Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

Christopher Nosnibor

Doing what I do, I get to hear a lot of music. I’m talking 30 or so CDs in the mail each week, and at least twice that in terms of emails offering downloads and streams. It might sound glamourous, but actually, with time, it gets increasingly dull. So many dull, derivative bands, all being hailed by their PR and labels or themselves as the next big thing, the most exciting band to emerge in a decade or whatever. On first hearing ‘Sick’ by Mannequin Death Squad, I found myself getting properly excited for the first time in a while.

On meeting the Australian duo, consisting of Daniel Cohn and Elena Velinsky – who surely have one of the best band names around – just before their gig at Santiago in Leeds, as main support to Hora Douse, I was immediately struck not only by how down to earth and thoroughly pleasant the duo are, but by their insuppressible enthusiasm and the fact they’re so genuine. We meet in the downstairs bar of the little venue and sit around a table. The idea is that I’ll do a five to ten-minute quick-fire Q&A, but we end up chatting and talking around stuff instead. El is the ultimate rock chick, sporting a faded Led Zep T-shirt, shades perched on top of her head, and immediately I get a sense that these people were born to do this. They may be about to play to room with a capacity of 100 or so, which looks and feels like someone’s living room, but they’re rock stars irrespective of sales or fanbase. That said, on the strength of tonight’s outing and their Eat Hate Regurgitate mini-album, they won’t be playing venues of this size for long.

I ask them how their first trip to the UK as a touring band has gone so far.

‘Good,’ they both reply without hesitation. ‘I think the Adelphi’s probably been our favourite show so far,’ El expands. ‘It’s a cool, real, dirty venue…’

‘…and a big community,’ Dan adds.

I’ll admit I’m slightly surprised, but then, Hull is a surprising place. It’s not the first place that springs to mind when you’re listing cities with buzzing music scenes, but as the City of Culture for 2017, there does seem to be a lot going on there these days.

‘It’s amazing. It’s a lot like the scene back home in Newcastle,’ Dan says. ‘It’s got a strong community, and big bands…’

‘Everyone takes care of each other, and likes each other’s music and supports each other, it’s cool’ El adds.

They’re archetypal Australians, in many ways: they’re paid back, and say ‘cool’ and ‘awesome’ a lot. They also finish one another’s sentences in a way which shows a real synchronisation and intuition, and I feel that I’m witnessing the key to their music-making in action.

Mannequin Death Squad 1

They’ve been equally impressed by the reception of their shows in London, and in Brighton, at the Hope and Ruin. Their tour has certainly taken them to some of the country’s less obvious cities and venues: not only Hull, but also Scunthorpe… Still, that gig (along with a second Hull date) was supporting Slaves, which a big deal and remarkable exposure for a band with only two singles to their credit. I’m eager to find out about how they scored that slot on their very first trip.

‘We had a gig booked in Scunthorpe, at the Café independent, which clashed with theirs,’ Dan begins

‘…so they wanted to book it,’ chops in El.

‘They listened to our music and they liked it, so they asked us…’ and being rather a music-starved backwater, the show went down particularly well, ‘They really appreciate musos coming up that way. I think it’s like an ego thing for those big cities that are really highly rated with music, that people take it for granted, and then at the other end of the spectrum, you go to small towns and everyone makes the most of it.’

How have you found UK audiences have differed from audiences at home?

‘They’re pretty similar,’ El observes.

‘We were getting a good response in Melbourne just before we left,’ adds Dan. ‘We’re a relatively new band, kinda like a year of playing gigs, but we’re getting really good responses here, probably even a bit better.’

‘We’ve got a lot of our friends back home, so it’ always going to be a good response,’ El says with a laugh.

It’s a fair observation: the test of any band is how they go down when playing to strangers and non-fans. The reactions of audiences on this tour indicates it’s a test they have nothing to worry about. El talks about the number of people going up them to compliment them on their sets – particularly the diversity of their style – afterwards, which is gratifying.

‘We’ve got a good mix of songs in there, there’s only two of us, and people seem to like them all differently, evenly.

They certainly do have a good mix: the band pitch themselves as existing in the space between The Melvins and Taylor Swift, which I suppose is a fair summary of their balancing sludgy riffs and magnificent pop melodies. Are their individual tastes conflicting or simply diverse?

El laughs. ‘Well, actually, I listen… he’s like the heavier guy, but I do heavy too, but he actually loves ‘Shake it Off’, and I like Melvins, but we both like Melvins, and we both like I all sorts. We listen to things that are heavy and poppy.’

‘We listen to absolutely everything,’ Dan confirms. ‘It helps to break the monotony of one genre.’

‘Slaves are awesome, because they’re so heavy, but when you look, they’ve got really catchy, poppy choruses,’ says El.

Dan feels compelled to explain the Taylor Swift thing in more detail: ‘The Taylor Swift thing came from when we were backpacking in Thailand and we went and did karaoke, and I absolutely smashed that ‘Shake it Off’ song…. Terribly’, he adds at El’s prompt.

They throw an eclectic and quite unexpected mix of acts into the ring when listing other artists they listen to: (Led) Zeppelin, (Pink) Floyd, Breeders, Hole, Marilyn Manson… ‘Going back to my roots, I used to be a thrash metalhead,’ Dan adds, and we love grunge. But we love pop as well. I’ll like something completely left of centre and not be embarrassed to say it.’

England has a strange perception of Australia, filtered through Neighbours and Home and Away, and internationally, Australia has been represented by the likes of Kylie and Savage Garden. How do you reconcile that with the actuality of bands like yourselves and, say, DZ Deathrays? I imagine they, and you, are more representative of what’s actually going on…

‘For sure!’ Dan says.

El gives some cultural context: ‘Neighbours and stuff is for, like, stay at home mums, I mean, you can watch it, it’s a good show and all, but…’

Dan: ‘The whole country’s obsessed with AC/DC still, but…’

El: ‘…we’ve got this whole buzzing music scene in Melbourne, we just keep going to gigs and there are so many awesome bands…’

Dan: ‘It’s an amazingly diverse scene in Melbourne. You can find anything in there: there’s an underground punk scene where everyone’s playing in squat houses that no-one knows about, you have to know somebody, there’s this rock scene that’s happening in all the bars, and little grunge scenes…’

Do you think, in your experience, that music scenes have fragmented and that there’s more underground than there ever was but you really have to seek it out?

‘Yeah’, they reply in unison.

Dan: ‘There are so many venues in Melbourne, that you’re spoiled for choice. There’s this avant-garde thing happening…’

El: ‘There’s a good gig guide, and if you go on the gig guide in Melbourne, you can just see all these bands, and you can just choose one and go and I’ll always be pretty cool.’

Dan: ‘There’s always something on. We’ve been all around Europe and we’ve tried to catch gigs, and haven’t really taped into the underground bands, but we came here and playing in Hull, and there are all these good bands. We went back to the same venue the next night and have drinks at the Adelphi, and all the bands are great. It reminds us of back home in Melbourne, there’s talent everywhere.’

I suggest that in terms of getting bands to an audience outside their local catchment, the Internet, far from killing the music industry, has simply made it different, particularly where small bands are concerned.

El concurs. ‘I think it’s made the game more creative,’ she says. ‘And we certainly have more access to bands.’

Do you consider yourselves primarily a live band? How do you enjoy the studio work?

‘’Cause we’re really new,’ El says, her voice going up at ‘new’, ‘we’ve only done one studio session, for the EP, so we’ve played live more. But we love both. I think you have to play live if you’re recording an album, that’s the fun part.’

‘We love all aspects,’ Dan adds. ‘Our favourite thing is to record a song, listen to it back, and change it, and experiment, but then, there’s nothing like playing a show, either. But even promoting can be fun, putting so many different mediums of art into it.’

MDS_picBW1

They’ve certainly been creative with their own promotion. ‘Sick’ was a hell of a debut, and the video is fucking brilliant. How did the ‘zombie’ video come about?

El: ‘Well, we had a different idea, and it kind of failed… and then we came up with this idea really quickly, ‘cause the lyrics are “cigarettes and soda pop” and we wanted to pretend that it’s really easy to sell something like that…’

Dan: ‘It’s a bit of stab at consumerism in a way, and how everyone’s pretty easily manipulated by branding. It goes for everything, where you like stuff because you’re told to like something: don’t be a sheep and figure it out for yourself.’

El: ‘And then we came up with the branding thing, like a stamp…’

Dan: ‘It wasn’t supposed to be zombies, but kinda just escalated really quickly, and it worked.’

El: ‘It was fun, a lot of fun. My brother directed that one.’

So you’ve got elements of social commentary and criticism in there, and there’s a certain venom and angst in your songs. Are you angry? Or is the music just a release?

El takes a moment to consider this. ‘I think it’s more… it’s fun. It is fun, yeah!’

‘From my side, it’s pretty much all expression,’ Dan says. ‘We like just getting in a rehearsal space and just jamming songs, and it’s good fun: you’ve got good vibes going round…’

El again: ‘We’ve got older songs that I wrote where I was upset about something, as well, and then you put them in, and it’s sort of attitude behind it…’

Dan: ‘Lyrically, usually there’s a lot to be said…’

‘Yeah, it’s definitely a release,’ El concludes.

That release is clearly apparent in the medium of the live show. They explain how they like to layer things up, with bass tracks and additional guitars to create a full band sound, something which isn’t possible on stage, however much instrument-swapping they engage in. Still, this gives the live sound an immediacy and when cranked up loud, it works a treat. And, of course, such multi-instrumental capabilities afford them a lot more flexibility than the average two-piece. How do you decide who plays what on which track?

‘It’s kinda like who writes the guitar part does guitar and sings’ El explains. ‘And then if I have an old song, I’ll bring it in and if he has one, he’ll bring it in, and I’m like “right then, I’m drumming for this song”. We work together to make the song, though. We try to make it equal, but at the moment, I’m doing more guitar than him, so he’s going to get at some writing.’

‘That’s our opposite instruments, too’, says Dan.

‘I’m originally a drummer,’ El confirms.

‘I’ve only been drumming for about a year,’ Dan admits. ‘El smashes it on drums. It’s good to mix it up.’

So, finally, the burning question: when can we expect an album proper?

Dan hesitates. Can they say?

El steps in: ‘We’re going back to Australia – ‘cause we have to, and we’ve got gigs set up after this tour – and the we’re going to start writing. We’ve actually already got about half the album done…’

‘…about six tracks,’ Dan confirms.

El: ‘…yeah, about six tracks, so we only need a few more. So once we get back, we’re going to save up money to actually do the album. We might even try to do a Kickstarter.’

Dan: ‘Yeah, maybe.’

El: ‘Yeah, I think an album by the end of the year.’

Dan: ‘Hopefully, next time we come here we’ll be promoting it.’

Here’s very much hoping. Meanwhile, the mini-album Eat Hate Regurgitate is a blistering five tracker, and it’s out on October 7th through Integrity Records.

MDS_album_frontcover

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