Bespectacled and bearded, Richard Cartwright is found upstairs at Newtown Social preparing for his band’s vinyl launch show. His wiry yet charming presence is infectious as he chats Ponderosa on vinyl, the departure of their stick man and finding influences in India.
Photos by Liam Cameron
HAPPY: Hey Richard, thanks for taking the time to chat. Do you want a beer?
RICHARD: That’s okay man, but I don’t think the bar is open yet, it’s too early!
HAPPY: Well I guess we can’t get hammered in the day time then…
RICHARD: Oh yeah! (laughs) We can get hammered on life! You gotta take what you can at the time, you gotta suck it up.
HAPPY: Is that your philosophy in life? Just to take in everything all the time?
RICHARD: Yeah I guess (laughs). I don’t know if you mean if I take vast quantities of intoxicating substances, only occasionally. (laughs) No, no, but on the majesty of life’s grandeur, yes! I moved up to the Blue Mountains, there’s a lot to take in there. You can find majesty in the blades of grass. I love sitting out watching birds in the mountains.
HAPPY: Have you been to the Winter Magic Festival?
RICHARD: Yes! Not this year because I have to work, and I have to work then because I’ve taken time off for this tour. If I didn’t go in to work I think they’ll forget I’m employed there. But it’s great there, there are so many furry freaky people and you get to blend in with your own kind.
HAPPY: Furry people?
RICHARD: Yeah! There’s lots of wizards and gnomes. There was a whole group dressed as squirrels, it’s very woodland-y.
HAPPY: Have you dressed up?
RICHARD: I wore a long rainbow beanie once, but I haven’t full wizard-ed out yet.
HAPPY: Well this tour is also a big send off for Pat, you guys should totally go all out with costumes.
RICHARD: We have! Not wizard style, but it has been a big tour because of Pat. It’s been a bit of a party actually which means the shows have been really good.
HAPPY: And he’s moving to New York with his missus right?
RICHARD: Yeah, but he’ll be back and then everything will be back to normal! But everything has been cruising along really well, and we’ll have people come in and fill in while he’s gone. We haven’t really thought about it until he’s gone, because right now he’s here! We’ve had a couple of conversations with some mates to see if they’d be interested in helping out. But we’ll deal with that on Monday!
HAPPY: Can you reveal who you’ve been talking to?
RICHARD: Hmmm, it’s a weird thing because Pat’s still, he’s not just a drummer, he’s our brother. You can’t just replace that. but I suppose we will have a bit of a celebration as to who will be filling his shoes. But we gotta figure that out (laughs).
HAPPY: Do you have an initiation ceremony of sorts?
RICHARD: Many, many.
HAPPY: Please do tell.
RICHARD: Well I’d have to kill you (laughs), we can’t have word getting out of what we do. It’s gotta be a surprise to the initiate! It’s both dark and light (laughs).
HAPPY: Is it like the Stonemasons in The Simpsons?
RICHARD: Yes, it’s very like that. There are several bonfires involved.
HAPPY: Several bonfires?
RICHARD: Oh yeah. Pat will come back and we’ll still have a drummer undergoing initiation. I’m still undergoing initiation! Well, aren’t we all?
HAPPY: That sounds enlightening and terrifying at the same time! Well of course the big reason for this is the vinyl release for Ponderosa which is pretty awesome!
RICHARD: Having it on vinyl was how it needed to be. It would have been unfinished business if we didn’t. We spent a lot of money getting it there. When we went on tour lots of people were asking for our vinyl, so then we knew we had to put it out. Otherwise we would’ve made five of them, one for each of us (laughs).
HAPPY: How do you mean it was unfinished business?
RICHARD: Well we always wanted it to be on vinyl. We’re all big vinyl heads, the album cover was designed like an old vinyl where you have the track list on the front. That vibe, and the picture on the front, it’s an expansive picture of the Himalayas which isn’t done justice in a little picture on your mp3 on your computer or on a CD.
HAPPY: Did SPOD come back to tweak anything for the vinyl release?
RICHARD: When we mastered it we did so for a vinyl release. We got it all done there. The music is the same except it’s cut into two halves. Which changes your perception of it because you have Shooting Stars opening on one side. It mixes it up a bit.
HAPPY: Cool. Well what was it like working with SPOD?
RICHARD: Well I talk about Pat being a brother, he’s a brother as well! That’s the third album he’s mixed for us. He’s worked with the touring band as well, he’s a member of the crew. The mixing process with hims is heaps fun. We’d go up to his place on the water there. We’d drink beers and mix . He’s got his jerky business so we’d eats tonnes of jerky, and we just took our time and let the songs come into their own. We gave the songs their space and were able to experiment with a few things.
HAPPY: And with jerky?
RICHARD: Yeah he runs Griffin Jerky, at the time it was just starting. He’d always have a big jar sitting out so we’d drink beer and eat so much till we felt sick. We had a Webber barbecue and we were really getting into smoked meats. What else could you ask for? Hanging with your mate, making music and barbecue!
HAPPY: You guys should put some jerky into the vinyl sleeve!
RICHARD: That would be nice! Unless you’re a vegan, then there’ll be a dead animal in their music!
HAPPY: Being your fourth album was there any preconceptions as to how it would sound, or did it all just come together, because after all as you say you’re all mates who’ve been working together for ages.
RICHARD: Well you always compare to the last one. My Voclano was a bit more beats-y, a bit more experimental. Then Sun was a bit more live-y, and this one we wanted a bit more steady ground between those two. We always want to do different things but make it sound together. That’s always the quest, to make all these disparate things sound like one thing.
It was just a process of finding which songs went well together, there were a bunch of really good ones we left out that took the album further in a weird direction. We almost cut off a whole bunch to make it really succinct, but we have to have some flavour! And people can pick through it and discover their flavour. Like a doser? Is that what they call it in India? I ate a lot of in India, I should know!
RICHARD: Yeah a couple of times.
HAPPY: What drew you there?
RICHARD: I spent time in Nepal first. Buddhism drew me there when I was a young man and a new age book junkie, which was a weird phase I went through (laughs). I was there doing some volunteer work and it blew my mind to see how people [lived]. We went to India after and that’s where I took the photo for the cover of Ponderosa. The craziness, the colour, the music, there’s so much music! The smells! I don’t think I knew much when I went into it, but once I was there I loved it.
My first night in India I looked out my window and saw a dead body floating in the Ganges. I’d been there in my hotel for 10 minutes and already I had to change my mind as to the place I was in. You don’t see that usually. So all these mind blowing things that changes the way you think!
HAPPY: I was talking to Alyx Dennison about her time there learning Dhrupad and how it inspired her return to music. Did you have a similar experience?
RICHARD: Well I was interested in being an actor before I went there…
HAPPY: Like Bollywood?
RICHARD: (laughs) No! But that would be great! I went for an adventure, and when I came back I wanted to be an actor because that’s what I did there. But I played so much music with people, there was a Swiss guy with a recording studio in the Himalayas I worked with. I was jamming with so many people and that’s how we communicated. Music was what I was doing everyday. Even if I wasn’t doing it as a job it was really satisfying sharing it and doing it! I was travelling with a guitar and a didgeridoo at the time (laughs). It was just hippie jamming, but I wrote the first songs I thought were good. I listened to a lot of Beastie Boys on the bus, and by the time I came back music was what I needed to keep doing.
HAPPY: That’s really cool! The next band clip should be a Bollywood clip!
RICHARD: (laughs) it should! We could dance (Richard starts to dance in his chair). Is that the dance? (laughs). I was learnign sitar over there and I was hoping no one would get offended but it was the opposite. If you show some enthusiasm for something they’ll love you.
HAPPY: Cool! Well another thing I wanted to ask was about Rice Is Nice. Those guys are doing heaps of cool stuff, so what’s your take on a small label making such massive waves with you guys and other bands?
RICHARD: Well I think it’s wonderful and amazing to be a part of it. It’s a community. It’s really hard to make any money or for success to flow. So to be surrounded by your friends and peers who you have this connection. It’s like a family thing! I really like it, and we couldn’t do it without Rice Is Nice. I love diverse things and they have so many flavour on their roster.
HAPPY: You guys should make a big Bollywood movie together!
RICHARD: (laughs) Yes!
HAPPY: Well I’ll ask my final question.
RICHARD: The final question for a million dollars!
HAPPY: We always talk about stuff that makes us happy, so what makes you happy Richard?
RICHARD: Balance! I don’t need a lot but my wife, my dogs, my friends, my fireplace, music. Having enough, having all these things and being able to do what you dream is happy. Being able to sustain the thing you love is happiness![soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/149615297″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]