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The Mess Hall: Poised ToRelease New Dirty Blues

You may remember the Mess Hall from a batch of ‘garage/blues revival’ and overtly hyped bands of 2003 (a collection that also featured fellow two-piece acts the White Stripes and the Black Keys). Unlike the latter, who hastily released new albums as an overly enthusiastic music press yapped at their heels, the Mess Hall have been biding their time. I spoke briefly with drummer Cec Condon about the upcoming album and receiving the coveted Big Day Out slot.

2003 was a big year for the Mess Hall. With the release of the Feeling Sideways EP – produced by Matt Lovell (Something for Kate) and silverchair bassist Chris Joannou – the band slogged out a heavy touring schedule both in support and headlining positions. Their efforts were soon rewarded by the nationwide radioplay and persistent loitering in the Indie charts for 42 weeks. Then there was the nomination for Best Independent Release at the ARIA Awards and rampant Rolling Stone endorsement (the track Lock & Load was also featured on the magazine’s Rock Is Back vol-2 compilation CD).

With all the rite-of-passage touring aside, it was time to take cover and get the debut longplayer underway. The then new drummer, Condon and singer/songwriter Jed Kurzel disappeared into the melting pot that is Byron Bay to record the tentatively titled album Notes From A Ceiling. And by the sounds of it, this was no “near enough’s good enough” recording.

“The writing took about a year. But I think Jed had a lot of those songs for a while. The actual recording took about two weeks, and the mixing about a week.”

There is always going to be a certain amount of expectation for a band’s first album, especially when the band has so teasingly drawn out their EP releases and toured so relentlessly. “There’s always that doubt when you finish a record”, Condon admits.

Condon jokingly adds that the major differentiation between Notes From A Ceiling and previous Mess Hall recordings is that the songs (numbering about ten) are “a lot longer”.

In all seriousness though, “There are a few differences in the way [the new album] was recorded. We used a lot of room sounds, things like that, rather than close mics. I used three different drum kits. We really mucked around with it, we got the sound that we wanted.”

In a previous interview Kurzel said, “We approached the recording of this album as honestly as we could, and hope that the final results reflect that when people listen to it. It may surprise people that this is a Mess Hall record, which is what we wanted to do.”

Condon adds, “It’s a very raw record”. Rather than modifying the gritty, rough-around-the-edges blues sound characteristic of the band, Condon explains that the new album exploits the style further. He describes Notes From A Ceiling as more suited to the “patient Mess Hall fan” as opposed to radio fodder.

Now free from the generalisations of the two-piece band craze, Condon feels confident that the new album will further put these myths to rest.

“Definitely, I think the album should stop [the comparisons]. It doesn’t sound like any typical two piece album. It’s a lot different. And we’re all different bands [anyway].”

The guys have picked the perfect time to make a re-entry with new album in tow for the Big Day Out ‘05. Killing two birds with one stone, the Mess Hall will be able to make their eagerly awaited live comeback while showcasing the new material from the album. So how is Condon feeling about the opportunity?

“I’m feeling great about it. I’ve wanted to do that since high school, it should be something different. I can’t wait to see [Blues Explosion]. And the Hives.”

Inevitably, once Notes From A Ceiling hits the shelves there will be a national tour. When asked if Condon has any aspirations for the year ahead he replies, “That’s management’s problem! We’ll definitely be playing more shows. A lot more shows.”

Catch The Mess Hall at the Big Day Out:

Gold Coast:     Sunday 23rd Jan, 2005
Sydney:           Wednesday 26th Jan, 2005
Melbourne:      Sunday 30th January, 2005
Adelaide:         Friday 4th February, 2005
Perth:              Sunday, 6th February, 2005

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