On the surface, the name KILO BAND might not mean a bag of beans to anyone (yet) but it’s band members should. The project’s instigator is Nashville-based Australian producer and guitarist MARK MOFFATT, best known for producing The Saints’ legendary single “I’m Stranded” and also one of the most experienced and respected producers ever to emerge from Australia. The band’s singer is Glasgow-born, Australian rock legend JOHN SWAN (aka SWANEE), also one of the finest rock vocalists to ever front a microphone. Together as Kilo Band, they first released a single in 2014 titled “Parchman Farm”, a Mose Allison song covered by 70’s American rock band Cactus. With time on their hands during the recent lockdowns, Mark and John decided to dedicate more time to the project and have now released a 6 track EP featuring a particularly powerful and soulful brand of vintage blues, rock.
Both artists have blues rock lineage running through their veins. Mark paid his dues in London’s famous Denmark Street during the early ‘70s, working at musical instrument stores and breathing the same air as guitar greats of the day including Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and many others. John played drums in Bon Scott’s early band, Fraternity and took over on vocals when Bon left. John was also in consideration for the AC/DC job when Bon died. Of course he’s Jimmy Barnes older brother and an uncle of star performer/TV presenter David Campbell. John went on to pave an acclaimed solo artist path for himself with many hit singles including Temporary Heartache, If I Were A Carpenter, and Lady What’s Your Name to name a few. Mark produced Swanee’s 1980 album, “Into the Night” and has remained a fan of John’s since those days and has always been keen on showcasing John’s amazing voice to the rest of the world. The Covid restrictions finally presented an opportunity to create more music together.
MARK MOFFAT’S VERSION OF THE KILO BAND STORY …
“I think his voice is the most Glaswegian of all of them,” he says of John Swan’s voice. “He’s a lovely man and I just love that sound. It’s all those people … Frankie Miller, Rod Stewart, I mean, it’s Paul Rogers. I just had this idea about getting people outside the Swanee bubble to hear his voice. There’s songs I still go back and listen to. There’s a song called Matthew on the Into the Night album and some of the notes on that are frighteningly soulful. I just stuck in there over the years, checking in with John and occasionally saying hi, can we do something?”
Mark’s love of blues rock came out of the Brisbane blues boom, where bands like Chain and Bay City Union had a great effect on him. Having some retail experience working at Drouyn’s Music Shop in Brisbane, he was able to gain work once he got to London in 1972 and before he knew it, he was mixing it with the blues rock greats.
“I wrote to all the music shops in London and got a couple of replies. Where I worked was a store called Top Gear, the only guitar shop on Denmark Street back then. Regent Sound was next door where Hendrix had recorded and rehearsed, and it was pretty much the centre of the British Rock scene really. The second week I was there, Jimmy Page walked in and it turned out to be like that every day. So I learned the British blues thing first hand. I’d ask questions. I got to know Peter Green even though he was living rough at that point. Gary Moore was coming up. I didn’t meet Eric Clapton until back in Australia but Jeff Beck … they were around and they’re accessible because of where I was working.”
Eventually Mark returned to Australia and begun doing sessions and working as a producer. In 1976 he famously produced The Saints legendary debut single I’m Stranded, beginning a relationship with EMI Records. Rod Coe, who had produced the remainder of The Saints’ album was working as an A&R guy at EMI and was repping Melbourne country band Saltbush, soon to become Slim Dusty’s backing band. Saltbush were to record at TCS in Melbourne and via a Coe recommendation, the studio’s Barry Coburn offered Mark a position as house engineer. Coburn later moved to Nashville and around 1996 contacted Mark to say that he’d signed Keith Urban to a publishing deal and asked him to come over and work with him.
“I was ready to move,” said Mark of the Nashville opportunity. “And it was really about being in the middle of Tennessee, where so much stuff that I was influenced by had come from, you know, Memphis and the Delta and Muscle Shoals. I got to see and work with people from all of those places. But the Keith thing came out of the Barry Coburn connection. He’d signed Keith and we worked together for a couple of years until he got a record deal and things took off.”
The production side of life had been going well for Mark but he was missing playing music live on stage.
“I got busy as Mr. Producer guy,” said Mark. “I mean, I’d play on some stuff in the studio. Then about seven or eight years ago, a friend of mine was playing in a band with Derek St Holmes, who was the lead singer in the Ted Nugent band. He was not doing anything and had a blues rock band in Nashville. I jammed with him a bit and he said, you know, you do this British blues thing pretty well. Do you wanna join? So a lot of the classic rockers that live here would come out, like the Aerosmith guys, they’d jump up. It was very encouraging. So I got back into it and out of that came contacting John (Swan) and saying, let’s do this thing.”
And where did the name Kilo Band come from?
“I’d been kicking it around for a while as a blues duo,” says Mark. “You know, washboard and kick drum, rattly slide guitar kind of duo kind of thing. That’s what I initially thought it would be. The name I had picked out for that in my head was Kilo. And I just went ahead and used that. I just thought it denoted heaviness, you know, weight. I tried a few things here with people, various people around town, but they didn’t really have their head in the game and also didn’t have the pipes that John has. But the name just was something I had and it stuck.”
The first release from Kilo Band was Parchman Farm, the old Cactus song about the infamous prison in the Mississippi Delta. Mark chose the song as he was a fan of Cactus guitarist Jim McCarty, who occasionally visits Nashville but there was also a tenuous link back to Swanee and his Scottish migrant clan. Mark had heard that Cactus was also one of AC/DC’s Angus Young’s favourite bands.
“Someone told me Angus really likes the band,” he said. “I picked the song out just because I wanted to get moving with something very early on. I’m a huge Jim McCarty fan, who’s the guitar player in Cactus. He comes down to Nashville occasionally. I’ve seen him play a few times. He’s a great player. Yeah. It was a nod to Cactus. I think that the Angus thing was an afterthought. I read somewhere that he liked the band. I’ve always loved the energy of the Cactus version of Parchman Farm, and pretty much drew from that arrangement.”
In another serendipitous link back to Australia, two songs from the Kilo Band EP, Didn’t Really Hurt and Someday came out of jam sessions with the late Bones Hillman from Midnight Oil.
“Bones had moved to Nashville and was trying hard to break into the session scene and we hooked up. I’d worked with various members of the Oils on projects. I’d worked with Jim Moginie as a co-producer on a Neil Murray album … on two Neil Murray albums actually. I’d worked as the guitar player on Rob Hirst’s project, the Ghost Writers, which I loved. Bones, I’d seen way back when he was in The Swingers. I worked with them on Starstruck, an Australian cult movie by Gillian Armstrong. When Bones arrived in town, we got together and he knew Steve Bowman, who was the drummer in Counting Crows at the time. They’d opened for the Oils on an earlier Oils tour. So we got together and started jamming with him the studio, with the intent of hiring ourselves out as a three-piece studio outfit, which we did. We played on a bunch of East Nashville sort of alternative records. The initial getting to know each other jams we did I had recorded and just put them on the shelf. So when this came about, I said to John, I’ve got these jams. They were never meant to be songs. So I called Steve Bowman and said, would it be okay with you if I chopped these up into songs and made some rearrangements? He said, yes. So I did that and then sent the basic tracks over to John and he started writing lyrics and I started writing ideas out and that became those two songs. It was really great to be able to have Bones in full flight on the record.”
There are some great guitar tones on the EP and much of it is surprisingly heavy. Mark played all of the guitars and his main instrument was a Les Paul that he made from spare parts acquired from a Gibson repair dumpster.
“A friend of mine worked at the repair department at Gibson downtown, and he said, you know on Saturday mornings they would throw everything out into the dumpster,” Mark explained. “It wasn’t food and trash, it was mainly guitar parts. So I’d go through it, go down and go through it, and I had found a body and a neck that was broken, which I’ve repaired. This body had a whole lot of holes drilled in the back, and it was a mess. I’ve never done anything like that, but I found myself learning off the internet on how to fix this thing up and built this Les Paul. When I finally strung it up, it just went hi! And that’s the best guitar I’ve ever owned. So I used that on most of it, some acoustic 12 string, really mainly the Les Paul and an old Ibanez bass. I’ve got an Epiphone SG I used on a couple of scratch tracks and left on, they’re like the tremolo rhythm parts. I’ve got a nice Rickenbacker and I’ve got an old Epiphone acoustic 12 string. I’d always liked how Jimmy Page textured his acoustic and electric strings with heavy guitars. I’ve always liked that approach and the sound that he gets and the feeling he gets doing that. I’ve got a couple of amps here. I’ve got a nineties Soldano combo, a single 12” combo that sounds like a Marshall in a lunchbox, it’s a small amp, but it sounds pretty big. In terms of going straight in, I’ve got a device called an Atomic Amplifire, that they sell direct from Atomic. It’s basically a modeller.”
AND JOHN SWAN’S SIDE OF THE KILO BAND STORY …
“Mark was always coming up with great little ideas and any sort of work with Mark was always fun,” said John about the origins of the Kilo project “I remember being at one of those industry nights they had at the Regent. Mark said he was gonna go to the States and it just about broken my heart (laughs). He was mad on freaking lap steel and wanted to go to the home of where it was done. But with Kilo, Mark just always sends ideas. I just really liked the risk. I mean, to me that sounds like Led Zeppelin One, you know, that type of stuff. It was rugged and it just suited everything about where I really sing. I really enjoyed it. Every time a track came up, I’d say wow. There’s nobody else who really challenges you. Every time I get something from Mark, it’s something I know I’m gonna have to work at it because it’s gonna stretch my boundaries”
“What we did was, we just honed the songs over a period of time. He’d say … take that out, take that out. Don’t go up for that. Stay down a little bit longer and then go up so that you’ve got somewhere to go and back up. Mark Opitz used to tell me the same thing too. Don’t fire off all your cannons at once. There’s a whole war ahead of us, which totally I just get. But when I got them, they had no solos, no nothing. It was just bass guitar, riff and then drums from Steve Bowman, the boy from Counting Crows, great player too. But I sat here and I’ve got my little Rode mic set up and whacked them down and sent them back.”
“Mark’s great at directing, he’s one of the people in the world that I can get. I love him dearly. He’s a good man and he’s always been one of my favourite guitar players. When he produced my first album, he was just the nicest man then and he’s never changed … it makes me feel proud to be associated with him but not enough people here know how good he is.”
The song that really jumped out to this music scribe on first play of the EP was Did It Really Hurt, one of Bones Hillman songs. John didn’t know Bones well but as a travelling musician, their paths would cross occasionally. It’s such a smokingly, soulful song. John’s voice is so powerful yet it contains so much soul. I assumed it was the old soul singers that inspired him growing up and to a degree they did but it turns out his greatest influences were his dad and Nat King Cole.
“My dad was a singer but he was also a boxer. Boxers are usually something else as well. I’ve just finished, Pound for Pound, which is the Sugar Ray Robinson story and he was a dancer in Moulin Rouge in between world titles. He would go to Paris and dance, you know, and my dad was just a mad singer. He was a crazy, crazy singer. And of course, Scottish tradition in all the homes is that when people come around to your home, you give ’em a drink and they basically have to either tell a joke, sing or, you know, tell a story of some description. Usually some famous Robbie Burns stuff that the drunks are caught out quoting all the wrong words (laughs). So my dad always sung and he sung like exactly like Nat King Cole. So my introduction to music was Nat King Cole, you know, after that it was Mahalia Jackson and stuff like that. It was really, really quite a strange, eclectic taste.”
As discussed with Mark Moffatt earlier, Parchman Farm the Cactus track was the one that kicked off the Kilo sessions years ago. To confirm Mark’s theory that Cactus was also one of Angus Young’s favourite bands, I ran the same question by Swanee and it seems the whole Barnes (Swan) and Young clans were into that loud brand of blues.
“Yeah, all of them were into that stuff. Rollin’ and Tumblin’ (also on the Kilo Band EP) too. We used to do it with the Chisel guys. Jim and I were singing with Chisel when we started and we’d do stuff like that because it was good for Mossy to have a blow and stretch out. And they were doing it before I was in the band with Don and then Chisel started and I decided I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to keep playing drums. So Jim got the singing gig. I joined unnecessarily, didn’t need me. Jim could do it and then Don came into the equation and they started writing songs and I thought, oh, time for me to get out of here. So it was just back out gracefully. But Don Walker had a great collection of music too, from Thelonious Monk all the way through.”
“And with Rollin’ and Tumblin’, we did that in a band called Hard Time Killing Floor with a guy called Ronnie Peers. I dunno if you know Ronnie. He’s a great, wonderful, wonderful blues player, great guitar player to this day, he’s still one of the best guitar players I’ve ever heard. Blows me away. I was on the drums and we were doing old Chicago Blues and stuff like that, and I think I was about 12 or 13 and I was trying to learn Chicago shuffles, those little snare drum shuffles, that’s all they do, just four on the floor, keep going.”
The Kilo Band EP is available now on music platforms such as Spotify but what next? Is it likely that one day Mark and John might take this project to the stage?
Mark: “I’d love to. I mean, right now it’s a matter of logistics. I don’t get back to Australia that much. It’ll probably be a two-piece thing. If we did, we’d probably put it in that mode somehow. I think. In the short term for me, it’s getting eyeballs on John and his voice. As I said earlier, I really enjoy it when people hear John and go, who’s that singer? Because they’ve never heard of him, you know, but when they hear it, they wanna know. So in the short term, it’s really getting some reaction over here, which I am really hopeful about and we’ll keep working on that. I’d love to do it. If that can happen at some point, that’d be great.”
John: ”I’m getting so many great comments. People are just being really great about it, they say, oh, you know, we’re gonna be seeing this at Byron Blues and blah, blah, blah, all this stuff. My brother Jim rung me up and said, fuck … is that you? I said, yeah. He said, you’re not playing drums as well? I said no, it’s the guy from Counting Crows. He said, oh shit, thank god for that. Thanks a lot, bro! (laughs) He said that’s the best I’ve heard you singing.
You can hear the Kilo Band EP on all the usual listening platforms https://ffm.to/kiloband
In the meantime, Mark continues to work and play in Nashville and John continues to tinker in his home studio, while also dedicating a generous amount of time to visiting palliative care patients in hospitals and working with his programme for autistic kids.