Melbourne urban producer, performer and songwriter Alston is the latest Australian groove act to create a buzz in the UK before Australia. While his single Soul Sounds starts to get spins in Australian clubs and dance shows, the track — with awesome remixes by Ian Curnow/Dave Ford and The Beetfreeks — was picked up in England on radio and clubs import some months ago.
Alston, about whom one British publisher said had the total understanding of the dancefloor, explains how Soul Sounds came together. “I’d always wanted to use the words ‘soul sound’ in a song, as it’s actually a feeling to spiritualism, in a word such as it is. People look at the title of my album Don’t Funk With Me and ask what draws me to funk — the sexiness, the colour or the hypnotic groove? But it is the actual 'soul' in the music that gets me...people like Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross and Aaron Neville.
“I’ve always been a spiritual being. I’ve been influenced by Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity. I believe there is a central 'spiritual' power that drives the human being forward. Before my live shows, I don’t warm up or psyche myself because I’ve never had my voice trained. I find a quiet place, visit the temple of my mind, and cure myself of all unseemingly thoughts. Then when I hit the stage, I can take the audience to wherever they want to go…”
Soul Sounds reached the ears of M.I.A. who got in contact through her people, suggesting a collaboration. Koch is keen, especially since both were born to Sri Lanka parents and might bond as a result. But he’s not sure when their schedules will permit. He says, “I look forward to this. I believe she could be a modern day Joan Baez.”
This is clearly not Alston’s first brush with international celebrities. In his music studio are photos of himself with Linkin Park, Tom Jones, Kelly Clarkson, Indian singer Asha Boshe and actors as Sir Ben Kingsley. Alston is a madcap cricket fan, so there are invariably pix with him with Shane Warne, Brett Lee and Imran Khan. A few years ago, he had an online hit with the song ‘Murali’ about the cricketer Muttiah Muraliduran. Last month, the Australian Cricket Board launched Soul Sounds at an Australia vs. Sri Lanka game in Brisbane to a global viewing audience of 1.8 billion — something it’s never done before.
“One time I was doing a week at a nightclub in Sri Lanka when this guy dressed in dirty jeans, T-shirt and grubby cap over his face, would turn up and sit in the front table. Halfway through he’d leave. It happened four nights in a row. I told the club manager, ‘Listen, this guy’s freaking me out. Can’t you at least put him in a back row somewhere?’ The manager replied, ‘He just gave me a note to give to you, he wants to meet you.’ I put the note in my jacket and forgot all about it. Later that night the manager rang me in my room and said, ‘He wants to talk to you’. ‘Who?’ ‘Steven Spielberg, who gave you the note!’ I rushed back to the club. Spielberg told me he loved one of the ballads I did, and wanted to shoot a video for it. I told him the song was not one of mine, so I regretfully had to pass.”
Although he works with major labels — he’s currently signed to Lifestyle/Sony and had a gold record when at BMG with Dark Tan’s Disco Lady, the first Australian disco hit — Alston prefers to remain as independent as possible. He writes, records and produces his stuff, and handles his artwork, videos and the posters that heavily deck Melbourne.
His most memorable gig to date? “Performing for 5000 Marines in Alongopo. A navy cadet threw a paper ball at one of my backup singers, and a huge brawl broke out between the army and the navy. Chairs and missiles flew through the air and I fled. My pants caught on a rail, and I kept running for cover without them! The next day they gave me trophy as the best live performer who visited the USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier that years later took the body of Osama bin Laden for burial at sea.”
BY CHRISTIE ELIEZER
Don’t Funk With Me and Soul Sounds are currently out through Lifestyle/Sony. Alston [AUS] performs this week at The Precinct, Richmond on Friday April 20, Chasers, Prahran on Saturday April 21 and Knox Tavern, Knox City on Sunday April 22.