The Cairos were already sat on plastic chairs at the side of the road enjoying a couple of Saigon beers when we met them; they were discussing the “get a beer and they’ll give you a plastic chair” business model of the sidewalk drink vendors in Vietnam. Surrounded by tables of men engaging in the local tradition of shouting “1, 2, 3, Yo” and then downing their remaining beer, we took a seat with Ruben (Bass), Jacob (Drums) , Alistair (Guitar and vocals) and Alfio (Guitar). They were taking in the Saigon street life, with an equal mix of amusement, bemusement and excitement – obviously enjoying the sights and sounds. Not quite old enough to remember the 1980’s the boys are part of a young, new generation of Brisbane bands who hark back to the times of local legends “Powderfinger” and their epic bus tours of Australia. However The Cairos don’t live in the past. As part of the “internet generation” they see a totally different landscape for musicians – deciding to forgo the idea of “breaking America” and instead focusing on building up a fanbase in Australia and the fast developing Asian music scene. This was the final night of their 2nd Asian tour and the boys were ready to enjoy it.
Seen in Saigon: Tell us about the last time you were in Vietnam
Ruben: Well, yeah, last time we were here we were meant to play the CAMA festival but General Giap had just passed, and there was a chance we weren’t even gonna make it. A day before we were meant to fly, the festival was cancelled. Jacob: It was crazy; they had to figure it out. We didn’t even know if we were coming until the night before we flew out. The festival didn’t happen but we did, like, a thrown together show that the guys put together at Hanoi Rock City and it was fantastic – but we won’t talk about that because we’re in Saigon… It’s all about Saigon. (laughter and another round of beers)
Seen in Saigon: So you obviously wanted to come back to Asia – what is the appeal for you?
Jacob: Well I guess first of all, geographically, it makes sense for us to come here. A lot of people just skip out the whole region and go straight to America, but they’re really flooded markets. It’s so close to home and it’s a really exciting place; it seems like a land of opportunity and a wild place to be. We can go to Western Australia and it’s the same place culturally; Asia is totally different.
Ruben: We know a couple of promoters here now and it makes it so fluid and easy to do.
Jacob: Yeah Cargo Bar is kinda famous. We heard about it before we really knew anything else about Saigon.
Seen in Saigon: So overall, what is the gigging really like in Australia, because the country is really huge. What is it like when you go on tour in your van?
Jacob: We’ve driven from city to city across Australia and you can do it, we have done it, but there’s a lot of challenges. It’s a whole day to drive from one town to another show.
Alfio: It’s like 20 hours from Brisbane to Melbourne
Ruben: It’s still great to do, a road trip is always fun. The old bands used to do it. If you book early enough now it’s cheaper to fly, but it limits where you can go around cities. Bands used to stop at every town on the road. Nobody puts you up for free anymore, but it’s just way harder for the “muso” now, but roadtrips are always the funnest thing ever.
Ruben: We once did Melbourne to Brisbane nonstop.
Jacob: Which is like 1,800 Km!
Alfio: We did it straight as well. We left at 3 in the afternoon and arrived at 11am the next morning. It was crazy!
Jacob: It’s a funny place to play music; everything is so far apart.
Alfio: But the culture is kind of the same; everyone likes beer and footy.
Seen in Saigon: I read that one of the songs from the album actually started life as a recording on a mobile phone.
Alfio: Yeah it was like a voice memo; we were on tour in 2012 or something. It started off as this little acoustic guitar phone recording, and then it ended up making the album.
Jacob: Yeah, its the first single. It’s kind of funny because we still listen back to that first phone recording and it’s quite different to what it is now, it’s crazy to watch the progression.
Seen in Saigon: I watched an interview with you guys from a festival in 2012 where you said you had 90 songs written and the album was coming soon. Its 2014 and it’s just come out 4 days ago. What happened in the time between, it seems like a long time?
Alfio: It’s a weight off our shoulders. It’s great. Jacob: We must have finished writing some of it. We started recording in 2013. But there’s probably a lot of songs on the album that weren’t written at that point… but we wanted to stretch ourselves and keep writing.
Ruben: There were always points where we thought, okay we got it now, that’s the album and then one day we would write a song at rehearsal and we’d be like, wait a minute. Let’s think about this and that song would get through and would come into the picture and everything would change.
Seen in Saigon: Do you think it’s important to have albums now, in the days of singles?
Jacob: I think that’s what’s cool about doing an album. Its like E.Ps are like a snapshot, but with an album you can tell a lot more about artists. The plan was always to do an album. A lot of the music I love comes from albums and I don’t think the Cairo’s are a pop single band. We love albums and it means something to us. The Cairo’s aren’t a Britney Spears pop “single” band. For all of us we love albums. An album says something about that band. So I think that means something to us and we wanted to do that.
Seen in Saigon: When do you guys know that “this is the right track”?
Alfio: Sparks ignite
Seen in Saigon: A look across the practice room, like Romeo and Juliet?
Alflio: Yeah, it’s kind of a thing where if it works live and we’re all happy doing it and it’s fun to play, then it usually works. There were always points where we thought “Ok we got it now”, then we’d write a song in rehearsal and we’re like “wait a minute, let’s think about this” and it would make it onto the album.
Ruben: It’s about finding 10 songs that work together. A lot of the bands I listen to it’s obvious they’ve put a lot of thought into the order and the sound of the guitars and how stuff is put together.
Seen in Saigon: So what should people do while they are listening to your album?
Alistair: Something you can play when you’re driving to the beach or you have your headphones in… One of those albums for different places, in many different ways, rather than just one certain thing.
Alfio: And listen to it start to finish.
Jacob: Yeah we want an hour of your life. Well it’s not even an hour, like 45 minutes.
Alfio: We don’t ask for much.
(Laughter all round)
With that the boys left their plastic chairs and empty beer bottles and headed to the venue. We left them to enjoy their last date of a tour that seemed to make a big impression on them. Later that night, they played a set that consisted of the whole album complete with anthemic singles, and although many of the crowd didn’t know the band at the start of the night they left with melodies and choruses etched into their brains. Looking around the room it was obvious that this was a night to forget your troubles and enjoy four young men making the music they wanted to make. This was their final chance to play for an Asian crowd before they embark on their Australian tour and they made the most of it, winning over plenty of new fans with their enthusiasm, energy and that sun soaked sound As they put down their instruments for the final time the band weren’t finished. The chant “One more song, one more song!” spread around the room and after a little bit of soft persuasion they re-emerged to play an epic “KC and The Sunshine Band” cover for the Cargo crowd. When the music finally stopped the boys joined the crowd to celebrate the end of their second Asian adventure.
Written by: Matt Kelly | Photos by: Nick Fernandez