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Interview – Paul Dempsey, Something For Kate – September 2012

| 10 October 2012 | Reply

Something For Kate have proven one of Australia’s most enduring and popular indie bands.  Over the past 18 years they have released 6 stunning studio albums, as well as a few compilations of unreleased, live and “best of” natures.

Led by Paul Dempsey, Something For Kate achieved their biggest success with the 2001 album Echolalia, featured in the Top 40 of 2010’s book “100 Best Australian Albums”.

In the past three years Dempsey has relocated to New York, married long –time Something For Kate bassist Stephanie Ashworth, and they have become parents.  In addition to these momentous life-changing happenings, they’ve also reconvened Something For Kate with drummer Clint Hyndman and recorded another fantastic album – Leave Your Soul To Science – which has already hit the Australian top 5.

In conversation Dempsey is chatty, friendly and thoughtful, not shying away from questions about depression and writer’s block, and always providing insightful and intelligent answers on any broached subject.

Something For Kate – Clint Hyndman, Stephanie Ashworth and Paul Dempsey

Catch Something For Kate on their Australian tour at the following dates:

12 October     Metro Theatre – Sydney, NSW Sold Out
13 October     The Zoo – Brisbane, QLD Sold Out
14 October     The Zoo – Brisbane, QLD Sold Out
26 October     The Gov – Adelaide, SA Sold Out
27 October     Fly By Night Club – Fremantle, WA Sold Out
28 October     Fly By Night Club – Fremantle, WA Sold Out
17 November     Golden Days Festival – Coolum Beach, QLD
24 November     Queenscliff Music Festival – Queenscliff, VIC
08 December     Homebake – Sydney, NSW

By Shane Pinnegar

Hi Paul – Thanks very much for taking the time out to talk with me today.  So the new album, Leave Your Soul to Science, it’s a great album, man – congratulations on that.

Oh, thank you. I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

What struck me most about it was how eclectic it is, both musically and lyrically. What have you been listening to while you were writing the songs in order to get all these different influences together?

That’s a good question, man. I’m not really sure that I have a very good answer. When I’m writing I tend not to listen to much music. I kind of find it distracting, you know. So if I’ve got music or ideas and melodies, kind of floundering in the back of my head then I’m sure I’m going to write lyrics… I usually just think about that and listening to other stuff can be a bit distracting, so yeah, it’s hard to say. It probably is more to do with stuff that I read, you know, that’s kind of where I get more inspiration for subject matter.

Look, it’s the first Something For Kate album in six years. You’ve released a solo album in that time, you moved to the States, got married, became a dad and a heap of other stuff – you’ve been far from idle. Judging by the strength of the new album, it appears that all these new life changes are really working for you creatively, is that how you’re feeling?

Yeah, I guess I just keep myself really, really busy. Obviously I have been really busy, but I guess it’s because I’ve become my own sort of way of living, just to really keep myself busy and productive and I just, you know, kind of just say “yes” to everything – this project, that project, you know… if people offer me things or ask me to do things, or make suggestions, I find it pretty hard to say no, because I like to have a busy schedule in front of me.  It keeps me focussed, it keeps the creative juices flowing, and I guess also it just kind of stops me… I find that if I do idle, if I ever do allow myself to stop moving and do nothing then I tend to just sink. So I just like to keep busy.

Sure. On that note, if you don’t mind me getting personal just for a quick moment, there’s some really rich lyrical themes in the new album. They certainly don’t give any sign of the writer’s block you’ve apparently suffered from before. Are you just better at creating an environment where you can avoid that?

Yeah, that’s really exactly what it is.  You know, I used to call it writer’s block, I used to characterise it as writer’s block whenever I was having trouble coming up with anything and as I said, I would just kind of sink and get myself in a bit of a hole, and that’s what I used to call writer’s block. I’ve come to realise that, I don’t know if it is actually writer’s block that I get. I think what I’ve realised is that it’s just, it doesn’t come all that easily to me, all that naturally to me, writing lyrics. It’s something that I have to work at really hard if I’m going to get it to a point where I’m actually really happy and satisfied with the result. It just takes a lot of work and a lot of effort. I don’t call it writer’s block any more, I just say well, it’s just I have to work really hard.

Maybe it comes easy to other people, I’m not sure, but for me to get things to a point where I do feel totally satisfied with it, I just have to put a lot in. So yeah, I guess if I don’t put that effort in, and if I don’t create that environment where I can work hard at something and get the results, then that’s what I do kind of. I do tend to kind of spiral down. So yeah, I guess it’s just a discipline thing. It’s like an exercise regime or something. I just sort of, you know, sit at my desk and write for a fixed amount of time and see what happens. If nothing happens that’s okay and other days I get great results. I get there in the end and it’s worth the effort.

Do you feel that because you have to put that extra effort in and you recognise that, that maybe the satisfaction you get out at the end is a bit more accordingly?

Oh yeah, absolutely. And of course, you know, I wouldn’t put all that effort in if it wasn’t worth it. It’s absolutely worth it. I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s a really hard, difficult, horrible thing. It’s just work, you know. But when you get there in the end it’s totally worth it and you’re glad that you did put the time in.

Do songs come to you fully formed? You said you have to really work at the lyrics and everything, but when a song starts coming out, do you know it’s a Something For Kate song, or a solo song, or a side project song?

Not necessarily. Usually I direct it towards whatever I’m working on. Pretty much everything I do will be channelled in that direction – if I’m working on a Something For Kate record then between the three of us, you know, pushing and pulling at it then it ends up sounding like Something For Kate. So I sort of don’t have to put it in that basket or the other. It just sort of happens pretty naturally.

You’ve commented that there are several themes running through the album lyrically, greed being one of them, and I guess in the record industry you’d encounter your fair share of that greed factor, wouldn’t you?

I don’t know, I think most people in the music industry are pretty cool people and I guess the stuff I’m talking about more so probably comes from living in New York for a couple of years, especially during the whole financial crisis. There was a fair bit of greed and pretty questionable behaviour on display. The behaviour of some of these finance guys gambling with people’s retirement funds and blatantly ripping people off. There was a whole lot of greed and fraud, and then right down to, you look at the US election campaign right now and you hear guys like Mitt Romney just speaking from this place of absolute entitlement and belief that they are superior and deserve to be rich while other people deserve to be poor. It’s just kind of astounding.

Very much so. You recorded in Dallas with John Combleton. I don’t think you’ve worked with him before?

No, I almost made my solo record with him but the timing didn’t work out. He’s someone that I’ve been a fan of for a long time, so it was great we were able to get together on this record and he did a fantastic job. He was excellent to work with.

And I believe you went into the sessions… his studio is like a one man show, so no engineers, tape ops or anything, just the band and producer. How did that enhance the creativity of the sessions?

It kept it really relaxed. His studio is kind of out in the weird, low rent suburbs of Dallas, so it’s really interesting, a different atmosphere. He has a fantastic studio and it’s just him. So yeah, it was just the four of us, and we got along famously – it was just really relaxed, there’s no… A lot of big studios there is usually a couple of different rooms, so there’s usually other bands in other rooms working on their records as well, and you get this feeling like you’re in a recording complex, and it’s not really your space. You need to pick one of the halls and there’s assistants running around and it just feels a little bit sterile, and this was much more like, you know, it was like recording in someone’s garage or something.

Very cool. And he pulled Bobby Sparks in to play keyboards on the album, I believe?

He did, yeah.

As a veteran of Prince’s band, that may not seem an obvious choice for Something For Kate.

Yeah, perhaps not. But he’s just an incredible musician. He can really, he can add something to just about any musical style, I think. His real specialty is working with synthesisers, we actually went over to Bobby’s house and he had this little studio set up in the back of his house and we just played him a couple of tracks of ours and he just completely improvised over the top of us with all these synthesisers and stuff but he literally had about 2 run throughs on a couple of tracks and he was really able to add something cool to a few of them.

Fantastic. So this is your first album for EMI. How supportive have they been in accommodating your vision for Something For Kate?

They’ve been wonderful. I did my solo record, that was my first record, with EMI, so I’ve kind of had the experience of making one record with them, and obviously this is my first with Something For Kate. They’re good, you know. They’re great. They’re a record company as opposed to, you know, a lot of the other big record companies have film divisions, or TV divisions, or hardware, or videogames or whatever. EMI are just a record company. Their focus is just music and they’re all great kind of, they’re really passionate music fans and they took us on board, obviously recognising our history and what we’ve achieved already and so they’ve really just allowed us to do things our way and they’ve been as accommodating as you could possibly hope for.

That’s fantastic, and certainly on the strength of the new album they haven’t sort of poked their nose in and forced you to write a ‘radio friendly unit shifter’ or anything like that…

I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to this sort of stuff, but it certainly seems to me that the days of… I don’t know, I don’t pay much attention to it. The point I’m trying to make is that it seems a lot of popular music and a lot of, the kinds of singles that bands release these days, is a lot more broad and wide open and, I think, we’re almost a case in point. I mean Survival Expert, the first single from this record, is hardly the poppiest thing on there. It’s hardly the most immediate, poppy type song on the record, but it’s just the song we wanted people to hear first and EMI totally understood that. I think that seems to be the case for a lot of bands. You don’t necessarily have to put out what you think is going to be the poppiest, most immediate song. You can actually, I think there’s more of an open mindedness out there in terms of singles or songs, or whatever.

I think you’re right. I think the plateau has changed dramatically over the last 20 or so years. It’s good, it puts the power back in the band’s hands a little bit more I think.

Yeah, I dunno – I think the power always has been in the band’s hands. I’m just not sure if every band understood that.

I guess we heard lots of stories about the 80s going ‘we’re not releasing the album until you go back and write a power ballad’ or something like that.

Oh sure, you definitely hear horror stories and I think especially back a couple of decades ago I think record companies used to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars making records. Even into millions of dollars. So, they probably were a lot more controlling and a lot more paranoid about how the whole thing was handled. These days, that’s the other thing, a lot of bands these days can make their album in their back room so… you know, there’s a lot more independence and … you know, since the whole kind of MP3 thing and everything else. There’s a lot less money in music for bands and record companies alike. That actually somehow gives it all a bit more freedom too.

So looking back on what you’ve achieved with Something For Kate so far, what do you hope that this album achieves for the band?

I just want people to enjoy it. We think it’s the best record we’ve made. We say that about every record but, you know, we mean it about every record and that’s why you keep making another one, because you think you’ve always got a better one in you. So we’ll be back in a couple of years with another new record and that will, you know, that will be the best one we’ve ever made, and if its not, we’ll still be in the studio making it until we feel like it is. So yeah, I guess this to me is just Something For Kate in 2012, this is what we sound like in 2012. We’re having a great time and we feel extremely fortunate and we look forward to hopefully making better records as time goes on.

Will you be touring?

Yeah, we’ll be touring nationally next month and again next year some time I’m sure. We’ll be touring as much as we can.  [See tour dates above]

Fantastic. Great to talk to you, Paul. Thanks for your time, mate and all the best with the album.

Thank you, appreciate it. Have a great day!

Category: Interviews

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