Reg Tiessen is a man with a load of musical talent and even more ambition. Nothing he touches is done half way and for one night, Windsor is going to be reminded of what we’ve lost. Many moons ago, Reg was part of the driving force that created arguably one of Windsor’s most influential bands of the 1990s, the powerhouse Jimmy Bronco. Jimmy Bronco left such a stain on Windsor’s musical bed sheets that their EP Sexual Appeal of Chicks In Trucks was voted the # 7 best album ever to come out of Windsor, proving the staying power of the project in people’s minds and ears. Following the demise of Jimmy Bronco, it was on to Way Too Gigalo, another powerful rock formation that ruled Windsor’s mean streets for years. Until he fell in love. Reg met Liz Graham, another area musician and one powder keg of a vocalist, and the two immediately began to make music. Liz had been part of a more indie experimental group in the 90s known as Ghoti, but they never seemed to get the recognition becoming of someone with a voice as huge as Liz’s. The duo began a new project, a balls-on bluesy soul unit called Lizzy Girl & The Gin Joints, playing select shows around the area, but their destiny still hadn’t arrived. Soon after, Lizzy Girl was no more and they couple found themselves in the sunshine of Australia. It is here that the story takes a dramatic shift upwards. They’ve now built two completely different yet completely incredible music bands. The first, 72Blues, is an almost Southern fried blues rock band, greasy and sexy, with monster riffs built around Liz’s equally bombastic voice. The second – who will be returning to dazzle Windsor audiences on Friday, March 6th at Phog Lounge (157 University Ave. West) alongside Romanian friends Dekadens, and The Hague’s Venus Flytrap– are the electro-shock world experimentalists Konqistador.
Konqistador has taken these two around the world, from their (now) homeland of Australia to Istanbul, Turkey to Moscow, Russia to Cairo, Egypt, not to mention across North America. Konqistador has become a product of their love for various world cultures and sounds, not just geographically, but sonically and spiritually as well. Their recordings incorporate not just the electronic industrial sounds they create themselves, but acquired recordings and sounds from their world travels, “such as traditional Prussian choir hymns, Mennonite church hymns, spoken word from living Russian relatives and street sounds from Bucharest, Krakow, Prague, Berlin, Istanbul and Cairo.” They are back in the area to record their second full length, Suada, the follow-up to last year’s EP Electriker and their gloriously dark and sultry debut, Courage Riot (which charted at # 85 on the Windsor Top 100 Albums Ever). Once again, they’re working in Detroit at Chowtown Studios, with third partner, David Andruchow (who also fronts Windsor’s Helsinki Go). Following their Phog showcase, they’re off to Toronto for Canadian Music Week (playing the Velvet Underground on March 11th) then down to Austin, Texas for South By Southwest. As if being in two globetrotting bands wasn’t enough, Reg has also found the time to unleash an enterprise over the past few years known as New Found Frequency, a massive presence in Australia that showcases its local homegrown talent to the rest of the world. He’s even brought NFF showcases to North America and beyond (including stops in Windsor), bringing the sounds to actual stages instead of just computer speakers or print media. And perhaps one of the most exciting things about the new Konqistador album is that Suada will be the first release by an independent act to be exclusively released on Alive Drive USB wristbands. This unique new idea for music medium will let people immediately upload the entire album, as well as access a world of exclusive content, much of it in real time, from their little USB stick. WAMM recently talked to Reg and Liz amidst their recording and preparation for the March 6th show at Phog to talk about Konqistador, New Found Frequency and beyond.
WAMM: You’ve gone from being in very centralized Windsor projects to suddenly being a multinational project, with three global residences. Was this worldly travel a by product of Konqistador or is Konqistador a by product of the global movement?
Reg Tiessen: Our passion for Konqistador most certainly perpetuates our ongoing travel abroad for the love of discovery if not anything else. We have a strong focus fixed on the celebration of old world music and story telling. Our project inspires us and pushes us deeper into challenging areas like the Baltic Black Sea region, Russia, Ukraine and the Mid East. Our roots started in Windsor/Detroit, moved to Melbourne, Australia and now have found a new home in Istanbul, Turkey the base we launch our European efforts from now.
WAMM: Your other project, 72Blues, is a very greasy sexy heavy blues. How did the idea to switch gears so drastically into Konqistador come about?
Liz Graham: 72Blues is like an old worn in shoe, incredibly comfortable and easy to walk in. Simply put, it’s fun. We needed to develop a project that was challenging, one that would require an enormous amount of creative input and mutual collaboration between members. Konqistador developed out of our first visit to Istanbul in 2003. From that point on we knew we wanted to find a way to infiltrate our music with old world influences and 72Blues just wasn’t going to provide us that platform. Konqistador is constant work, research and archiving; it’s all the aspects of musicianship that we’re passionate about.
WAMM: What is the difference between concert goers in Istanbul or Moscow compared to say Toronto or Windsor?
Liz: Optimism for one thing. Concert goers in eastern Europe express a real hopefulness with live music and drinking copious amounts of alcohol is not the focus of the night either, that’s refreshing. This has much to do with their history, their politics and what they’ve been deprived of for many years. They embrace you like family the moment you arrive. Plus there’s the bonus of coming in from another country. Everyone is curious, everyone wants to embrace something new there. We’ve been fortunate, we know that but nothing fell into our lap here, we work hard for these experiences.
WAMM: Konqistador seems almost to be more electromagnetic than electro, meaning that you seem to absorb sounds and ideas from each country you travel through and incorporate them into the electronic chaos. Is this a conscious thing or does it just happen from being around such diverse cultures and music?
Reg: Our mantra is ‘music for discovery, music for preservation.’ For this project it’s our duty to travel, to discover, to seek new sounds, to absorb, to record, to archive and to incorporate our findings in our music. A great example of this are the numerous Ezan prayers I’ve recorded and archived across Turkey and Egypt, each one highly unique from region to region and mosque to mosque. The different Namaz scriptures produce exciting new melodies and note scales unique to what we’re used to in western music. From these recordings we extract the ‘in between’ notes, or quarter scales, half flats and half sharps to inspire us to construct new ideas and melodies unique to Konqistador. Each one of us plays a valuable role in this process and Dave, our guitarist is an excellent transcriber and collaborator to be working with again.
WAMM: What can people expect from the new album, Suada, that we haven’t heard before on Courage Riot?
Liz: We’ve directed our hybrid fusion sound more towards the east, having spent the last three years touring Turkey and the Baltic region of Eastern Europe. We’ve constantly been archiving a variety of Arabesque music and finding interesting influences in a host of traditional Afghanistan folk music, turn of the century ‘Turkish Karagoz’ (shadow puppet music) and Romanian gypsy rhythms. Suada is a reflection and symbol of Konqistador’s allurement of eastern sounds and ancient tales. With Suada you can expect to hear where Courage Riot left off something brave. Something beautiful. Something honest.
WAMM: Apart from Konqistador and 72Blues, you’ve been doing some amazing things with New Found Frequency in Australia. How did this massive undertaking take flight?
Reg: NFF started as a passion project quite simply. I had a desire to capture all the great live music happening in Australia and share it with the world. The best way to accomplish that was through a simple web stream, where music enthusiasts from all around the world could access free music in a non commercial environment, free of advertising clutter and corporate noise. NFF has since expanded globally with head offices in Melbourne, Detroit, Vancouver and Istanbul. NFF offers a variety of music solution based services including innovative new USB technology called Alive Drive. Really it’s a timing thing, or a right time right place scenario. The music industry (globally) is crippled and on its knees searching for a creative delivery platform solution. NFF is one of several great solutions out there and we’re starting to gain major traction worldwide.
WAMM: Why do you think places like Australia seem to find the funding and committment to aggressively help out its music scenes, while Canada, Ontario and Windsor seem to regard it as the step child they can’t ignore but chose not to assist?
Reg: Tyranny of distance is a good starting point. Australian governments know the challenges that surround an island floating in the lower southern hemisphere. For any artist to export their wares well, quite frankly, it’s an enormous undertaking and a very expensive endeavour. Australian arts funding bodies are extremely instrumental in facilitating the marketing and developing of artists overseas so to ensure a international profile and national pride worldwide. Canada does contribute but more often to mid level or high level profiled artists: this protects their investment. Australia funds from the ground up. Emerging artists have every chance, if not more, than successfully profiled artists do.
WAMM: What acts is NFF listening to these days that we should all be aware of?
Reg: We’ve just added some phenomenal artists both new and old to our NFF web stream. We’ve recently acquired the entire back catalogue of Deep Purple, spanning three decades of music including exclusive solo content from Ian Gillan and Jon Lord. We’ve added some great new UK based artists like Lou Rhodes (Lamb), Sinead O’Connor and Olivia Broadfield. We’re streaming some great live content from Brian Jonestown Massacre, Neverending White Lights, Rob Dickinson (Catherine Wheel) and Supersuckers. So, we’re listening to just about anything that’s good and that’s live.
WAMM: The Alive Drive is a brilliant idea! Did Konqistador have a hand in its creation?
Reg: Konqistador did not invent Alive Drive but we are the first independent band to use the technology. It works perfectly for us. What Konqistador understood a long time ago was that the music industry was changing drastically and rapidly. Yes, the CD is dead, we all know that. Some long before others. But Konqistador has always embraced the concept of fan enhanced experiences and the critical importance of building communities of fans around the world (K Army) and giving those fans a reason to feel a part of the movement, more importantly, part of the music. The Alive Drive allows Konqistador to not only release our album via USB wristband, but to use bi-directional technology to constantly update the USB platform and push new and exclusive content direct to our fans and continually engage with them through advanced streaming technology. Its a ‘keep the fans connected’ initiative. This is the new music delivery. It’s social.
WAMM: A USB drive for sale at gigs seems a logical step in musical media considering this is becoming the iPod generation. Do you see this as something that will be further embraced by touring artists?
Reg: Of course. The industry needs a hand hold into the next generation of delivery. 99 cent digital downloads are not the final solution. There is still a need, and a want, for the tangible solution especially in a live touring scenario. The USB is a natural step in the ‘format’ transition. But it’s still just a piece of hardware. That’s not going to do it alone. Innovative technology like Alive Drive combined with creative fan enhancement experiences is the answer. Whack that on a USB flash stick and now we’re talking. This requires a major attitudinal shift. Touring artists are quickly understanding that. The power lies in the fan today. The more you engage them in the process of making music, sharing music, performing music, touring music the closer you are to truly uncovering the new secret sauce to incremental income streams. No label wants to hear that. They’d all be out of jobs. Heck, many of them are out of jobs.
WAMM: But don’t you still kinda miss the big bulky sleeve of a great record?
Reg: Of course. Just like I miss the crackle of a dusty needle dropping on my REO Speedwagon “High Infidelity” album. But let’s get real. Big and bulky sounds like a shirt you bought at Winners ‘cuz the price was right. But what about the fit? New technologies like USB or Flash driven GUI interfaces bring so many opportunities to form fit and deliver enriched media (including old school album art and credits) much more effectively than the faded side one side two artwork lay out on an LP. It’s left to the creator now to push the boundaries artistically and invent their customized solution. And for all the nostalgic LP crusaders out there, who refuse to die on their own vinyl sword, if you just have to have that see touch smell sensation of an LP album to make it all better, invent a friggin iPhone app and make the world a better place (skip), make the world a better place (skip), make the world a better place (skip).
WAMM: What does 2009 look like for Konqistador and NFF?
Reg: Well, NFF is constantly building our international profile through partnership projects with leading music conferences and festivals around the world. We continue to host the official Sounds Australia national showcase and have done so at New Music West (Vancouver), NXNE (Toronto), CMW (Toronto), Popkomm (Berlin) and will look to work with The Great Escape (UK) and Midem (France) this year. Konqistador are poised to release our sophomore album Suada and are currently negotiating with a short list of producers to assist with the final stage of the recording. Konqistador is gearing up for our fifth European tour with a mission to return to Russia and Ukraine to continue to build our fan base.
WAMM: Are there any countries that Konqistador has yet to hit but you’d like to?
Liz: Absolutely! We’d like to venture to the Middle East Damascus in particular primarily for its history. Even now there are safe places to journey to in the middle east, you just have to do your research. We have intentions to tour Croatia and Bulgaria in the next two years as well. Andruchow has his sights on Moscow, he missed that tour with us and we’d love to return there to give Konqistador an opportunity to showcase our new material. It would be great to re-visit the friends we made over there.
WAMM: You guys have been in some crazy parts of the world during some crazy times while promoting Konqistador and NFF. What sticks out as some things you’ll never forget?
Liz: Moscow, Russia without a doubt. It’s wild! Having only come out of communism in 1991, the country seems to be doing everything it can to catch up with the modern world. Whatever the costs, whatever the stakes are. We witnessed some real underbelly relations going on over there. You just know things are not what they seem. Still I have to admit the uncertainty and bewilderment I felt there intrigued me and peaked my curiosity. Cairo, Egypt is an incredible city as well for its people and its street life and of course we can never forget our first visit to Istanbul. To say it changed us and our musical direction is an understatement.
Konqistador is playing live in Windsor on Friday March 6th at Phog Lounge (157 University Ave. West) with Dekadens, from Romania and Venus Fly Trap from TheNetherlands. Expect this show to sell out so get there early!
see full article in: WAMM March 09 | issue 11