INTERVIEW: Ben Salter

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If there’s one thing that Ben Salter (The Gin Club, The Wilson Pickers) always appears to do, it’s to back himself. This time he’s even gone so far as to name his new solo album Back Yourself, and in the spirit of impromptu creativity and capturing songs on the fly he took a new and challenging approach to the writing and recording of the album.

“It was very different. I initially conceived it as being entirely improvised in the studio, says Salter. “I anticipated I’d do it fairly cheaply in friends’ studios, write the songs, record quickly and keep it playful – but if you don’t have any ideas when you get to the studio it can go downhill fairly quickly!” he laughs.

“We did a couple of weeks like that in Tasmania but came away with far less material than I’d hoped and it didn’t quite work as I’d thought. I had someone offer me help to finish it and they put me onto producer Chris Townend in Melbourne. I told him my plan and what I’d done and he was down with doing some more of the improv thing but I was kind of lamenting the fact that I hadn’t written the songs and that I’d gone about it this way. I think it ended up being good in the end though, I think it works,” reflects Salter.

Attention to detail and willingness to experiment with the songs to find their most interesting form made for an equally thrilling and frustrating process, but one that ultimately yielded the most rewarding results. ”There’d be days when we’d sit there, take songs apart and replace every single part – different bass lines, instrumentation etc. It ended up being a mix of what I’d anticipated and some studio re-working. It was quite challenging at times to go into the studio and just have nothing and be plagued by the normal doubts with the added indignity of not having any actual songs! Now in hindsight I can see that the impulses and instincts that drive the creation are still intact,” says Salter.

“I don’t really write for anything in particular,” admits Salter, when asked about his writing process and how it differs as he shifts between musical projects. “A lot of the sound is very much down to the personnel and the vibe. I’ve just finished recording an album with Conor Macdonald from The Gin Club here in Tasmania and Adrian Styles from the band played on it too. When we get together it just automatically has a very Gin Club sound. Some songs just don’t fit with other bands or I want to keep some for my own albums, Salter explains. “Writing these in the studio meant I didn’t even get the chance to make that decision as I needed all the songs I could get!”

Having a hand in a number of project means Salter operates as a full-time musician, yet it is only in the last year or two that he’s started earning what anyone would consider a reasonable amount of money as a recording and touring artist.

“Before that it was constant poverty,” Salter grimly recalls. “It’s certainly not getting easier. I treat it as my own thing – I book my own shows and I’m lucky I have a label who give me money and support. I don’t like it when musicians complain about it being hard. I just think, get another job if you don’t like it. There are plenty of other people who would love the opportunity they have,” says Salter.

“I don’t see things like Spotify being run in a very fair way. It’s hard with intellectual copyright as a musician,” states Salter, before switching his attention to the positive side of being a working musician. “Playing live, it’s never been better. If you’re willing to work and play all the time and you’re halfway decent, you can do it all the time. With the internet and email I can organise a NZ tour and a tour of Japan. It’s not rocket science. I’ve never been able to afford hotels all the time and you get a bit worn out but I wouldn’t swap it for anything to be honest.”

CHRIS FAMILTON

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NEW MUSIC: Zola Jesus – Exhumed

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Zola Jesus returns with the first single from Okovi, her new album on Sacred Bones Records, due out Sept 8th.

It finds Nicole Hummel in fine form, juxtaposing dramatic flurries of strings, industrial electronic rhythms and low frequency bass thrums as she backgrounds her lead vocal with the deathly howl of her self-voiced choir. There’s a turbulent, anxious and haunting feel to the song that seems to be addressing death, rebirth and the shadowy netherworld that lies between both.

ALBUM REVIEW: Boris – Dear

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Boris are now 25 years into a career that has stretched from the barren expanse of doom to hazy dream pop renderings and onto avant garde soundscapes and blistering, psychedelic punk rock. They hone in on a style and explore it to its logical extreme. On Dear they again hit the heavy button but this time they go deep into the detail, exploring both heaviosity and spaciousness.

There is usually a reactionary element to the way Boris approach a new album and given that their last release, Noise (2014), blended space rock, grunge and prog it was to be expected they’d retreat into the shadows again and dispense with traditional rock song structures. Dear is post-metal deconstructed and amplified. The drums sound like they were recorded in a cavernous tomb, the guitars are distorted to the point where they sound like sonic locusts and the bass rumbles with tectonic gravitas.

Boris haven’t abandoned their rockets tendencies altogether though. ‘Absolutego’ lumbers and crashes with both punk and metal ferocity, ‘Biotope’ is weighty shoegaze not dissimilar to Smashing Pumpkins, ‘Dystopia (Vanishing Point)’ sounds like J Mascis shredding over Pink Floyd and ‘Beyond’ pushes the limits of quiet/loud dynamics. Boris are at their best in these kinds of songs, where they find that sweet spot between noise and melody and where those contrasting elements blend and overlap, combining to produce emotional and physical music.

The rest of the album is much more introspective and indulgent, albeit in a fascinating way from the perspective of sonic architecture and sound design. Thunderous and screaming chords hang in the air, crashing drums enter and exit at seemingly random moments and Wata’s lead guitar is gloriously alien in the way it is played and processed. The ideal way to experience these songs would be standing directly in front of the band’s amplifiers, all on 11, feeling the sound as much as hearing it. ‘Karego’ threatens to melt speaker cones with the density and drone of the guitars while ‘The Power’ sounds like an attempt at inter-dimensional communication with everything in the red, bristling and pushing at its digital fabric.

The human voices in closer ‘Dear’ are guttural and exultant. A primitive greeting card and the most organic moment on the record. It sounds like Boris laid bare, a monumental encapsulation of their music and given that initially Dear was intended as a possible farewell record, it’s an open-ended way to finish the album and leaves both Boris and their fans asking where the trio will go next.

Chris Familton

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Forest Swords – Engravings

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This is Matthew Barnes’ first album on Ninja Tunes and if anyone thought that might mean a softening of his more caustic edges then they are mistaken.

Primarily instrumental electronic music, the vocals that do appear are generally spliced and twisted into choirs, like machines speaking in tongues. These are digital compositions but he still retains a primitive, organic percussive base to his sound.

Less dub-influenced than on Engravings (2013), Compassion still possesses the disorientating, otherworldly psychedelic patina that he coats his music in. It’s an often impressive and immersive exercise in ancient futurism that works both as an imagined soundtrack and a transportive headphone experience.

Chris Familton

 

LIVE REVIEW: Kirin J Callinan @ Oxford Art Factory

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Kirin J Callinan, Spike Fuck, Hviske @ Oxford Art Factory, June 10th 2017

Sydney has produced a number of forward thinking songwriter/musicians in recent years who blend differing levels of theatricality into their performances. From Jack Ladder to Alex Cameron and Mossy, they all cultivate a persona and carefully consider an image as part of their creativity. Kirin J Callinan though, is out on his limb of kaleidoscopic eccentricity.

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Hviske were cruelly given low volume as the first act and it was a disservice for their industrial -tinged techno sound that requires an immersive sound for full effect. Augmented by the buried vocals of Kusum Normoyle which acted as another instrument rather than a lyrical tool, they showed enough (at low volume) to suggest they strike a nice balance between headphones and the dancefloor.

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Spike Fuck is another emerging enigma, from the challenging moniker to an ambiguous fashion sense, she sang over laptop backing tracks, peppering the songs with Alan Vega-styled whoops and an emotionally battered yet righteous blend of Las Vegas croon, country pastiche and melancholy-drenched synth music. There was plenty to like in her performance though adding a backing band would really allow her music to shine in the live sense.

One microphone, bathed in a sea of blue light. A static image delayed for minutes before a large brimmed, heavy-jacketed figure strode on-stage. The unmistakeable figure of Kirin J Callinan had arrived, taking the audience from the first and owning them until the final parting clang of heavily treated guitar.

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Callinan and band mixed it up, digging into both the Embracism and Bravado albums. Like Bowie taking his stage cues from Lindsay Kemp, Callinan has created a distinct stage manner of grand gestures, quirky dance moves and facial expressions that run the gamut from knowing sleaze to innocent glee.

Many of the new album tracks worked even better live, stripped off their production sheen and layers. My Moment was epic EDM, Callinan playing the build and drop to the hilt. Living Each Day was a perfect twee pop song, from the audience’s response S.A.D felt like a hit single, while Family Home showed at the heart of the pomp and primp it’s the strength of songwriting that holds everything up.

An audience member tore Callinan’s leather cod-piece from his person, exposing him literally and figuratively yet he embraced the moment and made the most of the opportunity to test and titillate his audience. This was a magnificent return home for Sydney’s singular pop provocateur.

Chris Familton

INTERVIEW: Kirin J Callinan

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BEHIND THE BRAVADO

Down the line from LA, where he’s between tours with Pond and Mac DeMarco, Kirin J. Callinan gives Chris Familton an insight into the creative process behind his new album Bravado and why it took four years to complete.

Kirin J. Callinan is something of a modern day renaissance man, a polymorphic pop provocateur who revels in stretching creative boundaries and treading a fine line between the sublime and the ridiculous. His debut album Embracism explored industrial tension and bittersweet balladry but Bravado takes a different kind of maximalist approach, combining brash, over-the-top EDM synths with Callinan’s trademark effect-laden guitar playing, answerphones, didgeridoos, whistling and that voice that recalls the orotund tones of Scott Walker, Matt Johnson (The The) and Alan Vega (Suicide). It’s a bold transition, yet it’s not a great departure from his core aesthetic.

“I wanted to make the same record again and explore the same ideas and the weirdness I’d created but push it further. In the past there was this moody, kind of violent, shadowy, industrial murkiness with all these spiritual ballads. I wanted those electronic sounds that were previously industrial and threatening to now be inclusive and fun. The ballads were previously more poetic and self-serious. I wanted the new ones to have a more heightened sentimentality and be more inclusive and accessible, rather than the idea of being elitist or cool. I wanted to do away with all that and make it fun,” he stresses.

“I kind of hated this record and didn’t feel motivated to finish it,” recalls Callinan, when asked why four years have passed since he released his debut solo album. “The truth is that the vast majority of this record was a made in 2014. The songs were written then and they haven’t changed much since mid-2015. I guess what did change was my perspective. I was able to flick a switch and love all the things I hated about it and see it for what it was and understand its beauty and humanity and the truth in its ugliness, bombast and bravado.”

Callinan was encouraged to finish the album when “a bunch of different guests, who made cameos on the record, heard what I had and wanted to be part of it. That definitely fills you with confidence when you have doubt over something.” Some collaborations were with friends while others such as Jimmy Barnes and the Finn family were happy accidents that he pursued. “I emailed Jimmy and told him I was a fan of his music and particularly his scream. I didn’t hear back for months and eventually I landed in LA and in my inbox he’d sent me a bunch of WAV files of him screaming and I worked it into the song which was cool!” enthuses Callinan.

When it comes to how Bravado will be received, Callinan is already looking ahead to the next album. “I already have a completely crystallised view of what I want the next album to be. I’m going to start work on it in Las Vegas where there is absurdity, amorality and the idea that there is no good or bad, just wanton desire. It’s a strange place with a mix of families, tourists, gambling, prostitution, extreme wealth and poverty, the desert and bright neon lights. I’ll be getting to work on that at the first opportunity.”

“No matter what people say about Bravado, it’s original and singular which is more than can be said for a lot of things. I’ve been and excited and validated by the response to it so far. It’s nothing new for me to be divisive. If they like it or hate it, who gives a fuck.”

NEW MUSIC: The Bug Vs Earth – Snakes Vs Rats from their new LP Concrete Desert

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Dylan Carlson (Earth) has once again teamed up with The Bug’s Kevin Martin (Techno Animal, Ice, God, Razor X, King Midas Sound), this time for a full-length LP called Concrete Desert. The album also features guest vocals from Justin Broadrick from Jesu/Godflesh etc on two tracks. Below you can hear the first taste of the album – ‘Snakes Vs Rats’.

Martin says that the album is in some ways a Los Angeles-set companion piece to London Zoo. The record’s beautiful, chiming melodies are like shards of sonic light, glowing in currents of heavy bass darkness. There are pulsing soundscapes, ambient pinks and whites, and irresistible grooves. This is music that grips you entirely, and catches you in its lava-flow – an astonishing, primal album of vast depth.

Inspired by J.G. Ballard’s urban dystopias, Concrete Desert could be understood as reflecting a “mistrust of “Hollywoodisms”, the shadow of Hollywood fantasy that looms large over life in LA, and the USA in general. “Dylan’s a master at amplifying the flavour of America,” Martin says, “but not the side we see in this Trump climate.” For Martin, the “American dream is like a nightmare under Trump” but Dylan captures the “best side of that dream, a utopian openess…I hear the writing of Cormac McCarthy in his music. His playing conjures deserts, and wide open spaces.”

Concrete Desert is out 24th March via Ninja Tune. Preorders available HERE

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LIVE REVIEW: My Disco @ Newtown Social Club

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My Disco, Marcus Whale, Hviske @ Newtown Social Club, 11 February 2017

Minimalism shaping grand emotion was the order of the night at NSC for My Disco’s last stop on their summer tour. From the headliners down through Marcus Whale and opening duo Hviske, there was a common thread of space, intensity and the blurring of technology and organic instrumentation to create dramatic musical pieces.

Hviske are Kusum Normoyle and Ivan Lisyak and they generated a densely rhythmic mix of techno and cold wave electronica that hit the occasional peak but for the most part settled into a rewarding mix of hard surface sounds and minor melodic excursions. Live, Normoyle’s vocals were the weak-point compared to the more layered and integrated sound on their recordings and she seemed unsettled and distracted, never fully immersing herself in the music.

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Marcus Whale’s solo work seems to go to another level every time I see him live. Flanked by two drummers with stripped down kits (tom, snare, ride cymbal) and performing over backing tracks Whale took us deep into his album Inland Sea, his voice urging, consoling and serenading the audience with conviction and passion. The closest comparison is Bjork’s more recent work crossed with avant hip hop and dark electronica. A compelling performance.

My Disco have progressively peeled back the layers of their sound with each new album, whilst simultaneously ratcheting up the tension and their avant garde leanings. They are still a band of guitar, bass and drums but they now sound like a raw machine, ominous and commanding with their instruments often bathed in as much silence as coruscating noise, relentless drones and repetition. King Sound set the scene with Liam Andrews intoning those two words like an android with a glitch in its system while guitarist Benjamin Andrews scattered shards of distortion across the audience at high volume. The heartbeat of the band is still Rohan Rebeiro who brings the most humanistic element to their music, he controls the machine with his blend of doom and jazz-tinged tribalism. Their intensity and commitment to their sonic aesthetic is what defines My Disco, from throwing in an overlong drum solo to the complete lack of audience interaction, they have their own musical eco-system which made their set feel like we were temporary visitors to their fascinating, hypnotic and shadowy world.

Chris Familton