Posted May 6, 2003

SURF, GUITARS AND TOO MUCH FUN:
DANNY McDONALD HITS THE ROAD

Fresh-faced Australian singer-songwriter DANNY McDONALD is starting to make people sit up and take notice. Fronting his own Danny McDonald Band, he's currently touring an album "Summer City" that's as notable for its excursions into garage rock and surf guitar instrumentals as it is for its summery pop-rock ballads. We can all take heart from the fact that it's gaining a degree of airplay on Australian radio.

As P76, Danny and his current bandmates produced one of 2001's best guitar-pop albums, "Into the Sun". It was bright, breezy rock with hooks AND bite - a rare combination and one that brought to mind the likes of DM3. "Summer City" contiues in that vein, albeit it with an unmistakably Australian flavour. The Dom Mariani approach to songwriting - simple, soulful and laden with hooks - is a template Danny's happy to follow.

No newcomer, Danny's been around on the Australian guitar scene longer than most people realise, as a key member of mainstream-noticed Jericho, as one-quarter of Melbourne garage project the Stoneage Hearts (whose debut album was somewhat of a revelation in 2002) and also as a hired hand with major label pop signings Oscarlima. The latter experience left Danny with a distinct liking for travelling the independent road, which he's managing to do quite successfully under the Danny McDonald Band banner, with deals with labels in the US, Europe and Australia.

Danny also has a deep love of Australian music from the 1970s and '80s, which was even more of an incentive for us to extend an invitaiton to spend some time in the Bar. THE BARMAN asked most of the questions, with assistance from JOHN McPHARLIN.

 

Q Hi Danny and thanks for dropping by the Bar. You're currently on a national tour to support your new album, "Summer City". How viable is that in these days of seemingly diminishing venues and fragmented tastes? Any shows stand out?

Thanks for having me. So far my tour has been going really well, so I can't whinge too much. However, yes I have noticed a gradual decline in live original music venues across Australia over the last 10-15 years....I put it down to lack of support from punters. People don't seem to be as interested in going out to see live bands as much as they used to...But it's fed my family and I for quite a few years, so I guess it's viable enough!!

I'll wait til the tour is over till I make any comments as to standout shows....Adelaide was fantastic last week though.

Q You're essentially an independent artist free to work with whatever label you choose. Does that have its up and down sides?

Over the years I have worked with many different labels from all over the world, and it's been great to work with all of them. I guess the upside of working with a label is that it alleviates you of the pressure associated with trying to promote a record, which certainly isn't easy. Especially when you need to write, rehearse, record, tour and find time for family etc. There are a heck of alot of bands out there who simply don't know how to promote themselves, so labels are crucial for those guys.

On the other hand, I have been fortunate enough to have released alot of records independently in my time, and I have always been very closely involved with the labels who have released my stuff, working together with them on the promo side of things. So I feel I have enough experience, knowledge and contacts to be able to go out & do the job as effectively as most small labels...The downside of working with labels is that there's rarely any money for the artist at the end of the day, not to mention the
artist often loses a bit of freedom & control...

Q What's the deal with the two labels handling "Summer City"?

"Summer City" is an independent release, though I have licensed it to Zip Records for the USA. It's distributed in Australia and New Zealand by MGM and in Japan through Wizzard In Vinyl, which explains their logo's appearing on the rear cover.

Q So did you grow up in rural Victoria? I think you were based out of Morwell at one stage?

Yep, I was born and raised in a small town, about 10 minutes out of Morwell, called Churchill. Both towns (along with Traralgon and many others) are part of a very large rural Victorian area called "Gippsland".

Apart from a 12 month stint in St Kilda (Melbourne) about 10 years ago, I lived in Churchill all of my life up until about five or six years ago when I got married and moved to Traralgon....which is only about 20 minutes drive from Churchill.

Q OK, you're currently in Taralgon. I've been there but the benefit of people who haven't, give us a quick pen picture.


Sure. Traralgon is a large regional city in country Victoria, approximately 160 kms from Melbourne. It's the largest city of the Gippsland region, and could maybe be compared to places like Geelong, Newcastle, Ballarat etc, but not quite as big.

Q Why live there and not Melbourne?

I'm just not a city person....Too fast for me. Although I spend quite a bit of time in the city, I always like to get back to the peace & quiet. There's also the fact that both mine, and my wife's families are based in the Gippsland area and being very family orientated people, I don't think we could ever move away!!

Q Take us through the Jericho days and give us an insight into what it was like to be a signed band. Where they your first band?


Jericho began seriously recording & gigging under the Jericho name in 1995. Prior to that we had all been messing around together in other bands for about five years or so. Jericho was a really good band, in my humble opinion, but we were unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Musically we were influenced by bands like The Hoodoo Gurus, The Sunnyboys, The Stems, Died Pretty, The Beatles, The Who, etc etc - Power Pop and Rock & Roll stuff. Anyone who saw the band live would agree that Jericho was a very energetic, loud & rawkus power pop outfit - unfortunately we never fully captured our live energy on our recordings (which were generally slicker, with more harmonies etc).....We worked very hard, releasing four EP's, and touring Australia seemingly constantly until we disbanded in 1998. At the time we were together, we were up against the whole "grunge" explosion,
which I found absolutely nausiating.

The general reaction from punters and critics across the country at the time was that we were too retro, too soft (ie. we actually wrote melodic songs and used vocal harmonies), and we generally went against the grain of angry young grunge bandwagon riders of the time..

As you can probably tell, I'm still a little bitter about the whole thing!! Anyway, along with some internal tensions, we decided to break the thing up in 1998, mainly due to the fact that we felt we were continually pushing shit up-hill & being widely ignored....Funnilly enough, things have changed since those days and I think if the band was together now, we would have acheived a lot more success and attention.

An Australian independent label is currently in the process of putting together a "retrospective" Jericho album, featuring about 25 tracks (most of the released stuff plus a heap of unreleased recordings), and that will be out before the end of the year. Hopefully that CD will give people a more accurate perception of what the band was about.

As for your question about being in a signed band - Jericho was never signed, although three of our releases were distributed by the now defunct Mushroom Distribution Service. However, I did spend a year or so playing as a live member in another band between Jericho and P76, called Oscarlima.

Oscarlima was definately a much more commercial pop project than I would usually become involved with. At the time, they were signed to a major, so I did get to inadvertently experience the major label rollercoaster for a little while. It was fun to see how the other half live.

I guess the main thing I noticed was the label's ability to promote and exploit an artist, on a much larger scale than I had worked prior. But I sensed an insincerity and fickleness about the whole major label business that I didn't like (no reflection on the band - they're still good mates). We did some really big tours, things like the Livid Festival and some TV shows like "Hey Hey, It's Saturday", and "Rove"...

It was fun, not for me...

Q Geoff Barnes drummed in Jericho, went on to P76 and still plays with you in Danny McDonald Band mode. How far do you go back?

Geoff and I started playing together around '94 - '95. He's a good friend and an incredibly good drummer. Although it would appear (from CD credits) that Geoff and I have been playing together constantly since then, it's not actually the case. Geoff has been intermittently involved with my stuff,
and luckilly for me, he has just happened to be in the hot-seat at the time of most of my recording sessions.

Both Jericho and P76 had numerous drummers, and Geoff, along with some others, has joined, left, rejoined, left again etc. So it's definately been a revolving situation. Having said that, Geoff has been on the stool more often than not, and has been doing all of my live full-band shows of late, which has been alot of fun.

Q Tim Mills plays bass in your current band and was in P76. What's his story?


Tim started playing with me in P76 around 2000. Prior to P76, he was playing in a really great local band from the Gippsland area, called "The Bird Tribe"...They were a dirty rock & roll band, and were turning alot of heads until they broke up in '99, unfortunately only leaving behind a couple of demo's. Tim's another good mate of mine, and is also quite permanantly playing in my live band at this point in time.

Q So at what stage did P76 become the Danny McDonald Band and why?

P76 was always a solo project, which always seemed to confuse a lot of people. Basically, it was just a pseudonymn which I worked under, and I would call upon various Drummers / Bass players to help out with recordings and gigs. I made the decision to start working under my own name about a year ago.

I had already released a "solo" 7" single earlier last year, and was in "between albums" limbo. I was finding that I was doing 90 percent of the touring in solo/accoustic mode (due to unavailability of band members and the costs of taking them on the road). Operating under a pseudonymn like P76, people naturally expected a full band at the live shows, so I just felt that it would make more sense for me to start operating under my own name.

Q Your songs are mostly upbeat and almost always summery in tone. Is that something you're conscious of and strive for?

Not really. I just write what comes naturally, but there are several recurring themes which I often return to - The most obvious one being my stupid fixation with 70's Australian Surf Culture. Other topics which I tend to focus on include my home town, the charactors I meet within it, and experiences I have on the road, touring.

Q Has the beach played a part in your life? Can you surf or are you really a Brian Wilson? (Gee, that one can be taken a couple of ways!)

Hahaha!! I used to surf a bit when I was younger, but haven't done so for quite a few years. I dare say if I hopped on a board these days, I'd be back to square one. However, I do love the beach, and have a lot of good memories of my childhood beach holidays. I spend a fair amount of time in small beachside towns nowadays when on tour, and am still very fascinated with surf culture.

Q I note divergence in tone and songwriting subject matter on "Summer City". Is that deliberate or did it just happen? I mean "Sandy Harrison" is a real departure...

Yeah, I know what you mean - it just happened naturally. I was probably listening to something at the time that influenced the way I wrote certain songs. "Sandy Harrison" in particular - the original acoustic demo version of that song musically reminded me alot of Jeremy Oxley's (Sunnyboys) songwriting style, but the lyrics came from somewhere else. I had just finished watching a late 70's Australian surf road-trip film called "Summer City" (another example of my fascination with 70's Australian surf
culture!!), and the lyrics in that song are basically my adaptation of the storyline from that film. A mate of mine who heard the original demo of the song said he thought it sounded like "Jeremy Oxley doing a gunfighter ballad"!! Hahaha!!

Q How about the instro surf tune "Mermaid Beach"? Is that a direction you're keen to go down, a la Dom Mariani and Majestic Kelp?

Most definitely. I really love surf instro's, and had been wanting to do one for a while...In fact I recall suggesting it to the Stoneage Hearts guys when I was playing with them, but we just never got around to it. I wrote "Mermaid Beach" in the car, on the way to the studio on the day we recorded it. It was alot of fun to record, as the other guys had obviously never heard it, which resulted in a really spontaneous and garage-esque recording.

I arrived at the studio with the rough outline for the song in my head, quickly showed it the the guys and we commited it live to tape after two runs through.. I overdubbed a couple more guitar parts and some Farfisa keyboard over the next 1/2 hour so and that was that!!

Q Tell me about some of the other musical influences. I know you're a big Sunnyboys and Little Murders fan but I wouldn't have picked the Hitmen. Who else is there?

I often alienate and perplex people with my influences, so here I go again. The Sunnyboys, The Stems, Hoodoo Gurus, Died Pretty, Saints have always been among my biggest influences, and still are. Little Murders too - they're pals of mine, and I really like that band too.

I love The Hitmen, Radio Birdman, The Scientists, Eastern Dark, Lime Spiders etc. But then there's other stuff which I have always loved like Paul Kelly (particularly his early work), Mick Thomas (WPA), You Am I, and The Go-Betweens - all those artists are very fine songwriters in my opinion.

As for newer stuff, I listen to alot of my friends bands like The Pyramidiacs, The Finkers, Jack & The Beanstalk, Superscope, The Chevelles, DM3, Even, The Early Hours, Hands of Time etc.

Q How did you come to work with Wayne Connolly on Jericho's "Radio City" EP? How did you find it as he has a reputation for being very meticulous?

Wayne was great to work with - a lovely bloke. We just got in touch with him 'cos we'd been impressed by some other recordings he'd done, like You Am I, Died Pretty etc. Wayne was one of the most laid-back producers I've ever worked with. He was happy to sit back and let the band do their thing....Where his influence really came into action was more in the sonic production of the recording...Microphone placement, Guitar sounds, Drum tuning, EQ and mixing etc.

I guess the most distinctive thing about Wayne's charater that I remember from those sessions was his tendency to encourage the band to play everything as relaxed as possible...I recall he suggested I
go a bit softer on the guitar strumming, and the same with vocal delivery. All in all, he was great to work with.

Q We sort of covered part of this question before...what prompted Jericho to split and how did you assemble P76? Had you been playing out much as this band before doing the album?


The Jericho split was due to frustration with lack of interest from the general public, accentuated by personal issues within the band. When I started "P76", I decided that it would not be a democratic band situation - I felt that setting it up as a solo project would give the project more longevity and flexibility. After dealing with the unresolvable issues that had broken up Jericho, I wasn't really interested in working in a democratic situation again. I didn't want to be starting and breaking up bands due to personal conflicts and I felt that I needed to create a situation which I could continue for as long as I wanted.

Q How about the production work by Dom Mariani on "Into the Sun"? How did that partnership come about?

I first got in touch with Dom in 2000 I think - as a fan, and also suggesting that I would like to work with him some day. When I was in preparation for the recording of the P76 "Into The Sun" CD, the label who I was signed to at the time (Zip Records) asked if I had any producers in mind - so it sort of progressed naturally from there.

As it turned out, he was the perfect person for the job. Dom's a great bloke, and an incredibly
talented musician with an impeccable ear, and he's a perfectionist. The P76 album benefited so much from his guidance that I was initially concerned about making the next record without him. However, I learned alot from Dom during those sessions, and eventually felt comfortable enough to go on &
produce my future work by myself.

Q While on that subject, it must have been a buzz supporting the reformed Stems in Melbourne recently. How was it?

It was a dream come true, just to see the band play live, let alone be one of the support acts. An honour. They were awesome, and it was an experience I'll never forget!

Q Have you done much other work with Dom?

No - there was talk of me doing some guitar or vocal tracks on his forthcoming solo album, but I guess due to the logistics of getting into the studio together (living so far away etc), it just didn't happen. I would love to work with Dom again some day, so you never know...We keep in touch.

Q I know you've opted out of the Stoneage Hearts and Dom's opted in. Any chance you might appear on the next studio record or contribute a song?

Yes, the guys have asked me to pop in and play some guitars, do some singing on the next album, so I'm sure that'll happen at some stage. I'm not sure when they'll be recording the next album - I guess it's not gonna be easy for them either to get into the studio together with Dom in WA and
the rest of the band in Vic. The Hearts guys are still close friends of mine, so I'm sure we'll continue to help each other out with whatever we can in the future.

Q I thought that debut Stoneage Hearts album worked really well and it was obviously done with a lot of spontaneity. Is that how you like to work in the studio?

It was so much fun to make. We literally wrote and recorded the songs at the same time - We'd get in a room together, write the songs (most of them took about five minutes per song!!), rehearse them once or twice and then whack them down to Ian's old four-track reel-to-reel machine. We'd then eventually take those bed tracks (Drums, Bass, Rhythm guitar) to another studio and put down the rest of the tracks just as quick.

I think the way we worked is very much the reason why the album has such a fun, garage nature to it. It was definately a defferent way of working for me - I recall wanting to "fix up" vocal and guitar parts at the time, and the other guys talked me out of it...In retrospect, I'm glad they did.

Q Mickster from the Hearts played drums and sang on one song on "Summer City" (the garagey "Too Much Fun"). Does that date from Stoneage Hearts days or did you get together especially?

Mickster actually played on three songs from my new album. He basically came in for one of three one-day sessions during which I recorded and mixed the record. "Too Much Fun" was a song that I wrote post-Hearts, especially for my new record. However, I guess the nature of the song owes alot to the
things I learned from playing in the Hearts. I knew that song (and the other two that Mickster played on) were screaming out for his Drumming...he has a great rock'n'roll feel, and the songs he played on definately benefit from his involvement.

Q "Summer City" is doing good business saleswise? How about Australian airplay and is that getting harder to crack?

So far, so good! Sold quite a few in Australia (especially at live shows), and heaps o/seas - Europe is always great, as is Japan. The USA pressing of the record comes out in May, so hopefully we'll do some business over there too.

I have been particularly lucky with Australian radio airplay over the years, and this album so far has had some good attention too. The first "radio single" from the album, "Soaking Up The Sunshine" has
been played quite steadilly on JJJ, the commercial Austereo network, and all the usual community stations have been behind it. I have had news of more airplay from right accross the world almost daily since the record came out, so I am very happy with the response so far.

(At this stage, John McPharlin stumbles into the Bar)

J: Hi Danny. The Brazilian label Tronador has announced plans to release a local version of the P76 "Into The Sun" album there, though with a combination of tracks from that album and some of the preceding E.P.s ("Life In General" and "Sunliner", I think). How did you come to get hooked up with them?

This release is due out very soon - this month I believe. Yes, it's basically a compilation of recordings I did under the P76 name, handpicked by the label themselves, although it's being released under my own name "Danny McDonald". It contains tracks from the "Into The Sun" album, and "Life In General", "Sunliner" & "Sleeping In" EP's. The project was arranged Tronador in conjuction with my USA label Zip Records (who released most of the P76 CD's). Zip have previously licensed a Chevelles compilation to Tronador, so it kinda blossomed from there.

J: I understand that Australian surf'n'power pop is really big there (e.g. Riptides, Chevelles). Any likelihood of a Brazillian tour coming out of this release?

Yep, no doubt about it, Australian surf orientated power pop is doing really well in Brazil at the moment. I know for a fact that the Chevelles have done really well over there - both with tours and records on Tronador. I have discussed the possibilities of a Brazillian tour with the label, but nothing has eventuated just yet. Hopefully in the next couple of years!

J: You've been appearing on a lot of compilations lately, here and abroad, like the forthcoming "Antipodean Screams", "Australian Surf", "Lost Weekend", "Shake Yer Pop Boomerang", "Wizzard Brew"... How does an independent artist from country Victoria get on so many comps?

I am constantly in contact with record labels, radio stations, magazines, etc from all over the world - thanks to the wonderful world of email!!!!

J: How much is the exposure from being on such compilations worth? How do you capitalise on it, especially overseas?

I find these appearances beneficial. I guess people who might buy a compilation for other tracks by other similar artists will hear my contribution, and hopefully they will like it enough to go out and buy my record. I am certain I have gained a considerable amount of fans & extra records(particularly o/seas)over the years due to compilation appearances.

Q If overseas Barflies are reading this, how can they grab a copy of "Summer City"?

Probably the best way would be to go to the "Merchandise" section of my website - there's a few different avenues they can go down, and they're all explained there. If they have any further questions they can email me at the "Contact" section of my site and I'd be more than happy to help them.

Q Might as well give us your mailing list and web site URLs too...

Cheers!! My website address is www.geocities.com/dannymcdonaldonline and I also have a Yahoo Groups Mailing list which can be found at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dannymcdonald/


Q Any thoughts about taking it overseas? Did you ever play IPO or anything like that with Jericho?

Never been overseas, but I am hoping to get over to the USA later this year. I am also hoping to get to Europe in the next two years or so, but of course it all comes down to finances.

Q So what else is in the musical pipeline?


At this stage my main priority is to continue touring & working hard to promote my new album "Summer City". I'll also be recording a 7" vinyl EP for a Spanish label in a few months time, and that should be out before the end of the year. The Jericho retrospective album will also be out later this year, and we're looking at reforming the band for one or two Melbourne shows early next year.

Apart from that, I have started working on my next full-length album, and plan to have that released by March next year.

Q Since we're in a bar, what are you drinking?

A Coopers Sparkling will do me fine thanks mate!!



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