Interview: Jack Ladder


Interview: Jack Ladder

Our boy Jack Ladder is currently resting up in the Blue Mountains ahead of his latest national tour. The artist is renting out an old Tasmanian cedar cottage that houses a split-level mezzanine with a bedroom upstairs, where you climb a ladder to get through to the chamber. It's a genuine mountain retreat complete with bar and studio and decked out by corrugated iron.

As we discover in the interview, Ladder still retains a sense of exhilaration about his latest record, Hurtsville, his working relationship with expressionist guitarist Kirin J Callinan and the fact that he's managed to avoid any Nick Cave comparison interrogations with Everguide. Although, we do sneak in a loose, unrelated Birthday Party mention at one point.

Sydney electro boffins Ghoul will support the latest Jack Ladder and The Dreamlanders tour throughout September and October in a double bill that will intersperse gothic, guitar-driven drone with automated wonderment. Wild times.

Here's what happened when we caught up with Jack Ladder post-Hurtsville to discuss the latest tour...

Nick Argyriou: So, you're in the Blue Mountains at present, having moved away from Kings Cross? How's the geographical shift treating the mind, body and soul?

Jack Ladder: I've been getting some mountain air and there's a big yard with lots of flowers, too.

NA: So is this is permanent move or an inbetweener?

JL: [Laughs] I think everywhere is an inbetweener when you're a musician but having not really had a [semi-permanent] home for seven years or something, this feels like a real home.

NA: You're gearing up for more Hurtsville album launches around the country. Feeling good to go after some time away from the scene?

JL: Yeah, it's a real challenge to figure out how to play the record live because there's so much depth and it's about getting the right sounds. Like, unless you're playing with the actual [recorded] sounds, the songs feel very different. For this tour we're using a lot of technology to recreate it and that's interesting to me to figure it all out.

NA: Technology landed you in some early bother on your recent Melbourne Warpaint support. Tell us about that.

JL: [Cringes] We'e since changed that technology. Because the record is built around a drum machine; a really crappy old organ drum machine with a bunch of effects on it processing away, we need to play against that for the record to feel right. To play without the drum machine is to totally lose the atmosphere of the songs.

NA: Your guitarist Kirin J Callinan's relationship with you is intriguing. There's verve and tension simmering away on stage between you there.

JL: Kirin and I have a strange relationship where we haven't known each other for that long, but ever since we have we've been really close. We've always lived fairly close to each other and talk regularly, and we shared a small studio apartment in LA together in 2010 for three months, so you learn a lot about each other in confined spaces.

NA: Such as?

JL: Well, Kirin plays very fucking loud! This is something that aggravates some people and sound guys hate him because they can never put him through the mixer right because of his feedback levels. We did a show in Bondi the other week and half the room walked out after the second song because he was so loud, but personally I love that... Our show has to have certain physical elements to it otherwise it becomes background music.

NA: Who are your and Kirin's musical heroes when it comes to big vocal and shredding guitars - early Birthday Party, Devastations?

JL: Bands like Swans I like, and Suicide also. Bands that have that industrial, aggressive sound are great, and that sound is part of what we do, but there’s also the balance of getting the sentiment across through the emotion of the lyric and the delivery.

NA: Ever figured out why Kirin loves to whip the shirt off and go bare-chested so much - is there a bit of a Richey James Edwards [Manic Street Preachers] complex there?

JL: [Laughs] He goes for the Jesus Christ pose. Kirin likes to take his clothes off because he gets hot quite quickly and has this internal cooling problem. As soon as it's showtime he gets very excited and sweats out nervous energy, so he takes his shirt off so his skin cells can breathe. He needs to learn about cotton because a lot of his clothing is polyester and old women's shirts, but if I can get him onto a good tailor... [Laughs] we'll see.

NA: What are the keys to making the Jack Ladder and The Dreamlanders live sets a booming triumph for the band?

JL: The way our music is written is quite freeform, so it's about entering a world like a meditative state and we all must sink into it together. For us it is about restraint and focus because we [ensure] we don't play a lot, like showing off, and the funny thing is that although Kirin's so loud, he’s very restrained when he plays with me. So musically it's less [playing], but theatrically there's more scope to take his pants off or whatever [Laughs].

NA: Too many bands out there don't deal in your methodology of restraint and suffer because of it.

JL: It's an interesting thing because most of the time I see bands overplaying on their instruments. I like it when someone stops playing their instrument and allows the songs to breathe by being minimal, and it's definitely something we work towards.

NA: You've spoken at length about recording tactics with Burke Reid near Yass in country New South Wales last year, but I hear the Hurtsville sound was influenced by something altogether unexpected?

JL: Yeah, it was the food that we cooked all this rich winter food. Breakfast for dinner and vice versa. Scrambled eggs with blue cheese and like baked beans with vintage cheddar through it as well as other cheesy, creamy, thick foods and it's something that probably seeped into the thickness and the texture of the record.

NA: The band immersed themselves in the recording sessions staying at the 115-year-old Blackburn Estate mansion in the woods for the whole month?

JL: We did. There were rats in the attic and it was winter and real cold. The rats got to most of my clothes putting holes in them. It was quite insane spending a month there.

NA: Any weird moments or night terrors to speak of? Cows with guns?

JL: There was a bit if that [weirdness], like we had this briefcase that we brought with us. It had two oscillators in it and a spring with piezo pickups on it, so when you hit the spring it would sound like a piano falling out of a building. Inside the wax from the homemade box looked like blood and was really creepy and made this horrible sound like ghosts. We called it the 'Box of Blood' and it used to go missing. At the strangest times we'd find it, in like vacant bedrooms under beds and outside the front door sometimes.

NA: Yet that wasn't the creepiest part of the experience, was it?

JL: [Laughs] Yeah the strangest, most horrible things that were happening were these guitar sounds Kirin was making at five o'clock in the morning. It was like how you see and hear in the film Titanic how the ship grinds up against the icebergs!

Words: Nick Argyriou

By SOPHIE, 21 September 2011
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