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Interesting interview with Steve and Grant about Jack Frost, collaboration Print E-mail
Thursday, 31 August 2006

This interview was originally published in On The Street, Dec 5th 1990. It was written by Scott Howlett

On The Street Dec 5th 1990 pg 32-33

Which one's Jack?
Steve Kilbey and Grant McLennan decided to have a party last Tuesday night to celebrate the release of their first joint album. They could have chosen the Sebel Townhouse in Kings Cross or the Red Onion in The Rock, as other have done, and served copious amounts of beer and cheap wine. Instead, they selected the ornate Juniper Hall on Oxford Street in Paddington, opposite the post office.

Here they served drinks to a gathered 50 or so fellow musicians, journalists, record company personnel and guests. There were two selections.

Gin and Pims.

Snacks came in the form of lightly buttered scones, thick biscuits and assorted asparagus tidbits. In one corner a piano player sat with a female vocalist, recalling classic songs of the distant past. Everyone had a fine time.
On the other side of the city, meanwhile, 200 or so of the record retailing network pushed their way into Australia's biggest record shop, HMV, to celebrate its opening. Beer and daiquiris flew with great haste as curried sausages and prawns were gobbled.
Attending both was indeed a dichotomy of styles and further enforced Kilbey and McLennan's reputations as being constant in the face of change.

Steve Kilbey and Grant McLennan met in late 1988 when Kilbey paid a visit to three members of The Go-Betweens in the US and heard them perform. They met again in Sydney at a party. earlier this year, Kilbey and called McLennan and they agreed to work.
But work it was not. Work, in this musical sense, usually implies planning, the swapping of contracts, promotional strategies; a sort of corporate rundown before the big event.
Kilbey and McLennan, rather, went into a 24-track studio in Balmain, SSR, with their instruments and wrote all the music for the just released self-titled album in around a week. Neither had played music with the other before.

Jack Frost  caps a prodigious year for Kilbey and McLennan. In the last year alone, Steve Kilbey has released a new album with his mainstay The Church, Gold Afternoon Fix, a double solo album, Remindlessness, co-wrote four tunes and co-produced Curious Yellow's new album, Charms and Blues, and toured the world for three months with The Church and, more recently, a short solo tour of the US. He has also written a novel, The Ephemeron, which is completed, but as yet unscheduled for release.

Grant McLennan started 1990 with the realisation the he, "or any other member of the group", no longer wanted to be in The Go Betweens. Since then he dabbled in some production, "went to Thailand and almost didn't come back because I enjoyed it so much" and last month finished his first solo album, released through Mushroom Record in April 1991.

On The Street's In Conversation was held in the garden area of Polygram Records. Kilbey had shaven his beard off and bore a three day growth. A red baseball cap sat on his head and dark glasses were worn. McLennan also wore sunglasses, set off by short hair and a white t-shirt.

By Scott Howlett.

Over the last several years there has been a marked increase in the number of collaborations made between musicians outside the confines of a band, and also a rise in the amount of solo material released. Do you think that's just because of the increased availability of technology and more money in the industry or something more creative, an opening up of the creative channels as it were?

K: Technology makes it easier to happen, there are more labels to release it and, in general, it's just easier to do.
M: Maybe some reason people make solo records is because they  can't stand any other member of the band (Kilbey laughs).
I know only why I made this record: I'm free.
If the Go-Betweens hadn't folded maybe Steven wouldn't have rung me up, because I was making a record and being busy somewhere. So I had the time to do it.
Other people do it because they're bored...
K: There's more money in solo records, too. You don't have to split it up three or four or five ways. And you get to have the ego trip of the whole thing; you get to play the instruments all yourself...(Kilbey is joking...we think).

How did you split up the instrumental duties?
M: Nothing at all was verbalised when we record the album. It wasn't like 'Steve you have to play bass because you play bass in your band'; it just worked out that whenever we wanted  to do anything at the time, we did it. We wrote the lyrics and the music all together.

And I believe it was done very quickly?

M: Whatever you hear is the only version of that song musically. We didn't do three or four versions to choose from. We didn't plan it at all. Everything was written in the studio on that day.

The lyrics were written after all the music was done. We didn't know what the songs were going to be about until we finished the music. And even now I'm not sure what some of them are abou...which is beautiful. I like that.
I've played some of these songs to friends of mine and they crack up because some of the lyrics are so ridiculous.

Yes, some of the lyrics are a bit ridiculous, which is strange for you Steve because your lyrics and usually so cerebral.
M: No, I held a gun to his head and said I want you to sing 'koo, koo, koo' (Birdowner). We just didn't want to make it too serious. We were worried about obvious influences on that one.

K: I think that making the lyrics a bit more ridiculous was just the appropriate thing to do.
I mean, I've gotten away from all that stuff; the last Church album wasn't all that lyrical verbosity. I'm really de-evolving as a lyricist. I'm trying to get back to more simple statements, more direct, you know, rather than sort of 'strangulated in a sea of...' and lost in a fucking web of similes and oxymorons. I want to get back to 'I love you baby, let's drive my car'...

What? That's a curious set of lines for one who has been so against that type of lyric in the past.
K: Well, that's just the way I feel at the moment. Or, put it this way, if I feel like I want to say  "I love you baby', if that's what I really want to say, then I want to feel able to say it.
 I don't want to feel like I can't say it because I'm supposed to come out with some fucking profound thing. So, on this record, there ar things that are not so characteristic of me...and other that rea. Like on the song Birdowner I sing, 'Koo, koo, koo, what else can I do?' That was written about a woman who turns people tinto birds, and I figured that was what a person who was turned into a bird would say. He wouldn't say ''I walked to the silver sea, but it wasn't there', would he?

Was it your intent to make the album sometimes ridiculous?
K: You know, there really was no intent with this record. It was more like 'let's get together, let's make it up as we go along'.
If it started sounding like The Church or The Go-Betweens we didn't stop it; if it wasn't sounding like either then we didn't stop that either. We just did what we wanted to do.
We paid for it ourselves, there was no pressure. We just had a good time. I mean, some of it sounds like The Church and The Go-Betweens, but that's inevitable.

When did you guys first meet?
M: Christmas, 1988. Robert, Amanda and i were doing some acoustic shows in America to promote 16 Lovers Lane at the place called the Knitting Factory, this cool, jazzy, acoustic sort of place in Manhattan. And Steve was there and we started talking. And then I bumped into him at a party and then he rang me up.

The Go-Betweens did, and The Church do, sell more records overseas than Australia and, proportionally, this record of yours will probably do the same. Do you write for Australia and that 'market' or write contrary to that market in the knowledge that it will probably be a hit elsewhere because of that very reason?
K: I honestly don't write for anyone. When we were recording this I didn't write it for anyone, or maybe I did for a few friends that might call in on me at home...

You always say that...
K: It's true. I never write a song and say to myself 'oh this'll be good for the CHR (contemporary hit market) in Yugoslavia'.  You just operate on a whole different level when you write a song. I mean, I guess Grant and I are on this record and we made it for whoever wants to listen. On the other hand, there was this ridiculous group called Big Storm whose classic fucking publicity line was 'when we made this album we had stadiums in mind'.
When Grant and wrote this album we had our own pleasure in mind. I always figure 'if I like it, well someone else is bound to like it, too'.

Will this Jack Frost be released overseas?
K: Yes, everywhere.

Do you find it curious that the majority of bands which do well overseas are considered sort of un-Australian, whereas we're led to believe that it's the Oz Sound that everyone loves and, even then, they don't sound Australian. That's the paradox, isn't it?
K: Exactly, that is the paradox. Jimmy Barnes doesn't sound Australian. He's Scottish and his music sounds like the music Johnny Cougar was doing 10 years ago.  I mean, does (Kilbey does a humours impersonation) 'Lay down your guns and surrender' doesn't reek of the Australia I know.
In fact it's easy to talk about artists in vague blocks, but when you really start examining people like this who are supposd to be archetypal Australians you find they are not at all. There's nothing really very Australian about them at all.
I've always thought music should be international. I know I've said that to you before, but I really : I think music is international. A guy in Alexandria will like Jack Frost as much as a guy in Baltimore.

I really don't think in terms of country. I really don't think there's Australia and the rest of the world. I just think there's lots of musicians making music.

This world collaboration interests me and , as I asked previously, there have been more collaborations between Australian musicians over the last several years. Last night Jack Frost played its first show and it was the first time you both had to collaborate live. What happened?
M: We didn't make many mistakes...
K: And I made all the ones there were...
M: And he made all the ones that there were...no, it was great. People came up to me afterwards and said, regardless of what they thought of the show, 'it looked like you guys had been playing together for ages'.  That was important to me. I didn't want it looking like two fucking guys in suits with acoustic guitars, you know...so close together, but a million miles apart.
So what did you wear?
M: We wore suits and we looked guys in suits with acoustic guitars (laughs aplenty)

What about you Steve?, this idea of collaboration?
K: I love collaborating with people. I think I understand what it's all about and I am very interested in doing it. I was interested to meet and work with Grant and see how he wrote his songs and how his mind ticked over; what his strengths and weaknesses were. I'd rather collaborate with people than do things on my own, any day.
I want to become an expert in collaboration. I'd like to work out all the different ways in which I can collaborate with people, whether it be writing lyrics, writing music, writing together or just to give an overview. I think that if you can meet someone who is a match for yo, then it is a most exciting thing. You can be honest with each other and you're not holding back, like someone's doing something you don't like but you're afraid to tell them, or vice versa.

Do you apply these theories to the rest of your life?
K: No, just music. i'm an absolute tyrant in every other aspect of my life. I'm just talking about when I collaborate with someone. I think with Jack Frost it really brought out the best in both of us. I don't think either of us would have made this record or written any of those songs on our own.

Do you think that by collaborating you're opening yourself up to your own surprise, whereas perhaps you wouldn't working on your own?

K: Of course. I first got interested in methodology after hearing Eno. When he made those first three or four solo albums (Warm Jets, Tiger Mountain, Another Green World, Discreet Music from 1973-75) he used to get a bunch of guys in a room and say to them 'play guitar like you're sitting at the seaside' or 'imagine the sound you're making is like an electrical current jumping abut.' I was very interested in that.

If it was possible, I'd like to get the cream of Australian musicians, put them in a room and then give them ideas. Not playing myself, but sort of being a conductor. It would be like me saying 'let's make a piece of music that makes you feel like you're in Kings Cross on a wet, rainy night', things like that. That really interests me.

Are there other musicians around the world who you really have a passion about collaborating with? Steve I believe Tom Verlaine (ex-Television) travelled with The Church around the Starfish album, would he be someone you'd like to get together with?
K: well, we were going to at one stage, but his record company didn't want him to do that. He wanted to, indeed he used to get up on stage with The Church every night for about a month and do an hours worth of encores with The Church. We wanted to get some of that down, but his record company squashed that. Then, he and I were going to do something, but then he started bickering about money and credits all that sort of stuff and so it never came off either. He'd still be someone I'd like to work with, even having known all his personal foibles.
M: I'd like to work with Kate Bush. I think she's great, really inspirational and completely individual. They're the only people I'm interested in, individuals. I'm not interested in copy cats, businessman and accountants and there's a lot of them in the music business. I don't like to go into music with pre-existing ideas, like I think a lo of people do. I find that really sad. Like, when I pick up a guitar, like I did with Steve, none of the songs were there beforehand. You hear the music and that is what is there now. most people would find it really foreign and weird and too scary. It's pathetic actually.

What do you think about the standard of Australian music in general? ... too unadventurous perhaps?
Kilbey: (With a certain ire at the question) You can't use the word "standard" when it comes to music. Like, music is not like the standard of Australian butter. It's not something you can quantify, music, is it? You have to say is 'do you like music that's coming out of Australia?' I think you can only like or dislike music, you can't really gauge it.

Yet often, Australian music is a lesson in safety. Do you feel that Australian musicians don't express themselves as much as they would perhaps wish, or feel too constrained by the so-called laws of how to be (un)-creatively successful?
K: Well, I don't see that an Australian musician should b any better or any worse than anywhere else. I don't think music's that environmental. Lyrics might be - you might write about blue skies and hot landscapes if you're in Australia - but the music itself doesn't seem to have anything to do with what fucking country you're in.  I grew up in Canberra and i know, I know deep down in me, that I would have made the same music I am making if I had grown up in london, Canberra, Los Angeles, Norway or wherever. It was in me anyway. I still would have done the same thing.

There are guys in Autralia writing great stuff and there are guys writing rubbish and still other who write really mediocre stuff, just like anywhere else. I don't know why we have to get back to this Australia versus the rest of the world stuff. In Australia we're constantly reminding ourselves that we might not be as good as someone else. It's like being in a swimming pool learning to swim and someone constantly reminding that you can't really swim.

Perhaps that's because we're so isolated in Australia?
K:But we're not. We're a day away from fucking anywhere. We're a day away from L.A, New York, Lond or Europe. We've got coaxial cables and telecommunications...I just don't feel that being an Australian or not being Australian is an issue here. We happen to live here, but it really has no bearing on the music, at least not my music. Look music is magic. it's got nothing to do with geography. it's got nothing to do with industry or standard; it's magic.

Still, I get the feeling that there would not be too many professional Australian musicians who have inspired you enough for you to approach them to work together. It would have to be small number, wouldn't it?
K: Not necessarily. put it this way, it's embarrassing to name them. If I sit here and say 'well, I'd really like to work with Jimmy Bloggs, he might pick up your newspaper and say 'oh, fuckin' hell, as if I'd want to work with him'.
See, I never would have said I'd like to work with Grant until I approached him and he said 'yeah, I'd like to do something'...it's embarrassing. You can't really go around dropping people's names. It's like writing I love someone on the wall before you'd talked it over with them.

Certainly though it's true that many Australian musicians feel they have to produce a certain kind of music. Possibly it is because the tyranny of distance, or the cultural cringe, but it does exist. There's aren't many Jack Frosts around, are there?
K: I'm very glad of that. If that is true, that Australian musicians are unadventurous, then that allows blokes like us to do whatever we want to do. But I don't know what they think. I don't know if Rolf Harris wakes up in the morning he'd really like to work with Steve Kilbey but he's frightened to, or if he thinks 'oh I wouldn't want to work with him because I don't like his ideas'.
I don't know what is going on in other people's heads. I mean, even as we speak, there could be the most amazing collaboration going on that we don't even know about. Doc Neeson and Kate Ceberano could be locked in a studio at the moment churning out something absolutely breathtaking. Or Rene Geyer and the bass player from the Hard Ons...

Can't wait for that one ... you've been incredibly prolific over the last two years, Steve, is that because you can't stand seeing your work go unpublished or unreleased or do do you feel that all these ideas you have have to be exorcised to preserve sanity?
K: No, it's not like that. I don't know how many people are actually like 'I have to write this song otherwise I'll die'. But there's certainly nothing I'd rather spend my time doing than knocking out a tune.

Nothing?

K Well, you know, a few earthly, fleshy pleasures. But knocking out a tune leads me to those fleshy pleasures (laughs) It's all the same thing. To me, it's all mixed up together.
--
 
Scott Howlett
Transcribed by Brian Smith and submitted by Jenny.
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