Noise Of The Party

24 March 2012 | 8:31 am | Staff Writer

They've got to be one of the busiest bands in the country – so busy in fact that Melbourne-based seven-piece The Barons Of Tang are still trying to find time to record a debut album, five years into their existence – but then, while their incredible gig-load obviously validates their chosen musical path, they never really expected it to work out quite this way.

“We put it together for love of the idea and what we were doing,” the double bass-slapping Julian Cue explains. “We had absolutely no preconceived notions of success or having it grow or anything like that. It was a bit vague but we knew we wanted to put together something noisy and slightly antagonistic but with an interesting array of instruments. We'd play as a four- or five-piece with accordion, double bass, percussion and guitar, loosely playing Eastern European music as well as more punky stuff. We literally just put it together for fun and the fact that it was so well received was a surprise [laughs] to us. It actually took quite some time for us to take it seriously… and here we are.”

The other aspect of The Barons Of Tang that might surprise is how seamlessly so many diverse styles – gypsy, metal, rockabilly, tango, klezmer – manage to fit together.

“It's funny for us now, since we've been doing it for five years – and I don't think we could play any other kind of music. It's kind of reached that point for us where all those time changes and feel changes, we're so used to it we don't really think about it so much in the performance. So yeah, it feels organic even though to someone listening to it for the first time it might sound strange or jolting or something like that. It's kind of business as usual for us [laughs] – I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

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“To begin with it was very much, I guess, 'Put all your ideas in a pot and then we'll sort of argue/negotiate our way into a song,' which is… not the most efficient way of songwriting and so we've developed a process where we've had to have a certain, not rules but, like, if we're going to work on a song now, we need a certain amount of structure – be it charts or an overall idea or a recording – we need a box to work in now, because with so many instruments, so many players, so many options, those options can be quite distracting and debilitating to the end result. Now, looking back, I'm amazed that we dragged ourselves through all those early songwriting sessions!”

Those options come courtesy of accordionist Don Carlos Parraga, guitarist Jules Brunton, Anna Joy Gordon on saxophone, bass clarinettist Aviva Endean, drummer Sean Wyers and percussionist Annie Pfeiffer. Though the band might seem like it's improvising, The Barons Of Tang is a highly composed ensemble. As Cue puts it, “I guess we're a complicated party band, but we're definitely not a jam band. In fact, we don't jam [laughs], even in the rehearsal room. I'm always looking for good composition.”

And with just two EPs to their credit, it's the party band aspect of their performances that has taken them from innercity Melbourne to festival stages all over Australia and New Zealand and beyond to Montreal, Seattle and, after this next run of local shows, a tour throughout May of North America and Europe.

“We play a lot of folk festivals and arts festivals as well, so we're often the most noisy, repugnant creatures at these festivals and stand out rather nicely. I kind of like playing that role too.”