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Leaf Mosaic - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 4 / 5 / 2024

Leaf Mosaic - Interview


Former Sugargliders vocalist and guitarist Josh Meadows talks to John Clarkson about his memories of Sarah Records, his new band Leaf Mosaic and 'The Branch Line', its contribution to the new 'Under The Bridge 2' compilation.

Josh Meadows was the vocalist and guitarist Melbourne-based guitar pop band The Sugargliders, which he formed with his younger brother Joel, and who released ten singles between 1990 and 1994, including six on the seminal Sarah Records. Meadows now plays in electro duo Leaf Mosaic with synth player Matthew Sigley. Leaf Mosaic appear on the new 'Under The Bridge 2' compilation, which features tracks from former Sarah Records group members in their current acts, with the soaring New Order-esque 'The Branch Line', which tells of love found on a train during an Australian heatwave. Meadows spoke to Pennyblackmusic about touring the UK with The Sugargliders in the early 1990s, his memories of Sarah Records, Leaf Mosaic and 'The Branch Line'. PB: Most of the bands that had come out of Australia by the time the Sugargliders signed to Sarah Records in the early 1990s were pretty macho and testosterone-fuelled – AC/DC, Radio Birdman, The Saints, The Birthday Party and INXS. You must have felt like a fish out of water. Were The Sugargliders consciously rebelling against that? JOSH MEADOWS: The pub rock scene was deeply entrenched in Australia in the ’80s and ’90s. It did facilitate the spread of a lot of macho rock bands. When grunge swept the world in the early ’90s, that seemed to turn much of the so-called alternative scene very aggressive and macho too. So, yes, we were a bit of a strange creature in Melbourne at that time! That’s not to say we didn’t have friends and like-minded bands to play with. Girl of the World, the Cat’s Miaow, the Earthmen, the Fish John West Reject, the Underground Lovers, Ripe, the Daily Planets, Captain Cocoa. There was a good cohort of bands we used to play gigs with. I don’t think Joel and I were consciously rebelling against the macho sound. We were just making music that felt real to us. We were trying to understand the world we were living in and express that in songs. PB: You have said about Sarah Records in Jane Duffus’s book that “it was very much a time of idealism and it was a time when it was alright to be idealistic.” Was that the main appeal to you of signing to Sarah that they had ideals? JM We were absolutely thrilled to be picked up by Sarah. We were already fans of the bands on the label, especially Another Sunny Day, the Orchids and the Field Mice. Matt Haynes and Clare Wadd’s unashamed idealism was important to us. Joel and I were awake to all that was wrong with the world – inequality, racism, sexism, environmental destruction – and we loved the way Sarah wasn’t shy about standing against those things. Our songs weren’t always protest songs, but they were a product of who we were: a couple of brothers in their early 20s trying to make sense of the world and believing the way you live and the choices you make matter. From what we could gather from Clare and Matt’s 7” inserts and the liner notes on ‘Shadow Factory’, they seemed to be coming from a similar perspective. We loved the way they refused to release extra tracks that would entice fans to buy multiple formats of essentially the same release and we loved their DIY punk attitude to making, distributing and marketing the records. PB: How easy was it to be a Sarah Records band from halfway around the world? The only other Australian Sarah band was Even As We Speak, whom you had never met. JM: At times we felt a bit isolated, especially when we heard about Sarah bands playing gigs together and touring together. It would have been great to have done that. We did tour England once, in 1992. The band at that time was Joel, me and Robert Cooper. Clare and Matt were incredibly hospitable to us and went above and beyond a label’s responsibilities, lining up gigs for us up and down the country and letting us stay with them when we were in Bristol. We played in London, Reading, Oxford, Sheffield, Leeds and Bristol and had gigs with several of our Sarah labelmates: Heavenly, Boyracer (who put us up on their floor after a great gig at the Duchess of York in Leeds), Secret Shine, Brighter and Blueboy. We also played with some other excellent bands, including Greg Webster’s Saturn V. While we were in the UK, we recorded the ‘Ahprahran’ 7” with Ian Catt, plus a couple of songs with Jyoti Mishra of White Town which ended up on the b-side of the ‘Trumpet Play’ 7”. We packed a lot into six weeks. It was our only trip to the UK because we couldn’t afford the air fares to do it again. I admit it does seem strange that we never linked up with Even As We Speak! We were aware of them, of course, and loved their music. All I can say in our defence is that Australia is a very big country. Melbourne, where we lived, is 870 kilometres Even As We Speak’s home city of Sydney. PB; The Sugargliders did ten singles, but never released an album in their lifetime. The ‘A Nest with a View’ compilation came out in 2012. That would have been quite a good time to reform – and you could have played quite a decent UK tour – but you and Joel elected not to, concentrating instead on your then project The Steinbecks. Did it seem better to leave things as they were and keep things pure rather than regurgitate things to possibly lesser returns? JM: I think of the Sugargliders songs as a reflection of who Joel and I were at that time. Singing those songs now would feel strange and a bit phoney. Having said that, when ‘A Nest with a View’ came out on Popboomerang and Matinee in 2012, we did have a launch party in Melbourne, where a bunch of our contemporaries – Bart & Friends (Cat’s Miaow), Tim Best (Girl of the World), Mark Narkowicz (the Fish John West Reject), Mark Murphy (Ripe), Adam Dennis (the Jordans), Matt Sigley (the Earthmen… and now Leaf Mosaic!) – performed versions of various Sugargliders songs. The night ended with The Steinbecks doing a short set, including a few ’gliders tracks. From memory, I think we did ‘Reinventing Penicillin’, ‘Letter from a Lifeboat’ and ‘Yr jacket’. Perhaps ‘Ahprahran’ too. Scott Thurling of Popboomerang Records came up with the idea of the launch party. It was hugely enjoyable, but I can’t really imagine doing a full tour playing just Sugargliders songs. They are the songs of much younger men than we are today. I think your suggestion is right: it seems better to leave things as they were. PB: Leaf Mosaic is an “electro pop” project featuring yourself and Matthew Sigley. You have played in guitar bands before, both with The Sugargliders and The Steinbecks. How do you find working in an electronic project in comparison? JM: Leaf Mosaic is the first musical project I’ve been in where synths are prominent. The Sugargliders, the Steinbecks and my collaboration with Nick Batterham, the Bell Streets, have all been guitar-led. Jangly guitar pop is my first love. But I’ve also been a long-time fan of New Order, Electronic, the Human League, the Thompson Twins and the Pet Shop Boys, so it has been heaps of fun to start making pop songs with synths at their heart. Matt Sigley has some lovely keyboards and he’s constantly messing around with them, coming up with new song ideas. Our first song, ‘Bullet Train’ was built around an Oberheim DX drum pattern – the drum machine used by New Order on ‘Blue Monday’ – and a rising chord progression Matt played on a Vox Continental organ. On top of that he layered some parts with a Roland Juno 106. There are bass and guitar parts too, but the keyboard sounds do a lot to create the mood of the song. They’re not just there for a bit of colour. Another song of ours, ‘Particles’, features a Korg Poly 800 synth with reverse black and white keys – an instrument Matt had long admired after seeing’80s synth bands from the Soviet Union using them. He found one for sale at a shop in Melbourne between Covid lockdowns. When he got it home, the first thing found on it was a simple sequencer that allowed him to store chords that could then be triggered by a drum machine. He wrote a chord progression in the sequencer, connected it to a Roland TR-8 drum machine and hit play. What emerged was the mesmerising Steve Reich-like pattern that forms the basis of ‘Particles’. PB: Leaf Mosaic was formed during lockdown. How does the songwriting between you and Matthew work? Has it changed much post-lockdown? JM: Matt writes the music; I write the words. Although on a few songs, Matt has already had a phrase or two to get me started. The Leaf Mosaic lyrics are part observation, part fantasy. I like to celebrate and memorialise things that are lost and out of reach because they contribute to who we are today. I try to delve below the surface meaning of words and phrases to try to find something that is subconsciously true, even if it isn’t linear or logical. Matthew and I have a shared language and love of music that has made creating these songs an act of intuition and a great pleasure. Post-lockdown, we have maintained basically the same pattern – coming up with the music and the words separately, then meeting up to put them together. PB: You have released three singles and an album has been long promised. Is it on its way? JM: Yes, it is! It’s just taking a while. PB: Your track on the first ‘Under the Bridge’ compilation was ‘Bullet Train’. On the second one it is ‘The Branch Line’. Is this a deliberate train theme? JM; Everyone loves songs about railways, don’t they? Most Sarah fans do, anyway! Maybe it’s all the public transport references on the Sarah inserts and the pictures of Temple Meads station… To be honest, those are our only two songs with train themes so far, but who’s to say there won’t be more in the future? PB: ‘The Branch Line’ sounds very New Order-esque. “Articulate your thoughts for me/Illuminate your mind,” What is the inspiration for the lyrics? JM: It’s about being infatuated with someone and wishing you could know what they are thinking, but being too shy or too scared to ask. It’s also got an ominous climate disaster thread running through it. We are all used to songs depicting summer as a time of friendly weather and carefree days, but of course for many of us, summer is now a time of some foreboding. ‘The Branch Line’ is set in an Australian heatwave with people sweltering and nervous about the prospect of bushfires. But it’s about infatuation and love existing in the midst of all that. The moment that best expresses that, I reckon, is just after the imposing “as the sun beats down” middle 8 when suddenly a joyful, spirit-lifting acoustic guitar solo, played by Liam ‘Snowy’ Halliwell, bursts onto the scene. It’s my favourite part of the song. PB; Thank you.

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Leaf Mosaic - Interview

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