story / Sarah Wrigley
photos / Thomas Rowe
As I discussed with Lost Animal’s, Jarrod Quarrell (formerly of the band St. Helens), the logistics of an apocalypse, his childhood in Papa New Guinea, the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy, and his ambivalence toward Nick Cave, I was struck by his sincerity. With phrases like “Yes, everything is tentative,” and “It is what it is,” all in his soothing Aussie drawl, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh at his stoicism or admire him for it. It’s safe to say that my poorly scripted jokes didn’t go down too well, but that may have been the lag in the 20 hour distance between Melbourne and New York. It was probably the jokes though, let’s be real. The man has conviction and a quiet sense of defiance that assures you that he is not going anywhere anytime soon.
While listening to Quarrell’s music, you can feel the weight of something strikingly intellectual unfolding. The postmodern lending of opposing musical genres and cultures of the band’s debut album, Ex Tropical, cut with the somber lyrics and tone of Quarrell’s unique, almost-spoken vocals makes for one of the most current musical renderings that I have observed in a while. It is a sonically and viscerally loaded experience that is jarring in it’s originality. “I want people to be dancing while their hearts are breaking,” is a much used sound bite of Quarrell’s journalists use to describe the Lost Animal experience. There is a hint of apocalypse to Lost Animal’s sound, the sultry heat (death by flames, naturally) is approaching and everything is stripped down, honest and alive.
Ex Tropical was released in Australia in September 2011, but was only reached the U.S. in late January of this year. U.S. tour dates are tentative.
Jarrod Quarrell of Lost Animal
So I wanted to start by getting a feeling for your origins. Can you tell me about your musical background, your time with St. Helens, and how Lost Animal came to be?
I’m a totally self taught musician. I started playing in gigs, venues and pubs when I was sixteen. I left school to join a punk rock band when I was sixteen and have been doing it ever since. My sort of main, most well known bands have been The New Season which was a three piece punk rock band which was before St. Helens in the early naughties. I was in St. Helens from 2006 to early 2010 when I started doing Lost Animal on the side in late 2007. Pretty much as my obligations were carried out with St. Helens, I left that band and concentrated on Lost Animal, which quickly became my favorite thing. That’s what I wanted—and still want—to pursue.
Is Lost Animal mainly a solo act? I know they’re other people in your band, but it’s pretty much your baby, right?
Yeah, it’s very much a solo thing. I’ve got one person with me that plays full time. He is a big part of the band. I write and arrange everything, call all the shots. He helps me execute it.
Ex Tropical meshes a bunch of different musical styles pairing synth work with the marimba, horns all matched with your eerie, spare vocals. Can you talk about your aesthetic as a musician? I was just listening to your work, and there are so many different cultural influences—I was curious to know how all of these countering influences manifest in your work.
I don’t know how conscious all of that was. I’m just writing and throwing a bunch of different sounds at a different song and whatever speaks and sounds good, I’ll use. I’m not going to avoid using a particular sound because it’s from another genre. It’s a very postmodern world everything is up for grabs. I guess I opened myself up to many different influences and the experiences in my life. The punk rock, rock and roll, indie rock, it has sort of been my adult listening. I wanted to touch on pop, early hip-hop. I was in a break dance gang as a little kid. I wanted to throw everything into the pot. It was just exciting as it all came out.
You were in a break dance gang?
I lived in Papa New Guinea as a kid from ages 8-10. That’s what the title of the record refers to. It’s like me; I’m ex tropical. Over there we didn’t have a T.V. or anything, so I had to make my own fun. There was this Filipino family that would bootleg T.V. shows, and we would go to their house and watch pirated copies of the A-Team. It was the early 80s when Michael Jackson was really big. I joined a break dancing gang in Papa New Guinea—I would be doing headstands and helicopters and stuff.
Maybe you can bring that into your performance when you go on tour?
Yeah, not quite. Laughs.
Can you talk about how it is making music now? You just referenced post-modernity. What are your thoughts on artist integrity, publicity, profit, and record making and how the music industry has changed?
I don’t really think about that kind of stuff. The way music has changed for me personally, is that now I am doing everything myself and making a lot of different sounds on the keyboard. I’m open and able to use, say, a violin or a marimba or a saxophone, and I don’t have to necessarily know how to play a saxophone or have to go and get someone who is a good saxophone player. I think in that sense technology has made things a lot freer for musicians and made us able to do things on our own, made us able to make good sounding records cheaper than in the past. You know, with the whole social media thing, I just kind of look at it for what it is. You gotta do what you gotta do. You have a Facebook page because it seems like you have to have one. I was talking to a younger kid and he was saying that he couldn’t even imagine what it was like to organize gigs pre-myspace. I started playing gigs in venues in the 90s. It was a different world back then. You had to cold call people to get gigs. That would be the first time people had ever heard of you. Now people have heard of you via the Internet before they’ve even seen you play. It’s a lot easier now I think for people to get themselves out there. You don’t have to do the big slog. You don’t have to pay your dues as much as you had to fifteen or twenty years ago.
Do you look back at that more hands on way of getting music out there with a sense of nostalgia?
I don’t look at it with a sense of nostalgia at all! I’m glad those days are over. It was awful. It seems like things were locked up a lot more. There are so many independent labels cropping up putting out really good records. Yeah, I don’t pine for the old days at all.
You said, “I want people to be dancing while their hearts are breaking,” can you talk about that musical approach?
I always wanted to make music that was fun to listen to physically. You can dance to it, it’s engaging. It’s not depressing music. A lot of my lyrics seem to be on the darker side addressing things that aren’t necessarily happy. I wanted to address those things lyrically, but I didn’t want to make a dour acoustic guitar record. That music has always influenced me, and I listened to it a lot when I was younger. But I don’t want to make that kind of music. Bob Dylan is probably one of my favorite artists of all time, but I don’t want to sound anything like him. I want to translate his way of looking at things, an idea rather than a sound. I just wanted to use the lyrical things that I was doing but make it enjoyable to listen to.
You don’t want to be the next Cat Power?
You touched on this a little bit before mentioning Dylan, but who are your largest influences?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Coltrane and Outkast. But then again my all time favorite band is the Rolling Stones. It’s not an influence on the sound but why I make music.
I guess to expose my ignorance, I wanted to hear a little bit more about the Australian music scene and how that’s guided you as a musician, you spoke about the punk scene a little bit earlier.
I wasn’t part of a scene—I was in a punk band. The scene out here is really all-inclusive. People are friends because they are musicians. They play a gig and everyone supports each other. There’s no overriding scene where things are separated where, these are the punk kids or these are the R & B bands. It’s all-inclusive really. If you’re a nice person and you’re making music because you love it, you’re kind of part of everything. Australia’s weird. You’ll have the band that’s pushed by the record label, you’ll get coverage, but they come and go really quickly. They don’t really make much impact. And then you have the bands that do it on their own no matter what. Those are the ones that tend to last and tend to leave something worthwhile over time. It’s a very different scene over here. There are a lot of great bands though, especially in Melbourne at the moment, but also in the rest of the country. I think it’s a bit of a golden period for Australian music. Most of the music I listen to now is local Australian stuff. I think my biggest influences are my friends, their bands, not necessarily because of their sound but because they’re doing it on their own. They inspire me to therefore do something in turn.
Ex Tropical was released in Australia in 2011 in September and so it’s only being released in the US in January 2013. How do you feel about the lag of a year in between? Has your relationship with the work changed at all?
Remarkably, I still really like the record. It’s the thing I’ve done in my life that I’m most happy with, so I still really enjoy performing the songs. We’re having a break at the moment. We’re not really playing until February. We know when we go to the states and Europe potentially we’re going to have to play a lot more, so we’re taking a break to get fresh. We’re starting to throw new songs into the set.
The U.S. tour is tentative, right?
Yes. Everything is tentative.