The Cactus Channel
Interviewed on May 10, 2017
This spring, 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 Brisbane. TCC are continuing to grow their following by playing a handful of shows around their country. 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 been around for nearly ten years, which is kind of insane. We started it back when we were all in year eight or nine at high school. I think we were fourteen years old?
WTS: That's nuts.
Darvid: Yeah it's a long time. We would get together most lunchtimes and play really strange music. I guess back then it was a frantic mix of New Orleans style funk and soul music. We had a great time, and were always inside all day doing that.
WTS: OK and was making music a "cool" thing to do at that age amongst your peers?
Darvid: Our high school was extremely eclectic with lots of different groups within the school. Everyone generally hung out with everyone, which made it a really nice environment. We also had a great music department with working musicians as teachers and plenty of gear to play with. I guess making music was neither cool nor uncool, it was just what we did, and we didn’t really pay attention to much else around us.
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, which was the same line up from pretty much day one. Creatively we needed a change, which meant turning into a 7 piece.
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: Lewis Coleman (other guitarist, and now singer) went to see Ball Park Music when they were touring in Melbourne. He got back from the gig in a bit of a post-gig buzz/excitement and for some reason Googled our band name and Ball Park Music..? Not sure why, but he found that Sam had done an interview where he mentioned us as a band that he was listening to. We were stoked! From there Lewis got in touch with Sam and started chatting, then we met up with him when we were in Brisbane on tour. We ended up having a play and it felt really, really good. Everything came together really well and from there, we were like 'sweet, let's make some music.’
WTS: Nice, that's fun.
Darvid: Yeah, and then it just happened. We sent demos back and forth, and met up a few 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 also sings in a band called Frida, which four of us from The Cactus Channel play in. He also has his own solo project, which is amazing.
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: Haha 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: Sam is a busy man with Ball Park Music and a bunch of other projects that he has his hands in at the moment, so it was more a decision from Sam's management. But that’s chill, it’s going to be a great tour. We are going to do another tour in Australia for our next album in November or December. Hopefully we'll make it overseas.
WTS: Oh yeah. Great call. To the States, or Europe?
Darvid: Both if possible! At the moment it's looking like Europe might be a possibility next summer in June or July. Definitely want to work on the States as well because I think people would dig us.
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: We went to school in the inner-city suburb of Carlton, and we all grew up near where the nightlife was happening. There're suburbs called Fitzroy and Brunswick, where 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 what we were surrounded with. We could go out and see live music whenever. What got us into the funk/soul was seeing a gig from local band The Bamboos. We were fourteen and thought it was the best thing. We also listened to a lot of Menahan Street Band, Budos Band, Eddie Bo, James Brown, and all of New Orleans funk and soul. I guess that was our upbringing, but since then we’ve expanded our sound and have influences ranging from Grizzly Bear to BADBADNOTGOOD to Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
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 with two other guys (also musicians) who started it in 2009. It started out as a small project to put out their friends' funk and soul 45's. 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 great. In a way, it's kind of the Australian Daptone Records in the States, on how it started and the premise behind it. I definitely like doing vinyl because it sounds great, it's a good product that you can hold, and it also fits in with the whole '60s, '70s soul thing that we're in. When I was younger I got guitar lessons from the guitar player in The Putbacks, who released the first 45 on the label. Our bass player, Henry Jenkins, got bass lessons from their bass player. Through that connection we were introduced to the HopeStreet crew, who were interested in signing us and seeing what they could do. We were signed when we were around 17 or 18 years old. It's a big family.
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: We were listening to the Alabama Shakes record, Sound & Color, a lot. For production values as well as song writing, 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 love those. A few more of the Captured Tracks dudes like Chris Cohen as well. We've been listening to those artists for a while, so naturally our music has been stepping into different territories. We used to be a big, loud, brassy ten-piece instrumental funk band, which we're definitely not anymore. It’s been exciting to change it up.
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 19 or 20, so that was a great moment for us. Touring with him around the States would be amazing. 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. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Tame Impala, Kevin Morby, Alabama Shakes, BADBADNOTGOOD… heeeeaps of people.