tblspn.net/ianw/invisible-empire-ie-lost-domain/[photo: Andrew Carr]
The Invisible Empire - who changed their name to the Lost Domain shortly after the departure of Ian Wadley and arrival of Eugene Carchesio (Holy Ghosts, DNE, Deadnotes etc) and Jeffrey Wegener (Laughing Clowns etc) in '97 - were the brainchild of David MacKinnon (aka John Henry Calvinist) and Simon Ellaby (aka Ragtime Frank), who had a singular vision of "rock'n'roll" as descended from the fife & drum bands of the US civil war, via early Blues, to the Velvet Underground..
This group is/was just one of a many-tentacled frenzy of cassettes on the
"Blondes Chew More Gum" (c90, 1995) has just been re-issued on (double) vinyl, on (Brisbane label) Negative Guestlist, mastered by Matt Earle, of Breakdance The Dawn, Muura.. (etc!)
STOP PRESS: and it's Tip Of The Tongue (Volcanic Tongue) for 23.10.11
Below: liner notes by erstwhile Wire magazine regular, and long-time champion of all of the above, Jon Dale:
THE LOST DOMAIN/SHYTONE
Blondes Chew More Gum
Sometime around ’97 or ’98 – I can’t remember quite when – I’d just finished touring either Alastair Galbraith or Peter Jefferies around the East Coast of Australia and was spending a bit of downtime in inner city Brisbane, posted in one of the small rooms in the house unofficially presided over by Sir Ian Wadley. One afternoon, I was invited to the home of John Henry Calvinist, aka David MacKinnon, for a heavyweight session of listening and JHC philosophy. In the midst of David’s rhapsodizing, which was unrelenting yet absolutely spot-on, he advanced a theory of freedom in rock and roll which countered the ‘white guys in black clothes’, ‘the Velvets invented everything’ history of which I’d, to that point, been a more than willing receptacle.
Of course, David would and still does give VU their rightful place in the trajectory of freedom roar – what kind of churl wouldn’t? – but this was probably the first time I’d heard the links between VU rockism, Fahey’s revenant Americana, Sun Ra’s free jazz formations, early 20th century blues, hollers, and drum & fife music, explained with such forthright intelligence. Of course, now we’re all more literate, erudite and ‘cultured’, and labels like Revenant, Mississippi, Dust To Digital etc have unearthed this hidden wiring of rock and roll for collegiate putzes across the globe, but back then – as an impressionable 20 year old with too much time on his hands – well, this was heady shit. And it was made all the more heady by David offloading a stack of his ShyTone private press tapes on me, in their original video-cassette cases, beautifully packaged and presented like the art-and-craft fetish objects they were.
I dumped them in an old shopping bag, which was later to split during the trek from the train station to the bus stop in central Adelaide, cassettes spilling everywhere across Victoria Square. But hey, there I was, safe in the knowledge that I might well have been the only Adelaidean to hold examples of such advanced wisdom in their grubby hands. And of all the documents I was re-assembling from their denuded form in the parklands of South Australia, none hit with quite the same force as The Invisible Empire’s Blondes Chew More Gum. Indeed, a lot of my listening had been heading to this very moment. It was, you might say, a tipping point.
The Invisible Empire (now The Lost Domain, hence the reissue you are currently gloating over) were one of a secret crew of Brisbane groups who’d seemed effortlessly to figure out that the best way to move rock and roll forward was to also look over one’s shoulder. Blondes Chew More Gum was originally released in 1995, and by that point they’d expanded from the ‘sound of confusion’ duo of MacKinnon and Simon Ellaby, who recorded the blazing debut An Unnatural Act (released 1990), and were now a six-piece with three drummers (Ian Wadley, Dina Bojic and Bettina Graham), also featuring Greg Hilleard (who I still think is the greatest guitarist in Australia), with MacKinnon and Ellaby out front, keeping things moving by crossing the eyes of motoric and blues forms and then dotting everything with the freedom raunch that comes from being secure in the knowledge that you’re fronting the best goddamn rock and roll group in the world, at that point in time – even if almost no-one else has a clue that you exist.
(And here I have to acknowledge a serious debt to Julian Williams, whose From The Same Mother label and fanzine first hipped me to the existence of The Invisible Empire, who has been a tireless supporter of the group for 20 years, and whose interview with MacKinnon and Ellaby, spread across several issues of FTSM, should be your first port of call if you really want to figure out what these cats were up to ‘in the old days’. Indeed, JW, The Invisible Empire, etc etc are part of one of the most consistently thrilling yet unjustly under-acknowledged ‘scenes’ – for want of a better term – in Australia in the ‘90s and ‘00s, and long may JW fly his freak flag.)
I’ve not heard Blondes Chew More Gum for almost a decade, to be completely frank, and that’s because I gave my cassette copy to Mr Thurston Moore back in the early ‘00s and I never got around to replacing it. (I’m an idiot.) Hearing it now, I’m shocked at the prescience of what the group was doing, and the articulate nature of their playing. Barely any groups actually genuinely ‘move as one’, but all throughout Blondes Chew More Gum you can hear a group-mind forming, rolling with the punches, and continually checking in with itself, asking the key questions – How does this thing move? How can we keep it moving? How do we ride this groove? – all the while, keeping the audio spectrum buzzing and livid with walls of coruscating, fuzz-bomb guitar moves, with Ellaby’s vocals speaking the truths of both everyday and mystery-blues like an Antipodean Beefheart.
In fact, it’s that inherent rocking-ness that’s really pronounced here. Blondes Chew More Gum is one of a surprisingly small number of records that remind you that free rock is just as much about the rock as it is about the free, and that the blues should have been free-er than most, and indeed at one point really was, and in the ‘90s The Invisible Empire picked that up and ran with it for all their worth. It’s also an album that a whole lot of people should have ripped off – or at least tried to rip off, because there’s no way the peculiar and individual DNA of this group really could ever be replicated, even by The Invisible Empire themselves. (This is not to say that later line-ups, featuring such luminaries as Leighton Craig and Eugene Carchesio, are any lesser – far from it; they are every bit as great as the Blondes team – but they are fundamentally different beasts.) But, most of all, I’m left feeling a little guilty.
And why would that be? Well, when I had the honour of releasing Something Is…, the CD-R which garnered the group their first overseas responses, I pegged The Lost Domain somewhere between No Neck Blues Band and Jackie-O Motherfucker, which seemed about right for and at the time. But listening back, I now realize that this was both grossly unfair to a group that’d been doing this shit when David Nuss and Tom Greenwood were both in their nappies (not the same nappy, I hasten to add), and a total misrepresentation of what The Invisible Empire / The Lost Domain were and are all about.
I don’t know how to really put it any more simply, and to be honest, I’ve just spent over one thousand words skirting around the issue, so I’m just going to say it – Blondes Chew More Gum fucking ROCKS. (And rolls, for that matter.) Pay your respects to the greatest rock and roll group in Australia. You’ve waited since Caesar for this…