Our story begins in an old coffin factory on the dark edges of Melbourne town, a place where, not that long ago, pine boxes in which to house the dead were crafted, but that now is the spiritual home to a group of hep cats who craft red hot soul tunes, not a sceric of the afterlife within earshot. Indeed, this is fresh and new, an original take on the sounds of old, pulled together with love and then some – shimmy and shake, rattle and roll, this is where Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes’ story begins.
“I used to be in a band with Jules Pascoe, who’s the bass player in the band now,” recounts Browne herself on the origins of a group which is taking not just Melbourne, but the country as a whole, by swingin’ storm. “So we met up again, he found me drunk, in some whiskey bar, crying into my drink, singing sorrowful songs.
“So he took me home and we had a massive jam with this bunch of vagrant musos hanging at his house. We had a seven-day jam, we kinda slowly lost people and the true stayers remained, and so we started making music.” Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes, as they became known, are a nine-piece – must have been a hell of a lot of vagrant musos at that initial jam. “Oh yeah, people hanging off the staircase, playing tambourines and triangles.” Epic stuff – nothing like a seven-day jam to trim the fat, strip it back to a sleek, aerodynamic nine-piece – that’s the business.
“We still hang out at the coffin factory, some of the dudes live there,” Browne says when I bring it up. “It’s not spooky, it’s got a really homely vibe… really sweet actually, all the walls are painted with our musical heroes… Marilyn’s there, and Elvis, yeah – we look to the wall for inspiration.”
Inspiration comes from other avenues too, as you’d expect – the Bangin’ Rackettes are front and centre in Melbourne’s thriving funk and soul scene, a scene that’s always been bubbling away beneath the surface, but that recently has exploded as bands like the Rackettes, Saskwatch and Cactus Channel have added their collective weight to the likes of Deep Street Soul, The PutBacks, Kylie Auldist and The Bamboos – it’s a happening man, believe it.
“Yeah, it’s good, it’s culty and tribal,” Browne concurs. “It’s good to have brethren and sistren… there were a lot of DJs on the scene doing that, and they’ve totally supported live music and all our friends and peers, I guess, who are thriving. It’s really cool to see.”
What else is cool to see, as Browne puts it, is these groups of kids (for wont of a better phrase – The Bangin’ Rackettes range in age from 22 to 33) not only getting into, but reviving almost, these sounds born of a time before theirs. The sounds of ‘60s and ’70s funk, soul and R&B are rife within the ranks of these bands, something which is not only finger snappin’, foot tappin’ly great, but that is also quite surprising – or perhaps it’s not.
“Well, luckily for me, I’ve always been drawn to sentimental songs that you can get a heart connection with, and I think soul music and R&B is so strong in that regard, all the emotion,” Browne tells. “And I always used to listen to the big divas and cool, old R&B and gospel music. And then I guess, ‘80s and ‘90s R&B as well I’m a massive fan of, like The Fugees and Erykah Badu, a bit of ‘80s Prince, stuff like that, that sort of vibe.
“So I think our influences are pretty broad in that sort of sense, it transcends a whole bunch of different eras, but I think that the root of it is that it’s moving music, it gets down to the gritty feel.”
Samuel J. Fell