Elusive in sound and location

Sensing an artist’s life, or aspects of it, in his or her work, is often a sign of valid results, especially when conviction and style flow naturally together. There’s both truth and individuality in the dark musings of peripheral musician Hugo Race, qualities that make him real and noteworthy. Over the past decade or so, Race, who emerged in the early ’80s and has since maintained a considerable cult following, has operated in a wandering – and wondering – yet prolific fashion, splitting his time between his native Australia and Europe. You can almost hear it in the intriguing, drifting music he often makes. Race writes and plays an elusive style rooted in the blues, which, however, could not be classified by the form’s conventional understanding. Too ethereal and multilayered to be earmarked, Race’s music is the work of a modern-day nomad. «I’ve been a traveler for many years and these experiences have become a part of who I am and what I do. My perspective on events and art is based in a kind of detached state of mind linked to having no fixed address,» noted Race in a telephone interview from Catania, Italy, his current base, ahead of two shows in Greece this week, which bring to an end a European tour launched last summer. Hailing from Melbourne, Race, in his late teens, was in the thick of Australia’s fertile underground musical activity of the early 1980s which produced some of post-punk’s more creative, intense, and usually bleak, acts. The more ambitious of these, including The Birthday Party – the precursor to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – The Go-Betweens, and The Triffids, ended up spending considerable periods abroad, mostly in Europe, and making an impact after they were shunned by the conservative local musical establishment. Race, a founding member of Cave’s Bad Seeds, on guitar, also set up a concurrent and similar-minded band of his own, The Wreckery, in the mid-1980s. Toward that decade’s end, Race released his first solo album, «Rue Morgue Blues,» accompanied by The True Spirit, his backing band, or collective, up until this day. Like Race, The True Spirit are scattered geographically and their playing, even presence, is not governed by rigid discipline. «The True Spirit has always been a loosely knit collective with players coming and going as they please. We’ve preserved a free structure in which people can improvise their own parts without too much direction from me,» explained Race. «Rehearsals have typically been problematic because we’re spread out across three continents, so I try to work only with people with good instincts. All of which relates to the fact that whether there’s six people on stage or me alone, it’s all organically driven, and, ultimately, is soul music,» he added. Race, who has performed in Greece twice in the past, solo and as part of a trio, will be returning as a duo accompanied by an Italian artist, Marta Collica. She was part of the True Spirit collective for Race’s latest album, «The Goldstreet Sessions,» released two months ago. It is Race’s 10th True Spirit outing, not including a double-CD retrospective, «Long Time Ago,» released in 2001, the year in which Race and Collica, calling themselves Sepiatone, also released a joint project, «In Sepiatone.» A bilingual project offering a dreamy interpretation of ’60s-era European pop, the album reflects Race’s willingness to evolve and expand, as has been apparent throughout True Spirit’s course. Earlier this year, he released a more experimental side-project, «Transfargo,» with a Swiss DJ, Dimitri de Perrot, that explores electronic harmony and disharmony. The upcoming Greek shows will draw from both the True Spirit’s catalogue and the Sepiatone collaboration. «Marta is a fantastic singer and songwriter whose style is more based in classic songwriting under the influences of ’60s European/Italian pop music,» noted Race. «However, our Sepiatone songs share a common interest in emotional depths, in the astral, in dreams, and in the nostalgia of romantic illusions,» he added. Race’s latest «Goldstreet Sessions» album, which follows the downbeat blues of «Last Frontier» in 1999, marks a shift from his soul-searching past. Lyrically, it is focused on the outside world and expresses this extensive traveler’s concern about a dangerous new world unfolding in the new millenium. «It’s more energized, more physical, more detailed, and pulls no punches lyrically. The texts are focused on the outer world, politics and society – which is a shift from the introspective songwriting I did in the ’90s,» Race said of his latest work. Densely constructed, and, perhaps, his most detailed recording to date, «Goldstreet Sessions» includes contributions from Race’s entire eight-member True Spirit collective. «There are two groups or two versions of the same group, that is the True Spirit in Melbourne – who are kind of like my homeboys and prefer not to leave Australia any more – and the international Spirit based in Berlin,» said Race. «All these musicians are fused together on ‘Goldstreet.’ I’m fortunate to have this network as it allows me to travel free-form style, both physically and creatively.» Hugo Race, on Friday at Thessaloniki’s Mylos Club (56 Andreou Georgiou, tel 2310.551.838); on Saturday at Athens’s, Small Music Theater (33 Veikou, Koukaki, tel 210.924.5644).