INTERVIEW: Graham Halliday aka Funkmeister G interviewed by Skot Schtikla

Funkmeister G

Funkmeister G

AUTOreverse #14, Summer 2011
by Skot Schtikla

Graham Halliday is mainly known in the recording guise of Funkmeister G.

Born in Ireland and then living in Perth, Western Australia for a few years, he is Sydney-based and has lived in just about every suburb of the ‘inner west’ since he was a kid. He produced Chunky Yet Funky zine in the 90’s when I first came across him and some of my earliest memories of G are him calling me on the phone and then not really saying much except ‘listen to this’ and then he would play me everything from a dictaphone or tape deck old jazz, Sun Ra, Captain Beefheart to some of what I assumed to be his own noise recordings down the phone which with the old land-line would pretty much come across as 20 minutes of distorted fuzz!

As a fan of music in general but also heaps of older stuff and obscure artists G from the moment I met him revealed himself to be a walking encyclopedia of knowledge and I have definitely got into so much music that I might not have discovered or until much later if it wasn’t for him promoting things to me with his detailed passion to attention and great ear for finding tasteful and unique stuff.

As a player and creator of sound his bizarre approach to playing music has infuriated as much as it fascinated people. He has recorded tons of solo stuff over the years most of it has remained unreleased but the few things that have been released beyond the circle of friends have certainly got some full on responses. A Sydney free music press which usually just has a ‘best single of the week’ section in its reviews saw fit to give his first recorded single E.P the special title ‘worst single ever’ if that gives you a hint. On the other hand he has been asked to play an opening slot at the Big Day out a few years back on a bill that included: Kraftwerk, Xzibit & Foo Fighters (just to name a few) and that’s probably the biggest festival gig you can get in Australia, so it’s an insane contrast in what people think of what he does.

Funkmeister G. - Who Got Da Funk E.P.

Funkmeister G. - Who Got Da Funk E.P.

To me, F.M.G is one of those essential artists working away on his thing, only pops up in the public eye on a small scale very rarely but to me he’s what it’s all about, He follows his heart, he plays what ever he feels, he has absolutely no interest in learning how to play his instruments (or tuning them) in any way other people think he should. He has come from guitar and keyboards to more recently getting into violin and saxophone (like one of his favs Ornette Coleman, and like O.C playing them like no one else) He hears his own sound and creates his own little world & whether other people hear his stuff or not I’m pretty sure he would and will be doing them anyway.

When did you first become aware/ interested in sound in general and what do you remember of your earliest ‘hearing ‘experiences whether musical or not?
G – I think the first things I was interested in was the sound of the hi-speed dubbing on double tape decks & also how a tape sounded if the headphone jack was half plugged in, hearing something of the actual studio setup that way. My first experience with a 4-track machine was when I was about fifteen, although I had a sound sampler for my Amiga computer so I would have made some primitive techno thing that went undocumented in the early 90s.

What was the first instrument/sound making thing of any kind you played/owned? Did it come to you or did you go looking for it?
G – Around sixteen I got a an acoustic guitar but also a cheap turntable, which I hadn’t grown up with due to the big CD takeover, which I’d do simple scratchy remixing from on early recordings. I got a PC when I was eighteen & used the basic Sound Recorder function before meeting the guys in Vocabularinist who were just starting to use the proper programs like Sound Forge, Fruity Loops & Logic.

So did you take instrument lessons of any kind or did you just go off and learn to play yourself? And what about your earliest ‘jams’ with other people
G – I never did grow up being in teenage bands or even in the music class so it was all literally D.I.Y. I tried going to about 4 guitar lessons but either didn’t have the attention span or relate to the instructor’s tastes. Also hearing the alternate tunings of Sonic Youth gave an excuse to ignore tuning or deliberately use & abuse it, often in the middle of a song. I had a handful of solo recordings before I actually played alongside anyone else. When I met Vocabularinist, they were into a lot of improvisation alongside set pieces, so I would sometimes join them on stage with extra backup keyboards or bongos, & at home recordings or warehouse shows get a bit freer with random instruments.

How did you approach forming your first bands? mates in the garage kinda thing or advertising for players etc? And when did you do this, how early did you get band stuff going?
G – It was only thanks to people running warehouses or other underground venues that I could get up and do a solo show. I actually recorded my 1st one & made it historic as a limited edition [of 21!] 7″ polycarbonate single [still not graced any real wax yet]. The reviews proved it wasn’t necessarily of artistic worth though. Trial and error persisted & eventually technology or technique got better enough to be tolerable & collaborators came forth.

What about as a music writer, can you recall any articles on music that really had an impact on you influencing you to write? Or just any big writer influences?
G – I think I started writing fanzines when they seemed to be everywhere & maybe the need to communicate & get word out about what I thought was hidden as someone new to the inner city. I think I’d always read a fair bit but I remember how over the top passionately some of the zine writers would get, as it wasn’t pushed by advertising accounts like in the mainstream media but personal obsession. Actually around that time I read a Zappa bio, only starting to be familiar with him & the stories of him recording Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica made it necessary to search out & never regret. The same thing for a 4-page zine article about the 70s era in particular Miles Davis. I tried to do more or less the same with my writing I suppose & was probably a lot more confident in print than in speech then. Doing zine interviews then you get to meet people in bands. I only remind myself now that I was the zine writer first with the recording a second hobby & eventually it took over & I forgot to write much again, I did try some radio though. None of the above ever became a day job.

So aside from songwriters & bands what about experimental stuff, noise, free form kinda sound that some wouldn’t call ‘music’ how did you come about that stuff? What acts, artists of this nature did you first hear/like? You mentioned you did early lo fi kinda recordings but when did you realize others actually did this sorta stuff on purpose, by preference & might wanna hear yours?
G – I think it was from some of the popular 90s noisy guitar bands & then going back to the noisier bands that influenced them, or even their own less obvious stuff like Beck’s Stereopathetic Soulmanure which has a lot of straight to tape & busking stuff on it that when I’d play it to people they’d think I’d done it, as I had done some of my early tapes by then. Through zine culture I realized there were home made tape labels operating on a similar cheap aesthetic as the zines themselves. So before I even gave myself a name I’d put those high school 4-track recordings in amongst spoken bits as soundtrack tape for my zine. I was also surprised when some from the tape scene made a crossover to actually being popular on stage & radio, challenging the notion that lo-fi has to be inward & antisocial. In general though the pub rock circuit are not much into the development of outsider bands that don’t immediately have their finished act together. Oh just remembered that the timelines collided where mp3s came out around the time I wanted to get things out which meant some exposure but also a bit of laziness on my part to getting much physical albums out, included many supposedly forthcoming ones that got pre-promoted on the internet.

How about other forms of art…whether doing it yourself or as a fan or both, writing, painting, drawing, reading etc When & how did you get into these things, what influenced you in other creative fields aside from music & sound?G – Definitely a lot of comedy, TV, reading etc in maybe not so much the type of sound but the perspective you deliver it from, a lot of it having a deliberately amateurish feel and sense of humor about it. Producing your own stuff you are a bit like a film director or novelist in creative control, especially if you have no expectation of even having an audience.

What role, if any, have various ‘altered states of consciousness’ whether it be drugs, sleep deprivation, belief in bizarre powers etc played in your musical life, as listener or creator?
G – [following on from prev. question…] I notice the tone & feel of the music changes as you mature more, before I did any of the above, I embraced chaos in recording style & gradually got to appreciate editing & attention to detail with a tuned in ear. The strange and unexpected thing is you get more disciplined after getting experienced. A new found confidence that it is more than just noise and you might actually be talented when it was just defiance and having a go before.

Equipment, instruments, sound gadgets, home recording gear etc can you list and/or tell us a bit about different things you’ve used over the years, favorites you’ve had?
G – Getting to use something like a Kaoss Pad or Boss sampler machine leading to a middle ground between live instruments and electronic studio trickery. Sometimes finding seemingly useless dinky old toy keyboards & getting some different sounds from them. I have an electric guitar with its own speaker built in which adds another level if you don’t break it slipping down the stairs in socks drunk. Should fix that. Owning the 4-track that got passed down from previous tape makers & will serve future generations.

Can you list (and tell us a little about) all the bands you’ve been a member of and any releases or performances you’ve done solo or played a part in some way over the years?
G – I’ve been a hanger on multi-instrumentalist & vocalist for some incarnations of Vocabularinist, on their 4th album I got to star on ‘No Jazz All Graz’. Solo project Funkmeister G or sometimes as a band FMG & the John Ra Benders, talked about releasing things more than actually did but many mp3s are probably floating about the web still, pressed one CD mini-album/EP? Who Got Da Fonk? & the Live in Marrickville 7″ & the split one w/ Vocabularinist, two volumes of duets with Bret H. Hart [which got re-released recently on a web-based CD-R label], also got tracks on tribute albums to Devo & Free Kitten, a tape label Smell the Stench put out a hour-long collage monstrosity called Mix It Like You Mean It. As far as performances they were few but often controversially amusing. Somehow I got on a lineup of the Big Day Out festival. My last gig was the debut of playing sax live with a six-piece edition of John Ra Benders at a Sydney University bar which someone in the audience saw whilst on acid then when traveling in India bumped into Frankie Death who’s been my collaborator a few times.

I was silent for a few years before Squeegeed Clean emerged fully formed as a duo with longtime collaborator, er, the interviewer! We have a debut of 2 albums in one as the gestation period took long enough with another out soon & a third in the works. It’s easier to be less self-conscious about the idea of selling yourself when it’s not about you but something more abstract. We have a style where it’s not according to any particular rules that could be written down but we’d know if it wasn’t us. We haven’t actually done shows yet, & since we use the recording technology as an instrument in a way without letting it dominate it should be interesting to see how different it might be live.

for samples of Funkmesiter G’s work check out:

thank you, Funkmeister!