Scottish-born journalist Jill Stark was a health reporter with a blind spot: despite writing about Australia’s binge-drinking culture for The Age newspaper, she would regularly drink to excess, as she’d done since her teens.
One too many hangovers, however – the last on New Year’s Day, 2011 – set her, at age 35, on the path of alcohol abstinence for the first time in her adult life. The result is High Sobriety, her first book.
As the subtitle indicates, this is an account of Stark’s sober 2011, one month per chapter. It’s part memoir, part sociological examination of our national drinking habits, and both aspects work well.
“Just like Scotland, Australia’s default bonding-ritual is drinking,” she writes near the beginning, noting that her homeland is “a place where whisky outsells milk, and teetotalism is a crime punishable by death”. Stark is being melodramatic, of course, but the narrative makes it clear: to cut booze out of her life is almost as serious as excising a limb.
On announcing her first period of sobriety – three months, as part of a youth-led health program called Hello Sunday Morning – Stark captures her social isolation vividly. When confronted by her peers about her decision not to drink or smoke, she notes that “my identity was suddenly reduced to the sum of the substances I’d chosen not to ingest”. Her transformation from centre-of-party to self-conscious fringe-dweller makes for a compelling contrast.
Every aspect of Stark’s life is laid bare: her suspicions that she drinks to dampen the fear of being alone; her troubled love life (she realises in March that she hasn’t been sober during sex in years); her depression and anxiety, perhaps exacerbated by booze; her family’s history of alcoholism, including a grandfather who drank heavily until the day he died. “At the heart of that tragedy: alcohol,” she writes after her mother tells this story for the first time. “A drug I have enjoyed with cavalier abandon simply because it’s legal.”
Her initial three-month commitment soon turns into 12, thanks in part to a popular feature article about her experience in The Age (and resultant book offers).
Stark is at pains to point out how difficult not drinking is: she wonders if she’ll be able to navigate various events without booze: her birthday, a return to Scotland, the AFL finals series, a friend’s wedding, Christmas parties and so on. These too-regular instances of self-doubt are the only aspect of her writing that grates a little.
Wedged between her own confessions are historical passages charting Australia’s history with alcohol, with a focus on the relatively recent, media-defined trend of youth binge drinking; a discussion about journalism’s long, slow dance with alcohol on the job, including war stories from older Fairfax scribes; the role of advertising in the liquor industry; and interviews with public health professionals regarding the effects this drug can have on human brains if consumption is not kept in check. Pertinent observations are plentiful and the author’s tone is never condescending.
Stark makes it through the year, of course, with more than a few self-discoveries along the way. There is a devastating, unexpected personal tragedy near the end, which pulls the book’s premise into sharp focus. As she puts it: “Life’s too short to be wasted.” This is a conclusion reached without moralising, without judging others. It’s a refreshing approach to the oft-loaded discussion surrounding drug use of all kinds. Near the end, Stark writes:
As rewarding as my year without booze has been, swimming against the tide has been bloody hard, and at times exhausting. It could be even harder for the next generation of drinkers. As long as laying off the booze leads to claims that you’re a boring, un-Australian loser in an environment set up to convince you alcohol makes you cool and socially functional, young people will continue to get pissed for confidence, comfort, and belonging.
This isn’t a guide to abstinence, nor is it intended to induce fear in those who drink, to excess or otherwise – though some of the statistics quoted are certainly enough to make any reader consider their consumption. Ultimately, it’s hard not to recommend this book: from teenagers experimenting with their first taste, to those who’ve been imbibing for decades, many will find Stark’s story illuminating, touching, and memorable.
High Sobriety: My Year Without Booze
By Jill Stark
Scribe, 320pp, $29.95
Three stylistic decisions have shifted Sydney act PVT – formerly known as Pivot – from a great band to a good one.
Church with No Magic, from 2010, saw the trio add lyrics for the first time, largely abandoning guitar and bass in favour of synthesisers, and downplaying live drums in favour of electronic beats.
Their fourth album, Homosapien, extends these three traits even further: the majority of the album is arranged and played electronically. Richard Pike retains the vocal duties he assumed on Church. His voice is powerful and well-suited to this music, but the content is dubious: many choruses consist only of one phrase, repeated.
There are flashes of lyrical brilliance, as in the evocative first lines of ‘Electric’: “I left my heart on the railroad track, it’s still waiting for the next train/ I didn’t clock into work today, now all my work is in vain”). Pike’s brother, Laurence, is one of the most distinctive drummers in this country, yet his stick work here is either restrained or replaced by a drum machine.
The band’s strength is in its electronic backbone, arranged by Dave Miller. The songs are clear, without many overdubs, and there are a handful of great moments: ‘Love & Defeat’, with wall-to-wall bass synths offset by a glorious, cutting melody, and the title track, which is the album’s only guitar-led track.
The 2008 instrumental album O Soundtrack My Heart remains the band’s crowning achievement, a thrilling combination of rock muscle and electronic beauty. Homosapien is the sound of these three men running in the opposite direction, with mixed results.
By merging dance-floor beats with finicky guitar theatrics on their 2008 debut album, Antidotes, this British band emerged with a singular vision.
The result was one of the most compelling recent contributions to the math-rock subgenre. Total Life Forever (2010) saw the quintet leaning more towards indie pop, experimenting with atmospheric tricks, and pushing Yannis Philippakis’s voice higher into the mix; handy, as he has both striking tone and unique phrasing.
Holy Fire finds the band consolidating this new-found pop aesthetic while accentuating the intricate percussive and guitar interplay that first set them apart. Still in their mid-20s, Foals are almost old hands at this game. Production by British duo Flood (U2, Smashing Pumpkins) and Alan Moulder (Nine Inch Nails, the Killers) certainly works in the band’s favour, as the album sounds a million bucks.
There’s plenty to like about the first two singles – the metallic chorus riffs of ‘Inhaler’ and the sheer joy of ‘My Number’, their poppiest song yet – but, like Total Life Forever, this is a collection to be enjoyed as a whole.
Some of the band’s finest work appears on the second half: notably the stirring strings that run through ‘Milk & Black Spiders’ and the staccato bombast of ‘Providence’. Even long-favoured studio techniques, such as double-tracking and adding reverb to Philippakis’s vocals, continue to sound fresh against the innovative ideas laid down by his bandmates.
Holy Fire opens with a storming, four-minute instrumental, ‘Prelude’, that works well as a statement of intent; the following 10 tracks do nothing to erode that mood. At a touch under 50 minutes, that’s quite an achievement.
It takes a long time to make music sound as good as m b v does. About 22 years, in fact.
The last time my bloody valentine released new music was in 1991 and Loveless, the Irish quartet’s second album, remains the high-water mark of the “shoegaze” alternative rock movement.
A thrilling listen from top to tail, Loveless contained some of the most unbelievable guitar sounds heard then or since. It’s had all sorts of adjectives thrown at it through the years but the most appropriate is “peerless”.
And so, m b v, a nine-track album sneak-released online in early February, took by surprise many of the band’s fans.
Topping the last effort is a practically insurmountable feat, yet this collection must inevitably be compared with the band’s last. So, in short: no, m b v isn’t quite as earth-shattering as Loveless, but it’s still very good, and well worth your attention.
The guitar tone and phrasing are phenomenal: the second track ‘only tomorrow’ (the band insists that their name, album and song titles are all to be written in lower case) is one of the band’s finest creations, a real marvel of layering and repetition.
As with Loveless, the drums, bass and vocals are all secondary in importance to the guitars, which sound so sharp they might cut you in half if you turn the sound up loud enough. And you should. The band’s entire existence is practically an exercise in volume control. ‘in another way’ is the best song here; a modern update to Loveless‘s classic final track, ‘Soon’, if you will.
There’s only one disposable track, the synth-led ‘is this and yes’. The rest? Peerless, still.
Hungry Kids of Hungary’s 2010 debut, Escapades, gave a strong portent of the songwriting and musical ability lurking within.
To its credit, You’re a Shadow supersedes the Brisbane pop quartet’s debut in every way. The band’s greatest asset is that each member is a master of their instrument. There’s no weak link; no bassist playing tired lines, no drummer tapping out predictable beats. Every note is chosen for the purpose of serving the song.
That may sound banal but in the context of indie pop it’s rare and remarkable to encounter such consistent innovation in the musicianship. For most bands, it’s enough to hit on a memorable vocal melody or guitar riff, and ride the hook out for three or four minutes. Not Hungry Kids.
These 11 songs crackle with verve. It’s clear these four have thrown everything they have into You’re a Shadow and the results speak for themselves. There’s not a weak track here. At a touch under 40 minutes, it’s a lean collection but the ideas on display never outlast their welcome. This is another sign of the
band’s maturity: don’t overplay, don’t overwrite, don’t oversing. Guitarist Dean McGrath and keyboardist Kane Mazlin share vocals and writing duties. Their first co-write, ‘When Yesterday’s Gone’, is the finest song here: a simply beautiful four-minute jam about mourning lost time. ‘Memo’ is a close runner-up; the way it segues flawlessly from the previous track ‘Colours’ is a nice touch, but the interplay between Ben Dalton’s bassline and Mazlin’s delicate key phrasing is spectacular. Indie pop music doesn’t get much better than this. Highly recommended.
The first time cinemagoers laid their eyes on Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith was in Clerks, a 1994 feature film that depicted a day in the working lives of two frustrated store clerks stuck in dead-end jobs.
Mewes and Smith played the bit-part characters of Jay and Silent Bob, respectively [pictured above; Smith on the left]. Their introduction occurs seven minutes into the film, when Mewes — a tall, wiry youngster — takes up his regular post outside a convenience store (where Smith, then 24, worked as a clerk during the day). Jay drains a beercan, spits out its contents, then announces, “I need some tits and ass, yeah!” He does a little dance, then adds, “I feel good today, Silent Bob!” before expressing in detail his desire to copulate “with anything that moves”.
All the while, his stocky, mute friend in a trenchcoat puffs on a cigarette, barely acknowledging the string of explicit and provocative statements that Jay directs at passers-by. It remains a compelling introduction to two of modern American cinema’s most enduring — and unlikely — comedic characters.
Written, directed, produced and edited by Smith, Clerks never appeared on more than 50 screens at one time during its theatre run in the US. Rated R for “extensive use of extremely explicit sex-related dialogue”, the film seemed doomed to a niche audience at best. Yet word-of-mouth marketing prevailed and it grossed more than $US3 million for distributor Miramax Films.
Not bad for a project made on a shoestring budget.
Clerks became a cult favourite that led to a string of popular comedies directed by Smith: Mallrats in 1995, Chasing Amy in 1997, Dogma in 1999 and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back in 2001. The two characters last appeared on screen together in 2006′s Clerks II.
This month Mewes and Smith will tour a live show in Australia for the first time, under the name Jay and Silent Bob Get Old.
Mewes, now 37, casts his mind back to his late teens, when Smith — four years older — began working on Clerks. “Back then, it was just me and him,” Mewes says. “We’d wake up and work our nine-to-five jobs at the convenience store and the video store. He told me he was writing a script and was going to go to film school. It wasn’t that I doubted him; it was like, ‘Oh cool, you’re going to school.’ I didn’t think anything about it. I was just like, ‘I’m going to go to work tomorrow, you have fun.’ ”
Smith’s hard work evidently paid off, and he brought his new friend along for the ride: one that took the wealthy writer-director to the heights of owning a home in the Hollywood Hills with his wife and daughter, and Mewes to the depths of addiction to heroin and, later, the painkiller OxyContin.
In a 10-part series published on his blog in 2006, entitled Me and My Shadow, Smith described at length the roller-coaster ride of Mewes’s addiction and his numerous attempts at rehabiliation. Using his flair as a writer and eye for detail, Smith wrote of Mewes’s “first taste of heroin courtesy of a girl whose name he doesn’t remember, on a jungle gym in a park lit by the Canadian moon”. Later republished in the 2007 book My Boring-Ass Life, Smith’s tale remains moving, even for those with little interest in his films.
Mewes has never read Me and My Shadow in full. “I’ve read sections of it,” he says. “It sort of upsets me a bit to read it. I’ve never been able to sit through and read it from beginning to end.” The Australian tour, Get Old, born from a successful podcast of the same name, has its roots in Mewes’s addictions, too.
Six years sober, he relapsed in 2009 on painkillers after a dental procedure. “When people go into surgery, you try not to take pain medicine if you’ve (been) addicted to pain medicine (in the past),” he says. “But if you are going to take it, you should talk to some people; a sponsor, friends, and you have to see them every day, (to) be accountable for what’s going on. I didn’t have any of that going on at the time. There was no one I had to be accountable to.”
When Mewes told Smith of his desire to record a regular podcast before a live audience, his friend encouraged him to speak about his experiences with addiction. According to Smith, “it’s much easier to fight a dragon if everyone can see it, and it’ll remind you about where you don’t want to be ever again.” The live shows became a kind of therapy for the actor.
“Talking about everything has been very helpful for me,” Mewes says. An unexpected outcome eventuated, too: group therapy. “I’ve had people come up to me after shows and be like, ‘Hey man, I’m six months sober today and it’s seriously because of you because when I was sick and I was getting off the painkillers, I wanted to go use but then I’d listen to three of your podcasts in a row and it would inspire me not to go get high again.’ That’s very flattering and awesome. It’s just a bonus to what I thought (the podcast) would be about.”
Jay and Silent Bob Get Old has no real structure: it’s just two friends who happen to be famous speaking about whatever comes to mind. The show was first hosted at a 45-seat venue in Los Angeles, which sold out five weeks in a row. On upgrading to the 230-seat Jon Lovitz Comedy Club in Universal City, the pair continued to fill the venue each week. They booked bigger shows in capital cities across the US, and their Australian tour — consisting of theatres that hold 1000 to 2000 people — has mostly sold out.
“That we can get 2000 people who want to come listen to me and Kevin sit down and talk and tell some of our stories is pretty amazing,” Mewes says, laughing.
When asked whether he’s concerned about sharing too much, Mewes replies: “No, not really. Not when I hear stuff like (former addicts thanking me).
“Sometimes I think I over-share about me and my wife, and my wife might be at the show and afterwards she’ll get a little embarrassed or upset with me.”
This is unsurprising, given that both men discuss the topic of sex — both in the past and with their wives — frequently during the stage show. “That’s about it. There hasn’t really been any backlash.”
Despite the gravity of discussing Mewes’s former demons, there’s much more light than shade at play in Get Old. After all, most people are there to laugh with their film idols rather than mull over life lessons.
“My goal is to entertain everybody,” Mewes says. “I hope they have a really good time. And of course people are paying money. I want them to be like, ‘Oh man, we went out last night, and we saw Jay and Bob. I’m glad I did that on my Friday night, instead of going out to the bar or to the movies.”‘
Jay and Silent Bob Get Old is in Adelaide on April 18 and 28; Brisbane, April 19; Sydney, April 20 and 23; Melbourne, April 26.
An entry in Rolling Stone’s regular ‘My Record Collection’ interview series, published in the January 2012 issue. Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.
My Record Collection – Gary Lightbody
Snow Patrol’s frontman takes us through his favourite albums
“I’m certainly the one who listens to the craziest music,” Gary Lightbody says of his four bandmates in Irish rock act Snow Patrol. “I make mix CDs for everybody. Sometimes they’re met with raised eyebrows. If I make one for my Mum, it’ll definitely be little country songs, some pop songs, nothing too crazy. But I might throw in a cheeky wee Four Tet song!” Lightbody is on a promo tour in Amsterdamwhen RS calls, ahead of the release of their sixth album, Fallen Empires.
Metallica – …And Justice For All (1988)
“This was their best record, and probably the one I listened to most. That style of music was a bit lost on me, because I couldn’t emulate it on guitar. It sounded like alien beings were creating the music: virtuoso guitar solos, and chugging that I couldn’t match with my right hand. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t masturbating enough as a teenager. But it was still intense; I’d always be thrashing away, headbanging to it in my room, or with my mates.”
Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)
“This record changed everything for me. It made me realise that I can actually do something with my guitar. Nirvana brought music into the real world, for me. Writing from the heart, rather than playing from the head and thinking from the ballsack. Kurt’s songs were extraordinary deconstructions of the human mind. As a sullen, sensitive 15 year-old – who was very insular, awkward, and loved his poetry – Nevermind spoke to me, just as it spoke to millions of other kids around the world.”
Super Furry Animals - Fuzzy Logic (1996)
“This is just an insane record. These are all songs that I still absolutely adore today. The Super Furries are one of those bands that opened up all sorts of music. People call them psychedelic because they don’t have any other words to describe them. They’re on their own little trip; in a class of their own. If their boundary-less expression of music has showed us anything, it’s that you should never keep doing the same thing again and again. It taught us to be adventurous.”
Young MC – Stone Cold Rhymin’ (1989)
“When I was 18 I started going to clubs, so my music tastes widened. I still listened to guitar music, of course – I mean, I’m in a band that plays guitar music – but I found a lot of dance music, funk, soul and hip hop. This is my favourite hip-hop album of all time. I love it when hip-hop is playful, and not about guns, bling and bitches. His records were about things like ditching school, and first loves. There was a naivety about it that’s unusual in hip-hop these days, and even a little unusual back then, when hip-hop was so political and racially charged.”
Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther (2006)
“I completely fell in love with this record, as well as that whole genre of music – Americana-ish, bluesy- and folky-tinged rock music. ‘Roscoe’ could possibly be my favourite song of all time. It’s an extraordinary piece of music: sweeping, lyrically phenomenal, and dense. It’s incredibly tricky to take in on the first goodness-knows-how-many listens. That’s the testament to a great song: you’re always finding new things in it.”
Bon Iver – Bon Iver (2011)
“Their first album was incredible, too, but this is just a beautiful, beautiful record. I’ve just been in its little universe for the last few months, loving every minute of it. ‘Michicant’ and ‘Holocene’ are two songs that I’ll take with me forever, I think. They’ll always be on my mind.”
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (2010)
“On The Suburbs, themes and little motifs reoccur. You discover more about the song before by listening to the song after. It’s the sort of record that is essential, and cherishable. That’s the style of record that we wanted to make, too. Goodness knows if we’ve achieved it [with Fallen Empires], but my God, our ambition was high. Bands like Arcade Fire make your ambition high. When I listened to it, I went, ‘Fuck me, we’re gonna have to be better.’”
My first artist feature for Rolling Stone, which appeared in the May 2011 issue.
You can click the scanned images below for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.
The Truth About Jebediah
After a decade and a half together, the Perth foursome have discovered a new type of success.
By Andrew McMillen / Photograph by Carine Thevenau
It wasn’t meant to be like this. Our interview was scheduled to take place hours ago in less risky confines, yet here we are in Jebediah’s hotel room; well-fed, and on our collective ways to well-drunk. Sitting on the couch are bassist Vanessa Thornton and singer/guitarist Kevin Mitchell, who places a near-full bottle of red wine on the coffee table and unceremoniously removes his shoes. At the table, drummer Brett Mitchell nurses a bourbon and cola. Across from him, lead guitarist Chris Daymond is chopping a nugget of weed into an egg cup. He rolls a joint, and he and Brett step out onto the balcony to smoke it. All the while, the band’s record company representative sits silently within earshot, wondering just how honest the band will be, now that they’re all stoned, or drunk, or both.
Most of their day was spent filming a video for their single “She’s Like A Comet” at a workshop in Sydney’s inner city. To say that the thrill of watching the band run through countless takes to a backing track had lost its lustre would be an understatement. Earlier, over dinner at an organic restaurant in Newtown, Kevin sneaks in a seemingly innocuous question. “Was the video thing boring?” It’s a shit-test. He’s checking whether they’re here to star in a fluff piece, or whether something deeper is being sought.
“Yeah, it got a bit old after a few hours.”
He and his bandmates laugh, agree, and seem relieved by the response. From that point on, honesty flowed as freely as the booze. Hours later, in the hotel room, we begin the interview with a blunt question: why do they play music? Immediately, Thornton retorts: “Why not?”
It’s a fair, if expected, riposte. These four Perth friends have been playing music together since 1994. It’s been a successful vocation. Their seventh gig won them the 1995 Australian National Campus Band Competition; their thirteenth won the national final in Lismore, N.S.W. Their first single, “Jerks Of Attention”, was a monster: backed by Triple J, the fast-paced tale of youthful excess was hastily embraced by a generation. The band signed to Sony imprint Murmur, whose roster included Silverchair and Something For Kate. To celebrate, they hosted a four-day bender at their house, while friends filmed their first music video. Fitting, for a song whose chorus describes the feeling of knowing it all while “wasted”.
Jebediah arrived at a time when the national fascination with alternative rock was peaking. The band’s debut album, Slightly Odway, was released in September 1997, and went on to achieve double-platinum sales (140,000-plus). Thornton recalls Murmur founder John O’Donnell admitting that he’d “really love for this record to go gold”.
“And we were like, ‘good luck to you!’” laughs Thornton.
“It was all just shits and giggles. We honestly thought he was absolutely dreaming,’” says Kevin Mitchell.
A lot has changed since those heady days. The band’s subsequent releases failed to achieve Odway-like success. The band-label relationship became strained after the release of their self-titled third album in 2002, a subject that arises when I ask them to pinpoint the moments where the band came closest to breaking up.
Kevin Mitchell chooses his words carefully. “There have been a couple of times where maybe my level of enjoyment has been at a low point, where perhaps I’ve questioned it. Everybody goes through periods where they question whether what they’re doing is what they’re supposed to be doing. I think that’s healthy.”
“But that’s as far as it gets,” Thornton adds.
“Is it possible to do anything for 15 years, and enjoy it the whole time?” Brett Mitchell asks. “If you’re a vet, you’re going to have to shove your hand up an animal’s bum every once in a while. But that’s not why you got into veterinary school – it’s just part of the deal.”
It seems fitting to ask: what were some of the hand-up-arse moments of the band’s career?
“My time was after the third record, where things turned to shit,” Thornton says. “I probably made it bigger than I should’ve. But my heart was invested in it, and that’s just the way it turned out. And it was my own reality that I’d created, and that got totally shattered. It fucking broke me.”
“Just label shit. Pressures. Everything was second-guessed. Our manager at the time couldn’t be fucked fighting the label for anything that we wanted, and he’d made the decision that we were just going to go with whatever the label reckoned. Near the end, it was fucking soul-destroying for me.”
“It just felt like the technicalities overshadowed everything else,” offers Brett.
“All the things that I enjoyed about playing music were no longer relevant,” Thornton adds.“That’s when I thought, ‘Fuck, is this what I’m going to do for the rest of my life, play this fucking game?’”
That game was the business side of music, the bottom-line crunch that elevates the idea of records that sell far above the idea of records that sounds good. “Yeah – singles, videos, radio, tracklisting,” Thornton continues. “Like I said, I probably took it more to heart than I should’ve, and made too much of it in my own mind, but at the same time, it wasn’t about us four anymore. It was about what everyone thought was going to sell a record, which, to me, was not what we were even about. That was what the label did.”
It was at this point that the band severed ties – the 2003 compilation Gleesides & Sparities was their final release on Murmur – and released their fourth album, 2004’s Braxton Hicks, on their own label, Redline Records. Thornton is in two minds about the wisdom of that decision.
“But if it’d gone down the path that you’re talking about…” Brett begins, before his brother finishes his sentence.
“We wouldn’t be here now.”
“Putting it out on our label was an antidote,” Brett says.
“It saved everything for me,” says Thornton.
As it turns out, Braxton Hicks was Kevin’s hand-up-arse moment, and after the release, the band decided to take a break from writing, recording and performing together. “We always had the intention of getting back together, but if ever there was a time we were going to question it, it was then,” says Kevin. “Because that six months did turn into three years.”
In the intervening years, Kevin concentrated on his stylistic reinvention as acoustic singer-songwriter Bob Evans, a persona significantly removed from fronting a band like Jebediah. Though they still got together to play a handful of shows per year, the four were living separate lives. With the exception of Kevin, they’re still based in Perth, for the most part: Chris Daymond works at a record store, Brett Mitchell is a manager at a logistics company, and Thornton has just spent four years completing a Bachelor of Science, while still playing bass on the side for Felicity Groom & The Black Black Smoke.
Owing to his success with Bob Evans, Melbourne-based Kevin is the only one able to earn a living from music – “I’ve never had a full-time job in my life,” he reports – but that doesn’t mean team Jebediah aren’t in a good position. There is still enormous goodwill for the band, and having lived through the music business’s attempts to judge their career purely in financial terms, these four old friends have a more balanced understanding of “success” these days.
“My idea of success when the band first started was supporting You Am I or Tumbleweed or Magic Dirt at The Planet Nightclub in Perth,” says Kevin. “If we could support one of favourite bands at one of our favourite venues, that was like, ultimate success. But it changes: now, for me, success is all about longevity. The fact that we’re about to put out our fifth record is a huge source of pride for me. To be able to do it for this long, and still believe in what we’re doing – that to me, is success.”
The desire to make the most of this release is as keen as ever, and some of their intentions with new album Koscuiszko are refreshingly reminiscent of a band just at its beginning. “If I can quit my day job, that’ll mark a success,” replies Brett.
“If we’re still together, that’d be good,” offers Daymond.
“Geez, you’re easy to please!” laughs Thornton, as her bandmate runs around the room high-fiving everyone.
The band recently signed to Brisbane-based indie label Dew Process for Koscuiszko. The label is behind the likes of Sarah Blasko, the Grates and the Living End, and by modern standards it’s a stand-out success in marketing local music. A fact that is apparently lost on Thornton.
“You know what? I don’t care anymore,” says the bass player. “I feel so relaxed about everything. I just want to play songs that I love. I don’t care about the other shit.”
With one eye on the Dew Process rep sitting out on the balcony, Kevin – the most media-experienced of the group, by far – hastily lightens the mood by changing topics. “I think it’s important to note that the way we made this record has been so incredibly different to any other record that we’ve made. For most of it we had no manager, no label – nothing. The first three records were all with Sony, the biggest record label there is. For the fourth record, we were doing it on our own label, but we were still very much part of a process. With this record, absolutely all of that stuff had been completely stripped away.”
“For nearly two years, only five people had heard these songs,” says Thornton, in reference to the band and Dave Parkin, who has worked with Perth groups Sugar Army, Snowman and Karnivool.
“We were only making a record because the four of us wanted to make a record,” Kevin adds. “There wasn’t a single other person involved in the process. We’ve never made a record in those circumstances before. We did it over a long period of time; normally, we go into the studio for a month, bash out the songs, and bang out a record. This one’s easily the most fun I’ve had making a Jebs record since the very first one, and I also think it’s the most playful we’ve been in the studio. It’s the closest thing to the first album, where we made a record without considering anyone except ourselves.”
“We weren’t making a ‘product’,” says Brett.
Two days later we meet in Brisbane, ahead of a sold-out gig at The Zoo. Last night, Jebediah played to a capacity Annandale Hotel. Over pizza and milkshakes in the Brunswick Street Mall, Kevin reflects on some of the things that came out last time we met. “There were a couple of moments where things were said, where I was like, “ooh”,’ says Kevin. “Not from me, though. As long as it’s clear who said what,” he adds, throwing a glance at Thornton.
“It was probably a surefire way to be excused from doing interviews in the future. Print it all. Whatever,” she shrugs with a smile.
A few prickly moments aside, it’s clear the vibe in the Jebediah camp these days is a positive one, and that atmosphere is reflected in the lyrical themes on Kosciuszko. “A lot of the lyrics are pretty positive, because it was an exciting stage,” explains Kevin, who is the band’s sole lyricist. “Getting new songs together, and making a new record. Even the angrier lyrics are still about changing for the better. There’s not a lot of self-indulgent negativity going on. There’s no angst.”
No angst? “Well, less angst,” he replies. “And so there bloody should be; I’m fuckin’ 33 years old. There’s nothing worse than a married 33 year-old who lives in the suburbs.”
“What have you got to be angsty about?” his brother asks.
“Everybody’s got something to be angsty about,” Kevin quips, recalling a conversation between the songwriters in his other group, Basement Birds – Josh Pyke, Kav Temperley, and Steve Parkin. “We were talking about how, when you first start writing songs as a teenager, you’re writing about break-ups. You’re full of angst, and writing all these negative things. You get older, you find love; you get married, you get settled in a nice house – basically, you’ve got less and less to be angry about. So in order to write angsty lyrics, you start writing political songs. Because the world is always going to have problems!”
There’s a line in the album’s first track, “Lost My Nerve”, about being “fuckin’ sick of listening to some rich kids playing on their guitars”, which would seem to suggest there are still a few things Kevin can be pissed off about.
“If there’s a young dude that lives at home with his parents, and has all the best gear bought for him; if he’s trying to rock out on stage, I can’t get anything from that,” he says. “It’s not about anyone in particular. I’m still attracted to a lot of romantic ideals about rock & roll.”
Thornton helps him out: “Rock and roll’s gotta come from your guts, not from your parents’ hip pocket.”
Before they head off to soundcheck, I ask the band what Australia should know about Jebediah now. “They already know too much, and that’s what I’m concerned about,” says Kevin. “I’m sure that there’s some people out who would be happy if they never heard the word ‘Jebediah’ ever again.”
“Gee, they must have enjoyed their last few years then, mustn’t they?” replies Thornton.
“Yeah. And I’m going to enjoying thinking about those people when the record comes out, and our songs are on the radio. The people that don’t like your music, in some ways it can be more fun, that antagonising aspect of it.”
“It’s an emotional response. Indifference is way more insulting,” says Brett.
“Absolutely,” Kevin agrees. “Indifference is the ultimate insult for anything creative. If people aren’t going to love it, the next best thing is for them to hate it. The whole idea of art is to move. And if you don’t move someone, you’re not doing your job.”
From the album Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty, reviewed in July for The Vine: “Built around a compact backbeat and unique usage of the talkbox, Boi’s chorus hook in ‘Shutterbugg’ – “Now party people in the club, it’s time to cut a rug / And throw your deuce up in the sky just for the shutterbuggs” – is irresistible. It’s one of the best singles of the 2010, regardless of genre.” (Link)
From the album Crystal Castles II, reviewed in May for The Vine: “‘Baptism’ is the best thing they’ve ever written, surpassing Crystal Castles I standout ‘Air Wars’ by a considerable margin. On ‘Baptism’, they do everything right. Sheets of urgent synthesisers give way to a dainty, circular keyboard melody pasted over a pulsating beat, before Alice Glass’s pained vocals are met by the synthesised opening phrase cut into staccato triplets. ‘Baptism’ concocts an air of foreboding unlike anything they’ve summoned before.” (Link)
From the album Total Life Forever, reviewed in May for The Vine: “‘Spanish Sahara’ sits in the album’s centre; in turn, it forms the beating heart of Foals’ revised artistic direction. In stark contrast to their previously-accessible singles, the epic song’s payoff occurs over halfway into its seven-minutes. Singer Yannis Philippakis urges listeners – and himself, perhaps – to “Forget the horror here / Leave it all down, here / It’s future rust, and then it’s future dust”, as the song slowly builds upon a sparse introduction to climax amid an ethereal lead guitar melody, thundering tom rolls and, ultimately, a somber, circular synth pattern. As an artistic statement, ‘Spanish Sahara’ is peerless among indie pop circa 2010. (Link)
From the album Kudos, reviewed in November for Mess+Noise: “It’s a saccharine rave so wide-eyed and beautiful that you wish it to never end. While the rhythm section stays pinned to a groove, the guitarists shear off great chunks of the surrounding landscape with abrasive, Jesus & Mary Chain-like chords. Needling lead phrases punctuate each section, while the singer says “When your icy lakes swallow me” in the chorus over and over (or so I imagine; it’s pretty hard to tell through all the reverb). The result is a song more deserving of that idiotically-overused descriptor “widescreen” than any song that came before it. The best part is that the band is acutely aware of the rare musical alchemy they’ve tapped into, and opt to extend the jam to nearly eight gorgeous minutes.” (Link)
From the album Little Joy, reviewed in November for Rolling Stone: “Album closer ‘A Turreted Berg’ – characterised by a subterranean bass hum, a simple backbeat and screaming guitar squalls – is the single best song they’ve released. ” (Link)
From the album Form, reviewed in August for The Vine: “Closing track ‘Frame’ proves the singular highlight. It might be the most satisfying, most perfect song that Die! Die! Die! have ever released. Its sparse verses shiver in anticipation of the release offered by the towering chorus (“Give up the ghost, you can’t escape / We’re too close; I am here now”). ‘Frame’ is a masterpiece in three-point-five minutes.” (Link)
If you asked me to pick a song released in 2010 that best evokes ‘joy’, this would be my first choice. It remains as exciting in December as when I first heard it in August. You should play it five times in a row, at least.
Metallica – Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Saturday 16 October (review)
“For the first hour, it’s exciting enough just to be in the same room as Metallica. Metal bands don’t come bigger than these four men, and since it’s been six years between visits, there’s electricity in the air. From the moment the lights dim and their introduction music – ‘The Ecstasy Of Gold’, the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – plays, we’re transported. We forget we’re in a big, shitty shed 20 clicks from the city centre. This show is about spectacle, and nothing’s done by half. It’s something special to witness a band who still sound fresh in a stadium despite having been in the game for nearly 30 years, and having punched in this weight division for more than half of that. This is their norm. By their standards, playing to 13,000-odd fans probably qualifies as an intimate show.
As they rip through the climactic vocal section of ‘One’ with blistering intensity (“Landmine! Has taken my sight! Taken my speech! Taken my hearing!”), I realise what a rare talent they have, to make some these tired-ass songs sound fresh. And then they follow up ‘One’ with ‘Master Of Puppets’, one of the greatest metal songs ever. There’s no-one not grinning, headbanging or fist-pumping. For some artists, reminiscence is a dirty word. Not so for Metallica, who dip deep into their back catalogue tonight, all the way back to their 1983 debut Kill ‘Em All. The house lights are requested for their finale, ‘Seek & Destroy’, during which dozens of Metallica-branded beach balls are dropped from the ceiling and punted around by both band and fans, and by this point, I can’t stop grinning. I’m not alone.”
Massive Attack – Brisbane Riverstage, Tuesday 23 March (review)
“They wield a back catalogue that makes lesser artists tremble, and they’re not afraid to use it. British trip-hop production duo Massive Attack close out their first Australian tour since 2003 with a commanding performance at the Brisbane Riverstage that delivers on all fronts: sonically, visually, and emotionally. Speaking to The Vine (link) on the eve of their Perth show nearly two weeks ago, Grant Marshall – a.k.a. Daddy G, who forms half of the core duo alongside Robert del Naja (3D) – spoke of how he’s learned that “you’ve got to give people something that’s quite memorable”. Check that box. Take a song like ‘Teardrop’. It’s that rare kind of musical composition whose impact is felt across generations, gender and race. Tonight, it’s performed by longtime Massive Attack collaborator Martina Topley-Bird, whose talented, vocal loop-heavy support slot proved a fascinating precursor to the main act. Their most distinguished tune has been reworked into an arrangement comprising little more than a backbeat and her beautiful voice that sings of love, loss and hope. It’s a touching moment for the thousands stood in silence, and as the song climaxes, I decide that it reaches a summit of human expression through music that few others can lay claim to.”
Faith No More – Soundwave Festival @ RNA Showgrounds Brisbane, Saturday 20 February (review)
“Immaculately dressed in pale suits, Faith No More immediately establish rapport with the tens of thousands who crowd the main showground bowl to witness the reunited headliners after their 12 year absence. Opening with a full-band lounge version of ‘Reunited’ by vocal duo Peaches & Herb, it’s made immediately clear that their ‘Second Coming’ tour is no half-baked cash-grab; instead, the band are serious about doing justice to what was left behind in 1998. Serious, that is, while maintaining the playful, casual air for which they became known. (During set closer ‘Just A Man’, Mike Patton hijacks a video camera and – mid-song, without dropping a note – forces the operator to film his cock, which briefly appears on the giant screens that flank the main stages – video of the incident.) Any doubts about their reformation were squashed the moment the suits walked onstage.”
To see the rest of the critics’ choices, visit The Vine.
I was asked by my editor to write a short summary of three albums that placed in the top 10: Tame Impala (#1), My Disco (#5), and You Am I (#9).
1. Tame Impala Innerspeaker (Modular)
Following Wolfmother’s success in recent years, Tame Impala’s premise was never going to be particularly risky. By gazing into the past and mining the annals of psychedelic rock, this Perth act – a quartet when playing live – produced a debut full-length characterised by spaced-out guitars, lyrics of social dissociation, and complementary, distant vocals.
Led by singer/guitarist/conductor/producer Kevin Parker, Innerspeaker is very nearly a solo album – he plays the vast majority of the instruments – but upon hearing the finished product, you wouldn’t pick it. His ear for song dynamics is remarkable, and at no point does it sound like anything other than a full band jamming in a smoke-filled room. The cover art requires a double take to process, but the music doesn’t: Parker’s production is immaculate, and his songwriting accessible. Ultimately, Innerspeaker struck a chord this year not because of the human fascination with revisiting sounds of the past, but because Tame Impala threw themselves so entirely into ensuring a high quality experience. “It’s all we really do at home, think about music or record music in some way or another,” Kevin Parker told M+N earlier this year. Long may they continue.
5. My Disco Little Joy (Shock)
This Melbourne trio have defined themselves through minimalism, repetition and unrelenting force. On Little Joy, they’ve amplified all of the above to craft their finest set yet. “It was the longest we have ever spent time-wise on a record,” guitarist Ben Andrews told M+N, “and I think it really shows with the finished product”. He’s not wrong. Every sustained guitar sound, every metronomic drum part, every chanted lyric is calculated to precision, yet none of the inherent, confronting bleakness and brutality of their music has been lost (despite their decision to stick Scott Horscroft – best known for his work with The Presets and Silverchair – behind the mixing desk). My Disco adhere to the old-school aesthetic of album-as-document; as a result, cherry-picking individual tracks from Little Joy doesn’t really work: its potency is derived from the mood they conjure and sustain. From Andrews’ first jarring chord (‘Turn’) to the record’s elegant, all-inclusive conclusion (‘A Turreted Berg’), My Disco have bettered themselves in every way, and the outcome is nothing short of joyous.
9. You Am I You Am I (Other Tongues)
Recorded over “a couple of days” and driven by a mutual desire to impress each other, You Am I’s ninth album is an enduring delight – and it’s largely because the band sounds so at ease. Their role as forerunners of contemporary Australian rock music has long since been assured, and it’s telling they’ve no one to impress now but themselves. In ‘Shuck’, the album’s lead single, Tim Rogers sings of a desire to shuck “the past, my poise, the background noise”, and it’s this insular approach – four musicians in a room, banging it out, fuck everyone else – which has certified the album as a true classic. It’s a genuine anomaly for a band’s ninth record to rate among their best work, but You Am I once again remind us just how vital their contribution to Australian music has been, still is, and will continue to be.
The cat’s out of the bag! Hints of Christianity were dotted throughout Townsville indie pop collective The Middle East’s past recorded material – their 2008 album The Recordings of The Middle East, and last year’s re-released EP of the same name – but never before has it been so overt. On ‘Jesus Came To My Birthday Party’, keyboardist Bree Tranter takes lead vocals for a tale concerning the Messiah’s birthday visit: “When I was seventeen/I thought it was a dream/It was a long time ago”. (“I haven’t seen him in a while”, she later admits, before spotting him in the eye of strangers while “down in the city” at night.)
A dirty guitar bookends the narrative, and is allowed an extended run midway through, but it sounds a little forced among the earnestly-strummed acoustic guitars and tambourine-assisted percussion.
For the full review, visit Mess+Noise, where you can also stream the track. For more of The Middle East, visit their website. The music video for their song ‘Blood‘ is embedded below.
Now three albums into a career, Melbourne-based trio My Disco have managed to cultivate huge respect among independent music communities both locally and internationally, for their take on droning, repetitive, abstract noise-rock. They’ve never been radio-friendly, and Little Joy does little to shrug the trend – the first single, ‘Young’, for example, is a near nine-minute-long epic.After a spate of EPs and vinyl splitsthroughout the mid ’00s, the band pared down their post-rock leanings and established a more minimal aesthetic on their 2006 debut LPCancer. 2008’s Paradise further pushed the hypnotic sonic template, and was recorded by the legendary Steve Albini in the US, a tack they’ve returned to with their most recent album, Little Joy.
This time however, My Disco made the perplexing decision to mix with Scott Horscroft, whose recent production credits include commercial fare such as Silverchair, The Panics and The Presets. TheVine broaches this subject with the band’s guitarist, Ben Andrews, but first we revisit My Disco’s last performance in Brisbane, at the Sounds Of Spring festival.
I remember, that was crazy. The weather was really weird.
It was sweet, because your music can be somewhat apocalyptic and it really did feel like world was ending at the time.
We really enjoyed that. We were in Sydney for a one-off show and then we had that show and kind of flew up…did the fly in on the day, checked into the hotel, played the show, ate some food, and flew out early in the morning. It was pretty funny.
You headlined that stage, yet I’m not sure if many people knew who you were.
Especially at that kind of festival. It was pretty random. There were so many bands. I think there were a bunch of stages and they had different names and stuff, and it was just a bit of weird a call for us to headline. Considering there were some bigger names and shit in the day. We were along for the ride, really.
During the conversation, Ben and I spoke about a photo shoot they did in the South Australian outback. I asked about it because I have a framed print from that session hanging on my bedroom wall. I ordered it directly from the photographer, Warwick Baker. It cost me, in Warwick’s words, “a copy of the best novel you have ever read, and a bottle of Johnny Walker”. A photo of the hung print is below.