Sartorially inclined frontman and trumpeter of Flap! Eamon McNelis has more trouble than most finding a shirt that fits. When we speak he’s just returned from a necessary fitting at a tailor, and is kind of despondent about his sizing prospects. “I’m not exactly sure what fabric it’s gonna be yet, I still have to decide that, but I need a shirt that fits my massive neck. It’s just ridiculous. I think it’s ‘cause my head’s really big – it needs to support its weight or something.” On the plus side, we’ve all heard the rumor that a large head’s a sign of intelligence.
The rollicking Melbourne fourpiece, made up also of Ben Hendry on the drums, Mark Elton on double bass and Jess Guille on the banjo-ukulele, are getting ready to embark on a national tour with new album A Great Day For The Race in tow – probably a good time to get themselves suited and booted. Having existed on the fringes of Melbourne’s jazz scene for the past three years, their brand of optimistic gypsy bohemia is sparking more interest than ever, and for a group that started as “mates”, according to McNelis, they’ve got reason to hunker down and take it seriously.
In discussing their origins, McNelis cites their biggest influences as Melbourne bands the Hoodangers and the Band Who Knew Too Much – brass behemoths in their own rights and jazz-scene loyalists. “They’re great bands,” says McNelis, who also notes that a great deal of their influence has cannibalised from other musical styles. “We take all sorts of diverse influences and add them in. One of the songs on the new album is actually a really ancient English folk song and other songs are much more 1920s jazz. One of the songs has a warbleboard in it. So we just grab stuff from everywhere and use it for our own evil devices.”
The longtime trumpeter (or cornet-player) is backed by a considerable amount of experience. “I was eight years old when I first started playing a trumpet, which means I’ve been doing it for just over 20 years now.” By the time he finished primary school his principle directed him to the Victorian College of The Arts (VCA) to study music further. “Really I couldn’t think of anything better. By the time I was 12 I knew I was cursed.”
A lot of his learning, he notes, has been through sheer experience. How to put on a good live show for example.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he says of their performances. “It’s high energy, everybody’s dancing, often until it hurts. We had somebody saying they nearly gave themselves shin splints dancing to the music a couple of weeks ago.” This continues what seems like a theme for the band, with a lot of their high energy tunes brought to life through the magnetism of their performances. And a lot of their songs are indeed about trying to enjoy yourself. That’s where the band’s title stems from, in fact. “Flap! is an instruction. It’s a way to live your life. Have you ever seen a bird flying into the wind? Flapping really hard because the wind’s so strong it’s not getting anywhere, even though it’s trying its heart out? I think it’s a sort of metaphor for life. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting anywhere or not, you’ve just gotta do your thing. You’ve gotta flap. And maybe everything will be alright."
After they embark on the national tour, including a place called Urunga that he’s excited to visit (in a deadpan kind of way,) they’re headed overseas, flapping if you will all around the European continent. The world had better watch out for McNelis, his band, and his oversized head.
BY BELLA ARNOTT-HOARE
FLAP! launch A Great Day For The Race at the Corner Hotel on Saturday May 5. The album is out via Vitamin.