Date: June 29 2012
With his no-frills haircut and shaggy beard, Jonathan Boulet looks older than his years; like someone who's been living up a mountain, away from mod cons and mirrors, his only companion a steel-string guitar.
In truth, the 23-year-old multi-instrumentalist is more punk than pastoralist. A skateboarder from north-west Sydney, the thrill of thrash music runs through his veins. Although his self-titled 2009 debut had its fair share of acoustic strumming, and even a fiddle-soaked bucolic ballad, reviewers' early references to folk now seem absurd.
"The whole album is about energy," Boulet says of his sophomore effort. He also describes it as ''over-produced, cluttered, too many drums and loud".
Called We Keep the Beat, Found the Sound, See the Need, Start the Heart, the second album was, like its predecessor, produced, mixed and played single-handedly by Boulet in a suburban garage.
''It was all drums and all vocals,'' he recalls, accurately describing this listener's first impression. ''I was like: 'How can I make it louder? How can I make it more full-on? How can I make it just keep going, keep pushing?' Every song I wanted to step up another step, to the point where people don't think it's going to go up, and then the next song's even bigger. I just wanted to make a record that didn't let up, that kept pushing.''
Boulet has certainly achieved his goal. We Keep the Beat … is a rush of intensifying moxie underpinned by caveman beats. The adolescent joie de vivre heard in debut-album chants such as ''we just wanna dance - take over the whole world'', is now a full-throttle white-water thrill ride, enhanced by Boulet's maturing production skills.
''It's definitely very, very layered,'' Boulet says. But achieving an endlessly snowballing energy across an album's length is no easy feat. The temptation, Boulet says, is to believe ''the more stuff you have, the bigger it's going to sound. But that's not necessarily the case.''
So, while the new album is multi-layered, it's also stripped back and primitive. Boulet's trademark shouty choruses and rolling rhythms have become more primal. In fresh tracks such as Trounce, people on the wrong side of 35 might be reminded of mid-era Adam and the Ants, sans make-up, costumes and pomp. Similarly tribal, it's the sound of youthful, exuberant abandon.
''I was a bit of a psycho,'' Boulet says, recalling his school days. ''I was always getting into trouble for doing stupid things. They used to have a notebook that would go between my teachers and my parents. Every day they'd go: 'Jonathan only did this many bad things today'.''
The diagnosis was attention deficit disorder. Other parents might have filled the ritalin prescription; Boulet's bought him a drum kit.
''It worked … I was able to smash away on that [kit] every now and then,'' he says, adding that sport and dietary changes also helped.
Soon Boulet was smashing his drums in indie pop-rock group Parades. He also strapped on a bass in Snakeface, a band initially labelled ''power violence''.
Having also just released a Snakeface LP, Boulet says the accompanying tour reminded him why he loves hardcore.
''It was so much fun,'' he says. ''[Hardcore audiences] are happy to throw their bodies around and slam them up against each other. It's all really positive. There's a different vibe at those shows. After playing those kinds of shows, I want that with all of my music.''
Live, Boulet takes care of vocals and guitar but leaves the rest to musicians. Doesn't it frustrate him not to be the one bashing out those beats on stage?
''Never,'' he says. ''The drums are great, but when you're sitting behind the drums - especially for these songs - it takes it out of you. You just get wrecked and you get sweaty. Your hands hurt and your arms hurt.
''I'm more than happy to stand back on the guitar and just relax,'' he adds, a sure sign ADD is in the past.
Saturday, June 30, 8.30pm, Metro Theatre, George St, city.
TICKETS metrotheatre.com.au, 9550 3666, $26.80.
TRAVEL George St buses or Town Hall train, Wilson Parking in Alfred St.
LIVE Rhythmically intense, youthful, primal pop.
BEST TRACK Mangle Trang from album We Keep the Beat, Found the Sound, See the Need, Start the Heart.
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