It’s always a busy time just before stagetime, so it was a real pleasure to be able to sit down for a while with Melbourne miserablists The Eternal just before their recent Canberra show, the second in their ongoing jaunt in support of fabulous recent album Waiting For The Endless Dawn. Not only one member of the band, but all four sat down to chew the fat about important matters like classic Australian rock and the meaning of doom…
You kicked off the tour last night – did everything go well?
Mark Kelson (Vocals/Guitar): “Yes, it went really well. It was only (drummer) Ando (McDougall)’s second show with us as a drummer”. And yet you’ve already got him doing tour manager duties! “Well, he just sort of fell into doing it! I think the show in Sydney last night was our best performance so far as a unit”
Guitarist Richie Poate agrees: “It was the most unified the music’s been”. Kelson agrees. “Richie has been with us a couple of years now but most of that time has been spent putting music together. But we’ve spent a lot of time rehearsing this lineup; with the album being so well received the aim is to go higher and better. We’re putting a lot of pressure on ourselves. So the Sydney show in that respect was very much a success. We got to see some fans we haven’t seen in a while, as we haven’t been to Sydney for five years”.
As you say the album’s been very well received everywhere. Is it frustrating to not be able to get out regularly in support of such a record, or are you happy to be a bit more selective” Richie responds: “I don’t think any band in Australia is afforded the opportunity to do a lot of shows. It’s important to pick and choose the shows you do because you don’t want to spend a heap of money to play for no-one. So you have to wait for the right opportunity to come along before you do a show. It’s really hard to co-ordinate the release of an album with a whole load of shows coming up that you may or may not be on; that’s where it’s at in Australia really”.
Kelson: “We also had the thing of Marty (O’Shea, drums) leaving the band as the album came out, which didn’t allow us to immediately start playing live. We had to get Ando in and rehearse for several months. In the last five years we’ve only really appeared in Australia as a support act for international tours. We really haven’t done our own shows. So I think the goal this year, as we’re all open to playing, is to build things up, and, as Richie said, take the right opportunities. It is hard – because even though the album has been well received and we’ve been around a long time, we’re not a huge band”.
You’re on a Finnish label, Inverse – does that assist at all with overseas touring? “We are working on it. Loosely, and without announcing anything here, we’re looking to be playing abroad in August. But as I said we’re in this rebuilding process. After the last album we asked ‘where are we, what are we doing?’ we were trying to work out where we were heading with things. So the Finnish label are assisting us with some stuff and we are working on getting some overseas stuff happening”.
I’d like to pick up on what you said about opportunity, Richie. Here in the gig backwater of Canberra, there has been a noticeable upturn in the number of bands coming through the town, especially international metal bands. But still Australia doesn’t seem to embrace a week-long gig diary. It’s mostly weekend gigging. Is that just because of the distances involved for bands and fans to actually get to gigs? “No, I don’t think so. Thirty years ago there was a midweek culture. The band I was in in the early nineties would play the pubs around Melbourne on a Wednesday or Thursday night and the place would be packed. That doesn’t seem to happen anymore. Local music scenes aren’t really driven by local punters, they are driven by local bands. And the more local bands you have the more they attract their friends to what they do. We played in Ballarat a couple of weeks ago; Ballarat was dead for years, but there’s a guy who started a band down there four or five years ago, and now you go to a gig in Ballarat and there’s a couple of hundred people there, because this guy built this thing up around him and his band. The people who come to see him were in Ballarat before, they just didn’t have the scene around the band. He’s created awareness, so when bands come from Melbourne and Sydney the Ballarat people are already there. And that breeds more bands, more venues, all because of the awareness. Without that awareness you can’t have a midweek scene”.
That’s the touring side of things taken care of. To change tack a little, let’s talk about doom. The first press release I received about the new album referred to you as ‘Australian doom band’ The Eternal. However to me at least, the term doom appears to be these days just a bin for journalists and PR people to consign a band to if they happen to play slow and or heavy music. Mark – assuming we accept that there is an element of doom to your music what, as Nick Cave might have said, does doom mean to you? ‘Well, I was in Cryptal Darkness and I’m in The Eternal, so I’ve been associated with doom for a long time… I had an interesting thought about this when I was writing the new album, which is slower and heavier than the previous one. I knew that having a bit of association with the ‘doom’ tag would help us get a record deal, because we weren’t signed to Inverse when we started writing the album. I don’t necessarily think The Eternal is a ‘doom’ band in the pure sense of what people call ‘doom’. I come from the time of My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost and Anathema, who were all quite different from each other. The Silent Enigma – that’s a doom record that isn’t really a doom record! We have elements of the emotion of melancholy that is inherent in doom. I think we play melancholic, emotive metal more than anything. There are elements of rock, progressive music… Pink Floyd, Paradise Lost, whatever. But because the songs are slow, heavy and long it’s an easy place to put it. But that can have a negative effect because people might think it’s Sunn O))). Or that we’re a My Dying Bride clone. But in this rebuilding stage of our band, really since the Kartika album since we’ve gone through lineup changes and where we’ve gone through changes sonically, coming back to that word ‘doom’ as a reference point for the fact that I was writing long drawn out and melancholic music… I was comfortable with that. I don’t really like that a lot of sludge is labelled doom, for me that isn’t doom. If I type in doom on Spotify I want to see My Dying Bride, even Celtic Frost. In that respect The Eternal, if you moulded My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost and Anathema into one thing… we’re a little bit like that. We’re the Bastard Child of that! And when I was writing there was a bit of a homage to that. Maybe Candlemass a little bit too. That nineties thing, that little hub of what happened with that music at that time, is very important. But I don’t want that to hinder what we do or what we might become. We’re already writing new material, and already it’s not as slow as the last album”.
Another change in tack now – Mark, can we talk about the Icehouse cover on the album, Don’t Believe Anymore? How did it come about? “I’ve always liked Icehouse. Man of Colours was huge when I was in grade six at school, the mullet was part of my childhood! Iva Davies is such a good songwriter. But what I found later – because I wasn’t there when Flowers and those albums came out – I revisited the discography and there are a lot of really dark songs. Great Southern Land is a really dark song. Initially I did a bit of a demo for that. But I Don’t Believe Anymore is much more similar to what we are. We slowed it down about twenty beats, and decided we were going to do it. We’ve never done a cover before. So we did it our way – changed the sax to guitar, that kind of thing. But when we thought we’d done it and finished it, we listened to the original and realised we hadn’t done it right. We went through the song in immense detail, every synth line, every nuance we could work out… it’s interpretation but we want to be faithful to the original in a way. So we sat there for another week, just to make sure we hadn’t missed anything that was integral to the song. His songs might appear quite simple on the outside, but they have many layers and an awful lot of things taking place within them. But it came together and just sort of sounded like us in the end”.
I don’t pay attention when I first play an album for review through. I’m doing other things. But when that song came on it grabbed me and I stopped. Because yes it does sound like The Eternal, but I knew I already knew the song. I asked my wife and she thought I was listening to Icehouse! She loved it. “Thank you! The reason we covered it was because we don’t want people to think we’re copying My Dying Bride or someone like that, we wanted to put this Australian spin on it. We’re appealing to a European market but this has a classic Australian feel to it. I don’t know if we’ll do another cover but I like to think that if Iva hears it he’ll feel we’ve paid respect to it. And perhaps a modern European audience that hasn’t heard of Icehouse might go back and discover them. It goes down pretty well live”.
Ando – anything to say about the rest of the tour? “Well, we’ve got Melbourne next week, which is obviously our biggest show. Then we go to Adelaide. People have asked about Brisbane and Perth shows, but at the moment the economics of that are hard. It feels good for us to get the live thing down though. Brisbane would be nice!”
The Eternal play Melbourne’s Evelyn Hotel this Saturday February 16th. You’d be mad not to be there if you’re in the area…