INTERVIEW: Keith Buckley (USA), September 2011

Got to have a cheeky double-dip in this interview, as I was speaking with the devilishly handsome Keith Buckley about both the impending Every Time I Die record as well as his side-project at the time, The Damned Things. It was a good time to be a fan of Keith in Australia, as he toured both at the same time as a part of that whole Counter-Revolution clusterfuck. He’s a great interviewee and a lovely guy. ETID just came through town last month and they crushed, as per usual. I also got to speak to Keith again when Ex-Lives came out, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

– DJY, February 2015

***

In the last eighteen months or so, Keith Buckley has been leading a double life – for the first time in his career, he’s lent his voice-box to two different bands. On one side of the coin, he’s been hard at work with Every Time I Die, the southern-fried hardcore rockers of which he is a founding member, working on a follow-up to their highly-acclaimed fifth album New Junk Aesthetic. “We are in the studio at this very moment,” Buckley himself confirms over the line from California. “This is my last interview, and then I have to go and record the vocals.” The as-yet-untitled record is projected for a late 2011/early 2012 release, and Buckley is already considerably enthusiastic about the sound of it.

“This is our first record with our new drummer,” he comments. Founding member Mike Novak left the group in 2009, and has since been replaced by new skin-pounder Ryan Leger. Buckley goes on about the energy of the new material – “It’s got so much more energy than our previous records – we’re really excited about it!” Interestingly enough, however, he’s reluctant to give the usual spiel about how it’s “the best record I’ve ever worked on.” It’s nothing personal – it’s just how many musicians like to drum up interest about the new material. So where does Buckley stand? Does he honestly feel the new record is going to be their best?

“The thing is,” he replies, “is that it’s not just another Every Time I Die record. Our old drummer was with us from day one. Everything you’ve ever heard of us being recorded, that’s been the rhythm section. So this is a completely new drumming style – it’s a new sound; it’s a new energy. So, when we’re looking at everything that we’ve ever done and then comparing it to the way we sound now? This is definitely some of the best stuff we’ve written. And it’s all thanks to our new drummer – he’s made us see it all in such a new way.”

Of course, let’s not forget about what else Buckley has been up to in this aforementioned double life. Teaming up with some unlikely pals from thrash metallers Anthrax and pop-punk stadium-fillers Fall Out Boy, Buckley spent most of 2010 and a part of 2011 fronting The Damned Things. The supergroup was a passion project for the five members to make some good-time rock & roll with a hair-metal and hard-rock edge to it. After three or four years in the pipeline – “You know what it’s like with our schedules,” says Buckley – the band finally released their debut album, Ironiclast, in December of last year. Although Keith maintains that he’s “not the type to get too finnicky in the studio,” it was notably different when it came to recording Ironiclast.

“I was singing,” explains Buckley, who had never previously done “clean” vocals on a record before, “and I wasn’t fully aware of what I was capable of with my voice. I was finding out things that I could and couldn’t do, just experimenting with them. It was a challenge, because I wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t like I had to invent a willingness to do it – I didn’t have to pretend that I like rock music. It was just something that I’ve always liked but have never had a chance to do. I was pushing myself physically with what I was doing with my voice, but it was never like I didn’t like the musical style – I just had to take a different approach to it.”

It should be pointed out at this stage that it was never going to be a case of Buckley leaving his band in favour of The Damned Things – although that didn’t stop a myriad of worried fans approaching Keith while he toured Ironiclast. “Everyone worries about it,” he says, “because nobody every thinks to ask outright. I have never, ever said that I wanted to tone down Every Time I Die. I never said I wanted to leave or anything like that, y’know? It was just another opportunity to write and make music, which is what I like doing. So I did it!”

A simple enough reason, certainly. But here comes the challenge – for the first time ever, Buckley will be bringing both aspects of his double life on tour at the same time. “Yep,” says Keith with a laugh, “I’m gonna be workin’ two shifts in Australia.” While both bands were scheduled to be a part of the doomed Soundwave Revolution, both The Damned Things and Every Time I Die will still get their chance to perform in the country; the former as a part f the Counter-Revolution festivals and the latter doing their own set of headlining club shows. “It’s gonna be quite different to what I’m used to,” Keith says of performing with both bands. “Normally, I just get set into the one style and run with it – but this time I’ll be going between the two. I’m not sure how it’s all going to turn out, but I sure can’t wait to find out!” Likewise, buddy.

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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: Ben Kweller (USA), September 2010

Let’s make something clear. I don’t care if you’re a metalhead, a dance nut, a hip-hop head… whatever you are. If you don’t like Ben Kweller, I’m calling shenanigans. The highest order of shenanigans. How could you say not to that adorable, forever-twentysomething face? Those insanely catchy songs? The joy that just thinking of Ben Kweller brings? Naturally, motherfucker brought the sunshine in this interview. Haven’t had the pleasure since, but I did finally get to see him live in 2012. He was really great. Of course he was.

– DJY, October 2014

***

It’s seemingly impossible to find Ben Kweller in an unhappy mood. The chipper singer-songwriter is in high spirits, on the line from his house. He even sounds upbeat about housework: “I did some yard work today!” he reports happily.

Kweller lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Liz, and two kids – Dorian, 4, and Judah, five months. The Kwellers made the move shortly after Dorian’s birth. “A lot of people still think I’m a New Yorker,” says Kweller, formerly of Brooklyn, “but I made the move after I recorded [last album] Changing Horses. It was actually recorded down here in Spoon’s studio – y’know the band Spoon? And after being here for like a month, we were like “man, let’s just move to Austin.” I grew up in Texas, and it’s nice being near my parents – I think it was a good change.”

Aside from raising both his family and his plants, Kweller has been working on a new record. At the time of the interview, its working title is Go Fly a Kite. “It’s basically code for ‘go fuck yourself,’” says Kweller with a snicker. He talks at length and with a great excitement about the album, which marks yet another change of direction from the down-beat Americana of Changing Horses. “It’s definitely a rock & roll record,” he comments. “A lot of electric guitars, piano and what have you. I’m really happy with it.” It also marks a musical change of having significantly less musicians than last time, whittling it down to just bassist Chris Morrissey and drummer Mark Stepro. “I did that one record where I played everything myself [2006’s Ben Kweller ] – and that was fun, and I might try it again sometime, but there’s really nothing like playing with other people. I think the thrill of music can be found in reacting to another person when you’re playing, seeing what they’re doing – y’know, just creating something as a group.”

The way Kweller discusses the lyrics of the record, Go Fly a Kite may also feature some of Ben’s darker work to date. “It’s kind of a grittier subject matter,” he says frankly when asked about the songwriting process. I had a big falling-out with one of my best friends. He had this new girlfriend that just came in and didn’t want him to do anything with the friends he already had and the people who loved him. She just wanted to push him away from everything. So there’s a few songs addressing all that – one called Gossip, and there’s another one called Jealous Girl.” In spite of all this, Ben is also quick to assure that “there’s still that Kweller optimism” when it comes down to it. Don’t let the bastards get you down, right, Ben?

It seems out of character for Kweller to be singing about such interpersonal dramas – he’s usually the type to sing sweet lines like “I’m in love with someone who’s as pretty as a flower” and “I’d do anything you want me to.” The twenty-nine-year-old may seem like one of rock’s biggest softies, but Kweller laughs good-naturedly at the suggestion, adding that he’s definitely “had his fights.” “I just have a different outlook on life,” he continues. “I try to stay positive and deal with the bullshit that comes my way, but always remember that tomorrow is a new day.”

It’s on this note that conversation switches to Kweller bringing his sunny disposition, as well as his two-piece band, to Australia for the first time in about eighteen months.”Oh yeah!” says Kweller with a smile so obvious it can be seen through a phone line. “Can’t wait for that. It’s always so much fun in Australia. I’m ready for my Vegemite in the morning!”

This tour will also see Kweller playing on the south coast of New South Wales for the first time ever, as a part of a three-day blues festival. Despite being a frequent visitor to Australia since the famous Bens tour in 2003 (alongside fellow ‘Bens’ – Lee and Folds), Kweller has never played many places beyond the capital cities. Exploring the country is always a treat for him, however – “I’ve been to a few outskirts,” he recalls. “I had a friend who lived in Geelong, so I’ve been to the suburbs; and I’ve been to the little beach-y towns. I seem to have a good time everywhere I go [in Australia] – the people are always so mellow. Kinda reminds me a bit of being in Texas, actually. The land looks the same, and the people have the right vibe.”