I attended the 80th birthday party of Valerie Axtens, a delightful and much loved Lismore matriarch, a few years ago. Midway through the afternoon the modest party was enlivened by the mayor, Cr Jenny Dowell, who marched briskly in and began greeting everyone warmly by name. I was astonished when she knew my name and enough about to have a short but genuine conversation – but that’s the kind of person the mayor of Lismore is. Continue reading “A woman of substance”
THE TENDONS is group therapy for three hard-working men, taking on their demons through the cathartic power of music.
Invoked by such superlative Australian rock bands as Died Pretty, Even, Glide, The Welcome Mat and The Fauves, the band came into being as a response to their glittering legacy of irreverent rock and roll.
Formed in Lismore in 2008, The Tendons have released an album, Cult Leader, and played over 50 shows along the East Coast, supporting the likes of The New Christs, the Celibate Rifles, Leadfinger, the Velocettes and Budgirl.
Their own work is enshrined in Cult Leader, an audacious and enterprising debut. Partly autobiographical, its highly personal stories are intimately connected with the band’s rural roots. From historic hailstorms to brown snake attacks, the album imagines the trajectory of a Messianic character, based on the antics of an interesting existing individual, pictured on the cover.
The Tendon’s are the brainchild of local boy Glenn Deaf, frontman and songwriter, whose rambunctious guitar work enshrines this unusual rock and roll adventure. With Johnny Blind on drums and Guy Osborne on bass, this classic 3-piece rock outfit, disdaining the high glam and glitz of personality cults and showbiz, prefer to let their stories and elemental sounds do the talking.
The self-styled cult leader pictured on the album is an extrovert calling himself J Dollar – when the band launched the album at St Kilda’s Esplanade Hotel earlier this year Dollar, in full method-acting mode, was collared by hotel security for his over-enthusiastic role-playing.
Glenn Deaf reckons that stunt was totally in keeping with the album’s concept and an inspired piece of ad-libbing.
“This album kind of tells our story – it’s about the fine line between life and art imitating it, performance and wankery – you try and be authentic but there’s always some kind of charismatic edge to flamboyant people that can be spooky.”
“The album’s trying to make a point about the music we play – its based on music that came from a time when it was about playing – not about wearing whatever disguise was necessary to fit in with the cool kids and get a Triple J hit.
“We’re singing about the realities of living in a rural world but how the beauty of everyday life transcends that – I mean I’d never write a surfing song but for me a song about brown snakes or chickens is the same thing … seeing tranquility and balance in nature … This is auto-biographical but it’s also about the bigger picture …
“We’re not extroverts ourselves, we’re not trying to conquer the world, but we play music to bust out. We don’t need a cult leader to tell us what to do.”
Track by track, here’s a glimpse into the mind of a bona fide Cult Leader …
Snow 2480 recalls a mighty hailstorm from 1980. The nostalgic rush of recalling romping with older brothers in the ensuing drift-pile amidst the hype of the Winter Olympics. Seminal stuff for the burgeoning megalomaniacal psyche. Features a wry guitar melody melting into full-blown rock freak-out circa Dinosaur Jr’s early days.
Hard To Tell wrestles with complicated modern notions of identity – just the kid of stuff a cult leader looks for in impressionable converts. Amidst a sinister bass-line the guitar plot congeals along confusing notions of blurred sexuality and a groove worthy of the Bad Seeds.
Big Guns is about feeling you’re possessed. Getting back on track despite bad energy and bad entities … everything can be going well but something’s bugging you – time to bring in the Big Guns to deal with it. This self-help manual enlists staunch 80’s rock without the annoying synthesiser tweaking.
Love Your Chickens, a bushies surfing anthem, is a frenzied outburst of Lismore Zen. Like the Buddha says – after enlightenment, wash the dishes, sweep the floor, love your chickens.
Into Your Room corners faux-sexuality of the Paris Hilton variety in a throttling drone last heard south of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Whereas King Brown concerns a drummer terrified of brown snakes. There’s genuine fear in Glenn Deaf’s voice as he re-enacts a sighting in a psyched-out swamp-rock stomp.
Make Love is possibly the best track on the album. Sexual languor, the very stuff of rock and roll, is alchemised here in a burnished bit of frozen lightning that wouldn’t go awry on a Queens of the Stone Age album.
Crooked Smile is a rare slower number on this rollicking album, a piano-centric dirge for a mentor who is dying, who always did more for students than for his own kids … the warning ‘it’s not gonna work this time’ haunting it like a premonition of death.
Your Face broods on a majestic melody reeking of Died Pretty’s gorgeous excess as it deals with the heresy of modern homogeneity. Based on Glenn Deaf’s experiences in Japan, its target was very specific …
“There’s good prostitution and bad prostitution … in Japan the geishas were part of the fabric of society – now those cultivated streets are full of international bimbos, part of an uncaring global industry. That entire aesthetic of subtle beauty has been undermined by money …”
More frenzied guitar acrobatics on the title track as Deaf duels with his dual identity …
“You’re the kind of guy, when you talk, people listen …” he croons, but when the disingenuous naivety of the chorus kicks in, there’s no mistaking which side of the fence Deaf is on. The cheerful venom of this twisted sociopathic ballad eventually takes the Cult Leader apart and the band is left alone in the feedback and psychic wreckage – three men dealing with their demons.
The Red Cedar Man of the title was Glen Deaf’s great grandfather, a woodsman back when Lismore was part of the Big Scrub forest. The album’s continuity is nicely sewed up with this impassioned plea to remember our hardworking forebears, regardless of eco-political issues. No cult leaders here, just hard work, and a future.
Hailing from Byron Bay’s country cousin, Lismore, The Tendons are a rock and roll band with a lot on their minds.
Eschewing the glamour of the surf and smurf set, The Tendons prefer to write about Cult Leaders and chickens. With their ears firmly rooted in the 90’s alternative rock scene, they ply the sometimes dissonant guitar sounds and social consciences that made Died Pretty, Even, the Fauves and Dinosaur Jnr their listens of choice.
The Tendon’s new album Cult Leader, is out through Lismore’s own Flood Records.
Big Low – The Junction of The Two Rivers Big Low is the vehicle of Dan Tuffy, one time member of 80’s rock outfit Wild Pumpkins At Midnight, who had an eclectic career in Australia before exporting themselves to Europe for a sustained, if addled campaign of touring. The rest of the band returned home, worn out, and Michael Turner, of Nimbin’s own Durga Babies, is a North Coast resident. Tuffy stayed in the Netherlands, however and concentrated on an eccentric country/folk strain of music. His work in Big Low with Dutchmen Michiel Hollanders and Marc Constandse features a variety of odd, archaic instruments including the Velofoon, banjo bass, bendir and bandoneon (google ‘em). The songs on this album are then, of an odd, almost whimsical folksiness (I saw them at the Yackandandah Folk festival earlier this year). Tuffy’s unabashed Australian accent sits oddly with the lilting, very European musicality of his compadres and creates a stirring vision of an older era that’s almost magic realist – a cover of country great Merle Travis’ Dark as a Dungeon, and the convict dirge My Name is Jimmy Governor set the tone. Available only through online order, you can access this through Smoked Recordings.
The Tendons – Snatches of alt-rock from three decades glisten in this restless animal, throwing off echoes of Masters Apprentices, The Church, Died Pretty and the bipolar frenetics of Eagles of Death Metal. An audacious and enterprising debut from a promising Lismore band, Cult Leader imagines the trajectory of a Messianic individual, based on the antics of an interesting existing individual, pictured on the cover. The Tendon’s are the brainchild of local boy Glenn Deaf, frontman and songwriter, whose rambunctious guitar work enshrines this unusual rock and roll adventure. Standouts are Snow 2480 and King Brown. Produced locally at Music House Studios, you can get this through Flood Records, an estimable independent Lismore record label.
The Dennis Boys – No Story to Tell The Dennis Boys are a product of the highly fecund Hunter Valley, famous for coal, stud horses and great bands. A country rock outfit consisting of four siblings and a family friend, their influences are profoundly rooted in the greats – Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Johnny Cash and Dwight Yoakam, but there’s just as much Nick Cave, White Stripes and Lucinda Williams in their roughneck ballads. Brothers Shane, Lyle and Erle provide the brawn, whilst sister Leah is the beauty, and between them they bristle with authentic guitar twang and bravado. They are the real country deal – truckdrivers, horse farriers – Erle an award-winning harmonica player and Leah a jeweller. Lyle does most of the singing, and his authentic vocal growl easily carries opener The Right Kind, while Leah’s Falling For Me provides some of that Patsy Cline sass. Shane’s Hurts Too Much hits a poignant note – this a truly tender and beautiful song from the clan elder and contrasts deftly with the raunch and swagger of the albums general tone. Just released through Newcastle’s Rack Off Records, this album’s getting a lot of attention.