SAM CUTLER INTERVIEW – Zoe Boyd
> You can’t always get what you want…
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down and have a coffee with former tour manager Sam Cutler. Sam has worked with countless bands and musicians such as The Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Charlatans, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Sam has now published a biography titled You Can’t Always Get What You Want detailing his misadventures of working as a tour manager.
At a very young age Sam had a strong interest in music. Growing up he lived during the early days of rock n roll where everybody seemed to want to become a rock star. Sam states, “All I really knew to be honest was that I didn’t want a proper job. I didn’t want to go and work for someone; I just wanted to have lots of fun. I was what you could describe as irresponsible.” Living in a time where millions wanted to become famous, he quickly decided that also trying to do that would be an unwise decision. He became drawn to the management side of things instead. Sam says, “I noticed that everybody wanted to be on stage, but nobody wanted to work on how you actually got ON stage in the first place. Nobody seemed to be interested on sorting out what time you got on stage, what equipment was available or what guitar you had. So I became drawn to the management side of the business to begin with.”
Sam Cutler started off simple, enjoying his youth, drinking beer, smoking dope and all the other things young people did in those days. He then began putting on small gigs in pubs and venues, slowly working his way up to bigger and better shows. Sam’s career as a tour manager took place when a famous musician named Alexis Corner, who was a part of a band named Blues Incorporated, approached him in London. Corner asked him if he wanted to be his tour manager, and of course, Sam accepted. Although whilst working for Corner he was financially unstable and never received any money for his efforts, he gained valuable experience in doing so. Rather than taking a course or studying on how to become a tour manager he developed his knowledge from hands-on experience, starting simple and working his way up to the top. During the 1960’s the industry wasn’t nearly as refined as it is today, and a lot of the knowledge we now have has come from the experiences of people like Sam. He says “The first ever rock and roll festival that I did in 1965 in England didn’t even have a toilet! Nobody even thought about it. So we learnt a lot since those days. It started off with amateur enthusiasm and slowly got more and more professional.”
Being in such an unpredictable field of work Sam has endured both highs and lows during his time as a tour manager. Through trial and error he learnt from his experiences and has became world-renowned in his field. He describes one of the arts of being a tour manager is keeping the band members focused and alive. He mentioned quite literally saving friend Jerry Garcia, a member of The Grateful Dead, from actually dying! One of the well-known events in rock ‘n’ roll history that Sam was involved in was the infamous Altamont free concert. With over 300,000 attendees including members of The Hell’s Angels and many punters fuelled with drugs, alcohol and adrenalin, the atmosphere quickly turned ugly and resulted in the unfortunate deaths of 4 people. Sam described running music festivals as creating a mini-community for a day. Most of the time you’re going to have things go smoothly but you can’t always rely on everybody behaving. You never really know what to expect with those huge events. Sam has been quite criticized for being responsible for this event, however he can hardly be held accountable for others actions.
Sam says that it takes a certain type of person to be a tour manager. You have to be tough yet diplomatic and not afraid to tell people “you, shut the fuck up and put that over there!” Sam has proven that he was an efficient and respectable manager by still keeping contact with many of the people he has worked with over the years. He states “You can’t be a successful tour manager just by being a complete asshole to everybody, because in the end everybody will end up hating you! It’s a very stressful and difficult life, so you have to keep everybody happy and healthy so they don’t go and collapse on stage or die of an over-dose. That’s one of the main responsibilities. There’s just a whole range of stuff that can go wrong. People get arrested; people die, decide they’re madly in love with some girl and run away or decide they want to quit the band. So you have to be the kind of person that’s quick to take charge. Every minute of the day you’ve got one problem after another and you’ve got to be a very solution orientated person. Whenever there’s a problem the first person everybody is going to call is the tour manager. I’ve had every conceivable telephone call known to man. You’re almost like Mum and Dad in a way.” Sam says that during his time as a tour manager he rarely had conflict with his associates and managed to remain civil and friendly with the people he worked with.
His advice to people wanting to make a break in the music industry was “Go for it! If you’re not prepared to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life, harder than any other proper job you have had, then you are in the wrong business. If you want to be successful in the business then you have to work so hard that you almost die. If you’re not ready for that, then step aside because there are thousands of people out there who are willing to do that. It’s a wildly competitive business. So if you’re not a highly competitive person or genuinely talented and you don’t have the application to work like a dog… then become a lawyer. You’ll get more money and live longer. So unless you’re prepared then you’re just wasting your time.” He seems quite hopeful for the future of the music industry and likes that it is a business, which is constantly growing and changing. He highlighted the importance of standing out from the crowd, as we live in a generation filled with many average musicians, all willing to do whatever it takes to become famous.
Through his hard work and dedication Sam has achieved working at the highest level of his field, doing the largest events in rock ‘n’ roll history, reaching a staggering 720 thousand attendees. He no longer feels a desire to continue being a tour manager and is no longer actively involved in the industry. Speaking to Sam gave me a clearer outlook on how the music industry has vastly developed over the years and how it eventually became the much more tame and professional industry it is today. Nowadays Sam lives in Australia living what he describes as a quiet and peaceful life consisting of thinking, writing, daydreaming, practicing Buddhism and traveling around Australia in his bus.
Sam’s book You Can’t Always Get What You Want is currently available to purchase on Amazon.com.
JOSH PYKE – Bug Eyed Beauty
(Ivy League Records)
> An effective entree to the upcoming album.
It may only be 1:44 long, but Bug Eyed Beauty, the newest offering from Josh Pyke, says more about his new direction than any press release or interview ever could. An interest for me has always been observing the growth of my favourite musicians as they release their new material year after year. With a sound similar to a mash up of Joanna Newsom, Angus Stone and Cloud Control, a more serious, introspective, delicate image and sound can be heard from Josh Pyke this time around. Recently I just can’t get enough of Bug Eyed Beauty. It’s thick and detailed vocal arrangement, mixed with the jangly melody of a 12-string guitar is an absolute joy to listen to. I can only honestly describe it as beautifully heart warming, so beautiful in fact that it might just bring a tear to the eye.
Bug Eyed Beauty certainly has me eager to hear the rest of the upcoming Josh Pyke album The Beginning and End Of Everything, which will be released later this July. The music video adds another level of interest as well, with its stop animation that perfectly suits the songs story telling, “around the camp fire” qualities. The only complaint that I can muster is that with Bug Eyed Beauty being such a beautiful song, I was actually disappointed it was so short in length. There were some interesting ideas that were introduced that could have easily been expanded upon, making it not such a brief relationship between the song and listener. I can only hope that the rest of the album fulfills my longing for new Josh Pyke material.
LOREEN – We Got the Power
(Warner Music Group)
> How does one follow Euphoria? They release We Got the Power! That’s what they do!
Loreen captured Europe, and indeed the world in 2012, when she was apart of one of the biggest victories in Eurovision history with her hit song Euphoria. People were immediately in love with the song and with Loreen as she quickly rose to superstardom, playing all throughout the world, wowing audiences wherever she went. Her unique sound, looks, voice, heritage, image and live show made Loreen one of Eurovision’s finest products.
People everywhere were eager to see if Lorine Zineb Nora Talhaoui was going to be just another Eurovision flash in the pan. Was her follow up song going to be a major letdown? Could she ever recreate the sheer brilliance that was Euphoria? Well let me tell you, Loreen is definitely here to stay with her recent release We Got the Power.
Coming a year after her Eurovision win, We Got The Power shows us a deeper, darker more passionate and emotional Loreen. This may be because she is now not bound by the poppy expectations of Eurovision. Loreen is hard to pin down in terms of genre. She has dance, techno, rock, alternative and pop influences and I can’t think of any artist who sounds remotely similar (this may have been why she dominated the Eurovision song contest?).
We Got The Power is a lot more raw and gritty, using electric guitars and snare drums, rather than the synth based Euphoria. The song starts with a clean, chugging guitar riff that holds the song together. Loreen’s signature voice comes in and it’s as smooth and beautiful as ever. There’s a certain something about her voice that I love. She’s a bit deeper than other female vocalists and her rich, smooth tonality adds such a powerfully emotional substance to her voice. It even adds a lot more meaning to her lyrics (which she sings in English), with her committed delivery.
The percussion in this song is quite intelligently put together. Loreen’s synth beat is present, but later in the song a crisp snare drum is added. When Loreen performs this song live she goes for a military image, and the snare drum adds to that vision, almost rallying us up to make a difference. The song is called We Got the Power after all… I’m sure Loreen would agree as she has been involved in several equal rights and humanity campaigns over this past year, maybe this had something to do with the song’s title?
Overall I like this song and it’s a great addition to Loreen’s repertoire. Is it as good as Euphoria? That’s still up for debate as it’s a matter of taste. Euphoria is a lot more accessible and poppy, but We Got the Power brings something new to the table, and I always respect artists who try to change it up and reinvent themselves with their new material.
FLUME – Concert Review
> A slightly disappointing turn of events.
I’m admittedly not a huge die-hard fan of Flume, but I have enjoyed what he has released in the past and I listen to him quite often. I was looking forward to seeing him live in concert at Riverstage, but it wasn’t long after I arrived at the venue to line up and wait, that I became slightly disappointed.
At the gate alone, it wasn’t hard to notice the upsetting ratio of actual Flume fans to young teen girls, who showed up only so they had an excuse to upload a few Instagram photos, a range of Facebook updates and tell all their peers how cool they were for going to a show without parental supervision. Although this shouldn’t have worried me at all, (everyone has the right to attend after all) it did in a few ways and I feel as though I should be allowed to have at least a little whinge about it.
Inside the event, the number of these girls who attended was astounding! You couldn’t look anywhere without hearing an ignorant ‘fan’ say something along the lines of “I only really know Sleepless and Holdin’ on” or “Flume has the best voice!” and I even heard one or two quoting “Flume is my favourite band!” This, being a listener, was extremely frustrating, and it took a lot of strength and self-control to keep myself focused on the performance, which wasn’t all that easy for the following reasons:
1. Paying money to see DJs live just doesn’t make much sense, and I previously did not think about this until Flume came onto stage. For all we know he just hit the play button on the computer and fiddled with a few dials! He didn’t go out of his way to do anything extraordinary either for the entertainment of the audience, so I was left a little lost as to why I had come in the first place. That’s what DJs do when playing live… fiddle with dials and play the song they’ve electronically already put together so it sounds exactly the same that it does through my headphones. I’m not saying this in a sense that he’s not talented and his songs aren’t good. He is… and they are! I just mean that there is not a lot for him to do on a live stage as a performer.
2. He is, or seems to be, a very awkward person. He didn’t talk or interact with the audience, bar maybe two sentences of the classic “Hey Brisbane you’re my biggest and best crowd ever!” which EVERY ARTIST says, and is most likely a big fat lie! He just did his own thing, which may just be apart of his style, but it wasn’t working for me personally.
3. I liked the opening act more than the headliner! Chet Faker was incredible! I’m not a die-hard fan of him either, but he is extremely talented and is just a terrific live act. So once he was off, I had high expectations of Flume, which were sadly not reached.
All in all, Chet Faker blew me away, and I do really enjoy Flume’s works, but he just didn’t hit the bar for me in a live situation. I continue to listen to his tracks and really like them, but I would not pay to see him live again.
PHOENIX – Bankrupt
> Despite the pressure, Phoenix return in fine form.
This is what we’ve been waiting for! Four years of waiting to be exact. Our favourite indie quartet has come back with an amazing follow-up album after the incredible Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, released back in 2009. Pressure was on the band after gaining a massive fan base and winning a Grammy for Best Alternative Album with their previous release, but they sure have delivered.
The album opens with Entertainment, the first single off the LP. This song hits you with a wave of keyboards, synths and loud drums. In Bel Air is a song with an up-beat drumbeat, dreamy lo-fi guitars and bright synths. Title track Bankrupt! is an instrumental track that is peaceful, until a wall of arpeggio synthesizers comes around and hits you in the face.
Chloroform is a soothing, summery song that slows things down for a moment. Thomas Mars’ vocals in the chorus make me think that there’s a mixture of their last album and the LP’s opening song Entertainment. Closing song Oblique City is another up-beat, lively song that finishes with the acoustic guitar and soft synth at the end.
This album has honestly become one of my favourite albums of all time. My ears have been craving this album for a very long time. Almost every song is covered in this candy coloured gloss with the Phoenix flare added to the mixture, which takes them to another level and makes this album amazing. Some songs like Trying to be Cool give off this funk/groove vibe, which works very well with the album. Personally, Phoenix is one of those bands you can only see once in a lifetime. This album was definitely worth the four-year wait.
The kings of “DOLO” have done it again with their latest release of their five piece EP Smile. Dune Rats have bombarded the music scene in the past 6 months or so after their previous release of EP Sexy Beach and have continued to get listeners cheering and chanting along with what are considered to be some of the raddest garage pop tunes for years. Smile couldn’t have come at a better time for the duo of BC and Danny, and also for touring “bass-extrodinare” Brett, with a solid following of the most ‘max chillen’ of party-rockers edging for anything new to jam to from the boys.
NATALIE PA’APA’A from BLUE KING BROWN INTERVIEW – Liam Auliciems
> Blue King Brown continues to carve out their place and legacy in the Australian music industry.
Australian reggae… what? Australian music today seems to be becoming more similar to the American sound every day. Sure, there are some unique Aussie bands that continually push the boundaries and give Australian music more and more identity every day, but you usually have to search the back streets with a fine toothcomb to find them. The mainstream is reserved for those who are safe, willing to change themselves to suit the market and artists who are easily swayed by what they think their listeners want to hear. But then BAM! In crashes Blue King Brown! With their thick tones, heavy reggae beats and inspiring messages, Blue King Brown are carving out their own space, and creating a unique sound and image. Blue King Brown started off as a small percussion duo travelling the streets of Byron Bay, but as of present they are quite the opposite! With over ten members, Blue King Brown is now travelling the world! Including tours of Japan and North America, as well as co-headlining Bluesfest in 2012 back home in Australia. So you heard me right! Australian reggae is getting bigger and bigger everyday, and it was a blast to have a chat with one of the main figures in that field, Natalie Pa’apa’a. Live from Melbourne, preparing for her tour supporting Julian Marley, Natalie offered some terrific insight to the way she likes to work, her beliefs and her origins.
As I stated before, reggae isn’t the first genre that pops into your head when you think of the Australian music industry. How then did the skank offbeat first touch Natalie Pa’apa’a? How did she first start playing reggae?
“It all started when I was a little kid really. My mother listened to some really great music, and I kind of just went with that growing up. Bands like Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Toots & The Maytals and even UB40 were always playing around the house. There was some popular stuff too. It was always bands like Santana and Led Zeppelin. So I suppose I was exposed to reggae from a really young age. I even remember the other day, I saw a photo of myself at the age of 10, and I already had dreadlocks!” (Laughs)
The one thing that first stands out about Blue King Brown is their passionate activism and their political messages. With many pages on their website dedicated to activism, constant support of charities and organisations, as well as political rallies during concerts, one wonders how did all it begin? Does something that passionately supported come naturally, or was it a pre-determined route to take with the music from the start?
“I’d say it came naturally. I just wanted to create a really killer band that kicked arse! I said to Carlo (Santone, co-founder of Blue King Brown), “you make the music and I’ll focus on the lyrics”, and the political songs were just what came out of me. Those issues were what I was passionate and interested about at the time, and that’s what I wanted to express through my music. We never purposely set out to be a political band.”
With many issues and injustices going on around the globe, how can you nail down just a few, and support them? Which ones are most worth supporting? I was personally surprised at seeing Blue King Brown rally about the Free West Papua campaign when I saw them at the Byron Bay Bluesfest in 2012. With back up singers and traditional dancers from West Papua, is that cause on top of their list?
“West Papua is still one of the main causes that we support. As long as those issues are still going on over there, I can never see Blue King Brown not being involved with the Free West Papua campaign. Just the plain level of injustice going on is totally unacceptable, and every show we play, I can actually see people becoming more aware of the cause and shifting their state of mind about it. That’s really satisfying for me, because that’s exactly what I go out and aim to achieve.”
Blue King Brown’s activism and support doesn’t stop at spreading awareness. Local West Papuans are actually in the band! Proving that this activism is honestly passionate and from the heart. But how do two West Papuan singers find themselves in one of Australia’s fastest growing acts?
“We have two incredible freedom fighting backup singers from West Papua (Lea and Petra Rumwaropen). They’re actually the daughters of the guitarist from a band called The Black Brothers (the late Agosto Rumwaropen), and they were massive around Indonesia in the 1970s. But the Rumwaropen family had to leave West Papua because they openly sung about freedom, oppression and independence, and in the end they feared for their safety. They came to Australia and now they’re with us! They’re just amazing singers and I’m really excited to have them on board!”
The Free West Papua campaign was first started in 1965 and seeks to overthrow the current Indonesian government and to find independence for West Papua. It is currently illegal in West Papua to fly the West Papuan flag, or to even discuss the desire for independence. Filep Karma, a citizen of West Papua, has been in gaol for 15 years. His crime? Flying the morning star flag. More information on how to get involved can be found at bluekingbrown.com/positive-movement/rize-of-the-morning-star-the-campaign-fighting-for-self-determination-for-west-papua/.
I recently read an article about the American band, Rage Against The Machine, you may have heard of them. A member of the Republican Party of America wrote the article, discussing the idea of political music. In it he said that he himself was a fan of RATM, and that even though you might disagree with certain music’s messages, that you could still enjoy it. This raises an interesting discussion indeed. If someone disagreed with Blue King Brown’s activism, themes and messages, could they still enjoy the music? How would Natalie Pa’apa’a, the writer of the music and heart of Blue King Brown, feel about this?
“(Laughs) That’s awesome! I mean, a republican liking Rage Against The Machine? (Laughs) Well, music has always been powerful, and I know a lot of people try to find messages in it. Blue King Brown has always tried to tread that line between message and music throughout the years. I think people are always first attracted to the musical aspects of Blue King Brown, without really realising what we’re singing about. But once we’ve hooked them, I like to think that they might become more open to our messages. In terms of the people that don’t agree, that’s the audience who I’d really love to sing to! That’s the people who I do sing to! I would never block anyone from listening to my music, because if you segregate your audience like that, that’ll ultimately effect your ability to make a change.”
Natalie Pa’apa’a and Blue King Brown have been busy recording new material as of late. With constant updates and photos on their facebook page, it’s certainly exciting to see how everything is coming together! Between their debut album, Stand Up, and their follow up, Worldwize: Part 1 North & South, a tremendous amount of growth could be seen from the Aussie reggae band. The production quality and depth grew tenfold, as the changes proved to help serve up some of Blue King Brown’s most interesting efforts to date. Have Natalie and Carlo experimented and changed things up further this time around?
“It’s been really interesting. This time around we’ve been playing with a real body of songs, without really knowing which ones will actually make it onto the album! We’re working that out at the moment. We’ve got a new producer and they have been really instrumental, helping us find a new, fresh sound. Some of the new songs sound similar to the first album, and some to the second, but overall I think the vibe is similar to that of Worldwize (: Part 1 North & South). We’re always trying to do something new though, and there’s a lot more reggae this time around!”
Natalie, I personally believe that there can never be enough reggae! Nothing was newer, or more experimental however, than Blue King Brown’s attempt at dub reggae on Worldwize: Part 1 North & South. Dub versions of the albums songs were packaged as a bonus disc, providing a new take on the Worldwize: Part 1 North & South’s offerings. As a massive success, would Blue King Brown continue with dub reggae in the new recordings?
“I think we’ll always do dub versions of our songs now. Whether we’ll actually release it this time… maybe not. I really love dub, and I think it lends itself to creating some really great B-sides. You know, with a single, you can always chuck on a dub version of the song for something different. It’s always interesting to collaborate with dub as well. To send out the songs to several different producers, and then receive everything back is really rewarding, as it’s always a surprise to hear just how different each of their dub mixes are in the end!”
A Blue King Brown live show certainly wouldn’t be complete without the entertaining, eye capturing visual display. Whether it be the illustrious backdrops, the colourful flags or even the sight of all the band members crowded onto the stage, Blue King Brown’s live show is certainly one to remember. No visual effect is more unique and signature however than Natalie Pa’apa’a’s face paint. It may seem simple to the average viewer, but I know that everything that Blue King Brown does and creates has a deeper message behind it.
“It started really intuitively. It’s just what I felt like doing at the time. I liken it to my war paint. Recently I’ve been embracing my Native American heritage and it really reminds me, and is inspired by that. It helps me draw from myself and get me pumped up to go out to my war and play one of our shows.”
With a busy schedule and new opportunities presenting themselves left, right and centre, where will Blue King Brown be in the future?
“We’re going everywhere! At the moment we’re about to play some acoustic shows with Julian Marley, and that’ll be a blast! We’re off to do Japan in the near future, and then off to North America. We’re deep into the album cycle at the moment, so we’re pretty busy and everything’s pretty hectic. But as long as we’re spreading our messages I’ll be happy.”
All tour dates and Blue King Brown news can be found on their website here…
Information on the Free West Papua campaign can be found here…
And a video, describing the issues of the Free West Papua campaign can be viewed here…
NICKY BOMBA INTERVIEW – Liam Auliciems
Aussie all-rounder, Nicky Bomba, is quickly becoming one of the most prominent and prolific songwriters and performers in the Australian music industry. Being involved in several popular groups, his name and likeness seems to be on posters everywhere. Any folk festival today seems to be incomplete without an energetic set from Nicky Bomba and his seemingly endless supply of band mates, growing their fan base rapidly with every second that passes. With a few calls here and there, I was put through to Bomba, live from Bali. I had previously seen him in interview many times and my expectations were very high, as I had always been transfixed by his enthusiasm and love for life. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed as Nicky Bomba served up one of the most interesting interviews I’ve ever conducted.
Thanks for stopping by Nicky! It’s very much appreciated. Your debut album for The Melbourne Ska Orchestra (MSO) has recently been released. Ska, even though it’s a fantastic genre, isn’t the most popular within the mainstream music scene. That being said, what first attracted you to ska music?
I kind of learnt about it through the backdoor really. I was really into two-tone reggae early on, but then got into bands like Madness and The Specials. I quickly learnt that those bands were only in the second wave of ska, and once I started to learn all about the roots of it all and the culture and the scene that went with it, I was sold. I think ska is such a universal genre, and I love the simple recipe and the mix of rhythms. It’s such positive, energetic, happy music, and it started really independently too, so the original inspiration still isn’t lost. There is so much excitement and even a little bit of danger involved as well, and that’s why I love it.
When I first saw you guys live, I was amazed at how many members are actually in the Orchestra! With 30 thirty members, how did you guys actually first form?
I’m actually still amazed we have so many members! It first started as a world record attempt for the biggest horn section. That was at the 40th anniversary of ska and we were all playing a skank beat. We put it out there, and we were inundated with people wanting to be apart of it! We all got together and we were playing some of the first ska songs ever, a song called My Boy Lollipop and another called Simmer Down by Bob Marley & The Wailers. When it came to the actual night, we quickly threw the world record stuff out the window, as we heard and focused on the beautiful sound that we were creating. The band was born and we started doing things sporadically from then, with gigs here and there. I was doing it with a friend, but once he dropped out I kind of took over the reins and lifted our game, taking it more seriously, playing more shows and getting more exposure.
You’re personally involved in several much-loved projects in the Australian music industry. You’ve had your solo career, Bomba, Bustamento, The Melbourne Ska Orchestra and The John Butler Trio all on the go over the years. How have you personally managed to support all these projects over your career? Is finding spare time difficult?
Well, when you get lucky like me and have so many projects on the go, you really need to work on time management. If you’re creating a lot of stuff, with just a little bit of organisation and focus you can become a lot more efficient in the way you do things. I strongly believe in not wasting time. I’m a person who really appreciates life. The probability of me being on this Earth at this time is miniscule, so I get “angsty” when I’m not doing anything. I don’t watch television, and I don’t sleep really (laughs). When you’re a musician, you’re not working 9-5, so you need to organise yourself. Catnaps help with that (laughs).
When you write music or have ideas, do you create specifically for each project, or do you write generally and then see which project it fits to?
I do both. I’m constantly writing as it is and when a thing like The MSO comes around I kick into overdrive and think about all the existing songs that could work, and what new stuff would be good too. I find that whole experience really enjoyable, putting everything together into a final product. That’s what motivates me. I spend a lot of time on marketing though. If you’ve got the best music in the world, but nobody hears it, it’s pretty pointless really. So I love getting a team together and picking up on the creativity in that field.
Your personal music circles seem very close and family orientated. Your brother, Michael plays in The Melbourne Ska Orchestra and Bustamento, and your sister Danielle plays as Mama Kin, always lending a hand and collaborating with The John Butler Trio, with John also being your brother-in-law. Does having your family involved play a big factor in your music at all?
I’d say it’s a big factor. We play music and spend a lot of time together… and we spend a lot of time apart as well. But I’d say it makes things easier. It definitely takes things to another level, as we have an in depth understanding of each other. It’s built on love too, so we can cut through a lot of things because we’ve been together for so long. All I have to do is give a little glance to Michael, and he’d know what to do and where to go because we’ve been speaking the same language for so long. I think it’s a real blessing. We actually started as a little family dance band when I was 6 or 7. We were like the Maltese Jackson 5, so we’ve been together for a long time.
Over your career, what have been some of your all-time highlights?
There have been a lot. Things like hearing my songs on radio, getting a publishing contract, getting a recording deal. That stuff really helps in your self-belief and you finally get to a point where you think, “yeah, I’m doing ok”. Playing Red Rocks with John (Butler Trio) was amazing. I played at Golden Plains Festival with The MSO, and that raised the roof. Playing with Bustamento around Vanuatu was great too. Things like that you know… But I’m always looking towards the future of where I want things to be.
Speaking of that, what would be your ultimate dream for The MSO?
Well, obviously I’d love for everything to become a worldwide hit! I’d love to tour the globe comfortably and really make a good living off of my music. Longevity is a thing I’d like to focus on too. Just not being a flash in the pan. Getting the balance right is important to me with family and friends, so I’d never neglect that either.
Just some trivia here Nicky to finish us off… What’s the biggest crowd you’ve ever played to?
I played with The MSO a few weeks ago to around 10-11 thousand. With John (Butler Trio), I mean, we’ve done festivals with Prince and that, which must’ve been around 15-20 thousand. But I find with the bigger concerts, you really lose that intimacy. There’s some relationship with the audience that gets lost. Just because there is going to be a lot of people there, doesn’t mean it’s going to be a great gig, you know? I’ve found that the bigger the show, the more relaxed you have to be as a performer. Your body and mind wants to go the opposite, but with bigger shows, you just have to calm down or else you’ll play too fast, make mistakes, or get too energetic.
So let’s go the other way! What’s the smallest?
None! I’ve literally played to no people! It was with a band called Major Minor, back in Newport. I was with a string trio and we had a great sound, but we were in a quiet venue, playing to the Manager, a drunk guy that was there, and the bar lady. The manager stepped out to take a phone call and then the drunken guy stumbled away. The bar lady suddenly signalled to us that she had to go to the toilet. She went to the toilet… we are playing to NOBODY! I just looked at the other guys, and said… “It can only get better from here.”
That must’ve been heartbreaking!
(Laughs) It was more surreal, than anything!
One things for sure, the last thing Nicky Bomba would play to these days is an empty bar. With his worth and popularity growing every day, the future certainly looks bright for Nicky Bomba.
MELBOURNE SKA ORCHESTRA – Melbourne Ska Orchestra
> A fun filled debut album which is sure to get your body movin’!
I first saw the Melbourne Ska Orchestra last year at a small, coastal music festival. Waiting for the show to begin, I had no idea what to expect from them. I had seen some of the members play with The John Butler Trio prior to that show, and I thought I’d give them a go (seeming as I had to kill some time between acts). Needless to say, I was completely blown away by their energy, beat, groove and downright sense of fun. I had never seen a festival tent packed with so much raw energy before, as I’m sure the crowd spent more time in the air than they did on the ground. How wrong was I to dismiss this band as a time filler! After singing along to their rendition of Madness’ classic Night Boat To Cairo, I quickly went to the merch desk to pick up their first EP Rude And Ready. That EP consisted of live recordings of the Orchestra “recorded at various gigs on planet Earth”, as the album notes told me. That EP did a great job of capturing the wild energy that is the Ska Orchestra’s live show. I was therefore nervous about listening to their first self-titled album, as I felt that their type of music could only be effective live. That it would only work with a festival tent full of sweaty, insane fans. But as I listened through, I could immediately tell that my previous worries were misinformed to such a horrific extent.
The Melbourne Ska Orchestra, conducted by Aussie all-rounder, Nicky Bomba, have hit the shelves for the first time with their debut self-titled album. Ska, for all those who don’t know, was the predecessor to reggae. It works on the offbeat, rather than pop music’s standard beat. It originated in Jamaica (where else?) in the 1950s and combined the popular American jazz with the laid back Caribbean feel. Ska has come in several main waves, along with some great bands, and The Melbourne Ska Orchestra is a mash up of all these different feels, characters and movements, with an overall sound reminiscent of The Wailers, and UK bands The Specials and Madness.
The album started off with a ska version of the theme for Get Smart. The song started off with an almost James Brown signature call and response. You know the one… “Shall we get this going?” “Yeah!” “I want to get into it man!” “Go ahead! Go ahead!” etc… This set the live, fun, spur of the moment energy, which was to become prominent over the whole album. Although being nowhere near my favourite track, I felt that Get Smart started the album off well.
Track two, and one of the lead singles off the album, Lygon St Meltdown is by far my favourite song on The Melbourne Ska Orchestra’s self-titled debut album. I just love everything about this song, and I’d go as far as to say that this is one of my favourite songs of all time! I’m in love with Melbourne as a city, and this song taps into that culture beautifully. I can perfectly picture myself walking down the suave Carlton Street, with this blasting through my ears. With the classic theme of Melbourne’s Underbelly in hand, this song has such a rich, deep, funky groove, that’s sure to stick in your head with its catchy hooks, and get you up on the table with its fast paced beat. The music video also adds another level to the song, with its hilarious, stylistic, fun filled visuals. Be sure to check it out!
I feel The Melbourne Ska Orchestra are at their best when they get down and dirty with their funky horns and licks. Songs like When Dean Went Down To Mexico, He’s A Tripper, Papa’s Got A Brand New Ska and Lygon St Meltdown are definite standouts for me, as they click with an unknown something in my psyche. Why I think these songs stand out so much is the effective use of highs and lows throughout the albums track list. Slower, more loving songs such as Time To Wake Up and The Diplomat create a deeper level to The Melbourne Ska Orchestra, and I think that helps in the albums reply value. I can perfectly picture Time To Wake Up filling up the air in a festival tent with its unique organ sound and sing along vocals.
I do think however that this album is uneven as a whole. There are some absolute killer tracks on here, but towards the middle and end of the album, the songs lose that “x factor” and the signature Melbourne Ska Orchestra energy, I feel is somewhat lost. I feel that trimming off some of the albums lesser tracks would help that overall. I think a top of 10-12 songs would be by far sufficient to get the Orchestra’s ethos across.
I’m also a big fan of Nicky Bomba’s vocal efforts on this album. His voice is very unique, with its deep, charismatic qualities, and when his vocals aren’t present on certain tracks, I feel the heart of The Melbourne Ska Orchestra is not present as well. Duets, and special appearances from guests and friends certainly add something. Don’t get me wrong! I just think that the Orchestra are at the best with Bomba at the helm.
In the end, I’m a big believer in The Melbourne Ska Orchestra, and when they’re on song, they sing a mighty good song! This is the type of music I love. The type of music that gets me excited is evident all over this debut offering by the 30-member group from the South Coast. I think that they will grow and learn from this album, and I boldly predict that The Melbourne Ska Orchestra’s next effort will be even better!
BEN WITT FROM THE CHEMIST INTERVIEW – Liam Auliciems
The Chemist is certainly one of the most unique bands going around today. When I first reviewed their lead single Spray Paint Or Praise, I was blown away by their psychedelic groove and I was in a conundrum in relation on how to pin these guys down to a specific genre, or musical sub-group. That duty unfortunately usually comes quite easy in today’s mainly melancholy market. But melancholy is the last word I’d use to describe The Chemist, as these guys aren’t just outside the box, they have taken the box and have killed it quite violently with a hammer! Needless to say I was pretty excited to poke about Ben Witt’s brain to see how this band functions, find out their beliefs and goals and hopefully enlighten and open my mind to all things a bit out of the ordinary.
Thanks for having a chat with us today Ben. As an ever-growing Perth band, what have you found to be some of the pros and cons of being an Aussie act?
I suppose in places like Europe and America there are lot more venues to play at, simply because they’re more populated. Naturally, there is a lot less people in Australia compared to those places, and that sometimes affects things. Being a non-mainstream band, I think, is becoming a real niche market. If you’re not really popular, then you kind of… yeah, it becomes a niche thing. But the Australian scene is a healthy animal, and it’s a good country too. You know… it’s well looked after and it looks after you as well in return.
Speaking of Europe and America, do you think Australian music has its own flavour compared to those other countries and regions?
Well… it depends on the band. I always respect people who try to keep that Aussie flavour… with the accent and that.
Yes! I’ve noticed a lot of artists tend to put on an American twang when they sing. Why do you think that happens
Yeah, I’ve noticed that too… Well Aussie people tend to listen to a lot of American music. If you’re learning to sing, and you want to sing your favourite band’s music, more often than not, you end up sounding a bit like them. It’s like if you were learning French. You’re bound to sound a bit French by the end of it, you know?
Right! So, onto The Chemist… How did you guys first form as a band?
We were all hanging about university. We weren’t studying the same courses, but we all ended up meeting each other somehow. We just started jamming together, and it really hasn’t stopped from there.
When you were first starting to play together, were there any albums or musical artworks that really inspired your sound?
Well, Tom Waits… The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds? That’s a really beautiful album. Captain Beefheart and Beck of course. I listened to a lot of Blues when I was younger and I think that heavily influenced me as a musician.
The Chemist certainly has a specific style, in terms of your entire image. Was that pre-determined?
Well, I’ve never really thought about it. We tried to be non-descript with it all actually. I guess we tried to make the artwork fit the music. I think that, like it or not, the album artwork heavily effects how people perceive the music, and we really wanted to establish a vibe with ours. We just tried to be as classic as possible, you know? Black and white was a natural choice. We just tried to keep it as consistent with the music as possible.
When could you tell that things with the band could really take off?
There were no standout moments for us. We were just having fun together, and it gradually just happened. I suppose continually getting gigs and getting people to work with us was a sort of confirmation. It showed us that we were doing something right and it was a great feeling. We’ve just been chasing that high ever since.
Over your playing career, what have been some standout moments for you so far?
Well, recording is always fun. We went down to Melbourne too. It’s not really a stand out moment so to speak, but we loved getting down there.
Yes. You guys are originally from Perth. You mentioned Melbourne as a stand out to you, and I know a lot of people hold Melbourne in high regard in terms of its music scene. Would you agree that Melbourne is the cultural hub of Australia in relation to the arts?
Well, I enjoy Perth. It’s where I grew up. I’ve got friends there. My friend’s bands are there too, and we all cross-pollinate. I don’t think Melbourne is the be all and end all like some people make out.
You’ve just released your debut album, Ballet In The Badlands. What was the experience like writing and recording your album? Was it nerve-wracking and imposing, or exciting and liberating?
Well it was stressful. With our earlier stuff, we could just do our own thing and really focus on our music, free from external opinion. This time around we’ve had to take in a lot from other people’s opinions and criticisms. It’s really rewarding too though. I think I’ve improved a lot as a songwriter during the process. I always set a really high standard for myself, and that’s helped me improve in the long run. Yeah…. it’s been a weird time. But it’s really great to get something out of it. It’s great to have a standout body of work to look back on when I’m an old man.
Where do you think this album will take you?
I have no idea to be honest. I really have no expectations in relation to it. My brain space is heavily occupied by what we’re going to do next, and how we’re going to improve as a band. I’ll wait and see on that one!