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Interview: Mildlife on playing penguins, Opera dreams and messages from afar

Melbourne psychedelic jazz rock Mildlife should have embarked on an Australian tour right now, including playing Lively Sydney and the revered Sydney Opera House. But COVID-19 had other ideas.

Instead, the five musicians, who were working on a new album ahead of the proposed tour, were stranded in Melbourne like many others, unable to turn September’s LP. Automatique.

In the midst of chaos, The AU review caught up with Mildlife bassist Tom Shanahan, with the band keeping fans who missed the tour excited by launching their unique concert live from South Channel Island for 48 hours earlier this year.

For those unfamiliar with the South Channel, this is an uninhabited man-made walled island about 120 meters in length located near the narrow entrance in the south of Port Phillip near Melbourne.

“We played it a few months ago,” says Shanahan. “It was crazy to take a few boats, full of crew and equipment, and inhabit this little abandoned island for the day, and there to record and film a live performance in front of a group of penguins and ‘spiders.

“They weren’t too excited, however. I don’t think penguins like to have fun. But they had to put up with it for a day. It was great for us to see these beautiful creatures.

The feedback loop Shanahan mentioned refers to Mildlife’s unique live shows where they interweave their tracks and work back and forth with the energy of the crowd. Unfortunately, as he says, the penguins didn’t really appreciate their sound.

“As a rule of thumb, we’ll normally create an unbroken ensemble where the songs weave together and within them,” Shanahan explains, explaining how their live shows work. “This leaves a great opportunity for small spaces between some where you are halfway between the end of one and the start of another which creates this bubble of sections of new sections.

“We like to explore and step into those sections between songs and explore them. And they often have their own little songs. The set is woven between the songs of all our outings with these little bubbles in between. They are created so that we can keep some kind of energy flowing in momentum through the whole. There is usually dancing. If it’s not dancing, I guess it’s bopping that we’re trying to create through the set.

“We are also quite aware of the energy that we give and receive from the public. It’s kind of a feedback loop between the two.

Unfortunately, the concerts planned for the regional regions of Victoria and Melbourne had to be revamped, while the shows in Sydney as well as dates in Wollongong, Canberra, Adelaide and Perth had to be cut, at least for now.

Shanahan said performing at the Opera was a “dream” as there was palpable excitement among the group for their Vivid show at Recital Hall in Sydney.

“I like playing in really old, dusty rooms… I think it suits the music in my head for some reason, and it just has a lot more character and charm,” he laughs.

The South Channel Island show, which will be available digitally in December, was Mildlife’s response to the wave of live broadcasts released during the initial lockdown period. They didn’t know they would see him again in August.

“We resisted the live broadcast approach because it’s important that the energy with the audience, the venue and the theater and the sound move into the venue. When we talk about live streaming, it kind of removes that energy, ”says Shanahan.

“We liked the idea of ​​playing live in different places. We were just trying to think of ways to make a live broadcast really interesting for us to play and interesting to watch too, because personally I don’t like the idea of ​​watching a band in a somewhat rough and bland room. play music. Maybe it’s just me, so we like the idea of ​​pushing this to the limit. A good way for us to do that was to take a bunch of gear off a small abandoned island and see if we could do a live show.

Beyond the live shows, Mildlife was acclaimed with last year’s second album Automatique peaking on the ARIA charts at age eight, while lead track “Rare Air” was nominated for best song by Victoria at the Music Awards, won by Sampa the Great‘s’ OMG’.

The album was also nominated for the AIR Awards for Best Independent Jazz Album or EP. The event was held digitally in August in Adelaide, with Mildlife failing to win against Katie noonan but Shanahan wasn’t shocked at not pulling the gong, contenting himself with recognition, even if that was never the point.

“It’s great to be nominated, but that’s definitely not what drives us as a group,” he says. “I guess it’s really good, although it would be nice to win.

“But whenever it feels like someone is enjoying what we’re doing or paying attention to us while we’re creating music, it’s always a victory.”

Since then, they would have been delighted to learn that they had also been nominated for an ARIA for Best Jazz Album. We’ll find out later on November 24.

Shanahan feels lucky and privileged that the group, which is basically a bunch of pals in Kevin McDowell, Jim rindfleish, Adam halliwell with Tom’s percussionist brother Adam shanahan, get to work on their art to earn a living.

“We have all known each other for a very long time, so we are very comfortable with each other and because of that we like to hang out,” he says.

“We consider ourselves incredibly lucky to be able to invest as much time and energy in this band and in the music as we can. As a band, we constantly celebrate being able to write the music we love to play and having people who really want to listen to it. It is a privileged position in which to be.

This fan base and audience spans overseas and while Mildlife has obviously had to put its overseas touring plans on hold for the time being, they do receive a foreign love every now and then that makes Shanahan smile.

“We have enough audiences there to justify traveling a vast ocean together,” Shanahan says. “We like it. We absolutely love receiving messages from people overseas.

“For example, saying, ‘I’m listening to your music right now and it’s morning in Brazil. I am looking over the ocean ‘. And I get the message and it’s probably 10pm at night. They listen to it under very different circumstances, but we love it. And it’s not something we take for granted. It really puts a smile on my face.

Live from South Channel Island will be released on December 3. Pre-order it HERE.

Lively Sydney has unfortunately been officially dropped for 2021, with organizers promising a festival next year. Mildlife’s national tour has been postponed, although the latest dates are below.

You can get tickets for their flagship shows HERE.

Sat November 27, 2021 – Flow Festival, Footscray
Sunday January 16, 2022 – King St Carnival, Sydney
Fri 28 Jan 2022 – The Eastern, Ballarat
Sat Jan 29, 2022 – Théâtre Royal, Castlemaine
Friday February 18, 2022 – Torquay Hotel, Torquay


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