Byron Bay collective MT WARNING have just launched their debut album ‘Midnight Set’. At the helm is Mikey Bee and Taylor Steele – a unique combination of a musician and a film-maker. Many moons ago, the two met at one of Mikey’s shows where Taylor asked him, “How would a song sound from a man sinking into the ocean?”. I picture this encounter going down at the back bar of a classic old live music venue, at a bar made of rich mahogany. Mikey, short of breath from tearing apart the stage moments earlier, is seated solo, rolling Glenlivet over his tongue. Taylor slowly approaches, mainly due to the lager saturated carpet sticking to the soles of his shoes. And like a white Morgan Freeman, he utters the above line in a deep and profound voice. The 2 sit there and ponder for a second before Mikey throws down the remainder of his whisky.
The answer all these years later is something pretty special. ‘Midnight Set’ is that album you put on in a transition, discovering something for the first time, again. Makes me want to buy an old Volkswagen van and deck it out with a mattress, a few boards and a box of 2 minute noodles. Then hit the road.
I caught up with Mikey while he was at the tail end/arse end of his tour, deep in Las Vegas.
Mikey how’s Vegas?
This place is the arse end of the world, everything that’s wrong with the western culture is here, it’s awesome.
You’re on a US tour in the moment, what been going on?
We’re doing a little US triangle, NYC, Austin, LA. It’s been hectic and fun, NY was freezing but rad, Austin is the drunkest town on earth and LA is it’s own bubble where people line up to smell each other’s farts (if they’re in fashion).
What’s been the standout show so far this tour?
Each has been unique so far, it was pretty weird in Texas to have an old man come onstage with his dog and hand it to me as I stood on the drum kit. I’ve never stopped in the climax of a show to stare deep into a puppies eyes and realise it’s wiser than me, it was a moment.
Who’s on the road with you?
I’ve had my boy Vinnie Laduce on drums and keys for the whole trip, he’s been a champ and a great cuddler when night falls. Jackson Briggs flew into to Texas to slap bass. We had the evil twins Taylor Steele and Todd DiCiurcio fly into Austin too, to create their usual mischief and video artist CHNNLS came to throw visuals for the sets.
Years ago you met Taylor in a bar, since become close mates. How has he influenced your music?
He’s definitely always challenging me as a songwriter, pushing me with lyrics, delivery or getting away from vice sounds. He’d like me to do more tapping solo’s but I just won’t.
For both of you, the art of story telling is everything – have you seen a change in the way Taylor tells a story since working on music with you?
I think he’s learned to make more shit up, I’ve never let the truth come near my stories, sell first, verify later.
You want to tell me a story with your debut album ‘Midnight Set’. What are you going to tell me?
I’ll tell you a story buddy…… The story in “Midnight Set” is something we used as a guide to create the body of work, now it’s done and almost out into the world, I’ll let the listener choose their own adventure now.
How important are visuals to your music?
For me it’s in the creation and performance. I need visuals to create this kind of music, and a strong visual to be able to play it and feel it night after night.
You mentioned your single ‘Youth Bird’ was the mid life crisis. What changed since you laid that track?
There’s been ch-ch-ch-changes, but there are everyday I guess. Some seem more affecting than others, it’s how we react to them makes the difference.
The last 12 months saw you tally up the frequent flyer miles – where have you been?
It’s been fun, started in Africa, then England, Oz tours, then back to England, Germany, USA, then back for Laneway Fest tour, now sitting here in Vegas.
You come in contact with so many people on your travels, what was special about the people of Ethiopia?
Ethiopia is one of the sweetest places on earth, the people are strong, proud and have an awesome sense of humour. Feel very lucky to have travelled a bit there and made friends there.
Say I had a return airfare for you, anywhere in the world. Where would you want to explore?
Russia, I really want to see what it’s all about, head from one side to the other.
You told me at the end of 2012, “I’m too busy to be a rockstar” – that still the case?
Byron Bay, your home, is a place with so much creative influence – from the people, the ocean, the music, the arts. What does the place give you?
It gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling when I return home, I’ve been disappointed returning home to other cities and places, but never once when returning home to Byron.
Whats the first thing you’re going to do when you get home?
I was at your last show in Byron, things got pretty wild. What’s different about playing in front of a home crowd?
Shit got real wild, I always push a bit harder when home, shows get a little looser, it’s all about the celebration amongst friends and owning the pub. The security hates it when I do that, actually most people do accept a few drunk mates, but I guess that is who the hometown show is for!
What’s behind the name, MT WARNING?
When Taylor and I were working on the album we wanted to give the project a name that was bold, ominous, a reminder of where we were and something that could be taken in different ways around the world.
Have you climbed Mt Warning?
I have, it’s amazing up there.
What’s ahead for the rest of 2014?
Right now I desperately need to leave Las Vegas! The album drops Friday, we’ve got some shows at home then off to Canada and the US in May.
Late nights or early mornings?
I seem to do both at the moment, I’d prefer to sleep in though.
Whisky, beer or tequila?
All three will be just fine, thanks brother.
US TOUR DIARY
It was late when we arrived into NYC, when the captain of the flight told us the temperature we almost shat ourselves. It was heading toward minus 10 degrees celcius, I’d never been in that kind of temperature. We immediately grabbed at the blankets all around us and shoved them in our shirts and down our pants. Hello big apple, we are on!
We quickly hit the nest of Williamsburg and lamented how cool it used to be, happily buying not so cheap cocktails and asking them to be extra dirty…… Gentrifications a bitch. After a cozy night in our Greenpoint cupboard, we headed to Manhattan to scope our first show.
The Rockwood Music Hall is a rad little space on the lower east side, we got to see fellow Aussie Dustin Tebbutt and he was lovely stuff. We got up there and strutted our stuff, it was a sweet little room. The day before I’d left home I had cracked a nail on my strumming hand, on the very first strum, of the very first song it caught an the strings and ripped clear in half, the moaning intro set the scene for an emotional show.
The next morning I caught up with friend, legend and Brooklyn based artist Todd DiCiurcio, like a weather-man he can tell the trends in culture he keeps me up to date with everything NYC, both sides of the river all the way down the New Jersey coast. We get a call from one of his friends looking for some live music on a public access TV show. I agree to go along and jump in a cab to get to the studio.
We end up on the cable show and meet one whole crazy crew of characters – a scientific poet with a phd, a dog that plays piano, a street artist from Wagga Wagga – a general variety show for the mentally swift. We head to The Bowery that night and watch The Men play a sold out show, it’s all 12 bar rollicking fun and there’s even a circle pit full of smiles and elbows.
The Rockwood called us back for a Saturday night slot so we headed back in to the city, we’d been promoted to the big stage so the pressure was on to perform, I searched both mine and Vinnie’s bag for the spandex but that impression would not be made tonight.
We rolled into Glasslands Gallery in Brooklyn the next night to perform in a 4 band lineup, which was handy because it would have been pretty quiet without all of us waiting for our turns to play. It turned out to be a hell fun space and everyone got along just fine and dandy, we put ourselves to bed in preparation for the big trip to Austin, Texas.
We landed in Austin and were greeted at the airport by a life-size panda, who would be our guide and driver. The panda led us down the magical east 6th street where every bar looks like a moonshine speakeasy where heroin and bourbon are both celebratory events. The plethora of music oozing from every oriface was overwhelming, but we soldiered through our 4 shows and wondered how we could compete with Doritos, iTunes, Converse to get punters to our show. We offered up leftovers from Jackson’s beard (MT Bass Player), free music forever (by introing people to Spotify) and Vinnie Laduces left shoe, and that got a good response with the public.
It’s an amazing town when it’s buzzing like this, and from the looks of the amount of bars here, it’s always buzzing and half cut. We managed to leave relatively unscathed, but only Vinnie Laduce and myself made it to LA.
Los Angeles, spread like an eagle, enticing like wildfire, pretty from afar, far from pretty. We hit the mean streets on foot, the mantra Taylor had taught me months earlier came back halfway down Venice Blvd, ‘no body walks in LA’, and now I know why, nothing is close. It’s like when you get a hotel room all to yourself and inevitably throw shit in every corner, just cause you can. That’s how they built LA.
We played at The Hotel Cafe, an amazing old dive bar in the back pocket of Hollywood, it was all red velvet and low slung lights and I felt like playing Tom Waits’ ‘Heart Attack and Vine’ from start to finish, but my musical repertoire never got passed Jon Bon’s first 2 records so I stuck to my own material.
We got a call the next day if we wanted to play in Vegas, to a couple Byron lads this sounded like a good idea, so we borrowed a car and hit the freeway. Vegas is not right next door to LA, and it’s not like Byron Bay. We finally got there, it looked like a whole town of mega ads had fallen from the sky and landed in the middle of nowhere, it was kind of creepy.
The crew that got us down though are working on some culture downtown and they treated us real good. Downtown was the original strip, now attracting cheap tourists and bums, but these guys are planting bookstores, good bars (sans pokies) and something a bit more real than the fake titties and fake money the rest of the town is built on. Vinnie was real sad that we didn’t touch any fake money. We jammed out front of an airstream in front of a plastic skating rink (fake ice!) and had a real good time on the astro turf. When morning came, we bolted straight outta town.
Back in LA now, about to play one final show at Bardot before jumping on a plane at midnight and flying home! It’s been a helluva month. The States is a wild place where you can find a unique culture in each city, people are driven here and the coffee generally sucks. But I love it. Good times, Mikey.