By Meghan Player
When it comes to a band that like to do things differently, you can’t go past Melbourne sextet Graveyard Train. Combining the country genre with their own dark twist of horror, the band have defined themselves as one of the best acts Melbourne has to offer. On the eve of their show at The Annandale in Sydney, Meghan Player chatted to Matt Andrews and Adam Johansen about touring, Keith Richards and laminated itineraries.
“This is only the second night, so we’re pretty fresh. But we’re definitely looking forward to tonight,” begins washboard player, Matt Andrews. Sitting outside the Annandale Hotel on a Friday afternoon, sharing a pack of cigarettes – the band is perfectly relaxed ahead of their gig.
Graveyard Train are an interesting band. Their style and sound isn’t textbook ‘country’, and lyrically their songs could be straight out of a horror movie. Unsurprisingly, the band put two and two together to coin the term ‘horror country” and the ‘genre’ has stuck ever since. Interestingly, there are a lot of elements that influence the band and its sound.
“It’s a tough one [to answer],” explains Matt. “You probably get a different answer at the different times you ask. When the guys got together, they just wanted to do a proper country band.”
“But, I said ‘no it can’t just be that, we need lyrics of some other style’,” continues Adam Johansen [Chains]. “And even though Nick [Finch – guitar] doesn’t like horror movies or anything like that, it was just sort of a fascinating topic just to jump onto. I think it’s also just about, you know, ‘what are bands singing about these days? Oh really? Is that what they’re trying to say?’ – we just wanted to have some fun with it. I guess that’s why we came up with the country and horror music.”
While the horror-esque lyrics and style can be a lot of fun for the band to play around with, it also has meant that across their two albums [and subsequently their third] they have nearly come to the point of exhausting that particular subject. However, not being a band to give up so easily, their new material will still lock in that ‘darkness’.
“These days I think we’re moving away from that sort of stuff, and now it’s just sort of generally dark,” laughs Matt.
“But that’s just the heritage of the band. And that’s just how it’s evolving,” Adam continues. “Although I would still like to do one on the Kraken. You know, sailing the high seas and getting engulfed by a giant octopus!”
Undoubtedly, the band could work the story of ‘the Kraken’ into their new album – which the band explain they “have just started recording”.
“We recorded one track the other day. It doesn’t have a name yet. Nothing has names,” laughs Matt. “It’s definitely a lot rockier [sound wise]. I think there will be more electric guitar on this album. There might be an odd bit of banjo or slide here and there, but on the whole it will be ‘electrified’. It will be a lot punchier and louder, and slightly more aggressive than the other stuff.”
“It’s staying with that Graveyard Train style, but just evolving. Moving onto the next station,” tells Adam.
While the talk of the bands style and sound ‘evolving’ might sound like the band have completely changed their outlook on the Graveyard Train persona, Matt and Adam are quick to dismiss the idea that the process for approaching the new album, was anything short of the normal routine.
“It just happens the way it normally happens,” explains Matt, “Someone has an idea and they bring it to the band…”
“Here, I’ve got this raw bit of chicken,” jokes Adam, “Oh! You’ve got the celery. Let’s boil it up, and we’ll make soup!”
“It’s a bit more exciting then chicken soup though,” Matt laughs. “It’s probably more of a cajun chicken recipe.”
Food analogies aside, the band can tell one hell of story in their lyrics. From the tale of the underworld with ‘The Ferryman’, to zombies ‘Dead Folk Dance’ to witches ‘Even Witches Like To Go Out Dancing’ – the band have a knack for capturing, not only the dark, horror sound, but also effortlessly construct and tell an engaging story through song. A trait that holds an important place with the band when they are writing and recording new material.
“It’s so important! You’ve got to have a tale to tell!”, enthuses Adam, “There is always an underlying story in our songs.”
The importance of a story or tale to tell has also seen the band connect with fans across the world – with the UK, Europe, US and Canada embracing the bands unique and engaging style. In the middle of 2012, the band will head to the US for a run of gigs on the East Coast and South of America – an experience both Matt and Adam are keen to partake in.
“I’ve never been to the States, so I’m really looking forward to just going there for the first time,” Matt explains. “The first trip we’re doing is going to be like LA, Chicago and the East Coast. Then the next one is going to be down South. It will be good to see the different parts of the States – because each different area seems to be almost like different countries.”
For a band like Graveyard Train, the experiences of touring overseas previously have taught the members many varied lessons over the last couple of years – from the importance of a fresh pair of socks to bringing along “your own sound guy – it just makes things easier” – however, joking aside, the band are more than happy to offer a few pointers to young bands who may want to branch out into overseas touring.
“Grants are a good way to go. You can do them yourself, and you should probably always do them yourself,” explains Adam. “What’s really rewarding is filling out the forms yourself. If you do them concisely and to the point, no mucking around – you could end up with $15,000.”
“As for actually doing a tour,” continues Matt, “Organisation and preparation are great – especially four or five months in advance. Research where you’re looking at playing. Talk to other bands. Look for local radio stations. You won’t make any money out of going, but it’s the experience that you’re after.”
“Try finding the best accommodation you can as well! And a printed itinerary for everyone in the band. Possibly laminated.” laughs Matt. “I wish we had of done that when we went previously – because it’s just nice to know what you are going to be doing for the next couple of days.”
Funnily enough, both Matt and Adam are keen to squash any idea that a young band may have that a life on the road/touring with your band – is a life of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – as some legendary rockers would have you believe.
“It’s not like Keith Richards ‘oh I’ve been on the coke all fucking week’. It doesn’t work. It’s not like that,” explains Adam. “I don’t even think it’s true. I’ve read a few of those biographies and it doesn’t happen like that. Not everyday.”
“So, if you boil all of that advice down you get: research, preparation, organisation, nutrition.. and laminated itineraries,” laughs Matt.
As for the remainder of the year – that isn’t dedicated to touring overseas and recording the new album – the band will be headlining a few keys dates in May in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane – to celebrate their album launch.
“We’re going to be coming back to Sydney in May to play the Metro here. We’ll also be playing the Hi-Fi in Melbourne for two gigs and the Hi-Fi in Brisbane,” explain Matt and Adam, “but we’ve got to get this album done, so we can actually play those shows in May. Hopefully they’ll [the shows] will go alright, and there will be people there!”
After todays interview and the subsequent show that evening, the band are clearly in the right frame of mind to begin the hard slog of writing and recording their new album. Undoubtedly, with the band moving in a new direction as far as sound and story telling go, it’s going to be an exciting few months for fans and music lovers alike – and the band are more than capable of taking us on the journey with them.
Many thanks to Matt and Adam for their time – as well as Nick for organising the interview. For up to date information about the band, check out their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/graveyardtrain