The first issue of our print zine is here! Gimmie issue one features in-depth interviews:
Erica Dunn (Mod Con, Tropical Fuck Storm, Palm Springs) chats about the new TFS and MC albums in the works, songwriting, the importance of staying connected and creating in tough times, mudlarkng on the Thames, lucky talismans and life stuff.
Keith Morris gives us insight into new OFF! projects, Circle Jerks getting ready for their world tour, his conspiracy theory podcast, the importance of supporting First Nations organisations, selling a chunk of his beloved record collection to pay bills when Covid hit, staying engaged and positive + more! (We spoke for a couple of hours).
Jake Robertson (Alien Nosejob) tells us about recording his next album, dealing with stress, Ausmuteants, Australian bands that inspire him and of punk still being alive and thriving.
Ben Mackie (Spiritual Mafia) gives us the lowdown on LP ‘Alfresco’, new band Chemo Beach’s record in the works, art mag Empty Mind Plaza he co-creates with friends along with their toilet gallery, his prison inmate art collection, own art and meditation.
Plus, there’s Spill Gold, Red Red Krovvy and more. Guest contributors include Lira from Sweeping Promises, Marcus from Hot Tubs Time Machine/UV Race and photographs from Jamie Wdziekonski .
48 pages. A4 size. Colour cover w/ Black + White inside. Limited Edition. $10 + postage.
Gimmie recently spoke with Anton Pearson and Louis Borlase, both guitarists and vocalists for UK post-punk band Squid. We’ve been following them since we first heard their debut EP in 2019 on producer Dan Carey’s label, Speedy Wunderground. Today they release their debut LP Bright Green Field, an imaginative original work of twists and turns stacked with art-punk grooves, noise rock vitriol, jazz leanings and experimentation. Playful with an emotional depth, a real triumph.
ANTON PEARSON: We have a day of writing in our new studio today.
Is that for the next album?
LOUIS BORLASE: Maybe. We tried to move in yesterday and their handyman was with a drill and every time we were like, “Can we come in now?” He said, “It’s going to be twenty minutes.” He kept doing that all day to the point of, we had to go home. We had a little jam there last night.
Squid have previously mentioned that with your new record Bright Green Field you could have gone down the path of writing something that’s digestible and easy to listen to but you decided to make a “really fucking weird”: album; what sparked the choice to go that route?
LB: It wasn’t as really explicit as that, to be honest. We made a decision that was unanimous, yet relatively subconscious, decision to just continue writing songs in the vein of what we were currently enjoying, which at the time they happened to be quite texturally heavy pieces of music. That was a thread that continued across the writing process. We were enjoying writing really groove-based stuff as well and stuff that was very rhythmic. We didn’t really get to the point where we actively said, we’re not going to try and write a pop song or a funk tune here, it was just that it was very much a feeding in of how we were all feeling at the time. It’s just how it turned out.
Thinking back to that time, how were you feeling?
LB: With us the other thing is that the songs on the album are kind of coming from different times, maybe that is a point in itself because there are tracks that are older, and tracks that are brand new, tracks that we’ve never played before and tracks that have always been a staple of our live set. We’ve been feeling very different at different times over quite a long duration. There’s a real trajectory of different energies and moods, which I consider to be natural. There’s five of us and there’s songs from over the course of two or three years.
Did you find that the lockdown [due to the pandemic] effected your creativity?
AP: Yeah, absolutely. It was the first time that we hadn’t spent every day together for years. We had a few months completely separate in different parts of the country. It absolutely affected how we went about things. We had to do a lot of sharing stuff online and having conversations in the online sphere instead of in person. We managed to have four weeks together until we started doing our album… it was an interesting and different process to what we’ve had.
Your new record was recorded in an old barn?
AP: Yeah. There’s a small town nearby Bristol where a couple of us are now and where Ollie [Judge – vocals-drums] grew up. It’s a very small market town community and his family are friends with the family that run the pub there. They have a venue that was closed down due to the pandemic, so it was a bit of a sitting duck waiting for someone to come along and use to creatively during lockdown. We got to the point where we were legally allowed to see each other again and as soon as we could we started going there every day and doing long days.
At first it was a bit weird because we hadn’t seen each other for a long time, the music I feel that came out of the first few sessions was this explosion and release of what we’d all been sitting on. The Old Road Tavern and barn in Chippenham deserves a very big shout out.
What’s one of your fondest memories from recording?
AP: That’s where we did the last bit of writing… [Anton’s Zoom connection breaks up]
LB: What Anton was saying is that we were writing in the band and then that led us right up to the point of where we were able to go to London to record with our friend Dan [Carey; Speedy Wunderground] who we had worked with before. We had a three and a half week recording process where we hired out a flat, on the other side of the park next to his house. We would walk to his every day, eat with him and it was a very familial experience because he lives above the studio where he does the majority of his recordings. It was just Dan and his little dog Feta and some of his family were there for a bit of the time as well. For the main part we were just there with him and due to it being a very intense time for all the issues that surrounded Coronavirus, we really had to become a bubble, a family. We all had to be quite explicit with what our values were, make sure we were keeping each other safe and healthy at all times. There was a lot of communication which I think was quite conducive to us making, in our opinion, quite focused album.
What kind of experimentation did you try on this record?
LB: One element of it that’s really nice to talk about is an idea that Arthur [Leadbetter – keys-strings-percussion] had. In light of us not being able to see our friends and family for a long time, he put together this series of questions to ask friends and family members about how they’re feeing and what they’ve been up to, just vague stuff, but allowing them to send back these voice notes in their own words. We compiled them – it was about 30 people – into these recordings and at times you can make out a certain friend saying what they’ve been up to and at times it’s almost his nonsensical human chattering; that became a really nice thread that gives this illusion of citizens talking in the city.
There’s also field recordings that we did because we spent a lot of time alone, as you can imagine. We hadn’t seen many people so we went around making iPhone recordings. Anton had a family of bees living in his wall back at home, he recorded those making this nice kind of tooting, humming noise. I recorded these bells that I hear from across the park in my flat. These recordings pepper the album with experiences that we’ve been having on a very individual level, considering the music was very collective. It’s a nice touch.
That’s really cool. What’s one of your favourite moments on the record?
LB: One of my favourite moments, there’s a track called ‘The Flyover’ which was originally written to be an introduction to the song ‘Documentary Filmmaker’ it features those voices that I was just talking about and it also focuses on brass instrumentation. I think it’s a real reflective breather, it’s quite a transitional moment in the album, just before the song that starts after it [‘Peel St’] which is a bit more sinister, a bit more menacing.
I really love that piece too. I was going to ask you about it. The album can get quite chaotic-sounding at times with lots of crescendos which almost make you hold your breath as it builds and then ‘The Flyover’ gives you a moment to breath. The brass gives it a really warm feeling too.
LB: It is quite ceremonial. Upon listening back to the album a few times, I think we all get surprised about the detail within the album that we weren’t all aware of at the time. It’s only merited on with repeat listening, one of those is this weird coincidental feeling of ceremonious events that you can hear, like these bells ringing and chattering of people—it feels quite alive. That’s only something we’ve noticed recently; I wonder what else we’ll notice.
I think what you listen to the album on makes a difference to what you can hear and pick up too. It sounds different when I’m listening to it on my laptop speakers, on my home stereo, on my car stereo; on my phone through headphones, which kind of allows you to be enveloped in that world you’ve created.
LB: You kind of become a little bit of character, don’t you? Walking along with your headphones you can feel like a character in a film.
What have you been listening to lately?
LB to AP: Are you here Anton? Are you back in the room?
AP: I’m here.
LB to AP: You sound a bit like a robot talking underwater.
AP: [Laughs]. Maybe that’s what we listen to.
LB: Yeah, we listen to robots talking under water. We’ve all been listening to quite a lot of different stuff. The only time we really listen to music together and talk about it is when we’re seeing people play live or we’re driving along in the van. We haven’t been driving along in the van lately because there’s no gigs. I’ve been listening to a lot of Suzanne Ciani, who is one of my favourite improvisers. She plays on her special synthesizer, a very archaic synthesizer called the Buchla, which is very modular, lots of wires. The album I bought recently is called A Sonic Womb. It’s a live recording from shows she’s done in Spain. It’s a dialogue, she’s having conversations with herself. It’s very free and very focused on rhythm, which is something very important to us as a band. Not a whole lot of music together really because when we see each other we’re working on our own stuff.
You mention earlier you had a jam last night; what was it sounding like?
LB: It was sounding a little bit clunky because we haven’t worked out where to put everything in the room yet. It was nice to do that. It was sounding very loose, there were rapidly changing time signatures and lots of fuzzy guitars and synths. It was very much not like Squid because the whole five of us weren’t there. Today will be the day that we get a bit more Squid in.
Last question, why is music important to you?
LB: Music is one of the fundaments of life for all of us. We’ve always been exposed to it, when we were younger, growing up in very different musical backgrounds. We have things we agree on and things we disagree on and it becomes very much about conversation and points of view. The fact that we all came and formed this band at this uniformed point in our lives but when we were all thinking different things of what it means to play music is pretty important. For us as a band, Squid is a means of where we can have a collective identity through sound and come together.
What’s something you disagree on?
LB: [Laughs]. We disagree on what should feature in a recording, which I think is a good thing because we get carried away with putting the recording down and we tend to track everything live… on the album everything was recorded in live takes and usually we try to get the earliest take as possible, first, second or third take. When it comes to having those live tracks laid down, we go through a meticulous series of overdubs to add instrumentation and then we approach electronic elements. Sometimes there’s things that one of us had played and feel it’s in the perfect position but sometimes we don’t always agree that it should be there. Nine times out of ten we’ll forget about those parts but sometimes they stay and it turns into a nice disagreement because if it didn’t end up on the recording it’s able to be brought back in the live performance.
What’s something you do agree on?
LB: We do agree on what is the most conducive way of writing, which is letting ideas have the space and that there’s never a magic formula for an idea. It’s very embryonic to become something that is very fine-tuned within the space of a day or two.
Anything else you want to tell me about Bright Green Fields?
AP: [The line is still crackly] From robot [laughs]… we had a lot of fun making it. It’s the most important project of our lives. Obviously though, because I’m a robot, I’ll live forever.
Sydney-based creative Ishka Edmeades is constantly in flux whether it’s working on one of his many musical projects: Research Reactor Corporation, Set-Top Box, Satanic Togas, G.T.R.R.C, Gee Tee, Australia Idol and more; independent punk label Warttmann Inc; zine, TV Guide; making art or writing graffiti. No matter the medium, the message is always one of humour, fun and honesty. Gimmie was super stoked to chat with Ishka!
An abridged version of this conversation first appeared in Issue 4 of the free mail-order music mag Streetview (@streetview.mag), which we love! It’s worth your while to get on their mailing list.
Hi, Ishka! What have you been up to today?
ISHKA: Hey, Bianca. I’ve just been hanging out.
Is it your day off?
I: Every day is pretty much a day off at the moment. When Corona [virus] hit, I was working in cafes, and since then it’s been hard to find a job. I’m enjoying the time off though.
Yeah, I found myself in the same boat. Like I said in our correspondence, I’ve been working in libraries for so long and when COVID-19 hit, there was no work for months. How’s lockdown been for you?
I: I feel bad to say it but, it’s been pretty good for me in a lot of ways. I’ve been recording music and just being creative. It’s been good having time to ponder different things. I feel bad because in one sense, Corona is a totally shit thing to happen!
I know what you mean. Creatively for me it’s been great too! During this time my husband and I made Gimmie zine and worked on my book. To be honest, most creatives I know, say it’s been great for them. Of course, there’s the downsides of no shows, losing jobs etc. but at least from a creative perspective many who I’ve talked to, worked on projects, learnt new skills and took the opportunity to make the best of the downtime.
I: Yeah, that’s the thing. For sure, you have to make the best of things. For me, I’ve been recording every day or making art—it’s been great!
Anyone I’ve interviewed or spoken to that knows you, they always have the loveliest things to say about you. One of the most common things people tell me is that they’re really inspired by you, you have a pretty prolific output and are in so many bands. I know for you that’s just what you do.
I: [Laughs] Oh, I don’t know… thank you. That’s really cool to hear; I’ve never really heard people say that before. Thanks. I guess because we’re all just good mates and hangout all the time, stuff like that never gets brought up.
Kel [from Gee Tee] is definitely a big influence on how I go about recording stuff. He moved down to Sydney from the Gold Coast into a house with me last year in June. I had my drums set up in my room and we just had a fun time recording. We did the Chromo-Zone stuff, I play drums on it. It was good to watch him record. I’ve always liked Gee Tee and Draggs. Watching him do stuff heled me heaps. I first met Kel when Draggs came down to play here.
Are you originally from Sydney?
I: Yeah, I’ve lived here all my life.
What scenes or communities did you grow up in?
I: My dad’s Māori. He moved to Bondi from New Zealand in the 70s, there was a big Māori community around there. I grew up in that area in the 90s then I moved out to the Inner West when I was nineteen. There’s still a Māori community but it’s fleeting, a lot of them have left. All the older guys in that community were into dub and reggae, I got heaps of influences from them. I still really love Prince Buster and the Blue Beat [Records] stuff.
I figured you were into that, on your Instagram a while back, I saw that you had a live video you took of Lee Scratch Perry.
I: My friend Harry, who plays in [Satanic] Togas as well, my friend Dion (we’re all old high school friends) and I got to see him live, it was great! He was pretty out there. It was pretty funny. Half of his set was him rambling.
So, dub and reggae were the first kind of music that you got into?
I: Yeah, it was the first music that I was exposed to. Where I was born, my dad’s house was the jam house, he had every kind of instrument and people would come over and jam all the time. From when I was born, I was always around people jamming. I’m sure they were just playing the “skank” one note [laughs] and that got lodged in my brain.
Is that how you started playing guitar?
I: I started playing drums first, because of Metallica. My friend and I really got into Metallica, he played bass, so we started jamming Metallica songs when we were ten. I got my dad’s old drum kit. After school every day, I lived close to the school, we’d just go home and jam Metallica songs with drums and bass, it probably sounded pretty horrible to all the neighbours! [laughs].
How old are you?
I: I’m twenty-two right now.
How did you get into punk rock?
I: After Metallica, I got into Nirvana. The first real punk memory I have is watching Decline Of The Western Civilization [a 1981 documentary on the Los Angeles punk scene]. It’s the usual story, Kurt Cobain would mention a lot of bands and you’d go check out some of the bands; that movie came up. The Germs was the one thing in it that was like, “Oh yeah! That’s awesome.” Darby Crash in the movie was a train wreck, at the time I thought it was pretty cool [laughs]. He was maybe putting on a persona in a way, I guess.
You did graffiti back then too?
I: Yeah, I still do. I actually went to court for graffiti a few days ago. It was terrible, I had to wait there for a while. It was good though, I got no conviction, I got a good behaviour bond. Happy days! I celebrated after. I was just drunk and not looking and being an idiot. Graffiti is great though.
How did you get into graffiti?
I: A mate used to do the loops every day. Two of my mates started doing it secretly. I found out and was like, “Let’s go stupid!” They took me to do loops after school one day, and I got hooked; “loops” like train rounds. I got pretty into it for a while. I stopped for a bit and then got back into it, I’ve been in and out all the time. Recently, I got super into watching Style Wars [a 1983 documentary on hip-hop culture with an emphasis on graffiti] again and it sparked my interest in it again.
That one’s a classic! I grew up loving hip-hop and that whole culture. When I was in primary school my mum brought me the book Spraycan Art, which was released just after…
I: Subway Art?
Yeah! I thought graffiti was the coolest and tried to replicate it in my notebooks and learn about the writing styles I’d see in that book. I’ve always loved both the hip-hop and punk subcultures, and art; my husband Jhonny is the same too.
I: Yeah, they’re such cool subcultures. I was into punk rock at the time but all the writer’s I knew were into Aussie hip-hop, which wasn’t that bad but I was like, “Is there any punk writers?” I found out that there are a lot of good writers that are punk!
What were the early local shows you’d go to?
I: In Year 7, I’d go to metal-core shows. The first proper one was Parkway Drive; my mate and his brother were really into them. From there, I’d go to local shows at the Annandale Hotel.
I’ve heard some of the earlier music you’ve made and it’s quite different to the stuff you’re doing now; what was it that changed your music making direction?
I: I was into punk but I didn’t really know anyone that wanted to play that stuff. I started to get into garage rock and I started leaning more towards psychedelic rock more and wanted to do that. I used to jam with a friend called Jake, he went to some after school guitar school; I met Owen Penglis there of Straight Arrows, that’s where his studio was.
I ended up doing work experience at Owen’s studio, I went to a TAFE high school and you had to do work experience every Friday. It was pretty cool doing work experience there. Owen put me onto the Back From Grave and Killed By Death stuff!
What was it like working with Owen?
I: It was cool. I was a pretty quiet kid at the time. I was really interested in what we were doing at the time because I had already started to record stuff at home, real badly though [laughs]. I got to watch a few albums being made like the first Los Tones album [Psychotropic]. I was there the whole time plugging in stuff and setting mics up and all that stuff. It was cool, I used to have conversations with them but I felt so weird because I was so young and had no experiences yet, I was definitely an observer at some points just taking it all in. It was great!
You do a lot of different music projects – Research Reactor Corporation, Set-Top Box, Satanic Togas, G.T.R.R.C, Gee Tee, Australia Idol and more– they all have such strong identities; do you think that might be able to be tracked backed to early on seeing someone like Darby Crash, like we were talking about earlier, and how you thought his having a persona was a fun idea?
I: For sure. I feel like making a persona, making a character in a sense or characters, is fun. It’s cool to play something else, it’s kind of like acting in a sense. It can help song writing. I consider myself bad at lyrics, or at least it takes a while for me. Sometimes it’s random but mostly it takes a while. If I have a character to think about, I can write for it. For example, with the Set-Top Box stuff, I could always write about a movie or something like that.
I noticed in your zine TV Guide, you had movie reviews of 80s comedy/horror flicks.
I: Yeah, I love all of that stuff. Me and my housemates always watch those kinds of movies all the time. My housemate works at JB Hi-Fi so he always gets heaps of movies cheap.
Nice! What are some of your favourites?
I: I recently watched Wild Zero that Guitar Wolf movie, it was great, I hadn’t seen that for a while. I like TerrorVision, that’s one of my all-time favourite movies. I love humour in movies, I try to put humour into music.
That definitely shines through. I especially like the humour in Research Reactor Corporation’s songs.
I: Yeah. We like to paint a scene. Billy’s lyrics are actually pretty funny and great. You can’t understand them sometimes [laughs], but they’re really great. The movie [Class of] Nuke ‘Em High is pretty much the genesis concept for Research Reactor, there’s heaps of samples from it throughout the album.
We really love the new Satanic Togas record X-Ray Vision!
I: Awww, thank you.
I really love the song ‘Skinhead’!
I: [Laughs] That’s a pretty funny song. I wasn’t even going to put that on there but Billy [Research Reactor] made me! Well… convinced me.
It really does captures them well!
I: [Laughs] Yeah, not diss to anyone! It’s just a funny song. I was thinking about skinheads, like tough skinheads, and I thought it would be funny to write a song where there was a really small skinhead singing the song, a baby skinhead in a way. It was a stoned idea! [laughs].
When I heard the lyrics, I cracked up! “I’ve been listening to Blitz / I put my hand in a fist”. It’s so good!
I: [Laughs] Thanks! It makes me crack up too.
Hearing you say you wrote it from the perspective of a baby skinhead makes it even funnier! Total gold.
I: Kel loves that one too, it’s a lot of people’s favourite.
How many songs do you think you’ve written?
I: I don’t really know, maybe 100? There’s more to come! I’ve got lots more to record.
Awesome! Can’t wait to hear them. Do you have a process for writing your songs?
I: It’s pretty different all the time. I usually play guitar a lot and a riff will just come up. Sometimes the whole song comes out straight away. If I just have a riff, sometimes I might not finish it until ages after, or I’ll slowly build the idea. Sometimes it’s a synth line.
What interests you about writing songs?
I: I never liked learning other people’s songs, when I first started playing guitar, I wasn’t really into that. It’s just very satisfying at the end to have a song. Doing it always feels cool. It’s all fun.
I know that you have a lot of fun going down internet rabbit holes too; what’s an interesting one you’ve been down lately?
I: Oh yeah! I do. I’ve been watching heaps of monkeys on YouTube [laughs].
[Laughter]. You’re also a big music nerd and always looking for new music; is there any kinds of things in particular that piques your interest?
I: At the moment, stuff from the late 70s and early 80s, if stuff is around that time that’s been interesting me recently. I like releases that will have a weird saying on them or stuff like that.
Sometimes when I’m flicking through 45s at a record fair, I’ll come across titles of songs that sound really interesting or weird or cool that make me buy it.
I: For sure! There’s a few buzz words that I have in the back of my head and if I see them I think, “Oh, this has gotta be good!” [laughs].
I’m always drawn to things about space or dogs.
I: Space is a big one for me too.
So, what kind of set up do you record with?
I: A cassette 4-track, I just got a new one. I had two or three break on me recently, which sucked, all breaking around the same time. Most of the Togas record was recorded on my friend’s 4-track, he’s got a snazzy Tascam one with heaps of knobs! [laughs].
I love all the extra fun sounds you add into the mix and synth-y sounds.
I: A lot of that stuff can be a tape being slowed down or sped up, I love that stuff.
Before you mentioned that you record stuff after a smoke; is that how you record a lot?
I: Yeah, pretty much! [laughs].
Does it help your process?
I: It definitely does. It makes more ideas flow… maybe?
Maybe it’s because you’re more relaxed and more open to trying whatever?
I: Yeah, for sure. Recording at home helps too. I’ve done studios a few times and I don’t know… there’s a sense that you have to do it, right then and there! At home there’s no pressure.
Australian Idol released something not too long ago, right?
I: Yeah. We put out a tape. I can’t remember when we recorded it. We got together, we were seeing Dual Citizen at 96 Tears, which is a DIY venue that used to run for a bit. Everyone was there that night but I went home. I woke up in the morning to all these messages on my phone and a Facebook Group chat called ‘Australian Idol’. They had created a band and made me join without me being there, it was pretty funny. The tape came together pretty fast.
I noticed in your zine TV Guide that you like to ask people what their thoughts are on punk in the digital age; I’m interested to know what yours are?
I: It’s pretty cool. I grew up in the digital age. It can be good and bad in ways. It’s cool being able to access anything all the time wherever you are and discover things on your arse sitting at home [laughs]. On the other side, it can get overwhelming with too much stuff all the time. You have to learn when to step away from it. Not so much just punk too, being in the digital age in general. I think recording in my house is a great way to escape when I get really overwhelmed.
You often post videos of animals. There was one post that said something like “Animals are way better than most humans.”
I: [Laughs] Yeah. I do love myself a good animal! Right now, we have a pet rat, he’s been taking up most of my love at the moment! Animals seem to be a lot more caring than humans most of the time.
Totally. We have a little dog and all she wants to do is love and be loved, fuck around playing, eat and sleep. Humans could learn a lot from animals.
I: Yeah, totally! Having said that though, I have met some amazing humans—I have hope in the world!
Tangled Shoelaces were an alternative-pop band, formed in 1980 in Capalaba (a suburb 20-minutes from Brisbane City’s centre). The band centred around three siblings Stephen, Lucy and Martin Mackerras, with neighbour Leigh Nelson on drums; ranging in ages from 10 to 14. Their music captures the innocence and magic of youth while their experimentalism is testament of imagination and fearless self-expression. Before the age of 18, they recorded at the legendary studios of Sydney label M Squared, supported the Dead Kennedys and John Cooper Clarke. Recently, Chapter Music has released a collection of their recordings: Turn My Dial – The M Squared Recordings and more, 1981-84. To celebrate, Gimmie spoke with bassist Martin Mackerra.
I’m very excited to be speaking with you. We love Tangled Shoelaces. We collect a lot of zines and came across Bruce Milne’s cassette zine Fast Forward, there was a Tangled Shoelaces song on their that we absolutely love. That’s how we first heard your band.
MARTIN MACKERRA: That would have been the song ‘World’ on Fast Forward. Those cassettes are great. I remember them.
We’ve always wanted to find more of your songs, and now Chapter Music is releasing a TS album of collected works, Turn My Dial – The M Squared Recordings and more, 1981-84. The album comes out tomorrow (23 April); how do you feel about it?
MM: Oh, great! It’s that thing of, you never know what’s around the corner [laughs]. We were happy with what we did all those years ago, we were always proud of it, but never in our wildest dreams did we think someone would want to put it out and make a proper release of it. Especially, someone like Guy [Blackman], Chapter [Music] is such a renowned label. I’ve played with [Chapter artist] Laura Jean a few years ago. Being involved with the label is just amazing! I’d always admired Chapter, not just for all the local artists they put out, but also that they do release old recordings, especially things like Essendon Airport; they’ve always had that interesting aspect to the label. It’s exciting.
When Tangles Shoelaces started you were around ten-years-old; did you have any hesitation joining your older siblings in a band at such a young age?
MM: No, never. You don’t think about those things. You don’t ask questions; you just do it. It’s, this is the normal thing, you play music in a band. That’s the interesting thing about being young.
Did you find your peers, other kids your age, being supportive? Or did they not believe that someone their age could be in a band?
MM: It’s interesting we were talking about Capalaba school before, on the record there is a picture of us playing at Capalaba Primary. To be really honest with you, I don’t remember anyone saying anything, they just starred like, oh, you’re the weird guy that plays music. That was basically it, it was strange. But, when I went to Villanova [College] in Coorparoo (that’s where I started high school, catching the bus all the way there) and there were kids there that had heard about us and knew about us. We had an article about us in The Courier Mail [newspaper]. There was more interest, because there were kids there that were actually interested in music; that might be the age too though, we were twelve and thirteen. I remember having kids come up to me, who later became my friends, and they’d be like, “Oh, I read about you. You’re that guy in Tangled Shoelaces!” There were kids that listened to 4ZZZfm. So, there was a little bit more support then. We played a few things for school. It was something I didn’t talk about that much; it was another world that we kept to ourselves. I was always involved with music in school though.
What bands did you first find growing up that were your own bands you loved listening to?
MM: Oh god! There were so many. They weren’t necessarily like Tangled Shoelaces. I was just obsessed with music from a young age. I’d listen to early Split Enz, the B-52’s. We went and saw the B-52’s, a long time ago [laughs], I was in Grade 5. It was at Festival Hall. We were so blown away by that concert, we went crazy dancing! Our mum took us and a friend of our mum who was in her 60’s, she was a photographer and took photos of all the amazing people there, the punks with their coloured hair; all the people that went got so dressed up. It was around ’80-’81 just after ‘Rock Lobster’ came out. It completely blew me away! We also listened to 4ZZZfm. We were completely obsessed with music. Always listening.
Why has it always been such an important part of your life?
MM: There’s musical blood in the family. We have an uncle who was a conductor, my dad is obsessed with classical music; I went on to do classical music too. They say you don’t choose music; music chooses you. I’ve always had a life in music.
What inspired you to play bass?
MM: Purely, I did what Stephen asked me to [laughs]. He said, “Right, I’m the guitarist and you’re the bass player!” That was it. I was just a little brother that did what my big brother told me.
Where did the name Tangled Shoelaces come from?
MM: I really don’t know; it was probably Stephen who thought of it. It was almost like anything, it just happened naturally and you didn’t question it. It could have been Stephen just said, “The band is called Tangled Shoelaces” and we just went, “Ok, yep!” That’s it. It all just flowed.
It’s such a great name. It has a nice flow to it, sounds great and is really fun to say.
MM: Yeah, I agree. I’m very objective about all of this now though too, it’s almost 40 years later. It is a fun name. It’s one of those great names that tells you what the music is in away, it’s kids making music.
You’ve mentioned that 4ZZZfm was big for you; do you remember hearing your band on the radio?
MM: Yeah, yeah. They were supportive of us. There were a few DJs that really liked us that we sent tapes to and they played them. We put out an EP too, there’s a bit of an evolution of the band. There are photos of us at the Primary School, that’s very early stages, I was ten. At about thirteen, fourteen and fifteen we were still playing, by then we had put out an EP on vinyl, 4ZZZ were supportive of that. 4ZZZ has always been integral, they put on gigs and you’d hear all these different bands, they’d interview us. They’ve always been so supportive of bands and are a great network for Brisbane music. I listened to them constantly, I had a radio beside my bed—4ZZZ all of the time!
It was the same for me growing up. I was a teenager in the ‘90s and I’d have the radio beside my bed and listen to 4ZZZ, that’s how I found out about all the local bands and shows and that we had a scene and music community here. You start going to local shows and you realise there’s people just like you that have bands, then you really get excited.
MM: [Laughs] Exactly! Its’ true. You would have heard of XERO?
MM: John-e Willsteed, he went on to play with the Go-Betweens, he took us under his wing a little bit. Then there was Peter Pit [from The Pits]. We’d meet them, maybe through 4ZZZ, and they’d say, “Come play a gig!” It’s the connections that you make. Things are still the same today with community radio, down here there’s 3RRRfm.
4ZZZ had some really great people, there was a guy called Andy Neal, he told us, “This is great. This is wild. You kids, this is far out.” He told us to send it to M Squared. He said, “They’ll love it!” And, they did. They wrote back and told us to come and record. We’re very lucky.
I understand that when you were recording at M Squared Studios you would catch the bus down to Sydney on the weekends to record; what things stick out to you from that experience?
MM: It was just the normal, just what you do. It was like, ok, we’re going down to Sydney to record at M Squared, great, let’s book the tickets. Stephen organised it. We were lucky because we had relatives in Sydney who we could stay with. Being in Brisbane and having family in Sydney, it wasn’t that unusual to go to Sydney. Having grandparents in New South Wales and cousins living in Sydney, we’d go visit them. It was no big deal, Mum dropped us off and we just caught an overnight bus. By the time we were going to Sydney we were a little bit older, we were thirteen and sixteen (being younger than Stephen, I saw him as an adult).
So much cool stuff has come out on M Squared! Australian post-punk artists like Systematics, Scattered Order and Ya Ya Choral.
MM: Oh yes, I love M Squared.
You mentioned the local Brisbane band XERO; what other local bands were you into at the time?
MM: The Pits; Peter Pit. Pork, they’d put on gigs in halls in Coorparoo (Peter lived around there)… Wooloongabba and those inner city suburbs, there were lots of bands like, This Five Minutes.
I was just up in Brisbane and there’s this exhibition of all of these old music posters from all of these bands. Have you seen it?
Yes! The Cut Copy: Brisbane music posters 1977-87 exhibition. That’s at my work, I work at the State Library of Queensland.
MM: Great! Half of those bands on the posters, I saw so many recognisable names. There were so many bands I loved, but the ones that stand out is John-e Willsteed from XERO (who we played a lot of shows with) and Peter from the Pits; we ended up becoming good friends. He came down to Sydney with us and sings on the record.
Looking back at the record now, which are the most interesting songs for you?
MM: The very early ones. ‘I Need A Stamp’ is just a bizarre and amazing song, Stephen’s voice is really high. ‘Little Bear’ that’s Lucy singing on it, I love that one. And, ‘What Do You Want From Me Now?’ They’re the ones from the very beginnings of Tangled Shoelaces. I don’t know where they came from, they just happened. I love all of them though. As Stephen matured, he started to write some really, really great songs. ‘Just For You’ I always find that really touching. There’s some extra ones that aren’t on the vinyl, like ‘Beware Of Falling Objects’. It gets a bit experimental. I like ‘Bordumb’ because that’s my song, it’s a bit of a snapshot of being in Brisbane at the time and being ten-years-old. I’d be playing Space Invaders, riding my bike down to Capalaba Park shopping centre [laughs]. I love all the songs but I especially think ‘Little Bear’ and ‘I Need A Stamp’ are amazing because we are very young there. Stephen’s voice hadn’t even broken, he was around eleven or twelve and I was nine or ten.
‘Little Bear’ and ‘I Need A Stamp’ along with ‘What Do You Want From Me Now’ were all recorded at Capalaba Primary School, right?
MM: Yes. Huge thanks to our teacher Steve Colbourn. Guy wrote up a great thing about it all in the album’s liner notes. Steve was also a professional musician as well as our teacher, he played gigs and did lots of things. Without him we wouldn’t have made those recordings and without those recordings we wouldn’t have had something to send to M Squared. It was a 4-track, he set it up in the school library for the holidays. I’m incredibly grateful. He’s passed away now, sadly. He organised the show for us at Capalaba school too. He helped us do everything. We didn’t know how to plug in a microphone, we didn’t know what a P.A. was even [laughs].
You might not have known how to put it all together but you sure did know how to play!
MM: [Laughs] Yes! It’s not that hard to play a bass, for me I just picked it up, I never had a lesson. I did have clarinet lessons though. We practiced and worked at it though. Mr Colbourn showed us what foldback is and how to plug in a P.A.
It must have been such an exciting time for you!
MM: It was! People ask about my recollections and I don’t know how school fitted in! We had the weekends to work on music. I never took school too seriously; I was much more interested in music. I knew from an early age and through Tangled Shoelaces that I just wanted to do music. I played clarinet in the Queensland Youth Orchestra.
I was the same with school. My mum would drop me off at the front gate and I’d walk out the back gate, change my clothes, catch a bus to the city, find whatever bands were in town or local ones and hang around, eventually interviewing them for my fanzine.
MM: Fantastic! Isn’t that brilliant.
All these year’s later, I’m still making zines.
MM: It’s so great! It’s lucky if you can find what you want to do while you’re at school when you’re young. If you find what your passion is and what you love doing, you’re a lucky person.
Totally! I know that Tangled Shoelaces supported the Dead Kennedys when they came to Australia in the early ‘80s!
MM: Yes. We did some crazy things! That was a funny one because, somewhere in there is a joke, someone was thinking wouldn’t it be funny if we got Tangled Shoelaces to play with Dead Kennedys, let’s do it! We did it. It was scary, there were some pretty scary characters there—they didn’t like us. We were not a punk band [laughs]. We wanted to get out of there pretty quickly after we played, we thought we’d get picked on. It was a funny little episode.
We also supported John Cooper Clarke! It was one of the first ever gigs. People there loved us. You know how with popularity it comes and goes?
MM: That point seemed to be the time, at least for a few months, we were the flavour of the month. Whenever we played people would cheer, but then that dissipated and we got on with things. A big thing that happened, one gig, we were offered to support Public Image Ltd at Festival Hall. It would have been incredible. It was last minute, they rang us on the afternoon of the gig that as on a Friday night because someone pulled out, but our drummer had gone away and we couldn’t get in touch with him, long before mobile phones. To say I played at Festival Hall, that would have been amazing. We did do other stuff that was great.
Do you remember meeting Jello Biafra or John Cooper Clarke?
MM: No, none at all. I was aware of the Dead Kennedys but I wouldn’t have known who Jello Biafra was. Often support bands don’t meet the main act because they’re tucked away in their room or they’re not even there yet when the support act play. It’s a hazy memory.
Can you tell us the story behind the album cover image please?
MM: Yes. Being from Capalaba, you would know about Leslie Harrison Dam.
Yes! It’s supplies the water for the area.
MM: We lived there (my parents are still there), literally two minutes’ walk from the Leslie Harrison Dam. We weren’t supposed to, but we spent a lot of time there and went swimming there all of the time. We grew up there, it was our back yard, you can see it from our house. You can see the spillway, it’s all fenced off now but it wasn’t then, that was our playground. Stephen put it all together. He did photography at school and had a camera. It was all his ideas.
Is there something really important that you learnt from Stephen that has stuck with you all these years?
MM: Heaps of things! He was a mover and a shaker, so I’ve taken that on myself. You really have to make things happen. You have to do the work first; you have to write the songs and then people might cotton on to it. You have to practice. He was always very motivated, that taught me a lot. I’ve carried on with music.
Tangled Shoelaces went on to become Wondrous Fair?
MM: Yes, that’s right. I don’t know all of the details of why Tangled Shoelaces didn’t continue. When you’re kids, I guess it’s natural to move on. Leigh became a born-again Christian, he went on to play in Christian bands, he’s an excellent drummer. Lucy went to uni, she moved out, she had her own interests. We didn’t think, oh we have something interesting here, we should keep it going. You just went along with whatever. Oh, this girl Deborah [Cavallaro] wants to have a jam with us at her house, it was all fun and great, let’s form a band from this! [laughs]. You didn’t think about things, you just went along with things, what felt good. Wondrous Fair evolved from another friend of mine who did play in Tangled Shoelaces from maybe one rehearsal.
Stephen eventually went away because he was more into film. After he left school, he went down to Melbourne. He was very motivated, he wrote to [director] Paul Cox and said, “I’m really interested in film, can I just come and help on the set of your next film?” He got invited down to Melbourne and helped with Paul Cox.
MM: Stephen’s that kind of person. He’d just write to people and ring people and ask to help them.
You mentioned that you’re still making music now.
MM: Yeah, I am. I’m a composer and songwriter. I absolutely continue to make music.
Has there ever been a time in your life when you didn’t make music?
MM: No! I live and breath music. There would never ever be that. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant.
No, not at all. I get it.
MM: It is my life. Music is the life force; it’s how I live. I teach music, that pays my bills but I always make music. After Tangled Shoelaces. it was Wondrous Fair. I moved to Melbourne and formed about three different bands. I have a band currently called Maya-dreamer & The Future Happiness Orchestra. They have not been popular; I haven’t had that sort of success but that’s not necessarily what I want in a way—I just want to make the music that I love. I’m working on a third album now. I compose avant-garde music, more obscure music. It’s weird, very experimental music [laughs]. (You can find it at martinmackerras.com). For me, it’s about the experience of making music, getting in a room with five other people and singing together. We have a lot of fun! Music is always there. I can’t live without it.
One of Gimmie’s favourite bands Naarm/Melbourne-based EXEK have a new single and clip out today—‘Several Souvenirs’ from upcoming LP Good Thing They Ripped Up The Carpet out soon on Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club. Gimmie had a quick chat with vocalist-guitarist, Albert Wolski.
What’s life been like lately for you, Albert?
ALBERT WOLSKI: Pretty normal. I work full-time with Billy [Gardner] and Jake [Robertson] from Ausmuteants. We worked all throughout Covid, it was business as usual; actually, work was as turbo as it could possibly get, a bit too turbo. It was fine though. We had to work when a lot of people were able to have time off and could do their creative stuff, and just read, chill and hang.
We’re really excited EXEK has a new album coming out! I’ve been listening to it a lot since Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club sent it through to us. It’s so awesome!
AW: Thank you! Rad!
Last we interviewed you (March 2020), EXEK had just released Some Beautiful Species Left. You mentioned “We’re currently working on the next album. I wrote all these lyrics for it ages ago, most of them were written whilst I was on holiday in Europe in 2017.” Is Good Thing They Ripped Up The Carpet that album you were talking about then?
AW: That is actually the next album, that was done before this new one. It’s all kind of confusing and everything overlaps, there’s a bit of a tapestry now. Things aren’t too linear half the time. Good Thing They Ripped Up The Carpet comes out the 4th of June. We’re working on stuff for next year as well, just trying to stay busy.
Lots of EXEK in our future, lucky us! I noticed a few songs on Good Thing… have been on other releases, split 7-inches and compilations overseas; the first six tracks are newer ones?
AW: Yeah. It’s split between the A-side and the B-side. The A-side is new and the B-side is older stuff. One of the songs feels like it’s new because it hasn’t come out yet, there’s been a delay in a compilation it’s on, that a French label SDZ is putting out, they put out Some Beautiful Species Left. They were celebrating their 20th year anniversary last year, but it all got delayed. It’s the song ‘Four Stomachs’.
The title of the album Good Thing They Ripped Up The Carpet is a lyric from the first song ‘Palazzo Di Propaganda Fide’. Being the nerd I am, I was looking up what the song title was in reference to and found a palace located in Rome has that name.
AW: Yeah. It’s known for its architecture [designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, then Francesco Borromini]. I wanted to loosely connect that building and almost pretend that the cover of Biased Advice, which just got reissued [on Castle Face] … I wanted to refer back to that record. There’s a lyric that goes: someone turned the lights on, and it looks like the sweatshop from the first album. Now it’s full colour, so it’s almost like someone did turn the lights on and its loosely painting a narrative that the sweatshop is in that building, but obviously it isn’t. It’s all very nonsensical really.
I love how in EXEK albums there’s always so many layers, from the music to lyrics and to art and videos. It’s cool how things connect over releases.
AW: Yeah, I definitely like to make a little universe and for that universe to exist and try and make sense out of it; it is its own universe so it doesn’t have to make sense in comparison to this universe. [Laughs].
The song we’re premiering along with its video is ‘Several Souvenirs’.
AW: I guess that one is related to Covid, just after the lockdown in Melbourne, everyone was really stinging to go out and be social again; maybe not everyone, but at least I did and my friends. We really felt like connecting with people and having some fun. I was writing that song when I was going out and partying a lot, a lot! Definitely during Covid there was none of that, I gave up alcohol for three or four months during the first lockdown. After the second one I just felt like partying again. ‘Several Souvenirs’ is kind of the EXEK party song, it’s definitely not a party song but it does have the romanticism of creating the perfect evening and the perfect memory of the perfect evening. It’s a little bit new wave-y, a little bit romantic, and probably the most poppy that we get.
I got that romanticising feeling from the film clip. It creates that mood, with the shots, lighting and even the ballerina character. Where was it shot?
AW: Yeah. It was shot at a pub [Stingrays Upstairs at the Bodriggy Brewery], not our next show but the one after we’ll be playing there with Body Maintenance. The place is named after a friend of mine. The narrative is that Carol is about to start her shift at the bar, a song comes on and she just goes into her fantasy world and it gets more and more extravagant. The dresses get crazier, the lighting gets crazier, there’s wind and smoke. Then she snaps out of it. We managed to get the place for free to do the clip, on the one condition that we play there. I was like, “Of course, it’ll be fun.”
It seems like a really amazing venue.
AW: I don’t think anyone has played there yet. It should be interesting because there is a mezzanine level, which is six or seven steps high – we’re going to playing at that height – which is really, really high. My ideal stage is one to two steps. It’s a brand-new place that opened right after Covid, not many people know about it.
Where did you find the ballerina for your clip?
AW: She’s a friend of a friend; a friend of my wife and I – Kasey – she runs this fashion label and store. Carol (the ballerina) loves Kasey’s fashion. She’s a professional dancer and model, we thought she’d be great for the clip so we asked her if she’d be keen. She was. Then it was all happening.
Were you there on set when it was being filmed?
AW: Yeah, yeah, yeah. There was a big crew of us all behind the scenes, letting her hog the spotlight really [laughs].
Who shot the clip?
AW: Robyn my wife and her close friend Hannah. They’re both photographers. Hannah is also a videographer. Also, Alex McLaren who you just interview was there too; he was helping us out behind the scenes with some tech stuff and we were fortunate enough to borrow his equipment. It turned out good.
One of the tracks on the LP’s B-side is the theme from Judge Judy (that originally appeared on your split 7-inch with Spray Paint); how did you come to choosing to cover that?
AW: I really love that bassline. You know when you were back in the day and you’d stay home from school and Judge Judy would come on? I thought, damn, I love that bassline. I thought it would be good to cover because EXEK basslines are kind of like that, it would kind of lend itself to what we do. We just fleshed it out and it was really easy to do, really fun to record.
Anything else to tell us about the album?
AW: The songs on the B-side of the album have been retweaked. I just can’t help myself. The mixing process never ends with us. I always thought that when I got a chance, I’d retweak a few things. Even the last track [‘Too Step A Hill To Climb’] I redid the whole vocals for that. I wasn’t too keen on the originals. All the songs on that side have been modified to freshen them up.
On a side note, I know you love watching films, and I’m always up for great film recommendations; what have you been watching lately?
AW: I’ve been watching all these silly blockbusters lately. I feel like watching the world blow up, I think I see it as cathartic when things aren’t really going too well outside, that visual chaos. It’s really chaos right now in the world. One film that I saw a couple of years ago that I’m keen to rewatch is Under The Silverlake, which I think slipped by a lot of people.
I love that movie.
AW: Yeah, I think I might watch it again tonight. It’s so good.
Did you find that the lockdown affected your creativity?
AW: To an extent, I didn’t want to write about what was going on, so that made it a little bit harder. I didn’t want to write about Covid, even though I like to write about hard science stuff and which I do anyway. My writing process is really hard to shift gears away from hard science, pathogens and diseases and science-fiction dystopias [laughs].
On this day in 1981, Canadian punk band D.O.A. released their Hardcore ’81 album. Punk heavyweights Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, Jello Biafra and Kevin Seconds have all spoken of the impact and importance of this record. It’s been said that the title is the first time the term “hardcore” was used to describe this style of punk outside of a music publication. A couple of years ago their sophomore full-length won The Polaris Music Prize, awarded annually to one of the all-time best Canadian albums based on artistic merit. Hardcore ’81 still holds up today, as a record that is still wild (or as Joe puts it, “rips your face off”), full of conviction and energy. D.O.A. were also one of the first punk bands to tour (North America) independently, setting the blueprint for all the bands that have come after them. Yesterday, Gimmie spoke to vocalist-guitarist Joe Keithley.
On the 22nd of April D.O.A.’s album Hardcore ’81 celebrates its 40th Anniversary; what comes to mind when you think of that record?
JOE KEITHLEY: Lots of things. It’s a unique thing that we came up with, that title, and threw it on an album. It was a collective thing; we had heard the term “hardcore” a few times. There is some argument with who came up with the term but that doesn’t really matter, I think it’s a worldwide movement that came out of a few bands, including D.O.A.
We’re reissuing it on my label Sudden Death Records in August. It will be a special 40th Anniversary edition—it’s a fucking classic record! [laughs]. I don’t look at old D.O.A. records very often, but I put that one on when we were doing the remastering. We added three bonus tracks. I was like, wow! It just rips your face off, so that’s a good thing, right?
Totally! It is definitely a classic. An important punk record. Around the time you initially released the album you would have been around 25-years-old, I think? What was happening in your life or around you at that time that inspired the writing of the songs on Hardcore ’81?
JK: Yeah, that’s about right. Before that we’d spent a lot of time as a band touring. Since I was a teenager, I’ve always been an activist for different causes, we took that on as much as we could doing benefits shows and doing records for good causes all around the world. We’d been around North America [on tour] a bunch and we’d been going to Southern California probably five or six times a year; that became our home away from home. What happened was, I was probably in the van driving up and down the Interstate 5 highway back and forth between Los Angeles and Vancouver playing shows.
The only thing that I did at home was that I was a cab driver. They didn’t really care about me and I didn’t really care about the cab company. When I showed up, I would drive the car and when I didn’t, some other guy would, probably another musician or a waiter [laughs].
Did you find driving cabs interesting with all the different kinds of people that you meet?
JK: [Laughs]. That’s one way of putting it! I drove for a long time, for three or four different companies, on and off, for about six years. I’d go to the job every time I’d arrive back from tour and be broke. I’d just call them up and start driving again. You’d meet some interesting people; you’d meet some you didn’t like and be glad you never got to see them again. I thought it was pretty interesting, the one thing I really noticed was that, people with not a lot of money, they were the most generous tippers and people with a lot of money, were really cheap. Go figure, right?
Right. That’s usually been the case in my experience too. On the cover of Hardcore ’81 there’s photobooth picture strips of each member; where did you get those done?
JK: Yeah, it’s one of those machines that you go into a booth and they’d take passport sized photos, you get a strip of three or four. Our manager had the idea. The booth was probably in Vancouver, maybe at the Greyhound [bus] Station. We went down there and thought it would be pretty funny. They look great on the cover.
Why did you decided to cover the Led Zeppelin song ‘Communication Breakdown’ on that record?
JK: I can’t remember what the impetus for that was. I remember that there was this guy in my neighbourhood when I was growing up, and if a new song came on the radio… (we lived on a mountainside-type-thing, it was quite steep) he would take his old records, of the songs that weren’t in fashion anymore, and he’d roll them down the hill! When I got into my first punk rock band, which was called The Skulls, we were from Vancouver, I found a hill (this was about ‘78’) and I took all my Led Zeppelin records I had loved in high school and I rolled them down the hill. They got run over by cars and got smashed to bits! [laughs].
For some reason someone in the band suggested we do that song. Nobody could sing it though. Chuck [Biscuits] tried to sing it, Randy [Rampage] tried to sing it, but they were both too high. I said, “I’ll do it!” We put this underwater effect on it, it makes you sound like you’re underwater singing. We were like, “Huh! That kind of works.” The original take actually went on for about another minute, it was longer; at the very end you could hear the sound of a 2-inch tape going off. The ending was kind of perfect.
Why is music important to you?
JK: Music has always been a big thing for me. For one thing, it’s a lot of fun! That’s why you get up on stage, you want to thrill people and excite them and get ‘em worked up. I think that’s the goal of a band. With a punk band, or metal band, or rock band, heavier stuff, you want to see people going crazy, so you have to do something to make ‘em go crazy.
Being in a band is a really good chance to say what you think about the world. I was heavily politicized when I was a kid, with the Vietnam War going on and environmental degradation and the Arms Race between America and the Soviet Union. I joined Greenpeace when I was seventeen. I got into a band, D.O.A. started to take off and I thought I had a perfect soapbox to get up on and say what I thought about the world. That’s why I did my songs.
Before you started D.O.A. you wanted to be a civil rights lawyer; obviously you’ve always cared about people and what’s going on in the world?
JK: Yeah! My goal through Junior High was to be a professional hockey player for the Boston Bruin, to play ice hockey [laughs]. That didn’t work out, I was ok, but not that kind of quality. Then I got into the legal thing. I was involved in protest stuff.
This guy, William Kunstler, the lawyer for the Chicago Seven – there were big riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention – he defended them, which I found quite interesting. I thought, I want to be like William Kunstler! He defended Abbie Hoffman [a political and social activist who co-founded the Youth International Party (“Yippies”) and a leading proponent of the Flower Power movement] and all the rest of the people that were on trial. I guess it was strange for a kid in high school to have the resolve to be a lawyer [laughs]; a civil rights lawyer, not a lawyer, lawyer!
Yes! There’s definitely a difference [laughter]. Was there a moment you can remember that you realised that music could have a big impact on people?
JK: Oh yeah, absolutely! When I was a kid in high school and even much earlier. You could see people like Jimi Hendrix and Country Joe McDonald, influenced what was going on in the world. Think about the Vietnam War for example, it was a big, big thing when I was a kid, and musicians would stand up against it. It was an interesting transition, at first, they were called “Commie pinko fags” and all that stuff for not supporting the American war machine. Eventually, people in the mid-west, farmers, saw it was an immoral war as well—not that any war is moral. This one was particularly horrible. All of a sudden, people that played music that was saying stuff against it, weren’t so far out there and wrong, and you had the regular work people saying “yes” too. They might not have been buying Jimi Hendrix records, but he was influencing people that were involved. Rather than saying that Richard Nixon stopped the Vietnam War—it was the people that did.
What do you feel is one of your most powerful songs?
JK: There’s a few. ‘World War 3’ and ‘The Prisoner’ [from Something Better Change] is a really strong song. I think the song that a lot of people identify D.O.A. with is ‘The Enemy’ which is on the first record and on the Positively D.O.A. 7-inch EP [with the lyric]: “Ya gotta know who your enemy is”. It’s synonymous with D.O.A. and D.O.A. fans. The line in the chorus, pretty much says it all.
Your band is known for being trailblazers of independent touring, especially in North America, laying the blueprint for bands that came after you. Previously you’ve mentioned that part of why you started touring is because the band were adventurous; have you always had the sense of adventure?
JK: I was a pretty introverted child, I wasn’t really outgoing or anything like that, which may be hard to believe [laughs], it’s very true though. It was one of those things that just started happening, I went to university to be a lawyer. I was there for about four months and then I was in a punk rock band, we got a little bit popular, not long after that we started D.O.A. and that took off right away, within a few months things were moving pretty quick—right guys at the right time in the right place.
Because Vancouver was a real backwater (not these days though, Vancouver is a big town with over three million people). The music industry was in London, New York, Los Angeles and Toronto, for us anyway. Obviously, you’d link Melbourne and Sydney to that too from where you are. Those were the centres of attention and where all the bands were getting signed and that they would gravitate towards. We didn’t, we thought we’ll just strike out on our own. D.O.A. was a lot more unique because we weren’t trying to play to get signed to a label, therefore our style wasn’t co-opted from someone from a record label going, “Oh, you should really put more of this in there!” The pressures that bands start to get when they begin to get popular. We blazed our own way!
We bought a van and toured up and down everywhere. In 1979, we went all the way down to California, to Texas, up to Chicago, New York and eastern Canada and all the way back; it was a North American tour. We had a lot of days off because we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing! We’d sit around at people’s houses and eat them out of house and home [laughs], ‘til they got sick of us and then we’d try and find another show. That’s all we could do. We were getting a lot of attention.
A big break [in 1981] was that we saw an ad in one of the big English music papers like Melody Maker or New Music Express (they were pretty influential, people in North America would read them too), it said that D.O.A. were opening up for the Dead Kennedys at the Lyceum in London! It was a big, big hall, 3,000 people-type-thing. We looked at the ad and were like, “We are? Nobody told us about that!” We phoned up the promoter and they said, “Sure, you guys can play, but I won’t pay you anything. You have to get over here.” We all saved up about $700 to pay for the air flights and we found some friends to crash with, on their floor. We went to London and played this big show. It worked out because the record company [Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles Records] released Positively D.O.A. and it became Single Of The Week [in British press]. It sold a lot! We were like, wow! Ok! That whetted our appetite to do more. Eventually in ’84 we came back and did a two-month tour of Europe and the UK.
Before you mentioned that when you were younger you were introverted and now obviously, you’re not; did being in a punk band give you confidence?
JK: It certainly makes you stand out from the crowd. When I got into it, people were afraid of punk rock, they thought it was the strangest type of music that had come out and people were shocked by what they saw; some people were interested in it though, and loved it like me. We were way in the minority.
Being in a band, the first few times you go up there, you might want to get off stage and puke because you were so nervous. Because you have your fellow bandmates there with you, your confidence grows off of each other. You get the courage to get up there and do what you do. If you’re good at it, it will grow.
Another thing that I’ve always loved about D.O.A. is that you always keep moving forward and create new things. You once said, “We still sound like a punk rock band, but we’ve tried to progress with the times. We try to expand what we can do lyrically. We sing about what’s going on now. We don’t hearken back to the glory days of punk.” A lot of people talk about punk like it was a special time that existed in a particular time period. It’s still happening today and still thriving. Punk is an energy, that keeps moving and evolving.
JK: Yeah, I would agree. There’s lots of younger bands around with great ideas and lots of energy. They’re being rebellious, and that’s what it was about it the first place. An older band has to find new ways to keep progressing, to find new ways to express themselves, that’s really important. If you don’t come up with anything new, that’s fine, if you just put out two albums and you go on tour 30 years later and play those songs to fans it’s because it’s kind of a trip down nostalgia lane. With D.O.A. there is a sense of nostalgia because we were one of the early pioneers of the whole thing but you have to keep moving forward, otherwise you become a nostalgia act, which is deadly if you ask me; that’s not where you want to be as an artist, you want to keep writing new songs.
Is there a particular way that songs come to you more often when you’re writing?
JK: If I sat down for a couple of days with my guitar I could come up with hundreds of riffs, they could be good or bad or I could be repeating myself (which happens when you’ve written so many songs for as long as I have). The big thing for me is the lyrics; if you get the lyric, that’s the key. When I have the lyric, I can try to write the music to back its sentiment. If it’s a dark lyric, you want something dark sounding. If it’s a happy lyric, then maybe you play D, G and C. If it’s something evil, dark, maybe you play a B-flat and E-flat [laughs]. Some cues are happy and some cues are mean and tough. To come up with a good lyric is a hard thing to do.
Naarm/Melbourne-based videographer-animator-photographer Alex McLaren is the man behind some of the coolest music videos that have come out of Australia in the past few years. He’s made videos for King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, ORB, Parsnip, School Damage, Bananagun, Sunfruits, Pipe-Eye, The Murlocs and more. His clips are vibrant, dynamic and psychedelic. We chatted with Alex about his creations, of making skate vids with his friends growing up in a country town and it’s influence on his work, the music video medium, claymation, collage, making a living as a creative, new projects in the works and more.
How’s your day been?
ALEX MCLAREN: I had to go to my mate’s house and feed their cat, that’s pretty much all I’ve been up to this morning.
Nice! Sounds like it’s been a cruisy one then.
AM: Yeah. How about you?
I’ve been easing into the morning. Yesterday my husband Jhonny and I went and picked up a box of 45’s (records) for $10, so that’s always a little exciting. We’ve been going through them this morning. We’re big record nerds.
AM: Cool. Sweet. Any good stuff in there?
There was a Hawkwind ‘Silver Machine’ picture disc and some AC/DC in there, and some funk and soul. The guy we got it off was interesting; he had all of this Elvis memorabilia, including Elvis’ dad’s electricity bill. We love all kinds of music and have music to suit every mood in our collection. We’ve both collected records since we were teens.
AM: Nice. It’s good to have a good mix!
I’m stoked to be talking with you. We love your work so much!
AM: That’s so sweet.
The film clips you make are really cool. We find that whenever an awesome clip comes up from a local band, you’re usually behind it.
AM: [Laughs] That’s cool. Thank you!
Have you always been a creative person?
AM: I suppose. The main way that I got into it was from being into skateboarding growing up. Watching skate videos; they have little animations and stuff, they’re almost arthouse in a sense. That stuff really triggered where I’m at now. Dad would have the family camcorder; I’d end up stealing it to film my friends skateboarding. Through that I got into editing the footage and tinkering around with it.
Do you have any favourite skate videos?
AM: Yeah, for sure. There are so many! Alien Workshop videos, they were kind of wild in the sense that they had a ton of animation, strange little stop motion things. That all influenced me to some degree, even subconsciously at the beginning. I definitely look back at that stuff occasionally and can see how it affected where I am now. Also, with skate videos how quickly they’re edited, all chopped up and short, flashing by really quickly; I think that informed some of how I edit videos. With the King Gizzard [& The Lizard Wizard] one, I’ll have a bunch of visual styles and things changing rapidly, that’s all part of it. Videos from Girl Skateboards company, had little skits and animations. I think Spike Jonze did a bunch of that stuff.
I made a bunch of skate videos with friends and a couple of people who make music, like Nick Van Bakel from The Frowning Clouds and Bananagun, we grew up together in Warrnambool; it’s funny how a lot of people that skated then make music, art and video stuff now. It’s cool to work with Nick occasionally making videos, it’s fun to think that it all stemmed from skating together back in the day. Music interests were pretty eclectic… it’s almost like having a big brother in a sense, opening up a world in terms of music and visual stuff, arthouse 16mm and 8mm animation. I feel like all of that stuff was the initial seed of inspiration and opening the doors to new sounds and visuals.
My brother and I had a skate shop in the mid to late-90s, he’s had skate shops since the 80s, we used to watch all the skate vids, so I can relate. My love of punk and hip-hop in part comes from those vids. What was it like growing up in Warrnambool? You mentioned listening to eclectic stuff; what kind of bands were you listening to?
AM: I guess eclectic, in hindsight it probably wasn’t. But at the time in a country town, skate vids were good exposure to punk, hip-hop and more obscure stuff than what you may get otherwise, playing footy or cricket. Living in a country town anything outside the norm is eye-opening and exciting.
Did you grow up watching the music video show Rage?
AM: For sure. That was a big part of it as well, having Rage, Video Hits, Channel V and all that stuff on Austar (if you can remember that? [laughs]). That stuff was always on in the mornings. There’d be clips where I wouldn’t necessarily grasp into the song and think, yeah, I might not like this artist, but I would be engaged in the video. Spike Jonze doing that Daft Punk clip ‘Da Funk’ with the dog walking around, things like that, that visually stick out.
I really liked Michael Jackson when I was really little. I remember hiring Michael Jackson VHS from the video store.
Same! I still have a bunch of MJ VHS tapes. I joined his fan club too.
AM: That’s so good [laughs]. I used to do drawings of him too, it’d be so funny.
AM: Oh wow! I remember this real crap one that I had that I even framed, it’d be so funny to see what it looks like now looking back.
Back then he was one of the greatest artists in the mainstream that the world had ever seen. His artistry will always hold out, despite everything else that’s happened. He was always pushing things forward art-wise. His film clip premieres would be a big deal, remember here in Australia Molly Meldrum would premiere them in a primetime slot. His 13-minute film clip ‘Thriller’ really changed the film clip game.
AM: Yeah, definitely. ‘Thriller’ is pretty wild. Back then and still to some degree now, people had huge budgets for film clips. It was such a new thing as well, there was such a burst of creativity in the medium. So much money was getting pumped into it and people were coming up with some really cool stuff. It’s pretty easy to go back to that stuff and reference it and think about it.
I read an interview with music video director Hype Williams (who did Tupac’s ‘California Love’ and videos with Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, Jay-Z, Outkast, Missy Elliott and more), he was talking about his career and said that in one year of his career he made forty-four videos and how it was such a golden time with big budgets in the hip-hop world.
AM: Yeah, that stuff was definitely playing a lot around the time I had Channel V and that stuff. In my early teens that stuff would be on all the time!
The other night I saw Outkast’s ‘B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)’ it’s so wild, visually; everything about it is nuts. It’s crazy cool looking back at it.
Yeah. The director had the edit shipped to India for individual painting of each frame, which gave it that psychedelic look.
AM: It’s just amazing!
How do you see music videos? What is their function in your eyes?
AM: The obvious thing is that they’re a promotional tool. It’s a weird time for music videos because there seems to be that bands have less and less budget but it’s still a promotional tool. If you can make it interesting enough, it’s another way into the artist you can grasp on to. Initially the music video may draw you in more than the song but you keep watching it and you might end up liking the artist more. It’s definitely happened for me. It’s a good accompaniment for the song.
It’s a similar thing with artwork, vinyl, albums—I really like having a visual. If you like the music, it’s nice to be a part of it and create a visual for how you interpret that music itself.
How do you first approach a song when you’re going to make a video for it?
AM: Usually artists will send me the song or a few songs and ask, what do you think? Which do you like? Most of the time they let me do whatever, which is a nice freedom to have. I don’t mind a little bit of direction as well. Usually they’ll send me the song, I’ll listen to it a bunch and whatever it evokes emotionally or visually, I’ll pretty much run with that initial thought. Certain sounds and instruments will remind me of other music or clips from the past and I’ll loosely get a vibe or style from that and go from there. I like when songs have different musical elements and changes, the verse and the chorus are really different or at the end of the song the song will just change completely. It gives you a nice chance to have a completely different visual go along with it. Half the time I end up doing practical stop motion things. Every time I finish a video, I’m like, I really have to not do that again because it’s so time consuming, it is fun though! I always think the next time I should do something I can finish real quick, like live action. I can do that in two weeks and not have to go through the roller coaster ride of being really excited and then thinking, what have I got myself into? Getting excited again. Then getting worried. It’s up and down until it’s done, then I can’t believe I actually finished that!
I noticed in a lot of your work you have the stop motion animation-style and then you also have a collage-style in there too. Where does the collage aspect come from?
AM: I reckon it must be something of growing up and the children’s television that had that style back in the day, and early music videos. I don’t’ feel like I’m technically that savvy when it comes to computers; doing the stop motion seems like a really obvious choice to me, you have something sitting there, you take a photo and then move it and keep doing that until it’s animated and alive. I thought, I can do that. It may seem like a long painful process but it’s doable. It’s an easy process that makes sense in my head. It’s probably a reaction to not feeling technically savvy with software. I use it a lot and I’m probably more adept at using it and animation techniques and computers now then when I started doing stop motion. I think there’s a lot of charm in it though and that’s why I keep going back to it. I like when things aren’t quite perfect, that’s where all the charm lies; things being off, things being handmade, things being human-made, errors, jumps and flickers—that’s where all the magic lies. I always make it feel like I’m doing something new and different, even if it might seem minor in the end product; little steps forward so I feel like I’m evolving. I need to keep things interesting for myself.
Did you have any formal training or education in visual arts or film?
AM: I went to RMIT and did a two-year course of film and television, that was in 2009 when I first moved to Melbourne. Before that, in high school I did stop motion for my Year 12 project, it was all claymation stuff. I would have learnt stuff at RMIT, perhaps more how to use [Adobe] After Effects and programs like that. At the same time, I think what I initially learnt was through trial and error and skate videos. I would have made four or five skate videos with my friends, filming and editing it. And using my dad’s 8mm camera and learning to use that as well. A lot of learning has been through just trying to make stuff. It’s hard to say though, because when I went to RMIT I had just moved to Melbourne, and I was like, oh I live in Melbourne now and I’m out of my parents’ house so I can do whatever I want! I don’t have to go to school if I don’t want to. I definitely learnt stuff at RMIT but most stuff I’ve learnt on my own.
A few years ago, I went back to study. I did a three-year Bachelor of Photography at Photography Studies College in Melbourne. I work in video production (corporate videos and market reports) that pays the bills and video clips I just do in my own time. Working in corporate video production got a bit dry and boring, my partner at the time went and studied photography; I saw what she was doing and heard about the teachers. It made me really want to go back and study photography. Even more so just for myself, not as a move to start a business in photography or anything like that. I thought it would be great to go back and learn as a mature student; I was twenty-seven at the time. It got me thinking of the history of photography, images and what they mean and represent, the eras they’re from, what they’re saying politically, as a response to what was happening in that time. That stuff made me think differently about visuals. Beforehand it was more about what looks cool and interesting and compliments the sound. It gave me more of an appreciation of the thought process behind what images I’m using and how they might communicate ideas.
I’ve always been a more learning through doing person as well. I think doing things that way helps you to develop your own style. Often when people go study, they lose that creative spark or that uniqueness in their work, it gets learned out of them and people start making stuff that’s all the same. Coming from punk and skateboarding, that world is very DIY. With all the art for Gimmie, that’s all handmade inspired by my background in making zines and love of punk art. If you look closely at some of the art you can see the corner of my art desk in the image or some imperfection. I like that you can see it’s physical as opposed to digital, it’s handmade.
AM: It’s great how you can see the edge of the frame in your art. There’s an energy to it, an immediacy you can see in the work, which is something that I respond to. That immediacy is something that I try to create in my own work.
I think that’s partly why I resonate with your work; I can totally feel that in your work. I think if you spend too long on something it can feel tortured and it becomes overworked. Not always, but often. The life gets sucked out of it.
AM: Yeah, for sure. That initial energy and spark is what attracts me to things. In doing something like stop motion, it’s such a long process, initially I’ll be excited about it but after a few days and you have a couple of seconds worth of video, that energy is so hard to sustain for months or weeks to finish the video. That’s the only struggle when applying that to something as tedious as stop motion, keeping that initial spark and energy.
I can definitely see that. Have you seen the stop motion work of Bruce Bickford who did a lot of the Frank Zappa videos?
AM: Yeah, yeah. He’s the best! His stuff is amazing.
Your clips reminded me of his work.
AM: I’ve done some work with Sean McAnulty, my friend who is also from Warrnambool, we discovered Bickford eight or nine years ago. That first ORB video that we did that was all Claymation, it’s very Bickford inspired. I love the outsider weirdo people that are just doing their own thing. Bickford seemed to be working constantly doing his own stuff, if it wasn’t for Frank Zappa exposing him to heaps more people, he probably would have still just been doing his own weirdo stuff in his garage. People like him are so amazing and influential.
That’s my favourite kind of people, the true originals that create art for art’s sake, because they have to, it’s like breathing for them.
AM: It’s important that if you get an idea that you should just go with it and not think too much about it.
Is there anything that you do to stretch the resources that you have to make something look better than what’s available to you?
AM: Everything I do is on a budget, a pretty shoe stringy budget. I think that’s why I like the collage style, it’s so easy to get magazines or go to op shops and get old books and use images from those—it’s cheap, visually effective and interesting. It can be fun to do more animation with my hand drawn cartoons, but I feel like it’s not necessarily my strong point. Using found images is a way around that to create something visually strong and easy. There was a weird magazine that I found in an op shop, a World’s Fair magazine from the early-90s, it had what they thought at the time futuristic-looking things; a lot of that stuff made it into the Gizzard clip. That mag cost me 80 cents and I turned it into this whole other thing.
There’s a real art in doing that. College art has become quite popular, I find a lot of collage artists cut things out and slap them together. The artists I enjoy make something new, make a statement, have a lot of thought behind what they’re doing, there’s layers of meaning.
AM: Yeah. It’s fun to take that stuff and mix it with footage of the bands. You can completely create a new world or fantasy worlds, which I think is really interesting just the juxtaposition between images, maybe something from the 50s against future technologies or really banal stuff. I like working like that. You move the images around and as you see things beside other things, you’ll see new things or a connection between things that you wouldn’t have ever thought of otherwise; that can form other ideas in the video. It’s a fun, open way of working; it keeps it loose and interesting.
Are you inspired by the Dada artists?
AM: I haven’t really delved into the Dada movement much; I have been meaning to. I went and saw an exhibition at NVG [National Gallery of Victoria] a few years ago and there was a small section of the Dada movement and I was really interested in the stuff they were creating, it resonated with me. I feel like I’ll definitely get a lot of inspiration from it.
What’s a video you really enjoyed working on or that was challenging for you?
AM: I feel like they’re all challenging in different ways. Every time I finish filming a video, I feel like I don’t have anything else to give, in terms of that being everything I was interested in at the time and I can’t even imagine what I would do for another video. Getting excited about something will be all the spark I need to get started on the next thing though.
I really loved the Parsnip ‘Rip It Off’ clip you made.
AM: Oh yeah? Cool.
It’s pretty magical!
AM: That was fun! It was the quickest video I’ve made in terms of turn around. We shot in a day pretty much. I went to Geelong and they had some spots, we went first thing in the morning. It was so nice to shoot live action with natural light. When I finished doing it I thought, I need to do more videos like that. It’s almost like making skate videos back in the day where you can film some tricks and it’s ready to go as soon as you edit it.
The U-Bahn ‘Beta Boyz’ film clip is really fun too.
AM: Yeah. I kind of forget all the clips I do [laughs], especially with the last year being so weird with lockdown. I really like the last ORB video; ‘I Want What I Want’ was fun to make.
How amazing is that song?!
AM: Yeah. They wanted me to do a different song before that one, then they released the song and I feel like it’s not as fun to do a clip for a song that’s already released. It’s more exciting for me if people see the song with the video; it gives it more punch. Everything is usually fun and stressful at the same time.
The new Gizzard clip [O.N.E.], being locked down at the time, it felt stressful but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. It’s got a big audience, so it’s nice that people get to see stuff.
What did you stress over?
AM: If it’s going to look good! [Laughs]. Is it going to work? Will the band think it’s good? There’s always that concern that they might think it just sucks! Because the process is working in slow motion, your brain has so much time to think, oh, this is good or this is so shit; how am I going to make this work? It’s a blessing working at such a slow process in terms of stop motion that if something doesn’t feel like it’s going right it might be a 24th of a second and then by the end of that second, you’ve corrected something that you didn’t really like and no one will ever notice; that’s a nice thing about stop motion, you can change something that isn’t going the way you like it.
How long did the new Gizzard clip take you?
AM: [Laughs]. A few months during lockdown, I definitely spent full days working on it.
Do you move on from things quickly that aren’t working out in the creative process?
AM: I usually get hung up on it. Most of the time because I spent so much time on it, I find a way to rescue it or still use it but recycle it and use it in a different way; I’ll cover it up a bit or use it with something else, layering it. Nothing kind of ever gets disregarded. Pretty much every mistake has made it in. I mask or change it, make it sit a different way or in a different part of the clip. If it was terrible though, I’d just face it and bin it.
What are you working on at the moment?
AM: I’m finishing up a Murlocs video in the next couple of days. It’s live action-based with a tiny bit of animation. Maybe a Pipe-Eye video. I’ve just started talking to him [Cook Craig] about it. I really like his stuff, it’s strange and interesting and lends itself to interesting visuals. He sent me the album the other week. He was like, “Any ideas?” There’s one song I really love and I sent him back a few ideas and he said he was thinking along the same lines too. Working with people like that and being on the same page makes it super exciting! I have to see what happens schedule-wise. After last year I wanted to hang out with people more and be more social again now that we can… but then you get ideas and you’re like, I really want to do this! Then you start doing stuff and you can’t go see anyone, you get obsessed with making it as good as you can. You want to get it to a standard where you can put it out into the world and not be embarrassed by it.
Last year was definitely a time to revaluate and think about how you can use that time. If anything, it gave me more time just to do what I was doing anyway, but not having to go to the office and do my more commercial stuff. Working in that commercial side of things, I think my video clip work is a reaction to that side of things; I want to get as far away from that world as I can. It’s nice after doing something boring and corporate at work to come home and do something that’s totally opposite; to take the banality of that work and add humour into my own work, to process and channel it and make it interesting. Does that make sense?
Yeah, for sure. My whole life I’ve pretty much had a day job and then done all the creative stuff for love in my own time. There are times when I have done creative stuff, like writing, as a job and I ended up hating it, it wasn’t fun anymore.
AM: It’s a funny thing trying to find the balance between worlds. It can keep you on your toes. Having that job that’s a drag can push you to pursue what you want in your own time and be more creative.
I always find myself at my day job thinking about what I’m going to make when I get home. At work my brain goes on autopilot sometimes and my creative mind is constantly going. When I get home, I’ll work late into the night or get up super early before work and do stuff because I’m so excited.
AM: Oh yeah! Totally. The only thing is hoping that your body doesn’t get too weary in the day that it can keep up with your brain’s excitement.
I get that!
AM: Yeah, it’s hard. Sometimes when I get home it’s like, I’m just going to chill out for five minutes and when I do that my body is like, this is good and you just take it easy. You have to keep chugging along and making it work.
Is there anyone you’d like to make a clip with?
AM: Yeah! It’d be cool to work with Cate Le Bon, Total Control, or Weyes Blood. I was excited to work with my friend Sean on a White Fence clip a couple of years ago, because White Fence, and Tim Presley as an artist, is a favourite. I’d love to keep branching out into different scenes and different genres. As long as it keeps feeling new and gives me a chance to try out different styles. It’s cool to work with new people.
Naarm/Melbourne-based femme 4-piece Gutter Girls began in a sharehouse. They had no musical background but saw many of their friends playing in local bands and decided to start a band and join the fun! Gimmie interviewed guitarist-vocalist Iso about their most recent single ‘Skin 2 Sin’ which was mixed and mastered by Iso’s housemate Michael Ellis from Kosmetika.
What’s an average day look like for you right now?
ISO: The Gutter Girls are all still working from home, listening to our friends and idols host or play on community radio and daydreaming about what’s for dinner.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Do you have any hobbies?
I: We collectively love to watch trash TV, spend more time at band practise eating than rocking and finding fun places to swim!
How did you first get into punk rock?
I: Thanks to my oldies for playing the gold hits like Skyhooks, Susie Q, AC/DC and Divinyls. Then sprinkle a little teenage angst into the mix with some Green Day, No Doubt and Nirvana and a big thanks to The O.C. soundtracks from 2003-2007-ish—best punk rock era ever.
What was the first local show you went to?
I: I can’t remember the first one ever, but an early iconic show was when Crepes played at the Tote and covered Mental As Anything’s ‘Nips are Getting Bigger’. Afterwards my now-great-friend-but-then-acquaintance and I played pool with strangers, who were annihilating us until we made the return of the century and came out on top. It was all very worth getting locked out of my house in my pyjamas at 3PM the next day for leaving my hangover nest to get Maccas.
Who or what first inspired you to make your own music?
I: Lots of our friends were playing and we wanted to join the fun! We’d go to local shows regularly and always wanted to be in a band but didn’t think we could without any knowledge of how to play instruments. Seeing more and more female identifying people front bands really inspired us and gave us the confidence to give it a go ourselves. Turns out YouTube and practising helps a lot!!
What inspired Gutter Girls to get together?
I: We were all on the same page of being excited and motivated to start a band and learn how to play from scratch all together. We didn’t know each other well in the beginning, but we were attending all the same shows and shared the same love for music which made it pretty easy to get things moving. Our first few practices were spent learning Joan Jett covers and it wasn’t much longer before we had our first gig locked in.
Last year Gutter Girls released songs ‘The Bullet’ and ‘Skin 2 Sin’ and the previous year before an EP and back in 2018 your demo; will we be seeing a full-length this year? What’s been influencing your songwriting lately?
I: We are easing back into Gutter Girls post-lockdown quite slowly, with all members in other local Melbourne bands now as well (such as Carpet Burn, Dragnet, Blonde Revolver). We definitely plan to write and release throughout the year but haven’t decided what the final product will look like at this stage. After being apart for so much of 2020 we’re mostly excited for the writing and developing process which we always have a lot of fun with.
What’s one of your all-time favourite songs written by someone else?
I: ‘Live it Up’ by Mental as Anything—cos life is a dancefloor and we should live it up.
A lot of time was spent in lockdown last year; what’s something you’ve discover about the neighbourhood where you live since you’ve been back out and about in the world?
I: I’m very lucky to be living in walking distance to lots of Melbourne’s beautiful parks, a few favourites being Murchison Square in Carlton and Methven Park in Brunswick East. I hadn’t spent much time in either parks prior to lockdown so it was nice having the opportunity to discover those local gems.
You played your first show of the year in January with Eggy; do you have any pre or after show rituals?
I: Nervously drink vodka sodas before we play and then happily drink vodka sodas after we play. The rush after playing is always worth it though, and it’s a nice reminder you’re alive when you’re a bit nervy before something.
How do you feel when performing?
I: I don’t think I could tell you honestly because all that is going through my head is ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR or trying to remember silly lyrics from a few years ago. It’s a lot of fun though, especially glancing around to a familiar face in the crowd or one of the Gutter Girls’ giving off a big grin.
What are you most looking forward to this year both band-related and personally?
I: Making up for a lot of lost-to-2020 time with the Gutter Girls and friends whether that’s making new music, dancing to other people’s or watching Coyote Ugly on repeat.