Friday, May 30, 2014

THE LYNCH MOB: why is Twin Peaks so influential on Australian music?

How did a bizarre TV show from the ‘90s become a badge of underground cool in the Australian music scene?

This article was originally published for ABC's Double J website

Twin Peaks was a popular show in 1990-91 with a US audience of 34 million. The show’s co-creator David Lynch was already an Oscar-nominated auteur when he set about writing it with Mark Frost. While its game-changing cinematic qualites were appreciated at the time, what is truly remarkable about Twin Peaks is how this otherworldly creation influences other art forms, now more than ever.

The cult TV show, set in 1989, concluded with an enigmatic quote from Laura Palmer’s doppelganger: “see you again in 25 years”.

In the show’s fictional world, that time is now.

The Sound From Another Place

Ever since Australia became the only country to send Julee Cruise’s 'Falling' to the top of the charts in 1991, local bands have been looting the show for inspiration in a way only matched by the Scandinavian metal scene. Why this is fictional town is yet to release its grip on the Australian imagination is one of its most profound mysteries.

"There’s something very exotic about a small town in America," says singer-songwriter Sophia Brous, ahead of her performance in the star-studded In Dreams: David Lynch Revisited show at London’s Barbican Theatre. "It’s a like an inverse version of Crocodile Dundee. We like stepping into the cold austerity of a town like that, it’s like a holiday."

Isobel Knowles, member of the Icypoles and formerly of Architecture in Helsinki, thinks of Twin Peaks in similarly cinematic terms.

"Australian cinema often tells stories about people and places which seem light and happy on the outside but have dark undercurrents," Knowles says. "This darkness goes very deep and it’s never resolved. It’s not necessarily as overt as Twin Peaks, but it’s always there."

Knowles also links the show’s setting to its Australian appeal.

"In Twin Peaks, the forest is a giant aspect. The Australian wilderness is inherently creepy, and having grown up in Australia it's impossible to dissociate environment from history. Maybe this is another reason it's so appealing to Australians."

Brous agrees. "In Australia, we’re on this island on the other side of the world and there’s a sense of inquiry from being far away. We’ve gravitated towards different scenes, like the growth of punk, or industrial…the development of someone like Nick Cave for instance. In Melbourne especially, because of stations like RRR that represent new and interesting forms of music, there’s been platforms for new and interesting stuff."

That Show You Like Is Going To Come Back In Style

New and interesting stuff is what grabs attention in local band scenes and Easter eggs for Twin Peaks fans litter current gig guides. Psych rockers Vicuna Coat and hardcore combo Flesh World are both named after clues in the show. The big mystery of the series ('Who killed Laura Palmer?'), led to the name of pop-punk act Laura Palmer.

Psych band White Lodge and defunct shoegazers Ghostwood (whose members turn up in Jagwar Ma) both take their names from locations in the show, while post-rockers Laura and Adelaide country-pop quartet The Audreys are happy to let their names suggest it. Less-obsessive fans can spot the influence in electro duo Peak Twins.

Songs like ‘Leo Needs a New Pair of Shoes’ by Ben Frost and ‘The Fish in the Percolator Song’ by Hobart new wavers hMAS – both created away from a world populated by bands looking to drop hip references – are particularly interesting examples.

But it’s not just about clever pop cultural references - bands are mining Twin Peaks for musical inspiration.

Melbourne indie-pop group the Icypoles recently grabbed international attention for their cover of 'Just You', a saccharine love ballad written by Lynch and played by three of the show’s troubled teens.

"'Just You' is this pop song stuck in the middle of this beautiful, moody world," says Knowles.

"To most people, a song is just a snapshot or a short moment, but at the same time, it becomes its own thing after that point. This mix of pop music and cinema matched with a lot of the work I’d been doing as an artist."

Diane, make a note

For those who directly work with Lynch – such as the headliner of this year's DARK MOFO festival, Chrysta Bell – there is the danger of being reduced to a muse, of his identity overtaking their own.

"There will be a risk of that if I don’t kill it on the new record," Bell says, "But there is no downside to the endorsement. If I didn’t enjoy discussing him so much then the only downside would be being asked about him more than people ask about me. But I truly care for him and respect his talent, so that’s not an issue. It’s a win-win."

Jazz legend Jimmy Scott, who sings Angelo Badalamenti and Lynch’s Sycamore Trees in the series' surreal final episode, is similarly confident about working with Lynch.

"David Lynch saw me and wanted to use me," Scott says. "He said he liked my aura. I didn’t understand the storyline at all. He had me in a dark room, in a suit and bow tie singing to a dwarf," he laughs. 

Where we’re from, the birds sing a pretty song

The show’s soundtrack lives on in music by artists like the Dunes, the Paradise Motel, early HTRK and most bands described as ‘dream-pop’.  Brous says it’s the liminal state between dream and reality Lynch explores that so many find appealing.

“He’s someone who’s very into the threshold between the subconscious and the conscious. He often uses these ethereal, bell-like voices that flow in and out of… that through you, it’s like music flowing through you. He’ll have someone like Jimmy Scott with a strange and beautiful tone, and use these unusual sounds. He knows the voice is naturally the most expressive instrument there is, and that we respond to it unlike any other.”

The unusual, always appealing to a creative and subversive arts scene that feeds on a revered international influences like Lynch, is still yet to become usual. With Lynch himself increasingly focusing on his own music instead of film, his appeal to an Australian artists isn’t dying anytime soon.

As Bell says, “any artist that really digs Lynch’s thing and delves into his work will probably end up with some influence in her own creations. It’s such a strong spice, it can’t help but make it’s way onto your dish. At least a few sprinkles. Sometimes more.”

Sunday, May 25, 2014

HAPPY 21ST: An interview with Angie Hart and Simon Austin of FRENTE

Celebrating the 21st anniversary of their legendary debut Marvin The Album, pop icons Frente talk of American stadium tours, ‘that’ Juice cover and feeling “stabbed” by the Late Show, but as ANGIE HART and SIMON AUSTIN tell ANDY HAZEL “as an Australian, you just have to suck it up”.

Even if you weren’t alive in the early 1990s or have never heard of the Punters Club, listening to Frente sounds like eavesdropping on another era. When acoustic pop played by talented musicians sold in droves and international influences were filtered through a local scene instead of downloaded directly. The innocence, musicality and vibrancy of the Melbourne quartet still impresses as they prepare to celebrate the 21st anniversary of their million-selling debut Marvin The Album. 

Looking back, Frente’s signature songs Accidently Kelly Street and Ordinary Angels could be seen as ripostes to the overtly masculine Aussie rock of the era. “It definitely wasn’t a conscious reaction to anything,” says guitarist Simon Austin, sitting at a Bourke St cafĂ©, over the sound of a passing tram, “but it was different.”
“We weren’t capable of playing anything else,” adds singer Angie Hart, beginning a habit of completing Austin’s sentences.
“When we started rehearsing in earnest,” says Austin, “we would actually arrange a song. We’d take a day or a week to arrange it. I put these guys through hell!”
“Simon had a really strong vision,” says Hart sipping a beer. “It was never ‘I’ve got a vague idea for a song, let’s see how it works out.’ We’d work on one line until that was completely finessed then move onto the next.”
“I thought we were a polished pop band, but I guess we weren’t,” she continues. “Now people talk about how ‘ourselves’ we were, which I guess we just couldn’t not be – I was trying really hard not to be!”

With ARIA awards in the bag, Ordinary Angels still charting, Accidently Kelly Street riding high and Marvin The Album on its way to selling over 1.2 million copies worldwide, Frente were riding high. When ABC’s The Late Show joined in the fun with the bullseye pisstake Accidentally Was Released, their local reputation never fully recovered. “I had a real moment of feeling…stabbed,” says Austin. “Then I thought, you know what? It’s an Australian thing. I know all those guys and they mean it lovingly - they’d never say it, but they mean it out of love. Once you get that it’s OK. To a certain extent, as an Australian, you just have to suck it up. And it’s good. People don’t allow you to get too full of yourself, or full of yourself at all, or even half full of yourself,” he says laughing.
Several months after the success of Accidently Kelly Street, Hart posed naked (but for some carefully arranged necklaces) on the cover of now-defunct music magazine Juice, an image burned into the minds of many teenagers. While the cover doesn’t bother her, the accompanying interview is “a massive cringe”.

“I spent a lot of my time justifying it and saying it was great, but I look back on it now and I didn’t really understand what that meant. I wasn’t a particularly modest person so it wasn’t a big deal to get my kit off. But I look back now and think ‘oh yeah, I was a 21 year-old female artist who was fed up and looking for a ‘fuck you’ - it was a great opportunity to talk about what’s going on in MY life!’” she laughs derisively.
Is it something she’d do again? “I doubt I’d be asked!” she laughs. “Probably not in that context. At this point in my career, I’d like to do anything that furthers people’s awareness of themselves and makes them feel something about who they were. If I have any foibles I could put forth and have people identify with, I’d be more happy with that.”

Temporarily relocating to London at the behest of their label, British audiences turned out in their thousands as promotional difficulties scuppered their chances of a big breakthrough. In the US the band’s pithy take on New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle cracked the Top 50 and an opening slot for Alanis Morrissette’s first major North American tour brought a whole new audience.

“At a certain point those tours get very, very surreal,” says Austin with a sense of awe. “That Alanis tour…there were some very strange science fiction moments of people walking her on stage, it was all very religious. You’d look out into an audience of 30 000 people and there’s 29 900 girls with straight hair and 100 boyfriends standing there like this [impersonates bored tough guy]. It was bizarre. We’d do these huge outdoor shows, and you might as well put the music on the PA and go home because there’s 60 000 people and, it’s great fun, but it’s not even terrifying. It should be, but it isn’t because you have such a disconnection.”

Conversely, the opportunity to connect with their audience was behind the reunion. “We all got on the phone to each other around the same time and it was just…now. It’s time,” says Austin. “We’re making it as polished as it can be, but mistakes are going to occur. It’s going to be great, we’re going to trip over each other, but that’s Frente.”

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


The Corner, 10 May

Challenging the excavation works outside the Corner for loud, earth shattering impact, Temples have captured the hearts and memories of a broad age-range of tousle-haired rock fans, most of who respond warmly to the authentic garage rock of The Frowning Clouds. This weeks’ featured band on Spicks and Specks are no mere mimics, the triple guitar drives short sharp blasts of addictive rock. The time-proven sound renders the songs almost interchangeable, but you can imagine the band playing with identical energy in 30 years and stilling winning new fans.

Like or loathe Deep Sea Arcade the energy exuded by lead singer Nic McKenzie is a welcome change from the typically instrument-bound vocalist of most rock bands. While his pitch wanders as much as his feet, the songs are tight bursts of Anglo rock that benefit hugely from McKenzie's strutting, mic twirling and swagger, performing like he's trying to impress an army of NME readers. While it's not everyone's bag, confidence goes a long way. Steam and the closer Girls are stand outs from a set that raises the bar for our international guests.

Packed behind the photographer-lined barrier, the crowd greets the parting curtains with a chorus of shrill calls. “Hey, how's it going?” mumbles Temples’ big-haired singer and sparkly guitar slinger James Edward Bagshaw. Wearing a similarly sparkly top and skinny jeans, Basgshaw eases into the microphone, bending his knee and raising his heels to softly sing in a voice drenched in reverb. The quartet’s loud - but never angry - opiate rock is essentially glam excised of sex and charisma.

Boasting one of the best sounding shows this venue has seen, Temples’ power is partly due to their careful control of effects and textures. The glazed distortion of the guitar, the trebly crunching bass and driving drums form a sound that moves like a marshmallow tank. The whole band look like they should be mooching around forests with Bran in Game of Thrones, and this sound and style merge to overshadow the songs themselves.
From a set of loaded with unthreatening fury and unmemorable melodies, obscure B-side Ankh is an unexpected highlight. The keening Keep in the Dark is typical of their biggest strength (the glistening glam stomp), and biggest weakness (a tendency to maintain and repeat instead of elevate).

Closing their set with Sand Dance, the raucous crowd draw the band back from behind a door signed “Dressing Room For Temples Only”. Minutes later, accompanied by a cloud of potent pot smoke, the band emerges for an encore that sees them throw out the rulebook to stunning effect. Mesmerise is a ten-minute trip into Spacemen 3 / Krautrock territory is hopefully a sign of things to come, before the exuberant Shelter Song closes a night of carefully curated, and wildly received, rock and roll.

Monday, May 12, 2014

MARLEY AND ME: An interview with Aston 'Family Man' Barrett of The Wailers

Keeping the spirit of Bob Marley alive and the Wailers in line, ASTON ‘FAMILY MAN’ BARRETT tells ANDY HAZEL about taking advice from Stevie Wonder and the discovery of Australian tropical ‘sweet potatoes’.

His voice oozing down the line like spilt molasses, bass legend Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett wastes no time in getting to what he sees as the point of our interview. “Yes I’m comin’, and we’re comin’ - we’re the Wailers! Let them know they must come out early and dance until late,” he booms with a laugh impossible for a skinny man before adopting a hushed tone of mock drama.

“See, I am one of the men who take Jamaican music to the forefront. Me and Bob [Marley], Bunny [Wailer] and Peter [Tosh], we set that standard far and over people before us. Reggae lets everyone know it is the art of the people. It is the universal language and it carries the message of roots, culture and…reality!”

Performing the Bob Marley greatest hits album Legend (“top to bottom, and then some hits!”) to which he provided basslines, Barrett sees Wailers shows as a chance to remind audiences that, despite their global influence, the band are all about roots. “Reggae is always being updated. There is a lot of new kinds of gear in the music stores, those sounds can get wild, but you’re just buying effects. When time goes by, technology always intrudes, but we stick to the roots. We always say that some is leaves, some is branches, but I and I is the roots.”

Naming himself ‘Family Man’ for of his role as a musical ringleader, it’s this inclination, as well as a verbal agreement with Marley over royalties, that saw him unsuccessfully sue Marley’s estate to the tune of £60 million (AUS$110 million) three times. Despite this, Barrett is happy in his current role. “I think of a different term than bandleader, or boss, or foreman,” he explains. “We have to work and live together, but I is the one who is in charge. I label myself ‘Family Man’, and the name…became legend!” He says with another hearty, possibly herbally-assisted, laugh. “I have to keep all the young people in line, so they don’t…walk on the wild side!”

The wild side is a place Barrett clearly knows all about. Earning his nickname another way by fathering “about fifty-two” children, he feels most at home when touring. “I have so many great memories of these songs. When Bob was alive, we once met up with Stevie Wonder, and he was saying to Bob ‘you’ve got to release Jamming as a single!’ We knew it was a good song but we didn’t think it could be a single. Stevie says ‘If you don’t do anything about it, I will!’ so he made the song Master Blaster! I loved playing with Stevie.”

Memories of his first trip to Australia are equally happy. “The first time I came to Australia was with Bob and we played a lot of great shows. I liked the rainforest. Up there, the forest was so fruitful, I was surprised to walk up on a sweet potato that we fried like a ripe mango,” he says still sounding astonished. “I don’t know what it was. It looked like a sweet potato and tasted like a sweet potato but you don’t have to cook it. I thought I was in dreamland! You just break it in two and eat it, it was amazing!”


The Magic Band being very very real.
Corner Hotel, Apr 11

The longhaired middle-aged white mostly male audience eagerly assembles around the stage. Though many contain their obvious glee by standing still and expressionless, as if about to spot a rare train, anticipation crackles. Soon, the somewhat older Grandmothers of Invention amble on, smile, and ease into non-hit Call Any Vegetable. You don’t have to be a manic Frank Zappa fan to see that his one-time sidemen have had extremely interesting lives, and know their way around their instruments. It’s this last point they seem most interested in exploring; bass solos, drum solos, flute, guitar, gong solos, it’s all here, with varying fidelity to actual Frank Zappa songs. Answering the eternal question we all want answered via a song called The Eternal Question, its chorus “What was Zappa really like? / Did he fly into a rage? / I bet he smoked dope all the time / And did he really shit on the stage?” is answered amiably by the song’s writer and band saxophonist Don Preston (“uh…no!”). After a set explores Zappa's ability to inject humour into jazz, we get his most pop moments and set high-points Go Cry on Somebody Else’s Shoulder and Peaches en Regalia by which time the audience are largely onside and the band seem delighted.

From a bandleader who celebrated his musicians’ creativity by giving them room to stretch out, we get a bandleader who channeled musicianship into several-minute songs exploding with ideas. “We are The Magic Band playing the music of Captain Beefheart!” the band helpfully shouts in unison, before jumping in the air and exploding into My Human Gets Me Blues, the first of many songs from game-changing album Trout Mask Replica. Lead by one-time-drummer Drumbo, the show highlights his incredible voice, musicianship and personality, and were it not for the utterly unique force of personality and songwriting genius of Captain Beefheart it would be at risk of becoming The Drumbo Show. The bluesy Low Yo Yo Stuff and Diddy Wah Diddy follow, but rather than play it safe the band go for, and hit, some of the most complex music ever to crack a Top 50 album chart. Music that seems even stranger coming from a bunch of sexagenarians in cargo pants and loose t-shirts.

While the collective lifetime drug intake of the audience would be enough to euthanize Japan, the band themselves are phenomenally sharp with only guitarist Zoot Horn Rollo’s smiling, sagging visage betraying any errant years, even as his fingers move like Errol Flynn undoing a blouse. Hot Head, Click Clack, Golden Birdies, Owed T’Alex and an almighty Steal Softly Thru Snow are only narrow highlights over a set full of jaw-dropping rhythmic shifts, stabbing guitar riffs and deep bluesy rasping vocals. It’s a privilege to witness such influential pioneers in 2014 and to hear these distant transmissions burn brightly.


A Hunk and His Punk. Photo by Carol Bowditch.
The Curtin Bandroom, Apr 23

Against a backdrop of sheets decorated like a busier, ruder version of the cover of the Chipmunk Punk album, Scott and Charlene’s Wedding chatter as they gather. The room fills in minutes as the band begin barreling through their set. From behind a straggly curtain of blonde hair, singer and songwriter Craig Dermody leads the band through a rambling, glorious clutch of songs with local classics Two Weeks and Gammy Leg the high points. Sipping from his pint and grinning at guitarist Gill Tucker as if to say ‘hey, nice one!’ they finish on the moronic genius of Karen.

Playing what seems their hundredth Melbourne show, The UV Race is a six-strong army channeling the arty mayhem of Melbourne's Little Band Scene of the early 80s. Fittingly for a band that sounds as though they've not listened to any music post 1983 their songs are emboldened with a vitality missing from much modern music. Like a house party started then abandoned by Mark E Smith, the packed room carries the friendly intensity bursting from the stage.

After a lengthy break, and to a crowd now wild with anticipation, leather-clad pretty-boy Seth Bogart arrives on stage and smiles. “We're Hunx and His Punx and we're from California”.

Opening with You Don’t Like Rock and Roll the band’s fusion of lovable 50s rock and roll and a gay-punk aesthetic is so bold and brash and the audience so on-side it’s near impossible to resist. “Ha! I know you!” laughs Bogart pointing at someone in the front row. It seems the whole room wishes they were that person. “This goes out to acne survivors” he says introducing Bad Skin before blasting through the “political song” Everyone’s a Pussy (Fuck You Dude) in ten seconds.

Reveling in a style-over-substance brand of raw rock and roll, the simpering brilliance of Bogart (“this song is called…Bad Boy” he smiles to no one in particular) is a powerful force. Older songs like Gimme Gimme Back Your Love and newer track Mud in Your Eyes show a musical adventurousness bordering on the non-existent, each short, sheared anthem of defiance another sermon to the converted. The Curse of Being Young, and another “political” blast of sub 30-second hormonal angst Don’t Call Me Fabulous are further examples of carefully-crafted, perfectly rendered Punk RockTM, just like the cartoonish backdrop they play before. The homosexual overtones are charming, funny, like a younger brother putting on a family show, and they’re just as impossible to dislike.

Returning with a reconfigured lineup as Shannon and the Clams, this trio, lead by Punx bassist Shannon Shaw is tighter, punchier, and more about the song than the look. Once a three-song set has been heckled out of them (including the killer I Don’t Want to be in a Cult No More), and Hunx has fled the stage to the merch desk, the audience, still thirsty for more, flop toward each other, grinning like stroked cats.

Friday, May 2, 2014


Hamer Hall, 17 Apr

Trapped in our comfy seats by the politeness a place like this engenders (and a determination to get value out of the $140 ticket price), the largely middle-aged audience are respectfully attentive to support act Thelma Plum.

Quite what separates Plum from the several hundred other Waifs-ish sweetly gritty voiced folk artists this country can boast is unclear. Giving the spectacular acoustics little to work with besides forgettable songs about ex-boyfriends and a tame cover of Chris Isaak's Wicked Game, accompanying guitarist Liam Gerner however, uses her work as a springboard for some inspired axe-work. Plum’s brash likeability eases the transition from folk festival to classical venue, and closing song Dollar – with some hilariously arrhythmic clapping from the audience – is the high point of a tricky set.

With no ceremony but to raucous fanfare Elvis Costello and the Imposters set about playing a curious set. Unlike 2013’s Spinning Wheel of Song tour sending us down memory lane, tonight is a litany of reminders of his rich, less-visited catalogue. An opening salvo of Brilliant Mistake, Blue Chair and Seconds of Pleasure shows we’re getting a set he wants to play. And so we move thematically through Costello’s “Easter pageant” section, in which he plays songs he’s written about resurrection (Stations of the Cross, Suit of Lights, Ascension Day and He Came Back), and a tribute to recently dead songwriting legend Jesse Winchester (Quiet About It and Dancing the Night Away), that gives Costello a chance to tell some self-deprecating stories and pay tribute to a hero.

Better known tracks are saved for an encore that lasts as long as the preceding set. Costello, who turns sixty this year, comes alive on a stellar version of Watching the Detectives with an interlude of Walk Us Uptown, from his curious yet successful collaboration with The Roots. Shipbuilding gets a haunting reinvention courtesy of keyboard legend Steve Nieve, and near-glam takes of Alison, Beyond Belief, I Want You and the erstwhile (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding shows Costello is still finding inspiration in his back catalogue. Energised, canonical takes on Oliver’s Army, Pump It Up and (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea ensure that, even as we call out for still more, no one leaves feeling ripped off.


The Liberty Social, 18 Apr

Contrast (replacing Possible Humans), the first of tonight’s Anglophilic guitar-heavy line-up, set the precedent for turning the charisma to zero and the effects to ten. Bashing out a batch of five-minute-plus slices of careening shoegaze, the four-piece win the small amassing crowd over in no time. Singer/songwriter James Thomson finds a seemingly limitless number of ways to invest languid guitar sounds with the piercing fury of Jesus and Mary Chain. Recent single Dull is the highlight of a revelatory set.

Playing longer and darker songs than those on last year’s Swallowing a Sunflower album, Parading somehow manage to combine the sensation of floating on a cloud with the reality of actually falling through the freezing atmosphere while being stabbed by millions of tiny water droplets. Boasting the brilliant, piercing guitar of Keith Mason, the sheer force of the band’s music takes on an extra depth as dry ice billows and the blue lights render them sickly ghosts.

Several months away from (finally) releasing their debut album, Lowtide begin their set with their best known and oldest song No Horizon. Once the highlight of their set, its early dispatching indicates a newfound confidence, one replicated in the bright, crystalline mix and the band’s banter. Wedding Ring and upcoming single Blue Movie are highlights of a set driven by the dual basses of Lucy Buckeridge and Giles Simon.

Despite the unremitting quality of tonight’s acts, Sydney’s Day Ravies manage to earn their headliner role with a set that ably showcases their balance of texture and pop song-writing. Despite forming in 2011, last year’s debut album Tussle announced their national arrival, set critics fawning and ensured hype built quickly. It’s hard to imagine Lani Crooks’ chimerical keyboard lines, Caroline de Dear’s muscular bass and the hacked chords and melodies of Sam Wilkenson’s guitar can translate live as well as they do on record. Happily, they massively exceed expectations. Following the meticulous guitar work of Lowtide’s Gabe Lewis is a big ask for any performer, but Wilkenson’s mix of crunching chords and fluid melodies work around the other players brilliantly. I Don’t Mind and Tussle highlight Staring is Caring stand out, but it’s the rollercoaster ride of Fake Beach with its fuzz bass and synth stabs that shows how much this band have going for them, and how bright their future is.