BLUES BYTES – 19-TWENTY
Interview with Kane Dennelly (vocals/guitar), John Gwilliam (double bass/vocals) and Jeremy Berg (drums) by Bob Gordon.
What does doing festivals mean to you? It clearly means a lot to your audiences…
Kane: We’ve done nearly 100 separate festivals both here and overseas which still blows my mind. We’ve just really wanted to get on festival bills because you get to stay in the town, you get to experience the town. There’s a lot of bands that we’ve never seen before. So you come across some little hidden gems. We just love that people are there to hear music. They’re not there for any other reason; they want to embrace a town, they want to embrace the lineup and the music and we want to encourage that and get swept up in it too. And we do, you know?
Where we are at the moment, Moldan, is very similar to Bridgetown. It’s a little town that swells probably 10 times its size over the weekend. And that’s what we love about Bridgetown. It’s sort of home for us; we’ve done it so many times now. But we still get the same excitement when we drive into town and see that Welcome to Bridgetown sign.
It’s like you’re locals, really. I’ve noticed every year there’s a lot of 19-Twenty t-shirts walking around the town and many of those are on kids. They’re not just wearing them because their parents bought it for them, there’s a real love for the band. What’s it like to come from the other side of the country and roll up somewhere and feel that part of the family?
Jeremy: As a newbie coming in, taking over the lovely from the lovely Syd Green, I’ve done Bridgetown twice now. I think it’s got a huge family vibe as you said, seeing the kids during the day the sun’s out, family is around. It’s a really great community festival. Some festivals aren’t targeted or tailored for that sort of environment, they could be a nighttime thing, but Bridgetown definitely is one of those really unique family environment festivals. Obviously you have the pub going off at night-time but during the day, seeing all the kids get out and about in the sunshine… it’s a really great atmosphere.
Kane: “I think the young crowd, for us, has come from those school gigs. When we first played there – the original drummer Jason and I – it would have been 16 years ago. We always have tried to get the school shows just to get this music in front of those young kids. And what we’re seeing now, we play the pub on a Saturday night, and the Year 3 and 4 kids are now 18-19 are getting trashed in front of us saying, ‘we saw you at our school!’. They’re throwing beers in the air and it’s super cool. It’s so good to go there and feel like it is our home because well, I guess it is… we love it.
Jeremy: One of the unique things that I saw for the first time was when we did the early morning slot at Geegelup. It was for the for the school only, 200 students come all in their uniform at 10.30 in the morning and there’s four teachers up the back going, ‘oh god what have the kids gotten into here?’ Watching all the kids get a taste of live music – not many students get to see that and feel and understand that live music essence. So you get two or three kids in that audience and maybe light the fire in their belly and they want to get into live music… that’s goal achieved, you know?
Your shows encompass so much in terms of music and entertainment, and nods to other bands and all kinds of music and are entirely inclusive…
Kane: We really want to break down that fourth wall.
What is the difference between what you started out as and what you’ve become?
Kane: Well, it started out with a guy who was my best mate playing a snare drum and me playing a stompbox. All we wanted to do was travel the country playing music, and that’s what we did. We toured in a Toyota Camry, had our stuff in the trailer in the back and we would play every venue from Eden in the south-east of New South Wales to Kununurra in WA. We toured seven times around Australia doing that, playing every goddamn place you could think of. Basically, we just wanted to improve and also get a bit higher up on the ladder each time.
I was talking to someone last night about it. They’re like, ‘where does this show come from?’ and I was like, well, we played a lot of mining towns, especially in WA, a lot of places where they didn’t care what we did. They weren’t into what we did. So we had to grab them by the balls and say, ‘oi, this is who we are. Please like it’.
And so we would be booked for covers gigs but play our own stuff. We couldn’t get gigs as 19-Twenty just off the bat back then. It was a hard slog, but when we got the gig, we played our sort of music and people responded. Obviously, that’s going back 16 years now, so it’s progressed, and each year we set goals and think, ‘what do we want to do?’
I think the hardest thing for me personally now is that everything I ever wanted to do, I’ve done. All I wanted to do was to use music to support my family and that’s where we’re at now. So now it’s readjusting that and finding new inspiration. I think for me it’s that I want my kids to get on the road with us, experience this beautiful country and see the places that I’ve seen. I want them to see that you can support yourself from your passion. And you don’t have to do a shitty job; life’s about living and if you can do that, while you’re playing in a band with your best mates, that’s just an incredible thing. So from where we were to where we are it’s obviously been a natural progression.
Thinking about it, Jeremy’s the fourth or fifth drummer we’ve had, which sounds crazy but that’s how it’s progressed. Johnny’s been with us for 10 or 11 years. So it’s this ever-changing thing, but it’s always about entertainment. It’s always about people leaving feeling better than when they arrived. And I think if there are core values that it’s really important to put that on stage and even if we don’t feel like it sometimes, we use the crowd’s energy and then by the end of the gig we’re feeling as good as they are. It’s therapy for everyone.
There’s elements of rockabilly, punk, rock’n’roll and pop and outright showbusiness there and I think that that’s why the crowds love you so much. Obviously, you don’t feel 100% before every gig, but it always looks like you do…
John: Absolutely. Any time we turn up to any gig, we always make it a personal mission to give 1000%, no matter what the situation is. It gives us a physical, personal and mental lift it as well, each and every time, just realising that when we are there to play, we’re there to play for people who have turned up to see us and whatever troubles we were facing during the day or during the week, we can’t let that impact on people’s good time. When we realise that, and we play to give ourselves a good time, it just works. Tenfold.
Kane: We definitely feed off everyone, and in talking about breaking down that fourth wall, it’s definitely a combination – we are nothing without the audience.
It’s not about us. It’s about how do we serve them as an audience? And that’s how we base our shows. It’s definitely not ego driven – as much as people think my ego’s huge – it’s really not, I just want people to have a goddamn good time. And yeah, if that means I have to tease myself, I have to mock Jeremy, or we have to say Johnny’s shithouse, then we will.
It’s all about people who have invested their 45 minutes, or their hour, or their hour-and-a-half. I think the time investment means way more than a money investment. So they’ve invested their time, what value are we going to give them? And it’s not contrived. It’s not calculated. We just think well, ‘we’re going to try this because we think it’s fun, and we think other people will have fun’. And we hope that they do.