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Foster the People | An improvisational tone

Isom Innis, keyboardist of Foster the People, brims with excitement, having just received the news that the Australian population had voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage.

Though a remarkably joyous moment, he’s innately aware the landmark result follows not only months of campaigning during the actual polling period, but lifetimes of discrimination and pain for members of the LGBTQI+ community.

At the same time, the entertainment industry is in the spotlight for its abuse of sexual violence and assault towards women, and the leader of the USA is a man who’s on the record bragging about such behaviour. It’s exactly this harsh reality and political climate that inspired the indie darlings’ third album, Sacred Hearts Club, directed by the band’s lyricist, Mark Foster.

“Mark’s lyrics on the album are a response to everything that’s going on around the world. We’re experiencing divisiveness worldwide. We’re experiencing the same trends of nationalism and racism, all these horrible things around the world, not just in America,” Innis says.

The resulting record is far from downbeat, though his explanation of the inspiration may lead you to expect otherwise. In the same vein as their breakout hit, 2011’s ‘Pumped Up Kicks’, they’ve taken difficult and complex subject matter, and created something glossy and groovy. And that’s exactly what they set out to do.

“We wanted to turn around and make a record that celebrates life, that’s joyful and that says love is bigger than politics,” Innis says.

In their attempt to create something that broke away from themes of pain, their music took on a hypnotic tone – both musically and lyrically.

“It’s a dancier, more hip hop driven record than any of our previous works,” Innis says. “It was really exciting to create these grooves, and create these beats that take you out of your head, and almost hypnotise you. There’s something hypnotic about a beat you want to dance to. That was the foundation of the record.”

The four members of the band share a passion for the genre, and the beats that the record is built upon are rich in hip hop influences. The beat-driven album is a fresh sound for the band, and a growth from their extremely well-known earlier work. The change is something the band certainly felt they needed.

“Whenever you sit down to make music, especially when you make a record, you have to chase your instincts, you have to chase what’s inspiring, and what you’re 100 per cent passionate about. And for us, hip hop is a really special genre of music. It refuses to be characterised, and it takes in so many different influences,” Innis says.

Though Innis has been playing with Foster the People since 2009, Sacred Hearts Club is the first album in which he’s billed as an official member. He jokes that he and Sean Cimino, who is also billed as a core band member for the first time on this record, have always been a part of the band, this is just the first time they’re in the promo photos.

Innis co-wrote on the band’s sophomore album, 2014’s Supermodel, but Sacred Hearts Club is the first record he’s contributed to from the ground up. Though a difference to the band’s previous work is palpable, that change was largely born off-the-cuff, and without planning.
 
Sacred Hearts Club is a record that’s born out of experimentation and improvisation. It’s a beat and groove driven record,” Innis says. “‘Loyal Like Sid & Nancy’ was the first idea that we got really excited about. It started as this atonal dance beat that I’d made. I showed it to Mark and he instantly responded by playing these orchestral chords – really the polar opposite of how you would expect someone to respond. These chords became the bridge of the song. That became a really important moment, not just musically, but lyrically on the record. It set the tone for how we wanted to finish the album. We really applied some of the sonic textures that we captured in that song across the board.

“A lot of happy accidents we stumbled upon just by opening ourselves up, chasing ideas, and following things wherever they were going to go,” Innis says.

It seems an apt way to write a record celebrating life in the midst of a rocky political climate.

Life is nothing if not improvisational.
Originally published in Beat Magazine. 

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Allday | Channeling spirituality

On Allday’s single In Motion, he professes he’s no deity.

It’s but a line in the killer track with Japanese Wallpaper, but Tom Gaynor’s belief in something beyond him – and the inspiration that comes from that – is a rolling, passionate current that flows beneath his work as a musician. “Spirituality and musicality are a tightly entwined partnership, creating something better than the sum of their parts,” says Gaynor.

“I feel like when you’re making music, or making art, you have to be channelling something. And it’s something that I just feel. I’ve had enough evidence of spirituality in my experiences creating, so I have to live by it.”

Though he now resides in Los Angeles, and has lived most of his adult life in Melbourne, Gaynor’s Adelaide roots are part of what underpin his connection between his music and his spirituality.

“My friend says there’s a crystal shaft under the city, and I definitely feel that strange psychic pull going on in Adelaide. To be honest, I didn’t make much music in Adelaide. I made some of my first stuff there, but oftentimes I’ll go back to Adelaide and I’ll find it a very fruitful time for lyrics and ideas.”

After being raised in a Catholic household, and embracing what he calls typical teenage Atheism, as an adult, the 26-year-old has become interested in other philosophies. Though he muses that it’s probably a path walked by many people, he’s driven by what he identifies as spiritual energy, and apparently that energy is plentiful in his home town.

“A lot of artistic people, not just musicians but all creatives, move away from Adelaide and when we come back, we feel that same weird psychic energy that creates a freaky feeling, but also good artists,” says Gaynor. “If you’re a sensitive person to that weird energy, Adelaide can either freak you out or it can move you.”

Releasing a slew of mixtapes and a hugely successful debut album in 2014, Startup Cult, Gaynor has recorded the process of his growing up, since first becoming Allday in 2011.

 “Early days my motivation was be as big, be as known, as possible. On Speeding, my motivation was probably perfect a sound and perfect a mood.” Gaynor is not happy about the three year wait between Startup Cult and sophomore LP Speeding, a stretch he labels as weirdly long and says he plans not to repeat. “That should be the time where you just go hard and put out an album 11 months later, but I guess I was just going through a transitional phase, doing too many drugs, and I didn’t know what to say. “It was hard, because I wanted to make music, but I was spending too much time laying in bed feeling sorry for myself.” Fuelled by his indulgence in a less than healthy lifestyle, the move to Melbourne, and the bite of its bitter winters, may have seemed to halt his progress as a musician, but ended up shaping what would become Speeding. “I wanted to capture a more fun perspective of living in Melbourne, but it just didn’t come. The themes were unconscious.” Despite originally being inspired to create a big pop record, the resulting album is made up of vastly different themes and sonics than he set out to create. “Those [pop] songs weren’t turning out right, and it ended up being a shorter, Melbourne-esque thing. I think I had to get that out of the way, I had to get those songs from that era done,” Gaynor says. “My attitude to that time had changed, and this was where I was at. By the time I finished it I wasn’t going through that heavy, come down from drug depression in Melbourne anymore, but I had to get that out.” The influence of producers Cam Bluff and Mitch Graunke helped Gaynor step away from the set-in-stone idea of creating a pop record, and perfect the wintery, Melburnian sound that resulted. “Cam is amazing on drums, watching him program drums on Ableton is amazing, to me it’s like watching a sunset, or a waterfall, it’s beautiful.” The partnership between the three saw Gaynor possess a level of control he’d not had on Startup Cult. It also helped him grow into a more collaborative musician, something he is somewhat resistant to. “It wasn’t so much conscious as I have trouble connecting [with other artists], especially with rap. If I can do it, why put someone else on it? It’s something I’ve had to get over. “When you’re making a song you’re either making it for yourself or for an audience, or a bit of both, and sometimes I make it for myself too much. It becomes more about me wanting to say certain things, rather than write a song for the enjoyment of others. That balance, it’s something I wrestle with,” Gaynor says. “Control is important to me. It’s my product, I’m the one whose name is on it. It’s hard to make anyone care about it as much as I do, it’s not physically possible. But [creating the album] was an exercise in growing and understanding what to control. [On Speeding] I had a high level of control, that I didn’t have before, maybe too much control. I know now that some things are not meant to be done alone.”

Originally published in Beat Magazine.

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HAIM | Strong women, new music

“We’re really feeling like strong women right now. Bosses of our own fate. Making our own music, not taking shit from anybody – writing every word, every chord and every song.”

In a time where feminism is commodified across not only the music industry, but the creative sphere as a whole, it’s encouraging to see strong women making their mark and pushing for their place in the industry.

Ahead of their sophomore release Something to Tell You, Danielle Haim’s triumphant proclamation of female empowerment on behalf of herself and her two sisters, Este and Alana – whom together make up HAIM – is more than fitting. Since their formation, the musical sisterhood has worked on honing their craft, developing into an exciting and an extremely experienced touring outfit.

The multi-instrumentalist sisters meld their charm and effortless style alongside impressive and ambitious arrangements to create a harmonic and deftly punctuated mix of pop, folk and rock.

It’s been four years since HAIM released their smash hit debut album Days are Gone, years that have seen the sisters tour extensively across the globe. But before the band became instantly recognisable for their catchy tunes, they were touring, going so far as to have performed as a family band alongside their parents – Von Trapp style – in their even younger years.

Stepping off the road and into a somewhat more stable life wasn’t an effortless transition. The end of the tour – and of that chapter of their lives – had the young women face the reality of not having a place to live. Checking out of the hotel – in the style of any young person looking for some security – the trio returned to a familiar stomping ground. Their parent’s house.

“After everything we had done it felt nice to be back – to go home and go to my childhood room,” says Danielle. “We rehearsed there every day for seven or eight years, dreaming of playing Saturday Night Live. To go back there now is very surreal. It’s so fucking crazy.”

Filled with those memories of their younger years perfecting the craft, the space was a perfect fit. The living room of their family home still set up as a rehearsal space, instruments and electronics all ready to go, the very same room featured in their first music video, 2012’s Forever.

It took months of work in that very living room before the foundation of Little of Your Love came together, setting things for their sophomore album in motion.

“When we wrote that, it felt like, ‘Hey, we still know how to do this. It’s happening.’ Then we finally got the ball rolling.”

Coming of age is a source of inspiration for many artists, and for good reason. The advent of age is the progression of a story, and with age comes the maturity and experience to push oneself.

After the success of Days are Gone, there was a lot to live up to, an expectation that the sisters seemingly took in their stride.

Returning to the very walls that heard the start of HAIM’s now hugely popular sound was a grounding experience for the sisters, who continue to grow as they work alongside each other. Rather than returning to exactly what they know, they were inspired to push themselves in what makes them unique and grow their sound.

“On the first record we were messing around a lot with production and samples. Now, coming off of three years of touring, we thought, ‘Let’s just go in and record as a band, keep it a little more organic.’ That was a mission statement for the album,” says Danielle.

Ariel Rechtshaid – who produced both of HAIM’s albums – says they’ve achieved their mission statement on Something to Tell You.

“They’re a very different band than on the last record. After three years of touring, they’re on another level. The fundamentals they have are unique,” Rechtshaid says.

“The lyrics have themes of finding strength; of old and new love. There’s loneliness and vulnerability, but also empowerment. We wanted to focus on what is unique about HAIM, and be willing to let them be them.”

Rechstaid recorded the album, and worked alongside Rostam Batamanglij (Vampire Weekend) on the production. The selection of this small team was an integral part of the album’s creation for the band, youngest sister Alana, says.

“With the first record, we learned that you really need to find people to work with that respect your musicality and ideas. Ariel and Rostam both really wanted to celebrate us as sisters and how serious we are about our music.”

Originally published here.

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Brooke Taylor | Finding your way out of the waiting place

“I’ve never felt any sense of belonging anywhere like I do on stage. I love it. It really is that sense of being at home,” Brooke Taylor says as she searches her mind for the explanation of what performing means to her.

“The irony that, as a lyricist or a poet, I have no other way to describe it than I fucking love it,” she laughs with exasperation.

That profoundly precious love, one that surpasses most explanation, has pushed Taylor to perform and play for nearly a decade now. After spending time in Canada and the United Kingdom, the singer/songwriter packed her acoustic guitar with her, and eventually found her way back to her hometown of Melbourne.

Without contacts of notoriety, she initially found the return to Australia’s music capital difficult. Eventually, she used her experience from living abroad to take initiative, approach venues, and book her own gigs, performing routinely across the city.

Despite loving performing, without a merch stand, she felt something missing from her shows. New EP Two, was the remedy.
“I’ve always just written and performed, it never hit me to have it as a product. Performing was something I always did because I love it. But I was always playing and people were into the music, I just had nothing to give them, I’ve never had anything to sell at gigs.”

Choosing to piece together Two and take a practical approach to her role as a musician was spurred on by her previous EP release, a collaboration with Delsinki Records’ Craig Johnston.

“Last year, I made an EP with my friend Craig, and that got some traction, got us spots on some festivals and radio play, and that gave me a kick up the arse to go into the business level of musicianship.”

Creating her first piece of merch, and acknowledging the business side of her chosen career, has seen her come leaps and bounds beyond a creative space she was in not long ago. For several years, her perfectionism got in the way of creating. Taylor fell into a self-proclaimed rut.

“It was so awful,” she says. “I fell into this trap of if it’s not perfect, I was a failure, and then if I didn’t try, I couldn’t fail. So I started playing covers every weekend. And it was good, the money was decent, but it started to corrode my soul. Don’t get me wrong, I love to play covers, and there’s fun that comes from that. I learned to interact with an audience, and it affords me the opportunity to do other things, like touring and travelling,” she says, before pausing, again searching for the right words.

“Have you ever read Oh the Places You’ll Go?” she asks brightly, referring to the Dr. Seuss storybook about the challenging journey of being alive. “I realised, oh my gosh, I’m totally in The Waiting Place. I’m the queen of The Waiting Place.”

In the story, The Waiting Place is an area where people go to wait for something else to happen, wasting away their time, and ceasing to live in the moment.

“I realised that’s bullshit, if you do that nothing happens. I realised that with writing, you’ve got to be okay with most of it being shit. But you need to rifle through the shit to find some gold. And Craig was really instrumental in that, no pun intended,” she finishes.

“When you’re really honest, painfully honest, about what you’re saying, and you can lyrically come up with it and say it to someone, you’ll find there’s at least one person in the audience who relates to it.

“That’s what I love about songwriting. And when you can get a musician to work alongside you and their music compliments that track, that’s the best, it’s magic. I imagine it’s how surfers feel, or skydivers when they’re flying.”

Not content to sing only words by other musicians,
or stay at home playing guitar in her kitchen;
Brooke Taylor flees to the stage, to the place she calls home,
One of the many wonderful places she’ll go.

Originally published in Beat Magazine.

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MAYA | What After Now?

Maya’s rich jazzy vocals are instantaneously striking for their beauty and individuality. Her unique sound, a mix of electronic and acoustic elements, is largely a product of her background, a cultural cocktail of Australian, African American and Hungarian roots.

“I have so many different aspects to my culture, and it builds such a versatile sound. It’s really meant that I’ve never felt like I have to be stuck to one way. As I get older, as this world changes, it makes me happier. The weirder, the better.”

Maya – real name, Maya Weiss – has not always been so content in herself, and is quick to admit she’s fallen victim to pressures to fit in and bullying over her 22 years on the planet. It’s only over the last three years, since leaving school, that she claims to have progressed beyond those feelings of self doubt.

“A lot of my childhood I really tried to change myself. I dyed my hair, I told people I was a freak. I never wanted to be in my own skin. But bullying, and all the aspects of that experience make for a stronger person.”

Her latest single What After Now is a anthem for living in the moment, something she felt compelled to write in response to the constant grind for more that underlines so much of the modern age.

“It means to live in the moment, to be free in who you are, to not stress so much. It’s a song to remind people that you can’t control our future but we can control our present.” Read more

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Bad//Dreems | Gutful

With the dawning of social media and increased connectivity, the public’s voices have never been louder. As the political climate changes, and the everyday citizen becomes increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo, it’s sometimes hard to know how best to use your voice. 

 

Affectionately labelled as pub rock, Bad//Dreems encompass so much of what makes quintessentially Australian rock music so identifiable, and with their new album Gutful, they hammer in a very political message.

Alex Cameron, the band’s guitarist, wants listeners to know, everyone’s opinions matter. “People may look at a band like us and assume that’s not what we’re about, and same thing with our fans. People may think that we may not believe in things like [social justice].

“That’s a real problem in the world right now, that we tend to stereotype, generalise and over simplify things, when in fact it’s very interesting to deliver those messages in the form of a garage rock’n’ roll song.”

The changes to the political climate over the past 18 months prompted the band to write about this heavy subject matter. From the Trump administration to the circus of Australian politics and the ongoing debates surrounding immigration, Cameron sighs as he admits, they’d had a gutful.

“The motivation for the title track is being fed up with the kind of round-a-bout, futile debates that take place in our world today, and of the bullshit being spouted by these people. Other songs are about more personal subject matter, and Mob Rule about the dangers of the mob mentality – it’s an album of the times.”

The aforementioned title track is considered a call to arms for those feeling underrepresented by public figures.

“You don’t need to have a PhD in humanities or political theory to be able to talk about these things. Obviously they’re very complex issues, but they can also be very simple. It’s an interesting exercise to write about issues which are very prominent in Australia right now. What better way to explore those issues than within a presumption about the genre?” Read more

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Wil Wagner of The Smith Street Band | More Scared of You than You are of Me

The Smith Street Band’s emotionally charged lyrics, often expressing the grinding torture and blinding emptiness of living with mental illness, have become a signature element of their presence on the music scene.

Frontman Wil Wagner’s experiences with depression and anxiety are consistently laid out for the audience in a heartbreakingly raw fashion, something he’s happy to do, considering his words provide hope for those in the audience that need it most.

“The fact that I have this relatively small platform, but a platform nonetheless, to talk about that stuff, and make people feel like they aren’t alone in the universe feeling these things, is so important and empowering for me, because I have those bands for me as well. If I’m feeling a certain way, I put that band on, and it comforts me. I listen to the band’s words and it inspires me. And to be that band for one person, I feel like my job on this planet is done.”

Suicide remains the biggest killer of young people in Australia, with suicide in men approximately three times higher than women, consistent across all states and territories, and other Western countries. Despite experiencing high rates of depression and anxiety, men are less likely than women to seek help for these feelings. These hard statistics are something that drives Wagner to continue to write with beautiful self-awareness and honesty, using his music to start a dialogue with the audience about mental health.

“I think especially because I am a big guy, I have tattoos, I’m sort of blokey, I like that I can express those things, and especially get young men to relate to those things as well. I am proudly someone who deals with all of those things in a quiet and extreme way, and sometimes it can have a pretty disastrous affect on me.

“Predominantly our audience is young men between the age of 18 and 25, who would be the least likely people in society to admit they feel anxious or vulnerable. That I can contribute to removing that stigma about being anxious and being sad, I really don’t feel like words can describe how much that means to me, it means the fucking world.” Read more