Carmel E Lewis has it tough living half way between Gold Coast and Byron Bay. Every single weekend she struggles to decide which direction to travel to get her music fix. Sometimes she even goes all the way to Brisbane. She takes us through some of the big bad bands emerging from Byron and what makes them tick.
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When I first started going out regularly in Byron, six years ago, I didn’t know anyone so used to stay at The Great Northern Hotel. So did all the bands that played there. I got to party with some mad legends – Blue Juice, Papa
Vs Pretty, The Vines, Dune Rats, Horrorshow.
I could tell some tall tales and true, but what happens in Byron, you know the rest….. They don’t let out rooms there anymore except for band members, and I have been recruited as a last minute road manager, publicist, roadie and got to know the locals, so I usually find a spot to crash. Almost a local. Almost famous.
Dylan from Waxhead meets me at the Beach Hotel for a chat and a beer and we recount how we met.
About three years ago I ended up at (gate crashed) a 21st party at Red Devil Park, the old Blues Fest site. ELEGANT SHIVA had posted on facebook and I knew them, so I just rocked up. It was being fully catered for by Sailor Jerry –
food and booze laid on. I hadn’t had rum since the bad old Bundy days of teenage yore, and still cringe at the thought. But this spiced variety was delicious. Needless to say everyone was very merry. Joining Elegant Shiva on the bill were Pirates Alive, The Hated and Waxhead. It was a wild night of revelry. I don’t know whose birthday it was, but thanks.
Fast forward a few weeks and Waxhead are at The Cooly. Lead singer Josh told me it was their first ever gig. “We were awful,” he said. But I remind him that everyone was smashed on Sailor Jerry and nobody noticed or cared.
Then, I caught them at BIGSOUND at one of the after-after-parties in Ric’s Backyard. That’s three times now. That must make me…. something?
I was at Falls Festival later, working at a friend’s market stall with the flue. Scoffing liquid codeine followed by Sailor Jerry chasers. Bloody Jerry. But my mates the Waxies were on stage. I climbed up and joined them, dancing up a storm. No-one said or did anything. Security must have thought I was part of the act. The next morning bits slowly came back to me. OMG. I’m horrified. I wander around shaking my head in shame and disbelief. I see Danny, their bass player, walking towards me. I try to hide behind a tree. I’m mortified, but he comes round and hugs me.
“That was the highlight of the festival,” he laughs. Swallow me up now please sweet Mother earth. They think I’m a legend. I think I’m a bloody idiot. I guess I’m an honorary Waxhead now.
It took me a while to figure out who was who with their nick-names Froggy, Finny, Beggs and Moffo.
Moffo is Danny Moffat, Finny is Dylan Finemore, Beggs is drummer Mitchell Begg, aka Shrek. Or is it Shred? And Froggy, I ask? That’s lead singer Josh O’Neil Hammer, “because at school some kids thought he looked like a frog,” explains Dylan.
Before I know it the guys are playing gigs in Indonesia and Japan, surfing and gigging their way around and living the dream. This year they travelled through Europe as well as working and recording with George Carpenter, keyboardist with Jimmy The Saint and the Sinners, ex-drummer from The Delta Riggs, and musical master-mind.
“We’re keen to get our next EP out to the universe. Elliot and Alex from The Delta Riggs are also on board,” Dylan said. I’m loving the brotherhood, how they all pitch in.
There’s a good relationship between Goldie and Byron bands, I tell Dylan. I guess it’s because of the surfing thing.
“And the Goldie and Brissie have a good relationship?” Dylan asks.
I reckon there is still a bit of a rift, but I’m working on that. Building bridges.
It’s my circuit and we should all be one happy music loving family. Sharing each other’s couches.
The Badlands have had their current line-up for three years now. Singer Paul Adams and guitarist and mate Tommy Flint started out jamming together, with Tommy also a member of local outfit The Grains. A few line-up changes later amd, bass player Alexx McConell and drummer Massimo Tolli round out the foursome.
“That’s the line-up now,” says Tommy.
“For now?” I ask.
“Forever. ‘Til death do us part,” they chime.
We’re sitting at the Brewery/Buddha Bar having a chin-wag before their gig. Tommy and Paul played a side show at Splendour in the Grass and were spotted by a festival promoter who invited them to play at Swagger Festival in Victoria. They thought it was in Melbourne but it was four hours away in Bright.
Bright is a town I’m familiar with. It’s where I got married, bought a cabin and had kids. I worked at the hospital up at Mt Buffalo.
We get into a rave about the area, how special it is. The festival was held out Wandiligong but Massimo came down with some bug and ended up in Wangaratta hospital, so maybe their feelings aren’t as fond as mine.
Asking about their musical influences, Tommy says, “Paul and I are about the same age and Massimo and Alexx are about the same age but ten years older so we have a wide range of influences.”
“I like 60’s and 70’s stuff. Also music from the 90s and the whole grunge thing.
Alexx likes his heavy metal, like Pantera, so brings that heavier edge to our sound.”
“I was always into punk and rap,” says Paul. “I was heavily influenced by my oldest brother. I pretty much listened to Pennywise and NoFX. Dr Drey, Wu- Tang Clan.”
I’m, a bit surprised. Hadn’t picked that.
“More Rage Against The Machine type of rap. I like to keep the melody,” he explains.
“We’ve pretty much been underground. We were self-managed up until pretty much last week. We’ve picked up a booking agent, Ventura that manage Waxhead. We did a tour with them which was a lot of fun.”
2016 is looking like a big year for the band.
“We’re pretty much just four dudes who like to jam. Playing live is our biggest thing.”
New kids on the block, Sunrose, met at the Conservatorium in Lismore where they studied the Diploma of Contemporary Music. I didn’t know there was such a place or course. Lismore is such an odd town, full of surprises and the occasional mohawk. It attracts a lot of aspiring musicians.
A lecturer from the jazz-fusion band Crossfire, who has played Montreux with the likes of Herbie Hancock, has students flocking to study there.
Sunrose bassist Luke Mansfield still lives in Lismore. Singer Nick Bampton and drummer Ewin Lomas live in Possum Creek just out of Bangalow.
“Oh where all the rich people live,” I joke.
“Well Ewan and I live in a dairy shed’, says Nick. “I guess you can call that rich.”
We talk about how ten or 20 years ago all the touring bands played in Lismore, not Byron. Grinspoon hailed from there. There is still an underground scene there too, with its mix of hippies, punks, uni students, farmers and rednecks.
“And vagrants,” adds Ewin.
We’re out the back alley behind The Northern Hotel. The guys are about to do their sound check before their gig with Richard in your Mind.
Nick says he’s quite surprised at how many gigs they have been getting, being so new to the scene. I’ve seen them three or four times now.There’s something quite mesmerising about their calmness and young professionalism. Hypnotic psychedelica.
I ask about their favourite gig so far.
“Opening for Immigrant Union here a few weeks ago was epic,” says Nick.
“Yeah,” I tell them. “They’re friends of mine. They said they liked you too.”
Smiles all ‘round from the boys. Being complimented by legends of the biz such as Brent from The Dandy Warhols. That’s pretty damn high praise right there.