Blues/swamp/shack/rockabilly style bands are becoming part of a thriving culture in the Australian music scene. Melbourne quartet, Howlin’ Steam Train are being welcomed into this scene with their own modern day take on one of the oldest genres around. Meghan Player chatted to vocalist Mathew ‘Boots’ Stott about the 1930s, working with Steve Schram and learning how to play guitar.
By Meghan Player
“I don’t think there is any particular group of people or bands that we’ve had a really direct influence from,” begins vocalist Mathew Stott. On a chilled Autumn afternoon, we sit chatting about the swamp/blues/shack/boogie style and sound that he and fellow band mates have created with Howlin’ Steam Train.
“We listen to so much different music – everyone in the band listens to different stuff. But I guess, overall, our tastes are somewhat similar. We each try and bring those aspects into the band [and it’s sound].”
Undoubtedly, when listening to Howlin’ Steam Train for the first time, there is no denying the influence of the early, 1920-1930s depression era blues of the US – an era that Stott is adamant to bring into a modern context.
“Blues in the 1930s – I really like. I think that time was amazing – there were so many great artists out. I grew up listening to these musicians – so there are those aspects in our sound as well,” he explains.
“The music back then was very simple – you had your acoustic guitars and banjoes, mandolins and stuff like that – so, using modern day tools – the things that we’re able to use – are a lot broader.
We play a similar style, that just has modern edges to it. There are others that have done their own touch on that style throughout the years, and have put a different spin on it. We’ve been inspired by some of the blues music that came out of the 90s as well – bands that were influenced by the early blues music.
Every band looks backwards, you know. It’s just one of those things where you just use the tools in front of you, to give it your own personal touch. It’s like having a signature.”
For a band that is still in it’s early stages of growing and establishing themselves in the local scene, HST have already ticked a couple of boxes off the list. Releasing their first EP last year, then following up with their second in early 2012 [produced by the accomplished Steve Schram], the band are well on their way to becoming a must-see on the local scene.
Interestingly, the bands starting point and growth over the last year, really did start at square one – with each member having to essentially “learn how to play their instruments” – a story that Stott reflects back on with gentle humour.
“When we first started we were predominately an acoustic band. Through playing, we developed our sound and style as musicians. It’s funny because, we weren’t really accomplished players when we started out – we were learning how to play, and learning how to play with each other . We had an idea of what we liked, and we just ended up progressing naturally.”
“We had to teach our bass player, Leigh, how to do the simplest of stuff. We got lucky though, that guy just knows how to play bass – and he picked it up straight away,” Stott explains.
“When we can brave them, we listen to old recordings that we did when we first started and we sound goddamn terrible,” he laughs. “We really need to grind our teeth when we listen to it. It’s not that pleasant on the ears.”
Evidently, progress for the band over the last year has been just as important as connecting with the music and their audience – a progression that became apparent with the bands latest EP.
“A couple of the [songs on the new EP] are older songs – that we really wanted to get recorded. That first EP is different – our ability to play our instruments has quadrupled since then!” Stott laughs. “I guess our song structure and knowledge of music was a lot different on the previous EP – and it shows really strongly as well.”
The natural progression of the band is set to continue over the next month, as Stott and his bandmates hit the road in support of the EP – chalking up dates across New South Wales [with a big set planned for June 30th in Sydney] as well as in their own town of Melbourne.
Certainly, after todays interview, HST are clearly a band that are willing to put in the hard yards in order to make themselves a better band – and if the last year is any indication of what is to come, there is a bright future ahead for this young quartet.
Many thanks to Mat for taking the time to chat to us. You can catch HST during June at the following venues:
– The Steyne – Manly – June 28th – [http://www.facebook.com/events/402810483104479/]
– The Great Northern Hotel – Newcastle – June 29th – [http://www.facebook.com/events/309228252497079/]
– The Vanguard – Sydney – June 30th – [http://www.facebook.com/events/457398517621032/]
– Rock Lily – Sydney – July 1st – [http://www.facebook.com/events/264463073660946/]