Your Gateway to Music and More from a Christian Perspective
Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Bennett, founder of Toupee Records and member of Leo Nine (formerly Battered
Interview by Eric Daams, on April 12, 2001
It was in late 1992 that Jeremy Bennett, Caleb James and Matthew Gray came together to form Battered Fish, a talented acoustic-based folk band. A little under nine years later, the group remains with the same line-up, but a completely altered sound, having taken on an alternative rock sound With Modern, their fourth and latest project, the trio received rave reviews from Rolling Stone and Juice, as well as our very own Phantom Tollbooth. A good two years after Modern, the band is returning with a new album. But not as Battered Fish. Instead, they'll be calling themselves Leo Nine. Guess they were looking for something a little less weird...
Despite the long wait between albums, and the timid performing schedule, the members have still been busy. Caleb's been mastering his skills as producer, having produced the latest albums of a number of Brisbane bands, including Elementary Penguin, the Frugals, and Rhubarb. Meanwhile, Jeremy's been signing the bands with his label, Toupee Records, which includes the aforementioned bands, as well as Dumpster, Tonjip, and of course Battered Fish/Leo Nine.
I was able to catch up with Jeremy for a chat while he was up at the Australian Gospel Music Festival (AGMF), a three-day music festival in its third year. The show's already drawing quite a crowd, with the biggest names in Australian Christian music performing, as well as some overseas talent. There was quite a bit of Toupee talent in the line-up, and Jeremy and Battered Fish/Leo Nine would be playing one of their first shows in quite a while the next day.
Tollbooth: You guys are playing tomorrow for the AGMF. Are you playing mainly stuff from the new album, or also from the old album?
Bennett: No, we're playing one song off Modern, 'Bruised,' which is Caleb playing by himself. We're playing four of the five songs from the new, half album that's coming out.
Tollbooth: So it's an EP?
Bennett: A bit more than an EP, a bit less than a mini album, I suppose.
Tollbooth: Have Leo Nine/Battered Fish been performing much recently, or has that sort of died down?
Bennett: It's died down a bit. Eventually, last year we decided that we should put it up a gear -- do a recording then get out there and do some shows. We want to have some great shows in the Christian arena and some cool shows in the general market.
Tollbooth: I guess, between your work with Toupee and Caleb James producing albums, you're both pretty busy.
Bennett: Yeah, but the band is quite fun, you know. It's sort of like working out a balance. We get to a point where we go, "We're doing too many gigs," so we cut that down. Or we go, "We're doing too many Christian gigs," so we do some more pub shows. Or we're not writing enough, so we start writing some songs. Just things like that, we're always doing what we need to do as a band. We're a bit more of an artistic band than a band that makes lots of money.
Tollbooth: It's more to get out that musical creativity you have?
Bennett: Yeah. Like with Modern, the last album. After we'd finished recording it, I listened to it and I thought it was fantastic. I was really, really proud of it, but I thought, "I don't think anyone else is going to like this, because it's so different from the previous one." But Modern sold heaps, so it pushed our profile. That's all going to change, though, with the name change!
Tollbooth: When you released Megawhat? you changed from an acoustic-based style to an aggressive rock style. Then Modern was different again. Will the new album be another change?
Bennett: No, there won't be quite that much change. I think it's a bit more rock than Modern, without being quite like Megawhat?. It's also got more retro rock, kind of Beatle-esque without being one where people say, "That's a total rip off of the Beatles." It has that older 60's; little bit more rockin' guitar, and more rocking out!
There's a weird song on there, too. We rearranged it completely and re-wrote the chorus in the studio. It goes verse-chorus, verse-chorus, and then completely breaks down and goes into this weird thing, until the end of the song.
Tollbooth: Will Caleb James be producing the album?
Bennett: It's actually already recorded. We recorded it late last year. We all had a fair bit of influence, but yeah, Caleb was the main one. He's also mixing it down. He actually engineered almost all of it. We had some other engineers in to help, but it was mainly Caleb.
Tollbooth: With him joining Rhubarb, how will that affect Leo Nine/Battered Fish?
Bennett: I think it will probably help it. Hopefully there will be opportunities that Leo Nine gets because one member is already somewhere, doing stuff. When Caleb told us, I was totally cool with it. I was just like, "Yeah, cool, that sounds great!" We're not practicing together every week. We're kind of getting together to write new stuff and practice before a show. So we're a bit more flexible.
Also, the Rhubarb guys really loved Battered Fish/Leo Nine and they loved how Caleb produced Kamikaze.
Tollbooth: Is Toupee your day job?
Bennett: No, I do that part-time with David Drinkall from Rhubarb. I normally work a day job as well, because Toupee doesn't really make a lot of money. We only concentrate on the bands we like. We really want to help out the bands, and get them happening. Like the Frugals, they're a great example of a band that has come a long way since becoming involved with Caleb, because he's really brought the music a lot further. I've got to say, if there's a band on our label, I've got to like it. With the Frugals I think some of their songs are just fantastic.
Tollbooth: What first inspired you to start your own label?
Bennett: We released Megawhat? through a label called Violet, which was set up by MRA Entertainment Group. They distribute to the general market. The guy there had set up a label and he was running the label, but he wasn't allowed enough time to do the things he had to doThat meant that even though they had this great distribution network, they didn't service radio, they didn't push for press and it just didn't work. We decided to do the next album ourselves. We knew that we would be able to also spend a lot more effort getting it to radio and press. We figured we could do it just as well, if not better.
Tollbooth: How has having Dave Drinkall (Rhubarb) on board helped?
Bennett: Compared to me, he's an entrepreneur and very good with people. I'm learning (laughs). He helps out with some mundane tasks, but I basically get him to talk to radio stations and things like that. He's also really helped out with bands. Especially younger bands like Elementary Penguin and the Frugals. He'll talk to them a lot, a bit like a mentor, I suppose. So he's really, really good like that. I think he's just added a lot of volume in that kind of way. He'll help out with some of the mundane jobs, like shipping orders, but he doesn't do any of the other administration, because I can handle all that.
Tollbooth: To close off, what's your goal with the new album? I mean, are you trying to hit the general market, overseas as well, or is it just, as you said before, to release an album that you really like for its own sake?
Bennett: Yeah, the second!
(laughs)We have no commercial expectations. See what we do, we just make
the music that we like. There was talk of holding off and recording another
five songs and releasing an album. It's just with the new name, it's better
to have two small releases than one big one. With the new album, I think
it's got some fantastic songs on it. We'll just see what happens. I talked
to Jeff Cloud from Velvet Blue Music, and he's keen to release it as well.
He's very trusting and he's just been like, "I don't care, I don't need
to hear it. Just send me the master, artwork and all." So, there will be
a release in the U.S.A. through Velvet Blue Music and Toupee will send
it to a couple of people and radio stations, and we'll just see how it
goes. But you know radio, they might love it, and they might hate it!