Jack Ladder is renowned for his tall figure and legendary baritone, but there’s really no comparison for when you meet the guy. Standing next to him, at my own paltry Oompa-Loompa height, my voice was like a mouse being fed through the highest pitch of auto-tune. It was like being in the presence of God, a booming, patient voice walking a mild ginger through one of the most anticipated albums of the year.
‘Playmates’ is Jack Ladder’s fourth album, coming off two previously AMP-nominated (and unfairly overlooked) records. With the release date looming, and an album launch approaching, your old mate sat down with one of the biggest legends of Sydney’s underground to talk about Rainbow Road, shitty psych music and Nick Cave comparisons.
R: ‘Playmates’ is the first time Kim Moyes [The Presets] has produced Jack Ladder, what do you think he brought to the record?
J: He brought his A-game (laughs). Or at least, his aesthetic. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but I knew I wasn’t capable of pulling it off on my own. And Kim had worked with Kirin [J. Callinan] on his record, and I played bass on that…I’d actually met Kim a long time ago, when we opened for The Presets on their tour for their second EP or something.
R: Fuck, that’s a while back, I must’ve been 10 or something.
J: (laughs) Yeah, that was a while back, I was pretty young then as well. But I hadn’t seen Kim in a while, then I did the thing with Kirin, and I really liked the way he was working with him. I could see how that could work with what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to make a rock record-sounding album.
R: What’s the reason for going in a more synth-direction?
J: I don’t think of it as a “synth” record. I don’t think about music as a synths vs. guitars thing. I mean, there were lots of synths on the last record. I think of it more in terms of colours and space. I felt for this record I wanted to have a lot more space, and to do that we needed much more solid, specific arrangements. So every sound on this record counts. Whereas the last record had heaps of colour and surging (moves hands in explosion motion, makes rumbling sound, starts to laugh) I don’t know how you’re meant to transcribe that.
R: Small explosion sound.
J: (More explosion sounds) Well, the last record was more colourful, and this thing is much more pure sounding, and that was kind of the intention, to have arranged parts and definitive melodies.
R: So, if you had to be specific, what colour do you think this album is?
J: Well the last album was a monotone, with a fluorescent hue, whereas this one’s more Rainbow Road, Mario Kart thing…
R: The Rainbow Road of Albums.
J: It’s that fun, and that dangerous. You can really go off the edge on Rainbow Road.
R: What do you think The Dreamlanders bring to the Jack Ladder sound?
J: It’s more the headspace. Those guys, we’ve been working together and learning from each other for so long, we have an intrinsic understanding of weird ideas and a different kind of aesthetic. When I say I don’t want to make rock music, I don’t want to make…whatever they call it…”dole-wave”…I wanna make the opposite of that, I want to make something that takes you out of reality, that transcends. A virtual fantasy world…
R: Like ‘Dark City’ or something?
J: (laughing) Yeah! I mean, I like rock ‘n’ roll music, and I like going to different places in my head with music. I like Miyazaki films, like Studio Ghibli stuff, because it takes me to a different place, and I want to do that with music. That’s part of the appeal. Whereas playing in a band that tries to throw how boring the world is, and accentuate crappy…I’m not interested in that. If you could pick anything, why would you pick the most boring, easy thing to do?
R: So, you want to transcend, is that where the name The Dreamlanders comes from?
J: It’s actually a John Waters thing, that’s what he called his actors.
R: After the success of Kirin’s album, did you ever fear that he would have to go off and do his own thing, and he wouldn’t be able to be a part of Jack Ladder anymore?
J: I always knew he’d do his own thing. That’s how he started playing with us, he was opening our shows. He was always himself…and I encouraged that with Donny as well, and Laurence was in PVT before he joined the band. So it’s not a big deal for me, I think with that kind of freedom, it doesn’t scare anyone away. Kirin loves playing with those guys, and there’s a sense of brotherly affection. It’s not a chore, I never want it to be like that. Those people’s headspaces and their backgrounds is what helps make the music what it is.
R: So how will it go bringing the songs to a stage?
J: It’ll be fine, everyone’s a great player, and we like to play with each other. We’re not replicating the record live, it’s about having a good time, and playing good music. Creating some sort of transcendental, spiritual connection with your audience…like the Donny Benet Show Band!
R: Speaking of, at the Donny Benet album launch, you sang your part in this loose-fitting suit and sunglasses. Is that the sort of thing that will happen at the launches?
J: Well, we’re playing small rooms, it’s pretty casual…But we’ll have headpieces…silk suits…a tiara for Kirin…Laurence can have an astronaut suit.
R: At what point did you want to create your own record label?
J: I guess I always wanted to do that. I put so much into my own records – I do all the design, work on the videos – that it feels weird to give it away to a label when you get so little in return. It’s like, I’ll create my life’s work, and just give it you, and you can give me my quarterly returns of what you haven’t recouped, because you put a few ads in the street press. It’s not very fair. If I put all the work in, I may as well put in a bit extra work, and bit extra money, and try and own as much of what I’ve done as possible.
R: With the album, there’s a lot of alienation and patterns, why do you want to create that sort of music?
J: I think what I do is very simple. At the core of it, I don’t want to do anything boring. It’s a need to communicate your ideas, which is pretty much why anyone does anything creative. You create the world around the idea…you create it with the things you surround yourself with. I’m inspired by lots of different things, lots of different types of music, and that’s given me so much in my life, so you try and give back.
I like clarity of an idea. I don’t like psychedelic music, to be honest, I think it’s full of shit. Even the really successful psychedelic music, or what people are labeling it…that’s just really great pop music. But I don’t like it when it’s blurry bad ideas, where no one has gone, “Maybe that’s not such a good idea”. There’s a lot of dirgy rock music, where someone thinks they’ve got…someone starts moaning and words start to form, like they’ve just learned to talk or something.
Smart people that can communicate their life with a sense of humour and fun…the dumbest ideas are often the best songs. A dumb idea isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Like Lou Reed wrote a lot of great songs based around not necessarily brilliant concepts…the way they tell the story, their nuance is funny, it’s a bit sad and that’s, to me, a good song.
R: So do you translate that into your own music?
J: Well, you learn the ideas. I don’t want to poo on the music industry, but people take the aesthetic of things, and this is how things go bad. There’s a bunch of intellectual, interesting writers who started punk, like Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell, and then people just rip off the aesthetic without doing any research or knowing where they’re coming from, and it just ends up in Kmart. If people could just learn to understand the concepts of what the originators were actually thinking about, then you could actually learn something, as opposed to copying what someone wears and the drugs someone takes.
R: Finally, a lot of people, unfortunately, compare you to Nick Cave. And you’re real name is Tim Rogers…
J: Yeah, You Am I. And my middle name’s Ken, so Kenny Rogers. So, born under a bad name, I guess.
R: And you also had Expatriate when you first began. How do move away from those comparisons, into something people can recognize as completely individual?
J: I think that’s a local thing. When I go to America, people go “Oh, he sounds like Nick Cave!”, there’s still that respect. In Australia, especially in the underground, people are kind of sick of his shtick. And unfairly! People here give kudos to a lot of rubbish things, and have started thinking Nick Cave’s too mainstream. But what he’s doing is still really relevant, and subversive in the world of rock music, as an elder statesman.
I have no problem being compared to Nick Cave, as long as people have the right attitude about it. You can be pretty easily dismissed. …Nick Cave’s written some great songs, and you can’t dismiss the guy.
But I was watching one of the videos from ‘Push the Sky Away’, and you should never look at the comments, but someone said, ‘This guy just wants to be Johnny Cash’. Imagine being in your mid-50’s and putting out 20 albums, and some arsehole says you just want to be Johnny Cash, (laughing) it’s like what the fuck do you have to do?
When I saw that, I thought that you can be the shit version of something, or you can want to create work that is as good as the people you look up to. Everyone I’ve liked has always been the shit version of…Bob Dylan was a plagiarist of Woody Guthrie, and Bruce Springsteen was the shit version of Bob Dylan…I don’t think about it too much, the only way that people will stop saying that is if I make a lot of records and good music.
‘Playmates’ is out this Friday, November 7th. Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders launch the record that night at Northcote Social Club with Laura Jean. The homecoming show comes the week after, at Newton Social Club, with Geoffrey O’Connor. 1,2,3, let’s get social!