There is no other band in Australia who do what Laique do. Just released, their second album The Last Bend is wicked. This band’s in its own category. Some have said it’s ‘vintage jazz’, and to be sure the original songs they pump out are played with virtuosic skill on banjos, violin, double bass, flamenco guitar and drums.
The music swings, and the stories sting. Laique can switch from slamming gypsy jazz to a blinding torch song that’ll burn your fingers. No live performance I’ve seen them do has ever been the same.
They’ve been compared to Squirrel Nut Zippers, Paloma Faith and Paris Combo: the music’s classy, sophisticated, fun and sexy. This bands’ got a kinship with a bygone era, but the music’s refreshingly contemporary.
Laique’s crowded with talent, and have their own profile as individual musicians Gerard Mapstone is a star of flamenco guitar. Sam, Will and Michael (bass, drums, violin) have their own projects and a shared history with the huge gypsy orchestra Doch. Kylie Southwell’s the focal point, leading the band with her sweet and searing vocals and collection of ukuleles, tenor guitar and banjo.
There’s swampy voodoo, jazz of Parisian style and sophistication, world-music workouts, new Orleans funeral marches, and the pompe and ceremony of manic Manouche. It’ll send shivers down your spine and make you want to Charleston even though you know you haven’t the faintest idea how. It’s a vintage vision that’s very now. It’s hot – jazz wise and literally – there’s a lot of sex, passion and drinking going on here. You want to be part of it, and the music makes the heartbreak sound very appealing.
There’s tender, clear and rapid-fire lead vocals supported by warm harmonies. There’s unexpected twists and corners in the arrangements, steered by musical mastery. It’s both a wham-bam and a slow reveal, as the layers of Tom Green’s production come to light on repeated listens of their new album The Last Bend
If you’ve detected bias, you’ve detected correctly. I know them fairly well. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved as a writer with the band since they performed a song called What I Got Here that I wrote with my collaborator Sam Vincent. He presented it to the band without my knowledge, and it was a great thrill to see them perform it live, and then include it on their first album. The majority of their tunes still come from Kylie Southwell, who’s the prime mover in the band. Sam and I have kept our writing swimming in the Laique and some more of our songs have made it into their repertoire.
In celebration of the release of their second album The Last Bend, I offer here some notes on the songs Sam and I wrote for the record. What you’ll here are the rough, modest beginnings of the compositions – our musical underwear – for the real thing head here.
Laique are a stylish band. They deal with gin, romance, dissolution, and a particular kind of vintage vision, and it’s been fun writing songs that become part of, and indeed are inspired by this world Kylie’s invented. Speakeasy’s about memory, regret, the glory of youth, and the places you hang out when you’re young – viewed through the lens of the roaring 20’s. The best fun is the fun you’re not meant to be having, so I imagine prohibition must have sharpened everybody’s thirst in the US. Here’s one of the demos Sam and I did for the song. It’s revealed the character in the song has returned to the place where she used to hang out when she was young, and is regaling patrons with stories of her youth. The implication is that these glories are well in the past, and impossible to re-live. The Divine Comedy’s brilliant story song ‘A Lady of a Certain Age’ was an influence lyrically.
All Dressed Up
This song’s about the journey from home to a dance hall, echoing some of the great songs of the 1930’s that talk about the love that can be found on the dance floor (Irving Berlin’s ‘Cheek to Cheek’ being a sublime example). Really I think the lyrics are about how so many years of wallflowering are just unintended preparation for that moment when you meet ‘the one’.
Part of the Way
This song began when I asked Sam about what kind of tune he’d like to compose next. He suggested a New Orleans funeral march. The kind of idea that would never consider if I was writing on my own.
But I researched the musical form, and the rituals associated with it, and wrote a set of lyrics that evoked the folks on the final walk, and what it’s like being left behind.
Sam and I shape the songs both independently and together. I love the moment when we do a run-through of something that’s completely new. I’ll play guitar, and Sam will shift between guitar, bass or piano depending on what the song needs. We’ve both played drums on demos as well. It’s all done live to minidisk and roughly recorded on a Sony ECM-MS907 mic, which is usually just sitting on a music stand or propped up on a couch. There were lots of demos of this piece, some of which veered into the lunacy of Tom Waits.
I love Al Bowlly, and Sam and I have played a bit of his stuff. Sam and I wanted to write a ballad in the class of ‘The Very Thought of You’ and so that was the germ of the new song., a sense of its feel and how it might sit in a set. Once I started putting lyrics together, the image of an older couple sitting at home and listening to the wireless emerged and I pursued it further, drawing on, or rather bouncing off a poem by Philip Larkin called ‘Broadcast’, though the chap in his poem is at home listening in on his own.
The first version of the tune was called ‘Wireless’. It had a very sweet chorus which worked nicely, but Sam rewrote it and improved it vastly this ‘Wireless’ demo was also the first place that the song’s whistling solo entered the world. As the song took shape musically Sam was very keen to pursue a particular musical structure that echoed the work of the Ink Spots, and those constraints sharpened the lyrics significantly. I’ve written more about fashioning Old Fashioned here.
Monday Morning Woman
We were talking about what to write next and Sam presented me with a Lounge music CD, noting one particular track which had a kind of jungle or swampy feel, you know, lots of xylophones and sound effects, very evocative kitsch and fun. So that was the starting point, lyrically. I did a bit of research into voodoo (or rather its showbiz iteration) and a particular character called Marie Leveau, as well as lots of the juicy parlance, phrases and recipes related to this kind of practice.
As the lyrics took shape the scenario was around someone, a vengeful lover, heading out into the night to meet with someone who can help them with the kind of magic they need. Apparently the appearance of a woman on a Monday morning can be extremely bad luck. I expect this may have something to do with what the woman’s man has been up to over the weekend…
The above sounds are simply Sam and I sitting in a room playing the tune live. Along the way, I went a bit nuts over this song and made two quite detailed demos of it with lots of percussion and swamp noises, thinking it was finished, but Sam needed time to think about it and compose some more – as it turned out, he was thinking in detail about arrangement ideas and instrumental passages tailored specifically to some of the great players in Laique.
Take Me Down To Cannes
Sam and I were thinking of shifting our writing process slightly – often he’d write music to my lyrics, and we wanted to play with reversing the process. This is the song where we finally went ‘music first’ – Sam played me this tune, which was perhaps inspired by his time in the Doch Gypsy Orchestra. I listened to our instrumental demo repeatedly on my music player as I walked to work, and on public transport, etc to get acquainted.
I was initially playing with the idea of making it about a great train journey – its exotic sounding chords and motifs made me think of the orient express or something like that – I was thinking maybe a roll-call of stations and towns like Vladivostok might be fun, but also torture to rhyme.
Then I just started singing along to it and seeing where the music took me, and it took me to Cannes, specifically the film festival, which, while it has its glamorous side, is plainly and mainly about exploitation of various kinds. So the song’s story is about an adventurous girl with stars in her eyes fulfilling her life’s dream by going to the festival to be ‘discovered’. Which she is.