Charles Jenkins and The Zhivagos
There are three events Charles Jenkins nominates as particularly significant in his musical journey. The first was the recording of the second Mad Turks From Istanbul record, and the band’s subsequent move to Melbourne. The second was the birth of Jenkins’ children, and the consequent impact on his songwriting style. The third, and most recent, was a Sunday afternoon residency at the Brunswick Green, where Jenkins’ understanding of the interaction between song and audience underwent a quantum leap. “That period was significant for me in many ways,” he admits. “I’d learnt a lot about songs – that the first line to the song had to be incredible; that it pays to introduce the song, it pays to have little firecrackers going off in each and every part of the song, each and every single line – otherwise you’re going to lose them. You don’t have them in a darkened theatre. They’re there and they’re drinking and they’re chatting.”
Jenkins began his musical career in Adelaide in the early 1980s. Under the nom de plume, Chuck Skatt, Jenkins fronted the ‘Eddie Cochrane on speed’-esque Mad Turks From Istanbul. In the late 1980s, the Mad Turks headed to Melbourne to record their second album, Toast. Despite the fact that Toast was ultimately the catalyst for the Mad Turks’ break-up, Jenkins describes the period of recording the album as one of the formative periods of his musical journey. “Throughout the making of that second record I learnt an awful lot about making records,” he recalls.
Dropped by Festival Records, Jenkins re-grouped to form Ice Cream Hands. The Ice Cream Hands release three albums and an EP, punctuated with Jenkins’ realisation of a long-delayed solo career. After what Jenkins refers to as a ‘reformation’ of the Ice Cream Hands for 2005’s The Good China, Jenkins teamed up with keyboardist Matty Vehl and drummer Dave Milne to form Charles Jenkins And The Swedish Cowboys, who would eventually morph into The Zhivagos.
It was around this time that Jenkins found himself playing the Brunswick Green on a Sunday afternoon. “With these gigs at the Brunswick Green we’d play sometimes in the front bar, with Matty on the piano, Dave on the drums and me on the acoustic guitar,” Jenkins explains. “Matty’s such an incredible musician that I would play this song, and Matty would pick it up and when I got to the new bit in the song I’d say ‘look out’, and he’d cock his ear a little bit and go with the flow.”
Jenkins And The Zhivagos recorded their debut Blue Atlas in 2008, with the record – and its string accompaniment – forming the centrepiece of Jenkins’ Blue Atlas Winter Ball held in mid-2009.
With the satisfaction of Blue Atlas still fresh in his mind, Jenkins and his band mates headed to country Victoria to record what would become their new album, Walk This Ocean. “Dave and Arthur and our friend Rick Morgan went out to a friend’s house in the western district of Victoria, where there’s this beautiful old rambling house with many rooms,” Jenkins says. “The owner of the house suggested we make a record there,” he grins.
Newly enlisted Zhivagos guitarist Davey Lane – who’d joined the band after an impromptu solicitation at Jenkins’ 2009 Winter Ball event – was in high demand, and suggested March 2010 as a suitable time for the band to record. “So we went off in March – we didn’t really have a lot of time to rehearse, we just had to pick a song and smack it around,” Jenkins laughs.
With producer Justin Rudge managing the logistics of the session, Jenkins says the band worked hard to get 30 demos down to a manageable album-worth of tunes. Progress was helped via the carefully considered catering arrangements. “The smart thing I did was to send money down there for the guy to do the catering, so we had three square meals a day, with a different theme for each day – Tuesday would be German day, Wednesday would be Italian day, and so on,” Jenkins laughs. “There was no-one around, so we could play all night long. At the end of the session we could go for a walk down to the lake and bullshit on. It was beautiful.”
Walk This Ocean is conscientiously a more ‘rocking’ record than Blue Atlas, a style that Jenkins puts down to his appreciation of The Zhivagos’ musical capabilities. “We’d played the Winter Ball and a few other gigs, and I’d realised the potential for the band to be sonically huge, so I was just trying to write accordingly – not that it would determine the idea for the song, but it would help in bring the song to fruition,” Jenkins figures.
“I was really trying to write a ‘harder’ record – it was a concerted effort. I like looking at people’s records and thinking ‘that’s his hard record, that’s his fast record, that’s his Sunday morning record, that’s his Saturday night record’. I like that in an artist, and I like to do that.”
One of the many highlights of Walk This Ocean is Save!, in which Jenkins recounts an incident at Pure Pop Records featuring Van and Cal Walker. “I’d gone outside to get something to eat and when I came back in everyone was on the street,” Jenkins says. “And this guy was out the back trying to get over the back fence because it was a sell out. And all these people were underneath him telling him not to jump, but he did and bam, that was the end of him. They had to get an ambulance, and get everyone out.”
Jenkins acknowledges the poetic licence that went into the song. “We weren’t thrown out into the street, and Van and Cal were there, and said ‘Do you want to come with us?’ And I said ‘Nah, taxis will take such a long time’, and Cal just said ‘You’ll be with us, it’ll be OK’, and it was said in such a warm way.
“I didn’t end up going with them, but I was thinking about that comment later on, and it was such a cool comment – there’s a raging flood coming, but don’t worry, you’re with us, and it’ll be OK. So that’s why that bit ended up in the song,” Jenkins laughs.
CHARLES JENKINS & THE ZHIVAGOS excellent new album, Walk This Ocean , is out now through Dust Devil Music. They have a very special single launch taking place at Yah Yah’s next week, Saturday December 4.