07 Aug 2015

Tracer Featured

The time might be right for a beer in Adelaide, but in Athens is only half an hour after noon with Michael Brown breaking the record for Rockpages.gr earliest interview. The Australian frontman/guitarist of Tracer feels proud for the band's third album, “Water For Thirsty Dogs”, for which the band was locked in  a barn in the middle of nowhere rehearsing and experimenting in order to present their take on how a modern rock album should sound like. Interview: Yiannis Dolas

Rockpages.gr: Was it hard for you guys to come up with your third album, meaning that usually a new band has the appetite and the hunger writing the debut,  and then this feeling continues to the second, but what about the third?

Michael Brown: This one was easier in some regards, because we had so much time to do it in. We set ourselves a goal at the start of 2014 to record by the end of the year. And we basically canceled our tour with the Truckfighters in the middle of the year just concentrating solely on writing and the way we did this one was to basically lock ourselves away in a barn in the middle on nowhere that Jett’s (Heysen Hicks, bass) family owns and there was no one around, there are no neighbors so we could play as loud as we wanted with doors open until three o’clock in the morning if we wanted to. And, basically we just jammed a week and then did that a couple of more times and basically laid the solid base jams, we were locked in there for a month and then we actually started crafting songs out of it. So, in that regard, because we had so much time in our hands we got an opportunity to really go deep into the songs and experiment a lot and push ourselves into territory unknown I guess and carve out a voice for Tracer. The thing that was more difficult this time was the fact that we were trying to create something special, rather than write some chorus-verse songs. We really tried to find what Tracer means to everybody and even in a broader sense what a modern day rock record should sound be. We really got sick of bands sounding like Led Zeppelin or sound like Sabbath, or AC/DC… we thought that there is still some territory to explore in this sort of classic rock sound that we’ve got in the three pieces: drums, bass and guitar. We should be striving to do what those bands did, experiment and push the boundaries. We should be striving to do what they did and bring it to a modern fore. We had a lot of differences in opinion and more arguments than we ever had, but out of that we got this amazing record “Water For Thirsty Dogs”.

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Rockpages.gr: This time you handled yourselves the album production, without an outsider. Was this because you were trying to experiment to find what a modern rock record should sound like?

Michael Brown: Well, it was a few things… To be honest mainly it was because we had no fuckin’ money (laughs)! We were thinking of getting some producers involved and we were scouting a few different producers but at the end of the day we didn’t have enough cash to pay them what they deserved to be paid. When we were thinking about it we thought that we did “Spaces In Between” ourselves and that came out fine. But, there was so much that we did change about that album, so we thought that this was a really good opportunity to actually see where we were at musically and on a production level. Because, we were all growing so much since “Space In Between”. Jett himself, who was the new member, and this is his first recording, he brings a wealth of knowledge in a production sort of field as well. He does sound producing in local bands here, so he’s got some pretty interesting ideas. Throughout the years and working with Kevin Shirley on our last album we picked up our own style and we never really gotten that across properly on an album, so we thought that we should have a go ourselves, and when we secured Erik Reichers at Echo Bar, we knew that we were onto a good thing. Especially since Erik really listened to what we were after and he is a very modern sort of engineer and mixer, so what we were telling him was that we wanted this aggressive, very exciting, live, polished, expensive sounding record and he just got the sound we had in our heads and got it out of the speakers! He was a fucking genius when it came to that kind of sort of thing. So, a lot of the production as far as the sound goes definitely came from Erik’s expertise. We didn’t do a lot in the pre-production stage like in “El Pistolero”. It was something that we really wanted to do for this album, finally get the songs and strip them back and tear them to pieces and take them to different directions and just really see what we could squeeze out of each song. And that’s why some of the arrangements are a bit different… We wanted to get away from the first chorus, reach chorus, outro kind of thing. We wanted to experiment and find some exciting ways to go about in the song structure and different time sequences and the key changes and shit like that. So, it became an experiment to see what rock music can actually become.

Rockpages.gr: Having listened to all your stuff, including the “L.A.?” album, which I couldn’t see on your official website, I think that “Water For Thirsty Dogs” is your most mature album so far, maybe because what you’ve said, but I think that you are taking advantage of everything you’ve got.

Michael Brown: That was our thing. Especially, as I said before, when you are told that you’ve got a budget to record these songs, which in today’s money and what other bands are spending is bargain basement prices, and when you get told that that’s all you’ve got to spend, as far as money goes it really becomes how much of your own expertise you can draw around to create something special. Luckily we’ve got three really talented musos who don’t only think about their own sound, but they are also thinking about the song craft and the word-smithing behind lyrics and how it would all work to create art like this rather than just another song. So, yeah we really put everything that we had in this album. We were rehearsing for four or five times a week together, taking as much time off our day jobs, nearly getting fired, losing some friends along the way just because we were so involved in creating this album. We had to make this work. It was a brilliant album that we’ve never been prouder for something we’ve done. Every time we listen to it we go like: “fuck, we actually did that and it sounds incredible!”

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Rockpages.gr: Maybe that’s what “Homeward Bound” came from?

Michael Brown: Yeah, that song to me is more about touring and being away from family, friends and especially my girlfriend. I kind of wrote that while I was being dragged along by a long-time girlfriend since we first started touring. I always see the whole struggle she goes through, and how hard it makes it to keep the relationship going whilst on tour and in the last couple of years I’ve had that experience as well. So, I kind of wrote that on behalf of dragging myself to twelve lovely ladies. The great thing about music, especially writing our kind of songs is that it can get several meanings. The film clip we’ve just done for we asked people to write on sheets of paper what they like the most when coming home. And the vast array of different answers that we got was incredible. Everyone looks forward to coming home, I think it’s one of those primitive things that no matter how far away you go, you always look forward to something about coming home. It’s deep in our hearts I think.  

Rockpages.gr: One other song that I liked on the record was “Owe You Nothing”. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Michael Brown: That’s a song that actually nearly made the “Spaces In Between” record. We kind of left it and when everything was ready and we were looking for songs to record for this album that song came up again and we listened to it and had something about it, it had that chorus, but everything else just sucked! So, we re-wrote everything around the chorus and that was one in particular that we really went to town experimentational(sic!) when we were recording it we were looking for different sounds and signature sounds, things that weren’t obvious. I actually used a guitar that was made out of plastic and only had about thirteen frets. It was practically impossible to play, that’s why the solo sounds like a crippled Garfield , or falling from a flight of stairs!

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Rockpages.gr: I read that when you were writing “El Pistolero” you were influenced by Mexican films, like “Desperado”, did something similar happen with “Water For Thirsty Dogs”?

Michael Brown: Ahm, not so much. It wasn’t as direct as “El Pistolero” was with “Desperado”. I think this one has a theme running through it, bit is not directly related to a film itself. I guess the influence that “Fight Club” has had on my outlook on life definitely influenced the word choices and the lyrics choices and maybe the theme of the whole album. But, no there is not directly a movie tied.

Rockpages.gr: Usually American bands try to break UK, and the English bands try to break in the States. What’s the case with Australian bands?

Michael Brown: Oh, we take whatever we can get (laughs)! For us we knew that Australia wasn’t really supporting this style of music we are playing. This was six, or seven years ago when we looked the general scope of music over here and realized that there wasn’t really a market, which is disappointing but, at the same time we are willing to do anything to get our music out there. And we looked to either touring the US, or touring in Europe. The only thing that really persuaded to tour in Europe was because we all had dual citizenship with Britain. It was easier than paying 2,5 grand each to have a visa for the US and luckily that gamble really paid off on our second tour, as we were signed with Mascot and since then things have been going onwards and awkwards (sic)! So, it sort of becoming like a family for us over there in Europe. You guys support us really well and the press, on radio and especially at live shows the fans that we’ve got over there are incredible. I still can’t believe that there are so many of them out there and they come to every gig. It’s a nice thing we’ve got there…

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Rockpages.gr: Your kind of sound is very popular in Greece lately with local bands playing this old fashioned ‘70s influenced stoner kind of rock…

Michael Brown: Cool! That’s one place we’ve never been to, but fuck we want to go there! I don’t think we’ll get paid (laughs)! We’d love to go there just for the food… we’ll play for food and some ouzo!

Rockpages.gr: You said before that you have day jobs, but still you are a band who is trying to rehearse, record, tour. How difficult is to do this having a day job?

Michael Brown: Extremely difficult… but, a guy I know sometime gave me a quote that was really spot on and truthful… it’s: “you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, to do what you wanna do”. At the end of the day, if I have to work a shitty day job in order to pay the bills in between touring, that’s what I’ll do, if it’s something you love you will always find the time to do it. It gets more and more difficult as life goes on and you realize that you want to buy a house and you are still living with your parents. To us this album signifies such a giant leap in “Spaces In Between” sound and Tracer’s impact on the world that we believe in it so much that we think that this is the turning point for the band and world domination is on the cards.

Rockpages.gr: You handle both vocals and guitar in the band, so is it safe to say that you are the most responsible for the band’s sound?

Michael Brown: I wouldn’t say that actually, no! We all take responsibility for just about everything in the band. It’s a very diplomatic group that we’ve got, especially when it comes to the sound and usually song writing. Usually, I am the spark, the lightning rod, no matter whose idea it was in the first place. From the moment we got a cool idea we all go for it striving for perfection. We are all responsible for our organs, as well as our sound as a band. So, Jett’s bass sound is not his dream bass sound, but it’s ideal for Tracer. My guitar sound, the frequencies I play are gassed up in order to go with our bass and drums. That’s how we make our sound. It’s not “The Michael Brown Show” of Dre Wise’s band… we are Tracer!

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Rockpages.gr: How did you come up with the power trio lineup? Have Tracer always been a three piece?

Michael Brown: Yeah! In the beginning the band was me with my brother and Dre, our drummer, with whom were classmates. We used to jam during lunch time in school and we soon realized we didn’t need anybody else. I played the guitar, and the way my brother was playing bass with the volume to the max was making our feet rumble. Dre was hitting the drums as hard as fuck, so we were all playing too loud for a three piece. Out attitude was always “let’s see where we can go with this”. I think that when you have this limitation about what you can or can’t do it sparks your creativity. Necessity is the mother of invention. I’d say that this is absolutely true for Tracer. In our entire career we try to come up with new sounds. For example, if we wanted to use strings, like on “Tremors” we tried to do it ourselves playing slide guitar and see what we could come up with. That’s we strive for, to experiment with our organs. I don’t think that the envelop hasn’t been pushed too far.

Rockpages.gr: Last question, what would be the ideal scenario for the future Tracer?

Michael Brown: The ideal scenario would be for the people to stop celebrating mediocrity in the music industry and start appreciate talent, realism and good songs, instead of listening to songs from the fucking videoclip. I think that if this happens bands like Tracer, as well as the entire rock’n’roll movement which is underground will come forward!

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