Written for Rip it Up – September 2014
As a fellow Wellingtonian I’ve been fortunate to catch nu-folk/Americana outfit Eb & Sparrow open for Rodriguez, Beth Orton and Tami Neilson. Ebony Lamb’s smoky alto just seems to float over the Arizona dry desert tones of her ballads. Her aching loneliness rolls like soft thunder through dark clouds of foreboding grooves. So the cover image on the cover of their self-titled debut perfectly encapsulates the pioneer themes of nature, longing and loneliness – like a Geoff Murphy film or a CK Stead novel. Perhaps it’s Kerrie Hughes’ 17th Century botanical panels, their choice to record in a broken port town or the haunting anthems loves lost and reclaimed that make this five piece’s take on Americana seem so unique and so personal.
When I had coffee with the delightful Ebony Lamb recently she gave me a sense of how important music was to her emotional health and how important the band was to her music. I am very grateful for her honesty and candour as she talked at length about her band. “We’re not only on the road together… we look after each other’s kids … we even help each other move house.” Lamb is rightly very proud of Bryn Hevelt – Lap Steel, guitars; Jason Johnson – Bass; Nick Brown – Drums; Chris Winter – Trumpet, referring to them as a family. “And in our band, family comes first. They’ll all very talented and versatile. I’m amazed at their skill to take a song and explore it in so many ways until the true sense can be found. We must have done (the Cash-like track) ‘Big Train’ about 50 ways before we decided on the right one. I love that exploration process.”
Lamb’s fairly new to the music industry having only been playing guitar for 5 years, taught by “a very patient man” – a former boyfriend (who, incidentally, later went on to break her heart and further inspire her creativity). “I guess I’ve had many dark moments in my life. I could have been a painter – that would have been a way to channel that emotion that sorrow. But I found music. “I was meant to meet Bryn. He encouraged me. I hadn’t been writing long. I had song songs I wanted him to help me to record and he said ‘Why not make an album?’ So we did.”
“We collected together, saved up, and we chose to record away from our lives in Wellington. We needed to separate ourselves.” The album was recorded (predominantly live, with little overdubs bar vocals) in the unsettled maelstrom of a recovering port town – at Lyttleton. Lamb heard about Ben Edwards’ Sitting Room Studio though fellow singer Delaney Davidson, amongst others, and knew of the impressive work he’d done with the Eastern. “Ben was in the middle of rebuilding after the earthquake when we arrived – so he set up a room in the basement of the Wunderbar. I was apprehensive about the space because it was this concrete room. But he made it nice with padding, etc. He made us welcome.”
“Bryn calls me a ‘freak of nature’ – I’ve had little experience or training, unlike the other members of the band who’ve been playing nearly all their lives. But I am writing a song a day, maybe more. Half my life I’ve been just a mum, at home. This is like a calling I didn’t know I could release. I can be determined, hot headed. The guys just follow along. So we need Ben to take direction. He was like the 6th member of the band for the duration.”
Many of the songs are deeply tied to personal event and have multiple layers. Lamb grew up around music – on the radio, the car stereo. Her solo father was “a mechanic-tinkerer – but thoughtful and philosophical man. (He loved rebuilding things) We must have had about 30 Holden’s over the years.” She tells me about family road trips and the reminiscent journeys she made driving back to Tauranga over the last 3 years to visit her dying father (who was stricken with motor neurone disease). “It was those trips and a recent break up with my boyfriend that brought me great sadness. But with my daughter traveling with me I was reminded of great joy and to be thankful.” All that inspired the new video ‘Quietly We Tread’ (which is also on the album) which was made by with the help of good friends Nikki Parlance and Kate Macpherson. The road trip that features is a lifelong metaphor for transience of emotions – love, loss, recovery. And fittingly it also features an old Holden.
The video ‘Quietly we tread’ is available to stream on 1 Sept Eb & Sparrow will launch their Debut at The San Francisco Bath House on 5 September.
link to Kerrie Hughes – http://www.bowengalleries.co.nz/artists/hughes.php
To Be published in Rip It Up – September 2014
“You know, sometimes I used my voice for evil, Man,” laughs comedian, Gabriel Iglesias, better known as ‘Fluffy’, “Sometimes I go to the drive-in and they stuff up my order…. I use it to be evil,,,, I drive around again and order with my ditzy female voice… I pull up to the window to get my order… and they are not expecting….Me! They were thinking … say a small, pretty blond – not a 1000 lb Latino in a Hawaiian shirt!” ‘Fluffy’ is not — err? Well, he’s not a petite man. He can fill the space as much with laughter, as with himself. But don’t call him ‘fat’. “I prefer the term ‘Fluffy’. It was a reference used, especially around Latin Americans in 1940’s. Back when people were gentler in their language”
He’s certainly livened my day, as he tells me how that drive-in routine came about – apparently he actually does buzz McDonald’s staff from time to time. Iglesias has always found his comedy on the street. And today those streets were rumbling. “You hear that. We’ve having a tremor.” Indeed half way through our interview (he’s in Northern California, I’m in my jammies back in Wellington) the windows in his apartment start rattling. “But it’s nothing,” he tells me in a broad Latino accent. ‘Nothing’ turns out to be a pretty strong 6.0 on the Richter scale, but he’s not concerned. “When I walk the floor shakes – don’t quote me on that”
Born in Chula Vista, California, Iglesias is the youngest of six children, raised by a single mother. By the way he’s no relation to Enrique or Julio. “However, there’s a story,” he tells me ”of a mother who abandons a baby on the steps of a church. That’s what it means ‘Church’. And in that way we’re all related” More specifically, it’s the comune of province of Carbonia-Iglesias Sardinia, Italy, where the tale originated, but no one’s quibbling on that.
Iglesias grew up he tells me, as a shy boy in poor housing in Long Beach, CA. And then one day he saw Eddie Murphy’s Raw. “I totally loved it. It was amazing. I loved everything – his red leather, the brashness, the rudeness, I was about 10 years old. It changed me.”
Around 1997 has offered the opportunity to compere a music night. “It was these hum drum covers bands in a little dive-club. It’s still there, God Bless. I got paid $20 for 5 minutes. I got the taste and kept going.” Dues were definitely paid: in every biker bar and hole in the wall joint in California but he’d never expected the incredible success he has experienced. Today, Iglesias is one of America’s most successful stand-up comedians. He regularly performs in sold-out concerts across the United States and Internationally. I asked him what the craziest gig was. “Oh, well. One was the North Pole. It’s dark half the year. They actually have a light bulb that goes on for half a day so you know when it’s day and you know when it’s night. I was there entertaining troops up in ‘Santa’s Grotto’ Most audiences hit the boulevard for a couple to warm up before coming into a comedy club. But you can’t do that at the North Pole. It’s a long ride home if you’re DIC”
He also told me the weirdest event was for royalty in Saudi Arabia. “I was expecting ex-pats or something but there were plenty of locals. It was crazy. I was expecting them to be quite conservative; They were very diverse, open, warm. Often the media portray only one side of a culture and you get a mindset about them. I was blown away by their warmth.”
Iglesias’ stand-up is the time honored mix of storytelling, parody, character assassination and sound effects that exaggerate everyday experiences into a larger than life event.
Last month he released The Fluffy Movie a film of his standup to theaters and is also featuring in his first major studio release I (Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum). Info on that is still under wraps but things are certainly hotting up. “Yeah, and then I get to come to you guys in New Zealand,” he notes,” That’ll be cool. Do you have drive-ins down there?” Oh Oh…..
To be published in Rip It Up – September 2014
“Courtney Barnett… The singer-songwriter, who is from New Zealand, will start her run of live shows in Newcastle… ” wrote English music magazine NME recently. “No way,” was Barnett’s reaction when I told her, “That’s hilarious! Am I good enough to be a Kiwi? Maybe better!” Barnett, who’s actually from Sydney, via Hobart and now resides in suburban Melbourne is planning to front up in Godzone shortly, when she tours her Double EP (not actually an album, she points out) called A Sea of Split Peas. The debut caught the attention of music lovers and critics, with Rolling Stone comparing the emerging songwriter to “early Bob Dylan,” while NPR described Barnett as “laconic, funny and charming.” The odd tile was inspired by eating lentil soup, whilst drawing the cover – a reproduction of a Japanese print of a tsunami wave “…and I just wrote the title underneath – I thought it would be puzzling and intriguing”.
Barnett’s getting herself known around the world for her witty, rambling lyrics and deadpan, drop dead singing style, attracting attention from not only the dastardly and slightly inaccurate UK music press but their America counterparts as well. …Peas is actually two EP’s – the first made in a friend’s lounge and the second made, more professionally, in Melbourne’s Head Gap studios, in the sprawling suburb of Northcote; the perfect location for Barnett’s acidic little tales of urban banality. Songs swerve from the predictable bonding of ‘uncool’ friends ‘Anonymous Club’, to raunchy love songs like ‘Lance Jr’, with the line: “I masturbate to you sweet music.” “I know that line’s a bit raunchy but why can’t I tell that particular truth. Musicians are supposed to speak for those who can’t”,
However the most eye-opening song on the album has a back story behind ‘Avant Gardner’, about becoming sick from heat exhaustion when gardening in 40 degree heat. It’s a simple but alarming illustration of how she becomes overcome by the heat as she cleans up the back garden – also a metaphor for moving on from a bad relationship, I wonder. Barnett is reluctant to answer that but she can hint that she’s never been good at resolution. “I guess I was never that good at breathing in!,” “It’s a true story. I can’t really explain it more that the song does, I guess. It’s a bad thing that happened. Looking back a couple of weeks later I saw the funny side and, yeah!” Musically, Barnett’s touch stone is early 1990’s alt pop like Juliana Hatfield and the Breeders. “I guess I kind of (resonate) with that stuff. I like a lot of that stuff. When I started out I tried to write songs like that – cool songs. But I never really liked the outcome. And then I went through a couple of years of not listening to any music. Then I returned to it and just tried to forget what I knew and write naturally and that’s where I found my comfortable writing voice.” Influences that informed …Peas ranged from Jonestown, to the Velvets, to the Band to Bowie – “all over the place – different elements creeping in”. Sonically, the ‘flavour’ of the first 6 tracks (EP no.2) benefits from the overwhelming presence of Dan Luscombe (The Drones), whose haunting guitars are all over the place. Barnett has already had a big year – hanging with Steve Tyler on Jimmy Fallon; touring with Billy Bragg on his Aussie leg; playing shows with Kurt Vile and Sharon Van Etten; a string of major festival appearances including Coachella, The Great Escape, and Glastonbury. And, of course, a Kiwi impersonation whilst performing in the UK. And now she’s heading here for a wee look around and a show or two. “I’ll have my band in tow so that will be great. I had extra friends on the eps but the core players will be there. We play as you hear it, no fancy gimmicks, all us. Genuine.” All true blue, indeed.
Featured in Rip It Up – August 2014
Comedian Bill Bailey has to take his phone calls from his office because the racket from his ever growing menagerie of exotic creatures is to much a distraction. “It’s always the same. Soon as the phone goes the Dingos start howling. They feel they’re territory is being threaten by some kind of telephonic being, perhaps. And then the Parrots all start up, squawkin’ and carrying on. It tends to be a bit distracting, so it’s quieter in the office. It’s like we’ve about run out of room in our West London house for all these animals! Doctor Dolittle will need to sail to darkest Peru, I fear, in search of escape.”
Hang on, wait a minute. Did you say Dingo’s? “Ah, yes,” replies Bailey in his measured, faintly Cockney accent, “But not the baby-worrying kind. These are Indonesian Dingos. They are a lot smaller, more slender that their Aussie version – They ‘re a cousin, same DNA. They probably trotted over a land bridge one, dropped down and became marooned on the Indonesian archipelago.” He tells me that these were dogs rescued from the pound whilst Bailey was in Indonesian filming. Sneaking them through customs must have been a mission? “Yeah. Tell them to stay very quiet (Laughs). The law here has become much more expedient… not the six month quarantine that you used to have…it’s down to a few days, if you have the right paper work on this.”
This all came about from a recent trip in search of the real ‘Origin of the Species’. “Yes, between the last time I was in New Zealand and now (he plans to be back in September) I spent a large part of that time working on a documentary about Alfred Russell Wallace, who was a Victorian botanist, explorer, biologist, evolutionary originator. He was a younger contemporary of Darwin. He travelled through Indonesia, Malaysia and what was Borneo and wrote in a wide variety of scientific journals. He came up with a scientific theory of evolution, independent of Charles Darwin.” Bailey’s referring to Bailey’s Jungle Hero – a two part documentary about naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace that was part doco, part mad Englishman-travelogue. All very incredible but surely we’d know that Darwin didn’t develop his theories in isolation? “All this I found out in a bird watching guide called ‘The Birds of Wallacia (the English arrogant name for parts of Indonesia). That started me down the path of years of research: of obsession. All culminating in this TV show (Bill Bailey’s Jungle Hero), unveiling his portrait in the Natural History Museum and getting a bronze statue of him erected in the Darwin gardens, outside.” “What’s interesting about Darwin’s release of the theory was not so much offending the church or his (devoutly religious ) wife… it’s more interesting than that….he was worried about getting his facts right and being also there wasn’t really a universal outcry. People were hungry for a bit of change. The opposition from the church was only one faction. The church had been in charge for so long, people were sick of it. As early as 1816 there was a comedy review that suggested that we might be evolved from orang-utans…the idea had been around for a long time and they were sort of ready for it. Of course all the modernist crazies and colonists ended up in Aotearoa – escaping the old world. “Yes, (adopting a Python-esque colonial voice) let’s high tail it to our beautiful Utopia in the South (NZ).” Which dovetails nicely with Bailey’s new show: Limboland. ‘It’s a place of transition, between the truth and reality. It came about because I realised that a lot of stories in the show started to coerce around this central theme of things not quite being what they seem. Things we once revered to be stolid and impeachable are now revealed to be flawed and fickle. What can we believe? Who can we trust? I think it’s also a sense of reflection, looking back to child hood and looking at what we thought in childhood and how things turned out. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a state of weakness, as we get older (laughs).”
Comedy, even to the youngest can only work if a number of rules and assumptions are accepted. Mr Bean, for example, works because every idea and theme is pretty much based around universal concepts such as Christmas. Bailey, as well does this. Particularly with music, where he reworks well known tunes, for comedic effect. “In the show I, for instance, rewrite ‘Happy Birthday’, the most familiar song on the planet. I made it more, shall we say, ‘downbeat’, given it lower expectations. It came about when I talked to a music lawyer and it’s still in copy write. If you sing it live, you should pay royalties. So I was motivated to write my own, to gift to the world, to use without recourse to pay performance rights.” Bailey is well known for his musical content, being a gifted performer. But sadly, he won’t be bringing his 7 headed guitar Down Under this time around. “I’d never get it on the plane.” He will however be evolving some other instruments, including a six string made for him out of a real bible. Fittingly, evolution, religion and travel in the name of history vs comedy all seem to drive Bailey on. Here’s hoping he doesn’t try to adopt any native birds while he’s down here – he’s rather partial to Keas, apparently. I just want to see a parrot eat a car. What a brilliant bird – beautiful plumage!”
Reprinted from Rip It Up – April 2014 – http://www.ripitup.co.nz/music/interview-kimbra-2/
The drive from Wellington to New Plymouth took considerably longer than expected. By Hawera I was getting really concerned we weren’t going to make our 2:30pm appointment. Beside me, my daughter McKenzie, my ‘cub reporter’, was frantically texting the WOMAD publicist to buy more time. Despite the ticking clock and the speedo needle rising rapidly into the illegal section, Mckenzie sat calmly reading out stats and facts about our interviewee.
A little over two years ago, she reminded me, that just like Lorde, most of us hadn’t heard of Kimbra Lee Johnson. Yet when she was nominated, along with singer-collaborator Gotye for a Grammy for the song ‘Someone I Used to Know’, we all sat up and took notice. What is it about Kiwi female singers that captures the world’s imagination? Perhaps it has something to do with that DIY mentality that we all grew up with. After all, Kimbra wrote and recorded her debut Vows in her Melbourne flat and a minuscule studio in North Richmond. “It was the product of many, many ideas, all fragments and tiny little snatches of songs,” she told us later in the tranquil garden setting of New Plymouth’s Nice Hotel. With seconds to spare, we’d thrown the car into the nearest park and sprinted up the hill to the venue. While we were a little flustered, Kimbra, on the other hand, was relaxed and composed. Dressed in a green refashioned vintage dress, hair and makeup conservative but still glamorous, she was completely different from from outrageous stage persona.
“I feel it’s important to sell my music up there, it creates the illusion and fantasy which is important. It’s part of the whole package. Wait to you see my show tonight!” she promised, “that will surprise you!” And it did! Performing for the first time at WOMAD, Kimbra arrived in royal style dressed in a shimmering white synth-fibre cloak, high-heeled fluffy slippers and a multi coloured tutu. “We’ll play a number of songs from Vows a little bit differently tonight, not so people feel uncomfortable but definitely challenged. Plus I’ll add in a couple of new ones from the album I’m making.” Ah, yes the new album. Kimbra tells me she’s been holed up in LA working with a variety of collaborators including Daniel Johns, Dave Longstreth (Dirty Projectors), Reuben Neilson (Unknown Mortal Orchestra), and abstract beat wizards Flying Lotus and Thundercat, whom she’s raving about today. “He’s got these amazing beats; each artist adds something of their own to the record. I didn’t just want session musicians who’d play what I wrote. I got inspired by those around me. Daniel and I were into the electric harp, so we sat around all day playing little tunes, working out different sequences, until stuff stuck. I also got (soul singer) John Legend in for a number – I like to have variety, to mix up ideas within songs.” Kimbra has described her work as ‘pop-prog’ “I get asked that a lot”, she laughs, “I mean – it’s a combination of weird time signatures, classic girl-group sing-alongs and progressive, experimental music.”
Mckenzie, who’s sitting next to us, is bursting to ask her when she got into this kind of music. Kimbra tells her about working away in her bedroom on little songs on her guitar, songs about rainbows and dragons. She still does this, teasing out little “monster” tunes and ideas that will come to something down the line. Her collaborations and experiments are her inspirations, she tells us. “I still love timeless music with a strong melody but experimenting is where the edge comes in.”
Kimbra’s new album is a sort of journey involving multiple locations. First, with ‘Wally’ deBacker (Gotye) in a Melbourne, and a “huge bunch of cool instruments like Critter and Guitari pocket pianos, Yamaha strings and stompers, and all this stuff he collects up.” Then after flying over to the States for the Grammys she set up shop in LA. “It’s a very glossy town for a Kiwi. Everyone’s an actor,” she laughs in a false Californian accent. “I was just hangin’ out to meet a plumber, you know?”
Relocated, she began writing beats, inspired by Flying Lotus, who eventually contributed, and built up a “palette of music” to ping-pong around producers and collaborators, including Silverchair’s Daniel Johns. She met Johns as part of an Adelaide festival project, which involved a 35-piece orchestra, a week of song-writing and learning Bulgarian vocal scales. She’s on record as calling it all a “three day psychedelic experience.” That work was for Johns’s solo project but the experience was so positive Kimbra called him over to LA to help her out, where she’d been working with producer Rick Costey. Others to walk in include The Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and The Dillinger Escape plan, especially Ben Weinmen who laid down some funky Latin guitars on a few tracks. Also involved were Morris Hayes (keyboardist for Prince’s New Power Generation), and John Robinson, who is probably the most-recorded session drummer ever. Despite the large number of players Kimbra claims that her studio did not have an open door policy. “Part of being in that town was about getting in all this creativity, it’s inspiring.”
That night, McKenzie saw Kimbra on stage for the first time. Her outrageous vocal gymnastics and flamboyant costumes brought a high level of drama to the WOMAD stage that knocked the socks of at least one little girl! LA has been a creative time for Kimbra. Two new songs in her set show the promise of more edgy, schizophrenic pop, setting expectations high for her new album, which Kimbra promises will be here soon. And that, no doubt, will be worth breaking a few more road rules for.