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A Sound Is A City

28 November 2012 | 7:30 am | Tony McMahon

“Yeah, it’s been [fairly] great up to this point. We’ve had some positive reviews so far, but they can’t all be positive, can they? I’m waiting for someone to hear it and go, ‘What’s the point?’”

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This introduction does, however, beg the question: what does the Melbourne musical underground sound like? We'll get to that, but it's probably worth pausing for a second to acknowledge just how brave it is to impose such a label on your own work. This aside, Money For Rope is also worth noting for its very nearly uncanny and seemingly effortless blend of dark lyricism and plain old, good time rocking out. It was also a fair while in coming, this record – Money For Rope have been playing celebrated live shows around town for some time now. And, while the album does have the feel of carefully constructed music, there's also an immediacy and sense of urgency in each of the nine tracks – no small balancing act. Lead singer Jules McKenzie is, understandably, pretty stoked about the album's positive reception, but is waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“Yeah, it's been [fairly] great up to this point. We've had some positive reviews so far, but they can't all be positive, can they? I'm waiting for someone to hear it and go, 'What's the point?'”

And it has been some time coming, hasn't it? It would probably be diplomatic to say that the band really wanted to take their time and deliver a supremely crafted sonic soundscape, or something like that, but McKenzie is reasonably straightforward about the whole thing.

“We feel like it's been a long time coming, for sure. We're pretty aware that there have been a lot of great bands who've taken their time, but we really wanted a record out, and it took a long time. Momentum is a really important thing for a band at our level. To get it and maintain it and build on it. Honestly, we should have done it a year ago, but it's taken this long to get it happening. Whether or not that's a bit of laziness on our part or not, I don't know. It probably is. There were just a lot of things we didn't think about, things like artwork and design. I guess we were a little naive. Hopefully, we'll know better for next time.”

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When it comes to what he hopes the album will do for his group, McKenzie touches on interesting issues surrounding being seen as a genuine outfit as opposed to a live-only band.

“A lot of people, when they made any reference to us, it would be as a live band. Partially I think that's because we don't really have anything out besides some 7” singles and a couple of other things here and there. Until you've really got a full record out, you're not a legitimate band; you're just a band who plays some gigs. We're a physical band and we like to be physical when we play. We've damaged a few guitars along the way, which has led to some tuning issues, but it's hard to judge us on anything else until we've got something out, y'know?”

As mentioned earlier, Money For Rope are not afraid to position themselves as part of a long line of Melbourne underground acts with a very distinct sound, the most obvious example of which would probably be The Birthday Party/Bad Seeds. But while comparisons are not all that useful in this band's case, it says a lot about McKenzie and his cohorts, and the mindful nature of their music that they've thought long and hard about matters such as these.

“One thing that we've always kind of valued about the scene we've been part of is that it's Australian sounding music. For me, that's always meant music that's got a bit of backbone to it and is pretty direct and up front. I would consider that the Melbourne underground music scene has that inherent value in it. There's something to me about Melbourne where I reckon you pick a Melbourne band, you know. Let's say a band like The Devilrock Four or something like that. They have this kind of Melbourne rock band sound. I suppose it's got to do with the venues we have down here as well. A lot of the bands that come out of Melbourne have played a lot of gigs. While a lot of Sydney bands, for example, will sound like they've been put together for a specific purpose – not that there's anything wrong with that – a Melbourne band's sound is generally developed by the playing.”

Anyone who's seen Treme knows this is an interesting conversation on a number of levels, not the least of which is anthropologically. Given Inpress is the paper of record on such matters, we decide to pursue the question of a Melbourne sound further. What are its other constituents? How much do we actually owe to Nick Cave?

“Cave's important, obviously, but the band I was thinking about when I spoke about the sort of sound of Melbourne was Radio Birdman, even though they're not Melbourne. I think it's kind of about a rawness. It's gotta come from an honest place. I'm kind of tempted to say it's hard working music, but it's not that because we're not really going for a blue-collar rock thing. The thing about The Birthday Party is, I'd call that kind of thing courageous. I think a lot of times it's also a naive style of music, y'know? Just going out there and doing something and not really worrying about whether you're going to be appreciated. You're doing it because it's the sort of music you want to play and there's going to be people out there who hate it but you play it regardless.”

When it comes to launching the album, McKenzie seems as excited about the supports as he is about finally getting the record out there. And punters having fun is obviously important, but should this not happen for whatever reason, it appears that Money For Rope will be having enough for everyone.

“We're still trying to sort of piece together what we want the night to be like. We'll certainly be having a bit of a party. I hope people who've seen a few Money For Rope shows and people who have just been generally supportive come down. I'm sure they'll be pretty happy to build a vibe for a bunch of guys who are pretty happy to have a record out. There's talk of a few things we're thinking of doing to make it more than just like we're playing a normal gig. But I don't know. We're really lucky to have Mother & Son playing with us. They're this two-piece who play this awesome surf rock. The other band we've got playing is Fraser A Gorman & Big Harvest. Fraser's been a mate of ours for a while now, so it's great to have him there too. The really cool thing about this night is that we get to play with bands we really want to see. We're going to be having a really great time. I'm not sure about everyone else, but we'll be certainly having a literal release.”

Money For Rope will be playing the following shows:

Saturday 1 December - Ding Dong Lounge, Melbourne VIC