Hugo Race and The True Spirit

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Hugo Race and The True Spirit


Hugo Race is back in Melbourne briefly to play a rare local show with The True Spirit at The Old Bar this Saturday night, before heading back to Europe for a brief tour. The focus of our discussion today, however, is Dirtmusic, Race’s collaboration with Walkabouts protagonist Chris Eckman and Chris Brokaw (Willard Grant Conspiracy, Lemonheads). Well known for his work with seminal ‘80s Melbourne outfit The Wreckery, and his stint in The Bad Seeds, as well as his rich and eclectic catalogue with The True Spirit, with Dirtmusic Race has concentrated on the basic ingredients that lie deep within rock ’n’ roll. It’s a journey that took Race, Eckman and Brokaw all the way to the heart of the Sahara desert, and the recording of BKO , Dirtmusic’s second album.

Race was a fan of Chris Brokaw’s albums in the early 1990s with Codeine, which were released on the same label to which Race was signed, Glitterhouse Records. It was also through the efforts of Chris Eckman that Race was signed originally to Glitterhouse. It wasn’t until over a decade later, however, that Race, Eckman and Brokaw came together as Dirtmusic. “Around that time I was doing a lot of guesting on other people’s records,” Race recalls.

Eager to do something other than contribute to someone else’s artistic vision, Race suggested he and Eckman get together with their own artistic project. The name Dirtmusic derived from the aesthetic the pair saw as fundamental to the fledgling project. “We decided to strip it down to its bare essentials, like a couple of old friends sitting around on a porch,” Race explains, “so that’s why we called it Dirtmusic.”

Realising they needed a third member, Race and Eckman approached Brokaw to fill out the line-up. From the start, Dirtmusic was intended to be an entirely different project from any of the trio’s previous work. “We started the songs from scratch,” Race remembers. “We wanted to start a new band that was completely different from what we’d done before. We wanted to keep it really ‘rootsy’,” he figures.

Race points out that Brokaw and Eckman’s American history provided an entirely different perspective on roots rock ’n’ roll than his own Antipodean history. “I was very keen to work with American musicians on something that was close to the roots of rock music,” he admits. “Because of the history of rock ’n’ roll in America, Americans tend to have a completely different approach to Australians.”

Dirtmusic started deep within the rock’n’roll tradition, and has been heading closer to the heart ever since. “The first Dirtmusic was very minimal – we were thinking about lots of things, like shifts in the weather and apocalyptic scenarios,” Race says. “For the second record, we were thinking about survival and we were inspired by our first journey to Mali.

“Cinematically, BKO is about our journey to the Sahara and the absolute poverty that exists in the middle of the desert there.”

The trio’s journey to Mali was a result of Eckman’s interest in African music. After he played a selection of his favourite African music to Brokaw and Race while the band was on tour, the members of Dirtmusic decided that it was this music that provided the basis of what evolved to become rock ’n’ roll. “We all agreed that in that music was pretty well the basic concepts of rock ’n’ roll,” Race notes.

Dirtmusic then undertook a crash course in the Mali music tradition, playing and recording alongside 12-piece Mali collective Tamikrest. “What they do has a real purity to it,” Race says.

“And they’re music has a political edge to it – they’re not playing music because they want to be rock stars – there’s a whole other agenda going on. They want to spread a message about what’s going on in Mali.”

Race hopes to bring the Dirtmusic project, including Tamikrest, to Australia early next year, subject to the inevitable logistical problems. “We’re hoping to play some festivals in March next year,” he says. “But it’s logistically difficult – and the members of Tamikrest exist outside of the reach of the Internet, so you can’t just email them.”

HUGO RACE & THE TRUE SPIRIT play The Old bar this Saturday October 9 before heading over to Europe. Dirtmusic’s BKO is out now through Glitterhouse.