Andy Bull has emerged as one of Australia's most popular musicians and has even been dubbed the "Synth pop king we've been waiting for." He's recently announced a national tour in promotion of his latest album "Sea of Approval". Bull will perform the Adelaide leg of the tour at everyone's favourite live venue The Gov on 16 April. We here at This is Radelaide had the chance to catch up with him and chat the ARIAs, life lessons and what we can expect from his tour.
You were nominated for three ARIA awards recently, including best break-through artist, but you’ve obviously been on the scene for some time now. What was it like to be recognised by the industry like that?
It’s an interesting one because I got a sense of, on the night, that there’s different ways of experiencing the industry so I feel like I experience it a lot because I do it every day and I play shows, I make music and I deal with people like musicians and bookers and all of that kind of stuff so I felt like I was kind of in the industry. But then when you get to the ARIAs it’s weird, I thought I knew a great deal of who was involved in the industry but then when you get to the ARIAs there’s just all of these people that you’ve never seen before in your life. You’ve never seen them at a show, not your show or anyone else’s. You don’t deal with them on a day-to-day level so you’re kind of like “What is this thing? This kind of machine?” So that’s an interesting thing, it’s like you’re a part of the industry but that particular institution – that ARIA awards – I think it revolves more around the really commercial aspects of the industry, so I guess the music that makes money and is kind of more in the commercial realm as opposed to the community realm, which I think is more where people I know exist. We work with a small group of people that put on shows and outside that community, and outside of Triple J, we don’t really exist. So, I felt like I was an anomaly definitely, at the ARIAs, because it’s a night for the part of the industry that doesn’t include me which is obviously fine. It’s weird being alongside groups like ‘Shepherd’ and ‘Five Seconds of Summer’ – you might not like my music but it’s not really like that, it doesn’t really exist in that realm. I felt like the odd one out but I was happy to be like that as well. There’s a board that nominates and decides who gets nominated and it’s obviously very political, well, political is the wrong word but you get nominated because people who you know happen to be on the board.
So there’s a bit of a clique then?
Yeah, but it’s also really nice because it’s nice to be the token vote as well. I have friends in the band ‘Dappled Cities’ and they’ve been nominated a couple of times as well and they always say the same thing, you’re never going to win, there’s not even a faint hope because you’re there but the event doesn’t really concern you and that becomes apparent pretty early on. But having said that it’s actually a really enjoyable position to be in because you’re not really a part of it but you’re there to enjoy the free booze and mingle, like it’s pretty casual. It’s a funny old anomaly but you don’t really think about it.
You also played Laneway earlier this year and I know you’re a big Connan Mockasin fan, were there any other surprises for you at the festival?
Yeah, the Connan Mockasin one was a big on because I’d never seen him live before and it was such a great show. I’d seen St Vincent so many times but it was still one of my favourite shows to see, like I’d seen her three times before Laneway and then I saw her every night at Laneway. Man, it was an awesome line up, the whole thing was huge, did you go by any chance?
Yeah, I was at the Adelaide one actually.
Did you have any highlights yourself?
It would have to be Mac Demarco for me, I love Mac.
Yeah definitely, I’d seen Mac a couple of times before so it wasn’t a new one but he’s awesome. He was sort of the star back stage as well, he was always wearing dresses and carrying on like that, it was really entertaining. Oh, Angel Olsen, that’s who I was thinking of, I really like Angel Olsen. Caribou put on a pretty amazing set as well, that was pretty bangin’ and obviously Courtney Barnett was pretty large.
I just had a quick perusal of your Facebook page earlier today and I noticed you’ve got Alan Watts lectures and some posts that encourage self-reflection and that sort of thing. Is that spiritual aspect a big part of your life?
One of the things I like about Alan Watts says is that there is no possibility for improvement, like, there is a possibility in life for acceptance and peace. But I’m so skeptical of self-improvement and reaching goals, smashing down the wall, like I’m really skeptical about all of that. What I think life is, is mostly acceptance and letting go so I think that stuff is pretty important to me. I think that’s probably important to a lot of people without them realising because I mean any human being who can look at themselves and say "I am this person, I want to do these things, this is my situation,” that is self-reflection, so I don’t know anyone who doesn’t do that, right? But there’s like, in the quest to remain sane through all that, through incredible losses and deaths, and all the things that happen in life I think for cognitive, sensitive beings there needs to be a discussion around that sometimes. Otherwise you end up with problems, so I feel like it’s important to everyone, but it’s not like a special interest. I would never go around saying I’m a spiritual person and I’m not a religious person or anything like that, I don’t care about any of that stuff. It’s enjoyable to discuss. I think that kindness and gentleness and calmness is always that answer. I don’t believe in spiritual journeys or anything like that, it’s a real mistake to go around thinking you’re going to become enlightened along a spiritual path, I think all of that stuff is hogwash but I think you have to deal with it and always make an effort to be kind and gentle and accepting. I think that’s true. Like you don’t chuck a tantrum and crash a plane into a mountain, that’s crazy and I think on a day-to-day basis that stuff happens all the time.
Back on to the music, ‘Talk Too Much’ came in at number 71 in the Triple J Hottest 100 earlier this year, and you’ve placed three times in the past two years and appeared on their Live At The Wireless program. What has Triple J meant for you as a station, did you grow up with it? And what have they meant for your career?
It’s weird because when I was growing up I wasn’t really listening to radio much. I had a sense of it there but I mean it was a different time, when I was a teenager it was the late nineties so I guess Triple J was in the peripheries of my mind but I was at school. I didn’t really start listening to it until after I had finished school and I was spending time on the trains to go to university, you know what I mean? When you’ve got that time to kill. To me as a musician it’s kind of a difficult thing to talk about because it’s made all of the difference but you don’t really want to say that, you know what I mean? Before I started getting played on Triple J the kind of frightening truth is no-one cared, no-one came to the shows and it was hard, it was really hard. It was like that for about ten years and you’re just peddling everything yourself. It didn’t really feel like there was avenues before that, I didn’t really understand how the internet worked and it was maybe before the internet was so ubiquitous in opening up channels. I didn’t really have a sense that there was any concern or interest [before Triple J got involved] and I battled so hard to get people to come along and get involved. For years it was like getting friends to come along and maybe family members. Then Triple J start playing and it’s getting played to a lot of people and suddenly you’ve got an audience coming to your shows. So, to me it has made a huge amount of difference but it has also just connected me to a lot of other musicians as well – it’s kind of that common ground for heaps of musicians. I don’t take it for granted at all.
So you’ve met a lot of musicians through Triple J and you’ve collaborated with a lot of musicians as well – you’ve had Lisa Mitchell early on, and Ainslie Wills sang her part in ‘Dog’ recently and you’ve also collaborated with Thelma Plum recently. So, it feels to me like there’s a bit of a community of musicians in Australia that want to collaborate and create something bigger, is that how you see it?
I think so, yeah, I think generally there are musicians who just really enjoy the company of one another. So I think that happens naturally when there is a platform for people to meet - backstage at shows, doing support tours, sometimes radio events, that kind of stuff – all of those platforms people kind of use to migrate together and do stuff together. I definitely think that’s true, yeah.
Is there anyone that you want to work with that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
Yeah, there’s definitely lots of people around who are really interesting but I think you’ve just got to let these things unfold naturally.
I’ve noticed in a previous interview you’ve said you never play songs exactly the same in any one night, what’s the reason behind that?
It just doesn’t happen that way because every night there’s four of you on stage and everyone does something slightly different. Maybe the vibe is different, there are just so many variables so you just kind of play how you feel that night. So in the extended outro you’ll reach the crescendo sooner or later, or you’ll hit the chorus different, or you’ll do something different in the verse just because you’re playing it every night and you’ve got the ability to do it differently. We’re not tied down to things like backing tracks, we don’t use those, so it’s just guys playing on stage every night so it’s inevitable that it’s going to be different. You respond to one another and respond to things you do without thinking and you respond to the crowd and it just becomes something new every night.
You’ve recently announced your national tour, what can we expect from those shows?
Just what I was saying – really live, slightly involved I guess, it’s kind of more like a live show, so I think people will enjoy it. It’s different to the record, it’s much more wiley I guess. I think it’s very exciting to play, and I think it’s very exciting to listen to so I would say it’s different to the record and it’s being invented on the night. That’s more compelling in live music to see that sort of thing at the moment, so if you want to see lots of drums and guitars and synths spazzing out then that’s us.
Friday, April 10 – ANU Bar, Canberra
Saturday, April 11- Hi-Fi, Sydney (All Ages)
Thursday, April 16 – The Gov, Adelaide (All Ages)
Friday, April 17 – 170 Russell, Melbourne
Friday, April 24 – Unibar, Wollongong
Saturday, April 25 – The Cambridge, Newcastle
Saturday, May 2 – The Brightside, Brisbane (U18 Matinee & 18+ Evening Show)
Friday, May 8 – The Rosemount, Perth
Saturday, May 9 – Mojos, Fremantle
Sunday, May 10 – Stretch Arts Festival, Mandurah (All Ages)