Bluebottle Kiss: Come Across

We bragged about Come Across last year. Back in November, PlaybackSTL called this, Australian band Bluebottle Kiss’s second U.S. release (fifth overall), “truly an amazing album, breathtaking and magical, poetic and rocking.” We went on, claiming, “As they did on last year’s Revenge Is Slow, BBK manage to incorporate strings and literary lyrics into their cacophony of sounds to create a brand of rock that is at once fresh, familiar, and richly woven.” And in January, in our look back at 2004, I ranked Come Across as the third best album of the year.

This was all before I found out Come Across hadn’t been properly released in the States yet; that happens May 10. Seems the early distribution was just for press people, like myself, to support the band’s October tour of America . So now it’s your turn: With this proper release (ask for it at your local record store! Check online sites such as cdbaby.com and amazon.com!), Bluebottle Kiss is available and ready for the masses.

There’s an addictive disparity to the music, a juxtaposition of sorts. Let’s start with the name. Front man/band mastermind Jamie Hutchings—the beacon in a rotating lineup led by his vision—had to think; it had been so long ago. “The bluebottle is a stinging jellyfish in Australia, and then The Jesus and Mary Chain had this song called ‘Barbed Wire Kisses,’” he explains by telephone from his home in New South Wales, “and I kind of threw it all together. It seemed like a good image to give the music. I like music that’s painful; I like music that’s beautiful at the same time…dissonant and ugly-sounding music, and music that can be really beautiful and melancholy. It’s kind of half and half. It’s what our music is like, as well, so it made sense.”

Though not formally trained, Hutchings comes from a musical family. His father made a living as a jazz session player; sister Sophie plays piano and brother Scott drums. “I don’t know anything about music in a formal sense; it’s all self-taught,” he explains. “You sort of end up finding your own sort of style that way.” Still, it wasn’t as if Hutchings grew up with rock-star dreams.

“I didn’t ever really think about it,” he admits. “I sort of surprised myself. When Bluebottle Kiss started, it was the bass player and the drummer that were really pushing hard to get gigs. They didn’t even really like the music that I was writing, but when we did some demos, all their friends were really impressed. We started getting gigs, and then different people—movers and shakers around town—heard it. Suddenly it just started happening, and I was addicted. Those guys are long gone,” he adds with a laugh, “but it became something that, once I got a taste for it, I couldn’t give up.”

Hutchings writes the kind of songs you want to hole up with, alone in your room with a bottle of wine, the CD player, and the lyric sheet, listening to the beauty and the anarchy and savoring every word. And Come Across, like earlier BBK releases, is well-suited for just that. Lines like, “When the car expired I thought, ‘Hey just as well,’/when your greatest fears are realized you can take your hand out of the till” from “Everything Begins and Ends at Exactly the Right Time” and “Woke to find the rain’s come up and it’s raining fire trucks/I want to turn the summer on and let your heat light my roadway” from “So Slow.” Aching guitars, such as the ones that grind on the aforementioned “Everything Begins” and “Crawling With Ants.” Moments of quiet beauty and stark sounds, such as “Can I Keep You?”, the love song to his wife—Hutchings alone on vocals, piano, keyboard, guitars, and drums—or the enlightening, meanderingly pointed “Something Tiny.” All of it perfectly placed, planned, and penned, and colliding just right.

“The last three records, there’s a real obsession with cohesion,” Hutchings agrees, “with the records being real pieces from start to end.” And it’s worked really well, I tell him; the three (Patience, Revenge Is Slow, and Come Across) are absolutely beautiful, flawless except for the fact that they haven’t found the larger audience they deserve. “Yeah, but we never want to repeat ourselves, either,” he says, adding that, next time, “I kind of feel like throwing caution to the wind and making a really sprawling, adventurous record.”

Hutchings’ songwriting genius is often heralded by the Australian press. One review of his 2003 solo debut (The Golden Coach, Nonzero) declared, “There’s no doubt that he’s easily one of the most talented songwriters in Australia. ” No small distinction, that—and yet, Hutchings remains firmly grounded in the non-rock-star world. “[In] Australia, there’s not enough people to support the kind of music we make,” he explains. “You can’t really tour relentlessly here for ten years; you wear your audience out. There’s only so many people you’ve got to convert.” So, in order to succeed—to reach that larger audience, to become self-supporting musicians—they naturally have to look overseas, to the U.K. and the U.S.

Last fall, Bluebottle Kiss returned to the States for the second time, on a self-booked minor disaster of a tour. Most of the time, they were slotted with dissimilar bands on overcrowded bills. Still, the experience hasn’t soured them. “We’ll definitely do it again,” Hutchings says readily. “It’s just a matter of really hunting out opportunities for it to happen. The Northern hemisphere is just so far away. You can’t tour [for months] over there; there’s just no money to do it.”

Everyone in the band still has day jobs; they have to cut costs whenever possible. Unfortunately, that often comes at the expense of the band’s self-promotion. “We had people interested in helping us do college radio,” he tells me, “but we just couldn’t afford to pay them.” So their label pushes for print reviews, which Hutchings knows is “kind of limited because people don’t actually get to hear it.”

While there’s much to be said about the independent, DIY approach to making and distributing music, when you’re an ocean away, it’s often a daunting task. But Jamie Hutchings and Bluebottle Kiss certainly have the musical talent; now it’s just a matter of perseverance, of spreading the word, of finding and converting fans outside of Australia—one by one, if that’s what it takes.

“It’s a slow, textured build,” we explained late last year in our review, “like the album itself, growing on you until it suddenly hits you: there’s nowhere else you’d rather be.” Put that empty wineglass aside and curl up with your headphones; I’ve got just the album for you. Listen online at www.bluebottlekiss.com.

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