How was the Bluesfest?
It was awesome as usual. This year I didn’t see as much as I have in previous years. I have a little kid so I was looking after him while my wife was singing, she’s part of the RocKwiz band.
What were the highlights for you?
Hardly saw anything except of my own gig which is quite selfish, I heard Paul Simon was really good and I heard Robert Plant was seriously good as well. You’ll have to interview someone else rather than live through me!
The new album, Steal The Light has been a few years in the making – excited about it?
Yeah! The last record was about the band going through some shit – like every band we had a little rough patch – but this record we’ve come full circle and returned to an energy that is present on our earlier albums. It’s more about dancing and the energy that our fans know us for.
Did you debut any tracks at Bluesfest?
Yeah we’ve been playing a few tracks in our set and a big thing for us is improvising – we’re all about our live energy – we’re not the kind of band who gets things done in the studio and then play them live for the first time. We play them live and get to know then and then the songs kind of change and grow a little as we take them in different musical directions.
How does the actual songwriting process work, then?
It’s always different for everyone but as a general rule, either me or Felix will write the chords or lyrics and get the vibe for the song and then we take it to the band and they do their thing with it. It’s pretty simple really. It can be hard work, especially writing lyrics but there’s no mysterious process.
Will this be your final album, especially now that you’ve come full circle?
No, I feel like this is a real rebirth for the band, I would definitely say we’re going strong. The live energy has never been better – that’s my yardstick for the band – how the gigs go. And the shows we’ve been doing recently have had a great energy and brought back memories of how we started when it was all about dancing.
Best gig you’ve ever played?
Tough question. It’s easy to measure gigs by biggest gig or the weirdest gig but best gig is really hard because there are so many moments where I’ve felt just like everything was perfect and often its hard to remember even where I was at the time. The crowd is right, the room is right, all the conditions are perfect and everyone is looking at each other thinking ‘holy shit, how is this happening right now?’ It’s a mysterious formula.
Okay then – weirdest gig?
Well I have to go right back, in the early days we did pretty much every gig we could get. We played at a Freemasons convention, we played at a Mormon’s wedding, all kind of weird parties back in the early days. I remember a gig in Italy that was so strange, there was hardly anyone there, but there was a plague of mosquitoes, like crowds of them, I couldn’t even open my mouth to sing without swallowing them. In Italy we also played a gig for the Communist Party. We were up on stage and there were these long trestle tables with Italians eating pasta and drinking red wine.
Can you sing in any other languages? I recall a French cover you did
Yeah we did a French cover of Hotel California and we have a few Spanish songs on the new album and also a French one. That’s about it for now, I love learning languages but unfortunately I don’t have the time to learn.
Do you learn the songs rather than actually learning the language?
Well, I speak French but it’s more a product of the music we play. We have quite a big Latin influence, so it just makes sense to pepper it with some Spanish lyrics.
What about covers, do you have a favourite cover to perform?
We actually hardly ever do covers live. We used to back I the old days but we have so many songs now to play. After every gig we always have someone come up to us and say why didn’t you play this or play that? So covers become like almost like a waste of space for our fans because our fans want to hear stuff from our old albums. It’s actually really hard getting that balance between songs that people want to hear and songs that are really good live.
There was a recent poll that said John Farnham was the greatest Aussie singer of all time, who do you think should have topped it?
That’s a good question, I can totally understand John Farnham being number one. But I would have to give the award to two sisters, Vika and Linda Bull. They’ve done amazing stuff and they are responsible for so much more than they’re known for. These two are just the best.
You grew up in Melbourne, right? What’s the music scene like there?
Well, Geelong but I know Melbourne pretty well. The live music scene in Melbourne is up there with the best in the world. Right now there are people coming from all over the world to check out the scene that’s happening. I’ve been to New York and London, places that are really well known for their music and I find that even though they’ve got a great history, when you’re looking at the present I think that Melbourne is probably better. It’s up there with Montreal and Austin, Texas as the most exciting places in the world to check out live music.
Any venues we should check out?
Well unfortunately as a south-sider I have to say the whole north side. You go down to the centre of it which is the intersection of Johnson Street and Brunswick Street in Fitzroy and spreading out into Northcote; there are so many venues where you can check out live music every night of the week, from jazz to rock, whatever you’re into. One of the reasons why I think Melbourne is so exciting is the cross pollination of music being mixed together. In America and England they have these tags, like ‘if you play this kind of music you look like this’ and ‘if you hang out here then this is your haircut’. But we seemed to have avoided that here in Melbourne and, as a result, we have all these bands that kind of indefinable in the music they’re playing.