Northern New South Wales band Mini Skirt play Aussie pub punk that captures the climate of current-day Australia, things aren’t always picturesque and idyllic; the vocals are urgent and frustrated while the music has a rawness and melody sonically painting a picture of the hope through the struggle. Gimmie interviewed vocalist Jacob Boylan about this year’s debut LP, Casino.
Mini Skirt are from Byron Bay; how would you describe where you live?
JACOB BOYLAN: The area is absolutely beautiful. It’s also more and more like Hollywood but can’t complain about too much.
Where does the band name Mini Skirt come from?
JB: Pulled it out of our asses. Pretty much the best we could come up with the time [laughs]. We don’t really think about it too much. I don’t think any of us even really associate the actual article of clothing with the name anymore.
What do you enjoy most about music?
JB: That you can listen to it in the car.
What first got you into it?
JB: I think probably my dad’s tape/CD collection. And then Eminem.
How did Mini Skirt get together?
JB: Over a beer and a yarn at the Railway Hotel.
You’ve released debut LP Casino this year. Previously you’ve mentioned that often your songs come from your observation of things; what kinds of things were inspiring this album while writing it?
JB: The lyrics were kind of compiled over a year or so, so there are a few different things and different moods that kind of get tapped into. A lot about being frustrated by the echo chamber of the elite lefty PC police and at the same time being super frustrated by purposefully hateful and bigoted right-wing pigs. It’s all about the tightrope baby.
I especially love the first track ‘Pressure’; what kind of place was this song being written from? Were you feeling pressures in your own life?
JB: A little bit. I just felt like I was working heaps at the time and felt like having a sook about it. The song didn’t help much though, I still sook to my girlfriend every night.
Was there any song on the album that was a challenge to write?
JB: I personally struggled a bit with writing a chorus for ‘Face Of The Future’. Sometimes they take a bit of panel beating, but generally they come together fairly naturally over time.
Can you tell us the story behind the album cover image with the band’s name and the album title written on the shop window?
JB: I kind of had the rough idea of having our name and album written on a corner store window where it would normally say “Fish’n’Chips” or whatever. Then one day I drove past “Skimmo’s” in the Lismore Industrial Estate on my way to work and was like “That’s the shop!” Long story short we called up old mate and he was sweet with it so we got our friend Nathan Pickering to come out and do the signwriting and our other mate Parko to come and get the pic. Pretty iconic. I think we were all pretty stoked. The shop owner wanted us to leave it up, he was a legend.
The album was recorded at The Music Farm in Byron which is a historic recording studio first born in the 1970s; how did you come to record there? What was the space like?
JB: Our dear friend and the Mayor of Byron Paul McNeil was managing The Music Farm and it’s one of the most crazy and beautiful properties I’ve ever seen so we figured that was the spot to record. It’s so good in there. Paul did a great job setting it all up.
You recorded with Owen Penglis from Straight Arrows; how’d you get together? Did you learn anything from working with him?
JB: Indeed! Through Nick from Nick Nuisance and The Delinquents, we hit up Owen and he was psyched. I think he was mainly just psyched for a holiday. But he didn’t get much time for recreation. We learnt that he’s real good at pinball and that he’s a total badass.
When you think back to recording; what’s the first memory of the process that pops out at you?
JB: Going for a swim out the front with Owen each morning before we went out to record was pretty classic. Just watching Owen in general was pretty great. Also seeing all the stuff we’d been putting together for over a year finally come together into something tangible.
What have you been listening to lately?
JB: Right now, I’m listening to ‘Russell Coight’ by Shadow feat Huskii and Vinsins. I know a couple of us have been listening to a fair bit of country. Cam and I always listen to a fair bit of hip-hop. Jesse was listening to Underoath the other day. Also, The Floodlights album is excellent. Other Jacob said he listened to the new Flatbush Zombies album the other day when he was cleaning his house.
What do you do outside of music?
JB: We all work full time. Surf a bit. Watch the footy. Enjoy our fair share of neck oil. I’ve got a print studio I spend heaps of time at. Jacob has a motorbike, so that’s pretty cool.
The world’s a pretty weird and uncertain place at the moment; what helps keep you positive and get through?
JB: I just got a pet Lorikeet, his name is Raffy, he keeps me pretty happy. I can send a photo if you want!
Michael Rother has been making music for most of his life—he is a sound pioneer that is always evolving and very passionate about his work still to this day. Rother is a founding member of Neu! and Harmonia, as well as an early member of Kraftwerk. His latest album Dreaming is lush with a fragility and beauty that can only come from being vulnerable and opening one’s heart, as Rother does here in this very personal piece of art. Gimmie spoke with him about its creation, of creativity and freedom.
How important is it to you to have tranquillity and solitude when you create?
MICHAEL ROTHER: I can concentrate better when I’m on my own but sometimes it’s good to be in a group of course when playing live, this is also in a way being creative, maybe not the same as when you’re working on new material but tranquillity and absence of noise are really important factors for me. The place where I live – now I’m actually in Italy with my partner – in Germany is a perfect example of tranquillity because there is no big city nearby, no autobahn, of course now in Corona times there are even less airplanes in the sky. There’s a big river in front of the house and fields and hills in the distance, this is an environment I started loving when I first moved there in 1973 to work with Harmonia.
Yes! That’s when you built a recording studio.
MR: Yes. I started a professional recording studio. We always had a room we called our studio which was filled with the gear that we could afford, for the first Harmonia album it was simple stereo recording devices, a very simple mixer and our own sound creating gear. In the late ‘70s I started with my professional gear because I was so successful [laughs], strangely with the three solo albums, that I could afford to buy the same gear Conny Plank had in his studio, that’s the old analogue 24 track 2-inch, which is in the studio. Now days, for quite a few years I have a living room studio which I especially like working in. It’s always been my dream to not separate the music from my life, the other life, daily life. I always had this idea of one big loft, but this is being immodest because I have such great opportunities, it’s wonderful to have a studio like the one that I have. That’s the problem with wishes, you always get more wishes, one wish is fulfilled and the next wish is born.
The last album I recorded and worked on in my living room studio with mostly the gear I use when I play live, it’s small, a computer and some effects and of course the necessary hardware and monitor system, which I don’t carry around. It’s the best state for me, to come from the kitchen corner and sit down and listen to the new mixes I’m working on when I’m around the corner. Are you a musician?
Yes. I’m not one for labels much but I do like making noise and sounds!
MR: I can relate to that! You can call everything noise. I would like to know how cats hear my music! So you will know the situation, that it’s very different if you sit in front of your monitors like ears straight-ahead and listen intensely to what’s happening or you go five meters away around the corner and you let the mix play, then you suddenly have a totally different hearing, listening possibility. You notice somethings are maybe too loud or just get drowned, you have to maybe work on better to keep them listenable. Anyway, this is a situation I have been enjoying working on Dreaming.
Dreaming is such a beautiful album there’s a real intimacy to it, it’s very dreamy.
MR: The history of the material on Dreaming goes back to the late ‘90s when I did a recording session with the British cello player and singer, Sophie Joiner. When I worked on Remember (The Great Adventure), I had so much material, much more than I could put on that album and I left it unfinished, some of the material were only sketches with some voice material; I knew that I would always come back to that material. In the years that followed I very much enjoyed playing live around the world, I was in Australia twice, after that also Japan, Russia, China, Mexico and all-around Europe. I did some film scores and other music, that kept me very busy and I enjoyed being on the move and being in a live environment, enjoying the music with an audience in front of me instead of working on my own and getting feedback months or years later, which is nice. That’s why the material was sleeping all these years and when Corona hit us in spring this year and suddenly all the concerts were cancelled, I had time. I had so much free time that I thought, this is the opportunity to pick up that material, it was some kind of duty that I felt. It sounds a bit strange but it was not only the joy of going back to that material, it was also some kind of duty because I felt that it was so beautiful. Sophie Joiner’s voice is unbelievable.
I talked to the label and they were very happy that I could record a new album to also include in the second boxset, which was released a few weeks ago—time just flies, it’s crazy! I had a plan and a purpose. It wasn’t a total lockdown but we had restrictions in Germany which were in no way as bad as in Paris, Madrid and Italy for instance; the situation now as I’m talking is actually exploding again, the situation is frightening. It’s troubling just today the child of my partner received a test result, fortunately there was no Corona.
That’s great news! When you were finishing Dreaming did you have an artistic vision of where you wanted it to go?
MR: I’m not always fully of aware of the motives and where the music is leading me. It’s actually the material that also makes me follow. It’s not having a wish and forcing the music to become as you would like it to become, it’s more the other way around, I guess. A track like ‘Quiet Dancing’, this was the original sketch then I reacted to the basic idea. When I recorded the melodies those were reactions, they weren’t premeditated. Especially because there was this time gap of maybe nearly twenty years with some of the sketches, I had a new start—everything was still deep in my system though. I remembered every moment – it’s strange how music stays so fresh in the system – I remember every second.
Artistic vision, it’s not some kind of formula that I develop on a storyboard then put into music. I work with material, some artists would use clay or paint colours, I work with sounds and melodies. It’s not a theoretical thing. I’ve never been someone that is interested in discussing theories about music, like when Brian Eno was in force, he was full of theories; he’s a very interesting person. It was the same with Klaus Dinger in Neu! or with [Hans-Joachim] Roedelius and [Dieter] Moebius in Harmonia—we were always musicians who worked on music and that was the result. It was different from the Kraftwerk people that maybe had a vision, some kind of idea; let’s make an album that has this vision of a train running through Germany or Europe and make Trans Europe Express. It’s always connected to sounds. If you ask someone who is capable of analysing the ingredients of the music, the deeper connections they find in the music, they will probably be able to explain some theory to my music but I’m not that theory guy.
What is the significance of the title Dreaming?
MR: Dreaming has been an important element in my life for many years. I sometimes have very great dreams, not always but I’m often travelling at night and dreaming, also meeting people that are no longer there, this happens frequently. I’m not any different from any other people but for me the state of sleeping and dreaming is important. I enjoy when I have the chance to wake up slowly and remember what happened at night, what I was dreaming about, to think about those impressions and how they came about. The album Traumreisen that came out in 1987 was already an indication, that was a word game because traumreisen in the German language is an expression used by travel agencies, I sometimes do that although it’s not very wise because people get it mixed up and don’t understand the joke. It’s like a dream voyage, mostly known as an expression of travel agencies. For me of course, it was something I did at night, travel at night in dreams.
Wow! That’s really cool.
MR: Yeah. I sometimes like to play with titles, with double meanings. I have noticed that quite a few people just stick to the surface, the first meaning, they don’t even expect a second meaning to be hidden or beyond that. Also, my album Katzenmusik ‘cat music’ was an example. There were comments from fans saying: why does he call his music cat music? It’s not screeching like cats fighting! [laughs]. It’s not very wise of me but I enjoy it and playing with language.
With the album title Dreaming this was very clear though. I don’t know when in the recording sessions I thought, that was so magical the way she uttered that word. To be honest I wasn’t sure if it was too sweet but then I stuck to it. Now I am totally happy that I didn’t waiver.
I think it really fits the music. Where does the cover image come from?
MR: That’s a family photo. It’s my brother, my mother and me. My father took that photo when we were in Karachi in Pakistan. It is very personal. It’s actually the same with music, music is also, how personal can you get? It’s connected to my person and my history; it actually means a lot to me. This photo is wonderful, I enjoy looking at it every day.
It’s a beautiful, emotive image. I get the feeling that you are very fond of water too? You seem to have a connection to it.
MR: [Laughs] Oh yes! I really do. I don’t’ know if that’s typical but if you see little children they also enjoy running into the water at the beach. I feel very at home in water. Thinking about it, I’ve lived next to water all my life. I had the opportunity of swimming in the Mediterranean in the summer and it’s wonderful. I like waves actually, so Australia would be great. Although I’m afraid of sharks, I must confess.
Same! Me too.
MR: [Laughs]. People talk about fears of flying, I don’t have that. I tell them just look at the statistics and yeah, hmmm… with sharks it’s the same, more people die falling off ladders or hit by lightening than from sharks. It’s just something from the subconscious. I wouldn’t want to hurt a shark but I wouldn’t want to be attacked by one either.
I remember once when I was in California, I was staying at Flea from the [Red Hot] Chilli Peppers’ beach house with friends and they took me on a canoe trip on the water and I remember looking suspiciously at the water [laughs]. I felt quite vulnerable. It’s crazy. I am very, very much into water and water activities also. I hope to still have the chance one day to learn to surf, real surfing, maybe when I’m ninety! [laughs].
In Karachi we were at the beach every weekend, Saturday and Sunday. I was in and out of the water all day long. I remember there being nice waves and doing bodysurfing. It was so much fun!
Living next to the river like in Germany now or in Munich, we also live next to a river in Hamburg and even when we were in Winslow near Manchester in the UK there was a little small river, which I was in a lot. I don’t want to say this is more pleasure for me than other people, but it is a real pleasure to be in this element. Also, to look at the water surface, the mystery, you don’t see what’s below the surface and the imagination of how the sea bed develops—that’s something that drives my imagination.
Yes, and we are composed of a lot of water and water can be so many different forms liquid, frozen and it can be rain or perspiration, so many things.
MR: Yes [laughs]. Very good!
I really loved the film clip for your song ‘Bitter Tang’. It contains footage from your archive of when you were young.
MR: That’s right. You see my father; he died many, many years ago when I was fifteen, he died in ’65. And my mother… it’s also a very personal piece of work the video. My friend Thomas Beckmann edited it in collaboration with me. I will use his expression, “We did a great job!” [laughs]. Thomas did a wonderful piece of work with the video; I am very happy we have it. Some of the footage I filmed. Thomas was also with me when we found Sophie Joiner in Hamburg.
I know that, in regards to your creativity, you enjoy total freedom and in your music you like to create a feeling of freedom; what does that freedom look like or what does it mean to you?
MR: That’s an interesting question. Freedom is like for a cat, a cat needs to be free, if you try to hold a cat, she’ll go crazy. The possibility of deciding upon your own personal wishes, not being forced by some problems regarding money, being independent, artistic freedom is of course a part of that. I was fortunate from the beginning, it was the same for Klaus Dinger and my Harmonia colleagues, we were in the same spirit. We wanted to be free and we accepted the downside of this freedom, although we expected the best; I am always very optimistic because I love music. Being independent of the record companies, of their decisions and decisions made by other people, this I think was one of the most important elements.
Hailing from the Netherlands, four-piece rock band Lewsberg came to our attention while listening to an episode of 3RRR’s Teenage Hate radio show. Their latest release LP In This House is elegant, stripped down rock n roll with simple, eloquent storytelling. Gimmie spoke with vocalist-guitarist Arie Van Vliet and guitarist Michiel Klein.
Why is music important to you?
ARIE: Music makes things easier.
MICHIEL: Easier in the way that it can help you deal with the absurdity of life.
A: Yes, exactly.
What interests you about making your own music?
M: Why only listen to music? Or carefully try to reproduce old music? Why not make your own music?
A: Sometimes I am so bored of making music, of tuning my guitar, of singing our songs again and again, of the music industry, that I almost decide to quit playing and start doing something completely different. But in these occasions, I’ve always realised right in time that nothing else would give me satisfaction either. So I guess that’s the reason why I keep on making music.
M: And you still wonder why people call you a nihilist? I think it’s important to realise that you can make music without having to follow the ‘rules’ in the music industry or in society in general.
Lewsberg are from Rotterdam; what’s it like where you live? Can you describe your neighbourhood for us?
A: Rotterdam used to be a pretty rough city, unpolished, with a lot of concrete and with a lot of space for outsiders of all sorts. Until very recently. A couple of years ago Rotterdam started changing, and all the imperfect buildings and people had to pay the price. Rotterdam these days is a city where the streets are tidy, the flowers blossom and the people smile. But I miss the Rotterdam that welcomed anyone, the city where you could park on the sidewalk and pee against a bus shelter.
M: Rotterdam was not a city that welcomed you with open arms when I moved here around twelve years ago. You had to make an effort and have quite some stamina before it started to feel like home. But I think this is a good thing. Things shouldn’t come too easy.
I understand that the band’s name was inspired by writer Robert Loesberg and that reading his first novel Enige Defecten changed the way you looked at language and how it can be used completely; can you please elaborate on this a little and tell us how it changed the way you look at language?
A: I always thought pleasing people was the main goal of writing a book. Or maybe even the main goal of creating things in general. Until I read ‘Enige Defecten’, and I realised that you can use language in a completely different way. That you don’t have to take the reader into account. That you can decide to annoy a reader. With the way you use language, or with the stories you tell.
Another thing I found out while reading ‘Enige Defecten’, is that I have a preference for rather boring stories. Stories that don’t have a start or an end, everyday scenes, thoughts without morals.
We really love the Lewsberg sound: bare-boned and not hiding the mistakes; why was it important for you to not hide mistakes?
M: I’ve never understood people who say they want to write the perfect song. Perfection is boring. It suggests that there is nothing left to add or to change. It’s static. It leaves no space for alternatives. And I think alternatives are very important. There is not just one way, the right way. There are a lot of ways, all with mistakes. Why do people think it’s important to hide mistakes?
A: Now we’re talking about hiding mistakes… That’s the thing that really frustrates me about how Rotterdam, or the world, is changing. That most people think the world is a better place when all bumps have been eliminated, when all mistakes are erased. But they’ve never asked themselves why this would necessarily be a good thing.
I know that you don’t make your songs lyrically personal and that you write more from the perspective of an observer about everyday ordinary things; what inspired you to write this way?
A: To be honest, I think I am an observer. I have never really been a part of anything, I’ve always been the witness. I feel comfortable in this role, it makes me feel at ease in almost every situation. So actually, it just feels natural to write this way. This is just the way I experience things.
What was one of the most interesting things for you about writing or recording your latest album In This House?
A: We recorded our album during a heat wave. We never had such warm days before in the Netherlands. Most people stayed inside, because it was too warm outside. Henk’s studio, where we recorded, is a dark and cool place in a narrow alley in The Hague’s city centre. We forgot about the heat outside while we were working on our music. I’ll never forget the feeling I experienced each time I opened the front door of the studio, right before walking into a hot, bright, silent world.
What was the idea behind the minimalist cover art of the album?
A: I don’t think it’s really minimalist. There’s actually an entire world behind the black surface.
M: I see it as an invitation for people to fill in some of the blanks for themselves.
Being a native Dutch-speaker; how does your limited knowledge of the English language shape or contribute to your song writing process?
A: The boundaries of a language that I don’t fully have a grip on, make it easier for me to write. When I write things in Dutch, the words leave my pen too quickly. I like language when it’s compact, when it doesn’t say more than needed. When you write things in a language that isn’t your first language, that’s one of the things you get for free. Besides, writing in English makes it possible to write with the necessary distance from the subjects I want to depict.
I enjoy how you have different versions of the same song – single versions are different from the album versions and live versions are different from the recorded versions; what was the thought behind having the different versions?
M: I once read this great quote by Matt Valentine (MV & EE / Tower) in an interview: “It just seems ridiculous to play things the same way each time, I mean, you ever brush your teeth the same way?” And although Lewsberg is not a psychedelic improvisation outfit like Tower Recordings, this remark is just so relatable. He also talks about “making sure the emotion of the environment is captured”. I wouldn’t use these words exactly but obviously the environment is very important in relation to how songs are performed. The environment can be different things. Is a song placed on a single or an album? Where is it placed on the album? Where is it placed in a live set? Because a previous song will affect how the next song is being played. Where is the performance taking place? Is it a crowded place or almost empty? There are just so many factors that can and will influence a performance, both during recordings and live shows, and I think it’s good to be conscious about this and embrace it.
A: That’s one thing we really enjoyed about the recent shows. That we played in circumstances we had never played before. We never played shows for a seated audience before, we never played shows for only fifty people in a hall with a capacity of four thousand people before, we never played five shows in three hours before. Completely new circumstances, that allowed us to play our songs in a different way, both intentionally and unintentionally.
You played your first live shows in nine months; how did it feel?
A: At first I wasn’t really looking forward to it. I didn’t touch my guitar for almost six months and I hadn’t missed making music at all. Plus I didn’t feel the urge to be on a stage after six months of isolation. But looking back on these first live shows, I have to admit it was nice to be on the road again. Though it was exhausting to talk to people after the shows. After spending so much time without seeing too many people, I wasn’t used to talking to strangers anymore. Sometimes people were really emotional about the gig, because for many people it was the first gig they attended in 2020.
I’ve heard that you love to read! What was the last thing you read that you found really fascinating? What was it that piqued your interest?
M: Lately I’ve been reading some of the poetry by Hendrik de Vries, a Dutch poet and painter from Groningen, a town in the North of the Netherlands, also the town where I was born and grew up. He started his literary career around 100 years ago. He was something of an outsider, literal in a geographic way, but also because he was really traditionalist in the way he structured his poetry in an age where experimenting with free verse was the trend in avant-garde circles. The language itself is also kind of old-fashioned and archaic but very personal, wild, melancholic, scary and dreamlike. Surrealist in a way. It’s not poetry that I can understand or fathom, but the images and atmospheres it conjures are just so strong. Fascinating is the right word.
A: I didn’t read a proper book for ages, but thanks to the lockdown I discovered reading again. I read a lot of Dutch books, from dead writers like Gerard Reve to young writers like Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. And I loved reading the first two books of Danish writer Tove Ditlevsen’s Copenhagen Trilogy. Now I’m waiting for the third book to come out in Dutch. All these books have in common that nothing is really happening. If a writer can put that nothing into words, I’ll read the book. But if I had to pick one book that really left an impression this year, it’s Bell Hooks’ The Will To Change:Men, Masculinity, and Love, an explanation and denunciation of patriarchy. I read it in August, and I still think about it almost every day.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
A: We’ve started a label recently, called Soft Office. The first release came out today (on Friday, November 13th), it’s Austin-based band Chronophage’s second album The Pig Kissed Album. If you like Lewsberg, it could be interesting to keep an eye on these releases, since this is the music we like. You can find more info on Soft Office’s Bandcamp-page.
Meanjin/Brisbane dream pop shoegaze quartet Ultra Material are getting set to finally play live in support of their Ep 3 which was released in May this year. It’s both energetic and dreamy at the same time; a powerful and lovely release. Gimmie caught up with drummer Matt Deasy.
How did you first find music?
MATT DEASY: My earliest memories of music are of listening to records on my Dad’s turntable stereo. I used to love sitting next to the player with headphones on listening to 7-inch singles. I guess it was my earliest exposure to the idea of DJ’ing as I was more taken by individual songs than listening to full length albums. I loved listening to the radio and watching The Rage Top 40 on a Saturday morning. I would attempt to tape songs from the Rage Top 40 onto my little portable cassette player, this of course resulted in a lot of shouts and breakfast table talk from family members in the background.
What was the first concert/gig you ever went to?
MD: My very first ‘live gig’ or more accurately ‘live band experience’ was on a trip to Bristol in the UK with with my Dad to when I was 14. My English cousin, (who I’d met for the very first time that trip and became the absolute coolest person in my world) took me to her boyfriend’s band rehearsal at a share house. They were a ska/skate punk band who went on to make a few waves locally and nationally. It was an inspiring first experience actually seeing how a band functions in their own environment. I also met them all afterwards and we were all both equally intrigued by each other geographically.
Who or what inspired you to make music yourself?
MD: I wanted to play drums from an early age. The only thing was that I didn’t have a drum kit, so I use to just tap on things and eventually started entertaining the other kids in my class by playing wipeout on the top of desktops or whatever other surface might create enough of a tone to get the class moving (this resulted in a lot of detention from memory). I’m not even sure how I learnt to play the wipe out, but I spent a lot of my childhood tapping out rhythms on any available surface I could find. The idea of making my own music came much later in high school when I bought an electric guitar from a friend and decided to start chipping away at that. I became fully engrossed in styles of music that were not popular with my peers at all, bands like Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth and the grittier side of the Seattle scene. Then after high school finished, I started making tapes of me just playing guitar. Slowly these formed the basis for the first songs I wrote which turned out to be the foundation of my first band.
What brought Ultra Material together?
MD: Sarah and I met Nick and Zuzana at a Do the Robot show (which was our previous band).
They were fans, so of course we immediately became friends. Nick and Zuz had been writing their own music under the name Monochrome and had just started a band with fellow architect friends Jonathan and Veronica Kopinski called Sunshine State. We all instantly hit it off, playing double bills together across Brisbane for a couple of years. After Sunshine State and Do The Robot dissolved in 2012 we decided to start a new project which quickly morphed into Ultra Material.
What draws you to making a combo of shoegaze and dream pop sound-wise?
MD: I think it’s the music that comes most naturally to us. All of our previous bands had at least some elements of shoegaze and dream pop to them and once we’d started Ultra Material those kinds of sounds became the main emphasis of the band. In a lot of ways dream pop and shoegaze is a mood to us, a constant and shared feeling we have about life in general and that obviously influences our song writing process quite a lot.
Ultra Material are known for really beautiful all-encompassing live shows; how has not being able to play live over the past few months affected you?
MD: It’s been a little tough as we had to cancel our EP launch show originally scheduled in May. Since Nick and Zuz had twin bubs last year we’ve had to become a bit more selective in what we take on, so we were already looking to only play 2 or 3 times a year before the shutdown happened. Our routine over the last few years has usually been to write and record within a few months followed by a couple of shows to promote the release then have a break for a while. It’s likely we’ll continue this way, but hopefully we can make the few shows we do play really worth it.
On your latest release Ep 3 there’s a bit of a garden/flower theme via the art and songs like ‘Marigold’; what inspired this?
MD: The idea for the ep artwork came from some polaroid photos Sarah and I took on our travels through Ireland and the UK last year. Our approach was to find a wild flower garden and use the polaroid camera to create a soft-focus look to the photographs, with Nick and Zuzi providing accompanying illustrations of native flora from their home garden. The four of us have been working on our own gardens over the last few years, and it’s another thing we bond over – we all live on main roads and it creates our own little sanctuaries.I think generally nature plays a big part in our artwork, and whether it’s planting some new natives or just daydreaming in the garden, it can be quite cathartic.
Can you tell us a bit about the recording process for Ep 3? We love how you layer sound!
MD: Our last two releases we’ve recorded with Marly Luske at Alchemix Studio in West End. I think Marly is a bit of a mind reader with translating what we want into reality and is always open to ideas and experimenting. He’s also a genius and whizz when it comes to editing and mixing as we keep a pretty tight schedule when it comes to recording. Generally, we try to have all the songs down beforehand so we can come in and record everything together in one room over a couple of days, and then record vocals and overdubs throughout the mixing process to create the layered sound. With Ep 3 we actually recorded in February 2019 but didn’t get back to mix it until the end of that year, so it was an opportunity to return after some time away with fresh ears and add additional layers.
We love the extra love and care that you always put into the packaging of your physical releases!EP 3 had a handmade screen-printed gatefold jacket with bonus fold out screen printed poster with two versions a white card and kraft version of the jacket; why is it important to you to give us something special? Can you tell us about the thought behind the latest packaging?
MD: My work at No.7 print House gives me the opportunity to be thinking about and planning physical releases, sometimes months before we’ve even written and recorded the songs. We’ve always approached each release as a new art project, and factoring our budget and time frames usually decides what physical format will be best suited to that particular release. All 4 of us have some kind of design background but we are pretty democratic about everyone having a chance to have creative input into a release – it helps that we all love each other’s work. Being able to build these super deluxe packages all in house, creating accompanying artwork for inserts or fold out posters, making each release something special and different from the last one, I think it’s all a natural extension of our music. We’d been dismissive of CDs for years in favour of vinyl or cassette, as they just seemed a more interesting physical product. But lately we’ve been getting back into CDs in the car (the only place any of us have CD players) so it was nice to change things up and with CDs being so compact and affordable it was just perfect for this release.
This year’s been a challenging year; what’s something important that you’ve learnt about creativity or making stuff in 2020?
MD: I felt some pressure to take advantage of the lockdown and subsequent quiet periods this year to focus on art, although having large amounts of downtime to work on art alone can have the opposite effect on me as far as productivity goes. I’m very much used to working within small pockets of time that become available in and around my regular work schedule. The downtime did however prove to be very handy for the actual making and construction side of art projects especially when it came to the screen printing. If we are ever to have another year or period like 2020, I only hope I’ll be better equipped to deal with the potential that comes with large amounts of downtime.
What’s something that’s really engaged you lately? What did you appreciate about it?
MD: Lately and especially during lockdown music by Roy Montgomery, Seefeel, Windy & Carl, Pink Moon by Nick Drake, Julee Cruise’s The Voice of Love, locals Mckisko and Ancient Channels’ new albums. These have all made up this year’s soundtrack and kept me company during the best and the worst of this year.
What’s next for Ultra Material? Have you been working on anything new? What can you tell us about it at this point?
MD: We have our second (and final) show this year on the 5th of December at The Cave Inn with Ancient Channels. Unfortunately, the show is only 30 capacity, so all tickets are sold but it will be a nice end to what was a really dark and insanely bizarre year. We’re also writing songs for what will most likely become our next EP, so I think that will be our main focus for the next few months.
Ausecuma Beats are a Naarm/Melbourne-based ensemble that have come together from all parts of the globe – Gambia, Guinea, Mali, India, Senegal and Cuba – to explore the idea of transplanting cultural heritage into a contemporary city through the universal language of music and community. Ausecuma Beats is a melting pot of their rich experiences, languages, craft, heritage and cultures. Their mission is to learn from one another and uplift people with their art. Gimmie caught up with bandleader and master djembe player, Boubacar Gaye to find out more about debut self-titled album, out now on Music in Exile (home of another Gimmie fav Gordon Koang).
Hi Bouba! I understand that you are from Senegal in West Africa; what was it like growing up there?
BOUBACAR GAYE: Senegal is a rich country in the west of Africa and there is a strong French and Arabic influence. I was born in Senegal and grew up there as well, so I had the chance to learn Arabic music and culture and also a chance to speak French too. It is a rich culture because there are so many different tribes there. Each region has their own instrument and I had the chance to learn different instruments of each tribe.
What is one of your favourite things about Senegalese culture?
BG: Food! My favourite is a fish and rice dish.
I know that both your father and uncle influenced you with the music they listened to; what would you listen to together?
BG: My uncle liked jazz music like Miles Davis and my father liked old music called tango, so I listened to those styles. I get the jazz and afro flavour from what they used to listen to. My uncle used to go to parties and he would wear a suit, he would dress well, and I would watch how he would dress. You have to dress up good to go to the nightclub and listen to good music! His influence on me was in clothes as well as music!
What instrument do you like to play the most? What do you love about it?
BG: I like to play a bass drum called a Dum Dum. I’m a djembe player professionally though, but I like both high and low pitch so I can’t just pick one! They both have energy!
Why is music important to you?
BG: Music is everything. It educates me, it gave me the opportunity to leave Africa and to experience different cultures and different worlds. I think if I was not a musician, I don’t know what I would be. My family says that I was born for music and I believe so. Good music takes me out of the street and makes me not take the wrong way in life. When I was young, not everyone takes the right track. Thanks to music, I have found my path. Music is my life.
How did you first feel when you came to Australia? Why did you decide to come to Australia?
BG: I was in Japan for 8 years living there. I came to Melbourne for 10 days visiting a friend who said that Melbourne was a beautiful city and I should come. Japan was already far from home but Australia is also very far! I came to Australia for music and because of curiosity. My friend introduced me to an African drumming company; the boss was very welcoming to me and he introduced a big community to me. There is a strong drumming community here which made me feel that this is a place I can adopt. I was scared to make the move to come here, I already moved to Japan! My visiting holiday was fun but thinking about living here was not easy. There was stress! Was I making the right choice and decision to do this? There is always something I trust – don’t worry, you have the music! The music will lead you to make your own community! Go for it and don’t look behind. Let it go and move forward. Making a move can be a big decision, but be patient and have your goals. It will not be easy but as long as you keep working on it it will be ok.
I visited and did the tour things, I like the design of Melbourne, you can see the sky. It’s great! In Japan it is very hard to see the blue sky because there are so many buildings. In the winter it feels like there is no day time because there isn’t too much light, so much shadow from the buildings.
Throughout your debut self-titled album there flows messages of love and respect; what inspired this?
BG: I think respect is an important thing for us as Ausecuma Beats members because we are all different – sometimes language is difficult as the tone can be interpreted in the wrong way for members of the group who are not fluent in English. We need to be careful – the respect needs to be there. We always need to respect each other even if we have different ways of speaking English. We don’t always agree on everything, but we all have to share music and music is love.
Your latest single ‘Cherie’ speaks about the importance of equality in relationships, especially in marriage; what inspired you to write about that?
BG: Cherie is a French word – you can use ‘cherie’ to make the relationship very nice, “oh my cherie, oh my love, my darling.” This word, ‘cherie’ is for caring and loving someone who is your daughter, wife, or husband.
The track is based on a traditional song which is a true story from an older storyteller. The storyteller donated his music to the world and many musicians reinterpret his songs. He was singing about his wife; “you carry my children, you make me proud as a man, I don’t know how I can thank you, if i go first i will wait for you, if you go first wait for me, my cherie we are together for everything.” This story is quite old, not from my Mum’s generation but from my Grandma’s generation!
Each track on the album displays the different talents of each musician; what do you feel are your talents?
BG: The groove! I always make sure we are tight. My role is always to control the volume when we are recording or performing. We all have a role and we have to give the same energy, but there needs to be space to solo. There are so many members, we also need to control all of the instruments and make space. I think in Ausecuma Beats, there is no leader in our music because all instruments have space and are equal. My role is to make sure that there is an equal role in the music.
Why is improvisation an important part of Ausecuma Beats’ creativity? Can you tell us a bit about your song-writing process?
BG: We want to do something beautiful and unique and to do that you have to let there be space for that, space for creativity and composing music. When you’re improvising, sometimes it can be good, but sometimes it can be good and then crash! When we’re improvising, we’re cooking and everyone brings their own ingredients!
Auseucma Beats music always starts from the engine – the percussion. After this, we compose the melody, sometimes with the belafon, kora, or sometimes from the percussion. The voice always comes on after we have built the road; when the road is smooth the voice comes in.
What is something important you’ve learnt from your journey as a creative person that you’d like to share with us?
BG: What I have learnt is that it is beautiful to build a community. You feel you’re all on the same page, it’s great! The best things I’ve achieved in my musical career is to build community. Not only with Auseucma Beats but also drumming. We’re sharing the same passion. If you listen and you want to come and dance, you’re part of our community!
Ausecuma Beats’ debut LP out now through Music In Exile.
TB Ridge As The Director is a solo project from Tom Ridgewell of Constant Mongrel, Woollen Kits and Calamari Girls. His Rock n Roll Heart EP is neo-traditional rock n roll; rock n roll 101 but with drum machine, synths, vocoder and strings. It’s a fresh and intriguing listen. Gimmie interviewed Tom to learn more.
How has your day been? What have you been up to?
My day has been great, thanks! I have been in Lara with my partner Sophie visiting Mum and Dad and my brother and sister in law and their 8 month old. It was really nice to see them all, as we haven’t been able to for a while. Especially Michael, as he has changed so much recently.
Do you listen to music every day? What have you been listening to lately?
I do listen to music every day! I work at a little cafe on my own so I get to pick what music plays for around six to seven hours. At the moment I am listening to jazz a lot- Krystof Komeda is my jam at the moment, his soundtrack to Knife in The Water is so, so good. I’ve also been enjoying listening to some 70’s folk stuff, Maddie Prior and Sandy Denny (with Fairport Convention) for my lyrical content. I let my partner do the music at home, so Townes Van Zandt, OV Wright, Eno and Talking Heads at the moment.
You were born in and grew up in Melbourne, right? Has music always been a big part of your life?
I actually was born in Ararat and lived in different parts of country Victoria before high school. The reason for that is my dad was a Presbyterian minister (a job which can make for lots of moves). I bring that up to answer the other part of the question. Music was always around my family, neither of my parents played instruments, but we all sang every Sunday at church. Dad has a bit of a shocker of a voice and ear but would always lead the singing with gusto and my Mum has a lot of natural talent musically (she actually got a cello for her 60th birthday and is doing really well at learning) . Apart from church music, we did grow up with some classic rock like Creedence, Van and Bob. Also Sound of Music and Mary Poppins were favourites, Julie Andrews is so good!
How did you first discover your local scene? What was the first gig you saw?
I honestly can’t really remember a first gig! I can remember gigs if someone brings them up, but off the top of my head I couldn’t say what my first proper show was. Getting into my scene was probably through my friendship with Tom Hardisty, and us playing music together from around 19/20 years old. He was friends with my ex-girlfriend and we hit it off and started playing with each other pretty quickly. That’s how old Woollen Kits is now, haha.
Previously you’ve said that you were trained to play classical cello when you were young and your parents persistence to make you continue with it, when you really didn’t want to, probably helped form the way you think and feel about music now; how so?
Yep, thinking about that now has made me sequence some things together with that. I played cello from when I was about 11 and enjoyed it at the start but as teenagers do I began to want to distance myself from the old fashioned instrument. I wanted to play bass guitar and then my cello teacher (and parents) encouraged me to try double bass with another teacher as it has the same strings as a bass guitar but similar playing method to the cello. The bass has also the same first four strings as the guitar (which I had started to teach myself). Continuing on double bass was awesome and I learnt a little jazz and got ok with a bow with more classical stuff.
How long do you think you’ve been writing songs for now?
It took me a long time to say I was writing proper songs, but it was around high school age that I thought I was doing it. I resisted for so many years to actually learn some theory behind how to make a song. I suppose I thought it was all natural and free, which can be cool, but never very good unless you are some kind of genius.
As a songwriter, what kind of place do you feel you’ve reached with new solo project TB Ridge as the Director?
TB RIDGE AS THE DIRECTOR is a comfortable place for me. It feels natural and easy to write this kind of music and I have embraced it. I feel like it’s going to be fun to one day make a band and play the songs live but for now the EP is a snapshot of a good little moment for me!
I know you like a minimalist approach when it comes to lyrics; do you find it hard to write lyrics?
Yes and no. I just tend to write lyrics after the music for everything I’ve ever done. I find it easier to find the right words for the music than come up with music for the words. So by default the way I went about making this music, I didn’t have much room for long lines. There is a part in the Gimmie Danger doco where Iggy says something about 200 words or less theory he takes on, I really like that. Simplicity is really important to me. If I read a book that’s too wordy or descriptive, I’ll stop reading straight away. The ultimate writing for me is simple words with complex themes.
Your new EP is called Rock n Roll Heart; where’s the title come from? Was it inspired by Lou Reed’s 7th studio album, Rock n Roll Heart?
Yeh, it was kind of inspired by Lou’s song. Funnily enough, Eric Clapton has a song called Rock and Roll Heart too. For me it was just a line I had been thinking of the whole time I was doing the music for the song. The riff kind of came out of nowhere and sounds like some kind of discarded Runaways song or a Stones B-side and I just was in this place where I’d become sick of worrying what people thought of my music in regards to artistic legitimacy. Fuck it, it’s rock music and I liked making it.
Was doing a solo release born out of necessity because of lockdown?
Not really, I actually have a whole album of more singer songwriter stuff recorded a year ago that one day might see the light of day and I probably have done over 200 demo recordings of different types of music over the last six years. Maybe one of these songs (The Garden) would have been an idea for a Constant Mongrel track, but because we haven’t been able to play together I turned it into something for me.
Previously you’ve commented “I usually hate recording”; has that changed?
My dislike for recording back then came from a drummer’s perspective! Anyone that has had to sit through live recording in a studio as a drummer will get the pain. You are freaking out about getting it right the whole time, if you make a mistake the take is over or even worse and someone else and it’s heartbreaking. I’d say I kept that attitude in the studio even if playing guitar for a long time but it’s slowly changed to the point where doing a record is the most exciting part of making music for me now.
When you started out making Rock n Roll Heart did you have any references of where you wanted to go? Was there anything you particularly enjoyed listening to at the time (or when recording)? Initially how did you want the EP to sound?
I definitely wanted to make an interesting sounding rock record. One of my key reference points was an interview with Genesis P Orridge about the song God Star that Psychic TV made. They stated that it was a nod to the sixties counterculture, and in particular Brian Jones. I suppose that Gen had been known to push boundaries with their work so something like that song was in a way giving some kind of consideration to the past and those that blazed trails for contemporary music. I’m not saying my other projects are particularly out there or interesting but for a while I think with Constant Mongrel I have tried to darken or subvert punk music with technical tonal variations on traditional rock scales. So the idea of going back to the source without the darkness was what I wanted.
Was there anything you were mindful of when writing this collection of songs?
Definitely making music that was ‘me’ was on top of the list.
For you, what are the elements that make up rock n roll?
Well, that’s interesting. I’m gonna sound like a dumbass, but I actually met Liam Gallagher backstage at Merideth last year (btw, he is easily the most famous person I have ever spoken too). We chatted for a while but what came up was a discussion about another artist on the bill that night, his name is Hooligan Hefs from West Sydney. He does this new school drill rap stuff that’s really taking off in NSW and QLD at the moment. We both noticed how good the show was. I said, “I think that that is the new rock and roll!” He replied, “It wasn’t rock though, was it?” I asked, “What is then?” He responded with some babble about guitars and drums, etc. I’m still not sure I agree with him because if you get to nitty gritty, Oasis use far too many minor chords in regular major keys to be what a classic rock n roll band should be, they are more pop, so they aren’t rock, are they? I suppose his brother would know that more than him because I think Liam just sings, right? I don’t know where you draw the line, it’s the same as punk. I’d say a band like Primo! is way more punk than most bands that call themselves punk, but I still can’t really explain why! It’s an attitude and an ethic above all else I think.
You used Garageband and a drum machine to make the release; did songs often form around a loop first? I really enjoy that you’ve, in essence, built classic rock style songs but used a drum machine.
Yep, they are all loops and layers. I suppose using the drum machine as a rhythmic driver is something that just seemed natural to making the songs because I wanted drums for the tracks and that’s all I could get my hands on. I find it funny people think it interesting or cool when a band uses a drum machine, it’s not really that cool. Maybe when Young Marble Giants or Suicide did, it was, but that was 30-40 years ago, we should be getting used to it by now! It’s just a jazzed up metronome.
I love the auto-tune, strings and synth in the mix. I understand you used an iPad too; for what parts?
So it was recorded on the iPad too! I don’t really have a computer that I can use for recording, so I use our iPad. It has all the features on it that I needed and I used a direct line in with an iRig, which was awesome. It really is a mobile studio that makes decent quality recordings! I am glad you like the extra things I did, I took a while to get to the point where I used auto tune on every track but am glad I did. It gives it an unnerving vibe sometimes as we tend to not hear it with guitar music very often.
What drew you to choosing Woollen Kits bandmate and friend Tom Hardisty to master the release?
He has the skills and I get to buy him a present instead of giving him cash. Having Tom involved is also just awesome cause it’s another set of ears I trust, because he has great taste and does recording himself (to a millions times better standard).
I’ve heard that you have a love of country music? When did you start listening to it? What kind of things do you listen to?
I didn’t grow up with country music, so everything I listen to now is just from my own research as an adult. I like a varying realm of country music which maybe some hardcore fans would question why or how. Any way some of my favourites are Loretta Lyn, Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Townes Van Zandt, Hank Williams, Gram Parsons, Carter Family, Steve Earl and, although she wasn’t always country, Bobbie Gentry. I also love early Cajun music.
Is there anything happening on the Constant Mongrel front?
I wonder if we will get into a space and play together before the new year?! Maybe something might pop up soon in regards to a little release. I just can’t wait to hang out with the crew again. We have our Christmas party every year which is always a highlight of the season.
Anything else you’d like to tell us or share with us?
One time my Dad and I were watching an interview with Michael Stipe and Dad said, “Musicians have to be the most self-absorbed people in the world and if you ever become one, please be mindful of that.” So yeah, it’s funny that after all these years I have to be the sole answer for questions that might encompass self-involvement to answer. I hope and worry that I come across ok! On the other hand, Michael Stipe is boring and arrogant and I don’t like REM, even in any ironic 33 year old discovery of music I thought sucked when I was in my twenties kind of way.
Last week Brisbane band The Stress Of Leisure released their exciting new album Faux Wave. Recorded in Melbourne by John Lee (who has recorded many Gimmie favs: Bananagun, Gordon Koang and Lost Animal) it captures the band’s live wild energy that lights up the dancefloor—they might just be the world’s greatest party band. Gimmie caught up with them to chat about the LP; a hot contender for our Album of the Year!
What is one of the most exciting things for you about your new album Faux Wave?
JANE (bass): I really feel we knew the songs well before we went and recorded them, so all of the performances felt strong and confident. I can listen to it now and say ‘Yeah!’ It’s all solid and great. I am excited by the impressive efforts of my bandmates, and I’m excited for interested members of the public to check it out.
IAN (vocals/guitar): I’m excited for the genre of faux wave. I think this could be a thing!
PASCALLE (synths): I feel excited that the album even exists! I’m aware of how close to the line we were in getting it recorded — in the way we wanted to — and the pandemic’s impact on everything we do now.
JESS (drums): This album makes a great companion piece to our previous album Eruption Bounce. It’s exciting hearing us grow as a four-piece.
I understand that this album was written as your most collaboratively one yet; can you tell us a bit about writing the record and collaborating?
IAN: We record all our ideas, and we had up to 60 sketches of songs in the bank for this album. Recording the ideas we produce at rehearsals also means we can capture golden moments that can be hard to remember. What I’ve found more and more doing The Stress of Leisure is that the songs where Jane, Pascalle and Jess bring something in (an idea) is way more exciting than what I come up with. I feel when I have an idea it tends to dictate too much how things turn out. A song like Banker On TV literally came out fully formed in one jam — Jess had a beat she wanted to try out, Jane had a bassline written down she married to it and then Pas and myself did our stuff on top. Individually, none of us could’ve come up with this song.
PASCALLE: I really love how Ian challenges us to come up with lines but we also had to constantly remind him that his lines are very fun for us to play along with. One way he was convinced to drive the song was in Spiralling, which has Ian’s power pop synth line, Jane’s enormous bassline and Jess’ unconventional drums.
What’s one of the most challenging things for you in regards to your creativity?
JANE: Speaking for myself, I sometimes find it hard to carve out time to make creative things happen. But that is pretty much on me, I think I need to try harder.
JESS: Coming up with rhythms that sound fresh, and like Jane, finding the time to get creative in modern life. I generally don’t practise so I’m composing beats in my head and then trying them out at rehearsal. Nothing is out of bounds or too weird to bring to rehearsal and I think that vulnerability is where magic happens.
PASCALLE: Yes, I think it mostly comes down to time… we’re all just waiting to win the lotto so we can make music as often as we want!
IAN: I find my bandmates sell themselves too short. They’re always bringing in great ideas, regardless of outside pressures. It comes back again to the fact that we record the jams. Creative inspiration strikes when you least expect it, so it’s important to always document. Like panning for gold, you can’t expect a high success rate. We’re only challenged by timelines, not creativity.
We’ve always loved the wit, social commentary and humour in your lyrics; what’s your personal favourite song and lyric in this new collection of songs?.
JANE: I particularly like Ian’s lyric in the song No Win No Fee, where he intones ‘Mission accomplished, for the rich and the foppish’. The song has a sort of sleazy, lazy groove to it, but it goes along at a slightly quicker tempo than you would normally expect for such a groove, which makes it compelling to me.
JESS: My favourite lyric is ‘Everybody wants to tell you how you’re doing it; Everybody loves to tell you how you’re doing it wrong; Everybody seems to know just where you’re coming from’ in Connect to Connected. It’s an astute observation of the countless daily interactions between humans courtesy of the internet.
PASCALLE: I feel a sense of achievement that we incorporated the line ‘no quid pro quo’ in a song.
IAN: If you read the lyrics of Your Type of Music and Beat The Tension with a John Cooper Clarke accent in mind they really work! I’m delighted by that. I played a solo gig earlier in the year with Seja, and during the set I recited them, so I can attest to it.
Faux Wave was recorded in Melbourne with John Lee at Phaedra Studios over five days at the beginning of the year; what drew you to working with John? What was it like?
IAN: John Lee’s name came up in a lot of Australian independent music I was listening to and liking — starting with Lost Animal, Laura Jean through to Brisbane/Melbourne act No Sister. Everyone I inquired of really rated John and said he was great to work with. We wanted to record an album outside Brisbane too, to get out of our comfort zone. It’s one of the best decisions we’ve made as a group I think. The reports rang true, John is a total gentleman, but he also challenged us with this recording, in a totally positive way. Recording the ten songs over five days was a real buzz and my feeling is that as a group, we’ve all connected with this experience. It was like recording a debut album all over again.
PASCALLE: Yes, John’s the absolute best!
What’s one of your fondest memories from the sessions?
PASCALLE: This was the first time we recorded an entire album in one go — usually we’d go into the studio on sporadic weekends and record two or three songs until the album was done. Going down to Melbourne for a solid week felt like we were at camp and, from my perspective, we had a whole new level of togetherness. From the get-go, John was a kindred spirit and made the whole week memorable, too. Favourite things about recording were not using click tracks, listening to Ian record his vocals and getting to play with John’s vintage synths.
JESS: Like Pas, getting to spend a whole week together recording was a luxury! No click tracks and a live recording setup really captured the energy. For me, anymore than three or four takes starts to sound forced and contrived. Having that week also meant we could sample the gastronomic delights that Melbourne had to offer and catch up with friends.
PASCALLE: Yes, we really explored Melbourne’s food and beverages, and we even managed to see Dave Graney and the mistLY play Memo Music Hall, too. Great times.
What inspired the album art?
IAN: We thought it was important to go back to the collage style we’d previously utilised on the Sex Time and Achievement artworks. It rang more true to who we are as a band. The imagery we’ve chosen feels like Faux Wave for some reason — the crowd in a fervour and the rubbish pile. The disposable aspects of modern day hyperconsumerism comes to mind — the shiny new thing that gets people excited, quickly replaced by something even shinier and newer. It’s disconcerting.
PASCALLE: This is also the first time we’ve included the song lyrics on the back of the vinyl, too, so you can follow along if you like.
What have you been listening to lately?
JESS: Billy Nomates’ debut album, Fontaines D.C’s A Hero’s Death and Blake Scott’s Niscitam. Despite all that has happened in 2020, fantastic and exciting music is still being made.
PASCALLE: Have you seen Sampa the Great’s Planet Afropunk performance Black Atlantis? Incredible! I’m also listening to Blake Scott like Jess, as well as Chloe Alison Escott’s Stars Under Contract.
JANE: I have been listening to the Scratch and the Upsetters album Super Ape, though it is not a recent release by any means. I really enjoy the space in it, from top to bottom, and front to back.
IAN: The Music in Exile label is releasing some great stuff. I particularly love the Gordon Koang album Unity.
2020 has been a challenging year for pretty much everyone; how has it affected you and how have you stayed positive?
IAN: Making my own coffee is a nice ritual I’ve developed during 2020. Also smelling the roses in New Farm Park has been a highlight. When we were allowed to rehearse again as a band — I felt that was a big moment of positivity. We’ve been writing more songs, languid and slow types of songs.
PASCALLE: It’s been a year where each of us has had to learn who we are in this situation. There’s been an unavoidable wave of planetary depression — whether we explicitly feel it or not — and coming up for air amongst it all has been an effort, I think, for many of us. Art and a kind community helps.
JANE: When I was able to return to fitness classes and band rehearsals that helped me heaps. I’ve joined the video streaming revolution. Drinking heaps of Malbec has also been very good.
Anything else you’d like to tell us or share with us?
IAN: Community radio in Australia has been a big support to us. Support community radio wherever it finds you by subscribing. 4ZZZ, our local station in Brisbane, has been an absolute champion over 40 years plus in pushing local and Australian music and we’d be severely diminished in Brisbane as a music community without it. There’s never been a more important time to support local independent media and arts.
PASCALLE: It’s also heartwarming to see all our fellow bands emerge from the Covid hibernation. I hadn’t realised how much I missed seeing live music!
Smarts’ new album Who Needs Smarts, Anyway? is one Gimmie HQ’s favourite releases of 2020. Frenetic, fun, clever, tight songs to lift your spirits and make you smile as we close out a year that’s been challenging for most of us. Gimmie spoke to bassist (and person behind Anti Fade Records) Billy Gardner.
Yeah, and at the time you’d just put out your 61st release on Anti-Fade.
BG: I think that was Living Eyes, maybe.
Yeah. And now you’re at release 73 with the new Smarts record, I think!
BG: Yeah, I’m putting at tape out [TB Ridge as the Director – Rock n Roll Heart – next week, that’s 74.
BG: Yeah, getting there.
What kind of stuff have you been listening to lately?
BG: Um, honestly, not heaps of stuff. Like, nothing new, really. I haven’t listened to too much new stuff this year. I’ve been listening to lots of stuff that my Mum played me when I was growing up. Classics like Toots and the Maytals and Ike & Tina Turner and stuff, and at the same time I’ve been going through a bit of a Metallica wave over the last two weeks—that kinda happens every few months.
Rad! So, has Smarts had a chance to practice since the lockdown has ended?
BG: Nah. Not as a full band since maybe like May. So we’re pretty keen. I think we’ll be able to do it in the next fortnight or so. There’s a few new songs that we’ve all sort of like made up in our own time, if you know what I mean, to work with.
Oh, nice. Is there anything in particular you’ve found yourself kind of writing about?
BG: No, I actually haven’t written any lyrics yet. I’ve just been making lots of riffs. I feel like it’s been a really dry year for lyrics. I just have no new inspiration this whole year, you know what I mean?
Do you think everything that’s happened in the world has sort of affected that?
BG: Yeah, well I feel like I usually get heaps of ideas from travelling and doing stuff and just getting out of the house, which I kind of haven’t really done at all this year. It’s been a pretty wild year.
And you keep a lot of memos in your phone for song ideas and that kind of stuff?
BG: Yeah, totally. There’s a lot of like little, loose, 30 second to 60 second riffs in there.
Do you just sing them into your phone or do you just like actually play them?
BG: Ahh, depends. Usually play ‘em, but sometimes sing them; that’s just like maybe if I have a riff in my head and I’m not near a guitar or anything. I feel like they’re usually the better ones, and I have to learn them on guitar later.
I know creative ideas kind of come from everywhere, is there times more often than not that you get them?
BG: Yeah, I feel like it usually goes in waves. And I haven’t really been on a wave like that for the last month, or even two. But maybe like six to eight weeks ago I had a bit of a wave and a whole bunch of things came at once, and I was playing guitar every night. But I’ve been busy with like the label and other stuff lately, so I haven’t been doing as much of that.
You play bass in Smarts, and I know your Dad used to play bass in Bored!, I was wondering if he kind of inspired you to play bass? Because I know you started playing drums, I think?
BG: He definitely inspired me to play music. But the whole bass thing sort of came later. I do get to play his bass. I love playing his bass! It’s an old Fender Precision from the ‘70s, he’s got a Rickenbacker too, which is very special, but I think I prefer the Precision. I don’t know where the bass thing came from, maybe it was just like something different. I feel like with this band a lot of riffs are made on bass and then we’ll bring in the guitar later. Where in other bands I’d make riffs on guitar and bring the bass in later. So it’s kind of just a natural way of doing things a bit differently to what we’re used to. I saw this band called Vodovo in Japan about three years ago and they didn’t have any guitar, they just had two bass players, and that was definitely a big influence on Smarts.
Cool. I heard that when you came back from Japan you had the idea of the band name Smarts, because you were in Japan one of your friends you were with kept saying everything was “smart”.
BG: Yeah, yeah. So Ausmuteants toured Japan in mid-2017, and saw Vodovo for the first time, and was getting a bit restless to do something a bit different, and our friend Shaun was just saying everything was smart, like you’d say something and he’d say, “That’s smart!” It was like his term of the tour, and I kind of thought Smarts was a cool name.
When you started you were just a 2-piece, you and Mitch?
BG: Yeah, I felt like we’ll just start it like that and just make a couple song and then try and flesh it out in to a live sense, and then it grew a lot there once we brought four people into the mix.
And you and Mitch play in Cereal Killer and Living Eyes together as well?
BG: Yeah, and Wet Blankets. I’ve been playing in bands with him for years.
How did you guys meet?
BG: In high school, actually. He’s a year younger than me and I met him on his orientation day and he was about to go in to Year 7 and I was going in to Year 8. We had heaps of mutual friends. We sort of had heard heaps about each other already and both skated and stuff, and we just kind of kicked it off from there.
I figured you guys had known each other for ages, because as far back I could see you had worked together heaps.
BG: Yeah, we had this funny band before Living Eyes called Hideaways when we were 14. Pretty cute.
Did you play drums in that one?
BG: We all switched around. So I played drums on a couple songs, sang a couple songs. I did really play guitar or anything back then.
What did that used to sound like?
BG: Kind of like a way more garage version of Living Eyes. Living Eyes sort of came out of that, as the bass player for Living Eyes was in that band too.
Wow. It’s nice to find out about all the connection and everything.
BG: It was extremely like garage days of like jamming in garage, quite little.
Then with Smarts, you added Jake and Sally and Stella. How do you think, when those guys joined, your sound started to evolve.
BG: Um, yeah, well that’s when it became much more interesting, I think. Especially bringing Sally and Stella into it. Although they were never in the band at the same time. Sally was originally in it, and she had never been in a band before, so that was cool, seeing her get all excited about playing music and stuff, and she brought heaps of cool bits to it like the keyboard line in ‘Smart Phone’ is like huge and that’s her. And then Stella came later, Stella actually came in after we’d recorded the album and played saxophone over the top of everything and really made it shine.
I was going to ask you what you love about having saxophone in the mix.
BG: It’s the best, I love everything about it! I think it’d be cool to work on new stuff with Stella, because we haven’t written songs together yet but we will now.
And with Smarts it’s a real collaborative process?
BG: Yeah, Smarts is so collaborative! Although Jake’s written a couple songs where he’s brought it in pre-written, and we’ll learn them and maybe add a tiny bit or like do a bit twice as long as in his version but not really change it. But all the other songs, me and Mitch’s songs, they’re all just brought to the band and we’ll extend it from there.
With the new album, Who Needs Smarts, Anyway?, four of the tracks were on your first release, Smart World, I wanted to ask what do you like about the re-recorded versions?
BG: Mostly the fact that they feature everyone. Because the first release is just me and Mitch, so like a few people asked us why we did that, and that was just like because this is the full band version, and it’s got sax and keyboard and we’re all on our designated instruments now instead of it just being me and Mitch messing around, so I feel like it’s a whole different thing!
When you recorded, you kind of recorded the bones of it over a weekend and then people came by your place and did overdubs and stuff?
BG: Yeah, we just recorded it real basic. Just me, Mitch and Jake over a day and a half. We got a space in Geelong from like 3pm one day and set up and started recording that night, and then just did a whole day the next day, and then just took it back to Melbourne and over the next couple weekends people took turns at coming over and doing overdubs and really didn’t rush that, we sort of did the overdubs very slowly and it was a lot of fun days. So it was very layered. We kind of double tracked everything on the album except the drums and bass.
What made the days so fun?
BG: Just like hanging out and taking our time with it and having a few beers and stuff. It was always very fun.
And you enjoy recording?
BG: Yeah, we’ll I’m actually doing less of it these days. I used to record way more bands than I do and just felt like it was taking a little bit out of music for me. So I’ve sort of just been doing much less of that and keeping to my own stuff and you know, I’ll still record a few things here and there, but I don’t really wanna do it as a job or anything.
I often find people do get that after a while, like a lot of people I’ve talked to get that feeling.
BG: Yeah, I think I’d rather spend time on my own music a bit more than recording other people’s bands. I like doing it but I don’t wanna do it all the time.
Do you have things outside of music that you like doing?
BG: Yeah, just general stuff like me and Mitch blew up this little blow-up dinghy and took it down the river the other day. That was funny. Nothing out of the ordinary, just hanging out with people, cooking food and stuff like that.
What’s one of your favourite things to cook?
BG: Probably Mexican.
BG: Um, yeah, are both good. I guess they both have their pros and cons. Maybe I’ll say burritos, just because they’re a tiny bit less messy. But when it’s a good night for it, I love a good taco sesh!
I always find though, tacos tend to go soggy quicker.
BG: Are you a hard shell or soft shell taco kind of person?
BG: Yeah, me too.
That’s what a real taco is!
BG: Yeah, I grew up with the hard shell ones, and now I’m all about the soft.
Yeah, totally, I always tend to cut my mouth on the hard shell ones, believe it or not.
BG: Yeah! [laughs] Have you ever put a soft one around a hard one?
I haven’t actually! I’ve heard of this, but never done it.
BG: I’ve heard of it too, it seems insane but it makes sense because then the hard shell doesn’t all break up in your hands.
I wanted to ask you about the cover photo for the album. I noticed there’s lots of references to the songs.
BG: Yes! You did? Well, I’m glad someone noticed that because I wasn’t sure if we really got it, because a few people have asked about things and I felt like I had to explain that but you noticed it, so thank you!
Yeah, totally, like as soon as I saw the obvious thing, which is the Cling Wrap. You just see it and your just like; wait a second, that’s that song! and then it’s kind of like ‘Where’s Wally?’ or something and you’re moving around the picture and you’re like going this is this, and like the globe is ‘Smarts World’..
BG: Yeah, yeah.. Did you spot the Maccas wrapper in the bin?
I did! I had it up on the computer first and I was looking at it, and I was like, “that looks like a MacDonald’s wrapper” but then I couldn’t see if it was or not, so then I had to go get out the 12” LP copy that we’ve got and I’m like trying to look at it.. Because I’m thinking it has to be a MacDonald’s wrapper because of ‘Golden Arches’, but then I know you guys wouldn’t want that overtly out there on it, so it’s more subtle…
BG: Nah, yep, well, thanks for picking up on that! I’m glad you noticed.
What else can you tell me about it?
BG: Well, it’s like a rip off of a Fall record cover. Did you notice that?
BG: It’s not like an album, or one of their covers you’d see quite often, but it’s a 12” single for ‘Couldn’t Get Ahead’. It’s got Mark E. Smith sitting at a desk, and on the desk there’s like a pack of Marquis biscuits and a few references there. But we thought we’d do it with no one at the desk, because it’s like ‘Who Needs Smarts, Anyway?’ and the chair’s kind of looking as if someone’s just got up and walked away from it.
Yeah, totally, and I noticed the PP Rebel sticker.
BG: Yeah, well, that’s my laptop!
We’ve got the sticker. We put it on a magnet. You know how in the mail you get magnets from Real Estate places and local businesses?
BG: Yeah, and plumbers and things..
Yeah, we just got one of them that was the right size and stuck it over one, and it became a PP Rebel magnet for our fridge!
BG: Ahh, that’s genius! I might have to do that. I’ll keep my eyes out for some magnets.
So is there anything else you’re looking forward to doing creatively in the future?
BG: Just making more music really. I kind of haven’t done much of that this year, so I’ve got some catching up to do. Maybe some more artwork stuff, but that’s not really my field, but I wouldn’t mind doing some cut and paste things here and there.
When you’re writing stuff, is it just you start writing stuff and then you decide what band they go to?
BG: Yeah, I ‘spose, yeah, and even sometimes switch it up later, like I might have a song in mind for a certain band, but that band won’t be doing anything for a long time, and I’ll use it for a different band.
Are any of your other bands looking to do anything soon?
BG: Umm, probably more Smarts. We’ve got a few songs on the go, none of them are finished but have like maybe 7 or so half done, like riffs and stuff that we’re gonna start piecing stuff together. I don’t know what else, maybe there’s a couple Living Eyes demos that have been sitting around for a long time, maybe we’ll get there one day and record them.
As far Anti Fade Records goes, we’re not going to see anything til next year now because Smarts was the last release of the year? Oh, and the tape…
BG: Yeah, TB Ridge As The Director, which is Tom Ridgewell’s solo project, that’s coming out on Friday, and then yeah, that’s the end of the year. Will have to start planning 2021!
Cults are back with their fourth album Host, brought to life with live instrumentation and a reimagined sound. Fresh, lush and bold this collection of songs are some of their strongest and most exciting yet. Gimmie explore its writing and recording with Cults duo Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion.
How has your day been?
MADELINE FOLLIN: We just got back from practicing for our virtual show tomorrow [laughs]; we recorded a radio session today too, it kind of felt like normal life today!
What was one of the most fun moments you had while making new album Host?
BRIAN OBLIVION: We spent three weeks out in the middle of nowhere in Arizona just trying to focus on really finishing the songs. We got a house with a pool! We just hung out in the crazy cactus desert and did nothing but work on music, all day and all night—it was a really special fun time.
Was there anything in particular that drew you to Arizona?
BO: Not really, it was cheap and close to where we already were [laughs]. We were at South by Southwest and flights were a fortune ‘cause everyone is going back and forth to New York from SXSW, we were like ‘where can we go around here that’s different? We can wait it out’. Our engineer lives in L.A. so he could just drive out to the desert.
I understand that you spent two months demoing before you went to Arizona and you were both on a different page as far as you wanted things to sound?
MF: Yeah. We always will start throwing ideas at the wall whenever we start recording. I feel like it was more that Brian and I don’t really have the same taste in music or art or anything [laughs], which is maybe why our band sounds the way it does. Whenever we’re starting a record we want to make sure that we’re both on the same page and we’re both completely happy with the direction we’re heading so sometimes it takes a little bit longer to figure out exactly what that is.
This is the first time that Cults have had live instruments on a record?
BO: It’s not the first, we had some string players on Static, but it’s definitely by far the furthest we’ve taken though.
MF: We were working in New York and we couldn’t agree on which direction we wanted to head into so we went to Arizona to lock ourselves in and not have any distractions to figure out what we wanted. He would chose a sound for something and I would be ‘I hate this!’ and then I would pick something and he’d be ‘This isn’t the vibe I want’ and then [producer] Shane [Stoneback] who was there with us said, “What if we have someone come and put down live strings? Is that something you guys could see as a direction for this?” Two days later our friend Tess [Scott-Suhrstedt] came and played viola on the songs, that’s when we realised what we wanted.
There seems to be a lot of playfulness and experimentation on this record. Was there anything that you tried different from what you might normally do?
BO: This record is way different rhythmically than anything that we’ve done—that’s all Madeline. I remember there was a day where I was out of it and I didn’t feel like looking at a computer and I was like ‘we have to get something done today!’ Madeline and I have thousands of these drum loops that we’ve collected over the years, I told her to just listen to them and pick the ones she liked the most. Madeline’s like ‘That sounds like busy work, that doesn’t sound like a job’ [laughs]. I was like, ‘no, do it, it’s going to be worth it!’ It totally was because all the stuff that she liked was maybe like more bossa nova beats or more jungle beats, things that I would have never started a song with. There’s something vaguely tropical about the album to me, that’s something that definitely came from Madeline and something I’m definitely excited about!
I saw the online Lollapalooza set you did where you played some of the new tracks, they sounded so great live.
BO: Thank you! A weird thing about the pandemic is we were playing the songs yesterday to get ready for our show and our manager was there and she was like “Wow! It sounds so great. Even the old songs sound better. Why does even the old ones sound better?” I said ‘Well, Heidi, I don’t think we’ve ever practiced before!’ [laughs]. Normally we practice for two weeks and then we learn on the road. This time we were just practicing to stay sane in a way. We’re very well practiced.
I saw that in September when you were making the album that there was a whiteboard with song titles you were working through and I spied 18 songs, only 12 made the album.
BO: Yes, there are many left!
There was one that caught my eye called ‘Poodles Dancing’!
BO: That’s a real song! [laughs]. ‘Poodles Dancing’ is a hit!
MR: ‘Poodles Dancing’ didn’t make the record because it’s something much bigger than Host [laughs].
Did you have a process of elimination for what finally makes it on the record and what doesn’t?
MF: It’s really, really hard. Some of them just didn’t get finished in time and with the other ones we’re biased because we loved every song we work on. It’s obvious which ones, sort of. We send some out to people and see what they think, because for us sometimes it’s hard to step away from something you’ve worked really hard on and say, this isn’t going to work, this isn’t good enough.
BO to MF: Every song you’ve written one day will find its way to the light of day in time—I have the files! [laughs].
MF: ‘Poodles Dancing’ is going to come out.
BO: We were watching all these YouTube videos of poodles dancing…
MF: No, I thought it sounded like poodles dancing.
BO: Oh yeah, then you found out it was a thing on YouTube.
MF: Go look it up!
BO: It will brighten your day.
We really love the song ‘Spit You Out’ it has some cool exotica kind of elements and a heaviness. The video where you’re eating all the different food is pretty fun.
MF: That was born out of necessity. We were in the very beginning of the lockdown. Originally our record was supposed to come out in April and everybody we work with said we should push it back so we kept pushing it back, we decided that people still need to listen to music! Just because we can’t tour doesn’t mean we can’t put out a record, so we pulled it together. Our friend who we were quarantining with directed the video of me eating for a few days straight. It was probably the most fun we’ve had making a clip. We set up a smartphone and I ate! [laughs].
The lyrics for the song seem pretty heavy though while the clip is lighter. Was that juxtapose a conscious choice?
MF: I thought the idea was really funny. Originally we were in L.A. in the beginning of March, we had been scheduled to shoot a video March 12 and for some reason the director cancelled but the idea was to have me in a circle of people with them spitting on me. Luckily we didn’t do that! Imagine, twenty people could have ended up with Corona if someone was infected. I feel much better that it is a light, funny video; there’s a lot of people that are really mad about it that really don’t like the video! [laughs].
BO: [Laughs]. We talked about it in the car yesterday that maybe with this record more than other records, to us there’s always been a sense of humour or a playfulness in everything that we do, we want people to see that and engage with that, it’s there by design; some fans don’t see that though and think we’re dark and moody. Whatever you think is fine but, what we’re trying to do is not as serious as it seems.
MF: At the same time I probably would have been mad at the video too because I actually hate watching and listening to people eat!
BO: She loathes it!
What did you each learn from the process of making this album?
BO: We were also talking about how there’s this weird cyclical nature for this record, some people are comparing it to the first record we made which I don’t really feel in anyway other than that the first record was really angry and we reconnected with that anger. I thought about it some more and was like well we made the first record in a tiny apartment in Manhattan and we made this record in an apartment too. When we made the first one in an apartment it was because we had no idea of what we were doing and now we’ve made this one in an apartment because we do know what we are doing; we don’t really have to spend a lot of money and go do a bunch of fancy stuff to make something that sounds cool. I’ve learned a sense of confidence that Madeline can sing a song into her iPhone and it’ll sound great and we can use it on the record—there’s no rules! That freedom can be bought but it can also be done for free if you’re very creative.
The album is angry as you were saying but by the time you get to closer ‘Monolithic’ it’s almost like there’s a sense of relief and a strength and sense of freedom and feelings of self-reliance that run through the album also. I think it ultimately ends positively.
BO: You got what we’re going for!
MF: We’re not even going for it though, it’s really just what’s going on at the time. Luckily the recording and writing process lasted long enough to get to that point.
Why is music important to you?
BO: Music is important to me because without it I would be really stupid! [laughs]. It does something to my brain to broaden my experience of not just the world but how other people think and how it relates to me. As a kid I was a complete idiot until I started listening to music—I started seeing the world in a whole new way.