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“When It’s Right It’s Magical”: Kram On The Challenge Of Covering The Beatles

Written by Sarah Bellamy on July 29, 2019

Kram is, of course, a legend in the Aussie music scene. Most people know him as the singer and drummer for alt rock 3-piece Spiderbait – a band famous for hit singles such as ‘Calypso’, ‘Buy Me A Pony’, and their cover of ‘Black Betty’. But he also has other creative outlets.

Kram also plays in the super group Antipodean Rock Collective (or ARC), alongside Jet’s Mark Wilson, You Am I’s Davey Lane, and Powderfinger’s Darren Middleton. The band are set to take to stages across Australia next month, performing The Beatles’ Abbey Road in full, to commemorate the iconic album’s 50th anniversary. Each night will have two sets, with ARC performing Abbey Road from start to finish in their first, before playing a selection of Beatles’ hits in their second set, to close out the evening.

We caught up with Kram ahead of the tour to chat about how rehearsals are coming along, his favourite songs by The Beatles, and the plans for a new Spiderbait record.

Music Feeds: What made you decide to put together a show for Abbey Road’s anniversary?

Kram: Well, first and foremost I think it’s one of my favourite records of all time, probably from my favourite band of all time. And I’m certainly not alone, I know Davey, Mark and Darren all feel the same way. The band, ourselves as ARC, it’s kind of like this… I guess it’s a supergroup that we’ve put together, I guess more as friends than anything else, and we wanted to do something to debut the band as a project, to do this record. When we realised it was the 50th anniversary, we thought this would be an amazing thing to try. Just to be able to play the record, it almost seems a bit like a privilege in a way, to play this album, because there’s so many songs that we just love. And to perform it live I guess is kind of weird too because it’s something that we get to do that The Beatles never did, because they never played this record live at all. It’s going to be a really exciting tour and we can’t wait for it to start.

MF: That’s cool! Have there been any challenges in putting the show together?

K: The main challenge I’ve found is the harmonies. There’re so many harmonies on this record and so Davey in his wizardry has done a lot of homework on giving everyone their parts to learn and stuff, but we do wanna do the record great justice and you know, really celebrate it by playing it, so we’re going to do every part that’s on the record on stage. So yeah, harmonies are pretty tricky but we’re getting it together now, it’s starting to sound really, really good. It’s one of those things that’s really worth doing, because when it’s right it’s magical. So, that’s kind of been tricky but really worth doing.

MF: Would you like to do this sort of thing for any other albums in the future?

K: I think we’re thinking about it, yeah. I mean, we’ll see how this one goes. There’s a lot of records through this era, of different groups that we just love and it’s sort of… I guess it’s inspiring to us ‘cause a lot of these bands were the ones that, I guess in some ways, inspired us to want to be musicians ourselves. You know, Let alone be rockstars and be successful, just to be able to play the music and write your own songs, tell your own stories is one of the things that The Beatles really inspired in me and also a lot of other bands. I think that’s one of the great things about pop music.

Whether it’s rock ‘n’ roll, or whether it’s hip-hop or pop, or whatever the style of music is, just being able to create your own art and tell your own story and how other people relate to it and hopefully like it, then being able to play it live is one of the great things about being a musician. So, you know, if it works out and we really enjoy ourselves, I think we’ll do some more in the future, for sure.

MF: What are some of the other albums from that era that inspire you?

K: Oh, there’s so many! I mean, I love Pink Floyd, AC/DC, other Beatles records, Neil Young. There’s so many things from that period that are so influential for me… I mean, Black Sabbath! And I mean, I listen to a lot of records. This is only just speaking from me personally, but I listen to a lot of records all the time. I don’t really listen to Spotify or playlists, I just listen to vinyl. There’s just so much great music from this period that I feel like is part of me, growing up, and I mean, if you move into the eighties it’s kind of a similar thing. Every era has its affect on you. But yeah, I think we’ll just start with Abbey Road and I mean it’s a pretty hard record to play so I’ve just gotta concentrate on that before I get ahead of myself! I’m sort of pipe-dreaming with you at the moment, so we’ll see how we go.

MF: What are your favourite songs from The Beatles?

K: Oh, there’s so many songs, but that’s one of the great things! I mean, there’s a lot of talk about Queen and Elton John and all these movies, and you know, that’s really great and I love Queen so much, but the percentage of truly amazing, great songs even with a band like Queen is lower than The Beatles. The Beatles sort of slay everyone in terms of the actual amount of really incredible songs. Usually you’re lucky to have ten or twenty really great songs in your career… you’ve done so well. But The Beatles have so many, there’s over 100. The percentage itself is quite phenomenal. I think one of the reasons is the variation in style. That’s been a really big influence on Spiderbait and on my writing – just how you can… you don’t have to stick to the same style of song to make things work, sometimes it can actually… I mean, if you look at the difference between ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Helter Skelter’, there’s so much difference in The Beatles’ work.

Some of my favourite Beatles songs of all time would probably be ‘For No One’. I love ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’, so I can’t wait to do that on Abbey Road. I love the whole of side two, it’s such an incredible almost compositionally developed body of work, where you’re putting all these little vignettes together into creating one whole, and I don’t think anyone had ever done that before. There’s so many amazing songs and so many great moments that, you know, you just never tire of it.

MF: What continues to inspire you as a musician when you’re creating your own music?

K: I think, just being alive, really [laughs]. I love playing shows. Spiderbait did this show on Bribie Island, a festival there two weeks ago. We headlined this show, a lot of bands played, and 10,000 people showed up and they were all singing our songs and it was just such a euphoric emotion, to play and have that response. Just, playing the drumkit, singing, and just the energy of the whole thing. And I mean, I’ve been doing this for a long time… it doesn’t feel like a job yet. It’s not a job, it’s a life, it’s a passion, you know? I would do this even if I wasn’t making any money out of it, you know? But that’s kind of like, my modus operandi, I just think when bands start feeling like it’s a job, you can tell, and sort of, something is lost, the spontaneity and the energy is lost.

But as far as writing goes: just try and not be afraid to let out what you’re actually really feeling. I tend to write a lot of songs that can be… if I’m feeling really crap, I might try and write a really euphoric song. It’s about breaking out of that feeling. Writing music and performing it is a big part of who I am as a person, and that’s kind of like, that’s my existence. I feel really comfortable with that and it’s like, I’m very happy to be an artist. It’s not just a lifestyle, it’s an existence that I cherish.

MF: That’s beautiful. I think it’s so good when you can find a career that doesn’t feel like work. It just makes all the difference.

K: It’s weird because music and art are one of the few professions where you can have lots of different friends that are different ages and difference socio-economic backgrounds and ethnicities. Most people hang out with people who make the same amount of money, look the same, dress the same, and definitely are the same age. Some of my friends are like, 18/19, and some of them are 75. We all speak the same language because we’re all musicians or actors and we all just get along great. Being an artist, it’s really important to not think that just because someone’s really young they don’t have something that you can learn from, and the same from the older crowd.

So, I really just try and… I guess in a way with Spiderbait, not so much ARC, it’s very much you have to have a youthful exuberance about you to be able to perform that music, you’ve gotta be fit and healthy to do it. But at the same time the music itself is actually making you fit and healthy, in order to play the music that’s enabling you to be fit and healthy, that’s enabling you to play the music [laughs], you know what I’m saying? It’s the cycle of existence that I really live by, and I can’t see that ever changing for the rest of my life. I think it’s really important and it’s a beautiful thing… does that make sense?

MF: Yeah, totally. That’s lovely. You mentioned that you’ve been in the music scene for a while now, what are some of the positive changes you’ve seen over that time?

K: I think first and foremost, there’s a lot more women in music, and they’re kicking ass and not getting as harassed and fucked over as they used to, I think. It’s weird for me ‘cause I’ve been in a band with an amazing woman for so long. I think you find a lot of the biggest stars in the world now
are women, and there’s a lot of amazing music coming out in that sense. Also, I think it’s a bit of a double-edge sword that there’s more accessibility in some ways, because of the internet, online access to music now, that more people can get themselves out there without needing a record label or radio station to play them. But sadly, the downside of that is they probably don’t make as much money as they used to because people don’t buy records as much, they can get it for free. It’s not the be all and end all, but making good money will certainly go a long way. Ask any person, whether they’re a sculptor or an actor or a writer or a musician, you need to make money in order to do the work, and that’s sort of a downside, I guess.

But I think overall the quality of music and the variation, there’s so much more. Like, Australia hip- hop is really strong, there’s a lot more amazing pop singers out there, like, I mean I know Holly Rankin’s, a mate of mine, I love her Jack River stuff, great bands in Brisbane like Major Leagues – Jamiee and Anna are incredible songwriters. There’s just so much really interesting variation of music out there, that I think that’s also symptomatic of a really happening scene. Live-wise, great festivals everywhere, people are kicking ass, there’s lots of good gigs. I still think in some cities there could be more venues for bands to play. I think triple j’s still really strong, but I wish there were more triple j’s than just one, so they don’t have to funnel all of Australia’s music into one station. They can’t play everybody, and sadly it’s one of those things – if they play you, you’ll get popular, and if they don’t you probably won’t. I’d like to see a bit more of an even spread of radio so that it’s not just all about that one station. But the reality is, the way the government’s going, they’d like to cut the ABC back so much that maybe there’d be no triple j at all, and we’d be stuck with fucking Triple M [laughs], you know, commercial radio. Anyway, I just think overall, change-wise it’s becoming more eclectic and there’s more stuff out there. I just think it would be cool if there were more venues.

MF: What’s on the cards creatively for you for the rest of 2019?

K: So, right now I’m just learning Beatles harmonies. After that tour is done Spiderbait’s gonna do a new record soon, so we’ve been meaning to do one for a long time and the shows have just been so insane that we just really wanna make some fucked up heavy music, so I’m sort of writing that at the moment as well.

I’m doing a couple of other interesting things: working with a very amazing violinist in Hobart and just writing music with her, and I’m in this other jazz band with James Morrison and Paul Grabowsky. We just did the Adelaide Festival this year and that is essentially a pure improvisation band called The Others, which I think we’re going to go to Tokyo next year and Europe. So, I’m kind of pretty f*cking smack [laughs]. But I’m not one of those people that’s like… there’s this obsession of everyone being like “you busy, you busy?”. Like, being busy is the key to happiness, well it’s not necessarily so I won’t say that but I don’t know. I’m alive and I’m creating stuff. Spiderbait’s still my passion, but I love playing in ARC and doing these other things as well, so I’m just gonna keep going and having a good time, as long as I can!

The Antipodean Rock Collective will play shows around the country this August in honour of Abbey Road‘s 50th anniversary. This November Spiderbait will play a special one-off Singles show in Melbourne, followed by three shows across VIC and NSW this December

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