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EXCLUSIVE: The Pleasure Of His Company – THE MODELS’ Sean Kelly. Part 2


Promo shots 1981 & 2010
Promo shots 1981 & 2010

In this exclusive interview, Michael Witheford takes full advantage of his time with Sean Kelly to cover the entire history of the Models. In part 2 of our two part interview,  Sean chats about the band’s recordings from the ‘Local And/or General’ album through to the present and future.

local_general rear insTell me about Local And/Or General.
Again most of the tracks were just invented in the studio. Mushroom took a back seat when we recorded Local and/or General because A&M Europe came on board. To that point we were primarily a touring band. We had a reputation for producing a really impressive sound live touring a lot with international bands. We played with The Police on their Zenyatta Mondatta tour and that was how A&M became aware of us and it meant Mushroom had to put one of their options aside. A&M took us to London with a budget.

So was Cut Lunch (six track EP) written and recorded as part of the potential material for Local and/or General?
No Cut Lunch was a completely separate venture. Mushroom paid for us to record some demos for a new album and they were deemed to be of a decent standard; ‘Cut Lunch’, ‘Two Cabs’, ‘Man ‘O’ Action’, ‘Unfaithful To The Corps’, ‘Atlantic Romantic’ and ‘Germ’. So everyone said “Well why don’t you just put them out?” But we were in London recording Local and or General when the decision was made to put it out, so some of those songs were destined for Local and or General, the English remix. In the English remix they included alternative recordings of ‘Two Cabs’, ‘Atlantic Romantic’ and ‘Man ‘o’ Action’.

Which do you prefer?
I prefer the Australian one but the English one which I revisited recently has a lot of merit too. There was talk of Warner Bros releasing a box set of our stuff last year including rarities. One is ‘Two Cabs’ and it didn’t eventuate but I was quite excited about an alternative version of ‘Two Cabs’. I kinda had issues with the Australian recording of ‘Two Cabs’, the one that’s on Cut Lunch engineered by Tony Cohen. I mean to this day I’m not real comfortable with my vocal performance on it and I know people are really familiar with it, so it’s always a dilemma for me – do I feel like I have to sing it like the original? Anyway to suddenly have an alternative version from the same period was really attractive to me and I think it’s better… but that’s just one song.

I’ve always enjoyed your cover of ‘Telstar’. Whose idea was that?
I can’t remember. There’s a chance it was Mark Ferrie’s idea. I still love playing it. I did this thing where, even though I’m not really known as a guitarist I actually got really good 20 years after the recordings that I’m known for. I did manage to put a solo melody in ‘Telstar’ and according to my research that was originally played by Richie Blackmore who went on to Deep Purple … a bit of a space cadet … but anyway he played with The Tornadoes and he didn’t think of putting the run up at the end that I put in Telstra as I like to call it. Joe Meek who recorded the original was like a total enigma. I love his gear. I’ve got a few of his virtual plug-ins.

Did the various line-up changes affect your momentum? Local and/or General didn’t quite give you the breakthrough you deserved.
It’s fair to say that Local and/Or General didn’t achieve the sales in Europe and America that A&M or indeed we hoped for. We released a single in Europe but not here; the title track. It got an interesting review in London in Sounds magazine or Melody Maker, which said I sounded like David Bowie being boned up the arse. That was the review. So we came back home and there were big changes. We had momentum going and I can contrast that with contemporary times when I almost have a hiatus between gigs, whereas back then we were constantly working. If we weren’t recording we’d have to pack up and go and do a gig somewhere, but the line-up changes were very much like a lot of non-musical businesses I’ve been involved in. Back then I didn’t see it as a business. I didn’t see it as being bound by the same laws. To be fair I was concentrating on music not logistics. So if we hit a snag and someone didn’t like it and didn’t want to be involved for various reasons we’d just find somebody else and move on. That’s sort of the way it worked and it was almost an ethic that we were striving for something, and it was a consensus and if you weren’t part of it we’d get someone else.

pleasureofSo then comes the preliminaries before The Pleasure Of Your Company and more line-up changes. What happened?
I think when we put out Pleasure Of Your Company it was kind of the end of an odyssey. I don’t think there had been a near hiatus quite like that between Local and/or General and Pleasure Of Your Company. There’s even another bunch of songs from that period which didn’t make it to that LP. There could almost have been another album between Local, and Pleasure. We got back to Australia with Local and/or General and there were issues with the rhythm section, and we ended up getting Graham Scott on drums to replace Buster Stiggs, and James Freud to replace Mark Ferrie. Mark didn’t like where we were heading. We had John Rowell on guitar and he’s basically the only other guitarist that’s worked with the band. That line up recorded the single ‘On’, and treated one song like it was a whole album.

‘On’ was a great song. An overlooked classic
Eventually Barton Price came in, John Rowell was no longer with the group and we got back to the nucleus of me Andrew and the new guys; Barton and James. I loved it. Initially it was just bliss because coming from a background of drumming I just always wanted to work with a drummer like Barton who was freakishly brilliant. The drums are featured heavily on The Pleasure Of Your Company. Before he joined our band he was working with Ian Rilen in a band called Sardine V and they supported us a bit, and Ian would do things like say “I only want you to play the hi-hat”, so Barton would play a shuffle or something. His father was a jazz drummer. Barton is a classically trained violinist and a very musical drummer. I just loved having him on board. The last year he just got sick of me taking so long to do anything. He’s so motivated and so efficient. With myself, Andrew and Mark Ferrie all involved in other projects it takes us ages even to veer off on a slightly different angle. Barton just got a bit sick of not much happening.

510RJYA0D3LSo The Pleasure Of Your Company is released and everyone says, ‘Oh they’ve released a commercial radio album’. Is that what it was? If you hadn’t heard early Models it would still sound pretty experimental to my ears.
Yes we had a very deliberate attempt to create a commercial element to what we were doing. But we always had that. I don’t think we went, “Oh wow ‘Barbados’, this is the commercial hit”, or ‘Out Of Mind Out Of Sight’. But with ‘Barbados’ it was obvious it was pretty commercial, but it didn’t seem much more than a really well arranged, composed, dynamic piece of music before James wrote the lyrics.

It’s interesting you should preface that question with how if you hadn’t heard any of our early stuff Pleasure would have sounded quite adventurous because exactly the same thing happened in America.Out Of Mind’, (the single) when it was released in the states was only available as a bootleg and an independent kid on college radio right around America played it as something alternative. It was only after that that Geffen released it to the mainstream and it charted in the Billboard top 40. It was considered our nadir by some esteemed critics in Australia. The equivalents in the states thought it was quite cutting edge and adventurous, so even though I have my own aesthetic values I didn’t really get caught up in the “Is this too commercial?” argument. I was personally just having a ball, being signed to more than one major label, being feted earning a decent wage so they were great times for me. People still stop me and say “Hi Sean, I just wanna let you know I didn’t like your band after James joined”. I always think, that’s funny cos I did!

models-outofmindoutofsightSo ‘Out Of Mind Out Of Sight’ is a big hit. Number one single in Australia and Top 40 in the US, and you go to record Media, the follow up. How did you approach that?
It’s been said that it was a bit premature after Out Of Mind. We got a directive or a suggestion from our management that we might wanna consider just recording another album at the same time as Out Of Mind, so if it was successful we could possibly tour the world for a year or two on that album, so why not get another one in the can that’s ready to go. We pretty much thought that was an acceptable idea and we went for it. We booked some time in London at Sarm West which used to be known as Basing Street and it used to be Bob Marley’s home. The Stones used to record there. By the time we got there it was owned by Trevor Horn and had a refurb and they were working on Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Yes, and George Michael. Trevor … you just imagine that guy from the Buggles clip. That never kind of computed with the guy who had produced Grace Jones. Seeing him walk around Sarm in a crappy jumper. And this studio was right in the middle of Notting Hill so there were Rastafarians everywhere and markets and Portobello Road, and it was just great, and I still love London.

We had a great time recording Media. We had Mark Opitz and Julian Mendelsohn as co-producers. Julian had just been working with Kate Bush on Hounds of Love and Paddy Bush would come in to say g’day, and we were on Geffen and the rep from LA came into our studio. He’d just been down at Bath at Peter Gabriel’s studio where ‘Don’t Give Up’, the duet with Kate and Gabriel had just been recorded, so they played it to us. They said “What do you think of this?” And we thought, maybe we’ll just give up now that we’ve heard that because it was an amazing recording. So it was a really exciting time in London until Chernobyl went off and I was convinced we were all going to die. I wanted to come home.

There’s some great songs on that album. It was almost worth the price of admission for one of the songs that James wrote called ‘Hold On’ and even though as yet we’ve never played it … some of his stuff I’ll have a crack at singing … it’s possibly the most requested song that we don’t play. Plus ‘Evolution’ was kind of throwaway but I got a lot of mileage out of it.

We made a film clip in Manhattan for that one and spent any potential royalties that we were going to make on this clip. Andy Warhol was going to come down. The idea was to reproduce the studio 54 scene from Midnight Cowboy. Artistically, Media had merit. It was a very strange time and that’s where it finished.

Well yeah, the record didn’t sell well and then we were told you’d split up.
Apart from being quite positive about trying to shore up our stocks we had a hefty year of touring. I was starting to have lots of disagreements with James Freud because even though he started off just grateful for a gig, initially he was the bass player. He sang on one song, ‘Facing The North Pole In August’ .Otherwise he just loved playing the bass and you know even right up til weeks before he died he was really proud of what he’d achieved. He was a very natural gifted musician. That’s why I wanted him to join the band. And I went on to encourage him to do some writing or singing in the band cos I’d never been the only singer in the band anyway. But we started kind of having our differences.

Once we had the hit with Out Of Mind James justifiably wanted more say in the band and I was fine about that, but when it came to the final say, as far as I was concerned that was up to me, so we ended up with irreconcilable differences. I wanted us to try some adventurous ideas perhaps featuring Wendy Matthews on solo too. Whereas James I think would have been happy to record another Out Of Mind. It was really that simple, and Wendy had been singing back-ups for a while.

We did a single after Media with a cover of The Beatles’ ‘Oh Darling’ and we made a film clip in which James plays an Irish comic, and its gloriously slapstick and encompasses a side of the band which was always our rampant sense of humour. He was the best mimic I ever met. He could do anyone. He grew up surrounded by Irish cabaret singers and stuff. James and I were both Irish. I was fifth or sixth generation. But James’s parents were born in Belfast so James was an Australian born Irishman. So he just sort of cut his teeth on Irish folk singers.

I really enjoyed that version I have to say, and the clip is hilarious. Your guitar sound is very recognizable. What’s your set up?
It hasn’t changed much. I’ve always used distortion and echo. I’ve discovered with a subtle delay you can create what sounds like reverberation, but unlike reverb, the delay effect can help a guitar cut through a live mix. But what’s exciting is that I can remember trying to work out a perfect triplet delay across the 4/4 beat, knowing that when you play it, it creates all this syncopation and it’s like a preset on delay units now. It’s satisfying that I thought of this shit before it was a preset on something in a music store. Then I’ve occasionally used a bit of chorus octave splitter and a bit of Wah Wah and that’s it.

What about amps? Guitars?
With amps, anything with valves. When I have to leave Melbourne I always order some combo like a Boogie or an AC 30. My own amp is just a Vietnamese Vox. I was really spoiled as a youngster with guitars because I’d had some success by the time I was 18 and I was able to go out and buy beautiful American guitars. I started off on an SG with my first band. It was really an obscure forgotten unremarkable SG, but then I sort of became a Strat guy and had a Jazzmaster and I was able to cart a Les Paul round with me as well. I almost had a collection of really beautiful guitars and if I still had them they’d be worth a lot of money. I’m lucky because I’ve got a beautiful American made Stratocaster, a 2004 model. It’s not collectable or vintage but the intonation is beautiful and it’s got noiseless pick-ups I love that.

So to the present. If someone asks me what’s going on with The Models, what do I tell them?
There’s several things you could say. You could say they’ve got a new line up with a new brilliant drummer…you could say there’s still a collaboration between Andrew and I. What’s interesting is that we’re extant at all. I read recently that we were described as having a death knell in ‘86 or ‘87. I felt like writing “but yeah we’ve been playing for 15 years now which is longer than we were together initially”. In the 1990s we didn’t play one show, but since the 2000 tour we haven’t stopped. I’m sitting on a stack of material and might do a solo LP or push stuff onto other artists. Basically I’m just trying to keep out of trouble.

Models national tour happens in December. Ticket info here

They will also be playing A Day On The Green, Mitchelton Wines, Nagambie VIC on January 23rd.

Visit The Models Facebook fan site



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