February 28, 2010 § Leave a comment






Massive Attack – ‘Heligoland’

February 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

Published: Music Australia Guide #73, February 2010.

Massive Attack

To suggest that Massive Attack’s 2003 comeback, 100th Window, arrived with baggage would prove quite the understatement. The once trio’s fracture and disconnect was there for all to see in the wake of 1998’s seminal Mezzanine. Andrew ‘Mushroom’ Vowels walked out on the band citing creative differences, while Grant ‘Daddy G’ Marshall went on indefinite sabbatical, which effectively left Robert ‘3D’ del Naja the new project’s lone pilot. If 100th Window’s serviceable, nonetheless gloom-ridden tropes showed anything, it was that group’s fraught personal and creative dynamics added a hue that del Naja couldn’t capture alone. Seven years on, and with Marshall back on deck, Heligoland arrests the slide. From lurking piano phrasing and euphoric resolution of Pray For Rain (featuring TVOTR’s Tunde Adebimpe), Heligoland feels nothing if not revitalised. All the hallmarks are here – the suffocating atmospheres, the menacing subterranean tones – but this collection really shines in its unlikely counterpoints. Cuts like Splitting the Atom (with Horace Andy) shrouds an ostensibly kitsch piece of dub-pop with epic, spectral atmospheres, while Psyche sees Martina Topley-Bird morph a busy, dominating acoustic guitar lick into an unfeasibly spacious sketch. Flat of the Blade’s shuddering static anaemic vocals (courtesy of Guy Garvey) are unlike anything Massive Attack have done before. It doesn’t all work – Rush Minute and Paradise Circus prove unconvincing – but what Heligoland does is illustrate that Massive Attack have a lot more to give. This may not be their third classic, but it suggests that del Naja and Marshall have definitely got it left in them.


Around the galleries – February 2010

February 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

Published: The AgeA2, February 13, 2010.

WHAT Trish Morrissey: Photography & Videos
WHERE Centre for Contemporary Photography, 404 George Street, Fitzroy, 9417 459, ccp.org.au

There’s nothing passive about UK-based artist Trish Morrissey’s performative, humorous and ultimately affecting works. Featuring two videos and two series of photographs, this concise, nonetheless expounding survey adopts a series of formal, familial and historical tropes, only to pick them apart at the seams. The video work Ideas of Refinement, Principles of Taste references the story of a long-suffering Melbourne settler wife and artist Georgiana McCrae. We witness Morrissey calmly eat a sandwich, seemingly oblivious to the swarm of flies that crawl and buzz around her, eventually swallowing one without reaction. Seven Years, meanwhile, sees Morrissey and her elder sister recreate their family photos from the 70s and 80s in and around their former family home in Dublin. Perhaps most rewarding are the casual beach portraits of Front (pictured, above), in which Morrissey transplants herself into strangers’ family gatherings, posing in the role of the mother, whilst appointing the woman she replaced as the photographer. The series is almost disquieting in its believability. Indeed, what makes Morrissey’s work impressive and convincing is its multiplicity. She doesn’t just comment on family and femininity and photographic mode; she steps inside and embodies the formal and cultural archetypes. These are as much family portraits with Morrissey, a stranger, in them as the would be otherwise. Wed to Sat 11am–6pm, Sun 1pm–5pm, until March 14.

WHAT Bryan Spier: Expandable Paintings
WHERE Sarah Scout, Level 1, 1A Crossley Street, city, 9654 4429, sarahscoutpresents.com

The expansion to which the title of Bryan Spier’s new series of acrylic paintings alludes seems one of both technique and perception. What begin as vivid, perfectly linear, geometrical colour configurations and learned signifiers of space and depth are interrupted and extended via clumsy freehand adjuncts and connections. The effect is that of loosening the work from its starting point, of interrupting the mathematics with a little improvisation. As such, Spiers paintings almost exist between worlds; their combination precise and imprecise repetitions could be read as a commentary on the perfect, digital manipulations of the Photoshop and Illustrator generation. But this interpretation seems insufficient. Spier’s work suggests a new reading of accepted visual language. He breaks down the ocular into its building blocks – refracted light and colour and context-less shapes – only to imply that there may be much more. Thurs to Fri 11am–6pm, Sat noon–5pm, until February 27.

WHAT Vivian Cooper Smith: Wordless
WHERE C3 Contemporary Art Space, Abbotsford Convent, 1 St Heliers Street, Abbotsford, 9415 3600, abbotsfordconvent.com.au

Running alongside an odd hotchpotch of shows at C3, Melbourne photographer Vivian Cooper Smith’s latest series of works turns the lens back on himself, both literally and symbolically. A rumination on learning to negotiate life without faith or belief in God, Wordless sees Smith – the son of missionaries – recast the both himself and his surroundings in an almost alien light. What was once definite is brought into question; what was once concrete becomes loose, precarious, unhinged. He achieves this via a series of manipulations and interventions into process, some more successful than others. His landscapes are either under or brutally over-exposed, casting a synthetic, disorientating sheen over their otherwise natural referents. His cloud series, in which Smith has scrunched up and re-photographed images of the (perhaps once heavenly) sky, is particularly resonant. Smith’s self-portraits sit a little uncomfortably in the collection, their zombie-like signifiers almost distracting from the work’s otherwise poignant narrative. Wed to Sun 10am–5pm, until February 21.

WHAT Renee Cosgrave & Merryn Lloyd
WHERE The Narrows, Level 2, 141 Flinders Lane, city, 9654 1534, thenarrows.org

Showing concurrently at The Narrows, both Merryn Lloyd and Renee Cosgrave’s work echoes with a deceivingly naïve sensibility. While Lloyd’s small-scale wax and pigment paintings, abstract collages, crudely cut shapes, objects and artefacts appear positively childlike when viewed individually, their composition in the space is nothing if not meticulously planned and designed, each odd, wonky little work counterpoising or feeding off the next. Cosgrave’s sprawling wall painting, comprising a sea of (almost) symmetrical red flowers, is the real joy here. Refreshingly, there seems no affectation to a higher meaning here. It is merely a study into hand-drawn repetition, and a lovely one at that. Wed to Fri noon-6pm, Sat noon–5pm, until March 6.

Interview – My Disco

February 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, February 11, 2010.

Since emerging from the city’s underground in 2003, Melbourne trio My Disco have built one of the city’s most enviable reputations for their serrated, gauntly economical take on post-punk abstraction and condensed, highly rhythmic rock. Earth-shattering live shows aside, the band’s recorded material has left an inimitable stamp on Australian landscape. The assaulting frequencies of 23-minute debut album Cancer (2006) and the visceral, hard-edged minimalism of follow-up Paradise (2008) are revered as genuine signpost releases.

Perhaps most remarkable, however, has been My Disco’s unaffected, downright utilitarian ethic. Self-booking and self-funding tours, playing warehouses and sleeping on floors, the trio – bassist/vocalist Liam Andrews, elder brother and guitarist Ben and drummer Rohan Rebeiro – have traversed the US, Japan, western and far eastern Europe on little more than their own meagre savings accounts.

Ben Andrews took some time out in the lead up to the launch of their expansive new 12” Young (which comes replete with B-side remix by local electronic auteur Qua) to chat minimalism, jazz, the late 90s Melbourne hardcore scene and the band’s upcoming third record.

Hey Ben, what’s been happening?

We’ve just been rehearsing actually.

Nice. I just got the 12” the other day and I found it really interesting. It follows that kind of reductive path that a lot of your work does – that idea of sustaining the one, relatively unpadded set of elements – but unlike your other stuff, it’s really quite long.

Yeah, true. But I reckon that song is pretty full. People bandy around the minimal word a lot, but I reckon it’s going pretty full-on most of the way through the track. It’s just that the structure is pretty simple. That song to me is really in two halves – the kind of full-on intense stuff at the start of the song and then kind of mellowed out drum solo section – but initially we had it different before we stripped it back. I don’t know, I think it’s still pretty full sounding.

Is that sort of jam-like quality of the song, just riding that one groove, kind of reflective of how it was written? Or was it more a case of throwing a lot more at it and then gradually stripping those elements away?

No, we always just write in the rehearsal room. We don’t bring any pre-conceived notions to room; we basically sit on something for a while and if we like it we’ll do something with it, and if we don’t we’ll shelve it. This song kind of came about by jamming on a bass and drum groove and I was able to muck around with more chords than usual. Originally it sounded a little more grungy and Sonic Youth-y, just because we don’t usually do all those jangly chords in quick succession. So we were really excited by it.

But it all came about pretty naturally and it kind of almost structured itself. We mucked around with a few more mellow ideas and then just decided to bring it down. Originally it was kind of up to me how far the song went.

Because you had to stand out twiddling your thumbs for the second half of the track?

(Laughs) Yeah, something like that. But no, it just kind of happened and kind of suited what we were trying to do. With these newer songs, it’s just kind of like we’ll have a jam and then it will all kind of fall into place over a series of months. We’ll even just play them live before they’re really well formed and they’ll just form themselves, which I kind of like. It’s good to just throw around ideas and not be too precious with them and see what happens as they naturally develop.

I think what really works about ‘Young’ is its kind of duality. It’s a really accessible, listenable groove in a sense, but just the sustained nature of it and how subtle the shifts are, especially in the last half of the song, means that it becomes quite challenging in that way. You kind of wonder where it’s going to go and what might happen and just how long it’s going to go for.

Yeah, yeah, it’ll be interesting to see from a listener’s point of view. When we’ve played it at festivals and stuff, where people might not have heard us before, they’re still nodding their head because, like you say, it’s a pretty accessible four/four groove. But I reckon listening to the version that we’ve recorded, there are a lot of subtle changes for the more astute listener.

A lot of people talk about jazz as if it’s a dirty word, but that idea of sitting in the pocket, which is associated with more freeform, improvised jazz, seems to really apply to you guys. Do you ever think about what you do in those kinds of terms?

We’re all really big fans of some of the classic stuff and some of the weirder stuff, within the free-jazz scene anyway. But we’ve never really thought of our music that way though. We’re just a rock band. Even though that’s a massive, broad term, that’s still how I see us.

I guess you could see songs like ‘Young’, with its different movements and so on, being more of a jazz composition than a rock composition. But we never really delve that deep into the theoretical side of things. That’s for other people to do.

What’s in the title?

I don’t know really. Liam made it up. We just ignore the names of the songs, especially since most of our songs are mainly instrumental with just a bit of vocals here and there. We were calling this track ‘Australia’ for a while, and then we were calling it ‘Welcome to Yamagata’, which is a town we played in Japan, so it went through a few names. ‘Young’ just seems to fit. I think it will look really good on vinyl anyway (laughs).

I really like Qua’s remix.

Yeah, it came about really quickly, because we knew we wanted to do something like that, but we weren’t sure who we to do it with. We went to a few people overseas, but they couldn’t do it within the timeframe. We’ve played with Qua a bunch of times and knew that he had a studio down in South Melbourne and he knocked it out in literally a couple of weeks.


Literally the first pass that he did was the one we went for. We got him to extend a couple of bits here and there, but 95 per cent of what he did initially was awesome and we just went with it.

It was quite cool, we weren’t sure whether he was going to do some three-minute slamming version of it or what. So it’s pretty cool that he’s kind of made it with these extended passages and how it drifts through these different sections and then goes into that really industrial part at the end. We were really happy with it. We didn’t give him much time and he just did an awesome job. We’re doing the launches with Qua, so that will be kind of cool.

It’s pretty much exactly the same length as the original isn’t it?

Yeah, two seconds the difference. I don’t know if he intentionally did that because originally it was one or two minutes shorter and we extended the end section. But yeah, it’s pretty cool that it’s kind of as much a challenging listen as the A-side.

Does the remix sit on the same rhythmic signature as the original? I swear it has a faster beat in parts.

That’s a good point, I’ve never listened to them one-on-one, but yeah I’m sure he’s done all sorts of things. I’ve only really listened to them separately and not really thought about it. We definitely didn’t record it with a click-track or anything, so he’s probably just used the bass line as a rough grid, I guess. It’s definitely not metronomic, but it sounds cool to me anyway!

You guys came up in the hardcore scene at the end of the ’90s, going to those rehearsal space shows at places like Thunderfield and Troy Balance, yeah?

Yeah, totally!

I went to a lot of those shows in my last years of high school…

No way! Yeah, it was such a cool little scene, just being able to check out a bunch of bands. It just seemed so distant from everything else that was going on. I used to go to Pushover and these shows at Prahran Town Hall, but when you were underage and you wanted to see heavier stuff or more punk orientated stuff, you’d just find a flyer on the old Missing Link wall – when it was in Flinders Lane – and you could always find something to check out.

Good times.

Yeah, it was a good time. I don’t know if it’s just because we grew up and grew out of it, but it seems like those sort of smaller scenes don’t really happen like that anymore. I know a few kids who are in bands and just want to do all-ages, and I think it’s increasingly difficult. There wasn’t much in it for the rehearsal rooms, that’s for sure.

Like the shows at Troy Balance were always on a Sunday and apparently the guy who ran it didn’t tell the owners. He just worked there doing the rehearsals and charged bands $100 or $150 and just pocketed the money, until one time his boss actually found out what he was doing and fired him. And that was the end of that.

Yeah, I remember some dodgy stuff going on there. Once we were at a show with Mindsnare and that vegan band Ultimatum…

I remember them!

Yeah and we were locked out of the space because Dave Graney and Claire Moore were using it to rehearse. I remember them coming out to be confronted by about thirty grotty, snarling little hardcore kids…


Do you see My Disco as informed by that scene? I’ve always thought of you guys in that way.

I suppose I do. I mean, what we’re doing these days is pretty far removed from that scene, but at the same time we’re always doing things of our own accord, in the sense that we haven’t been the kind of band who sits around waiting for people to book us shows or to get a deal. I think we’ve taken that DIY element from that early hardcore scene.

Touring America and stuff you get to see just how many bands go out and hit the road and end up building a fan base, whether or not they’ve got some sweet label or booking agent or whatever. On paper it kind of looks like you need this, this and this, but in reality all you need to do is play and that’s all we ever did. I don’t think that if we started now and just kind of sat around, I don’t think we’d achieve anything. Essentially we just made it ourselves – everything – from booking our own shows to playing our own shows, and that whole element we definitely took from the hardcore and punk culture.

I guess the world really wasn’t so open then – it was kind of pre-internet as a mainstream thing anyway – so you really relied on direct community building.

Yeah, it was so small and you would never read anything about it in any of the street press. It was just kind of the poster wall at Missing Link (laughs), which is pretty crazy when you think about it.

Is this 12” the starting point for a bunch of new material?

Yeah, we’ve got a new album coming out this year as well. We’re recording it in mid-March at Electric Audio with Albini again.

Oh great.

Yeah, we’re not mixing it there this time; we’re tracking it and then bringing it back and mixing it in Sydney at BJB, where we did the 12”. We really liked it there and we’ll be able to spend a bunch more time on it and we’re hoping it will be out by August or September.

What informed that decision to record with Albini again?

We just had a great time. Everything is really easy, everyone’s really friendly and it’s just kind cool hanging out there. It’s a really quick process. If you can play your songs, then everything else happens really quickly. You don’t have to wait around for a drum sound or something; basically anything that you want to do can be done in a matter of minutes. I can totally understand how bands can go in and bust out an album in a weekend with him, or even a day and then take it away. It’s so relaxed. You don’t have to be all tense and stressed and stuff. You can just go in there and play your songs.

Tell me about the new material.

It’s definitely freer and there’s a bunch of songs, like ‘Young’, that are pretty lengthy and pretty loose. But then there’s some weirder stuff and some mellower stuff. But yeah, it’s definitely our largest amount of material. It’ll probably clock in at around forty-five or fifty minutes.

Shit! That’s long for you!

Yeah (laughs), Cancer was under twenty-five and Paradise was like thirty-eight or something, so it’s pretty crazy.

Dan Rule

Young is out now via Mistletone/Inertia


My Disco launch Young with Qua and New War:

SYDNEY: Friday, Feb 12, Oxford Arts Factory$18+bf, moshtix.com.au

MELBOURNE: Saturday, Feb 13 and Sunday, Feb 14, The Toff$18+bf, moshtix.com.au

DaM-Funk – ‘Toeachizown’

February 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

Published: The Big Issue #347, February 2010.


DaM-Funk is of another time. The LA boogie-funk maestro’s impeccably smooth, syrupy, bass-melted sound comes from an era of big sunglasses and even bigger hair; of synths and keytars; of space-age sounds and high romance. Spanning 70 minutes and five LPs, epic debut Toeachizown is a master class in Prince-influenced 80s funk and modern soul.

DaM (pronounced Dame) spares nothing for the groove here. The glimmering keys of ‘The Sky is Ours’, ‘Keep Lookin 2 the Sky’ and lilting melody of ‘One Less Day’ are about as realised as electro-funk gets. But his dizzying excursions aren’t a case of mere revivalism. While it may be rooted in the sounds of the early 80s, what makes Toeachizown so effective is its expansion and manipulation of its references.

DaM extends and abstracts what might otherwise be straight grooves into sprawling, intergalactic jams. The snaking bass lines, snapping beats and fluttering synths of cuts like ‘Brookside Park’ and ‘Mirrors’ stretch compact breaks into transcendent instrumental drifts. It’s freaking brilliant.

Perhaps what makes it all so convincing is DaM-Funk’s sheer earnestness. There’s not a fleck of hipper-than-thou irony here. “Come on outside, won’t you funk with me?” he croons. I’ll be there, baby.

Dan Rule

Interview – Beach House

February 8, 2010 § 2 Comments

Published: The Vine, February 8, 2010.

Victoria Legrand has a way with analogy and metaphor. She speaks of herself and creative partner Alex Scally as wild animals; as horses in their stride. She pithily compares creative process to ten-pin bowling; to hitting a series of strikes. She laughs at herself, sets off again.

Speaking from her home in Baltimore, the former French opera student and now frontwoman of haze-pop duo Beach House is on-edge; energised, electric. Mention she and Scally’s momentous new record Teen Dream and she takes off – elaborate adjectives, justifications and creative philosophies unfurling, spilling and darting every which way.

Considering the shimmering scope of Teen Dream, Legrand’s disposition comes as little surprise. Spend some time with the album – the duo’s third – and you’ll be transfixed. Where 2008 opus Devotion expanded on the woozy, vintage organ atmospheres and beautifully oblique, sun-drunk melodics of their 2006 self-titled debut, Teen Dream bursts with sweeping dynamics and an almost insatiable sense of drive and momentum. Put simply, it’s their most accomplished and ornate work yet.

Legrand – the niece of prominent French composer Michel Legrand – speaks about she and Scally’s artistic growth, their fluid creative process and uprooting their lives in Baltimore to record with Chris Coady in the isolation of upstate New York.

Hey Victoria.


I love the new record.

Thankyou, I’m glad.

I’ve only had it for a couple of days, but I guess the thing that struck me immediately was the dynamics. There’s such a sense of momentum and layering compared, even, to Devotion.


I’d love to here your thoughts on that.

I feel like every record we’ve done is different and that’s just natural thing, you know. That’s just what happens when you make something; it’s never going to be what it was like before. We’ve always believed in growing very naturally, evolving naturally and every decision we make is based on an intuitive feeling, that being that it feels right. With this record, the main difference in the creative process was that, compared to the other two records, we had way more time. We had an uninterrupted nine-month period where we stopped touring and we were working on the music and we were able to just make the record for nine months uninterrupted.

We had everything written and everything set in place; we had made demos for months in the studio. Whereas with Devotion, we recorded it in three weeks and the first record, we recorded in two days. So for us, it was really a change and I think that time period made us feel like that when we had an idea, we were really able to follow it to an end that we felt was right. So in the writing of the record, that’s very much what happened. We spent a lot of time in our practice space – like eighty hours a week in our practice space – and it was just a total obsession, and we really worked these songs and brought them to a level that we believe is more of an epic level.

You can hear that.

It’s the same instrumentation; we didn’t change any of the instrumentation. It’s still Alex on guitar and my keyboards and we use the same kind of blend of real drums with the drum machine from our organ. So a lot of things were the same, but just our hunger and our appetite was bigger and a lot of that had to do with the amount of touring we had done.

On the first two records, it felt as though the instrumentation informed the songs a little more than on this record. On this record it feels as though the songs have much more of a life of their own outside of the instrumentation. The instrumental palette acts more as a colour.

I see what you’re saying but, no, I feel that we’ve always cared about the songs. We’ve never been a band that gets too hung up on pure aesthetics. We definitely, above and beyond, prize melody and the structure of our songs. So if the structure doesn’t feel right, we don’t feel that the songs are complete. If it doesn’t reach the necessary highs and lows then we don’t feel that it’s ready and that’s something that has never changed.

The songs we wrote on Beach House, the self-titled album, are songs that we’ll probably never write again because, I mean, we wrote them, we believed in them at the time, they were very simple, but we couldn’t ever write those songs again because of the experiences we’ve had. We’ve learned so much in terms of what we want to get out of our instruments and it’s happened in ways we never predicted.

So I’ve used the same keyboard now on three records, and on Teen Dream I’m just using different sounds on the same keyboard. We’re just really trying to simplify and at the same time expand on what we have. You can work constantly with something that’s in front of you. I think there’s an endless amount of depth and directions in which you can go using just the one thing, and I just kind of feel that that’s where we’re at with Teen Dream. We’ve just expanded a lot more on what we were already using and I think we’ve demanded a lot more of ourselves as well.

Was touring really important to that? The idea that you had to use your voice and you had to make the songs work and make them fresh for yourselves, time and time again?

It definitely had a huge effect. There was absolutely a huge learning process, and you know, we’ve always liked touring but now we both love touring. We’re about to do a shit-tonne of touring starting this February. There’s going to be like seventy shows and it’s just a really insane run.


Yeah, wow is right. So we make the record and go on tour and learn a lot about the songs again, and then those songs inform us of new songs that haven’t been written and it’s almost becoming a system for us now. It happened as kind of a surprise, but now I think it’s a real tool that we can use for ourselves because we just learn so much. Playing those songs from Devotion every night, it really helped us learn what we didn’t want to do again and we started to crave this kind of energy that we hadn’t done before. You can feel that in songs like ’10 Mile Stereo’.

For sure. I was going to mention that song…

You can feel it both as a player and a listener. Playing live definitely informs you of what you want, because you’re living and breathing the music every single night.

That’s what really stood out on this record, that energy and real rhythmic drive, which perhaps wasn’t there before. There was a kind of meandering quality to the rhythmic component of the earlier material.

The earlier material, by comparison, feels more frail to me. It’s innocent. When I look back at those records I kind of see myself years ago, and it’s not bad – it’s the place where we were at. Every record is the place where you are at. So I really hope that by next year, we really learn about a new place in which we want to go and that we keep making records and never feel that a particular record was our peak. I feel very far from our peak and I don’t believe in the peak (laughs). You’re turning your own light off if you believe in that kind of thing. For me, this is just the beginning really. We’re really in our stride and we’re kind of like horses now (laughs). We’re like creative animals – we get out and run our asses off…

And then you sleep it off in the stable…

And then we run again (laughs).

When I was talking to Alex about Devotion a couple of years ago, he kind of pointed to your creative process having this very natural, kind of osmotic quality.


In that context, how did Teen Dream begin to take shape? Was it just a matter of you guys kind of getting together and playing quite unthinkingly?

I think it was very much like that, kind of one song at a time. For us what will happen generally is that we’ll start on a song – and this is happening again because we’re already writing new material – and a person will have an idea and we just grow the idea together. And then, as we get more and more songs, we’ll generally be working on two songs at a time. So we’ll work on one until we reach a dead end and then we’ll go to the other one. So the energy that you give to a song goes onto to inform other things, so each song kind of gives you something of a realisation and things kind of build on top of each other.

For us it’s very much melody, chord progression, one song at a time, and the next thing you know you’ve got like five songs and it’s like ‘Wow, we’re going to have a record!’. Because when you have a few songs and you can feel that they all give a certain kind of energy or light or darkness, then you know that you’re on a path to making a record. I don’t know what to compare it to (laughs). Maybe like, when you’re bowling and you start to string together a few strikes, you know you’re having a good game (much laughter). Oh man, that’s really bad…

No, no, please continue the metaphor…

(Laughs) You know, I just think that there’s a momentum that happens and it really took hold in Teen Dream, and you know, it happened in Devotion too. Devotion’s writing process was very fragmented, because we would write between touring. We would come home and we would have three weeks and we would write, and then we would go on tour and come home and then we would have a month to write. That didn’t happen with Teen Dream; we had a lot of space and I think we know now that it’s always going to be a blend of the two.

We get very inspired by words too – we just start throwing words at each other and then things go from there. That’s how we got the title Teen Dream. We were working late on ‘Silver Soul’ and then it just suddenly struck us: like ‘Teen Dream! That’s the record’.

So we’re into fully collaborating and talking about things that are exciting to us and we both have very highly active minds, and I just think that that’s very conducive to making records, because that’s what a record needs. It needs inspiration and it needs inspired moments and we’re doing that pretty much constantly.

Is isolation really important to that? I was taking to Frida Hyvonen the other day – the Swedish songwriter – and she had a really elegant way of putting it, in that she described being alone in the countryside as allowing her to be ‘thin-skinned’ in the way she writes. It was such a lovely way of describing that kind of permeability to inspiration, as opposed to when you’re in the city, where you have to build higher walls around yourself.

I totally agree with what she says, because when you tour you kind of get thick-skinned; you’re in survival mode. I love touring, don’t get me wrong, but you get into this almost automatic process where you preserve your energy. But when you’re being creative and you’re writing, you’re in a much softer place. You’re in your space, it’s just the two of you and things feel very gentle – and of course, things get very intense – but you do have to kind of get into, not a protective environment, but a place where thoughts can just happen. I think that’s what she means by ‘thin-skinned’. In being thin-skinned you are allowing things to pass through you.

When I’m on tour I tend to store a lot and keep it inside, and I just kind of wait and fill my tank up, and when I get home there’s a period of time where nothing can really happen to me because I’m still getting over the way I felt on tour. But with time you kind of melt a little bit and you let things in and let things out and it starts to happen.

In that sense, was the trip to upstate New York to record with Chris Coady really important to the way these songs formed?

It was very important because we just took what we were doing in Baltimore and just moved all of our life up there. We just wanted to just kind of get out and take the record to a place where it could get even more intense. We were a little more isolated and none of our friends were around and there were no distractions. All you can really focus on is the music. That’s just something that we really wanted to do. We didn’t want to be in Baltimore and then be like ‘When are we going to go to the bar?’.

When you’re making a record, it’s so intense that you don’t really want to go out because your mind just becomes recording (laughs). You are recording, you know. It’s really hard to interact normally because you’re so invested and obsessed.

Dan Rule

Teen Dream is out now via Mistletone/Inertia


Frida Hyvonen – The Spirit of Inclusion

January 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

Published: Broadsheet, January 22, 2010.

For Swedish songstress Frida Hyvonen, music is about connection. By Dan Rule.

By the end of last year’s European summer, Frida Hyvonen found herself facing something of an odd conundrum. Having already completed a round of tours for her beautifully rendered second album Silence is Wild, the Swedish singer, songwriter and pianist had gladly accepted guest roles in an 11-piece traditional ska band as well as in a Finnish orchestra. The only problem, she recounts, was that the experiences were just too damn enjoyable.

“People actually danced when we played,” urges the 32-year-old in her softly spoken manner. “They just danced and danced and danced and really participated in that way, which I kind of came to feel is the way music should be.”

Although relatively unknown outside of Scandinavia, Hyvonen’s two studio records – 2005’s Stockholm Prize-winning debut Until Death Comes and 2008’s Silence is Wild – have made her something of an indie luminary in her native country. Dance records, however, they are not.

“I feel like I owe it to my audience to give them more of a rhythm or something to move against, so they can be a part of the music,” she offers, chatting over the phone from her temporary flat in Stockholm on the eve of her maiden Australian tour. “Sometimes during shows I’ll be like, ‘Hey, you can dance to this song.’ But my music is not really very danceable – it just makes people feel awkward.”

“I’ve been performing in theatres a lot, where people have to sit still, and I’m beginning to feel that I take too much attention up there onstage,” she continues. “So it’s like, ‘Maybe this isn’t right?’”

Nonetheless, Hyvonen’s piano-based compositions and quietly feisty song-craft are nothing if not engaging. Since emerging on the international scene, her oeuvre has found its resonance in both a stark intimacy and an almost loquacious sense of dramatism. While Until Death Comes saw Hyvonen deliver her unadorned, matter-of-fact lyrical sketches in the form of elegiac piano balladry, Silence is Wild’s stark, seemingly confessional verses were counterbalanced by a clutch of swooning, almost theatrical full-band arrangements.

The rowdy honky tonk of Scandinavian Blonde pitches a snide, slightly unhinged take on cultural typecasting, where the spindly, impish piano melody of December belies a incredibly sober, diaristic reflection about the experience of abortion. “You’re the only man in the room, you’re by my side / When it’s my turn to get the injection, you’re sent outside,” she sings. “We’ve had a problem with boyfriends / They often faint if they see blood, the nurse explains.”

“I’m really curious about what happens when you actually build a special world on a record or onstage,” she muses. “At the same time, I often just long to do things very clean and acoustically and with no props and no false eyelashes,” she laughs.

“It’s really a fine line between being too familiar and too strange – I want to be somewhere in between.”

Music was always a part of Hyvonen’s life. Growing up in the small, northern Swedish town of Umea, she wrote her first song on the piano at the age of seven (“a simple instrumental piece in D minor”) and spent her childhood consuming anything from Madonna, Neneh Cherry and Michael Jackson to traditional Swedish folk music.

Nevertheless, writing and playing music didn’t take a serious turn until Hyvonen moved to Stockholm in her early twenties. As she goes onto explain, the moment she realised she had a talent for song-writing was the moment she wrote the first song for Until Death Comes.

“The first song that I was really happy about in that way made me want to make an album out of it,” she says. “I must have been about twenty-two or twenty-three and it was about four or five years before the album came out, but I just knew it.

“I think something changed when I started writing songs out of letters that I had written. It was like ‘this is a really rhythmic letter’ and I would write it into a song. It was like a new door had opened, like a way into something, because I wasn’t especially goal-oriented when I did it. So it was like, ‘This is a good song! I wrote it and I like it!’. It was like something that was an extension of me, like a quite pure expression of something that I can associate with.”

Suffice to say, it wasn’t long before Hyvonen became ensconced in the craft. When it came time to begin writing the material for Silence is Wild, she packed up her life in Stockholm and journeyed back to the relative isolation of the northern Swedish countryside. “The most important thing for me when I’m writing is to be in a place where I cannot be disturbed.”

Seclusion, Hyvonen explains, affords a particular creative permeability. “When you’re in a city, you have to put up guards and shields because there is so much impression,” she says. “It’s easier to relax and be kind of thin-skinned if you’re in a safe environment, which is really interesting for the writing process. You reach a level of intimacy with yourself faster.”

Creativity, though, is hardly an exact science. And for Hyvonen, that’s the precise seduction. “The thing I love most is the fantastic feeling and the pride that you’re somewhat of an alchemist for that moment,” she urges. “Out of nothing you draw up a formula that has a life of its own, which is extremely fascinating and somewhat addictive.”

And that counts for playing live as well. She may not have her audience dancing, but connection is still the key. “I really long for something onstage and I know when it happens, but I don’t really know how it happens,” she pauses, drifting off for a moment.

“It’s about making the audience feel very outward and inward at the same time,” she offers finally. “It’s like making a circle, perhaps.”

Frida Hyvonen plays the Bella Union Bar at Trades Hall on February 10. $27, bellaunion.com.au

Silence is Wild and Until Death Comes are available through Chapter/Fuse.