INTERVIEW: Future of the Left (UK), November 2010

I count this as one of the most difficult interviews I’ve ever had to transcribe. Keep in mind that’s purely on the basis of Falko being one of the funniest people I’ve ever interviewed. The guy is just wildly funny and a true eccentric character. I’ll let him do the talking.

– DJY, October 2014
***

Meet Andrew Falkous. His friends call him Andy, he was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne and he’s the frontman of shouty alternative rockers Future of the Left… but you already knew all of that, didn’t you? How about we get to the things you don’t know about Falkous – for example, he finds his local gym hilarious.

“It makes me laugh that people actually go to the gym to date,” says Falkous in what’s to be one of his many unprovoked, extended and remarkably hilarious tangents during the interview. “I mean, by the end of me being at the gym I’m a bloody mess! I’m pushing myself through all different stage of sweat – in fact, I’m actually inventing new ways to sweat. The thing that always gets me with these big, muscular guys, right – if they’re doing weights so much, how come they need to flex so much when they pick up something really small? I mean, you have to flex that much to pick up that bottle of water in front of that attractive woman? You must be weak!”

Keep in mind that you can get all of that out of Falkous simply by asking “How are you?” He’s a madman with a mile-a-minute creative flow and the kind of energy you’d struggle to get out of a child who’s had red cordial injected into their veins. In fact, the man is so energetic that it’s lead to challenges within the new line-up of the band, which features former Million Dead bassist Julia Ruzicka and guitarist Jimmy Watkins.

“I remember when I first met Julia,” recalls Falkous. “She was playing in a band, and she says to me ‘I bet I sweat on-stage more than you,’ and I say ‘I bet you fucking don’t!’ At the end of the show, she just looked at me and said ‘…yeah, you definitely sweat more than me. You definitely sweat more than any other human being on-stage.’” Must have been true love from there, right? “The truest of love. Like the love based on the physics of a mountain mudslide.”

This mountainous love affair between the newly-expanded quartet will be making their debut appearance in Australia this coming New Year’s Eve for the Pyramid Rock festival, marking almost exactly twelve months between visits for the band; who were last here as a trio with former bassist Kelson Mathias. “I just like coming over in your summer,” reasons Falkous. “I like a bit of heat to escape our miserable fucking weather. That, and Melbourne and Sydney are amongst the best places to play – actually, that’s pretty unfair to Brisbane, which is actually really, really good. But Sydney and Melbourne thus far have been magical.”

Of course, it can’t all be about the music – as Falkous confesses: “I also want to catch a few days of The Ashes. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was twelve years old – but I never had the money because first I was a child, then I was a student, and then I was a musician. As a musician, you don’t normally get to be blessed with what’s known as disposable income. Even if it’s just for a couple of days at the MCG, I’m really excited about it. I’m sure it’ll be rained out, but I’ll be sitting there and fucking drinking anyway.”

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INTERVIEW: Andy Rourke (UK), February 2010

At this point, I don’t think I had ever been as nervous about doing an interview as I was about speaking with Andy. The Smiths were a huge part of my teens, like most sad fucks around my age. They’ve transcended, that’s for sure. This was my chance to get an insight into one of my all-time favourite bands from a unique, first-hand perspective. Andy was super-cool and very happy to talk about things from back in the day; although I made sure to focus on his more recent efforts as well. So enjoy my fangirl freakout. Maybe you’ll freak out yourself.

– DJY, October 2014

***

“If you can feel some heat coming through the line,” says Andy Rourke on the line from New York, “that’s me blushing!” He sounds simply chuffed, and deservedly so. Some crazy fan of his previous band, The Smiths, is on the line singing his praises for both his fantastic bass playing and for being a part of one of what many describe as one of the all-time great bands. (He may well have written this article, but that’s neither here nor there.) With hits like “How Soon is Now?”, “This Charming Man” and “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” – just to name a few – the band helped redefine a sound for indie British rock music. Though the band themselves are long gone, its members remain active. Rourke, in particular, has been spending the past few years working as a DJ.

“I started out about seven years ago,” he says on the origins of working behind the decks. “A friend of mine who played in Spiral Carpets had a night in Manchester. He had guest DJs each night, and he asked me to do a set. I told him ‘Nah! I don’t DJ, I can’t DJ’ and that. But he gave me a quick lesson – y’know, “here’s your gear, here’s the faders and off y’go’.” And this was deemed a success? “It went really well and the crowd liked it,” he notes enthusiastically. “I was on a real adrenalin buzz afterwards, that didn’t come down for about fifteen minutes. So I got an agent and started doing more and more DJing. I’ve been around the world a few times doing it.”

“I like it, y’know,” Rourke continues, casually. “It’s a different medium, but it’s a nice way to meet your audience. A lot of young people turn up to the shows, lot of people who never got to see The Smiths live.” Indeed, fans of the band will know of the tension and bad blood between most of the former band members – particularly drummer Mike Joyce, who infamously filed a lawsuit against vocalist Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr for allegedly taking the lion’s share of the band’s royalties. Things have cooled substantially between Rourke and Marr, at least. In fact, Marr, now playing guitar for UK band The Cribs, was hoping to catch up with Andy when the two (separately) visit Australia – Marr with The Cribs and Rourke DJing for the newly launched Club NME Australia nights.

“I got an email from him just yesterday or the day before”, says Rourke on his former bandmate. “I think he’d heard on the grapevine that I was going to be in Australia and he was just checking what date I was going to be there. Unfortunately, it was about a week before I arrive, which is a shame.” In spite of this, the two still see one another on an intermittent basis. “I saw him two weeks ago in New York,” continues Andy. “We played a gig, and a month before we’d played another one. But yeah, I see a lot of Johnny, considering I live in New York and he lives in Manchester.”

Musically, Rourke has been fairly casual in his recent band appearances. There’s one project, however, that’s finally coming into the limelight which Andy has been at work on for quite some time. It’s entitled Freebass – a collaboration with two other bassists [Joy Division/New Order’s Peter Hook and Stone Roses/Primal Scream’s Mani Mounfield] to create a very interesting triple bass guitar sound. “We’re nearly there!” promises Rourke in regards to the long-awaited project. “I was supposed to go back two weeks ago, but I was ill. We’re doing the final mixes of the EP and the album. We haven’t shopped it around to the labels yet, but we’re getting plenty of offers.”

He remains somewhat tight-lipped on the actual sound of Freebass, but one can rest assured that if Rourke is a part of a musical sound, it’s going to be something that stands out, embossing itself with relatively little fuss. The sound of The Smiths, of course is something that’s easily recognisable to most music fans. Marr’s “jangle” guitar sound and Morrissey’s wailing vocals have particularly been influential to everyone from R.E.M. to Jeff Buckley. When questioned about the band’s more recent influence, however, Andy seems determined to tread lightly.

“There’s some, but I wouldn’t really like to name any,” he comments. “It might be assuming. But yeah, there’s definitely a few where you can hear different bits and pieces. “I think today, bands are a little bit more guarded, and won’t make anything that’s quite so obvious. But you definitely hear some elements like guitar, or bass, or even Morrissey’s voice or lyrics. I think, over the years, we’ve been quite an influence.”

Coming from any other musician, such a statement may come across as exceedingly arrogant. It’s difficult to fault his sentiment, however – simply take a listen to any of the band’s four albums, and you will find an unmistakable sound. Rourke, too, had a very particular sound to his bass playing. All it takes is one listen to Meat is Murder’s “Rusholme Ruffians” or the self-titled’s “This Charming Man” to hear the thick, picked out and heavily toned sound that became Rourke’s signature sound. He insists, however, that it was never an attempt to sound distinguishable. Rather, it was simply a matter of being heard.

“I liked playing funk and I liked the sound of it,” he says, “but I hated the look of the slap bass player – if I played it with my fingers, especially in rehearsals, you couldn’t hear it. It’d sound more like a rumble. So I started playing with the plectrum so I could hear myself in rehearsals.” From that point – creating a sound out of necessity – it became something that Andy felt comfortable to work around and experiment with. “Once you’ve learned it like that,” he comments, “it starts defining the sound and that’s what you’re left with. It wasn’t really something where I was like ‘I want this’ or anything. People talk about it a lot, though.”

We find the forty-six-year-old Andy Rourke in a surprisingly good place in a post-Smiths world. He is still open and happy to talk about his band’s work (“It’s something I’m proud of”, he notes), and continues to see the world in his own little way. He appears to have found a niche talent of his in DJing, and he can’t wait to come to Australia and get the hipsters dancing to a variety of tunes.

“My first love is playing bass, and it always will be,” he says emphatically. “But I don’t see myself lessening the importance of the DJing. Unless there’s public demand for me to give it up, y’know.” He can’t help himself for a little self-reference, wise-cracking: “‘Hang the DJ!’”

INTERVIEW: The Magic Numbers (UK), July 2010

Seriously, y’all, how fucking underrated are the Magic Numbers? Their self-titled was one of the best debuts of the decade; and they’ve made interesting and wonderful records in the years following; up to and including this year. I dunno what more I have to say. I guess I could also add in that Michele was an absolute sweetheart. I got to meet her and Romeo after the Magic Numbers show at the Metro not long after this interview and she was super-wonderful there as well. This feature’s okay. I think you can tell I’m a fan, which is surely a good thing, right?

– DJY, October 2014

***

It’s been awhile since we’ve heard from The Magic Numbers. Too long, fans will surely add. Thankfully, bassist/vocalist Michele Stodart is quick to clarify on the line from the U.K. that the group were never going to split.

“We all just went away after the tour of the second album [2006’s Those the Brokes],” she observes, “and, y’know, get a break from the band, and each other. There was also our dream of building our own studio, which we’ve always wanted to do. We bought lots of equipment and built it up over about a year and a half – it was amazing because we finally had our own area, our own rehearsal space.” It was here where the band recorded their third album, The Runaway, up until late 2009. Set for release in a matter of weeks, fans are to expect the unexpected when it comes to the band’s new explorative sound.

“When we were rehearsing these songs,” explains Stodart, “we felt like they were too easy; that we could have just gone straight in and recorded them. Let’s try and actually make an album, instead of worrying how we’re going to do it live. So we kind of played around with the set-up of the four of us – thinking ‘okay, this doesn’t need bass; you don’t have to play the drums; [brother and lead vocalist] Romeo doesn’t have to play guitar.’ We mixed it up. It’s still the band, but on the record it’s more than that.”

Another one of the variations included on the record was Michele and vocalist/keyboardist/percussionist Angela Gannon (who completes the lineup with drumming brother Sean) contributing lead vocals to individual tracks. Michele has contributed lead vocals previously, but this the first time a song with her on lead has been chosen as a single. “It’s quite funny,” she comments with a giggle, “and it’s kind of a big deal, too. I’m not too sure how it’s going to go down, but it’s gotten a pretty good reception on the live front, so that’s been a lot of fun.”

On that note, conversation switches to the band’s live shows. This is a band that have established a rock-solid reputation as a must-see live act – they once sold out a 2500-capacity venue in the U.K. even before their 2005 self-titled debut had been released. Recently, the group have gone back on the road to try out the new material as well as pull out some old favourites for patient fans who haven’t seen the group since 2007 at the latest. One of their biggest profile appearances recently has been the annual Glastonbury festival – and Michele couldn’t have been quicker to sing its praises.

“It was amazing,” she recalls fondly. “It was probably one of my favourite Glastonburys because it’s the only one that I’ve been to that wasn’t muddy! No need for wellies whatsoever [laughs]. We kickstarted the festival on the Other Stage and we were so surprised. We didn’t think there’d be many people out to support us, seeing as we’ve been away so long – I was backstage fretting that there’d only be ten people out there and they’d all be passed out. We head out, and it’s packed! That was a really pleasant surprise – an amazing experience.”

Although on somewhat of a smaller scale in comparison to Glasto, a great festival experience is surely on the cards for the band when they take to the stage at the upcoming Splendour in the Grass festival in Woodford. Michele is jolted with excitement when she realises it’s in a matter of weeks – “We’re really looking forward to it!” she enthuses. “We’re only there for a week, but it’s going to be amazing. I hope the weather’s good, obviously; and we’re hoping to explore more of the country while we’re there.” Stodart recalls the band’s enjoyment of their 2005 tour as a part of the Big Day Out, claiming it was a “great chance for us to just spend a lot of time hanging out with the other bands and really take in an overseas country properly for the first time.” There’s little doubt that there will be plenty of great experiences for the band in their whirlwind Australian visit.

As for her own personal projects, Stodart also reports on working on her debut solo album (although it “might be awhile” before we hear anything from it), and also giving birth to her first child – a girl, Maisie. “She’s perfect, really,” says Michele. “She’s really, really cute. A lot of hard work, but she’s still perfect.” Motherhood has certainly had an overwhelmingly positive effect on Michele, but she believes it would be against her nature to dedicate her life to raising Maisie alone.

“It’d kind of be easier to do that,” she says when asked if she would ever pack the whole music thing in, “but I just know that I wouldn’t be happy. Now I’m trying to fit everything in – which is hard work, but I know that what I’m doing is the best for me and for her right now. Music is too big a part of my life for it to be extracted, and I know that she wouldn’t get the best mum possible. Even now, I’m here in the studio working on one of the b-sides for the single while she’s asleep. It’s a different kind of perspective that I’ve got, but I don’t think I could ever give up music.”

INTERVIEW: Stonefield (AUS), February 2011

I was a very big and very vocal early supporter of Stonefield. I dug what they were about, I loved their energy and I found them to be really exciting. Derivative? Sure, but sometimes that’s what you want – a bit of familiarity and some energy in it. We’ve since fallen out of love – I found both their debut album and headlining show at the Annandale last year to be quite disappointing. Maybe it was only fun when we were younger? Whatever the case, Amy was a quietly reserved and very sweet young lady to interview – probably the youngest person I’ve interviewed apart from maybe Adrian from Northlane? I think so. So yeah, this is from a much brighter time for the Findlay kids – for my money, anyway.

– DJY, October 2014

***

Amy Findlay is hanging out at her cousin’s house in regional Victoria – “Just relaxing, taking a break,” she says. Probably what most girls her age would be doing on a Monday afternoon during school holidays. With that said, it is here where the similarities between her and other girls ends. Give this girl a microphone, a drum set and a couple of siblings and she’ll show you Stonefield – one of the younger collective voices heard in Australian music right now, but easily one of the most exciting.

Having blitzed the competition of triple j’s Unearthed High contest under their former name of Iotah, the band scored high rotation on the station with tracks like Through the Clover and Foreign Lover, both of which were re-recorded for the band’s debut EP. For such a young band, it seems like it has all come to Stonefield quite naturally – and Findlay herself is quick to validate this hypothesis.

“We’ve always been interested in music,” says Amy, the eldest of the four sisters that make up the group. “Because we grew up in a country town, there wasn’t very much available in terms of music lessons – so we took dance lessons and singing lessons and things like that. Luckily for us, about five and a half years ago, a music teacher actually moved in next door to us! We all started playing around the same time – and, as soon as we could, started playing together as a band; ’cause we figured ‘why not?’”

Why not, indeed. Following a rapidly-growing interest in Iotah – now Stonefield after not wanting to be confused with Sydney performer iOTA – the band recorded the bulk of the Through the Clover EP at Atlantic Studios in the south of Melbourne. “That was really fun,” recalls Findlay. “The studio was really cool, too. There was heaps of old equipment – a Hammond organ, Leslie speakers, stuff like that.” The only track from Through the Clover not to be recorded at Atlantic was the title track itself, the stomping rocker with which you are most likely to be familiar with out of the band’s work. That track was recorded in triple j’s very own studio as a part of the aforementioned Unearthed High competition. Findlay also holds fond memories of this session, too – “It was amazing!” she says. “The studio was just incredible; and to work with Greg Wales was such a fun experience.”

With its glass-shattering lead vocals and crashing major chords, there is a very good reason Through the Clover is the band’s most popular song. Surely the group knew they were onto something during the songwriting process of that little number? Findlay is a little bashful, but eventually put this forward: “Y’know when you’re playing or writing a song, and you’d be smiling because you feel so good about it? That’s kind of what happened with that song.” Fair enough and all, but there’s just gotta be more to it than that! Perhaps the answer lies within the songwriting process, which Amy herself is happy to explain.

“Generally, it starts whenever one of us has an idea – whether it’s lyrics or a melody or whatever,” she says. “We just muck around with it, try a whole heap of different stuff and just jam. It’s the best way to get our ideas out there.” Hey, it’s worked so far, why mess with it? “Definitely,” says Amy with a giggle.

Outside of the studio, the band – rounded out by Hannah on guitar, Sarah on keyboards and the youngest, Holly, on bass – have also been honing their live chops. Of late, their biggest gig has been opening the Pyramid Rock festival, the annual Phillip Island festival. “We were pretty scared that there wasn’t going to be anyone there,” admits Amy. “But because a lot of people camped the night before, I think they were ready to see the first band. So there was a good turnout, and it was lots of fun. It was probably the biggest stage we’ve ever played on, too, so it was cool and challenging for us to try and fill that space.”

It won’t be the last time the girls of Stonefield will be filling big spaces – March sees the band taking to the Pushover festival alongside acts such as Children Collide and Violent Soho; while later this year the band will make their first ever trip overseas to perform at the Great Escape festival in May and what many perceive to be the best festival in the world, the Glastonbury Festival, in June. “That’s probably the biggest thing that’s happening this year,” says Amy with a nervous quiver in her tone. She might sound daunted by the big things ahead for Stonefield, but with a talent like theirs you can be sure they’ve got little to worry about.

INTERVIEW: Owen Pallett (CAN), December 2010

I interviewed Owen once before via email back in 2008. It… well, it didn’t go so well. Thankfully, over the phone, Owen was absolutely delightful. He was a really sweet, chirpy kind of guy that provided me with a very easy job of interviewing him. Definitely helped that I was head over heels in love with Heartland, his debut solo album; which has stood the test of time as one of the best albums of the decade thus far. His latest album is pretty exceptional, too. He’s just a fantastic dude. Can’t say enough good things about him. See for yourself!

– DJY, October 2014

***

It’s a cold, blustery day in Toronto, Canada as Owen Pallett takes our interview call, but he’s not about to let it dampen his spirits – especially with his plans over the next couple of months. “I’m really excited about the way that we’ve planned our tour,” says the 31-year-old. We’ve got a week of skiing over in Japan and then we fly down for a little summer vacation in Australia. It’s what I like to do – which is skiing – and what my boyfriend [his manager, Patrick Borjal] likes to do – which is lie on a beach!”

Pallett’s third album, and first under his own name after dropping the Final Fantasy moniker, Heartland, threatened to be the album of the year upon its release – and that was all the way back in January. With nearly twelve months since its release, Pallett still speaks of Heartland with great fondness – although he was initially reluctant to do so.

“At first, when it came out, I was kind of glad to be rid of it,” he admit. “It was a tricky record to make. But now that I have a year-on perspective, I’m feeling really good about it – I feel very proud.” The album, meticulously crafted and several years in the making, revolves around a character by the name of Lewis – a family man and farmer who abandons his life in pursuit of the love of Owen, a character that, by the sounds of things, is the equivalent of a god or deity in Heartland. It’s quite the album to get one’s head around from a conceptual point of view, with many lyrical sections requiring double takes. Interestingly, however, it was never Pallett’s intention to create such a dense, complex work – if anything, he wanted a pop album this time around.

“After I’d made [last album, 2006’s] He Poos Clouds, which was a string quartet, I knew I wanted the next one to be primarily orchestral,” he explains. “I wanted it to really pick on the characteristics of a pop record – specifically, a late seventies/early eighties synth-pop record. I didn’t listen to classical music when I was writing and working on the record – I was absorbing a lot of the pre-digital era synthpop. I really tried to make this record have the feeling of both falling apart and yet also the feeling of mechanism within that genre.”

He rattles off influences such as Can and Depeche Mode (“Particularly Speak and Spell,” he adds) as primary inspiration, as conversation steers back to the album’s characters. Despite song titles such as Lewis Takes Action and the slightly more provocative Lewis Takes Off His Shirt, Pallet himself is quick to downplay the album’s intricate conceptuality. “Conceptually, it’s not really meant to be all that highfalutin or pretentious,” he claims. “I’ve just always wanted to sing from the perspective of ‘the other,’ y’know? From ‘the beloved.’”

His explanation continues: “I simply wanted to make a record where I was singing from the perspective of the object of my desire, rather than specifically singing in my own voice. Even though I felt kind of obliged to be very specific about portraying Lewis and talking about his physical attributes – even from his own perspective – he is simply meant to be what is represented in other people’s songs by…” – he searches for the right word, before coming up with “…baby” – then laughing, adding “…or “shawty.””

Whatever the case, Owen has not only taken notice of readings into the lyrics and concept of Heartland by fans and critics alike, but fully encourages an open interpretation of the entire thing. “When I was making it, I was really trying to make a record that was not maybe necessarily accessible, but one that was going to be appealing – one that wasn’t going to scare people off,” says Pallett. “I’m really flattered when people engage with these songs.”

No doubt many within Australia have been engaging with Heartland since its release, and will be joining Pallett in celebrating its one-year anniversary when the man himself takes to stages across the country next month, including appearances as a part of the Sydney Festival. After taking his time to completely work out a highly technical multi-phonic loop station, which involves sending signals from his instruments across to speakers. Artists as diverse as Jamie Lidell and Autechre also use similar technology in their live performances, yet nothing is quite like the experience of Pallett’s music coming to life.

“I’m in peak condition!” says Pallett with a hearty laugh when asked about his current live set-up. “I’m really excited that my looping is all working now – even though it’s just piano and keyboard, there are actually a lot of channels of sound that I’m creating. When I first started working on it, I hadn’t worked out how to streamline the process and I played the worst show I’ve ever played in Dublin. People thought I was typing with my feet! It’s a pretty intense thing, but at least now I can think about talking to the audience – and maybe even smiling!”

Our conversation wraps with some good-natured humour and some back-and-forth on Australian music (“Tame Impala are Australian, right?”), but perhaps one promise resonates the most: “You guys in Australia are gonna get a good show.” He may have been around for the better part of the last decade, but Owen Pallett is clearly just getting warmed up.

INTERVIEW: The New Pornographers (CAN), October 2010

This was a fun one. Carl “A.C.” Newman is a legend of indie rock in my eyes, and you’ll rarely find a band as consistently great as his main squeeze, The New Pornographers. This chat is another one of the best that I wrote this year – even now, I’m really happy with it. I love the album Carl was promoting, as well. It’s called Together and you could do far worse if it’s your first New Pornos album. 

– DJY, October 2014

***

Carl Newman is on the line from Woodstock. No, he hasn’t created some kind of awesome time machine – the man, his wife and, their dog all live in the small town of Woodstock in the state of New York. “Y’know the story, right?” asks Carl, as he delves into the heritage of his home.

“All the people that were gonna put on the concert were originally from Woodstock, but they couldn’t find a place here to do it. So they had to go to Bethel, which is about thirty miles away – but they still called the thing Woodstock.” Living in such an important area to rock history must mean that the Newman family always has a story to tell whenever someone asks where they live – and Carl is inclined to agree. “The funny thing is,” he says, “is we’ve accidentally met quite a few people of note just by living here.”

“For instance, one of my favourite stories is that my next door neighbour is this old folk singer called Happy Traum. A lot of people know him because he did some duets with Dylan, and knew him from the Greenwich Village days. He invited my wife and I over to thanksgiving dinner, and we were sitting with John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful. Even better, we went to his 4th of July celebration and Donald Fagen was there! We didn’t talk to him, though – we were afraid of him!”

It’s more than evident that Newman is a very lucky guy. Not only is his home life truly rock & roll, but his day job keeps moving from strength to strength. The New Pornographers, the band which Newman leads, have just released their fifth album, Together, another uplifting exercise in full-voiced indie rock. Though its title may seem somewhat plain, Newman is quick to insist there’s a lot more to it than one might think.

“The word showed up a few times in the songs we were writing,” he explains. “It made me think of when we first began, in 1998. One of the first cover songs we ever learned was a song called Together, by a band called The Illusions. It made me think that the word “together” was a throwback to our beginnings – in a sense, calling our record Together was like our way of calling it Get Back.

“On another level,” he continues, “I also like the idea of appropriating a really generic word. So often when you’re trying to name a song or an album, you’re always trying to think of something really clever – like, “let’s think of something someone’s never heard before!” I always liked it when bands took a really generic word and made it their own – like calling your band Kiss or Love. You make it your own just by being who you are.”

Before going in to work on Together, Newman also got into the studio as a solo artist to contribute to the benefit album Stroke: Songs for Chris Knox. Knox, a New Zealand musician, suffered a stroke last year and has undergone severe treatment. To raise funds to assist Knox and his family in these troubled times, a slew of indie rock royalty – Newman, John Darnielle, Jeff Mangum, the late Jay Reatard et al. – each contributed a version of one of Knox’s songs to a double album, with all proceeds going to Knox’s treatment.

“That was an honour,” says Newman when asked of his contribution. “He really truly is one of my favourite songwriters. People talk about how I’m influenced by Brian Wilson and Jimmy Webb and Burt Bacharach – and I love all those people, but when I sit down and write a song, I think I’m closer to Chris Knox. I just love the way that he just sits down and plays his guitar really hard. There’s nothing incredibly fancy about it. He just plays urgently and writes these amazing songs. I’m just a massive fan. I don’t know how he’s doing these days, but I really hope he’s doing well.”

Newman, along with the rest of the Pornographers, will get his chance to visit Knox’s native country this November when the band brings the tour in support of Together to Australasia. Although the band are looking forward to returning to Australia, Carl feels obligated to bring the best show he possibly can to the land of the long white cloud – particularly after the band’s last visit in support of 2007’s Challengers.

“The Auckland show we played last time was the drunkest I have ever been on stage,” admits Newman. “There were a couple of songs we should have been able to play in our sleep, like Mass Romantic from our first record [2000’s Mass Romantic ], and Chump Change from our second record [2003’s Electric Version ]… I think I played a verse twice or something, and the whole band was just looking at me, thinking “Holy shit!” When I walked off stage, my wife was there – she came with us on the last tour – and she’s usually the most supportive person in the world. That night, she just looked angry at me, just saying “that was terrible!” I felt so bad, man, I went and apologised to everyone in the band and promised them it would never happen again – and it hasn’t!”

So, if any Kiwis are reading, hear this promise from Carl: “I owe one to Auckland. I’m hoping they come back and let me prove that I can put on a better show!”

INTERVIEW: Sage Francis (USA), September 2010

Up until recently, this was potentially the quickest interview I’d ever done. Your boy Sage wrapped things up about 7 minutes in and was straight on to the next interview. It was a timing mishap or something like that, but I certainly got all that I needed out of him. He’s a bizarre and often hilarious character, and one that I always have time for. In the spirit of keeping things brief, I’ll leave it here.

– DJY, October 2014

***

There’s something we have to clear up with Sage Francis before the interview begins. It’s not anything major, nor is it some long-winded and unnecessary rant about the conventions of live hip-hop. It’s simply a formality: how do you prefer to be addressed? Do you call him Francis? Sage? Mr. Francis? Paul, his real name?

The man in question pauses on the other end of the line to consider the question. “…can you call me Dirty Uncle Frank?” Gee, don’t see why not. How are you, Dirty Uncle Frank? The line cracks with Francis’ cackling laugh. “Ohh man, this is gonna be interesting.”

Francis – sorry, Dirty Uncle Frank – is on the line from his home in Rhode Island, New York. He’s in the midst of what he calls a “marathon” of phone interviews for publications all across the world. While the promotional aspect of music is a drag for some people, Francis describes the experience as “breezy.” “I feel like I’m taking a quiz where I know all the answers,” he says with a laugh. This, believe it or not, is his downtime – he’s currently getting to the tailend of a major world tour, which will end right here in Australia.

It’s all in support of his most recent album, entitled Li(f)e – and, even though he’s probably told the story countless times, he’s more than willing to explain just how those parentheses came into play. “There’s an old lyric of mine where I say ‘life is just a lie with an F in it/and death is definite,’” says Francis.

“That lyric, in particular, is something that my fanbase kinda flocked to and they just owned it. They created that spelling of life with the f in parentheses, representing that lyric, and people even started getting it tattooed on them. I kept getting sent these pictures of this tattoo, and it really made me step back and think. I was like ‘Wow, people have been really taken by this lyric and are adopting it to their own lives and what they’re going through, and the believe in it enough to the point where they get it permanently marked on them.’ So I titled the album like that as sort of a tribute to that. It’s an understanding that there is a lot of meaning behind the symbolism of that, and I elaborate a lot on that in the subject matter of the album.”

It’s an album of bleak storytelling, heartbreak, isolation and family – and appears to be simultaneously the most and least personal record Francis has done. This is in reference to the tandem of both first and third person perspectives mixed into varying degrees on Li(f)e. “I guess I find it easier to write in first person,” says Francis when questioned on which writing style works best for him; before adding: “It’s easy for people to talk about themselves, I find. I also really love to be able to adopt someone else’s story for my own voice. I think it gives both me and the listener a break from me – I’m sure most of my fans have heard enough about me by now.”

Indeed, Sage’s evidently dedicated fans have come to learn a lot about the man behind the music through a lot of dark, introspective works over the years. With Li(f)e, however, it’s interesting to note that it’s the music behind these stories is more of a change than ever before. Borrowing from contemporaries such as Canada’s Buck 65, Francis spends a lot of time on the record rapping over acoustic guitar, jazz brushes, strings and a whole world of instrumentation beyond a simple 808 beat and a sped-up soul sample. Although Sage understands it was definitely more of a risk, he also claims it was exciting to be working within this new territory.

“I was receiving music from people that don’t typically provide soundscapes for hip-hop lyrics,” he says about the challenges of thinking outside the square. “I had to adapt to their sounds, to their time signatures and their song structures- which is fine. I feel like I give rap lyrics a lot more respect than others, on account of the fact I think that it can work with this.”

He then goes on to philosophise on where hip-hop stands sonically in this day and age. “Hip-hop has a history of taking from other genres and making it its own. Now, in 2010, I feel like there’s been a similar sound in hip-hop for quite awhile – the wheel has been spinning,” he says. “It’s a typical sound, and it’s a sound that I like, but I also feel like that there are other things that can happen with hip-hop, and with rap. So for me to sit there and think about how my lyrics can work within, say, a country and western style or perhaps a bluegrass style, that’s fun for me. I know I can do it, it just takes a little bit of readjusting. It brings out other things in me, and it’s fun.”

So there’s still conventions left to break in the field of hip-hop? “There’s a million conventions to break,” Francis responds. “I’m one of a few people who will step outside the norm and piss off the core base of hip-hop…” – there’s a pause. He mumbles something to himself, before correcting himself. “Actually, that isn’t true. I’m not one of the few. I’m one of the many, but I’m one of the few that people know about. There’s a lot of people doing super out-there shit, doing things way out of the norm and breaking tonnes of conventions. But they’re not getting the exposure and they’re not getting the support, so most people won’t know about them. So I think it’s important that one tries to understand the foundations of hip-hop and know how to create traditionally before going out on a limb and being like ‘look how crazy and different this is!’ You have to prove yourself before you go too far.”

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!”

INTERVIEW: Alexisonfire (CAN), February 2010

I miss this band. As much as I love the other projects they’re all involved in, there’s no denying how special it was when these five were together. I went to both the farewell shows at the end of 2012 and it was such an incredible experience – I will never forget this band and the impact they had on my life. This interview, however, came before all of that was out in the open. AOF were still very much a band at this stage, full-swing into touring and promotion of the Old Crows/Young Cardinals record. I spoke with George, who was lovely. It’s not crazy insightful or anything like that, but this turned out pretty well. I wonder if he knew at that point that it would all come crashing down within 12 months?

– DJY, April 2014

***

George Pettit is a man with a lot on his mind. On a crackly, occasionally indecipherable line from his native Canada, the frontman of multi-faceted post-hardcore quintet Alexisonfire speaks in a tone that’s not so much distracted as full of thoughts and ideas about what’s going on. It’s nearly the end of 2009, and Petit finds himself reflecting on a year where he not only became a husband and expectant father, but also delivered his band’s fourth and easily most divisive record yet, Old Crows/Young Cardinals.

In spite of the controversy surrounding the band’s change in style (particularly in regards to George’s vocals), he still bestows his full confidence in the record itself.

“I was always happy with it,” he comments. “We took a lot of time to make it – we usually just come off the road, spend a month writing, spend a month recording and then go back on the road. This time, we took about six months. We set up our jam space, wrote all the songs and recorded there – we even had the songs in our cars to listen to. It had a lot of room for air.”

Discussing his influences when putting the OC/YC sound together triggers an interesting tangent of its own. He lists bands such as The Hot Snakes and Rocket From the Crypt as major influences, as well as determining the style he aimed to go for.

“When I decided to make the change from screaming to singing,” Petit explains, “I knew I couldn’t croon and I couldn’t sing pretty like [guitarist] Dallas [Green]. I thought I could probably try something like Chuck Ragan or someone like that. These kind of singers – they’re not crooners, but they’ve got that edge to it, which is what I wanted to go for.”

Interestingly enough, the idea of what Pettit doesn’t like also came into play. “It’s not like I was looking at singers and thinking, ‘I wanna sing like that,’” he muses. “It was more looking at screamers and thinking, ‘I DON’T want to scream like that.’ I didn’t want to sound like that anymore.”

“You’re kind of influenced by the things you don’t like,” he continues. “I feel like most of the time when I’m listening to something I fucking hate and I can’t stand it, I want to be the opposite of what that is. There’s a lot of reactions to what we found to be absolutely detestable on the record.”

Despite this seemingly negative inspiration, George insists that the album was not an exercise in hate. Rather, the album was a challenge to push the boundaries of what Alexisonfire could sound like. As George himself puts it: “I think all of our records sound like Alexisonfire; but at the same time, I feel like none of our records sound the same.

“I wanted to shake things up as opposed to just falling in line,” he notes when outlining the band’s intentions. “We just wanted to make something that we liked and move forward. I’m still really happy with the record, even at the end of this year.”

Following OC/YC’s release, Alexis have been touring all across America. Despite labelling the process as “kinda gruelling”, George maintains getting satisfaction from doing so. “We just did the Warped Tour,” says George. “That was fun. You’re only actually playing for thirty minutes tops, and the rest of your time can just be spent hanging out.”

When talk turns to the set-lists of their recent tour, he can’t help but raise a chuckle when it’s said that, even with a new record out, the band must still have fans craving older material. As it stands, Pettit outlines, the band’s current set-list works as follows. “We’ll do at least one off the first record, then one or two off Watch Out!, then we split the rest between Crisis and the new record.” He also adds that it’s in the band’s best intention to “try to put together a set that can please everybody”.

As for the band’s upcoming appearance at Soundwave 2010, Pettit is audibly hot in anticipation for returning to Australia. “This is a really cool festival to be a part of again,” he mentions. “We’re really excited to see Isis, Emarosa, Faith No More, Sunny Day Real Estate, The Weakerthans… it’s really cool. Jane’s Addiction is another one I’m interested to see.”

No matter what your stance on Alexis’ more recent studio work, anyone who’s seen the band live will guarantee you a powerhouse performance. Don’t miss history repeating as George and the rest of the guys from Alexisonfire become the unlikely heroes of the Soundwave festival.

INTERVIEW: Every Time I Die (USA), January 2010

“This ain’t my first rodeo!” Actually, this was – I’ve interviewed members of Every Time I Die four times, and this was the first of those. I’m pretty sure it was Keith Buckley who answered the questions. This was for the Boys of Summer tour – remember when that was a thing? Another emailer; this was pretty sweet as I was just getting into these guys. I finally got to see them live in 2013; and their headliner ended up being one of the best shows of the year. Now, on with the show.

– DJY, April 2014

***

Welcome back to Australia! Have you been looking forward to coming back?
We absolutely have, especially because where I live there’s about four feet of snow on the ground. Now I’m out here sitting pool-side. When I go home, I’m gonna be the cats pyjamas! But we also love being here because the shows are amazing. Everyone is super nice to us. Sometimes aggressively nice. That’s sometimes a bad thing, but it’s rare.

Looking back on 2009, what were some of your favourite moments?
I got married, which was pretty monumental. It was a good year for us. We’ve been touring a lot on the newest record and did our first legit headliner for Epitaph. The reception was better than we could have hoped for.

My little brother has fond memories of Keith getting nailed by bottles at Sydney’s 2009 Soundwave. Did this kind of stuff happen at every stop?
I tried to encourage it as much as possible. We want to make the people watching us feel like they’re a part of the show. Since the stage was so big and we really weren’t close to them, I wanted them to come to us. It kept me on my toes too. I’m a lot faster than anything thinks.

You must be upset that Trap Them are no longer on the bill?
I am indeed. I’m an enormous fan of that band.

What do you think of the other acts you are playing with on the Boys of Summer tour?
I think they’re all really cool. They have a lot of support from the kids coming out so it adds a great element. They’re familiar to people. The guys are super nice too.

Many bands speak of how gruelling touring schedules can be. Has that ever been a difficulty in the ETID camp?
No man, it’s just a part of the job. You know what you’re getting into when you sign up. Well, at least you did years ago. If people complain, it’s because they put their music on the internet and got signed before even playing a real show. Either it took them by surprise or they’re just spoiled and didn’t realise that the instruments they bought with daddy’s money didn’t come with a ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card and they’d have to suffer for their art.

What have recent set-lists consisted of? Is there even a slight chance of playing at least one Burial Plot track?
There is ZERO chance of a BPBW song. Haha. It’s a good mix, about four songs from each record.

Can you tell us any more about what’s happening with The Damned Things?
I just did some demo/pre-production right before leaving for Australia. Things are coming out splendidly. A lot of solos; a lot of huge choruses. My dad heard a song and said it sounded like Foreigner. That’s a real good thing.