Imaginary Landscapes and Deserts At Sunset

(Reflections with Brett Myers on "Using My Gills as a Road Map")

(Originally published in ROCKERILLA magazine, Italy, issue 229, September 1999)

Died Pretty are back with a new fantastic album full of surrealistic atmospheres. "Using My Gills As A RoadmapŲ - what a title! - is a great comeback for Died Pretty. A modern psychedelic record, perfectly balanced bewteen an electric and a moody side, it is the most beautiful Died Pretty work since the release of the legendary "Next To Nothing" E.P. (Citadel, 1985) and "Free Dirt" LP (Citadel, 1986). For the release of this new record Died Pretty are on Citadel again, after having been on Sony for a couple of years. "Using My Gills..." is the seventh full-length album of their long and extraordinary career. I spoke to guitarist Brett Myers about it.

RC: Your previous album "Sold" was released in 1995. Why did it take so long to release a new one ? What have you done in the meantime ?

Brett Myers: Well, we changed labels (from Sony to Citadel), and that always slows things down. We actually recorded some new tracks after "Sold"‚ and released them on a four track CD called"Deeper". There were a couple of nice songs there but overall we weren't that happy with the direction and were really looking for something new. So we took a lot of time thinking about what we wanted to do with the next album. We knew that it would have to be different.

RC: "Using My Gills As A Roadmap" marks your comeback to Citadel, the independent label that discovered you 15 years ago. Then you were with a major label (Sony) close to achieving big success. Why did you break that relationship after just a couple of albums and what do you think now about that period of your career ?

BM: We had been on an independent label (Citadel) for over ten years, and we really wanted to try and see what would happen with the power of a major label behind us. We made two albums for Sony - "Trace" and "Sold" - and it was nice to have the extra studio time and our choice of producers etc, but at the end of the day, I don't think the albums were any better than our previous efforts for the amount of time and money we spent on them. Also I think Sony soon learned, (especially the international arm) that weren't going to fit into the standard commercial mould, and they would have difficulty selling us as a "top 40 act".

RC: How did this comeback to Citadel happen ? Are you happy about that ?

BM: We had our biggest selling single with Sony, "Harness Up"‚ and the albums we made for Sony charted in Australia, and sold reasonably well, but it wasn't enough for the amount of money they were putting in and they basically dumped us from the label. So after this happened we had along think about the future of the band and decided that we would continue with Citadel and make the sort of records that we please ourselves first. Happy? Not really, but ultimately it was all for the best.

RC: Let's talk about the new album. "Using My Gills as a Road Map" is at least a surreal title for an album. How did it come about?
BM: It is a funny story. Ron received a letter from APRA (the Australian Performing Rights Association, who look after songwriters), asking whether he had written a song called "Using My Gills as a Road Map" as they had the song, and could not locate the songwriter. Ron claims he did not write the song. However it sounds just like something he could have written and also John Needham (our manager) claims he remembers Ron having a song like this many years ago. So we ended up just liking the title so much we used it for them new album.

RC: The cover's pictures (especially the inner one) are superb. Where did you take those extraordinary pictures?

BM: I was driving through the desert in Arizona in the USA and it was starting to get dark. The sunset was so extraordinary I had to stop and take photos. I was on my own and looking for a place to stop for the night. I wasn't exactly lost‚ in the desert but it was a pretty lonely area and I started to think about all the UFO sightings that happen out there! The whole atmosphere was very surreal.

RC: The whole album is divided between a dreamy and a melancholic atmosphere. Is this a peculiar side of your music ?

BM: Yes. I think you will find this side on just about all our music. It is one of the main things that sets apart from a lot of other bands. But we sure like a good pop tune too!

RC: Can you tell me something about the lyrics of the songs ? Inspiration behind them?

BM: Well, that's a little hard seeing Ron writes most of the lyrics. I know that on this record we were looking for some more dreamy type of lyrics that would complement the music...stream of consciousness‚ stuff‚ that might not make perfect sense the first time you listen to it but there is a definite idea working in the background.

RC: Your fave song on this album ?

BM: I think there are at least two or three that are my favourites, "Radio", "Gone"‚ and "She Was"‚ for sure.

RC: Brett, your guitar-sound has always been on the unstable balance between an electric side and more "liquid" solutions. Did you experiment any new musical solutions on this record ?

BM: I definitely wanted the guitar to sound different on this record. Because the guitar was so prominent on many of other albums, I all most wanted the guitar to disappear‚ on this one. I ended up using mainly acoustic guitar on just about everything, with just a little bit of electric thrown in for good measure. Most of the interesting noises were made by the keyboards which we sort of treated as a guitar by using lots of effects (cheap pedals mainly) to alter the sound. I did use the electric guitar sometimes as just a noise maker‚ in the background to give the songs some texture.

RC: Reviewing the album I wrote that "Using My Gills..." is probably your best record since "Free Dirt". Do you agree with that?

BM: I'm not sure, it's hard for me to judge sometimes. I do know the band all love the record and it's the best thing we have done in ages.

RC: Which are the best Died Pretty albums for you ?

BM: Again I'm not sure. I think "Free Dirt", "Doughboy Hollow" and "Using My Gills..." would all have to be considered, but there is some tough competition!

RC: What has changed, if something has changed, in your music during all these years?

BM: The strange thing is not a lot has fundamentally changed. We are still the same people (a little older of course!) with generally the same love of music that we had when we started out. I guess the main difference is that now the band is not the sole focus of everybody's lives, people have new things in their lives such as children, (like Ron's new baby Zebidiah) jobs etc,.

RC: How is the live side of Died Pretty ? Are you planning to come to Europe ?

BM: Again the live activity is definitely diminished. We still play, just not as much. We would love to come to Europe again.

RC: What kind of relationship do you have with press and TV these days (in Australia)? Are you still considered as an influential band there?

BM: We have a good relationship with the press I guess, The music scene is quite dead in Australia at the moment. No-one buys music like they did a few years ago, and the live scene is pretty dead as well. There are still some good new bands around though. I like Gerling, Not From There and the new Underground Lovers stuff is pretty good, too

RC: During the 80's, Died Pretty was a mythical name for the Aussie-sound (especially for us, in Europe). What remains now of that period, of that great creativity's atmosphere ?

BM: Not much, I'm afraid, there are a few of the bands still going such as the Celibate Rifles and ourselves, but times have definitely moved on.

RC: This is the last one. Which is your definitive Died Pretty song ?

BM: Are you serious? I really would not know where to begin.

Died Pretty's new album, "Everydaydream", will be released on Citadel in November 2000.