Mister and Sunbird launch their new album, The Anatomy Of Mister And Sunbird, this Saturday, November 29, at The Oddfellow with support from Dilip & The Davs and Ragga Ting. BOB GORDON chats with vocalist/guitarist, David Lawrence.
Interesting album title! What does it say about the band and the music?
That we’re a fairly unusual beast with a lot of working parts, I guess. The title was just about the last thing we decided on – that stuff can get tricky as we have two writers working fairly independently, so it can be hard to agree on shared concepts. The title was Scott’s idea and fits in really well with the CD packages he’s designed – there’s a bound hardcover booklet that’s tricked up to look like a 19th century medical textbook, very nice. We share a fascination with the past and certain antique objects and styles, both have had important relationships with grandparents as well, I suppose. We hoover up musical references from the past, without ever trying to reproduce any genre too faithfully.
Was there anything you especially wanted to evoke given there’s been a few years since the last release?
Not exactly – the album is a collection of quite different songs from each of us which we worked hard to fit together aesthetically, but there’s not really a single overarching theme or message. Some of the tunes have been around for a while, some were more recently composed, so they’re not exactly a ‘batch’. There are still a few threads that run through it all, though they might not be immediately apparent. My tunes tend to be flights of fancy, daydreamed little worlds unto themselves that don’t relate directly to my daily life and experience. Music is an escape, for me. For unknown reasons I seem to keep coming back to rivers, theatres and secrets as themes, but there’s nothing I want to spell out didactically about those things. There’s a song for my young son which wonders what his dreaming life is like. Scott’s music is often concerned with the struggles and the joys of romance I guess you could say. His approach is playful but also quite moving and heartfelt. I’m sure he could expand on that better than I could. Also, there have been three children born to members of the band during the time since we last released an album, so I guess that’s had some effect on us all!
Has the songwriting process evolved much over the years?
Gradually. Each of us compose songs on our own then bring stuff to the jam room to work up with the ensemble. We don’t tend to nail things down too precisely in terms of final arrangements for a fair few of the tunes. When we first started playing together in Sydney as a three-piece we had a weekly three-hour gig on a Friday evening where we would be showing each other new material on stage, falling in with the songs bit by bit but leaving it up to whoever was singing each one to guide the band. We’re a bit tighter than that these days, but we can still set off on tangents without too much prompting. What has really changed is the recording process – having a home studio enables a lot more fooling around and experimenting with different elements, whereas when I started in music you had to go into the studio really precisely prepared because you couldn’t afford to waste any time in there, literally. Digital technology has changed everything out of sight on that front.
We’re living in the dark ages in Australia at the moment it would seem. Does it at least fire the creative spirit?
I know what you mean, although I’m trying to see it as the darkness before the dawn at this point, just to stay a bit sane. Imagine the kind of renaissance that could follow this phase. But yes, there’s a lot to be angry about, and it does fire me up, the pettiness and sheer bastardry of some of the current political leaders and public figures. Those feelings of anger and defiance, resistance and rebellion, are great resources for creativity – beautiful or exciting art can be made from those intense places.
That being said, I’m not really interested in making overtly political music. I don’t really believe that music changes the world, just that it reflects the changes in the world. It’s always been a bit of a precious refuge from the painful reality of politics for me, rather than a way to convey a direct message. I respect what people like John Butler and Michael Franti are trying to do but I don’t think it will ever feel like the right thing for me to do. I actually think comedy and satire are the best art forms to accommodate political criticism. Bill Hicks, Tim Minchin…
Fondula were rocking around the place this time 20 years ago. What are your memories?
Ha, many! A really healthy scene, the last part of the beer barn era, bills full of wonderful bands, lots of them featuring the bass as the lead guitar! We did a launch to a sold out Shenton Park Hotel in 1995 IIRC, nearly 600 punters for an unsigned band with no airplay, wow! Cinema Prague, Circus Murders, Storytime, so many really accomplished musicians around. Our old vocalist Cam Payne, stupendous character and what a voice – no wonder I didn’t gather up the courage to sing myself for years after.
Perth is such an archetypal suburban place, it’s been churning great bands out of those brick garages for decades. One indelible memory is from a Storytime launch gig at the Herdsman. They had flown The Meanies and the Painters & Dockers over from Melbourne for the show, which happened to fall the day after Perth’s new AFL team’s colours and club name had been announced. The Painters & Dockers came on stage dressed to a man in the new Freo footy uniforms, said, ‘Thanks for naming your footy team after us’ and ripped into their set. The traffic lights turned purple that night.
What’s the plan now the album is out?
Well, it did take us a while, so we already have enough material to start recording again pretty much straight away. We learned a lot about production through doing the last couple ourselves, and the quest to make better music isn’t about to end anytime soon. Really looking forward to touring this one first, though – we hope to visit Europe next year and renew musical friendships and contacts in Sweden, Germany, France and Spain, then tour Australia next summer.
Beyond that, we are all very curious about trying to tour in Japan and perhaps more widely around Asia. I also have a plan to build a studio into the shed at a new place of my mother’s down South, and aim to write a PhD which combines my day job as an ESL teacher with the neuroscience of music, exploring the links between musical and second language pronunciation aptitude. Just kicking back, really!