Jackson Firebird Interview, 2014

jackson firebird logo shot

Jackson Firebird are an Australian hard rock duo: the team of Dale Hudak and Brendan Harvey. The band, formed in 2006 in Mildura, have perfected the art of drumming on “bottle bins” and running on sweat. “No frills, nothing fancy: just straight up, 12 bar lovin’ rock & roll” is the band’s core ethos. That said, they fly in the face of rock convention, choosing to write their own rules and reside firmly left of center. Similar to buskers or “street artists”, the duo have settled on using at least one unconventional instrument in their mix. The band’s first single, “Cock Rockin'”, an overdriven, moving tune, has garnered these Southern upstarts well-deserved attention, both online and off. While playing a few shows with The Dead Daisies, Dale Hudak took some time to chat with Lee at PlanetMosh. Check out their chat, below.

First off, you’re on a brief little tour with The Dead Daisies, one of those powerhouse bands of ‘stars’. Marco Mendoza, Richard Fortus, John Tempesta, Dizzy Reed, etc. How’s the jaunt, 1/4 the way in, pretty good?

Yeah, we have been lucky enough to snag four shows with The Dead Daisies. The old six degrees of separation went through the roof when we first met these dudes. We were unsure of what to expect, whether they were going to be a bunch of high maintenance rock stars, but they are all laid-back and down to earth. My drum kit hire forgot to include any floor tom legs at the Sydney show, and John Tempesta offered me his floor tom, which was cool. I ended up just gaffering some drum sticks to it, which worked. The shows and response have been great thus far.

You’re going out on a proper tour with Scorpion Child and Horisont – looks like it’ll be a good trek.

Ever since we were teenagers, it was something we dreamed about: heading over to Europe, trekking in a van from country to country, and playing a show every night. It just seemed so far removed from where we were at, living in a small country town in the middle of nowhere, jamming our arses off in my family’s bakery. It’s a trip to be finally doing it, but even better that it’s with two other rockin’ bands. I think Europe is going to be fucking blown away by what’s coming their way. It will be interesting to see how all three bands, who come from different parts of the world (USA, Sweden and Australia) and are all exposed to different shit when making music, fit together.

You guys seem to end up on a lot of ‘big name’ stages. You even managed to double-book a Lady Gaga party. All that… with one album out! How do you do it?

We started getting bigger shows thrown at us when we decided it could be worth playing some gigs in the city. Word kinda got around what we were doing live, and after that, the shows started getting bigger. The Lady Gaga thing was funny, because we didn’t know shit about it until the next day. She wanted her after party at the Cherry Bar in Melbourne, and the venue’s owner, James Young, told her it wasn’t going to happen. Needless to say the next gig was packed, thanks to the exposure.

You’ve also done something that very few others have done: you hit the front page of YouTube. Did you get a lot of love from the YouTube spotlight?

We still get people coming up to us, saying they love the clip. When it was getting made, all the email edits were titled “Cock with words”, which seemed to sum up a karaoke-style clip (with illustrated cocks rockin’ out). It’s all in good fun though – a bit tongue in cheek.

I’m surprised that the censors let “Cock Rockin'” in to Canada. They’re very strict about “potentially offensive or pornographic” stuff… like an animated music video filled with dancing penis drawings. Many laughs.

I think everyone has drawn a cock-n-balls on something at least once in their lives. It was debated whether an almighty splooge climax should finish off the clip, but yeah, then the Canadians may not have gotten a look in.

My family would have thrown me out of the house if I drew anything phallic when I was sixteen; how did you guys get her to do those drawings, and not get ‘tossed out on the street’?

It was through Warner Music that we found the artist. She won a coloring-in competition of Goyte, where she colored him in with penises. Ingenious, really. My oldies would have loved it if the worst I was doing at sixteen was drawing cock for cash.

Okay, this happened like 16 years ago, but I never heard the story, so, how did you get the band name? What inspired you to begin playing music in the first place?

We met about 16 years ago, but didn’t start jamming together until much later. We started out, just jamming the early Black Keys albums for fun, about 8 years ago. It wasn’t until our original material outnumbered the Keys tracks, that we decided to change our name from “The White Keys” (yeah, original, I know) to Jackson Firebird.

Apparently the Firebird part (of your band name) is more a dedication to what’s thought of here as an 80’s classic “hot rod”, a car.

The name Jackson Firebird came from the model of Harvey’s first guitar, which was a ‘bogan’ piece of work, with Vision Streetware stickers and shit. It didn’t occur to us at the time, that every time someone asked the name of our band, that we would have to repeat the Firebird part.
“Jackson Five?”
“Nah mate, FIRE-BIRD. You know, like the car…” “Aw, stuff it, I’m Tito and this is Jermaine.”

I have one technical (and possibly nosey!) question. Obviously, in the studio, you can layer to your heart’s content and get an immense wall of sound. You’re being marketed as one of those “huge sounding” live bands, so, I wanted to know how you’re accomplishing that (live), while staying a duo, sans bassist or second guitarist.

Our sound is, as you hear it. Obviously in the studio you have the ability to layer tracks, but whilst doing that, I always keep in mind how it’s going to be performed live. During our live shows, it’s full tilt, with no sampling or looping. I have mucked around with looping at home, but it makes it a too-repetitive sound. As far as I see it I might as well get a bass player, if I was to head down that track. So in a song like “Little Missy” it’s just a shitload of quick movements between lead breaks, and holding the rhythm down. Sub guitar sounds, good tone, a kick ass drum sound, and sweat is all we need live! Keep it simple.

What’s your ‘typical’ songwriting process?

One of us normally comes up with a bit of a melody or riff on our own time, and we get together, and try to nut out the best direction to take it from there. The voice memo on my phone is chocca block of me singing guitar parts, or ideas for vocal melodies. If I lost my phone, and somebody listened to that stuff, they would be like “ha, what a tosser!” A lot of the time when you start playing something that feels right, it just naturally falls into place.

I’m from the USA, and we have our share of “off the beaten path” rock acts. The beating on that handmade contraption instead of the regular drum kit is “different”, and “neat”. It makes for at least one song with no cymbal crashes! I’ve not been to one of your shows, so does this happen in songs besides “Bottle Bin”?

Around the time we were just doing Black Keys stuff, a good mate had a “bucks party”, camping out in the bush – big bonfire and all that. Harvey had his acoustic, and I had my hands and all kinds of other stuff like plastic tubs, steel, and sheets of corrugated iron. I woke up the next day with a killer hangover, shitloads of bruises, and an idea. Using a big sponge cake tray and a Mildura Rural City Council Recycle bin for percussion, songs like “Bottle Bin” and “Shake The Breakdown” just happened. When you strip back a drum kit to just a bass and snare, it’s easier to strip down the guitar and vocals, and just simplify everything into a heavy rock song. Playing it live is probably the best part about it.

You guys have actually been here (to the USA), to play the traveling circus that is SXSW, no less. I don’t know all the inner workings of it, other then some cities turn in to an absolute madhouse while the fest is going on. Sort of like Mardi Gras on crack.

Mardi Gras on crack… Perfect! SXSW was killer, but just insane. There is so much going on in Austin, that making a decision on where you want to be at what time is really hard; ‘Steve Earle, or the Eagles of Death Metal?’ or to ‘go and check out something entirely new?’
Mostly, the best fun was had just walking into a random pub, and getting blown away by a bunch of characters playing their arses off. We played two awesome shows over there, but one was just 20 minutes, which really isn’t enough time to get your message across. ‘You just get started, and then it’s finished’ – that’s my only issue with the whole thing – too many bands, not enough time.

What did you think of it here? I think you guys would do well here, especially if you paired up with a band like ZZ Top, the Black Crowes, or someone with a similar sound to the Georgia Satellites. You’ve got that high energy ‘bluesy classic rock’ vibe nailed. Sonically huge like AC/DC, and a little loose like Jimmy Page.

You just nailed some of my favorite bands right there. Just add some Allman Brothers and Pantera. The USA has so much good music, especially when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll and blues. We generally have to wait way too long between tours, when it comes to American bands touring Australia.

jackson firebird band photo collage

Besides playing lots of shows, what is Jackson Firebird Looking forward to – what’s the future shaping up to be?

We hit the studio in Austin during SXSW, and recorded a bunch of songs. We’ve just done some demos here in Australia, so a new album is just around the corner. But we are currently putting all our focus into the upcoming tour over in Europe, at the end of next month. The band has never been over there (with exception of the UK), and are just looking forward to smashing up some clubs and festivals while over there.

These parting words are yours…

Rock out with your cock out!
(Alternatively) Jam out with your clam out!

Official Band Facebook Page
Official Band Website

About Iris North

My formal position is: editor and music reviewer. I joined the PlanetMosh army in 2012. I enjoy extreme metal, 'shred' guitar, hard rock, prog rock, punk, and... silly pop music!