Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Interview: Devastations

“I haven’t lived in a place for longer than four or five months in five or six years…” Conrad Standish of Devastations shares the overseas experience with James McGalliard

There are many universes, and parallel existences. In one, Devastations frontman Conrad Standish is half of a rock glamour couple, being followed by paparazzi and besieged by supermarket checkout magazines that want a feature on the celebrity lifestyle of him and his wife. In this one we’re sitting in a real ale pub in Hackney in London’s East End, a few days before Conrad flies out to Melbourne to begin rehearsals for their February shows, and I’m trying to understand how you can afford to live in London as a musician.

The truth is, you can’t. “At the moment I am going for a lot of job interviews… I’ve kinda managed until now, but this can’t continue like this; it’s dawning on me that I can’t be a gentleman of leisure for too much longer. It’s fucken tough here, it’s really expensive…” Conrad has recently moved here after he and the band spent the last few years based in Berlin. “Before we were living in (our current home), we were living in a place in Camden with seven or eight other people.”

Along with drummer Hugo Cran, and guitarist and vocalist Tom Carlyon, Conrad makes up Devastations, a band formed in Melbourne, and now living in three separate countries. But with Hugo still in Berlin, and Tom having recently moved back to Australia, isn’t this going to make things a little tough? “I guess we will just have to put aside a certain amount of time each year to get together somewhere. It could be Europe at the end of a tour, or Australia back on holidays, or we could meet halfway or something. Meet in Iraq for a rehearsal spell? We will just have to be more selective about the way that we tour and more respectful of our own lifespan as a band. We gotta be clever about it.”

This lack of money has had its beneficial side though. The long, languorous soundscapes of Yes, U may never have been achieved, except for the way the record was created. “We’ve always felt in the past, because of the way that we wrote songs, that when we would record albums, we will just layer and layer and layer stuff. Also we had a lot of time in which to record those albums, because we had no money, so we would only go into the studio when we had money. And like all the off-time, we had like a rough mix of the song and we would be thinking ‘maybe it needs an organ bit here, or maybe it needs a violin or extra whatever…’, which would invariably happen. We all would have ideas for the songs over the course of a year. I mean each of those albums took a year to make. Which was good in one sense, because it gave us a lot of time to live with the songs, and see how they could be improved but at the same time, when it came to playing live as a three-piece, there were obvious limitations…”

That’s the other big change recently in the band. Conrad tells me that there have probably been eight keyboard players during their history, but now it’s back to the core trio for the foreseeable future. “This is kind of tough on everyone who’s ever been in the band… But really the band is just the three of us; no matter who joins, that’s always how it is. It’s a funny dynamic. Even if we were craving a fourth member, still at the same time always the three of us.”

The other dynamic of the band is between the two singers. “I think that is a good thing for an album (and) for a pair of songwriters. I think we’re both fortunate to have each other in a lot of ways. We have quite a complex relationship, me and Tom, but I think we tend to compliment each other well. I think we’ve arrived at a point where we know what to do with one another, if you know what I mean.” Although Tom has always sung, recent shows seem to feature him more as a singer, as does Yes, U. “Tom’s a great songwriter and his contributions to the band have always been huge and his work probably overshadows all of us. But I don’t think he is actually singing more on like Yes, U…I guess on this album there are a couple of instrumentals so it probably seems more.”

Conrad has strong thoughts on live performance. “We don’t like to play for a long time. I myself get really bored watching anyone for more than half an hour. It could be The Stooges, after half an hour, I’ve had enough! So I keep that in mind when we are playing. It can be nice to have a show where you have your peaks and your troughs. You can do that in a dynamic sense, without having to get people to stay two hours to watch you play.”

“It’s a weird thing to perform in front of people. Sometimes you wonder why you do it at all, what’s like the point? …We’ve done shows where we’ve walked off stage and it’s like high-fiving in the sun in the Caribbean, and someone’s walked in, like our manager or whatever, with a very worried look on their face. And we’ve done shows like that, which we thought were a total piece of shit and we’ve had people walk up to us in tears - tears of joy. So we really aren’t the best judges.”

Conrad cuts a weird onstage figure. He’s tall, he struts, jerks his hips and arches his back, while his head comes forward, almost like a cobra. “It’s just how it feels natural to play for me. I have to move. It seems to be what the music dictates. It’s a physical thing, but I don’t have any idea of what I appear like on the stage… I don’t think I look that weird, but I really enjoy playing bass. Maybe I enjoy it 10% more than other bass players?”

Following the Australian shows is the possibility of an American tour, as Yes, U is only now being released there. And after that? “I think it would be boring if we made another record that sounded the same as Yes, U. All of us have ideas that we want to pursue, but it’s realistically like another year before we would step foot in a studio again. It gives us all a fair amount of time to get it how we want it.”

If you ask what he’d like most from the forthcoming dates, the answers simple – sold out shows. Although they’ve lived and played overseas for a long time, Australia is still loved, faults and all. What might people expect to hear on these dates? “Some songs you can leave out of the set for like a year or two. Then you’ll revisit them and suddenly they’re fresh all over again. Certain songs have to be put into gaol for a bit, if they are not kinda working for you… We’ve our whole lives to play these songs, I don’t see what the rush is - we will be around for a while yet.”

Devastations play East Brunswick Club on 2 February, and St Jerome’s Laneway Festival on 24 February. Yes, U is out now on Remote Control

© James McGalliard 2008

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Looking For The New Sound

2008 Preview (rework for Inpress)

There’s only so much you can pick up from MySpace or foreign rock press. So our man in the UK James McGalliard has suggested some acts to watch out for in 2008

Foals, Laura Marling, The Pigeon Detectives, The Wombats, Palladium… It’d be fairly easy to list bands who will make an impact this year. But this is more about acts I’ve seen and been impressed by over the past 12 months, acts I’ll be spending my time and money keeping an eye on. Hopefully some of them will find success as well…

The Twilight Sad was the band of 2007 for me. Yet somehow their brilliant debut album missed many end of year lists. Live the act is powerful and unforgettable. And bloody LOUD! There’s a special something about them; even though their music is entirely different, I keep thinking Here Are The Young Men. . Andy Yorke is that Radiohead guy’s brother, and at Truck he had me totally entranced; the understanding between the people onstage translated to a magic and beautiful hour. I’ve told Evi Vine that she’s a future Mercury Music Prize candidate; she thinks I’m joking, but her unique music is worthy of such accolades. She is transported when she plays and takes the audience with her; the journey may be sometimes unnerving though, as she is a singularly spectacular talent touching some dark places. And while Model Morning may never find huge success, they still make my jaw drop, and my soul sing, each time I see them.

The Early Years were another live highlight of 2007. They’ve officially expanded to a four-piece and are currently recording a second album – it should be blinding. When Fuck Buttons played Truck festival, such was the interest I couldn’t even get into the tent they were playing. But what I heard though the tent walls definitely made me want to find out more. SPC ECO is Dean Garcia of Curve coming back with something reminiscent of his previous act, but also entirely new. But Exit Calm are the where the smart money is; their music is tight and large, even if the vocals are yet to catch up. Think U2, but in a good way. They will playing big venues by the year’s end…

But it’s not all about big music; sometimes it’s one man and his guitar. Or in the case of Simple Kid, a guitar and a laptop - which allows him to duet with Kermit the frog on It’s Not Easy Being Green, and spew out the lyrics of set highlight Serotonin. Josh T Pearson has been stunning UK audiences with his openhearted, scary, long, involved, honest one-man songs. He’s due to release his first real material since Lift To Experience soon – it will have been worth the wait. Kid Harpoon first hooked me with his brilliant live cover of Leonard Cohen’s First We Take Manhattan. Now he has a full band (The Powers That Be) and together they play some of the best folk-influenced rock since The Pogues.

Blues is making big inroads into the indie scene, and leading the vanguard is Seasick Steve. He’s the real deal and is playing to bigger and bigger audiences every tour. It’s a little like Top Gear - folks who usually have no interest in this sort of thing are flocking to see him. With a renewed interest in “punk rock blues”, maybe Archie Bronson Outfit will progress from being one of the best live acts in the country, to being a big one too? Also not to be missed are Joe Gideon & The Shark – a brother and sister – him on guitar, her on drums - but nothing like that that red & white duo!

Reunions are generally a disappointment, but in 2005, the Gang Of Four’s live shows wiped the floor with newer pretenders. Sadly drummer Hugh is not currently in the band, but they’re recording new material and its release is sure to be eagerly awaited. Similarly James played the arenas this year, but it was more than a nostalgia trip - they have written and recorded a new album. The live shows were great and if radio gets behind them, they may have a second coming.

My Latest Novel produced a great debut album, and are a fabulously adventurous live act, but never really found a big following. But their new songs are particularly strong, so hopefully this will change. Fields progressed enormously over 2007 and the touring helped then to keep the intensity levels sustained throughout their shows. Maybe their hybrid shoegaze folk-rock will makes its mark this year? On the other hand The Duke Spirit were always great live, but sadly their debut album failed to capture this. However this seems to have been rectified with their new recordings, and their forthcoming album Neptune may yet make them a household name.

Other trends to look out for in the coming months are classical strings in postrock (see Spiritualized Acoustic Mainline, Yndi Halda and The Monroe Transfer) and also expect an indie pop revival in 2008 (Tim Ten Yen, Poppy & The Jezebels, Strange Idols, 586, The Chaira L’s, and others). But now that the ukulele has overtaken the recorder as the most played instrument in UK schools, who knows what the future will bring?

© James McGalliard 2008