Trial Kennedy - Tracking the Fellaheen Hermit

2007 is set to be a big year for the Mornington Peninsula's own Trial Kennedy. With a new album on the way and appearances slated at some of this years premier festivals, Trial Kennedy is no doubt a band to watch. On the cusp of their appearances at Push Over and MS Fest, their indominable and damn accommodating guitarist, Stacey Gray, happily availed his good self for a chat with The Dwarf to discuss recording, festivals and the quest for a signature stage move.


The Dwarf: So the name, Trial Kennedy, I assumed that it was something to do with conspiracy theories, but there is a far more innocent answer isn't there. I read that you guys were all taught by the same music teacher.


Stacey Gray: His name is Mark Kennedy.


The Dwarf: Is it a tribute to him or was it because it was so hard?


SG: We thought it would be a good fitting thing. As Shauny says, he got us to all learn our instruments and really push ourselves. Shaun brought it up. He even taught Shaun our drummer. He pushed that avenue. We just came up with that name. Naming a band is a hard thing to do. You come up with some really stupid names. I think one of the first names we had as kids was the ‘Fellaheen Hermits'.


The Dwarf: What's a Fellaheen Hermit?


SG: Nothing. It was just an interesting word. When you're 14 or 15 you think this is bloody cool. Trial Kennedy is definitely a better name.


The Dwarf: In comparison to Fellaheen Hermit, well, I don't mean to insult you Stacy but I wouldn't wear that around on a T-shirt.


SG: No I wouldn't either. Anyway, it (Trial Kennedy) felt good and looked kind of cool when we wrote it down and Mark was such a big influence to everyone in the band. So it was really cool. He lives in the UK now. We don't get to see him now. I think he knows abut the band because he sent us a MySpace message.


The Dwarf: What does he think of being enshrined?


SG: We don't actually know what he thinks. He wrote a message saying, "Hey guys. Cool tunes. Good to see you boys doing well." He didn't write anything back about us naming the band after him.


The Dwarf: Interesting. Maybe it's gone to his head and he's gone to start a new cult?




The Dwarf: He's realised the influence he can have on the rest of his students now he can have them name bands after him. There could be a whole genre…


SG: Yeah (laughter) The Kennedy genre.


The Dwarf: Exactly


SG: You've got the Dead Kennedys.


The Dwarf: Two bands down, the world to go. Now you guys have released three EPs to date and you've got an album in the works, can you tell us anything to do with what's going on with the album or is it a trade secret?


SG: We're just rehearsing heaps and trying to write a heap of songs that we're into. Not a real secret, but hopefully we're aiming to record it around April. We want to add around twenty songs. We've got around eight or ten completed songs. We write a shit load and keep putting heaps of ideas all together but yeah, hopefully April. It's really bloody exciting.


The Dwarf: Do you enjoy the process of it?


SG: It's a different process. It's because we're four strong individuals. Trying to get four people to decide on one idea is like pulling teeth some days but it's good. It's been a good process and we're hanging out with each other every day. So it's sort of like hanging out with your buddies and getting to write music. Bloody awesome!


The Dwarf: Do you have any democratic process where you try and stop it falling into fist fights?


SG: From a muso's point of view, everyone's got their strong view of how a song is going to sound. So you try everyone out. We never say no to an idea. It's very democratic. We need to be. Otherwise if you keep saying this is way it has to be then it's like a dictatorship and no-one would be happy. When we write a song, everyone is 100% happy with it. Their parts and the song. So they're not saying, "Ah fuck I hate this song". It's good.


The Dwarf: Well especially if the song is successful then you're gong to have to play it hundreds of times a year.


SG: When you write it and you know you hate it, you know you're going to hate playing it. Even if you step away from it. We're very democratic about the way we write stuff. It's all, how will the idea stand up. Everyone has an equal share of everything in this band which is awesome.


The Dwarf: Now you guys have some huge festivals coming up. You've got MS Fest, Pushover. Now with Pushover, this is quite possibly for the punters going to be their first ever festival experience.


SG: I remember going to Pushover when I was younger.


The Dwarf: What was your first festival experience like?


SG: My first would have been Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival about 12 or 13 years ago. My Mum and Dad go there every Easter. I saw Ben Harper there for the first time and all this weird stuff. It was good.


The Dwarf: What's your favourite festival experience?


SG: Last year we played Pyramid Rock. Playing wise that was an amazing experience. Being able to play with bands like Cog and Gyroscope. All the Australian bands that we love was the best experience. Being able to watch some of these bands from side of stage, even though we've seen a few of them, it's the best seat in the house sometimes. And then just walking around, it was two hot days, all my buddies are down there, it was just awesome. You can't beat it. As long as you've got your buddies, good beers and the setting, good bands, life doesn't get better really.


The Dwarf: You can't beat that can you?


SG: It's like a winning situation wherever you are. You can even go nowhere as long as you have good music and good buddies, a few brews – it's the ultimate.


The Dwarf: It doesn't take much to make us human beings happy when you think about it.


SG: When you break it down to that it's awesome.


The Dwarf: Do you still pinch yourself sometimes?


SG: We've had moderate success and we're moving up the chain and we've still got a long, long, long way to go, but lucky we've sort of made it. We're making really good inroads and we work really, really hard so we're not kicking back yet with our Mercedes and going "fuck it". We all work part-time because we have to try and write and rehearse nearly every day of the week and when we tour you live on twenty bucks a day. We work hard for it so we appreciate it. When we play the show we're really aiming to be there. We're not above ourselves.


The Dwarf: I was going to ask you about that. A lot of the Australian bands I've been interviewing recently have all been saying the same things. Like it's a lot of hard work and you've got to have a job outside it because it's really difficult to live on just being a musician.


SG: Yes. It's ridiculous. Especially for bands like us. You've got to do a lot of driving. You're away from home a lot. You don't particularly get paid massive amounts. If you're supporting but if you're headlining well, it's just bloody expensive. If you want to fly everywhere, which we can't afford to do, so you drive everywhere which costs you money. We're not complaining. You do it because you love it. If you want to make lots of money you become an accountant. Music is what you love and everyone is in the same boat. It's good because you do it because you love it. I work in a couple of bars. I work for a music magazine. I play in a couple of bands now and then when I can.


The Dwarf: Now you guys are a Melbourne band, which part of Melbourne are you from?


SG: We're from down the peninsula way. From Seaford through to Edithvale. We've all grown up down that way. They're some really good bands. You got Kiss Chasey, Famous by Association. There are some really good bands from the peninsula and Frankston. We're all bogans but we're decent bands.


The Dwarf: There's nothing wrong with bogans


SG: I completely agree with ya


The Dwarf: Well is there are a good scene around the peninsula now?


SG: We jam at a place called the Jam Tin and the one I've noticed is some really good bands playing around places like ‘Beat'. We've been jamming there since we were 18 so that's about 7 years and these bands like Closure in Moscow and they're all local boys and they rehearse at the Jam Tin. There's heaps of really cool bands from there that rehearse at the Jam Tin. So you walk around and you listen in to the rooms and you go, "this is really cool". I reckon it's really healthy down there.


The Dwarf: Are there a lot of venues you can play at on the peninsula?


SG: Nah. There's one called the Peninsula Lounge at Moorooduc. That's a really good venue. A lot of bands like, you're getting your ‘Sarah Blaskos' and your ‘Bertie Blackmans' touring through, Butterfly Effect and bands like that. It's a really good venue out there. And under age festivals they do out there so its good. It's pretty happening compared to what's going around in other parts of Australia. And you get all this Pushover stuff. They're really good. They try and put on a good show with a good band. It's ace I reckon. What do you think?


The Dwarf: I reckon it's awesome. Although I have to let you know, I was a festival virgin until I was 22 which I kind of regret now. I wish I'd bought some Doc Martins and got kicked in the head at Pushover's and stuff when I was a teenager…


SG: I used to go to different things around Frankston. I remember seeing Regurgitator and Jebadiah. It's good for the local community and good bands breed from it. Especially for a muso. If you're going to see things when you're 15 or 16, picking up the guitar or whatever and just looking at them you say, "Far out – I want to be that band". So credit to Push and a guy called Gerard, he's got a band called the Tall Poppies and he runs things out at Croydon. He did heaps of good things. They're only young guys but they're putting on these events. So many kids go to them. That's how good music breeds. They see these bands and go, I could do that or learn that song or get a rehearsal room and write a song. You end up through the country like we are. It's cool. It's really healthy.


The Dwarf: Do you sometimes find it hard being a Melbourne band?


SG: I think it's great. Being a Melbourne band, some states don't accept Melbourne band all that well. They say that Adelaide and Newcastle are hard gigs to get but we went over there and people accepted us and appreciate. I think people realise that Melbourne bands, like they don't work harder but it's a lot more competition in Melbourne. So to be able to do your own thing and step outside things and bring people to venues, because there is so many gigs and bands, it's a good thing. You got to really work that little bit more harder for it. To get people to shows in town on a Friday night when there's so many shows on… if you can pack out a room that all kudos to you.


The Dwarf: If you weren't playing gigs on a Friday night, what would you be doing on a Friday night?


SG: I'd probably be playing gigs.


The Dwarf: (laughter)


SG: I honestly don't know anything else. Well I do know other things but if I'm not playing with my band then I do little cover things, acoustic duos around town playing stuff. I love playing music which is what I do. Actually I couldn't see myself doing anything else. Probably working. Trying to earn some money. A poor musician.


The Dwarf: Do you have a signature stage move?


SG: I don't know what it is. I don't really think about how I move. I think some bands have got their text book sort of things. Unfortunately for me I'm probably uncoordinated. If you saw me play you'd see I try and pretend I'm Pete Townshend a little bit.


The Dwarf: Who hasn't done that!


SG: Then I shout to people. I shout out loud. People probably think I'm weird. I don't know. I just try and play my guitar the best I can. I try not to move. I just watch the other guys in my band and go, "he's awesome". Yeah I haven't got any moves. Or not that I know of.


The Dwarf: So where would you guys like to be in a couple of years time?


SG: We'd like to have a couple of albums out. Be hopefully doing some good tours. Moving our way up the festival chain hopefully. Not playing first on. You want to be playing to more people. That we still write some cool music and people are into it. We venture overseas and hopefully the band could take us there. That's what you'd love to do. To be able to be in that position. But you just don't know. All you need is that one song and it can take you there but having that one song is all timing. It's just hard. All we can do within our power is to make smart decisions along the way and hopefully write some cool songs and hopefully people get into it. It's all we can really do. We'd love to be anywhere just playing music.


The Dwarf: Well that is a beautiful sentiment to end it on I think.


Catch Trial Kennedy at Pushover, March 10th Melbourne and MS Fest, March 11th, Launceston

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