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article imageInterview with Todd Hunter of Dragon Special

By Adrian Peel     Sep 17, 2014 in Music
One of the founding members of the iconic Australian pop/rockers talks to Digital Journal about the band's new album and their very modern way of working.
New Zealand-born Todd Hunter has been the leading light behind Dragon since the group's inception way back in 1973. Forty one years and a series of break-ups, reformations and line-up changes later (death, drugs and disillusionment have all taken their toll), the foursome are still going strong and are about to release their new album, Roses.
Inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame in 2008, the band, who toured with Tina Turner in the mid-'80s, will officially launch their tenth LP with Todd Hunter on bass, Mark Williams on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Bruce Reid on electric guitar and Pete Drummond behind the kit, at The Basement in Sydney on September the 19th.
Another milestone will be reached on this date as it will be the 600th show since a new version of the group came together, after the Dragon had lain dormant for eight years, in 2006.
Speaking to me from his home in southern Australia, Todd explained to me where the title of the new record came from: "It's one of the songs on the album and it just seemed like a good, simple, clear title. Titles are arbitrary, aren't they really? Also because it's spring, I think..."
Discussing the themes this time around, the 63-year-old, who also wrote music for popular '90s TV series, Heartbreak High, states, "The songs are mainly about stuff that's happening to people who are writing at the time, in a veiled sort of way. There's a lot of songs addressed to people, there's a couple of songs we wrote at 'band camp' down here on the South Coast in early January..."
The "band camp" involved sessions at Todd's studio and were just one aspect of an interesting and enjoyable recording process that also saw Mark’s Williams laying down his vocal parts in hotel rooms and backstage at concerts around the country. Many of the tunes were written by Pete Drummond and his partner Bec at Pear Studios in the Blue Mountains.
"Everybody came down for a week in mid-January," says Todd, recalling how the band members temporarily relocated to his house, "and we wrote a whole bunch of songs in a really relaxed way - it was great. We'll do it every year I think."
"Mark has been so busy," he says of the enterprising way the vocals were recorded, "that Pete just took his recording setup and we'd be in the green room before playing and he'd just set up in the corner and Mark would sing - and the vocals sound great. If you isolate some of them, you can hear the opening act way behind it."
"You can record anywhere now," he continues. "Every time we fly somewhere, we look over and Pete Drummond is mixing something or composing something. All the barriers are gone. You'd have to sequester yourself in a studio for three months in the old days, just constantly recording..."
Although famous for songs like "April Sun In Cuba," "Are You Old Enough," "Still In Love With You," "Young Years" and "
Dreams Of Ordinary Men," Todd is well aware of the importance of constantly producing new material in order to remain 'relevant'.
"We've always got something on the go and it's really good to keep everything fresh, to be thinking about new songs," he says, "so you're not just playing the same songs over and over again - and at any one time we will rotate the new stuff as it comes through.
"We have a moral obligation to play the songs that people know and we're happy to do that because we've sort of reinterpreted them and rendered them into different forms, even though they're completely recognisable as the old songs...
"But yes, it's also great to try new songs out on people and it's incredibly gratifying. We've started playing some of these new songs and by the second chorus people are singing along, so we're happy with that."
Which of the twelve tracks on Roses particularly stand out for the seasoned bandleader?
"Okay, for me there's 'Don't Wait For Tomorrow' - I think that's great... 'Love That's Strong' and 'Hey Hey'."
As mentioned, Roses is the tenth long-playing release from this current incarnation of a rock 'n' roll institution that has had more than its fair share of ups and downs throughout its long history (former band members Neil Storey, Paul Hewson and Todd's younger brother Marc all died young). I assumed that having achieved so much together over the last eight years that this band of brothers were perhaps closer now than they've ever been?
"Yeah, that's right... It's a very literate bunch of musicians these guys, so we all - apart from when we get together and write the backbone of a song - just do our own parts and put them in a dropbox. Pete pulls them all together and collates it and mixes it, and it's a very painless operation."
So there should, with any luck, be many more albums to come from Dragon?
"Yeah, we're gonna do one for our summer tour and I think we're gonna try and make one every summer and winter, basically, which seems about the right sort of time...
"And it's really great to be doing this stuff because no one's watching - we can do whatever we like. There's no expectation anywhere, but people seem to like it, so we'll keep doing it."
Roses will be launched at The Basement in Sydney on September the 19th.
For more information, visit Dragon's official website.
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