A ROAD OF FOG:
1995 to 2001
During his time playing around Melbourne with Rifled Slug Bollinger met Brigitte Corbett – bassist and songwriter for the Riot Grrl outfit Dolljuice. The two became a romantic item and Corbett introduced him to her other, more eclectic, musical project Fetishes.
Fetishes at the time were a trio with Corbett and Paul Narkiewicz swapping guitar and bass duties and singing sublime harmonies with Brendan Baron adding in trumpet and forming the odd 3 part harmony.
Bollinger ended up sharing a house in the leafy fringe Melbourne suburb of Warrandyte with Corbett and Narkiewicz in 1995 and offered his services as booking manager and 4 track engineer. What resulted was the EP Herbicide or Pesticide, named after a failed bug killer that the three mixed up via kitchen sink chemistry and inadvertently ended up wiping out a number of plants in their newly planted vegie patch.
Bollinger released the EP on Yippie Bean and this proved to be a precursor for a long lasting musical collaboration that would just make it into the new millennium. When Fetishes became a duo, after Baron left the band, a change in musical makeup was called for. Corbett and Narkiewicz teamed up with cellist Susanna Provan and French horn player Alessandro Servedei as well as inviting Bollinger to contribute the odd drum fill, keyboard and lead guitar line.
With such a monumental line up change, a new name was also called for. The band planted a finger in the dictionary on the word Teledu whose definition “the stinking badger of Java” seemed a suitably out there moniker for what was to prove to be an equally out there ensemble.
The Stinking Badger of Java or TSBOJ was unlike any other band on the Melbourne scene – eclectic was a word often bandied about as nothing else really fit. Acid Folk would be the best descriptor, though minus the interminable psychedelic jams.
The songs were well crafted and highly polished by Corbett and Narkiewicz in their daily sessions and then fleshed out by the rest of the crew in weekly rehearsals. The result was a stunning and askew form of music that is both haunting and quirky. Lyrically obscure and musically intricate, TSBOJ looked around for someone who could capture this sound in a worthy recording. They came across Bent Record’s Jamie Durrant (ex Degenerates, Box of Anger and the first producer of Killing Heidi amongst others). Jamie had contacted Radiation from Space for a review of some of his releases and Bollinger sent him music in return and a connection was formed.
TSBOJ got together with Jamie in his Boathouse studio, on his father’s (cattle baron and artist Ivan Durrant) farm on the Broken River just outside Benalla. There they recorded 4 tracks before the farm was sold and the project was finished at the Jam Hut Studio in Elwood. These recordings became the strange, hidden diamond “If it’s fetishes you’re after…”.
Released through Yippie Bean in 1998, and described by allmusic.com’s Stanton Swihart in these words:
“It would be difficult to imagine anything that could be more satisfyingly beautiful and alien than this album, with its extraordinary melodic panorama and fascinating songs. Melodies are bent and folded on top of themselves, refracted and cajoled, even broken in half, and the songs that result are amazing amalgams with elastic and crazily shifting melodies that are as gorgeous as they are strange. The band can be humorous but the pervading tone of the album is ominous, perhaps due to the very visible idiosyncracies of the band and its vision. It is always engaging listening, though.”
Read the full review.
Taking the album out to listeners proved to be a hard road – eclectic and askew music is something Australian audiences at the time seemed to greet with scepticism. The live diet in Melbourne at the time was grunge, grunge and more grunge. TSBOJ, however, were more interest in pushing the envelope, incorporating absurdist, dadaesq readings and performances in between songs and using balloons and delay pedals as instruments, to add to the mix of their intricate and lovely songs. TSBOJ were dynamic but also required their audience’s attention, a task that was not easy to perform in Australia’s noise mad pub-rock scene at the time. Undeterred the group kept playing wherever they could, including several tours up to the failing live music scene in Australia’s champagne and cocaine capital, Sydney, where they formed alliances with members of the punk-folk collective the Vocabularinists.
With their list of songs growing and diversifying, the crew, this time minus Provan, headed up to the top of Mt Hotham with Durrant in May 1999. There, in an improvised studio in the Trapdoor Ski Lodge, along with witnessing the first snowfall of the season, they recorded their swan song LP In a Highland Eden. Described by Stanton Swihart as “music so fiercely original that it begs its own category” it left the band in a make it or break it attitude. Unfortunately the later was to be the case.
In 2001 The band fragmented with Servadei exiting first to pursue his first love of classical composition. Corbett decided to pursue further musical study and ended her 5 year relationship with Bollinger, striking out into the world of Jazz. Narkiewicz together with Bollinger and his broken heart, began participating in the increasingly more affordable digital music-studio-in-a-computer-chassis revolution.