Posted May 1, 2005

DANNY McDONALD: A GUITAR HOOK AND
THE SWEET SOUND OF FIBRO

OK, the terms "powerpop" and "I-94 Bar" may seem mutually exclusive, but as a famous man once said: 'You can't live off Detroit rock alone'. Personal opinion around here is that the term powerpop does many artists a disservice, inferring there's something lightweight or insubstantial about what they do.

He might not mind the powerpop tag, but Australian singer-guitarist Danny McDonald's output is nowhere near insubstantial. In fact, recent efforts put more celebrated counterparts well in the shade. Danny's a storyteller, painting pictures of rural and beachside Aussie life in a way that few can equal. For the most part, it's set against a musical accompaniment of hooky, finely-honed guitar pop or tuneful garage raunch. In other words, powerpop with balls.

"Fibrotones" is the latest long-player (for unitiated overseas readers, fibro is a manufactured fibre building product, commonly used in older houses in Australian backblocks and suburbia). It's as good, and maybe better, than Danny's previous efforts, under his own name or that of previous bands P76 and Jericho. A harder-sounding album than 2003's "Summer City", it pulls together familiar themes atop a musical pallette that's as varied as ever but also supremely cohesive. The Fibrotones (as in band) are Paul Inglis (bass) and Mickster (drums), supplemented by Melbourne luminaries Paul Thomas, Ernie O, Ian Wettenhall and Ashley Naylor.

The release of "Fibrotones' on the always cool
Off the Hip label seemed as good a reason as any for inviting Danny to drop by the Bar for a few brews. THE BARMAN did the questioning.

 

Q Welcome back to the Bar, Danny. What's been doing since "Summer City"? I bet it seems a long time ago.

Cheers, It’s great to be back. Yep, a lot has happened in my life since the release of "Summer City". My wife Fiona gave birth to our second child, I returned to full-time day work and we’ve just finished building a new home which has been a huge but rewarding project. In amongst all this I’ve been gradually chipping away at my third solo album "Fibrotones" which is about to be released next week.

Q You must have been rapt with the reviews "Summer City" attracted. Did it garner much airplay?

"Summer City" received small pockets of airplay on national Australian radio + a little bit of commercial radio, but the guts of the support came from the community stations as always, God love ‘em. Yep, the reviews were all particularly favourable and I was very humbled by the great response from the power pop / rock and roll communities. Can’t ask for much more really.

Q "Fibrotones" has a different ambience about it. There's still the summery feel but the sounds and tones are a little harder. Can you tell us about its recording and the process involved? Was there fibro involved?

You’re right. I must confess I didn’t intentionally set out to create something harder than "Summer City", but it definitely turned out that way. I think it had a lot to do with the production wizzadry of Ernie O, and probably even more to do with the records I was listening to through the process. I can say that there was no Fibro involved in the recording as such, but a large portion of the songs were concieved at a small 60’s fibro small town coastal retreat, which our family retires too on a reasonably regular basis.

Q How long was it in the recording process? What was on your turntable at the time and did it cast any influence?

The whole record was recorded and mixed over about 5 days or so as far as I recall. But the sessions were spaced fairly well apart in a sporadic fashion, due to other commitments of those involved. We started recording the record in September ‘04, and it was in the can by December.

In terms of musical influences at the time of the conception of the record, I’d definitely credit my ever-growing fixation with 60’s Australian Rock and Roll / Surf. I’d been collecting various obscure compilations and taking cues from bands like The Cherokees, The Deakins, The Henchmen, Russ Kruger, Vince Maloney, The Purple Hearts, The Missing Links, The Explosive Minds etc etc. And I suspect the Surf Instro stuff had an even stronger effect on me – bands like The Denvermen, The Atlantics, The Playboys, The Zodiacs, The Phantoms, The Breakaways, The Deejays, The Joy Boys etc. Recently I’ve immersed myself in this kinda stuff, and I’ve strong intentions of recording a surf instrumental album at some stage down the track.

I’ve never stopped listening to the usual suspects such as Sunnyboys, Scientists, Early Hours, Stems, Hitmen and EARLY Paul Kelly and The Messengers (circa "Gossip"/‘Under The Sun") - I’ve no doubt these records would have helped shape the concept around "Fibrotones" too.


Q Ernie O was the producer and used to be in the Philisteins. Who are some of the other bands he's produced and what prompted you to go for an external ear in the producer's chair?

Ernie’s almost like the in-house resident Off the Hip records producer. He’s produced quite a few great records now by bands such as Hands Of Time, The Stoneage Hearts (!!!!), The Freeloaders etc. He’s a very talented chap, and he definitely had quite a significant impact on the way I went about recording this one.

I felt the need to extend my scope a little with this record – "Summer City" was an incredibly intrinsic record in that I concieved, wrote, conceptualised, produced and released the album all by myself. The only real external input was from the recording engineer + a few mates who helped out by playing drums / bass etc. With "Fibrotones", I was really intent on Ernie assuming a "pseudo producer" sort of role, and I wanted to have some different players in to help colour and shape the songs. I’m confident I achieved that!

Q You work in a narrative lyrical style, throwing up snapshots of life in coastal and country Australian towns. From where do you draw the inspiration? Are many of the people in your songs real, or are they composites?

I really hate to sound generic and cheesy, but I grew up in small country town in a regional area of Australia, and I’m still here. The environment around me undoubtedly has a profound effect on my outlook and approach to writing songs. I’ve always been really big on lyrical substance and local imagery. In addition to this, I’m fixated with a very particular atmosphere that I hear in certain types of songs, but I still haven't been able to quite put my finger on what it is. When I do, I’ll let you know!!

Whatever it is, I strive to capture that atmosphere in pretty much all of my songs, and have done for as long as I can recall.

Characters? Yes, a heck of a lot of my songs are biographical, but I’ll spare you of any further details in fear of my personal welfare!!!

Q You now have a permanent band, The Fibrotones, behind you in Paul Thomas (ex-Weddings, Parties, Anything), Tim Mills from P76 on bass and Mickster (Crusaders, Stoneage Hearts, Finkers and a million other bands). Why did you feel you needed regular players?

I’ve been playing pretty much exclusively solo / acoustic for a couple of years now, and I’ve been missing the feeling of the kick drum ringing in my ear. I’ve been dying to play some grotty rockin’ garage pop, so I guess I succumbed to the desire!! It’s also much more fun getting pissed with a bunch of mates than it is by yourself.

Q How many of your shows are solo and how many are with the full band? Will you be touring "Fibrotones" nationally?

I haven’t played a band gig in almost 18 months, but that’s about to change very shortly. Although we won’t be touring quite as extensively I used to do, we’ll definitely be playing a lot more regularly. We have launches planned in several Australian cities such as Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide – we’ll wait to see how things pan out before we head any further North or across to the West…

Q You cover a lot of stylistic ground on "Fibrotones", from voodoo surf instrumental ("Sandpiper") to rock-pop ("We've Come This Far", "Amberlene", from a Paul Kelly-esque country ballad ("25 Years in the Ring") ) to out-and-out garage rockers ("Lazy Dogs"). Yet, it's coherent and unmistakably a Danny McDonald album. Is that coherence a product of having been around for so long?

I guess so. One thing I’m very clear about is who I am and what I’m on about. Most people would probably regard my tastes, record collection and my own records as reasonably diverse, but I see a common thread that runs through everything I do.

Q Do you consciously try and mix styles? If you had to classify your music, what would you call it? And how many albums is it now, by the way?

I don’t consciously mix styles – I think it’s just a product of my tastes and influences. Probably also has a lot to do with how I felt on the day I wrote each song…If I had to classify my own music, I’d (reluctantly) call it "70’s flavoured Australian Surf Garage Power Pop – with a particular focus on lyricism". – Phew – I’ve never before attempted to summarise myself in so few words!! Haha!! How many albums?? – It’d be five I think (all projects included)…plus about a million EP’s / singles!!

Q "Lazy Dogs" is a taught little rocker and one of my faves. What's it all about?

Cheers mate. It’s written about the current state of Social Security within Australia, in all it’s flee-ridden glory. I’m not all that sympathetic towards lazy layabouts, collecting welfare benefits with no intention of showing any responsibility for themselves, and then crying poor…I best leave it at that huh?

Q "5 Years in Malabar" sounds like an anthem for dispossessed surfers making a sea change...

Well, you’re on the money! It’s written from the perspective of a 40-something greying surfie type, who can’t let go of his youth. The sea change has never been so appealing, so he bites the bullet and takes the coast road up to Cairns in a filthy old XF Falcon full of rust.

Q ...and "A Different Ballgame" is an obvious condemnation of the way sport has turned into big business. What in particular inspired that tune?

Matter of fact, it’s a topic I’m fairly bitter and passionate about. In particular, it’s to do with what I feel has been a gradual and consistent decline in Aussie Rules Football since the late 70’s. Call me a footy snob, but I reckon the decline is largely due to the decision to turn "VFL" football into a national competition. I’ll leave the rest for another time…

Q I suppose where I'm going is this: Although the flavour is Australian - or maybe because - you attract a fair bit of attention overseas. What's your best market?

I’m really not sure whether it’s my Australian background or exploitation of Aussie culture, but I do seem to get a bit of interest offshore. Bring it on – it all helps!! My best market?? – Geez, I dunno. Probably Mediteranean Europe?? I’ll ask Off The Hip (my record label) and get back to you on that in about 6 months!!

Q I know you have a young family in tow, but any prospects of touring overseas and if so, where?

Mate, I’d really love to. And we’ve been talking about it for years, but it all comes down to $$$$. I’ve had a few prospects and proposals which have almost come to fruition during the last few years, but I’m hanging off for that elusive "all expenses covered" guarantee!!! Hopefully it’ll happen sooner than later but it is mildly complex whilst entertaining a role as husband / father.


With P76 live.

Q I believe you don't play in Traralgon, your home town, very much. Why is that? A lack of venues?

You gotcha! It’s a pretty typical regional area – cover band city, very minimal interest in original music (particularly that of a native origin), so I don’t really bother. There is the odd exceptional venue who does have a crack at supporting the local original artists, so I do the odd local gig here and there.

Q The album's on Off the Hip in Australia. Any thoughts of licensing it offshore?


Yes, but I’m leaving that in the capable hands of the Off The Hip fellas. I understand they are exploring some of these options at present, but I’m not aware of any concrete progress yet – heck, it’s early days.

Q I know you're a big Sunnboys fan. What did you think of the double CD package, "This is Real", on Feel Presents?

I think I would have to be the biggest Sunnyboys fan that ever strode this planet, but I could be wrong. Naturally, I was ecstatic about the "This Is Real" package – I think it was great way to pay tribute to one of our national musical treasures and potentially introduce them to some new ears that may not have heard all that much of them prior. I think it also set the record straight for the band, in terms of presenting a package which is accurate and indicative of what the band were all about.

Q People might be surprised to know you're a Hitmen fan. What do you think of the proposed reunion later this year?

They’re another one of my all-time faves. Johnny Kannis has been a big inspiration for me. I’m profusely excited about the prospect of a reunion. I’ll be there with bells on!!

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

I still can’t pass on a Coopers Sparkling!!
 

GO TO DANNY'S WEBSITE

THE ALBUM REVIEWED

BACK TO THE INTERVIEWS PORTAL

LET'S GO BACK TO THE BAR