Thanks so much to Karl Smith for the interview! Please check more of their music at their myspace.
++ Hi Karl! How are you doing, we are enjoying summer up here, but how is winter in Perth? What’s your favourite season of the year?
I’m actually living in Melbourne these days. Been here for some time now but both Laura and myself spent our teenage years over there. Perth winter isn’t too bad really… pretty mild. But Melbourne has the most unpleasant weather out of all the cities here so I live for the summer time these days. We moved here because the music and arts scene is so much better than anywhere else even though the weather stinks – though Sydneysiders sometimes beg to differ!
++ Lee Memorial is quite a departure from what you were doing with Sodastream. Was it time to try something new? What was the overall feeling to have a full band?
I did want to do something new. I had had a full year off from playing music. I did a few solo shows here and there but I spent most of my time doing writing, which is what I was studying at the time. After a year though, I started to get quite restless and over that time I had written all the songs for the album, so I figured I would try and put a record together and see where it went.
I liked the idea of having more colours to work with and use some broader strokes. Things in Sodastream were always very subtle and considered. That was the way we worked and I’m proud of the records we made, but I needed to try something different.
It’s been great working with this group of people because they all have such different ideas and come from such vastly different backgrounds. I bring the songs to the gang and, though the occasional one stays relatively similar, they are always so much improved by the other voices and ideas.
++ How did the band come together? Who are Lee Memorial and how did you end up finding such great musicians?
I am lucky to be playing with these guys – they’re amazing. When I wrote the songs I was hoping to have everyone playing on a record but I wasn’t sure if they’d be up for starting an ongoing project. Thankfully when I asked them they all said yes and so it began. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a band thing or not, and whether that would suit the songs or not, but after our first rehearsal it was as though everyone had already played the songs. It gelled really quickly and we work quite intuitively rather than discussing things as we go. Everyone is in a ton of other bands so when we do get to rehearse we just dive in and see what happens. We’ve all been in bands for a long time and this one has a loose structure which suits where we are at. The songs are bit different each time we play and I like that: the idea that there’s no definitive version of a song, just a moment in time.
++ The name Lee Memorial comes from a guesthouse in Kolkatta, India, right? What’s the story behind it? Do you think there’s any kind of influence of Indian music on your music? Or just perhaps you enjoy indian food as much as I do? If so, what are your favourite Iindian dishes?!
I lived in Bangladesh and India until I was thirteen and Lee Memorial was a ceepy old Victorian era guest house that we used to stay at on our way to boarding school. It was built in memory of the Lee family who died in a landslide around the turn of the century.
It really fed our imagination when as kids we would play on the rickety fire escapes and verandas. The place was straight out of a gothic novel and always felt haunted… When I was thinking about the new project the name kept popping into my head and so that’s what we eventually decided on.
I wouldn’t say there’s too much influence from Indian music, but definitely the food (can’t get enough of that) and some of their writers – like Arundahati Roy, Rohinton Mistry and the mighty Rabidranath Tagore.
++ You’ve put out this year your first album “The Lives of Lee Memorial”. For those who don’t have a clue on what to expect from this lush album, how would you describe it? would you recommend us your favourite songs from it?
It’s always hard to choose favourites, but I am proud of Joseph Skelling and Drifting as they go places lyrically where I haven’t been before. It’s more of a storytelling album than the kind of confessional songwriting that I focused on with Sodastream. But I was also very happy with the way Mayflower and Berlin turned out once everyone had put their slant on it -they became very different songs.
How would I describe it? That’s hard too! Maybe a collection of stories that are a little bit ragged and little bit noisy, but with a still mind and a quiet heart – if that makes any sense at all.
++ The album was released on the Dot Dash label, care to tell me a bit about them?
They’re a local label based here in Melbourne, run by a couple of fellas who have been doing their thing for a long time. They do a lot of overseas stuff but also have a great roster of local bands like St Helens, Ned Collette & Wirewalker and Jessica Says. They have been kicking around for ages but are still believers in good music and never push the bands to compromise. In this day and age where its harder and harder to scrape by in music they stand firm to their ideals, which is very rare and inspiring.
++ I’m visiting Berlin in less than two months, you sing about the streets of Berlin on “Berlin” (of course). Why dedicate a song to this city? Any good recommendations there?
To be honest I’ve never spent too much time in Berlin. I’ve only been their twice but there is a magic to the city that is quite intoxicating. The song is more from the perspective of a collection of strangers who see it as a way out of their own lives – the idea of a place as a new beginning, rather than a celebration of any specific city.
++ Private Joseph Skelling is a fictional character? This song has very obscure lyrics and a mellow melody, how did you end up writing “Killing is now my everyday”? How did this song shape up, from idea to a proper song?
This song came together very quickly and to be honest I don’t have a strong memory of writing it – all the best ones seem to arrive that way. At the time I was studying and was doing a lot of reading about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and what was going on there amongst the soldiers and the civilians. It got me thinking about the demands we place on the soldiers over there. We send these young people to these anarchic places with little or no experience of what life is like over there, and then we are outraged by what they do when they come unstuck. I’m by no means condoning the brutal acts that some of the soldiers have committed, I was merely trying to understand the succession of events that might lead someone down that path.
++ How do you see the Perth music scene today? I am a big fan of the Perth scene of the late 80s, like Summer Suns, Palisades, Charlotte’s Web, do you like any of that?
Yeah. I do. It’s a bit before my time but Kim from the Summer Suns put out my first record and we have done many gigs together over the years.
These days, to be honest, I don’t see a lot of it being over here in Melbourne. But there are a lot of great bands from the West. There is kind of two streams of bands that come out of there – the more successful but less interesting ones, and the ones that just do their own thing in the isolation. In my opinion the crazies are the ones to look out for. A few of my favourites are Kill Devil Hills, the Tucker B’s and The Leap Year.
++ Has Lee Memorial gigged a lot so far? Any particular gigs you have enjoyed the most and why?
We haven’t gigged a great deal as yet. With everyone being so busy it can be tough to get us all together but there have been a few highlights. We played a great show up in Sydney with the Red Sun Band and more recently a community Radio benefit with some of the best local bands around – and it is a very exciting time in Melbourne musically. Bands like Dick Diver, St Helens, Beaches and Jessica Says are really doing some interesting things. We’re heading home for the first time next month to play a festival out in the salt lakes about 400kms east of Perth. Really looking forward to that.
++ What can we expect in the future from Lee Memorial?
We’re looking at making another record soon. I have all the songs written, just need to spend a bit of time with the team nutting out the arrangements and then we’ll book some time and bash them out. The second one will be a lot louder I think and have a bit more of everyone on it. The last album was conceived when I was alone in my back shed just jamming away, where as this one will be a combination of all the ideas that have been bouncing around over the last six months or so.
++ Anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks for listening. Nice to know that some folks so far away are hearing the songs.
Lee Memorial – Berlin