WAKE IN FRIGHT: Tomás interrogates Alex Elbery

Click here to open the player and listen to this EP in another window while you read :D

My new EP Wake In Fright tells the story of my writing off a car by hitting a kanagroo in the middle of the desert - it wasn’t a record I intended to make. I started off doing a remix of Alex’s tune Kangaroo and ended up bored in a motel room in Christchurch last xmas playing with bits and pieces. And then it slowly slid together. Anyway, have a listen, have a read. Alex's music is well worth checking out - he’s in a whole other universe to me, playing alt-country… pop… with a live show that incorporates some epic beatmaking too.

We had this chat for a local magazine who ended up forgetting to print it. So here it is for you as a wee exclusive.

So, your song Kangaroo is an epic. What inspired it?

Hey thanks man. Kangaroo was inspired by a few things. I remember waking up on Christmas Day. My older brother had recently moved to Melbourne and we were staying together. He’d just gotten off the phone with a friend of ours back home who’s partner at the time was a policewoman. She was saying how the first call she had to go out on on Christmas morning was a 6am domestic violence call. That just got me. It made me hurt for the place I was from if that makes sense? Like in a weird way it summed up a lot of the bad shit you’d see growing up in WA. It got me thinking a lot about the pain many of the people I knew growing up there went through. Then I got to thinking how amazing those people are for rising above and moving forward with their lives and I just wanted to try and write something that honoured that, something that could eulogise people’s pain and hold some space for them to just exist in. It was also inspired by driving. I was working a job where I drove a truck for 12 hours a day delivering construction equipment. I’d never been so exhausted in my life. And everyone I encountered on the job was just so tired and worn out and grumpy and I’d drive around listening to the beat that eventually became the original demo for kangaroo and I’d just sing over it to soothe myself between deliveries. I’d lived over east for 2 years at this point and was starting to feel pretty lost and alone. Kangaroo was an attempt to bridge the distance between who I was and who I’d been before, between where I was and the things that were all too far away.

Kangaroo is full of densely packed language and images. It's more evoking a place and yearning than storytelling, which I feel like is often more the focus in your stuff. Does that sound right or am I tripping?

I think I inadvertently answered this question in my previous response. Surmise to say; both. You are right and you are tripping.

Your version Kangaroo, for me, is a song that brings together all the best things about your songwriting. It's the kind of song that you would hope would become a calling card for you. I think it's the kind of song but you'll still be playing live 20 years from now because it seems like one of those tunes that embody a certain period of a career. For an independent release it seemed to do quite well, but it is fucking hard to get anywhere with this stuff. Did its' reception meet your expectation?

I try not to have too many expectations. I’ve found that it’s a good way to be disappointed constantly so I try to shut that out and just work as hard as I can. That being said, it’s your baby and you want it to be loved and find love and have a place in the world and it’s still sucky when that doesn’t happen. I wish it did better but I’m also grateful for the people who responded to it in the way they did. I always play it at gigs and it probably will have a second life as part of a larger release. I’ve got some hot shit I’ve just finished working on so Kangaroo is gonna have to stay stewing in its own juices for a while. I hope it does have more life in the future.

It started as a remix of Kangaroo, but in the end I've used your recordings as a basis to tell a story about crashing my car on the Nullarbor. It really helped me, it opened up a story that I have been trying to tell for about 3 years. We've had a few conversations about attribution through the process because it's obviously more than a remix EP but you know it is also a remix ep can you tell me a little bit about how you see this project and your involvement in it?

Man, stories are good like that. They can diverge and run parallel and intersect at points. I use a lot of sampling in my music so I totally understand using an existing body to project a different story through. It’s new to be on this end of it. I’m stoked with what you made of it and am just honoured somebody who’s given me a lot of good energy and opportunities over the years found a use for something I made within their own work. Thanks mate.

I really love our friendship. Like, generally. But also as artists - I like how Divergent our creative interests are. It always seems like we are Crossing Over on a big part of a Venn diagram of artistic interests but that the rest of the diagram has heaps of stuff in it on both sides. Your circle veers a lot rootsier than my pretentious artwank one and I know theres stuff you like that I just could never. What is some stuff that you see me be into that you just can't get behind?

I don’t know to be honest. I don’t really know what you’re into. It’s far to underground and artsy and cool for me to even know what is. I only know what you’re NOT INTO. Such as Bruce Springsteen. I also imagine you’d scoff at my love of Joan Armatrading. This question is making me grouchy let’s move on…

Apart from Kangaroo the remixes on this ep are of tracks that you've recorded for an album which you have since rethought. Tell me about how that's going and of the tracks I have used on this EP are there any that are likely to just disappear?

I hope none of them disappear. Some will probably come out as album tracks. I basically just reassessed after about a year and a half, releasing 2 singles off it, I just realised I was tapped out and nothing was really hitting where I was aiming so I just decided to take a step back and do some new shit. Hopefully that can engage an audience willing to dig in to a denser collection of songs. I still back them, it’s a good record, I just didn’t want to release into an abyss.

You are really active in the Perth music community for a long long time with bands like Mulder and Stereoflower. You're based in Melbourne now; how has that been for you? What have been the benefits but also what do you miss about working and making music in Western Australia?

It’s been really good and really horrible to be honest. I miss the community in Perth. It felt like everyone just wanted each other to succeed. I’ve found people like that can be harder to find over east. It’s so oversaturated with talented people. That’s been one of the really good things. Having to reassess everything I do through the lense of ‘why should anybody care about this?’ Like, what is it that’s interesting about it... found it? Now zoom in.... enhance it. THERE!

I'm always interested in peoples career plans in this industry because opportunities are so weirdly limited for musos in Australia. You are making a very solid of it, how are you getting by and when you look around at the industry what do you see as your spot in it?

Any money I make comes from busking, teaching and the occasional good show. There’s a few other things I do like playing music with the Big Hoo Haa which keeps me sharp. The industry or scene or whatever is so transitory and hard to predict that I just try to stay consistent and work hard and hopefully eventually the timing and the luck and all that will line up. The whole make up of the industry is changing and I hope it continues to change. Eventually I hope to be the token white male that’s still allowed to be relevant in a much more colourful and diverse culture.

Getting back to the songs, it's been interesting to watch the subject matter of your songs evolved over time. What are you interested in writing about at the moment?

I’m really interested in writing love songs to my cockatiel, Hamilton at the moment. He inspires me to no end. Birds are amazing both in real life and as metaphors. It’s also really fun to sample his whacky little voice and build beats from some random melody he was singing. Often I have to rehearse to a constant heckle of him screaming ‘freebird’ at me. Keeps me on my tallons. Sometimes I listen out for phrases or bits of conversation that for whatever reason draw me in. Then I’ll expand it out from there. I’m really interested in the world around me but also probably a narcissist so it’s like ‘what is this and what does it mean in the context of me and my life.’ It works the other way around too I guess... like who am I and where do I fit in the world. I’m very self-conscious you see Tomas, I didn’t know we’d be getting so personal.

It was interesting to watch your evolution when you went to Melbourne, you really embraced a more alternative country vibe. I mean, you even had a band for a bit! When you lived in Perth you had the electronic band mulder and also the more alt-countryish vibe of Stereoflower. Now you play an amazing solo set with loops at Electronica and organic instruments and it feels like the two streams of your song writing career have come together really nicely. What's driven that progression? Where do you see your "sound" going?

I’ve been lucky to be part of this program that’s run through the studio where I record. Basically; over a series of months you get to meet with all these knowledgeable people and pick their brains and have discussions about stuff and there’s also stuff you have to do like write 50 songs in a month. I did that twice. I think moving through a 100 songs or so in the span of a year has been a good way to get all of the shit out that’s in the way of really good songs. If your aim is to just write you kind of clear out your cache pretty early, then your free to really get creative.. When you have no ideas left. I see myself continuing to fuck with sampling and weird production stuff, writing songs on piano and acoustic guitar and then trying to pull it all off my by myself on stage. My life’s an ongoing sisyphus-esque nightmare and I love it baby.