From an outsiders perspective, it seems to have been a relatively tough year for Aussie dance/pop outfit Rogue Traders. They were reported to have parted ways with their long-time record company Sony and subsequently it seemed like their fourth album, ‘Night Of The Living Drums’, would perhaps never see the light of day.
Then, as if by magic – and in great news for fans of the band – the album suddenly appeared on Sony’s release schedule, coupled with a greatest hits package entitled ‘The Sound Of Drums’.
We hopped on the blower to Mister Rogue James Ash, who was extraordinarily open and honest about what’s undoubtedly been a rollercoaster year.
“We did leave Sony,” he admits. “It was not through want of everyone trying their absolute hardest and it wasn’t an easy thing at the time, I can tell you. It was quite upsetting. And also it was very confusing for our fans, because obviously they were waiting for a record that didn’t materialize, even though it was material in itself. So it was really, really hard.
“I think because of the nature of the internet and social media, you become directly accountable to your fans and naturally it seemed like it was our fault,” he said.
The reasons for ‘Night Of The Living Drums’ staying on the shelf for most of the year came down to the lack of support for and the subsequent failure to fire of the band’s singles ‘Love Is A War’ and ‘Would You Raise Your Hands?’. Both peaked briefly just inside the top 100. As James says, the expectation was that the album wouldn’t have done well enough had it been released at the time.
“It was never a question of never releasing it; it was iced,” he says frankly. “History shows that we didn’t choose the best singles. In retrospect, we could have chosen different songs which probably would have performed better, but hindsight, as they say, is a wonderful thing. And it’s something that none of us actually has.
“With ‘Love Is A War’ – let’s talk plainly about that, perhaps for the first time in any interview. Obviously it didn’t do what we intended and we honestly thought we were choosing the best single at the time – we genuinely did. We didn’t deliberately go out there and try and alienate people. I know it’s obviously a surprise to you and others who didn’t like the song, but it was a surprise to us when so many people didn’t like it.
“But it’s interesting – a lot of people have told us that that song works a lot better when they hear it in the context of the album,” he says, continuing on aboard the honesty train when he admits that it hurts that things haven’t turned out as planned with the new project.
“It certainly does,” he says. “In our lives and in our careers, we always have successes and failures. But in the music industry, they’re generally very public affairs. And when you have a song that doesn’t do as well as you want it to, it’s there for everyone to see.
“I’m really proud of the record. I think it’s stronger than ‘Better In The Dark’ and I think it’s one of our best. The fans are really, really loving it as well, which is the most vindicating feeling of all. I can tell you that putting this record out is not (as Jessie J would say) about the money. It really is about giving the people what they’ve been waiting for.”
“Really what turned it around was when we realized that we were approaching our ten year anniversary, which was an event for which we always intended doing a greatest hits,” he says.
“It seemed like a brilliant way to tie the two projects together. Out of loyalty, we went to Sony first and they really liked the idea. I have to give them a lot of credit for showing continued faith in us and here we are with ‘The Sound Of Drums’.”
The best-of encompasses the band’s hits from across the past decade; tracks that were released before the Natalie Bassingthwaighte era, tracks that were hits during her reign and tracks from recent years, with new vocalist Mindi Jackson up front. We tell James that we’re particularly thrilled that ‘Stay’ (which featured James’ own vocals) has found its way onto the tracklist.
“So am I actually,” he laughs. “That’s my little indulgence, isn’t it? I was doing my best Bernard Sumner impression, really. It’s funny because I’d never get a gig in anyone else’s band, but when it’s your own band, you can do whatever the fuck you want.
“‘Stay’ did what a lot of those ‘80s records did – you could dance to it, but it made you feel melancholy at the same time, which was the order of the day in 1985.
“I had the chance to perform it on TV. We did ‘One of Our Kind’, which was our first hit, then we released ‘Stay’ and we had the chance to perform it on live TV. But I said ‘no’ and we were told that if we said ‘no’, we weren’t going to get asked back to do it again. And I said ‘no’ and I don’t regret it. Because I would have been bad. I would have been really bad,” he says, tongue firmly implanted in cheek.
James also admits that, besides ‘Stay’, he’s got a little soft spot for another of the tracks on the best-of.
“‘In Love Again’ is a very important one for us,” he says. “Because when we wrote that, the missus and I has just got our first ultrasound photo of our twins in her tummy. We could see their faces on the ultrasound and that was the day that we wrote ‘In Love Again’.”
The highlight single for the new release is ‘America’; a track written at the time that the Bush years came to an end and the Obama era began. We’re surprised to discover that James wasn’t really expecting the question about the new track.
“I didn’t anticipate, and I should have, that when you start doing interviews about a song, you’re going to get asked about the song,” he says with a laugh. “When we wrote it, Obama hadn’t long got into power. Thoughout all the noughties, everyone was just bagging out America. That was the order of the day and in my opinion, often for very valid reasons as well.
“But when Obama came along, suddenly there was a sense of hope that perhaps America could save the world after all. And at the time, we were listening to lots of Blondie – lots and lots of Blondie – and I wanted a song that conjured up the feeling of the American dream – a sense of possibility and a sense of optimism.
We profess our love for ‘America’ and another track on the new album called ‘Like It Ends Tonight’; a feel-good pop number that wouldn’t sound out of place on today’s radio station playlists. Both are, naturally, vocalled by saucy new frontwoman Mindi Jackson, who came on board following the Nat Bassingthwaighte era. Many have been quick to draw comparisons between the two singers.
“I don’t think that’s fair – they’re completely different individuals,” he defends. “Mindi is a unique talent and she is her own person and we’ve always said from the beginning that we weren’t looking for the next Nat, we were looking for the first Mindi.
“But equally, we were all aware that this was something that people would want to talk about and naturally, the lead singer is the focal point of any group, despite the fact that we were around before Nat and we were fortunate enough to have some success before her as well.
“Mindi is an incredible artist. She’s got a great voice, but she’s a brilliant writer and she’s very very commited to the art of songwriting – it’s what she lives and breathes,” he says.
“We’re sharing this record with as many people as we can and then we are going to be…,” James enthuses before we interject with ‘touring in the new year!!’.
“Touring in the new year,” he continues. “Which is going to be absolutely awesome. We can’t wait. It’s been a good few years since we’ve done it, but we’re really looking forward to it. So April time. We’ll be posting an announcement soon with all the dates on it,” he hints.
As for new music, nothing is set in stone for the moment, but James believes that the Rogue Traders sound will move towards the more electronica side of the dance music spectrum and away from the “band sound” that they’ve become known for.
When that happens – and whether it be as a signed or independent outfit – is so far written in the stars.
“We’ve been living with this album for a long time, so we just need to get it out of system and play it out of our system and then probably by the time the tour is finished, we’ll start thinking about the next record,” James says.
“So we certainly intend to keep making music.”
Rogue Traders’ ‘Sound Of Drums’ is available physically and digitally now.
Look for the Rogue Traders’ 2012 tour announcement soon.