We’ve never really mentioned it in the past, but For The Rabbits has always been something of a one person, one opinion sort of site. In fact, every word on this site so far has come from yours truly, or the musicians themselves. This however is our first ever guest post, the interview with Bill comes from the metaphorical pen of a writer we greatly enjoy the work of, Gareth Ware.
An experiment, a one-off, the first of many – who knows, but we hope you enjoy this change of voice as much as we do. And if you’ve got any ideas for future articles, do get in touch.
Over the past few years Bill Botting made a name for himself as the leaping, perma-grinning bassist for Allo Darlin’ whose infectious energy (and distinctive facial hair) would almost lift him to the role of secondary frontperson at live shows. But what gets forgotten are his endeavours as a songwriter in his own right, firstly via Polyvinyl in his native Brisbane and later as one half of the fantastically ridiculous Moustache Of Insanity.
It’s a mantle he picked back up for Better Friends, the album he recently released dually through Where It’s At Is Where You Are and Fika Records, and made with an all-star cast featuring his sister Hannah (Owl & Mouse), Jonny Helm (The Wave Pictures), Paul Rains (Allo Darlin’, Tigercats), Tom Wade (Owl & Mouse) and later bolstered for live shows by Laura Kovic (Tigercats). It’s a record described accurately by the labels as the soundtrack to a John Hughes-directed 1970s road movie, and it’s one full of honesty and warmth, liberally laced with recollections and reminiscences. Given that he emigrated back to his homeland the day before its release, and with Botting making the record with (and releasing it via) his friends, the whole process could almost be viewed as him saying goodbye to his former life in the northern hemisphere. Here, then, is his take on the making of the album and what, on reflection, it’s meant to him.
GW: Back when you were getting ready to tour the final Allo Darlin’ album record, I remember you giving me a CD titled ‘Coming Soon’ at The Lexington that contained early iterations of several of the songs that would feature on Better Friends – what crystalised the idea of making a solo record in your mind, and why was there such a long gestation period until the album proper came out?
Allo Darlin was in stasis after a really long bit of touring and I wasn’t sure when we were going to be playing next. I was a bit restless and one afternoon I wrote a song, which was the rug. And then I wrote another a couple of days later and another after that and I remembered that it was something I loved to do. So I recorded the ‘Coming Soon’ songs in the garden at our flat and I thought I might be able to sell enough of those to fund recording an EP maybe, and I did, but then, actually, we had a big gas bill which meant I couldn’t do it straight away. And there’s always something like that, so I put it off and put it off. And then finally John Jervis asked me and Hannah to contribute to the singles club on WIAWYA and [studio owner/Tigercats bassist] Giles Barrett gave me a big discount on some recording time at Soup so it was possible to do that. And then once we’d made the single I couldn’t not keep going. And then when it came to making the record it was the same story – I was waiting to have enough money to afford some studio time and [studio owner and former bandmate/Allo Darlin’ drummer] Mike Collins invited me to come to Big Jelly for next to nothing. When I was in Moustache of Insanity it wouldn’t have been an issue because we used to do everything ourselves but I didn’t think I could do that with this band. So everything takes a long time you know, and then even once the recording was done, it took about a year before the album was released.
GW: To what extent do you think your earlier stint helming Polyvinyl back in Brisbane (and arguably being something of a co-frontperson at Allo Darlin’ live shows) help prepare you for the move back from musician to frontperson, and on any level did you find the change difficult?
Everything you do in music, and all of life I guess, informs the next thing. Polyvinyl was the band I was in High School but by the end of that we took ourselves so seriously. Then when I joined Allo Darlin and started Moustache of Insanity with Nik I rediscovered the fun. And since being back in Australia I have been listening to the radio a little bit and I remember all the things that I used to worry about – I think I used to think of music as like a competition, and if you practised hard and did all the right tricks then you would climb up the ladder. And at the cost of things like fun you start doing things like agonising over an outro riff or guitar tone.
GW: Songwriters can sometimes have issues handing over their songs for others to play on, finding it difficult to trust other musicians to flesh out their ideas. Was that something you encountered, especially given the all-star cast you managed to assemble?
I haven’t ever felt precious about the songs in that way – I’ve always been really excited to hear what other people add to them and with this band it was even more exciting.
GW: How would you summarise the experience of making the album? It feels like a very fun record, and I remember vague reports of the sessions themselves being pretty joyous – is that how you remember the experience?
I remember being very excited to be there and grateful that I had these great people to play with. And I was excited to be finally making this record I had been thinking about for so long – and I had thought about it a lot. It was good fun to be there too – Jelly is an amazing studio and we all just had such a fun time.
GW: In hindsight, do you think the album you actually made was actually the album you initially set to make?
I don’t think it is, but it rarely is in my experience. I think you make a lot of decisions on the spot while you record which aren’t necessarily part of the plan. But you make them and then things twist in one direction or another and you wind up with something different from what you thought you were going for. I think on the first day of the recording I told Mike that I wanted it to sound like a Flying Burrito Brothers record, but then as we went along it just changed. So it’s a surprise, but it shouldn’t be, because you make it happen one step at a time.
GW: A lot of the songs almost feel like a trip down your own personal memory lane – a collection of places, people and experiences brought to life for a wider audience. Was that a strand of songwriting you consciously wanted to channel and was it difficult to frame the songs in a way that would translate to a wider audience?
I honestly don’t think about the audience, wide or not, at all. I mean, I always hope there will be an audience, but I don’t consider or try to anticipate what they would like or find appealing. Some of the songs are quite personal and quite specific, but I don’t try to do that deliberately. I’ve been lucky to work alongside some really amazing songwriters who all do it differently and in some cases being personal or having this immense emotional honesty is what people love about them, but there’s also something really special about being able to tell a story that isn’t your own. I don’t aim for either in particular. You get what you get but I always hope it’s something I’ll enjoy playing.
GW: Similarly, it’s also a very honest record, especially on the likes of ‘Feeling Sad’ and ‘Difficult Stuff’. Was it difficult for you to bare yourself so openly on record, especially to an audience that potentially would have only ever seen you as a perma-grinning, leaping onstage presence?
Well, with ‘Feeling Sad’, it’s a sad lyric wearing a big noisy Hawaiian shirt which is an old trick but a good one. ‘Difficult Stuff’ I guess is more direct about it and maybe it’s telling that I’ve never done that song live. So that part is hard I guess. But it’s not really hard to record it or release it on a record. It’s just one of the songs we had, and I like it because it’s not a subject I would ever have thought to write about – trying to explain your adult depression to your 6 year old – but there it is. And you know, there’s jumpy songs too!
GW: While you got to play some full-band shows around the album release – including playing opening support at the Allo Darlin’ finale – you left the country the week before the record got released. Having seen through a number of album cycles in recent years, was it weird to not have the chance to do that when it came to your own album?
Yes! It was weird, and the irony is not lost on me that I moved to London to make music and moved back to Australia the day before my début record was released. I went out with a bang though – our last show was one of the funnest nights I’d had in a decade.
GW: To what extent do you feel that the making of the album and the handful of shows you played, with the people you worked with along the way, acted as some sort of closure for you in terms of your time in London ahead of moving back to Australia?
When I started making the record I really had no idea what the next year had in store and the decision to move to Australia didn’t get made until, really only a few months before the album was released. And while I don’t expect to be permanently living in London anytime soon, I don’t feel like that book is finished. I still have so much of me left in that hemisphere I don’t think it ever will be. Y’know that Paul Allen song “I Still Call Australia Home”? I kind of have the opposite thing going on.
GW: If there was one thing above all else you hoped people would take away from the record when they heard it, what would it be?
I hope that people will remember the songs, and want to hear them again. That would be the thing for me. Because there’s sooooo much music out now and it’s hard to remember every new thing you hear, I hope that people will remember these songs after they’ve finished. Remember and enjoy!