The EarlyBirds: Fearless Favourites To Crack Australia

Posted by on Sep 10, 2010 | Leave a Comment

Filip is wearing a Speculator cap, which is why he looks even cooler than usual

Filip is wearing a Speculator cap, which is why he looks even cooler than usual

Having seen The EarlyBirds in concert, The Speculady enthusiastically rang their manager for an interview. Having successfully secured the interview, she then had a sudden attack of the Finn Spins (see upcoming article) and suggested that The Speculator step in. The Speculator dutifully obliged.

The interview was a game of two halves; a casual chat with singer Filip Kostovich in the sun outside The Depot as the band unloaded their gear (accompanied by the normal banter with the Blinckos and the Belworthys); and then a peek at the first three songs of the rehearsal.

I should stress this interview is not an attempt  by The Speculator to emulate the giddy heights of rock journalism, but is instead more a chat with the lads as a community reporter. Nevertheless, I had prepared by watching a few of their videos on youtube, listening to the band’s new album Favourite Fears at Marbecks in Victoria Rd over a coffee, and reading a review of the album in M2 magazine while having my head sharpened.

Filip greeted me at the table outside The Depot, skateboard in one hand, soft drink in the other. He had the appearance of the quintessential modern teenager, and was smart, polite and relaxed.

We started at the beginning; chatting about the band’s history; the current line-up together for four years now (Filip was the last to join), the way he felt the band without one strong personality, “just gelled” and how this had made writing and creating songs as a team so much easier. It’s true that on their album no one style or “voice” dominates; rather the band has a sound that reflects in toto the individual styles of each of the members.

While as a band the song-writing may be a team effort, Filip is unquestionably the boss on stage; charismatic, hyperactive and empathetic with his audience, he reminds me of a cross between the late Freddie Mercury and Jarvis Cocker of Pulp. Yet, (apparently) as with both these men , catch him off stage and he is a softly-spoken, friendly, almost shy young dude. Despite this, we joked about how, combined with his early years in the St Leo’s choir, his enjoyment of performing live ensured there was only ever likely to be one career for him.

However, singing was not a large part of his family background although his father, originally from Croatia and best known to most Devonporsche-ians as the man who use to make the best burgers on the Shore (in Riba), can apparently hold a good melody.

We also talked about the important role of manager and mentor James Southgate in getting the band to where it is now; James is a music industry veteran of 25 years who wrote to me that in all those years, he has never a met a band like them. James dropped (almost) everything to become their manager, and is now hoping to move the boys to Melbourne next year, to build upon their success here.

With our discussion turning to Australia, it seemed relevant at this point of our conversation to touch upon the fortunes of another ornithologically-named Devonport band; The White Birds and Lemons. The White Birds produced a fantastic EP “So You Think You’re Free” a couple of years ago and had promised big things. However, two years later, cooped up in Melbourne with little more than a bucket of broken promises, their van’s engine seized and a bunch of their gear stolen, their migration to Australia has been disastrous.

Those of us old enough to remember the 80s will recall a similar path for many Kiwi bands of that era, very few of whom had any impact in Australia and most of whom (with the partial exception of Split Enz) disappeared without a trace. Do the lessons of history weigh heavily on his shoulders I asked?

Filip was convinced commitment and hard work, combined with James’ nous and contacts, would see them through. With several tracks already written for a new album (“a more mature sound with more keyboards”) and a tour of Australia pencilled in the for new year,  Filip believes the stars are aligned.

On twists of fate do fortunes often turn, and so with the EarlyBirds, after recruiting Filip, their meeting with James Southgate has proven to be perhaps their most significant break. With a manager who sincerely believes in the band and who has the experience and contacts to back that belief up, The EarlyBirds’ have been given their, er, second fillip, and are unquestionably well-positioned to give Australia a decent crack.

It’s not as if they’re not used to a bit of hard work; while talking about the strains of touring, I related a story from Andy Summers’ (guitarist with The Police) autobiography One Train Later about the awful slog of the early days; with no roadies, the band would shift all their own equipment in and out of all kinds of inaccessible venues, then drive themselves hundreds of miles from one indifferent audience to another. Filip grimaced. That was a life he was all too familiar with, and related several stories to prove it.

Nevertheless, hard work  does not a great band make; someone still has to write and play good songs (duh). Which brings me to the second half of my afternoon with the EarlyBirds.

When I was swanning around the musical black hole of Hamilton back in the 80s, catching every band that I could at The Hillcrest Tavern, one of my theories was that just about any band could sound half decent with some practice – BUT, your rhythm section had to kick ass. Without a decent bass player and skins-man, no band could sound like a band.

Seeing the EarlyBirds close up in the rehearsal room at The Depot, my archaic theory triumphed once more. Well, to an extent, because all the guys are clearly talented musicians. But their rhythm section (Jared Aisher – bass, Sean Patterson – drums) reeked of class. As half a drummer myself, it gave me a strange thrill to see a couple of such young guys absolutely and effortlessly mastering the role at the back of the band.

And so it was; the platform was set for the two guitarists Kane and Mike, and Filip, this time stationary behind his keyboards to deliver the rest of the cake, the icing and some spectacular decorations too. Man they were loud (or more accurately, the studio was small), but seeing a bunch of such talent that close up was something special. And coming from a dude who has moshed with everyone from the Penknife Glides to Peking Man at The Hillcrest, that means something (lol).

The other band members pay their respects to the rhythm section, as all guitarists and vocalists should

The other band members bow and scrape to the rhythm section, as all guitarists and vocalists should

And there was a final, prescient moment that kind of spoke volumes.

Years ago, I saw McEnroe at Wimbledon. Close up, he was absolutely mesmerising to watch, that special talent thing dazzlingly apparent. After the match, he was walking back to the dressing rooms  and I was just behind him (no security in those days), toying with the idea of gibbering sycophantically at his feet.

The idea had clearly occurred to someone else, who unlike me, acted on his impulse. He was promptly met with a stream of putrid invective from the great man. We all backed off; except for the same guy who decided instead to attack Super Brat with a spray can. Karma, one might say.

In contrast, after the opening number of the rehearsal in The Depot, I was standing similarly mesmerised by my proximity to the talent thing when Filip turned to me smiling and asked politely “So what would you like to hear now”? Despite the talent, a beautiful humility and as they say, only in New Zealand. I sincerely hope that kind of  karma follows the boys to Australia.

Get the album, or preview some of their tracks here. But to really appreciate the band, see them live. Their Auckland dates, supporting Opshop  are as follows;

23 Sept: Sale St
24 Sept: Salut Bar
30 Sept – forget it, sold out
02 Oct The Brownzie

There’s also a gig at the Ascension Wine Estate up at Matakana on 17 Sept. And don’t forget to check out the rhythm section 🙂

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