Come to Loop Bar tonight, then. Read&Rights book club is launching this evening and I’m giddy with excitement. 23 Meyers Place, 7pm. Wine and books and people who care about things.
Are you in Melbourne? Do you like reading? Do you like drinking wine? Does reading beautifully written books which touch on human rights issues make you compulsively foist them on everyone you’ve ever met and also want to change the world a little bit?
Mainly because I somehow managed to ask Husky Gawenda somewhat intelligent questions about his band and literary influences, instead of for his cousin’s phone number.* It went up over at Bobbysix.com well, quite some time ago now, but I thought I’d throw it on here as well because it’s Friday night and I’ve panicked about the number of things on, managed not to go to any of them and found myself drinking the remnants of a bottle of wine which my housemate managed to throw on me at dinner and writing, instead.
“I’d say we’re about songs.” It’s a deceptively simple explanation from Husky Gawenda when asked to define his band and their music. Variously described as indie folk and harmonic pop, favourably compared to the likes of Fleet Foxes and Boy & Bear, Husky have certain a knack for creating gentle melodies that nonetheless stay with you all day. Single History’s Door received extensive radio play on both triple j and Sydney’s FBi, as well as some recent lovin’ in the Bobbysix End Of Year Reviews, and with good reason: it’s an almost perfectly-crafted modern folk offering, sparking all sorts of comparisons with such a range of artists it leaves Gawenda faintly bemused. “I’m always so surprised by how people describe us and the different bands we’re compared to. I don’t always agree or hear the influence and sometimes it’s somebody whose music I’ve never actually heard, but I don’t think there’s any point being precious about it. People will listen to music and want to categorise it. It’s human nature.”
“I can say whatever I want about the songs I write and the sort of music we play, but in the end it doesn’t matter what I think. It matters what you think, it matters what the people who come to our shows think.” It’s an almost postmodern attitude – the death of the author/songwriter in favour of the audience’s interpretation. When I mention this, Husky laughs and admits “Well my father’s a writer and my mother’s an English teacher, so literature and writing was a big part of my upbringing and part of my life as far back as I remember. I grew up reading the classics, novel-wise. Most of the 20th century classics, as well as 19th century English and Russian literature, and a bunch of poets – Dylan Thomas, Wordsworth, those sort of guys. There are musicians as well, who are as much poets as they are songwriters; Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, even Paul Simon.” These early literary influences certainly come through in his music, expressed through a strong lyrical component to the songs on debut long-player Forever So.
Recorded in a backyard bungalow in Melbourne’s northern suburbs which the band spent late nights soundproofing themselves with the aid of Youtube tutorials, it was an album Husky says, “we really wanted time and space to record”. Well, that and the fact that before scoring a spot at Pushover Festival thanks to a triple j Unearthed competition, Gawenda admits they were fairly unknown and thus hadn’t the cash to hire a studio and producer. “We wanted the luxury to be able to record songs that we won’t necessarily use. To take the time to write, develop and arrange the album. If we went into a studio and were paying by the hour we wouldn’t be able to do that. It was a mixture of getting the sound we wanted, and just not having the money to record in a proper studio.”
Looking back on their success over the last year, it seems Husky won’t be running into the same problems again. “I think what Unearthed does for bands like us is incredible. It does exactly what it’s supposed to, which is to bring bands to the attention of the public that otherwise nobody would hear of. That’s the beauty of the platform that triple j has, they can pick bands out of near obscurity, and put them on the radio.” Since the release of Forever So in late October, Husky spent some time touring before the busy summer festival season, where they’ve found the crowds, “really embracing and responsive”. Husky notes that the festival circuit is an equally important way for emerging bands to establish themselves. “You get exposed to people who might not know you that well or might not otherwise have come to your show. They discover you for the first time and you get to meet all these people that you otherwise wouldn’t have met. I think festivals are great for all bands, but especially for newish bands like us.”
Having seen them at Woodford Folk Festival over the New Year, I can attest to the fact that they put on a charming live performance which has certainly added to a fan base that has grown exponentially over the past year. Offering something a little different from the current crop of fingerpicking, harmonising folk acts, they’ve attracted praise from high places – triple j’s Richard Kingsmill, for instance, described them as “pure class.” This is something which Husky attributes in part to the varying musical backgrounds within the band. “I think the jazz training that they’ve done over the years have influenced them and it’s certainly added to their ability as musicians,” he says of bandmates Evan Tweedie, Luke Collins and cousin Gideon Preiss.
Despite spending a lot of time together growing up in quite a creative family, Husky says he and Gideon, “didn’t really formally play music together until about three years ago. We spent a lot of time listening to music and going to gigs together, but he was on a different path for those early years. He was playing in a lot of jazz bands and I was kind of just writing songs. Then, about three years ago, we decided to get together and have a play and see how that went.” It seems things have panned out fairly well so far, and Husky agrees. “Even from the beginning it felt right, and it’s never stopped feeling like that.”
*He dances like a beautiful dork, plays keys like a fucking boss and harmonises in a way that makes me gush embarrassingly like a schoolgirl. Or a groupie. Neither of which are optimal.
Inverted commas used to give you a heads up that in reality I will be playing-a-selection-of-songs-you-may-or-may-not-wish-to-dance-or-sing-along-to-while-you-look-at-art, as opposed to doing anything remotely technical. Still, it will be fun and I’d like to cordially invite your face/booty to make an appearance.
Bike Babes have weekly rides on a Tuesday evening, the idea being “No racing, just riding. Be fit, ride far, have fun.” You can head to their facebook page to check out photos from previous expeditions and for up to the minute weather reports on ride day, for times when the weather’s iffy. Next week they’re temporarily relocating to Wednesday for a special night at The Wall. Still meeting at the usual 6:50pm, Taylor Square, a leisurely ride will eventually take you to World Bar for a mini bike themed fete, including tasty treats, a BBQ and an exhibition of customised bike helmets. Plus, myself and Bobby Six will be dee jaying/spinning some discs/droppin’ some phat beatz/seriously I’m just going to play you some songs I think you’ll like and try not to break anything.
Stacks of new writing, interviews and stories to post up here, which I’ll add over the next few days. Between the ridiculous, arbitrary deadline mania of Christmas, the loveliness of the Woodford Folk Festival, a few days at home and busy busy happy times in Sydney with FBi + Sydney Festival gigs + SMAC Awards + new jobs + tearing my Big Day Out hymen* + writing work + Perth visitors I’ve been a little neglectful. Here, a little something to say HelloIMissedYouAndI’mSorryILeftYou:
Uncommonly beautiful people blowing smoke in black and white, first watched hungover and time poor after a night during which an ex-boyfriend spent several hours trying to talk me into smoking my first cigarette, and failed. Directed by Saam Farahmand, it’s a clever little comment on the prevalence of smoking in the fashion industry and it’s continued association with ‘cool’. I get it, really I do. There’s something very visually pleasing about smoking. It’s sort of sexy in a romantic, self destructive kind of way. Especially when done like this, or by a pretty bearded boy leaning against the side door of some bar while an equally attractive and hirsute young man thrashes a guitar inside. It’s just not for me.
I came across Tom Vek and this particular video a bit late, courtesy of a little research session for Shag’s Top 40 Show at the end of last year. As much as people love to whine about the proliferation of end of year reviews, they’re certainly good for catching up on music/books/miscellaneous cool shit you may have missed that year. I even went and made one for Bobbysix.com, though I refused to order it as I find the experience paralyses me with guilt. Yes, I’m aware that’s ridiculous.
*Was that visual a little much? Sorry. I’ve been reading up on Riot Grrls and consuming Bukowski at an alarming rate and have since begun to wish I was a little more visceral and shocking in my writing. This will last only until I pick up some new reading material, I promise.
Here’s one more thing to add to the list of things we’re going to do this year. Like most of the things to do this year it is writer-ly and daunting, although admittedly easier than it must have seemed to Heidi when I explained it wrong (‘So we’ll review TEN of the books in January. That’s how it works. Not crazy!’).
photo by Joel (The Boy Wonder)
The Australian Women’s Writers Challenge is a way of counteracting the gender imbalance in the amount of attention Australian books get in reviews and social media. The National Year of Reading, which promises to be more fun than 2011, the National Year of Speaking and Listening, shouldn’t be all about how ace men are at making words into sentences with their testosterone-y talent. It should also be about Anna Funder and Chloe Hooper and all of the great things being written by Australian women.
So! Using our lady skills and our copious amounts of free time, Heidi Pett and I (Jess O’Callaghan, person who should be at work right now and occasional blogger) will pledge to review 10 books by Australian women this year, making us Franklin-fantastic Dabblers (this is starting to sound a bit cult-like).
The AWW2012 challenge begins now. With Heidi complaining that I’ve stolen all the good books, and me pointing out that judging by her Bobbysix end of year review, she seems to have kept all my favourites in Sydney anyway.
Handmade by Imogen Heath, this delightful clip is a perfect accompaniment to Sui Zhen’s delicate music. The lady also makes her own videos – have a look at the sweet little stop motion piece she made for latest single ‘Little Frog‘.
I interviewed Joel Stein of Howling Bells, and we talked about listening to trash that’s not rock ‘n’ roll, amongst other things. Like their new album, touring with your sister and, well, other topics not involving facetious puns.
On Saturday I was lucky enough to head along to their show at The Standard, which to sum up rather quickly involved soaring vocals, a brilliant, dark set combining both old and new songs, Juanita’s pale arms raised in lazy windmills, catching the light which at her request had been lowered to “bloody and moody” by the lighting tech. Joel then went on to ask more “more cowbell” in the mix with a completely straight face. Wonderful.
My interview went up over on Bobbysix.com a few days ago, and I’ve added the full text below:
“I think I was just feeling lucky,” Joel Stein laughs as he explains why he’s contributed more songs than ever before to Howling Bells’ new record, The Loudest Engine. “You don’t really plan, whoever writes or whatever is the most appropriate or whatever we think is the best will end up on the album.” It’s a mature sibling relationship of the kind parents can only hope for, instead of the masking-tape-down-the-middle-of-the-back-seat approach favoured by most on long car trips. Instead, Joel and sister Juanita form a close-knit band with bassist Brendan Picchio and drummer Glenn Moule, and have created an album out of their experiences on their travels.
Parked in a campervan by the side of the road in Paris, the band are in the middle of a European tour with Elbow when I speak to Joel about the process of writing and recording their latest album, which they’ve consistently described as their “grown up record.” Produced by Mark Stoermer from The Killers and recorded in Las Vegas, it marks a departure from the more electronic sounds of second albumRadio Wars in favour of psychedelic-tinged folk rock, and is considered a follow-up to their debut self-titled release. Having toured and played quite extensively with The Killers, Joel says the decision to work with Mark was one born of familiarity and good timing. “It was very, very underground, actually. There were no record labels and no red tape involved. It was all very easy.”
Choosing to step away from the drum machines and electronic feel of Radio Wars, Joel knew, “we just wanted to go in and get the engineer to press record on the tape machine, we just wanted to play as a band.” For an album written on and about the road, it makes a great deal of sense to record it the same way it would be played live. “Lyrically it’s very relevant to us being on tour, which is why we called it The Loudest Engine. It’s more mature in sound and we had the most clarity in recording this album, more than the other two. It’s two years between albums and you do a lot of growing, especially on the road.”
Despite producing a record very clearly inspired by a touring lifestyle, Joel says, “If I had the chance I wouldn’t leave the house without a piano and a guitar because sometimes I feel like writing 15 times a day but I don’t have anything to hand.” Having relocated to Europe several years ago, Joel currently lives in Berlin and finds the vibrant community to be, “an extremely creative place, it’s buzzing at the moment. It’s very interesting and there’s a lot going on. I think Berlin’s still in the 70’s which I really like.” Asked whether it’s in any way affected his sound, Joel pauses for thought, and eventually chances at “It’s subliminal I guess. Your brain does what it wants and you figure it out a few years down the track.” The latest album definitely has a slight 1970’s vibe, the familiar sounds of their first release coloured with flashes of psychedelia.
I bring up a favourite Howling Bells lyric which never fails to fill my dining room with shouty jumpy people at occasionally raucous house parties – “you listen to trash but it’s not rock ‘n’ roll” – and press Joel for his preferred type of trash. He stalls, “I don’t know if it’s bad, see, you’re going to judge me now…” then seems to take a breath, letting the word “house” tumble out in an embarrassed mumble before rallying. “There’s a particular kind of house music that I like: this guy from Sweden called The Field, and everyone I play it to looks at me like I’m nuts.” Perhaps we’ve found the sticking point for tour bus disagreements, though it’s clear that the four piece are not only democratic in the writing process, but treat one another as family. The strong sibling bond between Joel and Juanita hasn’t proved a problem for the other members, as the guitarist explains. “All four of us know each other inside out so there’s no difference, really. It’s the same with Elbow, they’ve been together so long that you get to a point where it really doesn’t matter. You have a fight and you laugh about it five minutes later.” While some bands find the tour bus a breeding ground for bickering, Howling Bells seem to quite enjoy the experience, making friends and albums along the way. Joel points out, “If you love doing something you want to do it all the time,” despite not being able to take a piano with them in the campervan.
“I have no fucking idea,” Joel laughs when I ask what’s next for the band. “Absolutely none. It’s the most elusive business on the planet. We could be in China, we could be in the studio recording another album.” He asks me what I think they should do, and when I tell them to keep releasing albums I’m congratulated for picking the right answer. It seems a fairly obvious choice for a band who so clearly love the experience of making and sharing their music. Joel jokes, “Obviously if [our management] say we’ve gotta tour in Afghanistan we’ll think twice about that,” when I ask if they get much of a say in where they tour, before deciding, “Actually, that could be fun.”