On his most recent foray to Australian shores in support of Australian only release ‘Long Way Down,’ G.Love sat down for a chat with Soulshine’s Max Easton. Covering anything from the fate of Lauren Hill to the state of the music industry, Soulshine has it all typed out in two parts.
G.Love & Special Sauce have become a touring staple in Australia, with a run around the country almost every year. Having taken the step of releasing an Australian only album as their first on their own label Philadelphonic Records, it’s obvious that the band has a special place in their heart for this country…and there’s no doubt that that’s entirely reciprocated. G.Love has been a busy man, with this album and a new international one on the way, he’s also found time to start on a novel titled ‘101 Ways Not to Fuck Up Your Chances of Being a Rockstar.’ Recently posting a chapter of the book titled ‘I Love Your Shit,’ on his blog, the interview kicked off with his own advice.
Max Easton (Soulshine): First of all welcome back to Australia…and I love your shit.
G.Love: [laughs] Oh, you read that shit? [laughs]
ME: How’s the book going anyway?
G: Yeah, well I’ve got like 30 or 40 chapters written…and I got my drummer to start writing. He’s done two, so he needs to step it up a bit…but yep, we need 101 chapters. I do them in spurts, like I’ll get inspired and do three or something. I’ve been doing ones on artists, like I did one on Snoop Dogg and one on Jack White. Kind of the things I admire about the way they’ve run their career and the way they do their thing. I should write one about Lauren Hill…cos she’s dumb man, she fucked everything up. Remember she did that great record, but she took herself so seriously then married one of the Marley’s…then thought she was some kind of spiritual god or something like that. Instead of just being some dope musician chick, she thought she was…I dunno what she thought she was…but why isn’t she like Beyonce or something? Beyonce’s fine and whatever, but wouldn’t you rather hear Lauren Hill? She’s got so much soul, but she can’t…why hasn’t she made another record? She got like six grammy’s that year then that was it. She was done.
ME: Last time you were out here, you were headlining the main stage at Bluesfest, so you’ve obviously got some pull with Australian audiences…but this time around you’re playing relatively modest venues. Do you feel more comfortable with a smaller crowd?
G: Naw, I love a big festival…I mean the festivals are different, we have a big festival draw and…I mean…well, I’m not gonna lie to you. Times are tough right now in the music business, just falling apart. Now with the economy in the US…and I don’t know what it’s like here…but there’s always a lot of competition and I dunno man, we’re having a tough time now. We’re over here and we just put out a record…Australia for us has been this mystery. We feel like our music does really well over here, and we’ve been putting out records but never been able to crack one. Our sales are always really modest. Our festival slots have definitely gotten bigger over the years, but we’ve always played venues like the Metro in Sydney and stuff. I think we have a really great core audience here, but obviously we haven’t really…you know…but that’s cool, it’s a grass roots thing and we love coming over here. We just keep trying and so much of it is timing and what the radio wants to play. It’s tough now…cos people don’t really buy records.
ME: With the whole digital age thing?
G: Well yeah…
ME: Do you think that with the influence of the internet these days, with this open communication thing…do you think your music is spreading further but maybe being balanced out by piracy?
G: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s helped touring, but it’s obviously cut into record sales big time. Like BIG big time. Two records ago we put out ‘Lemonade’ and it did good in the US, sold like a hundred thousand copies which is good now…but if that record came out ten years ago, it would’ve been a gold record if people were buying records. I’m sure a million people have that record. My girlfriend is the perfect example of someone who is really into music, listens to a lot of music, checks out a lot of bands, but pays for nothing. Like, refuses to pay for anything. I mean, I don’t give a shit, it’s just the way it is. You hope that people come out to the shows…I never made any money off any records really, cos we haven’t sold enough to start making too much…but the touring has always been our bread and butter. We have a strong touring thing in the US especially. We’ve been doing this thing for 15..16…uh 17 years…my whole life. So what are you gonna do? I’m happy to just be playing music. I mean, last night…would I rather be playing in a stadium in Melbourne? Yeah sure…but we played this awesome venue, The HiFi…and I love the little clubs. The Metro sized room, I love those sized rooms. I’ve spent ten years playing clubs like that in the US, like a few hundred shows a year, and a lot of the songs I’ve written have been the kind of beat played in those kind of rooms. So I feel very at home with them. I do feel like certain energies and rhythms and tempo’s go over well in certain rooms, like a smaller club has a lot of energy and can really win people over, but the bigger venues you need more floaty stuff. Like the up-tempo funky stuff gets lost in a big room. Someone like Jack Johnson who is very lilty and medium tempo and melodic goes over well in a big space you know what I mean? The kinda rooms you play influence the music you make…for me anyway.
ME: You’ve released your latest album independently. Being established now, do you think you have more room to have done it this way? Like, do you think you would have done it ten years ago in hindsight…are you in a more comfortable position so that you can go independent?
G: I dunno, it’s a good question. I feel like we’ve always been underground in our own way, even though we were on Sony and then Universal, like major labels, but we were always playing. Our whole thing has been a grass roots approach on a major record label. But yeah, we got dropped by Sony records right after 9/11…the month right after that we got the call and got dropped. The whole label game was always so…uh…I had a lot of ups and downs in my career…but you know…a lot of records…okay. So at the end of our Sony years we put out this record ‘Philadelphonic’ which introduced Jack Johnson and they put his song as the single and it got the biggest radio play…and we felt we really delivered a commercially viable record, and obviously, look how commercially viable Jack Johnson ended up being. So that album should have sold a million copies…that was another record which was the beginning of people ripping off music…that record sold 280,000 copies in the US…but the problem was, we were all ‘fuck the label,’ we just made a hit record and they fucked us…they didn’t even make a video or anything. So after that we did ‘Electric Mile’ thinking ‘fuck being commercial,’ cos that was a thing…I decided to cut Jack’s tune, decided to do someone else’s tune on one of my records and I was really into the song and everything, but it was also…when it did become the single and everything, put me in an emotionally weird place. I didn’t know if I wanted to play it live y’know…cos it wasn’t my song and it took me a while to really think of it as being one of our songs. Then Jack re-cut it on his record anyway, so it is what is now, but it’s still a G.Love and Jack song, that was the first version that was put out. But that wasn’t even the question was it? [laughs]
The bottom line was like, we got dropped from them and we did think about going independent but then Brushfire came along and asked us to sign with them. We were going to sign with an indie label, cos by that time we couldn’t get a major one…so we were looking at those labels at the time. We just didn’t have the infrastructure at the time to put out our own thing, so blah blah blah…now it’s eight years later and we were looking for a way to put this record out and we’ve been really unhappy with Universal down here. So we said ‘fuck it, let’s try to do it ourselves.’ Jay, my manager, worked real hard and found Shock Records which is a really great thing, and a lot of the people down here like Xavier Rudd and John Butler…it’s a big thing down here to be independent and a lot of indie artists go really well. So we tried it and it’s been really cool. The record hasn’t sold a lot, maybe it will maybe it won’t, but it really gives us this confidence. We’re really happy on Brushfire in the US and that’s a good family, but at the end of the day, if you’re only gonna sell fifty or a hundred or a few thousand records, and I know that my fans are gonna come out and buy it, then why don’t I just put the shit out myself? That way I don’t have to pay anybody…even guys like Brushfire…that label IS an independent label and it’s a labour of love for many people, like Jack doesn’t really do anything with the label, but his manager, it’s really him…and those guys haven’t really popped anything big off it yet, but um, it’s definitely an independent family kinda vibe and I like it, I’m happy there.
ME: So is the Australian record an experiment then?
G: No, no…it’s not an experiment…this is the beginning of our label. I’ve had Philadelphonic Records as like…my dream since 1998. I’ve come across so many people that I’d love to put out. If I would’ve had the infrastructure set up back in the day, I would’ve put out a lot more people…cos I’ve helped a lot people get major record deals, like Jack is probably the most well-known, and my friend Jasper and the Prodigal Sons; they got a deal and this girl I used to date, Rosie, got a deal with Def Jam and Tristan Prettyman…so I’ve been able to orchestrate people into good deals and shit over the years. I’m sayin, if you have a hit record, then people throw money at you and you can set up a label and shit like that. Cos we’ve always been climbing up a hill…focus on your record, make a hit record. My music’s so quirky I guess…I dunno…I’m making a hit record right now, that’s what I’m doin…but my music’s different…it has to be a timing thing.
You can read part two of Soulshine’s interview with G.Love, covering his songwriting process, working with major labels against independents and the success of Bon Iver here: http://www.soulshine.com.au/article/2009/12/10/538-soulshine-interviews-g-love-part-2-of-2-.html