Is the modern live music scene a dire one? Models’ Mark Ferrie weighs in

Legendary alt-rockers Models have had their legacy carved in history of Australian music. With the band ready to hit the road we chat to bassist Mark Ferrie about the new tour, the state of live music and why it’s a bad idea to make enemies in this business.

Models Australian tour

HAPPY: So the big tour is right around the corner, how are you guys feeling?

FERRIE: I’m feeling enthusiastic and excited. I’ve just finished two great months on the road with the Rockwiz Salutes the ARIA Hall of Fame show so I’m in touring mode and now looking forward to going out with Sean, Andrew and our new drummer Ash Davies as the Models to present our own original material.

HAPPY: How did you meet up with Ash, and what does he bring to the band?

FERRIE: I’ve known Ash and his sister Tanya (who is a singer) socially for probably 20 years. For the last five years I’ve been playing electric guitar around town in a rockin’ band with Ash called the JVG Guitar Method which is fronted by popular 3RRR radio presenter Jon von Goes. Also since its inception Ash and I have been involved in the studio band which records and helps realize the music of composer Bryony Marks for the ABC TV series Please Like Me.

Models asked Ash on board when our first two releases, the Alpha Bravo Charlie…. album and the Cut Lunch EP, were re-released on the Sandman label last year and we planned to do a show in support of that. Ash’s feel on the drums reminded me of original Models drummer Janis Friedenfelds (aka Johnny Crash) who sadly passed away early last year. Since then we’ve just kept asking Ash back whenever something comes up because he’s a positive and upbeat guy who stays in shape musically and has a hint of swing in his playing that makes our songs rock AND roll.

HAPPY: Is there anything the band is really looking forward to on the tour?

FERRIE: To kick off the tour we are performing two albums, Local and/or General from 1981 and The Pleasure of Your Company from 1983 in their entirety at two special shows at the Flying Saucer Club in Melbourne. Revisiting these albums has been both fun and a bit of a revelation in that some forgotten or overlooked tunes from back in the day can be given a new lease of life and incorporated into our repertoire for the remainder of the tour. We are going to have quite an extensive set list representing all the phases of the band which we can draw on for this upcoming trip around the country.

HAPPY: Are there any songs in particular you feel can be revitalised? How will things be made new for the shows?

FERRIE: I wasn’t involved in The Pleasure of Your Company album having left the band by that stage so this is the first time I’ve listened to it forensically. I Hear Motion is a classic track which represents the epitome of what it seems the band and producer Nick Launay were trying to achieve with that album. Upon close inspection though I can’t help but feel that on a number of the other tracks the multi-layered production obscures the basis of the song and becomes distracting. On these upcoming dates we won’t be using additional musicians or sequenced tracks, which we would have to utilize in order to fully replicate some of these tracks, so we’re paring most of the tracks on that album back to the basics of each song, which in my opinion only makes them better.

HAPPY: The band cut their teeth playing the pub scene, though now various laws are restricting those opportunities for other bands, what are your thoughts on the situation?

FERRIE: We were fortunate to come up in an era when going out to see local bands in pubs on a weekly basis was a new and popular thing to do for young people. It was as much a social activity as a cultural one, and we were lucky to ride that wave performing 3, 4 or 5 times a week, week in, week out for the first few years of the band’s existence. Sean, Andrew and I have that grounding in live performance that we still harken back to even today and it’s one of the things that I believe make this band special. Nowadays there are a lot more avenues for social activity like nightclubs, bars and festivals that just did not exist back when we started performing, and the pub scene is nowhere near as dominant as it used to be for a whole variety of reasons.

In a city like Melbourne which has a deep musical culture, musicians and their audiences will always find somewhere to come together. Just because it doesn’t happen in pubs as much as it used to is not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion. Times change and making music has never been an easy career. If you have the desire to make and perform music then part of the gig is getting it out to people and making them excited and interested enough to come out and see you, wherever that may be.

HAPPY: That’s an interesting point you make about festivals and clubs. Are there any you’ve noticed as a good avenue for emerging artists?

FERRIE: Any gig is a good gig if you’re an emerging artist. Always try and learn something from each gig you do to make the next one better – even if it means NOT doing something the next time. Just be aware that (a) you can wear out your audience if you become too predictable with your music and presentation, and (b) people don’t always come to gigs just to listen to the music, it’s a social scene and people primarily go out to meet other people they know (or would like to know).

HAPPY: Speaking of, how do you find new artists to listen to?

FERRIE: In my youth music was a lot scarcer that it is now and you had to actively seek out the good stuff and develop oblique strategies in order to do this. There’s so much stuff coming at you from every direction these days that its easy to become musically exhausted from the overload. I’m fortunate to work on the Rockwiz program where the producers aim to balance out the established artists with new, emerging ones so I get to meet and play with a lot of young artists through that. But generally I just rely on the radar which I’ve attuned over the years since being a musically obsessed teenager.

I saw a great band the other night called Dorsal Fins due mainly to the fact that a guy who works at my local bar of choice (Littlefoot in Footscray) plays in the band and is always telling me what fun it is working with them. They have not one but two really excellent singers out front, write great songs and obviously enjoy what they do. Check ’em out!

HAPPY: We know, they’re a really great band! In your view is there anything that needs to change or could be improved on to help the scene?

FERRIE: Overall I would say there has been a vast improvement in all facets of the music industry from when I began playing. In those days music was not viewed as a viable career path and I was actively discouraged from entering what was perceived to be a ‘Wild West’ scenario dominated by rogues and scoundrels. Of course these types still exist but I believe that the general level of professionalism in areas such as musical competency, managerial and support services and just basic musical equipment that is available to aspiring musicians is way better than what was around decades ago in this country. Success in music is elusive and can never be guaranteed and really should be measured by what you personally want to get out of it. At the end of the day in the entertainment business just remember that if you’re not having a good time you’re not doing your job properly!

HAPPY: In terms of competency in the business did the band ever run into any sticky situations with less than competent characters?

FERRIE: Absolutely! But it would be too embarrassing for us and them to recount the sordid details here. Many of these people are now perceived to be captains of the industry. The scene’s too small to hold a grudge, you gotta move on.

You can catch Models on tour starting this Friday!

11th December – (Local &/or General) – Flying Saucer, Melbourne
12th December – (Pleasure Of Your Company) – Flying Saucer, Melbourne
29th January- Croxton Bandroom, Melbourne w/ Huxton Creepers
15th December – The Gov, Adelaide
18th December – Factory, Sydney
19th December – Coolangatta Hotel, Gold Coast
20th December – Eatons Hill, Brisbane
30th January – Wool Exchange, Geelong
16th December – Astor, Perth