Mitchel and Clinton Cave are straight out of the quiet suburbs of Queensland, Australia. Even when playing Lollapalooza, the trio (they added friend Christian Anthony to become Chase Atlantic), retain their remote Australian origins.
Born and raised in Queensland, Australia, brothers Mitchel and Clinton Cave grew up fiddling around with music in the safety and comfort of their bedroom.
While they've since moved most of their operation to L.A. and added a third member, longtime friend Christian Anthony, the group retains something of that early introversion. Mitchel, however, was extraordinarily forthcoming in his interview with Popdust from Philadelphia, where they're undertaking a tour in support of their sophomore album, Phases.
You're calling from LA I take it?
From Philadelphia, actually. We're in rehearsals for the first Philly show.
What's your impression of the city?
We've been here a couple of times, actually. We're in a sort of outskirts, body shop area of town. But I love Philly, in general. And the Philly Cheesesteaks especially.
Is there anything similar to a Philly Cheesesteak in Australia?
What is Australian food, to you?
It's very hearty. Warming. In general, what's cool is the pies. We have the best pies in the world.
The best pies?
Yup. In America, they try to make Australian pies, but they're just not the same, unfortunately.
So, before we start on the music, what exactly is an Australian pie?
I think it's mainly, like, gravy, sauce, and minced meat. A lot of the pies here are too dry. They're really saucy in Australia.
What part of Australia are you and your brother from?
We're from Cairns, Queensland, and Christian is from Sidney.
And you guys grew up with Christian?
We met when we were 14, 15.
It seems like from what I've read that you and your brother share a brain.
Yeah, more or less [laughs].
So how was it bringing in a third person who doesn't necessarily share a brain with the two of you?
Well, we didn't really "bring him in." We just met and realized we had a similar mentality. We didn't meet with the intention of working together; it just happened.
What brought you and your brother to music in the first place, before you met Christian?
Well, we grew up on classical music, and going to school, we were in jazz band, choir. Then, Clinton started recording his saxophone on Logic and getting into production, and he would record me singing. Ever since, I've been really into music production, as well. And when we met Christian, he was starting to get into it, as well. So it just clicked.
And what were you two listening to when you first started getting into music?
A little bit of everything, honestly. Our grandfather would play old French music. We listened to a lot of 80s records. Christian grew up with a lot of 60s stuff. And we all went through our punk and emo phases. That's kind of mandatory [laughs].
When I listen to "Phases," I kind of do hear an impressionistic vibe. Did that come from listening to Debussy, Ravel, those old French guys you mentioned?
Yeah, I think so. It's a subconscious thing, though. It creates itself, in a way. We just gravitate to what we think sounds good.
Who is the primary vocalist?
I do the majority of the singing, and Christian does some as well.
There's a phenomenon with [non-American] English-language singers; they end up sounding American. But I can hear occasional Australian inflections. Was that deliberate?
It's not deliberate at all. We don't put on any accent purposefully. There are few Australian artists who really put on the twang.
Who are those?
You wouldn't know them [laughs].
Speaking of Australia, I don't have a good sense of how the musical culture there is like.
There's not a lot of cultures behind the music, here. We're still a new country. I think in terms of people performing, it's very diverse. There's a very good underground culture, like Sticky Fingers, for instance. But for some reason, they haven't broken internationally.
Is there a breakdown along racial lines as far as what music is played by who?
Not really. We're very inspired by American culture because that's what we're fed growing up. All the movies, radio.
What about England? Do you derive inspiration from happens over there?
Not a whole lot, no. Maybe little hints. But mainly American culture.
It says you're from "humble beginnings" in the press materials. What does that mean? Like you grew up in some rough and tumble mining town?
[laughs] No, just a small town. The nearest city is Brisbane, but we grew up quite far from there. It was isolated. We were middle class, there. But it was still a beautiful place to grow up: tropical, rainforests everywhere. The Great Barrier Reef is there.
Where are you based now?
LA is our home away from home. We get a house there and live there for a while. It's where we record, it's where we have a lot of friends. It's an inspiring place to be.
How did you get there in the first place? How did you get out of the bedroom and into the studio?
It happened pretty quickly, honestly. We started picking up traction online with our work in the bedroom. And we got the attention of Joel and Benji Madden from Good Charlotte.
And what did they do for you guys?
They flew us out to LA and into a studio, gave us resources to work with. We were really grateful for that. It all took off from there.
Was there a specific scene you tapped into there?
Not really. We're kind of introverted by nature. We just kind of fell in love with creating as a whole. We didn't want to restrict ourselves to being just another band. Because we produced our own music, we will always have a sound, but it won't limit us genre-wise.
Do you prefer festival gigs to other types of gigs?
It's kind of a toss-up. On the one hand, you have these amazing festivals on massive stages in the middle of the day. There's nothing like it. But not everyone there knows your music. Whereas, when we play our own shows, it may not be as glamorous as a festival, but audiences there are going to see you.
But you get known to a wider audience with a festival.
Yeah, it's tough.
What does it look like when you play live?
It's insane. Dude, you should see what the setup looks like in rehearsals. We've got this massive video and light rig behind us. In terms of sound, it's like double the energy you hear on the record. I think it's always good to up the ante for live gigs.
Are there live instruments, or is it all pre-programmed?
Two live guitars, live bass, live drums. Everything, but on steroids. There's five of us touring. We've got our friends Jesse and Pat, on drums and bass. We've toured everywhere together.
I see you've played Lollapalooza. Is there like an automatic "meet and greet" with Perry Farrell?
[laughs] No. We're pretty reclusive, except when we're on stage.
I just imagine that bands get taken into like a tent, and there is Farrell, with a robe and a crown.
[laughs] I mean, we met a bunch of cool people. We got to see a lot of artists we like. We just soaked in the whole thing.
The title track of the album, "Phases" it's got a beautiful texture. I was listening to the lyrics though, and I'm a little unclear as to what those "phases" are.
We want to keep the idea of phases as broad as possible. A little bit of vagueness is important. If you're too specific, people can't take away their own version. It can be phases of emotion, or phases of the moon and the stars: life phases?
Yep. It's important to take away your own concept.
The phases themselves go through phases.
[laughs] Exactly. It's broad. Going to through a phase is a phase.
The other thing that struck me is that throughout the album there seems to be a lot of polar emotions. And those emotions are reflected in the titles: "Angels" is sort of positive. "No rainbows" is negative, unless you hate rainbows. And "Even Though I'm Depressed" is kind of both.
It's very deliberate. That last one in particular. All the songs are very anecdotal, true to how we were feeling at the time. It was very ironic, writing lyrics to such a happy chord progression. It's interesting to experiment with those polar emotions.
Like how The Smiths used to write these tuneful ditties, but they're about, like, killing your lover with an ax.
Right. In a sense, as well, it's negative,but there's hope.
How much longer are you on tour?
Well, we're about to start.
Where are you going?
Everywhere. Everywhere. [laughs] After the US, we have a month off, and then we go to Europe.
Where in Europe?
Um, everywhere as well!
What cities are you looking forward to visiting, or have you already seen most of it?
Philly will be amazing. New York, LA. Texas. I love Portland, Oregon. We don't really have a point to prove. We set ourselves to a certain standard and we can only improve from there. We're just looking forward to connecting with people and having fun. No bullshit.
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We list off a few of film's most iconic moments in the Big Apple, and the songs that accompanied them.
While it isn't the first art form to bind itself to music, cinema has arguably achieved the closest symbiosis therein. Because while musical scores for, say, Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" or Wagner's "Ring Cycle" are routinely listened to independent of dramatization, very few subway playlist includes selections from "Jurassic Park 2."
The exception is the movie soundtrack consisting, mainly, of songs which exist entirely on their own. But such is the power of the movie medium that, while Tears For Fear's "Head Over Heels" may have once transported you back to hopeless crushes over elementary school lunches, it now instantly calls to mind a famous montage from cult movie Donnie Darko. The song becomes the image, and vice versa.
New York is one of the most musical cities in the world, and a prodigious producer of images, be they cinematic, photographic, or painted. When you shut your eyes and imagine archetypical New York music, a deafening multitude of genres meets the ears: Hip-hop, salsa, jazz, punk-rock...Russian techno. As a result, pairing the feel of the city with a song has long provided filmmakers with a dazzling array of creative options. But it takes a discerning eye and ear to make of his/her selections more than mere sonic wallpaper; a canny filmmaker instead harnesses a given song to a scene for a specific intent, giving it something approaching agency.
"Fight the Power," by Public Enemy
Film: Do The Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee)
This list isn't hierarchical, but the honor of opening it still goes to Spike Lee; since nearly all his narrative films are set in New York (and of those, the majority are set in Brooklyn), he could be seen as THE filmmaker for the five boroughs. Never one for understatement, Lee opened his breakthrough film to the tune of arguably the most declamatory political statement in hip-hop history. (The intro is also a study in the late-80s/early-90s sartorial and dance fad nostalgia for people of a certain age).
"Jumpin' Jack Flash," by The Rolling Stones
Film: Mean Streets (1973, Martin Scorsese)
Martin Scorsese could easily merit his own article on the delicate art of melding popular music with movies. But while several entries in his vast oeuvre bear mentioning in that context, I'll focus on just one: Mean Streets, set in Little Italy. The contrasting nature of Mean Streets' soundtrack (consisting of both Italian operatic arias and American popular music) serves as an aural metaphor for the chasm that divides Harvey Keitel's tradition-bound, dutiful gangster, and the force of rebellion and chaos that is Robert De Niro's Johnny. An example of the latter half of that dichotomy is an early scene where Johnny enters a club all lit up in lurid, hellish red with a woman on each arm. Keitel, nursing a drink at the opposite end of the bar, watches with rueful envy as the trio swagger towards him in slow motion to "Jumpin' Jack Flash." (Scorsese and The Rolling Stones would go on to enjoy what is probably the most hand-in-glove relationship between any director and band in the history of cinema; just one of the group's songs, "Gimme Shelter" has been used at least three times by the director).
"Daddy Never Understood," by Folk Implosion
"Oh My God," by Tribe Called Quest
Film: Kids (1993, Larry Clark)
Speaking of piquant combinations of contrasting genres, Kids, a mid-90s controversy hive, combined noise-punk, indie-rock and golden age hip-hop, all of which are relevant to the world the movie's subjects move through: a New York of feral adolescents from various walks of life. Director Larry Clark's brutal, unblinking visual sensibility is neatly matched by his wincing musical choices. The opening scene, in which Telly, the film's teenage "protagonist," seduces and deflowers an even younger girl, is linked to the subsequent introductory credits by "Daddy Never Understood," a lacerating, churning punk track by Folk Implosion (led by Dinosaur Jr.'s Lou Barlow). Later, Tribe Called Quest's ebullient "Oh My God" is heard while Telly and Casper strut through Washington Square Park in search of weed and fellowship (the latter is consecrated by a brutal beat down of a hapless adult dumb enough to poke the hornet's nest).
"Stephanie Says," by The Velvet Underground
"Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard," Paul Simon
Film: The Royal Tenenbaums (2000, Wes Anderson)
Journeying far, far away from the spontaneous naturalism of Larry Clark's Kids, we arrive at Wes Anderson's third movie, which more-or-less confirmed him in the public eye as a purveyor of all things hyper-orchestrated and impeccably manicured. Whatever you may think of his aesthetic, Anderson has a beautiful way with a song. The wistful melancholy of a classic New York rooftop scene late in the film between Luke Wilson and Gene Hackman, for example, is hitched perfectly to Velvet Underground's "Stephanie Says," and the exhilaration of a day shared by the elder Tenenbaum and his two grandsons matches perfectly to Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down by the School Yard."
"Fairytale of New York," The Pogues
"Flamenco Sketches," Miles Davis
Film: Basquiat (1997, Julian Schnabel)
A song about being lonely, drunk, homesick and heartsick in New York on Christmas, written by a troubled Irish genius (Shane Macgowen), is an unexpected, but apt, choice to emotionally underscore the story of a troubled, doomed American genius, painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. It's one of several ways that director Schnabel—himself a wildly successful painter prior to becoming a filmmaker—uses music to elegize his subject. The soundtrack also features "Flamenco Sketches," the last track on Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis (a hero of Basquiat's, if the film is to be believed). The slow ballad functions, in fact, as one of the movie's reoccurring motifs, conveying the sublimity of solitude, so essential to the creation of art - and something that was increasingly denied Basquiat the more famous he became. New York, that beautiful succubus, drained the young artist dry and left him dead at 27.
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The Norwegian pop singer's rise in the business began with a successful turn on her country's version of American Idol in 2013.
The young songstress, born and raised in the center of Norway, has been playing music since she was five.
Following her TV appearance on Norway's version of American Idol six years ago, she's toured with Zara Larsson, received over 1 billion global artist streams, and was named one of Vevo's 2019 artists to watch.
This interview found her on the tour grind, supporting, among other things, her new single, "The First One."
The First One
What are you doing in town?
I'm on a tour with Zara Larsson. We played a show yesterday at Irving Plaza!
How did it go?
Really good! I was a little bit nervous because New York crowds can be very "cool."
Yes! I was a bit scared, but they were really into it.
Tell me a little bit about your journey from non-musician to musician, and from Norway to the rest of the world.
It started with me being on this Norwegian TV show when I was 16. Before that I hadn't done much music. It was more of a hobby. After that show, I decide this is what I'd like to do. So I quit high school and moved to Oslo, got management, a label deal…
What was that TV show?
It was the Norwegian version of American idol.
So you just put your name in one day, like, "What the hell, why not?"
Well, I remember the first season of that show back when I was only six. I had told my mom how I really wanted to be on the show, but she told me I couldn't do it until I was 16 years old, in ten years. And exactly ten years later, it made a comeback! So It was fate.
So you got an agent, and then what happened?
Before that show I didn't write music, but afterwards I started getting into songwriting, and finding producers. I spent a year doing that, and then my first single, "2 a..m.," came out. And after that everything just started to kick off.
How do you normally write? With a piano?
Yeah, I started playing piano at the age of five. And when I was 14 I started listening to John Mayer, so I got a guitar. But writing with a piano or a guitar is something I used to do a lot of at the beginning, but now I'm more inspired by a cool beat, or a track, or a cool synth sound.
Did you find, growing up in Norway, that artists and the arts are respected there?
Sorry, what do you mean?
Well, in the U.S. there isn't a whole lot of state funding or kinds of support for the arts. So is Norway a nurturing environment for an artist?
That's a hard question to answer, because I was so young. In general, I'm a naive and happy person. I was floating in this happy wave of having figured out my life at such an early age. My view on it is, yes, it's very nurturing in Norway. Again, though, I was so young…I had great people that I worked with me and who trusted and respected me as a musician, and always felt like my voice was heard and I was in control of my own music.
Speaking of your own music, do you work with a regular crew of musicians and/or producers, or do you change it up frequently?
Most of my songs are different producers and different songwriters. I'm still trying to find that one person who I feel like I was born to collaborate with. It's kind of like speed dating. [laughs]
Who would your dream producer be?
That's a good question. I've worked with so many great ones so far…I have no idea. [laughs]
How about somebody out of left field, someone who would take your music in a different direction. Like, I don't know, a Mark Ronson.
God, I would love to work with him! A producer that isn't just "pop," necessarily.
I was listening to and watching the video for "Emotion" and there's a depth and emotive quality to it, to the video especially - and the production is quite something. Who was involved in that?
It's been a while, but let me think. I was into a lot of 80s music while writing that, and listening to Elton John and Queen and Toto. A lot of songs from the 80s, you put them on and right away you know what it is.
The hook is right there at the beginning.
Fast forward to "The First One." What was the approach there and how did it differ from "Emotion"?
Lyrically, it stands out from the rest, it's more intimate. I got to work with Jason Gill, who I had worked with several times without releasing anything, and finally we did something that was released.
The single is dropping May 24, correct?
And then you're touring in support of that. Are you supporting any other music?
Well, I'm also touring just to generally play my music live, be in the States, network, meet fans, etc.
Where is the tour taking you?
So far, I've been in L.A., Boston, New York, we're going to D.C. tonight, then Philly.
Are you getting to any smaller cities?
Not on this tour. It's just two and a half weeks.
I see you were on a Fendi campaign: did you get a bunch of swag?
[laughs] They gave me nothing, actually. All my friends think they I got so many clothes.
Are you a designer clothing wearer, or a thrift shop diver like me?
I'm more the former.
What was that experience like? Had you done any other high profile commercial work?
No! It was very outside my comfort zone, those kind of photo shoots.
Was it a stereotypical fashion shoot you see in movies, where the photographer is yelling at the models and gesticulating?
Yeah, I got yelled at all day. [laughs] No, but it is like you see it in the movies, with a big crew who speak kind of Italian/English..it's an experience.
One last question: If you weren't a musician, what would you be doing instead?
I would probably study…I don't how you say it in English. It's a very specific thing, studying different species in the water. [laughs] I sound so stupid!
Matt Fink lives and works in Brooklyn. Go to organgrind.com for more of his work.