Carolyn Hawkins is a musician and visual artist from Melbourne. We love the art she creates! It’s imaginative, fun, whimsical and sentimental. She lovingly crafts album covers, gig posters, zines, videos and more as well as playing in two punk bands we adore, Parsnip and School Damage. Gimmie chatted with Carolyn about all this and more.
CAROLYN HAWKINS: I’ve been stuck in the studio today working on stuff that’s due this week.
What have you been working on?
CH: A stop-motion video. I’m glad we booked the interview for today because I feel like I’m starting to go crazy, I feel like I’m locked in a dungeon trying to get this thing done [laughs]. It’s good to break it up.
You also did a stop-motion animation for the School Damage song “Meeting Halfway”; is this new clip you’re working on similar to that?
CH: Yeah. It’s pretty similar. I’m still using paper cut-outs to do all of the images. I’m using a slightly better program. When I made the “Meeting Halfway” video I was using a $20 program and my computer didn’t have enough memory. I had to save it every time that I captured a frame, it was twelve frames per second. It would kick me out and I’d lose all of my work. I have a much better program now, which I’m glad I was able to save up for and get. It makes stuff a dream. It’s still really time consuming but it’s easier now.
I can relate! With my laptop at the moment I have to have it plugged into the wall all the time because the battery won’t charge and it has a dodgy port and if I just knock it slightly it shuts down and whatever I’m working on I lose. At the moment I’m saving after like every sentence I type!
CH: Oh no! That’s totally what this was like. It’s living on the edge way too much [laughs].
CH: The “Meeting Halfway” video was a lot of fun to make. I don’t really do animation stuff, I didn’t really know what I was doing. My friend Alex gave me heaps of help in figuring it all out, I also borrowed a camera and a tripod off him. I still don’t really know what I’m doing, I guess that’s probably why I’m working in a similar style for this new one. I’m still getting my head around that way of doing things. I started using a green screen which is pretty exciting!
Nice! My husband’s made a few film clips with animation and using a green screen, he just uses a green sheet for the backdrop.
CH: Cool! I have a green bit of paper. It’s really fun! What videos has he made?
He made Regurgitator’s “Sine Wave” clip. What first got you interested in art?
CH: I’ve always enjoyed drawing and making things from as far back as I can remember. One thing that really stands out – I really don’t think that I probably would be into making things in quite the same way if I didn’t watch it – is watching Art Attack! When I was a kid I used to love that show so much! My mum used to tape it off the T.V. and I’d watch it on the school holidays. Someone gave me all the VHS tapes of that recently too. It’s just the most random projects and using all kinds of materials, just stuff you have around the house. It kept me entertained for so long. I’ve always enjoyed making things and using the materials that I have generally. It’s satisfying to start with nothing and then by the end of the day you’ve made this new thing. That was always just fun stuff. I don’t know what made me decide to go to art school and pursue it beyond doing art at school or in my own time. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else basically, there’s nothing else that I want to do more. It’s just a very satisfying thing to do to work with your hands.
It really can be the best fun that you can possibly have.
CH: Yeah, exactly. There’s so many surprises! When I left school I studied print making and a lot of that is about these unexpected things that can happen. When something doesn’t go right and you get these happy accidents, I think that’s probably the most exciting thing that can happen when you’re making anything whether it’s a song or a drawing or a print, something you’re working on. For me that is the most exciting thing about making anything.
Me too! I love when you’re making a song and you might play a “wrong” note or something but then it works, there’s a beauty in imperfection and making things work, that’s what makes stuff more interesting to me.
CH: Yeah, totally! I agree. With punk music it’s all about imperfections. When you’re recording something and it’s not a perfect take, I would probably prefer to use those ones. There’s no point in trying to control something so much that it squeezes the life out of it. You have to allow and encourage all of those things. It’s all part of the process.
Totally! When I spoke to Jake [of Alien Nosejob] he told me that he was teaching you to play guitar in iso; how’s that going?
CH: Oh yeah! [laughs]. Good. I’m still going with it. I practice almost every day and it’s been really good because, I think over the last little while I have found it harder to write songs. I’ve just gone through this period where… I’m not really sure what it is but I haven’t been writing as many songs but I’m still dong musical things.
It’s been really awesome to learn an instrument. I haven’t played anything like the guitar before, the last time I learnt an instrument would have been when I was getting drum lessons when I was a teenager or learning piano. It makes you realise that when you are an adult, as you get older you know what you like and you stick to the things that you know and that you’re good at and you keep doing those; the things that you’re not good at you don’t have to do anymore.
As a kid your parents encourage you to learn these things, play this sport, go to swimming lesson, stuff like that… you might not enjoy them but you just do them because that’s what being kid is about—people want you to try new things. It’s refreshing to push myself to do this thing that might be uncomfortable and have the satisfaction of seeing yourself get better at something. It’s been really fun.
It’s nice to play songs that I think are cool. If I learnt guitar as a kid I’d probably just be playing something like “Smoke On The Water” [laughs]. Maybe “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica or something like that! I’m so impatient with learning the guitar though, it’s like; when am I going to get better?! It reminds you that if you practice something you’re going to get better. If you put work into something you’ll get there. Fingers crossed I keep going with it.
I’ve read that in Parsnip you play the same drum kit you’ve had since you were a teenager.
CH: Yeah, I do. I’ve only ever had the one drum kit. I remember when I got it from this drum place that is still there in Richmond on Victoria Street. It’s served me really well and unless something bad happened to it or it broke in a way that it couldn’t be repaired… I never get new things, especially if I’m used to something. I’ll just keep using it until I can’t.
CH: Jake loves getting new things, I don’t really like getting new things [laughs]. I stay with my old stuff and I like repairing things until I can’t anymore and they just die. I’m really fond of my drum kit, it’s like my bike… I’m so comfy with them, they’re like old friends. I can’t let go of them!
Previously when talking about the gear you’ve used, you’ve mentioned that you feel like your sound more comes from how you play and not what gear you play; how would you say you play?
CH: That’s a good point, because a lot of the time I don’t even play my drum kit. It’s not like being a guitarist and having your own gear, often when you’re a drummer you just use what kit is there, which is fine, it means I don’t have to bring one.
For a long time I never really thought the way I played was particularly unique or anything, the way I play I always have the philosophy that less is more. Strip it back as much as you can to the core elements. I think it probably came from being in high school, I never played drums in a band because it was totally dominated by dudes, who honesty couldn’t play that well but were just really loud and they could do all these drum fills and stuff. I was too nervous to do that. It made me be really put off by these really over the top way of playing.
When I was a teenager I loved The Who and loved Led Zeppelin, I still really like those bands and that crazy drumming but, it’s not for me. I’d much rather play like Peggy from The Gories or Meg from The White Stripes, she basically made me want to be a drummer. I take from that school of thought, you don’t need to be over the top to have something that sounds cool and has personality, and is catchy and still has a good feel to it. People often come up to me and say they like how I drum and everyone always says that I play “really in the pocket” and I have never really understood what that means… apparently that’s what I do [laughs].
When Parsnip started you all had other bands; what was it like when you all started playing together?
CH: Honestly it just felt really natural. Me and Paris and Stella had spoken about it, we were at one of the Jerkfests and we were like, let’s make a band! The other two had been talking about it and they asked me if I wanted to be part of it. I messaged them the next day and I was like, I know we were all pretty drunk and getting excited about this but, I really, really want to do it!
When we finally did get together…. whenever you start a band I think it’s a bit awkward because you know each other as friends but you’re trying to suss out how everyone works when you jam, being in that band environment. Every band is so different. I feel like we figured it out really quickly, I feel like we just got our shit together!
We all had played in bands for so long… we probably all had the same experience playing in bands… I’d never played in an all girl before. We all had the same frustrations of being in this male dominated environment, it’s not like we talked about that though. The dynamic just worked instantly. It was fun. It’s just hanging out with your friends. It sounds corny but that’s how it really was. With our rehearsals still, almost 50% of it is just hanging out and chatting [laughs]. Which isn’t great if you’re paying for a rehearsal room. It’s good though, a lot of it is mucking around and catching up. It’s important to hang out outside of band things too, I think sometimes in bands friendships can suffer. We all hang out as buddies not just band stuff, which is really nice.
What inspired you and Jake to start School Damage?
CH: Me and Jake did a tape. Jake typically said something like – this was when we first started going out – “We’re gonna spend so much time together, we may as well start a band” [laughs]. Which was cool, I didn’t mind. I had never written a song before and he was really encouraging of that, which was good because it is pretty scary to do that. We recorded a tape at home. Jake was hanging out with Jeff at this record store, Title, that used to exist on Gertrude Street. Jeff joined on drums and then I’d known Dani since I was at RMIT – she was doing photography and I was doing print making. We were all just friends. Dani played guitar and I asked her if she could play bass and she turned out to be the best bass player I have ever heard, so incredible.
You mentioned that when you started writing songs, it was scary; what’s scary about it?
CH: I guess ‘cause I thought I couldn’t do it. It was nice being around Jake because I can kind of see how he writes songs, it demystified the whole process. I was still relativity new even to just having friends that played music. The whole idea of creating songs… I was playing with Chook Race and we just jammed, at the start we didn’t really write songs. I was always like; how does it happen?
I knew how to play piano and I had a keyboard so I just recorded stuff on my phone and Garage Band, not really knowing what I was doing; I still don’t know what I’m doing! It was a scary idea. You have to make yourself quite vulnerable. The thing that always freaks me out is; what am I going to write a song about? Everything sounds pathetic when I write, but you just have to get past that. If I was going to give in to that part of myself, which is: no one cares about that; no one wants to hear about your stupid romance troubles… I don’t even know. Why do you want to write a song about dumb online shopping? Who gives a shit?
I give a shit! I really love your song “Online Shopping”.
CH: That’s the one song that I am the most proud of! [laughs]. I really love that song, I don’t care that I wrote it… I really love it. It’s actually really relevant right now… anyway, whatever! You just have to tell that voice that doubts yourself to shut up! You know this. It’s not going to help you at all do anything. Maybe that’s why I haven’t written for ages? Because every time I go to write something I think it’s stupid.
Something that helps me when writing is that I think, well, maybe if I think this maybe someone else out there will. I just do it and have fun with it. Hopefully it connects with someone somewhere, and if it doesn’t I still had a really fun time making it.
CH: You’re 100 % right. It’s like maybe we’re just hardwired to doubt ourselves. You do have to get past it. You’re right, someone somewhere will resonate with it and if they don’t; what’s the worst that could happen?!
On the new Parsnip 7” Adding Up you wrote the song “Repeater”?
CH: Yes, I did. I wrote it really quickly because I was like, oh no, I have to try and write something for this! [laughs]. It was very quickly put together. This is what happens when you play in a band, you write some little demo with a little information in it and the rest of the members make it a hundred more times amazing! I wrote that and we ended up making it heaps like “I Can’t Explain” by The Who, obviously [laughs]. I didn’t realise until after that I’d totally ripped off a part in “Proud Mary” by Creedence [Clearwater Revival], but whatever! It ended up working though because the song is about patterns repeating themselves throughout your life, relationships and things. Maybe it doesn’t matter that those songs are repeating themselves in my song. At least I can justify it that way! [laughs].
Parsnip do a cover on the 7” too of “Treacle Toffee World”.
CH: I think it was Stella’s suggestion, I didn’t know the song beforehand. It’s off one of these ‘60s comps of garage music. The song is by a band called Fire. It’s such a good song. It’s so much fun to play. It’s fun to sing a song about sort of nothing. I really like the lyrics in it.
The film clip is really fun!
CH: That was obviously done in isolation. We were talking about what we wanted to do for a clip and then the pandemic happened. It’s done in iMovie and is pretty lo-fi. We all filmed ourselves at our own homes being idiots dancing to the song. Bec put it together in a day. It was nice to be silly with it. You’re not spending lots of money on it so there’s no pressure to make it perfect. It was nice to do something together even though we were apart from each other and isolating. Just talking to each other about band stuff and getting things done was nice.
I was so sad for you when the Parsnip Japan tour got cancelled.
CH: I know, it sucks. I’m sad about it as well. Everyone has had so many things get cancelled this year. Ordinarily, if I told myself at the start of this year that everything that was going to happen was going to happen, I’d be so devastated but I think as things got cancelled, the whole scale of this thing has put so many parts of my life into perspective. I had another trip that got cancelled to and I kind of didn’t mind ‘cause I was so freaked out about so many other things, I didn’t even want to go. I was fine to just stay here and be stuff. It would be really cool to go to Japan with Parsnip, it will happen. I’m staying optimistic.
In September/October last year Parsnip when to America, right?
CH: It was for three weeks.
You got to go hiking and swimming and explore some places; what was your favourite place you saw?
CH: Oh my gosh, we were so lucky! We got a bit of time to check out the local area and to do non-music related things which was so nice. The bush walk you were talking about was somewhere in Upstate New York. We went swimming in Richmond, North Carolina. The guys from Cement Shoes took us swimming in this wide river, I’ve never seen anything like it. We went to some really cool art projects in Detroit, they were outdoor art installations which were really cool. Despite Japan being cancelled I feel really lucky that we got to go to America when we did. Who knows when we’ll ever be able to go back there? It was the best tour ever! Tours can be such intense experiences. You can think it will be amazing and sometimes it’s not.
I wanted to ask you about one of your art pieces that I really love, it’s the Anti-Fade Records compilation New Centre Of The Universe Vol. 3. It’s really beautiful.
CH: Thank you! That front cover is really special to me. I was so stoked when Billy asked me to do it. It’s a gauche painting I did. I took a long time to finish. It’s from a photo I took four years ago on New Year’s Eve at a spot in Queen’s Park on the Barwon River. All the little people in the boats… one is Paris, the one with the two oars sticking out; one is Zak [Olsen] and some other Geelong friends. We used to go down to the Barwon river and swim, we’d go to K-Mart and get blow up dinghies for $20 and hang out there until it’s dark then go to someone’s house. When Billy asked me to do it I wanted to pick an image that summed up for me, Anti-Fade… when I think of Anti-Fade I think of Geelong and having fun with my friends. I know it’s branched out now and Anti-Fade is a lot bigger but I just wanted to pick something that was special to that scene. I think maybe Billy wanted something more about Melbourne than Geelong and I tried to just paint a pretty picture but it didn’t really work out. I don’t think I can just paint a pretty picture, it has to have some special meaning or concept otherwise it’s too boring to work on.
I had a feeling it was of Queen’s Park. I always remember the really beautiful trees they have there and that peaceful feeling you get, your cover reminded me of that and made me feel that.
CH: It’s a really beautiful spot. It sums up for me what I like about Geelong. It’s just a bunch of people getting drunk and having a swim in Queen’s Park [laughs].
Being a music and art lover; what’s some of your favourite album covers? What do you appreciate about it?
CH: I was talking to Billy [Gardner] about this recently, I love all The Fall 7” art, the illustrations and collages. I really love The Fall Totally Wired cover with the face on it with gritted teeth. Definitely EVOL by Sonic Youth, the cover looks exactly just the way the album sounds. I usually look through heaps of covers when I’m getting inspired to do my own work. I also get really inspired by artist David Hockney.
In February this year a book came out called Urban Australian and Post-Punk which you wrote a piece for.
CH: Yeah, I did. That was basically about a venue that used to exist here in Melbourne that was a house venue. It was run out of a terrace house and had really good shows, it had a limited capacity and the community that would attend those shows were really lovely. It was a really good set up, the sound was always good. The people running it were the most gorgeous angels ever! It held a special spot in my heart and I ended up writing this particular thing about it because I was doing a subject in Urban Planning at Melbourne uni… it was about how every week we’d watch a different movie and it would look at underground subcultures and how that subculture interacted with the urban environment. One week we watched Dogs In Space which is one of my all-time favourite movies and I ended up writing an essay for my final assessment comparing the house party experience and share house environment and how that could be compared to things that were or had happened in Melbourne. My lecturer David Nicholas, who used to play drums in Cannanes and lots of interesting bands, asked if I wanted to contribute my essay to this book. It’s totally exciting! And nerve-racking! I’m in good company to say the very least. I felt weird having it out there because it’s weird to comment on culture. When you see something in a book bound up like that it’s giving my voice so kind of authority, I don’t know if I should have that. It’s just my perceptions of the whole thing.
Yeah, but you were there and you experienced it and your perceptive is just as valid as anyone else’s that was there.
CH: Yeah, I guess that’s true. I just feel it’s really important and these spaces deserve to be documented in some way otherwise they’re these ephemeral things, but that’s what makes them so beautiful, they come and go. I wanted to write it down, I got some good interviews with people. I’m glad that it’s out there. I hope when I read back over it when I’m older it will be a good thing to prompt my memory. It was really special to be able to do that.