Music for the sake
of music, not money
A FEW weeks ago in these
pages I lamented the lack of exciting music coming from young Australian bands and the underground/independent
Soon afterwards, someone sent me a copy of Louis Tillett's first solo album, Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell, and it's easily good enough to make me take back at least some of what I said.
To my mind Tillett's effort rates right up there with albums from Midnight Oil, Hunters and Collec- tors, and Paul Kelly as one of the finest records I've heard from an Australian artist over the past 12
Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell is a wonderful mixture of jazz, blues and rock'n'roll. Above all it's a spirited, passionate and diverse performance from a little known figure on the fringes of the
Tillett first came to notice in 1977 playing keyboards and sing- ing with Wet Taxis, a band whose early days were based around ex- periments with "industrial noise", the results being released on Terse Tapes.
Later came the 1960s-inspired single C'mon, on Hot Records, followed by Tillett's Sailor's Dream, and an album titled From the Archives, which was released in 1984.
During those years Tillett's piano playing also featured on re- cords by the Laughing Clowns, Celibate Rifles, Died Pretty and the New Christs.
In 1983 Tillett recorded with
No Dance, an acoustic trio which also included Brett Myers from Died Pretty and Damien Lovelock from Celibate Rifles. They re- leased an EP, Carnival of Souls.
A year later Tillett formed Paris Green with former Laughing Clowns drummer Jeffrey Wege- ner. This grouping explored jazz and blues and became one of the most interesting bands playing around Sydney.
Paris Green, in the true jazz tradition, encouraged a bunch of peripatetic musicians to sit in with them, and from these Tillett select- ed the players on Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell.
These include guitarist Charlie Owen (New Christs), drummer Louis Burdett, and bass player Lenny Bastiaans (Great White Noise). Also appearing on the album are guitarist Penny Ikinger and saxophonist Dianne Spence (Wet Taxis).
Tillett's decision to record a solo album (on Citadel Records) was the result of his frustration with working in a band structure.
"When you play in a band, there's good and bad things about it," Tillett said last week. "On the good side, if it's successful, the musicians come together and there's a power in it and you get a sound — but then you're restricted by that sound.
"The idea of the record was to
play songs within a wide spectrum, everything from a full band through to a duet. It gets away from the expectations that people have with me of it always sound- ing like Wet Taxis.
"With a band like Wet Taxis, when kids are spending $5 or $6, you have to fulfil your part of the bargain and be Wet Taxis."
Tillett's intention with Ego
Louis Tillett: "To me music is an indulgence in the emotional, be it happy, sad or anything in between"
Tripping at the Gates of Hell was to make a record that came "straight from the heart — the main idea was to do something
Potential sales figures didn't come into consideration. Tillett sees the main problem with music in the '80s being that it's largely controlled by business elements.
"Music is failing miserably at the moment because it's dominat- ed by marketing people," he said. "Everyone is preoccupied with creating a predictable thing that slots into whatever can be marketed.
"To me music is an indulgence in the emotional, be it happy, sad or anything in between."
Tillett agreed that there's a lack of inspiring music being produced by young bands in Australia at present, returning to the theme of market domination by business
"Playing music has become al- most totally dominated by the idea of a career, and to succeed you have to fit into a mould," he said. "Just about everyone is approaching it intellectually instead of from the heart...
"There's music in every culture, so there must be a deep-seated need for it, but at the moment that need isn't being touched because marketing isn't geared to that.
"As a musician I have to play music, so I really don't have a choice. Some people might want to be a marketable image, like a model, but for a real musician the need is to pour your guts into music and express as much emotion as possible."
And will the present situation change? Tillett hopes so.
In contrast to the established norms of recording, Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell didn't cost $100,000 or more to record. It was done on a shoestring budget of less than $4000.
The result is that Tillett hears lots of faults in the album but didn't have the money to keep going back into the studio.
"That's where the wheel turns around," he said. "It's the market- ing and business people who have the money to allow things like
"But the album has a warmth to it, and a lot of moods. The songs don't repeat themselves. It's not a case of one song being recorded half a dozen ways."
Tillett is hopeful that there'll be overseas interest in the album. If there is, he's likely to join the le- gions of Australian musicians liv- ing or travelling regularly
"Overseas is really important because there's only a very small
percentage of the audience in Aus-
tralia who are prepared to listen to
music and that's very frustrating,"
"I think Australia is a cultural backwater. Australians seem to be
very inhibited about sharing
"The plan is to keep making records and hope that I get to the situation where I can sell a few thousand in America, England, France, Germany and Holland."
To try and get across his philos- ophies on music, Tillctt has plans
for a series of small theatre con-
certs, the first being on Friday at Sydney's Mandarin Theatre.
"The idea of doing concerts is that hopefully the audience aren't going to get drunk, yell and talk about what's fashionable," he said.
"It'll be a case of the band communicating to the audience. The onus is on the musicians to
attempt to take them through a range of emotions.
"It's the idea of music for music's sake — not to sell grog and make promoters rich."