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Operator Please - Interview

  by Sarah Maybank

published: 22 / 3 / 2008

Operator Please - Interview


Five piece-teenage Australian group have just released their debut album, 'Yes, Yes Vindicative' and have played support slots with Bloc Party, the Go! Team and Maximo Park. Sarah Maybank chats to front woman Amandah Wilkinson about her group's intense self-discipline

"If you believe in a song you’re going to have to fight for it: 'I’m not changing it! Fuck you! Kiss my ass!'." Ten thirty on a miserable Saturday morning. Pennyblackmusic is nursing a level 10 hangover and wishing someone had invented asbestos telephone receivers. Because Amandah Wilkinson, Operator Please vocalist and human flamethrower, is opiniating with the multi-megawatt intensity of a rogue solar flare on the other end of the line. It’s probably our fault for mentioning interfering music execs. We should’ve realised it would be a sore point. "There’s SO many people who try to tweak your stuff. They tell you they’re helping you but they’re not. One time, some record company person told me: ; 'You need more hits'", she spits."Hits? I hate that word. It should be taken out and drowned. I’d rather hear, 'What a great arrangement,' not, 'That’s a hit'. I just thought, 'Okay, you write a song. Right here, right now – you force it out'. Then I went off and wrote ‘Leave It Alone’ which ended up being a single. Ha ha!" There’s plenty of Austalia's very own Ms Dynamite in the hyperactive zest of her band ("Yeah, I have a fiery temper. I inherited it off my mum"). But you don’t have to do much digging to see there’s also a lot of Tim Wheeler – and we don’t just mean in the radio-friendly tune-smithery. Music biz mythology has it that at just 13 years old, the steely focused Ash hit-meister sacked a member of one of his early bands for their lack of commitment. Boasting the kind of drive and work ethic that’d put Ms Madonna Ciccone to shame, you can imagine Amandah going one further, dragging him to one side and hissing, "Well, what took you so long ?". Amandah formed Operator Please in 2005 with Tim Commandeur (drums); Ashley McConnell (bass); Sarah Gardiner (keyboards) and Taylor Henderson (violin). Their sole aim was to compete in a high school Battle Of The Bands competition but it was immediately obvious the band had a future beyond polite applause from enthusiastic form teachers. So they relinquished the shambling post-school jam sessions fuelled with booze nicked from Mum and Dad’s drinks cabinet - that is, the fun bit. In its place was a Spartan regime involving practice, graft, sacrifice of social life, and additional practice on top of that. "We worked really hard and didn’t do anything but play music," Amandah shrugs. "We didn’t do any teenage stuff; getting drunk, partying. We played constantly. We played every show we could get. We entered every internet competition going." The result was something with enough hedonistic abandon to soundtrack many a messy evening’s worth of ‘stuff’ for teenagers not sharing their desire to conquer the music industry. And the retro punk-rock energy to get the old-uns creakily pogo-ing with joy. That ‘something’ soon got important ears wiggling. They caught the attention of everyone from night-time Radio 1 royalty Zane Lowe to, bizarrely, cult online gossip maven and blight of Hollywood, Perez Hilton. Bigger and better dates followed, including support slots with Bloc Party, the Go! Team and Maximo Park, and now they’ve gone international. Pennyblackmusic might have caught up with them, on the other side of the world, the morning after an instore at teeny north London indie outlet, Puregroove Records. But something about their grit and determination has "soon, you’ll be buying our tickets for a ton on eBay" written all over them. Over to you Amandah : PB : You’ve been brought over from sunny Australia to a cold, wet country, during the coldest, wettest month of the year. Do you feel like victims of some sort of practical joke ? AW : Ha ha! We lived here for three months a while ago, so it’s just a case of getting used to it. There are times when you do want to go home but that’s more about missing friends and family. The key is not to think about it just before you’re going to sleep and feeling a bit lonely. PB : How’s it going over here ? AW : We’re feeling really good and really happy. We’re out there doing what we do. Getting out there and sharing our music with people. There’s nothing much you can ask for - you don’t want to be sitting there creating stuff in your bedroom. You want to get out there and share it. PB : Why are you so disciplined ? Most people your age are sitting in the park getting wasted on cider. AW : We’ve done everything ourselves, so you have to be more grown-up than your average teenager. Plus my parents were really liberal with me. They always said, 'You do whatever you want but if you screw up, it’s your problem'. A few of my friends turned 18, went off the rails and really fucked up. But it’s harder to rebel when you’ve got nothing to rebel about. PB : Tell us about you and Perez Hilton. AW : A friend of his saw us on YouTube and sent him the link. I couldn’t believe it. My friend text messaged me: ‘You’re on Perez Hilton’. I was like, [disbelieving voice] ‘Shut up! Yeah, right!’. And then I looked, and we were there. No I’m not scared of him digging the dirt. There’s not that much gossip to tell about us. What you see is what you get, and there’s no conspiracies. Well, only the ones we invent to wind people up. PB : Any other famous fans? AW : Adam Green saw us in Berlin and we met him. He was really cool. And I’m told Silverchair like us. PB : Do you get grief from other bands jealous of your rocket-fuelled success? AW : Most definitely. It happens all the time. It just happens - it’s a given. Things happened for us a lot quicker than for a lot of people so they think we’re just a teen band that had it easy. They say things behind our backs – stuff like we’re just a flash in the pan - and think because we’re young. They can come up and say it to our faces, too. We had our own work ethic. We wrote the songs. We played constantly. These people, it’s just jealousy. Yeah, maybe people who started a few years ago didn’t have the benefit of MySpace, and that could be a stab in the back if you’ve been going for 10 years. But we played every show we could get. We entered every internet competition going. Anyway, if you thought you could be in a band and everyone loved you, well… [laughs]. It can get difficult, though. They’re insulting you and something, your music, that’s part of you. PB : Have you always been musical? AW : Yeah! I remember when I was about five and listening to Michael Jackson songs. I used to try to dress like him. I had studded boots and a leather jacket. Any photos? I’ve got video footage, but it’s never coming out! Oh, and Billy Ray Cyrus – ‘Achy Breaky Heart’. I loved his boots and his jeans and his hair, everything! But it’s all about Michael Jackson for me. I loved everything he was about, despite all that shit he got. No one knows what really happened. He’s an amazing musician and performer and that’s all you should focus on. PB : What have been the highs and lows of your ‘job’ so far? AW : To make an album – to me, that’s like, "Wow!". Playing shows; travelling; meeting new bands. The downside is missing people. My sister Vera’s my best friend and I miss her like mad. She does all our artwork and she’s a genius. Oh, and not being able to write or think because there’s so much going on. You have time to go to the loo, time to shower and that’s it. I hate being away from making and writing music. Nights out and partying, that’s a bit of a distraction too. Yeah, really! But it’s a great social release. PB : Finally, you’ve supported some really big bands, have you met any of your musical heroes? AW : I met Ben Kweller, and that was intense. Inside, I went all giddy school girl, but luckily, on the outside I was surprisingly cool. I was really pleased I managed to keep it together. See? People think I don’t get phased by things but I’m just a normal girl like everyone else. Normal ? Hmm, hardly. But we’ll let that one go for now. Thanks, Amandah.

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Operator Please - Interview

Operator Please - Interview

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Yes, Yes Vindictive (2008)
Fantastic indie punk-pop on debut album from Australian all-girl group Operator Please, unfortunately marred by appalling production work on singer Amanadah Wilkinson's vocals

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