t h e c h e m i s t — p i e ta b r ow n
Get Your Prescription Filled Emerging from a music scene now well established as a successful breeding ground in this country, Perth’s The Chemist will soon be borrowing your ears with their infectious tunes – no prescription required. Paul Frost caught up with the guys after their set at Gosford’s Coaster Festival, where excitement about festival gigs and the pecking order for band fights were debated. Since forming in 2007, The Chemist have spent time honing their skills in preparation for a full assault on the Australian music scene. The band form a cohesive presence on stage, their name (according to lead vocalist Ben Witt) coming about “when we had a gig, we needed a name, and it just stuck.” Their influences are many and varied — from the expected (Dylan, The Beatles) to the eclectic (Tom Waits, Grizzly Bear). Their current release is a concept record of sorts, an enchanted set of melodies framed around the lead single ‘Lullabies #1 (Mercy)’. “This EP (Lullabies) was different to the last one and the way we are writing for our album,” explains Witt. “I had the idea over a weekend and then set myself a week of working hours to write towards the concept. I find the concept thing helps, it’s like having a conversation with someone you’ve just met, and when you find that common interest it just flows from there.” The opening two tracks of the EP help push the concept opted by Witt, and then there is the terrifying ‘Sweet Dreams’ — a half whispered/croaked eulogy that fulfils the ironic twist that the band intended. The last track is, according to Witt, “kind of like the end of the movie, and the credits roll for a nice upbeat ending. It’s a bit tongue in cheek — we don’t want it to be taken too seriously!” The whole “Perth scene” concept is another topic the band is often asked to respond to. There is no doubt to the riches that the area has provided in recent years — think Sleepy Jackson, Karnivool, Eskimo Joe, Birds of Tokyo — and the band have few doubts as to what has helped their peers from the west. “Everyone plays in each other’s bands” offers bass player Hamish Rahn. “It’s a really supportive environment and everyone is keen to help each other out.” We talk about comparisons to the live music scenes on the
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east coast and Rahn offers another telling viewpoint “that’s one of the lucky things about Perth for live music — no pokies.” A tight touring schedule is keeping the band on its toes; along with support slots for Boy and Bear and Birds of Tokyo they have their own national tour throughout November. I make comment on how band relations are kept in a positive manner throughout a long series of tours, and the guys make it clear that they have a theory as to who would win any on-stage fights if they occurred (we all agree that Rahn and Witt would wipe the floor with everyone). Asking the band how they feel about performing at festivals such as Coaster and the upcoming Festival of the Sun is a much simpler and agreed to proposition. “It’s great,” replies drummer Elliot Smith “practically painted-on shorts and tan streaks are part of the uniform — what’s not to like?” With those thoughts in mind, I asked chief songwriter Witt about how live performances influence his writing. “I try not to think about how we are going to pull (a new song) off live, and think that we will just deal with that when it comes. It does help me focus on the fact that I need to write some more upbeat songs and some things that will be intriguing live as well as on record.” While Witt admits he has tended to dominate proceedings on the band’s recorded output thus far, this is changing with the recording of their debut album. “We have started writing to record early next year. We want to keep it a bit rawer than the EPs.” Rahn adds “We want it to sound like a band playing — to really crank the dynamics.“ Watch this space — The Chemist are coming. The Chemist will be performing at the Hamilton Station Hotel in Newcastle on Saturday, November 27, and at Festival of the Sun, Port Macquarie, on December 10 and 11.
All That Shimmers Pieta Brown has a lot to live up to. With both her father and step-mother Grammy-nominated musicians (Greg Brown and Iris DeMent), music was very much part of her upbringing, and a profession she seemed destined to persue. Kevin Bull speaks with Brown as she prepares to visit Australia for the first time. Coming from such a musical upbringing, was it a given that you would end up on stage? It definitely was not a given! The music and songwriting is and was as natural as could be. The stage part of things was a different story. I came from a broken home and watched the effects of the music business on different parts of my family, so I was not eager to go down that road — or at least not until I was certain that it was my own music and art driving things. I had a lot of personal things to work out before I started taking my songs to the stage. I have so much respect for music and such a deep love for songs, that I didn’t want to take my own songs to the stage until I felt like I was coming at if from some kind of pure place. Was it difficult to step out from your father’s shadow in your home state of Iowa? I’ve never felt the desire to step out from his shadow. For me, my father and his music and songs create light — not shadows! There were certainly personal ‘demons’ I had to face with all of it. But I think that is true of most artists I know, regardless of any parental connection. Honestly, a sense of community and my deep connection to the land in Iowa has ultimately been helpful with all of it. At the heart of all of it, I feel like I’m continuing a musical tradition in my family that goes back quite a few generations. It’s not about me, or my father... it’s about the music. Having had a quite nomadic upbringing, has this provided you with a wealth of experiences that is now being delivered through your storytelling and poetry? Definitely. I think I could write songs from that place for at least this lifetime. There were so many layers that happened early on, emotional and otherwise. And now here I am adding
new layers all the time! For me songwriting, and the music and art, are a way of dealing with the world and I don’t mean that in a journal entry kind of way — just that the songwriting/artist place is my response to the journey we all are on. What does it mean to you to be signed to Red House Records, the label started by your father? I’m glad to have a label that’s getting behind my work! My father has informally moved on from Red House, I believe — at least for the moment — but my father’s truly independent take on everything to do with the music business has affected me and influenced me in all kinds of ways. You worked with producer Don Was on the Shimmer EP. What did you take away from the experience that you took into the studio with you when you recorded One and All? The idea of putting my vocals all the way out front. Don was insistent on pushing my vocal to the absolute foreground on Shimmer. I didn’t put it quite as far out front on One and All, but I definitely put it farther out front than I had before. You have just performed your songs live with a full orchestra for the first time. Considering that your music is painted with an alt-country-folk-blues brush, how did your songs take to this new treatment, and how was the experience? It was grand! All those instruments at once! The songs that the arrangers and I chose seemed to dig the new treatment. The arrangers and symphony did a beautiful job. Pieta Brown performs at the Mullum Festival on November 26-27. One and All is out now through Red House Records/Vitamin.
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