INTERVIEW: Arrested Development (USA), October 2012

I’ve always found Speech to be a really interesting character. He’s smart, savvy and socially-conscious. Even as an elder figurehead of hip-hop, he’s still out there creating, producing and touring quite a bit. Even knowing all of this, I really couldn’t have anticipated what a fantastic interviewee he would be – I honestly got a lot out of this, and it helped me to have a greater appreciation of the group as a whole and what they’ve done for their side of hip-hop. I’d love to chat to Speech again someday, but for now here’s what happened when we spoke about legacy, downloading and a life on the road.

– DJY, December 2014

***

With the fickle nature of the music business constantly shifting and distorting itself, it’s often quite surprising to see a band maintain any interest beyond a noted debut. Some never live up to it, let alone celebrate its 20th anniversary with world touring – and, yet, this is where we find Arrested Development. Long before the name was associated with Jason Bateman and his ensemble cast of maniacs, the politically-active hip-hop collective had humble beginnings in Atlanta in the late eighties, slowly building a reputation to the point of impatience. A lot of heart and soul went into their debut album, fittingly (and specifically) titled Three Years, Five Months and Two Days in the Life Of… which spawned hit singles that have fuelled the group to this very day.

“They are what they are, y’know?” muses Todd “Speech” Thomas, the band’s frontman, spokesperson and founding member, when asked about his relationship with the band’s best-known material. “The way that I see it, our hits are our pillar. At the same time, this happens to us a lot: when we get to certain crowds, they’re calling out hits right at the top of the show. I don’t like that crowd. We’re doing an hour-and-a-half show. If you just want to hear the hits, turn on the freakin’ radio! We’re proud of those songs, but just give us a chance to show you who we are. We’re not a cover band. As much as we like playing our hits and giving the audience what they need, we want people to get some of the energy of what we’re doing lately. We’ve got a lot of eras, and we like to take our crowds on a ride as opposed to just giving them a specific moment that they’re after.”

Speech notes that many audiences are casual fans, surprised to see that the band have achieved a substantial amount in the two decades following Three Years. Despite a hiatus which saw inactivity between 1996 and 2000, Arrested Development are still a working, touring machine with plenty of new material to substantiate the aforementioned ninety-minute set. Their latest effort was their seventh album, Standing at the Crossroads. Dropping back in August on Speech’s own label, Vagabond Productions, the album was unlike anything the band had attempted before – recorded entirely on a Mac laptop, the album was released completely for free. In justification of this, Speech spoke somewhat conflictingly but fluently.

“We’re doing it for the fans,” he says. “They’ve been responding well to it, and we just hope that everybody who knows the band can get their hands on it because we want people to listen to it and enjoy it. Think of it as a gift.” In spite of this perceptively liberating move on behalf of Arrested Development, Speech isn’t as on board with the digital revolution as you may think. “I feel like music has been cheapened somewhat over the years,” he comments. “The industry is in a weird space, and I don’t think anyone understands it thoroughly right now. With that being said, I don’t feel as though music is being respected by most people the way that it used to be. I used to go to the record store, and I was excited to smell the vinyl, buy something, pull out the record, look at the artwork, read the liner notes, see which guy played bass. Today, I feel like people are more in the mode of saying that they really like Track Six, or Track Ten. They don’t even know the titles of the songs!”

Herein lies the paradox that leaves Arrested Development in such a curious position: If music is being “cheapened,” so to speak, is releasing a digital album for free only adding to the madness of it all? “What’s great about this album,” Speech responds, “is that we do have liner notes and artwork, so people can really get into why we wrote and made this album. That’s something that we grew up with, and something that we really believe in.” So it goes that the band enter into the future of the music revolution on their terms – although, it would be difficult to point out an instance in the band’s entire career where it wasn’t directed on their own terms.

It would be amiss to discuss the twentieth anniversary of Three Years without discussing the band’s relationship with Australia in that time. Although a decade separated their first and second Australian tours, Speech feels that the sunburnt country is one that truly understands where Arrested Development is coming from. “I feel like Australia has always been a place that get the group,” he says. “You guys, to me, have a laid-back attitude and an open mind. From a hip-hop perspective, Australia has never, from what I can tell, really bought into the materialistic, “let’s go to the strip club and be a pimp tonight” type of music style. I feel like everybody that I’ve met in Australia has a true appreciation for the deeper elements of hip-hop. Australia gets Arrested Development.”

INTERVIEW: Gallows (UK/CAN), September 2012

Everyone was pretty pissed that Frank was leaving Gallows, but as someone who was just as potty for Alexisonfire as I was for Gallows I just knew that Wade would absolutely crush as the band’s new frontman. I think Wade appreciated that when we had a chat just as the self-titled album dropped. He probably had a lot of interviewers being all “So, you’re not Frank. Let’s talk about that.” So I like to think this one went pretty well. Still a fucking great band after all this time.

– DJY, December 2014

***

There’s a classic line from The Sound of Music where Maria says that “when the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.” It’s a bit of cheesy blind faith, sure, but sometimes it can’t help but veer dangerously close to reality. Exhibit A: The closed doors. In 2011, Canadian post-hardcore band Alexisonfire announced their demises after ten years and four albums, and Gallows’ outspoken and ruthlessly aggressive frontman Frank Carter announced his departure from the band, leaving the future of the British hardcore punks in grave uncertainty. Exhibit B: The opened window. Shortly after both of these announcements, it was announced that Gallows had found a new lead singer: Former guitarist and vocalist of Alexisonfire, Wade MacNeil. A strange enough cross-over, but certainly not one that was written in the stars – at least, not from Wade’s perspective.

“I’ve always had a weird relationship with the band,” he says on the line from Toronto. “I remember the first time I met the bass player, Stu [Gili-Ross], at a bar in England, we almost had a fight!” He laughs at this memory, noting that Gili-Ross has gone on to become one of his closest friends. He continues to speak of Alexis and Gallows touring together around two years ago, where the earliest seeds of Gallows 2.0 were planted: “I remember the last time I did Soundwave,” he says, ‘I was walking through Melbourne with Frank [Carter], and he was telling me how he wanted to quit the band. His heart just wasn’t in it. There was absolutely no fucking way at the time I would have ever thought I was going to take that guy’s job!”

And yet, here we are, in 2012, with Wade doing exactly that; joining Gili-Ross, guitarist Lags Barnard, drummer Lee Barratt and Frank’s brother, guitarist Steph. The new line-up immediately set to work, quickly silencing their critics with a blistering EP, Death is Birth, and some of the band’s most chaotic live shows to date. “Everyone’s happy with the way things have panned out,” enthuses MacNeil. “I’m definitely happy that this band is still around, because they’re definitely not done writing songs.” As for the criticism that he has drawn, the 28-year-old couldn’t care less. “Gallows is the sum of its parts,” he affirms, “and we don’t care about any of the bitching that goes on. That’s always going to happen. I mean, you’re from Australia – I’m sure AC/DC still get it all the time, thirty years on or something like that!”

Of course, being with Gallows for just over a year has come with its various rough patches and tribulations. Not that it’s let Wade lose sight of what he wants out of his new career path – in fact, it’s invigorated him further. ““At the beginning stages, it was such a whirlwind, y’know?” he says as he recalls the first few months of frontman duties. “I think that’s why it’s worked, in a lot of ways. We had the studio time booked and then the tour a few weeks later – and I was pulling my hair out!” Because of this, MacNeil sees the band’s first recorded effort with their new line-up very much a result of trial and error, as well as being a product of its environment. “I very much look at the Death is Birth EP as a demo, just a scratch of what we were trying to do at the start,” he says.

By means of contrast, the band’s debut self-titled effort, released this month, has seen the new Gallows come into their own; creating an album that’s forthright, unapologetic and plate-shiftingly heavy. “I think with the new record, it’s a little more calculated,” says Wade. “At the same time, though, we didn’t over think things. If something wasn’t working, we’d just fuck it off straight away. It’s the record I’ve always wanted to make. It’s the record the boys have always wanted to make. That’s why it’s self-titled. It’s the best representation of what this band was always supposed to have been. I know that’s a bold statement, but… fuck off!”

He laughs at his last little outburst at his critics, but one can’t help but feel it comes from a place of great vitriol and frustration. Like it or not, Gallows are here to stay.

INTERVIEW: Sammy J (AUS), April 2012

It’s rare that I get to do non-music interviews – well, Sammy’s definitely a musician, but in the realm of comedy. You get what I mean. Anyway!  He’s a fantastic guy and a great interviewee. This is a Q&A format; which isn’t preferable but I guess it suited the chat a bit more. Sorry about that. Blame my past self!

– DJY, October 2014

***

The skinny man. The piano dude. That guy with the juice box. That weirdo with the puppet. He’s known to Australian audiences under a myriad of guises, but all of these attributes combined don’t even come close to covering Sammy J. He’s one of the hardest-working entertainers and one of the most unique minds working within Australia’s comedy circuit – and, in direct collaboration with puppeteer Heath McIvor, he’s created an ingenious odd couple in the form of Sammy J and Randy. The two are currently performing their third show under the moniker, The Inheritance; and we spoke to Sammy J himself about the new show, working with a puppet and the most unlikely place for a comedian to succeed in this country.

Hey Sammy, how have the shows been going so far at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival?

Sammy J: They’ve all been pretty fun! There’s been no stinkers. Y’know, normally in the festival, you have a show or two that make you question your entire career choice. Maybe that will be tonight, now I’ve said that…

How long have you been performing The Inheritance now?

We opened it at the Adelaide Fringe in February, so we’ve probably got about 40 shows under our belts so far. In Melbourne, we’ve been doing it for the past 2-and-a-half weeks, with one-and-a-half to go. It’s been great. Our festival year starts in Adelaide, then goes Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and then over to Edinburgh in August. It’s quite a long stretch, so it means that we get constant incentive to make the show better. You don’t just sit back and relax – you’ve got new cities to win over!

With that said, how much has the show changed since it debuted in Adelaide?

A fair amount. My mum saw the show last night, and she saw the trial show back in January when we put it on for our friends and family. It was just a balls-up, that night. Everything was breaking, sets were falling over… so she confessed after the show last night that she’d been quite nervous when she sat down at the Forum with all these people there for a show that might not be all that good. [Laughs] We picked it up, did a lot of changes. The drive home from Adelaide to Melbourne each year is a very productive time for Randy and I – we do a lot of rewriting, we go through jokes that we don’t like and we cut some scenes out. It’s humming along now. The engine has been tuned, and we’ve put a few new seat covers on and stuff; to continue that metaphor.

Stephen Colbert is a comedian that’s best known for portraying the character of Stephen Colbert in his shows. It’s somewhat similar to what you do – you’re Sammy J, but you’re also playing a character in these festival shows called Sammy J. How different is the person on stage to the person you might meet in the street?

You’re right – I call myself Sammy J because it’s a nickname, rather than a character name. It’s what my friends call me and stuff. I think it’s just an exaggerated version of me – and I mean extremely exaggerated. Sammy J on stage will happily kill a dude or fuck a puppet and won’t really think too much about it. I mean, I still kill dudes and fuck puppets, but I do feel bad about it in real life. And I’m far more discreet.

We can only imagine that Heath isn’t as foul-mouthed when he doesn’t have a puppet on the end of his hand…

We’re both fairly tame. As much as we swear on-stage, every single “fuck” and “cunt” in our show has been put through a meticulous quality control process, and it’s there purely to serve the joke.

This is your fourth show with Heath, and the third show as Sammy J and Randy. Now that you’ve done this many shows writing with Heath in mind, do you think you’re more confident about writing with both of these characters as opposed to just putting a bunch of songs together and saying “that’ll do”?

Definitely. We’ve definitely learned a lot more about the characters, and how they interact with one another and the world around them. Having said that, we take longer and longer writing our shows now – we feel like we have more options and slightly more pressure to not fuck up. When we wrote The Forest of Dreams, we literally just sat around and made each other laugh for two weeks. We didn’t think that many people would see the show – and then, suddenly, we’re off to London and Edinburgh and doing the show all around the place. We knew we had to step it up from then on in. But, yeah, as far as writing goes, it’s still us trying to make something that we find funny – but it’s also balance that with not wanting to bore a crowd, as well. I’m very happy for people to hate my guts, but I’d hate to think that we’re doing something boring.

Is it very much a collaborative process, or do you still view these shows as your own?

It’s easily collaborative. We write everything together. When we’re writing songs, I’ll sit down at the piano and Heath will be there with me. Because we’ve still got our solo stuff on the side, we’ve got that outlet as well for whenever we want to be complete control freaks. When it’s together, though, we’ve both still got the same goals in mind. We battle it out, and it’s very rewarding.

With The Inheritance, it would have been clear from the start that you needed to make something better than Bin Night, but also something that was fresh and unique. What inspired the writing of The Inheritance?

With Bin Night, our challenge was to write something that was set over one evening. It was us, standing in the front yard of our house – and that was it. It was our bottle episode, if you will; a complete mind-fuck of a show with a lot of dialogue. Having achieved that, our direction turned to the complete opposite so that we could make something as epic as we could. In this show, Randy’s uncle dies in England – it happens in the first few minutes of the show. We go over to England to claim the inheritance, so it’s kind of the opposite of Bin Night. It takes place over a couple of continents and a couple of months. There’s some pretty big things at stake here, too – ghosts and family history and stuff. We pretty much did a 180 – we wrote a film script, to be honest – and thought we’d see where it would go from there.

Obviously, there is a bunch of new songs in The Inheritance written by you and Heath. When it comes to performing away from the festival, do you look at the list of songs you’ve just written and say to yourself “Fuck, I can’t use any of these songs out of context!”?

[Laughs] That is actually a legitimate concern. When you’re writing a show like ours, you don’t want the songs to stand out like dog’s balls. You want to have them within context and driving the show forward. The problem is, as you say, that you just can’t pull them out whenever you feel like it. It also means that when the people come along to the shows, they haven’t seen the songs on TV or whatever – so hopefully that means that there’s something fresher about them.

It’s worth mentioning that you and Heath recently re-wrote the opening song from Bin Night for your opening number hosting the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Gala. How did that come about?

Yes, indeed! I’m glad you actually picked that up. That was sort of our idea, because even though we had great numbers for Bin Night, it was still only a couple of thousand versus a couple of million watching on TV. When they asked us to host, we had to work out just how we were going to do it. People watching at home probably didn’t know us that well, if at all. We thought that one good way of doing that would be to latch ourselves onto a well-known comedian. So we asked Adam Hills, and he agreed to be involved. We then concocted this idea of how he was the “true” Gala host, and we would kidnap him in order to take his place. It was pretty cool, getting to whack Adam Hills with a brick. [Laughs] He literally flew in for 37 minutes to give us his time because he was shooting his ABC show. It was very helpful. He’s a gem.

What does the rest of the year have in store for Sammy J and Randy? Do you plan to write a sequel to the show? Maybe work with some new characters, or continue under the same moniker?

The Inheritance actually brings in a significant new character, which I won’t give away but you’ll see at the show. After Edinburgh, we’re planning on focusing more on our TV plans. Randy and I would like to do our own sitcom-type show. It’s a pipe dream at the moment, but we figure at some point you’ve got to make things happen. So we’re taking a few months off to just write that and then start hawking it around to networks and so on.

Would it be similar to your skits on Good News World?

I think it will have a similar sense of humour, but at the same time we’d like it to fit into more in a real world sort of setting. Less studio-based and more of us living in an actual shithouse.

It was also mentioned on The Little Dum Dum Club earlier in the year that you will have another project out soon in the form of a human life?

There is a human life I’ve been working on now, it’s making its debut in 2 months’ time. It’s not like a show – there’s nothing I can do now to make it any better. I did my job seven months ago, and now it’s like waiting for a film to be released. I think I did a fine job at the time, but I guess we’ll find out, y’know? The child in question will be accompanying me to Edinburgh in August, so it’s going to be a well-travelled baby!

Imagine being a jetsetter before you’re even turning one!

[Laughs] I don’t know how else to make money, so I thought that we should just do it. The poor bastard is being born in to a comedian family.

Do you think Randy would be a good godparent?

Look, I couldn’t think of anyone less equipped in the universe to guide a child through moral quandry than Randy. I’ll be keeping a couple of kilometres’ distance between them.

Just before we go, would you do us the honour of pissing off every other city in Australia and putting your money on the best place to perform comedy?

I would have to answer this question simply by pointing out that one can only decide on their favourite comedy city based on their own experience. Now, Melbourne is my hometown and I love it dearly. I’ve done 90% of my gigs here. Of course, that also means that I’ve had my bad gigs in Melbourne, as well. Sydney and Adelaide, both equal highs and lows. One city that I’ve always had good shows in, though, is the lovely roundabout-ed city of Canberra. I’ve only performed there four or five times, but each time has just been wonderful. So, simply from a percentage point of view, I would have to say that Canberra is my favourite city to perform in. I’m going there in a few weeks to launch my solo album, so we’ll see if it retains the crown.

What can you tell us about the album?

It’s a collection of songs that I’ve been performing solo for the past few years. It’ll be a bit of fun, it’s coming out on iTunes and that sort of thing. It’s called Skinny Man, Modern World.

Genius. We’ve got a new Dark Side of the Moon on our hands.

Indeed. That was my very humble ambition.

INTERVIEW: Cannibal Corpse (USA), April 2012

I love the contradictions, paradoxes and contrasts that are omnipresent in the world of music. Here’s one: one of the nicest bands you’ll ever interview is Cannibal Corpse. Yeah, the “Hammer Smashed Face” band. Those guys. Yeah, they’re the most chill fucking dudes out. No kidding! I get into that a bit with the opening paragraph, but you’ll totally see what I mean. I really like this feature; I think there’s some good insight into the band and the semantics behind what it means to be a horror-oriented death metal band. 2012, for me, was a time where I was starting to really come into my own as a writer – looking back on it, anyway. See what you think.

– DJY, October 2014

***

Degrees of contrast often come in rapid succession between what an artist portrays through their work and what they are actually like in real life. That folk singer calling to an end to the war? He probably only heard about it yesterday and couldn’t care less. That rapper claiming that your arse will have caps busted into it? Never used a gun in their life. Conversely, that guy in the death metal band, jamming out numbers about necrophilia, chopped up bodies, zombies and horrific murder? Laid back, charming, funny and intelligent.

At the very least, such is the case with Cannibal Corpse. It’s a band that means so many different things to so many different people, ranging from the pioneers of a bullshit-free, enraged death metal sound to the scourge of society. It’s something that Pat O’Brien – the lead guitarist of the band from 1996 onwards – is more than aware of. Hell, it’s probably something that he embraces. Speaking to the AU Review on the line from Tampa, Florida in-between European and North American tours, he vents a frustration at the band’s misrepresented public image and the double standards within mainstream society that turn them into the villains.

“I think only a few people really want to bring that up with us anymore,” he says. “I think Alex [Webster, bass] would be the first to say that, as far as politics go, we’re not a political band. It’s just metal. The shit that I see happening on TV every day, and the shit I read about? We’re nowhere near as creative as some of the fucked-up shit that happens in real life. Take September 11 – if someone made a movie about that, everybody would walk out thinking that it was a crock of shit, that it would never happen. And then it did. It blows you away, the stuff that happens in real life. You can go and buy German porn – scat videos or whatever the fuck – but you don’t want to stock and sell Cannibal Corpse CDs?”

Our discussion turns to the hypocrisy of individuals that read Stephen King novels or listen to murder ballads that attempt to portray the band as vile, inhumane or demented. “We write fictional stories in our songs,” O’Brien explains. “If anything, they should censor the news. Nobody ever brings up movies, either – you make a movie about zombies, it’s totally fine. But if you’re writing a song, it’s like you’re raising a flag to it; singing a national anthem about violence or something. We’re not preaching anything. We’re just writing lyrics about basically nothing.”

These songs have been seen through the cracks of mainstream culture, from the band’s cameo appearance in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to a lounge version of their song being played by Andrew Hansen on The Chaser’s War on Everything. For the most part, however, the band have stuck to making music for their extensive cult fan-base, who flock to see them across the world in the thousands. Their latest effort, Torture, is their 12th studio album, and their first since 2009’s Evisceration Plague. Ever the critic, O’Brien looks back on the record with mixed feelings.

“I thought it was a good album,” he says. “I think it was something that we needed to do in order to get to the point that we are now with Torture. It was the first time that Paul [Mazurkiewicz, drums] had played to a click track. I dunno, I still think it’s a really good album; but it seems like it was maybe a little stiff at times. This one feels a lot better to me.”

So, where does the difference lie between the band that made Evisceration Plague and the band that made Torture? As Pat reveals, it was a matter of a freshly democratic songwriting process and a clearer, more focused mind going into the album’s creation. “I wrote more songs on this record, and so did Rob [Fischer, vocals],” he says. “With Evisceration, it was Alex – he just had an abundance of material written. He’s like a writing machine. That was a weird time for me – I was moving, and I had a lot of personal shit going on; so I was having trouble writing riffs. This album, though? I was the first person to write for this record. I wrote ‘Followed Home, Then Killed’ and ‘Torn Through’ before we’d even started the writing process collectively.”

O’Brien explains that this new hunger to write would often stem from extensive time on tour which was not spent on the stage. “When we tour, the only thing for me to do, really, is play guitar,” he says. “It’s either that, or drink all night and feel like shit the next day. Even though it’s fun to be out on tour, and see and do all these things, you still have a lot of downtime. It’s a game of “hurry up and wait” – like, wait around for hours, all day, just to play. I can’t do that, man. Give me a guitar. Let’s get some songs in the bag.”

Of course, letting things unfurl naturally lead to some obstacles in the creation process of Torture. O’Brien received the opportunity of a lifetime when one of the band’s biggest influences called upon Pat’s guitar work. As he explains: “I got the call from Slayer to fill in for Gary Holm. That kind of threw things off in the writing process, but it’s not every day you get called up to do that. I’m not sure, exactly, how it came about. I think there were just some recommendations from different people, and I guess I must have been the only one available to do it at the time. It was about a week-and-a-half to learn all of the songs – a lot to learn in a short period of time. With the whole metal community watching these massive shows… it was just intense.”

He goes on to explain the difficulty of learning another band’s entire setlist in such a short period of time. “I knew a lot of the Reign in Blood stuff, but I hadn’t sat down and tried to play those songs for years,” he says. “The only time when I would have really been trying to play them was when I was giving guitar lessons back in the day. I don’t really play other people’s stuff, y’know? I just kinda do my own thing. It was definitely a challenge, for sure.”

This year marks the sixteenth year that O’Brien has been a part of the band. While many older artists feel as though their youthful days best reflected their love and passion for music, O’Brien feels that moving into his forties has allowed him to grow even more engaged with the band and their music. “I think it’s actually gotten better now,” he says on the motivation to create new material. “Like, back in the day, I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything – I’d pick everything apart so damn much that it would kill the idea that I had initially come up with. I’m at a period right now where I don’t totally do that. I’m able to kind of write what I feel and not be so uptight about it.”

He concludes with a positive appraisal of where Cannibal Corpse are currently at – even with nothing to prove, they still strive for excellence within their work. “We always want to make the best album that we can make,” he affirms. “If there’s one thing that I can honestly say, it’s that we are a band that constantly improves in one form or another from our past albums. I really believe that. Some bands, they come out with one or two great albums and then it gets to the point where nothing they do compares to their older albums. I think we’re the opposite. I think our albums keep getting better and better.”

2012 – A Year in the Front Row. Part Two: April/May/June

Jan // Feb // Mar
Jul // Aug // Sep

APRIL

It’s somewhat fitting that I saw Hands Like Houses play a show on April Fool’s Day. Despite international acclaim and touring, they proved to be one of the most lifeless and uninspired bands I’ve seen live this year. What a joke. Still, at least I got to see Sound of Seasons tear it up at that show. Great live act, those kids. Onto the gorgeous surrounds of the Enmore, where I was fortunate enough to see ska legends The Specials tear the joint a new one. This was honestly one of the most energetic shows I went to in all of 2012 – I had no idea things would get this wild! For nearly two hours a solid crowd of roughly 1500, the band tore through their classics with all the energy and vitality that came with their release some thirty years ago. What a treat, what an honour. Definitely a major year highlight.

Milhouse launched their debut seven-inch in style, with a show at the venue they’re practically the house band of now: Black Wire Records. A very fun night indeed. The very next day, I had the chance of doubling up on a tour yet again – this time, twice in one day. Brisbane brats Bleeding Knees Club were playing in the afternoon in Sydney before playing that night in Wollongong. While it was fun to watch some kids going completely mental at what was quite possibly their first gig, the Gong show was something else entirely. Shit got decidedly loose, especially when local legend Jack Reilly got on stage with the boys to tear through a blink-182 cover. Oh, what a night!

With the Dig It Up! Festival in town, I had the chance to see the legendary Redd Kross play their cracking debut album, Born Innocent, in its entirety. While the Oxford Art Factory isn’t usually a great rock venue, this was the perfect room for these guys to thrash through the album and bring to life their wild younger years. Getting to press the flesh with the legendary Steve McDonald was also a total honour. A few days later, I was back at the same venue to see Brissie ex-pats An Horse play a rare Sydney show. A great audience and some top-shelf songs – wish these guys came back more often. Finally, I wrapped up the month with a show at Yours & Owls, which you’ll be hearing plenty more of later in the year. Here, I got to check out the frighteningly good Adelaide crew Night Hag grind to their heart’s content, with ample support from The Reverend Jesse Custer and Endeavours. Good times.

TOP 5:

  1. The Specials
  2. Redd Kross
  3. An Horse
  4. Bleeding Knees Club
  5. Night Hag

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Hands Like Houses. For all the hype, potentially the blandest band in all the land.

+++

MAY

Holy fuck. What a heavyweight month this was! Aside from maybe November, I can’t think of another period where I saw such incredible music being performed at such a consistent rate. An exhausting, exhilarating and life-affirming time in 2012. I kicked things off by farewelling The Butterfly Effect‘s vocalist, Clint Boge, with their final Sydney show with him at the UNSW Roundhouse. I’ll be the first to admit how daggy this lot can be, but I decided early on that I’d get there early, get the barrier and party like it was 2006. What a fun show this was, a complete nostalgia trip and a great send-off to a band that genuinely meant the world to me back in my mid-teens. Excellent fun, probably more than I should be admitting.

The next night saw me regain some of my “cred” by attending a packed-out show from the wonderful Frank Turner. In support was folk-punk’s first lady Jen Buxton, your new favourite punks The Smith Street Band and the jolly travelling bluesman William Elliott Whitmore. All four acts put on sets that superlatives simply cannot do justice to. It was a night to celebrate the arrival, if you will, of Frank. After selling out Wembley, he came to Australia with high spirits and an arsenal of anthems spanning all four of his albums. This man is honestly one of the reasons why I make music, so it truly was an honour to watch him bring his fervent folk-punk energy to the Manning Bar. You had to be there to get it.

Groovin’ the Moo – bit of a rubbish festival, but they bring the goods every now and then. Case in point: City and Colour & Wavves, who both put on great shows in Sydney. Having never seen C&C as a live band, it was quite fulfilling to hear so many tracks that I’ve loved over the years come to life so classily. Dallas is a great performer, understated and charming. I really appreciated the fact he asked everyone to put away their camera phones – one of my biggest vices at shows, so it was nice to get a break from it, however momentary. Although a totally different style of performer, Nathan Williams (aka Wavves) put on a cracking hour set at the Oxford Art Factory. All the best tracks from his own arsenal, plus a Sonic Youth cover (100%) and some gut-bustingly funny inside jokes made this a super-fun show.

Nearing the end of the month meant shit got increasingly more real. And it doesn’t get more freakin’ real than Prince. Holy shit, this was a spectacle and a half. To walk in and see the Allphones turned into a house of purple – complete with a stage shaped like Prince’s symbol – was breathtaking enough. Then, he decides to make things even more insane by OPENING with a fifteen-minute version of Purple Rain. Read again: OPENING with that. Where do you go from there, exactly? Pretty simple: Hit after hit after hit. This was a joyous, funky thing to be a part of; and I’m so glad I got that chance. Truly memorable stuff right there.

Following on from that, I got to see two long-time live favourites across two consecutive nights at the Patch – Dead Letter Circus and Tonight Alive. The former brought a meaty, volatile crowd with them; which was to be expected, really. Thankfully, I had myself a nice spot on the corner of the front row, tucked away and just enjoying their groovy tunes. Great live act, only getting better. As for Tonight Alive, this was the start of a pretty special run of shows with those guys – one show in Wollongong and two shows in Sydney, as a part of their final Australian tour for the year.

I always love these shows, if anything just for the company that comes with them and the incredible circle of people I’ve met through the band and its fans. It gets better, however: My boys in Totally Unicorn were the opening act, which meant that they got to terrorise a bunch of unsuspecting pop-punk kids and blow their freakin’ minds. All three shows had their good points, but the highlight of the bunch was easily the all-ages show at the Factory Theatre. There’s just something about AA Tonight Alive shows that have such an unshakable energy to them. The crowd is always mental, the kids up the front know the score and we can all go mental in unison. I usually have a pretty low tolerance level of AA crowds, but this was totally fine. In fact, it enhanced the experience.

May ended with not so much a bang as an absolute freak explosion. Two words: Janelle. Monae. Friends from across the country came out for this one, as the petite dynamo turned the Opera House concert hall into a next-level party. I can’t begin to tell you how much I needed this fucking show. After admiring Janelle for over two years, it was a complete thrill to finally get the chance to see her and her electric band do their thing, playing songs that still meant the absolute world to me like they did when they first came out. All roads truly felt like they lead to this very show. I can’t really give you much more detail than that. It was out of this world. Amazing. Life-changing. Pretty damn sure this was the one. As awesome as the rest of the year was, nothing quite compared to this night, these songs and this moment in time.

TOP 5:

  1. Janelle Monae
  2. Prince
  3. Frank Turner
  4. The Butterfly Effect
  5. Tonight Alive

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Young Guns, the main support for Tonight Alive. Sorry, lads; you seemed lovely but you were trying to do an arena show to an audience of about 50 people and it really didn’t work in your favour.

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JUNE

By contast, June was actually one of my quietest gig months. Not that it was a barren wasteland or anything, but I felt like a senior citizen compared to my frequent travels of the month prior. Even so, I probably needed the break more than I was willing to admit. I eased back into gigging post-Janelle (or PJ, as I so measure my life these days) with a small gig at Goodgod, one of my favourite new Sydney venues. My chums in Mrs. Bishop were launching a new single, and it was great to catch up with them and bask in their cooing harmonies. The week after, I bid farewell to an old mate in Trial Kennedy, who decided to notch up the nostalgia factor a little extra by adding After the Fall to the line-up. Getting in one last sing-along to Damage on Parade was a year highlight, as was the chance to FINALLY hear Mississippi Burn live; which is my all-time favourite TK song.

After having a ball (pardon the pun) at her last show in 2010, there was no way I was going to miss Lady Gaga on her Born This Way Ball tour. Although I wasn’t as big a fan of BTW as I was of her previous efforts, this was still an absolutely awesome show, full of wonder and big pop sing-alongs – which, if you know me well enough, are pretty much my bread and butter. The thing I love about big-arse pop shows like this one are that, even if it’s only for just a couple of hours, you can escape from whatever’s going on in your life and dive headfirst into a whole new world, Aladdin style. Gaga is a great entertainer and someone who can keep up energy levels like few others can. It’s truly a sight to see. Put aside your doubts and try it out sometime.

The end of the month came quickly, with two more shows before it was done. First was a trip all the way out to Epping, where I ended up at a cafe called Pablo’s in order to see my dear buddies in Collarbones and Fishing; as well as Dappled Cities side-project Swimwear. This was put on by The Gate, aka Joe Hardy, who puts in great efforts to bring great original live music to unconventional places. The show was an absolute treat for the senses, squishing in with a stack of other music lovers to soak up some glitchy goodness. You KNOW a show’s gone well when it ends with an en-masse sing-along to Jenny From the Block. Finally, there was my dear old buddy Jonathan Boulet, hitting the big time with his largest hometown show ever at the Metro Theatre. Having followed his work for years across all of his projects, to see this show go so well was a big thing for me. Jono continues to amaze and inspire with his work, and his live shows (starring his remarkably handsome band) are no exception. Good times!

TOP 5:

  1. Lady Gaga
  2. Trial Kennedy
  3. Jonathan Boulet
  4. Fishing
  5. Mrs Bishop

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: None! Everyone ruled! How good is that?

2012 – A Year in the Front Row. Part One: Jan/Feb/March

So, here’s an idea I had. I go to so many damn shows, why not do a retrospective? Especially considering 2012 was easily my busiest year of gigs ever. So, here is part one of four. It’s a very brief recount of the year that was, but one I was compelled to share. Enjoy! – DJY

JANUARY

With a slew of bands still staying over from the New Year’s festivals, as well as some perfectly timed tours, my first few weeks of January 2012 were insanely busy. Within the first week alone, I’d seen old favourites Bluejuice, Italian skramz band Raein, U.S. hip-hopper Jean Grae, U.K. movers-and-shakers The Jim Jones Revue, pop-punk heroes Tonight Alive (the first of four times I’d see them this year) and mid-teen heroes The Dresden Dolls. An exhausting highlight reel of great, diverse and interesting music hanging around Sydney and Wollongong at the time.

Unfortunately, the only sour note among the lot was Jean – arriving forty minutes late on stage and proceeding to treat her fans like idiots while barely putting any effort into her rapping still ranks highly among my year’s sorest disappointments. Still, you’ve got to take the good with the bad – and, there was so much good to take.

In particular, I point to the Dresden Dolls show at the Enmore Theatre as still one of the best shows I went to this year. For two-and-a-half hours, I partied like it was 2006 and celebrated the reunion of one of my biggest high-school obsessions. Having seen Amanda solo twice before, I already had an idea of what to expect – but bringing drummer Brian Viglione into the mix sent the entire affair to strange new levels. A great one to tick off the bucket list.

Not long after that, I was headed to Melbourne for the first time ever. I had the honour of playing with former A Death in the Family vocalist/guitarist Jamie Hay – eerily enough, on Friday the 13th, the day that AditF had announced their split. He didn’t let the news get in the way of a phenomenal performance, thankfully. The weekend immediately following this show lead to my main purpose of visiting Melbourne – Sugar Mountain.

An awesome initiative from Two Bright Lakes, this night was the first of three times I would see percussive adventurers tUnE-yArDs in this month. Getting to see the delightful Deerhoof and the blistering Thee Oh Sees was the icing on an already delicious cake. The next night at the Corner Hotel, I got to see tUnE-yArDs doing her thing once again. I appreciated a total switch-up of her live set – she even started on the same song that she had closed with the day before, and vice versa! My final time seeing her was a day after returning home, at the Famous Spiegeltent as a part of the 2012 Sydney Festival. I also managed to sneak in a breathtaking set from U.K. chanteuse Beth Orton at City Recital Hall for the Festival, too. Gotta be happy with that.

Onto a far-less cultured festival, the one and only Big Day Out. I only managed to get in a single sideshow this time, but it was more than worth it. Battles shook the foundations of the Metro Theatre like nobody’s business. Having now seen these guys 4 times, I can affirm their status as mind-melting musos that you could watch individually for a set’s entirety and not get bored. That said, their MVP is unquestonably Mr. John Stanier. ‘Tis no man! ‘Tis a drumming machine! Onto the BDO itself: Highlights included the bombastic Kanye headlining set, the world-class rock & roll of Soundgarden, Cage the Elephant and My Chemical Romance and the insane celebratory dance party of Girl Talk. Despite relatively poor ticket sales, BDO was a tonne of fun.

The month finished with a quick visit to Wollongong for day 2 of the Stacked Music Festival. Although I attended almost exclusively for Sydney legends Gay Paris, there were also a few treats thrown in for good measure – local champions The Conspiracy Plan, brattish post-punks Chicks Who Love Guns and the always-delightful folk-rockers The Pennys.

TOP 5:

  1. The Dresden Dolls
  2. tUnE-yArDs
  3. Kanye West
  4. Battles
  5. Jamie Hay

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Jean Grae, plus the shitty local band that opened for Tonight Alive whose name escapes me.

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FEBRUARY

I was eased into February quite nicely by one of my favourite events in Blood, Sweat and Beers. This show would mark the first of many times I would see positive-thinking pop-rockers Milhouse, as well as sets from Canberran bong-ripping favourites I Exist, Tassie boys Luca Brasi, country bumpkins Wagons and the brilliant Harmony. With Laneway in town, I caught a sideshow for Canadian sensation Leslie Feist, although admittedly I was going almost exclusively for her support in the delightful Mountain Man. These sweet-singing ladies subsequently wiped the floor with Feist herself, who was half-an-hour late on stage and caught up in her own self indulgences too much to make this show worthwhile.

I then returned to my second home of the Annandale Hotel for three shows headlined by Michigan post-hardcore cult heroes La Dispute. These shows were just as inspiring and engaging as the very first time I saw them back in 2009, but for very different reasons. The 2009 shows were inspiring on account of an American band doing a completely D.I.Y. Australian tour that was done out a pure love for what they do as a band.

These shows were inspiring on account of seeing a relatively little-known band playing a very unfriendly style of music managing to pack out the Annandale for three shows with a huge, hungry and wildly boisterous audience. In other words, they’ve more or less arrived in Australia. We also got some fantastic local supports at these shows: Let Me Down Jungleman, Hira Hira (shout out to Jack Wotton for doing double duty!), Perspectives, Between the Devil and the Deep, Making and the late, great Animal Shapes.

Nearing the end of the month, I got to spend some quality time with some of my songwriting heroes – namely, Dan Mangan and Ben Gibbard. The former played a wondrously joyful set at Notes in Newtown, while the latter lead his band (and one of my all-time favourites), Death Cab for Cutie, into a second headlining show at the Enmore Theatre just up the road. Despite an annoying, iPhone-ready audience, I still had a great time at my third Death Cab show.

Sandwiched in-between Dan and DcfC was SoundDave, a DIY all-day festival held at another one of my Sydney “homes,” Black Wire Records, curated by Milhouse/Between the Devil and the Deep bassist/FBi radio personality/all-round heartthrob Dave Drayton. I was a volunteer for the entire day, and was so happy to be involved. Highlights including decidedly bitchin’ sets from Epics, Fat Guy Wears Mystic Wolf Shirt and Surprise Wasp, fronted by Gay Paris bassist Dean “Slim Pickin’s” Podmore. Top stuff.

Although I gave Soundwave a miss, I still managed to wrap up the month with two great “Sidewaves” at the Metro Theatre. The first was the final Sydney show from Thursday, a band that I will gladly admit meant a hell of a lot more to most people in that room than me. I was a late bloomer for Thursday, only really getting into them later in high school. And I was a War All the Time guy, as opposed to a Full Collapse guy, which was the album they were playing in its entirety. Even so, I came out of that show with a mountain of respect for what they accomplished in their time, and it was an honour to be a part of it. Finally getting to see Circa Survive live was also a treat.

A few days later, on a rare February 29th, I got a triple-horned hardcore treat with Enter Shikari, letlive. and Your Demise. Each put on a great set with their own style and energy, but I’d be kidding myself if I wasn’t there to get properly mental to letlive. After discovering them in mid-2011, I vowed that I’d be front row centre as soon as they toured. And so it was – I screamed, I jumped, I climbed on things and I essentially acted all of the ways a 21-year-old really, really shouldn’t. And it was GLORIOUS.

TOP 5:

  1. La Dispute
  2. Dan Mangan
  3. letlive.
  4. Death Cab for Cutie
  5. I Exist

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Feist. Sorry, babe. Maybe next time.

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MARCH

A pinch, a punch and some motherfucking MASTODON for the first of the month! Don’t mind if I do, thanks. With French destroyers Gojira and Norwegian warriors Kvelertak in tow, my brother Chris and I were treated to one of the most brutal shows I’ve seen all year. This was also the first of three shows at new Sydney venue The Hi-Fi I would attend this month, and all within a few days of one another. The very next day, I saw the delightful Ben Kweller doing his thing, while on the Sunday I’d finally get to see Manchester Orchestra live. Along with my ridiculously similar appearance to Andy Hull, I love all of their albums, especially Mean Everything to Nothing. Watching the band play “Everything to Nothing” live is one of the few gig moments from 2012 where I’ve actually teared up. Truly incredible stuff.

With Future Music Festival in town, I had yet another chance to see Die Antwoord after catching them at both the 2011 Big Day Out and at their show with M.I.A. the very next day, at which they completely blew her off the stage. Here, I found them in the illustrious surrounds of the Enmore, which was decidedly packed full of people from the Zef Side of Sydney. Despite going on late, they put on a truly fantastic show – bounding energy and a seemingly endless supply of bangers.

Next up was a return to Black Wire, to see the hilarious Battle Pope get rowdy along with Fat Guy Wears Mystic Wolf Shirt, The Reverend Jesse Custer and Jesus Christ Posse. Right there is four of my favourite heavy bands in the country, so that was more or less a dream come true. Another festival in March was Golden Plains, and from the cool streets of Portland came the femme-fatale quartet of Wild Flag. Lots of dancing to be had at their show at the Manning Bar with Love of Diagrams and impressive upstarts Unity Floors.

I’ve had the chance to do multiple shows on tours a few times this year, as evidenced back in February with La Dispute. These next two shows would be the first of two times I’d double up on some Children Collide action this year, bringing my grand total to nine times of seeing them live. For what it’s worth, they never let me down. Although the turnout for their Metro Theatre show was abysmal, they packed out the Patch in Wollongong and put on a truly hectic show for all involved.

During the final song, I decided to flip myself off the foldback and into the crowd. Half-expecting to fall to the ground, I ended up being carried all the way to the back of the venue, eventually toppling downward in-front of my bug-eyed sister, who could not believe her baby brother had just crowdsurfed like an absolute champion. Good times. Shout out to the killer supports, Deep Sea Arcade and Palms.

Nearing the end of the month, I was back at Black Wire to see two of my favourite Australian musicians, and people that I’m honoured to count as friends – Jamie Hay and Jen Buxton. I also had the pleasure of meeting Jen’s little dude, Eli. He has the biggest cheeks I’ve ever seen. I showed a world of restraint for not just sinking my teeth directly into them. Don’t tell her I said that, of course.

Oh yeah, I also saw Evanescence. The less said about that, the better. At least Blaqk Audio were pretty good.

TOP 5:

  1. Manchester Orchestra
  2. Mastodon
  3. Die Antwoord
  4. Children Collide
  5. Jamie Hay and Jen Buxton

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Evanescence. Childhood memories tainted forever by this soulless display of mediocrity.