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September 11, 2008 | Author: Jeff Jenkins

Australian Musician collects Dave Graney, Clare Moore, Angie Hart, Lisa Miller, Spencer P Jones and sits them down with Jeff Jenkins to discuss the topic of RESPECT.

respectThe topic is respect and Lisa Miller tells her colleagues:
“I really respect all you guys, but I must admit that when I was talking to my hair- dresser today, I mentioned all your names and he didn’t know any of you, which was weird. You really wonder what is getting out there.”

Angie Hart reveals: “My taxi driver today asked me if I’d thought about going on any of the singing shows like Australian Idol. He really encouraged me to do it.”

Respect. What is it? And where do you get it?

Which local musician do you most respect?

DAVE: There’d be several for me – Mike Rudd and Bill Putt; Danny Rumour (The Cruel Sea). Danny’s a guy who cooked up his own sound over decades and the way he plays guitar is very singular and he’s a commanding presence. Very creative. And Mick Harvey, too.

LISA: I grew up trying not to like Australian music when I was young. All the Australian stuff that we listened to was not in the charts. We were Countdown bashers. We really respected a lot of the roots bands, like Peter Lillee and the Leisuremasters and the Dancehall Racketeers, and I have a lot of respect for those guys doing that stuff. Now I love Machine Translations, Greg Walker is fantastic. As people and musicians, I love Dog Trumpet from Sydney. And the Dirty Three and Nick Cave.

ANGIE: I have to say Paul Kelly. An unchangeable man, consistent and true. I really admire the way he’s gone about making music.

CLARE: You’ve just got to hand it to anybody who’s found a way of working within the Australian music business, finding their niche and getting on with it.

SPENCER: As a young man, I was absolutely in awe of Angus Young. Also, the first concert I saw when I was about 14 was Daddy Cool and I saw Ross Hannaford. He’s still my hero. He’s a very spontaneous player. On a good night, he’s mind-blowing. You’ll hear things that you haven’t heard other guitar players do. I speak outside the box because I still carry New Zealand citizenship – Australia has some really gifted people here and I often get frustrated thinking that Australia doesn’t know it. The rest of the world can see it, but people here don’t necessarily respect or dig what they have here.

CLARE: With musicians, it tends to be the case that a little bit of respect does go a hell of a long way. We don’t ask for much.

How important is respect and credibility to you as an artist?

DAVE: It depends on what you mean. Clare’s brother is an actor and he said it’s always a leap into the unknown, a leap into the void. When you’re a musician and you’re putting out something new, you always have to introduce yourself again, and that gets to be, not tedious, but it can be a heavy kind of thing. You continually have to introduce yourself and list your achievements, like gold records, chart positions, awards … Very rarely do people talk about musical contributions, and it’s difficult for yourself to trumpet yourself in that way.

ANGIE: I agree with that. It’s refreshing to hear someone else say that.

SPENCER: Paying the rent is really important to me as a musician. I don’t know if I have any credibility. That’s not really what I pursue. I’m just really happy to play a show and pay the rent.

Would you trade some of your critical acclaim for more sales?

LISA: You have your moments where you think that; well, I do. But it would be a hollow achievement. You don’t want to end up with stuff that sold really well, but if you happen to hear it, you’re ashamed to hear it.

ANGIE: I have one of those (Accidently Kelly Street).

DAVE: I would love to have a huge dumb hit!

ANGIE: I would like someone else to have a huge dumb hit with one of my songs.
CLARE: Oooh, yeah, that’d be perfect!

DAVE: I think the key is not to worry about repeating success.

ANGIE: That’s a part of the journey. My band blew up quite early on in my career, and I’ve been basically making my way in the opposite direction ever since. And I feel bad for people who have success early on, like Jet, but I think it’s a great journey – you have to decide why you’re making music and where you’re going to take it. It’s quite humbling.

DAVE: I would say I’m not critically acclaimed. Usually I’m treated like an idiot, for the most part, by people who write about music. Rolling Stone  just doesn’t review my records at all. The past four records I’ve made, I’m out of their picture. I’ve never been played on commercial radio andTriple J hasn’t touched my music in the past decade. I would like some respect from that area, yeah.

CLARE: But don’t you think it’s the availability issue?  Sometimes, if you’re too present in the scene, people tend to ignore you because you’re too available. But for us, playing live is the thing we like doing the most, especially me, and I wouldn’t like to give that up if it meant that more people would come to one show every couple of years. I’d go nuts if I only did a show every now and then.

DAVE: There are peculiar Australian problems, Australian attitudes to art.

CLARE: And to pushing your own barrow, like you do.

LISA: But you have to, because who else is going to push the barrow for you?

DAVE: Australians, for instance, love amateurs and they distrust people who know what they’re doing. Reality TV is huge in Australia – people would rather see an idiot try to paint a picture than an artist. They think it’s phoney if you know what you’re doing.


DAVE: Also the people who run the different scenes, the gatekeepers, they protect the audience from certain things they don’t want them to hear. I think they’re a bunch of bums in Australia, for the most part. They treat the audience as if they’re stupid. The people who pick music for radio …

LISA: It’s a big sore point, isn’t it, but it’s hard to talk about radio. Anything that’s slightly negative is never pretty coming out of your mouth, especially if you’re in a vulnerable state when you’re an independent musician. It never looks good in print, it often looks bitter. A lot of these stories never get told because they’re often not that pleasant to read.

What about Triple J?

SPENCER:  My bass player, Helen Cattanach, rang me last night and said, ‘You’ll never guess what I heard on the radio this morning!’ We were on
Triple J. She had to check the station. We finally gatecrashed their demographic. It was a song called Wasn’t Born Yesterday from our Fait Accompli album. To get airplay on Triple J for me, aged 51, is hilarious.
A while back, James Black was trying to pitch us to somebody there and he was told that we didn’t fit their demographic. Oh no, my use-by date is up!

DAVE: Triple J does a lot of good things, but it could do much better. Because it’s a national signal, it’s very powerful. You can hear it everywhere. It’s not just for kids. Truckers and workers all around Australia love it because it’s the only thing they hear.

CLARE: It should just be 100 per cent Australian music, I think. We could really do with a radio station like that, just all Australian. And the idea is just so crazy, it might work.

What do you think of music critics?


LISA: Well, you like the ones that like you, and have contempt for the ones that don’t get you, or the ones that won’t even review you because you don’t have a publicist who knows them.

DAVE: They’ve all been affected by blogging and that kind of thing, so their language has become more hysterical because they have to match the whole blogging thing. When I started making music, there were more music magazines and they had a cultural standing, and you would never see music written about in the daily papers. But it’s drifted into the daily papers and that’s a bit sad, because they’re aware of the wider audience and less attuned to music. I do love reading about music in music magazines, especially rap magazines. I love the way they write about music, it’s like a foreign world to me.

Do you read reviews of your work?

ANGIE: I now try not to read anything written about my music, to preserve my sanity. When I sit down to write a song, I like to be alone in my head. If I start reading reviews, I start to ask myself, ‘Where am I coming from?’ I tend to get lost quite easily. Trying to stay current with where you are in the music industry and where other people are … I try to stay out of the loop and enjoy not knowing and just make my own bumbling way.

CLARE: Being a player is completely different to being the frontperson because you’re a bit more anonymous. That’s kind of good, but it can be a bit annoying. The musicians get very little, or no, press. I went to see The Wrecking Crew, the doco about the musicians who played on 98 per cent of American hit singles (The Beach Boys, The Monkees, Phil Spector) and most people don’t even know their names. I also think there’s now a larger distance between the general public and live music – people don’t know how to connect with it any more. So they feel strange when they’re at a venue. Do you find that?

LISA: It’s a funny thing now. If I’m in a supermarket or a dress shop or whatever and I hear music, commercial music … the way people are singing and the way all the voices have been pitched shifted, everything’s so synthetic. Apparently people are starting to sing like that live. Auto-tune singing!

CLARE: People don’t trust music any more – they think it’s all been done on a computer. That’s what I mean about them not knowing what you’re doing on stage. That’s buggered musicians up a lot, I think.

ANGIE: When you don’t have a song on the radio and people don’t know your material, I find that my audiences are a lot more friendly. I really enjoy doing a show where you can play a set of all new songs if you want, and you have a small but intense audience that wants to be there for the whole thing. Having said that, I got to see so many amazing bands when I was in LA and I respected them so much for playing their hits. I refuse to play Kelly Street because I hate it. And I think that’s really immature of me and I’m trying to get around it. I think it’s great when you can go to a show and hear a song that made you feel a certain way … You can’t torture people with all of your new songs.

What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?

SPENCER: I don’t like it when people are unnecessarily cruel in reviews, for no other reason than to flex their intellectual muscle. If you don’t like something, you don’t have to tear it apart. Just move on to the next record. It hurts. People have to work in this town. There’s no need to be malicious, especially to the young bands coming up. There’s nothing to be gained from it.

LISA: I’ve had a couple of lousy reviews.

CLARE: But you don’t actually take them to heart.

LISA: I took a couple of things to heart. I don’t want to play the mother card, but with my first record (Quiet Girl With A Credit Card), I’d just had a kid, I was very inexperienced and naïve. I was a late maturer. And this review ended up saying: ‘Let’s just see if she ends up as a quiet girl with a pack of Kimbies.’

DAVE: That’s rough.

CLARE: I would have sent him a letterbomb!

LISA: There’s a Sydney reviewer I really like, but there’s another one who won’t even give me an inch. He always singles me out to make some derogatory comment. If I’m on a compilation, he’ll single me out and say I’m not up to it, whatever ‘up to it’ means.

DAVE: I think if you’re writing about music, you should be conscious of how little music is exposed to people on radio. I don’t think a person should write about music to express distaste for things when that’s the only outlet the music has. I’m quite thick-skinned and I wouldn’t be upset personally, but I would dislike the person for being so pretentious and self-indulgent. It would be easier for them to just forget it and review something they like.

LISA: I’ve often thought that. There are so many great records out there, review something you really like, instead of giving a one-star to something.

ANGIE: I’ve had it all! I was in the ‘most annoying band’ in Australia. We went through a massive backlash. I’d walk into the Punters Club and have people whisper, ‘What’s she doing here?’ And there were stories about Frente being a fabricated band that Mushroom put together.

DAVE: There was even a parody on TV.

ANGIE: Yeah, The Late Show took off Accidently Kelly Street. I got an apology from them.

Do you get jealous or envious of other acts that are getting more radio play or press?

ANGIE: When I hear that I’m not getting played on radio because that ‘slot’ has already been filled, that gets to me. I don’t understand that.

CLARE: Because so few Australian songs are added to commercial radio, it’d be like winning the lottery, don’t you think? So you don’t really think much about it, to be honest. I hardly know anyone who gets played on radio.

DAVE: You generally think, ‘Good on you’, at least someone’s getting some action!

How hard is it maintaining a music career in Australia?

SPENCER: It’s easier and it’s harder now. Everyone wants to do it. It is an option now to play music as a career, you can do courses, which is great. And people pursue the celebrity thing. As Dave says, we’re all volunteers. I’m just a volunteer.

DAVE: It depends on your lifestyle. Most people think musicians aspire to be like the Rolling Stones in the ’70s and live in a castle with a moat. But musicians usually just like to play music. It sounds simple, but it is very enjoyable.

SPENCER: There are people from my era who perhaps don’t have any credibility – I’m not going to name any names – but they know how to work the system, they know how to get grants and survive quite well without having any real content in their art. But I’m happy with where things are at for me. I can get around, go to the supermarket without being hassled. Being recognised everywhere you go would limit your activities. As soon as I take my hat off, nobody knows who I am.

How much mental and physical energy goes into releasing an album?

LISA: I think sometimes it feels like trying to get a jumbo off the ground – can I just get it up? I find it that hard with every release. And I think it gets harder each time.

ANGIE: Is that because you know what’s coming?

LISA: It goes back to that review thing. Because I have never had any commercial airplay, I just hope that I’ll get reviewed and maybe get some airplay on public radio, which has always been very good to me. But if I don’t get that, I’m virtually invisible. And it’s hard to get everything converging – the reviews and the stories in the paper to coincide with the shows.

CLARE: It’s so hard because they (reviewers) must have towers of CDs on their desks, there is so much music out there.

LISA: And you’ve got to have an angle, you feel like you have to reinvent yourself each time.

DAVE: They refer to the cultural cringe in Australia. A quality they like in music artists is remoteness – you can believe a story from someone from London or New York, but if it’s someone from Melbourne big-noting themselves, it takes an effort to believe that. It’s hard to get that remote quality when you’re in that same community, particularly when that community doesn’t have the generosity to extend that to you. Luckily, there are some great people in Australia who do that.

A lot has been written about the demise of the major labels. Are you sad or happy about that?

ANGIE: I feel that it’s unfortunate we’re in the middle of a revolution because we’re in that growing pains part of it, but I think the shift of power is fantastic.

LISA: I’ve never had a record company, so I don’t really know. I’ve had a distributor and a crazy label.

DAVE: We worked with Universal. We had a great A&R man and while you’ve got one of them, it’s great.

CLARE: There’s nothing like the publicity you can get when you’re with a major label. We can go around now and people know who Dave is, even though that was a long time ago.

DAVE: Now in Australia we work with Fuse distribution and we love to work with them because they’re all musicians.

SPENCER: I’ve found that the smaller they are, the better they are, and the easier they are to deal with. Say you’re signed to a major in Sydney: you can fly up there for an afternoon, discuss the artwork, blah blah blah, and then three weeks later, you’ll drop in to see how things are going and you’ll find that the dude has been sacked and the new guy has never heard of you. I love the independence of the independent record label.

Angie, what were your experiences like with labels here and in the USA?

ANGIE: A lot of heartbreak. Just that thing of putting something together and then being reliant on somebody else to do the right thing by you. It feels like a partnership, but it’s a very uneven partnership. As much as you’re personally investing into it, you don’t get to sit in the boardroom and have the behind-the-scenes things explained to you, the decisions they’re making about your record, which I just find very condescending. I waited one entire summer to find that my (Splendid) record was going to be shelved – I just didn’t get a phone call for three months. At the end of waiting all that time, after creating a baby, it was shelved and I couldn’t have it back. I would have liked a phone call, saying, ‘This is the discussion we’re having and this is why we’re having it and we’re not sure what the outcome will be, but we just wanted to let you know …’ Being treated like a child is really tough. I stopped doing music for a long time after that.

Have you had any recognition that’s meant a lot to you?

LISA: Dave, you had the King of Pop thing.

CLARE: And you liked it when that surfing magazine featured you.

DAVE: Tracks magazine made me “Brother From Another Scene”. That was good.

LISA: This is fairly shallow, but getting my first four-and-a-half star review really meant a lot to me – I just wanted to break the four-star barrier. I remember being on the phone to my mother and she said, ‘There’s four stars and there’s another star that’s got nothing in it.’ And I went, ‘Wow, fantastic!’ But basically if I still get people who want to come and see me and buy my new record, that’s a real spinout for me.

ANGIE: Recently, when I was trying to get the money together to make this album, I got offered a random gig in Taiwan. I was about to give up hope and I got this show at an acoustic festival. I turned up to play to 15,000 people holding up Frente CDs and I did this massive press conference and sang a duet with their biggest pop star. I had Dan Luscombe with me, which was great, ’cause I needed someone to witness it!

SPENCER: Pete Townshend gave me the thumbs up once, and I gave him the thumbs up as well. That was outside a tent in Austin, Texas at SXSW. And Lou Reed told the Violent Femmes: ‘It was really great when you got that cowboy guy up with you.’ Neil Young watching in the wings was also pretty cool. And doing Louie Louie with Iggy Pop was a good moment. Stuff happens all the time when you play music. Don’t try to do anything, don’t try to be somebody, just do what you do and that will take you places. You won’t just meet your heroes, but you’ll end up playing with them, too, because, after all, they’re just other people who play music.
Often the older you get, the better you get, but in the music business you usually get less attention.

CLARE: That’s to do with it being ‘rock music’ – all those clichés that it’s for young people. Some people might think it’s undignified for people to be on stage at a certain age, but maybe people are getting more used to it.

DAVE: There was a time when young people were just disregarded, but now they’re the centre of things and older people are more marginalised. When you’re a young musician, you are surrounded by other young musicians, but when you’re older, hardly anyone you know is a musician, so you’re much more isolated. And, in a way, you have to be surer of what you’re doing.

CLARE: That’s why older people feel funny going to venues, they feel out of place. You have to coax them back in all sorts of ways.

DAVE: We go to see a lot of music and we love seeing music by young bands. The audience is often filled with young, crazy, dressing-up people and we find it very exciting.

LISA: They probably just think you’re somebody’s parents.

CLARE: That’s okay, I don’t care.

DAVE: Young people take in so much. It’s great when young people like your music because they invest so much into it. It’s exciting. They see things with their piercing gaze, which you don’t have when you’re older.

CLARE: Because you know too much?

DAVE: Yeah, the more you know, the less you know to be certain. But young people, their gaze is direct and narrow.

SPENCER: I’m actually getting more attention now than I’ve had for the last 10 years or so. You get to a point where you’re almost a ‘legend’. I’m flattered that I’ve been invited to a cover shoot for Australian Musician. Who’d have thought?

Finally, have you got any advice for the young acts?

SPENCER: Recently a German band contacted me. They sounded like Oasis – if Oasis’ songs were all fast. I told them to get out of Germany, try to live in London or New York or Melbourne or Brisbane. Take a risk, go and live somewhere and starve for a year. Also, get a very good travel agent. Often a good travel agent can be better than a manager. A good travel agent will get you home safely. Also, go easy on the spirits and you might live to be my age. Scratch your arse, but don’t tear it to shreds – that’s my great piece of advice. Go easy if you wanna stick around to see your own grandkids.

Jeff Jenkins is the author of 50 Years Of Rock In Australia
(Wilkinson Publishing, 2007).

• Angie Hart – Grounded Bird (2007)
• The Lurid Yellow Mist featuring Dave Graney and Clare Moore – We Wuz Curious (2008)
• Lisa Miller – Morning In The Bowl Of Night (2007)
• Spencer P. Jones featuring The Escape Committee
– Fugitive Songs (2007)

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