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“The ladder is not curved”: a slightly cooked conversation with The Babe Rainbow

The Babe Rainbow

You might think this: a band which introduced themselves to the world with a song called Secret Enchanted Broccoli Forest must be pretty out there right? Or at least a little mercurial. But then listening to the lyrics ofEureka … it’s like, are they okay?

The band is, of course, The Babe Rainbow and being present at Splendour In The Grass naturally we decided to try to get to the bottom of it. Tracking down bandmates Angus and Michael post-set, we found the two in good spirits. The tone was celebratory, laidback. They were feeling good.

Riffing off one another they shared technicoloured visions of the Rainbow life. Conversation circled between surf, Kinks and second albums. Plus, vibraphones – they’re highly important to this band you’ll understand, natural light too. Granted all this may ring a little cryptic, but it’s all true.

Another thought crosses the mind, “Did we get to the root of it?” Did we uncover the truths of this band’s sun-kissed logic or find out what they were actually all about? Well it’s all part of the bigger cosmic picture, isn’t it?

We grasped an answer, sure. As you can read below, funk, William Onyeabor, and catching waves with Matt Damon all feed into it. We took this in but perhaps lost hold of the question a little in the process.

And you know, we didn’t even get onto the topic of astrology which may very well have been important. Oh well, next time. Anyway. Profundity or no, this was their transmission.

The Babe Rainbow

Vibraphones, Matt Damon’s surf skills, The Kinks, William Onyeabor, natural progression, natural rhythm and natural light: a smorgasbord conversation with The Babe Rainbow.

HAPPY: You know I was just remembering earlier today the first time I saw the band. I’m fairly sure it was Gizzfest, around the time they’d just recorded I’m In Your Mind Fuzz.

ANGUS: Real early Gizzfest? When we were playing in the little shed?

HAPPY: This is was in Brisbane though. You were playing outside.

MICHAEL: That was a great gig.

ANGUS: Oh yeah that was awesome! It was just when we’d gotten the Acme suits.

MICHAEL: And I did a little solo thing before that.

ANGUS: Aw yeahhhh!

HAPPY: I was just thinking about how the live setup has changed since then. It seems like you’ve bought in some more percussive elements…

ANGUS: Well you know the dream is to have the perfect amount of percussive elements.

MICHAEL: Since then we’ve sort of lost a member and gained a member. And then lost a member and gained a member – etcetera!

HAPPY: It was a while ago, 2015.

ANGUS: It was a while ago! But I remember it was so fun that day. It’s fun playing around on a tiny stage at a little festival. But! It’s also fun playing on a BIG stage at a BIG festival as well!

HAPPY: Well bring me up to speed about what you’ve been up to lately. Your new album Double Rainbow has just come out and it really seems to be arriving hot on the heels of your self-titled debut which only arrived just last year.

ANGUS: Oh cool, you reckon? It felt like ages!

MICHAEL: I mean I hate to say it, but it’s the back catalogue. We’re just catching up to the new stuff!

ANGUS: That’s right. Now we’ve finally caught up!

MICHAEL: So the next album! You just wait!

ANGUS: Do we have a name yet?

MICHAEL: Fantasy Ownership?

ANGUS: Maybe!

HAPPY: How do you see these first two records as sitting together? A lot of groups think of their debut as a kind of calling card…

ANGUS: I guess it’s just the natural flow, the natural progression. The natural rhythm. It just keeps coming.

MICHAEL: Natural light!

ANGUS: Natural light.

MICHAEL: I love natural light.

HAPPY: Can you tell me a little bit about where your headspace was at when you were putting Double Rainbow together?

ANGUS: Well Pete Murray had sold The Music Farm – which is this amazing local studio in Byron – to our friend Jo. Who’s lovely. She’s a like a teenage Willy Wonka of Now.

HAPPY: Given that you are locals are you committed to recording in the area? Was that a factor?

ANGUS: Not at all. But it was like we were in the area and…

MICHAEL: Local produce!

ANGUS: …we were like that’s in the area so we ended up there.

MICHAEL: Local produce!

ANGUS: I think that whole record just came. It was like a couple of days.

HAPPY: Psychedelia seems to be a huge influence for The Babe Rainbow. You inhabit it both in your music and onstage. Was there a particular song or image that initially drew you to it?

ANGUS: I don’t know, what’s the defining moment? Hmm. I mean I remember Michael showing us The Kinks when we were little. We were so young we weren’t even allowed to be in the local bar. We would just make our own parties across the road in the carpark with a windup record player. We don’t even think about those songs anymore but they’re kind of embedded within your soul or something.

HAPPY: The Kinks might even be getting back together, who knows?

ANGUS: They should definitely get back together!

HAPPY: Do you have a favourite record of theirs? Or a period?

MICHAEL: Definitely before they went really weird!

HAPPY: I’ve really been getting into those weird Kinks records in the last year. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

MICHAEL: Well it’s just going to take a little time for me I think!

ANUGS: We love it all! We love it all equally.

HAPPY: Going back to these older influences. Is there an element of disconnect you feel with contemporary music? I’ve put this to a lot of bands people would loosely describe as ‘psychedelic’ – not that I want to pigeonhole you. But it’s interesting. Some say they do and others say they don’t…

ANGUS: ‘Retro vibe’.

HAPPY: Retro can be a bit of a dirty word. I don’t know if a lot of people like being called something like that.

ANGUS: It’s a bit of a dirty slang!

MICHAEL: It’s all the same. Just different ways to skin a goat, whatever floats your boat!

ANGUS: It’s hard to impose something. Everyone is beautiful regardless of what records they listened to when they were younger or what music they make now.

MICHAEL: It’s all the same. Genre is a thing of the past! If it speaks to you – it’s about the song really, the singer. If they’re speaking to you then that’s the thing you know? You can’t go to something and be like, “Oh, I can’t listen to that because it’s too modern!” No one should ever do that! Who would ever do that?

ANGUS: I don’t know. There’s probably people who do that!

MICHAEL: Yeah, I know but…

ANGUS: I know a few people that do that.

MICHAEL: …they’re missin’ out! What I’m saying is that they’re missing out.

ANGUS: There’s no point to be closed off to the world.

MICHAEL: We’re definitely not closed off to the world!

ANGUS: We’re not closed off to the world in any way!

HAPPY: Okay.

MICHAEL: And we sound modern anyway!

ANGUS: I like to think that we sound modern.

MICHAEL: [Laughs] We’re modern!

HAPPY: Well it’s not like you’re a facsimile of something that happened 100 years ago. These songs breath with their own life…

MICHAEL: Totally!

HAPPY: … and there’s a big groove element to it as well.

MICHAEL: It’s getting to be a little bit funky.

HAPPY: So then let’s talk about Monky Disco!

MICHAEL: It’s time to get funky!

HAPPY: Do you jam on songs? How does Babe Rainbow material typically come together?

ANGUS: Well we have a few little rehearsals, but we like to jam.

HAPPY: Is somebody writing songs and then bringing them to the band?

ANGUS: Well the songs are usually written in the pit, aren’t they?

MICHAEL: And they change as you go along. And you’re like, “Oh yeah, well you let’s just bring in a vibraphone now!”

ANGUS: I would say most of the time it’s a little Kool Breeze [Jack Crowther] song. It’s like a little fairy garden that he’s nurturing and then everyone comes in – the vibraphone’s turned right up, miked properly, turned left and right…

HAPPY: Is that a challenge? Working with a vibraphone?

ANGUS: Well not at all. It’s just a blessing.

MICHAEL: Yeah!

ANGUS: And you know then Lulu comes in and he’s got his gangster synth and his sweet harmonies. And then it sort of just spirals and shifts shapes.

HAPPY: Is there something about the band that fans might not know? Too me you’re a bit mysterious.

MICHAEL: We love the mysterioso vibe don’t we?

HAPPY: So a bit of mystery is a good thing?

ANGUS: Are you a surfer?

HAPPY: My dad is! He’s been surfing since the ‘70s.

MICHAEL: Dad knows.

ANGUS: Ask dad.

HAPPY: So if you’re wondering about The Babe Rainbow, ask a surfer?

MICHAEL: It’s all about surfing. It’s a mantra!

HAPPY: I’m taking it that, being from Byron, you all surf.

MICHAEL: Well it’s all about surfing. It’s a mantra.

HAPPY: What’s your favourite place to surf?

ANGUS: Have we got a new spot?

MICHAEL: Yeah, we’ve got a new one. We love Wategos though.

ANGUS: It’s just a bit crowded with celebrities, which makes it hard.

MICHAEL: We’ve chilled with Matt Damon out there! He’s gettin’ better.

HAPPY: Do you ever surf when you’re on tour in The States?

ANGUS: Oh yeah. We surf the whole time but one of our problems is that when we play in America one of our favourite places is Austin, Texas, but it’s so far from the beach so you’re not ever surfing and you’re just kind of in this funny other lifestyle that you’re not really used to.

HAPPY: I’ve gotten that before from surfers. It’s like there’s this agitation when you feel when you need to surf. It’s like having withdrawals or something…

ANGUS: It’s totally the same brother. Or it’s just like jamming or the vibraphone’s not loud enough or something.

HAPPY: Who’s your biggest musical hero if you have one?

ANGUS: The Bee Gees.

MICHAEL: Slash Brian Wilson.

ANGUS: Brian Wilson and the Bee Gees as a supergroup.

HAPPY: I can hear it.

ANGUS: That sums it up.

MICHAEL: That sums it up perfectly.

ANGUS: We love James Brown as well though! We love William Onyeabor.

HAPPY: He’s the guy that does Atomic Bomb right?

ANGUS: That’s right.

HAPPY: That’s as far as my knowledge of him goes but I should dig deeper shouldn’t I? Is there anything else from his catalogue you’d recommend to those unfamiliar?

ANGUS: Dig deeper!

MICHAEL: What’s the one? Fantastic Man?

ANGUS: All of them! Fantastic Man is a classic. I like Why Go to War. [Sung] “why go to war when you know you need peace/Why not find peace.”

MICHAEL: A positive message.

ANGUS: Great message.

HAPPY: Well the big question is this. It sounds like you’ve been working on a new album but what else is coming next? Besides surfing.

ANGUS: Well we don’t want to give too much away…

HAPPY: Well no, you’re mysterious.

ANGUS: …but we’ll just say that the ladder is not curved. It’s straight UP!

MICHAEL:No wise man has the power to reason away.” Can say that.

ANGUS: Couldn’t say anything else.

The Babe Rainbow’s new album Double Rainbow is out now via Flightless Records. Listen to it here.

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August 9, 2018