theART: Steven (drums); Jak (gtr/vox); KJ (bass/vox); Azaria (vox/gtr).
Mar. 18, 2009, 2:30 p: SXSW 2009 – IndieHouston @ Co-Lab Space, Austin.
Mar. 20, 2009, 11 p: SXSW 2009 – Maggie Mae’s, Austin.
Mar. 21, 2009, 12:45 p: SXSW 2009 – Aussie Acoustic – Whole Foods, Austin.
Mar. 22, 2009, 8 p: IndieHouston.org, w/JAPANTHER, Houston
Mar. 23, 2009, 10 p: Saturn Bar – ALL AGES, New Orleans
Apr. 10, 2009, 10 p: Beauty Bar, Austin
Full tour schedule: www.myspace.com/theart
Dirt. Love. Androgyny. Machismo. Unknown. Massive. theART.
Newtown, Sydney, Australia was home-base and remains home. But the band has spent most of the past year in Los Angeles and doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon. They toured Australia for 3 years straight, putting in the kind of work that still gets them a hero’s welcome despite their absence.
Newtown is like London’s Camden, and theArt’s group house there was an artistic ground zero. You can hear the influence in theArt’s music as clearly as you can see it in vocalist Azaria’s charcoal sketches. Sensations are depicted. Segments of reality explored repeatedly until the trees become the forest. Depiction of the whole becomes secondary as the segments fill one’s fields of vision and sound.
The band’s self-titled 5-song EP starts with ‘Love Bomb Revolution,’ which comes across as a modern Hanoi Rocks; filthy yet precious. Guitar walls mix with harmonies and build to a chant-along chorus, Azaria’s lead vocals dangerously perfect. ‘She’s Dead Wrapped In Fashion’ meanwhile sounds like a Cars demo before Roy Thomas Baker got a hold of them, complete with a disco bridge and staccato guitars, both eventually overwhelmed by grime.
‘Break’ makes things a little more personal. (It’s a heart, by the way.) Drums and vocals build, layer, hammer; creating a combination of force and exposure reminiscent of a punk Johnnie Goudie. ‘Christian Girl’s tentacles pull you in like Type O-lite, waiting for the bridge to break your face. The outro is classic gutter chic; girl vox parping over a sewer guitar line.
‘Happy Now’ stands out on the EP for its difference from the other songs. Written by theArt’s predecessor (the Follow) it is pure, mainlined, post-punk pop: without irony or updating, it sounds almost exactly like the Cure.
If you visit www.myspace.com/theart you can hear one of the band’s newest songs, hometown-tribute ‘Newtown,’ which combines aspects of all of the directions heard on the EP without diluting any of them. The growth obviously continues.
Azaria took some time Tuesday morning before heading to another 5-hour tour-prep rehearsal at the band’s L.A. space to fill GonzoGeek in on theArt’s plans to take over the U.S., the finer points of life as a woodshedding nerd, and being on the road as part of a co-ed rock machine.
GONZOGEEK: So the rehearsal space beckons?
AZARIA: We’re rehearsing with our drummer, who’s from New York but moved to Los Angeles. We haven’t rehearsed with him for a few months so we’ve been rehearsing everyday for the past few weeks.
GG: As tour prep?
A: For the tour there’re a bunch of new songs…a lot of stuff to go over. We’re getting our show together. Figuring out the best way to make noise and hurt peoples’ ears.
GG: Right. Right. I’m looking forward to seeing y’all live in Austin. The EP struck me really well. There’re a lot of influences on there, but at the same time it sounds really up to date. How did you get from ‘Happy Now,’ which sounds exactly like the Cure to the sound I’m hearing now? Was it a conscious shift? A natural evolution?
A: The EP is very schizophrenic. But as a songwriter I don’t like closing any doors. And I just remember presenting the band with all these songs, you know, ‘Let’s do this one, let’s do that one.’ We’ve been together for about 5 years, and from when we first started we didn’t ever want to release an album where every song sounded the same. We’ve naturally over time been on some kind of a journey and it sounds kind of funny to say but [the EP] sounds sort of like a compilation.
We were very ambitious at the start; the way we thought and the way we did our live shows. But over time we just sort of found what worked for us. We found our sound. When you’re just starting out I think it’s sort of natural for any band to be unfocused. We were just doing what was natural to us at the time.
‘Break’ and ‘Love Bomb’ are two kind of new songs, the other three we recorded a few years ago with Nick Launay (Nick Cave, INXS, PIL, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Arcade Fire, Silverchair). We put out an album back then as well. But now we’re more focused and it’s in the swamp rock kind of vein, like ‘Christian Girl.’
We’ve even taken it further. Our new album is a progression of that; a very dirty low-end groove based dynamic noise. We were very influenced by My Bloody Valentine, Bauhaus, and stuff like that.
GG: You can definitely hear the MBV influence in the guitar work, even on the EP songs. ‘Newtown’ though seems to confirm exactly what you’re saying. It’s almost a fusion of the other five songs I’d been exposed to up to that point. You can hear elements of your whole sound in there.
A: That’s a new one. We did it late last year. It’s on the new album we’re about to release.
GG: What kind of a place is Newtown? My Australian knowledge is a little limited.
A: Newtown was a place where as a band we had a big house. It was the kind of house where whatever bands would come through Sydney would stay. Like Amanda Palmer from the Dresden Dolls would stay.
It was sort of a big party house. Our band rehearsed there. We had two big lounge rooms; one was an art studio and one was a rehearsal studio. We just had really good people around us….artists. Our tour manager would come over and look after us, make sure the house was good while we were on tour for three years.
Newtown is home to us. It’s the artistic hub of Sydney where all the bands live. Kind of like Camden in London. That kind of vibe. A
Anywhere new is also our town. So it’s kind of like a play on the words. New town could be New York, or could be Los Angeles, or London, or wherever. It’s just a part of being a band that tours.
GG: After 3 years on the road in Australia it seems now the focus has shifted to the US.
A: It has. We haven’t played in Australia in over a year now. We had a going away party where we did an acoustic show. It was really amazing. So many people came. It was a private party, but….It’s weird. Everyone knows who we are in Australia, but we haven’t played there in over a year, so it’s a bit strange.
GG: Sounds alright.
A: Obviously I can’t wait to be over there. But we made a conscious decision to come here and have a break from what we were doing and try to find….We’re recording our album over here and we’ve really grown as people when we took ourselves out of our comfort zone and all of that kind of stuff.
We’ve got management here in Los Angeles. We’re just sort of setting ourselves up here so when we go back to Australia…The way we see it, we want to be citizens of the world and just tour it; spend out time doing what we’re doing, and for some reason we went to Los Angeles and this happened.
GG: The influences you list definitely give off that vibe: “The surrounding environment, friends, lovers, artists, and musicians who don’t follow the croud (and like their music loud).” It sounds almost as much a human exploration you’re conducting as a musical endeavor. The songs use love a lot as a theme.
A: We sort of touch on subjects we react to: love, lust, life. Four-letter words.
GG: But more than songs about love, or love songs, they look at some tiny aspect of what love is, and then follow that up with another look at some other little aspect of it. They actually reminded me of your charcoal drawings, where it’s not so much a big, ideal picture of anything as it is a description of some small piece of what you’re looking at. I got that out of the music as well.
A: Cool. The way I am as a person, I don’t think there’s one answer to anything. It’s all about perspective, and perspective changes over time. And you journey as well.
I don’t buy it when someone says, “Oh, this is what love is, and blah, blah, blah.” It’s something to explore and expand from different angles. Like having sex. You wouldn’t have sex with someone the same way every time. You’d want to explore all the angles; everything about them.
GG: Are sex and drugs an aspect of touring for ya’ll then? Or are they not necessarily part of the Art agenda?
A: It happens! (laughs). It’s nature. It’s life. But it’s not a focus of our band. Our focus is on being a family, having fun on the road and looking after each other. And meeting lots of people and having fun with them too!
We’re also quiet and nerdy. The reason we had a space at home where we’d rehearse is because we’d just wake up every day and rehearse. We weren’t that interested in like going out and scoring some girls. We had an intrinsic magnetism towards making music and moving our environment.
GG: More into the art end of it than the rock star end of it…
A: Yeah. But at the same time, that other stuff just happens! It’s not our intention, but...(trails off).
GG: The live clips I saw show a full-on rock experience. When you describe yourselves as the nerdy guys holed up in the rehearsal space, there’s certainly a counter to that coming out live on stage.
A: Before we go on stage we get a hold of reality, and then we just let go. That’s the moment in life where anything can happen. That’s why I make music. That’s why I’m more interested in playing live than in all the other processes. Because there’s always that element of creating something unknown. I like that you could accidentally smash your guitar into your face and bleed all over the audience. Some people may love it. Some people might try to sue you. F ‘em.
I think it’s really fun to get a bunch of people from all over the world in one room, or from different places and upbringings, to all congregate to see music. There’s more to music [than people realize], and I guess it’s apparent in the live show.
GG: But you are making a record right now as well. Are you working with Nick Launay again?
A: Nick’s working with another band, so we’ve done a little bit with him, but we’ve mainly been working with Manny Nieto (the Breeders, the Health). He’s really good. He’s kind of got a dirtier sort of sound and he’s trying to draw a bigger sound from us, and we’re loving that at the moment. He produced ‘Newtown.’ So he’s staying the vein of what Nick was doing as well. It’s what we’re doing. It’s our vision.
GG: So, Steven’s in the U.S. Is he a new drummer or did he just transplant himself over here before the rest of you?
A: Yeah, he’s the only new member. The core of this band has been together about 5 years. Our old drummer just went on his own path. We’re still friends, but we found Steven on our last American tour early last year, and we had a chat with him and fell in love with him. It was a group decision. Our drummer was like, “Well, why don’t you get him?” And we said, “Yeah, we will!” We’re still mates though.
The core of the band is me and KJ and Jak. We just sort of sit back and think this is something we’ll always do. We’re having too much fun. When you’re in a band like that you rely on each other.
GG: Have yourself or Jak ever been involved with KJ as a couple? Or is that sort of tie off limits?
A: Ummm. (Clears throat). Well you see, to get into this band you have to have sex with me.
A: I’m just kidding, man. I just wanted to float that out there.
GG: I’ll have to ask Jak about that.
A: I can just see my band members start freaking out.
I’ve known KJ for like 10 years. So I guess, in that 10 years there may or may not have been a romantic….I don’t know. There was some stage where I was living at the Newtown house and all the girls that lived in the house were my ex-girlfriends. So that might tell you something about the chaos of our life in Australia.
GG: Well, based on the clips I’ve seen and the music I’ve heard, it seems like you’ve got a really good, cohesive unit going on. You’re the songwriter of the outfit, but it definitely has an organic/band real feel to it. So it seems things have come together well over the years for you, chaos or no.
A: Yeah. Thank you. Beyond the chaos and confusion there’s a clarity. That’s always nice.