Carey O’Sullivan and Paul George met at high school on the Gold Coast and they’ve been in and out of eachother’s lives ever since. They shared their first ever job, at just 14, working in a retirement village – washing dishes and “picking up old ladies who fell off their mopeds,” they tell me. They’ve worked on termite eradication together, “digging trenches around houses and filling them with chemicals,” and they landed jobs, separately at the same music / tech store while living in London.
“I haven’t had a real job since 1998,” Paul tells me though. The last one being in a metal foundry.
“We’ve kind of been thrown into music.”
Tijuana Cartel are a bit of a Gold Coast institution. Always hard to pin down, a little elusive when it comes to media. They tell me some of the early criticism they received was around their lack of direction.
“But now, I’m thinking that could be a strength,” Paul says. “People used to say that they weren’t really sure who Tijuana Cartel are. Now it’s at the point where that is what we’re known for – that people don’t really know what we’re going to do next.”
That organic evolution of sounds and influences becomes pretty obvious the more we chat and the more I think about their music. From my own experience watching Tijuana Cartel play live (oh, we miss you Swingin’ Safari), their early days held a strong Moroccan-Mediterranean flavor.
“We always had that middle eastern sound,” they say. “But that’s progressed a little bit. These days we just kind of go in any direction and just go with it. The new album has a bit of that aesthetic, but it probably has more of an Australian influence.”
The album they’re referring to is Psychedelicatessen. Released just a few days before we speak. In fact, while we’re chatting the first review comes in (four out of five stars from Beat Magazine, for those curious).
The album is heavily influenced by What’s Rangoon to you is Grafton to me, a written piece adapted for radio which has become a cult classic. It’s a gonzo-style piece on the good ‘ol Aussie road trip down the east coast of Australia.
“It’s 40 years old,” Paul says. “A friend of ours played it while we were driving to the Sunshine Coast a few years back and we started sampling and using tracks. Eventually we used so many tracks we thought we’d base our album around that, so their story would be running through it and our narrative would match that.”
Russell Guy originally wrote Rangoon in 1978 for surfing magazine Tracks. The former host of Double J breakfast (1976-77) is now a journalist in Alice Springs, and that’s where Paul and Carey tracked him down.
“We had to find him,” Paul said. “He lives in the desert in Alice Springs – just an old tripper. He wrote back to us. He made the trip from Alice to our studio and we worked with him for a few days.”
The first song off the record, Lost My Head quite obviously has its roots in desert psychedlia. That’s what it sounds like. And when I see the video, that’s what it looks like. I ask Tijuana Cartel if it was filmed in the desert. And is that a Joshua Tree?
“That’s exactly where we filmed it. In Joshua Tree. We went to LA and Carey got interested in film while we were over there and we thought it would be an iconic place to shoot,” Paul tells me.
“It pretty much just seemed like a cool thing to do while we were over there,” Carey adds. “We were told it was a great setting, headed out there, made some crazy reflectors, some DIY props and then spent a couple of days out there.”
Of course I asked whether they considered peyote, I mean, they’re in California, they’re filming a psychedelic video clip… but they laugh and say “we thought about it…”
They mention the film making process several times during our chat and I’m curious as to whether they enjoy it as much, or perhaps more than the music making process.
“It’s a similar process actually,” Paul says. “In some ways they’re both kind of laborious, but it’s good to come up with a concept and run with it.”
“We’ve been busy in the studio at my place,” Carey adds. “We’ve both kind of got makeshift studios at home, but mine has a green screen, so mine is better.” He tells me they’re already working on their next video release, “doing crazy stuff filming ourselves in 3D and crazy places and making spaceships out of tinfoil and stuff…”
Tijuana Cartel are headlining the BIGSOUND Live showcase at The Brightside outdoor stage tonight and then they’re off on tour – Tasmania, Melbourne, back to Brisbane and then “everywhere in Australia,” but they ran out of weekends to include the Gold Coast.
Don’t worry though, they promise they’ll be bringing the new album to their loyal home crowd soon.
“We’ll come back and do the Gold Coast. If not before the end of the year, probably in January,” they say.
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Pyschedelicatessen is out now and you can catch Tijuana Cartel at BIGSOUND Live, Thursday 10 September from 11.20 – 11.50pm at The Brightside outdoor stage, and then in cities across Australia as they embark on a national tour.
Read more about Russell Guy here.