published: 23 /
In the first part of a two part interview, Tommy Gunnarsson speaks to Tali White and Mark Monnone from the long-serving Australian indiepop group the Lucksmiths about the art of songwriting, and why they prefer independent labels
For many living in southern Europe or in other parts of the world, Sweden is often described as the “very cold country up north, where there are polar bears walking among humans on the streets”. Well, that’s not really true. But it can sure be cold as hell in the winter time, and this particular Friday was certainly one of the coldest so far this winter. What a perfect evening to snuggle up among 100 of Malmö’s indiepop fans and swing your hips to the sound of Australia’s very own The Lucksmiths!
The group, a Melbourne-based three piece, first formed in 1993 and consists of Tali White (vocals, drums), Mark Monnone (bass, vocals) and Marty Donald (guitar, vocals). They have put out various singles and EPs on the Australian label Candle Records, the American labels Matinee and Drive In, and the British label Fortuna Pop ! They have also released seven albums, 'The Green Bicycle Case'(Candle Records, 1995), 'What Bird Is That ?' (Candle Records, 1996), ' A Good Kind of Nervous' (Drive-In/Candle Records, 1997), 'Happy Secret'(Drive-In, Candle Records, 1999), 'Why Doesn't That Surprise Me' (Drive-In, Candle Records/Fortuna Pop, 2001), 'Where Were We ?'(Matinee/Candle Records/Fortuna Pop !, 2002) and 'Naturaliste' (Drive-In/Candle Records/Fortuna Pop !,2003).
An hour or so before their gig at Café UFO at Möllevången in Malmö, I got the chance to talk to Tali and Mark, and when we had found a backroom to use for this very event, I pressed “rec” on my cassette recorder, and off we went…
PB: How did you form?
TW: You do the short version…
MM: OK, I’ll do a short, short version. We are all expelled from the same high school, so to keep us off the streets, our youth workers made us join a band together, and originally there was 15 people in the band, but…
TW: We were the only ones who could stay out of prison.
MM: Yeah. The other ones all ended up in the big house. And we only had a small car anyway, so it sort of worked out easy that the three of us could fit into a little Honda Hatchback.
TW: The Honda Hatchback is actually the only true aspect of that whole story. Although we did go to the same high school we didn’t get expelled. We just started playing music together.
MM: We had a tambourine lying around, and we just wanted to do something with it.
TW. That’s right.
MM: And we thought a band would be the perfect outlet for the tambourine.
PB: Great idea! And it went really well, too. But there’s no tambourine left…
TW: Yeah, it’s on it’s way. The tambourine’s out getting drunk.
MM: We wanted to show the tambourine a good time…
PB: It’s out partying with Marty…
PB: Was it a dream of yours when you were younger… to play in a band?
TW: Well, I think we were all really into music even before we were in the Lucksmiths. We liked music of various sorts, and… But I think one thing that we haven’t done over the years is thought too far ahead, too big, too anything… we just of just gone “ok, let’s do this, it’ll be fun”, and suddenly you find yourself in a back room in Sweden, talking to some really nice people, thinking “how the fuck did I get here?”.
MM: Well, I am sorry to undermine your answer there, but I always wanted to be in a band when I was little. A couple of friends and me used to make cut out guitars out of cardboard and stick a bit of wood to it for the neck. Usually it was Paul Stanley’s Iceman-guitar from Kiss… We all tried to look like Kiss. In fact, my sister and I always wore their make-up. So, we wanted to be Kiss. I was always Gene, which is good, since I’m the bass player, but I haven’t had the tongue extension yet.
PB: So you stood in front of the mirror…?
MM: No, I didn’t get to a mirror until I was 15. Since then I haven’t been the same. Each time I see a mirror, I’m stuck there for half an hour staring at ny own reflection!”.
PB: What would be count as the biggest moment in the history of The Lucksmiths?
MM: There's been none, really. There haven’t been any good moments.
TW: There’s been lots and lots of good moments. It’s hard to say…
MM: Yeah, it’s all been one long high.
TW: Going back to my previous answer, that Mark shot down in flames, it sort of relates to it. But it’s kind of been one long process… it’s not like suddenly we have jumped 16 steps ahead in one swoop. It’s always been, like “let’s do this, this works… that was great! Let’s do something else now!”.
MM: If I can answer for Marty, who’s not here right now, the best thing that has happened to us is when during a tour of America, we discovered there are a lot more espresso coffee shops.
TW: That’s true.
MM: Up until then, we had always dreaded going on tour, as, at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, if Marty hadn’t had a decent espresso he would start to get headaches.
TW: And he’s a headache!
PB: If a major label contacted you, would you be interested? Like Sony, or Universal…
MM: If they gave us some Playstations, perhaps…
TW: I don’t know. We never really had to deal with that.
MM: Yeah, I don’t know… It’s kind of like… Probably not. All the labels we’re on, we are really good friends with the people, it’s like they’re an extension of the band. It’s not like we have to stand on our toes to impress them or anything. They are always encouraging towards us and if we want money to do something, it’s like we have to…
TW: Mortgage out our non-existent houses.
MM: Yeah… even if they are a small label, they can help us out with these things. For instance, we have just been in England for three weeks and we stayed on our record label’s floor during that whole time. It’s not money or anything, but it’s a roof over the head.
TW: You don’t see David Geffen calling up… whoever is on his label… and telling them they can sleep on his living room floor.
MM: No, you don’t see that at all.
TW: But, you know, if Sony Brazil contacted us… or somewhere we don’t have any proper distibution…
MM: Yeah, we can be like all those famous actors who don’t sell and don’t do advertising, except for in Japan or somewhere. They go: “well, I have no integrity in that country”.
TW: Yeah, we’re totally mainstream in Korea.
MM: The Koreans are all over us…
PB: Ah, I recorded that…
MM: Oh no!
PB: Too bad. I will put this on the Internet…
MM: Oh no. I have some crowns (the Swedish currency, writer’s note) for you right here…
PB: The Candle Records thing, it all seems to be a big family…
TW: Yeah, it is.
MM: Yeah, we we’ve got Papa Crouchy, the main… erm… not schlong…what’s the word? The main… guy. Well, it is kind of like a family.
PB: Everybody is playing on each other’s records.
TW: Yeah, definitely.
MM: It’s very sleazy.
TW: I think there are lot of good bands that are not on Candle from Melbourne who are really good and are good friends of ours too. We met up with Sodastream recently, and… yeah, it’s kind of like an extended family that goes beyond Candle, but Candle is definitely the… ehm… there’s a lot of cross pollination.
MM: Yeah. I don’t know if you have heard the band Architecture In Helsinki?
PB: I have heard of them, but I have not actually heard them.
MM: Well, yeah. Some of them do work for the label, like make badges. They are a very crafty band. So, there are a lot of friend's bands that hangs out with the label. But they are on a bigger label. They have sold out.
PB: They’re not punk.
MM: No, they’re not.
PB: What’s the music scene like in Australia for a band like the Lucksmiths at the moment?
TW: Pretty good. The climate is quite warm at the moment if you’re a pop band.
PB: So it’s been worse?
TW: Yeah, there were a couple of years when it was over-shadowed by virtually everything else.
MM: Like drum’n’bass… and…
TW: Grunge, slow core, emo, hardcore…
MM: No, there are a heap of young bands that’s growing up, and they are doing lots of interesting things, so it’s very good.
PB: Are there any Lucksmiths rip-offs?
TW: No… We know of one band that plays Lucksmiths covers, but that’s
the only thing I have ever heard. But basically no. We have ripped ourselves off enough, so people don’t want to jump on our bandwagon.
MM: We’re so unfashionable no-one wants to rip us off.
PB: How would you describe The Lucksmiths to someone who has never heard you?
TW: Hmmm… shy, toasty…
MM: Shy? I wouldn’t say shy.
TW: Really? You don’t think Marty’s shy?
MM: Ah, yeah. Marty’s shy.
MM: Let’s think of a good analogy here…
TW: The oral equivalent of tea and toast in the morning.
MM: You know in those Christian ads, where there’s a couple walking on the beach with a dog and the sun setting behind them… if they we’re Christian, they would be a good image of the Lucksmiths.
TW: They’d probably be wearing better clothes.
MM: Yeah. Very well dressed. Sharply dressed.
TW: Sharply dressed.
PB: And if you would describe the music?
TW: Ah, the music!
PB: Well, that too…
TW: That’s a whole different matter…My stock answer to that is indiepop, because it’s such a broad term that people can just go “oookay” and then you run away before they get to ask more questions.
MM: If you get asked that question in Australia and you say indiepop, they will go “what the…?” and by that time you’re out the door.
MM: Very simple. The simplest music you can possibly think of.
TW: Apart from Jonathan Richman.
TW: Unassuming, melodic, lyrical indiepop.
MM: Really not inoffensive, though. We wouldn’t say that.
TW: We’re pretty harsh.
PB: You write songs too…?
PB: How do you write them, music first or lyrics first?
MM: They are all different. Each one is their own baby.
TW: I think it just depends on if you’re mocking around on a guitar and have a good bit of music, you might want to construct something around that or if you have an idea for… you know a lyric… whatever comes first basically.
MM: When I write songs I find the way they mostly happen is that I have a line in my head that has been there for a few days and then I pick up a guitar and then by accident that line will find a melody and you top it of with the music, some chords… and it just goes from there.
PB: Do you bring in finished songs to rehearsals?
MM: Sometimes. That’s what I mean… I guess, the bulk of the songs are written by Marty on a guitar, and he would just play us his song with full, completed lyrics and arrangements. And he’d go, “if you want to mess around with the arrangements, I’m open to suggestions…”, but we know he means “don’t tell me how to do it”. But we got all this bits and pieces of unused music, and sometimes we all just play together, and we’d say “maybe we can make something out of that”. There’s no formula really. There’s no mystery.
PB: Have you ever written any songs all three of you?`
MM: All three? Ehm…
TW: Yes and no.
MM: We all work on them together.
TW: Once a song has been brought to all three of us, then we put drums in and so on, and we try to make it sound the best we can. Usually I play something on the drums, and these guys will tell me what not to play, so I’ll end up playing something else. But I’m involved in the process, which is a good thing.
TW: I’m there. I’m actually in the room.
MM: Working with Tali on the drums is a little bit harder than working with a drum machine.
PB: When you listen to the earlier albums now, what do you think of them? Do you still listen to them?
MM: No. I only listen when my mum forces me to listen to them in their house. She’s like “oh Mark, let’s listen to this one”… It’s the only CD’s she’s got. So, it’s a bit of a worry.
TW: The last time I heard something off the first tape we made was after a gig I was at and a DJ came on and actually played a track off the first tape, and it was incredibly embarrassing because I sounded like a girl with a cold, like so nasally, so high… I sounded like a muppet.
MM: You will never be able to go back there…
TW: I will never go back there!
PB: But a lot of people are asking for old songs at your gigs…
MM: Yeah… occasionally we listen to them so we can remember how to play them, when people have been nagging us to play a certain song. And it’s inevitable when after six or seven years of not playing it, we may have forgotten it…
PB: You have a nice falsetto on 'The Jewel Thieves'…
TW: Yeah. I can’t quite make that high notes anymore. We did it for our tenth anniversary show and… yeah… even in my highest of high falsettos, I couldn’t quite make that final note. But the good news is that my doctor’s said that everything is fine, I’m through puberty.
MM: That’s good.
TW: Yeah. Good thing to be at 28. Through puberty.
To be continued in the next edition of Pennyblackmusic Magazine