Mother Mars have always been a band that I enjoy watching live. However, I can remember that about a year ago - sometime around Doomsday 2010 - I noticed a subtle shift in the attitude of the band. It was almost like, after some internal or personal turmoil the trio had finally begun to relax into their music, that they had found their own voice as a band. Mother Mars' attention to sonic detail has always been impressive, but they now seemed more cohesive and more comfortable - and their performance became undeniably stronger as a result.
As it turns out that over the aforementioned period, the group had been working quitely away on recording their new album 'Fossil Fuel Blues'. That immaculate attention to detail, and almost obsessive process of revision and recording has resulted in Mother Mars nowdays delivering some of the most best stoner/desert groove in Australia.
If there is one truly impressive thing about Mother Mars, it is the trios' impeccable and infectious sense of groove - and that is on full display on 'Fossil Fuel Blues'. Groove and feel is something I don't believe you can teach, and these guys have it in spades. Whether it's on a high-energy rock number like 'Ride Like the Wind' or a darker, more sedate piece like the albums title track, their feel is impeccable. These guys are so fucking chilled you half expect them to slip into a coma at any second.
For a home recording, the sound quality is solid. The tones and textures are absolutely beautiful. The bass is warm, fuzzy and fat. Matt's Strat sings with a gorgeous bluesy fuzz-and-overdrive treatment. The vocals too are tinged with psychedelic textures. Clearly a lot of time has gone into the crafting and layering of this album, as it continuously proves to be multifaceted. The only hallmark that this is infact a home recording is the volume, which sits considerably below most other albums. However, that approach has also let the band keep the depth and definition of their sound, so it really isn't a flaw.
'Fossil Fuel Blues' is another one of those seemingly countless local, underground releases that has seriously reinvigorated my passion for the Australian music scene. The sheer quality and range of releases that have been offered up in 2011 is mind-blowing, such that I am absolutely sure this has to be the best year for the Australian underground in a long, long time - but more on that wider narrative another time.
Once more I recall my disappointment at seeing the widely acclaimed Earthless live -- and once more I juxtapose that with the awesome local and relatively unknown talent of Looking Glass and Mother Mars. Both bands eclipse the vast majority of releases that the global stoner scene attempts to offer up as its best.
With 'Fossil Fuel Blues', Mother Mars have delivered a gorgeous sounding album thats smooth, psychedelic and with serious fucking groove. Any fan of psychedelic of desert or stoner rock would be a fool not to check this release out.
Nick Andrews (drummer of Dumbsaint) and myself (guitarist of Adrift for Days) had an interesting exchange the other week. We found that we both shared a mutual interest and respect for each others bands. As such, each agreed to interview the other. The result is two interviews that I feel greatly surpass the usually shallow interview process.
I hope you enjoy. If you're unacquainted with either band;
- Dumbsaint are a progressive psychedelic cinematic band that often strays into heavy, droning and ambient territory. Listen to their music here.
- Adrift for Days are a psychedelic droning stoner / doom band. Listen to their music here.
Part 1: An interview with Nick Andrews of Dumbsaint.
Heavy, ambient and progressive rock played with synced film projections.
Is there a particular concept behind Dumbsaint?
For me, it's to present a different level of live musical performance and expression. James our bass player and I bonded over film and music in highschool and very much influenced each other with what we liked and didn't like. Dumbsaint came out of the desire to do what our influences don't do - to expand on their ideas and certainly re-present the role of each instrument within songwriting. Because we're only a 3-piece it gives drums and bass the chance to dictate a moment in a song as opposed to it always being driven by guitar. Dumbsaint certainly encourages multitasking and instruments to be used in new ways - to pull new shapes and sounds - but still within a traditional 3-piece framework. Above all my personal goal with Dumbsaint is to create music I would buy if I heard it playing in a record store. That's always a good indicator of how much you actually enjoy what you make.
Where did your name originate from?
This is embarrassing, but all I know about 'Dumbsaint' is that it is a term coined by Jack Kerouac in one of his books to describe a type of person. We used to be called A Stranger back when we had a singer, and when it came time to change the name, Dumbsaint was the only one that stuck. I'm very much influenced by how things look and sound - the aesthetic - and to me Dumbsaint just seemed to appear 'different' enough to work.
How has your sound developed over the past 8 years?
Quite dramatically, mostly because we've actually learned to properly play our instruments. This of course has allowed us to have a larger palette to work with. James and I are mostly self-taught, so it took a while to get moving. The music used to be quite aggressive from beginning to end, or at least have one mood throughout, now I find we've got quite good at mixing that up multiple times within a single track. We've grown out of one-emotion or one-idea music. It speaks volumes when you can touch on multiple feelings, tones and sounds. I really believe we can do whatever we want in this band, in that even though it's down-tuned and demanding, it can also be euphoric, elating and even happy. Nothing is ever truly evil or heavy if it's the same the whole way through - which is why I think most metal/death metal fails. The emotions flatline, you have no contrast. If anything, 8 years has taught us contrast is king and the only rules you have are what you set from the beginning.
Your use of multimedia really adds another dimension to the experience of seeing Dumbsaint live. How did that idea originate?
James and I did film studies through highschool and university. Again we wanted to expand on our influences and develop similar creative ideas, but through images as well as sound. When our singer left in 2008 we had this material, but no focal point, despite it already being very instrument-based. We were hesitant about being just another noodling, inverted instrumental band, so we tried a few experiments of creating short-films that were synced to the songs and projected onto a screen as we played live. This meant shooting, editing, working with actors, playing with a click-track and so on. It has become more of an 'installation'. Since then we've found the audience response to be stronger than ever before with this concept and personally I believe we finally found our own identity within alternative music.
How would you describe the relationship between your audio and your visual components?
They really go hand-in-hand, thematically and visually, both usually created simultaneously with a central idea. I feel the music is dynamic and interesting enough to hold it's own when listening to it recorded, but live it's enhanced by the eye-candy of the short-films. We're not the most spastic band on stage and without a singer doing jump-kicks at the front, we thought the audience might like something else to look at. I feel it has become our thing. The projections aren't window dressing with some guy using colourful mac screensavers and star-wipes, they're mostly narrative based using our footage, so it forces you to watch and follow the chain of events, which are linked to the rise and fall within it's accompanying soundtrack
What comes first; the song direction or the video concept?
Song first, then video very close behind. The videos take time; planning, storyboarding, filming, editing, playing along with etc. The more time we have to plan in advance - the better, as we usually have deadlines to have a new one by the next show, for example. It's hard to balance the priorities as the song should be the most important element, but those film schedules can be long; the newest song is 11 minutes long, which came to 3 days of shooting and 7 days of editing.
After a song or a video concept has initiated, can one then influence the other later down the developmental track?
All the time. Even with a film concept right from the beginning, the song will influence the narrative's order of events and it's end based on it's musical mood and progression. Whether the tension on screen compliments or contrasts is circumstantial, but for me the film is a slave to the sound and should unfold accordingly. At this stage, I find it healthy to keep the arrangements and presentations concise, especially when the only way to present it is through 40 minutes at a live show. I'm sure we'd love to try even more experimental film/music soundtrack concepts, but at the moment we are very much still a band playing songs.
In progressive music there always seems to be an intrinsic tension between playing complex drum patterns in an inhumanely perfect manner, and an attempt to still maintain a natural, dynamic and human feel into your playing. How do you personally approach that dynamic?
Without vocals in our band it forces me to be more forthcoming with what I say for the song on my instrument. I like creating ideas I've never heard before, even if they are at times ridiculous. There is certainly an art in making the extreme sound effortless. Takashi from the band Toe is a perfect example; he drives that band rhythmically and melodically. I try to practice a lot to the point where difficult ideas are so internalised you can focus more on making them sound real and not forced; tight but loose. It's an endless pursuit, which is inspiring, you can always play better. I'm not against over-playing in any form, but it does mean you have to work harder in making those ideas sound necessary and complimentary in the song context. If it doesn't feel like a human is playing, it isn't music to me. Which is another reason why I think most metal/death metal fails. Triggers and beat replacement - GTFO.
Since you have clear interest in the videography side, what visual influences do you absorb in your work?
Original storytellers with their own visual style. I love the idea of seeing or hearing something and instinctively knowing who is behind the scenes pulling the strings. David Lynch, David Fincher, Jean-Luc Goddard and Hideaki Anno come to mind. Without dialogue on screen, the images must tell the story, in the same way an instrument melody must replace a vocal line in instrumental music.
Your music seems to oscillate between the progressive and the psychedelic - the heavy and the ambient. How do you balance those influences?
Again, contrast is the most powerful tool an artist can have. When we set out to jam, we jam a lot; random ideas, long tangents, one riff over and over etc. When you take that all away you have a lot of different but similar ideas that feel connected. The art is making them fit cohesively in a song context and that is exciting when it evolves and grows. We have broad musical interests and we try to respect each others current direction, be it personally or creatively, which does lead to a wide variety of sounds.
People create music and noise for an absolute kaleidoscopic variety of reasons. Why do you personally create music?
I love sharing creative space, be it with band members or audience. To be able to tell a story through sound and image and have people feel compelled to respond is almost indescribable. That 40 minutes on stage is more euphoric than sex and is very much a positive dialogue between performer and listener. It's not a destructive pursuit. That inspires me to come up with new ideas and be a better performer.
How have you found working with our mutual pal Ron? Did his style immediately fuse with yours? Does he have room and space to incorporate his own personal influences in the band?
It has been amazing, to finally be matched in enthusiasm, style and technique. It's refreshing to talk tech or music with someone and be told exactly why they do what they do, and how they make that happen. At first it was tough getting used to a new player after 8 years, but that was expected, much like ending a long-term relationship. Musically, that first month was very productive with jamming, we got 3 songs-worth of material out of it, all of which will make the cut for a release. We've been playing the first one we wrote together, 'She Was His' live already and have been getting great responses. That other material will surface in the coming months. Ron is an accomplished player with strong technique and effortless control over his sound. This has made Dumbsaint immediately 'sound' different, even on older material played verbatim, which I think is fantastic. Ron's style and ideas are very musical; bluesy, psychedelic, crushing, and most of all mature. It's a perfect fit for where we are heading.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but the vast majority of the 'post-rock' genre seems to be very stale -as it to be expected when a genre gets a following. There seems to be a very standard formula to writing a post-rock / ambient song – yet Dumbsaint gladly manages to avoid such sterility. How do you break out of that mould?
It's crucial to listen to your peers and those who are at the top of the genre food-chain. For me it's about acknowledging flavours of the month and then trying to go beyond that. I don't want to write a song that's already been written, it's redundant. Every band must aim to stay relevant - to themselves and to the audience as tiny as the one interested in this genre. I don't think we're entirely post-rock as we get told we sound like Tool a lot, but I guess that's better than being told we sound like shit. That's why I find it important to blend genres, sounds and ideas so you can play with more than just metal or indie bands. I'm quite surprised we have a healthy amount of women in our audiences, which is a good indicator of how 'un-metal' we are. I hope our music can transcend most live music audiences, it's just a matter of getting in front of them. Jazz music can suffer the same problem - it can sound beige or odd in writing, but is absolutely incredible in the flesh. People just need to be willing to give it a go.
What is your opinion of the current state of the Sydney and wider Australian music scene?
If the scene was an actual person, I would say 'You are what you eat'. There is a very small, but committed audience across a lot of genres, but certainly not enough to justify more venues and more gigging opportunities. Unfortunately 'John Average' doesn't give a shit about where music starts or comes from, he only waits for his favourite artist to play ANZ stadium every few years and that's it. I think I read somewhere that the average person sees only half a dozen live performances - on any level - a year. I try to see 2-3 gigs locally and bigger a week. I guess it comes down to how much importance you place on it. I find there is actually too many bigger festivals and events in NSW and because of this, it totally drains that small audience, removing any interest of going out on a week night to see a band play in a basement. Homebake acknowledged this overkill last year by going on hiatus thanks to 5 or 6 festivals happening in the weeks around it. I think Mr Average has also forgotten where bigger artists start; the pubs, clubs, basements and warehouses etc. Why not stumble onto something special in it's infancy and follow it's progress, as opposed to waiting to see it at Manning Bar or hear it on a Triple J compilation?
What local artists have inspired you lately?
Solkyri - our next new song reminds me a lot of what they do; space and a lighter touch. Adrift For Days - 'dat tone. A Casual End Mile - I want her to sing on a track one day. Serious Beak - I must practice more, always. Hinterlandt - the best one-man-band I've ever seen, awesome multitasker. One Young Lover - I want her to sing on a track one day too. We Lost The Sea - the best local live show I've seen in years, I've never seen an audience lose their shit mid-song, incredible. Put that altogether and that keeps me tapping away unconditionally on rubber pads in my bedroom.
What aspirations does Dumbsaint hold?
To finally record and release our material over the next year. There will be more than an album's worth of material and I like to think we should write a true album from beginning to end as this band, in this formation. Some of the current material is older and needs a home, so I'm seeing the idea of the two mini-albums/EP's, 6-7 tracks on each, but both linked conceptually; be it through art design and track order so it doesn't feel thrown together. Then play and play and play.
Part 2: An interview with Lachlan Dale of Adrift for Days
Adrift for Days is a sombre, psychedelic, introspective band that attempts to communicate our collective spiritual abstractions and existential musings. The character of those abstractions and musings tends to be meditative, heavy, droning and sometimes deafening.
Stylistically we have been described as “smoked-out, psychedelic drone fuzz” which I think encapsulates what we do quite well. We draw influences from blues, drone, doom, post-rock, sludge, ambient music, traditional/tribal music, stoner rock, psychedelic rock and a variety of other styles.
While every member contributes considerably to the band, my personal role involves supplying some riffs, direction and structure, as well as dealing with the promotional/managerial side of the band.
As a guitarist with multiple projects, would you say you tailor your sound (tone, guitar, amp, effects) to this band, or do you consider to have a 'standard' that has multiple musical applications?
I generally end up getting tools and toys that interest me, and decide later how they could fit a particular band or project (or if they don’t fit). There are, of course, purchases made with Adrift for Days wholly in mind.
Name your top 3 Guitarists and how their influence might pop up in AFD.
Jimi Hendrix for his psychedelic flair and incredible blues feel. Dylan Carlson for sparse, reverb soaked, droning riffs and his meditative approach to song-writing. Dave Gibson of Space Bong for his amazing feel, his versatility and penchant for drone.
With so many quality bands existing on a local level, do you find it intimidating or inspiring when watching an act completely command the attention of everyone in the room?
Without a doubt, it is profoundly inspiring. There is nothing better than seeing another relatively unknown band in the Australian underground operating on an awe-inspiring level. For me it reinforces why we do what we do. It really permeates all the doubt and pain and frustration you might go through being in a fairly unrecognised and financially unviable band.
Luckily I’m at the stage where I am so regularly inspired by brilliant local and underground musicians that any sense of doubt and self-questioning is almost entirely absent. I know wholly what I am doing with my music and why I do it. That is an extremely fortunate position to be in.
That being said, watching a profoundly bland band command a room full of fawning fashionista fans can be frustrating and confusing too – but those experiences are usually in markedly different situations.
Like a lot of musicians, do you align yourself with any particular brands (guitars, amps etc)? Can this also be considered a limitation when experimenting is so important in this genre?
I think there’s a middle ground that I tread. I am certainly blown away by the quality of certain brands like Earthquaker Devices, but to escalate that to blind brand-worship and therein limit your playing and your sound makes no sense. You should always keep an open mind. There is no ‘cure all’ for a universally, objectively good sound. The spectrum of sound and music is infinitely broad, and if you start trying to limit that, you’re doing the entire field a disservice.
But yes, despite all that I do love Earthquaker Devices, vintage Fender, Marshall and Sunn amps, Gibson Les Pauls, Eastwood Guitars (for their amazing Ovation Ultra LP copy that I play with in Adrift for Days) and Tym’s Guitars.
Have you achieved or are on track to defining your own sound and that of AFD?
I think we were extremely lucky that we were able to at least shape the basis of our sound quite early on; fusing influences of blues, doom, drone, psychedelia, post-rock, ambient music, ancient tribal/indigenous culture and so forth. I was so happy when a lot of the reviews that were coming would often reference at least the majority of the elements we were trying to put together.
But a bands sound is absolutely not static. It has to keep evolving, and it has to be dynamic and ever changing just like the individuals who make up the band. Music is a reflection of a collective of individuals; their lives may change drastically, as can their outlook on life and the way they view their place amongst the cosmos.
I find that by the time the band has finished writing a song, I would have played the riffs that make up that song at least a couple of hundred times – if not a thousand. I don’t usually rush that process. The sound and tone of each song I bring to the band is shaped by a long process of refinement, which ultimately comes down to my emotional state over that period. Let’s just say I was not in a particularly positive place when I played the droning section of Along the Moon River ad infinitum.
When you watch a band live, what instrument do you focus on the most, and what instrument is critical to a commanding live sound?
As a generalisation I usually focus on the guitar. But, if we’re talking about the most critical instrument; I think that could be the drums. Percussion is absolutely the framework for most music; if the foundation is not solid, it usually won’t matter what is built above it – it can never really overcome the damage done at the structural level.
That said, we all know painful it is to witness an overly enthusiastic out-of-key vocalist.
When writing or playing live, which instrument do you listen to the most and why? Does this change between environments?
When writing I most definitely just listen to the drone of my guitar. I usually end up writing by self on my acoustic, and I try and listen very carefully to the dynamics, vibrations and harmonics in what I’m playing. I really want to inject an emotional feel into what I’m playing, and I’m pretty much obsessed with harmonic resonance.
In a live situation, it’s the drums. Often it’s up to Steve to set the tempo and feel for whatever it is we’re playing – and again, that usually depends on his emotional state.
Being a drummer, I'm curious to hear from other guitarists about the role of their drummer. With AFD being a guitar-driven band, where do drums sit and do they have an influence on song-writing?
We don’t like playing at the same tempo for an extended period. I find we use a lot of mid-song tempo changes, gradual slow-downs and subtle speed-ups. Steve has a huge amount of power in determining what tempo we play certain sections of our songs at. As such I think he has a huge influence on the general feel of our music. I find it really varies from performance to performance too, which I quite like.
Steve plays a huge role both live, when we write and when we record. We’ve developed really good communication between us in terms of setting or changing tempos. If we didn’t have that kind of connection of understanding, I don’t think this band would work very well at all.
AFD and Dumbsaint both share guitarist, Ron Prince. Describe the dynamic of playing with someone on the same instrument. Does it allow for more economic/ensemble playing?
Well initial reason we really liked Ron’s playing was his incredible sound, his feel for psychedelic layers and his awesome lead-work. What I enjoy about this band is that everyone brings very different ideas and influences to the table – and Ron is certainly no exception. The songs he instigates are very different to the songs that I instigate. He’s clearly stronger in some areas of guitar-work than me. He’s also an incredible guitar technician and an absolute gold-mine of knowledge when it comes to effects, amplification, guitar makes and so forth.
Of course, we love the sheer scale of our sound – and having Ron on a 2nd guitar is an enormous part of that. We don’t focus overly on ensemblic playing, but having two guitarists really does enable us a lot more flexibility. I couldn’t imagine this band being anywhere near as effective with just one guitarist.
Inspiration and influence can change rapidly as we're exposed to new music, ideas and most importantly having the time to get better on our instrument. Do you feel you are writing the songs you want to be writing, or is the 'million dollar riff' always waiting just over the hill?
The music I write is wholly an expression of my emotional state combined with a variety of stylistic influences. I always write the songs that I want to write. Admittedly, I do look back on some of my earlier bands and feel a little embarrassed, but I think I’ve reached a level of maturity with the music I play that I won’t have an experience like that again.
I don’t want a million dollar riff. I just want to express myself. I’m perfectly fine with being an obscure unknown musician for the rest of my days. I find it odd that so many aren’t content with that. Perhaps they just play music for very different motivations than I.
AFD are one of those loudest local bands I've seen. This is no doubt deliberate. Is it a choice designed to satisfy the playing experience, envelope the audience, or both?
Both, without a doubt. I can still remember the first time I saw Space Bong play in their home town of Adelaide back in 2008. That was really the first time I was exposed to a small, local gig of comparable volume – and it was also an incredible education in vibration and drone. The impact that volume had (couple of course, with the bands incredible proficiency and control of their instruments feedback, resonance and so forth) was earth-shaking. I knew I wanted to absorb that concept into the new project Steve and I were considering starting.
I must admit that I really like the idea that if someone hates our music, they will probably have to move at least 500m away from our vicinity.
AFD touches on a few genres within genres. Is it imperative for bands to be chameleon-like in order to transcend audiences?
I don’t care about audiences or genres. I care about playing music that I enjoy, or that I feel expresses how I feel. I love a huge pool of music, so why shouldn’t my band draw on all of that? Artificially limiting your output to the confines of a pre-determined genre is just insane.
Tim and Gene from Ebolie (who I now play with in Serious Beak) really taught me the value and ease at which you can combine a kaleidoscope of different influences. I could never be stuck in a ‘genre band’ where you are simply rehashing a formula… well, it wouldn’t be a band I take seriously anyway.
You are currently tinkering away on the follow up to The Lunar Maria, AFD's debut album. Is there a concerted effort to add or change anything musically, thematically or production-wise this time around?
We’ve matured as a band, and we’ve changed as people. The music very much reflects that. I think we’re getting better at developing our ideas in more depth, and we’re growing more comfortable with all members contributing to our writing process. It’s all developing very naturally.
In terms of production; well our debut was recorded very hastily. With that album I had pre-written a lot of the basis for songs in terms of riff and structure… that meant the songs didn’t utilise the awesome talents of our other members as much as I would have liked them to. We’re taking a lot more time to let our songs develop rather than rushing things this time around. Everyone has far great time and opportunity to develop their own ideas and layers and variants.
We’re hoping to get a bit more time in the studio this time around too. Would you believe Messages Through Sleep almost didn’t make it onto the album? We literally recorded that on the final take of our last session in the studio. I really would like to avoid a similar experience next time – and I would love to build in a lot more time for improvisation and just jamming.
Alright, it's another slow new day/week. So here is a list of killer bands you should familiarise yourself with. Be forewarned; most of them are not metal (which shoudn't really bother you if you have a taste in music rather than a taste in one genre).
Brian Campeau: an incredible acoustic singer/songwriter originally from Canadian, but now located in Sydney. Brian has an incredible vocal range matched with a very unorthodox style of guitar playing. His recorded works are influenced by the likes of Thom Yorke and Bjork; balancing soaring emotional vocals with equal parts minimalist acoustic recordings and dreamy atmospheric textures.
Five Star Prison Cell: a totally unique Australian metal band based heavily around the polyrhythmic complexity of Meshuggah with a healthy helping of groove. These guys are further differentiated by an extremely dynamic vocalist. There is definitely no other band like them; and after seeing these guys play last Friday I have to say they are probably the most insanely tight fuck-off musicians I have seen from a band in a long time.
Helm: I cannot say enough good words about these guys. They have taken the high points of Cult of Luna, Neurosis and Isis and transformed those elements into something really unique. Amazing clean sung harmonies accompany anguished screams and an endless back catalog of killer riffs, build-ups and meditations. Musically these guys fucking know how to structure a song. The more I listen to their debut album, the more I begin to realise that it will not take long for these guys to surpass anything Isis and Cult of Luna have had to offer - and considering my love for both those bands, that is not a small statement to make.
Hospital the Musical: the meeting of Botch, The Locust and The Dillinger Escape Plan. Insanely talented musicians making technically obscene, raging hardcore. Now that could sound like a recipe for disaster, but this bands flirtation with the experimental and dedication to constantly pushing their music in new directions make these guys Australia's best band in the genre since The Rivalry. Their new full length REDorphan is fucking amazing.
Looking Glass: these dudes hark back to the days when psychedelic rock ruled the earth with guitar-wielding gods with obscene narcotic-based diets. Without a doubt, this is THE BEST fucking band in Australia when it comes to stoner and psychedelic rock. They take the best elements of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix without ever sounding derivative. Their live presence is absolutely fucking crushing; and once more (as seems to be the theme) their musicianship is impeccable. Guitarist/vocalist Marcus is one of those rare virtuosos on guitar that makes everyone shut the fuck up and stare in disbelief at the maniac hacking at his guitar strings in total aural ecstacy. Fucking check them out.
Pirate: insane psychedelic and progressive rock. These guys are like The Mars Volta... if The Mars Volta were just 4 dudes playing intensely complex prog shit infused with such incredible groove-hooks and catchy rhythms they didn't need a vocalist to back them up. These dudes are relatively new to the Sydney scene; and fuck me if they havent got everyone's undivided attention.
Squid: two drummers, a double-bassist and two saxes busting out insanely catchy beats in stupid time signatures, and then proceeding jam and dance. I don't know what to call this other than a party jazz jam band, but that label hardly does the immensely talented band members any justice.