Program’s Jonno Ross-Brewin: “We’re all about jamming in as many riffs and melody as possible”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Melbourne’s Program play catchy as fuck power pop. The songs off their debut album Show Me get stuck in your head, so much so that later in your day after listening to them you’ll find yourself humming the melodies to yourself. We spoke to Program co-founder Jonno Ross-Brewin.

Program released their debut album Show Me in October last year; have you been working on anything new?

JR-B: Rory [Heane] and I have been working on stuff for quite a while now. We’re constantly working on stuff. We’re working on the next album, we’re in the early stages.

How long were you working on Show Me for? It took a while, right?

JR-B: It was because it was the first record for the band, we didn’t really mess around with demos or anything. You could say Rory and I were writing songs for a couple of years before it came out. We were in another band before this one for years, we were kind of a mathy-punk-emo-jam band. For a couple of years we started playing guitar, because neither of us played guitar that much. It probably took a year from when we formed the group.

What inspired you towards the sound you have now?

JR-B: How we were feeling about everything. I used to write much more angsty stuff when I was younger because that’s how I felt. Now that I’m older – I’m not sure if it comes across in the music though – there’s a resignation and acceptance and maybe even a slight comedy about stuff. I’m seeing things in a lighter way, I’m being a bit lighter about things. I still feel the same ways I did then but, I’m just better at dealing with stuff. I know what is useful and what to act on and what you can’t really change.

Lyrically Show Me is quite personal.

JR-B: Especially for me. The tracks that I wrote were pretty personal. There’s definitely a mix in writing but the ones that I sung on were ‘Tailwind Blues’, ‘Program’, ‘Unexpected Plans’ and ‘They Know’.

Was there anything in particular that you were going through in your life when you wrote them?

JR-B: Yeah. ‘Unexpected Plans’ and ‘Tailwind Blues’ are basically based on a failed romantic endeavour, where I flew over to the USA for somebody.

Awww man, that sucks, I’m sorry. Why did you decide to kick the record off with ‘Another Day’?

JR-B: That’s what we’re feeling at the moment, there’s elements of repetition and boredom of our lives, that kind of stuff.

I noticed the album has really bright sounding jangly guitars all over it.

JR-B: A lot of that is just from the guitar that I started learning to play guitar on, it’s an old Japanese Fender imitation thing. The stuff that we’ve been writing is definitely inspired by Big Star and more poppy kind of stuff like The Kinks, a lot of Replacements—a lot of heartfelt power pop.

What did you listen to growing up?

JR-B: Neither of us really came from musical families at all. Our parents are the kind of people that would just listen to The Eagles or Bob Marley. When we were kids Rory and I listened to a lot of stuff that I’m probably a bit too embarrassed to mention [laughs]. I was a massive Red Hot Chilli Peppers fan when I was a kid, and that’s what got me into music. Later on there was stuff like The Strokes, stuff like that has massively influenced us.

I’ve seen Red Hot Chilli Peppers live five times and every time they’ve totally sucked. I was so disappointed, because growing up I’d listen to them too.

JR-B: Yeah, I feel exactly the same way too. I only saw them once, when I was eighteen, and that was the last time I listened to them in a non-ironic haha sort of way. They came out for album Stadium Arcadium when they were well after their prime, I was very disappointed. I thought that I was watching little robot ants from a distance.

Pretty much everyone I talk to that’s seen them says they are boring live. You hear them recorded, see their videos and live footage of them overseas and I think, they might be great to see live, then you do and it’s boring! I actually fell asleep at one of their shows.

JR-B: Where was it?

At an Entertainment Centre like a big arena.

JR-B: That’s probably why, because the place was too big. I don’t really rate big venues. All my favourite moments of live music have always been pretty intimate, in bars and smaller settings… except The Pixies, they’re always amazing no matter where they are. I saw them at Golden Plains recently and I saw them ten years ago at Festival Hall, both times amazing!

What’s been one of your favourite musical moments in an intimate setting?

JR-B: Probably my favourite band, who we’re all mates with too, is Possible Humans—I LOVE seeing those guys. We played their launch at The Tote. Every time I see them I love it. They’re really lovely dudes, amazingly lovely dudes!

You and Rory started Program around 2016 but have known each other since the first week of primary school…

JR-B: Yeah, since we were five!

That’s pretty amazing to have a friendship for that long.

JR-B: It’s wild! We live together as well. It helps us make music, we understand what each other wants.

Can you tell us a little bit about the recording of Show Me?

JR-B: We recorded most of it live except the vocals and a few overdubs. We did that in a day down in Geelong, in Billy [Gardner]’s warehouse. Billy from Anti Fade has this little rehearsal studio down in these old army barracks in Geelong. We drove down to Geelong for the day.

What made you want to do it live?

JR-B: We just heard his Civic recordings and we thought that sounded amazing! I’m pretty sure they did most of it live as well, so we were really happy for him to do it. There wasn’t too much thought actually, we were like, let’s just do this! We weren’t even sure about it all to be honest until we heard it.

We would have officially formed the band in 2018, Rory and I had songs we were doing but we hadn’t officially got anyone together. We were probably just jamming for about a year because we didn’t even know what we were going to sound like and it took a while. We started playing a few shows, mainly house parties. Not long after that Rory bumped into Billy at a party and Billy said “I’d like to record you guys”. We were lucky. When Billy was mixing it, he got an idea of it and just asked if he could put it out. He seemed to really like it. Things just really worked out.

I love that there’s so much melody on the album.

JR-B: There’s a lot of that. We’re all about jamming in as many riffs and melody as possible.

What was the thought behind the album art?

JR-B: The idea was Rory’s but it was a group effort. We went through a lot of ideas of me trying to draw up stuff and it was getting close to the release date and Rory was like “What about kids playing Four Square?” I found a cool image of it and the album is called Show Me and the vibe is the idea of having a young view of the world, not knowing what to do. I did the little squiggly bits then our bassist James Kane came in – he does a lot of posters and stuff so he’s really good on the design perspective – we put it together. I did the drawings and James put it together on Photoshop and did the font.

It sounds like everything just happens really organically for you guys?

JR-B: Yeah, I think it’s because we’re all really old friends. Jessie [Fernandez] and the two James’ we’ve all known each other for ten years. It was all very low-key, let’s just get these dudes because we like them. Jessie saw our first show and told us she’d been playing keys and asked if she could play keys for us, and after six months we said, let’s do it! She’s not on the album because we recorded it before she joined. Hopefully keys are going to be really prominent on the next recording.

What kind of direction are you headed in now sound-wise?

JR-B: With the songs we’ve done we’ve set it up so there’s kind of different genres in each song – some songs are more punky, others are more poppy, some are even folky – I think we’re going to still run with that for a bit. We’ll keep doing this until it sounds shit and then we’ll probably try something else.

What’s the part of songwriting you find challenging?

JR-B: I find the details challenging [laughs]. I’m better at coming up with chords and a vocal melody. Rory is a much better musician than I am, he’s really good at all the technical stuff and riffs.

My lyrics are very direct and personal. I don’t like them to be too overthought. I like them being accessible and easy to hear but upon more analysis they mean more. I try to do that, I don’t know if that actually happens though [laughs].

I really like the track ‘Memory’ on the record I think it’s a good blend of Rory and I as writers. There’s not much effort put into it but I really like the result, it sees effortless.

Do you edit yourself much?

JR-B: Definitely. Usually I’ll write on my phone and then go over it and fine tune it over a period of months. It never ends up being anywhere near what I initially write. I always reduce it to all that’s needed. We definitely spend a lot of time on the tracks.

Who are the songwriters you admire?

JR-B: My gods are David Bowie and Neil Young. I like how epic Bowie is and how heartfelt Young is. There’s a lot I like though. Maybe Ray Davies as well, I like his tongue-in-cheek and catchiness.

What’s been influencing the songs you’ve been writing lately?

JR-B: The same everyday stuff and personal things.

What do you do outside of music?

JR-B: I work full-time as an Operating Theatre Technician. I set up for surgery. Most of my music just takes up everything around that.

What an interesting job.

JR-B: It is at the start. I work in a smallish hospital with the same surgeons, so you get to know each surgeon and what they’re like then it becomes pretty repetitive and dull. But in some ways it’s good because I’ll be sitting there and in my head can be coming up with lyrics. Rory does the same thing, we both work in the same place.

Wow! You guys are so linked.

JR-B: Yep, that’s it!

It’s pretty special to share so many things in life with someone.

JR-B: Yeah, I’m pretty grateful. It’s pretty amazing!

Anything else you want to tell me?

JR-B: I think at the end of all this isolation period there’s going to be so many people coming out with stuff. Rory and I are working on demos. We’re just trying to make good songs, nice songs. We’re on to the next one and excited about that!

Please check out: PROGRAM. Show Me out on Anti Fade Records. Program on Facebook. Program on Instagram.

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