It seemed like full steam ahead for the Rogue Traders following the 2008 departure of frontwoman Natalie Bassingthwaighte. Only 18 months after she’d left, the Traders had a new singer (Mindi Jackson), a steady stream of new singles and a fourth album, Night of the Living Drums, prepped and ready to go.
Then, mere days before this writer was due to interview the band, everything went pear-shaped. The interview was cancelled, the album was pulled from Sony’s release schedule, and a deathly silence fell over the band.
The end, right? Wrong. In an unlikely turn, having dropped them from their roster, Sony this year took the band back, and are now releasing Night of the Living Drums as part of a tasty two-disc package — side one being a 15-track best-of collection, side two the long-delayed fourth album.
“It’s been an enormous challenge, and my number one focus for the past year and a half was to get this album released,” founding member James Ash told the Star Observer, sounding unusually chirpy for a chap who’d spent the past 18 months going through the record company wringer.
“The catalyst was when we realised we were coming up to the band’s 10-year anniversary. We’d always talked about how much fun it would be to do a greatest hits one day, and we struck on the idea of doing a record that combined the two.
“I have to give credit to Sony, because they changed their minds about us — we brought this idea back to them and they went for it.
“But it has been frustrating, working on this for such a long time and wanting to tell people, ‘It’s OK, I know you think we’ve abandoned you but we haven’t!’”
As with their two albums with NatBass, Night of the Living Drums is a spiky collection of electro-pop, its ’80s influences worn proudly on its sleeve (album highlight Put Your Hands Up even samples Adam and the Ants’ new wave classic Ant Music, continuing the band’s run of canny sampling).
“It sounds like such a cringeworthy cliché when you hear artists say this, but we really made this record for the fans and the people who’ve supported us through the years. To get it out now is just such a huge, exciting occasion,” Ash enthused. “We’ve been waiting so bloody long, it feels so good just to be talking about it!”
Ash kept himself busy in the interim by writing an extensive, track-by-track blog on the band’s website. He reveals that for one song, Don’t Think I Love You, he’d tried to mix Blondie with Prince, but the end result had turned out a little more like Kelly Clarkson.
It’s a telling admission from a man who’s spent the past decade flitting between credible dance and commercial pop.
“It’s a difficult line to skirt. We came out of the house music scene of the late ’90s, and when we first had a successful track with the INXS remix (2003’s Top 10 hit One of My Kind) we were instantly shunned by a big part of the dance scene. We’d hear people sa,y ‘Oh man, you’ve sold out’ — but I never sold in.
“I’m English — where I come from, pop is not a dirty word.”
They do, however, have their limits. The band turned down a lucrative offer to find Bassingthwaighte’s replacement via a reality TV competition.
“Even though we’re in a pop band, it doesn’t mean we don’t have some integrity. The whole thing just felt a little bit dirty and desperate to me. It’s not easy to say no to a large amount of money, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to be able to sleep at night.”
And how is their new frontwoman settling in as a Rogue Trader? Mindi Jackson walked into a dream role in a ready-made successful band, but she also had to replace a distinctive, personality-filled singer who led the band to their biggest successes.
“It is a tough gig. A band is known by its lead singer, so I understand a lot of people still think of Nat when they hear Rogue Traders. But we were around before Nat, and we’re still here now.
“Nat contributed so much to the Rogues and she’s still one of my best friends, but Mindi brings something completely different to the role — she’s just this kind of weird ’80s child.”
INFO: Night of the Living Drums (Sony) out now. www.roguetraders.net