Monday, February 22, 2010

Francis Rossi (Status Quo) interview (2010)

“Our production office has been turned into a catering room for some reason and the phone has been hidden under a table, so we’re all sitting here wondering where that ringing was coming from before following the tangle of phone cords, which was pretty weird.” The start of my conversation with Francis Rossi - OBE, and founding member of Status Quo, most successful band in British chart history - is nothing if not humble. Perhaps he’s remained grounded by his band’s frequent bad press, and the writing-off of Status Quo as ‘dad rock’. One thing’s for certain, grounded he may be, but defeated he ain’t.

Looking at Status Quo’s history in terms of fashion-ability, they’ve been long admired and ridiculed in equal measure. After a ‘90s backlash that included them suing a UK radio station for not playing their single - and losing, more recent years have bought a renewed love for the lads. Rossi discusses; “You do get a sense of that, but I think it’s just part of the cynical way we look at our TV stars or pop stars as fashionable or not fashionable based on what the media says is cool. But with us, we  just started to get this new wave of popularity about two years ago after the Pictures (Best Of) album came out.”
With Status Quo’s peaks and lows in mind, Francis explains his thoughts on staying on top in music. “I think once you become fashionable it’s inevitable the next phase will be unfashionable. I look at The Rolling Stones and think, well why are they still considered cool – Mick Jagger can get up there on stage and look like an complete idiot, and I think ‘how can he be doing that now?’ – looking fucking stupid with his little wiggly legs. I guess there’s still a side of Mick that goes ‘well this is great fun man’.” Frances continues, laughing; “Its show business though isn’t it? Some people in the so-called serious music magazines can’t deal with me calling it that either, I can tell you. I did one interview where the guy got quit shirty and said well what about Jimi Hendrix; amazing, talented musician blah blah blah… But mine and probably a lot of other people’s overriding memory of Hendrix was him kneeling over his Stratocaster, pouring petrol on it and setting it alight. That is not music. It all comes down to show business in the end.”
That’s all very well for the stage, but as Frances points out, being a rock star 24/7 might be pushing it; “If you mean the whole ‘rock ’n’ roll lifestyle’ cliché, I don’t understand what being a dickhead has to do with rock ‘n’ roll, you know. Any bastard can smash up a hotel room and shit on a coffee table, but it still hasn’t got anything to do with music.” I suggest to Rossi that Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty aren’t necessarily more rock ‘n’ roll than Kylie and Ronan Keating; (laughing) “I think people have a morbid interest in Pete Doherty because he could drop dead at any moment. It’s funny because he sounds alright when he’s talking, quite sensible, but his lifestyle to me looks like a grab for attention. Oh and “Amy Winebar” is a great singer but then probably not as great as we’re led to believe. The press in England was on about her being like nobody we’ve ever heard before and that’s just bollocks, she’s almost exactly like a lot of singers in the ‘60s.” Francis exclaims, “The PR she had in the beginning basically treated her like she was a god, then the cow goes off the rails and she was just indulged by these PR wankers. So, sure it’s sad but then she’s just stupid and I don’t get that about people.”

Growing up in the hedonistic ‘60s and ‘70s didn’t make a casualty of Francis Rossi. He reminisces on some decisions made – while trying to avoid clichés – that were always for the preservation, never of destruction of Status Quo; “It’s weird in a way, because the band has always been like this separate entity I want to protect, despite some of the strange things we’ve done in the name of Status Quo.” He explains, “I mean we’ve played on a fucking train in the Australian outback, done tours of rural pubs, a shitting Christmas record with Rolf Harris, and it’s only in hindsight we’re we go oh well that was a diamond idea or what the fuck were we thinking, you know. So I don’t think I’m precious about the band at all, but at the same time I have this drive to do whatever it takes to keep it alive.”

In the downtimes I wonder if Francis’s confidence in Status Quo ever waned. The outspoken front man’s response is typically well considered; “I’ve been asked what would I like on my gravestone, and I say “getting away with it all my life” – that’s what it feels like sometimes. I’ll be in the middle of a show and thinking to myself ‘this is really fucking good, don’t ever stop Francis’, but then other times, I feel this overwhelming insecurity and wonder which one is closer to true.”

In terms of chart action, Status Quo are the most successful British band of all time, clocking up a record 60+ hits beginning in 1967 with Pictures Of Matchstick Men. The bands longevity is matched by only a handful of acts, but despite experience, time is still a teacher for Rossi when it comes to songwriting; “I was thinking just last night I have to start writing some stuff soon.” He reflects, “Even after all these years of doing this, I’m still worrying about getting into the right mindset. It doesn’t get easier with time.” Rossi says, with a little sigh emerging. “I sit down and listen to AC/DC and they come up with some amazing records but, basically it’s just the same thing every time. But I know why that is, because for us whenever I’ve tried to change what we do I just end up thinking ‘what a complete waste of time, stick to what you know, make a fucking Status Quo album, Francis’.”

Not for their contribution to music, but rather for their ongoing charity work – seriously enough to make Bono look like a scrooge – Status Quo received Britain’s highest honour of OBE’s in 2009. An honour, yeah, but Francis reveals some pretty cold facts about the selection process; “I don’t think we should’ve got them really, I mean it was a great honour but it wasn’t really deserved. I came to the realisation after I saw this list of people being nominated for OBE’s – there were ambulance drivers, careers for the elderly etc… – but the thing is if that were it, then the media wouldn’t even pick it up. The publicity of having people in showbiz get it mean the profile of the honour is kept high and so is the system, but I don’t think we we’re anymore worthy than Joe Bloggs doing his bit at all.”

I remind Rossi of John Lennon famously rejecting his OBE giving the singer cause to rail against growing old disgracefully; “John Lennon was considerably younger when he received his, so he was something of an ‘angry young man’ still, but I don’t know about maintaining the rage when you’re 40, 50 or 60 years old. I mean some people genuinely still have this anger but for the most part, I think it’s more a public image thing.” He continues, “The problem with rock stars is that nobody will tell you if you’re being an arsehole, so you have these guys basically protected most of their lives from reality, with no idea that they’re being wankers.”

Between 1967 and 2007, Status Quo have charted in Britain almost yearly in an unmatched record. I wonder has there been an outbreak of ‘chart placement apathy’ in ‘Quo or if the checks keep the blues at bay? Francis explains; “In some ways I don’t care much what the money reward is for a single or an album doing well in the charts, because that’s pretty much a joke, but the elation of having a high place on the chart has never gone away. But I think this band should be judged on what we do live, I mean we’ve never been able to fully capture on record what our shows are like. A really good Status Quo gig to me is the best kind of success.”

It’s impossible to finish our interview without mentioning Francis being responsible for the most bizarre rock memorabilia item in living memory – In 2009 he auctioned off his famous ponytail with the proceeds going to one of the many charities he supports; “It’s not really a ponytail but more of a rat’s whisker,” He muses. “Luckily that made a good profit for the charity or wouldn’t I have looked ridiculous.” He laughs adding, “All I know of its whereabouts is, a very nice woman won it and she keeps in a glass case.” In closing he reassures the adornment’s winner, “And yes, it was washed before I sent it, so there’s no chance of infection.”


Friday, February 19, 2010

Andy Rourke (The Smiths) interview (2010)

In mid-‘80s Britain, the music coming out of Manchester seemed to represent the vitality and richness lacking in the everyday lives of its cities people. Yet not a single band from that much romanticised scene could claim financial security, improved lifestyles or instant success. Its heart remained firmly intact - that is until the loss of the scene’s true princes.; The Smiths. After five short but resonant years, Morrissey, Marr, Rourke and Joyce shut down a rarely matched sweet but sorrowful union only to embark on years of publicly slagging each other off.

Today, the more sweet than sorrowful bassist Andy Rourke - now a successful club DJ – talks NY clubs, punctured bicycles, sanity and Smiths tribute bands on the eve of his first antipodean visit in his new occupation. His story begins in the wake of The Smiths, when he and drummer Mike Joyce oddly enough remained part-time members of Morrissey’s band during early solo recordings. Andy remembers that time as a tense and solemn experience.

“You have to imagine this is within a year of The Smiths breaking up, so we’re all in a bit of turmoil, missing the band and hoping things could be resolved.” After a brief band meeting, Johnny Marr announced he was leaving The Smiths, effectively dissolving the already thin ice they found themselves on as friends and as a band. Andy continues, “Obviously now things have gone way past resolution, but even at the time myself and Mike (Joyce) did Morrissey’s solo albums we never really spoke in the studio. We didn’t need to, I mean we already knew how to make music together and, to a degree, what was expected of us.” By 'expected of,' Andy refers not only to Morrissey but, also The Smiths fans. The ones who gladly wore unflattering black-rimmed specs and stuffed bunches of limp gladiolas into their back pockets, or more accurately those who felt personally devastated by their band’s end. Their impact was so strong, it seemed as though neither fan nor band were completely willing to move on - with the exception of Johnny Marr.

“Since then I’ve played in bands only on a short term basis, so I’ve never really allowed myself to get too attached I suppose.” Andy explains of his career as a session musician, while hinting at avoiding any repeats of Smiths-type drama. “Take The Pretenders for instance, I was asked to play on their Last Of The Independents (1994) record because about a month before they were due to go into the studio, Andy Hobson (Pretenders then new bassist) who was a keen cyclist was riding in Notting Hill in London and some kid just ran out and jammed a piece of wood into the spokes of his bike resulting in two broken arms, so it was a bittersweet thing really. On the plus side it was great to work with Chrissie Hynde, but it was a shame that guy had to break his arms for it to happen.” He laughs, “It’s funny because a couple of albums before the one I did, Johnny (Marr) became a semi-permanent Pretender and I remember I was really jealous at the time because when he and I were kids, we really looked up to them, so when my chance came to play with them I was really pleased.”

Sharing such a ‘fan moment’ brings out the true music obsessive Andy still is to today, and like any good DJ he's strict on his tastes too. “I live in Brooklyn now and it's a struggle to find a good club that doesn't just play R&B all night, or even a radio station for that matter. Maybe one in ten is good, and put care into their playlists but that's a minority over in the States.” Andy, the careful listener was until recently a radio DJ himself on London’s XFM. By his own admission, he may not have been the best announcer with nerves getting the best of the bassist; “I used to panic a lot between talk breaks and I had to drink like two bottles of wine – one before and one during the show” He laughs, “Anyway the whole idea of my show – it was called Weekender – was something to put on when you’re home getting drunk and getting ready to go out.”

Relocating to the US last year, Rourke involved himself in the New York club scene. The live audiences and no nerve-wracking talk breaks appealed to the former Smith. There were the downsides however… “In the US, I get people asking me to play fucking Jay-Z, which I don’t have, and they get pissed off as if you’re supposed magic up a Jay-Z CD.” Rourke muses. “There was a corporate show I did recently for Spin magazine and so people weren’t there to see me, I just happened to be DJing and this guy comes up (affects dopey American accent) “You got any Jay-Z?” – I go no, and turn my back for a moment and he poured his vodka and Redbull all over my laptop, and that was it. The thing was fucked, so luckily I was at the end of my set, but I won’t be bullied into playing crap.”

A fan of the Manchester house and indie music can surely expect to be indulged at an Andy Rourke DJ gig, but could a Smiths fan expect a raspberry for requesting How Soon Is Now? “No definitely not; I usually drop in a Smiths song or two.” He says brightly, “Things like There Is A Light works well in clubs, plus I obviously play a bit of New Order and Happy Mondays, but I also throw in some American stuff like Iggy Pop, Breeders and Pixies as well. But no fucking R&B though.” Rourke’s mode of DJing is a little more new school than one might think. Vinyl’s out, CDs and laptops are in; “I never bothered so much with vinyl, but I have to take three cases of CDs with me. I think my arms have become two inches longer carry all that around, I’ll be playing bass like Hooky soon.” He laughs, referencing Peter Hook’s famous ‘bass worn at knee level’ stance in New Order’s concerts.

Although it’s true Andy carries CD cases more than he does basses these days, his signature instrument is far from gathering dust. During a recent DJ gig in Brooklyn, Rourke unexpectedly found himself back on bass duties “After a few shandys, mind you” for a rousing Big Mouth Strikes Again, sharing the stage with – not an equally drunk Morrissey or Marr - but Sons & Heirs, a Smiths tribute band; “I was only booked to DJ that night, and I’m a bit wary of doing these kinds of gigs anyway,” Rourke explains, “But I checked them out online and they were actually really good. So I agreed to DJ for them, and later they asked me to get up and do one song with them. It was unrehearsed and a bit messy, but it was an in the moment thing.” He then adds, “I loved being in The Smiths, it was a massive part of my life and something I’m very proud of so why shy away from it, but at the same time I certainly don’t go around playing in tribute bands for a living.”

The long list of collaborators in Andy’s career reads like music’s ‘most likely to be certified’ artists. Sinead O’Connor, Morrissey, Jaz Coleman, Ian Brown – Rourke’s played with the cream of eccentric and slightly unhinged (oh let’s face it, barking mad) musicians in Britain, so what is it like being the only sane man in the room, I wonder? (Laughing) “I wouldn’t say sane, but I do tend to have a calming effect on people. It’s my soothing radio voice that helps I think.”


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Scott Kannberg (Pavement) interview (2010)


Within the confines of most bands there are often tough times of over familiarity, creative differences and even barely salvageable friendships resulting in either great musical output or complete implosion. In the case of Stockton, California’s Pavement - all of the above applied ten-fold by the close of the ‘90s. Now, telling his side of the story on the eve of the band’s reunion tour, guitarist Scott Kannberg comes across as the ‘amiable one’, who looked beyond the messy break-up to a great legacy of songs.

“It’s been ten years since we were all in the same room together… oh boy”, he begins exasperated, as though the thought had just occurred to him. The events of their last meeting have been documented as fraught with tension and certainly no love lost. During the lead up to the split, eccentric singer Stephen Malkmus took to riding on their tour bus hidden under a coat, avoiding any form of communication with his band mates. He even went as far as tethering himself to the microphone stand at their last show with handcuffs to represent his feeling of being ‘trapped in Pavement’. A Britney scale melt-down seemed imminent, and so with no formal warning Pavement came to an abrupt end during the last months of ‘99.
A decade after the ‘cries for help’, I wonder is Kannberg’s excitement beating his possible apprehension over the reunion. “Well we have all had a chance to go out and live our lives apart from each other, and we haven’t had, you know, ongoing communication in that time. The best thing so far in reconnecting with the other guys is that we’re all older and wiser but then in some ways it doesn’t feel as though much has changed at all. At the time I don’t think we realise what we had and so we kind of needed to break up.” Kannberg explains, “I mean for myself, I was only writing a song here and there in Pavement, so when we broke up I was forced to develop as a songwriter if I wanted to continue making music.”

Scott chooses his word carefully as inevitable reunion is drawing nearer; he clearly wishes to remain open to healing old friendships and to focus on the good aspects of his former band. However, nobody in the group are likely to have fond memories of recording their final disc, Terror Twilight as the time spent making it was a clear countdown to Pavement’s end. Scott’s own band, Preston School Of Industry made use of several songs he had written for Terror Twilight after Stephen Malkmus all but ignored his compositions and refused to add them during Pavement’s rehearsals. Scott remarks; “Well on the plus side to that, I enjoy making music and I always wanted to develop that as far as I possibly could and, who knows, maybe in Pavement that might have happened eventually, but the fact remains I was able to grow as a musician much faster outside the band anyway.”

After a successful run of albums in the ‘90s adored by indie crowds; Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Slanted & Enchanted and Wowee Zowee in particular, I wonder how Kannberg now views the band’s success; “I see Pavement as a kind of historical monument”. Scott’s voice suddenly lowers and he pauses before a dry laugh escapes. “We can’t go tearing it down again, either or that historical society group are gonna be after us.” His tone begins to brighten, as he switches from thinking about the ten year gap to the immediate future; “We were pretty confident about what we put out at the time, but I think this time around it’s gonna be a lot more modern. We’re all much better players now so we can’t just step up on stage and into our old indie rock shoes and be the cocky kids we were back then, you know.” He adds laughing “But we’re not gonna be fat old guys either”. Greater musical know how will be something fans can look forward to in the shows, but Scott assures me that won’t mean 20 minute guitar solos. “No, the songs are gonna be pretty true to the originals but I think the attitude is gonna be a bit more mature. I mean our audiences are older now too so hopefully it should work out. We’ll all have more highly trained ears I think.”

Scott’s ear in recent years was employed to collate Pavement’s entire back catalogue for a series of expanded and remastered reissues. He discusses; “I was always documenting every little thing, not realising at the time one day we could put something like this out, but they turned out nice. I always wanted to put everything in its right place, you know, finally put out the tracks that we dropped at the time to complete the story and the reissues have been a fun way to do that”. While pouring through the band’s catalogue, it’s hard not to wonder if Scott was inspired to pursue a new Pavement album in the future and pick up where they left off. “No, that didn’t really come into it.” He explains, “If this tour is really fun and everybody gets along and playing the old material spurs us on to write together again then I guess something could happen, but we can’t really say what we’re going to do next until the tour happens. I think it might be fun if everybody was up for it, and maybe this tour will inspire us. I certainly hope it does.” 

If Scott has any regrets about Pavement’s end, he remains guarded about them. Instead he comes across as contented with what they achieved and even pleasantly surprised at the interest in a reunion tour; “We thought we were making good records, but we never thought people would get into it so much that we would actually be able to come back ten years later and stage a kind of ‘best of’ live show. In some ways it feels so surreal.”

Its true Pavement never could be considered ‘hit song makers’, in fact their place in the musical scheme was never obvious at all. However being an American guitar band may just have been the one clause that allowed doors to open for them in the Nirvana-obsessed ‘90s. “Yeah, we got dropped into the whole grunge/slacker thing by the English press but really we were more into post punk than anything. Our sound came from us all being record collectors and just devouring stuff like Captain Beefheart, but I don’t think it was all that obvious what we listened to because our tastes were so diverse. It was never like Oasis loving The Beatles, but we were open to influence by great records and I love that I can still get blown away by some artist who I didn’t even know existed before.”

Of course, it’s Scott’s taste in music that dominates the rest of our talk; and just what does he think of what the kids are into now? “I kind of gave up listening to new music” He laughs, “I’m really into rediscovering things like mid-period Dylan, Fleetwood Mac and Beefheart right now. When I was doing the Spiral Stairs record (a solo project released last year) that music really got me going again. I didn’t listen to much of that stuff during Pavement, so now I kind of feel a bit stupid because I was part of this 90s thing, when so much music was just being rehashed and now I meet guys going, oh yeah I been through all that before.”

During our talk, there was no discussion about why Pavement are getting back together – money would be the boring answer – but in his closing statement, Scott expresses off hand what could be the only reason any band should reunite and tour again; “I know that when I go to reunion shows, I’ve usually got a smile on my face the whole time, so hopefully people will come along to see us and have as much fun as I do seeing a band I used to love playing together again.”


Monday, February 15, 2010

Babylon Circus interview (2010)

"It must be a mistake, we aren't actually doing interviews right now, but if you're willing to put up with my bad English, I will talk to you.” David Baruchel - singer/guitarist with nine piece French band, Babylon Circus begins, somewhat confusingly, down the phone from his home in Lyon. In his country and all through Europe, Baruchels’ band are celebrated musical gods, yet their world is only gradually expanding to include international interest. To get a grasp of his expansive band’s music, imagine a heavy rock and reggae base, with the political twist of punk and ska, served with fairground organ, and all sung over in a mix of French and English. However, unlike their music, their message is simple; ‘no fear’. As David settles into surprise interview mode, he begins detailing his commune-style life in a self-confessed ‘band of gypsy’s'".

We have been on the road so many times together now and every time it feels like a big family picnic taking place." He laughs. "What family is about to me is having to spend time with people you don't always have fun with or even get along with, but there are more good reasons than bad reasons to be together." He adds, "Besides we are really cool, yes, we have no big problems with each other because it is a special lifestyle touring in a band and we appreciate our good fortune in being able to do what we love. If you don't like the role of the gypsy then you would be unhappy doing this, but I think we all have in common a love of the road."

One of the many curios in Babylon Circus, is the strong Jamaican accent in co-lead singer Manuel Nectoux's voice on the recordings – quite an oddity for a white Frenchman, non? “Oh well, Manuel spent many years in London in the Jamaican district getting into the Jamaican roots music and he ended up developing this black voice." David laughs "It is good for us though as it gives our band a special international sound, which when playing ska and reggae music is important I think.” He ads “It’s funny because from the very beginning people were asking 'oh where's the black guy'? but they didn't know it was like Manuel was Michael Jackson, you know, a white guy with a black voice." He says, with a cheeky burst of laughter.

Apart from dancehall and punk, Babylon Circus take a literal angle on their albums in having genuine, slightly disturbing, vaudevillian carnival music filtering in through their skank/rock mix. David explains his fascination with all things side-show; "Well my uncle played in a band who were all circus artists as well and I would spend a lot of time with them as a boy, which is what helped form the roots of my band. I remember I really wanted to join their circus then and perform but it was too difficult for me, and so I guess with Babylon I get to have my own circus now." David explains further his notion of circus/family/band correlation, "There is a kind of collective consciousness in our group, which is how I think circus performers and families operate, like we just know what to do when we get together without even thinking about it. We trust each other a lot.” The singer begins to transgress on having to think about his life as a gypsy musician. He’s not really comfortable with explanations, and is perhaps not used to being asked at all. "I don't really think about my life that much, we (the band) just go about doing what we do and I am so used to that, that talking about it is a strange feeling for me."

Asking David if he feels interviews are too intrusive seems a little pointless as he rarely does them, so I ask if he finds the creative process simple. He answer's somewhat strangely;

"It is a funny thing to talk about, after it stops being a decision you make. People go off to work and then come home and it is just what they do, it isn't a thing they discuss and I don't feel we do a lot of contemplating about our lives." The distinction David makes between himself and his band seems unclear. With his collective consciousness theory in mind, I ask him if like a family, a natural hierarchy has developed with in the group.

"Yeah, I'd say me and Manuel play a part-time role as parents, but maybe that is just one of the side effects of singing on stage - both he and I do this but it isn't an issue that goes beyond, say the concert. In the stage of developing the songs, everybody has their little part in that and each is just as important as the others." He ads, "You soon realise you don’t need to organise everybody in the band to do their bit, it just happens naturally from being together a lot of the time."  Sharing a rebellious attitude also helps to drive Babylon Circus collectively it would appear. Stories of police chases and arrests have emerged in the wake of their tours - David joyfully retells a personal highlight; “When we were on tour in Europe last time, the day after a show we decided to do some busking in the street and some people turned up who had seen us at the concert and must have called all their friends because soon there were a lot of people and they brought beer with them, next thing everyone was getting drunk and, I guess it was actually illegal to drink in the street so the police came and saw that we must have started this.” He continues, laughing; “The cops decided to chase after us and so we split up, but they caught our keyboard player in the end. It was one of the funniest times in my life, that day.”
Unsurprisingly, Babylon Circus’s five albums are filled with anti-conservative messages, a subject David seems eager to discuss; “In France the government now are trying to make a law for everything, from women having to be covered from head to toe, to drinking and even what you can talk about in public, and to me that is just showing so little respect to people. I feel strongly that this must change, I mean there are more important things than what people wear and having some beers you know?” The singer continues, “We are too far from being in a position to start again, because people share this apathy but (the government) having so many ridiculous rules to try and control every aspect of people’s lives I don’t think should be just accepted.” In his opinion, I wonder if David feels his views are shared by many in France. “Well maybe 50/50, I mean President (Nicolas) Sarkozy was elected by half the population, so you can say at least half the people don’t share my views.” The band’s political content is not a ruling factor in the music, yet remains a constant reference. David explains he’s careful not to over indulge this side of his lyrics; “My songs are not so much to do with governments but with people. I believe in living unafraid and that also means not agreeing with certain laws, but more so I want to encourage people, my neighbours, to aim for a better life with no fear as well.” 


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Rock Symphony: Chrissie Amphlett (Divinyls), Diesel & Baby Animals (review)

venue: The Palais  

Two worlds collided at the Palais on this night of orchestral and rock music with some very interesting results. For our headline three acts, the pub circuit was basically their baptism into live music - a fact that becomes very prevalent during this slightly bizarre union. The idea to combine three leading Australian rock acts with a 30 piece orchestra was dreamed up by musical director Tim Count who asked all three artists to compile a set list of their best loved songs, which would then be arranged for an orchestra. The concept was in many ways was exciting but there were quite mixed results in practice. Of the many highlights, we are privy tonight at a rare public appearance by the first lady of Australian rock - Chrissie Amplett along with a newly assembled Divinyls line up.
The vibe amongst the mostly over 30s crowd at the start of tonight's show is subdued for opening act Diesel. His regular touring means many fans tonight are unlikely to have missed him, but seeing him pull out hits from his days with The Injectors (Cry In Shame) is a rare treat. The obvious problem with Diesel's part on this bill however, is his music – based in traditional blues rock - and the string accompaniments simply don't mix. Despite the up tempo song choices, it's clear the two bands are not gelling at all and for a while it's easy to ignore the fact also that Diesel's band is much louder than the orchestra, and poorly amplified as the drums dominate the set, but before long I'm hanging out for the finish. He does although get some points the for song choices; Masterplan and Tip Of My Tongue which work particularly well with strings.

The recently returned Baby Animals were right into the idea of the symphony shows from the start but during their set, similarly to Diesel, sound problems plague the show. Putting this tour together involved working by correspondence on occasion – Amphlett and Suze DeMarchi (Baby Animals) both live in the US now – and only two days of rehearsals were organised meaning the chances of everything going to plan were pretty slim, considering the amount of performers on stage. Unlike Diesel who soldiered through the obvious problems, Baby Animals - who of all three acts are the most straight up rock band here – struggle to get their performance just right. Stopping between each song to adjust mics, levels and volume, the Perth based group play a heavy, punchy set in the mode of 'get loud to compensate for the missives'. Opening with hit Rush You, they keep the noise and tempo up until midway through when ballads Painless and Make It End allow the orchestra to shine through. Typically, Suze DeMarchi is in top form showing incredible vocal strength and unconstrained energy, while her band plays at the intensity usual for a festival crowd.

With respect to the other acts, it's Chrissie Amphlett who's the real draw card tonight. Her set is preceded by a stunning original overture, building along with the noticeable excitement in the Palais. The muttering in the stalls stops immediately for the music as we know it's only moments before the one-woman tsunami of rock steals our senses away. For the first time tonight, the orchestra gets to show their stuff and take the focus from the rock bands, but just as the comfortable feeling of swirling strings and horn blasts sets in, a spot light catches the sight of four men quickly entering the stage and parking themselves in front of the orchestra. Nobody could contain themselves anymore. As nice as it was to hear the symphony's overture, and as awful as it was to have sit down for the whole show - nothing else matters now that silhouetted figure in a long flowing overcoat and fedora appears sheepishly in the wings, motionless, but already teasing us with the very slight tilt of her head skyward to let the light catch her pouted lips - the Amphlett trademark expression. The Divinyls singer slowly begins to make her way to centre stage assisted by a walking stick. This spectacle is both funny and alarming as the full impact of her Multiple Sclerosis becomes all too clear. In the moment, I am certain she is hobbling for effect in her layered tramp-like overcoat and face obscuring hat, as though she's about to burst out of her imprisoning outfit and become the pogo-ing Chrissie Amphlett of old. In truth the singer had to retire from music several years ago because of her illness which tonight has visibly taking it's toll.

This is Chrissie's evening though and every person in the room is with her all the way. Meanwhile, the band have been laying down some slow grooves with only faint orchestra backing as Chrissie positions herself at the mic and without warning starts to croon; "Lover, lover why do you push/Why do you push, why do you push...". Her voice is incredibly commanding, and we all end our applause as if scolded for mis-behaving. The re-arrangement of Pleasure & Pain both a triumph and a shock; here we have the rock and symphony bands working together perfectly for the first time tonight. The song's new seductive edge works so well and allows Chrissie to ease into the performance, saving her energy for the more demanding power rock tracks yet to come. It's only after this song, Chrissie ditches her walking stick and starts to remove the oppressive looking grey overcoat, under which she is beautifully attired in a black tailored jacket and ballooning skirt cut just above the knees and black body-hugging trousers buttoned at the cuffs. (I'm wondering how many fans here were surprised to see the trademark school uniform hasn't been let out to play tonight.) After Amphlett struggles out of the coat to wild applause and finally lifts her hat to reveal long boldly dyed red hair cut just at eye level - the way she's always worn it dating back to the Divinyls debut in 1980. The band's two earliest hits Science Fiction and Boys In Town follow Pleasure & Pain, played closer to their original sound than the opener. The strings thankfully remain subtle on Boys In Town - it is after all meant to be tense and cold. Science Fiction however is helped along by an intruding timperley, giving the song an energetic lift.

The last Divinyls hit single, I'm Jealous (number 14 in 1996), receives a glorious remodeling with the cellos soaring above the gentle guitar melody. In moments like these, it becomes apparent that Divinyls embraced the orchestra idea and used it greatly to their advantage instead of just playing loud with apparently unrelated chamber music going on in the background. Baby Animals and Diesel didn't really take the chance to augment their music with the orchestras help for the most part. Chrissie Amphlett has one advantage though, she's worked with both rock bands and orchestras and it does show. Pre-Divinyls days she was a choral singer with an orchestra in Sydney making tonight's show something of a circle being completed.
Towards the end of the relatively short set, some brave people including myself rush to the front of the stage - against the wishes of the frankly ridiculous security - to give Chrissie some love. Close-up, I can see her left arm is trembling as she forces her body to move about the stage and do what has come naturally to the singer for so many years now. We know the end is close when I Touch Myself begins, and Chrissie takes another chance to seat herself, almost child-like - knees together and feet wide apart – in front of the raised drum platform. The performance has been tough on her physically, but her voice and incredible presence have not wavered one bit. A final, seemingly impromptu song - a cover of Easybeats' I'll Make You Happy ends the night just as fans start to bottleneck in the narrow lanes between the seating for a final dance. To a last ovation the band line up and bow, before turning to applaud the orchestra. Director Tim Count's vision has to be applauded also, as someone who took a massive risk with a project that fell a little short of its full potential, but had real moments of greatness.



Man Alive
My Baby Likes To Boogaloo
Walkin' The Blues
Since I Fell For You
Tip Of My Tongue
Never Miss Your Water  

Rush You
One Word
Don't Tell Me What To Do
Make It End
Hot Air Balloon
Early Warning
Ain't Gonna Get My Love  

Pleasure & Pain
Science Fiction
Only Lonely
I'm Jealous
Boys In Town
I Touch Myself
I'll Make You Happy

L-R: Suze DeMarchi, Diesel, Chrissie Amphlett


Pleasure & Pain:

Science Fiction:  

Boys In Town:

I Touch Myself:  

photos by me.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Wednesday 13 (Murderdolls) interview (2010)

Joseph Poole (aka Wednesday 13) is lucky to be alive today. In 2007 the LA based singer, rolled his car several times resulting in broken bones and months of recovery. He was preparing at the time to launch his Skeletons CD onto the world and begin work on a country influenced side project called Bourbon Crow. His brush with death left him with a heightened sense of his mortality, as to be expected. "It's a big eye-opener to go through that and although it's a massive trauma, in the end when I got my head together I really did appreciate things a lot more." He explains. Wednesday 13 first came to Australia's attention with Murderdolls - a kind of antithesis of the serious to-the-point-of-absurd Marylin Manson. The project was based around the combined loves of Wednesday and Slipknot's Joey Jordison - 1950s schlock horror flicks, Alice Cooper and The Addam's Family. Now fully mended and back on the tour circuit, Wednesday's bringing his (sort of) solo show to Australia, and promising fans a sizable helping of the 'Dolls best loved tracks during his much anticipated return.

"I do a kind of greatest hits thing now because of all the different bands I've been involved with in the last few years." He divulges, "I won't be including anything from my latest band, Gunfire 76 because it isn't really known outside of the US yet, but I have a lot of stuff to draw from now." Pre-Murderdolls, Wednesday fronted the comic-horror groups Frankenstein Drag Queens From Planet 13 and Maniac Spider Trash. He remained the only original member of those groups as a revolving door of collaborators and guest musicians came and went. After many years of changing band members, I ask if life would be simpler with a set of full-time players to work with; "I know it gets a little confusing at times, with fans not knowing what to expect. They get used to me doing one thing and then suddenly I'm doing this entirely different thing, but I like working that way and hopefully every project can stand on its own. One day I'd like to be able to go on tour and just play a whole show of all the different music from band's I've worked in. That's the real goal here." 

One aspect of Wednesday 13 remains constant throughout his various bands - the man's striking, monstrous image. His look - something like a zombie drag queen - is a real tongue-in-cheek approach to the more typically grim made-up gothic acts. "It's kind of important for me to have a 'look' in the same way Kiss made it a big part of their act. I even have some outfits that I work on months in advance of a tour just because it's more fun than going up there in jeans and a shirt and just staring at my shoes."

His love of the deadpan Wednesday Addams in the classic Addams Family series was of course the inspiration for Poole's stage name, but why not Pugsly or even Gomez?; "Well in Frankenstein Drag Queens we dressed up in sort of horror drag and it was more fitting to pick the daughter's name for the character. Also I love that nobody is called Wednesday either, just this one psychotic chick and that really appealed to me!"

Much like his TV name-sake, Wednesday is a little misunderstood in the broader music community. He delights in my telling him how humourous I think his music is. After all, it is a word he rarely encounters when asked to discuss his songs. "That's a huge, huge part of what I do you know. I always try to explain that to people, but I kind of got dumped in this whole goth rock movement thing and I get that, we all have black clothes and black hair but I don't look the way I do because I'm into Sisters Of Mercy and vampires or all that. I always try and put some humourous tagline into my songs to separate me from the deadly serious goth rock bands who really buy into all that vampire shit. I really think music should be a fun and dumb, I mean it's alright to write about more personal stuff now and then, but I'd say 99% of what I do as Wednesday 13 is just stuff that makes me laugh." 

The current Wednesday 13 release in Australia is the Bloodwork EP - a very mixed bag of work ranging from the sublime (My Demise B.C.) to the nonsense (I Love To Say Fuck) in just six tracks. The former is an Alice Cooper-esqu haunted ballad while the latter revives goofball rockers Ugly Kid Joe. "That song was my attempt at writing the most non-radio friendly piece of music ever." He laughs, "I had that floating around in my head for some years and now it's become like our tune up song at the shows. Its great fun to play live and I think it kind of captures a real punk spirit, like it's just immediate and in your face but quite stupid as well." It's with that in mind; I wonder what level of importance does Wednesday place on being taken too seriously. "I don't know I guess I do want people to get what I'm doing but if they don't then they probably shouldn't. Some people go by face value and they're the ones who aren't gonna get what I'm doing, but who cares you know, my fans know what I’m about and that’s good enough for me."


Check out the video of Muderdolls "Dead In Hollywood":
And Wednesday 13 "I Walked With A Zombie":

Some live pics from their Melbourne show at Hi-Fi Bar:

Charles "Chucky T" Thompson (Area-7) interview (2010)


The 15 year anniversary of Melbourne’s premier Ska outfit, Area 7 has rolled around and the boys are planning on partying like teenagers to celebrate. In the mid ‘90s they spearheaded an unlikely revival of skanking tunes during a time of zero interest in the genre. Thankfully, Australia caught the Ska bug and Area 7 helped kick open the door for acts like The Living End and The Resignators. With the band’s live reunion imminent, guitarist Charles “Chucky T” Thompson on this sunny Australia day afternoon talks me through the heyday of Melbourne’s pub circuit as a young music fan and soon-to-be live draw card in his own right.

“When I was 16, 17 you’d go up Brunswick Street to The Royal Darby and Punters Club then you’d nip down to the Tote and it was only a couple of bucks to get in or sometimes it was even free and you’d get to see just heaps and heaps of bands in weekend.” He begins. “There’s much less of a scene now though, and I feel bad for young bands who are struggling to get their first gig because of the competition from more established acts. I think the kind of working class element is really gone from it which is a shame.” Much adored pubs like The Tote closing down has, according to Charles, created a big hole in the live scene; “I have so many great memories of going there and seeing bands like The Meanies and The Mavis’s on the same bill and you just don’t get that sort of thing happening anymore. The scene is kind of dying off.”

Discussing the thrill of going to a mixed bill of bands in one venue brings up what Charles feels is his bands legacy – one of inclusiveness among punters. “One of things we always wanted to do in Area 7, keep it accessible and be a kind of ‘everybody’ band. The thing that was great in the early days of the Ska and Punk scene was it was accepting. Whatever you were wearing could become your uniform and they weren’t ruled by money or elitism, so we all really loved that aspect of the Ska scene.” Area 7 as a ska band don’t fit the genre entirely as Charles points out, they’ve always incorporated a little rockabilly into their sound as well; “We’re basically a pub rock band who love the ska, punk and rockabilly sounds and further more agree with what those genres really stood for.”

The sense of fun in Area 7’s music is undeniable also. Beginning as a Madness tribute band, perhaps lent an easy up-beat optimism  for them to develop as an originals band, I suggest. "Well we were basically recruited in to the Madness tribute band (known as Mad Not Madness) through knowing the singer and various musicians around the scene, but it was never a conscious thing of ‘let’s be a Madness tribute band’ it was more that Area 7 evolved out of that because a couple of us wanted to do our own thing.” Charles was instrumental in kicking off Area 7 as an original band through his songwriting ability and an urge to get away from the tribute formula. “It’s funny because at the time we were doing the whole Madness thing it seemed like an eternity since they had split up, but in hindsight they’d only been away for a few short years, and then they got back together soon after Area 7 started and are now celebrating their 30th anniversary and we’re on our 15th, so we definitely made the right decision to go onto originals or otherwise we would have been made fairly redundant, I think.” He laughs.

With success a long way off still, sticking to Area 7’s musical roots according to Charles was not exactly setting them up for guaranteed popularity; “My recollection of it is, when we started Area 7, ska was still pretty much a dirty word. We were given support by a couple of venues like the Tote and Punters Club, but no sort of mainstream venue would book us, but now it’s gained such a massive following and there are many great ska acts finally getting some recognition.” Ska fans usually come complete with some indicator of their devotion to the lifestyle beyond just owning the music. So how deep does Area 7’s ska/rockabilly obsession run? “I’m quite into the style and the fashions but I’m not a collector of old Hotrods or anything like that” Thompson laughs, “Although our singer Steveo’s right into Chevy’s and Dave Jackson (Keyboardist) is into the whole 1950’s comic tattoo art associated with the rockabilly scene, so to varying degrees we are all into the broader Ska thing outside of simply playing the music.”

The Chevies and Hotrods (or at least Tarana’s and Commodores) of suburban Australia were, at the start of the last decade, incomplete without a certain Area 7 custom built anthem cranking out of their speakers. So how proud is Charles of Nobody Likes A Bogan? “We were a little surprised at how well that song did, but in short we’re as proud of that as any of our others. It was however a good way of reminding listeners that we don’t take ourselves too seriously but it was by no means an indicator of what that whole album was like.” 2002’s Bogan still stands as Area 7’s only cross-over hit, spending six weeks on the ARIA charts and even gaining radio play from Triple M. “When it started getting popular, I did worry a bit that people might get a bit offended or not really get what that song was about, but what actually happened was people I think saw the funny side and realised we weren’t just taking the piss or anything.” It was in fact an earlier single that caused Area 7 to cop a bit of flack - the irreverent Himbo. “I never really understood that at all, because there were a couple of lines in there describing metrosexuals and spending too much time in the mirror, but apparently that was crossing the line. It’s like you can take the piss out of some things but then you can’t do so with others, and when you’re in a band you really can’t over think that sort of thing.”
Although they’re celebrating 15 years together, Area 7 could be mistaken for a band-no-more with so little notable activity in recent years. Charles explains their absence and what brought about the group’s hiatus. “You know, I got married in 1998 and my poor dear wife had to have our honeymoon on tour with us and The Living End, who were actually our wedding band as well” He laughs, “So looking back I realise she had actually given up quite a bit to let the band do what we needed to do, and now I have three kids so unless the band could’ve worked out some kind of schedule such as work seven months then have a break for the rest of the year so we could be parents and husbands as well, I couldn’t see away around it and so we agreed to take a break.” Area 7’s label Zomba also made continuing on a difficulty by simply closing their Australian branch, leaving many bands out on their own. “Once we no longer had a label pushing our album and organising tours, we just went our own way and decided that we’d tour if we were asked and record any future music and release it independently – which we did in 2005 with the album Torn Apart.” Charles finishes by adding; “We’re only here to enjoy making music, and so when the label thing happened we just went, yeah okay fine, we’ll just do it our way then. Since that time we’ve played with Reel Big Fish and did the tour of East Timor for the UN and so it’s hardly like we’ve missed out on much not having that label support.”