Mia Schoen, 2010
Feeling New Estate, a Retrospective
Tour Diary, 2004
Trampling the old highway in a gunmetal grey station wagon; heading north to better weather and cleaner air. Fifty-five minutes out of Melbourne — Lou Reed on the box, masturbatory as all get out — we learn Brad Cosier has needs too. "Gotta use the toilet". We pull off at Euroa, a sleepy town that in 1878 got taken for 2,000 pounds by the Ned Kelly Gang. While Brad takes his business elsewhere, we step outside. Joining me are three outright rockers for which denim and velour continually adorn. They are Mia Schoen, Marc Antonio Regueiro-McKelvie and Larry Cervantes Gorman. Along with Brad, they form New Estate, a Melbourne band that brews a recipe of classic rock amenable to modern ideas of melody, distortion, happiness and pain. Last year a debut LP entitled …Considering turned some heads. But now, after 18 months jamming in clubs and with the addition of a Jack Bruce-clone on bass, the heat has intensified. Blinding sonic freakouts melt into urgent psychedelia, while heart-searing rock ballads fade into tender pop moments of the desperate kind — ten new songs poised to trample an already classic debut. Here we find a band more explosive than ever embarking on its first tour of the Eastern States. Three shows line the horizon— one in Sydney tomorrow and two in Brisbane on Saturday. Sure as heck, the band is mad keen on electrifying some interstate barflies. We shall see.
When Brad finally returns, the hop in his step is beatifically re-established. It appears he has visited a canteen of some description because in his arms he cradles snacks. Could he be carrying peaches, one muses hopefully? I snoop on said snacks and lament. There is no fruit on Brad's person.
Back on the road with Lou Reed behaving badly. Behind the wheel, Mia has complete control. Mia likes control, occasionally gets out of it. Mia paints pictures, writes songs, sings them and plays guitar, often in that order. Her latest series of paintings illustrate a new housing estate overtaken by an electrical storm. Mia, it should be noted, has sensitivity to natural energies produced by electrical forces.
"Did anyone bring Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out?" wails Larry, with a mouthful of fruit-flavoured Mentos. A salted wad of silvery hair sits over a sweet, sad face and a smoky moustache. When his request goes unreciprocated, he dispenses a long, dyspeptic moan similar in length to an extraneous Lou Reed guitar solo from 1973. He then regales us with a shaggy reminisce. "I was in the city once with it playing on my headphones. I saw this old woman collapse right in time to it. I don't why, but she did and it was amazing."
"Play this," says Marc Antonio, handing me a CD. It's some 80s guitar band from New Zealand, pilloried by putrid guitars masking ace melodies. It's really great. At our sides, the nature scene — riven ash-coloured from long stretches without rain — perishes. We watch thirsty gum trees sway as we zip by. New South Wales passes under our wheels rather gracefully. We pull into a grey town glutted with grilled chicken shacks. Behind clear plastic door strips, at a plastic table with plastic chairs, we consume a modest coop. A baby blue cotton fleece, worn by the lady who dishes us up, features conjoined teddy bears in a state of gymnastic arousal, working hard on one objective: to form the words W-O-D-O-N-G-A. It reminds us where we are because something has to.
As any major dude will tell you, a rock tour requires ample boozing, so after a day in the car, it's now eight o' clock, we're four hours south of Sydney and certain we've worked up a hearty appetite for piss. We check into a dirtcheap hotel that has it's own bar. Before long, the jugs are going down and livers are giving out. Mia tells us about the time a guitar she got off a private detective was plugged in to an amp at an unearthed house. High-voltage shockwaves electrocuted her clenched frame, finally expelling out her foot. "The last thing I remember is playing these two amazing chords and then feeling the most incredible pain". At the hospital, medical specialists hooked her heart to a monitor, where for the next two hours, she desperately watched the green line twitch, fearful of flatline disturbances. But Mia — think Iris in Taxi Driver had she grown up in a Perth suburb behind a piano, daughter of Dutch lover of Italian autos — never came close to flatlining and today she is more highly charged than ever.
A bad jukebox invariably leads to dismal arguments about inferior rock songs and here it's no different. After far too many, Marc makes a blighted case for AC/DC's Thunderstruck practically ruining everyone's night. We retire upstairs to a TV and while Brad karaokes the weather report in an appalling American accent, Larry pings me in the eye with his shoe. I consider immediate retaliation, but I stumble away instead. Along the wall of the corridor, I take in a series of photographs, all but one being tobacco-toned clips of early town life. The one exception depicts a miner beaming from the mouth of a flesh-coloured cave. I wonder if this miner, at moment of triumph, knew enough to retreat from whence he came, back into the safe confines of a magnificent vagina reconstruction. At some time between 1.30 and 2am, I too reconsidered the womb.
A beam of light shoots through the clouds with such force it resembles the light you're supposed to see when you die. The sky is blinding, the coffee is lousy and Larry scalds his tongue. A whammy bar, paramount to Marc's eruptive approach to the New Estate experience, is collected from a pig-headed chap at the local guitar shop around the same time Mia appears jangling car keys. Not much else is remembered about the road that morning. Did see a stiff wombat on the roadside, arms outstretched, needing a hug. It was just another damning reminder that the road can be harsh and merciless.
"I've got a very good feeling about this trip, guys," says Larry, as we approach Sydney, his tongue on the mend, sky going from white to blue. A moment later, he turns fickle. "I've got such a bad feeling about this trip. We shouldn't have done this. I mean I could be home in bed asleep with my animals". Larry mothers ten cats (Arky, Bella, Captain Milo, Tiger, BJ, Bootsie, Billy, Satan, Lucifer and Beelzebub) and fathers nine rabbits (Larry, Jimmy, Donut, Pepsi, Oscar, Peppy, Marvin, Breznev and Lucy). Larry the rabbit is his pride and joy and half the reason he changed his name from Chris to Larry. Big L hopes to get Little L on Australia's Funniest Home videos because the way Big L tells it, Little L has a repertory for family entertainment that's easily digestible.
Entering Sydney can be an eyeful. Pristine pleasures abound in this icy, glamorous town. After scuttling through a few salubrious enclaves, we find ourselves ascending a Hollywood staircase in a 1930s art deco block overlooking palm-laden Coogee Bay. Inside a well-lighted flat with blue carpet, flavoursome antiques, ocean views and paintings and postcards from Paris on the wall. A provocative blast of sea air promises limitless holiday shenanigans. A recurring visual motif is Mick Jagger or guys who look like Mick plastered all over the living room and kitchen. After carting the gear up (New Estate travels light: three guitars and a snare, amps and drums to be borrowed) and snooping around, the front door swings open and a loud huff is heard. The owner has arrived. She appears monumentally frazzled. Her long dark hair partly disguises her eyes, which are mottled like two malevolent, steaming meatballs. She disappears into the kitchen to fumble around with the margarita mix.
Her name is Annabel Bleach and she has had a difficult day. Annabel is something of a rock and roll institution. She made history in 1984, founding The Cannanes with Mia's husband David Nichols. After one EP, Bored, Angry and Jealous, which earned mad raves ("I'm in love with the girl singer's bittersweet intonations…I'm in love with the goddam WHOLE!" blurted The Legend in Melody Maker, proclaiming it Single of the Year), she went to the beach and never returned. Nevertheless, Annabel made history then and she makes it now, bringing a Rosalind Russell-like flair to the media department at the local government she works.
For a pre-show dinner, we scarf meatballs. Larry and Annabel bond over Woody Allen movies starring Alan Alda. I try to interject but am reprimanded by Annabel's acid tongue. "Goodness, if you are not prepared to listen then don't interrupt. We are talking about Crime and Misdemeanours not Manhattan Murder Mystery." She puts on Goat's Head Soup and stomps around like she's putting a fire out.
"Do you have Some Girls?" Brad asks. Annabel leaps to the task, demonstrating a spryness that belies her congenitally weak ankles. During Miss You, Annabel puts the kybosh on the Stone's tunes. She wants to watch Neighbours instead. She bolts to the kitchen to modify her margarita and misses a crucial snatch of dialogue. "What'd he say?" she barks from the kitchen. "She just said that she doesn't love him as much as he loves himself," replies Mia, as Annabel waltzes back in.
"This margarita is magnificent," Larry says.
"Well don't say I wasn't gracious. I am f*cking gracious!" After another drink, we call a cab, load the gear and traverse. In front of The Gaelic Club, the driver unloads the rear hatch. Like most large carriers, this shuttle van has a wheelchair ramp. "What the heck is that thing for?" asks Marc Antonio, pointing at the ramp.
"It's for wheelchairs," replies the cab driver.
"But then why do we need it, we don't have a wheelchair?" The driver refuses to dignify Marc's question with a response.
The Gaelic Club is a spotless balconied venue with polished floorboards, an unnerving echo and bartenders who serve beer in plastic cups. During soundcheck, Mia blows the amp she borrowed. "I only had it on 4," she pleads. The owner, a hirsute, diminutive chap in a baseball cap, thinks he's Serpico. He shakes his head. For New Estate to play, they will need to use the head liners equipment. "You can ask him," intones Serpico, "but I'm pretty sure he's not going to let you use it. Just make sure you tell him that you blew my amp, so he doesn’t think I am tricking him".
After all that, the band plays and leaves the stage with their panties in a bunch. Meanwhile, the second act rears its scarf-wrapped heads on stage. The singer appears to have stiffness in his lower extremities. "Do you think he has a prosthetic leg?" a concerned Annabel asks sincerely.
At the next table Marc Antonio feels maltreated by those dicks on stage and expresses himself with jittery body language. "Looks like Marc is having a stereotypical bitch at the office," says Annabel.
"Yeah, he'll be fine, once he lets off some steam," says Mia.
"I don't know, Marc doesn't look like the type of person who lets things go," replies Annabel.
"It's like they went to rock school," Marc says looking at the band’s lead singer, who pets his scarf like a ferret as he sings. "They remind me of the Goo Goo Dolls." (a telling description of Sydney’s current music situation).
"Your music makes me want to dance, I can't pay a higher compliment," says Annabel.
"When I hit that drum break on ‘Please Leave’, I knew we were the best band in the world," says Larry.
We return to Annabel's where she receives an epiphany listening to the Velvet Underground's Max's Kansas City. She somehow manages to steer the conversation back to Mick. "I don't always talk about Mick," she instructs.
The next morning, Mia and I, under Annabel's tutelage, stroll around splendid Coogee Bay on a sightseeing tour. "Mick brought his children here when they were last on tour. My friend who lives nearby told me". We make it halfway up a hillside when Annabel points down to a shady cove. "That's where I saw a carpet shark. Yeah, the pervert who later showed us his penis was swimming around it." She gulps sea air and sighs reverently. "The coast in winter has such a romantic edge."
On the way back, Mia proves herself an acute observer of nature's delights, spotting two, rare white whales larking about the bay.
Later that day, just before dinner, I produce a bottle of white wine, hoping its 'gentle creamy complexity' will excite our host, but I am mistaken. "Just because it says it's creamy doesn't mean shit because that's not how I discern my palate!"
We eat fishpie; it compliments copious booze. Soon there were just three: Marc, Larry and I. Every one else has retired. We are advised not to watch a DVD collection of New Zealand 80s pop videos, but we disobey these orders, boosting the sound up a few notches (what do you expect, we are feral and our senses have died). Brad ventures out cursing vigorously, but we disobey him too, via a gratuitous roar from Larry's gut. Annabel, who has to work the next day comes out and scolds us. We of course feel rather rude.
The tension in the air is as thick as a brick. In a very short time, our tale of fun has become a tale of woe, set to test the adhesiveness of friendships. Brad clams up quite severely, limiting his vocabulary to plurals that begin in 'p' and rhyme with 'tricks'. As a peace offering, Marc leaves Annabel his copy of VU's Max's Kansas City. A damn fine host she was. As we catch our last glimpse of Coogee, we could almost hear her chime in that brassy way of hers: "Well don't say I wasn't gracious. I am f*cking gracious!" Mid-afternoon, we’re at the airport checking in. Incredibly, Larry is allowed on board, even though he has no photo I.D. and ably serves as the poster child for dishevelment. Some time later, the aircraft touches down in an uneven fashion. On the warm Brisbane tarmac, we make our way. To curb his anxiety, Marc stuffs a cigarette into his mouth and digs for his lighter with his free hand. Seconds before lighting up, a blonde in a reflective green jacket leaps over some tape and storms up to Marc's face, gesticulating wildly. "Please don't light that! It's like a giant petrol station out here!" Marc shrugs, nonplussed. It's easy to imagine that once she turns her back, Marc lights up, takes a couple hard drags, then flicks the cigarette over his shoulder and walks ahead unmoved while behind him, a trail of fire sends the entire airport up in flames.
We find some accommodation a short distance from where the gigs are at. Opening the door to Room 56, Mia freezes cold. "Oh, I'm sorry, I must have the wrong room," she says to someone or something inside. She fumbles with the lock to Room 57 and then finally rushes in. On bed quivering in horror she takes a few hard breaths, but they don't seem to get where they need to go, so she takes a few more.
“What on earth happened?” asks Brad.
"It was like, there was this guy and his head…well, he was all bandaged up and he was in bed drinking from a straw. Then there was this woman at the door with a handful of pills filling up a glass of water. His eyes were red and he looked really sad. Man it was freaky".
"But how did those keys open the door to that room?" asks Brad.
"I've no idea."
Mia turns her attention to her travel bag and the effort required to rescue its contents after the accidental explosion of a shampoo bottle during flight QA 247. Marc nods in sympathy. "That happened to me once," he says. "But they were curries and pastries."
"Yeah?” asks Larry. “You should have saved them. They could have been kept as souvenirs at Hard Rock Café".
Later Mia, still troubled by the mummy encounter, walks outside for a recovery session on the ferny veranda. We follow her. Joining us is local underground legend Pat Ridgewell. Pat is one of Australia's most mesmerising musical talents. He has delicate, shapely hands that deserve special recognition. He uses them to peel fruit and potatoes and play unorthodox guitar chords for Small World Experience. He is a private, enigmatic person, occasionally wandering into Nietzchean forests on mental treks. He is also an utter joy. We knock back some dry ciders together, before grabbing a meal at a Chinese restaurant in Fortitude Valley. The night ends with a long session at a bar. "Is it real?" squeaks a drunken lass from the sidewalk, yanking Larry's hair through bi-fold windows. “Is it not a toupee?”
I wake up clasping Larry, my nose in his leather jacket. It smells approximately like the rabbits he keeps. We get dressed to go shopping for mainly soul records. At the bus stop, a young girl removes a samurai sword from its sheath and looks to her boyfriend for acknowledgment. "Did I do well?" It confirms suspicions that Brisbane glimmers weirdness. On the way back to the hotel, Marc spots a crippled dog hobbling across the road.
"Hey what does that dog have gaffe tape on its leg for?"
"To hold it up," replies Mia.
"What to hold its leg up?" he shrieks.
Back to the hotel for a rest and then into the city by four o' clock to shake some ass, as New Estate rock the afternoon slot at Ric's Café. The band arrive wearing spiky, studded armbands. Marc's bracelet — with its long, metal spikes — are especially worrisome. How he will manage in the bathroom one shudders to think. The band has to play a little quieter for this gig and they deliver a serene set of calm beauty.
After the show, we head straight to The Jubilee Hotel, a 10-minute walk up the road where the tables are shaped like capsules. After delicious fish and chips, we move upstairs. Here we gather around a table on the balcony to drink beer. Here too, a flannel-clad local pretends to throw up on the throng walking to Sonic Youth, who are in town and performing down the road. Then the guy did it for real in the corner of the balcony. Then he sat down and did it in his lap. His friend, who resembled a dreadlocked Gary Oldman, seems to have seen it all before — he yawns into his beer. After assuring us he would not perform, Pat picks up an acoustic guitar and wanders through a lovely set of tunes. Up next, the glorious Pits give us sunny folk rock gripped by dark undercurrents. Led by a lordly little fellow, Peter Pits, exuberantly gay, unassumingly rock, it was like watching Buck Henry front the Velvets, circa ‘69.
The noise New Estate make at the Jubilee Hotel is unearthly loud and the approach is one of musical rebellion. Larry is the engine room and the conductor. As usual, he is operating beyond the clutches of vanity. His belly pops out of his shirt, making it available for audience perusal. He flashes a shit-eating grin to the others like Levon Helm in The Last Waltz. ‘Defences Down’, Larry's falsetto-driven tour de force love ballad, finds him taming his inner Shelly Winters, while Mia and Marc duel Marquee Moon-like guitar elegies. Next Mia sings a devastating rock ballad called New Start that's punctuated by soaring Echo and Bunnymen guitars. Mia has an ear for a tune like no other, and can dash off a gem with stunning caprice. Marc Antonio sings and plays guitar too, except Marc does it like he's got the weight of the world impaled on the neck of his guitar, which most of the time he does. Marc dresses songs about life's ongoing mysteries with blazing rock and roll melodies. During his new one, ‘Wasting Time’, I totally see what Brad would later claim, over a round of rum and cokes, as being Marc's gift, an instrumental prowess that puts him next in line to the throne of Ed Kuepper or Beethoven. The band blows into his tune with messy modern rock elegance, while Marc supplies a weird kind of ferocious country strut that knocks drunks into greater stupors. Brad plucks his bass eagerly, his square-jaw tense, determined, his hair gleaming moodily like a Tasmanian pinot. The Cosier-penned ‘After it's all over’ is an instant soul classic, abetted as it is by a double platinum Reguiero riff. Their next LP is really going to kill. Larry and Marc Antonio swap instruments as the night degenerates into a crazed psych-out. As I watch Larry bang away exuberantly on one meaty chord and howl, time shifts forward and suddenly we're back in Melbourne, and here is Larry, stale from a Brisbane flight, heading to his front door minus his corrective foot insoles. He is hobbling and looking slain.
"He will go to bed in an hour and sleep for five days,” observes Mia from the passenger side window.
"Well does he have to be anywhere anytime soon?" asks her husband.
"Yeah, we're recording on Saturday."
© 2004 Shane Moritz