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Restless Leg interview: “we’ll be doing this for as long as it keeps on being fun”

We talk to the Sydney four-piece about their new album, ‘Dream Buffet’.

Sydney’s Restless Leg are singer/guitarist, Ben Chamie (Peabody); guitarist, Adam Taylor; bassist, Fiona Whalley; and drummer, Jared Harrison (Bluebottle Kiss).

Following 2017’s Some Kind of Restless, the band teamed up with Jamie Hutchings (Bluebottle Kiss, Infinity Broke) in the inner-west suburb of Marrickville to record their third album, Dream Buffet, which was released earlier this year.

Inspired from the Velvet Underground, the Go-Betweens, and the stable of Flying Nun artists from across the pond in New Zealand, Restless Leg produce the kind of sun-dappled sounds that drown out the gloomiest of days.  

From the Batsian chime of opening track, The World’s A Room and A Song About A Song, the ’60s reverence of Caught the Corners, and the acoustic splendour of In A Mirror Life, Restless Leg cover vast sonic landscapes whilst still maintaining the ability to add their own flavour to the broth.

It all leads into A King’s Canopy. Mixing the elements of The Clean and Brighten the Corners-era Pavement, A King’s Canopy is one of the finest closing tracks committed to tape in 2021.

All told, Dream Buffet consists of the finest songs the Sydney outfit have written; a modest collection of sounds that signifies a band just getting in the room and having fun doing what they do. It’s a continuation from Chamie‘s other band, Peabody, who have been a part of the Australian music landscape since the early ’00s with moderate success by way of radio airplay and national tours.

On the back of Dream Buffet, Chamie kindly answered our questions.

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Sun 13: How are you coping with the current lockdown?

Ben Chamie: “I’m coping as well as I can. From previous lockdowns and the whole pandemic generally I think I’ve learned to accept the uncertainties that come with these things. What else can you do?!”

S13: I’m assuming the shows you had scheduled to play before the lockdown went ahead. How were they?

BC: “Restless Leg played the first show of our Dream Buffet album launch tour at a little venue called The Servo in a little town called Port Kembla, about an hour’s drive south of Sydney. It was great.

“Port Kembla is like what I imagine some of those hollowed out rust-belt towns in the mid-west of the US, except its physical beauty is stunning. It’s hemmed in between a wild ocean beach and a rugged mountain escarpment. The support bands were great and the crowd very willing. The songs were well received. Next we were booked to play a couple of shows in Brisbane but I got a bad cold, so we canned the Brisbane leg of the tour in the hope that I’d be back in shape in time for our Sydney album launch show a week later.

“Of course, the lockdown restrictions were announced a couple of days before our Sydney show. So we played a grand total of one gig on our album tour before the lockdown. We’re currently rescheduling shows for later in the year.

S13: Can you tell us about the writing process to Dream Buffet?

BC: “The songs on Dream Buffet were written over about two to three years. First they came slowly and then they seemed to come more quickly, once we’d decided we were getting close to having enough to make an album. This was around 2019 and into 2020. At the time our drummer [Jared Harrison] was not able to join Fiona [Whalley – bass] and Adam [Taylor – guitar] and I for rehearsals. So, we ended up rehearsing and demoing acoustic versions of the songs in my lounge room.

“This turned out to be significant because Jamie Hutchings, who produced the record, thought the acoustic guitar was central to their charm and the acoustic guitar became a real feature of the record. Musically and lyrically the songs were inspired, as always, by what I was listening to, reading and smoking.”

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S13: I would say that it’s your best album yet, really homing in on all your strengths. Did it feel like that when you were recording the album?

BC: “I admit it felt great. The recording process is fun, exhilarating, exhausting, generally just full-on. As an artist, you’ve got all this great gear and expertise at your disposal. But it costs a bomb and you’ve got one chance to get it right. We were worried that we would run out of time. We had a lot of songs to get through, lots of guest musicians to come in over the last few days to lay down extra instrumentation – violin, flute, recorder, piano, keyboards. We worked hard and didn’t waste a minute. But the songs were sounding great when we were hearing takes back through our headphones and in the studio control room, even when they were raw and unmixed.”

S13: With Bluebottle Kiss and Peabody being a part of that early ’00s Sydney scene, I take it you’ve kept in touch with Jamie Hutchings since. What was it like to have him as a producer for Restless Leg?

BC: “It was good for me because I’ve worked with him before and I knew he could deliver what we wanted from the recording. Which was to emphasise the eccentricities of the songs’ and to make a distinctive and eclectic album. Fiona and Adam hadn’t worked with Jamie before and had to put their faith in Jamie’s method and didn’t agree with him on a few things. So that was good, they brought a bit of counterweight to the decision making. Whereas I just have complete faith in Jamie and go with whatever he suggested for each song. Jared plays drums for Peabody and has played in Jamie’s bands including Bluebottle Kiss, Infinity Broke and on some of Jamie’s solo projects so he is totally attuned to Jamie’s thinking.”

Restless Leg - Dream Buffet

S13: Caught the Corners has a real Jefferson Airplane/Velvet Underground vibe. How did this song come about?

BC: “I’ve always thought of the intro guitar riff, which the song is based around, as a Doors organ part being played on guitar. But I think you could also say it was inspired by another Sydney band called Songs, particularly their first self-titled album from 2012, in terms of the tinkly guitars and spoken word vocal. The almost spoken vocal is totally a Lou Reed thing. I can hear Jefferson Airplane in the flute and recorder notes that weave their way through the song. But the chorus is total Velvet Underground, via Spacemen 3’s brilliantly titled album: Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To. But back to how the song came about, just dicking around on a guitar.”

S13: In A Mirror Life is definitely one of the strongest songs of the album. It has a nostalgic quality, not sonically, but thematically. Do you remember writing this one?

BC: In A Mirror Life went through so many arrangements. But in the end, we went with a simple song structure that resembles some of its earliest demo versions.

“I’m glad you’ve picked up on this song. It is a nostalgia trip. For Christmas a couple of years ago my wife gave me a book by Vanessa Berry titled Mirror Sydney. It’s about Sydney’s unusual, forgotten or abandoned places and maps not the places on postcards or in travel brochures, but an alternative city, a mirror city. In A Mirror Life starts with the story of stumbling across an old photo album in a junk store and then imagines the possibilities of an alternate, mirror life. Musically tinged with alt-country guitar strums and which are complimented by Tim Kevin’s meandering Hammond organ parts, despite its simplicity this song is at the creative heart of RL’s Dream Buffet.”

S13: Kings Canopy is such an uplifting song. It’s a surprise that you finish the album with it. Was that by design?

BC: “Sequencing an album is a black art, equal parts diplomacy, ego-driven psycho-drama and attrition. But fairly early on in the process all the band agreed A King’s Canopy was a nice way to close the album for the same reason that it may have stood out for you, that it’s a gentle, but uplifting with the choral flourish at its end.”

S13: Knowing that arts funding is pretty much non-existent in Australia in comparison with other countries, how difficult is it to stay motivated and keep a band together for so long?

BC: “The conservative coalition has always seen us bleeding heart lefties in the arts sector as enemies and Australians seems to vote in conservative coalition governments most of the time. So we’ve never been motivated by money or even the prospect of earning a living or having a career in music. We do it because it’s fun. You get to spend time with your friends and have a creative outlet. So we’ll be doing this for as long as it keeps on being fun. That was the extent of our ambitions in Restless Leg until this crop of songs came along and the recording turned out so well. At which point we thought, ‘well we better try to promote this album more widely’, so it might have a chance of getting to some people that might actually enjoy it.”

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S13: Then there’s this new age of streaming. With Peabody, you experienced the days of where physical product was still the main concern, now we’re in this streaming culture. Did you ever envisage it getting to this point?

BC: “Oh man, Peabody started in the pre-internet era. We scraped together enough cash to record a few songs at a rehearsal room studio and sold copies on cassette tapes at gigs. Did we envisage it getting to where it is now? Fuck no. But some people tell me cassettes are cool now. At least if you sell a cassette tape you get a few bucks back. You’d have to get about a zillion plays to get that type of revenue from digital streaming.”

S13: Melbourne and Brisbane are quite renowned for unearthing a lot jangle-pop-orientated bands over the last couple of years. What’s the scene in Sydney like?

BC: “Well, on and off lockdowns and no government support means there’s not a lot going on and many venues where jangle pop bands play… who knows if they’ll still be around on the other side of this pandemic. But the bands we have played with are of a similar vintage and the musicians that make them have recycled through various musical projects over the years. They’ve produced a lot of great music recently. Bands such as The Electorate, Victoria, they make jangley-pop and are just brilliant and they’ve been very busy up until this most recent lockdown.

“I am sure there are lots of younger musicians that record in their bedrooms that probably feel much more at ease than I do, existing predominantly as a recording artist, with an online following.

S13: What’s next for the band?

BC: “We’re going to tour this album in Australia, whether that’s in November this year or sometime next year. Then we’ll write another one. Speak then?”

Dream Buffet is out now via Peabrain Recordings. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

3 replies on “Restless Leg interview: “we’ll be doing this for as long as it keeps on being fun””

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