INTERVIEW: Lee Ranaldo (2012)

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The common impression of Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo is one of a polymorphic artist with ideas constantly tumbling out as spoken word, art and of course music. His collaborative projects are numerous, as are the publications of his poetry and one senses he is totally consumed by the creative process. With this in mind as we chatted over the phone from his New York home it was slightly surprising to hear that he was preparing to head to Nova Scotia in Canada for a few weeks of rest and relaxation the following day. 

“Sometimes it is nice to not have any agenda and just be out experiencing things but usually downtime involves moving from one art form to another. Usually one is a vacation from doing the other so when I’m not touring I get to work on drawings or something else in my studio.” he explains.

Having his fingers in a number of artistic pies allows Ranaldo flexibility in how he expresses himself creatively and as he explains, none of the disciplines he works in are mutually exclusive. 

“I see myself first and foremost as an artist who doesn’t work in a particular field. I’m interested in visual artists whether that’s painting, drawings and cinema and I’m interested in language whether it be writing as poems or stories or journals or lyrics and I’m interested in music and I feel like they feed each other. Its really all about tapping into creativity in whichever area you work in. I’m pretty active in visual arts these days, I’ve got work in shows in a few different places right now and I’m always writing and putting out new small books of poetry. The things feed off each other. The words end up on canvas, the music informs ideas for cinema and spoken word finds its way into some of the performance events.”

The most prominent of Ranaldo’s recent projects in the wake of the Sonic Youth hiatus enforced by Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore’s split is his solo record Between The Times & The Tides. Ranaldo has released solo works in the past but this album sees him working primarily in a standard rock band format and in fact was written and recorded prior to the current hibernation of his main band.

“This record was done during one of those periods before we found out what was going on between Thurston and Kim. Over the last decade we’ve built a lot of time into our schedule for people to work on their own projects outside Sonic Youth. I’m thankful it was done before I had any inkling of that stuff so it was done as normal without any added pressure that my band was stopping or anything like that.”

Though the album is predominantly an electric guitar, rock album, the songs started life acoustically in Ranaldo’s lounge room before undergoing a process that included the addition of a rhythm section and a number of guest appearances from friends he had collaborated with on other musical projects. 

“I wouldn’t say it came about by accident but I wasn’t really planning to make a record like this. The songs just started coming out and I performed the first couple that I wrote and that led to writing some more. I started off thinking it was going to be an acoustic and voice record and then it ended up as this rock band record so it just built in this very natural, organic way from the very first tunes that came out of my acoustic guitars in my living room,” explains Ranaldo.

“Early on I got Steve (Shelley) to play drums on a few things and right away we decided we’d try to find a bass player and put a rhythm section on some of the songs. That’s how we started tracking the record, with bass, drums and me and then I invited everyone else in to play after that, so the structures were pretty well worked out and there was a framework for people to get an idea of what I was looking for in each song. The songs were just coming out and I was following them, I wasn’t trying to make them into anything they weren’t.”

“It’s been a really fun process and just as surprising to me as any one else at this point. I still say that for me to make a more traditional singer/songwriter record like this – on one hand it is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – on the other hand it is as experimental a phase in my career as all the other experimental things I’ve done from spoken word to noisy music to film soundtracks.” 

Though Between The Times And The Tides is a solo record there are contributions from a number of guest musicians that are essential to making the songs sound as detailed and expansive as they do.

“There is a certain group of people playing on them, a lot of friends and collaborators from various points in my life from Sonic Youth members like Steve Shelley and Jim O’Rourke to Alan Licht. Nels Cline and John Medeski also played on the album and they’ve worked with me on various other projects over the years so it was really fun to make the record and see these songs come up,” says Ranaldo enthusiastically.

Rather than collecting together a group of songs, tacking on some cover art and sending them out into the world, Ranaldo was determined to create an album in the traditional sense where there is an ebb and flow and a narrative to both the music and the packaging. Like so much of the cross-pollination in his work, the initial seed for the album came from a photograph.

“It really started with this picture of me that we used on the front cover. I was writing the first of these songs and I did an interview with some people for a documentary and one of the guys took those pictures and when he sent me that one I thought “wow, this looks it would be a really cool album cover”. That goaded me into writing the record, to wrap in this package in a sense,” explains Ranaldo. “I was very aware it was going to be an album, with a gatefold and liner notes about the sessions and the feeling that “this is going to be the last song on side one,” so there was a grouping of songs you could listen to as a side of a record. We pretty much thought we were making a vinyl record right up until it was done and then we had to prepare the CD issue. So many records these days devolve into being about one or two songs and bunch of others so we were really trying to make a group of songs that hung together in an interesting way.”

“I really wanted it to be a personal record harking back to a singer/songwriter album like they were when I was listening to records like that in the 60s and 70s, where it would be a window on somebody’s life and you hoped you’d find a commonality and shared experience from listening to it. Records then were these experiences that they’re not really now. You’d get a record and pore over the liner notes and who played on each track and they’d stay with you longer and be this real listening experience. Even if it was for no one other than me I wanted this record to be made in that kind of mindset.“

Looking back to those early years of folk rock as inspiration for the format of Between The Times And The Tides was also in keeping with the musical inspiration for the songs in their initial incarnations. 

“I was playing acoustic guitars again seriously for the first time in ages so I guess that really took me back to certain things I listened to when I was much younger, when I was predominately an acoustic guitar player – whether it was John Fahey or  Leo Kottke or David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Velvet Underground and Reverend Gary Davis – all kinds of people that were working with open guitar tunings.”

As our conversation winds up there is the matter of addressing the elephant on the phone line, the future prospects for Sonic Youth. Together for 31 years, they are currently in a holding phase while each member explores other projects and Moore and Gordon are given the space to decide whether they can still work together artistically.

“We are all enjoying the freedom to do other things as we have done for many, many years over the lifetime of the band,” says Ranaldo. “None of us are in any way even thinking about or certainly not talking to each other about ideas of what might or might not happen. The idea of getting to that point is a long, long way off. I have no doubt that we’re all going to continue. We are all doing interesting things now and that spirit that has driven us all these years isn’t just going to dry up if we stop working together. I wouldn’t say building towards this but we’ve really prepared ourselves well by over the last ten or fifteen years being involved in lots of independent projects outside Sonic Youth. It’s easy to fill time, the challenge is filling it in a significant way and all of us get offers to do various things all year long.”

Chris Familton

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TOUR DIARY: Mark Moldre

TOUR DIARY: MARK MOLDRE

PROLOGUE

Sleepwalker, I feel my way through forest and gorge
Fantastically around me a magic circle glows
Not caring whether I courted or cursed
I follow truly my inner calling
– Herman Hesse

1
photo by Jared Harrison

I’ve never had any delusions of grandeur about my musical place in Australia
I’ve struggled to make any kind of mark
In my last 3 decades of making music
I’ve never really been sure about where I fit
In the Australian musical landscape
Are my musical meanderings alt-country?
Nope, not really
Americana?
I’m still not sure about that term when it comes to Australian music
Folk?
I think I get too noisy for that crowd
Blues?
Well there’s a deep well of history there
That draws from tough living and emotional lyrical depth
Music that I love
But today it’s often just a genre full of clichés
And guitar poses
And when it’s coming from some guy brought up in the
Eastern Suburbs of NSW
It just feels wrong
So, nope again

I fall between the cracks in the musical pavement
Where the weeds grow and the dust collects
Where insects hide and the unsuspecting trip

What I do know now after all these years
Is that I love songs and not genres
I really don’t care what box I’m supposed to fit into
Because I finally feel that I have found my place
As corny as this may sound
I believe I now have a place to lay my hat
It may be a small area
And maybe I have Holiday Fever
Or it’s my European heritage calling me
But I feel that France
And in particular the wonderful people of Binic
Is the place that I could happily call my musical home

THE JOURNEY

Songs that I sang before come
Softly once again
And the shadows of uncounted journeys
Cross my way
– Herman Hesse

First there were 2
Adam Lang and I
Are starting this journey together at my place
We’re already having trouble with luggage weight requirements
My box of merch being the main problem
So we start trying to spread socks, CDs, underpants and guitar leads
Throughout our carry on
My guitar even becomes a suitcase when
I roll up all my T-shirts and stuff them inside the soundhole
Once the weight is all distributed we start the drive to Sydney
Vaucluse to be exact…

And then there were 3
The current home of Scott Hutchings 
Is a house where I spent many hours as a child
Due to the fact that
Scott, Jamie and I grew up as childhood besties
We get to bed reasonably early as
We’ve got a dawn Uber booked to get us to the airport
Sleep
Shower and
Load the car
Waiting at the airport for us is the rest of our party…

Now our Gypsy Caravan of 7 is complete
Adam Lang (banjo/slide player extraordinaire)
Scott Hutchings (Tub Thumper and dragging a newly acquired Fender Jag)
Jamie Hutchings (Jazzmaster destroyer)
Reuben Wills (Slap bass enthusiast)
Jared Harrison (another tub thumper)
And Peter Fenton (Savant and ukulele destroyer)
And me (excessive talker)

2
photo by Airport Stranger

This motley crew will make up 3 bands
Infinity Broke
The Tall Grass
And my ensemble
Jamie, Reuben and Scott will play in all three
As to whether or not they will survive the fact
That some days will require them to play three sets in a row
Remains to be seen
Remembering about 35 songs
For three very different line ups
Is
a
mammoth
task
And rehearsals have been intense but sparse

We all manage to check in with no issues
Only Adam is pulled aside to have his toothpaste confiscated
Illegal contraband apparently
Boarding is smooth sailing
And we’re up in the air in no time
China Southern was the cheapest flight
And I was expecting the worst
But we are all pleasantly surprised
With the fine service
The fellas all chow down on the airline food
And Chinese beers
But unfortunately my ridiculous dietary requirements caused by
A red meat allergy
Which brings on delayed anaphylaxis
Hives and huge marble sized lumps all over my body
(Believe it or not it was brought on by a tick bite a few years back)
And a disorder called Hereditary Fructose Intolerance
Which means my liver can’t break down sugars
Natural or otherwise
(And I’m going to the land of fine food…the sad irony!)
Means that I pick a little from each meal
And practice fasting

I try reading my book
Crime and Punishment
But I keep hearing the protagonist, Raskolnikov
Whining in Woody Allen’s voice
His constant state of stressed babbling in his own mind
Is making some anxious inflight reading
So I revert to movie watching
And before I know it we’re in Guangzhou
For what was meant to be a 6 ½ hour stop over….
And it’s 36 degrees

We book ourselves into an Airport lounge
And take advantage of the wi-fi
(only to find that none of the usual social media apps
or forms of communication really work at all)
Showers
Food
Drink
Comfy chairs
The closest we can get to
Airport heaven
Until they tell us its time to move on
It’s at this point that we discover our plane has been delayed
Another couple of hours
So almost a day in total spent in the airport
And even though there’s not a scrap of carpet in the airport
Just highly polished floors
Reuben sets up camp and sleeps on the floor
Eventually we make our way back onto a plane
And sleep is now calling us all

3
photo by Jamie Hutchings

PARIS AIRPORT

I’m strictly a tourist but I couldn’t care less
When they parlez-vous me then I gotta confess
That’s for me: Bonjour Paris!
– Funny Face – Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Kay Thompson

4
photo by Mark Moldre

We arrive in Paris at about 7am
We collect our gear without a hitch
And make our way through customs
Adam is again stopped and asked to open his banjo case
And give an impromptu banjo performance to the officers
We search for the railway whilst dragging copious amounts of luggage
With a few hours to kill before our train arrives
Peter and I play at an airport piano
I make my first effort at purchasing some French food
My terrible efforts at speaking a few French niceties
Quickly turns into mumbling and
Incredible destruction of a few simple French words
I figure it’s better from here on that I remain silent as much as possible
Our train arrives and getting the gear onboard amongst the Parisian masses
Makes for some Laurel and Hardy style hilarity
With us all blocking the aisle of the train
Causing much exasperation to the Parisians behind us trying to get a seat
And culminates in Adam receiving a heavy blow to the head
As an unwieldy guitar case falls from the rack
Adam takes this in good humour
But heads straight to the bar carriage to numb his wounds

CAPTAIN LUDO

We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken. – Dostoevsky

5
photo by Scott Hutchings

We arrive in St Brieuc and here I have my first opportunity
To meet the man who made this whole trip possible
Jamie has already prepared me for meeting the Festival Director
And the fact that he
Personally
Turns up to drive us to Binic
Speaks volumes about his long term friendship
With Jamie, Scott, Jared and Reubs
Who have all been here before
In fact this marks Jamie’s 5th time to play the festival
We all receive the traditional kiss on each cheek
And hugs all round
Ludo is a real French character
Gregarious
Tough and wiry
Looking like a heavily tattooed biker
Master of a “sale blague”
A straight, no nonsense talker when
It comes to getting things done
(Whilst simultaneously talking in riddle speak)
No one ever questions his authority
The respect he receives from everyone
Is plain to see
Yet as I discovered as time went on
The man is sentimental
Nostalgic and has
A heart of gold
A love of music
And is beyond generous
Here also we meet Felix and Etienne
Who will prove to be immense help to us
Over the next few days
New friendships are quickly formed
And reignited
But for now we must begin our first “mission”
We head to Binic
Check into the hotel and
Reconvene at Ludo’s bar
“Le Chaland Qui Passe”
Which becomes our HQ for the rest of the stay

6
photo by Jared Harrison

BINIC

A small town is a place where a woman spends hours talking on the phone, when having dialed the wrong number – Robert Lamoureux

Checking in to our hotel “Benhuyc”

7
photo by Mark Moldre

We meet our extremely hospitable hosts
Claire and Pascal
I’ll be sharing a room with the Hutchings brothers
A wistful experience for all three of us
Reminding us of childhood sleepovers and teenage camping trips
Reinforcing old bonds of a strong, lifelong friendship
Jared, Reuben and Adam take another room
And Peter gets a private suite all to himself
Scott, Jamie and I
Shake off the jet lag by going for a swim in the seaside pool
Followed by drinks at Ludo’s bar
The boys all down local beers
Once again due to my ridiculously painful diet
I ask Ludo for my only drink of choice – gin
He stares me square in the eye and says
“What is wrong with you?!!!”

8
photo by Mark Moldre

We head to a restaurant
Where I get to enjoy my first French meal
Fenton orders a huge pot of local mussels and clams
Magnifique!
I order my very first Galette
A traditional French meal I can actually eat
A savoury buckwheat pancake
With fillings of your choice
For me:
Fromage (cheese), champignons (mushroom), Oeuf (egg)
This becomes a staple for me while in Binic
As every second restaurant and take away has them on the menu
The sun goes down slow in Binic
By about 10pm it is still light
And we start to trudge back to our hotel rooms
I’m still too tired and overwhelmed to take in the town
I crash quickly and sleep soundly
Jamie and I wake as the sun is coming up
And wander down to the beach for a swim
(Scott has already been)
The town of Binic is sleepy in the mornings
There’s little activity
No early morning joggers
No dog walkers
Shops are closed and the streets are empty
For the first time I get to take in the
European beauty of this little town
A fishing village centered around a small harbour
Lots of restaurants, a few shops
A magnificent old church
And buildings made from stone fill the streets
Quaint architecture surrounding a beautiful seaside

9
photo by Jared Harrison

Jamie and I swim at the beach
The water is cold but it
Washes away the last of the
Fuzzy jetlagged feeling in our brains
On the walk back
I start to get the first sense
Of the community here
People are incredibly friendly
Stopping their cars in the middle of the street
To get out and say hello to friends
Friends are all greeted with kisses and genuine hugs
The sense of excitement about the upcoming festival
Fills the air and conversations
The whole town is abuzz
There are posters in all the shop windows
And I’ve made the front page of the entertainment section in the paper
Exciting for a barely known singer/songwriter from Australia

10
photo by Mark Moldre

Scott and Jamie take me on a small tour of the back streets
Into the majestic old church
Its steeple is a dominant landmark in the Binic skyline
And then we climb the hill
Where the narrow lanes are dotted with small stone houses 

11
photo by Mark Moldre

The views are breathtaking as
I look back towards the small town of Binic from the top
Then the phone rings – and duty calls
The rest of our band mates are at Ludo’s house
Checking over the musical equipment that
 Will make up our backline for the rest of our stay
We walk up to Ludo’s and start picking through
Fender amps and Drum kits
Bass amps and a beautiful old double bass
That Ludo has sourced for Reuben

12
photo by Jared Harrison

Ludo showers us with gifts and Festival merch
Afterwards we wander back down to the hotel
To prepare for our first show

LE GALION

Then he saw them. The gulls. Out there, riding the seas – Daphne Du Maurier

13
photo by Jared Harrison

Our first show is a about a 1½ hour drive away from Binic to Lorient
Lorient is kind of otherworldly
At least the area that we are in
It’s heavily industrial
Strangely deserted
Slightly spooky
It has the air of a place that has been bombed
And then left
Except for
Big, eerie empty buildings and warehouses
Which are covered in incredible graffiti art

14
photo by Adam Lang

Down by the waterfront are
Huge cranes and
Shipping containers
Everything is quiet
Except for the sound of these
Huge gulls
Kinda like those bird sounds in the final scene of
Hitchcock’s “The Birds”
In fact this area would make a perfect spot
To film the end of a thriller
A final chase and shoot out scene in
A 70’s Don Siegel film
Culminating in a finale
Where the villain finally falls from a great height off a crane
Le Galion is the name of the tonight’s venue
And Jean Baptisite is the owner
When we arrive he greets us all with a kiss and hug
His bar is an incredible room filled with curiosities
Stuffed animals, skulls, an old piano with our names in flashing lights

15
photo by Mark Moldre

The room has the feel of an old wooden ship
Our host Jean Baptiste then disappears into the kitchen
We discover later that he is cooking up a
huge
pasta
dish
just
for
us
We sound check but
Almost immediately the back pickup on
Jamie’s Jazzmaster dies
If you’re reading this and you’ve seen Jamie’s main guitar
You may know that it is held together
By stickers and grime
There is mould and mushrooms growing out of the bridge
And the frets have disappeared beneath years of
Bluebottle Kiss sweat
Luckily Adam is a guitar repair whiz
And within seconds his head is buried
Deep beneath Jamie’s scratch plate
(who knows what kind of infection he may have picked up in there)
And his soldering iron is smoking
(yes, he brought one with him!)
After Jamie’s guitar is back in action
We are led upstairs
For a spread that consists of pasta, baguettes, cheese and wine
Provided for
The bands and the crew 16

This of course sparks off a discussion
On the difference between the treatment
Of bands in venues across Australia vs Europe
At most Australian shows it’s hard to get enough
Bottled water or soft drink
For the band
(one exception that I have personally experienced
– Brian Lizotte in Newcastle –
who treats all artists with style)
We have this discussion many times over in the days to come
As the lavish treatment continues throughout our time in Brittany
The room is still empty at 9pm
So we push the start time to 9:30
By the time I get onstage there’s
A small crowd
And our set goes without a hitch
I even sell a couple of CD’s
Nice warm up

17
photo by Jared Harrison

The Tall Grass are up next
This time Peter is plagued with problems
First his ukulele dies
The battery compartment is not closing properly
Rendering his uke all of useless
Adam swings into action again
This time improvising by searching outside the bar
With our intrepid guide/helper/roadie Felix
For a stick to jam into the battery case to hold it in place
Somehow they get it working
Only to find the exact same problem happens to Pete’s guitar
Cursed!
I can see Pete trying to hold the battery case down with his thumb
As he strums awkwardly with his other four fingers
This time I slip onstage and with the magic of gaff tape
I manage to tape it together so he makes it through the set
Jared has become the official band photographer
And he’s capturing loads of great snaps
Next up Infinity Broke
(Scott, Reuben and Jamie are ploughing into their 3rd set as
we head towards midnight)
Jared is also a brilliantly solid drummer
And alongside Scott they lock in together and
Become a single rhythm machine
The show is embellished by one
Male gymnast dancer right up the front
Who is particularly entertaining
With his interpretative dance during
Infinity Broke’s epic 16-minute version of Monsoon
We pack up the van relatively quickly
It’s an incredible privilege and
Extremely unusual for us to
Have roadies helping (what a treat!)
Hotel by about 2:30am
Zzzzzz

SAINT-QUAY PORTRIEUX

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give – Winston Churchill

Neither Jamie nor my sleep patterns have really kicked in
This means about 4am each morning
Jamie wakes up and can’t get back to sleep
And starts searching around for a sleeping tablet
This of course wakes me up so I have to do the same
On this morning though Jamie thinks its 4am
But it’s really about 9:30am
He knocks back a sleeping tablet
Then realizes he’s about to miss breakfast
So he gets up and trudges downstairs
But by the time he gets to his seat
He’s in a state of foggy stupor
Trying to eat breakfast
And split the payment amongst band members
For the previous nights show
Whilst downing coffees to try and circumvent
The unstoppable force of his tablet
He’s nodding off whilst counting coins so
He heads back upstairs to sleep it off
Mornings are spent calling home
Most of us catching up with wives and/or kids
Letting them know they are loved and missed
Then breakfast in the hotel
We are well looked after by our fine hosts
Claire and Pascal
The breakfasts are fantastic
I chow down on buttery buckwheat pancakes
Coffee, eggs and a variety of cheeses
Followed by another swim
Later in the afternoon we are picked up by 2 vans
For our second show
This time we’re only travelling about
10 mins down the road
To the beautiful seaside town of Saint-Quay Portrieux

18
photo by Scott Hutchings

Today stands out as a real highlight of the trip
And it makes an
Indelible mark on me
When it comes to the generosity
Of our hosts
This time we’re be playing an outdoor show
With the beach as a backdrop
We all jump out and soak in the view
(which is an incredible delight for the senses)
And awaiting us in the artists tent
Are bottles of red
an espresso machine
beers, water
nuts and cheese
We’re immediately told to help ourselves
Then
After set up and sound check
We’re whisked away for dinner
Now, I’ve got no idea if all bands that play at the Festival
Receive this kind of treatment
But I have a feeling that this may have a lot to do
With our magnanimous host Capt Ludo
We are led into an upmarket restaurant
And shuttled into a private room
All seven of us plus our hardworking helpers
And here begins a 3 course meal unlike any I’ve had in years
Thankfully it was mainly seafood
(which I can actually eat!)
And I broke my boring diet by destroying a desert
That set my taste buds alight
C’mon I’ve gotta break my diet just once every 10 years or so, yeah?

19
photo by Mark Moldre

Next Ludo arrives with a few bottles of special wine
That commemorates his first meeting with Jamie
Now, I’m not meant to drink wine either
But I can’t be rude…right?
I offer my glass without hesitation
We all marvel over these bottles of red
Cos this wine is just something else
Scott becomes a connoisseur
Smelling and swilling
He can smell blue vein cheese in there
Adam is sitting there gob smacked
Jamie after years of working at a wine club
Gives us all the correct references
By this time we’re all feeling just slightly merry
And very, very full
And we’ve almost forgotten that we have to go back out and play a show
As it’s heading towards evening and
None of us are sure if singing and playing
After all that food is even possible without
Belching into microphones
And forgetting arrangements and lyrics
This time
Scott, Jamie and Reuben
Are playing only two sets
I open the show to an attentive and appreciative audience
Perhaps a couple of hundred people
Manage to meet some nice folk
Sell quite a few CD’s
And sit back to enjoy the Tall Grass
Peter Fenton had assumed that we were heading back to Binic
Before the show
And he has no suitable stage attire for a gent of his stature
So we double up on my wardrobe
And do a clothing swap between sets
For an encore I hop up with The Tall Grass
And we finish with a rousing version of Neil Young’s Vampire Blues
Pack up the van and
Zzzzzz
Zzz
Z

20
photo by Jared Harrison

PRE FESTIVAL ANNIVERSARY PARTY

We hear he is a whiz of a wiz
If ever a wiz there was
If ever, oh, ever a wiz there was
– We’re Off To See The Wizard – Harburg/Arlen

21
photo by Mark Moldre

This day begins with Adam carrying out a few necessary guitar repairs
He’s been a complete champion
Running on and off stages with minor repairs
But today there are a few instruments that need looking at
So he buries himself in the upstairs room at Ludo’s bar
With a collection of tools and works wonders
Over the course of our tour
Jamie’s guitar is fixed properly
Fenton’s uke is fixed
With parts purchased from
A fishing tackle store and a chemist
Scott’s guitar
Which has been continually going out of tune
Is set up and rebuilt
Scott is amazed as Adam nonchalantly takes off the neck
Straightens it with a truss rod adjuster
Sets the intonation and
Files nut slots
So that his Fender Jaguar is now a sleek playing machine
My affectionate nickname for Adam on this trip
Had been Rabbi Lang
Due to Adam’s luxurious beard
But
Ludo pronounces Adam “THE WIZARD!”
A way more apt and worthy title
Tomorrow the festival begins
But as for tonight
We are playing the 10th Anniversary Celebration
Of the Binic Festival Party
This seems to be an invitation only affair
Corporate sponsors, staff and volunteers fill the room
Tonight is another 3 set work over
For the Hutchings brothers and Reuben
The Tall Grass open the proceedings
And as Jamie is having some issues with his sweet falsetto
Which has been reduced to a high-pitched croak
I jump up for a few harmonies
My set is next
And onstage
I really start to feel like the band is
Finding its feet
Particularly on some of my new tunes
The set seems to go down well
And a few more CD’s make their way into the hands of the French

22
photo by Clement Guyon

Infinity Broke up next
And then we meet Melbourne band
Bench Press
Who seem to be having some success here in France
Plus they’re a bunch of real nice fellas
I’m starting to fade – still adjusting to Paris time I guess
So I walk back to Ludo’s Bar with
Jared and Adam for a nightcap
We chat philosophically for an hour or so
(as you do in France)
Jamie disappears for a midnight swim
And now
Even this late at night
The sense of the festival hangs heavy in the air
Stages are being set up and
Barricades pulled into place
Streets are being closed
Bars and merch tents are popping up
Tomorrow the festival begins!

BINIC FOLKS BLUES FESTIVAL DAY 1

Lost among the crowds,
The dusty air, the flickering
Candles, stunned, his heart drunk
With music and hurt So I go,
drunk and melancholy
Lunatic guitarist, poet,
A poor man in a dream,
Hunting for God in the mists
-Antonio Machado

This is not your usual
Run of the mill festival
That we experience in Australia
The whole town is the festival site
The festival is completely free
About 60-70,000 people start to pour into this small village
Roads at each end of the town are blocked
3 large stages have been set up
In prominent positions
Tents are raised
And vans are parked
On the outskirts of town
Security pours in
Police and armed military
Obviously due to terrorism in France
Crowd safety is now a huge issue at events like these
So it’s comforting
Whist also unnerving
To see many groups of soldiers
Armed with automatic weapons
Wandering through the sleepy fishing village

23
photo by Mark Moldre

I have a rare day off today
The Tall Grass and Infinity Broke will both play a set each
I had planned to do some exploring…
Tourist for a day
But….there’s still loads to be done
I meet Mikaël Le Bourhis
Frenchman of style, finely manicured and well dressed
Affable and polite
Despite the fact that he’s probably had very little sleep
Due to being
The Festivals Press Agent
He’s also a great friend of Reuben’s
Their similar love for left of centre fashion
Which they call “dandy”
Means they quickly move on to admiring one another’s outfits
Mikaël described me in the Press Release
“As an Australian D’artagnan
A man of fine moustache”
So obviously I warm to him quickly
Knowing we’re going to get on just fine
He takes me on a tour of the festival site
In a hunt for
Wristbands
Drink tickets
Lunch and dinner passes
Each day all artists receive lunch and dinner
At an all you can eat buffet
Where the food is quite mouth watering
Alongside coffee and a selection of
Desserts and wines at every meal
On the way I receive an assortment of merch
Cups, Shirts, Tote Bags, Programs, Badges etc
I meet loads of wonderful and friendly volunteers
Whilst wandering through the artist lounge and bar
Up to the private viewing platform
Which has a perfect view of the largest stage on the beach
I catch the early afternoon
Tall Grass set from the platform
Grab a swim at the seaside pool
And head off to watch Infinity Broke’s
Nighttime show, which is a cracker!

24
photo by Clement Guyon

Our intrepid hotel owners Claire and Pascal
Are right up the front
And they call out to Scott
“Magnifique! Tomorrow… BIG BREAKFAST!”
Unable to find Adam or Peter
I wander back through the masses alone
Tonight there is a Lunar Eclipse
And the moon is red
I have my first emotional moment
Watching and mingling with the crowds
Slightly overwhelmed at being here
The generosity of these people
The happy lack of self-awareness that
The young kids seem to have here
Dancing with each other
Smiling and laughing
Young children with their families
Adults well in to their 60’s and 70’s
Standing up close to the barricades and enjoying the music
Swaying
With teenagers moshing by their side
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt
A sense of community like this
It’s something to be cherished
And although I’m of course positive
That it wouldn’t be like this
Right across France
Tonight I have a lump in my throat
I feel as though I belong here
With these happy folk
I feel at
Home in Binic

FESTIVAL DAY 2

Eighty percent of success is showing up – Woody Allen

Today is the day of my first show and
I’m a little edgy
Which usually means I talk too much
Due to that edginess
I can’t remember much
About what I did that day
Apart from watching Infinity Broke’s afternoon set
Peter Fenton heads off on a solo
Bus trip to St Brieuc
I have the pleasure of meeting
Jeanclaude and his girlfriend
Jeanclaude is somebody I have only ever
Spoken to on Facebook
But he has undertaken a 10-hour drive to Binic from Belgium
Specifically to see my show tonight
He’s lovely and we chat for a while
The rest of the afternoon
I sit quietly in my hotel
Restringing my guitar
Softly running through my set
I grab a take away Galette
And a small flask of gin
To calm my nerves a little
The stage I am playing on tonight
Is just below my hotel room
And through my open windows I can hear
The crowd in a frenzy
For a super loud garage rock/punk band called Magnetix
Making me even more neurotic
About whether my folkier racket will go down OK
I finally get backstage
To some mild chaos
Lots of our gear is missing
It appears it’s over on the beach stage
About 400 metres away
And we’re on in about 20 minutes
Ludo happens to be around
And rather than yell and carry on at stage staff
For not having the gear together
He just says to Scott
“We have a mission!”
So Scott, Ludo and our newly arrived friend Jan
(Who has come to see us from Switzerland)
All run across to the other stage
Lugging the gear across
By hand
To see a festival director
Being this hands on at a grass roots level
Without complaint
Shows his commitment
And passion for this festival
We finally get onstage
And my nerves melt away
When I see the crowd waiting for me to start
Many calling out my name
Yelling out that they love me
One guy jumps up onstage
And asks Adam if he can stroke his beard
Punters are hugging my boots as
I walk past the front of the stage
The onstage sound is a little rough
But adrenalin kicks in and I pretend all is well
Despite the fact that I can barely hear my acoustic guitar It seems to be fine out the front though
Because there are smiles and cheers all round
In my excitement
I probably say
Merci beacoup! (thank you very much!)
Too many times
And pronounce my profound love for Binic
Too many times
Yet my use of the regional dialect with the word “Yamat!” (Cheers!)
Seems to go down a treat
(Thanks to the local who suggested I say that…)
And the only other French words that I can remember onstage are
Bonsoir (good evening) and
Je m’appelle Mark Moldre (my name is)
By the end of the set the sound has improved
The area in front of the hotel is jam-packed
And we seem to have gone down a treat

25
photo by Jared Harrison
26
photo by Jared Harrison
27
photo by Jared Harrison

My nervous energy
Has given me a second wind
So I head across to the beach stage
To watch US band OMNI
And hang out with Jan, Jared, Reuben, Scott and Jamie
Plus our young new friend
Up n coming photographer Clement Guyon
I grab a last drink in the artist bar
And head to bed

FESTIVAL DAY 3

Men must live and create. Live to the point of tears – Albert Camus
Or
It frightens me, the awful truth, of how sweet life can be – Bob Dylan

Unsurprisingly I sleep in and
Miss breakfast
Luckily they haven’t yet packed up the leftovers
And even though breakfast is officially over at 10am
They don’t mind that I grab a few mouthfuls
Before heading down to the beach
With Scott and Adam
For Adam and I this trip has been overwhelming
I’m no seasoned traveller
I’ve been overseas a couple of times
China and Thailand
Adam has only ever been once to Fiji and
Although Adam is not really a beachgoer
He feels he has to swim just once
In the Atlantic Ocean
To cross it off his bucket list
Watching him enjoy this experience of
Travelling so far
And enjoying it so much
Has been a real pleasure for me
The pleasure of being in France is written
Across his whole demeanour
The water is cold but rejuvenating

28
photo by Scott Hutchings

Now it’s time to head back
To the large beach stage for my final festival show
I’m on early
2:30pm to be exact
So I’m kinda expecting that there will be
Very few people milling about
And that this will be a smaller show than last night
Thankfully I was overwhelmingly surprised
A bigger crowd than last night has gathered
In fact they have squeezed in
Right to the front of the stage and
As far as I can see and
When I ask the crowd to raise their hands for a photo
A sea of hands and smiling faces respond
Right to the very back
Thousands of faces

29
photo by Mark Moldre

I can see the town of Binic in the background
The church bell tower high above the buildings
A breathtaking sight
I do my best to pause and soak it in
And standing on this stage
I know that I may never experience anything like this again
We play an energized set
The band has really hit its stride now
Adam playing super fast banjo and ripping slide
Jamie strangles his usual incredible array of sounds out of his Jazzmaster
Scott is so relaxed and reliable
And sits so far behind the beat
That I joke he’s still playing the previous song
Reub’s double bass sounds huge and full

30
photo by Jared Harrison
31
photo by Jared Harrison
32
photo by Jared Harrison

When the set is over I head over to the merch tent
To meet some of the fine French folk
Only to discover that all my CD’s have all sold out
Apparently
Only about 4 minutes after
I finished my last song
I stay and sign CDs and chat
I’m hugged, kissed, photographed and handshaked
I talk to one of the lovely volunteers Marie Caillou
She has been a festival volunteer for years now
And her enthusiasm for music and musicians is epic
A typical example of the passionate volunteers
After my show we are taken into the inner sanctum of the festival
The VIP area for corporate sponsors
A bar is serving free cocktails
A grill is continually on the go
Seafood, kebabs, breads and cheeses are scattered on tables
There are lounges and a massage caravan
(Jamie heads straight in to have his sore lower back attended to)
Here Mikaël interviews all 7 of us
Filming the moment for posterity
Followed by drinks with Ludo
And another new friend Gilou Le Gruiec
A lovely, fiercely intellectual lady
Jamie and I discuss with her the possibility
Of returning someday to Paris
And she suggests the concept of
Playing a series of intimate shows
In bookstores and theatres
Holding master classes
In which we discuss our literary influences and
Curate mini Film Festivals
It’s OK to pipe dream yeah?

33

34
photo by Gilou Le Gruiec

Next up is the last show for our entourage
The Tall Grass head over to the stage to begin setting up
Adam and I tag along
Mainly to help Peter and Jamie
With tunings, guitar changes and string breakages

35
photo by Jared Harrison

Something transformative happens in this set
Whilst Jamie and Peter are singing their beautiful duet
Weathervane
Ludo is tearing up
In fact tears are streaming down his face
It’s a song that means a lot to his personal history
Jared has his arm around him
Gilou is also misty
Jamie chokes a little while singing “The Letting Go”
And in their finale
A beautiful piece
From the pen of Peter Fenton
Named
Halo
Suddenly and
Out Of Nowhere
I’m really struggling to hold
Back the tears
Whether it’s because this is our last full day in Binic
Or because I’m missing my family
Whether it’s being with my oldest friends
On this once in a lifetime trip
Whether I feel a natural affinity with these people
Due to my European heritage
And I know leaving here is going to be difficult
Whether it’s simply hearing this song
Right at this precise moment
Or whether it’s because I’ve played music
For so many years
And have never experienced
Anything that even comes close
To this
This incredible place
Alongside these generous people
Or the fact that I don’t feel
out
of
place
and
awkward
Amongst conversations of
Football and cars
As I do back in Australia at a typical BBQ
But while The Tall Grass are wrapping up
That heartfelt song
I’m overwhelmed and emotionally spent
Yet I feel myself set free
All my pent up stress from Australia
Is melting away
I feel amazingly relaxed and at ease
Happysad
At home
Too much?
Probably.
But I don’t care

PARIS AND HOMEWARD BOUND

The mechanic escalators, automatic gates,
Corridors of correspondence, peak hours and affluence
Mosaic doors, fantastic labyrinth and always, running
The people that go and come and still, running
The same people that return
And the subway that strolls under Paris
Sweetly dashes and then flies
Flies on the corners of Paris
– Edith Piaf

Days go slow and yet fast
Hellos can be leisurely
Goodbyes always seem rushed
We are suddenly standing out the front of our hotel
In our slightly smaller group of 6
(Scott has decided to head over to Switzerland with Jan)
Ludo bestows on us one last parting gift
A hand printed Festival poster
On quality card
Numbered and hand signed by the artist
No’s 1-7
We throw the gear into the waiting vans
Farewell new friends
And drive 20 mins or so to the train station at St Bruiec
We hug and kiss Ludo
Jamie and I bestow on him a
Parting bottle of whisky
As a show of appreciation
But to be honest I can’t thank him enough
I’ve got no words at all really
They drive away
And as their taillights disappear around the corner
We realize that
Once again we are on our own
The Rolling Stones treatment is over
And as we
trudge
carrying
all
our
gear
To the platform
We discover
That there has been a fire at our proposed destination
Of Montparnasse
And the trains are running an hour and a half late
Actually some trains are cancelled
So when we eventually get on
The train is very full
And we have to stand with all our luggage and guitars
Sliding and rolling everywhere
For the 2 hour trip
When we finally get off
We realize we are not at Montparnasse but
We have been delivered to another station
And our destination is still a few trains away
Our single day in Paris is shrinking
And we begin what becomes a journey of epic madness
Into the bowels and catacombs of the Paris subway system
The tunnels are very old
And there are practically no elevators or escalators
Reuben and Jared have gone to meet friends
So they have caught another train
So Jamie, Adam, Peter and I
Each dragging three items of luggage
Descend the first set of stairs
Now I had frozen shoulder before I came
If anything is going to set it off again
It’s the hilarity that’s ahead of us
Peter and I both get trapped in turnstiles
My backpack gets caught
While crawling underneath doors that don’t open
Adam’s arm gets caught in fast closing subway doors
His fist narrowly missing Peter’s jaw
As he pulls his arm ferociously out of the door
Endless sets of stairs
Suffocating lack of air
My 26.5-kilo behemoth bag gets
Heavier and heavier
Jamie, who has done this before, stares at us sympathetically
Knowing it’s going to continue getting worse
Before it gets better
Getting lost
Backtracking
Putting gear down for a rest
Picking it up again
My boots are a little too big
And I can feel the blisters growing
Muddled conversations at Information Centre’s
Police telling us we’re sitting ducks for thieves
Phone app Maps sending us in the wrong direction
When we finally arrive at our hotel in Paris
We are informed the elevator is busted
And we’re on the 4th floor
Up a narrow staircase we go
And collapse on the beds
It’s now about 7pm
A two-hour trip has taken the entire day
Before we all end up falling asleep
We decide we must do something Parisian
Before catching our flight home
We grab a dinner in a pub on our street
Then for what now seems like a luxurious trip
Without towing luggage behind us
We catch another subway to the Eiffel Tower
A bottle of red under Jamie’s arm
For a little bromance in the city of romance
As expected it’s breathtaking
We act like absolute clichéd tourists
Snapping photos and
Jaws dropping at
The view on the second floor

36
photo by Mark Moldre

When it’s close to midnight
We catch the subway back to the hotel and
Sleep soundly
The following day is relatively uneventful
Mini bus to airport
Sleep on plane to China
Brief stopover
Sleep on plane to Sydney
A couple of movies
I write a few notes to jog my memory for this very diary
Very little conversation now
We’re all wasted, tired and contemplative
Taxi back to our car
And before we know we’re home
And it’s all over
In a blink of an eye

EPILOGUE

You’re on earth. There’s no cure for that – Samuel Beckett
Or
You’ve got to psych yourself for the Post Tour Blues – Jamie Hutchings

Reality hits like a huge karmic hammer
It’s wonderful seeing my wife and family again
Presents, hugs and kisses all round
But the work drudge is tough
I unpack my festival mementos
And already Binic is receding in my mind
Like the wisp of a memory
Of a barely remembered dream
Next up
I start planning the release of my new album
Which has been completely recorded
And is in the mixing stages
But deep down I know
Whatever I can conjure up musically
Is unlikely to reach the giddy heights of those
Few days in a small fishing town
So far away

Love
Mark
X
10/08/2018

37
photo by Scott Hutchings

INTERVIEW: Harmony

HarmonyBand1

THE HAZARDOUS TERRAIN OF LOVE

It’s been four years between albums for Melbourne’s Harmony, with members focusing on other projects and babies entering the frame. As Tom Lyngcoln explains to Chris Familton, this time around there were changes in both the recorded sound of Double Negative and the way he approached the writing of its songs.

“Alex [Lyngcoln, drummer] and I had a baby daughter in that time so that’s where the majority of our energy has been placed,” explains Lyngcoln, as he reflects on the years since the band’s last album, Carpetbombing, was released. Away from Harmony, Lyngcoln is also at the core of The Nation Blue and recently made his first foray into releasing solo albums, while other members, such as Erica Dunn (Tropical Fuck Storm), have multiple extra curricular activities. “It’s an allocation of time for things,” Lyngcoln explains. “The band was dormant after we did a couple of tours. Everyone has been really busy with other things and Harmony has just been sitting there. It’s nice to put it back together.”

After the confessional, angst-ridden content of Harmony’s previous releases, Lyngcoln felt compelled to approach Double Negative from a new perspective and, as stated in the album’s title, he used a technique that incorporated the style of his earlier writing and cleverly reconfigured it towards a more positive outlook. “I just wanted to flip it and sing about something else. With the birth of a child you really struggle to continue putting a lot of negativity out into the world. I just found it wasn’t helping my depression and mental wellbeing singing about negative shit, so I decided to write about something more positive,” he explains. “That’s really hard to do, it’s so much easier to hide behind self-deprecation and much easier to mope than it is to celebrate. Wallowing in the crucible of grief was just something I couldn’t do for another record so we changed our focus to try and write about love, which is one of the most hazardous terrains you can enter into as a songwriter. It’s been responsible for some of the greatest music of our time and also the vast majority of the worst,” he grimaces.

“I worked my way in to it by trying to employ negative language. I looked at it through descriptors of negative things such as war. Taking the same kind of lexicon that I’ve used in the past but try to print it in double negative and apply it in a positive way. When I write a chord progression it always tends to revert to the same tricks and my vocabulary is limited to a certain amount of words that slide together. I wanted to try and refine them and use them differently.”

Previous Harmony albums have had a dense, lo-fi quality to them, and though it suited Lyngcoln’s throat-shredding howls, it often obscured the songs and lacked the warmth and nuance that Amanda Roff, Quinn Veldhuishe and Erica Dunn’s lush vocal harmonies called for. This time they worked with producer Mike Deslandes and recorded in a group environment at Kyneton Mechanics Hall. 

“It was recorded much in the same way as the two last The Nation Blue records. Mike has an amazing mobile studio and so we went to the same hall because it is suited to Harmony a lot more. I’d wanted to do it there for a long time. Mike recorded it and as I was recovering from wrist surgery and a hernia, I had a solid eight weeks to mix it over summer and obsess and fall in and out of love with it. I’m happy with it, it’s the best thing I’ve done recording-wise,” he proudly states. “The other records have been pieced together. This was the band playing in a room live and then each night the girls would come in and record their vocals live. They were long days. Mike would clock off recording the band and then I’d jump in the seat and start recording the girls until 2am. There are vocal takes where I’ve nodded off and they were trying to wake me up. It was probably a bit ambitious,” laughs Lyngcoln.

That ambition has resulted in by far and away the band’s best work and with Lyngcoln and family relocating to Greece for a year in 2019, fans would be well served to catch them on their upcoming tour, before temporary hibernation again beckons.

INTERVIEW: Kyle Craft

Kyle Craft

THE SURREAL WORLD OF KYLE CRAFT

Like some kind of backcombed bird nest hairdo glam rocker from the surrealist netherworld of a bygone era, Kyle Craft burst onto the scene with his debut album Dolls Of Highland on the Sub Pop label in 2016. With a voice that resembled an over-emotive Bob Dylan or Jeff Buckley if he was raised in a carnival, Craft sounded like he’d arrived fully formed, an extravagant songwriter who had soaked up glam psychedelia, country rock, indie rock and baroque pop music, from Bowie to Nilsson.

“Even if I listen to new stuff and like it, I always tire of it and go back to Dylan, the Stones, John Lennon, Neil Young, Harry Nilsson – I always land back on that stuff. There’s a quality that I relate to in that music. That’s what makes me feel things,” enthuses Craft in his laidback Louisiana drawl. “When I was 15 I heard Bob Dylan for the first time and I knew that was what I wanted to do. I got super into Dylan and then I started writing in the style of Neutral Milk Hotel until everyone started telling me I was totally ripping them off. Then I lost both of those things. Realising that helped me come into my own in a weird way. Acknowledging that I was doing that made me stop and do my own thing,” reflects Craft. “Miles Davis said that the hardest thing to do is find your own voice. I’m getting closer, I don’t think I’m going to be taking any sharp turns, I’m doing the music that I like and enjoy.”

Full Circle Nightmare finds Craft expanding the sound of his debut, which he recorded on his own, playing all the instruments. This time around, with band in tow, he went into a studio for the first time and tried to capture the raw and magical sound of a live band. “I love doing it like that, playing with my band. I admire that old school mentality of doing it right and getting it in one take. I really like to stick to one take as much as I can, even when I’m multi-tracking. I just feel like it flows better,” explains Craft.

There’s an impressive array of characters that permeate Craft’s songs – ‘The Rager’, ‘Fever Dream Girl,’ ‘Slick & Delta Queen’ and ‘Fake Magic Angel’. He laughs when I ask how many of the personalities in the songs are drawn from real life. “If I don’t try and keep them slightly vague I might get in trouble. I was more vague on Dolls Of Highland than I am on this album.” That different perspective came from a change in his songwriting approach. “I switched gears on how I wanted to write on Full Circle Nightmare. I wanted to be clearer. Life itself was vey strange at that moment so I didn’t have to be very vague or disguise things at all. Both albums are kind of about the same things but Dolls Of Highland was when I was in it and this one is me being able to look back on it all and see it through different eyes.”

The other project that was released late in 2017 was Girl Crazy, Craft’s cover album of all-female artists. Born out of a sense of fun and studio experimentation, it quickly blossomed into a full album including songs by Patti Smith, Jenny Lewis, Cher, TLC and Blondie. “It was absolutely just for fun. I went into my buddy Kevin’s studio space and started messing around and one day I decided to record Jenny Lewis’ ‘Acid Tongue’ and within a few hours I thought it sounded good. We didn’t have anything else to do so the next day I recorded a Patti Smith song and it sounded good too so we just kept going. I showed them to Sub Pop and they really dug them which was a pleasant surprise. I had no idea they’d want to put them out.”

Chris Familton

Full Circle Nightmare is out now via Sub Pop​ / Inertia Music​.

 

INTERVIEW: Django Django (2018)

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TIC TAC TOE TAPPING

On the eve of the release of their third album, Marble Skies, and an hour before they take the stage in London to launch it, drummer/producer David Maclean chats with Chris Familton about where the inspiration comes from in the creation of their multifaceted sound.

Django Django are now three albums deep into a career that started with a bang when they released their debut self-titled album, garnered a Mercury Prize nomination and set off on a two year world tour. That segued straight into the follow-up album Born Under Saturn which nearly derailed the band entirely when they hit breaking point. Now they’ve regrouped, built a studio and rediscovered the essence of their music – that dizzying blend of electronic pop, surf guitar and postmodern psychedelia. “Now we’re back into it and excited again!” says Maclean.

With the stage beckoning, he admits that the band are always a bit edgier when taking out new songs for the first time and that they need to be worn in. “It’s always a bit nervy playing them the first few times so they’ll have to settle in a bit and they’ll keep changing and morphing and getting better and better until you kind of go on autopilot a bit and then you can kind sort of enjoy it and just relax and get in the groove a lot more.”

Marble Skies finds the band sounding more settled and focused than ever before and Maclean pinpoints a greater confidence in how they work together. “We’re definitely getting a bit more confident, but you don’t want to get carried away just because you can do something. We don’t want to get obsessed with the techniques. On the first record we didn’t now what we were doing and that was all we needed at the time. Our songwriting is getting better and we strive to keep working because we want our records to be played on the radio in 20 years time like Gerry Rafferty or Blondie or Cat Stevens,” Maclean enthuses.

In hindsight Maclean sees some mistakes with the recording of their previous album Born Under Saturn. “With the last album we went to Angelic which was the keyboardist from Jamiroquai, Toby Smith’s studio. It was a huge studio in the countryside and I guess we felt a little out of our depth as we hadn’t written any songs before we went there,” he laughs. “We ended up being in the communal living room all the time writing songs, even though we were paying thousands a day for the whole place. It’s not really in the spirit of where we came from or how I grew up with a four-track making music. We were more comfortable this time,” says Maclean, referring to their own new studio.

One of the key characteristics of their sound is the fusion of different genres and organic and digital instrumentation. “I think I’ve always been quite good at finding threads in different music. I remember listening to Public Enemy when I was younger and having that eureka moment realising they were sampling Jimi Hendrix licks and mixing in beats. Even looking at their production style and the similarities to what The Beatles were doing. These were all people just experimenting creatively. All music is a lot more connected than people think.”

INTERVIEW: The Black Seeds

The-Black-Seeds-By-David-James-931-crop-3

It has been five years since The Black Seeds released their last album, but after internal changes and abandoned recordings the Wellington reggae/soul outfit are back and firing on all cylinders with their new album Fabric.

Back in 2014 The Black Seeds were immersed in the recording of a new album, one that head Seed Barnaby Weir was touting as ‘a Black Seeds fully original mixtape’. At the time he was optimistically anticipating a 2015 release, but then… nothing eventuated. Now, a new album has indeed finally emerged but it isn’t the same one they were working on in 2014.

“At the time we we were working on that album and Mike Fabulous (guitar) and Tim Jaray (bass) were still in the band. We got about 50% of the way through and then those guys decided to leave the band, at different times, and so that was the main delay,” explains Weir. “It was totally amicable, they’d both been in the band for 13, 14 years and Mike was also doing his solo project (Lord Echo) and wanted to focus on that. Tim has kids and wanted to focus on them and so while it was a challenging time and it was a shame we didn’t get to put out that album we were working on, it was also a good time to realise that we could still continue and that we wanted to continue. That was the main holdup and why it has been five years since our last album.“

Rather than continuing the work they’d started on the abandoned album, Weir was keen for the new lineup to be on whatever new record they would release. “We did totally change our stance and content and direction. We started off with a new bass player and Ned Ngatae, who wasn’t a new member but he became the full-time guitarist. We wanted to make sure that going forward we got all the guys on the album and make it a good solid release. We didn’t want to use the half album we’d made, we wanted to start afresh and make a commitment to that. As a  result, none of the songs were rushed or token inclusions,” says Weir.

In terms of the content of Fabric, Weir explains that the sound and the theme of the album is one that encapsulates all of the elements that make up the band. “When you start to collate songs for an album it starts to have its own life and build steam and momentum but it’s not necessarily purposeful and discussed. It’s more organic creatively and it starts to appear and get its own character. The fabric of our lives and the world, our community and existence plus the physics angle and particles of energy all came together as a theme that I delved quite deeply into.,” Weir reveals. “As a band I think we probably pushed the envelope a bit more on this album. It does sound a bit different but I’m glad it does and I’m really happy with the tones and the patterns and that it doesn’t all sound the same.

Now approaching their 20th year as a band, Weir looks back fondly on those early formative years and is equally excited about both The Black Seeds’ present state and future possibilities. “In the beginning we were a bunch of guys who were volunteers and DJs at Radio Active in Wellington and we just had a love for music and in particular for American soul, Jamaican SKA and dub and there weren’t many bands in the late 90s who were doing that. Initially we played full, elongated, heavy dub jams and it was quite instrumental. With the first two albums we made a shift and started making more songs and started becoming a more serious band rather than just a party band,” recalls Weir, before adding… “The fabric of the Black Seeds is a long term experience as musicians and we’ve always had that emotional and philosophical element in our music. I think this time around we’ve put together quite cohesively. We’re looking to the future and feeling good about it!”

Chris Familton

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

INTERVIEW: Protomartyr

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LOUD NOISE AND FLOWING ALCOHOL

Protomartyr’s frontman Joe Casey calls in from Detroit, MI to tell Chris Familton about the band’s new album, new record label and where that voice of his came from.

Protomartyr are already four albums deep into their recording career, all in the space of five years. It’s the sign of a band riding a wave of creativity and a relentless work ethic but, as Joe Casey explains, it is also about keeping the ball rolling and building on the success of each new album and tour.

“It’s definitely about keeping the momentum going. I can’t figure out how bands can take five years between albums. The space between this and the last has been the longest just because it was the most touring we’ve done. When that’s over and you go home you may as well get stuck in and write new stuff. Hopefully that will be the way forward but I think we’ll be touring this record more than the last one,” Casey predicts.

Relatives in Descent is another stage in the evolution of a band who sounded brash and chaotic on their debut album All Passion, No Technique. Now there’s a clearer attention to detail in the sound and structure of their songs, led by guitarist Greg Ahee, but also a result of working with a new producer.

“I think we always have to have the sound change. It helped recording with the producer Sonny DiPerri out in Los Angeles because he’s very good at sonically capturing things and he was always working and working harder than any producer we’ve worked with,” says Casey. “Our guitar player had some ideas going in, including violins and a different synth sound and I think it worked out really well,” he enthuses. “When he first said he wanted violins on it I had no idea what he was talking about but when we heard it come to fruition it sounded great.”

Casey’s resigned bark and conversational vocal delivery blends post-punk, spoken word and dissonant punk howling and with Protomartyr it developed out of figuring out how to be heard in a small room with loud noise and flowing alcohol. “At the time we were pretty drunk,” laughs Casey. “At the start it was mostly to make noise and have a good time all of the time. It developed from our early practice space which was basically a concrete box and I had to find a way to cut through the guitar and noise and a very sharp vocal attack seemed to work best. I have a very limited range and it’s about knowing what I can do with it, to fit into the songs the right way and not ruin them.”

Casey’s pride in the new album is evident, and their step up from the small label Hardly Art to the large UK indie label Domino means that they’ll be able to promote their music to a much wider audience, including, hopefully, some live shows in Australia in 2018.

“I’m amazed that we haven’t played Australia yet. From early on it was near the top of our list of places to get to, so we better be touring Australia some time in the next year. If it doesn’t happen next year the band is breaking up!”

Read our review of Relatives In Descent