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Interview: Birds Robe Collective

Written by Daniel Morrison on July 15, 2008

If you want something done well, usually the best thing is to do it yourself.  Such is the reasoning behind the newly formed Birds Robe – A collective of Sydney musicians brought together by a thirst for something new and exciting.  Here at Music Feeds we’re hugely enthusiastic about such collaborations, and so we wanted to find out more about what was happening in the mysterious world of Progressive Rock.  We sat down with some of the founding members – Alex T and Phil from Captain Kick Arse and the Awesomes, and Alex from super FLORENCE jam.

So how did you guys originally hook up?  “We played in a competition/collective thing at Candy’s Apartment together, there were about 30 other bands.  It was good chance to meet other artists I guess, and that’s exactly what happened” says Alex.  “We liked each others’ style, and since we were getting frustrated about not having any other prog rock bands to play with, we decided to get together and formed Birds Robe.

Alex T elaborates:  “We’d be playing shows, but with disparate line ups, like there’d be an acoustic act, a pop rock band, and then we’d come out and the crowd would be confused – it was almost like they’d been conditioned against us by the earlier acts.  So since we loved what sFj were doing, it made perfect sense to start doing gigs together.”

It’s an idea that has had success in the past.  Artists often use each other as a ‘mutual spring board’ type thing, working together to achieve more than they could individually.   A bunch of psychedelic folk bands in mid west America formed a collective called Elephant Six, and they all got big at the same time because of each other.

So what exactly is Prog Rock?  “Basically anything that pushes the boundaries of traditional rock, by going beyond the standard rock or popular verse-chorus based song structures.  Like adding another layer or dimension, making it more of an experience” explains Phil.

“It started way back with Sgt Peppers, The Beatles showed us that you can really do all sorts of stuff, these instruments which for so long have been used to create the same kinds of sounds could actually be used in all sorts of new and amazing ways, so much so that they can actually challenge the way people think not just about music, but about all kinds of other things too.  And I think you can see how that was reflected in society at the time.”  Profound stuff.  Maybe the “Florence” in sFj is a nod to the Renaissance in Italy?
Alex laughs and declines further comment.  They do have a knack for great names though.  I mean “Captain Kick Arse and the Awesomes” speaks for itself really.  Also in the group is a man who goes by the name “Ten Thousand Free Men and their Families”.  You want to talk about pushing boundaries, this guy plays game boys.  Literally.  He’s got three of them hooked up and he’s programmed some cartridges to play certain sounds, and he rocks out the funkiest tunes you’ve heard since the Seinfeld theme.  It really is in the spirit of expanding possibilities, and that’s what progressive rock is about.  Taking elements from all over – modern entertainment consoles, classical, jazz, world music, and making something new. Instrumental songs are common, while songs with lyrics are often conceptual, abstract, based in fantasy.

Of course you have to be careful not to over intellectualise the whole thing.  Long story short, it’s good honest fun.  Birds Robe artists The Space Banditos challenge our ideas of what you can do with a saxophone with an explosive live set that you watch in an almost awe struck state.

Six Thinking Hats couldn’t make it to the interview but I think their myspace says it quite nicely: “Galaxy-sized compositions of gradual inclines and warm guitars, aching to be the soundtrack to your wistfully melancholic nights.”  Looking forward to seeing these guys soon.

So what about the realities of being a working band? Is it tough working writing, rehearsing, recording and gigging into one life, or fun?  “Both” says Phil, “I mean it’s like anything in life.  Even if you’re a muso you still gotta pay your rent and shit”.  Any wise words for bands out there that want to get started?  “Just do it” he says simply.

“Instead of winging about there not being a scene for your music, just get out there and make something.”  They certainly lead by example.  They’ve made giant strides for their genre, and an online Birds Robe store is currently under construction so you’ll be able to stay on top of what’s coming out.

And they’re doing it all off their own bat.  “Heaps of bands think the idea is to get a record deal, they don’t really get the point” says Alex.  “You gotta do it for years and years and years before you get signed.”  But even then – that’s pre supposing that getting signed is the ultimate goal.  “It’s the bands that are motivated to get their own funds however they come, and to put them into themselves, because a) they believe in their music, and b) they’re going to back themselves up in public.  They take responsibility, it makes them a far more rounded act, and they’re the ones producing quality”.

It’s easy to sit back and hang shit on things, like a guy called Tony did when he wrote to drum media recently.  “There are many types of bands in Sydney, all of which suck equally” he eloquently declared.  So it’s damn refreshing to hear a resounding ‘go fuck yourself’ coming in the form of some damn fine quality work being produced by the members of the Birds Robe Collective.  Yo can see it in both their recent releases, available at live shows and reviewed on this page.

Any other bands in Sydney that are doing their part?  “Shit loads” they reply.  “Seclusion are like a privilege to see live, and what they’ve done to support the scene with Secluded Sundays and their very own studio is just great.”  “Atlas weights play a jazz influence sound, Captains have phenomenal timing structures, Day of the Meerkat show off some bungle-esque insanity.”  “Even Mish and Angel Affair from Bathurst are quickly making names for themselves with wicked live sets.”  It’s clear there’s no shortage of awesomeness, and these boys are forging the way.  And by the looks of things, they’re going to keep on charging for some time to come.

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