Published on April 15th, 2016 | by The Beige Baron0
In the mid nineties you could flip on the radio, didn’t matter what commercial station, and hear rock music. At my local pinnie-parlour—where the flannel-clad stoners made micro-transactions in ounces and enjoyed high-resolution gaming experiences in a fog of Winnie Blues—the cook had taped a note to the jukebox saying that if Smells Like Teen Spirit was ever played again, he could not be held responsible for what he would do to their face with a pool cue.
The paper was yellowed. It had been there for a good while.
But it didn’t matter, there were plenty of other options: flip through brand new albums by Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Butthole Surfers, Mudhoney, Alice in Chains, Dinosaur Jr., Metallica, Deftones, NoFX, Rancid, Offspring, Rage Against the Machine, Stone Temple Pilots, AC/DC, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Primus, Creed… ha! Thanks for staying with me.
I dunno if I’m tripping, but there used to be rock stars, there were killer rock anthems every other week, and it was great. The popular, mainstream radio stations were, on the whole, pretty great. It was a good time for music.
Then, all of a sudden, Craig David.
Some nineties youngsters also grew up listening to their parent’s vinyl and listening to their parents telling them how much better Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd and Deep Purple were than all that… and sometimes they had a point. And that as good a way as any to frame Melbourne’s El Colosso.
They’re a group of veteran Melbourne musos who came together via other bands “wanting to do something heavy and groovy,” says the band’s bassist Craig Fryers. He’s joined by Peter Hayden on drums [Free To Run / The Hybernators], vocalist Matt Cooper [Bring On the Junta], and Benny James [The Black Guild / Dirty York / King Wolf] on guitar, all of whom share an appreciation for the fat analog riffs of the ‘70s and the heavier underbelly of the ‘90s—think Kyuss, Clutch, High On Fire, as well as the good mainstream rock of the time.
The band launches it’s first 7-inch vinyl single on Saturday, May 7 at The Catfish in Fitzroy (also available on CD and digital download). The A-side is the song Cannonball, a meaty, hook-laden number that makes it obvious why the band is starting to pull big crowds as word gets out. I ask Craig if they’ve ever had a rough night of it, and, being old hands, what tricks they have up their sleeves to win over a crowd.
“Well that’s the cool thing about El Colosso, everyone… well almost everyone… likes a good hard-rock band with a good singer. Seems like we’ve had no problem winning over a crowd… yet. In any case, we do what we do and live by it. We’re all a part of the creation of our music so there are no passengers. It’s a bloody good thing when there’s a full room moving and grooving to the music, it’s certainly a big part of what makes us tick.”
So how does it feel to finally hold the record in your hands, after three years and lineup changes and fatherhood and work and other band commitments?
It’s a bloody good thing when there’s a full room moving and grooving to the music
“To have it finished is a bloody good feeling. We had Cannonball ready to go, but decided to record an acoustic track as a B-side for the vinyl release. So glad we did, it’s come up really well, and shows a side of the band which I think is important moving forward.”
The B-side, Caught In Limbo, showcases a more mellow side of the band and features the cello artistry of Rachel Samuel, who performs with gothic-folk legend Wendy Rule. Where was everything recorded, and was the end result as you expected?
“We recorded Cannonball at Hothouse in St Kilda, which is renowned for producing epic rock tracks, and working with Craig Harnath and Jez Giddings was really cool,” says Craig. “It’s always a bit of a balance between a pre-conceived idea of what you want it to sound like and what it naturally begins to sound like during the process. So far so good, I’m usually happy with the results, so can’t complain.
“It’s vital to be prepared but I certainly embrace spontaneity as well. The recording of [the acoustic B-side] Caught In Limbo was certainly a case of ‘see how it sounds’. Benny did a great job with that; he recorded it in his lounge-room-turned-studio.”
El Colosso’s sound is extremely fat on stage, was there anything different you did gear-wise as compared to your live show?
“Yeah, the Hothouse guys wanted more overdriven grunt than my amp could deliver so we re-amped the bass via a Hi-Watt guitar amp. Sounds great. I then went out and bought an all-valve Ampeg SVT.”
Craig, who always seems to be in three bands at once and at least three more in the “let’s jam and see what happens” phase, is also known for his work in long-running progressive psych band Mushroom Giant — a cinematic soundscape act that seems a world away from desert-rock riffs and Ozzy-meets-Weiland vocals. How is the vibe different in the two bands?
“Personalities are the big difference, and it’s from the combination of those that the band’s true sound comes from. I’ve seen bands try forcing a square peg into a round hole and it never works. Mushroom Giant in the early days had those problems and it soon became bleedingly obvious that you’ve gotta work with the strengths of the individuals in your band.
“Improv jamming is always the best way to get a good idea on the natural sound of the band. For me also, I use different basses in each band, they are really very different bands in that regard.”
El Colosso does seem to have a great appreciation for guitar and bass tone… does finding a good tone inspire the riffs, or do riffs inspire the tone?
“It all starts with the tone. From there you can make even mediocre riffs sound good. But then again, a riff sometimes demands you shape the tones differently, which is a cool thing to do. Benny’s been playing around with drop-B tunings and heavy strings and that’s generated two songs already, including Caught In Limbo.”
Benny’s been playing around with drop-B tunings and heavy strings
You guys recently supported Tatsuya Yoshida, how did that show go? Any other cool shows you’ve done?
“He was amazing, what a player! That gig was with Vampillia, who are also a pretty impressive Japanese band. Probably our best gig to date was supporting Fuck The Fitzroy Doom Scene for their album launch. That was a mad night. They were awesome. Benny got up with them and played lap steel guitar too.”
With kids embracing vintage ‘70s riffs and digging in their old relative’s crates, and those older relatives starting to feel nostalgic for the ‘90s, the timing couldn’t be better for good, fun, bodyslammin’ rock music like that of El Colosso. So fill your pockets with 20-cent pieces for the pinnies, bring some paper money too for your copy of Cannonball, and head down to The Catfish on May 7 for what promises to be a night of rock to remember.