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Best known as the drummer for The Living End, one of Australia’s greatest rock bands, Andy Strachan has been using the downtime offered by his band’s less-active recent period to put together some stuff of his own. His self-titled EP of quirky rock songs is released on February 5, and we took some of his valuable time to chat with the amiable drummer about recording solo, not playing guitar very well, and Polyanna!
When I was researching for this interview, I found out something that I didn’t know about you – you were the drummer for Polyanna for a while. That was pretty late – towards the end – because I used to go and see them a fair bit in the 90s, which was before your tenure.
I used to go and see them as well. For a while they were my favourite band so it was pretty exciting at that time. I was only with them for about three years and we… I never did a record unfortunately. We did a couple of little live recordings and things like that but we just toured, basically, until the end. As you probably know, Maryke (Stapleton) got pregnant and had a kid and stopped touring, and that’s when I was lucky enough to get The Living End gig and funnily enough Matt (Handley) was lucky enough to come with me, in a sense. He said, ‘If Chris (Cheney) ever needs a guitar tech, I’d love to try my hand at that.’ Because he’s such a gear boffin. So basically we toured together for ten years. I keep hassling him to do another record or another quick Polyanna tour, just for fun. I’m not giving up yet!
If that was to happen tomorrow, you’d have the time to do that now.
Yeah! It’s been… the last few years, because everyone lives so far away – Chris is over in America, Scott (Owen) is up in Byron… I guess, the touring climate has changed a lot since the last five or six years. We used to tour nine to ten months out of the year and barely see home. But it’s almost the reverse now! So we have a fair bit of time on our hands in between tours so to chuck a six week tour together with Polyanna, just for old time’s sake, would be fantastic. And they’re just such great songs! Matt’s quite a song-dude.
People would probably get pretty excited about that. But in regards to your new EP – this is the second solo-type thing that you’ve done.
Yeah I did something a couple of years ago. I just thought, Why not? The last one, I involved a few close friends to record a couple of the tunes. I record a couple of things all on my own. I had seven songs and I think maybe five of them I had various friends some in and join in, one of which was Seany (Miljoen) from another band I played in for a short time called Violetine.
I remember them too!
Yeah, I was with them for about ten minutes. It was heartbreaking. We got dropped from our label and blahblahblah… Anyway! Long story… So anyway, this time around I thought I’d just do everything myself. I can’t play guitar to save my life, but limitation creates creativity. It just puts you out there. You have to make choices really quick. In a sense it kinda sounds quirky and unique, because I don’t play a standard A-chord or anything like that. It’s all just what sounds good to my ear. I just sort of bashed it all out really quickly. I don’t even know why I’ve done it, really, but it’s been fun trying.
You are a drummer and you’re known as a drummer, so what made you pick up the guitar and bash it out?
I don’t know, really. I’ve just got lots and lots of song ideas dating back ten and fifteen years ago… little demo recordings and things. I bought one of those four-tracks years ago, an old cassette one, and I played everything through it. I played it to Woody (Annison), who’s recorded and produced everything for many, many years, and he said, ‘Shit, that sounds pretty cool man, we should try and record something one day.’ That’s how the idea started so I just kind of fumbled around and came up with some ideas and I feel a little bit more confident and a little bit more comfortable in my own skin on this last one, and I’ve got the next one ready to go. I just really enjoy music and I love the recording process. It’s just kind of a challenge, you know. The drums are the no-brainer kind of part, and you probably get that. I’m not really extending myself in that way. I have to play everything in my head. I play the drums and get ideas in my head, then come back and put the bass and the guitar down and then attempt to sing!
It’s pretty different from what people have heard from you before. Was that important to you, that it be very different from The Living End?
Yeah, absolutely! I’d be kinda stupid to try and emulate anything we do. Because in my opinion I’m playing with two of the best musos around. Chris is not a slouch on the guitar and Scott is phenomenal, so for me to try to sound like the band would be catastrophic! It would be terrible! As I said before, I just want to fiddle around until it sounds good to my ears and whatever that might be. Every track is different and the last one is all piano. I just tried to write a song that was nothing but piano, and that was the outcome. Woody described it as a bad Kanye dream. I’m open to anything and giving anything a try, so long as it is creative and fun and that translates into what you are listening to.
All the tracks are different. These days, people tend to think that a given artist will sound a certain way, but all these songs are very different to each other.
I’m kinda stoked about that. I didn’t set out to achieve that, it just kinda happened. Again, there’s kind of no rules because I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone and I don’t have a record company telling me (ha!) that ‘You need to change that riff and make it more hooky’, or something like that. It’s whatever comes out. So I’m glad that they do sound quite different. The few people that I have played it to have ticked different songs as their favourite, so that’s pretty cool.
There wasn’t anything that was highlighted for me as a stand out song, which was cool because I just went in and listened to them all. When you do something like this independently, you remove yourself from the pressure of producing something that people have expectations about.
Maybe people have some pre-conceived ideas about what it should sound like, but there was no expectations from anyone. And doing it all on my own, there’s no compromise with other people, and I’ve only got myself to blame at the end of the day. It’s just the most organic way to do it.
You said before that you’ve got more songs ready to go, so how soon do you expect to get them out?
I recorded these songs well over a year ago now. It’s just taking me this long to get around to doing anything with it. To be perfectly honest, it’s just a money thing. Studios just cost shitloads of money and to put a CD together, it’s a massive amount of money so I’ve just got to chip away and do it when I can. We did the vocals and a bunch of guitar stuff in my man-room at home. You have to record drums and loud things in studios, but other things you can do at home just to cut the cost a bit.
Do you feel restless now that you’re not touring so much?
Definitely. We’re all chomping at the bit. We’ve got a new record literally sitting there waiting to be released. And it’s been that way for a while, there’s just been little, nigglely things to do. And meetings too… just to get a meeting to try and get a week in the studio is a lot more organisation these days. We’re all super keen to get back on the road. We did a little run of shows with Chisel towards the end of last year and we definitely love playing live and we are desperate to get back out there!