INTERVIEW: Margaret Glaspy

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BALANCING INSTINCT AND REASON

Margaret Glaspy has had a career-high last 12 months that has seen her go from working long hours to pay New York rent to touring large venues with The Lumineers. She takes Chris Familton through the creation of her debut album and the changes it has brought her.

With so much work going into the writing, recording and producing of Emotions and Math, Glaspy had both high hopes and realistic expectations of how her album would be received by both critics and music fans. “When I was making the record the big success was that it would be finished and I’d get it to where I’d like it. Anything else was going to be the icing on the cake,’ she says humbly. “I take it with a grain of salt in terms of measuring success. I know I’ll probably make some records in my career that others will hate and hopefully they’ll like a few of them too. I can’t take it all too seriously but I’m certainly appreciative.”

Getting to this point, in her late 20s, has meant Glaspy has had plenty of time to develop and refine her songwriting and guitar playing since she first ventured into that world in her late teens.

“That’s evolved quite a bit and changed over time, slowly. I started to write songs when I was 16 or 17 and now I’m 28. I don’t know if that’s a success story or a failure story, but it’s my story,” she laughs. “My love for music has always been very consistent and I think my skill level has changed for sure but when I listen back to snippets of things I recorded back then, I can see what I was going for. I see what I was trying to accomplish. I’m glad I waited a bit longer until I was a more mature artist though.”

The album’s title refers to that conflict or healthy co-existence of emotional and reasoned responses and feelings that we all encounter daily. Glaspy found a way to draw that into her songwriting and it is an omnipresent part of her personality and one she has come to accept.

“It is in everything I do. There’s always some measure of discipline or logic or practice and then there’s the side that just happens. The skills you learn work alongside the natural flow and keep it on track. The reason why the record is called that is that I see it rise in my life a lot. I see both sides of that rage pretty hard all at the same time. I’m very analytical and very emotional and I think they complement each other but sometimes it’s difficult. I’ve always felt I wanted to be either a left or right brain person and label myself as one, but it’s not that simple. Everybody has their own chemistry that makes us special and unique and human.”

Glaspy already has one eye on plans for recording her next album, once this touring cycle concludes in September and it promises to be another stage of her journey as a songwriter. “I’ll never make this record again and I look forward to that and I’m happy about that. My DNA is to evolve and make new things. Our responsibility as artists is to take people someplace and not just leave them in the same place all the time. It’ll be an evolution all the time for me I hope. That’s the goal.”

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INTERVIEW: The Bats

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LONG HAUL FLIGHT

Still with their original lineup, The Bats are the longest running band in New Zealand and after more than three decades they’re still finding fascinating new variations on their iconic sound. Frontman and songwriter Robert Scott talks to Chris Familton about how their new record came together and how they’ve maintained their longevity.

Down the line from his home on the coast just outside Dunedin, on the lower South Island of New Zealand, Robert Scott is enjoying the tranquility punctuated by the visiting cruise ships that grow exponentially in number over the summer months. Things are also about to get busy for The Bats after a five year gap since the album Free All Monsters came out, and though it’s taken a while to see the light of day, The Deep Set emerged from the same creative process as most of their records.

“I stockpile songs, I’m pretty much writing all the time,” explains Scott. “After a couple of years have gone by since the last album we’ll decide if we actually want to do another one. Then I say I have a bunch of songs, do some rough demos and the others choose the ones they like before we narrow it down to around 15 for the album. Then we’ll start working on them together as a band. In the studio the songs will be about 90% done but before we do the takes we might make a few changes. On the whole these have come out pretty much the way they were written though,” Scott reflects.

After so long together as a band, Scott reveals that their recording process is a simple and intuitive one that isn’t influenced to any great extent by the studio or producer they use. “It’s more just concentrating on getting a great version of the song. That’s what we’ve found over the years makes our stuff work best – getting a good flowing, natural sounding take – whether that’s urgent or laid-back. We’re attuned into that more than anything else.”

Looking back at the legacy of the band, Scott proudly claims the mantle of having “the longest continuous line-up of any band in NZ,” before revealing some of the key reasons why they’ve stayed together for so long. “Part of that might be down to having long breaks, there were nine years in the late 90s/early 2000s where we didn’t release any music. We pick and choose things we feel comfortable doing so we’re not putting ourselves in a position of too much pressure. We’re obviously very used to each other’s company so we’re aware of any weirdness that comes up and know how to deal with it. We’re all reasonably laid-back people as well so there aren’t any ego issues that you get often get in bands.”

The band will be launching The Deep Set at the 2017 Sydney Festival and they’re bring along the string players that appeared on the album. “It’s the first time we’ve taken a string section overseas. We thought we’d do that for a bit of a change, to spice things up and have a bit of fun,” enthuses Scott. “In Sydney we’ll probably do seven or eight songs from The Deep Set and then because the 30th anniversary of Daddy’s Highway is coming up we’ll be doing a set of mainly songs from that album too. The two ends of our career – which will be quite a different show for us!”

  • MELBOURNE: Sat Jan 28, Northcote Social Club. Tickets on sale now from Northcote Social Club.
  • SYDNEY: Sun Jan 29, Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, Sydney Festival. Tickets on sale now from Sydney Festival.

INTERVIEW: The Laurels

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THE SCIENCE OF PSYCHEDELIA & BREAKBEATS

The Laurels have re-emerged from the studio with an adventurous take on their brand of psych rock that takes influence from both Primal Scream and Public Enemy. Singer and guitarist Luke O’Farrell takes Chris Familton inside the creation of Sonicology.

“I went a bit nuts, we all went a bit crazy in the studio working on these songs “ says O’Farrell, describing the long and intensive process of writing and recording Sonicology. They set up their own studio and “started getting samplers and experimenting with junk shop records, sampling them and making beats” before spending numerous hours recording and sampling themselves to avoid copyright issues. “It is very much a studio album. The guitar took a back seat on this album. If anything samplers were the main instrument. Even the guitars were fed into samplers and triggered and sequenced. It still sounds like us and is guitar heavy but the way we approached the recording was completely different to what we’d done before,” explains O’Farrell.

The genesis of the new album reaches right back to before the band started recording their previous record. “With Plains, we were playing those songs for six years before recording them and then you have to play them on the road for another two or three years. We really adjusted to that way of working as a live band. With this one we started getting into hip hop influences just before we started recording Plains – a lot of Public Enemy, a lot of funk and soul, stuff like James Brown. That was the headspace we were in after the Plains tour finished and then it was a matter of convincing the other guys to try something really different in the studio this time around.”

Between albums, drummer Kate Wilson (The Holy Soul) decided to leave the band and Jasper Fenton, who O’Farrell and Piers Cornelius had played with in other groups, was drafted in. “It wasn’t easy, it was very sad to see Kate go after that amount of time. We’re still mates and we still love her. With the new tracks and the way we wanted to approach them in the studio, that wasn’t what she wanted to do with the band. Jasper is also a multi-instrumentalist and a producer which really helped the recording,” says O’Farrell.

One hurdle to overcome after making an album steeped in studio production and different technology is how to present the songs live. O’Farrell explains that they’ve got their head around the songs now. “It’s taken us a few months going back and re-learning and adjusting songs. Their entire life has been in the studio, they weren’t really made for live performance but we’ve figured out a way to represent them live. There are three of us triggering samplers now but we’re not tethered to a click track, we want to still keep it loose and free and incorporate the samples from the album.”

“This album was more collaborative than anything we’ve done in the past,” says O’Farrell, when asked if the band is a collective vision or driven by one or two people. “There’s never really been a leader, we all have ideas bout how we want the band to sound and we try to incorporate everyone’s vision. It’s a mix of all of us and I guess that’s why we are still together after ten years.”

SONIC KICKS: Witch Hats

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Witch Hats have a few very good albums under the collective belt but their latest, Deliverance, is hands down the best thing they’ve done. It’s a blistering set of lurching rock ‘n’ roll and in our review we said “They’re firmly in the realm of The Clash, The Drones and The Gun Club yet they’ve dug their own hook-laden hole and decorated it with all manner of exceptional dark pop and bruised, gutter-punk blues.” They’re currently touring the album (dates below) and Kris Buscombe kindly took the time to answer our Sonic Kicks Q&A where he talks about Wide World Of Sports, arachnophobia, Bon Scott on the Titanic and the albums that shaped him musically.

  • Aug 19th @ Red Rattler Theatre, Marrickville
  • Aug 20th @ Trainspotters, Brisbane
  • Aug 27th @ The Tote, Melbourne

The first album I bought…

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Shaquille O’Neal – Shaq Diesel

 I used to record stuff off TV to VHS tape and nabbed a clip of Shaq Diesel’s lead single – ‘Shoot Pass Slam’ off seminal music show, Wild World of Sports.

It was 1992 and basketball was massive in Australia. I had baggy jeans and a teal coloured Charlotte Hornets jacket and a folder full of basketball cards. A brief and confused few years for me, just before I became a real man and got into rock and roll. But back in the heady days of ’92 it was just a Teac boom box and a whole album of basketball rap songs.

An album that soundtracked a relationship…

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Live – Throwing Copper

I used to go out with a woman named Kylie.  She worked at a slot car racing track where I was spending most of my afternoons. A scale model racing track. Big indoor circuit with 15cm long cars careering off in every direction. An arousing place.

Kylie was mad for Live’s Throwing Copper. I had to listen to it constantly.  It’s a horrible shit of a record. I don’t recommend it and if you’re an arachnophobe I don’t recommend Kylie either. She teased me and put spiders on my face once when I slept.

An album that inspired me to form a band…

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50 Million Clowns – First Class Experiment

I attended a Foo Fighters concert in ’98.  I don’t recall being a fan but my friends and I were Nirvana obsessives. They mobbed Dave Grohl as he crossed the busy highway directly in front of the Hobart Town Hall and chatted with him for a while. I missed out on this interaction – I was glued to my seat inside the hall having corrective ear surgery as three crumpled and shockingly plain looking men changed my life forever with the most atonally beautiful noise I’d ever come across. 50 Million Clowns and their album First Class Experiment re-wired my brain when I was 15. The fact they came from Hobart blew me out hunting headfirst into a small unique scene taking place right on my doorstep. This album holds up. It’s harsh and powerful rock with a thoroughly unique and individual darkness surrounding it.

An album that reminds me of my high school years…

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Nirvana – Incesticide

I’d come across a poster of ‘Kurt Cobain 1967-1994’ some place and didn’t know who he was (the end of my Shaq era) and asked chef Raymond at my dad’s restaurant.  He lent me a CD of Nevermind. Great songs for a beginning guitarist.  I was a shy angst-ridden musical misfit in an extremely annoying high school getting up to a lot of mischief and smoking pot. I felt an intense connection to Kurt for a while as some kind of delayed grunge kid in the midst of an anti-establishment, regime change inside my body. ‘Aneurysm’ is their greatest song and closes this disc of rarities. I was kicked out of McCann’s Music store when they caught me hidden in the manuscript section, tablature scribbled in biro across my arms, Incesticide tablature book open on the floor.

An album I’d love to hear live and played in full…

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Every ‘band perform album’ gig I’ve attended has failed to please me. There’s too much excitement and spontaneity in a gig if I’m not aware of the set list in advance. It’s a fair-weather music fan’s thing.

To be a good sport I will say The Doors in 67 at the Whiskey doing their first self-titled album. Or Hendrix doing Axis Bold As Love, The Birthday Party doing Junkyard back in ’82, Dylan doing Blond On Blonde in 1955 or AC/DC with Bon Scott playing Surfer Rosa on the Titanic.

My favourite album cover art…

Hans Bellmer – La Bouch

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A guilty pleasure album…

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Most of my favourite music could fit in here.  Cheap Trick’s Heaven Tonight is pretty great.  Everyone I try to put onto it makes a gross face and I have to turn it off. I put on Aerosmith’s Rocks album at a party a while ago and got in trouble. Steely Dan’s Aja record. Dylan’s ’80s albums.

The last albums I bought…

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Dr. John – The Sun, Moon & Herbs and Lucinda Williams – The Ghosts of Highway 20

 

The next album I want to buy…

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The Aggravators – Dubbing At King Tubby s Vol. 1

I started getting into Dub music about a year ago.  It’s my favourite stuff to listen to at the moment and anything involving King Tubby is the greatest.

INTERVIEW: Bryan Estepa

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Bryan Estepa has embraced fatherhood, is approaching middle-age, and now, five albums into his solo career, he finds those life events being reflected in his songwriting and approach to the music business. 

On the day of his launch gig for his new album Every Little Thing, Estepa is surprisingly calm, even when having to be interviewed via video in his car as he momentarily escapes parental responsibilities. That lack of rush and stress marks Estepa’s current mindset, which he refers to as “mid-tempo”.

“You know, I am. I’m nearly 40 and have a family and in our mid 20s we seemed to be rushing all the time and now we’ve got it more in balance. That reference seems to reflect my life now. I’m not wanting to be a rock star or feel like I have to have a punk song or a really quick song on my albums. Once I’d recorded them I realised that there aren’t any particularly big sounding songs, there’s a natural flow to the album and I didn’t feel the need to include anything like a specific radio song.”

The big change on Every Little Thing was Estepa’s realisation, after four albums with a full band, that he needed to mix things up and create a different musical headspace to inspire new songs. “This album didn’t exist in my head twelve months ago,” remarks Estepa. “A year ago I made the drastic decision to change my band setup, stripping it back to a trio with the Tempe Two (Dave Keys – bass, Russell Crawford – drums/vocals). After coming home from a successful tour with the larger band, something was telling me to cut it down and make it smaller. I just knew I had to tell two of my best friends that I was stripping the band back. It wasn’t easy but they understood it was for the music and that it will benefit all of us in the long time. I just felt I needed a change after playing as a five piece for ten years. Then the songs rolled along as I wrote to suit the smaller band setup.”

Those songs found Estepa stepping back and also looking inward to assess his own perspectives on life. “It’s a very personal album. I wrote a song for my children on it. My relationship is very similar to a lot of my friends where we’ve been together for a long time, we’re married with kids and it’s examining where we are at this point in our lives and where we’re going. It is introspective without getting too personal, so it is still universal in many ways.”

Recording the album in the sunlit environs of Bondi Pavilion with producer Brendan Gallagher (Karma County, Jimmy Little, Bernie Hayes) “really relaxed everyone and loosened the playing,” says Estepa. “He records a very true sound and has perfect pitch and so that pushed me to get some of the best vocal recordings that I’ve done I think.”

Stylistically Estepa is something of a musical magpie. He’s been pegged as power pop, indie rock and alt-county and though he exhibits strains of all of those genres he also manages to blend a soulfulness and a classically-crafted singer/songwriter feel into his music. That cross-pollination isn’t something that Estepa feels inhibits his career. “From a record label perspective or for iTunes categorisation it might matter but as a songwriter I think it’s good,” he stresses.

“I really love the term Australiana and when I listen to someone like William Crighton it sounds very Australian to me. Not just in the way he’s singing but the atmosphere makes it like a modern day Triffids album in that alt-country sense. I heard rural Victoria when I heard his album and I’ve never been too rural Victoria. The same when I listen to the new Halfway album which was recorded in Nashville but still sounds very Australian. It shows the roots scene here is growing and getting big enough where people are starting to realise we have our own sound and not just copying Nashville,” says Estepa, proudly.

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INTERVIEW: Ben Folds

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ROCKIN’ THE RECITAL HALL

Ben Folds talks with Chris Familton about the current collaborative project he has termed ‘chamber rock’ and his personal and professional connection to Australia.

In composition and performance the piano is one of the few instruments that works effectively and consistently across the spectrum of musical genres, from blues to jazz, rock to classical. In the indie-rock world one of the artists it is indelibly linked to is Ben Folds.

In recent years Folds has been progressively widening his musical palette to include classical composition and his latest project came about when he’d written a piano concerto but “hadn’t thought what I was going to do with it so I thought I should flesh it out with some other pieces of music that I had in mind.” Initially his idea was to work with a number of different chamber groups but when he met with the sextet yMusic, “I didn’t want to work with anyone else. They’re an incredible group of musicians who create different sounds. They’re like a sports car with incredible acceleration that hugs the road versus an orchestra which is like a big cruise ship. This suddenly felt like a rock band and I wanted to write lyrics so it quickly headed off in that direction.”

The end result was last year’s album So There which finds both parties on equal creative footing and Folds retaining the energy and musical irreverence that has always been a hallmark of his songs. “I think that’s just what comes out. I was aware of not wanting to be too terribly formal just because there’s a classical group beneath me. I didn’t want to compromise my voice, that didn’t interest me,” Folds stresses. “When I’m in the studio it has to really be something that will hold my interest. As soon as I go down a road trying something, blending one kind of music with another kind, I can suddenly get so tired of that so quickly and don’t want to keep making that kind of music. It comes down to – if it is exciting me then we keep moving forward. I think that’s always been my way of operating.”

Many of Folds’ fans share a willingness to follow him through his different projects, filling seats in recital halls when he performs with yMusic and mixing with the classical crowd when he joins an orchestra. That desire to find a balance between his audience, musical styles and performance formats is one that fascinates him.

“It’s a unique rock show and you can also look at it as a unique classical show. There’s a place where classical and pop crossover music meets that has never really been interesting to me. This is a lot less formal and feels a lot more honest than a classical crossover gig. They have the tendency to get a little pretentious and I believe that if you’re expressing yourself, don’t do it in a suit and tie like that. Just kick it in the arse.”

Folds is bring yMusic down to Australia for a run of shows and though he currently calls Nashville home he has strong connections to this country, marrying and starting a family in Adelaide, collaborating with a number of Australian artists and enjoying early musical success here. “I think Australia and I were on the same page when I began. I think they really understood. Triple j really got Underground (1995) which didn’t really take off in the United States but it did in Australia,” Folds recalls. “The moment I landed there I loved the place. People were funny, the air felt good and it’s always been part of my life every since. I’d still live there if I could but I can’t, I have too much work to do over here but  one day I’d love too. Depending on how our election goes over here I might be there earlier. I hope Australia remembers me and has pity on me,” laughs Folds.

From the outside, Folds appears to have a comprehensive and possibly compulsive creative life. Recording, touring, appearing as a judge on a TV talent show, photography and until recently, running the legendary Studio A in Nashville. Is there time for non-musical pursuits?

“I don’t have much downtime for anything. As we talk I’m throwing clothes into a bag before we head out on tour, which is kind of the way I do things. It’s been suggested that if I take time off and have a life I’d have more to write about but I like living day to day, running around and being in different places and coming across different influences. When I stop it is just bad, like a fish out of water. I just have to keep going.”

With that in mind Folds is already looking ahead to the next tour and the next recording project as he continues to chase his muse. “I’m going to be starting an interesting solo tour with a lot of toys on stage after the yMusic stuff. We finish touring that in Australia and then I’ll move into the solo touring and begin writing a solo piano record after all that.”