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Feature Interview: Brent DeBoer 'Immigrant Union'

I'm on the phone to Brent DeBoer of Immigrant Union/Dandy Warhols fame, talking about the release of 'Anyway', the second studio album from alt-country psych collective 'Immigrant Union', and if having a fan boy moment wasn't enough, his friendly demeanour, smooth US accent and willingness to discuss ideas and issues well beyond the average mindset have won me over and it's only been the first minute of pre-interview banter. We settle quickly into the interview and the questions begin.

So Brent, you've got a brand new release, the second album happening for Immigrant Union, and it has received some very high praise recently. How are you feeling about it all?

Really happy - I just hope more people get to hear it. I want to get out and play some shows and make sure people get to experience this album. I think maybe it's a record people really need - it really goes right down the middle of classic country and psychedelic. There are a lot of droning and fizzy-rizzy bands around at the moment, with the word 'black' in the name of their group, doing one or the other. This sound is somewhere in the middle of that whole ho-down sound, which I don't find too sexy, and the fizzy-rizzy sound. We just wanted to make a nice happy, trippy medium, with very clear and personal lyrics that I hope might make a lot of people feel something. I hope it's just good therapy to help people through, something they can relate to. For example, with Fleetwood Mac or Paul Simon, the lyrics, you would really relate to them, and it would blow you away that 'somebody like this can feel just like how I do'. Hopefully people hear that in this album.

You latest video is described as 'a darkly humorous take on a fictional home shopping channel geared towards selling products to 'global tyrants.' How was this theme inspired?

I wrote this song while watching the 'republican primaries' in the USA - these soulless robots talking about the dumbest crap you've ever heard. Then in the midst of that I saw Ron Paul, and he was just cracking me up - saying things like "we can't afford these wars, we need to quit meddling in other country's business - they don't hate us for our freedom, they hate us for our proximity! We should afford them that opportunity!" They asked him "would you vote to legalise drugs such as heroin and cocaine?" So he said "well yeah! how many people in this room if it were declared legal tomorrow, would go out and shoot it into their arm? Nobody! This phoney war on drugs must end! It's costing lives and money!" I was cracking up, I couldn't believe what he was saying on national television was allowed.

A couple of nights later at about 2 in the morning I couldn't sleep and I suddenly had this entire song in my head. I didn't even need the guitar; I just started singing it and writing things down. And I was doing it all in Ron Paul's voice. Then for the video, it was just a matter of just imagining what the arms market could be like. I had seen the VICE documentary on arms conventions, where these rich buyers from around the world walk around these booths - and they're asking what the weapons are about and getting told their functions and scratching their beards and looking thoughtful, as if it's a market like any other.

Then there's a guy with a notepad basically saying 'I'll take ten thousand' – all of them standing around talking about this stuff as if these items are NOT going to blow up thousands of human beings - it's like a car show! Smedley Butler wrote the book 'war is a racket'. He talks about how, besides all the profiteering and looting, there's also the military industrial complex, the people who make the boots, the shirts, the pants, a canteen, all for the troops. During wartime, America has realised they have to keep the war machine going, so they have to have a bogey man like the war on drugs, and you must equip all these militarised police on the border for example; it's essentially a jobs program that happens to be a big bummer for people standing on the ground having bombs landing on them.

For the video I imagined this: why don't they just have a TV channel where they can sit at home, ordering up these horrific products? And a psychotic presenter to match? There is a moment in the middle of the video where we made the host look as if his conscience if tugging at him, as if what he's doing is immoral. Which it is! And that was that - we felt it would be a real dark satire, a home shopping channel for war pigs.

So it's safe to say you and Immigrant Union are into 'meaning', as opposed to say, the meaningless pop ethic?

Completely, I have a hard time even coming up with a chorus to repeat over and over. For me when I'm writing, it helps to look toward the sadder and darker thoughts I might have, to make sure at then end of my songs I don't end up looking like a dork. I'm not comfortable singing in general, I'm a shy person, and it's your voice and your words on display for all to see. I really can't bag on pop stars though, they're doing what they're comfortable what they're doing - I think a lot of people would be uncomfortable singing such personal things as I do; it's like opening your diary! Yet that's the beauty of this world, everyone is different.

OK, well, that's a lot of insight so far, I'm amazed. Let's go in for a more 'standard' question: how has touring been? Any crazy stories to share with your fans?

It's been a buzz. Every night something kind of wacky happens, but here's one. The album 'Anyway' came out in the USA a little bit before it came out in Australia, and as a result one of the new songs we're now working on was written in an op-shop on the boardwalk of the Jersey shore. We had two days off in a row, so we were walking along in the Asbury Park area with all that Bruce Springsteen history. Bob, our guitarist and singer was just freaking out about the rich history of the place.

We popped into this op-shop called 'Off The Boardwalk', and they asked us if we were in a band. We got chatting and they said, "you should have done a gig right here, people might come in and check you guys out" So we came in the next day, the guy got a big cooler of beers for us, rolled all the clothing aside and made a space for us to play. He was an amazing guy; he had a bathrobe selling for 10,000 dollars, it was Bruce Springsteen's, and it wasn't under glass or anything like that, just hanging there on the rack! Meanwhile I came up with a guitar riff, and we wrote the song 'Asbury Park over the course of the next two hours.

Cool story man! Also, on the subject of interesting venues, you recently played at the art gallery '1000 Pound Bend' – what inspired Immigrant Union to choose such a venue out of all the venues in Melbourne this time around?

We initially tried to have the show at a private snooker club that was decked out kind of like a hunting lodge – pretty cool. At the last minute, the replacement staff at the venue said we'd have to stop the show at 11, and that wasn't going to work for us because we'd booked a bunch of really cool bands to play with us. We had to move at the last second, and fortunately '1000 Pound Bend' came through for us - it's such a cool venue, with a great restaurant and cafe and such a great vibe. As gigs go, we just love to come up with something a little bit different once in a while. For example, we did a sausage sizzle on the roof of a venue one time, just so it was a memorable day for everyone who came.

You're part of an 'alt-psych country collective' as Immigrant Union is described. How do you respond to that description?

You've gotta call the music something you know? I would call it, dreamy, classic, rock pop country psychedelic folk, but we're not reinventing the wheel or anything, just using the same chords, but with our words, melodies and textures. It's nice to have a bit of mystery - you want to have some sounds with a lot of layers and textures that keep your mind active. Ultimately we just want the record to sound really good, and hopefully it'll do some good for people.

That's a really nice way to think about it – doing some good for others. With that and your next steps in mind, what should we be excited about with Immigrant Union in the future?

Besides the concerts, which are hopefully going to be, more than anything, just a really good night out, and very memorable, and leave everyone with something, a memory, to take away; we have a new record on the way. We're releasing an EP of the five songs that didn't make it onto the last record. We wanted 'Anyway' to flow, from start to finish, rather than jumping around in feel and texture. These five songs didn't belong on the album, but they're fantastic and they really like each other. So they'll be on their own EP. We have a full album coming up in the new year as well.

"Wake Up and Cry" also has a video coming out - later this afternoon I'm going in to do the final edit of that. I'm not certain when that will be released, but I can tell you it's very cinematic, and very beautiful, featuring just one actress wearing a baby doll mask. It will be very symbolic and I won't give away too much of what she does - but she tends horses on a farm, then heads into the woods to find something that she truly needs to find. Mainly the video is just an excuse to listen to that beautiful song; it's all foggy and misty with wide, shot on a very attractive farm including a winery and vineyards. It's definitely a nice massage for the eyeballs.

That is extremely exciting. Looking forward to all of it, as well as your upcoming shows. Thanks for speaking with me, this has been wonderful.

Thank you! Come down to the show.

Immigrant Union are touring Australia throughout August, and dates are available at the following link:

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