INTERVIEW: Aldous Harding (2017)

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The New Zealand folk singer arrived with a reputation for unsettling live performances which suggested a fragile personality that was, at the same time, quite unique and creatively courageous. Aldous Harding wrote and sang like a distant echo from archaic times. It was heart-on-sleeve stuff but delivered with a a theatrical bent that sounded quite magnificent and intriguing but perhaps obfuscated the content of her songwriting. Now, on her second album Party, she continues the mystique but brings it blinking and still resolutely eccentric, into a clearer and ultimately more rewarding spotlight.

“I would’ve taken to the fucking hills back then. It wasn’t a great time,” says Harding, grimly recalling her emotional state around the time of the release of her debut album. “It’s getting easier now and I want the music to get the attention it deserves but I do still struggle with the attention in a sense that I don’t want things like rushed answers or awkward interviews or weird promo shots to detract in any way from what I want to do musically.”

This new streak of creative self-confidence and a clear vision of where Harding wants to take her music is catapulting her into a comprehensive touring and media schedule for the rest of 2017 yet, in her mind, it’s all part of the game when you’re passionately pursuing your muse. “It’s definitely a step-up in terms of what’s expected of me. In terms of press, touring, photos. I’ve always felt pressure to write good music and to be honest I do put a bit more pressure on myself to write better music but that’s what most artists do,” admits Harding. “They’re always trying to make the next one better. I just want to make better music than I do now, however I don’t even really know what that will sound like yet. I just want to write good songs and put them out with the support of a label.”

Harding travelled from the South Island of New Zealand to Bristol, England to record the album with acclaimed producer and musician John Parish (PJ Harvey, Sparklehorse, Eels). That experience was surprisingly painless for someone who in the past has discussed the emotional stress of recording her songs.

“It was good, it felt natural and John made it really easy,” Harding enthuses. “We were really professional about it, not a lot of mucking around. We sat down had coffee and went straight into ‘Imagining My Man’ and didn’t stop until the record was done. There were quite a few elements and we had to figure out what I wanted to do with them, filling up songs that were written quietly. John was very patient too,” she concedes. “Perfume Genius and Laura Jean, they were two records he’d produced where I could feel where I might want Party to go and so I got his email and sent over the demos. Within three or four months I was over there. It felt like it happened really quickly.”

Party contains a more direct, less obtuse style of songwriting, particularly lyrically, yet Harding is reticent to identify any specific life events or emotional changes that may have contributed to the shift. Instead she explains it as part of her natural artistic evolution.

“Art just develops and I’m getting older and I’m listening to new music that I haven’t heard before. I definitely have a free feeling where I don’t feel like I have to write anything in particular. I’m not bound to any genre or that I have to always be dark. I’m not working from a manual, I’m just trying to write decent songs,” Harding reiterates. “ You should be able to go wherever you want.”

Chris Familton

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NEW MUSIC: Jep and Dep – Helpless City

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Sydney duo Jep and Dep are releasing their sophomore album THEY’VEBEENCALLED this week and as well as a release show last The Gaelic Club on Friday (see below), they’ve just released the second single from the album – ‘Helpless City’. Check out the impressive clip – the perfect accompaniment to a song about encroaching gentrification and what happens when the heart of a city is slowly but surely concreted over and the human spirit is dampened and demoralised. It’s all beautifully rendered in intimate and haunting reverb and an eerie mood.

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ALBUM REVIEW: The Tall Grass – Down The Unmarked Road

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Jamie Hutchings (Bluebottle Kiss, Infinity Broke) and Peter Fenton (Crow) have come together as The Tall Grass, which began as a live acoustic duo project before being expanded upon and sonically coloured in the studio with a wide-ranging band sound.

It’s still on the laid-back vibe though – wistful, poetic, and melancholic. The sound of their other bands is still evident, particularly Hutchings with his more distinct vocal stylings but it’s wholly a collaborative effort with the pair playing off each other with a melodic ebb and flow, tension and release.

Songs are expertly built on close harmonies and traded lines, guitars that weave in and out and springboard off each other amid melodic bass lines, field recordings and jazz-leaning drums and percussion. It all comes back to the songs though, and Moller, The Buyer Beware, The Two O’Clock and Little City in particular, match the best either has written in the past.

I keep mentioning the strength of songwriting and the interplay between the two musicians but it is the hallmark of a collaborative project when the creative lines between the artists are blurred, carry equal weight and ultimately the art is the sum of its parts. There’s a delicate tenderness to the music here, built on mutual respect and the willingness by both Hutchings and Fenton to explore the shadows and sunlit corners of emotion and experience.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: The Tall Grass – Moller

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The Tall Grass (Peter Fenton & Jamie Hutchings) recently launched their debut album Down The Unmarked Road, marking the occasion with a couple of full band shows. Now they have a video clip for one of the album’s many highlights, ‘Moller’. The song references King St, Newtown and the song’s namesake, friend and fellow musician Chris Moller (Midget, Starboard, Blood Relative) who died five years ago.

Read an article about Hutchings’ memories of Chris Moller.

The Tall Grass play another full band show on Friday July 7th at LazyBones in Marrickville.

LIVE REVIEW: Cash Savage & The Last Drinks

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Cash Savage & The Last Drinks, Mere Women, Jep and Dep @ The Factory Floor, Sydney (26.05.17)

Jep and Dep are on the downhill run to the release of their second LP, due for release in August, making this a chance to hear a brace of new tracks alongside songs from their debut Word Got Out. As is their fascinating dynamic, the duo exchanged barbed witty comments with each other and the audience before dovetailing into stark and dark folk songs framed by Darren Cross’ fine acoustic fingerpicking and Jessica Cassar’s high and lonesome voice which hung in the air with melancholic poise.

Mere Women are a band who’ve slowly built a strong reputation in the last few years with their three albums that showcase their engaging post-punk sound. Live they delivered and in some cases exceeded expectations. Front-person Amy Wilson is the human conduit into their jagged, coruscating sound where the drums stopped, started and tumbled, the bass provided the heartbeat and Flyn McKinnirey’s guitar created washes of sound and urgent collisions of effect-laden notes. It was a big and intense sound but one that was wholly the sum of its impressive parts.

Cash Savage is still riding high on the critical success of last year’s album One Of Us and based on this performance the songs have become even more vibrant and dynamic than when the band first toured them upon the album’s release. There was a relaxed intensity that permeated the set, the songs surging on with an ebb and flow and the band enjoying the sonic ride in their slipstream. Savage is still the focal point, that resolute stare across the audience, the clenching of teeth, stalking of the stage and slow-mo ducking and weaving like a boxer coyly sizing up their opponent. There was both a menace and euphoria to her voice as The Last Drinks traveled the length of One Of Us, drawing power and passion from Run With The Dogs, Rat-a-Tat-Tat and the album’s title track, just three highlights among many. A faultless performance from one of this country’s finest.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Jep and Dep – Cruel Moon (video)

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Jep and Dep are back with ‘Cruel Moon’, the first single from their forthcoming second LP, due out this August. Over the last couple of years they’ve developed a cohesive and atmospheric style, built on strong monochromatic imagery in their photos and videos – the perfect marriage to their sparse, sometimes lush, always compelling folk-noir sound.

Jessica Cassar and Darren Cross take a strong conceptual approach to their craft and so we chatted with Cassar to find a bit more about the songwriting and video-making process.

SONGWRITING AND RECORDING

“Like all of our songs, ‘Cruel Moon’ was a collaborative effort between the two of us. We always write our songs together. The difference with ‘Cruel Moon’ is that I sung all vocals and Darren played the guitar unlike our other songs were we might sing separate parts or harmonise. We didn’t feel ‘Cruel Moon’ needed much more that as we felt the vocals and guitar were equally strong and spoke to each other beautifully. In terms of recording, Darren produced the whole album and composed most of the arrangements, adding his signature ambient sounds. The song (and the album) has a pretty creepy vibe as we recorded it between 12-5am as Darren’s studio was wedged between a years worth of constant renovations from the neighbours. Recording at that time fucking annoyed us at first, but it actually turned into a positive and contributed to the song (and albums) overall darkness.”

THE VIDEO

“We have not collaborated too many times with our clips, partly due to finances but mostly because we enjoy making our videos. As Jep and Dep’s aesthetic is pretty strong and signature it was important for us not to compromise on that and have people understand that. Having said that, collaborating with other artists is never just about you, it’s a joint effort with many ideas coming together, so it was just as important for us to be a bit more flexible. You can see that coming through with ‘Cruel Moon’ as it takes more of a narrative and traditional flow we had not experimented with before, which ended up working well for the film-noir inspired clip the team (Isabella Andronos, director) came up with.”

THE NEW ALBUM

“We plan to independently release our second album in August, much like we did with Word Got Out. We feel this album has solidified our “folk-noir” sound and pushed us much further into a Lynchian, noir-core realm. It’s far more minimal than Word Got Out and far more haunting.”

Jep and Dep officially launch the single at Golden Age Cinema & Bar in Surry Hills, Sydney on May 25th.