Don't Mess With History

10 July 2012 | 8:01 am | Michael Smith

"During different periods, when live music was at a low point, the Annandale was always sitting there, kind of charging through."

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It's been three years since The Mess Hall released their last album, 2009's For The Birds, and nearly a year since they last played in Sydney, but that doesn't mean the duo has been idle. Drummer Cec Condon has been keeping himself occupied with a side project called Machete Moon he put together with former Wolfmother drummer Myles Heskett; a percussion-heavy collective inspired by the left-field jazz of artists like Art Blakey and Sun Ra, combined with the Afrobeat of drummer/percussionist Tony Allen.

Meanwhile, guitarist and singer Jed Kurzel has been immersing himself in the world of film and television soundtracks – and quite successfully too.

“I guess it wasn't really something I'd planned,” Kurzel admits. “I guess it just turned out like that. I guess with the film stuff it was… My brother and I have working together on things for quite a while. He'd been doing all our clips and he and I were always coming up with ideas and stuff for that, so when he started Snowtown, it was always the idea that I'd do the music.”

Premiered at last year's Adelaide Film Festival to strong critical acclaim that has translated into sales for the film in both the UK and US, Snowtown is the first feature-length film to be directed by Kurzel's brother Justin. Jed Kurzel picked up the Feature Film Score Of The Year gong at last year's Screen Music Awards for his troubles.

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“But I guess before that,” Kurzel continues, “Claudia [Karvan] had asked me to do the music for [cable TV series] Spirited. But that was initially just to write a couple of songs for the show and then they asked me to do the score, which I hadn't done before and it kind of went from there. I just went straight into the deep end I guess.”

Since then, Kurzel has also composed the soundtrack for another feature film, an adaptation of the novel Dead Europe by Christos Tsiolkas, who also wrote The Slap and Head On, directed by Tony Krawitz and due for release later this year. While Kurzel suggests it hasn't been too great a leap from what he does with The Mess Hall to composing soundtracks, he does admit the workload necessitated the band's hiatus.

“I find it difficult to write songs – it's either one or the other. I think it's similar to if you're doing, I don't know, a quieter sort of solo thing, you have a yearning to do something heavier and louder. But when you're doing kind of heavier and louder stuff you want to do the other, so it's always I guess a 'the grass is greener' kind of thing. Soundtracks are quite an isolated experience because you're in a room on your own for quite a while trying to nut out or map out something that some days makes sense, and other days you feel like you just couldn't be further away from getting to some sort of result that you're, you know, interested in.”

Which is why he's looking forward to getting back together with Condon for some Mess Hall fun, albeit it just the one show at the Annandale, before the pair take themselves back into the studio to work up the next album.

“Yeah,” he admits, with a certain obvious relief. “I mean, we've been sort of playing a bit, just for our own enjoyment, here and there [laughs]. That's been fun in terms of, I guess as I was saying before, doing this stuff kind of on your own and you're trying to work out this huge puzzle to then going into a room and bashing something out with someone, you know, which is quite freeing. So I'm sure I'll do this for a little bit and then I'll be wanting to do the soundtrack stuff again,” he chuckles again.

“I guess by the time I started doing a lot of this other stuff, it was really good timing, 'cause we had been going for a while and it was good just to do something different and for both of us to go off and do other things. I mean, we've never really made a record because we've had to; it's always been if we feel there's one there or one's ready. And I guess sometimes even if it hasn't been ready, we just kind of give ourselves the challenge and go, 'Well, let's try and do one in the next month!' [laughs] So I guess the kind of beauty of it is that there's never really been any pressure on us to get something out.”

As it happens Kurzel and Condon have been working on something else again that isn't Mess Hall, but will see a new release before the year's out. However, Kurzel isn't giving anything away on that score just yet. It means though a new Mess Hall album is still a while away yet. So rather than previewing anything they're currently working on, when they take to the Annandale stage for their one-off 2012 show to help the venue in its refurbishing Buy A Brick drive and celebrate the venue's 12th birthday, The Mess Hall will be pulling out gems from the back catalogue. As for the whole Annandale Buy A Brick campaign…

“We kind of came up through the Annandale and have seen it go through various different stages to where it is now. I think, you know, it's good seeing new places come up here and there as well, but I guess if we lose 'the spiritual home', we could be in trouble in the end, because that's at least history and a connection to something of the past and I guess could propel us into the future as well… During different periods, when live music was at a low point, the Annandale was always sitting there, kind of charging through.

“Certainly as the years go on the climate changes, but I don't know if it's ever been kind of all these venues shutting down and you've got nothing of the history left there at all; you've just got a bunch of new venues that have to begin creating their own history. I think you need the granddaddies there behind them to help them along. Without the Annandale, you probably wouldn't have a lot of these newer venues. But apart from that, it's also a great venue to play.”