They can’t decide if they’re more like The Travelling Wilburys, The Highwaymen or The Three Tenors, but one thing is sure – they’re none of those. They’re Basement Birds, a unique teaming of four of Australia’s premier singer/songwriters within the one group.
It would be easy to say that their debut album, (to be unveiled in three track bundles on iTunes from June) came together during an idyllic, boozy long, lost weekend on the coast. But with Kevin Mitchell’s highly successful Bob Evans guise, Josh Pyke’s ongoing solo triumph, Kav Temperley’s tenure as Eskimo Joe frontman and Steve Parkin headed towards a long-awaited debut solo album, it would take three years for this quartet to start its roll.
“Steve and I have a gazillion hair-brained schemes,” says Kav. “And I was determined that this hair-brained scheme would actually see itself to its end.”
Hair-brained or not, once the idea was set in place its first steps happened in separate corners, bringing the other two protagonists into place. With Steve performing in the Bob Evans touring band at the time, he and Kevin found moments during downtime to pen a worthy first tune, Waiting For You. Meanwhile, Josh Pyke had joined Eskimo Joe on a national tour and began exchanging ideas with Kav.
The notion was now set in place as a reality, but the four were yet to convene in the same room together (in fact this has only occurred during four week-long writing/recording sessions that have taken place since mid-2009). Plenty of calls and emails were exchanged though, and the initial vision of recording an acoustic-based, organic release that referenced their mutual love of the likes of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Wilco held true until the foursome were able to gather when new flavours emerged as momentum took shape.
“Luckily we all seem to have fairly similar tastes in music,” Steve says. “I think it’d be harder if we had someone who was into death metal and another into jazz fusion. That’d be tough (laughs). There’s enough common ground between the four of us.”
As the four converged on Kav’s home studio in Fremantle more often, the entity took shape beyond the idea. Early sessions took a more emotional, sentimental sway with songs such as Waiting For You and Holly coming to fruition. Later sessions saw the breezy Skin Of The Sky transform from something more ponderous in 3-4 time, to a more uptempo song that changed the mood of the sessions and resulted into the album’s most upbeat number, the spontaneously written Bustop.
Other songs such as The Hardest Part and You’re Not The One were similarly created together and recorded afterwards, with the vibe and momentum of the initial energy kept intact. Importantly, they could not only finish each other’s songs, but start them together on the same page as well.
The biggest disagreements? ‘What’s for dinner?’ and ‘who’s going to go on the beer run?’
“The only hard thing has been logistics, everything else about it has been easy,” Josh says.
“Every week-long session that we’ve done we’ve been able to gather more momentum,’ Kevin notes. “With every song we’ve collaborated on and recorded it’s just gotten easier and easier. We’ve become far more like a functioning group.”
Kav points out that that each songwriter’s willingness to put preciousness aside and let the songs go where they need has been a major part of the success of the collaboration. As each member is a fan of each other’s work, self-confidence has gone hand-in-hand with confidence in each other and the results are enlightening. Those four-part harmonies coming from four celebrated lead singers are the icing on the cake.
“You can throw references around but at the end of the day it’s just become the sum of its parts,” says Josh. “I reckon you can really hear each songwriter in each of the songs, whether it’s harmonies or a little vocal line, which is a really cool thing.”
It is, as you will discover when Basement Birds gradually unveil themselves on iTunes and live on stages around the country in mid-2010.
WHICH BIRD BRINGS WHAT TO THE BASEMENT…
KAV ON KEVIN…
“It’s really interesting for me having Kevin as part of this because growing up in Perth he is almost like an elder statesman. Jebediah were the first band to break out of Perth, in our lifetime. His songwriting has obviously gone to many different places and he seems to have this amazing ability to roll out these ditties. He writes quite differently, I always write with words, they happen with melody at the same time, whereas with Kev he’ll just be like ‘de na na, de na na’ which frees him up to have these endless melodies that are just rolling out. If you let him go he just comes up with more and more continuous melodies… then you have to knuckle him down to write words (laughs). All our voices sit in different places so vocally, as well, he brings something that no one else does.”
KEV ON STEVE…
“Collaborative songwriting is probably Steve’s greatest strength. Knowing him as a friend it seems to be the thing that makes him the happiest. He’s an incredibly talented singer and songwriter in his own right, but there’s something about working with other people that really brings his confidence up. He’s just really, really good at working on other people’s songs and great at the harmonies on the group-focussed stuff.”
JOSH ON KAV…
“I wouldn’t say Kav is the driving force on this project because we all really want to do it but he’s definitely the one that rallies the troops. I’ve known Kav for about four years now and it’s just been really awesome hearing him play and sing songs that are true to what I know are his aesthetic sensibilities and what he listens to – which are quite a diversion from what people know him as with Eskimo Joe. Whereas for me, this project is not so much a diversion from what I do normally. Hearing a song like Holly, it’s like early Stones. It’s just cool to hear that kind of organic, folksy sensibility that he has expressed… and expressed really well. He’s been lifted up by his passion for this project.”
STEVE ON JOSH…
“I’ve always liked Josh’s stuff, going back to his first few EPs. I really like the way he records and what he does with sounds. He’s a great lyricist – he has a great turn of phrase, as they say. But he can really nail a melody, too. That guy, in a melodic sense, is amazing. He’s got a very good work ethic - I tend to be easily distracted, as does young Kevin Mitchell, sometimes. He’s happy to collaborate as well. He fixed my song up, so I’m pretty happy with the guy.”