26 May Rocking the boat – An interview with Nicholas Allbrook
Nicholas Allbrook has been keeping busy in his solo guise, playing an intimate national tour in support of his single ‘Advance‘, and is about to embark on a massive tour of Europe. His new album, Pure Gardiya, is out tomorrow via Warner Music. We met up with him during his local tour for a typically candid chat about life, art, getting ign’ant, and rocking the boat.
Brandon John: I think the last time we spoke to you was Falls Festival 2014. How’ve the last couple of years been treating you?
Nicholas Allbrook: You know, great and terrible. Somewhere and everywhere in between. It’s been quite a while. I’m sort of running the gamut of feeling shit and on top of the world.
Which one is it at the moment?
Kind of feeling stressed out, preoccupied.
Is that just tour related stuff?
Yeah, but as a sort of general time, I’m feeling pretty good.
It was NYE when we interviewed you and you said your new year’s resolution was “no more guilt”.
That answer won you a Fremantle hat, actually. How did it work out for you?
I realised actually just recently that that was a huge one, it’s not just like…
It’s not a one year project?
Yeah, it’s a lifetime project, and I haven’t made any new year’s resolutions since then. I remember making it. I kept trying, I’ve been trying ever since. It’s been hard. So I think I’m gonna set my sights a lot lower, like getting a new suit or something like that.
So just covering up the guilt instead?
Maybe just “get a haircut” as my next new year’s resolution.
So you sent us through a minimalist playlist the other day – are you in a stripped-back mood at the moment?
Yeah! I just really like that way of making music, and making art, and writing as well. If you’ve got something to express that can be done in a very minimal way, a lot of the time it’s very powerful. But it can also be done very bombastically. I guess I’ve spent quite a while being maximalist.
Those are descriptions that I’d very much attribute to you. When you’re writing, do you start off fairly minimalist, find it just gradually builds and builds, and then suddenly realise that it’s become huge?
Yeah, pretty much. I still let stuff get over the top a lot of the time, and then have to brutally cut all this stuff where I thought “The whole song hinges on this.” Then you finally don’t try to just turn it down or EQ it – you just delete it – and it’s like, “Oh, so much better.” But that’s why, with this last one, I tried to put a pre-emptive cap on that by having me and three other players, and not really be doing overdubs and stuff, so if we can play it, it should be good enough.
I suppose you have to play it live on your own, doing the one-man thing at the moment?
I’m doing it on my own at the moment. We’ve played one show with the same band that did the record, and I can’t wait to do that, it’s so much less anxiety. My adrenal glands can put their feet up in front of the fire and sip a brandy.
You’ve got a pretty descriptive way of talking about it, and echoes what I was reading on your tour diary. I like your writing; is it something you might get into more at some point? I know you’ve got a lot of different things in the pipeline you’d like to do.
Hmm. I love writing, that’s the thing I get the most encouragement to do. Oh, maybe not the most encouragement, but I get encouraged to by people who are – as a young man who was raised to really respect parents and academics – the leaders of society. I probably will. I’d like to. It’s just I’m kind of afraid of, like with music, once you get real, real far in there… I reckon your enjoyment is, by a matter of course, cut by a certain percentage because it becomes this other thing – something deeper and weirder and more complicated and emotional. But I want to keep writing just ign’ant and fun, so I can read books and, if they’ve been panned by the critics, I can just not read that and still enjoy them.
So do you feel that being so invested in music impacts the way that you can listen to it?
Yeah, yeah, totally. I think that’s why my music tastes oscillates so wildly. I try and listen to stuff that’s completely different to what I’m trying to do, so that I don’t have to think about how it reflects on me, or where me and what I’m listening to sit together in this musical universe. So I start listening to minimal, or classical, or just only trap, grime, and ‘90s RnB and stuff.
Trap and grime are good for just shutting off.
Yeah, it’s disgusting, it’s all I listen to. And yet, everything I do comes out like mayonnaise.
So you’ve finished the album, that’s out of your hands now?
Yeah it is. It’s actually fully out of my hands. It clings on, though. It clings on for so long, and you don’t even notice. You think when you’ve finished recording it, or even mastering it, then it’s done. But then there’re all these little lingering smells, like video clips…
(laughs) Yeah, interviews. No, that’s a whole different ball game. This is phase two. No, phase three. It’s a cyclical thing.
When you’re finished with the touring and album launch, what’s next in the cycle?
Then it’s going into a hole somewhere, and changing up everything in life for a little bit. Kind of rocking the boat.
You’re gonna jump ship from Freo?
Yeah, something like that. It’s like a four-part process which is like rocking the boat, so that I start thinking and writing, and then recording it. Then it’s administration, the shittest stage of it all. Then it’s tour. Repeat.
Especially considering you’ve been fairly prolific and dropped quite a few records over the years, how long did it take before the novelty of the release process wore off?
Um, not long at all. (laughs) Even when we were just going across the road in Daglish in Perth to the DiskBank to print out, you know, 100 discs, that was already shit.
Already mundane, not quite Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
It’s not. DiskBank is not the chocolate factory.
‘Advance’ is the lead single at the moment. I’m just wondering what prompted you to riff on the national anthem?
I don’t know, I think something that’s been brought pretty far into the forefront of everyone’s mind is ‘the Australian way’, and where we stand with everyone else. Last year, I felt like it became a lot more prominent, a lot more noisy and confusing.
The track struck me as sort of sarcastically joyous.
Yeah! Yeah, well that’s great, that’s perfect. Because yeah, I’m joyful in my love of Australia, but it’s rimmed with poison ‘cause it can be pretty hard to be a patriot when we’re stopping the boats, et cetera, et cetera.
Being a patriot doesn’t mean ignoring everything that’s wrong with the place.
Exactly. I’m an obsessive reader of George Orwell‘s stuff, he’s great for that. He loves Britain, and Britishness, but in a really sensitive, thoughtful way in that he wants to change it… or wanted to change it.
Still, we’re an Aussie publication, and we want to pump up Australia as much as we can, so are there any Australian artists we should be keeping an eye on?
There’s so much to be positive about in Australia, especially groundswell, ground-up artistic creativity. Among so many other things, it’s a pretty fucking peachy little thing. It’s a happy world if you look at that.
Any bands or artists in particular?
Yeah! Melbourne. I came here five days early just to see friends and stuff, and the whole ‘music capital of Australia’ (or the southern hemisphere, or whatever) – it’s so true. It’s true. And that kills me every time I come here. It’s constant, amazing… I saw this band called Two Steps On The Water the other day. Fuck, man, they were so good. So good. (laughs) And, uh, RVG, I saw them at The Tote. And Spike Fuck (laughs), that was amazing. And Jaala! I love what Cossy (Cosima) is doing. She’s embarrassingly talented.
Definitely. I’m not familiar with Spike Fuck though, I’ll have to give that a look.
It doesn’t sound the way most people would jump to conclusions about it sounding. It’s like a Berlin industrial version of a ‘50s girl group, all computerised. It’s rad.
Well, maybe there’s always time for you to move back here down the track…
Oh, mate, it’s a beautiful place. It’s great.
But you’re out of here tomorrow?
Yep, going to Brisbane, sunny Bribbun. And then Sydney, and home to Perth. Hopefully I can still jump in the water.