Peabody: Confusion Is Next
Sitting in the van on the way to Wollongong for the first show of an east-coast tour (dates below), Bruno Brayovic and Ben Chamie tell DARREN LEVIN that the key to album number four, ‘Loose Manifesto’, is in its title.
Are you pleased with the response to the album so far? I see you’ve been dissecting reviews on your [website](http://peabody.net.au/). Are you concerned reviewers aren’t ?getting? the record?
Bruno: It’s interesting you say that, because to some extent that’s exactly how we feel. I mean, we’re giving a pretty big clue as to the nature of the album, by calling it Loose Manifesto, so it’s a bit disappointing to read ?although there are some good songs, there is a sense of looseness? or ?it takes very sharp turns?. My initial reaction when I read that is: ?No shit.?
It’s none of my business if someone doesn’t like the album for those reasons (and there have been a couple of reviewers who have taken that tack) – that is a fair critique, but I think it lacks insight or attention span on the part of the reviewer to reveal the album’s nature as something which they have discovered and we missed, when it’s actually the other way around.
But to be fair, there are a couple of reviewers that have totally got it and liked it for exactly the same reasons others have disliked it. We received a good old fashioned right-royal panning by a UK reviewer, which was rather refreshing. It was like someone pouring a bucket of cold water over you – your instant reaction is to get angry and to tell them to fuck off, but secretly it feels kinda nice. The irony is that he facetiously writes ?it might be a postmodern stroke of genius to step outside of themselves and undercut the critics?, when in fact, that’s part of the game.
Ben: Generally, yes I am happy with how it’s been received. The record seems to be polarising opinions, which I think is a good thing. For reviewers it either means they have listened to it and had to think about it and construct an argument as to why it does or doesn’t work, or they have listened to it, not really got the whole collage approach and just praised it or written it off without really thinking about it. Personally, I prefer the first approach. But whatchya gonna do? You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him think – The punters, on the other hand, have been positive and the songs have gone down well live, so that’s been great and more in-step with how happy we have been with the record.
?It was a ?Loose Manifesto? in every sense, so we wanted to keep the takes fresh and live.?
Why’d you decide to do this one without Jamie [Hutchings], who produced the last three records?
Ben: It was our first album released on our own label [Peabrain Recordings], we were funding the recording ourselves and we were very conscious of what our approach was going to be and what kind of record we wanted to make. So it felt like we didn’t need a producer. Besides, we felt like it was time to do it ourselves, without the safety net of having someone else to blame, should it all go to shit.
Bruno: We just wanted to try to do something different. We wanted to put a bit of pressure on ourselves and see what we would come up with. We’ve never done that before and our previous albums have had a very heavy ?Jamie stamp?, which we have benefited from and welcomed. But this time around, we just wanted to see the results of something done entirely by us. It’s also a good test in not killing each other, which I think we passed with flying colours – as evidenced by the fact we’re all still here.
Was the process liberating?
Bruno: It was, actually. Not because Jamie was strict or difficult, but because rather than pushing the entire band in a direction he thought we should go, Jamie always pushed each individual song in the direction he thought best served that song. With this album, although we thought carefully about each song its purpose and direction, we approached it from a more holistic, band angle. We basically wanted to do something without any sort of mentor or guidance. We knew this would result in something which would potentially be more flawed, but it would also be more intrinsically ?us?.
Ben: It was probably the best recording experience I’ve had, and I’m pretty sure my bandmates would agree. It was a ?Loose Manifesto? in every sense, so we wanted to keep the takes fresh and live. We wanted to get that time-and-place feel that those great time-and-place records have like The Triffids? In The Pines* or The Drones? *Gala Mill and the like. So to get that it was necessary to take a relaxed – and liberated – approach. So, yes, it was liberating.
Tell us about the shack you recorded it in.
Bruno: Our engineer and good friend Tim Kevin (who is the main man in the awesome La Huva) and a couple of other Sydney legends, set up this ?studio? in a tiny shack in Ball’s Head, just north of the Harbour Bridge. They got it for next to nothing, courtesy of an initiative by North Sydney Council to use public land for arts purposes, which Tim and co. found out about when Tim worked on the last Youth Group album [[The Night Is Ours](/releases/2000108)], which was recorded in a mess hall in the same vicinity.
The immediate space is very desolate. It used to be a coal loading station and you can still walk through the tunnels and over rail tracks where the coal loaders (think a mink-skip on wheels) would chug up to the edge of the land and load the coal onto the ship. Unfortunately, they’ve had to move out of there and it’s probably being knocked down as I write. It was pretty – intimate.
Did the surroundings have any influence on the finished product?
Bruno: Yes and no. The album was always going to be what it was in terms of its feel and nature, but I think the surroundings helped. It felt pretty isolated and the shack we were recording in was perfect for us. It was like a small pub where you set up on the floor in the corner of the room.
How did you come across the 8-track [tape machine] Nirvana recorded Bleach on?
Bruno: It came about through Jim Moginie from Midnight Oil. I don’t know how he got it, but he gave it or sold it to Tim, who plays in Jim’s band [The Family Dog]. Much like Tim, that machine has seen a lot of late nights.
How did the Swiss anti-art movement Dadaism work its way onto the record?
Ben: The title track was one of the first songs we wrote for this record and it basically set the rules or dictum for the whole approach. The song ?Loose Manifesto? is a stream of consciousness rant about everything and nothing. I can’t remember who it was but someone asked me what the song was about and I tried to explain it. The best label I could come up with was, ?It’s da-da. Da-da-da-blah.? And it is. It’s a bit of a reaction to the last record which was more introspective and people-focused. I wanted to lighten up lyrically and loosen up musically. Dada seemed like a good way of explaining that.
?Black Narcissus? is based on a novel set in colonial India. Can you tell us a bit more how you discovered the book, and how it formed the basis of the song.
Ben: I just discovered the book on my bookshelf at home one day. It was sitting there forever. I don’t know how it got there and I was looking for something to read and hey presto there it was. It had such a great title I picked it up and started on it. True story. At first I was a bit nonplussed by it, I mean it’s about a Catholic convent in a remote mountainous region in India. But pretty quickly it just grew on me.
It’s got that Heart of Darkness-kinda vibe where the Anglo characters are slowly consumed and broken by this exotic place and culture. I was listening to the Velvet Underground quite a bit at the time and Lou Reed sings about a similar experience, but in an urban setting in ?Heroin? and other songs; that losing of yourself, disillusionment, falling into sin and eventually being broken by it. All these things leach into your songwriting and the eastern guitar themes seemed to complement the lyrical inspiration. But it’s meant to be quite bellicose and ridiculous also. Just the silly turns of phrase in contrast with the thumping sound of the band are part of the whole approach we took to the record.
This is your first tour in a while. Is the road still as exciting and mythological as it was when you started out?
Bruno: Well, so far it’s been treating us well – although we’re only 50 kilometres out of Sydney. It’s a pity we can’t really do every part of Australia like we used to back in the salad days, but let’s hope some punters turn up tonight in ?Le Woollongong Heights? and get us off to a good start.
?LOOSE MANIFESTO? ALBUM LAUNCH TOUR
Friday, October 29
Yah Yah’s, Melbourne, VIC
w/The Rostovs + Dictaphone Blues (NZ)
Friday, November 5
The Annandale Hotel, Sydney, NSW
w/Step-Panther + Dictaphone Blues (NZ) + No Art
Saturday, November 6
Phoenix Bar, Canberra, ACT
w/Super Best Friends + Dictaphone Blues (NZ)
Friday, November 12
Lass O’Gowrie, Newcastle, NSW
w/Sister Jane + I Am The Agent
Saturday, November 13
Gearins Hotel, Katoomba, NSW
w/Sister Jane + I Am The Agent
Saturday, November 20
Ric’s Cafe, Brisbane, QLD