Jodi Biddle

interview with Lion Island’s Matthew Vale

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I’ve written about Lion Island before, on Passenger Side. Curiosity still plagued me about how nine people fit on the stage at Ric’s, so I dropped vocalist Matthew Vale a line to discuss Brisbane, hipsters, rugby, Beirut (the band, not the city) and groupies.

How did you come to be a member of Lion Island? What were you doing before that?
“I created the band Lion Island in April 2009 after a series of recordings that I thought needed a big band. Before that I was a live sound engineer at one of Brisbane’s venues, so I guess I was able to really get a feel for what to do/not to do to make a live ensemble work.”

Your sound has a lot going on, but it manages to be natural and cohesive. With so many members, what’s the collaborative process like?
“I come to the band with either a simple concept, or a completely recorded and tabbed song. I make sure that the members are a part of the process of tweaking parts or even creating whole riffs, rhythms and melodies (to a certain extent). I think that if a musician has contributed in creating their own part, they can be more passionate about it on stage.”

How do you go playing such small venues? The Faster Louder review of your EP launch at Ric’s complained of a bad PA interfering with the sound you’re trying to create. Is this a regular problem?
“It’s always a challenge to play smaller venues with a bigger band. It’s only been in the last few months that we’ve been playing stages that can comfortably accommodate us. It is a regular problem in Brisbane if you want to play regularly as a band. There have been a few silly mishaps… I find myself bumping heads with guitars quite a lot on smaller stages, or maybe partway through a song the drums drop out because the drummer has slipped off the back of the stage…”

Fellow bloggers Polaroids Of Androids said your live set made even the most disaffected hipsters dance. Do you like being labelled as a hipster band? What kinds of crowds do you like to see at your gigs?
“Hmmm, I’m not sure I know what a hipster is… haha. I think that just by being in a band of 20-something-year-olds and playing in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley precinct on a Saturday night, you are bound to be labeled a whole bunch of things. The kind of crowds we like to see at our shows are just people that are having fun and responding to the music in a positive way.”

What about the comparisons to Beirut? You’ve even listed them as an influence on unearthed, but are you striving for the same sort of sound, or are you hoping to move in a different direction?
“Beirut was an influence of mine a long time ago when we had more ukulele and waltzy numbers, but we’ve moved on from that. The unearthed site needs a bit of updating. [It was after this interview was first printed – Ed.] In the next few months I can feel a shift in our sound. We recently lost a great band member, my friend Sudhir who played banjo. Now, rather than finding another banjo player, we are going to try to accentuate the strengths of our current sound.”.

You’re on the 2010 Brisbane Sounds compilation. Are you a Brisbane hater or a lover?
“Yeah, Blair from Brisbane Sounds is a great guy. Coming originally from a small town in WA, I find Brisbane a really comfortable city to live in. It needs more venues for original artists to play. And I don’t like the whole rugby vibe that Brisbane nurtures… it’s probably just that Lion Island are horribly uncoordinated in our rugby muscles. If I was some kind of magical city god, I would wave my magical god-wand and create more killer venues, with tap beer, in pints.”

Most importantly, as advice to aspiring singers, does being the frontman get you the most groupies? Who’s the most popular band member?
“Ha ha. No I don’t get any groupies! I reckon the girls all go for Adrian our guitarist, or Julian the drummer. So to all the aspiring singers out there, take my advice and go buy yourself a guitar!”

Keep an eye out for their EP ‘Berlin’, and check out their Myspace for upcoming gigs (they’re pretty regular).

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