TIMOTHY NELSON INTERVIEW @ THE OXFORD HOTEL, LEEDERVILLE
It’s Monday evening and the moon – round and golden – is hovering near the horizon. I forgot how long Oxford Street is. Finally, past cinemas, continental grocers and date palms I spy the hotel that shares the street’s name.
Inside, there’s a ginger fuzz bobbing in the middle distance that immediately betrays TIMOTHY NELSON’s whereabouts. The barman fetches us drinks: for Tim, an Irish cream ale, for me, an Italian pale lager. Looking for a spot to seat ourselves, Tim nods towards a winding staircase that leads to a sort of beshadowed conversation pit. “I like the darkness,” he offers cryptically. We head down into the pub-dungeon, and Tim starts telling me about a generic-coversongs-guy he saw at this very pub who brought a fiercely elaborate merch table, behind which was the singer’s name, stylised, emblazoned on an enormous banner.
[The following, not insubstantial transcript is abridged from an actual dialogue about five times as long; Tim likes to talk, and apparently I like to say “Yeah, yeah, cool” a whole lot].
Lyndon Blue: Do you have a banner?
Timothy Nelson: No, I’ve always wanted one though. That would be fucking awesome. I don’t think I’d bring out a banner for anything that wasn’t like, the Big Day Out.
LB: Any festival slots coming up?
TN: No.yeah, no.
LB: You kind of just have to be invited to those things don’t you – you can’t really orchestrate it.
TN: You can’t! Well, you can try, and you can think you’re orchestrating it. everyone’s like “yeah, we’re trying to get on the Big Day Out.” but everyone I’ve met whose played [that sort of show] has been like: yeah, we just kind of got an email.
LB: All very casual at that end.
TN: It is. I dunno. There’s like, two kinds of ‘leader of the band’ you can be. you can be “hot headed careerist,” like, we’ve gotta get this support, we’ve gotta go down that road. And you go through that phase, but then there’s the other one which is like: well, let’s try and make some cool music.
LB: Mellow out a bit and allow whatever happens to happen.
TN: And those two types of people, they hate each other. Cause when you’re the hot-headed guy, you hate bands that don’t knuckle down like you think you are. And when you’re the band that’s like, hey this is fun, you hate the people that are like, “ooh my career.”
LB: And now you’re the latter – you’ve mellowed out?
TN: At the moment. It depends. I think I did the hot headed thing, where I got more focused more on what gigs we were playing than the music we were playing.
LB: What have you got coming up?
TN: What have we got. we’re playing at the [WAM Song of the Year] Awards night. And doing a record with my new band, High Horse. Well, newish band. We’ve been around a couple of years now but we’re not on the internet which apparently means we don’t exist.
LB: Yep, it’s like a “Facebook relationship,” it makes it official.
TN: We’ve had reviewers come up to us at shows and say, “Who are you guys? We’ve tried to find you on Facebook and we can’t and it’s really fucking annoying! Do you have a website?” “No!” “Well then what am I supposed to – “ “I dunno, write about the gig?” I mean fuck! It’s like, the minute you pick up a guitar now: we need a Facebook page! And it’s.no! Because how many bands appear and shove their “brand” down your throat…? And then you finally see them in two years, and they’re shit, because they’ve spent two years on Facebook.
LB: It’s kind of the same as that “careerist” thing – always trying to promote, never writing a song.
TN: Yeah. It’s the guys in the band that taught me. When we first got together I was like, “I wanna have an album out in six months, and I wanna have a website, and I wanna have an ARIA.” Nah, I didn’t say that. But [since then] I figured I’m 22, I can be in as many bands as I want and they can all be different. people talk about being too young to settle down, I think that also counts for music. There’s people who say you should be in one band: “It sounds like you’re fucking around, you gotta focus.” I don’t want to do that! The other reason why High Horse has no online presence is because, to be honest, we still haven’t really. figured out our sound. We sort of wanted to do that gradually, without people paying attention.
LB: You were in New York recently, right? What were you doing there?
TN: Just bumming around.
LB: Bumming around?
TN: I’d never travelled before, I decided it was time to travel. I wanted to play shows, and then I got lazy, and didn’t book any shows.
LB: Yeah, I was under the impression it was a musical venture.
TN: Well I wrote some songs, while I was there, I mean everything’s a musical venture in some regard. It did get a bit weird not playing shows.
LB: How long did you go not playing a show?
TN: Well I mean I did an open mic while I was there.
LB: That’s enough: you’ve “played in New York”.
TN: And I played the piano. impulsively. to accompany a comedian. in LA. He’s in the Hangover movies? He’s not Zach Gilifinakis but he’s, he’s like the cop or whatever, he plays the small roles in all those movies. His routine is not really joke based, more about how he’s affiliated with Hollywood but on such a minor level. His jokes are really bizarre. He had these plants in the audience – like, a former child star, I forget who he was, got up with his missus on the stage and just started walking around talking with each other just to “throw him off” – and this woman behind us started yelling about eggplants. We’d seen fourteen acts that night with no break, so our brains were about to explode, and we were like “is this really happening?” ‘Cause we didn’t know they were plants. And he started singing half his jokes, just randomly, and there was a piano there, so I went up to it and did this cabaret theatrical thing and followed his jokes. We found out later that the other people were plants; I just did it because I thought that was “the thing.”
[Tim now tells me about travelling with fellow Infidel Luke Dux and wanting to kill him after four days, visiting Ardent Studios in Memphis and getting a tour by Jody Stephens of Big Star, and lots more stuff. It won’t all fit in here, but ask him about it and I’m sure he’ll fill you in. Tim’s bandmates from High Horse are upstairs, drinking pints and ordering pizza].
LB: So you guys [High Horse] are rehearsing up to record an. EP? Album?
TN: Not sure. We’ve got 15 or so songs – we’re just going to record everything, spend two days tracking every song we have. We’ll take that away and do overdubs and stuff over the summer. I kind of feel like there’s going to be at least two different sounding bands that come out of all that.
LB: Within the High Horse sessions? You could do a double album, a Speakerboxxx/Love Below kind of affair.
TN: Could do – well we’re considering doing an Infidels double album as well! We’ve also got two totally different new directions; simultaneously, with ten songs each.
LB: What would you say those directions are?
TN: One’s more earthy, more Jayhawks/Wilco/guitar-based. there’s even like, a You Am I flavour in there. the other one’s more piano: Supertramp, Elton John. with some kind of Beck vibe in there.
TN: All the bands!
LB: So Infidels recording coming up as well?
TN: Yeah, we’ve got a tour for a single in December, so we’re gonna record the single in late October. Then we’ve got three days at Poon’s Head in that little gooch between Christmas and New Years, so we’ll do some demos then.
LB: You’re playing the WAM Song of the Year show. You’ve been involved in quite a few song competitions, haven’t you?
TN: Yeah, I can’t resist them. They’re pretty cheap to enter.
LB: You seem to have a knack for winning them. Do you enjoy the competitive thrill?
TN: There’s not any competitive thrill! You press a button, you enter this competition, three months later you hear back. I dunno, I like the idea of. winning things [Laughs]. Music should never be a competition, but, seeing as it is, you might as well win it.
TN: I mean. it doesn’t mean anything, I haven’t got any massive hits, I’m not a big hit on the radio, the phone’s not exactly going off the hook. But competitions amongst it are a fun thing to. make me think I’m doing something?
LB: It’s nice to be recognised, by people who know what they’re talking about.
TN: Yeah, this “Unsigned Only” thing I got. I mean they wouldn’t tell me who judged my category, but they had all these celebrity judges, like Robert Smith, the Mountain Goats… Kenny Rodgers. who’s the bald chick who moans about the pope? Sinead O’Connor. Part of me likes to think maybe Robert Smith heard my song and said: “You know what?” [slams fist on table] – “life isn’t that bad.”
LB: Wipes off the lipstick and opens the blinds –
TN: “I’ve seen the ginger light!” [Both laugh]. I dunno, when you’re trying to get your band on radio, and you don’t, that’s the only feedback you get. But this is separate to all of that – not hype based, it’s just on what the songs are, and if someone decides your song is better than all those other songs – that’s awesome. Because whether it’s very deliberate or subconscious, when you write songs, you want someone to like your stuff. It’s not something you can pretend not to care about. The WAM one was the best because there was actually prizes involved [laughs].
LB: That’s recording, and money and –
TN: Recording, cash, you get a publishing deal, you get flown to Sydney to go to a conference which is like you and 10,000 other wankers talking about songwriting. it was called the Song Summit, the APRA Song Summit. It was really cool, Imogen Heap did a guest appearance. She was awesome. I love her.
LB: I was going to ask you about subject matter. you seem to gravitate towards the ‘love song’ thing.
TN: Well, I did [for debut album “I Know This Now.”] It’s hard not to because, to be honest, if you’re the kind of person that is inspired to write a song because you’re in love (which is kind of how it started), nothing else feels that.inspiring. Because it’s a big thing – even if it’s not a big thing, like who cares if that guy over there fell in love with that girl there – we don’t care but to them it’s a big thing. And people are like “aw you should write about.a sandwich! Or the state of the word!” You’re like, aw yeah, but you try to observe that and it’s not coming as naturally, whereas when I was writing those songs it just spilled, like I had to write that songs for my own. I dunno. just being a dickhead. Anyway, with that need to write those songs, the record was quite cohesive, all of that kind of ilk. Now anything goes, I’m writing about other stuff.
LB: What are you writing about, other than the love songs?
TN: Just life in general; figuring out what’s your place in the world.
LB: Travelling has an influence on that, I suppose?
TN: I actually wrote a song about New York before I went there, because I got really cynical about the idea that I would go to New York and get inspired. I came back from New York still liking the song, so I play it now – it’s called “New York You’ll Never Be Mine.” That’s all about feeling like you’re going through the motions of growing up, how your process of becoming a fully worked out person, everyone already knows what that process is. It’s not like you’re going through some unique way of growing up, you’re just ticking boxes everyone else has done, and when you know that, it’s kind of annoying. But. articulating what your song’s about, you always get it wrong. In interviews, it’s like “what’s this song about?” and “fuck, I didn’t plan for that.” I thought writing the song was me saying ‘that’ [points at an imaginary song] on the matter, y’know? It’s weird, I’m a better writer than a speaker, that’s for sure, I get myself in all sorts of trouble when I try to talk.
I like these in-person interviews better, though. When you’re typing you get all wankery, and you feel like it’s gotta be full of zingers, like quotes, like you have to sound like Leonard Cohen AND Bob Dylan. And then you read this wankery fucking thing and you’re like “well you just released a demo at the Norfolk! Why are you talking like that?”
The WAM Song Of The Year awards ceremony happens at the Fly By Night club on October 11. Performers include Timothy Nelson & The Infidels, Boom! Bap! Pow!, Yabu Band and KUčKA.
Timothy Nelson & The Infidels’ “I Know This Now” is out now.