There’s no doubt, we’re living through strange times. I feel for all the people whose lives have been deeply and suddenly affected by COVID and for many of our fellow musicians and artist who live and depend upon the ‘gig economy’ just to do what they do and to support their art. This is a once in 100 years disaster and at a close look, it’s very similar to the Spanish Flu, meaning it may take years before life returns to normal, but it’s perhaps COVID is worse. When the 1918 pandemic broke, it was said to have lasted until April 1920, and infected 500 million people–about a third of the world’s population at the time–in four successive waves, it was dealt with over time but the major difference is that there was no Donald Trump at that time.
It’s depressing to think that we may not return to life as it was. As a musician, a band member who has loved the freedom of touring, the idea of the road trip, real or even metaphorical, being over, is unimaginable. But the reality for me personally is that this has also been a heightened time of creativity and is already presenting some very exciting new opportunities. In every way, my time of heartbreak and hardship began the moment the Cambodian Space Project (and the world) lost Channthy. Since, March 20, 2018, it’s been a slow process of reassessing life and the professional future for myself and The Cambodian Space Project. I’ve already received so much support and encouragement from our CSP family and friends and each of the creative and artistic steps has been important. Now, amidst this global pandemic, I’m finding more rather than less opportunity to work and to explore life – seeking some kind of meaning to all this – through art and music. With each new step, I feel I’m carrying on much of the spirit of things I started with Kak Channthy back in 2010 and the road we’ve been on over the last decade.
The road has it’s twists and turns and it’s now led me, unexpectedly, into a new and remarkable opportunity to life and work in rural Australia. Over these last two months, I’ve been living in “The Mansfield” which is a grand old bank first built-in 1887. It’s been the operational HQ for Space Junk! the movie and a space I’ve been sharing with photographer Mark Roy as we find ourselves partnering up to create the third film we’ve made together. This is again, a little movie filmed on vintage Super-8 and follows on from Mark’s film Sumatra (a short with a CSP soundtrack), and Flicker & Fade, an edit in-camera single roll of Super-8 challenge where Mark and I shot a film loosely based on 70’s Cambodian singer Poev Vannary. This little film even took us to the Cannes Film Festival where it premiered as part of the Straight8 screening events at Cine Olympia.
Before coming into Maitland, I’d already cased the place, largely due to the fact my cousin Helen Hopcroft (a renowned local artist) lives here and had connected me to the creative community and even established “The Maitland Space Project” with support from the local council. Another connection has been working with local sound engineer and musician Sean Ballenden who had already taken some of our recordings from Cambodia and worked with myself and Sam Dara online to mix down the track Echoes From the Mountains. So, coming into Maitland and getting down to work has been a dream in many ways. This experience started with a dinner gettogether with Sean and his lovely partner Jaime Pritchard (artist and graphic designer) at the local Korean restaurant. Over a few bowls of ramen, we got to talking about music and film and especially one of Jarmusch’s more recent films Only Lovers Left Alive, as another great example of a ‘rock’n’roll movie, or at least a film made by musicians, starring musicians and propelled by a great soundtrack. Perhaps, with the lockdown, we could make our own new work, something collaborative and inspired by the likes of Jarmusch?
The next day I was back on the train and heading to the coast, back to a little town called Ulladulla where my dear friends Christina and Mike have supported my Australian lockdown with an artist residency. Before the train arrived into Sydney, I’d already sketched up a little scenario, a scribbled out a storyboard for a film called Space Junk! and had bounced this back to Helen, Sean, and Jaime. “Let’s do this…make a film and see where it goes creatively… it’s certainly the best way to bring many talents together even if it’s just a little home movie”. I arrived back in Ulladulla and got to work on a challenge, write 10 songs in 10 days before returning to Maitland to start on our movie project from the music, and working outwards into film scenarios, casting, doing it.
But to do it best, Space Junk! would have to special and not just any old short film, I got on the phone to Mark Roy who was locked down, 4000ks away, back WA and did my best to persuade Mark that there might be another cool opportunity to create our third film together, it didn’t take much persuading despite the fact this kind of filmmaking – expensive, time-consuming, screened to a very limited audience, somewhat mad – is kind of futile but at the same time is absolutely magic! Somehow, Mark scooped up his kit, an old Cannon Super-8 film camera, and got across the border to NSW (the trouble is getting back) and we got rolling.
“It’s about strange visitations, night terrors, and life in an Aussie town in the time of COVID-19.”
Space Junk! is a rock’n’roll movie. It’s not yet finished but principal photography is in the can and so is the film’s soundtrack. As Mark Roy pointed out “we’re not shooting film…we’re shooting an event” and that’s pretty much what has happened here in Maitland. Perhaps it’s due to COVID but also the fact that this wonderful part of rural Australia has all the right ingredients – creative community, a remarkable regional arts gallery, an enlightened arts program through local government, a really strong music community, not least via Sean’s recording studio – that Space Junk! has really come together. We have hit the ground running with our call-out for participants and in fact, the huge response meant that we’ve had to adapt plans (for a very small film with just a handful of characters and techs) to make a bigger work, something that now includes more than 50 individuals and local businesses. It doesn’t mean that our film will be longer, but that is has become a more elaborate process and as a community arts event, more open and inclusive. Word got out to the Maitland Mercury and all of a sudden we had an avalanche of calls, snowballing the project with each new person coming into the Space Junk! picture.
A sum of the parts… introducing the musicians and cast of the Maitland Space Project
Firstly, the music team on Space Junk! has played a great part in shaping the way the story (much of it made up as we rolled) has come to life. With a desire to cast local musicians and well as to work with them in the studio, I passed an old man who was busking in front of the local pharmacy. The guy, looking like a dead-ringer for Donald Sutherland, turns out to be Rod Kiehne a 70yo local musician who’s version of Tony Joe White’s “The Guitar Don’t Lie” caught my ear. I couldn’t help myself, got talking to Rod about his song, busking, meeting people and his instrument – a banjolele! and invited him on the spot to join me in the studio. Incredibly, Rod’s never recorded before but when he showed up a few days later, the first take of “The Guitar Don’t Lie” turned out great and is really the theme song to Space Junk! a film loosely exploring the idea (like the song) of a guitar man who never quite makes it. Rod’s since played the role of ‘the hobo’ in the film and can also be seen as himself, a banjolele player in our fictitious but awesome looking Space Junk! bar band “Metropolis”.
Sean’s been running his recording studio Triple Three Records from inside an old lockup (perfect for coronavirus lockdown) at the back of the Maitland historic Courthouse building for several years and has gained a great reputation for his work locally abroad. We connected via Sean’s interest and connection to the new and emerging music scene presently happening in Vietnam and of course to the Cambodian Space Project in Cambodia. In fact, I’d been introduced by email and had hoped to be hosting Sean in Cambodia and working on a project there, psychedelic rock’n’roll no doubt. We started this idea by getting into the CSP Mothership’s “Cambodian Women of Song” initiative but at not point did I think I’d be working with Sean and sitting directly in his actual studio in Maitland. I’m actually grateful to this time of COVID for the twist that now has us working side by side to co-produce an album of songs and scoring ideas for Space Junk! as you can see here, it’s rather epic! and I can’t wait to share more with you all.
I’m chuffed to be working again with drummer and all-round legend Reuben Alexander. I know British born drummer Reuben through first being introduced to him the legendary Sydney band Rat Cat and back in 2010, Reuben joined The Cambodian Space Project on our first Australia Tour. This was such a boon for us at the time, it really helped make our touring possible and a great experience for Channthy and our musicians from Cambodia to be in Australia (our first international trip) and playing shows with a first-class musician holding it all down on the kit. Bringing Reuben into the studio sessions has been a lot of fun and of course, turning upon his old Kawasaki at the studio door, complete with half his kit on the back of the bike, is a sight to behold. Reuben’s also in the Space Junk! bar scene at the Metropolitan Hotel – a stunning piece of Art Deco heritage – where he’s the drummer in Metropolis band.
Elena is not in Maitland or even Australia but is certainly an addition to our Space Junk! picture. Elena’s exceptional talent as a virtuoso accordion player caught my attention with her cover and stunning video performance of The Cambodian Space Project’s “If You Wish To Love Me”. Check it out here:
Alby and I first met at my little bar/art studio KAMA in Kampot. It was early on a Sunday night but not just any Sunday, it was the closing night of last year’s Kampot Readers & Writers Festival. We were finishing up as tradition – with the Poetry Slam and a great rendition or riff on The Pied Piper of Hamlin by Melbourne based writer Scotty Sneddon. Scotty’s spoken word performance quickly included a little orchestra of musicians – complete with Conga players wearing rat masks! As the night turned into Open Mic, at one point Alby jumped in and really impressed me with his improvising singing and vocal style. We chatted for a while and arranged to catch up another time – further down the track – little did we know that this would be in Maitland, Australia and working together for song and soundtrack ideas for Space Junk! Anyway, here we are…now recording Alby’s vocals for the Australian classic The Loved One as well as cooking up new ideas for Alby’s own debut coming up. He’s got a great track – surfy reggae vibe just like the singer – called Post Traumatic Romance, so watch out for Alby Damned.
Lisa de Angelis
It’s really exciting to be working with Lisa at this strange time but perhaps it’s meant to be. One of the things about quarantine and lockdown is that I’ve spent a lot more time looking at new music, art, and film online and have really enjoyed discovering lots of new things – not least Lisa de Angelis. After checking out one of Lisa’s recent live-streamed concerts I decided to get in touch and see if she’d be interested in a ‘bit of an experiment’… some vocals on the Space Junk! sessions. When Lisa arrived at the studio early on a Monday morning in Maitland, we had to find a track to break the ice on, you see, we’d never met in person and it’s always a process to get going, to warm up musically, let alone to jump straight into a studio and start recording. Needless to say, it all worked out great! way better than I could have hoped and the ‘ice breaker’ was warming up on Under The Milky Way (Steve Kilbey – The Church). Great choice really… it proceeded Steve’s arrival on set in Maitland and what’s more, captured just the right kind of ‘broke-down highway motel’ kinda vibe I was looking for. There are a whole bunch more, new and original songs coming up that I’ve been working on with Lisa and we can’t wait to share this new music.
Great to have Mark Roy back in town. This little film we’re making together wouldn’t happen without Mark and it’s the third film we’ve made together. The unique thing about Space Junk! and our last two collaborations “Sumatra” and “Flicker & Fade” is that they’re made on vintage Super-8 and filmed by Mark who has become somewhat of an aficionado with the format. Heck! our last film Flicker & Fade had us racing all over Cambodia shooting a single roll of film for an edit-in-camera competition that took us all the way to it’s ‘world premiere’ at the Cannes Film Festival. Needless to say, that was an incredible journey and when all 3:20mins of the film screened it moved me to tears to hear Channthy’s stunning voice on the movie’s soundtrack – we had completed this film just a week before Thy passed away on March 20, 2018. After the screening at Cannes, Mark and I decided we weren’t really up for the crowds and queues to get into cinemas, we hired a car and hit the road to Orleans via Route de Napoleon… a great drive through mountains and windy roads and a chance to listen to a few mixtapes including some of Mark’s old faves The Feelies – new to me! It turns out that Mark’s not just a Super-8 photographer but used to run a recording studio and play bass in a past life – Maitland, and Space Junk! has been a good occasion to through him back into the fold and he even bought a home-made bass advertised by Bloxo – the former lead vocalist and bassist for Spy vs. Spy! Bloxo brought the new bass to us at the Mansfield – a beautifully made Fender Telecaster copy – and regaled us with a UFO story!
Gleny Rae is a wonder to modern science! an absolutely brilliant musician, virtuoso skills in bluegrass fiddle, accordion and can play just about anything, any style. I first heard of Gleny years ago when she had one of the best-named duo in country music “The Toe Suckin’ Cowgirls”. With usual flair and style, Gleny arrived at Triple Three sessions, ready with a full bottle of Captain Morgan Rum, her three-legged cattle dog Ziggy Stardust (the fastest moving thing on land) and her truckload of instruments. On the Triple Three sessions, you’ll hear Gleny Rae across quite a few of the tracks – adding lush string parts on violin and a great co-write and performance for a song in tribute to Maitland legend and town founder Molly Morgan – every great town deserves a great song and Maitland’s now got one with Gleny Rae and the Space Junkies performing The Ghost of Molly Morgan.
Architect, Artist, Aboriginal Australian, and great singer and artist to boot! it doesn’t more Triple-A than that. In fact, Adelaide (who shares her name with a beautiful Australian city) is such a brilliant allrounder that she’s not only acting in Space Junk! but has recorded an excellent cover of the classic Angel Baby by Rosie & The Originals. Adelaide’s onscreen role in Space Junk! is sensational too, can’t wait for the final film edit and screening. Hopefully, we’ll get down to doing more film and music and are already talking about the sequel Space Funk!
Justin’s jumped into Space Junk! with his customary ‘yep! can do it’ and over the recent years, has been a mainstay with this attitude and enthusiasm joining us for lots of gigs and events in Cambodia including The Kampot Readers & Writers Festival and more recently It’s Garage Fest! Cambodia. Damn good to have Juz turn up in Maitland right at the moment we were laying down the tricky 6/8 guide track on The Loved One. Justin brought his little guitar “The Swamp Beast” – a rare 1960’s Japanese Gemtone guitar and layed down some excellent rhythm tracks, nailing that tricky 6/8 right out of the box. You can hear much more from Justin himself via his new radio show “Kuiper Belters” on Kampot Radio. www.kampotradio.com
Well we’ve only seen Irini acting the role of the singer of the “Metropolis Band” but boy she looks the part and is keen to step up to the microphone so that’s what we hope will happen. A new singer Irini is joining the Space Junk! recording sessions at Triple Three to start out with some backing vocals and perhaps a songwriting collaboration, something where we can explore Irini’s passion for music and keenness to record her first vocal tracks. Irini moved from Greece to Australia as a 14-year-old and soon began making a name for herself through her high achievements – with English as a second language she was soon at University of Newcastle and named the city’s Young Citizen of the Year after representing Australia at the International Model United Nations (IMUN) in London, leading the UN Equity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women committee.
Last but not least – Steve Kilbey!
What a wonderful twist in the making of Space Junk! at the very last moment…and just before we were about to shoot off all twenty rolls of our precious and rare stock of Super-8… Steve Kilbey walks into frame! This has been a most serendipitous happening and is one that has got me – as director of this little movie – singing out ” Oh the Serendipity” after the most quotable line in Aussie cult classic The Castle “How’s the serenity!” If you’ve never seen the Castle? it’s time to check it out here.
So, Space Junk! is more sci-fi noir than The Castle but with Steve’s addition and a cast and crew of more than 40 people, it’s been in the same spirit of fun and hilarity. For me personally, it’s been a real pleasure to work with Steve – someone whom I’ve been a fan of and looked up to since the days of my own high school band (with Guy Lucas of The Philisteins) starting out by playing covers of The Church – probably thinking it would make us look a bit ‘sophisticated’ in then backwater backwood Tasmania.
Steve’s addition to Space Junk! has brought a lot of excitement and momentum to our film and has already led us to new ideas and perhaps a most creative idea… of bringing the music, the sound and the voice of Steve Kilbey and the wonderfully psychedelic work of The Church into a picture that converges with the music and art of The Cambodian Space Project – my own work and taste that has certainly taken some inspiration from an early start in my career with more than a few The Church records spinning on my turntables back in the day.
On the horizon is a beautiful new film project and it’s a collaboration with Steve Kilbey. This will be a music and art conversation – a documentary film happening soon and capturing our next outing – a 3000km road trip to the Australian Outback. Who really knows where this will lead but I can assure you, “The Road To Tibooburra” is an extraordinary music project and is a very special and new chapter in the journey of The Cambodian Space Project – I can’t wait to share this with you. I’ve even had to bust Kilbey out of the Maitland Gaol for all this….
By the end of shooting Space Junk! I’d jumped aboard the limo and hitched a ride back to Sydney with Steve and his beautiful partner Rachel. It was a good opportunity to decompress after a huge month of prepping to shoot our film and a busy weekend where we really put Steve through the hopes – which he graciously leaped through. Steve, as promised, sent me a copy of his memoir and for me, reconnecting with The Church after all these years, has been unputdownable – a great read and at times very reminiscent of some of the twists and turns in the story of The Cambodian Space Project – speaking of which, I’m still working on a memoir – a book about my 9 years on the road with Channthy and the CSP.
Strangely, in writing a book on the CSP, I’ve always had in mind, just sticking to our first 5 years on the road but starting at a midway point… I’ve just this sketched out for several years now… it starts in Coogee, Sydney at a bench by the beach where Channthy and I caught up on a final night of an Australian tour – I was leaving for Cambodia, Channthy was staying on. By this stage in our journey, Thy was living in a little apartment by close to the sea in Coogee Beach. We’d already gone our separate ways but checked in to share a bottle of red wine and fish and chips while discussing plans for getting to Glastonbury – visas, itinerary, travel, the show etc… another story.
Sometimes things in life really do occur with movie-like serendipitous synchronicity. When I arrived (in a borrowed Limo) to meet and discuss Space Junk! with Kilbey, we followed directions by sat-nav, and with me, sitting in the back of a blackened out limousine then stepping out onto the street at Coogee Beach, I was taken (and moved to tears) to find that we’d pulled up right at the same seaside bench where Channthy had last sat down together in Sydney to discuss life, plans and the road ahead.
THE ROAD TO TIBOOBURRA
The road ahead is looking epic! I’m not going to write any more about this just yet… just waiting for it to get rolling.. but really, if you would like to join us on this journey – a collaboration between The Cambodian Space Project and Steve Kilbey (The Church) you can follow the RTTB progress by joining the facebook group right here and participate in shows, live streams and stories along the way.
This project will become a rockumentary and it’s something I’m reaching out for project participants who can support The Road to Tibooburra and help make this happen. We’re offering some very special perks – join us as an Associate Producer or for just get on board and receive a beautiful, hand-painted postcard from Tibooburra! Find out more at Kickstarter and help kickstart the bus!