INTERVIEW: Darren Middleton – Life After Powderfinger and the Birth of ‘Translations’

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After a lengthy performance hiatus following the retirement of Powderfinger, Darren Middleton is launching his solo album Translations. He revealed a little bit about what he’s been up to recently, having just played the first gig with his new band, The Translators.

“I usually have an acoustic in two or three of the songs, but it busted. So that was making it quite electric and rock. The idea is that we’ll re-translate the album live. There’ll be a heavy version like you saw last night, and there’ll be a much more stripped back version – so there’ll be two lives for the album.”

“I was pretty nervous,” he says of the gig. “It was our first as The Translators. But also it was my first time on stage in three years. Although I’ve had a lot of experience, that’s still a decent amount of time away from your comfort zone.”

“I went overseas with my family – that was like seven months overseas. We got back, moved to Melbourne; I started writing a record and just found myself not finishing anything. There were probably a lot of unresolved things in my head I suppose, about disentangling my previous identity. So I needed to find that again.”

“I wanted to have something I could stand behind and tell a story about, and it be true. I found that I had just been through a period that had given me a lot of fodder for that sort of stuff.” In particular, Darren refers to Powderfinger, which was obviously a major force in his life. “It’s a long period of time to be with the same people, and habits form. It took a while for me as a solo artist to put an idea out and go, ‘actually I don’t need to hand it over. This is for me now to do what I want to do.’”

“I think I’ve sort of forged my own thing,” he continues. “I’ve done a couple of things outside of Powderfinger before. But they were completely unlike this. Maybe it was because Powderfinger was still going,” he reflects. “The first time I did something outside of the band, it wasn’t really well accepted. So there was a bit of a hangover with that – just normal things: jealousies and concerns that I might leave the band, which was never on the cards.”

Darren seems to found his own sound and identity in this new album. “There were other titles floating around in my head, but I was thinking along the lines of ‘what is this that I do?’ And it’s a translation of thought, emotion, experience, into melody, lyric and song. So it just made perfect everything to me.”

DM 3 edit“I wanted to introduce a lot of different textures that initially I had created on a keyboard. But I went and saw Glen Hansard play from The Frames, you know from the movie Once. He had his three piece brass and a quartet. And I’m thinking ‘I’ve gotta get these real things because they feel and sound so good.’ It just humanises the whole thing a lot more.”

The album’s musical textures also include synths, orchestral instruments and location sounds. “I’ve always been a big fan of segways in songs. There’s a lot of intros, you know, the sounds of traffic on the street, or just something to establish a mood. I really like that in music where you get taken down a bit of a road.”

Translations boasts the inclusion of several iconic Australian musicians, all of whom added ideas and vocals to the final incarnation of the album. All friends of Darren, they were originally slated to add lead vocals on the tracks.“Because I had a lot of self-doubt going on, I didn’t really think I could be lead singer. So I asked a whole lot of these lead-singer friends – ‘look would you help me out?’  And they were all happy to help – this collaboration thing is important to all of us.”

Paul Dempsey was there, so I slaved over the lyrics going: ‘this needs to be pretty good because this is Paul Dempsey,’ you know? He’s a bit of an intellectual giant in the scheme of song-writing. But he said to me: ‘Look, you’re making a solo record, you can sing, just step up.’ And I went ‘Ding, yeah of course, you’re right.’

Nic Cester [Jet], he sang lead vocals on one of the songs. And we all came in the studio and went, ‘it’s just not right.’ And he’s going, ‘I’m glad you feel that way because it’s better when you sing it.’ Pete Murray sang a whole song as lead vocal, but it just sounded like a Pete Murray song. So now he does the backing. It was all part of that process of stepping up and taking ownership.”

On his Facebook page, Darren also pointedly mentioned that this album would be distributed everywhere at the same time. “I think it’s just the current state of things. With Powderfinger, we were a major label thing – things are staggered in their release. And that makes sense, but I’m an independent artist nowadays, so I own the masters for the music.”

“I did sign a small distribution deal with MGM, and they put it out everywhere at once. For me, it was just important to have it out there. There’s no point in me trying to, you know, hold off the Netherlands for some reason. Why would I do it? It’s for the fans, who want to download it straight away.”

Darren has already made two teaser trailers for the album, shot during the studio sessions. “It’s fun for me editing, because I’ve made a few short films over the last couple of years. I’m busy scoring for a TV show at the moment. It’s really fun actually; it’s a different way of creating a mood for dialogue, or whatever is happening on screen.”

The show, The Worst Year of My Life Again! is still in production, with the plot revolving around a Groundhog Day-style narrative. “The main character goes through this year, and all of these things go wrong. He wakes up going, ‘I know what’s going to happen, so I’m going to fix everything,’ and it all goes pear-shaped even more.” Darren is hopefully that there will be enough interest for a series to pan out. “The producers sought me out and said ‘Would you be interested in writing a theme song for the show?’ There’s probably a few people who took a crack, but they loved it – the BBC over in the UK loved it. So I jumped on board, doing the whole show.”

“It takes up quite a bit of time,” says Darren, ruling out any immediate plans to work on other musical projects. “I think at the moment, I will give this album a little bit of time and focus.” Translations comes out on November 1st, with The Translators expecting to play launch shows at the end of November.

“I want to make them special so we’ll do something about that,” says Darren, taunting the possibility of having Australian’s best musicians join him on stage. “When we’re in Byron I’m sure Pete [Murray] will get up and do his bit. Most of them live in Melbourne so, I’ll see if I can’t wrangle a few of them at the album launch. It reads well doesn’t it? No big deal for me, because they’re just idiots as far as I’m concerned,” he jokes, “in the most matey kind of way.” The band are also planning on doing more gigs early next year.

Darren Middleton is Powderfinger’s guitarist; score composer, producer, filmmaker, family man and now solo artist. It was truly inspiring hearing him reveal the personal challenges he faced making Translations. “We all go through the same thing, over and over,” he admits. But the end result is an album that looks to be a winner for the fans. The first single ‘Let Go’ is out now.

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