Alex Rex has recently released his third solo album, Andromeda. It is a wonderfully evocative and emotional album. Amongst that album there are many influences in play. You can hear hints of Bob Dylan, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. Amongst the influences, Alex Rex has his own style.
Here, Alex discusses one of the biggest influences on him as he shares his love of The Dirty Three.
Selecting a single band from the petrified forest of favourites of my moody teenagehood is quite a task. Captain Beefheart with his mangling of language and Howling Wolf-on-quaaludes vocals? Sun Ra with his technicolour take on far-out jazz? Bruce Springsteen with his sensitive lyrics smuggled in bombastic cargo? I was always into band leaders who filtered an ensemble sound through a monomaniacs monocle. Duke Ellington… Lou Reed… Bryan Ferry… arseholes, basically.
But the group who had the biggest impact on my dreamy teenaged noggin were the antithesis to all this. The Dirty Three sounded as if all ego was totally dissolved and triangulated into a living flow of benevolent energy. They didn’t even sound like people. They sounded like a fucking weather system. Their interplay was like the free jazz that I loved so much- fluid, galactic, visceral, deeply human, fearless to the point of personal jeopardy, high wire romance- kinda like art at its best… kinda like sex at its best.
The fact that many of their songs seemed to be about landscapes/ seascapes/ skyscapes made total sense because they sounded like the sonic equivalent of nature at its most majestic. The rippling of drums, the wan capitulation of guitar, the heaven-seeking missile of the violin all combining as if wind and light were manipulating waves- elements impressing themselves on the skin of the sea like dancing coins.
The fact that the cover art showed highly stylised paintings in the manner of the great Fauvist or German Expressionist artists of the early 20th century also made total sense. Like Franz Marc, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and André Derain, The Dirty Three seemed to be recreating a romantic impression of the world in dramatic force lines and blurred edges. Giving the writhing atmosphere of a thing rather than the faithful reproduction of it. Offering a perspective that’s simultaneously intensely subjective and pulsing with a universal righteousness- one vast, orgasmic YES.
The fact that the cover art is done by their guitar player- Mick Turner- the most understated element of the ensemble- also seemed noteworthy. Their whole ethos emanated a democratisation of music- the drums could be the most expressive and foregrounded element. The guitar could act as a barely perceptible glue. Fuck having a singer to anchor the focus. Fuck having lyrics to anchor the meaning. The improvisatory element of the band made it feel like you as a listener were discovering the trajectory of the song at the same time as they were. That there’s no such thing as a mistake. That blemishes are cherishable.
I first heard them with my first band mate Chris Hladowksi and they became an initiation for us. Meeting anyone else who had heard of them in Leeds/ Bradford in the late 90’s was miraculous, but if they had then they became part of this velvet secret world- a world which made the actual world feel more precious, more bearable.
In a weird twist of fate, I’ve since become friends with drummer Jim White and am the proud owner of artworks by Mick Turner. I wonder whatever became of their gobby violinist though?!
Many thanks to Alex for taking the time to share his thoughts on The Dirty Three. Be sure to check out Andromeda for more of trip into the world of Alex Rex. You can read more from the Why I Love archives, here.
Alex Rex’s upcoming tour dates are here.
8th February – Coventry- The Tin*
9th February – Whitstable- St Mary’s Hall*
10th February – London- The Victoria*
*supporting Kacy & Clayton
8th April – Newcastle- Cumberland Arms
9th April – Bishops Castle- SpArC Theatre
10th April – Birmingham- Club Integral Midlands
11th April – Hereford- The Babar Cafe
12th Apri – Bristol- The Exchange
13th April – Bath- The Bell
14th April – Lewes- Westgate Chapel
15th April – London- New River Studios
16th April – Leicester- The Musician
17th April – Glasgow- Glad Cafe
18th April – Fife- Futtle
19th April – Edinburgh- Sneaky Pete’s