Hit the Jackpot – Lo-fi leaders

August 11, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Age, EG, August 8, 2008.

Hit the Jackpot delve into the rudiments, writes Dan Rule.

PROFICIENCY was out of the question. Perfection was never even in the picture. Adelaide’s premier boy-girl-boy noise-pop trio Hit the Jackpot make music of a starkly skewed lexicon.

In a time of increasingly sophisticated and accessible production software, the guitar-drums-bass ensemble draw on the ilk of Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Beat Happening and the Clean Delving to delve deep into rudimentary riffage and fuzz-strewn discord, swapping poorly played instruments to create a lovely noise of their own.

And, on the eve of launching their second record, the fantastically titled Soul Money Gang Vibe, they find themselves at the pointy end of something of a lo-fi revival, with the likes of fellow Adelaidians Birth Glow, surf-noise-smiths Lindsey Low Hand and Melburnians Spider Vomit and Beaches.

“I think with a lot of bands, because they’re so proficient, there’s this whole emphasis on their proficiency and everything sounding perfect,” offers bassist, occasional drummer and vocalist Jess Thomas. “But that’s really not an issue with us. We’re not the least bit interested in sounding perfect, and we know a lot of people who are doing the same.”

“I guess people put up this barrier where they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s too basic,”‘ adds vocalist, guitarist and general jack-of-all-trades Kynan Lawlor. “But if that’s the best thing for the song, then so be it. I’d kind of hope that most musicians would have that kind of thought process and idea.”

It’s an approach that has earned them plaudits from the start. A little under a year into the band’s life, Thurston Moore hand-picked the then duo to support Sonic Youth on a 2004 tour performance in Perth. “I think we worked out it was our 13th show,” says Thomas.

“Sonic Youth are quite proactive about picking support bands,” offers Lawlor. “They don’t just let the booking people pick. So I think they hadn’t found anyone and Thurston just asked a friend of ours who he has a bit of tape exchange going with if he knew anyone in Perth.

“So he passed on this really early tape of ours and was like, ‘Well, they’re not from Perth, but they can easily get to Perth.’ Fortunately he liked the tape enough to say yes.”

The band, who have since supported the likes of J. Mascis, Calvin Johnson, Les Savy Fav and Dan Deacon among others, began its life in the most archetypically lo-fi of fashions. When they formed as a guitar/drums duo in early 2003, Thomas had never even picked up an instrument, let alone played in a band.

“We’d been a couple for a little bit and Kynan was in another band, so we decided just to start our own little thing,” says Thomas. “It’s gone from there really.”

“I learned from scratch really and have just picked up more the further we’ve gone.”

They released their self-titled debut EP in 2004, which went on to become a favourite on Adelaide community radio, before acquiring a bass and recruiting Seb Calabretto as “an extra set of hands” the following year. They went on to release their debut album Clowns in 2006.

“We felt we needed more options and having a third member really freed things up,” says Lawlor. “One of our criteria was finding someone who could actually play, and fortunately he could play everything better than us, so it worked well.”

Resonating with fuzz-heavy bass lines and summery melodies, Soul Money Gang Vibe is a huge step for the band. While their lyrics remain largely frivolous – the trio spit ditties on subjects as pertinent as being splashed by the ‘king of the pool’ and of wanting a puppy, but getting a kitty – the band’s minor-key melodics carry emotive weight.

And it’s this particular dimension that is at the heart of Hit the Jackpot’s dynamic. “When you stop worrying about all that other stuff, like all the lyrics and the polish and everything,” says Lawlor, “it can allow all these other aspects like raw melody and emotion to really dominate.

“And besides, if I sat down and tried to come up with something poetic, it would end up being really horrific,” he says, laughing. “You’ve got to know your limits.”

Hit the Jackpot play tonight at the Tote.

Soul Money Gang Vibe is out now through Chapter/Fuse.

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