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Skinny Jean

Written by Michael Carr on November 6, 2009

With their debut album Dolce Doggerell gripped tight in their hands, Brisbane outfit Skinny Jean (HA!) are, despite an apparent lack of sleep, standing stoic as they prepare to launch their album tonight, Friday Nov 6 at Qbar as part of the usual dose of weekly Sosueme debauchery. Teaming up with Sydney’s very own math-pop maestros Megastick Fanfare, Melbourne’s Parking Lot Experiments and the fucking mind blowingly awesome Kyu, Skinny Jean are set to bust out like John Holmes in a lacy g-string.

With that lovely image buzzing in my head I felt a mighty compulsion, deep in my… stomach, to talk to Shem Allen, lead singer and guitarist, about how he deals with the bands fiercely virile aura.

Music Feeds: So you guys are touring now, how do you ensure you’re at your best every night? Chanting, yoga, animal sacrifice? What do you do if you run out of gas on stage or feel the crowd aren’t digging it?

Shem Allen: Plenty of sleep goes a long way, however hard it is to come by these days… and beer. I know if I don’t feel like the crowds are gagging I get a bit grumpy which either ups my energy or puts me on a huge downer. We don’t play many shows where we feel like there aren’t people digging it, fortunately, but yeah when we do I think weird stuff happens. When we run out of gas I think our adrenaline counteracts our lethargy and we end up playing a sloppy but entertaining show.

MF: You’re from Brisbane and I understand this tour is going to only be the second or third time you’ve played some of these cities and towns. Are you excited to be making a return appearance? Do you have anything special planned for your ‘sequel’ shows in any of the places? Killing off any band members a la Days Of Our Lives?

SA: We’re chuffed to get out of QLD and see some of the countryside as usual. Sam’s gonna come out, Graham’s alter-ego Conrad will envelop his other alter-ego Paxton, Andrew’s gonna wind up in hospital on account of his wonky cartilage and Jem’s gonna get arrested for mouthing-off the police. Me I’m just gonna sleep. It’s awesome to return to these places and see familiar faces, and we’re lucky to have as many friends in Sydney and Melbourne as we do. Oh and we’re bringing Chris Perren (aka DJ Credit Points) from [one of our fave Bris bands] Mr. Maps. He will be playing Counter Strike: Source on stage with us.

MF: What should any Skinny Jean virgins out there expect from their first dose? Any health and safety warning you’d like to get out of the way?

SA: OK here’s my compulsive meme-continuing side emerging: Get plenty of sleep. Let’s see how far we can take that (cf – song titles). Just come to the show with an open mind, and no-one will get hurt. Also, hecklers trump polite audiences.

MF: You’re touring with Megastick Fanfare and The Parking Lot Experiments, who are both doing pretty well at the moment, how did this tri-state tour line-up come to be? Have you played with any of the bands before or seen them play? How would you describe them?

SA: We supported Megastick Fanfare on our first Sydney excursion (which was pretty good, by the way – I slept in the Kia that night) and they are a very impressive live act. Think of the Animal Collective, possibly Yeasayer. The other thing is that these dudes are like 14 years old (combined ages). So, they’re awesome now and are only going to get better. I’ve only heard The Parking Lot Experiments on MySpace and was really impressed with their music and sound. People have compared them to the Flaming Lips, which I see. We’re playing with these guys for the first time tomorrow and really looking forward to it. Yet again another young band (we’re so sage) that are nailing it early-on. You’d be stupid not to see these bands when we come around with them.

MF: In terms of sound you guys move across a lot of different influences and styles. Are you still experimenting with your sound or are you just sonically restless, musical wanders if you will?

SA: I think that we’ll be experimenting with our sound for a long time to come, and I’m equally certain that if we do find something we’re particularly good at we’ll avoid the temptation to stick to that niche.

MF: How would you then describe your own music come to think of it? I hate to ask and I know it’s not an easy thing to summarise, but it’s a lot better than me attaching a few genre prefixes together.

SA: Yeah genre prefixes are over-rated anyway. We play pop, indie pop (not that indie really means much in terms of sound) – and we like to in some way introduce the avant-garde ideas floating around music today into our music. To be more specific would (I feel) require direct reference to particular songs and would probably carry on. In our current repertoire, there’s dance-oriented pop; swamp rock; grunge; sci-fi and post-rock. But then again they’re just a bunch of vague descriptors so… yeah… maybe just bullshit-rock. OH NOOOZ GENRE PREFIXES!

MF: How do you write the songs? Is there a main songwriter who does all the writing, do you bring things to each other and jam them out?

SA: All in the band bar Sam the drummer contribute songs, however I have written most of the stuff we currently play. We jam songs out a great deal, but they vary from song to song how heavily arranged they are before they hit the rehearsal studio. Lately I’ve taken a shine to pretty much arranging everything, bringing it in, and getting everyone to help tweak it so that it sits best with the band. Most of the time a song will have direction from the writer, while everyone fleshes the rest out.

MF: From the few recording I’ve heard you seem to be a band who have a very clear understanding of how each other play, which gives you the ability to do some pretty wild shit, but you SA: hold it back a lot, why the restraint? Do you find beauty in simplicity?

SA: Hahaha, thanks. I think we hold back out of a wisdom/fear that might go something like, ‘if you play too much or if you go too complex the efficacy of the song will suffer’. I think our new stuff lets go a little, but we find it important to keep ourselves in check on these things. Like you said, there’s beauty in simplicity, but often the simple things (like beer) we attribute with adjectives of beauty are deeply complex in nature – which is possibly why we find them beautiful. It could just be because they inebriate us. We play both simple and complex songs.

MF: The music industry at the moment is pretty cutthroat, especially amongst independent bands now there are so many out there, how do you set yourself apart from the crowd? Also do you feel pressured to guide the music in a particular direction to keep up with the Joneses? Or do you say fuck it?

SA: Well I know what you mean when you say the industry is cutthroat, but the positive collaboration and interaction between independent bands that I’ve seen in my short time on the scene has thwarted that dog-eat-dog notion. Generally speaking, everyone helps out everyone. Occasionally bands piss off other bands but it’s a very altruistic scene, extending as far as to the practicalities of generous accommodation should out-of-staters require. On setting ourselves apart from the crowd, no band is going to (to quote Craig Mathieson) “actually attempt to maintain the status quo” but some bands don’t know or don’t keep tabs on how to distinguish themselves from other bands that they like. We differentiate ourselves both consciously by being careful with our arrangements not to sound too much like other songs/bands (only to fail from time to time of course) and unconsciously by drawing from a veritable primordial soup of influences. Personally every now and then I think ‘if I write a song like such and such a band that is successful at the moment, we could be successful too’ but that is most likely a fallacy. What is success anyway?

MF: Let’s talk about Dolce Doggerel, what’s so sweet about it? This is your first album right? What’s it like to have it done and finished and out of your control?

SA: It’s a relieving feeling. As our first album it definitely felt like one of our band’s biggest achievements. When you say, “what’s so sweet about it?” I guess you’re referring to the ‘Dolce’ in the title. There are heaps of sugary moments on this CD, man!

MF: What’s next for you guys after the tour? What should we be looking out for?

SA: Maybe after Jemma gets parole we’ll really get cracking. Lots of new songs on the cards, we’re aiming for a single or EP to be released by May next year. We’ll be gigging the crap out of next year as well. But remember, when you look, see with the force.

So grab some disinfectant and get on down to Qbar tonight, or for more information visit

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