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the AU interview: Charles Bickford of The Paradise Motel (Sydney)

Paradise Motel

Charles Bickford from veteran Aussie band 'The Paradise Motel' takes some time to speak to Larry Heath about the new conceptual album, Australian Ghost Story, Azaria Chamberlain, and an interesting experience with a UK game show. 

Thanks for getting in touch with us Charles! Where ‘bouts am I speaking to you?

I’m in the backyard of a friend’s in North Court in Melbourne. Where are you?

I’m up in Sydney just outside of the Newtown area.

Ah, yes, I know it well, is it a nice day up there?

It is an absolutely horrible day up here. There is blackening clouds in the sky.

Well we’re quite the opposite – blue sky’s here.

That’s very rarely the case [laughs]. So you will be in Newtown in a couple of weeks, you’ve got your big Australian tour in September/October. Are you looking forward to it? It’s your first big one in quite a while, at least for The Paradise Motel.

Yeah, it will be good, it’s kind of amazing what energies get compressed into those tours really, and I guess it does sometimes feel like a decade’s worth of thought arrives at a tiny little point; we feel very propelled towards it.

And what can we expect from the tour. I imagine there will be quite an emphasis on your new album “Australian ghost story.”

Yeah, we’re doing a blend really. We did some shows at the beginning of the year and we decided we were just going to play “Australian ghost story” from beginning to end; we did a few other songs at various points. On this tour we’re just playing the majority of “Australian ghost story” but also 4 or 5 songs from the past that kind of fit in harmonically with it. The material, they talk to each other some of the songs, so we’re going to be playing some old stuff too.

What was the catalyst to get back together and record this album? Obviously, it was 10 years between tracks.

Well for me it was Australia – that’s what the catalyst was. All the elements were there, I mean music’s been in me for 10 years and we spent a lot of our youth working on The Paradise Motel. I guess early 2000 in London I felt like I’d run out of things to say and I came back here a couple of years ago, and it was very much being in Australia was the catalyst for music being re-awakened and I answered – I always answer – so now here we are, talking on the phone about it.

It’s a beautiful record; and how are do you find its translating live? When you’re recording is that something you think about? Or are you more focused on just getting it on record?

Well we were very much a studio [band]. In the earlier years it always seemed like there were two Paradise Motels – a live band and a studio band. This time the recording of ‘Australian ghost story’ was very, very fast and recorded live so as a result it translates pretty easily in a live environment, some of the songs stretched out a little bit more and some of them were shortened as well, but for the most part songs just settled quite quickly, so it’s a pretty straight transition really.

In the last 10 years obviously quite a lot has changed in the music industry. Is it affecting you at all with how you’re going about the music this time; is it very different to what you did the first time around?

We were always very pragmatic people, when we were signed and the first couple of albums we did we were very fortunate – we were aware of our fortune, and always tried to make good on it. So I think we carried that ethic to now where we kind of feel like it’s a good era for a band of hard ilk. I shouldn’t imagine there would have been the same sort of support for a group like us that there was back then [if things hadn’t changed]. Fortunately because of the way things are we’ve got a website and very easy access to a lot of people who are interested in music all over the world and that kind of makes it vaguely practical to make the music. We always had our own recording equipment so making records was very easy for us; distributing them is much easier than before and much less costly than before. When you think about some of the costs and curves in recording before [laughs]

There are certainly positive and negative sides to that sort of stuff; it’s so much cheaper to not only get your stuff heard locally but internationally, instantly.

Absolutely, it’s an interesting time and I guess everyone is still finding their way through it. I guess I watched it happen from the side lines. My life was involved with the music industry in England, and I kind of watched it all change. I think there are arguments for it still being what we call archived versions of material, which you call format. It’s interesting, and yeah, the nature is changing. I’m aware of the kind of music we make and the kind of people that are interested in it, and in some ways we are kind of quite [indifferent] to that kind of distribution model. I don’t really see the propulsive force of top 10 singles. The propulsive force isn’t an artistic one unfortunately, or fortunately, so yeah these are interesting times.

We’ll go back and talk a little bit more about ‘Australian ghost story’ and you were talking about Australia being a catalyst – how did that translate into the theme of the album, that being Azaria Chamberlain?

Well it’s just a record about Australians. The events surrounding the Chamberlain family that night are just a focus point for a lot of people who are living in Australia.

It’s almost to the point where it’s become a little folk tale hasn’t it?

It is a folk tale. It’s a lost child – sad story. It reflects on a lot of different layers of Australian society at that time. I was a child when that happened; I’ve been in the States with my family for a long time, and we arrived here, and that happened, and I can just remember it the way a child usually remembers things. This was a constant subject of discussion, quite heated discussion, and I guess it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a number of years, making something artistic about it, that’s poetic. I don’t have any answers as much as the judge and the jury do; I imagined lives, some of them real, and some of them imagined – lives that orbited that event. Some people were quite close to the events and I was just trying to draw a bigger picture of the Australia then, and the Australia that has rippled 20 or 30 years on and how different they are, how similar too.

That certainly gives you quite a breadth of discussion there, for the music, doesn’t it?

It does, yeah, that was the great thing as well. There were very few fixed ideas, we just had some chord progressions and I had a lot of words and somewhere between the lot of them, you know, what came out, came out. It was a very loose collaboration.

In your hiatus period you travelled around a little bit and one interesting thing I read was that you were a resident expert on the ‘The Golden Lot’ [A UK Game Show], how did that come about?

When we moved as a group to London in the late 90’s and started getting interested in modern design – a keyboard player in the band is an architect – the two of us had this side life of interest in that sort of stuff. When the band broke up in London I got involved in the design world and the gestation of that whole thing was about 3 years; we got approached by a television company to make a show and it was originally commissioned for the BBC but the guy got sacked and it kind of changed form to a mainstream program which was co-hosted by someone called Carol Waterman who was like a female Eddie McGuire that kind of thing. So it was an interesting experience and it took a lot of time, I spent a lot of time working on and filming that project. It was quite weird, 4 million people every Sunday night used to watch it – it made you really aware of the size of the country [laughs].

Alright mate, well we’ll leave it there; I thank you very much for your time and look forward to seeing you when you’re up in Sydney in just a few weeks.

Terrific, thank you, all the best mate, goodbye!

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Interview conducted by Larry Heath; transcribed by Chris Singh.