With their new album, 'Grow Do It', featuring such talent as Michael Barker (John Butler Trio/ Crowded House), Alex Burkoy (Tinpan Orange/ The Cat Empire), Mal Webb and Kylie Morrigan (Shirley Bassey/ Stevie Wonder/ Led Zeppelin), Formidable Vegetable Sound System bring a new experiment in eco-musical activism to the table with world-class production from Spoonbill.
Possibly the only band to promote the joys of vegetable gardening through dance music, Formidable Vegetable Sound System recently returned to Glastonbury (in late June) for a third time. Scenestr caught up with main man Charlie Mgee prior to the trip.
Confirmed to play Glastonbury… you must be stoked?
[Charlie] Yeah, pretty stoked. It's our third time back, so we've built up some pretty great crowds and connected with some awesome people there over the years. Everyone's really excited to be playing again. It's set to be the hottest one ever.
What do you have planned for the series of shows (8 in total) throughout your time at Glastonbury?
Have a bloody, great party and hammer home the messages of climate-change adaptation and permaculture. We've also got a new song about composting dunnies, which should go down well as Glasto has just installed over a thousand of them.
Plans to stalk any of the other Glastonbury artists playing with your AAA passes?
Not really. To be honest, most of the people I want to see are playing on the smaller stages and kinda hang out as part of the community. I'd be interested to meet Ed Sheeran though, to get an autograph for my little bro and niece. Apparently he's a real environmental kinda dude.
You'll then be embarking on a series of world dates including playing at Compost Festival in Malta and the Nordic Permaculure Festival in Iceland… you'll be in seventh heaven right?
Yeah! Mate, it's all happening over here. They have entire festivals dedicated to what we sing about. Hopefully I can bring back some of the European enthusiasm for sustainability back to Australia to infect some of the festivals at home.
Tell us about the new Formidable Vegetable Sound System album, 'Grow Do It'. Did you have a concrete idea of what you wanted to create with this new release? Or was it a more fluid process with the creativity?
It was originally intended solely as a kids album, but when we asked Spoonbill if he'd produce it for us the songs took on a completely different sound. It's ultimately been a good thing, I think, as the songs are intended to teach kids skills to survive in this increasingly insane world, but adults also seem to get a lot out of them as well.
With the music, how do you balance the entertainment and educational aspects of the show?
By using humour, the novelty factor ('A band that sings about vegetables? WTF!?') and really nice production. From the beginning, it's always been the intention to promote solutions for adapting to climate change – which, let's face it doesn't exactly sound like a barrel of laughs – in a way that makes it fun, accessible and sexy. We failed on that last front, but mostly it's been a good run.
The players featured on the album are a talented bunch… what did Michael Barker and Alex Burkoy bring to the project?
I'm super privileged to have been able to work with some of these superstars of the Australasian music scene. Mike Barker was an absolute champignon (see what I did there?) to work with. I remember watching him drum with John Butler Trio back in the day and being blown away, so to have him drum on our new album was a huge honour. Alex Burkoy from Tinpan Orange appeared on our last album playing bass, but this time he brought some shredding guitar solos to the table including one pitched up three octaves that sounds like the tiniest guitar in the universe.
And your regular members, Mal Webb and Kylie Morrigan; it must be a joy to be able to count on them as band members?
I literally couldn't do it without these guys. Mal has been a supporter of the project from the beginning and his cult status in the folk-festival scene really helped give us a leg-up on the national circuit. Kylie is an absolute machine and has played violin with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Led Zeppelin, so it's a total blast playing with her.
When can we expect Formidable Vegetable Sound System Australian shows?
I'm actually winding down for a while after this tour to go back and study education for a while, so I'm not really sure what the near future will hold as far as touring goes. I've got a dream in the pipes though for down the track to do a national 'Tour De-Plants', taking our show around the country to community gardens with my soon to be veggie-oil-firetruck-mobile stage, Mad Max mobile. See how we go with that.
You've played all over the world, including the United Nations in Rome… what are a couple of the highlights when you scan the memory bank?
WA's Blazing Swan is definitely a highlight, as is Luminate Festival in NZ and BOOM in Portugal. But even though we've played at all of these massive festivals around the world, I think my favourite gigs have been to school kids in classrooms. They just go off to the music and really get the messages in the songs, which gives me so much hope for the future and that's really the reason why I keep doing it.
'Grow Do It' is available now.