Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Malone, Alone.

This is something I wrote for Beat about Gareth Malone. He's brilliant and you can buy or listen to his album at Cavalier Music.

At a bit over six foot, six inches, Canberra based singer songwriter, Gareth Malone could be the tallest working musician on earth. Phoar! But it’s not his height that makes him so fascinating, says long time fan and friend, Glenn Peters.

Gareth’s voice is so pure and can hit heights not even he can reach on tiptoes. Not only that, his songs come from a different place. Nobody knows the latitude, longitude or even altitude of this strange and beautiful place but we’d sure like to visit. If we did visit, we’d probably meet Freddie Mercury, Davie Bowie, Robbie Plant, Paulie Mc Cartney or Benny Harper looking for directions on our way. With his musical passion, rudimentary eating habits (its not unusual for him to eat a few kilos of bananas in a day), and uncanny talent, I regard Gareth as a true to life, rock’n’roll star.

But it’s not just me who fawns over the lightly spoken big bloke. A couple of years ago, reps from Mushroom were so gob smacked by his super theatrical live show, they quickly handed over cash to Gareth to record a demo with big time producer, Lyndsay Gravina (Living End, Spiderbait, Magic Dirt). Let Gareth tell the story. “We’ll have to stoke up the coals a little. Now make sure you’re comfortable. Alright, I was the lead singer in a band called Action and a representative from the Mushroom record company came to see us play. Foolishly enough, she was talked into supplying money for me to record a demo. It was called a demo recording.” Thanks Gareth.

Soon after recording the demo Malone dropped everything and moved to Canberra to go to University, to learn to sing properly. At first, the decision seemed strange to some but when you hear him now, you can really hear an incredible improvement. But the study didn’t last long. The format didn’t suit him so he left to sing with some Canberra based jazz groups to “make a living.”

Later he “had a great lesson with one of the world’s great jazz singers.” I didn’t even know that. Tell us more. “I had a master class and a private lesson with him and it changed things a little.”

And who was this great jazz singer?
“Kurt Elling.”

What did you learn from him?
“He just sorted me out on a few things, helping me understand what I am doing. The interesting thing was the period of research. It wasn’t structured. I would study in my own time and work at it. Where ever I was I would singing and whenever I could I would be listening to repeated tape loops to perfect solos. It wasn’t formal.”

Where are you now?
“I have so much work to do. It’s going to take a long time. Maybe I’ll never finish studying. I’m constantly aware when I’m not working I should keep working on it. You wake up and say that today’s the day I’m going to work on this song.”

Malone is launching his unfathomable debut album, This Is It on Wednesday. Already, ABC and PBS radio DJ’s are raving about it. Why unfathomable? Well, heres a few of the genres I can think of, it crosses: from be-bop to soul, to blues, to rock, to jazz standards, to crazy Greek disco. Yeah, everywhere and nowhere we’ve been before. Far too good. Anyway, let’s get back to Q&A format….

How long did the album take to record? Years?
“It seemed like years. It’s true. Eons. You could trace the earliest bit back to 1998, the majority done in 2000 and the finishing bits were done in 2001. What’s that, God. Four years.”

I remember Super-Real and This Is It on your original demo.
“If you compare the songs with their demo versions, they alter considerably. Their arrangements and overdubbing really made them quite living. While parts of Super-Real were recorded over four years ago, the song was the last song I finished on the album. What an amazing thing. Every year I put an extra sound on it until I felt it was finished.”

Before playing with Action, I understand you had never really played music in public. The legend has it that you stunned everybody with an impromptu performance. Tell us about it.
“Yeah, this is great. Digging up the old graves. I think it was a performance for friends. I think there was an old piano there and I just started playing a few songs that I had written for a friend and it was quite theatrical. It probably stunned me too.”

And what were you doing artistically and professionally before that fateful night?
“Professionally I was a sound recordist, rocking off to factories and sporting events for news programs, recording different ways people spend their time. Artistically, I was writing my own songs. I had been since I was 22 when I borrowed my brother’s guitar and started trying to write music like I the music I had grown up to.”

And what was that?
“Passionate retellings of older styles. Of course there was 70’s rock’n’roll and jazz and whatever. All the artists I listened to were passionate about what they were doing like Led Zeppelin and Hendrix. They were giving new voice to old styles. By listening to them I could try to understand old styles.”

I’ve heard four or five completely different versions of Super-Real. There was one bit of it I really liked. Its gone now. Do your songs ever have a use by date or are you always working to tinker with them?
“That’s really interesting. That’s what I’m discovering right now. There are some songs that have died a million deaths and you can’t get them out of the grave anymore. They’re gone. And there are some songs, which are unattainable. They change every time you perform them. It hasn’t anything to do with me but more the relationship I have with the song. It’s a living entity.”

Is scatting the air guitar of jazz?
“Yes, spot on. It’s fun and it’s just shredding.”

For the watcher, air guitar can be pretty poor.
“I agree.”

Tell me about the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross (one of the great jazz vocal groups) song you do, Cloudburst.
“I heard it on one of their compilations. I heard it when I was in a studio for the first time. At the time I first heard it I had no idea I would make it part of my repertoire. The song rocked me and made me think that singing could be a completely different. I made a tape of it and learnt it off the tape. Its great fun to do and yeah, its like air guitar. It’s so fun to play with the band. We have a ball.”

The first time I heard you sing it was at night near a beach at near Batemans Bay. You killed me. It was like, fucking hell…
“I remember that. Did I shred?”

Yeah, it was like you were singing wheelies all over my front lawn. How can you love singing mad jazz stuff like that while also being a rock pig?
“Hmm… The vocalise, its called a vocalise what Hendricks was doing there, he wrote the words from a horn solo on a song he had grown up listening to. He made his voice sound like a trumpet while trumpet players were trying to make their trumpets sound like singers. I grew up listening to rock guitarists who were trying to make their guitars sound like horn sections or even voices. That’s it. That’s why you can cross over all kinds of music because you are listening to sounds that inspire you. It doesn’t matter what style you are listening to.”