Afxjim is the curious moniker of Sydney multi-instrumentalist Travis Baird who has released two long players on Feral Media, the most recent being this year’s Distant, his follow up to 2009’s awe inspiring Blackout Music. His music is a lush wide eyed amalgamation of electronics, beats, guitar, and off kilter samples gathered from op shop records, radio evangelists, and field recordings collected everywhere from kindergarten classrooms to Costa Rican karaoke bars. Playful and endlessly interesting, his sounds are impossible to pin down, marrying low fi bedroom experimentation with bright DIY electrics. An accomplished guitarist, he’s also wielded his axe for the likes of Melodie Nelson, Sounds Like Sunset and Founder, as well as scoring video installations, remixing various artists, and self-releasing the odd EP.
With such bewilderingly disparate elements making up his musical personality, Cyclic Defrost caught up with Baird to discover the origins of his influences.
Jimmy Dean – Big Bad John (Columbia, 1961)
I grew up in Hay (pop. 3000) in country NSW and that was in the days before the internet. Also, located in the middle of nowhere, there was no double or triple J, only a community radio station (2HAY FM) which test-broadcasted periodically and would transmit a generic Austereo feed when local volunteers weren’t playing Johnny Horton and Gene Pitney. It wasn’t all bad but it was definitely the sort of town and upbringing where you had to make your own fun*. For a time there you could call up in the afternoon and vote for the ‘Top 5 at 5’, a popularity contest usually dominated by Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson and top 40 dross, but for a week straight we got busy on the phones and ensured Jimmy Dean’s Big Bad John came in at number 1. It was an exhilarating run and the Top 5 at 5 stopped not long after that. It’s a great track and one of the essential songs of my youth.
Cold Chisel – Bow River (Elektra Records, 1982)
They were long family car trips across the Hay Plains towards any destination with Shakin’ Stevens or The Shadows playing on endless loops. My dad had Beatles and Wings tapes, which was well and good, but I confess that when I moved to Sydney after finishing high school I had been dragged along to see Cliff Richard in concert three times but had still never heard of David Bowie. My mum was a huge Cliff fan and a member of the fan club. They’d send a Cliff calendar every year and once they sent her samples of his new perfume range and they were all named after songs: Devil Woman, Miss You Nights…
The first tapes I owned were typical fare of that time and place: Midnight Oil’s Blue Sky Mining, Australian Crawl, Cold Chisel… Kevin Bloody Wilson. In high school some mates and I had a covers band playing a fair bit of Nirvana, Doors, Chisel, Credence, Chilli Peppers… we were called Sexual Chocolate (later Red Hot Warm) and we were 15-16 years old, rehearsing all night out on Bill’s property and sleeping in the woolshed and our instruments and amps smelled all of piss and lanolin but we were getting $400 on a Friday night at the Crown Hotel. They were very; very good days and I’ve hardly ever seen that sort of gig money since. A few years ago I got to play bass with Mossy on Bow River at a small fundraising gig at a child care centre in Glebe and it was one of the greatest moments of my life.
Gerling – Children of Telepathic Experiences (Festival Records, 1988)
I moved to Sydney in 1995 and happily discovered a thriving live music scene, other people interested in music and a couple of legendary record stores in Red Eye and Waterfront. We’d make regular trips into the city to scour the local release and student-budget-friendly second hand sections. We started a band called Founder with guitars and drums that we were still learning to play and I consumed a lot of indie and post-rock. For a long time I found it hard to discriminate between many of the electronic artists I heard and tended to view most of them through the same cynical lens. That appreciation would come later and I give no small amount of credit to the Sydney band Gerling whose 1998 album Children of Telepathic Experiences opened my eyes, ears and heart to a world of beats, synths and samples and showed me that these things and noisy guitars need not be exclusive.
Aerial M – Post Global Music: Remixes (Domino, 1999)
The process of remixing used to seem a sort of pointless exercise to me, but just as I was becoming excited about a handful of electronic artists I really got into a bunch of remix releases from indie and post-rock bands (The High Llamas Lollo Rosso, Low’s Owl Remix and Mogwai’s Kicking A Dead Pig come to mind). Aerial M was the earlier project name of David Pajo (Slint, Pap M) and those recordings featured some beautiful guitar work and I still think Pajo’s best recordings. Along with Mick Turner (Dirty Three) he probably rates as my most favourite (influential) guitarist. This 18 minute remix from Bundy K Brown is patient and masterful.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Your Funeral… My Trial (Mute Records, 1986)
The first time Nick Cave really came across my radar he was doing a duet with Kylie Minogue and I can’t say I was taken immediately but I was interested enough to buy a cheap copy of Murder Ballads with a missing cd booklet from Waterfront. I found it a bizarre and violent record very unlike anything else I was listening to at the time and I starting digging through the Bad Seeds back catalogue. Your Funeral… My Trial would have to be my favourite – a desperate drug-soaked collision of sweetness, sadness and brutality, restraint and chaos and some of Cave’s best story-telling I think. It’s also a killer live-sounding album (check out the monster bass on the title track) with some of the Bad Seeds best compositions. I haven’t really persevered for long with many of his recent albums but most of those early Bad Seeds records still blow my mind. Eventually I got around to reading his novel And The Ass Saw The Angel and while it was generally hard-going the constant references to those early albums were rewarding.
Gastr Del Sol – Camofleur (Drag City, 1998)
Through the late 90s I got pretty excited about the extended Chicago post-rock family tree and enthusiastically set about buying anything I could get my hands on. This album covers a lot of experimental folk/pop turf and weirded me out in a really good way. I enjoy various moments of the other Gastr albums but Camofleur is overall a far more cohesive listen. At times I’ve thought that it approaches perfection. Crafty instrumentation, elaborate arrangements and the bubbling electronica contributed by Markus Popp led me to discover his incredible solo work as Oval. The snappy album opener (The Seasons Reverse) is a favourite; a galloping, almost twee, acoustic pop song collapses into this lumbering acoustic guitar progression and finally dissolves into a conversational field recording.
Tortoise – Millions Now Living Will Never Die (Thrill Jockey, 1996)
Millions Now Living… was my introduction to Tortoise and it’s hard to believe the album is almost 20 years old. I was just getting into electronic stuff like Boards of Canada, Squarepusher, Tarwater and Pole and some of the more organic acts on the Kranky and Constellation labels and in a way I felt like Tortoise were completely unique but somehow sort of tying everything together. TNT is right up there with it and a very good traveling album. People have told me they find Tortoise to be a kind of boring live act and I can never understand it. The shows I’ve seen them play have been some of the most inspiring gigs I’ve attended. A very important band for me.
Yo La Tengo – I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One (Matador, 1997)
A band that has made a lot of truly great albums in my eyes. This was the first Yo La Tengo album I heard and for that reason it’s probably my favourite. I don’t think it’s easy to make timeless songs out of 3 or 4 chords and a simple melody in the modern era but more than most others Yo La Tengo have made an art of it.
Manitoba (Caribou) – Up In Flames (Leaf, 2003)
An album I listened to nearly constantly when I travelled overseas around 2003-4 and one of those albums that forever ties you to otherwise distant places, people and feelings. That was the year I went without playing any instruments or making any music at all while the first AFXJIM album was taking shape in my head. Not songs exactly, but definitely ideas about what I wanted it to sound like and I kept coming back to this album. In particular, The T In Tchina (from Blackout Music) owes a lot to this album. At times it’s incredibly dense with acoustic instruments and percussion and electronic flourishes and yet never seems overcooked or over-crowded. It’s also very playful and awfully pretty. Below all the hyper-melody and production wizardry is a basic set of sunshine-indie-pop tunes given the psychedelic treatment via trilling flutes, bouncy glocks, swirling harmonies and a Bubble Puppy sample thrown-in for good measure. Watching Manitoba recreate the record at Sydney’s Gaelic Club in 2004 was a bit of a thrill. Fourtet and local legends Qua and Clue To Kalo also played that night. What a line-up!
Circle – Miljard (Ektro, 2006)
There’s no great story behind this album as I’m not sure how it first came to my attention but it’s completely gorgeous. I’m a big fan of Aussie instrumental bands The Necks and The Dirty Three and they’ve both been major benefactors of inspiration and therapy over the years. (Mick Turner also rates as something approaching my favourite guitarist of all time.) For me, this album by experimental Finnish legends Circle evokes a lot of the same states and feelings as those bands; it’s bare and elemental, very melodic and also quite menacing at times, repetitive and hypnotic – some of my favourite things. It’s also proved to be far more suitable than Shakin’ Stevens as a soundtrack to a long, straight drive across the lonely Hay Plains, back to the Motherland and the lanolin and piss-stained woolsheds. Which more or less brings us back to where we started.
Distant is available here.