All posts tagged singer

  • A Conversation with Maynard James Keenan of A Perfect Circle, March 2018

    An interview with singer and songwriter Maynard James Keenan conducted on 28 March 2018, ahead of the release of A Perfect Circle’s fourth album, Eat The Elephant.

    Excerpt of the story I wrote for The Australian:

    Open To Interpretation

    A Conversation with Maynard James Keenan of A Perfect Circle, by Andrew McMillen for The Australian newspaper, March 2018

    When the band emerged in 2000, American rock outfit A Perfect Circle was shrouded in intrigue, thanks in large part to a crafty marketing decision. Its debut music video was directed by David Fincher, then known for dark films such as Fight Club and Se7en. His treatment for the song ­Judith — a dynamic earworm that featured soaring slide guitar melodies and pointedly anti-religion lyrics — offered only fleeting glimpses of the band’s five musicians performing in an empty warehouse.

    In Maynard James Keenan [pictured above centre], the group ­possessed an uncommonly powerful singer who also fronted hard rock outfit Tool. With his new project, Keenan took to wearing long, braided wigs in promotional images and on stage, ­perhaps in part to differentiate his persona from the one he inhabited in Tool, where he tended to prefer a bald scalp and an occasional fondness for body paint.

    Judith was a deeply personal song for the singer, as it was named after his mother, who suffered a cerebral aneurysm in 1976 that left her paralysed and restricted to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Through it all, her faith in a higher power never wavered, which her son found confounding.

    “Fuck your God / Your Lord and your Christ,” Keenan sang. “He did this, took all you had and left you this way / Still you pray, you never stray, you never taste of the fruit / Never thought to question why.” Its chief vocal hook contained just six words dripping with irony: “He did it all for you.”

    It was an explosive introduction to the world and its message resonated. A Perfect Circle’s first album, Mer de Noms, achieved the highest debut position for a rock band on the US Billboard charts, where it sold 188,000 copies in its first week to reach No 4. The group released a second album of original music in 2003, then went on hiatus following an album of anti-war cover songs that was released on the same day as the US presidential election in 2004, when George W. Bush won a second term.

    To read the full story, visit The Australian.

    The full transcript of my interview with Maynard James Keenan appears below. I previously spoke with the singer in 2010 and in 2012.

    ++

    Publicist: I work with Maynard and A Perfect Circle. Before I put him on the line, I just wanted to make sure that they told you that he’s only talking about A Perfect Circle, not his other art. The other thing I should mention is: he doesn’t discuss specific lyrics. If you bring up specific lyrics, he’ll just tell you that it’s open to interpretation, but he discusses the bigger themes of the record.

    Andrew: Hi, Maynard. Where in the world are you at the moment?

    Maynard: I’m in Los Angeles at the moment.

    Are you in rehearsals? What are you doing over there?

    Just working, I’ve got a few things I gotta tidy up before we go on the road.

    Very good. Congratulations on the new album, I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time with it so far, and as someone who has listened to A Perfect Circle since the first album, it’s really pleasing to hear great new music from you guys again.

    Oh, thank you.

    I want to start by asking you about [band co-founder] Billy [Howerdel], a man with whom you’ve had a long and fruitful creative partnership. What do you love about working with Billy?

    He has a freshness. He’s not afraid to throw out ideas, and he’s not afraid to hear me criticise them, or praise them, or adjust them, or move with them. So it’s a great working relationship because there’s no… there’s not a lot of ego. There’s just a lot of work, there’s a lot of to and fro, and listening to each other.

    You have both watched each other evolve as artists, since Billy first showed you some of his songs many years ago, which formed the basis of A Perfect Circle. What have you noticed about how his approach to writing and arranging music has changed during that time?

    I feel like he’s less focused on sounds, ‘cause back in the day, new gear, new toys, new pedals… he seems like he’s a lot more focused on the melody in the song, and the core.

    I’ve read that Billy writes by himself to get a song “to a place where I’m not embarrassed by it anymore, then present it. And then usually Maynard writes to it.” What do you find appealing about this method of working?

    Well, provided he’s open to it shifting from there, it basically comes down to the core melody. Because he’s really good at that, coming up with the melodies, I tend to strip it down to that. [laughs] Poor guy. He puts all this work into all those layers of stuff, and I start muting things. But at the end of the day, he did it right to begin with, he just was second guessing, and adding things. But it’s better you have a guy who cares, than a guy who doesn’t, right?

    Definitely. This is your first album recorded with Jeff Friedl and Matt McJunkins in the band. What do they bring to the table that helped with writing and recording Eat The Elephant?

    I just like those guys. It’s a good working relationship with them. We’ve been touring with them, with Puscifer and with A Perfect Circle for years now. They’re just a good, solid rhythm section, live. Any ideas and adjustments you have for Jeff, he’s such a seasoned player, he understands and can execute, so it’s great.

    You’ve played with some fairly monstrous rhythm sections during your career. Where do you place Jeff and Matt, in that sense?

    Oh, I wouldn’t. I think they stand on their own, in their own way. I would never dare compare all those people. They all bring their different flavours to the table. It’s been an honour to work with all of ‘em.

    I read that you wrote three songs [from Eat The Elephant] around Christmas time, during a particularly productive 36 hours. I wondered: what are you like to be around when you’re in that kind of writing headspace?

    I’m not sure that that’s accurate, but we’ll go with it. In general when you’re writing, it comes in all flavours. You’re gonna have some things that come easy; there’s gonna be some things that take a little more effort, and more focus. It’s really inspiring when you have a moment where something comes together within 24 or 48 hours in a way that you don’t have to go back and meddle with. The trick is to have a few people around you that have a little bit more perspective. I think that’s the hard part: being able to walk away and trusting that it’s done. A painter who’s not willing to put the paintbrush down, that’s the hardest part of painting. Put the brush down; walk away.

    Well, that detail of the three songs, which were The Contrarian, Disillusioned and Eat the Elephant: I took that detail from a Kerrang article, I think, that said you wrote them all quite quickly. Did you want to clarify what the actual time period was?

    Um, you know, 36 hours is a rough guessestimate. It could have been 72; it could have been 12. But it was a short period of time, comparatively.

    That idea of knowing when to put down the paintbrush: do you think you’ve gotten better at knowing when a song is done, as you’ve written more songs?

    No, I think that’s always going to be a struggle, knowing when to stop. I would imagine that you get better at it, but I still feel like it’s a hard thing to do. One of the hardest things to do.

    Has writing lyrics always been a purely solitary activity for you?

    Not necessarily. I think to really hone it in, you definitely need a quiet space to do that. I’m sure when you’re writing an article, you don’t like to do it in the middle of a busy room. You definitely need to go in an office, or your room, or somewhere there’s no distractions. It’s no different. Having a little bit of focus always helps to get those things to go forward.

    Do you find that lyrical ideas ever come to you prior to hearing any music, or do you strictly let the music itself inform the subject matter?

    The melodies and the rhythms inform the syllables, the cadence. So the song itself, the core element of the song is going to dictate where the melody goes. And then I try to figure out what that melody suggests. And then find a keyword, and build on it.

    In that sense, how important are song titles to you? Do they come early or late in the process, generally?

    Both, as in a song could have the song title first; that dictates most of where things go, or a particular word doesn’t really fit in the song, but it is the core of the song, so it has to become the title, otherwise there’s no place to put it. And without it, you might be lost.

    This album has what I think must be the longest song title… or maybe not.

    Oh, there’s longer.

    I’m thinking of the Fish title. [So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish]… although you’ve got the Counting Bodies Like Sheep… title as well. Was that an easy decision to make, to name a song such a lengthy phrase?

    Yeah, I mean, there was definitely a specific reason, but I think it’s kind of contained within. Always breadcrumbs, right?

    When writing lyrics, are you open to spontaneity and unexpected inspiration, or do you have a one-track mind once you decide what a song means to you?

    All of those things. If you have a one-track mind, and it’s not working, you better change that, or it’s not gonna work out. But if you have an idea and you want to try to fight through it, because you feel like it’s worthy of fighting through, take it as far as you can. If you can’t, then: abandon ship.

    I believe you’re fond of driving while listening to instrumental mixes, then pulling over to write lyrics as the ideas come to you. Is that correct?

    Depending on the situation, yeah, I’ve been known to take long drives, or just sit in the car, or just sit with the headphones on in the cellar. I put music on while I’m working on the barrels. Usually it’s just those unconscious moments help, where it’s just on; you’re not thinking about it.

    How long has that approach of driving while listening to mixes been a part of your writing process?

    Forever. The drive can be metaphorical; it might just be a long walk, on a plane. Those quiet moments.

    How conscious are you of the audience in those moments, when you’re writing by yourself somewhere? Do you ever give a thought to what will sound cool when thousands of people sing along to your lyrics at a concert?

    Never. No. The song comes first; you just have to worry about the structure and rhythms of the song, and if it’s translating. Then it’s up to somebody else as to whether they feel that I’m successful in it, after the fact. If I feel like I’ve completed the mission and gotten the point across, then I’m happy. But it’s never about what jumpsuit I’m gonna wear for what song. No, never.

    Fair enough. Do you recall which song from the new album you found it hardest to write to?

    There’s always one, right? Just the simple math, there’s gonna be one that’s harder than the rest. But I can’t off the top of my head think of which one that would be. Not at the moment, yeah. I’m drawing a blank.

    Well, to put it another way, then. Do you recall which song went through the most revisions from the time that Billy initially sent the musical idea to you?

    Oh, jeez. All of them. Yeah, they all evolve so much. Then we go down blind alleys, turn around and come back. Yeah, I don’t know. They all go through so many changes, and those changes can be quick, it might be like we mentioned; it could be that the music went through a million changes and all of a sudden, the lyrics came almost overnight, once it was settled.

    You’re unique as a lyricist in that sense that you juggle writing for three different, popular bands. Do you have any personal rules or criteria that you use to determine whether a thought or idea would be best expressed through each of these outlets, and not the others?

    No, never. It’s all about the music. It’s all about conversations. The way you speak to your mother is far different than the way you speak to your college roommate, or a bartender, or the mailman. You just honour those conversations that are in front of you; those subject matters, that music, it’ll all take that direction.

    Have you ever found a situation where a lyrical idea initially felt at home with one of those projects, but ended up being published in another context?

    Not usually, no.

    Thinking of the new album again, is there a song where you’re particularly proud of your vocal performance?

    I don’t know about ‘proud’. You know, pride comes before the fall. Am I happy with what we achieved? Yeah, I think we hit the mark on some of the intended approaches. I think the things that I’ve learned in every project have preceded the next. Every album, every EP, you just learn as you’re going. You learn different approaches, and I think it kind of keeps you fresh. If you just assume you’re starting over, and yet you’re still drawing on some experience.

    What about The Contrarian? That one stands out to me, because you’re reaching for some tones and hitting notes I’ve never heard you sing before.

    Guess you haven’t heard Puscifer, then.

    No, I certainly have.

    A bunch of that stuff you might think is Carina, that’s actually me.

    Oh, shit. Okay. I might have to go back and re-listen, then.

    Ah huh.

    Thank you for that. I’m particularly fond of your vocals on Delicious. That one seems like it’ll be pretty fun to perform live, right?

    Yeah, I think there’s a lot of those are gonna lend themselves to live performance. I think a lot of ‘em are going to be more difficult to pull off, but I think the ones that are most difficult to pull off live are probably going to be the most compelling, I would think. Just because if you can pull it off in a live setting, and it resonates in a way that you’re not used to hearing in a live setting, that can be more powerful than an obvious rocker.

    Your voice is heavily treated with effects in Hourglass, which I can’t recall happening on too many other songs with A Perfect Circle – correct me if I’m wrong. What inspired this decision, to warp your voice like that?

    That’s what the song called for. Again, you just have to be open to what you’re hearing, and make sure you’re honouring it, in a way, right?

    I read an interview with Billy from 2013 where he said that he considers By And Down The River to be one of his top three or top five A Perfect Circle songs. Would you agree with that?

    [laughs] I don’t know. Yeah, if that’s how he feels about it. A lot of times, that’s just because it’s a new thing you’ve done, and you’re excited about it, so it feels like the best thing you’ve done. But I think they all have their merits. Again, what were the goals? What ideas were you trying to express? I always kind of look it that way: what was the puzzle? Did I achieve my goal for this particular puzzle? If the answer’s ‘yes’, then it’s as important as any other puzzle I’ve solved, or supposedly solved.

    Have you always thought about your work in that sense of puzzles, or is that a new idea?

    No, it’s always been puzzles. It’s always been, there’s a melody, and there’s an idea, and I gotta figure out how to match up a conversation to yourself, to somebody else, to a group of people and match it up to that energy. How do you do that? What words do you use? What words don’t you use? How do you accurately tell that story, so that it maps out an emotional path for you, that you can retrace. All those puzzles are important to pay attention to.

    Well then, looking back at A Perfect Circle’s catalogue, what do you think the first album represents, in terms of puzzle?

    Oh, I would never, I would never, I would never discuss that. That’s up to you. For me, that’s a personal puzzle. I’ve solved it. Your experiences with it, that might be a completely different experience. I would never, never want to rob you of that experience, whatever it is that you’re having. To map it out too much… I feel like nowadays, with the big blockbuster movies, the whole movie’s in the trailer, and you just go for the popcorn, I guess. I don’t know. But I would never, I would never want to take that away from you. I don’t like previews.

    Me either. Especially with something I’m going to see, like the new Star Wars. Why the fuck do I need to see a trailer? I’m going to be there. Don’t spoil anything for me.

    Yeah, I mean that was the beauty of seeing [the film] Three Billboards [Outside Ebbing, Missouri]. I didn’t know anything about it. I walked into the theatre, I saw the names Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, and I just dove in. I didn’t care; I just wanted to see what those artists and those masters were going to do. And I had no idea what I was walking into. It blew me away.

    I’m very mindful of what you said about not wanting to unpack the puzzle, as it were, and that was an impertinent question. Apologies for trying to…

    Oh, you’re fine. I get it.

    I wasn’t trying to get you to answer any long-standing riddles, or any shit like that.

    Oh, no no. But those things come up, and depending on how you ask them, I can derail it. It’s fine. [laughs]

    Yes, you’re a professional in that sense.

    [laughs]

    I was thinking of Thirteenth Step in particular, because that one had a thematic thread in that twelve songs, twelve steps, and all that kind of thing. Maybe that puzzle was more easily accessible to the average listener than the others.

    I think there were puzzles on it that weren’t understood. I think if you look at that album in general, it’s almost like when you look at a cast of characters. Everybody has their role, everybody has their lines and their personality, and you wouldn’t have a decent movie with an arc, or some conflict and resolution, without some contrary steps, and contrary people opposing each other, or not understanding each other. And I think Thirteenth Step, a lot of the songs are sung from and written from various perspectives. They’re people who don’t understand each other. They’re not all from one perspective, and they’re not necessarily… when they seem to be pointing the finger, it might be a song about a person who points fingers, and who’s doing it without compassion.

    So a lot of my stuff is that. It’s not necessarily sung from the perspective of me preaching this position. It might be me taking the role of a person who doesn’t understand, in order to bring you a full, balanced cast.

    I guess that’s something that’s often overlooked and mistaken by casual listeners, who tend to assume that songwriters are always from their own perspective. That must be a bit frustrating to be misinterpreted in that sense.

    I mean, it’s only frustrating if you explain it, and they just look at you like you’ve just tried to sell ‘em a fart. That’s the only… if they don’t get it, if they’re just too dumb to get it, that’s rare. There are some dummies in the universe. We elected one. Oh shit, did I go there? But generally speaking, people get it. Once you explain it, they go ‘Okay, I see’. So I’m rarely frustrated in that way. It takes explaining, I guess, but I don’t like to explain too much of that, ‘cause again, I don’t want to rob the experience.

    I suppose that probably comes out of your own being a fan of music. You probably didn’t expect David Bowie and Joni Mitchell to explain their art. You just took from it…

    Never, no. I would imagine half the stuff that… when Joni starts talking about music, my eyes glass over, ‘cause she’s an incredibly intelligent crazy person. So you want to avoid having her explain the songs, ’cause they’re beautiful just like they are. There are definitely some deeper nuances to them, but I don’t need to know the math.

    Well, sticking with that idea of Billy’s top three songs, would you be so bold as to suggest any of your particular favourites? Or you don’t think in those terms, when it comes to A Perfect Circle.

    Yeah, I couldn’t really comment. Again, they were all a particular puzzle, and maybe there have been some in hindsight that I thought that I’d solved, in a way, but didn’t. I think there’s some that I think are beautiful, in that I can’t do them anymore. They were written for a person with a 27 year-old throat, not a person with a 53 year-old throat. So some of those songs are, in a way, they’re kind of a time machine song. I think it’s important for an artist to evolve and grow, especially because your body changes. Not just your perspective, your experiences, but I think it’s important to pay attention to that. The idea of hopping around on stage like you’re 22, at the age of 53, is kind of… pathetic? I don’t know.

    Well, you’ll be going on tour in a few weeks. Sticking with that idea of the throat, how has your approach to live performance changed as you’ve gotten older?

    Oh, you understand that you have a perishable instrument. So you have to pay attention to it, and respect it. I think had I respected it a few years earlier, there might be some flexibility in it, that I used to have. But singing incorrectly, incorrect diet, shitty sleep, not enough water, all those things you just take for granted as a kid, you know? But that’s the nature of youth, isn’t it? Frivolous.

    Well, maybe with that idea of songs you can’t perform anymore: I note that Judith has been absent from the setlist for quite a few years. Is that because the band is uninterested in playing it, or because it’s hard to sing?

    My mom asked me not to.

    Fair enough. I mean, you can’t possibly give a better answer than that, so thanks very much.

    Yeah. Mom knows best.

    I went back and watched the video for Judith, which I think remains one of the strongest debut music videos I’ve ever seen. And in that clip, the faces of the band members were only show in fleeting glimpses, and it’s interesting to compare it to the recent video for The Doomed, which consists of nothing but shots of your five faces. Was this a conscious decision by you and the band, to draw a parallel between those two videos? Or am I reading into it too much?

    Oh, you’re probably reading into it, but again, I don’t want to rob you of that experience. If that’s how you feel, that that’s the approach, I’d love to take for credit for something like that. I’m cool with it. [laughs]

    You’re clearly fond of both making music and making wine. Do they both give you a similar sense of pleasure and satisfaction, or do you think of them rather differently?

    I think there’s quite a bit of grounding that comes with both. I think there’s a little more… there’s a little bit of humility moreso in wine making, because Mother Nature doesn’t really give a fuck about your plans. So you’re definitely having to adjust and readjust when it comes to the wine making. I think there’s more similarities for me than there are differences, just because of my approach to taking what’s there in front of you and working with it, and working around it; working with it, massaging it, highlighting what’s there, rather than trying to force your will.

    Finally, Maynard, thinking about your broader career: is there anything strange or unexpected that has come out of dedicating your life to music?

    I think that’s just not the way I’m wired. I guess the fan thing is always odd to me. I’m just trying to find my way, and for you to elevate somebody who’s not necessarily social; not necessarily figured it out – that seems odd to me. My father and my mother both taught me some level of humility. I think it’s important, but I do also acknowledge that there’s an embrace… We’re a society that embraces spectacle, in a way. We just don’t know any better, and we elevate people beyond their human limitations, and expect more of them than they can actually deliver. And if they are truly broken, they gobble it up, and act holier, I guess.

    I don’t think of myself like that. I’m often disappointed when people do that, and then they read the disappointment as being holier-than; no, that’s not what I’m saying [laughs] I don’t understand why you would need an autograph, or a photograph, or any of those things. If you want it from me, walk across the hall or across restaurant, across the wherever to a complete stranger and ask them for an autograph, and a photograph, to see how they react to that request. Their reaction is probably my reaction: like, why? That’s weird. Who are you? What do you want?

    Well, it was a pleasure to speak with you. Best of luck with the tour, and have a great year.

    Thank you, sir.

    ++

    Further reading: my first interview with Maynard, in late 2010 ahead of Tool headlining the 2011 Big Day Out.

    Further reading: my second interview with Maynard, in late 2012 ahead of Puscifer’s 2013 Australian tour.

  • The Vine interview: The Butterfly Effect, April 2012

    An interview with all four members of The Butterfly Effect for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    The Butterfly Effect: “I felt that I’d lost everybody’s faith and trust.”
    by Andrew McMillen

    I arrive at The Butterfly Effect’s rehearsal space in an inner north suburb of Brisbane on the afternoon of Wednesday, 8 February 2012. After pushing open a door bearing the band’s name in bold type, I find all four members in band position, almost as if they’re ready to begin playing. Ben Hall is sitting behind his drum kit, Kurt Goedhart is sitting before a wall of amps and noodling on his guitar, Glenn Esmond is cradling his bass and leaning over his pedalboard, and singer Clint Boge sits at a desk behind a computer and a set of speakers. They’re not rehearsing at the moment, though: instead, these four men are working on a first draft of the setlist for their final tour together. Two days earlier, the Brisbane-based hard rock act announced that Boge will be leaving the band after the tour culminates in early June. The other three members will keep the name, audition to find a new singer, and press on.

    Though the announcement was a shock to the band’s significant national fanbase, it’s less surprising when you consider their last few years of activity – or lack thereof, perhaps. Their last album was released in 2008, the sprawling, ambitious Final Conversation Of Kings, which saw the band reaching toward a more epic, prog-rock sound than what we heard on their 2003 debut Begins Here or its superb follow-up, 2006’s Imago. Though the quartet had toured occasionally throughout the last few years – including a short run of dates celebrating their 10th year together, in October 2011 – they had also been trying to produce a fourth album. They still haven’t gotten very far, apparently.

    Clint disconnects the speakers on his desk and distributes the milk crates that supported them. Kurt stays more or less in the same spot he was sat when I first entered the room; he continues to hold his guitar, and absent-mindedly plays a few notes occasionally, while the other three position themselves around the desk and do the majority of the talking. It’s clear that Clint and Ben are most interested in having their say, though Glenn does interject with a few nuggets of wisdom throughout our 45 minute conversation. Immediately before the interview begins, there’s an air of friendliness which morphs into tension remarkably quickly, as I start with the most important question: why is Clint leaving, after over 10 years fronting one of Australia’s most successful hard rock bands?

    TheVine: How long have you all known about Clint’s decision?

    Ben: It’s been a few months.

    Clint: September [2011]. It was mid-September when I came in and said I didn’t feel like going on anymore; continuing on. It took a little while to cement in, I suppose.

    How did the rest of the band react?

    Ben: I think it’d been coming. Everyone knew that there was something that was simmering. Not simmering, but… we’d obviously been trying to make a record for three years, and I just don’t think we were getting very far. I don’t think we were all happy with the way it was going. There was many tense moments, lots of points over those three years where we sat down and tried to realign, and I think it just came to a head on that day. We all agreed that we weren’t in the same direction, so maybe we shouldn’t waste any more time doing that. It was not a decision that was made…

    Clint: It wasn’t made lightly. It was something I’d thought about quite a lot leading up to that day. I think it came from… there were a couple of suggestions made to me about who I should work with, and who I should be trying to extract the best melodies with, and not really getting the songs, or delivering them in the right way. That was the last straw for me. I thought, ‘If I’ve lost the faith from my bandmates to produce what I think are the best melodies…’ and to have that trust taken away, then I couldn’t go on working like that. Not only that, but I don’t want to be the weak link in a band. I don’t want to be the guy that’s not pulling his weight. That was another reason, too. I thought, ‘If that was the case, I’ve got to go.’

    Not only that, man, but I think musically-wise I was looking for something different that I wasn’t quite hearing in the songs. I [think that some] of the ideas that I [was trying to communicate] weren’t being actioned. They weren’t being done, so I felt lost in that department, as well. It’s probably been happening for some time. I really felt some pressure, to not make the same mistakes that I feel we made on Final Conversation. Wanting to step up and go beyond was the focus.

    In terms of the band’s style, you mean?

    Clint: Yeah, yeah, and especially my vocal delivery, and what I heard in the songs and what I could hear being the final product. That was all taken into consideration, and the decision was made based on all of those points.

    Where were you on that day? Did you meet here [at the rehearsal room], and discuss it?

    Clint: Yeah, it was just another practice day, pretty much. I sat in my car for about 20 minutes, pretty nervous, thinking, “This is a big decision to make.” And not only that, to come in and do it cold. I pretty much walked in, grabbed my mic, put it in my pocket… because I thought, “I’m taking my bloody microphone!”

    [Ben begins laughing, and says, “Far out!” Glenn laughs and says, “I’m taking my bat and ball, and going home!”]

    Clint: [laughs] It was a bit symbolic, but nah, I actually needed it to do something with it. I was going to do some singing at home, and it’s a better microphone than I’ve got at home. I said to the guys, in light of the email that was sent and the two band meetings that happened previously in the year, I felt that I’d lost everybody’s faith and trust, so I removed myself from the band. Everyone took it pretty well. I thought so. There was no, “Fuck you, and up yours Jack” and whatever. “Get the fuck out of here or I’ll bash you,” or any of that sort of bullshit.

    Ben: Would’ve made for more of an exciting story, but. We can organise it?

    Clint: And also, Benny sent me a text message afterwards and just said, “Look man, you know we don’t want to go out like that.” Which I said to the guys, “I don’t want to go out arguing and screaming, and calling each other names”.

    Ben: We’ve done plenty of that over the years. There’s been of that sort of shit going on. It’s not just Kurt and me; it’s Clint and Kurt, or me and Glenn. We’ve had plenty of years worth of fights and all that sort of that shit. The second that Clint walked in, when that was the outcome, I think we all felt that this time, more than any before, that it was probably the right decision. It was probably something that had been coming for a fair while. As much as you don’t want to let it go, you fear having nothing. This band’s everything to all of us. It has been. But you go, ‘Cool, let’s reflect and look at what we’ve done.’

    Clint: And celebrate it.

    Ben: Immediately, I started to feel a better sense of achievement than I had the whole time I’ve been in the band. We’ve done a lot of stuff together, and we’ve achieved a lot, and it’ll be great to hold this together in light of what we’ve done, and do this tour that’s coming up. Already today, we’re talking about the setlist, piecing it together, and getting excited about it. Which is awesome. It could be a terrible break-up, but everyone’s been adult-like.

    Clint: I think that’s the surreal thing for me — when we did that tour in October. That week or two for the [band’s] ten year anniversary. We all came in, the pressure was off of writing an album, and it felt good to hang out. I really enjoyed that tour. [He looks around the room and is met with nods.] I thought everyone got along really well. There was a good sense of camaraderie. There was no hint of any malice towards each other. It was really… and it was odd, because I was expecting being at the airport and being sat in a different section of the plane. Sort of feeling this – ‘Oh shit, I’m the odd guy out’, and having the crew shun me and go, ‘You bastard, you’ve effectively taken one of our meal tickets off the table’ sort of thing. But no, it was good. Everyone was really good. And now it’s — do the last tour, really celebrate and enjoy a long time in the music industry, and some great achievements, and off we go. And then it’s a new singer for The Butterfly Effect, and a solo album for me, and rock’ n roller.

    For the full interview, visit The Vine.

    Note: Quotes from this interview originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of Rolling Stone Australia

  • Rolling Stone story: ‘The Butterfly Effect splinter’, April 2012

    A story which appeared in the April 2012 issue of Rolling Stone Australia. Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

    The Butterfly Effect splinter
    Brisbane rockers part ways with singer after 10 years together

    In mid-September 2011, Clint Boge drove to The Butterfly Effect’s rehearsal space in an inner north suburb of Brisbane. It was just like any other practice day for the hard rock act, who had released three albums since their debut EP in 2001. Boge switched off the engine and sat alone in nervous silence for 20 minutes, thinking about the bombshell he was about to drop on his three bandmates: he was quitting.

    Boge recounts the tale in blunt terms. “I felt that I’d lost everybody’s faith and trust, so I removed myself from the band. Everyone took it pretty well, I thought,” he says. “There was no, ‘Fuck you, and up yours Jack,’; no ‘Get the fuck out of here or I’ll bash you,’ or any of that sort of bullshit.”

    Rolling Stone arrives at the same rehearsal space on February 8, two days after Boge’s announcement was made public. The band are putting together the first draft of a setlist for the 20-odd tour dates that will run through late April until early June.

    The ‘Effected’ tour and the best-of compilation released simultaneously will allow fans to farewell Boge, and mark the end of an era for one of this country’s most successful hard rock acts.

    Boge’s bandmates weren’t entirely blindsided by his decision. “It’d been coming,” says drummer Ben Hall. “We’d obviously been trying to make a record for three years, and we weren’t getting very far. There was many tense moments; lots of points where we sat down and tried to realign. It just came to a head on that day. We all agreed that we weren’t [heading] in the same direction, so maybe we shouldn’t waste any more time doing that.”

    It wasn’t a decision that Boge made lightly. “I’d thought about it quite a lot leading up to that day,” he says. “There were a couple of suggestions made to me about who I should work with, who I should be trying to extract the best melodies with; and [that I wasn’t] really getting the songs, or delivering them in the right way. I couldn’t go on working like that.”

    The Butterfly Effect was formed in 1999 by Hall and guitarist Kurt Goedhart while the pair were in high school. Boge saw one of their first gigs, at the Ipswich Racecourse – with a different vocalist – then rode home with Hall and showed the drummer lyric ideas that would form the basis for their debut EP. Bassist Glenn Esmond joined the group in 2002.

    “It’s definitely going to be sad. I’m not going to bullshit to you,” Boge says of the forthcoming tour. “I have moments where I just think, ‘Fuck – it sucks that it’s gotta go like this.’ But the thing is, I’d rather walk now than have these guys looking at me in a year’s time, saying, ‘Fuck you, I hate you, get out of my face.’”

    After the ‘Effected’ tour, Boge plans to record and release a solo album, continue working with his other hard rock act, Thousand Needles In Red, and devote more time to his vocal coaching clinic, Road Coach. His three former bandmates will audition for a new singer – they won’t reveal who’s on their shortlist – and work toward the release of their elusive fourth album.

    “We’ve been extremely blessed to be able to do this for as long as we have,” says Esmond. “I really do appreciate all the stuff we’ve had done far. I just feel stoked to have been able to do it. Whatever happens from here – I’m content that I satisfied all my dreams [doing] this.”

    “I’m sure we’ve all still got more to achieve,” adds Hall. “We’ve lost a limb, but hopefully we’ll find another one, and power on. We’ve got plenty of songs, so we’ve just got to find the right person. They’re some big shoes for someone to fill.”

    Further reading: The full transcript of my interview with the band was published on The Vine in April 2012.

  • Mess+Noise ‘Storytellers’ interview: Gotye – ‘Hearts A Mess’, February 2012

    An interview for Mess+Noise. Excerpt below.

    Storytellers: Gotye – ‘Hearts A Mess’

    ANDREW MCMILLEN revisits our occasional “Storytellers” series, whose premise is simple: one song by one artist, discussed at length. This week it’s Gotye, the Lana Del Rey of M+N, but not for the song you might expect.

    It feels a little strange to revisit what was once Gotye’s biggest hit in light of the monster that is ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’, the Melbourne-based songwriter’s 2011 collaboration with Kimbra which topped the Hottest 100 and has since clocked up more than 63-million views on YouTube since being posted last July.

    Yet without that track’s runaway success, Wally de Backer might not have felt as comfortable in discussing ‘Hearts A Mess’, the third track from his 2006 album Like Drawing Blood.

    When I first approached de Backer via email in May 2010 to raise the possibility of a Storytellers feature about this song, he declined, stating that, “I’ve talked about that song a lot, and I’m working on new stuff, trying not to look back at the moment.” I picked up the thread again in September 2011 and found him in a place where he seems more than happy to look back.

    Between overseas trips and a 10-date Australian tour, we spoke at length over the phone about the track that charted at #77 on triple j’s Hottest 100 Of All Time countdown in 2009.

    Gotye on ‘Hearts A Mess’

    ‘Hearts A Mess’, with apostrophe, not without, correct?
    [Laughs] To be honest, I think the lack of an apostrophe was just an oversight. Which, for me – someone who’s fairly fastidious with grammar – it’s quite hilarious. It was an oversight at first, then I just decided to leave it.

    Does that mean your high school English teachers are cursing your name for making such a simple mistake?
    [Laughs] It’s funny. I’m actually in touch with my Year 9 high school English teacher reasonably regularly. He sends me [album] covers to sign for his friends in random places like Scotland and South Africa. He’s never mentioned that before. [Laughs]

    Do you feel like you’re in a good place to reflect on this song now, after it’s been superseded by a bigger hit?
    I guess so, yeah. I guess the songs are kind of related; the place in the track list on the respective records, the kind of emotional terrain, my own possible scruples while putting together this record [Like Drawing Blood], wondering whether the song ‘Hearts A Mess’ was the high watermark of what I want to achieve with my music – at least in terms of the response from people, the connection with it. So that’s been interesting to see [‘Somebody’] take off and eclipse it, from one perspective.

    I believe ‘Hearts A Mess’ was two years in the making. Is that correct?
    Yeah. It’s like a macro example of my whole process. It spanned the whole making of the last record.

    Where do you start, with a song like that? The final product is so smooth and seemingly effortless, but I know there are so many layers going on underneath.
    Well, quite specifically, I started with laboriously editing multiple snippets of Harry Belafonte’s ‘Banana Boat’ song [embedded below] into a coherent, one-bar loop of music. That was an interesting process in itself. I’ve never edited bits out of a track so extensively, to then reconstitute them into such a small amount of music; that one bar. For whatever reason, when I heard the possibility of chopping around Belafonte’s vocals to get into the backing track of that recording, and turn that into a loop to underpin a possible track … I don’t know. Right from the start, that loping groove had something for me that felt – how can I describe it? Like it had something special about it. I felt the desire to keep that specialness right to whatever the end product, whatever the song would become. That pulled me forward through the pretty extreme length of finishing the song.

    It’s almost like I committed myself; in that regard, I feel like ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ is quite similar, to a lesser extent, because the little two-note guitar lines from the Brazilian guitarist Luiz Bonfá that I sampled [in ‘Somebody’] also started that song off. It didn’t necessarily have as much of a hypnotic pull for me as that bar loop that underpins ‘Hearts A Mess’. It still felt the same thing. I was like, “This has an aura about it that I can’t quite describe, and I just need to not fuck that up. And anything I add feels like it has to enhance that and feel like it stays with that initial aura that I sense, whatever it is”. In both instances, that would lead me through to the final song.

    How much live instrumentation was recorded?
    For ‘Hearts A Mess’? None. Oh, not true. The shakers are played by me. [Laughs]

    At what point did you begin introducing lyrics to the equation?
    I can’t remember whether it was before or after I had some of the “hook” figure, like the Hammond line that’s in there. I think it might have been before. I basically had that kind of loop from the ‘Banana Boat’ song, and I had some textural things like the lofty string bits that provided a sense of the chord progression over that loop. Then I started bits of the verse, and found bits of strings that would give some of the descending chord progression the turnarounds throughout the song … There’s an interim bit in the song with the lyric, “Love ain’t fair/So there you are/My love.” I had that penned as an anti-chorus for the song. The chorus was written quite late, and I had it penned as a textural piece that just had these little drops, that functioned as anti-choruses for probably the good first six months to a year of it sitting around, as a piece.

    In the second verse there’s a bit of call-and-response going on between your vocals. What was the intention there? Was that the narrator arguing with himself?
    Yeah, as it usually is. Possibly even more so on tracks from the new record [Making Mirrors]. There’s kind of multi-voice conversations happening in a few songs, which I think usually represents the various internal dialogues that sometimes can go on in my head, or the discussions that you sometimes have with yourself: second-guessing yourself, playing devil’s advocate.

    For the full interview, visit Mess+Noise.

  • The Vine story: The Flaming Lips ‘Zaireeka’ iPhone experiment at 4ZZZ Brisbane, November 2011

    A live review-of-sorts for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    The Flaming Lips – Zaireeka iPhone Experiment
    4ZZZ Studios, Brisbane
    Sunday November 20 2011

    “There’s a lot of things where, when you think about them, you think they could work. But it’s different when you do them.” Wayne Coyne, singer and songwriter of The Flaming Lips, is sitting before a microphone at Brisbane community radio station 4ZZZ. It’s 12.50am. Four hours earlier, Coyne and his band headlined the Windmill Stage at Harvest Festival. Now, at Triple Zed, he’s here to lead something that’s never been done before: an attempt to simultaneously play all four albums of the Lips’ 1997 album, Zaireeka, live on the radio, in sync, via 160 iPhones split into four groups of 40 fans.

    “It’s tough to get this many people together, and to be doing it live on the air, and not knowing whether it’s going to work,” Coyne says. “But you seem to be open to the idea of experimentation, and I think your audience will be forgiving enough if it’s not perfect. Everybody out here is having a good time, so that seems to count for something.” He’s right. The station’s three floors and car park are buzzing with the excitement of iPhone-wielding fans, harried-looking Zed staff, and plenty of hangers-on who’ve snuck in via the back entrance just to be a part of it all. Judging by the sunburns, most spent their day at Harvest. Many are in altered states.

    The singer is being interviewed on air by Zed presenter Brad Armstrong, who began petitioning his ‘Bring The Lips to Zed’ campaign in late August. Armstrong eventually got through to Coyne’s camp, and the two have been in touch for weeks leading up to his arrival tonight. “In the end, you and me were texting back and forth,” Coyne says to the 23 year-old presenter. “There was a couple of times you were calling, and we were just getting ready to walk on stage. I was like, ‘Hey Brad, I can’t talk to you…’” The pair laugh. Armstrong is nervous; his mind repeatedly blanks during the interview. “But persistence is a good quality, for sure,” the singer smiles. “You seemed like you were interesting to work with. Now I’m at the mercy of your organisational skills.”

    Though Armstrong is clearly enjoying himself in the booth, he’s shot himself in the foot somewhat. He’s the default mastermind of this whole operation. While he eats up airtime, a handful of Zed staff flit between the groups, trying to make sense of it all. Guest ‘conductors’ include Richard Pike from PVT, a dude from The Holidays, and local punk duo DZ Deathrays. None of them have any idea what they’re doing. Someone forgot the seemingly obvious step of supplying radios for the four groups; these are eventually put in place, while Armstrong attempts to lead a test run. In the preceding week, the 160 iPhone holders were instructed to download the Atomic Clock app and transfer one of Zaireeka’s four discs to their phone, plus a test track. Eventually Armstrong communicates that everyone should set the test track as an alarm for 1.32am, and then hold up their phones so that microphones can pick up the sound. Zed staff then run throughout the building, yelling out the same message. Watching all of this unfold is exhausting.

    For the full story, visit The Vine, where you’ll also find a gallery of photos taken by Justin Edwards, including the image used above.

  • A Conversation With Dave Graney, Australian musician, performer, and author of ‘1001 Australian Nights’, 2011

    I recently profiled Australian musician, performer and author Dave Graney [pictured right] for The Courier-Mail. His first book, 1001 Australian Nights, was released via Affirm Press in April 2011. You can read my 1,000 word profile of Graney here.

    Or if you’d prefer to cast your eyes across the text of our full, 40 minute-long conversation, you may do so by reading the following words. This conversation took place on 11 March, 2011.

    ++

    We’re here to talk about the book. I really enjoyed reading it, Dave.

    Thank you.

    The thing that probably most intrigued me was how you’ve always positioned yourself as the outcast; the underdog. Is that a fair observation?

    I’ve been thinking that. I’ve surprised myself. It’s juvenile. I must change that.

    Why is it juvenile?

    I don’t know whether it’s juvenile or not, but it’s been my kind of reality, coming from a regional area. Often people in music I find have come from out-of-central things; say, in English music, there’s very few acts from London. Say The Rolling Stones in the 60s, they’re often from outer places; say, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield. From other places that have informed their perspective, because they’re outside of the biggest city and they’re also in a place that informs their own perspective. David Bowie’s urban; kind of London. I guess that was the reality for me coming from regional South Australia. And I never got over it. [laughs] You can’t fight City Hall.

    Not too many artists come from Mount Gambier, do they?

    Robert Helpmann… Max Harris, the poet, had something to do with it. Maybe he drove past one day.

    So, you’re following in the footsteps of a long line of Mount Gambier artists?

    Freaks. [laughs]

    At what point did you begin writing this memoir, Dave? Because your observations and memories from your earlier life seem quite well-formed, like you wrote them down almost at the time or soon after.

    No, I’ve got a shocking memory, and I always run into people and they think I’m quite rude because they say “You don’t remember me do you?” And I don’t, and I wish I did have a bit of memory, but I’m told in later life that comes back to you in a terrible way; you can’t remember what you did five minutes ago, but memories of childhood are very vivid. I started to write it down in a book when I was in Brisbane, doing a gig at the Old Museum in late 2009, or something.

    Some people have that feeling you have to get out of your normal routine of something to provoke good writing. I tried that. The book’s kind of in two parts; you’re talking about this kind of reflection on my earlier life [in the first part], and then the second part, “There’ll be no coming home,” has a more recent focus. It’s kind of “what I thought I was doing, and what I think I’m doing” type of aspect. I started to write it long hand in a book that I got from my parents’ home; a big old 1950s-like ledger. It sounds very prosaic, but it’s like a dramatic kind of book to be scratching in. I started doing it in that, because I spoke to Mick Molloy, the comic, and he said he never writes anything on a computer. He said “everything looks good, and then you go and edit it”. He always writes on a notebook.

    Was there a benefit to doing that for you?

    I think you kind of think things out a bit more, and then of course you have to type it in eventually, and do the editing like that, but initially you’re thinking probably in a different way in the old-school, the way people have written things for centuries.

    Going back to what you said about having a bad memory, does that mean that the first half of the book is made-up?

    [laughs] That’s very evil of you Andrew, twisting my words. No, I focused on that trip I took when I finished school and worked in a factory and then drove up eastern Australia, because that sort of thing was a very intense, solitary experience and that’s always been with me. But at other times when I’ve been in the social world, I’ve maybe been a bit less.. they’re the sort of things I’ve found hard to remember. Sort of intense experiences I guess, and in the first band I was in [The Moodists], I guess a lot of that part of the book is how I couldn’t engage with the world, like many people.

    Many of the things I’m writing about, I’m conscious and was conscious that they’re not particularly special. They’re common things, and so I tried to write it in a mythological, mythic kind of way, especially my first band. I’m not trying to be, and I hope I’m not being rude to anybody. I’m just… it was an intense, interior experience, and dealing with forces that are kind of uncontrollable, as you are when you’re a teenager, or in your twenties. You can’t articulate things, but you’re doing things in the heat of action. That’s the way I wrote, in that style.

    I remember those things and that’s what I was writing about, mythic things in my life that my life has turned around. And also, I’m not really a huge household name, so I don’t think the book I wanted to write is really a linear kind of – “I did this, I did that, I got drunk with this very impressive person. I thought this, I thought that”. I wanted to write it in a different way.

    Had you found that approach when you were reading other music biographies, and therefore you wanted to avoid that sort of thing?

    Well, I love to read books written by musician. Wreckless Eric, a British musician wrote a really great one. His name is Eric Goulden. Zodiac Mindwarp has written a couple of great ones. His book I liked is called Fucked By Rock. He’s a great writer. One by a guy called Mezz Mezzrow,  who is a white jazz guy who was a dope dealer for Louis Armstrong. He wrote a really great book called Really The Blues. Charles Mingus’ Beneath The Underdog I really love and Miles Davis of course, with Miles.

    I love the autobiographies and I’ve read some books by writers but often they don’t have empathy for the players, and especially nowadays because in every aspect of culture it’s about the audience nowadays, and I’m not happy with that. I think the audience is up itself. The audience needs to lift its game. [laughs] It needs to reinvent itself. Anyway, I’m just being stupid, but I love the writing of Nick Tosches, a New York writer about country music. I love the way he writes, especially about Jerry Lee Lewis. He wrote one about Sonny Liston that I love. There’s a writer – I just read a book about Howlin’ Wolf, which is quite academic, but I fucking loved it because he deserves that really academic, “he did this, he did that with that person” type [writing]. He’s a towering figure.

    You mentioned you want to avoid that kind of chronological account of what happened. Were there other stylistic things you wanted to avoid with your book?

    No, I wasn’t trying to avoid anything. It has these outlandish kinds of chapter or headings for different pieces, and that’s kind of just my style. A lot of the book is about my style and tone. My music is all about style and content, and the content of style. It’s high-fallutin’ stuff, and it’s loaded, seething with ideas and references. My music’s always been like that, and I just wanted to write in a way, that the flow of my music as well and that came from my life.  I’m talking about the flow in a hip-hop style, because I’ve been writing and talking about things in a non-stop way, and all my songs are quite real and alive to me.

    It has these kind of headings that are very much in a declamatory way, they’re kind of silly sometimes and other times not, but I love that kind of talk from 19th Century newspapers that William Randolph Hurst taught his writers. They always have those little headings, just the old newspapers. So I wasn’t really thinking in a negative way about “not doing this, not doing that”. I just wanted to have the flow, and I found it quite exciting. My book is like a lot of my music, kind of the way I operate, generally it’s quite positive in a way. I’m not, like Father Ted when he won that best priest award, out to settle the scores with anybody. [laughs] It’s more of like invincible, artistic kind of inner juice. That’s what I wanted.

    One of the things that I love about your writing is how self-assured you are. One of my favourite quotes is “I think of how consistently great I have been for such a long time and am warmed by my own regard.” It’s fucking great.

    [laughs] That’s just making myself laugh, really.

    But even if you are taking the piss…

    I was being kind of funny at the beginning of the book, where I said that Australians don’t know how to talk about serious things, and I’ve always enjoyed transgressing and saying the wrong things. I think that’s just a case of me doing that again. Because I know that upsets people.

    Yeah, and also because it is so rare to hear artists say they believe in what they’re doing, and that they think they’re good. They’re always downplaying their achievements, and what they sound like, and “oh, this happened by accident”. Yet here you are saying “fuck that, I’ve actually worked at this for a long time, and I believe in what I’m doing”.

    [laughs] Well I enjoy creativity and playing music. I’ve worked with Clare Moore. I’m very lucky we’ve had a real tight unit playing music. I love playing with my band. [laughs] Playing music is quite enjoyable.

    That’s good to hear. Moving on; what do you think Dave Graney means to people? What do you think people think when they see or hear your name?

    I don’t know. I don’t know really. There’s a small number of people that really like my music, and that communicate with me. I’m glad they find my stuff and they get a kick out of different aspects of what I’m doing. Sometimes I see… I was just doing video for a song, we’re putting out an album called Rock and Roll is Where I Hide at the same time too. It’s on Liberation and I was looking at myself singing this song and I do do terrible mugging, acting out and being stupid. My vocal style is full of little cries and gasps, and weird noises and yelps and screams. I guess some people must think it’s kind of fucking weird or something, because most indie rock is so – I don’t know – and I do like some indie rock, but a lot of it’s so uptight that there’s no physicality in a lot of it. We just do it. That’s what’s missing in a lot of… so I’ve got an idea what people think, yeah.

    If I was to go on, I’d probably hear pretty negative things [laughs] but not much I can do about that.

    Okay, we’ll give that a rest. Getting this book published, was that a hard sell?

    I sent the book to a few people. Affirm Press publisher Martin Hughes responded pretty immediately. I’ve liked some of the books he’s put out, like an American writer who lives in Melbourne called Emmett Stinson who did this short story, Ground Zero. And also the comedian Bob Franklin put out a book of almost horror [themed] short stories, which are quite fantastic. It’s a small publisher and very keen in what they’re doing, like a small indie publisher. They’ve been great to work with. I was pretty lucky to find them. I don’t know, I wouldn’t have known who else to approach after them.

    What made Martin say yes, do you think?

    I don’t know. Maybe he thinks I’m more well-known than I am. I don’t know. [laughs]

    Maybe he saw “ARIA Award-winning” and was like “yes, I’ve got to get in on that!”

    That could have been it. [laughs] No; a little bit of this, a little bit of that.

    Had you always planned to intercut your stories with your song lyrics?

    Yeah, I’ve always wanted to do that, to have that flow there. I’ve always wanted to because they both come out of the same thing. I’m glad I had that opportunity.

    Those lyrical bits, do they cover the same kind of chronological period?

    Yeah, pretty much. I’ve been writing about the same kind of experience [for a long time], and like you were asking, ‘what do people think of me?’; people probably don’t think of me as a songwriter or anything, more than anything else, and in a way that’s been my way I present myself. I’ve always been interested in being a performer, not just being a writer, but you can’t really… I think you’ve got to be one or the other. You have to hold the pose of being a serious songwriter. Like Paul Kelly or Bernard Fanning… [laughs] Those kinds of serious-looking dudes. I’ve never been that sort of person, so I guess to answer your previous question, most people probably think I’m dodgy and that’s something that I prefer, actually. I’d rather be dodgy than worthy. [laughs]

    That’s a fucking great quote, Dave! [laughs] I’m intrigued to know why you always call Clare by her full name?

    Sometimes when we do things and increasingly people always refer to Clare as my wife. You’ll find, say, Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth is never referred to as “Thurston Moore’s wife”, or Poison Ivy from The Cramps is never referred to as “Lux Interior’s wife”. It’s giving Clare her formal address.

    Cool. Does she call you Dave Graney?

    [laughs] If she writes a book, she might well do that. [laughs]

    I saw your interview with Australian Bookseller where you said “A lot of the book is about where I copped my tone. Tone is everything in music and writing.” I’m interested to know when you had that realisation.

    Pretty early on. I loved the tone, but I couldn’t get it. I couldn’t get the remove that a lot of my favourite American artists had, like Jim Morrison, Jerry Lee Lewis, George Jones, Hank Willams, Alan Vega and all of them; they just had this easy tone. I discovered that, like anything, it takes a bit of living to get perspective, to find your own voice and that kind of thing, which is annoying to a teen or twenty-something; your gaze at the world is intense and narrow. You want to say things, but it just comes out in a squeaky kind of way, which makes you even more uptight. But I love that kind of thing.

    Rappers, I love. I love different kinds of feel that rappers have, the things they can talk about, and I guess that’s the setting of the music. I love rap music when they just disrespect each other and that, but it never happens in rock music. I wish it did but – it’d probably make rock music go a bit faster if the guy from Jet would come out and call the guy from Wolfmother a dick, in their songs, and they’d have to answer each other. It’d make it go a bit faster. Rock music has pretty much been dead for years, but it’s fuckin’ slow. I mean, they’re still going on about Eric Clapton, and Leonard Fucking Cohen. Christ.

    I’m probably not the first to admit surprise at the fact that you are a big hip-hop fan. That really comes across in the book, which I think is cool.

    Oh, good. Most really good rock music is informed by hip-hop. When The Black Keys programmed rage, it was all hip-hop.

    In that same interview with Australian Bookseller, I saw you say that the upcoming greatest hits re-recorded is your “third debut album”. What did you mean by that; third time lucky?

    No, when you do your first record of songs, playing for a long time, you know it inside out, you just go in, they turn on the tapes, and you just yell it onto there. That’s it. There’s no second guessing or worrying, or anything. This record for Liberation is songs that we’ve been playing in our live set because we had the idea for years, the idea that people wanted to hear them, or that come, or ‘we haven’t been to this place for a while – we should play this. People expect us to do this’. Other songs that we just enjoy playing, and songs that we’ve only started playing recently.

    So in a way they’re remixes inside a different band, and over time, and so we just talked with Liberation. They do albums for artists’ back catalogue material. We’ve always had a band. I’ve never done many… I do some acoustic guitar gigs, but I don’t enjoy them as much as playing with my band. We said, ‘we’ll record with our band but we’ll just make a rock and roll record’, and we go in and record it all together and it was just like doing a first record. I did one with The Moodists, and one with The Coral Snakes. This is the third one.

    I’m looking at the book’s cover [pictured right]. Who did the cover art?

    Tony Mahoney, who’s done all of our record covers going back to 1989.

    It’s an interesting style. It looks like it’s cut and pasted it all together.

    He doesn’t do it in Photoshop. It’s all hand-done.

    I found it interesting in the book, how there are very few mentions of you in solitude writing lyrics or practicing guitar – the activities which are fundamentals for any working musician. Did you leave that out on purpose?

    Yeah, it would have been pretty boring. If I talk about writing lyrics or whatever, yeah. I did do it pretty quickly. I’m always just sitting around goofing around on a guitar anyway, so that’s what I do most of the time. Writing lyrics or putting songs together is pretty quick for me and generally I don’t sweat over it too much, not like… who were the worthy types who wrote for days? [laughs]. I’m not like that. I like to have a bit of an immediate flash, it’s what I go for.

    It sounds stupid, like if it sounds familiar it must be good, if somebody else has done it. [laughs] I had to do this thing about clothes here in Melbourne. I was involved in this art exhibition of men’s clothes for some reason, and I had to get my picture taken. I said, “I only wear shit that other people have already worn.” [laughs] And they’ve taken the flak for it. I realised in a way my approach to music’s been a bit like that too. I know people can’t hear things that they aren’t already aware of, and they can’t see things that they don’t know they’re looking for, if you know what I mean. So you have to work in forms or words that people are familiar with in a way. That’s my great revelation of recent weeks. [laughs] My approach to music is the way I dress.

    There’s a quote in the book where you say you’re talking about the present, you say it’s “a time where the most successful musical acts have no individual definition or focus or personality. People want what they know.” Is that tied to the same kind of thing you’re just talking about?

    Yeah, people will try to disappear into generic forms, so they have no individuality. I’m dealing with the same thing like any musician. You have to be recognisably something as well as recognisably yourself. One or the other perhaps, I don’t know, but yeah. Say if I do a gig with an acoustic guitar, acoustic guitar means you’re going to tell the truth. If you wear an electric guitar, it means you’re a liar. [laughs]

    Really? Did you just come up with that on the spot?

    No, I generally think that. And I do like to play electric guitar [laughs].

    That’s great. With the tour diary bits, was it the intention to give a glimpse inside the life of a touring musician?

    With the Nick Cave ones?

    And the Henry Wagons ones.

    A little bit of that, I like the writing I did with Henry Wagons, because I could portray him as kind of my ‘straight man’ in a way, and I really get on well with Henry and I love his music and his ambition. I hope that Wagons really kick it with this album they’re putting out. The Bad Seeds are old friends in a way but in such a different… Nick Cave’s in such a different kind of universe to one I work in. I just thought it was interesting. We were opening for them in Europe and were playing a delicate kind of vibraphone-based, 12 string set to these fucking mad Spaniards. Spanish only like… they’re not very lyrical types, but they just love the flash and the loud noises and everything. Even Nick was breathing a sigh of relief when they got to an English-speaking country. So we have many different relations with people within Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, going back to the beginnings of our kind of work in music. I thought there might be some interesting parts to it, including the deluded bits of my own bullshit.

    You’re right, it is interesting. It’s good stuff. I like Nick’s quote on the front cover of the book.

    That was very generous of him.

    Very generous, yes. “Pure genius,” he said. To which you replied, “thank you, Nick.”

    [laughs] Yeah.

    So what really surprised me was how the narrative accelerates in the last five pages. Everything up until then had been pretty slow; you talking about your life from an almost emotionally detached perspective, and then it all kind of fell out of you in the most gripping way. It really took me by surprise, and I liked that because I had you pinned down as this too-cool-for-school cat, always making sardonic remarks and dry observations, and then you collapsed that perception in a few hundred words.

    Oh, thank you. Well, that was very real. [It was a] full stop to a couple of lines. Yes, it was a very difficult period.

    Is that why you were so brief in your description of it, because you didn’t want to dwell on it?

    Of my parents and that, do you mean?

    Yes.

    Yeah, well in a way they’re also intensely private people, too. They’re from that generation [where] if you got your name in the paper it meant you were in trouble with the law. Living in the country, too; country people fucking love their privacy. I would never write anything, would never write anything personal about them [laughs]. I could imagine if they were alive reading something like that, they would hate it.

    You’re going to be in the paper with this interview and you’re not going to be in trouble with the law, so that’s positive.

    [laughs] Good.

    One of my favourite quotes about your early career is that “everything asked should be poor, dirty, and ugly.” Does that still ring true, Dave?

    [laughs] Poor, dirty, and ugly – yeah, I’m getting uglier yeah. Poor, yeah. That was someone else [saying] that everything an artist should be – poor, dirty, and ugly.

    Ah, that’s right. My apologies.

    That’s alright. [laughs]

    Do you relate to that concept?

    That’s from the song Night Of The Wolverine, a character is talking to someone who thinks that’s what an artist should be, poor, dirty, and ugly. No, I think artists should be sometimes lucky, as well [laughs] You know, rewarded for the hell of it occasionally. I don’t like artists, rock and roll people going on about how miserable they are most of the time, and talking about how stoned they are, and how hungover they are. I find all that stuff pretty boring, and always have.

    I mean, I used to be a big drinker. I was a great drinker. I was one of the best! [laughs] But it got a bit boring and I moved to a place where I had to do lots of driving so I just got out of the habit. But there’s some people who write about music are always cheering on rock and roll types. I call them rock and roll dopes really; rock and roll chumps. I’m not really interested. I love the company of musicians, but I don’t like those types that are very unfocused, the kind who need to be standing on the table, shouting, and dancing all the time. I’m not that type. I feel like they’re a bit boring to hang around.

    What keeps you going, Dave?

    What keeps me going? I’m very interested in… I really like to play music, and it’s quite simple. I’m very involved in different things. I used to be just a stand up singer, and I used to enjoy that gladiatorial type thing and then just standing there with the band behind me and singing and being a wise guy, then I started to play guitar as a performer and increasingly started to enjoy that. The two players we have, me and Clare, we play with Stu Thomas and Stu Perera. I love their company and playing with them. They’re really great musicians. I do enjoy that a lot.

    I guess presenting things like records to the world; somebody described it as a leap into the void, that an artist is compelled to take. Eventually artists get tired of doing that. They get exhausted, but I’m still quite excited by doing that kind of thing. I must say putting a book out is quite a different thing because it’s much more of a static thing that people can approach, and that’s different to a recording. I don’t know whether… I think that’s a new thing for me, so this is a bit of a leaping into the void that I’ve never experienced before. It’ll probably be the only kind autobiographical thing I’ll ever be doing! [laughs]

    I hope it’s a successful leap into the void, Dave.

    Yeah. [laughs]

    Based on what I’ve read, I can confirm it is good. Hopefully other people feel that way too.

    Oh, thanks Andrew, I appreciate that.

    ++

    For more Dave Graney, follow him on Twitter or visit his website. The music video for his song ‘Knock Yourself Out‘ is embedded below.

  • Mess+Noise interview: Chris Bailey of The Saints, February 2011

    An interview with Chris Bailey for Mess+Noise. Excerpt below.

    Interview – Chris Bailey: ‘I Really Enjoy Being An Old Slut’

    Ahead of a one-off performance in Sydney tonight, ANDREW MCMILLEN speaks to Chris Bailey about his multiple plans for 2011; his on-again, off-again relationship with Ed Kuepper; and what he learned from American singer Judy Collins.

    When it comes to Chris Bailey, you’ve probably already heard it all before. If not, a potted history: Bailey is co-founder and vocalist of Brisbane-born punk rock act The Saints, who formed in 1974 and relocated to England in 1977 after signing a three-album contract with EMI and thumbing their noses at the limited opportunities for their music to be heard and supported here in Australia. They burned bright enough to release all three records within 18 months, before being dropped by their label after the jazz-influenced Prehistoric Sounds (1978) was a commercial flop. Despite three-quarters of the band departing soon after – including co-founders Ed Kuepper (guitar) and Ivor Hay (drums) – Bailey soldiered on with The Saints moniker, releasing an additional 10 albums, up to and including 2006’sImperious Delirium. (Kuepper, annoyed by Bailey’s ongoing usage of the name, formed The Aints and performed reworked versions of vintage Saints material.)

    An accomplished solo singer-songwriter with seven full-length releases to his name, Bailey’s only ever really done music. Born in 1959 to Irish parents in Kenya, he was 17 when The Saints took off, and he’s yet to let age slow his artistic progress. If anything, he seems to grow hungrier with each passing year: as he reveals in our 20-minute phone conversation, he’s got three albums due for release within the next six months; each separate projects, with different musicians.

    Though we’re speaking ostensibly because of a planned show tonight (February 11) at Trackdown Studios in Sydney, it seems foolish to overlook the series of residencies that Bailey undertook with his right-hand axeman, Kuepper, throughout May last year – during which much was made of the tension, both real and perceived, between the two feted musicians – as well as the last occasion that The Saints (proper) played in their hometown of Brisbane, as part of the 2009 All Tomorrow’s Parties festival. Bailey – now based overseas – is a lively conversationalist. During our interview, I get the impression that there’s little difference between his playfully pompous stage manner, and the man himself.

    To begin, let’s talk about the upcoming show. How did you come up with the idea to re-imagine some of your well-known songs?
    In January, I actually came out [to Australia] to do some dates with [American singer] Judy Collins, and while a lot of people thought that was very odd, I really like Judy. I think she is in fact what the Americans call the “real deal”, and the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in very close company, I just couldn’t resist because I have bucketloads of respect for the woman. I’ve got to tell you; it was the best couple of weeks of my recent life. It was really quite stunning. We were doing club shows and the occasional theatre, and in either environment, in a club show she was a 17-year old girl in New York in 1964. And then when we were doing theatres, she was this incredible show diva. When a performer knows how to take control of a room, it’s actually stunning. It was the best couple of weeks.

    So ostensibly, that’s the thing that got me out there. The gig that’s coming up on Friday week is, for many years, I’ve been part of what we call the “Trackdown family”. We started off in very humble origins, and they’ve gone off to become a pretty major player in lots of areas. For the past couple of years [managing director] Geoff and I have been talking about going back and doing something rootsy. Even though I’ve just finished an album in France, and I’m not planning another Saints album until later in the year, I thought it would be just a really good opportunity to come back to this particular studio, which I love. I’m actually in here with an engineer at the moment, and we’re building up an album. That’s then linked to the fact that Geoff was going to do a little showcase for his new label, the Highway 125, which of course I shall play a part of, and he thought that it would be good if I put together a combo and re-imagined a couple from my catalogue. In fact, I’m just going to put together an eclectic little bunch of musos, all acoustic, and we’re just going to bang out some songs.

    The press release says you’re planning a “surprise line-up”. What can you reveal about who’s playing?
    [Puts on German accent] “It will be people. People, not machine. Man defeats machine.” Okay, I don’t usually write press releases, obviously. I mean, it’s not a rock band … In fact I’m going to be using a piano, lots of cellos; probably a banjo, because I quite like that instrument at the moment. Geoffrey just gave me carte blanche because they’re a scoring stage, so we have all these musicians on tap. I can indulge myself. Which is what I fully intend to do.

    For the full interview, visit Mess+Noise.