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THE MEANING OF (ROCK N’ ROLL) LIFE

THE MEANING OF (ROCK N’ ROLL) LIFE
October 20, 2005 | Author: Baz Bardoe. Pics Marty Williams

Motorace’s Patch, Sarah McLeod and 67 Special’s Ash discuss the making of their new albums with Baz Bardoe.

sarahpat1The idea was to simultaneously interview three artists, each at very different stages of their careers.

Patrick Robertson of Motor Ace knows what it is to have a platinum disc and play some huge shows. He’s lived the dream that all new bands aspire to. So why did he almost call it quits?

Then there’s Sarah McLeod who fronted the Superjesus for around a decade before releasing her current solo album and embarking on a national tour with a new band. She really, just wants to rock.

Finally there’s 67 Special vocalist Ash Santilla who is pretty damn serious about this rock’n’roll caper, but at the time of this interview his band’s debut album has only just been released. How will it go? Will he get that platinum disc? Will he attain the rock’n’roll dream or will it prove elusive?

Perhaps no matter how many discs you sell, it always does remain illusory? Perhaps that is the nature of the creative process.

I decided to kick things off by asking Pat just why he almost canned a very successful band. Why did he deliver a letter to other members of his band saying he wanted to finish up?

Pat — It’s a big question…it’s hard to be succinct about it…

I got to the point doing the second record where I wasn’t enjoying it. I just wasn’t enjoying being in the band and I felt like the musical impetus was being diluted, with all the other stuff that we had to do. And I kind of lost focus, and combined with being physically exhausted I think I was in a pretty bad mental state. So there you go! Print that!

patsarI will Pat! It is pretty obvious that he’s a sensitive fellow who takes the art of making music rather seriously. Luckily he decided Motor Ace had a third album in them. For Sarah however a solo career beckoned. Given that Superjesus had been truncated to her and a rhythm section I was curious about the decision. Surely she could do the songs she wanted with that rhythm section. Superjesus is an established name. Why mess with that? Why did she go out on a limb?

Sarah — I think I had pretty much done everything I could do with that band. I’d been with them ten years and it was a really good, fun time and we put out three records and an EP….we’d toured everywhere and I think pretty much exhausted everything that was within our parameters, so the logical next step for me was just to do something totally independent by myself where I kind of didn’t have to get everyone’s okay. I wanted to write songs myself and not write songs on behalf of two other people………

It is an irony that it was her desire to include the others and produce work they could all get behind, that ultimately fuelled her motivation to strike out on her own and write songs solely as an expression of her own vision. Then we get to Ash and I ask him if he can peer into the medium term future and foresee a time when maybe he is jaded by the music caper, or has had enough of the band format?

Ash — It’s from a different perspective to where my band is at. We want to be a band that works extremely hard and I can see a point at which we all wear ourselves out, because touring is our favourite thing…..but you know we’ve still got that young, angsty thing going — well not angsty — just I suppose we want to play so bad, and this is our debut release, so it’s a very different stage for our band……I don’t think anyone here wants to be half arsed and you put everything into it……we’re just young dudes rocking out right now! But hopefully we can keep all that together…..

sarapatsmash2Ash points out that he wants to be doing music in ten to fifteen years time, but the mindspace Sarah or Pat may occupy is in the future for him, if at all. Which makes me wonder what Pat thinks of the actual music industry? On the one hand it enables him to have his music heard. On the other it presents him with a huge range of things that have nothing at all to do with actually making music, which is something he is passionate about.

Pat — Well it’s hard to talk about this honestly, without getting in a lot of trouble. I mean everyone has different experiences. My experiences have largely been good, with our record company and such. But I have philosophical problems with the industry in general that I have difficulty coming to terms with…….one of the biggest problems I have with it personally is that I got into it to write music and to make music and I find that once you get your record out there….it’s the last thing that anybody ever talks about anymore. It’s the last thing you actually do is make music…….

Sarah concurs as Pat explains that once a record comes out two years can go by and you realise that you haven’t been actually creating new music during that period. It was this more than anything that made Pat reassess his motivations for doing Motor Ace. And whilst it is ‘totally cool’ that the company goes about the very necessary business of promoting his record, and whilst he acknowledges Ash’s enthusiasm for live work, what really motivates Pat is a desire to write and record music. So I asked Sarah how the industry has either helped or hindered her quest to do music as a career.

Sarah — I turn a blind eye really to all the parts of the music industry that I don’t like. I kind of do that with anything in life. If there’s something I don’t like I pretend I can’t see it! Most of it is a necessary evil and you just do whatever you need to do to get people to your shows…….my favourite part would be the actual construction of the songs and when your album’s just been finished and the tours immediately after that because all the songs are really new and exciting……it’s all fun and games and then you just keep touring for years and years playing the same songs and that’s when you start to lose a bit of interest…..

So how does it feel to put something personal, such as lyrics inspired by a relationship, into the public forum via a record or live shows?

Sarah — ‘All but gone’….that’s probably the most personal song I have ever written and that was really hard, giving it up. I didn’t want to play it to anyone and I didn’t even want to record it.

sarahpatbaztableAs it turns out re doing the vocals was almost too confronting so much of the vocal is lifted from the demo version. And at the time of the interview it’s never even been played live because the subject matter is a ‘bit tender’. But Sarah assures me that is all about to change as it makes its debut in the live set the following weekend. Ash meanwhile points out that his band didn’t even really think about the industry side of things at all when they got together and is amused by new bands that immediately want to record a demo and canvass for a deal.

Ash — When we started the band we just wanted to have a band and play kick arse live shows. An d obviously we knew about making records and stuff but not how you go about making records and how records get facilitated…and how you become part of a larger family as it were with a record company. We’ve been signed for fourteen, fifteen months now and we’ve had a really good relationship.

I had to admit by being fascinated by the different motivations for doing music being expressed by these three very different artists. I asked Pat if his priority was studio work?

Pat — Yeah, probably. That’s kind of what got me into it I suppose. I built a studio at home and I had no intention of writing another record, but it’s quite hard to hold them down sometimes…..

I asked him if he wanted to get into producing other artists?

Pat — I suppose. I wasn’t thinking that far ahead but I knew I wanted to build a studio that would allow me to make music whenever I wanted to do it, so I wouldn’t be relying upon anybody else…….so that was the main reason, to give myself a sense of creative freedom, to be able to do it at my own pace……

And since this is musician oriented magazine I have to ask what gear he’s running in his studio?

Pat — Pro Tools HD3. A couple of really good mikes….lots of pre amps and compressors and stuff…..

He also runs Logic and amazingly enough for a band that is known as a guitar band, added them more as an after thought when the basic song structures were in place.

Pat — I kind of wrote entirely with the computer and sequencer and didn’t touch guitars until the end of the process really….

One benefit of this approach was just how cost effective it was to record, although being able to lay down ideas on ‘whim’ was always the motivation. And given how much Pat obviously loves the recording process I was curious to hear if Sarah had a preference for live work over recording?

sarapatfeatureSarah — I love playing live, but I think they’re just so totally different things that I can’t even really compare them. Like reading a book and seeing a movie……and you’ve got to be in the right headspace as well. When I am in the live headspace the idea of going and making another album just seems like a pain in the arse. But then when I am in the headspace of writing the thought of getting up on stage in front of people and playing those songs just seems terrifying.

I asked her if she had songs fully conceptualized before she went into the studio?

Sarah — I probably do my demos a bit too elaborate because I just do them on my laptop…..

And what do you run?

Sarah — Logic. I had Pro Tools but I can’t be bothered learning how to use it. I learnt on Logic and I know how to use Logic, so the concept of trying to learn new software even though everyone has told me to go to Pro Tools, seems like too much time….

Pat — Yeah I use Logic as well actually….Pro Tools is easier!

Sarah — I’ve heard that but it’s just a different headspace….

Pat — Once you know it though it doesn’t matter….

Sarah — My commands won’t work…and Logic is like totally illogical. Took me ages to get my head around it.

Pat — The most illogical program I have ever used.

Sarah — Pro Tools?

Pat — No, Logic….it’s illogical. It’s unbelievable.

Sarah — You think it’s logical? Or….

Pat — Illogical!

Sarah — Illogical — exactly! It actually doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t work the way your brain would think it does……but once you get your head around it and you work out how to write on a computer it just opened up everything……

It was around this point that Ash admitted he had no idea about computers, so I asked him if his band jammed on ideas and had them down prior to going in the studio?

Ash — Pretty much…..as much as we consider ourselves a live band, for us it’s almost like two different worlds…..we love being in the studio but we generally get most of our songs 95% done…we demo them and we bang it out……we like to do it quickly, not rushed, but capture moments…..

They stick to a pretty much live format for recording and although Ash is not a techie guy there are a couple of members who do the computer thing and get ideas down, although he also talks glowingly about the merits of a simple four track at rehearsals, and a hand held tape recorder for getting ideas down on the trot.

So three different careers at very different junctures, and three very different mindsets. For Pat the studio calls whilst Sarah is clearly champing at the bit to continue her national tour. For Ash, being the young puppy that he is, there is a homework assignment on Southern Rock. You see his band ’67 Special’ is named after an old Holden. He is genuinely unaware that there is a legendary Southern Rock band called ’68 Special’, named after the infamous handgun. If they play in Virginia they may have to explain to some Good Ol’ boys who’ve dropped into the gig after a day watching NASCAR, that in fact the name on the front of the venue is not a typo and no they won’t be treated to some lairy Confederate guitar twangers, but a rocking band from somewhere south none the less! Pass that rock’n’roll exam boys and you will graduate to the top of the class. Three artists. Three new records. Who will sink and who will swim? And when doing what you love is the only consideration, who will ultimately even care about the machinations of the industry?

Beauty Was a Tiger – Sarah McLeod
The world Can Wait – 67 Special
Animal -Motorace

Albums now available through Festival Mushroom