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An Interview with Timothy Nelson & The Infidels

– by Tom Munday

Over the past few years, Timothy Nelson & The Infidels has made its presence known across Australia. Pick up any well-respected music publication, and you will see Nelson’s skyscraper-tall stature supporting a bright red Afro and laid-back, easy-going style. Performing critically acclaimed solo and group performances throughout the country, the Perth-born act has stayed fresh its conception back in 2007. The troupe – comprised of Nelson, Luke Dux, Hayley-Jane Ayres, Jozef Grech, Brad Forest, and Peter Forgus — has become an intrinsic part of WA music lore. Sticking with high school friends and local talents, the lead pop singer-songwriter’s catchy tunes come from a humble place. He and his group’s latest single, All the People, and album, Terror Terror, Hide It Hide It, were met with immense critical and commercial acclaim.

Last month, the group collected 5 2014 WAM awards including Best Album, Best Pop Act, Best Male Vocalist (Nelson), Best Guitarist (Tim Dux), and Best Keys/Synth Artist (Nelson). Their latest tour spans the country, hitting WA from late November to early January with shows everywhere from Fremantle to Margaret River. Chatting over the phone, Nelson exuded a likeable aura and raw sense of enthusiasm. Despite some minor technical issues, his no-worries attitude shook off any bad vibes. I chatted with Nelson about the many facts of live performance, the latest album, WAM, and his time in the spotlight.

How did the band come together and form its signature sound? Half of us met through high school and the other half through the live music circuit, either in a classroom or bar somewhere playing shows. When I put this band together, we had all been playing in other bands. I met Luke when he was playing in The Floors, and still is. Peter and Brad, we all went to high school together and were people I really wanted to play with. Peter and I were in our first band together called The Cartridges. Jozef and Haley, met them through other bands a few years later down the track.

You have toured extensively over the past few years, what appeals to you about live performance and the tour process? What appeals to me about the tour process is going to different cities and playing shows in front of people who have never heard of me before, trying your best to impress them. We enjoy that, we love flying around and rocking up in random towns, playing venues, and winging it in that respect. The live thing is just what we do; same reason we enjoy all parts of music. We love playing music and making music. Same reason I’m sure you love doing your job [laughs].

You have had extensive periods playing solo and with the Infidels, your current tour being a mix of both, what are the positives of switching between the two? Well, originally, The Infidels was sort of an extension of the solo thing. I was playing solo a lot and felt that I needed a band to help recreate all the overdubs I was doing on my recording set-up, to fully realise how the songs sounded in my head, and also because playing solo you kind of get stuck playing the 8 o’clock slot, you know. So, I needed to fix that. Then, as time went on, we made a record a few years ago, I kind of dictated the whole thing, which evolved into this democratic situation where we all kind of jammed well together. I would bring in the songs, but they weren’t always finished. Sometimes I would just bring in the idea for a song and would work on it from there. We’ve now become more of a band than ever. I still play solo because I can’t stop writing songs and they don’t always sound necessarily like they would suit what The Infidels kind of do now. It’s a gig, you know. It comes up, people want a solo act, I’ll do it.

You and The Infidels dabble in many genres, influences, and motifs, how do you refine the group dynamic given the number of band members? If you’re on a similar page, or even better on the same page, as the members of your band and people you make music with there are a lot of unspoken things that go on. You can try and point at one song and say, “Well, if we did this to this other song then they would probably sit better together”, but you have to know how to fill those gaps. With our sound, it sort of all started when we recorded Marylou, and that was a song I just written half of and it and we jammed it in Melbourne on a day off and I had a phone recording and this rough idea for a tune. I went into the studio with Joel to work on a different song, which was going to be a single, and, in the break, I played him this demo and he said: “Oh, let’s drop this other song let’s do Marylou”. We built that up in the studio and that kind of set the bar for how we thought the rest would sound and that was quite different to everything we’ve done before.

From there, every song that we worked on was just kind of following that kind of vibe for this new world we hadn’t stepped into before. We made sure we’d have X amount of violins and X amount of keyboards and get the right voice trying to be heard in the studio. It was a bit chaotic at times but we came out with something that we thought sounded pretty focused. I don’t know what spot you’d put it in, I’d just say: “pop music” because ultimately they’re all pop songs that have been arranged and worked on in some respect. There is lost of soul in there and dance music and classic rock but I think if you start mucking around with genre titles it takes away from the point of it. The song is the number one thing and everything else is just following where we think we should take it. We try not to think too much about how to pigeonhole our sound because when we’ve done that in the past you tend to just set the blinkers on and you’re less open to ideas that seem out side of the box.

I noticed – from varying interviews, music videos, lyrics etc. – you guys have a bright sense of humour but dark subject matter, how do you weave the two together? I always think about the Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s song Under the Bridge. They had entered a key that was just the vocal and the lyrics, and John Frusciante thought, “Well, that’s really morose song subject matter: maybe I should make the music sound a bit happy”. One of my favourite bands is Wilco and they sing about really depressing things but they make them all sound quite cheery. We are trying to make our music sound like it should make you feel good when you listen to it. The subject matter is dark but if it was all dark it would just be depressing, wouldn’t it? And if it was all happy it would be boring. When it comes to writing lyrics I get bored trying to write happy songs. Songwriting is always been a therapeutic thing for me, in that sense. But when I come up with melodies and stuff, I’m a pop guy so it’s going to come out kind of pop-y.

Your latest album’s development included an indie-electro sound, Eskimo Joe producer Joel Quartermain, street artist Steve Browne, how have said people and concepts enhanced your overall style? With the first record, I felt like we stuck to a vibe. You could say: “It’s like a cross between this, this, and this” and I wanted to get out of that. With writing songs, they’re always on the boil, In my mind sometimes there will be 5 or 6 songs at once. With Marylou, when I first came up with that hook, my first thought would be for this imaginary pop star in my mind but not an Infidels song. Between coming up with that idea and actually recording it there was a process of trying to figure out how can we not worry too much about sounding like you could put us in a box and if there’s a good pop song to do let’s do that. Our favourite bands like The Beatles are great example of a band that doesn’t really have a genre they just make great songs.

You listen to their records and it sounds 200 different kinds of bands, even on just one record, but it still sounds like The Beatles. If you take that leap of faith and figure that whatever we do, as long as it’s us and it’s coming from an honest place, that will give all your work some kind of unity. One song can sound like one kind of music and another song can sound completely different, but they both sound like you. We just figured that should be ok. We’re always trying to push our own boundaries a bit and think less about: “Oh, we can’t put that instrument in there that will sound too much like something else”. It’s all about embracing everything that feels good, really. It’s not necessarily that particularly ‘out-there’ ideas excite us more so than simple one, you know. There’s no one real reason we sound like we do.

At this year’s WAM festival, you took out five of the seven nominations; how do these festivals and awards motivate you into touring, writing and performing, making music videos? Awards don’t really motivate us, they don’t really motivate me. It’s nice having won them. It feels nice to win anything, I guess. And it’s looks good when you go on tour. We’re self managed, so anything that can make us look like a big deal is going to be useful when promoting our music but awards themselves are kind of meaningless. If you’re motivated by awards you’re probably not in it for the right reasons. They happen, and it’s nice, but that’s perhaps the end of that.

You are touring throughout Australia over the summer months. What do you hope to get out of this experience? We want to get booked again! [Laughs] Yeah, we just want to keep playing, you know. The record is done, it’s out there, and now more people haven’t heard it than have. We’ve got to get our sh*t together and go and play it to as many people as we can and see if that works.

It is certainly a tough industry to break into, and you guys have done a fantastic job, do you have any advice for anyone trying to get in today? If you’re a musician trying to get into the industry then I would say you should stop and rethink everything. But if you’re a musician that’s trying to get into the world of music then just keep doing what you’re doing and the industry will come. Just make music, listen to music, do it you, and don’t lose sight of that. I think nowadays, with the whole social media thing, DIY musicians are sort of the norm now. You can get caught up in the management side if things, with the promotion and self-management and all that, but it’s good to always put your music first and not spend more time on Twitter than you do in your rehearsal space, I would say.

Tim Nelson & the infidels are playing these dates across the state:

SAT 6 DEC | TIMOTHY NELSON & THE INFIDELS (SUPPORTS TBC) | ODD FELLOW, FREMANTLE WA |18+

FRI 9 JAN | TIMOTHY NELSON & THE INFIDELS | SETTLERS TAVERN MARGARET RIVER WA | 18+

SAT 10 JAN | TIMOTHY NELSON & THE INFIDELS | ALBANY FESTIVAL WA | AA

Photo by Alanna Kusin.

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