Local music fans aren’t afraid to argue passionately for the quality of bands that have been pouring out of Brisbane in recent times. But what about the Gold Coast?
Long regarded as a cultural backwater, bands on the coast would usually pack their bags and travel up the M1 in order to have their music heard. These days, however, you more and more hear the Gold Coast referred to as a ‘city’, and perhaps certain preconceptions turn on such a tag.
“It’s definitely evolving,” says Paul George, lead singer of Tijuana Cartel, who, like Bleeding Knees Club alongside them, are capturing ears both nationally and internationally. “Actually, a friend of mine said this just earlier: it’s such a concrete jungle and it can be a little superficial, but in that environment you always get a few weeds growing up in-between. We kinda like that … There is a nice little thing going on at the Gold Coast. But what I find funny is that every band that comes out seems to have a completely different style. I don’t think it’s really developed a scene, as such, it’s just that certain people are coming up with their own sounds and getting out there.”
Tijuana Cartel certainly pack a sound of their very own. As we talk about the coast, George mentions strip-staple Swingin’ Safari, and it’s a great way to sum up the Tijuana MO – a heady mix of influences from around the world presented via block-rocking beats and bowel-moving basslines. It’s addictive and it’s distinctive, and came to a head recently on the Tijuanas’ third longplayer, ‘M1’.
“We have been happy with the album, in the sense that we’ve sold more of this album than we have any others,” George explains. “At first it was a bit hard, because we had a lot of people saying that they liked our old stuff better than our new stuff. And we could see that because it was quite a leap from what we were doing. But I think over time people got used to it and the songs seem to be growing and people request songs off that album. It’s worked out in the end.”
But what about artistically? Does the band now reflect upon the six months since the album’s release and think about things they’d do differently?
“Yeah. I like to say I don’t, but I think I do that with all our songs and albums. It’s very rare that I can actually put it on and enjoy it – now and then I can, I just switch off to it – but I think it’s also the fact that we know exactly what went into it: with each guitar bit or synthesizer you think, ‘I could have turned that up a bit,’ or, ‘We should have tried this or that’. I find it hard to let things go and move on.”
Regardless of what George thinks, ‘M1’ paced strongly both critically and commercially and – as albums are often designed to do these days – lit a fire under the Tijuanas’ electric live performances. Late last year, the five-piece ripped through 32 dates around the country. It was a watershed tour, confirming the band’s live prowess to a heap of fresh fans while introducing their unique sound to many more again.
“I think we’re such a word of mouth band,” George says. “We kind of need to tour a lot, because it seems that people will tell their friends that they saw this great band that others have got to come and check out next time. And for the fact that they know it’s a bit of a party band, we can come back regularly. We can do three or four tours a year and get away with it, whereas other bands have to pull back. It definitely pays off.
“I mean, we’re all looking about ten years older because it is a hard slog and you don’t sleep much and you tend to party harder than you really should – all that kind of stuff — but it’s definitely worth it and we love it too. I think it takes a certain sort of person to do it. We’ve gone through quite a few members because that slog of touring gets to people. Unless you really love it, it really takes its toll.”
Now the band are looking to hit the road again, with 12 dates pencilled in around the country during May and June. This time, though, other than taking it a little easier, they’re also mixing up the show, bringing in new live elements via an extra percussionist and a clutch of trumpet players.
“We still have our own percussionist,” George says. “But we’re also taking along a Middle Eastern guy from Byron who’s quite phenomenal. We’re also going to be packing a few different trumpet players as well, and on top of that we have a lot of new songs. So we’re mixing it up and bringing on some special guests and really working with different aspects in terms of lighting and different sound engineers. We’ve tried to give it more impact and a greater stadium vibe.
“We’re also trying to get it a little closer to a DJ set. We want it to be more seamless, focussed on getting people dancing and having a good time. We used to chop and change beats-per-minute quite often and I think it’s better to get people – at least for three or four songs in a row – into one groove and have them dancing that way.”
The tour is to support Tijuana Cartel’s latest single, ‘Offer Yourself’. It’s the first cut from the band’s latest studio sessions, this time with EMI A&R boss and producer, Scott Horscroft. Horscroft has worked behind the boards for Empire Of The Sun, The Presets and 360, and helps bring the Tijuanas back to a more organic sound – something that perhaps balances the intricacy of the band’s early work with the raw power of ‘M1’.
“We’ve sort of gone back to a bit more of a Middle Eastern vibe, I think. Also, we’ve learned a lot about songwriting and how to fit vocals in more and also to get the instruments back in. So we’ve definitely progressed a lot since doing – and by doing – the last album. So yeah, we’re feeling pretty confident at the moment.”
And undoubtedly contributing to their confidence is the announcement of Tijuana Cartel’s addition to the line-up for Splendour In The Grass. It’s bound to be the festival’s most electric showing in years, a 45 minute sell-out vindicating the organisers’ decision to take it all back to Belongil Fields in Byron Bay.
“I think any band that gets to be part of Splendour must be pretty stoked,” George says, laughing. “It’s our first year on the main stage there and we’ve always wanted to do that, so we’re all very stoked about that, to be honest.”
TIJUANA CARTEL PLAY THE SOUNDLOUNGE, CURRUMBIN, MAY 18 AND THE GREAT NORTHERN, BYRON BAY, MAY 19. SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS TAKES PLACE AT BELONGIL FIELDS JULY 27-29. SPLENDOURINTHEGRASS.COM