"The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades," remarks Wally Kempton, bass player with Melbourne power pop favourites Even. It's a positive, albeit gratuitous assessment of Even's current situation; with principal songwriter Ash Naylor in perpetual high demand for his stage and studio services, and Kempton juggling his own booking, performing and managerial activities (Kempton's management stable has recent expanded to include Even itself), and drummer Matt Cotter with his own extra-curricular responsibilities, finding time for Even to play in 2011 hasn't been a logistical walk in the park. "To tell you the truth, we haven't done that much this year," Kempton muses.
I've arranged to meet Kempton for lunch at the Esplanade Hotel, a few hours before Kempton departs for the Meredith Music Festival. Later on, the temptation to write the interview up in the style of The Saturday Age's 'Life And Style' regular feature beckons - 'Kempton and I both choose the beef schnitzel, but we're forced to have the chicken schnitzel instead after the kitchen discloses it's run out of beer schnitzels. The chips are tasty, the crisp surface complimenting perfectly the steaming, soft potato interior, while the garden salad is as fresh as the midday sunlight streaming through the window' - but that'd be masturbatory journalism on a dangerous scale, so we let it pass through to the keeper.
Despite Kempton's suggestion to the contrary, Even has had its moments in the proverbial sun this year. "We played Boogie Festival - again - and that was a great show," Kempton says. "We hadn't played for a while, and Ash had been on the road with Vika and Linda Bull. He just decided to bring them along, and they got up and sang a few songs with us. And we were on fire - I don't know how I was still standing after a weekend at Boogie," he laughs.
In the latter part of the year, Even managed to curate a show at the beginning of The Tote's 30th anniversary celebrations, dragging Snout out of semi-permanent retirement to play - on the same night as Kempton's 44th birthday. "That was good fun - having Snout play again was great, I love the Mini-Bikes and it was great to see The Swarm after all these years. That was a good way to turn 44," Kempton says. The members of Snout were so satisfied with the one-off reformation that they've agreed to come together again to play the first of Even's two upcoming Christmas shows at the Phoenix Public House in Brunswick.
Arguably the highlight of Even's performing year was when it supported Cold Chisel at Chisel's warm-up gig in Newcastle. A long-standing desire to play on the same as Cold Chisel, coupled with Kempton's friendship with Chisel's management conflated to land Even with the opportunity to turn a child-like dream into adult reality. "As soon as I heard a whisper of the tour I rang them up and said 'please, please, pretty please'," Kempton says. "It was fucking awesome. The crowd were very gracious - I was expecting the worst, middle-digits, the occasional gobby, or at least some abuse. But Ash won them over - I think he's learnt a lot from touring with people like Paul Kelly about how to work a room. He had the crowd in his hand and they loved us - it was almost like they were sad to see us leave!" Kempton laughs. "And the Chisel guys were great as well - and they enjoyed us, too."
(At this point Kempton's phone rings, with the Heart ringtone causing Kempton to muse on a number of never-quite cover band projects. "I was going to have a Heart cover band called Fart - instead of Dream Boat we could have Steam Boat, instead of Crazy On You, Crazy On Poo," he laughs. And I was going to get together a Steve Miller Band cover band called Steve Miller Bland - Clare Moore and Dave Graney were going to be in it.")
On the recording front, Even has made progress, albeit in very small increments. The last Even record appeared in 2008, and a follow-up record has been written, recorded but not yet released. With the band's long-time label Rubber Records only releasing music in digital format, it's up to the band to transpose the record into physical format for sale at Even's upcoming Christmas gigs (Kempton hopes the band can secure vinyl release next year). "We've been working on the record for about the last two years - it's got a lot of production credits - but it's sounds pretty cohesive," Kempton says. For a band like Even - in band years, well into maturity - alignment with a record company doesn't have the same advantages it once had. "It's better to find a label where there's someone who's always liked the band, and asking them if they'd be interested in putting it," Kempton muses.
While commercial radio remains the same barren musical landscape it's been forever and a day ("I never listen to commercial radio - they just play the same old shit," Kempton says), Kempton is sanguine about Even's future prospects. "We've had some interest from a Canadian label, which might lead us to play North By North East next year," Kempton says. But Kempton points to other nascent opportunities in hitherto unchartered territory that the band is keen to exploit. "I got an email the other day from someone in the Ukraine, who's keen for the band to tour over there," Kempton says. "Actually, what he really wanted was my bank details so he could deposit a million dollars that he'd just inherited from a relative of the Russian royal family, so I figured I'd offer him an Even gig instead, and he can put the cash in our account," Kempton laughs.
EVEN play the Phoenix Public House on Thursday December 22 (with SNOUT and THE BEN MASON BAND) and Friday December 23 (with THE FAUVES and THE BOWERS).