The M1 is a series of designated stretches of Australia’s National Highway 1, which meanders around the edge of the continent, its sunbaked asphalt stretching as far as the eye can see as it passes through Queensland’s Gold Coast. According to Paul George, lead vocalist and guitarist of Gold Coast quintet Tijuana Cartel, M1 is viewed as both a blessing and a curse.
“It’s funny, that road,” George explains on the phone from Springwood Mountain in Queensland, where Tijuana Cartel are moulding together their upcoming fourth record. “It’s kind of a love/hate relationship with [the M1] – we’ve spent so many hours on that thing, it’s like, sometimes you see the sign and it’s, ‘Oh fuck, here we go again!’ But other times it’s kind of exciting to get somewhere. We love living on the Gold Coast, but it can be quite hard for musicians, cause there aren’t too many places to play. You have to take off, like to Byron and Brisbane and then eventually to the rest of Australia.
“These days it’s not so bad; we get to fly a lot more, so there’re not so many miles on our van!”
Last year saw the release of Tijuana Cartel’s third album, M1, named of course after that stretch of road that was such a big part of their lives. Chockfull of world music elements, electronica and full-on rock‘n’roll, M1 is the latest in a recording career that has seen Tijuana Cartel grow and mature into a global phenomenon. With the band preparing to depart on their first ever international tour, George and company are heading out for one last national tour to bid adieu to their fans before embarking on their fantastic journey, which will include in its itinerary performances to the legendary Burning Man Festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert and Germany’s infamous Fusion Festival.
I make note how complete M1 sounds, and how it comes across as a very balanced record. George reckons there’s a big difference in how they approached the writing and recording, as opposed to their previous works, debut LP Frequent Fliers Redeemed and They Come. “I think it’s a bit more of a serious album,” he says. “The production quality’s better and a lot more of the vocals come through – it’s much more of a ‘rock’ album in comparison.
“We worried when we released it that a lot of our old fans would probably not like it,” he admits, “but it’s actually done better than our other records we’ve sold, it’s done quite well! But, having said that, we’re recording at the moment and everything’s going back to a Middle Eastern electronic vibe!”
When asked if the upcoming record (due for release sometime in 2013) will bear any similarities to their most recent single Offer Yourself, he pauses in thought. “Well, Offer Yourself stands out all by itself. Some of the new record sounds a bit [like it], but on the other hand we have a slightly more dubstep sound, with a bit of Middle Eastern instruments and more instrumentals. So we’re not sure which direction we’re going to take it. The point is, to write a lot of songs, and pick 12 that sound similar enough to go on an album. At the moment it seems like a daunting task, cause it’s like, ‘Can’t believe we’re starting all this again!’” he laughs.
If there’s one musical genre out there that’s been smashed mercilessly into the ground and abused, it would have to be ‘world music,’ I mention to George. He concurs. “Yes, it definitely has. We were part of that, in a sense; we used to play that style of music, and we killed ourselves out of it, you know – it just got so boring! It’s hard because we do have world music elements, but we don’t want to sell ourselves that way. Generally, that’s a genre people are over with.
“But it happens with all kinds of music, I suppose,” he adds philosophically. “We’re trying to rebirth some of what was cool about that whole movement.”
So were they careful during the recording of M1 so as to not make it too busy? “Exactly,” George says. “We were all re-checking what was put on, cause it could have started sounding like a Café del Mar album – one of us might start cringing, or we may feel we’ve gone too far with the guitar. We try to keep the electronic side of it a nice, permanent thing and then everything else comes around that!”
Which is one of the things that is so likable about M1, I tell him. I can picture it being played at full volume in a nightclub. “That’s really good to hear,” George says. “That’s something we worked on trying to get, and that’s what we wanted from it,” he continues. “It’s what got us interested in writing music in the first place. We were all into Chemical Brothers and things like that. We were able to marry [the electronica] with a world music element but still be able to be played in clubs!”
One thing’s for certain, their upcoming international tour will be one more lesson in Tijuana Cartel’s burgeoning career. They’ll probably end up with more material to add to what they already have, is that right?
“Yeah, I think so,” George says. “Australia’s one market in that sense. We’re learning what works here and what we like playing that works here. I have a feeling that once we start playing to audiences overseas and at the festivals, we’ll probably come back with a whole different idea!”
BY THOMAS BAILEY
Come and bid a fond adieu to TIJUANA CARTEL at Northcote Social Club on Thursday May 24. M1 is out now through MGM.