Interview: The Seabellies

A while ago, (and I do mean a while ago), I did an interview with indie rock crew The Seabellies, or more accurately, their frontman Trent Grenell. Unfortunately, I kind of got carried away with that whole HSC exam thing, and its taken me a fair while to get the interview up and running. However, it did provide quite a bit of insight into the recording of their new album ‘Fever Belle’, the hard work that goes into recording such a thing, and what it means to have stuck around for so long. Therefore, I present the full interview with Trent Grenell, frontman for Sydney indie rock darlings The Seabellies.

R: Hey man, how you doing? Whereabouts are you right now?

T: I’m in Bondi, just sorting out the promo stuff for the album.

R: Oh yeah, you must be pretty pumped about that?

T: Aww yeah, it’s been a long journey this album (laughs)

R: How long did it take to record?

T: Recording was well, it’s a bit of a weird one. Started recording in Sydney at the very start of last year. And then I had a bit of a freakout in my life, and I ran away from the record for quite a while. I had a bad break-up, so I ran away to Africa for a while. By the time I was feeling better, I had to go to Berlin with Berkfinger, the producer. He had a new studio, so we finished up the record then. It ended up being about seven months

R: How did you stick that out?

T: well, the studio time in the end was probably only about five weeks or something. Tracking was done in about two and a half weeks. But I wasn’t really ready to have another go at the vocals for a while, until about August that year.

It was really different experience to the first record, where everything was bookended in. This time around, the lyrics changed by the time we got around to doing vocals.

R: Did you want to have a more accurate reflection of what was actually going on in your life, as opposed to a year ago?

T: Yeah a little bit, there’s a couple tracks on there where the song lyrics are two-sided, not just a pure-loss thing. I wanted to show both sides of the coin. This time as well, it was the first time I’d written…not first person, but kind of out of body. Just imagining those kinds of scenarios, because I’d never experienced them. And then all of a sudden, they happened to me. So I was able to more accurately go back and capture what I’d been imagining all this time.

R: When I was listening to the record, it did seem very intimate and personal, so you’d say it was like that?

T: Yeah, all the songs are pretty personal. I still have this natural leaning towards making things a little surreal. But yeah, it is personal. Sometimes it might get a little flowery, but most of the songs are autobiographical.

R: There’s a dichotomy to the nature of the record, with these intimate songs, like ‘Its Alright’, and then you have these epic songs tying down the record, like ‘Paper Tiger’. Can you walk me through that?

T: Well, we’ve always been like that. We’ve always been a diverse band. Lots of different rhythms, lots of different melodies, lots of different shades. I grew up listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin, and on every album, they always covered a lot of ground.

So, yeah, we really wanted to have an album with dynamics. But in the writing process, it just sort of happened. It was never like, ‘OK, now we’re going to do that big song’, it was more like we’d knock one over and think to try something a little different.

(laughing) So, in the process we definitely tried a lot of stuff, some of it worked, some of it didn’t.

R: With the writing and recording, did you decide that you wanted to do something different all the time, and work your way up from there?

T: We locked ourselves in a room in Melbourne for five weeks, and we had a residency down there, at the start of 2011. We locked ourselves in a room and mapped out the bare bones.

But it always changes, I don’t think a single song we’ve ever written ends up like it started. We started working with Berkfinger, and everything changed from there. We also had this guy Tim Whitten producing as well.

R: How’d you meet up with Berkfinger?

T: I met Berkfinger after he finished up with Philadelphia Grand Jury. I met him at this marketplace in Berlin, and we just go chatting . I told him that we had this new bunch of songs we wanted to record, and he expressed interest, and we went from there. He rang us up and said, ‘How about a dual producer approach?’

He brought in Tim Whitten, who’s produced some of the best records.

Berkfinger wanted to sit in on us, and watch us play, and focus on our live performance, and Tim sat behind the control desk and made sure the sonics were great. That’s how we did it. Berkfinger tried all these crazy recording techniques and wired the studio, and Tim would just oversee it all. It really worked.

R: As the singer for The Seabellies, do you write all the lyrics, or is it a collaborative process?

T: I usually write most of them. My brother [Kyle Grenell] sometimes chips in, but usually the writing falls to me. With the exception of the last track of the record, which is a collaboration between Eddie [Garvin, the bassist] and myself, I did the lion’s share.

R: What about the music?

T: I think all the main ideas start from one person and then gradually filter through to the rest of the band. But its pretty much a group effort. Someone builds a piece, and then we build the rest of the song around that piece.

R: As a pretty big band [five members as of now], you’ve been going hard since 2006.

T: Yeah, we’ve done a lot of touring. With a little time off here and there, we’ve been touring straight for five years. We needed a bit of a rest to get re-inspired.

R: Sounds pretty rough, but do you enjoy the live aspect?

T: Yeah, we still love it. Just thinking about all the bands we’ve played with over the years, in the Sydney scene and Melbourne scene, and thinking about how there’s hardly anyone left. It feels like we’re the most stubborn band in the world.

R: Who do you think the best band you’ve ever played with has been?

T: I don’t know, probably The Pixies. We played V Festival early in our career, and it was the best lineup, had The Pixies and Groove Armada, it had everybody.

In terms of Australian bands, fuck I don’t know how I can answer that. I mean some bands we hung out with went on to do great things, and others just packed it in. Meanwhile, we’ve just been plugging away in the middle somewhere. We used to play with The Temper Trap quite a bit, and Tame Impala a few times. Those bands are just kicking so many goals at the moment.

R: So you’ve seen it go either way?

T: Yeah, well Sydney got really hard about four to five years ago. With all the venues closing, the scene definitely changed. The bands we used to play with all the time, like Parades, we used to get gigs with them all the time, and then everything just started falling away.

We understood though, we were really frustrated with the industry as well, the lack of funds and support. I don’t know what we were doing, but we managed to stick with it, and I’m glad we did because I really like this album.

R: There’s a lot of instrumentation on the record in the songs, like strings and that sort of stuff. How do you think that will go down when touring the record?

T: We’ve just started adding a few more songs into our live show on the last tour, and I’m sure we’ll implement that on the upcoming tour. We’ve figured out ways to cover some of it, but I think we’re going in with the attitude that the record is a different platform, and there are different sets of rules.

We wanna make the recorded version last forever, but the live show’s a different beast. We try to incorporate as much as we can, but its basically impossible for some of the songs. We do a lot of sampling and a lot of sequencing, but we’ll never be able to cover that spectrum of sound.

R: Alright, well finally, what does the future hold?

T: The immediate plan is to do a lot of touring for this record. We’ve got our biggest tour to date coming up, so that’s really ambitious. As for next year, we’ll be doing a lot of touring, and have our eyes on going back overseas.

R: Well that sounds amazing, good luck with the record and the touring!

‘Fever Belle’ is out now through Shock Records. The Seabellies are playing Good God, Saturday December 14.

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Interview: Blitzen Trapper

sgfgI’m a massive fucking fan of Portland-based alt-country act Blitzen Trapper. Oh, and just to clarify, when I say ‘Alt-country’, I don’t mean Keith Urban talking about how much his mum sucks. I’m talking about bands like Deer Tick, Wilco, and Fruit Bats; bands that utilise a sort of country sound and style to go onto weirder, greater and definitely not racist things (suffice to say, this isn’t a country music blog). Anyway, Blitzen Trapper have just released their fantastic seventh record, logically entitled ‘VII’. You can read my review of it here. Anyway, the other day, I got to ring up Blitzen Trapper main man Eric Earley and listen to his drawl for a couple minutes. And goddamn was it a sexy drawl…

R: Hello…Hello is this Eric?

E: Uh, yeah, yeah it is, how you doing?

R: My name’s Ryan, it’s good to talk to you man, big fan of Blitzen Trapper.

E: Uh, yeah, yeah.

R: Are you in Portland right now? 

E: Uh, no, we’re in New York City right now.

R: What are you doing over in New York?

E: Well, were half-way through the first tour right now.

R: Congratulations, it’s a very fantastic album man…

E: Thanks very much, I appreciate that.

R: Now, this is the 7th record, which you’ve handily pointed out by calling it ‘VII’. Do you see any particular reason how the band have been able to stick around for so long and evolve a sound that seems quite niche, where there have been so many bands that have fallen off the face of the earth?

E: Uh, I don’t know man, I guess it’s the live music element, it’s all the touring, and playing live and stuff, and that’s…that’s sorta the important thing nowadays. I don’t know, I guess, I just keep writing songs… and I guess if I wasn’t writing as many songs, we wouldn’t be playing so much.

R: I read that you write the majority of the band’s music. How much would you say, approximately, you write? 

E: I write all of it.

R: All of it? Like, the lyrics, the instrument parts, all of it?

E: Yeah, all the chords, all of it…

R: Fuck, that’s awesome man.

E: (laughs)

R: Do you make a conscious effort to use a lot of instruments in Blitzen Trapper’s sound, to create a weirder vibe.

E: It depends on the song, I think. Y’know, some of the song’s are, like, simple, and other songs, I like to do a lot of different things. It just depends really.

R: Well, I feel that personally, just listening to ‘VII’, it’s got a lot more of a fun-loving Blitzen Trapper sound, more like ‘Wild Mountain Nation’ [Blitzen Trapper’s 2007 album] than ‘Furr’ [Blitzen Trapper’s breakout 2008 record]. Would that be correct?

E: Uh, yeah, maybe. I don’t know. We wanted it to be different to the last record [2011’s ‘American Goldwing’], there’s a lot more weird stuff kinda stuff. Yeah, it’s kinda more sounds from all over the place, as far as, different eras, different genres, stuff like that.

R: What would you say inspired this kind of more upbeat sound? In your guys lives, what was going on? Or did it just naturally occur like that?

E: Yeah, it was kind of just, y’know stuff I was into when we started writing…

R: What kind of stuff were you into?

E: Uhh, just a lot of groovy music, like hip-hop and country music basically…

R: I did hear a bit of hip-hop in the record…

E: Yeah, like old-school Wu-Tang, stuff like that. And I mean, there was a lot of the older folky stuff, y’know.

R: Cool man. Now, my personal favourite thing about Blitzen Trapper is the lyrics. What would be the process that goes into writing? I remember, the first song that I ever heard by you guys, which is still one of my favourite tracks, was ‘Black River Killer’ [from 2008’s ‘Furr’]. The thing that took me with that song was just the lyrics, and how dark they were. How do you get into the headspace?

E: I don’t know man, I think I just like telling a good story (laughs). I don’t know, I don’t really try. Most songs I write really fast, and the story just kinda comes, and I just sorta mould it I guess. Y’know, I mean, it’s like any story, a lot of it is based on real stuff for the most part, or real people or whatever. But I like to write stories, which I turn into songs.

R: Has it always been that way, just love to write stories as a kid? Did it seem as though being a musician was the natural progression of that?

E: Oh yeah, definetely. And my dad told a lot of crazy stories, so I grew up wanting to do the same thing.

R: With the lyrics, you write all of them?

E: Yeah, I wrote all of them.

R: The songs, they’re just very attractive, very old-school story-teller vibes. Have you always had that sort of atmosphere?

E: (Laughs) I don’t know, maybe.

R: Now, final question. The way I discovered you guys was through Sub Pop Records. However, I noticed that this latest album is coming out on Vagrant Records. Did the band and Sub Pop have a falling out?

E: No, we had a three record deal, and it came to the end of our contract, the deal was up, and, uh, we were just looking around for someone to put out the next record, and yeah, found them.

R: Yeah? And how come you went with Vagrant Records, as opposed to someone else? 

E:  They gave us a good offer, and they liked the stuff we put out previously. So…

R: Alright mad. Okay I lied, this is the final question: do you have any current plans to come to Australia to tour the record?

E: Hopefully yeah, I think we’ll be over there next year.

R: All right! Well, I’ll definetely be in the crowd for that.

E: (Laughs) Right on man, hahaha.

R: That’s all from me man, thanks for taking the time out to talk to me.

E: No worries. Take it easy.

‘VII’ is out now through Shock Records. Buy it here, it’s a fucking dope record.

New: Grass House-And Now For The Wild

Nick Cave meets Clint Eastwood in the dust-blown mountain range of a song from the London four-piece Grass House. The morbid vocals sing a solemn song, like being at Johnny Cash’s funeral, and the shuttering percussion creates a ghostly effect that would make Stagger Lee shit himself. The repeated outro of ‘And now for the wild!’ seems to hold an unknown potency, like walking into a room full of radiation and not figuring it out until it’s too late, 1970’s B-Grade Horror Movie style. Brilliant song.

Video: Filthy Boy-Waiting On the Doorstep

Strange but alluring sounds from this London based band. Filthy Boy have the whole narrative song structure down pat, with lovely Franz Ferdinand-y vocals wafting through. However, they have replaced the bombastic sound of their Scottish superheroes, in preference of utilising a sleaze unseen since the average 8th grade Physical Education teacher. There’s a great marriage of cobblestone baritone and jangly guitar that makes this song ascend past the heights of your usual Arctic Monkeys copycat, and there is a definitive nod of approval for the song’s tale of introducing a ladyfriend to a mate in ass-less chaps.

Album Review: Blitzen Trapper-VII

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The first thing that’s going to hit your mind like a freight train when listening to Blitzen Trapper’s newest album ‘VII’ will be: Fuck, this sounds like Beck. The next thing that’s going to swoop in on your impressionable conscious is going to be: Fuck, I love this. A third and final thing that will crash land into your brain with fiery intent will be: Fuck….I love this…Who do I have to kill to get this. This record is jaw-droppingly good. It’s fun, it’s floaty, but it’s got enough self-awareness and skill to be taken seriously as a record, and not as an offhand circus freak thing. The movie reference I’m going to go with for this article is the original Rocky, and not because there’s the immediate connection of Roman numerals (everything after Rocky III  was a pretentious pile of retarded bullshit, whilst this record makes me dizzy with its quality). No, the original Rocky and the new Blitzen Trapper record are the same because they both contain tremendous amounts of heart, are presented as kind of an underdog but have the obvious charisma of a champion, and there is so much of the everyday American man packed into their features, a bald eagle wearing sunglasses and riding a monster truck wouldn’t even come close as a comparison.

If you’ve ever heard previous stuff from Blitzen Trapper, you’ll know two things. Firstly, these Portland dudes fucking rule harder than King Leonidas. Secondly, you’ll know that the only true fault in their music is that it can bog itself down. There is no trace of that on ‘VII’, but instead a resonating warmth and a smiling atmosphere that permeates from start to finish. Oh, don’t worry, there’s still an abundance of all the stuff that made you fall in love with Blitzen Trapper the first time round…gnarly vocals, twang fa’ dayz, and an avalanche of banjo and harmonica. Oh dear Jesus is there a shit load of banjo and harmonica. BUT FEAR NOT! These aren’t your vest-wearing, English-tea toting pretentious twats (cough, Mumford and Son, cough).

The album is so immensely enjoyable, because although it consistently stays engaging, Blitzen Trapper will often throw out new ways to intrigue the listener. The opener ‘Feel the Chill’ is the opposite of it’s name, alt-country with rattlesnake bite, there’s a less-than-conservative nod to Primal Scream on ‘Shine On’, and ‘Ever Loved Once’ is a song so full of soul it makes a Mississippi congregation choir sound like a retirement home. There’s an old observational critter ‘Thirsty Man’, which throws in some very cool gypsy harpsichord, a wispy crackler in ‘Oregon Geography’, and ‘Drive On Home’ which, and stay with me here, is Lynyrd Skynryd if they knew how to make music. Yes, that’s a big bold claim that should make you wrinkle your nose in total disdain, but ‘Drive On Home’ has enough Southern Soul catchiness to hire a hit man on Kid Rock, because any use he was to humanity has been replaced by this song.

Suffice to say, this album fucking rules. There is such a light-hearted vibe that fills the whole thing like a porn star fills a cup of orange juice (you have a dirty mind), and there’s a comforting confidence that Blitzen Trapper know exactly what they’re doing to ensure you have the greatest listening experience possible. The whole record is an old-timey, black and white picture presented as a shiny, modern convenience, and it works better than anyone could have expected.

‘VII’ comes out October 1st through Shock Records in Australia. You need to buy this album more than you need basic ingredients for sustaining your life.

New: Seabellies-It’s Alright

A nice, warm track from Newcastle favourites Seabellies. The underwater tones are still there, a murmuring beauty as apparent as the lovely guitar that aimlessly ambles throughout. Don’t think of this song as directionless though, as its niceness is simply a mask for its greatness. A really nice poppy jam to end your Monday night. Or any other night of the week, really, it’s that good. Except Saturday. Saturday is reserved for Calvin Harris and pingers. It’s a law, look it up.

New: Thief-Broken Boy

This song half belongs in a club, half belongs in an opium den. It’s super hazy, but it also has this impenetrable, reaching synth beat that will run through your veins.

‘Broken Boy’ is the debut single from Thief (formerly known as Thief Urban, how fucking cool is that? Unless it wasn’t a Keith Urban reference, in which case I’m throughly confused). Thief is the electro-pop guise of PJ Wolf, a dude that made slitted indie music. Personally, I prefer Thief mode, in which pulsation takes precedence to the indier things in lyf.