From Australia to Austin, Go Fever is fired up and ready
It’s Thursday during Free Week, just a couple of days into the new year. Cheer Up Charlie’s has been crowded all night long, with bands from local record label and booking agency Nine Mile rotating half-hour sets between the Red River District club’s indoor and outdoor stages.
Go Fever’s time slot comes inside near the end of the evening, and it seems clear that more than a few folks have been sticking around for them. They’re a spectacle to behold live: Recently expanded to a six-piece lineup, Go Fever revolves around the husband-wife couple of bassist Benjamin Burdick and singer Acey Monaro, a rangy Australian who’s the obvious focal point of the group’s live shows.
“This is our new single that’s being released right now,” Monaro says, beaming, as the band kicks into “Olivia,” four minutes of effervescent, melodic indie-pop. Attention-grabbing verses give way to a catchy pre-chorus that finally explodes into a DayGlo-bright burst of melody, pushing the limits of Monaro’s considerable vocal range.
Clocking in at exactly four minutes, “Olivia” is the highlight of Go Fever’s new five-song EP “Daydream Hawker,” which follows the band’s self-titled 2017 full-length debut. The past two years have been a gradual build for the group, which played lots of local shows while dealing with lineup changes that occasionally slowed their promising start.
If you hear some general common ground between Go Fever and fellow local female-fronted indie juggernaut Sweet Spirit, that’s understandable, as guitarist Josh Merry was a member of both bands for the past couple of years. Only recently did Merry depart Go Fever’s lineup, with Sweet Spirit’s rising star taking up more of his time.
Merry appears on the EP, but former drummer Keith Lough has moved to guitar alongside Jim Campo, who also plays in local groups Magic Rockers of Texas and A. Sinclair. New to the Go Fever fold are keyboardist Anna Roenigk, who makes her own music under the name Born Again Virgin, and drummer Stijn Dobbelaere.
It’s only by a simple twist of fate that Go Fever ended up being an Austin band and not an Australian one. Monaro and Burdick met in 2011 in Nashville, when Burdick’s former band the Preservation was on tour. Monaro was there on vacation and asked a cab driver to drop her off at a cool venue. He took her to the club where the Preservation had booked a gig hoping to play for a record-label rep who never showed. In walked Monaro instead.
Sounds like a pretty good meet-cute for a Hollywood movie, but there’s more to the story. Monaro, it turns out, came to the States often as part of her job with the Australia Council for the Arts, a government organization that helps pay for trips abroad for Aussie bands playing events such as South by Southwest.
That’s where she next reconnected with Burdick, in the spring of 2012. When Monaro missed her scheduled flight home from Austin, Burdick drove her to Los Angeles to catch a different flight. Romance was clearly in the air, and Burdick traveled to Sydney to visit Monaro in the summer of 2012 (that’d be winter Down Under).
At that point, Monaro hadn’t yet mentioned to Burdick that she also played music. “I was that annoying girl in the Sydney scene who would get up in country bands and sing ‘Walking After Midnight,’” she says. “I would sing Lucinda Williams, and a few Neko Case songs. So when I met Ben, I might have told him I was a musician or a singer; I don’t think I did, though.”
Burdick confirms this: “She didn’t tell me anything until I first came to Australia for the first time.” He found out when she mentioned she had a show booked during his visit. “He was like, ‘What?’” Monaro recalls.
Burdick smiles at the memory. “I was like, ‘I hope you don’t suck, because it’s going to be really awkward,’” he says with a laugh. “But she was incredible. She won me over; it was awesome.”
In conversation, Monaro and Burdick have an easy repartee, both bringing their own personality and purpose to the conversation. Monaro tells colorful tales but is less certain of specifics; Burdick helps clarify details and dates. As Monaro puts it, “I’m more the B.S. artist, and he always comes in with facts.”
They might have pursued their rock 'n' roll dreams in Australia, but instead Monaro moved to Austin, in part because Burdick still had high hopes for the Preservation’s prospects. Things took an abrupt turn when other members decided to dissolve that band just a few months later.
The upside was that it helped push Monaro into further pursuing her own music with Burdick. “When I moved here, I was so inspired by the Austin scene,” she says. “It’s so ironic that I moved from Australia to Texas, stopped wearing cowgirl boots and playing country music, and started an indie band. All my friends from back home totally expected me to put out these country records.”
“Daydream Hawker” isn’t entirely devoid of that influence. The EP’s last track, titled “KOTRA,” is built around a line in the chorus that echoes with a western-twang spirit: “Nothing left for me in Apache Junction.” Monaro also demonstrated her country cred in a mid-January benefit bash at Barracuda celebrating Dolly Parton’s birthday with a spunky rendition of “Joshua,” Parton’s first chart-topping single.
And this detail alone sounds like something out of the C&W handbook: When Austin honky-tonker Dale Watson plays in Australia, his backing band consists of Monaro’s brother, her ex-husband and her stepfather.
But Go Fever’s bread and butter in Austin has been the indie scene. Hotel Vegas and Cheer Up Charlie’s are their primary home-base haunts, though they’ve played more than a dozen local venues. After their LP’s release two years ago, they toured both coasts, weaving trips around Merry’s commitments with Sweet Spirit.
Monaro also did a handful of solo shows abroad with the 2017 class of Project ATX6, a local organization that brings a half-dozen Austin musicians to international festivals each year. That helped her connect with artists in other genres such as electro-pop/soul act Mobley and eclectic Americana artist Corey Baum.
“Daydream Hawker” sets the group up for a busy 2019. After Saturday’s record-release party at Cheer Up Charlie’s and a Feb. 8 Facebook Live session in the American-Statesman studios for our Austin360 Artist of the Month series, they’ll play a Waterloo Records in-store on Feb. 17 and Sun Radio’s “Texas Radio Live” series at Guero’s on Feb. 27. Next comes SXSW — they’re an official fest band this year — and then a string of western U.S. dates, including a couple of gigs opening for Sweet Spirit.
They’re also already armed with enough songs for another record. “We’ll start recording in the next six months, so it’s probably going to be released around this time next year. We might have a few singles before that,” Monaro says. “We have a really good loyal Austin fan base that we’re really grateful for and stoked about, so now it’s about (getting) outside of Austin.
“Every time we tour, the shows get better, the guarantees get better, more fans are there. People come out to our shows and they’ve heard our stuff on the radio. That’s always like, ‘Wow. We’re not at home, and you know the words.’”
Burdick agrees. “Honestly, that means something. Even if there’s only a couple of people there, if people have heard you and they came out to see you because they heard and liked your music, that means a lot.”
Recordings: “Daydream Hawker” EP, out Friday; self-titled LP, February 2017
Upcoming performances: Record-release show Saturday at Cheer Up Charlie's with Hong Kong Wigs, Hard Proof, Being Dead and Grant Cross' Arms; in-store Feb. 17 at Waterloo Records; Sun Radio's "Texas Radio Live" Feb. 27 at Guero's with Shy Beast
Facebook Live: Noon Feb. 8, on the Austin360 Facebook page; performances archived on the Austin360Video YouTube channel.