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Steve and Grant on Jack Frost Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 January 1991
Interview kindly transcribed by Marcelo Guevara

TITLE:  Opposites React
SUBJECT:  Jack Frost (1st album)
AUTHOR:  Shane Danielsen (Musical Notes column)
DATE:  ??

Ever noticed how people seem to marry their exact opposites?  You know someone for a long time and then one day meet their husband or wife.  You find yourself wondering what it was that ever attracted them to each other, what they could possibly find to talk about when they?re alone, where the meeting point between two apparent strangers could be.

The answer is simple:  these things just happen, often despite themselves.  But when two of Australia?s principal songwriters ? on the surface markedly different artists ? decide to join forces, such questions are bound to arise.

Jack Frost is a duo comprising Steve Kilbey from the Church and Grant McLennan of the late, and much-lamented Go-Betweens ? singer-songwriters both, though of quite disparate styles.  So where is the common ground?

?Oh, we met by chance in a leather bar in Oxford Street,? deadpans Kilbey, his manner characteristically reserved, slightly bored ? a faint smile then tugs at the corner of his mouth.

?Ah, no,? McLennan looks momentarily anxious, then grins.  ?No, we didn?t.?

The real story is a long one, involving a high level of mutual admiration and an exchange of telephone numbers while in America.  A few months later a partnership was formed and an album conceived.

Self-titled, the album is a strong and often beautiful work that shows both performers at something of a songwriting peak.  The material is powerful and compelling, and both parties admit to being surprised at how easily and well it came together.

?These kinds of working relationships do push you to do your best,? admits Kilbey.  ?If you respect the other person?s work, which in this case we definitely do, you only want to give the best you can.  I wouldn?t call it a marriage, it?s more like dating.  A first date, you know ? trying to impress the other person, trying to look very confident and sure.?

McLennan adds:  ?It also gets boring writing songs, especially by yourself.  After more than 10 years of it you feel as though you?ve reached a point where you can?t go along any more, you need some kind of external input, some kind of challenge.  Which I suppose is why the Go-Betweens broke up ? a lack of challenges.?

On the face of it, it still seems an unlikely union, the only obvious link being a common tendency towards the literate, the lyrically erudite.

Yet even here their styles differ wildly:  Kilbey is known for diffuse, poetic lyrics, McLennan for his more prosaic and increasingly pastoral folk songs.  Imagine Baudelaire and Thomas Hardy knocking out a few stanzas after lunch.

Kilbey himself is no stranger to such extracurricular partnerships, having worked with a number of other songwriters here and overseas.
For McLennan, however, the past decade has meant the Go-Betweens, the in-name-only writing team of Foster/McLennan and little more.  Yet, while admitting the experience is a slightly more unfamiliar one, he notes:  ?Looking around, there seems to be something of a boys? club mentality in Australia.  You find among musicians that much the same people tend to hang around together constantly, but rarely get around to doing anything about it.

?There?s also this attitude of preciousness about their work.  They?re extremely hesitant about getting up with someone else and just performing acoustically.  You haven?t got the volume and the spectacle to hide behind so people don?t tend to take the risks that perhaps they should.?

To date, Jack Frost has played only twice, supporting They Might Be Giants, though more dates are possible.  And while both have other commitments to honour ? Kilbey to the Church and McLennan to his burgeoning solo career ? they intend to continue working together.  There remains another project about which neither will comment ? yet.

It sounds more than promising:  would that most marriages produced such healthy offspring.

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