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Monday, 07 October 2013 01:32

Stonefield: Put A Curse On You

It wasn’t meant to take this long, but the delay of Stonefield’s debut album has only made the band stronger.

The Findlay sisters blew down the door of Australian independent music in 2010, winning Triple J’s Unearthed High competition with their song ‘Foreign Lover’. It was the perfect story: four teenage sisters from rural Victoria putting down the books and picking up instruments – and a degree of cynicism might have initially been excused.

But Amy, Hannah, Sarah, and Holly Findlay capitalised on ‘Foreign Lover’ with a firebrand debut EP, ‘Through The Clover’, and continued to quieten the doubters with its classy follow-up, ‘Bad Reality’.

That’s when Stonefield went quiet. But the pause to release a self-titled debut album hasn’t dulled any of the wider interest in the band. Indeed, ask Hannah Findlay and she thinks it’s been a good thing.

“We were hoping to record the album at the start of last year,” she explains over the phone from Melbourne. “But it just didn’t happen. A few things got in the way. But in the end I think it’s worked well. We’ve had a lot more time to write and make sure everything’s good … Because we’ve taken this time, people will see that we’re taking it seriously and we’re here to stay and do things properly.” ‘Stonefield’ is an album done properly. It immediately catches the ear and doesn’t let up for the next 40 minutes. It’s a terrific collection of songs, and confirms beyond any doubt the four-piece’s talent.

Helping is Ian Davenport’s production. Davenport recently twiddled the knobs for Band Of Skulls and brings the same muscular propulsion to bear on ‘Stonefield’.

“We actually had another producer that we were going to work with,” Hannah says. “And as things were getting closer and closer to recording, we felt that it wasn’t right and things weren’t going to work out. We just had different ideas on things. 

“So we decided to move on and look for someone else, and our A&R guy suggested a few producers and then we really loved the Band Of Skulls album [‘Sweet Sour’], so we said it would be cool to work with Ian. We had a few meetings with everybody and it just clicked. He really gets it and it felt really right with him.”

It was Davenport who narrowed in on the idea of using a choir on the Findlays’ ferocious first single, ‘Put Your Curse On Me’, lifting a song Hannah says wasn’t even going to make the final cut.

“We had this idea for ages that we would love a choir on a couple of the songs. And we just weren’t really sure which songs to put them on. During pre-production, Ian suggested putting them on ‘Put Your Curse On Me’, just because it’s not really a typical choice.

"We weren’t sure how it would work out, but we got the choir in and as soon as they started singing we thought, ‘Yep. That’s awesome. That’s it.’ … It really brought the track to life and made it really move along nicely.”

With the record ready for release, now comes a new challenge: taking these belters and converting them to a live performance. There are no nerves for Stonefield, though – just excitement.

“We’re so happy to get back out there again,” Hannah says. “I think it’s probably one of our favourite things to do, to play shows. It’s great to have a whole album from which to draw songs. And it’s really exciting playing the new cuts. It makes the show a lot better. It’s good.”

It makes you wonder, is the stage the natural habitat for Stonefield?

“I did [think so]. But recording this album, we all had such an amazing time. Our past experiences have been fun, but we always still preferred playing shows. And then when we did this album, we just had so much fun. I don’t know – we enjoy both a lot.”

Of course, getting excited about touring is a lot easier when you’ve been locked in to support Fleetwood Mac at the Hope Estate and Hill wineries. 

“That is absolutely fantastic,” Hannah says. “I can’t believe we’re actually supporting them. We grew up listening to them so when we heard the news, we were stoked.”

And the future? More singles, more touring, and maybe a trip or two overseas. With the album release and younger sisters Sarah and Holly moving towards the end of their schooling, Stonefield finally feel they can flex their musical muscles.

“Definitely,” Hannah says. “Because we’ve had those few years starting off and playing around Australia. And learning all those different things, I think we’re really ready to start doing bigger things. I’m really happy with how everything’s gone, and we’ve done everything for a reason and so far everything’s worked out really well.”

'Stonefield' is out Friday October 11. The band play Alhambra Lounge November 22, The Other Side Festival November 23 and The Northern, Byron, November 24.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013 15:38

Seth Sentry: Regional Flavours

Seth Sentry is having a crazy day.

When his interview time with Scene rolls around he’s still stuck on the Tullamarine tarmac, his plane going nowhere. Besides, he’s managed to leave his phone at home.

The call finally comes through an hour later, Seth having finally arrived in Sydney for a show that night. On top of the travel and communication dramas he’s busily prepping for a soundcheck, so you could forgive him for sounding a little manic.

“No, it hasn’t been too bad,” Seth says reassuringly. “That sort of stuff happens.”

Seth Sentry is in Sydney to play the Rolling Stone Live Lodge, a pop-up bar that for a month is taking over some inconspicuous digs on Oxford St. But as far as the Melbourne MC is concerned it’s little more than a digression from the ‘Vacation’ tour, his extensive run of dates throughout regional Australia. The shows have been a blast.

“It’s been awesome, man,” he says. “We’re doing close to 30 performances. So it’s a big fucking run and coming after the ‘Dear Science’ tour, which was all capital cities, we thought we’d keep it really regional. So we’ve just crammed a bunch of dudes into a tour van and we’re driving around.”

It’s the first time in four years Seth has had a concerted set of regional dates, and he’s now wishing he’d done it sooner. Get him talking about the shows and it’s hard to shut him up.

“People are hungry for it. You do a regional tour and people come out and say ‘thank you’ after the show,” he laughs. “It’s really cool, man.

“They’re different in that they’re a little bit smaller than the shows you usually play. These are way more intimate and a lot of times people are a lot closer to the stage than other shows. It’s a different kind of vibe. It’s really personal. And I like that. I dunno: I just end up giving shit to people and making them a part of the show, which is fun for me. I’ve got a very short attention span and I don’t like to do the same show night after night – I like to keep it a little loose and a little improv’ed.”

But it wasn’t meant to be this way – or quite this way, at least. The ‘Vacation’ tour was a Plan B after Seth’s much touted support for LL Cool J on his Kings of the Mic tour in the US fell over at the last moment. Seth won the slot after taking out the Doritos Bold Stage Competition at this year’s South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas. But, he explains, he and his manager may not have read the fine print properly.

“Dude, we didn’t end up doing it,” Seth says evenly. “The shows that we got offered didn’t really make sense for us financially. Because we would’ve still had to pay our way to get there. It was such a massive line-up, so you’re playing when the doors open to 100 people.

“I’m an independent artist. It wasn’t viable at all. Maybe later down the track we can organise something and go back to the States. But that’s why it was really cool to jump straight into the ‘Dear Science’ tour and then this regional tour to make up for it. So we didn’t waste any time.”

Touring the United States – even as a support – is a dream for many artists. So it’s natural to wonder whether the whole experience has left a bad taste in the mouth.

“No, not at all, man,” Seth says. “I can see it from their point of view. I was a little bit gutted but at the same time it’s been great because we had the time to do a serious tour in this ‘Vacation’ tour and it’s been sick. And there are a lot of places that I haven’t hit before.”

As part of the itinerary, Seth is doing something very different to a regional show when he hits Sprung Festival in Brisbane later this month. And as usual, ask him to look forward to the future and he starts regaling you with stories from the past.

“They set the bar pretty high last time, man,” he says. “The first time I played Sprung, there was a comic book convention over the road. So we rocked up and they’d organised all these Stormtroopers and Darth Vader to be onstage with me.

“Where do I go from there? What else is there for me to do?”

Seth Sentry Plays Sprung Festival, Victoria Park, September 21.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013 14:02

Martha Wainwright: Leaving Home

It might be cooling down in Brisbane, but on the other side of the world Martha Wainwright is enjoying a little piece of New York spring.

“We’re having a beautiful spring and I have a garden, so I’ve been trying to put stuff in just in time to leave,” Wainwright says down the phone line from her Brooklyn home. “I always think of myself as a spring person, because I was born in May. And I like to see things not too hot or too cold, so I’m always happy in spring.”

It’s nice to find Wainwright in good spirits. 2012 saw the release of ‘Come Home To Mama’, her third studio LP and one that told of abject pain and reckoning. Through song, Wainwright covered the troubled, premature birth of her son, Arcangelo, and the 2010 death of her mother, iconic Canadian folk singer-songwriter, Kate McGarrigle.

The album wasn’t a hit, but found plenty of traction with critics and fans who fell for Wainwright’s gentle and often gently humorous take on her struggles. Now, she’s preparing to take the record on the road, flying to Australia at the end of the month for a series of shows around the country.

“We’ve had a month off and I love being home, but I do crave a hotel room,” Wainwright says, laughing at herself. “And room service and knowing exactly where I have to be at what time and what is expected of me, and putting my all into the performance and meeting the audience and signing autographs. I like that.”

With ‘Come Home To Mama’ being such a personal record, you might think it makes it difficult to take these songs on the road. But Wainwright explains that each cut has to a certain extent outgrown the album and take on a life of its own.

“They’re different to when you first write them,” she says. “That said, when I write them I try to create a song that stands alone as a work of art and a powerful piece of music. When you play music live with musicians or solo, it’s like a physical job. You can get into it. You do the best that you can with your instrument and it requires a lot of brain function. And that’s really what you’re riding on – you’re riding on the music, closing your eyes and doing a good version of it.

“People have sung the same songs over and over again millions of times. That doesn’t detract from their power, hopefully, and I think that’s an indication of whether the song is well crafted. Some songs I’ve been doing for a long time now and some songs I still do, and that’s probably a testament to the song.”

For the shows, Wainwright will be playing with her husband Brad Albetta on bass, as well as a drummer and keyboardist. The intention is to flesh out ‘Come Home To Mama’ in the live setting but also dip into some standards and her popular Edith Piaf covers. But as much as she loves it, touring isn’t going to be as easy as it used to be for Wainwright, now that she has a son to consider.

“It’s going to be the real challenge for me in the future – being able to ‘have it all’ where women are not allowed to have a career and a family. I’m sure I won’t be able to play as much as I would have, and I’ll miss days of Arc’s school. But I have to be able to do both, there’s no question. And I have to be able to dedicate myself to both, and I know there’s a way.”

After Australia it’s more touring as Wainwright tackles the northern festival season. But even that comes with its challenges these days. Playing live is where musicians make their money in 2013 – as opposed to album sales – but Wainwright says she’s beginning to see signs of cracks in the new model.

“A lot of people are on the road. There’s a glut – that’s what I’ve heard. In fact, I would say people’s guarantees are down and attendances are low in a lot of places in Europe. Also, there are so many shows.

“It’s actually created an interesting situation, but I don’t have any other skill sets,” she laughs. “I sort of have to go out there and hope for the best and grab the guitar and fight for dinner money.”

And has she started writing again just yet?

“It’s harder now,” Wainwright says. “Because any time of mine that is free I obviously like to spend with my child or with home stuff: gardening, painting, cleaning, all that kind of stuff … But I think the songs, as they always have, will reflect that change.”

Martha Wainwright kicks off her Australian Tour at The Tivoli on May 31.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013 13:50

Seth Sentry: Tomorrow Has Come

Seth Sentry may not have been looking for fame, but fame found him in 2013.

The Melbourne MC is coming off the end of a huge summer following the release of his debut album, ‘This Was Tomorrow’, and its clutch of high-rotation singles, ‘My Scene’, ‘Float Away’ and ‘Dear Science’. A trip to the United States for South by Southwest and a performance on Triple J’s One Night Stand have followed, squaring the ledger somewhat for time passed since the release of his ‘The Waiter Minute’ EP in late 2008.

But there were numerous points during that four year break when ‘This Was Tomorrow’ wasn’t going to happen, Sentry spooked by the raging success of his breakthrough single, ‘The Waitress Song’.

“The album did die a number of times,” he explains over the phone from his Melbourne home. “Because I was going to quit rap and I had all sorts of crazy thoughts. I just lost momentum after the EP and I didn’t know what to do and it scared me so much how well ‘The Waitress Song’ did. I made this little five track EP and that song did so well, and even ‘Simple Game’ off the same record started getting played on Nova and shit. That was bizarre. It just terrified me. I didn’t really know what to do after that.”

‘The Waitress Song’ hadn’t even been intended for release, which in Sentry’s mind drove home how much of a happy accident it had all been.

“We were going to scrap it,” he says. “So it was like, ‘Fuck, that was a fluke’. And then I thought, ‘I’m never doing music again because that was terrifying’. Eventually I just had to go back to writing songs that I wanted to hear about things that I wanted to write about and not over think it too much.”

But it perhaps didn’t feel like four years between Seth Sentry projects. As he somewhat harshly puts it, he “got lucky” with appearances on a 360 mixtape and a tour with Horrorshow, for which he penned a new cut – ‘Our Song’ – with the Sydney duo.

“That just happened to get picked up by Triple J and played a lot. So little things just kept me around enough for people to give a shit. But in 2012 I just ramped it up and went hard on the album. Because people set deadlines on me, and once I had the deadline there I thought, ‘Fuck, I’ve gotta do it now’. And it worked. I got really creative. I was working fast, but it felt like a lot of good stuff was coming out of it.”

The album was finally released in September and met with rapturous reviews by critics. If the subsequent summer has been Sentry getting used to the idea that he may be a legitimate artist, then it’s also been about adjusting to music as a fulltime job.

“It’s been a good transition, really,” he says. “It’s always been something I’ve done in my free time and a little bit of hobby, and since September it’s been fulltime … 100 percent, that’s surprised me. I never thought it was a viable option to become a career or something. It’s just something that I do because I enjoy it, and I still really enjoy it. I feel like I’m cheating.

“There have been little downtimes, but there’s always something coming up, or something in the not-to-distant future that I’m gearing up for. Which is good: I had four years of doing fuck all, so it’s about time,” he laughs.

Since our interview, Sentry has returned from a short tour in North America during which he visited both South by Southwest in Texas and Canadian Music Week in Toronto, as well as playing a clutch of smaller shows throughout the rest of the continent. The undoubted highlight, though, was his win in the SXSW Dorito Boldstage competition, which means Sentry will support LL Cool J on the LA-based rap legend’s June-July US tour. It’s a small sign of the potential for penetration Australian rap music has in an American market, although when we spoke to him Sentry wasn’t totally convinced the local genre is prepared to make the final leap.

“Maybe. I think the thing about Australian rap – and I know Chuck D said this – we’re still really focussed on the lyrics here and we have that skill set with our raps. That’s opposed to a lot of the more mainstream stuff in America: there’s still a massive underground scene there, but in the mainstream that’s been lost a little bit – it’s glossy and your swagger and all that stuff. Here, we don’t have the greatest voices and we haven’t got the best accent, but we focus hard on getting our flow right and the lyrics, the content.”

Indeed, while many remain concerned about the isolationism of local hip hop culture, Sentry doesn’t regard it as being a total negative, pointing out that it allowed the Australian genre to develop its own sound and differentiate itself from the music coming out of the US.

“It’s been kinda good doing that,” he says. “At the start, a lot of the acts who were big were really Americanised, and we adopted whatever the American trends were at the time. People were trying to put on American accents and stuff, and I think it’s been a nice little break away from that. We do our own thing and have our own sound happening now with a unique style. But I do think people get a little lost in that sometimes, and pick a particular era or sound from America and say, ‘That’s hip hop and we’re refusing to budge from that’. Which I think can be a little unhealthy as well.”

Much more practical concerns are now on Sentry’s agenda, with the ‘Dear Science’ tour set to check in at major centres around mainland Australia.

“Originally it was going to be the ‘Room For Rent’ tour,” he laughs, “but now it’s the ‘Dear Science’ tour. Because we didn’t pitch ‘Dear Science’ as a single – it’s just all been really organic, which has been awesome. Triple J started playing ‘Dear Science’ without ever announcing it as officially being on rotation. They just started playing it and the song did pretty well, so now it’s the ‘Dear Science’ tour.

“I’m taking my DJ, B2, who’s an Australian DMC champ. I think he came sixth in the world in terms of the championships. He’s very good, he’s overqualified! And supporting will be Tuka and Ellesquire. Once I’ve finished my tour, I’m going to take a little break. By then the new ‘Bioshock’ game should be well and truly out. I’ll play the shit out of that and then maybe another tour or two later this year.”

Wednesday, 13 March 2013 14:13

Tony Royster Jr

When Scene connects to Tony Royster Jr he’s not at home in LA, but in Singapore waiting to play his final show on tour with Joss Stone. It’s not an unusual situation for this phenomenal musician.

Royster Jr regularly tours with artists as varied as Jay-Z, Joe Jonas and Francisco Fattoruso, his skill behind the drum kit an ever-appreciating commodity. But occasionally he also hits the road for different reasons, and in conjunction with producer extraordinaire Young Guru, Royster Jr’s now involved himself in a series of clinics and workshops along the east coast of Australia that aim to greatly expand local students' frames of reference in both music and production.

“When it comes down to the clinics and letting people see me play, it’s about letting people see someone they look up to, or see one of their favourite drummers, if that’s the case,” Royster Jr explains in an effusive, animated cadence. “I love to be able to help out people and just see their faces when I show up and they say that they really appreciate my drumming. Because I do it for them. I love drumming and that’s my passion, but if I can play and really make a change in people’s lives as far as their music is concerned, that’s more gratifying than anything.”

Royster Jr had a different upbringing to most artists. Music was neither a rebellion against circumstance nor forced upon him by his parents; rather, his talent was fostered and encouraged from an exceptionally young age. It’s natural to wonder, then, if this passion for education is merely a case of paying it forward.

“Absolutely,” he says. “But not even just my parents – it doesn’t necessarily have to come from them. I’m a grown man with common sense, and when I view the world, I see things for myself. And when you see how certain people don’t have the opportunity to experience, to go different places, or to see certain musicians that they look up to, and just the opportunity to see them play and even meet them, that’s more than enough to extend my hand.”

Royster Jr’s technique behind the kit is considered second to none, and watching him drum can be mesmerising. But a major part of his success is his versatility – something he learned at an early age. There’s hardly a musical genre that he can’t engage himself with.

“I think it’s really important for musicians in general to be as versatile as possible,” he says. “Once you’re limited to a certain style of music, that limits your workflow. If all you can play is rock, then there’s no way in hell you’re going to be able to do a funk gig or jazz gig and keep the gig. You just have to really open yourself and open your mind to be willing to learn. It might be harder for other people because they might not have had the same upbringing as I had or had different things to put them in that position to learn different styles of music. I don’t know what their situation is, but for sure I think it’s very important – extremely important – to be as versatile as possible. It’s definitely helped me in my playing, because I can pretty much go into any situation, and even if I haven’t played that style of music in a long time, it takes me maybe a few minutes or so to snap into it.”

Just don’t arrive at the clinics thinking you’re going to blow Royster Jr off the court. Firstly, you’re not, and secondly, he’s passionate when talking about the need for musicians to learn from each other, rather than engaging in a battle of skill sets.

“We’ve got our own community and I don’t want us to think of our playing as a battle. Because it’s not, and I hate that,” he says definitively. “That’s another thing I try to stress when doing these clinics: it’s about us coming together and learning from one another. Everyone has something to give, regardless of how good they are and how much they might suck – at least they’re trying. That’s just what it is and that’s the type of message I try to bring across when doing these clinics. It’s all about listening and enjoying one another and helping each other out and encouraging each other to do well.”

But it’s also about supporting a cause, Royster Jr once again differentiating himself from the average touring musician by actively engaging with some of the local partners behind the clinics.

“Added Flava Audio Labs – they’re the brains behind the whole collaboration and the educational seminars – as well as JMC Academy. But also, supporting Father Chris Riley's Youth Off The Streets foundation – it’s a great situation to be helping empower and inspire young people. It’s really important.”

Tony Royster Jr’s drum clinic hits the Tempo Hotel March 23.  Young Guru’s Audio Workshop will go down the same day across town at JMC Music Academy in South Brisbane.
Wednesday, 27 February 2013 11:54

Urthboy: Ideas Man

Five years ago Urthboy was beginning to worry about the future of the music business.

At Elefant Traks, the Sydney-based independent hip hop record label he helped co-found, the internet was beginning to bite and sales of physical product were losing traction. Life on the indie frontline looked bleak.
But cut to early 2013 and everything’s changed. Elefant Traks are coming off one of the most successful years in the label’s history. 2012 delivered a breakthrough for Hermitude, the DJ project of Luke ‘Dubs’ Dubber and Angus ‘El Gusto’ Stuart — their fourth album ‘HyperParadise’ crossing over into the mainstream media – as well as the release of Urthboy’s own LP, ‘Smokey’s Haunt’, which itself went on to rack up the critical plaudits. By December, Elefant Traks seemed to be everywhere.

“2012 was a combination of lots of hard work and a few things going our way,” explains Urthboy, who in label guise is better known as Tim Levinson. “You’re working alongside artists like Hermitude for ten years before they really start to shake up a more mainstream audience, [and] when it finally does happen and you’re working behind the scenes alongside them, it’s really invigorating and just gives you that reassurance that, first of all, what we’re doing is worthwhile, and secondly, nice guys do finish first sometimes.”

Particularly satisfying was the AIR award for best label. Essentially, it meant other labels had been voting for Elefant Traks, acknowledging their achievements.

“That other labels think we’re doing a good job – that makes us all have a little bit more of a spring in our step when we’re working. But you reflect on those things and use it as a way of reinforcing your own belief in what you’re doing … I think the fact that we’re all invested in it and believe in what Elefant Traks is trying to do is a far greater incentive than all those things.”

And compared to the gloomy days half a decade ago? A lot of labels slipped under the waters, but Elefant Traks adapted and have since grown their business.

“Our digital ratio of sales is far higher than our physical now,” Urthboy explains. “So it seems that the audiences who embrace Elefant Traks have long since discarded physical product. So we’ve been close to those changes that have affected the industry and sometimes in a negative way. We have more staff rather than less, we have more projects to work on and we feel like there are more things out there that we haven‘t tried out yet. And our overheads – despite the fact that we’ve got more staff – are so low that we can move and adapt.”

As Elefant Traks’ stock has risen, so has Urthboy’s – but not just as an artist or businessman. His label’s thoughtful approach to rap music continues to draw followers, even when the smart money would be on the enlivening, widescreen hip hop of acts such as Hilltop Hoods, Bliss N Eso and 360. Elefant Traks artists aren’t afraid to sign their name to a cause, and as label head, Urthboy is often called upon to do the talking. So you have his appearance on ABC Television’s popular talk show ‘Q&A’ a couple of weeks ago – something he describes in encouraging tones as a learning experience.

“I’m all about getting involved and I feel sad for people who pull themselves out of a dialogue,” he says. “Each to their own: people can do what they like, but I’m just a personality that likes to get involved. I’m an empathetic person; I share the concerns I’ve had with my own career with my artists and the artists that I look after. I always come from that angle and want to get involved. And politics is no different: naturally we’re going to be a little rough around the edges and not be polished media players, but that’s OK. You’ve just got to keep that option open.”

It’s not often you meet an artist with such well resolved arguments on political and social current affairs. ‘Q&A’ obviously realised this, asking the rapper for a post panel performance of his song ‘Empire Tags’ – a plea for Australia to drop the Union Jack from the national flag – as opposed to current single ‘The Big Sleep’. Urthboy takes this public side to his personality seriously, but at the same time is wary of overkill.

“I performed ‘Empire Tags’ and at the end of it, because of the bushfires and floods around the country, I was shouting out to people affected by that stuff. And I was pointed to one of the main lobby groups for the monarchy over here, and a lot of their commentary was, ‘I cannot believe he blamed floods and fires on the Queen,’” he laughs. “I mean, God, what an advertisement for [having your] fucking head in the sand.

“I’m outspoken because I feel like life’s too short to play poker with this shit. But yeah, I do sometimes feel like the world doesn’t need me to put my opinion on everything. And from time-to-time I’ll have an awakening of, ‘Why would people want to hear my opinion on things?’ And I’ve got to be aware of that instinct to assume that what I’ve got to say is worth listening to. I think from time to time I need to reflect on it, so I just don’t assume … Quite often with interviews and issues where you’re called to make a comment, it’s a one-way street where you’re standing up and delivering your grandiose thoughts on the world. I don’t want to hear the same person talk about a whole bunch of different issues, so why would I want to be that person?”

Right now, though, Urthboy is thinking more about the art, and in particular the upcoming ‘Smokey’s Haunt’ national tour. It will be the first where he’s not on the road with El Gusto – Hermitude’s continued success now requiring the DJ’s fulltime attention.

“Replacing El Gusto was something I didn’t even want to explore,” he says, “so that’s how the band came up. If I can’t replace him, how do we actually go about it? We have to make the show better. Because that’s the premise.”
He quickly settled upon an idea he’d originally discussed with El Gusto: touring with a full band. And so beyond regular co-conspirator Jane Tyrrell, Urthboy will be packing an all new live show, including Lisa Purmodh on drums, Alex Dawson on keys and Last Kinection and Briggs’ regular, Jaytee, behind the decks. The excitement buzzes down the phone line.

“I don’t really feel pressure, apart from pulling off the songs in time for the show,” he says. “Maybe that’s pressure, but I don’t think of it in those terms. I definitely feel that you can’t get away with doing the same thing over and over again … Particularly when there are so many acts in the hip hop community – you can’t keep coming back and doing the same thing – it has to be a constant refresh and you have to present people with new ideas, offer them something new.”

Urthboy plays Sol Bar, Coolum, March 22 and The Zoo March 23.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013 13:40

Local Natives: Return To The Wild

There have been three and a half years since the release of Local Natives’ debut record, and three and a half years’ worth of changes.

The Los Angeles four-piece lost their bass player, Andy Hamm, while frontman Kelcey Ayer’s mother passed away in the summer of 2011. Beyond that, there was an almost endless series of tours, during which the band refined and evolved their craft. The result, finally, is sophomore LP, ‘Hummingbird’. Scene got on the phone to multi-instrumentalist Ryan Hahn to discuss the new album, recording in New York, the LA arts scene, and the band’s just announced May tour to Australia.

‘Hummingbird’ – released three and a half years after ‘Gorilla Manor’ in late 2009 – does it feel that long to you?
In some ways yes, in some ways no. We toured forever on that first record, and that has a weird way of warping time, you know (laughs). It flies by. And then we told ourselves that we weren’t going to release the next record until it’s ready. We just wanted to take our time with it and make sure whatever we were doing, we were really proud of. Now that we have it, now that it’s done, we just want to put it out immediately. I don’t know: I think we’re just ready to put it out there and get back on the road.

There seems to be a dichotomy developing, though. Albums are increasingly seen as ammunition for the live show, and yet there’s barely any time to stop these days and actually record an album. Fair call?

For us, the way we write and the kind of music we want to make, we really feel the need to get off the road, be still and focus. We love playing live, I think it’s our favourite part, but we put everything we learned over the last few years into this new record. So yeah – we wanted it to be something that could stand on its own and not, like you said, just be ammunition for touring.

Have you ever felt any pressure to write on the road?

Yeah. We do write as much as we can. But it’s just tough when you’re touring – the only moments you get where you don’t have to do anything, all you want to do is rest. It’s hard to write at soundcheck or write in the tour van. So it took us a while to get going once we got back and got our feet back on the ground. But once we got into the swing of things there was nine months of pure writing and demoing, and three months of recording.

The changes that came about with the new album – you have been through so much: you’ve done a truckload of touring, you lost Adam, and there’s been other personal stuff going on – how much of the change was premeditated, and how much just came out?

There was never any discussion: ‘This is what the record’s going to sound like’. We’d grown a lot and we didn’t want to repeat ourselves – I think that was maybe the only thing we discussed: ‘Let’s not just do ‘Gorilla Manor Version 2’. We just wanted to push ourselves and try new things and not be afraid to take some chances and branch out. It felt really good. It felt like we were where we needed to be.

What was the intention behind going across country to Brooklyn to record?

People talk about this album being a New York thing, but we actually wrote the whole thing in LA. We found ourselves a rehearsal spot and spent hours every day writing and demoing. Then, when it was time to record, I think that’s when we thought about trying to get away from all the distractions in the city and focus on the record – and we went to New York where there are plenty of distractions (laughs). But we almost wanted to go back to the first record when we were living together and just purely focussing on making music. That was the thought process.

I know you guys found the split with Andy hard. Writing and recording without Andy – did it change things much?

I think we’ve always been such a collaborative band, and me, Taylor [Rice, guitarist] and Kelcey have always been the songwriters. It is always super hard to lose a band member – we operate very much like a family – but we’d grown apart over the last few years together. There was the four of us going one way, the other not wanting to go, and it was just tough. But now, I feel like it’s been for the best and I really do honestly feel like we’re happier than ever and that we’re a stronger band than we’ve ever been.

Would you guys consider moving to Brooklyn permanently? It’s pretty much where every young Australian wants to go, as opposed to LA.

I don’t know. It’s pretty crazy: we’ve toured so much now, we’ve seen so much of the world, it’s been really amazing. But every time we come home we’re like, ‘Oh yeah, this is why we live here’. It’s just so awesome. We really feel like Los Angeles is home. Being in New York was cool, but I’ll always take LA over New York.

Talking about LA – it feels like there’s a rejuvenation going on there, though, where people are once again recognising its value to the arts. There was a time when it was painted as just film stars and fake breasts. Does it feel pretty vibrant there artistically at the moment?

It really does. It’s tough to pinpoint a scene or whatever. But I just think that you come out to LA and it just feels like there is a sense of people doing creative things. You walk around our neighbourhood and everyone’s working hard with their art: it might be music, or acting, or they’re making films. It does feel like there’s a creative atmosphere out here and it feels nice to be a part of that.

First the LP release, and now the tour. You’re in Australia in May – what do you remember about the last time you were here?

It was such a fun tour. Laneway was awesome – you’re just hanging out with friends in different bands, travelling with them – that was such a cool vibe. And we had a lot of days just to walk around and hang out in the cities. In a lot of ways it felt like California: sunshine and friendly people. We’re really looking forward to going back. I think we have it circled on the calendar. We’re looking forward to it.

And the rest of the year?

It just goes and goes and goes. We’ll be touring and doing festival season in the north and playing shows right up until December. Hopefully, just growing the live show and developing new things.

‘Hummingbird’ Is Out Now. Local Natives Play The Zoo May 19.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013 15:53

I Heart Hiroshima: Big Returns

Legions of I Heart Hiroshima fans were beginning to wonder what it would take to bring their favourite band back together. The answer turned out to be a major music festival.

Talking to guitarist-vocalist Matt Somers and drummer-vocalist Susie Patten, you’re left with the impression they don’t realise exactly how popular their band is. In that sense, having the Big Day Out come knocking is maybe the perfect reminder.

“Well, it was pretty much our manager sending us an email a couple of weeks before Christmas saying that the Big Day Out had offered us a slot,” Somers says over the phone. “He just asked if we’d be interested in getting it together, saying that we could probably sort it out.”

Patten’s been based in Berlin for the last two years, playing in a number of bands, thus putting I Heart on the backburner. But having a festival with the scale of the Big Day Out calling for your services means such geographical gaps are easily bridged.
“They offered us enough that we could fly Susie in from Berlin,” Somers continues. “So our manager thought he’d ask to see what we wanted to do, and we were all kinda like, ‘Yeahhh!’” he laughs.

Patten will only be back in the country for seven days. Even so, she’s looking forward to taking a break from the German capital, which is stuck in the grip of an icy European winter.

“It's been drizzly and raining here for a solid three weeks,” she says via email, “so seeing the sun will be a nice change. Plus the festival show, I mean it is going to be crazy and weird and really fun.”

It’ll be the band’s first performance in just under two years, in which time Somers and Patten, as well as guitarist-keyboardist Cameron Hawes, have been working on their own projects. Scene interviewed Somers for his Rick Fights solo shows at the start of October, and even then he admitted to having itchy feet for some fresh I Heart material. Now, he’s almost ready to burst.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he says. “In the last couple of days I’ve been trying to relearn the songs, and I think I’d forgotten how fun most of them are to play.

“I kinda needed to do the Rick Fights stuff to really, really want to do I Heart again. Because what I do solo is completely different. But I dunno – we’ve been talking in the last couple of days about maybe trying to write a new song in the couple of practices that we have and maybe seeing if we can record it roughly and put it out on the internet, or something. And I realised when we were talking about it that one of my Rick Fights songs could quite easily be turned into an I Heart song … it kind of shocked me that one of the newer songs would work with I Heart. I thought I was drifting away from it, but I guess I wasn’t.”

Patten likewise has been head down in her own material, writing songs for an electronic act, RODEO. But she’s hankering to get back on the riser – particularly seeing as good friend and former Philadelphia Grand Jury bandmate Simon Berckelman has had her drum set on permanent loan.

“There was still always that desire that can only be fulfilled by playing acoustically that I missed,” she explains. “I have a drum set here, a beautiful 1967 Pearl President, it lives at Simon’s studio and he uses it a lot. I just seem to never have the time to play it and when I do I wish I was playing with a band.”

So, seven days to practice like mad, maybe pen a couple of new songs, play the Big Day Out, and then a second show at Alhambra for local fans. You’d think they’d be shitting their pants, but neither Somers nor Patten seem overly stressed by the itinerary – just excited to be back onstage together once again.

“I am super, super, super excited for the two shows,” Patten says. “Playing in Brisbane will be such a great time and it will be so awesome to play to the home crowd again … My nerves are pretty steady, I just think it is all a bit of a crazy trip, especially how it happened so quickly.”

I Heart Hiroshima play The Big Day Out this Sunday 20 January, and Alhambra Lounge Tuesday 22 January.
Thursday, 27 December 2012 10:30

DJ Yoda: The Wheel Still Turns

We’re a long way from turntablism’s halcyon days in the late ‘90s, when the sub-genre’s stars used to scratch and pick their way across the globe.

Now you hardly hear about turntablism, and that’s if it actually exists at all. Ask England’s DJ Yoda and he’s in no doubt.

“It’s virtually dead,” he says plainly. “It kind of killed itself. It just got to this ridiculously technical level. I lost interest in it. It was no longer about entertaining people. And for me, the reason I love DJing is that it’s something that’s fun, and I think that level of scratch nerdiness lost the fun.”

It’s a frank epitaph for a movement that once seemed on the verge of taking over hip hop entirely. And even the turntable itself is slowing dying, with less and less clubs supporting the Technics SL-1200s on which Yoda and his peers made their names.

“There are a few venues I turn up at where the people are like, ‘I can’t believe you need to use a turntable’. I feel like the last guy out there who’s still using them, which also adds this weird relevance to the name DJ Yoda – I’m the last person left,” he laughs.

Not that Yoda is living in the past – far from it. Indeed, it says plenty about the skills the turntablism movement encouraged that many of its finest practitioners – Mix Master Mike, QBert and A-Trak – have gone onto vibrant careers in other sub-genres. Yoda himself has just released a new album, ‘Chop Suey’ – one that took him six years to make simply because he was so busy with other projects.

“I was touring the whole time, I was releasing mix CDs the whole time,” he explains, exasperated. “I had all these different collaborative projects going on, so really I was getting one day a week to work on the album, which is not really a good way to get into the flow of it. I think I learned a lot of lessons; there’s absolutely no way the next album will take that long. The flipside of it taking so long, though, is that I’m really happy with it. I’ve got no regrets and I’m really pleased with how it sounds right now.

“But at the end of the day, I wanted to make an album that doesn’t sound bang on trend to the point where it’s irrelevant in a year’s time. And I think I got away with that. It sounds like something you could return to in five or ten years’ time. There are all these sub-genres of dance music that come and go, year by year, and although I like a lot of them they haven’t necessarily had that much lastability.”

Yoda may have shifted away from pure turntablism, but he certainly hasn’t turned his back on hip hop. Particularly at the moment: the United States seems on the verge of a new golden era of rap music, with numerous underground artists breaking through to both mainstream and indie acclaim. Yoda’s not immune. Get him talking about the state of hip hop and he quickly becomes animated.

“Oh man, it’s exploded. I love it. I could play an all hip hop set now,” he says. “Guys like Action Bronson obviously, because he’s on ‘Chop Suey’, but also Roc Marciano, Evidence and Alchemist and that sort of sound. Also, I really like the commercial, proper American sound: Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, and Kendrick Lamar’s amazing. There’s tonnes of stuff, man. Five years ago, I couldn’t count on one hand the number of good hip hop artists who were around, and certainly ten years ago there was just nothing.”

Yoda’s talking to me on a chilly London morning, so it seems only fair to ask whether he’s looking forward to getting down to Australia early next month.

“Oh man, I’m counting down the days,” he laughs. “The awesome thing is that every year I tour Australia, and every year the tour gets longer and longer. This year, it’s longer than ever. I’m there for over two months.”

As for his plans for the show, Yoda’s not entirely sure. Since the turn of the millennium he’s steadily built his name on rapid-fire audiovisual sets, but whether that’s the case at his Brisbane show will depend on Coniston’s space and equipment.
“I don’t know the plans for Brisbane just yet. I’m waiting to find out about the venue … but the cool thing about the album is that bit by bit, we’re making a video for every song on the album – not just the singles. And the purpose of that is so I can have this AV show where I’m including all the album in it as well. It should be great.”

Dj Yoda Plays Bassic At Coniston Lane Along With Dj Marky & Stamina Mc, Digital Mystikz And Bare Noize Jan 4.
Wednesday, 12 December 2012 14:12

The Zoo Is 20: Still Blowin'

Your interpretation of The Zoo likely depends on your age.

To those a little older it might still seem like a relative new comer, which through a combination of spritely ingenuity and uncanny luck has outlasted many of the venues that came before. But for younger gig-goers, The Zoo is as much a fixture on the Brisbane music scene as many of the bands – Powderfinger and Regurgitator among them – who it helped nurture.

And maybe that’s what a 20-year anniversary is all about – a chance to reconcile the past with the present: for the older heads to consider that what they’ve witnessed is no longer just gigs and bands but events in a local history of music, and for the younger generation to understand that same legacy, which has slowly been built inside the humble digs of a former sewing machine factory.

“It was black,” Joc Curran says, describing the day that she and business partner, C Smith, first stepped inside what would arguably become the city’s greatest live music venue. “It had spent 60 years as a sewing machine factory and you know the oil you get for sewing machines? That had gotten into everything. It just had a hundred years of dust in it, basically.”

Curran, Smith and a crew of helpers scrubbed away for days at the grime-covered walls. They were clueless about running a business, but both were photographers and had an eye for art and making do with what they had.

“We had no idea and we couldn’t afford lots of things. And still to this day, our barrels are old Rheem hot water systems. We bought them and they were our tables. Artists did the murals on the walls, and there’s always been a big community at The Zoo – just big groups of people surrounding it and helping us.”

It would be close to six months on from first spotting the venue that Curran and Smith would finally swing open the doors for an opening party that featured Regurgitator’s Ben Ely and Screamfeeder’s Tim Steward. Ask Curran what she remembers of that night, though, and she laughs.

“We were all just frantically chucking things out the back where people couldn’t see. Chucking boxes and that sort of stuff. I can hardly tell you anything substantial about it.”

The communal atmosphere remains at The Zoo. Curran is still in partnership with Smith, but now helms the venue on her own, encouraging a flat hierarchy where staff pitch in to help each other. Maybe that’s why it still feels like the fresh-faced new kid on the block: step inside and you’re greeted by friendly, eager bartenders and a security team that isn’t simply looking for the first opportunity to boot you out again.

“I hear people’s comments when they come for the first time,” she says. “I often wish I could do that. I remember [local composer and media artist] Lawrence English saying, ‘I went to The Zoo five years ago, and then I went last week and it was just the same. Everyone was helpful and friendly.’ I have a really low staff turnover. Everyone does everything and we’re all on one playing field. Everybody is a team and we do it together.

“I’ve always lived by that ethos and I feel like everybody has some input – it’s not ‘I’ and ‘you’, it’s ‘us’. When anybody ever talks about The Zoo, I feel like everybody has a sense of ownership of it – like they’re custodians, like I feel I’m a custodian of that space … Because there’s no way I could do it on my own – it’s everybody doing a small part to make it whole.”
Ask what else Curran thinks has been key to The Zoo’s survival and she taps into similar themes.

“We’ve always run demo programmes, or local programmes, or supported local music the whole time of our existence,” she says. “We don’t worry about what other venues are doing, we just do what we do and try to do it well, and just be true to ourselves. Always running the demo programmes and supporting bands from their very first gig – I think it’s because of that.”
Now Curran and her team are getting set to celebrate The Zoo’s 20-year anniversary, and it’s very much an event that’s about coming full circle.

“It’s great. Regurgitator are playing and Danny Widdicombe’s playing also – he was there on the opening night. So the 20-year celebration is the full circle – it’s about the beginning but it’s also about acknowledging where we are now.

“And then [there are some bands] that I feel like are starting out and I feel like are a prediction for the future – Founds is an example of that – a band that I’ve gotten to know and love, and I just see them taking off ... I think it’s just going to be a lot of people touching base and having their own stories.”

The Zoo Celebrates 20 Years Of Music This Saturday, December 15. Line-Up Includes Regurgitator, Danny Widdicombe & Tylea, Dave & Katch, Founds, And Toothfaeries.
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