Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Candy Town

Imagine a group of clowns leading you away, to some far, far away place that everyone has been to but has never gone back to. They’re a traveling show, and you’re not so much their audience as you are their subject. They sweetly swoon you into fantasies of running away with them. Their band is called Candy Town.

After sitting down to an interview with Sean Guinan, front man of Candy Town, I attempted to explore the mastermind behind the group and see what makes it tick. The interview was deep, meandering, and incredibly all-comprehensive, so for purposes of not flooding the entire page, I’m going to paraphrase and condense this information.

First, some history: Candy Town began not so much as a musical project, but as an aesthetic in Guinan’s films. The central matter in them is the dichotomy between fantasy and reality. Guinan represented elements of his inner-person and imagination as clown figures. By whitening their faces, clowns remove specific details that make them an individual, and thus, make themselves a representation of some sort of aspect of the human condition and everything they do, a metaphor. They are humans abstracted and placed into a heightened reality where things can become incredibly unpredictable and exciting.

Guinan always wanted to create a band called Candy Town and in fact, began a TV series with the same name. This show played upon the idea of a place called Candy Town, where we all grew up with characters from fairy tales and elements of fantasy, but it is also a place left behind by adults who have moved on past such things. It is a place where we’d like to indulge in, yet are constantly pulled back by the forces of adulthood.

As time went on, prospects of starting such a band with this theme became more and more realized. Musically, Guinan was raised on a somewhat less than typical musical background. He grew up listening to 20’s and 30’s Jazz. At the time, Guinan wasn’t really conscious of rock and roll and what was popular on the radio. As time went on, he did become more familiar with and enjoyed rock groups such as the Rolling Stones and The Velvet Underground, yet his pop culture continued to revolve around figures such as Louie Armstrong and Charlie Chaplin. Ultimately, Guinan wasn’t interested in mimicking music from this period, as much as he was interested in borrowing elements and aesthetics.

What really influenced Guinan the most was a group he simply ran into one day at a festival called Maestro Subgum & The Whole. He was just in high school at the time and never saw the likes of them before. The band was dressed very eclectically, with a raspy front man and operatic female backup singers. There were no guitars, just an electric bass, keyboard, and horn section. They seemed to have this infectious air of intrigue about them. It was as if they were a traveling band of Gypsies and Guinan, dazed by a romantic sense of escapism, wanted to travel away with them. This is what he wanted to capture, that enticing feeling of leaving everything behind to follow a circus that has offered a passage into a world once inhabited only by your juvenile mind.

And so, Guinan took the bull by the horns and with a strong will, made Candy Town his project. He long admired the brilliant works of artists such as Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Charlie Chaplin, and David Lynch, who completely controlled their projects, no matter how many were involved, in order to ensure that their vision was realized. Powerful works of art never came from committees, but of the solitary artist, like a philosopher, who delves deep into the self, trying to understand what makes them tick. Made up entirely of complete strangers on a new page without previous baggage, Guinan made sure everyone knew he would be directing Candy Town.

While not a band mimicking music from the 20’s and 30’s, Guinan wanted to utilize the iconography from this era. While first impressions may give way to this era being sweet and nostalgic, the truth was it was downright bold, sexy, and musically, very daring and edgy. This was not some dreamy marking strategy, as much as a spirited platform for what would become in itself, a bold musical project.

And so, the band dons vintage-style clothing from this era, yet wears face paint like mimes. Two female backup singers are scantily clad and the band as a whole use elements to further suggest something more motley, much like their music, borrowing from many directions, from rock to ragtime. Guinan’s aim was to wed the visuals with the sound into something more daring; learning from his disappointment from groups like Marilyn Manson, Kiss, and The Dresden Dolls, who all struck up something new and exciting with their imagery, but failed to deliver the same through their music.

The band tosses away common preconceptions of reality and norms, delving into the surreal through their performance; they truly take the audience for a ride. Rather than spare the lines that divide childish from mature, Candy Town pulls your wits from the stasis of a comfortable routine life into a challenge to live a life of an unknown tomorrow. To manifest your childhood’s greatest expectations of your own self, making a bold effort to become the person you thought you would. It’s the exciting prospect that anything really is possible, so long as you’re not afraid.

In the end, what is reality? What makes the surreal anything unreal? We’re all just dreams and vapor. Humanity often feels the test of truth is time, but time doesn’t bear anything when reality is really our conception. As Orson Welles said in F Is For Fake, “Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing.” No matter how we reconcile our outer-lives with our inner-lives, Candy Town wants to take you to a place you probably haven’t been to in a long time. You can’t run away with them, but you can always run away with your own wildest dreams.

Friday, June 17, 2011

"If Lady Gaga is meant to be the new punk then I don’t think very much of it"

Forming during the peak of punk in the late 1970’s, Crass brought a new concept  to punk, one that did not just speak of shaking up society, but in fact acted in a subversive manner and in doing so Crass became the pioneers of anarcho-punk.  I was fortunate enough to sit down with Crass singer, Steve Ignorant ahead of his first Australian show on the Last Supper tour. 
By: Angie Hurlock

You're about to embark on an Australian tour where you will be playing Crass songs for the last time, what is the significance of this?
Because there’s been so many bands before like Jimmy Pursey and all this kind of thing, they say it’s the last tour and they come back and do it again or they say it’s the last tour and it goes on for 10 years.  And I just wanted people to know that I really mean it that this will be the last time I will be playing crass songs live on stage.  It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop performing.  I’m just not going to do Crass songs live and I just wanted everyone to know and I’ve made this promise and I’m going to stick to it.  The last ever time I play Crass songs will be on November 19th this year.  That’s going to be weird, but I know that the week after that I’m going to get a bloody invite to do a fucking festival that’s going to pay me thousands of dollars or something and I won’t be able to do it, but that’s the commitment I’ve made.

What are you hoping Australian audiences takes away from these shows?
I’m really hoping that it’s a celebration of those great songs.  My dream would be that some young punk is in the audience and they get inspired to start their own band and it becomes as good and does as good as Crass did.  That would be the perfect thing.

Obviously lyrically Crass were influenced by current affairs and politics, but what were your musical influences?
That was all different.  I mean, people ask me why the sound of Crass was so different and first you had me and I came up through ska music, Motown, David Bowie and all this kind of stuff and they’re my influences and of course punk.  Then you have Penny Rimbaud and his influences were Elvis Presley, classical and avant garde jazz.  Then you had people like Pete the bass payer, he came up through Frank Zappa and folk music and stuff.  So, you had all these different influences and none of us were musicians and so that’s why it was such a cranky sound.  And that’s why (at this point Steve is distracted by laughter coming from drummer Spike T Smith) and that’s why it’s so hard for him (pointing at Spike) to do the drumming. (Spike comes over to introduce himself, “I always love that story… not musicians).  We weren’t musicians and the way we used to do a song would be I would write something and I’d say to Pete it goes like this (mimics music).  We’d try to make the music more of an atmosphere than something you could sing along too

Crass are considered the pioneers of the anarcho-punk movement.  When you started out did you ever imagine that you would have such impact on an entire genre of music?
No, because we were just doing it.  We didn’t have any idea.  We knew the Sex Pistols didn’t mean it when they said, ‘I am an anarchist’.  And we thought, ‘well right, we’ll try to people what anarchism could be and should be. And then we got into hot water because the proper anarchists didn’t like us you know.  I’ve never read any anarchist literature, I started to read a book by Malatesta I got four pages into it, I got so bored that I put the bloody thing down and read the paper instead.  No, we didn’t have any idea, I think what we did was to make ideas like anarchism and pacifism and self sufficiency, I think what we did really was not influence people, but inspired them to start thinking for themselves and then they’d go out and start bands for themselves, I think that’s where it’s successful.

Do see music as a perfect vehicle for expressing political ideas and creating social awareness?
I don’t know if it’s the perfect way, I think it’s a way of doing it.  I’ve seen black and white films from the sixties that wouldn’t make sense to maybe an 18 year old person now.  But really moved me and made me think.  I’m very much a book person, so I think that’s the perfect way to sort of do it, because I’ve been moved by words.

Which bands/artists, if any do you admire for their mix of political awareness and music?
No, because I don’t know any.  I’m doing a typical middle aged thing where, because I was in punk and all that sort of stuff and it was the type of music I liked and then when I hit about the age of 45 or something and I stopped listening to new music and I started going back.  Like now, I’m listening to bands like The Who again and the small face and sixties stuff and getting back into listening to ska.  It’s really odd, I’m sort of going backwards rather than, but no, now I'm appreciating how good that music was and how it moved me.  If Lady Gaga is meant to be the new punk then I don’t think very much of it.  And you know, someone like Justin Bieber, I mean, if that’s all there is then I feel sorry for the young people and they really should be out there starting their own bands and having riots.

What are you looking forward to most during the upcoming Australian tour?
A bit of sleep and get this first gig out of the way because we’re all a bit jet lagged and nervous.  But once we get this first show out of the way, we’ll be a lot better.  We got in yesterday morning and we haven’t stopped really. The flight was 24 hours or something stupid like that, but we’ll be alright, we’ll get through it.

After this Last Supper tour wraps up, what are your plans for the future?
I’m going to take a year and a half to two years off and knuckle down on some new material.  I’ve already got it in my head, what I want to do is a spoken word thing, but its  not going to be like Henry Rollins standing up on stage.  I want it to be almost like you’re going to watch a play or something, so there would be very simple stage props, some visuals, keyboards and bass, just background music.  And I’d just talk about me and what I've done, if anyone’s interested.  I’ll be talking about crass and then in the second half I will open up to a question and answer sort of thing.  Because I know there are thousands of people out there that want to talk to me about crass.  Part of the reason why I’ve called it the last supper and what I want people to know that this is the last time I will be playing Crass songs live, so people don’t come to my new thing expecting to hear crass songs, because I’m not doing it.