Sunday, May 27, 2018

Here Comes The Sun - Blues Enthused meets Austin Gold

It's not so much an interview as a conversational concoction, really.   Austin Gold are a band who've been getting some attention in the 'New Wave of Classic Rock' space that's opening up, since the release of their debut album Before Dark Clouds last year. It’s the morning after the night before, when they delivered a set supporting King King at the Whitley Bay Playhouse that drew a roar of approval from a full house, and now the band members gradually assemble for a chat after scoffing their fry-up breakfasts in the Beefeater on the seafront.
Rhythm guitarist Jack Cable is first to turn up and park himself across the table, and gets the ball rolling by explaining how the band originated in two separate outfits back in 2014, playing at a blues night in the North Street Bar in their hometown of Peterborough.
Austin Gold - no getting away from Dave Smith's Beatles influences
“Dave put together a band,” he says, referring to lead guitarist and singer Dave Smith, “and another friend of ours Dan Collins put together a band.  Chris Ogden, our drummer, and myself were in Dan Collins’ band – I was playing bass, and Dan Collins was on guitar.  And in Dave’s band there was Dave and our keyboard player Russ Hill, along with another couple of musicians, and they were called Red Wine Blues. Dave decided that he was really enjoying it, but he wanted an extra guitar – so he asked me.  So I was in both bands, playing bass in one and guitar in the other. Then Dan decided he didn’t want to do it any more, but Dave was really getting into it.  He said, ‘I think I could write some tunes for this, I think it could really work.’  Then our drummer left, and the obvious choice was Chris.  Eventually our bass player left as well, and we knew of Lee Churchill from things he’d done before with groups of friends.  And then we’ve just kind of gone on from there, with Dave writing some songs and us doing more and more of our own stuff.
 “It’s kind of the natural progression that everyone goes through,” he says of their development, “where you start feathering in the odd original, around blues covers.  And then the blues covers seem to fade away a little bit, and the covers become a little more choice.  So some of our favourite things to play now are Wings, like ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’, and we do Python Lee Jackson’s ‘In A Broken Dream’ – that, I think, is my favourite cover to do.”
Along the way, he adds, their current monicker came into being.
“The name came about because we felt we had out grown our original name which was Red Wine Blues. Obviously we aren't really doing blues covers anymore. Dave has an old Rocktron guitar pedal called Austin Gold and we thought the name suited us quite well so we went with it.”

Now the interesting thing for me is that this evolution away from blues covers has resulted in a distinctive, more melodic sound.  So where has that come from, I wonder.
“Well, Dave’s the songwriter,” Cable says. “Dave will come in with what we call the nucleus of a song, so anything to do with lyrics or melody lines is all Dave.  That’s him all day long.  So he’ll bring a song to the band, and we’ll play through it, and within a couple of hours we’ll have all written our own parts around what Dave’s doing.
Austin Gold go for a monochrome look
“But the influences are stretched quite far and wide,” he goes on, “because every member of the band has a different musical background.  In age there’s quite a broad spectrum there as well.  Our drummer Chris is 25, and our keyboard player Russ is 50.  Just 50,” he emphasises.  “So there’s quite a gap. Russ is a huge Marillion fan, and Deep Purple and things like that.  And Dave was born in the 70s, and his dad really pushed him down the Beatles, Eagles, David Bowie road, that kind of stuff.  Lee, our bass player, is much more hard rock based.  The previous band he was in was called The More I See, which was heavier – the original guitarist was in The Prodigy, so you can imagine it was quite heavy stuff.  And then I actually come from a producer’s background so I’m listening more for interesting sounds than I am for killer guitar licks.  Which is maybe why mine and Dave’s guitar playing works so well together.”
It’s a point well made, I think, by a couple of trilling guitar lines Cable delivers on ‘Roadside’ and ‘See The Light’ that counterpoint the main riff.  Before seeing them live I’d been convinced I was hearing a synthesizer, but it turns out to be the way Cable conjures an unusual tone with the aid of a fuzz box.  But sometimes a key contribution is not to play something, it seems. 
“Part of the ethos of the band has always been space, give each other space.  Because there’s five of us, it’s hard to all be heard unless you give each other space.  So that’s the kind of players we all want to be, is humble in our approach.  So if Dave’s playing something that’s full on, and got lots of movement, lots of playing, then I don’t need to.  There are even big parts in songs that we have where I’m not playing at all!  Do I care? No, why would I?  It’s serving the song.  It’s a bit of a clichéd thing to say, but it’s true.”
Serving the song is a sentiment that’s music to my ears, as it were.  I wish that more people did it.  Cable reckons in their case it’s a function of Dave Smith’s writing style.
“I think because of the way Dave writes melody lines, not just vocally but also for solos, he’s sort of putting himself in a situation where he has to play the solo pretty much how it is on the record, because the guitar solos are almost as memorable as the chorus lines.  And Dave loves a big hook, and that’s what it’s all about. He likes a big chorus.”
The end result is a sound that doesn’t make for simple comparisons.  Listening to their album Before Dark Clouds I’ve often asked myself who they remind me of, and not found easy answers.  Luke Morley of Thunder’s ‘other band’ The Union sometimes springs to mind, and going backaways even the likes of UFO.  But the band that Austin Gold sound most like is – well, Austin Gold. And they don’t fit the typical blues rock template.
“No,” Cable agrees. “It’s hard to put a label on what we actually are!
“Melodic hard rock?” I suggest.
“There you go – I like that.”

As the rest of the band roll in and join us, the conversation turns to the previous night, and the surprise they got coming onstage to be greeted by a full house, when they were expecting to find about 50 people in their seats.
“Well when I’ve been to gigs it’s been like that,” says Dave Smith.  “Everyone stays in the
Dave Smith - Seventies rock revivalist
bar, and then when the main act come on they come in.”
“I came out to check about 15 minutes before we went on,” says drummer Chris Ogden, “and it was deadly silent in there.  But yeah it was great, really good.”
So was supporting King King a learning experience?
“I think we’ve learnt loads just in the last day alone,” says Ogden.  “They’re much further on than we are, and seeing how they work, how their show works, is great.”
“One interesting thing,” says Cable, “is that we do gigs down in London, where you have no idea who else is on the bill, and a lot of the time who’s on the bill has nothing to do with what you’re playing, so there’s no inspiration from them. Whereas when you get to do a show with a band like King King, it inspires you to bring your A-game a bit more. I personally thought last night we were on our game, and that was mostly because we felt inspired to go out and do the best we could.”
“And there’s the style of music,” Dave Smith adds.  “We knew we were playing to a type of audience where - we’re not dissimilar to what they do – kind of under the umbrella genre of blues rock, but we knew they’d be at least receptive.”
Cable laughs.
“Except we’re not blues rock any more – we’re melodic hard rock!”
“We’ll have that!” Smith nods.
“That’s what I said,” says Cable.
“But I thought it really worked last night,” says Smith, “and afterwards the boys were really supportive.”
“Yeah they’re great guys,” agrees bassist Lee Churchill.  “They said they really appreciated the show, and were just very normal, down to earth, friendly guys.”
“They were really happy to chat,” adds Ogden, “and take any questions we had.”
“There was a lovely moment when we were all standing at the side of the stage watching their show,” recalls Smith, “and me and Lee were standing there and at some point Alan Nimmo came over to get a drink, and he shook our hands and said ‘Great show lads’” – said with a Nimmo-esque thumbs up and wink – “in the middle of them playing. He’s like ‘Everything alright?’”
“It was funny when we were unloading the van,” says Russ Hill.  “There’s like a big ramp you have to get up.  And Alan obviously looked at me and thought, ‘He’ll need a hand.’  So he pulled me up, like woof – he’s a dead strong fella!”
“He’d obviously seen your advanced age,” says Cable, chancing his arm
“Yeah that’s what I thought,” Hill laughs.  “He thought ‘Here’s the old boy.’”

Since Dave Smith is now in the company, it seems like time to get his take on the band’s sound, given that he’s the main writer.  So what’s inspired him?
“Well, how long have we got?”
“Not long – you’ve got another gig to get to.”
“Okay, to summarise – massive Beatles nut from a kid, ELO, Bowie, Gerry Rafferty –so although we’re more guitar-based, it’s the chord structures I love in that stuff.  We’re really into Bonamassa – we like heavy stuff like the Foos, Audioslave and that.  So it’s a mixture.  We’re getting a tag at the moment of 70s rock revival-ish, and that’s cool – Bad Company, massive Pink Floyd fans as well, and there are some moments where what we do comes over a bit Floyd.  And then we like Tom Petty as well.”
“Cheers!” says Cable, presumably the leading Tom Petty fan in the band.
“Thank you,” nods Smith in acknowledgement.  “So a mixture really, and in terms of the writing it tends to be the music first – sit down with the guitar.  And then that dictates where
Cable and Smith - almost, but not quite, entirely unlike Skynyrd
the lyrics go.  It’s an open-ended question really, I could go on and on!”
“I think one of the best things,” says Ogden, “is we’ve never sat down and had a chat about what genre we want to do.  We just write the song and it goes where it goes.  And then since the album came out we’ve been put in so many different genres.”
“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword that,” Smith suggests.  “Because sometimes it’s like ‘Well what are you?’  People are ambivalent about not knowing the genre. But then, that’s not how we work. There’s a track ‘Home Ain’t Home’, where it’s quite dark, and a Beatles workout, or we do something straight like ‘See The Light’, which is just a straightforward four to the floor – “
“- Americana,” says Cable.
Eh?  Now, of all the styles I might ascribe to Austin Gold, Americana is not one of them.  It turns out what they mean is a hint of Southern rock, suggested by the impressively intertwined guitar face-off Cable and Smith go for on set closer ‘See The Light’.
“Yeah, which isn’t on the album,” says Cable.  “It’s something that at one show in particular I thought – that would be a perfect moment for a little Skynyrd-type guitar thing.  So we talked about it at one rehearsal, and then it’s been in ever since.”
The comparison still tickles me though, because as Skynyrd impersonators I reckon they’d make a very good Wishbone Ash.  Austin Gold are a band whose sound seems to me as British as the North Sea backdrop to the photographs we do before parting company.  In a good way, I should stress.
We finish up with some chat about them recording a new album later in the year, for release in 2019, and forthcoming gigs and festival appearances they have scheduled.  But as Cable says, their immediate future is to get some more support slots like this one with King King, to build their audience on the strength of the current album.  Here’s hoping they get them – they’re a band that deserve to be heard.

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