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The music industry is one fickle beast. One minute you’re in a band, the next minute you’re going it solo. So it’s refreshing when a couple of musos stick it out for the long haul, and continue to make music. Music that’s just as good, if not better, than when they first started out.
Case in point: Baby Animals.
Formed in Sydney in 1989, by singer Suze DeMarchi and guitarist Dave Leslie (with drummer Frank Celenza and bassist Eddie Parise now replaced appropriately with the respective talents of Mick Skelton and Dario Bortolin), Baby Animals have, in various guises, kept it rocking over the better part of a quarter of a century.
Sure there have been some strange stuff gone down along the way – the recording of an obscure album with an Italian title here; stories circulating that Suze would replace Michael Hutchence as singer for INXS– but the most part, the sheer love of making music has seen this band remain an Aussie institution in themselves.
Antonino Tati catches up with singer Suze and guitarist Dave over a dozen coffees, to talk new music, old memories, and the kooky stuff in between.
Where are you guys living these days?
[Suze:] I’m back in Sydney.
[Dave:] And I’m about an hour north of Sydney, in a place called Longjetty.
Suze, you’re from Perth originally. Do you like seeing so many great bands coming out of Perth these days?
There’s some great bands coming out of Perth. I’ve always believed so, because there are so many great places to play. With my first bands, we could have played every night of the week if we wanted to, and that gives you a really good music education.
Do you think Perth’s distance from the other Australian capitals makes our artists want to ‘prove’ themselves even more to deliver really good music?
Yeah. As beautiful as Perth is, you fight to get out in a way – only because there are no record labels here. There’s no industry as such, but there is a very, very good live scene here.
With the band having moved around a lot, in regards to your songwriting and various ideas, do you keep absolutely everything that you’ve jotted down, just in case you want to use it in a song in the future?
[Suze:] I try to keep everything. Every year I get a new book and I write loads of stuff in it. I also record everything on my iPhone: ideas or lyrics. And I write notes, like song title ideas or themes. I also use Garage Band a bit. For a lot of this record, Dave would send me ideas and I would download them onto Garage Band and just sing along to them and come up with melodies.
With the new album having arrived 20 years since the last one, it sounds as though a kind of organic, work-in-progress approach was taken to making the record. Like something that’s matured slowly, not just songs slapped together quickly.
[Suze:] Sure, for example the song Stitch is one that I wrote when I was living in Boston. That was sitting there for a long time. We did record it once before – when we put together an acoustic record – but never in the way we wanted it to sound. So we did it as it should be for this album. And Got It Bad was another song that was around for a while. Even Hot Air Balloon [Cream’s favourite] which I actually wrote with Justin Stanley [ex-Noiseworks and Electric Hippies who has since worked with Beck, Eric Clapton and The Vines] in LA when I was working with him.
All four of you will be on tour in October. Is there temptation to bring anyone else from the previous lineup?
[Suze:] No. We tried. When we did the acoustic record, we did a little tour with the other guys. But it just didn’t work. You have to decide who you want to spend your days with and how you want it to work. It’s got to be constructive and productive, and it’s really important that you have people in your band that, er, make life easier…
Is that easy enough for you, Suze, because you’ve got two kids now?
I’m a single mum, too, so it’s not easy. It’s quite a juggling act.
Are the kids old enough to tour with you?
My daughter is 17 but she wouldn’t want to. She’s like, no, that’s okay Mum, you go and do your thing. But my children have come to a few shows. It’s not too bad, because we’re only ‘satellite’ touring at the moment – so we’re in and out, and we’ve got great friends – people who are always there to help.
Are you happy to play some of the old tracks when you’re performing live?
[Suze:] I’m glad we have them! It’s nice to have a back-catalogue to refer to now and again.
When you’re playing live, old tracks and new, do you like to deliver songs similarly to their studio versions, or do you like to rearrange some of them?
[Suze:] Sometimes we go off [on a tangent].
[Dave:] Yeah, but it’s funny because a song like Stitch is still evolving, and when we play it live, it’s still growing from its recorded version. That’s not a conscious thing – like, oh let’s rearrange this song for the sake of just doing it – it’s the way it’s turning out.
[Suze:] Yeah, that’s a very powerful song live. But when it comes to the classic songs, we give the audience what they’re used to. To be honest, I don’t think people really appreciate it when you change stuff around too much. What we do a lot of, is we’ll mess around with a song like Ain’t Gonna Get and tag it with a crazy musical piece; a different groove…
[Dave:] Or turn it into something like Doom Metal [begins imitating a mad metal guitarist].
[Suze:] But I leave that up to the guys; they’re the musos.
Did you miss the boys during your solo career, Suze?
I did the solo thing in the ’80s and I hated it. I’m never going to do it again. The worst thing is that you don’t have the group with you to bounce stuff off, or have a laugh with. I then did the solo thing again later, but it wasn’t really solo because Dave came and lived in Boston with me, so I always had Dave there…
Why didn’t you guys just call yourselves Baby Animals through that phase anyway?
[Dave:] It didn’t feel right at that time.
[Suze:] The band was still tied to a label at that time. It took us six or so years to get off Imago and we couldn’t record anywhere.
[Dave:] Still, we worked together, and it felt like family.
You guys are close personally as well as members of the same band. Do relationships ever get strenuous when working together?
[Suze:] Well, we never have fights.
[Dave:] We’re pretty well aware to keep the business thing separate, too.
[Suze:] We’re very encouraging of each other, musically. I can just say something to Dave and he’ll get it straight away. And I just love what he plays.
Suze, there were stories circulating that you were going to front INXS…
Well they asked me to, and I didn’t think it was the right thing. Then I started working with Andrew Farris for a while. We thought, let’s have a go, and so we wrote together. Because the comparisons with Michael [Hutchence] were always going to be there, getting a girl to front the band would have been a little easier to deal with – people wouldn’t have wanted to compare [voices] straight away. So we did talk for a long time. But then they did that TV show, so that made my mind up for me…
Once they’d gone ‘reality TV’ it was a no-go?
Well let’s get to talking about the new record. It was recently rotated as 96FM’s Album Of The Week. Do you think radio stations pick the right tracks to play when a record is chosen as something like album of the week?
[Suze:] I think once you’ve finished an album, you should allow people to choose whatever they want to play from it. That said, I’m really happy with every song on this record so they can play any one of them.
[Dave:] There is a great cross-section of styles to this record. There are pop tracks, ballads, balls-out rock songs, all sorts of stuff. In fact, it’s a bit like the first record, I think.
I know you love all the tracks on the album, but what are your real stand-outs?
[Suze:] I love Under Your Skin, Warm Bodies, Stitch, and Invisible Dreamer.
[Dave:] I love Winter’s Day, and Under Your Skin. That one as a live track, too; it’s killer.
Where is the weirdest place you’ve heard one of your songs being played?
[Suze:] On an episode of Seinfeld, they played one of our songs in the background; the scene was set in a record store. I think it was One Word.
[Dave:] I can’t think… I did hear the demo tape of the Baby Animals tribute band, though!
Is there really a tribute band?
[Dave:]Yeah, they’re from Sydney. They’re called Early Warning.
They should have called themselves the ‘Baby’ Baby Animals. Turning to more about your songwriting; have either of you ever put a family member or friend into a song? Maybe changed their name for the sake of discretion?
[Dave, laughing:]Not me personally, because I don’t contribute that much lyrically. However I have played some guitar solos dedicated to family members, with a bit of voodoo in there…
[Suze:] There might be some stuff on this record that pisses people off. If you wanna get back at someone, put it in a song; release it to the world. [Laughs] It’s a good ‘fuck-you’. I mean, I can’t mention any names but there’s some stuff in there… But once a song is out there, it changes meaning and becomes whatever someone wants it to become.
Baby Animals’ new album This Is Not The End is out now through Social Family Records. It’s also available on iTunes.
Photography by Antonino Tati.
Thanks to Milkd Café for the caffeine fix.
Lana Parrilla’s acting CV is more eclectic than most. Kicking off with Spin City at the start of the century, then moving on to cop drama Boomtown, and a slew of hit series, from Lost to NYPD Blue, 24 to Six Feet Under, “variety” to her “is what it’s all about”. And let’s not get started on the host of left-of-centre movies she’s been bold enough to feature in (from Very Mean Men to Spiders to Replicants).
Currently, Parrilla stars in the dual role of Regina Mills and The Evil Queen in the adventure fantasy television series, Once Upon A Time.
Here she chats with Antonino Tati about avoiding typecasting, the strength of television today, and how her Spin City co-star Charlie Sheen would endlessly chew gum…
‘Once Upon A Time’: did you sense from the beginning that the show would be such a huge hit?
I knew it was very special when I read the script. Because of Adam [Horowitz] and Eddy [Kitsis, creators] and their experience on Lost, I thought if anyone can do this show, it was them. I have to admit I was hopeful but I wasn’t certain that it would go anywhere.
Being a show based on parallel universes, per se, was it difficult to get a grip on the scripts and plots?
It was a little confusing at first, but I found a method very early on that would help out. I would separate Fairytale Land and Storybrooke and approached them as individual scripts.
Playing two of the main roles – of Regina Mills and the Evil Queen, do you ever lapse into one when you should be acting as the other?
Never. I think I do a pretty good job of keeping them separate. I honestly didn’t find that challenging at all. I found other things challenging, but not keeping the roles apart.
Tell us something you have found challenging.
I think the origin of the characters’ pain: Regina’s psychological mind and how it works, I found challenging. And that required a ton of research.
You do have to psyche yourself up to play a baddie, don’t you?
On some level, yes.
Were you hesitant of taking on a prime-time role as a baddie?
Not so much. I know that it can sometimes bleed into life.
You mean some viewers might find it difficult to differentiate Lana Parilla, the actress, from the characters you play?
Yes I do. I think a lot of people have difficulty differentiating. I think it’s how viewers are introduced to a person. Some people think I really am Regina and they don’t know how to differentiate between Lana and the character.
Some directors and producers like to have their actors follow typecast patterns. Are you very aware of that and hence like to keep a variety of roles you choose?
A variety, definitely. I think my resume shows that this isn’t the only role I’ve played. In fact, this is my seventh series, and hopefully my demo shows the other sides, and my range.
Certainly. We first saw you in Spin City which was very much a comedy. Do you have fond memories of that show?
I do have fond memories of that show. It was my first big job in television. Funnily enough, I haven’t done comedy since. [Laughs]. I don’t know why; I just haven’t. I learnt a lot from Spin City, working with Charlie [Sheen], and Heather [Locklear] and Michael [J. Fox], I learnt quite a bit from those guys.
How was Charlie Sheen to work with back then? Was he going through a decadent thing or was he more together in those days?
I always found him to be well together. He is a total pro and I found him to be very focused and dedicated. He chewed a lot of gum! Smoked a lot of cigarettes. But he was a true professional and I believe Spin City was his big break back into the industry at that time.
I wanted to focus a little on your filmography. I’ve noticed a lot of the cinema you’ve featured in is quite left-of-centre. Is that by choice?
Yes, I like very unique projects. The most important things for me in a script is the writing. And the role: I don’t like to repeat something I’ve played already. Again, it’s about variety.
Television is becoming what cinema once was: bold and daring, with things we’re seeing on the screen just getting stranger and stranger, would you agree?
I think they’re getting stronger and stronger. I think we’re taking more risks in television. The writing has improved tremendously from what it used to be 15 years ago. The writing is much better than it ever was. And what’s proof of that is the amount of movie actors who are signing up for television. There are a lot more networks and channels producing more dramas and episodics. Before, those were never a consideration. It was always prime-time TV or HBO/Showtime, some things here and there, and that’s about it. Now you can make great shows on any network.
Would you agree that writers used to be dictated by producers and directors to come up with safe material whereas now there’s more free reign on the writers’ behalf?
Yes, there’s definitely more freedom for the writers.
Why do you think fairytale themes are so popular right now, both in film and on television? From the many Snow White movies on the big screen, to Grimm and of course ‘Once Upon A Time’ on TV?
I think it’s because these are stories we’ve grown up reading and loving. These are characters that are familiar to us, and people like what’s familiar to them. It’s comforting, right? On a creative level, though, I think we are exposing these characters on a more human level that no-one has ever seen before; showing their different levels of emotions; their back stories; and a lot of human complexities that go with those. The books we grew up reading didn’t really give much of those back stories…
We’re certainly seeing darker representations of classic fairytales…
Actually, I think they were always dark. They’ve been modified over the years, sure, but initially they were quite dark. And they were written that way for a reason: to teach children what not to do.
But they would capture the baddie in the fairytale books and be done with them, whereas now the force is very strong on both sides: good and evil. I’m sure film analysts are very confused now as to who is the villain and who is the hero…
Well now the hero is the villain and the villain is the hero. I find that [in Once Upon A Time] I’m both the hero and the villain.
Which means characters, both good and evil, end up with these huge followings of fans, sometimes the baddies end up with more fans than the goodies!
This is true. [Laughs].
Who are some of your dream directors to work with?
I would love to work with Almodovar. Michael Mann would be great. And Spielberg would be great; just so iconic. There are tons more but you’ve put me on the spot here…
That’s a nice variety already. Just one more question to round off the interview. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have one film on Blu-ray in your position, what would that film be?
I could say The Thief Of Bagdad but if I was stranded alone on an island it could either make me feel very happy – because of all the memories I have associated with the film – or it would make me really upset because I’d be alone and stuck with all those memories and wouldn’t be able to see the people whom I shared this film with! But for escapism, I’d say C.R.A.Z.Y. The capital letters represent an initial of each of five sons. It’s a Jean-Marc Vallée film about a young man who is coming out, actually, and it brings a lot of joy. It’s set in the Seventies, has a great soundtrack, and it’s just fun and very funny. You should see it if you haven’t already; a real feel-good movie.
Once Upon A Time airs on Channel Seven, Thursday nights, 9.15pm.
Main photography by Troy Jensen.
Insert: Lana Parrilla as The Evil Queen.
Speak to trip-hop pioneer Tricky (aka: Adrian Thaws) for any length of time and you realise he’s just a geezer. A very gifted geezer, mind you. The British native must surely be one of the most subversive artists of the past two decades, and has managed to sonically go against the grain with every new record release (ten albums so far).
As soon as he delivered his debut LP Maxinquaye, the UK music media crowned him The Prince of Trip-Hop, but Tricky always managed to transcend that label which he thoroughly despised from the outset. Rather, he’s virtually created a genre unto himself.
The fact is Tricky is like no other. He even had to distance himself from massive trip-hoppers Massive Attack so as to get on and do his own thing.
Tricky is unpredictable and he doesn’t like to compromise. That’s why, through years of being chained to a label that was more “guitar” like, he still managed to deliver eerie, gritty, even queer grooves that may have been more suited to slasher movies.
Now he’s out on his own, working under his own label, False Idols, and has just released his new LP, also called False Idols.
Here, he chats about pseudo heroes, conspiracy theories, the irony of hip-hop, nightclub brawls, and the inanity that is Kim Kardashian.
Interview by Antonino Tati.
Congratulations on a great new album. I liked it instantly. A couple of your last LPs took some getting used to, but this one – right from the get-go – has the listener hooked. How would you say it compares to your previous output?
I think this album is more my thing. The last two albums weren’t necessarily my kind of vibe, whereas this one is. I was thinking too much before. I was on Domino Records and I knew Domino needed a certain number of records [under contract] but they’re more of a ‘guitar’ label, if you know what I mean? I was thinking more like a businessman, and not artistically, and it just got way too much. Now things are more natural.
You’d agree, then, that it’s better for an artist to put out the music they want to, and not what’s forced on them?
Exactly. I don’t like to think too much about it, but now I’m on natural instinct – like when I was doing my earlier stuff.
False Idols is your tenth album, which is quite an impressive feat for one guy. Are you glad you’ve been able to work with so many collaborators across all those records?
I feel really lucky working with a variety of artists. And I feel lucky to still be making music after so long. It’s not about having big record sales or making money; it’s about being able to continue doing what you love. And I love making music.
You’ve even managed to cross over to film, appearing in cinematic hits Face/Off and The Fifth Element. Are you still involved in film?
I’m actually loving directing right now, and I’ve just made a short film. For me, being behind the camera is better than being in front of the camera. I just love watching people, you know?
A bit of a voyeur then, are you?
Yeah, yeah, definitely. I can take a coffee someplace and just sit and watch people.
I can’t do that; just sit in a coffee shop and watch people without feeling odd about it…
Oh, I can sit there for hours and hours, and just be the observer. It’s like I’m the weirdo.
Do you find people do strange things?
Well, when people realise I’m watching them, they change their behaviour. Some people get a little paranoid, and some start acting a little too cool. Particularly if somebody knows who I am, and I happen to be looking at them, or they’re having some sort of interaction with me, they’ll try to act cooler. People are strange, but I do like people.
The short film you’ve made, is it documentary-style, or is there dialogue and acting?
Dialogue and acting. The film’s about a girl who thinks she’s a video director, but she’s not. She does videos in her head, but really she’s a killer; an assassin, actually. It’s very interesting, but it’s not big budget. Very raw; very rough.
Your music videos are often raw. Gritty even. When you were making videos like that initially, it was all fairly new and deconstructive. But these days, with everyone having a camera in their pocket, that kind of cinema verité is popular en masse…
Yeah, it’s massive. I think everything just got so over-produced and videos started costing so much money though they didn’t necessarily [help] sell records – so it didn’t make sense to keep spending on them. Now anyone can make and post a video with no budget.
Getting back to the music, you of course were part of the Wild Bunch and the Massive Attack collective. Do you still like to associate yourself with the band – because I know there were some waves between you…
I haven’t got a problem with them, but we were never friends. We’re from totally different worlds. When I left the band, I didn’t have contact with them, not so much because we had problems but because they’re simply not my friends. My friends are very different to Massive Attack. We were just people in the same band together. I was in court for two years, right, looking at a prison sentence, but luckily enough I didn’t go.
Huh? What was the potential prison sentence for?
A brawl. Just kids in a club, having a fight. Nothing really serious. And when I took the stand, it was obvious [the other party] were lying. So the people who took me to court, also got me out of court, because there were just so many lies. Anyway, I had real friends come to visit me in court; and I’ve had real friends come to visit me in hospital; but none of Massive Attack would ever come visit and I wouldn’t expect them to come… It just wasn’t that kind of relationship, you know?
You were not only a rapper with the group, but co-authored a lot of the songs, including Daydreaming, Karmacoma and even the title track of the first album, Blue Lines. Not all fans might have realised that.
I suppose it all got lost in the shuffle, but I was producing for them, writing for them, and rapping for them. Even writing for their other vocalists. 3D [Robert Del Naja] didn’t want me to leave Massive Attack and I think that’s where some of the friction came from. I didn’t really want to stay. To me it was just work. I was just paying the rent.
Do you think there was some clash of ego there, too? That Massive were this respected collective, working with protégés, and then you veered off and starting having protégés of your own…
It was a bit of an ego thing, to be honest. Daddy G [Grant Marshall] did say a couple of things along the lines of, “Ooh, who do you think you are?”. He said something in the press about me once. Kind of a snide remark, but not too much because he won’t go there.
The title of the new album, False Idols, alludes to biblical reference, and there’s even a line about ‘Jesus dying for somebody’s sins but not mine’ in the opening track, which is a cover of Patti Smith’s Somebody’s Sins. Is there a statement being made here?
The title False Idols is more about the celebrity culture we’re in. I don’t think we need more celebrities; we need more humanity. To me, celebrity culture means nothing, and does nothing. The new celebrities are not really helping the world in any way or form. You can like someone else’s music, but to live through someone else’s life, that’s not realistic. Or to sit in front of the TV all day and night, you’re better off spending time with your family. Just go and do stuff! Being famous, and even being rich, doesn’t make you happy. I know famous and rich people who are some of the most unhappy and some of the worst people I’ve met, and I don’t know if that’s healthy.
Do you agree celebrity is becoming more and more detached from actual talent?
There are celebrities who I don’t actually know what they do. I’ve never heard any music or seen any acting from them, but they’re famous. I couldn’t tell you what they do, and I don’t know how people can be selling books and appearing on TV shows when they haven’t done anything.
You could almost call it ‘Kim Kardashian Syndrome’…
Yeah, why would anybody be interested in Kim Kardashian? It bewilders me. Who is she and what does she do? It’s totally senseless. There used to be people like Bobby Kennedy and Malcolm X who said and did big things. But now… it’s ridiculous.
Do you think all this inane celebrity is going to contribute to the dumbing down of the current or next generation? It seems when you were growing up, there were things to revolt against – racism, sexism – but these days if a pop star wraps themselves in slabs of raw meat, that’s supposed to be a radical statement…
It does dumb people down. But there are people out there, obviously, who ain’t gonna fall for it. There are clever people around, but it seems like there’s less. Now, most pop stars sing about their money and their success… I think we need artists more like Bob Marley and John Lennon, people who used to say something; who used to care.
But the bigger an icon and the more enlightened they make the masses, surely that could lead to getting into trouble… Think of the conspiracy theories about Lennon: was he assassinated by a madman or inadvertently by the government? It’s that whole thing that if you open your mouth too much and cause too much of a revolution, you might get a gun to your head…
Totally, and that’s been going on since the Roman Empire, there’s always been a way of ‘taming’ people, you know. They use the word ‘conspiracy’ because they want to make it look like it’s not serious. If I was as famous as Bob Marley or John Lennon and I keep saying the things I say, I think it could be dangerous for me. The only thing that keeps me safe is that I’m not this big artist. Everybody knew who Bob Marley was, and John Lennon, and if you get that famous, pushing for change is dangerous. Where I am right now, it’s almost like, just this guy being a bit of a rebel, but he hasn’t got the masses behind him.
On that subject about having the masses, or a public to express truth and opinion to, we have this massive platform – the Internet – and yet it’s not being used to full potential. Don’t you think it’s a pity many people don’t have anything constructive or really important to say online?
Yeah, it’s kind of sad. Especially getting back to that subject of pop stars just talking about money or how many girls they can get. I don’t listen to radio or watch TV now because it’s depressing and gives you no hope.
I was watching The Great Gatsby recently, which has Jay-Z on board as executive producer of the soundtrack. There are prime examples of a certain decadence in that film and in those songs…
Yeah, but I don’t understand it. It’s a strange attitude to take. It bewilders me that someone can have a career for so long, talking like that; always talking about a privileged lifestyle. What does it mean? Jay-Z is a talented guy. He must be. I’ve heard songs from him that I think are wicked, but I’d appreciate and respect him much more as an artist if he was talking about something. And he’s in a position where he could be helping a lot of people with his point of view.
Maybe we’ve got to wait a few more years and we might see more of the ‘master plan’?
Well there’s this kid called Hopsin in LA. I don’t think he’s got a record out yet, but he’s got 25 million views on one YouTube clip [28 million at last count!] and he’s changing things. This young kid is rapping about stuff, like, “I don’t care how much money you got, I don’t care how many diamonds you got, I don’t care about how dangerous you are, I don’t care if you’re a gangster.” So there are some people out there with something to say…
Tricky’s new album False Idols is out now through his own False Idols label, an imprint of !K7 Records. He might just tour Australia next year.
The first time I met Andrew Stockdale was years before he fronted Wolfmother. He came in to the offices of Cream as a budding photographer, eager to show us his book. Indeed, I hadn’t realise this was the same guy since his afro only got bigger with the band – that is until Andrew reminded me mid-way through this interview.
“Back then I was busking, in Central Station and around Glebe,” tells the singer-songwriter. “I was always playing music while doing photography.
“I got a degree in photography and felt that it’s what I should have been doing – thinking music was a distraction from that. But once I switched to music, it just took off.”
Indeed, Wolfmother’s self-titled debut album became one of the best-selling Australian records of the century so far, going on to win a Grammy, several ARIA awards, and having the band spend almost a decade on the road touring the US, Europe and of course, Australia.
Then, in April this year, after one final gig with Aerosmith in Melbourne, the band announced it would ‘break up’.
Indeed, the guys are all still very close, with most of the other band members contributing to Andrew’s new solo LP Keep Moving.
Here, he chats about the bond between them, why the move away from Wolfmother, the music on the new album, and what it was like to receive all those Led Zeppelin references at the start.
Interview by Antonino Tati.
Your new solo album Keep Moving features 17 tracks at an average of four minutes per track. That’s a hell of a lot of work for one guy; for one guy doing most of the work, anyway…
Yeah, but I find it therapeutic and easy to write songs. I don’t know what it is.
I know the guys from Wolfmother helped you out on the album, but was it daunting at times, where you felt, ‘Gee, I wish I had the guys around more often’?
It’s kind of a balancing act. Sometimes you think having the guys in the studio is going to help me do something, and you can use that as a crutch. But then sometimes it’s, like, ‘Why can’t they work out what to do on the second chorus for me?’ So then I just go sit down at home and work it out.
Do you sometimes feel like a patient in a mental ward when you’re on your own, thinking and talking to yourself?
That’s just it! Your inner voice comes out, and you’ve gotta listen to it, for better or for worse.
How long was the songwriting process for you?
There are some songs on this record that were written two years ago, and some songs that were written two weeks before they got recorded. It was a combination of songs that had a spontaneous edge to them, and ones that I’d had a little while to sit on, get used to, and improve.
Are you one of those writers that likes to hold on to every scrap of paper, every lyric, just in case you want to use it for a song in the future?
Yeah, I try to write down and keep as many ideas as I have. The other day I had a listen to about 30 songs that I’d put to the side, and I’m starting to like them! That’s half the challenge, or the discipline, of it – to finish the ideas. If you keep something as just a 15-second idea, that could have been the best song of all time.
Wolfmother was so successful; why the break away from the brand, particularly since some of the other guys are still working with you?
Well the guys who are in the current line-up of Wolfmother aren’t playing in my solo project. But the other guys… they’re all here now. We just had breakfast together!
Precisely, and that’s what everyone’s wondering. Why did you break away from Wolfmother? It was a great band name; it had a great reputation…
I guess because it’s not the original line-up. Wolfmother was the name we gave the band when we started. Chris [Ross, one of the founding members] gave that name to the band. Before that, it was called Stockdale. You know, I had Dimension, Woman, White Unicorn… all those songs on a demo that had Stockdale written on the front of it. And Chris was like, ‘Let’s call it Wolfmother’, so I went along with it. It was a band name that honoured the other guys’ contribution. Sure, it’s a great name and everybody knows it. And, sure, since the band disbanded, I always have to be referenced as ‘Andrew Stockdale from Wolfmother’, otherwise nobody is going to know who it is [laughs a lot].
When the band started out and you kept getting the Led Zeppelin references, was that a huge compliment to you?
At the start it was a massive honour. The first time someone said that we were, like, ‘Wow!’ I mean, they were one of the greatest bands of all time. But creatively, if I try to be like Led Zeppelin, I can’t write a song, because Led Zeppelin is like a jam band, whereas I’ve more of a song-driven guy. I walk in with riffs and ideas and I allow those ideas to evolve.
Are you keeping a look over the artwork and packaging?
Totally. And it’s hard because you can’t blame anyone else since you’re doing it. When other designers are bringing concepts in, you can say that’s good or that’s average. But when you’re doing it yourself it’s, like, ‘I’ve really gotta make this good’. Sometimes you’re spending two weeks to come up with a record cover or promo photos; just something that will totally match the music.
Tell us about the recording of the album; where was it mostly laid down?
I recorded it in a warehouse in Byron Bay [where he currently lives] and also in a studio called Rocking Horse in Byron. I also built a studio in Brisbane where we recorded some of it. To get it mixed, though, I sent it all off to Vance Powell [engineer and mixer of The Great Gatsby and Iron Man 3 soundtracks, and Jack White’s Blunderbuss] in Nashville. He was great. One time he was, like, ‘Man, I was just doing an interview for the Grammys and it was boring as shit and I thought to myself I just wanna go and mix some of your record.’
That’s pretty impressive, considering Vance’s discography.
Yeah, he’s a legend.
Would you ever like to call the US home?
Well I’ve been in Byron for a year and a half and I love it here. I tried to move to LA a couple of times and spent a few weeks there. But I got tired of driving along the highways, and I like to see people walking on the street.
Why did you pick Long Way To Go [current single] as the album opener?
I see that song as an invitation to the record. Like, here’s a bit of something that will draw you in. It’s a feel-good, mid-tempo, riff-driven song with a bit of a shakedown section at the back. So hopefully it’ll act as something to intrigue people to hear more.
Lots of beards in that music video. Why are so many guys walking around with beards these days? Did Wolfmother start something?
[Laughs heaps:] Ummm, I don’t know. A friend of mine Tommy Franklin has a beard. And I’ve had a beard on and off. Why did I grow it? I just thought it’d look cool.
Back to the song, and on a final note, with that grinding guitar from the get-go the listener knows they’re in for a real rock treat. Are you a fan of albums that start off hard, or slower, like, say, U2’s Zooropa, or Radiohead’s Kid A?
I do love those records like Zooropa but they never made me want to make music. They seemed so produced. For me it was more of a John Spencer Blue Explosion or White Stripes kind of scenario that made me go, ‘Yeah, I can have a go at that.’
Keep Moving is out June 7 through Universal Music.
Andrew Stockdale also tours in June, the following dates and venues:
Thursday June 6th – Newcastle University, NSW
Friday June 7th – The Metro Sydney, NSW
Saturday June 8th – Waves Nightclub Wollongong, NSW
Thursday June 13th – The Ferntree Gully Melbourne, VIC
Friday June 14th – The Hi Fi Melbourne, VIC
Saturday June 15th – The Wool Exchange Geelong, VIC
Sunday June 16th – Pier Street Live Frankston, VIC
Wednesday June 19th – The Gov Adelaide, SA
Thursday June 20th – The Bakery Perth, WA
Friday June 21st – Fly By Night Club Fremantle, WA
Saturday June 22nd – Prince Of Wales Bunbury, WA
Thursday June 27th – The Hi Fi Brisbane, QLD
Friday June 28th – Coolangatta Hotel Gold Coast, QLD
Saturday June 29th – The Northern Byron Bay, QLD
Tickets available through Moshtix.
It was 2004 when we first met Amanda Seyfried on the big screen, as she sparkled in the teen-angst comedy Mean Girls. Having modelled since the age of 11 and put away several television roles prior to her celluloid debut, Seyfried seemed a natural on the silver screen, equipped with all those essential qualities: beauty, poise, pout, ambition, and that glint in the eye that demands to learn and know more about the fantastical filmic world around her.
Since Mean Girls, she has appeared in everything from romantic dramas (Dear John, Letters To Juliet) and erotic thrillers (Chloe, Jennifer’s Body), to quirky indie flicks (Nine Lives, Alpha Dog) and musicals (Mamma Mia!).
Her most recent turn has been in the stage-come-celluloid epic Les Misérables in which she plays Cosette, the orphan of an unwed mother deserted by her father. Hence her character is very much the linchpin of this Victor Hugo classic.
With her ability to portray a diverse array of handsome young women, it is no wonder that the House of Givenchy has hired Amanda as the face for its new Very Irresistible parfum (see a clip of it here).
In this interview, Amanda Seyfriend talks about how her role in Les Misérables took more from the book than the stage, and the occasional art of lip-synching.
You had some past musical experience with Mamma Mia!, the movie (2008). How did that experience help prepare you for this, your role of Cosette in Les Misérables?
This is a completely different animal. It is a drama, it is a tragedy, it is a really dark story told through song, which you would not think would work, but it is a phenomenon. With these actors and with Tom Hooper directing it, it actually pulls you into it. It is funny when you see Les Misérables (2012), when some of the characters speak you are kind of pulled out of it — you expect them to sing because the music lends itself to that feeling. It is just a really big challenge. For Mamma Mia!, I just recorded my stuff months ahead of time and learned how to lip-sync my voice. For this, it was completely different.
[Actor] Eddie Redmayne told me how HughJackman said that while you are lip-syncing stuff, you spend a lot of your brainpower thinking about syncing up with your words rather than focusing on the actual emotional aspect of the performance.
You cannot really be in the moment, and there is no freedom whatsoever. You are stuck with what you have recorded, and it works for a lot of things. It works for Mamma Mia! It is an entirely different genre.
Your character is a positive anchor in a very dark story. You have to maintain a certain energy level but still be aware of the tragedy around you.
I felt the responsibility of being that light in these densely tragic surroundings, and the circumstances are just tragic. I needed to be the source of light or maybe the only source of light.
It’s a very challenging part.
We took a lot of Cosette from the book because on stage she can sometimes just disappear in everything else that is going on. She is such a positive source, such a symbol of hope, and we had to make sure she was interesting as well.
In this day and age, it must be hard to keep somebody isolated in the way that Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) does with Cosette because of cell phones, the Internet and everything else. How did you get in the headspace of being completely cut off?
You have to have this kind of naivety that I think I actually have in certain ways. That was a resource for me; just someone who actually has not seen the bad parts or really experienced the good parts. [The character of Cosette] is very protected and in a way she is very comfortable, but at the same time she cannot even explore and really has no idea what is out there, which is why this falling in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne) at first sight pulls her out of her cage in a way. You can see that teenage angst at that point. She becomes alive.
Les Misérables is available now on Blu-ray and DVD through Universal Home Entertainment (and just in time for Mother’s Day!).
Pictured (top of story): Amanda Seyfried for Parfums Givenchy, and (below) a still from Les Misérables.
Australian singer-songwriter Ben Lee has never shied away from having his say. He is, after all, the guy who blatantly titled one of his songs Cigarettes Will Kill You, while on the esoteric front he named one of his LPs Awake Is The New Sleep – a phrase that hinted toward a deeper delving into everyday consciousness.
Now, with the help of a little-known medicinal plant from the Amazon, Lee delves further into esoteric thought to create the perfect meditative soundtrack. His new album is called Ayahuasca: Welcome To The Work, and it is not only inspired by ceremonial and spiritual practise but hopes to inspire a little ritualism in each of us.
Here he chats with Antonino Tati about the power of psychedelic drugs, his mentoring on The Voice, and a very daring charity he’s supporting called MAPS – the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
Turn on, tune in, but don’t necessarily drop out…
Congratulations on your new album. I must say it has a rather odd title in Ayahuasca: Welcome To The Work. I believe it has something to do with a plant found in South America – but how do you pronounce its name, and can you tell us a bit about it?
[Ben proceeds to pronounce it:] “Ah-you-wah-ska”. Ayahuasca is a plant or medicine native to the Amazon and its surrounding areas. It’s a psychedelic medicine, I suppose, that offers an intense experience that takes you very profoundly into your own buried unconscious.
A bit like mescaline?
It’s similar in the sense that it’s an indigenous medicine used for spiritual guidance, yeah, and that it’s a shamanistic experience. It works on personal, psychological issues, and on interpersonal issues. You can never tell exactly what’s going to happen, but essentially it treats the ‘illness’ in each person as needed.
Are there any negative side effects; any limit to taking it?
No, it’s completely non-toxic. It’s actually a detoxifier, so part of the experience of working with Ayahuasca is purging, which might mean vomiting or what have you. It basically pushes toxins out of your system. But, as with other therapeutic tools like chiropractics or psychotherapy, you wouldn’t put yourself in the hands of someone who is inexperienced or someone who is not a great teacher or facilitator if you’re going to be in such a vulnerable state. So it’s really something that must be worked with ceremonially, in a group, guided by a leader.
I assume Ayahuasca is legal in South America, although if you tried to bring it into Australia you’d get a slap on the wrist…
It’s actually in a very grey area because it’s only been coming into Western culture in the last decade or two. The active neuro-chemical component in it is is illegal to produce as a chemical, but it does exist naturally in plants – and even in the human brain. In America, some churches have it protected under the Religious Freedoms Act and there have been a couple of similar cases in Australia but nothing that has reached high up to the Supreme Court. I’m sure it’s something that will be sorted out in a little while…
Did you write songs for the new album while you were on it?
No, it’s not possible. The actual medicine is immobilising in that it really forces you to take stock of your inner world and there’s no concern in your mind that ‘I need to do this’ or ‘I need to make this’. It’s, like, you’re fighting for your life. But certainly those experiences were inspiration for writing – later. It wasn’t as much a cathartic thing as it was to make music as a gift for the medicine. As if to say ‘thank you’ for what it’s given to me, and here’s my attempt to bring some of the wisdom from that ceremonial work into music.
What about the writing of some of your previous material; has there been any illicit substances used to inspire it? A bit of marijuana perhaps?
I’ve experienced all those things but I’ve never brought them into my music in a literal way. The thing is, I’ve never experienced something like this ceremonially, and I think that is a big part of what gives Ayahuasca its power. You know, we live in a very de-ritualised world and ritual is actually a very important part of maturing, of growing up and getting to know ourselves.
It’d be nice if your new CD came with a how-to guide, but like you said, you’d really need someone who knows the practise to carry out the ritual with you…
Well I almost did the opposite. On the back of the album I told people that if you’re drawn to Ayahuasca, please take it very seriously – as seriously as you’d take going to see a therapist or a doctor.
There are some songs on the new album whose titles alone seem pretty dark, such as Welcome To The House Of Mystical Death…
To me Mystical Death is not inherently dark. It depends where you stand in that moment. To me it’s about the letting go of the one perspective and the birthing of a new perspective. The part of you that you’re letting go of, you might think of it as being dark, but the new thing coming in can be a very positive experience.
You released a song called Cigarettes Will Kill You a few years ago and some people may have thought you were being a bit heavy… Do you take that feedback on board?
It’s vulnerable to open up a part of yourself, especially something that’s got a taboo element in society. Whether it’s coming out of the closet as gay for someone – I understand why that would be scary; and similarly talking about this type of ceremonial work with psychedelics. It’s very vulnerable. I’m cautiously prepared to discuss it, but at the same time I don’t feel the need to be defensive; I just have to speak my truth as an artist. That’s what makes artists interesting.
You like to make music with a bit of a message…
I’ve always been interested in the merging of work about consciousness with popular culture. You know, it’s funny: putting out this Ayahuasca album and being a mentor on The Voice perfectly encapsulates my dual ways of thinking. I want to take all this esoteric work and understanding and spiritual enquiry, and I want to contextualise it in the language of my world – which is music.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve discovered whilst being a mentor on The Voice?
It’s been interesting doing The Voice. I saw some people come into it with a strategy of ‘How do I play the game?’, ‘How do I win this thing?’. Whereas my attitude to it was, ‘Guys, you probably are not going to win this; you probably will get two-and-a-half to five minutes of national television in front of two million people… How are you going to use that to be authentically you?’ That to me would create the next step to their life. I find it a bit boring, people that strategise too much.
That brings me to another question about reality television talent contests; do they compromise a person’s integrity – to see them being shaped, possibly even pre-packaged, right from the start?
Yeah, I’d say it probably does. I don’t necessarily look to these types of singing competitions to find the next Bob Dylan, or the next Bruce Springsteen, or the next Beethoven. These competitions are a study in the psychology of performance and that really has its own appeal to it. There’s an illusion that people think that out of a singing competition on TV you’re meant to discover the next Beatles. I think those types of artists come from a very different type of collision of events and influences.
You have an actress-come-singer in Jessica Chapnik Kahn who provides some vocals on your new album. How did that collaboration come about?
I’d made a few records with Jessica, including the soundtrack to Nash Edgerton’s film, The Square,a few years ago. Then I produced a project for her [under the guise of Appleonia] so we had a very profound and trusted relationship. Also, she’s been working with the medicine, so it became a natural step for us to explore that.
Some of the songs you’ve made together are very contemplative. Listeners might even consider doing a yoga session to them.
Well I was thinking more of a meditative journey. I want this to be an inner journey where the music is the background to it.
Tell us a bit about the charity that all of the artist royalties for this album are going towards, MAPS.
MAPS are basically interested in legal, safe, government-endorsed testing of these different, natural and pharmaceutical psychedelics. Basically, in the post-1960s scare about psychedelics, the baby was thrown out with the bath water. These were medicines that, at least for a brief moment, were considered to be very beneficial for things like post-traumatic stress, depression, schizophrenia and other disorders. In fact, LSD was a psychiatric drug before people used it recreationally. When these things became more recognised as recreational drugs, they became outlawed, and all the potential research about the value of them got thrown out.
Careful there; some might say you’re sounding like a pusher…
Hey, I’m not, like, a psychedelic evangelist that thinks everybody needs to take drugs, but I think that bringing this conversation into the mainstream hints at a deeper conversation which is ‘What role does healthy consciousness play in the health of our society?’ And until we can really look at consciousness, I don’t think we’ll really have answers to things like why are women so mistreated?… Why do we mistreat our environment so severely? You know, you look at the ways that patriarchal society has repressed and damaged various parts of the world and I think a lot of it has to do with our relationship to our unconscious. So I’m really interested in how a group like MAPS raise some very deep, philosophical questions within a very communicable and digestible dialogue.
Turning something once considered taboo into something positive?
Yeah, into something non-taboo and into something that can be discussed.
Ayahuasca: Welcome To The Work is out now through One World Music.
Pictured above: Ben Lee with collaborator Jessica Chapnik Kahn.
Unless you’ve had your head in the clouds, you’d be aware of the fantasy television show, Grimm, best described as “a procedural cop drama with a twist” – the twist being that victims and villains in the show are inspired by characters out of the infamous Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
The show, like Once Upon A Time, caters to a postmodernist-loving audience that appreciates classic tales turned on their head, where the lines between hero and victim are occasionally blurred, and where classic scenarios are thrown into modern context.
Actor Russell Hornsby, whose previous TV credits have included playing a cop in Lincoln Heights and a patient in In Treatment, plays the major role of Hank Griffin, a homicide detective in Grimm.
Here, he talks about the show’s popularity, and things that scare him in real life.
Russell Hornsby, pictured front of the cast of Grimm (above).
How would you sum up Grimm for people who haven’t seen it yet?
It’s basically a procedural fantasy based on the Grimms’ Fairy Tales. We’ve sort of updated the idea of the stories and we have this guy Nick Burkhardt [David Giuntoli] who is a police detective with the power to be able to see the creatures when they’re in human form.
And how would you sum up your character of Hank?
He is Nick’s detective partner. He has a wonderful evolution from not knowing to knowing about the world of the Grimms [the guardians charged with keeping order between creatures and humans]. He’s sarcastic, a little dark and somewhat aloof. Do I have anything in common with him? Well, I can be sarcastic but I’m a lot more humorous and witty in real life than he is. I’m also not as in love with love as Hank is. He’s been married a few times whereas I’ve been married one time and [laughs] I don’t let the smooth taste of a woman fool me too often.
How do you account for the popularity of the show?
I think that audiences today are a lot more sophisticated and a lot smarter than they used to be ten or 20 years ago. It’s no longer just about smoke and mirrors and it’s no longer just about effects. People want to be engaged a lot more in story. As film and television effects evolve we’re not taken by the tricks anymore. Writers are now having to go back to telling better stories.
Do you get recognised more because of the show’s success?
Absolutely. I am now officially an international face. I won’t say I’m an international name but I am an international face because my character is internationally known. People don’t know who the hell I am but they know who Hank is. So far I’ve been recognised in South Africa, London, Australia and Sweden.
How is it attending fan conventions like Comic-Con?
It’s overwhelming, to be honest. It’s fun on a certain level but it’s just overwhelming – and what I mean by that is that I’m overwhelmed by the fanaticism of Comic-Con. I appreciate and respect it because they love the show so much, but I’m not used to being made a big deal of. I come from the theatre so I’m used to getting off stage after the show, hearing the applause, maybe getting a standing ovation if you’re lucky, then you go out the stage door and there’s nothing but the sound of crickets and drunks in the alley. They have no idea who you are, they’re just asking ‘Brother, can you spare a dime?’ So this is all new to me.
Do fans at conventions ask you some tricky questions?
They ask me questions and I have no idea where they’re going with it or where I need to go with the answer. Because as Hank I don’t deal with the mythology as much first-hand – although I’m starting to now. I didn’t grow up playing Dungeons & Dragons so it’s hard for me to wrap my head around it, although I’m getting there. For the first year I was like ‘What are you talking about?’ but now I’m starting to get it.
It’s a scary show but what scares you in real life?
I’m scared of dogs and rats. I was bitten by a Doberman Pinscher when I was seven so I’m not too fond of dogs. I have this inner fear that I battle with; it’s that thing of when you’re walking home, along a country road or something like that, I have a healthy fear of a dog. And rats? I told my wife Denise early on ‘If a rat or a mouse comes into the house you can’t count on me to help’. It’s happened, too. A mouse came in and I ran for the hills. My wife ended up trapping it, but at least I had enough dignity to scoop it up and throw it out.
Do you recall hearing Grimms’ Fairy Tales when you were young?
They weren’t a big part of my childhood. I was Disneyfied as a kid. I knew the fluffy versions and so I wasn’t exposed to the true grit of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales until I got to do this show. I’ve since read 20 to 30 of them and in some ways it doesn’t surprise me how gritty they are. Europeans are a bit grittier and a little more direct, more honest, so they’re consistent with the European style. There’s a gruff, hard exterior, whereas Americans deal in fantasy. We want to act like everything is fine while under the surface people are getting killed left and right. We never want to deal in truth.
You also played a police officer on Lincoln Heights as well as on other shows but did you do any fresh research for Hank?
I’ve played so many police officers it’s one and the same. I’ve done all that – I’ve done the ride-alongs, I’ve done the shooting range stuff, I have uncles who are in law enforcement in Boston, I’ve been in the hood, I’ve seen people gunned down – unfortunately. Some things you don’t have to do research for – you just get it and you know it. On television it’s about how much je ne sais quoi you bring to the role. It becomes about your personality. After a while you have to throw research out the door and just be interesting.
You were a football player in college so what lead you into acting?
If I’d gone into football as a career I don’t know how much control I would have had over my life. I realised I’d have a little more control as an actor and at least my bones are intact. Also, my spirit is to be a performer and I tapped into that early in life and realised it was the only way I could really function and live – through some form of performance. I can’t sit behind a desk and I don’t have the patience to write, I’m a performer in my soul. I started acting in high school and friends of mine will tell you that it was consistent with my character to be an actor. I was always the centre of attention, I was always the one with a joke, I always had a song to sing… I used to communicate in bursts of music and I didn’t really learn how to speak English until I was about 20 years old. I communicated through song.
What are your all-time scariest films and TV shows?
Things like Friday The 13th (1980) and A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) are so scary I couldn’t stand to watch them. Growing up I was more into musicals like The Wizard Of Oz (1939) and Damn Yankees (1958), although the winged monkeys in The Wizard Of Oz used to scare the crap out of me as a kid. Along with The Wicked Witch Of The West, they used to give me nightmares.
Grimm Season One is available on Blu-ray (SRP $59.95) and DVD (SRP $54.95) through Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Bonus features on both the Blu-ray and DVD versions include extended and deleted scenes, character bios, audition tapes, and a featurette ‘Grimm – Making Monsters’ which goes behind the scenes with the team who bring the show’s villainous characters to life.
I remember as a kid, my big sister would wake the family up on Sunday mornings playing records on our trusty Phillips stereo. The music wouldn’t suddenly be blasted: that would have been mean on a lazy Sunday. Rather, she’d start of slowly with some acoustic James Taylor, veer into a Fleetwood Mac Rumours vibe, then shift into grooves from Boz Scaggs’ Silk Degrees.
By the time I’d hear those infectious Philly-style keys of Scaggs’ What Can I Say, I’d be out of bed, jumping up and down in our living room. The album, in retrospect, always conjures up great times in the late Seventies for me. Days of innocence for a seven/eight/nine-year-old kid – and while I may not have truly understood the warnings of shady dealings of Lido in Lido Shuffle or experienced the down-and-out bluesy sentiment of Lowdown, somehow those songs prepared me for experiences later in life.
But Silk Degrees is just a fraction of the Boz Scaggs discography. Indeed the guy has delivered some 20 albums in an impressive music career so far, leading to his newest release, Memphis, a record that looks back on his life, musically and biographically. Boz’s father and grandparents are all from Memphis, as is his wife, and of course the bluesy elements that permeate the record have their roots in the famed Tennessee city while acting as reflections of the rollercoaster muso’s life.
Here, Boz Scaggs chats with Cream about his six degrees of separation to other veteran musicians, from Steve Miller to Ray Parker Jr, and what it means to make music in today’s “information age”.
Congratulations on a fine new album in Memphis. You yourself were born in Oklahoma though…
Yes, I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma until I was about eight or nine, then I moved to Texas. The small Texan town that I grew up in had about a thousand people in it, but now it’s part of the larger Dallas/Fort Worth area. It’s got a population of about 400,000 now and I don’t think I’d recognise it if I were to go back.
Did you have aspirations to be a musician when you were a kid?
I didn’t really have any idea about my future as a musician as a kid. Later, as a teen I was mostly a traveller. I left Texas when I was 17 and had a very brief university career. I then went to live in Europe for about three years, and then went back to San Francisco and made a couple of records with the Steve Miller Band. But I still didn’t really have any clear idea of my future as a musician.
Why didn’t you stay with the Steve Miller Band?
Steve and I were going in different directions. He went his way and I went my way.
It seems you have six degrees of separation with other rock’n’rollers, too. Your album Silk Degrees featured session musicians who then went on to form Toto, for example.
That’s right. I think [making music] is a building process.
Your current biography focuses on the blues, R’n’B, rock and jazz elements of your discography but I think it neglects to mention ‘pop’. Wouldn’t you agree a lot of your Seventies hits, particularly from Silk Degrees, were very much in the pop vein?
Well certainly Lido Shuffle was a pop song. And What Can I Say was a pop song with a dance beat. And then there was Lowdown which was the biggest [hit] of all of them, in the States anyway. But Lowdown was big on the R’n’B charts… I got a Grammy for it actually, for top R’n’B song of the year, so that to me was leaning more toward the other side of the radio dial, but it also reached number two on the pop charts.
When you were recording songs like those, did you feel you had to abide by what was in vogue in music at the time, for example incorporating Philly-style keys on What Can I Say?
Well I was working very closely with the arranger on that song, David Paich, who was also the piano player on that song, and he and I shared a great love for Philly-style music like the Isley Brothers and Earth, Wind & Fire. So we were just drawing on our mutual love of that sound.
Artists like yourself tend to write from the heart and the gut, and there was a lot more original music decades back. When you see young performers of today being pre-packaged on television talent shows – with not a lot of original material to offer – what do you think?
I don’t know. I’ve never seen American Idol or any of those shows. I know what they’re about but they don’t interest me. My son is actually a musician [and a music journalist] but I wouldn’t influence what he is doing. Every generation finds it’s own, and every musician finds his own way of expressing himself. The people on shows like American Idol are also, you know… they come from a generation that borrows a great deal. They’re from an information age and in some ways we have to envy them. I think I was 13 years old before I even heard of James Brown, whereas any six-year-old can listen to James Brown now.
Speaking of veterans of the industry, you’ve got quite a few who have worked on your new album with you: Steve Jordan [drummer] who’s worked with everyone from Keith Richards to John Mayer; Ray Parker Jr and Charles Hodges. Did you all just come together in a pub or something and say ‘Let’s make a record’ or were the musicians hand-picked?
They were definitely hand-picked. Steve Jordan and I collaborated on where and when we would do this record and chose the musicians we wanted to work with on this project. We’ve both had experience with Ray Parker Jr, for instance, and we both have a long history with Willie Weeks [on bass] and Steve Jordan. Indeed those two have been working quite a lot recently as a pair. Ultimately, it was very carefully selected: who we recorded with and where we recorded.
Do you have those guys on stage with you when you tour?
I use my own band when I tour, but again, we stick to a pretty close arrangement for the most part.
Boz Scagg’s new album Memphis is out through 429 Records / Universal Music.
I’ve had the fortune of knowing singer songwriter Ella Hooper since she was 21. My first and vivid impression arrived in a version of an instantly likeable, somewhat intriguing, very well raised, “but I’ve outgrown the country and I’m busting a move up here in the big smoke”, kinda gal. I sensed she was wearing a subtle but identifiable badge of apprehension or side-stepping a small puddle of grayness amidst the black and white of her personality. Then I heard her voice and it made even more sense, that polite and gracious demeanour, completely intact and unchanged today, would set the tone of light and dark, and soft and hard still present in Hooper’s vocal compositions. From fronting Killing Heidi to starring alongside brother Jesse in The Verses, to standing solo and strong today, Ella Hooper is one of Australia’s musical forces to be most reckoned with.
The lyrics and composition of Ella’s first two solo singles Low High and Haxan stay undeniably true to her familiar autobiographical catalogue of writings. Except this time around she shows a more vulnerable side, still easy for loyal followers to identify with as she simply navigates through her own version of life.
“I wanted to challenge myself and I thought, shit, now’s the time,” says the girl. “I am never going to feel perfect about this, I really needed to do this, to break away and express just myself and who I am when no-one else is around. It’s still autobiographical but in the past I have always wanted to be the solution and the encourager, rather than the naysayer or someone that explores and expresses the darkness. This time I had to take the time to give myself that leeway to go ‘this is fucked’, or ‘I feel challenged’, or ‘I feel lost’ or ‘who the hell am I?’ and I think by doing that, hopefully people will see a different side to me.”
You could (safely) expect Ella to be surrounded by talented industry mates; it was generally the case. Low High is accompanied by a haunting video clip by noted photographer Wilk and and producer Jan Skubizewski (Owl Eyes, Illy, Way Of The Eagle) who provided a controlled but contrasting studio environment, where Hooper was able to be her absolute self with but still encouraged to explore creative options bought to the table by Skubizewski.
I asked Hooper how the creative process played out.
“I had about six songs, that [developed] pretty much the traditional way; sitting there in my lounge room playing my guitar and writing my lyrics. Then when I got into the studio I wrote another six and, pop!, out came Low High, and I thought ‘Whoa, now we’re really on a new page…”
And what was it like working with Jan Skubiewski?
“It was so good and this huge step into the unknown. I knew I wanted a great producer that could do a lot of things, so we didn’t have to, again, put another band together, and Jan is a great multi-instrumentalist. He’s a great producer and he also loves a very wide variety of music like me – I like everything from old country to rock, and I said to Jan, ‘You’re going to have to have an open mind and you’re going to have to try and help me find something that doesn’t really fit anywhere, yet fits everywhere.”
Ella and brother Jesse have been collaborating and performing since their early teens. For any other artist, it could prove difficult to pull away and focus on solo intentions.
“Yeah, it was intense, almost like a big break-up, but Jesse has been so supportive and lovely, even driving me to the studio some days so I would make it on time.
“But I had to do it alone and he understood that. Jesse is also doing so many cool things on his own now so I think it’s got something to do with giving each other the space to become our own people and to be creative, away from each other,which we really hadn’t done much of; we’ve always been creative together. Our relationship, our friendship is even stronger now that we don’t have to see each other every day. He’s really stoked for me and I am so happy for him because he’s actually kicking ass at what he’s doing, too.”
Ella could be forgiven for making peace with need for big label assistance this time around. Some well -ocumented struggles with first labels Wah Wah Records and Sony BMG and a big move to the USA to record The Verses album sees Hooper now pting to fund her own project, deciding to releasing the album In Tongues independently.
“It’s going to be a little bit more organic because we are doing it independently with just our money and our energy behind us and no big record company to kind of count on for the big marketing spends. But on the other hand it’s a great time for me to really get my grass roots fan base back.”
Any tour plans for 2013?
“I would love to go to a SXSW festival and get this album out far and wide. My desire to get out and all over the country is really strong and my ambitions and expectations are really high but I realise I’m going to have to do it a little bit more, piece by piece. I’ve got the itchiest feet and can’t wait to travel and tour again. I’ve also got my Facebook friends and Twitter friends, that are saying, are you coming, when are you coming, so yes I would love to get on the road as soon as possible.”
Ella Hooper’s new single Haxan is out now.
The album In Tongues is soon out.
Hailing from Perth, Western Australia, Birds Of Tokyo launched their stunning debut in 2007. Their second LP released just a year later saw sales reach gold status while the next self-titled album reached platinum.
Going from strength to strength and now – thanks to a newly released fourth studio album – Birds Of Tokyo are creating all sorts of noise.
A deliberate attempt to break from their traditional sound seems to be hitting all the right buttons as their first single Lanterns revealed, largely responsible for landing the album at number one on its release.
Patrick Lewis catches up with bassplayer Ian Berney to chat about their latest album March Fires.
Congratulations on debuting on the ARIA charts at number one. How does it feel to be at the top of the charts and how did you celebrate?
It feels pretty cool. It’s all a big surprise for me. Our management informed us about 30 minutes before we went on stage in Fremantle to 3,000 heads. The timing was fantastic and the vibe of the gig was really electric.
A number of industry professionals would agree that while you’ve won some critical acclaim you haven’t enjoyed the recognition you’re owed. Do you think things have changed now? Is the ARIA debut a sign that you’re being given the credit you deserve?
I suppose the slow-built career as independent artists for our first two records stagnated the ‘straight to the top’ outcome that some new bands encounter. It’s a good thing because you can buy yourself time as songwriters to develop without having the high expectations placed on you by a record company. The team working with and in the band is really strong now so I think things have changed and will continue to grow for us.
What was the main inspiration behind March Fires? What was the hardest thing you faced making the album?
March Fires was inspired by a desire to rebel against the nature of our past work. We wanted to build a record that destroys the ‘rock band”’ stigma that was attached to our name. We focused a lot on post rock and shoe-gaze music, but never really let go of our desire to write anthem songs.
What’s your favourite song on the album and why?
The Others. It’s got a real feelgood groove to it. I like the lyrics “I’m losing days living life in cinematic haze”.
Lanterns is the single that’s still getting a lot of rotation and pushing March Fires to where it is now. Did you set out to write an anthem?
Yes and no, we never really set out to do anything. It’s all rather spontaneous initially. It’s too hard to write music with specific intention. But you can shape ideas and Lanterns was shaped into an anthem. Sparky brought in some guitar chords and Kenny dropped a big melody over the top. We knew we were onto something there.
The song almost has a Snow Patrol feel to it. Not just the sound but even lyrics like ‘chasing shadows’ instead of ‘chasing cars’. Did you take a conscious feel from the UK band or is this just a coincidence?
I only know a few Snow Patrol songs. I don’t consider them an influence. I think if there are similarities, it’s purely coincidental.
Who directed the video for Lanterns, and – obvious question here, I know – but was there the temptation to use real lanterns in the clip?
Josh Logue directed the video. We wanted to create a video where youth would gather in a protest manner and give the song a sense of urban abandonment and confused existence. I think putting lanterns in the clip would have been too obvious. As creators you’ve got to avoid those predictable moments when you can see them. Lyrically, ‘lanterns’ is used more literally than you think. We were trying to describe a scene where, as a group we were striving forward in the dark.
What are some defining albums that have shaped the Birds Of Tokyo sound?
I’m not sure I can speak on behalf of the full band for what albums have shaped us. I know Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream has always been a big on Day One. Radiohead inspired a few moments on Universes. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds was a big influence on Self Titled. And Sigor Ros’ Ágætis Byrjun was heavily referenced for March Fires.
What has been the most important lesson you’ve learnt after touring and releasing four albums and why is it so important?
Be punctual! Ha-ha. Seriously though, living on top of each other isn’t easy. So do your best to avoid irritating others. Don’t sook, and don’t drown others in negativity. There’s no place for you here!
Favourite tour moment?
Best tour moment was when we built a fire in Coffs Harbour at night. Lovely.
Now you’ve debuted at Number 1 what other goals do you want to achieve?
March Fires is out now through EMI Music.
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