We love duo Naja Naja from Beijing! They have no big ambitions beyond making music for fun; one of the very best reasons that often produces the most interesting and exciting music. Their music is a cool combination of motorik rhythms, post-punk, electronic bleeps and blips, indie and melody culminating in an off-kilter retro-futuristic sound. We caught up with bassist-vocalist-artist Gou Gou and guitarist-vocalist-beats programmer Yuhao on the day of their debut EP being released outside of mainland China. This is their first interview outside of China too!
It’s an exciting day, your debut self-titled EP is out in the world.
YUHAO: Yeah, I’m glad we set up today to talk. We released it in China (Bie Records) at the end of last year but for overseas Wharf Cat Records help us to release it today. We’re glad to see that now.
Currently, one of you are based in Beijing and the other is in San Francisco, right?
GOU GOU: Yeah.
Y: Previously we were both based in Beijing, I moved to San Francisco this year for work.
How did you first meet?
GG: We first met actually in another band called Last Goodbye in Beijing.
Y: There were four people in Last Goodbye but it ends up me and Gou Gou have really similar tastes, so after a few years playing together we decided to start a project with only two of us. We don’t have a big ambition, it’s just for fun for the two of us to make something fun.
That’s one of the best reasons to make music. What does the band name Naja Naja mean?
Y: Naja actually means snake. We chose this name because we think it’s adorable, it’s not about snake that’s adorable, we don’t really care about the literal meaning but how it sounds and how the characters work is also a duplication, and we like many bands with duplication like Yin Yin, Django Django and Ratatat. We think this name is cool.
You mentioned that you have similar taste in bands; what are some of the bands you both love?
GG: In the early years we listen to indie music bands more, but this years I have more appreciation for disco, like italo disco.
Y: A few years ago, we both like post-punk. There’s a band called Snapline, it’s a band in China. Lately we like some artists in the 80s or old stuff like disco and other electric genres.
What’s the music scene like in Beijing?
GG: This year many club and live houses close…
Y: Yeah, because of the pandemic.
GG: Many bands are preparing some tours in China but it can’t go on.
Naja Naja started making songs for the EP by sending tracks back and forth to each other?
Y: Yeah. Because when we started this project the pandemic had just started. We were locked in our own home and we started to do some work on our computers and we send our ideas to each other to see if we can develop something based on the other’s work. That’s how our first songs got developed. Later the pandemic becomes less severe in China and we could go to some places to do rehearsals and to polish our songs, that’s how we write those songs in those years.
What was the first song you wrote together?
GG: ‘Sunset Shopping Centre’.
That’s the instrumental track?
Y: Yeah, that one.
Do you have a favourite song on the EP?
Y: I would say ‘Running Dog, Floating Elephant’.
What’s that song about?
Y: That song is written by Gou Gou, so maybe she can talk about it.
GG: [Laughs]. The name of this one comes from Japanese art festival. The first time I met this exhibition there was a big wall with some Japanese words on the wall and a very small English version behind and I see this…
Y: There were some words put together and some of the words were ‘Running Dog, Floating Elephant’. Gou Gou thought that maybe a scene can be developed from these words because it seems interesting. She thinks they’re like a dream or is maybe a weird scene. The idea is from the words, she just think about it and developed the song.
Cool. I really love the song ‘Dong Dong’. It’s got a really fun video for it too. Where did you film it?
Y: We worked together with Bie Records for the EP. Actually it’s filmed in their office. We planned a party and we invited our friends there. We celebrated the release of the EP on that day with our friends because we did a lot of work with them. We performed a few songs where they can dance with. The music video is just to record this celebration or party.
It looks like it was so much fun!
Y: [Smiles] Yeah, yeah. I think that maybe some of the best memories for me in the last year, because we have been through such a lockdown and everyone is in their home, and we got this opportunity to be together and celebrate something that we worked together with and make it released. It’s a very good memory for me in the last year.
GG: Me too!
Did making music and art during the pandemic help you get through it?
Gou Gou, you did the art for the EP cover?
GG: Yeah. I draw the cover, I paint the cover.
Y: She made a lot of versions, different ones. She made a completely different version each day during a week. There are five to six. Finally we chose this one.
What made you chose the one you did?
Do you use instinct a lot when you’re making music?
Y: Yeah, I think so. A very large part of our music is instinct. We like to keep it very raw instead of very polished. We wanted to keep our first feeling, our raw feeling of it.
How long have you been making music for? You mentioned that you were making music before Naja Naja.
Y: Naja Naja started from 2020. Before that we wrote some things by ourselves but I think we never released what we wrote completed stuff, ideas.
GG: For me, when I am in high school I start to like indie music. At that time I would be the Hit magazine and download the music from the internet. I will listen to more to bands from other nations but not the Chinese bands, but when…
Y: [Translates from Chinese to English for Gou Gou] She has started to listen to more local indie bands since college.
For me, I think there’s a trend in China when I was in high school, there are a few years where pop-punk was very popular in China, especially American pop-punk like Sum 41 and the Offspring; that’s the first time I started to listen to different genres other than pop music. After that I started to listen to more genres and find music by myself on the internet. There was a time when I like post-punk very much and post-rock. It was a time I started a band in college.
Any challenges making your EP?
Y: What we thought would be a challenge was the recording and mixing. At that time we don’t have much money to record and find someone to mix, but later we thought ‘Let’s just try recording at home.’ We tried learning how to mix ourselves, we just did it. We found it turns out that it meets our expectations. It’s not a challenge anymore.
There is a fun fact that we buy some microphones, some of them are little expensive, we thought it should be good, but it turns out that we used those microphones to record our vocals but the sound was too clean. When we hear our demos, we think that our demos are better because they have some, a little overdrive with the sound. Later on we decide to just use the low-end device to record some of our vocals.
What is the song ‘Tunnel’ about?
Y: I think there is a person which enters this tunnel, but they could not get out from it. They go through a very long way and think they will come out the end, but actually it’s just another start of this tunnel, so you just have to loop in this tunnel and you never come out. It feels like something we think, ’Is this the end of something?’ But it actually turns out that it’s just another start.
Is that why you put the song last on the album? Because it’s the end of something but the beginning of something else.
Y: Yeah, yeah, that’s it exactly. We thought we must put this song at the end, we feel it was right to do.
GG: It is my favourite song in this EP. The first time when it come out as a demo, I think it is very special because when he ask the lyrics in this song… I just like it.
Me too! We ordered the vinyl record version.
Y & GG: Thank you!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Y: Gou Gou is a designer. I am a software engineer.
[Translates for Gou Gou] She has many interests, she likes drawing and has a lot of friends and she likes to talk to her friends a lot during her day. She mentioned that I am the exact opposite to her; that’s an introduction for myself [laughs].
What’s next for Naja Naja?
Y: We are planning for a full album. There are a couple of songs we are writing. We have already recorded some. We’re also working on a project, it’s like a connection of our music and our work, because I’m a software engineer and she’s a designer, we are working on our web art stuff so people can interact with it. We will put some of our music into it. It’s like a game with our music.
That’s so exciting! We can’t wait.
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
Y: Gou Gou says she loves the puppy on Gimmie’s instagram!
Thank you. We love puppies. Whenever we’re asked for a photo of ourselves for a press thing we always send people a photo of us with the Gimmie dog head over our heads, because we don’t want things to be about us, it’s about all of the bands and artists that we feature on the site and in our print zine. Often when people do magazines, someone is the face of it, sometimes people use it as a vehicle for themselves to be known as a somebody, for their ego, but we’re not interested in that. It’s all about the music and art.
GG: Yes. And, the puppy is adorable.
It is! Everything we do, we do on instinct, like you do too.
GG: I think it is very meaningful.
Absolutely. We do it because we love it.
GG: It’s very cool!
Y: Thank you for doing this interview. It’s the first time we do it overseas. We are very excited to have this talk with you.
Eora/Sydney 3-piece Display Homes are back with new music! The asymmetric guitars, bass grooves and dynamic drums we’ve come to love on their previous two EPs are all there brighter than ever on forthcoming debut album What If You’re Right & They’re Wrong?. It’s raw but sharp, minimalist and danceable. Their pop sensibilities make it accessible while their post-punk leanings make it exciting. We’re calling it now as one of our favourite albums of the year!
Today Gimmie are premiering first single ‘CCTV’ with accompanying video shot via CCTV at a pub vocalist Steph King once worked at. We caught up with the band for a yarn.
We’re excited that you have new music coming out. The sneak peek copy of your debut full-length album, What if you’re right & they’re wrong? has been on high rotation at Gimmie HQ! It’s one of our favourite releases we’ve heard so far this year. How long have you been working on it and how does it feel to be releasing it into the world?
GREG CLENNAR: Thanks, glad to hear you are enjoying it! We recorded the album at the end of 2020 and the songs were written over the two years prior to that, so it has been a long time coming. To finally announce the album is very exciting to say the least. The delay caused by COVID and the subsequent delay with pressing plants has drawn it out as I am sure many other bands have experienced. It’ll definitely be a relief once it’s out.
What influences have shaped Display Homes’ sound?
GC: I’m not sure if there’s been any one collective influence for our sound, even though it may come across that way. At our first ever practice, none of us had any idea of what we wanted to do, except that Darrell had already declared our name was Display Homes, which Steph and I both wholeheartedly endorsed. We didn’t even know who was going to sing, which entailed a few failed attempts on mine and Darrell’s behalf before realising that Steph was clearly the best singer in the band. As we evolved and the sound started to make more sense, I think we started to draw more on influences from bands of the 80s like Delta 5, AU Pairs, Pylon, B-52s etc, who we all love.
How has the band grown from 2019’s EP E.T.A.?
DARRELL BEVERIDGE: In 2019 we all lived together in one of the most beautiful sharehouse in Marrickville. Seriously, this place was incredible, a true Display Home inhabited by us FRAUDS. It looked like one of those places that instagram bedsheet companies use to shoot their ads and people look at them and go, “If I get these pistachio coloured sheets, maybe I can live somewhere like that!” Unfortunately the owner dogged us and kicked us out because they wanted to move back in.
In terms of progression as a band, I think we’ve just tightened a few loose screws. When we were recording the album and I was doing guitar for one of the songs, Owen the producer stormed into the room on about the 38th take of a very simple guitar part and said to me, “You keep hitting that top string, do you even use it?” I replied, “I do not.” Owen: “Then take it out!” So now I only play with 5 strings (seriously). So technically, I’ve regressed musically.
Where did the album title come from?
STEPH KING: I always find it hard to give anything a title. I couldn’t think of a title for one of the songs on the album and I asked Darrell and he named it ‘Neenish’– which was the name of his cat at the time, probably because he remembered he needed to feed her. It worked out surprisingly well as the lyrics very much matched the behaviour of a little kitty cat.
I was struggling to think of an album name and was rewatching season 1 of Fargo during lockdown. What if you’re right & they’re wrong? is the quote on the poster in the basement that Lester reads moments before he loses the plot. It just stuck with me. I asked Greg and Darrell what they thought, and they liked it, so we went with it. I think if I asked Darrell for an album name he probably would have suggested ‘Beans’ – which is the name of his current cat. But cat names can only go so far.
We’re premiering first single ‘CCTV’ as well as the video for it, which is your first music video. Tell us about the writing of ‘CCTV’.
SK: The lyrics were inspired by a game that I’d play when I was bored on long car trips using letters from number plates. Using the three letters I would add one more letter to make a word. I came up with a drum beat and brought it to practice and then Greg and Darrell added their parts. I think it was one of the quickest songs we have ever written. Over time I have found that if I bring an idea to practice that has the drums and vocals already aligned it makes it a lot easier. Playing both at the same time means they really need to work together, and if it isn’t written with that in mind, it can be a struggle to play live.
The album was recorded and mixed by Owen Penglis; what brought you to working together? What was recording like? What was one of the most fun moments for you? What was one of the most challenging?
DB: I met Owen close to 10 years ago and was actually going to record one of my old bands EP with him (we were called Sucks) but we ended up going with someone cheaper for the same reason one would drink cask wine over bottled wine. Sucks were cask-punk, Display Homes is more bottle-punk. It’s still cheap but it’s in a bottle at least.
It was all fun except for this satanic devil dog in the studio that had it in for me and wanted to fucking bite me all the time. I find recording really difficult and uncomfortable and while I enjoyed the process as a whole, actually doing my parts made me pretty self-conscious on many levels. Why am I self conscious? Why do I keep fucking these parts up? But Owen was great, he could really pull you out of your head. Just as you’d finish a song and convince yourself you had nailed it, you would look up and see Owen with a big smile and he would say, “Tune your guitar and do it again!” He really encouraged us to get the best out of the recordings.
The video was made using the CCTV cameras at the Cricketers Arm Hotel, a pub, that Steph used to work at. Steph, what were some of the best and worst bits about working there?
SK: The Crix is a very special place. It’s the best pub in Sydney! It’s like the clock stopped in 1995 and everything is the same. It was my first job when I moved to Sydney and the overwhelming sense of community with staff and locals was very welcoming. Worst bits – hmm, it’s near the SCG so maybe on game nights when rude men would buy three Jack and Cokes at a time. It always felt weird, kinda like the outside world was entering the pub for a few hours and then leaving again.
What do you remember most about the day of filming ‘CCTV’?
SK: It was an interesting music video to ‘shoot’ because there wasn’t a great deal of shooting involved. As it was all done on the CCTV cameras, we would set up in front of one of the cameras with the help of our very good friend Luke Smith who brought along some lights and his handy cam to get some additional footage. I would yell out to our friends who we coaxed into coming along with a couple of free beers “Ok everyone we are doing it now”, often without anyone hearing me, and then one of the bartenders would start the song on the speakers so that we could try and play along to keep the footage in time. We couldn’t hear a thing and every take we would finish a couple of seconds before the recording ended. The whole day was very much an experiment and even by the end of it we didn’t know what was caught on the cameras. It wasn’t until we got home that we could really try and figure out how we would put it all together.
What was it like putting together the downloaded footage for the clip?
SK: The first hurdle was downloading the footage. After we finished up for the day I was told by the pub manager that “the security camera guy is coming in the morning and last time he came he wiped all the footage from the system”. Panic mode kicked in at the thought of losing it all and involved me arriving at the pub at 7.30am the next morning and contacting several different people to get a hold of the key that opened the cupboard of the security system. I kid you not, there was about 10 seconds remaining on the last piece of footage as the camera guy was walking up the stairs at 10.30am. Then came sorting through the thousands of files of footage, which was very tedious, but also very fun at times. It was my first time editing and I obsessed over it for months – but we got there in the end and we are all really happy with it.
Which is a favourite from the album?
DB: I liked recording ‘Proof Read’. When Steph was doing the vocals, me and greg were standing in the other room looking through the window psyching her up to make her get as tough and intense as she could. Jumping up and down yelling “GO STEPH!!! FUCKING BELT IT OUT!!!!!! YESSS !!!! IT’S A HIT!!!!” Steph nails it in that song I reckon.
Album closer ‘Aufrutschen’ was on the E.T.A. cassette; how do you feel the album version has changed?
DB: Part of me didn’t want to do it, but then I remembered growing up hearing multiple versions of the same song from bands I liked – I really liked that. Like a live recording, EP version, and then an album version or whatever. I always thought there was no bad that could come from that. If people like it they’ll listen to both, if they don’t they’ll listen to neither. It’s like if you put $5 in the pokies and got $10 credit, or put nothing in there and got nothing. Everybody wins! Or no-one wins! Take your pick!
We love the album art; who did it?
SK: We actually had a completely different cover that I did on lino. We were sitting on it for a while and I just wasn’t sold on it. I am studying architecture and almost every semester I always partnered up with my friend Allyson because we worked so well together. We always managed to produce our best work at the last minute. Five minutes before a presentation we both grabbed pastels and started scribbling our building on the page. I asked her if she would mind if I used it for the album cover and she said go for it (thanks Allyson!). It reminds me of a time when my studies and hobbies were at peak productivity. Sometimes it’s crazy how much you can get done in a day.
Can you tell us a fun fact about Display Homes?
GC: When we supported Real Estate at the metro the official run sheet said ‘Display House’. As Darryl Kerrigan of The Castle says, “It’s a home not a house”.
What do you do when not making music?
SK: I think I can answer this one for all of us. We all work 9-5, enjoy swimming laps, and eating delicious charcoal chicken.
What’s next for Display Homes?
GC: The record will be out on Erste Theke Tontrager this European Summer and then we will look to play some album launch shows. We have played Melbourne and Brisbane before but we are excited to play some other cities/towns this time round. We have started writing some new music too, so maybe another album!
We’re excited that Billiam has a new 7 inch release out today 8 Hours In Billiamville. It’s a lo-fi, punky dream. The release was written and recorded in 8 hours and has all of the spontaneity, energy and pure unbridled passion that you could hope for. We chatted with Billiam to explore it’s recording and all of the other projects he has in the works—a new Disco Junk record, TOR album, new project Verminator, releases from his label (he does with friend Lachy) Under Heat, some international releases and more Billiam. You’re going to hear and see a whole lot more of Billiam this year. We’re in awe of his creativity and productivity. Go Billiam!
How are you? What’s been happening in your world?
BILLIAM: I’m doing pretty good, there’s been some ups and downs but overall I’m good. I’ve just been finishing off another album for Billiam, just trying to get a few more songs down. I’m finishing off recording the Disco Junk album too. I’ve been playing shows and just working, nothing insanely exciting, but I have a few things coming up.
How long have been making music for now?
B: The most barebones example of me making music, was when I first got my guitar and I was recording videos on my iPad of songs and saving them to a folder on my desktop. That was when I was around 2014. That eventually graduated into doing stuff with GarageBand, which is how all of the early Disco Junk stuff was done. I’d just point my iPad at an amp or the electronic drum kit and record like that. I started releasing that stuff in late-2018. I’ve been making music ever since. Next year it will be 5 years of doing it.
Awesome. Was there anything that influenced you to make your own music?
B: I’ve always liked the idea of making my own music, but I never viewed it as me having the resources to make it. I liked a lot of the bigger acts when I first started to get into music, like Green Day and Blink-182. I would make music trying to sound like them, I had no idea how to do that; I always thought it was about having a lot of money to buy resources.
In 2018, I met my best friend Lachy, who I do record label Under Heat Records with. He showed me a lot of bands. I was also discovering a lot of bands through the internet that were recording stuff and writing songs that sounded like my songs. The Living Eyes was a big one for me, and hearing artists like Daniel Johnston. Also, a lot of early lo-fi progenitors like Weird Paul. It made me think, ‘I can make that. It’s something doable.’ I studied the techniques that they used and did my own screwy version of it and made something that I was proud enough to release.
It’s not that hard to make music yourself. You can do it for very cheap. I eventually got a digital 8-track and stopped using my iPad, but I felt like I had a pretty good sound just recording off of an iPhone.
Ruben, the drummer from Disco Junk, his solo stuff for a long time was record off his phone and that sounds incredible. I would highly recommend listening to Nystagmus. Even though Ruben now hates it, I think it’s a fucking amazing album.
You could spend all day wishing you had something better or you could spend your time making the best thing you can with what you’ve got. Even if it ends up being something that you don’t want to release, at least you have it down in a medium that you could use later or rework.
I know you have a lot of different musical projects, a label and zine; what do you have on the go at the moment?
B: I’ll narrow it down to the main ones. There’s Disco Junk. I’ve been doing that the longest. We’re recording our album that will hopefully be released late this year or early next year.
I have band TOR that’s really starting to ramp up now. We’re starting to gig now and we’re going to record, which is something that I am extremely excited about. Where basically just trying to be Bis 2! Bis is the band that we worship. Bis is our everything. We’re trying to be a more new wave version of Bis. All praise be to Bis! [laughs].
I have a new band called Verminator (it’s named after a character from Over The Hedge). Two of the members are classically trained musicians and are really vocally talented, there’s an extremely talented bassist, and then there’s me and my friend Jack that try to play hardcore beats on our guitars and it forms into a somewhat cohesive mess of noise. Hopefully we’ll get some recordings out soon.
Then of course there is the Billiam project. It’s the project I’ve been able to get the furtherest with. I’ve recorded a lot of stuff for it and am doing lots of little releases that will hopefully be put out soon.
Is it easiest to get stuff happening with Billiam because it’s just you?
B: In some ways. To make something that I’m happy with though, I think it’s the hardest project to do, because I am the only person working on it and I’m way more critical of it. When I’m in a project with other people it’s way easier to seperate yourself from the music and just enjoy it. In terms of recording, producing and getting stuff out, it is the easiest because I can just do it in my front room here and I do get final say; I don’t have to deal with the rest of the crowd, crowding around me.
What type of songs do you like writing the most at the moment?
B: It’s been changing, recently I’ve been getting into writing extremely poppy stuff. I’ve been listening to a lot of power-pop or that has a poppy style like Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys and Woollen Kits. I love the strong, catchy melodies and tiptoeing between major and minor keys.
Although, I feel like I’m going to start recording stuff in a different style. I want to start writing more angler, punky stuff. Have you heard of the artist Print Head? I’ve been really inspired by his work, it’s very direct, short, fast songs with a good sense of melody to them.
It’s exciting that you have so much on the go and that you’re always trying something new.
B: If I don’t do something new or interesting I’m going to lose interest in any given musical project extremely quickly and will have to put it on pause and do something new. I like to keep a basket case of different things that I can pick up at any time, so I’m always active in music.
The new release for Billiam that’s coming out and EP called 8 Hours In Billiamville because it was written and recorded in 8 hours!
B: It wasn’t originally the concept when I made it. It’s the concept that formed when I was putting it together. Before I recorded it I hadn’t really recorded a proper song in 6 months, I’d recorded and released a few little things, but in 2021 I barely released anything. I released two new pieces of music, total. That’s standard for a most artists but not for me. I didn’t consider it to be a very productive year.
Right before I started recording, got a job doing online shopping for Coles. Having that retail boredom kicked me into this weird creative spiral. Over the course of a 3-day weekend and a total of 8 hours work I had the EP done and five other songs.
I’ve had retail, office and hospitality jobs in the past that were pretty mundane and I’d always find myself day dreaming on the job about what creative things I was going to do when I get home. Working for someone else all day not doing the things I really wanted to be doing made me value my free time and gave me a drive to use every moment not at work to do the things I love.
B: Absolutely. At my job I can spend the whole day thinking about a song or idea and then go home and immediately execute that and finish it off. Something that also helps (I hate that this helps but it does) the Coles Radio is completely unbearable at times! There’s a few songs they play on Coles Radio that when I hear them I have to walk outside when they come on because they shit me so much [laughs].
What’s one of those songs?
B: I have a playlist I can said you! [laughs]. The biggest one for me that shits me the most is ‘Jessie’s Girl’ by Rick Springfield. That song has always driven me up the fucking wall! Just, ugh. I walk out and no-one questions, I think everyone in the store has that one song that they do just walk out on; it’s an online store so you can leave whenever you want.
That’s funny. When we shop at our local Coles I noticed that they play a lot of Gwen Stefani, which I’m more than fine with. I love Gwen.
B: They play some good stuff. Gwen Stefani, hell yeah! It’s when they go into the modern country and sometimes weird Christian stuff—I just check the fuck out! [laughs].
When you recorded you mentioned it was just at your home?
B: Yeah. Over the course of last year I worked the front room into a studio space. It’s not perfect but I am able to get a sound that at the very least is good for demos, even releasable. I’m very lucky that my next-door neighbour is a drummer, he doesn’t care about the drum noise. I see him out on the street and he goes, “Oh, I see you’re getting a little bit better at the tom fills.” Which is something that I get really embarrassed about [laughs]. I’m very lucky I have a space to record in at a reasonable hour. I’m very lucky to have a very supportive family and most importantly supportive next-door neighbour.
When you record guitars do you standing up like if you were playing live or sit down?
B: It depends. 90% of the time I sit down because I’m doing it direct input and there’s no amp involved. Sometimes I have found that standing up can help, it adds pressure to what your’e doing. I do find that I’m a lot less precise when I stand up. When I’m recording I do try and showoff a little but and do guitar-filly bits that I would struggle to do standing up, so I sit down. Vocals I have to stand up to get the best out of my voice, whatever limited voice that I have.
Any challenges doing this project over 8 hours?
B: It was almost like an out-of-body experience. I didn’t even intend to make it, I just sat there on the drums and recorded some stuff and wanted to try and come up with things. The first thing I did was song ‘Prune’. It was instant. It felt like nothing was holding me back. I just went into this frenzied state.
On the final song ‘131’ I got extremely into it and completely blew out my voice. You hear that towards the end, my voice is really shrill. I felt like someone was possessing me to make this record, to finish it and just get it done. There was no time to wait. There was no time to spend mixing or trying to get a perfect tone or some idealised thing that doesn’t exist, I just needed to do it. There was no stopping. I think that ultimately was a big benefit to the record. It helped me learn a lot about how I work creatively and how I can get the best out of myself creatively.
What’s something that you learnt?
B: To not question myself in the moment and to just be ok if something doesn’t work. If I’m making something and it turns out to be crap I shouldn’t take that as an insult to myself I should take it as lesson. Why don’t I like this? What can work about this? Is there anything that I can salvage?
There was a song I did recently called ‘Barbie Doll Brains’ that I recorded but wasn’t happy with. I listened back to it and figured what parts worked and what parts didn’t. I really liked the guitar but I didn’t like the bass at all. I think the drums can sound better. It would be way better if the vocal line had a better melody to follow. I redid it and did one of the best songs I think I’ve written so far this year. It’s a song that I’m really proud of.
Is it for Billiam or a different project?
B: I reckon Billiam. I’m not sure though, songs tend to flip in and out of projects. A bunch of Billiam songs I’ve written recently I’ve found will work really well for TOR with Mary-Lou and Floyd’s vocals. You never know though, it could end up as a Disco Junk song or a new band song. It will come out eventually.
What track are you loving the most off of the new EP?
B: It changes. I go through phases of absolutely loving the EP then hating everything off it. Right now my favourites are ‘Leisure’ and ‘Lunchbreak’. They’re nice, fun, fast, direct punk songs. If you ask me tomorrow it’ll be a different song [laughs]. ‘Lunchbreak’ is a good taster for what’s on the record
Your songs are predominately written from your own experiences…
B: Yeah. I’m not good at writing about things I haven’t experienced or that aren’t right in front of me. I could never write a song about getting drunk and partying or heartbreak, because I don’t drink and I don’t’ date people. I write about what I can, that ends up usually being quite personally about mental health, stupid things things that happen in my every day life or sometimes I might write about a movie. I often write about a thing that I saw that was funny.
Are there any songs on this EP that are about mental health?
B: Definitely ‘Metal Bed’. I was very hesitant about putting that song on the 7 inch. Initially I’d written a two minute closer that was meant to be a replacement for the song that was more refined, I wasn’t happy with it though. I realised that ‘Metal Bed’ said it more succinctly and better. It’s about feeling like you can’t leave your bed and that the sheets that are on your bed are made of steel and you can’t lift them.
‘Clive’ is about mental health, but it’s more about being driven to the point of insanity by political advertising, which is pretty fucking relevant right now. I am not having a good time with the election so far. I’m super worried about this election.
They day after the last election when I probably felt at my worst, Disco Junk ended up opening for Amyl and the Sniffers at Record Paradise, which ended up being one of the best shows I’ve ever played. Hopefully this election can inspire another performance similar to that. I’m just taking it one day at a time. You can focus on trying to future proof everything but you can never predict the future.
There is so much in the world that we can’t control. We make art and put that out in the world to balance all the crap things, express what we’re feeling, to come together…
B: That’s a great way of putting it and at the very least, we’ve finally got a copy of Scomo Goes To Hawaii/While Aus Burns on vinyl, which I’ve been begging Dougal [from Dr Sure’s Unusual Practice] to make since it was first released. I fucking love that EP, it’s so good!
We’ve excited for it too! The song ‘10 Million Acres’ on it, is one of my favourite songs that Dougal has ever written. It’s a really powerful song.
B: Yeah. It’s an EP I struggle to listen to though because it was so emotionally impactful and I was doing that charity tape when the bushfires happened. I had to listen to a lot of those songs a lot when I was putting together the tape and a lot of other songs that were about the bushfires. It was a strange time mentally. It’s strange to me that it wasn’t so far away, it feels like it happened 10 years ago, but it really happened 2 years ago. I’ll just keep on making rock n roll and keep on rockin’!
What can yo tell us about ‘Lunchbreak’?
B: I’m kind of mad because of that one Hot Tubs Time Machine song about being your co-workers hedging what your lunch is, because that’s literally what my song is about! I was in the break room at work and people were literally looking at me while I was eating cereal and I was just like, ‘Fuck off!’ I was really annoyed and angry. I think I had just written down the line that I’m on my lunch break and I need some space, and the song just went from there. The song is about being judged at work for your eating habits. Hot Tubs Time Machine this is a call-out, we need to fight to see who can have the rights to this song. I’ll see you in the streets!
Great minds think alike!
B: Ok, listen, you can call me a great mind, but Marcus [Hot Tubs Time Machine] is on another planet. He’s a genius. I don’t know how he does it, but he is a philosopher that we will not appreciate the brilliance of until 10,000 years in the future. He’s like Plato or Aristotle. He’s on another playing field.
Let’s talk about some of the other songs on the EP. Tell us about ‘B Beat’.
B: [Laughs] I don’t know if that barely counts as a song. Lulu’s [Records] were posting a bit about D-Beat and I was like, ‘I’m going to try and understand D-Beat.’ I posted on my story: send me all of your D-Beat recommendations. I was going to go through the whole catalogue of best songs and figure out what this genre is. I just didn’t get it. Either it was literally the same song or it was hardcore punk. D-Beat is a good warm up for me on drums, because it gets me to work the foot pedal. I was warming up to record something and I Just recorded a 10 second drum beat, not even intending to use it for anything, but then I was like, ‘Wouldn’t this be funny if this was the song and I made a song about, I don’t get D-Beat.’ That was the only lyrics [laughs].
I feel like someone at some point will probably get mad at me for that song, just know that I don’t hate D-Beat, I just don’t get it. I’ve listened to too much Green Day to ever get D-Beat. If I ever get a Billiam band started I want to write a D-Beat song at some point and then transition that into B Beat. Open with a song that says, “I don’t get D-Beat” then immediately after into a D-Beat song.
You mentioned that ‘Leisure’ was a favourite song.
B: I was trying to write something kind of like the Screamers. I feel like it makes sense for the Screamers to write a song being angry at people for having leisure time; that sounds like a Screamers-y concept. I don’t think it sounds like the Screamers but it’s a bit synth-y and sounds weird. I do a Tomata du Plenty-style vocal.
Was there a point during the process where you had to take a break and walk away for a bit?
B: I don’t really think so. I started recording at 12 noon and stopped around six or so. I didn’t even stop for lunch. Throughout the period I was recording for it, I put my phone in the other room and submerged myself in trying to make music. I felt a compulsion to do it. Generally, I like to seperate myself from my phone and the outside world and just make something. I don’t know if I could do it again as intensely as I did with this one. I really went bang into it. I had the drive to make anything.
How cool is the artwork for it!
B: I’m really happy with the art. It’s funny how I found the artist, one night I was with Ada from The Vovos on a Zoom call talking during one of the lockdowns and we were looking at a Spotify playlist that The Vovos were on (artists can see what playlists they’ve been added to). I decided to have a look at the ones that Disco Junk have been added to and I saw this playlist with insane artwork. I was like, ‘Holy shit! This is awesome.’ I went to the dudes account and all these playlists had this insane art. I thought he was so talented. I couldn’t find any information about him, he didn’t have an instagram or Facebook; I was complexly stumped. It drove me a little insane trying to find the artist. I thought, ‘Fuck! They would be so great to get to do an EP cover.’ I ended up finding a super old instagram post that mentioned his Tumblr. I eventually found his page where he’s uploaded his comics. From there I found his twitter and then sent him a message. He was thrilled to do it!
His name is Theo Johannesson, right?
B: Yeah. He’s a fucking insanely talented artist that is really good at doing a cartoon-y style.
Do you feel the cover is reflective of how you felt during the process?
B: Oh absolutely! [laughs]. It was a perfect representation; being grabbed, smashed and attacked by a bunch of clocks and I’m flinging around an instrument like I don’t know what I’m doing.
How did you feel at the end of the process?
B: I was like, ok, next thing! I immediately recorded the next thing, which is an EP coming out on Goodbye Boozy. It was all just, let’s go, go, go, go, go! Evert from Under the Gun Records said he’d do a Billiam 7 inch. I’m so grateful.
I get so much done, I guess, because I always prefer the stuff I’m making and once something is done I get quite critical and want to make something better. I do take breaks. I haven’t done that much this week, I only recorded two songs. I do try to take breaks because I don’t ever want to burn myself out or force myself to make art. If I’m not feeling creative in a certain medium, I view that as something natural. No one is going to be making great music 100% of the time. You need to find something that inspires you or you need to take a breather and step back and look at things to be able to see where to go next. I’m just a creative little guy.
I love how in the album insert that you wrote about how you got the different sounds and what instruments you used.
B: It’s something more bands should do. I’ve seen a few do it, I was just listen to Ausmuteants’ Order Of Operation and they list the exact gear. I hope someone that gets my record and wanted to make music can see the list and realise not only is it not that hard but it’s not that expensive. The average person can afford to make really good music and you don’t have to go hunting for fancy analogue gear, you can get what you have and learn methods that can create the same sound.
I like how you mentioned the Korg sound and you are honest and like, “I don’t even know how I got this.”
B: [Laughs]. I got that Korg secondhand and it hd a bunch of things programmed into already and I thought it sounded so cool, and just used that. I have no idea who made ‘em. If someone really wants to know about the sound they’re welcomed to come to my house and look at the synth, I’m sure they could work it out. I know nothing about synths. I know the one that I have makes sound when I press it, that is it. Floyd from TOR has a proper synth that’s adjustable and you can create different sounds every time. I have no fucking clue how to do it. He’s the smart one, maybe ask Floyd, he’s the fucking genius.
In the album, insert there is also a photo of you and a dog called Moose. Who’s Moose?
B: Mid last year the dog we had, Russell, passed away. He was extremely sad. He lived a very long and good life. He was a rescue. One day I came home and my mum called to me and said, “We got a new dog! He’s a Jug. A Jack Russell x Pug. His name is Moose.” He was starring at me for a solid minute and then came up to me and started barking. That’s been our relationship ever since. I think he does love me in some aspect, but he really is ok with letting me know he doesn’t really want to interact with me. I try to pet him but he’ll just start growling. Sometimes he does come in my room and he demands that I give him my full attention for an hour. He’s a very strange and needy dog, but I love him. I wanted to give him a shoutout in the record. You got to shout out the Moose.
What music and bands have you been listening to lately?
B: I’ve been trying to expanded out my musical tastes into different areas. I’ve been listening to a lot of Harry Belafonte, a calypso artist. On the complete opposite end of the Spectrum that new Erupt 7 inch that came out on Cool Death Records, I’ve just been smashing constantly. I’ve been getting into that grimy dark sound. I absolutely adore the new Romero EP. I’ve been listening to a lot of the Woollen Kits. I’ve been listening to a lot of the Buzzcocks recently. I listened to them a lot when /I first got into punk but then put them down for a bit and now I’m able to come back and realise how much of an incredible band they are. Their albums are hit after hit after hit. They did so much innovative stuff that no other punk band at the time were doing, like incorporating krautrock and hardcore influences into a very poppy sound. It’s very relatable.
What’s been some live shows lately that you’ve been to that have be great?
B: Obviously Jerkfest was fantastic. Dragnet at Jerkfest completely blew me away. I saw Party Dozen recently and they’re one of the most insane things I’ve seen, a saxophone and a drummer, who is also controlling all the backing tracks. I saw Pinch Points a couple of days ago, I played with them, that was great. Their new album is really fantastic, they sound incredible live. Tabloid TV Darlings was another band I’ve seen recently that really impressed me; a cool 90s-style band with catchy song writing. I’m really excited to see Ada from Vovos do her solo stuff soon. I’ve helped her record some of it. It’s sort of Moody Peaches/Kimya Dawson kind of stuff. Very silly and personal. I adore it. I love Kimya Dawson so much.
Me too. I interviewed her many years ago, she’s super lovely and funny. What’s next for you?
B: There’s six Billiam releases coming out in the second half of this year. The 7 inch on Goodbye Boozy. A cassette on a few different labels Painters Tapes in the US, Dial Club in Japan and Cow Tool Records in Australia, which is a new label started by friends of mine, they have some exciting things coming. I have a Halloween release that I’m doing; it’s completely ridiculous and I’m so excited for everyone to hear it. I have a split record 7 inch with the Vovos coming up too (it may not come out until next year though because Ada is going to Europe and Vovos are taking a break). It’s already recorded though.
How many songs do you think you’ve written?
B: I’m going to say 1,500 that I’ve properly documented in some way. Recently I did a clear out of my 8-track and I’d gotten up to 500 songs in it and since then I’ve recorded another 200. I also wrote and recorded a lot of stuff before that; it was embarrassing but cute. I’ve written a lot. How much of it that I’m proud of or will ever be released is yet to be determined [laughs].
Naarm-based artist Paish’s breezy, lo-fi, bedroom pop on debut release, Pop Monsieur Vol. 1, makes the slog of modern life he writes of, seem poetic. Gimmie bring you his very first single and video.
Originally you’re from the UK; how did you come to be based in Naarm/Melbourne?
PAISH: Before Naarm/Melbourne I had lived in Leipzig in Germany for about 4 years, trying (and failing quite impressively) to complete a degree in physics. My sister has been living here for going on 10 years now so I thought I’d come over and try and make a go of things, live here for 6 months and then home. I sort of accidentally made a life for myself here and now I can’t really imagine living anywhere else. I was also really excited to get into the music scene here, and after a mere 4 years I have finally actually made some!
In your music we can hear all kinds of influences like Orange Juice and Human League; what artists or scenes informed your formative years musically?
P: I grew up in a small town in the middle of England, where there was quite literally no music or culture of any kind (although I believe it hosts the UK’s biggest motorcycle festival, does that count?) Basically everything I got into was through relentless searching through blogs and Last.FM. Being the youngest of 5 also meant I was shown a lot of stuff that was maybe a little before my time. Originally I was super into math rock (which was the only ‘scene’ close to me) and that turned into getting really into 90s midwest emo stuff (Cap’n Jazz are still one of my favourite bands of all time) but then I started getting heavy into post-punk after hearing Gang of Four’s Entertainment for the first time. Since then my music taste has only gotten worse and more embarrassing but I’m fine with that.
What made you want to pursue a creative path yourself? How did you get into making music?
P: There just wasn’t anything else to do in my town! The options were either get drunk in an underpass or get in fights outside the Tesco Express. My brother started playing guitar first and I started learning drums so we could play together (never happened). One time I was going to visit my Dad and was suffering pretty bad insomnia so I nicked my brother’s guitar and took it with me, I basically brute-forced learning guitar in a couple weeks and have been doing music on and off ever since.
How does creativity connect to self-expression for you?
P: Maybe a trite answer so sorry for that, but I think in my case music is a way for me to express myself while at the same time allowing me enough distance that I’m not overwhelmed by embarrassment. I think whenever I start making a song it’s about nothing, and by the end there’s something of myself in there that I can just about see. It also feels really good to create stuff of any kind
What initially inspired the beginning of Paish?
P: Like probably every other person in this city I have about 500 Ableton files in various states of disarray, I’ve been making stuff since I arrived in 2017 but it just never really came together. Finally in 2021 I got so frustrated with myself I self-imposed a block on making any new songs until I had my most recent ones in a finished state that COULD be shown to other people. I started with something like 30 and whittled them down as time went on. At some point I realised I’d sunk so much time into making the tracks and learning how to mix them it would be shame for them to go back into the vault, so I decided to create Paish as an outlet for them.
What’s the story behind the name?
P: My parents clearly had plans for hundreds more children, and since I was the last one I got saddled with THREE middle names. Two of them are as bland as my first and last names but one of them is Paish, which is apparently an old French word and I used to hate because it was different, but now kinda love. It seemed to make sense as a solo name, firstly because I don’t think I’d do too well calling my solo project ‘Chris Brown’ for obvious reasons, and secondly because I like how mysterious it sounds. It makes sense as a name for a project where I’ll (hopefully) be releasing quite an eclectic mix of music going forward.
IPaish is a one man project; what’s the challenges of doing everything yourself?
P: I think the main one for me is just the constant thought ‘Is this all terrible?’ When you’re in a band you have other people to bounce ideas off, and you can pretty quickly get an idea of when something you’ve made is good or awful. When you’re doing it all yourself you just kind of have to make it all and then hope intensely that you haven’t created the worst music of all time. I’ll leave that up to the listeners!
Your release is called Pop Monsieur Vol.1; can you tell us about writing this 8-song collection?
P: The basis of most of them was written in a 4 month period in 2021 after a break-up (how predictable!) The only exception I think is ‘Embarrassing 6’ which I had a very vague idea for a few years ago, though it was really so different as to not be the same song anymore. I also used the project as a tutorial on how to mix (and to a much less successful extent, master) tracks and it’s been really invaluable in that regard, I think whenever my next release after Volume 2 comes out I’ll try and do as much as I can myself. Not sure if that’s noble or narcissistic!
There’s not really a consistent theme, which is something I’d like to aim for with future releases. I think I tried to channel a bit of David Byrne in that I don’t really want to sing about love and stuff, but try and imbue some emotional power to quite mundane and absurd things.
How does it feel to be releasing your songs into the world?
P: Terrifying! I have this bizarre mental image of people laughing at me in the street, but hey, at least I’ll be famous! Honestly I’m just happy to finally have something out after so long, and who knows maybe I can get some of that sweet sweet iPhone advert money.
We’re premiering the song and clip for ‘Big Red Thing’; how did the song get started? What’s it about?
P: ’Big Red Thing’ started in lockdown, trapped inside. I’d always see the air ambulance flying overhead (an Agusta-Westland AW-139 since I’m sure people care about nerd stuff as much as me) and I guess I started to anthropomorphosise it a bit and I felt bad for it flying around helping people and all the while being unappreciated. I’m always a little wary of giving the meaning of these songs, not for any precious artist reasons, just because people always seem to come up with much better and more profound meanings than the reality!
You made the clip with Damien Kane; can you tell us about filming it? What do you remember from the day?
P: Huge thanks to my boy Damo for putting the clip together, he did a great job of working a bunch of random footage into something I actually quite like! Really my main goal was to not have a horrible time doing it, I’d rather have no video than get all bossy and annoying, so we just found some places that were aesthetically appealing and then rocked up and filmed as much random stuff as we could. The medieval reenactment thing was happening just down the road from us in Royal Park and I really just wanted an excuse to go and watch it!
We love the art for Pop Monsieur Vol.1, who did it? What were your initial impressions when you first saw it?
P: My friend Revee Bendixen! She does crazy good paintings and I really wanted her to do one for me. I had a bunch of ideas about what I wanted and she was basically like nope they suck (which they did) and then she just painted this crazy good portrait of me! It was better than I could have hoped for really, she asked to listen to the music and I think what she painted captures it very well, a decrepit lounge singer zombie with pretensions of greatness.
Are there plans to perform live?
P: Not right now, though I definitely think at some point my inherent narcissism will require me to perform on stage, for the adoration (or hate) of the crowd. Either way it’s attention! I’m currently playing in another band, The Shifters, so that’s giving me my fix of live performance without the attendant stress of being in charge of everything.
Besides doing Paish, how else do you spend your time?
P: Being an extremely boring standard guy: work full-time, occasionally make a soup, I’m pretty much the Default Male. My main interests are seasons 3 through 8 of the Simpsons, and watching 90 minute long YouTube videos about how aeroplane engines work. How depressing!
For over 15 years, Jai K Morris-Smith has played in bands in the Australian underground, including Atrocities, Circle Pit and SSRi. More recently you’ll find him in post-punk outfit Exek and as co-creator of experimental, ambient, new project Grossman / Morris-Smith (also featuring Michael Grossman of DEN).
A week or so ago, Gimmie chatted in-depth to Jai for almost two and a half hours about his creative life. It’s the first time he’s been interviewed, so we had a lot to talk about! It was such an insightful, honest and emotional chat. Jai’s personal life story, which has been quite difficult, is as much connected to this story as the music itself.
The Grossman / Morris-Smith debut release Curious Music was slated to be a solo project for Jai. Turning to what he knows best, music and creativity, after his dear sister Matika’s untimely passing. During this experience, he found himself unable to listen to punk or loud music, so he began to explore and experiment with ambient music, which has an early connection to childhood.
Michael (who owns a studio) and Jai would meet regularly for coffee to discuss recording Jai’s songs. When they got into the studio they discovered a rare kind of magic and decided to creatively collaborate on the album. Curious Music is a journey of the heart and of healing. Made entirely using only guitars, the album is intriguing and impressive. In a word it’s —transcendent.
As the chat was so comprehensive, you’ll only find part of it below; mostly about his formative years with music and the Grossman / Morris-Smith project. They’ll also be more in our next print issue and the punk book our editor is working on, which sees Jai talking about the Sydney punk scene as well as a look into creating with Exek and frankly sharing his experience with addiction, death and of the power to change. It really is inspiring stuff.
We’re so happy for you that the Grossman / Morris-Smith release Curious Music is out in the world. We’ve been listening to it a lot, it’s incredibly beautiful. It’s pretty magical-sounding.
JAI K MORRIS-SMITH: Thank you. Michael and I used the word magical a lot while we were making it. We would have these moments where we would try to introduce certain ideas while we were composing it. A lot of those ideas wouldn’t actually work, so we’d construct a different way to go through a certain segment. Basically, in a way, one of the sides, when we’d try to introduce ideas that were preconceived, the track would reject those forced ideas. We were continually working with the track, it was strange. It was possibly the most fun that I have had in a studio recording music.
I love how the tracks unfold and reveal itself to you in realtime.
JKM-S: It felt like it was writing itself, so we kept having to follow it rather than getting stuck with the ideas that we had. A lot of them were great ideas, but it just became it’s own thing and we had to work with it.
It blew my mind, because when I initially listened to it, I didn’t realise that it was made by only using guitars.
JKM-S: Yeah, yeah.
When listening to music for the first time I try not to read anything about it. I like to experience the music itself without any stories or hype colouring how I perceive it, I like to hear it for myself. I was trying to work out the instrumentation you used on it, because there’s so many cool sounds. After listening, I went and read about it and found out it was made with just guitar. That’s amazing.
JKM-S: Thank you.
Initially you were taught guitar by your dad when you were really young, right?
JKM-S: I guess. I have a photo of me in South America in 1987. My dad had guitars and played, they were always around the house. I remember I’d pick them up and he’d try to show me things. I thought it was too hard [laughs]. I’ve always been into music because of my mum and dad.
Around the age of 16, my sister came home from school and was like, “We’ve been learning guitar at school.” She showed my dad this little thing that she had learnt. I was blown away. I grabbed the guitar… I think that’s my personality, not that I’m so much an outright competitive person, but when I saw my sister playing it, it really excited me. It showed me that if she could do it, I could do it. I didn’t put it down from that point. We’d play with my dad.
At that time, I’d been skateboarding for a lot of years. Music was a huge part of watching skate videos. When watching them, I would ask my dad, ‘What’s this music?’ He’d pull out a record or a CD. To be honest, I feel really lucky and blessed that both of my parents were really open-minded people and have pretty impressive taste in music. Between my sister coming home and showing us what she learnt and my dad and mum’s music collection, to this day, what I listen to is based on those early experiences.
I’m similar. My mum and dad (who have both passed away) and my four older siblings all love music. Between them I was lucky to be exposed to all kinds of music from a very young age. My big brother was into skateboarding from the 80s and we owned a skateboard shop together in the 90s. We used to sit in the shop and watch all the videos, so I understand how much music goes hand in hand with skating. We’d always be listening to punk and hip-hop mostly. To me, my brother was the coolest person in the whole world and I wanted to do everything he did. What kind of music was your mum and dad listening to?
JKM-S: Wow. My earliest memories of music was a record by Vangelis called Soil Festivities.I must have been 3-years-old. I have this memory of my mum in our house in Bilambil Heights (when we lived there for a moment) nursing me to that record and telling me these weird Lord Of The Rings-esque stories while this ambient synth music played.
Because they were into music, my parents would follow what’s coming out each year. My mum was very much into Vangelis, Mike Oldfield and Tubular Bells, stuff which was more fantasy. My mum is 70 this year, so she went through her whole hippie period and was following a lot of those bands; loves [Black] Sabbath, loves [David] Bowie (both of my parents loved him). It was more my dad that was into music that I’ve always been influenced by.
One of the skating videos that I’d ask my dad, ‘What song is this?” He said, “That’s The Velvet Underground.” I first heard that at 15-years-old. I was really lucky to be able to stumble across that stuff so young. Bowie is one of my heroes, I always return to his music; it’s something I fell in love with as a kid. Bowie was passed to me through both of my parents.
My dad loved King Crimson. He followed [Robert] Fripp & [Brian] Eno’s careers. Both of my parents’ taste were really broad. The last memories that I have of my dad buying music was around my age now, around 35 or 36. We’d go shopping every Saturday for groceries and he would always go into this one CD store. The last lot of music I remember him buying was all classical. He had gone through that point of all the stuff he’d been into and ended up listening to a lot of classical, which I also loved then and still love now. I’ve been listening to a lot of classical at the moment actually.
Good music is good music, regardless of genre.
When I was a teenager I got really obsessive about punk, it was all about punk for me. My whole identity was wrapped up in it from a teen through my 20s. I had big, spiked hair and mohawks, my hair was all the colours you can imagine.
JKM-S: Amazing! So did I! [laughs].
Nice. When you got into punk, were you living Sydney?
JKM-S: I’ve pretty much always lived in Sydney. I’ve always travelled a lot with skateboarding and music. I’ve spent a lot of time in Melbourne, even before Exek. I’ve always been based in Sydney, I love it.
What was the scene you grew up in like?
JKM-S: Initially I stopped skateboarding and started heavily getting into music. Music became a more vital outlet for me in all ways. In my physical world, in my emotional world. I started to get more out of music than skateboarding.
I met Albert Wolski [Exek’s founding member / songwriter] when I was 15, around 1999 or 2000. We’d go skateboarding and have basically been best friends since that point. He was the first person that I actually shared music with and vice versa. We would trade CDs and show each other what we were listening to.
I went to my very first shows with Albert. He would pay for tickets to one show and then I would get the tickets to the next show. The very first concert we went to together, we saw R.E.M.. At that time we were seeing bigger American acts. The next thing we saw was Radiohead do Hail to the Thief. Then we got to see Bowie on A Reality Tour. Those were huge moments for me because they were the first time that I’d gone to see live rock bands. That merged into us turning 18 and starting to go out into the city at night and starting to go see local shows. We saw HTRK when I was 19 at a really tiny bar called Spectrum. I saw a lot of live music from allover Australia there. I remember seeing Bird Blobs.
From there, I found some people… I had a really close friend called Ben [Mundy]. We both knew each other had been playing guitar a lot, so we started meeting up and playing together. From going out to shows, I met all these really cool, interesting people that I found personally a lot better for me than the people that I was skating with.
I used to be sponsored and was paid to skateboard. At that time, I found it quite difficult dealing with all the jocky-mentality of skateboarding and it being really serious. That’s what helped merge me into music and finding these friends. It was really important for me, because the people that I met through music were a lot more open-minded, more emotionally in tune with themselves, which is really what I needed. I was around 20 when I joined a band with Ben and that kick started this whole other world that I didn’t even know I was able to do that.
Was that the band Atrocities?
JKM-S: Yeah, Atrocities. I played my first show with them—it was insane. It was fucking nerve racking. I remember seeing a really early band of Dizzy from Low Life’s, The Skanks, I was blown away; it had other friends of mine in it too. Seeing my friends playing shows, it was like it was with my sister, I thought, ‘This is totally possible. I can do this.’
I played in Atrocities for a number of years. I met Jack [Mannix] and Angie [Bermuda] from Circle Pit and started playing with them. It was great being accepted by these people. There was a really prominent scene around Sydney, especially Oxford Street and Darlinghurst; there was lots of music and bands. It was a little like Melbourne, you could play shows anywhere most nights of the week, basically Wednesday to Sunday.
I did my first lots of recordings with Atrocities and then Circle Pit. It was a really interesting time for all of us. A lot of people I know from that time are still making music and are still in relevant bands, they’ve been making music for over 15 years, which I think is amazing, as I’ve seen so many people drop out of music.
That’s part of why we started Gimmie. Other than the actual music floating around, there isn’t much about a lot of musicians and bands that you can find out there because the music press in this country doesn’t really cover beyond a copy and paste of what PR companies and labels send to them. There’s so much cool stuff happening in Australia that gets totally ignored by mainstream (and the indies that try to ape them) press, radio etc. We’re lucky to have supportive community radio stations like 4ZZZ, 3RRR and FBi.
JKM-S: Yeah, there’s not much documentation of Australian music, especially post-2000. Maybe I was in a bit of a fantasy, but I’ve always admired everyone that I’ve played music with especially Jack and Angie. I remember seeing their first band Kiosk. I first saw them at Spectrum around the time that I saw HTRK. Those guys have been doing music in Sydney for years. I loved playing in Circle Pit.
Angie said something to me a few years ago in relation to having a similar conversation like this of where we’d come from and how long we’ve been playing music for. She was very much of the opinion that we were all actually musicians. Coming from DIY bands, DIY places, rough and shitty recordings, I think a lot of people never really tended to say, “I’m a musician, this is what I do, I make music.” It was this punk attitude of, “I just play guitar in this band,” not actually acknowledging that once you’ve been playing a guitar in a band for over 15 years then, yeah, you actually are a musician—you live and breathe it. You wouldn’t be doing it if that’s not who you were. I gelled with Angie on that.
Can you tell us about your relationship to the guitar?
JKM-S: I get endless hours of enjoyment from playing guitar, also frustration [laughs]. I get everything from it. I more or less love noises and sounds. I’m quite an obsessive and compulsive person… back to that experience with my sister, when I fully picked up the guitar and started learning. It gave me a feeling that I have never had before or experienced in relation to sound. I became fascinated in that and making these weird sounds come out of this thing. I’ve never really lost that first experience of that.
The first songs I ever learned were Stooges songs. I’d sit in my room and play along to Stooges records until my parents would come in and be like, “You have to stop playing guitar,” because I’d been playing for hours. I’m still doing that same thing now but obviously I’ve learnt the instrument to how I play it. I’ve never really lost interest in that. I play guitar almost every day in some capacity. I’ll have an idea that pops to mind.
Through my 20s, like any one at that age, you have this really intense idea of what music is or what it should be like. In a way it was quite narrow. In my early 20s I was listening to a lot of The Birthday Party, Bird Blobs, The Scientists, a lot of Australian punk. I’ve always loved listening to the Velvets and The Stooges. I love intense, distorted guitar sounds.
Moving out of that period into my later 20s and 30s I was able to become open-minded. I’ve been listening to different music over the last 10 years and been trying to work out, in my own way, how to approach the guitar in a new and different way to what I have done before. It’s always been about progression and expansion in this later period I’ve been playing guitar to the point where I kind of came to Curious Music.
Because I’ve been listening to so much classical music, I’ve been trying to interpret that Baroque and classical sound within guitar. I’ve always been trying to find a different sound or way to expand on where my influences have come from.
Curious Music was initially going to be a solo project?
JKM-S: Yeah, correct. My sister passed way at the very beginning of 2019. I’d just come back from touring America with Exek. She passed away really suddenly in a boat accident. For the first few months after she died, I stopped listening to music for a while. Obviously, when you’re going through grief or any really traumatic life experience and life changing experience, I found it really difficult to even leave my house, doing anything can be hard.
When I started to listen to music again, I remember putting on punk records and it was too much! It was a really odd experience because I’d listened to punk music my whole life and it’s helped me through other tremendously difficult life experiences, but with this one it wasn’t gelling with my emotional world. I found myself listening to classical, jazz and predominately ambient music. I was doing a lot of guided meditations and thinking about that type of music and how it’a applied in meditation. I thought, ‘Man, I should just start listening to all Eno’s stuff’ and everything that was related into that ambient stuff that I listened to as a child with my parents. I started doing that.
Three months after my sister passed, I eventually started approaching guitar again. I started approaching it in the way of the music that I had been listening to, really long drawn out guitars. I started to take a different interest, and aspect, in what I had been playing. I’d always thought that some ambient guitar music was a bit corny… I guess I was trying to start playing more in tune with how my body actually felt and how my mental space felt.
You were truly expressing what you were feeling!
JKM-S: Correct. At that point, I went on tour to Europe with Exek then came back and continued playing guitar how I had been. I felt I wanted to start recording ambient music. I became really passionate about it. I started to believe in what I was creating at home.
I approached Mickey [Grossman], he lived not far from me at the time. We’d been meeting up to get coffee and talk. We weren’t even really talking about music much in the beginning, then we got into that. Our friendship really built over that time. I asked him if he would record a solo record for me.
Just before Covid we went into the studio and started mucking around. I was really taken back by his openness, it really reflects who Michael is. We messed around with things and started recording and I sensed that I should do the project with Mickey. There was a musical connection, which I’ve experienced in different ways before, but with Michael it really took me back as we were having conversations without even really saying anything. The ideas and things we were sharing were really similar and really worked. I said, ‘Man, do you just want to do this together? As a collaboration. A duet.’ We weren’t really thinking of the end point, we were just bringing in ideas and experimenting.
In the first week we started recording, Michael brought in a piece of paper with all of these ideas he had thought about in the shower, really strange ideas. One that is on the record; what would happen if you played every F note of the guitar at the same time? We went down the fretboard and recorded every single F. What they became was a sound like a gong, throughout Curious Music they come in, it’s a kind of motif. Many experiments from that piece of paper worked but many didn’t too.
Cool. I can relate to how you mentioned before that after your sister passed away you weren’t able to listen to music. I felt the exact same thing when both my mother and father passed away a few years apart. As you, I love music to the point of obsession and it always gets me through everything. It’s been there for me in all the major and small events in my life. When they passed, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to music, it felt weird. Like you, I found it hard to leave this house too. I guess I just lost interest in things and I felt like nothing mattered, it’s like everything in comparison to their death felt trivial. It’s hard to describe to people that haven’t had a close loved one pass.
JKM-S: Totally, I agree.
Years later, I still think of them every day and it still hurts. One day they’re there and then they’re not. Death is something that is not really talked about in our society. From your job you can get maybe two days bereavement leave and then you’re expected to go back to work and pretend everything is ok. You get no real support, yet you give so much of your life to work. Society is really big on “suck it up, move on”. I truly feel for you.
JKM-S: Thank you. It is 100% challenging.
I am so glad that you were able to make this project and process what you’re going through and heal.
JKM-S: It’s a different experience for Michael, but what he ended up facilitating for me, was an outlet in a sense to transcend the experience that I had gone through, which had left me extremely isolated. He facilitated this outlet where I could approach this kind of music. Transcendence. The search of this music we’ve been making has helped me heal through this life changing experience. Had I not gone through the experience, I doubt that I would have ended up on the path I am now. It’s interesting that certain life events have the power to change the course of what you’re doing.
Anything else to share with me?
JKM-S: Zoe and I just moved to King’s Cross, which has been amazing. We lived in the Marrickville area for the last 6 years; did both lockdowns and a whole lot of grieving at our apartment there. I kind of thought I was never going to leave that apartment. We did love it. It was the first place we moved into together. Our landlord had to extended the roof to make another story so we had to move.
The day that Curious Music was announced by Astral Spirits and Research Records, that was the last day at that apartment. In a weird way for me, it was spiritually significant. Curious Music is announced and it’s the last day I spent in that house, that’s kind of what Curious Music is about—moving through and transcending the experiences we spoke about. It felt so odd. So synchronistic. Now I’m in King’s Cross, it’s a lot faster cos in Marickville, the last two years I lived there, I was a bit of a hermit.
Yuta [Matsumura] from Orion really helped me; coming to get me and taking me to the beach just to get me out of the house. I had this routine where I’d wake up and if I wasn’t working I’d get a coffee, come back to the apartment and wouldn’t leave.
Here in the Cross, my routine and pattern of life has completely changed. I’ve found it good for my mental health, which is strange because it’s not really a quiet place. Where I was living it was so quiet. Here it’s noisy, there’s lots of people; I’ve found an odd, fast energy here. I’ve found myself going out most days, even to nowhere in particular. I’ll sit at King’s Cross fountain watching people. It’s been really good.
I’m curious as to how this experience is going to affected the next lot of music I do. You know, how environments shape some things?
Yeah, of course.
JKM-S: Michael and I, while we were finishing Curious Music, doing the mix down of that record, we started working on other songs. We have finished another record, which isn’t a follow up to Curious Music.
The next record has all instruments, we started experimenting with them. Like Curious Music it’s been fun in terms of experimentation. We’ve had a lot of friends or people we know who play odd instruments come in and record with us. I did a post on Facebook a few months back to ask if anyone knew a tuba player. Obviously, the post got bombarded with emojis and a vibe of what-is-this-guy-doing-asking-for-a-tuba-player? [laughs].
We were at the studio last week and there was a country music production that took the first room of the warehouse where Michael’s studio is. A guy came out of there with two massive cases. I was like, ‘Man, what is in these cases?’ He was like, “They’re tubas.” I was like, ‘Are you serious?!’ The guy’s name was actually Jai as well. So, on that day we recorded a couple of hours of tuba. It was an amazing experience, I’d never worked with someone who has played that. He went to the Conservatorium and studied classical tuba. We laughed most of the day.
We got Yuta from Orion’s little brother to come play trumpet too. I’m so excited having so many friends play on it. The theory of it is that it’s going to be in an ambient world but there’s some bizarro pop songs to fit the link in-between this world. Toto from Fully Feudal contributed keyboard to one of the songs. Fully Feudal are playing at Nag Nag Nag, you’re going to love them.
Thanks so much for this chat. It’s been wonderful getting to know you and learn more about how you create and how you’ve navigated challenges in your life.
JKM-S: You’ve made me feel so comfortable and this has been really nice.
While Michael and I were recording there were some specific records we were listening to. I was listening to The Pavilion of Dreams by Harold Budd. It was one of the main things I started listening to after Matika died. I found it extremely soothing. I became obsessed with the harp instrument, that entire record has it. Just before her passing when Exek was in America, I got to see Anthony Braxton, he played at Cropped Out fest in Louisville. That night he only used clarinet and saxophone; he also had a harpist there. I’ll never forget that show. It was at dusk on a riverbank. [Andrew] Brocchi and Albert wanted to watch him. I didn’t know who he was but they informed me that he was a second generation Black jazz musician that existed in the formative era of jazz. I was blown away, especially by the harp performer. I started getting back into Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby. I found the harp really magical.
So, as I said, after Matika passed I got into Pavilion of Dreams and I started trying to find chords on guitar that sounded like a harp. I was able to do that and took it to Mickey. Curious Music does revolve around one chord, an F shape chord at the bottom of the guitar neck, a sequence of notes we recorded as clean guitar with a small amount of reverb—it sounds like a harp.
Michael’s biggest influence for the record was In A Silent Way by Miles Davis. In a weird way we were also trying to find out at the same time if there was a distinct correlation between spiritual-esque jazz music, ambient music and if those worlds could meet (or had already). We then just tried to make our own weird, ambient jazz music [laughs].
Naarm/Melbourne band The Stroppies check in with Gimmie from the road, where they’re currently on a 20-date tour across the UK. May 6 will see them release new album Levity through Tough Love Records. Levity is darker than previous records, with their exploration and experimentation pushing the pop song even further than before, culminating in 10 focused tracks of their strongest work yet. Latest single ‘Smilers Strange Politely’ dropped overnight with an accompanying clip filmed on a phone while on tour. Gimmie caught up with guitarist/vocalist Gus Lord.
You’re on tour supporting Paul Weller; how’s everything going? How are you feeling? What’s been the highlight so far?
GUS LORD: Yes, we are. It’s all going disturbingly well. We are having the pleasure of playing some lovely old Victorian era music halls and have been enjoying taking in the English countryside each day on the drives. Because we are support, we generally finish work at 9:00pm so It’s been very leisurely! The highlight of the tour has been the trip we took to Stonehenge on the way to Cornwall.
What’s it been like watching someone as legendary as Paul play night after night? Have you learnt anything or observed anything really cool?
GL: It’s been awesome. I don’t know if there’s anything that I’ve observed that sticks out but there’s a level of professionalism that permeates the whole experience, from the production to the performance and that kind of rubs off on you. I think we’ve become a better band. He’s a generous guy with his time and his words so that’s been nice too. Certainly, we have been made to feel very welcome and appreciated which is not usually the experience I’ve had when supporting larger artists.
Do you have any tour rituals?
GL: Tour is pretty banal so this is a bit of lame answer. We generally try and sniff out a Pret A Manger each morning. Pret a Manger is an English food franchise that deals in baguettes and coffee. It’s reliable.
Which track from the new record have you been most excited to perform?
GL: I’m looking forward to performing a song called ‘Caveats’. It’s a moody, crooner type pop song. The song is about technology, modern channels of communication and the commodification of the self. We’ve been playing a song called ‘Entropy’ on this tour which is kind of similar and it’s got me pumped to do some more songs like this.
It’s almost time for The Stroppies new album Levity to be released into the world; in a nutshell, what’s the album about? It feels a little darker than previous releases.
GL: It is darker. It’s been a dark time! I think it rocks harder than our previous records which is good. I don’t think there’s a grand statement to the record it’s just a continuation of our artistic development, utilising the pop song as a conduit for personal reflection. If I had to point to anything though I would say the answer is in the album title. Levity means to treat a serious matter with humour or a lack of respect. A lot of the songs on the record have heavy themes but they are intentionally obfuscated to make something more palatable through the music.
The band’s creative process is usually to create open ended music, quickly and haphazardly, this time around due to the global pandemic, as you were in Naarm, you were working within the confines of one of the longest lockdowns in the world; how did you navigate this? What new approach did you come up with to bring these songs to life?
GL: Well the quick part still rings true. We started recording in December and delivered the masters by February. Haphazard not so much, because in order to meet the deadline we had to focus and rehearse a fair bit. Due to Covid we couldn’t be present for the mixing of the album which was interesting. The inability to be present meant we had to hand this thing we were working on over to someone else and let them handle it without our influence. When we got the first mixes back, we were kind of overwhelmed cause they were quite bold. I don’t think it would have gone that way if things had been normal but I’m glad it did. I think the mix John did really added something special to it.
What did you love most about the process of making Levity?
GL: Just having an excuse to put time aside and have something to focus on. Everything was very diffuse and confusing during lockdown for me, and I lost a bit of enthusiasm for music making. It was great to have a project to work on.
You’ve just released single ‘Smilers Strange Politely’; what inspired the song?
GL: I’d had the title for the song kicking around in my notebook since the early days of the band. I was always trying to stick it to something a bit weirder but when me and Claudia were workshopping a poppy chord progression it slotted in nice and found its home. It’s a play of the phrase strangers smile politely and it came to me as I was standing at the train station during peak hour, awkwardly face to face with a stranger.
The clip was shot while you’ve been on tour; where was it shot? Can you tell us a little about the shoot? It looks like it was really cold!
GL: It was shot in Cornwall on my mobile phone during a short stint of pre tour relaxation time we had. It’s a magic part of country with rolling hills joined together by little roads that are flanked by high stone walls cut into the earth with lots of little villages dotting the coast. The field we were in was adjacent to an old church dating back to (I think) the 14th century. It’s full of gravestones including one of a poor man who was “blown apart by cannonball” in the 18th century. Claudia’s father shot the video and in a nice bit of symmetry, he had actually made his own horror movies shot on Super 8 film as a teenager at the same church with his friends when he was 15 years old. The movies were full of fake prosthetics and practical effects. There was talk of combining some of his old footage with what we shot but we ended up opting for the simpler single shot because it doesn’t make much sense to have Dracula in the video clip.
What’s next for The Stroppies?
GL: We will launch Levity in Melbourne 28th of May at the Curtin. There will be some regional/interstate dates too although those are TBC. Beyond that, hopefully just make another record and soon. The last 6 months have been inspiring so looking forward to getting into it.
It’s exciting times, Geelong’s Vintage Crop have a new record on the horizon—Kibitzer—and Gimmie are here to share the first single and clip with you! Their fourth album of snappy punk has themes of resilience, identity and acceptance, while musically a welcomed extra dose of melody, and the introduction of horns on a couple of the tracks. Gimmie spoke to vocalist Jack Cherry.
JACK CHERRY: We’re really happy with how the new record sounds. The songwriting feels like something to be excited about.
The album Is called Kibitzer! That’s a Yiddish word, right? It’s a term for a spectator, usually one who offers advice or commentary, which is kind of what you guys do with your songs.
JC: Yeah. Last year I got into playing chess and that’s a term used in chess. I thought it was too good of a word not to use for something else. It’s a cool looking word, has a great meaning and I felt like it connected with what I do lyrically. It seemed to fit.
What got you into playing chess?
JC: I went to a friend’s place and he asked me for a game. I haven’t played since I was ten or eleven playing with dad. It was horrible playing with dad because he would not let anyone else win. I threw it away and never wanted to play chess because it is so hard. When I played against my friend, about two years ago, I was like ‘This is a really interesting game.’ I got carried away with all the different strategies and techniques, it was really engaging. I don’t play as much any more, it was really just a hot minute where I really got into chess, and some of the ideas really stuck around.
That would explain the album art work as well.
JC: Yes! We had a different idea for the album art that was literally a chess board but we thought it was a bit obvious and it didn’t click with what we were doing, so we didn’t use it. There’s definitely visual themes of chess as well. We had Robin Roche do the art again, they did Serve to Serve Again for us. We always love his work. He makes things look simple but there’s so much detail in them, that’s how we feel about the songs as well; simple sounding songs but there’s a lot in there when you listen to it. We think his artwork matches the songs.
How long were you writing this collection of songs for?
JC: As with anything we do, it starts pretty much right after the last one finishes. The first couple of ideas happened towards the end of 2020, we had two or three solid songs that we were happy with. Then it took all of 2021 to write another seven that we were happy with. So, there was the initial push. We didn’t really record the album until November 2021. Two of the songs were finished just the week before.
Do you find your songs change very much during the process?
JC: To be honest, I think they change after even longer. We have songs from the first two records that we still play live and we find those songs have morphed a lot since we first recorded them but a lot of the newer stuff feels a bit more finished. We took that lesson from the first two albums of, well, we’ll make sure that we really investigate these songs and make sure we have all the parts that we want to play. I feel like with New Age in particular we went in and recorded it straight away without developing the songs to their fullest extent. We’re able to now write a song and finish it, really finish it earlier.
The new album sounds a lot more melodic to me.
JC: Yeah, that was conscious as well. Tyler our drummer had said to me, maybe eight months before we were set to start really writing the album, ‘This time let’s get a producer in and get someone to really push us to do different things.’ I was so deeply offended… in a nice way, that he would suggest that. Out of spite I started to write melodies and tried to actually sing a bit to prove that I could do it and we don’t need a producer [laughs]. It’s a good push for us. Three albums of doing the same thing, it’s nice to have the fourth one where we branch out a bit. Same with the trumpet on a few of the tracks, we really wanted to play with some new tools.
I noticed that on Kibitzer you almost sing!
JC: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s scary to fully let go but it’s nice to have a go. I’d rather it be a flop and those sort of songs not hit as well but have tried it, then do the same thing and get the same result.
They totally did hit though! Your singing and the trumpet were things that got my attention.
JC: Thank you, that’s the reaction we’re looking for. Glad it worked! I think it keeps it fun for everyone, not just us.
You mentioned having a producer for this record; it was Jasper Jolley?
JC: Yeah, Jasper recorded it. Jasper is in Bones And Jones. He is a friend of ours, he grew up in Geelong as well, we’ve been friends for ten years or so. We’ve always been in similar circles but because Bones And Jones’ music is a little different to ours we thought recording with Jasper might make us sound like them, which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just we have our own sound and we don’t want to mess with it too much. Recording with him was a treat though, everything sounds amazing, he was so patient. I think we want to work with him again because it was so good. He didn’t really produce, he didn’t offer a whole lot of advice but he was a good set of ears and a good set of hands.
Everything was recorded in one session?
JC: Yeah, we set up and started recording at 11am and was finished doing vocals by 7:30pm. It was eight and a half to nine hours in total and we had everything done.
Was that out of necessity? Was it because you wanted it to capture a spontaneity? Or the vibe you have live? Sometimes I see bands I love live and they’re amazing but then I hear the same songs recorded and it disappoints me because it feels pretty lifeless.
JC: Because they’ve spent seven hours choosing a guitar sound [laughs]. I think for us, it’s not to capture anything in particular, but we like to record together. None of us have the patience to do it over more than one day [laughs]. We have the songs ready, we just want to go in, get them done and get the ball rolling cos there’s not much we can do after the initial recording, we do it all at once and then there’s only vocals and keyboard left. We don’t want to muck around adding too much to it because anything else we add we probably can’t play live and tonally it’s a very simple sound, it’s not like we have to find the right tone or tune the snare a certain way; it’s just going to sound like us because it’s us playing it.
Lyrically, themes on the album have to do with resilience, acceptance, accepting your own limitations; were these things written from things you were experiencing in your own life? Often your songs are commentary and observations of other people’s experiences.
JC: Yeah, I find that with themes for albums, I develop them after I’m finished. I don’t try and dissect anything I’ve written a whole lot. Now it’s all finished I can look back and really figure out what I was trying to say. I think that looking inwards is more so a reflection of all of us settling in to full-time work and branching out, Tyler just bought house, my partner and I live together and we’re looking at buying somewhere as well—it’s a get-on-with-it attitude.
Everyone else is in the same boat and it’s just how you react to things, if you can try your best to be positive and just keep on going, because that’s really all you can do. A lot of times you don’t have too much control over life, the best way is to roll with it. That’s a lot of what I’ve been thinking about at the moment.
Maybe I will be in this job for fifteen or twenty years, or if I leave this job I’ll be in another job for fifteen or twenty years, thirty years or fifty. While it’s crushing to think that I’ll never be a rock star playing stadiums around the world, at least I have a job, somewhere to be and something to do, that’s all I can do.
I work another job as well as doing all the Gimmie stuff as well. My job pays my bills and then doing Gimmie we never have to compromise, we can keep it advertisement free and do whatever we want with it. It’s a wonderful thing not having to compromise on your art.
JC: For sure. With the band we’re paying for pretty much everything and we’re in control of everything, it’s our outlet. That’s the way that we can express those feelings, through the band. It makes it worthwhile in the end. Working 40 hours a week doing something you don’t really want to do, but the rest of your time you do get to spend doing what you want to do and you can afford to do it and it’s comfortable. It’s great.
We’re premiering the song and clip for ‘Double Slants’! I love the first line of the song especially: He’s got the keys to the universe / and they’re hanging from his belt loop. It’s such strong imagery.
JC: I thought it was a really good fusing of reality and fantasy. “The keys to the universe” is the funniest thing to say at the start of a song! If you take those abstract thoughts and ground them in reality somehow it makes it hit a bit more.
The whole song isn’t about anyone in particular, it’s an adversarial song. It’s nice to be able to poke fun at someone that everyone can relate to, everyone’s got that sort of person in their life. That’s all I can really give you; it just happens.
As Vintage Crop songs are often about everyday kinds of things, having that fantasy element in there was another unexpected surprise. Being surprised by music and art is one of my favourite things.
JC: That’s true. The belt loop part was a play on… that seems to be the trend, that for some reason people hang their keys on their belt loop, which is a little dig; to me, I just don’t get it.
Being sardonic in lyrics is also another Vintage Crop signature.
JC: Yeah! [laughs].
We love the clip for ‘Double Slants’! In it you get kidnapped; what do you remember from shooting it?
JC: We filmed most of it on the road out the front of the house I grew up in – which was totally coincidental! We just needed somewhere with a quiet road and no house, it just happened to fit the bill. It was actually a pretty painful day for me in the end; I was manhandled, thrown around and rolled down a few hills. But Leland [Buckle] did such a great job with it that it was worth it!
We’d previously worked with him on the clip for ‘The North’, so we were naturally pretty keen to work with him again. We really like a lot of his reference points for filming and editing, he’s got great taste and a bit of an unusual eye which is something that you just can’t put a price on. We spoke briefly about a rough concept for the video and then by the end of the day he had taken the ball and run with it. We trust him with the vision and pretty much everything you see in the video is straight from his brain.
What’s your favourite moment from the clip?
My favourite moment of the clip is probably the woman in the front seat of the car smiling back at the camera in the front seat. A brilliant piece of irony and it just makes me laugh every time.
Modal Melodies is a collaboration between Violetta Del Conte-Race (Primo!/The Glass Picture) & Jake Robertson (Alien Nosejob, etc.) made in the spirit of fun and experimentation without rules, they found in each other their biggest inspiration.
Gimmie are premiering album opener ‘Occupants’, a joyful electronic synth-pop romp, with Vio’s vocals welcoming, intimate and daydreamy. We chatted with Jake and Vio.
How did the project get started?
JAKE: I approached Vio at Jerkfest 2021. I’ve always been a pretty strong admirer of her songwriting and ability to play and sing said songs. I had a bunch of songs that I was struggling with, this was around the last time I was speaking to you, I felt like all of my songs were sounding the same. So, I thought I’d hit up Vio and see if she could give us a hand with some stuff and if I could return the favour. I don’t know if it was ever intended to be a full album, it just panned out like that because the workflow was so languid. It was so smooth, I felt like it was no effort whatsoever to do this, probably because Vio and I work in a similar method.
VIO: Yeah, it was really easy to work together. It got even easier as it went along. We started out with a couple of ideas then started adding more ideas and realised that any ideas we could use; everything we shared with each other we were like, ‘We can do something with that!’
JAKE: We had very limited restrictions. There was no wrong answers.
You told me that the only rule for Modal Melodies is that it was only going to be a recorded project and that you’ll never play live.
JAKE: [Laughs] You know, rules can be broken. I always do this, where I go to record with someone and it turns into a live thing.
So Modal Melodies might play live?
JAKE: [Laughs] I’m going to say, no.
VIO: We haven’t talked about it. The cool thing with having the idea of not playing live meant that we could just play as many instruments as we wanted, add as many layers and not have to worry how we would actually do it if we wanted to play it live. It freed us up in that way. That meant that we could push ourselves. There was a song that we did two key changes in; I don’t think I’ve ever done a key change in a song ever. That was really fun! Just trying new things out.
JAKE: The way that we put the songs together was how I put demos together when I’m by myself. I’d never really shown anyone that process before. It felt a little bit weird recording it like that, it felt like demos the entire time, which made me more a little bit loosey-goosey with stuff [laughs]. Did you feel like that Vio?
VIO: Do you mean adding stuff?
JAKE: Adding stuff. Or even just the writing. I guess because it was so free-flowing there literally wasn’t a single ‘No, let’s not put that in there.’ There was a couple of ‘Hey, we should take out that guitar or put in this guitar’ – the editing that goes with every recording. Because there were no rules or restrictions, I felt like I was in a demo process the entire time. It wasn’t until listening to the song back that I was like, ‘Whoa, this is the whole finished song!’
You mentioned you have a process; what is that process?
JAKE: We recorded the Modal Melodies stuff in the same way that I would write a song, where I would do it in loops of bits and pieces and layer different parts over the top of each other as opposed to when I would rerecord those demos into a album for a different project and do everything live or as live as possible, if it’s Alien Nosejob. So, I play drums along to the entire song. Or if it’s a three-minute guitar song record the entire three-minute guitar, whereas a lot of the songs Vio and I did were looped-based. Some songs we’d play the entire song on guitar or both of us have guitars plugged in, play an entire three-minute song then cut up little bits and pieces, like use the the 20 second or 30 second mark of Vio’s guitar and then the 40 second mark of my guitar. I’ve never done that with another person before, it was very easygoing and a free-flowing was of doing things.
What’s your usual process Vio?
VIO: With Primo! a lot of the songs start with Xanthe or I bringing in an idea and we’ll learn it together or expand on it, maybe if there’s a verse and no chorus. Or maybe do a demo. Before this I was just using GarageBand demos and would send them to everyone.
With Modal Melodies, like Jake was saying… I think that’s why it came together so fast because there wasn’t that extra step of taking it in to a group of other people and trying to make that live. It’s done already and you’re sort of shocked it’s already finished [laughs].
JAKE: A lot of this was done during lockdown when we couldn’t see each other, so we would email each other being like, ‘Let’s try and have a part that sounds like this or this song.’ It’d be, ‘I really like how this song from the 80s has a whistle in it.’ That’s a bad example though because there is no whistling, but something like that.
Vio, how do you inspire each other musically? Last time I spoke with Jake he told me that one thing he really admired about what you do musically, is that you give things space, you know where things can breathe as opposed to when he makes stuff and it’s really jam packed. You’re the opposite in that way?
VIO: Yeah, I would agree with that. It was cool for me because I always feel that I work quite simply. I often repeat things a lot. If there was an idea that I initially brought in, I was always amazed by how much we could expand on it. I really loved what he added to all of the songs; I never would have thought of those things myself. All of the songs became better through our collaboration.
I really love your singing on this album.
VIO: Thank you!
There’s so many really beautiful moments. I love how sound-wise it has an 80s feel but then I can totally hear elements of what each of you do in your other projects shine through. It definitely has it’s own sound though.
JAKE: Each of us had three or four half written songs we brought in. Before we got in the room together (it was a lockdown before we could actually meet up) there was so many emails back-and-forth, with each email having a YouTube playlist; we were sending each other different songs, different influences, so many songs I’d never heard of before. When Vio sent them to me I was like, ‘I’ll try and make something in the style of this.’
There was one song that we did instrumentally here that we recorded, we had no vocals and we went for a walk and then Vio went home, three hours later she sent me the recorded words and it was about the tawny frogmouths that we saw a couple hours before on our walk. I feel like you should talk about this Vio, because your lyrics are so much more of a large percentage than mine. It was really cool, I felt like the next day I was reliving the previous day from the words that Vio had written, which was real nice.
What’s that song called?
JAKE: ‘Clearer Path To Hutton Street’, which is the street I live on.
VIO: I think it’s ‘Fourth Stage’ Jake!
JAKE: It is? Oh, it is! It’s ‘Fourth Stage’.
VIO: ‘Clearer Path…’ is another reference to your house, although the lyrics weren’t about your house but somehow the title ended up being about your house [laughs].
JAKE: I think it might have been one of the things where you record something on an iPhone and it says the location. I think it said ‘Clearer Path’ then the location was Hutton Street and I sent it to Billy [Gardener – Anti Fade Records] as a demo. He was like ‘Damn – A Clearer Path To Hutton Street – what a title!’ So, I kept it.
We’re excited to be premiering Modal Melodies debut single ‘Occupants’!
JAKE: That’s one of Vio’s.
VIO: That was the first song that we ever worked on. It was an idea that I had on keyboard and I had some singing for it already; very minimal keys and vocals. I wrote it with my friend in mind, who is also my housemate. That’s where the title came from, we live in the same house…
JAKE: And, is your bandmate [in The Glass Picture]!
VIO: Yes, she’s also my bandmate Lucy [Emanuel]. I wrote it when we were coming out of lockdown at the start of last year. It’s really just me trying to write something to look forward to, my idea was to write something where I was hoping for a positive outcome or something good to happen after a difficult time.
It definitely has that feel and it’s a really cool way to kick off the Modal Melodies album.
VIO: I feel that was really musically interesting, to see what Jake came up with on the software synth; we worked on that a lot.
When you were sending songs back-and-forth to each other over email was there anything that surprised you?
VIO: I found the song ‘Driving’ quite surprising because it was supposed to be a surprise, we did a bit of an experiment where Jake wrote all the music for that, he had a whole track with no singing and we were like, ok, let’s email each other vocals but not listen to the other person’s vocals until we’d done our own. It was interesting to see how different they would be or how different the melodies would be that we’d come up with. The only lyrical guideline is that it would be about driving, because it’s reminding me of it.
It sounds like you had a lot of fun making the album and there was a lot of experimentation.
JAKE: It was super fun! Not to continually talk about lockdown, but we’d basically spent a year not seeing anybody and being locked in our rooms. Then it was our choice to lock ourselves in the room to do this, it was almost like a liberating thing [laughs]. It was experimental. It’s a hard one because I feel like it’s each of our ideas completely unfiltered and neither of us said no to the other person. What’s the style of writing called that probably [Jack] Kerouac did where it’s just continuous typing? Stream of consciousness kind of thing. Did you feel that Vio?
VIO: Yeah, I reckon, just because it flowed really easily that lends itself to that stream of consciousness approach. It already feels like you’re in it and it’s just a continuation.
You mentioned that you were sending songs by other artists to each other inspiring your songwriting; what were some of them that you really enjoyed?
JAKE: The first email that Vio sent me was a Saâda Bonaire track. Our song ‘Starting Point’ was written after Vio sending me that. And what was that later era Wire song? I’m one of those people that only listen to the first three Wire records.
VIO: It’s on the album with the purple cover… A Bell Is A Cup.
JAKE: Yeah, yeah. ‘Follow the Locust’! Vio sent me so many things I’d never heard of.
VIO: The songs Jake sent have become some of my favourite songs, like ‘Double Heart’ by Robert Rental.
JAKE: Oh yeah, that’s amazing!
VIO: And that Vivien Vee song ‘Higher’ is so good.
JAKE: That was kind of in my mind for the slow disco song… with the Italo disco Eurodisco-thing in mind. We wrote a few uplifters on there as well as a rocker, which surprised me.
Because several of the songs were done from each of our houses, songs like ‘Clearer Path…” and ‘The Sun’ has that arpeggio in it… I was surprised at that when first hearing it, even though it was 50/50 my album. It was just exciting. For me to hear what Vio was coming up with.
Vio, you did the artwork for the album?
VIO: The painting has sheet music on it, and I can barely read sheet music. I was inspired by the Modal Melodies text which Jake came up with. He wanted to put a lot of clefs and notes in it, we didn’t end up doing that but the painting was inspired by that. Jake sent me a drawing on my phone and I redrew it and put it into illustrator. I guess that was collaborative as well.
Where did the name come from?
JAKE: The first demo that I did had the name Modal Melodies, then Vio suggested it as the band name instead. We changed the song name to ‘Changing Lights’ which is the closer on the album. I called it Modal Melodies because it was the first song that I wrote on paper first, I tried to write it using my bodgey music writing skills, which is very minimal. I came up with the name before I came up with the song.
Jake mentioned earlier that you write a lot of the lyrics, Vio?
VIO: Yeah. I wrote all through the process. Usually I’m really slow with lyrics but for some reason this time it didn’t happen. Often if Jake sent me a demo I would instantly get an idea, or even with just what it sounded like, with ‘Driving’, I think ‘Modal Melodies’ as well… I’ve never really experienced that before, writing to something that is already made, the music being made like that. I think it changes how you write. It’s challenging as well. You might not do what you naturally do when you’re just sitting down with an instrument and singing along with it.
That’s something we both talked about as well, where we were both maybe stuck in a rut with our songwriting, just doing the same things that were quite instinctive, not knowing how it get out of that.
JAKE: Before I approached you I felt the same as when I used to teach guitar. When I tried to write a song I would often find myself putting in little bits of ‘Layla’ [Eric Clapton] or whatever the student wanted to learn. I found myself doing that with my own songs because it’s all I ever tried to write. When I approached you, I was in desperate want of collaboration with you!
VIO: I’m glad it worked out! [laughs].
JAKE: Me too! [laughs].
What’s your current favourite song from your record?
JAKE: I tend to like the ones that I had the least to do with, like ‘In The Rain’ and ‘The Sun’. I would say ‘Driving’ was the most 50/50 song I’ve ever been a part of, especially the process of recording it as well—it felt real special. That’s a favourite.
Why did it feel special?
JAKE: As Vio mentioned before, we wrote several parts of the songs without the other person hearing it and then put it all together when we were in the same room, hearing it for the first time together when we played it back. I’m not sure if other people will have the same feelings when they hear it but it makes me think of how we wrote it and what we were doing that day.
VIO: Yeah, that’s one of mine too. It was cool because it could have been the first time that we both played guitars at the same time. We both just improvised some stuff. It was a really fun experience. I also like the songs that Jake sings on, because I do sing a lot.
JAKE: My voice is all like UUUGH! [laughs] and Vio is like [makes an angelic sound] Aaaaaah!
I like the parts where you sing together.
JAKE: Yeah, Vio kept trying to get me to do that… Vio, I apologise for how difficult I made that for you [laughs]. We’ll have to do it on album two!
Anything else you want to tell me about this project?
JAKE: We did a clip! I was watching a lot of Secret Life Of Us and me and Vio shot a clip in St. Kilda where they shot SLOU. Looking forward to that one coming out!
VIO: It features dancing by us [laughs].
JAKE: Yes, we made up a dance routine! [laughs].
MODAL MELODIES debut full length, self-titled album from May 13th, 2022 on Anti Fade Records (AUS).
Meanjin/Brisbane band Guppy don’t sound like anyone else. It’s post-punk, it’s noise rock, it’s No Wave, it’s art-pop, it’s guitar-less, there’s wild saxophone, but saying all that only tells part of the story—it’s a dizzying array of cool. There’s an accidental alchemy formed from the simplicity and joy of friendship and explorational, experimental jams. After seeing Guppy live earlier this year, we loved them so much we interviewed them and put them on the cover of our print publication of Gimmie Issue 2. Those that have seen their hectic live show can attest to their magnetism. Guppy features members of some QLD’s most exciting bands of the last decade Clever, Cured Pink, Per Purpose, Psy Ants and Come Die In Queensland.
Today we’re premiering their DIY debut video and song ‘Lipshitz’ from their forthcoming highly anticipated first album, 777antasy . We spoke with Guppy’s vocalist, Pam, who represents a new kind of thrilling frontwoman.
We’re excited to be premiering Guppy’s debut clip for song ‘Lipshitz’ from your forthcoming debut album in the works; why did you choose this song for your first video?
PAM: We’d been tossing round ideas for clips we could put together ourselves and in the process of spitballing one night we decided to demo this lip-syncing idea, thinking we could use some green paint around my mouth and key it out and it would look a bit like that Mulligrubs show. Because this song’s full of attitude, it made sense to try it out with this track. We did a bunch of takes that progressively became more complicated, with little cameos from Jack [saxophone-vocals] and Callum [drums] interweaved between closeups of Mitch [bass-vocals] and I, but in the end, the best take was basically our first one. I guess the choice of song wasn’t so deliberate, it was just meant to be.
How did the song initially get started? What’s it about?
P: As usual, the music came first. It had a real tense, unnerving undercurrent that held lots of space to drag out the tension. Jack wanted to make a lovemaking song. When it came to writing the lyrics, I knew it wouldn’t start with a melody. The gups joked that I should approach it like a rap. So I did. I was thinking more about words with bite, phrasing, repetition. It was like a word collage, guided by this book I got from the lifeline superstore Thugs and the Women That Love Them by Wahida Clark. It’s titillating stuff. And subconsciously it was helping me express parts of myself that I usually keep to myself. She snake-charmed the rude outta me. It felt good. Next prac, it came out in a blaze and I thought it was done, but I think Mitch could see the potential of more narrative if he were to voice the male perspective. And it made it even better. He’s not afraid to be tacky but also vulnerable. I think we get a real kick out of both our characters.
What do you love most about it? We love the co-vocals and attitude in the delivery, along with the hectic energy sonically.
P: Yeah I think you’re onto it. For me it’s less about the story and more about how it feels to deliver it. I step into the part of myself that doesn’t give any fucks and it’s completely liberating in a sexual hyper-feminine way. That’s probably what I love about it most, that it’s so fun to play live. Everyone’s so animated. Like, Mitch chugs this heavy bassline along with Cal who’s holding it down, holding the tension, and then Jack comes in at the end of every line with some sass, punctuated by this squealing skronk. Everyone’s suddenly moving more as the song builds. Yeah it’s got good energy.
Can you tell us a bit about recording it? What do you remember from the session?
P: We recorded in this little studio tucked away in Stafford just across from the Stafford Tavern. The roof was covered in egg cartons and Callum was propped up on this platform with what felt like a huge drum kit covered with mics. The drums really filled the room. We were so close together but listening to each other through headphone sets. It didn’t take long for us to get the final take.
We recorded vocals on a different day. For most of the day I’d recorded vocals alone but for this song Mitch and I recorded together and I remember it felt like I was properly hearing his lyrics for the first time. It just poured out of him, enunciated in the way that only he can do. It was so natural to him. It was cool, I remember him coaching me through my parts trying to get the gold outta me.
What is the symbol that appears at the beginning of the clip?
P: Well we decided to call the record 777antasy, like ‘zan-ta-see’. We were humouring ourselves with shit like ‘we belong to the fantasy genre’, ‘with roots in karaoke’ and a ‘smack of funk’, etc etc. Anyway, it stuck. And Jack came to practice with this symbol she’d fashioned at work, cut out from lino. It was perfect. If you look closely in the circle it reads 777antasy without being too obvious. The sevens cut down the centre and into each other in this angular way. Then I extruded it and warped it in cool 3D world. We’ll be using the symbol in slightly different incarnations across other videos and the record.
You made the video yourselves. What went into the making of it?
P: Well I feel like we almost lucked out with getting a one-take-wonder that night we were mucking around. Jack just got on my phone and started filming, fixing weird things to our heads that she’d rummage out of her car, giving us directions. She’s super resourceful that Jack. A few beers later and it’s as if the video made itself. It felt like the hard part was done cause we had the raw footage but little did I know how painstaking the video editing process would be. Feels like new territory. Lots of fun but lots to learn. I edited the clip in After Effects and used Blender to animate the opening sequence. The pain was worth it though, that 3D opening puts a big fat smile on my face everytime.
What’s one of the biggest lessons you learnt making the clip?
P: Just cause you have a million effects doesn’t mean you’ve gotta use them all.
What’s happening next for Guppy?
P: We’re working on a band website and album art so we can launch it early next year with the help of Gimmie (THANK YOU!). Also working on ideas for more videos… We like the idea of producing them ourselves so that we can put our own stank on it. There’s something about the way we work together, jamming and editing ideas that feels magical and we want that to come through in our videos, everything that we do. Plus, we’re gonna have more downtime so we can work on new songs and prepare for the 777antasy launch. That should be a hoot. I want it to be over-the-top larger-than-life, an extravaganza! That’s if I had it my way.