Tasmania’s The Stitch Get Funkin’ Organised
It’s not often that a soulful groove from Australia’s southern isle state pricks up the ears of those on the mainland. Much less on 7 inch vinyl. So when news arrived that a Hobart group called THE STITCH had released a smokey 45 that promised Grant Green-style action, it was enough to warrant further investigation. And we’re glad we went digging. With enough ’60s shimmer across it’s guitar and organ-led tracks to recall Blue Note B-3 proponent Jimmy Smith and British Hammond cool-cats The Peddlers, we think the debut release from The Stitch is also worthy of your attention. Titled Can You Knot / Ten Days Off The Island and featuring drummer Liam O’Leary, vibraphonist Kelly Ottaway and organist Randal Muir amongst its personnel, the release finds 2SER’s Paris Pompor catching up with guitarist Michael Panton for the lowdown.
“We started out doing the classic organ trio thing,” says Panton about the band’s formation. “Then Kelly Ottaway began sitting in on a couple of gigs playing the vibraphone, until he was just part of the band and now The Stitch is really a quartet with the four of us. I think we all bring different musical backgrounds to the band and our sound is the four us trying to find the middle ground in a way.”
Sounding warmer and more authentic than the current toppy, overmastered trend that even modern funk bands often opt for, Panton recalls what went into capturing the sound on the record.
“[We’re] definitely inspired by the sounds of the 60s and I think the sound of the recording reflects that… While I don’t feel like we were intentionally trying to create something nostalgic or make some kind of tribute to another era, those sounds definitely informed our aesthetic. Everything was recorded live to an 8-track tape machine that mate and Tassie blues legend Pete Cornelius salvaged from a WIN Television garage sale. Pete recorded and mixed the record for us before Matt Redlich (Husky, Holy Holy) mastered it for vinyl. We kind of used Gabe Roth’s (from Daptone Records) article Shitty Is Pretty as a bit of a guide and a reference point for the recording, and generally it’s about keeping it simple to try to make things sound good! Sometimes that might be easier said than done, but for us it was mostly trial and error getting the mics in the right places and then just pushing the tape pretty hard and letting the compression from that to do the heavy lifting in terms of vibe.”
From this guitarist’s point of view, inspirations run the gamut from First Nation’s American legend Link Wray to the six-string slinger from Melbourne funk contemporaries, The Putbacks.
“I’m really a big fan Link Wray,” admits Panton. “I just love his attitude to the guitar: gritty, lo-fi and just generally attacking the instrument in the best way. Finding some kind of middle ground between that and the classic jazz/blues/soul players like Kenny Burrell or Grant Green – both of whom I love – is perhaps what I’m trying to achieve. Not sure if I’m actually realising that, but always trying to give it a good crack. In terms of modern guitarists, I’m really inspired by Tom Martin… (The Putbacks). He’s always tasty, always funky and in my opinion just has the best sounds out there… Also… Bill Frisell, who is one of my all time favourite artists and probably for all the opposite reasons of why I [like] Link Wray… Subtle, understated, just perfectly melodic and [Frisell] always sounds like himself, regardless of the musical setting.”
On Bandcamp, where the band have made the 45 available, you can also hear some bonus recordings including a live tune recorded at Tasmanian venue, The Homestead. All five tracks are instrumental, but Panton says vocals are likely to feature in the future.
“[I] would love to do a track with up and coming Hobart soul singer Jay Jerome at some point,” says the guitarist. “He is an amazing artist who I think should/will be incredibly famous one day – or at least heard beyond Tasmania – and he has sat in with us before. Nothing is imminent but fingers crossed we can work something out one day and we can be chatting about our new 45 with a vocal A-side featuring Jay.”
Historically Tasmania has been a more isolated in terms of what mainlanders regularly get to hear, not just because of the logistics of touring. Panton has nothing but praise for David Walsh from MONA and the fact that his MOFO festival has really benefitted locals who get the chance to perform alongside national and international acts who are now visiting the island more frequently. As for Tasmania’s scene in general, Panton is happy to bring us up to speed.
“I think the live music scene in Tasmania is pretty strong, but definitely growing. People have been very receptive to our music and venues like The Homestead have been super supportive of what we do. There is a really good mix of festivals in Tasmania these days and we’ve been lucky enough to play many of the best ones including A Festival Called Panama and Dark MOFO which are always highlights. There are a number of great acts in Tasmania, like Afrobeat collective Baba Bruja who are doing great things in Hobart currently and I think there are a lot of amazing musicians based in Hobart. We definitely punch above our weight as a scene in that sense. We don’t really have the soul infrastructure in terms of labels, bands, record stores, radio shows etc (shout to More Soul Than A Sock With A Hole on Edge Radio though) that exist in bigger cities like Melbourne. But punters will come out and see a gig and are genuinely enthusiastic about live music. Nothing really warms up a cold winter night quite like a funky gig and with a crowd that is really fired up in Hobart.”
While it’s generally Sydney and Melbourne that are documented as historical hotbeds for the, albeit minimal, Australian rare-groove scene, Tasmania had its own ’70s treasures, including artists like Lyn Thomas and The Silver Bump Band released by Hobart’s Candle Records. Are younger players in Tasmania likely to be aware of that scene and history?
“Lyn Thomas is someone older members of Hobart’s music scene talk about a lot,” reveals Panton, “especially in conversations with guitarists! In a typical Tasmanian small world situation, I know Lyn best as the dad of one my mates from the skatepark in high school and sometimes we’d head to their place between kick flips to strum some power chords and occasionally he’d pop up and pick some Doc Watson or something. I know he doesn’t really play publicly much anymore but his album Eight Till Late has got a spin at a post Stitch rehearsal hang before: great ’70s sounds and strong jacket and moustache combo on the cover. Most of what I’d heard about Candle Records before was in reference to Howard Eynon and his stuff and only discovered The Silver Bump Band track after releasing our 45 and doing a bit of research.
“There are a lot of great Tasmanian artists on the island, particularly singer songwriters and improvising musicians. Hard to pick just one, but a band that comes to mind from a completely different angle to The Stitch, is post punk band The Foxy Morons – not to be confused with the Melbourne jazz band of the same name. [They have] great songs that really sum up the experience of living in Hobart.”
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as releasing your music on vinyl is there?
“Yeah,” agrees Panton, “there is something fantastically definite about vinyl and lets be honest it does sound better! Our 45 was pressed at Zenith Records in East Brunswick and I think it’s pretty great to be able to have that done domestically. Getting back the testing pressing was kind of a weird feeling, like: I think this is good? Isn’t it? I definitely was happy with how it sounded but I simultaneously felt instantly somehow unqualified to judge it, if that makes any sense. After getting a few friends and the rest of the band’s opinion on the sound, I realised I should have just trusted my initial intuition. I think it sounds pretty good.”
We agree. And if you’re wondering if The Stitch might be jumping the Tasman gap anytime soon, Panton advises the band will doing a Victorian tour in July, playing a few shows to celebrate the release of the single.
“[We] really want to get further north eventually and hopefully can make it up to NSW in the second half of the year.”