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:: Spotlight :: Eskimo Joe - Unearthing a new realm

By: Evan Alexander

Eskimo Joe has been through a rough period in the last couple of years. Prior to that, their excellent debut album “Girl” achieved platinum status and received an ARIA award nomination. The likeable band is now back with strength, verve, and a new album “A Song Is A City” that is on a new label. This release sees the move into a bright new era for the band and geared towards greater things. They’re set to do more live shows in the next few weeks and I spoke to Joel Quartermain about this latest stage in their career.

Where did the name Eskimo Joe come from?

Kav was hanging out with a friend of his and they were going op shopping. This happened years and years and years ago, and he found a tee shirt in an op shop it was “Eskimo Joe’s Diner” in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Kav told Stu about it, because they’ve been friends since they were five, and they said to each other, if we ever start a band together that’ s what we’ll call it. We didn’t have to sit around thinking about a name. I just hope the diner in America don’t sue us.

In Oklahoma?

Yeah, We’ll steer clear of there.

I saw you play up here in Brisbane recently at ‘The Zoo’. You guys are keeping busy…

We’d just put the single out then so we thought we’d go and do a quick run around and gauge how we were doing and all the shows sold out. So it was a really good tour, and now the album’s coming out.

The making of “A Song Is A City has been a slow process for various reasons…

We always take a long time to make albums. We’ve become the sort of band that doesn’t just bash something out. We really have romantic ideas about making records, and spending a lot of time on pre production and recording it, post production and mixing. It was a long process.

How do you guys approach your songwriting?

Kav will come in with an idea and a few chords, a melody, and some lyrics. We get together with him and turn it, put it through the Eskimo Joe machine, and by the end it comes out as one of our tunes. Basically we write the song while we are recording it – a demo of it - we don’t set up as a band and play it. We kind of record it and then we learn how to play it after we have written it.

The writing process on “A Song Is a City” - did that differ to the process on “Girl?

In as much as we spent more time pre-producing the songs and doing those demos. If we’re doing a song we usually go solid three days on it, put down a quick track, acoustic, and a vocal and then build it from there to the point where some of the songs have seventy two tracks on them. We are definitely into the thing of writing songs that are impossible for us to play live and then worrying about that later.

I actually noticed at the Zoo gig that you were on full time guitar duties and you'd brought another drummer into the fold. Is that just for the tour?

That’s just for live. We’re a three-piece in the studio. The beauty of the studio is that you can do as much as you want and you don’t have to play it all together; you know it’s all overdubbed.

A question regarding track 3 ‘Life Is Better With You’. Has one or all of you been listening to a lot of Neil Young lately – Down By the River in particular?

We’re all big fans. Kav’s been a big fan of that album for years and years and I’m a big fan of other albums of his. I hadn’t really heard that album and Kav wrote “Life is Better With You” - the verse and the chorus, and then we were coming up with parts. He was saying that maybe we should do this and that and then, when we were actually recording the album, he pulled out the disc and said “Check this out.“

What was the process behind the production on ‘Carousel’?

The music box was in the studio in Sydney, it was just sitting on top of the piano and Paul McKercher recorded it on to tape for us. We came home because we did postproduction at our own studio in Perth and Stu just grabbed a chair and put it in the middle of the garden. We ran a mic to it and played the guitar part and then Kav wrote a kind of lullaby over the top of it. The music box is kind of the basis of it but the guitar part Stu wrote around the musicbox thing, Kav wrote the song.

The album was produced and recorded by Paul McKercher. Did you choose him for a particular reason?

Oh, just because he had done good work in the past, and worked with bands that we like. When picking a producer I got on the phone to all the different producers and spoke to them and he seemed to be the one that was on the same wavelength as us. He’s a very musical guy, so we decided to go with him.

How do you feel about the album on a whole?

I’m really happy with it. We’re all proud parents at the moment.

I think you should be…

Just can’t wait to get it out there. It’s taken a year and a half or whatever from starting it; maybe even two years from starting it to today. So we’re all champing at the bit for other people to hear it. I mean obviously media people have heard it but we can’t wait until it’s in the shops.

The last words of the album are “So don’t worry about me…” I mean it’s left pretty clear you know, just Kav and the acoustic. Is that anyway representative of the emotion that “A Song Is a City” conveys overall?

“Yeah, I think it was a nice way to round off the album. As soon as that song was written we knew it was going to be the last song on the record. It rounds it off but it kind of leaves you hanging as well. Yes, it was a nice way to round it all off.”

(photo credit: Ben Saunders)