The John Steel Singers on 2014: ‘What the fuck happened?’

Is it fair to say 2014 has been a year of touring for you guys?

Yeah. It also feels like we haven’t done too much. That always happens to me at the end of the year; all of a sudden Christmas is a week away and you’re just like, ‘What the fuck happened?’.

But yeah, we’ve done a lot. We did the two UK tours. We haven’t done much in Australia, which is why it feels weird for me. I try and block out extended inter-country flights because they’re just torture for me.

Of all the countries you’ve visited, where did you find the most surprising number of fans?

Belgium, I think it was. It was a festival (Leffingeleuren) in a small town. I think two and a half thousand people live in the place, but they were really community-minded, so they got together and organised a festival, which Tricky headlined. We get there and there was a tent set up. We spoke to the organiser and they were like, yeah, you’re not playing in there; you’re playing in this little café. We were like, aw, shit, what the fuck’s going on? We ended up getting taken to the green room upstairs which had the backup beer fridges and they gave us free reign on all these amazing Belgian beers and then we had to play…

Holy shit… There’s just a possum hanging around the bottom of my feet. [Muffled] What are you doing here? Where did you come from? He’s just freaking out. I don’t what he’s doing…

Um… yeah, so when we went to play, the whole place was packed and it was pretty insane. I think there were a few people… Oh my God, he’s not doing well. He just ran and jumped at the fence and bounced off it. Now he’s going up the neighbours’ stairs. Maybe he’s a pet possum. Or am I just really tired and that was a fucked up cat? I’m sorry, that was strange [laughs].

I have to ask: do you ever get people – particularly overseas – thinking that one of you guys is John Steel?

Yeah, all the time. It’s brought up a fair bit. But we also people come up like, ‘I’m John Steel!’ In the States we had some dude come up after we played and show us his licence. We’ve met a few John Steels.

What else have you been up to this year, both collectively and individually?

We’ve been working on new stuff pretty solidly. We just went through most – well, not most; there’s probably a shitload more – of Timmy’s photo archives from however long we’ve been a band. They’re all in iPhoto so you can check all the dates. We had a massive trip down memory lane. There’s a photo of us in the studio from January this year, so we must have been working on new stuff on and off, whenever we have time. So hopefully we have some new stuff ready next year, but who knows with us. It could take some time. Apart from that, it seems like we’ve had more time to ourselves this year.

We did an Australian tour early in the year, then we did The Great Escape in the UK and Europe – May, I think that was – then we went back over to the UK in September/October. We did do our longest tour we’ve ever done, which was six and a bit weeks. A lot of time spent in a van.

Everything’s a Thread, which was released more than a year ago now, has a very different vibe to 2010’s Tangalooma. What instigated that change of direction? It feels to me like the product of a lot of jamming.

Yeah, that’s pretty spot-on. It wasn’t conscious, really. The last track of Tangalooma, Sleep, was one of the latest ones that we wrote. A lot of the songs on Tangalooma had been kicking around for three or four years. Maybe. I might be making shit up, I really have no idea. My memory’s hopeless; it always makes me laugh when I have to do the interviews. I just put out false facts [laughs]. But yeah, Sleep was the direction we were moving in, and it was the result of jamming and just getting better at playing with each other.

Are there five or six of you in the band now?

There’s five of us now. We were always a six-piece and it was a bit of a nightmare to tour with. We needed the Tarago every time. It’s always been the five core members with a revolving bass player, for various reasons. So Scotty went to bass, and he’s just born to play it.

I have to admit, you’re responsible for my favourite part of the live show, which is when the trumpet enters in Rainbow Kraut.

[Laughs] Yeah, that’s me. It was originally Scott, though, but when he went to bass I had to learn trumpet. I had to pick it up before we went to the States. I can only play John Steel Singers’ parts on trumpet; I can’t really play anything else.

You’ve played with a lot of Brisbane’s most promising young acts. Who have you been most impressed by?

Love Sirens are doing some pretty great shit. And then there’s Rolls Bayce. Obviously Rolls Bayce aren’t really young, but they’re playing some crazy shit. It’s the stuff that makes you feel like a shit musician ’cause they’re just so tight.