Monthly Archives: August 2015
Trysette-New Album-Feel So Pretty
A Chat with Mike Caen
1. What inspired you to become a singer/writer/band? And who are your early influences?
When I was 8, my Dad started playing drums in a casual surf band, Ventures and Shadows material, and they rehearsed at our house, which seemed to involve mainly a lot of beer drinking and laughing. My older brother taught me some chords and my memory of holding that 1st chord I learnt for which I practised for about 2 weeks. I was in heaven, and had found something I was good at.
We lived in the NZ countryside, and I had a Saturday job to save up for my first guitar. When I was 12, I was sent to boarding school, discovering that no one bullied me when I was playing the guitar, which of course led to constant practice. This was the rise of the guitar heroes, Clapton, Hendrix, Rory Gallagher, Allman Brothers etc.
I started going to Auckland Uni jam sessions in my school uniform and had gotten a reputation as a bit of a prodigy. I saved up for my first Gibson by cleaning nightclubs, and was the right age when NZ had changed it’s licensing laws from 6pm closing to 10, which opened the door to a pub rock explosion.
I then basically played gigs 3-5 nights most weeks, eventually with Streettalk, with whom I recorded a couple of albums, one of which won a NZ ARIA for album of the year (and which I only found out about many year later.)
The first album was produced by the (in)famous American eccentric Kim Fowley, of Bee Bumble And The Stingers, Runaways etc. fame, who mysteriously appeared one Christmas in Auckland, had liked our singer, and proceeded to write and record with us over 2 weeks of grueling 16 hour days in the studio. If we were getting too tired, he’d say “Ok, let’s do a reggae track”. At the end of the marathon session, he rang and recorded assorted luminaries in the US, asking for their opinion of our tracks, played at blistering volume as he held the phone up to the speakers.
2. Tell us a little about how you write, how do the songs come? What gets you going creatively?
I’m often playing word games in my head. I see double meanings, puns, poignant words or phrases that can mean two entirely different things (e.g “Sirens”). More and more I realise that my songsare an autobiographical diary.
The first verse or idea inevitably comes from some mysterious spark, often fully formed and perfect. Then I almost always get stuck, and putting myself in different situations, e.g cycling, driving the car, cooking helps me keep refining the ideas. Distraction allows a different part of my brain to take over, and it can take days and weeks of polishing before I have the final song.
Sometimes revisiting a song over and over, e.g “Only Love”, which sat as a melody and one verse for probably 10 years. And then the whole recording came together in one day.
3. Your bio mentions “Mental As Anything”, what went on there and more?
My daughter was starting school at Newtown School Of Performing Arts, and I went to the orientation day. While I had been playing guitar with Jenny Morris, Adam Brand and various country artists at the time, I was getting tired of having to learn new songs. I bumped into Dave Barraclough, who was bassist for The Mentals, and he had mentioned they needed a new Reg. I had a play with them, loved the songs and they were great people too. We played 100 shows a year for 11 years. I liked their pop sensibility, humour and the slide and surf connotations in their music. And Greedy and Martin are a pair of true pop eccentrics, in the nicest possible way. For any musician looking for a long term gig, I recommend hanging around school orientation days!
I also got involved with soundtrack music at that time, and worked on a few shows, including Mythbusters, which turned into a bit of a monster. I was flat out doing guitar sessions, so it was a very busy and diverse creative period. With The Mentals, I got to travel all over Australia, many times, and to Bangkok, Shanghai, Port Moresby, and Macau.
4. What is the first record you bought and why?
My first record was “Something In The Air”, by Thunderclap Newman, which I thought, and still do, is an astonishing piece of pop. Pete Townsend, at his creative best, produced it I believe.
5. What current OZ acts inspire you? Ditto for international acts?
I really like Bernard Fanning’s singing, the juxtaposition of his heartfelt voice and Powderfinger’s guitar rock made something special. Pete Murray’s songs; Tame Impala, Gotye, Shane Nicholson, all have an element of tenderness to their music that moves me. Neil Finn, not Australian but maybe associated via Crowded House is, as a singer and songwriter, way up there for me, and I’m inspired by the way he integrates creativity and family.
6. Tell us a little about your music and what a crowd can expect at a live show.
Paraphrasing him due to the passage of time, my music was once described by producer Peter Blyton, as “haunting melodies over great beats”, and I hope that still stands. My songs have been called heartfelt, which is about the biggest compliment I could ask for. Maybe a tad “Haunted House”.
7. Favourite artists of all time?
Beatles, Stones, Clapton, Chuck Berry, The Pretenders, Neil Finn.
8. Fave film? Fave Book? Fave place? Fave animal or pet? And story if there is one.?
Fargo, by the Cohen Brothers, just grabbed me from the beginning to the end. The black humour and unpredictability. Left me hanging out for anything they do.
Fave book, probably Cloud Street. I like the way Tim Winton seems to chronicle the male condition in his writing better than anyone else I’ve read.
Fave place, Piha in NZ. Wild, black sand beach on the West Coast, where I’ve spent a lot of time. Patonga in Australia, a village at the mouth of the Hawkesbury while my daughter was growing up, surprisingly unspoilt for being only an hour and a half from Sydney.
9. Fave food or drink? And is there a story associated with that?
Most memorable was the catering touring Australia supporting Paul McCartney. Playing for 25 minutes to 10-20,000 people, having to the best (free) vegetarian meal imaginable, watching Paul and his great band for 2 hours, sitting and chatting to him about song-writing at 3 am after the last show. Doesn’t and probably won’t get better than that.
10. You are backstage with Eric Clapton, what do you say?
11. Where do you see Aussie music heading? It’s strange looking at the OZ music world from the perspective of someone who was there pre-internet. The record companies used to act as a filter, supplying the gargantuan amounts of money needed to make a record. And it’s easy to forget they supplied the promotion departments too.
Now the world is awash with music, someone can make a hit record on their laptop, using amazing tools they can buy (or even illegally download) for a relatively tiny amount of money. Then the challenge is to stick out, and it seems the collaboration of social media and old-school promotion does it best. And yet it’s all the same in the end, something strikes an emotional chord with enough people, and briefly shines.
12. What are your future plans for 2015?
Continuing to try and master the interesting, perplexing yet challenging world of performing and promoting my record, without the luxury of hiding behind someone else’s success.