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Interview : The Bedroom Philosopher

March 31st 2010 11:00
Justin Heazelwood (aka The Bedroom Philosopher) is an odd character. Maybe it was growing up in Burnie Tasmania, maybe it was living in Canberra while at Uni or maybe it's the bohemian Melbourne lifestyle. Either way, it makes for musical comedy gold. Preparing the release of his new album 'Songs From The 86 Tram', Justin answered a few questions about the album, his decorated writing career and about looking forward to turning 30 this year.

You're about to release "Songs From The 86 Tram" based on last years Melbourne Comedy Festival show, what was so special about the songs on the 86 tram?

It was an exercise in character exploration. In comedy, bogans get made fun of all the time, and old people and junkies are all easy targets. I was interested in taking on demographics that are rarely satirised in any way. Indie musoís, wanky artists, middle aged women and refugees all get a mention. My last album ĎBrown & Orangeí was all about me and delving into my own strange mind, so for this project I was keen to basically not be in the show at all. Yet, at the same time, naturally, Iím in each of the characters in one way or another. Iím always trying to find the perfect blend of music and humour, so that one doesnít compromise the other. I want to write and record songs that are musically rocking and lyrically funny and engaging, that stand up to repeated listening and you could put on the background at a party without everyone suddenly calling cabs. With this show and album I feel like Iíve finally achieved it. After Brown and Orange I wasnít in a great place. The album took too long to make and was heavily delayed and burdened by all kinds of problems and it depressed me and took a great toll on my confidence and sense of momentum. With Songs From The 86 Tram I hadnít done Melbourne Comedy Festival in four years, and sat down at my desk and literally wrote myself out of a hole. So to then essentially direct and produce the show myself, and have it go so well and win awards was enormously healing. Subsequently, the album was a dream to make. I learnt a bunch of lessons from the last one and had my band The Awkwardstra all fired up. And now that ĎNorthcote (So Hungover)í has gone so well I feel like Iím back on the map. Not just the Iím So Post Modern guy. (ďReallyÖis he still going?Ē *Polite smirk*).

Where did the Bedroom Philosopher moniker come from?
I had a segment on JJJís morning show in 2002. The producer Vicki Kerrigan heard my demoís and said the lyrics were like bedroom philosophy. They started calling me that. Iím glad, itís better than the other name I was gonna go with ĎDamp Slacks.í

You're a prolific writer, from Frankie magazine to working on The Ronnie James Half Hour show do you find it hard to continually write comedy or is a natural process?

My head is set to puns and the handleís broken off. Iím a bit like the Rain Man. Or Russel Crowe in a beautiful mind. Except instead of a wondrous, tangled map of maths equations sprawling out of my head itís just wordplays and 90ís references. Iím pretty hell-bent on writing what I know. I mean, I did professional writing at uni, and about the only thing I can remember from those three years is Ďwrite what you knowí and Ďwhy havenít you done the readings?.í Looking back, I kind of resent the bombardment of American and British culture I had all through my childhood. Growing up in Burnie in Tasmania was a very isolating experience Ė I had this weird hang up that nothing Australian could be that good. Especially with music. I didnít own an Australian album until I went to Uni. So from that angle I try and over correct by making my stuff try and capture a flavour that is uniquely Australian. You also tend to get a lot of people banging on about Ďfocus on the UK and US markets, donít make it too localisedí blah blah, so with 86 Tram I went, oh yeah, how about a concept album about Melbourne tram culture. Sell that. Oh Iím sure if Sufjan Stephen did it about the New York subway system weíd all be creaming our cardigans.

Also, from a comedy perspective, I resent all the dumbed down, Ďaim it at the mainstreamí kind of material that you get on TV and from a lot of stand-ups, so Iíve taken it upon myself to try and write for my kind. I canít stand a world where the true strangeness and idiosyncrasies of life are regularly glossed over and tucked away in the too hard basket. People get depressed, have disturbing dreams, have mentally ill family members, get incredibly bitter and cynical, have weird fights with friends, hate themselves. Iím all for embracing those things and making fun of them. Humour is great for that, Iíve always thought of my act as taking all the scary parts of my soul and dragging them onto stage so everyone can see them and we can all realise that they arenít really that scary, and certainly not bigger than us.

What's the best way to handle a heckler?

Passive aggressiveness. I write a note and stick it to their chair. Or I use the line ĎGo back to alcoholics anonymous and deal with your Dad issues.í

Where do you prefer playing, music venues or comedy clubs?

Today, comedy rooms, tomorrow, music venues. Iíve spend the last eight years trying to find the answer to this. At the end of the day Iím a comedian and a musician. Part of me has always felt that to truly satisfy both parties I would need to frequent both the music and comedy scenes. Between 06-08 I had a pretty awkward transition period of starting a band and only playing music venues. It was still the same act essentially, but with more focus on the music. But I think people got the wrong idea, they thought that Iíd turned into Radiohead all of a sudden, and the comedy industry didnít want a bar of it. The problem with comedy venues was that a lot of my subtler songs Iíd scratch from the setlist for fear they werenít funny enough , and it started to feel like I was clowning my act up too much, when in fact these songs meant a lot to me as a songwriter. After a whole bunch of horrendous soul searching and flitting back and forth like a cat who doesnít know if he wants to go in or out, I struck the right balance last year. I did Melbourne Comedy Festival soon followed by an album tour in music venues with a band and basically satisfied both worlds. Bedroom Philosopher needs two modes, itís as simple as that. Itís a tough one. Music crowds get freaked out if you do material. There is stuff that a music crowd will laugh at that a comedy crowd wonít touch, and vice versa. Itís a good workout as a performer to be perceptive to what frequencies are needed for which. I mean, who wants to be comfortable, EVER, not me. I thought, if Iím gonna be doing this for the next 20 years then I need to be satisfied. Iím a Gen-Y only child Gemini. Does it make sense now? I want to do everything, and multi-task my head off while being incredibly indecisive and temperamental. What have I learnt? Itís best not to over-analyse these things. Good luck with that.

You went to Uni in Canberra, most people like to hang shit on Canberra. I used to live there as well, it's not such a bad place. what would your tourism slogan be for the ACT?

Canberra - better than Adelaide.

You hold the record for the longest continuous singing of John Farnhams 'You're The Voice'. How long did you sing it for and why?

9 hours. I intended to go for 12 but I got bored in the end. It was a publicity stunt. I like the idea of endurance performance. In the end my voice held out fine but my wrist got RSI from all the strumming. The best thing about it was I had the lyrics on a sheet in front of me, and after nine hours, I still didnít know the lyrics, as if my brain was rejecting them. Channel 7 came down to film it and I was the odd spot at the end of the news that night Ė but they said I was promoting the Melbourne Comedy Festival and didnít mention my show at all. The lesson is, never try.

You've done a bit of acting in the past, most recently playing John Safran in 'Race Relations', is acting an avenue you'd be interesting in pursuing?

Absolutely. Read: Gen-Y multi-tasking. Iím a triple-threat! I acted a lot in Year 12 and uni and always loved it. Then I kind of forgot about it, and part of writing Songs From The 86 Tram as a bunch of characters was being able to flex my wings in that department. Iíd love to play some villainous, deranged character in a gritty Australian film . At Uni I was always typecast as the mentally crippled, sexually confused characters. I donít know what it is about me but I do ĎnutsĎ well.

Are you looking forward to turning 30 this year or is it freaking you out?

I canít wait. I feel like my twenties are a burning wreckage that I need to commando roll out of and move on from. I wrote a column for Frankie defending the turning 30 thing. Itís too easy to dread it, I want to rebel. Of course Ė itís easy for me to say, Iím not a woman with a biological clock ticking, although, I was reading up on it and menís sperm is effected by age as well, and Iíd like to have a kid one day. Every day he gets dumber. Iíve stopped drinking and smoking so Iím feeling a bit zen about my 30ís. Itís an extra set of your twenties but you know what youíre doing, surely. Look, I can handle anything, except losing my hair. If the way to a manís heart is through his stomach then the way to a manís brain is through his hair. If I lose that then Iím gonna flip. Or go hat shopping. Lucky Melbourne has a lot of good hat shops.

Final question, what would be the first song you would put on a mix tape?

Beckís ĎSoldier Janeí from The Information. I think a lot about this cos two years ago I spent a year crafting an ideal mix that I gave to all my friends on my birthday. (I kicked off with Eels ĎFresh Feeling.í). So Iím now working on the difficult second mix cd.

'Songs From The 86 Tram'
Thursday March 25 to Sunday April 18
Victoria Hotel, Melbourne, 215 Little Collins
$23.50 / $19.50 conc. | Bookings or 1300 660 013
9:45 pm (8:45pm on Sundays & no Mondays)

Wednesday April 28 Ė The Front Cafť, Canberra
2 Wattle St, Lyneham - (02) 6249 8453
Doors 8pm. $12 (door sales only)

Thursday April 29 Ė The Vanguard, Sydney
Doors 6:30PM The Vanguard, 42 King St, Newtown
Bookings 02 9020 6966

Wednesday May 5 Ė Grace Emily, Adelaide
232 Waymouth St, Adelaide. (08) 8231 5500 Doors 8:30pm. $12 (door sales only)

Thursday May 6 Ė Alley Cat, Hobart
381 Elizabeth St, North Hobart. Tasmania. (03) 62312299 Doors 8pm. $12 (door sales only)

Friday May 7 Ė Royal Oak, Launceston
14 Brisbane St, Launceston, Tasmania (03) 6331 5346 Doors 8pm $12 (door sales only)

Sunday May 9 Ė Powerhouse, Brisbane*
119 Lamington St. New Farm
(07) 3358 8600
Free. Headlining 'Livewired' Comedy. Starts 6:30pm.
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