STEVE BULL “talks” ICEHOUSE & the National Bushfire Relief Concert!
STEVE BULL "talks" ICEHOUSE, IVA
Music post Covid-19
and of course ‘that gig’:
the National Bushfire Relief concert in Sydney!
“We watched K D Lang from the back of the stage before we went on and that was amazing! I think we were a bit affected by that. We are used to doing large outside gigs, but this was definitely on a different scale!”
By Ian Browne Shamrock News
Can you remember the first time you were called up to play for Icehouse, how did you feel?
I was a big fan of the band since the Flowers Icehouse album. I managed to talk my way into an audition just before Man of Colours. I was number 14 out of 14 bass players. I auditioned three days after I finished uni back in the 80s and apparently came second on the day. Then I played on a recording that Iva produced. I got a call in 1994 to play with Icehouse at a large Charity gig at the Brisbane Entertainment centre. So it was quite a moment. Being a fan as a teenager and then finding yourself in the band is both amazing and a bit daunting. You have to tell yourself you belong there even if you don’t deep down believe it. The next thing was Icehouse and the Sydney Dance Company doing the ballet “Berlin”.
I have been playing gigs with Paul Wheeler the drummer since I was 18, so that was definitely a plus for me. And he pushed hard for me to join. We have played in about 10 different bands together over the years.
Is Iva Davies as wizen and wonderfully creative as his songs & early-day’s mystique entail?
One way some of Iva’s creativity comes out is in the raft of decisions that need to be made when you are running a band like Icehouse: set list, choice of songs, the use of vision and lights, which gigs to do and which not, how the live recordings should sound and so on. Then there’s a bunch of other decisions that get made by Iva and Keith Welsh that I would never hear about. It is the same fairly intuitive approach to decision making that you hear in his music. That said, there are times in the set that he will unleash a wild feedback driven guitar solo that is never the same each night.
He has great ears, and if something has strayed performance or sound wise somewhere along the way, he will hear it! He gives the band pretty much free reign during gigs, especially those who do a lot of soloing, which is pretty much everyone except me (-: But he will just bring things back into focus if need be. Then at other times he will be really specific about a voicing in a particular keyboard part or if someone has slipped in a 7th into a chord.
Do you still look forward to hitting the road on tour with Icehouse? Is there a location here or overseas that has become a special place for you and the band?
Absolutely! Can’t wait! I haven’t not gigged this long since before I started gigging. I know everyone else feels the same. We have rescheduled some Icehouse gigs to November but time will tell if they will go ahead.
Look, it’s hard to say. We have done a lot of gigs in a lot of places. We’ve had some really epic nights at the Enmore, so we are all pretty fond of that place. New Zealand is pretty special to us and each time we have gone it has been amazing. We have gone to Perth a lot and the crowds there are always great. Newcastle crowds have been great as well. Loved playing the Palais in Melbourne as well. I’m not really answering your question. It sounds a bit cliché but you really do go out every night and go as hard as you can. When Larry the Tour manager says its time to go, and you walk to stage and hear the intro tape, and then you can hear the crowd starting to get excited, it is a great feeling. The waiting is over.
…I recently played 5 songs with Kate Ceberano for the first time and that was fantastic!” Inspiration: Are you an artist who is embellished by a multitude of sounds, or do certain genres mean more to you than others? How have they (musicians, performers) helped shape you throughout your career in music?
I love production and sounds and arranging and music creation. It was probably what really got me interested in music as a teenager. Probably started with the Beatles. Like many musicians, I go through phases where I get heavily into a particular album or a particular style. And because I could already read music (from learning piano grades) when I took up bass I found myself playing a bunch of different styles early on. This includes Jazz and Musical Theatre as well as pop/rock/reggae/country etc.
Who you work with has a massive impact on your progression as a musician. There have been so many influential people. My dad is great piano player so I grew up listening to him play. My bass teacher, who was really a guitarist, taught music theory in a way that I actually understood. I did a classical composition degree when I left school and studied with Peter Schulthorpe and that was amazing. He had this great balance of technique and intuition when it came to writing music. I was never really a classical musician so he really helped me get through that. I was signed to Sony ATV publishing for most of the 90s and so Damien Trotter was an important part of that. Then a whole raft of musicians I played with after that. And everyone I have ever written with has taught me something. I did am album and several tours with Ana Christensen and she taught me a lot about lyric writing. Working with Steve Balbi and Vincent Stone taught me to let loose as a bass player. Jenny Morris taught me about being fearless on stage. And Iva and Keith Welsh of course. I have learned a lot from my engineer friends such as Ted Howard. I recently played 5 songs with Kate Ceberano for the first time and that was fantastic. She was so professional but generous. I could go on…..So many!
So on any given day I can love a simple three chord pop song and on other days I can get lost in orchestral music. Other days I can love really heavy guitar rock and then shift gears to ambient or minimal music. In the end, I guess I just love great melody mixed with really interesting sounds - sung by someone who means it.
What types of things do you do to unwind - when not writing, composing and teaching music?
I don’t have a lot of free time but I still like making things. So I cook, sometimes make bad furniture, dabble in photography and film making. Fix things that are broken.
Your experience in writing and producing music over the years is incredible! What is your favourite area of music, is there a moment that stands out?
I have been asked this before and I really can’t narrow it down. It’s like being asked what your favourite ever gig is. Its oranges and apples…and bananas and kiwi fruit. I have an appreciation of so many kinds of music. My first love is probably pop/rock but I have diverged from there many times.
I love writing on my own but I also love collaborating. Using technology to make music is incredible and I’m old enough to remember what it took to build a studio with the capability that can now be found within a laptop. I’m not really one to look back and I love finding out about new music technology. I’m in no hurry to go back to cassettes or VHS. I also love what happens when a bunch of musicians are in a room together and something great happens.
Signing my publishing deal with Sony back in the day was a big moment. Getting my first composition commission was big. Probably the first time I had a song released, but I’m not sure when that was. Recently mixing a lot of the ICEHOUSE live material has been great.
…..And on the whole, we give a shit!”
Why is it important for the Arts & Music industry to support fundraising efforts, and why do you think that this medium has proven so successful over the past few decades?
Some say that George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh was the first significant time a high level musician used their profile to raise money for others. Artists and support crews are very good at what they do and can get mobilised pretty quickly; happy to do what they can. On the whole, many don’t have massive fortunes, so they can contribute using their talent and skill. And on the whole, we give a shit. There are people in construction that build houses in disadvantaged countries, the medical profession has a long history of volunteer work. Every industry has people that help however they can. We put on gigs and donate royalties. I couldn’t really say with any authority whether the creative industry does it more than any other industry. Fire Fight was amazing, but there were a whole range of other fundraisers that happened in 2019/20, some small, some really big like the one in Melbourne at the Myer Music Bowl.
There is an irony at the moment that, as one of my old bosses Jenny Morris said in her role as Chair of the APRA board, the ‘music industry needs its own fundraiser’. Luckily we have Support act and Crew care - and gigs like the Powderfinger ‘one night lonely’ that help. But the money that it raised dwarfs in comparison to what the entertainment industry has raised for other people in need over the decades. We didn’t do it expecting a quid pro quo, but it is an interesting reflection of how people view the need the industry has at the moment.
Describe the emotions running through your mind during the National Bushfire Relief concert in Sydney - in front of that massive crowd! Amongst the emotive droning of Dreamtime didg, the breathtaking visuals firing out from behind you on the big screen, and the nostalgia rocketing into the hearts of both new and old fans - how important was this gig for the band, and you personally?
There is no doubt it was an amazing experience. It was similar but different to Sound Relief back in 2009. We watched K D Lang from the back of the stage before we went on and that was amazing. I think we were a bit affected by that as we went on. We have played with William Barton many times before and that is always a remarkable thing to listen to. We are used to doing large outside gigs but this was definitely a different scale. To be honest though, I was trying to quickly adapt to where I was (no soundcheck to get familiar with the stage) and then keep my head on straight so I didn’t mess up - but then also enjoy the moment. And then it was over before we knew it! I was more nervous the day before but once I got there I was okay. Seeing the back stage and all the things that go into putting a gig on looking much the same as always, was comforting. And walking backstage and seeing my rig and pedals was also a calming moment. All these things that eat away at nerves. And most of all, ICEHOUSE have a fantastic crew, and when we started it sounded like every other gig.
…I did tell Amy Shark how much I enjoyed her set!”
Within the dynamics of up-n-coming indie outfits rubbing shoulders with the timeless big guns of the industry - did you enjoy any fun convos with other performers on the day? What did the event mean to them?
I’d love to give you a great answer to this, but I can’t. I spent most of the day watching everyone else perform from the stands, which was inspiring in itself. I was really quite taken by HOW good everyone was. All the dressing rooms were underneath Qudos and you either walked or got driven to the stadium. And there was a limit to how many people could be backstage at any time. So, sorry not too much shoulder rubbing. I did tell Amy Shark how much I enjoyed her set. And a lot of the bands went and watched Queen.
I was chatting online with Hayley Mary recently about the live music scene being ‘left on the shelf’ for a spell, and I suggested that the ‘planet of sound’ would soon return! So, what next? Post Covid-19, what will be important to you in the world of music?
I have a regular gig with TAFE NSW in the creative Industries, so I was okay financially during COVID. I am REALLY concerned for the musicians and crew who were literally out of work over night. These are highly skilled, highly talented people who were about to embark on a wide range of great gigs over many, many months. What will be important to me will be seeing all my “comrades” working again. I am pretty optimistic that people will come out and see live music as soon as it is possible. I want to see the whole industry thrive, from covers duos - to original bands - to electronic musicians. I started to see the “Industry” coming together to present a united front government before COVID, and now it will be critical. The Arts sector seems to have fallen between the cracks of government support during COVID. There has now been some extra funding earmarked for some arts organisations, though many already exist due to government support. I’d love to see the “mainstream” music industry, and the workers in it, be acknowledged as a major employer as well as a major contributor to our creative output - and be specifically supported.
I don’t really know what a post COVID world will look like gig wise. It will be a slow return I suspect and then we have to see how the public will respond. Nerves all around I suspect. It will be really interesting to see if the model that the music industry has operated under will change after this.
* Special thanks to the punters who shared photos!