Friday, 29 November 2013


‘Black Rainbow’ is the debut solo album of ex-Noiseworks bassist Steve Balbi, and is a reflection of the many influences and experiences of the mature musician, showcasing tunes in the style of old-school Bowie, and well as a throwback to early 90s grunge.

Is it Frank Zappa? Is it Johnny Depp? No, its Steve Balbi.
Balbi is an important figure in Australian music, appearing in the 80s as bassist for the band Noiseworks, whose hit song ‘Touch’ is covered on his album. After the band’s split in 1992, he paired up with fellow Noiseworks member Justin Stanley to form psychedelic pop group Electric Hippies, where Steve was lead vocalist, his distinctive style still evident in his tunes.
He has since worked with high-profile artists such as Michael Hutchence, Tom Jones and David Bowie, whose influences are evident on this album, which Balbi produced via Social Family Records. He has notably been involved with several others artists in ‘Ziggy, The Songs of David Bowie’, a live performance which showcases Bowie's repertoire played by a series of Australian musicians.

Balbi (far right) in Noiseworks

In ‘Black Rainbow’, we see Balbi’s own style emerging, especially after his inclusion in a wide variety of acts and groups. The album has a dark, slightly melancholy feel, as probably suggested by the cover - a black-and-white portrait of a contemplative Balbi, his face framed by long, Zappa-esque locks. His sound is showing some roots of classic 90s grunge, but its reflective, mature lyrics showcases his song writing ability – and its influences, especially David Bowie. Bowie's style is reflected in Balbi’s use of dreamy layering and spacey effects, and in ‘Sweet Sabotage’, we hear a storytelling introduction, reminiscent of early Bowie:

There’s a lonely man lost/caught in the fog/he can’t find his face. Steve Balbi, ‘Sweet Sabotage’, 2013.

I laughed and shook his hand, and made my way back home/I searched for form and land, for years and years I roamed. David Bowie, ‘The Man Who Sold The World’, 1970.

While the album exudes a certain darkness, a standout track, ‘What Do You Do’, uses a ukulele, paired with an electric guitar and light-hearted vocals. A highlight of the album is Balbi’s reworking of the Noiseworks classic ‘Touch’. This sensitive piece is re-done well, using a few select instruments and highlighting Balbi’s strong vocals, as well as the poetic lyrics.

Another day is going out/A sea of faces crying out/With all we have today/You think we'd stop and take a look now/And all I want to say/Is maybe that we should reach out, everybody.

As well as providing a satisfying throwback to Balbi’s earlier years, ‘Black Rainbow’ has given the veteran musician a chance to develop his unique style, incorporating mature, toned-down grunge and showcasing reflective, poetic tunes.


Ollie Brown, who was crowned "Australia's Best Busker" in 2011, is no stranger to the road. He's toured with many famous artists including, Michael Buble, The Beach Boys, three SOLD OUT shows at The Sydney Opera House where he opened for Kina Grannis as well as performing at The Byron Bay Bluesfest in 2012 - his touring itinerary list goes on. 

After the release of his first E.P. "Moving On", Ollie Brown went on tour, travelling over 16,000 km's and playing 31 shows. The anticipated release of his latest E.P. "Weatherboard House" is in a matter of months and we, at The Optional E, are very excited for the 22-year-old.

A very busy Ollie Brown was able to have a chat with us and it was great to hear from the up-and-coming Australian singer/songwriter. 

When and how did you get into music?

I wanted to learn an instrument when I was 8 so my school music teacher handed me a Tuba and told me to start practicing.

What was it like being crowned 'Australia's Best Busker'? 

It was pretty surreal. I still don't know how so many voted for me... 

Who are your main musical influences?

Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Ryan Adams, The Band, Little Feat, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, I could go on but I'll leave it there.

You've toured with many famous musical acts in the past few years , but who has helped you the most in improving as a performer and a singer/songwriter?

Well different tours have helped me in different ways. The main two would be The Beach Boys and my most recent tour with the Baby Animals. Every night on tour I'd listen to the Beach Boys and become more and more fascinated with their chord progressions and song structures. 'God Only Knows' is a great example and is also my favourite song of theirs.With the Baby Animals I learnt about stage presence and how to be more of a performer. If you're touring, no matter what music you play, you've got to have a presence on stage. So I watched Suze and Steve Balbi on stage every night and absorbed it all like a sponge.

What should we be expecting in your new E.P. 'Weatherboard House' ?

Weatherboard House is kind of like a teaser for the album which will be out a few months after. It draws from much older influences than my first EP. Some people have said it's very 70's sounding. I just tried to keep it honest and natural sounding. I'm really happy with it!

What's next for Ollie Brown?

Well the 'Weatherboard House' EP is out in Feb next year and my debut album will be released a few months later so there will be a lot of new music and touring over the next 12 months. 2014 is looking like its going to be a very big year.

You can catch Ollie Brown throughout December as he continues to tour! The dates are as follows:

Saturday 7 December

Oxford Art Factory, Sydney

Friday 13 December

Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre, Currarong

Thursday 19 December

Lizzotes, Newcastle

"Bedford Avenue" by Ollie Brown is an Optional E favourite! Check it out!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013


UK-singer/songwriter Jake Bugg is back, and at only 19, the quick release of his new album 'Shangri-La' is an ideal indication that the youngster is bursting with new ideas and is quickly settling in to stardom and fame. 

Recorded with the infamous producer Rick Rubin at Shangri-La studio in Malibu – hence the album title – 'Shangri-La' portrays an artist who is clearly expanding exponentially but is still able to keep his trademark sound. By 'trademark sound' I'm referring to, of course, his nasal vocals which have continued to link comparisons to the immortal, Bob Dylan.

It's obvious that Jake Bugg is making strides to widen his repertoire, and working with Rick Rubin is undoubtedly the beginning of something tremendous waiting just around the corner. Although not everyone has a taste for Rubin's  fondness for excessive compression and loudness, this style is certainly perfect for Bugg. The 'nakedness' of tracks that he applied with artists such as Johnny Cash and The Red Hot Chili Peppers works beautifully on the garage rock revival tracks like "There's a Beast and We All Feed It" and "Slumville Sunrise." The album is a constant mixture of folk and rock, like "Messed Up Kids", which introduces us to a new side of Bugg, providing us with a much more poetic viewpoint ("It's a washed-out Saturday, a sky of pastel shades, under breeze-block palisades").

We see Jake exploring more of that rough, tough, 'working-class' feel with developments on his bad boy image created in older material (like previously featured 'Two Fingers', which was pretty badass) - such as in the song 'Kingpin' with the lyrics "Pay off the police to stay out of my way / I got it all sewn up and I'm kingpin for a day" - and with the more gritty, low-fi dirty sound this album produces. Other examples of this more jagged, unpolished atmosphere is seen especially in songs such as 'What Doesn't Kill You' with its ferocious guitar distortion and Jake's flinging delivery, paired with uninhibited vocal projection.

There is no doubt Jake Bugg will live up to his potential within his next few releases. However, on 'Shangri La', Bugg is still searching within himself for that special something and - providing he manages to discover anything breathtaking by the time he begins working on album number three, he could very well establish himself as a serious performer for years to come. But for now, Jake Bugg is a 'Mercury Award Nominated' performer and I'm sure there will be plenty more nominations in the near future.

Jake will be touring Australia as part of Bluesfest 2014, and will be holding a few sideshows in the major cities. Tour dates are below:

Thursday 17 April
Melbourne, Palace Theatre

Sunday 20 April
Sydney, Enmore Theatre

Wednesday 23 April
The HiFi, Brisbane

Check out some of the optional e's favourites: "What Doesn't Kill You" and "Slumville Sunrise"

Sunday, 17 November 2013


The Red Lights are a super snazzy indie rock band from Melbourne who have won fans over with their catchy hooks, warm harmonies and tongue-in-cheek lyrics. They've supported and performed alongside major acts such as The Rubens and Hunting Grounds, and we were very happy to catch up with drummer Davin Johnston after the release of their new EP 'Neighbouring Patterns'.

What's in a band name?

(I) don't think there is any particularly great story behind it. I'm pretty sure the other boys (Dean Valentino and David Liistro) had just started doing shows and were thinking of names- Dave suggested it and it just stuck! For us; a lot (on its importance) - our band name is pretty synonymous with who we we have become. We have built a reputation with it and it has built our outlets for connecting with fans via Facebook, twitter, Instagram etc.

Who are The Red Lights?

A healthy dose of 3 piece Indie/Rock, full sound and warm harmonies.

When did you guys start playing music?

We really spent a lot of time honing our debut EP and finding a sound that was just us on a record for 'Not In This Town'. It was raw and in some ways lo-fi. By the time we hit the songwriting stage for the second record we had matured a lot as a band and had gone through some life changes personally. 'Neighbouring Patterns' has our signature sound but there is a lot more substance- there are some songs like our lead single 'Chaperone' that is crisp and has warm harmonies which breaks away from what we have previously written in the past.

Biggest influences?

We have a mutual love for bands like Phoenix & The Kooks- but we have a lot of different other influences too, some of my personal favourites still to this day are bands like Death Cab for Cutie and early 90's rock like Jimmy Eat World. (the optional e loves these band to bits as well.)

What are you guys working on at the moment?

We are just really getting back into some shows after taking a little break to recoup - some ideas are starting to float around for some potential new tunes, looks like we will be booking in some time soon to get back in the writing process!

Any final comments and/or cool stuff?

I do believe David is set to be married (arranged) in Laos early 2014 so it will be nice to fly up and make a speech for that, maybe we can play as his wedding band, hmmm that could be pretty nice.

Thank you so much to The Red Lights for talking with us. Grab a copy of their fabulous new EP 'Neighbouring Patterns' or their fantastic 'Not In This Town' EP. We're so pumped for when these guys (hopefully!)  release a new full length album, and congratulations to David (ladies: AWW).

Check out 'Chaperone', the lead single from 'Neighbouring Patterns' and an optional e fave: