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:: Spotlight :: Speedstar - Supreme in subtlety and melody

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

Brisbane band Speedstar has proved itself an accomplished band with two albums under its belt. The band’s moody, introspective lyrics will draw interest with emotion-filled vocals and various instruments adding their value to create an ensemble feel amid a real sound. The new album ‘Forget The Sun, Just Hold On’ shows the progression of the band to something very tangible and accessible. Speedstar sits as a rare commodity in the Australian musical landscape and I spoke to guitarist Ben Smith about the direction of Speedstar.

Q. The band must have spent much time developing ideas for how this album was going to sound…

AThat’s all we did last year (2003). We finished touring the previous album at the end of 2002 and just spent most of 2003 writing and arranging for the follow-up. We didn’t record until last September. In the lead-up we were thinking about the overall direction of the album as well as the little details. It was a conscious effort to get a cohesive record. There was discussion about how we wanted it to sound.

Q.Was it always the idea to get into the studios, complete with accompaniments, and play it live and cohesively as possible?

A.Yes, we did add some things later, like the gospel singers, but we got a couple of friends to join us and virtually make it a seven-piece band in the studio for the main part of the recording. We did all the songs live in the studio with all these people, as well as the string section on top of it. We wanted the big ensemble feel. For all the extra instruments and parts, we wanted them to be pivotal to the songs and not just an afterthought. Heaps of bands do the song and then add a string pattern underneath. We had the whole process in place at the initial writing of the song. Therefore, it was essential that they be recorded at the same time.

Q.You engaged the services of Tony Doogan for production and engineering. He has worked with Super Furry Animals and Belle & Sebastian. Was he the producer you had to have?

A.That was what we wanted to do. We had sent him demos of all the songs – fully-formed ones with all the extra instruments – and wrote him a letter about what we wanted to do with the album and why we thought he’d be good for us. We were pleased and surprised when he responded and said he’d like to do it. He hadn’t heard of us before. He really liked the material and was keen to come here and do it. Doing it live in the studio was his way of working anyway. It was a good fit and appropriate for us at this stage. We had done extensive work on the demos and we wanted somebody who could create bigger excitement in the studio so that these live performances in the studio were something special. He brought something new to the songs.

Q.The first single “Unbreakable” is not really indicative of the style of the album, although it’s fluency makes it an obvious single…

A.Yes, it was an obvious single although it’s so different to anything else we’d done from the first album – a complete 180 degrees turn. We wanted to make it clear that this album was a different Speedstar album and not release something that was a bridge between the two albums. We aimed to blow the expectations out of the water. As a result, we have gained new fans.

Q.Does the album generally reflect the personality of the band?

A.We thought that when we all got together to write this album that we were in this good position to make another record. The first wasn’t a blatant success commercially but we were lucky enough to get another chance. We thought to ourselves, “Let’s make it exactly as we want to make it”. Now, we’re totally happy with how it turned out. We didn’t take much outside advice on this one. With the fist album, we were young and keen, but perhaps naïve and green, listening to other people on how we should do it. Mind you, we don’t hate the first album. It was just a matter of taking the best of those songs and growing from there.

Q.Where do you think you sit now, as a result, and might it be harder with your musical style to make a big impact, considering the trends in Australia?

A.It can be harder. The time that we were locked away in the practice room last year – we didn’t tour or anything – saw a revival in garage rock. What we’re doing is so far removed from that. It can be hard to make an impact because it mightn’t be cool. That came when we made a decision to take guitars out.

Q.How will your live shows work?

A.We’ve got a full-time extra musician, so we’ve been touring as a six-piece. He mainly plays piano and organ and a little extra guitar. We switch instruments a bit to reflect what we’ve done on the album. Generally, in Brisbane, all the extra local musicians (strings, horns) are available to play with us, so that has worked well. At the big album launch at The Tivoli, we even had the gospel choir. There were fifteen people on stage at once – it was quite awesome. It’s hard to tour with that entourage outside Brisbane. We don’t try and necessarily replicate what’s on the album – no midi trumpet sounds or anything. We just keep it as natural as possible. Al (lead singer) might play harmonica, eg on ‘Unbreakable’ for the brass parts. We’ve got a mandolin that we’ve added to a few songs. We change the songs around in the practice room so we can adapt to the live shows.

Q.Has there been much overseas interest as yet?

A.It’s something we’re definitely looking at with this album. Next year might be the time to take it a step further and release it internationally. There have been some talks already.

Q.You must be looking forward to further touring this year…

A.Sure, we’ll back on the road in August and September headlining the ‘Unbreakable’ tour to coincide with the release of .

“Forget The Sun, Just Hold On” is out now through EMI Music

Here are the upcoming tour dates with more shows to be added.

August 6 - The Heritage, Wollongong NSW with Sarah Blasko
August 7 - Brass Monkey, Cronulla NSW with Sarah Blasko
August 8 - The Vanguard, Newtown NSW with Sarah Blasko
August 19 - Karova Lounge, Ballarat VIC with The Devoted Few
August 20 - The Empress, Fitzroy VIC with The Devoted Few
August 21 - Gershwin Room, St Kilda VIC with The Devoted Few
August 22 - The Rob Roy Hotel (Acoustic), Fitzroy VIC with The Devoted Few
August 26 - Green Room, Canberra ACT with The Devoted Few

For more information, visit

www.speedstar.com.au