You Am I interview

Published in Time Out Sydney, July 2013

Are You Am I giving up rock for new life as brewing magnates?

You Am IIt seems astonishing, but this year Sydney’s You Am I are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of their debut album, Sound as Ever. Hence three quarters of the band – frontman Tim Rogers, drummer Russell Hopkinson and guitarist Davey Lane (absent is bassist Andy Kent) – are sitting in a café discussing their exciting new project.

It’s not the deluxe reissues of their first three discs. It’s not their nearly sold-out tour performing albums two and three (the beloved Hi Fi Way and Hourly, Daily). It’s the release of their first ever beer, naturally called Brew Am I, which is the obvious next step for a band who legendarily know their way around a tipple.

“Oh yeah,” Hopkinson laughs. “We’re beer barons now, man.”

“It’s to make up for our losses on the terrible ticket sales so far,” deadpans Rogers.

“Yeah, it’s awful,” Lane chuckles.

“Actually, the response [to the tour] has really taken us by surprise,” Rogers says, with surprising sincerity. “It’s just the right time to do it. It wasn’t someone asking us to do it – it came from the four of us.”

Each of the albums is being re-released with a bonus disc of rarities from each period, which has involved a lot of going through the archives for material from the band’s formation in 1989 through to 1996.

“Not that I was there,” Lane, who joined in 1999, points out.

“You were spiritually there, though,” Hopkinson retorts.

Well, the story goes that Lane was busily writing up You Am I guitar chords for the internet and obsessing over the band, wasn’t he?

Lane looks affronted. “No!”

Well, that’s what Wikipedia reckons.

Hopkinson laughs. “That’s because he wrote it.”

“I was just doing the guitar tabs for something to do in the school holidays because I had no friends,” Lane counters. “I was just uploading them for my friend who ran the website…”

“Hey, you just said you had no friends!” Rogers interjects.

There’s some work to be done ahead of the tour. Despite the first three albums’ position as bona-die Australian classics, Rogers may be the only person unfamiliar with them. “I was listening to those records on the drive up to Sydney and I was alarmed at how much I had forgotten. I’d forgotten how great my guitar skills were back then.”

“There are all these parts and harmonies that we do differently these days,” Hopkinson nods.

It’s luckily all the tabs have gotten online somehow, then.

“Exactly!” Lane says, laughing.

The band are now completely independent: no record company, no external management, nothing beyond the members themselves. “We felt that with Andy’s experience with management, Russ’s experience releasing records, and my and Davey’s experience with Class As, we could handle everything ourselves,” Rogers smirks. “Everything that we do now, it’s just asking: will this be fun for us? There’s no talk about ‘trajectory’ or ‘momentum’…”

“It’s not like we’re going ‘OK, let’s crack this market or that market’,” Hopkinson nods.

“We’re cracking the beer market instead!” Rogers says. “It’s the natural progression from our music.”

Talk turns to the tour, and what they plan to get up to. “I think it’s Andy’s turn for a-prankin’,” says Rogers, to wide approval. Although it sounds like the laconic bassist is a hard man to unsettle.

“We were on tour in Wolverhampton [England] in this quaint little hotel, all in beds next to each other, and the fire alarm goes off,” Rogers recalls. “So Russ and I jump up and go, ‘Struth! Andy, get up!’ And he rolls over, puts his hand on the floor, goes ‘it’s not hot’, and goes back to sleep.”

Could the fire have not been in the ceiling, though?

They all stare for a second, before Hopkinson breaks the moment. “We’re not physicists, right?”

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You Am I interview

First published in Time Out Sydney, April 2013

You Am IIt seems astonishing, but this year Sydney’s You Am I are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of their debut album, Sound as Ever. Hence three quarters of the band – frontman Tim Rogers, drummer Russell Hopkinson and guitarist Davey Lane (absent is bassist Andy Kent) – are sitting in a café discussing their exciting new project.

It’s not the deluxe reissues of their first three discs. It’s not their nearly sold-out tour performing albums two and three (the beloved Hi Fi Way and Hourly, Daily). It’s the release of their first ever beer, naturally called Brew Am I, which is the obvious next step for a band who legendarily know their way around a tipple.

“Oh yeah,” Hopkinson laughs. “We’re beer barons now, man.”

“It’s to make up for our losses on the terrible ticket sales so far,” deadpans Rogers.

“Yeah, it’s awful,” Lane chuckles.

“Actually, the response [to the tour] has really taken us by surprise,” Rogers says, with surprising sincerity. “It’s just the right time to do it. It wasn’t someone asking us to do it – it came from the four of us.”

Each of the albums is being re-released with a bonus disc of rarities from each period, which has involved a lot of going through the archives for material from the band’s formation in 1989 through to 1996.

“Not that I was there,” Lane, who joined in 1999, points out.

“You were spiritually there, though,” Hopkinson retorts.

Well, the story goes that Lane was busily writing up You Am I guitar chords for the internet and obsessing over the band, wasn’t he?

Lane looks affronted. “No!”

Well, that’s what Wikipedia reckons.

Hopkinson laughs. “That’s because he wrote it.”

“I was just doing the guitar tabs for something to do in the school holidays because I had no friends,” Lane counters. “I was just uploading them for my friend who ran the website…”

“Hey, you just said you had no friends!” Rogers interjects.

There’s some work to be done ahead of the tour. Despite the first three albums’ position as bona-die Australian classics, Rogers may be the only person unfamiliar with them. “I was listening to those records on the drive up to Sydney and I was alarmed at how much I had forgotten. I’d forgotten how great my guitar skills were back then.”

“There are all these parts and harmonies that we do differently these days,” Hopkinson nods.

It’s luckily all the tabs have gotten online somehow, then.

“Exactly!” Lane says, laughing.

The band are now completely independent: no record company, no external management, nothing beyond the members themselves. “We felt that with Andy’s experience with management, Russ’s experience releasing records, and my and Davey’s experience with Class As, we could handle everything ourselves,” Rogers smirks. “Everything that we do now, it’s just asking: will this be fun for us? There’s no talk about ‘trajectory’ or ‘momentum’…”

“It’s not like we’re going ‘OK, let’s crack this market or that market’,” Hopkinson nods.

“We’re cracking the beer market instead!” Rogers says. “It’s the natural progression from our music.”

Talk turns to the tour, and what they plan to get up to. “I think it’s Andy’s turn for a-prankin’,” says Rogers, to wide approval. Although it sounds like the laconic bassist is a hard man to unsettle.

“We were on tour in Wolverhampton [England] in this quaint little hotel, all in beds next to each other, and the fire alarm goes off,” Rogers recalls. “So Russ and I jump up and go, ‘Struth! Andy, get up!’ And he rolls over, puts his hand on the floor, goes ‘it’s not hot’, and goes back to sleep.”

Could the fire have not been in the ceiling, though?

They all stare for a second, before Hopkinson breaks the moment. “We’re not physicists, right?”

David Lee Roth interview

First published in Time Out Sydney 28 Mar 2013.

David Lee Roth – and I say this in the most affectionate way – is mad.

That probably comes as little surprise to anyone familiar with the man known as Diamond Dave, but it’s worth making explicit from the outset. Barely has the call connected before there’s a bellowed “Call me David Lee, that’s my family name. If you have to yell my name across a crowded concourse yell ‘D-Ro!’ – that usually gets the job done!”

Well, since we’re finally getting you down here there will be a potential necessity to be yelling your name out across concourses.
Hopefully! I’m coming a week in advance. And of course I have an agenda but tell me, Andrew: what should I be looking forward to doing if I’m there a week before the show?

You strike me as a man who would enjoy climbing the Harbour Bridge…
Well beyond that, what about house music? What’s happening on the dance floor in Sydney? Start there, that’s always an interesting place just in terms of human beings at their most extreme, you know? They have uncertain algorithms, the dance floor always delivers, all the best art work is on the bottom of a skateboard somewhere. So: start with the floor.

You’ll want to kick around Oxford St and Kings Cross – oh, and GoodGod, in the middle of the city. It’s also got a great diner inside, which is a genius idea and I don’t know why everybody doesn’t do it.
Of course building a kitchen makes all the symmetric sense in the world because everybody’s burning calories at 120 beats a minute. You could even register it on a graph at the DJ booth. “How fast are they burning calories, sir?” “126 a minute.” “Are you sure?” “Oh, I’m very sure.” [laughs]  You can meter that out.

So, you make an effort to get out and about when you’re in town then, it’s not just turn up, sit in the hotel, do the gig and turn back?
Well a good writer writes, a good musician listens to a lot more than he actually composes, and if you’re going to do lyrics – well, there’s a Freudian slip. That’s not even a slip, that’s a Freudian move: I said going to do lyrics. If you really want it to ring true, you’ll live it first. Go really get your heart broken! Go really find something that will happen to you, something that you celebrate! Go, you know, find the tragedy of something, the thrill of something. And I’m a fan of testing the deep end with both big toes. I think that’s the ambulance description of what I just did. I can’t really write that, but everybody on the floor knows what you mean! [laughs madly]

[laughs uproariously]

[laughs uproariously]

You’ve not slowed down at all, then?
No I enjoy people, even the people I hate. Do you speak to your television set, Andrew? I do, I speak to my television. “Are you kind and supportive? I’m not either.” [laughs] And I’m a book reader, you know: printed word, reins supreme for me still, whether it’s in courier font on the Internet, or whether it’s emblazoned on the Daily Tribune. It’s still the printed word for me, I even speak to books! [laughs more] I do enjoy people watching. and I don’t mean just from a distance. I mean let’s break some bread, or whatever it is that you guys are eating. “Are you eating this or is this the tablecloth?”. Have the translator ask him if I just ate the tablecloth, I think I just did. I mean I’ve been places like that. You know, “I think I just drank the finger bowl. Well, they make a good finger!” [laughs uproariously]. I’ve been places like that, and you just have to keep your sense of humour and use your smile like a ray gun. I’ve been living in Tokyo for the last year, in fact, and even going shopping for dental floss is an adventure in the Tokyo back streets.

So you’re actually getting some Australia-time in ahead of the tour?
Oh yeah. See, travelling through when you’re actually performing, I prefer to do it racehorse style. I really don’t pay attention to my surroundings at all. It’s eat, sleep, race, win. And uh, that’s generally the pace that you pay for. Because you know, nobody really cares about the BBQ day before yesterday Dave. It’s more “uh hey, I just paid $100 American to watch you do your thing, now do it.” And although a lot of musicians travel extensively, they see the world through the window, and when they try to describe it, it usually ends up being a one adjective trip:  everything was great. “How do you like Australia?” “Ahh it’s great.” “How do you like Australian people?” “Ahh they’re just great.” “Have you done anything since you were here?” “Oh we had some Australian food, it was great.” “How are you guys getting along?” “Great.” [laughs]

Well there’s a question for you: how are you guys [in Van Halen] getting along?
I see a split of great/great. [laughs] I see a split screen, right, and you’re falling asleep, feeding the cat. Studying a recipe book. [laughs] Totally dressed, standing up, “Ohh it’s just great mate, just great.” You’ve taken shorthand!

Dave, what the hell are you talking about?
You know, the travels before and after the tour are what add up to what you’re doing. You are really called into service – and it’s the service industry man, it’s blue collar man, I’m sweating by the second song. It’s construction work from that second song on. And Alex [Van Halen, drummer] and I we you know laugh routinely, we laugh like pirates, and the first half of the show, we give you that for free. That’s like the first seven minutes of any Broadway show, or pornography: no matter what, it’s just great!

Oh, that’s beautiful.
You’re paying for the second half. [laughs] It’s like getting married: the first half is always great. You’re paying for the second half, that’s the heavy lifting. [laughs]

So you and Alex laugh, but how are things in the band beside that? And you can’t use “great” as a response, by the way.
Your honour, can we please define great? [laughs] OK, here we go, your honour…because if we can define the word [laughs]… Van Halen is constantly in some sort of fraternal conflict. It’s like a great rugby team. I played that sport for a short period of time as a kid. And it was a great combination of team, spirit and individuals competing with each other, just as I imagine the best rock bands are. When everyone gets along just fine, that’s a vacation, that’s decoration. It’s when there’s sparks, and questions and innuendo and doubt… now that sounds like a career. [laughs] It sounds like a real football movie. How do you wanna live? Do you want your life to be like a real epic football movie or do you want it to be a fake one? Because fake is: we got together, we all got along, everything was wonderful. We won, we won again then we won, then we all got married and had kids who turned out to be Presidents and Senators…

OK, and…
[interrupts] Boring, boring! No: you want your football movie to be more like “four guys are recruited from four different places who’ve never played football in their life by an alcoholic coach whose on his last legs and can only work in a small rural school…” oh, this is great so far, you writing this down?

Absolutely, I’m going to pitch this film the second the interview’s done.
OK: and the main guy can’t throw with his left arm because nobody knows it but he needs glasses – oh this is good, this is good! – and the only doctor who can give him the glasses hates him because he slept with his daughter. Perfect! Just get it down, we’ll write the rest later. [laughs delightedly]

Man, I want to see this film.
Exactly, and we haven’t even gotten to the first game yet! And in the end, in the end of the end, this is the type of movie you want your life to be. You want your kids to remember it as a celebration. It might be painful to live through at times, but the most valuable medals are the most deadly, the heaviest. And uh, with that in mind, the conflicts in Van Halen are both myriad and legendary.

This is true.
Look, Van Halen doesn’t really get along. Alex and I do, like I said, we laugh like pirates every other morning. When I wake up in Tokyo, I wake up at 3AM, I have permanent jetlag and uh we start the day together, I call him in Los Angeles and the day is just kickin’ in for him. And we go through the whole bit at least every other day. So there is a mutual celebration, but like on all big teams, there is a, uh, a chemical reaction, certainly between Edward [guitarist Eddie Van Halen] and myself. We love our team, and we still compete with each other individually, as well as, as a team. I think you need that. And unfortunately a lot of folks grow out of it, or they have a therapist beat it out of them for $200 an hour. It’s kind of like somebody comes back after you haven’t seen them for a while, have you gone to any high school reunions? You know, you come back and somebody goes, wow, “yeah man I’m a doctor now”. Another one goes, “yeah, I’m a girl now.” What? [laughs] Really? Well we always knew, you were always too good at softball.

So is that what happened with Michael [Anthony, original bassist sacked under mysterious circumstances and replaced with Eddie’s 20 year old son Wolfgang]?
[laughs, dodges question] See, sometimes you get your colleagues or friends to come back and say “yeah man, I just finished seven years of therapy,” and it turns out you like the rage better. [laughs] “I like the damaged goods better – you were more popular, more fun, when you were ruined!” And you know, you can run into that. So that has not happened with Van Halen: you hear it in the music, you see it in the stage show.

So there’s not gonna be a Metallica-in-Some Kind of Monster-style Van Halen therapy session any time soon?
No, but at least we have the channel, that music and the stage show, which is wildly therapeutic. And all of our carefully, self-generated bad publicity is an art form, and most of our bad publicity is self-generated, that’s why it’s always accompanied with a great photo, if you were wondering. [laughs]. I’m kinda like the Wizard of Oz, but with a little reefer, you see? [howls with mad laughter]

Dancing About Architecture: the slow death of music journalism

First published in Pan Magazine, September 2012

For context: at the time of writing this I had just been promoted from Music Editor of Time Out Sydney to a more generalist Associate Editor position, marking the final time that I was to predominantly be a music writer.  A number of music-focussed magazines had either closed or gone online-only at this point, a situation which has only gotten worse in the intervening years.  

Music writing chose me.

Or, more accurately, Alex Wheaton chose me to write about music, and he did so for three reasons: one, that it was 1992 and the relatively-young Adelaide street mag dB Magazine needed writers; two, that he’d spoken to me when I’d dropped my band’s demo in a few weeks earlier (which he reviewed, accurately and bluntly, if not unkindly) and had therefore established that I was both fairly literate and a bit of a smartarse; and three, because he did so during a Robyn Hitchcock gig in the basement of the now-defunct Big Star Records on Rundle Street, and Alex knew that I worked at Big Star’s equally-vanished Marion store a couple of days a week. “You didn’t pay to get in,” he said, economically summing up the greatest perk inherent in being a music writer, “so write me a review.”

I did. And so began my career as a music journalist, which has lasted for two decades and is now, in its own quiet manner, fading gently away.

Music: I still like it.

Music: I still like it.

It’s not because I don’t still adore music, I should add. I’ve yet to become one of those tiresome people who insist that music was amazing when they were 14, or 22, or 31, and that every year since has been a slow downhill slide into mediocrity. I still listen to dozens of new records a week and have yet to find more than a couple of days go by that I don’t hear something that I’ll thrust into a friend’s hands or inbox with evangelical zeal, breathlessly insisting “you’ve got to hear this, it’s amazing.”

The reason that my career is in its twilight is because, in 2012, being a great music writer is much like being a great masturbator: it’s a skill that’s a genuine pleasure to deploy, but the internet’s full of people doing it for free; and no-one’s going to be comfortable about paying you to do it in an office five days a week.

We are a dying breed, full-time music journalists, reflecting the death of the music industry – or, more accurately, reflecting the death of the bit of the music industry that bought enough advertising to make magazines find music a viable thing for which to dedicate page space and staff budgets.

The savvier of us have transitioned into “entertainment editors”, with music making up a steadily diminishing percentage of the television, film, video games and Tinseltown gossip that keeps a roof over their heads. Others of us got out of music writing altogether, moving into copywriting or publicity; and in the case of one particularly excellent writer, becoming label manager for an indie about which she used to write so entertainingly. In most cases we still freelance around the magazines and websites that still employ writers, or have bitten the bullet and started the sort of blogs about which we once snorted so derisively (ahem, http://www.andrewpstreet.com).

So, since this might be the last time I get to do so from a position of any sort of authority, I would like to speak out in defence of the near-extinct music journalist, even as we raise our unblinking eyes to the sky and watch the asteroid streak across the horizon.

Because you know what we did, at our best? We acted as gatekeepers, telling people who also cared about music about what was good and interesting and exciting, and either warning you off (or, more often, diligently ignoring) the music that was dreck. We were the culture’s spam filters, and like a spam filter we could occasionally block something that would, on closer inspection, turn out to be important – but far more often we would keep your exposure to music down to a manageable, high-quality amount whilst quietly disposing of the 98% of it that was the equivalent of YOU NEED V1AGRA? CANADIAN PHARMACY SECRETS!

Now, when I talk about filtering I’m not talking about eliminating music that’s not to my taste. A good reviewer can generally accept something on its own merits. For my part, there are certain genres for which I genuinely can’t distinguish quality from garbage (I can’t even imagine what would qualify as a good Hard House record, other than that it would be quiet, short and self-destruct mid-way through, killing everybody involved) but it’s not difficult to assess an objectively good pop record, say, from a terrible one.

But as a professional music journo, I’ve listened to 30-odd albums a week for over 20 years. That’s over 31,000 albums, give or take. In comparison, my home iTunes library has just over 4,000 albums on it, meaning that I’ve bothered keeping around 13% of the stuff I’ve heard. That’s just maths.

And I’m amazed it’s that much, to be honest. A good chunk of those years were when I lived in Adelaide, during which I was a tireless advocate of the local scene. I sought out local music assiduously. I was in bands and played on all-local bills often. I created compilations of Adelaide music for MISA, dB’s annual industry directory publication. I was active in the state government’s Contemporary Music Grants Program. I listened to literally hundreds of cassettes, demos, CDs, singles and albums. I bought my first Adelaide record at age 17 (Exploding White Mice’s ‘A Nest of Vipers’ EP, for the record) and was accumulating exclusive-to-A-town stuff right up until I moved to Sydney 18 years later.

Sitting in my apartment tonight, I can tell you exactly how many of those Adelaide artists are still represented in my collection: 15.

Do you know why music journos get so damn excited about local bands doing something great? You might have put it down to some sort of arrogant marking of territory, the journalistic version of pissing on a band and declaring you were there first. But it’s much, much more innocent than that: it’s that all local bands are awful, except for the ones that are amazing. And it is those few stars that shine like lighthouses in a vast ocean of shit and make one almost weep with pure, joyful relief.

That’s why every Sydney music writer lost their head over Royal Headache last year: not only are they objectively great (‘Pity’ is probably my favourite song of the last 12 months) but they’re contrasted against the hundreds of similar bands playing their shitty, shitty music to handfuls of indulgent friends in warehouses and front bars all over the country.

A great band – or a great record – is something to be cherished and celebrated and shared, to be pored over and gotten obsessed about. Music journalists, at our best, are trying to get you to share our excitement for that very reason – and also because we know that if you had to listen to half a dozen self-funded bedroom metal EPs or collections of suburban hip hop jams, you’d go “hey, music: fuck you” and go waterskiing instead.

And now, as I gird myself for my new life as an itinerant freelancer and part-time Contributing Editor, I look back on the above with a grim smile and think two things:

1. Our resources may be meagre and our spirits broken with press releases, but music deserves better than barely-literate bloggers and the expanding armies of youth oriented cross-platform marketing strategists rising to target them, and

2. “Canadian Pharmacy Secrets” would be a killer band name.

The Cure Trilogy Show at Vivid Live, Sydney Opera House

First published at Time Out Sydney, 1 June 2011

The Cure soundcheck at Vivid Live: pic by Daniel Boud, who is a freakin' photography legend-genius:  http://danielboud.com/

The Cure soundcheck at Vivid Live: pic by Daniel Boud, who is a freakin’ photography legend-genius: http://danielboud.com/

First up: if you’re going tonight, stop reading now. There are some spoilers to come regarding the setlist and I don’t want to ruin the surprise. “But APS, the show’s their first three albums: I know what the setlist is.” No, you really don’t. Stop reading – but just know you’re going to have a very, very good time. Oh, and that you should take the toilet breaks when they’re offered. You’ll thank me.

Still with me, rest of you? Let’s press on.

This show, nice Vivid Festival surprise that it was, seemed to be an odd decision on the Cure’s part. With the best will in the world, and acknowledging that they do have some genuinely classic albums, their debut is… well, a bit shit. Robert Smith acknowledged as much at the time, fuming that manager/producer Chris Parry put Three Imaginary Boys together from sessions Smith was unhappy with, and it never even got a proper release in Australia with Polygram opting instead for the superior best-tracks-from-Boys-plus-singles-and-b-sides mish-mash Boys Don’t Cry.

Yet here is Smith, flanked by his long-time rhythm section of bassist Simon Gallup (1980-1982, 1985-present) and drummer Jason Cooper (1995-present), neither of whom played on the album. How would Cooper handle Lol Tolhurst’s enthusiastic-yet-unschooled drumming? How would Gallup take on Michael Dempsey’s fiddly basslines?

The answer, it turns out, is they don’t even try. Cooper stuck with his trademark straight-ahead drumming (either “solid” or “dull”, depending on your inclination) and Gallup (looking inexplicably good for a 50 year old) tended to stick to the root notes. And you know what? It worked.

The set began with the classic ‘10:15 Saturday Night’, then the band slowed down the fidgety ‘Accuracy’ to great effect and the crowd went nuts for ‘Grinding Halt’. And that’s the song that really showed off the sort of Jam-style power-trio the Cure were then, even as the following – the stately, economical ‘Another Day’ was probably the clearest indication as to what was coming on the next few albums. And Robert was in playful form, explaining “I don’t really like this one” before the misogynist thrasher ‘Object’ before busting out harmonica for the terrifying side-one closer ‘Subway Song’.

Side two, a couple of classics aside, is mainly a garbage dump. It never sounded better, though, as the trio powered through the punky cover of ‘Foxy Lady’, ‘Meathook’ and the absolute throwaway ‘So What?’ (“I’m amazed I remembered as much of that as I did”) before the first of the redeeming moments: ‘Fire in Cairo’, with Smith trying to cover both his and Dempsey’s riffs since Gallup wasn’t up to the job. Then it was ‘It’s Not You’ (‘Object’ again, effectively) and the magnificent title track, and that was that. One album down, and a break for the bar.

The stage was reset for Seventeen Seconds, with keyboardist Roger O’Donnell (who joined in 1987, left in 1991, came back in 1995 and was dismissed in 2005) joining the aforementioned trio. The instrumental ‘A Reflection’ acted as the perfect curtain-raiser before one of the band’s enduring classics: ‘Play For Today’ with pretty much the entire audience singing along with the keyboard riff. ‘’In Your House’ was downright magnificent and ‘At Night’ haunting, and everyone went freakin’ nuts when O’Donnell hit that opening A that heralded the beginning of ‘A Forest’. A superb set, and that’s two albums down.

And so on to Faith, with the Cure’s co-founder – the aforementioned Tolhurst – sharing a stage with Smith for the first time in 22 years after a post-band relationship that could be described as “colourful” (and also, “litigious”). From the second that ‘The Holy Hour’ began the sound was massive, with Gallup’s bass hitting the room in the collective solar plexus, although Tolhurst’s role seemed to be resticted to “busy work”: the former drummer and keyboardist was left on auxilliary percussion for the most of the set, although he did hit the keys for ‘All Cats Are Grey’ and the title track. And his work wasn’t flawless – his messy rototom rolls did little to enhance ‘Doubt’, for example – but dear god, it was good to see him on stage.

So yes, three albums, all sounding great. And then the encores began.

Oh sweet Jesus, the encores.

You know how the Pixies pulled out their contemporaneous b-sides when they did their Doolittle show? Well, basically, that: the three-piece version kicked out ‘World War’ and – dear god! – ‘I’m Cold’ and ‘Plastic Passion’ before Roger and Lol joined for a triumphant ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, ‘Killing An Arab’ and, possibly best of the night, ‘Jumping Someone Else’s Train’ (and Gallup actually played Dempsey’s bassline, bless him) which segued into its b-side ‘Another Journey By Train’, and they left the stage. The perfect end to a genuinely wonderful night.

And then the crew brought a new setlist out.

And then the band returned with (mainly) instrumental b-sides ‘Descent’ (Smith quipping “not even we know this one”) and ‘Splintered in her Head’, before going into a triumphant version of non-album single ‘Charlotte Sometimes’ and Pornography’s lead single ‘The Hanging Garden’.

“What a perfect way to cover off that entire period, ending with the precursor to the fourth album,” I thought. “That’s pretty much every song they recorded between 1978 and 1981.”

And then the crew brought another setlist out.

And then, friends, the moment which I had been waiting for since becoming a Cure fan at age 10.

The. Cure. Played. The. Fantasy. Trilogy.

See, between the punky-goth band they were and before the pop band they were to become came three transitional seven inches in the early 80s, which were the three songs with which I fell in love: ‘Let’s Go To Bed’, ‘The Walk’ and – and you should probably sit down at this point, although no-one in the Opera House did – ‘The Love Cats’.

Holy mother of fuck.

It was glorious, playful, joyous, and when Smith fucked up the ‘Love Cats’ bridge he recovered by pointing at himself and asking the crowd “How could you miss someone as dumb as this”?

It’s a memory I’ll be taking to the grave.

Vivid, thank you.

The Cure at Vivid Live, May 31-June 1 2011

This was published online at Time Out Sydney after the first show and before the second…

Daniel Boud makes the best photographs on the planet. FACT.

First up: if you’re going tonight, stop reading now. There are some spoilers to come regarding the setlist and I don’t want to ruin the surprise.

“But Andrew, the show’s their first three albums: I know what the setlist is.” No, you really don’t. Stop reading – but just know you’re going to have a very, very good time. Oh, and that you should take the toilet breaks when they’re offered. You’ll thank me.

Still with me, rest of you? Let’s press on.

This show, nice Vivid Festival surprise that it was, seemed to be an odd decision on the Cure’s part. With the best will in the world, and acknowledging that they do have some genuinely classic albums, their debut is… well, a bit shit.

Robert Smith acknowledged as much at the time, fuming that manager/producer Chris Parry put Three Imaginary Boys together from sessions Smith was unhappy with, and it never even got a proper release in Australia with Polygram opting instead for the superior best-tracks-from-Boys-plus-singles-and-b-sides mish-mash Boys Don’t Cry.

Yet here is Smith, flanked by his long-time rhythm section of bassist Simon Gallup (1980-1982, 1985-present) and drummer Jason Cooper (1995-present), neither of whom played on the album. How would Cooper handle Lol Tolhurst’s enthusiastic-yet-unschooled drumming? How would Gallup take on Michael Dempsey’s fiddly basslines?

The answer, it turns out, is they don’t even try. Cooper stuck with his trademark straight-ahead drumming (either “solid” or “dull”, depending on your inclination) and Gallup (looking inexplicably good for a 50 year old) tended to stick to the root notes. And you know what? It worked.

The set began with the classic ‘10:15 Saturday Night’, then the band slowed down the fidgety ‘Accuracy’ to great effect and the crowd went nuts for ‘Grinding Halt’. And that’s the song that really showed off the sort of Jam-style power-trio the Cure were then, even as the following – the stately, economical ‘Another Day’ was probably the clearest indication as to what was coming on the next few albums. And Robert was in playful form, explaining “I don’t really like this one” before the misogynist thrasher ‘Object’ before busting out harmonica for the terrifying side-one closer ‘Subway Song’.

Side two, a couple of classics aside, is mainly a garbage dump. It never sounded better, though, as the trio powered through the punky cover of ‘Foxy Lady’, ‘Meathook’ and the absolute throwaway ‘So What?’ (“I’m amazed I remembered as much of that as I did”) before the first of the redeeming moments: ‘Fire in Cairo’, with Smith trying to cover both his and Dempsey’s riffs since Gallup wasn’t up to the job. Then it was ‘It’s Not You’ (‘Object’ again, effectively) and the magnificent title track, and that was that. One album down, and a break for the bar.

The stage was reset for Seventeen Seconds, with keyboardist Roger O’Donnell (who joined in 1987, left in 1991, came back in 1995 and was dismissed in 2005) joining the aforementioned trio.

The instrumental ‘A Reflection’ acted as the perfect curtain-raiser before one of the band’s enduring classics: ‘Play For Today’ with pretty much the entire audience singing along with the keyboard riff. ‘’In Your House’ was downright magnificent and ‘At Night’ haunting, and everyone went freakin’ nuts when O’Donnell hit that opening A that heralded the beginning of ‘A Forest’. A superb set, and that’s two albums down.

And so on to Faith, with the Cure’s co-founder – the aforementioned Tolhurst – sharing a stage with Smith for the first time in 22 years after a post-band relationship that could be described as “colourful” (and also, “litigious”).

From the second that ‘The Holy Hour’ began the sound was massive, with Gallup’s bass hitting the room in the collective solar plexus, although Tolhurst’s role seemed to be resticted to “busy work”: the former drummer and keyboardist was left on auxiliary percussion for the most of the set, although he did hit the keys for ‘All Cats Are Grey’ and the title track. And his work wasn’t flawless – his messy rototom rolls did little to enhance ‘Doubt’, for example – but dear god, it was good to see him on stage.

So yes, three albums, all sounding great. And then the encores began.

Oh sweet Jesus, the encores.

You know how the Pixies pulled out their contemporaneous b-sides when they did their Doolittle show? Well, basically, that: the three-piece version kicked out ‘World War’ and – dear god! – ‘I’m Cold’ and ‘Plastic Passion’ before Roger and Lol joined for a triumphant ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, ‘Killing An Arab’ and, possibly best of the night, ‘Jumping Someone Else’s Train’ (and Gallup actually played Dempsey’s bassline, bless him) which segued into its b-side ‘Another Journey By Train’, and they left the stage. The perfect end to a genuinely wonderful night.

And then the crew brought a new setlist out.

And then the band returned with (mainly) instrumental b-sides ‘Descent’ (Smith quipping “not even we know this one”) and ‘Splintered in her Head’, before going into a triumphant version of non-album single ‘Charlotte Sometimes’ and Pornography’s lead single ‘The Hanging Garden’.

“What a perfect way to cover off that entire period, ending with the precursor to the fourth album,” I thought. “That’s pretty much every song they recorded between 1978 and 1981.”

And then the crew brought another setlist out.

And then, friends, the moment which I had been waiting for since becoming a Cure fan at age 10.

The. Cure. Played. The. Fantasy. Trilogy.

See, between the punky-goth band they were and before the pop band they were to become came three transitional seven inches in the early 80s, which were the three songs with which I fell in love: ‘Let’s Go To Bed’, ‘The Walk’ and – and you should probably sit down at this point, although no-one in the Opera House did – ‘The Love Cats’.

Holy mother of fuck.

It was glorious, playful, joyous, and when Smith fucked up the ‘Love Cats’ bridge he recovered by pointing at himself and asking the crowd “How could you miss someone as dumb as this”?

It’s a memory I’ll be taking to the grave.

Vivid, thank you.

The Apples in Stereo interview

Originally published at Time Out Sydney 6 September, 2009

The Apples in Stereo’s leader Robert Schneider explains why non-standard harmonics are like avocados, among other revelations

large-Apples

Lovers of sweet, sweet pop music, take note: the singer/songwriter/main creative force of The Apples In Stereo, Mr Robert Scheinder, is on his way to Australia and will be doing some intimate solo shows while he’s here. This is a major cause for celebration as Schneider’s one of the greatest writers of melodic, harmony-drenched guitar pop on the planet (as the new Apples Best Of, #1 Hits Explosion, makes more than clear).

The Apples In Stereo - #1 Hits ExplosionHowever, that’s not the only reason he’s coming to our nation. He’s one of the guests of Queensland’s Big Sound music conference, where he’ll be imparting wisdom to the next generation of young musicians and producers. Not that he’s actually thought it through at this point…

“Oh my goodness. Oh my gosh. I have no idea,” he responds with machine-gun pace when asked what he’ll be talking about. “I don’t think I have any wisdom to impart.  Maybe I could tell you how to mike a snare drum or something like that. Um, I don’t know. I haven’t really planned anything out exactly in that way. I just thought I would let the spirit of pop music speak through me for a short time. I mean I’ve spoken at some maths conferences and stuff like that, but I do like public speaking and stuff. I guess it’s just not a particularly well planned out sort of thing.”

Yes, aside from all things musical, Schneider’s a total maths nerd. How many other indie pop musicians can you think of who’ve developed an entire musical scale based on logarithms? The scale made its debut on some interludes on 2007’s superb New Magnetic Wonder, as well as creating a strange, unnatural-sounding chime intro to ‘Can You Feel It?’, which begs the question: since the scale sounds so “wrong” to most people’s ears, how on earth does a melodic pop nut like Schneider even think in those terms?

“It was hard for me to write in such a strange scale,” he admits. “It makes my brain feel like it’s twisting in my head, but I really like that feeling. On the new Apples record that we’re working on, I’ve just finished a song where a lot of the chord progressions are in both regular scale and the logarithmic scale, but the solo sections are played in the logarithmic scale.”

He pauses for a second for breath. “I called it a ‘non-Pythagorean scale’, though, but that’s just because I thought ‘logarithmic’ sounded kind of cold. It’s something that seems so futuristic. Often when you say futuristic you get kind of a cold feeling, but in reality one would like to imagine that the future will be very warm – not in a global warming kind of way, of course. I mean more emotionally warm.”

As to where his interest in experimental music comes from, he credits “my friend Jim Mcintyre [Apples co-founder and leader of Olivia Tremor Control] and Jeff Magnum [reclusive genius behind Neautral Milk Hotel], they’ve all been really into experimental music for many years. I mean, I’m not really in an experimental scene as most of my friends are. I’m more interested in the pure tones, not so much the music theory aspect. I’m interested more in the strange harmonies, that’s what really turn me on. Like my ear might crave them from time to time like, you know, an avocado or something. Or a fig!”

While it’s good to hear that Magnum is still experimenting with music, like everyone else who had their mind blown by Neutral Milk Hotel’s 1998 swansong In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (which Schneider produced, incidentally), it would be even better news if he’d just pick up a standard-tuned guitar and, just as a suggestion, write some fucking songs.

“I guess I understand,” Schneider laughs. “But for me, him being one of my best friends, I don’t really think about it. It’s just like: OK, he’s not producing songs. But at the same time he’s informed me a lot because I’ve only really ever released pop music.”

And pop music is the plan for Schneider’s Sydney show – which is not to say that he’s actually got that at all worked out either, really…

“I kind of just pull out the acoustic guitar and close my eyes see what song I’ll play and usually I’m able to remember the whole thing and usually it impresses me by the time I’m at the end of it,” he laughs. “Oh, except that at the end of it, it’s always like ‘oh, man‘ because I’m playing acoustically I don’t have a planned ending so you sort of have to come up with something clever on the spot, and then it’s the next song. That’s my plan of action.”

Robert Schneider plays at the Hopetoun on Sat 13 Sep. #1 Hits Explosion is out through Popfrenzy