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Rock Club 40 chats with SEAN KELLY (MODELS)

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Photos: KEV HOWLETT

Models are about to embark on a national tour, kicking off with two special shows at Melbourne’s Flying Saucer Club this weekend, in which they will showcase two of their albums. I caught up with founding member and lead singer/guitarist, Sean Kelly, to talk about what has been called their first National Tour of the 21st Century.

Well, it certainly has been awhile since the last one. How long, exactly? Sean gives it some thought before answering. “That’s a very good question… I think it was the year 2000,” he ponders and adds “I’m not even too sure where we went on that tour.” Since that time, he says, the band has worked mainly in Melbourne and Sydney. They also supported Icehouse for two shows on the Queensland leg of their tour in January 2014. “And of course we didn’t do a single gig in the whole decade of the 90s so I’m amazed I get away with saying that we never broke up,” he laughs. “A ten year hiatus is pretty impressive, I think, in anyone’s book. The tour that we did in the year 2000 was with James Freud and that was sort of the last involvement he had in the band, apart from just the one-off two shows in 2008. From about the year 2006/2007, Mark Ferrie, Andrew and Barton and I started working on stuff together so essentially that resurgence in around 2006, that’s nine years.” Which, he points out, is as long as Models were together prior to that long hiatus.

I ask Sean how he feels about going out on tour again.

“I’m excited that we’re doing it,” he tells me and adds with a laugh, “I can tell you that it beats restacking pallets at 7am in a freezing warehouse or unloading containers on a dock somewhere! I love working with Andrew and I love working with Mark Ferrie,” says Sean and he was ‘quite disappointed’ when drummer Barton Price made the decision not to continue with the band but hastens to add “We’ve recently established a chemistry with Ash Davies who is one of the best drummers in Melbourne. He’s from Perth originally. He’s got a reputation because he’s just so brilliant. It’s alternatively led to this quite a sort of new freshness within the group because Ash certainly brings a kind of soulfulness to what we’re doing, I think.”

“We ended up working with Ash because Mark Ferrie was involved in a few projects with him and loved working with him; for example, the JVG Guitar Method. They’re the rhythm section in that band and it was kind of fun when they supported us at Memo. Technically, it was the Models’ rhythm section playing with the support band whereas I joked that, when we played, we had the JVG rhythm section playing with us that night. I like the way Mark Ferrie explained it in a recent interview he did. What Mark said recently was that initially we just got him (Ash) because we were launching the Alphabravo/Cut Lunch reissue and Ash tends to play a bit like Johnny Crash who was on the Alphabravo album (Buster Stiggs was on Cut Lunch).  Ash was perfect for that gig and now we’re in a situation where he’s just the obvious ‘go to’ guy whenever we have anything to do. I was interested to read this because I wasn’t quite sure what his status was myself,” he admits with a laugh. “I love the idea of Ash becoming a full member down the track. I love working with him and what’s really nice is he’s prepared to put in the work, the practice, indeed the rehearsal with us because, as you can imagine, that’s pretty important when you’re trying to produce a sound that’s on standard, perhaps a cut above a three chord rock band or something like that.”

Sean explains that the way the band works these days revolves around the various commitments of everyone involved. “Because Andrew, Mark and I are all involved pretty intensely with other projects; Mark with his Rockwiz stuff, Andrew is teaching a lot these days and lecturing electronic music and music for advertising and music for film and of course I’m involved in about three or four other ensembles.” Those ‘ensembles’ include The Sean Kelly Trio with Rosie Westbrook and Billy Miller and the, as Sean puts it, ‘irreverent’ Absolutely 80s show, among other projects. “We plan to do things when, for example, we can get Ash Davies because, at the moment, he’s very busy as well, involved in other projects.”

Before they head off on their national tour, Models will be playing two shows this weekend at The Flying Saucer Club in Melbourne. Tonight the band will be performing songs from their album Local and/or General and, on Saturday night, they will be showcasing The Pleasure of Your Company.

Sean relates some memories from that period of Models’ history, beginning with the recording of Local and/or General which took place in the UK.

“It was our first overseas foray,” he explains. “We had signed with Mushroom Records and we’d already released an album and an EP and, in fact, whilst we were in London recording Local and/or General, our Cut Lunch EP was released here in Australia. It was actually initially recorded as demos for the Local and/or General album so the consensus was that our demos for our album – four of them anyway – were good enough to put out as a little teaser kind of EP so that when we got to London to record Local and/or General, we had a really nice farm studio booked out in Buckinghamshire but we certainly didn’t have a surfeit of material, what with four of our kind of cool songs having been released. We were really incredibly well looked after at that point. We were signed to Mushroom Records. The record company, A & M Europe in fact underwrote the whole exercise so I imagine Mushroom would have just put an option on the shelf at that stage because I guess, effectively, someone else paid for the record that they’d put out but it was a really amazing experience to just go to Europe, to go to London where you can get on a ferry to Paris or anywhere else in Europe. We just had a ball. We actually lived in London proper. We had accommodation in Chelsea for a month or so before we then went to the studio which is up north somewhere with accommodation on site and we did a few gigs around London. We got to see gigs and got to hang out.”

It certainly sounds like a very memorable experience.

“I just loved it. It was such a thrill to get out of Australia for the first time and I think anyone that has travelled overseas will know what I mean when I say you become aware of how Australian you are as soon as you leave and it helps with one’s perspective on things when you come back. We loved doing that and we recorded at Rupert Hine’s studio in Buckinghamshire. Rupert Hine was the guy who had the hit in the late 70s, early 80s, with a song about the Lone Ranger (just in case I don’t know the song,  Sean sings a few lines for me, to jog my memory…) and then he had an album called ‘Immunity’ which did pretty well too. He’s a pretty enigmatic figure and he did the voice over at the end of ‘Unhappy’ for us. We got him to read a personal ad.  He had the very upper class English accent or at least he could fake it well. We brought in quite a lot of outside influences. We spent a lot of time in Brixton, checking out the Reggae clubs and listening to Bob Marley and Buster just met some guy on the street and we let him do a rap on one of the songs, ‘Dying for my Country at the War’. We had a steel drum band come in and play on the song ‘Rate of Change’; our engineer/ producer Steve Taylor played saxophone on the album. I could talk for ages about the actual content on the album…”

And, truth be known, I could quite happily listen to all those stories but we have to move on to the next album, The Pleasure of Your Company and there was quite a gap between this and the previous record.

“Yes, there was,” he confirms. “Between Local and/ or General and Pleasure of Your Company, we actually did a lot of recording, touring, had some line-up changes. A lot went on and around the year 2000, we actually put out a CD calledModels Melbourne that was a rarities collection of live recordings, demos etc. and there is quite a bit of material on that album that was from that period between Local and/or General and The Pleasure of Your Company; almost a whole album worth of material.” Most of which never made it on to another album although, as Sean points out, “‘God Bless America’ exists as a similar piece of music and it’s on that rarities collection. It’s called ‘All American Club Foot’. There was, I guess, a discernible shift between the sound of the band on Local and/ or General and The Pleasure of Your Company. We also started working with Barton Price and of course James Freud on the bass so there was suddenly a kind of big, brash, flamboyant, kind of dynamic rhythm section and we got pretty caught up in night clubbing and dance music to a little degree but also very interested in the latest electronic music trends, special effects and gear that was available and just to sort of really put the cat amongst the pigeons, we recorded the album in Sydney with producer whiz kid, Nick Launay. We recorded at Paradise Studios in Woolloomooloo, a studio owned by Billy Field at the time.”

Sean concedes that the album marked a transition for the band. “I think we even released our first ever single which is pretty bizarre considering at that stage we’d been around for four or five years and recording and touring. We had this bizarre kind of concept of avoiding releasing singles. I think it was because we used to like to not go with the flow, buck the trend and be unconventional.  That sounds a bit contrived but we were also trying to come up with original, timeless sounding music as well.”

The transition, of course, did not suit everyone. “I don’t think Buster was very happy or Mark Ferrie. It’s not like anyone got fired. He just didn’t like where we were heading, you know. We had Graham Scott and we had John Rowell in the band. This was between Buster and Barton Price, there was another drummer and Graham Scott played on the single ‘On’ which was released between Local and/or General and Pleasure of Your Company as did John Rowell who was our guitarist for five minutes so, for a little while, we had Mark Ferrie, John Rowell, Graham Scott, Andrew Duffield and myself and Mark just didn’t like it and he quit. With Buster, it was when we came back from doing Local and/ or General, we’d had all sorts of issues with the band’s performance in the recording studio and live so that we just needed to find someone else as proficient as Buster but Buster was going through a hard time at the time and wasn’t able to deliver what we were hoping for.”

“And how did I feel about it? Apart from having to manage these personnel issues, which is always a bit tricky, I was just on a roll. I loved being signed to a record company, earning money from playing music. I had a road crew, people carrying my equipment! I suppose a lot of musicians my age, well not a lot but some, would take that for granted but I don’t because I carry my own gear these days. I’m kind of getting on a bit and the equipment seems to get heavier and heavier and yet when I was fighting fit and in my twenties, I had a crew of guys carrying my stuff for me!” he says with a touch of irony.

Many of the songs the band will be playing at this weekend’s Melbourne shows haven’t been performed live for quite some time although Sean points out that they did do a similar showcase of their Local and/or General album a couple of years ago. “I have to say, on my part, it was reluctantly because I didn’t take to this concept of bands just playing one of their albums, mainly because  you get used to being booked to perform and the assumption is that you’re not going to play stuff that people don’t want to hear even though there is an element of that sometimes but to be actually booked to  play a specific thing really rankled with me initially but then we did our first album Alphabravo and I guess Local and/ or General and now, it’s all the rage!” he notes with a laugh.  “So we’ve just got on board. I can’t guarantee that we’ll be doing it continuously but we’ve jumped on the bandwagon for the moment.”

These two particular performances, showcasing the albums, are exclusive to Melbourne. Models will be taking a different format on the road for the tour.

“Yes. Well, it’s kind of interesting,” Sean says. “Because we agreed to do the two albums at the Flying Saucer Club, I think that might end up influencing the songs we play on our national tour but we certainly aren’t under any pressure to play any specific albums. It will just be like a mixed bag from the whole catalogue. We might even squeeze a new one in there as well.”

Models have released two limited edition EPs in the last two years: GTK and Memo, and have slipped a couple of tracks from both these CDs into their set.  We’ve been playing songs like ‘Virtual Twig’ and ‘Really Wanna Rock’ and ‘Nothing on the Wire’.” But if you are waiting on another album release, you might have to wait a little longer. “You know, we always thought we might eventually end up with a new album that we could compile by adding even more stuff to the newish EPs… well, that’s kind of on the backburner for the moment whilst we manage this… what did Andrew call it? Our National World Tour!”  He points out that it’s quite a lot of work, learning all those old songs from all those years ago; most of which they haven’t played for a very long time. “So we just focus on that whenever we’re together. But I have to say, it is really gratifying that people are interested in our new music as well and, indeed, it’s really nice when we do a show and we end up with a sort of multi-generational audience.” He notes that older fans that have been following the band for years are bringing their children and young friends to the shows. “And the best thing that happens is when the music is able to speak to people of younger generations.”

And what can audiences expect when they come to a Models show on this tour?

“Well, we’ve sort of truncated our stuff a bit because for the last few years we’ve had a backing vocalist working with us on occasion, Eve Von Bibra, and Zan has done the odd guest spot with us. We’ve kind of scaled it down because while we thought it was important to try to cover the female backing vocals that are a part of things like ‘Out of Mind, Out of Sight’, ‘Barbados’, ‘Evolution’, we’ve discovered that just with the four of us, now that it’s more than twenty years ago, we can kind of interpret them a bit. We’ve been able to just play our hand at anything from the catalogue at all. Whatever song we like, we can just have a crack at them and I’d like to think we’re ‘on song’,” he says with a laugh. “That’s a very bad pun…  but we’re possibly twenty years better as musicians than we were when we made most of those records so I’d like to think we can add a bit of finesse when we play these tunes that perhaps makes them compelling in a way.”

Models have a few more shows coming up in the New Year. After the national tour, they will be doing A Day on the Green,joining Icehouse, Baby Animals, Diesel and Deborah Conway for that show at Mitchelton Wineries in Victoria. Sean says he is really looking forward to it, although he admits to being a little disappointed that they are only doing one show. “I love doing that show,” he tells me. “Models did that a year or so ago with Devo, Simple Minds and The Church and I did it with my solo ensemble a few years ago and we worked with INXS, Baby Animals and Train, and it’s just the best tour and you get really well looked after; I loved it.” And following A Day on the Green, two more Victorian shows have been added to their tour at the end of January when Models play the Croxton Park Hotel in Melbourne and The Woolshed in Geelong.

Models play the first of their two shows tonight at The Flying Saucer Club in Melbourne and head off around the country next week. Sounds like a show you won’t want to miss.

For a full list of tour dates and to book your tickets, click here

Click here for a Day on the Green

 

by Sharyn Hamey

 

Copyright © Sharyn Hamey 2015.  All rights reserved

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