In the midst of all the media hullabaloo happening last week, Music Matters Live with HP 2013 returned at full blast for the third time to give music lovers the chance to see acts, big and small, highly anticipated and unknown, over three days at venues spread across Clarke Quay.
The secret to having the best time at these things is to seek out bands with the most obscure or funniest names. The schedule boasts over fifty acts, overlapping one another. It’s near impossible to see all of them live (if you did, drinks are on me).
In all seriousness, the best surprises come from bands flying under the radar, just scratching the surface of superstardom, and putting on such mind-blowing performances that the audience gets the sense that they are witnessing a revelation. Vaudeville Smash did just that. And I’ll admit it, the band caught my attention before they even played a note, with a name derived from a children’s karaoke machine in the late 80s.
Performing hits from their debut album such as “Dancing for the Girl”, “Best Night” and “Strangest Dream”, as well as favourites from their earlier EPs such as “Hey” and “Hey Danny”, Vaudeville Smash delivered one of the most memorable sets during the festival. With their tongue-in-cheek lyrics, disco pop synths and funky saxophone solos, the boys from Melbourne had the crowds up and dancing on their feet in no time. And to complete their tribute to the 80s, the charismatic chaps were all decked out in patterned shirts! Needless to say, everyone had a smashing time (okay, bring on the pitchforks, I deserve it).
Popspoken: How did you guys start playing together?
M: We got together because my mum had him (gestures to Luca) a few years after she had me and the 3 of us are brothers. So we have been playing together in some form for all our lives.
L: Yeah, we came from a very musical family. Our grandfather taught us how to play the piano when we were kids, and our dad played the guitar, so music was always a part of what we did. And my 2 older brothers, Marc and Dan, were in a band together, and finally they asked me to join (laughs). That’s how we started playing together. We were all in Melbourne and started looking for other members, and sort of stumbled across these other guys.
M: Yeah, it’s great. We have been playing with these guys for a long time as well. And when you do something for that long a time, you start to gel and it becomes a beautiful thing.
Popspoken: Can you tell us a bit about the album, “Dancing For the Girl”?
M: Yes, this is our debut album. We’ve had a couple of EPs but this is the first long album. It has taken over a year from start to finish. A lot of hours, a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but a lot of love as well. We’ve pretty much made the album we wanted to make and wanted to hear, and we are really happy with it.
Popspoken: As a band, you have such a unique style, with an indie pop or 80s disco-pop vibe. Out of all the genres, why did you choose this?
M: We are big fans of this period of music between the 70s and the 80s, this crossover period, where I think that’s the golden age of music. And you got artists like Michael Jackson doing his thing back then, Prince, Hall & Oates. These great pop bands that came around then, that’s what we love to listen to.
L: And disco bands like Earth, Wind & Fire, that’s a massive influence.
Popspoken: Yes! Some of your stuff reminds me of “September”.
L: (laughs) Yeah yeah.
M: Funny you should say that, we actually played in a cover band in Melbourne, and we played “September” as one of our songs, that’s sort of what we listen to.
Popspoken: In terms of songwriting, what’s your process like as a band? Is it entirely collaborative?
M: Entirely, no. To some extent, every song is (collaborative). Most songs start off with either Dan or me, we work together for a bit, and we show it first to Luca. Luca helps me with lyrics quite a bit. Then we take it to a band. We test it live, and if the kids like it, it stays. We’ve got quite a few songs that just didn’t work live. With the album as well, the recording had a lot to do with how the songs turned out. Some songs changed quite dramatically because when we put them down on record, they just weren’t quite working. Because recording and live are two very different things. But yeah, each song is different. Sometimes you sit down at the piano because you want to write a song, doesn’t matter what it is, you are going to write one; sometimes you are lying in bed at night, and an idea would come to your head. It varies.
Your music is highly danceable. How do you match a dancefloor sensibility to pop songwriting?
L: That’s a really good question. I don’t know if we intentionally go out to write songs that make people dance but people just happen to dance to music that we write.
M: No, I think we do (laughs). We want to put on a show. The songs we write have that certain style that make people dance. And we just naturally write pop, that’s what we love. To me, we all get a kick out of people singing our songs but what gives me the biggest kick, and I’ve noticed this in Singapore as well, is when you see kids singing your songs, and they’ve never actually heard them, but by the end of the song, they are singing it. We were really honoured by the fact that people started singing, that’s where the catch and the pop comes into it. And when you blend it all together, it’s a beautiful thing.
Popspoken: What inspired some of the tracks? For example, Strangest Dream seems to be about a crazy night out. And Sailor Moon, there’s this cartoon from Japan, and the main character is also in disguise and has powers just like in the song…
L: (laughs) It’s funny, Sailor Moon is a song that was co-written by our little sister and Marc, and she is the biggest Sailor Moon fan ever. So that song was written specifically about that.
M: Yeah, it’s basically the life of Sailor Moon.
L: Strangest Dream was actually written about a night that Marc and I had with a bunch of friends in London. It was a very big and crazy night.
M: It was a crazy thing where…
L: We just got a little bit drunk, and a really good time with friends. It was summer in London…
M: It made us think about certain things in the world, analyse life, yeah (laughs).
Popspoken: I love your cover of Frank Ocean’s Lost. What other music are you listening to at the moment?
L: At the moment I’m listening to a lot of the older stuff. I’m a big fan of James Taylor, I have been listening to a lot of his stuff. A couple of Melbourne bands, indie pop bands. Marc, what are you listening to?
M: Well, I tell you what I’m going to be listening to as soon as I get home. I’m going to listen to all his stuff and buy all his albums. It’s this guy called Gurrumul. He was one of the Australian acts (in Music Matters Live). This indigenous Australian, blind guy, plays the guitar, he sounds nothing at all like what we do but it was one of the most beautiful musical moments I’ve had.
I don’t listen to much current music but Frank Ocean is great, when I first heard that song, I said this guy here writes pop that’s deep and everything. There’s this other song I do like, you know this song by Ed Sheeran that goes “m-my my, m-my, m-my my” (Author’s Note: It’s Ed Sheeran’s “Give Me Love”). He’s great, I do love that song.
Popspoken: I have to ask you about your overseas performances, you guys have been to so many cool ones. Out of SXSW, CMW, New York and maybe even Music Matters, which city and show that you guys have played in gave you the most memorable experience?
L: I have to say New York, it’s always been a dream of ours to play New York. We did one show at this place called The Bitter End, a really iconic venue in New York. The crowd went crazy, and the owner of the venue loved us so much, he invited us back to play the next night. It was a really cool thing, that show right there.
M: I have to say the response we have gotten in Singapore has been really incredible. I have left every single gig on a high, on a really big high, and I can’t say that about… the New York ones were great but the other festivals I don’t think I got as much of a high as I did here.
L: Our last gig here at Paulaner Wirtshaus, as soon as we finished playing, the crowd just started shouting out for more
M: I mean like shouting.
L: Yeah (laughs). Forcing them to let us play another song. The crowds here have been crazy and just so responsive.
Popspoken: How does your reception differ in various countries, say overseas audiences compared to back home in Melbourne?
M: No gig we have ever played is quite like our Melbourne shows. We’ve built up our reputation as a live band. We’ve got true beautiful fans that love our stuff, and know all the words. When I do this (hand gestures) to give the guitarist some power, you see a whole sea of like 300 people just doing that, and it’s a powerful thing. I think if someone came to see us, we would sound better in Melbourne just because of the energy of the crowd. So I suppose there’s a bit of a difference when you go to a new place. Not so much Singapore because the response has been brilliant. But say America, you’ve got people that are watching and enjoying, but they are not as animated and connected. That would be the biggest difference.
Popspoken: You guys have so much showmanship and your live sets are just incredibly fun. Is this something you guys actively pursue?
M: I think over time without realising it, it happened. We are a good live band because we have done hundreds of shows. It is important to all of us that the crowd enjoys it and that they respond. If we don’t get a response after a song, it’s sort of… (makes a pained face). So this showmanship was probably developed to get these 2 or 3 people in the crowd into the gig.
L: Now, it’s just a natural part of what we do.
Popspoken: Did you get to see any performances from other bands at Music Matters Live? Any act in particular that stood out to you?
L: Yeah, we saw a few. Marc mentioned Gurrumul. And we saw a lady called Katie Noonan, did you see her?
Popspoken: Yes, we caught a little of her fantastic set with the string quartet.
L: Yes, she was really good.
M: There was a Singapore band but I can’t remember the band name… (Author’s note: the name escapes both him and the publicist). But they were really cool.
Popspoken: Any advice for budding musicians?
M: When you are starting out, play as much as you can. So you become a good band. Maybe not everyone cares about this as much. But if I see a band that connects and plays music, I don’t care what genre it is, that is beautiful in its own right, because they are good at what they do, and can connect with the crowd, to me… that’s why we got into it. That’s where I’ll start, play as many shows as you can.
L: Yeah. If you got the chance to tour as well, do it. If you have the option of going SXSW or Music Matters, do it. You have so much fun, you bond with the band, you become tighter as a group, and you meet amazing people.
M: And I daresay that in Australia, we are not as fortunate in many ways. For us, when we tour, the next big city is 8 hours away. Fans in Singapore can go to Malaysia, Thailand. You’ve got this massive populations so close by. Bands can make a living just touring this whole region. Whereas Australians have to think a bit further away. So yeah, play as much as you can, tour, bond.
Popspoken: Yeah, I read that you guys will be playing at Japan’s Sapparo City Jazz Festival.
L: Yeah! That’s in August. We will be playing on the main stage.
Popspoken: You should play Sailor Moon.
M: That’s exactly what we are going to do. And in one of our songs, ‘Dancing for the Girl’, close to the end we say ‘see you later’ in Japanese!
Popspoken: Can we expect to see you guys back in Singapore anytime soon?
L: Absolutely! We will come back as soon as we can.
Popspoken: Finally, what’s next for you guys music-wise?
M: When we get back to Australia, we’ll be going on our national tour. And I’m already thinking about the next album.
L: The focus when we get back is the tour. We’ll be going Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast and our big show in Melbourne.
Be sure to check this space for more interviews with bands from Music Matters Live with HP 2013!
For more pictures of Vaudeville Smash, check out our facebook album.