Leading up to Dashville Skyline a couple of the artists were asked to talk about some their favourite music in preparation for the big weekend. Naturally I wanted to talk about The Replacements.
‘Achin’ To Be’ by The Replacements
“Originally introduced via Paul Westerberg’s contributions to the Singles soundtrack in the early ’90s, “The ‘Mats” have always been at the forefront of my fascination and the yardstick to which I will forever measure every other rock and roll outfit. Everything typically wrong about The Replacements makes them resoundingly right. Amongst the wreckage of snotty shtick and alcohol-fuelled career suicide is a legacy of tumescently perfect songwriting, unashamedly influenced by Alex Chilton and Big Star. For mine, choosing a favourite ‘Mats song is what I would liken to choosing a favourite child, however in this instance ‘Achin’ To Be’ seems a perfect pick. Released on the Don’t Tell A Soul record of 1989, I believe it to be imperative to the wealth of incredible alternative country and power pop of the decade that followed. A melody so sticky your Teflon pan is rendered useless and words to be taught beside Keats in every high school English syllabus. ‘I saw one of your pictures, there was nothing that I could see. If no one’s on your canvas, then I’m achin to be.’ Just brilliant.”
Check out what the others had to say here.
Stoked to have Drinking Youth included in this week’s episode of The International Americana Music Show. Curated by Scottish expat Michael Park, TIAMS is a weekly radio show available for broadcast on public radio stations across America. The show features Americana music made exclusively by non-American artists and includes occasional interviews with the artists talking about their work and influences. It is currently broadcast on 33 American stations. I got particularly excited to hear Michael’s smooth, chocolatey Scottish accent introduce the song. Check the episode out here.
Regrets? Yeah there’s a few. Not going to see Grant Hart last year is one of them, although the day of his Sydney gig at Black Wire Records on that particular tour I was at the bucks show of a groom to whom I was best man so I’ve made my peace with it. Over the years I have arrived at the place where I believe The Twin Cities could very well just be my Mecca. Between Prince, The Replacements, Soul Asylum and the rest of the Twin Tone Records label I could survive with these on my desert island iPod just fine. There is also a band called Husker Du that hold a rather large place in that collection of dessert island discs.
My Uncle Simon used to have this ratty old bean bag. In the late 80’s we would visit my Grandma’s house and as we gathered in the lounge room for whatever family function was taking place the adults took up the all the chairs, while the kids got the floor. Simon being stuck somewhere in between had his bag. It was covered in texta tags scrawled into the canvas coloured material with whatever rural teenage kids were into in the late 80s. Knowing him there was probably some Dirt Bike logos and slang and I could probably even rattle off some bands that I know he was into like The The, Talking Heads and Stone Roses, but buggered if I don’t distinctly remember that Husker Du logo. It’s funny how certain things just stay with you. My partner and work colleagues will assure you that on any given day my recall is best described as shit. I can’t remember promising to fix the leaking tap in the bathroom last week, but you bet your ass I remember asking my Uncle Simon what Husker Du was 30 years ago. He didn’t know. Some band. My grandparents ran a holiday farm stay just outside of Willow Tree and were host to hundreds of ex pats from all over the world. At best guess it was one of them that had left it there.
I will admit that it’s Bob that I personally draw most inspiration from, possibly only for my alignment with his writing post Husker Du, but there is no denying that Grant Hart has had an equal part in creating some of my most treasured pieces of music. Beyond the abrasive production of Husker Du records is this perfect sense of melody and song-writing and Grant and Bob’s songs are undoubtedly some sort of catalyst for the melodic punk and rock the followed on into the 90’s. Bands like Green Day and Foo Fighters I’m sure will attest to this. Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely Dianne, Green Eyes, Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill. Grant’s songs hit and stick hard.
Any rate, as I’ve said in these things before, far more qualified blokes than me will have their say on Grant Hart, but I just wanted to take a moment to pay tribute to a bit of an underdog. I’ll probably have more to say when it’s time for Bob to leave, but geez man… Thanks for the songs. Thanks for those song-writing lessons and I’m so sorry I stayed away from your own records for so long. My tax return is due in next week, maybe I’ll spoil myself and finally buy that expensive little Reflex Statues 7″ I’ve been baulking at all these years in your honour. Rest easy mate. Hope it’s one long celebrated summer for you.
Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely
Last week Boston artist Isa Burke had an article published in the bible, No Depression, titled Using Your Microphone and it struck a chord with me. She discusses the place of protest song in the present day and reminds us that the very foundations of roots music is built on oppressed people opposing the elite – a voice through song.
A lot of what I write about is politically charged. It’s how I reconcile every day to be able to carry on into the next. Although sometimes it gets the better of me, it’s my way of exercising things to keep from breaking down or lashing out. It’s like once you’ve been woke to the things that don’t sit right with you, you become sensitive and aware of the evidence all around us. You are able to recognise things that perhaps others can’t and you feel a duty to share and educate them. The thing is, I constantly struggle with the when and where of the appropriate moments to do that sharing. And on a stage, amongst a set list of songs where you are already revealing more of yourself than you’re sure you need to, that sense of vulnerability leaves you wide open and potentially down on strength to be confident enough in presenting a clear argument for the agenda you are trying to push. Some days you feel invincible ….some days you don’t.
When I first set out on this solo tip I was pretty hard lined about telling people exactly what I thought. I was angry. I still am angry. But those punk sensibilities I’ve grown up with don’t always sit well with an acoustic crowd. In my experience it goes one of two ways. Either you get praise from your audience, or you’re met with raised eyebrows and a bunch of folks just switching off. I soon realised that, as nice as the praise made me feel, it was the other members of the audience that I needed to be reaching. Most punters coming out to see a show are wanting to escape the heaviness of the day and enjoy themselves, not be confronted with it – they didn’t come to hear me preach. I can’t remember where I came across the interview, but Billy Bragg explains that above any political agenda, the song needs to be good. That was advice that I latched onto. So now on stage, where concerning politics, I say a lot less between songs and try to let the songs stand up for themselves. If I can engage a listener first I will have a much better chance of getting my message across. After all it’s about opening the conversation and keeping it going, not shutting it down.
If what you believe is against the grain, it can be tough to stand up for, but I continually remind myself that it’s not about me. I’ve said it before, as a middle class, heterosexual, white male, whether people want to acknowledge it or not, I am far more privileged than most demographics and right here in Australia, with issues surrounding First Nations injustice, gender equality, marriage equality, domestic violence, homelessness, class warfare etc etc etc I want to put that privilege to good use. I need to put that privilege to good use.
Isa raises something that as a songwriter I find incredibly interesting and I think she’s nailed it. Please check it out here. Using Your Microphone by Isa Burke
Anytime anyone from any agency on any platform publishes something positive about something you’ve poured your heart and soul into is pretty nice. You send your press release out into the world hoping that you might command a little paragraph or sentence to hopefully sell a record or entice another patron to a show, and with a plethora of prettier, more talented, better connected and bigger budgeted acts than yourself you are thankful for anything. But when someone randomly finds the thing you made, connects with it and injects themselves into a review, well that’s something special. That’s the reason you went through all the shit to get it out there. So on the morning of Friday the 19th of May, the morning my first ever solo effort was released, the morning after the news of Chris Cornell, the morning I’d packed up the car to return to my home town of Quirindi for a fundraiser for an ill friend, I was feeling all sorts of awkward feelings. I sat in the car ready to get on the road and chatted candidly to Laura Kebby of Newcastle Live and it turned out we had a fair bit in common. Laura is a talented writer and she will go on to do great things. I was lucky enough to meet her on the way up.
Ben Leece on vulnerability through performance, the significance of country music and Hank Volume 1
There is an undeniable sense of power that transcends through vulnerability. The way anyone with a creative mind takes the time, patience and tenacity to pen words that happen to seamlessly align with our own deepest and darkest, is indeed a true talent. About a week ago I heard a snippet of a song called ‘Drinking Youth,’ by local singer songwriter Ben Leece, and quickly surfaced as a stark reminder of just how much I personally rely on music. Today Ben released his debut solo mini-ep (or more accurately a 7’ record), Hank Vol. 1, and it’s very good. Containing two tracks, ‘Drinking Youth’ and ‘Traces,’ Ben has woven story through song, and added a beautifully modern twist to a traditional country sound in the process. To celebrate his release, I sat down with Ben to chat about vulnerability through performance, the significance of country music and of course, Hank Volume 1.
“It’s taken a couple of attempts to find something that I’ve been comfortable enough to put out there,” says Ben of the process leading up to the completion of Hank Vol. 1. A perfectionist by nature, the stoic sense of pride Ben takes in his process is infectious. “I recorded a whole album midway through last year, I just wasn’t happy with it,” Ben continued elaborating on the process. But Hank Volume 1 has definitely made both the wait and the process worthwhile, surfacing as a short yet heartfelt treat for any music fan, regardless of personal genre preference.
There is no denying however, the quintessential country feel to his sound, something that Ben says, stems from his upbringing. “I grew up in a place called town called Quirindi which is near Tamworth and country music was really everywhere when I was growing up,” says Ben. “To me it’s really honest music, especially when it’s stripped right back like that. I guess that’s why I get so personally anxious about it, it really hangs on the quality of the song and the songwriting… I really admire the type of sound that really showcases the song”.
Country music is so much more than the pop soaked ballads rehashing a drunken heartbreak, that have somehow flown into the mainstream. Not that there’s anything wrong with this particular flavour of country, it’s successful, appeals to a mass market, and consistently sells a lot of records. However, there’s a different side to country music that often falls by the wayside, unless you decide to chase after it. Think about the original man in black Johnny Cash, or Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn and Lucinda Williams, traditional country artists. More recently, the likes of Jason Isbell, Justin Townes Earle and Sturgill Simpson, have also surfaced to carry the torch. Storytellers moving with the genre, as opposed to simply being propelled by it. Because if you look at the pure power of the story telling, that’s really what country music is all about. The heart and soul of a song.
For any creative individual, it can be incredibly hard to quantify exactly what all of that hard work looks like. Most of us will consistently search for something tangible to attach our successes to. A promotion, a corner office, paid annual leave, or even just having a sense of job security, can be regarded as traditionally noteworthy. But when your job also coincides with a passionate sense of creative purpose, it can become incredibly hard to produce a tangible benchmark for success. For Ben however, Hank Volume 1. really is a true testament to hard work and dedication to the craft, a sense of tenacity, perfection and the process of harnessing the power of creative vulnerability, all woven through music.
For any singer/songwriter the struggle often lies within the lack of a conventional support network. There’s no process of going to a workplace, surrounding yourself with a community of co workers who collectively form a united front to solve the problem at hand. It’s so much more about the individual process of creativity, and emotionally stripping back underlying complexities. It’s really easy to get lost in. But lucky for Ben, he was able to enlist the talents of two wonderful musicians, Trent Crawford and Tori Forsyth. “I was talking to my friend Trent Crawford who’s based on the Central Coast, he’s a really sort after session musician and he plays basically all the other instruments bar the guitar on those songs… He was starting to establish his studio and get more into studio engineering and he said just one day ‘come and spend a weekend with me, no pressure and we’ll see what happens’… That’s where the session came from. He just made me feel so comfortable”.
After many experiences in the studio, which also included the painstaking decision of deciding to scrap an entire collection of recordings, the working environment had to be just right.“After the experience of scrapping an album, your confidence is kind of rattled, Trent was able to sort of settle me down and get a half decent performance from me. Last year he worked on Tori Forsyth’s EP, with Shane Nicholson, and that’s how Tori was introduced to me and ended up singing on ‘Trace’ for my EP as well”. Ben also took the time to add, “I just wanted to make sure those guys get credit, because it wouldn’t sound half as good without their help,” proving no man is an island.
Ben will be taking his show on the road beginning with a fund raising event in his home town of Quirindi tomorrow evening before returning to the Grand Junction Hotel on the 2nd of June, followed closely by a gig at the Stag on the 23rd. Hank Vol 1 is now available to stream across all online platforms.
Talented writer Laura Kebby recently wrote a couple of nice words about Hank 1 for Newcastle Live.
5 Newcastle Bands You Should Be Listening To Right Now – 16th May 2017
If I ever meet Ben Leece, I hope he forgives me for being late to the party. I stumbled across Ben’s music by chance, after possibly and hour of digging through the music archives which circulate across many platforms, hailing form our town. I was looking for something to ease me into the afternoon, and Ben’s alt-country sound took me by surprise. His music generates a sense of distance between the listener and their own personal chaos – a rare and true gift. After all, we listen to music to escape our own lives, and either enter someone else’s or have our own sense of self validated and understood. Ben’s debut solo EP Hank Volume 1 – will be released across all platforms on the 19th of May, before doing a small run of local shows in June at the Grand Junction in Maitland and The Stag and Hunter.
– Laura Kebly