Washington’s Dates

Published in Billboard Magazine

As her surname might suggest, Australian newcomer Megan Washington is in capital form at the moment. The singer/songwriter’s gold-certified (35,000 units) album, “I Believe You, Liar” (Mercury/Universal Music Australia), is this year’s best-selling domestic debut Down Under.

“Liar” opened at No. 3 on the Australian Recording Industry Assn. albums chart in August and remained in the top 10 for six weeks. Now Mercury can look forward to a sales spike if Washington converts her six ARIA Award nominations into wins when the ceremony airs Nov. 7.

Washington’s success followed hefty roadwork and a steady stream of radio-friendly releases. In the past 18 months, she’s played more than 230 shows including five consecutive sellouts in September at Melbourne’s 850-capacity Corner Hotel.

Recorded independently and licensed to Universal, “Liar” was issued with a bonus disc comprising tracks from Washington’s previous singles and EPs, as well as in single-CD and vinyl versions. Now, her manager Troy Barrott says, “we’re focusing on the U.K., U.S., France, Germany and Japan. [Washington] will be relocating to Europe in the first half of 2011 where she will have greater access to those markets.”

Washington played three shows during New York’s CMJ Music Marathon, which ran Oct. 19-23. The artist is published globally by Albert Productions and booked in Australia by Village Sounds. U.S. shows are through the Windish Agency.

Well Red

Published in Billboard Magazine

 

With a top five album on the Australian Recording Industry Assn. charts, Melbourne pop-rock band Little Red’s career is looking rosy.

The five-piece opened at No. 5 on the ARIA tally in September with sophomore album “Midnight Remember,” its first under a global deal with Mushroom Group’s Liberation Music. The band’s debut, “Listen to Little Red,” peaked at No. 29 on the ARIA chart in 2008 and earned a 2009 U.K. release through indie Lucky Number Records.

Australian festival dates including Big Day Out and V Fest helped build a strong fan base, vocalist/keyboardist Tom Hartney says, “and having a great lead single helps.” The latest album delivered a top 20 hit with “Rock It,” which was synched along with new single “Slow Motion” in TV coverage of the Australian Football League’s Grand Final. The Sept. 25 match was a draw and replayed the following weekend—”great exposure for us,” Hartney says.

International release plans are shaping up, he adds, with a Japanese release likely to be first. Meantime, Little Red will support Blondie and the Pretenders on dates in November and December and play the Big Day Out touring festival in early 2011.

Publishing is handled by Mushroom Music, while Australasian bookings are through Artist Voice. U.K. shows are through Coda.

The 100 Best Australian Albums

Published in The Music Network

 

Who to leave out? That’s the big question, that has kept John O’Donnell, Toby Creswell and Craig Mathieson busy for much of 2010. The three music writers teamed up to select and explore the 100 standout Australian albums. The answer should whet the appetite of any Australian music fan.

 

Did they drop INXS from the list? No chance; they’re mentioned twice. Should John Farnham’s record-shattering Whispering Jack get a shout? Absolutely. Do the Bee Gees and Dragon qualify? Sure. But it’s those left out who’ll be the focus of much banter. There’s space in the ARIA Hall of Fame for The Divinyls and Little River Band. But when the definitive list of Australia’s top albums was drawn up, they – like many others — didn’t make the cut.

Perhaps it should come as little surprise that the top spot is occupied by one of Australia’s enduring and most iconic rock bands Midnight Oil and their 1987 hit Diesel and Dust, a chart-topper for six weeks on its release back in 1987.

Rather than counting-down from the top, The 100 Best Australian Albums begins with the biggest and the best. Diesel and Dust blasts the tome open with an eight page account on the album’s origins. Peter Garrett’s politically-charged group also appears at No. 23 in the book with the 1982 breakthrough effort 10 to 1. Says Mathieson,

“10 to 1 is a real turning point in how Australian bands approach the production of their records. There are days I think 10 to 1 is better than Diesel and Dust.” The top five is rounded-out by some genuine heavyweights in AC/DC’s Back In Black, Crowded House’s Woodface, Cold Chisel’s Circus Animals and The Triffids’ resurgent, critically lauded piece Born Sandy Devotional. Not everyone will agree with the albums’ placements.

Other acts to land two albums within the 256-page list are AC/DC, INXS, The Church, Cold Chisel, Crowded House, The Go-Betweens, Hoodoo Gurus, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Paul Kelly, The Saints and You Am I. No single artist lands three in the top 100. Each of the albums acknowledged in the book radiates the rarest of class, explains O’Donnell. They’re “important artistic documents that have become part of the fabric of our culture, art of our national psyche.”

Newcomers are smattered throughout. Empire of the Sun, The Drones, Gurrumul, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, The Presets and Bliss n Eso all earn a spot with albums cut and issued in recent years. The only set released in the noughties to appear in the top 10 is The Avalanches Since I Left You, the seminal cut ‘n’ paste release which was the only Australian effort to appear in the NME’s recent Top 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade list. The next- highest-ranked album recorded in the past decade is Sarah Blasko’s As Day Follows Night at No. 19. Blasko’s J Award-winning third album is one of just 10 female-led recordings on the best-Australian list, an anomaly acknowledged by the authors.

“It’s easy and acceptable and normal now for a female artist to be out there cutting a swathe and selling records. That wasn’t the case 25 years ago, when it was a more male domain,” notes O’Donnell. “That’s not right, but that’s why there were less female artists in the ‘70s and ‘80s who stood up.”

The idea for ranking Australia’s finest albums was sparked during a campfire conversation in July 2009 when O’Donnell and some friends started their own debate on the country’s finest recordings. The former EMI Australia CEO took home the seed of the idea and planted it in the minds of two long-time colleagues, Creswell and Mathieson. O’Donnell pitched the idea, and four book publishers made offers. Hardie Grant was the successful bidder.

Over the second half of 2009, the trio consumed music and set about refining their longlists. O’Donnell admits he listened to 450-500 albums to tune his ears for the task.

“Some were quick listens because I knew them well. They were unimpeachable. They had to be in there.” Although with others, he admits, “I was either discovering from the start or rediscovering and hadn’t played for a long time.” The writers spent four months on their lists, which were whittled down through a combination of “comprise, determination and stamina,” says Mathieson.

Following countless emails and phone calls, a marathon meeting at Creswell’s Sydney home finally beat the list into shape. “It was exhilarating to take on such a big process which, in a way, you don’t think was possible to achieve.” Mathieson admits. “It did get heated and we disagreed right up to the closing of the list on a couple of things,” adds O’Donnell. “That was always going to be the case, and there had to be some compromise.”

The trio already had the inside track on each other’s tastes. All three had worked at the now-defunct Juice Magazine and had stints with Rolling Stone. A list of Australia’s best records is something O’Donnell and Creswell had carried-on about for 25 years.

The team split their writing tasks among 50-something Creswell, 40-something O’Donnell and 30-something Mathieson, each of whom over the years had accrued a wealth of background and live quotes from many of the featured acts. “We played to strengths and our own experiences,” says Mathieson, who focused on post-‘80s music, with Creswell exploring the ‘60s and ‘70s and O’Donnell spearheading the project. Each author completed about 30,000 written words.

 

“We did an incredible amount of work in a quick turnaround,” notes Creswell. Admittedly, some of the selected works were “not our cup of tea,” O’Donnell says, but needed to be included because of their “enormous effect on culture and nation.” John Farnham’s Whispering Jack is one such album.

“I have very little time for it,” reckons Mathieson. “But you have to ask yourself, ‘what is it about a record that so many people buy it. When you have a record that successful, there’s some part of dialogue going on with the country itself. That record is about the moment when Australians as listeners of music accepted middleage as a valid time for a musician.”

Those albums left-out is a point each writer comes back to. The Divinyls was one act who merited inclusion, but “we all agreed they’d made amazing singles, lasted a long time but there wasn’t one single album which stood out,” says O’Donnell.

“Desperate and Temperamental were the two that probably came closest. We kept coming back and asking ourselves, ‘are we including someone because they’re our favourite or because we like them or because it’s gender or genre? No we can’t.’ I didn’t feel comfortable about leaving them out in the end.” Magic Dirt and The Clouds are among the acts who can consider themselves unlucky to miss the list. Readers might feel Kylie Minogue and Normie Rowe were lucky to survive the cull.

A handful of key acts from the ‘60s and ‘70s including The Easybeats, Normie Rowe, The Bee Gees, and Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs are represented by compilations or live albums, a refection of an era when creating “albums” were the exception, rather than the norm.

The book also serves as a strong study of how many bands take a few albums to hit their strides. Most featured worked represent the third or four album into an artist’s career.

And what did the writers learn from the process? “Music evolves,” says O’Donnell. “We started as a rock ‘n’ roll and a band-type nation and we’ve evolved into a country now making a lot of great hip hop music, electronic music. If you do this list in 10 years’ time you’ll have a lot more eclectic mix than perhaps we have.” In time, the concept may be expanded to cover the 100 best Australian Singles.

 

“We have an incredibly great body of work we should be proud of,” adds O’Donnell. “I don’t think as a nation we celebrate it enough. This book hopefully goes a small way to doing that.” Sony Music Australia has issued an accompanying 5-CD collection to ram-home that point.

Creswell admits he’s not yet had a response from the artists who didn’t appear on the list. That should change. “A friend told me, releasing the book is ‘like hitting a beehive with a stick’,” he laughs. The stirring has started.

 

 

The Hot Seat: Richard Kingsmill

Published in The Music Network

 

On the first day of Ausmusic Month, we chat to Triple J’s Music Director Richard Kingsmill about homegrown music, getting feedback and the relevance of radio in the digital age.

Richard, let’s start with the million dollar question: How do you identify the good music from the bad?
There’s absolutely no formula to how it works. It’s just a lot of hard work, many years’ experience, and listening to as much as you can. The good music will really shine through. Do the homework, do the research, see what others around you are seeing and then give it a shot. And trust the people you’ve got around you.

Seven years ago when I became Music Director, I didn’t want to be a megalomaniac. I wanted to open it up. Canvassing as many thoughts within the station is really crucial to the success of the station. We want every addition to count.

What percentage of Triple J’s spins are homegrown?
We play 40% Australian content. When I became Music Director, it was around 35% and I just knew the scene could handle 40% easily because there were so many great bands and so much interest in Australian music. We want to pick the artists that we think the audience is really going to connect with, the ones that are really making a difference, the ones that are really special, and the ones that are just going to keep on rolling out those songs.

How much do you rely on the Internet to discover new bands?Obviously the Internet is a huge resource for finding music, but word of mouth is still a really big part of it. We still get music sent to us in packages, through Unearthed. We’ll hear whispers on hot new bands, and if they’re not on Unearthed we’ll go to MySpace. We chase from alternate angles.


What tools does Triple J use to gauge listener feedback?

The text line is pretty active. Triple J has been strong in social interaction. We’ve got a quarter of a million people as friends on Facebook, which is huge. And we’ve got about 30,000 followers on Twitter. We have a request program every night. Our audience is great at giving feedback.

 

Of course, even Triple J has to evolve. More than Twitter and social networking, what does the station need to do to stay relevant?
There are very good indications that we’re making it work. This year the reach figures that we’ve got around the country are some of the best we’ve ever had. For the first survey this year, we hit over 1.5 million just in the top five capital cities; that doesn’t even count the regions where they don’t do ratings research. But that’s phenomenal. That’s bigger than back in the ‘90s, when we didn’t have Nova as a competitor and we didn’t have some of the public stations around.

We’ve kept to 1.4 million listeners for most of this year. Across radio, the time spent listening is down a little bit. A year ago it might have been nine hours across a whole week that people would tune into Triple J. Now it’s more like eight. That’s because there are so many opportunities out there, especially for the 18-24 year old demographic.

The naysayers reckon radio is becoming irrelevant…
Radio is still important; it’s still a huge part of breaking new music. Basically, it’s the voice that people want to hear. They want to hear that human communication. Going to a blog and streaming, or shuffling on your iPod is great, but what made radio great years ago is still what it is today. You want to hear a trusted voice; someone who knows what they’re talking about, someone who can give you an idea of new stuff to make your life even better.

What kind of reach does triple j have outside Australia?
We do get a lot of emails from America, Europe, Scandinavian countries, sometimes the UK but usually from ex-pats and its really hard to gauge. A lot of people really miss Triple J and really want to connect with it when they’re overseas. I had a dream a few years ago and made some inquiries about trying to get us on satellite radio in the States.

The potential is there for Triple J to extend even further, and to sell Australian music to the world as best we can.

 

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