Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tricky: live in Melbourne 2011 (review)

Venue: The Forum
Date: 16/02/11

Tricky walks a very fragile line between total chaos and controlled calm at his Forum live debut. To shape the kind of concert experience Tricky offers, takes a kind of mad genius and an absolute disregard for 'expectations'. The world's premier trip-hop artist since releasing his debut album, Maxinquaye, has over time been forced to shrug off the tag he once comfortably inhabited. Massive Attack – his former band – evolved so gradually it was near impossible to gauge, while Tricky as a solo artist hit the slightest bump (a bad review) and threw out most of his old tricks for fear of repeating himself into obscurity. The result of this is one hell of a disjointed concert style-wise, but scarcely a boring one.

Tricky's latest album Mixed Race has failed to really take off in Australia, but his fanbase is well established enough now to fill a decent enough space for the man. In the not-quite capacity crowd, it's difficult to typify a Tricky fan. There's no '90s-era tour shirts… no obvious die-hard hip hop types etc… But then apart from a home-done Tricky t-shirt (drawn with permanent marker, I'll add) made in my youth and long since lost, my own fandom is hardly obvious. Perhaps like myself then, many fans are here tonight to see a curio of the past whose moody, noir-ish tracks and reputation as a volatile individual share a strange connection.

It's a thin-ice walk for almost two hours once Tricky's anti-rock show begins with him leading his band on to the stage and taking his place not at the mic, but in front of his keyboardist – his back defiantly to the audience. He jiggles around for what seems like ages ignoring us on his platform as his live drummer, guitarist, bassist and synth man plough through an instrumental, You Don't Wanna.  Whereas warm-up act Wolfgramm poured their all into grabbing our attention with their slick DJ & vocalist set to little response, Tricky delights in taking the hard road to winning us over. But saying exactly what he does to win us in the show is quite, well... tricky

His vocalist Francesca Riley performs a great deal of the songs solo while Tricky stalks the stage adding only occasional vox. His band, although in top form, are at the constant ready to stop playing or change song as Tricky bizarrely commands. The concert's uneven start - which includes his early hits, Black Steel and Overcome – makes its first sudden shift of this kind when during the serene Pumpkin, Tricky points at his drummer and without warning, the band launch into a cover of Motorhead’s Ace Of Spades. Tricky begins hauling fans out of the pit at this stage and doesn't stop until the band are completely obscured by dancing punters. The shocked security staff can do little but make sure nobody falls during their frantic climb to the stage. Nor do they do anything much about Tricky's almost constant joint-smoking tonight or even stop him passing that dutchie around his new buddies.

There's no doubt from this moment on Tricky's finally found the vibe he needs to work within and the show turn into a soaring, chaotic rumble. He's still in command though, and a quick exodus from the stage invaders is followed by a crazed run through of Vent before Tricky and band flee the stage also. The encore although just offering more of the same madness as the main show, also revealed Tricky's warped motivation for his radical stage shows. A second wave of fans were quickly gathered by the artist - at which point I lost my own shit and joined him – only this time, Tricky wanted more. Security finally begin blocking people once half the packed dance floor's been transferred to the stage. Although I felt a bit of a fake dancing around to a song called Ghetto Stars, (I’m about as ghetto as a pavlova) no one on the stage looked fully comfortable with the situation. Then among the confusion of dancing bodies, I catch the sight of Tricky slinking off stage only to re-emerge at the bar beside the dance floor. The grin on his face as he sips casually from a freshly acquired drink and watches his handy work is priceless. The band power on making their leader proud, until finally security herd everyone back into the arena. I could probably rail against Tricky and say he's a lazy performer, or go on about how much happier he seemed watching fans dancing with his band than actually singing, but the truth is he worked harder than any band I can recall to make sure everyone who came to see him had the fucking time of their lives.



All pics by myself & Fruitbat

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Adam Franklin (Swervedriver) interview: 2011


Oxford's Swervedriver are best remembered for thrilling and enchanting fans into the heavier end of the shoegaze/fuzz-guitar scene spiraling out from Creation Records stable around the birth of the '90s. But from their debut album Raise, up til their final effort 99th Dream, the band experienced the greatest extremes from critical adoration to being left high and dry following the first true wave of mass-label disintegration. Swervedriver's story could've just been another one of those was-never-meant-to-be sidenotes, but in their absence, a notable crop of late arrivals were all but bursting to name-drop them in interviews to grab a little extra cred. So for Swervedriver's actual story, it's over to singer/guitarist Adam Franklin; A generous interviewee, who ahead of his band's long-awaited reunion tour, reminds me that Australia was in fact intricately connected to Swervedriver's initial demise.

"It's true, the last time Swervedriver played together (before reforming) was in Australia was 1998." Adam recalls. It was on an extended break between gigs that Adam and the rest of the and decided to finish the Australian shows and call it a day rather than simply ''fade out of existence''. "Well, there was also a lot of shit going on in the band leading up to that, so the time just felt right to say goodbye." Adam continues, "Doing this interview now, actually reminds me of the first time we played there," he says, brightening up, "I remember we'd landed in Perth and were all completely jet-lagged, so when we got to the venue we just passed out back-stage. Anyway the tour manager was at us to wake up because we were literally due on stage in, like two minutes." He says, "Next thing we knew were walking on stage rubbing the sleep out of our eyes and ''bang'' the crowd gave this huge roar and we were just lifted.... it's still the best kind of alarm call I can think of." But not all of Adam's tour experiences are told with such relish I soon discover. After Swervedriver  decided to bow out in '98, solo touring kept Franklin away from home (and his old band) for much of the next few years - but not exactly for the love of it.  
"My take on touring is now much the same as it was then; there's a lot of drudgery about it." He moans, I mean we played loads over in the States in '90s and as great as that all was there were just endless road trips… I know I sound like I'm complaining, and yeah I am, but anybody who tells you touring isn't drudgery is lying." Unlike many of the floppy-fringed Creation acts who enjoyed great success in Britain, Swervedriver found a receptive audience in the US. Put it down to their songs apparent themes of gas-guzzling cars or masculine perspectives on love if you like, but whatever they were selling, America identified with. It's reported that Creation founder, Alan McGee signed Swervedriver after hooning around LA listening to their demo on his car stereo - perhaps the ideal environment, as he saw it, for the then fledgling band. McGee typically got it right with Swervedriver, but despite their initial US interest, timing it soon proved was against the band. Dropped by Geffen before the ink had dried on their contract due to management changes, Swervedriver's taste of victory over their Oxford peers was all too brief. But the second blow to the band's plan came not from overseas, but Creation itself when the label was in its death throes. 
"The lack of label support did probably have a huge impact on us looking back." Adam comments, "I think when we first got dropped by Creation, we were still on a roll as I saw it. We had just put out our third album (Ejector Seat Reservation), but Creation had just bought in all these new music biz guys in an attempt to capitalise on Oasis' success who weren't really in the spirit of Creation. I remember one of these executive blokes asking me at the time; 'oh, what are you gonna do now - is Swervedriver breaking up?' and I must've just glared at him and I said, 'no we're not breaking up - the band can survive without fucking Creation!'" Adam exclaims, annoyed in his memory of the exchange. "I think in a way that made me feel stronger for a period, but then Geffen signed us (in America) and they wanted to put out our third album, but we were already recording our fourth." He continues, "The person who'd signed us got that sack and we were dropped right in the middle of making our album, so it didn't look good for us. To be fair though, there were also bombs going off with the four of us at the time, so the end seemed inevitable." Following several reunion shows in 2008, Swervedriver have rebuilt their friendships and, in Adam's words, still play like they've 'never lost that feeling'.
"Playing together again now hasn't hardly changed since then. I mean the amount of time Swervedriver was asleep for has been a bit longer, but like that concert in Perth, we just plugged in and played like no time had passed at all." In fact its 20 years since the band first peaked on albums like Raise and Mezcal Head - albums that according to Adam, he can't listen to anymore. "The way people know the songs, the versions we ended up recording in the studio all those years ago obviously sound quite different to how we play them live now and because of this everyone in the band can't listen to the old recordings because of how flawed they seem to us now, but that's the beauty of taking the songs out on the road." Adam smiles, "That's where the songs really exist for me, in their live form…. not on a bunch of old tapes." The band's four albums in 2008 were given the full remastered/reissued treatment, but Adam's detachment from the recorded versions of his songs kept him from overseeing the project.

"No, the last time I went through the recordings was in 2005 for a compilation album Sanctuary records put out." He confirms, "They contacted me and said they wanted us involved in putting it together and it was really good to be there for the remastering and we got to choose the order of the tracks." Adam smiles, "That was the first time we had all listened to those songs in a studio since they were originally recorded." He adds, speaking for his band mates. "I think because so much time had passed, we can listen to the songs now with enough detachment that it's like hearing them being played by another band. We could have ironed out the wrinkles here and there and cut out some excess fat, but at the time when you're right in the middle of recording music, you're taking just a snap-shot of one of many ways a song could be played. I know now that it takes a long time to hear our music the way other people do." In at least one case however, Adam claims embarrassingly, he was caught out 'hearing' his own song as someone who'd never even heard of Swervedriver.

"I remember being in a bar in New York with friends a couple of years ago and all of a sudden someone looked at me and was like, 'Oh hey…!', This music had come on and my friend was gesticulating towards the jukebox, and I asked him what it was… he said 'It's you, you fool.'" Adam laughs, "It was the most bizarre thing. Although, in my defence it was some recording from 1993 which I hadn't heard in ages, so it sounded totally foreign to me." The band's return to the stage in many ways has been one of the least surprising reunions from that epoch of British groups. Poor management cost them dearly, and those who invested in the band, felt Swervedriver had ended long before they'd run out of steam. Adam responds.
"Well probably, but I think we were kind of bored with it somehow. It didn't seem like that much fun, you know. I agree that we hadn't run out of steam though, and I continued working on music immediately after Swervedriver, but there was a general feeling that the band had run its course for sure. That's not to say, I'm not proud of what we achieved and it seems so many bands have sprung up since who've cited Swervedriver as an influence, but then that's a relatively new thing. Nobody was saying that in '98 when we split up; that's only hstarted happening in the last few years."


Dave McCormack (Custard/The Polaroids) interview: 2011


For the sixth Between The Bays festival,
Custard and Polaroids front-man Dave McCormack has grabbed the headline slot for the popular event. The dapper Queenslander - who for some reason reminds me of the illicit offspring of a Dave Graney/Olivia Newton-John affair – wants to know ahead of our talk, "Do you think a lot of the folks from Frankston go down to Between The Bays?" He doesn't pause for an answer, "God I haven't been to Frankston in so many years. But The Fauves come from down there you know, so it must be a fertile landscape for music."

McCormack's particular way of phrasing his words often leaves the witness wondering if he's serious or not. At any moment you expect him to rail against some point of frustration, "I still watch Channel V and Music Max. They're… um, great." but instead any gripes are only hinted at – and always served up with humour. "I think I'm a pretty easy interviewee these days." But Dave's calm exterior hides a true fascination with disarray. His old band Custard's shows often fell into a kind of chaos, befitting a much heavier band, while Polaroids concerts are centered around Dave as the slightly-creepy Master of Ceremonies. But before we discuss his calamitous Custard days, Dave deadpans on what he's been up to recently.
"Let's go back to a year or so ago…" He beckons, "I put out an album called Little Murders, and then did a tour in early 2010 with The Polaroids and then I did the music for an ABC program called Rake." Dave recalls, "I did some kooky sort of soundtrack music for that – all done live which was lovely – and finally Custard got back together to play Meredith in September." To the thrill of Custard's devoted fans, the band Dave retired from duty 10 years ago in favour of The Polaroids, have made a casual return to performing - and casual is the operative word – I discover as Dave reminisces about Custard's whirlwind preparation for Meredith in 2010.

"The thing about the Custard show was we had one 45 minute rehearsal before Meredith a couple of weeks ahead of the gig. Then we went down to Melbourne and played, and just went home. Easy." He grins, "In the early days I was a big one for rehearsals, but in the last couple of years I've become much more interested in people (in the band) vaguely knowing the songs and just sort of winging it. That always feels much more exciting for me." Seeing as Dave's in a playful mood today, I remind him of a rough, seemingly unrehearsed Custard concert I saw in Hobart during 1998.

"It wasn't the show where me and Matt (Strong – guitarist) had a punch-up on stage was it?" Sadly it wasn't, I tell him. "That was an exciting show - so shambolic. We only played two songs and then Matt and I got into a fight and everybody stormed off. I wish more of our shows had've been like that." Staged punch-ups don't appeal to McCormack though, "No because then it just becomes the Brian Jonestown Massacre or one of those bands." He laughs. It's a good thing that McCormack isn't precious about his often unstudied messy live appearances since one fan in particular has launched a warts-and-all Custard YouTube channel. One of its features is an endless amount of live TV footage, particularly from Recovery, acting as a reminder of just how prolific Custard became after their winning Music Is Crap declaration.
"It felt like we were on Recovery every couple of weeks back in the '90s." Dave exhales, "I think it was just because we were always around. I worked out recently that Custard – at the height of it all - were on tour for 200 days of the year on average. We were very much a touring band, and when we weren't touring we were in the studio, so it's no wonder we were around a lot back then. Nowadays I just like to pick and choose my gigs." Regular SBS viewers/Dave spotters would recall McCormack's brilliant gig guest-hosting RockWiz a year-or-so back while Julia Zumero was on break. But, I wonder, how does one prepare for the roll of quiz-master?

"I wasn't terribly concerned about preparing…. Once I discovered it's actually highly scripted." He laughs, "They had the autocue and probably half was pre-worded, but you know, it was still live TV and plenty happens on the fly." Dave claims he (possibly) has the TV presenter bug in his system. "I'd like to do a current affairs type of show or host a talk show maybe. A little half-hour interview spot late night on SBS would be cool." He adds, "As I mature I could see myself heading that way." Since 2011 will mark two years since The Polaroids last release, I wonder will McCormack be hitting the studio this year and how does the man plan to follow up the five-star rated record - according to Rolling Stone  magazine - that was, Little Murders.

"I'm not feeling the pressure, but yeah, I got a get a new album out this year and pick up my game. Get my run rate up." He adds, "But that five-star rating - I think they only gave that to me as a long-service reward. It's like one of those academy awards they give people when they're really old… They think oh well he might not be around much longer, we better give him something." He muses, "But now they're gonna have to invent a new six star rating system for when my new album comes out." Like a lot of '90s Aussie groups who gave it a shot, Custard failed to win overseas popularity at the time. There was however no uncertainty about the love for these Brisbanites in Australia, even to this day. Without hesitation, Dave says on the subject of a permanent revival, "Look, anything is possible. After the last gig we had no future plans but now we're doing the flood relief concert up in Brisbane on the 6th (Feb.). We did a gig in 2009, Meredith in 2010 and now we've got another gig in 2011, so if it feels right we may as well just do it I say."


One dedicated fan has set up an all things Dave and Custard youtube channel - take a look-sie:
"copsrtops" Custard youtube channel

Mayer Hawthorne interview: 2011

Mayer Hawthorne's a realist when it comes to his place in the great musical scheme. He wears his influences on his well-tailored sleeve - see pretty much any of the '60s Motown greats - and thus makes traditional soul music. Pure and simple…? Well no, Mayer Hawthorne is merely the invention of Detroit native Andrew Cohen, who in reality is a hip-hop DJ, multi-instrumentalist and former-headbanger. The work he's produced under the Mayer Hawthorne banner is a funk-lightly album of dissin'-that-ex-girlfriend tunes, called A Strange Arrangement. Cohen's alter-ego, even though he's coy to admit it, is next the progression of the Gnarls Barkley/Mark fucking Ronson-popularised retro soul movement.

Now based in LA, Cohen's life took a dramatic turn once the DJ decided to cut a soul record in vein of his much loved Detroit-based forefathers. He was soon signed to Stones Throw records on the strength of debut single, Just Ain't Gonna Work Out, and the reluctant - "I only really wanted to be a DJ" – singer's fate was sealed. As his second Australian visit approaches, I begin our talk by asking Cohen what it meant for him to grow up in the city of soul. "You kinda take it for granted that it's not like everywhere else, you know." He shrugs, "When I was growing up and getting introduced to music, I didn't realise Detroit was actually the best place in the world for music." He laughs, "But I consider myself unbelievably fortunate to have had that right on my doorstep." While a singing career is the newest aspect to his life, 31 year-old Cohen has actually been performing for crowds since his early teens as a DJ. He talks me through his favourite phases in music and being "underrated" as a disc jockey.
"I listen to a lot of hip-hop stuff now, but going back a few years I was a bit of a metal head. I was into Nirvana, Iron Maiden, Smashing Pumpkins and Helmet, which might surprise a few people who only know my Mayer Hawthorne stuff." He giggles. Cohen still plays the decks to this day, but he claims, he's underappreciated in that field. "Nobody who comes to see a Mayer Hawthorne show even knows I've been a DJ my whole life and that that's what my first love is." He rails, "I'm primarily known as a singer now but it still feels weird to me to be thought of in that way. I always wanted to be known as a DJ." Cohen as a singer has been likened to some of the great female soul vocalists due to his extremely high falsetto. Andrew's singing style, he hints, could possibly be traced back to childhood visits to the barber's shop.

"When I was a kid and my parents would take me to get my haircut, I would always have a tempter tantrum and start screaming at the top of my lungs because I hated it so much." He grins, "So they would buy me a record to keep me occupied and to take my mind off this trauma." He adds laughing, "It really was my parents that got me into singing and collecting records, and also that's how I got my DJ name – DJ Haircut!" Cohen built up his collection over the course of many haircuts and gained a deep respect for music and his parents' tastes, "I owe them a lot in terms of educating me about music." Although a typical DJ Haircut set is less about reflecting less of his own tastes, he claims.

"When I DJ I freestyle it, I never put a set together, I just go wherever the mood is taking me." He adds, "But I always throw some Motown in there. I gotta have that in my set every time." Cohen's alter-ego Mayer Hawthorne (named after two streets in the neighbourhood in which he grew up) looks set to break him internationally as a soul vocalist. When asked if his beloved hip-hop and DJing will continue along-side Mayer Hawthorne, Cohen sounds unsure. "Yes… Maybe…. I mean I still listen to hip-hop and pay attention to that scene, but the way I make music as Mayer Hawthorne is quite a bit different to the stuff I grew up with or DJ with. I gotta look after my own style now, but you know it's really not that separate." He adds, "I started making soul records because I wanted stuff to sample when I play my hip-hop records. It was just simpler doin' it that way rather than digging through all those old records to find just a couple of good samples I could use."