By Kerrie Hickin
With the release of their new album Don’t Lose Your Mind, Cold Irons Bound play the Retreat Hotel in Brunswick this Friday, May 18. They spoke to Kerrie Hickin about the new album.
“When you think of a band that’s really clean and awesome… well, we’re not that. We like noise!”
So says Mark Adams, one quarter of Melbourne rock quartet Cold Irons Bound. “We do want to make a bit of noise, and…”
Ben Carter finishes Mark’s sentence: “…and it’s a luxury that we can to that.”
And that statement highlights a solid underlying tenet of the band’s music, as showcased on their self-titled debut CD, and recently-released follow-up, Don’t Lose Your Mind.
While undoubtedly a Melbourne band now – it’s “undeniable the most vibrant city for music,” according to Mark – Cold Irons Bound has its roots in another capital city: Canberra.
Two former members of Canberra bands Redletter (guitarists and songwriters Mark Adams and Ben Carter) and The Ashburys – “as in Haight” – (bassist Sam Fiddian and drummer James Alderman) found themselves living within a few blocks of each other in Melbourne’s Northern suburbs about five years ago. A social and creative paradigm emerged: Friday nights spent playing records, writing, jamming, and practicing in loungerooms as songs came together, informed by the bandmembers’ friendship, shared love of music, sense of humour, and mutual background.
Mark: “That’s the blueprint, where it came from. We had a common vernacular, and we shared the experience of being music-mad guys, coming to Melbourne. We were buddies and it was immediate.”
Ben: “The songwriting is very organic.”
Sam: “I feel that wouldn’t’ve happened, if it wasn’t for our common background.”
While their obvious love of 1970s American rock is evident (references to the ‘classic’ classic rock acts pepper their conversation), that darkside manifests itself too, in keening guitar jams, in places recalling the best of the Paisley Underground and the nascent Americana movement when it was still tethered to punk outsiders. And of course, the granddaddy of that ragged edgy sound, Neil Young:
Ben: “All four members are big fans.”
Mark: “He is a great shredder, and oh, those songs, one after another… great! Everyone must go see Neil, if you get the chance,” he urges.
“Shoegaze is a massive influence too,” adds Ben; “it doesn’t really cross over into this band much, but it had a huge impact on us.”
Mark: “We definitely are into darker Australian underground music too – Died Pretty, The Church…”
Ben: “We knew what it was about from the start: simple songs, catchy, three-part harmonies, nothing too over-the-top, have some fun, play some guitar solos, you know. Part of it was based on everything that influenced us, mainly 70s in origin American rock music.”
Mark: “That’s our DNA. The ‘brief’ is this: good singing, good hooks, and to have an open mind about where we’ll go, and what we’ll do.”
The knowledgeable music discussion flows freely between the band members, touching on, among many others, Tom Petty, Ryan Adams, and the Black Crowes, even Sloan, college rock and indie, sharing their passion for music and verbally riffing off each other in conversation like elements of music itself. And an important factor of their songs, the harmonies, ensues from that accord. Mark and Ben share prime vocal duties, with Sam adding the third part.
Mark: “You’ve seen The Last Waltz? The members of The Band weren’t trained singers, so they would just sing, with three or four microphones, but they would just make it work. We’re sort of like that. We’re not schooled, none of us have formal music qualifications.”
Ben: “As long as it sounds good. We were attempting to do harmonies for a very long time, failing, doing it very badly, but many years later we’re better at it.”
James: “And it’s very complimentary.”
Mark: “The way The Jayhawks or Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch’s voices just sit together, it works. Our voices sit together like ‘that’. It just works together.”
“We’re basically The Beatles, that’s what you’re saying…”, Ben jokes.
Sam (to Mark and Ben): “You guys know how each voice works with each song. I hear it acoustically and put a harmony to it, but don’t want that to be overpowering, just to add that little element that’s going to be a bit of a boost, without compromising what’s already going on with the melody.”
James adds, “Mark just hears it in his head and it’s right, but I make my comments”.
Mark responds, “Everybody contributes, once the song is on the factory floor. And we all share our own multi-track recordings. Maybe people will hear us on the radio and think ‘those guys can sing’, then our job is done.”
And the resulting CDs have reference to the classic recorded music format too.
Mark: “We love vinyl – We treated these releases like an album cut, with two sides.”
James: “I think our recordings are good, and people think it’s good.”
Mark: “This is our thing – we’ve laboured over it, and we’ve done it right. I’m incredibly proud.”
James: “It’s gratifying, being able to play music to people, having people from Germany or the States contacting you to say it sounds really cool.”
Ben: “It’s good, what we’ve put out, but we want to get better at it – song-writing, harmonies… ”
James: “That’s what we’re aiming for.”
During the conversation it is revealed that all the members except Mark are second-generation musicians, this arising as Mark and James compare notes on spending some of their early years living in America and the influences of their family experiences.
Mark: “James and I are children of the United States; we grew up there. My Dad had a government gig…”
James: “And my Dad was in the RAAF. Mark and I were on opposite coasts; we didn’t know each other then.”
Ben: “My father George was a professional jazz pianist, solid Dave Brubeck stuff. He started young, excelled at it, and made a living out of it, went pro in his teens – used to get paid about $800 per gig – bought a Holden EJ, drove between Goulburn, Canberra and Sydney, smoking cigars in jazz clubs. Then he had kids and gave it away in the mid 1980s to become an accountant. He’s just started playing again recently; he pulled out ‘the dots’ – what he calls sheet music – and dusted off the keys.”
Sam’s father was classical organist and pianist: “He tried to encourage me into that, but when you’re five you don’t want to sit down and play the piano. I wish I’d stuck with that now. Dad was aged 14 in1964 when the Beatles came, and he didn’t like them at all; couldn’t see what all the fuss was about…”
James: “My old man was in a band. John Sullivan; he was with The Rondells – they used to support the Easybeats (and backed Bobby and Laurie!- KH). That’s were I got my musical interest from. Then he gave it up and joined the RAAF, played in the RAAF band.”
Mark: “My Dad’s a nice guy, but he has no musical bones in his body whatsoever – I think music comes from my Mum’s side. I have an Irish background, people playing accordions in pubs; but my parents, no…”
So, their families will be proud that, after quite a few years leading towards it, there’s finally something tangible to show for all the hard work?
Ben: “You know Lars’s Dad, in the Metallica documentary Some Kind Of Monster?”
Sam (channelling Papa Ulrich): ” …’It sounds like it’s played through a wind tunnel! I would delete that if I was you!’…” He pauses for dramatic effect…
Mark: “Well, they’re not like that!” (laughs)