When the Gin Club takes the stage at Stateside Restaurant & Lounge next Monday night, a new chapter in the band’s history will be written. Upon entering the studio to record their latest album, the band’s members aimed (rather loftily) to create a truly world-class recording. What resulted is a sprawling masterpiece of a double album in the form of Junk. And if the disks’ contents are not proof enough that the Gin Club has achieved their goal, then the band’s first American gig surely will be.
Forming in Brisbane, Australia, in 2003, the Gin Club first met through a suburban open mike night organized by founding member Ben Salter, who happened to be between bands at the time. A shared love of classic roots music-including the likes of The Band, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young-between some of the event’s regular participants quickly grew into a kinship. Not long after, the resulting union moved onto the stage.
“I used to play open mike nights in my hometown of Townsville, so, when I moved to Brisbane, I thought I would start one down there,” explained Salter. “I encouraged people to play originals and, during the course of six months or so, a whole bunch of different people-many of whom ended up in the Gin Club-would come along and play. We started getting up and playing with each other and became really good friends. And from there we just started playing together as a band.”
What separates this ensemble from the majority of their contemporaries are the band’s dynamics. In drawing upon five different and distinctive songwriters, the Gin Club also features just as many different vocalists. And when the microphone changes hands, so too do the instruments. Backed by a combination of cello, accordion, piano, acoustic and electric guitar, drums, harmonica, and saxophone, the ensemble’s unassuming approach to performing belies their intricate orchestration-which became apparent when the band finally ventured into the studio.
“When we started playing, everyone took a turn singing the lead vocals and did two of their own songs while everyone else shuffled around on the instruments behind them,” said Salter. “And with that, it just got more and more out of hand. We then got some recording time and thought we may as well put some drums and bass on the songs, and so we went in and recorded the first album all in a day. It was never really a serious proposition, but the first CD really took off. And the rest is history.”
For the unprepared showgoer, the band’s instrumental game of musical chairs certainly comes as a surprise. But ultimately, it is what provides the Gin Club with its eclectic rhythmic potency. Take Junk, for example; during the course of the album’s 26 songs, the band employs an arsenal of instruments. But a sense of cohesion still shines through, thanks in part to a combination of infectious songwriting, reserved compositions, and an obviously united vision.
“In the course of one show, I play bass and guitar and drums, and maybe even some mandolin,” explained Salter. “We’re always swapping around onstage, and that happens when we are recording as well. My last band was very traditional in that everyone had their own role, so the nice thing about the Gin Club is that having different songwriters and different vocalists keeps it fresh. And we have never had any issues with people wanting more. In fact, the only time something like that arose was when Brad felt he hadn’t put enough songs down and felt he had let the band down.”
After the success of their self-titled debut album in 2004, the Gin Club quickly realized the importance of capitalizing on their accomplishments, releasing the dignified sophomore recording, Fear of the Sea, the following year. While the first album caught Australia’s attention, the second release introduced fans to the band’s musical range. Fear of the Sea spawned two sonically diverse-yet well-received-singles, the beautiful, contemplative “Gabriel” and the quirky, psychedelic “Drug Flowers.”
Two-and-half years later, the musical collective has completed their third full-length. Not only is the double album a personal milestone for the band, it’s also one of the most impressive recorded releases of the year.
“It kind of ended up being this way because, when we came together to demo for what we thought would be the next album, we soon realized we had too much material,” confessed Salter. “And this time around we also had a bit more money to record, so we could do things the way we wanted to. We could afford to spend more money recording and we had the time to do. So we thought, ‘Why not? Let’s make a really awesome album. One that shows that we can compete with bands from anywhere in the world.'” Game on.
The Gin Club play Stateside (1114 State St.) with AVE Caesar on Monday, April 28. For more information, call 564-1000.