ATOM’s Harry Howard: “Universally in art, death and sex and love are the big themes… I’m constantly writing songs that mention death”

Handmade collage by B.

Melbourne trio ATOM made one of the best records of last year that you may not have heard. In Every Dream Home is a dark synth-punk outing in an apocalyptic world, their music is primal yet futuristic at the same time. On Sunday, guitarist and co-vocalist Harry Howard chatted to us from his Melbourne home while eating chocolate. FYI, there’s a new ATOM record in the works!   

You’ve been making music for a long time; what keeps things fresh and interesting for you?

HARRY HOWARD: It’s just endlessly fascinating really. Having a creative outlet is just such a great thing, it’s worth going through all the little doldrums that you go through for the breakthroughs and for the good times—the good times are just so good!

As an artist what are the things that you value the most?

HH: What I value is when people put their own personal input into things. It’s very hard to be original in this world. I think it’s completely fine to borrow ideas from people, that’s what culture is, a pool of shared ideas and as long as you put something new into it it’s fine to borrow things. When people put something into it that really comes from them then it becomes unique. It’s hard to explain, but all of my favourite artists seem to be… they might not even be well on a mental health level, but perhaps that helps them put more of themselves into what they’re doing.

They also may interrupt the world in a different way and give us a unique, unfiltered new perspective.

HH: Exactly! For some people things come out of them more directly than other people, some people are very filtered. That’s the stuff that I like, when you really get personality.

Same! What inspired you to start ATOM?

HH: Meeting Ben Hepworth. I met him on a video shoot we did with NDE [Near Death Experience], we got on really well and had a lot of common taste in music and we shared a perspective about music. He told me about his band Repairs that were playing live at that time, we went and checked them out and we got them to play with the NDE. I was invited to do a project for the Little Band…

The late Alan Bramford’s Little Band Scene?

HH: Yes. It was Stuart Grant [Primitive Calculators] too, I was invited to take part in a Little Bands night at The Old Bar. I had to make up something new and I thought, god if I go along with my songs it’s just going to sound like a solo NDE show. I thought to ask Ben to do something with me. I knew anything that I did with Ben would really sound different, with him doing beats and synths. I thought it would be such a huge change for me and it was something I wanted to explore, that was a few years ago now. It just worked from the start. Edwina [Preston] joined as well. Whenever we work it’s very quick and pretty easy. It took a while to get the live shows together though. We don’t do work that often but when we do it’s great. I credit Ben as the missing link we needed to create the whole project.

ATOM’s also a new way for you to say things musically?

HH: It is. More than that it inspires me in different ways, to do things differently, because of the mood of those instruments, it is so distinct and then there’s the references that it brings up in your mind. For me it’s taken me back to all these early electronic bands that came out at the start of new wave after punk, there was quite a bit of interesting experimental stuff and then it developed into that synth-y pop, some of which I like as well. With punk and after and before there was Suicide – Alan Vega and Martin Rev – all of those things it just brought out those influences. Synthesisers have this futuristic thing about them, the sound, even though it’s not quite old it still references some kind of made up idea about the future that we have, it gives you an opportunity to write about different things like how the world’s going.

Where did you get the album title In Every Dream Home? Is it from the Roxy Music song “In Every Dream Home A Heartache”?

HH: Yes it is. It’s also a kind of pop art reference, there’s an English pop art painting that has something about a dream home in it, it has that kind of ‘50s isn’t-everything-marvellous-in-our-dream-home vibe—of course though, it never is!

A lot of the themes on the album are things that I feel are happening right now in the world, like us all running out of stuff.

HH: I know, I know. It’s weird because some of the songs that I wrote since then and after that are even more relevant. It’s like people would think I would have written them lately. There’s one song called “Teenage Saviour” about how a teenager inspires everyone to change their way, politically. That was before the movement of the teenagers coming up about the shootings in America. I thought, oh god everyone’s going to think it’s about that! Then Greta Thunberg came out and I thought, oh my god, this song is about Greta [laughs], this is ridiculous. That might be on the next album. I think sometimes when you write about the future you’re going to get it right [laughs].

You’re prophetic!

HH: [Laughs]. I think it just happens.

How did In Every Dream Home start? Does Ben, Edwina and yourself write collaboratively?

HH: We do, overall it’s collaboratively but some of the songs, I would have music and words and I’d bring it along and they’d make up their parts and things would develop from that. The other option is that Ben would bring in a track of music and either me or Edwina would add vocals or another instrument. Everything is getting quite strongly effected by what the other members bring in. Everyone gets a credit in the end. You come up with some of the best ideas on your own but you can still collaborate on those and make them better.

How do you go about writing songs? Do you have any rules you like to follow?

HH: No, not really, it’s good not to have rules about anything and go for what works at the time. Sometimes I’ll write music and I’ll try to put words to it, sometimes I’ll write words then try to make up music for the words; sometimes you just get a bit of both, you’ll be banging away and a phrase will come to mind then it will turn into a song.

I really like how in ATOM songs there’s a lot of repetition.

HH: Yeah, yeah [laughs], I know. I thought that was something that suited it, I really love the way it was so minimal, reusing versus of words. Part of it was expediency, I will admit. It was also though that it suited the robotic quality of the music to be like that. It helped create a comic book quality to it… do you think?

I do. I also think that the album artwork by Darren Wardle lends itself to creating that comic feel. As the tracks unfold it is almost a journey through a comic, a story.

HH: I like that. It’s different for me. I think we’ve all really enjoyed that aspect of it, it feels really quite cool when we can make stuff like that—it’s a good feeling.

Cover art by Darren Wardle.

Something else that I have noticed in your song writing is that you often write about the theme of death; where does that come from?

HH: Yes, yes. I can’t help that, I’ve always done that to some extent I’ve always been a dark writer. Universally in art, death and sex and love are the big themes. It’s such a big thing. I was very sick, for a while it was quite touch and go, for over a year with my own health. My brother Roland died after I started getting better, and my parents have died… it’s a good way to deal with these things, making songs about it and stuff. It’s hard to talk about things like that, but if you put it into this framework of song lyrics, you can take any attitude you want and be quite playful with it. I don’t know though, I’m just attracted to doing it. I’m constantly writing songs that mention death.

Like you said, I guess it’s just processing stuff.

HH: Exactly. Even if you’re not thinking about them, these things are there in your mind, you know them and you can’t ignore them. Whatever you say about them can be useful, it doesn’t matter what attitude you take with them, if it’s some sort of dialogue it’s going to be useful.

Absolutely. I’ve lost both of my parents as well… I don’t know if you ever get to deal with things like that, for me anyway, like you said, it’s always there. It sucks that you can’t just simply hug a loved one anymore once they’re gone. Making stuff helps.

HH: Yeah, they’re the things you can’t change; what can you do about them? [laughs]. Not much! You have to have a release for it in some way.

I even noticed with your band names, ATOM is the building blocks of life, The Near Death Experience is death, then you have These Immortal Souls that’s life after death or eternal life.

HH: [Laughs]. There you go, it’s all about death.

Yeah, the whole cycle of life!

HH: I hadn’t thought about that! Things are strange how they work out, they can start making sense after a while. It’s very odd. For example when you write words and you have no idea of what you’re writing about and then you realise after, oh that make sense now.

Where did the ATOM song “I Used To Win” come from?

HH: Ahhh, well… that’s a good question. I was actually trying to write something a bit dark and a bit negative, I’m a big fan of film noir, that’s almost like a celebration of things going bad in a way. I wanted to do something along those lines and I just came up with that phrase and I thought it was evocative because it implies so much. “I Used To Win” is a more interesting way of saying that you lose or that you’ve lost a great deal. It’s got nothing to do with the Ollie Olsen song “Win/Lose” but it somehow clicked ‘cause I was doing a thing and writing about winning and losing, it was a personal reference for me. That’s a side thing that sometimes you might be influenced by people but you’ll have a reference from wherever and it encourages you. There’s a connection to Ollie’s song but I was just doing my own thing. I thought Simon Grounds did a good production job on that song, it turns into an apocalypse of noise!

I love that the album has a lot of atmospheric sounds.

HH: Synths are very atmospheric. They have such a strong personality.

It’s interesting that you’re in a band with synths now, I remember reading an interview with you from a while ago and you mentioned that as kids your brother and sister was enrolled in piano lesson but you dodged them.

HH: [Laughs] Yeah, I did! When I think of synths now, the keys are like a way into the sounds. I can’t play keyboards, I can only play rudimentary riffs on the keyboard, it takes me ages to work things out. So, I should have gone to more lessons! [laughs].

A lot of the music you write is quite dark; where do you find joy and happiness in your life?

HH: Just in the silly things [laughs]. There is an awful lot about life that is dark, e.g. the fact that you die and everyone you love that’s around you dies. There’s a lot of misfortune and there’s a lot of people that never get to be as one bit lucky as we are in Australia, being one of the richest countries in the world. There’s lots that you could describe as dark that goes on, on top of that I’m a bit of a sceptic about happiness, I don’t think we’re meant to be happy all the time. I don’t know if we’re designed to do that, I think it’s a bit of a high ideal. If you’re going to really look at things realistically I don’t think you can be happy all of the time. People use mind-altering substances because it’s easy to forget about why you’re not feeling happy at a particular time. I don’t want to be grim about it, I think life is really great, there’s so much to enjoy. I’m dubious about optimism, of always looking on the bright side, ok, but the dark side is alright sometimes as well, I don’t think we should block that out completely. It’s quite enjoyable when you embrace it in the way of film noir or look at all of the literature, film and music that is dark and how incredibly life affirming it can be—it can inspire you.

I get you. Sad songs often make me happy.

HH: Yeah and it can be a quite useful way to get out your own emotions. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of sad.

That’s been a big lesson for me in the last year. I was one of those I-should-be-happy-all-the-time people until my husband pointed out that it’s insane to try and live like that.

HH: I agree. You’d have to make yourself really shallow to live like that, we have many sides; I don’t want to be like that.

Same! What are you working on now?

HH: At the moment we’re working on a new ATOM record.

Yes!

HH: We’re doing it in isolation. Ben told us today that he was working on some updated beats and things we’ve got going. Ed and I will work on them here. We’ve got songs on the go, about half the record is written, it just needs to be arranged. We have three writers and things happen pretty quickly with us, everyone really wants to get their stuff in so we can be quite competitive; there’s no shortage of material. So there’s the next ATOM album, ATOM 2, and then I’ve got all this solo stuff I keep working on. I’ve just been in touch with Dave [Graney] and Clare [Moore] – Dave has a lung condition and he will be isolating quite seriously for a while – I thought we might try emailing stuff back and forth for a potential NDE project. I work in a hospital, so I’m in this lull before the storm too! Which is taking up a bit of my mind right now, it’s very stressful.

It’s scary what’s happening in the world right now?

HH: It is! It’s like the future is here now!

The ATOM record has come true!

HH: I know! All those shows we’ve watched on Netflix about the dystopia has come, it’s really arrived.

We’re very excited that you’re still creating throughout it all!

HH: Thank you!

You’ve made our day that a new ATOM record is coming! It was such an underrated record, when I first heard it I thought it was so cool and different; sonically it was like a punch in the face in a good way!

HH: [Laughs]. I wish it had punched more people in the face, not many people I think have heard it.

That’s why we’re having this chat with you! It was one of our favourite records of last year!

Please check out: ATOM. Get In Every Dream Home out now on IT RECORDS.

RAAVE TAPES’ Joab Eastley: “It’s really nice to see how the community bands together and finds ways around things”

Original photo by Liv Jansons. Handmade mixed media collage by B.

Newcastle band RAAVE TAPES are back with a new single “Red Flag”. The single sees them move towards a more electronic sound, a sound they’ve always secretly aspired to—this is RAAVE TAPES for 2020. The anthemic sing-along feel-good choruses remain intact but we’ve moved further out into the middle of the dance floor and we’re dancing wildly like no one is watching. We chatted to RAAVE TAPES’ Joab Eastley about the new single and more new music on the way.

We’re excited about your new song “Red Flag” and where your music’s at!

JOAB EASTLEY: Awww thank you. It’s a bit of a weird time to be putting out music but I suppose there’s not much else to do, is there? Hopefully it can provide some sort of entertainment for everybody.

What’s your favourite thing about your new song “Red Flag”?

JE: I like that it’s a realisation that we’ve always been driving towards. We’ve always had these electronic undertones but with a very garage rock, punk sensibility but we really just flipped it on its head this time. We followed the path down to the electronic realm and it’s taken us to a nice little spot.

How did the song get started?

JE: It started as a completely different song, it had a guitar riff and a little loop on a drum machine, just playing the song over that and it had almost a spoken word verse over it. The only bit that stayed was the pre-chorus, the “ahhhh woooo” bit. We took it to our good friend and new producer Fletcher Matthews, Fletcher-boy! We’ve always recorded in a basement in Newcastle, very D.I.Y. punk-garage kind of vibes. He’d been pestering us for ages to come do some stuff with him and try it out. We went down and it was just a nice process. When we got there, because he was such a good friend, he really didn’t pull any punches when talking to us, that barrier was taken down straight away and he didn’t mind telling us what he thought [laughs].

How did it feel for you having come from a previous experience of self-recording?

JE: It was nice the way he went about it, it was a really, really nice technique. I think if he did come in and say “This is what you should do” we would have got our back up straight away. We got there and we said, “Here’s our seven songs we have to record” he said, “Cool, I don’t’ care” and we were like, “what?” He was like, “This is the first day, let’s listen to music! What do you like sonically? What are your influences? What do you like production-wise? What do you like, songwriting-wise? Let’s touch on all of the things you like in a song? What do you want to get out of this?” So we sat down and listened to music for hours. He was scribbling notes the whole time and making little ideas in his head. Once we finished he showed us the notepad and said “Instead of me telling you what I think you should do, here’s what we’re going to do given the things that you’ve showed me. You’ve told me what you want, let’s do that!” He was very supportive of trying things and if it didn’t work out we could go back and do something else. It’s was all natural and organic, a real eye-opening process.

Photo by Liv Jansons

Nice! What kinds of things did you listen to?

JE: Everything! It’s a broad scope. We went from old school Naked & Famous to old Presets; he really pushed us to our guilty pleasures as well, things he said we shouldn’t feel guilty about like The Veronicas, and I’ve always really like The Bloody Beetroots. We went down to these realms of weird places, we listened to a lot of weird techno artists and Ross from Friends. We picked a lot of little sounds we liked and production techniques and from there we painted a pictures of where we wanted to go, which was nice.

What were some of the new techniques you tried?

JE: The main one was electronic drums, electronic percussion. Out of all the twenty-two songs we listened to only two had real drums [laughs]. I’d just gotten a nice new fancy drum machine so it was kind of something we were delving into anyway, he helped tease that out.

Will you be using a drum machine live?

JE: Yeah, we still have out little drummer boy Dan, he’s got a nice big sample pad and I have a sample pad in front of me, a sampler drum machine-y kind of thing. I guess it’s the first step in this electronic process, I don’t know where it’s going to end up. We’ve been practicing for quite a while trying to get this set where we want it to be. Obviously though, that’s all on the backburner for now.

That’s exciting!

JE: Yeah, it’ll be a lot of fun! It’s definitely been a massive learning process to try and get our head around everything, once we do have that sorted it’s going to be a lot easier on stage.

It’s like when you started out and you were playing guitar and using all of the effects pedals that RAAVE TAPES is known for, for creating interesting sounds. Now you’re just using different instruments.

JE: Yeah, exactly. We still have all the dumb guitar pedals [laughs] but now we’re just putting more electronic things in there that could go wrong on stage [laughs].

I’ve read you say that song “Red Flag” is about “experiences of needing to use self-preservation tactics to avoid, yet appease, unwanted advances or encounters… These experiences can range from frustrating and irritating, to completely terrifying”; could you share an instance where you have experienced this?

JE: The whole genesis of the song is that we were talking about a kebab shop in Newcastle that we pass on the way home – shout out to Cappodocia – from a night out, I think all roads lead to Cappa’s no matter what pub or club you came from [laughs]. It’s a melting pot of different cultures and subcultures, which can be a nice thing if you like to chat to different people but, sometimes it can also be a negative thing due to some of the characters you come across. Lindsay [O’Connell] and I were talking about how there’s often this one or two or group of people that are just trying to bait everyone. They’re being over the top and you feel like you have to tread on egg shells around them, you have to say that right thing and you have to be polite, ‘cause they’re the kind of people that will do something silly. You have to use those self-preservation tactics to get in and get out; just let me be and give me a break.

There’s a lot of people in this area like that too out at night, they’re just waiting for you to look at them and then they’re all “What the fuck are you looking at? Do you wanna go?!”

JE: Yeah, quite often in Newcastle you don’t even have to make eye contact, it’s just these big groups of dudes there and they’re really chirpy and they just wanna say things to everyone walking by. What they’re really waiting for is for someone just to say something back. It’s so stupid and so wrong—boys will be boys, as they say! Fucking idiots!

Do you work for your lyrics or do they come easy?

JE: It varies but usually I have to work for them, to try and get things to fit. We usually work music first then lyrics and vocals after. We quite often have to get the crowbar out to squeeze some lyrics in. This one came pretty painlessly though. Because this song was an amalgamation of another song, it all came together in the studio, which is very different for us. We usually get it all together in our little practice space first before we record. This one was the opposite, we pretty much fleshed it all out in the studio. We put all the vocals and melodies last.

When did you record?

JE: Around September of last year.

Fletcher also mixed and mastered your Dancing Because I’m Sad EP cassette tape, right?

JE: Yeah, it was all a bit of a remix / remaster kind of thing. It was a bunch of our old songs that didn’t really have a home. They were first recorded very D.I.Y. in the basement and mixed by our good friend Frasier, we really wanted those garage-y punky vibes and got that. Moving forward tough we wanted to give things a fresh coat of paint, moving into 2020 kinda vibes!

What else has been inspiring your songwriting lately?

JE: To be honest I haven’t really done much songwriting lately, all of these songs we recorded last year in September-October. This whole process has been the most inspiring thing. Taking the shackles off in the studio, we were so focused on: we have to be a garage punk band ‘cause that’s what we are, a punk rock band, that’s what people like, we should do that. We were focusing on making dancey-punk music on our acoustic instruments, our recalibration from Fletcher has really let us do whatever we want. It’s been so much fun playing electronic instruments and playing with new sounds and new devices. It’s a whole new world, it’s really, really fun!

So does all this mean you have a new album coming?

JE: An EP, I’m not sure that’s been announced though. I don’t’ really know, we have a whole bunch of songs that we gave to our management team and they’re dealing with all of that.

Coming from being a D.I.Y. punk band in the basement is it weird having a management team and giving your work over to them?

JE: We’ve kind of always had a management team, our manager is one of our good friends from Newcastle. He, Ben Cooper, has always been there helping us out. He started his own company called Love And Rent, he was starting out and we were one of his first bands, now he’s doing big stuff and has a big office in Sydney, we’re friends that have grown together. He’s a big mover and shaker [laughs]. I used to do a lot in the Newcastle scene myself, No-Fi Collective; we’d put on shows. It’s nice to let go of stuff and let Coops deal with it and not know when it’s coming out and to not care and just be able to focus on writing songs—its’ a relief.

Are there any new sounds that you’ve found that you’re loving heaps?

JE: Yeaaaah! I just got this sample pad drum machine and you can download sound packs from the internet for it and when I get bored I just jump on the net, grab a sound pack a see what it does. It’s fun to distort the sounds and make it as gross as I possibly can [laughs]. Then melding it with my guitar sounds is so much fun. I love making a big mass of dumb noises!

Last question, right now the world can be pretty scary with things so uncertain; what’s one of the best things you’ve seen lately?

JE: One of the best things I’ve seen lately is, I’m a preschool aftercare teacher, I’m still in work at the moment because we provide care for kids of essential service workers and just going to work and seeing how much the kids don’t care, they’re not stressed at all. I really like going to work because the kids are so chipper! [laughs]. Or they get upset over the stupid things like, “Mate, the world’s falling down and you’re upset because your milk fell over” …it really brings you back.

The other nice thing is, I’m actually looking at it right now – I’m sitting in my car outside of my house – I can see a really nice gin distillery down the road. The gin distillery has turned into a hand sanitizer distillery. The way you make hand sanitizer is basically alcohol, it’s basically ethanol I think, one of the things you do in the process to make alcohol. Everyone is coming from around town to buy hand sanitizer from here because they can’t get it from anywhere else. It’s really nice to see how the community bands together and finds ways around things.

RAAVE TAPES seems though you’ve always had a dedicated community around you?

JE: I suppose that’s what we do this for. I’m from a little bit out of Newcastle and the idea of even getting big in Newcastle was foreign and over the moon to me. When we did our first show in Newcastle I was like, oh my god, I’ve made it, this is it! We’re here. We’re doing it! Just to travel around and meet lovely people and doing what we love is what keeps me going. I love it and I love everyone!

Every time we go to one of your shows it’s so fun!! So joyous! I love when you ask for “more friends having fun in the foldback, please”!

JE: Awww [laughs]. Thank you. Our quote in the studio at any point, maybe once an hour we’d check in with us all and be like “Are you having fun?” …it was important that if we weren’t having fun we’d leave it and move on to another thing. It had to be fun. The whole rule was, everything had to be fun!

Please check out RAAVE TAPES. RAAVE TAPES on Facebook. RAAVE TAPES on Instagram.

Belgium band Millionaire’s Tim Vanhamel: “Laughter is one of the highest goods in the world… when we laugh, we are what we’re meant to be as human beings; we’re ourselves and there’s no war going on”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Millionaire have released LP number four APPLZ ≠ APPLZ (pronounced Apples Not Apples), a burst of psychedelic rock n roll energy with a soul twist wrapped in a celebratory flavour, while exploring themes of consumerism, environmental destruction and the peril humans are facing, largely due to our own hand. Millionaire founder, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Tim Vanhamel talks to Gimmie from his home in Belgium.

Why is it important to you to create things?

TIM VANHAMEL: Let me think about that, that’s a good question. I have no idea. I was contemplating that yesterday actually. It just happens in a way. If you want to give it importance then it usually is not that good, it’s more the ego trying to do something or create or whatever. It’s best to just let it happen, it doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s making a dish or making a song or making a little video, or just singing to yourself or making a joke. The best creativity just comes up, there’s a need to.

I know what you mean. At Gimmie we love making things, we feel we just have to. It is hard to explain. There’s just something there that needs to come out, that needs to express itself.

TV: Yeah, exactly. I can see that with you guys. It is what makes you feel good in a way, if it makes you feel good doing it then the art is usually good and other people will like it as well. We all do different things and sometimes, writing a song in my case, if it’s not happening that’s fine, then something else can happen.

I saw you mention online the other day that because you’re in lockdown at home you’ve been writing and painting?

TV: [Laughs] That was a joke actually! I’ve been making these little films the last week. I posted one and I was making a little fun about how all these people feel called to live stream and how they feel like, “oh I gotta help the world”. The world doesn’t necessarily need help, in the way that everybody is locked down, mediocrity is really coming out. It was a little joke I was posting. People were like “Oh, it’s a lockdown, we have to be creative! I’m gonna write a new album”. I made a joke that I was doing six paintings and writing two books and doing a movie script [laughs]. I then made a second film and then it became kind of a thing, a character that was playing a song but it just never works out, everything goes wrong; he was trying to get a song going for everyone but he kept failing all the time. That’s also creative though, I was following that creativity, that need to share a joke.

I think laughter is important in these tough times.

TV: Exactly, I think that laughter is one of the highest goods in the world. People are really serious, also with sharing all this advice… everyone is so serious. A good laugh is good, it’s a high good and when we laugh we are what we’re meant to be as human beings; we’re ourselves and there’s no war going on. It’s fantastic.

We laugh all day long here. About everything!

TV: [Laughs]. That’s beautiful!

Everything that’s happening in the world is so crazy and intense right now, consumerism and capitalism is finally failing! In a crisis like we’re experiencing, people are realising that they don’t need all the excess stuff they fill their lives with, all the luxuries they usually take for granted and don’t’ think twice about.

TV: Yeah, it’s not so crazy though. As you know I just released an album and I am singing on that album about everything that is happening right now!

You are!

TV: Everything that’s happening, I could feel it already about a year ago. The first song “Cornucopia” is about consumerism etc. The second song “Los Romanticos” is about there’s a shit storm coming and its moving fast, it’s an ironic song about how supposed love eats up the world, it’s not true love, it’s false. The third song “Strange Days” I’m singing about doing nothing, I’m literally singing: “when the world ends I will be watching from a front row seat, you bring the thunder, I’ll bring the lightning and maybe we can meet for the very first time…”, it’s not to pat my own shoulders but this is exactly what’s happening. I don’t think there’s another song in the world that’s more true than that right now. I can’t believe it. A week ago the album came out and I did a bunch of interviews, which I don’t really like doing, I don’t like explaining my songs… it’s bizarre that five days after I released my album everything happened big time!

Your new album is great! I like how in interviews you rarely talk about your songs, I know you like people to have their own interpretations of your songs, to think for themselves about it. Like with something like all the visuals to accompany the album, the cover art, film clips, they feature the apple and that right there has so much symbolism attached to it throughout the history of the world and can have so many different meanings.

TV: Exactly. Explaining art is like the Wizard Of Oz pulling back the curtain and then you have a little man in a machine sitting there and the magic is gone. If it was my choice, I would never ever, ever say one word, I wouldn’t’ explain nothing. I try to boogie around those questions. [Laughs].

Recently I was reading a rare old interview with Marvin Gaye and he was talking about his record “What’s Going On?”. He said that when he wrote it, it was reflective of the times and that “The material is social commentary. I did it not only to help humanity but to help me as well… It’s given me a certain amount of peace”; do you feel like it could be the same for your writing APPLZ ≠ APPLZ? To give yourself peace?

TV: Yeah for sure. What is being expressed in the music is always a reflection of what you’re going through in a way. A human being is so many things, it isn’t just one thing, people want to put things in boxes but it’s impossible, that’s bullshit. It is a reflection of a part, it’s soothing to you and you do it for yourself and hope others get something for it. It’s an output, I wouldn’t say its therapy though it is just what I do; everyone has something they do.

When I started writing this album a year and a half ago, 2017/2018, the first song I wrote “Cornucopia” was just channeling a Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield kind of figure, a soul figure, these albums that were commentary on the social situation. The thought came to me, should I change what I’m making? I’m not a political artist, I’ve always stayed away from that because I don’t want to preach. I’ve always felt with music that the beat, the groove, has to be catchy first and then the rest will come. Although I’ve always been a fan of explicitly political bands like Public Enemy, I never wanted to be that. I thought, I’d already written my album so, why change it? I know cynical minds will think, “Oh yeah, ok we have a political record now” but then I thought, fuck that! I’m not changing anything. I wrote more songs in this theme, at the same time it became an ode to these records. I didn’t copy them or it isn’t an exercise in soul music but influences can come and go in many directions. The music was always first. I wrote this press text and it said, please forget every word I wrote, they are all absolutely irrelevant, just put on your dancing shoes and boogie your ass down to the ground like this moment is the only one you got!—that’s the deal you know.

One thing I’ve always loved about your music is the solos, when they cut through the track they remind me of Jimi Hendrix! The warmth and wildness.

TV: Thank you that’s great, I love that. I’ve been a guitar player since I was twelve years old, my dad was a musician.  When I started playing, I’d play many hours a day, it was my passion—I loved it! I started with jazz and blues. I was always soloing in my bedroom. In the late ‘90s soul was out of fashion in a way, it wasn’t really done, so I got side-tracked. It became more about making lots of noise and crazy guitar playing. I’ve always been a fan of Funkadelic, Led Zeppelin, Jim Hendrix, all these icons of guitar music. Ten years or so ago, I was like, oh man, I just want to play guitar and rip and shred, it got integrated in my song writing again. It’s just good old fun. I’ve been influenced by Jimi but not his guitar playing. Of course, he is a guitar god and so many people are influenced by his playing but I decided to stay away from that, I learned more from other guitar players. I think he is an amazing songwriter, that groove, I love, love, love him. He’s next, next, next level. You can’t touch Jimi, that’s impossible. I just do my thing.

In “Can’t Stop The Noise” I wanted to have this huge crazy, a little bit too loud of solo going on. I had it in my head but I didn’t know how I was going to do it, then when the moment came when I was recording in my kitchen, it just happened exactly like I wanted it too. I was so happy and satisfied, I texted some friends like, “oh my god, you’re going to love this! This solo is amazing! Fuck I loooove it!” [laughs]. I love stuff like that that’s a little too loud and you hear it and you’re like, what the fuck is that? That’s fucking insane! That’s crazy! That’s whack! [laughs].

That’s one of the solos I was talking about! Last question how do you remind yourself to stay in the moment?

TV: It’s a myth. You can never not be in the moment, actually. If you’re trying to be in the moment, you’re actually out of the moment. [Laughs]. If you can drop the worrying about being in the moment, it will help you much more. Don’t think about it!

Please check out: MILLIONAIRE. APPLZ ≠ APPLZ out now on Unday Records.

Melbourne’s Pinch Points: “Community, diversity, big riffs!”

Original photo Chelsea King. Handmade collage by B.

Pinch Points make fast-paced punk with jangly guitars and a tone so sharp it could cut diamonds. Their songs are catchy with no-frills, while writing their own book of sarcasm with lyricism expressing sardonic observations of society, done so cheekily and fun you can’t help but smile along with them—after all, we’re all in this together. Pinch Points aren’t afraid to say what we’re all thinking.  We caught up with them to talk about their new live record and music in the works.

A few days ago you released your LIVE at 3RRR digital album and limited edition cassette; can you tell us about the best and worst show Pinch Points have played?

PINCH POINTS: That RRR show was a great night and we’re so glad we recorded it. By far the most amazing show we’ve played so far has to be opening Golden Plains the other weekend. The adrenaline that comes from playing in front of 10,000+ eager punters is overwhelming. It’s surreal to think about that happening now that we’re all cooped up inside self-isolating.

Our worst show might have been at the Landsdowne in Sydney. Our original venue was shut down last minute so we switched to a graveyard slot show, playing right after another gig in the same bandroom. The band before us went on and on with a Rolling Stones cover and by the time we played we were fairly frazzled and not many people turned up that late.

What do you personally get from playing live?

ISSY: immense joy playing with my best friends! And the adrenaline rush that comes with it.

Can you remember who or what made you first think, I want to play music?

JORDAN: My first introduction to playing music was when I was 13 and super bored, sharing one room in a guest house with my parents in Fairfield. All I did up to that point in my life is play video games but we no longer had a TV. There was an old nylon string acoustic in the corner though and my Dad taught me a few chords one day and I guess that was the beginning of a lifelong obsession…

ACACIA: Like Jordan, my dad taught me basic chords when I was about nine. I was obsessed with The Ramones, Nirvana, Hole and The Runaways, so I started learning covers of “Cherry Bomb” and “Celebrity Skin”, which led to writing my own stuff. Joan Jett and Courtney Love were two big figures for me, who made me feel like I could have a place in rock music.

ADAM: There was a tiny bass lick somewhere on the first Jet album that I thought was unreal as a kid – and then at high school they offered bass lessons. Played bass for about five years before I bought a guitar. Never learned that bloody lick though!

ISSY: Definitely dancing around my living room to Avril Lavigne’s Sk8ter boy when I was five brought out my inner punk. My parents really wanted me to find an instrument to play so I started with keyboard, then flute, then guitar, but none of them really clicked like the drums did. My brother was learning drums at the time and unfortunately for him I shared/stole his drum kit and haven’t looked back since!

When you first started playing live did you ever get nervous or scared?

PP: For sure, and we still do. Backstage at Golden Plains when we were waiting for our cue to walk on stage, the adrenaline was hitting us all in a big way. We hold some perfectionist tendencies when it comes to executing some of our trickier songs, and definitely get nervous about stuffing them up (not that mistakes matter, they add character).

Photo by Chelsea King.

You played and recorded the RRR’s Dropout Boogie with Zara set two days after wrapping your tour with Tropical Fuck Storm; what’s something you learnt from your time with TFS and watching them play night after night?

PP: It was amazing hanging out with TFS and watching them every night. When they play it seems like they’re all working in harmony to conjure up this gigantic beast for the audience. Each member plays their own parts separate from the others as well, though. Also, they have so much power. They put all of their energy into the show but in a really unique way.

What was the first concert you ever went to? Tell us a little about it.

JORDAN: I bet Acacia has a good one. Mine was the Powderfinger and Silverchair double headline tour! You ripper!

ACACIA: Besides The Wiggles or my dad’s band, perhaps Missy Higgins and Tim Rogers. Classic Aussie pairing.

ISSY: My parents took me to see Michael Bublè when I was about 10. I used to listen to “Call Me Irresponsible” with my Mum every day on the way to school, as well as Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”.

ADAM: I don’t think I remember the first concert or show, but the earliest large show I remember was Herbie Hancock at the Palais. Still the best show I’ve ever seen.

Have you been writing new music? When might we see a follow up to last year’s Moving Parts LP?

PP: We have been! We’ve written more than half of a new album already and it’s sounding fierce. We had a whole bunch of plans in place for the release already but it looks like the whole pandemic situation has derailed that. All we can say is we’re doing our best to work on the album and will release it when the world is more ‘normal’.

What direction is your writing headed in?

PP: One of the most rewarding but also challenging parts of the writing process for our new record has been incorporating more collaboration. In our first two releases, Adam brought in a lot of material that was already pretty fleshed out. We’ve made a conscious effort this time to include everyone’s ideas from the beginning, which has made for a slower writing process but amounted to us having some really awesome songs that we feel represent everyone’s creativity.

Sound-wise, the new album will broaden the PP sound even more to include some softer and heavier moments, while being generally more direct and perhaps even simpler at times. We’re still figuring it out though.

Photo by Chelsea King.

We super love your guitar tone, nerdy question; how do you get your sound? Why did you decide to go clean rather than distorted?

ADAM: As well as punk, metal, rock etc., I always liked jangly bands. I’d been writing some hardcore stuff a few years ago, and couldn’t find the “tubescreamer” pedal I’d been using. Then I heard Nutrition and Uranium Club on Bandcamp and it all made sense.

We just use compressor pedals so that the lead lines jump over the chords and we don’t have to do the ‘pedal dance’ when playing. Recipe as follows:

  1. Humbuckers, bridge pickup, all guitar knobs on full;
  2. $50 compressor pedal, sustain on full and attack at zero;
  3. Fender-style valve amp, clean channel, and turn up the pedal output until it’s about to get crunchy;
  4. Bass at zero, mid and treble full, presence as high as possible without it being too harsh.

How does playing live help your songs develop?

PP: We often record at the first chance we get, so playing the songs over and over again at shows lets us get way more familiar with them. This leads to us picking up the pace of a lot of them and learning to belt them out with more energy than the recordings.

What’s something that’s really important to Pinch Points?

PP: Community, diversity, big riffs!

Please check out: PINCH POINTS. PP on Facebook. PP on Instagram. You can find PP releases on their bandcamp and via Roolette Records in Australia and Six Tonnes de Chair in Europe.

Washington D.C.’s Bacchae: “We can have either decent human lives or capitalism, not both”

Original photo by Kara Donnelly, . Mixed media handmade collage by B.

Bacchae (pronounced Bock·Eye) are from Washington D.C. The punk quartet – Katie McD, Rena Hagins, Eileen O‘Grady and Andrew Breiner have just released their new LP, Pleasure Vision. The band jump between styles and mix genres, from synth-driven pop to heavy riffed, experimental post-punk; their songs are full of melody and bounce, lyrically tackling themes both personal and political. Bacchae are a band to watch.

How did you first discover music?

KATIE McD: I grew up going to church every Sunday and that was my first exposure to live music. At home, my mom would play a wide variety of music and watch VH1. One of my first memories of popular music was watching the music video for the B-52’s song “Love Shack” in the kitchen while my mom was singing along and preparing dinner. The line, “I got me a car, it’s as big as a whale” seemed like the height of comedy to my preschool self, but the music also gave me chills.

RENA HAGINS: My mother is really into music and would always take me to shows growing up. She is really into reggae and we would listen to her tapes and I would go with her to festivals. I expanded upon my musical tastes by buying compilation CDs. I remember getting every Punk-O-Rama and Give ‘Em the Boot and learning all the words to every song. I found local bands through friends at school and attended shows whenever I could. My favorite local venue was an indoor soccer arena called The Corner Kick. That is where I first saw one of my fave DC bands, The Max Levine Ensemble. My first major rock concert experience was Blink 182. Between songs they said “Let’s give it up for blow jobs and cumming!” and my 14 year old self was completely mortified to be witnessing that with my mother.

EILEEN O’GRADY: My extended family on both sides loves to sing. All of my aunts and uncles and cool older cousins sang at every family gathering. I have an early memory of listening to the band, Weather Report, on the radio with my Nana. The DJ was listing off the lineup of players on a particular song and apparently made a mistake, so Nana called and corrected them. She already had the radio station’s number from doing call-in quizzes.

ANDREW BREINER: First, I was into my parents’ albums: Michael Jackson and ’60s pop rock like the Byrds and the Monkees. That, plus the newly-available Napster, was the basis for developing my own taste. I got into what I thought was more “edgy” and “obscure” 60s stuff as a tween, you know, like the Beatles. Or even the Sonics. As silly as it seems now, what really excited me about music at the point was the feeling that it was countercultural and saying something different from the main narratives of the world. That’s how I went from 60s rock to anarcho-punk like Crass, and then learned that pretty much all genres can give some window into other worlds. Still, I will not comment on my nu-metal phase that somehow fit into my early musical development.

Who or what inspired you to want to make music yourself?

RH: I used to play cello and viola up until I was about 12 years old. I couldn’t afford to purchase any instruments, so I had to eventually give it up. I always loved to perform and participated in chorus and was also in a few plays during my school years. I’d always been fascinated by bassists when I went to see live music and made it a point to learn and join a band one day. I was given a bass by my partner about 4 years ago and started learning immediately.

KM: I started learning how to play piano when I was 8 or 9 years old. When I was 13, I decided to teach myself how to play guitar (because it was cooler) and began writing songs. I listened to WHFS and idolized Gwen Stefani and P!nk at the time; middle school was miserable for me, which also helped inspire me to write music. The songs were terrible and I never shared them with anyone; I just played them alone in my room.

EO: I played bassoon in school band growing up all the way through college and was actually pretty good. I’d always wanted to play drums but was intimidated for a long time, especially since I was used to seeing boy drummers. There was an extremely cool woman who taught drums at band camp who I never uttered a word to but was quietly obsessed with for years.

Then I grew up and came to DC and saw local punk bands with great drummers, like Ashley Arnwine from Pinkwash and Daniele Daniele from Priests. Those folks pretty much directly inspired me to start learning myself.

AB: I think my youthful excitement about music was always tied up with the idea of playing it. I had tried and failed to stick with piano lessons when I was pretty young, cause I was totally unmotivated by the goal of being able to play classical pieces. But I wanted a guitar basically as soon as I got into rock music and I’ve been playing on and off (sometimes off for years at a time) since then. It was a totally different experience, being able to actually learn the things I heard and loved. I think the amazement of being able to recreate or create something as cool as music myself is still why I do it.

Photo: Kara Donnelly.

How did Bacchae come together?

Katie, Eileen, and Andrew began playing music together as the backing band for a friend’s experimental rock musical. Around the same time, Andrew met Rena when they played together in a one-time band as part of Hat Band DC, a fundraiser for Girls Rock! DC. Bacchae was formed shortly after in the summer of 2016.

Your new LP, Pleasure Vision, came out at the start of March, congratulations! We’ve had it on high rotation here at Gimmie zine. How did the record get started? What was the first song you wrote for it?

RH: Happy to hear that y’all are enjoying the record, thanks! I don’t think we really have a defined start date of writing specifically for this album. Some songs we started writing 2 years ago (ex. “Turns Me”) and others came together in their final form at the studio (Ex. “See It Coming”).

AB: We spent some time playing shows off of our previous EP (S/T 2018) before we decided what we were going to work towards next. I don’t think we were certain this one would be an LP until a few months before recording or so. We just started working on new songs and it took shape from there as we tried them out at shows and tweaked them. “Everything Ugly” was the first one that we finished. I remember Katie brought it to us not long after the EP and it came together almost immediately.

Where was your head at when writing, Pleasure Vision? What kinds of things were inspiring your songwriting? I’ve noticed that all your lyrics are written in the first person.

KM: Half of the songs on Pleasure Vision are about emotions that almost everyone experiences and hides (sadness, longing, heartache) and the lyrics are inspired by a mix of my personal experiences and friends’ experiences. Half of the songs are more political and invoke anger, exasperation and hopelessness. “Older I Get,” and “See It Coming” are two examples of this–they’re both about being angry and dissatisfied at society/Capitalism and feeling sort of powerless in the face of it all. As for the first person thing: if you pick an album at random, the majority of the songs will usually be written in first-person. For example, Green Day’s album, Dookie, is written entirely in first-person.

What’s the significance of the LP’s title, Pleasure Vision?

AB: Pleasure Vision is interpreting the world around you through the lens of optimization and acquisition. Our world is increasingly uninterested in things unless they offer a straightforward, often quantifiable, benefit. If you have a hobby, for example, it’s supposed to help you develop a marketable skill, help you network, or make you healthier. Even if it’s for enjoyment, you’re encouraged to validate it by saying it’s to decompress (from work) or that you’re engaging in self-care. I imagine an overlay on anything we look at: Taking a bath gives you two pleasure points, which counteracts the two stress points you picked up by working a 10-hour day. Everything has to be done with intense purpose. Nothing can be idle or casual or meaningless.

What’s one of your fondest memories from recording your record?

EO: The recording studio has a little chillout area with a TV and collection of VHS tapes. While J was doing the first rough mixes, we crowded around the TV and watched Wallace and Gromit and ate snacks. It was a perfect way to decompress after a somewhat stressful process and be reminded that we’re all friends and love each other.

RH: We brought a Nintendo Switch to the studio and hooked it up to the TV and watched Andrew and Eileen play the Untitled Goose Game. It was so fun to see them wreaking havoc as a goose on the loose!

KM: Listening to everyone do overdubs and everybody’s words of support before and after takes. 

What’s your personal favourite song on the record? What do you love about it?

RH: It’s so hard to choose just one song as a favorite! I love the record as a whole. If I REALLY have to choose, I guess I would say “Losing War”. It’s unlike any song we have previously released as it is a bit heavier and grungy. We played it for the first time at the Pleasure Vision record release show and it was so much fun to play live. It’s got a good groove to it and the bassline just puts me in a zone. I also love that we had the opportunity to have Shawna Potter of War On Women add some guest vocals on the recording. It was so much fun to work together!

EO: “Hammer”–it’s such a bop. Andrew’s guitar solo always makes me want to stop playing and just dance around.

AB: “Leave Town”. I’m a sucker for intense fast songs like that. It has a type of heaviness that I don’t feel like we’ve gotten into before, stop-starts, and a tempo change, while still sounding pretty straightforward. And Katie’s singing on the breakdown part still surprises me with its force every time I hear it.

KM: I think “Older I Get” is my favorite because it’s heavy but fun; I really like the ascending guitar thing and the beat.

How did you feel upon first listening to your record in its entirety for the first time once you got the

mixes back?

AB: Honestly, the first time hearing mixes was when I was most fatigued from playing and hearing the songs over and over again. I had just listened so many times it was impossible to try and form any kind of objective judgement. Also it was hard not to just listen intently to my own parts to look for flubs. I spent a few days totally avoiding listening to the songs, and when I got back to it was much more “wow, we did this??”

RH: It’s really tough to listen to mixes and try to give any feedback on changes. When I had some time away from them, it was incredible to listen back and think about everything we accomplished with J. Robbins at the Magpie Cage studio. I am really proud of how far we have come as a band.

Where did the idea for the Rorschach Test style art on your album cover come from?

AB: It fits with the ideas about Pleasure Vision being a way of twisting and interpreting what you see around you to fit certain purposes and to have a particular kind of meaning. The Rorschach Test is the perfect example of that kind of thing: it has no inherent meaning and is entirely about the interpretation you bring to it. We were also experimenting with the idea of doing something based on a vision test chart, and while that’s not exactly evident in the final design, that is how they ended up being laid out as a kind of chart.

KM: Eileen has a good story about this!

EO: My parents are both therapists and they flipped out when they saw the cover. My mom didn’t know that the Rorschach inkblots are in the public domain, so she texted me frantically asking if I had found the inkblots in her office and, like, stole them. Once they realized it was all above board, they were just very interested in what underlying psychological reasons led us to the design. Typical. 

Can you tell us about the best and worst live show you’ve ever played?

EO: My favorite was playing House of Independents in Asbury Park. It was the best line up basically of any show I’ve ever been to: Paint it Black, Screaming Females, Give, HIRS, and us. The energy was WILD. Rena had this stellar crowdsurfing moment that our photographer friend Farrah Skeiky caught on camera and it looks like a literal Renaissance painting. Also we got to spend a lot of time at the beach that weekend and ate ice cream and boardwalk snacks.

RH: I started a spreadsheet to keep track of every show we have played since forming in 2016.  It’s wonderful to look back and see how much we have accomplished over the years. There’s a note section so we can add highlights like “Katie’s keyboard fell on top of her during Leave Town and she didn’t miss a beat!” or “A transformer blew and the show got shut down after our set!”

I don’t think there have been any shows I would consider to be the worst, and it’s really hard to narrow it down to the best one. Our first official show together was on August 8th, 2016 at a DC venue that no longer exists. The show wasn’t particularly amazing aside from the fact that it was the first time the 4 of us played live together and that was a really special moment. Our “Bandiversary”is August 8th because of this show.

Photo: Kara Donnelly.

Why is music important to you?

RH: Many of my favorite memories involve music and I am just happy to experience it in any way I can.

KM: Playing music and writing songs is cathartic; practicing music is something that can help you grow alone or with others.

AB: Related to how I found music: I think music can say things that aren’t generally said, both through words and the sounds of it. Music lets people smuggle kind of weird or new ideas into reaching an audience since there’s something universal or at least widely understandable about it, but also so much room for inventiveness and uniqueness.

When not making music what would we find you doing?

RH: I have gotten really into birds lately. There’s a Sparrow, that I’ve named Bird Alex, that lives in the awning by the front door. I recently put a bird feeder up on a tree outside my bedroom window so I can watch all the birds coming by. I’ve seen lots of Robins, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Mockingbirds, and Woodpeckers. There is one Woodpecker that had it out for me. It was coming to the bedroom window and pecking at the frame very early in the morning and waking me up before my alarm. I figured out a way to divert this unwanted wake up call by putting a stuffed Owl in the window as a decoy. Haven’t had any trouble with the Woodpecker in a few weeks. Fingers crossed the Owl decoy continues to work!

EO: I like pro wrestling. DC just got a new local pro wrestling promotion called Prime Time Pro Wrestling, which has put particular emphasis on LGBTQ wrestlers. They produced an explicitly queer show last month called Butch v. Gore where I saw a wonderful match between Effy and Faye Jackson. Effy wears a pink spiked leather jacket, fishnets, and a tiny speedo that says “Daddy” on the back. Faye has this famously great ass, and she kept shaking it at Effy (who is gay) to his visible horror. I was screaming the whole time.

KM: I’m a beekeeper; at this point I’m not sure if it’s a hobby or a lifestyle. Checking on my hives has always been a pleasure, but during the pandemic it also feels like a particularly special weekly event. Now that we’re confined to our homes, I’m also trying to focus on improving my drawing skills and taking better care of my houseplants.

AB: I like reading history a lot lately!

What’s something important that you think more people should know/care about?

EO: More people should know the power of a being in a union. Workers joining together is the only way we will end capitalism.

AB: We can have either decent human lives or capitalism, not both.

RH: Health care is a human right and everyone should have access to quality coverage.

KM: I keep thinking about how much violence and sorrow the pandemic is going to cause across the world. I wish that more people knew this: if you’re thinking about suicide, the best thing to do is to tell a friend about your feelings. You can also call your national suicide hotline. In the U.S, it’s the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and in Australia it’s Lifeline (13 11 14), but also if you type “I want to kill myself” or “suicide” into Google, it will show you what the number is in your country. Most of these organizations also have 24/7 online chats.

Please check out: BACCHAE. Bacchae on Facebook. Bacchae on Instagram.

Devo’s Gerald Casale: “People that end up being called creative, all they did was stay true and in touch with their ability”

Original photo courtesy of Gerald’s Insta by Norman Sieff. Collage by B.

Devo are one of our all-time favourite bands! They were punk before punk. Staring out in 1973, the band was born out of the transformative effects of a historic tragedy, the Kent State Massacre Shootings – Kent State being the university where Gerald Casale, soon-to-be Devo co-founder, was in attendance. Four students were shot during the protest against the Cambodia Campaign (US military operations, including the illegal bombing of Cambodia). Gerald was there on the front line and saw “exit wounds from M1 rifles out the backs of two people” that were friends. The Ohio National Guard fired 67 rounds at unarmed demonstrators in 13 seconds! Witnessing this changed the course of Gerald’s life, he took the anger, frustration and disappointment in the powers that be – he saw “clearly, and horrifically, how everything really works, and how the truth doesn’t matter” – and channelled that into music and visual art, thus creating Devo, one of the most original bands that ever was.

Our editor interviewed Gerald in-depth for her book on punk, creativity and spirituality that will be out later in the year. The following is just a short extract from the larger chat.

Have you always been a creative person?

GERALD CASALE: I guess I have been, you don’t think of it that way but in retrospect, yes.

What attracted you to taking that path?

GC: I don’t think creative people choose to be creative, personally. I think that they are and they can’t help it. Furthermore, I think that so many young people as they grow up are innately creative, but they are somehow socialised to quit being creative and to quit trusting their instincts and their intuitions and they lose that ability. Whereas people that end up being called creative, all they did was stay true and in touch with their ability.

What has fuelled your creativity?

GC: I’m not sure about that in the beginning… as children we have all these dreams and intuitions and fantasies and epiphanies that the human complex brain, even in a child first making connections, you’re unfiltered then and uncensored, so you start writing things or drawing things, whatever you do. What you’re doing is externalizing your thoughts. If you become “artistic” or the other people in society in your group of humans decides you are artistic, you start doing things consciously because you’re getting rewarding for “oh, that guy can draw” or “wow! That’s a great short story he wrote”—we all want to be accepted and find a reason to be part of a society where you’re rewarded. So the artist finds out that they can still be accepted and still be true to themselves.

Have there been times in your life when you haven’t been creative or maybe doubted your abilities to create?

GC: [Laughs] Anybody that would say that hasn’t happened would be lying. As you get older and the pressure mounts and the forces of conformity and survival basically attack your freedom and your creativity, you go through periods of course where you give up or question what you’re doing. So, yeah, it’s cyclical.

What’s been one of the biggest challenges for you in regards to your creative life?

GC: Opportunity. I have no shortage of ideas and insights and plans but of course so much of what an artist does depends on opportunity, mostly financial but also distribution. Here’s an idea… how does the world see that idea? Well, someone has got to let them see it, there’s all these gatekeepers, all these middle management censorship kind of people and they don’t share your vision, your originality, they don’t share your ability to create, but what they’re there to do is to decided which creative people get seen and heard. That’s what you read about all the time, that’s why people feel so disenfranchised, as minorities, as disenfranchised people because of their sexuality or whatever, they’re not getting the same opportunities; certainly historically they have not gotten the same opportunities as “insiders” the people that are embraced as the ruling class.

Was it hard for you to balance expressing yourself and being an artistic band and then when you got really popular and broke into the mainstream; was it hard to balance these things?

GC: Certainly, but not consciously. DEVO was “an art band”. We became popular for doing exactly what we wanted to. We didn’t change what we wanted to do to become popular. Suddenly here’s an artist doing something nobody cares about that everyone is making fun of, everybody is putting you down then suddenly that same exact thing hits a moment in the cultural zeitgeist where people go, “oh, these guys weren’t clowns, they were right” and now you’re popular. Now the only challenge is to stay relevant and keep doing what you do rather than letting your popularity stop you from doing what you were doing. In other words the artist is ultimately responsible, you’re always going to have your enemies, you’re always going to have people trying to thwart you and block you and bring you down but finally, the artist is the only one that can bring themselves down.

Read the full interview soon in book, Conversations with Punx.

Please check out: Devo. Gerald makes wine – The Fifty by Fifty.

EXEK’s Albert Wolski: “If music can be so powerful, then why not try your hand at creating some. What you create doesn’t have to be everyone’s bag, but some might like it”

Handmade collage by B.

Melbourne’s EXEK create beautiful, atmospheric post-punk-dub-krautrock magic. Their third LP released last year Some Beautiful Species Left (out on Anti Fade Records) takes you on an epic musical journey, from dystopian soundscapes through to poppy hooks. We interviewed EXEK creator Albert Wolski.

Why is music important to you?

ALBERT WOLSKI: It provides content. Filling up the gap between the ears. But it’s crazy how you can feel music too, and not just the low-end rumble in yr guts. But also across your skin. What a wild sensation! The French have a word for that – Frisson.

What inspired you to start making music yourself?

AW: Probably for the reason stated above. If music can be so powerful, then why not try your hand at creating some. What you create doesn’t have to be everyone’s bag, but some might like it.

Your background is in film and sound design; could you please share with us one of your favourite projects you’ve worked on?

AW: Sam Dixon’s short film Dancing Goat was a lot of fun. He had someone else doing the sound and they just played it way too straight for him. Sam realised he needed something a bit more surreal and fantastical. So we did some experimenting, like creating the voices for satanic goats and some other wildlife that lived off-screen. I remember that Selma’s pet Iguana Jub Jub was our inspiration. As a side note, Sam is currently working on our next clip. Since he’s jobless due to Covid-19 the clip will probably be done pretty soon!

How does your film work influence what you create with EXEK? Your songs are incredibly atmospheric.

AW: Thanks! I studied a lot of film scores at uni. I ended up writing my honours thesis on Mica Levi’s Under The Skin and Howard Score’s Videodrome. With both those films, it’s often hard to discern what is the score and what sounds are part of the film. I loved that ambiguity of treading the border of what is classified as ‘music’. I try to apply that concept to EXEK, by using field recordings and odd instruments. But more so, it’s all about depth and creating ambience. Utilising the spacial field, by having some sounds deep in the distance under what’s up close and dominant.

What was the inspiration behind the title of your latest album, Some Beautiful Species Left? It seems to really be in the spirit and themes of the albums tracks.

AW: It’s a lovely sentence isn’t it? The message can be viewed as being pessimistic or optimistic. That was the major draw card. I like to leave it up to the audience. And obviously the title gels well with the concepts discussed in the songs. I suppose it’s kinda a grim record. It’s about not being in control, with elements in your life coming and going. Like waves. Or species. Coming and going. Becoming extinct. And then the fires hit! It felt odd having our album launch in Melbourne, with the album called Some Beautiful Species Left, when there were all these add campaigns everywhere about the massive amount of species that just got annihilated.

You wrote the songs for the record and produced it; what was your initial creative vision for it?

AW: This record began by messing around with a bunch of drum beats whilst making another record. They were initially on the ‘cutting-room’ floor but I liked them so I quickly fleshed out some bass lines, and that’s how the record came about. The record that we were recording is yet to be released. It’s taking a while but I’m happy with the progress.

How did the albums opening track “Hobbyist” develop?

AW: Yeah pretty much just mucking around with a beat. The beat is quite imperfect – as in it folds over and starts again at odd times and doesn’t align with the bass. But it works in an unsettling way. I think it’s my favourite song off the album. It’s got a solid groove that sets the pace for the following tracks. Actually, most of the drums for the record were developed in a similar way. I would beat box the rhythm I had in my head to the drummer, and we’d figure out how to scribe it on a kit.

EXEK – Some Beautiful Species Left.

Why did you go with “How the Curve Helps” for the albums close?

AW: Funny how I mentioned that the album’s title was so strangely relevant during the bushfire catastrophe. And now, the title of this track seems to be so pertinent in regards to the current crisis of Covid-19. Spooky. Anyway. I can’t remember why it’s the closer. There must have been a reason for it. I usually don’t just chuck songs on a record in any old sequence. I find the sequence is very important. An album is like a canvas; all the tracks and instruments need to work together for the common goal. But yeah, can’t remember why, sorry, ha.

Is there a track on the record that was a real challenge to make?

AW: Yeah, “Curve” was a bit of a bitch actually. It took me a while to structure the ending. It needed a bit of a journey. The song’s about how life on earth if affected by what happens out in space, like tidal shifts for example. So it took me a while to shape how the song retreats and slowly eases back in. Several instruments build up and finally develop a bit of a melody. And the piano has a melody that reflects the main synth theme from the first half of the track. And then it ends with the sound of something so innately boring, which is a TNT courier backing up the driveway at my work.

How developed are your ideas before they are committed to a written form?

AW: Half baked. I like to allow things to happen organically. For example, I’d have a part of a track lined up that I know is going to be a guitar line or a synth line. I’d plug everything in and press record without knowing what I’m going play. 90% of the time, it’s the first take that ends up being what you hear on our records. Same goes for when Jai [K Morris Smith] records guitar, or [Andrew] Brocchi does synth. Sometimes they’ve barely heard the track and I’ll get ‘em in, press record, and capture their first impressions. It’s different with lyrics though. I stew on them for years. I can’t fathom how a freestyle rapper’s mind operates. Or hearing how Noel [Gallagher] wrote the last verse for “Shakermaker” in the cab on the way to the studio to record it. Sure, they are garbage lyrics, but suit their music so well.

What sparks your lyrical imagination?

AW: Science. Hard science and the social sciences. There’s a lot of material out there in those fields with interesting words and concepts that haven’t really been rinsed by lyricists yet. So it gives us a point of difference. Ah, this is kinda interesting. So we’re currently working on the next album. I wrote all these lyrics for it ages ago, most of them were written whilst I was on holiday in Europe in 2017. For some reason they’re all about pathogens, and dodgy markets in odd places around the world, and currency fluctuation. I might have to change all that now! I don’t want the next record to appear to be a ‘Covid-19 Sessions’ or some dribble. It’ll have to take a few generations for credible songs about Covid-19 to pop up. No one wants to hear that shit right now. In 50 years’ time it might be interesting, to channel what it was like to live in an era where some guy got sick cos he ate an animal he shouldn’t have eaten, and then the whole world literally got turned upside down.

EXEK – Ahead Of Two Thoughts.

Do you need solitude or have a preferred time of day to write?

AW: I enjoying walking. Doing something whilst writing is great to get the blood flowing, and walking is perfect. The shower is good too, but near impossible to retain ideas.

Does the instrument you use affect the writing of the melody in your songs?

AW: Na, it’s the opposite. The melody affects what instrument will be used. By their very definition, the instruments are the tools. And you need the right tool for the job! ; )

I understand that all of your music gets fed through a Roland Space Echo; how did you first come to using it? What do you love most about it?

AW: Ha, not all of it, but a fair chunk. I don’t run much compression, so the space echo is good to just colour instruments with a bit of tape warmth, even if I’m not using the echo or delay on it. Something like a synth needs to be fed thru some tape. The Space Echo is a great tool at creating atmosphere. Every delay reflection rolls off some higher frequencies and gets duller and duller. Can’t remember my first use. I bought a busted one for real cheap and sent it to Echo Fix on the Central Coast in NSW. They made it fit and working again. Great service, highly recommended.

Do you ever go back and listen to your records?

AW: Nah. But sometimes I enter a shop or something, and I think to myself, “oh this ain’t bad, I know this”, and one more second later I realise its EXEK.

EXEK – A Casual Assmebly.

What do you do to nurture your creativity?

AW: Watch a lot of films, and listening to a wide variety of music. Read too. And podcasts ain’t bad. Primarily it’s finding new music. Been on a heavy funk and soul trip for the past couple of years. Even though I guess we are technically a ‘post-punk’ band, I rarely listen to post-punk.

What are you working on now?

AW: LP4! It’s written, and mostly recorded. Some songs are done! And they sound killer. I hope you like it.

Please check out: EXEK. Some Beautiful Species is out now on Anti Fade Records. EXEK on Facebook. EXEK on Instagram.

Claire Birchall’s Running In Slow Motion: “It’s a nightmare song. A waking nightmare, or a blurred line between reality & a dream… you’re trying to escape your demons or run away from monsters, but you can’t scream”

Melbourne musician Claire Birchall is set to release album Running In Slow Motion April 24th through It Records. It’s a moody, emotive, darkwave synth-pop collection of songs that Claire wrote and recorded herself on a 4-track, and is a departure from her usual indie rock exploits. Today we’re premiering the album’s title track which sounds somewhere between UK band Broadcast, France’s Marie Davidson and the Australian cult classic “Cold Café” by Karen Marks. We chatted with Claire about Running In Slow Motion and her musical journey.

Tell us a little bit about your music journey.

CLAIRE BIRCHALL: I grew up in a musical family down the coast, just outside of Geelong. Dad and Mum both played guitar and sang, and they bought a piano when my sister Bec and I were quite young, so we got lessons. Dad also taught us both how to play guitar, which quickly became our favoured instrument. By high school, I was already playing guitar constantly, joined my first band, and also did some busking in the Geelong mall in the summertime.

My high school music room had a cassette 4-track that I was fascinated with. I borrowed it once, and was completely smitten.  I ended up buying one myself at age 17, and got hooked on home recording, churning out tapes that I would swap with friends. Through recording, I started trying out as many different instruments as I could get my hands on, and ended up picking up a bit of drums, bass, mandolin and other things. I finally properly released my debut album, the acoustic based Captain Captain in 2001, which I played most of the instruments on.  The album did pretty well on community radio, and got some great support from RRR and PBS in particular.

I formed my own band, Paper Planes, which started out playing the songs from Captain Captain.  I’m not sure how, but we gradually morphed into a full tilt rock band. We got some decent support slots over the years, Magic Dirt, Catpower, Ed Kuepper, Band Of Horses….  We also released a self titled album, and two 7” singles (all recorded at the legendary Birdland Studios) which were all quite well received. Also around the same time as Paper Planes, my partner (Matt Green) and I, formed country rock band the Happy Lonesome, which I still play in today.  Though I started out on guitar in that band, then moved to keys and mandolin, and back to guitar, these days I’m the drummer!

After Paper Planes I released two solo albums, both recorded on the 4-track (PP and Electricity), then formed another band, Claire Birchall the Phantom Hitchhikers, to launch Electricity.  Though it wasn’t properly discussed or intended to be a full time band, we really hit it off, and we’ve been playing ever since.  We released our debut single, “All That Matters (it’s Christmas time)” in 2016, then our debut album Nothing Ever Gets Lost in 2017, and we’ve played a hell of a lot of shows. Also unintentional, was the small break the Phantom Hitchhikers ended up having towards the end of 2018, which unusually took me to this synth pop place I’m in now.

You’re more known for your rock, guitar-based music; what inspired you to make a synth record Running In Slow Motion by yourself on 4-track in your bedroom?

CB: It was a bit of an accident really. My band mates (the Phantom Hitchhikers) were pretty busy with various things at the time, and it was getting hard to get everyone together. I got an idea for a song one day, and decided to get out my old 4-track and demo it, for something to do.  Using my Casio keyboard for drums, and laying down a simple keyboard line, it somehow didn’t feel like it needed much guitar. The song was “Dead Air”, which turned out being the first single from the album. I liked the relative sparseness of the recording compared to my usual wall of sound, fuzz rock stuff, and it kicked off the inspiration for more writing and recording.

I wasn’t planning on making an album, but I got more and more addicted to experimenting with the new sound and returning to my roots of recording on the old 4-track.  It was really refreshing to step away from the guitar and sit there at my Casio, get a beat and a keyboard line going and write a song.  It completely changed my way of writing, and got me away from using the same old guitar chords/rhythms etc. Before I knew it, I was programming beats on a drum machine, scouring my collection of dinky little keyboards for cool sounds, and recording at every spare minute.  I ended up writing and recording the entire album in just a few months (plus a few songs to spare!).

What vision did you have for the record?

CB: It just happened.  But as I got further into recording, things started to take shape. I felt like the Casio keyboard drums weren’t sounding punchy enough on a few songs I’d already recorded, and maybe sounded a little too lo-fi. So I re-recorded a couple of them with programmed drum machine instead, and it really gave the songs the kick they needed. I instantly got hooked on programming my own beats, it’s so much fun. I then started digging the idea of getting the most hi-fi sounding recordings out of my lo-fi 4-track.  And I liked the idea of minimal tracks, minimal instrumentation, to let the songs talk without clogging them up with a million overdubs. I wanted to write the sort of songs that’d get stuck in your head. Pop songs.  I agonised over the track list for ages, cutting quite a few that weren’t up to scratch to make the poppiest catchy album I could muster. I can’t help that it’s pretty dark too, I’ve always had a little of that in my songwriting.

We’re premiering the third single, title track, “Running In Slow Motion”; what’s the song about?

CB: The song came together super quickly, and I used a little old cream coloured Yamaha keyboard for the drums. I still think the song’s got one of the best drum sounds on the whole album. It sounded kind of eerie, and I guess that inspired the eerie lyrics. It’s kind of a nightmare song. A waking nightmare, or a blurred line between reality and a dream, where people’s faces become distorted and turn into something/someone you don’t know. And you’re trying to escape your demons or run away from monsters, but you can’t scream, and you can only manage to run in slow motion.  It’s crazy how fitting it is to be releasing such a nightmarish song right at this point in time, when the whole world is truly living in a nightmare.

What was the best things about working alone on your new collection of songs?

CB: As much as I adore my band and bandmates and what they bring to my songs, there’s something to be said about being able to completely follow through with your sole vision for a song. When I write, I often instantly get ideas for multiple instrument parts, not just guitar or vocals, so it’s interesting to try and lay it all down just as I hear it in my head.

Also, I just love recording on the 4-track. Time absolutely flies by. I forget to eat, to drink water, anything. I just get so engrossed and obsessed. Often I’d write and record the whole song in one night, and end up with a tangle of leads and equipment all over the floor. I really love getting into that headspace, where the inspiration is positively flowing and you don’t want to waste time packing up anything, you’ve just got to keep going. I love the no bullshit simplicity of recording on the 4-track, it allows me to be completely spontaneous.

What was the most challenging?

CB: Definitely the mixing. I lost track of how many hours/days/months I spent doing that! I mix down from the cassette 4-track onto the computer, and then occasionally I’ll add some extra bits and pieces there.  Some of this involved tedious synching up and cutting/pasting individual tracks loaded in from the 4-track.  Plus, I’m so used to doing more lo-fi stuff, where the vocals are a little more buried. I had to work really hard on getting the vocals to stick out and sound more present and poppy. This involved double tracking, FX, and plenty of other little “secret” tricks. 

As a songwriter how do you feel you’ve grown while continuing to evolve, making a different kind of album than what your listeners are used to? Do you feel you took a risk?

CB: Even though I hadn’t made a synth-pop album before, I don’t really feel like I’ve strayed too much into the unknown. Every album I’ve ever done has been different from the previous one. I’ve experimented with all kinds of different sounds, instruments, and recording techniques over the years. Being a multi-instrumentalist really lends itself to experimentation. Plus I’ve got a pretty diverse taste in music. My first album, Captain Captain was a real acoustic guitar based album, totally different to my next one, which was the debut full tilt rock album with my band, Paper Planes. There’s also hints of my keyboard/programmed drums leanings throughout all of my solo albums. That being said, this is a very different sounding album, sure. It’s the first one that is a dedicated synth/drum machine album. But I think it still sounds like me.

What are some things you do to nurture your creativity?

CB: I absolutely always carry a notebook with me. It’s so great having an abundance of snippets of ideas to flick through when I’m stuck for ideas/lyrics.  I’ve pieced together many a song from individual lines I’ve written in that book.

I also think it’s also incredibly important to not force creativity. I try not to get too worried if I have a dry spell and don’t get inspired to write any new songs for a while. Sometimes it’s good to have a break, clear your head. The songs come when they’re ready.

You’ve played with Kim Salmon; what’s something you’ve learnt from working with him?

CB: You know, I was really quite scared that I wasn’t going to be capable of playing the stuff that I needed to be able to play with Kim. Some of the guitar stuff I felt was completely out of my league!  He really is an incredible guitarist.  I couldn’t believe he was trusting in me to pull this off!  But I worked my arse off, rehearsing by myself at home. I rehearsed more than I’d ever rehearsed for anything in my life. And incredibly I got it together. I surprised even myself. And it goes to show, you really shouldn’t write yourself off and think you’re not capable of something that looks hard and scary, cause it can turn out totally fine and you can have so much fun!

Kim’s taught me heaps. He’s the ultimate professional, but doesn’t like to over-rehearse to the point where you’re “wasting it all up” and losing the spark. I love that, I really agree with that. I love being kept on my toes when I play with him.  It keeps it super exciting and fun. I’m always grinning so much on stage with him. He’s a super lovely guy, he’s great to his fans, talks to everyone, signs stuff, all that. It’s no surprise that people really love him.

Why is making music important to you?

CB: I’ve been doing it for so long, I don’t know how not to do it!  It’s essential for my soul, my wellbeing.  I feel incredibly lucky to be able to write songs, especially when they feel like they’ve simply fallen out of the sky like a gift from the gods. You can’t ignore that shit, you’ve got to see it through. Music has also allowed me to play with and connect with so many wonderful and talented people over the years. I’m currently playing in multiple bands/projects, two of which I play drums in (The Happy Lonesome, and Teresa Duffy-Richards & the Fifty Foot Women), plus the Phantom Hitchhikers, my solo synth thing, and Kim’s band. It’s hectic, but I wouldn’t give this up for the world.  My life would not be the same without it.

Please check out: Claire Burchill. It Records. Claire on Facebook. Claire on Instagram.