The Dames: The Ecstasy Is All Mine

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By Ian McFarlane. Clare Moore talks about her new Barry Adamson-mixed album with her group The Dames.

Over the years Clare Moore has been one very busy musician. As a member of The Moodists, Dave Graney ‘n’ the Coral Snakes, The Dave Graney Show, The Lurid Yellow Mist, Bad Eggs, NDE and Clare Moore solo, by her own admission she’s played a couple of thousand shows and been involved in about 30 albums. Now she’s found time to record a self-titled album with her new band The Dames.

Yet rather than being a solo venture, this is a “real band” situation. The Dames comprise Moore (drums, vocals, vibes, keyboards and percussion), Kaye-Louise Patterson (piano, vocals and flute) and Rosie Westbrook (bass and double bass). With token male Dave Graney (guitar) on hand, plus a crew of expert session players (Ashley Naylor, Stu Thomas, Matt Walker, Craig Pilkington, Jen Anderson) helping out here and there they’ve delivered an album brimming with delightfully structured artful pop.

For Moore, as well as creating something of which she’s very proud, the icing on the cake is the fact that Barry Adamson mixed the album and contributed additional production in the UK. Moore and Graney have known Adamson since the mid-80s when The Moodists played a number of shows with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds while Adamson was a member (1984-86).

When the internationally renowned multi-instrumentalist / experimentalist / soundtrack composer toured Australia in 2012, The Dames supported him in Melbourne and he was so enthused by their music he insisted that he had to be involved in the creation of their album. As Moore explains it, it was timely that he completed mixing before Cave put in the call for him to rejoin the Bad Seeds for more international touring otherwise they’d still be waiting.

The Dames CD
The Dames CD

The music across the album alternates between Clare’s idiosyncratic, upbeat and challenging songs such as ‘All Mine’, ‘Eve’, ‘The Groosalugg’ and ‘Junktime’ and Kaye’s smoother, jazzier piano-led songs ‘Wait’, ‘Dudley’, ‘English Life’, ‘5468 Jump’ and the lush ‘Canyon’. The two approaches combine well and help keep the listener’s attention all the way through. They also cover the John and Beverley Martyn song ‘Auntie Aviator’ which is a remarkable song. And speaking of remarkable – be sure to check out the film clip for ‘All Mine’ made by film makers Donna McRae and Michael Vale which is up on youtube.

Instrumentally there are multiple layers added to the core trio: Naylor played electric 12-string on ‘Canyon’; Thomas played bass, guitar, organ and sang backing vocals on ‘The Groosalugg’; Walker played slide and Graney played acoustic 12-string on ‘Auntie Aviator’; Pilkington played guitar on ‘Wait’; Clare played every instrument on ‘Eve’ and ‘Junktime’ and also vibes on ‘English Life’; Kaye played flute and Jen Anderson violin on ‘English Life’; and Rosie played bowed double bass on ‘Dudley’, ‘Auntie Aviator’ and ‘English Life’.

Addicted to Noise: Congratulations on the album Clare, how’s the response been so far?

Clare Moore: The response has been terrific, although sometimes I think it’s not quite what people expect from me, knowing what else I’ve done or even seeing the cover perhaps. The live shows have been going down pretty well. Usually people are surprised in one way or another.

The cover makes a statement upfront, so you know there’s something unusual going on. Was that a deliberate move on your part?

Yes, it was deliberate to have the chandelier on the front cover in focus and the name The Dames slightly blurred. It was a photo that just worked out that way and we quite liked that, although we’ve been having a few problems convincing certain parties. iTunes thought it was a mistake and didn’t want to put the cover image up. It took us a few weeks to convince the powers that be it was deliberate, because it’s iTunes America and it was difficult to contact someone. So then we had to convince them it was an artistic choice and not just a crappy photo, not just out of focus.

So how did you get together with Kaye and Rosie?

I actually played with Rosie a long time ago; I’ve known her for a long time because we move around in some of the same circles. She’s been playing with Mick Harvey most recently. With Kaye I met her years ago when she was in Acuff’s Rose and then later on she started to do a solo album, she’d written a lot of songs on the piano and I joined her band with Adele Pickvance and we were a trio and we played around and she launched that record which was quite a while ago. But then after that we decided to team up as a duo and let it be an outlet for my songs as well. So we had two lead singers with the focus on both of us rather than just one person which we both feel more comfortable with as well.

There are a few issues with people who play sitting down, like drummers and piano players, visually on stage so we thought having the two of us it might look slightly better than one but anyway… Rosie doesn’t sit down. We also have Dave playing guitar with us on stage and Will Hindmarsh playing synthesizer. Because we’d started as a trio it was easier to play Kaye’s songs but it wasn’t very easy to play my songs as a trio so I felt it needed more stuff. My songs aren’t written in one long go at the piano, I put them together in the studio using my keyboard playing, adding lots of different bits and pieces, having lots of little string parts. There’s just too much in them to expect one person to be able to play it all.

Rosie adds a great deal to the overall sound, anchoring the songs with her melodic bass playing. It must be wonderful to have her in the band?

Rosie is very versatile in her playing; she’s done a lot of work with both double bass and electric bass. She’d been in a lot of bands all the way through the ‘80s playing electric bass. She brings a lot of musicality to the band. My songs that I cook up in the studio on a keyboard probably have a bass line on them when I give them to Kaye and Rosie but that’s not to say that Rosie has to stick to that bass line. It is really great to have an actual bass player come along and play across the rhythms and that’s what Rosie can do and it gives the songs more movement and another feel. With my songs I do really concentrate on the bass and I’m very happy for her to play these bass parts and add to them for sure.

You’ve done a lot of solo work in the past, but did you have a sense of wanting to make your own identity in the world, separate from playing with Dave Graney?

Yeah I did, and I quite like writing songs and performing them but I can see that I’m not the traditional lead singer type, and it is interesting being in that world and doing interviews and also having the focus on you, that can be quite weird. It’s a completely different thing being a band leader than just being the drummer up the back.

Musicians generally don’t like to be categorised, but is there some way you would like to describe the music you’ve created on the album?

Well, Kaye’s and my music are really quite different. She comes from more of a West Coast / Judee Sill / Laura Nyro kind of thing. She really likes that kind of music, that sort of slightly off-beat but still very West Coast sound. Even going into a bit Steely Danish too; the songs can be quite complicated and have many different bridges, y’know you can’t have too much to drink before you go on stage, put it that way. And I guess some jazzy elements, there’s one song about Dudley Moore, the instrumental ‘Dudley’. She has a bit of an obsession with English musicians as well and he kind of crosses over with the LA thing as well.

With my stuff I like pretty upbeat music, I don’t tend to write that much slow stuff. I’m very much into writing songs about TV shows and TV characters, science fiction, the end of the world kind of thing. So our styles are very different but it all seems to work well together.

With the song ‘All Mine’, where did your voicing come from? Right from the start the way you enunciate your words is very pronounced; was that part of the song writing process?

When you play drums and sing, even backing vocals, the microphone that you sing into picks up all the other sounds from the cymbals and drums and so the drums are coming back at you through the fold back. So you need to have the microphone turned down as much as possible and you have to sing out and then if you don’t want to sound like you’re really blasting you have to find a key to sing in or find a way to make your voice sound a little bit toppy. Lots of famous ‘60s singers, if you listen to them they have these voices that somehow cut through which is because they had no fold back. So in order to sing low and sort of deep and smooth you have to have a lot of silence and you can’t do that with a rock band, it’s very hard and I think that has meant that I’ve changed the way I sing, probably because of that.

The film clip that Donna McRae and Michael Vale made for ‘All Mine’, isn’t that a beauty! It’s like a classic performance video but there’s all this other stuff going on in the background.

Yeah, it’s such a great video; it’s really wacky in some ways. We had Dave as Zorro, there’s Will as the Invisible Man and there’s all this stuff going on around us. That was great fun to make. We did it fairly quickly. Donna and Michael are film makers and Dave and I worked with them doing soundtracks on some of their films. Donna made a film called Johnny Ghost which has been in a lot of film festivals around the world and I think it’s getting released here around Christmas time. It’s a fabulous film based on a woman’s personal demons coming back to haunt her. She’s from the Seaview Ballroom time, so it’s very Melbourne, very St Kilda, y’know, and it has a clip of the Boys Next Door in it and it’s great.

We did the music on that and we’re now working on the music for another film called The Smoking Dog which they’re working on together. That’s the way these thing can work and it’s really nice to be working with people who really like music and when we do work with them on film making they can really tell us exactly what they want. Tony Martin was like that too when we worked with him on Bad Eggs, he has a wide taste in music.

The song itself, I love the lyrical hook.

You can take the agony, the ecstasy is all mine”, that’s in the chorus. It’s a song really to do with the feeling of being really comfortable and safe on stage. Like Barry Humphries once said “It’s the only place I can get some peace”, so in this instance it’s about playing at rock festivals. Our songs are about lots of things but that one’s about me. It’s good to write songs about what you experience too, and I’ve done so many thousand gigs and I end up thinking ‘well I really am at home here’. You feel you can do your best work on stage. I do like performing more than anything, as opposed to recording in the studio.

How did you come to cover the John & Beverley Martyn song ‘Auntie Aviator’? That’s an astonishing track isn’t it?

Yeah, I love it. We got that album Road to Ruin and on it John’s songs are brilliant and then Beverley’s songs are just fantastic. I actually cover two of her songs in the set but we recorded ‘Auntie Aviator’ and that was pretty much the only one that was done as a trio and then we added things, like Matt Walker played some guitar on it and Dave played guitar. So anyway I’ve been playing that song for quite a long time, even when I was doing solo things. I just love it and people react to that song really well, something about the chord sequence and the lyrics. It’s just a terrific song. I’ve played it with other bands and people just love playing it. I’m just amazed that no one else has ever covered it.

It came from that English folk-rock tradition…

That stuff is pretty popular now, but they do tend to focus on one or two artists and bring them back to life and then ignore others. Like so many people now don’t even know who John Martyn is and he was just massive, so incredible.

Yes, Nick Drake is so well known these days and John Martyn wrote ‘Solid Air’ about Nick…

They were very heavily connected. In the Nick Drake documentary, Beverley Martyn talks about Nick and it’s really quite confronting. John and Beverley and Nick were all friends and she seems to think that Nick wanted her to run off with him and when she didn’t… Anyway, I don’t really know what happened but they were very close. But yeah, I just love that whole English folk scene, it’s so fascinating. I love the singers and the songs; I’ve got tons of those records. Sandy Denny, I just love her.

Tell me about ‘The Groosalugg’?

That’s one of my songs based around the TV show Angel, which was a spin-off from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was a great show, it had a much darker edge than Buffy and the character of the Groosalugg was this half demon / half human who lived in another dimension.

Kaye’s song ‘5468 Jump’ is incredible, with the different time signatures.

Well, that’s just us showing off! It’s a musical device based around the drum patterns, 5/4 and then 6/8. The music alternates around those two patterns. There’s quite a bit going on in that song; you have to be at the top of your game when you play that live. I’m surprised that 5/4 isn’t used more often in rock. There’s the Dave Brubeck song ‘Take Five’…

And Jethro Tull’s ‘Living in the Past’ is 5/4.

Ah yeah, it is too. Also, the Go-Betweens used to use some unusual time signatures in songs like ‘Cattle and Cane’. Lindy Morrison played some pretty amazing rhythms. Also, from a soundtrack point of view using unusual time signatures, particularly in horror films or thrillers, most people wouldn’t be aware of the reasons why but when the rhythm changes it can make things unsettling for the viewer, like ‘ah, something spooky’s going to happen here’, so it’s a very clever device.

Kaye’s song ‘Canyon’ is the album’s epic at eight and a half minutes, that’s become my favourite track on the album. To me it sounds like Aussie groups like The Church and Ups and Downs, that jangly guitar sound from the 1980s.

Yes possibly it has that feel because Ash Naylor played the electric 12-string guitar and that gives it that jangly sound. That’s another one of Kaye’s songs that has multiple parts to it and it’s great to play live. Then Barry added an outro part when he mixed the album which gave the song another dimension, an almost psychedelic feel. It was so great to have Barry working on the album.

‘Junktime’ finishes the album, one of your songs, a very idiosyncratic track, tell me about that?

‘Junktime’ is another science fiction type song about the end of the world. Actually, junktime is tied in with sporting events like a football match when one side is so far ahead of the other you know who’s going to win in the end but the game’s not over. So junktime is just the match running down and that feels very odd for supporters of the losing team so I just applied that feeling to a science fiction setting.

The Dames is out now on Cockaigne Records

Brian Wise

Brian Wise was the Editor of Addicted To Noise‘s Australian site from 1997 – 2002. The site won two ONYA Awards as Best Online Music Magazine in 1999 & 2000. He has also been Editor since its reincarnation in 2013. He also presents the weekly music interview program Off The Record on 102.7 Triple R-FM (rrr.org.au) in Melbourne. It is networked to 45+ stations across Australia on the Community Radio Network and is a four-time winner of the Best Music Program Award from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. In 2012, it was nominated as a finalist in the Excellence in Music Programming category. Brian was also the Founding Editor & Publisher of Rhythms Magazine and is now its Senior Contributing Editor.

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