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Interview: Alistar Richardson from ‘Zefereli’


You might remember The Cairos, an iconic Brisbane band that, let’s be honest, got most of us through high school. The band split at the start of 2016 and just as we were drying our eyes a gorgeous phoenix rose from the ashes. Frontman Alistar Richardson has stripped his musicianship right to its very core, going back to his roots by taking time out on a farm, and has come back with all guns blazing. Zefereli is the name of his deliciously catchy, down right loveable solo project that’s already generating plenty of buzz both locally and even impressing triple j. Before his set at the University of Queensland’s Red Room a few weeks back we caught up with the man to check under the Zefereli hood.

Does it feel weird to be back on university grounds? Was your university experience a good one?

I pretty much went to university when I was 19 and I was like, “I need to make some friends, and probably get a girlfriend”. I mean it was fun and I ended up meeting a girlfriend just before I started uni so I felt like I didn’t really need to be here at all, I only lasted six months anyway. Having the student card that lasted three years was definitely a perk!

Did you take anything away from your university experience? 

I think it just really made me more determined to make music if anything. It was like “this is what life could be, and if you’re really into it then go for it”. But being surrounded by all these people who were so passionate about what they were doing and there were all these young people here who were doing what they wanted to do, I just felt like I wasn’t passionate about it the way they were, but I was passionate about everything I was doing outside the university. So it just reaffirmed me to do music.

I came back though last year to learn Spanish which was weird. I was heading to Spain, spending a few weeks in Barcelona, and I thought it was going to be a great idea, but then it turns out they don’t even speak Spanish in Barcelona, they speak Catalan so it turned to sh*t! But I have watched the series ‘Narcos’ and I was like, “I can understand this! Only a little but I can!”, so those lessons definitely paid off.

How are things going for Zefereli at the moment? 

Clea and I are overseas for a month and then we come back for three weeks, Clea is going to play a few shows, and then we’re off to Japan in July.

Why are you heading overseas at such an early stage for the project? 

It seems like an early stage, but for me because I’ve just always been making and playing music, it feels like “IT’S BEEN SIX MONTHS I NEED TO GO OVERSEAS! This is crazy!”. Clea had also never been overseas and she was just going to go by herself, so we were decided to make it a holiday and play a few shows. So I would stay here, finish the album, and then meet her over there. Holiday and play, and it’s not that expensive, staying and couch surfing.

How is the ‘Post Cairos Life’ treating you?

It’s a different life. It’s a lot less stressful, more purposeful. The Cairos had so much baggage on it. We’d been doing it since high school and there was this feeling of proving it to everyone rather than proving it to ourselves and I think that’s just what happens when you’re playing for so long. Then there were lineup changes and conflicts and yeah…we were all at Jacob’s bucks last weekend and there’s no doubt that we’re all still the best of friends, but I think it was just time for doing it a different way.

Not playing the ‘Band Game’ and if you enter it, it’s just so intense and takes so much out of you. So getting out of the record deal, getting out on your own and just going to the farm, and just make music [is great]…if no one books us then we’ll book our own shows, and I’ve always liked that mentality and it’s just a much better place to be in.

Is that why you enjoy heading back to the farm? 

Yeah, there’s just no judgement, only the cows are listening. You don’t have to worry about people thinking about it. I do some weird stuff and write weird songs, like I’ll record naked and yeah…it’s just so free!

So do you find yourself a little happier writing as Zefereli?

Writing is writing. I mean some of these Zefereli songs were written for The Cairos and were even played while we were touring. I’ve never really focused on a project while writing, it’s just whatever comes out at the time. I mean maybe the process is different, you’re never just trying to add things for the sake of it. I love the feel of demos, so rather than building it up to this big monster…I know The Cairos had a tendency to make things huge and then we’d get on stage and freak out (laughs). But just settling for what comes out first, because I feel that first creative moment is always the most exciting for me.

Where does the name Zefereli come from? 

I think it’s an Italian word. It’s the name of an Italian director…but it’s also the name of a pizza shop in Sydney apparently too. When we were kids Dad used to tell us these stories and Zefereli the flying blue dog was always a protagonist in the stories, someone who would always save the day, and the name just sorta sat there for years and I never really thought of it. Dad then bought this blue dog to put on a shelf in the kitchen and I saw it one day, and it really meant something. So rather than just making a band name up that means nothing [I decided on] the idea of having a childhood connection, and the idea of being young and free and having an imagination. He makes an appearance here and there in our artworks and videos, kinda like a ‘Where’s Wally?’ but with a blue dog (laughs).

You’re playing a solo acoustic set tonight at the Red Room, is that better or worse than playing with the band?

It’s so daunting. I don’t feel like not playing the gig, but it makes me sick in the gut…I’m just so used to playing with a full band! I mean if you have nothing to say you can play something on guitar, or just put another band member on the spot and they’ll take care of it. But the more intimate it is, the scarier it becomes. I just see lots of songwriters and they have such detailed idea about what their song is about. I’ve never really been a “I’m going to write a song about this kind of person”, it just happens, whatever comes out and feels natural…it’s more feelings than stories. I’ve written a few story songs, but I just cringe at them (laughs).