Interview: Quarry Mountain Dead Rats

Quarry Mountain Dead Rats
Image Courtesy of Quarry Mountain Dead Rats

Tomorrow night one of the most exciting bluegrass-old-timey-string-bands to emerge in Australia over the last few years, The Quarry Mountain Dead Rats, will be launching their new album Bloodhound Killed My Squeezebox at the Northcote Social Club in Melbourne. We managed to catch a few minutes with Wishy, the mandolin player from the band, to chat about it’s recording, the rise of bluegrass-flavoured music in Australia and what’s in store next The Quarry Mountain Dead Rats.

Gareth Hugh Evans: Let’s start with the new album which you guys are launching this weekend. Tell us a little bit about it – it was produced by Shane Nicholson right?

Wishy: Yeah, produced by Shane Nicholson. We went up to Nash Chambers house, Foggy Mountain studios. He and Shane record people there – we were stoked because I think they get a lot of people wanting to record there so the fact they wanted to work with us was really great. So we went up there for the week and we churned out 12 songs in about, well we recorded in three days and then we put the final backing vocals and a little bit of extra percussion on a couple of songs. So it was pretty frantic – a few of the songs were basically one take and most of them were in just a few. So it’s got that live feel to it. It was pretty full on actually – we were doing about four songs a day. Shane was just great to work with – he was just super chilled. We were all probably a little bit nervous about recording for the first time, especially as we were spending all this money and you want to get it right. To have someone with that calming aura about him was just great

GHE: It sounds like with the short time frame, the single takes and the minimal overdubs you went in there with a plan – you knew the sound you wanted to produce. Was Shane Nicholson really open to your ideas or did he come in with a plan?

W: To be honest with you I think we’re pretty vague at the best of times. We just had these songs we’d written and we’d been playing live anyway so it had just come time to record them. Shane was great. As a producer we were just open to anything he had to say. He had a lot of small ideas. He added in percussion, little bits here and there that made the songs have more impact in certain spots. All of his ideas were great.

GHE: The album’s called Bloodhound Killed My Squeezebox which just makes me smile, especially as a folk fan. Where is that from?

W: That’s one of the names of the songs. It’s probably not one of the songs we’ve been pushing as singles, we just thought that was a great name for the album. I used to play piano accordion in the band initially and the banjo player, Sudzy, had a dog that pretty much destroyed it one day. It just ran into it and it smashed into a million bits. And that was it for me playing the accordion because I couldn’t really afford another one. There was just a shitty old mandolin lying about and I just started playing the chords on that and straight away it just sort of worked a little bit better for the music we were playing – the speed that we’re playing at, you just get that sort of mando chonk going on that really keeps everything in time. So I just stuck with it.

GHE: Obviously your music is rooted in the bluegrass and old-timey tradition but you’re so much more than that. How would you describe your sound?

W: That’s a toughy. People usually describe us as bluegrass but we’re definitely not bluegrass. Bluegrass is usually these guys with these sweet voices and perfect three part harmonies and they’re playing these sweet, seemless, honey solos. We’re kind of the opposite. We’re definitely heavily influenced by bluegrass but people who are into bluegrass might almost get offended by the way we play it. We’ve got a little bit of the old-timey vibe about us, it’s a bit more raw I guess and a more similar attitude to the mountain music. We all came from rock and roll backgrounds – we still listen to a lot of rock music as well and I think that comes out in the songs we write, how we get a rocky sound in there.

GHE: It seems quite prolific at the moment, all these bands influenced by bluegrass. What do you think it is about right now that sees so many of these bands popping up?

W: I don’t know. Maybe for a while now a lot of the stuff you hear on the radio is ultra-produced electronic stuff. Maybe it’s people trying to get away from that, trying to go the other way and get back to acoustic music. That’s definitely something I’ve felt. I can’t stand the computer beat and this synthetic sound – I’d rather get something real.

GHE: There’s also an immediacy to this kind of music – that you can be sitting around in a living room, pick up some instruments and just start playing.

W: Yeah, i think that’s originally how we got into it – we wanted to spend a summer’s day outside down at the park and you can bring your acoustic instruments and have a jam in beautiful surroundings. You can’t do that with a drum kit and electric guitars and amps and stuff like that.

GHE: So with the launch show on Saturday are looking forward to finally getting the album out there?

W: Totally. We recorded it last year so it’s been a long time coming. We’re really looking forward to getting it out there and the [launch] night in general. We’ve got some other really great bands playing with us – Howlin’ Steam Train, Sweet Jean and Master Gunfighters. They’re really great bands. And I think we’re heading for a sold out show – they reckon there’s going to be no tickets on the door.

GHE: I’m sure five years ago you wouldn’t be able to sell out the Northcote Social Club with a bluegrass act.

W: I think that’s the thing. A lot of the time you stand out if you’re doing something a little bit different. People want to see that. If you’re playing in a three piece rock band you’ve got to be the best.

GHE: Following the launch show on Saturday what’s coming up next? Are you touring the album?

W: Our guitarist [Lachlan Alcorn] is going to have a kid within the next month so we’ve put it a little bit on hiatus, for a few weeks anyway. But we’ll be heading to Adelaide and I think there’s talk of going to Western Australia as well. We’ve never been out that way so that’ll be pretty cool. And then I guess we’re going to start trying to work towards the next album.

GHE: And I saw you’re on the lineup for JamGrass as well.

W: Yeah, we’re back at JamGrass this year.

GHE: There’s no way I’m missing it this year.

W: It was a great night last time. It was just so much fun – a really good vibe. Really looking forward to that one.

GHE: Well thanks so much for chatting to us. Good luck with the launch.

W: Awesome. Thanks mate.

The Quarry Mountain Dead Rats will be launching their album Bloodhound Killed My Squeezebox at the Northcote Social Club this Saturday the 16th June with special guests are Howlin’ Steam Train, Sweet Jean and Master Gunfighters. Tickets and more information can be found here.

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