The latest installment of tunes handpicked for your listening pleasure by the Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie Zine team.
A perfect soundtrack for our time of upheaval, Girls In Synthesis, present a fresh approach to noise-punk, going well beyond, with their long-anticipated debut album Now Here’s An Echo From Your Future. Emotionally intense, urgent, relentlessly questioning, thoughtful, self-aware and highly conscious observers of the world around them, GIS put everything they’ve got into this quintessential album of 2020! Gimmie caught up with bassist-vocalist, John Linger.
Why is it important to you to make music?
JOHN LINGER: Partly because it is an outlet that enables us to direct our aggression and focus into our music and lyrics. Maybe it’s just our chosen form of self-expression…? On the surface of it, it isn’t important that we create music at all. For most, music is purely a form of entertainment, but when you connect with an audience who feel they identify with what you’re putting across, it validates your reasons for projecting your emotions and feelings through music.
How did you first discover music?
JL: My dad was very much into music, so I had that around me growing up. He’s not a musician, but he loves music, and took me to see lots of groups during the early-mid 1990s, despite only being about 12/13 years old. They were really important events for me, I remember them like they happened yesterday. The buzz of waiting for a gig to start was incredible.
Nirvana were probably the first band of my generation to speak to me in the early 1990s, then Blur, then a huge amount of obscure 1960s music and 1970s post-punk. It’s led on from there, really. I’ve never stopped discovering music. I think that’s the same for the three of us, it’s a never ending journey.
When you formed Girls In Synthesis I read that the band wanted the music to “be intense because life is intense” and that The Fall were a foundation in the formation of GIS – the attitude and work ethic more so than the sound; can you tell us a little bit more about these ideas?
JL: The Fall made it clear that a strong work ethic was important, and that dedication to the cause is paramount. The days of sitting around waiting for a record deal to drop through the letterbox are well over, and you can’t wait for other people to start the wheels in motion for you. We work fucking hard, if you can’t do that for yourself and think pissing about in rehearsal rooms and playing a show every 6 months is acceptable, then try another outlet.
The Fall were, alongside Swell Maps, Crass, disco, dub etc, a foundational pillar that spurred us on, but I don’t think we really sound like any of those groups. They’ve all been chewed up and spat out as part of the sound and identity that is GIS. That’s the key to having influences, you have to draw out what you like and absorb it into the fabric of your life. Otherwise, you’re just copying someone.
I know that you had a very strong vision for how you wanted GIS to be, an aspect of that was knowing you wanted a female drummer, which you found in Nicole Pinto; why did you specifically want a female drummer?
JL: I’m not sure, really. We didn’t question it, it was just something that felt right. It’s important to use your instinct and we do a lot, it’s rarely wrong. We also wanted to have a different input and to offset some of the masculine edge to the sort of music we play. All in all, I guess it wasn’t really as important as it seemed, as Nicole was the right drummer for us, the first that we tried out, so it fell in our laps.
We love your new album! What is the story behind the title, Now Here’s An Echo From Your Future? It’s a line from your song “They’re Not Listening”, right?
JL: It is, yeah. I think the phrase has a context in the song, which is about the government’s disregard for the general public and also the inability to learn from previous mistakes. In a wider term, and as a title for the album, I guess it could apply to our music which is informed by the past, but sounds nothing like anyone else, really. It’s also about our tendency to repeat the same mistakes in our lives, as people. Aside from that, it just scans amazingly.
How do you feel the album cover represents the title? Where was the photo taken?
JL: The photo was taken just after New Year in January by our photographer Bea Dewhurst. Jim [Cubitt] works on most of the photographic ideas with her, and we knew we wanted a wide shot that we could wrap around the front and back of the LP cover.
It pans across the whole of the Thames at Surrey Quays, so you see the both the North and South bank of London. The fact that its London doesn’t have any great significance, we just knew we wanted an external shot that was visually arresting, and not reliant on a bloody band photo or some abstract pattern.
I think it links in with the title really well, but that was quite circumstantial. On the right of the shot, you’ve got ‘the future’, with the new office buildings and skyscrapers. On the left, you’ve got the older, 1970s/1980s housing and flats. So the bulldozers haven’t quite got to those yet. Most of central London is being decimated of any history and culture, and becoming another faceless city of glass and shops.
Overall, again, the photo is just amazing. There’s that to consider, too.
You wrote the songs for the album over the course of about three to four months; what was happening in your life or what were you observing happening in the world that inspired your writing? I feel like this album feels more introspective than your EPs.
JL: Yeah, I think it is more introspective. I think when you form a band, you’re full of the wrongs and rights of the world, and that energy that you’re an amorphous machine that can tackle anything head on. But when everything ramps up, and you’re playing live more, there’s more people coming to shows, there’s more expectation…. well, I think that can cause some internalisation.
I wouldn’t say our lives changed hugely over that period, not more than anyone else in the world, but I guess it’s us taking the task to hand a bit more seriously, maybe? Realising that the scope has to widen a little to stay fresh and appropriate. Having said that, there are still some songs that are tackling politics and external issues, so I’d say there’s a nice balance.
You released zines of your collected lyrics and poems called Beyond The Noise; how did this come into being? Why was it important for you to get your lyrics down on paper? Do you feel they sometimes get lost in the noise of the music?
JL: I think sometimes, yes. Also, I’ve got quite a slurred, Thames estury-esque accent at times, so maybe it’s tricky for people to latch on to? I think my diction is clear as a bell, though! Haha. I think the meld of mine and Jim’s voices work so well, so we tend to double up on choruses and parts where we want to hammer the point home. I quite like the lyrics being a bit hard to work out, though. It gets people’s brains working. Everything shouldn’t just be on a plate, you need to put some effort in to stick with it.
We started creating the books early on, though, as we just felt that the aesthetic of them is another part of the puzzle, and it also enabled us to maybe put lyrics and prose out there that didn’t make it into songs. People really seemed to enjoy them, in fact we’ve printed a compendium of them, including the full lyrics of the album, and they look amazing.
Who are the lyricists that you admire? What is it about their words, approach or technique that resonates?
JL: I think Mark E Smith is essentially an unparalleled lyricist, there’s a lot of absurdism and word play in the best of his lyrics, but also lightning-bolt clear realism at times. Lots of room for interpretation, I think, too. I really enjoy the sheer amount of words fit into Crass songs, if not always what they’re saying. Ian Dury’s humour, and again, word play…
On the whole, though, I can’t enjoy lyrics without enjoying the music, too. Probably why I can’t stand Dylan. They go hand in hand for me. I mean, the following is as fucking poetic and important as any cerebral, intellectual nonsense, and set to the music it’s hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff:
When you feel lost and about to give up / ‘Cause your best just ain’t good enough / And you feel the world has grown cold / And you’re drifting out all on your own / And you need a hand to hold: Darling, reach out
The Four Tops – “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”
Could you talk a little of your own writing process?
JL: For me, I write at home and I complete demos up to about 80% of being finished, then we add our own elements in the rehearsal room. Ideas might stem from lyrics, or I’ll sit down and try to write music in some form or another. Jim works similarly, although more often he sparks off really exciting ideas which we then complete as a duo.
We don’t write very consistently, but I would say we write 25-30 songs a year, that then gets whittled down for releases. Sometimes the tunes that didn’t make it will be used for something, often not, though. We’re not precious, if something doesn’t work, we discard it. We’re not a ‘jamming’ band, we don’t wait for months and months for something to develop. If it’s not happening in the first 10-15 minutes, we get rid.
There’s a few surprises on your new album; which is your favourite? What influenced it?
JL: I love “Human Frailty” the most. It’s a really, really fucking strange song. And not even just by our standards. I mean by anyone at the moment. The horns on that are incredible, as are the strings (props to funkcutter and Stanley Bad, for those). I also really like “Tirades of Hate and Fear”, that’s a really menacing tune. It’s an amazing album closer, too.
I think broadening the scope of the album, but also making it concise and direct, was at the forefront of our minds when choosing material and getting the arrangements together. We wanted to push the envelope for ourselves a little, and also give some signposts of where we could go in future. We really achieved that, in my opinion. The horns and strings, plus the dub at the end of “Set Up To Fail” have been something nearly everyone who’s listened to the album has mentioned.
The album was recorded over four to five days; do you find it hard to capture the intensity you play the songs live in on recording? How do you capture that spirit? I know you record yourself.
JL: It is difficult. Your immediate thought would be to record live, warts and all, and thrash the living hell out of the songs. But that would kill them stone dead. Although the music is intense and quite confrontational, there’s actually a lot of subtle, but key, things going on UNDER the music. It’s getting that balance right of an aggressive performance but also leaving space for other things underneath.
We do record ourselves, up until now that’s been for time, financial and control reasons, but something will have to change soon. It’s getting too stressful now that the pressure is slightly higher, so it might mean we’ll have to add another outsider to our tiny, creative bubble… perish the thought!
You’ve described your live shows as “unique” and said that doing things the way you do – not playing on a stage and being set-up so you face each other rather than the audience – has “laid some important groundwork”; in what way? What interested you in playing this way?
JL: Really, it was to connect to an audience. We wanted to take the show to them, not drag their attention to us. There’s a good portion of old-fashioned performance and drama to it, too, but on the whole it breaks the barriers down a little and enables the audience to be part of the show. It literally has the opposite effect of the audience you’d think it would. They don’t feel uncomfortable, they loosen up and then THEY want to perform. It’s amazing, really.
What feeling do you get from playing in the crowd?
JL: Elation, anxiety, energy, a closeness I’ve never felt playing music live before… you get every feeling under the sun. There’s always a chance someone will take umbridge and thump you, but they haven’t. I think people know we’re not invading their space, we’re sharing ours with them.
Growing up in a music and art-filled household, creating is second nature to Saba Lou. If she’s not crafting garage-soul gems, she’s drawing, painting, collaging, sewing and just making the world in general a more interesting and bright place with her visual creations. Her latest work – Rat-Tribution Now – is a collaboration with her father, musician, producer, artist and label owner, King Khan. The project “deals with the nefarious origins of the goddess Kali, exposing the poverty stricken community of the Musahar people of Northern India and supernatural feminist empowerment. It is dedicated to the memory of the thousands of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls of Canada.” We spoke to Saba Lou as they were working on the project, which recently debuted as part of the Pop Kultr Festival in Berlin.
In our correspondence you mentioned that you’ve been busy; what have you been working on?
SABA LOU KHAN: Right now, I’m actually part of a large art project that is going to be shown at the Pop-Kultur festival, which was supposed to be an actual festival in late August in Berlin but, has now been reformatted to be a complete online experience. This means that our plan has changed a lot, when I say “our”, I mean my father [Arish Ahmad Khan a.k.a. King Khan] and myself. It was his idea, he wrote a story that is called The Tail of The Rat Eaters it has been changed to Rat-Tribution Now. I’m going to be illustrating it. It’s narrated by Joe Coleman, the painter. It’s a big load of work because it was supposed to be a big multi-media stop-motion animation playing in the background and paintings with the production. It was going to be a much larger production than anything we’ve ever done before. Now due to the global crisis, it’s very responsible and I’m happy we’ve changed it. That leaves me with a lot of work to do. I’m really happy to do it.
Where have you been finding creative inspiration lately?
SLK: For this specific project, it’s connected to the history of India and the lowest of the low caste, the “untouchables”, the so-called “Rat Eaters”—the Musahar people. The history of something to do with the culture that my family comes from has inspired me, just the plain facts and of course the imagery and photos of the Musahar people. I’ve been doing portraits, it’s not about specifically portraying real people; it’s a fictional story that my father wrote which is based upon several different stories, and to some extent dramatised. It’s still a personal cultural history situation, although we are not connected to this caste.
Otherwise I’m not working on any other creative things parallel to this, because it takes up a lot of time and brain space, and it’s important to me it’s done properly and with conviction.
You’ve told me that you’re an early riser; are there any rituals or things that you do in the morning to kick your day off right?
SLK: Yes, I do have very specific ways of organising my days, especially now in quarantine living with my parents. I was not planning on living here again, I sort of see myself as a guest. I was going to travel to Canada actually. My routine is that I get up really early, especially now in the summertime, between 4:00-4:30 in the morning. The first thing I do besides washing my face and brushing my teeth is to drink a lot of warm water, which is my favourite drink in general. I have endometriosis, a lot of things in my life go towards living without pain; it includes a very strict diet and very strict regulation in terms of exercise and all sorts of things concerning the body. Just drinking lots of water and taking care of bowel movement and these things, are a little bit more important in my case than someone who may not be painfully affected from skipping out on a routine like this. I do a lot of exercising and stretching. I practice Kung Fu.
There’s other things I do throughout my day that are not fixed to any time. I started playing the double bass, practising that every day. I’m still very, very beginner. I’m playing classically with a bow. At this point it’s about bow control and growing the muscle to even manoeuvre the creature.
There’s also things like, I eat at 1pm. I interval fast, I think some people call it intermittent fasting. Those kinds of things are poised throughout the day when I have something specific planned.
My sister and many of my friends have incredibly painful endometriosis, so I do understand how debilitating it can be and how important it is to find ways that work for you to manage it.
SLK: Absolutely. In my case I was so lucky to get diagnosed and get treatment so young. I didn’t have the classic endometriosis of twenty years of not being taken seriously and hospitalised-several-times experience. I don’t have a problem with sticking to these sorts of things, some would say I have insane self-discipline. Which I’m sure it has to do with not just my personality [laughs], but also growing up and encountering the very free and chaotic artist lifestyle and household I was raised in. Sometimes I have moments of realisation where I see that, wow, I am putting so much effort, subconsciously, into not having pain. It’s pretty intense sometimes to realise how much it defines your life.
What is it that interests you about making music?
SLK: From the very beginning, from my birth on, I was surrounded by a lot of music. It’s not the kind of thing that I had to discover on my own. Of course I discovered it from my family household but it was always just around; when I say always I mean in every way, not just playing in the background but also being the profession of my father, the profession of most family friends. My sister and I were always exposed to music all of the time. It is my father’s life and also my mother’s (my mother is also a seamstress and has always sewn my father’s stage costumes). My father taught me and my sister how to play instruments and sing and how to perceive music, just because it’s his trade. Of course our parents would want to pass on our family trade to us. In some other cases people grow against what their parents are doing, and they do something very different.
Music has changed a lot over our lifetime, my sister is seventeen and I’m nineteen. I enjoy classical music a lot, I’m not well-versed yet [laughs]. That’s something that was around when I was growing up, but I still learnt appreciation for melody and harmony in a non-classical sense from way before, so I can discover it with a deeply engrained education in terms of celebrating music in general and that’s really valuable.
Can you tell us a little bit about your evolution as a songwriter? I know you started really young and before writing songs you were writing poems, stories and doing creative writing.
SLK: I wouldn’t say it like that, I would say it’s the other way around. The songs that I wrote very, very early on were what I would say, outbursts of a very small child, and my father recorded it because it’s his trade. He had all the equipment around to just do it. Referring to the first album I wrote myself – everything before was co-written by my father, it was a hobby and activity of ours just to do together – I was fourteen when I first started writing those songs. It came out when I was seventeen. At the time I just had the urge – no pressure at all – to just write my own thing, to try out creating music in general on my own.
Creative writing has always been around and I’ve always written things but, it’s really become more dominant over the past few years. Although nothing is published, I’m working on a bunch of things that will eventually be published. I enjoy it very much. It’s obviously, a different way of telling stories.
What’s a song that you have written that you’re really proud of?
SLK: Those songs on the current album Novum Ovum. The last songs on the last two albums. The last song on Planet Enigma is completely different to all the other songs, I was starting to find a stranger niche. Now on the new album Novum Ovum I like the diversity of topics and the variation of vagueness in explaining these topics. “Humpback In Time” is very dear to me because it’s so far the only Star Trek song I’ve released; I have a bunch more waiting. I will eventually put out a whole Star Trek concept album! [laughs]. I love Star Trek so much.
I think Novum Ovum has a lot to do with maturing. The first album I wrote when I was thirteen or fourteen, of course it has a certain delicacy and youthfulness and innocence that you can’t create later on in life, it’s touching in that way. I don’t identify with it like that anymore and the current album is definitely more current in my state of development, of course I feel more connected to it. I am glad the first album happened though and that I have an artefact of that stage of my life.
You mentioned you’ve been working on visual art lately; I really love the daily collages you post.
SLK: I didn’t really make any collages before the first series I did, the Ballers and flowers. That came about because a friend of mine forgot a basketball magazine and left it at my house. I don’t really have anything to do with sports [laughs]. I was flipping through it and I thought the expressions of concentration and exasperation that athletes have and are captured in, are so easy to put into a different context and make it really funny also. I really enjoy making them because it’s such a different approach to creating composition as opposed to sketching and painting, stuff that I have experience in.
Is there anything that frustrates or challenges you about all the things you make?
SLK: I’ve always seen myself as an artist and I always enjoy making things but I don’t really see myself trying to make my career with art. I definitely want to go and study Botany and have a scientific career as the main focus of my future. Art is currently the main thing happening in my life but I don’t really want to shape the rest of my life around it. It could be said that it’s a challenge to define how much art takes up my life. Inspiration isn’t really a challenge because I don’t pressure myself in that way, because I’m not working as an artist, working for a living or support kids or a partner with a struggling art career. Creating the art isn’t really a challenge because I’m just free to have an idea and do it. The biggest thing is to weigh up how much time it takes up against other things and learning to be OK with that.
Why do you want to study Botany?
SLK: I would describe myself as a person that wants to discover a million things. Botany is the number one thing, for reasons I will mention in a second… I want to say some other examples like Psychology, all sorts of History, Linguistics, and just classical music. Lots of things interest me but along my entire life, Botany is one that really stands out to me. To make a decision to dedicate your career and life to something you really have to be aware and confident, not just in a you enjoy it and it fulfils you way but; what does it do to benefit the entire Earth? How can you feel about your place in society with this career?
Another example of something I was interested in – because I like doing tiny little things with my fingers – is jewellery making. It has chemistry which I really love too. I noticed very quickly, before I did any study, was that I’m not comfortable with the idea of dedicating my life to learning a trade where advancing in your trade means advancing up a ladder of decadence and money, that is only available to a few people—that really bothered me.
After school, I worked in a bakery for ten months, which I had to stop early because of my endometriosis getting really bad at that time. I remember that I didn’t want to be a Baker for the rest of my life. It also has chemistry! It’s something I felt more comfortable spending my time learning.
Botany is something that has always followed me throughout my entire life. My German grandparents I saw here, much more frequently than my Indian grandmother in Canada, have a wonderful garden and live right next to a beautiful forest. I was exposed to nature with them although I was raised in the city. I manifested an appreciation of life and an attention to detail with them. I find it really beautiful to dedicate my life to the care and study of life. Botany connects a lot of things: my scientific urge, it’s art and beauty—it all comes together really nicely. I can feel myself spending my life in it in good conscience.
Proud Yorta-Yorta man and creator Briggs does many, many things, he’s a comedy writer, best-selling children’s book author, actor and rapper. Latest project EP Always Was sees Briggs back in his wheelhouse and home, making music. He’s stepped out of the safety net of simply writing rhyme though, and taken a leap forward bringing us six joints, each unique, each representing different aspects of his personality, each speaking to the possibilities of where he’s on his way to with upcoming full-length Briggs For PM. Gimmie caught up with Briggs for a dose of inspiration and an insight into his process and passion.
You’re a writer in many capacities – lyrics, scripts, a book – when did your love of words and writing first develop?
BRIGGS: The first thing was the love of entertainment, that’s where it all started for me because I was such a consumer of TV, comedy and music. I didn’t really put it all together until much later and realised that people have to actually write these jokes [laughs].
What is it that you love about the process of creating?
B: It’s a hard thing to wrap up succinctly. I’ve always just liked making things, ever since I was a kid, making stuff was always where I was happiest. Even later on in life, over the lockdown period, I was just making food with my mates. I just like creating and making stuff in general. Like with this EP, I made it and now I’m off making something else.
It’s a pretty cool feeling getting lost in the moment when you’re creating.
B: Yeah, it is.
When did you find the calling for hip-hop?
B: Hip-hop was always the music I had the most affinity for, it was something I was drawn to since I was a kid. It was just the coolest thing there was! [laughs]. It was the simple for me. As a young man I was drawn to the absurdity and audaciousness. Everything I was drawn to was audacious and the absurd. I loved professional wrestling, heavy metal and rap music and action movies; they were the things I enjoyed most. Everything was always over the top! I think Gangster Rap really gave me that fix.
You used to have a punk band in high school before you started rapping, right?
B: Yeah, I had a punk band in the sense that I was a kid that tried to play guitar [laughs]. I think that’s every kid from the country’s right of passage at some point, playing guitar. It really was, I just wanted to be involved in music somehow, whether it was going to be radio, behind the decks, or creating—I just wanted to be involved. There wasn’t a lot of opportunities to make rap music in Shepparton where I grew up for a long time, until I was like, nah, I can do this! I’ll do this! [laughs].
You created your own opportunity!
B: Yeah! You had to.
I’ve heard that setting goals and goal accomplishment is a really big thing for you; when did you first realise the power of setting goals and following through in your life?
B: It was probably around the time of my first EP, the Homemade Bombs EP. I realised that I was essentially starting my own business, I was like, OK, I’m going to get 1,000 CDs made and I’m going to sell 1,000; I’m going to do a video clip; I’m going to do all of these things. They were all really simple things. I started ticking off each one. I wanted to tour nationally, I wanted to sell 1,000 of my CDs, and I wanted to do a video clip. Eventually I did all of those things over the course of a year of having that EP put by myself. There were boxes of CDs and I was with my mates, when we were just able to have fun and could weather the storm and sleep on the floors and do all the hard things, I’m too soft now! [laughs].
I know the feeling of staring out and doing things for yourself, I came from both the punk and hip-hop communities. It’s all very do-it-yourself.
B: They’re very similar, super similar. The difference between punk rock, hardcore and hip-hop is just the jackets! [laughs]. Everyone had buzz cuts but just different jackets on. It’s still the same, at the core of all of the good stuff, the communities of punk rock, hip hop, hardcore, metal, they’re all parallel. I was lucky because I enjoyed all of the music, I was a big fan of all of it. They’re more in tune than they’re not, I don’t think a lot of people realise that.
Same! I wanted to ask you about your philosophy of: good work is hard work; what do you mean by that?
B: It’s a mantra that I kind of spit to myself when things are tough or things are harder than normal. When you go to take the high road on some things, the high road is always the hardest road to take. Good work is hard work reminds me that you’re doing the right thing, that it’s tough now but it pays off. It works in a lot of different facets in my life, be it in the gym doing work and exercising, trying to be healthy—going the extra mile for yourself so it doesn’t suck so hard tomorrow! [laughs].
Previously you’ve mentioned self-esteem and how that’s a big issue you like to address; why is that important to you?
B: I think maybe because I don’t really remember feeling super confident as a kid. I was very performative – I was the class clown – but I was never very confident. There’s a difference there that people need to identify. You might have teachers identify how to better interact with their students; really anyone that interacts with a young person. Performative acts, being loud and boisterous, doesn’t always equal confidence, they might need a hand here or there or something. Self-esteem and tying it back to the Indigenous community because that’s where I grew up, it was extra hard to be yourself in what it felt like, a world that didn’t understand you or want you in it. Ya’know what I mean?
Yes, I really do. As an Indigenous kid, a Bla(c)k kid, growing up I didn’t think there was much different about me until I went to school and other kids, white kids, pointed out I was different. I’d get called all kinds of names.
B: It’s like, everything’s good until it’s not, right?! [laughs]. You don’t realise you’re different until people start telling you you’re different. It’s quantum physics, you change the outcome by measuring it [laughs].
What’s helped you with your confidence?
B: it’s a weird analogy but, I just got a puppy the other day. She’s great, she’s fantastic and she plays really well with me and anyone that comes around, but she was a little bit fearful in the beginning with other people and other dogs. I got her a treat ball, you keep her food in and she pushes it around and gets food out of it. When I first got it she was terrified of it, she stood there and barked at it and didn’t want to go near it. I rolled it near her, she didn’t know there were treats inside, until she did and then she went to work! She now breaks this thing open, even when it’s not meant to be broken open. When she figured out she was a problem solver, it changed her personality. She was suddenly interacting with other dogs much more openly. I feel like that was part of the thing for me, once I figured out that I could get over it and own a stage or speak my mind somewhere on stage and have a microphone and talk about my point of view, it was much easy to interact with people on a daily basis. Do you get what I mean?
Yes, I do. What’s your puppy’s name?
That’s a lovely name. I do get what you mean though, I started making my own zines, independent publications when I was 15, and once you start doing that and using your voice and you know that you can, you just keep going! I did a zine workshop once and a young boy said he didn’t know what to write and I told him he could write anything he wanted to. He replied “What I have to say doesn’t matter” and I told him it did matter; he said no one had ever told him that before and then he started writing.
B: Yeah! Once you get over that first hump, that first moment and you break the ice on it… there’s always challenges but once you learn and fail and fall down, you realise that failure is not the end and you get back up.
Your new EP is called Always Was and the image on the cover is a photo of the tattoo on your hand that says “Always Was” and I know the slogan “Always was, always will be Aboriginal land”; what does the EP title mean to you?
B: I didn’t want to call it Always Was, Always Will Be because it was only an EP [laughs]. I wanted people to understand that this wasn’t the whole story. “Always was, always will be” the slogan itself to me, was one of the very first things that I remember as a kid with protests and being present as Aboriginal People. Bringing it back to my music felt right. I didn’t want to do the whole thing because I wasn’t done yet! I thought it was a good title because it says there’s more to come because it’s only half the slogan. “Always was, always will be” is about longevity. It’s not just a thing to ring off—it is about longevity, it is about strength.
Absolutely! I feel like also with you putting out new music is that you’re back to the fundamentals of Briggs, the core of what you do.
B: Yeah, ‘cause I do a lot of different things. It’s good to be back in the house that I built, making tunes with my friends and doing the stuff that I love.
What’s your favourite lyric you’ve written on the EP?
B: [Pauses and thinks] There’s a few: nervous people make me nervous [laughs]. I like stuff like that.
Do you have a process for writing?
B: I just write to the beat that I get, especially lately, I’m trying to write more songs than just write raps. It’s mostly just write off the beat.
I’ve heard you mention that each song on the EP represents a different aspect of your personality…
B: Yeah! I should have done seven and you could have had them all! [laughs].
What’s the aspect we don’t have?
B: I don’t know, maybe gluttony isn’t on there [laughs]. You got wrath, that’s “Go To War”.
What about the song “Good Morning”?
B: That one might be pride [laughs].
I really love the lyrics of that one: When the sunshine says good morning / Good morning, I say what’s up.
B: That song is about not going to sleep. It’s like “good morning” because I haven’t been to bed. Everything I do is very tongue-in-cheek, more often than not.
I got something totally different from that song. I was thinking it’s more a positive, I’m waking up what can I do today.
B: Well that’s the beauty of music, people can interpret it any way they need it. Whatever that song means to you or whatever you take away from it it’s great! I read this thing about art: once it’s out there, it’s yours!
Yeah, it takes on a life of its own and it keeps evolving beyond the people who created it.
B: Yeah, for sure!
Recently, you were talking about the combination of singing and rapping on your joints and you said something of how it’s light and dark, yin and yang, it’s the balance and that you feel the universe is built on balance; how do you keep the balance in your life?
B: As much possible! That’s all I got [laughs]. That’s all I know.
Do you take time out to reset or do anything like meditation?
B: The closest thing I get to meditation is going to the gym. Anytime I put my phone down and I’m not working, that’s the closet thing I’ve got to meditation. I used to go to the theatre a lot and see movies. I’m terrible with that.
Last question, you’ve supported Ice Cube on his Australian tour, I know hearing his song “Today Was A Good Day” as a youth was a big deal for you; did you learn anything from spending time with him?
B: I’ve learnt things from spending time with all of my heroes. You watch how they work and it’s all about focusing on caring about the art and longevity, whether it’s with Ice Cube or Ice-T, RZA or Matt Groening.
Deniz Tek is best known as the guitarist and primary songwriter from pioneering, influential and rule-breaking Australian rock n roll band Radio Birdman. He’s packed a lot into his life thus far, not only has he lived many musical lives creating in various incarnations – TV Jones, The Visitors, Angie Pepper Band, New Race, Dodge Main, The Glass Insects, The Soul Movers and more – but he’s also saved lives as an ER doctor and ex-navy flight surgeon, and these days he’s also a coffee farmer living in Hawaii with his own blend of Kona coffee, Tekona.
Gimmie caught up with Deniz recently to chat about his latest project, album Two To One, a collaboration with long-time friend and Stooges’ guitarist James Williamson.
How’s your morning been?
DENIZ TEK: Good. Very productive so far, I got a lot of work done this morning. It’s been a good day! How about yourself?
Very good too! I think every day is a good day though, your day is what you make it.
DT: Yeah. At our age every day you wake up should be a good day, time is limited and you have to make the most of every minute you’ve got.
You’re at The Tek Farm in Hawaii at the moment?
DT: Yeah, I am.
Is that a special place for you?
DT: Yeah, my parents started it about forty years ago, when my dad retired from his job at the University of Michigan. They moved out here to Hawaii and started this farm. My wife Ann and I are out here taking care of the place, we took over running the farm. After my dad died my mother needed the help so we moved out here about three and a half or four years ago, we had been living in Australia before that. She’s now gone into a nursing home for about the last year. We’re just going to stay here and take care of the place for the time being.
That’s lovely of you both. Do you enjoy working outside, outdoors in nature?
DT: Oh yeah! Absolutely. I enjoy it so much better than working inside.
What attitude and spirit do you approach playing the guitar in?
DT: It’s just part of my life. I’ve played guitar since I was twelve years old. I’ve been in bands since high school. I approach it as part of daily life. It’s like eating, drinking, breathing. I play most days, occasionally I don’t play but typically, I’ll play every day.
Does it give you a particular kind of feeling?
DT: Yeah, time disappears for one thing, you stop being aware of the passage of time—you’re totally in the process. Time goes by and it’s very involving, it’s something I can really focus on without any effort involved. When my attention is focused on that, I don’t have any outside distractions.
Is it like a meditation for you?
DT: I suppose you could say that. I’ve tried meditating and I’ve never been very good at that because I keep thinking of too many things but, when I play guitar that’s not an issue so, I guess it is my meditation in some ways. I’ve never really thought about it like that but I think you’ve right.
I understand that having commercial success from your music has never really been a big a motivating factor for you; what are the things that motivate you to create?
DT: The creative process itself is extremely rewarding, it’s not a financial reward but, it’s more of a spiritual reward you get from that. Especially if it’s something that you create that other people can relate to or if it resonates with other people and they like it and it makes their life better in anyway or happier, it helps people forget their problems for a short time—what better reward could you ever hope for.
When you’re creating, whether it’s writing a song or painting; where do you find the most magic in the process?
DT: Whenever there is something new happening that’s going really well its magical. That can be just sitting with a guitar at home or in the recording studio or it can be at a concert. When you’re playing live to people that are throwing energy at the stage and we’re recycling that energy and giving it back to people; also doing it between ourselves in the band, band members giving energy back and forth between each other, that’s real magic—that’s transformational. It works with some higher powers that I don’t’ understand. It’s pretty amazing!
On the new album – Two To One – that you made with James Williamson from The Stooges there’s songs like “Take A Look Around” and “Climate Change” that speak to environmental issues; are these things that are important to you?
DT: Oh yeah! Yeah. These songs are not necessarily meant to be protest songs or political propaganda but they are observational. These songs were holding up a mirror and saying, this is what we’re seeing and this is what you may be seeing as well; maybe to increase awareness in certain ways.
Previously you’ve said that The Stooges album Raw Power helped shape your path as a young guitar player; in what way? What resonated?
DT: That was in 1973 when it came out. I was living in Sydney, I was a student. I was in a band called TV Jones, about a year before [Radio] Birdman started. I already had great inspiration from many other guitar players that were well-known but, I think the guitar playing on Raw Power brought a new element to it. The tone was so brutal and the playing was so aggressive and hard and I hadn’t heard anything quite like it in some time. To me it was wonderful to hear that, it was an affirmation for me that rock n roll music that is very high energy and aggressive was still alive, that The Stooges were able to do that. It was inspirational!
You’re good friends with James now and you’ve worked together before; have you ever had a fan moment with him in any way? Like, this is the guy whose guitar playing resonated with me as a youth!
DT: Yeah, you can’t push that too hard but, I enjoy it when I can get him to tell Stooges stories [laughs]; when he tells me stories that nobody else knows, it’s good to hear that stuff. I love that! That’s being a fan, to want to hear that stuff. Of course I was very curious as to how he got that guitar sound. He’s very happy to tell me about it and show me how he got this or that guitar sound. A Gibson Les Paul through a Vox AC30, cranked up loud with no effects pedals. It’s a balance of being a fan and being a partner in the work we do together AND being a friend. We hang out a fair bit together too, we play tennis and us and our wives go out to dinner together and do things like that.
Nice! Why is writing songs important to you?
DT: I don’t know. I guess it important to me because I feel like I’m contributing something and I have an impulse to create, that satisfies that for me. I have a hope that the songs I write will also benefit others, that people will hear it, like it, dance to it or it will help their day go better. That’s what I hope.
You’ve mentioned before that you’re not quite sure where songs come, that they just arrive, that you have to be tuned into their frequency in a way to find them; is there anything you do to tap into that frequency?
DT: The best thing is to just have a guitar in your hand and be playing, you don’t have to be playing anything specific, you could just be tuning it up, and just have a clear mind, not being distracted. When songs come you grab them out of the air, they come out of you or through you, and then the challenge is to remember it when it happens. You have to try and get it down right away, you write it down or record it. That’s what’s nice about our modern phones, you can record straight away. When these ideas come, if you don’t save them somehow you never remember them the next day. I suppose they float off and someone else gets them [laughs].
Maybe! [Laughter]. I love the storytelling in all of the songs on your new record. One that really stood out to me was “Small Change”.
DT: The thing about “Small Change” was James presented the music for it and a friend of his, Frank Meyers, had written words for it as well. The story for “Small Change” was suggested by Frank’s lyrics but it didn’t quite gel with me, so I took his basic idea and re-wrote it. I turned it more into a story of a woman who decides to become free and leave the small-town single mother existence that she was stuck in, that she’d go off and do something else. The story of how it would take a lot of courage to do that. Sort of like a mini-episode of a movie.
I love the lyric from it: It takes a little bit of change and a great big heart. I think a lot of people can resonate with that. Has there been moments in your life where you’ve done that yourself?
DT: I suppose leaving home when I was sixteen or seventeen years old was sort of like that. Leaving the country at eighteen and just going off overseas with nothing but a backpack and a guitar.
Do you have favourite track on the album?
D: Not really. After it was mixed I didn’t really listen to it. You work so hard on these things and put so many hours into it and you hear it over and over and over again so many times when you’re finishing the production on it that you don’t want to hear it again for a while. I’ve actually put it aside and haven’t listened to it for about a month. When it comes out on vinyl and I have a copy of it I’ll listen to it again. I like all the songs, if I didn’t like them they wouldn’t be on there, I have a different favourite every day.
Why did you decided to call the album, Two To One?
DT: It was a big struggle to find a name for the album until we found one that we could agree on and that hadn’t been used. We’d decide on a name, look it up on allmusic.com and find out there were already thirty albums with that name so, finding something that hadn’t been used before was the challenge. My wife Anne came up with it. It’s an old blues expression and it’s a lyric in a Blind Boy Fuller song from the thirties. Two To One sounds good and it’s two guys doing one thing together.
For both you and James playing guitar is expressing your emotions; is it hard when you have to work with somebody else to get your vision through to fruition?
DT: It can be! It wasn’t in this case. We pretty much agreed on everything. When we first started writing for the album there were come ideas I presented that he didn’t like and likewise, there was a couple he presented that I didn’t like. We didn’t pursue those and we tossed them out early on and focused on the things we both agreed on and both felt were good. Once we had decided on that it was straightforward.
Are you working on new songs now yourself?
DT: Yeah, I am. I’m putting together songs for a new album now. It should have been recorded already but because of the coronavirus we couldn’t travel. Basically, I have another album written and arranged and ready to go. That will be a solo album.
You’ve been working on songs with your wife?
DT: She’ll play guitar on that album as well, when we finally get around to recording it.
Is it nice to have someone so close to you to bounce creative ideas off?
DT: It is! I’ve never had that in that way before. I’ve usually been the only guitar player in the family [laughs].
As well as your music I know you love to do art as well, you paint; is painting for you similar in any way to writing a song?
DT: It’s pretty similar. I’m a much more experienced song writer and guitar player than I am a painter. I’m just getting started with painting and figuring out how to do it. It’s just as much fun. It’s one of those things like I was saying, where time just disappears.
Over the years has there been any advice you’ve gotten I regards to creativity that’s really stuck with you?
DT: Not directly but, I read something that Keith Richards said when he was asked about creativity and he said that the thing he would like to have on his grave would be the words: he passed it on. In other words, you take from your influences in music and then you add something to it of your own and then you pass it on to the next generation. If you can form a link in that chain, that’s the greatest thing that you can do. I always took that it heart. I thought it was a really cool idea and that it was something that I would like to be able to say, I also did that—I formed a link in the chain and passed it on.
I think that you have done that, many times over!
DT: [Laughs] Thanks!
What makes you really, really happy?
DT: Not thinking about happiness but just being, existing in the world and being part of it—that’s what makes me happy. The minute you try to be happy, it just all goes away! [Laughs]. Just being makes me happy!
** Coming soon on Gimmie we also have a chat with The Stooges’ guitarist James Williamson**
Sweeping Promises may just be the coolest band we’ve found so far all year! If you follow us at @gimmiegimmiegimmiezine you’ll know how much we love their debut album Hunger For A Way Out—we’ve already declared it our favourite release of 2020! Their music is raw, simple, yet spirited and absolutely thrilling. From the bouncy and urgent title track opener with its angular guitars to moody, slower tempo closer “Trust” this record is from go to whoa solid! The vocals alone are so right on that they made our editor cry. Gimmie interviewed Sweeping Promises’ bassist-vocalist Lira Mondal.
How did you and Caufield first meet? Can you tell us about your creative partnership please?
LIRA MONDAL: I met Caufield when we were both undergrads. I was in the basement practice room of the music building playing with some other music majors when I noticed this very tall lanky blond guy peeking in through the tiny window in the door. His first words to me were, “Are you in a band? Can I play in your band?” Soon after that we were writing together exclusively, and have been for over a decade now.
Our creative partnership is rooted in total trust in and respect for one another, something that only comes with having worked together for years. For instance, I used to be very guarded about writing lyrics and would absolutely destroy myself laboring over them for fear that they weren’t good enough to show anyone. But when you’re working with just one other person, there’s no room to be coy or shy. Not if you want to get anything done.
We’ve cobbled together a pretty efficient songwriting method where I’ll play something on bass and he’ll drum along, and then I’ll work out a melody to put on top, and once we’re satisfied, we’ll track it and he’ll put guitar on it while I work on words. We both offer up suggestions to one another – change the riff up here, draw out a vocal part or change some words there. It’s intensely collaborative. Not only is Caufield a hyper-talented multi-instrumentalist, but also a consummate engineer and producer. He’s mixed and mastered everything we’ve worked on, as well as a bunch of other projects. I’m extremely lucky and grateful to have him as a collaborator!
When and how did you first discover music?
LM: It was all around me, constantly. My parents immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh in the late 70s/early 80s, so I heard Lata Mangeshkar mixed in with lots of ABBA and Madonna. I listened to a lot of radio, and as an older Millennial I was one of those kids who would vigilantly post up by my boombox which was always loaded with a blank cassette tape, my finger quivering above the “record” button and ready to strike should the deejay demigods mercifully heed my song requests.
As a solitary kid who was glued to my computer, I spent countless hours trawling through Launch.com, a pre-Pandora/pre-YouTube Internet radio and music video site. Later in high school, I discovered music magazines like Tokion and Under the Radar, which really expanded my horizons. Music magazines were a big source of education and inspiration for me, and I cherished the ones that occasionally came with compilation CDs.
Speaking of compilations, another absolutely vital part of my musical upbringing came in the form of a highly influential mix CD my older brother and sister-in-law made for me when I was 12. It featured a bunch of Mazzy Star and Portishead and Björk, and it changed my life, most notably by curbing my (troubling) Red Hot Chili Peppers habit.
How did Sweeping Promises come into being?
LM: We were jamming one night in this abandoned science lab-turned-art/gallery space that Caufield miraculously had access to through his grad department; it was sometime in late 2019, and we ended up writing “Hunger For a Way Out” in about 20 minutes. It wasn’t like anything we’d written up to that point. Since it didn’t fit into any of our existing projects, we decided on the spot to create a project around that song, because we couldn’t just leave it. The next night we were in the space, we wrote “Blue” and “Out Again”, and then we just kept on writing.
I know that you also have the bands Mini Dresses, Splitting Image and Dee-Parts; what did you want to do differently in Sweeping Promises?
LM: We wanted to capture the exhilaration of writing songs in the moment, of irrepressible energy and things just barely holding together. A lot of our other projects featured very in-depth production efforts; we wanted Sweeping Promises to work fast n’ loose.
The band is from Boston, Massachusetts; what can you tell us about living there?
LM: It’s a compact city, but it’s awfully charming. We miss it already, and the neighboring cities of Somerville and Cambridge where we also lived and worked. I personally happen to love the cold, so the snow and single-digit winters suited me just fine.
As for music, it’s very expensive and increasingly becoming hostile to anyone who isn’t in the tech or finance sectors. That said, there is a passionate population of incredible musicians, artists, organizers and promoters, studio engineers, activists, and scene folks who are trying their best to unify the fractured musical landscape of the city, and we are beyond grateful to call a bunch of those people our friends. There’s formidable talent and creativity in Boston and the surrounding areas, and it’s a shame that no one seems to care or notice beyond the music community itself; with venues shuttering left and right to make way for more and more condos that no one can afford to live in (even pre-COVID), it remains to be seen what the musical landscape’s going to look like there. I have hope, but it’s looking pretty grim now.
Your debut record Hunger For A Way Out was recorded using a “single mic technique”; can you tell us a little about this technique and what made you decide to record this way? You record at home don’t you?
LM: With this project we wanted to capture the action of the space we were in, this cavernous concrete subterranean lab. Because it was so naturally reverberant, we didn’t want to have to sort through the sludgy frequency layering that would’ve occurred if we’d mic’d everything individually. And we were riding high on the spontaneity of the songwriting process and wanted to capture that. So we put our one Shure KSM32 in the middle of the space facing the drums, and then I plugged in my bass amp and had it also facing the mic, and we recorded the basic tracks that way.
There are overdubs, of course! There’s no way we could have done the whole thing live just the two of us. But most of those overdubs are all with that same Shure mic, usually keeping it in the exact same position after tracking the drums and bass. It’s on the guitar amp, it’s on my vocals (with the monitor on, so there’s quite a bit of bleed to make them crunchy and ultra-saturated).
Lyrically what kinds of things were influencing your songwriting for this record? I understand that you usually write from an immediate source of inspiration like books and movies. Was it that way this time? Or did you feel you had something to say yourself?
LM: These songs emerged out of feelings of frustration, dissatisfaction, alienation – an acknowledgment that life in late capitalism is harmful and destructive, and a summoning of strength to be defiant in the face of it. Whereas in earlier projects I would tap into some external source like a book or a film for a perspective to write from, these songs are very much my impressions and feelings at the time of writing. I was pulling from everything: my experience in the restaurant industry, the need to “hustle-ify” your creativity, self-care culture.
What do you personally get outta making songs?
LM: I love performing, which for me is the culmination of making music. Songwriting gets me there. One of the hardest parts about quarantine, which I know so many other musicians can relate to, is not being able to perform live and feel the thrill of getting up on a stage and engaging with other people in that immediate and visceral way.
I also love going back to songs we wrote or projects we did years ago, and hearing how much our sensibilities have changed. It’s like a time capsule: I’m immediately transported back in time, and I remember what the recording session was like, where I was at in my life, the mood I was trying to conjure. I cherish that aspect of songwriting – that diaristic, transportive quality.
Hunger For A Way Out’s artwork is by D.H. Strother; can you tell us a little about the symbolism?
LM: David was in complete control of the art for the album, actually! We sent him the record and told him he had free reign, and he came up with these utterly dazzling visuals. They remind me of the experimental visual music films of Mary Ellen Bute and John Whitney with their bold colors and hypnotic, kinetic lines.
I know that you’re very inspired by Ari-Up from The Slits; how did you first come to her music? Why is she an inspiration?
LM: I think it was sometime in high school; I heard “Typical Girls” and “Instant Hit” and fell in love with her vocal delivery, dripping with attitude and playfulness and killer wit. I love how free her singing was, like she was making it all up on the spot, but it’s still very focused and rhythmic and sharp. She, along with Poly Styrene, Exene Cervenka, Vanessa Briscoe Hay, and Cindy Wilson, possessed a kind of no-holds-barred expressivity and confidence that really resonated with me, and still does.
When did you first start singing? How did you feel when you first started doing it? How do you feel now?
LM: Honestly, I don’t remember! I’ve been singing pretty much all my life. I started singing in choirs when I was in grade school, and it definitely became a defining part of my nerdy persona. I loved it. I loved being part of a large group of people, weaving our individual voices together to create a rich, dynamic tapestry of harmony and unity. It’s a precious connection.
In college I studied music with a concentration in vocal performance. I remember bristling at the techniques my instructor employed, feeling extremely self-conscious about the goofy warm-ups and physical exercises meant to strengthen my breath control or develop my whistle register. After I graduated, I enthusiastically unlearned everything I was taught in an effort to bring more instinct and intuitiveness into my singing. Now that I’ve been away from classical repertoire for almost a decade, I’ve noticed a growing urge in me to sing that way again. Funny how that works.
What have you been listening to lately?
LM: Caufield showed me the new Kate NV record the other day. She’s amazing! We admire her other project Glintshake. Earlier in quarantine I came across The Techniques and fell head-over-heels for their song “Travelling Man”. I’m also a huge fan of Erika Elizabeth’s show on MRR called Futures and Pasts, which is a veritable treasure trove of obscure and insanely catchy post-punk from all over the world. Highly recommended listening! Her band Collate also rules.
Outside of doing music, I’ve read that you’re a pastry chef! What interested you about pursuing that line of work? What’s one of your favourite things to make?
LM: It began purely as a hobby/distraction from applying to graduate programs in musicology. Once I realized I was more interested in looking at recipe blogs than theories of music and meaning in Romantic art song, I figured I might as well pursue a career in baking and pastry. It’s one of the most fulfilling and pleasurable ways I can think of spending time. Every small act – measuring ingredients, mixing a batter, kneading dough – is a ritual, imbued with the tantalizing possibility that something sweet lies just within your grasp. It’s tactile and meditative, alchemical. I particularly took to chocolate and spent a glorious year as a chocolatier at a small women-owned chocolate and confectionery shop; now that we’ve moved, I’m learning how to make chocolate from bean to bar, with the goal of starting a modest savory chocolate project. Let me just say, the aroma of cocoa beans roasting in the oven is otherworldly.
How has all the uncertainty in the world due to the pandemic been affecting you?
LM: For the most part I’m able to keep my worries and anxieties at bay, but it’s hard. It’s hard to live in a country where there is no leadership, where our “president” wilfully denies the existence and severity of the pandemic and loses no sleep at night as the death toll climbs above 180,000. It’s hard to see our news cycle portray protesters of racial injustice as “violent mobs” when cops get away with shooting Black people in the back and teenagers can buy automatic assault weapons and shoot activists with impunity. It’s hard to live in a world where millions upon millions of people are living in uncertainty because they’ve lost their livelihoods to the pandemic and are desperate to make sense of a senseless situation. Making music and connecting to other people through music…that helps.
What cheers you up when you’re feeling down?
LM: Writing and recording new music with Caufield. Sharing something I cooked or baked with the people I love. An ice-cold seltzer on a hot day. Watching my sourdough starter grow. Dreaming of a future where shows and traveling and hugs are a thing again.
These days H.R. – known best as the frontman for Washington D.C. hardcore punk pioneers Bad Brains and the instigator and driving force of their Positive Mental Attitude (P.M.A.) philosophy – is really, really happy, living a life of love, overstanding, compassion and gentleness. His latest roots-reggae-rock album Give Thanks reflects a man very appreciate of life itself and has spent a lot of time “seeking within”. Gimmie caught up with H.R. to get an insight into the record.
At the end of last year you released an album called Give Thanks; what are the things in your life that you’re thankful for?
HR: I’m thankful to be alive. I’m thankful to be able to have the strength to see the Lord and see the Lord’s work; I’m just so grateful and thankful for what he has done for us. I’ve been working on this new album very hard. I’ve been waiting for it to come together for ten years! I’m so thankful that it finally came out. We put our heart and souls into it, we put our ‘Mind Powers’ into it and it came to fruition.
You can really feel that on the record, as I said it’s very joyous, it’s very beautiful. The second track on the album is called “The Lord’s Prayer” and in the body of the song you actually say The Lord’s Prayer; where did the idea for you to do this come from?
HR: I got it from my mother. She used to sing it in church. She said, “One day when I pass away you can sing it to the world.” Last year she went to her transition and I just wanted something that would be in memory of her, and something that the whole world could grasp at the same time. I said, I’m going to do our Lord’s Prayer, I’m going to do it to some rock n roll music! [laughs]. That’s how it came to be.
Thank you for sharing that with me, hearing that made me teary. We spoke in 2008 when you released your album Hey Wella and you told me that when you first started singing you started singing in the church as a child; what feeling did it give you to praise the Lord through music?
HR: It gave me the fulfillment of what God is all about, what His works is all about and what we should do in His works; what destiny He has for each one of us in our own special way.
When you write songs and create things; how do they start for you?
HR: I would like to say that God’s love, Jah love, and happiness and the joy that it brings us, is the ability to put it down with pencil and paper. Sometimes it comes to you in the night, in a vision, sometimes it comes to you in a daze, or something that you’re trying to interpret that’s close to you. It’s all through God’s love, through Rastafari’s love!
Do you find sometimes when you write songs that you learn about yourself?
HR: Oh yes! Most definitely. Yeah Mon. [Sings] You love, you know you learn, about how you live. You learn about what you want to achieve in life. You learn about the love God has for you and other people, and how you can set an example for them to learn from.
Love is a big theme that comes through in your music; having your love, your wife Lori in your life must have helped you a lot?
HR: Yes, she’s been good to me. She’s been supportive. She’s a very big and special Queen. Without her I would feel separation and a big hole in my life. I wouldn’t be able to get what I want to get. She helps me to understand and to be able to have that heartfelt thoughtfulness—I need that so much in my life. It would be such a drag to know that she didn’t exist. Through God’s love and through God’s fulfillment of what He wants us to have, she is able to be able to interpret that.
At the start of your song “Steady Is Compassion” you repeat that line: steady is compassion; what does that mean to you?
HR: It means that we should have more compassion in our lives and be warm, and able to exist in a compassionate way to people, and be steady about that. We need to maintain the preparations for it and also a strong desire to hold on, we need to be steady in compassion, before hatred and violence. You have to hold on to what you’re trying to achieve and discuss the matter faithfully and rise above what it is we want to do. Hold on and give faith a chance and give yourself a chance to manifest compassion—to have compassion for your brethren and your sistren.
Another track off Give Thanks I really love is “Seeking From Within”, there’s a lyric that goes: seek from within, knowing from without; could you tell me about that?
HR: Yes, it’s about going inside your inner being and not letting things outside yourself bother you. To be able to know, what it is you want to do from within and look in your heart and let your heart guide you. To know that things outside of your heart don’t really matter so much. It’s what you do, and what you’re trying to do within that matters.
We’ve fallen in love with romæo’s music—gorgeous shimmering electronics, lush sounds, dreamy melodies, hypnotic vocals and radio-ready hooks. Gimmie interviewed romæo to explore her world.
How did you first discover music?
ROMÆO: My parents are big music fans and always had the speakers blaring as I was growing up, so I was always singing along to a variety of artists. But the record that really made me want to be a musician was Missy Higgins’ The Sound of White. It came out when I was five and I was immediately sold – I started taking piano lessons and joined a choir.
When did you first start singing? We really love the harmonies and spoken word parts. Do you have any vocal inspirations?
R: Like I said, I was always singing along to the household high-rotation records. I still remember Sharon Jones’ Naturally and Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call back to front. I’ve struggled a lot with where I think my vocals sit and where I used to want them to be. I used to wish my voice was more powerful and mature, but as I’ve developed more confidence in my music, I’ve realised that I can do a lot with what I’ve got. My current vocal inspirations are Kacy Hill, Cecile Believe and Okay Kaya. They all deliver really vulnerable performances and aren’t trying to be anything they aren’t, and in that there is a lot of power. Their vocal melodies are also unusual and unexpected; I love when a melodic line continues further than you expect.
Your music is experimental bedroom art-pop; how did you first start making your own music?
R: I’ve been writing songs for a long time now, albeit most of them were iffy at best and a lot of them where much more indie singer-songwriter vibes. I started playing around with more electronic sounds over the last four years. I’ve always really loved pop but only really came across experimental pop in the last few years, so it’s been quite a recent thing in the grand scheme of things.
What’s your favourite instrument/piece of equipment to use right now when making your music?
R: I bought my first synth earlier this year – the Korg Minilogue XD (in white) so this has been a lot of fun, although every time I think I understand it something weird happens and I’m reminded I don’t.
So far you’ve put out a couple of releases and demos – monologue, revealed & iso demos; could you tell us a little about the progression of your work so far?
R: monologue details the period of time where I fell in love with ‘experimental pop’ and discovered my production potential. I’d always been afraid of trying to be a producer, and to be honest I still shy away from the term, but as I was working on those tracks I built up a lot of confidence. I guess I felt like I finally proved myself to myself. iso demos was thrown together in about a week right at the start of COVID-19. I’ve reconnected with the guitar after disowning it for a few years, so it was fun to combine that with my electronic production. Weirdly, I actually made revealed before any of the other stuff. I was really proud of this track and knew right away I wanted to ‘officially’ release it, so I’ve just been quietly sitting on it for about a year now.
I noticed on your bandcamp you’ve written “written/produced/mixed/mastered (lol)”; why the LOL? It sounds pretty fucking awesome to us!
R: Aaaaa you’re making be blush!!! I guess I’m just giving myself an out in case people think it doesn’t sound too good LOL. Confidence is a slow burn, but we’re getting there.
In November last year you were talking about the first EP you released and mentioned “I’m excited to finally have some faith in myself and my music, albeit unsteady and unreliable”; what changed for you to finally have faith in yourself and what you’re doing?
R: Hmm… I think what I finally realised is that what I’m making is solely my own. I think my music is exciting, its unexpected, its weird – it doesn’t sound quite like anything else. And that is what I look for when discovering new artists. So I kind of shifted my priorities and expectations. My music doesn’t have to be perfect or pristine, it just has to excite me. I still have to remind myself of that constantly though.
When you wrote song “don’t be so hard on yourself” was that a kind of note to self?
R: Oh gosh yes. That song is quite funny, because I listen to it and go ‘yikes that doesn’t sound too good’ but that is the whole point right!! I also laugh at myself for saying “don’t be so hard on yourself/be so hard on yourself”. I know I need to ease off on myself, but personal criticism is such a hard habit to break and can sometimes be valuable. This song was basically my Self pleading to my ego; pleading to be freed in a sense… for these two opposing forces I hear within me to make peace.
Your lyrics are very thoughtful and really honest; are you ever afraid to put yourself out there via your lyrics?
R: Definitely. I do have some unheard songs where I’m like ‘this could be a bit brutal’ for people who actually know me to hear lol. In terms of releasing stuff, I guess I’m conscious of coming off a bit ‘sad girl-y’ and being almost absurdly direct in my lyrics, but I don’t really know any other way. I can be very upfront in person so it is pretty natural for me. I also laugh at my own melodrama and don’t expect it to all be taken too seriously.
Has there been a song that’s been hard for you to write? Why?
R: revealed was actually really challenging to write. I wrote and recorded the first verse and then had no idea how to develop the idea / where to take it or what I even wanted from the song. I basically sat on it for a couple of months and hated everything I tried. Then finally one session, the chorus and bridge just flew out and came together almost insanely quickly. I think the best songs are the ones you can’t even remember writing; they just happen.
Musicians Paul Mac and Rainbow Chan have given you a little guidance with what you’re doing; what’s something you learnt from both of them?
R: Paul and Rainbow are so inspiring for soooo many reasons. What I admire about both of them is their versatility as both musicians and creative, artistic people. They each apply their skills to a variety of different artistic endeavours and kill it every time. Paul helped me learn how to make cool/wacky beats that are both disorienting but also keep the listener engaged. Rainbow has helped me realise how much you can do without overloading a song with different tracks and sounds. As in, we always want to over complicate and add different elements and ‘sparkles’ to a song, but you can also manipulate the same sound in so many different and weirdly wonderful ways. Sometimes less is more.
You use flowers in your artwork; what’s the idea behind that? What do they symbolise to you?
R: Flowers are the ultimate symbol of traditional femininity. Delicate and beautiful, they also allude to female genitalia. Flowers come in all different varietals, all of which are precious. I really struggle with how women in the media must brand themselves. We have to be bold and fierce, or soft and gentle. We are either sexually liberated or innocent and pacificist. But we are all these things, and none of them.
Have you been reading anything interesting, enthralling or great lately?
R: I was enthralled by Murakami’s Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage the other week. His writing is of course stunning – it is as simple or philosophical as you wish, and he hits you with the occasional deep cut. When discussing the unity of heart in relationships, Murakami notes “they are.. linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility”. That hurt.
I’ve also just started my honours thesis on music philosophy, so I’ve been reading a lot about music’s relationship to consciousness and time. Interesting, enthralling and great, it also is an absolute killer.
What’s a song that never ceases to make you happy/cheer you up when you hear it?
R: “Young Hearts Run Free” [by Candi Staton].
What are you working on next?
R: I’m gearing up to release my second ‘official’ single soon which is super exciting. I’m sitting on a number of tracks that I might throw together in a mixtape soon-ish. I’m a master procrastinator and perfectionist, but I think it will be sort of liberating to get these songs out there. It is really hard to stay creative and inspired right now, so I’ve really just been enjoying listening to music and playing around with little ideas. Who knows what’s next!
Thibault is a new indie-pop outfit from Naarm/Melbourne created by Nicole Thibault featuring contributions from Zak Olsen (ORB, Traffik Island), Rebecca Liston (Parsnip), Lachlan Denton (The Ocean Party) as well as Julian Patterson (from Nicole’s previous band, Minimum Chips). They’re getting set to release their debut album Or Not Thibault, a collection of songs straight from the heart, that are as beautiful, mysterious and eerie as the surroundings in which they recorded, near Hanging Rock; a spot made famous by the 1967 historic mystery novel by Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock. Gimmie caught up with Nicole last week to explore the writing and recording of the album.
The black and white cover image on your record Or No Thibault is really beautiful; what inspired it?
NICOLE THIBAULT: It’s Hanging Rock! You can look at it from where we recorded the album up at Mount Macedon in Victoria. James Cecil recorded it in an old school. It’s a beautiful, spooky part of the world, it’s covered in clouds half the time. I think there’s one part of the mountain that doesn’t see the sun. We had this idea, it was a group effort, of cutting out letters hiding behind rocks, just the letters poking up. We climbed up to the top and hand a play around. Jamie Wdziekonski took the photos, he came out for the day, it was a really good vibe. He did some studio photos and we all went up to Hanging Rock, none of us disappeared! [laughs]. It’s a very eerie place.
Did the environment inspire the sound of the record?
NT: Yeah. The actual studio is an 1800-1900’s school, that’s spooky enough in itself. There’s photos of all of the little children, which was eerie, but also quite beautiful. It’s surrounded by tall trees. Being away from the city is really, really nice. James has made it his own, he’s leasing it through the Council but he’s made it really homely. I stayed there at night a few times. It’s really just a nice place to be, that definitely had an influence. Time stands still somewhat, it’s a really dreamy kind of place.
You didn’t encounter any ghosts while there?
NT: I was ready for it! [laughs]. I stayed over night on my own twice, one time in a bell tent, and it was very Blair Witch! Not that I’ve seen the movie but, I’ve seen the trailers and was too scared to watch it. I was like, this is how I’m going to go, this is how I’m going to die! [laughs]. It was really fun.
James used to live in France for a little bit so he’d make us crepes and we were very, very spoiled. He makes really good coffee. It was five-star treatment for sure! It was really, really fun! It took about a year to make. I’d go out once every few weeks and James would fit me in between his other, more professional customers [laughs].
That sounds amazing! You’ve made music since the ‘90s and I know you took time off to raise a family; how did it feel coming back to music?
NT: It felt really good! I think I can’t not make music. I think I really committed myself to raise a couple of children and I was like; this is it now, this is what I do, I’m not Kim Gordon and I don’t have a team of people to look after my child while I stay up and party on to 4am. I have to become an adult and snap out of it. I separated from the father of my children and that was the best thing that ever happened to me [laughs]. Can I say that?
You sure can!
NT: I didn’t really have any family support, like grandparents or anything, so it was just 24/7 child looking after… which I’m not complaining about, but it’s good now because I have a little bit of time to myself ‘cause there’s shared parenting duties. I wish I had done it sooner!
Why did you feel it was time to create this new musical project, Thibault?
NT: I got encouragement from a friend of mine. I started playing solo, I had some songs that I had been twiddling around with. I hadn’t played live for a while but I always had fiddled around with some songs. I did a few solo shows but they weren’t great, let’s just be honest, they weren’t great. A friend of mine was like “let’s start a band; do you want some people to play with?” It went from there. I got people offering to play with me, I’m so lucky that they did!
Did you have a vision for how you wanted this project to sound?
NT: No. Am I meant to? It just kind of happened. I listen to music all day every day and I listen to the radio… it just goes in and it’s got to come out somewhere sounding like something. It sounds like what was inside me.
How did you first discover music?
NT: I was actually born in Tamworth and my mum had a piano, my sister was getting music lessons and I wasn’t really interested in it, but one day I walked up to the piano and could play the Mickey Mouse March by ear! I thought, this is fun! I started playing the trombone in high school because it was the only instrument left that no one wanted to play, it was that or nothing, so I played it. I wasn’t amazing at it but I went to university for a couple of years and studied it. I wasn’t really good at university either. I made some friends and I joined the band Clag. I met Julian Patterson at uni, he was studying architecture and then we started Minimum Chips. We all had a bit of a classical music background but we were more into My Bloody Valentine and The Cure [laughs]. I remember having a cassette of The Cure and being like, oh my god, this is amazing! We thought we were underground [laughs].
You mentioned that you went out to recorded bits and pieces of the record when you could; what about the writing for the album? Did it take a while to get this collection of songs?
NT: I think so. I didn’t sit down and go studiously, I’m going to write a song now! It was little ideas and then we were playing them live for a little bit. They had the structure, the melodies, all the parts and then taking them to James’ studio is where the magic happened; he had this array of old synthesizers and organs, a beautiful piano. We let the songs be free. We added layers upon layers. They evolved that way. I write very melodic songs, on their own they might not sound so great but when everyone came in, Zak came in with his guitar and he played a ‘60s twelve string; everyone was such great musicians. Julian Patterson played bass on the album and came up with all the melodies. Lachlan Denton played all the drums, he made all of the songs a hundred times better. It was a lot of experimenting—we thought we were The Beach Boys [laughs]. It was very free-form.
A while back there was a post on your social media and you commented: we wanted to reassure you that we recorded a fair bit of tambourine on the record.
NT: Yeah! [laughs]. Tambourine is something that you either love it or hate it. It’s always too loud but sometimes it can be amazing. It’s such a contentious instrument [laughs].I just didn’t want to be too serious. It’s hard to play, it’s so hard to make it sound in time.
One of my favourite songs on the album is “Continuer” it’s very cinematic.
NT: Yes! I’ll let you in on a little secret, it used to be called “Morricone” as in Ennio Morricone [the Italian composer known for his movie scores]. He recently passed away. I’ve always been a fan, as is probably everyone on the planet. I came up with melody and we just went to town and went hard, and didn’t want to pretend we weren’t ripping of Morricone. It’s definitely meant to be cinematic and atmospheric and inspired by one of my heroes. I’m glad you like that one. It’s hard to play live. It’s such a slow song. The recording really captured a slow and moody piece of music. It’s hard to play it in front of people, I think fast songs are easier to play. You kind of need the Philharmonic Orchestra behind you to play it [laughs]. We ended up going, nah, we’re not playing that live anymore. I’m glad it’s on the album. I got everyone to sing on it.
Is there a song on the album that was hard for you to write?
NT: Yeah, all of them! [laughs]. Sometimes I‘d be having a pretty bad day and stupid stuff would happen and I’d be like, ahhh geez! I have to drive up to Mount Macedon. I’d be trying to keep it together. I’d be singing these lyrics, which are very personal and I’d written about something specific, I’d have to go on walks and gather myself. Some of them were hard to sing and play. Because James is a friend, we’re even better friends now, he’d just be like, “Go for a walk and then come back and do it.” It’s so good that you can actually walk through a forest, it was a nice place to have lots of meltdowns! [laughs].
NT: In a good way though! I feel things and we didn’t shy away from it, let’s just put it that way. It’s all good. It’s really good to get over those… some were hard but it’s good to get over it and have done it!
Yeah. Kind of like that saying: sometimes you have to breakdown to breakthrough.
NT: Definitely! To not be afraid of mistakes too and to learn from them.
One of my favourite things about the album is your vocals, it’s really emotional; what did you do to tap into that?
NT: [Laughs] You don’t want to know! Being alive on this planet! Stuff happens to you. A person got me to sing some harmonies on their album and I couldn’t hit the high notes anymore… I think my voice has just lived. Your voice has to go through everything you do, and you can just hear it. We didn’t want to make it perfect and polished. We wanted to leave the emotion in it, I wanted it to just be from the heart.
When I first heard it, I was like, I just want to give this person a hug!
NT: A lot of my friends told me they cried when listening to it; why do you write such sad songs? I’m like, sorry! [laughs]. It’s good to cry. It’s good to have a time out, the world is not always a happy place… sometimes it is though! It’s good to feel real moments of sadness so you can appreciate the good things that happen.
Do you have a favourite piece of equipment you used for the recording?
NT: I reckon the Hammond organ, it had all these beautiful shimmery sounds. There was an old Yamaha organ and the piano James had was really beautiful. He had a few synths but I didn’t know how to play them so he played them. There was a little percussion instrument too that went “dooooiiiiig”.
The album is called Or Not Thibault; is that a play on words from Shakespeare?
NT: Yes, it is! I think Julian Patterson thought of it, it was a kind of tongue-in-cheek joke. I don’t want to take myself too seriously.
How is making music now fun and exciting for you compared to how you used to do things?
NT: I’ve just gotten over myself. I’ve run out of fucks to give. I don’t care what people think of me anymore. I believe in myself a little bit more. I’m around really supportive, positive people… I don’t think I’ve ever really experienced that [laughs]. This is nice. It’s really fun, so fun! I’m so lucky to have really beautiful, talented people playing music with me who aren’t just megalomaniacs from hell. It’s a good vibe now.
It sounds like you’re starting a whole new chapter!
NT: It is. It’s really nice to have this going on. I’m so glad we did it last year because I’m just sitting starring at walls now. I’m just like, oh my god, I’m so happy I achieved this album because I’m not very good in this pandemic, I haven’t been very inspired or productive. Some people are able to do things but I’m not one of those people…
And that’s totally OK.
NT: Yeah, you’re right. You just have to try and get through. It’s pretty bad down here. I haven’t seen anyone for so long, we can’t leave our houses. It’s pretty grim. Hopefully at the end of it everyone will appreciate everything so much more. I spend a lot of time by myself, I don’t have housemates or anything. I am getting myself some gear and teaching myself to record at home, that’s good and positive! I just have to do it.