My second interview and the first one that ever got published. They decided to hold out on the Adam Green feature so that it would get timed correctly with Meredith. I wasn’t complaining – people were gonna read my stuff, man! Holy shit. Sarah Kelly and I are… well, not friends, but we’re certainly acquaintances. Having seen her through several guises over the years – most recently with the excellent Good Heavens – I’ve always had a great appreciation for her songwriting.
She remains one of the more underrated performers in this country, but you’d never have guessed that by the way I interviewed her. I was a really big fan of theredsunband, particularly their Peapod record. Throw on any jam from that record and I’m immediately in a good place. As an interviewee, she was a little reserved and softly-spoken, but that was fine. It reflected her overall nature – and besides, I wouldn’t have exactly warmed up to some dorky teenager mouthbreathing down the phone, either.
– DJY, July 2013
You’d be forgiven for not remembering Sydney alternative rock trio theredsunband in 2008. Even on the band’s own terms, it’s been quite a while since they gently rocked our worlds with 2005’s Peapod. They subsequently played around the nation with countless Aussie and international acts, including one support slot for the legendary Sonic Youth. The obvious question, thus, to put to Sarah Kelly (guitarist, vocalist and brains behind theredsunband) is why exactly it had taken so long for their return in the form of their new record, The Shiralee.
“We actually recorded the album two years after Peapod ,” she explains. “It took a little longer to release, because we weren’t really sure of how we were gonna do it.” What followed was a refreshing and classically DIY mission of releasing The Shiralee: pay for the entire recording out of pocket (thanks to a lengthy 32-stop van trek across the country in 2005 and a songwriting grant) and release it independently through their own new label. “It’s been a really good experience, I’ve liked the whole thing a lot,” Kelly happily comments. “You learn a lot of different things about stuff that goes on that you don’t really notice when you’re on a record label.”
Kelly’s inspiration in her songwriting for the sophomore release stemmed from the Shiralee itself. Translating to “burden” in an Aboriginal dialect that even Kelly herself is unaware of, the book is, according to Kelly, “basically about this man wondering around in the outback.” Further independent research on the matter revealed the book’s plot to be somewhat deeper than this, depicting a man’s relationship with his child and the stressful ways of the outback Australian life. Regardless, it appears that theredsunband’s sound has mused upon the Shiralee’s environment rather than its characters.
“It’s a very spacious record,” says Sarah, before adding, “We spent a lot of time on the road, and I kind of think you can hear that on this album.” A request for further elaboration on this statement ironically presents further ambiguity. “It’s hard to explain. I don’t think you can necessarily explain why certain imagery comes into your head when you hear songs.”
True enough – especially when talk turns to what Toby Martin, singer and guitarist of long-serving Sydneysiders Youth Group, thinks of the record. “He told me that when he listens to that record, he gets a sense of a really huge, open space in the desert with lots of tiny little people walking around,” Kelly explains with a laugh. “That’s such an awesome thing to say.”
Australia will have their chance to experience this desert-sized sound for the first time as theredsunband team up with Youth Group for what looks to be one of the bigger Australian tours of this year. A double header, the tour takes the bands to a myriad of interesting regional places in addition to the capital cities – several of which neither band has ever been to.
“Neither of us has played in Wagga Wagga, or Currumbin or Noosa,” says Kelly as she tries to think of the places which the tour will take her. “I’m really looking forward to those shows and going to those places. We’ve played in quite a few unusual spots over the years, and tours like this are a really good opportunity.”
The tour was conceived after both Kelly and Martin appeared on the hugely popular SBS pub trivia show RocKwiz. The two battled it out as the guests on opposing teams, to be united later in the night with a surprisingly brilliant version of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Sometimes Always. Martin took Jim Reid’s part, while Kelly did her best Hope Sandoval. Afterwards, discussing the touring plans for both camp’s new records (The Shiralee and Youth Group’s fourth release, The Night Is Ours, respectively), it was decided that “it would be great fun to do a tour together.”
“We’ve known various members of Youth Group for a very long time,” recalls Sarah, briefly before our conversation turns sweetly anecdotal. “I think the first time we ever played together was in 2002,” she continues. “That was [sister and keyboardist] Lizzie’s first show with the band. She was only 16 back then! Luckily, she had a fake ID under the name of Roxanne.”
‘Roxanne’ has long since grown up and established herself as the backbone of theredsunband sound, with warmly-toned organ and simple yet effective percussion such as the tambourine. It may seem a cliche to ask, but one can’t help but be intrigued as to whether it is difficult having a younger sibling on board in the band.
“People ask that all the time,” Kelly offers casually. “It’s not difficult at all. She’s a very calm person, always very cool. If anyone ever chucks a tantrum, it’s gonna be me!”