Introducing: The Ukeladies

Another Aussie secret unleashed by our resident down-under Clementine Lloyd...

Posted on Aug 7th, 2011 in Features and Interviews, The Ukeladies / By Clementine Lloyd
The Ukeladies It’s a rare occurrence to attend a gig with quite so much surrounding theatricality (unless you are keen on the U2 style 360 degree claptrap they are toting). Sitting in a lavish bar, complete with a lush red velvet curtain that pulls back to reveal an array of musical instruments and glittering palm trees, one could be forgiven for thinking this a cabaret evening. It is not, though the delightful exploits of playful musicianship certainly feeds into this freewheeling joyous evening of entertainment. The kitsch and pioneering spark the Ukeladies deal out is deserving of such plush props; “We are a bit of an anomaly in that we don't really have a scene. People generally don't realise how much they love future/retro, faux-Hawaiian, show music until they encounter it face to face.”

The album, for which this short tour of Melbourne and the surrounding areas has been organised, encompasses this thematic theatricality, we’ll leave it to the experts and resident ladies of the Uke, Amanda Roff and Maylise Dent, to explain;

“The album is a collection of almost forgotten songs, inspired by the idea of musical escapism. Their common lyrical features concern inter-dimensional locations where everything is beautiful. The inhabitants of these magical locations routinely find love and lose it again, generally in the moonlight, to the sound of waves lapping and soft rain falling on banana leaves. The repetition of these themes and sounds form a mental hammock for the listener, enabling she/he to drift away in narcotic splendour.”

This is not your average Sunday night then, as the audience sip on cocktails lounging around mini tables the ladies and their band of merry performers take to the stage, the surrounding area is increasingly packed to the rafters.

“Babies, old people and hungover people are our biggest fans”, Maylise chimes in. The best kind of people then? Indulging in pure imagination and letting go of reality fits this particular audience perfectly!

Dazzling the crowd in gorgeous Hawaiian inspired dressed, Maylise and Amanda slip easily into their on stage characters. Softly spoken, yet commanding attention, they joke about the similar themes amid renditions of lost songs from the depths of cultural memory between duet refrains from their ukuleles. “We don't write the songs, we find them hidden in old record stacks, or featured in Elvis films, or being played by an 85 year old DJ on a community radio program. Everyone in the band is similarly obsessed with arranging old songs so we never have a shortage of incredible material to work with.”

This love of the old, coupled with the style and imagery surrounding it is housed in a deep nostalgia, which drips from every track. This is no gimmick though, as Amanda assures “It's based on love, it's not a promotional strategy. The band is a bunch of cultural bowerbirds, people who collect and treasure obscure music, film and pop culture from many eras. The instruments and songs we play are all from another time and place.“

Collectively, and when all arranged, the 8 piece make up a range of percussion, Slide Guitar, Ukuleles, a Double Base, Vibraphone, Merimba, and most astonishingly a Theremin, which wouldn’t be out of place forming the theme of Star Trek! By Zeus does it work though, forming the Hawaiian style elongated notes that place you on that crystal white beach, the setting for so many of these tracks, on a backdrop of gentle and vibrant sounds that soothe your soul.

“The arrangements work in a sort of layering effect, so we can strip right back again to doing the songs as a duo if we need to fit on a very small bar or in a phone box or whatever.” Amazingly, the first musical whiff we caught of this nostalgic trip was in the basement of a record store called ‘Basement Records’, in which only four or five of their members were in evidence, given that the stage was tiny. Even here, amidst CD racks and fluorescent light, was the imagery enough to transport us to Neverland. This seems to be a defence against the Australian mid-winter chill as much for the band, as for the fans, as Amanda notes when asked how the band formed.

“The band happened very organically. My strongest idea about it at the time was that I was horribly homesick for the beach. Maylise and I are from Newcastle in New South Wales, a northern coastal town. Marooned in Melbourne, surrounded by slimy concrete, we gathered with other music migrants (people who have moved to Melbourne to play), and played soothing tropical tunes next to the heater.”

Now, five years on and going strong, the band is embarking on a six month hiatus. “The main reason is that I'm studying at the University of California in Berkeley for 6 months so I will be out of the country. Clare Moore our vibes player will be touring her new album with Dave Graney and The Lurid Yellow Mist, guitarist Dan Luscombe, who also co-produced the album, will be touring with Glenn Richards from Augie March and with his own band, The Drones. Maylise will be organising events for The Melbourne International Arts Festival”. These are not a work-shy bunch then, so we presume there will be plenty of time for a broader tour in time? Hopefully encompassing the UK! “We'd love to travel with the band. Aaron Cupples, who mixed the album, lives in London. We'd love to organise a gig at his local without telling him. It's fun to play in non-tropical environments, the juxtaposition is pretty enjoyable.”