Monday, December 5, 2011

Trash McSweeney (The Red Paintings) interview: 2011


Red Paintings singer/composer, Trash McSweeney - every bit as self-effacing as his adopted name – was never a musically gifted child, nor a particularly learned one, but rather his ability for intricate song crafting was one that foisted itself upon him late in his adolescence following a seizure resulting in the ability to visualize complete compositions in full technicolour. The condition Trash developed, known as synesthesia, landed the Geelong-born/L.A.-based artist among a mere handful of songwriters currently living with the neurological disorder world-wide. From this unplanned event, Trash and his Red Paintings cohorts have been guided by an ongoing struggle to make the music match up with the visual patterns McSweeney alone sees, often creating seismic tensions and frustrations alien to all who do not share his ‘insight’. It’s no wonder then, that after twelve years as a band, The Red Paintings are at long last set to release their debut studio album. Titled, The Revolution Is Never Coming, this marks the third year since the album was initially set for release, and in regards to its delay, McSweeney, as a synesthesia sufferer, is afforded free reign of the often cringe-worthy explanation; “the people I was working with just didn’t understand my vision.”
“This album was mixed eight different times in eight different studios around the world, and I went to some of the biggest and best studios available but what I kept finding was, people had their own shitty vision for my music.” He begins. During the album’s endless recording sessions, The Red Paintings as a collective came and went depending on either their availability or willingness to follow Trash to yet another studio and join him in sleepless, song-tweaking. “The rest of the band quite reasonably walked out and let me do what I needed to do.” He says, “We spent a lot of time writing down everybody’s parts and getting those right, but in the end it wasn’t financially possible for them to live as I was. We were all broke by that stage; I mean my string section were busking on the streets of Brisbane to make $50 a night while I was in Canada sleeping on studio floors.” Trash’s motivation to create a worthwhile album regardless of personal health or wealth seems largely down to a desire to not disappoint his fans as much as himself. “I didn’t want to put effort into something that my fanbase were going to put on and say, ‘oh the songs are okay, but the production’s pretty shit’, you know?” He confirms. “If I say I’m going to put out something – an album or whatever – then its going to be done to the best of my ability. I didn’t sleep properly for over year because I was consumed by just making these songs work.”

Fellow synesthesiac, Bjork, is a reference for Trash. “I listen to her music in a kind of ecstasy. It’s like what she creates is mathematically thought out, and that’s kind of how I approached making this record.” Trash boasts that there were an average of around 180 tracks to mix per song to get the desired result. “I guess I was trying to create a Da Vinci artwork as a musical composition.” He laughs. It’s not Renaissance painters however that inform The Revolution Is Never Coming, but rather literary giant Lewis Carroll. First single, The Streets Fell Into My Window (which was actually recorded in 2005) is punctuated by quotes from the novel, Alice In Wonderland, which Trash defines as a metaphor for passing from life into death. “I wondered if the trip down the rabbit hole Alice takes in the story was in fact the moment of death when the soul leaves the body.” He muses, “When the Tim Burton film came out, I was surprised he had played it so safe and not delved into the possibility of Wonderland being the afterlife, so when it came time to making the video for that song, I worked with this fantastic young director called Clint Lewis, and we were all about ‘what didn’t Tim Burton do but maybe should have’.” The Red Paintings live shows, which are as much renowned for their dramatic aspects as their musical intensity, reflect the Lewis Carroll theme in their current state.

“The live shows incorporate every kind of art-form; music, poetry, theatre, film, painting and narrative to make one whole performance piece which reflects what our music is about. On the last tour, I came out as the caterpillar, our cellist was the white rabbit, our violinist; the queen of hearts and so on - and that connection is obvious, right - but a while ago we did some Dr Seuss themed shows where each song became a different Dr Seuss book.” Trash describes, “The most bizarre thing had occurred to me, I realised that the themes in all of Dr Seuss’s writing were exactly what I was trying say in my songs.” Further explaining his theory Trash reasons, “Seuss could be taken one of two ways; fun, catchy books for kids, or the work of a highly analytical and complex mind.” Much like his literary idols, Trash McSweeney is an example of what happens when an artist loses all interest in convention and allows himself to push away certainty and comfort. Lead wholly by his synesthesia, Trash’s unusually heightened subconscious calls the shots and his trust in it is unwavering.

“It (synesthesia)’s never been a hindrance to me. The Red Paintings have been shaped by it and I’ve never had to worry about writer’s block. The reason the album has taken so long isn’t because I wasn’t able to write, it’s because the mixing never seemed to be the right colour and shape as I saw it in my head. I basically had to articulate what I was seeing jumping out of the mixing desk again and again in the studio, which sounds fucking ridiculous, I know, and when you’re paying an hourly rate it gets even more absurd, but I won’t stop until I get it right.” So The Revolution Is Never Coming’s long delay means fans will be getting an accurate picture of the sound inside Trash’s head, then? “Definitely. I mean I’m not doing this for any other reason than to give people the music best I can. I’m not creating something to sell records so I can buy a big comfy house, I’m making art here.” He deadpans, “I’ll never own a fucking house anyway. The amount of debt I generated for myself making this album saw to that!”


Monday, November 14, 2011

Cheryl Wray (Salt-N-Pepa) interview: 2011

New York native, Cheryl Wray claims her 1986, 17-year-old self, knew instinctively Salt N Pepa were going to be huge. Call it a young woman’s brimming self-confidence if you like, but the lady herself prefers to think, “it may have been a spiritual thing.” But whichever force was at play, the now legendary group’s success was anyone’s guess in the male-dominated hip hop scene. Even Wray’s bravado is in sharp contrast to “the very depressed teenager with no direction” she was, but the sassy global-hit maker she would become as “Salt” in Salt N Pepa, happened only once she began rapping when, “something awakened in me and I felt so alive.” Just as well, as there was “no Plan B”, she explains.

Many international stars had already emerged out of New York’s rap scene in the ‘80s, but prior to Salt N Pepa, rap was a chick-free zone, bar Deborah Harry’s absurd jive about ‘men from Mars’ in Blondie’s hit, Rapture. As for what made Salt N Pepa boldly go where no ladies had gone before, Cheryl surmises, “A group like us was needed - there was a gap in the market for some strong female performers who could sell records on the level of the bigger, more established rap groups…  and that’s exactly what we did.”

Wray, along with high-school friends Sandra “Pepa” Denton and Deidra “Spinderella” Roper, were regular visitors open mic venues around New York in the mid-‘80s, where up-coming stars like Martin Lawrence would perform comedy routines to notoriously rough crowds. Lawrence, as with every other performer, would either “make it or break it”, Cheryl says, as judged entirely on the audience’s reaction. “We were really scared, but when we decided it was time for us to perform in front of a crowd, we rocked it.” She smiles, “We did our song, The Show Stopper – which we wrote in response to Freddy Fresh’s The Show – a massive street level hit at the time - and that ended up becoming our first single out here in America.” Salt N Pepa had gained that all-important acceptance among their peers as hot live performers – the greatest level of respect a rap group could be awarded at the time – fueling their already burning motivation for stardom.

"I don’t remember it being that hard for us because we were so driven.” Cheryl recalls, “The harder the challenge, the harder we worked to get around it and we never felt like we were failing.” Moving from open mic nights to cutting records, the girl’s next challenge was getting their music heard. Their Show Stopper had worked as a live introduction to the group, and its follow-up single, Tramp was taking off in the clubs, but it was only when DJ’s started flipping the record and dropping its b-side, Push It, that Salt N Pepa became overnight stars. However, the song, a kind of throw-away dance/rap number, suggested the group were more sugar than spice, a fact that became a bone of contention, particularly for Cheryl, as Salt N Pepa continued to grow in popularity. “There were times when I felt like we were just doing what was expected of us when we should have been expressing ourselves.” She acknowledges.

For Cheryl, a far greater victory for Salt N Pepa was using their profile to address issues rap artists had chosen ignore. In the wake of that infamous HIV/AIDS ad campaign, in which a bowling grim reaper had Australia in fear of all things sex and sexuality, Salt N Pepa stepped in with a perfectly timed, realistic suggestion; Let’s Talk About Sex. “That song made us unofficial spokespeople for AIDS awareness.” Cheryl recalls. It was the right track at the right time, but from a group far removed from any reaper-based fear campaigns, yet Australia identified and agreed - intimacy wasn’t dead. Indeed Let’s Talk About Sex went to number one at a time when there were practically no hip hop acts charting locally, and AIDS was crashing into suburban living rooms on a nightly basis, forcing many an awkward dinner conversation. 

Let’s Talk About Sex was not an irresponsible song, as some people tried to claim,” Cheryl points out, “but you know, as a celebrity, especially in the US, people are always calling you to account over things you say because you’re a public figure. I mean when we were younger, we just wanted to get our songs played and go on tour and that was about it, but I think that we felt a kind of social responsibility as we got a bit older because our profile was getting a lot bigger and nobody was really saying what we thought needed to be said.” Cheryl adds, “As an artist, you wanna express what’s on your mind, and with the whole AIDS thing we never saw it as shameful but as something that urgently needed to be discussed properly. The information going around about it at the time was really that it was a thing of shame or fear, but in our song we talk about taking responsibility for your actions and knowing the risks.” Salt N Pepa’s frankness and big issue-raising is a detail that is often overlooked in place of the ‘Most Successful Female Rap Act Of All-Time’ tagline publicists like to use. Perhaps though, not unlike the statistic-obsessed media, Salt N Pepa’s own families even had difficulty knowing what to make of a girl rap group being taken seriously.

“Because hip hop was still such a new thing when we started, and no females were having success doing hip hop while we were having massive hits, my family and friends were just confused.” Cheryl laughs, “My mum and dad were in shock for a really long time. Whenever we had a platinum selling single, or won and MTV award or whatever, they would just look at me, like ‘who are you?’”. She adds, “My dad was really supportive, but mum was always more concerned that I was gonna start acting like a super star, and she would say like, ‘don’t come up in here acting like no diva. When you come home to your father and me, you’re just Cheryl, okay!’  That really kept me grounded the whole time.” In 2001, following a bankruptcy claim from their label, Cheryl and Sandra found themselves grounded indefinitely as Salt N Pepa. The two then parted ways as Cheryl shockingly revealed that she had been sick for a long time and her friendship with Pepa well and truly was over. 

“Pep and I were not good for a long time before then.  We were young when we started and basically we were no longer communicating at all, and we felt underappreciated by one another, so getting back to performing as Salt N Pepa again, I had to put right a lot of stuff in my mind that had bothered me up to that point and learn to accept our legacy.” The 1994 single, None Of Your Business, finally earned Salt N Pepa the first Grammy award of their career, but Cheryl who later ‘disowned that song for its sexually salacious content’, was at that stage so unwell, that the win was merely a ‘hollow triumph.’ “It was exciting on one level, but all I remember of that time was, I was severely bulimic and caught up in the whole ‘skinny is beautiful’ thing, and I felt so empty when I should have been elated, I suppose.” She adds, “My career was peaking at the same time my personal life was at an all time low. You always think when you’re young that success is measured in these certain terms, but the reality is a Grammy’s never gonna fill the void I felt when I was bulimic.” Cheryl had successfully beaten her illness by the mid-‘00s, and today is a spokesperson for bulimia awareness in American schools. Then in 2007, Pep and Wray finally burned a few old bridges, “we just needed to grow up away from each other for a time”, and Cheryl took the equally important step to rejoining Salt N Pepa; she stopped fighting with her conscience over the songs, and learned to love both the sugar and the spice. 

“In hindsight, I felt like I was out of my comfort zone promoting songs that I didn’t believe in, but I didn’t say anything at the time, and that’s one of the issues that lead to me leaving, but I’ve made my peace with our legacy now.” Accepting what people love about Salt N Pepa was one of Wray’s biggest challenges, but Cheryl, who spent years distancing herself from what she perceived as the tacky side of Salt N Pepa, now exhibits a softened, almost sentimental approach to past ‘errors of judgment’. “Pep and I were actually talking about bringing out the old chunky leather jackets for fun - you know from the Push It video?” She laughs, “Just the other day my daughter was going through all my old stage clothes and her and her friend decided to dress up as me and Pep as we were in the ‘80s for Halloween!” She adds, “They had the spandex body suits on and everything, and I thought to myself, ‘that’s when you know you’ve made it – when you’re a damned Halloween costume!”


Friday, October 14, 2011

Jello Biafra interview: 2011


Boulder, Colorado-born Eric Boucher began life ‘small-town USA’ style, in front of the television absorbing all the menace and mirth it could spew out into his young mind. Not being the sporty type, he fixated on music, cartoons and news broadcasts in his free time, growing increasingly fascinated - and disgusted - by how atrocious world events were televised and reported on by his country’s media. The anger and bewilderment he experienced, combined with a natural gift for writing and self-expression, ultimately gave rise to Boucher’s notorious - at first on-stage only – persona, Jello Biafra. Whatever life had in store for small-town boy Eric Boucher, it was surely crushed once the mighty Biafra was ‘born’, and to this day, it is the peculiar name of Jello that continues to raise eyebrows, hackles and conservative backs through-out small, big and all-towns-in-between, USA.

The mushy dessert of his name-sake, an easy to swallow, much loved children’s favorite may have been an ironic choice of pseudonym for the one-time Dead Kennedys' singer, but Biafra has always been an unashamed attention seeker. He knew when he chose his tag, that every kid in the USA would at some time or another been spoon-fed that very thing by a caring parental figure. Perhaps he saw his own high level absorption of crass news media as a rather tasteless kind of ‘spoon-feeding’, and so took a punt that if he was going to have a public forum to unleash his anti-establishment woes, then it was gonna come with a sweet and fluffy handle that nobody would forget!

Biafra’s most noted platform came in the form of punk legends The Dead Kennedys – once more, a name that was certain to stick in the public’s craw in the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination – and perhaps for that reason, in their new home of San Francisco, Biafra and his band were treated as a blight on the landscape of a city under the spell of neo-hippie-dom and rising yuppie-dom. However, this didn’t prevent ‘Blight Biafra’ from raising sizable interest in his absurdest campaign to become mayor of San Francisco in 1979, or even prevent The Dead Kennedys from charting with singles like Too Drunk To Fuck and Holiday In Cambodia. Biafra had proved beyond doubt he had enough support to be the voice for a broadening sector of society not content to just ‘suck it up’, and its precisely that voice – one that’s never waned in its convictions despite the trouble it’s bought him and his band - that has earned him a new career as a spoken word performer. The gloves no doubt come off when Jello hits the stage for his Melbourne spoken-word debut in October – they certainly did when it came to answering some of my questions in this rare, but utterly engaging interview.

What can people expect coming to a Jello Biafra spoken word show these days? Well I haven’t done one in a while, so I’m not quite sure what I’m going to discuss at this stage. I’ll just pull it all together at the last minute I’m sure. I mean events and news stories happen so fast these days, and I like my show to be right up to the minute, you know.

Do you see a lot of your – especially political - subject matter as relatable in countries outside of the US?
Yeah, I mean it seems as if nobody is spared the heavy handed moves by the banks and the super rich to step on the gas and ramp up the whole corporate coup, pushing the idea that community is a bad thing, and it doesn’t work. They just want it to be every one for themselves, conditioned to just make more and more money regardless of how and who it affects and that mindset is why you see basic social services suffering. The banks are desperately trying to save their own arses and so its community and environment be damned. I’ve heard rumblings from Australia about a carbon tax, and I’m sure any argument against that would bare more than a passing resemblance to the American Tea Party – a grass roots movement who were actually funded by oil barons and the like. These guys know not to pull out the white hoods, but you can see clearly where their loyalties lie.

The song, Invasion of the Mind Snatchers from your last album, Enhanced Methods of Questioning digs neatly at the US’s problem with insane religious right-wing nutters getting into positions of power, but are people like Fred Phelps and Wolf Blitzer a genuine threat in your opinion?
Well, Fred Phelps hasn’t got a lot of support, but he’s obviously getting money from somewhere. I’ve been to his compound in Kansas, and they’ve taken over an entire block in a residential neighbourhood, apart from two houses whose owners wouldn’t sell, and so excluding them, there’s a gigantic fence around all the Phelps houses, which is floodlit 24 hours a day and it’s covered in the usual ‘god hates fags’ kind of crap, but that compound is really the only place he holds any power in thankfully. He has no political support, in sharp contrast to Blitzer and Sarah Palin, who are just as extreme as Phelps is, the only difference is, they know how to package themselves more cleverly.

What do you get out of spoken word performance that maybe is lacking from fronting a band, such as Dead Kennedys? Well for a start, activism, spoken word and music is all connected for me, but you don’t get the great adrenalin rush doing spoken word as you do playing music live of course, but then touring as a spoken word artist, you can go deeper into ideas and into people’s brains. I mean I never expected spoken word to take off, but I have to thank those fascists at the LAPD and hate-mongers like Tipper Gore who dragged me through court over the Dead Kennedy’s Frankenchrist album. (1985’s Frankenchrist holds the ‘honor’ of being the token reason for banning and censorship of music in the US, resulting in massive legal costs for Biafra and ultimately the end of the ‘Kennedys). That was the first time a charge of ‘distribution of harmful material to minors’ had been brought against a music album in American history.

Frankenchrist - killed the Kennedys?
Are fans encouraged to actively participate in the spoken word shows and enter into a discussion with you?
It all depends; sometimes I have time for questions sometimes not. When people come to see me though, I think they already have some idea of what I’m about and what to expect, and the kinds of things I talk about are what they probably discuss among their friendship groups already. So I’m just offering a viewpoint that can maybe add something to their own conversations. I mean I’m not afraid of being asked questions, but doing just question and answer sessions can quickly turn into a forum for a handful of conspiracy theorists wanting to debate the Roswell space alien or the whole 9/11 inside job thing.

Do you subscribe to any of the popular conspiracy theories yourself?
In my mind, the biggest conspiracy was that America went to war while being governed by Spinal Tap. But in reality, part of the problem was the FBI had all this so-called intelligence and voice recordings in several different languages that nobody in the US government could even understand. Conspiracy theories are great, but I much prefer to make my mind up using logic and fact. 9/11 happened because our (the US’s) powers that be at the time were completely ignorant.

Being in the privileged position of two public forums – spoken word/punk music - do you think you’ve always been successful in expressing your viewpoint?
Well yeah, I mean I’ve encouraged people for all these years to not hate the media, but to become the media. That doesn’t mean living your whole life on Facebook, and sending out little tweets from your phone, it’s about grasping the potential of the new media and saying what we’re being offered isn’t good enough. There’s a lot of people power going to waste on obsessing over pointless celebrity culture. But to answer your question, I’m just one guy and I’m not a mainstream force to be reckoned with, I’m just making a living off my art, and I’ve tried to use my art in a positive way, but now I’m saying it’s up to you to go out and inspire people in the same way I’ve perhaps inspired you.

Do you think running for mayor of San Francisco in hindsight, you were in fact much better positioned to make a difference outside of politics altogether? Yeah for sure, but I was never going to be that guy who put on a suit and went door to door telling people a different lie each time just so they’d vote for me. What I was trying to say is politics doesn’t have to be just that one thing, but as an artist I didn’t have to try and change a whole system to get up there and say ‘this is exactly what I believe in, take it or leave it.’ I’m living off my big mouth and bad attitude, yeah, but that’s gotta be better than bullshitting as a career.

Does coming back to Australia fill you with good memories of your last tour here with the Dead Kennedys?
What comes to mind immediately is, after a show in Brisbane one night myself, DH Peligro (Kennedys’ drummer) and members of The Johnnys were having a few drinks out on the street and a police car pulls up and they arrest Peligro basically for drinking while black! They didn’t go after anybody else and so that to me was a first hand experience of the banana republic dictatorship of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Then after a second show in Brisbane, fans were coming and telling me their favourite stories about Bjelke-Petersen, and I think the most outrageous one I heard was about a dude who got arrested in broad daylight for carrying a concealed weapon in a bag of groceries – it was a pineapple! I mean doesn’t Queensland grow like the entire pineapple stock for the rest of the country? You would think they would know the difference between a weapon and a piece of fruit is all I’m saying.

One of your most interesting ‘projects’ was helping launch the music career of Wesley Willis. Australia has a special kind of love for Willis’s brand of laugh out loud, apparently nonsense tributes to his favourite celebrities; Alanis Morrisette, Oprah Winfrey etc..; I wonder, what do you miss most about him? People say ‘oh such-n-such is a larger than life character’, you know, but Wes really was larger than life. I mean, every single person he came in contact with was just blown away by his energy and his wit, but Wes was utterly exhausting as well. I mean, I would be doubled up in fits of laughter and unable to breathe because of some bizarre observation or statement he would make. Like one time I had to get on a plane with him and make sure he was okay getting to where he needed to go, and this was only in a short space of time after 9/11, and we’re in the airport lounge and all of a sudden Wes just yells at the top of his voice, “Hey Jello, do you think if I hijack a plane they’ll put me in jail?”, and I just froze thinking there were going to be all these security dudes come running out and crash-tackle us or something, and I said to Wes, you know, “You gotta keep it down, man you can’t say that stuff!”, and so he went “okay”, and then sure enough ten minutes later, “Hey Jello, do you think if I hijack a plane they’ll put me in jail?”. He was always doing shit like that and that’s what I miss so much about him not being around. I thought a lot about Wes the night Obama was elected and when he got up to do his speech, all I could think of in the back of my mind was how much that moment would’ve meant to him. Wes would’ve been in that crowd at the White House, and even if he was 100 metres back, his booming voice still would have come through, and he would have been singing, “Obama is the greatest, he can really whip Saddam Hussein’s ass! He can really kick a mule’s ass!” That’s how Wesley was man - just a great communicator of emotions. Nobody could sum up the feeling of a moment like Wes.


Hey Bono, Jello's onto you, you fatuous swine!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Joanne Catherall (The Human League) interview: 2011


In what could've been seen as a bid to off-set the synthetic-foundations of their music, the ‘human’ side to the Human League was always overtly the central focus. The spotlight was on three radically styled and made-up vocalists - Phil Oakey, Susan Anne Sulley and Joanne Catherall – each presenting a strong individuality, yet functioning smoothly as unit, delivering warm, yet exclusively machine-made tunes. In the early days of electronic music, the embryonic Human League (Mk I - before Catherall and Sulley), were among a handful of groups who saw potential in dragging synths out of the underground clubs and into the mainstream. Once they shook-off a few computer programmers posing as musicians - and a Kraftwerk obsession  found on first two albums, Reproduction and Travelogue - a band emerged that would set the blue-print for a whole new direction in music.  In 1981, following a smart line-up change which remains to this day, The ‘League Mk II’ was born and it is they who are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the ‘new romantic’ movement’s first ever break-through record, Dare! - an album fashioned on the hope that ‘this synth-pop thing was gonna take off’.

Everyone either had or wanted a synthesizer in 1981 - or so it seemed - but it’s interesting to note now that this must-have addition to any band was treated with great suspicion by established artists in fear of redundancy. It was the marker of the times, forcing many acts who’d trail-blazed in the 1970s into an ‘adapt or die’ situation, which saw many four-piece rock acts suddenly scramble to work a bit of ‘new wave’ into their sound. Meanwhile artists like New Order, Vince Clarke, and Thomas Dolby were fast taking over as the ‘new innovators’, as their mastery of the synth gradually helped earn it acceptance. The Human League however, were young enough that this new synthetic sound was a mere formality and rather than make a ‘press-play-and-go’ programmable keyboard their main feature, it was simply the engine under their swanky hood, upon which leapt a wave of image-conscious front and centre singers, all reaching for the lippy and hairspray, while busting out robotic dance moves.

Ahead of Human League’s Australian visit for the ‘80s Rewind Festival, speaking with me today in defense of the humble synth - and dodgy robot-dancing - vocalist Joanne Catherall from her home in Sheffield begins by recalling the massive influence of, Dare!, and how her band had to fight to release the record that would ultimately define the new romantic movement.

“Our first record deal was for ten albums, which is just unheard of today, but the catch was, we were told in no uncertain terms, we could not make Dare! the way we wanted to.” Catherall says, “But we decided we had nothing to lose really by ignoring them (Virgin), I mean none of us owned a house or any of that, and so broke as we were, we went ahead and made the record that we had in our heads and it obviously became very successful. But we made Dare! almost in direct opposition to what the label wanted us to do. They wanted us to get in a full live band, but Phillip (Oakey) was only interested in using synthesisers, as that was how the first two Human League albums (Reproduction, Travelogue) were made, but the group was changing, myself and Susan (Ann Sulley) had joined, and I think the label thought we might as well get a guitarist and drummer too… Phil wasn’t having any of it, though.”

In what sounds like a quaint notion by today’s standards, The Human League was singled out at the start of the 1980s as reluctant poster stars for a campaign called ‘Keep It Live’. Using synthesisers was viewed by the media old guard as ‘cheating’ and some sectors of press launched attacks on the burgeoning new romantic scene, claiming the bands shouldn’t be seen as ‘performing live’ in the traditional sense. “It is quaint to think of that now, as you say when you have tours by artists like Britney Spears who, it is claimed, do not even sing live.” Joanne continues, “The dancing has become so elaborate that it must be impossible for them to sing and perform, which is why you always saw me and Susan just doing our sort of robot routine,” she laughs, “It was the only way we could sing live and dance at the same time!” Making their own mark within The Human League was important for Joanne and Susan, so as not to be seen as just ‘backing dancers who sang a bit’. So after fronting up as co-lead vocalists on Dare! single, The Sound Of The Crowd – which became the band’s first chart hit – Joanne’s confidence bloomed. 

“I was genuinely thrilled that people reacted so strongly to that song, I mean, it’s very unusual in a lot of ways, and honestly Susan and I didn’t think it was going to be a hit at all, but our careers really did take off because of that song.” In Australia, The Human League enjoyed a level success on the back of Dare!, only rivaled by the UK. The band’s first tour in 1982, Susan remembers, was ‘akin to Beatle-mania’. “There were hoards of fans at the airport with banners when we arrived, and camping in the hotel’s reception area. I mean, we couldn’t even leave our hotel rooms without being mobbed.” She giggles, “It was like ABBA: The Movie!, and I can tell you, we hadn’t had that kind of reaction anywhere else in the world, so Australia will always be a bit special to us for that reason.” The Human League were in Australia just two years ago promoting a new album, Credo, yet their current billing on the ‘80s Rewind Festival places them squarely in the ‘coming out of retirement’ sector. Never in the past has Joanne been comfortable with the retro tag, but she is content to claim her band are nothing if not survivors. 

“The thing about the three of us, is that we’re all too stubborn to just give up on The Human League. Never have we sat down and all said ‘let’s just call it a day’, you know, and we got a lot of strength by proving how wrong the people were who wrote us off as a ‘80s flash-in-the-pan act.” Surviving has also meant remaining close with her ex-partner, Phil Oakey - whom Joanne was romantically involved with for most of the 1980s - and enduring periods of declining interest. However, these days the trio are tighter than ever, and it seems, are rarely out of each other’s pockets. “We go away on tour so much together that even now there’s never more than two weeks in the year where we don’t see one another.” Joanne says. “But we couldn’t have stayed together as a band for 30 years if we didn’t get on though, and our secret to success has always been knowing our roles in the band and not stepping outside of those. I mean I would never go into the studio and start telling Phillip how to use the synthesiser – I wouldn’t know one end of it from the other – and Susan and I aren’t involved in the songwriting either, but we take care of the business of running the band, which means that we see each other pretty regularly when not on tour as well.”

The business side of things goes from typical band activities, to Joanne’s appointed role as Human League’s accountant. It became apparent that to get through the tough times, minding the band’s economy, as with all other aspects themselves, was essential. “We were burnt a few times financially, and there were some very trying years personally.” Joanne adds, “Our label went bust the day our 2001 album Secrets came out, and we obviously very depressed about it, but instead of walking away, we decided to tour extensively and reconnect with our fans, and it was tough at first, but it kept us going and we have hardly stopped since then, I’m happy to say.”


Monday, September 26, 2011

Motley Crue live in Melbourne, 2011 (review)

Venue: Rod Laver Arena
Date: 24/09/11

Motley Crue’s The Dirt is one of the most notorious reads in the entire genre of rock biographies, which lead to the LA glam/metal band to be crowned undisputed kings of excess and bad behavior. No surprise then that their live show is equally excessive and totally over-the-top in a way that suits the band’s image, yet at the sacrifice of its ability to perform. This current tour is in celebration of 30 years of sex, drugs, arrests, messed up shit… oh and some rock n’ roll as well for good measure. The tour also boasts that fans are getting Motley Crue’s original line-up of Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars, Tommy Lee and Vince Neil - as if anybody could name the band member’s occasional replacements in the ‘down-time’, or early ‘90s to mid-00’s hit-free period – but then it is a testament to the ‘Crue that any of them are still talking considering the brutal in-band bitching that’s become as famous as their unhealthy lifestyles.

But Motley Crue are all now in their 50s, and have surely grown into well balanced men with a wealth of experience and know-how, right? Nah, who am I kidding!? The young bushy haired men who proudly sang about Smokin’ In The Boys Room and Girls, Girls, Girls refused to die, if the twenty-foot high expressions on Motley Crue’s craggily faces, peering down at us from the live-feed projection screens are anything to go by. Alas though the band’s aggression and prowess, much like their long-gone youth cannot be sustained for very long following the tremendous first rush of Too Fast For Love.

Despite the 30 years of ‘Crue action, its hard to ignore the feeling that Vince, Nikki and Mick don’t seem particularly comfortable with one another as they shift around the stage swapping mics so that fans can get a good look at each member. In particular, Vince’s attempt to finger Nikki’s bass strings mid-song results in a quick and very awkward retreat by Sixx, who gets a pretty stern glower in return. Meanwhile guitarist Mick Mars, with his frozen expression, begrudgingly joins the other two on a narrow raised platform in a woeful attempt to show solidarity that fails to translate as anything other than forced. The show is only three songs in, and already the seams are unraveling, so what a better way to distract from this fact than by wheeling out a huge mirror-balled grand piano that even Elton John would consider ‘a bit camp’ and getting drummer Tommy Lee to play it under a cool blue spotlight.

Tommy always had the 'extra spicy' curry before a performance.
Now Tommy Lee may be the owner of the most famous penis in rock, but he’s here to prove that there’s more to him than just an over-sized schlong, dammit! Lee makes a big show of prepping for his piano solo - as he would have done at every concert on this tour no doubt – and cue the big ‘80s power-ballad moment that, eh nobody appears to have been waiting for. Home Sweet Home, quite frankly dies mid-way through, as even from up in the bleachers, the audiences boredom is palpable. A rather telling long break follows and the stage lights are cut as the band hurriedly cross off every ballad from the set list and re-emerge with nowt but cock-rock left.

Next up, its stage two of Tommy Lee’s attempt to steal the show with an even more pointless display than his piano fiasco with the mother of all Spinal Tap moments; his kit, which has been mounted at the base of a circular vertical roller-coaster track, begins to edge up and around as he plays the most obviously not-live drum solo of all-time. Lee’s strapped in to his stool, so you know he’s gonna go the full 360 degrees, he does, and the effect is sickening, but not particularly ‘sick’. For about 10 minutes, Lee, after hauling a completely non-plussed fan up to join the ride, continues his rotating drum solo, aided by bursts of flame and showering sparks, but by now my mind is just wandering to things like ‘what happened to the rest of the band’ and ‘the level of insurance they would have to pay incase the ‘lucky’ audience member slips out of the restraints must be astronomical’.

Finally the rest of the band return, and we are in the home stretch of Motely Crue’s 30th anniversary concert, which so far has been every kind of absurd, but served up without a shred of irony. Not much so far has happened to cause any offense or ruffle feathers, but despite the long break off stage, Vince Neil appears to have given just about all he’s got and so he puffs his way through Dr Feelgood, forgetting half the lyrics and walking where he previously would run. The performance only continues to become more and more shambolic after this, and no amount of fire balls, smoke jets, sparks, cannons or revolving drum kits can hide the fact. Nikki Sixx barks into the mic to rouse up the audience as the show concludes – again with no sense of irony - “When we first got together, we knew we needed a singer like Steven Tyler, Robert Plant and Bon Scott… and with Vince Neil, we got all three!”

Even Vince wasn’t entirely convinced of Sixx’s comparison, but in a final act of forced unity, the band embrace and hold one-another’s arms aloft, and remind us how much better we were as an audience than… insert any capital city that isn’t Melbourne. But by then it was all too late for Motley Crue’s fans here at Rod Laver. I’m going out on a big general limb here, but if Australian audiences can be summarised at all, I think it’s safe to say, you just can’t bullshit us. Motley wanted to be loved so badly that they were literally turning on their heads to impress us, but in reality a few more weeks in rehearsals would’ve sufficed. The biggest shocker of all though is, who would have guessed the most notorious hard living, hard drinking, hard shagging band this side of the Rolling Stones damn well fake it?


Monday, September 5, 2011

Ed Kuepper interview: 2011


As guitarist in the Australian punk legends, The Saints, Ed Kuepper played the withdrawn, thoughtful foil to the rumbling brick shithouse that was Chris Bailey. But however uncharacteristic a thing ‘thoughtful’ may be in punk guitarists circles, as co-songwriter, Kuepper is credited as one of the two men who gave birth to punk in Australia in 1976, with a little sulk about being Stranded (so far from home). Despite the blazing debut of I’m Stranded, unlike Bailey, Kuepper had viewed punk as a mere minor bump in the road along which he was traveling, continually searching for something that moved him. Then in 1980, the German-born Queenslander, committed musical sacrilege - combining jazz with punk – in Laughing Clowns, but this hybrid-flaunting band demonstrated Kuepper’s formidable arranging and songwriting prowess, as well as gaining him widespread respect in his birthplace of Bremen.

It was Ed’s move to making solo records in 1985, beginning with Electrical Storm, that drives our conversation today as Kuepper takes stock of this, and 1986 album Rooms Of The Magnificent, through a series of acoustic performances, and planned re-rearrangements of the albums his punk and jazz roots never saw coming.  The two albums, although not strictly his most prolific work, have gained an almost indescribable significance for Kuepper over time, he begins. “It feels like an odd thing for me to be doing right now, but the material seemed to be calling out for my attention. I recently began to see links between the songs on those albums, as well as on Today Wonder (1990), and I want to get to the core of what those connections are, and why I they were suddenly making themselves known to me. All I really know is I couldn’t ignore them any longer… It’s like psychoanalysis I suppose.” A debut solo album, I propose, can be a frightening concept for a man who walked away from such a ‘sure thing’ as The Saints, and the massive overseas fan-base Laughing Clowns earned. Was the common thread one of self-doubt?

“I would say I was rather more relieved.” He laughs. “Both of those bands ended quite poorly in terms of our friendships, and so I had no trepidation about recording on my own, however those first two records were very rushed affairs, which is why they were so raw and now demanding my urgent attention.” Kuepper, motivated by re-visiting his early solo work, is putting together an entirely new album to be released as a follow up, “I’m wondering if the new record will be informed by what I discover in re-working those older songs.” But his search seems to be based on an ideal, rather than any real dissatisfaction with how those records sounded. “I had forgotten quite a lot of those songs until recently when Mark Dawson (Ed’s drummer, 1985-’95 who is involved in the re-workings project) and I began this process, and hearing them again they seemed so mysterious to me. I’m not expecting any great revelations to occur, but it does feel as though a story was being written and somewhere along the way I lost the thread of that, which is what I’m exploring now in order to move it forward.” Since 1985, Ed has written and arranged 20 solo records, often direct and emotionally raw in tone, so untangling the story of his subconscious is certain keep the artist busy for some time yet. One brief but certainly memorable chapter in Kuepper’s story outside of his personal songwriting, was of course the tense musical partnership he shared with Chris Bailey in The Saints. Ed has on occasion reunited with The Saints for tours, but he understands the only rewarding part of his and Bailey’s union was during the band’s formation.

“There was focus, and the kind of fighting between us that was very good for creating music, but not for creating dear friends.” He recalls. “Chris was much happier after I left so he could get on with doing his campy vaudeville act… that’s his thing, but it was never really for me.” The last Saints reunion tour in 2009 coincided with the news that Mick Harvey was leaving The Bad Seeds after 30 years in the service of Mr Cave. As a long-time associate and peer of the band - The Birthday Party’s deceased guitarist, Tracey Pew had briefly joined Laughing Clowns – Ed was approached to step into Harvey’s place. But if his role extends to writing the next album with Cave, he’s unsure. “Oh look, we haven’t discussed those finer details, but I would imagine just being in the studio with the band we would work out the songs as a unit, but being involved as a songwriter is not an issue. I think Nick writes most of the lyrics, and I certainly wouldn’t knock back the chance to write together, but I’m still ‘the new guy’ in a lot of ways, which is nice.” He laughs. “I haven’t been the new anything for a long time!”


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Clouds, The Wonderstuff, Jesus Jones: live in Melbourne 2011 (review)

Venue: The Palace
Date: 19/08/2011

“Did that really just happen?” I say to myself in the moments following Jesus Jones’ final exit from the Palace stage, after an encore that concluded a night 20-plus years in waiting. This triple bill of bands that all peaked quite some time ago, could only truly tickle the fancy of a very specific age group – children of the early 1990’s – and it is precisely those ‘children’ who’ve flocked to the Palace tonight to rejoice in and lament the last ever pre-internet era in music, known as the early ‘90s.

Jesus Jones in particular were a major part of my education, as I slipped from top 40 radio into this new wow thing called ‘alternative music’. Remember that? Looking back, Jesus Jones were the perfect vehicle to carry a newbie into lower-end-of-charts comparative weirdness. At the time, they represented everything that had been missing from the music I had known, but suddenly found myself needing. Meanwhile closer to home, Sydney’s Clouds had blipped on the radar around the same time, with their strange but sing-a-long tunes and a reputation as the must-see live band. I didn’t see them, but as first band up tonight Clouds, who hadn’t played together since 1997, deliver an eerily powerful and dust-free set, safely securing that reputation. However, time wouldn’t allow them a sound-check for this show, and as a result there is something slightly mechanical about watching them perform some of their most-loved tracks. Soul Eater, 4pm, Immorta, Say It and Bower Of Bliss are undoubtedly superior to the recorded versions, but the band’s rigid presence suggested they were anxious to just get through the set – as marvelous as it is – and leave. They end on a meticulously rendered Hieronymus, playing as though every fragment of the song was burned into their collective brains, and leave us hanging with no encore.

Perhaps not all that many were here for Clouds tonight, and they picked up that they weren’t playing to ‘their crowd’ as such, but no doubt the vibes are still good all round as most people are just here to enjoy three fine examples of a great period in music. Although it’s a seemingly unrelated line-up of acts - a Jesus Jones fan is basically indistinguishable from a Wonderstuff fan, at least until the many British-accented punters present chime-in following Clouds' set. One ex-pat speaks hazily into my ear between bands of how important it was to ‘choose your tribe’ during the British post new-wave in the early ‘90s. Jesus Jones, EMF and Age Of Chance fans would never have been seen at a Wonderstuff gig back in the day, for those bands were worshipped by a totally different clan and mixing was off the table. This tribalism however looks to be long-gone, as no Pulp Mis-Shapes-style’ war on the dance floor takes place and it’s thankfully still too cold for the Balmy Army to make an appearance. Further evidence of tribalism’s death needed? The Wonderstuff have only gone and got ex-Pop Will Eat Itself drummer Fuzz Townshend to bash the bins for them, and their placing on tonight’s bill could be read as ‘Jesus Jones’ opening act.’

But whoever decided on the running order of the bands was probably tossing a three sided coin. Jesus Jones had top billing, but exactly why so is not obvious by any traditional ‘biggest seller’ means… Until Wonderstuff take to the stage and things became a little clearer. Performance wise, Wonderstuff are incredible. They deliver a riot of, mainly drinking songs that would make Shane MacGowan proud, and all the energy of an out-of-control Red Bull delivery truck. However, the spectacle of singer Miles Hunt at 47 years of age in Play School presenter’s regalia – stripy t-shirt and ill-fitting denim overalls - and the mysterious return of his circa-1991 bushy mane (heads it’s a wig….) probably seemed like a good idea on paper, but I found the music more enjoyable when I wasn’t actually watching him. Presentation wise, they would have been far more suited to headlining a fancy dress barn dance is all I’m saying.

Some part of me really wanted Jesus Jones to emerge in their (now) vintage skate gear, and still sporting enormous fringes, but perhaps fearing a Wonderstuff-esque pantomime, they opted for smart casuals. Besides their new dressed-down look, vampish lead singer, Mike Edwards hasn’t aged in any obvious way whatsoever, but rather seems to be transitioning into a dandy-ish fop. With not an ounce of fat on Edward’s body and barely a wrinkle on his chiseled face, somewhere out there, Jarvis was seething. The rest of the almost-all-original line-up (they have a new drummer) resemble archetypal aging ravers with a bit of a nod to heavy metal thrown in for good measure. Basically Jesus Jones look exactly like they sounded at their peak, and just as both bands before them tonight, deliver a set pooled only from their first three albums – or the ‘hit period’ - Liquidizer, Doubt and Perverse. It’s been 20 years since the Jones boys have played in Australia, and with tongue slightly in cheek, Edwards declares, “We’ll just do a few songs you used to know.” They kick off with Doubt’s Who, Where, Why? – a song of lost identity which could not be more fitting for the band now. Jesus Jones self-confidence early on verged on arrogance. Mike Edwards fully believed his band were making ‘the music of the future’, but in saying so, he placed his band’s heads neatly onto the block and the brutal lashing he received from the press resulted in rapidly dwindling interest/product post 1993 album, Perverse.

Perhaps Jesus Jones weren’t so wide of the mark though. The Prodigy proved the masses were open to the idea of a slightly daft electro-metal act, but alas, if only Jesus Jones hadn’t thought so hard about it all. At least for a time, they were music’s baggy jeaned fortune tellers. Sounding very fortuitous now, 1991’s anti-pop hit single, Real Real Real blasts forth its claim that pop music is on a downward spiral into ‘safe and samey’ terrain. It might not have rung Nostradamus’s bell, but at least someone was saying it. Nostalgia concerts are strange things when the band in question once stood firm against ‘repeating the past’ but its undeniable that Jesus Jones would not be touring at all were it not for a single piece of music - 1991’s Right Here Right Now - and its impact beyond the charts. Politicians campaigned with it playing in the background, advertisers sought its power to push their products and street demonstrations rang with its message of instant revolution. It’s also the song that a large number of fans tonight were happy to leave once hearing. Mike waves goodbye from the stage as the exodus occurs leaving the hard-cores with some very welcome extra dance-floor space. 

The rest of the set is a fan’s dream list of b-sides, near-forgotten album tracks and even one new song, which was promising to say the least, but it’s their debut single, Info Freako that gets the warmest welcome. A cry of ‘FINALLY!’ rings out from one punter at the barrier, who had been waiting possibly years for Perverse stand-out track Idiot Stare, and further voices are raised in response to the ‘song we haven’t played live in 20 years’ – Blissed - another from Doubt. All up, Jesus Jones play a well-considered set, but by the time their one-song encore is over, there’s two gaping holes in the shape of The Right Decision and Devil. Incredibly, they chose the far less interesting Zeros & Ones as major representative of their dense electro-metal phase (Perverse) which was certainly not the right decision. Still, the concert felt way too short despite the band covering so much ground, which translated means, it was a fucking brilliant ride to be on, and knowing that every song played was one closer to the end of an unlikely to ever be repeated event, was enough to cause minor welling up in these eyes.





Monday, August 1, 2011

Wild Beasts: live in Melbourne 2011 (review)

Venue: Corner Hotel
Date: 28/07/11

Good news, music lovers! The lost link between XTC, Friendly Fires and Crying Light-era Antony and The Johnsons has finally been found… about bloody time, you might say. Wild Beasts - as it is they - bring together the power of a stadium rock show, and the intimacy and heart of a folk festival, which although sounds atrocious in print, the Leeds based neo-psychedelic rock/soul act, saw to it tonight at the Corner, that fans were unanimous in their agreement – the combination somehow works.

The very, very indie, mostly male crowd found themselves robbed of a whole two hour’s composure, on this second visit by Wild Beasts to our shores, as part of the amazing Splendour 2011 line-up. On record, these guys impressively strain and simper over rolling percussion and strings, favouring unstructured spacing - as is the will of bands in the post-Sigur Ros world – only much like Mariah Carey’s urge to use every fucking note on the octave scale - just because she can - Wild Beasts perhaps could do with reining in a bit that ‘desire to dazzle’ so much on stage as they are quite clearly gifted musicians, and have a solid cannon of songs working in their favour. 

To give an example of just how well versed and ‘in control’ they were in setting up the right vibes, the band managed to drink enough alcohol between them to dull the pain of three Christmas’s, and although they were, “still really, really jet lagged”, as co-lead singer Tom Fleming states, nobody dropped a single musical baton in their multi-multi-instrumental set-up. These guys are switching instruments in every direction tonight, and taking to it like it ain’t no thang. But hey, if any one of the four guy/one girl team were slackin’ off – guitarist Ben Little did spend a considerable amount of time on the floor - drummer Chris Talbot proved a sensational distraction for them to catch a break. Holding a steady gaze throughout, Talbot played his enormous kit – which included a timpani – as though he were leading a charge into battle.

Despite the drummers commanding presence however, it was all eyes on Wild Beasts’ remarkable lead vocalist, Hayden Thorpe and his roof-raising falsetto. A lot was made of the fact that Brett Anderson (of Suede) and Jeff Buckley sang in falsetto because ‘it just wasn’t done’ in the days of flannelette-shirted rawk, otherwise known as the ‘90s, and I wonder if it’s because of those two artists that more and more male singers are finding their inner eunuch now? Or is it all down to Justin Hawkins from The Darkness? Probably. But whatever the cause, Thorpe is a magnificent on the ‘shrinking balls’ choral vocalising, but not as high pitched live as on the band’s three albums, surprisingly. But Thorpe, as unique as his voice is, has found a wonderous foil in co-lead singer, Fleming. The duo, who are positioned either side of back-to-back keyboards, never outshine, but virtually match one another note for note, and it hits me that I never knew it was two guys I was hearing all along on those tracks.

Of the band’s back catalogue, their set is a pretty generous serve of second album, Two Dancers, which clearly pleases the crowd, who get rowdiest during We Still Have The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues and Hootin’ & Howlin’. Although the stand-out performances were of The Devil’s Crayon and Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants from their debut release, Limbo Panto by far. To these most festive of Wild Beasts’ songs, a core group of fans gather on the smaller side stage to dance. “Hey I love the Top Of The Pops thing you guys have got going on over there!” Thorpe cracks, only to be met with confused expressions from the ‘too young’ invaders.

Maybe it was a little harsh to say the band over do the ‘dazzle’ in a clear desire to go against typical indie band clonery, but on reflection, their show would simply have worked better in a stonking big arena. In other words, Wild Beasts were a jet engine blasting in a two-car garage in this setting, and their performance was far from ‘considerate of the neighbours.’ If my prediction’s anywhere near right, we were lucky to see them in such an intimate venue tonight because somebody soon is gonna see what these Beasts are capable of if let out to play, in which case it’ll be ‘watch your arses, Muse’.



Play Thing
Loop The Loop

The Devil's Crayon
We've Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues
This Is Our Lot
Bed Of Nails
Hooting and Howling
Reach A Bit Further
Lion's Share
Brave Bulging Bouyant Clairvoyants
All The Kings Men
End Comes Too Soon

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Trish Young (Clouds) interview: 2011


The current ‘90s reunion tour juggernaut continues to prosper and throw up some pretty surprising, half remembered names. Some are more obviously deserving of our attention than others - it’s a personal taste thing for sure - but the last time Sydney band Clouds played in my hometown, I was so teasingly close to experiencing their show, I've always reserved a special place for them. The over 18’s-only gig in question, resulted in a cold night stood in the venue’s car-park straining to enjoy every morsel of muffled sound cranking from the speakers. This so close, but not quite moment never abated, but only rose to a lingering obsession with one day being in the same room as the band while they played - after all, their music had already made a fan-for-life of me.

Clouds’ reunion this year falls on the anniversary of their left-field, ARIA-winning debut album, Penny Century, a record that pooled together a whole career’s worth of ideas, and one that the band would never quite equal again in popularity. Yet the most endearing elements at play remained throughout Clouds’ eight year run; the perfectly synchronized harmonies of Jodi Phillis and Trish Young - who also provided lead guitar and bass – the well-measured guitar feedback/melodic tune-ship and some seriously creative drumming, was their ongoing signature. It was after a frustrating US tour, during which time they were signed and dropped within just three months, Clouds ended tidily with the single Never Say Forever and final album, Futura in 1997. The following years were good to Trish Young, she confesses today from her home in Sydney, but she's quick to add, “Though I am really looking forward to getting out there and playing some of the old songs again!” Young explains the timing of the tour - which see’s Gen-X favourites, Jesus Jones and The Wonderstuff on the same bill -  had an added benefit for Clouds’, who were already considering making a return.

“We had put out the feelers already to see if anybody would be interested in booking us to play a couple of shows before the Jesus Jones/Wonderstuff tour came about.” Trish claims, “In the start we were told it would be a five band line-up with us, Jesus Jones, Wonderstuff, Frente and Caligula, but by the time the booking was done, Frente and Caligula had vanished from the roster. I think in the beginning the promoter wanted a full mini-festival of bands from that era.“ The planned triple bill might seem like some cobbling together of completely unrelated acts in any musical sense, but between them, they recall a very specific time in music and had all laid claim to equal billing on the alternative music charts. So much like cask wine and orange juice, it’s not strictly an obvious mix, but then all three bands had previously crossed paths during their respective peaks. Trish recounts.

“I can’t remember the exact year – it would have been around 1992 I think – but we actually supported The Wonderstuff once before, and Jesus Jones used to open for them in England quite a bit.” She continues, “ I do vaguely remember hanging back stage and chatting with (singer) Miles (Hunt) and the guitarist and having a great time, but recently I read in an interview, Miles said none of them (in Wonderstuff) got on back then and tours were always really tense, but it was not the impression I had of them at all. But who knows, maybe the tour with us was the only one they enjoyed!” Clouds frequent tours, including the first ever Big Day Out in 1992, were near legendary events on the live music calendar and attracted sell-out crowds all around the country. Trish recalls Clouds’ touring years fondly,

“When Clouds started, that was exactly the kind of life I had wanted ever since I was in school.” She exclaims, “Opposed to a lot of bands, I actually enjoyed living on the road and staying in a different hotel every night, meeting fans and doing in-stores, but then it was tough on Jodi. She used to suffer terribly from insomnia when we were on tour.” Jodi’s fatigue was never offered as a reason for the Clouds’ eventual split in 1997, but it seems reasonable to think it was a factor. “No it really wasn’t that, but it is true that Jodi wasn’t enjoying the same things that I was about being on tour.” Although Trish admits she misses Clouds, and Jodi continues to slot her 'old band's songs' in during her live solo gigs, no plans are afoot to revive the group. “It’s only a reunion in the sense that we’re playing these three shows... there won’t be any new music or plans to continue beyond the tour. There just isn’t the time anymore for us to commit to that kind of lifestyle.” At the start of Clouds’ career in 1990, the release of their debut self-titled EP in 1990 - which featured Triple J favourite, Cloud Factory – saw the band lumped in with stand-out 4AD acts of the day, Cocteau Twins and Lush. It looked too many reviewers as though fans of ‘jangly guitar/girly-harmonies pop’ had a new band to slip nicely among their This Mortal Coil collections, but Clouds were already in the process of losing their innocence.

Cloud Factory’s gentle acoustic delivery was a false indicator of what was about to come and in 1991, the band dipped into darker terrain with the release of the Loot EP, in particular, the murder ballad 4pm, which beat Nick Cave at his own game. Following Loot, and its radio single, Soul Eater, Clouds managed to chart with a gothic tribute to Flemish impressionist painter, Hieronymus Bosch (Hieronymus), giving the band a green light to go darker and stranger still. Their debut album, Penny Century released at the end of ’91, carried on their sweet but sinister turn and a sizable section of the record-buying public went along for the ride. At this stage, Clouds guitarist Dave Easton was tuning into Pixies/Sonic Youth’s cosmic radio while Jodi and Trish’s writing seemed to be channeled through punk goddess, Siouxsie Sioux. Then in 1993, the much anticipated come-back single, Bower Of Bliss - with a vagina-worship narrative that would’ve made Serge Gainsbourg blush – signaled the end of Clouds mk.1, and unfortunately the end of long-held support from Triple J. Radio barely touched Bower… or it’s parent album, Thunderhead, but Trish holds no regrets about Clouds’ rapid shift towards a heavier, ‘less popular’ sound.

“Even if there had’ve been a ‘Clouds-sound’ to use as a reference, I doubt that we could have maintained such a thing. There were four people in this band at any given time, all with different musical tastes and wanting to do different things, so just that alone meant we were never going to be about one idea, or one person’s idea of what Clouds were meant to sound like.” Indeed Trish and Jodi are the only members of Clouds who remained from start to finish. A crew of six players all-up came and went between 1990 and 1997, however the current reunion shows will feature Clouds’ longest term line-up; Dave Easton, who played guitar during the band’s peak period, ‘91-’95, and Raphael Whittingham, who drummed between ’93 and ’97. Preparations for the three-date run, Trish explains, have been a mix of spirited gatherings of old mates, and the odd memory lapse. “I’m pretty pleased actually with the amount of songs I could remember, almost start to finish, but there were a couple of times where everyone just stopped playing and no-one could remember how the next part was supposed to go!” She laughs. “We used a lot of weird structures in our songs and it was kind of funny how everyone forgot the same parts because of these sudden changes where the music would just stop, or get really fast!” Trish says, surely describing Clouds’ superb 1992 single, Anthem, in which the band knowingly replicate The TroggsWild Thing before freezing mid riff, as a chiming music box replaces an expected glam-rock guitar solo. “I’m glad you picked up on that, because there were quite a lot of gruesome guitar solos around at the time, and we were trying to sort of go against that in our own little way.” Fourteen years on from their split, regarding the Clouds catalogue, Trish reckons that the music her band made within those eight years, stands-up today, and has aged very well indeed. “I think some of the songs sound a bit dated, but most of them still feel surprisingly fresh to me.” She adds, “I honestly think we didn’t sound as though we belonged to particular time, or decade... to me it’s like Clouds could have happened at any time really.”


Jodi and Trish; an unbeatable combo.