'TAKE IT EASY MARYJANE' (Video)
(2015 - From the album 'Electricity')
'MOVE ON' (Video)
(2013 - From the album 'PP')
MESS AND NOISE ARTICLE
(2013 - DAVID NICHOLS)
'PP' ALBUM REVIEW
(2012 - LORRAINE CRESCENT)
Claire Birchall’s continuing evolution as a songwriter and performer plus her commitment to DIY and sincerity over irony make her one of the most compelling and long-standing members of the Melbourne music community. From stunningly raw confessions to big-time rock to pop songs lavished with fuzzed out guitar, Casio drums and loops, Claire continues to find new ways to present her material to audiences around town. Her upcoming release, the single ‘All That Matters (it’s Christmas time)’, is the first under the guise of Claire Birchall & the Phantom Hitchhikers and will be released on Birchall’s own Night Owl Records this December.
Claire’s first exposure came after her 4-track recorded acoustic based solo album This Gallery of Mine (1999) was released and gained traction with local audiences around Geelong and the Surf Coast. She capitalised on this in 2001 with the release of ‘Captain Captain’ which became a community radio favourite in Melbourne, scoring a spot in Triple R’s Soundscape Top 10 album chart. It’s intricately layered instrumentation and sweet vocal harmonies captured widespread interest and a host of fans. ‘Gallery’ and ‘Captain’ were re-packaged and released as a double album in 2013.
In a departure from the low-key, intimate nature of the first two records, Claire formed a new band, Paper Planes, and moved towards a more full-tilt rock sound. The band retained the pop sensibility intrinsic to Claire’s other work, but took things to a new sonic level, and hinted at further exploration to come. The bands’ successes included the critically acclaimed 2008 self-titled debut album (“Words fail me. Perfect.” – Mess & Noise), popular 7” single ‘Do It For The Kids’ (2007 Best Unbeaten Brother Records), and a number of high profile support shows, from Catpower to Band of Horses, Magic Dirt and Ed Kuepper.
Despite the success of Paper Planes, the band would eventually wind down in 2010 and Claire would return to her roots in cassette 4-track recording and DIY, taking the lessons she had learned with her. The result was the album ‘PP’, “an extraordinary mélange of basic beats, distorted keyboard and guitar, and pop songs of exceptional resilience” (Mess and Noise), with the album a “serious contender for the best of 2012” (Lorraine Crescent). The lead single from ‘PP’, a cover of The Bangles hit ‘Manic Monday’, was a Triple R Breakfasters staple for many weeks. While the album was completely DIY, down to the artwork, for live performance Claire assembled a band which included a vintage drum machine, her sister Bec, also from Paper Planes, and Pete Azzopardi, a bandmate of Claire’s in country-rock band The Happy Lonesome since 2002. After a year, Claire paused to reissue her first two albums, and assembled a new band which included Matt Green (The Happy Lonesome) on harmonica. After this brief reminiscence, it was back to writing more new material.
With her love for home-recording rekindled after PP, Claire immediately began work on the follow up, a two-year process that would culminate with the 2015 album, Electricity. While it retains the DIY aesthetic found on PP, Electricity has a more expansive quality, the heavy amount of tracking creating a wall of sound around the songs. The combination of the recording style with a songwriting style that draws from Country, Indie, Pop and Soul resulted in one of the most original records of the year. After the recording was finished, Claire needed to get a band together to play a few shows to launch the record and she called on sister Bec (guitar/keyboards/vocals), Pete Azzopardi (bass/vocals) and Matt Green (harmonica) to help her out. Joining them on drums was Jarrod Brown from Azzopardi’s pop group, The Coves.
The band set about learning songs from Electricity and Claire’s back catalogue and found an immediate chemistry, with the laid-back environment enabling them to interpret the original songs and make them their own. What started as a temporary measure to help Claire launch her new album quickly began to feel like something more permanent and the band was given the name Claire Birchall & the Phantom Hitchhikers. The band set about earning a reputation as a versatile, loud, and must-see experience, bringing to life the thick sounds of Electricity with the energy and passion that only a group of true-believers can bring. They quickly became a unit. Most importantly the band spotlights Claire’s ability to write sonically ambitious and interesting songs that retain a familiar pop heart.
The chemistry between the band became a highlight and it was decided that this had to be tapped and put down on record. As the band scraped together the time to learn new material, the new record started to take shape and they eventually went in to Dan Sullivan’s Collingwood studio to record some songs which mark the beginnings of Claire’s next full-length album (to be released sometime in 2017), the first under the new moniker Claire Birchall & the Phantom Hitchhikers. The band also recorded their upcoming single, ‘All That Matters (It’s Christmas Time)’, suburban pop gem, which will be launched at The Tote in December 2016. After two-and-a-half years together, Claire Birchall & the Phantom Hitchhikers are finally putting themselves on record and marking the latest stage in one of Melbourne’s very best in Claire Birchall.