East Row Rabble are a 7 piece collective with a home base in Canberra, ACT, Australia. They are led by talented singer/songwriter Ben Drysdale. Their sound is one of a mix of funk, soul, reggae, and blues. The band includes an upbeat party horn line that fans have come to love.
This year, 2018, has been a massive year for East Row Rabble as they released their debut self titled EP – ‘East Row Rabble’ to a sold out crowd in their home town in June. The EP has captured audiences all over Australia and has had some acknowledgement from overseas reviewers;
** “East Row Rabble is a classic styled big band that would’ve fit right into the 30s and 40s in America, as we tried to dance our way out of the Great Depression.” – Caleb Alexander, The B-Side Guys (US)
** “It’s catchy but still has an edge to it, and it’s great to hear a band producing this type of music” – Jane Howkins, York Calling (UK)
Drysdale’s songs explore the many, varied, and often conflicting elements of any situation with honesty, hope, and a little cheekiness on this EP. My favourite track is ‘Aliens In My Brain’. I found the whole style and sound of the EP addictive and had repeated listens over a few hours in one session.
After a short tour along the East Coast promoting the EP, East Row Rabble returned home to accept an invitation to support the Tijuana Cartel (Gold Coast World Music Band) in Canberra. But the best was yet to come…the acceptance of their application to bill in the 2019 National Folk Festival to be held at Exhibition Park in Canberra in 2019.
I had a chance to ask Ben Drysdale a few questions on the EP, The National Folk Festival and East Row Rabble….let’s hear what he has to say:
Jenny: Hi Ben! Congratulations to East Row Rabble for the amazing news of being accepted in the line up for the 2019 National Folk Festival here in Canberra. You guys have got to be pretty stoked yeah??
Ben: Stoked is an understatement! I’ve been going to the Festival since 1999 and had so many amazing musical experiences there. I’ve applied about 7 or 8 times under three different bands but they get thousands of applications so it’s very competitive. I’ve played a bunch of blackboard sets there but this is the first time one of my acts has actually made it onto the bill. It’s been a huge year for the band. We’ve kicked some pretty big goals this year but there was a lot of blood, sweat and tears behind the scenes that went into making it all happen; so to find out we made the ‘National’ is the ultimate payoff for all that hard work.
Jenny: Can you give the readers any more detail on the day or time and where to find you at the festival or is that a closely guarded secret for now?
Ben: So guarded we don’t even know yet.
Jenny: East Row Rabble are a home grown Canberran group and no stranger to playing at local festivals and sold out venue’s, even having toured the East Coast – but this is kind of the big one so far – am I right?
Ben: By far the biggest to date! It’s such a great festival with true die hard music lovers from all over the country (and the world) so it’s definitely the best opportunity we’ve had to take the band to the next level in terms of reaching new audiences.
Jenny: Will you be unveiling any new singles at the festival?
Ben: We’ve been working with the same set of songs for a while so we set a goal of having four new tracks to play by the ‘Folky’. We tried one out for our last gig of the year the other day and it packed the dancefloor; so that’s a promising start. So we’ll definitely be airing a couple of previously unheard songs there.
Jenny: East Row Rabble have not long released a debut EP self-titled East Row Rabble…how’s the reaction been to it so far?
Ben: The response has been great so far. ‘Good For Me’ (which I used to propose to my wife) was played on Triple J Roots’N’ALL all and the other singles have been picked up on community radio all over the country. We’ve also had a couple of really positive reviews on blogs in the US and the UK as well.
Jenny: What impresses me is that an EP traditionally has about 4 songs on it and yours has 8 – so we are getting double the bang for the same money…was there a reason for this or did it just sort of happen?
Ben: Well, really its only 5 tracks with a couple of radio edits and an explicit version ‘Good for Me’. I decided to include the extra’s and call them ‘B-Sides’ as a bit of a throwback to days gone by. I can’t seem to write songs that are the ideal length for radio (3:20-4:00 mins) so in order to get ‘One for the Kokokut’ down to a radio playable length we had to cut a huge chunk out of it which gives a really different listening experience.
The other two ‘B-sides’ are only minor edits with a fadeout on ‘Chalk Me Up’ and one rude word at the end of ‘Good For Me’. When I actually proposed to my wife with ‘Good For Me’ all instances of the word ‘damn’ were actually ‘F-bombs’… but I play a lot in settings where kids are there so substituted for ‘damn’ and that’s become the way I sing it now. When we did the recording I wanted to have a version that still had the one ‘F-bomb’ at the end so it was true to the way I actually popped the question at the end of the song.
Jenny: I want to take you back in time…to 45’s…and on the A side is the single “Strawberries and Cream” …which single is on the B side and why?
Ben: Funny you should mention that given the answer to the previous question. Strangely enough ‘Strawberries and Cream’ was inspired by my (now) wife’s bra. Sounds weird right? Basically early on when we were dating she always had to get up earlier than me to go to work. One morning I woke up dazed and still half asleep as she was getting into a red and white polka dot bra and I mumbled ‘mmm Strawberries and Cream’, rolled over and went back to sleep. Later on I started writing a song around the idea that everyone has their different tastes in and life and that’s ok. The verses look at daily choices and tastes from TV shows, to sports and hobbies, with the chorus using desserts as a metaphor for relationships… ‘All I want’s my Strawberries and Cream’. It’s kind of funny as I had to pretend I didn’t like things that I do in order for the metaphor to work… My wife and I really like wine and cheese.
Anyway the B-side could either be ‘Good For Me’ which I proposed to her with… or a song from my previous band ‘Beth n Ben ‘ called ‘As the Hail Rains’ which I wrote even earlier in our dating history. She had decided to cut things off as she wasn’t looking for anything serious at the time and I was pretty cut up about it so I wrote this song. Played it to her a few days later and the rest is history.
Jenny: It’s obvious and in fact you’ve admitted to your love of horns…but…let’s have a little fun! Your horn players left their horns at home and all you have to choose from is a recorder each or a pan pipe each…which one are you going to choose for them to play?
Ben: Pan Pipes! Recorders sound hideous! But they’d be playing those pipes in that punchy percussive way like some flautists to where its almost like they’re spitting into it on rapid fire.
Jenny: Aliens in my Brain is a great track focussing on mental health issues…I can identify with the message in the lyrics and put myself in the characters shoes…was this a difficult song writing task to complete?
Ben: I can’t take all the credit on this one, barely even half. This song was written in collaboration with a dear friend I met through doing theatre shows with the mental health community, Ralph Nelson. We’ve collaborated on a few songs now, one of which will be coming out at the NFF for the first time. Ralph will write a bunch of lyrics in a form that sits somewhere between poetry and song and I’ll put it to music, tweak his lyrics to fit the meter and throw a few of my own in there. But the challenge you refer to was all his genius.
Jenny: With so much funk and spirit in the band…What are your rehearsals like?
Ben: They usually involve a few beers an a bunch of laughs which is always important. When the band first started I decided to start the arrangements from a brass perspective. So for a couple of months I’d catch up with the horn section on a Sunday, have a few beers and we’d write horn lines to all the songs before we even brought the bass and drums in. When we added in the rhythm section there were a bunch of rhythmic elements in the horn lines for them to bounce of or join in with so that was a really cool process.
With a big band like this a lot of members come and go, so a lot of rehearsal time over the last couple of years has been spent just getting new people ready for gigs or learning a new song before the gig we wanted to air it at. Now we’re getting settled a bit and have decided to get some new material up, we’ve been able to get back to that mode where we can really take the time to make interesting choices and nut out arrangements working on one song for a few hours at a time and it’s really reinvigorated our creative juices. The response to the newest one at our last gig really showed its paying off.
Jenny: East Row Rabble has both Digital and Hard Copy releases of the new EP and complimenting merchandise – is Bandcamp the place to buy or are the other outlets too?
Ben: You can get it digitally anywhere. Bandcamp is the best place if you want hard copy, or just at a gig…same for merchandise.
Jenny: Before we finish up – any last words?
Ben: Just to thank everyone for the support they’ve shown so far, and remind audiences and fans that in the digital age they are the ones with the power to make or break a band more than ever.
As less people buy CDs due to spotify etc it’s harder and harder for artists to recoup recording expenses so they can record again. If you want to support a band but don’t want a hard copy, buy a digital copy even though you can stream it for free, or buy a t-shirt or other merch.
If you’re tight on cash then just let your fingers do the walking on social media. Every comment and share on Facebook (or any other platform) will literally decide how many other people see that post. So engage with your favourite bands on social media in as many ways as you can.
So there we have it folks, a better insight into the inner realm of East Row Rabble! I can’t send you away from this article without sharing my favourite song from the EP and if you like this one best you go to Bandcamp and check out the rest or go to Canberra and see them live!!
** Article Feature Image – Courtesy Of Orangedrummaboy Photography**