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Wednesday, 26 October 2011 12:12

The Flaming Lips

Not Egotistical Maniacs

There’s no such thing as downtime for Flaming Lips frontman and ringmaster Wayne Coyne. His whole existence is a work of art and he wouldn’t have life any other way.

"I'm not really a person who is looking for downtime, I don’t look at what I do like being in the armed services or something,” he says with a chuckle. “I like playing music and being around a bunch of weirdos. We have a great time when we do things, it's exhausting for us, but it's fun so I'm never really trying to escape it y'know. What people consider to be a job for me it’s not really a job. I never forget what a real job is like … I've had real jobs. This is the best job you could ever have - I mean fuck man this is cool.”

One of the most affable men in the music business is sitting at his kitchen table, at his long-time home in Oklahoma City, making the most of the last rays of a long hot summer. â€œI like this time the best ‘cos I got air con, and it’s the time to party and get out there. I love this time of year the best.”

As always with Wayne you inevitably get to the prosaic and the metaphysical – as it is with his music, there’s no boundaries between life’s big questions and the little ones. They all have value. They all deserve consideration. He’s always ready to embrace the next epiphany around the corner. And he’s not too bothered about how you get to it – just how it is.

First up, though, he wants to talk cane toads. He's keen to hunt down some toads while he and his band mates: Steven Drozd, Michael Ivins, Kliph Scurlock and Derek Brown are here for the Harvest Festival next month.

''I should go out and find some for myself this time. ‘Cos here in Oklahoma we covet finding a little toad or a little frog … to find one is rare. I know you guys are sick of them and y’know grinding ‘em up by the handful. It’s a strange idea for me. But I’d like to see some of those big ones. I've seen pictures of little kids riding on their backs.”

But how is he on the everyday stuff, like filling out a tax return or fixing a squeaky door? "When you cannot afford to fix your own toilet, to me that’s the worst especially when it happens in the winter when it’s freezing cold, ‘cos you have to shit. When you’ve done that you realise why you wanna pay someone to do it. You gotta share your wealth around.”

Given how the Lips’ caboose just keeps rolling forward, the release of the psyched-out ‘Embryonic’ seems a long time ago, but it made a mark on he and the band. â€œThose sessions that we ended up doing for ‘Embryonic’, I think they showed us that spontaneity and freedom of not always knowing what you’re doing … I think we realised that we like that. To go back and forth between these things that we’ve constructed and think work musically very well, and are structured well. And then we go to these things that we’ve recorded that are just utter chaos – which we like anyway but can’t justify musically. Things that happen when you jam.

“We’ve been a band now for almost 30 years and it can be very easy to sit around and say, ‘Oh we’re very busy and we’re doing this and that’ … and you don’t make music sometimes unless you have to. I don’t think I realised how great it is to say, ‘I don’t know what we’re gonna do today but we have to make some music today’. And we just go forward into it. Sometimes I think that makes the best music you can possibly make. This idea that we’re not unprepared to make music - we just aren’t sitting here thinking about it too much for years before we do it.
“And sometimes that second guessing, which I do all the time, I mean I don’t just do second guessing, I do third guessing, fourth guessing, fifth guessing and more even. We aren’t egotistical maniacs who think everything we do is great, but left to our own devices I think in the end we would reject just about everything we’ve ever done. And think, ‘It’s not very good, we need to try harder’.”

In fact the ‘Embryonic’ sessions fostered a whole new approach for a band that has been doing its thing for almost 30 years. â€œWe just did some recording on Sunday afternoon which I believe is going to come out next Monday. It’s like: ‘I hope you like it, ‘cos it’s out!’ The thing is I can be very brave about music for a while, and you can say ‘Well I think this is really fucking great’, but what happens is — and I think this happens with most artists – the minute you get another idea in your head, you almost have to reject all the other ideas. Otherwise I think you’d just listen to your own music all the time – and it would be a bit boring.

“I don’t know if it’s THE way or the better way. But y’know, for us, since we’ve done so many records, it’s a great way to do things now. I suppose if we did it this way for five or six years we’d likely get bored with that as well. I think what you wanna do is create an inertia that is out of your control and I think in a sense we’ve kinda done that.”

The Lips have also been experimenting with their approach to live shows. They’ve recently performed both Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, and their own seminal favourite, ‘The Soft Bulletin’, track by track live. And they’ve done some tandem shows with fellow leftfield dwellers, Weezer. â€œWe were nervous about the Weezer-thing. We had this dilemma ‘Who plays last?’ Y’know we each have our own audience but they’re not the same audience.

“But it was Rivers’ (Cuomo) idea to do this thing where we share the stage, we open together, then we do three songs, we do three songs. And I have to say it was a very absurd thing to do. But it’s great to not know how it’s going to fly and it just makes the night more of a freakshow. It demands that you be in the music and when it goes well, it’s a thrill.” 

‘The Soft Bulletin’ shows presented unique challenges, too. â€œWell when you play the record through, the usual dynamic of a live show goes out the window. The audience wants to rock for a good 20 minutes before they can get into a sombre one. And we could control that there. But it was amazing to see people crying and cheering along with you in these very powerful moments.”

The Flaming Lips perform at the Harvest Festival, Brisbane Botanical Gardens, November 19.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009 14:39

Van Diemen's Land Interview

Film In Preview

The story of the cannibal convict Alexander Pearce is not well known in Australia, let alone Tasmania where it happened in 1822. But it made such a mark on Tasmanian Jonathan auf der Heide, who heard the story as a teenager on a guided tour of the Sarah Island penal camp and the Gordon River, on the rugged mid-west coast of Tasmania, that he carried it with him for ten years hoping to make the story a film.

Auf der Heide, 31, moved to Melbourne at 21 to train as an actor, but then went to film school literally to make this film. His college project was a short version of this story and then he and actor friend Oscar Redding, who masterfully plays the Irish convict Pearce, wrote a feature script and went about getting it made.

“It’s hard to believe we got away with it to be honest, going straight from film school to make the film as big and as epic as we had dreamt it,” says a satisfied auf der Heide. “But many miles later with the producer on-board, we managed to get there.”

And then there’s the invariably difficult subject matter of cannibalism. “Tasmania doesn’t like to look at the darker history so much; they want to look at the prouder moments rather than the more brutal ones.

“We’ve all heard about the plane crash in the Andes or the raft of The Medusa and other extreme survival stories, but not this one in our own backyard. A much more interesting story because it is a journey. It’s man versus nature than man versus himself.

“These guys on the work party that escaped from Macquarie Harbour are the ghosts of our past walking through our landscape.”

Despite the macabre subject matter and bleak outlook, the film is the rawest of survival stories – there are even moments of great tenderness.

“I think what is most affecting about Oscar’s performance is that he is just the everyman of the group. He’s not the leader or the charismatic frontman, but the unassuming everyday guy you don’t bet on being the survivor.”

This is the film’s greatest achievement; it humanises Alexander Pearce. His story until now has been either ignored, or he’s been demonised as bloodthirsty psycho killer (see ‘For The Term Of His Natural Life’), therefore setting him apart from we ordinary citizens, who could never do such a terrible thing. The story was so wild that at first Pearce was not believed.

But this convict was an ordinary man, who stole several pairs of shoes and was shipped to an alien land. And if his situation wasn’t already bad enough, he ended up in an even more hopeless predicament and behaved like a desperate man in the direst of situations - a life or death situation.

It’s not a comfortable film, it is searching in many ways and asks the viewer to answer a very unsettling question, ‘What would you do?’ ‘What could you do?’

“These guys are looking into each other’s eyes across the fire thinking, ‘It’s me or him’.”

What is all the more extraordinary is that this novice director’s first feature is a challenging all-location shoot, with not a single interior.

“When the characters look cold, or hungry or in pain that’s because they were. The actors suffered more than me.”

The performances of all the cast, but particularly Redding and Arthur Angel; who plays sailor, navigator and group leader Robert Greenhill, are extraordinary. There is a lot of subtle work required - a lot of eye acting. Unlike the horror film where the danger is out there in the darkness, the real horror here is in the eyes of the man across the fireplace.

“There’s a lot you can do without dialogue – these guys are starving and they are fearing death. I wanted the audience to consider the level of endurance required here.”

The opening sequence of ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ is pretty much perfect. There’s a wide sweeping shot of a great rising forest of massive ancient trees and as you marvel at the awesome beauty, you realise how impenetrable it is and you can’t help but imagine being lost in that forest.

“These were guys, from the far away cultivated lands of England, Ireland and Scotland; they believed in heaven and hell and demons. Here they were in this alien territory; it must have been inexplicable to them.”

‘Van Diemen’s Land’ opens September 27.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009 15:31

Tim Rogers : Interview

A Curt Q&A With

Renaissance man, Tim Rogers, who is currently in the U.K having just knocked over a few solo shows, is a fan of directness as much as brevity both in life and song.

You've played a few festivals in your time - do they fulfill or just pay the bills?
Why so cynical? Do I project such mercenary airs? I choose to be an optimist about it all, so though the thought of people in a field gives me the fear; we may have a wonderful show and on the way to the next one have a transcendental moment. Or at least a fine pre packaged sandwich.

Do you find touring tougher these days especially as you now have kids at home?
It's what I do.

What keeps you sane on tour?
The thought of being on stage at some point the next day.

Solo work - what's happening have you been writing songs?
Yes, but for theatre and a You Am I record that I'm loving. (He's been working on a theatre project since his first theatre role, earlier this year, as the leader of the chorus of villainous angels in the Melbourne Malthouse Theatre's adaption of Georg Büchner's 'Woyzeck'.)

What Australian bands are you digging at the moment?
The Scram, Super Wild Horses, The Bower Birds and Pete Satchels solo record. Gun Street Girls.

Saw your endorsement of Broderick Smith's record - can you name a couple of Australian artists of times past that you think Scene Mag readers should check into?
The Creatures. The Atlantics. Venom P Stinger. Coloured Balls.

(Rogers regularly gets along to watch footy in the suburbs.)

Who's your VFL team?
North Ballarat.

(But more importantly Rogers is a rabid North Melbourne supporter.)

I see North are looking for a new coach - who would you like to see get the job?
Malcolm Blight. For a psychedelic adventure

Bad patch for North - how do you see their future? You worried?
No. I've had bad patches myself and I'm still standing. Why would I not have faith in my beautiful club?

Tim Rogers will perform at the Sounds Of Spring Festival at the Brisbane RNA Showground on September 26.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009 09:43

The Grates


As you well know The Grates are the Brisbane trio whose power pop songs simply rocket along with an innate sunny enthusiasm and colourful visual explosion and an oft-overlooked pithy sharpness in the lyrics department.

No surprise there for the countless fans seen singing along to every song at any of the band's recent firecracker festival performances.

It seems plucky lead singer Patience Hodgson is rapidly developing a reputation as the consummate front person with that voice, the energy, the lively banter with the audience and those costumes - Batgirl and marching band-leader being recent examples.

In one corner of this hurtling triangle is drummer Alana Skyring, maintaining her aerobic fitness at peak level keeping time for this particular band. But she did get to have more of a break between songs on their most recent tour to the US, where they were part of the largest ever-Australian contingent to head to the most influential band-spotting market event going - the SxSW Festival in Austin, Texas.

“It's a whole different way of talking to the crowd in America at the moment. In Australia the venues are big and you can't be personal with people because it's kind of excluding and confusing for the audience. It doesn't work striking up a conversation with someone in the second row of an audience of 1200 people.

“You've gotta keep up the energy and cover that expanse … it comes out more like 'Hey Brisbane - we're here to party'. Whereas if you do that in a small venue, if you hear 'Hey New York - how's it going' and there's 60 people with their eyebrows raised going 'Yeeah right' … it looks dorky.

“With the smaller audience Patience tells stories, interacts, she gets them to do stuff with her, like riding on someone's shoulders. It's cool and it's new for everyone. It's great we can mix it up - they have no expectations.”

Clearly Patience is ready for anything the Americans can throw at her but you wonder what it's like for the more reserved members of the band. “Everyone is more reserved than Patience, it's unfair to put yourself up against her. She can talk to any person, not only is she a big talker and easy to get along with - she can talk to any type of person. We'll be on a train and she'll start talking to the lady sitting next to us with a dog stashed in her handbag, about life's truths or something like that.

“I used to be incredibly shy - I remember at the start I used to think 'I can't do this' - it wasn't stage fright … more just the sort of social pressure of having to just always be out there talking to people and new people.

“I think just the experience that comes with being on the road for years, I'm a lot more comfortable. Now I'm really excited to go out and meet people and in America it's great because it's like a blank slate with everyone and you can just talk to anyone about any old thing and they have no preconceived ideas about you.

“There's definitely a sliding scale in our band: Patience - the most outgoing; Me - outgoing but also likes the quiet life a bit; and then there's John who loves just working and …being left alone,” says Alana with a giggle of guitar player John Patterson.

“He does like people, has nights out and is open with people, but he's a bit more insular as a person. John is very good with computer graphics, colour and layout. He takes care of the design of the website, Twitter, Facebook and the posters and tee shirts. He has great eye for graphic design. Patience and I, we do more of the interviews and outgoing stuff.”

The two girls are both illustrators as well, so John incorporates their work into his thing. “There's lots of drawing and planning that goes into it all. We put a lot of time and pride into our merch. Patience and I contribute a lot of ideas and images, but John brings it all together very efficiently and we couldn't do it without him and of course he's a great illustrator himself. It gives us something to do outside of the music business which you can't do 24-7.”

The Grates perform at The Hi-Fi, West End, May 1 with Children Collide and DZ in support.

Wednesday, 02 September 2009 13:00

Van Dyke Parks Interview

Diamond In The Rough

Van Dyke Parks is a left-of-centre legend and one lively, southern gentleman and keeper of an extraordinary musical legacy.

He was born in Mississippi in 1943, and raised in Louisiana, but is a long-time resident of sunny Pasadena, California -  spitting distance from Hollywood. The legendary arranger and songwriter insisted on 50-minute interviews (you usually get 15 minutes) - we spoke for an hour and a half. First up - that name.

The first time I heard the words 'Van Dyke Parks' I didn't even know what that was - let alone who. “You're not the only one, I was completely mystified. It's unique I could say that. At least until a year ago when I got a call from an old man in Texas, in his eighties, he was hotter than a hornet wanting to know why I was using his name. He was Van Dyke Parks, he'd never heard of me, didn't give a goddam and just wanted me to stop it.”

Of course we're speaking to the real Van Dyke Parks: songwriter, composer, session musician, arranger, film-scorer, producer, actor in film (with Grace Kelly) and television ('Twin Peaks'), child actor ('The Honeymooners'), singer, ideas man and evangelist for individualism. “Well I've gone around and tried to find a way to support my obsession with music. It's my life and I've been very fortunate to be in such reflected glory as I've been in my mind. It's a glorious thing.”

He sounds a lot like Truman Capote - in the 1960s he was a dead ringer for moustachioed music satirist, Weird Al Yankovic. But Parks is perhaps best known for his work as lyricist on Brian Wilson's legendary 'SMiLE' album - he invested a lot of effort but was forced to leave Wilson and the project in 1966. “By then Brian was in need of serious psychiatric help and besides they (the other Beach Boys) didn't want me there anyway.”

Many consider him an eccentric man who eschews the conventional guitar, drum, and bass set-up - to be sure he has followed his own path. He has worked with Springsteen, U2 (“Bono is a egotist”), Frank Black, Joanna Newsom, Inara George, even Silverchair.

His theories on music are prescient and his evaluations succinct and full of biting humour, vigour and passion. But he is most fascinated by notoriously odd and complex Australian composer Percy Grainger. “I notice quite plainly the refreshments that have come out of Australia in my lifetime. I'm well aware of Grainger. By the way, he's not in any dustbin with me - he's just too wild. He's the shit. I play his 'Handel In The Strand' - that's an amazing piece of music. Kick ass baby. This guy is all over the place - he's as great as Allan Toussaint. I couldn't name a better pianist.”

But he fears for the future of music. “Right now there is a crisis in patronage because the record business collapsed under executive greed, they took it and ran. They abused their obligation to a once thriving industry - second only to the legitimate sale of drugs worldwide in 1971 in rapidity of cash flow. They ruined that.”

No doubt his appearance at the Big Sound Conference in Brisbane will be quite the spectacle.  As a young man at conservatory level he did: “Hard tack trench warfare with piano for two and a half years… studied composition and got an A from Aaron Copland and a pat on the ass - I noticed that. “I wanted to be involved in music that mattered. I once met an author who sold oh so many books and he said; 'A paperback book has the shelf life of a pot of yoghurt,' and I thought about that. The dispensability of art - I want to teach anything I can that will lead to durability in work.”

Parks speaks with an unusually raw honesty. “All the things I have recorded - I shudder to say it - I wish I could take it all back. Really… there is a tyranny in history. “I mean you do enough stuff and it becomes a part of what people attach to you, it's almost as if they put luggage on you as you walk down the platform… but I believe the future is my friend and that my best work is ahead of me - that is my mantra.”

Van Dyke Parks will be at The Big Sound Conference at the Judith Wright Centre from Sept 9-11. He performs at the Brisbane Powerhouse on Sept 12.

Wednesday, 08 July 2009 10:46

Empire Of The Sun : Interview 08.07.09

Sunny Disposition

With his colourful Empire Of The Sun collaboration (with Pnau’s Nick Littlemore) storming the charts in the UK, our own home-grown musical genius, Luke Steele, is laconic and laidback as always. We caught him at home in Perth with his lover and baby daughter, watching Terry Gilliam films, working on visuals, sculpture and learning how to weld.

The astonishing album in question, ‘Walking On A Dream’, was recorded here and there throughout 2007.

“I met Nick back in 2000 and when we first recorded together, he was the engineer and producer of the rhythms and then I’d do the melodies and that continued on until we started this (Empire Of The Sun) thing a few years back.

“That was the basic premise that they [Littlemore and Peter Mayes, also of Pnau] would do a lot of the drum programming and I’d play guitar and sing the melodies, and Nick [would] do a lot of the lyrics. It’s pretty easy in a way - it was more effortless than other projects because it’s like two chefs in the kitchen.

“Nothing much was spoken about, other than that I’d only be in town for a night at a time in Sydney, so we’d do a track in a two or three hour session and they were all pretty much done like that. Just get into the studio and whatever you’d been listening to it might filter through. We always had massive expensive dinners before we did sessions and I dunno, I think it makes you feel like Jay-Z or something.”

Steele has also written the bulk of the songs for a new Sleepy Jackson record to be released next year.

“Yeah that’s been back to like when I was 15 again, just writing by myself on guitar and doing the programming. I’ll work the band out later I guess. It’s good that Empire took off ‘cos it’s bought me a bit of time, because I was just about due for the next Sleepies album,” he laughs.

Steele has never been one to rush the artistic process.

“I take a while to do records, I just wanna try and do good ones. I think sometimes you can get caught in the machine and the managers go, ‘It’s being played on this radio station, we’ve gotta tour there!’ Who cares? If they’re playing it in six months, maybe we’ll go.”

Of course living in the far west, in Perth, doesn’t hurt in dampening any label pressure. But for now it’s the crazy response Empire has received in the UK, and more importantly to Steele, the film version of the project that is occupying his mind for now.

The plan is to extend the project into a cosmic feature film project. The four visually sumptuous videos shot in exotic locations, including Shanghai, China and Mexico, offer a taste of the look and feel they’re going for.

The plot involves the Emperor with the digital heart travelling the world to find the shaman or the right person to heal him before technology takes over the world.

“We’re just trying to work out how to pay for it all. We’re trying to pull the best ‘Space Oddity’ themes we can do with a couple bits of tin and spray cans that I found at the tip.”

Steele has done music for one feature film, but would really like to get into making and directing films. But lately he’s been scouting locations around Perth, like the local rubbish tip and its well-stocked junk shop where he made a find that has him looking like quite the organised rock star.

“I found one of those late 60s Dymo label printer guns with three roles of tape that hadn’t been used. I’m going to do all my cases, my computer… everything. I’m gonna get a school lunch box again.”

Steele’s not too sure what the plan is for the band’s first live performance when they headline the touring Parklife festival in September/October.

“We haven’t talked about it much yet. But we’re looking at doing, like a real life movie with narration … a cool opera kind of thing is the plan, lots of visuals. We’re shooting them at the moment, squashing all my brain cells thinking about what the dancers will do at this time when this song is playing and what are the visuals. It’s hard work putting together a theatre show. The kick drum won’t be going the whole time so hopefully people won’t get disappointed.”

Empire Of The Sun headline Parklife at the Brisbane Riverstage and Botanical Gardens on September 26. For more info, visit ‘Walking On The Dream’ is in stores now through EMI.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009 10:20

Lazy Grey : Interview


Twenty years of service surely qualifies Lazy Grey as a veteran of hip hop. And at this point in his career he is entitled to take a sharp turn or two, which he does in spectacular fashion with the sprawling genius of his new album, 'The Soundtrack'.

“It's all about being creative, breaking the mold and doing something new,” says a laidback Lazy Grey. The first new thing he did was to hand over the production and beat-making reins to another person for the first time.

'The Soundtrack' is definitely Lazy's record but it's a three way split creatively with Dave V on production and beats, cuts by DJ DCE and Lazy's raps completing the triangle. The end result belies the difficulty Lazy had in handing over control. “I was so stoked to actually get Dave to be a part of it all. But once we were five songs in … I must admit I did get a bit scared. Then I just let go. I thought 'go with it'. I just slid into line and played my part,” says Lazy graciously.

“At first I was very uncomfortable about it but by the end I realised that's what it's about when three people come together to create something. You don't want someone who's got a bigger fingerprint on it than someone else. It had to be a split and I'm very happy with the outcome. “If I'd done everything it wouldn't have been out for another year at least. It was in trusted hands from my perspective.”

In a sense MCs are like boxers; they come up through bloody battles and sweaty venues where you make it or break it for all to see. Losing the shackles of production allowed Grey to become extra lean and fighting fit. The news is the champ has lost a couple of pounds on his peak fighting weight.

The Brisbane MC clearly revelled in the space and time to create and as a result has blended a richer palette with a typically blistering take on the world.

Old fans assembling, beer in hand, around barbecues for the first Lazy Grey album in five years should not fear though - it's a fresh sound but it's still unmistakably Australia's best MC all the way. “For the old fans saying 'Lazy what are you doin?' I say. It's only one record - there's more to come. Who knows what those ones'll be like.”

Over the past ten months he has immersed himself in the world of this record and filtered out the outside world. “I didn't want to be repeating myself. Why stay in one genre? I just wanted to be creative. I started to get a feel for the soundtracky vibe of the songs so I built on that. Whatever you do, or whatever's going on, on the planet today - I'm just doing the soundtrack. I just started inventing it more from there - as an observer. Everyone's playing their parts, I was just putting it to a music soundtrack.”

The beats, the samples and the vocal interplay are sharper and more intricate and the lyrical concerns are broader and as personal as political - but he is as witty and direct as ever. There's more to the arrangements but Lazy's vocals sound raw and immediate.

“I made an effort to know my raps thoroughly beforehand … instead of doing cheat modes and overlays - I know it sounds a bit anal, but I was going for that thought on paper as I first wrote it, straight from paper laid down - nothing else. “I didn't want a lot of studio magic to thicken my voice up or anything. If I spit it and that's how it sounds that's how it's coming out y'know. That's a bit different to the last ones where I would do a lot of layering. You lay the main vocals over each other and you sound like a fucking monster truck.
“I'm happy with the way we did that - I learnt something along the way as well.”

Dave V's production perfectly builds the soundtrack concept with subtleties and intricacies that unfold on repeat listens, not to mention a treasure trove of samples from 70s and 80s film soundtracks. For Lazy it's an assured piece of work that is surely evidence of a professional comfortable in his art and its evolution.
“As you get older some things aren't as important as they were. Not much has changed really - but I 'spose I have a different approach to life.”
'The Soundtrack' is out June 26 through Shogun Distribution and he'll unveil a few tracks from it during his support slot for Ghostface Killah's The Hi-Fi show on Sunday June 28.


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