Sydney’s Party Dozen is the dynamite combo of Jonathan Boulet and Kirsty Tickle. They’re one of the most interesting and exciting bands around with an experimental musical fusion of saxophone, drums and electronics to create a unique, fierce sound. They’re getting set to release their highly anticipated sophomore LP Pray For Party Dozen. We interviewed them, getting to know them a little better and hearing more about the awaited release, out May 22 on their own label Grupo Records. Get on your knees and start to pray, the second coming is almost upon us!
Party Dozen is a project loosely based around improvisation; what appealed to you about taking this approach?
JONO: I think all live forms of music conjure some kind of energy, sometimes it’s a familiar energy and sometimes it’s not. Audiences aren’t stupid and they can sense when you’re checked in to your performance. For us, keeping our performances unhinged and untethered not only keeps shows fun for us but I think it brings a sense of danger and if we want to project more energy we simply play harder and faster. And even though there’s a lot of songs we now generally play structurally the same, there’s always room for spontaneity and expression if we’re feeling it.
You’ve known each other for over a decade; how does that familiarity help when playing music and writing songs together?
JONO: Obviously knowing each other’s tendencies and even subtle physical cues can help immensely when it comes to performing as a unit. I guess at the same time we’re always developing as players and not being too familiar with someone’s playing style can lead to surprises and new paths. Sometimes I think we’re dead on the same page but it’ll turn out we are on opposite ends of the book! A welcome surprise as there are no mistakes when you’re “making it up”.
How did each of you first get into music?
JONO: It started for me when I was 10. I tended to be a little on the hyperactive side but instead of opting for drugs, my folks bought an old drum kit from a country town that used to belong to a Jazz guy that was in the war but never came back.
KIRSTY: My start in music was pretty run of the mill. Bullied my parents for piano lessons age 4, because I was the youngest and my siblings were all having them already. Music was the only thing that ever really held my interest for a long period of time.
How did you first come to creating music yourself?
JONO: When I hit high school my parents got me a keyboard. It had this looping arranger function on it where I could layer up 5 or 6 instruments. I would get home from school and play it every day, recording loops that I liked on to floppy disks.
KIRSTY: I started writing songs when I was around 13, just keyboard and vocal kind of stuff. But I didn’t get into experimenting until I met Jonathan. He really pushed me to think about music differently and follow my own path with creating it.
I understand that Party Dozen started while you were overseas and that you started out playing the reverse – with Jono on saxophone and Kirsty on drums – of what the band formation is now; firstly what inspired you to be a two-piece with these instruments? Why did you first experiment by switching instruments?
KIRSTY: Yeah, we did one jam like that. I think Jono really wanted to play sax and I’ve always wanted to play drums. But it was dogshit, so we went back to the ones we’re good at. My memory is that we spoke about making a band in Berlin, but recorded our first song while living in London. We started taking it seriously when we moved back to Sydney. Coming back to Australia was this real lightbulb moment for both of us – we love living here, we love creating here and we love the community here.
Party Dozen’s music has quite an aggressive vibe and has an edge to it that can push the parameters of what makes people feel comfortable both as a listener and as a live experience; was that an intentional goal when crafting your sound?
KIRSTY: For sure. We always want to push the boundaries of how much sound two people can produce, and then extend on that. For me Party Dozen is also an experiment in how to utilise our instruments in more interesting ways, and appreciating that that sometimes isn’t going to be “nice” or “pretty”. There’s a real strength in that for me.
You’ve previously mentioned that with Party Dozen you wanted to “form a band that could help us grow as musicians”; in what ways do you feel you’ve grown since starting PD?
KIRSTY: When we started this band I couldn’t really use effects pedals. So I’ve really grown in that department. I also feel like we’ve both gotten so much better at playing our instruments in a live setting – still plenty of room for improvement though.
JONO: Yeah with the current format of this band, the better we get on our instruments the more options we have for exploration. This band has forced me to play harder better faster stronger.
Where did the title of your forthcoming sophomore LP, Pray For Party Dozen, come from?
KIRSTY: I think it sort of started as a bit of a joke…
JONO: Party Dozen is a band that no one asked for, so I think it’s funny, the idea of praying for us.
What inspired the new record?
KIRSTY: Film Noir, cults, 1960’s rock, conversations about dead friends.
How did you record it? Jono you record, mix and master Party Dozen’s songs, right?
JONO: We recorded it in our little 15sqm box in Marrickville, Sydney. Generally we’ll improvise to a loop a couple times and pick the best one. We run the sax through an amp with a DI and generally use 4-6 mics on the kit. We mix and master in house because we’re possessive and greedy.
I know when writing songs that you like to experiment and that you like to play a few different takes over loops to find what sounds best; how important are feeling and intuition in your process?
KIRSTY: The writing process is very improvisational, so I’d say feeling and intuition makes up about 90% of it. If it feels good, we’ll explore. If we like the vibe, it’ll normally make the record.
JONO: You can tell pretty quick if a song is coming together and whether it’s worth pursuing. Once we’ve made a loop, you can envision the song and if that sounds good in your mind, it’s likely to sound good in reality. There’s only ever been a couple of jams that got to the jam phase and didn’t make it.
Were there any risks you feel you took while making the album? Or any happy accidents from the process that made it on to the album?
KIRSTY: There’s a song with no loops! Which is the first time we’ve done that, and we didn’t go into the recording aiming for that either – so I guess that’s a happy accident!
JONO: Nothing too risky. We were more focused on expanding our sonic palate. More colours to play with in the Party Dozen world. There was definitely an intentional focus on aesthetic and vibe this time around.
What gear really helped shape the sound of, Pray For Party Dozen?
KIRSTY: On my set up, I got some new pedals. A wah, a new fuzz and a couple of new delays.
JONO: I run all my loops off of a Roland SP-404, I use one crash, tighten the fuck out of my snare and try to hit everything as hard and consistent as possible.
What was one of your favourite moments of recording the new record?
KIRSTY: The opening track “World Prayer” is probably the most challenging track to listen to on the record. It was also the most fun, rule-free, throwing-shit-at-a-wall noisey tracks I’ve ever recorded.
JONO: Some songs you know just don’t feel right while you’re playing them, so it takes a few goes to get it right. But there are some songs, eg. “The Great Ape”, that feel right every time you play it. When it feels right the first time, you get this rush of excitement or a hit of some highly addictive drug.
What keeps music exciting for you?
KIRSTY: I get excited to just keep making. And trying different things. It’s not hard to keep excited with a band like PD… we can do whatever we want next.
JONO: Touring is what keeps it exciting for me. When there’s heat in the room and you can feel people’s energy on stage, nothing beats that.
As artists what are the things that you value most?
KIRSTY: I value time. Time to tour, practise, make records, hangout with friends who give me tonnes of inspiration. The more time we have as Party Dozen, the better.
JONO: I value a sense of humour, originality, and people with a sense of vision.