Big sounds: Silver Sircus at Qld Cabaret Festival
Brisbane band Silver Sircus will perform at the Qld Cabaret Festival in an eight-member formation and with a six-piece choir. Lucinda Shaw (vocalist/lyricist) and James Lees (drummer/composer) spoke with QP’s Andrew Shaw.
A chance meeting, a shared environment – what was the genesis of Silver Sircus?
JL: Silver Sircus was born out of the ashes of ISIS, the previous band that Lucinda and I were in from 1995-2000. About an album’s worth of material was written and performed by the first incarnation of the band, around 2001-2002. That band fell apart as bands tend to, but by 2006 I realised the music that Lucinda and I had worked on was not going to go away, it was like an angry bee in my brain. So the second, and current version of the band was born so that the music that wouldn’t stop asking to be made could be produced. I have a little less buzzing in my brain now.
LS: What he said, that’s all true. I’m very fond of ISIS, but it feels like a long-ago funny Brisneyland fairy story, and reminds me of being very young in my gender politics and writing. For me, Silver Sircus was the vehicle for my song-writing to move into new and richer performative and narrative spaces. James gave me the shake up I needed.
What is at the heart of Silver Sircus’ music?
LS: The heart of the music is the heart of the listener. I mean that in the sense that I hope we encounter one another through the songs. I write from truth and stories that are of the world around us and within us. The songs are poems of people and places and problems of love and death and wrestlings with everyday moments and ideas. I feel that a song works when the listener’s cravings are touched, triggered or quenched. I hope that the songs have heart in that they move with the heart of whoever lends their ears.
Listen to Silver Sircus' Treat Yourself Gently
When’s the last time you performed live?
JL: Our official ‘last gig for a while’ was at the Restrung Festival, Brisbane Powerhouse in late 2012 and it was an amazing event to be a part of. After that, we embarked on new song writing sessions but we did emerge from our lab once to support the wonderful Underground Lovers at their Zoo show in May 2013. More recently, we have done a couple of low-key acoustic/unplugged style shows to start gently introducing all the new songs.
LS: Those were at the Dowse Bar, the Globe and the Beetle Bar recently and also I’ve been doing the Sister Sessions at SYC. All very intimate and lusciously raw gigs.
There’s an album coming out later this year?
JL: We have recorded many demos but we have not begun formal studio sessions yet.
LS: Scribbled notes, laptops and phones and lounge-room jams: all very fruitful. For me much of the material has come from connecting with the natural world and the inner landscapes of people.
JL: As with everything, it will be ready when it will be ready. I would love to have it out by the end of this year but that is still not a guaranteed thing.
How would you describe the relationship between the music and the lyrics – does one inspire the other?
JL: I would say the relationship between the music and lyrics has shifted substantially with the material for the new album.
LS: I agree. I felt really excited when I heard Nick Cave talking about how the process on Push the Sky Away had changed in a comparable way. I had been writing in ways that were less structured into verses and choruses and more prosaic and painterly.
Is there a lineage, a ‘family tree’ of Brisbane bands to which you belong?
LS: I think so. The musicians in Brisbane have always been friendly and accommodating of one another and new incarnations of bands are born and regroup easily. Great camaraderie infused venues such as the Sitting Duck and the Zoo and the Arena, and Van Gogh’s Earlobe and festivals like Livid and Woodford when Brisbane was “Pig City” [a reference to Andrew Stafford's history of Brisbane bands, Pig City: From The Saints To Savage Garden] all through the nineties. These days, many of us jam together and support one another’s projects. And as time passes there are gorgeous younger performers coming through with whom we feel really connected. Niko Martin, for example, is an exciting young performer, and lovely Thelma Plum, who I might add as a baby was cuddled by the ISIS girls, heart-melting.
JL: The more we do, the more the tree grows, it’s true. I think most people in this band have a lineage that goes back through the 00s and into the 90s, too – including bands like Tulipan, Charles Foster Kane, The Red Paintings, Tangled, The Ninth Wave, Love Like Hate and Tylea’s Imaginary Music Score. As time wears on, the details and dates seem to blur a bit and I wonder if we have all just been in one really big band with each other the whole time. When I am 80 years old, this is probably how I will remember these years.
You’re at the Cabaret Festival with an eight-piece band and a choir – is this the first time you’ve attempted something this ambitious?
LS: Individually and collectively we’ve done a lot of big shows, and Silver Sircus loves the chance to create something luscious, so choirs, projections and interesting versions of the songs are part of the experience.
JL: Silver Sircus produced a couple of big events in 2012 – the album launch for To The Place That Was Home at The Old Museum and also our take on the entire The Velvet Underground & Nico album, which we performed for Longplayer Sessions. This show will certainly have the most amount of people on stage and we are presenting about half of the songs for the new album in full band arrangements and we have new visuals for each song too. So it’s very exciting to be preparing for a show again and the opportunity to be part of the Cabaret Festival is fantastic – for me personally, the really ambitious thing is that I also play guitar and piano in the show in addition to drums.
Silver Sircus, Brisbane Powerhouse, 119 Lamington St, New Farm, 8pm, Thursday, June 12, 2014. Bookings: (07) 3358 8600 / brisbanepowerhouse.org