This week’s selections from the Gimmie team for your listening pleasure via this handy Spotify playlist!
Keith Levene is one of the most interesting people we’ve had the pleasure to chat with, he’s experienced a lot, created a lot and still is. We love people that are constantly moving forward and evolving; to live a life that’s stagnant would be hell on earth for me. At fifteen Keith roadie for English rock band Yes, went on to be a founding member of The Clash and PiL, had a hand in the early days of The Slits, was in The Flowers of Romance with Sid Vicious and contributed many things in the early days of UK punk he didn’t get recognition for. Today Keith is still as passionate, maybe more so now than ever, about all that he’s doing now: released three limited edition handmade books, I WaS a Teenage Guitarist 4 the ClasH, Meeting Joe Strummer and The Post Punk Years (covering the years 1976-1982); versions of his album Commercial Zone and more. He spoke to us from Prague while he was working on CZ2014 a semi-official release of music he’d made for what would eventually become PiL’s This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get.
KEITH LEVENE: I’m OK now. It was either pick my Mac up and throw it over the balcony or get away from it for a moment. I was really fucked off! Sometimes you’ll be doing stuff in this day and age, with digital stuff, on Macs or what have you, you want to do something simple but they work in annoying ways; everybody’s doing it and it’s not new anymore by the way. When things go wrong, it’s like buses coming at once, you wait for a bus and it comes and when things have gone wrong, one thing goes wrong, it can then click and everything can be OK, stuff happens and it’s fantastic; other times you go on to do simple things and it takes a long time. You think I’m gonna do this and this and this and this, and things start going wrong and you forget what you’re going to do, you get frustrated. You think, the reason I’m doing this myself is because the people that were doing it for you took longer and were a pain, all that kind of thing—I was in that space when you first called. As you can tell I still am a little bit. I’m OK though, I’ve just had some good stuff lined up for today. It’s taken me a long time to be in the position to have this shit lined up; one of the big frustrations is we had to create this stuff ourselves. No directors, no anything, we just do it all ourselves. I’m sorry, I just needed to vent.
That’s OK. I understand yourself frustration Keith, I do everything I do myself and I’m self-taught too.
KL: Fantastic. Do you live in Sydney?
No, further north, closer to Brisbane.
KL: Someone from Sydney wanted to bring me out a while back. I thought I could just come and use local people as my band. I thought maybe I could just turn up but I don’t want to bring a band, I don’t want to fucking tour. I got busy though, he got busy, and everyone got busy. Tommy Emmanuel is a favourite of mine. Do you know who that is?
Yes. He’s an Australian guitarist.
KL: He is one of the most famous guitarists in the world, definitely, at least in Australia. What questions do you have for me? Ask me anything you want.
You’re in Prague at the moment; what inspired you to move there?
KL: It was a mistake! I did a project here last year. I knew about Faust Studios, I knew one of the drummers that worked in the studio here; it’s a big space just to drum. Faust was the only game in town, I know because like I said, I was working here last year. I didn’t even know that I was going to be doing Commercial Zone 2014 or whatever it was going to be at the time, it’s done now, it’s ready. I needed an old school studio, obviously it had to be with people I knew; I started working with people I knew but it didn’t work out. To answer the question, I didn’t choose Prague, Prague chose me.
With Commercial Zone 2014, I know you wanted to embrace the original PiL ethos; can you tell me what that is?
KL: The things is, I knew it inside but I’ve recently rediscovered it, that ethos is automatic to me. I don’t even know what ethos really means. It’s a general process and way of working I guess. When I say PiL, I mean me, obviously it worked really well for the first three or four PiL albums… I came in and thought that I’d bang it out in ten to twenty days, then I realised it’s not ready. I could have released something, I have loads of stuff but I wanted to let the whole thing develop in its own time. I wanted to capture the best part of the past. I kept coming to this block, CZ ’83. I’ve now been using CZ 2014 and I now know what it is. I’ve basically refined everything I’ve been doing for the last few years. It’s been a big, big effort to be back in music specifically and expanding it. I’m into things beginning not ending. When I was in PiL, it was rock n roll. Like John Lydon said recently “the big full stop”. We wanted to put a full stop on rock n roll. I like rock n roll, I like The Beatles and the shit before but that was all a past thing. Now here we are thirty years later and all I’m seeing is shit from the past, there’s nothing there.
With this project we crowd-funded it, since then I’ve expanded it times ten. I intended to do that, to deliver what I promised to these CZ 2014 crowd-fund people but more, like there’s the book. That’s the PiL ethos: it’s not enough to be just a musician. We weren’t trying to be pop stars. I like pop records, I like the hits, but I’m not trying to be a fucking pop star. I don’t want to be a John Lennon or a Paul McCartney, I want to be something else; I want to be the guy you can’t copy on guitar—I want colour, I want touch.
When the internet was coming in all you’d hear about was, oh you can see me do this or do that, or you can do this… now it’s a pain in the fucking arse. Tell me a time when your phone is really turned off. These phones are just mobile fucking computers. It went from being really exciting to being really fucked, they’ve turned it all off now. With me, I’m trying to use elements of it and deliver a product. Ever since CDs came out there’s been a debate of are CDs better or is viny better; vinyl was better but digital can take care of anything now days. It’s nice having a record but it wasn’t working. Everyone was like, we want vinyl! But then only 1 in 100 goes out and buys it and plays it on a record player. Some people just get it and never play it, they just want an album because they want a thing, they want an experience—they want the memory! Oh, I’ve got the memory. I remember what it was like in record shops and you remember too, holding the covers and talking about it, this PiL ethos was about that. Where we are now, that ethos really fits.
The fact that I chose that little period 1983-1984 CZ, Commercial Zone period, moved to the CZ here in the Czech Republic… the whole idea of the project was to get in the fucking Commercial Zone and see what the fuck happens in the Commercial Zone. Teen Guitarist [the book] has got a life. I’ve only just discovered this in the last few days as I’m printing off the book. There’s a lot of good stuff, I’m not looking to tour but I am looking for a teen guitarist; I’m looking for a kid that’s fucking great that wants to do this.
I’m overwhelmed by your passion Keith. You’ve been doing what you do for so long, it’s great that you still have so much energy and focus.
KL: Bianca, everyone says that! I remember this guy from when I started getting back on the scene, a geeky kid, great kid—the kid loved Keith Levene. You get these people that like punk or this or that, then you get people that like a certain kind of music AND Keith Levene, hence they like PiL. He loved me and we were hanging out for a bit. We were doing a geeky thing, I had just got some new Macs. I hang out with 20 year olds and the energy that I’ve got compared to them, is probably a hundred times more focused. This kid is 21, I’m 54 and hanging out and feel a bit weird doing that but, yes, I am passionate. This guy that interviewed me yesterday said, ‘Keith, you’re still angry, aren’t you?’ It made me laugh because I’m not angry, I still react in the same way—I don’t give a fuck. A lot of people don’t give a fuck anymore but in a different way, it’s them just not being arsed. Now is the fucking time for punk rock! 1976 was a fucking warm up, now is the time. If you want to get serious, now is the time! I’ve sensed that since 2011… here we are. Things are looking good in terms of cool things and there’s more to come. Have you seen or heard anything of the stuff on my YouTube?
Yes. I’ve looked at it all and I’ve been following your posts. I find it fascinating and I’m really digging what you’re doing. I was listening earlier to the one you recently put up, “What’s My Name”. I played it and then played the original and the new one is miles ahead for me.
KL: Bianca, I never recorded that, then I thought I’m going to record it. I’d been toying with it for years. When I did the draft version you heard on YouTube (I’ll do a better one for the album)… here I’ll send you a version I made of it now. The file will appear in front of you and you can accept it and give it a listen. It may take a minute to download…
OK great. Thanks.
KL: Oh it actually just says it’s going to take 21 hours [laughs]. I want you to hear it. What I did, I did “What’s My Name” then this kid, this Rotten Johnny kid, did a vocal for it like the original. I asked him to do something madder. He asked me, “what do you mean?” I told him to just do a vocal on it; he said, “yeah, yeah, Keith, I will.” It’s just an upgrade, it’s just a vocal, it’s just a fucking guy talking. Anyway, you’ll see it, get it and see the focus. Everyone’s thinking this shit! Don’t tell me you’re not going into Starbucks or wherever you’re getting your fucking coffee from, or you’re in some awful pub and this fucking music that they’ve been playing since the late 80s comes on… it’s got worse and worse. When Cher brought out that awful fucking tune with that autotune it was the end, it was over; she tripped over her knob, found the special effect, the special effect went wrong and she was like ‘oh I like the sound of that’ and now we’re had twenty fucking years of robots singing through computers. My computer does more in its sleep than this fucking music. Listen to me crying here! I listened to this music in the restaurant last night and it was fucking awful. They had this flatscreen telly playing this corporate fucking shit! We’re immersed in this shit. Now is the time for punk rock! Maybe I am pissed off and angry? [laughs]. No, I’m not. I’m too old to be angry; the anger just turns into passion. Like, what the fuck can I do about it? What can I contribute to this planet? I can look at myself in the fucking mirror.
Tell me about the book, I WaS a Teenage Guitarist 4 the ClasH. It looks amazing. It reminds me of a zine. It’s very handmade and personal.
KL: Yeah. I only realised a couple of nights ago, people say, “Have you put any words on, Commercial Zone, the new one?” It’s taken me ages to get it… It’s not a remake, I’m not even going to be doing any of the tracks in the end. The words to Commercial Zone is: I WaS a Teenage Guitarist 4 the ClasH. That’s spawned a certain record, this Teen Guitarist record. I don’t know how I’m going to do it yet. It’s going to make me make an album that has a focus of words which, I’ve never done that. The best guy I ever had for that was John Lydon when he was good, he was fucking good in the beginning, to be Johnny Rotten in those days… He knew me, he knew Keith, which helped and to have the Sex Pistols happen to him and I’m on that scene anyway; I’ve done The Clash, I’m doing the Slits… I actually elected to not be in the Sex Pistols. It came up when they drafted Sid [Vicious] in. I was in The Flowers of Romance with Sid. Sid was cool, it wasn’t because he was the greatest musician on the planet, it was because he had ‘it’, that indefinable thing.
For John to turn around and say “Good idea Keith, I like it” and come to me and say “I call myself John Lydon” to be… obviously he changed his mind somewhere along the line. He changed his mind at the wrong time, he should have gone off and called himself Johnny Rotten, not PiL. I guess that’s for John to figure out.
What I’m doing is finishing business, I did Metal Box In Dub, some unfinished business with [Jah] Wobble, we kind of tested our own material; we needed that going through the PiL shit. The music stood up. People were turning up. A guy came from Australia to Wales, Bianca, this guy landed, came to the gig, was amazed and went back to the airport and got back on a plane—that amazed me. A guy came from California to see us play in London too. He said that ‘last time I saw you play was the L.A. Olympic Auditorium and I was upset but now I forgive you for everything, you’ve completed a circle’ so, I’ve completed a circle in someone else’s life in some deep thing, some unfinished business they had with PiL.
What is going on with this Bianca is that CZ 2014 is the entire PiL album that never got to come out. I thought we were going to put the record out, go to Japan and get a break. There was pressure to record, I was waiting for an advance from Richard [Branson] which he held on to ‘cause we were in a different territory. I got these guys going, where’s the fucking money going? I’m like, what fucking money? There was a lot of intense feelings about the original project. To actually be here now and finally getting it out there without the bollocks is just what I needed. The way I feel now, even with just the results I have now, is that I’ve really, really got it! I still have a lot of work to do over the next month but I feel I’m going to unveil this PiL album.
The first fucking thing that I recorded in the new zone, in the key zone, where you go in and you do it, you don’t even write it, you just let it happen… I felt really good about it. There’s a massive PiL element and a little bit from the Flowers of Romance thing, it’s finishing unfinished business—I have to do this. I’m using the book, because I have to; I’m using the YouTube channel like tools, like band members. There’s no rule you have to be in a band. PiL’s not a band, we’re a company; there’s the PiL ethos again. I’ve elected to work on my own because it’s simpler. I don’t have enough life left to be waiting around or dicking around or to work with annoying drummers or people—I’m difficult enough to work with!
KL: I am! I’m so difficult to work with I can only be with me at the moment. Thank god I’m getting fucking results!
Where do you find you get your best ideas?
KL: You never know what’s going to happen. It’s never like, oh everything is so wonderful, oh man I’m so enthused. It’s like I’m sitting around sweating. I have really bad ideas but then somehow that could change at any second, next thing you know, you can’t fucking stop. You start telling yourself, I’ve got to stop so I can walk away for five minutes and come back… There’s no time and place. I had a really good idea recently at 3:44 in the morning. I wanted to get up and do it but I told myself to turn your fucking mind of and get sleep. If I sleep on an idea and wake up and still want to do it, then I know it’s a great idea. I’m out of the experimental PiL mode and I’m just trying to get things out, bang! Bang! Bang! That’s only happened in the last week.
KL: Good. I’ve felt pressure since this [funding] campaign. It’s a weird pressure. I never hear from people too much that have contributed. The pressure though really has been that I have to face this fucking thing, I have to get this 1984 business out of the way and get upgraded. People won’t upgrade to where we are now, they’re so busy. I want to create new memories for people now, it’s sort of like Blade Runner. That What’s My Name thing took two hours. I can do things but I might have had it in my head for two years. Sometimes I can get the essence in a few minutes then just refine the track. I was lucky being in PiL and getting that experience going into multi-tracks, just before it changed to digital, when 24 tracks were optimal. The thing is, now you can do anything; you’re not restricted by tape, you can create any physical thing you want to. To put it all down now into simple ideas, to powerful, useable ideas, it’s taken so long to get there.
Why is music important to you?
KL: Music is important to me because I’m a composer. It turns out that I really am a good musician and composer. I can’t read music, I’m self-taught. I don’t listen to a lot of music, I don’t like bands. I love the bands in the 60s, all of that shit, the ‘Stones and The Beatles. When I was in The Clash I didn’t give a fuck about any of the other bands that were around and I thought they were all crap and I had no time for them anyway. Music is really important to people but I haven’t got time to listen to it. I haven’t heard a good fucking thing for years apart from a few weird sources. I was never really enamoured with punk, it just came at the right time. I was into jazz and all this shit. I had only started playing and I was a roadie for Yes when I was fifteen.
When I came of tour with Yes I realised I wanted to be in a band. Having a band was a big fucking thing for a fifteen year old. I’m looking at this cherry red guitar in my little bedroom, I remember like it was yesterday, I’m looking at this thing and thought I had to get a real Gibson. I knew me well enough by then to know that I wasn’t going to allow myself to have a Gibson unless I could play really, really well, proper. I could play a few chords and tunes but that was it. I was lucky that everyone I knew in my local area wanted to be a guitarists; the two best guitarists in my neighbourhood was me and the guy that took me under his wing. He wasn’t better than me though, he was a good guy, an American. He was the one who got me into the whole, the more you play the better you are thing, as well as all this crap American music.
I had two sisters, one three years older than me and the other six years older, they got me into The Beatles when I was three. I got taken to the doctor because I’d just stare at the record player all day and my mum freaked out. By the time I was 15, in terms of music, it was like being 25 with the scenes I was exposed to. It’s not just music that’s important, Stevie Wonder said this in an interview once ‘it puts an emotional stamp on things’ a time and date, a kind of JFK kind of moment. People say that when they heard that guitar solo on Public Image’s first single that it changed their life. I don’t get that for me but I do get how people can feel that. It’s important because it gives people that emotional stamp. Music can be soothing or it can be painful depending on what you are going through. If you have an argument with your partner and you listen to all of these tunes you love, you find yourself not being able to listen to them because you associate them with them.
When we started bands, when we started punk – I never liked that expression but we needed something – I wanted more! I wanted something better than The Beatles, better than Yes, because all that had been done. Everything got smaller but the options to me, got greater.
When the magic of PiL ran out, I knew it would happen… I thought, oh you’ve got to get out of this, like with The Clash when that ended. The way I had it worked out in my head was, if The Clash are going to work, get the fuck out because you’re just going to be difficult and are going to make it difficult for them; they don’t get it, they’re never gonna get it so don’t worry about it, fucking great! I thought I was young enough and could do it again; I was a teen guitarist. I knew I could do it and it would be way better. I knew The Clash were going to make it but I couldn’t believe how they made it. I’ve never listened to the first Clash album the whole way through.
Since I was a kid I have constantly known what I don’t want. We’re so told by everything around us what we should want, where we can get it, why we should get it, get it quicker here, get this medication. I came from the 60s where it was take this pill to stay up longer, take this pill and you can have sex, take this pill and you can grow another set of teeth, yeah, whatever—take this and you’ll go to another universe! AND we believed it! It’s bad living and we’re all so affected by it. There’s too much recreation, there’s too much nostalgia, it’s got to stop. I guess things like social media has really put this in our face, everything is everywhere and it’s globalised. Wherever I am in the world I could be fucking anywhere, with technology it’s all the same. This is the future I saw coming. I’m doing what I’m meant to do. When I say there’s nothing new under the sun, I mean, good is always good, simple is always simple; you don’t have to know about it to like it but if you do know about it you’ll probably like it more—that’s what I want.
I got really sick of lots of stuff in rock n roll, like a load city girls asking me to sign their underpants. I was always slagging off people like Lou Reed and Keith Richards… the emerging of a respectable, proper pop star would be John Lennon, who if he made mistakes he made them big and in public, he tried to do the right thing; people like Keith Richards just used and abused everything and sent the wrong fucking message. The guy who started sending the right message was Buddy Holly. This is all by and by though. This is just what Keith thinks.
I’ve read about the time you walked into a pub in London and saw your first Sex Pistols gig, you said it was the maddest thing you’d ever seen, a high point of your life; what else has been a high point in your life?
KL: I can’t be asked to think about it. If it doesn’t come straight to me I don’t have time to think about it and let it come through. I don’t even want to talk about the high points in my life right now.
I think it’s nice to keep some things to yourself, to keep things private and for you, there’s something special in that. I think in general most people overshare, especially online.
KL: Yeah. I find it hard to answer, what has been other high points in my life… like if I say I vividly remember JFK being shot, I didn’t even know what it meant to be shot, I think I was five or six (you never really know what age you are when you’re around that age). I know I was at the first place I lived, I can vividly remember the blue door and the atmosphere. I’ll score that as a ‘high point’ because it was so interesting and you could really feel it. To me he seemed he looked like a pretty old school guy, I like old school. Another example, bad old school would be Ed Sullivan or Eisenhower, that kind of guy. I didn’t realise how much charm and panache JFK had. The whole thing that happened with the Kennedy thing, before I started getting older and could understand what they were talking about on the TV… there’s another thing, sorry I’m jumping off track…
Another high point, something I haven’t done for years because I can’t stand it, is watch TV. I’m sacred of it. It makes me feel sick when it’s on and I’m in the room, I have to just leave. I used to just sit there and watch it to be polite but if I’m somewhere now and they have TV on, I’m like, I’m here interact with me, if they don’t then I’ll fuck off. TV is fucked. TV now is just a communication medium, it’s horrible. It’s so unrewarding. Why I thought TV was great growing up was because it was new. In punk rock times TV only just went colour. Everyone has everything now. We’re so busy with dealing with this useless stuff, all this stuff that we’re told to check out, we get pulled into it. It’s all so run of the mill. Society wants you to consume. The whole punk thing came at the end of the 60s, we wanted something new, to keep it simple.
I opened the door of the Nashville, as I opened the door the ‘Pistols started. It’s like they were like, oh Keith’s here, bang! It was so bizarre. I wasn’t impressed musically but that feeling I got was such a good feeling. You could see everyone look at John and the noise he was making, it was a relief. There were people on the scene like Bernard Rhodes and Malcom McLaren; Bernie was very esoteric and an artistic guy and had a lot of experience, had experience in places English people don’t end up in very often, that made him an interesting guy. They were at the same gig. I was sitting with him and watching the ‘Pistols, later me and him would put The Clash together. Me and him were pretty OK, but him and the rest of the punk rock scene, let alone The Clash, weren’t communicating, we were not on the same page.
When you were making your handmade book, I WaS a Teenage Guitarist 4 the ClasH; was it fun for you?
KL: I have three more to make today. I’ve spent last three weeks making about 12 of them. I can’t do it unless I’m feeling right. When I’m making the covers, I go into this mode. They take a really long time to make. I have t-shirts too. It’s so punk, when I say that something is punk, what I mean is, it’s fresh and exciting.
Slag Queens play passionate post-punk with serious groove at times veering into alt-pop, dance-punk territory with an evident ‘90s grunge influence. Their debut LP You Can’t Go Out Like That was on our favourite records of 2019 list and is a well-crafted collection of catchy songs—addictive even. We’re excited for the new LP they’ve currently been in the studio making. We caught up with them to get the lowdown.
What albums put you on a musical path?
LUCY: In my house growing up Mum and Dad really only listened to classical music and a certain kind of folk music (i.e. it DID NOT include Bob Dylan). Hearing the White Stripes and the Pixies when I was in my early 20s was huge. Especially Kim Deal and her bass lines/vocals have been a huge influence. I fucking love the Doolittle album and still listen today.
CLAIRE: In terms of sending me down this musical path, when I picked up the drums for Slags I was binging hard on the first self-titled album by Memphis band Nots. But also Lucy made me a mixtape and that introduced me to Sneaks and I smashed her album Gymnastics too.
AMBER: Some of my parent’s tapes that I listened to constantly as a kid are still my favourites. Neil Young’s Harvest Moon, Bjork’s Debut, Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call and Joan Baez are still very strong for me.
CLAIRE: Oh when Wesley joined the band he got me into listening to lots of Malaria! (Self-titled album) and The Smiths The Queens Is Dead. Wesley has excellent taste.
How did Slag Queens first get together?
LUCY: I was drunk at this venue in Launceston. Strange place; doesn’t exist anymore, like a lot of venues in Launceston. And the smoker’s area is like bitumen with a sort of indoor cricket cage thing around it. The lighting is bad. And I’m there, and Claire is there, and Gracie (our first guitarist and epic legend) is there. Oh man. I had spoken to Gracie previously about being in a band and we were talking about it and Claire was like, “I’ll learn drums”. Our first practice was in my sister’s house in West Launceston. She got me into playing bass in Bansheeland and now Mary is doing her solo thing with Meres. The start of Slag Queens was really all about trying to play our instruments and eating pizza and commiserating about work and patriarchy.
Why the name Slag Queens?
CLAIRE: We came up with the name pretty early on when we were meeting as a weekly jam/hangout. It came about in a bit of a giggle storm fuelled by Boags Reds (the beer you drink in Northern Tasmania). And it really felt right for a number of different reasons. Firstly, we thought it was funny. On a deeper level it references queer and feminist traditions of drag queens and reclaiming derogatory slurs. But also, just as ‘slag’ is the discarded by-product of processing coal, Slag Queens could be considered the sloppy by-product of the clean, hyper-serious musical ambitions of male-dominated rock bands in regional Tasmania.
For me, the name was part of this defence wall I felt like we were constructing around us to preserve the kind of raw and exciting energy of being fresh to playing our instruments and making music together. Well before some rock bro in Launceston anointed us the town’s “Shittest Band”, we had already crowned ourselves with trash tiaras. By doing so I had given myself permission not to worry about being held to particular musical standards by stupid, made-up cultural norms and to just create music with my friends. At the time I revelled in this new-found, self-deprecating freedom. However, I would say that now some time has passed and I’ve significantly improved as a drummer (and as a whole band!) my feelings about my trash tiara have definitely changed and it feels less relevant. Still in love with the name though.
Can you tell us something about each band member?
Lucy: I have a chronic inflammatory bowel condition, and it was really horrible finding that out because it feels really unsexy.
CLAIRE: I have a fake, removable front tooth. Sometimes it goes missing.
WESLEY: I also smashed my front teeth out, on a tow bar.
Amber: I almost rolled a d20 to make up a random backstory to answer this question because it’s so difficult to think of one single fact about myself. I have spent an ungodly amount of time today playing Stardew Valley.
You’re from lutruwita (Tasmania); how does living there influence your music?
LUCY: Keen to hear Amber’s take on this as someone who’s done a lot in Hobart’s music scene and grew up in the far south. For me, starting out in the North, in Launceston there was definitely always this feeling of being expected to be a certain standard/do certain things with the music and Slags was very much a reaction to that. I think other things are about being in a regional place established through violent colonisation and the labour of prisoners. To put it mildly, that kind of stuff leaves a lot behind.
AMBER: I really like the small music scene vibes. For all the problems we have with people leaving the state/very few music venues, it’s really nice growing up and watching local bands and then becoming friends with them and making new bands together. It’s a very close knit community and I think that encourages more people to try things and be adventurous with their music.
You’re in the middle of making a follow up record to last year’s LP You Can’t Go Out Like That; what can you tell me about it at this point? What direction are the songs headed in?
CLAIRE: Perhaps what’s been both the most exciting and most challenging thing about Slag Queens has been that we’ve had changes to our line-up. Each line-up has understandably brought different flavours to the sound, especially because we do our songwriting quite collaboratively with everyone in the same room (currently the shed out the back of mine and Amber’s house).
AMBER: A lot of the new songs have moved further away from the punk-leaning sensibilities of the previous album and into a space that I can’t really put a genre to. I like it. It’s weird.
WESLEY: Because Amber and I are definitely chaotic in alignment, It’s become much more hard to steer the reigns, I’ve got no idea where it’s going, but it’s a fun ride.
What’s been lyrically inspiring the new songs?
LUCY: New songs are mostly about what’s been happening down south in Tassie. The housing crisis in particular. But also, I’ve been writing a bit about fashion – because I love fashion but it’s also really gross for so many reasons that I won’t go into here – you already know how fucked the fashion industry can be.
One of the new songs is based on Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend. I enjoyed that book despite some mixed reviews but I was totally in support of the main character – this little loner girl, angry, righteous, hard to like, focused. I don’t know if Donna Tartt is really a revolutionary writer and she’s coped criticism for the way she writes her female characters but I liked Harriet.
Apart from that, I don’t know. It’s weird times. A lot of lyrics I write by making up sounds that later become words or by automatic writing. So sometimes I don’t really feel like I choose an idea and then develop it, it’s more that I write stuff and then we try to work out what it means.
You recently helped The Native Cats make a video clip for “Sanremo” the B-side t their Two Creation Myths 7”, I know that they’re good friends and have helped mentor you; in what way?
CLAIRE: I can’t actually remember the first time I met Julian and Chloe, but I think I might have met Julian at our EP launch in the front bar of The Brisbane Hotel in 2016. I learned about Rough Skies Records (Julian’s label) earlier that year when I went to see Powernap at Launceston’s The Royal Oak. The room was pretty-well empty but I loved it nonetheless. When I saw the 7inch they had on them I was just amazed that some guy in Hobart was doing short vinyl runs for bands like Powernap. I probably would have fallen over either from laughter or just straight-up shock if someone told me that I would end-up running Rough Skies with Julian.
What Julian has done for me beyond simply sharing his wisdom of having been around the scene for a long time, is he’s believed in me and consistently made me feel like I can do stuff. I’m not sure if other women in music have had this experience, but since taking on Rough Skies with Julian, I’ve been confronted by comments that I’m bossy or rumours/comments circulating the scene that I hadn’t “earned” that position (I don’t know if these are true sentiments that people hold but hearing them has had an impact on me). Julian – and Chloe for that matter – have always made me feel like my organisational skills and musical taste are valid and valued. And also having them believe in the music we’re making with Slags – not just appreciating our songs but really understanding our context – that’s a massive compliment.
Speaking of video clips we really love your “Real 1” clip; can you tell us a bit about making it?
WESLEY: We really wanted to do something collaborative and work with some people we knew. We thought that it would be really nice to work with local fashion designer Lychandra Gieseman who makes size- and gender-less wearable pieces, and film maker Caitlin Fargher. Caitlin and I went on a bit of a scout and we found this (semi) abandoned quarry, and agreed it was perfect. After working with Lych to pick and match some of their pieces, we went to the quarry and danced and had some fun. It was a really nice and simple way of getting all the shots and then Caitlin came back super-fast with the edited version.
AMBER: I was suuuuper hungover and I had in my mind that if we borrowed a BMX I could do cool tricks on it. Turns out it’s actually really hard. I have a newfound respect for BMX riders.
We really love your debut LP You Can’t Go Out Like That; can you tell us the story behind the album cover please? It’s so fucking cool! We had it on our Fav Album Covers Of 2019 list.
LUCY: We were very, very honoured because Launceston artist, Andrew Leigh Green, agreed to do some photography for us. I’d never met him but had some friends model for him. Andrew is one of those incredible artists who no-one’s heard of (probably contributed to by the fact that his insta/fb is constantly being censored).
Anywho, the shoot. We rocked up to Andrew’s house and he came out wearing pyjama pants and carrying a plastic shopping bag and was just like, “I’ve got a great location scoped out!” So we headed up to this place that turns out to be the old rollerskating rink where, as a 13 year old, I would blade around to M People. Now it’s covered in possum shit and there was this bath in the middle of the rink, which Andrew threw this pink shawl over. And then hey presto, it’s not a bath, it’s a vortex, an opening, an arsehole, a vagina, a mouth.
I loved working with Andrew. I felt very connected to his experiences of growing up in Tassie and going to outer suburbs schools and being a bit of a weirdo and copping shit for that. I loved how excited Andrew was about the shoot. He was just constantly saying “beautiful” and talking about how “magic” shoots could be. And there was definitely that energy. Like something cool and special and accidental//preordained was happening.
Slag Queens are on the brilliant compilation series Typical Girls’ 5th edition with the song “Waterfall”; what’s some cool bands you’ve found through that series? We have all volumes, they’re such killer compilations.
CLAIRE: Ah you’re so ahead of me, Bianca. I only discovered this series when we were asked to contribute and they really are excellent! The band I’ve been most excited about finding through this volume is Vital Idles. They remind me of The Raincoats and Pylon, but also sound like they could be a Melbourne jangle band – turns out they’re actually from Glasgow. I also really enjoyed the tracks from Snob, Helene Barbier and Mr. Wrong.
What’s been the best and worst show you played; what made it so?
AMBER: I think everyone has different best and worst shows. Best is always when everyone is in a good mood, the crowd dances, and we all look hot. Worst is when someone is in a mood or we’re all tired and hungover, we can’t hear each other, and there are no vibes on stage. My favourite ever show we’ve played was at a festival called Panama in March. Transcendent.
CLAIRE: The worst gig was definitely in Melbourne a couple of years back. We had driven all the way from Adelaide very hungover. Instead of being able to get a nap in our accommodation, I had to use our hire car to drive around Melbourne to pick up gear. Lucy’s sister had come over from Tas with her band for their first mainland show and they were due to open around 8.30pm. But the guy bringing a guitar amp was super late and I felt like he was never going to show up. From memory I think he turned up around 8.45/9pm. After a bunch of line-up changes we had unknowingly booked a band that had pissed a lot of people off recently. This, along with there being a couple of big shows on that night in Melbourne, meant very, very few people came. At the end of the night I collected the money from the venue and paid all the bands only to find out after that we needed to pay the sound tech. I had to send my bandmate to the bar to get money out to pay him. I still get anxious thinking about that gig.
What other things do you do outside of the band?
WESLEY: Doldrums, which is Lucy and I. Doldrums has played half a gig and hasn’t rehearsed in 12 months, but we should because I try to recite poems in German which and sing over Lucy’s porridge-like synth. I also do a solo radio noise project and a multi-media art practice. I also tell people not to touch things at MONA.
AMBER: I have a solo electronic project called, Slumber, and an emo-country band called, Dolphin. I like to garden and plot the downfall of capitalism.
WESLEY: Me too, we also play chess together.
LUCY: I’m doing solo stuff too which feels weird. Slag Queens is also about to start an online Dungeons and Dragons game.
CLAIRE: I’m a social worker and work in the area of sexual and reproductive health. I also run Rough Skies Records with Julian Teakle (The Native Cats) and have started doing Jonathon Van Ness’s yoga sessions in my living room with my housemate, Louis.
If you love instrumental, psych-rock, krautrock or extended space jams than Coburg’s Brown Spirits are for you! Their mind-melting music has found a home on Germany psych label Clostridium Records. We interviewed guitarist Tim Wold about the experimental, funky world of Brown Spirits.
When did you first pick up your instrument?
TIM WOLD: I started playing guitar when I was twelve and keyboards about two years ago
What was your first concert?
TW: My mum took me to see Eric Clapton when I was 14. He did lots of Cream songs which was great. But he still definitely maintained the attitude he’s famous for. I’m not a huge fan of the guy.
What’s an album that helped shape your ideas on music?
TW: It really is a tough one because there are so many, but I’d say Tago Mago by CAN is the gift that keeps giving, it’s been in my top 10 since I was a teenager.
How did you find psychedelic music?
TW: The three main sources were all pre-internet pretty much. Parents’ record collection, then 90’s radio like shows Loosen Up (PBS) and Galactic Zoo (RRR). Whilst my parents had all the staples like Revolver, Dark Side of the Moon etc.. it was really Peebs and RRR where I picked up on all the less accessible psych from the northern hemisphere, you know like Nuggets, ‘Elevators, Miles Davis Big Fun and Funkadelic’s Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow was also a big one for me. From there I was hooked on that era and I had strayed off weed by then, so I knew was into it for the long haul. It’s weird with Psychedelia, it’s like one of the most used terms and often mis-used in music today I reckon. And yet people’s opinion of what is psych varies so much, I guess there’s no rules.
What inspired you to start Brown Spirits? How did you meet?
TW: Ago [Soldati; drums] and I met through one of our best mates (Sam) when we started playing in a garage R&R band called Russian Roulettes back in the mid-2000’s, we had some great times and got to tour overseas. Then we always talked about doing a psych project but never really got motivated till a couple of years ago. We got together and tracked & mixed our first album on tape in my bedroom and it then got picked up by our label in Germany but at that point we were purely a recording project.
Few months on, our album got released in Europe and we were fortunate enough to have Go Kurosawa from Kikagaku Moyo buy a copy in downtown Tokyo. Out of the blue we received a random message from Go asking us if we wanted to play with Kikagaku when they did their 2018 Oz tour. Naturally we were like, yeah we’re keen! But we don’t exist yet! Cause we didn’t have a live set together or a bass player. So we missed the boat that year but it was the shot in the arm we needed to recruit a bass player and start doing shows. So that’s how it all came about really.
Where did the band’s Italian sound library influence come from?
TW: Being a fan of soundtracks and often the psyched out kitsch songs you find on Library records. Library music was massive in UK & Italy back in the ‘60s/’70s and yet most of the obscure stuff is only being reissued now. The Italians in particular were way more experimental and incorporated a lot of funk, breakbeats, fuzz pedals and had a recording budget that a lot of independent bands didn’t have cause it was for TV production and recorded as a Licensing investment for producers so there was (I’m assuming) money floating around. Ago is Italian and comes from a soul-funk background, his influence with deep funk is strong in our music and so I guess finding those grooves was inevitable!
How do you go about writing a song? Are they born from jamming? How important is improvisation to your process?
TW: The song writing Ago and I have done on each album will start with a very loose idea and we jam it out (me on bass), improvise and record it after about 2-3 takes. Its more about the rhythm and the vibe rather than structure. A lot of it ended up being accidental so we rarely put anything on paper. From there we kinda sculpted the tunes and added keys/guitar last.
We’re very grateful now to have Ash Buscombe in the band now because he is solid as fuck on bass and he picks up stuff really quick, it feels like a real band now he’s on board so we’re excited to see what the future holds as a 3-piece.
Can you tell us a little bit about the musical dynamic between you two?
TW: Ago and I learnt a lot about each other’s playing style when we were in Russian Roulettes, so giving each other space to improvise now in Brown Spirits comes pretty natural. Having Ash too who is really intuitive to Ago’s fills and my guitar freakouts kind of gives us all a musical grounding. We’re not a jazz band but its nice to think that we are working off that sensibility and hoping we get to do more music in a free jazz style as things progress.
You record on your Tascam Portastudio 414 tape machine; what’s the advantage of doing things this way?
TW: Doing stuff at home on tape means albums cost us nothing to record and we can take our time getting the drums sounds we like. Its ¼ inch tape so driving things so they are naturally in the red is easy and you don’t get the clipping issues like with digital. Also avoiding computers till mixing time means being limited to four tracks on tape adds a creative challenge. Once we have tracked songs and laid down the parts, we flip the tape over and play it backwards so we get to use all those tape loops for sound effects for our songs too.
Your songs are instrumentals; how do you come up with your song titles?
TW: Generally, Ago will put some thought into these it can be random but usually there is a backstory to each one whether it be an event or a feeling the music conjures up I guess. I’m not too fussy with my titles, often I will just opt for a cosmic sounding dichotomy and if it works it works.
What’s the most memorable show you’ve ever played?
TW: They have all been so fun, if I had to narrow it down… I’d say our first album launch (which was our 2nd ever time playing as a live band, in mid-2018) and also our most recent one with Kikagaku Moyo felt like a ripper. I guess we’ll always be our own worse critics. Each show has had its own charm.
Brown Spirits Vol 3 is coming soon on Clostridium Records! What can you tell us about it?
TW: We’re pretty pumped about Vol 3. The album is pressed and stock should be in distro soon. Some might say it’s hard to categorize the record however it’s got elements of Krautrock, Funk, Psychedelia and freeform experimentation.
Was there any challenges making it?
TW: No real challenges making it, but it with everything going on the in the world right now might be more of a challenge releasing it! But we’ll get there soonish. Our label boss Andy has been awesome to us and we’re stoked to be on Clostridium again. We have also recorded another album titled Vol 2. back in 2018 but that won’t see the light for a while yet. All in good time!
Lastly, why is music important to you?
TW: Like all of us really in bands, you find your life revolving around it without even questioning it ‘cause you love it so much and it’s in your blood. I guess going through life without taking the time to create something new each year is unimaginable. Also being in bands with people we dig means we get to have plenty of fun along the way.
Melbourne band Cable Ties have released a new record, Far Enough. The album is a musical burst of joy while it’s lyrically introspective and vulnerable, reflecting on one’s place in the world. If their explosive debut album were a call to arms full of protest songs, follow up Far Enough is knowing who you are, being OK with that and linking arms on the frontlines of life, standing strong for your beliefs arm-in-arm with your community. We spoke to vocalist-guitarist Jenny McKechnie yesterday as she tried to stop her seven-month-old pup Barry from demolishing all the plant seedlings the household had recently planted in the backyard.
I know that community is very important to Cable Ties, especially the DIY Melbourne music community; when you first came to the music scene, did you know anyone? How did you start to get involved?
JENNY MCKECHNIE: I grew up in Bendigo and I moved to Melbourne for uni when I was nineteen. In uni I met a friend, Grace [Kindellan]. She was really into garage music and we both got into the local scene together and started a band a year later called, Wet Lips. So, just moving to Melbourne about nine years ago and going to The Tote, The Old Bar, got me into it!
How did you start playing guitar?
JM: I started playing guitar when I was twelve, my dad had a nylon string acoustic guitar that I picked up and learnt songs on. When I was a teenager I was in a bunch of bands that were playing Celtic folk music [laughs]. I used to like going to all the folk festivals and writing sweet folk songs on acoustic guitar. When I came to Melbourne I got more into the punk and garage scene; I first picked up the bass to start with and then with Cable Ties moved on to the electric guitar.
With your new record Far Enough, I understand that it came from a place where you were feeling really hopeless.
JM: Yeah, it did. The first record that we wrote is pretty much defiant protest songs. Making the sound we did was really liberating after playing softer folk music, which was all of my songwriting before. By the time we came around to writing this album I was feeling pretty hopeless and despondent about the world and unconvinced that I was able to have a positive impact on anything. I was coming from a place where I was suffering from anxiety and depression at that time, going through a bit of a spot in my mid-20s where I couldn’t quite work things out and what to do next. In the songwriting process I started in that spot but always wanted to find a way out of it, to find something to cling onto to be hopeful about and keep fighting for.
So writing things songs did help you do that?
JM: Definitely. Songs like “Hope” especially came out of the process of a lot of journaling and a lot of time spent thinking and processing these things. I had a good psychologist too! Some of the songs on the album were really helpful and part of a bigger process that I went through generally about feeling better about myself and the world.
When you posted about the album online you mentioned that it was really challenging to make; in what way?
JM: It was challenging because it was part of that process we just talked about, the album was pretty honest and talks about the things that I was struggling with. A lot of that is turning things in on myself, I was experiencing a lot of self-criticism and a lot of self-hate about stuff like, “oh, you don’t do anything, you just play in a band and wander around playing these protest songs but, what’s the good of it? What have you got to show for it? What’s the point of all of this?” In the process of writing this album I was really doubting myself and really doubting whether I was actually meant to be in a band. I had to come out the other end of it finding some meaning in it—the purpose of my life. By this stage, I’ve dropped out of university postgrad twice, just keeping up with music commitments. I didn’t know what I was doing with my life or if any of this would work out, it was a process!
Why is making music important to you?
JM: That’s a great question. Music is the thing that I just keep coming back to all of the time and from that perspective it’s just something that feels cathartic to me. It’s the only thing that I’ve kept doing in my life, writing songs since I was twelve years old, because it helps me process that way that I’m feeling. It’s something that I can’t get away from, it’s something that I really need. It’s also my entire social community, all of my friends, it’s my entire life! I am so grateful that I have gotten to live out my 20s in this incredible music community in Melbourne. People aren’t just creating really interesting art but they also have a vibrant discussion of political issues and different ways people can live their lives outside of the common norms we’re told. It’s the most nourishing and exciting way to live my life and I’m very thankful that I have done this in the end.
Do you find it hard to open up to write your lyrics and to be so honest?
JM: No, not really. I think that’s one thing that I don’t find that hard. I’m a very earnest songwriter. I find it more hard to not be open and honest about things. Writing songs is the thing I have to do and the challenging thing comes afterwards, I have to put that out there into the world. I have to analyse what I have written down and be like; what does that mean? What is that honesty? And, where do you go from there?
Every member of Cable Ties is integral to your sound; what kind of conversation do you feel you were having musically between one another on the album?
JM: When we write songs we get into a room and someone will have a bass line or a drum beat, we’ll just play and play and play for hours, we really like to jam for a long time. We might not necessarily go many places with the jam, we might just sit in the one spot to see how that feels, and make sure it sits well on your body. That’s where everything starts from. Then we go; what does this song feel like? What is it evoking? The lyrics will come after we’ve written the music and we’ve created a musical emotion as a scaffold to work off. The one thing that we had for this album is that we all committed to doing it; jamming, practising and writing twice a week, and going away for weekend and locking ourselves in. We worked and worked and worked on things until we had it right.
We wrote “Sandcastles” when we went to a house out where Shauna [Boyle; drums] grew up as a kid. We spent the whole weekend trying to put together this song, it didn’t end up making it onto the record, it was not working and a bit convoluted. In the last two and a half hours of the weekend we were frustrated and were like, let’s just have a “hit out”! We started with a simple beat, from there we came up with most of the music for “Sandcastles” in those last hours. We were like, wow! …we felt like we had finally got through the slog of the convoluted song and the payoff was coming up with something simple and to the point.
What inspired the album title, Far Enough?
JM: It’s a lyric at the start of “Hope”. The lyric is: my uncle Pete is complaining about the Greenies, he said that they have gone too far but I say, Pete they don’t go far enough. We took it from that line but we liked it because it is somewhat ambiguous in its meaning. It can have many meanings, it can be a question like; have we gone far enough? Has the world gone too far? We think it spoke to a lot of the questions on the album.
You mentioned that your lyrics came from an introspective, questioning of self and vulnerable place; how did you grow while making the album?
JM: I became a lot more comfortable with being a musician. I became a lot more grateful for the life that I’ve had in the music community. I’m more confident to live my life according to the values of this band and that community and of looking after the people around me—existing in the world where you fight for the things that you believe in. Don’t do stuff because you want the “right” career or anything like that, it made me really, really commit to a life of activism, being in the music community and being a musician.
On the track “Anger’s Not Enough” it takes over a minute before the drums kick in; what was the idea behind leaving the space at its start?
JM: Nick [Brown; bass] did that at the start. I have this pedal that was made by this guy in Newcastle that has this pedal company called, Beautiful Noise Effects. The pedal is named, When The Sun Explodes. It’s a reverb pedal and a feedback pedal. To make the sound at the start of that song Nick just had all of the pedals on my board on – Overdrive and two boost things that I have and that pedal – he was pressing the buttons on it. That song is quite sonically different to the one that comes before it, we wanted it to sit out on it’s on. By the time it comes in with harsh and loud bass and guitar we wanted people to really be listening after that beginning, that something a little unsettling.
That part gives you a real suspenseful feeling.
JM: Good! That was the idea.
You’ve said that “It’s an album that is supposed to get you out of bed when you don’t feel like you can face it any more”; what helps get you out of bed when life gets overwhelming and you’d rather stay in bed?
JM: My dog, Barry, I’m looking at him right now [laughs]. Apart from the dog, sometimes getting up when you really don’t want to is just putting one foot in front of the other and doing something simple. Some days it’s just get out of bed, make coffee, see what’s next. Often then I’ll see something in my day that I can be thankful for—my friends, the music I have in my life. Those are the things that I live for! They have a really positive influence on me. Also, when things are hard and the world looks like it’s turning to shit, just remember even if you’re an activist and going to protests and doing everything you can and feel like you’re losing the battle, the fight in itself is intrinsically important. The purpose of it is not just to win the battle but fight for the things you believe in, things that you think are important; that’s part of your identity and way of life. Things that can get me out of bed for the day can be different each day.
In the spirit of the album’s main theme; where do you find hope?
JM: Hope on the album is an active emotion, it’s something that you have to find out of necessity to keep going. What gives me hope sometimes is trying to logic my way out of things like, you wake up and there’s another instance of environmental degradation happening and you say, “that’s contributing to climate change and we’re losing this! What the fuck are we going to do? We’re all doomed!” And then just going, it might be true but what good is it for you to be despairing about this, it makes the problem worse and you feel worse as well. Even if you don’t logically think this fight can be won, if you give into that fear then of course it’s never going to be won! Hope for me sometimes comes from a little bit of going, ok this might be hopeless but that’s no good for anyone, so you better believe somewhere that the fight is worth it and you could do something. If you don’t believe it, it never will happen. For me that’s something that I fall back on a lot when I’m in the worst depths of feeling doom and gloom about the world.
What’s your favourite thing about the new record?
JM: I like the conversations that I’ve ended up having about it, they’re so interesting. It is vulnerable… talk about it, face it! The conversations we get to have are personal, interesting and let you connect with other people. My favourite track changes every day but right now it’s “Lani”.
Why that one?
JM: I can really sink into it. You can’t play that track right unless you relax into it. The guitar playing is really emotive and expressive. If I don’t feel those things, the emotions within myself, then I don’t play it properly. Sometimes it’s the scariest song for me to play! When I do it right though, it is so satisfying. It can also really turn around a gig, or when I get on stage and I’m feeling nervous or things aren’t going right.
What are you doing while locked down?
JM: The job I had before I was supposed to go on tour, working for a university, I can do it from working at home. I’m lucky I can still work, and that they took me back after I was “bye! I’m going on tour” [laughs]. Looking after my dog that’s barking at people right now, he’s seven months now so he’s taking up a lot of my time. I’m probably going to go back to uni if I’m being honest, because it’s probably going to be a little while before we get to go anywhere.
Do you write songs all the time or only when you have to write for an album?
JM: Normally I write all the time. I was writing one just before we were leaving for tour. At the moment I’m not playing because after everything that happened with the tour being cancelled – we’d been rehearsing in the lead up to that and doing a lot of playing – after it was cancelled I really felt like I needed a bit of a mental break before I started writing new stuff. I’ve put the guitar down for a few weeks. I’m feeling like picking it up again now. I have a loop pedal now, so the rest of isolation will be me playing with my loop pedal over and over again—I hope my neighbours are ready!
Our editor spoke with Steve Ignorant for her forthcoming book. Steve was vocalist for one of the most important punk bands of all-time, Crass. Their political punk encouraged and inspired generations of punks to think for themselves and to question authority, the world around them and themselves. 2020 finds Steve still making music with latest project the acoustic-based, Slice Of Life. He’s still singing about injustice, but his songs have taken a more personal and vulnerable turn. The following is an extract, you can find the full longer in-depth chat in book, Conversations With Punx; along with thoughtful, insightful chats with Dick Lucas from Subhumans, CJ Ramone, Operation Ivy’s Jesse Michaels, Black Flag/Circle Jerks/OFF!’s Keith Morris, Zero Boys’ Paul Mahern and 100 more punks!
Why is music important to you?
STEVE IGNORANT: It’s a way of putting a message across and it can stir up all different kinds of emotions, really that’s it.
Two things that I have noticed that are very prevalent in your music is emotion and also compassion; have you always been a really compassionate person?
SI: Yeah, I have. I’ve often met people that say I’m a bit of a romantic, I don’t know so much about that but, I have always been compassionate ever since I was a child. Not to be depressive or anything but I think it’s because when I was growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s there was even more injustice going on then there is today. From seeing that and the way certain people are treated, I think that’s where it comes from.
Before you started making music I know that you worked for the British Royal Infirmary, right? You were using Plaster of Paris on people’s broken arms and legs and you also wanted to do a First Aid course to become a paramedic.
SI: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. See I went for a job at that hospital as a Hospital Porter and I was asked if I can stand the sight of blood, I said, “yeah”. They said, “ok, well you can put Plaster of Paris on people’s arms and legs” and then it was possible for me to do a course with the St John’s Ambulance Brigade. From that I would have possibly been able to become an ambulance driver and from there a paramedic. It’s very interesting work.
So you’ve always liked helping people!
SI: Yeah, unknowingly. I don’t think I’ve ever sat around and gone, “Oh, I’m going to help people” like a missionary or something. I’m always helping people, if I’m doing gigs I’m giving money away [laughs]. I moved to this place where I live, by the seaside, and ended up working on a lifeboat. So you’re absolutely right—I’ve never thought of it like that! [laughs].
You just have an innate disposition to help others.
SI: Yes! You could say, I’m not a believer in God and all that stuff but, in some ways you could say that I’m a Christian really… helping other people and all that. I can’t help it, I’ve got to do it.
With the songs you’ve written in Crass and your newer band Slice Of Life, you’re singing about injustices in the world; do you still process your anger in the same way?
SI: Rather than being head on and writing something like “Do they Owe Us A Living?” or “So What”, I’ll find a more poetic way of doing it, a more subtle way. I think doing it more head on like “fuck you!” is more for younger people, I don’t think it’s for a sixty-two year old man to be doing [laughs]. I mean, you can if you want to… Things are more thought about these days, it takes me quite a while to write a song.
With your new band Slice Of Life’s music the songs are very personal; when do you feel your songwriting started to become more introspective?
SI: The day I realised was the day I started working with Pete [Wilson] and Carol [Hodge], we didn’t have a bass player at the time. When I started working with them I thought, I can do what I want! I don’t have to be conforming to the unwritten punk rule book. I can absolutely do what I want with these people! If I want to do a funk track, I can do that, if I want to do a reggae track I can do that, I could even do an orchestral thing—I can do whatever I want! The songs I do with Slice, tend to come from influences throughout my life. There’s a little bit of jazz in there, a little bit of Bowie, a little bit of doo-wop. Going back to your first question; how important is music? Well, it’s always been a part of my life. So that’s when it occurred to me that I could do whatever I wanted and fuck what anybody else thinks! Once I realised that it was a huge relief, a huge weight off my shoulders.
Did it feel empowering?
SI: It did! But, it was also a little bit frightening.
*Conversations With Punx (coming late 2020).
Please check out: STEVE IGNORANT.com.
Retro-futurist pop duo Mystery Guest from Melbourne have just released their first album – Octagon City – on Tenth Court Records. The album is an interesting electronic, minimal-synth record, born out of a genuine curiosity to explore sounds in the studio. Throughout the record we are given heavy doses of a Bene Gesserit, ADN’ Ckrystall, SSQ type 80’s vibe (with the monologue on the album’s opener and title track reminding us of Algebra Suicide), though updated with their own style, clearly informed by post-80’s club culture. We interviewed Mystery Guests’ Patrick Telfer and Caitlyn Lesiuk to learn more about their LP and creative journey.
Can you tell us about your creative journey; how did you first come to playing music?
PATRICK TELFER: I was always interested in the process of music making, but only started doing this after school: I got hold of a Roland hard disk recorder—a VS880—which was really,really cool. I would make silly music with friends as a form of entertaining ourselves, call it “experimental music” and never show it to anyone.
CAITLYN LESIUK: I had piano lessons as a kid, but really started getting excited about music when I got my first guitar. There was something fascinating about not knowing what the “notes” were in the traditional sense: I loved learning shapes and experimenting with them.
Did you have any favourite bands or musicians growing up?
PT: The Beatles is the one that I always come back to! Also Wu-Tang Clan.
CL: My most enduring musical obsession has been with ABBA.
How did Mystery Guest come to be?
PT: It was a project based entirely on a curiosity about the potential of using a studio – it was our first experience of a proper commercial recording studio and we had a lot of fun playing with different sounds and methods of production.
CL: We had played in bands together before, and were both interested in creating music outside the traditional “bass/drums/guitar” format.
What kind of headspace were you in writing and recording your new record, Octagon City?
PT: It was just pure clarity and bliss.
CL: I was somewhat trepidatious because I’d never recorded my own songs before, but it was an overwhelmingly positive experience.
What was the vision you had for the record?
PL: The vision I had for the record was completely surpassed by my incredible collaborators. There’s so much talent in everyone and I feel really lucky to have collected this much of it around me for enough time to make music out of it.
CL: I wanted to explore the idea of making a “musical manifesto” in the vein of albums like Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis. I felt inspired by Sun Ra and the musical output of cults like The Source Family in the ’70s.
You’re a duo; can you tell me about your dynamic and how you work together? What’s your songwriting process?
PT: A lot of the time I think of a song I like and say ‘let’s make that’. I’ve always had this idea that even if you set out to directly replicate something, the end product will be far enough away from the original that you can truly say it’s a new thing. It’s an interesting way to work – there’s nothing new!
CL: Aside from “The Day Lou Died” and “Moon Moon”, Pat would send me a beat and I’d take that away and start thinking about lyrics and melodies, and the song would start to take shape as we passed it back and forth. I hadn’t ever written songs like that before (or since), but it was an interesting process.
When do you feel most creative?
PT: When I’m happy. I find that my mental health is a little too linked to the quality—as I perceive it—of my current work.
CL: I’m only creative when I have to be, when there’s a deadline… whether that’s self-imposed or coming from somewhere else. I guess I’m still waiting to be touched by the muse.
I love all the electronic sounds in your music; what’s one of your favourite sounds?
PT: White noise has it all! Every frequency is represented. I have a friend who taught me the healing qualities of white noise when it is filtered to sound like the ocean.. like a perfectly symmetrical ocean.
CL: The Mellotron (an early 70s version of a synth made using tape). It’s such an amazing hybrid of old and cutting edge technology of the time.
Do lyrics come easy for you or do you have to work at it?
PT: I don’t ever even try any more!
CL: I try not to get too hung up on lyrics: if I can’t think of anything, I’ll look for an interesting reference in a book or image, and write about that. I wouldn’t say they come easy, but I’m mindful of spending too much time slaving over them.
What inspired the song “The Day Lou Died”?
CL: The Day Lou Died is riffing on a poem by Frank O’Hara about Billie Holiday called “The Day Lady Died”. The lyrics—taken literally—are quite dramatic I suppose: they’re about killing pop stars because it provides the opportunity to reminisce with an old love on the music that you shared. I was also trying to emulate the form and melodrama of songs by The Shangri-Las.
How did you feel when in the middle of creating the record? Were there any challenges?
PT: Knowing when to stop is a challenge! There’s always one more thing you could add…
CL: Because we’d never played the songs live, and were writing a fair few of them in the studio
What’s the most unexpected thing that’s happened on your music-making adventures so far?
PT: Caitlyn Leisuk.
CL: For want of anything else to do, I often walk around off stage when performing with a double mic lead. I never anticipated I’d perform in such an ostentatious way.
As well as doing Mystery Guest you also both created, Little Music Lab, a program for children 4 – 12 years old with a focus on learning and play through music technology; what inspired this?
PT: I’ve always worked with kids, for a long time in childcares and kindergartens. I find it to be so rewarding to engage with really young people. There are so many interesting perspectives and ideas that emerge when you enter into a conversation with a child with a really open mindedly. They can be so creative and weird and crazy.. I’ve always got along well with them and music is such a powerful language to communicate with.
Electronic, technological music opens up even more interesting avenues as this can level the playing field in terms of creating music without the need for years of disciplined rehearsal of theory and technique.
CL: I was interested in giving the kids instruments that were thoughtfully (diatonically) tuned, to avoid the kind of cacophony you get when you have a whole class haphazardly playing xylophones and ukuleles in regular tuning. If you set them up for success, even the youngest, least dexterous humans among us can make cool music.
What’s your best non-musical skill?
Why is music important to you?
PT: Music is important because it opens up new ways to communicate with people. It’s a really good vessel for expression – and it’s so suppressed in our culture – we’re all dying to sing but we almost never do. I mean aren’t we? Or is that just me?
CL: Because it creates community. That was one interesting aspect of exploring a fictional cult: in the absence of organised religion, music is a forum for bringing people together in a shared experience.
Sydney punk band Concrete Lawn will be releasing their new LP Aggregate May 1st on Urge Records. They first came to our attention in 2018 when they put out a killer cassette tape, DEMO. We interviewed CL about the new forthcoming album, recorded, mixed, and mastered by Jono Boulet from Arse/Party Dozen.
How did you first discover punk?
CAMPBELL (guitar): I first discovered punk when I found The Stooges’ “Fun House” in my dad’ s CD pile when I was 14 and it blew me away from the moment I listened to it.
JACK (bass): Going to see shows at Black Wire Records (R.I.P).
What are some of your favourite punk records?
CAMPBELL: Some of my favourite albums are The Saints – Eternally Yours, Ausmuteants – World In Handcuffs, Devo – Q: Are We Not Men?, Anaemic Boyfriends – Fake ID 7″, Radio Birdman – Radios Appear, The Cure – Boys Don’t Cry, Gee Tee – Live And Dangerous, MC5 – Kick Out The Jams, XTC – Drums And Wires, Gangajang – Sounds Of Then (I know it’s not punk but who cares!) and too many more to name.
JACK: All Bagged up by The Bags, as well as some of those early X records, also The Urinals. That Decline Of Western Civilisation doco really had a huge impact on me. Then also more angular stuff like No Trend was big to be honest, probably the only punk band I regularly listen to at home I think. In terms of locals: Nasho, Canine, Morte Lenta and Robber are my favourite punk bands.
MADDISON (vox): Can easily say Fuckheads by Gauze and Pick your King by Poison Idea but in terms of current punk/hc records, I would definitely say Binasa EP by Sial, Anxiety’s self-titled and Perfect Texture by Geld, mostly everything from Static Shock’s record label is simply sick.
Who or what made you think, ‘hey, I wanna make music!’?
JACK: Seeing small DIY bands and spaces and people doing things on their own terms, again, Black Wire Records; but also Paradise Daily Records, Sexy Romance, Dispossessed, Monster Mouse, Beat Disc, Sex Tourists, Pink Batts, No Refunds (remember those shows LOL?), Orion are all things that stick in my mind as like, things that made me want to do this.
ALEX (drums): In high school a lot of my friends were in bands and I always wanted to do that. There was this show on at school like for the end of the year and I thought to myself, I could do that mad easy!
I know that everyone in the band grew up going to heaps of shows; what was the first show you went to?
CAMPBELL: First show I went and saw was AC/DC when I was about 15, it was pretty boring it was a bunch of 70 year old men on stage playing for 3 hours practically the same song. There was a heap of aggressive bikies there too LOL. But, the first proper show I saw was The Pinheads and some random indie bands. Pinheads pretty much blew the other bands out of the water with their wild spontaneous energy.
JACK: First show I ever went to was My Chemical Romance in 2007 and it is still the best show I’ve ever been to LOL.
MADDISON: For my 15th birthday, I got given my eldest sister’s ID. First time I officially used it was at the Lord Gladstone for this shit Violent Soho-like band. Got kicked out in the first 10 minutes LOL… maybe due to the fact that I was wearing a Grateful Dead tie-dye t-shirt, and purple gumboots.
You’ve about to release your new LP Aggregate; what’s your favourite thing about it?
CAMPBELL: The drum sound, that’s all I’m sayin’.
JACK: Drums sound great on the record, they often sound like break beats which is sick. Alex taught themselves drums via jazz I think, very cool.
ALEX: I like hearing how we’ve come together as artists, and how like everything has come together and it sounds tight.
MADDISON: Drums and bass are hench as fuck, especially in “Milk”.
You recorded with Jono from Arse; how did you come to working with him? What was it like working with him?
CAMPBELL: Jack just slid into his DMs that simple. Jono was super easy to work with and he was super patient with us, for example he sat down with me for like an hour to help me try and find a good guitar tone and he stayed back with Madz until late into the night doing vocal tracks.
JACK: Sent him a text message because we liked his recordings, that Top People EP [Third World Girls] is great.
MADDISON: Simply Jono’s chicken pillow, I want one.
What’s one of your fondest moments from recording?
CAMPBELL: Watching old blokes out of the studio window play lawn bowls, while we were trying to record.
JACK: I think I was really stressed about life stuff at that point so it was nice having three days or something to not really have to do real life things.
While writing for the record what kind of place where you writing from? What emotions were you tapping into?
JACK: Dissolution, boredom, hatred, I guess. Also, obligation, because people keep asking us to play shows LOL.
MADDISON: To be honest, this whole album has been written over a period of almost two years so I can’t remember what frame of mind I was in whilst writing the lyrics but probably anger/frustration LOL. It’s hard for those emotions not to arise as frequently as they do considering most of the population are clueless clowns.
What’s the title song “Aggregate” about?
MADDISON: Most of my lyrics touch on the issues of systemic oppression/abuse, although, this song in particular focuses on ecocide, land dispossession, and the lingering injustices of colonialism. Title itself is just a bunch of elements combined to form a solid. Needed in concrete mix I think IDK thought it was cute.
The cover art by Maxine Booker is beautiful; what was the idea behind it?
CAMPBELL: I’m not sure what the idea behind the art work is but, we all just thought the art work look really good. Sorry if that sounds super shallow but LOL.
JACK: Max is one of our dear friends and they made great art work what the fuck more do u want lad.
MADDISON: It’s a DIY artwork that evolved into an inverted wood block print. Concept surrounding the artwork is open to the audience’s interpretation.
What’s been one of the best shows you’ve ever played?
CAMPBELL: Playing at the Marrickville “Bowlo” early last year, it was super sweaty and it was a Sunday arvo so no one was being super serious.
JACK: My favourite live show was NAG NAG NAG 2019, we were playing wayyyy too late in the night and we just played super sloppy and I kept hitting Campbell with my bass. At some point he tried to hit me back and I tripped over the power cord for the whole stage!! I don’t really remember but it was nice to have fun in front of a crowd of serious punk people. This is may be contentious, though I think Mad wasn’t happy with that show LOL.
ALEX: I really liked the show we played with Pinch Points and Surfbort at the Croxton a couple months back. We played mad tight and I had met a bunch of people the night before and they came through it was lit.
Have you ever had an embarrassing moment on stage?
CAMPBELL: We were opening for Straight Arrows and playing a good set but then realising I had my fly undone throughout the whole entirety of the set.
JACK: I felt really sick one time on stage.
What’s one of the biggest challenges your band faces?
CAMPBELL: Old gronks!
JACK: Being organised enough to practice, coming up with interesting riffs, being treated as novelty teenagers by an aging scene of men in their 30s.
Besides music what are some things that are important to you?
JACK: Community and forms of care which don’t replicate broader systems of power.
ALEX: Not allowing wack shit to keep going on. I want to write plays one day.
MADDISON: DIY culture, solidarity, and my darling dog, Zeus.
Melbourne-based singer and multi-instrumental Zoë Fox has released her debut album Clockwerks, an out of this world collection of intergalactic pop! It’s exciting, it’s fun, and it’ll make you dance. Zoë’s album launch was postponed due to the global pandemic we’re all living in right now, she took her music to live streaming via her Instagram stories and totally killed it!—she does live stream like no one else does. We chatted this week to get the lowdown on her LP and found Zoë to be warm and charming, funny and a fellow book lover! Maybe Zoë’s next project should be an online book club! We’d sign up for that!
How did you first get into music?
ZF: We always had a music room in our house when we were growing up, we were so lucky. My mum was in a bunch of different bands, so I was surrounded by it from a very early age. All of my favourite children’s entertainers when I was a kid were my biggest influences. I started writing songs and poems as experiments, it just evolved. I was never really a good singer when I was growing up, but did it anyway because I enjoyed it.
Do you think you can sing now?
ZF: I don’t really care anymore [laughs].
When did you first start playing guitar?
ZF: I started playing guitar when my mum gave me a few lessons when I twelve. When I was fourteen I had a friend in high school that could play and we got back into it together. I started playing songs from The Sound Of Music in her bedroom [laughs].
You originally started out doing covers; what put you on the path to writing your own songs?
ZF: I guess I always wrote my own stuff, even when doing covers. I thought people just wanted to hear songs that they already knew [laughs]. I thought no one wanted to hear the songs I was making up. When I started doing gigs I thought, maybe I can just slip a couple of originals into here.
Your debut LP Clockwerks came out last week; how are you feeling now it’s finally been released into the world?
ZF: It’s a relief! I feel like it’s not only released into the world but it’s released out of my body and my entire system, which is so good because often projects just build up inside you. Releasing it is releasing it from you and actually clearing space for new creative ideas to flow in. It’s bizarre circumstances to release your debut album in right now in the middle of a global pandemic [laughs]; selling it on bandcamp for the price of a brunch! I’m so relieved it’s out. I feel like I can cross that off my list: make an album, done!
How long were you working on it for?
ZF: I’ve been writing those songs for years. “Perfume” I probably wrote that maybe six years ago. I was just writing songs and I didn’t know that they were going to be an album until very recently and it all fell together really quickly. It was all recorded in the space of two weeks.
What was it that made you think, I have an album now?
ZF: I don’t know actually. I guess when I was recording it and I was choosing songs I just picked ones with a similar theme. I realised the whole time I’ve been writing about this relationship between humans and technology. I pulled songs that I thought would be a good family together, out of their little pockets and put them into one nest together and went, yeah, that’s an album!
What’s the significance between the album title Clockwerks?
ZF: It’s got so many meanings, so many things have lots of meanings. Initially when I first decided I wanted to call it Clockwerks I was reading Even Cowgirls Get The Blues by Tom Robbins.
I know that book!
ZF: Yeah! Well, you know how he talks about the clockworks all the time?
ZF: Throughout the whole book he is just harping on and on about the clockworks. My interpretation of it was… you know how there’s all those caves that go into the middle of the Earth and the clock people maintain the clockworks and the Earth time is different from our constructive time, it was measuring a countdown until the end of man. I’ve been fascinated by time and space forever, it’s just so wild! I was reading that book and I thought the clockworks were perfect… it’s all about time and space and this notion that there might be something bigger going on.
I interviewed my grandad for the “Earthling Interludes” and he’s a massive clock collector, he’s like the clock master in a way; my grandparents’ house was like a clockworks of their own [laughs]. They had clocks all over the walls and every hour the whole entire house would ring and chime and tick and tock and cuckoo and ding and dong! It was the most magical thing in the whole world. All of that combined created the name Clockwerks.
Could you give us a little insight into one of our favourite songs on your LP “Tiny Little Robots”?
ZF: It got started, I picked up this tiny little robot earrings from a garage sale for $2 or $1. Every time I went over my friend’s house I’d take off my jewellery and put it on the table. I’d always forget them and I’d lose those earrings everywhere. I got a text from my friend and it said: you’ve left your tiny robots here again and they’re taking over the world! [laughs]. We started a text war in the style of Graeme Base’s Animalia. Like, “Someone needs to stop these mindless metal-heads from making such a mess!” He’d send me little pictures of them doing really naughty things like smoking a cigarette. He said they were being too naughty and they had to put them to bed, he put them to bed in a little matchbox with cotton wool. I took some of our alliteration text history and combined it with the mental image I had of all these tiny little robots in tiny little rowboats coming over to take over the city and with their technological ways making their ways into the minds of everyone and taking over from the inside.
That’s so fun! That’s one thing I love about your music—it’s so much fun!
ZF: I have a lot of fun writing it and playing it!
What about the song “Mr Gravity”?
ZF: Ohhhhhhh [laughs]. That was inspired by a relationship gone wrong, I found myself getting completely worn down. I don’t know why I always seem to date men like robots? [laugh]s. Maybe that’s something I need to look into! I was just frustrated. I created this thing where he was like “Mr Gravity” bringing me down like gravity, keeping everything down. I want people to interpret it the way they want to. I had someone go “I thought it was about being brought down to Earth and it was really grounding!” I was like, that’s great! It’s good it can be different things for different people. I was frustrated with boys that were judgemental, that would make comments about my appearance. In one of the verses – I was also learning about the war on waste at the time as well, so it was all paired in – I say: ‘you’re like a supermarket with high standards for cosmetics / disregarding nature’s fruits and all their imperfect genetics / I am a crooked house complete with feelings, thoughts and fears / three eyes, two hearts, too many ears for hearing.’ I was just saying, hey, stop bringing me down! Don’t judge me on how I look or how I am. I ended up getting out of that relationship and breaking up with him, and said: my mechanical friend I’m sure our times come to an end [laughs].
I’m sure a lot of people could relate to that! I know I do, I once dated a guy that was always complaining about how frizzy my curly hair was, it’s like, dude, it’s humid, my hair curls, hair gets frizzy, deal with it!
ZF: Yeah, or having hairy armpits. It’s like, come on dude, take me as I am. Sometimes you might be so deep in it that you don’t see that it’s happening. That was me breaking free of that! It’s a powerful song for me, I don’t feel run down by it, I feel empowered by it now. That song was my empowering breakthrough, where I rose from the ashes as a phoenix.
Was there any song that you wrote on the album that surprised you?
ZF: Probably the way the “Shiny Car” and “Tin Can Man” ended up sounding. They weren’t finished songs when I started recording but I went, nah, these are going on the album. I sat down with the producer and we used as many descriptive words as possible. I had written the main song but I didn’t know how it was going to sound, what style it was going to be. We worked on it so much and it really surprised me how it came together. I was so pleased.
I know you love to use descriptive words in your lyrics; do you have any favourites?
ZF: It’s one of those things that you can’t think of it until you’re saying it.
I was asking ‘cause I’ve worked in libraries my whole life and I’m a big book and word nerd, being a writer my whole life too, I’m just in love with words and sentences and how things go together, how things sound. I love fashion magazines because of the descriptive words they use, they can be describing an item of clothing, something that’s just made out of fabric and stitches and they make it sound like this magical thing! It can be so poetic. Words are the best.
ZF: Incredible! Yes! They are the best. I studied English Literature at uni actually, I majored in it; I write children’s books on the side.
That’s so cool!
ZF: So I’m so on-board with what you’re saying, I love it. I love when people describe the world in a different way…. Like I received a letter from my friend Archibald the other day, I was sitting in the garden and I noticed that it had been pegged to the clothes line, there was an envelope with my name on it – I guess my housemates were trying to disinfect it because of what’s going on in the world right now. He wrote: Dear Lady Fox, in my isolation I’ve been writing letters and I just wanted to write to you and pick your brain. Here’s a letter “Z”… it’s not my best but it will do. He had just written the letter “Z” and I love it when people talk about words in that way, like saying “here’s a letter” and then writing a big letter “Z”! [laughs]. It was so genius.
Have you read the The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster?
ZF: That is my favourite book of all-time! The way they talk about words, like you can taste a letter “A” in your mouth and see how it feels on your tongue! Or you can spill over a bucket of words and then your sentences become jumbled! I love that. It’s so genius. I think I read it like every year.
Nice! You wear really fun costumes when you play; did you see someone growing up wearing an amazing costume and were just so in awe of it?
ZF: Bands who I grew up with that had a common theme, I guess the Beatles did and Devo did it, they just had a look. That’s how I want to see bands. I thought what would I want to see? I want to see a show, I don’t’ want people to just stand there and play their instruments! I want costumes and dancing! Another band that does it that I saw that I love is, Sugar Fed Leopards. That’s Steph Brett, she’s in Empat Lima.
I love Empat Lima!
ZF: They had fluffy pink costumes and I thought, that’s another band that’s doing what I want to be doing!
Do you have a favourite track on the album yourself?
ZF: It changes every day. “Perfume” the first track, it’s the oldest track… I wrote that one years before the others. I’d just been reading the book Perfume: The Story of a Murderer I went into that world, I won’t’ explain it too much because I don’t’ want to spoil it if anyone’s reading it. I was reflecting on humans’ search for happiness in that song. I was feeling sad when I wrote that song…
Lastly, why is music important to you?
ZF: It is the way that I process all this information that is coming in from the world. Without it I would just overflow like a bath full of information and colours and ideas and sensations—music is me pulling the plug on that bath and letting it out! Letting it flow out in any way it wants to!
Awww that’s lovely! Thanks for doing what you do!
ZF: That you for what you do too! Writing is so important.