We first encountered Michael on the release of the video for “Black Dog” of which we said “This is an immaculate live performance of “Black Dog” by Michael and the Soul Searchers. The band are Tim Powles (The Church), Craig Wilson, Andy Sharpe and James Harland-Wright. Are they tight? You better believe they’re tight, tighter than a camel’s arse in a sandstorm my friend. Sure, all the references to Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits are valid but who cares? This is a gothic masterpiece, dark and cold as hell on a Good Friday and they’re playing for keeps, nobody dares crack a smile. Me? I love it. Black Dog is the first single from the forthcoming Live at Lazybones EP, where this was recorded, all red velvet, gut-rot whiskey and regret. You could be in here forever.” He followed up with the marvellous EP and we were delighted when he agreed to answer some questions for us.
Hi Michael, hope all is good with you and thanks for agreeing to the interview We love what we’ve heard from the Lazybones EP, where did the idea come from?
Well, thank you. Originally we just wanted to make a live video to give a better sense of what the Michael P Cullen live experience entailed. But having gone to the trouble of recording the audio in high fidelity we realised while we were editing the video that it would stand up pretty well as a record. I actually prefer most of the live versions to the original recordings.
The band is awesome, how did you get them together?
Tim Powles (my long-time collaborator) put The Soul Searchers together. He has high standards. I am the lucky beneficiary of his many musical and personal attributes.
How long have you been making music?
30 years give or take. I had a few timeouts. I was a slow learner.
Your songs are pretty dark, are they a reflection of your mindset or is it a personae you adopt when writing?
I’ll admit to a glass half empty view of intimate human relationships. I tend to zero in on all those little dishonesties that seem to eventually crop up within them – I mine a narrow and dirty seam (but deep).
What was the first piece of music you loved, and why?
I don’t know if it was the first because I heard and liked a lot of stuff on the radio when I was a kid but Lipstick Vogue by Elvis Costello (from This Years Model) really got into the marrow of my bones. The barely contained fury and desperation of the vocal, the emotional rollercoaster of the song’s structure, Bruce Thomas’ manic but virtuosic performance on drums and then the call and response chant at the close. It’s an amazing construct. Costello, who generally observes the conventions of the style he is working in, breaks free this time in an exhilarating stylistic detour. Accidents Will Happen from the next record is a pretty amazing number too.
What’s exciting you on the Australian music scene these days? Do you think there’s such a thing as an Australian sound?
Um. I might be the wrong person to ask. I can’t think of much but I probably haven’t been paying attention. Doubtless, there’s something good going on somewhere. All the Australian stuff I like is not current, apart from maybe Nick Cave who arguably transcends national categorisation.
In the past, I liked the Underground Lovers quite a bit. The Beasts of Bourbon did one timeless record, The Low Road, which is great even though it sounds like it was recorded through the u-bend of a toilet. Distemper by The New Christs is a really, really good record. Check out the song Bed of Nails for domestic disappointment.
The Go-Betweens Before Hollywood is incomparably beautiful, it has some well-known songs like Cattle and Cane which are wonderful but a little-known song like Dusty in Here is just as good. McLennan could take your breath away. I was pretty big on The Triffids and The Church (at times) too.
I kind of think there is an Australian sound cause you normally know it when you hear it and it applies whether the music itself is good or rubbish – you can still sense that Australian lack of decorum, a lack of sophistication, an insolence perhaps or a kind of naiveté about class. I was born in England and my Dad’s Irish, we moved to Australia when I was 7, so I wouldn’t consider myself fully assimilated, maybe I hear it more because of that.
If you weren’t a musician what would you love to do?
Work at the bar (the legal one). I like a bit of ham acting.
Can you recommend a good book? Are you a poetry fan?
I’m not especially a poetry fan. I can recommend a book or two. Anything by Raymond Chandler but esp The Long Goodbye or just read the last page and a half of The Big Sleep.
For Whom the Bell Tolls by EH is a gut buster. I only read it a few years ago and it’s panoramic but still intensely personal view of the Spanish Civil war is compelling.I read My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante recently and am intrigued to read the other Neapolitan novels.Right now I am reading The Last Man in Europe by Dennis Glover. It is a fictional memoir (if that is a thing) of how George Orwell wrote 1984. It’s good.
What question would you like to be asked that you never are? And what would be your answer?
Parlez vous francais?
What’s in your fridge?
Little Creatures Pale Ale, Plymouth Gin (freezer), the kid’s lunches for school tomorrow and my wife’s salads.
If you could change one thing in the world right now what would it be?
Not worth it. You can’t change one thing. Everything is interdependent.
You spoke about Black Coffee being as close to country as you’ve ever come, are you a fan of country?
Not generally but Hank Williams does it for me.
What next for your music?
Live at Lazybones EP is out more or less now I think. Later in the year, my next single is a remake of a song from my first album called Do You Believe. I re-recorded the vocals, we added some new bits and Danton Supple has re-mixed it. We think it’s fab.
What’s your favourite expression?
All of my favourite expressions have been rendered unacceptable in polite society …
Given your Irish ties have you any plans to visit?
Dad grew up on the North Circular Road in Phibsborough. I come back quite a bit. I will try and bring the band some time.