“…and then I looked back at Rod and he was on his back. He’d fallen over and was still playing, and that’s when I decided I should grind my guitar up against my amp and just do feedback for a while and just lose myself in that and look up and see what’s happening with this train wreck of a gig. And we got off and everyone said it was great !! “
Thus spake Matthew De la Hunty during an interview I did with The Smokin’ Eldorados a couple of weekends ago. Matthew’s anecdote says quite a bit about the band – yet could give a very wrong impression (paradoxes are everywhere with these guys).
The Eldorados are not an anarchic neo-punk outfit re-treading the now-worn trail of wild rockers blazed by much-aped visionaries like Iggy Pop and his legendary band from Detroit, The Stooges. The Eldorados are…well, the Eldorados. But the idea that shaped their songwriting and performance ethos did come from the Stooges’ classic second album, Funhouse, which was apparently the product of a creative firestorm in the studio, the band having written no material in preparation. (Aficionados who wish to argue the veracity of this claim may direct their missives to Rod Radalj, whose source is Stooges guitarist Ron Ashton – listen to the podcast and you’ll get the details from Rod direct).
So, we’re talking musical extemporisation here. Not new – jazz bands typically work this way – but the Eldorados are different. Traditionally, members of a jazz band take turns in soloing, but there is no such individual foraying with the Smokin’ Eldorados: for these guys, it’s all about the song, not the player. Theirs is a truly collaborative art. There is no place for individual egos in the band, but the collective ego is huge – as it should be. I’ve never encountered a more complete band. In a creative sense, these guys live for each other. That’s mighty rare.
Comparisons with jazz finish with the extemporisation modus operandi. Essentially, the Eldorados are a rock band. But rock bands are always jamming, you say – what’s so unusual about these dudes?
Well, such sessions are usually forgettable – a type of performance art, if you will, not generally meant to live beyond the moment. Most band jams are messy affairs. The Eldorado’s “jams” are, in fact, spontaneous songwriting sessions. And the band works no other way!
Commonly with rock bands, someone brings a song – or at least a song idea – into the studio and the band works on it. The Smokin’ Eldorados NEVER operate like this. All their songs are written as a band, in the performance moment, out of nothing, so to speak. Someone just starts and the rest dive in. Yeah, I’m banging on – I’m sure you’ve got the point. I have to admit to some incredulity here. As a songwriter myself, accustomed to structure and building songs in isolation, I can hardly conceive of trusting entirely in the band and the collaborative process as these guys do, with absolutely zero preparatory input.
They’re obviously veterans, then, so infused in their craft that songs just materialise out of their collective wellspring of instrumental expertise and experience, right? Nope.
Matthew and Rod are nationally well-known for their respective volumes of musical work, yes (although as anyone familiar with their work will attest, they come from pretty different musical camps). But both state candidly that far from being virtuosos, their instrumental capabilities are limited. Rod even goes so far as to claim that his guitar-playing prowess has devolved through the years while Matthew, ever the moderator, declares that his has merely stood still!
It’s true that Matthew and Rod are “mature” in rock terms. But while many “veterans” are lolling back in the armchair comfort of the music that’s become part of them, secure in the familiar, these two are miles out of their comfort zones, obsessively committed to a creative process unlike any they have previously known and feverishly excited about the band.
And the other guys? Laurie, the bass player, an acclaimed sound engineer of the same vintage as Matthew and Rod, had never played bass when asked to join the Eldorados! And Tim, the drummer, is 20 years old – an ex-student of Matthew’s at Leederville TAFE’s Contemporary Music course. Prior to the Eldorados, Tim’s experience had been limited to stints in “little local bands” in Perth and Albany.
But that’s enough from me. Rather than subjecting you further to my considered précis of what the band is about, let’s go straight to source. Here are a few more quotes from the interview:
“It’s like a jazz band, but in a jazz band everyone really knows how to play… it’s like being in a jazz band where you don’t quite know what you’re doing.”
“The note might be wrong, but the tone’s right and somehow it fits in.”
“The interesting balance is not so much the age thing, but that you’ve got two people who have been doing it [playing and writing music] for a long, long time and two people who have hardly been doing it any time at all…some of these tags like ‘new veterans’ – you can’t be called ‘veterans’ when for two guys it’s their first band and they’ve only been playing for a year or a few weeks in some cases. You can’t call us ‘new veterans’, it’s not a ‘supergroup’ and it’s definitely not Rod and I playing out past glories and reliving our back catalogue.“
“A lot of it’s about having the courage or just being pushed to a place where you have to dare to trust….and suddenly at that point you start to think, well, none of these notes on the fretboard are actually ‘wrong’ – it’s just what I do with them….Wow! I can use all the notes on the fretboard…and start to forget where the notes are that are supposed to be the ones I play and just go by what I’m hearing.”
“Rod’s idea was it’s most important that people in the band are people you get on with and if they can play – well, that’s a bonus.”
“There isn’t time to think and that’s what’s so exciting about it.”
“What you’re seeing up there is absolute terror because no one knows what’s going to happen next.”
Matthew De la Hunty (front right): Guitarist, vocals. Singer/songwriter/guitarist in acclaimed Sydney-based band, Tall Tales and True (1985–95). Producer/arranger for a wide range of local artists. Lectures at the TAFE Music Skills Course in Leederville. Also active in the film industry. Formed Squarejaw in partnership with Laurie Sinagra; Squarejaw is involved in producing, recording, releasing and publishing for music and film.
Rod Radalj (front left): Guitarist, vocals. Recently inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame as an original member of the Hoodoo Gurus, Rod’s bands have also included The Scientists, The Johnnys, The James Baker Experience, The Dubrovniks, The Punjabbers, and Roddy Ray’da & the Surfin Caesars.
Laurie Sinagra (back left): Bass player. Award-winning sound engineer. Has been active in the Audio Post Production field since 1998. As indicated in Matthew’s bio above, Laurie is a founding partner of music and film creation enterprise, Squarejaw.
Tim Bates (back right): Drummer. Into Frank Zappa and classical (“Bach and Mozart, and all that crap”). Also plays oboe!
The interview was recorded sitting around a table out the back of Matthew’s North Perth home. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (Note: duration 35 minutes).