Quarry Mountain Dead Rats
“A squeezebox is a piano accordion,” Wishy begins to explain after I express intrigue with the Quarry Mountain Dead Rats’ debut album title,Bloodhound Killed My Squeezebox. “Before we did this album I used to play piano accordion, because I’m originally a piano player. [Banjo player] Suddsy has got this huge dog, a bloodhound: Earl. He’s named after Earl Scruggs the banjo player. I had my piano accordion sitting on the concrete floor one night. He ran into [it] and it smashed, and I didn’t have any money to buy another. Someone had a shitty old mandolin and it actually worked a lot better. So I’ve been playing that ever since... trying to get as good as I can. It’s a pretty quick learning curve, because everyone plays at a million miles an hour.” Quick time is what the boys’ fast-chopping, gravel-kicking bluegrass sound is all about. Spending this last weekend in Perisher for the Snowy Mountain festival, they will then head back to Melbourne to launch the album.
It was recorded at Foggy Mountain Studios, which is part of Nash Chambers’ property in the Hunter Valley. The band were “stoked” to work with Shane Nicholson, whom Wishy describes warmly as the “most chilled out guy ever; just totally cool.” Recording all the songs live, he says the pace was furious. “Some of the songs we did in one take; most were done in just a couple of takes. It was pretty frantic but it was fantastic to have someone so chilled as Shane working with us. It took the tension away; he was totally pro.”
The band does have one previous EP release, titled The Loungeroom Sessions, and all songs from that have been re-recorded, with the addition of seven new songs. “It wasn’t even a loungeroom, it was the spare room of [guitarist] Lachy’s house,” Wishy laughs. “We had the washboard player standing out in the hallway. We didn’t have quite the equipment that we had at Shane’s house.” It’s odd that washboard player Ben Clements (“AKA ‘Johnny Washboard’”) was relegated to the corridor seeing as apparently he’s the luminary of the show when they play live. “He used to be a punk drummer,” Wishy explains. “I’m not sure exactly how he got into washboard, [but he] does any sort of solo, and the crowd goes off.” Watching Clements play at various festival shows on YouTube, it’s alarming to anticipate his fingers just shredding away like he’s got a grater around his neck instead of an instrument. “He wears thimbles,” Wishy assures me. “He’s got thimbles for every finger and he tapes them on. So he’s totally useless once he’s in thimble-mode, you can do whatever you want to him, he’s completely helpless.” After playing with the Perch Creek Family Jug Band recently, Clements discovered that their washboard player has special gloves that he can just “chuck on”, and the Jugs almost killed themselves laughing at the thimble set-up. It’s cooler though; more DIY country styles.
Wishy himself is pleased with his new instrument. The piano accordion was so heavy that he’d get back, neck and shoulder strain. “Now I’ve got this mandolin, and I pick it up and sometimes I’m not even sure the mandolin’s in the case; I have to open the case up and make sure it’s in there,” he chuckles. “The only thing with it though, it has eight strings. That’s where I pay for it really. Sometimes it’s really hard when you’re trying to tune on a really noisy stage. But it’s so little too, it takes up no room. When we get on a plane everyone’s got to really loosen up [their] strings, because of the temperature change. But I just put my mando straight in the overhead. That’s my carry-on luggage.”
Solo duties are shared between the mandolin, guitar and banjo, as well as singing responsibilities. “I’d say Lachy is the harmonies king,” he says. “There’re a few songs where we do three-part harmonies. I think that’s maybe one of the things that really helps the show, that it’s sort of always mixing up between who’s singing, it’s always changing. And we have a blast playing. The crowd starts getting up and dancing and we have even more fun. It always comes back to the washboard! He’s in the backline there but everyone loves him”
At the suggestion of adding some spoons in there for authenticity’s sake, Wishy begins waxing lyrical about the old hambone style. “It’s like you slap your thighs, click your fingers. It’s crazy. You wouldn’t think you’d be so impressed by someone just slapping their thighs. You’d have to use some sort of knee protection,” he ponders. “Probably these hambone players have only got a certain lifespan... we wouldn’t want to wear him out too quick.” It’s pretty certain that a hambone player would bash himself to smithereens before the first ten minutes of the show was up, as the energy emanating from the stage and reflected in the crowd is palpable even when just watching footage of the guys play. The Melbourne show promises to be a typically raw exhibit, with the band set to rock the Northcote Social Club on Saturday night. That’s if they make it down without any mental fans kidnapping them. They’ve just survived a kind of weird highway ordeal, during the arduous drive from Melbourne to Manly on the day of our interview. “There was this crazy girl; she was basically veering all over the road, kind of passing us and then falling behind us. She was steering with her knees while rolling these massive joints,” Wishy says. After pulling into a servo for a quarter hour and joking that it would be downright scary if she was waiting for them when they came out, just that exact thing happened. “We ended up having to take evasive action and turning off down some country road, and getting back on the Hume a little bit further down. It was quite good because it ended up adding a little bit of drama to the trip and making time go a bit quicker.” Extra speed is something these guys are clearly not afraid of.
BY ZOË RADAS
QUARRY MOUNTAIN DEAD RATS launch their debut record on Saturday June 16 at Northcote Social Club, with Howlin’ Steam Train, Sweet Jean and Master Gunfighters. Bloodhound Killed My Squeezebox is out now.