Political punks Last Quokka are set to release album four, unconscious drivers (out September 4). Their music is urgent and timely, their lyrics conveying emotional, thought provoking social commentary. Gimmie interviewed them to find out more.
Last Quokka are from Perth “the most isolated city on the planet”; can you tell us a little bit about where you live?
TRENT (vocals): Perth is pretty great… Love the sunshine and lots to do. It’s especially great being able to leave the house without a face-mask and go get a parmy at the pub. Isolation definitely has its perks. Personally I am really happy with the support and love we get from the close friends around us, we are surrounded by great people and I think sometimes that is more important than location.
RAY (bass): Perth is a really strange place. While it can be dominated by conservative yuppie assholes, there is also a really incredible local music and arts community that produces some of the most committed artists and activists in the country. We feel very lucky to be a part of such a rad community of folks doing what they can to make the scene and broader community a better place. It’s also just really beautiful, especially the forests down south.
KIRILL (guitar: Perth is a great place to live, we have forests and beaches, sand dunes, rivers, walking trails. We have an amazing park right in the middle of the city called Kings Park, it overlooks the city and swan river and makes for a great picnic spot. The weather is great too.
JOSE (drums): Perth it’s a strange place.
I know that everyone in the band is from different places – Jose is from El Salvador, Kirill from Russia, Ray from Fremantle and Trent from the northern suburbs of Perth; how did you each discover music? What were things like growing up for you?
JOSE: I use to listen to a lot of Latino music, get those hips to shake. And I Remember always listening to the same Frank Sinatra tape over and over again. As I got much older, I listened to a lot of hip hop, that’s actually where I think my love for drumming and music really started. I couldn’t break dance very well to the hip hop music so the next best thing was drums.
TRENT: My first ever album was John Farnham – Whispering Jack and my excellent music tastes cascaded from there. I used to love Rage Pop of the 90’s and early noughties. I still adore it actually, give me some Killing Heidi or Vanessa Amorosi, cover me in sparkles, put me on a dancefloor and watch me groove. I think my first movement into punk music was when I saw the video clip for Joy Division’s song ‘Atmosphere’ and fell in love with the feel of it. I was a pretty angry kid; the northern suburbs will do that to kids that don’t fit the pre-bogan mould – so I started journeying into punk music from there. For me, punk was a way to validate my anger of growing up surrounded by people that didn’t understand me and always feeling like an outcast. I connected online with a lot of people from all over the world in similar situations and I started to feel accepted.
RAY: I grew up listening to my mum and dad’s records, I don’t think I bought my own album until I was 17 when I also started playing in my first band with a bunch of much older hectic, drug-addled street punks. I grew up down south in Gracetown, what was absolutely incredible. I don’t have any siblings so just spent my childhood hanging with my dogs at the beach. I reckon the best thing about WA is the coastline, it’s why after moving away a few years ago I moved back.
KIRILL: I started playing guitar when I was maybe 13 or 14, I was playing Euphonium in high school band too. Worked a summer job at a metal fabrication shop and used the money to buy my first electric guitar and amplifier. After that it was the usual run of grunge and rock and playing at patries.
What are some of your all-time favourite bands? What do you appreciate about them?
TRENT: A Silver Mt, Zion – I find this band so inspirational on so many levels, especially politically and they have been blowing me away for decades. I can’t see myself ever growing out of love with them; Joy Division – there is an authenticity and darkness to their music that I find really honest and comforting; Death Cab for Cutie – they make cute music and have always kind of been there for me as a comfort, they often unlock a lot of emotion for me; Eddy Current Suppression Ring – because they’re fucking Eddy Current; Salary – a local band from here in Perth that hit me right in the feels all of the time; Propagandhi – they are the package deal.
JOSE: My taste changes so often, but I think what I’m currently drawn to is 60’s Garage Rock, like The Sonics or The Electric Prunes. Raw “Rock’n’Roll” with really nice melodies.
RAY: I am huge fan of the 90’s Washington D.C. Scene, bands such as Fugazi, Minor Threat, Fire Party etc. I’m really interested in what Ian Mackaye and others did with Dischord Records. That unwavering commitment to DIY has really inspired me.
KIRILL: I like oldies like ACDC, Metallica, Slayer, Pantera – there’s mad energy about those bands that seems to be lacking in most popular bands today. A while ago after watching the documentary “DIG” about Brian Jonestown Massacre and Dandy Warhols, I got into those bands too. There’s also a bunch of Soviet and Russian bands that I listen to as well.
What have you been listening to lately?
TRENT: I am actually completely obsessed with pretty much everything Phoebe Bridgers has ever done. She is phenomenal and will be with me for the rest of my life. Outside of listening to her on repeat every day, I just discovered an album by a band called Life Without Buildings which they released it in 2005 and it was their own ever album – but it’s excellent.
RAY: Speaking of Fugazi, I am really enjoying the new Coriky album (featuring members of Fugazi and The Evens). But I’ve also discovered Katiny Slezki from Yakutsk in Siberia and The Hu Band from Mongolia who are both amazing.
KIRILL: Been listening to a band from Greece called Villagers of Ioannina City.
JOSE: Allah-Las, Ty Segall…
What initially made you want to be in a band?
TRENT: It was a bit of a running joke in my friendship group for ages – “fuck Trent, you’re loud, have a lot to say and don’t shut up, you should be a vocalist”. Problem is, I couldn’t sing. But it turns out that doesn’t matter with Last Quokka.
JOSE: I just love make art and music. That’s why I wanted to be in a band.
RAY: I think I’ve always wanted to be in a band, ever since being a kid and flicking through music mags, there was always something so romantic about it, from the leather jackets to the tours and everything in between. But as I got older I thought more about the idea of being in a band as being a part of a community and creating a platform for ideas and action. And once I started playing I just got addicted to the catharsis of performing.
KIRILL: I just wanted to play music, the band thing is cause and effect type of thing.
Last Quokka are an anti-fascist punk band; why is it important for you to let people know this? What does it mean to you?
RAY: This is something we often discuss as we all share similar political values and are all united in our anti-fascist and broadly anarchist politics. But lately we’ve been debating whether it is necessary to describe ourselves as such or just let our lyrics speak for themselves. Personally, I think it is important to be openly anti-fascist as fascism is no longer a relic of the 20th century. We are facing the rise of very real and dangerous fascist movements, the world over. While it may not be significant if some random rock band in Perth is anti-fascist or not, for the sake of history and global solidarity, it’s still important to use any opportunity to declare our opposition to the forces of control, domination and exploitation… Also I guess I hope it inspires some local folks to take action.
TRENT: Look at the world we are living in at the moment. Abuses of power have become so commonplace that nobody even bats an eyelid anymore. We have such a small minority of people with all of the wealth doing whatever they can do grow that wealth and maintain power, and the people, largely, support them in that quest. It’s completely absurd, we have the working class hating their unions, we have disunity, and slowly our freedoms are being eroded away. Rather than uniting to resist, change and overthrow this toxic power, we are fighting with each other. Today Western Australia had the third Aboriginal death in custody in the last two months which brings the country to about 440 since 1991. Surely that’s enough to unite people to create change, but white Australia largely allows this to happen. The struggle against oppression is all of ours. Unfortunately, most of the population has fucking Stockholm Syndrome and have sided with their captors. I mean, it’s becoming an insult to be anti-fascist? The media is perpetuating divisive messages to prop up political parties of their choice and maintain their business interests. The world is a copybook of the 1930s and we saw how that turned out. And we have a huge recession on the way. We have to resist now. Fucking Bazil Zempilas is running for Mayor of Perth, surely now is the time to scream from rooftops.
Can you remember what it was the first got you interested in politics?
RAY: I grew up surrounded by political activism, with both my parents being active in environmentalism and other causes. But I clearly remember the moment I wanted to get involved in activism: I was living with my mum during the September 11th terror attacks and when the towers went down my mum was devastated. I couldn’t understand why she was so upset, but she said she wasn’t just crying for those who had died in the towers but because now America would invade Afghanistan, Iraq and eventually Iran and she was crying for the hundreds of thousands of people who going to suffer as the result of the US-led wars to come. Of course not not long after that the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and I got involved in the anti-war movement.
TRENT: Punk music started it… I was 13 years old when the war in Iraq started and that’s about the same time I started listening to punk. I started applying the critical lens that punk music was giving me to messages in my family, school, government, and on a global scale such as the invasion of Iraq. I started wanting to do something about it and started organising small actions at school which pretty much only I would attend.
I saw that you attended the Black Lives Matter protest rally in Perth. BLM is something that has very much been in the forefront of a lot of people’s minds especially of late and it’s stirred up a lot of thoughts, feelings, emotions, discussion and action in the community both locally and worldwide; what’s something important you’ve been learning?
RAY: It’s been incredible to see so many people organising and taking to the streets to demand justice. But I’ve been thinking a lot about how these kind of movements can escape the media cycle and the unfortunate online spectacle that seems to consume most contemporary movements. I’m not sure any of us have learnt the answer to that but it’s great to see people trying to build community that exists beyond one off events and rallies.
TRENT: I have been learning Noongar language on-and-off for the last couple of years – first at Langford Aboriginal Association with Merinda Hansen and now with Sharon Gregory at RePlants in Fremantle. I find it is important to listen and learn about injustice and act in solidarity, and it is also important to understand and learn. It’s great fun as well, you get to understand Noongar culture at a much deeper level and my love and appreciation for it continues to grow. Other than that, I have just been supporting those around me who have to cop racial oppression every day, being there in solidarity is hugely important. I have been trying to use my own privilege as much as possible to challenge the status quo.
JOSE: We need to listen and help those in need. Really Listen!
Your song “Colony” is a commentary on Australia colonialism; what inspired this song? Why was it important to you to write it?
RAY: To be honest despite being politically conscious people we don’t ever set out to write political songs and we’re not really a ‘political band’ or at least don’t try to be. The songs are usually just a reflection of whatever we are talking about or thinking about at the time. But I guess this issue is really important to all of us. Personally, I think that in order to address any social, economic or environmental justice issues in this country we must first deal with the ongoing effects of colonialism.
TRENT: We are on stolen land that was never ceded, it is quite simple really. The British Empire and the Nazi Party have too much in common for me to be comfortable with us not calling that out.
“Privilege” is about online trolling and macho right-wing keyboard warriors; what first sparked the idea for this song?
RAY: Pretty sure it was something to do with an uber annoying local facebook group here in Freo and Trent and I were arguing with a bunch of privileged yuppie dickheads…
TRENT: Haha, yeah Ray and I are part of a Facebook group called ‘Freo Massive’ and it is a breeding ground for neo-liberals to spout their privileged shit. We actually took a bunch of quotes from one of these privileged dudes and turned it into a song.
RAY: Actually I’m currently banned from the group…
Your latest release is a song called “Wake Up Geoff” which is about Western Australian premier Geoff Gallop; why did you chose to write about him?
RAY: We should probably make it clear that none of us are really fans of politicians and I think it started out as a bit of a joke… We don’t really ever think about what songs we’re going to write… But we’d been chatting about how bizarre it was that given how much shit has shifted to the right someone like Gallop seems like a radical lefty.
TRENT: Yeah he was just a long way better than the shit we have to put up with now.
You’ll be releasing your fourth album unconscious drivers in August; what’s the significance of the LP title?
TRENT: It has a couple of meanings and I think its best we let the people make up their minds on what they make of it.
Can you tell us about recording it?
TRENT: We recorded with Stu and Dave at Hopping Mouse Studios and it was mastered by Mikey ‘the dolphin’ Young. It was such a fun recording process; they were great people to work with and bought some great ideas and enthusiasm. It took one weekend and then a number of week nights… plus lots of beer.
RAY: It was such a joy recording this album with the guys at Hopping Mouse. Stu and Dave totally get where we are coming from and are just absolutely lovely people to work with. I think we all really wanted to get it sounding as swish as possible, being our fourth release and also I guess we’re really proud of these songs, so they deserved to be done right.
KIRILL: It was over two sessions about six months apart plus some overdubs. Most tracks are maybe third of fourth take I reckon. Definitely not a perfect record in terms of technical aspect and Stuart had to cut’ n chop a few mistakes I made here and there. In terms of energy and feeling I think it’s bang on. The last track we just made up on the spot, played once, then called Madeline in, she listened once to what we recorded and then just nailed the violin part first go – well I guess that’s what professional ‘mussos’ do!
What’s your favourite track on the new album? What do you love about it?/What’s it about?
RAY: That’s a hard one, I think with any songs you have favourites that change. I definitely enjoy playing “Colony” the most live at the moment. But i’d say my favourite track is “Punks in the Palace”. It’s all about the hope and despair we all find ourselves in and that maybe hope will win out. It’s just a real high energy and kinda emotional song, plus it’s a kinda nod to the 90s indie grunge stuff that we love.
Trent: Yeah “Punks in the Palace” is my favourite track on the album, I really love each element of the song a lot. Kirill’s guitar midway through the song gives me spine tingles.
KIRILL: “Conversations” starts off pretty slow n rocky but when it breaks it’s like “ohh wow ok, this is music now!”
JOSE: The “secret” track at the end.
Is there anything that you’d like people to know about that’s important to you or that you’d like more people to be aware of?
RAY: I think people are pretty aware of a lot of things these days. Our collective problem is one of organising, how we can project power and create alternatives to all of the capitalist bullshit. I’d personally love to see more physical community, DIY events, spaces, gardens, collectives etc and more thinking more about what unites us all, our common interests, passions and struggles rather than what divides us.
KIRILL: There’s a bug goin’ around, wash your hands people and cover your mouth when you cough.
TRENT: Follow ‘Trent Steven’ on Spotify and follow my playlist that’s called ‘emotional regulation…’ it’s got some ripper tracks on there and is guaranteed to get any party started.