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An Ode to a Patchwork Guitar Hero

from Buzz magazine, September 1999

With some 20 years in the industry and album number 9 out and in stores, Stephen Cummings can well hold a candle to the title of one of Australia's premier musicians.

'Shaped Like Love' was one of the more simple tracks to compose for Stephen. With a a trippy mandolin separated left and right it has an old world feel it takes you back into the American back hills. With an acoustic guitar and a vocal, Stephen tried hard to make everything on the record work together. "It was a kind of a relaxed record to make" he says. Relaxed is right with most of the release being recorded in Stephen's garage. Many guys go to the garage to work on cars, tinker with tools or down a few beers with mates away from the missus. Not so Stephen Cummings, his garage is a fully equipped set-up.

"It's a bit different to anyone else's" he admits, "it's my workroom, so it's lined with books and records and stuff." Two large fluoro banks drop down either end of the garage to which Stephen has tied a number of mini mirror balls for 'atmosphere'. It has a ceiling in it now, no car and the walls have been sealed, then covered in about 10 eiderdowns he has scoured Melbourne's op shops for. For Stephen Cummings it is his home away from home and a place where many of his songs have had their beginnings.

Shane O'Mara and Rebecca Barnard feature quite predominantly in the new release. It was a simple matter of ringing them up and inviting them over to the funky garage for a few sessions. "The new release was with friends I knew and Ashley Naylor from the group Even who mostly plays electric guitar on the record. He was kinda good - he's into a lot of the music I like". Taking on the role of producing his own release, Stephen was more self empowered, giving him the chance to follow his own lead. "It gave me the chance to keep it simpler and have the voice up loud and just kind of have the chance to be more myself."

So what does Stephen Cummings do when he's out there singing on stage?

"I just really try and not think about anything and lock into the mood of it and let myself go."

"With this record I kinda knew exactly what I wanted to do before I made it. I set about trying to achieve the idea that I had in my head. I knew what I wanted to get which is always a big help. Sometimes you kind of don't know what you want to do and it can be quite stressful. Because I was in my garage I felt quite comfortable there and it was relatively easy."

Favourite track on the release is 'Such Luck To Be Alive', it just strikes a chord with Stephen at his present stage in the 'movement of life'.

Perhaps typically of Cummings work the songs reflect the last six weeks or so before the new release. This is not the last 12 months of angst and torment bottled up and released for the 'year that was' sort of thing. "They [the songs] were put together in a month before the release. A couple of them I wrote while I was doing it. The recording was over a four month period and in little bursts. It wasn't a rush. Normally I record in one kind of go but this time, it was spread over a four month period. I just hung around the house. I had a new baby (Dominic) when I started doing it."

For Cummings, Dominic is son no. 2 (now 13 months) to 13 year old brother Curtis. So is touring getting harder for Stephen with increasing family commitments? "No one tours anymore really, I just tour on weekends and stuff. If I go away one of them inevitably comes with me." So is son Curtis picking up the guitar?

"He plays the trumpet, but he'd rather be listening to Fatboy Slim rather than Stephen Cummings."

So no Curtis Cummings on tour , but dad Stephen has quite a collection of talented musicians making up the flow. 'Peter Jones from Deadstar plays drums, Bill McDonald from Rebecca's Empire plays bass, Jeff Burstin plays acoustic guitar and Ashley Naylor plays electric guitar and I play acoustic guitar and things'. It's a group of old friends it's a fun experience for Stephen.

Organizational skills have not greatly improved since we last spoke to Stephen and his scraps of paper memos about song ideas that floated in soap flake like scurries around the Cummings household. Nowadays it's electronic and a trusty MAC LC looks after the ideas, when Stephen is near enough to the trusty electronic warhorse. Usually though Stephen is more used to scrawling the new song through a series of chords on the back of whatever is lying around at the time. "I usually try and save myself because I usually try and make a tape when I'm doing it" he admits.

So do you see yourself continuing with music given that this is the ninth album and over 20 years have passed since junior Cummings set foot on his path to glory?

"I'll imagine I'll be doing music till I drop. I'm working on songs all the time". Stephen is up with the latest and uses the Internet to promote many works that never appear on releases. "I often give the guys that work on my website stuff. They release it as a Mpeg3 file about once a month. The new release 'Spiritual Bum' is also a CDROM. Plug it into the CD drive of your computer and you're away with the new technology that Cummings has so readily embraced. Both IBM and Mac platforms are available. "I've never met these two guys, they are both about 24 and live in London. They're both computer programmers. It's not the official site, sometimes they say good things and sometimes they say bad things. It's a fan site. They've been doing it for over 4 years. Mostly they say my records are good, sometimes they bag a track or two. It's a really good site. They've done a good job. When they knew a record was coming, they said 'there's heaps of room on that disk, why don't you let us write a CDROM for you'. It was really good of them and they did it for free. They're genuine fans".

Not only an accomplished musician, SC is also an established author with his new novel 'Stay away from lightning girl' now available in bookstores. Centred around the music industry. "It's a story told backwards, something like Sunset Boulevard," he advises. Taking about a year he found it hard work. So which hat? Author? Musician? Poet or Dad? Leave it to life in the garage and SC will be happy.

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