One Phone Call Changed Everything For Centre & The South

25 February 2016 | 3:12 pm | Bryget Chrisfield

"It looks like we're all almost just chillin' it on a back porch when we play sometimes."

He's got a day off from selling "shoes at Vans" today and, when asked whether the shoe brand could perhaps sponsor his band Centre & The South, Nicholas Emsley ponders, "You have to be careful because of, sort of, the message we send and then whether or not their products are sourced ethically, blah-blah-blah… Xavier Rudd's copped a fair bit of flak for the KFC thing." Emsley then suggests that "maybe Rasta Lion Wear or something like that" would be a better fit for Centre & The South's tunes.

Emsley probably throws the staff roster out a fair bit when his band tours and the frontman admits, "We like to play a lot". "Our motto's just always been to play as much as possible to sort of, you know, earn your stripes live and, yeah! Become gig-ready and I s'pose doing that for so many years has sort of got us to this point where we're able to gig a lot easily and not [have it] be so taxing on us."

"He's played with The Beatles, played with Roy Orbison, all those cats." 

Centre & The South hang out together as mates "outside of music" and Emsley shares, "It looks like we're all almost just chillin' it on a back porch when we play sometimes, 'cause we're so comfortable with each other." But this energy can morph into a magnet for stage invaders, he tells: "We do aim to be an inviting kind of band when we're onstage and I think sometimes [punters] might take the invitation a bit too literally. But our lead guitarist and our other vocalist — Jimmy [Doheny], who started the band with me — he's so great at being that guy onstage… he'll put their cowboy hat on for a little bit or something, and dance with them, and then send them off nicely so they feel like they've had a good time up there. You can't just put the boot into them, that's not cool."    

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The band recently released their debut album Yadah — which was produced by Michael Cristiano (The Seekers) — and, when asked how Cristiano came into their lives, Emsley recognises it's "such a random story". "Anyway, my mum and my dad were having dinner one night with a group of friends and, like, a few extended groups of friends," he explains, adding that his folks ended up dining with "old mate Johnny Chester, the old-school country rocker that's basically, well, you know, he's played with The Beatles, played with Roy Orbison, all those cats".

"Mum and dad were obviously fans, but they didn't really recognise him — obviously he's, you know, 70-odd now — and [they] eventually got speaking with him and then realised who the 'f' he was!" After Emsley's parents told Chester their son was moving to Melbourne after he finished high school "to try and give [music] a crack", Chester gave them a list of names to pass on to him. "We had four names and I just went, 'Michael Cristiano — him; I'm gonna call him'." Cristiano's seal of approval "instilled a lot of confidence" and Emsley enthuses, "It gives you a lot of strength to keep going and continue and go like, 'Well what we're doing is worth it, because a guy who's actually made it tells us so'."