Ledger Death Inspires Eskimo Joe
The most exciting record on mainstream radio at the moment, Eskimo Joe’s ‘Foreign Land’, did indeed find its muse in distant shores. The first was in New York, when Eskimo Joe arrived to play an event called G’day Australia where John Travolta was to introduce them onstage.
Stuck in an obscenely rich hotel room and hating it, Kav Temperley went for a walk. It started to snow, and New York turned into a beautiful postcard. People came out excitedly to look.
But when Eskimo Joe got to the gig, they heard that Heath Ledger had passed away. Temperley would have been walking a block away from his apartment as the young actor breathed his last. They’d only met once, but the bassist/singer was saddened by a lonely kid from his hometown fading off on his own. That night, the lyrics poured out: “Dying in a foreign land.”
The sound of the track came from another part of the world — Egypt, where Temperley and the band’s manager, Cath Haridy, had gone travelling. Back in Australia, Eskimo Joe took a 10-minute Turkish folk song and sampled an eight-second snake-charmer riff, and melded it to a Zeppelin -like thunderclap. Coming so early in the record’s making, it got Eskimo Joe excited about making the rest of the CD.
“We couldn’t wait to play it live, so we snuck it in as soon as we could,” recalls Temperley, at his home in Fremantle where the back garden has a home studio with mattresses to keep the noise down.
“The first time was at our fans’ Christmas party at a club called Deville’s in Perth. No one really processed it, but we had fun doing it. The next time was at Sound Relief (in Sydney). It was the proper unveiling at such a major event, and the energy of the day was brilliant.”
‘Foreign Land’ kicks off the album in a forceful way, drawing the listener right in. The Egypt trip had been an epiphany for Temperley. When they had made ‘Red Wine Black Fingernails’, they’d tongue-in-cheek told the press about wanting it to be a big stadium band.
“The press ran with it. So you end up playing up to (the image) a little bit and have fun with it. But it does become a persona.”
The album’s four times-platinum success allowed them to live out the stadium-rock dream, with pyrotechnics, screens and lasers. But being in the spotlight became tiresome. Everywhere he went, even in America and Europe, someone would be bellowing out “ESKIES! ESKIES!” It was only in Egypt that Temperley could get some peace.
Seated in Cairo’s 100-year-old El Fyshawys Cafe, having a coffee and smoking a sheesha, he decided that the rock star image had to go.
“We consciously wanted to go back to the dorky, nerdy types hanging out in the jam room making music. That’s the reality of it. I wanted to come back to being me, and seeing where it landed.”
The butterfly on the cover of the ‘Inshalla’ album could well reflect the old Eastern philosophy about happiness (or success) being like a butterfly — chase it, and it flies away. Do something else and it will flutter on to your shoulder. “Inshalla” is Arabic for “God’s will”. In Eskimo Joe’s case, though, it means “whatever happens, happens.”
The lyrics are upbeat and positive this time, mostly because two of them became fathers midway through 2008. Temperley and his partner had a son, Hunter, and guitarist Stuart MacLeod and his partner had twins, Rose and Harry.
One of the album’s standouts, ‘Childhood Behaviour’, is a personal piece with a stark violin about the bassist giving up all vices for two months, in sympathy with his pregnant partner. Was it meant to be as dark?
“It is what it is. It’s about dealing with being a grown-up and getting out of your kiddie habits. The first time I played it to the other guys, it was on the piano. It came out dark and Nick Cave-ish.”
The music on the album ranges from hard attacks to the jangling pop of ‘The Sound Of Your Heart’, ‘Please Elise’ and ‘Your Eyes’. In between are the Eastern touches, more inspired by Peter Gabriel’s World music than Led Zeppelin’s trek to Kashmir - like the percusso-groove of ‘Losing Friends Over Love’ and the epic ‘Falling For You’, where they create the sound of a city collapsing.
The emotions are closer to the surface this time around, emphasised by greater use of light and shade in the music. This was accentuated by British producer, Gil Norton. Rather than work with Pro-Tools, he forced them to be a band, and work on the dynamics of the rhythm section.
10 years ago, when a fledgling Eskimo Joe drove 10-hour trips around Western Australia to gigs, they’d listen endlessly to the Pixies on the Tarago’s CD player — records produced by Norton. His first comment to them was that ‘Black Fingernail’ seemed to be recorded on auto-pilot, and it was time to shake the trees. Eskimo Joe had already come to this conclusion.
When did Temperley first realise he was a creative person?
“Everyone’s creative; it’s about how much freedom you’re given to be. I was lucky my mum encouraged me, I didn’t have to turn to a trade. As a kid I used to tell fantastic stories, not small lies, but ridiculous large ones and get into trouble. Like fibbing that the family had won Lotto and was moving to America, or that the house was inhabited by this fat blob monster, which was REAL. So when I was 13 and starting to write songs, it seemed a progressive step.”
Had he ever had a real job?
“Fremantle’s such a cafe culture, so it’s a rite of passage to work in a café, serving. I did that after I started playing bands at 17. I was a labourer for a time, too.”
What does he collect?
“Any small percussion instruments I can find. I haven’t got a large collection because I keep losing them. When we were making this record, I found a woodblock instrument made from local wood from around Byron Bay. It sounds amazing, I use it on all my demos.”
When’s the last time he was rude to someone, and someone was rude to him?
“Ha! Probably my partner and me (laughs).”
This time around, Eskimo Joe are concentrating on breaking Europe, where ‘Inshalla’ will be released on the major label, Warner. Backstage before a show, Eskimo Joe psyche up by finding the daggiest music around and singing along to it.
“The more daggier, the more uplifting it is! Beyonce’s ‘Single Lady’, it’s kick ass! Each night a different person comes up with a new song. Nick Jonsson, who plays drums with us, dropped an awesome song on us the other day — Lionel Richie’s ‘All Night Long’.
“Normally you hear that anywhere in the world and you want to throw up. But we were like ‘YEAAAAHHH!’ and singing along. I can sincerely say that song has a place in the world to me now.”