IT’S ONLY NATURAL
In seemingly no time at all, OH MERCY has emerged with album number two and it’s already being touted as one of the year’s finest. ALEXANDER GOW jumps on the phone to BEN PREECE to discuss Great Barrier Grief.
From the get go, it’s apparent that Oh Mercy’s Alexander Gow was going for something a little more timeless and, well, Australian for the outfit’s second record. For a start, it’s titled Great Barrier Grief and the remarkable play on words is impressively topped with Ken Done artwork and a sound that can only be described as coming from the land Down Under.
As Gow explains, this is no accident – when Oh Mercy completed over 18 months of touring off the back of their exceptional debut Privileged Woes that saw the band play almost 200 shows and about 100,000 kilometres of road (including a jaunt alongside Crowded House), he was certain that he needed a thicker sound with fuller instrumentation to make his forthcoming tales of the “young middle-class white boys” to life.
The new phase, however, came with the departure of founding member and co-songwriter Thomas Savage who’d had simply enough of touring. Following a stint at South by South West in 2010, Gow remained in New York for eight weeks, accumulated 30-odd songs and eventually attracted the attention of producer Mitchell Froom, suggested to the band by a mutual friend.
“A few months before the recording of the record, Thomas decided he didn’t want to tour anymore so I had to take on the chief songwriting responsibilities, something I found exciting and a challenge,” Gow explains. “Once in New York, I sub-letted a basement room in a flat in Brooklyn and had the recording set up and I wrote a few new songs, corresponded with Mitchell and worked on arrangements of all the songs. I went through all the demos – a tremendous amount of demos – trying to get my head around how an album might flow dynamically. Once deciding on those songs, we honed in on arrangements. I guess it was a time of pre-production in a lot of ways, I was locked in my little dark room getting excited about making a record.”
As life progresses, lessons are learnt and, for an artist, lessons learnt between a debut and record number two are important ones. You might recognise the flaws your first contained or, in direct contrast, the second might not possess the zest the first had now that more awareness has been raised. For someone who has seemingly not set a foot wrong in his musical career yet, Gow recognises the fact that he simply wants to grow.
“It’s hard to put my finger on it,” he confesses. “I’d like to think I’ve developed as a human being and my understanding of myself and of other people and, therefore, would like to hope that my songwriting has become a little stronger. I wanted to make an album that was more sophisticated and I did want to grow up a little bit which you can’t help doing and, while the clock’s ticking, I am trying to write songs that, I suppose, I’d like to think got a little better. I’d like that to continue developing. I can’t put my finger on anything I’ve necessarily learnt since Privileged Woes, aside from feeding my desires to write songs and get better at writing songs. This time my resources were fundamentally different – I had a recording studio as opposed to a bedroom so they are very different records for that.”
With an execution as effortlessly cool as ever, the sound Oh Mercy make on Great Barrier Grief is so focussed, so Australian and contains such an underlying sexual tension that it could almost be deemed calculated if it were not for the sincerity of Gow as a singer and songwriter.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s calculated, I would say that I am conscious of it and have a pretty good understanding of how to control it but to call it calculated it makes it sound sterile which is not necessarily the case,” he reflects. “I’m only doing what comes natural to me and what I’m interested in is that sexual tension – I love that there’s a nude woman on the front because I love how women look, I adore them. I am writing an album as a young man and I suppose I can only write about what I know and what interests me so that tends to come out naturally. I’ve always respected that in an artist, listening to a Leonard Cohen or someone like that and understanding the way his music affects people. It’s so satisfying to hear him singing about sex and it seems like it’s a fine line to tread without being overt or pretentious or without purveying some sort of bravado or something like that. It’s a tough concept to tackle as a songwriter or an artist and that tightrope is interesting because you can quite easily get it wrong and it’s cringe worthy when it is wrong.
“The thing I am most proud of is that I didn’t let myself be fooled into double tracking instruments – there are no double tracked vocals, which lots of people do because it can be really effective and it sounds fantastic. But I know personally that I hide behind a double track so nothing on this entire record is double tracked, even the acoustic guitars are single tracks which I think is fundamental to the sound and the effect of the album in that there is not much going on. That was hard to do because I’m a human being, I get anxious and you want to make things sound appealing as possible – you want people to like it and are desperate for people to like it but to have the control to leave things as simple as I did is something I am really proud of. I probably lost a few hours sleep over it worrying but I am glad that it got mastered without any intrusions.”
Great Barrier Grief will remain one of the great Australia records for 2011. Already with a pair of radio hits – Stay, Please Stay and Keith St. – the album brims with tracks that proves that real songwriting isn’t dead. Paul Kelly recently name dropped Oh Mercy as one of the bands inspiring him to return to writing songs.
“It’s incredibly surreal to hear that,” Gow admits humbly. “Not only is he one of our great songwriters, he’s one of my favourites. It’s incredible, I don’t necessarily believe him and it’s lovely of him to say – he’s an incredibly talented guy and one I admire immensely. But my reaction is as you’d imagine – surreal and incredibly satisfying. It certainly helps me in my enthusiasm and dedication in writing.”
The release of Great Barrier Grief sees Gow and his touring band out on the road covering the country with a setlist of old and new. While the studio is mostly a solo endeavour for Gow, he looks forward to seeing his touring outfit come together for on-the-road shenanigans.
“They’re my best friends and they understand the decisions I make when making records,” Gow explains. “I talk to them about it and they’re very involved and supportive. They’re proud and happy to be playing music. We’re all really close friends and I think you can see that when we play – they’re cool.”
WHO: Oh Mercy
WHAT: Great Barrier Grief (EMI)
WHERE & WHEN: Neverland Bar, Gold Coast Thursday Mar 31, Alhambra Lounge Friday Apr 1
UK SONGSTRESS KATE NASH IS BACK IN THE COUTRY FOR PLAYGROUND WEEKER AND A COUPLE OF SIDESHOWS. SHE TALKS TO BEN PREECE ABOUT HER RELENTLESS SCHEDULE AND WHAT SHE’LL DO IF HER POP CAREER ENDS TOMORROW.
In the nine months since Kate Nash’s second album My Best Friend Is You first hit record store shelves worldwide, you could say the singer has had nothing short of a non-stop schedule. Such is the way when you’re hot property like Nash – shows, appearances, interviews, shoots, plane rides – all of this and more is just another day in the life of the pop star. Her relentless touring schedule continues to stack up and the ongoing demand as an artist has allowed her no time to really stop and be anything other than the pop star the international music world has embraced over and over.
As Time Off catches her on Christmas Eve, Nash has crammed in a frantic afternoon of last minute present-hunting and a string of interviews she has scheduled for this afternoon has completely slipped her mind. Being the consummate professional however, she doesn’t skip a beat and slips right into the conversation with ease and explains just why she appears to be so flustered.
“I’ve spent a long time away from home this year,” she explains politely. “I’ve been across Europe in the last four and five weeks, the UK for two weeks, the US for two, I went to Mexico and back to Germany and now I’m home and pretty ready to be home for a little while and just chill basically.”
But before this “chilling” can take place effectively, Nash has a few more engagements to meet, one being a quick jaunt down to Australia for Playground Weekender and a couple of sideshows, including Brisbane which was overlooked last visit. Anyone would think she likes it down here.
“Yeah I really do actually,” Nash laughs. “I think you don’t get the opportunity to go to Australia very much because it’s so far away, the opportunity often doesn’t come up. I’d like to spend more time there, I really enjoy it when I am there. When the festival came up, I was like “Yeah I definitely want to do it” - it was a no brainer to say yes.”
Following a successful debut album – Made Of Bricks – the real test for Nash came with anticipation for a second record. She tended to linger slightly in the shadow of Lily Allen last time around but once My Best Friend Is You dropped, it became clear that Nash was following no one. It painted her as the young, enigmatic and powerful young star that she is touching on everything from sexism to homophobia and beyond. Dressing it all with a glorious, nostalgic sound full of brass pipes, twangy surf guitar and poignant, often playful musings, the album is more than just another pop outing that transcends the disposable and lands well and truly on the right side of credible. It moves through the witty lyrical narrative towards the catchy hooks and is often crude and sometimes perhaps even a little too honest.
“I’m really pleased and proud of it,” Nash enthuses “I guess, early next year I’m going to be coming to the end of the run of it. It’s kind of exciting to go to Australia, I have some dates in Brazil and then one last UK tour and some smaller towns that I never got to visit on the last tour – so I’m very excited to be going out there or just to do the final tours of the record. I’ve had a really good year, I think I’ve done the best shows I’ve ever done and, yeah, I’m looking forward to it.”
But see the thing is, Nash simply won’t sit still between albums. Following the fantasy-like success of her debut record and the subsequent successes it brought, Nash did slow down but she wanted to indulge more in “normal” things. She did what any normal 20 year old would do - go to the movies, hang with friends and her first “real” boyfriend (Ryan Jarman of The Cribs) and read books but, incapable of sitting around for long, she quickly co-founded the Featured Artists Coalition with Billy Bragg and Blur’s Dave Rowntree and got involved in V-Day, the initiative to end violence against women. The coming year after the cycle for My Best Friend Is You ends, Nash will undoubtedly be itching to find something to do next. She often comments about feeling like an outsider for not fitting into the format of a typical female artist and therefore feels she needs to thrust some attention into helping fellow- female performers find their place.
“There are a couple of things that I want to do,” she reveals. “Not sure where it’s going to happen but my year is pretty open ended so it should all get done. I really want to work with young people and kids and go into schools and do creative workshops with young girls particularly to do song writing and start bands and stuff. Statistically there are less female composers than male and, over the summer, I’ve really become aware of that – there were so many girls in the charts and everyone is going “There are so many females, it’s amazing” but still all the festival lineups were completely male dominated. I did a panel talk and only one of those girls in the charts write their own material and it made me feel that rather than complain about it that I should try and do something to change that. I want to go into schools and work with kids.
“I’m in love with Joan Jett, she’s just like totally cool,” she continues of her own heroes. “I also really love Kathleen Hanna and I’m a big fan of Peggy Sue and really respect Laura Marling and Sleater Kinney. I saw The Runaways movie and I can’t believe how much those girls look like the musicians.”
And then of course, there are things like making another record to think about. Now world-famous with two successful albums on the shelf, as well as a seemingly fulfilling life, Nash isn’t concerned that contentment in her everyday existence will water down her songwriting edge like it sometimes can. She’s more concerned about whether she has actually written her last song ever.
“I don’t really think about stuff like that when I’m writing, I just get into my world when I’m actually writing and it’s just an escape from all the other stuff. The fame thing… I don’t even see myself as that person, apart from being able to travel a lot and have a really cool job, I don’t really see that as part of my life – the fame aspect, I think it’s a weird word. I still feel I will get nervous about doing the record because as a writer, I think you’re born to think you’re never going to write again once you’ve completed something. I think I’m always like “Well that’s it, I’m not going to write anything else now” and I always approach everything thinking that I don’t know what I’m going to be doing next year. I can write more records, I have it in me – I have ideas and I’m looking forward to doing it and just writing really.”
The topic of being content and happiness in general seems illusive to Nash. On the surface, she might seem to have it all but, like any thinking human and ambitious soul, she is well aware that not everything remains peachy long-term.
“I don’t really feel you reach a point in life where you’re just happy,” Nash continues. “I don’t really believe in that, I don’t believe that word or the idea of finding happiness. Life is constant ups and downs and it can be going really smoothly and you’ll be thrown a curve ball or you’ll be struggling. Everyone has problems, even if they’re small or just things I care about or am opinionated about even if they’re not happening to me or people I know. There’s issues in the world and plenty in the world that’s not right, even if I was “I feel completely fine today” I’d find something, even the urge to want to change it, be pissed off or upset about it just because the world is full of infections and things go wrong. I’m happy at the moment. Being happy makes me want to write songs too – when I’m comfortable or relaxed, it makes me want to write stuff that is fun or upbeat. And, like I said, there’s always issues in the world that can make me angry and write in that direction.
BLUES/ROCK DUO THE BLACK KEYS MAY HAVE INDULGED IN SOMEWHAT OF A HIATUS PRIOR TO THE RELEASE OF THEIR SIXTH ALBUM BROTHERS, BUT IT SEEMS THE PAIR KEPT THEMSELVES BUSY ENOUGH. VOCALIST/GUITARIST DAN AUERBACH TALKS TO BEN PREECE.
When Drum makes the call to Dan Auerbach, frontman, guitarist and songwriter for blues-rock heroes The Black Keys, you could say the man is enjoying one of the more glamorous aspects of his work. It’s right before Christmas and he’s hanging backstage with producer-superstar Danger Mouse, amongst others for a rather special Christmas show.
“Today we’re playing with Broken Bells, Phoenix, My Chemical Romance, Smashing Pumpkins,” he remarks rather casually. “It’s actually a tiny arena show. Over here we do these end of year radio station shows, a holiday show.”
Of course, Auerbach and Danger Mouse are old friends, forming a firm bond in 2008 when the producer lent a hand The Black Keys’ Attack & Release. Danger Mouse only handled one song on the duo’s latest record Brothers, a record that is arguably The Black Keys’ most anticipated following the success of its predecessor as well as their collaborative Blakroc project. The band was now being watched closely, the game had changed and there was an expectation that they would release something that would raise the bar.
“I’m a little disappointed by it honestly,” Auerbach states dryly. “Nah, I’m just playing – I don’t know – yeah, we’re happy with it, it’s all gravy and is responsible for all this nice stuff that’s been happening lately. It was great to work with Danger Mouse once again, he is now a great friend. He was friends with Ike Turner and he wanted to do an Ike Turner record, he called us up out of the blue – we had never met him – and asked us if we were interested. He was like “I want you guys to be the band and write the songs for Ike.” So that’s how we started working, long distance on that project. And then Ike passed away before we really got to do anything but we developed a relationship with him and we really got along so when it came time to make a new record , he kind of let us know that if we ever wanted to use him as a producer he’d be open to it so we booked the studio time and that’s how we made Attack & Release together.
“So this time around, with Brothers, we only used him on one song,” he continues. “We wanted to do a record on our own and we pretty much did that and then we had two months before we needed to turn the record in – we had all finished – and we just decided to get in the studio with Brian. We had a weekend when we were all going to be in New York City, we figured why not and just booked it and went in to the studio and ‘Tighten Up’ was what came out of it.”
Songs come naturally to the prolific Auerbach and his lyrics are something brimming with mystery and connotations that could be fiction or could be real life. From ‘Sinister Kid’ and ‘Ten Cent Pistol’ to ‘Everlasting Light’ and ‘Next Girl’, his lyrics don’t necessarily speak for themselves.
“I had some fun on this one, making up some stories and kind of getting in that mode a little bit. But it’s all mixed in with real life experiences so I made it a little easier to talk about personal things and when I knew the audience would know whether it was just a story or not. But I had fun, I talked about murder and sex and guns and love and all of that good stuff. It all comes from experiences – anything can inspire a story or a song to come out. It’s all creative fun really, there are no rules and that’s why it’s fun!
“But you know, it’s all the luck of the draw really,” he continues. “All these records we make are snapshots of a moment in time for us because we make the records so quickly and we don’t do any pre-production or anything like that. So this record is a picture of us, of the week and a half that we spent making the album. When I listen to it, I remember all the things we were doing, where we were, experiences we had, you know? It’s not like we’re some fucking Guns N’ Roses and take, like, thirteen years on eight different continents you know? We like to hit it and quit it.”
Upon the conclusion of obligatory promo duties for Attack & Release, it seemed The Black Keys and Auerbach specifically might actually have some down time. Not so, he dropped a solo album called Keep It Hid and indulged in the Blakroc project with the likes of Q-Tip, Mos Def, RZA and Ludacris amongst other fine hip-hop artists. In all of this The Black Keys didn’t seem to skip a beat, still contributing a track to the soundtrack of The Twilight Saga’s Eclipse and, of course, releasing Brothers.
“Yeah!” Auerbach contemplates. “I’ve been working a lot the last couple years, that’s for sure. It’s been non-stop. The solo album was a great exercise, really cool. I got to tour with a full band - I really love those guys – and we got to go all over the world with that – all over Europe, all over Australia, all over America – it was great fun!”
And the procedure repeats once a new record has dropped and the release of Brothers has seen Auerbach and Carney busier than ever, in greater demand and indulging in more promo opportunities than usual.
“Yeah, we’ve been touring a tonne since the release of the record,” Auerbach explains. “We’ve been all over Europe, America, Canada – it’s been non-stop honestly. It’s all been shows and all kinds of stuff. No matter how much you do it though, it’s still a pain in the ass really. There is so much travelling and bullshit besides the hour you get to play your music. It can definitely be fatiguing but, you know, we love playing music so it’s all right. What was fun about it though was, the guys who played on my solo tour are in a band called Hacienda and they are on tour right now on the west coast. We pulled over at like a rest stop in the bus just two days ago and we ran into them at this rest stop. We were both getting lunch at the same place in America and we hadn’t spoken to each other at all, we were just there – totally random.”
Next stop for The Black Keys is Australia, the Big Day Out run specifically, a tour the duo have surprisingly never played before. With the likes of Iggy & The Stooges, Rammstein, Tool, Deftones and Die Antwood adorning the bill, shenanigans will undoubtedly be aplenty.
“I have no idea at all what to expect,” Auerbach laughs. “I’ve heard about it and I hear it’s crazy but I honestly have no clue what’s going to happen. I don’t even know who’s playing honestly, no clue, I am absolutely in the dark. I like to jump in the dark so that everything is a surprise.”
WITH A NEW ALBUM READY FOR RELEASE, LONG BEACH’S COLD WAR KJDS ARE GEARING UP FOR THE BIG TIME AND HITTING THE ROAD A LITTLE EARLY TO BEGIN SPREADING THE WORD. BEN PREECE CATCHES UP WITH FRONTMAN NATHAN WILLETT.
California’s Cold War Kids have always been “musician’s musicians” who, perhaps with the likes of The Black Keys and The White Stripes, occupy that part of the musical world where bands tend to indulge their live aesthetic when recording, trading studio trickery and endless takes and overdubs for a rawer, more honest sound.
Having already provided a handful of EPs and two gloriously-shambolic albums, Cold War Kids have upped the sonic ante and polished up their sound considerably for their forthcoming third album Mine Is Yours. First single ‘Louder Than Ever’ is proof that their sonic shift was a priority and if further evidence is required than their choice of producer Jacquire King will be argument enough. He helmed the sound on records for everyone from Norah Jones to the latest Kings Of Leon’s record, a fact that, despite credible inclusions like Tom Waits and Modest Mouse, will undoubtedly place the fear of God in fans of the Cold War Kids chaotic ways. Frontman Nathan Willett is unconcerned.
“Yeah he’s done some big ones,” Willett confirms casually. “With both the first records, there was great emphasis on them being live performances where we only spend about a week or two on each album and really just, you know, do a handful of takes, do a couple of vocal takes really quickly and just kind of have fun with it. With this record, we definitely spent a lot more time writing and arranging and fine-tuning, it’s definitely a little more focussed. It’ll be interesting to see how people who like the old stuff will react. It really doesn’t seem that different to me for the most part, it just seems like there’s better songwriting. I don’t think there are any songs that stick out on their own as being like ‘Sex On Fire’ or whatever or totally different to the others. I think they all belong together.”
Willett is also unashamed to admit that working with King and the band’s new work ethic with each and every individual song was somewhat executed with one eye on raising their perception to the next level and experiencing something perhaps a little closer to the big time.
“I think he is an excellent engineer of rock music and really he has a lot of experience and a lot of patience in letting bands find the right answers to problems they’re working out with songs,” he explains. “Knowing that Jacquire was able to, in a way, have the patience that it takes to make a song really great, to make that transition from good to really great then, yeah, we really wanted that. I definitely think we will hit a real stride and a new phase with this record and I think that we’ll have a lot more momentum, even with the size of the shows and the attention around the band and what we can do with all of that – I think we’re going to be able to put out more music and be able to just get away with more.
“We were in Nashville for seven weeks and it was really, really cold and snowing – we were living in a house together so it got pretty serious,” Willett recalls. “We were really focussed, having a good time and drinking all day but also being very attentive – it was fun, very serious but fun. We were very much living nothing but this record for two months. It was a great difference – we got to get away from friends and home and all the kind of predictable things and just really focus.”
And “making a bigger record”, as Willett puts it, wasn’t just as easy as spending more time on each song, the singer also took the time to hone his trademark high-pitched, often shaky vocals.
“I think my vocals were in the right place emotionally,” he reveals, “but we really had to get it right for this record, even if it meant singing the song 10 or more times to get it in the place it needed to be.”
He also decided that his lyrics had to become a lot more personal if he was to connect with audiences on a greater level. While previous material were brimming with narratives about anything and everything from an inmate on death row to an alcoholic father, Willett spent some time back in his hometown of Long Beach observing the relationships of those around him. He looked to the likes of R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe and his evolution from the artist who sang “any old word” to one that really revealed something about himself. As he tells it, he’s keen to see how the record will be perceived.
“I think, from the previous records, it’s one of those things where I don’t totally know how it will be perceived. It’s different, a little more sophisticated, I don’t know how else to say it. It’s much more personal and much more about relationships that I have seen around me in the last year or so of being home from tour. They’re much more specific, I think, than the previous two records which are more character-driven. You know that life-phase after college or whatever where you stop living for yourself and having great times with your friends, that point in life where things get serious? I think that’s, in a lot of ways, kind of what the record is about. You know, it’ll be interesting when it comes out – I can think of a couple of people that will have something to say when they recognise they’re stories. I’m not too worried though, it’s part of the risk.”
Abandoning a rushed, pre-Christmas release, Mine Is Yours is scheduled for late January with a very different schedule to that of the swiftly-released Behave Yourself EP of early ’09, a release that came and went almost unnoticed as the band were still pushing 2008’s Loyalty To Loyalty album.
“We had put out three EPs before we even put out our first record so, to us, it was a very fast and fun way to put out songs, not necessarily to put out a single with a big tour push and all that stuff,” Willett explains. “It was much more in the spirit of how we started out and getting songs out there for people to hear and being able to play more songs live that people were familiar with – all that stuff where you can beat the same old, same old of putting an album out every year and a half or two years or something. I think it’s important to keep getting material out in a way that’s important to fans.”
As you read this, the band is undoubtedly sitting on an excruciating 20-odd hour flight Down Under for a quick pre-album release jaunt playing Falls Festival, Sunset Sounds and South Bound. Willett confirms the strong affinity Australians seem to have with Cold War Kids is most definitely a mutual one.
“Maybe it’s our Southern California beach culture,” he laughs. “I don’t know, but there seems to be some connection there with the sun and the water. We haven’t played any of the new songs yet so we’re really looking forward to getting out there. When we do there’ll probably be about seven or eight in the set. There will be old popular ones too and, you know, a lot of those songs are our favourite songs too so it doesn’t bother us that we have to play ‘Hospital Beds’ or ‘Hang Me Out To Dry’ again and again.
IT’S NO ORGY BUT SOMETHING WITHIN THE L.A.-BASED GROUPLOVE EXUDES SOME FREAKY LEVEL OF FRIENDSHIP NOT OFTEN SEEN IN YOUR AVERAGE BAND. DRUMMER RYAN RABIN GETS ON THE LINE TO BEN PREECE TO TELL THE INTRIGUING STORY OF HOW THIS BAND CAME TO BE.
Sometimes you just have to believe that occasionally fate, destiny or whatever it is you might believe in comes into play, drags the right group of people together under what otherwise would seem like impossible circumstances. Take Grouplove as an example – as the story goes, it seems like the meeting of its five members was simply meant to be.
“It was definitely unexpected and a lot of people don’t believe the story,” drummer Ryan Rabin laughs of the band’s series of successive meetings. “It is sort of fate, I think – we were all in very different places in our lives at the time, this was about two summers ago. I was born and raised in Los Angeles with the guitar player Andrew Wessen and we’ve been friends for a long time. His brother started this project in an artist commune in this little mountain town in Crete [Greece] and we all made it out there that summer under different circumstances – Hannah [Hooper] and Christian [Zucconi] had only met in New York only the week before and she invited him to go with her, she is a painter, and he just dropped everything at home and went over there. The same went for Sean [Gadd] in London, he had some friends who were going over as musicians to play a festival that is held at the commune. There were a lot of people there and we were living in this living in this little village and out of everyone there, the five of us formed a fast friendship – it was one of those things that you, after a week or two, you find the people you connect with the most. It was the five of us and this was even before we started playing music together, we formed this firm friendship thing.”
As they say, “All good things come to an end” and when that dreamy summer ended, the five made their way back to their respective parts of the globe, assuring each other their paths would cross once again. Long story, short – absence does and did make the heart grow fonder and all five reconvened in Los Angeles to make music together. Their debut, self-titled EP is just the first step in what clearly is going to be a long and fruitful, not to mention friendly, career.
“We started just recording the songs that we had been jamming on together,” Rabin explains. “Once we started, we thought that this was something special so we just kept going to see how many we could do. We tracked a bunch of songs, everybody moved into my parent’s house – God bless them for being cool with that. Once we put the songs that we were jamming on in grease and let them evolve into what they became on the EP, we were all pretty sure we’d done something we thought was very special, particularly to us.
“Musically, I think it’s something that evolved out of the friendship,” he says of the EP. “Some of the songs were fragments or ideas that arose from everybody from the first time we met. Some of it has a very tongue in cheek vibe and is very sunshine-y and most of it came from that summer in Greece. It turned into eight songs, five of each will be on this EP and the other three will be on the debut album. The newer songs are a bit more of all of us contributing where the original handful are songs Hannah and Christian had worked on together. Each time we write one, we sit back and try to make the next one better than the last. That’s our ethos for everything now.”
AMIDST RUMOURS OF THEIR RECORD LABEL REJECTING THE FOLLOW-UP TO THEIR DEBUT MYTHS OF THE NEAR FUTURE, KLAXONS’ GUITARIST SIMON TAYLER-DAVIS EXPLAINS THE HEFTY GAP BETWEEN ALBUMS ONE AND TWO TO BEN PREECE.
Upon their inception three years ago with a much-buzzed debut entitled Myths of the Near Future, Klaxons were quick to be dubbed the saviours of the new rave scene by the English music press with the rest of the world quickly following. Tracks like ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’, ‘Golden Skans’ and ‘Atlantis to Interzone’ went on to become hits and the band walked away with armfuls of awards including the coveted Mercury Music Prize. But after the sirens died down, there seemed to be a silence that perhaps, for most fans and music followers, seemed to go on a little too long. Rumours quickly circulated the net that the band’s record label, Polydor, had promptly rejected material the band had intended to be record number two. While the band was in Australia for promotional duties for their long awaited second album, Surfing the Void, guitarist Simon Taylor-Davis puts the rumour-mill in its place once and for all.
“I think everyone thought we had a bit of turbulence putting out this record,” he explains. “Yes it seems to have been reported that way but, no, we had the time of our lives writing and recording the record – we had an amazing time. I guess the main obstacle was just touring – we were touring until about this time last year so by the time we had a couple of days off and a bit of time at home, it was 2010 so it was mainly that that was turbulence. It wasn’t really turbulence, we just had to go everywhere and then we had to go back everywhere again and again.
“There are stories but the label didn’t reject anything. I guess it’s quite sad because we have the most amazing relationship with Polydor ever – it’s why we signed to them. Not to sound like a dick, but we didn’t just have one offer and we had a hell of a decision to make sure all the people we were working with were super cool and that we could bond with them. Jamie [Reynolds, vocals/bass] had some interview and he was saying “Oh yeah, yeah, Polydor are going to reject are album because we gave them some music and then they went away at Christmas and we didn’t hear back from anyone for a while.” Obviously his British sarcasm didn’t really translate and some copycat stories about our album being rejected is all we seem to talk about now.”
Myths of the Near Future set the bar high for Klaxons, quickly sending tastemakers and bloggers scrambling to their keyboards and making them one of the hottest things on the planet at that point in time. Working in Los Angeles with producer Ross Robinson (Sepultura, Slipknot, At the Drive In, The Cure), the band steered their sound away from the blatant new rave sounds they’d crafted previously and headed more into out-of-this-world rock. The result is Surfing the Void, a record that takes cues from Muse, Blur and The KLF and smashes them into one unique rock-pie.
“I guess it was only the beginning phases of writing this record that I began to have any objectivity of Myths… and see it for what it was: this stupid bunch of bratty, gobby kids thinking they know it all, name-dropping every weirdo author they could. I guess we wanted this one to be a bit more considered. It’s not as immediate, certainly a lot of people have said that – it’s a bit more dense but we didn’t go into it with any specific mission statement but it kind of started breathing its own language and it formed quite a personal-sounding record – the difference is the last one was outer-space and this one is a bit more inner-space, it’s personal and the lyrics are more linear and there are love songs on this record which didn’t happen on the last one.
“I guess we just wanted to make a continuation of the last one,” Taylor-Davis explains carefully. “It’s not a radical departure, certainly not with the equipment and the way we recorded – it was very similar – but the main difference would have to be Steffan [Halperin, drums] because we didn’t have a drummer on the last record and I think a lot of people have said that this record is a lot more rock. I think that illusion of rock is an energy that comes from the drums. So being a four-piece is the big difference on this one. I think we’ve fully blossomed as a rock outfit on this record, it probably means we’ll reform as an acoustic act on the next one though.”
It might’ve been logical to head back into the studio with previous producer James Ford, instead Klaxons chose the “godfather of nu metal” Ross Robinson to helm the sound on Surfing the Void.
“We’d recorded a couple of sessions, kinda squeezed them in, with James Ford who we did our first record with,” Taylor-Davis says. “We’d made some really beautiful music with him that will come out hopefully not too long in the foreseeable future as an EP or some other kind of stand-alone. We’re still very young as a band and, apart from this year and being in the studio for Myths…, we really haven’t been in the studio much so we went in and furiously just experimented with writing techniques and stuff with James. At the end of it, we came to the logical conclusion that we should all go our own separate ways and it’d be beneficial for us creatively to work with different people. We’d been working with James for years and we thought it’d be good for him to go out and work with other bands and vice versa – by no means was it a falling out, he’s first and foremost a friend but we needed to change it up a bit and ignite some excitement into it. We finished the work with James and there was this 48 hour limbo where we thought “What the fuck are we going to do?” We didn’t know any producers, we didn’t know any we were drawn to working with.” We certainly knew who we didn’t want to work with but then we got this phone call out of the blue from Coachella Festival asking us if we wanted to play and it just so happened that the manager of that managed Ross Robinson also. He was a huge fan of ours apparently and we were just gobsmacked “The guy that produced At The Drive In and Blood Brothers was into us.” We thought it could’ve been such a disaster or so brilliant – it’s something that we are drawn to, just like when we originally did the nu rave thing, it could’ve really been an utter disaster.”
When Klaxons first toured Australia, reactions to their live show were mixed. Taylor-Davis acknowledges the flaws that adorned those initial shows and suggests that things are very different these days.
“We can play now,” he suggests cheekily. “We’ve accidentally learned to be a really good live band now. We have an additional member who plays another keyboard so we’ve been absolutely on fire. We’ve really got it tuned in and dialled in now and everyone around us is saying they’ve never seen us play this good before. This record was written as a live band so translating it has been really easy and it really has been just fun to play. It sounds bigger now and more solid, the singing is better now and seems to be more inspired, the music we’re playing is tighter and louder. I guess we’re just a well-oiled machine now.”
THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS
THE EVER-ACTIVE CARL NEWMAN JUMPS ON THE PHONE TO BEN PREECE TO DISCUSS THE CREATION OF THE FIFTH RECORD BY THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS AND JUST WHAT IT’S LIKE HAVING THE OLD CREW BACK TOGETHER.
It feels like somewhat of an event within the musical world when the seven faces that make up The New Pornographers – Carl Newman, John Collins, Kurt Dahle, Blaine Thurier, Todd Fancey, Neko Case and Kathryn Calder – synchronise their Google calendars and their own hectic schedules to come together and make music. Together is the Canadian collective’s fifth album in their 13 year career and as Newman explains, getting these heads together is somewhat of a logistical nightmare.
“It always has been,” he quips. “To a certain degree it is but we normally plan it quite a few months ahead – that’s the trick. Like, I’ll call up Neko on the phone and say “Hey we’re recording an album, when have you got some free time?” And she’ll say “I’ve got these two weeks” and I said “OK we’re booking you for those two weeks.” Somehow it just works, you know.”
As each of the individuals of The New Pornographers are actually artists in their own right, it must be strange assembling once every few years to continue the legacy of a specific project. You’d imagine that as an individual grows, the band dynamic would shift considerably but Newman explains that this isn’t necessarily so.
“It’s funny, people think that even though we’ve been together a long time that we’re growing apart but it’s not really the case. It felt like, making this record, that we were really comfortable with each other and that’s probably I ended up calling the record Together. Just the shock that after all this time, we still held it together against all odds.
“There’s definitely a lot of mutual respect there - it’s very helpful,” he continues. “It pushes you to be better, like, I’ve always thought that George Harrison because he was in a band with Lennon and McCartney. He couldn’t afford to write a shitty song, if he was going to get a song on the record, it had to be an amazing song. I don’t want to compare us to The Beatles but I think that happens in bands or in anything – if you’re playing a sport even.”
On top of having a remarkable solo career under the moniker A.C. Newman (his latest release being 2009’s exceptional Get Guilty), Newman assumes the lead role within The New Pornographers – not to the extent of fronting every song or dominating writing duties, but more getting everyone into the studio and extracting their strongest traits and using them to the band’s overall advantage.
“I’m not the mastermind but I guess I am the main guy,” he clarifies. “I knew I had a few songs like ‘Moves’ and ‘Your Hands (Together)’ that were a little more riff-oriented but I also thought, on this record, that I wouldn’t fight what we sounded like. I think, through the years, I’ve always fought what we sounded like, like you’re always trying to push the band in different directions. On this record, I thought “We don’t we just let it fly, why don’t we make a record that sounds like, you know, whatever we feel like doing.” I think that might’ve been the mission on this record, in as much as there ever is a mission. Mainly we go into the studio with some songs and go “Alright, let’s do this, let’s figure out how to make a record.””
Playing to all their strengths combined Together connects the indie power-pop prowess of their acclaimed debut Mass Romantic with the more personal, emotive nature of their more recent material. Their dream of finding the middle ground between Led Zeppelin and The 5th Dimension is more present then ever and, as a result, it’s an album that aims to dazzle new listeners as much as it will please even the most obsessive of New Pornographers fans.
“I have no perspective of how good it is now in the scheme of things,” Newman laughs. “Sometimes I have to wait a couple of years after an album before I can listen to it and go [pauses] “That was great!” But I don’t quite have that perspective on Together yet, although when we were rehearsing for the Together Tour and I was listening back to our old records to re-learn them and get ready for tour, I was listening to Challengers and it actually pissed me off how people backlashed against that record. It was our first record where we got some backlash and I listened to it and thought “Those people are on fucking crack”, it’s that great. I think probably because it was a mellower record and I think that’s not what most people signed up for with us. I think most people see us as more of an indie-rock, party band – we play upbeat pop songs and [on Challengers] there were some of those but it was a lot more personal and reflective. Who knows – people have their own reasons for thinking whatever. When you make a record and somebody gives you a negative record, like I said you have no perspective and you think “Oh he’s right, maybe we suck.” But a couple of years later and I’m thinking “I like this” and I’m proud of it.
“I like it when the chorus of a song is obviously a chorus but it’s not really obvious,” he continues. “I like rock music or pop music when it’s slightly off but whenever we do something that’s slightly off then those quickly become my favourite songs.”
As for Newman’s rather impressive solo career, well he says it doesn’t get in the way of The New Pornographers or vice-versa, however proceedings in the studio can obviously be very different between projects.
“It’s interesting to make something where, even though it’s your project and overseeing it, I’m not really the focus of it,” he says. “I’m a member of the band but it’s not like I’m the guy that sings all of the songs, there are other people there. That really changes it, you know, and at some point I listened to Together and I thought “I don’t even sing that much on this record”. I realised that you’re making a record, sometimes you forget you’re the lead singer and I think that’s how it’s different from say A.C. Newman where I am just sitting there trying to figure out how to make a great record and I am not really concerned with who’s singing and trying to think “Who sounds best here?”
“But it’s definitely an adventure and it’s definitely very collaborative,” he says contemplatively. “It really hasn’t lost that much of what it had in the beginning, like we spent a week recording at this studio called Old Soul in Catskill, New York. It was a studio that was just filled with old vintage keyboards and it was like this keyboard Disneyland. I think there was myself and Kathryn and John and we were in there and playing with everything that was around and I thought that that was us at our best – when we’re just in a studio screwing around and trying things and trying to be creative and plugging in the melotron or the clavinet. I think that’s what we’ve always been about – just going into the studio and trying things and trust your instincts and good things usually come out.”
So anyone that knows anything about my taste in music will know how borderline obsessed I am with Mark Oliver Everett, he of Eels fame. Well recently I was lucky enough to chat to him for the third time. In the past, he’s been difficult to speak to - he never really offered anything further than yes or no answers unless we talked about his beloved dog.
This time not only was I was ready for him but also caught him in a rather chipper mood. I indugled him in our shared love of Prince, his recent autobiography and his most recent mission of putting three full-length albums in less than a year.
Article originally published in Time Off Magazine - www.timeoff.com.au - 11.08.2010
THREE ALBUMS IN JUST OVER A YEAR IS NO EASY FEAT YET HERE SIT EELS HAVING ACHIEVED JUST THAT. BEN PREECE FINDS OUT JUST HOW CREATIVELY SPENT MAIN MAN MARK OLIVER EVERETT IS AND WHAT THE IDEOLOGY BEHIND THE TRIOLOGY IS.
It’s hard to have a conversation about Mark Oliver Everett or “E” - the man almost solely behind Eels – without the words “eccentric” or “genius” creeping in. Over the course of nine largely consistent albums, the man, with a rotating guestlist of band members, has endured the heights of commercial success, record company fallout and commercial failure, all executed with a sharp-tongue of truth and his attitude on his sleeve. Pick up his autobiography – Things the Grandchildren Should Know – to read of the torments and losses, dizzying success and incredible lows all experienced virtually as Everett formed the band. Right now however, at this very moment, he claims that life is very nice and that he’s very happy. And why shouldn’t he be – after a four year absence and a spectacular array of releases that not only included the aforementioned autobiography but also a best of compilation and DVD as well as a b-sides/rarities double release, he is poised for the release of his third album in just over 12 months, Tomorrow Morning.
“Well I went four years without putting any albums out so I figured I’d better up for lost time,” he explains. “It was an experiment. I always admired how the pace records used to come out in the 60s when the norm was every six months and I always felt that was how I wanted to do it. But now that I’ve done it and I realise how much work it entails, I realised that the reason they could do it in the 60s is because they were all taking speed. That was back when nobody knew that speed was so bad for you. I’m glad I did it but I’m exhausted and I don’t think I’m going to keep doing it.
“Prince used to put out an album every year, I remember back in the 80s, it was like every Spring there’d be a new Prince album and that was a nice pace too. Record companies only want you to put one out, at the most rapidly, every two years – it’s all about marketing, they want it to be this big… it puts all this undue commercial pressure on an album because it’s all about this big marketing moment. That’s why they start putting in their two cents about, you know, what the album should be content-wise.”
Starting the run of close releases started in June 2009 with Hombre Lobo, an album that not only returned Everett to the musical radar after four years but also spawned a couple of classic Eels singles in ‘Fresh Blood’ and the stunning ‘That Look You Give That Guy’. Next was the outright dark and depressing End Times, an album that caught fans by surprise. Everett had always addressed the darker side of himself in his songs but his delivery was always somewhat tongue in cheek. Tomorrow Morning is next as Everett explains, it completes the trilogy and thematically ties the three neatly together
“Each of these three albums is based on a human experience or emotion that we all probably experience at some point: the first one is about desire, the second one is about loss and the third one is about renewal. The great thing about it was that I knew I wanted to do these three albums about these three subjects, I recorded each of them as their own album and amazingly as I recorded each of these three albums, something would be going on in my life that would be perfectly timed to help me with the subject matter. It was incredible.”
The depressing nature of End Times, the second record of the three, attracted criticism for its blatant dark lyrical nature and, while it left fans scratching their heads, it left Everett smiling.
“The thing that was interesting for me was that I always knew what was going to happen at the end of the End Times album, that it was going to go onto this – renewal,” he explains, renewal being the new release Tomorrow Morning. “It never seemed as dark to me as it did when it came out and people were like “Wow, this is a downer!” I was sort of smiling because I knew, you know, wait until you see what’s next. Because it changes, when you see the title End Times and then you see the title Tomorrow Morning coming after it, it changes the meaning of End Times and it means “Oh it wasn’t the end at all, it was just one of those terrible times that feels like the end.” But then there’s always a new morning tomorrow.”
But the initial thought of the three records eventually revealing the three emotion-driven themes Everett describes, the albums don’t necessarily have too much sonically in common.
“They were each made on their own, in a musical world of their own and they were all designed, hopefully, to stand on their own – they don’t have to be thought of as part of a trilogy,” Everett tells. “A triple album was never a consideration. I just did a double album for the last one [2005’s Blinking Lights and Other Revelations], I thought that if I did a triple record right after that I felt that it was too much. Not to say I won’t try that one day. Some of the songs were written ahead of time, I wrote them on a guitar or a keyboard or whatever and some of them just came about from experimenting in the studio. That can often be the funnest time when that happens.”
Aside from perhaps the obvious full band effort on the 1996 debut Beautiful Freak, the beautiful thing about Everett’s music is that it often sounds like one man in isolation, overdubbing layers of guitars and drums in his own home studio. He explains that this isn’t always the case and on Tomorrow Morning, despite its one man band vibe, it does feature a few extra musicians.
“There’s a lot of collaborators involved on this one – there’s longtime Eel Cool G Murder and Knuckles the drummer and there’s an orchestra and a choir. They were all different processes but they were all done in my home studio for the most part. But they’re all uniquely musically and in environmental worlds of their own – Hombre Lobo was more of a band record, End Times was more of a solitary singer/songwriter/acoustic guitar record and this one is more of an electronic, experimental, anything goes record.”
And the “anything goes” ethos Everett now lives by is one he deserves and has earned after years of famously battling with record companies. They said 1998’s Electro-Shock Blues, an album that followed a difficult time in his personal life and features lyrics about death, suicide and cancer, was too lyrically depressing while 2001’s much rockier Souljacker was too far in the wrong direction.
“It doesn’t matter anymore because I am the record company now,” Everett snickers. “It’s nice because all the record company has been for me is the home office but then the records are distributed by different companies around the world, the same people who always actually put out the records. The only thing that has changed is office, it’s now a home office and there’s nobody in there telling me stupid ideas.”
WHAT: Tomorrow Morning (E Works/Vagrant/Shock)
WHERE & WHEN: Tivoli Friday Aug 13
So rather than updating this blog on recent overseas adventures as I promised, I thought I’d post a transcription of my recent interview with Sia Furler. I’m particularly proud of this interview - you can’t really read it here but our chemistry was really great right upfront, although Sia is such a personality, I am not sure who should wouldn’t exactly get along with.
This interview was for promo for the release of her new album We Are Born and was a cover for Time Off, Brisbane - Wednesday, June 2.
BP: Hello Sia!
BP: How are you?
SF: <mimics my Australian accent> Yeah g’day maaaate. You sound so much like my friend David, it’s amazing.
BP: I’ll take that as a compliment, he’d better be a good guy!
SF: Oh I love him, he’s a fantastic person – very tall and strong.
BP: Now it’s brilliant to talk to you – what are you up to?
SF: Oh my God! I’m dying of promo. I’m in a proma. I’m somewhere having a promo coma. Oh my God, I’ve been doing so much of it, I am so sick of talking about myself but it’s nice to be able to tell you the truth because, you know what, no one actually asks me how I am. That feels very nice – thank you for not asking and thank you for not opening with the question <adopts fake-sophisticated demeanour>“Well this album is certainly different from the last album, tell us what happened.” Thank you for that, I really appreciate it.
BP: So it’s been a rough day for you then?
SF: <laughs> Well it’s like the part that’s monotonous and repetitive and I am sick of myself. I want to shoot myself out of my own bum, I’m so sick of talking about myself and the album. I’m so bored of myself, I want to like develop multi-personalities so I can have a holiday from me. I want to develop one personality that is like a total ego-maniac and loves to do this and is just obsessed with themselves. So yeah, right now I am in the back of my bus with my two dogs – one of them is lying on top of me and the other is lying next to me but on top of my arm. I decorated the tour bus, which you can see on Twitter – forward-slash siamusic, go for it. I decorated it with floral sheets and I also put my dogs’ crate in there which is also decorated but with origami paper and then I bought some non-stick, floral, kind of weird rubbery stuff that you put on every surface so that things don’t slide around when you drive around and it’s windy. You can, like, put your bottle of water down and doesn’t slide off and land on your beloved dog’s head. What else? I’m watching the news on mute while I do promo, there’s something to do with someone with a bow tie – he’s stepping down, he’s an older gentleman. “Supreme court justice John Paul Stevens announces his retirement” – that’s what’s really happening in the world. And meanwhile I talk about me and Christina Aguilera getting a manicure. <laughs>
BP: I hear you’re besties.
SF: Oh yeah… we tight. We tight in the sense that I can email her and ask her how I should have my baby, whether I should have a vaginal birth or a c-section? We don’t talk on the phone every day, she’s a very busy person but we did really enjoy each other’s company and I liked working with her, it was really, really, really good and fun and stimulating and awesome. And we ended up with four songs on her album so that’s also fucking ace! <sings> I’m gonna be rich!
BP: And is she going return the favour and co-write songs with you for you?
SF: I don’t know. Maybe. I’d like that.
BP: But you can write your own pretty well though can’t you?
SF: <laughs> Well I can write my own but so can she. She can. She just doesn’t. But she just likes to get other people… it’s more of a collaborative expansion thing for her. We all get stuck in a rut, you know, I get stuck in a rut with my “nears” and “fears” and “heres” and “fears” – I think that she’s just smart, she just brings people in. If I didn’t write the songs in their entirety, like there were songs where I couldn’t think of a chorus, and I was saying that it was Sam’s [Dixon, her bassist and regular co-writer] fault and that he needed to change the chords. And he’d be like “Well I think this really is a chorus” and I’d be like “Well I don’t” and he’s like “Well I do” and then Christina walks in the room, after like an hour’s personal training, and I’d be like “I don’t think this is a chorus and Sam does” and she was “Well play it for me” and we would and she’d be like “So what are the lyrics you have for it” and I was like “These… but I don’t like them” and she moved the words around and said “I think it’s a chorus” and went <adopts Christina vocal impersonation> and my hair flew back off my face like that Chris Cunningham video where he screams in people’s faces, so good, and I was like “Oh fuck, what am I doing here, you don’t really need me here, you’re amazing!” So the truth is, she doesn’t need me and I could suggest we wrote the songs in their entirety and she just gets a third but that’s not the truth. Maybe that’s how it is for some people that write with her or that’s the idea that’s given but it’s not the truth. It is with some people, but not with her.
BP: Well tell me about you now. I’m reluctant to ask you anything now because I don’t want to ask the clichéd questions about your next album….
SF: Awwwwww, I love that about you! <laughs manically> Well the reason I probably wouldn’t write a song with anybody else is because I’m a bit of a control freak and I only like to sing things that I wrote and things that I can relate to.
BP: I know you didn’t write ‘You’ve Changed’ on your own but did you take control of 100 per cent of the rest?
SF: No, I only ever write 50 per cent of any song because guess what – I can’t play any instruments.
BP: Oh really? But I reckon you’ve got one of those quirky voice instruments that you pull out from time to time. You know, the really annoying one the drummer pulls out in the band room to communicate with other musicians?
SF: <makes bad beat boxing sounds> Oh, you’re right! <laughs> I totally do. The things I write that you might hear are horn lines, string lines, sometimes guitar hooks – those things I will write with my voice but the basic chords are always by my collaborators and then the chords inform the tone of the song and what the feeling is – like whether it’s happy, sad or whatever – and then once the chords inform the tone I will get a melody and then that melody will sort of form shapes and sounds and the lyrics will come spewing out in, like, 20 minutes. And then we’ve written a song, that’s not to say it’s necessarily a good song but we write a lot of them and then we throw a lot of them in the bin and then we have everyone choose their favourite 12 and make an album out of them. And then dress it in different clothes every time but really it’s the same album over and over again – you know there’s something about people walking away, something about running towards, something about fighting, usually something about co-dependence, aloneness, fear of dying alone – yeah, every one is the same, it’s just like we get a different fashion designer to style it.
BP: And may I say you’ve gone a bit pop this time around…
SF: I know, which I love. I’m not offended by the word pop.
BP: Oh I’m a big pop fan so I’m not having a go at you in the slightest. I saw you at the Hi-Fi here in Brisbane recently and, hearing your new material, I thought this record is going to be incredible and a big pop record.
SF: Oh I’m so glad you say that because I love this and I’ve been trying to make this record for age but they wouldn’t let me. I delivered practically the same record, for all intensive purposes, to Universal about a month after the release of [2004 album] Colour The Small One and they dropped me. <laughs> They said “We can’t market this, you’re a down tempo artist” and I was like “Fuck you, when did this happen – have you heard my album before this [2001’s] Healing Is Difficult? That’s not fucking down tempo!” And they were like “Well now you’ve made Colour The Small One and you’re in Zero 7 and you’re a down tempo artist and we don’t know how to market you.” And I was all stubborn and I was like “Well that’s what I’m delivering” and they were like “Well you’re dropped” and I was like “Ooooo that didn’t go as planned” <laughs> So then I talked to everybody and everybody agreed that I was a down tempo artist and I had to make another down tempo record if I wanted to have a long term career. So really [2008’s] Some People Have Real Problems was like a concession to being pigeon-holed in that way. I’ve been holding on to this record and I kept writing and wrote more songs in this vein in the meantime and now, this is the collection of the best songs that I’ve written in the last six years that they wouldn’t let me put out.
BP: Without blowing too much wind up your arse Sia, I think this is going to be my favourite record of yours.
SF: Oh wow, thanks so much. I think it’s my favourite of mine too. I can relate to it. It’s weird - the other ones, to be honest, I listened to once after they were finished just to make sure there was nothing glaringly fucked about them. I used to think it was really ego-maniacal when artists would listen to their own records over and over again, it really grossed me out and I found it really disgusting. But this one, I’ve probably listened to 20 times because I actually like it.
BP: And tell me of your adventures of recording it. Tell me if I’m wrong but it seems with you like everything you do is not going to be just sitting in a room, it feels like it’s all adventurous. Tell me about putting those songs together.
SF: Well it was actually really fun. You know I worked with the a lot of these same musicians for nearly 10 years but we got someone new in on the guitar, we got Nick Valensi from The Strokes. I met him through Fab Moretti, drummer for The Strokes who I met when we split up with our partners and we became drinking buddies and then we moved in together and became roommates in Los Angeles and partied for a year or so I think. In that time he introduced me to Nick and his wife Amanda and it reminded me that I loved his guitar playing and that I was a fan of The Strokes, I had kind of forgotten. I asked his manager, so we could do it properly and he said yes and it just really brought a fun, new energy. I’ve never really made a guitar album and I feel this one is really guitar-driven and that’s really exciting for me too. So it was way more fun for all of us, it really tickled all of us. It was just fun and it always is – we’re good friends and Greg Kurstin the producer, I call him the anti-tyrant because he’s really smart and he just lets everyone be good at what they do. His direction is loose which really works for him and then he takes it all the way and he plays the keyboards and synthesisers and bloops and bleeps and makes it real shiny. There’s something with high end sounds he’s really smart with, he makes everything sound soda pop, like fizzy. So it was fun, the dogs were allowed to come, we found a dog-friendly studio and there was many a time when my fake intern, which is actually me, had to clean up dog shit from the studio that the engineer stepped in and stepped all around the studio and then the other engineer started puking because he was so offended by it. Because he started puking, the other engineer started puking so it had a bit of a chain-puking effect.
BP: Well I did ask about adventures didn’t I? You’ve clearly got very strong opinions on your own music, tell me more about your own favourite moments on the record…
SF: I like ‘Cloud’ and ‘The Fight’ the best – they’re my favourites to sing. ‘Be Good To Me’ is fun to sing too because I can get all fake-gospely and I feel like I’m praising the Lord on that one.
BP: ‘Buttons’ was a strong pop moment on your last record, you snuck that one into the down tempo mood of the rest?
SF: I feel so lucky because that wasn’t even going to go on the album and then we made that silly video for it and Perez Hilton put it on his website and next thing you know we had half a million hits on it and we were like “Fuck, we’d better put it on the record” and thank God we did otherwise I’d probably never have been able to put out these songs. It was the success of ‘Buttons’ that led the record company to believe they could actually market me in that way. It was a secret track, we couldn’t find a place for it. I tacked it on the end, I had recorded it but it didn’t fit on the album because I’d done that mid-tempo/down tempo stuff to appease the label.
BP: In your own eyes, are you more of a performer or a songwriter and enjoy more of the background sort of work more?
SF: I would like to be just a songwriter but I can’t afford to right now. I employ a lot of people and I feel responsible for their livelihood. I knew that I needed to put this record out and if this record makes me enough money then I’ll retire and just write songs and be like a dog masseuse.
BP: Do dogs actually need massaging?
SF: Yes, absolutely. It’s very stressful being a dog.
SF: What are you doing anyway? You can’t be dedicating a whole day to me.
BP: I’m on the beach watching a couple of dogs playing. I’m taking a break from helping shoot a music video. We’ve been here since 5am.
SF: You poor mother fucker – what the hell? It sounds so exhausting.
BP: So what else can we talk about? You’re essentially going from this musician’s musician to the forefront of pop. It’s not hard to see that after this album drops, you’ll be quite the crossover artist and every household everywhere will know your name. How are you feeling sitting on the edge of this – can you handle it?
SF: <suddenly timid> No I feel scared. I do – I feel really scared. I’m medicated, I’m on anti-depressants already because even the little bit of fame I had with the last record has sent me cuckoo. I went really cuckoo. I’m not really good with it, I’ve realised. It’s just weird, I’ll try and explain what it’s like because you’re not really allowed to complain when you get a bit famous because, you know, there are a lot of good things that happen and you get free stuff and you can tweet other celebrities and they usually tweet you back and you can tell them you love them and it feels good. There are stupid things good about being a little bit famous but the things that are really weird and the things that I think are psychological warfare is that when people like you a) they put you on a pedestal and b} they want to tell you that you mean something to them. I appreciate that and I know how that feels because I did that once to Jeff Buckley when I was 17 and he totally blanked me, he just turned away and walked off and it made me feel so bad. It effected the way I felt about his music and I just felt humiliated and stupid and I vowed that if I was ever a successful anything and if anyone tries to congratulate me on what I did that I wouldn’t do that stuff. Now I am realising that it’s actually really hard because, you know, things like… this really happened: my friend and I were having lunch together and she was telling me that she had been just diagnosed with breast cancer and somebody interrupted her and asked if they could have a photo with me. It’s not just not that that’s awkward enough, it’s that fragmented energy that they bring with them because they are nervous and excited and that is a really intense energy to be around and to be around regularly, If that happens even three or four times a day, it really fucks with your energy. It doesn’t surprise me at all that Amy Winehouse is a heroin addict or that Britney Spears had a nervous breakdown and has been diagnosed as bi-polar, it really doesn’t because even this minimal amount of fame that I’ve experienced is uncomfortable psychologically and that’s the thing is, fuck, how much do I want money? Do I want it enough to sacrifice my emotional health? I don’t know. So I’m trying to bring my life to my work now instead of allowing my work to control my life – so that’s why I’ve brought the dogs on tour with me, that’s why I’m not staying in hotels anymore, I’m living in this tiny little room in the back of a bus. I’m a creature of comfort. And then there’s Christina Aguilera who is this phenomenal singer and a really sweet and friendly person and that’s how I used to be – now I’m shy because I’m tired and I don’t even have enough energy for my friends and family because, at the end of the day when you’re giving it all away trying to be charismatic and engaging and intelligent all day to different interviewers or to record company people or to those you’re working with and then fans as well, then there’s very little left over for the rest of the world. With Christina as well, when I worked with her, we went out for dinner and her security guy Bob had to come over, would follow us to the restaurant, escort us there, wait outside and then follow us back to the house, wait until she got in there safely. For the majority of her life, he is there just in case anything should happen. She had a manicurist come to her house, a dog walker come to her house, she has a games room in her house so we could play Super Mario and pinball and stuff in her house, she has a cinema inside and the fact is, she can’t leave the house! That’s how she protects psychologically – she has everything in her house that she could ever need and she has Jordy, her amazing husband and a gorgeous kid. And that’s the thing, as much as I like money, I’m not sure I’m willing to give up everyday connection with people as an anonymous, regular person. Like when you meet someone on the bus and end up having an interesting conversation with them and stuff, because I’m scared I’m going to have to answer the same questions over and over over again. Sometimes I lie now, I say I’m a make-up artist if I meet someone on an airplane or whatever. So I don’t know if I’m ready for it and it’s very flattering that you’re saying that it might happen to me because it makes me feel like my work has been good but makes me feel really anxious, even just the idea of becoming more public property.
BP: And does that reflect in your want or need to tour because your tour of Australia recently was your first wasn’t it?
SF: Oh yeah it was but guess what, this is the thing – Australians are fucking awesome! They couldn’t give two shits, that’s the great thing about Australians. They don’t have fragmented energy and they’re not inappropriate, they don’t interrupt… I dunno, they’re fucking cool! They’re the best people in the fucking world as far as I’m concerned and I’m a proud Australian and I think we’re the best culture in the world – we’re so liberated and so easy-going and piss-taking and funny and irreverent and I miss it there so much and when I finally do squeeze out a pup, I’m definitely going to come back and it can go to school there because out of all the places I’ve lived and been, it’s still just the ant’s pants.
BP: So in saying that Sia, when are you coming back to visit us?
SF: Well I’m coming back for a wedding on December the 11th so I’m trying to get my management and my promoter in Australia t schedule me a tour around then so that I can try and incorporate it as well as incorporate Christmas and New Year and all that. It’d be good to do a New Year’s gig in Australia. It’d be really fun. I would like to do it so it’s actually a party and so I could be involved in it, not so much a performance, a party so we could all dance together and stuff.
BP: Hopefully they give the midnight slot so you can count it down.
BP: Well I will let you go because it sounds like you’re having a full-on promo day….
SF: Just two more half an hour interviews to go.
BP: Well go easy on them.
SF: Thank you sweetie. I appreciate it and thank you for being so nice. I like you, you’re my award winner for the day. I only have one award per day, did you know?
BP: Aw… I bet you say that to all the boy interviewers…
SF: NO! I don’t! You can even find out. Go and read all the other interviews I do today for Australia and so far, they’ve been Rolling Stone and I don’t even know what the next two are but you won’t hear them saying I told them they were an award winner.
BP: Well in that case, I’m very flattered – thank you very much and we’ll do our best to make you really successful without making you popular – how does that sound?
SF: Wow that’d be awesome! I want to be like Enya!
BP: What does she even look like?
Exactly! You wouldn’t know her if you trod on her right? She sells like ba-zillion records and you wouldn’t even know her if you stepped on her head.
BP: Well don’t go changing if you can help it – take care.
SF: I will. Bye sweetie bye bye!