Yesteryear: The Rational Academy

In an interesting twist from the usual, Benjamin Thompson digs through his band’s past to find the songs which proved most influential in shaping various versions of The Rational Academy, a truly shape-shifting unit that have sailed atop Brisbane’s busy independent scene for nearly a decade.

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No Anchor – Dead Pony

Ian from No Anchor was my first real friend in Brisbane, in fact he was also my first flatmate. At the time he was playing in an “ambitious indie pop” band with Kate Cooper who is now famous to the world as An Horse. This friendship undoubtably tied in with the early Rational Academy “ambitious indie pop” sound.

Ian and I have shared a lot of things, playing our first Summer Festival together, dinner with Tegan and Sara (didn’t expect that), a few clashes with absolute tragedy, but mostly just your run of the mill, independent music “highs” and a few beers backstage. When we get drunk we are each others brothers.

Ian told me I was taking to long to finish the Winter Haunts record and so he was stealing the title “Yellow Pony” and that he would continue to steal them until I finished the record. The last 15 seconds of this song really fuck me up – I can hear everything Ian and I both love about music in those 15 seconds, and that in itself makes it noteworthy.

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Shuriken – Heartskrape

About a week after I moved to Brisbane our original drummer, who sadly passed away, took me to see Shuriken. It was a dank little basement venue, I met Meredith McHugh (with whom, a few weeks later I would form the Rational Academy) for the first time, and their frontman Matt Jonas smashed a pink stratocaster to splinters. It was a defining moment. It was that moment Thurston talks about when he recalls watching DNA in New York. They ran their own label – “Sound Malfunction”, a website with a hilarious message board (malf-board), released CDRs of all the best Broadcasty-library-noise bands brisbane had to offer and I felt like a little kid around them.

We opened their last ever show. Matt went onto focus on wonky Instrumental Hip Hop as Aoi and also played bass in the Academy around the time of our first album. Leon moved to London and went on to do great things as a member of Hush Arbors and Still Corners. A few weeks back they reconvened in Melbourne for the first time in 7 years for two shows which I was lucky enough to play at again. After so many years, watching them jam this track out for 12 minutes in the lounge room of the girl I wrote “2004” about was a surreal experience to say the least.

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Turnpike – Like a Highway

Turnpike are a Brisbane institution, they have outlived every band, ever. They are the most beautiful people I have ever met. When I first moved to Brisbane, watching them perform “Like a Highway” was about as common as having a drink at a club. Its not why I moved to Brisbane but its part of why I stayed. Adam King is the master of those weird skittery free jazz squiggles. He pours sweat onstage and hypnotises everyone with his spider fingers. Photo credit: Brad Marsellos

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Lawrence English – Organs Lost at Sea

Lawrence English is without argument the most important collaborator I have worked with over the course the Rational Academy’s almost 10 year history. I first moved to Brisbane to participate in a State Government supported Arts Mentoring Program. I had up until that point been living in a small country town, however through my job at the local art gallery I had unique access to the email addresses of various gallery directors, movers and shakers. I decided to contact a few of them and see who they might recommend I work with. The answer was unanimous. And thats how I met Lawrence. At our first meeting we recorded some guitar and Saxophone for Tujiko Noriko’s “Blurred in My Mirror” and following that we jumped straight into collaborating on what would become The Rational Academy.

For me, “Organs Lost at Sea” from his 2008 Touch debut “KirI No Oto”, is his first big moment. It stands as a marker for when he really became something else. The intense layering and texture mesmerises me. I am lucky enough to have watched him perform this piece on several occasions and each time it leaves me completely charged with nervous energy.

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Do The Robot – Just the Six (No The Five of Us)

Up until perhaps late 2010 the paths of husband and wife duo Do the Robot and the Academy were so interlinked you could barely tell us apart. In fact for a long period, including our first international tour to Japan, guitarist, Matt, served as the Academy’s drummer. I met Matt when I first moved to Brisbane and he himself had only just moved down from Cairns. Later down the line a friend suggested his partner Sara as a possible new bass player for us – I guess thats how we found out they had started this new project and the next thing you know they were opening our 7″ launch, and sharing almost every other bill with us you could imagine.

I have great memories of this song and, indeed, the whole “First Names” record. A lot of it was recorded in the front room of my apartment by Todd Dixon who was also playing guitar in the Academy at the time.

My earliest memory of hearing this song, standing in the audience the night both our bands opened for a fairly high profile Icelandic group (who shall remain nameless). After the show we all went back to a friends house and the Icelandic kids taught us how to spin our marijuana with menthol tobacco. This is a pretty great song to play while you give that a go.

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Isaac Powell
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Isaac Powell

Isaac is Editor-in-Chief of Noted, and prefers his music loud and steaks rare. Lives and writes in Nottingham, England.
Isaac Powell
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