The Barons Of Tang
Local gypsy-punk seven-piece band The Barons Of Tang are a force to be reckoned with. With two EPs under their belt, they’ve been gracing stages all over the world, spreading their mix of jazz, folk, punk and the kitchen sink to audiences in North America and Europe to infinity and beyond! Listening to the raw and visceral chaos that is their 2010 EP Knots And Tangles, one is ushered into the aural equivalent of an Eastern European wedding – tight and punishing arrangements, circus-like musical free-for-alls and an all-encompassing sense of adventure and merriment. Speaking by phone to Julian Cue, double-bassist, vocalist and manager of this tightly contained yet frenetic septet, I realise that there is genuine method behind the madness, and that the passion that cements them together runs deep.
When asked how he finds time to not only perform in the band but also manage it, he lets out a knowing chuckle. “It’s definitely a full-time thing for me, but it’s very rewarding,” Cue reveals. “Everything’s a bit behind the 8-ball when you’re a self-managed band – but it’s good! I think with it being very DIY and having all that control with what we do has worked really well for us as a seven-piece band … and we really like the position we’re in.”
I’d read that The Barons Of Tang had actually started off as something of a “joke”. What did that mean? “Well,” he says, “we basically just came together [in 2007] for fun; we wanted to be irreverent and just create music that we haven’t really heard before – this was just for kicks, you know? It was never something that we even considered getting into a career or touring or even having people listen to it. We just had a collection of interesting instruments and we were all coming from very different musical backgrounds, so we thought it would be fun!”
When Cue mentions that the band had originally played music for a theatrical production in Melbourne, a piece of the puzzle that is their music clicked into place for me. Of course.
“It was at the Black Lung Theatre in Melbourne, and it was a production called Rupeville – it was just like anarchic, perverted writing coupled with a strange band and it was all very elaborate and fun! So yeah, we’d all started off playing there and then we began to play together as a band.
“Luckily for us, in Melbourne there’s an audience for all kinds of different sounds, and a home for Eastern European folk and stuff. A whole sort of theme popped up, and we incidentally ended up having a big audience!”
In 2008 the self-released their self-titled debut EP, following it up in two years with Knots And Tangles. I ask Cue about the space of time between the two, and if there were differences in how they approached writing and recording them. “Certainly with [Knots And Tangles] we were a bit more aware of our own sound,” he admits. “But the writing processes for us were very complicated and quite complex to produce, and there’s a lot of composition.
“So part of the reason that [the two EPs] are two years apart is because they take a long time to write, and part of the reason is that we’ve been doing a lot of touring. But certainly I think we’re getting a little bit better at writing the older we get as a band; because we’ve begun to turn into an open think tank where we can pour our ideas into the middle! There’s a lot of arguments, but we’re a bit more open to preparing for rehearsals and recording – so there ends up being more of an efficient process.”
When Cue talks about how The Barons Of Tang have developed over the last five years, I can hear a sense of pride in his voice; the dynamics of the band, he thinks, are as strong as ever. “We’ve all really had to step up over the last couple of years as far as our roles in the band go,” he says. “Whether it’s management or musicianship or what-have-you, it’s hard; we spend about six months of the year on the road, so these people are very much my family as much as my band-mates. It’s kind of hard to explain sometimes. We love each other like siblings, and we bicker and fight like siblings as well. It can be tough to be around each other some times, but you have to take the good with the bad I guess!
“Psychological management is the name of the game when we’re touring, but the band we have is pretty amazing; I couldn’t imagine doing any other occupation!”
2012 is setting up to be a pretty busy year for the Barons. With five international tours beginning in February and a new album to be produced as well, Cue and his merry band of music-makers are going to be firing all cylinders. Seven musicians, with all their instruments, sounds like quite a feat, I say to him. Cue laughs, agreeing with me whole-heartedly.
“It’s a very daunting prospect,” he says. “There’s no net for us, there’s no tour manager, there’s no one to tell us where our hotels are, there’s no label backing us up – it’s all on our own backs. But we made this happen ourselves, and we’re all really excited about it!
So what can one expect from their shows? Cue is more than happy to let me know. “I think one can expect a lot of energy, and a lot of passion,” he enthuses.
“Performing is why we’re in it! We really have interesting arrangements and a large dynamic. We try to keep audiences on their toes. There’s this tightrope we walk between complicated technicalities and actual composition – I’m not sure if we get it right all of the time, but that’s life!”
BY THOMAS BAILEY
THE BARONS OF TANG bring their unique gypsy-core madness to The Corner Hotel on Wednesday January 25. Tickets are on sale from Corner box office.