Comments Off on Michael P Cullen Interviewed for SWIT
Big thank you to Tom and the team at fearless Irish music magazine Super World Indie Tunes (SWIT) for this interview:
We first encountered Michael on the release of the video for “Black Dog” of which we said “This is an immaculate live performance of “Black Dog” by Michael and the Soul Searchers. The band are Tim Powles (The Church), Craig Wilson, Andy Sharpe and James Harland-Wright. Are they tight? You better believe they’re tight, tighter than a camel’s arse in a sandstorm my friend. Sure, all the references to Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits are valid but who cares? This is a gothic masterpiece, dark and cold as hell on a Good Friday and they’re playing for keeps, nobody dares crack a smile. Me? I love it. Black Dog is the first single from the forthcoming Live at Lazybones EP, where this was recorded, all red velvet, gut-rot whiskey and regret. You could be in here forever.” He followed up with the marvellous EP and we were delighted when he agreed to answer some questions for us.
Hi Michael, hope all is good with you and thanks for agreeing to the interview We love what we’ve heard from the Lazybones EP, where did the idea come from?
Well, thank you. Originally we just wanted to make a live video to give a better sense of what the Michael P Cullen live experience entailed. But having gone to the trouble of recording the audio in high fidelity we realised while we were editing the video that it would stand up pretty well as a record. I actually prefer most of the live versions to the original recordings.
The band is awesome, how did you get them together?
Tim Powles (my long-time collaborator) put The Soul Searchers together. He has high standards. I am the lucky beneficiary of his many musical and personal attributes.
How long have you been making music?
30 years give or take. I had a few timeouts. I was a slow learner.
Your songs are pretty dark, are they a reflection of your mindset or is it a personae you adopt when writing?
I’ll admit to a glass half empty view of intimate human relationships. I tend to zero in on all those little dishonesties that seem to eventually crop up within them – I mine a narrow and dirty seam (but deep).
What was the first piece of music you loved, and why?
I don’t know if it was the first because I heard and liked a lot of stuff on the radio when I was a kid but Lipstick Vogue by Elvis Costello (from This Years Model) really got into the marrow of my bones. The barely contained fury and desperation of the vocal, the emotional rollercoaster of the song’s structure, Bruce Thomas’ manic but virtuosic performance on drums and then the call and response chant at the close. It’s an amazing construct. Costello, who generally observes the conventions of the style he is working in, breaks free this time in an exhilarating stylistic detour. Accidents Will Happen from the next record is a pretty amazing number too.
What’s exciting you on the Australian music scene these days? Do you think there’s such a thing as an Australian sound?
Um. I might be the wrong person to ask. I can’t think of much but I probably haven’t been paying attention. Doubtless, there’s something good going on somewhere. All the Australian stuff I like is not current, apart from maybe Nick Cave who arguably transcends national categorisation.
In the past, I liked the Underground Lovers quite a bit. The Beasts of Bourbon did one timeless record, The Low Road, which is great even though it sounds like it was recorded through the u-bend of a toilet. Distemper by The New Christs is a really, really good record. Check out the song Bed of Nails for domestic disappointment.
The Go-Betweens Before Hollywood is incomparably beautiful, it has some well-known songs like Cattle and Cane which are wonderful but a little-known song like Dusty in Here is just as good. McLennan could take your breath away. I was pretty big on The Triffids and The Church (at times) too.
I kind of think there is an Australian sound cause you normally know it when you hear it and it applies whether the music itself is good or rubbish – you can still sense that Australian lack of decorum, a lack of sophistication, an insolence perhaps or a kind of naiveté about class. I was born in England and my Dad’s Irish, we moved to Australia when I was 7, so I wouldn’t consider myself fully assimilated, maybe I hear it more because of that.
If you weren’t a musician what would you love to do?
Work at the bar (the legal one). I like a bit of ham acting.
Can you recommend a good book? Are you a poetry fan?
I’m not especially a poetry fan. I can recommend a book or two. Anything by Raymond Chandler but esp The Long Goodbye or just read the last page and a half of The Big Sleep.
For Whom the Bell Tolls by EH is a gut buster. I only read it a few years ago and it’s panoramic but still intensely personal view of the Spanish Civil war is compelling.I read My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante recently and am intrigued to read the other Neapolitan novels.Right now I am reading The Last Man in Europe by Dennis Glover. It is a fictional memoir (if that is a thing) of how George Orwell wrote 1984. It’s good.
What question would you like to be asked that you never are? And what would be your answer?
Parlez vous francais?
What’s in your fridge?
Little Creatures Pale Ale, Plymouth Gin (freezer), the kid’s lunches for school tomorrow and my wife’s salads.
If you could change one thing in the world right now what would it be?
Not worth it. You can’t change one thing. Everything is interdependent.
You spoke about Black Coffee being as close to country as you’ve ever come, are you a fan of country?
Not generally but Hank Williams does it for me.
What next for your music?
Live at Lazybones EP is out more or less now I think. Later in the year, my next single is a remake of a song from my first album called Do You Believe. I re-recorded the vocals, we added some new bits and Danton Supple has re-mixed it. We think it’s fab.
What’s your favourite expression?
All of my favourite expressions have been rendered unacceptable in polite society …
Given your Irish ties have you any plans to visit?
Dad grew up on the North Circular Road in Phibsborough. I come back quite a bit. I will try and bring the band some time.
Thanks to the amazing Eileen Shapiro for this interview in Louder Than War.
Michael P Cullen – interview
Written by Eileen Shapiro 19 June, 2017
Australian story teller/ musician/ spoken word artist has just introduced his new single, along with his band the Soul Searchers, entitled Black Dog. The song tells the tale of a bedroom debauchery, and was recorded in front of a live audience at the Lazybones Lounge. It comes off his forthcoming EP, Live at Lazybones.
Michael’s stories of romance and regret are displayed in such a unique fashion that I can’t even label the genre. He has been compared to Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Nick Cave, although he is completely distinctive and individual. If I had to make up a musical category for him I would have to call it, amorously idealistic.
I spoke to Michael all the way from Australia, about his musical journey, his new release, his inspirations and the Kangaroos lurking about the countryside.
Louder Than War: Black Dog, what exactly and specifically is that about? Is the story based on a true experience?
All of my stories have some element of truth, but they are not intended to be documentary. They speak the truth that other people can understand. They are not meant to be linear narratives that you can’t necessarily say this happened to me at 4 AM in the morning on this day. I couldn’t really write anything that was not of me. That’s just how I work. I’m not a getting in the shoes of someone else’s song writing. If you see what I mean.
So in Black Dog, what exactly happened there, you know I have to ask ?
What happened there … Look, I don’t know how much of my work you’ve been exposed to but, they are all little slices of what happens in life to grown-ups.
In other words it’s none of my business … ok I get it…
Not at all, I’m actually flattered that you’re making it your business. In a sense the songs got to be a song. It tells the story it tells. I have to tell you once they are done, I don’t attach specific life events to the song. I can’t analyze them. So once they become their own thing, they have their own life.
What inspires you to write a song?
I think it’s work that has to be put down. It’s exciting, in fact it’s the most exciting thing of the whole process, creating something out of nothing. So you’re sitting in a room with a guitar, and this thing doesn’t exist. Then it takes on a life of its own.
What is your favorite thing about performing live?
I don’t have any favorite things about performing live. I find it pretty nerve racking actually.
But you recorded your album live?
The EP yeah.
Well were you nervous?
When we were doing it live at Lazybones, yeah. Very nervous. Of course there’s a point where you are sort of in the moment and you’re not nervous, once you’re in the moment. But I know a lot of people feel that way. It’s quite different than the feeling that you get when you are creating something out of nothing, there’s no fear there. But I can’t complain, it’s all part of the thing you have to do. It’s a great feeling at times.
In ten years where would you hope to be with your music?
I’d like more people to know what I sing, I guess. I’m going to do it anyway, I don’t really have a choice. The more people that know about it, the more sustainable it is, and the easier it is for me to do it. It becomes a virtual circle. So since I have to do it anyway, because I have to do the thing that I do, it would be great to be able to have an audience that’s larger than the audience I have. I don’t have targets, I know some people do, they are very driven that way. The main thing is that the body of recorded work that I leave behind me is good music, is something of quality.
Growing up, who musically inspired you?
All kinds of pop music. I don’t know how much press you have read, but I get compared to certain voice legends, which is very flattering right? Cave, Cohen, and of course those guys are incredible inspirations. Particularly Nick Cave, because he’s Australian and because he such an incredible artistic figure. Growing up though all of my influences were the same as everyone heard on the radio. Everything from The Beatles to a lot of early punk, new wave… I liked the Psychedelic Furs when I was a kid. I like bands that do great singles. The Beatles are the best example of that. I’m pretty Catholic in my taste. There isn’t much that I won’t try. A good song is a good song.
If I asked you what genre your music is, what would your response be?
That’s a really difficult question. I should be asking you that.
I can’t really put my finger on that.
So what would you say?
I might have to make one up.
It’s a struggle because for me, they’re all these micro categories. There are thousands of them and I don’t see one that exactly fits. You could call it cabaret. I like the word romantic, if romance wasn’t such a degrading words. All of my music is all about romance.
Romance is a great word.
It is a good word but it’s been cheapened over the years. But, romance is really what my music is about, and chasing that illusion. Also the disappointment when things don’t quite turn out the way you had hoped or expected.
How long have you been playing music?
All of my grown-up life, in one way or another. I played in some little punk bands when I was younger, and then I kind of disappeared for a while. I had to feed my family and things like that. I’ve been doing what I do now for about 15 years. It takes a long time starting from scratch, to grow your audience. I’m feeling that I’m on the right track. Playing in punk bands is fine but what I do now is true to me.
Will you be touring in support of the album?
Yes, but probably not in support of Live At Lazybones. There are discussions going on now, and we expect that we would tour to support the next album which will be out in 2018. There will probably be a focus on Europe because that’s where my audiences are, and maybe East Coast and West Coast of the US.
It’s a long trip.
It is when you live on the other end of the world, and you’ve got five guys, it’s not a trivial undertaking.
Well, if I could go anywhere I’d go to Australia so I could see a kangaroo.
Well there are plenty of them up the road from where I live. They are pretty common in certain parts of the country. But Australia is an interesting kind of hybrid society. It’s a kind of a western European society. It’s just in the middle of an obscure place.
If you could say anything to your fans or fans-to-be, what would you say?
Stay with me, I think it’s going to be a good journey.
Big thanks to Augustus Welby and The brag for this fabulous interview.
Michael P Cullen
Written by Augustus Welby on Nov 12, 2015
He took his sweet time with it, but late last year Sydney songwriter Michael P Cullen released his second solo LP,True Believer– a whopping 13 years after his first solo album,Love Transmitter.
A lot of things changed in Cullen’s life along the way, but the two releases possess a range of shared qualities. For instance, both albums were recorded and produced by Tim Powles, drummer and occasional vocalist for The Church. The songs still revolve around Cullen’s baritone vocals and dark, figurative lyricism, and his songwriting still gives a nod to such iconic performers as Nick Cave, Rowland S. Howard, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen, The Go-Betweens and The Smiths.
Despite being deeply fascinated with several of the aforementioned artists since a young age, Cullen’s creative motivation has a more primal origin. “I think that urge comes from the need to say something, it comes from within,” he says. “But when it comes, the influences you have absorbed over the years have some bearing on how you express yourself.
“So the fact that The Go-Betweens’ Before Hollywood was on high rotation in my basement flat in Bondi Junction in 1983 – alongside Treeless Plain by The Triffids and Seance by The Church – means that some of that will come out. And as albums like [Leonard Cohen’s] Songs From A Room, [AC/DC’s] Let There Be Rock, [David Bowie’s] Hunky Dory, [Elvis Costello’s] This Year’s Model and The Beatles’ Blue Album have all meant a lot to me over the years, you are going to get some of that too. We are all products of our influences up to a point, I think.”
Cullen clearly has a solid foundation of influences and musical knowledge to invoke whenever his creative practice hits a wall. One thing’s for certain, though – he’s not trying to align himself with many contemporary songwriters.
“It doesn’t seem like much I have heard in the last 20 years has had much influence on my writing, even if I have enjoyed it a lot,” Cullen says. “I am not sure if that is a comment on me or on music from the last 20 years. I have taken an interest in a lot of things, but for me, and with regard to contemporary rock and pop music, it has seemed like the law of diminishing returns. Of course, I just may not be able to tell yet if, say for example, Radiohead has had any influence on me.”
Prior to emerging as a solo performer, Cullen played in various Sydney post-punk bands, including The Hardheads and Watershed. But these days, any lucrative career ambitions have receded and songwriting fulfils a fairly critical emotional outlet. However, the significance of the feelings explored in his music isn’t always immediately apparent.
“I have found that the songs express my life, but with no respect to the rules of time and no concession to my current state of mind,” he says. “They may be historical or they may be predictive, and I may not actually know which is actually the case when I am writing them. Then years later it all starts to make sense.”
Given the massive distance between his two solo releases, one wonders whether Cullen’s songwriting proclivity has slowed down in recent years. “I feel that the reservoir is always fermenting inside you as you go about the business of life,” he says, “and then when a deadline is applied – for example, ‘We are going to start recording this album in three months’ – I get to work converting the pipeline into songs. I do not know when I will run out of things to say, but when I do it will be very easy to be quiet.”
For the time being, however, Cullen is getting ready to make some noise. 12 months on from True Believer’s release, he is set to premiere the material live at a one-off Sydney show next weekend. He’ll be re-presenting the album alongside backing band The Soul Searchers and his long-time accomplice, Powles.
“Tim put The Soul Searchers together with some guys he met on the road in America. It’s like this amazing unknown band, these guys walking the back roads carrying their guitars in battered old cases. I was always waiting for them to arrive – I just didn’t know when they would get here. And now they have.”
In terms of Cullen’s vocal delivery and the relatively stripped-back arrangements, True Believer and Love Transmitter are somewhat raw recordings. However, they’re both the product of much care and attention to detail. It’s been a long stage absence for Cullen, and he’s seizing the opportunity to bring new life to these songs.
“Turning what was created in open-ended recording sessions over a number of years into something that can be recreated onstage by a five-piece band in a one-and-a-half-hour set is a bit of work, to be sure. But it’s the best kind of work and The Soul Searchers are pushing me and making me think. They bring their own energy and life’s experience to a set of songs about life’s twists and turns. So it’s fresh and exciting for me and I hope it will be a truly memorable experience for everyone on the night.”
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Interview with Michael in The Pen’s Eye View
It’s not easy to describe and categorize the style and influences of one Mr. Michael Cullen – the singer/songwriter based out of Australia (though born in England) has enjoyed a long career in the music industry, starting in the 90’s with bands like The Hardheads and Watershed. Through releases such as The Long Goodbye (1993), You Buried Me(1995), and Sour Pop (1997), Cullen’s musical palette started to take shape, and in 2002 with his first solo record, Love Transmitter, we finally heard what Mr. Cullen was all about.
However, as Cullen moves forward on crafting his latest album, we’re learning that his sound continues to evolve; the main goal being quality, not consistency. He says of the upcoming album, “I hope it’s something well crafted, something sincere, something romantic but with a nice quota of randomness too. Tim Powles (producer) is great with recognizing what is a good accident and then insisting that we keep it.” He told us more about his re-mastered album, Love Transmitter (re-mastered for us folks in the US), saying “I wrote the album one cold winter in my spare bedroom using a drum machine, a 57, a 58 and aforementioned Maton guitar recorded into what was then eMagic Logic…If I were to try and describe the music I make it would be in terms of an emotional and sensual palette…I want to make great records that will stand the test of time.”
Cullen and Powles are busy working away right now creating the latest offering, so keep an eye out. Click to to check out the tunes, and look for a local show as Cullen prepares to take his tunes from Down Under to stateside. There’s still much more to get into, so read on for all the answers to the XXQs below.
PensEyeView.com (PEV): How would you describe your sound and what makes you stand out from others in your genre?
Michael Cullen (MC): I have never understood what my genre is. Others may be able to detect patterns or tendencies in my music, but for me I just take each song as it comes and try to work it through to a satisfactory conclusion. If I were to try and describe the music I make, it would be in terms of an emotional and sensual palette, not whether its trip hop or indie rock or punk (and all those words have been used by people at one time or another) – I always liked the title of Frank Sinatra’s album, Songs for Swinging Lovers (great album too!), so maybe that’s a good enough description.
PEV: What kind of music were you into growing up? Do you remember your first concert?
MC: The Beatles Red and Blue albums, Abba and Neil Diamond were always on rotation in our house when I was a kid so I must have absorbed that stuff. The British post punk bands were very important for me – Joy Division, The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs, Siouxsie (all of those bands first 3 or 4 albums were influential – two in the case of Joy Division of course). Elvis Costello had a big impact from My Aim Is True all the way through to Imperial Bedroom. He was such a talent, so well read musically. In fact, the American Songbook, Mowtown, RnB, Country, the Brill Building and a whole lot of things influenced me through him even though I didn’t hear the original sources till much later. Bowie, of course, especially the Berlin period as well as The Man Who Sold the World and Scary Monsters albums, those two records more or less book ending the great run he had.
I live in Australia, even though I am English originally, so a lot of local things here had an effect. Early AC/DC (which is somewhat different to the band known around the world today) was very influential due to the brilliant pop production of their mentor’s Vanda and (George) Young, Bon Scott’s mischievous wit and Malcolm Young’s huge rhythm guitar playing. As British music fizzled in the mid 80s, the great generation of Australian art rock – the Go Betweens, the Laughing Clowns, the Birthday Party (and later Nick Cave) and the Church became my guiding light for a while. Much later I discovered artists like Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tom Waits and Miles Davis. It’s all in there somewhere.
The first real concert I went to was Elvis Costello and the Attractions This Years Model tour. They were cranky fuckers and played under an hour with no encore but my recollection is they definitely cut it. I have listened to live recordings from that tour since and it sounds like a bit of a mess but at the time it was like having the truth injected directly into my veins.
PEV: What was it like trying to break into the music scene when you first started? What was your first show like?
MC: I’m still trying to break into the music scene!! It’s always been hard. Everyone’s first show sucked and mine was no exception.
PEV: What can fans expect from a live Michael Cullen show?
MC: A Michael Cullen show is short on show business antics, no dance routines – definitely no twerking! Maybe one day I will lighten up but my wife doesn’t think so.
PEV: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you step on stage to perform?
MC: My main guitar is an old Australian semi-acoustic, a Maton ES 330. It goes out of tune real easy and I always worry about that.
PEV: What is the best part about being on stage in front of an audience?
MC: When you have cut loose from the normal temporal constraints i.e when a show is going well, you are outside the normal rules of time, I think. You are perpetually in the moment as you have ceased to be concerned about what just happened and what is about to happen. In the world that we now live in, that is a beautiful thing.
PEV: What is the underlining inspiration for your music?
MC: I want to make great records that will stand the test of time. In recent years I have spent a lot of time listening to the Beatle’s back catalog and, apart from the moments when I find the standard of their work intimidating, I take inspiration from their resolve to keep moving ahead and concentrate on making the next fresh piece of sonic art.
PEV: Thinking back to when you first started out, do you ever look back on your career and think about your earlier days and how you’ve arrived where you are today?
MC: Yes, but the real thing that matters is recording the next song.
PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about you?
MC: I make a great lasagne. If you are ever in Australia…
PEV: What do you do when you hit a brick wall in your writing? What are some methods to get over that?
MC: I can’t say I really hit brick walls. My output has been reasonably modest over the years so I haven’t ever felt the well was empty. I have had a fairly standard working approach for a long time.I am not one to write a song on an acoustic guitar or a piano. Typically, I build from the beat on some kind of drum machine (the dumber the better), slip some chords over the top and then a phrase or two will pop out of my head and after that it’s just perspiration and time. From start to finish, most of my songs take months, even years to complete even though the kernel of the song may have been created in 30 minutes.
PEV: How do you think the industry has changed over the years, since you first started out?
MC: There is not a single thing that hasn’t changed – delivery media, business model, consumer attitude, everything. In previous decades, the owners of the vertically integrated music industry (EMI, Columbia etc), for all their numerous failings, did know something about music and had some kind of belief in themselves as ‘artistic’ enterprises. Over the last decade and a half, all of those companies have been absorbed into industrial conglomerates who wouldn’t know a good song if it bit them on the arse. It is a positive that as the profit margins have shrunk, the number of profiteers and gatekeepers has also decreased. But where to from here is anyone’s guess.
PEV: What can fans expect from your upcoming release, Love Transmitter? What is the writing process like for this album? What’s the story behind the name of the album?
MC: Well I hope something well crafted, something sincere, something romantic but with a nice quota of randomness too. Tim Powles (producer) is great with recognizing what is a good accident and then insisting that we keep it.
I wrote the album one cold winter in my spare bedroom using a drum machine, a 57, a 58 and aforementioned Maton guitar recorded into what was then eMagic Logic. The following spring I went to Tim’s studio in Glebe in Sydney where he was also using Logic as the central DAW which meant we could load my demos straight into his system and then recreate what we needed to but also retain what was good. A lot of stuff on the album is from the original demos. It was a great time in my life coming out of the period in which the songs were written.
The title of the album is drawn specifically from the song “Transmission” and works at a number of different levels. I would prefer the listener to come to their own conclusions.
PEV: With all your traveling, is there one area you wish you could travel around and play that you have not yet?
MC: Well, part of the reason to re-master the original Australian release was with a view to the US market, so logically that is my next destination.
PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your career?
MC: They are not particularly fussed one way or the other. They don’t confuse the art with the artist.
PEV: What can we find you doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?
MC: I don’t see how any time is spare when life is such a finite commodity. So I generally reject the concept of relaxing, hanging out or going on ‘island holidays’. Having said that, my wife and I like listening to Miles Davis records, listening to chansons (French songs) with our children and watching BBC adaptations of John Le Carre’s novels. We are watching the 1979 version of ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ at the moment and it is very juicy.
PEV: Name one present and past artist or group that would be your dream collaboration. Why?
MC: Would love to make a record with Brian Eno and in the past with George Martin. These men are, in their very different ways, great enablers in the recording studio who can see how to get hard things done, but they must also have ability to let things happen in a constructive way and really importantly they have great taste. Their respective contributions to the musical body of work that you might broadly call ‘western pop’ is peerless.
PEV: Is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for now?
MC: I don’t feel qualified to judge; I have put all my time into making my own work as good as it can be – I have no idea what is going on out there. My favorite live band at the moment is The Beasts of Bourbon and they’ve been going for 30 years on and off.
PEV: If playing music wasn’t your life (or life’s goal), what would you do for a career?
MC: If I hadn’t joined a band when I was a teenager, I would have gone to law school, which would have meant at this time in my life I would have a whole different set of problems. So I guess I can be thankful. I am thankful.
PEV: So, what is next for Michael Cullen?
MC: I have been working with Tim Powles again as well as English producer Danton Supple on my next album and it has been very inspiring having such great collaborators. The record will be out some time next year. It will be a beauty!
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Interview with Michael in Under the Gun Review
“I remember Bruce Springsteen saying that people suffer ’cause they have to and I think that’s right but at least I got a record out of it this time round.”
Australia’s Michael Cullen has had somewhat of a sparse musical career over the past two decades or more, having taken extensive breaks in between projects and releases, but after having re-issued a remastered version of his most recent release, Love Transmitter, Cullen is already well into his next effort with plans to release in 2014.
We had the opportunity to speak with Cullen as he discussed his musical history, his varying influences, and how his newest release will differ from Love Transmitter. Follow us through the jump and get caught up with Michael Cullen in this exclusive UTG interview.
You’ve been involved with music for many years now. When did you first gain interest in being a musician and how did you get started?
I would not say I have ever had an intrinsic interest in being a ‘musician’ as such. When I was a teenager I did things like make films using 8mm cameras and acted in plays and at one point I was involved in a musical production where the children were asked to write the songs. This, to my surprise, came naturally to me. At some point after that I began to understand that the recordings of songs which I heard on the radio such as those by the Beatles or AC/DC or ABBA were like little films only they were films made in sound – little three-minute worlds. “Solitary Man” by Neil Diamond is a very early and vivid memory of a world captured in a pop song. I decided I wanted to participate in making these worlds and in order to do that I had to make the effort to become a musician. I learned how to play the guitar just well enough to start writing songs. Several years and bands later, after I had exhausted my tolerance for lead singers, I thought I might as well sing too.
Since the early days playing music with your brother and such, how would you say you’ve grown or changed as a musician?
I would say that as a young musician my understanding of the process of creating music was somewhat rudimentary, a process of workshopping basic ideas in the rehearsal room with my peers and seeing what would fall out of that. Over time I have become better at working out what I want in my head and being able to achieve that in the studio. The other important change has been a broadening of influences. When you start, you have a narrow palate dictated by the necessarily limited experiences and tastes of a 19-year-old. It has been a joy for me to discover so much great music as I have grown up and hopefully that is being re-absorbed back into my internal creative machine.
Obviously, a lot has changed in the world since the ’80s and ’90s. What would you say are some of the pros and cons of technological advances over the past few decades when it comes to the music industry and being a musician?
For me it’s just about all positive. I do miss the process and camaraderie of the band turning up to the studio and recording to the multitrack tape machine and then mixing down pretty well straight away. Digital technology means I don’t have to do that anymore. I have my own work room now and I can get high quality work done much more efficiently. Yes, technological advances have destroyed the record companies’ vertically integrated business model but I was always locked out of their system anyway, so good riddance to them.
You have a very long working relationship with Tim Powles. Did you ever lose touch at all after The Hardheads and Watershed or had you always been in touch up until starting this solo endeavour?
We started working together the very same week he did his first session with the Church. So it’s been a long professional and personal relationship with some busy times and some quiet spots. Tim has been incredibly busy over those two decades and he has gone from being an ace musician, if you will, to a great producer. That growth has made him the best collaborator I could have hoped for.
Love Transmitter has been out for quite some time now but the version that was released last year is remastered, right? Are there any differences apart from sound quality?
The casual listener might not notice much difference, but for me there was a list of things that were not quite right in the original master. I knew a lot more by the time the opportunity came round to re-press the CD and I enjoyed fixing up all the little things that bugged me. The quality of the original master was quite good but there is a general sharper focus to the new master. In addition, there are some minor arrangement changes on several songs – extra hand claps, tambourines, little bits of guitar feedback, stuff like that.
You’re working on another album now, again with Tim Powles, correct? How long have you been writing it and when do you expect it to release?
We are just about done. Tim and I started on it in 2010 but I found that I needed time and space to develop the new work. And then Danton Supple, the English producer, was engaged to mix the really complicated songs – which he has done an amazing job with. As it happens, Tim and I have just completed mastering the album today with Andrew Edgson at 301 in Sydney. The master sounds great but, of course, it always does in the mastering room – when I hear it in the car I will know if it is okay or not. I expect the record to be released in the first half of 2014.
How would you say your new material differs from that on Love Transmitter?
Love Transmitter is a record that distills the post punk and indie rock influences that I absorbed as a young man. Sonically, it was a neat fit for Tim’s studio set up in Glebe (Sydney) at the time (Spacejunk I), a kind of beautiful dirtiness bordering on lo-fi at moments. I love that sound but I doubt we could ever reproduce it again. The new record has more classic influences going back to soul music, Mowtown, the Beatles as well as artists like Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. We used tape for just about everything. We spent a lot of time picking microphones and preamps whereas I didn’t even notice that stuff earlier in my career. It was a much harder record to make because my standards had become higher and because sometimes I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for until I found it.
Are their any specific influences that have come into your life since you wrote the last album that have discovered played a role in the lyrics, themes, or sound on this new release?
Well, that’s an interesting question. Life is the grist of the artist’s mill – it can’t really be any other way and the artist’s own life makes for the most authentic source material. I always thought Leonard Cohen put it well when he said, “My heart’s like a blister from doing what I do.” Whilst I don’t think I’ve got to do it nearly as often as Leonard has, even adjusting for the fact he has spent a bit more time on the earth than I have, I know what he means. It would be fair to say that if Love Transmitter drew on the break up of my first marriage for its content and mood, then the new record may draw on my stupidity in the aftermath of that. Since there was plenty of stupidity I have excess material now. I remember Bruce Springsteen saying that people suffer ’cause they have to and I think that’s right but at least I got a record out of it this time round.
Do you have any plans to tour in support of the next album once it’s released?
No immediate plans. If the record is well-received it may be viable to tour in some markets.
Apart from the re-issue, can you explain the time gap in between the original release of Love Transmitter and what you’re working on now?
I’ve already mentioned stupidity but I was probably in some kind of depression for a number of years. For a while putting one foot in front of the other was all I could manage.
Are there any artists in particular that have been a strong inspiration to your work and the directions you choose to take with your music?
There are so many, as I said before, The Beatles, ABBA and Neil Diamond were absorbed into the blood stream early on. Later, it was AC/DC, Bowie, Queen and then the British post punk bands – Joy Division, The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs et al. Elvis Costello’s first 6 or 7 albums were momentous for me. I would say Nick Cave has been a great influence too. Mr. Cave’s work ethic, consistent high quality output over 35 years in the business and physical (and it seems psychological) robustness make him an exemplar. Those not from Australia may not be aware that he stands at the top of the pyramid of a golden generation of Australian artists who cut their own path. Guys like Ed Keupper, Robert Foster and Grant McLennan, Steve Killbey and David McCombe were part of this generation and have all exerted an influence on me to varying degrees. And then from time to time something I hadn’t heard before makes a big dent on my artistic consciousness such as when I first heard “The Stranger Song” by Leonard Cohen, or the Tunnel of Love album by Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits’ Small Change and so on.
With 2013 coming to an end, do you have any choices for your favorite album(s) of the year?
I am ill-equipped to answer this question being so wrapped up in my own work that I am not able to keep track of all that is current in music. Having said that, I thought Nick Cave’s album Push the Sky Away had some exquisite songs and performances and it has a beautiful sound to it — lots of air. I found David Bowie’s new record quite moving also. However, the records that really made an impression on me this year were old ones; Seven Steps to Heaven by Miles Davis, the Beatles’ re-mastered mono recordings, and Get Happy by Elvis Costello.
So all in all, what do you have planned for 2014?
Release new album, try and make up to my family for all the time I spent away making it.