Paradise Lost and Rediscovered

 

Formed in Hobart in 1994, The Paradise Motel -- Merida Sussex (vocals), Charles Bickford (acoustic guitar), Matthew Aulich (electric guitar), Mark Austin (keyboards, pedal steel), Esme Macdonald (bass), Andy Hazel (drums) and Campbell Shaw (violin) -- relocated to Melbourne soon after and quickly achieved cult-like status, thanks to the popularity of their debut EP Left Over Life To Kill and albums Still Life and Flight Paths.

The band then moved to London in 1998 and toured throughout Europe and the US for the next two years, performing with the likes of Sparklehorse, Mercury Rev and Grandaddy.

They then promptly disappeared for a decade, before returning earlier this year with their haunting new albumAustralian Ghost Story.

``We'd been living in London for a couple of years in the late '90s, made a record that was quite a complex record to make, and had toured a lot, all over Europe and all over America,'' chief songwriter Bickford explained.

``We were all living together, and it was a lot. At Christmas 1999 we all sort of looked at each other, nobody actually said `right, we've had it', but we all flew off to different places -- I flew down to Hobart and drank a bottle of tequila with my dad.

``We needed to take a break but we didn't realise it would end up being 10 years. But here we are. Love affairs are like that.''

Bickford immersed himself in other, non-musical projects over the past decade, and ``hadn't felt like I was going to make music again'' before moving back to Australia three years ago.

His return to Australia got Bickford thinking about making music again, and about his long-held plans for AustralianGhost Story, which was recorded over a weekend in a barn on the banks of the Yarra River in Warburton, east of Melbourne.

Australian Ghost Story is based on the events surrounding one of the country's most controversial and polarizing cases _ the disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain in 1980.

``Ten years ago I'd been thinking maybe we could make a record or some kind of work of art about contemporary Australian life, and a part of Australian folklore that I felt I was a part of because I was alive when it happened,'' Bickford said.

``I felt like their was a lot of singing and writing about convicts eating each other and all this sh-- that happened a long time ago, [whereas the Chamberlain case] was an event that occurred when I was eight. I'd been living overseas with my parents, and we arrived back and it was all anyone was talking about.

``As a child, it was obviously an emotional hot-spot on the surface of this country. I never wanted to make a record that was about answers, or a jury-style record, I was really interested in people's lives who were orbiting that event. I was interesting in examining the different layers.''

The Paradise Motel's 1996 debut EP Left Over Life To Killwas inspired by chilling events closer to home -- the murder of Italian tourist Victoria Cafasso and the disappearance of German tourist Nancy Grunwaldt on Tasmania's East Coast.

``I think absence is interesting, I think folklore is interesting, and a lost child is an interesting thing,'' Bickford said of his penchant for writing songs about crime and unsolved mysteries.

``We were very young when that stuff happened, and it was intensely sad, and intensely local to us in Hobart, these occurrences on the East Coast of Tasmania. We knew people who lived in those towns, and sunned their bare arses on those beaches.

``It imposes itself a lot more on you than events occurring in London or America or wherever. Those events had emotional qualities that we wanted to deal with and explore.''

Bickford, who still travels to Hobart to visit his parents every couple of months, said the band's move to Melbourne in the mid-'90s was a necessary part of their evolution.

``There was an appetite for us, and that's what made us move as much as anything,'' he said.

``We always felt hungry for experience, meeting and playing to more people, and Hobart nurtured us well. We'd been playing in bands together, and apart, for most of our lives, so we were incubated in Hobart, but people who make music want to find out what other people think about it.

``In the '90s it felt like there was a lot of exciting, quite aggressive punk music being made in Hobart. I always felt we were like a punk band, in that we just did things for ourselves, because everyone in Hobart did. And I think that informs your desire to travel as well. There's a certain bloody-mindedness to it.''

 

Kane Young