feature interview 

On August 25 at the Metro Theatre in Sydney, Leonardo's Bride were nominated for the three ARIA Awards (the recording industry's highest honours) in the categories of Best Australian Single, Best Australian Debut Album and Best Australian Cover Art. Richly deserved. Leonardo's Bride will also perform at the 11th Annual ARIA Awards night in the Capitol Theatre, Sydney, on September 22. The Awards will be broadcast live on Channel 10 in Australia at 8.30pm and the next day across Australia and throughout Asia on Star TV's Asian Footprint, again at 8.30pm.


Leonardo's Bride are, oh, sun poking through clouds on a windy afternoon down the beachfront, a lonely pine silhouetted against the sunset, a boy and a girl kissing slowly and then withdrawing to gaze at each other not quite knowing if and when, Alice in Wonderland swapping tales over a late night glass of wine with the Mad Hatter and Allen Ginsberg, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull understanding the freedom of flight.

They ache, caress, live and breathe sometimes poignant, sometimes nostalgic, sometimes all-to-real emotion, they are wrenched from their dreams to live in the real world and they slip back to that netherland when the chance affords. They are blindingly beautiful.

In the ocean of Australian pop sameness, Leonardo's Bride are the most exciting band to arrive in the '90s. Finally, daring and invention mixed with a perfect ear for shell-pink harmonies and earthy melodies, driven by a rigorously subtle bottom end that understands when to play back and when to dig in, iced and filled with liquid guitar and keyboards that mesh and unfold in a kaleidoscope of possibilities, capped by a vocal presence and performance so strong, varied and heartfelt that it seems likely the songs will simply up and walk out of the speakers, characters in their own right.

"Angel Blood" is - without any exaggeration - an exceptional debut, all the more extraordinary for that fact. An album so filled with charm and grace and sheer potential that it's hard not to wonder how come Leonardo's Bride aren't already celebrated by more than a dedicated knot of critics and growing legion of punters beguiled by their charms.

Vocalist Abby Dobson sits back in her Tamarama home, fresh from a swim at the nearby beach, and confesses that a part of her believes that Leonardo's sudden and current evolution to the spotlight has as much to do with survival as anything else.

"We're in a good position now with the record company backing and all the attention because the record has finally come out," she says," but it really feels like we're at this point because we're still standing.

"We've been together four years now and although we've evolved the objective of the band has always been to stay together. It isn't easy. If you didn't like it, it would be impossible. Continuously living with three or four people has so many potential problems that you have to want, really want, to do it. It's like a relationship, if it doesn't gel, if you don't work at it, then little things start going wrong, eating away at it and it falls apart.

"So there's really a feeling of we're still standing and around us many of the bands that began at much the same time we did have fallen apart. It's like we're old dogs who made it to the top by just still existing.

"For so long we were just like the weird freak cousins that nobody knew what to do with, how to pidgeon-hole, where to place. Now it doesn't seem to matter; it's now cool for us not have a genre into which we can be conveniently placed or categorised."

Perhaps, what's more to the point is that this five piece - Dobson, Dean Manning (songwriter, guitarist and designer of everything from the album's 1920s circus-style artwork to their single, posters, stage backdrops and promo material), Jon Howell (drums), Pat Hyndes (bass) and John Gauci (keyboards) - have probably broken through the wall of their own independence.

It takes time to educate an audience, especially when your live set, nattily titled by the record company as 'acoustic baroque pop', is performed in 'lounge mode' with a supporting cast of lounges, lamps, candelabras, cushions, bookcases, even a cardboard cat, by a band that is often seated.

They are perhaps closest in spirit to Canada's pastoral poets The Cowboy Junkies and the shimmering, spacious, full yet spare, Americana of Tarnation and Mazzy Star, in particular. Equally, there's the essence of tradition and honesty that comes with the folk of say a late 60s/early 70s Joni Mitchell.

It's the songs, you see. In Leonard's Bride the songs come first. They are stripped of ego and imbued with all the frailty, simplicity, complexity and extremes of life that Manning can muster in his wonderfully double-edged lyrics around which Dobson then spins her tapestry while the band adds subtle dimension and a strange quirky edge. Little things happen in their songs that simply take your breathe away, not because they are clever for clever's sake, but because they are so right.

Where it all comes from is difficult to say, but at it's core, it has a lot to do with the two extraordinary extremes of personality that Dobson and Manning represent. He the darker, taunted seeker of truth who believes that you've gotta go down to the salt mines to get something truly creative; she the optimist, a believer that life is good, that there's a way to find the sunny side of any street.

It's a simple as the day they decided to list the three most important things they aspire to. Happiness was at the top of Dobson's list and the bottom of Manning's. Ying and yang. And how it works.

"It's really is that extreme," Dobson laughs. "Although I don't think Dean is quite like that anymore - happiness is a bit more of a priority, but it is definitely the centre of what goes down between us. Sometimes it produces beautiful things, other times a whole lot of stress.

"It's strange because I've only just been thinking about how different we really are over the past few months, brought on, I suppose, as much by interviewers asking about that difference as anything.

"Apart from all the shared experiences we've had and the fact we are really close, there's no doubt there's a major pull between us and what that produces I'm still trying to understand.

"It's the same with songwriting. The same extremes. I'm the laziest songwriter in the world (she contributes one elegiac image-laden gem, "Fall", to "Angel Blood") and he's the most disciplined. You know though, I don't believe there's any other songwriter I know of whose songs I could sing.

"And it isn't like I can sing all of his songs. There's a scrap heap of songs I can't relate to. The ones that have an enduring life are the ones that I can make own."

Those songs like the best singers she lives, takes by their pulse and heartbeat and breathes their walk through day-to-day existence and all it's pitfalls, pratfalls, savage gardens and blooming hothouses. She says it's second nature, that they'd be difficult to do if she didn't. But there's a big difference between simply singing a song and living a song. Not to so many make the big step to the latter when each becomes a personality in its own right.

"They also change personality," she says, "You draw on your experiences at the time. Like you can play one song for a few weeks and play it with a certain energy defined by your energy. Then over the next few weeks you get on a different tangent in your own evolution and the song takes on a different perspective.

"They become chronicles of your own growth. 'Buddha Baby' was one of our debut songs - it was on our first set list. It's a very different song now and we still play it every night when we do a gig. Songs like that are amazing. I kind of vent my spleen on that one. Lately I've been dedicating it to Pauline Hanson.

"Then there are other songs that last just a month or two, are just a passing moment and then you move on."

As Elvis Costello said recently, there's nothing wrong with songs which are like roses. They unfold, blossom briefly, then slowly die away. Not every song has to, nor should, be immortal.

"I like that idea, " Dobson says, "particularly in a live sense. I really like the live aspect of it. You have to let each moment go, second by second. You can't look back and say 'I fucked up the last verse'. You can't look ahead and you can't look back. You live for the moment."

A moment of a different sort has arrived for Leonardo's Bride. They can look back and ahead, perhaps for the first time secure in the knowledge that while they have survived they've also delivered a breathe of fresh air in the stale smoke of pop mediocrity and predictability. Along with the Paradise Motel, The Superjesus and Regurgitator, Leonardo's Bride are the future of Australian music, a bolt of beautiful emotion in that thin - but shimmering - ray of invention, originality and creativity.

FOOTNOTE: A few months after this interview, Leonardo's Bride soared into the Australian Top 10 with their single "Even When I'm Sleeping", peaking at No4 - a rose amongst the thorns of pedictability such as hanson, Puff Daddy & Faith Evans, Babyface, Quindon Tarver,  and other such stem drooping inanities.