This is a series of interviews with outstanding male performers from the music scene in Melbourne, Australia. This series is conducted in good faith (with a good sense of humour) to illustrate how gender affects how we, as musicians, are treated. The questions I am asking all of my interviewees are genuine questions which I, or other female musicians, have been asked in interviews (and occasionally, at performances), but with their genders (and related elements) reversed make them more relevant to my current interviewees.
Well, unless you’ve been in a coma for the last 20 years, you’ve probably heard of the Cat Empire and have a pretty good idea of who Harry Angus is. If you’ve been in the right place at the right time, you may have also heard his new project Struggle with Glory. The songs are outrageously good and Harry carves it up live with his vocal prowess, lyrical trumpet playing and general good vibes on stage (and in person). He is currently based in northern NSW next to our picturesque east coast, and (unlike our Victorian colleagues) is currently playing gigs up there with his new duo.
Go and see him if you get the chance.
TM: What do you love about being a male jazz musician? What do you not love as much?
I love that I’m allowed to get really drunk at a gig every now and then, and completely stuff it up, and know Ill still get booked next time.
I love that I can arrive at a rehearsal without having learned any of the material and I’ll probably get away with it.
I love that other people shake my hand (or elbow bump as the case may be) and introduce themselves to me by name when I meet them professionally or after a show.
One negative aspect of being a male jazz musician is that sometimes people will hire you just to fulfil a quota of males that they think they need to have in the group (usually 100% is the quota). I think people should be hired based on talent and merit rather than on the basis of their sex, and it kind of sucks when you realise you’re only in the group because you’re a bro.
Why do you think there are so many males in the music industry?
Growing up I remember seeing a lot of males in bands, on the TV and in film clips and stuff, and thinking, “if they can do that, I can do that!” I was heavily influenced by a lot of awesome males. If you look at the Rolling Stone polls from when I was a teenager, there were consistently about 90 male artists listed in the ‘100 Greatest Artists of All Time’ so I guess that kind of indicated to me on some level that I would be probably have a better chance in the industry as a male.
Why do you play so many instruments?
Haha I know right? I guess Im just that kind of guy, you know, I was never into playing footy and all those typical guy things, I would rather sit inside and make up songs on the piano. I was always a real Momma’s boy.
So, how do you be a musician and a father?
Nobody has ever asked me that before! Sorry I don’t really understand the question. Luckily my wife Emily Lubitz has supported me to keep doing all the touring I was doing before we had kids. She is a musician too, but she doesn’t tour as much as she used to.
Favourite holiday destination and why?
Wilson’s Promontory. I just love the way you can immerse yourself in nature there, and walk through landscapes relatively untouched by western development.
What is it like to be a man playing brass?
I think it’s easier to know what to wear. We brass males have a strict standard-issue uniform of black shirt with lint on it, black pants with lint on them, and black Doc Martens or black ASICS-Gel sneakers. I think its harder for the women to know what to wear. Also, you’re supposed to drink a lot of beer which can be challenging at first but you get used to it.
Is there a player with a signature sound that you admire? Someone you idolized or enjoyed transcribing?
Louis Armstrong. For me the trumpet is such a joyous instrument and he plays it that way. He wrote the book really. Plus I like that his approach to soloing is so intertwined with melody and song, which was typical of the era but also appeals to me much more these days than the concept of the big, performative SOLO in capitals.
If you could get on stage with anyone it would be . . .
Right now: Freyja Hooper, the drummer I’m actually getting on stage with. We have been working on a duo project and it’s really getting interesting. I wouldn’t want to get on stage with anyone I hadn’t practised with.
Tell me about what youre working on at the moment.
OK, more about the duo project. Freyja plays drums, I play piano and sing. I also attempt to play trumpet and accompany myself on the piano. That’s still a bit of a gimmick but hopefully I can transcend the gimmicky stage eventually. Piano and drums is a great combo, a very full and detailed sound and a lot of questions to be asked and answered about how to make arrangements interesting and how to make it feel good. We were inspired by a video of Nina Simone live at Ronnie Scott’s with a piano/drummer duo.