Paul Mac: Return Of The Mac

Published in The Music Network

 

The veteran producer would happily be anonymous. Mac doesn’t sing – except for one track, which his ears won’t allow him to listen to again. And, admittedly, the serial collaborator has never been fashionable. When the spotlight finds its target, Mac is invariably keen for his teammates to soak up the glare.

After all the hits, the awards, the parties and the rewards, Mac is under no illusions as to why he was put on this planet – he’s all about making the music. And that’s precisely what he’s been doing for more than 20 years. He’s one-half of the Itch-E & Scratch-E duo, and 50% of Stereogamous (think “monogamous” with the word “stereo” bolted on the front). There’s been a swag of film and TV music projects and remix works of late, and there’s another solo album in the works. Stadium filler George Michael is just one of his latest collaborators, and Mac’s DNA is all-over the redux of LCD Soundsystem new track I Can Change. Mac is rarely out-front, but he’s often out there.

On a near-freezing mid-winter Sydney afternoon, Mac is juggling his crowded agenda. There are remixes to complete, and bags to pack for a European jaunt. And there’s some promotion work to crack on with, ahead of Ministry Of Sound’s July 23 release of the third Itch-E & Scratch-E album, Hooray for Everything!!! Mac doesn’t like crowds. “I’m not a very public person,” he admits. But give him a small group to play amongst, and he’s in his element.

“I’m a bit of a Jeckyll and Hyde,” Mac explains. “Get me on stage with a couple of bourbons and I’m fine. But I’m shitting myself for three days before it happens. Stage fright just doesn’t seem to go away. I dread it. I just prefer to be in the studio. I don’t like being out there. But when you do it, some magic seems to take over and off you go.

The 44-year-old loves a laugh. And why not? Mac can trace his career back to ground zero of Australia’s dance culture. It’s a road littered with blowouts, car crashes and roadkill. “I’m a bit like the Keith Richards of Australian techno,” he muses. “It is all about balance and focus. I just love music. I’ve been blessed enough that I’ve never had to follow fashion. If you chase what you think is going to happen in six months time and write according to that, then you’re doomed. I’ve always done what I’ve believed in. Occasionally it coincides with fashion and you have a hit.” Most of the time, he admits, the hits are misses. “But you survive.”

The youngest of seven children, Mac came into this world ready to work in a team. “In some ways I got away with more because I was the youngest. But then I got punched out by six older ones so I wanted to please them at the same time.” Mac’s strict Catholic parents kept no stereo in the house, but there was a piano. And there was a trickle-down of influence from the older siblings, who blew the boy’s mind with the sounds of Kraftwerk and Public Enemy. From an early age, Mac got a taste for playing for the masses. Many years before clubbers would come to pay respect to Mac’s tunes, the youngster honed his chops in the house of the lord. Mac played the organ in his local church, and the nuns were always on hand to wrap his knuckles when he hit a wrong note. He didn’t know it then, but those disciplinarians helped attune Mac’s sense of perfectionism.

Mac soon spotted the value in his abilities. As the years passed, he made pocket-money playing funerals and weddings. Awards came in his mid-teens, and later a bachelor of music education from Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music gave Mac the piece of paper his parents would fete. Teaching wasn’t his prize.

On one memorable night in 1995, the artist virtually ensured he would never travel that path. Mac and music partner Andy Rantzen won their first ARIA Award with the debut Itch-E & Scratch-E album, Itch-E Kitch-E Koo. While collecting the gong for Best Dance Release, Mac famously used his acceptance speech to thank the ecstasy dealers of Australia. “That was the best career move I ever made,” he recalls. “I got in so much trouble for that, but I don’t care. I’m still proud of it. I meant every word, and I still do.” Mac’s folks brushed off the controversy, as they did years later when he came out, and then when the media had a feeding-frenzy on the “tedious” speculation that Mac was having an affair with his Dissociates partner Daniel Johns.

Mac “has an exceptional ear for what is needed and what is not. And he’s a hilarious guy,” comments Johns, who rates working his studio time with the producer as “one of my most enjoyable musical experiences.”

When the chips are down, that’s when Mac purges his soul in search of his music. “Do I punish myself? Totally. I’m the worst Virgo, ex-Catholic you’ve ever met. If I’m feeling happy, I’m busy being happy. When I’m feeling down, that’s when I tend to write. The best thing I do is beautifully sad.” Mac explores his inner Hyde on Others Planets, the lead track from Hooray For Everything!!! Fronted by New Yorker MDNA, its lyrics aren’t so much suggestive as a punch in the nose for wowsers. Drugs, sex and bestiality are all checked in this vampy club track which oozes Peaches at her most bawdy. “I knew it would get banned. I really didn’t give a fuck,” explains Mac. “The record company hassled us to do a clean version. And then other radio stations had a problem with the word ‘fag.’ If you’re going to come back, be bold or don’t bother at all.”

A trip to a songwriter’s retreat in Bali last month has provided Mac with a new canvas, and a host of new collaborators. Mac got to work on new tracks with the likes of Swedish writer and producers Arnthor Birgisson (Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez) and Fredrik “Fredro” Odesjo (Sugababes, Kelly Rowland), the fruits of which may yet find a home on the artist’s third solo album, tentatively due in 2010. The solo set may also feature George Michael, a team-up that came about when the pair fortuitously met earlier this year. Mac politely declined to reveal any salacious details from the debauched parties he had with the former Wham! frontman. “Yes, there were some,” Mac laughs. “I’ve backed out of that whole world of Twitter because the only things I’ve got to talk about are the things I shouldn’t talk about.”

Plans are to work Mac’s music more heavily into film and TV through synchronization deals, according to Universal Music Publishing. Finding that next collaborator is an ongoing quest. “The Itchee & Scratchy album has really inspired me to where I want to get to,” says Mac. “There are plenty of artists I’d love to work with – Sia, Bjork, Thom Yorke. What excites me more always is finding that new kid. My idea, without trying to sound too grandiose, is to just try and be the one who invents the genre. I don’t know whether I’ve done that, but that’s what I aim for.”

 

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Leaping Impala

Published in Billboard Magazine

 

Tame Impala looks like it has the right pedigree to spring up from Down Under this year.

The psychedelic rock trio hails from the hot music scene of Perth in Western Australia. Signed to Modular Recordings (whose roster includes Wolfmother, Cut Copy and Ladyhawke), the band’s self-titled EP topped the Australian Independent Record Labels chart in October 2008. It was boosted by lead track “Half Full Glass of Wine,” which won strong support from state-funded youth radio network Triple J.

The buzz simmered in 2009 as the band split its time between touring and recording, issuing one single, “Sundown Syndrome,” in July. But things finally boiled over this year when debut album “Innerspeaker” debuted at No. 4 on the Australian Recording Industry Assn. albums chart one week after its May 21 release.

“They haven’t tried to force themselves on anyone,” says the band’s manager, Jodie Regan of Spinning Top Music. “They just write great tunes, and they’re great live.” Modular People released “Innerspeaker” June 7 in the United Kingdom and June 8 in the United States.

Tame Impala ended a run of U.S. shows opening for MGMT June 20 and has U.K. dates scheduled for August. Further U.S. and European dates are planned before year’s end: Booking is by Modular People (Australia), Paradigm (United States) and 13 Artists (United Kingdom). The band’s publishing is with Sony/ATV in Australia and New Zealand.

Aussie acts lose out in ACMA’s digital radio ruling

Published in The Music Network

 

Australian artists won’t have any divine right to airplay on the digital radio platform for at least the next three years after the broadcast authority temporarily scrapped the content quotas.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has ignored the music community’s pleas and registered an exemption in the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice, which means minimum quotas for locally-sourced music won’t apply to digital-only stations.

The ACMA’s change to Code 4 will be in place until a tri-annual review, which would next happen in 2013.

Australia’s music community was unanimously opposed to changes made to the quota system, a proposal for which was floated by Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) by way of an advertisement in the Australian newspaper earlier this year.

The CRA reckoned it had a case when the government waved local content quotas for new digital-only TV channels until 2013, when the digital TV switchover occurs. Exempting new digital-only radio services would also “encourage diversity,” explained CRA CEO Joan Warner.

The ACMA concurred. “In these early days of digital radio, licensees should be afforded the opportunity to experiment with programming formats, including the programming of niche services such as ‘event channels’ like Pink Radio and Radio GaGa,” comments ACMA Chairman Chris Chapman in a statement issued Thursday.

The exemption came as “a surprise” and a “disappointment” and it’s “certainly not setting a good precedent,” ARIA CEO Stephen Peach tells TMN. “We’re obviously concerned that, at the next review date in three years, CRA will push to retain the exemption,” he says. In the meantime, ARIA plans to contest the ACMA’s exemption.

The broadcast authority’s decision may ultimately have “serious repercussions for Australian artists and labels,” warns Nick O’Byrne, the GM of independent music companies’ trade body, Association of Independent Record Labels (AIR).

Australia’s quota system is widely seen as a rod in the back for the country’s homegrown ranks. Across the traditional radio stations, quotas vary by genre. The stiffest minimums are imposed on formats like mainstream rock and contemporary hits radio, which must play at least 25% locally-sourced music.

Despite the quotas, international artists still rule Australia’s airwaves. Nine of the 10 most played songs on commercial radio last year were by American acts, according to data published by broadcast monitoring company AirCheck. Eskimo Joe was the only Australian act to crack the list, at No. 4. “We know there is a direct link between sales and exposure from commercial broadcast,” adds O’Byrne, “and this ruling has the potential to damage the financial viability of the Australian music industry significantly.”

 

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