Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The UK Adventures of [ME]

You may know the story, excellent local band sets off to foreign shores seeking fame and glory.
While many bands find success by touring our not unsizeable nation relentlessly, earning tags like 'hard-working' or 'live instituion,' there are many more who find Australian acceptance by first 'making' it overseas. Think of talents like Lisa Mitchell, Sarah Blasko who blossomed from their journeys in London and America respectively, or the old big in America - big at home idiom that beset INXS and Silverchair. It's a strange thing, but one that many burgeoning bands must face.
In fact, in my talks with bands like Alpine and Big Scary they touched on the limitations of touring Australia, and more specifically with Kins' trek to the UK to record, whose own Thomas Savage put it best: "big landmass, not many people."
Which brings us to [ME]...
I first stumbled across [ME] and their 'Tchaikokrocksky' via a friend of a friend's burlesque/indie-folk act who were supporting their headlining East Brunswick Club show in which they were launching their brill track/video Westward Backwards. Initially I was blown away by their huge, professional sound, a balance of the grandeur of Muse with the pomposity of Queen all delivered in a grand flourish that made the modest confines of the Brunswick Club feel like an arena show.
Ever since that night, I've keenly followed their smattering of singles and consistently entertaining live gigs that backed up claims that they were inner Melbourne's very own glam rock band. 

The men behind the music, those stylish gents you see squatted around a stand-up organ up there, is concocted by (from l-r) the fireworks shredding of guitarist Damian Tapley, the muscular rhythm section of bassist Michael Godde and drummer Mike Rogers, and fronted by the operatic vocal stylings and ivory tinkling of the ever-waist-coated Luke Ferrisdliever a big sound, bigger hooks and epic arrangements all delivered in a cinematic-flavoured, bombastic flair.
Regular readers of AMR may recall their previously profiled tracks Your Favourite Colour, as well as their Naked EP (the title track of the latter of which I've plugged for triple j Unearthed and even getting it played on launch day for their new digital station); and now they've decamped to the UK to record their debut album.

After some fellow twitter correspondence, AMR caught up with guitarist Damian Tapley to discuss the recording process, and their European adventures thus far.

AMR:  So you’re in the UK to record your debut album, you arrive at a Lord of the Rings-esque villa in the country, horses and all – what are some of the initial thoughts and feelings going through your (collective) head(s)?

Damian: ‘Yay!’We have a good balance of optimism and cynicism in the band. Two of us were so certain we were going to be coming to UK to record and perform, two of us were not going to get excited until the tickets were in their hands. Which is ridiculous because no one holds a plane ticket in their hand, it’s all electronic. What were they thinking - boarding pass? Gee, two hours of excitement, *yippee*. Cynic fail.

AMR: Your track Like A Fox has seen success over in England, getting airplay on BBC Radio 1 and Absolute, as well as playlisted on XFM. How has that been? Did you know that it would be the track to ‘lead the charge’?

D: Yes, it was selected by people who can tell what British reactions might be like. I’m personally pleased because I always liked the song and I also love it when songs stick out like ‘dogs balls’ on radio; which is what someone in Australia told us about the track. Also, Naked has started getting spins, on more radio stations (than we’ve ever heard of). It’s not going to be released until November 21st, so we’re pretty grateful for all the foreplay.

AMR: Now, you've signed to Lizard King Records, an independent label over in the UK. How did that come about?

D: The timing was actually challenging because we had worked so hard to get offered a management deal in Australia from a couple of dudes we respect so much. We were so keen for that and then out of nowhere the Lizard King option came up and had us very confused because we could not do both. The formal offers came in literally on the same day. A bunch of Skype calls and some weeks later, it was clear that we should be heading towards our now paved path.

AMR: You’ve been playing a lot of shows around London – and a handful in Europe. How do the shows differ from what you’ve played before? In terms of audience? Types of venues?

D: Well we’ve just finished playing two of the biggest shows we’ve ever done, supporting [cult Canadian noise-rockers] Death From Above 1979 at Manchester Academy and Brixton Academy. The audiences are great just like they are in Australia, although we’ve been surprised in Paris and Hamburg where they are super appreciative and warm. Can’t wait to do more shows in Europe. Also with the decent airplay lately, people come out to the shows just because they have heard us once on radio - it’s great! As for the London venues, there are a lot of basement warehouse types of venues that compare to World Bar in Sydney for instance; totally filled up with people, it's made for awesome nights.

AMR: You recently played a German festival with a whole bunch of sojourning Aussie bands – Cloud Control, The Jezabels and Gypsy & The Cat. How was that?

D: That festival was freaking amazing. It’s called Reeperbahn in Hamburg, and it was a crazy three days of mad partying. We had a full crowd for our show, which made us so pleased. Germany is only the fourth country we’ve played in and we’ll definitely be back. I think the other Aussie bands did very well there too.

AMR: On to the actual recording process now - you’ve been working with producer Simon ‘Barny’ Barnicott whose CV includes Kasabian, Arctic Monkeys, Editors and The Temper Trap. What was it specifically about his work that endeared you to him? Was it his past work or his relationship with the band?

D: The chance to work with someone like that flipped us out, totally. The bands he’s done before are definitely an appeal, and we even later found out he’s also worked with Placebo and The Music (R.I.P.). Before we left Aus we were talking with a few UK producers, and the plan was to send some Protools session and audio files to get a spec mix done by each. We had all moved house recently so none of us had any internet, it took days to upload, sitting in internet cafes and trying to use friends’ interwebz; in the end there were files missing and all sorts of problems with the session. Barny was the only one that was able to open the session, which was impressive in itself, and when he sent the track back, he’d bashed it into shape so hard that we’ve never looked back.

AMR: He sounds like a bit of a worthwhile taskmaster! Has he pushed you guys in terms of putting in the hours to craft and record your sound? Have you had to find a new work ethic or vein of creativity?

D: Barny is extremely artistic, and the crafting of sound is happening all the time. He knows what he likes. There are very innovative things that have gone on to the record which are extra additions from him. There’s an engineer he uses too, named Ian Dowling. He has worked on crazy stuff like Rufus Wainwright, and Ian is exceptional at recording vocals. As a result we have some crazy vocal stuff on this album. Personally, working with them has helped me a lot with timing as a guitar player. I think on average we’re better performers now from being pressed to sing more perfectly in tune and time and play with an extra bit of something else.
AMR: The theatrical elements of your music is often compared to English acts like Muse and Queen. How do you feel about those comparisons?

D: Not sure. We play and we write. What we end up with we’ve either liked it enough to play it some more, or we’ve stopped. A lot of people expect bands to do more than that. I don’t think we’re any less influenced by System of a Down as we are Mozart’s balls as we are fucking Grease Lightning. They’re all just a bunch of dudes playing - and I think a band is better off spending their time playing and writing than stopping and comparing what they are playing and writing to some other dudes that are playing and writing. I should stresss, use of the word ‘dudes’ is for either lads or ladies!

AMR: There’s also a classical or cinematic element to the music, how is this influencing the writing and/or recording process?

D: It’s making it a much more involved process. We have sung hundreds of harmonies on this album. To make sense of what orchestral/instrumental parts we wrote there’s two arrangers involved, which turned into weeks of orchestral instrumental recording. Suck din Barny and Ian! Have fun mixing boys!

AMR: There’s been mention of string orchestras and grand pianos during the recording process, can you talk about their involvement?

D: Yeah, it happened and we took footage [to prove it]. Actually we didn’t realise how much orchestral stuff we do until we recorded this album. I think next album we’ll make fucking ELO look like a pan-pipe band. With the piano it was always going to have to be a grand. Three of us in the band have the crippling fault of character wherever there is a piano in sight, we must (fight each other in order to) play it. We notice piano shops while on tour. One day Luke wants to own a red one.

AMR: What can we expect from the debut album – song-wise. Will there be tracks from the Naked EP as well as previous singles – or can we expect mostly new material?

D: A bit of both! The Naked EP is an Australian-only release but there’ll be tracks from that on the album, re-recorded, and they’ll all be new to the UK and European audiences. There’s also talk of a trip to America so it will be totally fresh for those bodacious dudes too.

AMR: Can you discuss some of the songs and how they sound? Track titles for instance, or particular elements and styles you’re creating?

D: The one I want to discuss doesn’t have a name, but Barny wanted to make it sound "relentlessly banging". It has had a few incarnations in the studio, and tons of random instrumentation thrown on it. Sounding good. Elsewhere, there are a few choral and orchestral surprises on there too. One song which also got reincarnated has a kind of mariachi brass orchestra on it. Plus there is ‘prepared piano’ on a cut or two.
AMR: The visual element of your band – the artwork and videos in particular – has always been a key part of your appeal, what are you working on in terms of the album in this regard?

D: Despite always being left to the last minute, we have two towering archangels of visual providence which have selflessly created our visual element so far. They are, Andrew Goldsmith who did the music videos for Westward Backwards and Naked; and Ken Taylor who has done the artwork for the singles we released in Australia and the Naked EP. In terms of what's next, we have a meeting with some video dudes over here in the UK to get a bit more of a run-up for our February single.

AMR: How are you planning to support the album? Are you remaining in Europe to tour and solidify a fanbase or are you returning to Australia triumphant?

D: Not sure. We used to self-manage so it’s great to pass a lot of those decisions onto people who know what they’re doing much better than us. We have an absolutely exceptional team here in the UK and it’s starting to spread into Europe and the USA. I’m really excited to see how the album and next two singles will be received here. We will definitely be releasing those in Australia and return for a tour, some crazy launch shows and festivals. We do miss our crazy Australian launch shows! It will take us a while longer to recreate them at full effect here.

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