There's always another song on the way
An Interview with Paul Macadam
We're simple creatures. Give us a self-deprecating tone, just make sure you don't lose us in your own depression. Something for us to be empathetic towards. Slip a rugby league reference in there, a nostalgic homage to another era. Take us back there. Talk about things we understand. References to places we know. Give us a basic, physical attachment.
As soon as I heard Hackit, the opening track on Macadam II, I 'got' Paul Macadam. Well, his music at least. He spoke bluntly in his songs, as though he was done with mystique, interpretation mix-ups and second guessings. Straight shootin' is as Australian as shootin' galahs with your homemade BB gun while riding bareback on Kevin Bloody Wilson through the Nullabar. And Paul Macadam's is distinctly linked to the Australian suburban life.Almost immediately after we posted a couple of new songs from Paul, he contacted me via Facebook to show his appreciation. A few high fives later and we were in a Zuckerborg Chat Room, talking about the ins-and-outs of The Shire, the current state of Rugby League and R&B influences.
I've been trying to work out which actual "uncool" suburb you are from. My top picks at the moment are: Kirrawee, Penshurst, Revesby. Am I close?
Very close — especially with the first guess! I live in Kareela, so you got within about 2 kilometres and 3 letters of getting it straight away.
Oh, yes, an exceptionally uncool suburb if there ever was one. Good golf course though, right?
Yeah, it really is. And I've never been into golf, but the course in Kareela is nice even just to walk through.
Your location seems to be a reoccurring theme on your new record (references to Miranda Fair etc), obviously it has a significant impact on your song-writing. But you seem to have a love/hate relationship with where you live, is that a fair assessment?
Haha yeah, definitely fair to say. There aren't many references to that on my first album — it's only in the last year or two that The Shire has become a regular source of song material. As for the love/hate thing, in a lot of ways I'm lucky to have grown up here, although the list of reasons for me to stay is slowly getting shorter.
I grew up just the other side of Woronora Bridge and — aside from the occasional punk show at the Engadine Youth Centre and the odd Little Birdy show at Bizzos — the local live scene then was fairly non-existent. Is it much better now? Do you get to play many shows in the area?
I think it's actually worse now. There's a well-populated hardcore scene, but there's hardly anywhere to play. In Sutherland there's a nightclub which has started running hardcore and metal shows, which is a start. Brass Monkey is cool but hard to get gigs for. The trouble is that apart from Bizzos, there are no other venues for young musicians to start learning the trade. Unless I exclusively did open mic shows, at the moment my options for playing locally are pretty slim.
Hmm, that sucks. Do you get to play many shows outside the area then? I feel Sudney is still so segregated by scenes and locations that bands only ever really end up playing with their mates. Hard to get into the loop when you're down in Kareela.
I've played a handful this year. Mostly as an opening act for my band Library Siesta. Played in Canberra on ANZAC Day, and Yours & Owls down in Wollongong. I've only done a few gigs outside of Sydney so it's hard to say this with authority, but it seems like our music scene is more organised around cliques than other cities are.
As for gigs in Sydney (both solo and with the band), most have been around the inner-west. Almost invariably on Wednesday nights, which is kinda funny.
And how has the response been? I've always found crowds a little funny with music of an introspective nature, like yours. While your music isn't complete "bummer" music, its still got a definite self-deprecating tone. Do people come up to you after shows and make sure you're ok?
That hasn't happened yet, though it wouldn't surprise me. My music isn't comedic but some people find it humorous, and it's a bit of a risk to go in between those lines. When I'm playing alone I give people the benefit of the doubt — I assume that they like music to some degree, and that they don't have some kind of irony bypass disorder. And generally it pays off, cos most times I leave the stage with at least one new fan. Doesn't sound like much, but it's always a nice feeling.
Well, that's actually something I wanted to ask you as well — the comedic side of it all. I know there's small snippets of "tongue-in-cheek-ness" and with a song like Jamie, the concept itself is humourous, if only for it's peculiarity [the song is about the controversial decision to award a penalty try to the Melbourne Storm in the 1999 rugby league grand final]. Of course it's a difficult approach to navigate, once you've been classified as a 'comedian', it's hard to go back. Does this effect your song-writing at all? Like being wary of dropping mid-song 'jokes', or at least, something that could be perceived as a 'joke'?
I was very reluctant to put that one [Jamie] on the album, cos the topic isn't exactly a well known one. Haven't played it for an audience yet, and probably won't unless I get a gig at St George Leagues Club or something. Changed my mind in the end. I don't deliberately set out to be funny (except for Talkin' Who Cares Blues), but maybe the humour people find in the lyrics is related to the songs being about things that songs usually don't get written about.
It took me a long time — years and years — to start getting the hang of lyrics, and I still take a long time to write. I noticed the songs started improving when I stopped trying to be super insightful and just wrote things more or less how I saw them.
As said, I loved the obscurity of Jamie, and the fact I got it. I think the way its been done, it could just be a story about a mate called James. And if people don't listen too attentively then it's just that. But for people who know the story, it's so much more. Guaranteed to put a smile on their face...
Yeah! Didn't think of that — just tell them to tune out of the second verse, and let their imaginations do the rest.
Haha, yeah. Are you a Dragons fan?
Nah, although part of me enjoys seeing them do well. I'm a Sharks supporter, so as you could understand, I vicariously latched onto St George's 2010 title cos it's the closest thing I can get.
There's an Amco Cup in the trophy cabinet somewhere. The Sharks actually set the record in the NSW Cup this year for the most consecutive wins. Trivia night knowledge right there! I was actually Sharks Tragic growing up. And then Chris Anderson ruined it for me. We went from Peachy and Dean Treister to flat attacking lines.
Yeah true, that's something. As for Anderson, I can see why Cronulla signed him up to coach them — he'd won with Melbourne three years before. Ditching several long-term players for no good reason was bad enough, but I'll never forgive him for selling Preston Campbell. Of course the bad decision looked even worse when he and John Lang won the comp with Penrith the very next year...
It's evident from a few little lines on your new album that you're obviously a bit of an Online Guy. That 'forever alone' reference on Hackit was pretty great. People seem to shy away from Internet references in music, as though it's a passing fad, or that it moves so quickly it'll 'date' the record. Why hasn't anyone made an Internet 'concept' record already. Jokes about up-voting, trolls, NBN, white lists. Ideally, I'd like it go a lot deeper (derper), but that's a start. Someone to make something just for the 12-hour-a-day Internetters. Are you that guy?
Haha, who knows! I've got no idea what I want to do on the next album, and something like that might be the way it ends up going. I thought a bit about that — internet references dating the songs. Can't imagine "GIF" being a common term in 10 years time, let alone 30, but so long as it's not too forced, to me it feels important to capture a few little things like that while they're still part of our culture.
Meanwhile... the word 'gronk' is timeless...
Gronk is a classic!
And occasionally songs go out of date before they're even out. In Least Cool Suburbs there's a line where I pay tribute to Chicken Ace, a gloriously good store in Kareela that can't be found anywhere else. But shortly after I wrote the song, it closed down and moved to Ramsgate. There's something I love about that — how the song's essentially a couple of weeks old and it's already irrelevant. The fleeting nature of pop music.
Ok, so back to footy. What's your current view of the game in 2013? They got rid of the grapple, then the shoulder charge, then the fists. Whats next? How many years before we're just watching touch footy on television?
I've got no problem with banning the shoulder charge — it doesn't require much skill and involves a lot of serious risk. Same goes for the grapple tackle. In a way I can understand the outrage about phasing out fighting, but in the long term I reckon it'll be good for the game, maybe Australian society too. What the officials really need to get rid of are those arm and leg-twisting tackles. Grubby shit like that annoys me way more than a punch-on.
As for the current style of play, it's all becoming a big stagnant, isn't it? Souths and Manly are the only two teams (other than my own) that I enjoy watching on a regular basis. Maybe the Warriors too, for their genius/train-wreck bipolar complex. The number of brilliant players capable of winning a match on their own really has seemed to decline in the last few years. Hopefully it's just a phase.
Yeah, agree. All that little niggly stuff is shit. Everyone also seems to be roughly the same size now, no variance across the park, probably why there's a complete lack of standout players. Andrew Johns etc used to benefit a lot from running at tired forwards late in the game, who were too slow/unfit to do anything about it. Their incompetence led to standout players.
You've got a point there — nowadays the game overwhelmingly favours the same body type and set of skills. Too much brawn, not enough Barba.
Ok, back to music. What do you listen to?
I grew up on The Beatles, which among other things made me love chord changes and melodies in particular. Listened to a lot of 90s alt/indie rock in my late teens, and there's still plenty about that era which I love. Despite the style of the new album I haven't listened to much acoustic guitar based music for a while now. Recently it's been a lot of new-ish R&B. Drake, Frank Ocean, Miguel and such. In slightly different ways they're all going somewhere new and exciting — more than can be said for most rock music at the moment. Maybe those influences will show through a bit on the next bunch of songs.
Yeah, thats interesting. I often hear that (for lack of a better word) 'wordy' song-writers are influenced by hip-hop and R&B. There's an interview with Wil Wagner from The Smith Street Band where he talks ab it about how he got into rap music because he appreciated the spontaneity of it. Is your re-aligned influences more about the creative expression though? As in, you feel soul-based music has a bit more to offer at the moment than rock music?
Yeah, I guess if you listen to a fair amount of any musical style which emphases words, you'll be somewhat inclined that way. Recently it just doesn't seem like rock has anything new to contribute. I guess R&B has an advantage, cos in the modern sense of the term it's less than 20 years old. But then you've got Frank Ocean taking some elements of the 70s and making really thrilling, vital music out of older influences. So there's no good reason why rock can't still be inventive. The new Queens of the Stone Age album is fantastic, but it's a bit sad that the best rock album of this year came from a 15 year old band.
On the plus side, the Arctic Monkeys keep getting better with every album. They take a lot from contemporary R&B, actually. In the way their melodies move, and things like the drums dropping out for an odd beat here and there. Maybe that's the sort of thing rock should do more of.
And, of course, that new Drake album...
Yeah! There's a lot to admire about his music. Good singer, natural melodist, and a rapidly improving rapper too. It's made me more open in terms of what I reveal in my newer songs too, cos his lyrics are so loaded with over-sharing detail. I'm normally quite closed off in regular life so it's been nice to have a kind of outlet.
And I guess the final question — what's the Macadam plan of attack for the rest of 2013?
I'm hoping to arrange a bit of an album launch. Looking to get a band together, cos it'll give me more of an incentive to perform. And writing more songs. So long as there's always another song on the way, I'll be happy.