From the Triple J studios to the set of Baz Luhrmann's latest blockbuster, Sydney's Brendan Maclean has been a part of a huge 2012. The singer/songwriter/actor/avid Tweeter/general multi-talented artist has most recently spent some time hanging out on the Mad Max: Fury Road set in Namibia, which is where I was able to catch him on the phone before he returns to Australia where he's landed another film role.
Hi, how’re you doing? Can you hear me all fine?
I’m good, can you hear me alright?
Yeah, perfectly! What’s going on Adelaide? You’re in Adelaide, right?
Yeah I’m in Adelaide at the moment!
Oh great, I’ll be with you soon!
Excellent, whereabouts are you right now?
I’m in the Namibian airport!
Oh you’re still at the airport?
Something went wrong with the plane! [Laughs] Something about there being no air in the plane.
Well I suppose it’s a good thing that they worked that out now…
[Laughs] Exactly, we’re just chilling out now.
Better to be doing that than to be getting up in the air and have…
Have the plane run out of air!
Exactly. So how has Africa been? It’s not often I get to ask that…
Africa has been pretty incredible; we left with like, four days’ notice. My friend is in Mad Max that they’re filming here and he’s been in Namibia for six months by himself, he didn’t know anyone. He convinced the production crew to fly me and a friend over, so we just went for a week. My favourite memory is being in the supermarket and there were these incredible ladies who just waltz into the supermarket naked, they have little pants on, but they were covered in mud. Covered in this deep, rich red mud, and they had their babies on their backs, it was incredible. It made me very happy.
It’s such a contrast between the traditional and the contemporary.
Yeah, well there’s the really sort of Americanised people and they don’t even know how to react to the mud-boob ladies! I loved them, they’re great.
Definitely; I’m half-Samoan so when I went there the first time, it was eye-opening to see the differences in people inner city and then out in the villages.
Oh completely. In Namibia, we were in Swakopmund, which is pretty developed, but on the way to the Mad Max set, which was 80kms out of town, there are shanty towns. A lot of the buildings are just made out of freight boxes and they’re just big metal freight boxes. I mean, it is sad that they’re living in these sorts of conditions, but it does kind of look incredible because they’re these bright blue and yellow and green houses that sit together and they look like little lego villages.
Wow! Considering that you were able to go out to the Mad Max set, what was it like to be out there in particular?
Oh, stunning. My friend, his name is iOTA and he’s a pretty incredible cabaret performer, he has this sensational role where he’s dangling from a monster truck, it’s incredible. Now I’m flying to the Flinders Ranges to do the next movie that I’m in.
Yeah I just read about that! Can you tell me a bit about the role you’ve got?
I’m playing a Melbourne political student in 1975; the film is called Tracks and it’s starring Mia Wasikowska, she was the Australian girl who was in Alice in Wonderland.
Oh yeah, she’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s going to be a really great story; it’s about a girl who goes to a regional town with no one but her dog and sort of journeys around. I’m very excited because it’s the only film I’ve ever done after The Great Gatsby.
Not many people can say, “That’s the first film I’ve done after doing The Great Gatsby”!
[Laughs] I know, I know! I’m still stoked that I got in one film, so I’m pretty happy about that.
Exactly! So how long will you be in the Flinders for?
For the Flinders, it’s just a week and then I head up to Brisbane for my big next gig, which I’ve been bragging about on Twitter at the moment!
Yeah! Tell us a bit about that show.
I have a big band and I don’t think many people know that, but I have quite a few people in my band and it’s the first time I’ve flown them all up to Brisbane with the strings and everything. So we’re performing in this incredible theatre called the Judith Wright Centre, but everyone just calls it ‘The Judy’. So we’re doing ‘Brendan Maclean: Live at The Judy’ and it will have songs from my first EP, which was White Canvas; naturally, we’ll be smashing out “Only Only”, the latest single, and a bit of a preview from the record I’m working on for next year, which is pretty much on the way. It’s a very exciting new project which is being helped out by Paul Mac, who I love. We’ve just started making that and it’s really energetic, it’s full of fireworks and it’ll be great to do it in such a great theatre up there.
Usually, The Judy is for theatrical performances and so it’s everything that I love doing; it’s me being not quite cabaret, not just quite an indie artist, I get to really own the space and put on a great show. It’s on October 27!
Excellent stuff. I mean, I’ve just taken a look at a sample of the projects you’ve been undertaking this year – 2012 must have been quite a massive and surreal year for you, both as musician and now, actor!
Yeah – well I think that with anyone in creative arts who’s always thought they were meant to make it, you always forget to be surprised by it. I think that it was good for to go away and to be in another country and look back at what I’ve been doing because, you know, even before I went to Triple J, I started posting stuff on Unearthed because it was my music. I’ve been around watching incredible artists and friends continue to exceed and meet wonderful people all over the country who have made it and that are why you’re talking to them at all. Working at Triple J for so long, it was like, ‘Come on! Isn’t it my turn yet?’ and it finally feels like that’s coming around, especially with ‘Gatsby’. I’m such a fan of Baz Luhrmann; I grew up with Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet, so that’s just heaven to be on set with him.
Definitely, even just to be around all the costumes and the great locations…
Oh, Catherine Martin is just incredible; they’re the reason she wins the awards she does! You know, the first day I was on set, there was 16 big, burly men around a tiny butterfly and they were deciding whether the butterfly’s eyes needed to be diamantes or sequins – that’s how much goes into this set! I just loved that. Paul Mac as well, I mean, The Dissociatives was like, my favourite album of all time. I posted something about Paul on my Facebook page and my friend from high school said, “Do you remember in Year 11, we used to sit around and put our headphones on at the same time and listen to the album on our Walkman?”
And now here you are!
I think that’s indicative of most of Australia; no matter how big somebody gets, I’m never surprised that an artist can just call up someone wonderful and say, “Do you want to work together?” Everyone is really accessible and ready to work and I think that we’re finally learning as a nation, that collaborations are a good thing. It took Gotye to do that! [Laughs]
That’s it – it’s amazing how much he’s being taken in by the Americans especially. I interviewed Caroline [Polachek] from Chairlift the other week and she was saying that being called up to do Kimbra’s section on that song was more terrifying that anything she’s ever done with her band!
Oh really?! [Laughs] Maybe everyone’s tired of talking about him, but there’s a reason for it, you know? If you look at his band, he has Tim Shiel, who is incredible on live production and he’s just surrounding himself with people who love good music and for me, Paul in Newtown, which is where I live, is an absolute icon. I’ve been working with people like iOTA as well…it’s just about working with people who love what they do.
Would you put that down to the specific place you live in? This sense of community?
Well, you know, I grew up in the Sutherland Shire and that was awful. It is like the TV show, and I never found myself, artistically, there at all. I think it took moving and sometimes you don’t grow up in the right area, but surely there are some areas like Newcastle that have another idea. Maybe you find other people through that adversity. For me, being the camp, theatrical man that I am, Newtown is definitely my home and I’ve only been away for a week and I’ll be away for another week, but I can’t wait to get back and eat Thai food and sit in the theatre and drink a cranberry vodka and be a bit a camp! [Laughs]
I get that – I was there briefly in August and the vibe and people I met down there was just brilliant.
The funny thing about Newtown is that there seems to be this argument at the moment, it’s either closing down or it’s blooming; I’m on the side that it’s actually blooming. There are wonderful underground gigs coming up now; one of the most highly sought after gigs to get now is just over the road in Surry Hills, which is High Tea. That’s pretty much developed from somebody who lives in a big enough room which has a piano in it and they just started putting on gigs and now, no matter who you are, if you get a High Tea gig, it sells out in two minutes purely because people want to go and enjoy music on a personal level, which I love. Newtown, being able to do that with a place called The Newsagency, only seats a maximum of 70 people and you just sit in a room and BYO and it’s fabulous.
I have heard of that place! That’s so cool. Just on doing these smaller gigs, when Brisbane is wrapped up, can people be expecting you to be gigging around?
Yeah! Well, making the album is at the forefront of my mind, but there are going to be some sneaky gigs towards the end of the year. I can’t quite release the dates yet, but they’re all sort of Christmas-y stuff. I will send you a few dates for some of the little ones, but I can’t quite remember them off the top of my head at the moment! I’ll email you a few dates – Sydney will have some and Melbourne will have some too.
Wicked, thanks! Quickly on the album you’re making at the moment; White Canvas was a great record. Considering there’s been a substantial amount of time in between that record and the one you’re making now, what has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned from White Canvas’ process that you’ve taken into the writing and recording process for this one?
Well I mean… I learned that you need to work with a producer for a longer amount of time! [Laughs] I think I spent a week recording it and released it two weeks after; I think there are so many beginners’ mistakes on that record.
I really like some of the tracks, I still love “Beat Me To It” and “Cold and Happy” and “Practically Wasted”, but there are songs that sound like they’ve been recorded in a RSL! That frustrates me in hindsight, because you spend so much money on it and all it would have taken was for me to be brave enough to ask people for their opinion. I know it’s important for artists’ to think for themselves, but really, when you’re making your first anything, I wish I’d spent more time with it and I am with this one. That’s really what is showing me growth in the album. A guy named Fergus Brown, who I used to do some performance with, I would always be like, “You’ve got the songs, release them!” and he’d be like, “Be patient, just be patient” and then when he finally did, he ended up winning SOYA and all these other competitions. So yeah, just taking time; when you’re working with someone like Paul Mac, it’s worth slowing down and pulling it apart.
Well yeah, you’d want to take your time in working with him!
Yeah! What he says, whenever I think a song is done, he’s always saying, “Is it done? Is there something else? You’re just playing the piano there, maybe the bottom hand is a new instrument and maybe the top hand is this…” There are always all these other avenues to go down.
Also, having a ‘theme’ to the album – this is going to be a very thematic, conceptualised album; it may not even be ‘me’ when it comes out, it may verge into conceptual band territory, ‘Dark Side of the Moon’-esque type thing! It’s just grown and it has a narrative and that’s what I’m excited about. I love albums that have narrative, I always think Sarah Blasko does a wonderful job of building narrative. PJ Harvey’s album Let England Shake is stunning; these are the albums I love and I don’t think albums are dead, because if you make a narrative album that is good enough, then people have to get the album and they want to. That’s my aim and that’s my goal with this album now.
It sounds great. Coming from my perspective, I see ‘Brendan Maclean’ as musician slash actor slash man-about-town slash man with a band of absolute babes – you’re not really going wrong at the moment!
[Laughs] Oh so many babes!
Lucky! That’s pretty much all I had to ask you about today, it’s just been great to catch up and seen what’s been happening in this busy world of yours. You seem to have so many different parts in different projects!
Yeah, well I think they all go hand in hand. I think I’m a fan of the old classic idea of just being a ‘performer’. Surprisingly, I don’t really like musical theatre, even though that would seem like the perfect avenue for someone like me but I do look up to people like iOTA, who make those incredible shows like ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ that sell out for a bajillion years.
I hope that when I have this album out, that I can make some kind of showcase for it, that isn’t just a gig, but I want the music to have authenticity that sometimes cabaret performance doesn’t have. It can seem a bit sticky or have too much dialogue; that’s why I never call myself a ‘cabaret’ artist. I’m just a performer and I love that classic idea of being a performer and being able to entertain a hall audience and that’s what I’m hoping this will do. I think that avoids the whole ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. I’m after just being a performer.
That’s an excellent way to not pigeon-hole yourself as well.
Yes, exactly! Thank you so much for calling Namibia!
Well, I’ve never been able to do it before, so thank you for the opportunity! Have a safe flight!
I will, I will! I’m sure you’ll see me tweeting when I land in South Australia.
I’ll look out for it just to be sure you landed okay!
Yeah! Thank you so much.
Brendan Maclean and his band will be performing at the Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Arts as part of the Brisbane Cabaret Festival on October 27. Visit www.judithwrightcentre.com for ticketing information.
You can also catch Maclean performing as part of the 'Light The Night Concert for Leukaemia Research' at City Recital Hall Angel Place in Sydney on October 22. Head to www.cityrecitalhall.com for more information.