Get your fix of Pseudo Echo’s synth laden licks

Pseudo Echo one of Australia’s most successful new romantic artists will be creating new waves of romanticism for fans converging into Jupiters Theatre in August, at the Gold FM Live concert. Pseudo Echo’s Autumnal Park and Love an Adventure albums produced between them five top twenty singles as well as their 1986 worldwide hit FunkytownTiffany Mitchell caught up with the man behind the band still passionate about his genre of music – Brian Canham on playing on Countdown, their sartorial style and developing those synth sounds that audiences still love to rock out to.

Having recently watched the two part documentary Do yourself a favour on the ABC last year, Pseudo Echo commandeered a large part of the story of Molly and Countdown – tell us of that time when and where you were discovered by this Melbourne music icon.

“It was called the Jump Club in Collingwood, an iconic venue in the day, a real hip venue, no cover bands, original material and original bands and at the time a place to see the ‘In Thing.’ We were lucky enough to pick up a few gigs there and were asked back a bit by the venue owners.  A friend of whom we went to school worked in the industry, at the ABC and she knew Molly. She said I’m going to get him to come to one of your shows,  we were excited but we thought nothing more of it (but you also think someone like that really won’t come to one of your shows).  At this stage we were building up numbers at our shows, getting a loyal following and a good response (we had only been together for 12 months at that time) and often the opening act.  We got to support Siouxi and the Banshees in Melbourne and after we played I would go out into the carpark and post handbills on every car, which escalated to the headlining act, which was good timing when we met Molly.  One night we saw the hat in the crowd, (thinking oh wow he is here!) so we played our hearts out. Then in comes this little posse – my friend and Molly!  He is the loveliest guy Molly, a very warm guy, not intimidating.  It’s all a good coincidence – he asked us if we had a record deal, had anyone approached us? We had nothing at that stage we were just chipping away. He told us that night he thought we were fantastic and will be in touch. We didn’t expect to really hear after that, then about a week later my manager called and said I just got contacted by Molly Meldrum and the ABC, they want you on Countdown… that’s like striking gold!”

“For a young band in those days we were still kids! To go on Countdown you were meant to have a record deal, you go on Countdown playing your latest single, they film it. We didn’t even have a single, so Molly said get in the studio, record something, come on Countdown and let’s do it.  It all happened after hours, the ABC crew all moonlighted and hung around and made a little set for us, they went all out! They must have pulled some favours and wanted to be a part of it. Countdown definitely embraced us and we became their mascots, it just unfolded from there.”

Not only did you bring in a new genre of music to Australian audiences  – you had this particular New Wave sartorial style.  Even your band’s recent media shot with the slick black combat clothes, you still have that sense of style. Where did you absorb this from?

 “I get that from my mum. My mum was definitely a style icon of her day, she was stunning, my partner Raquel likens her to Elizabeth Taylor or Sofia Loren, growing up I thought she was a movie star.  She had amazing hip boots and hair styled into a beehive, she looked like a go-go dancer. I can even remember her jewellery. I would put these big chains around my neck, slip on these big black boots and stand in front of the car and pretend I was Peter Frampton!”

“So I had an awareness of fashion, it was a big part of Pseudo Echo.  I was always thinking outside of the box, looking at what was going on, what was different or how we could be different. I grew up in the north western suburbs of Melbourne where there was a band on every corner in the mid 70’s.  I can remember when I was getting my band together all the bands sounded and looked the same. The best way to compete was not to compete, take a step left and do something that none of them were doing. For me that was synthesizers and having a bit of a look with makeup and hair – stepping right out, it was bold for the time. Bands that were playing at the time were wearing t-shirts and jeans like Cold Chisel. I always thought it as a real ‘showman’ thing.  I can remember meeting a few instrumental people in my career like James Freud (The Models) and thinking God he looks like a rock star – he looked famous and was a budding muso just starting out.  I remember meeting Nick Cave in 76’ or 77’ he had on a black stove pipe suit, white shirt and dyed jet black hair sticking up and I thought, what’s going with that!  I thought this guy doesn’t look like the guys in my neighbourhood! So they were all the things that appealed to me to have a ‘look.’

One of my first investments was a similar pair of boots that the DJ at the Jump Club in Melbourne was wearing. He was the coolest guy and I later found out his brother was the keyboard player in Hunters and Collectors. He had the coolest boots I’d ever seen; black suede with the flap over the top and the buckles up the side, I thought these would look great on stage,  I paid $120 for them in the 80’s – it was a massive outlay and I’ve still got them. They’re very sentimental to me, things like that do make a difference. You’ve got to remember the punters are innocent kids and they’re looking at you on a stage and if you look just like them they can relate to you, but if you look different, more outlandish and more confident they sort of look up to you.  Those bands; INXS, Flowers, Icehouse, the Models, I can remember seeing these bands before they had record deals, they looked cool and there was something different about them.

I was listening to Triple J recently and I heard a song by Luke Million. His song Fear the night is the essence of Psuedo Echo 80’s pop, with synthesizers and drum machine. The electronica sound is popular again, who were your musical influences?

 “It’s a really nice feeling hearing that there has been possibly some influence or cited as someone’s influence. There were definitely some direct influences – it is quite obvious when you compare them from the period, probably Simple Minds would definitely be one of them – this was all the earlier stuff before they were well known here.  Ultravox was a massive influence, early Duran Duran, once they hit the mainstream, I was making my own music and they were all changing and moving into different genres, I guess it was all the dark stuff.  Probably one of my earlier influences that really got me on track was the French composer Jean-Michel Jarre. The first time I heard his music I thought who’s this? He recorded this music in 1974 and I can remember my father had a grouse reel- to- reel recorder, one of those old fashioned Pioneer ones, he heard it being played on a radio station, (he used to scour stations) he heard it, recorded it and called me in and said ‘have a listen to this, you will really like it!’  My dad was into jazz and really hip music like that, so it was quite unusual that he liked electronic music but I guess it’s got good melody content and the musicality is quite deep in it. I remember we ordered it on vinyl, which was the only medium back then and took forever to come. When we finally got it, it was very very influential to me because it was completely synthetic and electronic and it sounded like nothing I had ever heard before.  I was on a mission then to discover who he was – my main instrument was guitar which was in a way a blessing because now I didn’t delete the guitar completely out, I gave the guitar the hit of electronics which gave it that sound.”

And those drums … those hand claps …  the drummer is now centre stage. With the introduction of the electronic drum machine, how did it become the game changer for the Pseudo Echo sound.

“The drums were also a big big part of Pseudo Echo because of the music I was listening to. When I was creating music I saw the drums as another instrument as well.  I didn’t see them as a just a beat, I saw them as very catchy, you could fix it with little rhythms, like little clap rhythms or patterns if they were, they would stand out rather than just a boring beat. When I started doing the first music for Pseudo Echo we had just an electronic rhythm/drum machine because we didn’t even have a drummer, so the parts were very composed, they weren’t just something that you would jam along and start playing like a normal drummer would, they were very organised and systematically placed – symmetrical.”

“We definitely had our sound but what we did find onstage, when we performed live was that it was very stagnant, there was no physical body moving on stage with that beat, we were just standing there singing and playing our keyboards, not a lot of physical movement, whereas a drummer is like a live pulse within the band.  You can see the energy on stage coming from a drummer and I did notice a lot of bands that were using drum machines at the time were thinking this is a cool way to go, but I guess there was a big disadvantage with the energy on the stage, so we went about looking for a drummer who could comply to what we programmed, who wouldn’t just make it sound like Led Zeppelin – we wanted it to sound the same. I had seen Anthony Argiro in a band once, in a battle of the bands that we played at and we exchanged numbers as we had the same love of cars. I called Anthony up and asked him whether he wanted to audition or try out for my band.  He came over, tried out and straight away we knew he was the guy – he played very robotic-like but still human and we also said we can’t just have a regular drum kit, because it sounds all messy and rock and roll, we need it to sound more like the machine again. We read up on this drum kit that was being invented in the UK and found some articles in some magazines and we rang the store in London.  We had to wait until twelve o’clock at night to call this store and say we wanted to buy that drum kit – and it was bloody expensive!  I think it was $4,000 – that’s a lot of money now to pay for a drum kit!   I don’t know where we got the money, from gigging a lot, we all had day jobs (I was a cabinet maker) we would all put in. We even had to ask a friend’s father who worked in a freighting company to organise to get it shipped to Australia – it was so complicated but was worth it and I remember we had good following, it was only the three of us and then we rehearsed Anthony up and  the drum kit finally arrived and I remember the gig that we played, it was called Macy’s in Toorak Rd South Yarra, we alternated Saturdays with the likes of  INXS, The Radiators, Mondo Rock and the Divinyls. The night we played we had the drum kit covered over like a veil and our roadies went off and our intro came on, which was the Jean-Michel Jarre Oxygene track that we always used. As it comes on we unveiled the drum kit and it was like this fully futuristic electronic kit, the crowd just roared into a big applause and they were just looking aghast at it! We never looked back from the day we got Anthony and the drum kit. That night we all thought how cool was that! For local gigs we still use that electronic drum kit today. A few things have changed here and there, we use different shaped pads – some of its vintage – some of its new, but it’s all electronic and the same sound.

So embrace your inner Molly and do yourself a favour.  Grab some friends for the August 28th concert – visit your local vintage record shop, flick through the covers of those great art designed sleeves for ideas to style or fringe up and take some pics of your favourite bands you wish you could’ve captured way back then.

Gold FM Live! – Jupiters Theatre, Jupiters Hotel & Casino. ‘One night, 10 artists, 30 massive hits!’ Friday 28th August. Tickets on sale at https://www.jupitersgoldcoast.com.au/entertainment/

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