Congratulations Everybody (At Home With...)
My guests today are a pair of very talented musicians - James Pasinis and James Gilligan, two members of Melbourne quintet Congratulations Everybody. I’ve known both James and James for over a decade and it’s been a joy to see them develop into the musicians they are today, with James Pasinis playing in almost a dozen groups including Honey Badgers and The Hondas, and James Gilligan becoming one of the finest multi-instrumentalists you are likely to see anywhere. Our conversation attempts to unpack the unique connection formed by this group of players, and it also ended up as was quite a sentimental journey for me into my own childhood as we dipped into some of our formative experiences growing up in the north east suburbs of Melbourne.
Simon Fazio: You’ve played in many, many bands… The Thod, Honey Badgers, Congratulations Everybody, Sleepy Bear Parade…
James Pasinis: …Master Gunfighters… The Hondas…
Simon: …in most of these bands, you’ve been a key-songwriter, but usually off to the side, content in your own guitar corner. Did you sing any songs with The Thod?
JP: Yeah, towards the end of the band’s life I did. I think three songs on that last album.
Simon: So, with Congratulations Everybody, this is more sort the your project that you lead, really… When did you start writing your first few songs that you decided that this would need your own thing? Was it because it didn’t fit those bands or did you feel you needed to articulate your own kind of thing?
JP: I think I started writing my own songs… the ones I was actually comfortable with and really started enjoying writing was around The Thod, which was it’s own kind of things; that bluesy, folky, rock kind of thing… not exactly the music I liked writing myself. I liked playing it.
Simon: Do you remember when you were writing those first Congratulations Songs, were there certain artists that you were looking to for a template for what you wanted to do?
JP: Definitely, Wilco. Jeff Tweedy. Bright Eyes quite a bit. Probably Jim O’Rourke as well.
Simon: All good choices. I approve of those choices.
Simon: You’ve enjoyed some ongoing creative partnerships with guys like Al Matcott who you play in Honey Badgers with. I guess in The Thod, because it was such a collaborative kind of experiences; can you talk about your creative partnerships with those guys in that band? Maybe what you borrowed or learned from each other in that group?
JP: (chuckles) As far as The Thod’s concerned, I learned “too many cooks in the kitchen…”, it was just a shit-show. (laughs)
Simon: So you paired back a bit; of the people in The Thod you’re still working with… maybe let’s talk about Congratulations first. You’ve managed to assemble a pretty talented bunch of guys in this group.
JP: Yeah, more-so than I was ever expecting.
Simon: So, we’ve got James Gilligan, who is in the studio today who plays fiddle and…
JP: …everything else…
Simon: You’ve got Aidan (McDonald) on drums, also in Honey Badgers on drums. Matt (Fazio), my bro (literally my bro) on guitar…
JP: …and Chris Port on bass.
James Gilligan: Old mate, Chris Port. The staple of this station.
Simon: It’s almost like, y’know when you play FIFA, and you get Messi and you get Ronaldo and you put them all on the same team.
JP & JG: (laughter)
Simon: …how do you go about making your team of champions into a champion team?
JP: I don’t know… It just kind of happened unexpectedly, because I’ve known James for a long time. Porty I didn’t know until we started playing together. It was through Matt and Aidan that it kinda happened, where they asked James and Chris to play; or just to jam for the time being. We weren’t even a band at that point; I just had some songs that I had recorded in the past. We had a practice and a few more jams, and I think we had a gig and I was kind of expecting James and Porty to kind of… bow out or something… (laughs)
JP: I’m kind of surprised that they’ve stuck around for so long, to be honest.
JG: That’s really funny because the feeling I have with the band is almost just… all the minds getting along completely in line with how the world works, and we happen to pick up some instruments and do some shit sometimes. It just feels like… I don’t know, I’ve never really have analysed anything. James writes amazing songs; if you want to dive deeper, listen to the lyrics; beautiful lyrics. It’s almost just “yeah, I want to hang out at the pub with all my closest friends.” I do music so much of the time but the currency with this one is all about hanging out at the pub and having a great time.
Simon: Sounds good to me. When you bring the songs to the band, how fully formed are they? Can you hear what each member is going to bring to the song when you’re writing it.
JP: Oh… I have an expectations, mostly… I have a vague idea of how I want it to sound, then after bringing it to the band, it certainly changes. I’m not too precious about the song structures or the vibe of the track changing. Lyrically I probably wouldn’t let anyone change anything… (chuckles)… I’m kind of precious about that. Musically, it’s a free-for-all, but yeah, when I do bring a song to the band, in my mind it’s pretty much finished. But that can change.
Simon: Can I get you to play a second song? What else are you going to play today?
JP: This is a new one actually that most of the guys haven’t even heard. I showed James a recording of it the other day and we’ve had one practice on it… (laughs)…
Simon: So, you’re just gonna wing in… (laughs)… Well, I’m not trying to pump up your tyres, James… James #2… but if I could pick ANYONE to be like “okay, you’re going to wing this”… (laughs)… No pressure.
JP: Well, he rocked up at The Retreat the other day for a gig in the front bar, and a couple of hours before said “I’m going to play fiddle” and we’ve never done that before… (laughs)… we’ve never practiced that before and he killed it.
Simon: Yeah, I was actually at that gig and it was like… Paganini over there just kind of going wild… (laughs)… I talked to my brother he was like “Yeah, he’s never practice with it, he usually plays pedal steel…”
JG: Yeah, there were too many loud stringy guitar in the band, I was like “I’m going to bring this piece of wood and see what that does to the gig… it felt good…”
JP: It worked…
[plays ‘Your World’, with perfect fiddle playing]
JG: Wings it! (laughs)
Simon: That was beautiful.
JP: That was alright.
Simon: Sounds good to me… although I wouldn’t know! I think that’s the thing where you’re playing a song where you’re not sure about it… no-ones know if you stuff it up…
JG: Play the mistake twice. (laughs)
Simon: That’s a good tip. Maybe we’ll get a bit nerdy; we’ll talk a little bit about guitars. You’re a left-handed guitarist. It’s tough to find guitars that are left handed.
Simon: You’ve got a Taylor here… when did you get this guitar?
JP: …maybe 2013?
Simon: Have you written most of the Congratulations material on this guitar? You usually play electric when you play live.
JP: Yeah, I’ve only played acoustic on a couple of occasions.
Simon: Your style, it’s kind of fingerpicking-style… do you play standard tuning?
JP: Yeah, but sometimes in Drop-D and in that song, I tuned the A to a G.
Simon: Did you just find that tuning by yourself?
JP: Yeah, I did. It’s just nice having a bit of a drop behind whatever I’m playing. It suits the song.
Simon: I feel like I want to probe a little bit about relationships with the other people that you’ve worked with… I know that playing with people that I’ve played with for years and years, usually like, my brothers, you develop this kind of instinct where you feel really comfortable and you know what each other is going to do. I guess you play with a different bunch of guys in Congratulations Everybody unlike Honey Badgers, who are guys you’ve played with for years and years. What do you prefer? The familiarity of the guys you’ve worked with for years or do you like being pushed to the places that guys like Chris and James take you?
JP: Definitely the latter, I noticed that from our first jam. With past bands, it’s always been that someone brings a song; they’ll play the song out, and we’ll be like “let’s learn this intro” and then we’ll repeat that until everyone knows it and go onto the verse then the chorus. I’d kind of instinctively did that when we first jammed with these guys, and James was like “let’s just play the whole song again, keep running through it”. That was just a really different way of doing it and it makes a lot more sense than whatever I was used to. That’s one difference, and even the way that Porty and James talk about music; they’re so well trained in theory and I’m just not at all. Just hearing talk about certain sections of songs is really intimidating because I don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about…
JP & JG: (laughs)
JP: …and James will kind of look at me and go “You know what I mean”, and I’ll be “Nah.” (laughs) You’re going to have to dumb it down for me.
Simon: Yeah, I think I know what a coda is… It’s a Led Zeppelin album right?