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

Advertisements

INTERVIEW: Ben Salter

Ben Salter Promo 7 by Barry Douglas_preview

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

protomartyr1

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

INTERVIEW: Aldous Harding (2017)

aldousblue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Familton

INTERVIEW: Kirin J Callinan

kirin-j-callinan-bravado

BEHIND THE BRAVADO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17239962_998381023596171_4153849057491066154_o

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

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

SONGWRITING AND RECORDING

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

THE VIDEO

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

THE NEW ALBUM

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

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

INTERVIEW: Rickie Lee Jones

rickieleejonesweb2016

RICKIE’S STILL IN LOVE WITH MUSIC

Rickie Lee Jones, she of the long and diverse career that began back in the late 70s with that single Chuck E’s In Love, is still passionate about music and her achievements, as she explains to Chris Familton.

Beginning at the start of her career in Hollywood, odd jobs, a chance encounter with Tom Waits and her demo tape brought her to the attention of Lenny Waronker, producer and executive at Warner Bros. Records, who beat out other labels to sign her and launch her career.

“It was a dream at the time because before that I was just trying to pay the rent. I had a boyfriend at the time who was in school and he encouraged me to go out and play and make money to pay the rent. That helped me get started. It was hard, I was homeless for a lot of the time and and I had nothing to fall back on. When it happened it happened very quickly. At the time I was 23 I wrote Chuck E’s In Love and The Last Chance Texaco and I was on an unemployment benefit. Then one year later I was in a studio and recording an album. Once I decided in my mind to do it, it took about a year to sixteen months,” recalls Jones. “To be able to devote oneself to it is really helpful in gaining early success,” she says, before adding “that success, who doesn’t want that? But it comes with a lot of baggage.”

Jones’ most recent album, The Other Side Of Desire, was her first in a decade and was released independently after a crowdfunding campaign; making it a world apart from her experiences with major labels in the 70s and 80s heyday.

“It feels good not to have any pressure from an outside person to meet their expectations. The thing I had going when I was first signed was they were the best label in the world, they had the best A&R and they just loved music. They dropped you if you didn’t sell records but they didn’t sign you and then drop you straight away, they tried to develop artists and they kept them on the label,” she explains. “I was spoilt by that and know what it’s like to be on a label run by a company that loves its business more than business, that loves music and artists and doesn’t try to make them act like business people. We live in a time where artists act like business people, they talk about the bottom line and their brand. They talk about the brand of Beyonce and the brand of Madonna, this is shameful in the arts. It shows the whole process is corrupted.” says Jones, a tone of disillusionment creeping into her voice.

Jones sounds like she’s in a great place musically and personally as she looks to the future and what it may hold for her. “I am writing and I’m finishing a book which should be out around Christmas. I’m having fun right now performing and I can feel people engaged in ways that I didn’t feel before. I’ve accepted my place in music and I like that I’ve lasted this long and I just want to keep working on it. When I stand in front of an audience I know exactly who I am and that is a great gift.”

INTERVIEW: Margaret Glaspy

margaret_glaspy_h_0616_3-c014f2b20f690e2c5d836e080c6afa64

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.”