INTERVIEW: theredsunband (AUS), October 2008

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!”

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.

+++

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?