Smokey's Blog

we gonna do the damn thing or what

Category: Ramblings

The Afterglow (of a great tour)

A short video recap of the Second Heartbeat Tour and some context underneath.

I’m writing in the afterglow of one of the best tours I’ve ever had the fortune of participating in. The tour poster had my name on it but there were a lot of people who made it a success, and you were one of them, so thank you. I can staple words together but I don’t find it easy summing up exactly how profound it was to me. This time last year I genuinely doubted whether I would/could do another proper tour! Even with mid-level success the financial rewards in music make a low but steady income seem like big pimpin’. This new album was difficult, it took a lot of soul-searching, the indicators weren’t good – the kinda shit that spooks you. I couldn’t mentally envisage what shape my live show would take even if things went well – all I knew was that Jane wouldn’t be part of it.

IMG_9665(Pic by Yaya Stempler)

A couple of years earlier I had a heart to heart with Jane Tyrrell where she let me know that she could no longer perform in my show; she needed to focus on her solo music career and other professional work. It was a bittersweet conversation, made slightly better by the fact we both felt it was the right thing to do. Years before that, I’d had a similar conversation with Elgusto, and we parted ways on great terms after an awesome decade playing live together. Each of their departures brought its fair share of anxiety and uncertainty: I can easily perform my songs but how fun could it be without such important ‘family’ by my side? Touring is not just about being on stage: it’s the ins and outs of building relationships, often from scratch, in a transient lifestyle characterised by endless “dead time”. It works when there’s a sense of camaraderie and love and respect but that takes a while to establish.

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Pic by Yaya Stempler

That uncertainty and the decisions that had to be made are the context for my current elation. Over the course of the last 6 weeks alongside Jayteehazard on turntables, Ev Jones, Meklit Kibret and Claire Nakazawa on vocals, and Todd Dixon doing the tour managing and sound, I felt like we were flying. The crowd response was, at worst, appreciative and loudly respectful; at best, the wildest crowds I’ve ever played to. I spent a lot of time at the merch desk taking a gazillion photos but ended each night wide-eyed about how much we were selling. The music I’d agonised over during the last few years was making people cough up at the merch desk in numbers I hadn’t seen for a while (we had great designs thanks Dale Harrison, Sarah McCloskey and Allara Uota). Physically and mentally it was a healthy tour and I took a lot of heart from the connections and relationships that developed between the tour party over the duration. It’s early days but I’ve loved playing live with this team.

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(Pic by Cole Bennetts)

It was at the second Sydney show that I looked around on stage and saw myself and 4 guys, outnumbered by 8 uniquely talented women. I think this is the first time in my career where the ratio of women to men on stage was like that. It wasn’t a statement, it was merely the album’s guests doing cameos, but it underlined that there was something really special taking place. We had Kira Puru, Bertie Blackman, Jane Tyrrell, Montaigne and B Wise all stealing the show sharing the spotlight. With L-FRESH The LION, Mirrah, DJ MK-1 and OKENYO, we also had a tour that reflected the changing face of local hip hop in as good a way as I’ve seen. Night after night, the atmosphere was electric and people sung and yelled and danced and went home joyous. We (mostly) woke up without hangovers.

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(Pic by Cole Bennetts)

I remember so clearly how low I felt wondering about the future in 2015, but as tickets started selling in 2016, I made a commitment to myself not to take any success for granted. We sold out the entire tour, bar a handful of tickets in Canberra, and that’s an amazing feeling. It’s one of the reasons I decided to donate every cent I earned from merch sales to charity. The total after paying manufacturing back was $4923.14 (this will be split between Grandmothers Against Removals, Tranby Aboriginal College and the Healing Foundation). I don’t want to front like I’m all G financially, but I’m very lucky, and don’t want to forget that.

After all that soul-searching, the album is going brilliantly, and this tour was all time – that’s no exaggeration. On to the next one.

Thanks.
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The Secret Playlist Behind My New Album

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I compiled a bunch of music that inspired my new album, The Past Beats Inside Me Like a Second Heartbeat. Some of these songs lifted me at low points, woke me up during a lull, snapped me out of a rut, all the good things that music does that nothing else can. Enjoy.

Q-Tip – Gettin Up Classic song from a brilliant comeback record. This wasn’t about loyalty to a group I’d loved forever, but more so an incredible return to form. It inspired me to see an artist that had been around for a while, do something with such undeniable impact.

Kendrick – You Ain’t Gotta Lie Can’t front on the fearless artistry on To Pimp a Butterfly (remember when everyone was freaking about about ‘i’?). I look up at the sun and see a force so bright that I wouldn’t dream of being compared, and that’s beautiful. Let the greats shine! His vision makes me not want to settle for less in my life, and I want to do things I thought I wasn’t capable of.

Ceelo – Gettin Grown Before Ceelo became a celebrity, he did amazing shit like this.

The Coup – Wear Clean Drawers Apart from my daughter, this was the inspiration behind Little Girl’s Dad. And although it’s in honour of her, LGD is an homage to this.

Raury, Big KRIT – Forbidden Knowledge To simplify a complex web of social injustice into an easily understood song concept is a stroke of genius.

Big KRIT – Saturdays = Celebration This knocked me the f out last year. The beauty and anger and frustration thrown into disarray by loss, it’s all handled so well here. I just hear resilience. Amazing.

Mura Musa – Lovesick In the world that Hermitude and a zillion wannabes inhabit, Mura Musa stands out. Downtempo electronic music has always struck a chord with me, ever since the late 90s where it wasn’t easy getting my hands on a lot of instrumental hip hop – I went to whatever was closest.

Jarryd James – Do You Remember When songs are everywhere. I think this is a classic.

Kira Puru – All Dulled Out You know those type of songs that you hear and can’t place them? Was this a hit from some big overseas act in 2014? I had a moment like that with this song a few weeks ago. It’s brilliantly written, gorgeously sung – a screamer of a tune. One of the songs of the year.

Joelistics, Kaity Dunstan – Out of the Blue I’d say this is under-appreciated because it’s not known as widely as it should be, but to the people that have really listened to it, and seen the video, there’s no under-appreciating going on. This will outlast a lot of the fad hip hop in Australia, and it’ll be one of the songs that is played for years to come. Beautiful storytelling.

Jayteehazard, (Leone) Rivals – Seen A tasty and moody gospel influenced electronic hip hop tune. Jayteehazard is my touring DJ, and one of the gentlest and funniest dudes you’ll meet. Rivals is a leader, a communicator, an artist and label organiser – his husky tones are like coals on a campfire.

And so much more.. briefly, Ngaiire’s Once was my favourite song of 2015; Caitlin Park guested on my album and I’ve included her personality-filled hooky tune Lemonade (you should hear her new shit tho); B Wise‘s 40 Days cos he’s about to tear the roof off this motherfucker; Okenyo’s incredible Just a Story (whoa!).

There’s 28 songs and almost 2 hours of music; play it while you’re cooking dinner, smoking a joint, brewing a coffee, whatever. Enjoy.

Roll Up Your Sleeves lyrics

I’ve been hit up a bunch of times to post the lyrics from my version of Meg Mac’s Roll Up Your Sleeves. It’s taken a while because I’m lazy but here they are.. check my earlier post (inc the video) here.

ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES
Kira Puru
Roll up your sleeves
And face the face it’s looking right back at me
It’s easier to leave it oh
It’s easier to fake it, oh oh
So I’ll go and I’ll join the free
There’s people there, they’re just like me oh
Bertie Blackman, Kira Puru, All Our Exes Live in Texas 
[Chorus]
Everything is gonna be alright
Everything is gonna be alright

Urthboy
January tricked you when it looked you in the eye
and said no matter what you've been through/ with me, you'll be renewed
a promise made at midnight/ a fire sale that
knew it couldn't drag you into something/
you don't wanna do/ a heart that's full of nightfall
hanging on dear life for/ first signs of daylight
but what if I refuse? what if it all passes like cycling of news
while I'm searching for an ocean/ I can wade into
what if I don't stick around for/ February's saving grace?
maybe I don't know it now/ I'll be in a different place
what I wouldn't dare to face if I don't find my feet
til March I'll find a way of giving chase, best believe
the arms of april may have open hands that hold you up
the pages we're reopening from what we'd folded up
we're not tryna front with all that 'winter isn't cold enough'
but we can handle anything they throw at us
[Chorus]
Everything is gonna be alright
Everything is gonna be alright
Urthboy
July had left you waiting, and August wasn't answering
but you're in touch with everyone you've ever known/ never so alone
a starry-eyed september/ reminding you of something
that you cannot quite remember/ so you're reaching for your phone
calling in a favour/ but it's ringing out
you're hanging up before it goes to message/ is anybody home?
there's trouble in your palms and they're making for a handrail
but if you fall/ it's something that you'll own
breathing in the time we borrow
won't be gone until november we'll be here until tomorrow
may as well take a risk
people singing carols while I'm singing this
roll up your sleeves this is it, let em sing it
[Chorus]
Everything is gonna be alright
Everything is gonna be alright
ohhhhh
Roll up your sleeves
Roll up your sleeves

How to Like a Version

During soundcheck for the biggest show of Hermitude’s career, I received an email asking if I’d like to do the last Like a Version of the year. The catch was that I’d have about 8 days to put it together.

I stressed about it. I got appropriately drunk after the second of two crazyamazing shows and resumed peak anxiety about the like a version cover as I walked home at 6am.

There’s a long line of great covers that have been created for this popular segment on triple j so the prospect of pulling off something good in a short space of time was intimidating. First call? Manager Mondo. He suggested I work with a guy named Jack Grace Britten, who could assist with a musical arrangement. I was also staring down my first gig that weekend and was underprepared. I could feel my hair thinning and falling from my head like passengers on a sinking boat. I called Jack.

I shot an email to Tom Thum, an international star and an old mate I met through hip hop. He was in Abu Dhabi but was returning home a week before this. I called Luke Dubs, who had just finished a US/Europe/Syd/Melb tour and had every right to say no. I gave Kira Puru a buzz as she prepared for that night’s show with Paul Kelly on his Merri Soul Sessions vineyard concert. I checked in with Bertie Blackman, luckily back in Australia for a few months. Lastly, Mondo called All our Exes Live in Texas.

Despite hectic schedules and inconvenient timing, everyone said yes. It was a big deal. Jack shot me an arrangement and I began writing the first of two verses. I could go on and on but we made a little video that takes you into this process, and below that, is the end product: the live recording we did in triple j’s studios.

And here’s the youtube video. Together with the facebook video, it’s had 500,000 views in a week.

Oh and we did a live version of Long Loud Hours, which turned out beautifully thanks to the additional vocals of All Our Exes Live in Texas.

Thanks as always to triple j, they’ve created such a monster with Like a Version, a segment that’s been running for 10 years now. Also big thanks to Matt and Alex, and Greg Wales who engineered it all.

Don’t Read The Comments Section

Just don’t.

As I near the end of my new record, there’s a zillion words duelling for an airing. Words in song; big dumb words in print; frustrated and emotional words; smart words clumsily phrased; words soaked in relief; words for days mate. But they’re just words so all in good time. For now, I’ve put together something raw, (a decoy?) produced by some of my most talented friends Pip Norman (aka Count Bounce), Joelistics, Yeroc (Damn Moroda) and Pasobionic. I’m counting down to October 12 but more on that later..

And the ARIA nominees…

Last week I discussed the artists that missed out on an ARIA nom, this week it’s all about the contenders for the Urban award..

Iggy Azalea – The New Classic

It’s 2014 and a young white girl from Mullumbimby drops a song called Murda Bizness and no one flinches. Iggy Azalea clearly possesses a formidable inner-strength: she moved to the US at 16 and actually made it in the toughest market there is – that alone is a big deal but despite nearing a billion youtube views it’s been clunky. Her Atlanta rap accent, described as “verbal blackface”  by Jean Grae may be a necessary affectation in breaking the US market, but given the context of her hippy upbringing in Australia, it’s almost Hollywood in transformation. Never fear though, her casually racist stereotyping of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders show she is most definitely Aussie. If Abbott didn’t break any promises and words mean nothing then Iggy can say she’s the realest. In many eyes she’s odds on to win with a staggering break-out year.

Hilltop Hoods – Walking Under Stars

Every album they’ve released since The Hard Road has won the Urban ARIA Award – even when they repackaged The Hard Road with strings they won with that too! It speaks volumes about the respect and affection held for the Hoods by the public and industry that they stay on top all these years later. For me, Walking Under Stars felt like a revitalising album giving the trio a spring in their step as they uncovered new ground with a renewed sense of purpose. Once again the Hoods are selling out huge concerts and their music is going Gold and Platinum. Phenomenal run of success. They’ve reached legacy status. Clear favourites outside of the Iggy juggernaut.

Illy – Cinematic

One of the hardest working artists over the last five years, Illy is a force to be reckoned with distinguishing himself from the pack with authoritative flows and a knack for writing sophisticated pop hooks. Time and time again his singles find their way to the top of radio rotation culminating in this year’s Tightrope, his biggest tune to date. His ambition and focus can’t be questioned – seemingly writing the last two albums simultaneously – and pulling it off. Seriously impressive. He won last year’s ARIA for the inferior Bring it Back album, so surely the far stronger Cinematic has a strong chance.

Thundamentals – So We Can Remember

It’s as if Blue Mountains crew Thundamentals knew they were onto something special when they gave this album its title. Huge growth between albums showed the boys aren’t playing around anymore – they stepped up everywhere, from production to songwriting to clips – I get the feeling we’re only seeing the start of a long run from them. This ARIA Award has at times felt like it’s a ‘profile’ rather than ‘album’ award and if that continues Thundas don’t stand a chance against this list. If it’s the latter, they could surprise everyone because this album was sharp, insightful and ambitious. Got Love for the underdog.

360 – Utopia

One of the most divisive and inspiring artists in the country – I haven’t seen an Australian artist like him in the time I’ve been involved in this music caper. Utopia hasn’t hit the public’s consciousness like the tidal wave that was Falling and Flying but songs like Price of Fame still shook things up – one of the best hooks of the year. I like 360 and have great respect for much of what he’s done – and we need larger than life characters. In with a shot but he’s up against it.

Jane Tyrrell – Echoes in the Aviary

For some years the promise of a solo album hung in the air with Janey. Constant touring while trying to hold down a regular job can make you sway so much it’s hard to balance a debut. How it came together is her story to tell but I’m sure the numerous collaborations and tours she experienced were a necessary curtain-raiser. Punters caught on a few years after she joined The Herd. Gradually the marriage proposals from hecklers in the audience were drowned out by people yelling at her to do a solo album. She told them she would so she did and next month it’ll be out in shops.

The first taste was this little gem of a tune, co-written with my great friend Pip Norman and Dustin McLean.

 

Jane’s voice is rich and smokey, giving it a soulful tone in a period of time where many successful Australian artists have thinner, higher qualities (Gossling, Sarah Blasko, Claire Bowditch). She did a short series of covers that included When Something is Wrong With My Baby with Ev Jones and Hermitude on keys and drums.

She also did this little one with ToeFu from The Herd, and this one in the back of a car during a WA leg of a Herd tour (with Rok Poshtya and a fan who was in it for some reason). Then there’s the much loved collab she did with Horrorshow In My Haze and Die a Happy Man with Tuka.

A lot of people were expecting Jane to come out with a neo-soul album but that overlooks her background in projects like the Firekites first album. Over the years she’d become obsessed with artists like Lykke Li, Thom Yorke, PVT, Little Dragon and many others, and had an intense curiosity about them that was infectious. Perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising when the indie vibes of her new single, The Rush, dropped.

 

But we’re here because of Jane’s new album Echoes in the Aviary and rather than describe the genre I’ll just say it does justice to the adventurousness of her lifelong musical journey. The soulful textures in her voice bring a warmth to Laurence Pike’s tentacled percussion and key collaborators Dustin McLean and Pip Norman have enabled her to deliver on her vision. She debuted the songs recently at Bigsound and a huge cross section of industry and the public gathered to see it go down.

Jane Tyzzle's stage presence is striking, as always.

Jane Tyzzle’s stage presence is striking, as always.

And now, on the eve of the release of her debut album, after sharing the stage 100s of times, I get to stand on the sidelines and applaud her with everyone else, honouring an immense achievement. Well done traindriver, aka Jason, aka J. Tyzzle aka Chips, you done good.

Luke Dubs (Hermitude) says “Jane’s soft yet powerful voice is instantly recognisable, as she always sings straight from the heart, and it’s equally matched by her loving and generous personality“. Tuka (Thundamentals) adds “Jane is one of my favourite human beings. She has one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard and I feel blessed to have been able to collaborate with her. Pure talent.”

Echoes in the Aviary artwork

Echoes in the Aviary artwork – designed by Jane

Echoes in the Aviary is out on Elefant Traks October 17. Preorder info will go live Thursday Sept 18.

ps…

It seems a long time ago that we did Shruggin, although it’s only a few years. At the time it felt like an album track and I remember trying to phrase the chorus demo with a hint of soul, all in vain of course. It wasn’t until Jane’s vocal performance that the song really made sense. She completely owned it.

Spitshine Tour final legs 060

The Big Bright Moon

There is a moon hanging in the night sky like an oversized yellow button as I fly from Sydney to Brisbane. It’s so dope and awe-inspiring that I tried to capture it on my phone camera, to no avail of course. My pupils are dilating but my phone reveals an otherwise unremarkable bright dot in amongst the reflection of my hoodie in the window.

I’m on the road again and the moon feels like a reminder of my pursuit of tomorrow. This casual quest we musicians busy ourselves with, to shore up some kind of security, never ceases. It’s pretty fun. It sucks. I still love it.

In another time this pursuit was a stoner’s guide to a bank heist. I’ve worked really hard for a relatively successful music career but I’ve been blessed with luck and a lack of pressure gifted by low expectations. My bank heist is more about lifestyle than the spoils of an elite career – I sometimes marvel about the spot myself and my soul mate have found ourselves in. There is one thing on my mind though, as I find myself in the corporate traffic of peak hour at the airport. My smiling little eczema afflicted talking clunk of awesomeness: Jetta Joanie.

All I can think about is not being able to pick her up from daycare because I’m here. Walking her into the centre of a morning, and easing her into that environment when she’s upset, hits me in the chest because her whole world is reduced down to her and I. She clings to my leg or squeezes her head between them as if this tiny gesture of defiance magically removes the rest of the universe from us. As the issues of the day hurry into the afternoon I find myself longing to see her and make sure she’s ok. When I leave work I think about the big smile that’ll brighten her face when she notices me and the excited ‘deh’ sounds she’ll make as she points to nothing, that she’s taken to doing lately. Then she’ll stumble-run her way to me to be picked up. “Up, up” she’ll look directly in my eyes and say. Then she’ll point at some other nothingness as if to steal my attention entirely for herself. I don’t know how to properly explain how widely my heart smiles. It hurts writing it from a distance.

I missed out on doing that today and the crusty façade protecting this little old heart cracks a little. I am a paid-up member of the vulnerable parents club now.

Once up on a time the moon meant everything but now it’s just a tiny dot in the distance.

Presentation Night, Mixtapes and Footy

I was asked to join Jude Bolton in a night of music and football for an event called Presentation Night. The concept has been running in Melbourne for a couple of years with the likes of Cameron Ling, Bob Murphy and Matthew Richardson joining Paul Kelly, Tim Rogers and Paul Dempsey. All the nights have been expertly mediated by Francis Leach. Anyone who knows me knows I love sport and somehow I’ve forged some kind of career out of music so this is perfect.

Presentation Night

I’ve been a fan of the Swans since the early 90s and recall the heady days of empty SCGs and easy availability of seats, and long before I appreciated the musician, the footballer Paul Kelly was the player I most admired. When The Herd began touring more in the early 2000s Ozi Batla started packing his Swans scarf and hat (and this is a guy who traveled very light) and enthusiastically ripped in whether at soundcheck, hotel or the back of the tour van. I couldn’t help but convert from fan to obsessive and to be frank, you’re a mug if you don’t love or at least respect the Sydney Swans.

As part of this show I was asked to make a MIXTAPE of songs to get pumped up for a game. To find out what song sounds like a moshpit breaking out at a stoppage click the damn link already.

In related news the Community Cup is going down this Sunday at Henson Park in Marrickville. The annual Walers (musicians) vs Sailors (media) slugfest is a brilliant day out and all are welcome. Entry is by donation and funds are raised for Reclink. I’m playing and it’s become apparent at training that I’m in the bottom percentile of genuine talent.

See ya there.

Better to be Different… part 2

Hermitude’s first show is at Studio 2: a small venue forged out of an old recording studio off one of Liverpool’s numerous cobblestoned streets. Their slot is at 12.30am and Money for Rope, a rock band from Melbourne belts out an entertaining set beforehand. When Hermitude start the dance floor is empty and the projector can’t be mounted anywhere functional so the visuals appear in a warped rectangle stretching up to the ceiling. Within moments a flood of people enter the venue and pretty soon the dancefloor is full, and no Aussie accents to be heard. Earlier that day some industry figures had discussed the cul de sac of foreign bands playing to expats in London (he made special mention of Australians and Indians) and how it made for a viable tour but actually hindered rather than progressed an international career.

The post show cold is no obstacle to Liverpool determination.

Liverpool determination

As a manager I don’t oversell my artists but I’m not certain that’s the right way to go. I’ve sat in meetings in New York with flashy lawyers and fast talking middlemen whose eyes jump from mine to their computer screen, then to their phone. All the while fingers tapping the table swiping their phone on and off, laughing at their screen, looking back at me. Listening intently, not listening. I’m just some guy from a country who joins in on their wars and plays weird sports but this is New York Fucking City. I walked out onto busy Manhattan sidewalks laughing to myself, neither offended nor keen to work with them. It is what it is. There’s an infectious nervous energy to it all, like their lives depend on not only the deals but the status that comes with it. The reality is they do big deals with huge artists and so much of our pop cultural understanding stems from the wheeling and dealing of these individuals. Now, months later, I’m in the UK and the way industry people carry themselves is different but the competitive energy is much the same.

So Hermitude won the American Music Prize did they Tom?”

Uh. Hmm?

The second show Hermitude play at Liverpool Sound City is the Aussie BBQ and Sounds Australia do a brilliant job in giving acts a platform where they otherwise may be lost in the crowd. They do a lot with a little, generating a sense of ‘something happening’ and forging a personality for Australian music amidst the cacophony of international bands and industry. There are 10 bands performing here today and they casually load on and off around their 25 minute performances. Money For Rope are playing again and the 200 odd people at the Moon Museum (normally known as Parr St Car Park) dig it. Dune Rats‘ shambolic banter covers bongs and lads on tour but it doesn’t quite mask the fact they’re clearly a switched on band. Kid Mac follows to a very appreciative response although the tits out for the boys chant at the end missed the mark a bit. No tits were shared.

Hermitude kill it, of course.

Hermitude prior to the Aussie BBQ

Hermitude prior to the Aussie BBQ

At an official “networking session” earlier that day I stare at my non-networking brain in the face. I love a good conversation about music and industry issues but the blind date aspect of this kind of work doesn’t come naturally. There’s a guy sitting beside me reeling off all of his different industry interests, it happens to include writing a music biz course for Harvard. I think this is when I was staring at myself in the brain. Jeremy Stones, manager of Delta Riggs runs through a crapload of sync activity for his band and impresses the whole table. I start to think I should’ve elaborated on “my name is Tim Levinson and I manage Hermitude” when it was my turn earlier. I look around at the many people I don’t know and smile before heading out to put some posters up around the streets.

No one seems to poster here and I haven’t been pulled up for it. I keep waiting for some kind of violently heavy handed response from cops or over-zealous citizen as it’d at least explain the lack of posters.

After the Aussie BBQ we drank the tequila and consumed the Mexican with Mama Kin and her band including Bree Van Reyk who I was lucky enough to tour with last year. Tomorrow we catch a bus back to London.