Meanjin/Brisbane indie pop band Moreton released their latest single, ‘Glass’, in October 2022. Produced by Big Scary’s Tom Iansek, ‘Glass’ is a tense, piano-focused power ballad that navigates the emotional pain of a non-mutual separation.
The lyrics of vocalist and songwriter Georgia James Potter capture the impulsive thoughts that go along with feeling wistful and forlorn – “Is that the sound of your car? The sound of you turning in?” she asks – as well as the way one’s perception changes in periods of emotional instability – “Saturday nights move quickly on my own without you,” she sings.
Relative to the lyrics, the arrangement has a sober, restrained quality, but the song’s loaded emotional core gradually weighs down on the listener. Music Feeds spoke to Georgia James Potter about writing ‘Glass’, working with Iansek, and what to expect from Moreton’s upcoming The Dog Years EP.
Moreton – ‘Glass’
Music Feeds: Is there something specific about glass that corresponds to the emotional state you were trying to convey?
Georgia James Potter: It’s all of the things glass can be. Strong, fragile, sharp, dangerous, luminous, beautiful, heavy. And I kept having an internal conversation at the time about heartache versus heartbreak, and where the weight of that line balances when you’re navigating emotional pain.
MF: Did a lot of genuine, raw emotion go into writing ‘Glass’?
Georgia: It sure did, but my writing is always a blend of story and confession, memory and illusion. [‘Glass’ is about] the separation of a bond, the letting go of an idea you had about the present and the future, and accepting that a new version has arrived whether you like it or not – as painful and heavy and unfamiliar and thrilling and empowering as that can be.
MF: Did you do a lot of honing and editing to get the lyrics just right?
Georgia: I mostly think of myself as a poet who likes to sing, rather than a musician, so honing the narrative is my favourite part. I was writing ‘Glass’ at a new old piano I’d bought myself, a little cheap number from Marketplace. I put it in my bedroom, which overlooks the driveway.
At that time, as I fought for productive ways to manage heartache lest it turn to heartbreak, I started doing a lot of object writing. It’s an exercise that focuses on using only the physical senses to recount things, which is a universal way to talk to a listener, because we can all imagine with the senses.
So, while much if it was also free-flowing improvisation, which is another big part of my process, once I was getting into the minutiae of it, I used object writing to describe the scene – how they would never again appear in my driveway, which I could see from the piano.
MF: Did you think much about how you’d balance the level of intensity in the performance while also getting across the feeling in the lyrics?
Georgia: I think it’s something I’m still working on, performing in the studio, as singing live is really what’s native to me. But you can’t always bring that same intensity to the studio; the microphones don’t capture it, everything turns thin and shrill.
So I’ve been focusing a lot more on under-singing on the record, letting the lyrics do the work, and going hard at the shows. Tom Iansek does this so well with his records so he was inspiring to work with in that sense.
MF: Did Tom play a part in nailing down the arrangement?
Georgia: This was my first release playing piano and adding some synths. I’ve been a tiny bit nervous about revealing this side of our sound because piano and synths just don’t have the same kind of attitude that guitars do. They’re always going to be more slick and clean, which aren’t words I’m very comfortable with in relation to Moreton, but the piano sound is actually my main instrument.
We just went with what felt right, both in the demo and in the studio. My co-writer for the song, Caspia, actually brought a lot of the identity – the drone, the tambourine, and the piano waterfalling in the bridge. Then Tom is always a champion of keeping it simple. We tracked it live as a three piece – piano, bass, drums – then just a few synth layers for the back half that felt right. I have a lot of trust in the way Tom approaches sound.
MF: How does ‘Glass’ relate to the rest of The Dog Years EP? Is it a signal of the sound or mood of the record as a whole?
Georgia: I feel like ‘Glass’ sits nicely with ‘Count a Heart’ featuring Jordan Rakei, and one other, yet to be released piano driven track. And then the other released track from this EP, ‘Down & Out’, nods to the guitary half of the EP.
There’s a bit of permission with the EP format to kind of show your cards, all the sounds you can do, in a way that an album doesn’t lend itself to as much, in my opinion, because you don’t need to have this long thread running through everything. An EP is kind of a sonic aesthetic piece, rather than a concept. That being said, The Dog Years is definitely a concept I look forward to talking about closer to the record.
For a home-grown act who came in third in the annual countdown that soundtracks 50,000 barbecues, you’d be forgiven for wondering what happened to The Tenants.
The Tenants – ‘You Shit Me To Tears’
The Tenants might now seem like a one-hit wonder of the Aussie indie music scene, but that shouldn’t overshadow the wild popularity of ‘You Shit Me To Tears’, with its ska guitar chords and memorable, cuss-filled chorus.
The Bathurst outfit’s debut single scored massive airplay after winning triple j’s Unearthed competition in 1998. A few singles and an EP followed, as well as the band’s lone full-length, Everything You Know Is Wrong, in 2006. In the subsequent 15 years, however, The Tenants’ have only been active for a few sporadic reunion shows.
And while The Tenants were never able to recapture the highs of their debut single, they did hold a 22-year record as the Aussie band with the best batting average in the Hottest 100 countdown – with their only charting song landing at number three spot, ‘You Shit Me to Tears’ is on par with Coolio’s ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’(#3 in 1995) and Chumbawamba’s ‘Tubthumping’ (#3 in 1997).
The Wiggles and The Kid LAROI broke The Tenants’ record in the 2022 countdown. And maybe that was enough to rouse them from their dormancy. The band recently made their Spotify debut, and they’re promising new music and live shows in the near future.
The Tenants’ guitarist and vocalist Jason Rooke spoke to Music Feeds about the history of their record-making track and what’s coming next for band.
Music Feeds: What’s the story behind ‘You Shit Me To Tears’?
Jason Rooke: I was challenging myself at the time because I bought all this simple recording gear and wanted to make a record at home on the farm. I was just writing anything, playing solo. I was doing this kind of morose, sort of mellow country stuff, and then I’d go and fill in for a band doing rock’n’roll stuff.
The lyrical side of things was the culmination of nearly five years spent in Sydney and being really frustrated with not being able to get anywhere. I couldn’t do any of the good things in Sydney because I just didn’t have the money to do it anymore. Everywhere used to be free, but then you had to pay to get in, the pokies were coming on, and it was all becoming a nightmare. It was just frustration and getting it all out on the page.
MF: When did you realise the track was starting to take off?
Jason: It was pretty quick, it didn’t take very long. After the first day that triple j announced the song, the phone was just crazy, running off the hook. And it was pretty scary because I had no one; I had no managers, no people in my life like that. So it was me trying to be polite and going, “Can you just hang on a minute? I’m gonna go and ask somebody some questions before I can go and sign anything.”
I think there were plenty of record companies, but I don’t think they really got the gist of what we were about. Everyone, typically, was just like, “So where’s your new ‘You Shit Me To Tears’ song?”, and I’d say, “Yeah, don’t have one, but I’ve got these other ones.”
You can’t write the same song over and over again because it sounds stupid. We ran into that quickly, but mostly we were on the road pretty much within two weeks of getting announced – we were the road, like, just going crazy. We didn’t stop for months.
The Tenants – ‘Boredom’
MF: How did it feel to make it into the Hottest 100? I’m assuming that you probably didn’t think you’d make the countdown, let alone feature that highly.
Jason: No, we were all having bets. We were home at the time. We’d been away for so long – we’d been going to Cairns and back, touring up and down the coast, and then back down in Melbourne for ages.
I was at home in Bathurst and the funny thing was that the farm I was living on didn’t even get radio or TV reception. So in order to actually listen to the countdown, I had to come into the town to go to the pub, and I was trying to explain to the publican that there’s this radio station called triple j, “blah, blah, blah.”
And he’s just looking at me with the blankest stare. “Is there any chance you could just do me a favour and put the radio on?” He wouldn’t have a bar of it. Then one bartender came over and said, “Oh, you’re talking about the Hottest 100?” So he put it on the speakers and it was the only way I could actually hear the announcement.
I thought I’d missed everything because they were down to 20 or something like that. And I was trying to call people and go, “Did we make it anywhere?” Everyone’s going, “No, haven’t heard a thing.” I went, “Oh, it’s all over. Doesn’t matter.”
MF: Were you aware that you’d held this record for being the Aussie artist with the highest average in the Hottest 100 for so long?
Jason: Absolutely zero awareness. I’ve kind of been in a cocoon for the last few years, especially since Covid anyway, sort of just trying to worry about making a living and paying a mortgage rather than doing anything. So we’ve only just awoken from the cocoon.
MF: This year The Wiggles and The Kid LAROI overtook that record, but there’s a strong chance they might appear again soon, meaning there’s a good opportunity for you guys to reclaim that record once again.
Jason: It’s great. Well, it’s kind of strange the way life… I mean, I teach music to people with disabilities – songwriting and all that sort of stuff – and it’s just so far removed from back then.
I actually teach with the guitar player of – well, he just left Rose Tattoo, but he’d been with Rose Tattoo for 15 years. And we quite often just see the kids and we’re writing songs and recording things, and then somebody mentions something like that and you go, “Wow, that was about a thousand years ago.”
It’s really hard to bring yourself back and remember all these things that happened around that time. But it’s a really nice feeling. I mean, it’s great that it’s there in music history.
The Tenants – ’39 Steps’
MF: What was the plan for you after the Hottest 100?
Jason: We’d already been in the studios and we were about halfway through an album, but then we got the news that we weren’t getting any income from the single because the company we were with had been liquidated. So our whole way of paying for the rest of the album was like, ”Righto, let’s go to plan B”, which was to wrap it up, call it an EP, get it out as soon as possible and head on the road.
MF: You released a full length album in 2006. How long had that been in the works?
Jason: It was about 2001 we started. We had a fellow called Mark Thomas, who was a legendary sound engineer at Festival Studios. We got maybe four or five songs in and then unfortunately Mark committed suicide. I think it made us all stop for a little while and just go, “Is this driving around, running circles all over the place, is it really worth it?” It did bring up a lot of questions and we slowed down a fair bit.
Then we changed drummers because he was a bit sick of touring. We went down to a three piece, but in the middle of that we won Aus Music Week. So we went to South By Southwest in 2003. When we got back from there, we were all a bit more invigorated and back on the trail, but it just took forever to finish because we were just doing it in tiny bits and pieces.
The Tenants – ‘Ready To Rumble’
MF: You have continued to play occasionally. There was a show in 2018 that was advertised as a reunion gig.
Jason: We do catch up, but our bass player lives in Mullumbimby. So we usually go up there and hang out at his place for a couple of days, practice up and whatnot. We recorded another ten tracks that we did the other year, but Covid sort of put a pin through that.
But I think we’ll finish that. We’re almost done, we’ve just gotta pay for the mixing. So we’ll release it, but no one’s really looking for stardom. We’re just doing it because we like it. It’s a sense of accomplishment to be able to write and put things out. It’s not because we’re gonna get anything from it; it’s just purely because we wanted to do it.
MF: Once it’s released, are you planning on doing any shows?
Jason: I think we will. Everyone’s sort of keen to, it’s just the distance. Having a bass player up there and he’s got a business and he’s got kids and all that sort of stuff, and I’m teaching music now. I used to be a carpenter, so I had like ten years of pretty hard yakka, so there wasn’t much left at the end of the week. But now I’m back to teaching music, I have a bit more head space and I’m in the same world when I come home.
So yeah, we definitely will be, it’s just a matter of when. I’m not quite sure at the moment. Whenever [the record] gets finished – as soon as it comes out we’ll follow that up with some shows.
Over the last couple of years, Melbourne DJ and producer Mell Hall has released the single ‘Knock Knock’ featuring Thandi Phoenix, teamed up with Babert for ‘Can’t Stop Now’, and remixed tracks by Spacet Cadet and KLP and Peking Duk featuring Nicole Millar. Hall’s latest single, ‘End of Time’, features lead vocals from Brisbane singer-songwriter Sahara Beck.
As a solo artist, Beck makes theatrical pop music, and she’s recently been applying this versatility to a range of collaborations. Prior to ‘End of Time’, Beck appeared on ‘Devils Cup’ with Toby Romeo and ‘Can’t Get Enough’ with Purple Disco Machine. Music Feeds got Hall and Beck on Zoom together to chat about ‘End of Time’ and their respective tastes and inspirations.
Mell Hall – ‘End of Time’ (feat. Sahara Beck)
Music Feeds: How did ‘End Of Time’ start? Do you know each other well?
Mell Hall: Sahara and I have never actually met in person. This is the first time we’ve spoken online. But I had a bed for ‘End of Time’ that I’d been sitting on for a while. I’m signed to Club Sweat/Sweat It Out and there was a lot of discussions going on around vocals, and I had envisioned a female vocal for the record.
So, talking to the guys at Club Sweat, Sahara’s name had come up. Obviously, I knew who she was and that she had just done a record with Purple Disco Machine, which is right up my alley and the realm I’m in. So, we sent it off to her.
I don’t think we sent a real direction. I wanted to let her take creative lead on what she wanted to sing about. And what she came back with was brilliant. Then it just came back to me and I chugged it up a little bit. My sound had changed during that time – I’d become a little bit more dancier. And her vocals are so easy to work with, so it was actually really simple.
Sahara Beck: I feel like you sent me the song and you weren’t like, “Oh, I’m envisioning that it should be about this,” you were just like, “What are you hearing for this?” And then I went and visited my friend Jay [Bovino] and then we went back and forth on some stuff and just sent it back to you and you were like, “Great.” And then you were like, “Can you just change this two second vocal part?” and I sent it back to you and you were like, “Sweet.”
Mell: I like to let the vocalists or people that I work with have creative control as well, and then they feel a part of it as opposed to being like, “Here’s the lyrics.” And with this one, it turned out to be really natural.
Sahara: And you were in a situation where you’d had the song for a long time and you probably went, “Oh, I don’t really know anymore where it’s supposed to go.” I do that all the time – I have so many songs where I’m like, “I have no idea what this is actually supposed to sound like anymore.”
Mell: Yeah, for sure. All I knew was that I didn’t want it to be as poppy as my other records. Again, your vocals are so easy to work with, so then [it was just about] speeding everything up and putting it more into a dance floor kind of main room set as opposed to just a warm up-type vibe.
Sahara: I reckon it turned out awesome, too. I’m stoked.
MF: Seeing as you’ve never met in person, Sahara do you have any questions for Mell about her process?
Sahara: Yeah, I was just going to ask what inspired you to start producing and making music?
Mell: I’m Melbourne born and bred but I’m currently in Adelaide, escaped during Covid. For me, growing up in Melbourne, obviously it’s a huge dance scene and when I first started going out there wasn’t a lot of females in the scene. I’m mid-30s now, so there was not a lot of female producers, DJs floating around. So I have to give a big shout out to a DJ called Jen Tutty, who was the first female resident at OneSixOne in Melbourne.
She’s still in music – she’s a lawyer as well, so she writes a lot of the contracts that float around the Australian music industry. But I grew up watching her and always knew I wanted to produce down the line, but obviously started DJing. I was DJing for nearly a decade before I ever touched anything production or sent it out to the world, just because I wanted to be good and I didn’t want to jump on a trend at the time and then regret it ten years later.
What about you – what was your inspiration?
Sahara: I honestly never wanted to do music, really, and then I saw the Cat Empire performing one time and I saw Harry James Angus singing and I was like, “Oh my god, he’s got the best voice I’ve ever heard.” It just moves everyone and I looked around and I was like, everyone in this room is totally forgetting what they have to do tomorrow and what they did yesterday. And I was like, “I want to make people feel like that.”
Purple Disco Machine – ‘Can’t Get Enough’ (feat. Sahara Beck)
Mell Hall’s ‘End of Time’ ft. Sahara Beck is out now via Club Sweat.
Groove Armada were one of the biggest crossover house music acts of the 1990s, rivalling Basement Jaxx and Daft Punk. But when EDM boomed, they retreated. Now, Andy Cato and Tom Findlay have released the deluxe compilation, GA25, celebrating the 25th anniversary of their debut single ‘At The River’. They’re returning to Australia for a final live tour as well.
Cato and Findlay met in the early ’90s through Cato’s future wife. The keen DJs launched a club night in London (Cato played trombone, too). As Groove Armada, they enjoyed a fluke independent hit with 1997’s Balearic production ‘At The River’, sampling Patti Page’s ’50s bop ‘Old Cape Cod’.
Groove Armada – ‘At the River’
Groove Armada went mainstream with the anthems ‘If Everybody Looked The Same’, ‘I See You Baby’ and ‘Superstylin”, blending house, hip hop and dancehall. They received three Grammy noms, remixed Madonna’s ‘Music’, and licensed ‘Hands Of Time’ (with folky Richie Havens) to the soundtrack accompanying Tom Cruise’s Collateral.
But as Groove Armada lost momentum in the 2010s, the pair developed other interests. Cato, a Yorkshire man, became a full-time farmer in France’s Gascony region. Today he is a leading proponent of regenerative farming and tenant of the National Trust’s Buscot & Coleshill Estate in Oxfordshire.
Chatting to Music Feeds via Zoom, Cato apologises for his poor connection. “I’m speaking to you from the middle of nowhere,” he says. Meanwhile, Findlay studied to be a cognitive behavioural therapist and currently works for the UK’s National Health Service.
Groove Armada have strong ties to the Australian scene. The two collaborated with PNAU’s Nick Littlemore on 2010’s new wave-inspired LP Black Light. “Obviously, Nick has been a big influence,” Findlay says. “Black Light would not have happened without him. He’s the kind of the third member of the band on that one, without a question.”
In 2020, Groove Armada remixed Confidence Man’s ‘First Class Bitch’. Findlay calls himself “a big fan,” and says he caught the Brisbane band at recent summer festivals. “I just think they’re great performers,” he says. “There’s a real joy about what they do.” Lately, Groove Armada recruited another Aussie name, Logic1000, to remix ‘My Friend’.
While this Antipodean run is a quasi-farewell tour, Groove Armada aren’t quitting altogether. Instead they’ll revert to their original DJ incarnation. And the moonlighters intend to cut more music – GA25 contains the new single ‘Hold A Vibe’, featuring dancehall MC Red Rat.
Groove Armada – ‘Hold A Vibe’ ft. Red Rat
Music Feeds: Andy, from what I understand, you’re now a full-time farmer. What was the catalyst for that?
Andy Cato: It was simply that I was coming back from a gig once in Eastern Europe and I picked up a magazine article that was about industrial food production, our current food production system, and its consequences for human health and the environment and so on. It ended with this brilliant piece of journalism, which was, “If you don’t like the system, don’t depend on it.”
That made me get into trying to grow food for the family. But I went down a massive, massive rabbit hole about soil health, plant health, human health, [and] ended up selling my publishing rights to buy this farm in France – which is a lunatic idea.
That went really badly because the soil was all knackered, as most of our soils in which we grow our food are. The upside of that is it forced me to find ways to do it differently; to grow in a way in harmony with nature that improves the soil and so on.
Then that’s become this project with a couple of mates where we’re trying to help other farmers adopt these techniques, and we’re trying to educate consumers about why it matters where they buy their food from. We’ve got ten years to turn this around otherwise – you know, I don’t wanna sound too doom-like, but we’ve got ten years to turn this around, really.
MF: You completed a UK tour in April that was marketed as “the last full live UK tour”. What exactly does that mean for the future of Groove Armada?
Tom Findlay: Yeah, this is the final tour run – exactly. So we’re doing Australia, then New Zealand, and that is it for the live thing. We’ll still DJ and we’ve already got some shows in for that for next summer which are really exciting.
And then that will mean that we’ll kind of lean towards more making dance music, just stuff that makes sense in clubs again. We went through that cycle maybe ten years ago and we did an album called Little Black Book. We started making some house music and DJing again and it was fun – it’s less all-consuming than the live thing, which is like sort of running a small business at times.
MF: The GA25 album highlights just how much you’ve done. I’ve always thought you were a really strong album act. I wondered if each of you have something you thought people slept-on?
Andy: I’ll go for the Black Light album. It’s an album that remained a kind of “best kept secret” at the time. I think it was a combination of circumstances between labels and management and all kinds of things. It was also, yes, another change in our ever-changing sound. So there were no radio plays on that album to speak of.
But, yeah, I think that album as an end-to-end thing for me reaches the studio pinnacle of that combination of live instruments and electronics that’s been the hallmark of our sound on stage.
Tom: I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s slept-on at all, but when people talk about our anthems, then ‘Superstylin” is obviously the one. But, actually, when we play it live, ‘Get Down’ is almost bigger – and that came from the  album Soundboy Rock. I love it. It’s a very futuristic-sounding dance record. The bass sound on that is just nuts. And, when we do that one live, it feels timeless.
Groove Armada – ‘Get Down’ ft. Stush, Red Rat
MF: I remember when you worked with Mutya Buena on ‘Song 4 Mutya (Out Of Control)’, people were so excited – like Sugababes, they’re a mythic girl band. What was it like working with her?
Andy: Yeah, I can remember sort of a general pattern was fixed up for Mutya to come around to Tom’s basement to record some vocals and then [we’d] wake up in the morning, go and get the paper, read the headlines about what Mutya’d been up to the night before and realise she wasn’t going to come.
And we repeated that loop several times – can’t quite remember how many times; it was several times. But the thing is that, when it did come together, it was pretty effortless from a production point of view because she’s just got the perfect voice for a pop song.
Tom: What I really liked about her is she’s just authentic and real and no bullshit – [she] lived the life that you thought she lived. I’m really happy to see the Sugababes having a bit of a comeback now, because I saw their show in Glastonbury and their catalogue is completely brilliant. So I’m really pleased they’re having a second act because they fully deserve it, you know?
MF: Do you plan to do another studio album, given that you can work remotely? Andy, can that work with the farm life?
Andy: Yeah, the farm life is definitely quite busy, but Tom’s doing his counselling stuff as well. But, yeah, no, I think once this last sort of hurrah is over with the live band, one of the appeals of going back to the house stuff is that it just really lends itself to what Tom and I really enjoy doing now, which is just to find a couple of days – which invariably turns into a couple of nights as well – but we can just get together, sit in the studio, turn off all outside inputs and just have a laugh making some music and then go and play that in nightclubs. I mean, what’s not to like, really?
So, as soon as we get back from Australia, we’ve got some studio time to start putting together some house tracks for next year. Whether that becomes an EP or an album’s worth or a mix-album, god knows, we’ll see.
But, as Tom mentioned, we’ve already got some really exciting DJ gigs booked in for next year. We’ve got irons in the fire in Ibiza to try and do something a bit special there. So, yeah, it’s onwards, but in a house music direction.
Elizabeth released her debut solo album, the wonderful world of nature, in November 2019, a collection of heartbroken indie pop that drilled down on the difficult process of breaking up and moving on. A little over a year after its release, Elizabeth left Melbourne for Brisbane, where she remains to this day.
The artist’s latest release is a three-part suite of singles, accompanied by a thematically linked suite of music videos. The songs, ‘Happier Now’, ‘Sweet Connection’ and ‘If You Died’, were created with producers Konstantin Kersting, Alice Ivy and Oscar Dawson, respectively. For the videos, Elizabeth reconnected with director Nick McKinlay, who helmed the video for ‘parties’ from the wonderful world of nature.
Elizabeth – ‘Happier Now’
The complete video suite will have its public premiere at Elizabeth’s upcoming mini-festival, An Evening With Elizabeth, which takes place at Melbourne’s Thornbury Theatre on Saturday, 29th October. Ahead of the show, Music Feeds chats to Elizabeth about writing the singles and working with McKinlay.
Music Feeds: Why did you decide to do a suite of singles?
Elizabeth: The singles were all songs that I wrote and made over the COVID lockdowns. I love making albums, but I didn’t really feel like I had the sparkly energy that I needed to muster to make an album. But I also really wanted to make something that felt whole and felt like it could say something as a piece that fit all together – I imagined the songs as being three pieces of the same puzzle that would all slot together to move as one.
MF: How central was the video component to the process?
Elizabeth: I really love thinking about a visual element of music, probably as much as making the music part of the music. So we started thinking about ways that the songs could visually fit together and then I realised that the songs thematically move quite well together.
So, ‘Happier Now’ is kind of like the starting point. I guess if you think about [the suite of singles] in the context of the last album, they’re kind of like that in-between phase when you’re not devastated anymore by a break-up but you’re like, “OK, well, what now?”
‘If You Died’, the third song in the suite, it’s like the endpoint, where you’re moving forward and you’re thinking about the people that you left behind.
MF: Does ‘If You Died’ represent a feeling of resolution?
Elizabeth: Yeah, I think so. It’s like that idea that every time you make a choice, you close down other options – the idea that any time you take a step forward, you can’t go in the other direction at that point.
I have a past habit, and I’m really trying to not do this anymore, but there’s a lot of people in my life that I just don’t speak to at all now. And I think sometimes that’s necessary, and sometimes it’s because conflict is hard.
And so ‘If You Died’ speaks to that feeling of knowing that you’ve made a choice that was right for you to not have someone in your life, romantic or platonic, but also just that feeling of wondering how they’re going and knowing that you probably just won’t have closure.
Elizabeth – ‘Sweet Connection’
MF: When you were writing these songs – and writing your album too – had you already arrived at the feelings and conclusions that are depicted in the songs? Or does writing play an active role in helping you process things?
Elizabeth: It kind of depends on the situation. If something’s super fresh then it doesn’t come out in writing because it’s too hard. But then sometimes it’s like a processing, diary-writing kind of thing. I think where I’m at now with writing, I try to be more reflective than immediate. But my songwriting has always been very much like a catharsis or an emotional word vomit.
MF: Are you capable of writing music that you’re satisfied with when you’re feeling really intense emotions?
Elizabeth: Yeah, I actually think that’s my most creative way to be, which is a bit of a trap that I would really love to not feel. But I’m trying to now write from a space that doesn’t have to be as devastated or traumatised and find power in that. But I find that my strongest emotion to write from is sadness or grief.
I really don’t want to have a bad life that I don’t enjoy just so I can write songs, and I definitely used to blow things up in order to have something to write about. And I really don’t do that anymore, which I think is growth.
MF: Tell me a bit about your creative partnership with Nick McKinlay making these videos.
Elizabeth: I love Nick and we worked together on the ‘parties’ video for the first album. He really cares about telling a story, which is very much where I sit in terms of making videos. I really love watching movies and I love musicals and Nick really loves musicals as well. The drive down to shooting the ‘Happier Now’ video, we were pumping the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, which was pretty nice.
Nick is just a wonderful person and he really got on board with making these three videos. We made them all in three days, which was crazy in retrospect. I love working with him because he’s got so many clear ideas and references, but he’s also really collaborative. And I do like having quite a lot of control but I also like to feel held when I’m collaborating with someone.
Rebeca “Beckah” Amani is on the move. In just two years, she has enjoyed both local accolades and generated international buzz with her crystalline indie-pop. Now, after a series of singles, the singer-songwriter has unveiled her debut EP, April.
Beckah Amani was born in Tanzania, relocating to her parents’ Burundi home before migrating to Australia at eight. The family travelled around before eventually settling in southern Queensland. Amani started playing guitar early and by 12, the Ed Sheeran super-fan was penning songs, creating an authentic fusion of folk, indie and soul.
Beckah Amani – ‘Smoke and Mirrors’
In 2020, Amani broke out with ‘STANDARDS’, a testimony of her encounters with racism released amid global Black Lives Matter protests. She followed with equally personal songs like the self-affirming ‘Lebeka Leka’ (“Rebeca, let go” in the Kirundi language) and the wry ‘I Don’t Know Why I Don’t Leave You’, a rumination on how pop culture idealises romance (Amani, a Twihard, jokes about being Team Jacob.)
In May, Amani fulfilled a longstanding dream to move to the UK. She showcased at the Great Escape Festival, the English South by Southwest. And it was in London where Amani composed April’s title-track, allegorising the month the antipodean autumn begins. ‘April’ features her dad, whose voicemail from home prompted the lyrics.
“I was like, ‘This is literally what the EP is about,’” Amani says. “It’s about people who love you reaching out and asking you, ‘How you going, things are crazy, what’s going on, are you okay?’ and us kind of responding to that and reflecting inwardly and reflecting outwardly.”
Opening with the piano ballad ‘Smoke And Mirrors’ – produced by the indie-folk artist Matt Corby – April includes the aforementioned singles plus an orchestral version of ‘STANDARDS’. Conspicuously, Amani expands her sound, with ‘Waiting For You’ revealing an Afrobeats swing.
Recently, Amani returned to Australia for a maiden national tour, appearing at BIGSOUND and supporting Big Scary on their Daisy/Me & You headline run. Amani Zoomed Music Feeds to chat about April and more.
Music Feeds: If you were doing a biopic, maybe 10, 20 years down the line, what would the big storyline be?
Beckah Amani: Oh, my goodness. Obviously moving to Australia was a big thing. It was a big thing for our family. But I would say moving around a lot – I moved around a lot in Australia. There was a lot of moving around, which made me really close to my family and my siblings.
I’d say music was pretty consistent with all the changes that were going on in my life. It was a place that was very familiar and very consistent; same as my family as well. I’d say that really a love for stories was brought out with these experiences, and that’s what I try to do with my music.
MF: I was fascinated about you namechecking Ed Sheeran as an influence. You were even an Avril Lavigne fan. But you’ve mentioned Kendrick Lamar as well. Very eclectic taste. I wondered how you’ve actually developed your own style and voice, because you don’t sound like any of those artists.
Beckah: Yeah, I think I’m still very much in a stage where I’m developing what is that “Beckah Amani sound.” But, for me, with those two artists [Sheeran and Lavigne], it goes back to lyrics and storytelling. They’re very nuanced with their writing. Especially Ed Sheeran. He does focus a lot on telling a story; a really beautiful story. And that’s where for me songwriting began, just telling stories and saying what’s on my mind or what I feel and all that stuff.
Then, going deeper [with the] lyrics, looking at Kendrick and sometimes J Cole and Nina Simone, with things that are really personal and I guess kind of a reflection of society and the way that we live and move in the world. I think I do take a lot of inspiration from them.
MF: Something that often comes up with people who belong to a diaspora is that there’s pressure to assimilate – to be an “Aussie.” Sometimes you lose a bit of yourself in that process. How have you managed to stay connected to your heritage? I imagine community is a huge part of that, because you can hear the influence on April.
Beckah: Yeah, I think this EP was actually a big part of me reconnecting with my heritage and reconnecting with where I’m from and reconnecting with my parents. I did grow up speaking the language. Music is a big part of my family. So I grew up singing a lot of African music. I grew up listening to it as well, because that’s what my parents do and something they shared with us.
But, you know, from about 12 to 18, I would say I really struggled to connect with my heritage because it was about assimilating. I touched on that a little bit in ‘STANDARDS’, where I felt really confused about who I was and it changed a lot about my personality and how I connected with people to sort of make sense for the white communities that I grew up in. And I did grow up in rural Western Australia country. So it was particularly hard to not assimilate or not try and fit in, because there was just a lot of racism.
So language has been a big part of that, and music as well has been a big part of reconnecting back to my roots. This record has been so personally rewarding for that reason because it’s gotten me to really reconnect with who I am and where I’m from.
Beckah Amani – ‘STANDARDS’
MF: ‘STANDARDS’ was the first of your songs that many people heard. Is it hard to perform that now, because it comes from a raw place?
Beckah: When I started performing it, in like 2020 and 2021, it was hard because it still felt very, very raw – because I pretty much recorded it and then released it and then COVID happened. But then, when I got back into performing, it was a really hard song to sing.
But I think after performing it so many times and also interacting with people, then getting messages from people, I started to find it very empowering, because it is very different to all the [other] songs that I sing on my set list.
It is a moment where I feel so empowered and very proud. It’s a place that I’ve worked hard to get to. So it is a very proud moment, especially when I get to the last stanza of the song and just say that I’m proud to be Black and I’m proud to be a Black woman and standing up for our rights and things like that. It’s very, very empowering.
MF: ‘I Don’t Know Why I Don’t Leave You’ cracked me up because I am obsessed with romance – Twilight and Bridgerton. I love the humour. But it’s a wake-up call for me because I’m guilty of that idealisation.
Beckah: Oh! So am I, so am I. I mean, it’s a very real thing that I feel like, as a young person, even people like you, everyone kind of goes through [situations] where it’s like they know what’s good for them but they stick around hoping things change. But they internally know like, “Okay, I need to leave.” It’s so like, “I don’t know why I still want this” – like wanting this thing that you’ve grown up watching on TV and movies and hoping that it unfolds like that and then realising that reality isn’t like that. It really, really sucks.
But also you kind of never leave the fairytale. And that’s what the song is about. It was a very, very, very fast song – like that came really quickly; it was easy to write. But, yeah, I laugh every single time I sing it because everybody in the audience gets it as well.
MF: April almost feels like a greatest hits already. How did you approach this EP artistically? And what do you hope resonates with listeners?
Beckah: Artistically, I just reflected on how weird it is growing up in these 20 somethings, just being a young person in a time when there’s issues with the environment, there’s lots of political stress, you’re still trying to figure out what love is and what it isn’t, you’re trying to find who you are and your identity.
My hope was to create an EP that people resonate with and that they feel less alone in the world and they know that they’re not the only person feeling like, “What is going on?”, and, in the end, just think about the people around them, their loved ones who help them get through these chaotic times; who help them see the good in the bad and who really encourage them on.
It was thinking about my parents and my siblings and my friends who are always there for me in really stressful times. Yeah, I hope that listeners feel less alone and feel heard.
Cold Memory, the second album from Melbourne band jade imagine, came together in fits and starts over the last three years. Written by band leader Jade McInally and guitarist and producer Tim Harvey, the finished product betrays no evidence of its strained conception, building on the sly dream pop psychedelia of 2019’s Basic Love while introducing new thematic and textural curiosities.
There’s plenty of live atmosphere and songs rooted in guitar, bass and drum arrangements, but Cold Memory is furnished with gothic production details, organ sounds and electronic programming. Music Feeds speaks to McInally and Harvey about their co-writing practice and the album’s emphasis on “getting light”.
jade imagine – ‘I Guess I’ll Just Wait’
Music Feeds: How did you feel after the first album came out?
Jade McInally: I felt good about that album at the time. We did lots of touring, didn’t we Tim? We were pretty busy. It felt like we were on a good path and we were brainstorming stuff to do next. We were on that Pond tour and then we got back to Australia and we were like, “Oh let’s start writing again.” And then shit hit the fan.
Tim and James [Harvey] – who isn’t in the band anymore, but was playing drums – and I went to Warrnambool to do a writing retreat right at the beginning of 2020. As we were there, we were getting messages from our friends in Melbourne being like, “Oh, you should buy some tinned food out in Warrnambool, because they might still have some food left.” And we were like, “What?” And then after that, we just couldn’t do much really for ages.
Tim Harvey: We pretty much wrote the whole album – and you had some sketches that we fleshed out – in that couple of weeks. I guess it was early March 2020. And then there was just a couple of other songs that came together after that. All we wanted to do was make a really live feeling record, and that was the dumbest idea ever apparently.
Jade: When we were writing the concepts for the songs at that Warrnambool house, I remember just saying all the time, like, “Yeah, I just want to make this album all of us in one room together, just a couple of takes. Don’t spend too much time on it; just get it done.”
Tim: Embrace the mistakes. Just get that live feeling, maybe some programmed stuff as well – a bit of Broadcast, a bit of Deerhoof. Things like that. And then some other dark, gothic sounding things. Bit of trip hop.
MF: Do you think all of those elements are still in there?
Jade: I think they are.
MF: There’s some real songwritery stuff on the album as well. ‘Grow Taller’ is one example.
Tim: Told you it was a good one.
Jade: I like that one.
MF: Is there ever any tension between the two of you when you’re writing?
Tim: There’s tension sometimes but it’s like—
Jade: It’s because we’ve got belief in an idea that we have. And sometimes that idea is the direct opposite of the other’s idea.
Tim: Yeah. And I think the more we work together, the more paths we find to resolve things like that. In a way, I think it gives us a lot, in that there’s tension and that translates and splinters into a few different facets, which become their own songs. And then we have more material to work with.
Jade: It’s like road works, so you have to go a different way to get to your house.
Tim: Like a detour.
MF: And you have to put someone in hi-vis.
Tim: Yeah, Jade wears the hi-vis. Oh, no, wait, I do.
jade imagine – ‘Cold Memory’
MF: Are the lyrics a collaboration as well?
Tim: That’s more your room of the house and occasionally I stick my head in the door and just say, “Hey, what about this?” or “That doesn’t make sense to me,” and provoke Jade into considering something else. Sometimes that works, sometimes her idea is the best idea anyway.
Jade: Sometimes I’ll just bring the lyrics to you and be like, “Can you just read them and tell me this bit that I can’t figure out?” And you can relay it back to me in a way that makes it make more sense. You’ll help me bridge the gap between little bits and pieces.
Tim: Yeah, sometimes it feels like you just need to hear your thoughts read back to you and you’re like, “Oh, well of course it needs to do that.”
MF: Are you ever bashful about showing your lyrics to Tim?
Jade: Like, always, but I know that I have to get past that if I’m going to be a songwriter. I just have to show people things. In the past I probably never really asked anyone for their input on lyrics. Like on Basic Love and before that. And I think I’ve realised that there’s no bad that can come of it. You’re only going to make it stronger, even if it’s try an idea and realise it wasn’t the right idea.
MF: What did you want to write about on this record?
Jade: I feel like the last album was like, “Me me me; this is shit; the world sucks a little bit.” I was a bit judgey. ‘Gonna Do Nothing’, it was kind of about, oh, suburban life, I hate it. Blah blah blah. And I had this realisation that I wanted to project some kind of positive spin on these new songs. You can tell a story and it can leave a good taste in your mouth or it can just be negative.
‘Get Light’, one of the new songs, is a song I wrote for my sister because she was really down. But rather than focusing on the anxiety and letting that be the leading feeling in the song, I wanted the leading feeling to be, just have fun, shake it up, or whatever. It sounds really corny, but I wanted to be playing songs live that we could all do fist-pumps to a little bit. Not in a daggy way. In a really cool way.
Surprise Chef’s Education & Recreation is Music Feeds’ Album of the Week. Guitarist Lachlan Stuckey talks us through the release and the band’s blossoming profile.
From their HQ in Coburg in Melbourne’s inner north, Surprise Chef have generated a quiet storm in recent years. The band’s unpretentious ’70s funk- and jazz-influenced debut, All News Is Good News, came out amid Melbourne’s 2020 winter lockdowns. Not to be deterred, the band released their second LP, Daylight Savings, a few months later.
Their third, Education & Recreation, arrives at a more opportune time, and the collective of Lachlan Stuckey (guitar), Jethro Curtin (keys), Carl Lindeberg (bass), Andrew Congues (drums), and Hudson Whitlock (percussion) are taking advantage of their blossoming international profile. Surprise Chef completed their first tour of the UK and Europe in August and just wrapped a run of US shows, including a slot at California’s Desert Daze festival.
They’ll be back on home turf in time for a big Education & Recreation launch party at Coburg Velodrome, with support from Mndsgn, Izy, Karate Boogaloo, Ella Thompson and more. Music Feeds catches up with Stuckey to learn more about the new record and Surprise Chef’s outward growth.
Surprise Chef – ‘Velodrome’
Music Feeds: How does it feel to be taking a project that has been so locally-oriented all over the world?
Lachlan Stuckey: It’s been awesome to see how the music translates overseas, and it’s nice to have Coburg front and centre of it. It’s cool that someone in Glasgow or Cleveland knows about the neighbourhood we live in. The album covers are all photos of places in the inner north of Melbourne/Naarm, places like the Merri Creek and our backyard that are fixtures of our day-to-day lives.
It was an extremely cool experience going to Europe recently and meeting people from all around who’ve connected with the music and have some idea of the place we come from.
MF: The songs on Education & Recreation have an elegance that suggests they just flowed out of you. But there’s also a lot of harmonic complexity and classy musicianship. How would you characterise the songwriting process on this record?
Lachlan: All of our music is very deliberately arranged. Some ideas may come out of jamming in their infancy, but those ideas are always refined and arranged with a pretty high degree of attention to detail. With that said, by now the band all have a sense of their roles within an arrangement and everyone works well at filling the spaces that need to be filled and leaving the ones that should be left open.
Most tunes start with Jethro or myself bringing an idea to rehearsal, where the idea gets developed with the band. After that, we’ll do more work on our own refining the tune and then bring it back in to the band to find an arrangement and form that hits the spot. The process repeats until the tune is done.
MF: Your musicsounds vintage, you’re obviously influenced by music from the 1970s and you use some nice old synths. But how specific are your production references?
Lachlan: Henry Jenkins engineers and mixes all of our music and is an integral part of the machine. When we were making the first two albums, All News Is Good News and Daylight Savings, production references were more of an important thing. Henry would come over and we’d listen to David Axelrod records and El Michels Affair and stuff like that to get on the same page about how we felt the records should sound.
By now, though, we’ve worked with Henry so much that he knows the world the music should sit in, and often has better insight on that than we do.
We’re definitely not trying to make a record that attempts to fool the listener into thinking it’s from the ’70s or anything like that, so we’re not trying to replicate production references too closely. Like anyone else, we’re influenced by the stuff we like and those sounds form a kind of pastiche that we draw from, either consciously or unconsciously.
Surprise Chef – ‘Money Music’
MF: There are different compositional challenges faced by instrumental bands compared to artists whose songs are oriented around vocals and lyrics. Do you generally rely on feeling to gauge whether something is working or sounding captivating enough?
Lachlan: We all went to music school, and so much music coming out of those institutions has an emphasis on technicality and chops. None of us are really like that; we aren’t virtuosic improvisers and we don’t try to be. I think we developed a distaste for flashy, busy music in the jazz idiom.
Once I really got into soul music, the idea of rhythm sections working together to build an effective, practical arrangement became way more appealing than showy playing. Everyone in the band is on the same page with that, so we never have to battle to keep the music pared back. We can make interesting music without someone cutting sick on a solo every tune.
MF: You co-founded the local Coburg label College of Knowledge. Tell me about how that operates.
Lachlan: College Of Knowledge is the label that Jethro and I set up when we made the first Surprise Chef 45. Since then, we’ve released music from other bands we’re close to like Karate Boogaloo, The Pro-Teens and Let Your Hair Down. It’s basically the two of us working out how to put out records and releasing stuff we care about.
MF: Education & Recreation is out on Big Crown Records. Tell me about the relationship with Big Crown what that’s meant to you.
Lachlan: Big Crown have long been a guiding star for us. Funnily enough, it was the first Big Crown release – El Michels Affair, ‘Snakes’ b/w ‘4th Chamber’ – that spurred us on to start Surprise Chef. We’ve always followed Leon Michels’ work with Truth & Soul, the label that preceded Big Crown; all the Lady Wray records, Lee Fields, The Fabulous Three, et cetera.
When they reached out to us about signing with the label, it was really a dream come true. They’re easily the dopest label operating within the values and aesthetics that we hold dear.
Surprise Chef – ‘A1 Bakery Pledge of Allegiance’
MF: Who are some of your favourite acts in Melbourne at the moment? Do you find the local scene a source of inspiration, even as your fortunes blossom elsewhere?
Lachlan: It may sound nepotistic, but my favourite bands are the ones on our College Of Knowledge label. Karate Boogaloo are the best of the best when it comes to soul music in Melbourne, especially on the instrumental tip. They’re my favourite band in the world, no question.
Henry, Hudson and Darvid started a sample library this year called Frollen Music Library. They’re making samples, but it’s secretly the illest music coming out right now. Hudson, Surprise Chef’s percussionist, is a true creative force, he’s always setting the bar higher with the weird and wonderful music he writes for his band The Pro-Teens. Let Your Hair Down is a band we’re really excited about; they’ve got a killer record coming out next year.
Outside of that crew, Emma Donovan & The Putbacks are eternal inspirations. Izy are absolute downright assassins. Immy Owusu has a cool record coming out on Hopestreet Recordings soon. Ella Thompson has amazing music coming out soon. Liam McGorry just made an incredible Italian soundtrack-inspired record that some of us played on that will come out in the future. Harvey Sutherland’s new record is great.
The DJs here are also massive inspirations – Miss Goldie, Sophie McAlister, DJ JNETT, Shio, Woody, John Bailey, Manchild, Lori, Jamie Bennett, Richie 1250, Lloyd Briggs, Chris Gill and all the PBS and RRR DJs enrich everyone’s lives and carry the music community on their backs.
Surprise Chef’s Education & Recreation is out now.
Surprise Chef ‘Education & Recreation’ Tour 2022
Friday, 28th October – Coorabell Hall, Coorabell, NSW
Saturday, 29th October – Thomas Surfboards, Noosa, QLD
Sunday, 30th October – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane, QLD
Friday, 4th November – Torquay Hotel, Torquay, VIC
Saturday, 5th November – Coburg Velodrome, Melbourne, VIC
Friday, 11th November – Tanswells, Beechworth, VIC
Thursday, 17th November – The Eastern, Ballarat, VIC
Friday, 18th November – Theatre Royale, Castlemaine, VIC
Friday, 25th November – Estonian Hall, Adelaide, SA
Saturday, 26th November – Freo.Social, Perth, WA
Saturday, 3rd December – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, NSW
The wait for more hyper-sensory pop from London-based collective Superorganism is over. Four years separated the release of Superorganism’s self-titled debut from their new album, World Wide Pop. And at times, you had to wonder whether the sugar-loaded experimental pop outfit wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
The collective convened in London a short time before releasing their 2018 debut album. They struck gold with the single ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D.’ in 2017, a track that had its origins in an online, transhemispheric collaboration. This was enough to encourage Japanese born vocalist and lyricist Orono Noguchi to abandon university plans in the USA and move to London to join the rest of the group.
The remainder of Superorganism – which currently includes a total of five members – had relocated to the UK capital from New Zealand and Australia. Once Superorganism came out in March 2018, the band got busy with a series of international tours, including their first Australian visit for Splendour in the Grass 2018.
Along the way, Superorganism made a lot of new friends, such as Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus and the pride of Nagoya, CHAI, who’re just some of the guests to appear on World Wide Pop, an album that comprehensively lives up to its title. Music Feeds got in touch with Orono via email to chat about the new record, the band’s self-perception and their friends in high places.
Superorganism – ‘Teenager’ feat. CHAI & Pi Ja Ma
Music Feeds: World Wide Pop starts with ‘Black Hole Baby’, which includes snippets of various radio hosts lavishing praise on Superorganism. The track also features the hook, “Welcome back to black hole honey,” with a cheerful “welcome back” backup vocal. Were you trying to downplay expectations by sort of making a joke out of them with this song?
Orono Noguchi: Not really. To me, it’s more of a doomsday celebration track about doing another album cycle, because the music industry is just a big black hole.
MF: When you made your first album, the project was relatively fresh and you’d spent only a limited amount of time working together as a collective. Were you able to harvest a similar level of energy and enthusiasm when you began working on World Wide Pop?
Orono: It’s been five years since the band started, one-point-five years since I started therapy and the success of our band is still something I’m not totally sure about. But it doesn’t really matter too, because all this crap we’ve been doing, we’d probably be doing it regardless of whether or not the band was “successful.” So to answer your question, it wasn’t all that different.
MF: Despite all the flowery commendations heard on ‘Black Hole Baby’, you aren’t quite pop star-level famous, but you did experience a considerable rise to international recognition with Superorganism. How prepared were you for that? And have you had to lean on one another to stop it from going to your heads?
Orono: When I read the part of your question that said “you aren’t quite pop star-level famous,” I was like “Ummmm excuse me, what are you talking about yes we totally are!” But actually nah you’re probably right, I’m just roleplaying as Hannah Montana in my head (like 89% of the time.)
And no, no one is prepared to become “famous”, which I don’t really consider ourselves to be anyway. Fame is pretty messed up and doesn’t seem all that fun, so it’s not something any of us are interested in.
Superorganism – Something For Your M.I.N.D.
MF: World Wide Pop has loads of special guests; some venerable names and some like-minded contemporaries. Was having guests on the album one of the primary goals for World Wide Pop?
Orono: It wasn’t a goal necessarily. It’s more something that came together naturally. We just ended up making so many friends all over the world – not just musicians – so it made sense to get as many buds as possible involved.
MF: Of the album’s guests, CHAI and Gen Hoshino are Japanese, Pi Ja Ma and Axel Concato are French, Stephen Malkmus is American (and Boa Constrictors, too?), and Dylan Cartlidge is English. Is the album title a reflection of your vision for the Superorganism project?
Orono: Boa Constrictors is American, yes. Actually, he is an American hero. Again, this wasn’t something that we decided on super consciously, but yeah, the title did end up reflecting that international vibe going on in the record, which is cool.
MF: Superorganism songs typically encompass a spectrum of emotions and contrasting energies. You have an enigmatic presence as a lead vocalist, which a contrast to the excitable background vocals and hyperactive sound effects, for example. Were you able to welcome the voices and creative ideas of outside contributors without much friction?
Orono: Oo I’m an enigma? That’s cool. And ummm yeah it was chill, not much friction. We’re not fans of conflict. Not our preferred method of making sick art either.
Superorganism – ‘Into the Sun’ feat. Gen Hoshino, Stephen Malkmus, Pi Ja Ma
MF: You’ve been special guests yourselves on CHAI’s ‘Hero Journey’ and Gen Hoshino’s ‘Same Thing’. Do you feel like you’re building a network with contemporary musicians who have a similar outlook to your own?
Orono: Me personally, not really. I’m not trying to go out of my way to do that. I’m just kinda doing my own thing. Making friends is cool though. But the more musicians I meet and interact with, I think to myself that I won’t ever be eating lunch at the cool kids table (and I like it that way.)
MF: Stephen Malkmus is an indie rock hero and a big influence on Superorganism. What’s he been like to work with?
Orono: He is basically a super chill, super cool dad. Very easy and fun to work with, and of course his brain is full of crazy, weird, awesome ideas. He’s the man.
MF: You’re doing appearances at several record stores around the UK when the album comes out and you’re also hosting a listening party at a record store in Melbourne in early August. Are you record collectors/record store nerds yourselves?
Orono: I only have a handful of records. My collection consists of my favourite albums when I was in high school, gifts from friends, and a couple ones I snatched at the Domino offices.
Superorganism Australia 2022
Thursday, 4th August – Phoenix Central Park, Sydney
Friday, 5th August – Album Party at Sound Merch, Melbourne
Tasman Keith has delivered his debut, the Album Of The Year contender A Colour Undone. Keith, a Gumbaynggirr man and the son of trailblazing Indigenous hip hop artist Wire MC, was raised between regional Bowraville, New South Wales, and Sydney. After releasing 2017’s upfront hip hop joint ‘Might Snap’, he consolidated his profile with the credible EP Mission Famous and 2020 mixtape To Whom It May Concern.
But, as early as 2019, Keith presented an indie-rock project, Evenings, a collaboration with Darwin’s Stevie Jean. He then recorded ‘First Nation’ for Midnight Oil’s ARIA #1 The Makarrata Project alongside Jessica Mauboy. Keith joined the Oz rockers on their 2021 tour, impressing pub-rock heads around the nation.
Tasman Keith – ‘Might Snap’
The pandemic afforded Tasman Keith the opportunity to slow down. Apart from watching Breaking Bad, he spent time in Bowraville, reflected and wrote music. A Colour Undone explores not only different facets of Keith’s artistry but also the man himself. He brought in Western Sydney’s Kwame to executive produce. The friends had previously worked together on the raw ‘THESE DEVILS’, off To Whom It May Concern, and last year’s loosie ‘ONE’.
“It wasn’t too difficult of a choice for me,” a relaxed Keith says over Zoom. “When I told him I wanted to make an album, he’s like, ‘Let me produce it.’ I was like, ‘Aiiight, sweet, let’s do it.’”
Kwame encouraged Keith to embrace R&B and pop and to even sing – resulting in ‘LOVE TOO SOON’, a romantic bop. “He’d push me to be a bit more melodic and do some things that were out of my comfort zone.” Keith duets with Mauboy on the jam ‘HEAVEN WITH U’, which is very JAY-Z and Beyoncé circa ”03 Bonnie & Clyde’. Other guests include the acclaimed Genesis Owusu, drum and bass star Thandi Phoenix, and Sydney rapper Phil Fresh.
Lyrically, A Colour Undone is personal, philosophical and poetic. It captures Keith amid a phase of accelerated growth, as he was “having to deal with some shit.” The MC ponders human connection, emotional immaturity in a relationship, the cult of machismo, intergenerational trauma, and communal expectations as a First Nations man.
Keith emerges with “clarity”, feeling centred. The album retains Keith’s trademark braggadocio, as heard on the lead single ‘5FT FREESTYLE’ – recalling Snoop Dogg circa Doggystyle. Still, he implores fans to listen attentively to the jazzy epilogue ‘TREAD LIGHT’, which honours his late cousin Knox. Above all, A Colour Undone expresses sorrow, joy and resolve.
A Colour Undone, released during NAIDOC Week, was a triple j Feature Album, and Keith hosted rage. Next, he’ll hit the road, his first stop Splendour In The Grass, declaring, “I made the album to be a live album.”
Tasman Keith – ‘5FT FREESTYLE’
Music Feeds: Every time you have a new project, you level up. But I realised what makes you unique is you’re like an era artist. Everything has been conceptualised. I wondered how you approached A Colour Undone – if you had that big statement in mind or if it evolved?
Tasman Keith: The nights spent by myself in the hotel rooms on the Midnight Oil tour allowed me a lot of space to kind of go through what I needed to go through, things that I’d always pushed to the side due to making music or constantly working – things like death in the family, past traumas. It’s things I’m still dealing with. But I think it’s a lot that I didn’t necessarily address at all – I thought I was good. And, with that, came clarity. I was really honest with myself.
I was just like, “What don’t I have?” Some would argue, but I was like, “I don’t have the big records,” you know what I mean? That’s why you get a ‘LOVE TOO SOON’ or a ‘HEAVEN WITH U’, because intentionally I wanted to write that.
So what happened was we’d lock into Alex The Astronaut’s studio for six days. Prior to that, we had, I think, three or four tracks from the album roughly done. We had one day in the studio before that six-day lock-in. In that one session, we wrote ‘HEAVEN WITH U’, ‘CHEQUE’ and ‘FIND U’ all in 12 hours.
Every song that we made in that six days is on the album. We got to the seventh day, tried to make one more joint and, for the first time in that week, we were like, ‘Nah, this feels false. The album’s done.’
MF: It sounds like you were dealing with a lot. Yet, at times, this album feels quite liberated. How were you psychologically as you approached it?
TK: It was interesting. I think, by the time we locked in, I had started to take steps towards knowing what I need to do for my psychology. Therefore I think a lot of it was able to come out of me without it being forced. I just really felt like I wanted to make the music I’ve always wanted to make.
I just made music without any care for judgement, or just to have fun with it – just to make records that do have an underlying message, but if you don’t have the capacity and the time to listen to it, to understand that at a deeper level, you need to come back to that later, whenever that may be, that’s fine.
Tasman Keith – ‘HEAVEN WITH U’ ft. Jessica Mauboy
MF: ‘PROUD’ almost has a house beat. Tell us about some of the styles you explore on this album.
TK: I don’t think I noticed that until I put out ‘LOVE TOO SOON’, ’cause these are genres and types of songs I’ve always listened to and wanted to make, and I feel like I’ve always made, but it’s been demos that have laid around that nobody else outside of my circle has heard.
So I think it’s just basically like I wanted to go pop. I wanted to have this soulful moment with ‘HEAVEN WITH U’. ‘SHARKS’ was kind of rock-influenced. And none of this was really directly intentional before those lock-ins. But I’d just walk into the room and we’d be like, “What do we wanna make today?” We would reference something, reference some sounds, and then would make a ‘LOVE TOO SOON’.
MF: A Colour Undone also sees you explore different facets of yourself. You show a real vulnerable, emotional and even romantic side. Was it difficult for you to let down your guard and do love songs?
TK: It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, purely because I addressed a lot of things prior to making the album, which allowed me to just kind of be myself in the studio. Before, yeah, I had songs that spoke on different topics and some songs that weren’t necessarily just hip hop. But I feel like what I did, just sitting down myself and being like, “Okay, who do you wanna be? What do you wanna talk about? What don’t you like about yourself? What do you like about yourself?”, all this made having these songs easy, because it’s like, “This is what I like and this is what I love and this is what I’ll make.”
The only time, post-writing it, that I would feel like, you know, “Damn, I’m nervous about putting this out,” is literally the day before ‘LOVE TOO SOON’. I was like, “I’m so nervous for this record to come out” because it’s so different and I feel like that’s me.
I showed my cousin ‘LOVE TOO SOON’ and she was like, “That’s the Tasman I grew up knowing. That’s the Tasman that used to watch the MJ videos, used to like cheeky dancing.”
MF: What kind of reaction did you get to it from people outside your circle? Were you surprised?
TK: Oh, yeah, it was great! I was like, “Damn, I need to dance more.” So now I do it live [laughs].
Tasman Keith – ‘LOVE TOO SOON’
MF: It sounds like this album was a learning process. What did you take away from making it? What were the big lessons?
TK: I guess not to be such a perfectionist. Most songs on the album – maybe like 70 per cent of the songs on the album – were made in Alex The Astronaut’s studio. The next week we were scheduled to go and re-record the vocals at my engineer’s house, so it was properly cut. We got there and went to re-record the vocals and just weren’t hitting the same. In the demo vocals, I wasn’t overthinking and being like, “Let me get this take and this, this, this.” And so it just taught me to kind of let go sometimes.
MF: There’s this perception that you’re slept-on, and you addressed this on Twitter not long ago. Yet, every time your name comes up in conversations, people just go on about how great you are. Do you feel that it’s more important to be seen as underground but very credible and consistent, or would you prefer to be hyped up and have haters?
TK: I’d prefer to be hyped up! I’m trying to make money [laughs]. There’s always gonna be people that hate, for sure. I saw that tweet and I was like, “I’m content where I’m at.” I’m still obviously working and wanna get to where I wanna be. But I know that everything happens when it’s supposed to happen – and I can’t control that.
And so, like, do I think I’m slept-on? Nah – I think I’m where I’m supposed to be right now.
MF: What is your five-year plan at this point? Has it changed over time?
TK: It’s still international-level touring, having an album sell, and all the heights. But, personally, I’ve just narrowed it down to a real simple thing. It’s just being happy and separating music from my everyday life – which I’ve never done – and just kind of finding purpose and happiness in the small things, as much as I am in this big thing, and being present for people that love and care for me.
The realisation I’ve come to is that, of course, my community is Bowraville and that’s where I’m from. But right now what my community is is the people around me that love and care for me unconditionally. So it’s doing it for them and doing it for myself, first and foremost – and being happy will lead to everything else I wanna do in the next five years.
Eluera’s new single ‘Madeleine’ is rooted in a period of personal chaos for the Central Coast songwriter and musician. Eluera’s professional fortunes have gone from strength to strength over the past half decade. The artist’s 2019 single, ‘Good When We Fight’, has notched more than a million streams. But behind the scenes, Eluera has been engulfed in instability and emotional unrest.
Her songwriting panache has suffered no such drawbacks, however, and ‘Madeleine’ is the artist’s smartest pop confection to date. Music Feeds caught up with Eluera to chat about the new single, her creative drive, and what the future holds.
Eluera – ‘Madeline’
Music Feeds: Who were some of the artists that first got you excited about writing songs?
Eluera: When I first started writing I was listening to a lot of Florence and the Machine and Daughter. Just lots of sad girl songs really.
MF: Growing up on the Central Coast, did you find a community of like-minded creative people?
Eluera: I went to a great music school where I had a few mentors who really encouraged me to get into writing and performing, who I am so grateful for. There were a lot of young people my age doing the same thing there, busking around the town, so it was a pretty supportive crowd to be around.
MF: What sort of things generally inspire you to write music—is it the work of other artists? Navigating your emotions? World events?
Eluera: I really just write to get my feelings out, ‘cause I have a lot of them [laughs]. I find it hard to use my words and speak what I’m feeling, so it’s nice to have an outlet like writing music. I always find I write the best songs when I am writing from an honest place about what I’m going through in the moment.
MF: Tell us about the origins of ‘Madeleine’ – did you have anything specific in mind for this song, in terms of sound and production?
Eluera: We actually wrote it completely on guitar and were unsure where the production was going to go. I was loving bass-forward tracks at the time, so we tried that and also blended it with some Western-ish guitar to bring back the feel of how we originally wrote it.
Then, in the bridge, I just wanted it to feel completely like the heartbreak chaos I was feeling at the time, which is now my favourite part.
MF: ‘Madeleine’is about feeling insecure in a relationship and projecting things onto someone from a place of fear rather than fact. It’s a big thing to realise, that you were doing this. Did writing ‘Madeleine’ help you get a better understanding of why you felt this way?
Eluera: I definitely still really felt that way for a long time after writing the track as I was still in the situation. It wasn’t until after my relationship had ended that I had come to terms with the fact that it was a mix of my insecurities and an unhealthy relationship creating all this chaos that I was projecting onto other people, which left me feeling really guilty about it. But sometimes you can’t see clearly until you’re out.
MF: You released ‘Petty’ in April 2021. What sort of growth have you undergone as an artist since then? Do you think you’re entering a new phase of your artistic journey with ‘Madeleine’?
Eluera: I definitely feel like I’m entering a new era as I’ve been working on so much music the last year and have really been enjoying just writing on my guitar in my room and going where the songs take me. I’ve been trying to let the songs come naturally and not be too critical on what I want the sound to be like, which I feel like has been helping me make my most authentic music yet.
I feel like I finally have a clear image of what I want to put out into the world and I’m very very excited about all the new music I’ve been making.
MF: What’s next for Eluera? An album, EP?
Eluera: I have a few more singles coming out this year and a few shows, but I am also working on an EP at the moment as a little time capsule of the mess this year has been for me, which is a nice silver lining.
It’s only been 18 months since Viagra Boys released their second album, Welfare Jazz, but if there’s one thing these Swedish post-punks believe in, it’s that time waits for no one, and those who wait get left behind in the dust.
The Stockholm band’s new record, Cave World, is an exercise in immediacy and sonic evolution. Gone are the constant references to shrimp (only two on the whole record), while an anticipated third instalment in their ‘Best In Show’ song series is similarly absent. Viagra Boys embrace new territory on Cave World, unveiling what they’ve described as “12 immaculate tracks of post-truth-cow-funk-kraut-wave-enlightenment”, a summary that will take some time to decipher on its own.
The lyrics of vocalist Sebastian Murphy touch on COVID, vaccines, conspiracy theories, and deniers of climate change and evolution. But the band’s bent and ironic approach to their music remains – after all, you couldn’t write songs like ‘Ain’t No Thief’ without your tongue squarely in cheek.
In the lead-up to the release of Cave World, Viagra Boys’ drummer Tor Sjödén spoke to Music Feeds about the group’s rising popularity, their attempts to make sense of a crazy world, and the desire to evolve through music.
Viagra Boys – ‘Ain’t No Thief’
Music Feeds: Given the largely positive response to each record you’ve released, have you felt pressure to try and recreate that success? Or is that something you don’t put much thought into?
Tor Sjödén: I mean, of course you think about that, but the first album – Street Worms – it’s been a long time since I heard it, but it feels really good; a nice record. And I had a little bit of anxiety about putting out Welfare Jazz, I didn’t feel that it came as naturally as the first one. But this one, it was just hard work and we just worked really hard on this one. So there wasn’t that much pressure, at least for me.
I mean, the music always comes quite naturally because I mean we can’t do anything else other than play music. So we just keep on doing it. Everybody writes songs and everybody comes in with different ideas, so it’s never a problem. It’s just six people trying to get along musically, but it’s been working tremendously so far.
MF: Have you been surprised by the sort of success you’re seeing?
TS: Yeah, it’s been amazing. All of us, except Sebastian, have been playing in bands since we were ten, so we’ve always been doing this. But I mean, we’ve been very successful, but we’ve been working really, really hard as well. So it’s a lot of hard work, but it’s important to take a step back and say, “Wow, look at where we are”.
The first tour we did after the pandemic was really amazing, because before that, we played shows for maybe 200, 300 people. And after the pandemic, suddenly every show was 1,000 people. That was like, “Whoa”, for me. But still, it’s kind of a slow process, but it is quite extraordinary that it’s going so well. I mean, people seem to like weird stuff and music that is kind of real in some ways. It’s not polished in every sense, and it seems to work and that’s nice.
Viagra Boys – ‘Troglodyte’
MF: This new record feels very different to the previous records. It feels like you’ve all made sure there’s no chance of becoming complacent, and that everything stays exciting.
TS: It’s very important for me and for us as a group to never make the same album all over again. You have to evolve. You have to evolve as a human, and you have to evolve as a musician. I mean, if you stagnate and you get stuck, I think life becomes boring and music becomes boring.
So on this one, we just went for it. And the song ‘Big Boy’ [laughs], it was a very late night in the studios, we’d all had about 500 beers, and we just did the song ‘Big Boy’ for fun. Then our producer was like, “Oh my God, this song is amazing.” It was the first song he started working on. It’s really fun, and I never in my life thought it was like going to end up on the record. So it’s very important for me – and for us – to not get stuck.
MF: That can become a double-edged sword though, can’t it? On one hand, fans want something you’ve done before, but that isn’t necessarily what you want to do, is it?
TS: It’s always a battle. It feels like 80% of the fans just want to be like, “‘Sports’”, and that’s okay. I mean, this is show business, we’re here to make people happy and I mean, nobody cares about your fucking creativity, of course [laughs]. But for us, maybe we can fool people to start digging the new stuff.
For me, it’s not a problem. I appreciate the fans. I mean, they like ‘Sports’, and they want Viagra Boys to sound like they always have sounded. And I like that we’re not sounding like we always used to. Maybe one day when I was younger I was like, “Fuck the fans, I’m gonna do whatever I like!” But that’s not how I think about it today.
Viagra Boys – ‘Punk Rock Loser’
MF: You guys have spoken about right-wing politics in previous songs, and now on this record we have songs that touch on vaccines, evolution, and conspiracy theories. Do you feel as though making this album has helped you make sense of the world any more, or is it still just as confusing and alienating as ever?
TS: It’s as confusing as ever. Seb, he had been writing a lot about computers and apes, and I mean, the world now is some depressing piece of junk. Everybody’s shooting themselves, and there was a mass shooting in Denmark the other day. The planet is dying, the Russian war, and abortion.
But some people don’t understand that we’re ironic. So in some shows, Seb starts rambling about vaccines [and their supposed side effects], he starts sounding like an anti-vaxxer, and people get really confused. And it’s the confusion that is a huge part for me as well. Being confused is a very nice state of mind [laughs].
MF: It just feels like the world is getting more confused by the day, really.
TS: And then Viagra Boys drop an album called Cave World and everybody gets more confused, of course. And then they start playing ‘Big Boy’.
Viagra Boys – ‘Big Boy’
MF: Speaking of ‘Big Boy’, that song has Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods on guest vocals. How did that collaboration come about?
TS: We’ve been put together with them for about two, three, four years, and people have talked about us in the same sentence. Y’know, it’s Viagra Boys, Sleaford Mods, Amyl & The Sniffers. Then we met them during some festivals and Seb and Jason have been keeping in touch. And then Jason was on the Amyl & The Sniffers record – or it was the other way round – so it’s just been a big old group combination. But I love Sleaford Mods, I’ve been listening to them for years, and it’s so awesome that Jason ended up on that song. It’s so nice.
MF: Looking ahead, are there any plans to bring the new album to Australia?
TS: Of course. I’m not sure if you saw the first tour we did [in 2019], but the first tour over there was such a success, so of course we’ll be coming back.
It’s been thirteen years since Canadian post-hardcore icons Alexisonfire released their last full-length album, 2009’s Old Crows, Young Cardinals. For the band members, it has been thirteen years of growth, both personal and musical in nature; for their fervent fanbase, it has been thirteen years of anxiously awaiting new song lyrics to get inked into their skin.
The long wait ended on Friday, 24th June, when St. Catharines’ favourite sons unleashed their fifth studio album, Otherness. Inspired by the inherent sense of otherness that underlies the band’s very existence, the new album is powered by Alexisonfire’s commitment to remaining outliers.
After surprising the world with the alt-rock infused comeback single, ‘Sweet Dreams Of Otherness’, the follow-up singles, ‘Reverse The Curse’ and ‘Sans Soleil’, made good on the quintet’s mission to revel in otherness, with each track providing distinctly different explorations of the band’s signature post-hardcore and emo sound.
Founding member and front person George Pettit has always played a crucial role in the creative mission of Alexisonfire. In the lead-up to the new album’s release, Music Feeds spoke to Pettit about how a desire to explore the unknown helped give life to the band’s triumphant new record.
Alexisonfire – ‘Reverse the Curse’
Music Feeds: George, after thirteen years, Alexisonfire are finally putting a new album out. Are you excited for the world to hear what the band sounds like now?
George Pettit: Excited is an appropriate way to describe it. We’ve been sitting around with it in our back pockets for over a year, and we’re just very excited to get it out.
MF: In terms of it sitting around with you for so long, did it make you hypercritical of the record, having lived with it?
GP: I’ve gone through waves of self doubt followed by waves of extreme confidence and that’s kind of where I’m at now. I feel like this is the best record we’ve ever done. I really love it a lot. The process of making it was so good, and I feel like we achieved exactly what we were going for.
There were moments when it was just the five of us who had heard it and then we’d pick it up and listen to it and start to question if it held up; ask ourselves, “Is this going to be a disaster?” But we’ve come to a point with this where I feel like this is a good record, a very good record. I hope that people feel the same way.
MF: I’ve been listening to your band since I was a teenager and I feel that you’ve created something that’ll appeal to old fans. What’s most appealing and interesting about the album, though, is that it also displays the musical and personal growth that has occurred within the band. You’ve all been experimenting in different genres over the last decade. Do you feel that you’ve been able to inject that into the album?
GP: Absolutely. I think that’s kind of the reason we decided to make another record. I’m extremely critical, to the point of being an arsehole about my tastes in music. So when I look around and I see bands doing things that maybe I don’t like… it still felt like we were capable of contributing in a positive way.
We’ve all been constantly consuming music too. It’s not like we made one good record and then decided to rest on our laurels. We’re always out there looking for music that makes us feel something. So when it came time to make the record, we had a much deeper pool of influence to draw from. It’s not like we were clinging to the influence of two bands from back in the day.
Alexisonfire – ‘Sans Soleil’
MF: A lot of your contemporaries are experiencing a late-career resurgence, and emo/screamo/post-hardcore is very much back in the public consciousness right now. Is that just a happy coincidence?
GP: Yeah it is. Some of that is good and some of that is not good. As a person, I get and appreciate the sensation of nostalgia. There’s certain things that I’m nostalgic for. That being said, if we were just coming back for nostalgia, then I don’t think any of us would have been interested in making a new record.
Personally, I want to know what’s new – What’s the crest of the new wave? What’s the avant-garde? What’s the thing that’s happening, currently? That’s what I’m interested in.
We’re going to benefit from that wave of nostalgia that’s happening around post-hardcore music right now, but at the same time, I don’t want to benefit from it if we’re not doing something that is current. To me, what’s going to make the most impact from any band is if their newest record is their best record. That’s what I want and expect from bands.
MF: It’s a noble sentiment, but it’s also a pretty logical one. An artist’s purpose is to create. So it makes sense to me that if you were to stop creating and start simply tracing, you’d lose some enthusiasm and connection with what you were doing.
GP: At a base level, it is tracing – in some ways it is plagiarism. I’m not interested in the band that sounds like another band that I like. I’m interested in the band that sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before or has such an amalgamation of influences that are so interwoven that there’s no direct correlation. That’s the band I want to listen to. That’s the band that I want to be.
MF: ‘Sweet Dreams Of Otherness’ was the first single from the album and people were taken aback by the slow-burning, alt-rock elements in the song. My understanding is that it was mostly a Dallas [Green, guitar/clean vocals] song, and it does have a lot of those latter City and Colour vibes to it. I’m curious, personally, how do you find a way to contribute to a song like that?
GP: I think there were times in the past where we would shoehorn me into songs where I didn’t belong. I think we knew if we had a song where one of us didn’t sing on it, we were less likely to play it live. So it would just get lost in the shuffle.
I’m like the odd ingredient in the mixture – sometimes there’s a song that calls for it, and sometimes it’s a song that doesn’t call for a guy screaming at the top of his lungs. As far as ‘Sweet Dreams Of Otherness’ goes, though, I think that the song called for me to be in it.
I think we’ve got a better balance this time around. There’s a song that doesn’t have Dallas singing on it on the record and then there are also songs where instead of Dallas singing a part, I’m actually singing it. I’m not just leaning into being the screaming guy in the band.
Alexisonfire – ‘Sweet Dreams of Otherness’
MF: Not many bands have three legitimate lead singers in their membership. Do you feel that’s something you can use to differentiate yourselves?
GP: Not a lot of bands have a Dallas Green. He’s a remarkable front person, a remarkable singer and a really capable songwriter. There’s a lot of people who can sing really well and there’s some people who can write really well; he just so happens to have a lot of those things going for him all at once, and it creates a different texture.
I think a lot of bands from our genre back in the day, there was a type of singing that that had a certain sound to it, and I think a lot of bands had that sound. I don’t think that there are a lot of bands with people in it that sound like Dallas, so that’s definitely an asset when we’re writing.
MF: ‘Reverse The Curse’ has a lot more of your input, front and centre. Were you feeling like that was a traditional Alexisonfire-style winner from the get-go?
GP: I would actually say that we weren’t. A couple of the riffs in the song date back to Crisis .We had this song written and even performed it with different lyrics. Then we decided to scrap it because we were scared of it. We thought the riff was too stoner rock and I thought we were kind of stepping out of our lane.
Nowadays, it just feels like we can do whatever we want with our music. We eventually got to a point where we were comfortable enough to let this be a song. It took us kind of getting a little more comfortable with ourselves before we were able to turn it into what it is now.
MF: Alexisonfire are kind of adopted Aussies at this point. Do you know if there’s any chance we’ll be seeing you down under soon?
GP: Of course. There’s nothing concrete yet, but we want to come back. I’m hounding our booking agent all the time. Just like, “When’s Australia? Come on, why don’t we go to Australia? I want to be in Australia.” I love Australia and I do I feel that kinship. Australia has always felt like Canada to me, if Canada was in California. I just love it so much on all fronts. So it’s going to happen.
Link Wray – ‘Rumble’
MF: I’ve got a couple of nonsense questions before I let you go. If you could have any song play whenever you enter the room, what song would it be?
GP: Probably ‘Rumble’ by Link Wray. That’s a classic and probably the coolest song that you can enter a room to.
MF: Proper organic, real maple syrup? Or maple-flavoured syrup, the abomination on sale at the supermarket?
GP: You know the answer. Straight from the fucking tree. I’ll drink it. I’ll just fucking stick a knife in a tree and lick the knife. It’s gotta be the real deal. In fact, I play in a band called Dead Tired and our bass player’s dad, they go and they tap a bunch of trees every year and then he drives around and he delivers homemade maple syrup. It’s called Ball Syrup. His name is Nick Ball. So every year I get a couple of big wine bottles of Ball Syrup. It is delicious. It is incredible.
When cult Australian band TISM announced their reunion earlier this month, expressions such as “long-overdue reformation” and “nostalgic delight” peppered the discourse. However, one word that was missing from the majority of discussions was “chaotic”.
Yes, after 18 years, TISM have found their way back into the public consciousness, with a trio of performances lined up as part of this year’s Good Things festival. Appearing alongside bands such as Bring Me The Horizon, Deftones, and NOFX, the group are the highest-billed Australian outfit on the lineup, and likely the most-discussed.
As veteran fans eagerly await the chance to see the band perform for the first time since 2004, many have also begun to share stories about TISM’s glory days. Sure, TISM might have found a way to win two ARIA Awards, storm triple j’s Hottest 100, and achieve commercial success, but it was their live shows where they really shone.
Armed with a sense of ferociousness and danger that’s all but absent from the local music scene these days, vocalists Humphrey B. Flaubert and Ron Hitler-Barassi were a commanding presence when they appeared before a crowd. Often, fans were left battered, bruised, and yet still completely mesmerised by what they’d just witnessed.
These characteristics were a feature of TISM’s press appearances too, where they would frequently ensure all journalists regretted the experience. So, when Music Feeds was given the chance to interview the iconic group, it was a decision too good to pass up – but also one fraught with danger.
Although the standard approach to a feature article about the return of a band like TISM might be to share a lengthy, narrative-driven write-up, the only way to accurately capture the sheer chaos of an interview with TISM is to share it in its entirety.
TISM – ‘For Those About to Rock’
Ron Hitler-Barassi: Tyler, we’ve heard you’re ex-Rolling Stone. That doesn’t exactly put us into the fucking good books. You know, you’re not actually in the good books, mate, because Rolling Stone is the sort of snotty, arrogant, self-important magazine that always put us down.
And our solution was to go away for 19 years, and we’ve come back now in 2022 and what’s happened, Tyler? We’re “beloved.” And what’s the difference? Only the passing of time. So I’m just saying this to you, and warning you, you’d better be on your mettle and prove that you have risen above the Rolling Stone morass from which you rose.
Humphrey B. Flaubert: Tyler, what we really want to know is when was the last time you had a bit of a clean and brush?
Music Feeds: Oh, I’d say it’s been quite a while. You know what us music journalists are like.
HBF: Well, dental hygiene is very important when you are listening to music.
RHB: It affects the message.
HBF: I think it sort of affects the vibrations of the music.
RHB: The inner ear.
HBF: The young people of today have such beautiful teeth that I think they miss the nuance of fine music, because the vibrations are so perfect. And it’s the imperfections that are… You know, if you take Freddie Mercury for example, that overbite is the reason why he was such a magnificent star. And somebody like Bruce Springsteen who has a magnificent underbite – sort of like an Australopithecus man like underbite – that is why he is in the pantheon of great music.
So don’t go to the dentist, unless those things are so rotten that people can smell you for miles away. That’s my advice.
RHB: See, people have waited years for this and I think it’s been worth it.
RHB: Tyler, this interview’s been going for a while. We’re musicians; we’re actually serious musicians. Like Picasso said, he was 60 years old and he painted a ball and he was going to get thousands and thousands [of dollars for it]. And they said, “Why would you get thousands for something that took you two minutes?” And he said, “It took me 60 years and two minutes.” And this is where we feel we’re at, right?
We’ve been doing this for many, many years, and you haven’t asked us one serious question – not nothing about our music, nothing about the creation of our art. You’re just gibbered and jabbered for 20, 30% of this interview.
MF: Look, you’re right. Let’s change the direction to the reason that we’re here.
RHB: Are we playing Eurovision, Tyler? We’re thinking seriously about Eurovision, right? We’re artists, as I just said. There’s Picasso, there’s many references to various literary figures and stuff. We do wear masks and we’re anonymous, but nonetheless, I think Eurovision… we’re going to represent Russia.
I think there’s a sort of a neglect in Eurovision for the Russian point of view. And I think someone needs to stand up and finally say what we’re all thinking, which is, “There’s something to the Russian point of view.” The Russian point of view summarises something like this: You slightly piss me off, so I’m going to invade you and kill all the innocent people.
Now it’s not an attractive point of view, it’s not one that we necessarily support, but we think it should be out there at the Eurovision contest. Don’t you think? We’re going to invade the Russian consciousness and, Tyler, no one’s ever invaded Russia and it hasn’t turned out well.
HBF: Cracking beef, the Russians, too.
TISM – ‘(He’ll Never Be An) Ol’ Man River’
MF: Look, we are here to talk about the band’s addition to the Good Things lineup. So the pressing question is, why exactly do TISM feel that this is a good idea?
HBF: I heard that when The Veronicas played at the Good Things festival – was it last year or a couple of years ago? – the metal fans formed what is known as the “wall of death” in the mosh pit, which is when they separate and a giant chasm forms between them and then they sprint really fast and smash into each other.
And we’re not certain, of course, Tyler, whether that was an ironic comment on the scheduling of The Veronicas at the festival or whether that was just sheer joy at The Veronicas’ music, but that really inspired me. And I thought what could happen at the Good Things festival is that I’m hoping the metal fans won’t do the wall of death necessarily – well, they will do the wall of death – but they’ll kind of reinterpret it a bit to form a shape, which looks like an X-ray of my prostate because that is the wall of death.
MF: So, TISM are expecting a very large crowd, is that what you’re saying?
HBF: Well, I don’t know, but certainly I want as many people to see me die on stage as possible, which is the most likely outcome.
RHB: That’s right. And the other thing, we really like the Good Things lineup and we’re actually there to see a lot of the bands. Humphrey, I know, is looking forward to the Ray Conniff Singers, but I’m very excited about Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. It’s only people with the credibility of Good Things to get Herb and the Brass boys out here.
And the Good Things people, not only have they got credibility, but they have got a very good line in cocaine. I think you should quote this and put this on the internet, because nothing could go wrong when you say libellous things on the internet. You can trust me, of course, on that.
But they’ve got good cocaine and Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass are exactly the sort of band that the wall of death suits. When they start hitting those marimbas and those metal drums and, you know, that horn that comes with the salsa music, that wall of death goes nuts for that crap.
HBF: Absolutely. I believe also Florence and the Dental Machine will be playing at the festival and I’ll be checking them out. Of course, The Kid LAROI will be on the bill, but only as a dental nurse. But I’d certainly appreciate The Kid LAROI being the person to say, “Here’s some mouthwash, swish it around a bit, and spit it down the drain.”
RHB: Just excuse me – Humphrey, I’ll just put you on mute for a while. Tyler, I just want to explain Humphrey’s dental obsessions, right?
MF: Please do.
RHB: There was a very traumatic… he’s been re-traumatised. As a young boy, he had a severe overbite. It was a grotesque look. It looked like an oval set of goal sticks from an AFL field sticking straight out from his mouth. And he does have these periods, especially now that we’re older men, where he keeps returning to sort of a dental theme. And I just want you to be understanding about that. Now, let’s just put Humphrey back off hold.
Now the other thing is, The Kid LAROI, we taught him back in year eight. You know, his real name of course, is Roy the Kidley. He was plain old Roy the Kidley back then. He was a good boy, did all his homework well, and what I really support about that is just like Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, I think there should be more names in rock like Roy and Herb and maybe Des and Les. Of course [TISM’s] got Les Miserables, so we are doing our part there I think.
HBF: It’s a great name.
RHB: I actually think I’m going to call the Good Things people and see if they can actually recast the show so there’s just good old Des, Roy, Ted, Gordon – Gordon would be another good name, I think – those sort of names. I mean, there’s all these bands I’ve never heard of. Like, Bring Me The Horizon – there’s not even a name in that.
MF: It’s basically a name that was just designed to bring in the young kids, I’m sure.
RHB: Oh, hold on, actually, I’m looking at the poster. Oh, no, it’s Herb Alpert & Bring Me The Horizon. That’s all right.
HBF: Horizon, of course, is a machine which helps the drill to work with much greater efficiency. “Bring me the horizon,” says the dental technician to the dental nurse.
MF: Well, that’s starting to make a lot more sense now.
RHB: Look, Tyler, there’s no need to freaking suck up. That makes no sense at all. What do you mean, “bring me to horizon”? In that case, in Humphrey’s deranged scenario there, he was saying the horizon was a dental implement. There’s no need to be polite, Tyler. You’re the journalist. It’s nonsense and it always was nonsense.
MF: Look, I will admit I’m just being completely diplomatic in lieu of asking the actual hard-hitting questions.
RHB: The man is mad, Tyler.
MF: Well, clearly this is why it’s been 18 years since you’ve played together.
RHB: 19 years and I haven’t had to listen to this, and the first two interviews back, he’s talking this garbage. Is it any wonder we haven’t been around for 19 years.
MF: Well, that’s the question. It has been 18 years since the band’s last show, so why now? Is it an artistic statement, a cash grab, or a combination of the two?
RHB: Is it 18 years? Shit, we should wait another year. I thought it was 19 years.
MF:Oh, you know, if you’re rounding up another year, I think it is.
RHB: I’m rather disappointed.
HBF: Well, how long is a piece of string? Or how long is a piece of floss? I really hate it when people say that. You know, Solomon Asch did an experiment with pieces of string where he got a group of subjects in the laboratory. Ten subjects, only one of them was a real person and nine of them were actors. And he showed them two pieces of string. One was short, one was long, and he asked them to name the short piece of string.
And the actors all said the long one, which meant that the one person who was real – even though they knew the short one was short – chose the long one. And I’ve got no idea where I’m going with this.
RHB: No, that’s peer pressure. That’s a very good point. I can remember Roy the Kidley, he had horrible braces back in year eight. His teeth looked like someone had punched him in the mouth. I mean, we all want to, but someone actually did in year eight, right?
And that year, when Roy The Kidley had braces, this is why he’s so emotional as a young man – admirably emotional and open about, as his last album will tell you, the many dental procedures that he’s had to go through. And it’s quite touching. I think.
‘The Root Canal’, that’s the song of his that I find is very hard to listen to because it’s so searing and deep when he raps about the exposure of his soul that came about during those root canal sessions. Also it’s unfortunate that the dentist he went to actually used those old school lead and gold fillings that don’t actually match the plaque of your teeth. That’s a scar that he’ll carry, I think.
TISM – ‘Saturday Night Palsy’
MF: Look, while I do still have a couple of moments left, I should ask the question though, with the reunion shows coming up, there’s preparation involved, and the band needs to get match fit. How’s it going behind the scenes? Are you ready to return to the stage?
RHB: You know those little electronic stair things for old people, where the old people go to the bottom of the stairs and they electronically lift them up to the top of the stairs? We’ll be having that, but, Humphrey, what was it called again? The something of death where they clash?
HBF: The wall of death.
RHB: The wall of death. I mean, we’re going to be having the wall of death, but it will be an assisted wall of death with various walkers and safety barriers so no one gets hurt. I mean, if you break a hip at our age, Tyler, you know how bad that can be.
So the wall of death might take slightly longer at this year’s Good Things festival because it’s an uneven surface. No Zimmer frames, you’ve just got to be very careful with them. So as the two approaching armies – I think you could call it – of wall of deathers slowly stumble towards each other, we’ll be up on stage going, “This is the answer to Tyler’s question. This is what our live performance will be like.”
MF: Well, I’m sure it’ll be more than worth the wait. But look, these are all the questions I have for you today. So, I’ll say thank you for taking the time. I’d say it’s been a pleasure, but then again…
Indie pop icon Ben Lee should be on every music lover’s gig bucket list for two reasons. Firstly, his proclivity to produce a bloody banger. Secondly, his live performance history is peppered with tales of injury, unplanned chaos and sonic spontaneity, ensuring that no two shows are the same.
The loveable Lee hits the road with his ‘Parents Get High’ tour this June, visiting six cities around Australia and promising a mix of old faves and fresh tunes from his forthcoming record I’M FUN!.
Lee’s 14th record is an introspective journey about growing up, leaning into your weirdness and having some fuckin’ fun. Due to drop on Friday, 19th August, the album includes collaborations with She & Him’s Zooey Deschanel and Beastie Boys producer Money Mark as well as homegrown talent Megan Washington, Sally Seltmann and Georgia Maq.
Music Feeds caught up with Ben Lee to chat about the ‘Parents Get High’ tour, making space for all hell to break loose and leaving a legacy of fun.
Ben Lee – ‘Born For This Bullshit’
Music Feeds: In the trailer for the ‘Parents Get High’ tour, you described your live music career as full of mishaps and catastrophes. What’s your favourite chaotic live music moment?
Ben Lee: I think that moment on The Panel, when I was 21, is pretty iconic. I feel like for music fans of a certain age, if you mentioned that they know exactly what you’re talking about. And it’s summed up everything about being a young upstart full of piss and vinegar. But also it’s funny, because it also taps into the arrogance of young people who run before they can walk. But in a way, that’s what we love about music from young people and that’s what was so cool about that kind of moment. It should be a fuckup. If you’re not fucking up, you’re doing something wrong. At 21 we’re all fucking up everything. That’s what’s beautiful about it.
MF: For any of our readers who don’t know exactly what went down on The Panel, can you describe what happened?
BL: I was in the middle of playing the show The Panel, which was sort of like The Project or something. It was that type of show that had a really big reach. And obviously, this was pre-internet, so TV shows had much bigger audiences. In the middle of it, I was like, “I’m gonna jump up on the desk in the middle of the song and have this cool rock’n’roll moment”. I just jumped up, and my guitar became unplugged.
The thing I didn’t realise was that I was quite naive. You know when Phoebe Bridgers smashed a guitar on SNL? That was a highly choreographed moment that everyone was in on. I didn’t understand that at all about show business because I came from dirty punk rock all ages shows with the Hard-Ons. So everyone’s like, “Whoa, what’s happening to the cameras?!” and suddenly I’m unplugged and there’s no sound coming out of it. And I just remember walking off and my tech guy going, “If you’re gonna do something like that, just tell me.” [Laughs].
MF: So, is that what we can expect from the ‘Parents Get High’ tour? Lots of chaos?
BL: I mean, yeah. But at a certain point, you become a professional by virtue of repetition, despite your best efforts at maintaining your chaos. Now I’m at a point where I sort of couldn’t do a bad show if I tried because that’s what 30 years of doing something does. It’s almost like when actors pretend to be a bad singer in a movie but you can tell they’re doing it so perfectly, that they actually must be a good singer. It’s kind of like that. You can’t help it.
I still try to keep the atmosphere. I constantly undermine my own feeling of safety and security in order to keep it lively. The other night in Brisbane, I played this little festival and Megan Washington got up and we did ‘Parents Get High’ together. And I was like, “Oh my god, we need it to get bigger” and so I just changed the strumming pattern. She looked at me like “Whaaa?”, but then we had a moment and it became something. I think maintaining that spontaneity is really important.
MF: What can we expect from this tour in terms of music? Will it be a mix of old and new?
BL: It’s kind of a mix. I want to work on a medley of all the songs written about me. So it’s going to be like the Moldy Peaches’ ‘I Wish I was Ben Lee’, The Ataris’ ‘Ben Lee’ and The Chaser’s ‘Ben Lee’. But basically, I just sort of play my songs.
There’s a great story about Laurence Olivier, when he was standing on the side of the stage in a play he was doing and he was probably on the 300th night of it and he used to pray and say, “Lord, grant me the power to surprise myself”. And I love that attitude. You don’t have to involve religion, but the idea that what you really want is something that you didn’t know was going to happen.
The Moldy Peaches – ‘I Wish I was Ben Lee’
MF: Do you feel like opportunities for spontaneity and the live music experience in general have changed since the pandemic?
BL: Yeah, I don’t think anyone’s taking it for granted. I think both performers and audience, everyone’s a bit like, “We’re at a gig!” I think people are really grateful but people are also cautious with buying tickets, because there’s so much that has been cancelled. What I’m hearing from a lot of friends is most people are buying their tickets that week of the show. So that’s kind of an interesting thing, rebuilding the confidence and the trust between audience and performer and promoter.
MF: Can we expect some sneak peeks from I’M FUN! on the tour?
BL: Yeah, I’m gonna do a handful of new songs. Part of my belief system about concerts is I’ve never been one to believe you have to know all the music. So, if I go see a band and I see the people that love them digging the show and know the music, but if I don’t know it, and it’s not connecting with me, to me that’s unsuccessful.
So, I think with my songs, the goal has always been that if you’ve never heard them before, you can still drop into the story, the melody, what they are, and have an experience where you understand them, whether or not it’s something you are familiar with.
MF: You’ve described the new record and this part of your career as balancing some of the life lessons and wisdom picked up from your very long career. What is the biggest life lesson or realisation that you’ve had in this process?
BL: Well, I think it’s summed up in the album title. I’m fun. There is no other compass for me than what is enjoyable. And obviously, that comes with all the caveats of it has to be consensual, you don’t want to be destructive to people around you. But in general, the vibe that is getting you off as an artist is what you have to do. Every single time I’ve done what you’re meant to do, it has never worked out. And I’ve tried it enough times.
You think, “What’s your legacy?” I hope that people look back and go, “Wow, that guy did what he wanted to do and that added some value to the world,” because we need people doing that to give us all courage.
If you’ve read an interview with Hayley Mary in the last couple of years, it’s been entirely focused on her solo career – be it her debut EP, her extensive touring or her upcoming debut album, which is being readied as we speak. You’d be forgiven for forgetting that the singer rose to fame at the helm of dramatic indie-rockers The Jezabels.
The Sydney quartet built up a cult following in the late 2000s before finding mainstream success in the early 2010s. Although a significant chapter in Mary’s career, it felt safe to assume she’d moved on – she doesn’t perform any Jezabels songs while playing solo, after all.
But that all changed when the band unexpectedly announced their reunion last year, and with it, an extensive tour of Australian theatres to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of their 2011 debut album, Prisoner. The foursome of Mary, guitarist Sam Lockwood, keyboardist Heather Shannon, and drummer Nik Kaloper are back together and offering audiences around the country a chance to relive the band’s glory days.
Music Feeds spoke to Hayley Mary about getting the band back together, making her second debut album, and why metalheads can’t get enough of The Jezabels.
Music Feeds: Before we get to the band’s new beginning, it seems pertinent to start at the band’s end. When things wrapped up in 2017 and you ultimately moved on to your solo project, was there a part of you that felt that The Jezabels were done for good?
Hayley Mary: At the time, we just didn’t want to keep feeding that growth machine. It was never this big thing of calling it quits, we’d just lost interest with keeping up with the stifle and didn’t want to force ourselves to write. If we’d done that, it wouldn’t have felt like it meant something.
MF: The time apart has given you all a chance to do your own thing – both yourself and Heather Shannon have released solo music, while Sam Lockwood has been making Goddess911. Has having those avenues affected how the band operates this time around?
HM: I’d say that’s true. It relieves a lot of pressure on the band for everyone. When you’ve been around for a long time, every individual in a band has these other elements of their personality and musicality that they’re kind of suppressing – if only because it doesn’t fit with what the band is. Having these other projects can actually make a band better to work within, rather than somehow threatening it.
Heather and I… I really do see us as career musicians. We have to keep going; this has to be our full-time job. So that’s what we did. I’ve always wanted to do my solo stuff, and when things stopped with The Jezabels I finally had a time and a place for it. I left The Jezabels behind a bit, in a sense – my solo songs are pretty different, and I don’t necessarily think Jezabels fans will always like them.
MF: Prisoner arrived at an interesting point in The Jezabels’ career. Normally a debut album arrives very early on – it’s often the first thing people will hear from a band or artist. But by the time Prisoner came out, the band was about four years and three EPs in. Having had that time to establish yourself, what was your mentality going in to make this record?
HM: I think what the EPs helped us establish was a concept. I feel like I say this almost every interview, but we have very different tastes musically. What unified us were these ideas of serving the same kind of concept. The fact that we did these three EPs was us asking ourselves how to develop this idea of a trilogy that ties together.
I think that really informed the mindset that we all had when we went into Prisoner – particularly myself, because I was like, “Okay, there’s a concept here.” When I came up with the line, “So you say you’re a prisoner,” it set off all these other ideas in my head – as if the whole thing could be sort of addressed to someone directly.
MF: The album debuted in the top five of the ARIA Charts, ‘Endless Summer’ was a top 40 hit and Prisoner was nominated for and won several awards. Were you taking in all of the success as it was happening, or was that a blur for you?
HM: Yeah, I don’t reckon I was taking it in, now I think about it. We got really busy, really quickly after the She’s So Hard EP, and it never really stopped. It’s all a bit of a whirlwind, that time up to putting out Prisoner and the time after it came out. We were playing maybe 150 or 200 shows a year and it was like, it was pretty chaotic.
MF: What does it mean to you to come back and play these songs again? Some, one would imagine, haven’t been touched for quite some time, even while the band was still active.
HM: There’s probably even a couple of songs that we haven’t ever played. Granted, they’re probably more the interlude-y sort of pieces like ‘Austerlitz’ and ‘Reprise’, but this will be our first time attempting to play them live. I feel like that’s maybe why people do these album tours – you put so much work into this album, and you really cherish it, but then ultimately you only ever really add a couple of songs into the rotation of your setlists after the fact. Most of it never really gets to see the light of day in the way that you hoped that it would.
Some of my favourite songs from the album are ones that we never really played – songs like ‘Deep Wide Ocean’ and ‘Catch Me’– which are really beautiful moments on Prisoner.
MF: You’re finishing work on your solo album, which, if we’re being pedantic, technically counts as your second debut album. Have you noticed any comparisons or contrasts between making the two albums as you’ve made the Hayley Mary record?
HM: It’s such a different approach between the two, I’ve found. I will say, the one thing I do notice is how I’ve been singing when I’ve been recording these new songs. With my solo stuff, I’ve only done sporadic shows because of all the cancellations. It was a lot harder to learn a whole new set without any solid touring behind it. Getting back into singing these Prisoner songs, I’ve gone back into where I feel my strength really is as a musician, which is singing. I’ve been applying these techniques that I learned early on in The Jezabels when I’ve been singing my solo songs, which has been great.
As for writing-wise, I’m not sure. I think I may have been a little bit influenced by my Jezabels side on the new stuff. With my first two solo EPs, I was really trying to burst out and be really different. Now, I feel like I’m embracing that side of me a little bit more.
MF: You’re in your 30s now, and the songs from Prisoner are obviously from a completely different part of your life. How do you reckon with your younger self when you sing these songs again?
HM: That’s a really interesting question. There’s a lot of themes that are present on Prisoner that I would say I am much less concerned with these days. To my younger self’s credit, however, it’s very rare that I’m absolutely certain. I’m the kind who really likes to ponder and debate with myself back and forth.
Even going back to a song like ‘Mace Spray’, you could say that’s a feminist song if you were being simplistic. What I was trying to do at the time, though, was ponder feminism as this bittersweet presence that has been forced into someone’s life. It was very easy for the press to latch onto The Jezabels as a feminist band – our name, our black clothing, wearing Docs, that whole image. I was never particularly certain of feminism at the time, though. I was interested in it and was always debating and battling with it.
Given this is essentially a nostalgia tour, though, I’m able to really pay homage to this moment in my career and my life. Even though I’ve changed since those days, I still have a lot of respect for it.
MF: We Lost The Sea are joining you on the Prisoner tour. That’s a band you wouldn’t necessarily associate with The Jezabels, given they’re a post-metal band and you’ve always been seen as more of an indie rock outfit.
HM: I think Sam suggested them, just because they’re a pretty epic-sounding band. Not many people ever picked up on this, but Prisoner itself was a little bit influenced by metal. If you listen to songs like ‘Nobody Nowhere’, it’s kind of present on that. Our producer, Lachlan Mitchell, was in a black metal band before he got into producing. Nik played in a lot of heavy bands before The Jezabels, too. I’ve also found out that we have a few Jezabels fans that are big metalheads, too.
HM: [Laughs] I know! You wouldn’t pick it. They seem to particularly love this record. It’s not a metal album, obviously, but it does touch on a lot of dark stuff. It’s a very cool kind of fan to have, a metalhead.
Skeleten is the solo project of Sydney musician Russ Fitzgibbon, formerly of electronic duo Fishing. Fitzgibbon has been active in the Sydney music scene for over a decade. He’s currently a member of Babitha’s live band and Vlossom, the new project from Cloud Control’s Alister Wright and PNAU’s Nick Littlemore.
Skeleten is Fitzgibbon’s first solo project. It’s electronic music, but of a tuneful and vocal-centric variety. Skeleten’s debut single, the Arthur Russell-esque ‘Mirrored’, came out through Astral People Recordings in August 2020. Skeleten has since put out the singles ‘Biting Stone’ (2020), ‘Walking On Your Name’ and ‘Live In Another World’ (2021), as well as a cover of Digitalism’s ‘Pogo’.
The project’s latest release is ‘No Drones in the Afterlife’, a track built around a hypnotic dance groove and repeating vocal hook that’s reminiscent of Animal Collective savant Panda Bear. Skeleten’s debut album is expected in the second half of 2022, and Fitzgibbon and his band will be playing plenty of unreleased material at the Sydney Opera House Studio on Wednesday, 1st June for Vivid LIVE.
Music Feeds spoke to Fitzgibbon about the upcoming show, the Skeleten live set-up and his broader vision for Skeleten.
Music Feeds: You were supposed to play at the Opera House for Vivid LIVE 2021. Has the show changed much from what it would’ve been?
Skeleten: I guess it is technically the same show, but obviously since then there’s a whole other host of songs that we’re playing now. And also, I’ve always had a vision of making it a big band kind of thing – I love the feeling of lots of people on stage. So, we’ve got a friend, Oscar, who’s joined on percussion and I’m also getting a couple of friends to sing back-up vocals.
MF: You usually play live with a drummer, a bass player and a keyboardist, and you’re on guitar and vocals, right?
S: Yeah, that’s it. I say guitar, but I’m not really playing guitar for many songs. Guitar is the instrument but not the sound.
MF: That explains why I couldn’t hear much guitar in any of your live performance clips.
S: Pretty much all the music is synth-based and sample-based – like, production-based – but I’ve always enjoyed playing with a guitar more than I’ve enjoyed standing behind a keyboard. If I’m trying to sing as well, it just feels so much more natural and connected to have that.
MF: How do you get the guitar to make synth sounds?
S: I’ve got a guitar that I’ve made control MIDI, send MIDI information. So I’m playing an Ableton and synth and sample rig with the guitar.
I actually custom built the guitar and then put this wireless MIDI pickup inside it, which was a lockdown project. It took a lot of messing around, but that’s what I love to do anyway; just tinkering with music gear.
MF: Had you played any Skeleten gigs before the pandemic?
S: We did one show. It was even really announced. My good friend Al’s band, Vlossom, was doing a residency at the Lansdowne right at the start of 2020, and I play in that band as well. So Skeleten did our first little pre-show before I’d released anything. Just one, right before the pandemic hit, as a little testing of the waters. But since then, I think it’s only been three or four shows.
MF: Have you played at the Opera House before in any capacity?
S: I don’t think I have, actually. No, no I haven’t. So, it’s exciting. It’s funny, we were supposed to play last year and then the lockdown came and I was like, “Oh yeah, it happens, no big deal.” And then it wasn’t until I went on a big bike ride with my friend and we ended up down in Circular Quay. I was looking at the Opera House and then it sunk in – there was an opportunity to play in there.
MF: Your music is characterised to a large extent by the electronic production, but you also seem to be very much a songwriter. What’s your internal perception of the essence of Skeleten?
S: I’ve never considered myself a songwriter. I don’t really feel like I can claim to be in this tradition where I’ve got visions for telling stories and these kinds of things.
I’ve always enjoyed making dance music and electronic music because, without worrying too much about the song necessarily, you can just start creating a feeling with production and stuff. It can be very free in that way – you can free yourself from thinking too much about what you’re trying to do while you’re doing it.
MF: Do you think of your vocals as a core part of the Skeleten sound?
S: Yeah, definitely. It was kind of a natural progression where it was starting with this production-based approach and then seeing the song as something which emerged from that. It always came production and vibe and feeling first and then lyrics and song as this kind of sewing together on top.
It’s interesting, because I say it’s production first, but obviously it ends up focused on the vocals and the song. I guess it’s just my way of doing things. It allows me to be more confident and happy with what I’m putting down on the vocal and songwriting side of things.
The Scottish pop-soul superstar Emeli Sandé is relaunching her career with Let’s Say For Instance, a sweeping album presaged by the vocoder-funk of lead single ‘Family’.
Sandé, whose first name is actually Adele, grew up in rural Alford. She relinquished a medical vocation for music, initially working as a songwriter. A pianist, Sandé formed a pivotal partnership with rising producer Shahid “Naughty Boy” Khan in London – co-writing and singing on Chipmunk’s 2009 grime hit ‘Diamond Rings’.
Sandé’s debut solo single, ‘Heaven’, came out via Virgin EMI in 2011, evoking the symphonic trip-hop balladry of Massive Attack. Her debut album, Our Version Of Events, was 2012’s top-selling album in the UK. Sandé performed at the London Olympics’ opening and closing ceremonies. Meanwhile, the UK performer established a creative rapport with Alicia Keys and wrote for Rihanna.
Sandé re-surfaced with 2016’s quiet storm, Long Live The Angels, which chronicled the dissolution of her marriage to marine biologist Adam Gouraguine (Jay Electronica made a rare cameo on the record). Sandé’s most recent release was 2019’s slept-on gospel/R&B collection, REAL LIFE.
Now feeling free, both creatively and emotionally, Sandé is touting Let’s Say For Instance as “an ode to resilience, rebirth and renewal.” The singer celebrates her coming out and love for classical pianist Yoana Karemova on ‘My Pleasure,’ a sensual queer bop. Sandé offers communal songs prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and addresses a looming mental health crisis and Black Lives Matter on ‘Another One’.
Sandé performed the swinging, inspirational anthem, ‘Brighter Days,’ with The Kingdom Choir at March’s Concert For Ukraine. The album’s sole guest is Birmingham rapper Jaykae, who appears on ‘Look What You’ve Done’. Most of all, Let’s Say For Instance shows Sandé’s prowess as a vocalist, rivalling Mariah Carey.
Sandé has largely concentrated on the UK market, where she’s had sustained good fortune, winning multiple BRITs and even an MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for services to music. But now Sandé is keen to connect with Australian audiences. She enjoyed an early hit here with ‘Next To Me’ and covered Beyoncé’s ‘Crazy In Love’ alongside the Bryan Ferry Orchestra for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby soundtrack. Sandé visited Australia for promo in 2017, performing an industry gig in Sydney. (“There’s no tour plans at the moment, but I’m trying my best to get further out, for sure,” she says.)
A glam Sandé, in colourful quilted top, chats to Music Feeds over Zoom on a Monday morning from the marble bench in her London kitchen, with a portrait of Frida Kahlo on the white rendered brick wall behind her.
Music Feeds: I last spoke to you about your first album, Our Version Of Events. In the interim, I used to wonder why the label in Australia didn’t keep that momentum going. But you’ve alluded to being with a major, and now starting your career anew. What did you take away from the experience?
Emeli Sandé: Well, I mean, the positive experience was I always have been very free to kind of write the lyrics I want to write and they’ve always got behind what I’d wanted to do creatively in that sense. But I think, in a major label, there always has to be an element of compromise because, at the end of the day, you’re spending their money… So there is always that pressure where you can’t be completely free, because it needs to make business sense, you know.
For me, I just feel that [leaving Virgin EMI] came right at the right time. I had a great time making those first three, four albums there. But it definitely felt that I’d grown up as a woman. I signed there in my early 20s. Now I’m 35. So it felt, just personally, a time in my life where I definitely wanted to own my music, basically.
And that was a big decision , and why making this album without a label was important and finding a record company that kind of respected that and also respected what I wanted to do creatively.
So I don’t know – I didn’t have that many negative experiences. I just felt like, “Okay, I want to get to the point where I’m responsible for if it goes wrong, I’ll take responsibility.” If it goes right then at least I can follow my instincts more in that sense.
MF: Let’s Say For Instance is so sonically expansive. There are some surprises, like the vocoder, the textural elements. But, overall, this album feels really optimistic. Even though you’re singing about some very serious topics, there’s a hopefulness. I guess the most sombre song is ‘Another One’. But what kind of headspace were you in as you wrote these songs?
ES: I was in quite a determined headspace, for sure. Like, I had to feel the enthusiasm for making the record. When you do leave a big structure like that [major label], you have to kind of fill in those gaps yourself. Usually, you’ve got somebody saying, ‘When’s it gonna be ready?’ or ‘Have you finished this yet?’ and I definitely had to be more disciplined in that sense. So I was determined just to finish the project and to get there to a point where I felt super-happy musically.
But I think the whole world being shut down, you know, your job’s kind of just taken from you and we were told that arts aren’t important – “Retrain; this isn’t something you should have dedicated your life to.” So I felt that I wanted to resist that. Also I felt that disconnection with people.
So that was the hardest part. I think that’s what was fuelling this album – just that want and need to connect, and also just thinking, I want something which can give something to people, which can uplift them, give them that feeling of confidence while they listened to it.
MF: Even in Australia, we’re aware of all the debates around the NHS (National Health Service) and the pressures on them, both under the Tory government with austerity and with the COVID impact. I wondered if during that time, you thought, What if I had stayed in medicine? It must have been a surreal time for you.
ES: Yeah, for sure. I definitely had those thoughts – and I said, “Gosh, if I would have stayed in medicine, I would have been more useful right now.” But I think that’s what really put that seed in me to find something beyond entertainment in the music.
I was like, “No – if I really want to make this album and put in quite a risk to make it, it needs to actually be beneficial to people in some way and give them just a space to breathe in.”
But I have lots of friends who are still in medicine, who are doctors, so they’d be letting me know what’s going on. It made me just want to work very hard. I felt like, God has been fantastic, I’ve had the opportunity to do what I love and to make music, but now it’s time for me to kind of pull my socks up as well and offer something beyond what’s beneficial for me.
So, yeah, it was big therapy to put the music together. But it was definitely with that thought in mind – if I can’t heal through medical knowledge, let me at least heal through the music.
MF: You’re acclaimed as a singer-songwriter. But, with this album, you make that transition into production. How did you find that process?
ES: I loved it – really liberating. I really fell in love with production, because it showed me that, yes, beyond the melody and the lyric and the chords you put around it, you can just take it to another world; you can create a whole atmosphere and worlds that people can live in. I think that’s the biggest lesson I learnt from production – and also that everyone can produce in different ways.
I always felt, Oh, well, I can’t really call myself a producer because I don’t know how to use this program. But, then, I’ve realised it’s so much beyond that and you can really choose the way you want to do it. It just allows me to put more of myself into the music.
MF: Another thing I don’t think you get credit for is your role in dance music, because ‘Heaven’ brought trip-hop back into pop culture, and now that feeling is pervasive. You’ve also had some incredible remixes over the years. I love the Matrix & Futurebound drum and bass remix of ‘Shine’. What’s your relationship with that genre? Because I’m hearing a dance influence on this album again.
ES: Yeah, I love dance music. I love the energy of it, particularly jungle and drum and bass. It really reminds me of London and the spirit of London. It’s quite relentless. And I think we need that – we need that energy now more than ever, because I feel it became very lethargic. You just sat at home and [were] told to watch Netflix and all of that stuff. But, to really reignite myself, I found myself listening to a lot of dance music. Like, I love The Blaze, I love Bicep so much.
Sometimes I really want to blast my vocal – that’s why ‘Heaven’ was so excited ’cause you’ve got this extreme drum and bass but, then, on top of it, I want to match the energy. I always feel that dance music production gives me that. It dares me to come with the same energy and I love going for it.
MF: You came out recently, and people were really happy for you. I imagine it’s very important for you to own that narrative. But what have you made of the response? And what has it been like to have your truth out there?
ES: Yeah, I’ve been really touched by the response. You know, it’s not something that I felt, Okay, today, I’m gonna make a big announcement. It was just something that felt naturally like I wanted to share my love with the world.
But, yeah, I’ve been really touched and really feel very welcomed by the community. It was a big relief. It could have gone two ways – you just never know. But it felt like a point in my life where I need to tell the truth of who I am. I want everybody to know the full version of who I am, not just when I’m on stage or when I’ve put these songs together.
MF: You’ve always shared a lot of yourself in your music. At times, it’s been very melancholy because of that. How does it feel writing such personal lyrics?
ES: I love it. I feel, the more honest I am, the more liberating it feels, yeah. I’d only ever really hate a song if I felt I hadn’t been honest or I felt I was trying to be pretentious in it, which I really always try to avoid.
So, through the music, I definitely find, when you just tell the truth, there’s nothing more freeing. That’s why I always make sure lyrically I don’t lie. I’ve always been quite a honest person and I want people to know me exactly. So to now be able to be honest about everything – personal life, music – all the rest of it’s like, Okay, cool, now it’s complete. I feel like I can just be myself in every aspect of my life now.
Australia has a new avant-popster in BOY SODA, aka Brae Luafalealo. The Sydney singer, rapper, songwriter and producer has been establishing his rep for three years. And now, amid much intrigue, comes his debut EP, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN THINKING AND FEELING (TDBTAF). Luafalealo has described it as “a project of six conversations with myself about love and healing and celebration.”
Growing up in idyllic Terrigal on New South Wales’ Central Coast, Luafalealo developed a passion for throwback R&B. He initially considered himself a vocalist, but later developed an interest in production and contemporary sonics. Luafalealo attended the University of Technology Sydney, studying music and sound design. But, networking aside, Luafalealo decided it had negligible value.
“I went into that course thinking it was gonna put me in the position that I’m in now – and that kind of happened organically by itself,” Luafalealo tells Music Feeds over Zoom. However, Luafalealo did appreciate having an “amazing mentor” in country music veteran Rod McCormack.
In 2019, Luafalealo independently released his first single, ‘Time For That,’ a trap-soul duet with mahni. Soon after, the young buzz act flew to Los Angeles to support Florida’s Dominic Fike at a Camp Flog Gnaw x Converse pop-up show.
Last year, Luafalealo signed to Warner Music Australia and let fly the pining ‘LOVEU2BITS’, the lead single from TDBTAF. The speculation was that he’d drop an EP – working title The Glow Up – on the back of November’s self-care bop, ‘WELCOME TO THE GLOW UP’ (a track helmed by EDM DJ/producers, Korky Buchek, that recalls classic Craig David). But Luafalealo eventually settled on a more existentialist concept.
TDBTAF is a manifesto of selfhood that explores anxiety, doubt and emotional growth. Even the EP’s aesthetics are meaningful – the dimly-lit cover art features an image of Luafalealo’s car, which was a gift from his grandparents. In the latest single, ‘BIG’, BOY SODA realises the vital importance of having purpose and perspective. Among the EP’s revelations is the cruisy ‘LONELY’, co-produced by the Brisbane grime act Nerve.
Luafalealo launched TDBTAF – and what his label has credibly declared “SODASZN” – with a headlining gig at Sydney’s Lansdowne Hotel. In June, he’ll open Jarryd James‘ Vivid Sydney concert alongside a pal, the indie-soul singer Liyah Knight. “I think she’s amazing as an artist and as a person,” Luafalealo says. “It’s nice to look to your left and your right and see friends doing it as well.” For BOY SODA, the release of THE DISTANCE BETWEEN THINKING AND FEELING is only the beginning.
Music Feeds: Your secret EP, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN THINKING AND FEELING, has just dropped. It’s an intriguing title – I had some idea you might call it The Glow Up. But tell us the story behind that.
BOY SODA: I think the whole project for me says a lot about my relationship with hyper-self-awareness and my relationship with self-love as well. I always find myself being very emotionally-aware and hyper-self-aware of the way I feel, to the point where I disassociate a little bit. I can kind of look at myself from a third person view. It’s that push and pull of sitting with my feelings and also not over-analysing them too much sometimes.
It’s the distance between the two things that I’ve been learning to balance, especially while I’ve been making this EP. So it just felt the right way to deliver the story and the world that exists within this project.
I could have gone with something like The Glow Up, but I think it might not have been indicative of the journey that is evident in six tracks. So I was really happy to connote it, in that sense. I’ve had a lot of bright colours and vibrant, saturated visuals come out with a lot of the singles, [but] having a more lo-fi, nocturnal feel to the album cover sets it up to be received in a more mature way.
MF: There are three singles and three new songs on this, and one of those new songs is ‘TWENTYOH5’, which blew my mind. It’s the most epic beat switch.
BS: Oh, thank you! My music director and housemate, Blake Wares, who has an artist project under lovemedo, he’s got a studio in the house, I’ve got a studio in the house. And I always had ‘TWENTYOH5′ – I wrote it at my parents’ house when I was in a little bit of a rut, to be honest, and feeling a little bit depressed that day. So most of the lyrics were just me in my old bedroom.
Then Blake came in one night and I knew it needed to be revamped, ’cause it was a-year-old at this time. It wasn’t a reflection of who I was musically. And he was like, “Oh, we could do this or take it to this section…” I was like, “Yeah, let’s just start a new session and try it and, if nothing happens, then no love lost.”
Over the next two nights, everything we did, every idea we came up with, just seemed to fall into place instantly and be perfect. When that first ’70s Bee Gees-inspired section comes in, that’s him singing – which is real cool to me as well, because we built that song together. We were very aware of what it was at the time.
So [I’m] very lucky to have said what I’ve said and then to have also made it with a friend at the same time, because I think I needed a little bit of support to finish it.
MF: Which of the new songs are you most excited for people to hear?
BS: Definitely ‘TWENTYOH5’. I think it’s the most musically brilliant song that I’ve made to this date. ‘LONELY’ is very close to my heart as well and says a lot about how I deal with things in my head. I think that feeling of being in a room full of people and feeling super-alone at the same time is such a jarring thing, but such a universal experience that people have. So I have a feeling that’ll be a very special song for people to find as well.
MF: With ‘LONELY’, what strikes me is, when I go on Reddit, somewhere like AskMen, I’m surprised so many people are really lonely. It’s sad to see some of the comments. It’s almost normal for people to be profoundly lonely. No one reacts to that anymore. But is that something you think is generational, that existential loneliness out there?
BS: I think we live in a world where we’re encouraged almost to compare ourselves to everyone – except our own experience. Making a song like ‘LONELY’ is, one, very cathartic for me; two, it’s a shared experience and other people can relate and not think that all of these feelings that they’re having are exclusive to them and that no one will be able to relate.
Just the act of putting [out] a song like that, and also putting myself in a vulnerable position to talk about that, is really important to me – because, personally, I don’t think that being lonely is a bad emotion. I just think it’s a human emotion, the same way that being happy is.
I’m navigating fucking everything on this project and figuring it out. And sometimes I don’t figure it out on the songs, but you can tell I’m in the process of doing it. Life is ebbs and flows. You know, the ebbs can be really hard – and that’s when I wrote a song like ‘LONELY’ and a song like ‘TWENTYOH5’. But life and feelings aren’t linear; they’re fluid, and not demonising them and just speaking about them frankly was a real priority for me while I made this.
MF: Another thing I liked about this EP is that the focus is on you as an artist. You could have rammed it full of collabs and features, especially given that you have that presence now in the Sydney scene. Was it important for you to make sure that it was your artistic identity coming through? In future, would you actually like to do more collabs?
BS: Yeah, I definitely love working with other artists, and that includes producers. There’s something very special about letting my ego go and not thinking that I can do everything myself. When you put yourself and another person in a space and you allow your creative energies to mesh – and you’re also introducing new inspirations and different experiences to create one result – [that] is really special.
There are so many variables depending on who you work with, how they’re feeling on the day, what they learnt that week. So that will always be crucial to me. I love doing that – and just creating art with other people, ’cause I don’t wanna do it by myself all the time.
But, in saying that, it wasn’t a decision not to have anyone on this EP. It’s just I never felt the need. I didn’t need anyone’s help to tell my story of my own reflection. I really wanted this first EP to be all mine, in that sense – just for me and by me.
There’s a lot of co-producers on it as well and they’re artists in their own right. So, if you look at it from that perspective, it’s a very collaborative project. But I just wanted to exist in my own world for this one.
MF: Obviously, the Sydney scene is burgeoning. I wonder how you see your role in that – and how you feel about the focus on Australia. From what I understand, you’re also getting a bit of a push in the UK.
BS: Yeah, absolutely. I feel very proud to be part of this Sydney scene and surrounded by so many just beautiful, creative souls that make art for art [and] not to sound like anyone else or to be something that they’re not. There’s a lot of people around me standing in their truths, and that’s really inspiring, especially making R&B/hip-hop music, which Australia really doesn’t know how to facilitate yet. But doing that around other people that love it, and are good at it as well, is really important. So I’m proud to be part of the music scene here and I’m proud to be around so many beautiful creative minds.
MF: Why do you think Australia hasn’t caught up with facilitating that yet? Because Sound Unlimited/Renegade Funktrain and Def Wish Cast were active in the Sydney scene in the early ’90s, these OG groups. Why is the industry here still so behind?
BS: Oh, look, I don’t have an answer for that, to be honest. It’s something that I’m aware of, but not something that I feel a direct responsibility for, because I just wanna make art. And people will either facilitate it or they’ll miss the boat. So it doesn’t change anything for me, apart from the way that people observe it and receive it and that will always be a subjective thing. I kind of don’t put a lot of weight in that.
MF: You’re part of the change, anyway, I think.
BS: Yeah, exactly. I have a lot of trust in that process; in just artists existing the way they do at the moment in Sydney.
MF: You performed at that Camp Flog Gnaw x Converse show in LA with Dominic Fike. Did any opportunities come out of that?
BS: Not that I can point to anything specifically or tangible, but having such a big company [in Converse] back me like that, and give me opportunities like that, really solidified my backbone and really validated that what I was doing was something I was allowed to do and something that I was good at. So if anything – and this is invaluable to me – it was the fact that I left that experience feeling confident and proud of myself and feeling like there is a place for me to assert my existence as an artist in these spaces.
MF: Did you meet Dominic?
BS: Yeah, he’s awesome. I met him briefly. When we first rocked up to soundcheck, it was just him playing guitar to an empty room – no people in there, no glasses clanking or cluttering, just him filling out this empty hall. I think he was in his zone, but he was very polite and had beautiful, warm energy when I met him. So hopefully the next time that happens, we’re making a song together!
MF: I’m curious about your tour plans. You’ve announced a show with Vivid Sydney, opening for Jarryd James. But what else is on the horizon?
BS: I don’t know what else we’ve got locked in at the moment. But any opportunity to go to a different city and meet new people and communicate the things that I’ve said on this EP to a live audience, I would jump at the opportunity to do.
The Vivid gig – I’ve done a few sessions with Jarryd and I love him. We have made some awesome songs together that I think will see the light of day quite soon as well. So, yeah, [I’m] just excited to be back in the swing of things.
MF: What’s next for you? Are you already thinking about your next studio session – even your next project?
BS: You know, [I’m] cutting down a lot of the back catalogue at the moment to figure out what I wanna say and reveal for the rest of the year. There’s a lot of material that has built up over the last year. So I’m really excited to reveal what I’ve been working on, and reveal different aspects of my artistry and about me as a person as well. I don’t like to speak about things until they’re ready and done, but there’s definitely a lot of me that I want to give to the world this year.
MF: Have you got much planned over winter?
BS: Yes, it’s my birthday in July! So I’ll be taking a pause to celebrate everything and celebrate the people around me that contribute to who I am as a person and as an artist. [I’ve] got a couple of writing trips planned. So I’m just excited to really hone in and elevate my music on a lyrical level and on a musical level as well. It’s gonna be a busy year. I’m really excited to see what the fruits of that labour will look like.
MF: Are you a Cancer or a Leo?
BS: Cancer! A little part of me thinks people will listen to this EP and just go, “Oh, fucking Cancers!”
Norway’s girl in red, aka Marie Ulven, is the indie-pop star the world needs in 2021. The 22-year-old prodigy has delivered a much-anticipated debut, if i could make it go quiet, of expressive queer emo-pop songs that have Suzi Quatro’s rock clout, Avril Lavigne’s punk verve, and AURORA’s Scandinavian spaciness. Marie has already found a super-fan in Taylor Swift, who declared the album “spectacular” in her Instagram Stories.
i will never be able to recover from taylor swift saying my album is spectacular
The neo-rocker grew up in sedate Horten, her parents divorcing when she was five. Marie started composing bedroom songs seriously as a teen after being presented with a guitar by her grandfather one Christmas. Initially, she uploaded material on SoundCloud, using aliases and singing in Norwegian. However, the openly gay musician would go viral with 2017’s anthem ‘i wanna be your girlfriend’, about an unrequited crush on a straight bestie, under her new project name, girl in red. Marie became a streaming phenomenon, airing multiple singles and two EPs (chapter 1 and chapter 2). She even contributed ‘kate’s not here’ to the curated soundtrack for The Turning, Floria Sigismondi’s gothic horror. Marie has established a dedicated fanbase by candidly chronicling her anxiety, desire, conflicted emotions, and existential panic – all with a droll and dramatic flair (cue: ‘dead girl in the pool’).
Now living in Oslo, Norway’s capital, Marie began cutting if i could make it go quiet in late 2019 – continuing as COVID-19 shut down Europe and the music industry (she missed Coachella and stalled her planned album release). In many ways, if i could make it go quiet is a coming-of-age record, but it feels zeitgeist. In a presser, Marie describes her debut as “me simply trying to understand what the fuck is going on.”
Though previously self-contained as a singer, songwriter, instrumentalist and producer, Marie worked on the album externally with Matias Téllez (who was once signed to Modular Recordings as Young Dreams). She made eight-hour road trips between Oslo and Téllez’ base in Bergen, Norway’s music hub. A guitar pop boffin, Marie creates a bigger, more expansive sound for her happy/sad bops – the first single ‘midnight love’, in which she empathises with a neglected partner, featuring her piano and a quiet storm balladic vibe. But the opener ‘Serotonin’, a dynamic trap banger about OCD and intrusive thought patterns, also has input from the Grammy-winning producer FINNEAS, Billie Eilish’s older brother.
While today Marie is a Gen Z LGBTQIA+ icon, inspiring the coded phrase “Do you listen to girl in red?” as a communal identifier on TikTok, she’s challenged those labelling her music as ‘queer’, determined to normalise queerness in pop culture (“MY BOPS ARE FOR EVERYONE”).
also, recently i’ve noticed a lot of queer ppl being like “lmao why this straight couple using ur music in their tik tok?” CAUSE feelings are universal. music doesn’t have a sexuality. YES i like tits but jeez MY BOPS ARE FOR EVERYONE
Gigging internationally, Marie hit Australia three years ago, performing a Sydney show ahead of Spotify’s Front Left Live in Melbourne alongside Sweden’s Tove Lo – and it was here she resolved to prioritise self-care. Still, Marie, leading her own “World In Red” movement, will return to the road in April 2022 for a sold-out European tour.
Music Feeds spoke to Marie via Zoom on the eve of her album roll-out and major TV premiere on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (https://youtu.be/d4IoZuP5mCw).
Music Feeds: It must be quite early in Oslo – I think it’s 9.30am or close to that. Are you a morning person?
Marie Ulven (girl in red): I’m definitely not a morning person. If it was up to me, I would be sleeping a long time. But I have a dog [Luna, her rescue Bernese mountain dog] now, so I kind of have to wake up. Yeah, actually, I like the idea of waking up early, though, ’cause then I can be a part of the world and not just be a zombie all day.
MF: Congratulations on your debut album, if i could make it go quiet, coming out in just a couple of days. It must feel incredible to be this close.
Marie Ulven (girl in red): Yes – I’m so, so nervous. Thank you so much. I’m very nervous. But I’m also really excited. I don’t even know what to do with myself at this point, other than not cry – ahhh… OK, sorry.
MF: Well, you signed a worldwide deal with the UK distro co AWAL Recordings in December 2019, just before the pandemic hit. But I wondered if this era has seeped into the album in any way, just the turmoil and the fact that people were locking down?
Marie Ulven (girl in red): I don’t think it has fed directly into my music – like how it sounds. But, then again, I think it has because I don’t think I would be able to make this music if it wasn’t for the lockdown – because I was supposed to be travelling. So the fact that I was in one place, making it all, I definitely think had a lot to say.
MF: You travelled between Oslo and Bergen to record. What were you thinking about on those long road trips? How important was it to have that time to yourself when making this album, just being away from other people – unless, of course, you had a travelling companion?
Marie Ulven (girl in red): I was just travelling with my dog mostly. But, you know, she hears it from me, ’cause I’d be talking to her like she’s a person sometimes… But, yeah, I was thinking about a bunch of weird stuff. I was just paying attention to the road, I was thinking about my future, I was thinking about the songs. I was listening a lot back to the songs and coming up with new things I wanted to fix and things I wanted to write and stuff like that. So I feel like it was actually quite an essential part to always start the trip with this long journey, but then also end the trip with a long journey. I kinda like being in my own headspace. I love driving – driving is the best. I love cars; I love driving – it’s really great. So just doing something like that for many, many hours – that’s like meditation.
MF: I was actually quite surprised because I thought Oslo would have studios – though we hear a lot about Bergen, when we read about music in Norway. But what did Bergen have that Oslo didn’t?
Marie Ulven (girl in red): Bergen had Matias Téllez, who I met for the first time last year in February-ish or end of February, beginning of March. I absolutely fell in love with that man – in a friendly way. Yeah, I really love that dude. We got chemistry right away. You know like sometimes you just meet someone and you’re instantly comfortable around them? He was one of those of people. We had great creative chemistry. He understood all of my ideas. We got along very well. He had a lot of respect for me; I had a lot of respect for him. It was just a really good collab.
MF: I wondered what the process was in developing your demos into such spacy, big pop songs, because this album is so atmospheric. It really feels like something you’d listen to driving on a long road trip. Did you have a specific sound – or aesthetic – in mind as you were writing or was that something that came later?
Marie Ulven (girl in red): I’ve been producing all the demos in my apartment. I was also working on the road while I was on tour. I had my computer with me all the time. I’ve been working all over the place, really. I was left with 11 to 12 demos, but I was like, “I wanna work on these more.” Then I worked on all the verses and choruses and kind of finding the song ideas and the DNAs. And then some songs were more finished; some songs were just the core idea. But I brought those to the studio. And, since I’m a producer, I’ve just been producing individual tracks that have their own direction. So the songs all stand on their own but, soundscape-wise, they all have a little bit of different energy. But I think they sound really well together. Yeah – I feel like I’m rambling right now, I’m sorry!
MF: Not at all. Your lyrics are so clever and observant. What did you learn about yourself while making this music? Because I imagine it was a reflective process. Did you have any interesting insights?
Marie Ulven (girl in red): Mmm. I feel like lyrically on this record, I’ve really been elevating – I don’t know, I feel like it’s really been some craftsmanship in the songwriting process. I feel like, because of the way I’ve sort of evolved emotionally, my songwriting has also matured in a way on this album.
I have a better understanding of like, “How can I make words rhyme that don’t rhyme at all?” That was something I always thought of when I was writing this album. I feel like I just had this better understanding of how you can have something sound like it rhymes with something. I don’t even know what that’s called – but maybe ‘near-rhymes’… Anyways, yeah, I’ve just been geeking on words for this album. In one song [‘Did You Come?’], it’s like, “I’m not upset, I’m fucking pissed” – I spelled it out, “You’re illiterate.” That blows my mind. That “fucking pissed” and “you’re illiterate” rhymes in a song is really cool. I just have to say that – sorry!
MF: It’s funny because I was going to ask if there was a song on this record that you were especially proud of or if you were even close to a particular song. Maybe that is the song. But is there one that you’re really looking forward to performing live?
Marie Ulven (girl in red): Oh, I’m really excited to play ‘Serotonin’ live, because I just feel like it’s gonna go hard. I’m so stoked to see how everyone is gonna be in the crowd. Honestly, I was thinking of myself: “How am I gonna be on stage?,” when I step on stage, because I really don’t even know how to be on stage anymore. Hopefully, that’s like riding a bike and it’s just gonna come back instantly, but I feel like I’m really gonna need some practice. Yeah, ‘Serotonin’ probably.
MF: You worked with FINNEAS on ‘Serotonin’. How did you hook up with him? Because I know you’ve met Billie Eilish and she’s a fan of yours. But what made you decide to work with FINNEAS? Was it just an organic thing? Or was it something you sought out?
Marie Ulven (girl in red): I was working on ‘Serotonin’ and I had this really great song – like I had really cool guitars, I had a really cool rap part, and this chorus. It was a strong song. But I felt like I needed a new set of ears on it. I think we sent it to a few people, but we decided to work with FINNEAS, ’cause he had heard the song and he absolutely loved it. He was like, “This is so cool.” And it is really cool to hear that from someone you look up to and admire. So that’s just how it happened. We sent the song and he said, “I want to work on this.” Then we did a few Zoom calls – just like this, back and forth – and sent the song back and forth. And we just ended up with what it is right now. So it was a very remote process, but it was still very cool.
MF: You have an incredible fanbase and your songs are just so relatable – even a 60-year-old could listen to your music and it’ll put them in a certain headspace, they’d be able to relate to something. How important do you feel it is to represent and give visibility to young queer people, but also to reach a wide audience and bring them into your world?
Marie Ulven (girl in red): I think that is really cool, because my grandpa really likes my music – and my grandma really likes it. I actually have a lot of older people listening to my music as well, which I think is really interesting. For me, it’s just about making the best music I can make. Anyone can listen to it and anyone can like it, regardless of their age or their sexual orientation or anything like that. I just wanna make music for people who can hear, really! That’s unfortunately not everyone… Also, honestly, I could make music for people who can’t hear, either, because maybe they can [feel] the beat and they’re like, “Yo, this beat is fire,” because they could feel it in their chest. But, yes – I do not know what I’m saying right now! Other than that, it’s just really important to me that my music means something.
MF: You’ve performed in Australia in the past – in 2019. You played a Spotify event. What memories do you have of that time? It seems like a lifetime ago now!
Marie Ulven (girl in red): Yeah, that feels really, really long ago. That was for the Spotify Front Left [Live] and then I did a little show in Sydney. I was really ill when I was in Australia. I had just been on a month-[long] tour in the United States and I was really, really exhausted. Then we flew to Australia – and that trip over to Australia really killed me. So everyone was out; my friends and my band went out and saw the koalas and shit. [But] I just had the longest Harry Potter marathon in 2019 that week and watched all the movies and I ate Coles’ Australian liquorice. That’s literally all I ate. You know that one? That is so good!
MF: I didn’t think you could get good liquorice here, so I’m really pleased to hear that. I’m sorry that you weren’t well, though. It’s a long trip – very long.
Marie Ulven (girl in red): It is a long trip… So I can’t really remember much from that trip. I just remember being in a hotel room, crying, having to get my bandmates to sleep in my bed with me – because I was too scared. I was about to have a breakdown at that point… But I’m really excited to go back and then be happy and be stoked about being alive and stuff. That’s gonna be great!
MF: You do have a huge European tour – it’s about a year away. But people are already looking forward to that. Have you missed touring? Because you can go from one extreme to another, in a way. It sounds like you’ve experienced that: really intense touring and then really intense lockdown.
Marie Ulven (girl in red): Yeah, I definitely felt that at the beginning of last year and that things were very, very slow for me. But there’s so many weird, intense feelings in this life. I’m trying to figure out how to deal with ‘the middle thing’. Even from when I was not touring, life kind of felt like lockdown here in Oslo, because it was so slow – and I was here before lockdown even existed… I’m fading out right now – sorry! Can you help me back on track?
MF: Oh, you’re good. We were just talking about how you could go from one extreme to another with a very hectic tour schedule and then suddenly nothing on the live front. It must be a strange feeling.
Marie Ulven (girl in red): Yeah. OK. That’s good… But I honestly think [the change] was a little bit needed. It’s weird how the industry doesn’t value breaks as much for the musicians – because it’s obviously like you want to tap into all the different touring markets all the time to stay relevant and stuff. But it’s definitely a very, very intense experience. If it was up to the industry, how everything works, an artist would never stop touring, you know? But I think this year was really important for me, at least, to take care of my mental health and to become happy and to make more music and get inspired, I guess.
MF: I’ve got one minute, but is there anything else you’d like to add, Marie – anything I haven’t actually covered?
Marie Ulven (girl in red): I mean, not really – just world domination! And I hope people like my album. That’s all.
Out of the spotlight, singer-songwriter Julia Michaels has helped shape the face of pop music over the last decade. The Grammy-nominated wordsmith has penned hits for the likes of Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and, our lord and saviour, Britney Spears. But the Iowa-gone-Cali girl is finally wielding her razor-sharp wit and lyrical chops to tell her own story on the debut album Not In Chronological Order.
Years after releasing her 2017 EP Nervous System, the pandemic presented the 27-year-old with the perfect opportunity to finally dedicate her energy to a body of work that she can call her own. With an intimate trust circle of collaborators (including her boyfriend JP Saxe) around her, Michaels spent months threading together defining moments of her life through music.
Inspired by songstresses of the nineties, she writes with the meticulous and unabashed sincerity of an open book over the 10 tracks. It’s not a breakup album, a new romance record or a declaration of self-discovery. It’s actually all of the above. She sings of identity on ‘That’s The Kind of Woman’, insecurity and fiery jealousy on ‘All Your Exes’ and a blossoming love on ‘Little Did I Know’.
Through the lens of a healthy relationship and a new understanding of romance, it’s a non-linear chronicle of the moments that moulded her twenties and the woman she is today. The record has also given Michaels more creative control over her songs beyond the lyrics. The tracks ebb and flow between electro-pop and acoustic slow jams to reflect her sonic influences.
She flashes her sense of humour in music videos like ‘All Your Exes’, where she slays her lover’s past dalliances with a chainsaw in a campy ode to ’80s slasher films. And on social media, she encourages fans to share their own remixes and recreations. Michaels is finally riding solo in the driver’s seat and it suits her well.
On the eve of the album’s release, Music Feeds caught up with Julia Michaels over Zoom to chat about the record, the power of writing for herself and being present in 2021.
Music Feeds: Your first record is almost here! How are you feeling ahead of the release?
Julia Michaels: I’m feeling good. Now I’m 90% really excited. And then 9% nervous and then 1% really nervous, but overall very excited.
MF: After such a long time writing for others, what was it like creating a full-length record for yourself?
JM: It was pretty surreal. It was surreal too because I made most of it in 2020 in quarantine, socially distanced. I was going to do a couple of sessions on Zoom. And I did one and I was like, “I’m never doing this again.” Like literally fuck this box [points to Zoom window]. I got a group of people together that I really loved, that have known me for a really long time and that I trusted with the whole journey and process. And they were gracious enough to lend me their time and it’s a scary time. We got to make this album together in the room together, but you know, six feet apart. That was so, so weird. But yeah, it’s my first album. I put out my first single four years ago. You’d think I’d have an album by now but I don’t (laughs). My fans have been waiting a really long time. And I’m excited that they’re gonna hear one finally.
MF: How have the fans been reacting to the tracks you’ve dropped from the album already?
JM: They’ve been so wonderful and so supportive. I mean from Twitter, to Instagram to TikTok, the videos and all the comments and all the pictures that they’re posting. When I put out ‘All Your Exes’, there were so many people posing with fake chainsaws and stuff. It was so funny.
MF: That music video is everything! You must have had the best time working on that?
JM: So much fun. It was the first time I really got to collaborate on a music video. I think I always thought of that phrase “you have one job”. Like stay in your lane kind of vibe. I was like, “Oh, I’m the songwriter. I’m not a director. I’m not allowed to have input on my own music video”. 2020 was a time for self reflection and a time to be like “no, I should be able to talk about things with somebody”. I met this wonderful woman named Blythe Thomas, who directed the video and I told her my ideas. And she just enhanced them entirely and put her own really cool spin on the whole music video and it was just awesome. JP says he’s pretty sure I wasn’t acting. I think he might be right. I think that might have been like an undercover true form.
MF: You can just send him the link to the music video any time he steps out of line.
JM: Yeah, absolutely (laughs).
MF: You have so much songwriting experience, but is a little bit more daunting or liberating writing these songs under your own name?
JM: When it comes to writing for myself, I have a lot of wonderful people that worked on this album with me but the core is my memories, my thoughts, my feelings, my perspective, and I can get as specific with it as I want. I really don’t give a fuck. And I’ve never been shy to talk about anxiety, depression, how I feel about my body, how I feel in love, how I feel heartbroken, how I feel just in any certain situation. I’m grateful that I even have that outlet to do it. It’s awesome.
MF: The album is called ‘Not In Chronological Order’. Can you talk about the significance of that title, the tracklist and how it tells your story?
JM: It’s funny you say that because it kind of had the opposite effect with the album title. I think because I’m a songwriter, people always expect me to have some deep, hidden meaning behind everything. And when it came time to do the tracklisting, the feeling just felt better. The feeling felt better in chronological order than the story did to me. I didn’t want to put all my heartbreak songs at the top. I didn’t want to put all my love songs at the bottom, I didn’t want to put my insecurities at the beginning. I wanted it to space out, and I wanted you to feel everything as sort of situational. So that’s what it is, it really is not in chronological order. Just in terms of life events.
MF: I love it because it takes you on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, just like in real life.
JM: Thanks! That’s what I’m going for. Cuz I am an emotional roller coaster. Let’s go [laughs].
MF: Was that something you were really deliberate in channeling when you were writing the songs or was it a bit of a happy accident that you realised in retrospect when it started to come together?
JM: Honestly, with me, and songwriting, it varies. Some days, I’ll go in, and I won’t know what I want to talk about. And I’ll hear chord progression. And sometimes when I hear a chord progression, certain chords will resonate with me differently. And I’ll see a word in my head, or a memory will pop up and I’m like, “Okay, do I have enough information and inspiration to make a song out of that memory?” and sort of go from there. Or if it’s something that’s happening currently, in my life, I’ll talk about it. Or, for instance, I was in the bathtub when I got the idea for ‘That’s The Kind of Woman’. I was sitting in my thoughts, thinking about the kind of woman that I am and if there was anything about me, I could change what would that be? And just making the list and then again, I think that would be the kind of woman that I could see myself leaving myself for, you know? So it depends. Much like the songs are situational, the way that I write is situational.
MF: Are there any songs that you or that you’re especially proud of, like “I did that. That’s a banger”?
JM: I don’t have that kind of confidence (laughs). So no. But I think one of my favourite songs to write was ‘Little Did I Know’. I wrote that with my boyfriend JP and it’s a really beautiful love song. I think for me in the past, I’ve always thought that I had to create some sort of melodramatic situation to have this beautiful song, and I was so wrong. And being with him and writing with him has changed that and I’m really proud of that song.
MF: Yeah, it’s beautiful. What was it like writing with JP on this record? You’ve written together before but what was it like working on your debut album with him?
JM: Well, we figured if the first time we ever wrote together got us a Grammy nomination, we should probably not NOT write together (laughs). So he was very gracious with his time. And I’m grateful that we still can write together and not take things personally. I can be kind of aggressive and very intentional in the studio. And sometimes if you don’t understand me or my personality, it can be like, “whoa”. So I am just so happy that he has not stormed out or taken anything to heart too much (laughs). And that he listens to me. I’m like, “I have this idea of this idea”. And he’s like, “Okay, cool. Let’s figure this out”. We write really well together. And I hope we can continue doing that in the future because it has been very fun. I get to have sex with a man that I write songs with. It’s fucking great (laughs).
MF: It’s the best of both worlds. You’re living the dream.
JM: (Laughs) Exactly! It really is the best of both worlds.
MF: The record is a really interesting balance of songs made for the dancefloor and tender, acoustic moments. Who or what were your sonic influences for the album?
JM: Well, I’ve always been very inspired by 90’s music. And 90’s female singer-songwriters in particular. I think it’s where I get my honesty, my true to myself, unapologetic, write what she wants, speak up for yourself songwriting mentality. And I’ve always just loved the rawness and the edginess of the lyrics and the music in it. It feels put together, but it also feels a bit blurred, and a bit distorted. And I’ve always found that so, so nice. That beautiful chaos. And I really wanted to incorporate that feeling in this album.
MF: There’s a song for every moment and emotion.
JM: Yeah, if you want to be sad, sassy and sexy or spiteful and revengeful. There’s a song for that.
MF: If and when the world gets its shit together, do you have any plans to tour the album?
JM: I don’t right now. I want to, but I’m really nervous. I’m nervous to know what it’s gonna be like. I kind of watch what other people do to do it, so I know what it’s gonna be like. I’m mentally preparing myself for it. Because if it’s gonna be all boxed out, and everyone’s gonna be seated and stuff like that, it is going to be such a weird transition for me because I’m so used to being in there. Literally in my show, I get in the crowd, and I sing in the middle of everybody. So having those elements taken out of my show are going to be really weird, because those are so important to me. So not yet, but I hope soon.
MF: Yes, fingers crossed. I mean, you should just come down to Australia, gal. Things are starting to open up down here.
JM: I heard! It’s incredible. I’m so happy for you guys. Someone’s doing it fucking right.
MF: It has already been a wild 2021 for you, but what else do you have planned for the rest of the year?
JM: To be honest, I’m just super focused on this album. These days, we’re so used to moving from one thing to the other. And I am too. I’m so guilty of that. And I just think, with the perspective and self-reflection of 2020, I really want to be present in this album. It’s my first album. You only do your first once and I really want to enjoy every single second of it.
Originally from the small town of Menangle in NSW, The Rubens have become renowned for their catchy hits over the past decade. Their debut single ‘Lay It Down’ was voted 57th in the triple j Hottest 100 of 2011, before follow-up single ‘My Gun’ came in at number 10 in the Hottest 100 the following year. 2015 single ‘Hoops’ came in 1 st for the triple j Hottest 100 for 2015, got stuck in all of our heads, and currently has around 44 million streams on Spotify.
In 2019, the band released the single ‘Live In Life’ which received multiple ARIA nominations, and has since amassed over 37 million streams on Spotify. Following up on the success of this single, The Rubens released their fourth studio album, 0202. The release of the album, plus the tour to accompany the ‘Live In Life’ single were delayed due to COVID-19, however, this month the band has headed back out on tour to bring their music to fans across the country.
Recently, The Rubens joined a whole host of artists including Delta Goodrem, Crowded House, Amy Shark, Ben Lee, and Jimmy Barnes in performing at Sidney Myer Music Bowl as part of the nationally broadcast Music From The Home Front event.
We caught up with the keyboardist for The Rubens, Elliot Margin to have a chat about how their latest record came together and why he’ll never take crappy hotel rooms for granted again.
Music Feeds: The Rubens released their latest album 0202 in February this year. What was the recording process for the album like, and did it differ from previous albums?
Elliot Margin: Yeah, so we took on the initial production of this record ourselves, which is something we’d never done before, kind of just out of accident, really. In 2019 we were doing a lot of regional touring and we were in between records and we had a bunch of demos and we kind of, we had the conversation like, we’ve got all this touring coming up, we don’t really know what the next record is going to be, should we just record a song ourselves and put it out to tie people over until whatever the next record is going to be? We decided to do that, so we listened through our demos in the touring van and we picked ‘Live In Life’, and decided to go back to the studio mid-week and record that. So, we recorded that in Will’s studio, like, The Bunker in Camden, and did that ourselves and all the initial production ourselves in two days and then sent it over to Konstantin Kersting for final production and then mixed it and put it out there, you know, in our minds thinking that would be a standalone single. And then people actually responded to it really well and it kind of was the model that we based off recording the rest of the record that way. Which we didn’t expect, you know.
Every other record, we’ve brought in producers and worked with them on music, but this time it was kind of us backing ourselves and saying well, maybe we can play that role and see how we go. So, that’s what we did for the rest of the record. It was pretty much we would be touring and then pick a song while we were on the road to then record once we were back at home, mid-week. And then do that and then hit the road again, and it kind of tricked us into not psyching ourselves out of being in record mode. We didn’t put too much pressure on ourselves, which I think was really beneficial for us. There was no stress.
MF: Yeah, cool. That’s a really different way of doing it, a bit at a time like that – I love that!
EM: Yeah, and the funny thing is, the producers that we worked with – for most of them, we hadn’t even met them before, which was a funny thing. Like, we could just send them tracks and then send them our ideas and they would do their thing and we’d send notes and then it’d be all fine. A funny way to do it, like, the Internet Age.
MF: I noticed that 0202 has a real… I don’t know quite how to describe it, almost like a modern production vibe to it that’s really cool. Were you listening to any different artists while making this record, compared to previous records?
EM: Honestly, like, personally I wasn’t listening to much music at all during the making of that record. Just because like, when we are working on music it’s like your whole day is music and then you go home and the last thing you want to do is listen to music, well, the last thing I want to do is listen to music ‘cause I feel like it’s all-encompassing. Honestly, for me, it would be either no music or a podcast or something. So, I can’t really explain what influences might have crept in there apart from us just being influenced by where we’d been before and where we wanna go now.
You know, we’re always trying to experiment and try new sounds just because for us it keeps it interesting and I think, as the by-product of us keeping it interesting for ourselves, it also keeps it interesting for the listeners. So, it’s not like we’re gonna make the same record every time, I think, which is a good thing, which has kept us going all these years, you know? It’s exciting for us to jump into the studio and try something new each time we’re going in to do a new record because that’s why we play music, we’re excited by doing new stuff.
MF: Awesome. You mentioned podcasts; do you have any podcast recommendations?
EM: Oh man, I have a lot! There’s one called The Dollop that is like, an American podcast with two comedians. One comedian reads out a weird story from American history to his friend, and his friend has no idea what it is about, and then it’s just kind of like, bogus, bullshit, weird, funny stories that come out of that that are hilarious. I don’t know what else I listen to… I’m in the market for recommendations if you have any?
MF: Hm, I’m trying to think of what I listen to… There’s one called Lore that I really like, which is basically just this guy talking about all these different mysteries and things from the past, which is cool. I’m not doing a very good job describing it, but it’s definitely worth checking out. They’re pretty short and kind of like, mysteries, if you’re into that kind of stuff?
EM: I do love that stuff. Oh, you ever watch Workaholics?
EM: Ah, okay. So, the guys from Workaholics, the Comedy Central show, they’ve also got a podcast now that, I mean, I’m a fan of the Workaholics show so I’m probably biased, but I think it’s hilarious. It’s just pretty much buddies just talking shit and hanging out.
MF: That’s always nice, I’ll have to check that one out! So, this past year has seen most of us living pretty different lives than what we’ve been used to. What have you learned about yourself during this time?
EM: I’ve probably learned that… I took touring for granted I think, really. I think, like, now that we as a band have been back on the road, we’ve realised how much we love it and how much we need it to just… it’s our purpose: hitting the road and playing shows and meeting fans and just seeing new places. The fact that we couldn’t do it for so long meant we realised that we’d been taking it for granted. We kind of realised that, let’s never complain about lack of sleep and crappy hotel rooms or crappy food or early lobby calls, because it’s like, that’s all just part of what we do and what we love and we realised that we’re babies and we need that to survive, really.
MF: Yeah, that’s fair. I feel like a lot of people sort of felt that about travelling and stuff as well.
EM: Yeah, totally! It’s like, I’m not going to complain about those crappy parts of travel because I miss all of travel now.
MF: It’s hard to ask this question at the moment, but do you have any plans for playing more shows this year?
EM: Yeah, we’re actually… we’ve only just begun the tour for our record 0202, so that’s happening at the moment. We’ve already done some South East Queensland shows, we’ve done some New South Wales, some Victoria shows. This tour was actually planned for this time last year, it’s been rescheduled twice. So, it’s been on the cards for so long and now we’re actually doing it, which is amazing. And it’s 30+ dates, so it goes until the middle of the year, so that’s gonna be our next couple of months which is super exciting.
MF: Wow, that’s great! And final question, what’s in store for The Rubens for the rest of 2021?
EM: Hopefully a lot of touring. Now that it’s back on the cards and now that festivals look like they could be coming back, we, like everyone else is hoping that they come back and hopefully, you know, we’re crossing our fingers we can be a part of that. Keep hitting the road and keep reaching people in places that we haven’t played before or in a long time. As well as, behind the scenes working on new stuff like we always do, so we’re very excited.
After what probably feels like the longest album promo ever, Sydney rock and rollers Lime Cordiale are finally taking their album 14 Steps To A Better You on the road. They released the record to much praise in July last year, but the pandemic delayed the album tour until this October.
Good things come to those who wait though and brothers Oli and Louis Leimbach won’t be taking a second of the tour for granted. After a year of playing COVID-restricted shows to as little as 80 people, they have an even deeper appreciation for the magic of live music. They’ve been lucky enough to do a few small gigs since the album’s release, but this will be the first time for many fans to experience it beyond the hits and in the flesh.
The 14 Steps To A Better You tour is also gearing up to be their biggest yet. They’ll be hitting up stages in Brisbane and Melbourne as well as back-to-back gigs at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion and the Fremantle Arts Centre.
Pandemic be damned, Lime Cordiale have still managed to pull off some iconic gigs in the last year. They sent the internet into a frenzy when they were joined on stage by British actor, rapper and DJ Idris Elba at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre in March. This wasn’t a one-time collab either. In between filming Thor: Love and Thunder in Sydney, Elba joined the boys in the studio to jam on a few tracks. The new tunes will feature on Lime Cordiale’s forthcoming EP, which should be ready to bless our headphones in a few months.
Ahead of the tour, we caught up with Oli to chat about getting back on the road, going from fans to friends of Idris Elba and the alleged curse of the Hordern Pavilion.
Music Feeds: The ‘14 Steps To A Better You’ tour is going to be your biggest one yet. How are you feeling about it?
Oli Leimbach: Yeah! Big show wise, for sure. I think the biggest show that we’ve headlined was a COVID-restricted show, like a month ago, in Melbourne at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Yeah, it’s crazy that a COVID-restricted show could be the biggest one. We were planning to do a tour in 2020, but it just never happened. We’re used to doing smaller shows and doing just a shitload of them. So this one’s like our biggest tour in terms of numbers for sure. It’s just crazy. We’re just not used to doing it. You know 12,000 capacity venues or whatever they are.
It’s a different experience for us as well, preparation-wise, to get everything together. I don’t even know what we’ve got to do, but we’ve got to start doing something. People are asking me for the setlist now and it’s April and people are like “so we need to know the setlist for the tour” and I’m like “what?!” We normally decide like an hour before we play. It’s a completely different experience.
MF: You’ve already played a few shows since the restrictions were pulled back. After having a bit of a break, what were those gigs like?
OL: Yeah, I mean, the biggest run that we did was when we went over to Perth. We did two shows with like 1,500 people or something, where they were all standing and it was at this venue with verandas of crowds. So when you’re on the stage, you look up and there’s like five levels of people standing there and that was the best feeling ever. Just to see people standing and not being told to sit the fuck down. And it was pretty incredible. We went straight to Brisbane after that and it was the same thing and then up to the Sunshine Coast and then back to Sydney and unfortunately in Sydney, for some reason, everyone was still sitting down because it’s the Nanny State.
But it was fantastic. It was such a good feeling. And it’s feeling like things are opening up more and more. The music industry and festivals and shows were the first things to get closed down. Just last weekend there was that case in WA. We were in Melbourne about to do the big Anzac Music From the Home Front show and everyone was freaking out because this guy got on a plane to Melbourne as soon as he got out of quarantine from WA so everyone was like, “Fuck, is this going to get closed down?” because it would be the first thing to close down. It’s like “Alright, there’s a few cases in Melbourne. Shut every music venue down. Keep the footy going, but we’ll shut down this music?” They think there’s something scientifically in the air when a guitar plays that COVID spreads through musical vibrations quicker.
MF: Yeah, something to do with 5G and electric guitar, right?
OL: Yeah, exactly (laughs).
MF: Have you been nervous playing these shows?
OL: Yeah, we were playing 80 people capacity shows last July. So that was scary on another level. They’re really intimate shows. There’s something about the crowds, where you can hide behind the noise of the crowd and you’re not looking at one specific person. You’re just seeing a bunch of heads. It was like we started again. In a way, we got used to playing these small shows and then we played 120 somewhere. Then we might be lucky enough to play 350 and then it would just kind of climb up. So when we were suddenly doing like 1,500 again, it was like the scariest shit, because we were not used to it. We hadn’t done it for six months. We don’t take anything for granted now. All of the nerves came back!
MF: It feels like there’s a new energy when you’re in the crowd too. Do you guys feel that from the stage as well?
OL: Oh yeah, sure. Some of the funniest shows we’ve seen are where everything is seated but then everything just gets up. It’s like there’s not enough security to control it. It happened once in Brisbane. It freaks everyone out, because you’re like, “Oh, shit, this is what’s gonna close down the music industry in Australia.” Everyone was told to sit down but they just stood up, started dancing, ran down the aisles, and then just jumped up on stage. And we’re like, dancing on stage thinking “This is so wrong” and it’s weird to think how wrong it felt because that’s just pretty normal. But yeah, it is a great feeling.
Everyone’s just like, “I’m standing! Look at me!” (laughs). I guess it’s like the feeling when someone gets up on another person’s shoulders, you know? You’re like “Ahh, I’m up in this weird space I shouldn’t be in.” And it’s kind of like all you’re doing is standing up.
MF: Yeah, standing is the new crowd surfing in 2021. Is there anywhere you’re especially excited to take this tour?
OL: I’m actually really excited for the Fresh Produce Festival before that. Because it’s rural. And I thought there’s something that’s really fun about that. But for this one, we’re from Sydney, and it’s always kind of scary and weird playing in Sydney. All of our friends come and the backstage area’s way too full and you sort of forget that you’re playing a show because everyone’s distracting you.
I love playing in Fremantle. It’s a great town. There’s great food and great people. It’s funny, you sort of get used to how different everywhere is in Australia. I mean, we’re so the same all over compared to the states or something where everyone’s completely different in every city. But yeah, I just enjoy everywhere for the differences.
MF: You’re doing back-to-back nights at the Hordern Pavilion. How does it feel playing iconic venues like that, especially being from Sydney?
OL: Yeah, we’ve been to heaps of shows there, from when we were like 15 years old and didn’t even know where we were. Like when your mum just drops you off and picks you up. But yeah, it’s crazy. I’m wondering how it will feel because I still go to shows there. We’ve seen like Kings of Leon, Tame Impala and Blink 182 bloody ages ago. I feel like I even saw Avril Lavigne there or something (laughs). It’s pretty funny.
I was actually talking to The Rubens because they’ve done the Hordern. And they said it was a bit of a downer afterwards because there’s so much preparation behind it and it’s so big. Everyone talks about it so much. Then it’s like, “That was that. Who knows when the next time I’ll be playing this venue will be?” I also remember, like, one of the first times I ever met Chuggy (Michael Chugg), he was talking to another industry dude in his office. That guy was saying, “Flume is doing the Hordern Pavilion and it’s a mistake because he has blown up too quickly.”
And, you know, “if he blows up too quickly, there’s gonna be a massive downfall”. But like how wrong he was because he’s one of the biggest artists in the world right now! But, it’s like when people have all these theories behind the venue. Like “Lime Cordiale are doing two Hordern Pavilions? Where do they go from there?”
MF: Oh my god. The curse of the Hordern Pavilion. I never knew! You’ve played a few shows since dropping the album in July, but are there any tracks that you’re especially excited to play on the tour?
OL: The album’s been out for a little bit and it’s an album tour, so I’m excited to play some album tracks that we’ve never played live before. Even when we played ‘Unnecessary Things’ at the Enmore and it was on Live at the Wireless, I was reading some comments and people were just like “Woah, I wasn’t expecting that song to be played!” So I’m pretty keen to do some of the ones that aren’t so popular or we’ve never played. It’s a bit of a challenge for us as well. It’s a longer set too. So we’ve got to think about what we want to do. You can’t please everyone but I kind of want to put some solid old ones in there as well.
MF: Yeah, why not? Educate the children! Speaking of the Enmore, I have to ask about when you brought Idris Elba on stage and basically sent the internet into a meltdown. Can you please tell me how the hell you two managed that?
OL: Yeah, it sort of fell into our laps, which is so funny. We were already fans of his. We knew that he was a DJ and one of his songs with Sean Paul called ‘Boasty’ is our pump-up song before we went onstage. We’ve been playing it like in the green room for like six months. We actually haven’t played it since we’ve been mates with him because it’s kinda weird (laughs). But that was our pump-up song.
Then we were on tour and someone was like, “Hey, Idris heard your music and I know you’re looking for a feature for that song. So do you want him to come in the studio and try it out?” And he himself is pretty nervous. He has kind of always done features, I think, from home from his own studio and hasn’t been in the studio with a band before. So he came in a bit nervous and felt a bit out of his element. And even when he was doing the feature on the track, he was trying to get comfortable with it like, “Maybe I’ll sit, maybe I’ll stand or maybe I’ll go in the booth.” It took him a little while. So we were just like “Dude, we do a lot of takes with our vocals and we’re pretty fussy as well.” So we were just trying to make him feel really comfortable. We smashed that out pretty quickly and then he sort of just showed us this other little idea he had.
MF: I heard that you were working on an EP right now as well. What can you tell me about that?
OL: Yeah, I guess we didn’t realise that we were gonna do that. We sort of just went into it. We only really got to know Idris in his last few weeks in Australia. He was just booking in time every day off he had on the film shoot, coming to the studio, which is surprising for us. He was so enthusiastic. He’s a solid musician. We weren’t doing that because he’s a famous actor because that would be the most stressful situation ever. He has great ideas and I think the best thing in the studio is someone who just says “yes” to everything and he was so open to trying everything. He gave us permission to explore different territories, you know?
MF: So is the EP entirely collabs with Lime Cordiale and Idris Elba?
OL: It’s completely split down the middle. There were four of us in the room, we completely wrote these songs from scratch. It wasn’t us writing music and giving it to him to sing it. It was all of us very equally putting this music together. We’re still working on it, we’re still polishing it up a little more. There’s not much more to do, though.
MF: That’s so cool. Do you know when you’ll release it?
OL: As soon as possible! I just want to get everything recorded. But yeah, hopefully in the next couple of months.
This October Lime Cordiale will undertake a nationwide tour with their biggest headline shows to date. The tour will mark the first chance the band will have to take their 2020 album 14 Steps To A Better You on a tour around Australia. See dates and details here.
Gerry Beckley is a songwriter with more than 50 years of experience. He is best known for his work in hitmaking ‘70s rock outfit America. One of the group’s founding members, he wrote a number of the band’s best-known songs in addition to contributing vocals and 12-string guitar to America’s most celebrated single ‘A Horse with No Name’. With periods between America albums growing longer in the 1990s, Beckley also struck out on his own as a solo artist.
Anticipating the 50th anniversary of America’s self-titled debut album and ‘A Horse with No Name’ later this year, Beckley has recently released a retrospective collection of solo material titled Keeping the Light On: The Best of Gerry Beckley.
Compiled by Gerry in conjunction with Blue Élan Records Records, Keeping the Light On comprises 15 songs from Gerry’s solo catalogue alongside five previously unheard tracks. As Beckley himself puts it, he is closing the book on 50 years as a recording artist and readying himself for the next 50. Music Feeds’ full conversation with Gerry Beckley below.
Music Feeds: It’s 1967, The Summer of Love. You were living in England at the time. What records are you listening to?
Gerry Beckley: ‘67 was our 11th-grade of school. I know these grades kind of match up with the Australian system. By the 11th grade, some of the great stuff from The States was starting to appear. I don’t think we had Creedence Clear Water Revival or Three Dog Night yet but we were starting to get that stuff.
There was not a [roots rock] backlash [yet] you know? For the majority of the ‘60s, the majority of the great music was coming out of the UK to the States. We had what we called The British Invasion. That had an effect on US groups like The Byrds and people like Buffalo Springfield. And then it started to bounce back to England. I know I was listening to The Byrds’ albums because they started before then and certainly Buffalo Springfield. Those were two biggies.
MF: Were you a Beatles or a Rolling Stones type of guy?
GB: I was more a Beatles guy. I wasn’t unaware of The Stones’ albums. But I was nowhere near as familiar with them. I knew all the singles of course. I think Aftermath was a favourite of mine but I knew every note of every Beatles album.
MF: Were you into folk music?
GB: You know that hadn’t really set in stone yet. I often point this out. The ‘60s was really when the era of the singer-songwriter came alive.
We had artists that wrote their own material before but it wasn’t until Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys and The Beatles that – it was a major part of what they presented. I remember thinking when Rubber Soul came out, “Oh this is really lovely! This is really good tunes.” They were obviously deeper tunes.
I don’t think I was quite on top of it to notice, “Hey, these are all far more acoustic.” It truly was the era of singer-songwriter. And then, shortly after that, the whole Crosby, Stills & Nash and James Taylor wave hit.
MF: When did you come to the realization you could write songs of your own?
GB: I can tell you because I do kind of mark it in time. I was always a big fan of songwriting as a craft. I understood what a bridge was in a song. I knew structures, the difference between verses and choruses.
For me, and most kids of my generation, your musical education was that you played in Top 40 [covers] bands. You learnt in theory what the hits of the day were. They were hits because they were great records.
And great records usually had some of those ingredients: Here’s the verse, the next chorus, second verse, you know? You wanted to copy, clone and present that as close to the record as you could. But it wasn’t long until we started to rearrange those Top 40 songs!
I always use the example of Vanilla Fudge, who did a cover of The Supremes’ ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’. It was a great Supremes song and they turned it into a power ballad with a huge Hammond B3 Organ. By the late ‘60s, we realised that those rules no longer existed.
You weren’t just trying to copy these records. You could mix them! You could turn a fast one into a slow one and vice versa. I think that was the seeds of writing my own material.
MF: Flash forward to 1971. You were now in a band called America, a group best known today for hit single ‘A Horse with No Name’. You played guitar and sang vocals on that track. Is that right?
GB: I did. I played twelve-string guitar on that and then overdubbed the solo in the middle. It’s actually three different twelve strings. One plays the lick and then there is kind of a cascading thing. One of the three founding members, Dan Peek, played the bass on that one.
Dan and I alternated bass so it would just be the case of, “You name the song and I could tell you if I was on bass or not.” I played a lot of bass on the first album. But not on ‘Horse’.
MF: What was going on in your life in the ‘70s? It was quite different to the ‘60s in terms of how people were feeling and what was going on in the world…
GB: Well by ‘69 we had Woodstock. Whatever had been bubbling under as a cultural element just blew wide open with that. We were still in school, of course, so we weren’t at Woodstock.
We were still living in England. But all of that was still going on. The Roundhouse was playing what they called “underground music”. There were all kinds of recreational drugs and all-night raves. The culture had clearly shifted from the Beatles in their suits. Now everything was tie-dyed.
For us in America? Well, ‘A Horse with No Name’ was added as a single [to the UK version of 1971 debut album America] later in England. We had actually recorded and released the first album and it was getting a lot of good attention.
It was charting. So right from the start, it was a pretty successful and hectic run for us. But, of course, when we recorded ‘A Horse with No Name’ and released it as an additional product just a few months after the first album, it just blew wide open.
MF: Why do you think people keep coming back to ‘A Horse with No Name’ after all these years? Is there a timeless element to that song?
GB: Yeah. I think so. In the case of ‘A Horse with No Name’ a variety of things were going on. America was an unknown entity so there was a lot of curiosity about us. “Who is this?” There was some interest in, “It sounds like Neil Young, is this Neil Young?” It was this whole kind of “no press is bad press” kind of thing.
Technically speaking, there are a couple of elements in that song that I would also like to point out. One is that it has an incredibly surreal, cryptic lyric. You could, on the surface, listen to it and go, “What are you on about?” There are all kinds of surreal things and that’s a hook! “Have you heard the word?” What is “he”? What are they talking about? Why don’t they name the horse? In addition to that when the chorus comes it’s “la, la, la, la, la, la.” Which is a universal language. Nothing sticks in the ear more than a good la, la-type of chorus.
I think it was a combination of those elements. Another thing is that it was a shuffle. And on occasion – once or twice a year – there will be a hit with a shuffle time as opposed to straight time. It doesn’t always happen but when they do, they can be pretty big hits.
MF: Let’s jump from 1971 to 2021. You live in Australia now. How did that come about?
GB: Well, first of all, I’m married to an Australian. My wife is from Melbourne so that’s the short answer. I’ve been living here off and on coming up on 9 years now.
We have a home here in Sydney and a home in Venice, California. On a regular year, my wife and I would fly back and forth, depending on work, maybe five times a year. This year, of course, is uniquely different in countless ways. As a professional musician, I’ve never been anywhere for a year straight like I have been here. I have just loved every minute of it. I count my blessings every day.
I have been coming to Australia though since we first toured in the late ‘70s. It was always such a highlight. Every second or third year we would come here for a tour and always look forward to it immensely.
MF: Is there an overlap between the Australian and Californian lifestyles?
GB: There certainly is! We also live in Venice, California, which is a beach community. We don’t live in Bronte, Sydney but I go there every morning for a swim. Bronte is kind of Bondi Beach’s quieter, somewhat cooler brother. It’s next door but it doesn’t have quite the fiasco that Bondi can have on any given day.
And you’re right. It is a lovely parallel thing. The other thing is that my bandmate Dewey Bunnell and I are both half-English and half-American. We both had English mothers. Dewey was actually born in England so what I often thought is that Australia is a sort of a combination of those two cultures. It has this incredibly rich colonial heritage combined with beaches – which would be a far more lovely Californian element. So Australia felt like home from an early stage.
MF: Do you have a favourite Australian act?
GB: No, I don’t! And I’m asked about it quite often. I wish I knew more. They cross our path quite often when we tour here. Often America is paired with classic Australian acts. Ian Moss was on one tour. I was actually at Wollongong Stadium with Jimmy Barnes for the millennium 21 years ago.
So we have intersected with some of the classic Australian talents. But I don’t really know enough about it to go out on a limb and speak. When they were having a huge string of hits, I was a huge fan of INXS. As the world was! Sometimes these things are really cross-cultural and not just unique to Australia.
MF: America is celebrating some big 50th anniversaries this year and you have also been looking back with a new retrospective compilation. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
GB: I like to call it a summation as opposed to just a compilation. It truly is a look back. I didn’t start doing solo records till the mid-’90s. I think the reason it took that long wasn’t like, “Argh! I’ve got to bust out of restrictive frame.”
It was just that there started to be longer gaps between America albums. I have always loved to write and record and have always had a home studio. But my efforts would normally go into prepping for that year’s or the next year’s America album.
So in the ‘90s, I started doing solo albums. I think seven, eight or nine of them with the label that has released the last couple, a wonderful label called Blue Élan Records. They came to me and asked if I would consider a compilation if I could free up the four or five albums that they didn’t partake in. And I said, “I’d love to, let’s do this!”
20 songs later, we put our heads together and I picked five things from my archive that haven’t come out. I always think that’s better. The fans I do have own most of the albums. So I could imagine them saying, “Well, I’ve already got all this stuff!”
So, I put on five things that had not been heard at all. I think we’ve got a nice combination. It’s called Keeping the Light On.
MF: Did you learn anything new about yourself in the process of putting Keeping the Light On together?
GB: Well yeah, it’s a long period, to be honest. When I did these albums, I was already really happy with them when I originally did them. It’s not until you pick three from this one, and four from that one that you really start to address the whole twenty, thirty years in a stretch, as opposed to thinking, “Oh that’s from 15 years ago or something.”
You know, I’m proud of all the stuff. I’m proud of everything I’ve done with Dewey and to do with our songwriting partnership. It’s a very fortunate scenario. I’ve worked hard, we’ve worked hard and I think we are deserving of the success we’ve had.
MF: As time goes by, a lot of songwriters seem to pare things down to the basics. How has your writing evolved over more than five decades?
GB: When I was 15 or 16, I started writing. And yeah, you know, obviously in any creative art it’s going to evolve or devolve. I do like the essence of boiling out the unnecessary elements, which would in theory imply that you’re steering towards simplicity.
That is something you couldn’t have done very early on. You need to try all the different roads, you know what I mean? I don’t want to get too deep into analogies but I love the arc of particular artists.
It’s easier to picture in the visual arts. Like, the Claude Monets and the Mark Rothkos who slowly, over time, simplified their work. I’d like to think that I’m heading towards that but it doesn’t always work that way!
Sometimes songs get a little long and they get a little complicated. Our joke line is that “if it’s got two chords Dewey wrote it and if it’s got 102 chords, I wrote it!” So I suppose I have a little way to go to hone in on that simplicity thing.
MF: Is there any advice you would give to somebody only just starting their journey as a songwriter?
GB: I lectured for many years at Loyola Marymount University in California. And I would speak to kids. It was a music course so it covered everything about publishing and stuff. I would speak as the artist and I did the cliche thing right from the start.
I said, “As tired as this sounds, the best thing you could do for yourself right now and forever in the future is be honest to your head and heart and write what is uniquely yours.” Now that’s obviously a cliché wrapped in a cliché. But the point is that all of us, whether we like it or not, are going to be supergroups in our heads.
We are combinations of all the things that we’ve heard. If you grew up listening to The Beatles and The Beach Boys, in theory, that’s going to be where you steer your own ship. Because there is going to be that influence anyway, what do you bring to the table? What you bring is you.
I love Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. This guy has been making great albums for decades. And the band has evolved. Here is a guy who is not a great singer but it doesn’t matter. It’s just uniquely him. Bob Dylan would be another shining example.
I think that it is really hard to understate the importance of that. I know some incredibly talented people who, in my mind, blew years trying to emulate something else. I would go, “You know you’re doing a great job of sounding like The Beatles, but you’re not the Beatles, you know?”
I think that if we can just embrace the things that we bring to the table that are unique – your voice might be higher. James Taylor has an incredible baritone voice. But nobody would say he has a restrictive style. He’s incredibly talented so that’s kind of where I steer it.
There is an unbelievable wealth of opportunities now when you consider technology and the way we can all have a studio in our laptops or on our phones. The opportunities for creativity are off the charts. But that doesn’t guarantee any better chance of success than any other time. A poor craftsman blames his tools. I think it is vital to really work on it, really hone it down.
MF: Is there anything you would like to throw out to your fans before we close off?
GB: Well, I hope that people will give Keeping the Light On a listen because I’m proud of it. As I said at the start, it is a summation but is by no means the end, of the story. Our joke is, “We’ve just completed fifty years so we’ve closed the book on that one and we are ready to start the next fifty.”
Keeping the Light On – The Best of Gerry Beckley is out now. The album features 20-tracks of Beckley’s output over the years, and beyond. It also includes five previously unreleased tracks, including the single ‘(I’m Your) Heart Slave’. Available at JB HI-FI or to stream, right now.
“He is abusive, manipulative and predatory and has done absolutely vile things to not only myself but others who I won’t mention for their privacy,” Peach wrote on social media early in the week.
“He is literally TELLING you what he’s doing and disguising it as ‘dark humour’ this man is sick. He needs to be de-platformed at the very LEAST.”
Peach went on to accuse Williamson of physically attacking her during their relationship, saying he “pinned me down and choked me while I was drunk and passed out and you forced yourself on me.” She also accused him of “grooming” a 17-year-old girl.
Now, Williamson has been dropped from the lineups of both Sydney and Perth comedy festivals, where he was scheduled to perform shows as part of his Oi Mate! tour. Both festivals issued near-identicalstatements last Friday, 30th April, confirming that Williamson’s shows had been withdrawn from each program “in light of recent events.”
Williamson denied the claims last week, saying he “never laid a finger” on either Peach or another former partner, Gabby Goessling, and that he didn’t know “what the abuse is or… predatory behaviour is” that the singer was referring to. “I’m not grooming no 17-year-olds, I’m not fucking assaulting no women,” the comedian went on to say.
The events of last week also saw Williamson dropped from his management, More Talent, who confirmed they had terminated their relationship with the comedian due to his alleged behaviour.
If you need assistance, 1800 RESPECT – the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service — can be reached on 1800 737 732.
For help or information regarding mental health, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.
The views expressed by people and organisations quoted in this article are not the view of Music Feeds or its employees.
Rewind to May 2014. A new English rock duo was in town for headline shows in Sydney and Melbourne. Although yet to release their debut album, the band’s full-bodied two-piece rock sound had already garnered comparisons to the White Stripes and Black Keys. In front of a full-house of sweaty, eager fans at Melbourne’s Corner Hotel, the duo of Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher proved there was nothing predictive about their next-big-thing status – their time had arrived.
Kerr and Thatcher are, of course, Royal Blood. And after their self-titled album came out in August of that year, their upwards ascent went positively nuclear. The record topped the UK charts, hit #3 in Australia and #17 in the US Billboard 200. They won Best New Band at the NME Awards, Best British Group at the Brit Awards and were nominated for the Mercury Prize. They also appeared at every major festival on the planet, including a high profile slot on the final night of Splendour in the Grass 2015.
But as for those White Stripes and Black Keys comparisons, they never felt particularly accurate. For one thing, Royal Blood has no guitarist – Kerr’s primary instrument is the electric bass, which he runs through a load of distortion and associated effects pedals. He and Thatcher have always known how to make a room move, but their sound skews closer to the groove-centric party rock of Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal than the blues-based songwriting of the White Stripes and Black Keys.
Grooves are at the heart of Royal Blood’s latest album, Typhoons. Kerr has no shame in calling it a disco record and the album’s high-energy assault is unceasing from track one through to ten. Kerr’s vocal performances also reveal more bald-faced pop ambitions than either of the band’s previous LPs. But Typhoons is still a riff-loaded rock record, and it even boasts a production credit from QOTSA’s Josh Homme.
Music Feeds spoke to Kerr about the hurricane of hype that surrounded their first album, the difficulties they faced making album two, 2017’s How Did We Get So Dark?, and what led them to make a disco album.
Music Feeds: From putting out the Out of the Black EP to releasing your debut album and then touring non-stop for a couple of years, it was a pretty spectacular run. How clear are your memories of that time?
Mike Kerr: Some of it’s hazy, but what was happening for us was so monumental that it’s an era of our lives we’ll always have some grasp on. Also, it was so jam-packed with crazy shit and so exciting and every day was something bigger or something that was brand new that it blurred into one, really. It wasn’t really until we came off the road from that first record that you sort of realise how high you’ve gone.
MF: It’s a great way to start your career, but it’s a high standard to uphold. You ran into some difficulty making your next album, How Did We Get So Dark? How would you compare your feelings when recording that album to when you were making Typhoons?
MK: Making that second record was not a fun experience, ultimately. It was really stressful and I could just sense a lot of anxiety and concern around from everyone, [wondering] is this going to be as good? And that’s not really a very creative or exhilarating atmosphere to be sat in.
I just had more fun making Typhoons. It was made with this idea of allowing whatever we wanted to do to come out of the speakers and almost cutting ourselves loose from that whole thing that happened to us and just going into a studio and deciding to, at whatever cost, make the best songs we can. Two tracks deep we were like, “Oh, we are making a disco record. Okay, here we go.” And it was so nice.
MF: Has the freedom you felt while making Typhoons had a lasting impact in terms of how you feel about the finished album?
MK: Yeah. I’m not seeking any validation for it and I’ve sort of done my celebrating and all my high-fiving already. It’s the album I always wanted to make and I feel genuinely confident about what we’ve made. Also, finishing that second record, I didn’t want to listen to it and finishing this one, I can’t stop listening to it. It really was made for ourselves.
MF: Along with the disco grooves, the album is loaded with hooky vocal melodies and sing-along choruses. Did you make a decision to embrace the poppier side of your songwriting?
MK: Catchy songwriting has always been our priority. From the very beginning, we knew we had the ingredients for a big sound, but there’s nothing clever about going out there and just being loud without having any songs. We always wanted to have songs, because that’s what a band thrives off. So it was no different on this record. It’s perhaps more highlighted because we just got better at it. There seems to be a reluctance or fear if you’re in a rock band of having anything catchy and we’ve just always thought that’s total fucking nonsense. Why would we be scared of something being infectious? We just cut ourselves free from that.
MF: So there was no one in your ear saying, “Come on guys, make a disco album”?
MK: No. I don’t think we decided to make a disco record, but it was more that we went in with an open-mindedness rather than decided on a direction. It was more, “Let’s see where the music wants to go.”
I always feel like we’re a very primal band. There’s always a physicality to our music and if it makes us move in a certain way then we like it usually. And this was just a way of moving we hadn’t explored yet.
When Evanescence released their mega-selling debut album Fallen in 2003, it thrust vocalist/pianist Amy Lee under the brightest of spotlights. One of the criminally few female voices given mainstream attention amidst the nu-metal explosion, Lee became a symbol of hope and inspiration for many aspiring rockers. Selling over 17 million units, Fallen was home to modern radio rock staples ‘Bring Me To Life’, ‘Going Under’ and ‘My Immortal’ three songs that remain almost inescapable today. In the years following Lee and a revolving door of Evanesence bandmates produced two more commercially successful studio albums, before exiting for a seemingly indefinite hiatus. After returning to live stages in 2015, Evanescence brought the ambitious Synthesis, an orchestral and electronica reworking of a selection of songs from their catalogue, embarking on a worldwide tour in this format, to the adoration of fans.
Now, more than a decade since their last original output, Evanescence have returned with The Bitter Truth their most sonically explorative and honest record to date. Written, recorded and promoted amidst the constantly changing COVID-19 hellscape, The Bitter Truth sees Lee and company tackle both the personal and, perhaps surprisingly to some; the political, embracing a new level of confidence, maturity and self-assuredness. Released at a time when the heavy music industry is finally giving female and femme-identifying voices the platform they’ve always deserved, many of whom turn up on single ‘Use Your Voice’, The Bitter Truth looks set to invigorate and inspire a new generation of Evanescence fans.
In the days following the release of the album, we caught up with the icon, Amy Lee herself, for an early morning chat about Evanescence’s legacy, the creative process, adaptability, the evolving status of women in heavy music, the band’s distinctive aesthetic and of course, all things, The Bitter Truth.
Music Feeds: Amy, thanks for taking the time to talk to Music Feeds. We’re particularly excited to talk to you at the moment because you have a brand new album out. How is existence treating you?
Amy Lee: Awesome. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me too. We are all just SO happy to finally have it out there! It feels really good.
MF: It’s quite a sonic adventure, this record. It presents all of the elements that people are accustomed to hearing from Evanescence and blends them with a whole bunch of new elements, was this a fun and rewarding record to write for you?
AL: It’s hard to sum it up in a word like fun because it is, it is so deep. There was definitely pain involved and challenge and all those things that lead to making something great, you know? It takes a little bit of struggle and we went through a lot to get to the place where we could write this album. I think the word that sums it up is satisfying. It feels really good to get a lot of this off of my chest. For me, this is partially due to having things to say that had been building for a while and having a new perspective to write from, but also musically, with the band, it shows how far we have come as a band and displays what it is that these guys and lady, that I work with now bring to the sound and that connection deserves to be documented. I really wanted a chance to show what we’ve grown into and it feels really good to listen to that back.
I think everybody’s feeling excited for the eventual day that we get to go play this stuff live again because for so long, our live show has been about making a great collection of our big back catalogue of music, but it’s all old, you know? It’s been a while since we’ve been able to really go, okay, “this is who we are now”. So having this now it’s going to be hard to play anything, but the new songs.
MF: I’d imagine it would be, especially given how much of yourself that you’ve put into the record. Now I know that you all went through a lot of challenges, both personally and as a band in the writing process, with some personal tragedies, the pandemic and even having one member stuck indefinitely in Germany, do you feel like those challenges added to the emotional intensity of the record?
AL: Yeah, I think that’s a good way to put it. It made everything more important. The music has been like this life-giving thing for us all to grab onto and to connect us to each other. As people, we’ve been so isolated, so expressing yourself and being able to share in that with somebody far away, makes it feel like we’re not so far away, on an internal, on a soul level, you know, we are connected. It has been so healthy for all of us to be able to pull together and have something to work for, something to fight for and build a world that we can control.
That’s something we all want so bad in a time when it just has felt like so much is out of control. So I think for us, to have this thing to care about and to focus on, has just been such a gift. I don’t know what I would’ve done without it quite honestly, I think it would have really gone insane.
MF: All of these situations also made you have to be pretty innovative in order to complete the record, finishing songs and sessions for the album remotely and thinking your way around how to be a band, without ever really being in the same room. In a strange way did that challenge make the writing and recording process feel like a fresher and more interesting experience? Do you feel that adaptiveness and creativity added something extra to the record?
AL: Absolutely, I really do. I’m a believer in that. I really, really, really liked breaking rules, especially when it comes to creativity. I like making music, making art; to feel like making art, it needs to feel creative and inspired and excited. When we were making our first music, when I was writing Fallen, I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have anything to live up to, or I didn’t have a method that I could rely on. It was just creating a way for the first time. The more that I think you can tap into that, where it feels like you’re just, a soul scratching at something trying to make it come to life, the better the art will be.
You can be surprised by how many different ways that can happen. I was pushing us in a little bit of that direction with Synthesis, making the band kind of find a new way to play their instruments, where it would fit into an orchestral setting without heavy guitars and big drums or anything that sounded like those acoustic instruments, pushing them to find a new way. Jen learned how to play the theremin a little bit and made that a part of her thing. I learned to play the harp a little over ten years ago, I’m a piano player and they’re related, I mean, a harp is the guts of a piano, but it’s being plucked. So there are similarities, it’s sort of like French to Latin or something but different, it makes you play differently, and I wrote songs during that time on the harp a little bit, because it forced me to play differently. It made me write differently also and because of that, we got songs that weren’t like the way they would be, if wrote them with a piano as my route, like I typically do.
I think it’s really good to work outside your comfort zone and outside the box and to be challenged, it makes it exciting too. I don’t want it to feel like a job. I want it to feel like the fun thing. I want it to feel like the secret project because that’s how it should be. Right? Like your job is your job, that’s the cubicle that’s filling out paperwork and doing your taxes to be a musician. To be a creator, to be an artist, that should be the thing that feels like your freedom, your release, the thing you’ll stay up all night for, not the thing that you’re supposed to do.
MF: That’s a very empowering message and an inspiring message to give people too and I feel like you can hear that fresh inspiration on the record.
AL: Good! You know, having to, having to think around the problems, this time a lot of it’s been about the promo. We did get to get back together and be in the studio, all of us, except Jen, last fall and do things in a fairly typical way, which was amazing, but it was more humble like we were eating ramen and stuff so that we wouldn’t have to do takeout a lot of the time. Everything was a little bit more like early days, which felt good. It made it feel like we’re doing this because we love this, not just because it’s a cushy job. Having to think about making our own music videos or even this right now, like setting up the stuff where I have to film myself, that’s a new experience.
We even did Jimmy Kimmel recently, and they essentially said, “do it yourself, figure it out and send it in, and we’ll put it on the air.” It’s like, Oh my God, well, we’re all over the world, but we don’t want to pass up this opportunity. So you just have to find a new way and it’s amazing, the feeling that you can get at the end of that after you do it, the empowering feeling that really does give you like, “Hey, I did it, I did it!”. It means something to know that I cared about it enough that I tried and I made it happen and in the process, I’ve learned a new skill.
MF: You learned a lot of new skills in the process, especially when you’re talking about the videos, the fact that you shot two video clips on your iPhones… did you ever think that would be possible? And was it hard to get into the performative headspace to make that look as organic and as awesome as it does?
AL: It was really fun! It’s hard to explain it, but it really reminds me of being in high school and having a dream and doing whatever I could with what I had to make it happen. Once we got the idea we realised that it’s not like we’re going to be able to do production, so let’s make it about the soul, let’s make it about the point and the heart of the message and see if we can get that across and let that be the leading thing. That’s been sort of the guiding mantra about this whole time through last year and in the process too, has been: let the meanings lead, not the tempo, not the style. Whether it is deciding which songs come first, or what’s going to be a single, all those things really have come about this time by answering the question of “What’s the message we want to convey? What are the words we want to speak into the world right now?” Because this music, as much as it is for us, it’s more than ever feeling like it’s for everybody. So what, where are we now? And what, what could the world, you know, relate to or need?
MF: The messages on the record, are particularly strong. The obvious one is ‘Use My Voice’ but overall it seems like a record with quite a lot to say, and I feel like that might differentiate it from what people might have come to expect when it comes to lyrical content from Evanescence. Is your focus as a musician and as a strong voice in the community to just say what you mean now? Was there ever a point in your career when you felt prevented from doing that?
AL: I think the biggest preventer of things like that is my own self. The music for me has truly, always been the one place where I tell the truth, not that I’m a liar in real life, but the music is the one place where I’m not holding back from saying what I really mean. The one place where I’m not just keeping my mouth shut because I don’t want to deal with the fallout. So whether or not that’s always come across clearly, because I have been vaguer in the past with the lyrics, I’m not sure. But if you knew my situation and you knew who I was talking about at the time, it would have been a lot more clear.
It’s funny because we’re on a level now, where it’s not just me and my family and my friends who know me, it is about something bigger on some of these tracks and ‘Use My Voice’ is definitely the biggest one that is that way. That’s coming from me, pushing myself. I have been really pushing myself over the years on every album and challenging myself to be more specific and to say what I really mean because it feels good. The more that I can really let off, the more of a release it is for me to let some of those things go. It felt good and felt like, there was a higher purpose with ‘Use My Voice’ because we knew that we were going to be able to use it, to empower other people, and make positive change in our country and in the world, in the fight for democracy. It’s so important. It’s huge. If rock can’t be the voice for power to the people, then I don’t know what we have to do that? That’s our job!
MF: That is awesome. It’s also good to hear to an extent that you feel like it was always you that has been holding yourself back, and that you’ve grown through that, rather than it being a case of industry folk, holding those elements back. Because I think there’s a bit of a belief in the music industry that particularly at the start circa Fallen, that people wanted you to be something that you’re not. Those people around you were trying to force you into becoming Linkin Park or something?
AL: That’s actually true, that part, but I still wrote about all of that, I still wrote those lyrics. So I guess that was the start of me pushing myself.
MF: It seems that you were a bit of a trailblazer in the modern heavy scene, in many ways. When Fallen blew up it inspired a generation of new performers and it seemed to also open industry eyes to what female and femme-identifying acts could bring to that space. With this in mind, it would be remiss of me not to ask how you feel about the state of the industry at the moment in terms of its attitude towards the female and femme-identifying artists in the heavy scene?
AL: That’s the question, isn’t it? It’s not about women not being allowed to be musicians. They always have been. It’s about how we see the summary. So often rock these days is not in the mainstream. It’s boiled down to a teeny, teeny, tiny piece of the pie, and there’s only room for one face, and it’s a picture of a dude. Because that’s how people that are not rock fans see the genre. People that are rock fans know that rock music has never gone away, that it has legions of fans and thousands of fresh acts and perspectives, but whether or not these big mainstream gatekeepers are going to let that through, and show that as reality, is a different thing altogether. I think to an extent that people who don’t know a lot about modern rock music, still see it as a picture of something ancient, like an artefact of when they were kids. They still see it like Bruce Springsteen, or The Beatles, or these other depictions of old rock bands, when the truth as you know is that it has changed so much since then.
I do think that they’re making an effort now, I’m seeing an effort being made. I mean this last Grammys was all women in the rock category, In This Moment was up for the metal award, and I know that it’s not just about the Grammys, but it’s good to see that happening. I think that the world, our society is aware that this is a moment for different perspectives to have a chance to show their face and to shine and to say, “Hey, here’s, here’s something from my perspective”. I think that’s really, really important that we all are able to kind of see things through more perspectives than just our own. I think that is really the road to helping a lot of the issues in our world, in our society. Not thinking only from your little perspective of you and your hometown and what you’ve seen, and there’s a lot more out there and it doesn’t need to be scary. We just need to be exposed to all kinds of differences. It’s happening. Rock is definitely a place for all things, all people, you know. But it’s just gonna take time, you know, for that picture to change, when all it boils down to a summary, they need to stop summarizing so much. I will say as well, rock music is huge. There’s so much of it. We need a little more air time, please!
MF: Yes, yes, yes, definitely. Definitely more time, more perspectives, more diversity, more respect, more rock! I’m actually a rock singer myself. So I’m just sitting here nodding thinking that it would be lovely to be considered a worthwhile genre again, in a mainstream sense. Now, I do want to know something about you as a person, Amy. The band has a very distinctive, visual aesthetic and I’ve always wanted to know if that’s something that’s inspired by your tastes, the other things in life that you enjoy, or if it is just something that fits the music?
AL: That’s an interesting question. I feel like it’s both. I’ve always had a huge interest in the visual. It is essentially important to me and I always have ideas like when the songs are happening, when I’m making music when we’re in our world of creating, I’m constantly just seeing things in my head and thinking about ideas about how to bring the song to life with visuals. I’ll sit there thinking “ooh if we do a video, I need to see this happening” you know? Or, for example, with the clothing you see me in, I designed my own clothes. So a lot of the time what I wear either on stage or in music videos, I’ve made specifically for that purpose. It’s about being able to create a whole world and have a visual representation of who you are from the production too, on stage, it’s so important, it makes all the difference. It’s honestly, you understanding and accepting and putting out there a further dimension of what you are for people to tap into and to get and to relate to and perceive.
It’s hugely important to me, but it has to do with the music. You can currently see toys against a white wall, on a couch, in my house, so you can tell that my house is not entirely full of like black wallpaper and chains, if that’s what anyone was expecting. But I wouldn’t say that Evanescence aesthetic is straight-up metal either. It’s more complex than that. So it’s the side of me that is that trying to summarize the music in a way, in a visual mode, where it’s kind of like got some Victorian elements that represent the classical for me, and it’s got weird atmospheric things that kind of represent the electronic world, and of course it’s got the distressed elements and the darkness and the heavy feeling of the band. The more layers you can use to express yourself, the better.
MF: That makes a whole lot of sense. I honestly hadn’t connected the Victorian imagery and the classical music background before, but it absolutely makes sense to me now. Speaking of visual arts, you’re doing a very cool thing within that spectrum on this record, by releasing a graphic novel anthology that’s inspired by Evanescence music. How did that come about? And as a lover of the medium, that must be the most awesome thing ever, right?
AL: It’s so awesome. It’s so awesome! I have all these really grand ideas that would take way too much time and energy to actually do, while also doing my music career and being a mum and everything else that goes on in life, but this is something that I’m able to do because it’s coming from heavy metal. They came to me and were like, “Hey, we’d like to do this with you”, so instead of me having to find artists and put all this stuff together and create this world, they’re like, “Hey, we got it, we have the coolest, the best graphic design artists in our works in our sphere and the best story writers and stuff, and we want to do something based on your music”. So they came to me about a year ago and it sounded like one of those ideas that are too good to be true, where I was saying, “I’m in, now let’s see if this is just a bunch of meetings or it’s really going to happen” and it’s really happening!
The first two songs are in the works right now, it’s just so cool. I want to make this clear to our fans, it’s not my idea and my inspiration of the meanings behind the songs, presented as a visual. This is different artists and different writers for each song, getting an idea and being inspired while listening to the song and turning that inspiration into a beautiful graphic novel, based on their individual interpretation of the song. It’s so cool because it lets the music just take on more forms, have more lives, more alternate realities. I love it!
MF: I look forward to looking at every single one of these! Have you seen any of the graphic novels yet?
AL: I have, I’ve seen some of the stuff already and it looks really cool and I’m very excited. I have a little hand in it, giving opinions like do this, don’t do that, but for the most part, this is other creatives, just taking it to another place. It feels really good to see that happen.
MF: That’s so awesome. I’ve got to let you go, so thank you for talking to Music Feeds. I must confess that as a heavy music-obsessed teenager when Fallen dropped, I was all about it, so it’s great to see and hear you and Evanescence in such a great place as you’re putting The Bitter Truth out into the world.
AL: Thank you, that’s lovely to hear. It’s good to be back! It’s been nice talking to you, thanks for taking the time.
‘The Bitter Truth’ is out now. Evanescence have announced a free Livestream gig, dubbed ‘Driven to Perform’, which will see them performing songs from the newly-released album plus favourites from their back catalogue. The virtual performance will take place next month on Friday, 14th May at 11 am AEST, and will be hosted by none other than Alice Cooper.
Andrew Ryan, a co-owner of popular Fremantle, WA live music venue Mojo’s Bar, will cease involvement with the venue, according to a statement issued by the venue over the weekend, due to “prior conduct that has caused others to feel uncomfortable.”
On Saturday, 3rd April, Mojo’s made a post on their Facebook page confirming that Ryan will no longer be involved with the running of the bar.
“Mojo’s Bar prides itself on being a safe and inclusive venue. Part of this is recognising flaws and acting on concerns. In light of recent events Andrew will be ceasing all operational duties with Mojo’s,” the statement reads.
“He has acknowledged that prior conduct has caused others to feel uncomfortable. He is taking time to reflect and better himself. Mojo’s will support him as he works through this. Mojo’s commitment to safety is absolute. We want you to know we hear you, and we encourage you to talk with us.”
Mojo’s Bar prides itself on being a safe and inclusive venue. Part of this is recognising flaws and acting on concerns….
Management did not elaborate on the specific details of Ryan’s alleged behaviour. Yesterday, musician Riley Pearce withdrew from a planned show at Mojo’s that was set to take place that evening, citing “certain events” that had “come to light” surrounding the venue.
“I’m in full support of creating safe venues and calling out bad behaviour,” Pearce continued. “Music is supposed to bring people joy, connect a community and ease suffering.”
After four-and-a-half years of quiet time, Kings of Leon are back with their eighth album. When You See Yourself is the Followill boys’ second consecutive album to be produced by Markus Dravs, the British studio wiz known for his work with Arcade Fire, Coldplay, Florence + the Machine and Mumford & Sons.
Dravs’ past collaborators offer a clue to the sort of space Kings of Leon occupy in the contemporary music landscape. While their early records – namely 2003’s Youth & Young Manhood and 2004’s Aha Shake Heartbreak – paid homage to the band members’ southern roots, Kings of Leon have long since ascended to the pop-cultural mainstream.
It should be said, however, that Kings of Leon were never an authentically underground proposition. The aforementioned duo of albums were made in partnership with Nashville songwriter/producer Angelo Petraglia, who’s co-written songs for Trisha Yearwood and Taylor Swift, no less. And even before the release of Youth & Young Manhood, the UK music press had decreed Kings of Leon rock music’s next big things.
But the band’s biggest jump came with their fourth album, 2008’s Only by the Night, which was led by the near-ubiquitous singles ‘Sex On Fire’ and ‘Use Somebody’. The global success of these more pop-oriented songs transformed Kings of Leon from a group of hirsute indie-rockers into a multi-Grammy award-winning, festival headline act.
Remarkably, in the dozen years since Only by the Night, Kings of Leon haven’t fallen from this lofty post. Their arena-rock ambitions were crystallised on 2010’s Come Around Sundown and 2013’s Mechanical Bull, while 2016’s Walls was their first album to reach #1 in the US Billboard 200.
At its core, however, Kings of Leon remains a tight-knit family operation. The band consists of brothers Caleb (vocals/guitar), Nathan (drums) and Jared Followill (bass) with their cousin Matthew on guitar. They all live within a 10-minute drive of each other in Nashville, where they’ve all recently become parents.
It’s here, in the middle of a frozen US winter, that Music Feeds got hold of Nathan Followill to talk about the new album, the band’s relationship with Dravs and how Kings of Leon have achieved such career longevity.
Music Feeds: It’s been four-and-a-half years since you released Walls. When was the new album recorded?
Nathan Followill: It would’ve been 2019, starting in the Spring of 2019. Don’t quote me on that – all the days blend together now that we don’t really leave the house. But we’ve sat on it for a year or so.
MF: I’m sure some of the delay was due to the pandemic but were there unexpected benefits of waiting a bit longer between recording and releasing?
NF: It gave us the chance to live with the record for a little while and see if there was anything we wanted to go back and change. Most of the time you record a record, then after you’ve played those songs 50, 60 times on tour you’re like, man I wish I would’ve changed this or changed that. So we had that opportunity and we were so pleased with the record that we did not go back and change anything.
MF: You toured Walls heavily through 2017 and 2018. How long after the end of the touring cycle did you start to ponder your next album?
NF: After that tour, we were definitely all ready for a break. I know Caleb, creatively, around the start of January is when he usually gets the bug to start kicking around ideas or [suggests we] get in the rehearsal space and just jam for a little while. But this one we actually took the most time on pre-production on a record we ever have. It was the longest process we’ve ever had as far as making a record would go, for sure.
MF: Markus Dravs produced When You See Yourself. Was he involved in the pre-production process?
NF: We’ll usually get stuff together, put it on tape or a file and send him stuff just to get his take on the direction we’re going and just to keep him in the loop of what to be prepared for. But once we settle on the songs and we know what we’re going to do, he’ll come in and we’ll do a last week of just running through all the songs and making sure we have them down.
MF: When You See Yourself is very melodic, atmospheric and a bit calmer than some of your previous records. Were there certain things you discussed with Markus in terms of the sound and mood you wanted to get across?
NF: We know going in what the bones of it will be, but when we get in there, Matthew is very experimental with keyboards and stuff like that. And we have a couple of guys that tour with us and Liam [O’Neil], our keyboard guy, he was able to come in and help out. But the atmosphere of the record, it’s definitely something that we all go in hopefully on the same page.
Now, when you get in there, some people want to take a song a different direction and the great thing about Markus is he will try any idea you want. He doesn’t want anyone to leave the studio feeling like their voice wasn’t heard or we didn’t try something that they wanted to hear on a song. That’s the great thing about Markus, but that’s also a fault for him because when you get four family members in there that are all wanting to try a gazillion things, it can make for some long studio days.
MF: You worked with Angelo on your first six records and also did three with Ethan Johns and Jacquire King co-producing. What is it about Markus’ production style that gels with the direction you wanted to go, post-Mechanical Bull?
NF: The thing that I personally love about Markus is he is so passionate. He’s an album guy; he wants to make a work of art from start to finish. Like, when we met with him he was like, “if you’re wanting a producer that’s going to go for the two big singles on the record and the rest is filler stuff, I’m not your guy.” Then he was like, “but if you want to make the best album we can make, then I’m your guy.”
MF: You’ve conducted some major stylistic renovations over the years. Do you have a process for assessing whether new ideas are appropriate for inclusion on a Kings of Leon album? Or do you just go with what feels good?
NF: I think we go by feel, for sure. We are known for… when we have gone through all the songs that we want to record on a record, we end up getting at least two if not three more [out] of us just jamming in the studio.
In the early days when we were making so many records so quick, that’s because we were doing all of our writing in soundchecks. We don’t write songs as much at soundchecks anymore because we don’t travel the same way that we did. So, we definitely rely more on Caleb getting an itch and saying, “Hey, let’s get in there and just mess around.”
MF: Walls was your first album to reach #1 in the Billboard 200. It also topped the UK charts and reached #3 in Australia. Plenty of bands from your era have struggled to repeat the highs of their early years. What do you think explains your continued success?
NF: First of all, we’re lucky to still be doing this. Eight records in, that’s crazy. But it’s just literally what the pulse is of the band and of the guys. We definitely don’t have a Kings of Leon formula that we go into each record thinking like, “Okay, as long as we achieve this, this and this, then we’re fine.” We just kind of go with the flow.
It’s been five long years since Floridian rock/metalcore monolith’s A Day To Remember dropped their fifth album, the ARIA #1 charting Bad Vibrations. During that time they’ve done a LOT of levelling up, firmly establishing themselves as an arena band and festival headliner and reaffirming their status as one of the world’s best live bands. They’ve also done a lot of growing up, with several children and outside interests joining the fray. Now after a frustrating period where all they could do was ‘hurry up and wait’ as COVID-19 added delay after delay, A Day to Remember is finally set to drop their widely anticipated seventh full-length, You’re Welcome today.
Their first album to come out via new label and fellow Floridian scene luminaries, Fueled By Ramen, You’re Welcome is a bold, experimental and perhaps above all else, surprising release from a band operating at the zenith of their creativity. Described by vocalist Jeremy McKinnon as “a hybrid of who we were, who we are, and who we want to be”, You’re Welcome has been pre-empted by a gloriously diverse collection of singles in the form of ‘Degenerates’, ‘Resentment’, ‘Mindreader’, ‘Brick Wall’ and most recently, mega-crossover hit, ‘Everything We Need’, a collection of songs that’s kept their sizable fanbase guessing as to what to expect next.
On the precipice of the release of You’re Welcome we jumped on ZOOM for a chat with guitarist Kevin Skaff about the creative process that led to You’re Welcome, what it has been like to be off of the road for so long, accidentally blowing up equipment, eating Lord of the Fries and the prospect of playing shows inside giant orb balls.
Music Feeds: G’day Kevin how are you today?
Kevin Skaff: I’m good man, how are you?
MF: Good, as you can see from my background, I’ve been in Moe’s Tavern for about a year and a half! How’s existence been treating you in Florida?
KS: I moved to Nashville a few years ago, so I’m actually in Tennessee and it’s been okay, I’ve just been in my studio for the last year and four months.
MF: I think it has been that way for everyone. It must feel especially weird for a band like yours who built your reputation by touring?
KS: Yeah. Yeah. There’s a piece of me missing that’s for sure!
MF: Well, you’re trying to fill some of that void by releasing a new record, in the form of You’re Welcome in March, which I’ve got to say is probably the most dynamic A Day to Remember record. I’ve heard thus far!
KS: Just when you thought we couldn’t be any wilder, right?
MF: Absolutely. Now your vocalist Jeremy described it as a hybrid of who you were, who you are, and who you want to be. Do you feel he’s summed that up well?
KS: Yes! sounds like he took a media class for that answer! Yeah. I could see how he would come to that answer. That’s pretty cool. I mean, yeah, it’s all over the place. There’s something from every genre that we like. So it’s all over the place and there’s a little something for everybody. I mean, we say that every album, but on this one there’s actually something for everybody. Minus elevator music.
MF: Did you try to get elevator music in?
KS: Yeah, I tried to get a little bit of Muzak in, but nobody wanted it. I don’t know why the song was a banger!
MF: That’s a shame man, think of all of the potential licensing money you just pissed away!
KS: I know dude, it’s a bummer!
MF: You just dropped the track ‘Brick Wall’, which I have to say has probably the heaviest outro/ breakdown of any ADTR song to date, which seems to have taken people by surprise, given what you’ve been releasing as singles off of this album prior?
KS: Yeah I mean when we released that song, there was, there were comments all over the place on that song, but, you know, that’s kinda what it was about. I remember that song, Jeremy brought that song over to when I still lived in Florida. He had a couple of parts and I added a couple of things and then we added that pickle breakdown at the end. I have a video of our producer, pretty much humping, like the guitar on the desk during that outro park. I was like, this shit is crazy.
But the song reminds me of that Beatle song and Sgt. Peppers, ‘A Day in the Life, where it’s just all over the place. So yeah, this is A Day To Remember’s metal version of ‘A Day in the Life’ by The Beatles. Not that I’m trying to put us on a pedestal or anything, it’s just the only comparison that I have.
MF: So what you’re trying to say is that it is ‘A Day to Remember in the Life?’
KS: Exactly. Yeah. A Day To Remember in The Life!
MF: You’ve had about five years between records to think about it, so who knows, maybe that’s the next step?
KS: Yeah, well you know, we’ve had about three, because then we made the record and then we delayed the record and then COVID delayed the record again, and now we’re here.
MF: Talk to me a little bit about that, man. How did this come together in the sense that you obviously started working on the record prior to the pandemic and you probably had a whole bunch of plans for how you were intending on finishing and releasing it. How much impact did it have?
KS: We had plans to release it before the pandemic. Then we had five artists try to do the album cover, and all of them were just not the vibe we were after and I know that really ran Jeremy down because, for him, everything has to be perfect. So that was the first delay and then COVID hit, pretty soon after and then we’re here now. It was a big bummer, but we’re finally getting around it.
MF: At least there’s some comfort in knowing that everyone else is experiencing the same delays, in the sense that it’s not like you’ve been falling behind or anything? Literally, everybody is experiencing the same thing!
KS: Nobody is doing shit right now and if you are you are a dumbass.
MF: Even over here, where we have had essentially zero cases for a while, the industry is only slowing creeping back to life. On the positive side, the few shows that have been able to happen safely have all sold out. On a personal level, I can tell you that the first show back that you play, is the most amazing experience ever. It seriously feels like you’re playing your first show all over again!
KS: I’m so excited man, I can’t wait! Over here the only people who have played shows are bands like Trapt and Smash Mouth and Buck Cherry, and they’ve all been playing in Florida, so who the fuck knows what’s going on!
MF: If only you had stayed in Florida, you too could have been the bottom-feeding bane of social media!
KS: I know.
MF: Speaking of Florida, you’re putting this record out on Fueled By Ramen – a very influential Floridian label. What was the reasoning behind joining up with FBR now?
KS: Our management group is very, very dear friends with that label. They do Paramore and Paramore has been on them since their inception, I’m pretty sure I could be wrong. But yeah we had a meeting with a couple of different labels and all of the people at Fueled by Ramen were just so awesome and so nice and still continue to be to this day. They just have it all down. So we just felt really comfortable signing on for a couple of records with them.
MF: It’s such a natural fit that I’m surprised it didn’t happen earlier to be honest.
KS: Well we were in litigation with our old label for about seven years, so that was probably what was hampering it.
MF: So you’re sitting in your house in Nashville thinking about the next year, what is it that you’re looking forward to most?
KS: Honestly, like I just want to talk to a person, in-person and I want to play a show. I want to get back on a bus. I want to smell the stupid gasoline that gets wafted in your face when you’re grabbing clothes out of your suitcase, and I want to see my crew. I miss my crew a lot and I want to eat all the good foods, everywhere else. I want to come to Australia. I want to eat Nando’s and what’s that vegetarian place called, Lord of the Fries? I want to eat Lord of the Fries!
MF: I’m sure that Lord of the Fries and the rest of Australia will welcome you back with open arms man! To enable that, you’ve got to handle the business of promoting a record. How do you personally feel You’re Welcome fits alongside the other ADTR records?
KS: It’s its own thing, man. it’s just so dynamic and out there and you know? It is us taking a chance. It’s us experimenting, broadening our horizons, seeing what works, seeing what doesn’t, you know? You have to take those chances to evolve and we’re just excited for it to get out there and people listen to it and tell us what they think.
MF: I think what they’ll think is that it is weird but awesome.
KS: I think they’re in for a mindfuck and it’ll take time to process.
MF: I would say that out of all the ADTR albums, this one sounds like you are having the most fun experimenting with what you can do with your instrument, would you say that’s true?
KS: Oh yeah, we went and got a little nutty on the guitars. We got nutty on guitars and, and we found out what synthesizers do and those things are fun. I mean, we were some of the first people to get a Moog One when they first came out. And we were like, just like, “ah, this thing is so sick” and then smoke just started coming out of it. So we blew the thing up within like two weeks, we blew up a lot of things actually, on this record, we blew up pickles. We blew up the Moog One, we blew up like three guitar heads, you know, we just blew up a whole bunch of things. It was pretty fun!
MF: That’s awesome! It’s so weird talking to musicians like you at the moment because obviously there’s been no tours and gradually a lot of you are starting to settle into new, domestic, routines, which means that our conversations have started to become rather different to reflect that reality. Are you worried about readjusting to tour life and not just being able to get up whenever and walk to another room of the house and be at work for the day?
KS: Not at all, because that’s what I do on the road as well. But yeah, I’m the one that sleeps in now. Like everybody else has kids. And so they’re up at like the crack of dawn. So they’re all doing group chats about business. Then I wake up at like noon or one o’clock and I’m like, all right, what did I miss? And there’s always like a thousand texts I got to catch up on. So I think I’m well prepared.
MF: That’s awesome man, I’ve got to let you go now, but before I do, I have to ask. Is there any chance that when you head back out on the road that you all get those inflatable orb balls that Jeremy runs on top of the crowd in and you play the gigs, inside of those, like the Flaming Lips?
KS: Oh my gosh, I hope so! That would be a lot of fun, actually. I would probably knock myself out with a guitar in the ball. I’d probably do a somersault and whack myself in the face with a guitar and a tuning peg and just die. But I’m willing to give it a try!