THE annals of rock music are littered with tales of control freaks, who for better or worse, tightly managed many aspects of the creative process.
Axel Rose, Roger Waters and John Fogarty spring to mind. Then there was Billy Corgan who famously played almost every instrument on The Smashing Pumpkins’ debut album Gish.
Jamie Hutchings admits he too was a control freak during his younger days fronting Sydney cult band Bluebottle Kiss.
That’s why writing and recording with Peter Fenton from Sydney underground legends Crow was a step into the unknown. Together the firm friends, known as The Tall Grass, released the brooding Down The Unmarked Road three weeks ago, arguably the best album either has produced in recent years.
The record came together gradually over several years. Hutchings and Fenton would meet at each other’s houses over dinner and wine and slowly songs emerged.
“Personally I went into this thinking I wouldn’t consent to a song being recorded unless I personally felt it was really good,” Hutchings says. “Apart from that, it was about being very open to not just Peter, but Richard [Andrew] who was co-producing.
“If someone suggested something that was unexpected to you, you may not visualise that, but it’s about if it’s really good. If you can see that it’s good, even though it’s not what you would think of, then you’d go down that track. That’s how the decision-making went.”
Hutchings says the creative process of finishing each other’s song sketches or building them together from scratch was only possible due to his close affinity with Fenton.
There’s got to be a lot of trust with the other person and you need to really like them.
“There’s got to be a lot of trust with the other person and you need to really like them,” he says.
“Peter and I are really good friends. We were always friends, but got to know each other much better through the songwriting because there was a lot of talk and conversation and socialising that went into it.”
The pair first met at the iconic Landsdowne Hotel in 1993 when Hutchings handed a Bluebottle Kiss demo to Fenton following a Crow gig.
“Crow were a really big influence on us, particularly on me,” he says. “They were one of my favourite all-time bands. Around 1993-94 I’d go and see them whenever they played. I was quite addicted to seeing them live.
“Peter and [You Am I frontman] Tim Rogers were the first people we gave our cassette to. They were the people who started spreading the word about the band early. They were mentors to us.”
Learning to perform as a duo has also been a unique experience for Hutchings, who has taken a backseat to the more flamboyant Fenton.
“Peter’s pretty different to me in how he approaches music,” he says. “You have to throw caution to the wind to a degree and there’s a level of spontaneity to how we play.
“We never sing or play the same way. The skeleton of the songs are quite strong. It’s definitely different. Peter has a big personality and is a great performer. Even though we co-sing, we take on different roles.”
Down The Unmarked Road has been released independently and is hardly written to attract FM radio attention. However, mainstream appeal has never concerned Hutchings.
Bluebottle Kiss’ first two albums Higher Up The Firetrails (1995) and Fear Of Girls (1996) were initially released through Sony’s indie subsidiary Murmur. While the band attracted critical praise and a cult following, they never landed a radio hit.
“I was always pretty skeptical of all that stuff, even though early on we did get signed to a large record label and got promised all types of things,” Hutchings says.
“Even from an early age I learnt to distrust that in a healthy way. The main goal was always an artistic one.
“I probably get less disappointed these days than I used to. It always felt like there was a clock ticking, while you had opportunities you had to do the best you could. It’s ended up being more of a journey than a destination.
“I’m still really addicted to creating stuff, and to a degree, doing the best that I can to get heard. But I’ve learnt it’s so much out of your control.”
The Tall Grass launch Down The Unmarked Road at The Edwards next Thursday.