Tim McMillan Band
Australia is well known for breeding kickarse guitarists. Angus Young, Tommy Emmanuel, Brett Garsed….Tim McMillan is up there with the best of them. This dude combines the melodicism of Jeff Buckley with the eclecticism of Frank Zappa, the harmonic creativity of Devin Townsend and the technique of your Stanley Jordans and Chris Brodericks. McMillan is about to release his latest album, Angel, and he kicks off the promotional efforts with a monster set at Rock The Bay at The Espy.
For the Rock The Bay gig, his first Melbourne show since last March, McMillan will be joined by Ezekiel Ox of Full Scale/Mammoth fame, and fellow Lan Party alumni Rachel Snow. Snow has been a member of the Melbourne lineup of the McMillan circus for many years. "It will be great to have her onstage again for some Black Messiah covers and Celtic hullabaloo," McMillan says. "Ezekiel will be taking care of some of the vocals at Rock The Bay and letting our drummer Crute know that the beef from the Full Scale days is not over, eyeballing his every move. I have a lot of respect for Ox and it’s great he can make it back onstage with us this year."
It's a rare treat to see the band on home soil: McMillan, like David Hasselhoff before him, is particularly revered in Germany, where he and bass player Brad Lewis have been living for the past year, and will continue to do so for the time being. "Our label is from Berlin, and are primarily focused on building our profile in Europe," he says. “We were lucky to get an arts grant from the city of Dachau as artists in residence so have been based there for the past year in between touring."
McMillan has been holed up for the past three months recording the new album with Lewis and drummer Matt Crute, along with a number of special guests including Al Slavik, Francesca Lago, Randy The Puppet & Shisha PM. "The direction is quite different to the Goblin hype that we’ve been spruiking in Oz and more in line with the work we’ve been doing in Germany," McMillan says. "Still very much acoustic guitar based music, but with collaborations on songwriting and vocals with Francesca and Shisha, the overall result has ended up somewhere between Devin Townsend and The Mamas & The Papas. With frequent giggage in Europe, McMillan says the band has found it a bit tricky to tailor for audiences at home and abroad. "Over there we often perform more folk style festivals and jazz clubs, whereas here we seem to fit better with metal and hard rock style lineups," he says while conceding that they may confuse, "our burly Viking fans from Kananook Creek, but they’re friendly people and I’m sure they’ll give it a listen anyway."
For a player so gifted on acoustic guitar, it may come as a bit of a surprise that McMillan didn't even really start playing acoustic until after he finished his jazz studies. "The thought of picking up the old Gibson and playing another bebop solo brings back memories of a surly Professor Burke whacking his enormous cane on the wall and demanding I take my Phrygian dominant mode more seriously," he says. And yes, he claims to still have a nice collection of electrics including a custom BC Rich two-headed Warlock. But these days he endorses Melbourne-made Cole Clark guitars. "I actually really love the Fat Lady 1, the interchangeable pickup system works great for what I’m doing with the tapping mixed with percussion etc. I have an Angel and this works better for some stuff, but generally for my style the Fat Lady is perfect. I have a few of the same model but all have their own sound which works well for different stuff I’m doing."
McMillan is able to tap into astounding displays of technique when the moment feels right. "Some of the new stuff that incorporates the strings and flute has a wash of nonsensical shred beneath a simple melody over the top," he says. "I quite enjoy this sort of thing and it is quite natural to create. With the solo guitar stuff, I often place a lot of importance on melody, but I’m also not scared to spend time just having some fun playing something that sounds and feels good. A lot of the CandyRat Records style percussion guitar stuff can sometimes cop flak for being ‘soulless stunt guitar/unmelodic street hype’, but I don’t think a clear, articulated melody always defines what is good music. So often I tend not to think about it when writing."
With such an unorthodox and distinctive style, McMillan stalks the muse thusly: "A lot of the time I will have an idea in my head – I used to record it straightaway – but nowadays I tend to just leave it and if it pops back later on it’s usually worth keeping. When I put the music to the guitar I sometimes just tune my guitar strings randomly so I don’t use the same shapes I’m accustomed to, and always like to make as much use of the open strings as I can to get that koto-esque/harpy vibe. Also experimentation is a big part of it. Sometimes an idea will lead to some noodling and then out of that a new idea pops." The rhythmic skullfuckery common in much of McMillian's material is toned down a little on the new album (“I'm getting old – need to tone down the horseplay”) but he traces its lineage back through assorted power metal, Non Intentional Lifeform, Mr. Bungle and the like. "I often felt guilty making music that wasn’t shifting around all the time," he says of his pre-rhythmic-restraint self.
BY PETER HODGSON
Tim McMillan Band launch Angel at Rock The Bay on Saturday February 18 at The Espy. Other acts include Dead Letter Circus, FLOATINGME, Twelve Foot Ninja, Bellusira, Ten Thousand and many, many more.