Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Paradise Motel: Australian Ghost Story (album review)

The theme of Australian-specific subject matter has been a constant in Paradise Motel's music and for that alone they qualify as a rarity. To my ears they are suitable carriers of the torch left once The Triffids expired as a band, especially on this new album - their first in eleven years. In the case of Australian Ghost Story, that torch highlights the dark tale of baby Azaria's mysterious death at the start of the '80s, and the subsequent trial by media - the first of its kind in this country - of the one-time accused woman at the centre of the story, Lindy Chamberlain. 
The story of Azaria Chamberlain's death has been told and re-told to the point of fictionalising and wild assumption; perfect fodder for a songwriter, which in The Paradise Motel's case has been generously applied. The band have lyrically always offered fragments of often menacing stories and scenarios of nameless characters, but with their new album set for release on the 30th anniversary of the Azaria's death, the subject of the stories has a name and the scenarios are documented. Really though, menacing is hardly broad enough a term for what is on offer here. Each track's narration jumps from reflection to mythologising to accusation incorporating the viewpoints of all the stories mainplayers, including the unique environment of the Red Centre. On opening track The Witnesses, it isn't apparent who the narrator, vocalist Merida Sussex, is voicing until the line 'my wife tracked the footsteps/we found her guilty' and the listener is suddenly reminded of Lindy's tragedy at having her husband turn on her during the trial. The song quietly berates the witness testimony's given credence at the time, yet avoids dwelling in heroes and villains territory as might be expected.

Chamberlain's trial is touched on during a couple of the songs, but it's the descriptions of the landscape and its role in the Chamberlian case, and when Merida gives a voice to Lindy that really draw you in. A Bend In The Terror for example sees the mother telling her deceased daughter 'now she is free', all the while reassuring herself and questioning her memory of the events, maybe even imbibing them so as not to forget the short time in which Azaria was alive. The imagined letter from Lindy to Azaria, Stations Of The Cross is kind of half spiritual babbling mixed with intruding cold reality, making for an engrossing finale to the band's rendering of this story. Musically Paradise Motel are swimming in familiar waters, they go between bare accompaniment and sweeping orchestral numbers, all while Merida's voice remains a central steady pace and pitch. Perhaps because of the subject matter, the band have gone for a more soundtrack-ish approach to the music. The string laden tunes are memorable but not distracting from the tales being told in the detached way in which Sussex sings.

The mood with which the band tells this now legendary story is at odds with such familiar things as the tragic-comical news footage often wheeled out showing Chamberlain's famous dingo remark. They instead choose to highlight things such as Lindy's deeply religious beliefs at the time of Azaria's death and the betrayal she felt by her husband and country. The Paradise Motel have written a concept album devoid of obvious romanticising about actual events, instead they present an impressionist, cloudy observation as would happen with a familiar story after many years of being retold.
I for one am overjoyed that The Paradise Motel have decided to record again after such a long break, and to tackle this particular subject makes their return all the more delicious. At a time in Australia when junk media trialing saturates prime-time TV, it's all the more important that this story and it's consequences for one Australian family are remembered. The legacy of Azaria Chamberlain's death has been a plethora of artistic statements; from the Meryl Streep film (Evil Angels), to countless paintings, and that bizarre opera to name a few. Australian Ghost Story is a fine continuation of that tradition and a very welcome return of The Paradise Motel.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Karl Hyde (Underworld) interview (2010)

Karl Hyde is positively beaming today. His new album with Underworld cohort Rick Smith is rapidly taking shape; news of a headline slot in Australia at the We Love Sounds festival has him singing praises, and he's in celebration mode for  his newly found sobriety. Life for the Romford (UK) artist is a much simpler all-round affair today, thanks to several well defined turns he's taken over the years. Starting our talk at his first major shift in gears, the death of Underworld – 'the power-rock years' - Karl, in spite of chart action in the form of Underneath The Radar, was far from comfortable with his band's early success.

"Underworld 'MK 1' felt like being trapped and floundering and just searching for what it was that we were about to be honest." Hyde begins. "Rick (Smith) really bought us back to our roots after that first phase. I mean we always loved Kraftwerk and we loved dub reggae and anything with a strong bass structure, but the penny never really dropped until the end of the '80s when acid house came along." He continues; "I remember we were on an Australian tour and for the very first time we started to infuse this acid house sound into our guitar based music. It was something of a revelation for us because up to that point, I felt like there was something really wrong with this band but as soon as we started making dance music, it was like we were finally being honest with ourselves."
The truth of Underworld's false start, Karl decides was down to a desire to be accepted; "We were kind of driven to be a part of the broader scene happening in Britain at the time, but I can look back now and know why I didn't feel at all happy with what we were doing. We were listening to the music we loved while playing something completely different and really, we should have been getting to the core of what we were passionate about." It was outside of regular band duties, that Karl and Rick maintained a hobby that would ultimately build the foundation for their future sound; "Whenever Rick and I were out of contract or on the dole, we would make this dub-electronic dance music." He pauses, "It was really peculiar because we never thought to release it as Underworld, yet at the same time we were sitting on these recordings, the music happening in clubs – which was a lot like what we were making – was becoming huge. It's weird to think it, but we actually didn't know much about the club scene at all, so the last ten years has been spent learning what we missed the previous ten years!"

Hyde's lack of grounding in the UK's dance movement has seen him develop outside the standard house influences. As a youth, Karl even harbored a somewhat reinforced distrust of club music; "When we were growing up, the rock kids all thought that dance music was disposable rubbish. Basically the lowest form of music." He claims, "But what we've discovered since then through making it is, it's an intensely creative process absolutely full of challenges. Plus the reaction we get to this music makes it so worthwhile." Karl explains, "The rock culture's quite violent really, I mean people used to beat the crap out of each other at concerts and so moving in to the dance music scene was very appealing to me because the people were so much friendlier." He laughs, "You know, everyone dresses up and there's these fantastic light shows and in a way it's this kind of throw back to the 1960s hippy culture, but it's also a reaction I think to the overly aggressive rock and punk scenes that came before. These days you can see how much the dance scene has infiltrated rock shows with things like The Flaming Lips, whose concerts really embrace that spirit of the rave scene."

Karl as a songwriter has forged an unmistakable style of his own. His usual shout-speak delivery comes across as half rant, half poetry and offers very few legible phrases to pick from. Examining his written work, it's reasonable to think he is just hanging words together that fit with the mood of each track. Yet as to be expected, there's a method to the apparent randomness and, as if triggered by the subject, Karl is not short on words when explaining his outpourings. "People talk about what I write as being like a kind of 'stream of consciousness', but that always makes me think of somebody sat in a dark room, feverishly writing whatever comes into their head, and it's not like that at all for me." Karl explains, excitedly, "I write down literally everything I see, not what I'm thinking. I can be sat in a café or a park and I'll just note down everything no matter how insignificant, in as much detail as I can." Usually, Karl's lyrics would make their way into his songs through a trial and error process until they develop a significance of their own. However, he adds there is still room for the occasional freestyle; "I recently did some shows with Brian Eno, which were all fully improvised performances, and for that I took a load of my note books on stage and just started picking bits out and reading them no matter what it was."
Hyde, in his songs, often sounds as if he's urgently relaying information from various sources; of either all or no importance leaving it up to the listener to decode. Karl describes; "Often what will happen is the most significant or most personal lyric to me will sound the cheesiest, which is a peculiar thing really. Sometimes when you try too hard to be honest in your writing, people think it's a bit too much and switch off to it. I mean a song like Born Slippy went over people's heads in a way, because to be completely honest I was asking for help." He reveals, continuing; "I was through with being unhappy and getting wasted to hide how unhappy I was, so I let it all out in that song. Unfortunately it became something of a drinking anthem, but in reality I was horribly depressed about my own drinking and having difficulty seeing a way out."

It's clear that Underworld have developed from the experimental acid house band of the early '90s into a vital form of expression for Karl. Whereas the rock kids of his youth saw dance music as disposable, it was Underworld MK 1 - 'the rock band' that was irreverent for Hyde. Even in the most anthemic of Underworld's club tracks, you'll usually find a voice, busy building a huge scale scenario up from minute detail with dream-like inconsistency. "I can't write in a traditional way though, I've tried to but it just never works." Karl shrugs, "I listen to Lou Reed, and he sings in conversational American. I think he just writes down what he hears people say and builds a song out of it. It's brilliant." He beams, "I'm also really inspired by Sam Shepard - a great play write who did The Motel Chronicles. I could never write as good as him but, I see the world in these tiny fragments which is exactly how he writes. I mean he'll describe the corner of a room or the wheel on a car and it's completely fascinating. He finds beauty in these things and is able to capture it so well in his writing."

One of Karl's objectives in Underworld has been to constantly re-interpret how he and Smith perform the songs live. The duo often records their concerts as a way of guiding them to not repeat themselves and make each show different from the previous; He discusses, "Aside from doing music, I'm  also a painter and as soon as I finish an artwork it kind of looks at me and goes, well then what next?" He grins, "It's exactly the same when putting the shows together, in that the music is never fully stationary. It's already done as a recorded piece of music, so when we play it live, each time it can become something new." He adds, "Whenever we play, I've already done the show over and over in my mind so that way, when it comes to the actual event, I feel I can be open to exploring ways of deconstructing everything and rebuilding it as its happening."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tracey Thorn (Everything But The Girl) interview: 2010


Tracey Thorn recently married her life partner Ben Watt after many years as lovers, parents and the musical duo Everything But The Girl. It's a symbolic move however, as their careers as solo artists have taken them in totally different directions since Everything But The Girl's hiatus in 2002. While Watt - who discovered drum'n'bass in the mid-'90s, continues to tour as a DJ - Thorn has returned to her singer/songwriter beginnings. Yet she has smartly avoided the trap of comfortable familiarity on her new album Love and Its Opposite, approaching it instead with the wisdom and wit of a woman who's been making music her entire adult life. The singer's experience however, didn't make her over-confident when re-emerging as a solo artist on 2007's Out Of The Woods.

"I felt a bit of trepidation to be honest, because I hadn't done anything in music for a few years at that stage and I wasn't completely sure what the outcome would be." Thorn begins from her London home. "Thankfully there were still enough people interested to make it worth my while doing." It's hard to gage exactly where interest in Thorn and her music began. There are artists who claim Marine Girls' (Tracey's first band) as heavily influential; and while it was acoustic period EBTG that drew a considerable following, many die-hard fans baulked at 'Techno-Tracey' on the later, more successful club albums. "At least nobody could accuse me of repeating myself." She shrugs. A constant focus for many fans however is not the vehicle for the songs, but the identifiable situations within. Thorn could always articulate the bit that comes in between the giving of red roses and the slamming of doors, where only the best songwriters dare to tread. Tracey's forte is the day to day happenings of an individual, a significant other and the thoughts many would deem less impressive to build a song around than say, a good break-up story. "I'm usually a very biographical writer, but that doesn't mean the songs are all about me." Tracey explains, "Certainly I take stories from people around me or from things I've read that have an impact on me somehow. At the end of the day, I'm writing stories that are true in the sense that they say something true even if it isn't directly linked to myself. I think that helps make my songs at least relatable." One of the new tracks, Singles Bar - a first person account of a mature woman out on the prowl - stands out in the wake of Tracey's recent marriage. I wonder could it be seen as an aural 'last fling' for the songwriter?

"Well some of the details in that (song) are taken directly from friends' experiences." She offers. "Women who have found themselves in the position of being single again at a time in their life they didn't expect to be. It's harder for them to be out there dating again now they're older and I wanted to acknowledge them. On the other hand," Thorn adds with a twist "It's also a bit of a fantasy. It could be that the woman isn't single and she takes off her ring as she enters the bar. The fantasy of being single again after many years in a relationship is something I think a lot of people have." It seems a safe bet that living and working together with her husband Ben as one of music's most enduring couples - such a fantasy is relevant to the author also; "Living together for so long, Ben and I both know when each other has our songwriter's hat on." Tracey asserts, "There's a line between your actual life and your work and we have enough respect for each other to not be self conscious about what we say in our songs. We give each other's work room to exist outside of what we do together and that's really important."

The last album Watt and Thorn made as Everything But The Girl was 1999's Temperamental. After seventeen years making music together, they mutually agreed early this decade to give the band a break. Tracey eventually began seeking out new partnerships for making music so as to avoid a possible 'EBTG Mk 2' situation. On Love and Its Opposite, Thorn has worked with artists from the dance and rock fields, adding a wider breadth of influences. "There are many ways you can make a record and people often slip into patterns of behaviour I think," she confirms, "But if you step back from that and make a few different choices then you don't quite know what you're going to get and I think that's an interesting state of mind to be in when you start work on something new." One of the stand-out collaborations (on a cover of Lee Hazlewood's Come On Home To Me) is with Swedish troubadour Jens Lekman. I wonder wouldn't his often dry-humoured ballads and spontaneously observed prose be at odds with Tracey - a self-confessed over planner? "It's funny you should say that, because the stuff we've done together came about really spontaneously actually", She laughs, "I met up with him in London a couple of years ago and we got on really well so we decided to try working together. The first thing we did was a cover of a Magnetic Fields song for a compilation, and the recording was just done in one take in his hotel room in London." Tracey exclaims, "We just sang it into his laptop! It was about as spontaneous as it could be." She adds "He's got a very relaxed spirit about music which is just brilliant."

Also appearing on the album are Al Doyle from Hot Chip, Leo Taylor from The Invisibles and members of Lost Valentinos. Yet despite the guest list, Tracey and producer Ewan Pearson have avoided over indulging any collaborators. In fact, Pearson's stark production, following on from his recent work with Delphic and Goldfrapp, is itself an indulgence avoided. Tracey discusses, "That really appealed to me actually, taking a producer and getting them to do the very thing they're not used to doing. Ewan loved the idea too because he was keen to show people that he can do more than just dance music." The partnership developed naturally after the realisation that both artists, Tracey explains, could help each other move in a new direction; "Ewan worked with me on some tracks for the last album (Out Of The Woods) and although I had several different producers work on those tracks, he ended up mixing the record and pulling it all together. In that time we'd gotten to know each other well and I had come to really trust his judgment. At the start of making this album, I ended up going to Berlin were his studio is, and we just did some basic acoustic demos but at that point we both just looked at each other and thought, well this could be really interesting if we actually make a whole album together, but not an electronic dance record. So for both of us it was a step sideways, but it was good I think to get out of our comfort zones a little bit."

On the subject of collaborations, Tracey has publicly hinted at a desire to sing on a Pet Shop Boys track, but has refrained from asking the guys directly. "I have met them a couple of times and I'm sure they know I'm a huge fan." She laughs, "I mean Neil (Tennant)'s done some amazing collaborations over the years and written many songs for women to sing, and I'd be very happy to be added to that list of singers." Tracey's love of the 'Pets' extends to feeling of kinship, she explains; "I have always thought that they, along with us, were kind of outsiders in the UK music scene, which was so steeped in the rock tradition. The Pet Shop Boys seemed to get their influences from a different place than many of their contemporaries, like with writing songs for Dusty Springfield - who I admired so much - and writing these kitchen sink dramas with quite simple, but beautiful melodies. So I did feel a kind of kinship with them even though they were making these very slickly produced disco songs. But then, that's just a detail really."

Living in a three child house-hold, I wonder in closing what Thorn's greatest critics - her children - make of what their parents do for a living? "To be honest they're not that interested really." She laughs, "They're at that age where they only want to listen to what their friends are into, but I think they see it as a little bit interesting that I make music and their dad does too, but really we're their parents and so we're just old and don't know anything." Tracey jokes, "I'm sure as they get older they might take an interest and be able to understand the music a bit better, but it's fair to say the music I'm making now, no 12 year olds are going to get into. I mean every so often one will come in and go 'oh that's nice mum' but you know, the simple fact is I'm just not poppy enough!"


Monday, May 3, 2010

Ian Astbury (The Cult) interview (2010)


Sitting down to talk to Ian Astbury it's impossible to ignore the staggering sense of history in The Cult singer's words as he unfolds the story behind one of '80s most enigmatic records,
Love. The Liverpool based band's second album resonated with a mix of psychedelic and melodic power rock influences boasting a sound completely out of step with the then musical climate in the UK. 25 years later, Love is now recognised as The Cult's greatest work and so through demand alone, it was decided they would tour the set 'Don't Look Back' style. I start our talk by prompting Ian to take me back to 1985, and the circumstances surrounding his bands' most defining work.

"There was a lot going on at that time and because we made it, it's hard to have any real perspective in a way." He explains, "We didn't analyse it or check the process, but I do remember it being very intense and that we were just so engaged in it." Ian's voice becomes stern as he continues, "We were in the studio all of the time, you know, rather than just going in every other day. We weren't distracted at all from what we were doing, no one was on the phone or just hanging out, we were working very long hours with no breaks at all and experimenting with so many ideas." Astbury ads thoughtfully, "I think that's why that record has a constant unity all the way through, it was probably the most honest album we did, in that we had no career at that time. We were young and making music because we wanted to and everything was still so fresh."

Astbury unlike a lot of his punk peers was always practicing to become a better musician. His group – formerly known as Southern Death Cult – sat very awkwardly next to the bands usually recalled as defining England's post-punk sound. Californian psyche-rock influences – shockingly unfashionable in the UK at the time - were all over their album, yet its success was undeniable. Ian states; "Love definitely took on a life of its own, and we kind of become subject to its whims the more attention it gained. Let's put it in perspective though, I'm lucky to have had success at all, I mean a lot of people I grew up with who were also in bands are either dead now or just gone, they gave up and walked away."

The press at the time of Love's release weren't friendly, while some hardcore music fans took outright offense and, matters into their own hands; "I admit that what we were doing was fairly controversial at the time. It was controversial to be punk rockers and still love Led Zeppelin and to call an album Love in the aggressive post punk era was seen as potential suicide. These things drew a lot of heat from the media but worse still, I remember going out when She Sells Sanctuary got in the charts and some kid come up and punched me right in the face at a concert. There was so much hatred in his eyes, and all that was because we came from the streets in Brixton, we came from punk rock and I think this guy saw us as breaking the code by not pretending we couldn't play our instruments or for having success."

Ian claims his assailant helped him realise he was maybe on the right track with The Cult after all; "It was a wild time and everyone was very emotionally loaded and to cop a punch in the face for what I was doing in some ways was a great compliment, it at least was honest and it at least caused a reaction that is what good art does doesn't it?" Today Ian lives in New York and frequently tours with the remaining members of The Doors as Jim Morrison's 'replacement'. Perhaps he's living in the past a little, but it doesn't stop Astbury from having some strong opinions on what's touted as great contemporary music. So who deserves a punch, I venture; "I'm disgusted by Dave Grohl" He barks, "I mean it's just boring fucking jock rock. Guys like him were the ones that got into fights with the punks at school and were just plain thick." Ian ads, "What do you call them in Australia… bogans?"

It's clear that Astbury's fire is far from quenched as he begins explaining how playing live now the album that launched The Cult 25 years ago makes perfect sense; "I'm technically better, there's more weight to my character and I've had more life experience." He continues, "The good thing about the songs on Love is that they deal with things that are no less relevant now than they were then; life, death, sex, materialism, spiritualism; all the human experiences." He ads, "Because of dealing with a lot of personal issues myself over the years and watching my family growing and dealing with their own issues, I feel like now I'm more capable of fully understanding the weight of songs I wrote 25 years ago."

On a more practical side, Astbury is chuffed to be able to present the set live in a way, not possible at the time of its release; "The best thing is the sound systems we're working with now-a-days are vastly improved, so the songs will obviously be a lot better sounding. Also on the visual side of things, our backdrop screen isn't bad either. We've basically took a load of films and influential imagery, just things we've been into over the last 25 years, and made a huge collage; some of which is specific to the actual songs." He then ads, laughing, "Plus we've all put on a couple of pounds, so everyone can come and check out how fat we've become."

I find it impossible to not prompt Ian to reminisce on the song that earned him that fat lip – She Sells Sanctuary. Of this powerful beast of a song, he reveals; "Sanctuary came together very easily in fact, I took the bass line from a song called Spiritwalker, which was one left over from our Southern Death Cult days. Billy (Duffy) came up with the melody, and we worked out a vaguely psychedelic guitar sound which seemed to fit it well - we were heavily into '60s psychedelic music like The Doors, Hendrix and early Zeppelin – Also the producer, Steve Brown, had had a lot of pop success, so he really knew how to structure a song." Ian sighs and adds "It's funny, you write a song like that were everything comes together far beyond what you could've expected and then you spend the rest of your life trying to write another one as good."

Without a pause, Ian responds when I ask why is now the time to revisit Love and why he thinks it is still so widely championed; "Because of its earnestness, its honesty and depth." He ads, "It's the album that made us, so why not claim our rightful place in the legacy of alternative rock music." Once the tour for Love concludes, I can't help wondering if the album that launched The Cult will also to be the one that ends it. Ian is a keen film maker and producer these days and works more with The Doors than his own band. He explains. "We'll take this show to Australia, Eastern Europe and Japan but after that, we're done with it. I mean there might be enough demand for us to bring it back in a few years time, but I'm not thinking about that now because we're actually recording some new Cult material right now. We're moving forward at the same time as looking back I suppose." He says laughing, "We've got four new songs done and when an album's ready it's going to be coming out in a format called capsule." There's silence on the phone as I'm taken aback by Ian's statement. He waits a few beats before adding. "Do you know what I mean by capsule?" All I can offer in response is the time variety. "No it means it'll encapsulate relevant multi-format articles. It will have music, a film, an object such as a book or a T-shirt and you'll be able to buy it electronically or tangibly, USB, vinyl, CD, DVD, cassette anything." I'm not sure if Ian's joking, but his ambition to expand his next album's release to include cassette has me grinning like a fool. I think of The Cult's early fanbase who remember with excitement Love's original release, making room on their dusty cassette shelves for the next chapter in this unique band's catalogue.


DJ James Zabiela interview (2010)

Aside from astounding break-beat sets and lightning fast turntable skills, English DJ James Zabiela has all the big wigs asking what’s hot and what’s not in scratch technology. When he’s not crash-testing pre-sale Pioneer Electronics professional DJ gear he’s releasing killer mix CDs. His latest set Life, is already being touted as THE one to beat this year. Yet James’ humble manner defies his standing as a true craftsman at the decks. On the eve of his latest Australian tour, Southampton born Zabiela begins our talk by reflecting on a gradual rise in his local popularity.

“I’ve been to Melbourne probably six times now, but my profile was quite a bit smaller in the early days so it’s been interesting watching more and more people coming along each time I visit.” The tour is in support of James’ new double mix CD Life which will be given away free to all who attend his club appearances. The album was mixed completely live in one session and covers a wide selection of genres but, he explains, isn’t a true indicator of what his shows are like; “No because a lot of the stuff on there is mainly music I listen to at home or on my ipod while I’m traveling. Some of the more clubby stuff has made it into my set, but basically the intention of the CD is to give something to people to take home to say thanks for coming to my party really. The other intention of giving it out was to get my music heard by as many people as possible. I don’t treat my DJ set the same as I do making a mix CD, because I’m listening to music all the time and only a certain percentage of what I play in clubs represents what I’m into. The mix CD has music on it I would listen to early in the morning, as well as more dancey stuff so I tried to keep it very broad as opposed to just a typical DJ set.” 

The UK has produced a staggering amount of globally recognised dance artists and DJs. The impression of a great community of like-minded artists working together is given. Zabiela on the subject states; “In South Hampton, where I’m from, as well as Portsmouth and Brighton and a lot of places along the south coast, you find there’s a lot of people who’ll get into the studio together and exchange remixes and work on stuff together, but it’s mainly in pockets here and there.” Far from being a superstar DJ, James prefers the nuts and bolts side of his craft over the posturing. He continues; “I’ve lived here in South Hampton all my life and my family are all here as well, and really it’s not the most exciting place in the world, but it keeps me grounded. I mean a lot of people move up to London to get known but I think it just changes you. It’s a scary place for me, I’d rather just come home and sit and play X-Box.” He laughs. 

Although he now uses several different media formats when DJing, Zabiela once claimed he would never move away from vinyl. He’s far less strict now, but feels he perhaps has an advantage over upcoming DJs who passed over vinyl for more contemporary methods; “I’ve been at gigs where the DJ has been just using a laptop with a beat match program, and there’s nothing wrong with that but, if the laptop suddenly died and the only alternative was a pair of Technics turntables then they’re not going to know how to use them.” James points out, “Beat matching is one thing, but actually learning the structure of music really helps you when DJing. You don’t really have that kind of learning ability when you’re just programming. You don’t have to know different keys, tempos and rhythms and stuff like you would with vinyl and decks. I’m lucky to come from a more old school type of DJing where I had to learn those things and I think there’s a definite advantage to it.” Being from the ‘old school’ of DJing, how does Zabiela feel about the rise of the mash-up in dance music; “Yeah I like the cut and paste type stuff, I mean with a lot of club and dance music, and this goes back to why my mix CD isn’t all dance stuff, is that a lot of it is quite disposable I think and the mash-up has sort of highlighted that element in a way. Not all of it is disposable of course, there are always classic dance records that last but the mash-up can kind of prolong a records shelf-life, or even rescue a bad track.”

With such a methodical and intricate understanding of music and equipment, I wonder how does James keep the experience fresh for himself; “Well by changing the way I play records really, I mean I’ll be playing couple of tracks next to each other because they’re in the same key, but then I’ll find another record that compliments that mix and find a way to bring it in and out and add a new layer. Also I use the technology that’s there as well to edit, deconstruct and enhance the music in various ways.” Part of James’ career as a renowned turntable wiz is helping to advance the technology by testing pre-release equipment’s capabilities. As the boy mechanic of the dance music world, I wonder what’s it like being locked in the toy cupboard overnight; “More like eight months in the toy cupboard” He laughs, “For example, I had two CDJ-2000’s (electronic media turntables) in my flat from April last year and they only came out early this year. They were prototypes with very basic brains in them but I was able to test them and suggest improvements and additions.” He continues, “Last September I took the finished decks on tour with me along with the European designer and we would at the end of each gig discuss any problems that came up or any fine tuning that needed doing and write back to the engineers about it. So yeah it’s cool that a company as big as Pioneer actually listens to me.” He laughs.

In conclusion, James shares with me the main reason why DJing is such a satisfying career for him; “I think everyone’s got a secret desire to share their favourite music with as many people as possible. I mean who didn’t grow up making mix tapes for their friends or wanting other people to hear certain music the way they hear it. That thing is now my job, I mean the most integral part of DJing is sharing music with other people but also putting my own spin on it, so I guess I have the best job in the world really.”


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bertie Blackman interview (2010)

Bertie Blackman following the recent release of Secrets & Lies: Remixed – on which the former Sydney folky turned her break-through 2009 album over to a group of largely unknown dance producers – is on a short break from a writing exodus in the US to headline the second annual Ben Sherman Big British Sound Show. The event features upcoming and independent Australian acts paying tribute to a favourite artist from the UK during their regular sets. Today, a pre-rehearsal Bertie talks bats, Brits, club mixes, Spice Girls and living in several places at once.

"I just got back from Chicago the other day, I'm writing over there at the moment." She reveals, adding why she chose the windy city to work in. "I really love that cities music scene, it has this really cool underground electronic and punk scene, plus and I wanted a change, and it's a lot cheaper than going to London to write." The singer exclaims, "Also its Gotham City you know, it's where they filmed the Batman movies." Giant camp bats aside, Bertie says of her motivation for being so far away from home; "I'm just enjoying being out in the world right now. It's like a big reality check for me to be so far away from Australia, I find myself imagining what it would be like to build a life over here away from my comforts. Also because I'm writing my next record, it's necessary to defrag a bit and immerse myself in a totally new environment." 

During the making of her last album Secrets & Lies, Bertie was adapting to her new home in Melbourne – she's from Sydney – a transitional time, which she admits to enjoying as a song writer; "I like to move around a lot I get itchy feet. I come from artistic stock and they are all nomadic in their hearts and I guess I am also… but in my feet." She laughs. It is widely known that Bertie's father is renowned impressionist Charles Blackman, famous for his Alice in Wonderland series of paintings. We discuss Bertie's connection to him as the restless world trekker; "I have actually been to a few places that he had lived in many years ago, but he spent more time in Europe and London where as I'm more keen on the US at the moment. I still like coming home to Australia though, I play a gig there probably every month, but the way things are now I can do any promotion I need to do remotely via the internet and follow that with a few shows while not actually needing to be there all the time."

Blackman's not planning on kicking back any time soon either, like Bowie, Nick Cave, Lou Reed and so many others before her – she has her eye on a certain European city synonymous with those musicians greatest work; "I'd really like to go to Berlin next, but I haven't told anybody that yet because they already think I'm insane. I mean my family calls me up and the first thing they usually say is 'where are you this time?'" Bertie giggles. "When I moved to Melbourne I just packed the car and went without telling anyone so they're kind of used to me being spontaneous, and I don't really have things tying me down so, it's not a big deal to do that."

In 2009 Secrets & Lies, Bertie's third album, earned her previously unknown stardom and accolades. The folk/rock/dance collection was just the right combination for a more mainstream cross-over. The dance element, however was being embraced long before radio picked up the album, and Bertie found herself an unlikely hit in the clubs. Capitalising on this somewhat, a new remixed version of the album has been released. Bertie discusses; "When I was first making Secrets & Lies we already had a bunch of mixes done straight up, and they were doing well in the clubs – I even had a couple on Ministry Of Sound compilations. It was very far away from my world, I've never been a dance head type, I'm more of a rock'n'roll kind of girl but I do appreciate the dance world and it's always interesting to see how other artists interpret your work. I mean there were a few mis-fires that didn't make the cut, I had to approve the final versions that were to be used, but really in the end we were spoiled for choice, so Secrets & Lies Remixed is just all of the best mixes compiled in one place."

Recently Bertie has performed in London at a Club NME showcase, much to the delight of the many Australian expats living there; "Everyone that came up to me after the show had an Aussie accent, which was so bizarre!" Now she's bringing a little bit of London to Melbourne as part of the Ben Sherman British Sound line-up. The event simply brings together artists to perform a couple of their favourite British songs in a festival atmosphere. Blackman explains her involvement; "Basically I was just asked to be a part of it, and I said yes. The line-up is great and I have a chance at last to show off my best British accent." She laughs, and continues without giving too much away of her chosen covers, "I'm going to keep it a surprise until the night because I think it's more fun that way." I ask Bertie if her current cover of Siouxsie & The Banshees' Peek-a-Boo is any indication of what to expect, "Yes, I'll do that one, but I can't give away any more." Blackman's part in the show promises to be quite spectacular, she divulges; "We're going to have a bit of a Spice Girls thing in our set. I've asked some girl friends to join me on stage and we're going to have Scary, Sporty and the others – I can't remember all the names now – I'm probably going to be either like a more controversial Victoria Beckham - because she's not really controversial enough as she is", Laughter all round, "Or maybe Moody Spice but I'm not sure yet, people will have to wait and see."