South Africa might be one of the countries closest geographically to Western Australia but we don’t get to hear a lot of music from that continent in general. I had the Black Cat Bones ‘Book of Miriam’ sat in my review box for far too long and ironically mainly because I mistakenly thought it might be a lost Kossoff classic and so time was on my side (Paul Kossoff, later of Free was in a band of that name in the 60’s). It’s one of those things they often label ‘serendipity’. When I finally got to have a listen I was at first intrigued by the likes of the groovy opening track ‘Lungs’ before track after track wove its magic till we got to the wonderfully Tom Waits-like closer ‘Mayo’. This is an album you all need to hear! For me it’s like a wonderful mix of Robert Jon and the Wreck and The Teskey Brothers. There’s Blues, Soul, Funk and Roots and it all sounds impeccably timeless. It just might be the best album you’ll hear all year.
As we are all dialing in I’m first joined by Casey…
Mark: Thanks for taking the time to talk to The Rockpit today. What a fantastic album!
Casey: Thank you very much that’s very kind of you.
Mark: We don’t hear a lot of music from your part of the World but based on listening to The Book of Miriam I wish we heard more!
Casey: It doesn’t surprise me that you don’t hear much from South Africa (laughs).
Mark: We’ve a decent ex-pat population here in the West of Australia so I had thought we might get to hear a bit more. Where did it start for you Casey I think you’re the newest addition to the band?
Casey: Yeah, I joined about three years ago just before lockdown and it’s been madness ever since! (laughs) Live music died over here it was complete shutdown but during lockdown a secret gid scene started to crop up of people who didn’t care and just wanted to jam and listen to music.
Mark: It’s different all over I guess, we locked our borders as a State which meant that much as our State politicians tried to kill off music a lot more people got out to see local bands. No internationals meant some sampled the local scene for the first time.
Casey: That’s incredible. We don’t get a lot of internationals here no one comes to South Africa unless they are huge, no one comes and plays the clubs. So in general that means that people are super into the local scene. So if you are into watching music in South Africa you are into the locals and you know all about it. It’s been a long time since secret shows, that was very cool.
Mark: Great to have you all here, how are you all? I must admit I have a confession – I got the album back in May but only listened to it last week, Biggest mistake I’ve made all year so let’s put that right!
Andre: That’s a good mistake to make.
Casey: At least you got there.
Mark: And since then I’ve plunged back in time to visit your back catalogue which is equally cool. I think there’s something really special about a record like ‘The Book of Miriam’ and your publicist was doing a great job in getting me to listen and I’m so glad he did. Sometimes when you get 400 odd submissions a week you miss a lot, but persistence paid off.
Mark: We love all kinds of music here at The Rockpit and whilst they don’t sound just like you, there’s a couple of bands that I think you have elements of in your sound – there’s an American band called Robert Jon and the Wreck for the Bluesy sound and an Australian band called The Teskey Brothers for that ore soulful edge.
Andre: We’re taking notes! (laughs)
Gareth: There’s our tour line-up there right away! (laughs)
Mark: (laughs) The thing I think I like most about The Book of Miriam though is the fact that it’s so wonderfully diverse. There’s no fear there to try anything? Do you feel you’re at that stage in your career where there are no boundaries?
Andre: We definitely feel that at the moment yeah. On the previous albums we tried to not go too far out of the box, and not make the songs sound too distant from the previous ones, but this time we went in with a conscious decision to explore some avenues that we haven’t really in the past. I think we’re at the stage now where we really donlt give a fuck!
Casey and Gareth: (laughs)
Mark: It’s a great place to be though, because it sounds so liberating when you listen to the results! It really comes across in the music. I get all kids of tastes when I listen – there’s a little of late 70’s Talking Heads in the opener ‘Lungs’ as well as a healthy kick of funk and then the horns in ‘When I See You’ are simply sublime, then there’s the groove of ‘The Waltz’ and you’re daring enough to cover Bob Dylan as well!
Mark: Before we get into the album though first tell us a bit of the back story because there’s a lot of us out there in Australia who aren’t going to know a lot about the history of the band?
Andre: We started in 2007 as predominantly traditional Blues, and for the first album that’s what we did, but then of course all kinds of other influences seep in as they do. But prior to that we were all in different groups, and not necessarily coming from the same sound: Casey will tell you he was the vocalist in a ‘Deathcore Metal’ band (laughs)
Casey: (laughs) Not Deathcore!
Andre: So we were kind of all over the show and we worked our way through those first four albums, and finally we caved and did a deal with a reputable record company and a publisher and a publicist and all of that and the end result was ‘Book of Miriam’. We didn’t really have a clear idea – we had some structures and some songs but no definitive idea as to where we were going with it. Then the big boss of the label heard some of the Motowny stuff and loved it so we took that on bard. Plus that’s all Casey does – Funk! He Funks about all day!
Andre: So that led to the birth of Miriam.
Mark: I guess the Miriam in the title refers to singer of ‘Quit It’ the cover you have on there?
Andre: It’s kind of like a loose referral but not really dedicated to that – Miriam is really the collective word for all the women in our lives. But obviously we did tap a little from that song but it’s not a particular reference.
Mark: Soulful, funky, Bluesy, rootsy there’s something in there for everyone. It’s a great mix and I’m guessing because it all works so well that your tastes are quite diverse – what are you all listening too?
Casey: Everything! In the car with us on the way down to a show it goes from James Brown to Band of Skulls to Black Pumas!
Gareth: To ‘Bon Jovi’ and ‘Running Around With Wolves’.
Casey: To Spectre!
Gareth: And Judas Prest!
Andre: But you can’t tell that from the album though. We’ve recorded the total opposite of what we’re listening to at the moment! (laughs) We get asked a lot what influences us and sometimes it can just be what’s on the radio on the way to the studio! We go back to a lot of the Rootsy stuff – guys like Tony Joe White has been a big influence on myself, we all love a new band called Black Pumas, and Casey listens to his own Funk all the time. He records it and listens to his own stuff all the time!
Mark: Let’s look at a few of the songs then. How do you go about deciding to cover ‘Dylan’?
Andre: That’s actually been a song that’s been with us for a while. The scene in South Africa you need to be able to get around in a scene within a scene. So we’ll have the original set that we’ll play at Festivals and the meat and potatoes of teh band at the smaller shows where we need to introduce a certain percent of covers and we donlt like to go for any of the current Top 40 stuff we tend to dig deep and go for the B-Sides and stuff and that Dylan song we’ve played for the past ten years. It started off as the song we played at a Bob Dylan tribute concert – every band played 5 or 6 songs and that one stayed with us. It went through a lot of stages and ended up on the album with a bit of African flavor in the mix.
Mark: I love the retro feel – to me the best music is the music that sounds like it’s always been there and to me this sounds like a record that’s been around for a long time, not one that ws recorded on 2021 or 22.
Casey: And if you saw the studio we recorded it in you’d understand why! (laughs)
Gareth: We literally rented out a drum kit from the 50’s for this album. So I’m glad that you picked that up! (laughs)
Andre: We literally set out for that sound, rather than finding it in ‘post’ or with a plug-in or getting it some cheap way. Like Gareth said we went to a second hand music shop and we rented an old 50’s vintage drum kit, so good on you for picking that up.
Mark: So is it all analogue? Did you go that far?
Casey: It is mostly but there were some digital elements. Most of it was tracked live – Gary, Andre and I tracked the majority live, we were really obsessed with getting a real raw live feel as the foundation for the album. Using the vintage equipment and tones definitely added to that.
Mark: It works for me. I love some of the crazy stuff on there too like the closing track ‘Mayo’ that has that really great Tom Waits vibe and which I’m guessing is about lockdown.
Gareth: (laughs) Exactly!
Andre: We literally threw shit at the wall to see what would stick and then worked on it. It’s my favourite track on teh album I think.
Mark: It’s a fantastic way to close I must admit! How big is the band, I love the horns on the album, and the backing singers. do you have a whole horn section and backing singers hiding behind you? That adds a lot of depth.
Andre: We are essentially a 4 piece band, depending on where we play, if it’s the bigger shows or if budget allows we might get in a horn player or gust artist, but for the album, and this is the first time since we started recording albums, we actually invested in an actual horn section and backing singers and keyboards. All the extra padding! So a lot of time and effort went into that, But essentially if you put the entire band onstage it would be us four plus two backing, two horns and a keyboard player. Maybe a dancer of two!
Gareth: That’s bigger than Slipknot man!
Mark: (laughs) I must be completely honest the main reason I saved the album to listen to and the main reason I sat n it so long was that I thought it might be a compilation of outtakes from the old Paul Kossoff band from the 60’s (also called Black cat Bones).
Andre: That was our first mistake! (laughs)
Andre: I must admit when we started we played the Blues and I listened to Muddy Waters and heard that classic (sings the riff then) “Got a Black Cat Bone!” I thought that was the coolest band name ever!
Gareth: And no one would have thought of it before! (laughs)
Andre: We didn’t check any registers or even Google and then a year later some purist came out and gave us a lot of shit for it! Then when we did do some digging we realized we’d become part of the franchise because there’s a Black Cat Bone band on every continent! (laughs) Everywhere in the world!
Mark: I think there’s one in Arizona I’ve actually seen! It’s hard today though – surely all the good names have gone!
Casey: We’ll have to do a Festival where only band called Black Cat Bones play! (laughs)
Mark: So are we ever going to get the chance to see you guys. Audiences here would love the album, but getting head is hard and travel expensive.
Casey: I do hope so!
Andre: It’s always been a dream obviously but we’ve never really been at a point where it would have made any sense other than going for the experience. But we’re at a stage now where the album is doing quite well and we’re talking to a guy in fucking Australia now! So we’re finally at a point where we can entertain that notion and with the help of the label and putting out some feelers Australia would be one of the first places we’d look at going.
Mark: You’d fit beautifully on a Festival like Bluesfest that we have over here in Byron Bay. It’s a Festival made for your sound.
Mark: It sounds like it was a fun album to make too.
Andre: It was indeed, as Casey said it started off with the band live in the studio to get down the sound of it – we had BBQs and we had a great time, but it was during lockdown so we couldn’t get our hands on any booze, but luckily the studio was just down the road from where guys were bootlegging their won booze! So we took inspiration from that too! So it was fun but also it was an album that felt right – that we were heading in a direction that was right! We weren’t just churning out another album to keep the wolves at bay. This time the process was right, the company was right, it ticked all the boxes!
Gareth: And it was the first time we’d been working with a well-known producer as well – his direction in the whole process was phenomenal – he kept us all in check and harnessed it all rather than let us go off track.
Mark: Where do the songs come from? Do you all bring in ideas and jam them? How do you make it come together?
Andre: A lot of it we don’t have a formula in place, with the ballads our singer lays down the acoustic and the bare bones and then he’ll pass it on to me and I’ll add some riffage and some colour and pass it on to the rest of the gents and then we’ll end up in a room together and start hammering it out!
Mark: Do you do a lot of jamming? It sound like you do, it’s all very organic.
Casey: We jam everything up, in Andre’s garage – it’s blood, sweat and tears! (laughs)
Andre: sometimes we’ll just record the jam and listen to it and find spaces that interest us, make some notes and we’ll jam it out again. Like a sculptured approach.
Casey: And some songs we’ll play live a good few times before we even try to record it. Just to see how it was received and how it went down.
Mark: Are you playing at the moment?
Casey: We’re currently in the middle of an album launch tour. We’ve done four gigs so far to launch the album where we’ve played the entire thing plus one or two tracks from the back catalogue. The one we did last Saturday was our best so far.
Mark: That’s great to hear. We’ll end with our traditional first interview closing questions. If you each could have been in the studio to hear and witness the recording of any of the great albums of the past, what would you loved to have been there for?
Casey: (Laughs) I would have loved to have been there for Freaky Styley by the Chilli Peppers. That I think would have been a good one.
Gareth: I would have to go for anything by James Brown or Prince! Anything!
Casey: Imagine being in the studio with James Brown!
Mark: Imagine being in there with Prince you could have been in there for months!
Mark: To absolute legends. What about you Andre?
Andre: I would have loved to have seen anything they used to do with Sam Phillips in Sun Studios.
Mark: Where it all began.
Andre: Yeah, all in the studio together sweating it out, with a system with the big knobs and you only had four channels! And if you wanted to change the volume you just took a step back! And Elvis! I would have loved to see him recording at Sun studios – that would have been fantastic.
Mark: The birth of it all for a lot of people. And to close the easy one! “What is the meaning of life?”
Casey: (Laughs) It’s a bit early in the morning for this!
Gareth: For me it’s simple – sitting behind a drum kit and whacking it as hard as you can! That’s my life – straight forward!
Casey: The meaning of life is fun!
Mark: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this guys. At The Rockpit we have the luxury of doing this because we love it. It’s all about putting great music in front of people. So for me to hear an album like ‘Book of Miriam’ is a real joy. If you saw my other Top albums of the year this one might stick out a bit stylistically but it’s definitely one of my favourites. The joy of music for me is just this – stumbling across a band you’ve never heard before who release something that just takes your breath away. I hope that’s what our readers will take away.
Casey: Thank you.
Mark: Stay safe guys and keep on doing what you’re doing.
BCB: Thank you.
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