Steve Tallis & The Holy Ghosts
Ethnic Blues from Down Under
From blues to ethnic roots: The music of Steve Tallis has developed and evolved over the last 40 years and still keeps evolving. It made that much impression that he had been invited to perform at this year's Pan African music festival Panafest in Ghana. "My music says it all," says the Western Australian singer-songwriter with Macedonian ancestors, though he was kind and happy to answer some of T:-)M's stupid questions.
Steve: I started playing music in 1962. Influences include Macedonian, Greek, Turkish, Albanian and Yugoslav music as a child - and also Elvis Presley etc. Then bands like the Rolling Stones, then dug deep into people like Leadbelly as well as African music. Too many influences really to go into. I love music passionately and have a huge vinyl collection as well as lots of CDs. Things developed as I grew older and musicians like Bauls of Bengal and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan influence me a lot - as well as many obscure musicians on many albums and CDs. I mainly listen to ethnic music and have done so for many years. John Coltrane and people like him inspire me to stay true to my beliefs and never compromise what I believe. No guitarist has ever surpassed Jimi Hendrix as far as being original as far as I am concerned. But I am very much into rhythm, so there are many guitarists who influence and inspire me - especially Leadbelly. Also he influenced me as far as having a large repertoire and also, more importantly, depth of repertoire. I never go on stage with a set list.
The press has called you a "griot" and given your music rather bizarre tags such as "voodoo" or "zombified acid" blues that defy description without listening to it. How would you describe your music?
Basically ethnic blues. I prefer to let others describe it as they hear it. Everyone has a different slant or view. I see the connection to "griots" etc. in many ways. In Australia I am considered too weird for the blues purists and too blues for the world music purists and too blues and world for the rock & pop world. I am basically a songwriter who writes anything I feel like writing. There are no rules as far as I am concerned. I have absorbed and listened to a lot of music in my life - it is like oxygene for me. I basically write a song solo and then see what happens with other musicians. Nobody who works with me can make a mistake - it is purely their interpretation. My music is also very improvised and I always record live first take. The musicians only hear the songs on my solo work tapes and they decide what, why and how they will do at the studio. We usually overdub a lot of percussion afterwards and spend a lot of time on the mixing. I have a clear vision of how I hear my music sounding - very clear.
The voodoo connection (I prefer to use the traditional spelling "vodou") comes from my very deep interest in vodou - as well as Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, Native American and all tribal cultures and religion. "Acid blues" was really my cynical attitude and response to "acid jazz" and all terms for music used by the music industry to satisfy their needs rather than just listening to the music. The current fad with the term "roots" also is just another term which is relevant to my music. At least this term does encompass a truer definition I guess. My roots are in traditional ethnic music and blues basically. Also I never believe anything the press or critics write about me - good or bad, positive or negative -, I look at it as one person's observation or view. Every human being is different so their perspective will always be different I feel (or hope).
Do you think that your music has any particular Australian touch?
No, not really, apart from the fact that I live in Australia. It is more personal than that. Also I travel a lot, so many cultures and people affect me as much as Australian culture.
So what are you writing about?
Personal life experiences, observations, people, beliefs, philosophies, religion, things that bug me, anything really. Proverbs interest me a lot, as I feel there is a lot of wisdom stored in these observations and statements. I have a huge repertoire of original compositions but also perform a lot of a cappella field hollers, blues and gospel live. I also interpret songs by Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, for example. I travel a lot, so I am writing stuff down all the time. My mind is ticking all the time as far as new songs go. My next album will be a cappella field hollers, blues and gospel - no originals I think.
What made you call your band "The Holy Ghosts"?
I like the sound of it. Previously I called the band "Suicide Ghosts" after one of my previous songs - but felt it was time for a change. It has a positive vibration to it and suits my music. I change names regularly as I don't really have a permanent lineup. I use a lot of different musicians live which changes the songs dramatically sometimes. I never rehearse - play and write songs yes - but not rehearse as such. I regard myself as a solo artist who employs musicians to create music.
Australia is a place quite far apart from here, and I think there are not that many Australian artists known in Europe - save AC/DC etc. Do you have anything to recommend?
There are lots of great artists and singer-songwriters, e.g. Paul Kelly, Chris Wilson, Richard Clapton, Mike Rudd, Jeff Lang. Many, many more. Big scene, lots of bands.
What are your future plans? You said your music is better live, so is there any chance to see you in Europe?
Yes, there is a very good chance,
I'm working on a tour now. The key is finding the right agent, distributor etc.
sell a lot of my music through their mail order and distribution networks in Germany.
I continue to write, perform, tour and record. I see music as my calling rather than a job
- it is what I do best and I always feel better when I am playing and
Steve's latest album: "Loko" (2003)
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