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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?

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.


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So I’m “DJing” for Bike Babes at The Wall

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.

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Sorry. Have a cigarette.

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, 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.

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Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012


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.


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Big and Small – Sui Zhen

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‘.

You can read Jess‘ interview with Becky (Sui Zhen) here, at

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December 20, 2011 · 10:59 am

Howling Bells Interview

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 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.” 

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Gardenias and Nyan Cat

I’m sitting here in my childhood home, shoulders still radiating heat from yesterday’s sun, yellowing gardenias on the kitchen table, revelling in Husky’s sweet indie folk in excitement/preparation for my scheduled interview this morning and I clicked on THAT FUCKING NYAN CAT LINK in an email from a friend. Did you find my use of caps lock excessive? So was the volume in my headphones.

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