The Crooked Fiddle Band in Mullumbimby.
The Crooked Fiddle Band in Mullumbimby.

Crooked Fiddle Band thrash folk

There's something a little off-kilter about Sydney's The Crooked Fiddle Band.

If it isn't the fact they merge folk with punk and thrash metal, then it might be the way they came together.

They formed when Jess Randall (fiddle) required musicians for a folk album she was working on.

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She already knew Gordan Wallace (bouzouki, guitar, banjo, mandolin) and Joe Gould (drum kit, hand percussion, garbage bin, vocals) and a chance meeting with Mark Stevens at the Woodford Folk Festival brought them together back in 2005 over a shared passion for gypsy, Eastern European music.

Even before the band had a name they were playing the main stage at a local festival, the result of a competition entry, which they didn't actually win.

Gould says he was in another band at the time but was soon getting more gigs as part of this new project.

"We kept hearing these really intense gypsy melodies played in a traditional way, but with beats that didn't quite match," he says.

"We realised this isn't cheesy lounge music so we started playing what a punk or thrash metal band would play underneath. We try to get as much energy from each instrument as we can."

But that's not to say there isn't slower, more melodic moments on the band's debut album Overgrown Tales.

"That's what we were going for and as the title suggests we were trying to put more narrative tales in there as well, so there are softer and louder moments," Gould says.

Gould comes from a background in orchestral music, having studied at the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney, which he says comes in handy when writing.

But growing up he and the other band members were also into bands like Nirvana and The Pixies.

Steve Albini, who engineered albums for these famous acts in the late 1980s, engineered TCFB's debut. It wasn't until the four-piece realised he didn't just do rock that he got the job.

"It was a matter of luck and perseverance really," Gould says.

"We needed someone who could handle the really raw drum sound, but then still get the warmth from the acoustic sound."

The band struggled to find anyone in Australia who could achieve both.

"It wasn't until we realised he had done Joanna Newsome and Dirty Three we were convinced he was the right one," Gould says.

Albini is a cult producer and he records in a way most people would find hard to deal with, says Gould. Using technology from the late '80s which he refuses to update, is off-putting for some.

"It turned out to be the perfect process for us," Gould says.

"You don't get distracted by going back and fixing things. Recording something and then going back and moulding it into the sound you wanted. You have to get it right. That limitation really helped us."

The final song on the album, What The Thunder Said, is an epic 14-minute soundscape which starts with gentle rain drops, reaches a thunderous climax and finishes with the faint sound of Gould shovelling snow outside Albini's Chicago studio.

"We used a handheld recorder, which Albini refused to have anything to with," Gould says.

Albini did point them in the right direction of the best alleyway.
"One thing we found was that most people didn't like him without ever actually having met him," Gould says of the producer's fiery reputation.

"Once they meet him they realise he's actually quite a nice guy. He was just adamant we should follow our own idea of what we wanted and not get distracted by his opinions."

For the most part, however, they were the perfect off-kilter match.

The Crooked Fiddle Band play for the first time in Mullumbimby Friday, October 28 at the Ex-Services Club, 7.30pm (doors open) with A French Butler Called Smith. Tickets $15 from the venue.

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