The Stress Of Leisure are one of Brisbane’s hidden gems of post-punk, indie, new wave excellence. Their shows are one big party, fun and engaging – frontman Ian Powne’s stage banter always witty – as are the group’s lyrics. They’ve shared the stage with Kid Congo, Dave Graney, Regurgitator, Shonen Knife, Custard and more. TSOL’s Ian and Pascalle (Burton) dropped by the Gimmie office to chat about their love of music, where the band’s been and where it’s headed next, the importance of community and artistic longevity! TSOL may very well be your new favourite band as they are ours.
Why is music important to you?
IAN: Music is important to me because I value culture in general, I’m interested in the expression of community or society. I think music is the one form I can grasp of that expression, of a place, of a time. For me, that’s from a punter’s perspective of a love of music, I get into the time and place of it and how it interacts with the environment that I’m in. On a musician level I really love the immersive experience that it gives, the physicality of the performance, of listening to the drumming or the guitars or the keyboards or whatever the thrust of the music is, I imagine myself in it—I don’t get that feeling from a lot of other art forms that’s probably why music feels, I’m moving when I say this because, it feels… I’m interacting with it on a physical level. Apart from all of that community, I get a physical response.
PASCALLE: I think I have to agree with that in terms of, when the band is playing together, something is coming together from all of us and you feel it, here [motions to heart] and here [motions to head]. It is amazing. Seeing music that moves you is an incredible experience as well because it’s not only as a live… or in a time and space that you are in and you’re being moved by it, but there’s something that happens inside your head, it really shifts your way of seeing or experiencing the world. It’s a very broad approach to why I like music, I also do the poetry stuff and often in that poetry journey when I’m making a piece, sometimes that lends itself to making soundtracks and stuff like that as well. I often think it’s a very isolating experience for me, but when we play it, it’s really a bringing together of all of us, and the audience, and all the other layers of it.
IAN: There’s great value of music in society, depending on how people value themselves, it’s always an important element that’s there. I’m involved in radio as well as being in a band, I just love… for me, because of the radio perspective but also being part of a band community it just comes back to that word of community, it’s communal, that’s what I love about it. It’s not just us it’s a whole community of people experiencing the same thing, getting a thrill from the same thing. That’s why it’s important to me because I find likeminded people that have that same communal experience as I do, that’s why I keep going back to music because it means so much more than all the other art forms.
I know that when you first started doing Stress Of Leisure stuff, around 2003, you would do it by yourself in the afternoons after work…
IAN: Yeah, I did it by myself. I actually performed at poetry gigs, it wasn’t really conventional. All the gigs I did were part of a book launch, or poetry gigs, to a lot of writers essentially [laughs]. It was just me on an acoustic guitar. There was no congruence to what the project was, how it was recorded to how it was being delivered. It was just me going, this is The Stress Of Leisure, I want to be a band but I don’t know. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the whole thing. I was just fumbling in the dark. What I know now is, I was probably aiming for that community.
PASCALLE: The collaboration.
IAN: Yes, the collaboration and being part of a gang. I had no gang it was just me.
PASCALLE: Your song writing was prolific before you even started doing gigs.
IAN: Lots of people in music produce music over a long period of time trying to discover who they are through music. They have this vision that they can never quite capture, that’s what keeps them going. They’re like, this next album is going to be great, and you do that album and it’s not quite right and they keep going…
PASCALLE: They’ve got more to do.
IAN: Yes. At that beginning stage, I’m at the beginning spot and not really having the full realisation. Starting from there I think songs had to start to live on a solo performance aspect rather than a band. A lot of them are me, me, me, Ian, Ian, Ian! That’s really what broke me in terms of wanting to get to the band level, I wanted to escape that reality [laughs]. Dave Graney maintains that if you play with an acoustic guitar you have to tell the truth, maybe that was the issue I had… if you play electric guitar you don’t have to tell the truth [laughs]. Maybe I just wanted to get from the acoustic guitar to the electric.
You mentioned that in the beginning you weren’t confident, seeing your shows now, you seem so confident, times have changed.
IAN: Yes, well that’s part of the great journey.
PASCALLE: I remember seeing you in those early days and you were terrified.
IAN: Yes. The first time I ever played in a band Pascalle was part of it, that was 2009, when we finally became a full band. That first gig was one of those Sunday afternoon Powerhouse gigs. Jo Bell who was Brispop set it up, it was in conjunction with this movie that got made, Crooked Business. One of the songs off the first album was called “Rooster” and “The Rooster” was on the Crooked Business soundtrack, Chris Nyst wrote this character that was called The Rooster. That show was our first gig and it was terrifying.
PASCALLE: There was a statement in the contract for the show that said something about delivering quality, rehearsed music, or something like that. It was really funny. I remember Ian saying something about that and thinking, oh, well we’ve gotta be pretty good then [laughs].
IAN: That really added to the terror I think. That was my first ever band performance and it was more of a relief when I finished it rather than enjoying it. The more you play, obviously the more confidence you get. The confidence thing has taken a while, also doing a radio show has helped, being jokey and thinking of stuff to say, banter.
PASCALLE: I love watching Ian perform. I have seen him from being a terrified performer to just owning what he does. It didn’t take forever but having the band to back you gives you a lot more confidence and you can have a lot more fun now.
IAN: The present makeup of the band – Jessica Moore on drums, Jane Elliot on bass, Pascalle Burton on keyboards and myself – that’s been since 2015, the longest version of The Stress Of Leisure; that in itself gives a lot of comfort. You know that we’ve played the songs and we know what we’re doing, the more you play with people the more confidence you have in stretching it out a bit and having fun. It’s not a worry to play the wrong notes, everybody is on the same page.
One of the things I love the most about when I see you play is that you look like you’re having so much fun!
IAN: Thank you, we do. There was something before that made me think of this anecdote, we play a couple of shows for Deaf QLD, we played to people that were deaf. They designed it so it had to be a place with floorboards so you could feel the vibration and interact with it, but also they had balloons for the vibration. They had a signer, we had a signer that does it for the Premier, she signed for us in those couple of gigs we did. We got asked back the second time because Karen Lantry was the CEO, she’s deaf herself and she said she liked us because we felt good! That was one of the best compliments we’ve ever had—we feel good!
PASCALLE: You don’t have to be able to hear our music to get some sense of what it’s about. As you get further into the relationship to the band you know each other better, what direction you want to go in. When we come up with new songs, if Ian’s not happy with it, he’ll put it to the side. Every song we play is fun for us, that’s an important part of it.
I read somewhere that you feel with this line-up of the band it feels more collaborative; you’re used to writing the songs yourself Ian, right?
IAN: It feels like the start of the band was 2012, in 2011 we released a song called “Sex Time” that was the first song where each element of the band is doing something to contribute to the whole. What I mean is, the guitar is doing this, the bass is doing this, the drums are doing this pattern and the keyboard is doing something… it’s not all the same note. It’s not all coming in and the drums are fitting in with it, I’s not C, G, C, F, G… everything is playing something different. If you took one of the elements out, it doesn’t work, you have to have all of those four elements; that was the genesis to where we are now. It’s like early DEVO where their sound sounds a lot bigger because all the elements fit together, once you take one of those elements out there’s something missing…
PASCALLE: There’s a gap.
IAN: Yes, from there, that was what started the spirit of collaboration. The Cassowary album had a few collaborative songs, from then on I wanted the band to be more collaborative. The last album, half the songs are written by the band and the other half by me. I think the best music is created when people work together and contribute different ideas, it’s not about one person, it’s about interaction. It makes for a more interesting dynamic.
I love working with other people, because often someone will have a totally different idea that you might not have ever thought of.
IAN: Yes. I think you tend to devalue your own stuff. Some of your own stuff might go, oh it’s like this, then someone else will go, “That’s great, we should do something with that.” You can come up with an accidental pop song or something accidental that you never would of thought because you had that collaborative model.
How important are lyrics to you? Often your songs seem really fun and humorous but when you look deeper there’s a lot more going on.
IAN: Getting back to the philosophy of lyrics, the intent behind it is the important thing I think. People enter music for a whole lot of reasons, whether they want to be famous, whether they want to make a lot of money, whether they want to have sex with a lot of people, or they just want to sound like their favourite band, there’s another element which comes into it which is a certain ideology, you have a certain ideology you’re pushing… I think that’s where I think I’m focused with a lyric. I have a little bit of history in that my first degree was in Marketing, I’m fascinated by advertising. My fascination is that I see it as a monster, I see it as what’s behind the whole ills of our society at the moment. You see this constant sort of hyper-consumerist cycle which we’re all part of and enjoy to a certain extent. I think that’s the kind of conflict that I find in the world, being made to feel that we’re not quite enough. That’s what advertising does—you could be a whole lot better than you are. That’s the driving ideology of our music and a lot of what capitalist society is pushing. The whole album Achievement was so tongue-in-cheek about that. Aim high, get high. No Idea is the new idea. “Girl On A Lilo” is an acronym for GOAL [laughs].
PASCALLE: The reason I was very happy to be a part of the band was the lyrics, I think they’re fantastic. One of the things I appreciate about Ian is that he will get all those ideologies but put them in a certain kind of a snapshot of a narrative, he’s a storyteller. He doesn’t just spell it out for people, we have to get the ideologies from the story. I think it’s always fun.
IAN: Yeah, it’s not straight forward it’s metaphoric. A whole lot of stuff is going on. That’s why I got away from that stuff of me on guitar, me, me, me, I, I, I! A little bit of earnest and feelings and stuff. No more feelings in terms of me, it’s feelings about the community. There’s a little bit of me but it’s going more towards an ideological approach, we’re writing from the perspective that we’re told we’re not good enough. That’s’ where “the stress of leisure” is! [laughs].
PASCALLE: When we rehearse – there’s not too many people that can probably improvise over music but Ian does – he generates words easily off the top of his head. A lot of times we’ll be working on a song, and I’m glad we record a lot of the rehearsals because there will be a line that comes out that will be really good.
IAN: Some lyrics are easy but a lot are hard. I put them off for a long time and just revel in the thought of what it is. I’ll be like, ‘This is a great song but it doesn’t have any words yet’ [laughs], one day it will have words. That’ll be the boring part because I’ll have to sit down and really work at it. I really love the thought of the song before it gets to the lyrics, the lyrics are usually the last part of the song. A lot of the time we have unfinished songs, often they won’t be finished and we’ll play them live and I’ll just be improvising words. I’m just saying stuff but not saying anything. I’m just finishing off words. You think I’m saying a sentence but I’m not. [Laughs].
PASCALLE: There was one song that we were playing on the Regurgitator tour that was unwritten at that point and Greg Jard who does the sound – he was really great in giving us life experience of being on the road – in a soundcheck we decided we wanted to do this unwritten song and Ian who going “blah, blah blah” whatever over the music and Greg was like, “I can’t hear what you’re saying, you’ve gotta pronounce your words.” Ian was like, “It hasn’t been written yet!” [laughs].
You mentioned before that you studied marketing, I know at the start of The Stress Of Leisure you didn’t do much promotion; was that intentional?
IAN: It was just confidence really, and not having a band and not being confident, as a solo thing it didn’t really fit. I had friends that helped me out, who were really great in encouraging me but it wasn’t an easy fit because they didn’t live close to me. I didn’t have any idea of how it would happen until I started getting gigs.
PASCALLE: I sometimes say to Ian, you have a Marketing degree surely you would know what would make us better known!
IAN: When it comes to the business side of things…
PASCALLE: He hates it!
IAN: Yeah, I really hate it but it’s so important as an independent musician that you have to be across it. I find that when I’m working with other people and helping them…
PASCALLE: He’s a champion!
IAN: I know what to do and can hook them up with the right people; the networking brain comes on. Whereas the networking brain for myself is, ‘we’re just chumps don’t worry about us!’ I’d probably talk us down or not even talk about us. I’m just happy to meet people on whatever terms that may be.
PASCALLE: I think Ian has an idea that he would like everything to happen organically. This has happened. Our experience so far has been organic. You meet people, like we met Ben Ely (Regurgitator) and you just become friends with each other. It’s a nice feeling because it feels authentic. Whereas the rest of the machine of promotion doesn’t seem like it’s authentic, you have to work it and schmooze and all of that. I don’t think anyone in our band wants to do that! [laughs].
IAN: When people start talking industry stuff with us… when people suggest, “oh, you should tour with that band” and we’re like, we don’t have anything in common with that band, that would be horrible! We’ve only toured with bands we like, Custard, Regurgitator, Dave Graney and we’ve played with The Gin Club. That keeps it positive! It’s kept it on a level. If you start getting into the industry side of things… there’s always been a mercenary aspect to it, but when it becomes too focused on what someone in the industry thinks, it’s horrible—nobody really knows! [Laughs].
PASCALLE: It’s a challenge because there’s that part of putting yourself forward and saying we have a good band and want to play… and if we don’t, it’s almost apologising for what we do—I don’t like that either. I like the idea of standing by what we do. There’s a fine line of selling out and kissing arse…
IAN: The facts are you have to sell what you do, there’s no way around it. You have to get out there, say you’re great and that you can play.
I was really stoked for you guys when you got to play with Kid Congo!
PASCALLE: Oh my god! That was the best! It was so fun!
IAN: That was a nice feeling because they had been told about us. Before we played with them in Brisbane they told us that they were told to check us out! That was the best thrill. Meeting Kid was amazing! He told us that someone in the band, The Scientists, told him to check us out. I was like, really?! Dave Graney and Clare Moore are big supporters of us too, I’m sure they probably mention us too. They played with the Pink Tiles girls, we know them too… there’s always lovely connections. In the real world you have people talking about you, that’s what good managers do, they set it up for the band to succeed; we don’t have anybody like that though. We don’t have the hype machine.
PASCALLE: It was such an amazing show! They were such lovely people, great people. I love that when it comes along, that people you admire are also really nice.
I know that feeling, Kid was really lovely to me too. We met him after his show and he remembered the interview he did with me. People do a lot of interviews so the fact that he remembered it was nice. That was such a heavy week, my father passed away, seeing Kid Congo play on the beach in my town really helped. I guess rock n roll really does have power.
It was a really special show for me, it reminded me that there still are good things in the world. At the time I was really struggling, but seeing Kid up there in his sequinned cape play music really helped and brought me back to life.
IAN: That’s one of the great things about playing in bands, you get to meet other people and you get to see their world. You can touch it, it’s as easy as that. People have worked hard to get where they are.
I love such a variety of music. I love moving between the different worlds and maybe seeing something I love in one world and taking it to a new world and giving it a new interpretation and life.
PASCALLE: With my keyboard lines, not that you would say they sound like it, but I will see a band and go, I love what they did with that sound and I’ll see what would happen if I brought it to a synthesizer. We have a new song called “Beat The Tension” it doesn’t sound like it but it’s completely inspired by Xylouris White, Jim White and George Xylouris new band. We saw them play Woodford [Folk Festival] and they were just so inspirational. There was a song they were playing and I remember thinking that I really want to bring that into the synthesizer. I often do that, the last line I came up with that Ian liked was…
IAN: Was that from a Crete Lute? [laughs].
PASCALLE: “Beat The Tension” was basically something that George was playing.
IAN: I’ll have to listen to that line again and think of Crete [laughs]. This is what’s good about collaboration.
PASCALLE: Jane Elliot is a classically trained musician. I often play really discordant lines and you just see her face go, argh, do you have too? [laughs]. She’ll come around to it eventually. She’s like, “You can’t play a B flat with that!”
I love when people make things that sound different and that breaks rules. I find often people are like, I love this band and I love this other band because they sound just like the other band I like; people are often limited in the things they like.
IAN: It’s like the sound de jour is everywhere and you want to escape the sound de jour ‘cause you now things are already turning.
Things always work in cycles and often if something’s been popular for a while, the next thing that’s popular is the opposite. How do you guys inspire each other?
IAN: I’m restless creativity, so scientifically I tell everyone we’re coming up with new songs, bring ideas. Once you get everyone together you can try your idea and your idea together and see if they work, or go with one idea. The first couple of ideas we come up with after having a bit of a break, are really electric! There’s something about it, they really work. There’s a science. Everyone gets energized by it, that’s what keeps us bubbling along. If you’re playing the same set all the time it can get a little tough. Coming up with new stuff is important, it’s like regrowth.
PASCALLE: There was a time when you’d make mixtapes for us. You’d be like, “I think the album is going to take these kinds of sounds in.” We’d listen to that and come up with ideas. That was really good.
IAN: We’ve all got different ideas. We work with titles. “Achievement” was the overall title and we worked towards that. If I can just coast on the top of all the other ideas [laughs] that’s a perfect scenario, I can come in and my guitar can just fit amongst everything that’s already laid out.
PASCALLE: That’s what I’m thinking too! [laughs]. I’m just like, ‘You just all do your thing, I’ll work myself into the space’. We’re all probably thinking the same thing! We live together, Ian is always playing constantly, he has guitars in several rooms. He’ll just pick one up and start riffing on something.
IAN: I’m mainly just playing scales and stuff
PASCALLE: That’s not true [laughs]. You play all the time and I find that inspiring. I think, ‘wow! He’s so dedicated’ [laughs].
IAN: I like to work out corny songs like “Under The Bridge” (Red Hot Chilli Peppers) or “Money For Nothing” (Dire Straits) [laughs]. I look up guitar tablature online. You get ideas form everywhere. You go into somebody’s song book and you cop a few of their moves and you see if some of those moves work in another context. It’s important to keep ideas coming, that’s what gives the band sense of purpose. That’s what can be troublesome for some people in the industry, they get in this cycle of, they’ve got this album and they’re still on the same album… you need the regrowth, you need to burn that and grow something new! You might get a lot of satisfaction out of the live moment, but you keep needing to move forward creatively. We’re in a position where we can, and we do.
I know that TSOL is working on new stuff; how far are you into that?
IAN: We’ve tried four songs out live, we’re happy with how they worked and how they felt. We’re kind of road testing things a bit more than we have. We’ve probably got another four on top of that…
PASCALLE: That made the cut, we have more songs on top of that.
IAN: We’re pretty harsh judges…
PASCALLE: He’s the harshest! [laughs].
IAN: Out of twenty ideas, maybe six work. If you’re going to be playing them a lot you want to make sure they tick all the boxes going forward. Will they fit the album? How fun will they be to play? If you play it live and someone goes, “I really like that new song of yours,” you remember that and go tick.
TSOL used to wear matching outfits but you’ve moved away from that and want no rules; what was the thought behind wearing matching outfits? Is it ‘case you’re a gang?
IAN: Yeah! [laughs].
PASCALLE: I think when we didn’t have a unified uniform our clothes were really shooting off in different tangents, we wanted to be a gang. We had a winter and an autumn palette. We played at Girls Rock Camp and we were wearing our autumn look and after our set they threw it to the audience to ask questions… one of the questions was; would you ever think of wearing a uniform?
IAN: This ten-year-old girl smashed us [laughs]. It takes a 10-year-old girl to go, “Hang on, your idea is not defined enough” [laughs]. That’s the focus group we needed to have.
PASCALLE: Jane actually answered the question and said, “We’re actually wearing it right now.” Then from that point we thought, if we really want to get across the message that we’re a gang we probably have to start wearing the exact same thing, so that’s where that came from.
IAN: A lot of bands that stick in your psyche have a look. We choose a very simple look.
You guys had the shirt that said “Product”.
PASCALLE: We liked the idea of that one, we just used t-shirt transfers. We also wore shirts from Seth Bogart’s label Wacky Wacko.
PASCALLE: Yeah. We also wore a condom shirt, it’s just a shirt that has a whole heap of condoms on it. A lot of people didn’t realise they were condoms, they’d come up to us and go, “Oh, you look so great!” [laughs].
IAN: We played with Regurgitator throughout August last year and that gave us time to reflect…
PASCALLE: Are we ready to go beyond that uniform?
IAN: Yes. We’d been doing this for a while. Pascalle and I were having a chat whether we liked the uniforms or not and what the idea might be going forward. I don’t know where the tipping point was. We just wear what we want just as long as we’ve got a style that meshes.
PASCALLE: The point of agreement was, the idea of wearing lots of clashing patterns instead of block colours; it sets up a challenge for everyone to find something that’s bold.
IAN: We just didn’t want to be, wear whatever you want… come out in a Freddo t-shirt…
PASCALLE: And jeans…
IAN: Yeah, black jeans or something.
PASCALLE: We want to elevate it a little bit. Not too comfortable.
IAN: The band uniform was to distinguish us in the crowd. I’m noticing a lot more bands, a lot more younger bands, doing the uniform. I like it. Now we’re moving beyond though.
Do you have any themes you’ve been writing to for the new material you’re working on?
IAN: We had a title, but I can’t really giving it out and jinx us. There’s no overriding theme other than we’re continuing on from Eruption Bounce. Eruption Bounce was the first album where we were all together, recorded, toured it, I want the same thing to happen with this one. It’s like Part two of this line-up. This album and the last should sit beside each other as companion pieces. The songs are different obviously, the song structures with the last album were kind of tight whereas this one is a bit more elastic. The influences are a little bit more, Eruption Bounce was more American post-punk, this new one is a bit more English post-punk.
PASCALLE: A little more like The Fall.
IAN: Yeah, there’s more ranting in there. It’s more collaborative than ever, so it’s probably going a lot more weirder and some of it’s going more poppy.
PASCALLE: It’s fun, I like what we’re doing. Now is a really fun time in the making of it.
IAN: We sit down to write songs together…
PASCALLE: Then there’s fighting [laughs]…
IAN: Couples must fight, that’s how it works [laughs]. When I write with Pascalle it usually hardens my reserve as to where the song will go, it’s very helpful, even though it must be very frustrating for Pascalle a times.
PASCALLE: Again, it’s another way to work out of you knowing the songs more, what works, what’s easier.
IAN: Yes, Pascalle is a springboard into being productive, essentially. There won’t be anything out this year  but hopefully next year.
PASCALLE: We have some unreleased songs we might put out in the meantime.
IAN: There’s about seven songs we might do a digital release for. We have to get them mixed.
What are you both listening to at the moment? What’s exciting to you?
IAN: Because I do a radio show I’m always listening to stuff [Brighten The Corners on 4ZZZ FM]. I’m not talking whole bands or anything, I’m hearing ideas; I’ll be listening to bands and hearing ideas that I like. There’s a whole lot of stuff.
PASCALLE: We’ve been to a lot of the same gigs; Nun is amazing. We saw a band supporting Angel Olsen in Seattle called, Hand Habits, that were great. I’m stuck on that Destroyer album, Ken, it’s a beautiful album. There’s a few song that if I’m feeling down I’ll go to straight away like a Bonnie Prince Billy song.
IAN: I’m really impressed with Tropical Fuck Storm. It’s a great capture of their band’s name what they do. The lyrical depth and breadth of what Gareth Liddiard does is probably…. I have a different style but I can see a similarity with how he approaches… I’m not as dystopian as that. There’s a lot of inspiration in the way that he attacks it. Nun for the energy, Jenny [Branagan]’s performance, and just the clever way that music interacts. I’m always inspired by seeing older musicians play! Seeing someone like Neneh Cherry play, they don’t get worse, they get better! People that keep playing, I get inspired by that… they describe it as heritage acts…
IAN: Yeah, they call someone like Ed Kuepper a heritage act.
PASCALLE: That’s what Australia is like, it dismisses older acts.
IAN: I’m inspired by the facet of how people just stick with it, work with it and get better. You see Kim Salmon, Dave Graney and Ed Kuepper, any of the older artists…
PASCALLE: Even though they’re not that old, bands like Regurgitator and Custard, still producing really great music.
IAN: I think that’s the big thing that Australia misses, it’s so catered to the youth market, which fits in with that hyper-consumerist model, churn out the new act… but there’s really a depth to our scene. Because there’s not a big demographic of support, due to the bean counters, there’s that lost scene. That’s what I see as a big opportunity for Australia to embrace more of their older musicians rather than just the young ones, which is what a lot of industry effort goes into. I get inspired by longevity essentially, in whatever form. Bands that stick together and keep playing is inspiring.