the AU interview: Ramona of Dark Fair (Melbourne) talks about their latest single "Listen Up"

There is a certain type of delight in the voice of Ramona from Dark Fair as she speaks to me over the phone from the tranquil Treasury Gardens in Melbourne. She's friendly, and totally easy to speak to. 'Listen Up' sounds certainly all bouncy too, but something a little more gritty lies in the lyrics. Ramona explains all this to Philippe Perez.

Ramona, I just wanted to ask about ‘Listen Up'. When I was listening to it this morning I found it had a really cool riff and interesting vocal structure, especially in the verses. It kind of caught my ear. Can you tell me about how you went about writing the song and how you came up with those little riffs?

Look to be honest, it’s pretty accidental. How that song came about – along with our other songs – is we tend to jam things out in the rehearsal room. I don’t really know where these little riffs come from. I don’t think any musician actually really does. When they’re writing [musicians don’t] know where these things come from. But I think on our terms, (laughs). My bandmate Ellie took a little bit of a loo break and I was just mucking around on the guitar and I thought I really like this sound! And I sort of came up with a riff and she comes back in and she’s like “Woah!” and she sits on the drums and starts doing her thing.

So it really came about through jamming and then sometimes the lyrics just pop out and it’s all really improvised and then it sort of goes through a bit of a funnel and we tidy it up. The guitar riff, I don’t know where it came from but it just came about and we like it a lot.

Is that how a lot of songs work for you as a musician? I know some musicians who like to plan structure and try to emulate certain rules when they go to chords and things along those lines, but do you follow rules in particular or do you kind of go with the flow?

I think it’s a hybrid to be honest. Because I think everything starts from a sort of loose feel, we like this, we like that. We don’t really write for an audience today. It just comes about. But we do sort of think a little bit more about structure and we write together. Whereas I used to write by myself in the bedroom and just come to the band and go “here’s a song”.

But now we formulate and collaborate together around the song. With that particular single we took it to Lindsay (Gravina, producer) and said “Look, we’re at this point of this song and we actually want to work with someone to connect it and take it somewhere”. So that’s how that came about but generally it is a hybrid, it starts off loose and it goes through a funnel and we tidy it up. Then we’ve got something, [so] let’s play it live!

What was it like working with Lindsay Gravina? Is it important to have someone outside of the band listening and giving you advice on those kinds of things?

I think so. I think if you want to take a song somewhere, like we’ll test things out at gigs and test whether something is working or not. Some songs we write by ourselves. But with Lindsay we really wanted to take something that wasn’t completely finished and have a go working with someone else and say “look this is where we’re at, help us shape this”. He certainly did.

The song was actually a bit shorter. He spoke about accentuating certain things that we hadn’t before and I think he really helped us shape the dynamic. Whereas what we had sort of felt a bit flat and he said “why don’t you try this, and try that?”
You’ve got to be open to whether it’s the producer or the audience or a friend to take an idea and deliver something that ultimately you’re happy with.

If I may be so bold as to ask about the lyrics of the songs. You do sound as if you are wanting to get someone’s attention with those lyrics of ‘Listen Up’. Can you give me an idea or insight into what was behind those lyrics?

Look, I am a sensitive soul (laughs). I think the song is just about… well everyone can listen to a song and have an interpretation. It’s weird because when you write lyrics and when I write lyrics I don’t go “Now this is what the song is going to be about”. It just happens very organically and not really thought through. But I think with this song the lyrics are about relationships, I was coming out of a relationship and started another relationship. I think it’s about years in a new relationship and wanting to have equal voice and to be heard.

So whether it’s a romantic relationship or a family relationship, it’s about the struggle at play and the dynamics of the relationship and losing your identity and that kind of thing, saying I can’t do that.

Is ‘Listen Up’ going to be part of an EP or album coming soon? Is there anything on the horizon?

We are working towards hopefully another EP. We are self-funded, we have day jobs. But the songs that were written in the last six months and even we just started writing a new song yesterday all have kind of themes. The songs on the other EP last year, they are all kind of built around a similar mood and have a similar vibe in their structure. But the songs we’ve been writing the past six months have more of a catchy feel like the current single. But we definitely want to work on another EP, we are probably going to go to a studio around June.

You mentioned earlier on that you perform live and a lot and your music structure if I’m correct is based around live performance. Would you say that you like live performance? I did see you did a lot of gigging over the last year.

Yeah we love playing live, (laughs) you could play in your bedroom.

It’s a kind of a silly question I just realised because if you’re a musician in Melbourne and Australia, playing live is pretty much half of your job.

Yeah for us it’s always important to acknowledge the progress. Ellie and I came together, she moved here in 2012 and we hadn’t been in bands prior to that. In this band there used to be four people but when we started playing in 2012 we were both pretty new to Melbourne and were like “How do we do this? How do we start again? How do we meet people?” and then we just threw ourselves into the scene and built up a bit of a presence here. I love playing, there are just so many venues to play at and so many bands to play with.

Where did you move from?

We’re both originally Queenslanders…

Could you make a comparison about performing here in Melbourne in comparison to Queensland, what are your thoughts about that?

I think every place is what you make of it. From the music scene point of view, I haven’t lived in Brisbane for about five years so I can’t really comment anymore on what it’s like. But I think the difference is that there’s a lot more venues here to play at in Melbourne particularly. You’ve got different little burrows, you’ve got Fitzroy, Collingwood, Brunswick, Footscray and so much more.

When I lived in Melbourne I was like I got to get down to Melbourne because you’re always playing to the same audience in Brisbane but in Melbourne you can get other people who you haven’t necessarily seen before.

You and Ellie both were in bands before obviously in different capacities with different members. What’s it like performing as a two piece?

It is great! I love it. It is so funny, we weren’t really sure how we were gonna go. We just found ourselves in the situation because the two guys we played with, one was still in Brisbane and one went to the UK. We couldn’t find people to play with so Ellie came here and we got together and it just worked. The music just changed in overall style to what we used to play. I’m really glad like I loved the guys we played with but it’s really about me and Ellie now.

It can be kind of challenging as it is only a two piece and you have to think about the dynamics. So it’s more stuff to play with and in different ways. I never used to play with pedals on the guitar, I was always just a rhythm guitarist. I came up with riffs, but Marty who I used to play with would play the riffs. Now I have to wear all of it, and now I’ve become pedal obsessed too.

So that’s kind of shifted but I love it and I love the challenge in pushing ourselves into different kind of sounds that we can do with a two piece, surprisingly it’s a really big sound. When you tour it’s so easy, it’s just the two of us. When we support bands like bigger bands that tour they are like “we love you guys! You’re so easy!” because our sound checks are over in like 15 minutes. It’s just the two of us so it’s very very lean in that sense

It must be less taxing on you if you don’t have six or seven people demanding different things from the sound guy.

Oh no! We’re getting more demanding though!

Oh OK! Soon you’ll be asking for a rider, I’m sure eventually!

Absolutely! Where are my corn chips? (laughs)

Dark Fair's 'Listen Up' is out now and available at their Bandcamp. Catch them supporting Mosman Alder at the Retreat Hotel in Melbourne on March 13.