Exploration of some of the artists that make up this year’s Melbourne Cabaret Festival continues with Damon Smith and his Crazy Arms, a few centuries of piano tinkering – a new musical adventure that speaks of the origins of the piano from its birth in 1709.
Read on to spend 5 minutes with Damon Smith:
What/Who was its inspiration?
The inspiration for Crazy Arms comes from the piano itself. Its 88 keys and it’s infinite scope for a composer or songwriter From the simple plodding of chords that accompany a singer, like John Lennon in the song, Imagine, to the complex exploration, and finger gymnastics, seen in a piece like ‘The flight Of The Bumblebee’, the piano is undoubtedly the cornerstone and foundation of modern music and because of the many degrees of awesomeness that the piano offers me personally, it is utterly inspirational.
What do you think its best quality is?
The academia-centred world of classical music can sometimes appear rigid and strict with opinions of how important and sacred the music is from say, Bach, compared to the whimsical silliness of ragtime music…And it’s hard to impress a highly educated, classically trained pianist or, indeed a fan of classical piano, with a few bars of Boogie Woogie. It is often met with a grunt and a cheeky smile as opposed to the lay person on the street that sees a pianist perform a bit of the afore mentioned, Boogie Woogie and lose their marbles.
I try to blur the line a bit between these two styles in the show because as a music lover, I feel the same volume of astonishment when I listen to a boogie piano piece or a composition by Mozart. Suffice to say, I have a stronger emotional attachment and connection to the boogie music made by the poor, African Americans at the turn of the century than I do with music form the romantic era, which was largely funded by, and written and performed for the aristocracy. Soooo….I think the best quality of the show is the way I combine the latter and explain that anything composed or written on a piano is a triumph. getting this point across with good humour and the amalgamation of a boogie piece and a classical piece, always incites excitement in the crowd!
Why should people see it?
Well, apart from supporting the arts and enjoying a night out at the theatre, we truly believe this show is unique in the way it presents and blends its content. I’m showcasing pianists that are largely unheard of while celebrating the ones that are household names and I do it with a nice dose of absurdity that I think, makes it an authentic and fun cabaret experience! Also, as an audience member, you’ll leave with more information and fun facts about cool stuff, than you had when you walked in.
If there is one thing you would like to say to your fans, what is it?
I would apologise to the people that have enjoyed my piano playing enough to get online to watch any content I have, only to be confused by videos of me singing original, singer songwriter tunes on a guitar.
I’d like to really manage the different sides to my career as a creative person better but haven’t found a way how yet!?
Who or what has been the greatest influence in your career?
Music in general and individuals that create because of a true, unadulterated drive to do so, creating their art regardless of the prospects of it lining their pockets. I take my hats of to the countless musically and socially uneducated individuals throughout time that have picked up their instruments and taught themselves to play and sing for reasons other than wanting to be ‘famous’.
Who makes you want to sing?
My 6 year old daughter and I sing a lot of silly songs that make absolutely no sense, usually brought on by her muttering a melody that invites me to sing along.
When did it become clear to you that music and entertainment were your passions?
I’ve had about 40 jobs, and at some of them, I would find a place to write a song or something while I was meant to be working and consequently, was fired for doing so.
I knew I should move from Perth to Melbourne to follow my creative dreams because as far as jobs go, I was terrible as a call centre operator, bad as a giraffe enclosure cleaner, even worse as a bread tin stacker at an industrial bakehouse and shockingly bad as a turkey catcher. (to name but a few failed jobs).
As long as I can remember I have been in a fantasy world of my own, creating funny scenarios in my head. I remember distinctly sitting at the piano as a kid, unaware of how to play anything but very aware that the notes, especially the low ones, pressed in a particular order would sound cinematic and inspire me to write and perform little movielike sequences that I would act out in the backyard.
What does music, song and entertainment mean to you?
A great, great song like ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ by Kris Kristofferson or a wickedly funny film like ‘Withnail and I’ leaves me breathless and in awe and I think, considering art is frustratingly and beautifully subjective, and we all have our own ideas of what a great film or piece of music is, this is the answer to your question. Music, song and entertainment can feel so, so personal.
What are 3 words that describe you?
Preposterous. Gritty. Passionate.
What are 3 things that would surprise people to learn about you?
As a hobby filmmaker, I make little documentaries on people I find interesting. I’m not sure I will ever release or even finish them but I enjoy the process of creating and editing a lot.
A few years ago, I produced, filmed and edited a music performance series called ‘The Night Sky Is A Jewellery Store Window’ which showcased over 45 singer songwriters playing their music. I’m told that the finished product has helped many local musicians get their foot in the door to festivals and the like and I often hear people reference it and talk about how much they enjoyed it, all the while having no idea that I was the person who was behind it.
It’s a great feeling to be appreciated for something I laboured over, specifically, a love project that I made that I didn’t get financially reimbursed for. Another surprising thing about me? Last year I nearly lost my wrist and hand due to do a nasty infection that had me in hospital for 4 days…piano playing would have been a one handed affair if that had of happened. Very lucky!!
What is next for you?
I’ll be pushing Crazy Arms quite a bit over the next year or so as well as continue to perform all over the place with ‘Sun Rising, The songs that made Memphis’.
Another cabaret show I am about to tour is a cabaret show about living with mental disorders such as Bipolar or OCD. ‘Mental As Everything’, received glowing reviews for our 2018, Adelaide Fringe season since then, we have been modifying and refining the show, with a view to have it performed in schools across Australia.
Damon Smith’s Crazy Arms, a few centuries of piano tinkering part of the Melbourne Cabaret Festival, Wednesday 19 until Sunday 30 June 2019, Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran. Bookings: http://melbournecabaret.com