Diesel’s new album 'Bootleg Melancholy' is out on Friday 13 October.
In a world teeming with chart-toppers and one-hit wonders, Mark Lizotte, known as Diesel, stands as a beacon of enduring musical talent. With a career spanning four decades, Diesel’s journey through the realms of blues, soul, pop, and rock has left an indelible mark on the Australian music scene.
And now, with the announcement of his latest album, Bootleg Melancholy, Diesel is poised to further cement his status as a musical maestro.
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Bootleg Melancholy, a 14-track LP, is a reflection of Diesel’s musical evolution and a testament to Diesel’s vast musical experience, described as his most diverse and most cohesive album to date. Speaking of the album, he credits his collaborations with various artists over the past decade for bringing fresh perspectives and influences into the fold.
“I feel like I need to thank all the people that I’ve collaborated with in the last, let’s just say 10 years. I work with a lot of different artists and I get to try different things, and it just brings all of that experience into my fold,” he explains. “It’s really just kind of because I don’t have a band – well I do have a band, I’ve been with my band for a long time, but we’re not a band where we sit around and try to conjure up things – I’m a solo artist. So, you know, collaborating with people is, is the closest I get to being in a band situation how I imagine it.”
Due for release on Friday, October 13, the album opens its arms to listeners with an inviting warmth, much like the embrace of a long-lost friend. Through each track, Diesel takes us on a journey through themes of family, mortality, childhood, and dreams, traversing time, place, and memory. It’s an exploration of the complexities of life that resonates with the listener, celebrating the joys of everyday existence while addressing the challenges we all eventually encounter.
“The world can be hard and that takes us over in our heads but love and joy are always right there in front of us if we remember to look for them too,” Diesel says. “If I’m going to write about my anxieties and fears, I’ll mix it with other parts of me – humour, memories, just small moments – because it’s more welcoming to hear but also a truer picture of who I am. When I get scared, I’m laughing at myself for being scared, you know?”
Diesel’s journey in creating Bootleg Melancholy was far from conventional, crafted during the uncertain and isolated months of recent years. “I started writing almost straight away after I finished the blues record [Alone With Blues] and realised there was not going to be any touring.” As lockdowns swept through New South Wales, Diesel turned his isolation into creativity. “It was when New South Wales went into a hard lockdown where we experienced some of what Victoria had been having all along.” This was the perfect time for Diesel to create a record that truly reflected his own material, as his previous blues release mainly featured covers.
During the creation of the album, Diesel’s process was anything but linear. “I kind of went into this armchair travelling mode when I started the record because we weren’t going anywhere. I started using places that I lived in as a muse to write off of, and then all of a sudden gigs came back and I was up and running again,” he reflects.
With live shows and other projects filling his schedule, the record took about 18 months to complete, and it was not something he worked on consistently.
“I had a bit of a hiatus, probably about five or six months, but so much so that when I got back to writing I was looking at these tracks and going, ‘geez, I don’t remember doing this, did I do that?’ It’s almost like the old fairy tale of the Elves and the Shoemaker; it was like there were elves that had come into my studio and recorded a bunch of tracks.
“I was able to get really bedded into it like February, March and April of this year, writing a handful of songs came and that brought it all to a boiler. I was like, ‘Enough, I’m gonna finish this record’.”
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While the record was a stop-start process, Diesel acknowledges the role of breaks in influencing the album’s sound: “There’s nothing better than having a bit of a breather and getting to listen to a few more records.”
Referencing a Steve Lacey-inspired vocal break on the album, he explains, “There’s always little things that spin into the record; it’s almost like you’re out there hunting and gathering when you’re making a record, we’re looking for things all the time. You might hear someone use a certain instrument on record or at a gig and go, ‘I’m going to try that on this song’. It doesn’t always work but just the idea of it is nice sometimes.”
For Bootleg Melancholy, Diesel recorded the album in the comfort of his home studio, where he took on the role of a multi-instrumentalist, playing the majority of the instruments on the album. This approach was born out of practicality, especially as a significant portion of the recording process occurred during lockdown. Despite the solo effort, the album’s arrangements maintain a high level of ambition, and the resulting mix is a sparkling tapestry of captivating sounds. Diesel’s self-accompaniment showcases a diverse array of instruments, including cello, double bass, vintage synths, drum machines, mandolin, and the unique string-like electronic Omnichord, experimenting and pushing his boundaries.
“I guess that’s a challenge for me [incorporating many instruments]. It’s like I’m trying to give it as many facets as I can. I want to be different personalities, even when I do the backing vocals. I’m always trying to sound not just me, me, me all the time; I like using different tonality out of my voice. I really want to tap into or channel different things; I’m not sure what that exactly is sometimes but it’s just getting out of your comfort zone,” he explains. “And that’s where picking up an instrument, just a different instrument, will help me put a different head on. I even ended up beatboxing on one song because I just needed something rhythmic on the song and didn’t want to use drums,” he laughs.
Ably abetted by long-standing sideman Lee Moloney on drums and percussion, Bernie Bremond’s unmistakable saxophone features on two songs – ‘Never Giving Up’ and the LP title track – reuniting the two Johnny Diesel and the Injectors’ bandmates.
“Bernie’s so great,” he says, “I told him the ideas that I wanted for a song that I needed some yacht rock sax on, and he came in and he played absolutely none of the ideas that I sent. And I was like, ‘Of course, he’s Bernie!’ And so that’s where the magic is with Bernie. He has done a few projects with me where everything is charted out and he’s great, but he’s best when you just let him do his thing.
With the album imminent, Diesel continues on his Greatest Hits Alone With Blues Tour this month, featuring his greatest hits combined with his love for the blues in an intimate two-set solo concert. Released in 2021, Alone With Blues soared into the ARIA Top 20 and secured the coveted #1 spot on the Australian Blues and Roots Airplay Chart. His passion for the blues is evident in every note he plays, and witnessing it in an intimate theatre setting is a treat no music enthusiast would want to miss.
Armed with his soulful voice, impeccable guitar skills, and ability to connect with his audience, Diesel will also be sharing the diverse sounds of Bootleg Melancholy with his audience along the way.
“I’ve snuck a few in,” he laughs. “It’s a blues set at the beginning of the night when I play some double bass and talk about some of the blues records that I’ve made and of course Alone With Blues. Then there will be an intermission and when the audience comes back, I’ll just slam with hits.
“It’s fun for me, it’s like doing two different gigs every night. The first set has a real, different feel; I just wanted to give the audience a real chunk of the blues. And it sounds kind of corny, but for that set, I can really get in my blues mood, you know? I mean, I can flip from anything to anything, but it’s really nice just living in this blues-like lounge room for like 40 minutes.
Designed especially for theatres, these shows see Diesel continue to enchant audiences with his unique solo performances, revelling in the freedom they offer him.
“Younger me would have just been terrified of doing this show that I’m doing now – for real, because it’s very confronting being the only person on stage,” he says, “But I’ve grown into loving it. I just don’t think I would have been able to do it years ago. There’s the comfort zone of being in a band all the time.
“But here, it’s just me with a bunch of guitars and a double bass. I am one person on stage for this tour. There’s a lot of people that know me for that now and I’ve done shows all over the place. I even played Byron Bay Bluesfest that way a couple of years ago; I couldn’t believe I was playing solo.
“I’m really blessed to be able to enjoy both in a different way [solo and band gigs], but I’m not going to lie, there’s definitely a freedom that I have with the solo thing. It’s not just like ‘Oh I can do whatever I want’, but it’s the freedom of being able to hear everything that I’m doing.”
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As part of the tour, Diesel will make a stop at Geelong’s The Story House on October 15th in a testament to the town’s evolving cultural scene. “I love Geelong,” he says. “It’s really come such a long way. I remember going to Geelong and had one gig and it didn’t feel that different to Melbourne, but now it’s really got its own thing. I’m looking forward to playing at this venue.”
Bootleg Melancholy is poised to be a remarkable addition to Diesel’s already impressive discography. It’s a testament to the enduring power of music to capture life’s many moments and emotions. With this album, Diesel takes audiences through his own experiences and emotions, offering a glimpse into the complex tapestry of life through the lens of a seasoned musician. He showcases his enduring passion and talent, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of his listeners.
‘Bootleg Melancholy’ is out October 13. See him live on Sunday 15 October at The Story House, Geelong. Tickets available from www.dieselmusic.com.au/shows