Thursday, August 26, 2010

Nabilone (1994-2009)

One of the more politically driven bands of the local scene, Nabilone spent fifteen years (off and on) promoting their brand of leftist alt. rock before ongoing line-up problems sounded their death knell.

Nathan Burling (vocals) and Tyrone Halliday (drums) first formed Nabilone in 1994 after the demise of their previous band THC (originally called Wasted Youth). Bringing in guitarist Jaylon Hall (Blind Patriots) and bassist Rebecca Mayhew (Splat) they took their name from a synthetic version of THC (and thus linking their new band to their old). Beginning like most other bands at the time, Nabilone played psychedelic garage rock with a few Nirvana and Mudhoney covers thrown in for good measure.

In 1995 Burling, citing environmental and ethical concerns, adopted a vegan diet, inspiring Hall to soon follow. This lifestyle choice would prove crucial to the lyrical direction of the band as it began taking an overtly leftist political approach with animal rights, environmental destruction and social injustices becoming regular themes.

The band headed to Troy Horse studios in late 1995 to record their first EP. They invited local engineer Pete Conran (FUgG, The Surprise Arm, Radioshack 5) along, who proved invaluable insofar as initiating the young four-piece into the inner-workings of a recording studio.

The band’s first foray into recording however, proved fraught with complications. In particular the recording suffered problems with the drum tracks and, as ProTools was a few years away yet, the cost of repair was too expensive. These first recordings remain unfinished and unreleased, though there are plans to release them in 2010.

In 1996 Nabilone entered and won the regional leg of the National Uni band competition, which gave them the local support slot for Powderfinger, and consequently some much needed recording funds. 

Halliday vacated the drum seat around this time, and was replaced with Shannon Freidrich (Scalene). Meanwhile Burling’s time was being diverted into the establishment of The Blue Water vegan cafĂ© at Thirroul, while Mayhew had formed Bracode on the side. The combination of replacing the drummer and external pursuits delayed Nabilone’s recording plans, and it wouldn’t be until 1998 that the band entered Powerhouse studios to record what would ultimately be their debut self-titled EP.

Following the release of Nabilone, Mayhew, having become disillusioned with the bands’ dynamics, left to focus on Bracode, making way for Damien Lane (Dropping Honey, Gilded Kiln) to fill in on a temporary basis. The new line-up worked up a few more songs before Freidrich's commitments to Scalene would force the drum seat to become vacant yet again. This time Chris Ireland (Karma) was called upon and the band began showcasing their new material at local shows.

In late 1999, Burling, who had become increasingly involved in political activity, organised Wilderfest: an environmentally themed festival to raise funds for The Wilderness Society and The Greens. It was here that the band was introduced to fellow-vegan and bass-player Andrew Smetanin (Pans Daughter, Naiad). Smetanin had left Naiad and was looking for a new project. Smetanin’s politics and musical interests fit the Nabilone consciousness and he was thus drafted into the line-up freeing Lane of his temporary duties.

Smetanin’s experience in Naiad together with his solid bass-playing and creative song-writing took the band up a level as the band began writing for their second recording.
By 2001 though, personal differences forced Ireland out of the band, once again leaving Nabilone sans drummer. The remaining threesome entered a makeshift studio in Jamberoo and spent time writing for an album. The band recorded the songs over and over without a drummer, getting the structures down pat.

The band eventually brought drummer Danny Glasgow (Pounderhound, Gilded Kiln) into the fold and entered Damien Gerard Studios. Russell Pilling assisted the band in engineering the album, and the resulting Doublethink was released independently in 2005.

The new-look Nabilone began gigging again, supporting the likes of Hard-Ons, Celibate Rifles and Choirboys, before retreating to the studio again in 2006 to record the single ‘Welcome to Australia’ b/w ‘Kuradji Man’- a collaboration with Robert Goldspring. ‘Welcome to Australia’ would later appear on 2008's re-issue of Doublethink.

Despite finally getting an album out and stringing together a run of solid shows, relations between the members had soured significantly. The band had long survived on Burling’s tenacity and dedication:  organising rehearsals, arranging gigs, paying for studio time. All the usual tasks involved in keeping a band together primarily fell to Burling. Now supporting a young family, the financial toll was becoming too burdensome - Burling had paid for Ireland’s kit, most of Hall’s amp and pedals and the bulk of Doublethink.

Smetanin was the first casualty. Burling recalls: “Basically, after years of organising and paying for almost everything my patience was wearing thin. With the birth of my first son my time became very limited. I could no longer tolerate Andrew's unreliable ways. He would drop off the radar for days and we could not contact him. The end came when we had a practice booked at Kickstart and Andrew would not return calls or texts to confirm the booking. When I finally got in contact with Andrew, I was less than happy and gave him an earful and he quit.”

Following Smetanin’s departure, Nabilone floundered. “My patience with Jay and Danny was wearing thin,” says Burling "as neither had made an effort to find another bass player.” In the end Hall’s brother Jimmy Carr (The Jimmy Carr Band) was brought in temporarily, though Burling says he was the one to make the suggestion – Hall simply hadn’t thought of it.

In the meantime, band practices became a logistical nightmare, with Hall refusing to rehearse anywhere but his flat, relegating practice sessions unplugged, lest the neighbours complained.

In a last ditch effort Burling brought in fellow vegan and bassist Jason Grossman for a rehearsal. Though Burling was pleased with the results, it was clear that Nabilone was on its last legs.
In 2009, Burling called an official end to Nabilone though the band had played its last show more than a year prior.
These days Mayhew plays drums for Babymachine, whilst Glasgow now plays in blues band The Damn Fine Gentlemen. Smetanin and Ireland went on to form Mind at Large, and Burling is considering a project with his brother Adam, a bass player and also a committed vegan.

1998: Nabilone EP (CD, download, itunes)
2005: Doublethink (CD, download, itunes)
2006: Welcome to Australia/Kuradji Man single (download)
2008: Doublethink re-issue

Nabilone website
Nabilone myspace

A big 'thank-you' to Nathan Burling, Bec Mayhew & Chris Ireland for their invaluable input. Andrew Smetanin, Jay Hall & Danny Glasgow declined to comment.


  1. Did they decline to comment, or had they simply dropped off the radar...?

  2. No, Chris, Danny and Jay live together they must have known and they were sent emails to active accounts and Andrew is still in a band with Chris.....also Beck now plays in a band with Jay...he would have known about it....

  3. For the record, Andrew actively declined. Jay & Danny failed to respond.

  4. This profile/blog comes across as a little one-sided....

    But that said, hey, it's only rock 'n roll. I remember seeing and enjoying Nabilone play on several occasions so its nice to be reminded of them.

  5. I do make every effort to engage as many people as i can in these profiles. unfortunately not everybody wishes to take part. it's their choice, but i agree, the results can sometimes be one-sided. on the flipside sometimes too many cooks can spoil the broth as old tensions come to the fore and disputes arise over historical accuracies.

  6. Fair point, and I appreciate that you make an effort to approach other band members and that not everyone wants to be involved. I guess some people just aren't as into self-promotion as others....

    Anyway, I enjoy your blog and am glad you're doing such a cool thing in recognising and preserving our cultural output.