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INTERVIEW: Intercooler
Australia's indie-rock exports - on the rise! (Intercooler's web site)

By: Rebecca M. McNeill
Photo By: Stephen Booth

Nothing ever stays the same. It's true of the weather, it's true of cease-fire treaties and it's true of rock'n'roll. And so it was that Intercooler guitarist Michael Caso recently made the very difficult decision to pack up his gear and called it a day. The enviable opportunity to fill Michael's shoes was almost immediately snapped up by their friend Darek Mudge, former touring guitarist for Screamfeeder. A short time ago I caught up with Phil Ballantyne and Joel Potter to talk about the current climate of change for Brisbane's favourite pop rock outfit.

"It was work and personal commitments, says frontman, Phil. "He said he was torn and he just had to choose one. And I think he's chosen correctly, you know? For us and for him. When it comes down to it, we want to play in a band where everyone wants to be doing what you're doing. Musically he was 100% into it but he's not the sort of guy who wants to be always touring and doing the hard yards. Realistically we all know that we're gong to be broke for a few years yet. Michael was just over being that, sacrificing everything for what we do." "It's not for everyone, you know," Joel agrees. "It was totally understandable. There are no guarantees of success, that your efforts going to pay off and that's just the gamble you take."

The addition of Darek into the fold should be an interesting one. When a new person steps into a project that has been evolving for 12 years it is bound to be a transformational experience, for better or for worse. Thankfully the boys are singing his praises. They are obviously excited about the musical chemistry he has already brought to the band, to say nothing of experience and fresh ideas.

And just like that a new chapter begins. And looking back on the book so far it's easy to see why Intercooler is such a hot favourite. If you haven't had the Intercooler experience yet, let me illustrate. In 2002 the boys released their first album Old School is the New School. It was a tour de force of dynamic, punchy songs crafted in that 'old school' way. The album had it all; conversational melodies, perfect 'hang' moments, hooky vocals and plenty of edgy knifepoint guitar activity. There are enough pop elements to make it melodically satisfying, wrapped up in a high-energy crunchy guitar sound. All in all, it was a collection of emotionally charged gems you don't mind getting stuck in your head. With songs like that it's no wonder Intercooler is an easy band to champion.

Phil explains. "Every time we go away I go through my CD's and make 2 big stacks, one pile is the albums that have to go away with us and the other gets left behind. I've said to the boys that the sort of albums I want to make- the albums you have to take away with you. I want to be in that pile, not in the pile still sitting at home."

And what did the album do for Intercooler? "It gave us our full birth," says Joel. "We were like most bands, just playing in jam rooms and getting one shitty gig a month. We were doing okay before the album came out, getting some good supports and that, but it was nothing compared to what we got after. You don't expect it. I mean, we've been to Melbourne and Sydney before but no one's really got a clue. People like what you do, but there's no recognition factor. The all of a sudden we'd play songs and people would actually know them and sing along. That changed everything. All of a sudden you're playing for the audience and not just for yourself."

One thing the release of their album certainly did for them was open up doors to an overseas market. Having now secured a publishing deal with US based Silent Echo, Intercooler has just returned from their second US tour where they are establishing a steadily growing fan-base. Their sound is proving to be fresh fodder for Americana ears. "They've heard of AC/DC and Men At Work, but there's nothing in between." says Joel. "They don't know about the shit we grew up listening to on the radio, like Hoodoo Gurus. America's got no old school oz rock. Their equivalent of Cold Chisel is like, Bon Jovi."

But now Intercooler's refreshing pop rock sound is steadily winning over American audiences. Joel says, "We did an all ages show at this amphitheatre in Concorde and all these kids were there. One guy had his older brother there he was a full clich?d southern redneck looking dude with a truckers cap, the long flannel jacket; you would not believe how clich? he was. He must have been about our age but all his teeth were rotting away and he stank. But he was the nicest guy! As soon as we got off stage he walked up and said in a deep Southern accent, "Ya'll was bayd--ass!"

Now that the new line up is in place the boys have plans to release another album by the end of the year. With 21 songs currently demoed and waiting the new compilation is starting to take shape as an entity. "I think it's definitely more refined and more Intercooler-ish,' explains Joel. "It's got all the bits that we've always had that make us what we are, we've just trimmed the bullshit. The pop songs are popier. The rock songs are more harder rocking songs. We're playing better. Everything's just evolving." Whittling the list of songs down to a digestible album size is a process yet to come. "There's definitely a level of explosiveness for us to want to include a song." Says Joel. Judging from the new stuff punters have already heard at gigs, the next album is sure to be a killer.

Right, so next comes the frivolous part of the interview; a quick Q and A.

Quick Questions:

First album
Joel -- 'Kick', INXS
Phil -- 'Brothers in Arms', Dire Straits

Top 3 Brisbands
Joel- Screamfeeder, Giants of Science, Pangea
Phil -- Screamfeeder, early Regurgitator, Gotta Cola

Shower Song
Joel -- 'I'm gonna wash that man right out of my hair' (Ha, ha!)
Phil -- "Sorry, don't have one"

An uncool song you secretly like
Joel -- 'Easy Lover' -- Phil Collins
Phil -- 'Oops I did it again' Britany Spears ("It's so catchy.")
(Thanks for your candour, boys)

Current listening
Joel --
'Life on Other Planets', Supergrass;
'Permission to Land', The Darkness,
'Transatlanticism' -- Deathcab for Cutie.
Phil --
"This Canadian band called the Hidden Cameras. They class themselves as gay folk church music and they sing about their love for their boys and it's really beautiful. And it's pretty explicit. It is classic."

If you only had one show left to play who would you play with and where?
Phil -- "Nirvana, The Beatles and the Stones as they were in 1967--somewhere in London"

By this stage the interview has disintegrated into a musical 'show and tell' with Phil showing us 6 or 7 of his favourite new songs on his stereo as we all share one beer between three. It reminds me of another reason why Intercooler is so popular. It's not just that they're good at what they do, but that they're genuinely nice guys to boot, who just enjoy the experience of music. Combined with the fact that they actually produce some mighty fine tunes it's hard to understand how these guys haven't taken over the world.

But then, you know it's only a matter of time until they do.

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