In Issue One of Kill Your Darlings, Justin Heazlewood wrote: ‘If the album isn’t dead, it’s certainly lying in intensive care’. Killings spoke to him about how technology has changed the way we listen to music, which musicians can still make him sit up and listen, and what songs from Melbourne’s Number 86 tram sound like.
So the album’s dead?
Sort of. Although one hates to make generalisations, huh? I mean, you hear things like ‘Kids aren’t buying albums anymore, they’re just buying tracks off iTunes,’ but I suppose you have to take it all with a grain of Salt ‘n’ Pepa.
The album is certainly sick. It’s like the second wave of the Nintendo generation. Remember when suddenly everyone’s attention span was drastically reduced by the flash-happy graphics of MTV and video games? Perhaps that is what is happening with music. Because you have your entire music collection at your disposal, you’re tempted to keep flicking between songs. In the old days, you just stuck on a CD and you would listen to that all the way.
You mention the ever-ubiquitous iPod and the tastemaker of the 90s, MTV. How do you think the way we listen to music has changed?
We take it for granted so much more now. We don’t expect to have to pay for it, yet we want it to be there on tap. Ironically, we pay more for water now, which used to be free, and pay nothing for music. I think the stakes have dropped a lot. A new album doesn’t mean as much. It’s the equivalent of getting free food from someone who works at a supermarket and throwing half of it out. We churn through songs and bands on our iPods in low-quality mp3 form. Meanwhile, bands are all sounding so similar with their Pro Tools super drums and artificial brightness – in some ways it’s a glutinous age, like the Roman Empire before the crash. Yes, it’s exciting to have all this choice, but for a generation of indecisive people – perhaps it’s too much.
What has made your ears sing lately?
Spoon’s ‘Transference’ is the best album I’ve heard in a long time. Before that, Bibio’s ‘Ambivalence Avenue’. I don’t listen to much music really. When you make your own albums you kind of ruin music for yourself. Your brain is honing in on the snare drum sound – it’s like a film student watching Neighbours for the camera angles. Overall, I’m still obsessed with Boards Of Canada, and trying to figure out how they make their sounds.
In ‘Lying in Intensive Care: The Plight of the Album’ (Kill Your Darlings, Issue One), you wrote ‘When I was fifteen, I recorded my first album of songs…most of them seven-minute power ballads about Jennie Garth’. Are any of the lyrics from your Jennie Garth power ballads still extant?
She left so many footprints on my heart.
I loved you, (x4)
I think many Melburnians could make an educated guess, but what’s on the new Bedroom Philosopher album, ‘Songs from the 86 Tram’?
‘Songs from The 86 Tram’ is an exercise in character exploration taken from the Melbourne Comedy Festival Show of the same name. In comedy, bogans get made fun of all the time, and old people and junkies are all easy targets. I was interested in taking on demographics that are rarely satirised in any way. Indie musos, wanky artists, middle-aged women and refugees all get a mention. My last album ‘Brown and Orange’ was all about me and delving into my own strange mind, so for this project I was keen to basically not be in the songs at all. Yet, at the same time, naturally, I’m in each of the characters in one way or another.
I’m always trying to find the perfect blend of music and humour, so that one doesn’t compromise the other. I want to write and record songs that are musically rocking and lyrically funny and engaging, that stand up to repeated listening and you could put on the background at a party without everyone suddenly calling cabs. With this album I feel like I’ve finally achieved it. After ‘Brown and Orange’ I wasn’t in a great place. The album took too long to make and was heavily delayed and burdened by all kinds of problems and it depressed me and took a great toll on my confidence and sense of momentum.
With ‘Songs from The 86 Tram’ I hadn’t done Melbourne Comedy Festival in four years, and sat down at my desk and literally wrote myself out of a hole. So to then essentially direct and produce the show myself, and have it go so well and win awards was enormously healing. Subsequently, the album was a dream to make. I learnt a bunch of lessons from the last one and had my band The Awkwardstra all fired up. And now that second single ‘Northcote (So Hungover)’ has gone so well I feel like I’m back on the map, not just the I’m So Post Modern guy. (‘Really…is he still going?’)
Finally, let’s do some future-gazing. What’s the next technological step in listening to music going to be?
The satellite hat: a surround sound, 24-bit stereo speaker hat that has access to every song in history that is bounced back from a series of satellites cruising the globe. Guaranteed at least six months continuous play until you die from cancer of the attitude.
Justin Heazlewood appears in Songs From The 86 Tram at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, March 25 – April 18. Click here for details.