Thursday, November 26, 2009

Les Claypool (Primus) interview (2009)


My first experience of Les Claypool was at the very least timely, or rather not a moment too soon. Hungry for anything weird, comical, noisy and not guitar grunge – A man in a huge pig costume playing the cello while a parade of circus freaks go by was enough to seal the deal for me. That was Claypool’s band Primus and their Mr Krinkle video, coming across as the living incarnation of a Gary Larson comic strip where the animals always took the lead and told stories through an often hilarious, skewed view of the world. The man behind the pig is after a ten year absence finally on route to Australia with his new band of beasts, collection of masks and further tales of Larson-esque oddballs. Talking to Claypool pre-tour, I find out first hand - as would be expected - nothing with the bassist is exactly as it seems. In keeping with the man/animal kinship throughout his work, I begin by asking what significance Les places on animals in their relation to humans.

"Not any necessarily, at least not consciously.” Les begins slowly and thoughtfully, “I think I'm just drawn the imagery really.” The sleeve of his new album Of Fungi & Foe features four sepia portraits of Claypool and his band mates caught between animal and human transformation. Les is half donkey. “Well that’s because I’m a bit of an ass.” He laughs nasally, “Travis Louis is the artist and he did some really interesting oil paintings of us with animal parts, so once again it’s not a conscious animal thing, he did that without input from me.” He adds, “I just liked what he did with our ugly mugs!”

Fans of Primus reciting a list of favourite songs could find themselves conducting a role-call of unlikely names; Mr Krinkle, Tommy The Cat, Wynona (and her beaver)… But do any of these vivid folks exist outside Les’s imagination, I wonder. "It depends on the song, but they're very rarely about anybody I know unless it's like composites of partially fictitious and partially real people. I usually embellish a lot when I'm writing, but there are usually elements of reality as well." The populating of his songs with bigger than life characters continues on Of Fungi & Foe. Only on a Les Claypool album would you find yourself in the company of OlRosco (“He likes a drink… when he drives”), or Errol (who can’t be told anything, “coz Errol knows everything”). Les explains; “It's always better to go with what you know, especially for me as I get older. As a kid I was exposed to a lot of old-skool country music and old musicals, so I've always been drawn to songs that tell some sort of tale and make me want to listen a little harder, you know.” Despite the unmistakable sound of Claypool’s vocal twang and the identifying freakshow personnel in his songs, the man himself is much happier taking the backseat to his creations. “For me as a performer, because I've never really considered myself a singer - I'm a bass player who kind of narrates the songs. It was always easier for me to go out on stage with these characters instead of just trying to sing like a typical lead singer in a rock band or anything. That's why I like to use the masks I wear, like the pig mask, because I'm fairly introverted so having these characters is a more comfortable way for me to tell my stories. Crazy things tend to happen when I put on the masks." He says giving a long, hearty laugh.

The music on Les’s latest release, Of Fungi & Foe was originally written for two separate projects - Mushroom Men, a Nintendo Wii computer game - and for a film called Pig Hunt – before he decided the songs could form an album all of their own. “I tend to just compile albums these days from whatever’s laying around in the home studio.” He says casually, “I’ve never really been one to sit down and write a whole album.” Ah, but has Les found himself parked in front of the computer game he’s scored?, “No I'm not a big gamer or anything but my son has been playing it, so I've had a look, you know. I just like the artwork, but I can’t actually play it very well.” He confesses. “With Pig Hunt, I decided to do the score for that because, well, how could I not want to be involved with a film about a 3000 pound wild boar that terrorises the pot fields of Northern California. You don't get those kinds of opportunities very often in life." He cackles, "I wasn't involved in the score at the start, I actually got to play a small role in the movie which was shot up near my house.” He continues, “My offices are in the old Industrial Light and Magic space so there's a lot of film sets that are still being used and one day I saw them building this huge prosthetic boar and I went up to the guys there they told me what was going on and I was really impressed with the idea so I said tell your producer if he wants a guy to deliver a pizza or anything in the film, I'm in!” The film, which is yet to get distribution, sees Les in a dramatic role for his on-screen debut; "I ended up playing an inbred redneck preacher whose hell bent on vengeance." He laughs. "I don't like working away from my home very much so the fact that film was being shot in my area was great for me. I do all my work at home, it's where I'm happiest."

The area where Les lives also happens to be the pinot noir mecca of Northern California, so it was no great stretch to branch out into the wine making field. His signature drop is the ‘strong and fruity’ Purple Pachyderm. "All my friends in the area are wine makers so it was just one of those things I decided to try to keep me off the streets. Since my marijuana usage has waned I've had to try and find something else to alter my perspective." He crows. "Also it's a great way to indulge in some good wine without having to pay a lot of money for it." Les confides his significant pot smoking habit began having some negative effects; "The worst thing was it started affecting my memory", he continues with a sharp cough, "I felt like it was starting to fragment my hard drive. People were saying to me 'oh hey remember that time we were in Italy and this thing happened...' and I was just like 'no I don't remember that at all', so that was getting worse and I've got some fairly interesting stories to tell and I would like to be able to remember them.”

The most high profile work in Les’s career is by far the South Park & Robot Chicken theme songs. The common thread in both of those cartoons is of course influences drawn from their creators' childhood fascinations being totally fucked about with. I wonder if  Les felt a connection with the twisted ideas behind those shows, and if he sees his own childhood as an inescapable reference in his own work? "If I sat and thought about it I could probably find a lot of stuff that came directly from childhood experiences but after being on the planet for a few decades, even my 20's seem like a long time ago. There were a lot of interesting things happen to me living in Berkley and running around San Francisco like a lunatic in my 20's that I draw from continuously and now that I'm into my 40's I've got a lot of fodder." He laughs. "My road manager recently came up to my house and hung out with me and a bunch of my friends and he was like 'oh my god, who are these people', because he saw us as being such a diverse group of unlikely companions, but I've always been attracted to people who are a little off centre. I guess we're just birds of a feather and the birds I happen to squawk with also happen to be a little obscure".

The upcoming tour has a lot of Les’s fans in a flutter about what exactly he is going to pull out this time around; a suitably impressionistic answer ensues…"Well people always want to know this because I'm always doing something different but I can only answer you by saying, it'll be something like you've never heard or seen before. The instrumentation is so unique and the players such mutants.” He cracks up again, “I've got Mike Dillon who's this insane vibraphonist and junkyard percussionist, Paulo Baldi on this bastardised drum kit that I make him play and Sam Bass who plays a sort of mutated cello and finally myself slapping away on my four string piece of furniture. It's all very unpredictable and quite, quite bizarre.” He says in closing. Now there's a reliable guarantee if ever there was one.


Check out Les's official site here for everything Claypool...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Chester Bennington (Linkin Park/Dead By Sunrise) interview (unpublished)

'Nu Metal' linchpins Linkin Park could've easily outstayed their welcome in terms of fickle music tastes. Yet the Californian rock/rap group somehow by-passed their peers and remained a force stronger than a rapidly weakening trend. Their last album, 2007's Minutes To Midnight was their most successful by far, yet an immediate follow-up was marred by singer Chester Bennington's declining health due to addiction and personal problems. A stop-gap between Linkin Park albums was an important choice for Bennington who, close to a mental melt-down called for a halt to his band's activities to give himself time to heal. It was in this time he began work on his most personal set of songs yet. The resulting album, Out Of Ashes released under the name Dead By Sunrise, is the final piece in Bennington's recovery. The album's personal subject matter, however didn't necessarily mean all was clear and direct when it came to seeing the project through; “I never know what a record's gonna sound like when it's done.” He begins, “Sometimes I fantasise about how I want a record to be and I'll hear an amazing album by another band and think wouldn't it be great to just make a really kick ass heavy album where every song is a teeth gnasher, and then I go to write something and it turns into a ballad. You know what I mean? ” He laughs. Listening to Chester describe the creative process, it's clear he doesn't think of it as a task. “I don't tell the music what to do the music tells me what to do.” He explains, “I tune into the cosmic fuckin' radio - the one all musicians listen to - and start pulling shit out of the air. It's definitely fun not knowing what your ideas are going to turn into, that's for sure.”

With Dead By Sunrise, Chester worked to his aforementioned style, but the difference was he needed to have enough material to convince his soon-to-be new band mates to step away from their own projects and help him see his vision through. “I just wrote a whole bunch of stuff before I really knew what I was going to do with it.” Bennington says of Dead By Sunrise's conception. “All I knew was I didn't think it was Linkin Park material; it was a lot more personal than anything we'd done before.” Joining him in the studio when it came time to record were Ryan Shuck and Amir Davidson (both formerly of '90s electro-goth band Orgy), who are now recording as Julien-K. Chester discusses their natural progress from old friends to new band members; “I've been very good friends with those guys for a little over ten years, and so obviously if your friends with people who are also 'architects' it's only a matter of time before you just go, maybe we should try and build something together.” He reflects.

“The idea that we would make an album together was more a fantasy than a reality for a long time, because those guys had Orgy and Julien-K and I was doing Linkin Park, so it was never very clear when or even if we could do something. This year though the time was right - those guys had an opening, and the new Linkin Park album is a little way off still, so it all just fell into place”. Chester knew when he was writing the songs that became Out Of Ashes, it would never be a Linkin Park album. “I think these songs were outside the spectrum of Linkin Park lyrically and stylistically.” He discloses, “There's a more random element in these songs in that they're kind of all over the place… They are much less easily defined as Linkin Park is.” He continues. “If you listen to Condemned, Crawl Back In, In The Darkness and My Suffering you'll hear they're all pretty diverse.” If Linkin Park was a touch too impersonal for Chester, then Dead By Sunrise has allowed him to share his inner most thoughts. Is there a line though which he won't cross regarding subject matter? “I don't know if there's stuff I wouldn't talk about, (in the songs) but I think there's some stuff that just doesn't 'sing well' you know. My music is a gate to humanity and an expression of life, so in those terms I don't think about what I can or cannot sing about, but in terms of what fits in our songs lyrically I have to be aware of what works.” He explains thoughtfully; “You know, I've never gone oh I'm sad today I think I'm gonna write a song about it. I kind of just wait for a melody or a lyric to come to me… Like a spider in a web patiently waiting for the fly to land.” He laughs “I've spent so much of my life involved in music, it just happens naturally now. Most of the time, the ideas aren't necessarily worth chasing too much and putting into songs, but then once in a while one comes along that's really interesting to me and I grab hold of it.”

A stand-out track on Out Of Ashes, Let Down comes close to Stone Temple Pilots musical territory, I'm curious if Chester feels a kinship with (STP singer) Scott Weiland as somebody who has also publicly battled addictions? “Well number one, I'm a huge Stone Temple Pilots fan - I think our voices are complimentary to each other, and secondly, I feel more that if there's any kind of kinship it's that I really appreciate what he does vocally and musically, but that is where it ends, because I have to separate myself personally from what I love in his music as much as possible so as not to unconsciously mimic his style.” Bennington, much like Weiland has been close to breaking point at the hands of his drug and alcohol addiction. Chester was reputed to be house-bound, virtually broke and suffering panic attacks due to his destructive lifestyle. “Well yeah there was a period where I couldn't leave my house, but not because of agoraphobia or anything but because I was alcoholic and I tended to run into problems when I go out drinking.” He continues, “I was having shakes and really bad and panic attacks mainly from the withdrawal from alcohol which it made it very difficult to lead a normal life.” His ongoing recovery from this period largely informed the songs which became the Dead By Sunrise album; “You draw on things whether positive or negative, but I tend to run with a lot of the doom and gloom stuff.” He confesses, “Life is so diverse and tends to throws so many curve balls at you whether it's 'oh shit I just fell in love', or 'oh crap I just lost my sanity', and it's those extremes that make me want to write. For some reason a lot of artists feel as though there best stuff comes from their hardest times and there's truth to that because there's something intriguing about life's difficulties. There's a certain poetry about unhappiness just as there is about falling in love and I think people like to feel that they're connected to those things through music.” Chester explains further; “Look at the rise of punk music in the UK during the '70s and how it was all connected to the economic strains that people were under at the time. It was the bands that spoke out loudest and with the greatest accuracy of what the country was collectively feeling. It wasn't all depressing music, but it was angry and the message was clear.”

With much of the new album's content dealing with personal expression - does the singer feel like a more contented person? “Not contented in the 'I can take it easy now' sense, because the more I work, the more productive I feel like being. Now because I feel good about the album, I have a rejuvenated desire to go on to the next thing and keep pushing myself.” The 'next thing' to which Chester refers is a new Linkin Park set, due mid-next year. I ask how the new songs are shaping up; “It's hard to explain what they sound like, but from my point of view I really feel like we're making our best stuff. We went through a process of rediscovering who we were as a band after Minutes To Midnight, and I feel like we've tapped into that while making the new album. It's been really fun working again together after our break also.” The expectations for Linkin Park's next album will surely be pretty high considering who's producing the work - the slightly scary Rick Rubin. So what is the man really like to work with?; “It's Rick man, he's probably the most knowledgeable person I've ever met in terms of what he likes in music as well as what's already been done. If we try and just do stuff we've tried before, it ain't gonna wash with him. He'll tell us straight out he doesn't like it or that we're just repeating ourselves.” Chester mimics Rick Rubin; “Yeah guys that was great when you did it ten years ago, but let's not do that again, okay!” He laughs, “His honesty is really important to us because he knows our music. He says things like, oh that what have been a great track to put on Hybrid Theory (2000) but it's not gonna work now. We're ready to do something completely new.”


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ladyhawke live in Melbourne (2009)

Venue: The Forum

For Ladyhawke singer Pippa Brown at least, what has become the runaway success album of the last 12 months, was simply her  exercise in making songs for lovers of nostalgia. The blueprint is 80s pop-soul, but done with freakishly authentic attention to detail which easily transcended Ladyhawke’s many contemporaries who were all borrowing and bottling typical 80s-centric sounds and creating a movement in the process. Whatever it was she tapped into on her debut album, it brought with it a wave of accolades and international recognition for the shy New Zealander. Unfortunately it’s this shyness that permeates through the Ladyhawke live show, or at least the one witnessed at the Forum tonight. Pippa has clearly walked out of her bedroom - where the songs were apparently composed - and onto a stage without any sign of a transition into live performer. Brown tonight is playing a rather un-dynamic conduit of the songs which have made her a household name.

It isn’t all bad news though for us, her eager audience who have waited a considerable amount of time for this – her first major headlining Australian tour, no less than a year after the album first hit the shelves. A great deal of work has gone into the stage presentation, including a huge water colour portrait of a howling wolf by artist Sarah Larnach (who also did the My Delirium video), a first class light show, and a particularly overzealous smoke machine. The usual pre-show wait involving looking at roadies fiddling around with knobs for as long as it takes to slowly drain the bar is replaced tonight by ridiculous amounts purple lit smoke gradually engulfing the stage. I suddenly feel like I’m in Purple Rain and Prince is about to burst through the fog in his high heeled boots, and shove Let’s Go Crazy in our faces. No sooner had that thought made me forget who I was here to see, than the four silhouetted members of Ladyhawke’s band emerge from the cloud and move into position.

Front and center Pippa herself parks herself behind the mic stand which has been heavily decorated in glaring lights, giving the impression of a very scrawny Christmas tree. Brown is furnished with a small programmable keyboard and guitar while fleshing out the sound are her touring band on main keyboard, guitar and drums. They begin with Magic, the album’s fifth and latest single; and yet another example of why 2009 has been Ladyhawke’s year. Magic, as with many other songs tonight, floats through the Forum on a driving, instantly familiar hook. The audience erupts in approval and for a time it’s easy to forget about little things like muddy sound, poor microphone volume and Pippa’s complete lack of mobility. By the third song however, From Dusk Til Dawn, it becomes apparent that Pippa is in fact hiding behind her mic and has no intention of coming out from there. Her voice is also so low in the mix that at times she almost disappears completely in the noise, lights and smoke. It’s a shame because the set list - mostly just the album with only a couple of exceptions - is an embarrassment of goodies. The first diversion from the album, a b-side (or whatever they’re called now), Danny & Jenny very nearly steals the whole show. Here’s where the problem lies for your humble reviewer, Pippa’s performance tonight is at worst mumbled and careless, but even the songs she’s thrown away as b-sides are so damn good, a sloppy performance fails to ruin their appeal.

The problematic ‘mumbling’ mentioned before has caused a fan down the front to start shouting at Pip to ‘turn her mic up’ to which the singers responds “It doesn’t have a volume control – I can’t just turn a knob and make it louder”. I feel bad for Pip during this exchange because for the first time you can see her frustration with the obvious sound problems that have affected the show so far. It’s time to pull out the hits and calm the savages, and so is the case with Back Of The Van. How that song with it’s ‘you set me on, you set me on fire’ refrain could not have been lifted from some teen drama/comedy circa 1987, is incredible. Back Of The Van has won back a few disgruntled I’m-not-dancing-anymore-‘til-she-sings-better fans near the front, and so with the momentum up again at last, we get Crazy World, Better Than Sunday and Paris Is Burning back-to-back. During the latter song, Pip steps away from the mic for the first time tonight, giving herself room to drop in a pretty fat guitar solo and extending Paris Is Burning by a couple of minutes.

Two well chosen covers make up the encore; Split Enz’ 1984 single, Message To My Girl holds well with the Ladyhawke big chorus nostalgia ethos, but it’s Patti Smith’s Free Money that has Pippa really indulging a rock ‘n’ roll dream. As expected, the band finish with their biggest hit locally, My Delirium. Although this made for a top finale, the band still struggled against a poor sound mix right to the very end, which is perhaps what prompted them to walk hurriedly off stage, barely acknowledging the crowd as soon as My Delirium was over. Annoying, but what was really niggling at me long after the show, was did we see Ladyhawke on a bad or good night? Because whichever it was, Pippa really needs to develop herself as a performer. She’s got the songs, she’s a mad guitarist, and already has the international acclaim – so if the band could just work out their technical crap, and Pippa find her inner stage beast, they’ll be absolutely fucking deadly.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Jeff Martin (The Armada/The Tea Party) interview, part 2


If you haven't caught The Armada live this year, then you're just not trying. Canadian native Jeff Martin has exhaustively demonstrated his latest band's powers on stage, whipping up a hurricane of east meets west blues rock in a tour schedule that makes most bands seem lazy by comparison. The Armada - once described by Jeff as 'three tangents in a framework' - includes Irish percussionist Wayne Sheehy and Perth bassist Jay Cortez. The trio, pooled together from different points on the globe, now based in Australia full-time, has enjoyed the vast majority of their success locally.

Singer and guitarist Jeff Martin - although dropping our original interview slot in favour of a few beer sandwiches (minus the bread), more than makes up for it the following day when I finally catch up with him, detoxed, jovial and sharing a few thoughts on personal successes. "Ah, well we had good cause to celebrate, you see." Jeff explains of his earlier absence, "I don't know how many shows I've done in my career, but I have to say, I think that night was the best one I've played in my life." Good thing too, the concert in Sydney two nights previous was recorded for a planned DVD release. "I felt a real coordination, if you like. The three of us were on fire, the audience was on fire, and just to be able to pull off what we did with all the different instruments and all the moods and emotions was one of my proudest moments."

Despite some criticisms of the Armada's 'confused direction' in concert, Jeff seems to have greater confidence than ever before of his new band's abilities. "All of my dreams and aspirations as far as were I wanted to go after The Tea Party are done and dusted with The Armada. It's a tangible thing too. I mean the people around me have all been saying, you know, something's changed within me. It's like the stars have all lined up at long last." He laughs.

Another change or at least recalibration fans can expect is The Armada in 'acoustic' mode as they have been billed on their current tour; but is it a straightforward 'unplugged' set as the billing suggests? Jeff explains. "Actually, it's just as loud as ever," He laughs, "I mean we have acoustic instruments, but it's still a rock show at the end of the day." I ask Jeff to pin point what makes this tour different from the previous one where they launched their debut album. "Well pretty much everything changes night to night anyway; we rarely play the songs the exact same way twice which is something that comes naturally from the musicianship between the three of us." He further describes, "It's like there's a signpost in every song where we all just know to recollect, but then going into the next one, we can take any journey we want while trusting each others ability to bring it all back together. It's like there's a real collective consciousness in this band."

The centerpiece of the Armada's live shows is the monstrous BlackSnake Blues which sees Jeff transform on stage into a kind of possessed conjurer - a character brought forth from his own psyche, he explains. "That song's taken on a whole new level for me, especially with Wayne's percussion - which I call the machine – it's certainly turned into some very heavy voodoo music. In fact it's fucking sinister." Our interview takes a surprising turn as Jeff begins to reveal a long time fascination with black magic and esoteric practices.

"I'm a student of (legendary occultist) Aleister Crowley's and I always will be." He says firmly. "That is a very big part of my psyche, but it's not something that I talk about very much. I do however reference it in my music as an exotic subject which I find worth exploring." The story of Led Zeppelin's dabbling with black magic and Crowley's teachings became widely known as a strong influence on their music, a fact that did not escape Jeff he says, continuing. "When I was probably 14 I started listening to Led Zeppelin and finding out about their influences and it all seemed so mysterious to me, until I reached mental maturity and was able to, you know handle it and follow that path." Jeff later was to become friends with Jimmy Page and even stayed with him in London during which time Page enlightened Martin on the finer points of the occult. "He told me to follow my will, and what that meant was to 'do the great work' and understand my destiny. If you do that and truly find your path then the universe will basically conspire to help you." The meeting between Jeff and Jimmy would appear to have been a great success and a will to Martin's power. Yet I'm reminded of the story of David Bowie's experience upon meeting Page in the late '70s at the height of Zeppelin's black magic phase, where he apparently felt in the 'presence of pure evil' when around the guitarist. Jeff on the other hand seems to have gained purpose and confidence through Page's guidance. "You know, through him I understood why it was so important as an artist to be focused and true to yourself." Jeff concludes.

Keeping in mind Australia has been the focus of The Armada's extensive tour, before he considers taking the band to the world Jeff is awaiting his residency application to be approved. Until which time he is effectively trapped in Australia. "There are lot worse places to be trapped, let me tell you," He laughs. "It was always very hard for me to leave Australia; I have a son who was born here, and it's very important to me to become a resident. Now I just have to wait a few months until my visa is sorted out - it would jeopardise my chance of gaining residency sooner if I did go overseas - but after that I want to take The Armada to Europe because I'm very passionate about this band." Jeff adds proudly, before heading off to join his band mates and play another wild show, "I think that people deserve this kind of music, and I know that sounds like a big statement but I just want to give people the best. There's a lot of crap music out there that's being pushed, but I think audiences deserve better."


This is the second part of two interviews I've done with Jeff. The first can be viewed on my blog or on The Armada's official site (Just follow the link)...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Patrick Wolf interview (2009)


There’s a mega-star, albeit one kept in check, inside Patrick Wolf. Even as he riffles through charity shop racks looking for interesting clothing to tailor to his unique tastes, he’s also hunting for a cape to match his crown. Yet his ambition to please himself musically has thankfully outweighed his ambition to be an award-winning pop icon. The singer/composer acknowledges that holding back on the darker elements in his work would probably forge an easier path for him, but he simply doesn’t know how to sugar coat his – let’s say - peripheral fascinations.

Tonight Patrick, at home in London, protected from the freezing winter just outside his window, curls up in his bed with the phone he has rarely been off all day. He softly vocalizes his comfortable state in a voice that is all self-reassurance. All he has to do before sleep is answer a few questions. “It’s almost midnight now, and although I’ve been up since four this morning, I feel like I can do this. You will be kind, won’t you?”  His thick London accent is offset by the dreaded sniffles foretelling of a cold. I respond by telling Wolf, he needs to rest and shouldn’t be doing promo at this hour. (Laughs) “Well it’s just one of those things I know I have to do, and to be honest I usually don’t mind doing interviews.” He continues, “I’ve learned to have a bit of fun with them but, occasionally it can get a little demoralizing when I have to answer questions about my hair or how tall I am. I do actually have other things to talk about rather than the colour of my hair, or what I had for breakfast.” Patrick then confesses, “I mean I do play along if an interview is going that way, but I don’t even talk about those sorts of things with my friends, so it feels very strange.”

 It would seem by his response that Wolf encounters a lot of people in the media who don’t know what to make of him. Perhaps like the bunyip of legend he appears differently to all who see him? Some will see his boy-band good looks and stop at that. Others will take an interest in his exotic wardrobe, while a few might even work at finding a box to place him in based on the “boy lost and confused: approach with caution” lyrics often found in his work. Despite some wide-of-the-mark categorizing, Patrick sees himself as very much an open book. “I am probably honest to a fault.” He elaborates, “But then it depends how you ask the question, and who’s asking. Right now I’m very tired and so that is affecting what you’re getting from me, but if I was out on my bicycle zipping around, I would give a very different impression I’m sure.” He laughs, “I know for a lot of artists, there is a wall between themselves and the press but for me it’s like an extension of my work as an artist, as someone who wants to express something hopefully worthwhile. I’m nothing if not honest.”

Wolf’s fourth album The Bachelor was released earlier this year on his own newly launched label, Bloody Chamber Music. Following 2007’s one-off major label release Magic Position, Patrick reflects on his brush with the “big-time”; “They (Universal) didn’t know how to market me at all. I think they would have been happier if I was a straight up pop artist.” The partnership failed the first test, and both Wolf and Universal ‘agreed on a separation’. “It feels like I’ve done the dress rehearsal and now I’m ready for my big show.” He is talking about the unglamorous times spent scratching around desperately to fund his first two independent albums - then being offered major label support, only to turn his back on them in favour of running his own label.

“I’ve always believed in independence for musicians and I’ve been in talks with many different types of record labels where nobody knew what to do with me, so now I’m back to the relative safety of my own independent set up.” It was his major debut that gained him attention in Australia, and The Bachelor has continued that success enough to warrant a full-scale tour. His shows are famously elaborate orgies of colour and costume. Patrick enigmatically explains what to expect, or rather what he envisions;  “I would really like to do the shows as I see them deep in my heart, you know, with a huge band, amazing lighting and revolving platforms, trapdoors and people flying on ropes and everything that I see in my imagination, but really the shows are still going on a journey and they’re not at that stage yet… they’re just happily evolving.” He ads; “All I can tell you is we’re a very close family, the band and crew who I tour with, and we always try and make the shows fun and interesting and really make the most of whatever we have.”

As Patrick talks of evolving his live show, the subject of his childhood interest in the Theremin has him mentally redesigning the stage; “I like the idea of having dancers using the movement of their bodies to create the sounds as they dance around the instrument. Only I don’t know yet how I could possibly amplify or record that in concert.” His visions coming to fruition are the blood and bones of Wolf’s work, no matter how confronting. Take the video to Bachelor single, Vulture for example. An erotic one-man performance inspired by the Nazi-era German bondage & discipline films, which has sadly been misplaced along side Madonna’s watered down ‘liberation-and-leather’ Justify My Love outing. “Well I think my video was quite the opposite of what Madonna was doing.” He explains, “Everybody thought I was trying to be sort of sexy or provocative but in fact I was really addressing this male awkwardness in expressing sexuality. When I put that out, I was really interested in how people would define what it was I was saying.” Not disappointed then, Patrick instead is curious what, if any, bench marks his video might set; “Who knows, it might start a whole wave of boy-bands in bondage gear clips.” He laughs, adding “I just realised, this interview is starting to sound like In Bed With Madonna.”

On his website, you can view candid clips of Patrick at his home working on songs. The footage reveals his flat to be - as your mum might say - “a bomb sight”. “I’m definitely a hoarder.” He says proudly, “It takes me ages just to move house and I’ve often though it’d be fun to hire a TV crew to film me moving for comedy value.” He laughs, “It’s like Mary Poppins handbag, where she opens a compartment and out pops a harpsichord and in another one there’s a statue.” He continues, “I really like the idea of living in a museum like Michael Jackson’s house. He was one of us, a hoarder so I can definitely understand how he ended up living like he did.”


click for Patrick Wolf's official site

Patrick's last date on his 2009 tour  at the Prince Bandroom in Melbourne was filmed, have a look at some amazing footage from this unforgettable show: 
"Battle" live at the Prince Bandroom

...and my favourite pics from the night

Patrick Wolf live pics:

Prince Bandroom, Melbourne Dec. 2009
By Leigh Salter (moi).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Angie Hart (Frente) interview


Angie Hart has always submitted to growing up before our eyes. Her songs from the very start always came from sharing real experiences; such as the sweet joy of first love (Labour of Love); through I'm-alright-as-long-as-there’s-valium songs (Accidentally Kelly Street); to bitter-sweet songs of accepting human failings (Ordinary Angels). All the while her own monsters and angels remained wrapped around her feet, waiting to be revealed upon the slightest lift of her hem. Even in a time of dead inspiration, Angie breathed into life the very feeling of writer's block (Lonely), showing how close she could go to even making greatness out of nothing at all. There were always indicators of a girl who never did anything by halves. It was extreme joy, anguish, desire etc.. yet always sung in a beautiful medium falsetto. That voice acted as a reminder to its owner to be cautious of wallowing, even in some pretty dark times. Take the title of her debut solo album Grounded Bird (2007) for example. The emphasis was on defeat and restriction - a theme which carried over into the songs themselves – still the work never dipped into hopelessness.

Now after a year or so of cautious steps forward and upward, Angie is truly taking flight on Eat My Shadow. Perhaps her recent marriage - her second - along with a catalogue behind her of well shaped and somewhat disguised ‘venting’ songs has allowed Hart a more contented space to play in. An expanded team of behind-the-scenes musicians have stepped in to act as essential sounding boards for Hart to realise her bold new moves. She continues a partnership with Ben Lee (who co-wrote with Ange on Grounded Bird). Plus there are further collaborations with Mark Seymour and Shane Nicholson. It is, however, Dean Manning (Holidays on Ice) - who Angie only recently worked with on his album Pillage Before Plunder – that invokes discussion. "He's a lot more playful than I am which is really contagious for me, so I love making music with him," Angie explains, "I always leave shows after playing with Dean remembering what's fun about music and how to make it more enjoyable." The Holidays On Ice project which drew Angie and Dean together earlier this year was a welcome distraction for Hart who was working through the songs which would become Eat My Shadow. "Holidays On Ice was so different to what I was working on at the time, and that was just what I needed to stop myself taking things too seriously, which I tend to do at times when I write."

Angie's main writing partnership on Eat My Shadow was Silver Ray guitarist Cam Butler. "There are a lot of guests on the album, but Cam arranged the strings for me and he and I did a lot of the writing together too." On the outstanding Little Bridges, Angie roped in Bonnie Prince Billy for a duet, a dream collaboration come true, she reveals. "That was one of those magic things where I just sent off a letter and hoped for the best and he replied straight away." That song had always been planned as a duet; it was only a matter of finding a voice that fitted. Hart beams; "Billy is my most admired singer and so he was always on the very top of my wish list. It goes to show it really does never hurt to ask."

The new album begins with a couple of affirmation songs - There's Nothing Wrong With You and I'm Afraid Of Fridays - leading me to wonder if Angie had been killing some old demons; "I love the affirmation songs at the moment." She states joyfully, "Fridays was a song for me, and There's Nothing Wrong With You was written for a friend, but every time I sing it, it seems to always come back to me. It's that old story of whatever annoys you about someone else is actually the thing that you most hate about yourself." The track comes across like a letter from the heart, asking the recipient to confront their dark side, go to battle with it and basically toughen up or be forever defeated. This song leads the charge that is Eat My Shadow away from Angie's own low points in life. A time filled with many such low and high points were the six years spent in Los Angeles with now ex-husband and collaborator Jesse Tobias. The two formed the band Splendid, which existed during the six years they were married and produced two albums. The ensuing separation helped inform the songs that became Grounded Bird. A possible further indication of a problem pairing came in the form of Angie's a touch-too-personal cover of Pet Shop Boys' You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk released in 2004.

Also while living in Los Angeles with Jesse, Angie became friends with the Firefly and Buffy The Vampire Slayer series' creator Joss Whedon. Their fast friendship would prove to expand Angie's international profile dramatically, and allow her an exotic new way of working; "Joss and I had a very shy working relationship." Angie begins, "I remember we would just write things down on bits of paper and slide them back and forth across the table to each other. We wouldn't really talk in those sessions either, so it was a whole new way of writing for me." One of the resulting songs from their paper swapping, Blue ended up in an episode of Firefly not long before the singer herself made a cameo in the series giving many in the US their first taste of Angie. "It was exciting venturing out into the world of television, you know completely outside of my line of work." Angie enthuses, "It was fun being the token Australian as well!" It was during the short lived series that she really got to feel a part of the action; "That particular episode I was in was really exciting because I worked around staged explosions and fake gun fights, so I got to do a bit of stunt work there." There were stand-ins of course, Angie for the dangerous scenes, yes? "Well that's the thing when you're an extra like I was; you don't get a stunt guy." She laughs, "We all had to do our own stunts, but it wouldn't have been much fun if we hadn't. I just threw a little fake blood on my bustiea and off I went!"

Before Frente and the glitz of LA, Angie boasts the humblest of beginnings. Growing up in Hobart until the age of ten, Hart experienced her first years of life from inside a Christian commune. The experience however never left her feeling particularly stunted as she transitioned into adulthood, and into life as a musician; "I remember it being a pretty happy environment, I think Hobart is a great place to grow up; being so close to nature and that." Moving to inner Melbourne at ten came as something of a rude shock to the young Ange. She explains; "I think I took to it more than my sister (Becky Hart) did, but it was definitely a shock to the system. I found Melbourne a little harsh compared to Hobart looking back, but I’m glad that we did move because it was a really great place to get involved in theatre and music. All the things I was interested in.” Angie’s upcoming tour will take in Hobart this year for the first time since her days with Frente in the early 90s. Her recent support slot for Johnette Napolitano’s tour saw Hart revisit a few classic Frente songs, so how does the singer feel now about the music she was writing then; “Well I think like most people our age (at the time) we took it pretty seriously.” She laughs. “We would chuck as many words into a song as we could and they of course had to mean sooo much to us.” She ads unapologetic, “I look back fondly though, I mean I can actually enjoy playing those again now because I realise I can never go back and write songs like that anymore. I just can’t, I am a different person now and I have all the intricate knowledge about making music and all the many possibilities. The Frente stuff was written by someone who was very green and didn’t know very much.”


Click the link to follow Angie's activities on her mySpace.