New Music Interview: The Sea Birds

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Entertainment editor John Turnbull recently sat down with Mike Amarant and James W du Plessis from Australian band The Sea Birds for a chat about influences, songwriting and the broadening your horizons.

AFTER RECENTLY releasing debut single Am I Wasting My Time and the EP A Short Romance, Melbourne band The Sea Birds are on the rise…

I spoke to singer Mike Amarant about how the band came together: 

"It started out as a songwriting project for myself and eventually I had a few songs together, so I started looking for a vocalist. I didn’t find anyone for 12 months and, in that time, I wrote a lot more songs. Then, in the course of only a couple of weeks, I stumbled upon a couple of vocalists, and suddenly I was faced with a choice between a male and a female lead singer. I’d gone from having to sing the songs myself, albeit very badly, to having two really good vocalists in Lara Wentworth and Loic Mamet."

"I asked both of them if they would be willing to meet another singer who had auditioned and try to do something with dual lead singers. Fortunately, they were both up for it, so we found our bassist Lucas Wentworth and drummer James, and suddenly we’re a real band."

I asked James about his recent addition to the band:

"I joined the band in September, not long after the completion of the video clip. So the band shot the video at Studio 1B and the owner of the studio Dave Warner is a friend of mine. He mentioned that the band were looking for a drummer, put me in touch with Mike and it all took off from there."

Talking to Mike about influences and whether the dual vocal approach had been inspired by the great duos of the past, he says:

"Are we talking duos like WHAM or Hall and Oates…"

Maybe Elton John and Kikki Dee or Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, I suggest (seriously, they were the only duets I could think of at the time).

He replies:

"Fleetwood Mac, maybe?" 

Mike laughs:

"It’s funny, I never used to listen to Fleetwood Mac, but when this band came together I started listening to them a lot and they’ve sort of got three lead singers. It was really just accidental, but I did start looking back at some of those duos and appreciating them more. Not so much WHAM, maybe."

Going back even further, to when Mike started listening to music:

"It was all the classic things every music fan goes through, really. Sixties blues. The Stones, The Doors, Pink Floyd. Then I sort of morphed into a massive Aussie indie rock fan, and I was really into the Triffids, The Church, The Go Betweens, that sort of stuff. These days when I’m writing songs some of those influences come out in the wash, you know? However well intentioned and original we think we are, we’re all indirectly ripping off other writers, whether we realize it or not."

He continues:

"It’s funny, we’ve got a new song and I was listening to it the other night with my wife, and we decided one line sounds like The Verve, the next sounds like Bowie. You just pinch things without meaning to. When Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker were around, there wasn’t such a rich musical tapestry to tap into. But it’s all about how you combine influences, I guess. I mean, look at James, he’s a metalhead…"

As the Sea Birds are clearly not a metal band, I ask James about the transition to the folk/rock of The Sea Birds.

James replies:

"When I was a teenager an album called Roots was a big influence on me. It was by a band called Sepultura and they had previously been one of the hardest and heaviest thrash bands, and then they put out this album with all of these tribal influences, and acoustic guitars; just a different approach. It showed me that you can’t put yourself into a corner. You need to be able to expore different rhythms, different styles of music."

He goes on:

"When I’m drumming, I’ll often ask myself how Steven Adler might play something, or what would Shannon Coad do here. It allows you to take yourself out of the corner and put yourself in a different mindset."

New single Am I Wasting My Time? is about the complexity of relationships, but not necessarily based on a bad experience.

"One of the great things about writing is that you can you can write about your own life or people’s broader experiences. The song’s basically about spending a dirty weekend away with someone and wondering whether there was anything more to it. The narrative was really about when you go out on a road trip with someone when you’re new in a relationship and you wonder if it’s going to turn serious or it’s just a good time weekend, you know?"

James continues:

"But deeper than that, the song really touches on the insecurity you feel in a new relationship, a new job, whatever. Are you wasting your time?"

I ask about the live music scene and their perceptions of it.

"It’s funny. All of us have been on the Melbourne music scene merry-go-round," James says.

"So I really didn’t know what to expect. The first show that I played, at the Yarra Hotel, was huge. Maybe thirty per cent of the crowd were friends and family, but the rest were just punters out checking out new live music, for a band that they had probably never heard of. Melbourne music is truly alive and well."

Mike counters:

"It’s a diminishing form of entertainment, seeing live bands. You’ve got entertainment everywhere, on your big screen at home, on your phone. And people are working harder than they ever have before. I think most people struggle to get up off the couch after a hard working week and get out to see a band, so it’s really nice to see that some people still make the effort. The music scene wouldn’t be alive without them."

Finally, I asked the buys about their feelings on music piracy:

"I think people need to understand…" James pauses. 

"... probably 2 per cent of the musicians out there are rock stars with millions of dollars. The other 98 per cent are people like us who struggle, put a lot of time and effort into it. Music isn’t a cheap industry to get into. People are quite happy to pay four bucks for a cup of coffee that takes them five minutes to drink and then it’s gone forever. Yet they won’t spend one dollar to download a song or five dollars to buy a CD at a gig, I think we need to bring more awareness to that."

Mike adds: 

"I don’t want to get all high and mighty about it, but there’s a lack of awareness about the costs involved in being in a band. I was telling some people at work about the gig on Saturday night, after they asked me how much money I made; that after I paid the mixer, pay musicians and pay the venue costs, I rarely break even. I’m not crying poor, because I love doing it, but the notion that you’re doing well because you get a few gigs is totally misleading."

Mike concludes:

Everyone in the band has a day job. If I want to make money, I go to work.  If I want to do something I love, I play in the Sea Birds. It’s a privilege and an honour to be able to do it."

Thanks very much to Mike and James for their time. The Sea Birds EP A Short Romance is available now at all good music stores.

And you can also follow John Turnbull on Twitter @blackmagicjohn.

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