Friendly Fire

24 May 2012 | 2:27 pm | Daniel Cribb

“I was really surprised, because I’m not really that good at it,” laughs San Cisco's Nick Gardner about his WAMi nomination for Best Bass Player. He joined five of Perth’s best musicians for a healthy debate about the WA music industry, in the lead up to this year's awards.

It's been a hectic, exciting, productive and emotional year for the WA music industry – all genres included. From new local acts gaining triple j high rotation, bands breaking up, others forming and a whole heap in-between, it's nice to have a night, and set of delicious cake-accompanied awards, that captures the best moments of that chaos while rewarding the guys and gals who put so much time and effort into their chosen trade, sometimes without the recognition they deserve. Whilst not everyone can take home first place in their category, just getting a nomination is enough for most. Rounding up Mike Litton of Cow Parade Cow, Jake Snell of The Ghost Hotel, Novac Bull of Boom! Bap! Pow!, Tom Mathieson aka Mathas and Nick Gardner of San Cisco, Drum set up a photo shoot to capture some of the anticipation, tension and excitement surrounding those involved this year.

Rocking up first was frontman Mike Litton, nice and early, with enough time to flick through Fat Shan's vinyl collection and reflect on the still relative newborn that is Cow Parade Cow. Since coming to realization only really towards the end of last year, they've already recorded and released two albums out of Litton's bedroom, won the rights to impress at St Jerome's Laneway Festival and are playing the WAMi festival opening party. “August last year was our first gig. We weren't actually ready to play. I was asked to do it, and I said yes and didn't have a band, so I got it together for that,” Litton explains. Studying architecture, he admits the award night might be a quiet one for him with his final folio due that week – unless of course their drummer, who also plays in Runner, John Lekias takes out Drummer/Percussionist Of The Year. “Runner's nominated for [Breakthrough Act]. It'd be nice if they won, but they're in the San Cisco pool,” he laughs, “which I think is pretty unbeatable at the moment.”

In a similar fashion, Hip Hop Act Of The Year nominee Mathas had also taken the bedroom recording approach - until the production of his latest single White Sugar, nominated for Most Popular Single/EP. “White Sugar is probably the first one where I actually went into the studio and recorded it properly, and still had it mastered by a friend, co-directed the film clip and edited it. I spent a lot of work on White Sugar at the time. Probably more so than any song ever…and now I'm sick to death of the song,” Mathieson jokes. The past year has also seen him begin work on an album titled Nicotine Junkie and his live set directed into somewhat of a new arena. “I've been playing a lot of live shows and doing a lot more rock-based supports, as an MC, which is kind of interesting. I feel my music kind of suits those people more than it does the hip hop crowd.”

His band might be up for Country Music Act Of The Year, but doubling as a booking agent for some of Perth's more popular venues (Amplifier Capitol, The Rocket Room) has also contributed to The Ghost Hotel's drummer Jake Snell being nominated for the Management Award and Golden WAMi. Also managing Split Seconds, he's got a broad view of what's going on in numerous genres, particularly the more alternate sonic fields. “Perth is pretty strong in terms of different genres, like heavy genres. Having someone like Karnivool, who is one of the premier acts of heavy music in Australia, coming out of Perth is fairly indicative of that,” Snell begins, before commenting on a trend he's noticed. “I think the categories for the best up and comers and the best new acts are always a pretty good gauge of bands to look out for. In general, they're there for a reason and it's pretty valid. They're always strong acts and deserve their spot there. It's a good barometer, and if you go back through previous years it acts as a pretty good indicator of what's going to happen the following year.”

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There was a reason that San Cisco was nominated for Favourite Newcomer in '11, and while they didn't take home the award, they've proved they're worth their weight in gold over the past year with two successful EPs, sold-out tours and their track Awkward placing at number seven in the triple j Hottest 100. This year the band's up for six band nominations – Most Popular Group, Pop Act Of The Year, Breakthrough Act, Most Popular Single/EP, Most Popular Music Video, Most Popular Album/EP - as well as individual Cisco kids in drummer Scarlett Stevens nominated for Drummer/Percussionist Of The Year and a very modest Nick Gardner scoring a nomination for Bassist Of The Year.

“I was really surprised, because I'm not really that good at it,” Gardner laughs. “It was out of the blue. I didn't even know – someone just told me. It was actually Vaughn Davies from Split Seconds, because he's up for it as well.” San Cisco is up against Split Seconds in two categories this year, but the competitions couldn't be any friendlier. “We look up to them a lot – they're amazing. I really do expect them to get a few,” he tells. With San Cisco's Awkward EP and its title track up for awards, Gardner admits the track almost didn't make the cut. “We had half a day left [in the studio after] we finished our last planned song. We thought 'We probably shouldn't waste it, so we'll just play something' and that's what turned out to be Awkward.”

Boom! Bap! Pow! has had their fair share of singles and EPs over the years and are finally making the leap onto the album format. With a nomination for Funk Act Of The Year, vocalist Novac Bull says their soon-to-be-released record promises to take them to the next level. While the album just misses out on this year's awards, there's every chance it'll pop up next year. Boom! Bap! Pow! are never far away from the award action. “Last year I was nominated for Best Female Vocalist. I got pipped at the post by Abbe May,” she laughs. “But one WAMi nomination is pretty sweet. We're all happy with that.”

Taking a mid-shoot break, the five of them have a quick beer and chat about how west coast music shapes up to its east coast counterpart. “We're an incubator here I think. Which can be little dangerous – safe and warm. But it's a really thriving strong community,” Bull argues. “From what I can tell, people are a lot more supportive of rival bands,” Litton adds. “I've played some gigs in Melbourne and friends from over there sort of say it's very [competitive]. If you've got a band whose on a similar level to you, it's more of a competition rather than playing shows with people and becoming friends,” he continues. “And in the hip-hop world as well, the electronic music world, places like Melbourne and Sydney tend to be a little cut throat. There are a lot more promoters and a lot more shows going on, so there seems to be a lot of clashes with [shows],” Mathas contributes. “There's no super rivalry with the awards because everyone really likes everyone else's band. It's like 'Wow, I'd like to win, but if they win it'd be really great',” Snell explains, before the subject of the iconic winning WAMington trophies come up.

“They are delicious! Ours lasted about a month. It was massive and we portioned it up and put a bit in our freezers,” Bull recalls. “I think that's the reason no one wants to be a multi-winner as well; because you can't handle that much cake,” Snell laughs. “The year Tame Impala won, I think everyone I knew ended up with some of theirs,” Litton adds. “A very musical conversation here,” Gardner jokingly laughs.

If the quality of their cake says anything about them, WAM is doing wonders for WA artists. “WAM are the ones that actually give everyone a leg up, as such,” Bull emphasizes. “WA is pretty sweet. We're very lucky and anyone who says that we're not needs to get their head read…Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane – I've been to all of them and they don't have anything compared to what we have.”