Monthly Archives: January 2014

There’s something about…


At the start of a year I find myself thinking back to what I was doing same time, last year. It’s odd because, until recently, I rarely had a January off since early Uni days and it was always similar. When I was writing my PhD, I’d cloister myself away in my office while all the academics had left for the year. Looking back, I don’t actually think we were allowed on campus during the Uni shutdown. But nothing was going to stop me one year from having a quiet space to try to make sense of Vernon Lee’s 1913 little pink tome, The beautiful: An introduction to psychological aesthetics. The study of aesthetics is quite tied into the psychological study of empathy (my PhD topic). As an aide, I will be revisiting that work when I finish a review article later in the year. For now, all I remember her writing about was imagining a mountain “rising”. As another aside, and in truth, I had two work spaces at the University. One office was on the campus where I tutored, and consisted of inbuilt wooden furniture and a wash basin. The other was a cubicle in an open-plan office where the director had an unrealised dream to install a spiral staircase from our offices down to the photocopier on the bottom floor. We settled on a water cooler.

Well, last year at about this time I was in a wedding for dear friends of mine. Five days later Bob and I boarded a plane to Singapore for a week trip there and to Penang. I always get sick on overseas holidays. It might be my body’s subconscious way of maintaining my “suck the enjoyment out of everything” stance, even when I am using hotel-provided Malin+Goetz. In Paris my friend Carlo had to put up with me sniffing my way through Printemps. When a group of us travelled around the U.S. a couple of years ago, I got very ill with a bad throat infection in Orlando during our Disney jaunt. Running from Splash Mountain to It’s a Small World was no fun and I did doze during Carousel of Progress. Anyone who knows me would know I must have been sick to sleep through that.

On about the third or fourth day of being in Singapore, like clockwork I got my usual illness. Fortunately, we were heading to Penang and were going to say at the Golden Sands Resort on Batu Feringgi Beach. Now, a bad cold (and who, really, gets a cold in Singaporean weather?) at a resort can be a bad thing. It doesn’t really want to make you swim all day. It does prep you, however, to spend afternoons on a deck chair only lifting your head to order your next cocktail. By about the third or fourth, the lifting of the head has given way to a little grunt in the direction of the waiter and a head lift abandoned part way through due to a lack of the needed amenities. When we moved on to the Eastern & Oriental Hotel we had a door in the room that led out to the stunning pool and, best of all (for me; an idle holiday was Bob’s worst nightmare) more deckchairs!

What do you mean you've run out of maraschino cherries?
What do you mean you’ve run out of maraschino cherries?

It was in Singapore and Penang under the struggle of my delicate condition (kind of like Ingrid Bergman’s anxious opera singer in Gaslight, although I always fancied myself more the Angela Lansbury tart character) that I continued reading Nat Luurtsema’s wonderful Cuckoo in the Nest. In it Nat details her move back home to her parents when the Real World (i.e. the recession) meant that she and her boyfriend couldn’t find a new apartment after moving out of their cosy but happy (“Despite the squash, Craine and I rarely argued but I suspect it was because there wasn’t room to gesticulate. If you folded your arms, you got wedged and only buttered elbows set you free.”) north London flat.

Nat Luurtsema. Photo: Nat Luurtsema: Tea Sodden Clown
Nat Luurtsema.
Photo: Nat Luurtsema: Tea Sodden Clown

Nat is one of my favourite comedians. I think that the first thing I ever told her on Twitter was that I’d applied a mud mask to my face and then gone to answer a really long telephone call and, when I’d finished talking, I’d forgotten I had the mask on and so was convinced my face was paralysed. She was sympathetic and, if you read her book, you’ll see that she understands things like that. I really related to her from the first few pages:

“It didn’t help that my parents had long ago convinced themselves that I was a moron, and I was reluctant to leave behind a life of giddy freedom to return to a house where I was treated like a lunatic child. Years ago they decided: ‘Natalie may be good at school but she’s an idiot otherwise,’ and like the obedient mollusc I am, I grew into this persona until it fit like a stained glove. I swear I’m fairly competent most of the time, but the moment I’m back in the family home, all the jokes about my ineptitude make me paranoid and incapable. I blame their expectations of my idiocy for my…well, acts of idiocy. I guess they could claim that their expectations are founded on my years of idiocy, but at this point it would all get a bit Catch-22”.

Nat is a very gifted novelist and I found myself continuously stopping Bob reading his book (or the cocktail menu) to read him something she had said. You really must read it. I find it too daunting a task (these days, I find many a task daunting) to pick out some of my favourite bits, so I just flicked through the book and stopped at a random page. Here, Nat and (Tom) Craine are sent to find a neighbourhood cat that Nat’s mum worried looked “confused”:

“It was hard to know what this situation required, so I took the Financial Times, an abacus and Craine, who had chosen a poor day for a visit. He had already endured a 7am visit from mum tiptoeing through my bedroom humming ‘I’m not here, ignore me,’ while she dug some socks out of my drawer and he shielded his nipples. In recent years my bedroom had become a communal storage area and our semi-naked presence in it didn’t seem to make any difference. It was like living in a handbag”.

You can order Cuckoo in the Nest here.

And if audio is your game, you can download Jigsaw, Nat’s sketch comedy with Dan Antopolski and Tom Craine here.

Well, almost a year to the day, I am awfully pleased for Nat who has been nominated (with director Ben Mallaby) for a 2014 Best British Short Film BAFTA for Island Queen, which she wrote and starred in. You can watch that here and, again, you really must.

So, who knows, what 2014 will bring. Hopefully, I’ll finish some new writing projects at work. And I was thinking of buying a new vase. Lemme know which one you want the update on in 2015. Finally, if you head to Penang, make your way to Kebaya restaurant in the Seven Terraces Hotel, Georgetown.

A feeling of familiarity near the magnificient Kek Lok Si Temple
A feeling of familiarity near the magnificient Kek Lok Si Temple

Why didn’t they ask Evans?

Photo: Bob Evans Official Website
Photo: Bob Evans Official Website

Back in August 2010, Kevin Mitchell was wrapping up a tour with the Basement Birds – a teaming of four premier Australian singer/songwriters: Kev, Steve Parkin, Josh Pyke, and Kav Temperley – and had completed recording the first full-length album from his group Jebediah since 2004, Kosciuszko. He’d also been touring solo under his, well, stage name… but it’s so much more, Bob Evans. This is the first time this interview has appeared anywhere (see the About Adam page for why). It’s a reminder of what we were all doing three years ago (seems there was an Australian Federal election, and a drawn out one at that) and a prelude of Kev’s thoughts about the direction of his music and what was to be realised with the 2013 Bob Evans’ effort, Familiar Stranger. When he’s not graciously accepting compliments on Twitter for his sausage (rest assured, most of these people are mistaking him for the unrelated restaurant chain and sausage maker), he’s graciously answering questions from people like me. He’s good that way.         


Adam: You’ve been touring with the Basement Birds. What has that experience been like?
Kev: It’s been great. The Basement Birds collaboration has been a part of my life for nearly four years now so it’s been wonderful to see it all come to fruition. I always suspected that Josh and I would do something together one day after we became friends back in 2006 as we share so much in common musically and our audience crosses over so much. I never suspected that it would be in this kind of scenario though. I think it’s been quite therapeutic and revelatory in a way to write with and spend so much time talking with three other songwriters because you learn so much from how other people do things and you also find comfort from hearing about other people’s creative struggles and how they deal with them. I think being an artist or a creative person professionally is quite an insular job. It is my job to write songs on my own that reflect my thoughts and feelings. Sometimes when you face challenges or difficulties you think that you are the only one who faces them. Spending time with other songwriters makes you realise that we all face similar creative challenges.

Adam: And recording again with Jebediah? What’s next for the band?
Kev: Jebediah have finished a new album and we will be releasing it early 2011. It’s a very different record for us and I’m really excited about it. It’s the first real “studio” album we have ever made. Every other album has been recorded quite traditionally. We write a bunch of songs, play them live a bunch of times and then go in to studio and bash them out in a few weeks. This time round we had barely played the songs live, we wrote a few of them in the studio and we really used the studio as an instrument.  I think it’s a really interesting record – which it had to be otherwise we would have had no real reason to make another record after all these years.

Adam: Now, on that Bob. As a collection Suburban Kid, Suburban Songbook and Goodnight, Bull Creek! demonstrate a lot of continuity as well as difference. Themes of the past but trying to live in the present, concern for the world, war, fraternity, success and failure and putting that in perspective – and, of course, love. Spanning at least seven years, how has your approach to your music changed (if it has), and how has Kevin Mitchell?
Kev: I suppose when I first started writing Bob Evans songs I was writing songs to be performed live where as over time it has become more about making records. That’s probably the biggest way in which my approach has changed. I still love playing live and I want to write songs that I can perform by myself with a guitar down at the pub but I have become much more interested in recording over the last five years. I think performing live came very naturally to me and right from day one I felt like I knew what I was doing. As for recording, I knew absolutely nothing about it at first so there was so much to learn. I only think I’ve started getting good at it on the last three records I’ve made (the last two Bob albums and the new Jebediah record). In most other respects I think my approach toward music is much the same, only I have higher standards for myself now which can make the process more difficult. Stylistically I do feel like Bob Evans has made the records that he was designed to make. It took ten years but in 1998 I started Bob Evans as an outlet to write acoustic, country leaning music and eventually I got to make albums in Nashville that I am really proud of. The thing is, I don’t really listen to that kind of music much anymore. My tastes haven’t changed as such, because I still like that music, they have just broadened. So now I want to make an album that reflects that broadening.

Adam: A difficult question, but what are a couple of songs from those albums that are really special to you and why?
Kev: “Nowhere Without You” is really special to me. It was the first song I ever wrote on an instrument that wasn’t a guitar. I just think I stumbled upon something really special with the “feel” of the song and I think I will always love it. Everything off Suburban Songbook is very special to me because it documents a watershed moment in my life, both personally and professionally, that will never happen again.
Songs like “Turn” and “For Today” off Suburban Kid are special to me because they are so personal and also really naive. Hearing those songs and those lyrics are like reading an old diary from a decade ago. It kind of makes me smile and also really confounds me.
Songs off Bull Creek like “Wintersong”, “Pasha Bulker” and “Someone So Much” are special to me but they are also quite sad so I guess I tend not to dwell on them so much.  Perhaps in five years time they won’t seem so sad to me.

Adam: You’ve been playing everything from small pubs to supporting Keith Urban, as well as your recent tours overseas [UK and Ireland with Powderfinger and solo shows in Spain; check out Kev’s travel blogs here]. What do you like about live performing and touring and what do you find challenging?
Kev: I love performing live.  I’ve been doing it since I was five years old. I acted in plays all through high school and even in to University so the stage feels totally natural to me. That doesn’t mean I don’t fear it sometimes. I try to respect it. Perhaps it’s like a surfer’s relationship with the ocean. I guess I have never given much thought as to why I love performing because I’ve always just done it. Obviously there is something instinctive going on that I’ve never really questioned. I know that after a good performance I feel wonderfully happy and after a bad one I feel terrible. I guess performing makes you feel alive. It’s like a short sharp burst of hyper reality, where every thought and feeling is amplified. There are many things that are challenging about performing. The travel wears you down as the years go by. I’m 32 and I’ve been touring since I was 18. It affects me more than it used to. The monotony of plane and car travel and the distance from loved ones. Every night you want to have the best show of your life and sometimes you just don’t feel that great. But sure enough, once you get on stage something happens and you feel re-energised again. I still love travelling overseas, especially Europe. That’s the only time now when I feel that same sense of adventure that I used to feel when I first started touring around Australia.

Adam: I read your recent article in The West Australian (6/8/2010), Sex. lies and one too many parties [this was right before the 2010 Australian Federal Election]. Regardless of parties or personalities, socially and politically what worries you and what gives you hope?
Kev: I feel ashamed that we allow Indigenous communities to live in third world conditions in some parts of the country and I hate that we allow people to go homeless in the cities. Australia is one of the most affluent countries in the world and the majority of people enjoy an amazing standard of living and quality of life. But I believe we should judge ourselves not by how well the wealthiest people live but by how well the poorest people do and unfortunately people sleeping on the streets and indigenous communities living in poverty reflects very badly on us as a people. I think we could afford to be more charitable in general.
I was filled with lots of hope when Barack Obama won the presidency in the U.S.  It was pretty scary there for a while when you saw what the alternative was and that the people might choose them! I was so relieved that America made the choice that it did, a compassionate one, because it impacts on everybody and I do believe that the majority of people in the world are compassionate.

Adam: What’s up next?
Kev: I will spend the rest of this year playing the odd festival with Basement Birds and preparing for the release of the new Jebediah album. Next year will be all about releasing the Jebs album and touring it. And all the while I will be writing and demoing new songs for Bob. I’m pretty much doing that continuously. I’m looking forward to being ready to make a new Bob album next year.

Adam: And, finally, just to get my Barbara Walters on: if you were a tree, what type would you be?
Kev: I don’t know much about trees. I’d be something average but durable.

Adam: Anything you would like to say that I haven’t asked?
Kev: I’m hungry.  I’m going to go make some toast.


Kevin Mitchell wound up 2013 with his “Good Evans, It’s Xmas!” series of shows at the Northcote Social Club (High St, VIC). His latest album, Familiar Stranger, was released in March 2013 and nominated for an ARIA for Best Adult Contemporary Album (pipped to the post by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds for Push the Sky Away). As a familial aside, Joey Waronker is drummer on Familiar Stranger and the son of my good friend, Donna Loren.

Stop on by Kev’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Oh, if I’ve piqued your interest regarding the Bob Evans Farms, Inc. you can find them online too.

Kevin & Adam before the Basement Birds show at The Metro Theatre, George St., Sydney (August 20, 2010).
Kevin & Adam before the Basement Birds show, The Metro Theatre, Sydney (August 20, 2010).


Kevin and Adam after the Bob Evans Familiar Stranger Tour show at Fowler's Live, North Tce., Adelaide (April 27, 2013).
Kevin & Adam after the Bob Evans Familiar Stranger Tour Adelaide show at Fowler’s Live (April 27, 2013).