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July 28, 2021

Up to their Necks in improvisation

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Improvising has become the creative trademark of the Necks, an Australian seminal outfit who pack houses both in Australia and on an international front. They return to the Byron Community Centre for a very special concert.

Why do you think reaching a state of emptiness helps you be more responsive when improvising? Actually, I’m not sure I’d say a state of emptiness is best, rather a state simply where one is not over-finessing the decisions that arise. Contrary to some people’s understanding, improvising music can often require a lot of attention to the nuts and bolts. Sometimes I’ve taken the stage with The Necks in an incredibly distracted state, and the resulting music has been some of the best I think I’ve come up with.

Sometimes the state of emptiness is reached not before the performance but during it, when things start to get really orgiastic and hallucinatory.

It sounds a bit like spiritual practice… do you think there’s something intrinsically Zen about what you do… does it stay with you off stage; I mean does the way you create music filter into how you live your life… are you more responsive to situations rather than reactive? I don’t know a whole lot about Zen, but I do think playing in The Necks has subtly affected my outlook over the decades. I’m definitely more fatalistic these days. Maybe that’s merely a natural consequence of growing older, but in many ways I think The Necks are very fatalistic about the creative process. We try to write ourselves out of the creative equation and just let that something, whatever is it, take over.

I don’t know which feeds which though. Probably a bit of both.

I have listened to The Necks and, when it’s really happening, it always reminded me of being in the slipstream. Is it as effortless as it looks? That’s the state we try to get into, and it’s wonderful when it happens to be effortless, but if it doesn’t, we have to focus on creating a situation where it can start to happen.

Your media release says you have returned home… where have you been exactly? Our drummer Tony Buck lives in Berlin, and he likes to escape the winter there, so we try to schedule our Australian tour each year to coincide. Last September we did a North American tour, and in November we did a really big tour of Europe. We meet up wherever in the world we need to be. It’s funny when all three of us show up for the start of a tour from different locations.

How are you received overseas? It’s just as positive as it is here. Tony moved o/s in 1991 and it wasn’t till 1998 that he told us from Europe that he thought the audiences there would really like what we do. Up until then we weren’t sure it would ‘translate’. So he set up a great run of 17 or 18 shows and the response was really strong. People ‘got’ where we were coming from musically, yet in the same breath told us they hadn’t heard anything else like it. Same with North America when we later started touring there. So we’ve just been building on that. Next month we do our first show in Japan, which will be interesting. It’s at All Tomorrow’s Parties, curated by Jim O’Rourke, formerly of Sonic Youth. We’ve always known we have a following there, but the offers just haven’t come along at the right time till now.

What should we expect for your Byron show? Three guys on stage with acoustic instruments summoning the spirits.

Byron Bay Community Centre, Wed 28 March, 7.30pm $25/$28. Bookings: http://byroncentre.com.au/whats-on/details/179?xref=285. Phone 6685 6807.

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