When The Antipodeans contacted me after my first post on their debut single, talk quickly went to a possible interview and I’m always looking to improve the scope of PPM and conducting interviews is a direction I’m moving in lately. So, in defiance of the insane schedule I’ve been living in for the last month, we scheduled one for last week where we got right down to brass tacks with the pair of Mark Vick and Dan Muller, who come from the DJ world, but cross into the sort of Synth Rock turf that’s our beat here at PPM.
Mr. Vick [a.k.a. Mark Dynamix] had run the operations of Ministry Of Sound Australia and his partner Mr. Muller [a.k.a. Xan Müller] have been doing the odd dance projects together [in 2018, Muller remixed Vick’s “Salt 2.0” track] but have decided that they wanted to explore the type of Australian synth-rock from around 40 years ago. And what better way to engage with that style than to rework a classic single by Icehouse; a highly beloved band at PPM. They couldn’t have attracted my attention more strongly even if they had shown up on my doorstep with a bullhorn.
Of the two, Mr. Muller was the quieter, thoughtful guy, with some perceptive insights about the vein they were mining, while Mr. Vick was clearly the gregarious one who plowed right into the topic of the new single.
STARTING WITH A CLASSIC
Mark Vick: Yeah, the single comes out on Friday, around the world, really. It’s not just in Australia. The vinyl’s been out for three weeks now and you’ve obviously done your review on that, so thank you very much. That was really unexpected, and great to see.
Post-Punk Monk: That was not the review. I’m writing the review now and I’m halfway through it. The review could be 2000 words, because I’m a bit long winded. It’ll go into some depth. That was just promoting an interesting project. To the extent that I could talk about it. Just a little blip on the radar because I was reading about it in the Steve Hoffman forum, and one of my readers sent me a link to it and I said “I’ve got to find time to look into this.” Of course, once I looked into it…I liked it a lot. You’ve warmed the cockles of an old Icehouse fan’s heart with your rework.
Dan Muller: [laughs]
P: That’s all I ask.
M: We’re all good Australians, you know, so they’re one of the best Australian bands ever to come out. For us it was one of the turning points really from Australian Rock + Roll into dabbling in electronic music. That early on in 1982 with “Hey Little Girl” and that “Primitive Man” album. It sort of made sense for us. We put this band together; myself and Danny, really because we wanted to pay homage to the original synth pop artists of Australia. Being Antipodeans, it’s all Australian music. And what better place to start than Icehouse, really? I think they were pretty much one of the first. There were Mi-Sex before them, a few other bands, but really Icehouse took it seriously. And the whole album with “Great Southern Land” and that whole “Primitive Man” album. You know of course their previous album, [as Flowers], was a bit more Rock-y, so this is where we’re starting. With our project with this track and then they’ll be lots more stuff to come.
P: How would you define the mission of The Antipodeans. What is your mission statement? In terms of what you plan to do, what you hope to do, and what you look out to do?
M: Well, we don’t want to give everything away at the start. We want to kind of surprise people. I think that was the whole idea with “Hey Little Girl.” It was a surprise. It kind of came from left field. It came out of nowhere. But it kind of fits in with our trajectory where we see ourselves going. It also fits in with what Icehouse are doing as well. They’re going back to their “Primitive Man” album and doing a tour next year. I’m sure you’ve seen the ads for the “Great Southern Land Tour?” It’s perfect timing. I think it’s 40 years, Danny, isn’t it? Since “Primitive Man” came out?
D: Yeah, exactly.
P: That’s a record I bought for my birthday when I was 19 years old. September of ’82. [Laughs] I remember the store. I remember everything.
M: So that’s a time and place there, isn’t it? When you buy a record, you remember exactly where you bought it from. As a DJ, you remember when you played it, and the reaction you got from it, and that kind of sets the tone for the rest of your life. Does that record work on a dance floor or not? From me it was probably a little different from Danny. Danny was brought up in Australia. I was brought up in England and we had a different set of music over there. Different bands obviously. Tears For Fears. Depeche Mode. Human League. Things like that. So I found out about “Primitive Man” much, much, much later. After the fact. It was 1987 when I came out to Australia. And I sort of went back and went “wow, this is really good stuff…why have I not heard about it?” It’s not a million miles away from the Human League, or Tears For fears. in fact, it’s probably closer to Tears For Fears than anyone else. Because it’s that hybrid of Rock + Roll and dance music…electronic music, you know? So ,when I found that album I was really excited. The whole album from start to finish was just amazing.
P: It is. It’s very consistent. I listened to that album heavily, until the next one came out. It’s interesting that you mentioned that. The attitude in England that I remember in the English music press at the time was that they were very condescending to Oz bands. They were just very dismissive, I felt. But it was clear to me that Iva Davies was a man who had done his homework. And he’d done his homework very well. And he’s got a Classical background.
M: I don’t just think that was Icehouse. I think that was any band that electronic components, you know? Bands like early Pet Shop Boys and Soft Cell, for instance. They were sort of classed as “pansy music.”
P: Not “Real Rock.”
M: It’s not real because it doesn’t have guitars in it. You know it took ten years for that attitude to change. It didn’t really change until the early 90s. Where you started to see that people that used to be into Rock + Roll…even Heavy Metal, coming along to dance music. Or even raves. Because they liked the intensity of it. Of the music played at raves, which was kind of on par with the intensity at a Heavy Metal concert. That attitude, especially the NME, who were very Indie and Rock-based. They put the electronic acts down but look who’s had the last laugh. Electronic music exploded in the end and is taken just as seriously now, of course. More so than it was in the 1980s and early 90s.
P: So, what I liked about the rework was that I listened to it and thought “these guys probably grew up with Icehouse.” And to a certain extent, I guess I was on target with that. I was just taking a guess. Your decision to rebuild the track in both a traditional and remix version worked out great because the song’s emotional core was retained throughout that. So, there’s an integrity no matter where you take the chassis…no matter which road you’re driving on. Whether it’s the nu-disco road or the synth wave road, it’s still the right song. It still has all of Iva’s performance in it, so that’s very appreciated.
M: As you said one of the aims of The Antipodeans is to remain faithful to the original tracks but modernize them in a way that we want to take it but also fits with a modern audience. And introduce younger people to the act that maybe haven’t heard them before. Such great tunes, such great songwriting. Which can be done in any form, really. You could do that song acoustically. You could do it as we’ve done in sort of an electro style. An electro breaks style, I’d guess you’d say. And the nu-disco style as well.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF THE ART OF MIXING
M: In fact, we’re doing some more mixes of it for a remix package later on. We’ll take it in a more progressive trance direction as well. That’s not out yet, of course, but that’ll be something that we’ll put out later on. Maybe as a remix package, or maybe as an album or something like that. We’re not sure. That’s a credit to Iva’s songwriting. You know? And the songs stand up in whatever direction you take it.
And to be honest, the stems that we got, from Iva, were so immaculately recorded and perfectly transferred to digital off the reel-to-reel tape. It kind of made it quite easy for us to just sort of drop it into the project and build the track around it. Because it already sounded amazing. Listening to those stems like the Prophet V synth by itself, which just has this amazing swirling effect to it all the way through the song …I mean that’s my favorite part of the song. The bit that hooked me in. And I remember the original 12” extended version with that track from 1982 had a really long section with just the Prophet V in it so I think Iva really liked that bit as well, because he made that a good three minutes of the extended version just instrumental with it.
So, we definitely wanted to keep that in there, and we obviously had to have the vocal and you know, we were thinking “do we re-use some of the other parts like the bass line?” We were quite conscious of the fact that the bass line was different in the Australian/UK version to the version that came out in the US. And we kind of liked the funkiness and the bounce that the US bass line had. Which was a little bit more structured. The Australian was little bit more sort of flowing, freeform playing. And then the US one sort of more structured and more of a loop…a recorded loop. So, we decided we wanted to re-create the electronic bass line and re play some of the notes from that US bass line, and that was the beginning of our remix, really. Getting that bass line right. I’m talking about our main mix. The radio and extended, not the disco version. Once we got that bass line down and were really happy with it, then all of the other stuff just sort of fell into place.
I think we actually re-used the snare drum and put a big “Phil Collins” type gated reverb on it. We used the same snare. Made it bigger and larger, and reverbed, and then put that in the track. Is that right, Danny, I’m trying to remember now. It was a little while ago.
D: We definitely had that snare laid in there, I recall. We had to kind capture the spirit of the original. So, we didn’t want to stray too far from the kind of sound stage of the original. Having the original parts there to work with was really good luck. All the instrumental parts. It was interesting putting the vocal in because we realized that it was tuned differently, for one thing. It was at A [442Hz] instead of A [440Hz] so we had to retune all of the synths, or we retuned the vocal digitally. And the other thing was that because it was recorded on tape, back in the day and transferred to digital, it wasn’t quite at a set tempo. The tempo was like 133.065 BPM, or something. And it kind of went out of time and stuff a little bit. Obviously, you don’t notice in the recording when you’re listening to it, but when you’re pulling it into a grid in your software, you’ve got to move those tiny little bits. I think we spent a good month adjusting things to just them bang on right to get it in that modern framework of being locked in time.
P: Well, that is the modern framework. That helps to actually differentiate the song from the original version. That’s what you have to do, really. That’s putting your stamp on it.
M: And you touched on that in your early review when you said that it was heavily quantized and I thought well yeah, we have. We actually had every single phrase of Iva has been moved right on the beat and any other parts that we brought into it. It’s all been very, very precise. But that’s the style, you know? And that’s what works for that main mix.
TRACKS VERSUS SONGS
P: One thing I find fascinating of course is that your backgrounds are as DJs and how important was it for you to leave your DJ comfort zone with this project? Because it’s sort of halfway into Pop/Rock. Halfway into Dance aesthetics.
D: That’s interesting. It’s kind of like a dichotomy in beat-based music between a “track” and a song. And traditionally, in a remix, often when you’re taking a DJ or dance floor approach you might grab a little bit of the vocal, repeat it ad nauseam, or you might play with a lot of effects and that sort of stuff. Our approach with these was when you hear the original music, you bring it into the software and it’s all in front of you there and you hit “play” on all of the various layers and you play them all together and it plays the song perfectly in front of you and listening to this beautiful vocal that was recorded on analog equipment in the 80s and it’s absolutely gorgeous and you can hear some of the track spilling through from his headphones, into the microphone on his vocal. And you start to really feel then authenticity of that and I think the thing that Mark and I have in common is that although we’re working on something that is from the 80s, we’re not taking the sort of kitsch or cynical, or satirical approach. And one thing about 80s music that is forgotten is that it was really about wearing your heart on your sleeve. And we’ve decided to honor that and really keep it a song. And that’s fundamentally different to a “track.” I think that’s the difference. So, a bit of it is kind of like paying respect to the heritage of that music. But then just kind of letting the material speak and being inspired by that. Instead of cutting it all up and sort of…especially something that’s beloved.
M: Well, I agree with that Danny. You can go in that direction and turn it into a dance floor track, which is still fine for the dance floor, where it’s just sampling…loops one of Iva’s vocal and put a completely different track underneath. We kind of toyed with that early on and dismissed it very early on to be honest. It’s not where we want The Antipodeans project to go. We want to, as we said, pay homage to these original tracks. And we’ll also be putting out our originals as well, later on. Within the sort of synthpop huge spectrum. It all leads into us doing our own original stuff, and also taking some of these classic songs into a new place.
And the thing is, you know, if you want to do a track version for the dance floor, there’s always scope to do that in a remix package or some sort of remixes that you get from other people of the track, or whatever. We kind of have complete scope to do what we want with it. It is on our label, so to speak, so we have total permission from Icehouse, Iva and management, and their label and everything to take it in that direction if we want to go. It’s quite a rare thing, to be honest. Just talking, publishing wise, it’s quite a rare thing to have such scope to do with something that is so beloved. So, we can only take our hats off to Iva and management as well. We’re very thankful for the opportunity, but we hope we’ve done the song justice with our new version for 2021.
P: Oh, absolutely.
D: They’re good people to work with.
THE ORIGINS OF THE PROJECT
P: So, was this project initiated by you? You went to Iva’s people, correct? And said “we would like to do this” or were you asked to do it?
M: I have a connection with Iva’s management through my previous publishing deal and the idea came up in a phone conversation about a year ago. Danny and I had already been toying with the idea of doing a Synthpop project or a band or some sort of touring thing. The idea initially was to start off with a few singles and then turn it into something that we could take around Australia as a band with vocalists. So were already toying with that and this just sort of happened one day and we decided to stop what we were doing on that other thing, and get straight into the ICEHOUSE track. The other tracks will come out of course, down the track. It was a little bit of having the connection there with management previously and having the passion to take something like this onboard. And also timing. Which is so important.
We were coming out of a pandemic at the moment, and throughout the pandemic people have been rediscovering their old record collections. And during this time, they want music that they know, can sing along to, and is safe. And that doesn’t mean to say that it has to be cheesy. It could be something that is still modern and taken in a new direction, but still familiar. So as Danny says, it’s not kitsch. It’s not taking the piss, so to speak. It’s not serious either, we just want people to enjoy it. We want to have fun with it. Really get into it and take it home and love this. It’s so much like Icehouse but in a fresh form. And that’s really all we wanted to achieve with it. It’s a platform for The Antipodeans to start, but it’s also doing it in a respectful way for Icehouse.
WHAT’S NEXT IN THE CHUTE?
P: That’s excellent. I was just wondering if there’s any other Australian synth rock bands that I could be hearing in the future like Pseudo Echo or Real Life. That first Psuedo Echo album, “Autumnal Park,” that was fantastic. I got the American version of that when it came out. And Real Life was actually the third concert I actually saw live. They were touring America in 1983, opening up for Berlin.
D: It’s great that you mentioned those bands, because they’re the kind of acts that we play a lot of in the studio. But obviously, we’re looking at a wide variety of classic Australian synth-pop songs.
P: Well that’s great to hear. That makes me happy. I know you guys are on the right track, because I’m older and wiser. I can tell this.
M: Look, we both have a long history in music and all through the 80s and 90s we grew up with this stuff. it’s not like it’s a new thing that’s been dropped in our lap and go “oh, let’s go back and discover Icehouse, I didn’t know who they were.” We grew up with these acts they’ve been our beloved acts since that time.
D: I was just going to say on the Facebook forums, because obviously we’re doing the rounds with the social media at the moment, and there are people saying they’re never going to listen to our remix because they don’t want to spoil the original. And I actually totally understand that because you actually can’t ever outdo the original. It’s too close to a lot of peoples’ hearts. I kind of like that as well. I feel like I might even be one of those people if I wasn’t one of the people doing the project. You just can’t beat the purity and sincerity of the original, but hopefully we’ve done it a little bit of justice.
P: Absolutely, you’ve done it justice.
M: I totally get that as well, because sometimes when one of my beloved UK acts come out with something… say Depeche Mode. And then there’s a whole new remix or something, I kind of go “I don’t know if I want to hear this because I don’t want to be disappointed? Even when Pet Shop Boys come out with a new album…you know their latest albums have been a little bit wishy washy. I buy it and I put it on the shelf, and I won’t listen to it for a while because I’ve got to gin myself up. Am I going to be disappointed? I don’t want to be disappointed. And I think that might be the case with some Icehouse fans. And that’s totally fine and understandable. But I think that if they do delve into it, they’ll find that we’ve done it justice. And given it a lot of love.
D: It’s like Star Wars or something. We’re in an age of recycling existing properties. Luckily this isn’t one of those cases of corporate greed taking something and basically destroying it for profit. This is two guys in the studio sharing their love of music. So, it’s a bit different.
M: And it’s totally on an independent label as well, and that proves Danny’s point. This is something that is totally all done between us; myself and Danny. Even the vinyl, we’re shipping it from our homes. We’ve had it pressed up in Australia by ourselves. The store where people can buy the vinyl is completely our store. There’s no commercial label or anything associated with it. So, it’s very grass roots.
FINDING THE PASSION
P: It’s obvious that you put a lot of effort into making the finest quality product because the disc itself is just beautiful. There are no pennies being pinched there, obviously. [the anti-static inner sleeve is a dead giveaway…]
D: It’s a case of trying to distill a fine wine. You’ve got the earth that the vines grow in and you’ve got the grapes themselves, and you’ve got the barrels where it’s stored in. It’s like, you’ve got the original source material in the music, and you’ve got your heart and soul into it, and the artwork to match it, the vinyl sleeve and the record itself. The tangible product that you get in the post. It’s the craft and the passion. There’s nothing better as a musician. You’re packing up a record that you made yourself, and you’re sending it off to someone in the audience. We absolutely can’t wait to have that engagement in a live setting as well. It’s just that passion.
P: I was just very fascinated to hear that you plan to have a live aspect to The Antipodeans, because that’s fascinating to me. I’m stuck over here in America; it’s not like I’m going to get a chance to see you guys.
M: I think it’ll all make sense once we have single number two, three, four out. And we definitely have those plans. Obviously in Australia it’s still a bit tricky, because every state has become its own country at the moment. So, it’s very hard to move around with freedom of movement. So, this probably won’t happen until we blow into next year. We’re not in any rush. We see this as a long-term project. This is not just a one off single. And I think that’s really important for the people who have bought the vinyl and are following this project. This is not just a flash in the pan type thing. We’re very serious about taking this thing further. And it’s really exciting, you know? It’s real exciting for us and I hope for the audience too.
P: It’s so exciting that on Friday, I’m buying copies of this and sending it to friends of mine who are very big Icehouse fans. They’re going to love this. I’ve got a friend in Florida who had involvement with the Spellbound people who run the Spellbound website [and fanzine]. He’s the guy who got me all my early Oz copies of the records. Because he had connections in Australia. My Icehouse collection is about half Australian, maybe forty percent America, with a few other scattered European pressings in there. I’ve got five or six copies of the first album. I’ve got the Flowers album, all the reissues, all the CDs. The original LP. The thing that annoys me is that the first pressing of the LP has the 4:45 minute version of “Can’t Help Myself” that has never gone to CD. Anywhere.
M: You are a true fan! Absolutely, a serious fan.
M: All the pressings from around the world kind of thing.
D: It’s good you’re talking to Mark because he is like a walking music encyclopedia. He is on the eternal search for this version, that version. The perfect beat from the 80s right through the 90s and the dance scene and everything. So you guys should have a whole other view about this. [laughs]
M: We’ll have a breakout conversation about alternative pressings!
P: We’ll have to have a sub-Zoom about that. I would love to be able to buy the record but it’s going to cost me a small fortune to get it from Australia.
M: Australian shipping is really nasty, that’s what we found. There is an option there [in the store] for Sendle, which is cheaper internationally. It still is pricey but sending something from the US to Australia is pricey as well.
P: Sending something anywhere now is pricey. And they’re trying to destroy the US Postal Service, so it’s all gone pear-shaped at the moment.
M: I think it’s $20-21 dollars from Australia to the US with Sendle, so it’s not as bad as using the main Australia Post shipping service which is about $28.
P: These days I am buying more and more downloads because that’s just the only way I can get the music. It’s either vinyl that costs a small fortune, or downloads. And the CD is just like a ghost now. It’s incredible. All right gentlemen, I appreciate your time and appreciate the music. Keep it going. I’m eager to hear what you’re doing next. I’m sure it will be very, very interesting.
My thanks to The Antipodeans for sharing some of their morning with me in the Northern Hemisphere even though such early hours are hardly rock + roll. I just finally sampled the ’97 remix of “Hey Little Girl” and it’s pretty much exactly what I was expecting. Trance mixes that pretty much obliterated the original song and groove. Not at all what we have now, so I’m looking forward to hearing what the next step is for The Antipodeans. That they want to have a live representation at some point down the line is pretty indicative that these DJs are interested in mixing thing up in the best way possible. And I’m eager to hear what their original music will sound like.