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CEDRIC STREET EXORCIST From Honkytonk to Eternity

Cedric Street Exorcist is the latest project from Perth based singer-songwriter Leigh Gardiner. Having previously fronted enigmatic local outfit Louis & the Honkytonk, Gardiner has continued writing and producing music culminating in the release of the Cedric Street’s David/Darwin EPs. To find out more about the new project, the dual EPs and the creative process, MICHAEL D HOLLICK caught up with Leigh Gardiner.

How did the Cedric Street Exorcist project come about?

It started out as a way for me to release a song just when it was finished. But as the project gained momentum and I got to the fourth or fifth track I was like, “this is almost an album”, and so I thought that I would hold off from releasing the next few for a bit and see what happened, and if the tracks continued to be written and recorded, then maybe think about putting them all out together.

But instead of an album we have the companion EPs, David and Darwin. Why the two halves?

There were two very different, contradictory writing styles. The first half, the David EP, is named after David who wrote the book of Psalms. These are the songs where I had a ‘eureka’ moment, like where an idea came to me, and then from that idea more ideas grew, like what instruments to go on the track or who to get to play on the recording. For all those tracks I had a lyrical start.

On the other side, the Darwin EP, I had this idea to just go into the studio without any particular set ideas or structure and see what would come out. So, I went into Tone City studios with Sam Ford, and chose three friends; Angus Edwards on drums, Erin Gordan on keys, and Ed Smith on violin, and we jammed for two days straight. And it was from those sessions that those five songs are drawn from.

I believe there have been a lot of collaborations on this album?

I have been trying to work and collaborate with different people just in general. I think that a lot of what I do is to try and experience new things and there is a lot of that in this project, a throw the spaghetti at the fridge till it sticks type of approach, it’s a way to see what people are actually interested in. And ultimately, it is how you grow and how you get better at things.

The current single is a collaboration, right?

Yes, Seas Between My Shoulders is a collaboration with a girl, Slyvie Miller, who I met at a friend’s wedding. We got talking and it turned out she’s into writing Mills & Boon and I thought that sounds really cool, I’d like to try that. So that sort of idea sparked a whole bunch of ideas and I thought it would be really cool to make the song a duet. And once she got involved, she just took this song to the next level. It was amazing what she did with it. She wrote the majority of the choruses and really nailed it. It was fantastic to work with someone like that.

How did the video come about for the song?

Slyvie lives in Lismore, where I recently went and visited, and while I was there she was wanting to enter a short film contest. So I helped out with that, and towards the end I thought, what about that song we did together, maybe we could use this footage in some way? So I asked her, and she thought it was a cool idea. So I got another friend, Sarah Sweens, involved. Sarah was able able to splice the footage that we shot to the music, and there you go.

Going back in time, the first Cedric Street Exorcist song released was Wine and Cyanide. How did that first track come about?

I originally wrote the song on a ukulele as I was working backline on tour for Burt Bacharach, and as we had a travel day where you just lose hours on airport runs, plane journeys and the like, I challenged myself to write a song in each city that we visited. I think that that song had been brewing for quite a while, and that’s probably why it was the first one to come out on that tour and it probably is the only one that came out that was of any reasonable quality (laughs). I had a definite idea of the people I wanted to go with it and it pretty much turned out just how I wanted it.

What inspired the lyrics and the concept on Wine and Cyanide

On that same tour, I spent quite a bit of time talking to members of the touring party and they were quite religious and very interesting people to meet. So for Wine and Cyanide I had the line “dress all the girls in white” and I was like, what am I going to make this song about? I was thinking white dresses, and then child weddings,  and you know, that’s a terrible idea, you can’t make a song about that.

So it was just a combination, these men and their beliefs, and I was reading about Jonestown (a cult led by Jim Jones in 1978) at the time, and those two fused together. From there I was able to assign my original line that it was about being pure and the whiteness fitted in, and then the line “the little boys in their Sunday best” followed, and I was bringing in the Church element there.

This idea that religion means you have to resist temptation is similar in mind to what I think Jonestown was about. You are leaving the earth pure, you are guaranteeing yourself into heaven.

Religion is a theme you discuss elsewhere, such as on Uncurious George, the track which was featured on Triple J’s Roots ‘n All program. How did that song come about? 

Well, I think like a lot of people that when the George Pell stuff (evidence that sexual assault was covered up within the Catholic Church) came out, everyone was pretty pissed off. Religion pisses me off a little bit. While I do think that there is a lot of wonderful things about religion, there is something to it that does seem to keep on biting us a bit.

And following the Pell story, social media was blowing up and Tim Minchin released a track and he was all very jovial about it, and I thought, “well, I’m pretty pissed off about this,” I’d like to try and write something that actually reflects how pissed off I am. I mean, he (Minchin) has done a lot more for the cause than I did, I just thought it was something that we should be annoyed at.

It’s funny though, as I wouldn’t say the song was actually ‘roots’.

Well, no, but you can’t complain (laughs). It was a bucket list thing that I was able to be ticked. But I don’t think that I got the little box on Unearthed to say that the song got played, you know, the little drum next to your name. So I will just have to get another one, that’s the plan.

And finally, the thing that seems to really make a Cedric Street song what it is are the lyrics. Is there a reason for this? 

The lyrics are what drive me in music. And I also think is part of the job description of being a songwriter. I don’t see the point in rhyming the same fucking words all the time. If you’re not getting some interesting words in there, or some interesting concepts, what a waste of time. You’re wasting other people’s time, you’re not creating art, you’re just part of the business, and I think that’s what it’s really about. You want to be creating something that is trying to push people to do interesting things.

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