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coverpic flag Australia - Full Moon 72 - 08/22/02

The Orange Humble Band
- an interview with Darryl Mather

Quite possibly the best band in the world

The Orange Humble band is great. A bit of a weird one too, though. For starters, it's not a band in the real sense of the word. They don't tour, they don't hang out together, they see each other only every other year, yet they have made two terrific albums that remind everybody of 60s pop at it's best with a bit of American soul thrown in for good measure. Even though the latest album came out in Australia almost two years ago, it's only now that Darryl Mather (whose brainchild this band is) and his gang get the recognition they deserved all along. Now available in Europe for the first time, their second album Humblin' Across America (which followed 1997's debut Assorted Creams) got stunningly good reviews from key magazines like Mojo, who compared it very favourably to The Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street and said it sounded like the [never recorded] fourth Big Star album.

However all that's not very surprising, as Australian songwriter/guitarist Mather is joined by an all-star cast for the recording, the nucleus of the band being producer/guitarist Mitch Easter, guitarist/singer Anthony Bautovich and Posies mastermind Ken Stringfellow on lead vocals - on the first album augmented by seasoned Australian players like Bill Gibson and Pete Kelly. On the second the guests include Big Star drummer Jody Stephens, bass player Jaime Hoover and Memphis legend Jim Dickinson among others.

So why not ask Darryl Mather, a former (founding) member of cult favorites The Lime Spiders and Someloves how it all came about?

Luna Kafé: Is it actually more surprising for you that the record gets some attention in Europe two years after you recorded it or that it took so long for people to notice it?
Darryl: "No, it's the first. It's surprising me that we get any exposure and especially now. It's quite bizarre, to be honest!"

Luna Kafé: So obviously global success was not your goal when you made the records - what were you looking for then?
Darryl: "The main goal was just to challenge myself, to try and write a set of songs and to perform and record them as a band, where I in particular could hear the record back and say: 'I'm satisfied'. I wasn't really particularly interested in or concerned about what people thought!"

Luna Kafé: Did that slightly change with the second album, or which album do you like better?
Darryl: "I prefer the first one. I think the songs that I took into the recording of the first album were better songs. A lot of the songs we played on the first album were actually left over from the second Someloves album, so I had six or seven years to pull all those songs together as opposed to say two or three years between the first and second [OHB] album."

Luna Kafé: The interesting about the line-up is, that all of the people involved have been around since at least the late 70s/early 80s, except for Ken Stringfellow. Especially since you said before that you were looking for a Colin Blunstone type of singer, why did you chose Ken when apparently for all the others you didn't find it necessary to look for "new blood"?
Darryl: "I haven't really thought about it in an analytical way. Mitch had heard Ken a few years earlier than me when he was playing with Marshall Crenshaw and he had a few shows with The Posies. And so Mitch told me what a great singer he was and that he sounded like The Hollies and all that type of thing and no one sings like that anymore. And he's still young and vibrant and if we had gotten some old guy, maybe it wouldn't have worked. Ken was just so relevant. We were really looking for players who were relevant for the kind of music we wanted to play. Mitch and I have always admired Big Star as a band and we always loved that Ringo Starr type drumming, so immediately Jody Stephens became the logical drummer for the second album."

Luna Kafé: Why Memphis for the recordings?
Darryl: "I always wanted the second album to be more soul-based and to have more of a southern sound, even if it's just the fact that the songs are slower played, I don't know if you've noticed. But Americans in the south, they kinda work in a groove and play a little off the pace compared to British or Australian musicians or even the big city bands. In L.A. everyone plays a bit faster. I wanted that kind of groove thing and I thought: 'If we wanna do this, we should work with authentic players and people from the region'."

Luna Kafé: Does this mean, the second record was less "planned out" when you took it to the studio and presented the songs to the musicians?
Darryl: "Let me tell you, neither of the two records were demoed, they both have been from the heart. The broad outline of the tune and the aesthetics were discussed verbally rather then demonstrated by demos. And I was lucky enough to work with guys who interpreted exactly the kind of music we were trying to create."

Luna Kafé: A few years ago you said that you hoped to make an album that has the same sparse atmosphere as Bob Dylan's "Time Out Of Mind"... I don't think that comes through on the second OHB album. Did you just change your mind?
Darryl: "Nah, I probably don't have the ability to make an album as great as that Bob Dylan album (laughs). I don't know how Dylan did that record. Oh, I do actually; Jim Dickinson [who played on both Time Out Of Mind and Humblin'] explained it to me when he came in and explained, that a lot of the room mics were just hanging down from the ceiling, in various positions in the studio. And the band just basically played and with the different setting of the mics, when they got it all on tape they just worked out how to get a really distant room effect in the mix. We just didn't do that. That's a stunning creative achievement."

Luna Kafé: Do you like not having a "real band", a gang of people who hang out together and tour (with all the problems this usually brings with it) but rather be a "conductor" of an ensemble of stars? (Nic Dalton from your label Half A Cow once said your role reminded him of Jim Steinman's!)
Darryl: "No! With Anthony here in Australia and Mitch and Ken in the States I think especially now after two albums it's much more of a real band. There are other bands that have existed and will continue to exist around the world, where the players actually don't live in each other pocket, but they come together and make music. So I like to think of us four, and Jody, as a band."

Luna Kafé: Does that mean there will be a third OHB record anytime soon?
Darryl: "We've broadly looked at it, but the problem we've got is money! Nobody is gonna give the OHB any funds, because it's not really a working band. The logistics make it impossible. But I know that Mitch and Ken are hoping that I can complete another batch of songs and we will release at least one more record. I hope that we will, but there's so many hurdles ahead before I can commit to that."

As usual, I also asked Darryl to recommend a batch of underrated records, and here's his list:
Eddie Hinton : Very Extremely Dangerous (1978)
Harry Nilsson : Nilsson Sings Newman (1970)
David Crosby : If I could Only Remember My Name (1971)
Johnny Burnette : Rock n Roll Trio (1956)
Archie Shepp : Fire Music (1965)
Colin Blunstone : One Year (1971)

Copyright © 2002 Carsten Wohlfeld e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Orange Humble Band article/review: Humblin' (Across America).

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