Reflecting The Past In The Present

Letting go of the past is not always an easy thing to do. Jamie Hutchings returns with Infinity Broke.

The whole world could have ended after that final show and those in attendance probably wouldn’t have cared a jot, such was the breathtaking spectacle that had just taken place. It was the second act of a scheduled double bill over the course of two evenings at the now deceased Hopetoun Hotel or “Hoey” as it was affectionately known back then. In fact, it was two spectacles never to be repeated; one of those, “You had to be there to believe it” moments as far as the performances went, with their memories all but a scrawled entry on a top ten list of gigs of all time, if you like the cut of your anorak that is! The year had just entered the big zeros, and the band causing all of this commotion was Bluebottle Kiss.

These two back-to-back performances in Sydney, Australia were a major turning point without the then trio of Jamie Hutchings, Ben Fletcher and Richard Coneliano necessarily realising it. It was the combination of old material mixed with a much needed jolt to the system of new material, with the fresher songs sparking the band into life and reigniting the passion of a longstanding following that had been there since the major label days and whose loyalty and patience was finally being rewarded. From the muscular juggernaut of ‘Six Wheels’ trampling over your soul through to the incendiary ‘Stained Mouth’ and a monumental first airing of the now legendary ‘Prussian Blue’, these two live performances shook the very foundations of the Australian underground music scene and sent out a clear reminder of the band’s capabilities.

River Mirrors

In hindsight, these two live performances were, unfortunately, the beginning of the end, despite Bluebottle Kiss going on to record a succession of creatively consistent and critically well-received albums after suffering a somewhat indifferent reception from the music press prior to this prolific song writing period. It seemed that a combined effort of constant line-up changes, ill-fated tours – America in particular – and various promises regarding record deals overseas proved too much as the band’s founder, and only surviving member, Jamie Hutchings decided to call time on this particular chapter in his life.

Three solo albums later, with a noticeable toning down in the sonic department, Jamie Hutchings has decided to pledge his allegiance to a full-time band once more with Infinity Broke. The moniker surrounding this new line-up is rather suggestive of the dashed hopes Bluebottle Kiss suffered on numerous occasions but, at the same time, it offers the chance of a fresh start and one that is free of the shackles regarding the name of Hutchings’ former band, more of which later.

Once news broke that first single ‘Swing A Kitten’ from this year’s ‘River Mirrors’ long player was going to be a return to the harsher sounds akin to Bluebottle Kiss (the past hasn’t been completely discarded), curiosity got the better of Famous Last Words (FLW) after nearly a decade had passed and those ‘doubt seeds’ had well and truly revealed themselves and withered into obscurity. It wasn’t just the nature of this one particular song however, with its cut ‘n’ paste technique of its promotional video reflecting the agitated rhythm of the song by displaying pockets of urban decay on the fringes of Sydney’s city centre, because other segments of this album treaded a path back to early explorations via ‘Higher Up The Firetrails’ which, if you’re a longstanding Bluebottle Kiss aficionado was probably the biggest surprise of all once the songs of ‘River Mirrors’ had acquainted themselves. It’s this very observation of a surprise return to former guitar experimentations that opens the discussion with Jamie Hutchings one evening over a rather temperamental network connection.

Infinity Broke

“I’d like to think it’s a bit more sophisticated in terms of what we’re doing now,” considers Jamie Hutchings regarding the comparisons Infinity Broke and his former band Bluebottle Kiss are receiving. “I wanted to do something different, as playing electric guitar aggressively is pretty natural for me, but I feel that my [current] guitar playing is pretty different from the early stuff because I’m trying to push it out further in a way, despite still possessing that explosive element to it. So it’s noisier [‘River Mirrors’] but you become a better lyricist and approach things in a different way over time.”

Once the aforementioned ‘Higher Up The Fire Trails’ comparison is mentioned, Jamie Hutchings sounds genuinely intrigued by this observation, but prefers to cite another record from his back catalogue with Bluebottle Kiss that was equally loose in its guitar explorations.

“There was a Bluebottle Kiss EP called ‘Double Yellow Tarred’ early on, and that’s probably the most similar [in sound] to the Infinity Broke material. I would say that ‘Double Yellow Tarred’ is probably the closest thing in terms of unedited jams, like that whole thing of finding a really pulsing, droning sound and then letting it drive without any thought to what the clock is doing. For example, when we recorded the ‘Fear of Girls’ album [Bluebottle Kiss], Jack Endino [producer] really came down hard on me saying, ‘These repetitive sections go on for too long!’ which, at the time, was good advice. I feel that I’ve got a handle on doing that again now; finding a one chord section that you can keep repeating, but you repeat it until it starts to stretch and get out of shape and ends up as something else.”

The criticism from Jack Endino has certainly been heeded as ‘River Mirrors’ has trimmed its edges and is definitely free of any excess despite its experimental tendencies. But the comparisons remain, however, with Jamie Hutchings previous band and current project Infinity Broke.

“I think whenever people would associate me with music, it always felt that it had to be this dramatic, explosive kind of thing,” explains Jamie. “So I felt that I wanted to set up a challenge for myself, and also for audiences, by paring things back and become a songwriter that didn’t have to rely on the fireworks for a while. I really enjoyed playing at lower volumes and using my voice in a different way and relying on other textures besides feedback and guitar when I recorded and performed live as a solo artist.”

When did you realise that you wanted to reintroduce a noisier element to your music once again?

“Whenever I went to Europe, I started to play more electric [guitar] and I was enjoying playing in a more improvised way,” answers Jamie. “I was listening to a lot of music like that – not singer-songwriter stuff – but music that was free whether free rock or free jazz where they’d be creating something explosive and almost unmusical from other peoples’ perspectives. So to be able to destroy structure and be able to pull something out of nothing is something that was really appealing to me, but without walking away from the fact that I am the songwriter. Therefore, it felt like a natural progression to bring those percussive elements from the solo records that I did, and introduce them to a noisier and unconventional rock context.”

Having written and recorded three solo albums, the option to return to a full band line up was not a hasty, overnight decision because the solo records often involved a number of musicians – including family members with Scott and Sophie Hutchings – who would also venture out on tour with Jamie Hutchings when required. Therefore, the feeling of band camaraderie was never far away.

Infinity Broke (3)

“From ‘Avalon Cassettes’ [solo album] it was the same line up except Scott [Hutchings] and Jared [Harrison] swapped roles, as Scott was playing the drums and Jared was playing the percussion. Scott went overseas and Jared, Reuben [Wills] and I did a tour of Europe where the three of us started mucking around with some of this material [‘River Mirrors’]. When Scott returned from overseas, that’s when I thought that it would be great to have two percussionists in a rock band. I have seen lots of bands do it, but a lot of the time the drummers are doing exactly the same thing; I mean, it looks good, but it’s not really adding anything. So rather than the twin guitar dynamic that happened with Bluebottle Kiss, we decided upon a twin drum attack dynamic where they’re playing counter rhythms and then joining up at different times which, in a rock context, I thought would be really cool.”

Considering that Infinity Broke has affiliations with your previous band on a few different levels, why did you decide not to continue with the name Bluebottle Kiss?

“It was Scott who was really pushing for changing the band name,” responds Jamie. “I had got to a stage where Bluebottle Kiss had played together for so long that people were always asking about when the band was coming back and all that sort of stuff, even when I was performing solo. So it can be a noose around your neck after a while, even though I was the person driving the band and the only real original member in the end.”

If it was your brother Scott pushing for a change of name, you must have been content with carrying on your musical exploits under your own name?

“I was a bit slow to do a band name because of the pervious line-up changes and people asking about when I’m going to do that again [Bluebottle Kiss]. However, it was Scott who was really keen for a change to the band name and the rest of the guys pretty much felt the same way. In the end, I decided that there was nothing to lose and that it could bring considerable freshness to the whole thing.”

In hindsight, you must be reasonably pleased that you considered the change of band name because it’s an intriguing title?

“Yeah, but it’s funny though, as my manager informed me that she thought it was one of the worst band names she’s ever heard!” says Jamie laughing. “I don’t know, but it’s your mind set and what you’re in to at any particular time. It was actually going to be the name of the album, as we were playing under the name of Jamie Hutchings and The Goldfish Memories, which was a makeshift name, and then Scott suggested that we use the name of the album for the band instead, so that’s how it happened. For me, the aesthetics of a word or a conglomeration of words has got to be right as a lot of the best album titles sound so beautiful. For example, I’m not an REM fan, but some of those early REM records have really good names, as do a lot of The Church records and early Sonic Youth albums as well. It’s got to read well and before you even think about what it means, it’s got to have some sort of impact on a visceral level as it’s got to evoke something, even if it’s confusion. If it’s creating such a feeling, then that’s certainly a good thing.”

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Once the band name Infinity Broke was in place, the next step was to decide on a location for the album ‘River Mirrors’. After some initial consideration, the band submitted a request to record at a former shearing shed, which has been transformed into a haven for the creative arts and is situated in the middle of the NSW Australian outback. With the submitted request granted, Infinity Broke set about their business to record the eight-track album ‘River Mirrors’.

“My friend Chris Colquhoun, who needs to take a lot of credit for the way the record sounds, recorded ‘Avalon Cassettes’ and Mark Moldre’s record ‘An Ear To The Earth’ (Mark Moldre has also featured in the Blues, Country and Folk section of FLW). As a result of this, we formed a bit of a production team and Chris acquired a bit of gear – old analogue equipment with a tape machine and some basic preamps and so forth. Once the location for the album recording had been decided, we discovered that nobody had really done anything musically there before. So we ended up recording there and it really is out in the middle of nowhere as there is no real phone reception or anything like that. It’s very much inland Australia as there’s no real wind and it’s very, very still and very silent, so you could pretty much record at any hour, which is ideal, but the only real downside was that it was incredibly hot!”

Apart from the oppressive temperatures in the studio, did the band experience any further problems when recording ‘River Mirrors’?

“It seemed pretty smooth at the time as we were getting amazing takes really quickly,” remembers Jamie with much enthusiasm. “In particular, the songs ‘Termites’ and ‘Monsoon’ really came together as those songs were full performances with nothing added other than a bit of percussion and singing. So they really hinged on their performances as that’s always a loaded situation, but we managed to nail really good performances on probably the second or third takes of those songs. It all went seamlessly apart from some dramas with my guitar tuner deciding to tune my guitars slightly out of tune from everybody else! Naturally, I ended up blaming everybody else by saying it was their instruments that were out of tune and not mine [laughing]!”

Infinity Broke (5)

How long did it take to record the album ‘River Mirrors’?

“The main parts were recorded over two stints, which probably took about seven days in total,” replies Jamie. “The band did the whole lot as the performances were live; the guitar, drums, bass is all happening at the same time and wasn’t done separately. We basically got two albums [from the recording sessions] because of the amount of material we recorded at the same time. We even managed to record the vocals from a group of local girls from Bathurst, who appear on the track ‘No Mirrors’ and they will also be heard on quite a few other songs when the second album is ready.”

With the recording in place and ‘River Mirrors’ set to make its entrance, there was the small, but rather significant problem of finding an outlet for these new songs. Having jumped from record label to record label over the years, as well as experiencing various aches and pains associated with this process of finding the right home for his recorded works, Jamie Hutchings heeded some wise words from a close associate regarding the process of crowdfunding as he explains.

“Unless you can find a record label that is really going to benefit a band, there doesn’t really seem to be any point working with a label unless they can get you places that you can’t get to yourself. I got sick of being on different labels every time and trying to sell a record, as it’s quite demoralising and I really hate doing it. I had a label in England that had sent me a contract and everything, but then they backed out. So I had a few disappointments and told myself to forget it. It was at this point that a friend of mine told me about crowdfunding. It was good advice because he mentioned that I had built up a fan base based on people who genuinely like the music. That’s sort of true as I don’t have thousands and thousands of fans, but the people who enjoy the music tend to go the extra mile and are often real collectors of music, so that was one aspect that was really encouraging about it. Also, it’s a way of discovering how many people have made a connection to your music and how far the reach has gone over the years because I have no way of tracking that.”

The connection between Infinity Broke and the people following them since ‘River Mirrors’ was released earlier this year has been an overwhelming success, with the band headlining various shows throughout their home country, as well as a two week stint in France during the summer, indicating that the Infinity Broke reach has been far and wide. With such a positive response to ‘River Mirrors’, a follow-up album has already been announced for next year with its title ‘Before Before’ already decided as well. Crowdfunding will once more be utilised to help fund this second outing from Infinity Broke.

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“It’s very expensive to make a record as we’re already back down to zero in terms of budget for the next album, so we’re going to use the option of crowdfunding again,” comments Jamie. “You just have to be creative, especially with the limited edition CDs [we issued], as people really loved the fact that they could get hold of tracks that they couldn’t do otherwise unless they got involved with the crowdfunding.”

Before FLW decides to wind down the discussion with Jamie Hutchings, there is one final question to consider and that concerns whether the former Bluebottle Kiss frontman has a favourite track from ‘River Mirrors’ considering the similarities with his previous band?

“Probably ‘Monsoon’, which a lot of people seem to like,” is the quick reply. “It has several different guises, as I even had an acoustic version of that track sitting around the time that I did the demos for ‘Avalon Cassettes’. It wasn’t until Scott came in on second percussion that I saw an opening for it to become this mantra and psychedelic type of song. I’m proud of it because it totally achieved exactly what I think we wanted it to achieve. In my opinion, the song goes in a certain space and keeps going there, but it’s like it’s pushing out of its own bubble at certain points. In terms of the lyrics, I have been to Thailand a few times and I’ve run into older guys who’ve maybe left some traumatic experience behind such as Vietnam veterans or people like that where they’ve had some really horrible experience. There was a guy I met in America, who was working in a restaurant, and he’d experienced horrific things over a long time. In order to try and escape this, he tried throwing himself in a totally new environment where it’s all beer and skittles. So the song, ‘Monsoon’, is kind of a small biography of somebody in that state of mind of coming from somewhere quite horrible and then throwing themselves in to an environment where they can just forget about the past.”

(Infinity Broke session photos courtesy of Justin Blessas. Live band photography courtesy of Kristoffer Paulson and Jim Rolon)

FLW - From the Tapes

There is another side to Sydney, Australia, and it’s not particularly glamorous. The video and song to first single ‘Swing A Kitten’ from the album ‘River Mirrors’ explained by Jamie Hutchings:

“Scott can take full credit for that; he worked really hard on it. The idea for the video was that he really wanted to capture that ghost town element of Sydney because Sydney is often seen as this really glamourous city and full of super models and expensive restaurants and nightclubs. However, you only have to drive about one or two kilometres out of the city to reach this area that is a wasteland of rundown shop fronts and factories all around; therefore, we wanted to try and capture all of that. Also, a lot of classic eighties indie film clips have captured that as well by showing areas of urban decay. With Scott being very rhythmic, he painstakingly cut all of those scenes to the music which, I guess, a casual viewer might not pick up. The song has a sort of churning, rhythmic energy to it and it does work really well with the video. The song refers to the cyclic urban treadmill that many people suffer as suggested by the opening line, ‘We’ve got no room to swing a cat or a kitten’, and so it’s about urban living and all of the pressures that come with that.”

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