Michael Beach’s fourth studio album Dream Violence carries a touch of the sublime throughout, with moments of naked expressionism and dramatic arcs he explores the duality of the human condition and the struggle of finding and maintaining hope in times that are not so hopeful. A beautiful album from an interesting artist. Gimmie recently got a little insight from Beach.
You first started playing music while at the University of Southern California, but didn’t fully dive into it until you spent your first year here in Melbourne. Previously you’ve mentioned that “my first meaningful connections with other musicians came from my initial year in Australia”; how were the relationships different here than what you’d already experienced in California?
MICHAEL BEACH: I guess it’s just timing. I met amazing people in Southern California, but when I met my first bandmates and friends in Melbourne, it was life changing. Those early friendships were the ones that gave me the confidence to pursue music.
In March you released your fourth album, Dream Violence. The title comes from a song on the release; where did the title-track’s name come from?
MB: I like the dichotomy of the two words. Dreams aren’t often associated with violence, but can quite often be. Violence seems to be just behind the veil of society and certainly seemed to be seething when I was writing this record.
Dream Violence was recorded with multiple line-ups in multiple locations in Australia and the US; how do you feel the energy of the varying line-ups and locations helped shape the LP?
MB: Everybody brings something different to the table, and I like bringing people together and seeing what happens. The record has a lot of different moods that reflect all of those different people and places.
What’s one of your fondest memories from recording?
MB: Etep, Matt and Innez (of Thigh Master fame) and I recorded a few of the tracks from the record at my place. It was one of those really relaxed sessions where all the mistakes sounded right—there were a lot of happy accidents—it was a really fun way to record.
I understand that you have a pretty laborious process of writing, editing, and arranging your music; can you tell us about your artistic process please?
MB: Yeah—I take my time, and probably over scrutinize things. Not always the most enjoyable process, but I’m working on that. I don’t really have any one process, but I do try to play at the same times every day, so I have a routine built around that.
What’s a really special moment for you on the album?
MB; I love that got to improvise the title track with Chris Smith. It was a first take. I’m a big fan of his records, so to have him play on mine is really special. But really that’s the same with all the folks on the record as well.
One of the overarching themes on the record is of the struggle to maintain hope during challenging times; what are some things that has helped you with your personal experience of this?
MB: Off the top of my head—friends, music, art, books, nature, seeing a psychologist, exercise, and my partner’s eternally optimistic outlook on life.
We really love the album cover art painting by Charlotte Ivey; can you tell us the story behind the cover please?
I’m glad you love it, I do as well. Charlotte did a bunch of eye studies of friends’ eyes. That’s her eye, and I love the intensity and hyperrealism of it.
During the lockdown as well as continuing your day job you worked on the completion of your studio; tell us a little bit about your studio? What were some important considerations in regards to creating a conducive space for your work?
MB: It’s an 8-track analogue tape setup with a nice mixing desk, outboard gear, and a bunch of synths and amps, and my piano in my living room/live room. I’ve got digital recording gear if I need more than 8 tracks, but I like working within those limitations when I can. I like having good light in my studio, and I have a favourite kind of tea that I keep stocked. As long as all the equipment is working and not getting in my way, I’m happy.
I know you also had the opportunity to read a lot more during lockdown; what were a couple of the reads that had you engaged and what did you appreciate most about them?
MB: I recently read Shots by Don Walker—that dude can write! Such gorgeous prose and a very visually immersive book. Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman was pretty great as well—it was inspiring to read a hopeful book amidst a lot of rough news last year.
Who is an artist that makes you think outside of yourself or your surroundings? What particular work of theirs first had you feeling this way?
MB: I’m listening to Fennesz while I’m writing this. His music is totally transportive and dreamlike. I love it. My bandmate Etep played me his record Endless Summer on a long highway drive in America, and I’ve been a massive fan ever since.
Why is music important to you?
MB: Most of the good things in my life have happened because of music. It was and still is transformative for me.It brings me together with my closest friends.
Debt Cult play high energy punk! Their live sets are always riotous and fun. Guitarist-vocalist Jorge Tichbon visited Gimmie HQ to have a chat about the band, their debut EP dropping this week, as well as his time living in Texas, skateboarding, Aussie larrikinism and art.
You’re originally from the Gold Coast?
JORGE TICHBON: Yeah. I was living on the Gold Coast until I was seventeen.
How did you first discover music? You have an older brother that was into it, right?
JT: Yeah, I have an older brother who was playing guitar when I was growing up. I wanted to do anything that he was into. I started off listening to old metal bands like Slayer and Metallica, thrash metal brought me into punk rock.
Same with me. I had a big brother that I thought was the coolest person ever, who was into music too and he got me into Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies, D.R.I., stuff like that. I wanted to be like my big brother as well. He got me into punk, hip-hop and skateboarding. Other than your brother; who what inspired you to want to make your own music?
JT: It was just lack of interest in learning other people’s songs once I learned to get around a guitar, I lost interest in playing covers. It was easier to write my own music. I’ve been playing since I was thirteen.
I heard that you tried starting a punk band when you were thirteen?
JT: No, not really. My first bands I started playing in, I was eighteen or nineteen, that was in South Texas in McAllen. I left the Gold Coast when I was seventeen to go live with my mum in Texas. I started playing music with people there. I was playing bass in a band and I realised then that I wanted to write my own music and start a punk band.
The Texas bands – Hevy Majic and Wax Pink – that you were in, were psychedelic surf-punk kind of bands?
JT: Hevy Majic was the first band I was in, in South Texas, with Eric Echo. I was hanging around Ramiro Verdooren of The Rotten Mangos, who is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. We would go up from the South Texas town to Austin Texas, which is the music hub.
Yeah, home of SXSW (South by Southwest) music conference.
JT: Yeah. Those boys showed me around and I ended up staying there for a bit. I started a new band called, Credit Card. Debt Cult is kind of a run off of Credit Card, that style of music. I chose to leave Texas when Corona virus hit.
Ah, so that’s how you ended up back here.
JT: Yeah. South by… was cancelled for the first time in fifteen years. I was like, alright this is getting serious! I have an opportunity to go home. So, I did. I was looking for a reason to move home for a really long time though.
Why is that?
JT: Leaving at seventeen I never really got to grow into an adult in Australian culture. I left at the end of being a teenager. I romanticised larrikinism, being from Queensland; I had this idea of what it was to live in Australia as an adult and wanted to use that in my music, but I couldn’t because I didn’t have a grasp on it, because I was so young. Coming back and doing this band, we have songs about Loganlea and Southport—I wanted it to sound real bogan and straightforward.
What was it like growing up in the America?
JT: I got the culture shock when I came back because I realised how different it was. Growing up over there, I think I was a little bit disappointed that I had to wait another few years to drink at a bar. I spent my eighteenth birthday crying on the floor listening to the Velvet Underground thinking, why am I here? Now that I think about it, it’s a really good way to spend an eighteenth birthday! [laughs].
I remember on my 21st birthday I was in Las Vegas. It was the day before and I went to go to a punk show and I showed the bouncer my ID and he said, “Your birthday isn’t until tomorrow so you’re not 21 yet, I can’t let you in.” and I told him that I was born in Australia and it was my birthday there already so technically I’m already 21! He laughed, told me that was a good one and let me in. You spent a lot of time skateboarding in the US as well?
JT: Yeah. In the little town where my mum was working there was nothing going on, so people got really good at music, art and things like skateboarding. There was a really small skatepark and there was this insane amount of talent with the skaters; there was Majer Crew. They ended up taking me around the country for a couple of years, they were probably the reason I stayed in America. I jumped in the van and they took me up and down both coasts a couple of times, I had a blast with those boys. Unfortunately, that group ended though and I moved to Austin to start doing the music. It was a great time.
Previously, you’ve mentioned that skateboarding pretty much saves your life every day; in what way?
JT: It’s such a release. It’s so tied to music too. I can just chuck my headphones in and not talk to anyone for a couple of hours and get some exercise and get those endorphins going. It’s a creative outlet too, I get to do what I want to do. It’s so interwoven into my personality, who I identify with. Skating and music grounds me when I don’t feel great. I won’t feel good if I haven’t skated for a couple of days. It’s definitely pulled me out of the sludge, which I’m really grateful for.
You started recording yourself while still at school?
JT: When I started recording my own music, was when I first moved to Texas. I would be in my room and I couldn’t really go out anywhere and I was in a new country, I’d be trying to teach myself to record and write songs. Those couple of years there, was when I got a grasp of it. When I was in high school, I wasn’t really recording much, it was more about just learning to hold a guitar.
Who are the songwriters that you enjoy?
JT: A notable one would be Devendra Banhart. I don’t play music like him, but I enjoy listening to his stuff. It’s always been more what my friends were playing in their bands. Right now, I listen to a lot of Gee Tee and Research Reactor Corp. I listen to the local bands that play at Vinnie’s, just my friends’ bands.
You started Debt Cult at the end of last year?
JT: Yeah. I met Lindsay who plays bass, I was like, let’s start a band! I met Michelle at the skatepark, she roller skates; I saw her play the piano at Vinnie’s one night, again I was, let’s start a band! It took off from there. Ryan was our first drummer; he grew into an adult and is a bit too busy to be in a band [laughs], he comes and plays tambourine sometimes when he feels like it. Eli is our drummer now, he’s doing all the mixing and recording for us, which is cool cos we can save a bit of money on studio time. We like doing it ourselves so we can make it how we want to make it.
Your bass player Lindsay has to be the happiest bass player I have ever seen in my life, he is all smiles! In fact, your whole band smiles heaps and you look like you’re having the best time while you play and I think that’s infectious. It kinda lights up the whole place.
JT: That’s amazing! I catch Lindsay doing that out of the corner of my eye and I make mistakes because I start laughing. He’s just lovin’ it!
Debt Cult have a 5-song EP coming out. You recorded that at Vinnie’s?
JT: Yeah. I do a lot of closing shifts during the week. When there’s no shows, I have the keys to go in there, we do our practices there sometimes. All the drums are mic’d up already, we just go plug in.
Did you record in that space because you wanted the same feel as when you play there live?
JT: We’ve only ever played at Vinnie’s. I hope the recordings sound the same as our live show because it is recorded in the same room.
There are parts on the EP that have talking in the background and it feels like it has a live, party vibe.
JT: That’s on the song ‘Ca$ino’. We went down to the Cecil Hotel and had a slap until I got a feature and we recorded the feature on the machine [laughs].
What are you going to call the EP?
JT: We’re still trying to figure it out. Maybe Debt Cult EP 1. Everyone is so busy with full-time work and full-time study. Michelle’s about to be a Sparky [Electrician] and she also works. Lindsay is doing horticulture and working. I’m doing Community Services and working at Vinnie’s when I can. I don’t know what Eli is doing, he’s a bit illusive that fella. Eli is coming over to my place this afternoon and we’re going to make the covers for the EP, we both do collage stuff. The title might end up being one of the track names like ‘Southport’s Sharpest Weapons’.
That was one of your earliest songs?
JT: Yeah. We all live down the street from Vinnie’s. We wrote that song walking to Vinnie’s after a couple of beers.
Write what you know, right?
JT: Yeah. It was kind of taking the piss about gang mentality and street violence, it’s pretty abundant in Southport. We’re a bunch of soft, friendly people singing this song [laughs]. There’s a pretty gnarly homelessness and drug problem in Southport right now. I don’t know what the council is doing about it. I know there’s some free clinics around, but if you don’t want to get help you won’t.
I’ve definitely had friends that have decided to take that route in life and they seem happy with it, but it’s not sustainable, you’ll hit ten years from now and go “what have I done?” To each their own though. What I’m going to do with the community care thing I’m doing is I’m going to go into the drug and alcohol-side of things. I’ve had a lot of friends who have burnt out on it. I definitely had a party over in The States as well, that’s part of why I wanted to come home too, to get out of it. It’s too easy to do it over there, you can get everything so cheap. Over here you can’t go out and get $2 whiskeys.
Alcoholism is the symptom of the problem, it’s not the problem, the problem often has to do with having a low self-esteem. People in the situation of addiction often don’t know that there’s something else there that they need to fix. Especially around punk rock and rock n roll, it’s cool to do drugs and burn out, but it really isn’t because you never get anything done. It’s definitely a trauma response for some people, there can even be multiple traumas you repress and don’t even realise.
How did the song ‘Anna Seedy’s Graveyard Party’ come about?
JT: Lindsay’s alter-ego is Anna Seedy. There’s a story of him being at a party and disappearing and then having his own party in a graveyard. He told me about the story and I decided to write a song. It used to be a longer song but we cut it down, we made it almost like a nursery rhyme. It’s one of our favourites from the EP.
What about ‘IDK Where My Legs Went?’
JT: When we play it live, we play it straight after ‘Southport’s Sharpest…’ and it’s kind of like, you go out on the weekend and you lose your legs! [laughs].
Do you write most of the songs?
JT: Yes, for the EP I did. For the next one Michelle is stepping up. I wrote ‘[Do You Love Me?] Logan Lea’ for Michelle to sing. She’s got some new songs we’re trying to play. I’m trying to get everyone involved. Lindsay has a song we’re going to try to play too. I’m trying to get everyone excited about doing it, because I don’t want to be “the guy”! I don’t want to be the frontman. I want it to feel like everyone’s project, not like they’re just helping me.
Does everyone have different influences that they bring?
JT: Yeah, I just want it to all melt together. Lindsay likes a lot of post-punk. Michelle likes Amyl & the Sniffers and country music. Eli listens to a lot of alternative stuff. We all like the same music but have different styles of playing.
When you started doing Debt Cult did you have an idea of what you wanted it to sound like?
JT: A lot of my bands have been reverbed-drenched and surf-y. With this new project it’s reverbed-drenched and fast with keyboard leads. Sonically I left everyone’s role for them to decide how it sounds, I don’t tell anyone else what to play. Everyone writes their parts and that makes the sound.
What’s one of your favourite aspects of making music?
JT: Seeing the finished product and having something to be proud of. Having something to be involved in with my friends creatively. I love performing! Each show we play we try to do something different. The Dicklord show we played we decided to dress as cowboys and I cut my jeans into arse-less chaps! [laughs]. It was so much fun.
Debt Cult have played five shows, all at Vinnie’s. Can you remember the first show you played?
JT: It was with Headlice. Having Vinnie’s as the homestead is the cherry-on-top to moving back to Australia. It gives us the space to practice and record, it’s everything that I was trying to do over the last four years. I tried to do it in Texas but it was oversaturated there. On the Gold Coast there’s a few good bands but not 400 trying to do it. It feels amazing to be back in Australia doing this. I’m really stoked on the energy.
You also make collage art; when did you start doing that?
JT: I did a design course in Texas but I dropped out.
Why did you drop out?
JT: The gun laws over there are cooked, especially in Texas. There’s mass shootings going on, one happened the day before I had class. I was sitting in algebra and the alarm staring going off and I chucked all my stuff in my backpack and I was halfway out the window. It was the projector turning on or off and the whole class was looking at me like what-the-bloody-hell-is-going-on? I was like, you guys are so desensitised! There’s shootings happening every bloody couple of days, and you think I’m weird for jumping out of a window when an alarm goes off! So, I dropped out of college for fear of getting shot. You can open-carry AR-15’s in Texas. Most of my friends had guns over there. I was against guns when I first got there, but then their government is cooked so maybe people should have guns.
When I was last in Los Angeles, I was walking around with a friend and there were some dodgy people hanging around and my friend was like, “It’s all good. If anything happens, I have a gun in the glove box of my car!” I was like, whoa! What the fuck? I’m from Australia, that idea to me is foreign and weird. It freaked me out that that’s such a normal thing for people.
JT: When I first got there, I was so adamant about no guns! I was having a conversation with someone who was very pro-guns. I stopped having the conversation because you can’t win. I was like, people can be irresponsible with them. A couple of weeks later he got drunk and accidentally blew his friends leg off with a shotgun!
Whoa! That’s intense.
JT: He’s not pro-gun anymore. He thinks they’re bloody dangerous! When I would try to explain to people over there, I’d be like my grandfather is a sugarcane farmer, he has a gun in a safe and the ammunition is separate and he has it because there’s a big bloody carpet python at the creek and he doesn’t want it to come to the house, that’s a reason to have it. For 21-year-old kids to just have a gun in the glove box of their car, it’s pretty cooked.
So, you mentioned you dropped out of college; how did you get to making collage?
JT: I tried to quit smoking cigarettes and I just started cutting up magazines, to keep my mind busy pretty much. I saw a country compilation LP at a thrift store and I really liked the design on the front and thought it would make a good collage. I started piling books up, within minutes I had a bag of books and I knew I was going home to cut them up so I wouldn’t buy a pack of smokes. I still do collage now, but I started smoking again! [laughs]. I really like that medium of art, it’s almost like sampling music. It’s sustainable too.
The first issue of our print zine is here! Gimmie issue one features in-depth interviews:
Erica Dunn (Mod Con, Tropical Fuck Storm, Palm Springs) chats about the new TFS and MC albums in the works, songwriting, the importance of staying connected and creating in tough times, mudlarkng on the Thames, lucky talismans and life stuff.
Keith Morris gives us insight into new OFF! projects, Circle Jerks getting ready for their world tour, his conspiracy theory podcast, the importance of supporting First Nations organisations, selling a chunk of his beloved record collection to pay bills when Covid hit, staying engaged and positive + more! (We spoke for a couple of hours).
Jake Robertson (Alien Nosejob) tells us about recording his next album, dealing with stress, Ausmuteants, Australian bands that inspire him and of punk still being alive and thriving.
Ben Mackie (Spiritual Mafia) gives us the lowdown on LP ‘Alfresco’, new band Chemo Beach’s record in the works, art mag Empty Mind Plaza he co-creates with friends along with their toilet gallery, his prison inmate art collection, own art and meditation.
Plus, there’s Spill Gold, Red Red Krovvy and more. Guest contributors include Lira from Sweeping Promises, Marcus from Hot Tubs Time Machine/UV Race and photographs from Jamie Wdziekonski .
48 pages. A4 size. Colour cover w/ Black + White inside. Limited Edition. $10 + postage.
Gimmie recently spoke with Anton Pearson and Louis Borlase, both guitarists and vocalists for UK post-punk band Squid. We’ve been following them since we first heard their debut EP in 2019 on producer Dan Carey’s label, Speedy Wunderground. Today they release their debut LP Bright Green Field, an imaginative original work of twists and turns stacked with art-punk grooves, noise rock vitriol, jazz leanings and experimentation. Playful with an emotional depth, a real triumph.
ANTON PEARSON: We have a day of writing in our new studio today.
Is that for the next album?
LOUIS BORLASE: Maybe. We tried to move in yesterday and their handyman was with a drill and every time we were like, “Can we come in now?” He said, “It’s going to be twenty minutes.” He kept doing that all day to the point of, we had to go home. We had a little jam there last night.
Squid have previously mentioned that with your new record Bright Green Field you could have gone down the path of writing something that’s digestible and easy to listen to but you decided to make a “really fucking weird”: album; what sparked the choice to go that route?
LB: It wasn’t as really explicit as that, to be honest. We made a decision that was unanimous, yet relatively subconscious, decision to just continue writing songs in the vein of what we were currently enjoying, which at the time they happened to be quite texturally heavy pieces of music. That was a thread that continued across the writing process. We were enjoying writing really groove-based stuff as well and stuff that was very rhythmic. We didn’t really get to the point where we actively said, we’re not going to try and write a pop song or a funk tune here, it was just that it was very much a feeding in of how we were all feeling at the time. It’s just how it turned out.
Thinking back to that time, how were you feeling?
LB: With us the other thing is that the songs on the album are kind of coming from different times, maybe that is a point in itself because there are tracks that are older, and tracks that are brand new, tracks that we’ve never played before and tracks that have always been a staple of our live set. We’ve been feeling very different at different times over quite a long duration. There’s a real trajectory of different energies and moods, which I consider to be natural. There’s five of us and there’s songs from over the course of two or three years.
Did you find that the lockdown [due to the pandemic] effected your creativity?
AP: Yeah, absolutely. It was the first time that we hadn’t spent every day together for years. We had a few months completely separate in different parts of the country. It absolutely affected how we went about things. We had to do a lot of sharing stuff online and having conversations in the online sphere instead of in person. We managed to have four weeks together until we started doing our album… it was an interesting and different process to what we’ve had.
Your new record was recorded in an old barn?
AP: Yeah. There’s a small town nearby Bristol where a couple of us are now and where Ollie [Judge – vocals-drums] grew up. It’s a very small market town community and his family are friends with the family that run the pub there. They have a venue that was closed down due to the pandemic, so it was a bit of a sitting duck waiting for someone to come along and use to creatively during lockdown. We got to the point where we were legally allowed to see each other again and as soon as we could we started going there every day and doing long days.
At first it was a bit weird because we hadn’t seen each other for a long time, the music I feel that came out of the first few sessions was this explosion and release of what we’d all been sitting on. The Old Road Tavern and barn in Chippenham deserves a very big shout out.
What’s one of your fondest memories from recording?
AP: That’s where we did the last bit of writing… [Anton’s Zoom connection breaks up]
LB: What Anton was saying is that we were writing in the band and then that led us right up to the point of where we were able to go to London to record with our friend Dan [Carey; Speedy Wunderground] who we had worked with before. We had a three and a half week recording process where we hired out a flat, on the other side of the park next to his house. We would walk to his every day, eat with him and it was a very familial experience because he lives above the studio where he does the majority of his recordings. It was just Dan and his little dog Feta and some of his family were there for a bit of the time as well. For the main part we were just there with him and due to it being a very intense time for all the issues that surrounded Coronavirus, we really had to become a bubble, a family. We all had to be quite explicit with what our values were, make sure we were keeping each other safe and healthy at all times. There was a lot of communication which I think was quite conducive to us making, in our opinion, quite focused album.
What kind of experimentation did you try on this record?
LB: One element of it that’s really nice to talk about is an idea that Arthur [Leadbetter – keys-strings-percussion] had. In light of us not being able to see our friends and family for a long time, he put together this series of questions to ask friends and family members about how they’re feeing and what they’ve been up to, just vague stuff, but allowing them to send back these voice notes in their own words. We compiled them – it was about 30 people – into these recordings and at times you can make out a certain friend saying what they’ve been up to and at times it’s almost his nonsensical human chattering; that became a really nice thread that gives this illusion of citizens talking in the city.
There’s also field recordings that we did because we spent a lot of time alone, as you can imagine. We hadn’t seen many people so we went around making iPhone recordings. Anton had a family of bees living in his wall back at home, he recorded those making this nice kind of tooting, humming noise. I recorded these bells that I hear from across the park in my flat. These recordings pepper the album with experiences that we’ve been having on a very individual level, considering the music was very collective. It’s a nice touch.
That’s really cool. What’s one of your favourite moments on the record?
LB: One of my favourite moments, there’s a track called ‘The Flyover’ which was originally written to be an introduction to the song ‘Documentary Filmmaker’ it features those voices that I was just talking about and it also focuses on brass instrumentation. I think it’s a real reflective breather, it’s quite a transitional moment in the album, just before the song that starts after it [‘Peel St’] which is a bit more sinister, a bit more menacing.
I really love that piece too. I was going to ask you about it. The album can get quite chaotic-sounding at times with lots of crescendos which almost make you hold your breath as it builds and then ‘The Flyover’ gives you a moment to breath. The brass gives it a really warm feeling too.
LB: It is quite ceremonial. Upon listening back to the album a few times, I think we all get surprised about the detail within the album that we weren’t all aware of at the time. It’s only merited on with repeat listening, one of those is this weird coincidental feeling of ceremonious events that you can hear, like these bells ringing and chattering of people—it feels quite alive. That’s only something we’ve noticed recently; I wonder what else we’ll notice.
I think what you listen to the album on makes a difference to what you can hear and pick up too. It sounds different when I’m listening to it on my laptop speakers, on my home stereo, on my car stereo; on my phone through headphones, which kind of allows you to be enveloped in that world you’ve created.
LB: You kind of become a little bit of character, don’t you? Walking along with your headphones you can feel like a character in a film.
What have you been listening to lately?
LB to AP: Are you here Anton? Are you back in the room?
AP: I’m here.
LB to AP: You sound a bit like a robot talking underwater.
AP: [Laughs]. Maybe that’s what we listen to.
LB: Yeah, we listen to robots talking under water. We’ve all been listening to quite a lot of different stuff. The only time we really listen to music together and talk about it is when we’re seeing people play live or we’re driving along in the van. We haven’t been driving along in the van lately because there’s no gigs. I’ve been listening to a lot of Suzanne Ciani, who is one of my favourite improvisers. She plays on her special synthesizer, a very archaic synthesizer called the Buchla, which is very modular, lots of wires. The album I bought recently is called A Sonic Womb. It’s a live recording from shows she’s done in Spain. It’s a dialogue, she’s having conversations with herself. It’s very free and very focused on rhythm, which is something very important to us as a band. Not a whole lot of music together really because when we see each other we’re working on our own stuff.
You mention earlier you had a jam last night; what was it sounding like?
LB: It was sounding a little bit clunky because we haven’t worked out where to put everything in the room yet. It was nice to do that. It was sounding very loose, there were rapidly changing time signatures and lots of fuzzy guitars and synths. It was very much not like Squid because the whole five of us weren’t there. Today will be the day that we get a bit more Squid in.
Last question, why is music important to you?
LB: Music is one of the fundaments of life for all of us. We’ve always been exposed to it, when we were younger, growing up in very different musical backgrounds. We have things we agree on and things we disagree on and it becomes very much about conversation and points of view. The fact that we all came and formed this band at this uniformed point in our lives but when we were all thinking different things of what it means to play music is pretty important. For us as a band, Squid is a means of where we can have a collective identity through sound and come together.
What’s something you disagree on?
LB: [Laughs]. We disagree on what should feature in a recording, which I think is a good thing because we get carried away with putting the recording down and we tend to track everything live… on the album everything was recorded in live takes and usually we try to get the earliest take as possible, first, second or third take. When it comes to having those live tracks laid down, we go through a meticulous series of overdubs to add instrumentation and then we approach electronic elements. Sometimes there’s things that one of us had played and feel it’s in the perfect position but sometimes we don’t always agree that it should be there. Nine times out of ten we’ll forget about those parts but sometimes they stay and it turns into a nice disagreement because if it didn’t end up on the recording it’s able to be brought back in the live performance.
What’s something you do agree on?
LB: We do agree on what is the most conducive way of writing, which is letting ideas have the space and that there’s never a magic formula for an idea. It’s very embryonic to become something that is very fine-tuned within the space of a day or two.
Anything else you want to tell me about Bright Green Fields?
AP: [The line is still crackly] From robot [laughs]… we had a lot of fun making it. It’s the most important project of our lives. Obviously though, because I’m a robot, I’ll live forever.
Sydney-based creative Ishka Edmeades is constantly in flux whether it’s working on one of his many musical projects: Research Reactor Corporation, Set-Top Box, Satanic Togas, G.T.R.R.C, Gee Tee, Australia Idol and more; independent punk label Warttmann Inc; zine, TV Guide; making art or writing graffiti. No matter the medium, the message is always one of humour, fun and honesty. Gimmie was super stoked to chat with Ishka!
An abridged version of this conversation first appeared in Issue 4 of the free mail-order music mag Streetview (@streetview.mag), which we love! It’s worth your while to get on their mailing list.
Hi, Ishka! What have you been up to today?
ISHKA: Hey, Bianca. I’ve just been hanging out.
Is it your day off?
I: Every day is pretty much a day off at the moment. When Corona [virus] hit, I was working in cafes, and since then it’s been hard to find a job. I’m enjoying the time off though.
Yeah, I found myself in the same boat. Like I said in our correspondence, I’ve been working in libraries for so long and when COVID-19 hit, there was no work for months. How’s lockdown been for you?
I: I feel bad to say it but, it’s been pretty good for me in a lot of ways. I’ve been recording music and just being creative. It’s been good having time to ponder different things. I feel bad because in one sense, Corona is a totally shit thing to happen!
I know what you mean. Creatively for me it’s been great too! During this time my husband and I made Gimmie zine and worked on my book. To be honest, most creatives I know, say it’s been great for them. Of course, there’s the downsides of no shows, losing jobs etc. but at least from a creative perspective many who I’ve talked to, worked on projects, learnt new skills and took the opportunity to make the best of the downtime.
I: Yeah, that’s the thing. For sure, you have to make the best of things. For me, I’ve been recording every day or making art—it’s been great!
Anyone I’ve interviewed or spoken to that knows you, they always have the loveliest things to say about you. One of the most common things people tell me is that they’re really inspired by you, you have a pretty prolific output and are in so many bands. I know for you that’s just what you do.
I: [Laughs] Oh, I don’t know… thank you. That’s really cool to hear; I’ve never really heard people say that before. Thanks. I guess because we’re all just good mates and hangout all the time, stuff like that never gets brought up.
Kel [from Gee Tee] is definitely a big influence on how I go about recording stuff. He moved down to Sydney from the Gold Coast into a house with me last year in June. I had my drums set up in my room and we just had a fun time recording. We did the Chromo-Zone stuff, I play drums on it. It was good to watch him record. I’ve always liked Gee Tee and Draggs. Watching him do stuff heled me heaps. I first met Kel when Draggs came down to play here.
Are you originally from Sydney?
I: Yeah, I’ve lived here all my life.
What scenes or communities did you grow up in?
I: My dad’s Māori. He moved to Bondi from New Zealand in the 70s, there was a big Māori community around there. I grew up in that area in the 90s then I moved out to the Inner West when I was nineteen. There’s still a Māori community but it’s fleeting, a lot of them have left. All the older guys in that community were into dub and reggae, I got heaps of influences from them. I still really love Prince Buster and the Blue Beat [Records] stuff.
I figured you were into that, on your Instagram a while back, I saw that you had a live video you took of Lee Scratch Perry.
I: My friend Harry, who plays in [Satanic] Togas as well, my friend Dion (we’re all old high school friends) and I got to see him live, it was great! He was pretty out there. It was pretty funny. Half of his set was him rambling.
So, dub and reggae were the first kind of music that you got into?
I: Yeah, it was the first music that I was exposed to. Where I was born, my dad’s house was the jam house, he had every kind of instrument and people would come over and jam all the time. From when I was born, I was always around people jamming. I’m sure they were just playing the “skank” one note [laughs] and that got lodged in my brain.
Is that how you started playing guitar?
I: I started playing drums first, because of Metallica. My friend and I really got into Metallica, he played bass, so we started jamming Metallica songs when we were ten. I got my dad’s old drum kit. After school every day, I lived close to the school, we’d just go home and jam Metallica songs with drums and bass, it probably sounded pretty horrible to all the neighbours! [laughs].
How old are you?
I: I’m twenty-two right now.
How did you get into punk rock?
I: After Metallica, I got into Nirvana. The first real punk memory I have is watching Decline Of The Western Civilization [a 1981 documentary on the Los Angeles punk scene]. It’s the usual story, Kurt Cobain would mention a lot of bands and you’d go check out some of the bands; that movie came up. The Germs was the one thing in it that was like, “Oh yeah! That’s awesome.” Darby Crash in the movie was a train wreck, at the time I thought it was pretty cool [laughs]. He was maybe putting on a persona in a way, I guess.
You did graffiti back then too?
I: Yeah, I still do. I actually went to court for graffiti a few days ago. It was terrible, I had to wait there for a while. It was good though, I got no conviction, I got a good behaviour bond. Happy days! I celebrated after. I was just drunk and not looking and being an idiot. Graffiti is great though.
How did you get into graffiti?
I: A mate used to do the loops every day. Two of my mates started doing it secretly. I found out and was like, “Let’s go stupid!” They took me to do loops after school one day, and I got hooked; “loops” like train rounds. I got pretty into it for a while. I stopped for a bit and then got back into it, I’ve been in and out all the time. Recently, I got super into watching Style Wars [a 1983 documentary on hip-hop culture with an emphasis on graffiti] again and it sparked my interest in it again.
That one’s a classic! I grew up loving hip-hop and that whole culture. When I was in primary school my mum brought me the book Spraycan Art, which was released just after…
I: Subway Art?
Yeah! I thought graffiti was the coolest and tried to replicate it in my notebooks and learn about the writing styles I’d see in that book. I’ve always loved both the hip-hop and punk subcultures, and art; my husband Jhonny is the same too.
I: Yeah, they’re such cool subcultures. I was into punk rock at the time but all the writer’s I knew were into Aussie hip-hop, which wasn’t that bad but I was like, “Is there any punk writers?” I found out that there are a lot of good writers that are punk!
What were the early local shows you’d go to?
I: In Year 7, I’d go to metal-core shows. The first proper one was Parkway Drive; my mate and his brother were really into them. From there, I’d go to local shows at the Annandale Hotel.
I’ve heard some of the earlier music you’ve made and it’s quite different to the stuff you’re doing now; what was it that changed your music making direction?
I: I was into punk but I didn’t really know anyone that wanted to play that stuff. I started to get into garage rock and I started leaning more towards psychedelic rock more and wanted to do that. I used to jam with a friend called Jake, he went to some after school guitar school; I met Owen Penglis there of Straight Arrows, that’s where his studio was.
I ended up doing work experience at Owen’s studio, I went to a TAFE high school and you had to do work experience every Friday. It was pretty cool doing work experience there. Owen put me onto the Back From Grave and Killed By Death stuff!
What was it like working with Owen?
I: It was cool. I was a pretty quiet kid at the time. I was really interested in what we were doing at the time because I had already started to record stuff at home, real badly though [laughs]. I got to watch a few albums being made like the first Los Tones album [Psychotropic]. I was there the whole time plugging in stuff and setting mics up and all that stuff. It was cool, I used to have conversations with them but I felt so weird because I was so young and had no experiences yet, I was definitely an observer at some points just taking it all in. It was great!
You do a lot of different music projects – Research Reactor Corporation, Set-Top Box, Satanic Togas, G.T.R.R.C, Gee Tee, Australia Idol and more– they all have such strong identities; do you think that might be able to be tracked backed to early on seeing someone like Darby Crash, like we were talking about earlier, and how you thought his having a persona was a fun idea?
I: For sure. I feel like making a persona, making a character in a sense or characters, is fun. It’s cool to play something else, it’s kind of like acting in a sense. It can help song writing. I consider myself bad at lyrics, or at least it takes a while for me. Sometimes it’s random but mostly it takes a while. If I have a character to think about, I can write for it. For example, with the Set-Top Box stuff, I could always write about a movie or something like that.
I noticed in your zine TV Guide, you had movie reviews of 80s comedy/horror flicks.
I: Yeah, I love all of that stuff. Me and my housemates always watch those kinds of movies all the time. My housemate works at JB Hi-Fi so he always gets heaps of movies cheap.
Nice! What are some of your favourites?
I: I recently watched Wild Zero that Guitar Wolf movie, it was great, I hadn’t seen that for a while. I like TerrorVision, that’s one of my all-time favourite movies. I love humour in movies, I try to put humour into music.
That definitely shines through. I especially like the humour in Research Reactor Corporation’s songs.
I: Yeah. We like to paint a scene. Billy’s lyrics are actually pretty funny and great. You can’t understand them sometimes [laughs], but they’re really great. The movie [Class of] Nuke ‘Em High is pretty much the genesis concept for Research Reactor, there’s heaps of samples from it throughout the album.
We really love the new Satanic Togas record X-Ray Vision!
I: Awww, thank you.
I really love the song ‘Skinhead’!
I: [Laughs] That’s a pretty funny song. I wasn’t even going to put that on there but Billy [Research Reactor] made me! Well… convinced me.
It really does captures them well!
I: [Laughs] Yeah, not diss to anyone! It’s just a funny song. I was thinking about skinheads, like tough skinheads, and I thought it would be funny to write a song where there was a really small skinhead singing the song, a baby skinhead in a way. It was a stoned idea! [laughs].
When I heard the lyrics, I cracked up! “I’ve been listening to Blitz / I put my hand in a fist”. It’s so good!
I: [Laughs] Thanks! It makes me crack up too.
Hearing you say you wrote it from the perspective of a baby skinhead makes it even funnier! Total gold.
I: Kel loves that one too, it’s a lot of people’s favourite.
How many songs do you think you’ve written?
I: I don’t really know, maybe 100? There’s more to come! I’ve got lots more to record.
Awesome! Can’t wait to hear them. Do you have a process for writing your songs?
I: It’s pretty different all the time. I usually play guitar a lot and a riff will just come up. Sometimes the whole song comes out straight away. If I just have a riff, sometimes I might not finish it until ages after, or I’ll slowly build the idea. Sometimes it’s a synth line.
What interests you about writing songs?
I: I never liked learning other people’s songs, when I first started playing guitar, I wasn’t really into that. It’s just very satisfying at the end to have a song. Doing it always feels cool. It’s all fun.
I know that you have a lot of fun going down internet rabbit holes too; what’s an interesting one you’ve been down lately?
I: Oh yeah! I do. I’ve been watching heaps of monkeys on YouTube [laughs].
[Laughter]. You’re also a big music nerd and always looking for new music; is there any kinds of things in particular that piques your interest?
I: At the moment, stuff from the late 70s and early 80s, if stuff is around that time that’s been interesting me recently. I like releases that will have a weird saying on them or stuff like that.
Sometimes when I’m flicking through 45s at a record fair, I’ll come across titles of songs that sound really interesting or weird or cool that make me buy it.
I: For sure! There’s a few buzz words that I have in the back of my head and if I see them I think, “Oh, this has gotta be good!” [laughs].
I’m always drawn to things about space or dogs.
I: Space is a big one for me too.
So, what kind of set up do you record with?
I: A cassette 4-track, I just got a new one. I had two or three break on me recently, which sucked, all breaking around the same time. Most of the Togas record was recorded on my friend’s 4-track, he’s got a snazzy Tascam one with heaps of knobs! [laughs].
I love all the extra fun sounds you add into the mix and synth-y sounds.
I: A lot of that stuff can be a tape being slowed down or sped up, I love that stuff.
Before you mentioned that you record stuff after a smoke; is that how you record a lot?
I: Yeah, pretty much! [laughs].
Does it help your process?
I: It definitely does. It makes more ideas flow… maybe?
Maybe it’s because you’re more relaxed and more open to trying whatever?
I: Yeah, for sure. Recording at home helps too. I’ve done studios a few times and I don’t know… there’s a sense that you have to do it, right then and there! At home there’s no pressure.
Australian Idol released something not too long ago, right?
I: Yeah. We put out a tape. I can’t remember when we recorded it. We got together, we were seeing Dual Citizen at 96 Tears, which is a DIY venue that used to run for a bit. Everyone was there that night but I went home. I woke up in the morning to all these messages on my phone and a Facebook Group chat called ‘Australian Idol’. They had created a band and made me join without me being there, it was pretty funny. The tape came together pretty fast.
I noticed in your zine TV Guide that you like to ask people what their thoughts are on punk in the digital age; I’m interested to know what yours are?
I: It’s pretty cool. I grew up in the digital age. It can be good and bad in ways. It’s cool being able to access anything all the time wherever you are and discover things on your arse sitting at home [laughs]. On the other side, it can get overwhelming with too much stuff all the time. You have to learn when to step away from it. Not so much just punk too, being in the digital age in general. I think recording in my house is a great way to escape when I get really overwhelmed.
You often post videos of animals. There was one post that said something like “Animals are way better than most humans.”
I: [Laughs] Yeah. I do love myself a good animal! Right now, we have a pet rat, he’s been taking up most of my love at the moment! Animals seem to be a lot more caring than humans most of the time.
Totally. We have a little dog and all she wants to do is love and be loved, fuck around playing, eat and sleep. Humans could learn a lot from animals.
I: Yeah, totally! Having said that though, I have met some amazing humans—I have hope in the world!
Tangled Shoelaces were an alternative-pop band, formed in 1980 in Capalaba (a suburb 20-minutes from Brisbane City’s centre). The band centred around three siblings Stephen, Lucy and Martin Mackerras, with neighbour Leigh Nelson on drums; ranging in ages from 10 to 14. Their music captures the innocence and magic of youth while their experimentalism is testament of imagination and fearless self-expression. Before the age of 18, they recorded at the legendary studios of Sydney label M Squared, supported the Dead Kennedys and John Cooper Clarke. Recently, Chapter Music has released a collection of their recordings: Turn My Dial – The M Squared Recordings and more, 1981-84. To celebrate, Gimmie spoke with bassist Martin Mackerra.
I’m very excited to be speaking with you. We love Tangled Shoelaces. We collect a lot of zines and came across Bruce Milne’s cassette zine Fast Forward, there was a Tangled Shoelaces song on their that we absolutely love. That’s how we first heard your band.
MARTIN MACKERRA: That would have been the song ‘World’ on Fast Forward. Those cassettes are great. I remember them.
We’ve always wanted to find more of your songs, and now Chapter Music is releasing a TS album of collected works, Turn My Dial – The M Squared Recordings and more, 1981-84. The album comes out tomorrow (23 April); how do you feel about it?
MM: Oh, great! It’s that thing of, you never know what’s around the corner [laughs]. We were happy with what we did all those years ago, we were always proud of it, but never in our wildest dreams did we think someone would want to put it out and make a proper release of it. Especially, someone like Guy [Blackman], Chapter [Music] is such a renowned label. I’ve played with [Chapter artist] Laura Jean a few years ago. Being involved with the label is just amazing! I’d always admired Chapter, not just for all the local artists they put out, but also that they do release old recordings, especially things like Essendon Airport; they’ve always had that interesting aspect to the label. It’s exciting.
When Tangles Shoelaces started you were around ten-years-old; did you have any hesitation joining your older siblings in a band at such a young age?
MM: No, never. You don’t think about those things. You don’t ask questions; you just do it. It’s, this is the normal thing, you play music in a band. That’s the interesting thing about being young.
Did you find your peers, other kids your age, being supportive? Or did they not believe that someone their age could be in a band?
MM: It’s interesting we were talking about Capalaba school before, on the record there is a picture of us playing at Capalaba Primary. To be really honest with you, I don’t remember anyone saying anything, they just starred like, oh, you’re the weird guy that plays music. That was basically it, it was strange. But, when I went to Villanova [College] in Coorparoo (that’s where I started high school, catching the bus all the way there) and there were kids there that had heard about us and knew about us. We had an article about us in The Courier Mail [newspaper]. There was more interest, because there were kids there that were actually interested in music; that might be the age too though, we were twelve and thirteen. I remember having kids come up to me, who later became my friends, and they’d be like, “Oh, I read about you. You’re that guy in Tangled Shoelaces!” There were kids that listened to 4ZZZfm. So, there was a little bit more support then. We played a few things for school. It was something I didn’t talk about that much; it was another world that we kept to ourselves. I was always involved with music in school though.
What bands did you first find growing up that were your own bands you loved listening to?
MM: Oh god! There were so many. They weren’t necessarily like Tangled Shoelaces. I was just obsessed with music from a young age. I’d listen to early Split Enz, the B-52’s. We went and saw the B-52’s, a long time ago [laughs], I was in Grade 5. It was at Festival Hall. We were so blown away by that concert, we went crazy dancing! Our mum took us and a friend of our mum who was in her 60’s, she was a photographer and took photos of all the amazing people there, the punks with their coloured hair; all the people that went got so dressed up. It was around ’80-’81 just after ‘Rock Lobster’ came out. It completely blew me away! We also listened to 4ZZZfm. We were completely obsessed with music. Always listening.
Why has it always been such an important part of your life?
MM: There’s musical blood in the family. We have an uncle who was a conductor, my dad is obsessed with classical music; I went on to do classical music too. They say you don’t choose music; music chooses you. I’ve always had a life in music.
What inspired you to play bass?
MM: Purely, I did what Stephen asked me to [laughs]. He said, “Right, I’m the guitarist and you’re the bass player!” That was it. I was just a little brother that did what my big brother told me.
Where did the name Tangled Shoelaces come from?
MM: I really don’t know; it was probably Stephen who thought of it. It was almost like anything, it just happened naturally and you didn’t question it. It could have been Stephen just said, “The band is called Tangled Shoelaces” and we just went, “Ok, yep!” That’s it. It all just flowed.
It’s such a great name. It has a nice flow to it, sounds great and is really fun to say.
MM: Yeah, I agree. I’m very objective about all of this now though too, it’s almost 40 years later. It is a fun name. It’s one of those great names that tells you what the music is in away, it’s kids making music.
You’ve mentioned that 4ZZZfm was big for you; do you remember hearing your band on the radio?
MM: Yeah, yeah. They were supportive of us. There were a few DJs that really liked us that we sent tapes to and they played them. We put out an EP too, there’s a bit of an evolution of the band. There are photos of us at the Primary School, that’s very early stages, I was ten. At about thirteen, fourteen and fifteen we were still playing, by then we had put out an EP on vinyl, 4ZZZ were supportive of that. 4ZZZ has always been integral, they put on gigs and you’d hear all these different bands, they’d interview us. They’ve always been so supportive of bands and are a great network for Brisbane music. I listened to them constantly, I had a radio beside my bed—4ZZZ all of the time!
It was the same for me growing up. I was a teenager in the ‘90s and I’d have the radio beside my bed and listen to 4ZZZ, that’s how I found out about all the local bands and shows and that we had a scene and music community here. You start going to local shows and you realise there’s people just like you that have bands, then you really get excited.
MM: [Laughs] Exactly! Its’ true. You would have heard of XERO?
MM: John-e Willsteed, he went on to play with the Go-Betweens, he took us under his wing a little bit. Then there was Peter Pit [from The Pits]. We’d meet them, maybe through 4ZZZ, and they’d say, “Come play a gig!” It’s the connections that you make. Things are still the same today with community radio, down here there’s 3RRRfm.
4ZZZ had some really great people, there was a guy called Andy Neal, he told us, “This is great. This is wild. You kids, this is far out.” He told us to send it to M Squared. He said, “They’ll love it!” And, they did. They wrote back and told us to come and record. We’re very lucky.
I understand that when you were recording at M Squared Studios you would catch the bus down to Sydney on the weekends to record; what things stick out to you from that experience?
MM: It was just the normal, just what you do. It was like, ok, we’re going down to Sydney to record at M Squared, great, let’s book the tickets. Stephen organised it. We were lucky because we had relatives in Sydney who we could stay with. Being in Brisbane and having family in Sydney, it wasn’t that unusual to go to Sydney. Having grandparents in New South Wales and cousins living in Sydney, we’d go visit them. It was no big deal, Mum dropped us off and we just caught an overnight bus. By the time we were going to Sydney we were a little bit older, we were thirteen and sixteen (being younger than Stephen, I saw him as an adult).
So much cool stuff has come out on M Squared! Australian post-punk artists like Systematics, Scattered Order and Ya Ya Choral.
MM: Oh yes, I love M Squared.
You mentioned the local Brisbane band XERO; what other local bands were you into at the time?
MM: The Pits; Peter Pit. Pork, they’d put on gigs in halls in Coorparoo (Peter lived around there)… Wooloongabba and those inner city suburbs, there were lots of bands like, This Five Minutes.
I was just up in Brisbane and there’s this exhibition of all of these old music posters from all of these bands. Have you seen it?
Yes! The Cut Copy: Brisbane music posters 1977-87 exhibition. That’s at my work, I work at the State Library of Queensland.
MM: Great! Half of those bands on the posters, I saw so many recognisable names. There were so many bands I loved, but the ones that stand out is John-e Willsteed from XERO (who we played a lot of shows with) and Peter from the Pits; we ended up becoming good friends. He came down to Sydney with us and sings on the record.
Looking back at the record now, which are the most interesting songs for you?
MM: The very early ones. ‘I Need A Stamp’ is just a bizarre and amazing song, Stephen’s voice is really high. ‘Little Bear’ that’s Lucy singing on it, I love that one. And, ‘What Do You Want From Me Now?’ They’re the ones from the very beginnings of Tangled Shoelaces. I don’t know where they came from, they just happened. I love all of them though. As Stephen matured, he started to write some really, really great songs. ‘Just For You’ I always find that really touching. There’s some extra ones that aren’t on the vinyl, like ‘Beware Of Falling Objects’. It gets a bit experimental. I like ‘Bordumb’ because that’s my song, it’s a bit of a snapshot of being in Brisbane at the time and being ten-years-old. I’d be playing Space Invaders, riding my bike down to Capalaba Park shopping centre [laughs]. I love all the songs but I especially think ‘Little Bear’ and ‘I Need A Stamp’ are amazing because we are very young there. Stephen’s voice hadn’t even broken, he was around eleven or twelve and I was nine or ten.
‘Little Bear’ and ‘I Need A Stamp’ along with ‘What Do You Want From Me Now’ were all recorded at Capalaba Primary School, right?
MM: Yes. Huge thanks to our teacher Steve Colbourn. Guy wrote up a great thing about it all in the album’s liner notes. Steve was also a professional musician as well as our teacher, he played gigs and did lots of things. Without him we wouldn’t have made those recordings and without those recordings we wouldn’t have had something to send to M Squared. It was a 4-track, he set it up in the school library for the holidays. I’m incredibly grateful. He’s passed away now, sadly. He organised the show for us at Capalaba school too. He helped us do everything. We didn’t know how to plug in a microphone, we didn’t know what a P.A. was even [laughs].
You might not have known how to put it all together but you sure did know how to play!
MM: [Laughs] Yes! It’s not that hard to play a bass, for me I just picked it up, I never had a lesson. I did have clarinet lessons though. We practiced and worked at it though. Mr Colbourn showed us what foldback is and how to plug in a P.A.
It must have been such an exciting time for you!
MM: It was! People ask about my recollections and I don’t know how school fitted in! We had the weekends to work on music. I never took school too seriously; I was much more interested in music. I knew from an early age and through Tangled Shoelaces that I just wanted to do music. I played clarinet in the Queensland Youth Orchestra.
I was the same with school. My mum would drop me off at the front gate and I’d walk out the back gate, change my clothes, catch a bus to the city, find whatever bands were in town or local ones and hang around, eventually interviewing them for my fanzine.
MM: Fantastic! Isn’t that brilliant.
All these year’s later, I’m still making zines.
MM: It’s so great! It’s lucky if you can find what you want to do while you’re at school when you’re young. If you find what your passion is and what you love doing, you’re a lucky person.
Totally! I know that Tangled Shoelaces supported the Dead Kennedys when they came to Australia in the early ‘80s!
MM: Yes. We did some crazy things! That was a funny one because, somewhere in there is a joke, someone was thinking wouldn’t it be funny if we got Tangled Shoelaces to play with Dead Kennedys, let’s do it! We did it. It was scary, there were some pretty scary characters there—they didn’t like us. We were not a punk band [laughs]. We wanted to get out of there pretty quickly after we played, we thought we’d get picked on. It was a funny little episode.
We also supported John Cooper Clarke! It was one of the first ever gigs. People there loved us. You know how with popularity it comes and goes?
MM: That point seemed to be the time, at least for a few months, we were the flavour of the month. Whenever we played people would cheer, but then that dissipated and we got on with things. A big thing that happened, one gig, we were offered to support Public Image Ltd at Festival Hall. It would have been incredible. It was last minute, they rang us on the afternoon of the gig that as on a Friday night because someone pulled out, but our drummer had gone away and we couldn’t get in touch with him, long before mobile phones. To say I played at Festival Hall, that would have been amazing. We did do other stuff that was great.
Do you remember meeting Jello Biafra or John Cooper Clarke?
MM: No, none at all. I was aware of the Dead Kennedys but I wouldn’t have known who Jello Biafra was. Often support bands don’t meet the main act because they’re tucked away in their room or they’re not even there yet when the support act play. It’s a hazy memory.
Can you tell us the story behind the album cover image please?
MM: Yes. Being from Capalaba, you would know about Leslie Harrison Dam.
Yes! It’s supplies the water for the area.
MM: We lived there (my parents are still there), literally two minutes’ walk from the Leslie Harrison Dam. We weren’t supposed to, but we spent a lot of time there and went swimming there all of the time. We grew up there, it was our back yard, you can see it from our house. You can see the spillway, it’s all fenced off now but it wasn’t then, that was our playground. Stephen put it all together. He did photography at school and had a camera. It was all his ideas.
Is there something really important that you learnt from Stephen that has stuck with you all these years?
MM: Heaps of things! He was a mover and a shaker, so I’ve taken that on myself. You really have to make things happen. You have to do the work first; you have to write the songs and then people might cotton on to it. You have to practice. He was always very motivated, that taught me a lot. I’ve carried on with music.
Tangled Shoelaces went on to become Wondrous Fair?
MM: Yes, that’s right. I don’t know all of the details of why Tangled Shoelaces didn’t continue. When you’re kids, I guess it’s natural to move on. Leigh became a born-again Christian, he went on to play in Christian bands, he’s an excellent drummer. Lucy went to uni, she moved out, she had her own interests. We didn’t think, oh we have something interesting here, we should keep it going. You just went along with whatever. Oh, this girl Deborah [Cavallaro] wants to have a jam with us at her house, it was all fun and great, let’s form a band from this! [laughs]. You didn’t think about things, you just went along with things, what felt good. Wondrous Fair evolved from another friend of mine who did play in Tangled Shoelaces from maybe one rehearsal.
Stephen eventually went away because he was more into film. After he left school, he went down to Melbourne. He was very motivated, he wrote to [director] Paul Cox and said, “I’m really interested in film, can I just come and help on the set of your next film?” He got invited down to Melbourne and helped with Paul Cox.
MM: Stephen’s that kind of person. He’d just write to people and ring people and ask to help them.
You mentioned that you’re still making music now.
MM: Yeah, I am. I’m a composer and songwriter. I absolutely continue to make music.
Has there ever been a time in your life when you didn’t make music?
MM: No! I live and breath music. There would never ever be that. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant.
No, not at all. I get it.
MM: It is my life. Music is the life force; it’s how I live. I teach music, that pays my bills but I always make music. After Tangled Shoelaces. it was Wondrous Fair. I moved to Melbourne and formed about three different bands. I have a band currently called Maya-dreamer & The Future Happiness Orchestra. They have not been popular; I haven’t had that sort of success but that’s not necessarily what I want in a way—I just want to make the music that I love. I’m working on a third album now. I compose avant-garde music, more obscure music. It’s weird, very experimental music [laughs]. (You can find it at martinmackerras.com). For me, it’s about the experience of making music, getting in a room with five other people and singing together. We have a lot of fun! Music is always there. I can’t live without it.
One of Gimmie’s favourite bands Naarm/Melbourne-based EXEK have a new single and clip out today—‘Several Souvenirs’ from upcoming LP Good Thing They Ripped Up The Carpet out soon on Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club. Gimmie had a quick chat with vocalist-guitarist, Albert Wolski.
What’s life been like lately for you, Albert?
ALBERT WOLSKI: Pretty normal. I work full-time with Billy [Gardner] and Jake [Robertson] from Ausmuteants. We worked all throughout Covid, it was business as usual; actually, work was as turbo as it could possibly get, a bit too turbo. It was fine though. We had to work when a lot of people were able to have time off and could do their creative stuff, and just read, chill and hang.
We’re really excited EXEK has a new album coming out! I’ve been listening to it a lot since Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club sent it through to us. It’s so awesome!
AW: Thank you! Rad!
Last we interviewed you (March 2020), EXEK had just released Some Beautiful Species Left. You mentioned “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.” Is Good Thing They Ripped Up The Carpet that album you were talking about then?
AW: That is actually the next album, that was done before this new one. It’s all kind of confusing and everything overlaps, there’s a bit of a tapestry now. Things aren’t too linear half the time. Good Thing They Ripped Up The Carpet comes out the 4th of June. We’re working on stuff for next year as well, just trying to stay busy.
Lots of EXEK in our future, lucky us! I noticed a few songs on Good Thing… have been on other releases, split 7-inches and compilations overseas; the first six tracks are newer ones?
AW: Yeah. It’s split between the A-side and the B-side. The A-side is new and the B-side is older stuff. One of the songs feels like it’s new because it hasn’t come out yet, there’s been a delay in a compilation it’s on, that a French label SDZ is putting out, they put out Some Beautiful Species Left. They were celebrating their 20th year anniversary last year, but it all got delayed. It’s the song ‘Four Stomachs’.
The title of the album Good Thing They Ripped Up The Carpet is a lyric from the first song ‘Palazzo Di Propaganda Fide’. Being the nerd I am, I was looking up what the song title was in reference to and found a palace located in Rome has that name.
AW: Yeah. It’s known for its architecture [designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, then Francesco Borromini]. I wanted to loosely connect that building and almost pretend that the cover of Biased Advice, which just got reissued [on Castle Face] … I wanted to refer back to that record. There’s a lyric that goes: someone turned the lights on, and it looks like the sweatshop from the first album. Now it’s full colour, so it’s almost like someone did turn the lights on and its loosely painting a narrative that the sweatshop is in that building, but obviously it isn’t. It’s all very nonsensical really.
I love how in EXEK albums there’s always so many layers, from the music to lyrics and to art and videos. It’s cool how things connect over releases.
AW: Yeah, I definitely like to make a little universe and for that universe to exist and try and make sense out of it; it is its own universe so it doesn’t have to make sense in comparison to this universe. [Laughs].
The song we’re premiering along with its video is ‘Several Souvenirs’.
AW: I guess that one is related to Covid, just after the lockdown in Melbourne, everyone was really stinging to go out and be social again; maybe not everyone, but at least I did and my friends. We really felt like connecting with people and having some fun. I was writing that song when I was going out and partying a lot, a lot! Definitely during Covid there was none of that, I gave up alcohol for three or four months during the first lockdown. After the second one I just felt like partying again. ‘Several Souvenirs’ is kind of the EXEK party song, it’s definitely not a party song but it does have the romanticism of creating the perfect evening and the perfect memory of the perfect evening. It’s a little bit new wave-y, a little bit romantic, and probably the most poppy that we get.
I got that romanticising feeling from the film clip. It creates that mood, with the shots, lighting and even the ballerina character. Where was it shot?
AW: Yeah. It was shot at a pub [Stingrays Upstairs at the Bodriggy Brewery], not our next show but the one after we’ll be playing there with Body Maintenance. The place is named after a friend of mine. The narrative is that Carol is about to start her shift at the bar, a song comes on and she just goes into her fantasy world and it gets more and more extravagant. The dresses get crazier, the lighting gets crazier, there’s wind and smoke. Then she snaps out of it. We managed to get the place for free to do the clip, on the one condition that we play there. I was like, “Of course, it’ll be fun.”
It seems like a really amazing venue.
AW: I don’t think anyone has played there yet. It should be interesting because there is a mezzanine level, which is six or seven steps high – we’re going to playing at that height – which is really, really high. My ideal stage is one to two steps. It’s a brand-new place that opened right after Covid, not many people know about it.
Where did you find the ballerina for your clip?
AW: She’s a friend of a friend; a friend of my wife and I – Kasey – she runs this fashion label and store. Carol (the ballerina) loves Kasey’s fashion. She’s a professional dancer and model, we thought she’d be great for the clip so we asked her if she’d be keen. She was. Then it was all happening.
Were you there on set when it was being filmed?
AW: Yeah, yeah, yeah. There was a big crew of us all behind the scenes, letting her hog the spotlight really [laughs].
Who shot the clip?
AW: Robyn my wife and her close friend Hannah. They’re both photographers. Hannah is also a videographer. Also, Alex McLaren who you just interview was there too; he was helping us out behind the scenes with some tech stuff and we were fortunate enough to borrow his equipment. It turned out good.
One of the tracks on the LP’s B-side is the theme from Judge Judy (that originally appeared on your split 7-inch with Spray Paint); how did you come to choosing to cover that?
AW: I really love that bassline. You know when you were back in the day and you’d stay home from school and Judge Judy would come on? I thought, damn, I love that bassline. I thought it would be good to cover because EXEK basslines are kind of like that, it would kind of lend itself to what we do. We just fleshed it out and it was really easy to do, really fun to record.
Anything else to tell us about the album?
AW: The songs on the B-side of the album have been retweaked. I just can’t help myself. The mixing process never ends with us. I always thought that when I got a chance, I’d retweak a few things. Even the last track [‘Too Step A Hill To Climb’] I redid the whole vocals for that. I wasn’t too keen on the originals. All the songs on that side have been modified to freshen them up.
On a side note, I know you love watching films, and I’m always up for great film recommendations; what have you been watching lately?
AW: I’ve been watching all these silly blockbusters lately. I feel like watching the world blow up, I think I see it as cathartic when things aren’t really going too well outside, that visual chaos. It’s really chaos right now in the world. One film that I saw a couple of years ago that I’m keen to rewatch is Under The Silverlake, which I think slipped by a lot of people.
I love that movie.
AW: Yeah, I think I might watch it again tonight. It’s so good.
Did you find that the lockdown affected your creativity?
AW: To an extent, I didn’t want to write about what was going on, so that made it a little bit harder. I didn’t want to write about Covid, even though I like to write about hard science stuff and which I do anyway. My writing process is really hard to shift gears away from hard science, pathogens and diseases and science-fiction dystopias [laughs].
On this day in 1981, Canadian punk band D.O.A. released their Hardcore ’81 album. Punk heavyweights Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, Jello Biafra and Kevin Seconds have all spoken of the impact and importance of this record. It’s been said that the title is the first time the term “hardcore” was used to describe this style of punk outside of a music publication. A couple of years ago their sophomore full-length won The Polaris Music Prize, awarded annually to one of the all-time best Canadian albums based on artistic merit. Hardcore ’81 still holds up today, as a record that is still wild (or as Joe puts it, “rips your face off”), full of conviction and energy. D.O.A. were also one of the first punk bands to tour (North America) independently, setting the blueprint for all the bands that have come after them. Yesterday, Gimmie spoke to vocalist-guitarist Joe Keithley.
On the 22nd of April D.O.A.’s album Hardcore ’81 celebrates its 40th Anniversary; what comes to mind when you think of that record?
JOE KEITHLEY: Lots of things. It’s a unique thing that we came up with, that title, and threw it on an album. It was a collective thing; we had heard the term “hardcore” a few times. There is some argument with who came up with the term but that doesn’t really matter, I think it’s a worldwide movement that came out of a few bands, including D.O.A.
We’re reissuing it on my label Sudden Death Records in August. It will be a special 40th Anniversary edition—it’s a fucking classic record! [laughs]. I don’t look at old D.O.A. records very often, but I put that one on when we were doing the remastering. We added three bonus tracks. I was like, wow! It just rips your face off, so that’s a good thing, right?
Totally! It is definitely a classic. An important punk record. Around the time you initially released the album you would have been around 25-years-old, I think? What was happening in your life or around you at that time that inspired the writing of the songs on Hardcore ’81?
JK: Yeah, that’s about right. Before that we’d spent a lot of time as a band touring. Since I was a teenager, I’ve always been an activist for different causes, we took that on as much as we could doing benefits shows and doing records for good causes all around the world. We’d been around North America [on tour] a bunch and we’d been going to Southern California probably five or six times a year; that became our home away from home. What happened was, I was probably in the van driving up and down the Interstate 5 highway back and forth between Los Angeles and Vancouver playing shows.
The only thing that I did at home was that I was a cab driver. They didn’t really care about me and I didn’t really care about the cab company. When I showed up, I would drive the car and when I didn’t, some other guy would, probably another musician or a waiter [laughs].
Did you find driving cabs interesting with all the different kinds of people that you meet?
JK: [Laughs]. That’s one way of putting it! I drove for a long time, for three or four different companies, on and off, for about six years. I’d go to the job every time I’d arrive back from tour and be broke. I’d just call them up and start driving again. You’d meet some interesting people; you’d meet some you didn’t like and be glad you never got to see them again. I thought it was pretty interesting, the one thing I really noticed was that, people with not a lot of money, they were the most generous tippers and people with a lot of money, were really cheap. Go figure, right?
Right. That’s usually been the case in my experience too. On the cover of Hardcore ’81 there’s photobooth picture strips of each member; where did you get those done?
JK: Yeah, it’s one of those machines that you go into a booth and they’d take passport sized photos, you get a strip of three or four. Our manager had the idea. The booth was probably in Vancouver, maybe at the Greyhound [bus] Station. We went down there and thought it would be pretty funny. They look great on the cover.
Why did you decided to cover the Led Zeppelin song ‘Communication Breakdown’ on that record?
JK: I can’t remember what the impetus for that was. I remember that there was this guy in my neighbourhood when I was growing up, and if a new song came on the radio… (we lived on a mountainside-type-thing, it was quite steep) he would take his old records, of the songs that weren’t in fashion anymore, and he’d roll them down the hill! When I got into my first punk rock band, which was called The Skulls, we were from Vancouver, I found a hill (this was about ‘78’) and I took all my Led Zeppelin records I had loved in high school and I rolled them down the hill. They got run over by cars and got smashed to bits! [laughs].
For some reason someone in the band suggested we do that song. Nobody could sing it though. Chuck [Biscuits] tried to sing it, Randy [Rampage] tried to sing it, but they were both too high. I said, “I’ll do it!” We put this underwater effect on it, it makes you sound like you’re underwater singing. We were like, “Huh! That kind of works.” The original take actually went on for about another minute, it was longer; at the very end you could hear the sound of a 2-inch tape going off. The ending was kind of perfect.
Why is music important to you?
JK: Music has always been a big thing for me. For one thing, it’s a lot of fun! That’s why you get up on stage, you want to thrill people and excite them and get ‘em worked up. I think that’s the goal of a band. With a punk band, or metal band, or rock band, heavier stuff, you want to see people going crazy, so you have to do something to make ‘em go crazy.
Being in a band is a really good chance to say what you think about the world. I was heavily politicized when I was a kid, with the Vietnam War going on and environmental degradation and the Arms Race between America and the Soviet Union. I joined Greenpeace when I was seventeen. I got into a band, D.O.A. started to take off and I thought I had a perfect soapbox to get up on and say what I thought about the world. That’s why I did my songs.
Before you started D.O.A. you wanted to be a civil rights lawyer; obviously you’ve always cared about people and what’s going on in the world?
JK: Yeah! My goal through Junior High was to be a professional hockey player for the Boston Bruin, to play ice hockey [laughs]. That didn’t work out, I was ok, but not that kind of quality. Then I got into the legal thing. I was involved in protest stuff.
This guy, William Kunstler, the lawyer for the Chicago Seven – there were big riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention – he defended them, which I found quite interesting. I thought, I want to be like William Kunstler! He defended Abbie Hoffman [a political and social activist who co-founded the Youth International Party (“Yippies”) and a leading proponent of the Flower Power movement] and all the rest of the people that were on trial. I guess it was strange for a kid in high school to have the resolve to be a lawyer [laughs]; a civil rights lawyer, not a lawyer, lawyer!
Yes! There’s definitely a difference [laughter]. Was there a moment you can remember that you realised that music could have a big impact on people?
JK: Oh yeah, absolutely! When I was a kid in high school and even much earlier. You could see people like Jimi Hendrix and Country Joe McDonald, influenced what was going on in the world. Think about the Vietnam War for example, it was a big, big thing when I was a kid, and musicians would stand up against it. It was an interesting transition, at first, they were called “Commie pinko fags” and all that stuff for not supporting the American war machine. Eventually, people in the mid-west, farmers, saw it was an immoral war as well—not that any war is moral. This one was particularly horrible. All of a sudden, people that played music that was saying stuff against it, weren’t so far out there and wrong, and you had the regular work people saying “yes” too. They might not have been buying Jimi Hendrix records, but he was influencing people that were involved. Rather than saying that Richard Nixon stopped the Vietnam War—it was the people that did.
What do you feel is one of your most powerful songs?
JK: There’s a few. ‘World War 3’ and ‘The Prisoner’ [from Something Better Change] is a really strong song. I think the song that a lot of people identify D.O.A. with is ‘The Enemy’ which is on the first record and on the Positively D.O.A. 7-inch EP [with the lyric]: “Ya gotta know who your enemy is”. It’s synonymous with D.O.A. and D.O.A. fans. The line in the chorus, pretty much says it all.
Your band is known for being trailblazers of independent touring, especially in North America, laying the blueprint for bands that came after you. Previously you’ve mentioned that part of why you started touring is because the band were adventurous; have you always had the sense of adventure?
JK: I was a pretty introverted child, I wasn’t really outgoing or anything like that, which may be hard to believe [laughs], it’s very true though. It was one of those things that just started happening, I went to university to be a lawyer. I was there for about four months and then I was in a punk rock band, we got a little bit popular, not long after that we started D.O.A. and that took off right away, within a few months things were moving pretty quick—right guys at the right time in the right place.
Because Vancouver was a real backwater (not these days though, Vancouver is a big town with over three million people). The music industry was in London, New York, Los Angeles and Toronto, for us anyway. Obviously, you’d link Melbourne and Sydney to that too from where you are. Those were the centres of attention and where all the bands were getting signed and that they would gravitate towards. We didn’t, we thought we’ll just strike out on our own. D.O.A. was a lot more unique because we weren’t trying to play to get signed to a label, therefore our style wasn’t co-opted from someone from a record label going, “Oh, you should really put more of this in there!” The pressures that bands start to get when they begin to get popular. We blazed our own way!
We bought a van and toured up and down everywhere. In 1979, we went all the way down to California, to Texas, up to Chicago, New York and eastern Canada and all the way back; it was a North American tour. We had a lot of days off because we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing! We’d sit around at people’s houses and eat them out of house and home [laughs], ‘til they got sick of us and then we’d try and find another show. That’s all we could do. We were getting a lot of attention.
A big break [in 1981] was that we saw an ad in one of the big English music papers like Melody Maker or New Music Express (they were pretty influential, people in North America would read them too), it said that D.O.A. were opening up for the Dead Kennedys at the Lyceum in London! It was a big, big hall, 3,000 people-type-thing. We looked at the ad and were like, “We are? Nobody told us about that!” We phoned up the promoter and they said, “Sure, you guys can play, but I won’t pay you anything. You have to get over here.” We all saved up about $700 to pay for the air flights and we found some friends to crash with, on their floor. We went to London and played this big show. It worked out because the record company [Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles Records] released Positively D.O.A. and it became Single Of The Week [in British press]. It sold a lot! We were like, wow! Ok! That whetted our appetite to do more. Eventually in ’84 we came back and did a two-month tour of Europe and the UK.
Before you mentioned that when you were younger you were introverted and now obviously, you’re not; did being in a punk band give you confidence?
JK: It certainly makes you stand out from the crowd. When I got into it, people were afraid of punk rock, they thought it was the strangest type of music that had come out and people were shocked by what they saw; some people were interested in it though, and loved it like me. We were way in the minority.
Being in a band, the first few times you go up there, you might want to get off stage and puke because you were so nervous. Because you have your fellow bandmates there with you, your confidence grows off of each other. You get the courage to get up there and do what you do. If you’re good at it, it will grow.
Another thing that I’ve always loved about D.O.A. is that you always keep moving forward and create new things. You once said, “We still sound like a punk rock band, but we’ve tried to progress with the times. We try to expand what we can do lyrically. We sing about what’s going on now. We don’t hearken back to the glory days of punk.” A lot of people talk about punk like it was a special time that existed in a particular time period. It’s still happening today and still thriving. Punk is an energy, that keeps moving and evolving.
JK: Yeah, I would agree. There’s lots of younger bands around with great ideas and lots of energy. They’re being rebellious, and that’s what it was about it the first place. An older band has to find new ways to keep progressing, to find new ways to express themselves, that’s really important. If you don’t come up with anything new, that’s fine, if you just put out two albums and you go on tour 30 years later and play those songs to fans it’s because it’s kind of a trip down nostalgia lane. With D.O.A. there is a sense of nostalgia because we were one of the early pioneers of the whole thing but you have to keep moving forward, otherwise you become a nostalgia act, which is deadly if you ask me; that’s not where you want to be as an artist, you want to keep writing new songs.
Is there a particular way that songs come to you more often when you’re writing?
JK: If I sat down for a couple of days with my guitar I could come up with hundreds of riffs, they could be good or bad or I could be repeating myself (which happens when you’ve written so many songs for as long as I have). The big thing for me is the lyrics; if you get the lyric, that’s the key. When I have the lyric, I can try to write the music to back its sentiment. If it’s a dark lyric, you want something dark sounding. If it’s a happy lyric, then maybe you play D, G and C. If it’s something evil, dark, maybe you play a B-flat and E-flat [laughs]. Some cues are happy and some cues are mean and tough. To come up with a good lyric is a hard thing to do.