Man's Best Friend
Behind all the quirky song titles, hammy stage antics, fake names and mugging for the camera, Mental as Anything were a top shelf pop band. They sailed through the daggy ‘80s unscathed, on a string of songs that refuse to show their age. Right in the middle of all the chaos that was the Mentals were the O’Doherty brothers, Chris and Pete. The former, also known as Reg Mombasa, gave the world Mambo. The latter gave us Berserk Warriors. On that alone both should be expecting Sainthood anytime soon.
But after a couple of decades in the Mentals, the pair needed an outlet where their imagination could run wilder. They found it in DOG TRUMPET, a side project that is now their main band. Their most recent album, Medicated Spirits, was one of the best of 2013.
The album, a double, is unanchored by any specific genre but instead of being chaotic it sounds like a couple of veteran songwriters writing to their strengths. Which just happens to be reality, as Pete explains. “I really wanted to make a solid double album in the vein of Exile On Main Street or Sticky Fingers where every song is a real corker. Well, it’s our attempt anyway.”
As always, there’s a sense of effortlessness. The O’Doherty brothers have an uncanny knack for making hook-laden songs sound easy, but the reality is – it’s not. “We work pretty hard at it,” says Pete. “You never stop having the challenge of trying to write a good song. If it was as easy as it seems, you’d pump them out one after another. They come in bursts. You just got keep at it.”
And like most musician brothers, there’s an unspoken rapport between them, something that is strengthened by Dog Trumpet being pretty much a project run out of Pete’s front room. “We record it all it home so it’s more tightly controlled with the two of us,” Pete says. “My brother is totally untechnical and doesn’t have a clue what’s going on so I can pull the wool over his eyes. You know, push him around a bit and record how I want it.”
For all the fun he had with the Mentals (“It was a great amazing time but it spins along quite quickly and you don’t realise what’s happening when you’re in it”) Pete is far more relaxed with the new set up that allows them to take their time. “We have total freedom to make it exactly the music we want to make, he says. “We don’t need to ask permission form anyone so there’s no compromise.”
“You’re doing for exactly the same reason as you do it when you’re 15 years old, for the sheer joy of it and because you want to do it,” says Pete. “Not because of any kind of industry or market force or any of that bullshit.” The results speak for themselves.
Catch Dog Trumpet with special guest Bernie Hayes at the RUC Turner (Turner Bowls Club) on November 21. Tickets $15-$25 via trybooking.com/FKOD
Every now and then a song will stop you dead in your tracks; Shiny Armour, squirrelled away towards the end of Dog Trumpet’s sixth release, is one of those songs. A simple chord progression backed with weeping slide guitar gives way to a slow waltz. It’s the story of a man returning from distant battles only to find his girl couldn’t wait, and went off with someone else. There’s nothing too tricky going on, it’s just a brilliantly composed pop song with delicate, yearning melodies of loneliness that slip away far too soon.
Dog Trumpet started as a low-key side project for brothers Reg Mombassa (Chris O’Doherty) and Pete O’Doherty in 1990 when their main band – Mental as Anything – went on a short hiatus. A decade later, they’d both left the Mentals and the side project was now the main band. Both have enormously successful artist day jobs, so Dog Trumpet albums arrive unhurried and unburdened by any need to prove anything. As such, Medicated Spirits sounds like it could have been released any time over the last 30 years, and even though it skips all over the genre map, it is a rarity – a complete sounding double album with no filler.
Part of it is simple mechanics; the album is bookended by a pair of lush instrumentals. It starts
joyously with Elizabethan which sounds like Richard Thompson slowing down just a tiny bit and forgoing the complicated chords. Over an hour later it closes with Aqualine, a tumbling slide guitarinfusedprog-pop nugget. Though not exactly an exclamation mark, there’s an air of satisfied conclusion about it, knowing full well the circle has been completed.
Of course, if you choose to pick and choose album tracks, you might notice Medicated Spirits resembles a cult radio station playing vaguely familiar but totally unknown gems. There’s languid scuzzed-up summer pop (Speed of Light), light and fresh bucolic psych (Moon and Star), off-kilter folk (Tell Me), and light country (Telegraph Pole, With Good Reason). Oddly, the only song that really sounds explicitly like their previous band – the chugging Camel Rock – was written and sung by Bernie Hayes. The common denominator throughout it all, regardless of overt musical styling, is that every track brims with classic power pop melodies and offbeat tweaks. Then there’s Reg Mombassa’s elegiac slide playing, which can rattle between the heartbreaking – as above, Shiny Armour – and driving blues (Penal Colony). Without a doubt, one of the most underrated guitarists in the country.
Lyrically, the O’Doherty brothers aren’t exactly strangers to quirk. But don’t make the mistake that many have before of assuming that clever puns and cunning rhymes aren’t masking anything deeper, that it’s just funny imagery. Even an overtly politically themed songs like With Good Reason, full of modern anxieties (war, climate change, imperialism) can sound like a breezy Saturday afternoon amble.
Medicated Spirits is eclectic, but often that word is proxy for occasional good ideas buried amongst barely refined demos and a scattershot approach to songwriting that is jarring. But this
sort of eclecticism is a pair of seasoned songwriters fashioning a bunch of songs cut from the same cloth, that still manage to sound completely different. It’s also an album of confident relaxation, stretching out with friends (Amanda Brown, Iain Shedden, Bernie Hayes) and family (Declan O’Doherty) but not wasting anyone’s time. Amazingly, in 2013 Dog Trumpet has released an industry-defying double album of fully realised and outrageously catchy songs, that stakes a
serious claim for the year’s best. It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of musicians.
Dog Trumpet heading to SXSW
We're excited to announce that Dog Trumpet have been invited to play SXSW in Austin in March. We'll then head to Canada to promote the album. Combine this with our nomination for The Amp 'Album of the Year' and 2014 is shaping up to be a great year. Thanks for your continued support - Reg & Pete
Medicated Spirits nominated for AMP Australian Album of the Year !
REG Mombassa and Peter O’Doherty and their band Dog Trumpet are
returning to the road to play songs from their highly acclaimed double
album Medicated Spirits.
The boys will play a gig at both the Quarterdeck restaurant in Narooma
and at the Murrah Hall south of Bermagui.
These will be special events with the band returning from tours in New Zealand and USA.
They’re off again to do some more music festivals and touring in the USA so catch them whilst you can.
Hear tracks from the new album and favourites from the Dog Trumpet song book.
They are both former members of iconic Aria award winning and Hall of Fame band Mental As Anything.
Their contributions to the Mentals include songs such as Berserk Warriors, Egypt, Brain Brain, Apocalypso, Surf and Mull and Sex and Fun, Close Again and Psychedelic Peace Lamp.!
Medicated Spirits features the songs ‘What Falls Away’, 'Speed of Light', ‘With Good Reason' and 'Made in the World', the album is full of wit, surprise and warmth, continuing their sonic alchemy of psychedelic folk, country and abstract blues driven by Reg's distinctive slide guitar and Peter's melodic acoustic guitar and mandolin.!
They have graced stages in Australia and internationally entertaining audiences with their imaginative and poetic songs.
In 2014 Dog Trumpet will touring internationally including SXSW in Austin Texas, Canada and New Zealand.
Catch them on the “Medicated Spirits” Tour 2014 – find out more at www.dogtrumpet.net
Nov 22 - Murrah Hall - Bermagui - tickets at door
Nov 23 - Quarterdeck - Narooma - phone for bookings; 4476 2723