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Howzat! Archive - June 16th 2010

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"Those who wish to sing always find a song." Benjamin McCarthy's Twitter features that Swedish proverb. After nearly a decade playing with Pete Murray and Kate Miller-Heidke, Ben has found his song. And a wild song it is. His debut solo album, Field Recordings, is the year's most diverse record, with influences swinging from Prince to The Beatles, and Ben Folds to Eagles of Death Metal. One song is called A To B, but A To Z would be more appropriate. It's a thrilling pop travelogue, with delightful detours. "The first thing people say to me when they hear the album is, 'Gee, it's, um, all over the shop,'" Ben smiles. "But that's me. If I stuck to one genre, I'd be faking."

As well as a show-stopping ballad about a woman who has a sex change, and a death metal song about Ben's cat, Field Recordings features what could easily become the novelty smash of 2010 - Poor Old Saxophone. Ben laments the demise of the sax: "Circa 1975 to early 1990s," he sings, "if your band had saxophone, your rock was bona fide … poor old saxophone, you used to be so cool, now you're just old school, the sorry sound of ridicule." The song is a history of modern rock. "I'm sad to say you're not alone: there's the dancing line of backing girls, whereabouts unknown/ Guys with 20 synthesizers, 50-piece percussion, join the poor old saxophone and left without discussion." Ben traces the sax's demise to the release of Nirvana's Nevermind. "The world changed," he says, "and it annoys me a little bit. As great as that album was, I think it killed skill a bit. You can't just pick up the sax; it takes some effort. But those poor guys, they're now just so not cool. It hasn't even become a retro cool thing."

Howzat! meets Ben at Lygon Street's University Café - "the best pasta in Melbourne", he says. Ben moved to Melbourne from Brisbane in 2003, spending most of the decade as a key part of Pete Murray's band, before playing bass with Kate Miller-Heidke. He also won $40,000 on Temptation, which paid for his recording equipment. And he popped up on RocKwiz, starring alongside John Paul Young, and wearing a Sharon O'Neill T-shirt. Ben says a solo album was inevitable, and he was inspired by something that Brian Eno had written: "Maybe you've already done it."

Ben cites another proverb: "The gem cannot be polished without friction." But how can you generate friction when you're a one-man band? "It's difficult," he laughs. Ben played everything on the album, which he recorded in the spare room of the house he shares with his girlfriend, Anita. He even stuck a Polaroid camera to the roof to take his own photos - the result reminds of the guy from The Buggles, or a crazed version of Buddy Holly. When Howzat! saw Ben at the Empress, he introduced his band, explaining where he bought his guitar and keyboard. But Ben is now looking for a real band - an all-female band. "Ben needs women," he declares. Dirty Lucy's Nicole Brophy, who also played with Kate Miller-Heidke, will be on guitar, so Ben is looking for a drummer, bass player and keyboard player. "I need chicks who can party and play quite well." He stresses that he's not doing a Robert Palmer - "the only person wearing stockings and lipstick on stage will be me", he jokes.

Benjamin McCarthy is a mad pop scientist. His dad - a one-hit wonder - got him hooked on music and recording equipment. Terry McCarthy was one-half of The Monitors, a studio-only project during the days of pub rock. Dubbed "the Aussie Buggles", Terry and his offsider, Mark Moffatt (who became a major producer), had a Top 20 hit in 1980 with Singing In The 80s, which featured the Blakeney twins, Gayle and Gillian, in the video. The song has never been played live, but Ben plans to include it in his live set.

Despite its celebration of the sax and some glorious 70s sounds, Field Recordings is definitely a modern release. It's available only on the net - as a free download or "whatever you feel like paying" at Ben is also planning to stream his own internet radio station and start a podcast: "How To Listen To Difficult Music". And he's promising to release a new album in the next six weeks, writing on his site: "I'm not signed to a label, so man, I'm just gonna do as I wish. As I make it, it's out there. I'm unstoppable!" It's going to be quite a trip.

The Pop Boom continues, with Popboomerang Records running its second showcase this Saturday at the Birmingham, with The Solomons, Brilliant Fanzine, The Futurists and Tim Reid. The label is also getting set to release the third album from Underminers, the band fronted by Hap Hayward from The Dead Salesmen (who are re-forming for one-night only at the East Brunswick Club on July 10).

Sydney band Amy Meredith leap into the Top 10, while 13-year-old Cody Simpson - the Gold Coast's version of Justin Bieber - makes his chart debut.

We Speak No Americano YOLANDA BE COOL (number five)
iYiYi CODY SIMPSON (25, debut)
Unbroken STAN WALKER (29)
Mr Mysterious VANESSA AMOROSI (31)
Seventeen JET (35)
ABC News Theme PENDULUM (38)

No Aussie albums in the Top 10.

Iron Man 2 AC/DC (number 13)
Immersion PENDULUM (18)
Down The Way ANGUS & JULIA STONE (20)
Innerspeaker TAME IMPALA (22)
April Uprising THE JOHN BUTLER TRIO (28)
Hot Mama Vibes ASH GRUNWALD (31, debut)
Golden Rule POWDERFINGER (36)

Poor Old Saxophone BENJAMIN McCARTHY

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