The Cactus Channel
Interviewed on May 10, 2017
Earlier this month, What The Sound had the opportunity to chat with Darvid Thor, a founding member and guitarist of the Melbourne, Australia-based funk and soul band, The Cactus Channel. The instrumental septet recently paired up with vocalist Sam Cromack (Ball Park Music, My Own Pet Radio) on their latest EP Do It For Nothing. To support the project, Darvid, the band, and Cromack hit Melbourne, Sydney, and are soon to tour through Brisbane. For those who are into past funk groups who we have featured such as The Dip, or musicians such as Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Charles Bradley, BADBADNOTGOOD, and Alabama Shakes, trust us and give The Cactus Channel a listening to.
What The Sound: So you're a founding member of The Cactus Channel?
Darvid Thor: Yeah, we've nearly been around now for ten years which is kind of insane. But yes, so we started it back when we were all the high school in year, maybe eight or nine. We were like fourteen years old.
WTS: That's nuts.
Darvid: Yeah it's pretty crazy, we would just get together at lunch time and play really weird music that if I heard now it would feel and sound really strange. We just kept making shit up and just had fun. We didn’t play sport, we were just kind of inside all day doing that.
WTS: OK and was making music a "cool" thing to do at that age amongst your peers?
Darvid: I guess our high school had a lot of different groups within the school so you had us as the musicians and then you had the jocks, and then the nerds and geeks. But everyone merged, it wasn't like each group was out to get each other.
WTS: OK then that same group of friends that you made music with in high school, how many of those guys are still on the band today?
Darvid: Six out of ten. Until recently we were ten piece and then we kind of needed to change things up a bit in terms of our creative energy. I'm just moving forward, so now we are seven instead of ten.
WTS: Of your seven piece band, you haven't had an in-house vocalist to date. How did you go about recruiting Sam Cromack (Ball Park Music, My Own Pet Radio)?
Darvid: So Lewis Coleman who is the other guitar player in the band went and saw Ball Park Music which is Sam's main project when they were touring in Melbourne. Lewis is a big fan of them and has been for a while, and he started in a bit of a post-gig frenzy/excitement. He for some reason Googled our band name, I don't know maybe he was trying to make himself feel better about our band or something, and he found that Sam had done interview with someone where he mentioned us as a band that he was listening to. We were like 'oh that's cool' and then from there we just kind of stalked him on Facebook and found his contact and were like, ‘hey we are that band,’ then we met up with him when we were in Brisbane on tour. We ended up having a play and it felt really good. It was really easy as well. From there, we were like 'sweet, let's make some music.’
WTS: Nice, that's fun.
Darvid: Yeah, and then it just kind of happened. We sent demos back and forth, and we met up a few other times to finish the arrangements.
WTS: How long did that overall process take?
Darvid: It was nearly a year from when we first met up with him until we recorded. We recorded that in November last year, so until it came out it's been like a year and half nearly.
WTS: Did anyone from your group contribute towards that actual writing of the lyrics or that was all Sam?
Darvid: We didn't actually, that was all Sam. It would have been cool to because we're actually changing a bit now as well. Lewis, the guy in the band that I mentioned, he's now doing some singing. Our next record is going to have a bit of his vocals which we're excited about.
WTS: Right on. Has he done singing on any other projects before?
Darvid: Yeah he sings in a band called Frida. Which four of us from the band play in. He also has his own solo project where he sings.
WTS: Nice. I see that Frida is supporting The Cactus Channel on tour. That's great for logistics and keeping it within the budget.
Darvid: Yeah, exactly. It's going to be full-on though. We play first, have a bit of a break, then play again.
WTS: You're only doing a few dates to directly support this album, with Sam included. How come?
Darvid: It was more of a decision from Sam's management because he's pretty busy with his other project. Him and his management didn't want to dedicate too much to it. We would have been keen to do fifteen dates but we will take what we can get as well. We are probably going to do another tour in Australia for our album in maybe November or December. Hopefully we'll make it overseas.
WTS: Oh yeah. Great call. To the States, or Europe?
Darvid: Kind of both. At the moment it's looking like Europe might be a possibility next summer, next June or July. Definitely want to work on the States as well because I think it could be fun. I think people could like it.
WTS: Tell us a little bit about how Melbourne and growing up there has shaped the sounds of The Cactus Channel? Was there a particular environment that prompted the funk and soul behind your sound?
Darvid: Yeah. We went to school in a pretty in-the-city suburb and we all kind of grew up near where the nightlife was happening. There's a suburb called Fitzroy and Brunswick, which if you want to see a gig, you'd go to those places. Any night of the week you can find something cool. So I guess we we're really lucky with that. we could go out and see live music pretty much whenever. What kind of got us into the funk/soul world was from a local band called the Bamboos. They're still going out, they are kind of a little bit less funk/soul, they're kind of going a bit down the pop angle, like a lot of funk and soul bands are at the moment. They were cool when we saw them when we were fourteen and were like, 'this is great. I want to do this.’ We used to listen to a lot of like Eddy Grant, James Brown, and all of New Orleans funk and soul. In Melbourne, there are just the venues to support you. You can pretty easily get a gig or get a gig supporting someone. Everyone knows everyone as well, it's a very small scene in that regard.
WTS: So, where does HopeStreet Recordings fall into the picture? I know you work there and I know some of your first releases were issued by HopeStreet. What's the history of the collaboration? Who came first?
Darvid: I've been working at HopeStreet for about two years, I didn't start it. Two other guys who are also musicians started it in 2009, and I guess it started out as a small project to put out their friends' funk and soul 45's that they had. That's what those singles are that you saw on Bandcamp. I guess now they've sort of become part of the cult soul scene in Melbourne which is cool. In a way, it's kind of similar to Daptone Records in the States, on how it started and the premise behind it. I definitely like doing vinyl because it sounds good, it's a good product, and it also went with the whole '60s, '70s soul world that we're in. So, when we were younger, I used to get guitar lessons from the guitar player in The Putbacks, they released one of the first 45s on the label. The bass player, Henry, got bass lessons from their bass player. Kind of through that connection, we got introduced to the person who runs HopeStreet Recordings. They were kind of interested in doing a proper signing and seeing what they could do. We were signed when we were around 18, or 17 years old. It's like a big family. We're all figuring it out as we go. It's good.
WTS: Were there some albums in particular that you and your band were listening to leading up to the making of Do it for Nothing, that influenced it?
Darvid: I think we were listening to the Alabama Shakes record, Sound & Color, a lot. For production values as well as songwriting, it's just a great record. I guess that was an influence on the whole EP. Unknown Mortal Orchestra as well. Multi-Love, as well as his older records, we all just love those. A few more of the Captured Tracks dudes like Chris Cohen. We're kind of stepping a bit more into the indie-alternative world as well. We've been listening to that stuff for a while but now even without writing it's kind of going down that path. We used to be like a big, loud, fussy ten piece instrumental funk band, we're definitely not that anymore which is really good, I think. I'm excited to change it up. I guess those influences are coming in with the new stuff including this EP. Their productions and ideas are great as well.
WTS: Lastly, is there anybody from the States who you would love to tour with?
Darvid: Back in 2012, we supported Charles Bradley in Sydney and Melbourne when he came out. That was incredible. We were like 20 or 19, so that was a great moment for us. Touring with him around the States would be great. We know his band a little bit as well as they've been here a couple of times. Touring with anyone on the Daptone roster would be cool.