THE FAMOUS ELSEWHERE QUESTIONNAIRE: Adam McGrath of the Eastern

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The Eastern: The Waterside
THE FAMOUS ELSEWHERE QUESTIONNAIRE: Adam McGrath of the Eastern

Over two previous albums – their self-titled debut in 2009 and Arrows the next year – the hard-working Eastern out of Lyttelton firmly established themselves as poets of the public bar, a band which had heart-aching melodies to burn, moving lyrics which could give you a catch in the throat and some tough-minded alt.country rock which stood the comparison with Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Bob Seger and the best Americana had to offer.

Their new album – the ambitious but utterly convincing double album Hope and Wire (reviewed here) – consolidates their reputation and confirms that songwriters Jess Shanks and Adam McGrath are amongst the finest this country, indeed any rock culture, has.

There is no-nonsense street-level politics, stories of people battered by life and a powerful working class dignity throughout their songs – and the album was born of tough times.

The city of Christchurch was shaken to its foundations and the album was put aside while they helped Christchurch with its emotional rebuilding when they recorded the charity album The Harbour Union.

So Hope and Wire – recorded in an abandoned house in Christchurch lent to them before it was demolished – comes with a backstory, meat on its bones, rock and soul and sentiment, heart and harmonies, and gripping songs which actually mean something.

It is a rare one – and it was time to get Adam McGrath, a man you'd trust to deliver a great collection of short stories, to answer the Famous Elsewhere Questionnaire.

The first piece of music which really affected you was . . .

My earliest musical memory is making my mum dance with me while listening to ‘Five Feet High and Rising’ by Johnny Cash. I was obsessed by it and thought he was singing about my mum. I also remember when my dad was at sea I would pretend Kris Kristofferson was my dad as he had a beard like my dad and dressed like him and so I would listen to Kristofferson all day long and imagine it was my dad. Also my mum swears I used to march the kids in my cul de sac round and round singing GI Blues by Elvis…not unlike what I make the Eastern do while on tour!

Your first (possibly embarrassing) role models in music were . . .

Richie Cunningham's band from Happy Days ‘cause he had red hair…and I remember saying to my mum while watching a Twisted Sister video that I wanted to be a ‘good’ singer like Billy Joel or Huey Lewis rather than Dee Snider because he wore makeup and looked mean. My mum bought me ‘Fore’ by Huey Lewis and her boyfriend bought me ‘Stay Hungry’ by Twisted Sister. I still have ‘stay hungry’…so go figure…although I just brought Joel's ‘An Innocent Man’ from an opshop so maybe its all coming full circle.

Lennon or Jagger, Ramones or Nirvana, Madonna or Gaga, Jacko or Jay-Z?

Lennon but I like the Stones more than the Beatles even though the Beatles are way better if that makes sense, Ramones mostly because Johnny’s work ethic was way more impressive than Cobain's talent and Joey always seemed a beautiful soul, Madonna because even though Gaga is like a mushroom cloud over the collective consciousness I can’t hum a single one of her songs, and pound for pound Jacko trumps Jay-Z but Jay-Z keeps all his rhymes in his head rather than paper and D.O.A. was one of my favourites a while back…so Jay-Z.

If music was denied you, your other career choice would be . . .

I’d like to write stories but my meagre literary skills would probably lead me back to being a school caretaker which was my job before I got to play guitar for my living.

The three songs (yours, or by others) you would love everyone to hear are . . .

Well I couldn’t in good conscience bring myself to suggest any of my own songs so I would choose my all time favourite three

‘Sh-Boom’ by The Chords (not the puny whitebread version by The Crewcuts)

‘My Guy’ by Mary Wells

‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love’ by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers…

all three are like guided missiles to the heart

Any interesting, valuable or just plain strange musical memorabilia at home?

I keep a piece of a t-shirt that I traded with Joe Strummer inside my guitar…I give pieces away to friends and comrades who I believe are fighting the good fight…

The best book on music or musicians you have read is . . .

Oh jeez…so many…maybe ‘Lost in Music’ by Giles Smith…or ‘Last Train to Memphis’ or ‘Feel Like Going Home’ by Peter Guralnick or ‘Hellfire, The Jerry Lee Lewis Story’ by Nick Tosches or ‘Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung’ by Lester Bangs or or more recently ‘Blue Smoke: The Lost Dawn of New Zealand Popular Music’ by Chris Bourke or Dylan's ‘Chronicles’ they all affected me…but maybe/probably ‘Get in the Van’ by Henry Rollins as it kicked my ass when I was 18 and set me on the road where I now find myself…I still quote Black Flag roadie mugger whenever we find ourselves in a shit situation on the tour… “This ain’t Van Halen”!

If you could get on stage with anyone it would be . . . (And you would play?)

I have dreams where Paul Simonon from the Clash falls ill and I have to step in…either that or being one of the M.G.’s during the Stax/Volt revue.

600full_the_grapes_of_wrath_posterThe three films you'd insist anybody watch because they might understand you better are . . .

The Hustler, Apocalypse Now, The Grapes of Wrath

The last CD or vinyl album you bought was . . . (And your most recent downloads include . . .)

Today I brought two of the remastered Ramones albums ‘Ramones’ and ‘Rocket to Russia’, The triple Watts/Stax concert and Little Walter collection on CD, the last vinyl was an Eddie Bo collection and ‘Still Crazy…’ by Paul Simon, the last download was ‘Flame Trees’ by Cold Chisel.

One song, royalties for life, never have to work again. The song by anyone, yourself included, which wouldn't embarrass you in that case would be . . .

‘Anchorage’ by Michelle Shocked…if I had written that I’d be able to sing it forever and mean it everytime.

The poster, album cover or piece of art could you live with on your bedroom forever would be . . .

The cover of ‘London Calling’ by the Clash or by proxy the first Elvis record…

You are allowed just one tattoo, and it is of . . .

Well, I have more than my share already but if they all washed off tomorrow bar one I’d keep the Black Flag bars on my wrist as they were my first and after sixteen years they still mean the same thing.

David Bowie sang, “Five years, that's all we've got . . .” You would spend them where, doing . . .?

hwfcbrDriving up down New Zealand on tour singing for whoever’s around to listen…either that or in my room in Lyttelton reading.

And finally, in the nature of press conferences in Japan, “Can you tell me please why this is your best album ever?”

It's not up to me to decide that. But we are really proud of it. We tried to to punch above our weight, to not be afraid of cracking open our hearts, to be a dispatch from our corner of the world, to marshall our meagre resources creatively and industriously and prove we could make something in Christchurch for and with little that could hold its ground against bigger, smarter, flashier records…  

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