Colin Badger concedes there’s probably a subliminal political aspect to Sol Nation, the multicultural musical outfit he formed with lead vocalist Paulo Almeida in 2007. “I guess the subliminal message is that music brings people together,” Badger says.
“We probably wouldn’t know each other if it wasn’t for the music, so we’re an example of how music brings people together – as long as you can play, you’re in! It doesn’t matter what your background is, or where you come from – it’s good if you’re different.”
Sol Nation was conceived in the aftermath of the demise of the Dili Allstars, the Timorese-Australian band featuring Badger, Almeida and Badger’s Painters And Dockers colleague Paul Stewart. “With the Dili Allstars we were strongly focused on the Timor independence movement,” says Almeida. “After a while, a lot of the members started going their separate ways. But we didn’t want to stop completely, so we started Sol Nation.”
Almeida, who left Timor with his family almost 30 years ago, sat down with Badger and commenced writing songs for the fledgling Sol Nation. From the outset, Badger and Almeida were keen to create music that would fit a festival atmosphere, rather than the traditional pub circuit. “I’ve played in pubs for years and years,” Badger says, “and there’s nothing wrong with that, but there are other things as well. Being able to travel and go to interesting places is exciting.”
Along the way, Sol Nation picked up various musicians, each bringing a unique musical background and vibe to the band. The result is a vibrant potpourri of musical styles. “People ask us if we can describe our music, and I can’t!” Almeida laughs.
“The idea is that we have people with different musical backgrounds, and we mix up the styles,” says Badger. “There’s kind of a reggae bass there, but we kind of mess with that. That keeps it musically interesting. Mark [Grunden], the drummer, is pretty good with African and Brazilian rhythms, so we mix that with the reggae and try and come up with our own thing rather than copy anyone else.”
With such a diverse demographic and cultural profile – members include Deline Briscoe from The Black Arm Band, Egypt-born Ann Metry on bass guitar and Zimbabwe-born percussionist Zeca Mesquita – the risk is always a sound that’s too complex. It’s a risk, however, that Badger and Almeida say the band is able to avoid.
“I think one of the tricks to writing songs is to keep it simple,” Badger says. “I might have been guilty of putting too many chords in at some stage, but then I say to the rest of the band, ‘It’s not kindergarten!’”
The band’s debut album – aptly titled Melting Pot – was produced by former Little River Band guitarist David Briggs. With Sol Nation’s live set often featuring elaborate jams, Briggs’ quest was to condense the music into a more truncated form suitable for the album format. “It’s turned out a lot more poppy than I expected, but if that helps it get on the radio, then who’s going to complain? Not me!” Badger laughs.
Sol Nation’s musical journey has taken them across Australia, from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory to Cairns in North Queensland and New Caledonia in the South Pacific. Almeida cites a New Year’s Eve gig in Darling Harbour as a particular highlight.
“The stage was a floating stage in the middle of the river, and you needed to catch a ferry to get to the stage. We played just before the fireworks, so we had to be onstage just before the fireworks started,” he says. As the fireworks rained down around them in the exclusion zone, covering the band members in ash (“There were all these boats dotted around, all filled with explosives!” Badger adds), Sol Nation got the perfect view of the event. “It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen!” Almeida says.
Almeida and Badger agree that regional and country audiences respond to the band’s music in a particularly enthusiastic manner. “Whenever we play the Theatre Royal in Castlemaine, the audience gets excited as soon as Colin touches his guitar,” Almeida laughs.
“When you go somewhere where there’s not much happening, people really enjoy it,” says Badger. “So you just put your heart and soul into it and don’t stop.”
With the release of Melting Pot, Sol Nation are hitting the road, travelling to Sydney this month and northern Queensland in October. Badger hopes the band can continue to pursue its original quest to bring people together through music, and to see as much of the country, and the world, as it can.
“There’s kind of a party vibe behind the band. The whole idea was to get out there and play festivals and travel,” Badger says. “Hopefully the new album will open some doors. We’ll go anywhere we can – have guitar, will travel!”