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.

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INTERVIEW: Jonathan Boulet (AUS), December 2009

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

– DJY, April 2014

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERVIEW: The Living End (AUS), November 2009

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

– DJY, April 2014

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERVIEW: Alex Lloyd (AUS), May 2009

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

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

– DJY, April 2014

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERVIEW: Amanda Palmer (USA), February 2009

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

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

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

– DJY, April 2014

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

INTERVIEW: Adam Green (USA), November 2008

Although this was my second interview feature posted for FasterLouder, it actually turned out to be my first-ever interview. So there’s a piece of history here, kids! I was really, really nervous going into this one – not only was I doing my first interview, I was speaking to New York legend Adam Green. He was a pretty big deal for me back then, and to some extent he is now as well. I can still sing a stack of his songs off by heart, and I’ve always had a soft spot for his music.

So, did I have anything to worry about in retrospect? Not at all. Adam was, to this day, one of the most entertaining people I’ve ever spoken to. He’s naturally charismatic and eccentric, and it made for some absolutely killer quotes. The feature itself is a little choppy, but I’d develop my style over time – and this was as decent a start-off as any.

– DJY, July 2013

***

Some musicians are uncomfortable speaking to complete strangers about the music they have put their heart and soul into, and will often be a little rude or unfriendly. Not New York’s anti-folk poet laureate Adam Green, however. The second we are connected, I am welcomed by a very enthusiastic “Holy shit!”, followed by a very intimate detailing of the night before.

“I never get hungover – I don’t know why,” he explains as if speaking casually to a close friend. “But I feel like I’m in a state of euphoria as I walk around!” Green’s night involved going to a friend’s house and drinking at a fake bar that a friend had built within their house – an adventure that may seem out of the ordinary to most. Green enthuses, however, that he is “always looking for new things to be a part of”- a trait many musicians these days just can’t flaunt.

But there’s a lot more to Adam Green than his late-night antics. By day, Adam Green makes music. Great music, too. Since starting out with fellow oddball Kimya Dawson in the now-revered Moldy Peaches (yes, from the Juno soundtrack), Green has gone on to a low-key yet fruitful and entertaining solo career.

Earlier this year, his fifth solo album, Sixes and Sevens, was quietly launched to generally positive acclaim. The album is a collection of short, sweet and diverse pop music that he is decidedly proud of. “It’s been a long time coming,” he says of the record, his first since 2006’s Jacket Full of Danger. The first track on the album in particular, entitled Festival Song, is a bold and self-described “bombastic” artistic statement that derived, ironically, out of an uncomfortable fear.

“I never liked playing the festivals,” he explains. “I didn’t understand it. I was just someone who went to festivals – I used to get a lot of nerves before going on.” The solution? “I thought of making up a song up that I could open up at a festival with, and it would build up the show to be alright. That’s what the song started as.”

Another noticeable aspect of Festival Song is its starkly different vocals – light years away from Green’s distinctive liquored croon. “The more angry and lonely and defeated that I sang this motherfucking song, it just sounded shit-punk-better.” This led Adam to unconventionally sing the song worse with each and every recording. “I feel sort of like a vampire,” he muses in the most casual way one can say they feel like a vampire. “I’ve always wanted people to see me as more Goth, and they never do! I think people now know I wanna suck their fucking blood.”

A vivid imagination? Certainly – but anyone who has listened closely to Adam’s smart, abstract and often slightly ridiculous way with words in his music would expect nothing less. Ask him the tales of any of the characters featured in his songs, and you’ll receive a glowing, in-depth anecdote. Talk of Carolina (“her lips taste just like sunk ships/But her breasts taste just like breakfast”) brings up memories of the eponymous character of the song slinking around her apartment – “Like a cat”, he emphasises. He also tells of the abusive relationship between her and an unknown friend of his. “He perceived her soul to be made of farts and shit – it was just a piece of trash, and he told me so.”

Shifting talk to Emily (“Baby, when I get you on that Persian rug/That’s the kind of movie I’ve been dreaming of”) elicits an entirely different, far more upbeat response. “What a lovely, lovely woman she is,” he says happily. “She came to my concert once looking like Goldilocks!”

With such fascinatingly weird and wonderful stories to tell, it’s natural to be inquisitive of the driving forces behind the man’s lyrics. When it comes to his inspiration, however, Green blames not a musician, book or writer – but a voice in his head. A voice, he reveals, that has been getting him into a spot of trouble.

“I’ve been pissing off strangers lately,” he states matter-of-factly, claiming that not everyone “gets” him and his little lyric-inspiring voice. “It’s my own fault, I think. I always think people can understand where I’m coming from – but then I say something and it offends them, and before I know it they’re crying and their boyfriend wants to kick my arse. Some people just don’t like my tone.”

Certainly, Adam isn’t going to impress everyone in his travels. Having said that, he’s still certainly acquired quite a devoted cult fan-base for his particular brand of indie pop. One country in particular that has warmed to Green’s style, interestingly enough, is Germany. “I think, at first, it was just because of my good looks,” he says in regards to this unnatural phenomenon. “They’re probably so boring, that I just make a boring thing and they like it.”

Green’s touring schedule has taken him to various hot-spots around the globe for years, with his Australian visit finally on the horizon. The tour sees Green taking the best of both worlds – a high billing at Meredith Music Festival in December, and three far more intimate east coast shows. When asked which scale show he prefers, he confesses that he will just “go where he is told”. “If someone says I have to play a monkey cage in an Egyptian zoo… y’know, I’ll give it a shot.”

Certainly the semi-ironic boldness of this statement, the eccentricity of our conversation and the genuine lightning strike of brilliance that comes through the Adam Green discography is certain to culminate in these upcoming shows. The tour will surely intrigue many – including Green.

“Who’s Meredith, anyway?” he asks me.

“Is she cute?”