Mikelangelo and The Tin Stars

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Mikelangelo and The Tin Stars

Known as the frontman for acclaimed cabaret collective The Black Sea Gentlemen, a sometime duet crooner with a lady called Saint Claire and occasional performer with the sexy circus folk of La Clique, Mikelangelo has just expanded his resume a little further. Mikelangelo And The Tin Star are a four-man band, formed in late 2009 by a seemingly pathologically over-achieving musician to scratch an itch his myriad other projects couldn’t quite reach – his love of surf guitar and early sixties instrumental rock.

“My love of surf and western sounds goes a long way back,” he explains, “I have to thank my father’s record collection. He arrived in Australia from Croatia in 1961 and his records from the early sixties were the first music I heard when I was growing up. Jumping up and down on my parents’ bed to instrumental guitar music was a pivotal musical experience for me.”

With the help of bandmates Fiete Geronimo Geier (lead guitar), Gareth Hill (bass) and Pete Olsen (drums), Mikelangelo has created a rich and evocative new sound with The Tin Star. The band give classic surf rock a dark sparkle without losing its retro charm, paying fitting tribute to Mikelangelo’s earliest musical influences. He knows his source material well, and that knowledge comes shining through in their music.

“Electric guitar was still a pretty new thing in the fifties, so you had some genuine pioneers,” Mikelangelo enthuses. “When Link Wray released Rumble in 1957 it was banned from plenty of US radio stations because polite society thought it would incite violence – that’s pretty potent for an instrumental guitar song – despite the ban, it was a hit.

“By 1960, The Shadows were topping the charts with Apache – for me that song is the foundation of the surf ‘n’ western sound. The whole band creates the feel of the song, but it’s the mysterious and strangely soothing sound of the Hank Marvin’s guitar floating in spring reverb and tremolo tones that still floors me. And of course credit must also go to Jerry Lordan who wrote this fantastic, much-covered song.”

Mikelango says his desire to form The Tin Star came from his love of the timeless guitar sound of surf and western. He had formed a band with Fiete and Pete some ten years ago – deftly titled The Dalmatian Coast Surf Life Savers Association – but drifted into other things before he could get the trembling surf out of his system. Reconnecting with them, and recruiting Gareth on bass, gave him a chance to paddle around in the rich seas of tremolo-driven instrumental music again.

“As much as I have been defined as a singer and a wordsmith, I love the space for the imagination that you find in instrumental music; it lets the listener dream up the story and the characters,” Mikelangelo says, although The Tin Star haven’t limited themselves to Shadows-style instrumentals. Mikelangelo’s rich baritone is one of the band’s most distinctive features, with guest vocals by long-time collaborator Saint Clare and at least one lead vocal performance by guitarist Fiete.

Fiete also acted as The Tin Star producer when the band began recording their debut last year. Titled The Surf ‘N’ Western Sounds Of Mikelangelo And The Tin Star, the album was released last week through Laughing Outlaw Records and features nine super-slick and very luscious tunes.

“The Tin Star had just begun when we started recording demos for this album. It was December 2009, but I had been wanting to make an album in this vein for over ten years, so for me, it already felt long overdue,” says Mikelangelo. “There were so many old and new songs piled up that I had to hold back the desire to release a double album. Funnily enough, in the end the album clocks in just over half and hour, but the nine songs felt like the right ones to sit together on an album, and no other songs seemed to fit, even though some of the recordings were great.

“As the songs came together on the production side of things, it became apparent to me that we had a pretty upbeat rock record on our hands, with surf ‘n’ western flourishes of course.

“I formed the shape of the album with Fiete, who also recorded and produced the record. He plays more on the album than the rest of the band put together, and in my opinion he’s done a brilliant job. He’s such a great guitarist I wanted him to record my guitar parts too,” he laughs, “but he made me do them despite my protestations.”

Mikelangelo is particularly impressed with Fiete’s production work on the track Midnight Flower, on which the frontman sings with the sultry Saint Clare while guest JP Shilo provides a third, almost indistinguishable vocal.

“Fiete did a great job of making our voices meld into one over that grinding, relentless guitar riff… it’s an audio ménage-a-trois,” he grins.

If you like the sound of all these sexy goings-on, The Tin Star live show has even more on offer. The band is launching their record at The Northcote Social Club this week, with a show that promises to get you hot under the collar.

“I thrive on making every show an experience that will be burnt into the memory of those who witness it. The Tin Star are as great a rock ‘n’ roll band as I could hope to play with; they give me the backing to put on a spectacular show. Add to the mix our mainstay guests, the dreamy Saint Clare on vocals and her glittering Go-Go girls dancing like wild cats, it gets damn steamy on stage.”