumours about poor attendances in Adelaide and unresponsive audiences in Sydney. In a flash, there's a collective unspoken 'decision' in people's faces that the band won't receive that same reaction here tonight. Eleven years have passed since the Welsh former glam-punks have played in Australia. At the time they were promoting their fifth album This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, which still features heavily in their set, but fans of their edgier, earlier work were in for more of a blast than probably expected tonight.

The wait during support act Dead Actor's Club was unbearable for some and the Welsh flags began appearing, held aloft, early in the Melbourne band's set. Dead Actor's Club played a ripping electro-infused rock show, and definitely didn't outstay their welcome, but to my ears they can proudly claim the worst matched support to main combo I've seen. Think Regurgitator meets Short Stack, and your close. Following a lively intermission in which copious hardcore fans took the time to meet one another, each brimming with the same feeling as the next, we are suddenly joined by a huge portrait of Tim Roth filling the back drop. This image which announced itself recently as the cover of the Manics new album, Postcards From A Young Man receives a stars welcome.

From the pit, the noise is deafening as fans erupt to the sight of the Manics who are now in our midst; James Dean Bradfield looking robust and muscular as hell, Sean Moore's in his all black military regalia, and Nicky Wire's keeping the cartoon-glam flag flying with his collection of feather boa's extending even to his mic stand. The set kicks off with You Love Us, as every Manics' gig has since their debut, and rolls on blending the new with very old alternately. Regardless of age (of song or fan), the faithful here tonight know every single word and sing back to the band with fierce enthusiasm. The occasional shouts for fan favourites are ignored however, as they rip through a best of, of sorts which easily covers their entire catalogue of work. There are a few rarely played indulgences – This Is Yesterday, Australia, Motown Junk - but mostly it's the songs no Manics gig could do without – Motorcycle Emptiness, A Design For Life, If You Tolerate This... Muscling onto that list is sure to be this year's come-back single, It's Not War (Just The End Of Love), which although musically similar to Smashing Pumpkins' Tonight Tonight, already feels like classic Manics.

The show seems to gallop along at break-neck speed with each anthemic punk song following another, but James, who can barely be heard over his adoring fans, decides to show-off his awesome voice and sends his cohorts away for an acoustic interlude. Here's where the personal fanboy moment arrives, as James and I, strangely (for me), maintain eye contact for nearly all of Ocean Spray and sing it together. This gentle moment among the storm is over fast and before the second acoustic number, Everlasting, is finished James steps away from his mic and lets the packed Forum take it to the end for him. He seems genuinely thrilled by the response and, as Sean and Nicky return to the stage, our reward is the monstrous Faster. In his absence, Nicky's slipped into something more comfortable – a mini-skirt, paired with sailor's hat and jacket. He yells into his mic, "In Sydney, they thought I looked ridiculous... But what the fuck do they know about fashion!" Cheers all around, and Melbourne's Manics fans collectively shower Nicky with wolf-whistling approval.

It's rare to see the band's true firebrand – Nicky – disarmed, but lumps were in throats all around as he took a moment to describe the ongoing loss he feels for long-lost Manic, Richey Edwards. Wire and Edwards' shared a writing partnership within the band and bonded over their bodies failings – both were frequently ill – and so we all shouted extra hard for Nicky during No Surface, All Feeling, a dedication to his lost bro. It's a fact that the Manics never, ever do encores, so the momentum as they plough towards the finish, only spirals up and up. They beef up the stirring, usually mid-tempo Tsunami for the live set, before roaring through a vital-as-fuck Design For Life. Hands raise, stomping commences, and hysterical screams fill the air, but we all know it's in vain once the guys exit the stage with a final wave and a bow. Maybe Sydney and Adelaide didn't exactly pull out the red carpet for the Manics on this tour, but from where I stood, Melbourne had a fresh rug made, poured them a glass of bubbly and insisted they stay the night. If our unspoken mission to butter them up into coming back before another eleven years pass works, only time will tell.




Meeting Nicky Wire... (aaahh!!)

 all pics by myself and Fruitbat.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Krafty Kuts interview (2010)


Brighton based DJ Martin Reeves
(a.ka. Krafty Kuts) is shirking the rapidly approaching British winter in true style as he launches his biggest Australian and New Zealand tour ever. Bringing his celebrated DJ sets to no-less than sixteen towns and cities - with the ulterior motive of larking about in the sun – the Bass Phenomenon himself enthuses down the phone from his first stop over in Cairns on all things he loves - and a few he's petrified of - about Australia.

"I know not many DJs come up here, it's a shame really, because when you play these smaller towns people go right off where as in your big cities, they can kind of get used to you and go 'oh yeah, seen him' but when you get out of the capitals you get this whole other vibe because the fans don't get the same opportunities to see many acts." He adds, "I'm playing Byron Bay and Port Macquarie and I tell you, I can't believe how lucky I am to be performing in such beautiful places." His last stop-over in 2006, although a smaller affair, gave Krafty an eye-opening taste of our natural wonders; some of which he wasn't keen to rediscover.

"I saw an 18 foot crocodile up at Cape Tribulation when I was out on the river last time I was here, and it scared the absolute shit out of me, so I said to the guy who was driving the tinny, better turn it around mate, we're going the other way!" He laughs, "I've seen so many films where the guy in the tinny gets flipped out and you know as well as I do if that happens, it's bye-bye Bristol, thanks for coming." Krafty adds, "Anyway this thing was like a fucking dinosaur man, and even the driver was like yeah we better move on. Plus me being an English tourist, I'm sure those buggers know we're the easiest prey!" The fast-talking Reeves'  extended stay in Australia is a chance for him to play tourist as well as to packed dancefloors. He's motivated by a love of Australian fish, "the fucking freshest in the world, man" and a back-to-basics club tour for fans who want a more intimate experience.
"It's all about seeing what every place has to offer, rather than just doing a show and then flying out the next day." He confirms, "Up here I've had coral trout, visited the Great Barrier Reef, played a great gig – brilliant, loved it. I'm playing 16 gigs over the next six weeks and so I need that down time in between to recharge and catch up with some friends I've made here." The smaller venues he's favouring this time around, also offer Krafty a chance to run through his new sets. "I'm coming with a batch of fresh Krafty monsters, yeah." He smiles, "If I came out and played the same set I did a couple of years ago, I think people would go 'Ta-ta Tracey, love. It was nice then, but you haven't really moved forward at all have you,' I don't want a pat on the back for just turning up you know, I want to take it a step further than what I've done before." Krafty describes his own set reflects his audience now more than ever.

"You come to a Krafty show, you get the breaks, dubstep and electro-house but fresh, you know. I cover as many angles as I can, but Sydney's different to Melbourne, and Melbourne's different to Perth etc… so I don't have a playlist, I go in there and I read the crowd and vibe off them and they''l tell me where they want me to take 'em, you know." Reeves is obviously a fast learner. He's boned up on his Australian crowds and knows a thing or two about sending home a satisfied audience, no matter where you're from. "Perth are very wild, so you can't go in there and throw too much hype or they'll just burn out, you gotta stabilize it for that crowd. Sydney are a very well informed crowd - they know all your tunes and what you''e all about - and Melbourne are a really fun crowd to play to, you know. So you always gotta go with what your audience are into or it's not gonna work for either party."

Krafty's recent entrepreneurial move into the field of iPhone applications is cause for celebration – especially if you love your DJ clichés. The sampler application - designed more for fun than actual DJing – "The thing tends to go to sleep every few minutes!", revives those rave catch-cry's we all love, such as; "Make Some Noise!", "People In The House!" and "Ex-clusive!". Krafty jumps in, "A lot of DJ's use these sound samples still to this day, right and this application was just a way of making them more convenient." He explains, "Some DJs don't like to get on the mic and say that stuff, so now they can plug their iPhone's into the desk and have my application do the talking for them." Time comes for Krafty to head off into further, crocodile free, adventures on his Australia-wide residency. He's no doubt already making a note-to-self about whatever the next town's crowd are like, and adjusting his set accordingly, but are we ready, I wonder, for a 'localised' version of his iPhone application? "Oh yeah." He enthuses, "the next generation of the app. will have an Australian accent saying with some bloke going, "Sydney… How the fuck are ya!?".


Mary Gauthier interview (2010)


American singer/songwriter Mary Gauthier, was quite literally born to play the blues. She no sooner dropped into the world, than she was dropped off at the local orphanage beginning a life long search for her birth mother. Along the way she fell hard and frequently into trouble situations before finally realising her salvation lay in music. A late starter, Mary didn't pick up a guitar until the age of 35 and has only this year - at age 48 - released her definitive work; sixth album The Foundling. The search for her origins sparked the concept of the album that would bring Gauthier a worldwide, empathetic audience, and ultimately two Australian tours in less than a year.

Mary's challenging, personal songs coupled with a self-depreciative earthy sense of humour have earned her great affection from Australian audiences. She easily appeals to the country, blues and singer/songwriter crowds, yet it's a lesser represented sector of society that Mary's talking to on her current album; those given up for adoption at birth and who live with a sense of abandonment. As to why Mary has made 'the album she was born to make' at this stage in her life, she remarks, "I had to dig down deep to really find out why I am who I am. That is a big question as a human being to face, and as a songwriter I had to work through a lot of layers to get good enough to put that into a song. A young me couldn't have written his album, no way." A second Australian tour this year for the album is underway following a fanatical response locally. Mary discusses. "I've found Australian audiences are willing to listen to the words, and as a storyteller that's really all I have to offer. It's an old fashioned concept I know," she laughs, "but it's meant a lot to me that people from all over the world are willing to come along on the ride with me."

The Foundling builds on a tradition of strictly autobiographical works for Mary. She reasons. "I'm pretty sure most songwriters are autobiographical, and probably most autobiography is fiction." She claims, "There's an overlap in there, but we're pulling from all kinds of places when we write." Mary's goal wasn't to have a music career. She basically stumbled into it at the age of 35 following an arrest for drink driving – not her first brush with the law. Once the singer started to write, she realised her life had provided enough colourful situations to draw from and was it turned out, hardly lost for words. Tales of share-housing with a group of alcoholic drag-queens, detox programs and eloping with strippers all found their way into Mary's songbook. "Gee, I'm glad I did all that stuff – it's a good story isn't it?" She laughs, "If you wanna be a story teller, you gotta have some good material and I sure had enough of that." Gauthier is often good humoured in the face of her life's past trials, but time has never fully closed the wound she bears from not knowing why she was abandoned. The Foundling reveals her heart-break at discovering she was an unwanted child and, Mary believes, there are some things fundamental to quality of life.

"Well you gotta make sense of where you've come from to know where you're going otherwise you end up just going in circles." Having the strength of character to write so personally about her own life, Gauthier acknowledges her rough beginnings did have the unforseen benefit of building the tough cookie she is today. "If I shied away from talking about my own experience with abandonment, I think I would be a weaker individual." She reasons, "I'm the perfect ambassador to speak openly about these things because my experiences make me an authority on it." In her effort to capture the right mood for The Foundling, The Cowboy Junkies' Michael Timmins was Mary's only choice for producer, especially once she discovered in him a surprise parallel to her own story. 「I found out Michael had an intimate experience of adoption as he has two adopted children of his own which made him a perfect foil for my story." She smiles, "Plus they (Cowboy Junkies) are such a great band. I love that warm, sort of gothic country style they have going on and I always knew that's what I wanted The Foundling to sound like."

As a songwriter, Mary has been compared to the great Woody Guthrie for her natural gift of the craft, in spite of her relatively late start in music. The wisdom that comes with age however became her teacher. "I had to grow into being a songwriter, because I realised I had to be a certain type of person to be able to write songs." She explains, "Nobody starts out good - you start at the beginning and hope that you'll have what it takes to get up on a stage and perform a show." Mary concludes, "It took me a number of years to learn that you can be vulnerable and still have confidence. Yeah, I started relatively late in life but then again I have been playing for 15 years now and I feel this is exactly what I was always supposed to do with my life only I had to go the long way and get there in my own time."


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tim Burgess (The Charlatans) interview (2010)


Manchester chameleons, The Charlatans
new album, Who We Touch is sure to please any fan who's happily given up trying to predict what to expect from this band. Soul, shoegaze, low-rent glam albums followed one another – with only the certainty of their signature organ to cling to – and not so much as one clichéd "Madchester" record to their name. Now two decades old, the band present yet another new version of themselves on album number eleven, while by contrast, singer Tim Burgess is all age-less, grounded consistency - which may stem from. his frozen-in-time circa '89 haircut.

Burgess's child-like charm underpins our talk today, which begins with the topic of his band's second Australian visit in just over a year. "It took us 15 years to come and see you guys, so we felt we had some catching up to do." He offers. Recently, following his heart, Tim relocated to Los Angeles after marrying his American girlfriend, but I wonder, could his band be offered enough local support to prompt an increased US-based push? "Well we always feel like we have to kind of start again with each record, but we do have a loyal fanbase there, but we don't get national radio play or anything like that. We actually toured America first for this album, and the crowds are a modest size, yeah but I am pleased with how we've been received here for sure." His anonymity/lack of in LA becomes a talking point as Tim describes his apparent knack for attracting lookers. "If I was a weaker character, I think I'd be quite horribly paranoid by now," he quips, "I tend to get a lot of people in LA just staring at me, and I don't know if it's because they think they've seen me somewhere before or, my hair's a bit weird, but I've kind of gotten used to it now, which is quite funny in a way."

This year is the 20th anniversary since The Charlatans shoe-gazey debut album, Some Friendly, was released. Such a landmark can't go unheralded, so a don't-look-back style series of show was deemed the best way to celebrate, ahead of the rapidly developing new album. "We did a small tour playing our entire debut album at the start of this year to kind of celebrate our little foray into the music world, and ended up extending those dates because, surprisingly a lot of people actually wanted it," he laughs, "but then it was like, okay that's enough celebrating, let's get on with the next record." The Charlatans have not only outlasted many of their Manchester peers, but seem equally as productive now as they were in their younger days. The scene that delivered many big-talking but short lived sequined thugs, spat up Tim Burgess - the archetypal alternative rock star - who uncharacteristically never seemed in fear of the party's end. This was to be his band's greatest strength. He continues, "I feel as fresh now as I did the day we started, and people are surprised by this, but making music has kept me young." Tim adds, "There have been times in those 20 years when it wasn't so amazing, but I'm doing what I love so what else can compare, you know?"

Tim, it becomes apparent, is much more at ease discussing the new material than further revisiting his band's history. Sonically they are now of little resemblance to The Charlatans of 1990, but that's not to say Burgess has been totally washing his hands of the past. In fact, Who We Touch sees Tim going back to his childhood through an invitation extended to punk royalty - Penny Rimbaud of Crass – to contribute to the album. "I didn't know what he would do, or if it would work out, but in the end he gave us this amazing poem." The spoken word track, I Sing The Body Eclectic, evokes images of some blustering, hack dramatic actor in his mock death-throws while the band adds a convincing '70s prog-rock backing. It's as though they've suddenly morphed into King Crimson or Electric Light Orchestra, but it's impossible to tell if this is a piss-take or brilliantly executed prose. Tim, keeping quiet on that particular truth, recalls the seed of his and Rimbaud's long journey to a surprisingly fitting collaboration.

"I can remember clearly being 13 years old and there was quite a buzz about Crass coming to our town, but instead of just doing the major pubs they turned up and played in our local scout hall to a bunch of kids", he exclaims, "I was there with my sort of post-scouts thing they called Adventurers, jumping around at my first ever gig which just happened to be Crass." As he shares his memory, the 13 year old Tim Burgess momentarily re-appears. He continues, excitably. "When I met Penny again late last year, I told him about this gig I'd seen them play and he remembered it because he said it was the coolest concert they'd done on that tour. The night after it, he'd played in a pub to these like, jaded punks, but he remembered us kids because we were just going mental and doing the can-can, totally uninhibited as we were."

Tim's own inner punk has never been fully realised on a Charlatans record, but in 2008 he sent a clear message to record labels in true rebel spirit. You Cross My Path, the bands tenth album, was given away free through a London radio station in a UK first. Tim discusses. "It was a bit of an anarchistic statement by us, I mean we knew before it was even finished it would be available for free, so that ended up shaping the style of music quite a bit. I wanted it to be a kind of northern, post-modern punk record, and so the decision to give it away kind of tied into the whole punk sentiment." While You Cross My Path allowed The Charlatans to further challenge themselves musically, Who We Touch, demonstrates a sizeable shift in Burgess's singing. The tracks My Foolish Pride and Intimacy will sound foreign to even long-term fans. Tim's rare in that he's a still developing flexibility as a vocalist, 20 years on. He responds. "Well on our album Wonderland, I decided to sing everything in falsetto because musically it was quite macho and bass-y, but on this album I wanted to add a kind of David Bowie crooning vibe to it." Tim adds, "So basically whenever I alter my singing on our records, it's usually just down to how either macho or how feminine I feel the music sounds."


Josh Garden (Grafton Primary) interview (2010)

When independent dance group, Grafton Primary can claim European festivals and Columbian rave parties as 'all in a days work', you know they must be onto something special indeed. Such is life for Sydney brothers, Ben and Josh Garden, since their debut album Eon excelled their highest expectations for global acceptance. Back home, they didn't fair badly either in finding a receptive audience for their formula of science-meets-electro anthems. As their much anticipated sophomore album takes shape and they prepare to launch a brand new single, The Eagle, Elder brother and singer Josh fresh off the plane from South America, sees his band's international acclaim as being down to their difference from what's already on offer.

"Anyone who asks you to do shows overseas, you do it because it's such a different dynamic playing to those audiences." He assures me, "To them, we're obviously an international act and that means you get treated a lot differently… with more respect I guess because in a way we're exotic to them. Fans tend to be more open minded because they don't get the chance to see you every other weekend, so it's a whole other experience than playing in Australia."

Grafton Primary's debut album, Eon was for Josh a realisation his interests as a song-writer were outside of the genre's typically throw-away lyrics. It's something he still finds difficult to compromising on. "I'm constantly at war with myself because – on one level you hear this inane dance music that doesn't really say very much - however the track sounds amazing and works well. That sometimes makes me want to switch of the part of myself that tries to inject some intellect or depth into our music. I would love to just make party songs, but I can't seem to do that. I see it as a failing of mine that I over analyse when I write." He concedes, "The unifying factor should in some ways be just the music itself, but I still can't help getting caught up in writing about things like, where we fit into the cosmos and what are the universal elements to the human experience. I probably just wouldn't be satisfied making party bangers, is the short answer." Despite this, given the chance to make a four-on-the-floor rave record outside of Grafton', Josh is certain he could wing it.

"It'd have to be on a crappy 12 track, with air-raid sirens, and a robot voice going 'DESTROY!', I can imagine exactly what it would sound like, but I haven't got the time to put the effort into making it. That along with my as yet un-named hip hop project will have to wait until I have more time." He laughs, "I might do Grafton' until I'm 40, and then I'll launch my hip hop career, though at that age it would have to be the dopest hip hop record ever or otherwise people would just think it was a joke!" The free-time he seems in need of looks to be slipping away. Josh, recently married, is now the proud dad of a six-month-old girl named River, and when asked how his life has changed following Eon's success, River's addition to his world is naturally the first response. But Josh felt his band's future was also secured that little bit more.

"It has meant that we can stay independent and keep producing our own work, and although it wasn't a platinum album, it did have a long life in that it steadily sold well and allowed us to feel secure about keeping the band going." The next step in Grafton Primary's future certainty is the latest release, The Eagle from their as-yet un-named second album. Josh describes, "I think you could compare it (The Eagle) to one of our earlier songs, Relativity, which had these big rocking verses but quite a paired back chorus." He offers. "We wrote the songs for the next album in clumps, and The Eagle is one of a bunch of songs that have that synth-riffing style - which we'd also used a bit on Eon - but we have developed a harder edge since then I think. The other type of Grafton Primary song is the more expansive, slower sound and I think we've got a better mix of the two on this next record." The half completed follow-up to Eon, Josh claims, avoids retreading too much familiar ground.

"I would say we have a bit less diversity on this album, and made something a little more focused. I liked all of the songs on Eon, but if I would make one criticism, it's that there are too many styles on there. It was our first album, so it was kind of fun to make it really diverse because always knew we would have room to grow, but we thought it'd be more a challenge to make something with an overarching emotion to it this time." As a live band, Grafton Primary added only a drummer to flesh the songs out, but since their last visit to Melbourne, a third, full time member has entered the fold, while an old one bowed out.

"We have for the first time recorded in the studio with our new live drummer, Jarrod." Josh confirms, "On all our previous recordings Ben and I used only programmed drums, but Jarrod's been going into the studio with Ben quite a lot recently and hitting things." He smiles. "It's great because Ben and I saw ourselves as a duo really, and our old drummer Robbie only ever played live shows with us, and as much as we totally loved working with Robbie, he didn't really have a personal investment in the band, were as Jarrod is more like a full-time third member now." Before heading back into the studio to tweak what promises to be a fierce new album, I ask Josh to share a music-hero-meeting story. He's knotched up enough overseas festival appearances alongside dance music's mega-stars, but most impressed was Garden by a certain silly hat-wearing funkster.

"I'm a huge Jamiroquai fan, and I got to see them play at this festival in Bogatar, anyway, I later saw Jay Kay at the airport." Josh gushes, "While the other guys were doing their duty free shopping, I remember he was just standing there in this blue velvet hat, so I caught his eye and gave him a smile and tipped like an invisible hat to him, and he reciprocated with a wink and tipped his real hat back at me." He exclaims, "We didn't say anything to each other, but to me it was a perfect moment. It was exactly how I dreamt my meeting with him would go."


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ricky Maymi (Brian Jonestown Massacre) interview (2010)

In theory, the two vastly different worlds of Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Church coming together sounds like a cross-species union, doomed to produce some pretty twisted offspring. However at the centre of those two bands, are kindred artists – Steve Kilbey, The Church's enigmatic front-man and Brian Jonestown Massacre's free spirited guitarist cum-multi-instrumentalist, Ricky Maymi, who had long admired each other from across the room. Now following many years of cris-crossing, their paths inevitably have lead to a musical pairing.

San Francisco-born Maymi is now a full-term Australian citizen, and has wasted no time in familiarising himself with quite a few of our greatest bands and artists. Ahead of a debut recording and his second live stint with Kilbey - which ran out of excuses to call itself a solo tour long ago – Maymi explains his and Steve's odd "working titles" for the tour, and debut album. "Well we're touring as The Holy Duo, but that tag was kind of bestowed upon us, in a way. Mr Richard Lane from The Stems actually booked our first shows out here in Perth and it was something he just casually put on the poster – 'The Holy Duo: Featuring Steve Kilbey & Ricky Maymi' and it's kinda stuck now."

The fruits of your first recording with Steve are completed and due out next year, what can you tell me about this work? "Not very much, except that it's being released under the name 'David Neil' It's all a bit mysterious isn't it… It's like David Bowie meets Neil Young, right?"

Why did you decide to call Australia home, and more to the point, why Perth? "Well I've got all sorts of things going on over here; I got a little boy and my missus, as well as colleagues and collaborators. Perth wasn't my first choice, but my wife is from round here and we have a baby plus I do a lot of traveling around the stupid fucking world all year long, so it's nice to for her to have family close by while off being an idiot rock star with all my mates."

You've played in The Wild Swans, The Black Ryder, Glenn "Underground Lovers" Bennie's band GB3, and The Church as well as Brian Jonestown Massacre. How did you end up in so many groups? "Quite simply, I have a hard time saying no to anybody. That's all! If I don't really wanna do something I'll just avoid being in a position where I might be asked."

What have you 'been in a position' to say no to? "Well, I'm not getting too specific, but at the same time, I will say some of the best collaborations have come right out of left-field. You never know what someone's really like until you make music with them, in many cases. So people are welcome to ask away."

Your friendship with Steve Kilbey is much older than the musical union. (Steve and Ricky have been playing together on and off for around 3 years) Did you find you could no longer resist Steve's charms? "Kind of how it started was, I performed as a member of The Church when they toured with the Divinyls just before those Triffids tribute gigs happened in late 2007, and the following year, Steve and I were actually playing together in the Triffids. I have a knack for being in the right place at the right time, it seems. Working with on Steve's solo record was actually more a kind of serendipitous action, or extension of our friendship."

Brian Jonestown Massacre seems so far removed from these 'classic Aussie bands', where did your interest in Australian music come from? "I've been a lover of Australian pop bands for a long time, particularly from that golden era of music known as the '80s. There was some fertile talent coming across the water from Australia and some of us in America were paying attention."

Steve Kilbey
Can you tell me about the first time you encountered Steve and his music? "I was probably 13 years old and Echo & The Bunnymen were rollin' through San Francisco with The Church as the support act, that was the first time I became aware of them. Then a few years later Steve did one of his solo shows – a very rare thing to see in America – I was still too young to get into the gig, so I got to the venue early and hid in a broom closet. I ended up meeting Steve and the closet door swung open on what would eventually be an ongoing friendship. Every couple of years, they'd come back to America, and I was still just a fan, but I was strangely drawn to them as individuals and they are kind of the reason I found myself in Australia. One of my old bands, Mellow Drunk, supported The Church in San Francisco and when Brian Jonestown Massacre took off and we were booked to play in Australia, Steve was like, 'come and hang out, I'll show guys you around…' so since then it's been pretty consistent.

Did Steve see a 'kindred band' in BJM? "Oh definitely, I mean him an Anton (Newcombe) had this long two-and-a-half hour interview with each other for Anton's new internet TV show. I think there's big mutual respect there with those two."

Comparatively speaking, what's the main difference in doing Brian Jonestown Massacre to doing The Holy Duo? "It's pretty similar in a lot of ways to be honest, they're (Steve and Anton) are both very talented driven people with a clear idea of what they want to do. Also they both seem to have an inherent trust in my ability to be able to appreciate where they're coming from. I guess they feel I'm a good ally to have around."

Your musical contribution to The Holy Duo, has a lot more room to breathe than in Brian Jonestown Massacre's psychedelic wash of noise. Did that hold a great appeal to you as a guitarist? "In the studio making the "David Neil" record yes, I think there was a more even ground, but at the same time I felt a sense of duty to Steve to render the songs faithfully, so my playing on this record is just fleshing out his ideas really."

Will you be using a full band in the live shows, or is a more stripped back affair planned? "It's going to be very organic, but we will have a four piece band which will including bassist Adrian Hoffman who has band called The Morning Night, who's record I just produced and, funnily enough, his father Shaun Hoffman will be our drummer. Adrian was never a bass player before joining Steve and I, he was a singer/songwriter, so it was nice to have a kind of fresh perspective instead of some guy who'd been hanging around playing bass in bands for years."

You're also a bit of multi-instrumentalist, I hear.  "I've been called that yeah. I'll play anything, drums, guitar, bass, kazoo, the spoons, it's never quiet around my place let me tell you. It's fun though, I never, ever get bored. That's why I play in so many bands, I get a kick out of amassing information that comes from these experiences. I'm learning, self educating and imparting a bit of knowledge along the way."