Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Feature - Julian Marley

Published in The Music (Brisbane), Wednesday December 18.

Beyond The Legacy

The name Marley is, of course, synonymous with reggae music. For it was Bob Marley, over a career which spanned only two decades, who changed the face of a music born of oppression and hardship in a tiny country most couldn’t locate on a map. The music itself, the music he helped create and grow, was joyous though, it  was powerful, it looked to affect change, and as such, Marley and a host of other players left a legacy, one which lives on today.

A legacy wasn’t all Marley left behind. A number of offspring bear his famous name, and a good deal of them have followed in his footsteps, taking this music that runs thick and fast through their veins, and putting their own spin on it, the message itself still as loud and clear as it ever was. Julian Marley, born to Bob and Lucy Pounder in 1975, is but one example, although a fine one none the less.

Marley junior began his career in the mid ‘90s, releasing Lion In The Morning (1996), slowly but surely following it with A Time & Place (2003) and most recently, the Grammy nominated Awake (2009). “This is a time when we have the energy and we have what it takes to really get it to work,” he says, his accent a curious mixture of British High Street (where he was born) and deep Jamaican.

He’s currently in a studio in Miami, making a start on what will doubtless be his next recorded offering. As he says, he’s not been in any hurry to release over the course of his career, but right now is a time when the creative juices are, so to speak, flowing freely.

“There’s no other time than the present time to be going full blast,” he smiles. “Turn on all engines and go.”

As mentioned, reggae music is strongly message-oriented, there’s always meaning to the lyrics, to the music itself. As such, I’m interested in what’s informing Marley’s writing at the moment, where it’s going, what he’s looking to say. “It’s still the same messages we’ve always conveyed, just in different ways,” he muses.

“Right now, it’s still about the social injustice, unity, which we should be talking and singing about daily, putting it in our music,” he goes on. “The world has a million different musics – music to make you party, we use music to balance the consciousness… we try to follow the roots.”

Marley goes on to say that, once they’ve been to Australia over the New Year break, they’ll retreat back to the studio to begin in earnest the task of collating these messages, setting them to music, and committing them to disc – an epic task, no doubt.

In the meantime, a question I’ve posed to both Damian and Ziggy Marley in the past – here are these young artists who come from this lauded lineage, whose father did so much for this music. How do they go about making their own music, with his massive legacy looming above them?

“I don’t really know, but I don’t think about that,” Marley junior laughs. “I love music, I love what I do, I love who I am and I love where I came from, but I am what I am, you know? I have to be true [to that].”

Samuel J. Fell

Monday, 16 December 2013

Live Review - POND

Published in The Music (Brisbane)

Hotel Great Northern, Byron Bay
Sunday December 15

It’s a comfortably full room out the back of the Great Northern, people thronging through the door on a balmy Sunday night, the lateness of the gig of no consequence at this time of year. Felt hats and flowing shirts abound, people looking like they’re in the Allman Brothers Band but smelling like they’ve just stepped from the perfume counter at Myer – an odd combination, faux hippies all, but a music loving crowd, so we’re off to a decent start.

Three-piece Doctopus are assaulting eardrums as we arrive, and it must be said straight off the bat, that the sound in the room tonight is nigh on the worst I’ve heard in a venue with a reputation for muddy, thick, overwrought sonics – Doctopus are thrashing about like no one is watching, but from where I am, it’s a shitstorm of bottom-end, barely discernable, and so the band just come off as garage hacks. I’m sure they’re not, but I couldn’t hear a goddamn thing – or, to be more precise, I could hear everything, but it mushed together into nothing.

This didn’t bode well for Pond, headlining tonight, and my worst fears are confirmed once I walk back into the bandroom from the relative comfort of the front bar – you get glimpses of why these six are so good, that flowing then jarring psych rock sound, crooning then screaming, it’s something these guys do better than most, but these glimpses are few and far between.

Thundering, booming, head-splitting sound just bounces around the room – I try seven or eight different vantage points but just can’t find a place where I can hear what’s going on. I sound like an old man, bemoaning what ‘the kids’ are calling rock ‘n’ roll these days (they all seemed to be having a good time), but surely it wasn’t just me.

The band, fronted by the enigmatic Nick Allbrook, are having a fine old time though (obviously the foldback was working) and so groove their way through a set that has the crowd moving with them as one, showing they’re worthy of the growing hype, that they’re a band worth keeping an eye on. Just see ‘em somewhere you can hear ‘em.

Samuel J. Fell

Feature - Megadeth

Published in the Shortlist section of the Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 13 December

A Brush With Deth

Around three and a half minutes into Megadeth’s ‘High Speed Dirt’, a track off their iconic 1992 record, Countdown To Extinction, the brutal riffage is momentarily interrupted by an acoustic, bluesy lick. At first, it seems at odds with the rest of the song, and indeed, the album as a whole, but given the blues is where metal came from, it also feels oddly relevant, sitting comfortably amongst the guttural thrash the band does so well.

“Oh yeah, the Elvis part,” laughs frontman and guitarist Dave Mustaine. “Yeah, that’s my Elvis part. I think we were just doing a goof on Blue Hawaii, because Marty (Friedman, lead guitar) loved Elvis so much… it was always fun to play with him.”

Mustaine, known as much for being one of Metallica’s original guitarists as he is for founding Megadeth in 1983, is talking about various aspects of Countdown… because, and he struggles to believe this as well, it’s an album which is now two decades old.

As such, the band he and bassist Dave Ellefson allegedly began as a middle finger to Metallica (who fired Mustaine before they released their 1983 debut, Kill ‘Em All), have recently released a live version of the album, recorded last December at Los Angeles’ Fox Theatre.

“It was fun,” muses Mustaine laconically, on revisiting the record after 20 years, an exercise which included a US tour where the band played the album in full, something they also did in 2010 for the twentieth anniversary of 1990’s Rust In Peace. And it’s a fitting tribute, Countdown To Extinction being one of thrash metal’s all time classics.

“When you’re listening to one of your records, and people have said something like, ‘This is a classic’ or something, you immediately… and I don’t know how to say this without sounding like I’m having a hard time saying it, because I’m having a hard time saying it,” he laughs. “But when people say stuff like that, a lot of times it’s hard not to come off sounding like you know that.

“But we knew when we were making Countdown…, we just knew we were in the middle of making a good record.”

Arguably, their first five records (Countdown… being the fifth) were, as the man modestly puts it, good. Megadeth, with the release of debut Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good in 1985, quickly established themselves as one of the Big Four thrash bands, along with Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax, effectively playing a major part in the invention of this particular brand of heavy metal.

“Yeah, I’ve sat back and watched it [over the years], and have participated in it too [obviously], and it is kinda hard to do both,” he says on one of metal’s most popular veins. “And there’s definitely been a lot of changes over the years… and with technology. In the beginning, it was so difficult… now you just press the red button and away you go.”

The band itself, which released its 14th studio album, Super Collider, in June this year (almost 28 years to the day after their debut), has now been around for almost three decades, an incredible achievement in anyone’s book. And while Mustaine has a reputation for being somewhat of a tainted character (before you interview him, you get the now ubiquitous, “No questions about Metallica, drugs or religion” ultimatum), you can’t deny that he’s one of metal’s greats, that the band he created is worthy of legend status.

“Time flys, 30 years seems like a long time, but boy, it’s over so quick,” he marvels. “Sometimes I sit back and think how many things have happened over the years, and I guess the thing that makes me feel the best is when I see how many people who’ll say, ‘We met at a concert’, ‘We got engaged at a concert’, ‘We got pregnant at a concert’, all these things that they share. These landmarks, these mementos, they’re really cool.”

The band are currently on tour in the US, and will head back to Australia in February for the Soundwave tour. They’re working as hard now as they were back in the early ‘80s, and listening to Mustaine talk, you get the impression the only thing that’ll stop this heavy metal juggernaut is old age, no longer being able to physically perform this incredibly technical and demanding music.

“I never thought I’d be doing this this long, David Ellefson and I, it’s crazy,” he finishes. “And the fact we can have fun doing what we do, on top of that, just makes it so much more enjoyable.” For metal heads the world over, Megadeth have played an incredibly important role in defining the genre, in turning it into the behemoth it is today. The fact there’s no end in sight, is icing on the cake.

Samuel J. Fell

Gig: Soundwave, February 23 2014, Sydney Showgrounds
Live: High speed thrash metal
Best Track: ‘Hanger 18’, from Rust In Peace

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Record Review - Will.I.Am

Published on back in August, 2013.

Interscope Records

A lot can happen in fifteen years. Empires can crumble, incredible technological advances can be made, social change can be affected, life can be created, and, just as quickly, snuffed out. As well, credibility can diminish, musical talent can be wasted, the quality exhibited on the 1998 Black Eyed Peas record, Behind The Front, can be all but forgotten as something like Will.I.Am’s new solo LP, #Willpower, is released, leaving you wondering what, exactly, the fuck is going on.

For #Willpower, Will’s fourth solo outing, is as far from those halcyon (?) days as it’s possible to be, and while he does lay down a few choice bits ‘o rap, it struggles to breath, squashed as it is amongst fold upon fold of club-oriented bangin’ beats ™, pushed to the side by the myriad guests contained on this cut, a record which eschews what the Peas were all about back in the day and basks in all Will.I.Am’s relatively newfound ‘respect’ and ‘glory’.

There is no doubt a good number of the tunes contained within (‘Scream & Shout’, featuring Britney Spears; ‘Let’s Go’, featuring Chris Brown; ‘#thatPOWER’, with Justin Bieber), will find space in many club DJ’s collections, but lyrically they fall flatter than the earth, circa 50BC. ‘Geekin’’ goes all right, as does ‘Freshy’, but essentially, this is highly polished beat masturbation with little thought to aesthetics.

To paraphrase the American writer Samuel Clemens, “There is [goodness] on [#Willpower], but for every [bit of goodness] there are five blushes, ten shudders and a vomit. The [goodness] is too expensive.”

Samuel J. Fell

For the original post, head here.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Paradise Lost

It’s more a village than a town. A compact smattering of fibro shacks and low-to-the-ground brick numbers, built along the banks of a languid river which feeds into the Pacific Ocean. It’s a quiet place, too small for too many tourists, but big enough to exude a quaint coastal charm, like it’s never really moved on from the ‘50s. It’s a place to which young couples look to move, the actualisation of the romantic notion of a sea change, somewhere you can bring up a family. It’s a paradise.

In the middle of this village live one such young couple. They recently bought an old weatherboard house, a small place just right for the two of them and their five-year-old son. They’ve started their own business, they’re active within the community, they’re well-liked and respected. They’ve found a home, and they’re happy.

Or they were, until their little slice of the perfect life was shattered with a single sentence.

“A convicted paedophile lives at ** ***** Street,” the letter began, having been posted anonymously from an outer suburb of a large city, a few hours south, the envelope’s bland, white exterior belying the earth shattering message contained within. “Watch and look after your children,” it added.

It was like a bomb going off. An ugly film seemed to settle over their lives, obscuring what they’d once regarded as somewhere safe and free. And not only was there potentially a convicted paedophile living in the area, for this couple and their young son, it went a step further – ** ***** Street is right next door.


The initial effect was one of shock. You never think something like this will happen to you, it’s always someone else, a regrettable circumstance that all too often pops up in the news. This was real though, and so close, the old run down house next to them taking on an aura of fear now, as opposed to old-world seaside charm.

The family who occupied the house next door were new to the area. They’d moved in a month or so before the letter appeared in the couple’s mailbox and had gone about their business, not very social, but not unfriendly. But now there was a suspicion and a fear. The couple curtailed their backyard activity, they kept a closer eye on their son, and they wondered.

They wondered if the letter referred to the house’s previous occupants. They wondered, if not for the fact the letter was sent to a number of residents in the area, that it was aimed to upset them personally. They wondered who on earth would send such a letter, one guaranteed to cause such distress and grief.

They took it to the local policeman. There was little he could do, the constable said, other than make a house call, check names against police records, that sort of thing. The residents next door sent out their own letter denying the original missive, said it was wrong and had impacted upon their lives as much as everyone else’s. The ugly film thickened, this little oasis seeming to turn bad almost overnight, people no longer so carefree or happy.


Time went by. For the couple, the shock wore off, but the long term effect settled in, The Fear. And not The Fear you might expect, that someone just next door was going to do something unthinkable to their son. No, The Fear was more one of trust, or lack of, as a result of this situation. Who is the janitor at their son’s school? Who is the gardener? They didn’t know, and so it brought on a heightened awareness of their surroundings, of what their son did, where he went, who else was there.

Friends of the couple, others who live in the village, are affected by association. They too have small children, and so they too feel this lack of trust, feeling they need to err on the side of caution when it comes to their family, rather than give the benefit of the doubt that’s assumed in a small community like this one. It’s not how they want to live, but they’ve been given little choice. Now it’s normal.

Except it isn’t. There will always be that doubt and suspicion, and not just of the people living next door. No one knows who sent the letter, or why. No one knows if it contained truth, and they likely never will. And so another family, another small town, another generation, sadly, finds paradise lost.

Samuel J. Fell