Fresh from attempting to conquer the Asian market following a slot on the world-famous festival Japan Music Week in Tokyo, Melbourne six-piece Direct Influence are taking the road less travelled. Unlike most of their peers, it’s Japan and Vietnam that these electro-reggae heads have been squarely focusing on – though, look out Europe, according to guitarist Marcus Ross, you’re next in 2011.
“The Japanese are massive reggae fans, so our reggae element really appealed to them,” he explains. “We played Japan Music Week but we also did a whole bunch of other showcases in different venues. At one of the shows they had a guy who was painting a picture the whole time we were playing. The painting turned into this figure dancing which was really cool because he basically made a reflection of the music he was hearing us play, so I’d like to say I had a role in that painting!
“In Ho Chi Minh [Vietnam] it was a different vibe altogether but the Vietnamese scene is unlike anything you’ve ever seen; it’s really good. We played a set and did an interview for this radio station called Zone FM, it’s aimed at 18-to-30 year olds and it has a 10.4 million listenership a week,” he shakes his head in amazement. “It’s pretty mind-blowing because that’s your Melbourne and Sydney right there.
“The thing is that it’s still a communist government in Vietnam so they had to translate it first and take out swear words, even ‘damn’. It’s such an interesting country because there’s so much foreign investment – it’s like China’s little brother – but the youth make up most of its population under 30 because of the war. The young people now have some money in their hands and they’re keen to do something with it. Ho Chi Minh has got a booming nightlife and the music scene is growing so much.”
It’s certainly been a step in the right direction, according to Ross, who claims that in many ways, it’s also served as good practice for next year when Direct Influence set foot on European soil. And, if English backpackers camping out in Byron Bay are anything to go by, the results are set to be staggering once the band gets to the other side of the world.
“We’re so glad that our manager was able to make it happen for us in Asia,” says the guitarist, “but it’s also been a bit of a stepping stone for us. It’s been a way to get closer to getting ourselves over to Europe next year. It would be great to be over there for the summer festivals. Asia has been great practice ground and Japan is the second largest music capital in the world.
“I guess you could say our music has been tried and tested with a lot of the backpackers from Europe because we’ve played Byron Bay a lot. It’s always the backpackers that are really keen to stick around and buy our CDs and to stay in touch after the show. They’ve been begging us to come to Europe for years now, so it’s time we started considering it seriously. Again, Europe has a very large population and lots of little niche markets; there’s room for everybody.”
That’s why when it comes to the band’s follow-up to debut album War In My Kitchen, Direct Influence plan to release the record in Europe first. Long time Direct Influence fans should also know that Ross and co. are doing something of a u-turn on their upcoming tracks, focusing more on the reggae and hip-hop elements they first came to be known for on their earlier EPs.
“We released War In My Kitchen in May and we’re hoping to finish writing the next one halfway through next year. We’ve got a tour with (awesome Kiwi band) Kora in January, but apart from that we’re really holding back on the shows from now on and pushing ourselves with the next album. The songs are going to be more similar to the EPs, but they’ll also sound more like For My People and Moving On [ War In My Kitchen]. We’re also re-writing and reworking some of the older songs off the EPs which we still play. We’re scouting for the perfect producer to capture that sound.
“I was actually in Sweden,” he adds, “just before we went to Tokyo and I’ve met a few producers over there. My girlfriend is a singer and a songwriter so I went there with her to suss out the vibe. Sweden is the second largest music export in the world – if you hear a pop track on the radio, chances are it was probably written in Sweden, then taken to a US artist.”
Closer to home, according to the guitarist it’s Tiki Taane and ShockOne that make the top of Ross’ list of dream producers. Having worked with Dan Sultan on For My People, Ross says the band is keen to collaborate with more Australian and international artists and producers.
“It’s a pretty amazing story,” says Ross of Sultan’s contribution on War In My Kitchen. “He came into the studio and had never heard the song before. In the time that it took our manager to go out and buy some Coopers to bring back to the studio – Dan had the whole song laid out and finished. This was in the space of less than 20 minutes – going from never hearing the song before to having it done.
“I’d love to work with Tiki Taane as well,” Ross adds. “The sound he produces really resonates with us well. ShockOne from Perth would be great to work with as well. We’d like to get For My People remixed, actually, so I’ve been in touch with ShockOne about that. It’s a matter of him having to finish up his own album before anything can happen, though.”
DIRECT INFLUENCE finish of 2010 with the WOODFORD FOLK FESTIVAL over December 27 – January 1. Their album War In My Kitchen is out now.