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Wednesday, 31 July 2013 20:02

Clare Bowditch: Shadowboxing

Clare Bowditch is her own worst enemy.

The songstress goes about her craft in ways that send her counterparts into the depths of self-focused frustration. She makes it look easy, as any Bowditch fan will profess. Yet what we the audience don't see is what goes on underneath; the pains and pitfalls of each creative struggle through which every song is born, a struggle which seems somewhat romantic to those of us on the outside. Ironically it's that process which forms the basis of Clare's latest single, 'One Little River'.

"I can't quite remember where I was when I was writing it. But basically it's a story about the things that get in our way when we go to do something that requires courage. Usually the things that get in our way are just the way that we talk to ourselves."

I ask Clare how often she finds herself tripping over her own feet, hoping that she doesn't take the question literally.

"At least 30 million times a day! I don't know that I overcome it, but I just let it be there and I keep doing what I need to do anyway. The worst thing that we can do is stop because we believe what we're telling ourselves. Everyone in the world, at some stage in their life, has a story about how they're not good enough. Some of us believe those stories and we let it prevent us from doing what we suspect we should be doing in the world and this is a song for that very time."

Clare laughs while making these confessions. Getting where she is has taken generous amounts of both determination and luck, and it's perhaps her refusal to take things for granted that allows Clare to understand that the glass really is half-full. I ask Clare if she has ever, as she put it, prevented herself from finishing what she started. Her voice suddenly drops into a measured, quasi-serious tone.

"It depends on the song! The song 'You Make Me Happy' just flopped out of me in ten minutes. The song 'An Amazing Life' I started writing when I was 18 and finished when I was 36. The most difficult thing in any creative endeavour is to actually finish it. Paul Dempsey and I did some muck-around songwriting last year and all the songs are great and they're just sitting there on our iPhones completely unfinished. The main thing is just allowing time to finish what you start, and I'm regularly guilty. I have about a one out of every fifteen strike rate in things that I start and finish in terms of songs."

Clare's strike rate may be low, but when a connection is made the entire nation seems to feel it. Her development of 'Winter Secrets' is a perfect example; not so much a tour as it is a roving art piece, utilising audiences in each city to create something different, something unique.

"It started off four or five years ago as just a little solo tour where I could do random creative experiments. So basically I make the use of my audiences and teach them quick backup lines to sing back to me, and have a lot of play, a lot of cabaret, a lot of humour, and a lot of honest conversations between the audience and myself. It was a completely different format of show for me, it was very much about diminishing the fourth wall."

'Winter Secrets' now involves a collaborator joining Clare on stage, with the torch being passed to Melbourne's Spender. I had to admit, I'd never heard the name before. I asked Clare what it was that had led her to chose him. "You haven't heard of him?" she responds, as if she'd found out that I'd spent my life living in the desert. "Holy shit, look him up now. You are in for a treat."

Clare is happy with where she is for now, yet is wary that a future may exist where others are not so lucky and where any flame of creativity in others may be more easily extinguished. Funding cuts to the arts have been especially severe in Qld.

"Arts funding was the leg-up that I had early in my career that actually allowed me to create my first album. That was a small grant at the right time in my career, so I think investing in the art is just clever because like any other successful artist in Australia I've been able to turn over millions of dollars of income for my country."

For the record, Clare doesn't want you to take that quotation too seriously. After all, no one is that patriotic. Clare's true passion is for the arts, yet it extends far beyond her own career as a singer-songwriter. After a decade of dreaming, 2013 saw her launch 'Big Hearted Business', an initiative aimed at helping musicians better manage the business side of their careers. With a stanza such as that on her resume it's no surprise that Clare is not impressed with the way politicians have played with funding to the arts, particularly in recent years.

Funding hasn't been the only hurdle Clare has been forced to overcome over the course of her career. Long before she had even turned 30, record label executives both home and abroad considered her too old to start a successful career. Yet the shocking part isn't that Clare faced discrimination at such a young age — what's shocking is the possibility that the practice remains in place today.

“If you think record labels don't take your age into account you're fooling yourself. Early in my career there was definitely no interest from record companies to sign a 27-year-old mother of one who was making her debut solo album. I remember going into a meeting in the UK to sign over there and having a great conversation and it all going well, and then it came up that I was 33 and a mother. I was basically dismissed from the meeting! Record companies are under the impression that there was a very narrow ideal of how to be a successful female singer songwriter. But thanks to independent technology which allows people like me to build careers, I think labels are much more open to diversity now.”

Clare Bowditch plays The Hi-Fi on Friday August 16.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013 15:14

Lazy Grey: Me And The Biz

Lazy Grey has so much to say that he barely stops to take a breath.

His answers to my enquiries stream forth like pages torn from a dozen different cultural theses, taped together to form their own manifesto. There are no simple answers, it seems. Instead, everything is a complex issue that Lazy needs to deconstruct and analyse, piece by piece. Having been active as both an MC and producer on the Brisbane hip hop for the better part of two decades, Lazy Grey has had plenty of time to ponder the state of the music world and his place within it.

"The hip hop scene in Brisbane is still growing. There's a lot of different branches these days [compared] to what there used to be, a lot of different sounds coming out. In general I think it's healthy. I haven't got anything negative to say at all! At the end of the day everyone chooses what to listen to; if you don't like it, don't listen to it. I think people now are being really business-minded about how they present themselves, particularly with the way they use digital media. And, you know, I think it's gonna keep growing. Things come in growth spurts. Just when you think that this is as far as it can get there's always gonna be someone who comes out and instils your faith back in it again and makes you say, ‘Damn, these guys just took it to the next level’. I reckon it's on the up and up still."

Talking about the development of hip hop in Brisbane from its early days of breaking and painting trains, Lazy sounds like a proud father. He is, after all, one of the founding figures of the scene, and has remained prolific even if it has meant making sacrifices along the way.

"To be honest most of us have full-time jobs or have other things going on to get money. We don't live off this music."

Most of us have lost track of the collaborations that Lazy has formed over the years; even he has some trouble remembering them all. But it's his latest studio pairing with Jake Biz that's given him a second wind, adding some fuel to his tank and some syllables to his rhymes.

"In the last two years I've refocused a lot of the things that I've been doing and taken a lot of inspiration from Jake Biz and seeing what [he's] done in the last couple of years. Especially with this latest release that [Jake Biz and I[ are working on... we've been in the studio now for six months and I've found myself upping the ante and being pushed to keep writing and do better.

"I've known him since he was recording demos ten years back. When we're on stage presenting the stuff that we record I think Jake's got a very strong stage presence. He has the hunger — he's never comfortable to do just enough, he always wants to push it."

Lazy speaks of the 'hunger' as if it underpins everything that he and Jake Biz do; as if, without it, both of them are destined to pack up their equipment and head back to the nine to five world. Perhaps it's the result of seeing so many others come and go that has left MCs like Lazy with the will to overcome the odds.

"You always gotta stay updated. After doing it for so long, if you start resting on your laurels and think that you've taken it to a level and that's it and you don't try to push any further, you get stale. You get stagnant and people hear it. I'm surrounding myself with like-minded people, even younger people, and getting inspiration from them."
Lazy may not be resting on his laurels, but the production side of his persona does seem to be taking a break.

"I'm not doing it as much, I still get in there most weeks and dig for records and load up the MPC. I still make beats but no one really hears them; I'll have a night off and just make beats for the fun of it."

Lazy Grey and Jake Biz perform at Sprung Festival in Brisbane on Saturday September 21.

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 17:43

Sunnyboys: A Delicious Treat

If you were a kid in the 1980s you probably ate a Sunnyboy or two.

The original 'Sunnyboy' was a pyramid-shaped ice cream that came in a brightly-coloured tetra-pack. One side would be a hard, solid rock of ice, the other side soft and syrupy. Kids would guzzle down their favourite half and tear open the tetra-pack to see if they'd won a free ice-cream. It's this simple feel-good summer memory that led power-pop pioneers Sunnyboys to name themselves after this summer treat; they wanted to encapsulate that feeling of being young, happy and free. It followed that when the band took the stage in the early 1980s it was their style of syrup-laden sunshine-pop that propelled them to the top of playlists everywhere. Yet amid the glory-run of Sunnyboys' first few years, behind their well-groomed ‘Countdown’ appearances, the band's leader was plagued by personal demons. No one saw the demise of the band coming and, in 1984, no one really understood.

"We were pretty surprised at the time, we didn't actually recognise it as mental illness." Bill Bilson, Sunnyboys drummer and original member, reflects on the original life of his band with the patience and wisdom that comes with age and hindsight. Emotions have waned with time, and the reflection is objective, fair and unflinching.

"Jeremy [Oxley] wasn't actually diagnosed with schizophrenia until much later on. At the time we sort of felt that he was going through a lot of emotional changes due to things happening in his personal life — pressures of touring, exhaustion. I mean, we were worked to the bone there for a while. We toured a lot and it took its toll. I think he probably felt some pressure to come up with the goods as well, you know, to write. It was difficult to recognise that he had mental health issues at the time... he was still basically Jeremy, he just seemed to not be in a happy place."

In the end, the decision to call it quits wasn't dramatic or fuelled by ill-will. It was a mutual one, borne out of necessity and of an understanding that, for Jeremy's sake, a change was needed.

"It was something that needed to happen at the time because of Jeremy's health. I'm not sure if 'regret' is the word I'd use for myself... I was probably more disappointed. I thought we had a few good albums left in us. It took a little time for it to sink in, after a whirlwind couple of years. There was no ill feeling. Everyone in the band still communicated and got along very well."

For many years Sunnyboys fans have been teased and tantalised with the prospect of a fully-fledged reunion. Partial incarnations of the band persisted throughout the late 1980s, and in 1998 a near-complete revival occurred when Sunnyboys performed for Mushroom Records' 25th anniversary. Many were left wondering why the band didn't persist after that performance — surely enough time had passed by then, surely reformation was on the cards? It was not to be — fans would have to wait another decade yet.

"[In 1998] Jeremy was not in one of his better periods. At the Mushroom concert we basically just did two songs, so it was relatively easy. At that particular time putting the band back together would not have been a wise decision. If you'd asked me in 2000 I still would have thought that it would be very unlikely that we'd ever get back together and play again. But in the last couple of years it's all really fallen together and become really quite good."

It was under a pseudonym that Sunnyboys finally re-emerged, tentatively venturing into the spotlight once more at a Hoodoo Gurus gig. Bill can't remember where exactly they'd performed under the name "Kids In Dust" before, but he assures me it has been many, many years since the moniker was last used. 

"The Gurus had talked about the Sunnyboys playing; there was talk of Pete [Oxley] and Jay [Jeremy] doing an acoustic set. Jay thought it was a little daunting because it was something he'd never done before and said that he'd feel more comfortable playing electrically with the full band. It was exhilarating, exciting. With such a long time in between gigs it felt fresh again. It was really quite enjoyable."

Finally then, it seems like Sunnyboys are back... for a while, anyway. Their drummer, at least, seems filled with optimism, even if age does bring with it new challenges.

"Jeremy's in a great place at the moment, he's feeling very comfortable within himself. The main challenge for me though is probably the physical requirements. Being the age I am now it requires me to work a little harder on my fitness levels!"

Sunnyboys play the Coolangatta Hotel May 24-25.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013 14:32

Trevor Noah: Comedy In Preview

Trevor Noah will change the way you eat.

The way you eat tacos, anyway. He's perhaps South Africa's finest stand-up comic or at least that's what the Americans are saying. One thing's for sure, when Trevor Noah takes the stage, you're reminded that life only need be as dull as you make it. His show 'The Racist' reminds us that, if you pay attention, the world's actually pretty hilarious.

"Basically my show is just about funny things that have happened to people around me in the last two years. Most of the time I'm just telling audiences stuff that I've seen. Every single story is based on a true story. Depending on the story, I embellish in order to get it into comedy. But almost 100% of what I talk about is true. It's like Hollywood, sometimes you need a bit of razzle-dazzle to make it into a blockbuster."

Noah's Hollywood reference hardly surprises me given he's recently cracked the US market. Yet he's managed to remain quite modest, evinced by his ability to undersell himself when I ask about his act. The truth is that while on the surface 'The Racist' does appear quite silly (the good kind of silly, mind you), Noah's act is actually a well-planned social study, one which quietly celebrates our similarities while laughing wildly at our differences. It's a show that's heavily informed by his childhood growing up in post-Apartheid South Africa, a background most likely responsible for his fascination with race.

"Race is easily one of the biggest issues in the world, no matter where you are, no matter who you are. Coming from a country like South Africa, race is something that's in your face all the time. Before Apartheid, race was more of a hatred issue and a racism issue. Now we deal with race as an issue.”

Trevor Noah performs at the Sit Down Comedy Club on Tuesday April 23.
Wednesday, 06 March 2013 14:16

Stereophonics: Painting Trains

It sounded like footsteps on the roof.

Is Kelly Jones going mad? He rips the blanket from his body, listening intently for the sound to repeat itself. He can feel his heart pounding, the night air flowing through the bedroom window like a ship's wake. But only quiet remains in the darkness; the only sound Jones can hear is his own quickened pulse beginning to slow. Maybe it was nothing — maybe it was just a dream. He pulls the blanket from the floor, laughs at himself, and goes to sleep.

The noise again, the footsteps. Only this is no dream. Jones rushes to the window, determined to finally catch whoever is out there.

"There were a couple of guys on the roof," Kelly Jones tells me, his nonchalance carrying down the phone line. "I thought they were burglars. I shouted out to them, and they told me 'Oh, no, we're not trying to burgle your house. We're trying to get to the trees at the back of your house to get to the train track to graffiti the train.'"

The Stereophonics frontman could have been angry. He had every reason to be. Yet the bizarre truth is that whoever those kids were climbing over his house, Jones owes them. Big time. While artists all over the world are rocking back and forth waiting for ideas to come crashing into their heads, those kids gave Jones enough material to completely reinvigorate his career.

"It was a strange thing because I didn't think a lot about it, but it was obviously in the back of my subconscious. A few weeks later I wrote a song and played it back on a tape recorder. The chorus line just said ‘Graffiti on the train’. I guess I wanted to write a story about why you would take so many risks to leave your mark on something. I ended up writing the album and the screenplay at the same time."

The screenplay Jones is talking about, 'Graffiti On A Train', is currently being optioned for development. Impressive, given that he's not even a screenwriter. But we know what album he's referring to. Stereophonics has potentially taken a bold step with 'Graffiti On The Train', their eighth LP since forming in 1992. The album has seen the band walk away from a contract with Universal Music and embark on a path that, in Jones' own words, would make a major label nervous.

"When we did ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ I was really proud of the record, but I was very disappointed in how it was sold. I'd tried to make a different record with a different producer and I thought the songs were strong and the songs were received well. But after Universal didn't get the first song on the radio, that was the end of the record. I don't think anybody can get the taste of an album from one song. I never want to sell a record in the same way ever again.

“I wanted to go away and do some of the things I've always wanted to do, like write films and release music with visuals and try to direct for the first time... things that a major label would be very nervous about."

Mind you, when Jones says that it was the end of the record, it still went gold. Regardless, walking away from a major label isn't a decision you take lightly. The move can mean less promotion, less organisation... and less airplay. Without the backing of a major, bands run the risk of scraping a living in the music wilderness. To be fair though, that risk is greatly diminished if your band has a 'Greatest Hits' album that went double platinum.

"[Universal] only wants hits. If we'd carried on doing the same thing I think we would have ended up becoming very depressed. It's a very pop-saturated market right now and if you put all your eggs in one basket — the radio — I think you can come away very disappointed. You know, when you're in a band you're afraid that if you stop you won't be able to pull yourself back to that level you were at. But we knew that if we stopped and  failed we'd always have the catalogue. And I think we actually ended up with some of the best music we've ever made."

‘Graffiti On The Train’ is out now.
Wednesday, 27 February 2013 12:00

The Temper Trap: Sweet Disposition

You can take the band out of Australia, but you can’t take Australia out of the band.

The Temper Trap’s drummer and founding member, Toby Dundas, could not have been more at ease during our chat. It's as if his band never won any of those ARIA awards, never toured with Coldplay, and never sold so many copies of 'Conditions' that chances are Pope Benedict XVI probably owns one. For all anyone knew we could have been having a beer in St Kilda chatting about Chris Gayle's batting average. It's the charming modesty of a man so embalmed in the ointment of success that he could only be Australian — even on the other side of the world, tall poppy syndrome still manages to keep that ego in check.

"When we started out it was just four of us playing in a room. Living in Melbourne we played those first few gigs and it was just our mates watching... to think that eight months later we were living in England and touring the world... you're left pinching yourself."

It's been many years since The Temper Trap left our shores for the cold, damp pebble beaches of England. Yet it's nice to know that The Temper Trap can still point to where Melbourne is on a map, and that Toby still remembers what it was like to squeeze into a van with his drums.

"I remember at the very beginning when I met Dougy [Mandagi] he asked if I'd come play drums with him, I was already playing in a band and wasn't that keen to do it. But the first time I went out and jammed with him, I remember the first song he played was a really early version of 'Peter Parker's Alter Ego', and just hearing him sing I knew his voice was really special.

“In those early days you really had to have a feeling of camaraderie to be able to sit in the back of a van driving back and forth to Sydney. But the way the four of us got along it definitely felt like a little gang to be a part of, and like something cool could happen. Certainly having the chance to tour the world adds an extra layer of excitement, but we used to love touring Australia. We played a lot of shows, and it still used to be really exciting driving to somewhere in Victoria every second weekend."

Flip over your own copy of either 'Conditions' or The Temper Trap's latest self-titled LP — you won't find any association with major labels or any shout-outs to Donald Trump hiding in the liner notes. It's a welcome surprise to find that a band the magnitude of The Temper Trap still remains true to its independent label roots; though to be fair, it's not all a matter of loyalty. It seems the band has enough business acumen to float Europe out of the financial crisis.
"When we were first signing we'd whittled it down to two labels, one a big major and the other being Liberation. But we've always gotten the vibe from Liberation that it's a smaller, boutique label but certainly one with a lot of history and a lot of great people working there trying to push it forward.

“I guess the other main factor was that they were an Australian-based label and we definitely had ideas of wanting to move overseas and make a career over here as well. If you sign to a major from a place like Australia it doesn't mean that the people in the same label in America or the UK will pay you any attention. Whereas if we signed with Liberation we could take ourselves overseas and find other small labels that had the same passion that we had. It worked out really well."

The Temper Trap play Future Music Festival at Doomben Racecourse Saturday March 2.

Wednesday, 06 February 2013 14:03

Bloc Party: Four More Years

Kele Okereke has an appetite for sticksmen.

"We ate them," he says about the eight drummers Bloc Party munched through before settling on lightly-seasoned beatmaker Matt Tong. "We killed them and then we ate them, so I'm not allowed to talk about it."

Five seconds go by. Silence. I begin to laugh awkwardly. See, quoting Kele out of context can be very misleading. Reading his responses, it can seem as though he's making a light-hearted joke, even if it is about an octuple-homicide cookup. The reality, though, is that Kele's disdain for interviews is well documented, especially if you work behind a desk at Billboard.

Yet even with that fact in mind, on this particular occasion he seemed even less enthused than usual, as if the mere prospect of talking over the phone seemed to him akin to several hours of listening to Oasis. To be fair, I had sympathy for his mood — I would get sick of answering the same question for a straight 12 months. "So, Mr Okereke, tell us... did Bloc Party kind of, almost, nearly break up?” Every response must begin with a long sigh... so naturally it was the first thing I asked, too.

"I don't know where that rumour came from. Obviously we take time out to pursue our separate interests. You know, I wrote an album by myself. We all just did various things. Then in 2011 when Bloc Party reconvened to start making the record we were being asked questions about what was going on but we were being evasive, and I think maybe some of that spiralled out of control. So, you know, maybe there was room for rumours but obviously they weren't true."

You can't help but feel that Kele is still being evasive in his answers. It may be that Bloc Party was closer to breaking up than he is letting on, given guitarist Russell Lissack's hint that the band may be continuing on without Kele's presence. Then again, it's also very plausible that the whole thing was a massive hoax, and that the band's 'evasiveness' was actually a clever ploy to spin the writers at NME around enough times to make them vomit. Preferably over their own laptops. Either way, none of it matters now.

A lot has changed for Bloc Party in the last three years. In 2009, this was a band finishing up a world tour following the release of its critically-acclaimed LP 'Intimacy'. The album was, in a way, a hat-trick. For the third time Bloc Party had been showered with the unexpurgated praise of every music writer with an internet connection. Well, except for the folks at Pitchfork, who still only show love for D'Angelo. However, fast-forward to the present day and a 12-month hiatus around the rumour mill has left a cloud over the band. Even with the recent release of 'Four' that cloud of doubt is only now dispersing.

"When I made the solo record we didn't have any plans to make another record. We said we'd take a break for a year. In that time, that's probably the closest I've felt to asking 'Will it work?'. Only because I was doing my own thing and I was immersed in that, and I knew at the end of that year we'd have to have the conversation about what it was we were doing. That was the only time the future looked uncertain.

“It's hard to look into possible eventualities because I only know what did happen. I feel that we wouldn't have made a record like 'Four' if I hadn't done something that was the opposite of that beforehand. Once I do something I feel like I need to do the opposite thing next. You get bored, you want to discover something new. 'The Boxer' was a kind of layered, electronic record, and I don't think I would have found loud guitars as exciting if I hadn't done that beforehand."

Ironically Bloc Party's hiatus has, in the mind of Kele Okereke, only served to strengthen the cohesive bind holding this four-piece together. It's no secret bands will use periods of hibernation to determine for themselves whether ties between members would be best left severed. Yet each Bloc Party member seems to know for himself that it is only with the other three that they’re able to succeed. The band is a formula, and each component has been carefully selected to ensure against future internal combustion. As Kele did eventually explain, drummer Matt Tong is the perfect example.

"We knew what we wanted from a drummer and we tried lots of them, but finding a drummer in London isn't so easy. Everybody plays guitar and bass and whatnot, but to be a drummer you have to have a space to practice... and that's not really a premium in London. So there weren't that many drummers and the drummers that we did find didn't really gel.

“It's funny, actually. The drummer we had before Matt left because he was a session drummer or something. And in the year after 'Silent Alarm' came out we did an in-store at an HMV in Brighton, and that guy was working in that HMV. It was a strange moment for him, I think, because he could have been in it. He could have been in the band. But I'm very grateful he wasn't because when we started playing with Matt we realised he was the right member. There's no hard feelings or anything, I'm glad things turned out the way they did. Matt definitely has a presence."

It's a presence Kele has recently acquainted himself with.

"We just played a gig in Tokyo that was filmed, but it was just one static shot of the stage. So I watched this DVD and for the first time ever in the ten years we've been a band I saw the concert as if I was just in the crowd watching the stage. And I was very much drawn to the way Matt plays, which I never see 'cause I have my back to him. But all the members of the band add something."

So what of 'Four', Bloc Party's fourth album released after a four-year wait by the original four members? Hey, maybe the album title is a reference to one of those things. Slightly more mysterious are the reasons behind Pitchfork's decision to give the album 4.9 out of 10 - a little harsh, perhaps.

"In terms of critical opinion, I've never been concerned about that sort of thing. I've never personally paid any attention to it. I don't care if people like our records or don't like our records. When we put out 'Silent Alarm' in 2005 it was somewhat strange seeing the reaction that people had to that record. I was reading all this stuff about what a great record it was, but for all this stuff that I read nobody seemed to pick up on why it was a good record for the reasons that I thought it was. It was a weird situation to be in."

Bloc Party Play Future Music Festival At Doomben Racecourse March 2; They Have A Side Show At Riverstage March 5.
There is truth in the idea that bands often emulate their hometown.

The Dandy Warhols seem perpetually lost in a cloud, just like Portland, Oregon. And Queens Of The Stone Age have a tendency towards that sparse harshness echoed in their natural habitat of Palm Desert, California. So where does that leave The Amity Affliction, the most notable band to emerge from the wonderful, beautiful oasis of Gympie? Well, let's think for a second. What is it that defines Gympie as a town? It's the all-you-can-eat Pizza Hut that gives the town its identity. True, the competition isn't exactly fierce, and the Pizza Hut does win easily. Yet despite the satisfaction that comes with eating five pizzas at once it's hard to see how a band could emulate a Pizza Hut. One thing, though, is clear — in finding exposure on the world-stage, The Amity Affliction have overwhelmingly defied the odds of their hometown.

"Success wasn't something that came easy — we worked very, very hard at it. I don't think there's much luck involved, to be honest."

Ahren Stringer says the word 'luck' with disdain, like Amity's bassist has no time for anything other than blood, sweat and tears.

"We've been a band for a very long time, eating shit for a very long time. You have to go through all of that to get noticed. A lot of bands these days expect shit to be handed to them, which is really not the case. I guess we feel like we deserve it now, but at the same time we're grateful. But those early years... you know, we really needed those years to get better at writing songs and get better at being a band. We blossomed a bit later than a few other bands in our genre, and it was a lot of hard work...
especially when you're juggling jobs and can't really focus on your craft."

By 'craft' I assume Ahren is talking about his music, although he may just be a keen member of CWA. Regardless, the success of The Amity Affliction (in Australia at least) has pended heavily on one radio station.

"Triple J's always been pretty good to us. I mean, we've been on 'Short Fast Loud' for many years now. I guess us and Parkway [Drive] have broken into the mainstream cycle; more and more people are getting into heavier music. And I mean, getting played on the radio is kind of wild, it's great... I never thought it would happen. Stu Harvey [from 'Short Fast Loud'] is definitely a big part of heavy music in Australia, and he's definitely responsible for getting bands like us on the radio."

Despite some preferential radio treatment, The Amity Affliction's latest LP, 'Chasing Ghosts', has seen the band return yet again to the US to record and produce their next album.

"Australia is a quarter the size of America," says Ahren. Close enough. "There's not anyone here that can produce world-class records like there are in America. There's so many better producers who have more experience with heavy music. Everyone who wants a good sounding record pretty much goes overseas to do it."

So what would the LP sound like had Amity decided to record it in Australia?

"It would probably sound like 'Severed Ties' which is a very bad mix. It's dull, bassy and dry. Our latest record sounds miles above our first record."

Other than one very, very important February afternoon, The Amity Affliction isn't preparing to spend any great deal of time on Australian soil this year.

"We've talking about writing an EP to release before our next album, but we're not 100 percent on that yet. But other than that, just touring. We've got a US tour lined up, we're trying to get back to Europe and the UK, and of course there's Soundwave."

The Amity Affliction play the Surfers Paradise Beer Garden Saturday January 26. They also play the sold out Brisbane Soundwave Saturday February 23.
Wednesday, 09 January 2013 05:41

Melanie Pain: Still Has Doubts

Melanie Pain may well be a Hobbit.

Firstly, she's French. Yes, I know. The mere fact that France is a small country doesn't automatically mean its people will also be small. In fact, some will even argue that no link exists between a nation's landmass and the height of its citizens. On the other hand, Napoleon was French, and he was about the same height as Warwick Davis, who is roughly the same size as a small ibis. Secondly, and slightly more importantly, Melanie Pain's latest LP is one that has taken her down an unexpected but immense path of self-discovery... the point is that despite Melanie's enviable career fronting French pop-extravagants Nouvelle Vogue, she was until recently a figure plagued by self-doubt.

"My first album was full of doubt and questions. I work hard because I really want to fit with the perceptions I have of myself... and maybe I want too much, [but] I identify as a songwriter and I didn't know if I could write songs by myself completely. I needed to get out of Paris and get away from anyone I knew. I knew I had to go to Manchester — I knew no one there.”

The resulting effort was Melanie Pain's second full-length solo effort; the aptly-titled 'Bye Bye Manchester'.

"Basically I wanted to do a British pop album, but in French. This is the first time I've expressed what I want to say and who I am about, and on this record I found a lot of answers. But, you know, when I came back from Manchester I didn't know if it was any good — I thought, 'Oh my gosh, maybe it's really bad!'. But I'm very happy with the album. I know who I am now, and what I'm about."

‘Bye Bye Manchester’ may be pleasing to the ears, but Melanie is still yet to find a place to call her own. "If the humble baguette can call Paris home," I asked her, "why can't you?"

"There's no place I call home, but I travel. Lots of my songs talk about this urge to travel and escape. Not just to never come back — on the contrary, you go away because you have to come back."

Melanie Pain plays So Frenchy So Chic at the Brisbane Powerhouse Thursday January 17.
Wednesday, 09 January 2013 15:15

Cricket Australia: Wants You

“It’s actually a cricket article,” they said.

Of all the sentences in the English language, "Brett Lee has a band called Six & Out” is perhaps the most hilarious. Yet as my laptop overheats with the exertion of pumping ‘Can't Throw, Can't Bowl’ from its tinny speakers, I'm not laughing. Partially it's because I know, deep down, that Shoaib Akhtar could never pull off backing vocals this good. But mostly it's because of what you see when you pause the video. There's a knowing look in Brett's eyes, like he's saying... no, like he's teaching us something.
"Cricket is more than just cricket!" he's saying, and the truth is as much. As Australia and Sri Lanka prepare to clash once more during the upcoming Commonwealth Bank One Day International series, it won't just be the players donning pads in the dressing room. In fact, it's British house wizards Basement Jaxx that will be first — and last — to approach the stumps.

“Felix [Buxton] and myself will be DJing, with Vula on vocals," says Simon Ratcliffe regarding the duo's One Day debut. "We'll play the songs people know, of course, but as we're in the middle of a new album at the moment we'll also premiere a few of the new tracks."

With Cricket Australia also announcing Sneaky Sound System and others to perform at other ODIs this summer, you get the feeling that the upcoming series will be nearly as big as the swelling around Sangakkara's broken hand. But then that's the whole point.

"We want to turn the One Day game into Australia's biggest party," says Ben Amarfio, Cricket Australia's Executive General Manager for Marketing, Digital & Communications. "When people think of summer they conjure up notions of being outdoors, of being with your mates. The sounds of summer are aligned with cricket."

This summer, Ben would like for nothing more than for all of us to don a watermelon hat and get involved. Actually, he's deadly serious about the watermelon hat.
"We want to add more spice to things this year, so we're encouraging people to dress up. There'll be a $10,000 prize for the best-dressed."

After listening to Ben's unabridged list of "Crazy Stuff Appearing At The Cricket This Year", I begin to wonder if there will be any cricket played at all. Between the bands, fireworks, and people wearing various fruits on their heads, will there be any time left for Warner to score a run?

"If you're a traditionalist or a purist, you're always going to have the Test form of the game. But the One Day form is all about entertainment. That's why we're excited that Basement Jaxx and other bands have been so quick to jump on board. We're excited to make this form of the game an event — what the audience wants is a big day out."

But what about Brett Lee; what does he want? Luckily he was kind of enough to give me a call. Not once did I ask how many Weet-Bix he eats.

"When I'm watching a game I want music, fireworks, crowd participation... I want to be entertained. That's what Cricket Australia is doing now, and I think they're doing a good job. They've got to go to these lengths to ensure people are having fun right until the last run is scored."

After a few minutes I realise that Brett and I are talking about two entirely different things. I'm asking about cricket, but he seems to be telling me about this mystic ritual performed by enlightened Australians who just happen to be holding cricket bats.

"Cricket is Australia's number one game. If you think about summer, you think about a BBQ in your backyard and a game of cricket. Our role as players past and present is to make sure that cricket remains a part of our culture, that the younger generations don't drift away from a pastime so embedded within our cultural identity."

Speaking of which, it sounds like Simon from Basement Jaxx would also relish the thought of embedding himself within our cultural identity, not that it would ever happen. I'm not sure he'd make it as an Australian.

“This would have been a hard gig to turn down when you know it’s going to be cold and dark in UK! Plus I've never been to a cricket match so really looking forward to the experience.”

Basement Jaxx will perform at the One Day International between Australia and Sri Lanka at the Gabba Friday January 18.

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