Outlaws Overboard

2 May 2012 | 6:30 am | Samson McDougall

Hands up who loves a concept album? That's good. Local country/blues outfit The Toot Toot Toots are not a band content with dropping singles here and there and building a fan base through mismatched local or international support slots and creating head-buzzing pop tunes for listeners unprepared to scratch far below the surface of what they do. No siree Bob. They are, in fact, huge fans of developing themes and narratives through their musical works. And although they're making a bit of a splash on the live circuit for their crazed performances, featuring go-go girls and horns, they're far more interested in moving their listeners in a satisfying narrative sense – they want to tell you a story.

In 2010 their story came in the form of EP Curse The Crow – the tale of unlucky miscreant Domino McKinley-Crow and his unfortunate family. This year they've got something much grander on offer. “We'd already done Curse The Crow,” says co-lead vocalist/tromboner/percussionist Giuliano Ferla, “that was about suburban dystopia I guess. [It] just worked really well for us – working towards the concept and coming up with characters – so that just made the whole writing process so simple for us. I think both me and Dan [Eucalyptus, co-vocals/guitar], we come from a bit of a theatre background so I think storytelling and that kind of love of storytelling has kind of worked its way into the music that as a band we create.”

The new record Outlaws tells a tale of fictional settlement Gomorrah Fields and follows the (mis)fortunes of prospector and religious zealot Eli Rayne. This town is not for the faint of heart and Rayne's path gets very murky very quickly. “Gomorrah Fields is this town where people are lustful and jealous and greedy and as a town it's just a hub of sin and the worst aspects of humanity,” continues Ferla. “That seemed like the ideal town and the ideal scenario. I think Dan came up with this gold field kinda thing, 'cause we were always inspired by spaghetti western kind of things and spaghetti western music. We wanted to create a suitable setting for creating that music as well.”

For The Toot Toot Toots the development of story and music happen simultaneously. Both Ferla and Eucalyptus' theatre-writing experience plays an important part in maintaining a handle on story structure. But, as Ferla explains, each member of the band contributes to the creation of violence and myth. “It works hand in hand I guess,” he says with regard to the conception of music and storyline, “we come up with a story and we come up with a couple of songs. The first few songs that we come up with might set the musical kind of theme – set the genre – then we'll keep working with those songs and that style until we've written a few songs like that and then the story will be developed alongside that.”

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From here, the process becomes more calculated. As anyone who's ever written or attempted to write a story will understand, the reins need to be drawn in from time to time. “Maybe we'll sit down and say 'We need this many songs'. 'Gomorrah Fields has 12 tracks so what has to happen in each of these songs to get the story across?'” Ferla continues. But also, they allow themselves to push the boundaries of what may or may not be appropriate. “You know, it's a bit of a drawn out process, but it's good fun and we all get in on it and enjoy coming up with different ideas about who gets killed and how they get killed. It's like we're a bunch of little kids… It's just this childish love of the grotesque and all that sort of stuff, I think we've got a bit of that. So all of the dark parts of our albums, I don't think they should be taken too seriously y'know, 'cause we're kind of just pissing ourselves at how grotesque and brutal we can be.”

Without giving too much away, the story of Outlaws is complete. There are all the twists and turns of a three-act play, the well-rounded characters and compelling drama required to hook a listener. For Ferla, the desire is to get you in for the entirety. “Ideally it's something that will take you on an emotional journey,” he continues. “I don't know how people are going to interpret it or how people will receive it, but that's [the] way it was written and the way I hope it might be received is that people will listen to it front to back, the whole way through and feel things for the characters and go on that story arc and that emotional arc. I think it definitely has an emotional arc as an album.

“Everything is isolated and there's no cohesion,” he continues of the popularity and financial ease of the singles market these days. “I think the album itself is its own form. You can craft a really great pop song and that's a beautiful talent and a wonderful skill to have, but crafting an album that's going to hook you in from the start is quite a different thing entirely.”

In terms of the live performance, The Toots have found country audiences particularly receptive to their theatrics. “More and more we're trying to get to the smaller places because they have a totally different flavour than the big cities,” continues Ferla. “In the big cities you really have to scream to be heard but in a smaller place people are gonna give you more time.”

They haven't quite nailed the album start-to-finish for their Melbourne Outlaws launch party at the Hi-Fi this Friday (which coincidentally, Ferla informs, falls on International Star Wars Day: “Forgive me for telling you this but it's 'May the fourth be with you'”) but in the future the band are open to developing some kind of stage show to carry the story. “That's an idea that we're throwing around at the moment,” he says, “maybe to try to put together a bit of a show. Maybe not have it enacted or anything like that but try to… I wouldn't know what you'd call it, not a theatre show… it certainly wouldn't be a Dracula's kind of thing, that'd be just awful, not a Hunchbacks thing [but] bringing together mediums that might not normally come together, that's an exciting thing.”