The Others is a supergroup that formed from an idea that Spiderbait drummer Kram had imagined with two of Australia’s greatest musicians, Paul Grabowsky and James Morrison – all because of their love and passion for jazz music. They will be playing their third ever gig at Chevron Gardens this Sunday, February 10, in a fully improvised show that has been seen or heard before. KAREN LOWE had an in-depth chat with Kram about all that jazz ahead of their upcoming performance.
You have formed an improv supergroup with Paul Grabowsky and James Morrison which you will be bringing to the Perth Festival. How did it all come about? And how have your performances been received so far?
I’ve known James and Paul for years and I was doing a TV show with James (The Micallef P(r)ogram(me)) and I asked him if he wanted to have a jam; just make it up as we go along. Then I was playing at Melbourne Jazz Festival and I saw Paul and I asked him the same question. I just had this idea of playing a tripped out, three piece instrumental band and I always wanted it to be those guys so the fact that they were interested was really great. I remember James got up at one of my solo shows and played a couple of songs so yeah, I’m a big fan of both of those guys and just love their work.
We didn’t actually get together and have a jam until some years later and that was a few years ago. James flew his own plane down to where I was staying on the south coast and flew me back up to his studio. It was totally prog rock – the whole experience. It was really great and so trippy. We just literally started playing at his studio and the first track that we made was called First Contact because it was like three alien entities connecting for the first time and it was this beautiful, amazing 12 minutes of music that was just created on the spot. We all just looked at each other at the end and I remember on the recording hearing Paul crack up laughing going this was fantastic. It was just so much fun. I think we were kind of giddy with excitement.
We’ve all been playing music for over 30 years each of us but when you get that excitement from creating art spontaneously, it’s one of my favourite feelings and we just knew straight away that there was something special about this band. Adam Simmons, who was the director of the Wangaratta Jazz Festival, asked us to re-form (or form) and play for the first time at that show. We had been trying to get it together for so long but I’ve never known three people with more crazy schedules so to actually play, to be finally here talking to you and play a few shows this year and having done a few is just fantastic. The show at Wang was just incredible and we had a line up around the block to get in and people gave us a standing ovation.
How much of your performance is improvised right there on stage? And did you find that you had to learn to play a different way?
One hundred percent is improvised. We don’t have any idea of what we are going to play. This is the kind of premiss of the band – the modus operandi. This is our constitution and I realised this from the first day so we did the same thing when we played at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival last year at the Recital Centre. We also noticed that our second show was very different to the first. The venue sounded different, the drums… we realised that every time we play, it’s going to be completely different. I remember we did a promo for that show in a very small piano centre and that was really intimate so when we got to the Recital Centre, it was like prog rock. I played behind this perspex screen that they put up for me and I really liked that whereas Wang was a lot more like a theatre show.
This Perth show will be totally different. This will be our third ever show and it does require a bit of courage I guess to do it but that’s the whole point and that’s why we’re all so excited about the band. We’re really trying to challenge ourselves individually and collectively. What we’ll play in Perth has never been heard before and will never be heard the same way again.
Jazz can either unite people or divide them as so many either love it or hate it. Why do you think jazz does that? And if you could say one thing to try and get those that don’t get jazz to try and understand it, what would that be?
I would definitely say to watch the Ken Burns Jazz documentary (Jazz, 2001). It’s a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking. It just tells you so much about what the music is about, all the brilliant musicians, the history of it, where it comes from. How basically, through blues and jazz – rock and roll was created, and thus pop music.
You know, I’m a rock star and all that kind of stuff and that’s where it all came from. It came from black American musicians in New Orleans who started this culture which has taken over the world. Just go onto Netflix and watch it. It’s one of those things where if someone makes a great movie or a great documentary that you didn’t quite know much about and then all of a sudden, you become a total enthusiast so I think that’s one way.
I think jazz gets a bad name from a lot of people thinking it’s a middle of the road type of music and it’s this thing that it never used to be. Listen to Charlie Parker or John Coltrane. There’s nothing middle of the road about that shit. I think that maybe somewhere in the world; and I’m not saying that all jazz is the middle of the road or anything like that but the perception of the mainstream – kids out there and audiences sort of get this thing where it’s chilled, relaxed music to have a Chardonnay to but it’s actually not. It can be like punk rock and a rebellion against stuff or it can be beautiful, incredible dance music like Benny Goodman who was the first guy to have black guys and white guys in the same band. There are some amazing stories there.
That’s part of what this band’s about. I just wanted to ask the guys if they wanted to do something that had a bit of risk and it was a bit dangerous and I really felt that audiences would get that. I know from people who’ve seen our show – and some members of my own family don’t like jazz – but they said they’d never seen anything like it and they absolutely loved it. It gave them a gateway into music that they never thought they would ever love.
Jazz seems to have changed over the years and feels like it’s less improvised and more structured. Why do you think it’s changed?
I think one of the things that’s happened with jazz and blues and country – that’s three examples of the music that’s stylistically changed due to the production quality of recordings. I think you’ll find that if you listen to old Myles Davis’ records or old Johnny Cash stuff or Hank Williams or Loretta Lynn or if you go back and listen to really old blues stuff – there’s a great Robert Crumb history of blues, folk and country CD out there that’s really worth checking out.
Some of it’s just so lo-fi and there’s something about certain types of music that being lo-fi, makes them sound better. A great example in modern context and in a Perth context is early Tame Impala stuff and the way Kev (Parker) recorded a lot of those early records in a very lo-fi way. It just allows so much air to exist in the sound. If Kev had gone to get the first Tame Impala EP produced by the guy who produced Tool, it would be a completely different energy.
While a lot of bands don’t tend to come to Perth (at least on a regular basis), you’ve always made an effort to make sure you get out here. What are some of your favourite memories of Perth? And what do you think other bands are missing out on by not coming here?
I play in Perth so much. The last few Spiderbait shows have been fantastic and thanks to all the fans who come out. I do think one of my favourite ever Spiderbait shows or Perth experiences was when we played with Midnight Oil last year. I read a review after of that show and it was very complimentary so that was really nice to read but just the feeling of the audience to play such a large crowd and playing with our most favourite band of all time. There was a real sense of euphoria in that room that the three of us had with that audience.
Also, I remember playing Southbound a few years ago which was really amazing too. I actually got so overwhelmed by emotions that I think I started weeping on stage so that’s always a good sign that you are really into the gig. It was 36 degrees and I’d broken a rib in Tassie jumping off the kit and then I’d almost been crushed by the crowd when I went out into the crowd at Lorne so by the time I got to Perth, I was almost completely fucked so it was really nice that I was able to finish that and made it through. The crowd really helped.
I remember playing the Rock-It Festival many years ago and I have great memories of that and the Perth Big Day Outs – we had some great times but there have been other weird ones. We had an incredible show at The Astor a few years ago which I think was one of our best Perth shows ever. One of the last trips I had a really long rave with one of the guys from The Stems who probably started it all in a way and it was as awesome as ever. Love, LOVE WA.
We just can’t wait to come and do this show and it’s the type of band that needs to play. It’s a little bit tricky to explain to people and like you say, I really agree with you – there’s a lot of prejudice against jazz out there. The Others just really need to be experienced, even if you had a recording, just to see it happen. It really is a bit like theatre unfolding before your very eyes as the interaction between our personalities is just as much important as the music that’s going on. For me, to be in a band where I don’t sing and I haven’t played this kind of drumming for many years – not since I studied music when I was in theatre, it’s just really exciting. I have no idea what’s going to happen and I can’t wait for it to happen.