Friday, 20 April 2012

On Screen Harmony

Published in The Big Issue (May, 2012).  Excerpt below...

Since the silent film era, movie makers have known the importance of a great soundtrack. These days, though, it’s big business, with musicians and producers trying all sorts of ways to get in sync.

Think back to the first time you saw Star Wars. Or The Godfather. Or Apocalypse Now. The stories, drama and emotion of these films are etched into our brains due, in large part, to the accompanying music. Music plays such an important role in creating mood and audiences are now so acclimatised to a soundtrack that the absence of one has an eerie effect. In visual media terms, music isn’t just a nice backdrop, it’s a crucial part of conveying meaning. So finding the perfect music to accompany your film, TV show or ad is big business.
Generally, soundtracks fall into one of two broad categories. The specifically scored soundtracks: largely instrumental music composed to fit the images, such as the music to Star Wars, the Indiana Jones films, ET and Jurassic Park, all written by legendary composer John Williams.
And the soundtracks that rely on music by artists or bands that have been produced independently of the film. Crazy, Stupid, Love, for example, featured a plethora of bands’ songs, including ‘Blood’ from the Middle East and ‘On the Sly’ by the Bamboos.
While scored soundtracks rely upon the skill of a cinematic composer, finding music to a fit a screen production is a trickier beast; a music supervisor has literally millions of songs from which to choose.
And these days, the pool of music available is greater than ever before. More and more independent artists – those without the backing of a publisher or a label – are making a play to attract the interest of filmmakers, advertisers and TV producers.
In the industry, matching music with screen productions is referred to as ‘syncing’. Tyler McLoughlan, who heads up Brisbane syncing and licensing agency The Sound Pound represents a roster of artists – largely unsigned – who are looking for ‘screen opportunities’.
“This entails making relationships with people who are using music, whether that’s music supervisors, or people who do a lot of corporate jobs with in-house production teams – making training videos, for example,” explains McLoughlan. “It’s quite varied…in that there are lots of uses for music out there.”

Samuel J. Fell

Friday, 13 April 2012

Solitary Man

Published in the April issue of Rhythms Magazine (the 20th Anniversary issue). Intro below...

Mick Thomas

With his swept back hair and perpetual stubble, with his jeans rolled at the cuff to reveal well-worn black boots, with his stoic outlook on life and the truth on his sleeve, Mick Thomas resembles many of the characters he’s portrayed in song over the years.  Characters who’ve had to battle to survive, who have loved and lost, who have travelled and wandered, who have stayed in the same place and stagnated only to be reborn as something they’d perhaps never dreamed of.  He’s sung about them all over the past three decades and he’s become a part of the stories he’s told.

During this time, Thomas has become an incredibly important part of the Australian musical landscape as well, his unique way of conveying not only a story, but the essence of said story, in song, is matched by very few, and watching him play, listening to his lyrics, you feel like you’ve known him for a long time, that you could walk up to him and he’d greet you like a long-lost friend and you’d drink beer and talk about life until the sun came up the next morning.

I’ve interviewed Thomas perhaps three times over the past few years, and each time it very quickly becomes a conversation, as opposed to an interview, such is the ease with which he talks about his music, about the processes involved, about the songs that make up whichever album he’s releasing at the time.  I think the reason this happens, aside from his natural predilection for ‘having a yarn’, is because of this music.  It quickly reaches over to take you by the hand and it sits you down and tells you a story.  Sometimes it’s a story you might not like, but it’s music that is unflinchingly honest, and so it pulls no punches and this is part of its appeal, and you feel like you know, quite well, the man who’s written it.

A week or so before I chatted to Thomas this time around, I put on his new record, The Last Of The Tourists.  I was cleaning up around the house at the time and to be honest, I was expecting little more than some ‘nice music’ in the background whilst I rearranged CDs, swept the kitchen floor, washed the dishes.  I didn’t end up doing any of those things though, because from the first note of opener, ‘All The Roads’,  I was drawn into another world, one of such acute optimistic melancholy, that I felt like the bottom had fallen out of my life and I was floating in a void.  But it was a comfortable void, you know?

I felt like I was sitting on “the western”, that “sluggish beast”, stuck in traffic on my way home (‘All The Roads’).  I could hear that bird outside my window, every morning, I could hear it vividly (‘The Clamorous Warbler’).  I felt the emptiness, the end, the yawning gap between now and when it begins again (‘The Last Of The Tourists’).  I felt it all, and this surprised me a lot, because I don’t often find myself being moved by music like that.  Uplifted and inspired and excited, yes.  But not often moved to the point of just sitting on the couch and listening.  Such is the power of Mick Thomas’ music...

Samuel J. Fell

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Live Review - Bluesfest, Byron Bay, 2012

Published on The Music Network, April 12th, 2012.
For online version, click here.
All pics by the incredibly talented and hardworking Bluesfest photographic team.

Byron Bay Bluesfest – 2012
Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm

It’s hard to know where to begin when writing up a festival the size of Byron Bay’s Bluesfest, such is the length and breadth of a festival covering five days, as many stages and over 200 performances.

Of course, there are the obvious places to start – Cold Chisel on the opening night who showed no signs of age as they ripped through a two hour set of a mixture of classics, obscurities and new songs from latest record, No Plans.  John Fogerty who laid down Cosmo’s Factory on the Saturday night, then Green River (both in their entirety) on the Monday night, along with a string of Creedence hits, wowing crowds with his energy and passion.  Or John Butler who played a set-by-numbers, but whose energy made up for that and then some.

Then again, you could start in the less obvious places.  Eilen Jewell and her black-clad band, mixing scintillating surf guitar sounds perfectly with western swing, her sultry vocal melting hearts and minds, a true delight to see. Jewell celebrated her 33rd birthday on the day of the band’s second set, but it was her giving the gifts, a truly fantastic spectacle.

Eilen Jewell
And then there’s Justin Townes Earle, who at six foot five, skinny as a rake, perpetually wreathed in cigarette smoke, had the crowds spellbound as he told tales tall and true, this time around with an acoustic guitarist and upright bassist as his foils.  His guitar work has people straining to see a loop pedal, but there is none.  His lyrics have wannabe songwriters turning themselves inside out trying to replicate, but they can’t.  This man is the real deal, his sets highlights, his talent vividly apparent.

His father, Steve Earle, is obviously the well from where this talent flows, the elder Earle drawing you in with tales of his own, the man is a born storyteller.  Whilst his second set was drowned out somewhat by G3 on the Mojo Stage, there’s no escaping his innate ability to so simply convey a story through song.

Justin Townes Earle
For the more raucously inclined, there were the likes of Dallas Frasca, whose sets get bigger, heavier and rawer every time I see them, matched by Marshall O’Kell, who blew the roof off the Cavanbah Stage on the Saturday afternoon to a crowd more suited to somewhere like Wacken, as opposed to Bluesfest.  These two are on their own trajectories, and it was excellent to see they’re evolving so solidly from lacklustre records released a year or so ago.

The aforementioned G3, whilst epic as far as guitar pyrotechnics go, bordered on both the insane and the mundane – you’ve really got to be into what they’re selling to sit there for two and a half hours; there’s such a thing as too much guitar.  Still, to wander past every half an hour or so and bathe in the insanity was a fine thing to be sure – everything is good in moderation.

It has become apparent that Lachlan Bryan, frontman for Melbourne band The Wildes, is equally as mesmerising on his own.  With just him, his guitar and a percussionist using a snare and brushes, Bryan spun many a tale – he’s certainly into his murder ballads – with a voice like molasses and guitar skill to match.  Think Jordie Lane, but more of a country bent, and you’ve got Lachy Bryan, who is destined for bigger things.

Lachlan Bryan
It didn’t rain this year, for the first time in the festival’s existence apparently, and temperatures reached those of mid-summer, an odd prospect for this part of the world at Easter time, and so there was a carefree vibe floating over the festival this year.  Numbers were down slightly (as you’d expect, given the almost unbelievable strength of last year’s lineup) and so there was room to move, a true Byron Bay experience indeed.

Canadian Harry Manx once again brought his east-meets-west ethos, and with local boy Lachlan Doley on keys, added some extra depth to his Indian raga-influenced blues sounds.  Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson expertly melded blues with Celtic influence with finger-snapping results; Joanne Shaw Taylor melted faces with some expert electric blues guitar wrangling; and Maceo Parker brought the funk, New Orleans style, his show late on the Monday night the cure for what ailed everyone, which at that point was exhaustion and perhaps, for some, overindulgence in beer, wine, what have you.

David Crosby had recovered from his vocal problems of the previous week, and with Steve Stills proving he’s one of the best guitarists out there, CSN laid down a heavy, dark set which had old hands ecstatic, and new comers converted – age has not wearied.

Sublime and Slightly Stoopid were also on the bill this year, but aside from that do not deserve a mention.

Where to from here?  Seasick Steve with John Paul Jones on bass and mandolin – exceptional.  My Morning Jacket – confusing and exciting, all at once.  Brian Setzer – is it about the hair or the guitars?  A three-way double bass-off though, that’s something you don’t see every day.  Angelique Kidjo – how did she fit that many crowd members on stage?  There must have been 100 up there.  Zappa Plays Zappa and Yes – what, exactly, is happening there?  Good, though.

And so it came to an end, things melding into others, sounds ringing in your ears, dust in your nose, unused drink tickets in your pocket (possibly).  A festival that, big name-wise, wasn’t as huge as 2011, but that musically ticked all the boxes and created some new ones.  It just shows that even if the headliners don’t overly excite you, there is always something lurking just beneath the surface, waiting to grab you just right.  That was certainly the case this year, and no doubt will be for years to come.  A fine festival all ‘round.

Samuel J. Fell

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Live Interviews - Bluesfest '12 - Rhythms Q&A Sessions

My interviews with various artists on the Cavanbah Stage for the Rhythms Q&A Sessions at Bluesfest, 2012.

Mason Rack

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SJF interviewing a very relaxed Claude Hay
Claude Hay

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Live Interviews - Bluesfest '12 - Rhythms Q&A Sessions

My interviews with various artists on the Cavanbah Stage for the Rhythms Q&A Sessions at Bluesfest, 2012.

(Dom Turner, Rob Hurst, Ian Collard)

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Blue King Brown
(Natalie Pa'apa'a)

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Ray Beadle
SJF with Ray Beadle

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SJF interviewing the Round Mountain Girls
Round Mountain Girls
(Chris Eaton, Chris Brooker, Rex Carter, Chris Willoughby, Rabbit Robinson)

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Live Interviews - Bluesfest '12 - Rhythms Q&A Sessions

My interviews with various artists on the Cavanbah Stage for the Rhythms Q&A Sessions at Bluesfest, 2012.

SJF interviewing Dallas Frasca

Dallas Frasca

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Marshall O'Kell performs prior to being interviewed by SJF

Marshall O'Kell

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SJF interviewing Ashleigh Mannix

Ashleigh Mannix

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Kim Churchill

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Saturday, 7 April 2012

Soul Country For Young Men

Published in the EG section of The Age, Friday 6th April.
For online version, click here.

Justin Townes Earle

Like the cosmos itself, Justin Townes Earle is ever-changing.  Like the eternal troubadour, he’s always wandering, he’s always searching; eerily thin and wreathed in cigarette smoke, he’s a musical chameleon born of country melancholy but striving to find an answer in as many styles as he can, the common thread being his incredible songwriting and love for music in general.

Tracking his recorded output thus far, one can chart these changes.  Debut EP Yuma (’07) signalled his intent, a stripped back folky affair with more than a hint of the country music he’d have grown up with, something which leaked heavily into debut LP The Good Life (’08) and next offering, Midnight At The Movies (’09), mixing effortlessly with a honky tonk rumble.  The following year, Earle released Harlem River Blues, a record with bluesy roots but with a heavy gospel overtone, which leads to where we find him now, reigniting his love of Memphis soul on fifth release, Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now.

“Well, it’s a soul influenced record, it’s as much a soul record as Midnight At The Movies was a country record, it has all the trappings of soul music,” Earle drawls, and it shows in the upbeat ‘Memphis In The Rain’, the horn-laden ‘Baby’s Got A Bad Idea’, the shimmering organ-laced ‘Down On The Lower East Side’.  “I think it’s the same thing that drew me to country music,” Earle then says on the appeal to him of soul music.

“It’s very similar music, its roots are in the church and it came out of the church and got mixed with people’s everyday lives, it got a bit dirtier.  On Harlem River Blues what I was trying to do was show the connection between the Carter Family and the Staple Singers.  With this record, what I was kinda messin’ with was the difference between Stax and… rock ‘n’ roll, the growth of rock ‘n’ roll and soul music.”

By rock ‘n’ roll, Earle seems to mean the early variations of the form, illustrated best on the aforementioned ‘Baby’s Got A Bad Idea’, which is easily the most upbeat track on Nothing’s…. It’s the dewy sweet soul strains that shine the brightest however, culminating in a record which Earle has been quoted as saying will affect him artistically forever.

“It was a monumental thing to be a part of,” he relates fondly.  “You’re just doing this thing, and then all of a sudden you have this great track… it’s a breathtaking thing when it happens, you’ve just gotta stop and realise how fuckin’ cool that is.”

The cover of the record, as has been the case with all his releases save for Yuma, shows Earle with an unidentified female in the background, something he explains with a laugh.  “The photographer I work with… when we shot The Good Life, he said, ‘You need a thing’… and we’re both James Bond fans, so we thought, ‘Lets have Bond girls’, so we just had a girl on every cover.  This may be the last one though.”

Samuel J. Fell