SOUNDTRACKING: Australia’s Dirty Three Are Much Better Looking Than The Beatles
by Daniel Colussi | Talking to Warren Ellis is like meeting and old friend that you didn’t realize you never met before. He’s hilarious, for one thing, and completely forthcoming about of writing and performing music with his long running outfit, the Aussie band Dirty Three. An unlikely rock band, Dirty Three play instrumental, semi-improvised rock music (“We could never play song the same way twice,” he says) that draws on the free interplay of it’s three creators. Stranger still, the band eschews the usual rock band set up for an arrangement of drums, guitar and violin. It makes for a truly singular sound, one that can recall jazz, folk, free-rock, but ultimately just sounds like Dirty Three. Ellis, slightly jet lagged and making up for several missed attempts at this interview, is a most willing interlocutor, sharing his thoughts on the band’s creative process, and why they’re better than The Beatles. Read on…
Hello Warren, how are you doing? Well I just had a triumph with a roast beef.
You won the battle? With the roast beef? Yeah, I won the battle. But yeah I had a serious jet lag, and then in a senior citizens kind of moment lost track of what day it was. And it was one of those things where jet lag starts taking its toll after a while and you can’t remember what you said, and when you said yes, and what time it was. I’ve been moving around a lot. I did some production in LA and then I did a bunch of shows in between that and then recording and darting all over the place. And then I forgot I had a show in England on the weekend and got back from there. And then school went back with the kid’s and stuff. I kind of messed up…time….
Dirty Three played some large festival shows in the summer. Yeah we did some festivals, we did a tour of Australia when the album came out, then a European tour. And now we’re doing a Canadian and US tour. It was great. We hadn’t toured new material for a while, for, wow, for a long time…8 years, it had been a while. So that was great, to have a whole bunch of new stuff and to get out and watch that develop. I mean, we’ve been playing over the years, every year we seem to do some shows somewhere. But this is the most we’ve played in a while and it’s been great.
I read that during the early days of Dirty Three, that the band started out playing in restaurants. I wonder what you like about a show nowadays, considering the history of the band. I still like the same thing about shows that I liked from day one until now, and that’s just playing the show. I still find that there’s something about playing in front of an audience, whether its big or small, there’s something that goes on that only happens there. It was something that, you know, the first time that I played in a band I kind of felt that. I knew that I hadn’t felt that before in anything else that I’ve done. And it’s a very addictive kind of feeling. I’ve always preferred to be playing live than in the studio. It’s a bit like pulling nails going into the studio. I’ve never liked that aspect of looking at things under a microscope and re-listening to things. It just seemed so kind of uncreative. But I’ve become more kind of enamoured with studio in the last ten years, opposed to the first ten years. I think particularly when I started soundtrack work, I could feel some kind of purpose for it. But maybe that’s about actually growing up and being able to look at things, I never really wanted to go over things again, I just like the moment. I like the live moment. One of the things that’s annoying about this new generation where people are filming the concerts is that you actually see the show and so what you thought was really great actually just sounds like dog shit. It kind of destroys the whole kind of mystique about it and shows that you think something really great went on. It’s horrible to be told otherwise. I still like playing live for the same reasons as when I started doing it. I like the risks that you can take, I like the element of risk that’s involved. There’s something dare I say sacred about getting on the stage.
I imagine that’s especially true with Dirty Three and the kind of music that you guys make. It’s very strange that it has been so long. It’s longer than I’ve been with anyone except my family. It is strange but it’s like anything to do with age: you kind of don’t think it’ll happen and then one day it’s just there. I mean we’ve been together longer than The Beatles. And we’re better looking. And we’re a better band. And there’s only three of us!
And you’ve been playing the new album? Primarily the new album and some older stuff, obviously, but yeah…the bulk of the shows have been the new material.
So you’re happy with the new album and how it turned out? Yeah, yeah, we wouldn’t have put it out if we weren’t happy with it.
I’ve been listening to the album and it sound great. Better than Sgt. Pepper, right?
Of course. I mean, When I’m Sixty-Four? You try and tell me that’s a better song than anything on our record! No way!
Dirty Three play The Biltmore on Monday October 1st.
Daniel Colussi is the Music Editor of Scout Magazine and a contributing writer to Ion Magazine. A veteran employee of Zulu Records and tuneage aficionado, he DJs on an infrequent basis (about four times a year) and is a musician around town who plays in several ensembles.