Questions answered by Jimi Beavis – singer, songwriter, harmonica
What inspired you to first start making music? And how did you come to be in your current incarnation? Or if you prefer, a brief bio about you.
I have written songs since I was about 17 (21 years ago) but was never serious about recording and performing until I was about 26 when I started playing blues harmonica. I loved the ease of it and all my friends were much better guitarists – no-one else played harmonica. I had a few different versions of a solo blues band and released a few EPs and two LPs before I decided I needed a break from blues in 2016 (I play blues gigs only occasionally now) and I liked the comradery of a band. I had already started moving towards soul and Andrew Garton (co-leader and music director of the Holy Rollercoasters) was keen to write music for my lyrics. We have been working on this project since late 2016, gathering together a group of musicians who fit and are keen.
Provide us with some info about your latest release…
We have a bunch of songs we have been playing live and just went in and banged it down at the studio of the producer I used for my solo albums. Mostly live, with vocals and harmonica over-dubbed. We got this down on tape and we are releasing it on vinyl. While we say we are a soul band, I sing like a white Australian and the band takes a lot from various influences, but especially jazz as everyone except me is trained in jazz. Our style is something that combine all our influences (blues, soul, jazz, hip hop based on funk), I think, even my American and English folk influences, because of the kind of stories I sing about – tragic death and ambiguous love.
As far as our latest, which is our debut, release goes, it’s a double single that we’re putting out through local label Valley Heat Records on a limited run of coloured vinyl.
The A-side “Out Jumped The Devil” was written during a period where I was deep in a Nick Cave hole which composer/director/sax Andrew Garton fleshed out with a heavy rhodes-laden groove, a chorus that you could almost head-bang to and a middle section that departs into a wailing psychedelic guitar solo before plunging back into the rhythmic stratosphere. Inspired by the more gruesome passages of the Old Testament, creepy con-artist preachers and the old narrative tragedies, this song is a tale in three acts of an evil man who comes to receive bloody justice.
On the flip is “Set Me Free” which kicks off in James Brown territory then breaks down into an infectious gospel groove. Less specific and more emancipating, the track is based loosely around the idea of love’s ability to set someone free, with allusions to the 2011 QLD floods, the legend of Stagger Lee and prison dramas. Musically, the track is battling an identity crisis, unsure of whether it’s a straight-up big band funk jam or a hands-in-the-air blues sermon. Either way, “Set Me Free” gets toes wriggling.
Which ones would you consider your main influences both music-wise & non-music-wise?
I grew up as a Catholic in a family that wasn’t necessarily left wing but certainly embraced many social justice causes. I think my life as a journalist and a teacher has caused me to think about death and sadness a lot. You get slapped in the face with it a fair bit, although it isn’t ever present. That makes me investigate various artistic depictions of those things. Those things influence me.
In terms of music, I have been a music nerd since I was about 15, and there is a phenomenal amount of music influence back there in my head. For this project, there is all the old Motown and Stax and NOLA and Memphis/Muscle Shoals musicians, as well as blues and gospel musicians such as Mavis Staples, who I just can’t get enough of. Contemporaries include Eli “Paperboy” Reed, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, St Paul and the Broken Bones. But then Andrew brings so many other influences to the table.
In what way does your sound differ from the rest genre-related artists/bands and why should we listen to your music? In other words, how would you describe your sound?
While we do make close listens of contemporary soul bands and the “nu-soul” thing where they try to sound like the greats of 60s and 70s, we also consciously try to do our own thing. Andrew and I write the songs but then in the demo process and then in playing it with the band, we try different grooves to see what fits. It could be the phrasing of the lyrics or the length of the narrative (one song does have five verses and a middle section and is quite long so we sped our original groove so it wouldn’t be too long) but whatever fits – this is as opposed to trying to keep it exactly like the old soul dudes. Going with your strengths and the strengths of the band is important, as well as making sure you have the chops.
Please name your 3 desert islands albums, movies & books…
Albums – Into the Music by Van Morrison; Hard Again by Muddy Waters; The Band by The Band.
Movies – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Day For Night; Unforgiven.
Books – this is much harder to choose! I am going to write down my favourite music books because my novel tastes keep changing: Sweet Soul Music by Peter Guralnick; Deep Blues by Robert Palmer; Mystery Train by Greil Marcus.
Do you prefer studio or performing live and why?
I don’t think I have a preference necessarily. Both have frustrating and life fulfilling moments in equal measure. I like the idea of coming up with songs and crafting a recording and working with everyone in the studio and then the final package. But there is a lot of sitting around and it is very expensive. Live music is very thrilling and adrenaline pumping, especially for me because I get up and in the crowd, and I get to take away my shyness that I have offstage. Unless there are two people in the room, but also you can’t always control a crowd reaction or how many people turn up.
Is there any funny-unique story you would like to share with us, always in relation to your music ‘career’?
The funniest is always things people say to us at gigs. For some reason Chris our guitarist has got a lot of strange comments. “You look like mushroom”; “Nice gig, where did you get your jeans from?”; “I wanted to tell you but your G-string was out all night.” A lot of the time it is just old white dudes who try and generally fail to try to prove they know more about 1950s-1970s music than us, despite them actually being alive at the time. The oddest was when we got invited to a swingers party after the gig. We didn’t go.
Which track of your own would you point out as the most unique and why?
So far we have only recorded two, so it is hard to say right now, but maybe our song “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”. A Tom Waits song inspired it but I made it about when a mysterious entity takes revenge on men who commit violence on women. Then Andrew used an interesting time signature and it is a little different to the regular soul/funk song. You can still dance to it though. No point unless you can dance to it!
Would you like to share with our readers your future plans?
Andrew has been slowly setting up a studio at his house and researching various recording techniques that the Daptone label and others used and adapting that to our context. He knows enough about music and recording and has experimented enough to know what we are doing. Our plan is to record the last three of my darkest narrative songs before we get into the love stuff that we have written. Maybe release a tape and try to book some festivals and just groove all night long. Recording like this will give us more time and cut down on money!
Free question!!! (Ask yourself a question) you wish to answer and haven’t been given the opportunity…
Which engineer or producer dead or alive would you love to work with?
I think either Gabe Roth from Daptone or the late Willie Mitchell from Hi, who recorded all those Al Green classics (most of them). I am just fascinated and moved by the sounds he got from those recordings. Especially the drum and guitar sounds. Amazing.
Photo credits: Vanessa Van Dalsen (1st one), Mick Porter (2nd one)
Curated by: Christos Doukakis
Connect with The Holy Rollercoasters:
Link to purchase/stream/listen: http://smarturl.it/holyrollercoasters