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What it takes to get to the Bardo State

I haven’t updated this blog in forever and I’ve had a lot of things worth writing about. So it says something that I’m putting some thoughts down about the long awaited 4th album from HorrorshowBardo State. There’s always a 1000 little stories behind an album and they get lost once it’s all finished, when over-arching themes take over and press release points direct conversation. 

I’ve been working with Solo and Adit for 10 years and their dynamic has never ceased to fascinate me. Adit is the numbers guy: intelligent; proactive; easy-going; prolific; ambitious; supremely talented. Nothing seems to faze him. On the other side is Solo: wordsmith; intelligent; deep thinker; compassionate; gifted singer and MC. No one in Australia can touch him.

Pic by Cole Bennetts

Pic by Cole Bennetts

Together they have a chemistry that has seen their songs woven into the lives of listeners across the world. I say woven because there’s a depth to their music, which goes someway to explaining why the audience is so loyal to them. It’s trust. The expectation that Horrorshow will help make sense of it all; without just second guessing what you want to hear.

When the dust settled on One Day‘s achievements with their Mainline album, Solo and Adit were excited about returning to the relative calm of a creative process that only involved two people. They also wanted to be spontaneous and take a more open-minded approach to songwriting. One of the first songs written was How We Get Down, a completely different sound to anything they’d previously released. That seemed to be part of the vision, to break their own mould while sticking to the core principles that had built that trust with their fans.

Pic by Cole Bennetts

Pic by Cole Bennetts

From the outside, I felt the positive energy and could hear how refreshed and focused their sessions were. Complication had always been a necessary dynamic in their music, but this was… uncomplicated. The drive and inspiration seemed uncluttered and free. It was fucking awesome seeing the two of them in flight. They came to me with an idea to incorporate photography into the album making progress, not just to document it, but to visually communicate the music. There was only ever one person to do that job: Cole Bennetts. They’ve always been ahead of the curve with how prominently they’ve embraced photography – this was just stepping up a few gears and going deeper. It made perfect sense.

Pic by Cole Bennetts feat. Cole Bennetts

Pic by Cole Bennetts feat. Cole Bennetts

 

To that end, a decision was made to partner with friends and production team Entropico to do all the videos for the album, from official clips through to online content.

They flew to New Zealand with Cole to support Yelawolf and came back with skeletons, one of which became Astray. Songs were developing quicker than anything since Inside Story, their second album that came a year after their debut. Adit unexpectedly suggested working with an external producer, in the conventional rock and roll definition of the word. The person who came on board was Nic Martin, a young gun of a producer, whose influence was vital as they collectively pushed the Horrorshow sound forward.

Pic by Cole Bennetts

Pic by Cole Bennetts

During this writing period, One Day Sundays was screaming along, expanding nation-wide and becoming a huge success story. Elsewhere, Solo and Adit took it upon themselves to organise a public screening of Chasing Asylum, a documentary that exposes the real impact of Australia’s offshore detention policies. The screening was co-ordinated with the One Day team, and they soldout the Factory Theatre, then followed it up with a social media campaign using Cole Bennett’s photos on the night. Adit, alongside Nick Lupi, represented OD in the annual CEO Sleepout. Solo got into scuffles with police, protesting the heavy-handed way NSW gov’t were implementing the West Connex road project. Elefant Traks has always been a community-minded label but we have no influence in how active Horrorshow are in the community – that’s all them. It goes to the heart of how they see the world and why those themes materialise in their music.

Pic by Cole Bennetts

Pic by Cole Bennetts

Despite everything, Bardo State went through all the inevitable stages as they edged closer to deadline. Reality has to set in at some point and shortcuts are rare when crafting something as big as an album. The 2016 HS Album folder on dropbox bulged with 20 or 30 files in various stages of completion. The challenge of how to make the photography concept work was discussed and brainstormed. Collaborations started to come together and sessions with Hayley Mary, Turquoise Prince, Kai and Omar Musa were recorded and engineered by the ever patient Simon Cohen. Friend and collaborator Jono Graham played a big role in co-writing a few songs. Freddy Crabs popped up here and there. My bandmate Meklit Kibret‘s beautiful vocals can be heard throughout the entire album. Many of those 1000 stories I mentioned at the top are a continually refreshing list of problems that need solving, one after another until the release date.

Simon Cohen and Horrorshow. Pic by Cole Bennetts.

Simon Cohen and Horrorshow. Pic by Cole Bennetts.

Deadlines demand final takes; song and album titles; final mixes; signing off on artwork; videos; online content; social media plans; the pressure builds. Finished versions were uploaded: songs like Cherry Blossom, which is as close to a bullseye as any love song I’ve heard, lays waiting for an endless passage of lovers to swear by. I’d love to have written it – that’s the best compliment a songwriter can give. 15 songs made the cut; My Time and Our TimeCeiling Fan and After Dark amongst others; the album was taking shape and as much as I’d heard countless demos, it was only now that I had a feel for the overall sonic vibe. It was dreamy; at turns vulnerable and open, at others, full of authority and control. There’s depth in every song, but it’s really fucking fun too.

Pic by Cole Bennetts

Pic by Cole Bennetts

The unmistakeable character of this Inner West Sydney duo is on full display but it’s different to everything else they’ve done. It was worth every single one of the 1000 stories to come up with this record. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Buy it through Elefant Traks and iTunes

Sick.

I got sick this week. Properly bedridden, eyelid drooping, life sapping sick.

Alongside countless others returning from Splendour in the Grass, I contracted some strand of the flu.

I previously thought the flu was like a cold, just a bad one. I was so wrong. Tuesday night was sweats, fevers, short of breath, sleeplessness. With Wednesday came the body aches and a feeling that my energy had blacked out like a reverse snare drum. That night the headaches started up the drums and stuck around til Thursday evening. I spent more time waking up than sleeping.

I hadn’t had an illness like this for a long time. I wrote to my colleagues and apologised for missing work and assured them I’d be in the following day, or at worst work from home. Surely. Then the stomach started playing up, like it’d been hollowed out and the vital organs were in crisis talks with each other. I lay in bed listening to the back and forth of these weird deep sea creatures singing out from my belly. Girgle girgle, zoooooooooom, eeeeeeeeyyyoooooo, rummbble, szzzweeeng. I turned over again and again, wedged into the side of my bed as our three year old daughter sprawled her legs over my back.

The stomach thing hung around all Friday and I wasn’t going to work. I was about 70 hours in and while the symptoms changed, I was still as crook as ever. How long now?!

That night it just disappeared. All the cold symptoms (razor blade throat, congestion, sniffling, other gross stuff etc) were still kicking and screaming – but the virus that wrestled me to the ground had left. Suddenly all those cold symptoms seem quaint by comparison.

It made me think about people who have to deal with long term illness, or chronic pain. The strength of character that is required when the expectation of an illness ending doesn’t exist anymore. You go to sleep with it. You wake up with it. You enter into a contest with it. You do your job with it. You raise your kids with it. It’s life and it’s unfair. I got the tiniest of tiny window openings into that world and I was like a crying baby trying to close it.

I have a deeper level of respect for people who have no choice but to learn to live with it.

 

 

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.

IMG_9962
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.

1D4A9479
(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.

1D4A7866
(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.

The Long Loud Hours remixes

Today we drop Jayteehazard‘s remix of Long Loud Hours. It feels so effortless and neighbourly. Jaytee simultaneously reworked the music and transports the sentiment to another, altogether more cruisy place. It’s as if all the crazy drama of the original event is now sepia-toned and easy-going and said with a smile.

If this was the official telling of Lucy Dudko and John Killick’s story, I can imagine Lucy saying “yeh I hijacked a chopper at gunpoint and rescued you from high security prison, but it was cool, the good old days. Would you make me a cup of tea darling?“.

Big shouts to All Aussie Hip Hop blog for premiering this one.
While I’ve got you, Adelaide electronic duo PINES made this incredible instrumental remix, and the superdope Milwaukee Banks went to town on it too.

Finally, Long Loud Hours

I had planned on writing a big explanation of the song when it dropped, but things got in the way and then themusic.com.au went all charming on me and got the scoop.

Suffice to say, here’s the dot points of the piece:

  • Long Loud Hours was originally about Countdown. Yes, Molly.
  • I think it originally started when we sampled vinyl of Bathurst High School’s choir from the 1960s.
  • The magic moment occurred when Elgusto pressed buttons in a type of way.
  • Lucy Dudko is the hero of the story. I mean, a librarian with no criminal history who hijacked a chopper at gunpoint to rescue her lover from maximum security prison is pretty boss we have no argument there.
  • There is nothing wrong with encouraging people to do great & momentous things for love.

It can all be found HERE

Behind the Story of the Song

And the official music video

(300 Hours) Get It Out Your System feat. Joyride

What started at 1200 hours, then 765, has now climbed down to 300 and the final stop before Long Loud Hours. I’m very happy with this one, not least because I got to work with Joyride, an artist who is about to do some big tings. We worked on a beat written by Hermitude and Pip Norman (as is the majority of the new album) that didn’t get a proper look-in for the record. Then things got complex and I had to leave for South America to join Hermitude while Pip left for the States.

In stepped Adit, one of the illest producers in Australia, to save the day. Not only did he record it all, but took the stems away and added new parts, including the key change. I’m still shaking my head at how ready and willing he was to bring it all together. Mad respect. On a sidenote, I’m listening to new Horrorshow beats and Adit is outta. control. right. now.

Big shout to Joyride, you’re gonna know all about his new music in 2016. Can’t say too much just yet.

I can’t wait to show you what’s up with Oct 12.

When you finish a song and it becomes official gov’t policy on the same day

The second song I co-wrote in a set of three decoys features Broken Tooth boss (and a legend of the local hip hop culture) Ciecmate and my DJ and good friend Jayteehazard. In an uncanny turn of events, our idiot PM made some of my lyrics come true on the day we signed off on the track. More about that here.

The song is called W.A.R. and we’re just over 760 hours away.

#LongLoudHours #Oct12

On the topic of ARIAs

This is the time of year where hours in the day feel like they rush ahead of themselves to get to next year. Award ceremonies give weary industry battlers a chance to get drunk and talk over acceptance speeches. The hip hop community has an uneasy relationship with these events but we’re part and parcel of them now.

Given the ARIA Awards are next week I thought I’d look at the albums that did and didn’t make the cut of nominations in possibly the most competitive year yet. We’ll start with those that didn’t.. bear in mind certain artists below didn’t fit in the ARIA timeline or didn’t have an album, and therefore weren’t considered.

2014 announced the arrival of a few exciting prospects that not only lived up to the hype but went well beyond it – the next few years will be very interesting as major labels swoop and throw a bit of cash around.

Starting with Remi and his electrifying debut Raw X Infinity, an album that suddenly revealed the spectrum of Remi’s talent when many anticipated a fun but inoffensive album of songs like Sangria. Hell naw, this was a statement and a half and showed a well-rounded artist with a vision, and a production team and crew that are seriously dangerous.

I work with these guys so take it as you will, but One Day dropped the showstopping Mainline this year and despite being a collective made up of four groups, the album was lauded for cohesion and chemistry. They went on to all but sell the Enmore Theatre out and generally own a huge national tour.

It’s incredible but really no surprise to see Tkay Maidza making waves internationally, with her self-assured tone and flow working impeccably over more electronic beats. She might be the perfect example of just how much talent lies beneath the surface in Australia – or perhaps not – artists like her don’t come around very often. And she’s a teenager. Scary.

L-Fresh the Lion has proven in the space of a short time that he’s one to watch, with a clear-headed sense of purpose and an infectious force of positivity that is difficult to ignore. He pulled together a strong album and with the right production, the next one will be fierce. You get the feeling this guy has only touched on the things he’ll achieve in years to come. He’s a one of a kind.

There’s no fronting on Kerser and the energy that swirls around him. He’s proudly done it with no radio, single-handedly carving his own lane in defiance of all the industry rules. I admire this dude and no matter how wild the lifestyle is he’s proof that there’s a gang of kids around this country looking to him to make sense of their world. Extra props for stepping up a gear with his productivity too (new album out this month).

Joelistics‘ 2nd album Blue Volume is everything you’d expect from such a gifted songwriter, but it adds a few new feathers to his cap with some truly jawdropping moments, not least the above video. No longer riding the wave of young and most hype, Joelistics is probably the most likely to follow in Paul Kelly’s footsteps if anyone could. Very very good.

Allday has gathered a sizeable following of the back of his quirky hip hop but for me the R&B focus in what is probably more deeply embedded indie pop instincts is what separates him from the pack. It’s a testament to his skill that he pulled it off with enough personality to overshadow the Drake influence and form his own lane in the country. The kid completely polarises the hip hop community and his response seems to be to distance himself from the scene, which is a very hip hop thing to do. Look forward to seeing where he goes.

Mau Power and Archie Roach teamed up for one of the songs of the year in my opinion. If I could program triple j this would be in high rotation as this hook from Uncle Archie is a gift. Emotive, real and unforgettable.

Uncompromising and raw, Tornts comes staunch but hip hop is an artform and skills are on full display on Street Visions, his album from late 2013. There’s a clear storytelling thread that comes through in the songs shining a light on the underbelly of Melbourne. One of the strongest voices coming out of the BTE crew you’d be wise to check in on whatever he does next.

No introducing needed with Briggs, one of the most engaging social media characters online. This album took everything up a notch, his songwriting went widescreen and turned a lot of heads in the process. Simply put, there is no other artist in the country quite like him on stage or off. Sheplife is a powerful record packed with humour, skills and a realness that people in this country need to hear.

Still one of the illest, Delta gave us Pyramid Schemes this year and it’s dope from start to finish with Delts’ trademark solid flow in authority mode once again. I don’t need to go on about the commanding presence the bro has but this album even has Peter Tilbrook from The Masters Apprentices on it. Seek it out.

Crate Cartel keeps releasing music that can’t be overlooked although the title of Geko’s album Real Heads Don’t Listen suggests otherwise. This is a solid album that surprises with it’s dusty DOOMesque observations and style – most songs coming in around the 2 minute mark – all heads should listen.

750 Rebels may never win an ARIA (like most of us) but they’ve steadily repped QLD to the fullest and I’ll always check out anything involving Lazy Grey. Love that they took on Andrew Stafford’s excellent Pig City book for their Kold Heat album.

It was never going to challenge the Hoods or Bliss n Esos but Astronomy Class put out what must be the most original hip hop release of the year, teaming up with Cambodian Srey Channthy on a record that brought the golden era of Cambodian soul and rock into local hip hop. Songwriting is vintage OB: multilayered, insightful and sharp.

No doubt I’ve unintentionally missed things (apologies!) but here’s a few more to consider. Perth’s Coin Banks impressed with the Tails EP and this single. Diafrix just put out one of their best songs to date The Sign. One of the most loved people in our culture is Hau and he dropped the Football, Feasts and Funerals mixtape with news that more music is coming in 2015. Chelsea Jane dropped this and raised the stakes – hopefully an album soon? Daily Meds just released their best album including this great single Beneath the RadarMilwaukee Banks are on the horizon, Sarah Connor keeps doing good things, Mathas will be putting out an album in 2015, Baro stays cool as, we’re only starting to see what Citizen Kay will do. Phew. What else? K-21 gave us this chiller, Kween G kept us waiting for her long player, Miss Hood is on the way up as is Philly (with Steven Motlop) via Nathan Lovett-Murray’s Payback Records.

The Beginning of Elefant Traks

I’ve been putting together a live show called Make Me a Mixtape featuring a bunch of guests helping me perform a live retrospective mixtape of songs for a trip I took to SE Asia as a youngster. After developing the show I remembered that Elefant Traks began out of a mixtape.. so I thought I should let Kenny Sabir, the founder of Elefant Traks explain a little more.

Founder of Elefant Traks and all round legend, Traksewt

Founder of Elefant Traks and all round legend, Traksewt

From Traksewt:
A defining moment was when one of my old best school-friends (Brad) was moving to Japan. I made a plan to get a bunch of friends together to make a farewell album for him, where we each did a track saying goodbye. A few of us worked on our tracks for a few weeks, others wrote it on the spot. We booked out a day in my bedroom, where each group was rostered on for 2 hours each to record their song, with myself as the learn-as-you-go-and-make-the-rest-up sound engineer. For some reason, that now escapes my old-age sensibilities, I had a four-poster bed – which came in handy to throw a blanket over to create a vocal booth for recording. We burnt up 20 copies and Brad loved it – though the epiphany was how damn possible it was to create a legitimately passable looking CD. What would happen if this was in the shops? What exactly IS an independent label? Sure it is going to be a bit of administration and bureaucracy, but more than that it is an idea, an identifier, a measure of quality.

From the humble beginnings of a mixtape, Elefant Traks was born.

I wanted to do something completely different with this show so I’ve called on a bunch of awesome artists to help pull this gig off. There’s the sparkling force of nature that is Patience Hodgson from The Grates; the majestic dad Bobby Flynn (who appeared on my recent album Smokey’s Haunt); my good friend and big hearted talent Rival MC from Impossible Odds/Black Arm Band; the brilliant and refreshing voice of Thelma Plum as well as one of Australia’s most compelling songwriters Sam Cromack from Ball Park Music.

The tracklist is inspired by events that happened on the trip to Thailand and Vietnam, as well as songs that were a big deal around that time for me. I had been working in a record store in Sydney and studying in addition to my first forays into music with my Elefant Traks buddies.

It’s all snugly wrapped up by a great live band made up of Lisa Purmodh (drums), Jarrol Renaud (bass) and Kristen Fletcher (keys), we’re bringing this thing to life. It goes down this Saturday Sept 6 at Brisbane Festival’s Speigeltent 7.15pm – and I can’t reveal the tracklist til then.

Orphan Rocker – Live at The Recital Hall

Recorded during our support of Paul Kelly’s Spring and Fall Tour in 2013. We recorded our set at Sydney’s City Recital Hall in August and packaged it with a 20 page booklet containing my tour diary. It’s a beautiful limited edition CD – once it’s gone we won’t be repressing it – preorder here.