This August, a couple of powerhouse blues rock outfits will combine forces as they shake up venues across the country.
Melbourne’s Dallas Frasca will support California’s The BellRays on their Rockpocalypse tour which will head to The Gov on August 14th to be joined by Adelaide face melters, Squeaker.
Marking the third headlining tour of Australia in recent years, The BellRays return to us to make up for cancelled dates earlier this year when the bass player of tour partners, The Supersuckers, fell ill and couldn’t make the trip.
Speaking to BSide Mag from Spain, where she’s touring with her other band Lisa and the Lips, The BellRays frontwoman Lisa Kekaula says she can’t wait to rock down under.
“Because of what happened with the Supersuckers thing, we wanted to make good on it. It seemed like it would be too long if we waited until the next record was out to come back again. I was really excited about the prospect of coming out there in 2015 so we wanted to make sure we did that. We wanted to make sure we got to see everybody and play and rock out,” she says.
Having spent some time in Australia over a career spanning two decades, Lisa says her and husband Bob Vennum, the original members of the band, love that it feels like home here.
“I love going to a place where just about everywhere you go is going to be like extended USA, California-y kind of vibe where, if you play to somebody, they’re going to respond in kind, like the way you’re used to hearing people respond so you know they love it,” she says.
“I love playing anywhere we get to play, but it’s really nice hearing people yell out in English. It feels really cool getting on a plane, then getting off and thinking, this kind of feels like being in Riverside.”
Having visited Adelaide as recently as 2013, Lisa still remembers it as being a city with a dedication to live rock.
“That was a really cool time,” she says. “It was a really cool little club; Enigma. Before the gig, we were walking down these, kind of like, small town streets, but then you get in this club and the people there are ready to rock. We thought we’d get in there and people wouldn’t be that committed, but people were ready. There was total and utter conviction to the rock.”
The current line-up of The BellRays is Lisa, Bob, Justin Andres (bass) and Stefan Litrownik (drums), who also played on their recent release, Black Lightning (2010).
Although it’s been some time between records, Lisa says there is a new BellRays album on the horizon, and that they’ve been busy with other projects.
“It’s not like we haven’t been doing anything!” she stresses. “We’ve got a record out with a band called Lisa and The Lips. It’s more of a funk project. We’ve been on the road touring that. We’ve been splitting our time between the two bands, and getting this BellRays album out on time was one of the first casualties. But good things come to those who wait. That’s all I have to say. I’ve heard bits and pieces of it and I’m really excited.”
In between Lisa and The Lips shows, they’ve been playing some BellRays gigs, but have been focused on the former.
Now they’re wrapping up the European leg of The Lips tour, Lisa says she’s ready to set her sights on getting the new BellRays album out.
“One of the reasons the Lisa and The Lips record got done so quickly is that we were forced into a specific amount of time because these people were giving us a studio and we had ten days to do it so we had to get over there and write some songs. We had to go over there with nothing and do it under the gun,” she says.
“When it’s just the two of us, we’re less under the gun and we’re both understanding of the fact that we’ve both been on the road for eight months and blah blah blah, so we just feed each other excuses. So what’s cool about the fact that we’ve missed this deadline a couple of times is that now we realise how far we can push it before it’s time to just get the fuck in there and write some songs. And we did it, the songs are pretty much done. We just have to start piecing it all together; the Frankenstein part.”
Listening to a BellRays album, it’s almost as if the songs have been written for live performance, but Lisa reckons it’s not the same, and you have to see them to believe them.
“You have to come down there and actually experience it. It’s not one of those things where someone can say, ‘Oh it was like this, and they did this thing, and blah blah blah.’ It’s something else. It is not something you can talk about. Someone said that going to our show is like a religious experience. I personally have never had one of those, but to her, it meant something really deep. So if it’s like that, I don’t think you can describe it,” she says.
Lisa Kekaula has collaborated with a number of artists over her career, with one of the more famous of those being her work as feature artist on the Basement Jaxx hit ‘Good Luck’.
She says she finds working with a range of artists to be enriching, especially when she expects the unexpected.
“If it’s somebody you’ve never even thought about playing with, those are the ones you can get stuff from, especially if you had no idea what was coming in the first place. I did something with this Italian group called Reset! I didn’t really know much about them or the way that they wrote and that experience was really fun,” she says.
“It was a really different approach; just a really different way to go at the songs. Because one of the guys was classically trained and went into the dance world, so it was a unique situation. Then you have the James Williamson project where you totally know that person’s catalogue, you totally know what’s going on and you’re allowed to do your thing on top of what they do. Every time you do a collaboration, you walk away a bit richer in your art because you’ve had to go outside your comfort zone.”
In their 23 year career, Lisa has seen and learned a lot, but as an indie band, they’ve worked hard to move with the ebbs and flows of an ever-changing industry.
“We’re always the indie band doing it, so we definitely see less clubs now. We saw it going towards less clubs when we started loading into clubs and were told the shows are now two hours earlier because they have to have a disco night where the DJ comes in,” she says.
“Sound restrictions in certain clubs and gentrification in certain neighbourhoods are killing venues, so having less and less places to play influences how much is available for people to go out and see music, let alone go out and play it. There’s always distractions. But the ones who are going to do it will go out and do it and the ones who aren’t are going to will quit. That’s just the way it goes. I remember reading Rolling Stone years ago and people would say a type of music was amazing, and it wasn’t amazing, it was bullshit and they were just selling it to people because people were buying music and they took advantage of that. And they kept putting out shit, and now good stuff has to fight to be seen because this generation is not having it.”
The fight to stay relevant in music is real, but Lisa says she’s happy staying right where she is, doing what she does, rather than appeal to the status quo.
“You can barely get them to pay for popcorn, let alone pay for fucking music. It’s all good in the end because they grew up on somebody telling them something was great when it wasn’t great, so now we have to rise to greatness. I’m all for not having super, uni-popular music. I think it was bullshit from the beginning. Everybody’s got eclectic taste. I’m not everybody’s cup of tea and I don’t want to be. I just want those who want my cup of tea and I’ll give it to them,” she laughs.
“When it comes right down to everything that we’re dealing with today in the world, lots of things have been set up so that people who didn’t want to work were able to get away with doing nothing or doing half-assed shit. Now it’s a lot harder for anyone to get away with just doing nothing. I’ve always been working. I’ve paid enough dues for people that will never pay dues, so I’m not worried about it. It’s always been hard for me. It’s going to keep being hard, but I’m going to keep doing it, because this is what I do.”
The BellRays play The Gov on Friday 14th August with Dallas Frasca and Squeaker; tickets through Oztix.
By Libby Parker