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SOMETHING FOR KATE’S PAUL DEMPSEY & POWDERFINGER’S DARREN MIDDLETON discuss their new discs

Powderfinger, our guest editors have just released their new album ‘Golden Rule’ and are about to take it to the people at Homebake and Big Day Out. Their mate paul Dempsey has been busy touring his solo album ‘Everything is true’. Powderfingers guitarist Darren Middleton called up paul for a bit of a chin wag about recordng their respective discs.

powderfinger-420x0Paul Dempsey: Darren from Australian Musician, I hear?

Darren Middleton: It’s my new job mate!

P: So, you guys are guest editing Australian Musician!

D: We were approached by Australian Musician while we were mixing, so maybe a month and a half ago and we put our hands up. There’s quite a lot of work involved actually, more than we anticipated at the start. But it’s all good and I have a couple of questions for you Paul.

P: Let’s jump in.

D: I bought your album a few weeks ago and I really like it but I was going to ask you … being the main song writer for Something for Kate, which I assume is fairly true?

P: Yeah.

D: So what was it that you were unable to do in that group, that you could do with this solo project? Obviously there is a certain freedom involved. Are there shackles that are put in place being in a group over a long period of time or habits that form?

S.F.K.P: That’s pretty much what it is. Even though I write the songs in Something For Kate, there is a hell of a lot of time spent in a room with Clint and Steph where we are still nutting things out and kicking ideas around. I might write them, but once I turn up with a song, it becomes really, really collaborative from then on and we can spend months to-ing and fro-ing. By the time the song is actually finished, then the other two have well and truly walked it and had their input and it does become the product of three people in the end. So doing a record by myself was really … I guess, more the way I would do things and playing every instrument myself, means I didn’t have to talk to anybody or discuss or collaborate … really selfish (laughs).

D: I guess it’s just you and the three or four other personalities that exist inside your head?

P: Exactly. You put your drummer hat on. You put your bass player hat on…

D: I understand, it’s your vision rather than group vision, which has some plusses but perhaps you have to give some things away too when you’re in a group situation.

P: Totally. The other thing too, from a lyrical point of view … when I am writing lyrics for Something For Kate, I am really aware that I am representing two other people as well. The stuff I am singing about is going to reflect on the three of us, so I wrote more freely lyrically and also in the mix. I pushed my vocals right up in the mix more than ever before. I didn’t really want my vocals to dominate Something For Kate records.

D: You know how when you have been in a band for a long time, habits form… writing patterns form. It’s easy to slip into what you know. With your solo record, was there any expectations of what it should sound like? In a band situation, you can’t really steer off to the left too far. With a solo record you have the chance to almost reinvent yourself. You can almost come out as a new person… as a new sound.

P: That’s totally true. It’s not just the feeling you get personally from doing something new. It is also very gratifying when people, sort of had their mind made up about you, or had their minds made up about Something For Kate. A lot of the feedback with this record has been that people are surprised and they do think it is different from Something For Kate. People who weren’t necessarily into the band are enjoying this record. You know yourself, once you have been in a band that has been around for a while and made a bunch of records, people make up their minds about you. Once people think they know what you are about, what you sound like, it’s pretty hard to get them to give you another chance or a fair listen after that.

D: Preconceived ideas form pretty quickly!

P: Yeah and it’s very hard to chip away at them. The thing that I have been really happy about with this record is that people have said wow, I was really surprised by this because I had my mind made up about Paul Dempsey. So that is something that I feel is a success.

D: I get the feeling you didn’t hold any expectations in that sense. It’s almost like you doing your thing for the first time almost. You have no idea how it is going to go, so it must be a really genuine feeling that you have … like wow, thank you very much, I’m glad you like it!

P: Absolutely. A lot of singers step outside their band and do other stuff and it can be very easily become the forgotten side project. I am really happy with the way it has been received. Also I kind of just wanted to prove to myself that I could make a complete record and do it all myself. I have played a lot of instruments since I was young and never created an entire record by myself and I just wanted to give myself that little challenge. It feels good to have done that.

D: That whole thing where band members do other things, and play with other people outside their main project … I think there should be more of it. It’s a good thing and you lean stuff from stepping outside your comfort zone. We’ve done a bit of that. Bernard did his thing and I’ve done stuff. It presents a whole bunch of other issues not possible inside the main band because there are egos involved, there are insecurities which could come into play. At the end of the day I think it is good though.

P: I totally agree and doing this has opened my eyes to that. Especially touring the record, obviously I couldn’t play everything myself on stage. I had to put together a whole other band. I hadn’t played with a whole other band in the 15 years Something For Kate has been together. I’ve jumped up here and there and done some guest spots but to do a whole entire tour with three other guys, and to feel like you’re in a brand new band, it’s just fun to play with other people. It’s great to do other collaborations and I want to do more of it.

D: I think I have told you that one of my most enjoyable moments was jumping up on stage with you guys at The Zoo that time. I love that sort of thing. I love being out of my depth I suppose.

P: You certainly weren’t out of your depth, you were all over it but that was excellent. We had  a blast too.

D: Have you had a chance to listen to our new album, ‘Golden Rule’?

P: Yeah, I have listened to it tons of times. First of all, let me say congratulations, it’s a ripper. It sounds absolutely huge. I felt quite gobsmacked by the production. Did Nick DiDia mix it as well?

D: Yeah he did. We tracked it in Byron and then Bern, myself and Ian flew to Sydney and JC and Cogs flew down a week later but yes, Nick mixed it in Sydney.

P: He’s done an incredible job, it sounds massive. I mean Powderfinger records are more often than not very rockin’ affairs but this just sounds like a whole other step up. Really huge sounding. When I listen to it, I think it’s a record that needs to be played live. It’s all upbeat as well.

D: It’s a pretty different sounding record for us. Production wise it’s pretty full. Most of the ideas ended up sticking. As aware as we were of ‘if it doesn’t need to be there, let’s get rid of it’, almost everything just stuck.

P: It does sound huge but the space is there as well. You can hear the guitars at either end of the mix and the bass and drums pounding through. JC’s bass playing really struck me on this album too. He’s a really clever bass player.

D: Yeah the bass playing is a bit of a stand out on this record.

P: The other thing I noticed was the lack of guitar solos!

D: Yeah, there aren’t many.

P: There aren’t any noticeable guitar breaks aside from the riffs that lead the songs. It’s the whole band, the whole time.

powderfingerfedsquare1D: It was a different process from the get-go with this record. We came out of ‘Dream Days’ a little bit… I don’t know if we lost our way, but we lost the way we work well together. It was a bit of an up and down time for the band that record. So this was a good chance to get together at the start of the year and talk about how the last album went. Not about how the album went or singles went but how we went as people within the band. We said let’s keep this next one spontaneous intuitive. If the first idea works, let’s not over-think it and keep it pretty raw in a creative sense and it all came together really quickly. We were at dinner one night with Nick and talking about him as a producer and he has really stepped up as well a producer of records, not so much as an engineer-come producer. He said I’ve been an engineer for a long time, living in other people’s shadows doing their songs, so when I step out to do producing I am not going to make it sound like other guys, I want to do it how I want to do it. That was our philosophy for this record, not what other people might do or think or what ‘should’ we do but what we ‘want’ to do and I think it comes through in the record.

P: It does come through and Nick has done great work with you guys before but that’s why I asked if he mixed it as well. I know in the past you have worked with him and maybe Brendan has mixed it. But man he doesn’t need to prove any more to anybody. It sounds massive.

D: We kind of needed a captain of the ship and he stepped into the role seamlessly.

P: Was there a sense that this was kind of a reunion after working with Rob and Doug on ‘Dream Days’? I guess what I mean is after stepping away with someone you had worked with a few times. Then ‘Dream Days’ having maybe a slightly complicated birth with a new producer, was the choice of Nick like something you knew works and comfortable with and excited about?

D: It was a move we felt good about straight away. With the last record working overseas with someone we’d never met, or didn’t know at all. It was purposely done that way. Let’s put ourselves out of our usual environment, step into work with someone who we don’t know how they will interpret the songs. They don’t know the band’s history. That’s great… let’s see what happens. That had its results. It is what it is. It made the decision this time to record at home and get Nick back very easy. It felt natural and we all agreed straight away.

P: And working in Byron as well…

D: Yeah it’s a pretty tough place to work Byron, looking at the sea in the morning.

P: Pretty different to  LA that’s for sure.

D: Did you mix at Sunset Sound?

P: No, we mixed at a place called Senora Recorders. I love that place, one of the coolest studios I’ve ever been in. Not a big place but they have the sweetest collection of gear. They have a beautiful old API console, the same as they have in Sunset Studio where we have recorded before but it’s a custom old cream coloured API.

D: Stop it, you’re getting me excited! I was going to ask .. why track with Wayne (Connolly) and mix with Doug (Boehm)? Was that a conscious decision?

P: I wanted to track the record really simply and I also didn’t want to do it in a studio. I wanted to do it in a house or garage somewhere, a bit more ramshackled and hands on. I needed someone who was a solid engineer and could handle the challenges of recording in a bungalow. Wayne is such an awesome engineer and audiophile. Look, I wrote the whole thing myself. It was always a solitary thing. It was just me in a room and I wanted that to continue through the recording. I didn’t want to be in a studio with people running around.  I wanted to continue the atmosphere of me writing the songs with a bunch of crap lying around. So that’s what we did. We found a bungalow on the central coast and it was just another room with a bunch of crap lying around. Wayne and I just cobbled the record together in there. This is a really long winded answer but the other thing about the recording was that I just piled the ideas on there, I kept recording ideas. So the mix was a really crucial stage in pulling things out and whittling things down. So I wanted to do that with someone who wasn’t involved in the recording process.

D: Someone who was detached?

P: Exactly. Someone who wasn’t afraid to say, I don’t know why that guitar is there. I don’t think you need that keyboard part, blah, blah, blah. Doug was great for that. You know him yourself, he’s a total straight shooter. So what’s happening with you guys now, are you in rehearsals?

D: We are rehearsing a couple of days a week just to keep things alive, so we don’t lose our chops. We have the second video coming up. We’re doing Homebake and I’m glad to hear you’ll be on Homebake too this year. Last time we spoke you weren’t sure or you wouldn’t tell me. One of the two!

P: One of the two (laughs).

D: Next year we’ll get busy. I am looking forward to playing this new record. We’ve already said, when we do our set list for next year, let’s try to do as much of this new record as we can. We’ve started rehearsing some of the old songs and giving them a little bit of a reinterpretation, along the vibe of this new album with synths, keyboards. We always try to keep it fresh for us as well the people who have seen us a few times.

P: Are you bringing along a sixth member?

D: We will, probably Lachlan Doley who played keys on the Silverchair tour.

P: So it’s Homebake, Big Day Out?

D: We have a Q150 gig here in Brisbane, then Homebake, Big Day Out. We’ll probably head overseas in April, over to the UK then back here. We’re heading to South Africa for the World Cup Soccer.

P: Wow, that’s awesome!

D: How much more touring do you have for this album?

P: I want to tour right through next year. Something For Kate has been jamming for the last week and writing new stuff but we don’t intend going into the studio until the end of next year. So basically I intend to tour this record next year and go overseas as well.

D: One thing I did want to talk about with your record, there’s something different sonically with your voice. Not so much in volume, that’s up there in the mix but the way it is treated. I don’t know if there’s a lot of slap delay or double tracked in spots?

P: That was something I decided fairly early on . I have never double tracked a vocal, never liked the sound of it. When I was demoing the songs I tried it a couple of times and I was into it so that is what you are hearing. I pretty much double tracked every song, then in the mixing brought it in and out in places where we thought it was a nice touch, otherwise we left it out. So yes, double tracking and I’ve never done it before and it gives everything a new sound.

D: It doesn’t work for everyone. Some peoples voices it really suits, Elliot Smith it worked great for and obviously John Lennon when he started slap delaying and double tracking. I really liked what it did for the sound of the record for you.

P: I’m into it, a bit addicted to it now. A lot of people when they heard the first single thought oh my god what have they done to his voice. They panicked a bit. When you hear the whole album… it gives the album a feel.

D: It ties a lot of it together, like a common thread. You go from more rockin’ stuff and acoustic stuff but it remains as a thread. Sonically, it influences how you feel about a record, the sonics of the recording.

P: The reason I hadn’t double tracked before is because I always thought if you have the lead vocal and added another to it that it would somehow reduce the intimacy or honesty of the lead vocal but now I think the opposite. You’re right it doesn’t work for everyone, but when it does work, I think it makes it feel more intimate. There are tiny differences between the two vocal performances which create this fragility. Is it something Bernard has ever done? I mean you can’t really hear it. You hear different reverbs and delays stuff but his voice just sounds fantastic on this record.

D: Yeah he’s a strong singer, and you’re a strong singer too as in volume and character of voice. Bern has done a little bit of it. We did a Portishead song for a cover album and I had him double track that because it was a really gentle thing. His voice does sound great double tracked in a more gentle environment.  The fragility of Bern’s voice really becomes accentuated when you double it when he sings in that softer register but generally he is a powerhouse singer who doesn’t need too much support in that sense. It’s different for different singers.

P: I love the opening of your record. Straight away there’s the weird synthy stuff and weird guitar sounds then Bern comes in really deep in his Bowie register and you think, this sounds different already.

D: I did have one last question. Tam and I were wondering when you think you might be able to come to our house and give us  a private concert?

P: (Laughs) Anytime I am in Brisbane. I don’t know if it would be me giving you a performance but I like the idea of sitting around with a couple of guitars and a bottle of wine.

D: We’ll lock it in for next year.

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