So another sweltering South East Queensland summer is upon us and for many this means taking the foot off the gas, kicking back with loved ones and imbibing whatever the best of the festive season has to offer.
And local roots-soul-world artist Bobby Alu is ready to soundtrack it for us with the release of his tropically soulful and chilled new album Take It Slow.
Bobby Alu is the recording alias of one Charles Wall, a talented multi-instrumentalist whose musical pedigree includes stints as a crack ‘drummer for hire’ for the likes of Xavier Rudd. I kicked off our chat by asking him if he still answers to his birth name, or is it Bobby all round these days?
“Depends who’s asking! I can tell people get a bit confused on what to call me. Bobby is my middle name and became a nickname. I answer to both still. It’s great having a few names. If I don’t feel like being Bobby I can just say, “Oh no, sorry you must have mistaken me for someone else, my name is Charles.”
Having grown up on the Gold Coast, Charles has been jamming the grooves as Bobby Alu for the past five years. Starting out as a solo project during his uni days, Bobby Alu became a fully fledged band three years ago with the addition of good mates Paulie B (guitar – formerly with the bands George and The Beautiful Girls), Stu Barry (bass) and original drummer Grant Gerathy, who left just last month to don sticks for the John Butler Trio. Another local mate Richie Seymour has now taken over behind the kit.
Drumming was Bobby’s first musical passion, but percussion is not the only talent that he brings to the band. He’s also branched off into other instrumental directions as the Bobby Alu project has gained momentum, and he’s keen to further diversify the Bobby Alu sound template.
“Drumming was definitely my first love,” he says.
“One of the best feelings is locking into a heavy groove, creating a deep pocket for other musicians and the audience to nest in. It’s a meditation and such a rewarding physical outlet. Straight out of uni I was touring the world as a drummer, meeting incredible artists and friends. It’s been an integral gateway to all my opportunities and something I’ll never stop doing.”
“I just love to play music. I’m not really very well trained on any instrument but I can get some pretty good sounds out of many instruments, which helps me communicate the songs I write. At the moment as Bobby Alu I’m playing my ukulele and singing a lot – and loving it! Mum taught me the uke when I was five so it’s great to be rocking the mini axe on stage. I also write on guitar and spend time on the bass to create some nice feels. When I was at primary school I played the trombone. I still have it so it might be time to get that back in the mix. I also want to teach myself the piano… hmmm maybe just one thing at a time ha ha!”
Bobby Alu impressed the right ears early, and amazingly were invited to play the prestigious Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival after only their third public gig as a band! I asked Bobby if there was a degree of incredulousness on his part as a result of this meteoric rise in profile?
” I was totally pinching myself. When Bobby Alu began I wasn’t sure how it would go and at times I lacked confidence. Getting into Bluesfest so early in my career was a true blessing and gave me so much gusto as a performing artist. It was very surreal playing on the same stage I’ve seen so many great bands on in the past. To be sharing that moment with my mates was awesome. I smile when I think about it.”
And as far as hobnobbing with any musical heavy-weights on that Bluesfest bill he said his dressing room was right next to Ziggy Marley’s but he wasn’t tempted to pester any of the headliners.
“They’re usually in the zone and in my experience I reckon it’s not really appropriate pre-show to just hang around trying to be close to them. Post-show is different though, I got to exchange a few hellos but most of the time I was just enjoying the atmosphere with my close friends. Just having all those heavy cats around creates a real energy.”
Since that time Bobby Alu has appeared on an array of diverse festival line-ups throughout the country, from the Woodford Folk Festival through to Island Vibes and Wide Open Space in Central Australia. I asked Bobby if there was a festival experience or moment that has particularly stood out?
“We played the Eclipse Festival in the Far North Queensland desert. It was frickin’ hot and dusty, but with 10 000 others we watched an incredible solar eclipse. The light in the sky at eclipse was like nothing I’ve ever seen, a silver-like sheen painting the earth that no instagram filter could ever capture.”
The life of a touring musician will inevitably also bring with it a bit of good old fashioned rock and roll excess, Bobby says that some other great festival moments have been marred by “Sailor Jerry’s rum… lost… lost forever.”
Having released a self titled debut album back in 2010, Bobby has recently dropped his second long player Take It Slow and is “stoked” with his musical progression and the response from fans so far.
“It’s the first recordings with the whole band’s involvement. Although I wrote the songs, it was very much a collaborative effort between myself and the other band members,” he says.
“The new album is definitely a progression in many ways. I’m more established as a writer and singer, there are other musicians involved and we are indeed a full-fledged touring act. The first album was an experiment, a collection of songs I made at uni. This album came about after touring with a slammin’ band, playing awesome shows and finding our place in the Australian roots music scene.”
“It’s been such a great three years of finding our sound whilst touring the country. Creating the album felt like such an achievement. The response has been awesome! The fact that it’s finished and released means my goal has been reached. To hear that peeps are digging it is icing on the cake.”
I questioned Bobby on one of his musical side projects, collaborating with progressive roots/dance trio OKA, and whether it’s ever given the dreaded ‘ocker’ mispronunciation.
“Yep we’ve had a few pretty average MCs at various festivals that don’t do their research and totally make a knob of themselves pronouncing the band’s name wrong,” he says.
I’ve been playing with OKA for four years now and in that time have visited some insane places and crazy festivals – on the edge of the Arctic Circle where the sun didn’t go down, doofs in the British Columbian forest, and playing the Californian desert and Central Australia are some highlights. I’ve been taking a break from OKA of late. Change is good for the soul, hard sometimes, but essential. Plus there’s only so much you can fit in your calendar.”
Bobby’s heritage is Polynesian and he never realised that that cultural vibe sat so strong with him until he started writing songs.
“I was completely surrounded by Polynesian music and dance thoughout my childhood,” hs said.
“Mum was performing every night with me in her belly right up to when I popped out. I never took music seriously at school and listened to heaps of different styles of music. I found all my old tapes and CDs the other day. The collection included Presidents of the USA, Metallica, Michael Jackson, Dr Dre and Bob Marley. But when I am writing from the heart the island vibe is just so strong. I spent some time in Samoa last year and so many things about my personality made sense. It’s a strong part of my identity.“
As well as being in touch with his roots, Bobby is also passionate about getting behind causes he believes in, as evidenced by his recent support of a Sea Sheppard fundraiser. He says it’s important to support and encourage good human spirit through any means possible – and that his way is through music.
“Man, it was amazing, I had the privilege of meeting the Director of Sea Sheppard Australia, Jeff Hanson, a few weeks before and was completely blown away by his passion for the ocean. Sea Sheppard still aren’t recognised as an official charity so they lose a lot of big donors without tax deductions being available. The money they need for fuel alone is ridiculous. Last year they saved almost 1000 whales. Spending some time on the road with Xavier (Rudd) and meeting Jeff Hanson was a huge reason why I wanted to be involved. We raised forty thousand bucks that day – a mighty effort.
Bobby is also committed to utilising the talents and resources of creative locals. A case in point is the video clip for his track You Know (find it on youtube), which was shot by Salvador Cantellano of local filmmakers and arts collective Digital Cinematix at the Gold Coast’s premiere cultural arts space, Rabbit and Cocoon at Miami.
“Yep Salvador and crew did that clip. I grew up on the Goldy and Salvador and many of the Rabbit and Cocoon family I have known for some time. I’m so proud of them and all their achievements in contributing to this art space. I’ve seen them grow into their work and it’s such an integral and important part of the Gold Coast. I was stoked that we could collaborate and film at Rabbit and Cocoon, and it won’t be the last time that’s for sure!”
Bobby and band also helped kick off Rabbit TV’s Shed Sessions – a newly launched project emanating from the Rabbit and Cocoon precinct. The concept involves a local or touring band calling into the Rabbit TV studios in Miami once a week for a chat and to play a live track. Bobby was excited to be involved.
“Another awesome friend of mine, Polly Armstrong is involved in this project – what a legend! Working with friends is so much more comfortable than regular media. The Rabbit TV shoot was super, super, cruisy and I can’t wait to see what else they have in store.”
On the back of their new record Bobby Alu have been touring our general vicinity these past few months, including an album launch at the Hi Fi Bar in Brisbane on 14 December and a prestigious closing slot at the recent Mullum Music Festival.
“It was an honour to close one of the stages at the Mullum Music Festival. The gig was oozing great vibes and plenty of smiles were dancing about. We’ve had some great gigs on the Goldy. Kirra Kite Festival two years ago was a blast and more recently Swell Sculpture Festival. Both gigs were in the afternoon right on the beach – perfect! We’ve also played some pumping shows at Mandala Arts Café.”
With a buzzload of opportunity on the horizon in 2014, Bobby is also dreaming of worldwide exploits saying overseas touring for the band is on the cards.
“I really believe our sound would be well received in North America and Europe. Following in the footsteps of other great Aussie bands is my next mission. You have to be good though, real good. We’ve got to put in some more hard yards first.”
A quick glance at any of Bobby’s music clips or press footage reveals a penchant for sun visor style hatted-attire. I put it light heartedly to Bobby that he seems to be on a personal crusade to bring it back into vogue, and that he’ll know when he’s made it really big when he steps out onto a festival stage to be greeted by a sea of sun visors. Although slightly more practical considerations seem to be at play.
“Well, it is one of the only hats I can wear with the ’fro still displayed in full glory. I found a bright yellow Telecom visor in a Melbourne op shop ’bout five years ago and now seek them out wherever I go. Wide brim vintage visors are very very hard to find. My collection is slowly growing. Recently on my trip to Samoa I found some thatched ones. Classic island style – it’s my current favourite.”
Bobby Alu – rockin’ the sun visor, taking it slow and delivering the positive vibes on the road in 2014 – so be sure to keep an eye out for when Bobby’s in the house!
Bobby Alu will have a series of shows around the Gold Coast in the first half of 2014 and appears at Blues on Broadbeach in May. You can also check out Rabbit TV’s exclusive video with Bobby Alu at www.rabbitradiopresents.com/videos.html.