Sunday, 27 September 2015

Gary Clark Jr. "The Story of Sonny Boy Slim"

It often takes a few listens to get into a song, but there’s no denying the sweet moment of that feeling like you've heard a new song before. Gary Clark Jr. oozes familiar, old-school sentimentality among creative production, and his latest record The Story of Sonny Boy Slim will delight most and move many.

Even the title itself beckons for a nostalgic flashback to the music of the mid 1900s, inviting us into a sonic storytelling that’s been missing (at least in the traditional sense) from a lot of the music since. Of course, there will be links to other artists when we read about Gary Clark Jr. – his sound clearly has a history to it. First track ‘The Healing’ sets the mood of the record with a gospel hymn sample “I’m On The Battlefield for My Lord” into twangy electric guitar, reminiscent of the Django Soundtrack.

Despite the vintage feel of the record, Gary’s voice brings a youthful energy, which lets us know we’re listening to freshly created lyrics. ‘Our Love’ is a charming ballad, not so much about a love complete but something in the process of becoming something life changing. ‘Church’ is a healing anthem, and a standout on the album. As he croons, it becomes a spiritual experience separate from religion. The Story of Sonny Boy Slim sounds like the story of all humans on the cusp of vulnerability, feeling very alone, and then reaching out to others despite the risk.

Gary Clark Jr. has acknowledged in interviews that his Blues sound has its roots in USA pre-Civil Rights, when artists sang of their oppression. However, his blues vocals aren't so much an imitation but rather a vehicle for the hazy autobiographical-via-imaginative narrative he develops song by song.

Ultimately, the record is an ode to music. Gary Clark Jr states it outright in the first track: “when this world upsets me/this music sets me free.” He takes us through the power of song as a vessel of doubts (“Hold On”), a psychedelic loop of thoughts and feelings (“Wings”) and an invitation to dance away cares (“Can’t Sleep”). His voice is an instrument in itself, ranging from a hip-hop inflected spoken style to a fragile falsetto exuding suffering. And classic guitar fans will enjoy his screaming solos cutting through the melodies.

The Austin Bluesman is playing Falls Festival in Australia over the summer and it will sure be a memorable set, watching Sonny Boy Slim come to life. He has performed previously down under at Bluesfest, but something tells me this record signals an expansion of his fan base from serious blues fans to all music fans. Who would have thought the harmonica had made a comeback? 

Published on theAUReview.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Safia at the Factory Theatre

“Do you guys want an album?” Safia’s loved vocalist Ben Woolner screamed out to a sold out Factory Theatre. In reverse career mode, the Canberra three-piece is now a household name in Australian music with just five official singles. They brought stadium level dynamics to a medium-sized venue (read: strobe lights and moving visuals) and turned an local weeknight gig into something really memorable.

Throughout the night, the band had a firm grasp on suspense. From the visual ticking metronome before ‘Counting Sheep’ to the looping ‘Take Me Over’ intro, riling up the audience like an animal call, we were made to savour the setlist. It felt like getting clues from a band with a decade worth of discography behind them. In the middle of the set, well placed, we heard the most sentimental, falsetto-sweet tracks, including ‘Listen to Soul, Listen to Blues’ and ‘You Are The One.’

You know it’s been a good gig when the songs stick in your head on the way home. Ben’s vocals are the heart of the band and his dedication to performing was sincere. Sometimes the stadium antics felt a little cheesy, (“I want to see your hands up! Sing along Sydney!) but it is nice to feel involved, especially when it doesn’t feel forced. It would have been an extra treat to hear their covers of fellow balladeers (James Vincent McMorrow, Alt-J), which featured in their sets earlier this year, but this gig was all about originals.

You also know it’s been a good gig when someone throws a bra on stage. Safia are far from the Red Hot Chili Peppers in attitude but it looks like they warrant the same love from their fans. After chants of “one more song,” the band came back for a five-minute distorted jam and a performance of ‘Paranoia, Ghosts & Other Sounds.’ Guitarist Harry Sayers threw his picks into the audience and the faded down. Something tells me they’ll be playing hall-sized venues on their next Australian tour.

Published on theAUReview

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Interview with Petite Noir

Photo Credit: Travys Owen
Yannick Illunga aka Petite Noir is an artist who calls several places home. From London to Cape Town, he’s accumulated a mix of eclectic influences (and a friendship with rapper Mos Def) which make for a rich listen on his bilingually titled debut record La vie est belle/Life Is Beautiful.

Petite Noir terms his music as “noirwave,” if it were to enter a genre and his music videos have captured our ears and eyes’ attention with striking visuals to match. We spoke with him during his Red Bull studio sessions in South Africa before he heads on a string of European festivals this month to launch his record.

PS: Hi Yannick, what are you up to today?
YI: I’m in Cape Town at the moment. It’s a quarter to ten here. I guess I’m a late riser. But I like to sleep early too.

I’m going to the studio later and then going Jo’burg tomorrow and then going to London on Monday for the European tour.

Who are the pioneers of Noirwave to you?
It’s more of like a mentality, you know. And yeah it’s quite new, it’s all developing itself and it’s really developed and developed and it’s like a freethinking movement – just freeing yourself from the system, if that make sense.

You seem to be getting a lot of press in France, why do you think that’s so?
I think maybe it’s the name and the fact that I speak French and the energy’s there, you know.

What have been some of your festivals to play in the past and why?
The last festival I played in France was pretty amazing. This festival I just played in New York like a week and a half ago was pretty amazing too. I mean there are so many good festivals but the main highlight now was the one just in New York [Afropunk Festival].

Which Aussie artists do you dig?
Tame Impala’s pretty amazing. Ah man, I’m sure I know a lot of other Australian bands I just can’t think of any at the moment.

On your new record La Vie Est Belle – Life is Beautiful, what came first the title or the music?
The music came first. And then while I was writing I had such a beautiful view of a garden and the sun shining in the garden on the flowers and I just thought, “this is beautiful.” This was in South Africa. I wrote it in Johannesburg a few months ago then moved to London and re-recorded everything in London. It is pretty quiet but I think that’s what I wanted – I think I wanted to be away from everything. And in London, I’m in new area all the time because I haven’t really gotten a place there. Every time I go back we rent some new place.

I’ve read that your girlfriend Rochelle Rharha Nembhard selects the aesthetics for your music videos, can you tell me about that ?
She does the creative direction and the art direction of where we should go and how we should do it. She’s really good and she’s brought along really good artists and she chooses who we should use. She’s on set but we’ll get a director as well and go from there.

What about your non-musical influences, what were you reading or watching during the creation of this album?

I don’t know. I just think I had stuff on my mind that I wanted to let out. I’m quite a spontaneous writer. I sort of write the first thing that comes to my mind.

Is there an ideal listening situation for your album?
I think it’s like family music. You can listen to it with your family and everyone will enjoy it.

How natural is it to sing parts of your songs in French?
I grew up speaking French and I speak French with my parents all the time. It was my first language so it was pretty natural to have it both in French and English.

How did people first respond to your pseudonym “Petite Noir?”
Sometimes people are uncomfortable but the thing is the problem isn’t with me, it’s with you. I don’t really let that phase me. That’s my name.

What have you heard about the record so far from people who’ve streamed it?
Yeah I’ve had very good feedback so I’m excited for the release of the album, very excited.

What else is on the cards for the rest of the year?
A lot of touring, a lot of promo, a lot of videos, more music, more collaborations. The next video should be out in October, I think.

What would you say to the young musicians or producers who are reading this?
Just know yourself and what you want to do and just enjoy the journey.

Published on Purple Sneakers.

Peter Greste 'Journalistic Freedom' at the Sydney Opera House

"I wouldn’t wish what I went through on my worst enemy... but it’s brought you all here today."

Peter Greste knows that journalists don’t have the best reputation at the moment. He even puts them up with used car salesmen and politicians in public opinion. But all jokes aside, Greste spoke at this year’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas for a reason: his work as a journalist saw him locked up in Egyptian prison for 400 days.

Greste spoke to a packed out Concert Hall in the Sydney Opera House with veteran journalist and friend, Mark Colvin. He couldn’t tell us every detail, but Greste did recount his path to prison and continuing rescue efforts for his still imprisoned Al Jazeera colleagues, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. All in all, the focus was on the values which he champions, freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

Greste says that authorities and politicians have used the abstract “war on terror” term to clamp down on journalists, saying, “In the name of national security, we’re stopping interrogations and I’m very concerned about that.” All of which makes the job of a journalist a dangerous one, when half a century ago they were rarely direct targets.

Despite the talk show format, in a large venue, there was an honest interaction between speakers and audience whether a gasp of disbelief at the size of Greste’s cell or a round of applause to recognise the courage his family. Would he go through it again? Ironically, the hardest question of the night came from a young journalism student in the audience. Greste sighed and said that we need to get the human stories out.

Admitting a loss of faith in the system, Greste didn’t hide that his resentencing (as of this August) was shocking. But despite many injustices, he is still on the fight to free his colleagues and continue support for informed, public debate. “The internet tends to force people into radicalised silos as much as anything else. We need to have these conversations in daylight,” he said. The takeaway message - Keep tweeting, keep sharing information with your friends, and talk about the important matters in public.

Published on theAUReview.

Methyl Ethyl at Newtown Social Club

They’ve been coined “the next Tame Impala” and aside from sharing a home city of Perth, Methyl Ethyl are experiencing a similar national hype with the former. The three-piece played to a packed room at Sydney’s Newtown Social Club, following a performance at the weekend's Volumes Festival. Despite the crowd, they remained humble and ran their seamless set like a support act, with no encore.

Methyl Ethyl may not be the most charismatic Australian band on stage but their music does stand on its own. The experimental instrumentation and soulful lyrics kept everyone staring at the stage. Lead singer and lyricist Jake Webb counted down the songs before he would “get out of our hair,” despite the fact that this was their headline show. Most of the crowd was seeing the band for the first time and so a lack of expectations made for honest interactions, whether it was Webb shouting back a “G’day” at someone or thanking us for coming along.

In that style, Methyl Ethyl played what are probably their most well known singles ‘Rogues’ and ‘Twilight Driving’ early on. A few crowd members were singing along but most were intrigued by their dedication, staring focused down at their instruments and watching the rich sound we hear on their new record come to life. Webb seems shy for a frontman but he still has an Aussie sense of humour: “This set, I think, is dedicated to Annie Hall and all of the people here wearing stripes.”

The intimacy (and darkness) of Newtown Social Club made it feel like we’d stepped into a demo recording, for the elongated jams and non-climactic sequence. The reverb on “Also Gesellschaft” sounded great and I’d even go so far as to compare Webb’s vocal expression to something of an early Jeff Buckley, with eyes shut and face scrunched up. In between tracks, the band members tuned their equipment, took a sip of beer and casually shuffled around. For a set celebrating their record Oh Inhumane Spectacle, ironically it was at once both dreamy and very human.

Published on theAUReview.

Interview with Sam from The Paper Kites

Ahead of the release of their highly anticipated twelvefour album, out this August, Antigone caught up with Sam Rasmussen of Melbourne band The Paper Kites to find out more about the making of the record and what the group has been up to during their time off the road. Working with the awesome Phil Ek on the album, Rasmussen details their experiences in studio and the concept of overseas success.

Tell me about working with Phil Ek (Modest Mouse, Fleet Foxes, The Shins).
The man, the mystery. He was great to work with. It was pretty tense at some points - maybe not so much for him, because that’s just the way that he works, but I know Christina and I had a pretty interesting time recording vocals. Normally in the past, when we’ve been singing, you keep going until you get it. But with Phil, he would cut you off and say, "It’s not working, you’re not getting it," a couple of takes into the song. You’d sort of feel like your confidence was smashed a bit, because you go home after that day and you know you haven’t done a song the way the producers hear it and you think you know your own voice. You say, "What am I doing wrong?", but at the end of the day, I think he was really right in saying, "If I’m not believing what you’re singing, then you’re not singing it right."

We’d go away and have these Rocky montage moments where we’d be practising at home and then come back in the studio the next day and we’d get it straight away and he’d come in and say, "That’s what I’m talking about, that’s how you should be singing it." So I think it’s a bit of a more opened-up vocal sound than I’ve had before. Generally, I’ve layered heaps of my vocals and you can disguise your vocal intersections when you’re layering voices. When it’s literally just you singing out there, you kind of hear everything. I’ve never sort of had to record like that before, I felt exposed. But I really enjoyed it.

What are you looking forward to when playing a national tour after performing in Europe and the US?
It feels like ages since we’ve played a show in Australia, I think about fourteen months. So we’re pretty ready to play but having said that, when we get back into the rehearsal space after recording an album, straight up, we always really suck because it never sounds as good as it did on the record. We really want to put together a really great show this time. I think we’re meeting up next week to talk about things that we feel make a great show and combining all of our live influences and seeing what we can do to this set to push the live set a little more. I think the songs on the album are already going to lend themselves to a bigger sound and it will be good to see how they translate.

How have people responded to the single "Electric Indigo" so far?
It’s been great. A lot of people have been saying, "I love this new direction you’re taking." It doesn’t really feel like a new direction because I’ve been in that headspace for ages. You’ve got to remember, you’re catching everyone up. Most of the singles that we’ll put out are a bit of a different sound but there are still heaps of tracks on there that are true to the folk thing. But it’s been really great so far - the video’s been going really well as well. We tried to do something a little bit different with that, getting cool actors on board - so yeah, it’s been good.

Something like "Bleed Confusion" is in second person, how do people usually respond to your personal writing?
I mean most of them are pretty personal, I suppose. But it’s good, I always get people coming up at shows and they genuinely want to get into a discussion about the songs and they really want to know what they’re about. And I always appreciate people that delve a bit deeper than the music, people who want to know what a song’s about and where it comes from. That’s what I care about as a writer. When people catch onto certain lines or the theme of a song, I really like being asked about it. Songs like "Bleed Confusion" - funnily enough it isn’t super personal, but I wanted to tell a story in that song. It is a little bit more of a narrative than the other songs are and it’s almost like a spoken word kind of thing. It does paint a picture so you feel like you’re there and you know what’s going on. I really love that song and I’m glad it made it onto the record.

Are you exclusively a night owl? What do you believe is special about that time? Did it fulfil its promise?
The short answer is yes it did fulfil its promise. I am a bit of a night owl. Most nights I probably wouldn’t go to bed til 2am anyway. The idea came about through a discussion with a friend who's a fellow writer. We were talking about creative hours and when the best time to write is and he was telling me about this interview that he’d seen where these other screenwriters were talking about this idea that midnight and four am were the creative hours. That became a seed in my brain, I thought it was really interesting and I’d never done it before. So I set out on this campaign to do it over the next two to three months. I just completely reversed my sleep pattern. I was a bit unwell in the middle. It took me ages to get my sleep patterns back.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of that Frank Sinatra record ‘In the wee small hours of the morning’ - it carries that really late night, lonely, isolated vibe and that’s how I wanted this to come across albeit a little more guitar-infused than a Frank Sinatra record. But it was really interesting; some of the songs that I came out with were really bizarre. A lot of them didn’t make it onto the record, the guys said I think this is a little too weird or doesn’t sound like us. We all have our own ideas of what people expect from us, and what we expect from ourselves and it people can be a little bit defensive and rattled when we’re all trying to decide what direction we should take. I do think the album changed from what I first thought it would be but that’s real and that’s how you make a record and we’re really happy with how it turned out.

There are some literary sounding lyrics on the new album “time is just a remedy covered in disguise.” What artists or writers inspired the writing process of twelvefour?

I do enjoy a lot of Oscar Wilde, anything he’s written. He’s a brilliant writer and he pushed a lot of buttons at the time. But a lot of films as well - you sort of notice with the music videos, there’s an 80s tinge that’s going to come with them. I was actually watching a lot of old horror films by this Italian director Dario Agento and he did films like Suspiria and his lighting is super 80s, like colourful washes of blue and green and red. So he’s been a big colour influence. Because I write in colours as well - you want a song to sound blue or sound green. And that’s why the neon thing was so strong with the album cover because we wanted it to sound a certain way.

Was it a conscious decision to make a concept album?
It was very intentional right from the start. Even though I hadn’t necessarily brought the whole band in on it. I thought it was better to have a really strong idea, at least an idea to base an album around, and then sticking to that idea. I was pretty strict with it too. I did stop at four AM on the dot and it was very deliberate to write the album like that because I wanted to say this was done completely between these hours and this was the result. More so to see if there was any truth to the idea in the first place and I think there was in the end but I certainly wouldn’t want to do it again.

How do you view the Australian music scene after touring overseas?
You do realise how small the Australian music scene is when you get over there. But having said that there’s a lot of really awesome Australian bands making a splash over there as well. There’s this huge wave of all sorts of music but it’s suddenly coming to the attention of people in the States. I don’t think it’s that sudden but maybe it’s just a little bit more mainstream than it used to be. I know when we’ve played over there, we’ve always found everyone to be excited and say thank you for coming all this way, we’ve been waiting this long. We didn’t really realise we had anything going outside of Australia in terms of live followings. We’ve been doing some pretty great shows in New York and Canada and all over the place which was at first a bit of a shock. It’s only going to keep increasing -this sort of Australian invasion, if you can call it that.

What would you say to young musicians who are in the same position you were in five years ago?
For any young musician, including little Sam Bentley, I think it’s important to be aware of where you want to go. I think a lot of bands and artists in general go into it with the wrong idea they want to be famous or whatever. You’ve really got to be smart about it and look at the long burning slow career not a ride to fame. You’ve got to be clever. Be original with your music videos as much as you can and your songs. Don’t follow trends just because they’re in at the moment. Write for yourself, don’t write to be recognised or to be famous. I think authenticity in music and feeling you’re injecting into your songs, people will totally pick up on that. I feel like the media in general, singing shows on TV and all that rubbish has completely ruined it for young people that are wondering how to make it in the industry because they see that and they think that’s how you should do it. I would like to think that the Australian youth are a bit more clever than perhaps the Australian media give them credit for. There is validity in working hard at your craft and playing those small venues and moving up the chain and doing it for yourself and not doing because you want to be famous.

Published on theAUReview