ELLE Australia story: “The Locavore’s Dilemma”, March 2014

May 1st, 2014

My first feature for the Australian edition of ELLE, published in March, looking at the pros and potential cons of eating local food. Sources include Bay Area chef, Jessica Prentice (who coined the term ‘Locavore’), director of the UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center, Elizabeth Mitchum, and assistant professor of agricultural and resources economics (and Freakanomics.com contributor), Steve Sexton. Click on the story below to read in a new window.

Elle New copy D2

TheVine story: “Best Beats: The Month in Hip-Hop, February 2014″, March 2014

March 17th, 2014

The latest of my monthly hip-hop round-ups for TheVine. Excerpt below. Full story via the link at the bottom of the page.

rap header feb small

Well, this was rubbish. There was actually too much rap music in a measly twenty-eight days to cram into one write-up. Music journalism problems yo.

Did my best. All essential, as always.

Zilla Rocca & the Shadowboxers — ‘Fake Surfers’ (single) (Independent)

Back before he was producing his own noir-soaked bangers, Philly’s Zilla Rocca was involved in a cross-country team-up with Seattle’s Blurry Drones (AKA Pitchfork and MTV Hive writer, Martin Douglas) as The 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers. ‘Fake Surfers’ not only reminds you of their best work off 2009 album, The Slow Twilight, but more importantly represents what they then seemed capable of. If that makes sense.

Anyway, this will sear your ears. Drones is wise enough to simply let the The Intelligence sample breathe, while Zilla and his indubitable beard go to work over top. I’m all about doomsday if this is what it sounds like.

Curly Castro — Brody (EP) (Man Bites Dog / Wrecking Crew) 

Talking of Zilla Rocca’s production skills, here he is providing beats for Curly Castro’s latest EP. This is Curly dropping the brickbats to have a whale of a time over the top of Guy Ritchie’s, y’know, second best film.

Quibbles over Madonna’s ex’s oeuvre aside, it’s very special stuff. Granted, there was humour on Castro’s Fidel, but it was jet black and dripping in irony. Here, Curly switches on the lights to unleash a torrent of pop-cultural fire. Zilla, Has-Lo, Billy Woods, Elucid and Castle all interject at regular intervals, upping the movie night vibe. Also, Bobby Cliff samples are the greatest.

Schoolboy Q — Oxymoron (LP) (TDE / Interscope)

I was worried last month that TDE new signee Isaiah Rashad’s debut Cilvia Demo might be overshadowed by ScHoolboy Q’s Oxymoron. Now, though, it feels like the Tennessee rapper has shown up his label senior. The hype building over the last twelve months for Q’s major label release reached a deafening roar in recent months, and the Compton rapper hasn’t delivered — not quite — turning in what feels like an unfinished concept album.

Still, this is in the best releases of the month for a reason. By any other artist it would be considered a thunderous success. ‘Los Awesome’, ‘Studio’, ‘Hoover Street’, ‘Prescription-Oxymoron’, ‘Break the Bank’: that’s all the evidence you need, really. Written while I dance around in my underpants to ‘Collard Greens’. Make of that what you will.

For the full article, visit TheVine.

TheVine story: ‘RÜFÜS: “I grew up butt-naked on the dirt”‘, March 2014

March 14th, 2014

An in-depth interview with RÜFÜS frontman, Tyrone Lindqvist. Read the excerpt below or check out the full story at TheVine.

RUFUS Sydney Summer low res

Disclosure: I have history of sorts with Tyrone Lindqvist. Or more accurately, I have history of sorts with Lindqvist’s father, Ken.

Two and a half years ago I travelled to Lightning Ridge, eleven hours west of Brisbane, where Ken lives and works as an opal miner. Lightning Ridge is something of a desert-locked frontier town fallen on quieter times, the depressed price for opal offset by farming and the more adventurous tourists who flock through to rubber neck and hear about the glory days. Ken is one of a handful of professional full-timers left in the trade who make a good living, working twenty feet underground with a partner and a hydraulic excavator, searching for the precious gem.

A Vine story was the result of that visit. It should be noted that Ken didn’t appear anywhere in that piece, but we did discuss his life in detail, including Tyrone, who grew up in Lighting Ridge and at the time was just beginning to make waves in Sydney with RÜFÜS bandmates Jon George and James Hunt. We listened to his music that night, warming ourselves by a house party’s open fire and leaning in close so we could hear the tinny tones on Ken’s smartphone.

Cut to early 2014 and RÜFÜS are set to conquer the world. Or that’s how it feels anyway, with a two month tour planned throughout North America — where for legal reasons they’re now known as RÜFÜS DU SOL — and Europe, including a stop at Austin’s now iconic music festival, South by Southwest. All this on the heels of the band’s rise in Australia, which has been something of a soft chorus building into a roaring crescendo.

Over the last twenty-four months they’ve released single after single, each subsequent release keeping them bobbing towards the top of the alternative airwaves. Atlas, the band’s debut album, was well received by critics in August, and still has plenty left in the kitty as the band get set to release ‘Sundream’, the first song on the album.

At the time of publication, the three-piece are winging their way to California. But before they departed, I caught up with Lindqvist (the younger) on the phone. Among other things we talked about growing up in Lightning Ridge, his close working relationship with his bandmates, and of course, the legal wrangle that resulted in their North American name change.

Where are you, Tyrone? 

I’m actually in Coogee, or the Randwick-Coogee area, I guess

That’s where you’re living?

That’s where I’ve lived for the last five or six years. I moved up the road recently, but it’s pretty much the same area.

How different is life for you compared to twelve months ago? Because you guys had a huge 2013, and I think it rolled into the new year with the Big Day Out shows. Does life feel very different?

To be honest, not really (laughs). I’m doing the same stuff that I was doing. Me and the guys are hanging out every day, making tunes and doing whatever it is we need to do, whether it’s rehearsing for the next bunch of live shows or writing new material or doing remixes or going and getting a mix ready for a DJ set. I guess the difference is now, we can see a little bit of money rolling in which means financially we can have a bit of air. We can breathe a little easier.

But we were getting by before, whether we were working jobs on the side. It wasn’t stressful. You just needed to make the time to do what you loved doing. Now, it’s just more time doing what you love doing, and it’s a little easier to breathe. And also the shows. The shows we’re doing now — the difference between a year ago — you’d play in front of three or four hundred people and they’d know some songs and the vibe was great, but now it’s been turned on its head where you’re playing shows in front of thousands of people and they’re singing the words to almost every song on your album. It’s like, “Holy shit!” It’s the best feeling.

I was saying to someone recently: over New Years we were playing Falls and I wasn’t drinking. And I’d come off stage and someone would say, “Let’s have a beer!” And I don’t want a beer: “I don’t want anything that will stop me from feeling this high!” It’s crazy. You go out there and you have three hundred people giving you energy; if you’re playing in front of four thousand people, you can imagine that energy. And you’re giving that back. You’re feeding off them and they’re feeding off you. It’s this crazy ride where you come off stage and you just feel amazing.

What about life on the road: are you used to that? Martin Novosel from Purple Sneakers told me recently that you try to keep it pretty professional, giving yourselves days off and so on. Does it come easily to you guys?

Yeah, I guess we’ve done it a lot. And we’ve done it with barely any money, so you’d be sleeping on floors and this and that. And you’d just be doing it to get by and do what you love and get your music out there. And when you do that for a few years and you get used to it and suddenly you get a bed to sleep in, it’s basically a luxury. Touring isn’t really that hard. Our lives for the last three years, we’ve definitely had hardly any structure. So we’re used to it. You stay up until 3am one night and then you’ve got to get up at 6am, and you sleep on the flight. And you play the next night at 12am. I dunno. It’s all very topsy-turvy but feels kinda normal. You just make it happen. It’s not hard.

You moved around a little bit when you were younger — you visited Sweden, where you’re dad is from, and went to boarding school at St Ignatius Riverview when you were 12 years old. Does that make it easier to adjust to life on the road, do you think? Did it set you up well?

I think boarding school helped, because it teaches you to make friends with a lot of people and get along with different characters. You have to live with them even if you’re not best mates with someone. You learn to get by and you learn to make it work. You learn to not feel crap, I guess (laughs). And that’s the really cool thing, because on the road you meet a lot of people, you work with a lot of people, and its’ in your best interests to get along with everyone and to have as little conflict as possible with anyone. So I guess you get good at that.

You did a lot of growing up in Lightning Ridge. A lot of RÜFÜS fans wouldn’t know about that town and how crazy it is. What’s it like growing up there?

(Laughs) It’s crazy. It’s cool. I mean, I grew up butt-naked on the dirt, with this small Swedish-speaking community. My dad’s Swedish and he had a couple of mates over there. There would have been about eight of them living in the middle of nowhere, digging for opal and just trying to make a living. I guess it was an adventure, it was exciting, and growing up there: I went to school there and the kids are all very similar to me and very similar to every other kid — going to school, having fun. I guess living in the middle of nowhere, it’s definitely a different experience and it makes you appreciate the city life and it makes you appreciate the life in seclusion.

For the full article, visit TheVine.

TheVine story: “As It Happened: The INXS mini-series ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ — Ep 2″, February 2014

February 28th, 2014

The second and final instalment of my Never Tear Us Apart review. Check the excerpt below or visit TheVine for the full story. Read the review of the first episode here.

INXS week 2 header

Matt Shea revisited some childhood demons to review the first instalment of Channel 7′s two-part INXS mini-series, Never Tear Us Apart. Here in the second and final instalment, he examines the band’s penchant for zoot suits, tallies the boobs vs phone calls, and questions the veracity of Bono and Molly. 

00:00: Ah! Ep 2 of the Agony and Ecstasy of Garry Gary Beers. I’ve been waiting all week for this. And so has my friend, Stan, who’s watching with me tonight. Rumour has it that Bono will be appearing in this episode. The real Bono or a guy playing Bono, I’m not sure. It’s Bono. Probably best to place a bet each way.

00:30: This week: Will INXS achieve world domination? Have they already? Will Kirk finally get some new glasses? And will everyone put some clothes on?

01:00: It’s 1997. Michael’s in a fancy hotel room, looking grim.

(Stan and I met in 1997, working at Subway. This was back in the days of scoop cuts and midnight closes. My boss, Jenny, was a massive prick — a desiccated 40-year-old mother of twenty-seven with an open licence to shit on the teenagers who worked under her. She was the terminator, pretty much. So in the spirit of Eureka Stockade, we started rorting the joint. We’d get all the cookies, roll them together into one giant cookie, bake it, and then sell it to high people. And we’d make toasted sandwiches in the oven. Customers were all like, “Yo can I have one of those?” And we were like, “Nah. But we’ll sell you this giant cookie you high nonce.” Modern day bushrangers yo.)

02:00: But anyway. Michael. Michael’s not doing well. There are a lot of drugs in this hotel room, but prescription rather than party. Hmmm. If last week was the TV equivalent of Pseudo Echo’s remake of ‘Funky Town’, I suspect this week will be The Very Best of the Smiths.

02:30: Michael looks at a photo of Michelle, that nice lady who dumped his flakey arse in the first ep. (Remember this. It will become important later.)

04:30: It’s 1988 and the band want a year off. Lazy fuckers. Chris pleads, but Andrew — of all people! — puts his foot down.

05:30: INXS get their year off. Michael and Kylie do some cooking in a farm house. Andrew gets married. It’s good to know the band’s penchant for zoot suits stretched to family occasions.

07:30: Rolling Stone wants an INXS cover, but only Hutchence.

… and this taps into much of the tension of the media portrayal of INXS. How much was Hutchence and how much was it the band as a whole? The media tended to focus on the frontman, when — to be fair — most of the PR from the time tended to show a happy gang of six. Obviously the schism in popular perception would widen after Michael’s accident and his marriage to Paula Yates, but more on that later. Right now, he hands a big ‘fuck you’ to Rolling Stone. God bless that man.

08:00: Band meeting by a hotel pool (because apparently bands meet by pools, even when they’re not touring). That idiot Chris wants them to start recording but they’re not ready. Except for Kirk, that is. God he’s a stiff.

09:30: Michael is meeting up with Michelle. Shocker. She mentions a rumour going around that Michael is working on an LP with Ollie Olson. Ah! The Max Q debacle. This should be good.

10:45: Chris of course loses his shit. “You’re not Nick Cave!” he rants. Thanks Chris. Thanks a lot.

12:00: The Max Q conversation is over in two minutes, which is about the same length of time the actual recording project lasted.

12:30: A riotous recreation of the ‘Suicide Blonde’ video clip. I can’t remember the original being this bad. This probably says something about the making of music videos. Or the time pressures of scripted television. Or something.

(Actually, the video was that bad).

13:00: The band is releasing X and heading off on a world tour. They have their own plane because the ’80s. Michael has Helena Christensen with him.

This follows an over-the-phone break-up with Kylie. Back to the interviews that frame the series and Garry Gary Beers is totally confused how Michael stays friends with his exes. It’s not sorcery, Garry, you penis pump.

16:00: Arsenio Hall and Wembley and ‘New Sensation’ etc etc. No time, no time, move along.

17:00: There’s a carpet salesman on television trashing INXS. Wait: that’s Molly Meldrum?


17:30: Molly is hating on the band’s live album — which is fair enough, it was rubbish — and accusing them of not giving enough to the Australian music industry — which probably isn’t fair enough. Kirk wants to fight Molly. I’d watch that.

For the full article, visit TheVine.

TheVine story: “Best Beats: Summer Hip-Hop Edition, 2013-2014″, February 2014

February 25th, 2014

My regular monthly round-up of rap music for TheVine, in best-of-summer form. Excerpt below.


What kind of fool releases their music in December and January? You’ve just given yourself a free pass on all the year-end lists, my pal, and that’s what really matters right? Right?!

Still, while critics enjoyed recapping their favourite tunes from 2013, a bunch of crazy arseholes released these terrific rap records. All essential.


7 Days of Funk — 7 Days of Funk (LP) (Stones Throw)

You probably know 7 Days of Funk as Snoop Dogg Lion Zilla Whatever’s latest project, but if we’re honest this is really about Dam Funk. Don’t know Dam (pronounced “Dame”)? Get onboard, son.

For the last few years powering a nascent future funk scene in Los Angeles, 7 Days is Damon Riddick’s coming out party and Snoop’s playing host, splitting his toil between smooth couplets and auto-tuned crooners. Artists constantly try to reference the past while defining the future, and Dam does it better than most. This is 34 minutes of dance parties, hot tubs, whisky and champagne.

Remember: always arrive by Lincoln.

For the full article, visit TheVine.

TheVine story: “Group Therapy: Does Australian Music Have a Drinking Problem?” February 2014

February 25th, 2014

On the back of Bliss n Eso MC Max MacKinnon’s revelation that he has recently beaten a drinking problem (see previous story here), I surveyed twelve artists from around Australia — including Drapht, The Basics’ Kris Schroeder, Sietta’s Caiti Baker and The Butterfly Effect’s Ben Hall  — to get their thoughts on whether local independent music has an endemic issue with alcohol abuse. Check out the excerpt below, or follow the link at the bottom of the post to read the whole story on TheVine.

drinking problem header (size adjust)

The Australian music industry did a double-take last month at Bliss n Eso MC Max MacKinnon’s revelation to TheVine that he had recently beaten a drinking problem. In a phone interview, MacKinnon told of his battles with alcohol and subsequent recovery.

“I had a huge drinking problem because of this industry,” he said. “Every show there’s five bottles of vodka and ten cases of piss. The amount of live shows we do, you can fall victim to that shit very easily. So for a while there I was definitely a huge drinker and it was stopping me from being creative and stopping me from doing a lot of different things.”

MacKinnon’s struggles — along with the recent revelation by fellow rapper 360 that late last year he entered a rehabilitation clinic to curb a drinking problem — has brought to the surface questions surrounding the consumption of alcohol in the music industry.

Against a background of the wider discussions taking place regarding Australia’s attitude towards drinking, TheVine wanted to find out more about how the music industry views alcohol. Does the industry have a problem? And how do you go about successfully negotiating an environment where for successful bands free booze is a given while young bands are often paid by the rider?

So we picked up the phone, dialled a whole bunch of different artists at different levels in the industry, and began with the following question:

Does Australian music have a problem with alcohol? 

drapht for dirnking problem (size adjust)


I think Australian music has a massive problem with drinking. But I wouldn’t draw the line at the music industry – I’d say Australia in general. I remember drinking at 13, having two older sisters. Even my dad would somewhat allow it because it’s acceptable in our culture. And that’s where it seems to start for young people.

When I gave up drinking, everything else seemed to open up. When I was touring and drinking at the same time I was doing twenty-six shows in a month. We have this industry where we’re given these riders. I travel with a band and I’d get two cartons of beer, a bottle of red wine and a bottle of vodka. So I had this availability of alcohol where I had at least half a carton a night. When you’re doing six shows in a week you drive yourself into the ground. Particularly because I had to deal with some hereditary health issues — that was the real catalyst to quit, and a blessing in a sense.

I was a massively shy kid when growing up and of course alcohol gives you confidence. Sometimes before I went on I’d have up to eight beers, slur my words through my set and it would just be horrendous. And I thought I was killing it, y’know? I probably thought I did need a few beers to jump onstage and gather that bravado.

It was Splendour in the Grass in front of 10,000 people that marked my first sober show. I remember the beginning and the end, but the middle I was probably shitting myself and super scared and going into fight-or-flight response. But you go through that experience, and afterwards you know you’re sweet.

Now, it’s been years since I had a drink. And performance-wise I’ve improved ten-fold: breath-control, clarity, and having control over certain things I didn’t in the past. But other things have changed also: it’s turned into bit more of a job before and after shows. Now I rock up, do the soundcheck, go back to the hotel, and then I arrive at the show maybe half an hour before I’m on and then go straight back to the hotel after I’ve played. And it makes touring hugely easier. I’m writing a lot more on the road, because my head’s constantly clear. My touring party is usually hungover, so I’m usually driving or writing [Laughs].

For sure I’ve watched other people struggle with booze. You see it all the time. Especially someone that comes up overnight. They don’t know how to take it and they don’t know the ins and outs of the industry and they get swallowed up.

For the full article, visit TheVine.

TheVine story: “As It Happened: The INXS mini-series ‘Never Tear Us Apart’”, February 2014

February 20th, 2014

I was asked to review Never Tear Us Apart – Channel 7′s dramatised mini-series covering the rise of Australian rock band, INXS. The following timestamped piece was the result. Read the excerpt below or visit TheVine for the full article.

INXS header

Matt Shea revisits some childhood demons to review the first instalment of Channel 7′s two-part INXS mini-series, Never Tear Us Apart. Part 2 screens next Sunday 16th February.

01:30: Let me just say it was my bro, Bob, who was the big INXS fan. Not me. That’s him, with the teeth. My other bro, Ant, is on the right. He’s still grumpy. I’m in the middle with the massive head.

Choice bros

We’d rock around New Zealand on family holidays, and at every stop 11-year-old Bob would be throwing on Kick, singing lyrics such as “Love baby love / It’s written all over your face” like it was the most natural thing in the world. Then again, it was either that or Glen Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy. Utmost players.

02:00: Actually, I think when I didn’t want to move to Australia and I was crying on our couch in Wellington like a little shrub it was in part because of INXS. They were one of the only things I knew about Australia and they were strange and Australia was strange. This has nothing to do with Never Tear Us Apart. Sorry.

02:30: Anyway, we’re at Wembley Stadium in 1991, INXS’s most iconic live performance and the one which most people have on VHS DVD HD-DVD Blu-ray (srsly just watch it on YouTube). All I can think is that the guy playing Kirk Pengilly really looks like Kirk Pengilly — surely the cornerstone of any effective INXS dramatisation.

pengilly 1

03:10: They’re very casual about this Wembley gig. I think Never Tear Us Apart and INXS folklore in general would have this as the apex of the band’s career. But the band’s time had arguably already passed. Kick was almost half a decade old. And then there was this town called Seattle and this thing called grunge…

03:46: Four pills?! Fuck Michael you fucking crazy fuck.

04:00: The Wembley gig serves another purpose as a circuit breaker between the real band and this bunch of dudes playing the band. Via a very liberal use of stock footage they become INXS. (Indeed, Google search the band’s name and an image of these guys pops up. Well played, Never Tear Us Apart.) I’m a bit worried about the guy playing Tim Farriss, and perhaps he’s over egging it. But then I remember Tim used to dance around like a dickhead anyway.

05:30: You didn’t think it was actually going to start with Wembley, right? In that case, Jon Stevens would be appearing after the third ad break. No, it’s time for a flashback. Or a flash forward. Or a flash forward, then a flashback. So many haircuts. I’m confused.

For the full article, visit TheVine.

TheVine live review: Laneway Festival Brisbane, February 2014

February 10th, 2014

A festival review for TheVine, co-written with Andrew McMillen. Excerpt below.

Jeromes banner

We sent our music men Andrew McMillen and Matt Shea along to Australia’s first Laneway Festival of 2014 at the RNA Showgrounds in Brisbane on January 31. This is their story, just please be advised the following contains tales of creepy stalking, swearing and mid-strength Mexican beer….

Andrew McMillen: How do you sell tickets to music festivals? Amid reports of a horror 2013 for promoters throughout the country, with cancellations, downsizing and low attendances almost across the board, the answer to that question has remained the same as it ever was: book bands that people want to pay good money to see. It’s simple in theory but tricky in practice, with a good deal of gambling and gamesmanship required many months in advance. In this sense, Laneway has struck a vein of pure gold in 2014: their line-up is stacked with in-demand artists, many of whom performed strongly at a certain music poll that aired five days prior to the touring festival’s traditional first Australian show in the Queensland capital.

Matt Shea: My question is, how do you improve upon the Brisbane leg of Laneway, which was one of the best festivals to blow through the city in 2013? You upgrade the line-up for starters. If last year’s roster of artists was impressive, 2014 is a clean home run with the inclusion of superstars Haim and Lorde, a strong slug of rap courtesy of Run the Jewels, Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt, and an almost never-ending list of support players: Daughter, Four Tet, Kurt Vile, Warpaint, and god knows how many more. The festival app’s planner is pretty much useless. There are clashes everywhere. Thanks, arseholes.

That’s from the audience perspective. From promoters Danny Rogers and Jerome Borazio’s perspective, you increase capacity. Which, given the ample space available at Brisbane’s RNA Showgrounds, makes a lot of sense. But does it make sense for Laneway?

Laneway’s submission to do the same in Sydney was rescued by an eleventh hour plea from Michael Chugg — who co-promotes the festival — when he told Leichardt Council that no other Australian music festival quite has the same capacity to connect with music fans. But by bumping up the numbers, Rogers, Borazio and their collaborators are of course risking such a hard-won note of distinction. In it’s first year in Melbourne back in 2004, the gents were cheerily selling tallies and inviting their parents along. In 2014, we’re talking something much more widescreen.

To accommodate the extra numbers, the RNA Showgrounds setup has been re-jigged. The Carpark Stage (better than it sounds) is no longer the place to see the biggest acts. Instead, it plays second fiddle to the Alexandria Street stage, which in a daring move during Brisbane’s monsoon season, is completely open to the elements.

And those crowds don’t go unnoticed. Whereas in 2013 it was easy to get around, this year you often find yourself caught in great swathes of people, many of them careening into each other as sticky weather and over imbibing combine to nasty effect. After a while you find yourself wondering if this is what Laneway is all about. I’m not so sure.

Andrew: Fittingly, the site is busy within a few hours of gates opening, as must-see acts have been scheduled from the early afternoon onwards. Up first, King Krule is a swing and miss at the Carpark Stage: the English songwriter is interesting on record, but unengaging in the flesh. To my dismay, a quick scout around the three other stages yields no alternatives, which seems like surprisingly poor organisation for so early in the day. King Krule delivers that rare, unedifying type of set that turns me off a band that I already liked. Adalita at the Alexandria Street stage is the exact opposite: alongside her three accomplices, she reminds me that I need to spend more time with her 2013 album All Day Venus. Their performance of the title track is the first great song I hear today, thanks to a monstrous extended outro. “I’ve got a touch of bronchitis,” the singer says. “But I’ll do my best. Fuck that excuse!” It’s clear during a solo reading of ‘Heavy Cut’ that her voice isn’t doing quite what she’d like, yet Ms Srsen powers through anyway. Heroic.

A few songs into Adalita’s set, I clock the unmistakeable visage of triple j Music Director Richard Kingsmill standing before me, clutching a brown jacket and wearing a navy shirt, blue jeans and orange shoes. He shields his bespectacled eyes from the glaring sun and adopts a power stance, rocking his right leg to the beat of the bass drum with crossed arms.

For the full article, visit TheVine.

FasterLouder story: “The incredible story behind INXS’s ‘Original Sin’”, February 2014

February 9th, 2014

An extended Q&A with Andrew Farris, in which the celebrated INXS songsmith talks about the origins, writing and recording of the band’s 1983 hit single, ‘Original Sin’. This was a hard interview to arrange — Farris is a notoriously private individual — but very rewarding. Excerpt below, full story on FasterLouder.

INXS FL header

It’s not the most famous INXS song, but perhaps the one everyone can agree on. Both now and back in 1983.

Upon its release, ‘Original Sin’ was a game changer – not just for a Sydney six-piece emerging from the endless grind of touring pubs and RSLs, but for Australian music in general. Gone were the fist-in-the-air anthems of 1982 album Shabooh Shoobah, replaced instead by a classy Eastern Asian-flavoured riff and a monstrous, dance floor-filling groove. Gone too was the boyish lyrical romance, Michael Hutchence instead delivering a subtle dose of bittersweet social commentary, and in the process adding yet another layer to the song. But where did ‘Original Sin’ come from? And how would it change INXS’s future?

Andrew Farriss emerges from the crowds milling about Manly Wharf on a grey Melbourne Cup Tuesday. At 54, the keyboardist and songwriter has silvered at the temples, but retains the boyish button eyes and curly crop of hair so familiar from the band’s press photos. Farriss is an almost infamously private individual. Earlier, he called from a hidden number and in person he’s far from gregarious. Rather, it’s intimate: sitting together in one of the wharf’s cafés he leans close, let’s off a wide smile and looks me in the eye, like he’s imparting the club secrets. Farriss talks with affection about the band (half of whom are family) and in particular Hutchence – you quickly get a sense of the depth of their friendship.

Together we cover the background of both ‘Original Sin’’s music and its lyrics, working with Chic’s Nile Rodgers – who at the time was just setting out on a remarkable run of production credits – and receiving death threats in the American south, as well as some of the stories behind the song’s inimitable music video. It feels like a heady trip for Farriss: there are times he rides roughshod over questions just to remind himself of a particular memory or anecdote. ‘Original Sin’ isn’t just about recording studios and chart numbers. Rather, it comes with its own origin story, and found the band at the crossroads between their hardworking, hard-touring past and a stadium-filled future.

 Andrew Farriss on ‘Original Sin’:

Were you surprised when I wanted to talk to you about this song in particular?
Not totally surprised. But I’ll start at the beginning. As Aussies growing up in the period when we did the great path was never through the United States, it was always through Europe, because everyone thought the British invasion into the United States was the road to Mecca in terms of pop music.

Go to Europe and then go to the States?
Yeah. So what happened with us: We watched a lot of bands – Little River Band, AC/DC, Air Supply, and a bunch of others – and managed to talk to some of them about their experiences. And you heard these stories about what it was like to try to go overseas. Then you also had this manic control thing within the Australian record companies. They’d treat you like Ruprecht from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, where you’re to be kept in a cage and not able to spread your wings and have any success in the rest of the world.

We’d already gone overseas as a band in 1982 – our music was being well received in New Zealand. That was a good place to start. We [then] looked at each other and asked what were we going to do with ourselves? Were we going to be an Aussie pub rock band? That would be nice – play the RSLs, call it a day, and then get a real job. Or were we going to take it a lot more seriously? So I think about that time we made this decision that we were going to have a serious crack at it.

Then a series of things happened. Shabooh Shoobah was released in the United States and did really well. MTV was just starting up so we could send over all these videos, which they loved because to them we were kinda quirky. So suddenly we had this big promotional push in the United States and Canada. Europe’s a different story – they liked things about us, but also hated things about us. One review said, “They’re crap, and they’re Australian.” [Laughs] Which sort of sums up exactly how they looked at us, or anyone from Australia.

We realised, “OK, we’re getting some reaction from the United States. Let’s go with the US.” Also, around about that time Michael and I had been talking a lot about our songwriting. When we were The Farriss Brothers – before we were INXS, in the early pub years – we used to play all sorts of music. We used to play funk and ‘70s disco. We liked playing that stuff. But what we began to discover is that [with] the roll-your-sleeves-up, cigarette-in-the-mouth, tats approach, there wasn’t much room or breathing space for any other style of music.

So when we went to the US we sort of felt, “What are we going to be? What is it that we’re trying to do, songwriting-wise?” Were we wanting to solve the world’s problems, like U2? And we thought, what we can do is talk about social situations without coming to some sort of judgement – that’s not our place as artists, I don’t think. It’s only your place to point out things.

To provide a reflection rather than solutions?
Yeah. And I think that’s what Michael was doing when he constructed the lyric for ‘Original Sin’. We were on a tour bus in the United States and we saw a bunch of kids playing in a schoolyard. In Australia, back then there was less of a cultural melting pot, but the US has always encouraged that. So when Michael saw that, we started talking about writing more funky music. Because things were beginning to shift. You had bands like Talking Heads, you had Blondie coming out with ‘Rapture’. People were beginning to experiment, and we all knew how to play it.

So I put the music together – all the riffs and so on to create pretty much what we now know as the final song – just at home on a drum machine, with the guitar parts and keyboard riffs. I played it to Michael and he said, “Let’s use that!” and I said, “OK, what do you want to do with it?” He said, “Because it’s funky, I think the lyrics should reflect some sort of universal theme that everyone can relate to.” So we got into this idea from what he’d been observing. He was saying, “Dream on. Just keep dreaming, because that’s what it’s going to take.” That’s really the theme of the song, what it’s all about, then matched to that funky thing.

When did you start thinking about getting Nile Rodgers involved?
We’d already been listening to some Nile Rodgers stuff, like Adventures in the Land of the Good Groove and then his earlier stuff. We were aware he was recording with David Bowie at the time, making ‘Let’s Dance’. So we put some feelers out to Nile. He came to one of our shows in Canada, came backstage and I remember almost falling off my chair.

He said, “Hey, I loved the show, man. It was really good. I’ve seen you guys on MTV. I’m a fan of the band and what you’re doing is different.” And we were like, “Cool! Guess what? We’ve got this song.” [Laughs] He said, “Give me a copy of what you’ve done.” So we gave him a copy of the ‘Original Sin’ demo. And the next minute we found ourselves rehearsing in Florida, then going into The Power Station in New York City, literally just after David Bowie and his band had left the studio. We walked straight in and the best part was the engineer who had worked on a lot of those albums with Nile, Jason Casaro – he was there too. When I listen to ‘Original Sin’ and compare it to other recordings, geez that sounds good. At the time there was this cutting edge of people who were really good at what they were doing, and two of them were sitting in that room.

For the full article, visit FasterLouder.

AskMen film review: ’47 Ronin’, January 2014

January 30th, 2014

A review of 47 Ronin for AskMen. Excerpt below. Follow the link at the bottom of the post for the full story.

47 Ronin header

As a critic, reading reviews on the internet is the pits. They mess with your expectations and colour your interpretations. So you don’t do it. You keep your powder dry and try to take a film or piece of music or whatever it may be on its merits.

This was hard with 47 Ronin. Over the last eighteen months I’ve been helpless to stop the stinky industry news regarding this doomed blockbuster drifting out of my internet modem and curling my nostrils. The US reviews from late December did nothing to turn the tide. The film was a flop, a flame out. It would do everything but steal your laundry and shit in the letterbox. Keanu Reeves. What an arsehole.

But it turns out that 47 Ronin, rather than being one of the most remarkably bad films in history, is instead one of the most remarkable examples of internet group think in history. This is a flawed film, no doubt —the compromises made both during production and after it will be obvious to an astute viewer — but is it the steaming bucket of poo most have gleefully painted it as? Not nearly.

For the full article, visit AskMen.