The Bedroom Philosopher interview – On music, ‘nu-Australian’ and Mexican space stations

August 19, 2010
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The Bedroom Philosopher and The Akwardstra

Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, The Bedroom Philosopher is the musical persona of one Justin Heazlewood, a multi-talented comedian/writer/whatever-the-hell-else-he-feels-like-doing who clearly has spent far too much of his time travelling on trams.  Michael Bowser drills him about his heady new concept album, Songs From The 86 Tram, among other hot topics such as the “nu-Australian” accent, borrowing money off one’s grandparents to finance an early record and, er, sharing crumpets with Young Talent Time veterans on Mexican space stations…

Okay, let’s start with a question you’ve probably weathered before, but not from me!  Accents:  You seem rather fond of them!  The accent on “Northcote (So Hungover)”…are you taking the piss out of private school kids or what?  And why do you sound British on “We Are Tramily”?  Finally, is the accent on “I’m So Post Modern” your “real” accent, perchance, and would you wanna punch me out if I said that was the funniest accent of all the songs on your Myspace?

Hello.  The Northcote voice is my attempt at the “nu-Australian” accent that Gen-Y and below have adopted.  I believe it is a result of being bombarded by American culture over the years, from Sesame Street to Gossip Girl.  It’s popping up more and more.  It’s all about saying “like” every third word, and having a consistently upward inflection on everything.  I don’t think it’s a private school thing, but it is an inner city thing.  I love it when people tell me how funny the song is and that they know a guy like that, while reproducing the accent quite authentically themselves…I guess they’re too close!  In that way I think the song is a push towards “post-irony” – it’s gone full circle, and there is actually something quite earnest about that character.

I don’t see what you mean about sounding British on “We Are Tramily”.  That was my best attempt at mimicking Ozi Battler and Urthboy and doing that Australian “aggressive open vowels” hip-hop voice.  The “accent” on “I’m So Post Modern” is quite accurate to how I spoke in 2004, which still had tinges of my Tasmanian accent in there, but my general accent is much more “inner-city faux British” and smoother now.  Any suggestions that “I’m So Post Modern” is better than anything off “Songs From The 86 Tram” will anger me to the core.

You go by the name of The Bedroom Philosopher.  I know you’ve explained this elsewhere before, but for the enlightenment of those not yet in the know and frankly too lazy to Google it, tell us how the name came about…

When I was eighteen I dreamt I was having sex with Tina Arena on a Mexican space station, and that was the password she used to access her personal culinary settings (we had space crumpets).

Nice Dream!  Where The Bedroom Philosopher is concerned, do you see yourself foremost as a musician or a comedian?  How did you come upon those fine folk you call The Awkwardstra?

When I’m funny I’m a comedian, when I’m not I’m a musician, and when you don’t like my music I’m “Work For The Dole”.  I am an only child Gen-Y Gemini who has had their soul cleaved cleanly down the middle by the appalling amount of choices that naturally prodigious talent brings.  I met the Awkwardstra at a self-help group for displaced Melbourne musicians called “Indie Snobs Anonymous”.  We would sit around and talk about obscure references and beard lengths.  Together we put the funk in Simon & Garfunkle.

Your lyrics are certainly hilarious…I’d even go as far as to say you’re almost as funny as DC Root.  “In My Day (Nan)” earned me a lot of scared sideways looks from the other cheap bastards who go to the public library for free internet, I was laughing so hard.  Is this based on your own “nan”, and is she currently getting royalties from this song and/or sueing you for defamation?  And the “old man” at the end of the album…is he also based on anyone you know, specifically?

My record label is Nan & Pop Records, as I once had to borrow $1000 from my Nan & Pop in Wynyard in Tasmania to get 500 albums pressed.  They have been enormously supportive, except when Nan misplaces my contracts when tidying up.  The “Nan” voice is based on my childhood when I spent a lot of time around the elderly, and always adored them to pieces.  Their turn of phrases, like “at any rate”, and constant reinforcers like “oh yes” and “nice”.  I think the old man at the end is a tribute to my Pop who passed away in 2006.  While he didn’t speak that “Australian”, I do think of him every time I hear it.  That concept of lying there, an 84 year-old paper mill worker who escaped from a POW camp in World War Two, looking up at your family as they sing an awkward but earnest version of “Yellow Submarine”, paralysed and unable to speak as a solitary tear runs down your cheek.  The magnificence and the madness of it all.

The new album is of course entitled “Songs From The 86 Tram”, and trams (and getting nabbed by tram inspectors) are frequent lyrical concerns throughout.  Which begs a few questions, such as:  How frequently do you travel on trams?  How many times have you been booked for not having a “valid ticket” on your person?  And what special significance does the Route 86 tram, specifically, play in your life?

I have travelled on public transport all my life.  The 86 tram could easily transpose to other cities, as in, each town has their colourful “crazies” bus or train.  It could be Songs From The 423 Bus in Sydney, or Songs From The Racist Road-Train in Darwin.  I spent a good five years living on the 86 tram line, and appreciated that it was only that route that when mentioned evoked a certain bemused roll of the eyes.  It was the rock star tram, the one everyone kind of loved to hate but were fascinated by.  It seemed a valid petri dish of personalities to examine through satire so close to the bone it is more like performance journalism.  People are endlessly hilarious and twisted and dark and brilliant.  The album is an exercise in taking five or so years solid of people-watching and publishing those through comedic song.  There is a quote that “people-watching is like church for me”.  I relate to that.

You have an instrumental track on the album, which actually stands up very well on its own as a piece of music.  Is it possible that The Bedroom Philosopher may one day travel down a road (or tram track, if you’d prefer) toward a completely “serious” album with no humour whatsoever?

The longer BP (unfortunate initials) goes on, the more you’ll notice the musician in me taking the reigns.  I’ve always thought the charm of what I do is taking funny songs, but paying unparalleled attention to the songwriting and production.  I always wanted to strike a balance where the songs could be funny, but you could afford to listen to them more than once and not be compromised.  I feel like I’ve achieved that for the first time on this album. “Song To Nod Off To” is a high-concept musical joke, the best kind of all.  At the end, you are ripped out of it abruptly, representing what it’s like to nod off on the tram, but the gag is only worth it if the music is really good, not just some band-in-a-box ambient crap.  I think musical comedy can be a high art form, and that’s what I strive for.  That said, I have a Josh Pyke-ian back catalogue of serious songs lying around that keep pouring out of me, and if I don’t do something about them the next Philosopher album will sound like Nick Drake without a hint of irony.  I reckon I need a side project and a different name or people are gonna get cross.

A final question, one we always ask here at Music Vice:  Other than music, are there any current vices you wish to share with us?

Magnum Big Biscuit and “The Wire”, series five.

© Michael Bowser, Music Vice

The Bedroom Philosopher (and his Awkwardstra) are currently on a mammoth tour of Australia, and among other dates will be playing Melbourne on both the 4th and 5th of September.  Check their Myspace for further details!!

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