Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"an unknown life-force that nobody could stop"

Just a quick note before we begin (see what I did there?), but this post marks the hundredth in my illustrious career as an amateur blogger. Can hardly believe it's been so many, I guess time flys when you're having fun. Or when you're writing passionately (and hopefully informatively) about something you love. Well just a quick thank you to all, thanks for all the visits, I can only hope you've enjoyed each and every one of them, in which case - here's to another 100!


So Big Scary can do no wrong, they finished up their Winter launch at the Toff last Sat and due to perform the Sydney equivalent this Friday. If you're still hankering for more though, I've uploaded my full interview with strummer Tom Iansek, the resultant article of which was printed in Beat last week and is still available to view online. But for those of us who dislike word counts and cohesion, here is that same interview in full. 
Like last time I had a chinwag with them, it was on the eve of another headline show, conducted a week before the Toff gig, Iansek discusses touring, recording Winter and what's next for Melbourne's best independent band ((c) AMR 2010). Enjoy.

Al's Music Rant: Congrats on Winter, it’s another successful expansion of your sound. Following on from the acoustic style of Autumn, was there a certain style or influence towards this new set?

T: I suppose it was more of a chance for these influences that we’ve always had to come through, especially the Bon Iver influence, both Jo and I are massive fans. This set was more the kind of music that I like to listen to, so the Winter tracks are probably my favourite tracks that we’ve done. I really like the mood and the introverted feel that’s there. It’s more the kind of music I like to listen to.

AMR: It definitely contrasts more to Autumn, there’s a lot more going on in terms of layers and sound, it’s not something that’s going to be easy to recreate live.

T: Yeah, we’ve been having that problem already, we did a few shows with Midlake where they wanted only the laidback acoustic tracks and so we really had the problem of ‘do we go down the path of samplers and those sort of effects to create the sound that we’ve done on the recording; or do we just stick with the true two-piece thing and work with that. We stuck with the two-piece thing, and Jo was quite adamant about that. It worked out pretty well

AMR: Do you feel like adding samplers and things would detract from what was exciting about the duo to begin with?

T: Well, with samplers, once you hear a sound that isn’t coming directly from the stage you begin to question, ‘well what is actually being played?’ It was that which we wanted to avoid, and also I suppose we clung steadily to the two-piece.

AMR: It works

T: (laughs) yeah, its worked for us so far, so why stop now? we’re happy to have the recordings slightly different, break the rule for the recordings and that was the aim for the Four Seasons project. Just have a bit of fun and experiment a bit. There’s no reason to limit yourself in the studio

AMR: You recorded at Jo’s Place, what was the impetus for that?

T: So it might have been the first day of winter actually, it was rainy and cold and… it was just perfect. Because for time reasons we had to record Autumn in summer and that didn’t really feel right, but it was really nice to record Winter in winter. And it was recorded at Jo’s parents’ house, they’ve got this beautiful old upright that we play on when we rehearse there, and we’re quite picky about our piano sounds. That was the sound we wanted for the recording, so we just got the gear into the living room and away we went.

AMR: You’ve mentioned that before, about how the space in which your recording has as much character as the writing and anything else.

T: (enthusiastically) yeah, yeah, it’s definitely what I’ve been learning, trying to impart a lot of the character of these instruments and these rooms into the recording. Especially when there’s so few elements, there’s only two of us, there’s only so many layers to these tracks so we’ve really got to make them count.

AMR: And that stems back to the Bon Iver thing, the myth-making where he goes to a cabin and records these songs.

T: Yeah, there’s sort of that, that sort of mystical element to it.

AMR: The Front Room Recordings

T: Yeah, that home-made, lo-fi kind of feel and it’s just a bit more tangible, more character, more real. We try and do that with all our recordings, even the rockier tracks. It definitely comes through a lot more with these sorts of introspective songs. 
AMR: How has that been translating to the live show? Are you trying to keep balance between the older and newer material?

T: We still like to mix it up a little bit, we definitely tailor it to the time and the place. These Midlake shows were all laidback, acoustic, chilled-out tracks.

AMR: Did you get the beard going?

T: I did have a bit of a beard going, it paled in comparison to the Midlake beards – some of those are pretty wild.
I guess in the future we’d like to have a bit more of a mix live, and moreso just for contrast. The contrast between the two generally makes for a more exciting show, I find.
Definitely something we want to take further, but it's a fine balance between holding people’s attention and just getting carried away and trying to play people everything. You have to craft your set-list in order to pull it off properly.

AMR: You’ve been supporting a slew of high-profile local and international acts, how have the performances been?

T: It’s been amazing, The Vasco Era was a pretty intense tour for us: 16 dates in 4 weeks. It was the first time we really have done anything like that and it was a steep learning curve. I think The Vasco Era are such a great act to do it with because there’s such an amazing live band. We learned a lot from them, a lot of tricks I suppose.

AMR: How to get a bigger rider.

T: Yeah, that’s it, even things like developing a bit of a taste for playing covers. They’d often just jam out for an hour or two if they had a chance at the end of their set just playing all these covers. So since then, there’s a few covers we’ve got up our sleeve. Which is more just good to have on hand. Just for fun. It turned the live show into something that was a pressure situation into something that was more about having fun and relaxing. Which was a big step I think for us, so now there isn’t so much stress in the live performance, more about enjoying the moment.
It’s funny you should say that, because it seems like you have been touring non-stop at this front half of the year, you’re obviously very aware about reaching different audiences and different spaces.
There’s no better way to learn than just get out there and play and play. And play some more.

AMR: Can you name some highlights?

T: I think the Melbourne show at the Corner with The Vasco Era, actually all the Melbourne shows have been amazing. Like the show at Prince with Little Red, that was also fantastic. And Prince again, with Midlake was another great show. They’ve been the highlights for us. There’s just been great nights, we’ve never known Melbourne audiences to be this way. We’ve just done little indie gigs for years when there’s fifteen, twenty people in a room, standing in the back nodding along. It’s a different Melbourne with a room of 900 people. But also appreciative, I mean Little Red compared to Midlake – same room, but there’s people at Little Red jumping around, going crazy as opposed to the same number where the room’s just completely silent, standing there and listening intently to what you’re playing. Pretty amazing experiences.

AMR:That’s obviously the advantage of these support slots too is that you get to play all these great venues

T: That’s it, and again, without the pressure of…

AMR: Filling It?

T: Yeah, filling it, just relax and play.

AMR: You’re still a relatively young band but you already have a large catalogue to your name, and the EPs have been a great way to give audiences samples of what you’ve been up to; but is there still a back catalogue that you plan on releasing or are you keen to keep moving forward with the writing?

T: The next step is the album, and we’ve been demoing tracks for the album, and trying to demo all this back catalogue of songs we have just lying around. At this point we’re undecided about whether we want to release all those, or just new stuff or a mix of both. We definitely want to have a bit more direction to the album compared to the Four Seasons which has just been an excuse to play anything, go with the flow a bit and record whatever’s come to us. I think it’ll just take a bit more time to figure out where we wanna go with the album. Definitely a lot more writing and hopefully it’ll have a mix of our better old songs and some good new stuff.
Mid late next year album

AMR: And with the Four Seasons compilation, is that literally going to be the EPs back-to-back?

T: Yeah, we played around with the tracklisting and it worked best grouped together, there’s a natural flow to it still that way, and you can see it takes you on a bit of a journey from start to finish.

AMR: How did you come to collaborate with Laura Taylor on the artwork?

T: Jo found her on MySpace, MySpace Art I think. Just surfing around there was just hoards of amazing artists, and this one caught Jo’s eye. She’s just a nineteen year old from up in Gosford. She’s a very talented girl.

AMR: Speaking of which, you’ve also had a lot of videos produced in association with the songs, how did that come about?

T: Much like the artwork it’s been a bit of an experimentation process, just trying different things here and there, working with various people. It’s been fun and rewarding for the most part.

AMR: Now the scary question. You’ve released everything independently so far, has there been interest from any labels?

T: There’s been interest from labels but we’re at the point now where we feel we can do everything that a label can do for us in Australia. So we’re really hoping to stay independent. It’s a lot more work, but it’s also a lot more rewarding. Also in terms of being able to support ourselves financially, that’s quite an important point because if we can have more time to make music it’ll make for better results. So we went to head down the independent path as best we can.

AMR: It’s obviously a big issue facing lots of bands, not just in Australia.

T: Well yeah, a lot of bands don’t have the option. They just need the financial backing of a label to get them on the road and get them in the studio, to get their work out there. We’re lucky that we’re a two-piece and our costs are so low, we can be in and out of the studio really quickly. We can have both of us and all our gear in one car to get around the country. We’ve actually improved our stacking to the point where the passenger seat can recline almost fully, we’ve got it down to quite an art.

AMR: What can we expect from the sit-down shows for Winter?

T: It’s a very different experience to our regular show, it’ll be just laid-back and we hope to create a different mood. I guess intimacy’s the buzz word, we wanted it sit-down so the audience could relax – not to chat and stand around – but more formal and relaxed.

AMR: Does that mean you exclude the ‘rockier’ material?

T: That won’t be in there, it’ll be all the quieter stuff. 
AMR: And what happens after that? Gearing up towards Spring?

T: So after that we’re pretty quiet through to about October/November, another national tour that hasn’t been announced yet. Pretty full-on from October onwards.
It’s mostly exciting, we’re really excited to be able to play at Falls, and Southbound and Peats Ridge. It’s also… I’ve never been to one of those festivals before. A great way to spend the summer.

AMR: Obviously Spring is next, what can we expect from that collection?

T: Spring is much more light-hearted, upbeat. The title track is just an acoustic number, I tried to imagine what spring would be like as a person, and for some reason I just pictured this person as super-arrogant and better than all the other seasons. To the point of annoyance, which was the vibe of that track. Jo wrote the track that’ll be the single, and that’s a bit more rock, a bit Jeff Buckley rock as much as I don’t like to use those terms.

AMR: How do you feel where you are with the band, as you’ve said it’s been a very busy six months. Do you want to just plow on through, growing with the band and the audiences?

T: Well the first six months were so full-on we didn’t have a chance to think about what was happening, and these months at the moment have been a bit quieter and I’ve had a chance to think about what’s been happening. It’s sort of a mixed reaction, it’s odd to think that I’m out there trying to make it as a musician. I find that as a bit of an odd concept, it’s almost like trying to be a sports star. It’s too much fun, it’s nice that people want to hear your music and hear what you have to say, the tunes you’re writing and things are moving along so well, we’ve got such great momentum happening now. From here, it’s just a matter of going with it.
and thus concludes the 100th (!) post. If Triple J did one of them Hot polls now, it'd be fairly easy to choose eh?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Where have you been?

The Fringe show is rumbling away, to be sure to be sure, but if you can't wait to get a comedy fix. May I highlight my involvement with The Melbourne Uni Comedy Law Revue.
It's an annual live sketch comedy show put on to raise money for charity and it's gauranteed some big laughs and great times. There's definitely some great music gags and some even greater non-music gags. So do get along.
Check out the promo below and book online to enrich your life no end. 

In the meantime we return to regular broadcasting, dancing about architecture.

The Morning Benders - Big Echo (Rough Trade, 2010)

There’s a poem that adorns the sleeve for Big Echo that goes “shouting into a valley/big shout: big echo/small shout: small echo,” well if it wasn’t already obvious, The Morning Benders are now attempting their big shout.

After the Shins-alike lo-fi of their debut Talking Through Tin Cans, their all important sophomore effort is a much bolder step to an all-canvassing sound with a confident delivery. Opener Excuses being the aural manifest of their new ambition and a deceptively epic tune. A preamble of crackling vinyl before orchestral flourishes and harmonies befitting of Pet Sounds rub alongside a breezy Californian strum. In fact the entire first half, or ‘Side A’ as the liner notes would have it, is an accessible mesh of atmospheric indie-pop tinged with… well calling it psychedelic might be a stretch, but there’s certainly a lot of studio embellishment involved. Promises and Pleasure Sighs aspire to the same peaks as that delicious opener, albeit with slightly different musical blueprints.

‘Side B’ finds the band letting their already laidback approach unwind even further, and in so doing, the likes of Mason Jar and Stitches contain the ring and experimental amble of Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest. It should come as little surprise then to find Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor helping out with production duties to make the sunny disposition and the highbrow musicianship meet. As the cavernous album highlight Hand Me Downs demonstrates, this is what The Morning Benders, and particularly Big Echo, does best. Any one of its ten cuts could slot nicely alongside a playlist involving such hip revivalists as Animal Collective, Vampire Weekend and Yeasayer without your iTunes blinking twice.

Whether you hold Big Echo dear comes down to that age-old question of innovation: sure The Morning Benders may not be pioneers, but their music stands proudly alongside its influences, they do what they do very well even if they didn’t get their first.

Hear album opener Excuses here and get a free download of Promises for the cost of your email at the band's website.

Perfume Genius - Learning (Matador, 2010)
The term ‘personal songwriting’ seems like an increasingly quaint thing to talk about these days, sure there are still ‘confessional’ songs and ‘intimate’ music, but in an age dominated by social networking and mass media – the personal seems to be an increasingly rare commodity. If that’s the case, then Perfume Genius’ stock is valuable indeed.

Make no mistake, Learning is nothing if not personal. The recording name for one Mike Hadreas, its ten tracks are the result of months spent holed up in his mother’s house in Washington with nought but an old piano, some dinky synths and a whole lot of exorcising.
With its ghostly piano and lo-fi aesthetic, it’s the sound of someone baring their soul set to music, but what is a potentially uncomfortable, emotionally wrought experience is offset by its melodic simplicity and shimmering textural layers. Hadreas’ gentle falsetto trembling between the ether created by the shivering piano and synths that dominate the album.

At times it imagines Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne as a stark troubadour or Sufjan Stevens at his most intimate, in particular Illionis’ touching John Wayne Gacy Jr. Perfume Genius likewise tackles taboo topics, with an alchemy at work that transforms his controversial topics into stirring stuff indeed.

The story-driven narrative of Mr. Peterson should be enough to make your skin crawl, tackling as it does the love between a naive high-school boy and his teacher, “He let me smoke weed in his truck/if I could convince him I loved him enough”. But Handreas renders it with such humanity as to make it tender portraiture, “he made me a tape of Joy Division… when I was 16 he jumped off a building/…I hope there’s room for you up above or down below.”

The rest of Learning is tinged with a similar poignant complexity, though it’s not always explicitly stated there’s a veiled sense of danger and decay lurking behind the lo-fi surface. Lookout Lookout’s uncomplicated arpeggio hook belies its urgency to “lookout, lookout/there are murders about.” Likewise Perry whose closing couplets intone “we may never see you again/whatever good is left/put your trust in it.” Sometimes it doesn’t even take words to transmit its pathos. Gay Angels reaches an almost transcendental state with vocals wafting unanchored over reverberated echoes before settling into a raspy mantra of ‘shhh shhh It’s ok.”

As the title suggests, it’s as much an experience for Hadreas’ as a songsmith as it is for the listener. Some parts of Learning are like audio sketches, half-finished and in the process of emerging but distinguishable none-the-less. In fact the record is smeared with the sound of bruised guilt transcended. As if the tangible pain of its various characters and narrators has transformed their emotional damage into an up-lifting haze of attrition.

It’s a unique and discernable style that’ll ensure Perfume Genius’ debut as the kind of pure, brutally honest recording that tends to skip its potentially pretentious moors to reach a cult audience appreciative of its bravery.

Listen to Mr. Petersen here and then you can download the title track from Matador here

And my currently listening list in visuals:

Gayngs - Relayted