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Wednesday, 22 August 2012 15:26

Jonathan Wilson: Back To Basics

Jonathan Wilson is an old soul with immense talent, but chances are you’ve never heard of this multi-instrumental Californian.

The softly spoken folk musician-come-producer has graced the stage with industry legends, jammed with Elvis Costello and even caught the attention of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. But Wilson humbly takes it all in his stride.

“The band and I we were all studying those guys from the side of the stage,” Wilson says of supporting Tom Petty earlier this year. “I mean their songs are like the best you know? That was just an honour to be out there with those guys … they were extremely special times.”

Wilson’s affinity for music grew from childhood, with the enigmatic artist describing himself as “one of those kids obsessed with guitars, drums and songs”. “Back in the younger days when I wasn’t exposed to all the tough to find B sides … I was listening to bands of the day that you could hear on the airwaves, whether it was The Beatles, The Eagles, or the King.

“I was inspired by the shooting-for-the-stars kind of people where the goals were large and the productions were on a grand scale, and they were extremely creative so that’s always been the goal, to tap into some of that. But I’m also inspired by jazz, and that’s a big part of my past.”

With a diversity of inspiration behind him, Wilson’s 2011 debut album, ‘Gentle Spirit’, captures the true essence of his calm persona, and love for “old school” analogue recording techniques.

“The majority of the album was done to tape. It’s something that I’ve always done, not just for the sake of it but for the sound of it. It’s a proper way to record, it’s expensive, heavy; the machines break, and to fix it you have to get somebody or be schematic yourself. You have to be a musician, a tech and a scientist.”

Having made his mark on the fabled Laurel Canyon music scene in LA, Wilson is thrilled to be bringing his tunes to Australia. “People listen to the album and they’re sort of expecting this extremely mellow type of show, but the truth is the band definitely gives excitement to the songs so the live show is exciting.”

Jonathan Wilson performs at the Courier-Mail Spiegeltent as part of Brisbane Festival Sep 16-17.
Friday, 17 August 2012 10:46

Horrorshow: Storytellers

Horrorshow’s Nick Bryant-Smith may possibly be the most down-to-earth hip hop MC you’ll meet.

Behind the veil of MC Solo is a hard-working, gutsy guy who turned a high school hobby into one of the country’s most promising hip hop duos.

With best mate and producer Adit Gauchan beside him, Bryant-Smith’s humble bedroom project began as an outlet for his pent-up teenage angst. Now, Horrorshow are plying their hip hop beats to crowds across the country, with a loyal following in tow.

“I’ve always appreciated stories and books that could convey a bigger message than just the story itself,” Bryant-Smith says. “A lot of that has kind of rubbed off in what I do with my lyrics and I definitely think that’s a big part of what drew me to hip hop in the first place.”

The dynamic Sydney duo burst onto the scene in 2008 with ‘The Grey Space’, a debut record that Bryant-Smith describes as “lyrically indulgent”. “People didn't even really know that I rapped,” he reveals openly, “so the first record is almost like a diary in a way because it wasn't written with anybody else in mind other than what I wanted to get off my chest at the time.

“As we've grown as a band and now have an audience around the country — and even overseas — you start to be aware of that and think of ways you can approach writing songs that are going to connect with the audience.”

With album number three in the works, Horrorshow are feeling the pressure from their expanding fanbase to deliver more signature beats. But as Bryant-Smith reveals, it’s all about timing.

“It’s been two and a half years since our last record and I just want to make sure whatever we come back with is absolutely the best thing that we could have produced.”

A recent European tour support slot with the Hilltop Hoods opened Bryant-Smith’s eyes to power of Australian hip hop on a global scale. “We played a show in Amsterdam and I met people along the way who had caught an eight-hour bus from Warsaw in Poland just to come to a gig. These people could barely speak English but they love Australian hip hop.

“The amount of attention and support that artists like the Hilltop Hoods and Drapht have been getting I think really testifies to just how strong the support base is there amongst those kids. It’s a funny thought to think of little old Aussie hip hop sticking it to the masses overseas, but I really think that it’s on its way to happening.”

Horrorshow play The Courier-Mail Spiegeltent at Brisbane Festival Tuesday September 11.
Friday, 17 August 2012 10:07

Future Islands: Heading Ashore

Music critics have pinned their sound as romantic new wave synthpop, but Baltimore’s Future Islands prefer to let their music speak for itself.

"I think we definitely have a very unique sound that is hard to describe to most people,” says keyboard player and programmer Gerrit Welmers,
“and it’s definitely been honed quite a bit.

"We’ve moved from having a drummer in more of a live set-up to relying on a drum machine and spending more time in the programming world in creating a bigger sound, so to speak.”

However you describe it, there’s no denying Future Islands have made quite the impression, with recent LP ‘On The Water’ touted as their most ambitious record yet. With surging rhythms, poignant lyrics charting love and loss, and piercingly powerful vocals, Future Islands make a bold statement on this narrative-driven album. Despite it being labelled a ‘concept’ record, Welmers says the band’s songwriting process is a natural, fluid process seldom based on conceptual framing.

“We never really write with anything in mind, we just let the music take over,” he explains. “The ‘On The Water’ recordings happened after a long period of touring, so what came from that was our release from being very busy for a long time. The theme just kind of happened. It wasn’t really a planned idea. We spent time at our friend’s house in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. We sort of recorded in the room, slept in the same room, ate everything together and spent the entire time with each other and our producer and friends. I definitely enjoyed that recording process moreso than any other recording process.”

Future Islands hope listeners can connect themselves to their music as much as they do during the songwriting process.

“There’s normally a lot of heartbreak involved with the lyrics and I think the songs are very emotional,” Welmers muses, “but at the same time you can feel pretty happy from it. I don’t know if I want them to feel anything in particular, but I just want them to feel something.”

Having witnessed the resurgence of synthpop in recent years, Future Islands feel perfectly placed in their genre, unfazed by the myriad bands climbing the same ranks.

“What we do is already kind of unique and I think we’ll just continue to do what we do,” Welmers says confidently. “I don’t think we’ll ever plan on changing anything, definitely not sonically. We just do what we do, we don’t plan.”

How does this ‘newer wave’ of synthpop compare to the sounds coming out of the ‘80s? “I guess the energy is completely different,” Welmers says, “but there’s always songs about relationships and love lost and I think that will be forever, no matter what. The sound itself has some similar ties to the ‘80s. I can’t say it’s something revolutionary but I think what you put into it is felt with the music.”

They’ve taken their tunes around the globe but Future Islands are self-confessed homebodies, relishing in the musical delights their humble city produces.

“I’m definitely inspired by the work done by a lot of contemporary artists, especially in Baltimore like Dan Deacon, Beach House and the list goes on and on,” Welmers says.

“We’re always inspired by what they do, but I’m also inspired by the amount of work that they put into what they do, and I think that’s one thing that we’ve learned a lot from these people: their idea of work, and that it’s very difficult.”

‘On The Water’ is available now. Future Islands play Queensland Art Gallery as part of Prado Up Late Friday September 21.

Wednesday, 08 August 2012 15:22

Monster Zoku Onsomb: Mutant Bass

When you think rave parties, ‘arm folding’ and ‘pretentiousness’ don’t spring to mind.

But after performing at some of the world’s best rave destinations for the last decade, Phil from Monster Zoku Onsomb has every right to be a little cynical of Brisbane’s current underground scene.

“Everything has become so gentrified. There’s too much arm folding, too much sexy house, and there’s no proper raving. That’s why we go overseas, because there’s a real market for parties with every genre of great music.

They’ll have Richie Hawtin playing next to Venetian Snares next to Ed Rush. That’s proper partying,” he says. With a career spanning back to the early ’90s, Monster Zoku Onsomb have cemented themselves as one of the country’s foremost underground acts.

And while they’ve charted the genre’s high and lows, Monster Zoku have continued to stay true to their unique style, says singer Miss P. “The beginning of the outdoor party scene was about a lot of different styles of music being on the same stage, not split up into genres, and that is something we’ve always done in our music.

“We’ve always mashed a lot of styles in together, we’re not just one style, and that has been to our detriment really because no one can pigeonhole us. We make big music for partying to, whether it’s one style or the other.”

“We’re kind of this mixture between that mutant bass sound and rockabilly music,” adds Phil. “It’s kind of got its roots in old school aesthetics mixed with hoovers.”

Monster Zoku Onsomb have always embraced technology, incorporating laser beams, light helmets and synth swords into their infamously idiosyncratic live show.
“It’s all synched as well,” Phil says.

“It’s that thing of getting the technology as hyped as the show. As the music builds up the lights are more full on and lasers start shooting out of people’s eyes.”

Monster Zoku Onsomb headline the 4ZZZ fundraiser, ‘Double Dose’, at Coniston Lane Tuesday August 14.
Friday, 27 July 2012 10:05

Tim Hart: Taking the Solo Road

He keeps the beat for indie rockers Boy & Bear. Now drummer-come-singer-songwriter Tim Hart is going solo.

With brooding lyrics and inherently folk undertones, Hart confesses his debut album, ‘Milling The Wind’, is both a chronicle of his whirlwind career and a glimpse into the isolating life of a travelling musician. “The Boy & Bear stuff has been incredible… but being constantly on the road things happen; stuff back home relationship-wise is tough and so these songs tend to be a reaction to that,” Hart reflects. “It’s an album that I wrote from personal experience and I guess my lyrics are a way of dealing with what I’m going through in life.”

It’s already been described as a dark collection of tunes, but Hart is comfortable wearing his heart on his sleeve. “Some people talk about what they write is in no way relating to what they go through in their lives, but I guess I’m one person who’s always had to write from personal experience and the juicy stuff to write about tends to be the darker end of what happens.

To my close friends, it’s pretty confronting but for me I feel that’s the tradition of singer-songwriters.” Recorded in Cairns last year with The Middle East producer, Mark Myers, at the helm, Hart says ‘Milling The Wind’ encapsulates his love for traditional folk music. “I grew up listening to folk music and I really wanted to do an album that was unashamedly folk, not sort of under the guise of indie folk and I guess we’re pretty stoked with the result.”

Following the tradition of folk icons Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, Hart’s vision for the album was straightforward. “I think the common denominator with those guys is they sat down and played their songs into a microphone and I feel like I wanted my record to sound like me sitting down and playing my songs into a microphone and hitting record.”

While Hart’s pursuit for a solo music career has been evolving for some time, his roots are still firmly with Boy & Bear, with members of the indie collective lending guest vocals and instrumentals to ‘Milling The Wind.’ “For me, music is about community. I like the idea that whoever is around plays on the record.” ‘Milling The Wind’ is released August 17.

Tim Hart plays Black Bear Lodge September 27 and The Loft, Gold Coast, September 28.
Wednesday, 18 July 2012 13:08

Grinspoon: Are Back

A three-year hiatus might be just what Grinspoon needed. Having taken a breather and collectively regrouped, they’re ready for round seven, and just quietly, so are the rest of us.

Grinspoon have recently returned from the States with a brand new album in tow, and drummer Kris Hopes is confident they’ve once again concocted a winning formula.

“This is our seventh album and you can kind of lose your way as you come through as a band and I think every couple of albums you need a refresher. I think this is the one for us,” he says.

The last 12 months of their sojourn has been spent perfecting ‘Black Rabbits’, an album which Hopes says is more “produced” than any of Grinspoon’s previous works.

Sonically, they’ve taken us on a bit of a ride in the past, with tunes like ‘Chemical Heart’ exposing Grinspoon’s musical vulnerability, while their last album, ‘Six To Midnight’, channelled rock in its purest form. This time, when the record is released in September, they’ll reveal something a little different once again.

“There’s definitely been a lot more time and thought put into the songs and into the production. The last album we did, the songs weren’t styled or suited to be produced, it was more a raw rock record, and we recorded that one all live and that’s kind of what suited the songs, but this one we’ve gone a bit more produced. We did it in Hollywood with a sort of big producer called Dave Schiffman, and he’s done a lot with the Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine, and that was the kind of producer we were after for these songs.”

In true Grinspoon fashion, ‘Black Rabbits’ peels back another layer of the band’s enigmatic songwriting approach.

“We’ve just changed again, we’ve morphed a little bit. Back in the day when we released ‘Chemical Heart’, that was a change for us, and our fans, and I think we’ve turned another corner again. We try to evolve and stay cool as a band, and I think we’ve achieved that, and everyone’s heart’s in it, which is the main thing.

“Pat [Davern, guitarist] has written most of this album. He sort of locked himself away and came out with a bunch of tunes that all kind of fit together, so we kind of ran with most of them.”

Surely with an enviable back catalogue of records, there’s just a bit of pressure for Grinspoon to punch out another successful studio album?

“I think there always is,” Hopes says. “We release an album and that either works for us or not, and we go back and usually write a rock record and then we come out with another kind of good album. It just seems to be our track record so far. It’s kind of weird, I think a lot of bands kind of do that. You try and reinvent yourself so that you are still current and out there for a good time.”

While they’re still out for a “good time”, Grinspoon have ridden a public wave of ups and downs over their illustrious music career. Who can blame them after 17 years? Hopes admits their group dynamics have certainly evolved as the band has matured, but after so long together, Grinspoon have had time to iron out any indifferences.

“It’s definitely shifted for the good,” Hopes says. “Back in the day with the first couple of albums, everyone’s kind of fighting to find their own personality on the road, on stage and being a band member, and that was all nutted out with us within the first five to ten years. Now we all have a good relationship with each other and it makes it so much easier to be in a band together when you like what you’re doing and the people you’re doing it with.”

While Grinspoon’s longevity is an obvious reflection of their work ethic and commitment to the craft, many bands haven’t had such luck. But Grinspoon aren’t ones to take their privileged position within the Australian music scene for granted.

“A lot of bands that we’ve seen break up along the way, and even bands that are still together, there’s not a lot of harmony in some of them, but it’s just stages of life that you have to go through and work out yourself and work out your position in the band. Some people never end up happy with what they work out, but lucky for us it’s just panned out that we are still all friends and we like being in this band, and doing our thing.”

With a career spanning almost two decades, Grinspoon know better than most how much the Australian music landscape has transformed. Despite being amongst it all, they’ve never really felt compelled to conform to society’s expectations, and even now, don’t feel the pinch to be a “cool” rock band.

“We’ve never been a fashionable band, I think if we were a fashionable band we would have not had the career that we’ve had so far. We just do what we do and we hope people like it. We’re obviously out making music and touring so people buy it and people enjoy it. So we do want people to like our music and come to our shows but we do it for us and we put it out there and just hope for the best.”

The break has seen Grinspoon finetune their live gigs, and Hopes says when they hit the road again, expect a “change up” from the last three years. Fans will have a chance to decipher what that means when Grinspoon join Spiderbait at the Monster Energy Festival, a high octane event which sees motocross and rock n roll join forces for a night in Brisbane’s ‘burbs.

Hopes is especially thrilled to be apart of the Eatons Hill Hotel gig, mainly because it’s on his doorstep, but also because it means they get to play to a diverse crowd.

“The funny thing is, it’s just up the road from my house, which is great! I only live five minutes away, so that’s pretty cool for me. There’s gonna be motorbikes and all sorts of action sports going on, it’s just going to be one of those rock out kind of days.

“We play to different crowds all the time, you go to the inner suburbs of Sydney and are playing to all the cool hipsters and whatever and you go to the suburbs where I live and you’re playing to some metal bogans sometimes,” Hopes jokes, “but we love them all and we hope they love us because we’ve always played everywhere and the more people who can relate to our music the better.”

Grinspoon play the Monster Energy FMX Show at Eatons Hill Hotel Saturday August 25. ‘Black Rabbits’ is set for release in September.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012 10:59

La Voix Humaine: Theatre In Preview

It was written in 1939, but the iPad generation could learn a lesson about the art of communication from ‘La Voix Humaine’.

Originally a one-woman show by Frenchman Jean Cocteau, ‘La Voix Humaine’ follows the one-sided conversation of a woman talking on the telephone to her lover as he is about to run off and marry another woman.

La Boite Indie offers a fresh take on the French classic, with a message for modern day theatregoers weaved in. “When Dave (Sleswick) directed it, he uses three quite distinctly different women to represent this woman in three different ways. It also shows this play that was written so many years back is still relevant today,” explains dancer and actress Leisel Zink, who plays one of the three women characters.

With Skype, Twitter and social networking charting the technological waters, Zink says it’s time audiences got back to basics, and this play delivers a poignant message. “All of these devices, they don’t compare to normal face-to-face conversation and I think that a lot can be misunderstood when you add those devices and interruptions in between.”

With a myriad creative elements like dance, text, multimedia and bilingual performances interwoven throughout ‘La Voix Humaine’, Zink says it successfully paints a picture of how humans really interact, allowing the audience a voyeuristic insight. “It’s about how much we rely on words or how much we rely on other different ways of communicating, whether it be through tone, voice or movement.”

The incorporation of dance and stylised movement gives this vintage masterpiece a contemporary edge. “It [dance] expresses things I believe that words can’t, and it connects with the audience on a more kinaesthetic level so that they can really feel what you’re going through without necessarily being able to articulate it through words. Thus it alerts different senses and perhaps makes the audience feel a little uneasy or more empathetic,” explains Zink.

Zink’s fascination with human interaction and communication has given her a solid foundation for her demanding role in ‘La Voix Humaine’. “I spend a lot of time in cafes and I just love people-watching — I find humans very peculiar,” Zink continues, “I walk around the city with my headphones on and just watch and it’s amazing how much you can see if you actually look around you. This may sound simple … but it’s actually looking, seeing, investing in and being curious about what you see.”

A dancer and choreographer at heart, Zink reflects upon the challenges of being involved in a text-based theatre work, “actors tend to work from an internal place, that’s how they bring it out, whereas dance is often quite external, like creating shapes, so even coming from an internal perspective and approaching texts, but also movement, from an internal point of view has been really valuable for me.”

Audiences will walk away with a new perception on the art of communication says Zink, who is audibly thrilled to be apart of the dynamic local production. “I think that it will be very much reflective to look at the amount of complexities we have behind communication with all of these devices.

“It makes us question the value and the purity of a normal conversation that’s just face-to-face.”

‘La Voix Humaine’ runs at La Boite June 27 — July 14.
Friday, 22 June 2012 15:36

Strain Of Origin II

Artists from Sydney label Feral Media and Brisbane's Lofly have faced-off in a bid to find out which state does experimental music best.

After its 2010 success, the Strain Of Origin II compilation has just been released, with a new batch of artists from each state remixing their opposition's tunes.

The project, which aims to showcase the east coast's high calibre of music production, has seen the addition of artists like Jonathan Boulet, AXXONN, Anonymeye, Dot. AY, Ambrose Chapel and Mystery Twin to the 2012 mix.

The Strain of Origin II compilation can be streamed free here.
Wednesday, 20 June 2012 10:43

Rock The Ballet: Dance In Preview

Described as “ballet for the 21st century” by creator, director and principal dancer Rasta Thomas, ‘Rock The Ballet’ is bringing ballet back.

The high-energy, US dance production has sold out shows worldwide since its 2007 inception, and now it’s Australia’s turn to be dazzled. “It’s a fusion of ballet but with contemporary, jazz, hip-hop, modern, breakdancing and many other artforms that make it much more exciting. It’s dance for the iPad/ Facebook generation,” says Thomas of the production that he choreographed alongside his wife.

While the show is a fresh take on a traditional artform, Thomas says the concept had been formulating for some time. As a seven-year-old classical dancer, Thomas felt restricted by the confines of conventional ballet music when wanting to create something dynamic. “I always wanted to fuse these ballet steps with more fun, popular music and by doing that, I think it lends itself to other vocabularies such as modern, contemporary, jazz and all those other styles.

“So it became an idea in me as an artist; I wanted to break loose from these chains of tradition. At the same time still pay homage and use that ballet vocabulary that was instilled in me but just use it differently. That’s what we do in ‘Rock the Ballet’,” explains Thomas.

Television shows like ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Thomas says have reinvented the genre and then you have his production taking dance to new heights. “I think the whole artform has received a breath of life because of that show,” muses Thomas. “But with our show we’re trying to say ‘hey, what you see on television is also what you will see in the theatre’ in addition to ballet steps that you would see in ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Swan Lake’.

“A lot of people go to the ballet but I don’t necessarily see them smiling or wanting to go out to party afterwards. It’s similar to going to the museum, where you appreciate it, you respect it but you don’t call up your friends and say ‘oh my gosh you guys have got to get down here right now and see this painting’.”

He pauses and says, “But that’s what we’re trying to bring to this — that fun, that excitement that you feel when you go see a movie or a concert, but also create that extra high dance has the possibility to do.”

With a stellar soundtrack featuring Coldplay, Michael Jackson and Queen, ‘Rock The Ballet’ appeals to a wide range of ages and musical tastes; something that Thomas says audiences across the globe can connect with. “Whatever society feels is current today and popular is what we want to embrace because we want to show that regardless of where we’re performing in Asia, Australia, Europe or America that it’s somewhat comfortable. These songs may not be a favourite but there is no denying that they are a part of popular culture.”

Thomas says the production team scouted YouTube, Facebook, and dance studios for a versatile dance troupe before settling on seven of the country’s finest. “I selected them because they are born performers ... dance consumes them, dance is a way of life for them. They have to move their body to express themselves and feel good about themselves and I think that’s infectious and you feel it when you watch the show.

“It’s a really small team that has that training and versatility to be able to handle the show and the workload, because we tour for about ten months out of the year.”
And the dance company couldn’t be happier to bring their dynamic show here.

“In Australia from the second we start our first number, we really feel the audience is right with us and it’s wonderful.”

‘Rock The Ballet’ opens at the Lyric Theatre QPAC Tuesday June 26.
Wednesday, 13 June 2012 14:09

Signature Series: Raw Sounds

Brisbane’s own Signature Series bring a touch of 1950s film noir to the hip hop genre, with their single ‘Corner Of 4th And 58th’.

It’s a world away from frontman Chico Mendez’ classical roots. “I was a trombone player and then when I went to uni, about six months in, I sort of gave it all up to play guitar in bands, which was sort of an excellent career move,” muses Ryan Svarc, the man behind the Chico Mendez moniker.

Svarc handpicked his “all star” hip hop crew (Signature Series) following a trip to South America. “I was sort of stuck [in South America] and decided to book the studio when I got back and because I didn’t have a band, I sort of got to pick and choose some of my favourite musicians in Brisbane.”

The result is a collective of members from Laneous & The Family Yah, Dubmarine and Schoolfight. “It’s very soul and hip hop based, and all the genres that influenced hip hop like jazz, blues and all those foundation blocks.”

Inspired by the New York corner, ‘Corner Of 4th And 58th’ is the band’s new single that features the soulful vocals of Georgia Potter. “The song is sort of based around three characters in the 1950s, and I really like that era because on the surface everything seemed really proper and nice but underneath there were the same things going on now: corruption, crime and all that stuff.

“Georgia, who is the female vocalist in the choruses of that song, I’d never met before and I sort of demanded that she sound like a ‘50s soul singer, which is quite different to the styles she’s done,” Svarc jokes, “but she was really great at just letting go and having a really desperate quality to how she sung it.”

Svarc says the single, which was co-produced with Peet G [Laneous], has more punch than his previous work. “It’s always been sort of very polished in the past and I’ve always walked away a little disappointed, so this time I feel like I’ve hit the nail on the head with Peet. We said the song needs to sound a little bit nasty and a little bit dirty and we haven’t been afraid to make it sound that way.”

Signature Series’ single launch is at The Joynt Friday June 15.
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