Sunday, October 31, 2010

Live Review: TESSA AND THE TYPECAST

GRACE DARLING

From the laughing packs of similarly-dressed teens and twenty-somethings lining the street outside through the packs of twenty and thirty-somethings crowding around the bar, up the stairs and to the smartly-dressed and attentive audience, Tessa and the Typecast have drawn a big crowd for such a small band; and for good reason. Once Goodnight Owl’s breathless set of plaintive lulls and intense crescendos fades, the stage is set for something incredibly special to take place.

Counting my self as at least vaguely informed about the Melbourne music scene, I would have expected someone to have told me about this band sometime between the release of their debut EP in 2008 and tonight’s release of their first single. Seeing a band so accomplished, full of odd twisting arrangements, remarkable musicianship, from Ballarat and with an average age seemingly in the late teens, the phrase ‘expect big things’ seems almost redundant. Playing songs from their EP and from forthcoming release it is the two songs featured on their single Painter and Something I Saw which steal the evening and highlight what it is that is so remarkable about this band. Firstly, Tessa Pavilach’s voice and stage presence is marvellous and not in the least inhibited. The band’s dynamic-laden structures and assured playing mean that when things need to get sensitive they get very sensitive, and when insensitivity is required, that is well and truly what you get.

It’s these louder moments that suggest fans of female performers with quirky voices don’t need to bide time for their favourite singer’s next album when TAT are around. Kate Miller-Heidke, Washington, Regina Spektor and Florence and the Machine are all names that have been thrown around this band in the past, but these references really don’t do justice. While all are inventive, driven performers who happen to have a knack for delving into slow, sensitive arrangements with the same verve as when attacking showstopping high notes, the selling point here is the guile and fresh-faced group dynamic that TAT work so well.

With the packed room so keen to hear every note and the reception so warm that Tessa gives the name of her house as the location for the after party and invites us all, tonight’s performance suggests that Yamaha keyboard will be swapped for a Steinway sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

BROADCAST NEWS - An interview with James Cargill of BROADCAST

With a love of experimental electronic pop that can be described as both ardent and consistent, JAMES CARGILL of British group BROADCAST sets ANDY HAZEL straight on the difficulties of inhabiting so structured and well-realised a world.


From an English country town, down an appropriately crackly and delayed phone line, comes the Brummie brogue of James Cargill, a man once a fifth and now half of electro multimedia group Broadcast. Resolutely British middle class in his recurring mention of monetary thrift and expense, and constantly in love with the escapades offered by an obsession with West Coast 1960s electronic experimentalism, Cargill and bandmate Trish Keegan have spent the last 15 years building a name associated with a resolute aesthetic.

Unusually for such a successful band there is one sole album that inspired their formation; the 1967 self-titled album by Californian experimental band The United States of America. 15 years ago Keegan described it as ‘a bible’, some things don’t change. “Yeah, I’ve never felt like it’s an album I’ve outgrown,” says Cargill with enthusiasm. “What they were trying to achieve with that record is still what I’d like to achieve; a balance of experimental song structure and electronic textures. It’s a great model for a band.”

Pursuing an unobtainable goal such as this is certainly a model for longevity and it's a path that has taken its toll on the band when it comes to members. “It’s just been me and Trish for a few years now,” he explains slowly. “People have always come and gone, me and Trish have always held it together. When we lost Roj [Stevens, keyboards], it was a bit of a blow. When we started, it was me, Trish and Roj. You can make it work…you have to work when someone leaves. You have to have a new project and change the sound of things,” he says in a tone that suggests things didn’t end amicably. “I think we’ve moved on from the Tender Buttons album,” he continues airily, “which we made just the two of us. Making that record we thought we didn’t need a drummer anymore, and being without one is isn’t too hard you know. I really like the sound of working with a drummer but suddenly it became difficult to work with them, and expensive. I would like to work with a drummer again, as long as they don’t charge anything.”

Drums weren’t an issue on Broadcast’s most recent album, which they made with long-time friend, artist and founder of British experimental magicians The Focus Group, Julian House. “We said we’d always do something together,” says Cargill of their collaborative effort Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age album. “Julian’s first ever record sleeve was our first ever single, so we had that history, and we’re so good at working with him. That album took us one month to do, it was the quickest thing we’ve ever done; which was weird because we’re so used to spending years on things,” he says jovially. “We’ll do some of it live, we try and integrate it with the other stuff we’re doing, and it can be difficult when it’s just the two of us as we have to bear in mind we can’t achieve what’s on the record.”

Through a famously laissez faire arrangement with their label Warp Records, the band have the freedom to move at their own pace. Starting out amidst the full-force of Britpop and lingering polished grunge, Broadcast were a beam from a cleaner, colder time, partly retro, partly futuristic. “At that time when we started there was a big period of guitar music," says Cargill evenly. "It was a pretty flat landscape, though there was a burgeoning electronic thing that really appealed to me. Part of that, was a bit of a Moog thing going on, like Stereolab and Beck as well. In interviews, they were name-checking a lot of records I really liked. Me and Julian used to go to record fairs at the time and discovered records by Bruce Hark, Silver Apples, The United States of America, Neu and so on. They were real outsiders but they were still trying to make pop records with different effects and textures - not kitsch throwaway pop - it still had a solid part to it and I wanted to start a band which brought together these textures and sounds.”

The band’s gradual evolution and icebergmanesque disintegration is not born from a lack of inspiration or work ethic, as Cargill explains slowly, “writing and playing in a band...it can be a painful thing to do. It’s hard to labour over something for so long. It is difficult a lot of the time. The idea with any art is to do it quickly and move on. The idea we had when we started still feels valid to us, the integration of song, form, texture, and electronic sounds. I do hear music that I think is kind of detailed like ours now and then, and it is important to me to make a habit of listening to new stuff. Me and Julian talked about this recently when we were listening to Dolphins Into the Future and Ducktails and Ariel Pink, we were asking 'how would you make that music as British band'? It would probably end up sounding like Doctor Who; it’d be brilliant. We talked about forming a band like that but instead of doing it you end up drifting off. It’s difficult when you’ve been around a while," he says slightly despondently, "because you don’t want to lose the aesthetic of things." 
Long a part of the both their influences as well as their own style is the effect of visual art and projections and art work accompanying their live shows. “We do have projections, we do them ourselves,” Cargill adds. “We used to have a projectionist but it got too expensive.”

With songs already featuring in films such as Morvern Callar and 21, there is clearly a strong influence of cinema on the band’s music and in return, the projections do more than just hark back to West Coast psychedelia. Their suitability for visual accompaniment begs the question 'why the band doesn’t feature more frequently in film soundtracks?', which elicits Cargill's most enthusiastic response yet. “It’s funny you should mention soundtracks actually, because we’ve just been talking about working with the guy who directed the film Katalina Varga [Peter Strickland]. His new film is about an Italian film studio and a British guy who goes to work on a soundtrack. There are elements of an occult in the film, and it soon becomes a film-within-a-film scenario. We’ve been asked us to work on that film within the film, to bring some elements into that. I absolutely loved Katalina Varga, but this new one is quite different to that.” Sounds perfect.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

SURVIVOR - An interview with Edwyn Collins

Via Postcard Records, Orange Juice and A Girl Like You, EDWYN COLLINS is a man with a fierce work ethic and a new album. ANDY HAZEL is in awe.

Edwyn Collins is frustrated. It might not come through in his day-to-day life, once he starts writing and singing, it’s all there. And, unlike most of us, he has a very good reason to be filled with impatience. The victim of a stroke in 2005, another five days later, and a staphylococcal infection following the highly risky operation to insert a titanium plate in his head, Collins has truly earned the right to sing about life. For weeks after the operation the only words uttered were ‘yes’, ‘no’, the name of his partner ‘Grace Maxwell’ and the phrase ‘the possibilities are endless’.

Six months later, he left hospital and has been regarded as a medical marvel ever since, despite having to learn to talk, read, walk and – of course - how to play his own songs all over again. “Before the strokes I wanted to get things done, now I want to get things done right now!’ he says slowly but emphatically. Throughout the interview, Maxwell completes his sentences; ‘I’m Edwyn’s other half’, she says ruefully of helping with his dysphasia, a lasting symptom of his brain damage.

“There’s more urgency and in his approach now,” she explains. “Making music with Edwyn, it’s not like making music with bands like My Bloody Valentine where they take five years to make a record and scratch it and start all over again. Edwyn will have none of that, he’s a taskmaster,” she says with his laughter audible in the background. “A very hard taskmaster,” she says joining in.

“Yeah, I like fast songs,” says Collins of the new album, Losing Sleep that has already become his second-highest charting album in the UK. “My new songs are more simple and direct, this is my time to achieve, and to do it I had to go far and work hard. I like the songs very much.”

Collins’ previous album Home Again was recorded before his strokes and mixed following his release from hospital making this his first album to reflect on his current state. “The album is mostly up-tempo,” Collins begins. “He records at breakneck speed,” Maxwell continues. “The other musicians are used to going slower but Edwyn is all: ‘OK, let’s get on with it!’”

“That’s deliberate,” he continues. “I like spontaneity. We try to get that energy live, the gigs are a joy, I love them,” he says of his glowingly reviewed return to the stage. Maxwell proceeds, “well it doesn’t hurt to have Paul Cook [Sex Pistols] on drums, he’s not exactly a boring drummer,” and as A Girl Like You revealed, quite a competent vibraphone player too. “[Guitarist] Barrie [Cadogan] is often on tour or working with Primal Scream or with his own group [Little Barrie]. We have a pool of musicians that Edwyn works with,” Maxwell says with gentle understatement. This ‘pool’ also includes Johnny Marr, Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame, members of Franz Ferdinand, The Magic Numbers, The Cribs and his 20 year-old son William.

“I’m not writing any songs at the moment, I’m touring now,” says Collins. “Just doing interviews and recording other bands. Right now, I’m working with The Cribs and The Heartstrings, they’re from Sunderland – we resume with them tomorrow. I’m working with this new young German band called The Kennedys - all these youngsters.”
“This has all happened in 2010,” adds Maxwell. “It’s been a very hectic year, it really is an insane schedule,” she says slightly exhausted. It seems Collins would have it no other way.

With all this work and a lengthy discography both with post-punk pioneers Orange Juice and under his own name, is it annoying to be known for just one song, the magnificent A Girl Like You? This question elicits simultaneous, contradictory responses before both laugh uproariously. “I suppose it’s known all around the world isn’t it?” says Collins, “A Girl Like You is no problem at all.”
“Well, it’s more famous than you isn’t it?” says Grace.
“If the song is in the charts by itself, no one really knows who makes it,” he replies, laughing in agreement.

“It gave you financial security didn’t it?” she asks.

“Yes, yes…I’ve no regrets,” he replies quietly before talking about the process of hearing his own music for what was, effectively ‘the first time’. “After the strokes I cried constantly when I listened to A Girl Like You and Home Again and the older stuff. It was very emotional hearing my own music, but it’s not anymore, I like it. There was a time when it was very hard, I couldn’t perform or write or record. It’s a heavy sadness knowing I’ll never be that person again,” he pauses. “Well, it was. Now it’s OK.”

Maxwell continues; “Edwyn was asked if he hadn’t been able to get back into music, if he hadn’t played music for so long, would he be happy, would everything else in life be enough? And the answer is…”

“No,” Collins breaks in “It wouldn’t be enough. I want my life back with these songs. I’m passionate with these songs, thank God I’ve got these songs. I’m starting all over again."

The role of music in his recovery has doctors and researchers intrigued. “I’m not a medical marvel,” he disputes, though Maxwell disagrees. “Edwyn has a distinct advantage for having music in his DNA. It’s helped so much having a job he’s passionate about and says a lot about the rest of his life that he’s managed as well as he has.”

“It’s impossible for me to live without music,” Collins intones deeply. “Life would have no meaning. There is a lot of pain and frustration in those songs of course and it all builds up; I’m angry all the time.”

Maxwell continues, “on the outside he seems very patient and doesn’t appear to be feeling that, but then when the lyrics come out…”

“It’s 50/50,” resumes Collins. “Like in the song [It Dawns on Me] “It’s a simple life, a simple choice / That dawns on me, reality / That makes the world a better place / For us to share” he sings. “It’s about that, and being with Grace.”

Like many people with dysphasia, Collins finds it easier to sing than to talk sometimes and it’s impossible to listen to the songs without thinking of the story behind them, as on the album’s title track: “I must believe, I must retrieve / The things I know, the things I trust / The things I treasure, the things I need / Are the things I miss most about my life”.

TOUCHED BY THE HAND OF MOD - An interview with Tim Burgess of The Charlatans

On the eve of a tour with THE CHARLATANS, style icon and British indie legend TIM BURGESS gives ANDY HAZEL the lowdown on 20-plus years of being incredibly, incredibly cool.

“I’m in Birmingham, England and I’ve just woken up. It’s 9AM and I’m having a cup of green tea,” says Tim Burgess in an entirely un-rock n' roll manner. Soon to embark on a tour with his group The Charlatans promoting their new album Who We Touch, this Salford lad has been calling Hollywood home for the best part of two decades. Is there any sense of homecoming? “Not in Birmingham no,” he says with a wry laugh. “It’s not my favourite part of Britain. We start our tour tomorrow in Newcastle. The warm-up gig went really well, we played for a really long time because our drummer has been taken sick and we had to rehearse up a new drummer. Jon [Brookes] had a brain tumour; he collapsed on stage in Philadelphia. We thought it was dehydration. Over the last couple of weeks, it’s become more serious. He’s getting it sorted out, so it’s as good as can be expected, we’ve been using Pete Salisbury from The Verve. We’ve had to learn two hours worth in a week, so it’s been a pretty intense time,” he says quietly.

“It’s as good as it can be you know. When we were in Philadelphia he suggested Pete; from drummer to drummer.” This sort of brotherhood epitomises the history of The Charlatans. Unlike almost every other hyped band of the early 90s British rock era, they have endured and maintained a strong core following. When it comes to working out what they did right, Burgess is at a loss. “I mean, over 20 years there’s got to be a few things we’ve had bust ups about, but I don’t take it personally,” he says before pausing. “I answer this question a lot and I’ve not got a really stock answer for it. I’m a music obsessive and as a band we can play anything we want to and we have enormous respect for each other; I feel like they’re me brothers y’know. Obviously, we fight as well, but we’ve got over a lot of things together. A lot of our friends from that time, they got married and have kids and this life it’s not for them anymore. They might lose the plot or maybe they find music for them is a lead onto something else like a TV career, but for us…I don’t know. As soon as we’ve done a record, I’m going around trying to find a new thing.”

Influences on the band’s music have been as varied as the twenty years through which they’ve existed with early records getting a fresh release from hip-hop, drugs and the Britpop scene, and later albums from geography, esoteric books and films. “I wanted this album to be interesting in a filmic way,” Burgess explains. “I like the idea of [opening track] Love is Ending as a credit sequence and an opening, then there’s a backtrack through the album like Memento or Wild At Heart; I’m a big Lynch fan, and I love the way he messes with a film’s narrative. I’ve been doing a musical project for the Lynch Foundation,” he says shyly. “He’s using my music for transcendental mediation (TM) classes at the Lynch Foundation. He asked me to supply some music for a compilation album or something along those lines, we’re meant to work on something together. I gave him an acoustic version of The Only One I Know and he really liked it – wrote me a letter!” He says, as excitedly as you or I would be. “I do a lot of TM and I think it influences everything I do. I’ve only been there for the last two years so it only influences the last album.”

Sounds like a long way from Madchester and the heady days of Britpop. “I don’t really see my drug years as being a problem, I‘m just glad I don’t take them anymore,” he says without provocation. “I was at a point in my life where that felt like the right thing to do. I’m at another point now where I feel I’ve got through those phases of my life to get here, and it was all part of my life which I’ve lived without regrets.”

This open and carefree attitude oozes through Who We Touch reminiscent of Baggy’s cocky swagger and the loose West Coast hip-hop Burgess fell for back in the bands early years. As with most songs he pens lyrics for, there is a story behind it. “I don’t belong here in your garden / I should be up there on your throne / All the losers worship me”. Elsewhere Burgess has stated the song was about old manager Alan McGee, but today he has a different story.
“I was in Gatwick airport a while back, and this cockney scally chav girl with really bad makeup on is walking toward me and I bumped into her by accident and she did the L-shaped word to me on her forehead, y’know. And I was like ‘fuckin’ hell she thinks I’m a loser’. All the Charlatans fans are like me, so we’re all losers.”

Renown for giving away free songs, ringtones and downloads to subscribing fans, Charlatans have always been big on catering for fans needs, whether its playing requests or giving away their last album for free. “I think the way we treat our fans is been a huge part of why we’re still around,” says Burgess keenly. “We give to them and they give to us, and it’s mutual respect in a lot of ways. The thing about giving away the album for free last time was more than just treating the fans well; it was a move in a lot of ways, it was a statement of intent like a fuck you to the record company.”

This attitude has won the band many younger, more recently recruited fans such as The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and The Morning After Girls; musicians who they are keen to work with. “With new stuff we’ve had remixes done by The Horrors who are friends of mine, and we give those away for free - more feeding the fans and picking up people who are interested to try and get their heads around it. It’s always interesting to be involved in the passing of information, and that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? You never know where it will end up or what effect it will have.”

PARADISE MOTEL TOUR DIARY PART TWO


In the final installment of his tour diary with THE PARADISE MOTEL, drummer and scribe ANDY HAZEL commemorates the end of an era by revisiting the band's birthplace, dressing to offend and playing some truly shocking mini-golf.

Diners are requested not to wear military or paramilitary uniforms and will be asked to wear one of the alternative jackets provided.’ So reads the blurb from the menu of the restaurant beneath the venue we play on the first night of our last weekend of our Australian Ghost Story-promoting tour. Unfortunately, two of our party is wearing said potentially offensive items of clothing and the risk of inciting a sternly-worded and gentle ejection or worse, wearing an ‘alternative jacket’ livens up what begins as a fairly quiet evening in Hobart. The upstairs venue, Siren’s Ballroom, is a rarely-unlocked and bare-walled room more commonly used by swing dancers and mice than rock bands and a drinking crowd, but it’s perfect for us and for bringing our take on the events around Azaria Chamberlain’s short life to the birthplace of The Paradise Motel.

By now at ease with the touring process (given that singer Merida Sussex lives in London, touring is a rare event) tonight we’re playing the first show on home soil since the band’s first gig ever. The experience is less unnerving than it could have been, possibly due to a small snow fight on the summit of Mount Wellington, assurances from well-intentioned friends and copious consumption of local ales.

Despite a local radio DJ expressing genuine amazement that most of the band are actually from Hobart mid-way through an interview (“Really? That’s awesome! Says here…[scans Wikipedia entry]…you guys lived in London for ten years. Cool! So…uh, what did you do?”), and a decisive lack of punters in their early-20s, there is a decent turnout and a largely attentive audience. Given that we’re up against Tame Impala at the Uni Bar and the always-appealing prospect of Jane Dust and Go Go Saipan at the less-appealing Brisbane Hotel, there is a warm buzz throughout the venue and candle-lit clusters of punters circling the scattered tables makes for a pleasing sight. Not really all that different from that first show, a kilometer and 15 years away.

Tour mates Sianna Lee go down beautifully and win some new fans. Surely Courtney Love would give more than make-up tips for the rights to cover some of her songs. Spending the rest of the evening catching up with friends, the morning variously playing with chickens and exploring Salamanca Market, the afternoon sees us back on the mainland and barreling along the Calder to Hepburn Springs and the final show of the tour. Easing into town around 6PM we soon realize that a) we’ve chosen two of the most beautiful parts of the country in which to end our tour and B) there really aren’t going to be many people at the show this evening. “I think we could dedicate a song to each member of the audience tonight” is how guitarist and organ-player Charles Bickford refers to it.

Numbers aside, the show is possibly our tightest one ever, and feedback from the audience is all good; which is more than can be said for the shenanigans the band’s rhythm section get up to the following day. With a horrendously kitschy mini-golf course just up the road, spectacularly delicious breakfasts are nearly heaved up at the sight of the some of the ‘features’ of the country’s only Australiana-themed mini golf course (as depicted above). Clearly The Paradise Motel’s sensitivity at writing about issues at the figurative and literal heart of Australia does not extend to the bassist and drummer.

Unfortunate hijinks aside, there is poignancy to the hugs we share after the show when saying our goodbyes, not only at the tour ending and the album being put to bed, but at the lack of certainty about the future. Can a band last spread across hemispheres? Will the future only hold albums and an occasional, prohibitively expensive, reunion show? Will the rhythm section be invited back?

PARADISE MOTEL TOUR DIARY PART ONE

Drummer and Inpress writer ANDY HAZEL tells of mad fans, traffic jams and fishy vans in part one of a diary from the first tour by THE PARADISE MOTEL in over a decade.

“It’s been a while between tours,” says guitarist Matt Aulich quietly with a wry smile as we head onto the tarmac for that long walk to the waiting Tiger plane that money-conscious Melbournians know only too well. This understatement is typical of the self-depreciatory sense of humour that underlies The Paradise Motel’s ostensibly serious work and it’s something that saves us again and again from getting bogged down in the minutiae of touring.

On the road promoting their first album in 11 years, Australian Ghost Story and playing songs from an as-yet-unreleased album I Still Hear Your Voice at Night (aka ISHY VAN) and their first Australian tour since 1997, The Paradise Motel have prevailed over more obstacles than most bands in order to put this tour together. With the cost and practicality of singer Merida Sussex living in London, the band overcoming the death of former drummer Damian Hill, dwelling on the not-unchallenging concept of the life and death of Azaria Chamberlain and heavy expectations of long-time fans, this tour has a lot riding on it. With all this, oppressive Sydney traffic and the vagaries of budget airlines, IPhone’s Google Maps and bottles of ‘splishy-splashy’ wine, this was a tour to remember for many reasons.

Once safely deposited in Sydney we variously head to the ABC radio studio for a live-to-air performance while others collect the van in which our hired equipment will be transported. After an hour of waiting, we are presented with a standard white Renault one-tonne van which utterly reeks of fish (aka FISHY VAN). Protesting to the hire car rep gets us nowhere so we leave to collect the gear, soon discovering that somehow opening windows worsens the stench. With the equipment very reluctantly eased in by nose-clenching dudes from Billy Hyde’s we make for Katoomba and the first show of the tour. Tuning into local traffic reports the DJ seems to find the main roads on which we’re driving as the places to set awful accidents. The M4 and M5 are variously described as ‘best avoided’, and ‘no-go zones’ before all but pleading with us not to use these densely-packed bitumen lifelines. After many conversations of the ‘this would never happen in Melbourne’ variety, talk of hijacking a similarly stationary Winnebago and other survival strategies, we limp, stinking and late, into the Blue Mountains for what turns out to be a fantastic show.

Sianna Lee is our support act for the tour and she and her band turn out to be great companions and fine musicians. We ape for photos by the Three Sisters and don’t seem to tire of each other’s songs. After an evening partying hardcore (read: drinking wine while watching ‘hilarious’ YouTube videos) with Matt Tow of The Lovetones we sleep, wake, and again brave Parramatta Road on the drive back into Sydney. 

The Sandringham is one of the few venues left in this staggeringly vast metropolis. Why a major venue is situated in a bare room two floors above a bar with massive bellowing sports screens and sozzled regulars in a feedlot of pokies is a sad and complex mystery to the Melbournians amongst us. After the back-cracking lug of gear, a set-up and brief soundcheck we walk out into the Newtown air, count hipsters and feel weirdly at home.

Tonight’s show is a glorious surprise, with fans driving in from Wollongong and Bathurst and several familiar faces from the Katoomba gig. With many of the quieter, older songs punctuated by shouts and cheers of recognition, we share smiles and raised eyebrows. From the back part of the stage we can only see the front row – a line of smiling upturned shut-eyed faces bathing in memories, and finding some resonance in Azaria’s story. “Um, well…it’s been a while since we’ve played here,’ says Merida smiling, to a throng of cheers as we kick in to the another song.