STU MACLEOD The X-Press Interview

Stuart-MacLeod-RTR

It’s the eve of one of the biggest In The Pines line ups in memory this Sunday at Somerville Auditorium, UWA, marking the return of big names including Jebediah, Sodastream, Institut Polaire and Apricot Rail. To celebrate the occasion, HARVEY RAE spoke with RTRFM’s General Manager (and occasional Eskimo Joe guitarist) Stu MacLeod about the station’s 40th anniversary celebrations, his picks on the day, how the economy is affecting community radio, and what the next 40 years holds for RTRFM…

It’s RTRFM’s 40th birthday this year and you’ve gone all out with the celebrations thus far, including a pretty exceptional In the Pines line up that stands up with some of the great ones. Is that a coincidence or were you aiming for something special for RTR’s 40th?

I would have to agree with you there, this really is a stellar selection. Each year, the goal is to create the best line up possible, keeping in mind we try not to have the same bands on two years in a row for any of our events. It wasn’t really a primary goal to build an especially kick-arse lineup just for the 40th Anniversary edition of Pines, although we were mindful of trying to have more of a mix of, shall we say “nostalgic” acts like Institut Polaire and Sodastream. I’m just really stoked that we’ve been lucky to have some bands reform at the right time and some active bands free at the right time. Truth be told, it’s really just a representation of the Perth music scene as of April 2017. Which is fricken amazing, let’s be honest. It also helps that our Events Manager, Chris Wheeldon, is all over the scene like a powerful moss. He’s more plugged in than Trump’s hairpiece.

Which acts are you personally looking forward to and why?

Arrgh, there’s so much on offer. It’s impossible not to have a good time at a Doctopus show and Jebediah are always a fave of mine. The new Sodastream album is great and Perth hasn’t seen them for about 300 years, so they’re definitely one to catch. Dream Rimmy and Childsaint produced some of my favourite songs of 2016, as well as Jeff’s Dead being one of my real “wow” albums of last year, too. Like I said, there’s so much on offer, it’s going to be a great day.

It’s the 24th annual Pines fest. As other music festivals have come and gone, this has remained a constant. You could argue that’s to do with the fact you don’t just rely on big acts and the vibe plays a big part in drawing people along, is that the main reason for its ongoing success do you think?

Most definitely. People come first and foremost because of the event itself. To quote The Castle, “It’s the vibe of the thing”. It’s a wide ranging demographic, old and young; people bring their kids down, pack a picnic rug, grab a beer, grab some food and just have a really relaxed, good time. It’s also a celebration of WA music, so there’s a lot of pride in the crowd. It also gives people a chance to catch bands they might have missed, bands that may have slipped through the cracks for them. As there’s no set genre for the show, there’s usually a bit of everything and something new for everyone. Kind of like RTRFM itself, really.

Two of the artists you mentioned that I’m also impressed to see on the line up are Sodastream and Institut Polaire. Not only have they reformed, but they live on the other side of the country. It was the same last year with members of Bucket. How does RTR talk these sorts of acts into coming?

Chris is a deft exponent of the Jedi mind trick, which is rather difficult over the phone. Also, In The Pines is an invitation you just can’t turn down. It really is a rite of passage for bands in WA; if you’re going to reform, this is the gig. As a band, you know that the crowd is there to listen and to enjoy the music. They’re WA’s most loyal music lovers and always up for discovering music, new and old. RTRFM has been the most loyal and passionate supporter of local music for the last 40 years, so it’s almost seen as the best way for bands to repay that support in kind.

I believe all the artists play for free – how do you make that work with an act such as Jebediah when they have no other shows on this trip?

I will admit, I was really stoked when Jebs said yes. It goes back to the previous question though; it’s a matter of supporting RTRFM, which most WA bands would do in a heartbeat. Without RTRFM, these WA bands would have a hard time getting their music out to the public. Community radio, in general, is the first link in the chain; this is where bands are first discovered, nurtured and build their fanbase. To have someone like Jebediah come back to their roots is a testament to how fricken great they are as people; you really will have a hard time finding a better bunch of champions.

Outside your role as RTRFM General Manager you are also very well known as one of the three founding members of Eskimo Joe, and next year will be another big Pines for the 25th anniversary, any chance we might see you pull on a sweater as part of the Eskies for the 25th anniversary – or if not when will we see the Eskies again?

Ha! I’d be honoured to grace that stage again, believe me. I fear that we may have strayed too far from the RTRFM mould; not sure how well we’d be received! In saying that, it will be the 20th anniversary of the Sweater EP… But that’s like re-inking a tattoo you’ve had professionally removed…

While we’re talking about the Eskies, how are you personally finding the transition from rock star to radio executive?

It’s been pretty amazing, I must admit. I’m definitely in that stage of my life where I’m ready for another challenge, so I was really excited when this opportunity came up. I’m working with such a devoted, passionate staff and selfless group of volunteers who care so much about the work they do. It’s also inspiring to listen to the depth of talent within the RTRFM presenters. The amount of incredible music coming through the speakers every day is astounding. To actually discover that volume of music by yourself would be a full-time job. It’s an incredibly challenging job and has tested me in ways I never thought I would be tested, but it is equally as rewarding. Plus, I still get to play the odd gig or two to keep me in the game.

I mentioned that RTRFM has been pulling out all the stops for the 40th anniversary of the station this year. We saw Neon Picnic on April 1, what else have you got in the pipeline you can tell us about?

I was so proud of Neon Picnic. It’s events like that where you truly understand what RTRFM is all about. In terms of the rest of the year, let’s just say that we’re planning something big for the end of the year and we’re trying our hardest to pull in every favour we have. Stay tuned!

It’s been rumoured that Neon Picnic was such a success you’re considering bringing it back as an annual event…

Most definitely. I think that event really summed up key demographics for the station; people who have grown up with RTRFM and have young families of their own; young people who are looking for an alternative to events where the music is secondary to wearing the right sunglasses/ singlet combo, and the older generation who still know how to kick against the pricks. All this in a relaxed, low-key atmosphere, beautiful surroundings and good tunes. It’s almost a more acoustic/folk based In The Pines. Tops.

Of course we’re living in tough times economically in post-boom WA, and RTRFM isn’t immune. Recently two staff members were let go of in order to get the balance sheets to add up again which was understandably very difficult for everyone associated with the station. To your credit you remained admirably transparent throughout the process, is RTR back on level footing looking ahead?

Yes, the past few months have been incredibly hard. It was incredibly difficult for the Board and I to make those decisions, but they were made to ensure the longevity of the station. We’re more than just a company, we’re a family, so making those changes was like losing family members. It’s still a little lonely in meetings; a couple of empty chairs still remind us that we’re smaller than we used to be, but at the same time, the core group of staff that have weathered this period have done so with an incredible amount of integrity and a huge amount of hard work, ingenuity and resolve. I am so grateful for them and the work they do. It’s a testament to them that the station is back on level footing and the future is looking bright.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the general public have been getting behind the station more than ever as part of the $40 for 40 fundraising initiative. Last I saw it had raised over $10,000 – what’s your target and by when?

Our target was $12,000 and last I checked we were about $300 off that. We’re extending the campaign to encompass 40 days, (which makes total sense). The more we raise, the more we can continue our support of WA arts, music and culture. $40 is a small price to pay to not only acknowledge the unwavering, staunch support RTRFM has given arts and culture in WA, but it’s also a small price to pay to be immortalised on a plaque in the halls of RTRFM forever more! (Head to rtrfm.com.au/40-for-40/ to get involved)

The public are clearly speaking – they want to see another 40 years of RTRFM. Crystal ball question… What do you think the next 40 years might hold?

It’s an interesting thought and one the Board, the staff and I have been discussing as we develop our strategy for the next 5 years. I envisage that RTRFM will always remain true to its primary vision and values; to be a leader in alternative and independent media, supporting local arts, music and culture and addressing social issues where and when they arise, regardless of gender, race, religion or otherwise. To have a voracious appetite for discovery and inquiry and above all to accept nothing but authentic and real music. Amongst all of that, I would imagine that the future will become more and more reliant on the internet and hand-held devices. It will be imperative that we find new and creative ways to support our local community that engage with our changing audience. As such, RTRFM is going to be investing a lot more in online content creation, be it audio, visual or print. As difficult as it is to predict the future, one thing is certain; there will be change. With change comes opportunity; it’s up to us to be there when the opportunities arise.

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