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Dirty three.

SHORTER SONGS, an expanded arsenal of instruments--including organ, mandolin, bass and even bagpipes--and the appearance of vocals on two tracks (courtesy of Mekon Sally Timms and Cat Power's Chan Marshall) may come as a surprise to Dirty Three fans. Yet the sounds documented on their latest record, Cinder, are unmistakably those of the transcontinental trio. That's essentially because the band's bedrock remains unchanged: Warren Ellis' violin strings are still plugged directly into his heart, Jim White continues to be a delightfully melodious drummer, and Mick Turner's guitar can still shimmer like gossamer wings or map out emotional space with muted but dulcet notes. Sure they've changed a little, but they're still some of the most unconventional and daring interpreters of the rock form. I spoke with Warren Ellis.--Guy Gray

Did you listen to rock before picking up the violin?

Yes, absolutely. I was born in a country town listening to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, AC/ DC, and The Sex Pistols. I started playing violin when I was about 10. I was playing classical music but listening to nothing but rock. I spent some time having lessons, I went to university, and I started playing electrically when I was 24.

Did you like what John Cale did with the viola in The Velvet Underground?

I sure did; when I heard that banana album it turned me on my head because I had never really heard a stringed instrument used in that way in rock music. It is such wonderful music. I thought: "Wow, someone's done it, you can do it!" I never really thought of the violin as an instrument in rock music. I never really thought I could play the music that I loved with the violin. It would never fit in. I never liked prog rock, you know? As I started discovering more music I could see different ways you could use it, but the banana record really started it for me.

With you being in Paris, Jim in New York and Mick in Melbourne, how often do you get together?

We get together a few times a year, and when we decide we're ready to make an album, or we feel like we have enough ideas to get together, we do. It's not a fixed thing, it's a bit determined by what other things we're doing as well. Everybody does other things, plays other music. Mick and I have families, so it's a bit like dividing up the time.

There must be high spirits when you meet.

There's always a certain amount of excitement and fear and trepidation. We've been together for about 14 years now. We're not young kids anymore. There's a long history between us, certainly in concerts and such. It's a long time to have a band operating.

How do you stay inspired for that long?

Well I guess it's just the music, you know? The music is the thing that's always driven us. Following the lead that's put down and seeing where it takes you. What other people play, what other musicians do, what other painters and artists and films do is constantly inspiring. Lots of things in life are inspiring. I do a bit of gardening. I find that really fantastic. I really enjoy doing that.

Can you talk about the expansion of instruments on Cinder?. Why'd you put vocals on a couple of songs?

It wasn't anything planned. I bought a mandolin about eight months ago, which seems to have worked out well, and an Irish bazouki also. I jam along to Neff Young records with it. It sounds like a helicopter; it's an octave lower than a mandolin. When it came time to do this record, Mick and I got together to try out different ideas. We had about 40 songs, and then the three of us got together and whittled it down to about 25. We tried to put more structure into the songs that we never really had before. I guess the obvious thing is that they're shorter. We wanted to develop the songs. We could play whatever we wanted and not be trapped by the line-up of the past. We gave the songs everything that was necessary to complete them, including vocals.

My wife bought me a piano as well for my birthday last year. It was really liberating to try and learn to play something else, to get some musical ideas out of something else. I always used to pluck notes and things like that, but I started playing more strumming stuff on the violin now, chords and stuff. I have a smaller band with Nick Cave that I'm in; with that I try to fill the rhythmic hole as will as the lead hole, the melodic hole. That makes me work in a different way; it's an area I've been working in for the last couple of years.

Clearly, you're a big AC/DC fan. Tell me about some of your favorite stuff by them, and what's your favorite AC/DC lyric?

There are two distinct periods, Bon and "AB" (after Bon). I concern myself with the Bon period. My favorite album by them would have to be Powerage, hands down. Bon Scott had really refined his lyric style and Vanda and Young were really on top of the whole production side of things. The addition of Cliff Williams on bass also was great because he has such a different style to Mark Evans--down strokes and lots of root notes, changes for drama; a resounding 10 out of 10. I used this one to kick the booze, so it's a personal favorite of mine. Let There Be Rock is also a real favorite; rough sounding, like first or second take, real punk rock. Highway to Hell, 10 out of 10, really can't go wrong there. As to songs, I come and go. I mean, it's all great, in the Bon period that is. "Ain't No Fun Waiting 'Round to Be a Millionaire" off Dirty Deeds is great. I love the narration mixed with the lyrics, and I think it really marked a definite style he continued to mine until his death. He really had a great way with words. I bought Family Jewels when it came out, and the first DVD is wonderful; kids wanting to start a band should watch that. Such a great sense of humor, incorrigible, and typically Australian. AC/DC is one of the greats. I could talk for hours about them. One of my favorite lines? "Stick this in your fuse box!"
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Article Type:Interview
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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