Turning The Screws

1 April 2012 | 6:34 pm | Brendan Telford

Lloyd Swanton of legendary Australian jazz ensemble The Necks admits the band do occasionally rely on some tricks of the trade.

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Free jazz experimentalists The Necks are relentless, both in their musical output and their desire to play to a live audience. With a deliberately cluttered touring schedule that covers all corners of the globe, it's difficult to believe that there are areas of the world that haven't experienced the Necks magic. 

“We're playing in Japan for the first time for ATP's I Could Be Your Mirror, curated by Jim O'Rourke,” Swanton gushes. “And with playing the Sydney Opera House earlier this year, we're proving to ourselves that there are always new places that we are destined to play, and enjoy being a part of their history. It's a slow build, to be honest. Anyone that's listened to us knows that's how we go about making our music, and you can extrapolate that to the career of the band. We have been doing this for 25 years now and we're not going anywhere soon, so every year brings new and fresh achievements and challenges, and it's great.”

Also great is the near universal acclaim for their latest album Mindset, which is effectively an album of two halves rather than a block of music like many of their past releases. Swanton iterates that the approach to this album differed due to splitting into two complementing songs in Rum Jungle and Daylights, which also led to the band's first foray into vinyl territory. 

“It's a form that has always interested us, and Mindset seemed like the perfect album to explore it,” he affirms. “It's always intrigued me with vinyl that you have to physically play one side then physically play the other side, therefore the listeners has a lot more input on how the album will actually be heard. CDs and things like iTunes have taken that element away, it becomes a much more bite-sized affair. So it was up to us to create something that could stand on its own and mesh together just as well, whilst it constricted us to creating something that would fit on one side of a record, which made for interesting times.”

It's this pervading sense of tension throughout Mindset that has crept into The Necks' live performances of recent years, their patented impromptu collages creating a symphony of spellbinding suspense that turns the screws incrementally over the course of the set before providing the cathartic purge. This change, however miniscule, comes from the sum parts as much as it does the whole. 

“Any change comes from where each one of us is at the months prior to getting together to start melding things into something tangible,” Swanton admits. “The ideas we'd like to try come from there. Generally though, it's more about instinct, in knowing when an injection of something outside of the traditional norm is required. We in the past have created albums that are non-threatening, or even calming, and I feel that we have addressed that. There are layers that we invite into our music that comes from our ever growing connections to each other, and is aided even further as we become more conversant with changing technology, but ultimately we don't want to create anything that sounds like what came before.

“We do have a few time-honoured tricks of the trade that work for the three of us. We know how to bring the best out of each other, we also know when to back off when needs be, both musically and personally. I think the basic working principles of the band were put in place all those years ago, and we know that this works for us and will ultimately bring about something that we are all very happy with.”