Something For Kate

 Something For Kate

 Paul Dempsey – circa 2008

“What’s wrong? / Nothing, nothing” – ‘Strategy’ (Something For Kate)

‘Australia’s most serious band.’  This is a description that’s been applied to Something For Kate.  Is it accurate?  Well, that’s debatable.  Something For Kate may not be as po-faced as this suggests, there may be other antipodean acts that are grimmer – such evaluations are highly subjective.  In any case, it’s an instructive observation.  Something For Kate deals with bigger issues than parties, and cars and chicks.  If that makes them ‘serious’, then it’s probably not something either the band or their fans would dispute.

The centre of Something For Kate is Paul Dempsey, so it makes sense to start the story with him.

Paul Anthony Dempsey is born 25 May 1976 in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.  He is the son of Charlie Dempsey and his wife Gillian (nee Barrington).  The couple emigrated from Dublin, Ireland, a year before Paul’s birth.  Paul has three older sisters, including Gillian, Jr. a.k.a. Jill, the eldest (born 1964) and Moira (born 1967).  Charlie Dempsey dies in a car crash when his son is just 1 year old.  Consequently, Paul Dempsey has no memories of his father.  He is raised by his mother, grandmother and three older sisters.  “I was raised…in an incredibly strong Roman Catholic family,” states Paul Dempsey.  “I was an altar boy, rosaries…I sort of came out of the other side [of that]…I basically think that religious belief is a lack of critical thinking.”  However, he is quick to add that he is not ‘down’ on those of a more religious mindset.  Paul’s mother, Gillian Dempsey, remarries.  The family moves many times.  Paul recalls living in nine different addresses before his late teens, not only in Victoria, but far to the north in Queensland.  His mother and stepfather run an Irish pub in South Melbourne.

Paul Dempsey grows up with music.  He listens to his mother and sisters singing in harmony.  The first gig he attends is a performance by his mother, singing Gaelic music.  Paul Dempsey’s grandmother teaches him to play piano, but, by the time he is 8, he switches to guitar.  “I can remember hitting a piano or strumming a guitar – making noise, [but not] specifically when it started to sound musical as opposed to just noisy,” says Dempsey.  At age 10, Paul Dempsey learns to play on guitar ‘Eagle Rock’, the 1971 hit by Australian group Daddy Cool.  “Paul is the human jukebox.  He can play anything he’s heard once.  It’s a weird photographic memory, like a strange autism,” observes Stephanie Ashworth (more about her later).  The first album Paul Dempsey buys is ‘Licensed To Ill’ (1987) by U.S. rap trio The Beastie Boys.  His older sister, Jill, thinks the content may be a bit too adult for him – which only makes him love the disc more.  Paul Dempsey thinks the first proper rock concert he goes to see is a show by visiting American alt-rockers The Violent Femmes and Nirvana.  “I think [Nirvana’s breakthrough album] ‘Nevermind’ had just come out [September 1991], it had been out for two or three months [so it was probably around November or December 1991]…It was on the Gold Coast, on the spit at Southport,” when the Dempsey family was living in Queensland.  “I think the next show I went to after that was [Brazilian heavy metal band] Sepultura at Festival Hall [in Melbourne] which was also very memorable.”

Paul Dempsey attends Padua College on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.  He develops ‘a fixation on quantum physics.’  Did he think he would become a professional musician?  “I certainly hoped that would be the case,” is Dempsey’s response, but it is not a sure thing.  “[If that hadn’t happened] I’d probably be doing something in the field of science.”  Paul Dempsey has grown into a lanky lad, standing six feet five inches (or two metres).  Such a height probably helps him with basketball, a sport he plays in school.

It is at Padua College that Paul Dempsey meets Clint Hyndman.  They connect musically.  Paul Dempsey recalls the two boys going to see U.S. post-hardcore band “Fugazi at Collingwood Town Hall in Melbourne.  It was the end of 1993.  The year I finished high school.  Clint and I were massive Fugazi fans and Shellac were opening.”

In his late teens Paul Dempsey leaves home.  At first, he moves in with his oldest sister, Jill.

Paul Dempsey and Clint Hyndman decide to form a band.  With Paul on vocals and guitar and Clint on drums, the line-up is completed by bass player Julian Carroll, who they find after putting advertisements in music stores for a bassist.  This trio calls itself Fish Of The Day….but not for long.  Their booking agent asks them to come up with a different name.  The new appellation they devise is Something For Kate.  There are two versions of how this name is chosen – but they could both be valid.  ‘The name Something For Kate’ comes from a note someone left on the kitchen table one day.’  Alternately, ‘the name is inspired by Paul Dempsey’s dog, Kate.’  It could be that the fateful note suggested getting ‘something (e.g. dog food) for Kate.’

Something For Kate plays their first gig at the Punter’s Club, Melbourne, on 12 September 1994.

In 1995 Something For Kate are signed to a recording contract by the Murmur label, a largely independent subsidiary of Sony Music.

The first release for Something For Kate is the EP ‘The Answer To Both Your Questions’ in January 1996.  It is recorded by Greg Atkinson, Lawrence Maddy and Tamas Spencer.  ‘Subject To Change’ is the best known track.  It is a roaring cacophony of spraying guitar notes and urgent beats.  “Nothing’s coming out / There simply aren’t enough words to go around / Make it up, write it down,” bellows Paul Dempsey.

A single, ‘Dean Martin’, follows at the end of 1996.  Quite why the song is named after a Hollywood movie star is something that remains inexplicable.  The song is a furious howl: “When I feel like s*** you can only reply / It’s all, it’s alright.”  Greg Atkinson and David Trump record this single.

(To satisfy demand for these out of print items, the EP ‘The Answer To Both Your Questions’ and the single ‘Dean Martin’ are combined and reissued as ‘Q & A With Dean Martin’ (2000).)

In 1996 Paul Dempsey begins a romantic relationship with Stephanie Ashworth.

In early 1997 Something For Kate issue ‘a stop-gap EP’ called ‘Intermission’.  This is a limited edition and quickly becomes a collector’s item.

In 1997, when he is 21, Paul Dempsey visits Ireland, the homeland of his parents, for the first time.

Something For Kate head overseas to record their first album.  Their destination is not Ireland, but New Zealand.  The motivation for the foreign setting is to remove the band from friends and outside influences.  Brian Paulson produces this and the next album for Something For Kate.  ‘Elsewhere For 8 Minutes’ (1997), the debut album, is released in July.  The title is taken from the amount of time it takes light to travel from the sun to the Earth.  ‘Captain (A Million Miles An Hour)’ boasts a tight and wiry guitar part.  The lyrics spin an unusual narrative.  “Built an aeroplane / It was just like the real ones I saw when I was younger / But it was too small for me to crawl inside the cockpit and fly away / At a million miles an hour.”  ‘Working Against Me’ is choppy, feeling like it’s been cut-up into small pieces.  The ‘lonely, despairing’ ‘Strategy’ is so bruised it is almost too painful to hear.  The shadow of doom hangs over the ticking clock of ‘The Last Minute’ as Paul Dempsey chews through the lyrics while the off-kilter rhythm avoids predictability.  ‘Pinstripe’ suggests that Dempsey’s early experience of Nirvana left a mark, because this song uses quiet verses contrasted against hammering chords in the chorus in a fashion similar to that employed by the U.S. grunge rockers.  The lyrics to ‘Pinstripe’ say, “I stare up at the sky and it hurts my eye / Maybe I’ll go blind or maybe all I’ll see is sunshine.”

After ‘Elsewhere For 8 Minutes’, bassist Julian Carroll quits Something For Kate.  Toby Ralph is taken on as new bassist but, within a year, the decision is made to let him go because he just doesn’t fit.  Speaking of Something For Kate’s aspirations, Paul Dempsey says that, “At first, it was just about getting a bass player!”

In 1997 the final piece falls into place: Stephanie Ashworth joins the group, creating the definitive line-up of Something For Kate: Paul Dempsey (vocals, guitar), Stephanie Ashworth (bass) and Clint Hyndman (drums).

Stephanie Ashworth is born in 1974 in Melbourne, Victoria.  In one interview, she jestingly gives her birthdate as “28/10/80 ha!”  On one occasion, Paul Dempsey states that, “We’ve both recently had birthdays” in reference to Stephanie and himself.  Since this interview is dated 4 June and Dempsey’s birthday is 25 May, Stephanie Ashworth’s true birthdate must be sometime around that time of year.  She is two years older than Dempsey.  Although she is born in Melbourne, Victoria, Stephanie Ashworth is described as a ‘Perth expat’.  Perth is the capital city of Western Australia.  It seems Ashworth either grew up in Western Australia or spent some time there in the years before she joins Something For Kate.  She was in a band called Sandpit immediately before she joins Something For Kate.  Dempsey and Ashworth keep quiet about their romantic relationship predating Something For Kate because of fears that working together professionally may jeopardise their love.  These concerns prove needless.  Stephanie Ashworth becomes known for her long blonde tresses.  She comments (with tongue-in-cheek?), “Unfortunately it does seem that hair takes precedence over one’s innate sense of style.”

Something For Kate is described as an ‘alternative rock’ act.  This just means that the music they play is an alternative to that filling the mainstream record charts at the time.  Their early work at least is also branded ‘mathrock’, a term indicating it has complex time signatures and is a sort of cerebral version of heavy metal.  This sits well enough with influences like Fugazi and Sepultura.  However, Nirvana’s impact may be more telling.  As their career progresses, Something For Kate become increasingly melodic and willing to adopt more gentle modes.  This mix and match approach was present in Nirvana’s grunge rock, even within individual songs.  Still, even in their first outings, Something For Kate play something as raw as ‘Strategy’ as easily as the untamed ‘Dean Martin’.

“The most recognisable thing about the band is my voice,” claims Something For Kate vocalist Paul Dempsey.  “It polarises [listeners] into people who really like my voice and people who can’t stand it.”  Although Dempsey’s unfailingly honest tones – whether heartfelt and hushed or hurting and hoarse – are distinctive, it is no more than the familiarity of hearing a friend’s voice.  If the Something For Kate audience polarises, it may be more due to the nature of the themes and subjects of their songs.  They can be just too raw and confrontational for some.  Officially, the songwriting is credited to the band as a whole, but it seems an open secret that it is Dempsey who is the main – perhaps even sole – songwriter.  This is not to minimise the contributions of Stephanie Ashworth and Clint Hyndman to the band.  Their interplay with Dempsey is supple enough to provide the compositions with either power or subtlety as required.  “We’ve just been lucky because we’ve got this really natural chemistry between the three of us,” observes Dempsey.

Could Something For Kate be ‘Australia’s most serious band’?  Other contenders – in different ways – for the title may include The Angels (horror themed dramatics) and Midnight Oil (political agitation).  It’s also possible that, despite some challenging concepts, Something For Kate is not as straight-faced as their reputation suggests.  Stephanie Ashworth contends, “Paul [Dempsey] is Irish and he’s very funny.  He has a dark sense of humour and it comes across very clearly to us but, unfortunately, no one else gets it.”  Dempsey says, “Stephanie and Clint [Hyndman] roll their eyes at me and say, ‘No one is going to understand your sense of humour.’”

Stephanie Ashworth’s first album with Something For Kate is the group’s second full-length disc, ‘Beautiful Sharks’ (1999).  The title track, ‘Beautiful Sharks’, is full of burbling bass and clockwork guitars: “You were swimming with some beautiful sharks / Entertaining the man behind the bar.”  ‘Electricity’ (AUS no. 34) has a busy sound with Paul Dempsey’s voice electronically distorted.  Ironically, a sparkier riff is to be found on ‘Hallways’, where Dempsey lashes out at drones: “They bow their heads to pray for Friday nights to save their life / They go through life armed with a scale from one to ten.”  The song ‘Whatever You Want’ reeks of frustration and despair.  Yet ‘Back To You’ has guitar notes so fragile they seem made of cellophane.  ‘The Astronaut’ is simply one of Something For Kate’s most gorgeous, contemplative melodies.  With childlike glee, Dempsey coos, “Ooh / I can see you / On a clear night.”

‘Echolalia’ (2001) (AUS no. 2) is the first of two albums co-produced by Trina Shoemaker and Something For Kate.  The album name comes from a medical condition that results in the involuntary repetition of words or phrases spoken by others.  The album’s title is name-checked in the stop / start jitters of ‘Three Dimensions’ (AUS no. 32): “And if I listen to the sounds / It reminds me of echolalia.”  The album’s biggest commercial success is ‘Monsters’ (AUS no. 15).  Through boxy percussion, Paul Dempsey strums his guitar and claims, “I don’t want to slide into apathy / And I don’t want to die in captivity / But these monsters follow me around, hunting me down / Trying to wipe me out.”  In an interview, Dempsey explains, “It’s about your own monsters…It’s about fighting the little things in your head so you can just move on.”  During the recording of ‘Echolalia’ Dempsey experiences a bout of writer’s block.  “We got really depressed and we hit a wall,” he says.  “I was spiralling down.”  Worse is to come.  ‘Twenty Years’ (AUS no. 43) is jangling folk rock, while ‘Say Something’ (AUS no. 40) maintains a pacey guitar gallop with an almost Turkish guitar flourish.  ‘Jerry Stand Up’ seems to spin ‘Hallways’ from the previous album into reverse.  Where before Dempsey lashed out at drones, he now expresses compassion, urging “Quit your job because you hate it and it’s wasting you.”  ‘Echolalia’ is the best Something For Kate album because it seems the best balanced.  Melodicism and rough rock, anger and sympathy, fear and hope all swirl about its grooves.  “I think it’s a bit of a headphone record,” says Dempsey.  “It’s nice.”

‘The Official Fiction’ (2003) (AUS no. 1) is highlighted by ‘Déjà Vu’ (AUS no. 19), the best individual Something For Kate song.  Piano and strings lighten the tone, but a harsh glare still plays through the song.  “I’d be the luckiest man in the universe if cause and effect don’t get there first,” vows Paul Dempsey.  In the chorus, it is noted, “’Cos baby can’t see through / All this manner and make-up and déjà vu.”  The French term ‘déjà vu’ describes an illogical sensation of having experienced something before, recognising a new place as familiar.  Some see it as evidence of reincarnation.  For Something For Kate it is more a matter of piercing the masks, having the insight to see the world in truth with all the simultaneous horror and beauty that implies.  In this way, ‘Déjà Vu’ distils the essence of Something For Kate, the penetrating perception married to a ‘sublime melodic flow.’  ‘Song For A Sleepwalker’ (AUS no. 35) continues the theme: “I sleepwalk around / Two feet above the ground / While the real world is trying to reach me.”  ‘Kaplan/Thornhill’ is a rickety folk shanty.  Similarly folky, but with cello colouring, is the hard-won, modest hope of ‘Light At the End Of The Tunnel’.

‘Phantom Limbs: Selected B-Sides’ (2004) is a collection of odds and ends spread over two discs.  It includes a fairly straight reading from 2001 of Midnight Oil’s 1987 song ‘Dreamworld’.  Also of interest is a spartan, live acoustic version of ‘Truly’, a song recorded in 1993 by Hazel (1992-1997), a U.S. punk band spearheaded by a lady named Jody Bleyle, an act that was a peer of Nirvana and appeared on Sub-Pop, the same label that launched Nirvana.

In 2005 Paul Dempsey marries Stephanie Ashworth in a motel room in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.A.

Something For Kate reconvene for ‘Desert Lights’ (2006) (AUS no. 1), produced by Brad Wood.  The mental health issues that beset Paul Dempsey during ‘Echolalia’ return in force.  During the making of this disc he suffers a ‘debilitating bout of depression’ that causes him to take anti-depressants for more than a year in an effort to cope with the nightmares and anxiety.  “Something changed drastically about my whole brain or person,” says Dempsey.  “I think a lot of people who suffer from depression feel guilty…They feel like they shouldn’t talk about it because they sound like they are whining.  I think it is important to not be like that and talk about it…One in five people in Australia [battle depression].”  As far as his own experiences go, Dempsey points out, “It’s there on the record.”  ‘Cigarettes And Suitcases’ (AUS no. 23) – symbols of life on the road? – is the album’s best known song.  “You’re always the last to know / Your cigarettes and suitcases / And so on the story goes / Your sweet dreams and your sci-fi sunsets,” sings Paul Dempsey.  The rhythm section is rock solid and a spiky guitar adorns the chorus.  ‘Oh Kamikaze’ (AUS no. 39) is like a more channelled and controlled update of punk rock: “You were the first one and always in control / Kamikaze / Spreading your wings full of holes.”  ‘Down The Garden Path’ is moody and ominous.  Is it Stephanie Ashworth Paul Dempsey refers to in ‘California’?  “When it’s late / She’s still talking about California / Where the distance to the myth has never been greater.”

The compilation ‘Something For Kate: The Murmur Years’ (2007) includes a new track, ‘The Futurist’, whose sad, inky drums and spider-web guitars are offset by backing vocals from Australian indie rock darling Bertie Blackman.  As the title implies, this two disc set closes out Something For Kate’s contract with Murmur.

‘Live At The Corner’ (2008) is an ‘artist-controlled bootleg’ consisting of sixteen songs recorded live at the Corner Hotel in Richmond, Victoria, on 23 February 2008.

“Clint [Hyndman] and Steph [Ashworth] gave me a push in the back and said, ‘Go and make a solo record, give the band a little rest’,” says Paul Dempsey, explaining his next move.  The result is ‘Everything Is True’ (2009) (AUS no. 5), Dempsey’s solo effort for EMI Records.  In 2010 Dempsey and Ashworth relocate to New York City to live for the sake of Dempsey’s solo career since he is touring the U.S. a lot.  While there, the couple’s son, Miller (born May 2011), arrives.

Back in Australia, Clint Hyndman becomes a father in 2012.  He keeps himself busy as a restaurateur with the Yellow Bird Café (founded in 2007) and the Woods of Windsor (founded in 2012).

After living overseas for a couple of years, Paul Dempsey and Stephanie Ashworth (and son, Miller) return to Australia.

‘Leave Your Soul To Science’ (2012) (AUS no. 5) is Something For Kate’s first album on EMI.  It is recorded in Dallas, Texas, U.S.A. with John Congleton acting as producer.  The band’s first album in six years sees them ‘loosen up.’  The personal changes in the lives of the members require a more “immediate energy” in the writing and recording process.  “There was no fiddling and noodling and procrastinating,” according to Paul Dempsey.  ‘Survival Expert’ demonstrates a more experimental verve.  Dempsey sings the song in a higher voice than usual, a voice he uses on a number of tracks.  ‘Miracle Cure’ is a ‘big radio-primed modern rock moment’ while ‘Star-Crossed Citizens’ offers ‘guitar carnage.’  Dempsey nominates as his favourite ‘Sooner Or Later You’re Gonna Have To Do Something About Me’, a track inspired by his trips across the Brooklyn Bridge to his New York City apartment.

Next, Paul Dempsey issues another solo album, ‘Shotgun Karaoke’ (2013) (AUS no. 17).  This bunch of cover versions gives him a chance to display his ‘human jukebox’ ability.  ‘Strange Loop’ (2016) (AUS no. 5) is another Dempsey solo album.

Was Something For Kate ‘Australia’s most serious band’?  Probably not, though it’s understandable that such an impression could be formed.  Many of their songs are certainly weighty.  Paul Dempsey’s battles with clinical depression probably contributed to their morose reputation.  Yet amidst his illness, Dempsey still displayed great intelligence and compassion along with musical ability.  Something For Kate was not a one-man band either.  Stephanie Ashworth and Clint Hyndman were not just sidemen to their leader.  “Steph’s my wife, Clint’s my best friend…We are like a family,” said Dempsey.  Something For Kate’s listeners became a kind of extended family, united by their love for the band.  It was not just Something For Kate, it was something for everyone who took the time and gave the attention required to appreciate the trio’s value.  Something For Kate ‘wrote about physics, the media, politics, writer’s block and love or normally a strange combination of two or more of these.’  They served up ‘confessional post-grunge grandeur.’

Sources:

  1. ‘Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Australia, newspaper) – ‘Really Good Things Come to Those Who Have Waited’ – a review of ‘Leave Your Soul To Science’ by Cameron Adams (27 September 2012) p. 48
  2. wikipedia.org as at 3 March 2014, 4 January 2017
  3. ‘The Age’ (Melbourne, Australia, newspaper) – ‘Paul Dempsey Talks Football, Black Humour and Writer’s Block’ – uncredited author (21 August 2009) (reproduced on thevine.com.au)
  4. tonedeaf.com.au – Paul Dempsey interview conducted by Al Newstead (10 October 2012)
  5. themusic.com.au – Paul Dempsey interview conducted by Michael Smith (12 December 2012)
  6. Moshcam video interview with Paul Dempsey (24 May 2013)
  7. timeout.com/Adelaide/music/events/1881.something-for-kate by Andrew P. Street (29 January 2013)
  8. allmusic.com, ‘Something For Kate’ by Ed Nimmervoll as at 7 April 2014
  9. ‘Something For Kate: The Murmur Years’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Sony Music Entertainment (Australia) Pty Limited, 2007) p. 14, 15
  10. ‘Something For Kate: The Murmur Years’ – Sleeve notes by Wendell Gee (Sony Music Entertainment (Australia) Pty Limited, 2007) p. 2
  11. ‘Newcastle Herald’ (Newcastle, Australia, newspaper) – Stephanie Ashworth interview (8 November 2001) (reproduced on somethingforkate.tripod.com/articles/int41.htm)
  12. UTV – video interview with Paul Dempsey and Stephanie Ashworth conducted by Jack Boots (4 June 2013)
  13. ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ (Sydney, Australia, newspaper) – ‘Back Where They Belong’ – interview with Stephanie Ashworth conducted by Naomi Fallon (4 October 2012) (reproduced on smh.com.au)
  14. ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ (Sydney, Australia, newspaper) – ‘Something for the Jokers’ – interview with Paul Dempsey conducted by Darren Levin (28 September 2012) (reproduced on smh.com.au)
  15. medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com as at 16 April 2014
  16. House of Hits – video interview with Paul Dempsey about ‘Echolalia’ (2001)
  17. subpop.com – release date for ‘Truly’ – as at 16 April 2014
  18. twitter.com/clinthyndman as at 16 April 2014
  19. ‘Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Australia, newspaper) – ‘Creating on a Knife Edge’ – by Kathy McCabe (4 October 2012) p. 37

Song lyrics copyright Mushroom Music, Sony/ATV Music Publishing

Last revised 11 January 2017

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