Brisbane four-piece The Cairos finally released their debut album Dream of Reason to the frothing excitement of fans and critics alike. Since then the boys have knuckled down touring Australia, the U.S, Europe and sold out their gig in a Chinese war lord’s mansion. Taking a break from watching the cricket at their label’s fancy-pants offices, Alistar Richardson and Reuben Schafer took some time to chat to Happy about their 2014 and how they work to the bone to support their music dreams.
HAPPY: Thanks for taking the time guys, we super duper appreciate it. Before we get into the nitty gritty music stuff, I want to ask you about something that happened recently. Wes Carr, who was on Australian Idol a few years back, wrote a song about the siege in Martin Place. Have you heard the song?
ALISTAR: I haven’t actually heard the song. We were pretty much driving back from Festival of the Sun in the car hearing this stuff on the radio and since then we’ve been getting our stuff together to come down here, and since that day we watched about it but we haven’t heard the song though.
HAPPY: Well he wrote a song about it on how he felt about the incident pretty quickly, what do guys think of artists writing songs and attaching themselves to other people’s stories?
ALISTAR: You always get inspired by other events. I know I’m a bit of an emotional writer when it comes to lyrics, something will inspire me and I won’t write directly about it I’ll just take the emotion from it and just start purging out these words about something.
REUBEN: I think I might, yeah, I’m a bit more literal about it.
ALISTAR: Yeah his friend crashed his car and he wrote a song about the details about the details of the crashing of the car.
REUBEN: It wasn’t detail for detail, but it was more of telling the story in the element…
ALISTAR: While I get a bit too ambiguous.
REUBEN: That’s good though, it’s good! I wish I could be more ambiguous.
HAPPY: So you don’t think stuff like this is a guy cashing in?
ALISTAR: The only person who’d know that is the person who wrote it, and I guess Australian Idol has that tendency to make it think it’s a bit like that. If I’d heard the song I’d have a bit more of an opinion, but you’d never know what kind of angle they’re coming from.
HAPPY: The new year is almost upon us, were there any favourite songs or albums that really stood out for you this year? You can’t say your own!
ALISTAR: (Laughs) Totally Lost In The Dream, The War On Drugs album. Amazing.
REUBEN: That’s something we all agree on.
ALISTAR: And it sort of lasted all year, they only toured here last week so it’s been really present all year, it’s such a great album and it was awesome live.
HAPPY: And for The Cairos it’s been a pretty awesome year. Dream of Reason came out in May…
ALISTAR: It feels like years ago (laughs)
HAPPY: And since then it has been pretty well received. What’s that feeling like having such good critical attention given to you guys after so long of a lead up to this debut?
ALISTAR: It’s one of those things where we’ve just been working so hard for so many years, really hard. When that sort of appreciation comes it’s good validation and it makes you want to strive to do more and more and write better songs and be a better band. It’s just been an overwhelming year for us to be able to do the things we want to do especially travelling overseas and selling out our tour in Australia, those were goals we really wanted to tick off. It’s been so much fun.
HAPPY: Were those goals you’ve had for this year or just goals you’ve had since you started?
REUBEN: We were just talking about this before. Probably since we were still in school sort of thing. The band taking us overseas is such a great thing to happen. Like Ali was saying, as you reach your goal new goals stem beyond that and you’ve got to strive for that.
ALISTAR: Even when we first started as 17, 18 year olds we’d play in front of five people and be like “Yeah! Sydney’s awesome!” or “Touring’s the best!” because we were all about the fun but there’s a slow progression. The pleasure part’s amazing, then you slowly realise that that you can’t sustain it unless it’s successful, and that’s, not the sad part but that’s the reality and it makes you work harder to make it happen.
HAPPY: A lot of fans would just think “My favourite band is making an album!” and that’s it. But the reality is you have to work really hard! And part of that is, even with your album doing so well, there’s a team behind it.
ALISTAR: There’s a HUGE team that’s behind it. And sometimes, I haven’t even met half the team that’s behind it. People working in booking agents, management, the label, it’s all behind the scenes the stuff doing all the hard work, and we just get to jump on the plane and fly away! No, it’s not like that! (laughs). No, there’s a lot of hard work from everyone involved and I think with music, especially these years there’s a lot less money involved which I think is good because it filters out all the people who are in it for the money and all the wrong reasons. The people who really want to make music are the ones happy to put up with the financial burden and they do it because they love it.
HAPPY: You guys went from being independent to Island Records, who is of course an imprint of this massive giant known as Universal Music. What has your experience been working with these guys in your corner? Has it been easier or has it changed how you look at doing music professionally?
ALISTAR: I think it was a reality check, because when we were doing it independently we thought “Oh, we know what to do! We know this, we know that”. But having a team behind you, having the resources to get the right producers, the right imagery, the press, all those little connections that’d be really hard to network yourself. You realise it’s a network that’s set up for you, because in the past it was harder. As much as you could by touring, as much as you could meeting people, that’s the thing about this business and that’s the advantage of having Island behind us.
HAPPY: You guys had a pretty good year touring with Europe, Asia and CMJ as well. In Asia was your first festival headline spot, in China I believe?
ALISTAR: Yeah Beijing.
REUBEN: It was actually in the palace of Emperor Don, ummmm
ALISTAR: Yeah this war lord Don…..
REUBEN: We should know for this interview. It was Emperor Don Quiri! It was in his palace, he had this big mansion that was hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years old.
ALISTAR: It was awesome crowds and really great ovation. And they don’t have Facebook over there and that’s our usual way of connecting with fans but they had their own version of it. So when we got there they were like “Oh no, your music is all over this website and all these other important ones“, and we were just like, “Oh wow!”
HAPPY: Did you ever think when you first started you’d be going to China to play in a war lord’s ancient castle? Was that on your list of things to tick off?
ALISTAR: You know when you say it now it’s like “Oh wait! Yeah, that did happen!” Because at the time you’re on a plane and you then you get there and it’s like “Woah!”, then the next day you’re on another plane to Shanghai, you have to really pinch yourself , then a week later you’re in Nepal. So it’s not really until you get home you’re like “Wow! That really did happen!”
REUBEN: You definitely get some perspective from it.
HAPPY: How were the shows? I’d imagine playing in China would be a different experience especially when people don’t know you through the traditional methods of networking.
ALISTAR: Yeah, it was very different. It was probably one of the biggest crowds we’ve had to our own show, it was sold out. They were just really appreciative, just standing and listening to every song. And it’s different because here people move around and dance whereas there they’d just focus. Then they’d cheer really loudly, then afterwards they’d be like “That was the best show I’ve ever seen!”, and for me it was like “I didn’t know you guys were having fun?” because they were all standing there watching. Which is really cool because I guess it’s like when you go to those concerts and everyone’s sitting down, they’re all just watching the music. It’s kind of weird when we’re rocking out on stage. (Laughs).
HAPPY: It must be a totally different energy for you guys.
REUBEN: It’s hard to pick but at the end you know you’ve done something right.
ALISTAR: We did Vietnam as well which is a different experience. China and Vietnam have been the best places for us and we had no idea that would happen before we went there. There are places starved of those Western bands coming over there, so they make an effort to come see it and enjoy it.
HAPPY: Seeing how good of a reaction going to these places have for you, are there other places you’d like to go that you wouldn’t have thought of before?
The last show we ever play will be in Cairo, Egypt!
HAPPY: You’re last show ever? Amongst the pyramids?
ALISTAR: Exactly. And then they’re going to wrap us up as mummies and bury us alive (laughing)
REUBEN: Yep. That’s definitely the way for us to go.
HAPPY: I vey much look forward to seeing that!
REUBEN: You’ll have to be there man, you’ll have to be in Egypt.
HAPPY: You guys were also at CMJ which hosts a lot of big industry movers and shakers. Was that on your mind when you were playing? Or was it just another show for you guys?
ALISTAR: It probably helped that we’d been away for two months with China, Nepal and Europe, so we were kinda ready. So we’d already developed this groove of “Everything’s new. Everything’s different“, so we’d already locked in our live show and everything was tight and was flowing really well. Our manager came and we knew he was doing the networking and getting the name out there, and we just had to turn up and play the best shows we could.
REUBEN: It’s really good. A bit of pressure really concentrated us. Pretty much then we could bugger off (laughs).
ALISTAR: There’s so many Australian bands, even though you’re in Australia with them you don’t even get a chance to meet until you’re all in the area together. It’s definitely a memory we’d never forget, and it was a great outcome as now we have a booking agent over there now, playing a really good festival over there next year which we can’t give away just yet!
HAPPY: Can you give us a hint?
ALISTAR: It’s in Tennessee, that’s a pretty big hint! But yeah, we’ll keep pushing all these kinds of places. When these sorts of opportunities arise. We made a conscious decision last year. We knew it would be a financial burden but we worked really hard to make all these opportunities, because all of a sudden we’ll be playing Cairo where we’ll be getting wrapped up for good.
REUBEN: You never know when that’s going to come up!
ALISTAR: It could be a stop over in Cairo on the way to London and we’ll be like “Gasp! This is it!“. (laughs)
HAPPY: Like you guys say you’ve worked pretty hard and nothing comes cheap. Can you tell me a little bit about the reality of being a professional musician? Do you guys work outside of the band in any other jobs?
REUBEN: Yeah, a couple of jobs. It’s really hard to keep them down though, that’s the thing, you gotta find a job that’s flexible and find someone who understands. It’s taken me seven years to find something and know I have which is good. It’s expo building which is good. Thanks Darren Ashby! (laughs)
ALISTAR: Yeah you gotta find a fan who wants you to work where they work!
HAPPY: I guess that would take a lot out of you? Not just having two jobs, but the nature of having to keep those jobs.
ALISTAR: It’s constantly like “In six months I’m gonna need a certain amount of money to be doing what we’re doing. Shit! Quick! Get out there and work as much as you can and save as much as you can!“. It is pretty full on, and exhausting, so exhausting. Because you get home and you’re stuffed already from the tour, and then automatically you have to start thinking about money and what you’re going to eat for the next four weeks before you go out and do it again. It’s awesome, I wouldn’t change it for a thing!
HAPPY: How do you find balance? Because in that case you’re always working.
ALISTAR: There’s no balance.
REUBEN: There’s not a lot of balance, no.
ALISTAR: It sort of gets to a point where you get to escape. Reuben might go to his dad’s house down on the bay, or I might go to my grandma’s and lie on the beach for two days. That’s your restoration, then you’re back!
HAPPY: After the year that was 2014, what does 2015 hold? Any recording or touring besides your secret festival?
REUBEN: Ah, wouldn’t you like to know mate!? Then it wouldn’t be a surprise would it it! (laughs).
ALISTAR: After Woodford (Folk Festival) there’s going to be three months of writing. If we’re ever going to do it again, make another album, we’re gonna have to come up with something even more special. So there’ll be a lot of discussions to figure out where to go next. The first four years of the band it was like (Alistar does an impression of a teenager) “Yeah, let’s play music man!“, do whatever, have some fun. But I think there has to be more energy writing and recording. Hopefully we’ll record another album next year, and have it out the next year. So we probably won’t be as public next year, I feel like we’ve flooded everybody with everything. So next year I think lot’s of writing.
HAPPY: Do you guys have any ideas, things you want to do differently or learned from the first album?
ALISTAR: I think the last recording experience was songs. It wasn’t so much an album, we wrote so many songs and then we picked our favourites, it wasn’t really a work. So it will be interesting to actually spend two weeks writing the album, rather than writing a few sporadic songs and then throwing them together.
REUBEN: (Whilst in the middle of practicing a cricket shot) Yeah, we want to mix it up a bit and try something else.
ALISTAR: Unless of course we write the best song, then we know that will definitely go in!
HAPPY: Yeah, you’ll write the best song and go “That’s it! Time to get mummified now!”
ALISTAR: That could be the album, it could be called Mummified. We could really take the artistic direction that way (laughs).
HAPPY: And finally, what makes you happy?
ALISTAR: (To Reuben) For you it’d be the Valiant, spending three months away from the Val and then coming home to sit in it? He has a really nice car.
REUBEN: Hmmmmm, yep, sitting in The Val for me. Yep (laughs).
ALISTAR: Writing a song for the first time. There’s so many things! It’s usually whatever you want at the time and then that will make you happy. But that’s the lame answer. I’m gonna say the feeling of having a song and jumping around listening to it going “Yeeeeaaaaah!” and no one else is watching and you’re in your undies.
REUBEN: Yeeeaaah…that’s his. For mine just put ‘The Val’ for me (laughing).
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