Thanks again to Bart for another fantastic interview! Please do order his latest record, I recommend it highly. You can do so from the Lost & Lonesome page. If you want to check prior interviews with him, just click: The Cat’s Miaow, Girl of the World, The Shapiros and Pencil Tin. Now sit back, and enjoy!
++ Hello Bart! How are you doing? Summer coming soon in Australia, any special plans?
Doing well. No special plans, not unless you call sitting in the shade with a long cool drink special.
++ So you just released a new album called “Stories with the Endings Changed”. Why the name of the album? And what can we expect on this album different from previous Bart Cummings offerings? 🙂
The title is a line from one of the songs “Cast of Half Forgotten Names”. It could apply to a band of has-beens who take small parts of peoples’ lives, and then change them around a bit to make songs. But it doesn’t. The main difference on the new CD is we’ve bought Scott and Irene in from the Summer Cats to play on half the songs.
++ How did the collaborations on this album came about?
Scott came in because there was a song that didn’t suit my voice that i thought would work well with his. After he finished recording his part, he goes “I can hear organ riffs and backing vocals, is it ok if i ask Irene along”. So it just sort of goes viral until i step in and say “no cowbell!!”. Pretty much every musician in Melbourne is one degree of separation from Mark, we’ve got a fairly large pool to draw on.
++ I see that two tracks on the album weren’t written exclusively by you. So that makes me wonder how does the process for Bart & Friends work out with so many people collaborating?
The 2 that I co-wrote with Scott follow a pretty straight forward process. the music is written first and Scott gets a copy of the guitar track to write the words to, he emails me a rough copy of him singing over the top when he’s done (just to make sure I’m happy with it, I always am) then we record it with everyone. Mark and Louis come up with their own parts and have quite a large input into the recording rather than the writing. It’s Mark that always says, lets do another take, we can do it better.
++ What would you say are the main differences between The Cat’s Miaow and Bart & Friends?
The Cat’s Miaow was my main priority above all else in my life at that point in time. For the bulk of the band’s existence, I shared a flat with Andrew and we recorded at home, so in some regards you could say the we operated the band 24/7.
This incarnation of Bart & friends is an excuse to go to Melbourne and hang with friends every few months, something to talk about with people online. Some men my age play golf, I write pop songs. It’s still very important to me and everyone else involved, we’re in no way half-arsed about it, but it’s not the main thing in our lives.
++Let’s go back in time, it was 1998 when Bart & Friends started more or less, right? What was the main reason to work this way, collaborating with other talented musicians and not having a regular lineup, and how hard was it to come up with the name for the “band”?
The main reason for the collaborations on the first album was that i had songs with no lyrics, so writing with other people was part fun/part necessity. I think doing just one song in an afternoon kept it fresh and exciting, it prevented it getting boring. And I seriously doubt that any of the people I collaborated with on “Car & Girls” would have been interested in forming a band with me, but were fine to do one song. I think the first one we did was “Are You Guys into Wings” with the meadows brothers.
The purpose of the name is to indicate that it’s me and some other people. It’s a pretty crap name, but I think people more readily accept the floating lineup concept with a name like that. The band name is a bit of a joke as well, I’m hardly a social butterfly.
The songs were recorded over quite a long period, quite possibly 18 months if not longer. “10 Songs About Cars & Girls” was released in 1998 but we may have started work on it as early as 1996. I know the B&F versions of “Crying” and “Don’t Worry, This Isn’t About You” were recorded before The Cat’s Miaow versions, but were released later.
++ Amazingly, with this “band” you’ve managed to play gigs! Is it easy to rehearse with everyone? How does that work?
There was the 3-piece line up of the band in 2000, with Andrew, Mark and myself that played a handful of shows and even did a couple in Sydney. “I was lonely ’til i found you” is sort of a document of that lineup
The 2011 incarnation has only managed to play live once and had one full band rehearsal the afternoon of the show. Getting us all together at the same time is quite a challenge. Luckily we’re a bunch of old pro’s and i think we sounded pretty confident on the night. Scott and Louis in particular are keen to play again, it’s just a matter of finding time when everyone is free.
++ And I know you don’t like playing live that much, so from the few Bart & Friends gigs, which have been your favourite and why?
One of the good things about interviews is that it makes you re-examine things about yourself.
I actually quite like playing live but i really hate
1 Organising shows
2 Singing, especially live
Whenever I play solo I’ve generally got a little loop going in my head “Bart, you sound like SHIT and you have all the stage presence of a wet dishcloth. Who do you think you’re kidding” and that generally continues until I finish. So the performance is generally a bit tense and I don’t exactly sit back and revel in the moment, but afterwords I get to have a few drinks, usually see a band I like and chat to nice people, so it evens out.
If I’m playing and Pam or Scott (or Kerrie back in the day) are singing the loop is generally “this sounds so cool, we’re fucking untouchable” and its all quite enjoyable. On re-reading this it sounds like I’m either suffering from bi-polar or schizophrenia and I’ll just stress I don’t hear voices in my head at any other time.
I think the last 3 shows I’ve played have been some of my favourites of all time:
London, not me solo, I was dreadful, but with Pam was great. We hadn’t played together in 15 years and it was just too easy
Berlin, solo, not the greatest performance, but I got swept along by the loveliest of audiences.
Melbourne, with Bart & Friends, first public outing with this line-up and it was just the best fun. We’d all been wanting to do this a while.
++ How did your relationship with Lost & Lonesome start? I thought no one in Australia knew about Bart Cummings 😉
Well prior to being on Lost & Lonesome no-one did, now I’m even getting played in the cafe around the corner from where we record. Out of everything I’ve ever done, the releases on Lost & Lonesome have probably been the ones that have reached the highest public profile for me in Australia. The benchmark wasn’t that high.
We’d pretty much finished mixing “Make you Blush” before I came around to the idea of releasing the songs on CD at all. My original intention was to have them as free downloads on last fm. Mark had been offering to release them on Lost & Lonesome almost from the get go but I didn’t think it would sell more than 20 copies and I had visions of it getting awkward between us when the CD flopped so I had been reluctant to agree. Uts working out ok so far tho.
In some ways it was inevitable that the CD would come out on Lost & Lonesome, pretty much everyone that plays on “Make you Blush” are in other bands that are also on Lost & Lonesome.
++ But first release was “10 Songs About Cars And Girls”on Drive-In who you had collaborated earlier with The Cat’s Miaow. Funny thing is that there are 12 songs, and then lots of “hidden” songs in this CD. Why is this? The title is really deceiving!
One of the few regrets I have is that we didn’t do a full color sleeve for “Cars n Girls”, the car was a lovely shade of red, matched the model’s lipstick…. yes, the title, I can be quite a smart arse at times, I think it was as simple as “10 songs” sounded better to me than “12 songs”. I definitely didn’t want the 20 bonus Cat’s Miaow songs listed on the back , as I did want them to be a surprise and not a reason to buy the CD. I rationalised that it was only Cat’s Miaow fans that would buy it so it would almost be like getting a free CD worth of songs
++ Second release was “I Was Lonely ‘Til I Found You” with a Penguin Books kind of cover. I read that after this release you had a lack of creative momentum. Why was that?
Probably down to a lot of things. From memory I was working in a job that was quite time consuming and generally left me feeling fairly tired and stressed. My dad had died. I’d bought a house. On the plus side I was in a relationship and that was taking up a lot of time but in a good way.
There was probably a bit of self imposed early retirement going on there as well “you’re 35, stop embarrassing yourself”. But having said that, the songs I was writing then were crap and the break has done me the world of good.
++ Then, 9 years after, you released “Make Me Blush” were you collaborated again with Pam Berry. How did the recording process work for this record? Was it any different from the previous ones?
In some ways its still the same, I write a song and we record it in someone’s house. The difference now is the standard home recording equipment these days is pro-tools and not a 4 track portastudio so it sounds pretty swish. The internet has made working with Pam overseas a lot easier. Not as easy as if we were in the same city but definitely made it a viable option.
The sessions for “Make you Blush” were quite odd for me as I hadn’t played music with anyone for nearly 10 years. The others hadn’t heard the songs before we started recording them (which is something that still happens now) but we’ve got into a routine of me bringing the chords, a vocal melody if I’ve written the words, an arrangement and tempo and the others fill in the gaps arrange the core structure. It seems to work ok. there’s probably thousands of bands that operate in an identical way except most don’t record the song 15 minutes later.
++ And we end up again on your last release, “Stories with The Endings Changed”. Something I find interesting is that for this release and the previous you had two indiepop fans, who are bloggers, and graphic designers as well, to work on the artwork. How did that happen? And how do you see this new up and coming generation of indiepop fans?
I had been reading their blogs for the musical content and admiring the look of the blogs as well. Krister and probably Matt had also been customers of Library mail order, tho I don’t think I initially joined all the dots until much later. I think with both of them doing blogs, I had a fair idea of what they were capable of and I also felt confident that they would know what I’d like as well.
Regarding the new generation? same as the old but younger??? what I do find interesting about it all is that it is much more international and interconnected and multifaceted. It is rare to find someone who is “just” a fan. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but it seems everyone does something whether it’s play in a band, organise shows, do a club night, a blog, design sleeves, run a label, take photos and usually a combination of several.
++ And what about the newer bands? Like any?
Yes, Sunny Street, Motifs, Days, Middle Ones, Fireflies/Very Truly Yours have all produced gobsmackingly beautiful music. I don’t spend a lot of time searching out new music, apart from reading a few blogs . You could drive trucks through the gaps in my musical knowledge regarding new bands.
++ On the Lost & Lonesome site it says “A new Bart & Friends EP is planned for release in early-2012”. Have you already recorded these songs? Care to tell me more about this upcoming EP? What else is in store for the band?
We started recording last weekend and I must say I think its sounding really good so far. Its got a kinda late 50s/early 60s sort of feel. The usual star studded line-up with Pam and Scott handling all the lead vocals. There’s a couple of covers and Scott wrote the lyrics to one which is shaping up to be the pick of the bunch. Oh and a couple of them are over 3 minutes which is unheard of for us.
There’s no real long term plan or goal for B&F. We’re trying not to over-think things and are basically just a bunch of grumpy old men doing the things that we enjoy for no other reason than the enjoyment that doing them brings.
That said, we’ve started talking about the next session being a bit more keyboard orientated and there’s a couple of songs written for that already and I’ve started writing another one tonight
++ I also want to thank you for the mini CD we put together, I was wondering if you could do some shameless promotion for it here. Maybe explain why the tracks run in increasing order if you check the minutes?
I think the EP really sums up a lot of what I’ve tried to do musically. It’s not exactly a best of but it does have a lot of my personal favourites on it to answer your next question.
The songs are arranged in reverse chronological order, ie: from newest to oldest. And it was only after I did this that I noticed that with the exception of the first song, there was a pattern of the songs getting shorter as they got newer. As to the why I’m not really sure but I kinda get the mental image of a spinning top going in ever smaller circles as it slows down.
++ So which would you say are your favourite Bart & Friends songs? And why?
“CBGBs” is possibly my favourite song I’ve written in any band, not just B&F. Both the music and the lyrics are concise, simple, melodic. Its got a dreamy quality to it that works in with the lyrics. Its just a little snapshot of a moment and is probably the best example of the type of song I always try to write.
“How Can You Tell Me You Love Me” is another personal favorite. Anytime I record a song that has what I tend to think of as a “50’s feel”, traditional arrangement, minor chords with a lot of spring reverb, i’m happy
++ Alright, so I was thinking, you as a librarian you must have some favourite books to recommend, right? What have you been reading and enjoying lately?
What I mostly read these days are picture books to my kids. A couple of my favourites have been Oliver Jeffers “The great paper caper” and “It’s a book” by Lane Smith. Even for people who don’t have kids I’d still recommend both these books
++ When I was in the UK they were closing lots of libraries and lots were complaining about it. With the imminent grow of the e-books and digital files in general, how do you think libraries will survive?
That’s a good question. From the articles I was reading online in the UK newspapers you did get a recurring train of thought that was loosely “libraries = books. Books are on the way out, so libraries are redundant”. Whereas I tend to advocate “libraries = access to information, irrespective of the format it’s stored in”. I think the key to libraries surviving is staying relevant/essential to your community, and being able to demonstrate this to your funding bodies. It’s not an easy call by any means especially when your funding body has its own agenda which I think was the case in the UK.
++ One last question, see you at Indietracks next year? Hopefully performing?
Yes, I’ll be the one yelling at his kids to get off the llamas. There’s a good chance I’ll be over that way mid year, but my attending will mainly depend on when it’s on, But i’d love to go. Performing? I’d say it would be near impossible to get all B&F there, (or anywhere really on the same day) but maybe me & Pam. If team Indietracks would have us we’d love to!!!
++ Thanks again Bart, anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks again for showing an interest