Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Baker's Dozen: Interview with Microwave Jenny

Once, while sitting at the airport waiting for J-Fur to return from New Mexico, I watched a guy make a disgruntled face every time he took a sip from his Sprite bottle. I crafted an elaborate story about what was causing this man so much unhappiness, even going as far as sharing it with J-Fur when she arrived. But I didn't write it down and to this day I remember almost nothing about it. This is exactly what Tessa Nuku does not do. When she crafts a brilliant story while observing people at the bus stop she makes sure she captures it in writing. This allows her to turn to it later when she needs it for a catchy pop song like "What You Do" which was included on our Rubbed the Wrong Way Mix. Recently I had the chance to interview, via email, Tessa and her band mate Brendon Boney. The two of them are the creative forces behind Aussie band Microwave Jenny.

TB: Who is Microwave Jenny?

Microwave Jenny (MJ): We're a duet made up of Tessa Nuku on the vocals and Brendon Boney on vocals and guitar.

TB: According to your bio, the name Microwave Jenny comes from a classic Aussie film called The Castle. Having never seen this film, how exactly does Microwave Jenny fit into the plot and why did you think this made a good band name?
MJ: It doesn't really serve any purpose to the plot of the film. They use it to show how we all remember and refer to people. The Mum and the daughter, Tracy, are talking when one says "You know Jenny?" and the other replies "Jenny, Jenny? Or Jenny Microwave Jenny?". About 50% of people we come across get the reference and people who don't get it just think it's a weird name and they remember it next time.
TB: One of your goals is to "bring pop music played by real musicians with real instruments back to the Australian landscape." Why do you think real people/real instruments have been forgotten in pop music and why is it so important, to you, to bring them back?
MJ: There are plenty of great musicians in Australia playing their instruments very well. When we said this we weren't thinking that they don't exist, we just want to help the cause. There's a lot of programmed drum beats on the radio these days and it can kind of hurt your head after a while. Is it too much to ask for a drummer who can play the drums?! Part of what we love about music is the fact that you end up with bumps and bruises. They make the moments of brilliance much more believable and hard hitting.
TB: Both of you are from Aboriginal backgrounds. How does that influence your music? Have you met with any struggles being indigenous musicians as you try to "find your place in contemporary music"?
Brendon: I have a little more of an Aboriginal background than Tessa. She mostly identifies as Maori and has extended family in New Zealand. As far as influence goes its a little tough to explain. People expect to hear some kind of cultural influence in your music once they hear you're Aboriginal but the truth is that's not really how I was raised. I didn't learn to play the didgeridoo or speak in language. I was raised listening to James Taylor and Fleetwood Mac and Michael Jackson! I can't really explain much about my people's history because I'm still learning about it myself. All I can do is tell my stories about the world that I live in now and try to be a good representation of what it means to be a young Aboriginal in the world today.
Tessa: As Brendon mentioned I have a lot of family currently living in New Zealand on my dad's side as he was born there. The Aboriginal heritage comes from my great great grandfather who was a black tracker sent over to New Zealand to find who ever it was he was told to find by the British but ended up running away with the Maoris eventually becoming my great great grandfather. But I also have a lot of family here in the land of OZ on my mum's side. So for me to identify with one culture wouldn't feel right. You could put me in a room with each culture separately and I will always feel at home and that is the way I have been brought up. It hasn't made it harder to "find my place" but much much easier because I just feel like I'm a part of everyone as a whole. I can see in my mind that being a very different story if I had not been raised that way and can see how people who only identify with one culture may find it hard to adapt to another. Not that it is a bad thing but I can see how it would be more difficult. The moral is: I write what I write because of how I was raised and the way I was raised to embrace everyone no matter the background. Which, for me, makes things far more enjoyable.
TB: One of the highlights of your year has to be both of you being shortlisted for the 2011 APRA PDA Awards. Brendon actually took top prize in the indigenous category (winning 25,000 dollars). Was there any bad blood between the two of your after the winners were announced? In all seriousness, did either of you expect to be shortlisted let alone win? What did it mean for your guys when you were?
Brendon: Yeah Tessa was pretty angry. There was a few plates and vases thrown that night. Just kidding!!! Tessa was actually crying when my name was read out. I think she was more happy than I was to win it! I had been shortlisted before but didn't win so to actually walk away with one this time was a super satisfying and humbling experience. I am truly grateful they thought I was worthy to win that.
Tessa: I'm the worlds biggest list writer. I write lists for cleaning, for shopping, for weekly chores, for fun things to do that week, for EVERYTHING! I LOVE LISTS! They complete me (hehehe). So you can imagine how excited I was to be put on someone's list ANNDD being on that list meant I had a chance of winning 25,000 dollars (haha). And then I looked more closely at the list of talent in my category and I was blown away, like perhaps they had put me through by mistake? Now I didn't win but I'm being truthful when I say being on that list was good enough for me. Plus, it means I can always try again. I was so happy for Brendon when he won and its true, I did cry because I didn't win....KIDDING! He truly deserved it, he puts a lot of hard work into writing songs, I know this. But it is always nice when other people notice as well. So I cried like a proud grandparent.
TB: "What You Do" is a song that I think a lot of people can relate to, the idea that you want someone or something so bad that it hurts. What's the story behind the song?
Tessa: Hehe. This story was actually just a bit of fun. Have you ever sat at a bus stop or shopping centre and just made up fake lives for persons passing by? That's how I kind of wrote this song. I made up this character about someone that I just saw and, it might sound horrible, but to me it looked like she was heart broken. I could see this whole movie about it in my mind so I quickly wrote it down. She was probably just heading to the grocery store because she ran out of milk for her afternoon hot chocolate and her concentrating face just made her look like she was sad (haha). Funny enough, Brendon had written this chorus a long time ago and never finished it. It fit perfectly.
TB: You have a few EPs to your name but now you are in the process of recording your first full length with producer Daniel Denholm. What's it been like working with him?
MJ: Daniel's awesome!!! He's an incredibly talented, well respected producer in the industry and I'm always learning new things from him every time we go in to record. He's a super straight shooter too and tells you exactly how it is, which makes you work really hard to be at your best.
TB: In June you guys spent four nights opening for Thirsty Merc. What was the audience's reaction to you? What did you guys take from those shows that will be beneficial in the future?
MJ: At first, on the surface it might not seem like us supporting Thirsty Merc would work but it ended up being a really nice experience for us. Those guys were generous and easy to get along with which made us feel really comfortable. And spending that time being around their music, you understand why we actually ended up connecting with a heap of their fans and selling CDs. They're a real groove based band and have a lot of melody driven songs which we love and try to make too.
TB: Speaking of shows, I've read a lot recently about huge bands who have something go wrong and storm off the stage before even finishing a song or two. Then I read about you guys who once had a power outage occur right before you took the stage and you just went out into the middle of the crowd and played an acoustic set with only a few candles. You said it became one of your most memorable shows. What is your mindset like when you are preparing for a live performance? How was it that your were able to react so quickly to something that would be pretty damning to a lot of other bands?
MJ: We're pretty relaxed before our shows. The fact that anything can happen while you're on stage is part of the beauty of live music. The only difference with that specific case was that the crazy thing happened before we actually got on stage! A weird thing happens when you're about to get on stage where this adrenalin kicks in. There's very little you can't put up with.
TB: You guys performed on the Australian version of "The Apprentice." How did that happen?
MJ: It's pretty funny to look back at. What actually happened was they had a challenge where they were to take an unsigned artist and present them to "industry professionals" like a showcase. One of the producers of the show found us on this old thing called Myspace and rang us and asked if we'd like to do it and we said "Yeah, why not."
TB: Outside of music, what do you guys like to do? I hear rumors about mad choc top ice creams...
Brendon: We're huge film fans. We go to the cinema once or twice a week at least. There probably isn't a major studio film released in the last 3 years that we haven't seen! We've just started getting into Laser Tag which is awesome! Tessa is really creative and likes messing around with photography and those choc tops come from her days working at a cinema where she used to make them.
TB: Does Microwave Jenny get the chance to do much cooking? Any special recipes you care to share?
MJ: We love to cook! We love food!!! We have a chicken lasagne recipe that we picked up from Tessa's sister where you really get creative with the layers. It starts like most other lasagnes: You take some chicken mince and cook it then mix in some tomato based sauce. Take a good size oven dish and layer the sauce in between some lasagne sheets using some bechamel sauce. Here's the twist we like to do: take some lightly boiled slices of sweet potato and make a layer with those. Top with a heap of mozzarella and put it in the oven on 200 degrees Celsius (390 degrees Fahrenheit) for about an hour. Eat it until slightly sick.
For a printable version go here.
TB: Ending sentiments?
Brendon: "The things you remember in life are good people, good art and good food." I heard John Butler say that once. I like it.
Tessa: "Anything worth doing is worth overdoing." I made that up.
Microwave Jenny has a new video for "Stuck on the Moon" a song form their Crazy Crazy Things EP (get it here):

The previous song, "What You Do":

Microwave Jenny-What You Do