Alex Patching of Perth Punk Band Aborted Tortoise: “I became obsessed with four-tracks, thanks largely to Get Real Stupid the first Reatards 7-inch”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

We really dig Aborted Tortoise with their wild, driving, rapid-fire, jangly, buzzing punk. Their latest release is a concept EP – Scale Model Subsistence Vendor – about Coles’ Minis, the stupidity and frustration of the frenzied obsession and the pointless consumerism people buy into. We chatted with drummer, Alex Patching.

How did you first discover punk rock?

ALEX PATCHING: Personally most of my initial exposure probably came from the skate videos I used to watch when I was younger. The influence of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack also can’t be overstated. My dad is a massive rock dog so I didn’t really grow up with much punk being played aside from maybe the odd Sex Pistols song. Initially I got really into the bigger names (as you do) like Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat etc. but eventually started digging a little deeper and got really into the lo-fi cassette stuff that’s been so popular on YouTube over the last few years.

You all grew up together before Aborted Tortoise was even a band; tell us a little something about each member?

AP: Connor [Lane; vocals] is The Tony Galati of cryptocurrency (WA reference – sorry). Charles [Wickham; guitar] is a reality TV addict/Coles Minis enthusiast. Tom [Milan; guitar] is a medical physicist/renaissance man. John [Peers; bass] is a rock pig/gamer and I’m a subpar historian.  

All of us (except Connor) went to the same high school, so we were all more or less familiar with each other long before the band was a thing. Tom and I have known each other since pre-primary and have a long and vibrant history – I have vivid memories of playing AOE at his house in primary school, the one you used to get in Nutri-Grain boxes. We used to make mazes filled with various hazard like crocodiles and lions and force innocent villagers to escape.

The four of us had a short-lived high school band which we fucked around with before starting Aborted Tortoise just after we graduated. We needed a vocalist, so we ended up recruiting Connor who I’d known for a while through a wider group of friends who used to go skating.

What’s the story behind your band name? How did you come to putting the words “aborted” and “tortoise” together? It’s has a nice ring to it!

AP: Haha, thanks. There was talk of changing the name at one point but we decided against it and now, for better or worse, it’s what we’re called. Its eye catching at least?

From memory we were hanging out in a carpark at this lake near where we live and there are all of these signs warning the public of tortoises crossing the road. Pretty sure I just saw the sign and the words came out. It’s far less heinous than the two pages of alternate names that we had lying around so we decided it would be the band name.

Aborted Tortoise are from Perth, Western Australia; how does your environment influence your music?

AP: I’m not sure it does influence our music per se. It does influence where we play in that it’s far more expensive to tour living here than it would be if we were based in Sydney or Melbourne or something. It’s not like we can pop over to a neighbouring city for the weekend with any ease, so we have to get used to playing the same five venues to the same 50 people. Thankfully we have the internet to peddle our wares because if we had to rely solely on the local scene for selling merch, things would be a bit grim.

You once describe your music as “like Chuck Berry on crack”; what key elements do you think make the Aborted Tortoise sound?

AP: Hahaha that quote is edgy 18-year-old me to a tee. Certainly early on, particularly on the first EP, there was a pretty strong element of traditional garage and surf like the Sonics or Dick Dale, so there was lots of blues scales, and most of the lyrics (at least on my behalf) ripped off a lot of the song concepts from those bands.

That said we’re a totally different band to the one that recorded our first EP. I think now we try to use the dual guitar thing a bit more interestingly rather than just having two guitars playing power chords. There’s also definitely a sense of humour and immaturity because we don’t want to take things too seriously. We have the most fun when we’re taking the piss.

At the start of March you released your Coles’ Minis inspired concept EP, Scale Model Subsistence Vendor EP; what sparked the idea?

AP: We had the idea of doing some form of concept EP and Charles had written a song about Coles Minis so we ran with that idea. Charles reckons he went to some movie night at a friend’s house and saw a bunch of Coles Minis on display around the place and got unreasonably (I say reasonably?) annoyed about it. The rabid presence of makeshift marketplaces and swap-meets for them online were also an inspiration.

Was it hard to write all the EP songs to theme?

AP: Honestly it probably helped a bit. We don’t often write to a consistent theme and we just choose ideas based on what we think is funny. Everyone had an idea about what part of the Minis process they wanted to respond to so we split the writing duties like that. Any parallels to the actual minis process are purely coincidental, but we made some educated guesses. Very happy to have finally used the word polyethylene in a song though.

You recorded and mixed the EP on a 4-track; how did you first learn how to record? Are you self-taught? Can you tell us a bit about recording process?

AP: In the pre-Aborted Tortoise days we used to badly self-record stuff with a USB mic into a computer, but we had no idea what the fuck we were doing and consequently the recordings are heinous. I ended up studying sound at Murdoch Uni which was fun but only maybe 40% was relevant to my interests. During that time I became obsessed with four-tracks, thanks largely to Get Real Stupid the first Reatards 7”, and in the end I learnt more by just playing around with my four track at home than I did during my degree. I just used my other bands, and my friends’ bands as guinea pigs to figure out what I was doing.

The first Aborted Tortoise release that I recorded and mixed was the Do Not Resuscitate 7”. That release was done mostly live on my Yamaha MT50. That machine shat the bed during that session, so the second side of the 7” was recorded on a different four-track that we borrowed (cheers Tom Cahill). When we were doing takes of 20XX the tape was speeding up as we started playing so it sounded like we were taking off or something, it was fucked.

Subsequently, for Scale Model Subsistence Vendor I reverted back to using my first-four track, my Tascam Porta 02. It’s probably the most basic four track you can get that isn’t just a tape deck. It’s technically a four-track but it can only record on two tracks at once. The only mix functions it has is level and pan control so essentially the mix had to be decided on before pressing record, and all the instruments were squashed together on two tracks as a stereo mix.

Connor’s place has a neat granny flat which we have kindly been granted access to, so we can record in there for free. The set up for Scale Model Subsistence Vendor was super basic; we just chucked all the instruments in the same room, popped a few mics about and played some takes, tweaking the settings on the desk as we went. Once we were happy with the mix, we just played the songs through and got them done in a day. Vocals were done separately a week or two later and that was that.

What’s is the most memorable show you’ve played? What made it so?

AP: Definitely a major one was when we went to Melbourne around 2015 to play a couple of gigs. We played a show at The Grace Darling with Dumb Punts who were kind enough to chuck us on a bill with them. The set itself wasn’t very memorable but at some point, someone knocked over a pint glass and it smashed on the stage. Later during Dump Punts’ set, Tom fell over straight onto the smashed pint glass with arms outstretched and badly cut up his hands, so we had to bail to the hospital so he could get stitched up which took all night. Tom still couldn’t move his fingers when we got back to Perth, so he went back to hospital only to find out that he’d actually severed some tendons in his hand, and the fuckhead doctor in Melbourne hadn’t properly checked it out. In any case it’s miraculous that Tom can even play guitar anymore. Hopefully that doctor got fired.

Some honourable mentions: that shit house party in Yanchep, Chaos Club 1 + 2 (for all the wrong reasons), Camp Doogs (both times).

Outside of music, how do you spend your time?

AP: Charles is in his final year at uni studying education so he can finally morph into Mr. Wickham and boss kids about.

I’ve just started studying honours in history part time, so I’ve got two years of uni ahead of me before my life starts truly resembling Night At The Museum. Charles and I both work together at the same store of a popular technology chain selling unnecessary shit to annoying techies who have nothing better to do.

Tom works at a hospital as a medical physicist doing complicated things to complicated machines that I don’t fully understand but its fucking sick nonetheless.

Connor had been residing in Europe until coronavirus kicked off big time so he’s back for the time being. Probably plotting his next crypto move.

Finally, John works in disability support, and has recently logged 200 hrs of the new Call Of Duty.

Please check out: ABORTED TORTOISE. AT on Facebook. Scale Model Subsistence Vendor available via Goodbye Boozy Records.

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