As a blogger, i frequently receive tons of emails from PR firms and labels touting a new band or someone’s latest project and on occasion I hear from a band or an artist personally. Sometimes I’m put on to something so incredible that I have to write about and share with you – and other times, the stuff that I come across is frankly godawful. A little while ago, I received an email from the Australian fusion trio, Three Wise Monkeys. The band recently released a new full-length album of original, instrumental compositions Perihelion. With material that manages to easily defy conventional genre boundaries – the songs possess elements of heavy metal, funk, and angular post punk/post rock – Perihelion sonically bears a resemblance to the German duo Collapse Under The Empire; in fact, both bands work seems perfectly suited as a film score for a post-apocalyptic action adventure thriller, or police procedural. But seriously you’ll hear some tight musicianship and for a trio, the band manages to craft a sound that’s complex, incredibly nuanced and yet approachable.
I recently spoke with TWM’s Brad “Kypo” Kypriotis in this Q&A about the new album, the band’s writing process and about the music scene in the band’s native Australia. Besides some differences, as far as the relative size of the audience, one of the most revealing things is that Australia’s indie musicians face similar dilemmas that countless indie musicians Stateside complain about. You’ll also hear about how the band came up with their name, and how the recording process on Perihelion differed from that of their previous efforts. Also, artists will get some great advice on how they could make a name for themselves. Check it out below.
WRH: How did you get into music? And when did you know that music was the only thing you wanted to do?
Brad “Kypo” Kypriotis: For me it was a combination of seeing Marty McFly getting blown across the room after hitting a chord in in Back to the Future and the main riff from “Money For Nothing,” which was huge at the time. It was cool to play guitar in the 80’s
WRH: What are your influences?
Kypo: Mark Knopfler is a huge influence because his guitar playing is so lyrical. He has a gift of developing interesting solos that are accessible. Eric Johnson, Steve Morse were also early influences with instrumental guitar, and later on Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.
WRH: Who are you listening to now?
WRH: How did the band meet? And when did you know that you guys had a true musical and creative bond?
Kypo: We all met thru playing the local scene in Sydney. We recognised early we wanted to do something creative together, and started jamming our own ideas. It was evident from the first jam, that there was a chemistry between us, and a genuine concensus that we wanted to develop and create together.
WRH: How did you come up with the band’s name?
Kypo: Funnily enough, the first ever gig we played together was at a famous bar in Sydney called the “Three Wise Monkeys”. It was kind of an omen. Alex suggested it, and it seemed to fit, and not be too serious about ourselves, which instrumental music can sometimes get bogged down in.
WRH: How would you describe your band’s sound?
Kypo: To an instrumental band, the overall sound is the most important thing. There is something unique which occurs when the three of us are in the same room. Its a conversation in music rather that words. The topic of that conversation continually evolves, but the three guys talking remain the same. We do a range of different styles in our records, but it is still identifiably us.
WRH: As you may know, I’m based in New York and naturally, most of my readers are based in New York and across the rest of the United States. For most Americans, their knowledge of Australian music may be of Men at Work, INXS, Midnight Oil and maybe (maybe being an operative world) Cut Copy. Can you briefly describe what the music scene is across the country and in your hometown?
Kypo: As with most places around the world, live music has gone a huge change in the past 20 years. INXS and Midnight Oil came from an environment in Australia in the 80s where live music was fundamental to the youth identity. The live scene flourished, and most of these acts developed on the road, playing lots of gigs and developing their style to cater to the audience in front of their faces.
Nowadays, the audience is predominatantly online, so it’s the same principle just using different tools.
Australia is a big land mass, with major cities spread. The cost to tour nowadays, is almost prohibitive. So to try and do the old formula, its very hard, you need to keep embracing new frontiers, an in this current time, those are via the internet.
We sense from talking to other musicians, it is the same challenge everywhere.
WRH: Here in the States, it’s exceedingly difficult to make it as a musician, let alone an independent one. Achieving media exposure is difficult without the machinations of a big time label or pr firm, record sales are dwindling and relentless touring is mandatory. Is it the same in Australia?
Kypo: I think due to our population of 20 million, those mass marketed artists don’t have the resonance, that they may have in the states. You kind of need all that promo to cut thru in the States. So in Australia I think there is a healthy balance between record company acts and indie acts. Our laid-back culture seems to cut thru the hype. That’s not to say those mainstream artists aren’t big here. But with such a small population, there is only so much marketing you can do before it is overkill.
WRH: The compositions on your latest album Perihelion manage a balance between being extremely dense with a lot going on and yet being accessible – concert and radio friendly really. And interestingly, the material also manages to sound improvised to some degree. They’re also futuristic and cinematic – the songs feel as though they could easily be in a video game soundtrack or to a post-apocalyptic thriller. How difficult is it to maintain that balance of complexity without losing a sense of accessibility?
Kypo: We develop everything from jams. We grab an idea, a riff, and jam it for ½ an hour. We record everything, and listen to what we create. There will be things that stick out in the recordings and they are the bits and pieces we take and develop songs from. So even though we create from musical inspiration, we are writing from the view of the listener. So different ideas we hear on the recordings are joined together, to compose songs. A lot of instrumental music is technically brilliant, but can be boring to listen to. By taking the view of the listener, it takes away the ego of the musician, that may think “I have to do this lick, or that lick”.
WRH: How does Perihelion differ from your previous work?
Kypo: This was the first time the band has tracked instruments seperately. We have previously recorded live in the studio as a live band, all playing together. “Evolutions” was the first track tried in this new style, hence the name, as it was an evolutionary step for us as a band. It gave us more opportunity to get things precise by doing multiple takes and edits. Previously we would record a song start to finish, all together in the same room at the same time. Kinda like the Beatles. No overdubs, so if you made a mistake, you’d start again, (or live with it). “Evolutions” for instance was recorded with us not even being in the same room, or on the same day. Liam tracked drums in his studio, Alex did his own bass recording and I did the guitars at home. All the elements were brought together and mixed. The title track “Perihelion” took that approach a step further, where it was a blend of different recordings, kind of like what a DJ/remixer would do. We had the bass line, a drum beat and some guitar effects from 3 seperately ideas, and mashed them together. The tune came from remixing, instead of jamming. “Sol Invictus”, was a live recording of the band, but the guitar was redone in post production. There is still a ghost trail of the original guitar track in the recording, as it was picked up by the drum mics. We felt it added another presence to the song and left it in, instead of recording everything to get a clean recording. In the end, we felt the different approaches, definitely set the tone for the album.
But as the album title suggests, everything that goes around comes around and we found we missed the feel of a live band, most importantly, our organic tempo. The push and pull between musicians. It is one of the things that makes us unique as a group of musicians. So half of the album is live studio recordings, to get the best of both worlds.
WRH: How do you know when you have a finished composition? Do you go into the studio with compositions being finished or do you have rough sketches of songs and flesh out things when you get to the studio?
Kypo: “Evolutions,” for instance had a definite structure, but as Liam was able to record and create his ideas in isolation, the song developed in other direction, and that was a bonus of him being creative by himself. Sometimes due to studio time, you have to conform a little to get things finished. Also, I’m the most vocal out of the three, and more assertive with my ideas. So it was great to get a surprise, hearing Liam’s creativity. It definitely raised the bar for what we were trying to achieve with this album.
“SpiderFingers” was also a similar experience. We’d jammed the groove, but I didn’t have a guitar part. Mucking around with effects units, I found a sound that didn’t crowd out what the guys had created. When I sent the guys my idea, Liam came back with some incredible drumming parts, including the middle section. So again, creating in isolation, helped raise the bar for what we were trying to achieve.
WRH: What advice would you give to artists trying to make a name for themselves?
Kypo: Be true to yourself, and make the journey about finding you. I think we all start out, trying to be our influences, but being an original artist is just that, finding what makes you unique. Sometimes that uniqueness isn’t going to be the most commercial or financially viable music you can create, but the artists journey is more than just making money, it is the journey of self discovery and expressing that in sound. I think the biggest market the internet has provided, is the ability to be unique. Trying to be a carbon copy of something else out there, doesn’t have the same shine it did before the internet.