Galvatrons…
June 26, 2009

Patrons are already jostling to the front of the crowded club to find prime viewing position now that the support act has left the stage.  Weaving through the crowd to get to the bar proves a time consuming exercise, but once the sounds of synthesizer and chants of ‘We’re here to save the world’ wash over the building, attention turns instantly to the stage, from where Johnny Galvatron leers seductively at the bouncing fans below.  Throughout the snappy set, fists pound the air from the back of the room right up to the front of the stage.  The audience shout the lyrics in unison, and the evening reaches a climax when girls in the front row are overcome with exhilaration and throw themselves onto the stage to dance suggestively.  Though visibly impressed, the band never misses a beat.

All this excitement for a band who can still count the months since their first rehearsal and are counting down the days until the unveiling of their debut album.  24 hours earlier, the Galvatrons discussed a fledgling career that already boasts the kind of highlights usually reserved for the autobiographies of retiring rock royalty.  It wasn’t long after their formation that the band was snapped up by a major record label.

‘It was really bizarre,’ recalls keyboardist Gamma.  ‘I was the last to join, and then the fourth gig I played with the band was a showcase to Warner.  It was pretty sudden.’

Prior to being signed to Warner Music, the band members were each forging paths in their music career to varying degrees of success.

‘Johnny wrote a bunch of songs and had the idea for the band,’ bassist Condor explains the formation of the Galvatrons.  ‘He knew Manny – our old drummer – through a Battle Of The Bands, or some high school thing.  He called up Manny and said “I need a drummer for this band, do you know anyone?”  Manny was like “I’ll play drums in your band.”  Then Manny found me.  I was working at Safeway and playing with my old band at the Evelyn, and I was hanging out with a mate there whose band was playing.  Gamma was playing bass in that band.’

Manny stepped aside before long, Condor’s brother Bozza took up position behind the drums and the Galvatrons were created.  ‘Yeah,’ Condor sighs, shaking his head.  ‘I never want to step into Safeway again.’

The next step the band did take was onto a tour bus – the first major stop being at the Meredith Music Festival.

‘Now that was weird,’ says Gamma, his eyes widening with the memory, as Condor nods and laughs in agreement.  ‘It was our twentieth show ever.  We played on the Friday, so when we were checking out the front before we played, it looked like it was just a few pockets of people sort of sitting around everywhere.  We thought that was pretty sweet.  Well, we went back stage, and then went onto the stage just to set up and everything.  By that stage it had just filled up…’ Gamma shakes his head.   ‘It had just got like… wow!’

Condor agrees, saying that he had expected their first Meredith crowd to be little more than ‘just a bunch of my mates down the front,’ but personally felt more victorious taking to the stage at the Big Day Out.

‘It was cool.  I’ve always wanted to play a Big Day Out.  We did a sweet show that day, and then had to fly to London that night.  It was an awesome thing.’

An invitation to appear at London’s Hyde Park Calling festival not only meant live international exposure for the band, but a chance to meet some high profile idols.

‘We got to meet the Stranglers,’ Condor mentions with the calm of someone discussing the latest news of an old friend.  ‘They were these big-as dudes – just how they look in the pictures – and really nice.  They introduced themselves to us and stuff…’

‘And we got to meet the Bangles, too!’ Gamma interrupts excitedly, perhaps suggesting the diversity of the group’s musical influences.  ‘The lead singer must be, what?  50 now?  She still looks excellent!’

Perhaps suggesting a similar diversity in their fan base, the Galvatrons received positive reviews for their performance at the Download Festival – normally the reserve of heavy metal and more traditional rock bands.  Condor says that it is difficult to put Galvatrons fans into a particular category.  ‘The people going to our gigs are really cool!  They’re not necessarily always the most trendy, but they just like to go out for a good time.  Sometimes we meet the big footy jock dudes, the kind who used to beat me up in high school, and they’re like “I love you, it was awesome!  It was awesome!”’

It was at Download where the Galvatrons caught up with fellow Australians Airborne, and were invited to fill the support slot for some of their latest European tour.

‘They’ve sold out heaps of European shows last year,’ Condor says.  ‘They’re bloody huge, overseas.  We played a few gigs with them over there.  Two in Ireland and one in Germany, and they were just packed to the rafters.  It was mayhem.’

‘There was this one place, Molotov, in Hamburg,’ Gamma continues.  ‘It was way oversold, so you literally couldn’t move.  It was probably a 200 capacity room, but there were at least three or four hundred in the room.  It was a sweat den.  It was awesome.’

And, perhaps, the inspiration for album track ‘Molotov Cocktail,’ a typically synth-laden celebration in which Johnny recalls cars parked all the way up the street and that ‘these kids know how to have a good time.’

Another of the Galvatrons’ tales of European adventure regards being ejected from festival grounds.

‘Sarah, our manager, said that they were kicking us out,’ Gamma remembers.  ‘Everyone had to go.’

‘They said something like “The man next door complained,”’ Condor adds.

The man next door turned out to be playing the same festival with the Police.

‘There was a band area where everyone had little cabins,’ Condor sets the scene, and Gamma adds that ‘Sting had his own section of cabins.’

‘Our cabin was right next to his section…’ Condor says in summary of the noise complaint.

The brushes with rock fame haven’t ended now that The Galvatrons are back on Australian shores.  The group were selected as support for the entirety of Def Leppard and Cheap Trick’s tour of Australia and New Zealand.  While the Galvatrons were able to get along with their hosts, images of the legends still partying all night, rock ‘n’ roll style, were brought back to earth.

‘They were cool,’ Condor agrees.  ‘They gave us their beers and every night, because they didn’t want to drink much. It was the end of their three-month tour, so they’d flown all their families over for a big holiday in Australia.’

The Galvatrons are in the midst of their own headlining national tour, taking in capitals and regional shows, and prove they can adapt to the stages of clubs as well as they have larger festival and even arena shows, before the release of their album Laser Graffiti next month, and have no plans to break from the touring cycle soon.  Although the band is confident with touring, Gamma admits to being a little nervous at first.

‘It was a bit odd for me because these guys had already formed that bond when I came along,’ He puts on a shy voice to re-enact the first days of touring with the band.  ‘I felt like “Yeah, well this is good, you’re all talking and I feel weird…” But you spend enough time in the van on tour and you get to know all there is to know’

The new album has a retro-future sound familiar to fans of the band’s live shows and first singles ‘When We Were Kids,’ ‘Robots Are Cool,’ and ‘Cassandra.’  Johnny aptly describes the sound as ‘like the disco scene from a grand space opera.’  The album deals with science fiction themes, computer game victories, and high school romance – themes which seem set to stay, at least for the time being, ‘until Johnny works through all of his old heart breaks.’

‘Johnny likes to write about that stuff,’ Condor laughs.  ‘It’s his therapy.  I don’t know what he’ll write about when he works through it all.’

The Galvatrons’ album Laser Graffiti is released on July 3.  The ‘Cassandra’ single tour finishes early this month, and they will then be touring with Something With Numbers, stopping at the Hi-Fi Bar on July 10, the Ferntree Gully Hotel on July 11, and Pelly Bar in Frankston on July 12.  Tour details are available at www.myspace.com/thegalvatrons.

From Buzz Magazine, June 2009.

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Eskimo Joe…
June 26, 2009

‘Yaaaah!  Eeeyaaah!’ shrieks Kav Temperley suddenly over the edge of his back porch, breaking the peace of a warm morning in Fremantle.  He was demonstrating how the chorus of ‘Losing Friends Over Love,’ one of his band Eskimo Joe’s new songs, developed from his impersonation of a soul choir.    ‘I brought out this fantastic bottle of tequila from America.  I’d just had a shot, and did my best black woman’s choir impression.  That vocal, from one of those takes, is the actual vocal used.’

Even before its release, the band’s new album, Inshalla, from which the song is taken, was generating buzz for its bold new style.  Lead single ‘Foreign Land,’ featuring a sample lifted from a traditional Turkish folk song, had been discussed as a particular departure for the band.  Kav thinks otherwise, though.  ‘That song, more than any other song on the record, sounds like Eskimo Joe as we have already been.  It just sounds like a bigger, rockier version of Eskimo Joe.’

Kav points out the songs that feel most different to him are those that ‘lend themselves to being real pop songs.’  Songs such as the aforementioned ‘Losing Friends Over Love’ and ‘The Sound Of Your Heart’ may come as a pleasant surprise to fans of the band.  The real difference on Inshalla, though, which may not be immediately obvious to listeners, was in the song-writing and demo process.

‘Our first three records felt like a bit of a trilogy, in the way we put them together,’ Kav elaborates.  ‘We’d sort of use certain chords and go “This chord is for the chorus, this one’s for the bridge…” and so on.  When we started doing that on this record, it was just really boring.  We did kind of go through that process [for Inshalla], and then we’d mute the piano and guitar – what we’ve traditionally based our songs on – and we’d start from the rhythm track onwards.  We’d do drum loops or some bass.  It has made it a groovy kind of thing.  It sounds cool and different.’

Eskimo Joe enjoyed the freedom of self-producing their last album, Black Fingernails, Red Wine, but for the complex sounds of Inshalla have brought in a producer to ‘throw a spanner in the works and learn some new tricks.’  The band approached Gil Norton, since they were fans of albums he had produced for the Pixies and Foo Fighters, though his work with engineering sounds for more exotic arrangements with Gomez seems more identifiable on Inshalla.  Kav says that Norton was particularly influential in that early development of the songs.

‘Each producer seems to come with their own slant on producing.  It’s always a different kind of flavour each time.  Gil came on in pre-production, and worked a lot on the rhythm section – on the drums, and the bass, and the dynamics of the songs.  You can hear that.  He was partially responsible for that quiet/loud dynamic that the Pixies were famous for inventing.  He really brought in amazing dynamics and a really interesting way to start the production of a record, which was to sit down and look at the actual dynamics of it.  You can hear that on this record.  Black Fingernails, Red Wine almost sounds like a band on cruise-control – everything just kind of cruises through.  This record has a bit more light and shade to it.’

With the new album completed and released, the band are able to think about touring, and have already booked national tour dates, with regional and festival shows set to follow.  Both before and after their appearance at the Sydney leg of the Sound Relief charity concert, Eskimo Joe were touring overseas and especially in Europe, prior to devoting themselves to the Australian release of the new album.

Before travelling overseas, Kav was concerned that their international audiences might be made up primarily of Australian tourists and ex-pats.  ‘Obviously we’re happy to play to anybody who wants to see us play,’ Kav says.  ‘But if you’re making the effort to go over there you want to spread your wings a little bit.  We were really lucky that it was filled with locals.  Because the shows are much smaller – two or three hundred capacity shows – we could go out into the audience and sign merch and talk to the people and find out how they got into the band.  That was really cool, because we haven’t been able to do that in a while.’

Germany and the United Kingdom, in particular, stood out during the international tour.  ‘Germany was fantastic!’ Kav exclaims.  ‘Everywhere we went we just played to Germans, which is always nice.  People actually wanted to put some energy behind it.  Then we finally made the effort to go to the UK and do some touring there and they were awesome!  All the shows were sold out!’

With four successful albums under their belt, Eskimo Joe should expect no problems filling large venues when they start their Australian tour.  But when asked whether early, pre-album hits – like ‘Sweater’ and ‘Turn Up Your Stereo’ – ever make an appearance on live set lists, Kav shudders.

‘Last time we played those was before they died a very slow death in 1999 or 2000…’ he seems to be thinking aloud.  ‘It was in Adelaide – all songs seem to go to Adelaide to die, unfortunately for Adelaide.  I guess Eskimo Joe have had like Mark 1 Eskimo Joe – which was the EPs – then from Girl onwards was almost like a new band, like Eskimo Joe Mark 2.  The funny thing is, when we did Black Fingernails, Red Wine it was really hard to play songs from Girl and even songs from A Song Is A City sounded really weird within the set.  The cool thing about the new album is that it feels like it’s kind of balanced it out a bit.  We’re actually talking about going out and playing a lot more of the songs from Girl and A Song Is A City when we go out and play live now.  It’s almost put a counter-balance in, so it all kind of sits in a good area with each other now.’

Eskimo Joe play the Palace Theatre (formerly the Metro) in Melbourne on August 7, City Hall in Hobart on September 2, and Albert Hall in Launceston on September 3.   Inshalla is out now. 

From Buzz Magazine, June 2009.

Gomez
April 30, 2009

The story goes that an unnamed band was playing their first gig in a school hall in England. They posted a sign outside the hall for a friend named Gomez reading ‘Gomez, the gig is here!’ Fifteen years later the band are still using the name Gomez which stuck after that gig, and are going strong despite members now being spread across the world. Paul Blackburn talks to Buzz about the predicament from his home in Detroit.

‘Ian [Ball]’s in L.A., Olly [Peacock]’s in New York, Ben [Ottewell] is somewhere in Brighton in the U.K., and I’m here in Detroit.’

Despite the distance, Gomez remains busy, touring relentlessly and with a new album out this month. Paul describes the album, A New Tide, as ‘a collection of good, strong songs.’

‘It is going to have quite an experimental edge to it,’ Paul says of the new album. ‘I think there are going to be quite a lot of unexpected moments on the record to keep people excited and entertained.’

Experimentation is nothing new for Gomez. The band have previously explored compositions and instrumentation unusual in rock music, including the use of Oriental and Middle Eastern instruments.

‘We’ve always tried to keep it interesting and keep the listener entertained,’ Paul explains how the band will continue to evolve. ‘We try to make something to keep people’s attention, as well as taking things off in different directions.’

When including new instruments, Paul notes that it is important to chose the right producer for the job, ‘to keep it all going in a certain direction while bringing their own experience to it.’ In the case of the new album, that role has gone to Brian Deck, who has previously produced music for Modest Mouse, Counting Crows and Brisbane’s The Grates. ‘When we have ideas like this, they [the producer] need to make sure it can be pulled off in the right way, or even suggesting ways in which it can go even further.’

In this regard, Deck has been the perfect choice. ‘He is a very musically minded, very intelligent guy,’ Paul says. ‘He approaches music in a bit of a different way, in terms of trying to create things that are new and exciting. That’s something that we’ve always tried to do ourselves, so it’s kind of good to have somebody in there that’s got another angle to bring to that kind of approach… It’s just like having another musician in the mix.’

With such multilayered mixes and heavy instrumentation, translating the recorded music to the stage for live performance can be a challenge.

‘That’s another of the challenges of being a musician,’ muses Paul. ‘A lot of thought has to go into how you’re going to get it across. Sometimes you have to make compromises, because it isn’t always possible to do it. With arrangements and how certain parts are going to work on different instruments, sometimes the live versions might be quite different to the record, by order of necessity.’

This is particularly true since, although all of the band members are multi-instrumental, ‘there might be certain instruments where we want to get someone better.’ Paul thinks of some examples from the new album. ‘For instance, we have used a horn section and stuff. None of us play any horn instruments, or brass or woodwind, so we got people in to play that. Also, we had an upright bass player come in and play. Having somebody who is proficient makes for a better take.’

The process of reworking the songs for the stage is important, because the band tour frequently, particularly in the US and UK lately, and also make regular visits to Australia. This dedication to fans has continued despite the distance between band members’ homes, and other changes. For example, several members now have children, along with various solo and other projects. Ian Ball’s solo debut Who Goes There was released in 2007.

‘I know that Tom’s been working on some stuff,’ Paul says. ‘And I think Ben’s planning a solo record too. Tom’s been doing other work for projects like music aimed towards kids and stuff. He’s been working on music for a kid’s puppet show.’

This seemed like quite a departure from the work of Gomez, and luckily Paul explained further. ‘His wife and a friend of hers put together a puppet show in the UK, and it became really successful. They were actually invited and went to Number 10 Downing Street, to put on a performance for children there. It’s been doing really well, and they’ve got a lot of reviews. It was based on an idea of a friend of hers who is an author. She put a children’s book together called “Shoe Baby.” Basically it took off and has been doing really well, so he was doing music for that.’

Even though Gomez toured prior to the release of A New Tide over the summer festival season, Paul says that the band hope to return soon. ‘We’re hoping to get over for the summer. Later on this year or early next year.’

A New Tide is out this month.  From Buzz Magazine, April 2009.

Leathermouth’s Frank Iero
March 23, 2009

I was working as an usher at My Chemical Romance’s Melbourne concert as a part of their second Australian tour when a fourteen year old girl and her mother tapped me on the shoulder. The girl was smiling and had tears streaming down her face as patrons shuffled towards the exits after a memorable performance. I was expecting to be asked where they could buy merchandise, but the mother asked if there was any way her daughter could meet with the band. This is also a common enquiry, and easily dealt with through a simple ‘No.’ The girl gave me an envelope addressed to My Chemical Romance, with the underlined plea ‘Please read!’ and miniature roses taped to a corner. She asked if I could see that the letter was given to the band, should I run into them during the course of my duties. I did my best that night to pass the letter on, but to no avail. The letter sat unread in my scrapbook of ticket stubs and concert souvenirs ever since.

Then, more than a couple of years later, Frank Iero, My Chemical Romance’s guitarist, called from the chilly New York winter for an interview, and I mentioned the girl and her letter to him.

‘We have been very fortunate to have amazing people that have enjoyed our music, and some who write letters and draw pictures,’ Frank says. ‘Sometimes after shows we’ll get tons of them, or even sometimes things come in the mail. I’ve tried to read everything that I’ve ever gotten from people. It’s really nice when people feel so touched that they need to reach out in that form .’

Frank’s voice then takes on a sinister edge not previously present, like a parody of some Bond villain. ‘The most fun is getting hate mail!’

He was reluctant to go into sordid details about these letters, despite my insistence, but mentioned ‘With Leathermouth, I’ve gotten death threats!’

Leathermouth is a new band featuring Frank on lead vocals which was formed around a year ago during a break after relentless touring on the back of My Chemical Romance’s last album, The Black Parade. The music of Leathermouth is a significant departure from that of Iero’s previous band, with heavy riffs and a raw, lo-fi edge. In contrast with the rich production of some of My Chemical Romance’s work, Frank says ‘The whole record was recorded on our own, and in our basement, with nobody else around but us.’

The existing Leathermouth band members approached Frank simply for an opinion on a three song demo of their work so far. ‘As soon as I heard it, I fell in love with it,’ Frank says, and started thinking about lyrics to go with the instrumental tracks he had been played. Before long, he’d offered himself as vocalist and chief lyricist, and I noticed that the lyrics were perhaps more political than those of songs he’d performed with previous bands.

‘We didn’t set out to be a political band,’ Frank sighs. ‘But I think it is kind of impossible to talk about social issues or anything that goes on in the world today without talking about politics.’ Frank goes on to define the purpose of bands like Leathermouth. ‘What it is doing is provoking people to talk and to discuss things and have a thought process about things that maybe they haven’t thought of before. That’s really what the band is here for.’

‘It’s strange,’ Frank muses, noting how the difference between his two major projects has divided old fans. ‘We’ve gotten a lot of different feedback from different people. Some people that love My Chemical Romance hate it. Some people that love My Chemical Romance love it. A lot of people that love it, hate My Chemical Romance. It’s just one of those things. It’s very diverse, but I love that.’

Diversity, both musically and in a broader artistic sense, is something important to Frank Iero, who constantly has a number of projects overlapping. ‘First and foremost I am just a fan of music, and art in general. If I’m not playing or creating, I start to feel dead inside. That’s the way I can express myself, and get things out. Whenever an opportunity that I feel will bring out something different in my personality, something that I can add to, or just something I think I would love to be involved with, I have a hard time saying no to it. I’ve been very fortunate to be around people who inspire me, and have been willing and wanting to play with me in different capacities. I’ve been in bands since I was eleven years old, so I’ve been with quite a few different projects and played with a lot of people. It’s something that I love so much.’

Despite having played on some of the largest stages in the world, Frank admits to a certain apprehension when performing in front of large audiences, and has appreciated the return to more intimate shows that Leathermouth has presented.

‘Being in the public eye has never been my idea of a good time. In the past couple of years, when My Chem started to get a little bit more popular, a lot more people would show up at the shows. That’s when the anxiety part of me started to kick in. It’s something we never really prepared for, or even imagined would happen. Going back now, and playing with Leathermouth, and doing things while My Chem was off, we’ve been playing these smaller venues. It was fun to relearn how to connect with a smaller audience, and not have that anxiety about getting up in front of thousands of people.’

With this in mind, I wondered if the shift from the relative security of a guitarist standing behind a charismatic singer to the position of front-man would pose a problem for Frank.

‘As far as being a front man, I don’t know if I could consider myself being that, ever,’ Frank says, describing Leathermouth as a team effort which is reflected on stage. ‘There is definitely an art to being a front man and I think Gerard [Way from My Chemical Romance] encompasses that. There are certain people who were born to do that. I don’t feel like I’m one of those people. I’m just not that kind of guy. I’m very happy being in the background of things. I’m not one that feels like the public eye is where I should be. But, if need be, if somebody needs to take that role, then I can do it.’

While requests for international concerts have been frequent since the release of first album XO, Frank says that they may still be a long way off. ‘The record may be ten songs, but it’s only twenty minutes long. The press in Japan keep asking ‘When are you going to come over and do a show?’ I know for a fact that when we go to Japan, people will want to see like an hour and a half set. It’s just something they expect there. Until Leathermouth has six more records, that’s not going to be cool!’ He didn’t rule out Leathermouth appearances at festival shows, though, ‘Hopefully a festival situation will arise. I think that would be the best setting.’

Frank assured long time fans that even though he is busy with a number of projects, My Chemical Romance is still going strong. ‘We’re getting together and starting to really buckle down and write the new record and record it. We’re talking about the first week of February.’ Even though he has a lot on his plate, he says he enjoys the variety that the two bands give, and will continue indefinitely. ‘If you’re not having fun, what’s the point? That’s the moment when you have to decide to stop. But, knock on wood, we’re still having fun.’

Leathermouth’s debut album XO is out this month.

From Buzz Magazine, March 2009.

Magic Dirt’s Adalita
September 11, 2008

Magic Dirt

In a local music scene where bands are often over before they really have a chance to begin, Magic Dirt are renowned for their long history, and respected for their genre-defying diversity and extended tours playing to fans from one end of the country to the other. With just such a tour currently underway on the back of latest album Girl, Magic Dirt’s Adalita spoke to Buzz during one of the few weeks off, noting that even during breaks in the tour schedule, ‘We’re busy little bees.’

‘There’s still a lot going on in the middle of organising a lot of things,’ Adalita says, noting the various projects Magic Dirt are involved in aside from playing regional shows, and the usual capitals. ‘As a part of this tour we’ve got about five or six workshops where we go into high schools, or we put on workshops for high school aged students plus any community members who are interested in coming along.’

The band have particularly enjoyed taking the workshops, which include discussions about their experience in the music industry and conclude with a performance, to schools in regional areas, where live music is not always easily accessible.

‘We just did one at the State High School in Bundaberg, and they were like “We never get anything like this,”’ Adalita says of a memorable workshop. ‘They were really excited and had lots of valid questions… They even helped carry the stuff to the car. And the teachers are equally as excited. The teacher at the Bundaberg school was a massive fan.’

With the broad age-range of fans reflected in the school visit, I wondered if concert audiences were also made up of a mix of new faces and those who might have gone through high school themselves listening to the band.

‘I don’t think we’d still be around unless we had the new faces. We’ve got young fans, old fans… the in-between fans. It’s sort of a constant stream of different people. I think the one thread that links most of our fans is that they’re very passionate and loyal and they’re very dedicated to Magic Dirt…’ Adalita speaks fondly of the fan-base, and reflects for a second. ‘Once they’re in, they’re in for the long haul.’

And that loyalty has paid off. After breaking away from major label backing and forming their own independent Emergency Music label, the first priority for the band was creating a limited and exclusive EP of covers and live recordings for distribution at their shows. ‘Now we’ve got a second instalment that we’re putting together,’ Adalita promises.

Support acts for their shows have been personally selected by Magic Dirt, after placing a call for submissions on the website. Adalita said that the result was ‘a constant waterfall of CDs,’ and adds ‘we’ve come across some really cool bands through the competition. It’s been good for us, because we’ve got a little database now of bands from regional areas, and the capitals too, that we can just ring up and say “Do you want a show? We’re coming to town.”’

With Girl covering a wide range of musical styles, from the pop rock of ‘Romy’ to sounds more consistent with the experimental styling of the Roky’s Room album, it is easy to wonder what a Magic Dirt show might sound like. Adalita promises that their shows will remain ‘big and ballsy and stompy and sweaty and raw. The live shows are always loud, because of the nature of the way we play, which is loud, fuzzy rock ‘n’ roll.’

Girl is out now. Magic Dirt are touring until December, with details available at www.magicdirt.com.

From Buzz Magazine, September 2008.