It must surely have been one of the most savagely guarded secrets in the history of pop music. Just who would be the new vocalist for Aussie dance/pop outfit Rogue Traders? After a nationwide search and hundreds of hopefuls begging to be 'the new Natalie', all came to light late last week when finally, Mindi Jackson was revealed as the band's new vocalist. But as auspOp sits down for a little Q&A with Mindi and bandmate James Ash, we discover two sources came ever so close to blowing the surprise.
J: "One of them was what you wrote on auspOp. I still can’t believe the fright you gave us. Man, you got no idea. We were trying to keep it so quiet and when we saw that… Panic!"
M: "But we love you."
J: "The other one was that when we announced that we had a new singer, obviously we were all very excited and everyone wanted to know a little more about ‘X’ as Mindy was referred to at the time. So ‘X’ did a post and ‘X’ was asked ‘what are some of your favourite musical influences?’. ‘X’ wrote down six or seven influences that Mindi loved and posted it and everyone got very excited. Anyway the next day, someone went ‘oh my god – I’ve worked out who it is – I’m so excited I can hardly contain it'."
M: "The initials are MJ."
J: "'The initials are MJ aren’t they?' And we were ‘WHAT!?' and we just panicked and we thought ‘fuck!’."
M: "A little brain explosion."
J: "So we thought ‘maybe it’s the influences’. So we copied the influences verbatim as they were listed on our post, dropped it into Google, searched. The first name that came up…"
M: "In the search… My Myspace page. I cried. I went ‘noooooo!’. ‘Cause I was hiding it from family."
With such exciting news as being chosen to front one of Australia's pop groups, it must've been excruciatingly hard to keep it from family, but Mindi tells us that it wasn't just family who were kept in the dark over her new identity.
M: "Not even in Sony. That’s how few people have known about this secret. So we’d made the call, I’d sneak in the back alley through a back door and sneak through the offices looking like a complete bitch."
J: "Ignoring people. Kicking over chairs as she went."
M: "Yeah, ignoring people and pretending that there’s been no-one else who’s seen me walk in, so yeah, it was really odd. But it all makes sense now, so that’s good. I got to say hi to a lot of people for the first time yesterday actually. Thank god – I felt a bit bad."
J: "It’s been so hard to keep this quiet. So hard."
After the two near misses when it came to revealing Mindi's identity, the band went into overdrive, posting rumours onto the group's online forum.
J: "We started this massive information campaign. Seriously. And we started spreading all these other rumours because I’d been doing another record with INXS in Europe and here in Australia so…"
It's at this point we call James a name dropper.
J: "Yes, yes thankyou very much. And we were doing a track with Gabriella Cilmi at the time and .. (another name drops). But basically, we spread all these rumours because I did a track with Gabriella and those lovely fellows in London and so they were thinking ‘maybe it’s Gabriella Cilmi’… Sophie Monk.
M: "And I started a forum account."
J: "You did!"
M: "Called… Oh, what was my account name?"
J: "I can’t remember."
M: "It was something weird."
Sat in the Sony Music boardroom, we notice Natalie Bassingthwaighte's picture staring down at us from the wall. The singer left the band last year after spending two albums and more than three years as part of the Rogue Traders juggernaut. But James is quick to point out that Mindi is not trying to emulate her predecessor.
J: "Mindi is not replacing Nat. She’s not the new Nat – she’s the first Mindi. We were around before Nat and we’re around now. This is the third phase of this band."
M: "Nat was great – and we both have a lot of respect for Nat and always will. But I’m not nervous – I’m excited as all hell. And we’ve been working on this now since February, so I feel really entrenched as part of the Rogue Traders. It’s what we’ve been living with for almost a year now."
After discovering Mindi's music on her Myspace site (which has since been removed), James invited her to his Melbourne studio, where the singer was put through her vocal paces. It was then that he realised he'd discovered his new vocalist.
J: "When she came to Melbourne to sing for us the first time, the missus and I looked at each other – she was in the booth, she couldn’t see – we looked at each other and said ‘It’s going to be her, isn’t it?’. We pretty much knew from that moment. Because we wanted someone who had a good strong band heritage but loved pop music and had a good, strong quirky voice, (turns to Mindi) which is exactly what you have."
We question whether Mindi thinks she's quirky or not.
M: "I know I am."
J: "Well she can yodel. She yodels on everything."
M: "I don’t yodel!"
But James also admits to considering many different singers when it came to finding the right fit for what is later described in the interview as 'iRogue3.0'.
J: "A lot of people came to us. And almost all of those people weren’t appropriate – for so many reasons. And we did consider some of those people for a short amount of time. But we really wanted to find someone – we didn’t want them to come to us. I know that sounds strange, but I think there’s a different kind of intention if you find someone and you ask them if they’re interested as opposed to someone who’s just desperate to get in. You know what I mean? It’s just a question of integrity. You find someone who’s already doing something great.
"So that’s what we had in our minds and we looked at hundreds and hundreds of Myspace pages, because everyone’s got one and if you’re a performer you’ll have some videos and some pictures or some of your songs.
BUT, we trawled everywhere and it was becoming really depressing and someone actually tipped me off to Mindi’s Myspace page…"
And the rest, as they say, is history. The new Rogue Traders single 'Love Is A War' was serviced to radio on Friday, with the video (below) premiering on TV and online over the weekend. The single is, curiously, set for a release on Christmas Day, but James explains that there's apparently method in the madness.
J: "I read something somewhere about how sales spike on Christmas Day, because people get their new iPod touches and their Nanos and they plug them in and they go and buy it."
M: "We like challenges, don’t we?"
J: "Look, maybe it’s genius, I don’t know."
A physical single containing new b-sides is also set be released early in the new year, with the album to follow in March. Though James and Mindi are still trying to decide on a name.
J: "We’ve got a lot of working titles, haven’t we?"
M: "We have – James has a spreadsheet which is very, very exciting."
J: "Oh yeah."
M: "You know it’s a special day when the spreadsheet gets opened."
J: "It’s great fun. It’s like ‘pop the champagne corks! Excel’s loading up!’ One day I went ‘Hello Poseidon’. I thought ‘that’s a brilliant name for a band’. Another one is ‘Guns For Mister’. We love ‘Guns For Mister’. That’s one we really like – and that line is in ‘Love Is A War’. What’s the line?"
M: "I’ve stolen guns for mister and the shots will be flying fast."
J: "There’s loads."
M: "But we’ve got this funny thing that James has on the computer called ‘Video Game Name Generator’."
J: "Oh yeah!"
M: "And it’s this really kooky program that generates really interesting names for video games. Like…?"
J: "Oh erm, like ‘Hitler’s Basketball Armageddon’ or Mario Slapdown Version Six’. Just random stuff – it’s great. ‘Insane Beach Hockey On Mars’."
But beyond having to choose from a series of sometimes wild and downright whacky names for the new LP, James and Mindi also have the little issue of choosing which tracks are to make the cut.
J: "I think what’ll happen with the album is that we’ll just run out of time and we’ll go ‘shit – these are the ones that we should add’. Oscar Wilde said famously, and I think this is brilliant, 'All you need to achieve brilliance is talented people and not enough time’. And I thought ‘that’s it’. And that’s what’s going to happen for us."
M: "With everything probably. But we’re really excited about the artwork as well. We just saw some of the new artwork yesterday and it’s really cool – it’s exactly what we had in mind. Can you tell we’re excited!?"
James tells us that the new Rogue Traders album will be familiar, but will also have moved on stylistically from what they've done in the past.
J: "We’re really trying not to just put some house beats over guitar riffs, which is, well that’s underselling it, but that’s a lot of what we did. And it’s a lot more forward thinking this time. And also the thing is that we know that this next record has to be our best album. It’s got to be our best album. So we’re working as hard as we’ve ever worked, and we reckon it’s gonna be right up there.
"We know that we have to take some risks as well. We could’ve just disappeared ages ago. And if we’d come back and done exactly the same thing again, we’re guaranteed to fail. If we risk it, there’s a chance we might make it, so we’re going to take that chance.”
Rogue Traders' new single 'Love Is A War' is available digitally on December 25. A physical single is set for release on January 08.
Rogue Traders' as yet untitled fourth album is set for release in March 2010.