Five Star Prison Cell interview – so, what exactly is an Airshark anyway?

June 2, 2010
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Five Star Prison Cell are a very busy band right now, and are currently undergoing an Australia-wide tour to promote their third album, the mighty Matriarch.  Bassist Cam Macdonald took time out from dreaming up Airsharks to speak to Music Vice about mother figures, supernovas, double-basses, and the joys of being handed government grants by the singer of Midnight Oil.

Five Star Prison Cell

Michael Bowser, Music Vice – I saw you guys live in Melbourne a few weeks back, but glancing at your Myspace the band is still well and truly on the road!  How’s the tour going?  Have you been happy with the response the new album’s tracks seem to be getting from live audiences?

Yeah man…still on tour right now.  The new tracks have been going very well indeed.  I think for those who know us, it’s good for them to finally be hearing something new, and it’s certainly good for us to be playing something new.  And for those who don’t know us, I think these new songs speak to a wider range of people…and they are extremely fun to play live.  So yeah, it’s been great.

I was both surprised and intrigued to read that the band has been given a touring grant from none other than the Australian Government!  Were you yourselves surprised that such support would be given to a “metal” band (and hardly a conventional, “radio-friendly” one at that)?  Did you ever expect to see the words “The Australian Government is proud to be associated with Five Star Prison Cell” in an official press release, haha?

Nah…not really!  I mean we were stoked to get it of course, but have known plenty of other bands to get similar grants.  So not a surprise in that regard…

You see, to them we are a contemporary touring band, that can play shows for young people in regional areas.  The style of music isn’t important, but the spirit of the grant is…and we got the grant first and foremost due to our manager’s excellent work, but secondly due to the fact we were visiting heaps of regional areas that don’t get many bands come through.  And on a personal level, I’m a massive Midnight Oil fan, so I was extra-happy to get the acceptance letter with his (Peter Garrett’s) signature on it…I even emailed him to say thanks, but he didn’t email back.

The bastard!  Haha.  (I’ll confess I’m a bit an Oils fan myself.)  Now, I’ve read that not everyone in the band was entirely happy with the production of your 2nd album, Slaves Of Virgo.  I personally feel that the production on the new album is far more…”cohesive”, for lack of a better word.  Is the band as a whole happier with the end result this time around?  I also thought that, after the rather “dark” and “serious” Slaves Of Virgo, the band appears to have recovered the sense of humour it definitely showed on the first album, but seemed to lacked a bit on the second.  It certainly SOUNDS like the band had more fun this time around…

Shit yeah, man…we are definitely happier.  Slaves was a dark period of our lives…especially for me and (vocalist) Adsy.  And of course there were other issues which I won’t go into.  It was rough, man.  We got through it, but it was rough.  Then you had a nine-month wait before it came out…so now Matriarch is done, it is so refreshing.  New producer, new studio, new and better songwriting…but it’s not like we’re going to do a new album and say, “Nah…we were happy with our old albums more”.  And in defense of Slaves and our first one…those albums were a snapshot at a particular time in the life of the band.  Now we have three albums that are all different, we can take a nostalgic look back and say Slaves was our dark, brutal, serious album.  I think it’s fair to say we are more happy with it now than we were when it came out…and to answer your question, Matriarch was way more fun!  The four of us have fun whenever we are together…and (producer) Forry and his assistants were fun guys too.  It was quite a relaxing experience.

I’d also say it’s by far your most “experimental” and most “anything goes”-sounding album thus far…even a bit playfully “jammy” at times!  Was there a bit more time and money available this time around, studio/recording-wise?

Yep…sure was.  Our attitude with recording albums is to always step it up:  Money-wise, production-wise, songwriting, artwork…always outdo what you did before.  And of course we spent a lot longer writing these songs, and were a lot more focussed and picky about what we wanted to do.  So yes, there was more of everything available this time ’round.

The band has always flirted around the edges of jazz, but seem to embrace it a little more fully this time around.  Was this a conscious decision, or just something that came more “naturally” out of jams?  And is that an upright/double-bass I can hear on “Forlorn”?

Hmmmm…we don’t actually see that song as “jazzy”.  We have dabbled in the jazz thing, but we don’t rate ourselves as jazz muso’s or anything…not in the same sense as, say, Candiria.  That particular song started as an idea to do something drum-and-bass-y…although the end result was something different I guess.  It just evolved naturally while we were writing it.  And yep, you are correct, that was indeed double-bass…as soon as we started working on that song I wanted to record it with a double-bass, so I tracked one down and to my surprise it turned out I could actually play a double-bass (I had never played one before!), so it worked out well.

I noticed there’s not one but two tracks on this album, and not particularly short ones at that, where the band seems to resist the urge to cross over into what could be considered fully-blown “metal” territory (“Forlorn” and “Paramountain”).  Is this a direction we might expect from the band in the future?  I personally would love to hear more of what the band has to offer in “other” genres, as I feel you’ve already made it clear that you’re masters of the “metal” genre..!

Yeah well, you may call us a “metal” band.  And others may too, and that’s fine.  Generally that is what we do.  But that said, we don’t impose any limits on ourselves…we will play anything we want, and continue to do so.  We like to keep ourselves interested and not limit ourselves to a specific genre.  And as for future direction, we will certainly keep working at our songwriting and push our creativity to its limits.  So it’s hard to say what to expect in the future, other than music that is more refined and more evolved…we always intend to progress and move forward, and always will.

The album closer, “Lamia”, has some amusingly bold things to say about women, and similar themes crop up in other tracks on the album.  Does the entire band feel this way, or was it just Adam?  The album’s name, Matriarch, certainly suggests an awareness of this recurring thematic…

Ahhhh well, you see, you can’t take Adam’s lyrics too literally, dude!  He is a very creative guy, and also uses a lot of metaphors or puts himself in other people’s shoes.  That song is actually about a dude who is gay but can’t admit it to himself, so he takes out his hate for himself on women….

The Matriarch theme of the album is actually out of respect for women and mother figures coupled with supernovas and suns signifying new life and so forth…all have the power to create life, and all have the power to take it away just as quickly.

I see!  I shall listen to that song somewhat differently now!  Also on the subject of lyrics:  Just what the hell, exactly, is “Airsharks” about?  It’s definitely one of my immediate favourites on the album, but I’ll be damned if I can decipher it…

Hahaha…let’s just say it’s the result of sitting in a van together for countless hours.  You can only imagine what you would end up talking about!  Airsharks does have a special meaning to us, and a special place in our heart…I know that didn’t answer your question!  But we welcome any interpretation you may want to give us.  Same with any of our songs really.  They have a meaning, but what may appear obvious from reading the lyrics will most likely have nothing to do with the actual meaning of the songs.  That’s the way Adsy writes his lyrics.  They are open to anyone’s interpretation.  And of course, that’s the way we like it…’cause we like to be all “mysterious”…ooooooh…

A final question, one we always ask here at Music Vice:  Other than music, are there any other current vices of yours that you’d like to share with us?

Hahaha…vices? Well I smoke and drink lots of coffee.  Movies and TV shows, usually of a horror or science-fiction nature, are also quite an indulgence for the four of us, and generates a lot of discussions and arguments…otherwise we are pretty well-behaved guys.

© Michael Bowser, Music Vice

If you live in Australia and have a taste for mind-bending “metal” music, you really don’t have any good excuse not to catch Five Star Prison Cell on their current tour (even if you live in regional areas)!  For everyone else in the world, do yourself a favour – as a certain Australian hat-wearing celebrity is prone to saying – and check out their new album, Matriarch, available to pre-order NOW from their official site, www.fivestarprisoncell.com.

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