INTERVIEW: La Roux (UK), February 2010

Hey, kids! Remember La Roux? …anyone? …really? None of you? Bulletproof? That shit was EVERYWHERE. End of the 2000s was a great time for synth-pop. Apparently there’s going to be a second album? Yeah, right. I bet it comes out the same day as the new Avalanches album. This was towards the end of the extensive touring for that incredible debut, and something called the Bacardi Express was happening; headlined by La Roux. I think Art vs. Science were on it, too? Bluejuice? Yves Klein Blue? Cassette Kids? I think that was it. Ahh, just checked. No Bluejuice. Miami Horror were there, too. HA! Remember those guys? 

I was really happy with this feature at the time. It was one of the more high-profile chats I’d done at the time; and Elly was quite nice – if a little secretive. I wonder if Tom Ballard was on the money with his assessment of Cover My Eyes

– DJY, April 2014

***

Poor Elly Jackson. It seems Australia can’t seem to get her at any good time. Our original scheduled interview time is delayed, and on the phone from London when we finally do come into contact, she notes that she’s a bit tired. “I’ve just woken up, in fact,” she informs.

Even before this, her first visit to Australia with the act she is the voice of, La Roux, was plagued with exhaustion and illness, resulting in late timetable swaps for their appearance at the Parklife festival and cancelled shows.

“That was sort of the beginning of my illness, unfortunately,” she says with a certain sense of worry in her voice. “I think it was just one too many flights and not enough early nights. I let it all get on top of me and then I got ill – and then, of course, there was no time to prepare myself, as we were to begin another tour straight after that one. So it was all just a build-up of things, unfortunately.”

In spite of this distressing Jackson, La Roux still put on some exceptional shows when they finally made it to the main stage. Her vocals a pitch-perfect sight to behold, the crowd adored every second of her Sydney appearance at the festival. Jackson is also very quick to note how much she enjoyed her first visit to the country, ignoring her illness.

“I loved it,” she enthuses when asked about the tour. “I had an amazing time – we were told that La Roux was doing well out there, but I didn’t have any idea to what extent. So playing to forty thousand people each night was always a surprise!”

Indeed, Australia has been good to Jackson and La Roux – even a recent example comes from two of their debut self-titled record’s major singles ( In For The Kill and Bulletproof ) taking out enviable top spots in Triple J’s annual Hottest 100.

On the topic of the station, it’s also interesting to note the interpretation of Cover My Eyes from the record in the eyes of openly gay Triple J presenter Tom Ballard. “As far as I’m concerned, this is an anthem for every gay man who’s fallen in love with a straight friend,” he wrote on the Hottest 100 page.

How does Elly herself feel about having her music interpreted like this – presumably quite different to how she originally intended it to be? She thinks for a moment, before noting: “I always like that.”

Jackson continues: “There was another instance where I was reading what people were saying on the MySpace, and there was this one boy who said that In for the Kill was the track that made him come out to his parents. He made it about doing something really courageous, in coming out. It is a song about courage, but you can take from it what you will. I mean, I know exactly what it means to me, but I think it’s really important that people get their own perspective on things like that. That’s why we make music – just when you hear something in your own take on it and you think, ‘I really like that.’”

It’s been nearly a year since the self-titled album dropped, which has seen critics divided but sales suggesting that of a pop juggernaut. Even after considerable success, however, Elly herself is still somewhat uncertain about the entire thing.

“I haven’t listened to it for months,” she confesses when asked about the record – a statement that is a little surprising, but ultimately makes sense. “I think now, that I’m playing these songs every night, I’ve grown used to them in their live environment.”

Jackson, too, remains a little iffy in regards to the finished product of the self-titled record. “We’ve gone over so many times if the bonus tracks should have been the album tracks, or if the album tracks should have been the bonus tracks, or what should have been left off entirely,” she muses. “I don’t think you can ever be truly satisfied with your own record – your first record, at least.”

By “we”, Elly refers to the man behind the instruments and production of the album – the other half of La Roux, Ben Langmaid. If you were unaware of Langmaid’s involvement in La Roux, perhaps thinking La Roux was Jackson’s moniker or alias, it’s understandable – aside from the music itself, he is practically a ghost. He refuses to be a part of photo shoots and videos, and declined to be a part of the live band when it came to putting the songs on the road.

Jackson knows, however, that the music of La Roux is far more important than its aesthetic – even with her wild hairstyle often the centre of attention.

“He’s just not interested in any of that stuff,” she says of Langmaid, with a certain degree of acceptance in her tone. “His focus is really just working on what he feels are good songs. He spends a lot of time in the studio, and I can’t really help that or hold it against him.”

In Langmaid’s absence on tour, Jackson enlisted the help of keyboardists Michael Norris and Mickey O’Brien, with electronic drummer William Bowermann (formerly of I Was A Cub Scout) completing the line-up. These aren’t session musicians, mind – they’ve quickly become some of Elly’s closest friends.

“Some of the funnest and most hilarious times of my life have been with my band,” she says with a giggle. “They are such amazing people – I missed them all so much when I was away from them on holiday. They’re like my family now. I don’t know what I’d do without them – even if La Roux all ended tomorrow, I know we’d still all see each other every second day.”

The four are making their way back to Australia in March, headlining the Bacardi Express tour alongside some of Australia’s strongest up-and-comers, including fellow Hottest 100 sensations Art VS. Science, Yves Klein Blue, Cassette Kids and Miami Horror. “We will be getting to tour with all the people that are involved, which very, very rarely happens any more, if at all,” Jackson comments enthusiastically. “It’s going to be a really nice way to see the coast of Australia!”

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INTERVIEW: The Phenomenal Handclap Band (USA), December 2009

Holy hell – I actually interviewed a one-hit wonder band! This is the equivalent of interviewing the Born to Be Alive guy; or the Disco Duck. For those that don’t remember, The Phenomenal Handclap Band were everywhere (read: everywhere) at the end of the 2000s with their roller-disco earworm 15 to 20. I won’t recite any of the lyrics here, dare I awaken the hellbeast that is the song’s catchiness.

All things considered, this was a pretty cool interview. The guy was polite and insightful enough, and I can start to see myself finding my own voice in my features. Let’s dance.

– DJY, April 2014

***

The name Phenomenal Handclap Band might not mean much to you, the name Daniel Collas even less. Break into a disco beat with continuous counting in fives, however, and you’re bound to get some kind of reaction. After all, it’s the Phenomenal Handclap Band themselves – of which Collas is a founding member – that are behind one of the year’s biggest radio hits in 15 to 20.

If you were unfamiliar with the rest of the band’s work, you might suspect that the rest of the band’s sound revolves around a similar formula – hooky, slightly derivative and cheaply catchy. You may be surprised to know, then, just how incorrect this presumption is.

“It’s an anomaly,” Collas states from his New York residency – which he claims is currently “colder than anywhere in Europe” – when quizzed on 15 to 20’s success. “So much so,” he continues, “that I kind of didn’t want to include it on the album. There was back and forth talk about its inclusion, given it was so different to all the other songs.”

Despite Collas’ weariness, he’s still satisfied with the acclaim the song itself has received. His goal is to convert passing interest via the song into something more genuine. “I think it would be really neat for someone to hear that song,” he says (never once referring to the track by its title), “and check out the rest of the record, or come to a show, and see how different it all is to that one song.”

This is a trait that Daniel himself has adhered to in the past, noting that he has a self-described “weird history” of following bands with one distinctive hit that none of their other work has topped – at least, in commercial terms.

“You can tell from that song that there’s a good chance their other songs are going to be pretty cool, too,” he notes, using the example of Swedish band The Cardigans. “Back when they had that song Lovefool, I was already familiar with them, but that song was a really big hit. You can tell by the way that song is recorded and produced and written that their other stuff must have an inkling of something ‘cool’ in there.”

So with 15 to 20 labelled an anomaly, where then does that leave the rest of the work of the Handclap Band? The unique, retro boogie found in their tracks on their self-titled debut record can be traced back to a period of Collas’ very interesting listening experiences when moving back into creating music, after having spent time working as a DJ.

“The stuff I’d been listening to at the time that was really inspiring to me was kind of proto-techno stuff… early eighties dance music that was making heavy use of synthesisers and set sequences,” Collas explains. “I don’t know what it was about it, but it really flicked my switch for me. At the same time, I was also getting into groups like Dungen, and a lot of older bands that they were obviously influenced by – that kind of pastoral, psychedelic rock element.

“I found that those were the only two styles that I wanted to listen to. I had a background in soul music that I predominantly listened to, but at this point all I was really into was either this robotic dance music or this kind of psychedelic rock.”

It’s once Daniel himself explains this bipolar listening habit that the influences behind PHCB’s music begin to make a little more sense and connectivity. “The fact I was into these two styles at either end of the spectrum was really inspiring to me. It even started influencing my DJ sets – I was playing these long, blended sets of Contra or Jo Jo Moroder and people like that, and then I’d put on some Rare Earth or Wool; that kind of thing.”

The seven-piece live band that Collas has been working with have had a huge year of touring, including several European dates and shows with names like Friendly Fires and Franz Ferdinand. Despite the fact that a multitude of New York musicians are credited as having worked on the record – including former Blues Explosion man Jon Spencer and TV on the Radio drummer Jaleel Bunton – Collas maintains that getting the band together for the live aspect of the project wasn’t nearly as difficult as it could have been.

“It didn’t end up being that difficult, as a lot of the key players involved with the record were available to being involved with the live project,” Daniel explains. “We were kind of going the auditioning route to find the singers, because obviously everyone on the record has their own careers to think of. But instead of that, we just had enough people that were willing to do it, and it kind of took shape that way.”

The Phenomenal Handclap Band will see in 2010 with a visit to Australia. Not only is Collas looking forward to experiencing his first visit to our shores – “the natural phenomenon and the wildlife we’re all really looking forward to checking out” – he’s also anticipating the tour dates with fellow New Yorkers, Chairlift. Despite being in similar scenes, the two bands are complete strangers.

“We have some friends in common, but we have never even met them before,” Daniel confesses with a laugh. “It’s funny, because we’ve never played in Australia and we’ve never played with Chairlift, even though they live like a mile away – so we’re not going to meet until we get all the way down to Australia!”

Sure, it’s an odd way of going about things, but with their powers combined, we’ll be sure to be experiencing some very enjoyable shows in the coming weeks.

INTERVIEW: Jonathan Boulet (AUS), December 2009

Ahh, Jono. This is the first time we ever crossed paths – we met properly sometime later in 2010, I believe. I met the Parades guys not long after, and up until his relocation to Berlin I would see Jono around the traps quite a bit. He’s a wonderfully talented man, and someone that I am constantly inspired by. Anyway, I won’t go on too long about this one – I think my excitement is pretty reflective in the writing; as well as Jono’s non-chalance. We’d get a lot more comfortable as the years passed. He’ll have a new record out this year. That’s exciting. This is way back when the first one came out – what a time to be alive!

– DJY, April 2014

***

The contrasts that exist between music and its musician remain as glaring as ever. Take twenty-one year old Sydneysider Jonathan Boulet. Speaking over the phone on an early Friday afternoon, he is shy and somewhat reluctant in his answers – a tough egg to crack, if you will.

Listening to his debut self-titled album, however, we are treated to a display of bright, exuberant and boisterous confidence that slips through every aspect of the music itself. It’s the musical equivalent of a student doing their homework on the bus, handing it in just as the bell rings, and getting full marks. Boulet may be exceptionally late, but he just might have put together the best Australian debut album of 2009.

“I’ve been making music by myself for a long time,” he explains. “Whether it’s been more electronic or more heavy, it started by just playing around on a keyboard. After getting more recording equipment and developing a few more recording skills, it started directing towards what I’m doing now.”

Indeed, Jonathan has had his finger in a variety of different-tasting but equally delicious musical pies. Even for someone so young, he has managed to work his way through a variety of genres and subsequent gig circuits.

“With the [Sydney band] Parades guys,” he makes note, “we started out in a kind of post-punkish band.” The sound? “It was heavy music, but we didn’t really want to sound like everyone else. We’d turn up to gigs in board shorts when everyone else was in tight pants and fringes. We didn’t think we fit in, but somehow we did – it was really weird.”

After working his way through a variety of bands, Jonathan’s creativity has shifted to focus on music under his own name. The album, consisting of songs written over the years up to now, was recorded in Boulet’s garage – he wrote, played and recorded the entire thing on his own.

“I guess the record was free to make,” he comments sheepishly, “but all-up the gear I was using cost about $1500.

“I think independence does help – the whole studio thing is a part of the industry you could just bypass and get a better result,” he responds when questioned about how important his D.I.Y. ethics have been in getting his music out there. “Of course, if you were on a major label backing, you wouldn’t care – you’d have the massive studio and the dollars to afford it. But I think it’s better, doing it yourself – you have more control and you’re more satisfied with the end result.”

It might have taken a while to get the whole thing together, but Boulet’s 2009 certainly hasn’t been garage-bound for its entirety. You might have seen him playing with W.A. wunderkinds Tame Impala or Queensland joy-bringers The Middle East earlier this year, in addition to a handful of his own shows.

He enthuses that Tame Impala are “”just the nicest dudes ever”. “We’d all be happy to play the shows and encourage each other,” he said, before laughing and adding: “We tried to get one of the guys to stage-dive, but they sadly never took the bait.”

He also shares a surreal experience backstage at Sydney University’s Manning Bar, opening for The Middle East. “Before they went on, they went downstairs to do their vocal warm-up. They started singing [Backstreet Boys hit] Backstreet’s Back – and they were doing it in perfect five-part harmony! It was sort of beautiful because it was ringing all the way up the stairs and back down again – it was just amazing.”

If it wasn’t in the live arena, perhaps YouTube may have guided you to the breathtaking video made for Jonathan’s brilliant lead single, A Community Service Announcement. The colourful video was filmed over in New Zealand, an experience Jonathan describes as “amazing – I couldn’t believe how different it was, two hundred metres from where we were standing!”

If this experience wasn’t great enough, imagine finding out that Kanye West was not only happy for you and would let you finish, but also thought you had one of the best videos of all time? West linked the video on his blog, Kanye Universe City, with the all-caps headline “WATCH THIS VIDEO, IT’S FUCKING AMAZING”.

“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” Jonathan coolly comments in what could be the understatement of the year. “There’s not much more you can say about that. It’s funny, though, how some people don’t care until someone says they should. But, yeah…It’s cool, I’m happy – and the Special Problems guys [who created and directed the video] are getting some exposure out of it.”

Is Jonathan Boulet nervous? Overwhelmed, perhaps? Or just shy? Whatever personality traits he shows, don’t worry about it for a second – once the music of this baby-faced pop whiz graces your ears, not a great deal else is going to matter.

INTERVIEW: The Living End (AUS), November 2009

A quick one – I had the chance to email some questions over to Andy Strachan; and he answered them all within about 90 seconds. Super-easy; although it doesn’t make for the most gripping read. I dunno, I’ll always love this band; regardless of the quality of their more recent output. This is the band that got me into Australian rock music. Hell, this is pretty much the band that got me into rock music. Their self-titled changed my life. I can’t say that about a lot of records. Anyway, enough waffle.

– DJY, April 2014

***

Congrats on a mammoth touring year. What were some of the highlights for you?
Thanks! I think playing the Reading and Leeds Festivals was pretty special. The Big Day Out was amazing as always too.

Splendour was an interesting one, being the last minute replacement for Jane’s. How did you guys feel about that one?
Yeah, that was a bit different. Most of our gear was still over in Europe from the last tour so we had to scrounge around and put together enough gear to get by and pretty much jump on the next plane. Once we got there and got our heads around what was going on it was great, we just got up and played and had a ball! Hopefully we didn’t offend too many Jane’s fans!

Do you feel like you’ve been cemented as Australia’s “festival” band; given just how regularly you appear on lineups? And how comfortable are you with a tag like that?
I can think of worse tags to have! We’ll take it.

Chill Island will be your first festival appearance of 2010 – are you looking forward to another year?
It will be our first and last of 2010! We will be writing for a new record so that will be our only show for the year. We’d better make it a good one.

The festival’s in a pretty unique location. Where do you think is the strangest place you’ve ever played in your time as a band?
Wow, there has been a few. I would say playing at the NRL grand final in the middle of the oval was fairly strange.

You’ve got a 90-minute set as the Chill Island headliner. Any plans to try out some new material?
You never know. We’ll be working on new stuff by then so we might want to test drive something.

Anyone on the bill you’re particularly interested in checking out?
Bob Evans, great guy, great songs – can’t wait.

Once the White Noise tour is over, what’s the plan? Straight back into the write/record/tour schedule or a bit of downtime from it all?
We get home mid-December and do a couple of shows before having Christmas off and pretty much jump back in to the rehearsal room after that.

INTERVIEW: Red Riders (AUS), November 2009

I love Alex Grigg. I call him Sydney’s Oldest Teenager – even in his early 30s, he’s living the twentysomething dream of kicking around in bands, working part-time at a cool shop and hanging out with mates all over the joint. We first met several years ago at a Living End show, at which the Riders opened. I was just excited to meet a real-life rock musician; but it wasn’t until a few years later that we got properly acquainted. This was the start of that friendship.

Although it was simply an interview to promote the new album and tour, we went off-track for a bit to talk about what a piece of shit Sam de Brito is. Hey, Sam, if you’re reading – you’re still a piece of shit. Anyway, these guys are sadly no more – you can catch Al and drummer Tom as one half of Palms; and guitarist Brad is off doing a bunch of stuff in the Shire where he’s from. I still keep in pretty regular contact with these guys, and it’s always a treat to catch up with them. For now, let’s cast our minds back to the tail-end of the 2000s and see what happens…

– DJY, April 2014

***

Sometimes, an artist can misrepresent themselves through their music. Take Red Riders’ Alex Grigg, for instance. In the latest single Ordinary from his band’s second album, Drown in Colour, he sings: “Nothing I do ever seems to go my way/Everything I do is ordinary.” Yet when asked about his day, Grigg casually talks about some extraordinary things.

“I had to go do a thing for Cleo magazine today,” he says on a late Friday afternoon with a chuckle. “It sounds a really bizarre thing to say it out loud, but I had to go and pretty much dress a girl, and tell them what to wear. There was a lifesaver, a comedian, a corporate guy, a rowing guy…it was just some funny thing to do. ” If that’s ordinary, who knows what’s different for him?

2009’s been a busy year for Grigg and his band. Drown in Colour, their first record since the departure of guitarist Adrian Deutsch, was released in July. It’s only now, however, that the band has been performing their own headline shows in support of the record in a variety of places up and down the east coast. According to Grigg, this delay was an initially intentional move to bring more singing mouths than scratched heads to shows.

“Our booking agent told us that you don’t want to tour straight after your album’s been released – it needs time so that people have heard it, so they know the songs when they come to the shows,” he explains. “The Little Birdy tour came along when we might have done an album tour, anyway; so that happened and now we’re out on our own tour.”

With them for most stops of the shows is Brisbane quartet The Boat People, who have just released the first single from their upcoming third album, entitled Echo Stick Guitars. “We met those guys at SXSW in February of this year,” Grigg says of the indie-pop collective. “We got to hanging out and got on really well, and our releases coincided to tour so it all worked out!”

Conversation moves to the creation of the record itself – and just how much of a challenge it was for Grigg to write on his own. The last RR album, 2007’s Replica Replica, was a 50/50 collaboration of music, lyrics and vocals between Alex and Adrian. This time around, however, it was entirely up to Grigg to get new material happening.

“While it was a little more stressful to create something and put my stamp on it,” he contemplates, “it also became a lot more personal. I think a lot of the time with me and Adrian, we were so worried about trying to keep it distinct that there were times where we had to kinda tone it down a bit.” So there’s no need to restrain anymore? “I think I don’t have to contain myself,” Grigg affirms. “I feel like I can let my personality out a lot more.”

In Deutsch’s place is Brad Heald, whom many will recognise as the bassist of The Vines. Don’t perceive him as a generic fill-in, though – as Alex explains, he is bringing something quite different to Red Riders.

“They’re such different guitarists,” he muses. “Whereas Adrian would always be filling in every last gap, Brad’s playing is kind of effect-heavy and reverb-laden, with a kind of washy sound. He even plays the old songs differently!”

Rather than lament on the departure of a member who contributed so much, Grigg chooses instead to remain optimistic about the band’s new line-up. Heald’s arrival into the fold, he believes, has injected a new dose of excitement into the band, with everything seeming new once again. With that said, is the mindset any different between the release of Replica Replica and the release of Drown in Colour?

“With the last album,” muses Grigg, “it was one where I was proud of a lot of it; but at the same time there’s a lot of it that I’m kind of undecided about.” And with this record? “I’m really proud of this one,” he says. “It’s a great feeling to make something that you really like, and getting closer and closer to creating something that even I would like even if I wasn’t in the band.”

Of course, going to see the Red Riders on tour in a small pub or club means a lot more in our current live music situation than it has in quite some time. Last month, Grigg angrily posted on Twitter against Sun Herald columnist Sam de Brito and his article commenting on the live music situation that the city of Sydney has found itself in.”

De Brito wrote: “If we are serious about saving live music in Sydney, promoters and venue owners need do only one thing” – please note: FasterLouder is NOT making this up – “get hotter chicks to gigs.” Reacting to this, Grigg slammed de Brito, calling him “a useless wanker” and “everything that sucks about Sydney” when replying to Grinspoon frontman Phil Jamieson.

“I think everyone I knew felt like punching him in the face,” he notes as we dissect the gaping flaws of the article. “I mean, the guy has just completely missed the point. He should just stick to what he understands, like doing coke in the Ivy or something. Leave us to our world and he can stay in his.”

Grigg also sees de Brito’s depiction of women in his column as despicable. “It was mainly offensive to women and girls that go to shows, y’know?” he says. “That it’s somehow bad to want to go to gigs. And that all the women in Sydney want to be like the ones off Sex and the City. I mean, it’s just ridiculous.”

In response to news of events such as the closing of the Hopetoun and the Annandale Hotel being in trouble, Alex turns our discussion to what should really be done, instead of listening to de Brito’s oblivious and glaringly sexist advice. Getting hot chicks to gigs is not the answer – simply going to them is.

“If all the people that got really worked up that the Hopetoun was closing actually went to shows all the time, maybe it wouldn’t have closed,” he ponders. “Yes, it’s about the licensing laws and the council and all these things, but it’s also about actually going out and supporting these young bands. It’s the same with what happened with FBi – it’s as much about the people as it is about the laws and what have you.”

Lack of interest isn’t the only thing to blame – people new to the area, in Alex’s humble opinion, may well have something to do with it. “The thing that gets me,” he says, “is that the Annandale’s been there forever. It’s just people that are moving into the area after the venue’s already been there for so many years – why would you move into an area where there’s a live music venue nearby if you didn’t like noise and just wanted a quiet suburban life?”

Whatever the solution may be, Grigg and the Red Riders are more than willing to contribute and support as much as they can. With a strong album to support and a fresh new energetic live show to accompany it, it will be well worth your time and effort to catch the band in action on this tour.

INTERVIEW: Alex Lloyd (AUS), May 2009

There are times when Alex Lloyd feels like an Australian in-joke. He skyrocketed to fame with Amazing, the single from his breakthrough LP Watching Angels Mend; and then spectacularly crashed to earth. He’s spent the last decade or so in and out of the public eye, occasionally dropping albums that a dozen people might buy. He’s still kicking around, from what I’ve gathered. Good on him.

Anyway, this was another emailer. Not quite what I was after in terms of answers, but I’ve put it up here for completion’s sake.

– DJY, April 2014

***

You’ve been fairly on the quiet in-between the release of your self-titled record and Good in the Face of a Stranger. What did you occupy yourself with in this downtime?
My family and I moved to London about two and half years ago. After we got settled I managed to find myself a studio not too far from where we live in North London. It was an old photography studio. I had to then build a box inside the room, so this kept me busy. Then once the studio was ready I started writing and recording Good In The Face Of A Stranger.

Some of the songs on the new record, I feel, are more polished revisitings to your early work, particularly of the Black the Sun era. Is that a sentiment you agree with?
I don’t know if I would say more polished, but it’s a much smaller, more compact sound than the previous self-titled album. I think it is reminiscent slightly of Black the Sun, but mostly due to the fact that, like Black the Sun I ended up playing the majority of the instruments on the record.

Was there a need to create something more intimate, dark and mellow after making more commercially-aware records such as Distant Light and your self-titled?
I think due to the fact that I was in London when I started to write the album I was able to get lost in the grey sky and the more introspective nature that it provides. I have always been partial to a more melancholy sound I guess. Being where I was enabled me to really embrace it.

Good in the Face of a Stranger was released very quietly, and has thus far seen very little media coverage or response. As a now-independent artist, what is more important to you at this stage of your career – the exposure of your work or simply to have the finished product out there?
I guess it has been a bit of a learning curve on this album. I feel that we have done it the right way as far as my soul is concerned, but I definitely feel like I have learned a lot about being an independent artist at the same time.

Your career has seen you take both ends of the musical spectrum, to being a platinum seller on a major label to a hard-working independent artist. What do you see as the pros and cons of both situations; and which do you honestly prefer?
It is really hard to say, because I honestly feel as though I had a great time at major labels. However, to be contractually obligated to a company can feel pretty claustrophobic from time to time, but then they do provide a valuable service. But I can honestly say I am happy with my current status as an independent artist.

You’ve chosen some very intimate, unpretentious venues for this tour. What can fans expect in terms of your set-list, and how the songs will be played?
We will be doing a pretty laidback set for this tour, with a slight electro influence. It will be Alex Lloyd songs old and new with a real sense of wood and wire in its presentation.

INTERVIEW: Amanda Palmer (USA), February 2009

Whether you love her or hate her, Amanda Palmer is a fantastic interviewee. Trust me, I’ve done it twice. We’re not like this (wraps index and middle finger together) but I’ve been a very interested and involved fan since around 2004. I remember seeing Girl Anachronism on rage; then rushing to my diary and writing The Dresden Dolls‘ name on every page so that I wouldn’t forget it.

Of course that kind of fire has died out – I don’t think I care about anything the way I cared about things in 2004. Still, I have all of her albums (both solo and with the Dolls) and I’ve always found her to be a unique and interesting figure in modern music. There’s certainly never a dull moment with her, regardless of whether you agree with her or not.

I remember being REALLY excited about this interview – at the time, I probably thought this was the best interview I had ever done. Apart from maybe the Adam Green one. You never forget your first. Looking back on it, I think I handled it pretty well. I’d change a few things now, but I was all of 18. I was just stoked to be talking to someone that wasn’t in my immediate family.

– DJY, April 2014

***

Amanda Palmer is tired. Exhausted, even. You can hardly blame her, given her excessive touring schedule and the almost shocking contrast of minimal break-time in-between them. What’s worse is the fact that, even in her free time, she is scheduled to speak to journalists about stuff she’s spoken about a million times before.

Even still, amidst the exhaustion there is quite obviously an introspective, chatty and friskily intelligent woman. She’s best known as the leading lady of the Dresden Dolls, but as of recent times a solo artist in her own regard. Last year saw her release, at long last, her debut solo album Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, produced by the one and only Ben Folds.

After in-depth tours of both the States and Europe, it’s time to bring WKAP to Australia, along with the Danger Ensemble, her performance troupe. And yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to celebrate. AFP (Amanda Fucking Palmer) will be visiting out fair shores to coincide with the annual Mardi Gras festival in Sydney.

“I’m a sucker for a good party,” Palmer confesses with a giggle. “I deliberately planned to be in Sydney for the Mardi Gras. I narrowly missed it in Sydney back in 2000; I wound up at the Adelaide Fringe instead and I never forgave myself. It’s a perfect time to be in the city with everybody getting their freak on and going nuts!”

Fear not, non-Sydney fans. Melbourne, a city Palmer herself has oft-described as beautiful, will also be getting its own distinctive visit. This one is going to be even more of a special, exclusive event – she is planning a slumber party.

“I’m taking a little vacation in Melbourne before my shows in Sydney and I wanted to do a really low-key show. So I came up with the idea of doing a free show by making people submit their dreams to be considered for admittance. We’re only letting in twenty people plus one guest each, and it should be REALLY fun.” Amanda also tells of a very special surprise for each of the lucky guest winners, but insisted it to be kept mum (Melburnians, get to it if you wish to find out!).

Despite not having visited our shores since very late 2007, fans here in Australia and the rest of the world have been able to keep in touch with Palmer via her intricately detailed and very interactive blog. Updated regularly, fans worldwide have read on as she discusses the finer points of her own life and the world around her. When questioned on the blog’s importance in regards to connection with the fans, Amanda is, in turn, lightening quick in praising it.

“I’ve grown really attached to it – I kind of rely on it,” she responds timidly. “It’s so amazing that I can have these really direct hits and connections with individual people that I just can’t have when I’m playing a show to 2500 of them. I can do it in the quiet of my own living room with a cup of tea and really sit down and listen to what people are saying and feeling and thinking… I’m a total ‘people junkie’ that way; I really, really like it.”

At the time of our interview, Amanda’s latest blog entry was entitled “On Abortion, Rape, Art and Humour.” It’s all about her latest single from WKAP – Oasis, the ironically upbeat number about a girl who got drunk, got raped and had an abortion. Next to every radio and music video station in the U.K. is refusing to play the song. Whilst one could theorise that Palmer knew the song’s lyrics would elicit some kind of outrage, she insists that she truly wasn’t expecting something of this level.

“I definitely assumed that conservative people wouldn’t like it, but I was really shocked to find out that they wouldn’t play the song,” she states, before adding, “especially things like NME and Kerrang!, who really pride themselves on being ‘edgy.'” Despite her very open frustrations, AFP is quick to look at the positives of her situation. “It brings up some really interesting points, at least,” she continues. “I was happy to write that blog and get people talking about the topic – I think it’s important.”

Amanda Palmer’s body of work is daring, funny, melancholy, theatrical and purposeful – but, most importantly, it is completely open to interpretation. “If someone was to take anything away from it,” begins Palmer, in reference to her music, “I would hope that they would just be inspired to follow their own desires and impulses; maybe be a little radically honest with themselves or with their situation.

“I’m starting to feel lately that it’s really important not to have a ‘message,’” she continues with a slight laugh. “Because I think people need to come up with their own. The minute you have a specific message that you’re preaching, then you close off possibilities for other people. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, because the Oasis thing was a good example. That song doesn’t really have a message, but it doesn’t really have to – sometimes it’s enough to say, ‘I got this idea and I sat down and I did it, and here it is.’ And the undercurrent in that is that so can you, y’know?”

 

INTERVIEW: Bluejuice (AUS), February 2009

The guys from Bluejuice are one of the best bands to interview. I’ve done it a few times over the years and it’s always a treat – they’re great people, a hard-working band with an outstanding sense of humour and a great set of stories. This was my first interaction with them in that regard, being for The Big O festivities (remember that?). This was also why I spoke to Ben Lee around the same time, albeit accidentally.

Like the Owen Pallett chat, this was done via email; so I had next to no control over it beyond the questions. I was very happy with the results, however. This has dated quite well; what with the MySpace references at all. Good times. So, here is a Q & A of sorts with the band’s bassist, Jamie Cibej; as well as their dearly departed keyboard player, Jerry Craib.

– DJY, April 2014

***

2008 has been and gone; how was it in the Bluejuice camp?
Jerry: 2008 was incredible. We played at over 20 festivals, which was a real privilege… for them. Obviously.

Your Homebake 2008 performance was a fucking triumph; has to be said. That must have really been the icing on the cake for you guys, playing on the main stage of such a big Australian festival?
Jamie: Ha ha – a ‘triumph.’ We don’t have triumphs; we have slow, grinding victories, but thank you. It was amazing to play the main stage at Homebake. It was Ned’s last show with the band, which made things a little sad. The intense heat liquefying our genitals also made things a little sad.

How have things gone since Ned’s departure? Newb settling in well?
Jerry: Our new drummer James Hauptmann has settled in better than a moment of unintentional irony in an Australian reality TV show.

Jamie: Ned was a dead weight. He’s currently in Guatemala extorting crop yields from peasant farmers, or something equally shameful. Booooooo! Hissssss! (Hi Ned.)

When are we going to get to hear some new material from you guys?
Jerry: A new single – very soon. An album – in a couple of months. A Christmas album – end of the year. Best Of – fairly soon after that.

The Big O tour is just around the corner. Are you excited about these shows?
Jerry: My work colleague Lorin asks me that question every day. “Are you excited about such and such..?” No Lorin, I’m not. Not usually until it’s the same morning or at least the same week of the event. Premature excitement is a fool’s game. Of course we’re excited. Put your hands in the air, bitches.

How many of the ‘Juice camp actually attended uni? Will any of the shows bring back some old memories?
Jamie: I’m not sure exactly – I think three of us finished Bachelors of Uselessness. I did mine via correspondence, so I have no memories of campus life. I assume all universities are like those in American frathouse comedies from the 1980s. Bikini water fights and such.

I recently interviewed Ben Lee and he hadn’t heard of you guys before. How do you think you’ll introduce yourselves?
Jerry: Who’s Ben Lee? Catchy name.

Jamie: I hear he digs flowers – maybe we’ll bring him a bunch. Plus, Stav and I have both been to India, so maybe we can break the ice by talking about gurus or burning ghats or aloo palak.

After that comes the Bacardi Express tour. What is the band’s stance on that kind of product placement involved with live music?
Jerry: Let me just take a minute from this FasterLouder interview to have sip of my Toby’s Estate coffee and relax in my Wilkhahn office chair.

Jamie: I dunno – it’s not like the music industry is any less obsessed with capitalist whoring than the alcoholic beverage industry. It kind of depends on the manner of the product placement. There have been a few alcohol company events we’ve done which turn out to be poorly-planned, poorly-attended soulless exercises in shameless plugging. But at least this Bacardi thing has a good idea behind it, and as far as I know it’s free for the (overage) kiddies.

Your four top MySpace friends are Dostoevsky, Erik Satie, Captain Planet and Avril. Who would win in a fatal four-way for the title?
Jamie: Everybody knows that Captain Planet doesn’t kill people, so that puts him at a disadvantage. Avril is too frail for mortal combat. I don’t know too much about Satie’s physical condition (when alive), but if his melancholic minimalist tunes are anything to go by, he’d be a pushover. Dostoevsky lived through a mock execution, and was sent to a Siberian prison – I think he’d know how to handle those other sissies.

INTERVIEW: The Streets (UK), February 2009

On paper, The Streets was never something that should have properly taken off the way it did. And yet I’ve spent roughly a decade of my life listening to the poetry and beats of one Mike Skinner. I maintain that Original Pirate Material and A Grand Don’t Come for Free, his first two Streets records, are two of my favourite records ever. They just present such a unique and remarkable take on UK hip-hop, garage… music in general around that period. So naturally I was pretty stoked to be able to chat to Mike back in 2009 – even if a) It was on the back of his worst album, 2008’s Everything is Borrowed; and b) I had to get out of a Bleeding Through gig to speak to him. Actually, in retrospect, that second point wasn’t all that bad.

Mike was cool, regardless. You get out what you put in, and he could tell I was a big fan and had done my research. In turn, I got a fairly good chat out of him. I haven’t heard his new project, The D.O.T., but believe when I say it’s on my to-do list.

– DJY, 2013

***

“You sound alive,” Mike Skinner tells me. “Very perky.”

I graciously accept his observation-slash-compliment. Usually, you wouldn’t expect that degree of kindness from someone whose bleak, frustrated and brutally honest lyrics have become some what omnipresent on their last three releases. However, since the release of Skinner’s latest album under the moniker of The StreetsEverything is Borrowed, we may well have witnessed some kind of epiphany-based reinvention of both man and music.

Featuring an aura created by what Skinner has described as “peaceful, positive vibes,” the album boasts a title track with the mantra: “I entered this world with nothing, and I leave it with nothing but love/Everything else is just borrowed.” Chances are this new approach to the music of The Streets left you baffled, but as Skinner explains, it’s all a part of the plan.

“It was my intention to make a positive album,” he emphasises. “It’s the verses where things go wrong, but it’s the choruses that are really uplifting.” Mike goes on to explain that the concept behind Borrowed was to collate a collection of parables. “It was intended that the stories were not ‘me’ and not really what I was doing, y’know? Some people tend to think I’ve been walking along beaches and living the natural life… and I haven’t! I’ve been in a studio in London! But the concept was to tell these thoughts in a kind of indirect and imaginative way, which obviously I’d never done before.”

The album deals with more than just unhappy London life (2002’s Original Pirate Material ), a story of a man and his missing money (2004’s A Grand Don’t Come for Free ) or dealing with the foreign concept of fame (2006’s The Hardest Way to Make An Easy Living ). Everything is Borrowed is Mike Skinner looking at the bigger picture of life, and where he fits in.

Our conversation moves in on a particular intriguing lyric from the album: “Just when you discover the meaning of life, they change it.” This lyric appears to have been inspired by the way social acceptance and what is moral is constantly evolving.

“I think it’s important to remember that the moral zeitgeist changes,” he puts forward after taking a moment to properly phrase his thoughts. “Religious people like to think that they get their rules from the Bible; but if you look at the Bible, there’s all sorts of death, destruction and idiot torture going on. There’s also a scientific zeitgeist – the way we’re supposed to raise our kids, prolong our lives. I think it’s important to remember that everything could change – everything that you believe, that you think is okay, could end up being very different.”

If anyone knows how quickly everything can change, it’s Mike Skinner. Since the beginning of The Streets, British hip hop has slowly, but surely, become a globally recognised scene and culture. Even so, ask Skinner whether he keeps up with it, or even associates The Streets with it, and he is quick to downplay his part. “I don’t think any rapper wants to be me… in a way, I’m kind of irrelevant. But yeah, kind of subconsciously, I think my success has kind of changed things in rap – not me, personally, though.”

This month sees Mike bring out the live Streets band for a series of shows, as well as being a headliner of the Playground Weekender festival. He gives some quick opinions of the headliners: Primal Scream (“They’re cool, I used to have the same manager as them”), Cold War Kids (“I’ve only really heard one song of theirs, they’re alright”), Jose Gonzalez (“cool, lovely”) and Crystal Castles (“I don’t really know what to make of them!”). Skinner also tells of how surprised he is at the audiences he’s been seeing on tour this time around. “The fans seem to be younger than ever, the shows have been more successful than ever; doing massive shows in Europe… I have no idea where it’s come from, to be honest,” he confesses.

As so many international acts have done, Skinner goes on to praise Australia ahead of the tour. “Australia just really feels like you’re a long way from home, even though, culturally, you’re not. It’s a great way of kind of losing contact with your life, especially on Big Day Out tours that we’ve done in the past. When you’re a part of a touring festival like the Big Day Out, you really get to know the other bands; and you don’t really get that at other festivals.”

INTERVIEW: Ben Lee (AUS), February 2009

So, get this: I wasn’t actually supposed to do this interview. Sarah, who still works at FL, had actually put down my name and number to interview Ben Lee instead of Albert Santos, a guy I met through Last.FM of all places I believe. Anyway, I was in the shower when I was told that the call had come through for the interview. I quickly dried off and got them to call me back in 10. Sure enough, I was interviewing Ben Lee on the fly. Not only did I do the interview, I did an entire feature to go along with it – all without being asked. Normally, I wouldn’t be such a pushover – but this was Ben Lee we were talking about!

For context,  Ben has been a hero of mine for around fifteen years. His album Breathing Tornados was the second album I ever bought, and I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the man, his music and the lengths he’s taken it. Yes, he is indeed a “precocious little cunt,” as Bernard Fanning put it. But make no mistake about it – he is my precocious little cunt. This was completely unexpected, but totally awesome.

– DJY, July 2013

***

“I love pop music, this is how we do it…”

With a simple chord progression and an endearingly positive message one thing is exceptionally obvious – Ben Lee is back and as always, in good spirits. Getting on the line with the man feels much more like a conversation with an old friend rather than a scheduled interview. He is chatty, extroverted and at this point of 2009, already somewhat reflective.

“It’s been a very exciting month,” he says contently. “Since getting engaged and really getting focused on the new album, it’s been really creative time for me. I feel like I’m in kind of a new time of my life- a new era.”

Lee is referring to two of his latest ventures- his marriage to actress Ione Skye and working on his upcoming seventh album, The Rebirth of Venus. Both of these events, Ben reveals, have initiated a reflection through his music.

“I think, for lack of a better term, as you get older you get more… balls as an artist. Probably like everyone else, I’ve spent a little too much time at various parts of my career wondering what would make everyone else happy, instead of doing what I wanted to. So as I get older, I care less and less and also realise that all of the best moments in my career have come from when I did exactly what I wanted to; which is a bit of incentive.”

He goes on to name check a cut from the new record that reflects exactly this state of mind – What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? The song, according to Lee, is about “taking the path of least resistance- to risk criticism and ridicule and doing whatever makes you happy.”

Ben’s next exposure to Australian audiences will be as a part of the Big O tour, where he will be performing alongside Scottish chorus masters The Fratellis (of whom Lee is quite the fan) and UK dance-rockers The Music. With him will be his new band, including acoustic musician/brother of Rose, George Byrne, and Jessica Chapnik. Chapnik was Lee’s partner in crime on The Square soundtrack and is also well known for playing notorious Summer Bay killer Sam Tolhurst on Home and Away. “I always tease her about shooting up heroin in a dingy,” he laughs.

The ironic twist for Lee when it comes to The Big O – a tour that takes in all of Australia’s biggest Universities throughout Orientation week – is that he only went to university for two weeks. “Give or take” he cheekily clarifies. “I did Communications at UTS. I didn’t NOT enjoy it, I just…” his tone of voice shifts to the laughing guilt of how one would confess to enjoying a Miley Cyrus song – “…I had an idea for an album. And there was a deadline where you could get your money back.”

Despite his cameo appearance at university, Lee is very much looking forward to the shows. “In the States, I do a lot of colleges. I think it’s kind of a natural time when people really get into music. Basically, you’ve got the independence for the first time in your life to live whatever kind of life you want. but you haven’t yet been corrupted as a part of “grown up” civilisation. It’s a really exciting time to be a music fan.”

So what next? After Rebirth is released and the Big O tour is completed, Lee has two more records in the works. The first is a Noise Addict album with Lou Barlow from Dinosaur Jr which Lee describes as a “really weird, lo-fi, homemade pop record.” The second is a mixtape that has been in the works for several years and consists of a series of songs that Ben has written and gotten other people to perform. Lee truly is a working musician.

Seven albums and ten years later, Ben Lee is incredibly grateful to still be recognised in Australia’s music scene and hopes this recognition will continue with his new release and beyond. “Even people that don’t necessarily like my music know it’s been a part of the culture for a long time,” he explains. “It’s really bizarre having been around for so long and having people tell you that my music was the first album they ever bought, or that they listened to me in high school… it’s still a treat.”