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the AU interview: Matt Neal of The 80 Aces (Warrnambool)

Warrnambool's newest sensation, The 80 Aces, are starting to get some serious radio play and tours, thanks to their fun, rocky tunes and killer live shows. Having formed in 2006, in the town that produces so much of Australia's talent, this all boy band having been tearing up stages with their funky and fun form of rock, getting banging and arses twitching through at their own gigs and support slots that include Dallas Crane, Regurgitator, The Vasco Era and Hoodoo Gurus.

The 80 Aces guitarist Matt Neal chatted to the AU review this week to let us know more about the band and their tantalizing tunes.

Your new single "Magic Shoes" seems to be a swing back to previous generations. What are the inspirations behind the song and your music?

Matt Neal (guitarist): I hadn’t thought of it being retro, but I guess it is a bit. A friend commented that they thought parts of the song sounded like The Cars, and the “woohoos” make him think of The Beatles or The Beach Boys. As for the inspiration, I think the initial spark came from this old guy we see at some of our gigs back in Warrnambool, who’s always out having a dance. That kind of morphed into this story about a guy with a pair of shoes that are like a lucky charm, like they’re his magic dancing shoes!

How would you describe your sound to the uninitiated?

Vaguely alternative rock.

It took five years to get to the lineup you have now. Why so long and how did you end up with the lineup you have now?

We had a drummer and a bass player leave the band on good terms, and both those guys made it really easy by sticking around until we found replacements. They still fill in occasionally when needed. Jarrod (Hawker, drums) was the only drummer we auditioned that could seriously play and was really enthusiastic about the material too. Kyle (McLaren, bass) is Jade’s (McLaren, vocals) little brother so he was already waiting on sidelines to be called up when the previous bass player quit.

You guys are on Tonedeaf'sMixtape of the week the week this week. How did that come about?

Our publicist asked very nicely, Tonedeaf liked the song, and voila!

You've scored a slew of amazing support gigs with Dallas Crane, Regurgitator, The Vasco Era and Hoodoo Gurus. How important is the exposure of those tours to your musical careers?

It’s great playing with bands like that, and those kind of gigs are important for so many reasons. Firstly it’s an honour. Secondly, you can learn so much seeing those guys play up close and talking to them after the shows. And thirdly, it exposes your music to people who might dig your band – if they like the bands that we like, such as those bands we’ve played with, maybe they’ll like us too.

You guys have really started to pick up some good radio play and were even featured on channel 7's coverage of the AFL. How difficult is it to get radio and TV play now days and how did you feel the first time you heard your song on the radio?

The difficult part is that every band is one of the millions. There are so many bands out there and the internet has been great for getting everyone’s music out there. The trick is standing out from the millions, I guess. That’s where you need to have strong songs and good people around you to help get those songs to the right place, whether that be friends who help the band, or hiring publicists or managers. It’s worth it for those moments when you hear your song somewhere you only ever dreamed of, such as on Triple J, or Rage or on the footy. The first time I heard our song on the radio was the night after we finished our last day in the studio with Steven Schram recording the Dollars EP. Triple J played I Am Trying To Read Your Mind off our debut EP while Jade, Jarrod and I were sitting around have a post-studio beer. We couldn’t believe it. You couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces. It felt like a sign that we were on the right track.

As a band that was formed in country Australia how difficult was it for you to get gigs and air play in your early careers and is it any easier now?

We’ve had great support in terms of gigs and air play in our own backyard, which has been awesome. But getting gigs in Melbourne is hard because no one has heard of you and most venues are skeptical that you can pull a crowd because you’re from out-of-town. It’s a hard slog, but the last few Melbourne shows we’ve done have rocked.

Further on from the last two questions, Australia in general has been facing massive live venue problems for the last decade or two and it seems here in Sydney that we lose another venue every month. How are you finding the comparisons between City and regional gigs and what can bands do to help live music venues stay open and not turn their band rooms in to pokie rooms?

When I started playing music in Warrnambool, there were about three venues that gave live original music a go. Now there’s only one dedicated original music venue – The Loft, which is where almost every touring band plays. Without that place, the original music scene in Warrnambool probably wouldn’t exist. As for what bands can do, I’m not sure. A lot of it is driven by market forces beyond the entertainment’s control. All you can do is be professional, put on a good show, and publicise your shows as best you can.

The art work on your EP Dollars is awesome. Is there any message or inspiration behind it, or is it just an awesome piece of art?

It’s modeled to look like currency and we gave the graphic artist (JaithBeks) a long list of things we thought were cool that he could work into the fake-bank-note style of it. He came up with this awesome backstory about 80 Aces Dollars being some kind of currency in a zombie-apocalyptic future. We’ve got a song about the zombie apocalypse recorded that we might release one day with the story that Jaith wrote. That would be cool.

The ability to make top quality recordings at home is something that is having an impact on the music industry and it is something you're all experienced with having recorded your first couple of EPs at home. What kind of impact do you think the ease of access to affordable and professional quality recording products are having on the industry and bands in general?

Again, it’s like the internet. With home recording, everyone has a voice, and with the internet, everyone can put their music out there to be heard. So that’s a great thing – it’s leveled the playing field and opened it right up for everyone. And again, the challenge is to stand out from the millions.

What kind of overall impact do you think the Internet is having on music and the music industry?

Generally a good one in terms of what I just mentioned. Piracy is an issue though. Personally, I never pirate music, but in regards to The 80 Aces music, I’m not too fussed. I want as many people to hear our music as possible. That’s more important to me than worrying about some kid downloading our songs without paying. It’s a personal choice if you want to pirate music, but I think getting a new fan who might come to a gig or buy a t-shirt is worth the occasional person downloading a few songs for nothing.