Close But Still Cigar-Worthy

26 June 2012 | 3:18 pm | Mitch Knox

It wasn’t an easy road on the way to Sydney-bred troubadour Jonathan Boulet’s second album, but with the release behind him and in the midst of a tour in support, he has time to reflect on the record that almost nailed it. He chats with Mitch Knox.

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For better or worse, it's the little things that can make all the difference, like a wrongly placed decimal point in a space shuttle's trajectory calculations, or Peter Dinklage in Game Of Thrones. Few people know this as well as lauded singer-songwriter and Parades drummer Jonathan Boulet, who felt the tiny accumulative wrath of little setbacks in putting his second album, We Kept The Beat, Found The Sound, See The Need, Start The Heart, behind him.

Having finished work on the record as long ago as May last year, he found himself confronted with what seemed to be a constant stream of reasons to not release.

“It was just kind of all the little pieces that come with doing this kind of thing,” Boulet explains. “We had to get the art ready, and had to wait on this person and that person to come through, and eventually it was kind of, like, there's a couple of months in the year where the label's not happy to release anything because everyone's on holidays, and it kind of just kept getting pushed back more and more – which is fine, because all it was about was doing it properly. Last time, we kind of just threw it out there at the start of December and there wasn't really anything behind it. So this time we're actually gearing up for it and doing a proper job with it, which I'm more than happy to do.”

Happy's a good word for it – anyone who's listened to We Kept The Beat… knows that the LP carries a wistful, boisterous, anthemic vibe a lot of the time, and certainly from the get-go with the fist-pumpery of You're A Animal. All part of the plan, according to Boulet.

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“The skeleton of that was happening very early on. We'd start our shows with a version of it, which wasn't the song but was where the song came from. For me, that song just lays out all our cards on the table – that's what the whole record is, drums and vocals pretty much.

“There's just this kind of vibe that I'm going for that's a group vibe, you know? There's a lot of inclusion. I want people to be included and feel like they can be a part of it. It's not just a singer-songwriter and then a wall and then the crowd. I want it to be more of a thing that everyone can be involved in.”

The inclusive philosophy goes further than just the vocals – We Kept The Beat… is as instrumentally rich as You're A Animal's title is grammatically frustrating. A good point of reference is the appearance of the always-fun marimba in the ultra-catchy This Song Is Called Ragged.

“I was trying to get something that's not used a lot, and it'd be a bit boring if it was just all guitars and all voice and that. We needed something that stood out a little bit. And it's very percussive; I'm a drummer, so you can pick that up really easily, because you're hitting something. To go along with the whole percussive element of the whole [album], it was good to have that there as well.”

The end result is an album with expansive influences and evocations, itself a consequence of a dedicated effort by Boulet to create as varied a journey as possible.

“There was a big list of songs that had been written prior to all of these songs that kept getting bumped off the list,” he recalls. “Sometimes one or two songs would double up, like, 'This song is just that song in a different form,' so one of them had to stay and one of them would have to go. You'd have to look at it like a balance; 'Is there too much of this, or too much of that, on the record?' and how it has to change.

“Sometimes it depends on how finished a song is, or it might be the vibe – one might have a better vibe than the other one, or just little things. There might be a couple of tiny things in there that I like more than the other one; it's all very subjective.”

Mercifully, not every aspect of the process was unnecessarily complex. But even moments of ease didn't come easily. Boulet explains that although the vocals-and-rhythm-based Trounce was the song that came together most easily, it “was definitely the last one that was written, so after I wrote that and I was like, 'Okay, that's the last one that's going to go on the album,' I was like, 'Crap! I wish I had more of these!'

“It came together quick, it was just vocals and that big stab that happens throughout. It's one of my favourites at the same time, because it's just loud and noisy and crazy.”

And at the other end of the spectrum, of course, there's Piao Voca Slung, a song that Boulet is still not sure if he even likes all that much. “That one went through a couple of different versions of demos, just because it was… it was okay, but it wasn't quite there. I'm still not sure about it. I don't know if I like that song anymore. I did maybe a year ago, but now I'm just not so sure about it.

“It's just kind of something you'd expect. When it comes on the album, it's like, 'Oh, yeah, okay, cool, heard that, whatever.' I'm not losing sleep over it. I've got a lot of songs on there that I'm very keen about. But yeah, it was more of a – like I was saying before – like a balance thing. I wanted a song that was longer and really quite epic, and I guess that song serves that purpose.”

So maybe there's hope for Piao Voca Slung yet. In fact, it's arguable that every track on We Kept The Beat serves its purpose – which raises the question: can the parts achieve their respective goals but the whole still fall short? Boulet admits that he had ambitions going into this album. But he's also rational enough to know he always has room to improve and, if nothing else, that kind of honesty deserves your money.

“My whole thing the whole time was just that I wanted a record that was full-on from start to finish,” he admits. “I wanted it to not let up the whole time, and just be untuneout-able. You put it on and you can't talk over it because every song is just right up to the max.

“I feel like I got close, and that it's hopefully set me on a direction where I can, if I want to do that next time, maybe… yeah. I think I got close.”