The Frowning Clouds: “We’re like brothers, we did everything together.”

Original photo by Jamie Wdziekonski. Handmade mixed-media collage by B. 

The Frowning Clouds’ Gospel Sounds & More from the Church of Scientology is a great record. They unabashedly wear their 60s influences on their sleeve. The songs are sunny, folksy, at times wild and nostalgic; it has a homespun quaintness, their charm and the group’s chemistry coming through loud and clear. In 14-tracks the band captures the beating heart of why we love music, why we make music, and why we try to express ourselves and find ourselves, and our need to connect with each other. It’s all here, raw, flawed and honest, exploring love in its various forms, longings and infatuations. 

The Clouds are an important Australian band that were under-appreciated while active, but over time ignited a garage-rock scene in Djilang/Geelong and beyond, influencing countless creatives. Clouds’ members went on to evolve their craft, innovate and continue to inspire in bands Bananagun, Orb, Traffik island, Ausmuteants, Alien Nosejob and more. Gimmie chatted with Frowning Clouds’ guitarist-vocalist Nick Van Bakel to get an insight into the band and release what you could view as the Clouds’ sophomore album that never came out… until now. Over a decade after it was recorded it still feels fresh and rousing.  

What’s your earliest memory of The Frowning Clouds?

NICK VAN BAKEL: My earliest memory is probably just me and Zak [Olsen] playing a couple of originals, some Velvets & 13th Floor Elevator songs in my bedroom and our friend Danny recording it on his video camera. We took the audio off it for our first recordings [laughs].

I know that the band was very much inspired by the 60s, specifically the period 1964-1967, as well as the Back From The Grave series and Nuggets compilation; when did you first get into that kind of music and what is it about that period that resonated so strongly?

NVB: Probably about 16 or so, we’d heard some more obvious stuff like The Kinks and The Stones etc., but the deep garage comps were like even more outlaw than that. The attitude and spirit of it all. We were real young and those comps are mostly all teen bands, so it was what we wanted to do. Also they’re just amazing songs played with high energy.

How did you learn to write 60s-sounding songs? Previously you’ve told me songwriting for you back then was very much about craft. What kinds of things catch your attention in songs? 

NVB: Well, that was our introduction to playing/writing, so we just did what they we’re all doing. Seeing documentary Dig! just showed that you could go DIY. The crafty bit is like all the girl group stuff of the 60s and pop. There’s a billion 60s songs that all have the main chords and motifs, and that’s where you can get creative and bend your idea into this little 3-minute song. Like the professional writing teams going into a room and making five songs a day.

The Clouds have a new release coming out on Anti Fade, Gospel Sounds & More from the Church of Scientology, which is predominately songs from the 2013 Frowning Clouds European tour tape called Gospel Sounds For The Church Of Scientology, with a handful of singles and unreleased tracks; what do you remember most about that tour?

NVB: A Spanish label called Saturno released our first stuff and organised the tour; the best part of that was going to Nacho and Dario from Saturno’s home town Seville. Seville is a medieval city. Star Wars has been filmed there. It’s where Flamenco was invented. We just loved the lifestyle of having siestas, meeting all their friends in the park in the afternoon, having a relaxed beer and tapas. They were adults to us, so it was cool to see that you could be an adult and have a job and family, but not have the weird Aussie thing of all the milestones like getting married, a house, having kids etc.

During the tour you record in Berlin with King Khan; tell us about the experience. 

NVB: It was fun because he’s also, another big kid [laughs]. He came to one of our shows. We were hanging out at a bar and he invited us to record the next day. We had this super legend, but super regimented, tour driver who was like “C’mon guys we gotta go!” Then Arish being like “Oh, you know what? We should actually do a whole album!” He’s real lightning in a bottle, just having new ideas every five minutes and changing directions. We recorded four songs or so just in the lounge room live with a toy kit and practice amps.

That’s so cool. I’ve seen videos online. There’s a western instrumental you guys did during those sessions that Khan released on an album Let Me Hang You that features spoken word by William S. Burroughs; what do you think of it?

NVB: It was fun to do and it’s funny to have a song credited to me and William s. Burroughs!

What’s it like for you to revisit these songs on the new release now?

NVB: Over lock down I had some good nights getting drunk like an old man listening to all the stuff we did when we were young. Only good memories. I feel proud overall, that we didn’t half ass it.

We’ve been listening to Gospel Sounds & More from the Church of Scientology heaps, we’re really excited the songs are seeing the light of day. What do you like most about the release?

NVB: Well, it’s mostly stuff at the time, we thought we’d leave out and I still feel the same way, but not so precious now after some time away from it.

I also love the art that Millar Wileman (who plays percussion in Bananagun) did for the cover. He’s got a pretty distinct style, he uses a lot of old world-y stuff and has a Monty Python Flying Circus kind of vibe.

Album art by Millar Wileman.

What was the earliest song you wrote in this collection?

NVB: That’s hard to say exactly, maybe ‘Open Your Eyes’? Or probably ‘Stick Fight’. That was about me challenging this guy that my ex left me for to a stick fight [laughs]. Tender days!

I know that a favourite song of yours from the album is ‘All Night Long’; what do you love about it?

NVB: There’s always something about a recording or performance that bugs me, little mistakes, but I think we really nailed it with that take. It’s the band in a nutshell really—raw teenager energy.

I think it’s probably the best performance we ever did. It was the best vibe. We recorded it with Owen [Penglis].

Do you remember writing it?

NVB: I remember Jake [Robertson] came over to work on some songs together and I had the riff for ‘All Night Long’ and we made headway from there. I don’t remember all the details but I remember sitting in my room and writing it. I remember riding around on my bike with it in my head and doing little monos and banging the front tyre down getting real pumped! 

That’s how I think creativity emerges, just when you’re relaxed, like in the shower or washing the dishes. I’ve been running a lot and I get a lot of ideas running.

A lot of the songs (like ‘If Youre Half Then Ill Make You A Whole’, ‘Thought About Her’ & ‘Not the Fool’…) are love songs, yearning for love, breaking up etc. How do the songs reflect you as a person?

NVB: I guess it says I’m a sucker for love [laughs]. Love songs are pretty universal and eternal.

Most things that most people do deep down are trying to find themselves some love. I like emotional content, I can’t get into things as much on an intellectual level, or clever use of language is impressive but what is the transfer? What’s the communication? Besides being wordy usually. Mostly though, I was just trying to make stuff like my heroes, Ray Davies or John Lennon. Lots of genuine expression.

Yourself and Zak were the primary songwriters in The Clouds; what are the differences and similarities you see in both your writing?

NVB: Hard to answer, we both started writing together and grew up together and influenced each other and wrote together. Zak’s definitely more of a poet than I am and more collaborative, but I’m physically stronger and a faster runner, and could easily take him down with a single fly kick!

What do you feel each member brought to the Clouds?

NVB: There’s been member changes, but for the most part I’ll say:

Jake, brings chords, scales and proficiency, punk vibes.

[Jamie] Harmer, allowed us to write in more open terrain because he had a broader pallet. (Both Jake and Harmer were like phase two, the best bit).

Daff [Gravolin] is like a studio player, he can do anything in any style, but you can still tell it’s him. There’s only one Daff!

Zak is the researcher, finding all the awesome records and writing awesome tunes. 

We’d really need all night to cover this properly cos we’re like brothers, we did everything together. Everyone brought their own little things to the party. They are all super funny too.

The Frowning Clouds really inspired a lot of other bands that came after you; what are you feelings about this?

NVB: Can only be a good thing! We really got so lucky with our friend circle. We got a bit territorial sometimes which is kinda funny and fine for teenagers to do. 

When we first started, Geelong had just punk and hardcore gigs that we used to go to. The first one that I went to, I remember getting punched in the head in the mosh pit [laughs]. I was just like, ‘Fuck these guys!’ Heaps of them had big brothers and they were just these big punk bully dudes. We all just got bitten by the 60s bug because it was the coolest thing that we had heard. It does seem like we got the ball rolling for people to follow suit. 

Is there anything that you didn’t appreciate back then that you do now?

NVB: I have to give huge props to Katie Jones who saw us play when we’re underage and volunteered to drive us around Australia for four years; five rude, stinky kids basically. She was beyond generous to us. Did so much for us and never asked for anything in return. The real Queen of The Barwon Club, always will be.

The Frowning Clouds seem like they were a really tight knit gang; tell us about a funny Clouds moment.

NVB: I remember opening for Little Red at the Toff and we got so drunk in the green room and started throwing crates of wine bottles out the 4th story window [laughs]. We’d honestly get canceled so fast nowadays. It felt like actual family though, thick n thin, and The Living Eyes were our little brothers.

Are you going to play any shows for the album?

NVB: We’re hoping to! Bananagun are moving overseas to Portugal for a bit to do a bunch of touring, but we haven’t bought tickets yet. I’m hoping we can squeeze The Frowning Clouds stuff in before that happens. I’m working on album number two for Bananagun. 

Awesome! What have you been listening to lately?

NVB: I’ve been listening to a lot of Beach Boys this morning, it’s been a while. I gave Pet Sounds a spin. I’ve been listening to a lot of Sun Ra and spiritual jazz stuff. I’ve been listening o a lot of Gamelan music and Indonesian folk. I’ve been listening to a lot of 60s garage again over the last few months because putting together this release has reawakened my fire for it! 

Gospel Sounds & More from the Church of Scientology is out August 5th, 2022 on Anti Fade Records. PRE-ORDER HERE.

Vintage Crop’s new song and clip ‘double slants’: “‘The keys to the universe’ is the funniest thing to say at the start of a song!”

Original photo by Leland Buckle. Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

It’s exciting times, Geelong’s Vintage Crop have a new record on the horizon—Kibitzer—and Gimmie are here to share the first single and clip with you! Their fourth album of snappy punk has themes of resilience, identity and acceptance, while musically a welcomed extra dose of melody, and the introduction of horns on a couple of the tracks. Gimmie spoke to vocalist Jack Cherry. 

JACK CHERRY: We’re really happy with how the new record sounds. The songwriting feels like something to be excited about.

The album Is called Kibitzer! That’s a Yiddish word, right? It’s a term for a spectator, usually one who offers advice or commentary, which is kind of what you guys do with your songs.

JC: Yeah. Last year I got into playing chess and that’s a term used in chess. I thought it was too good of a word not to use for something else. It’s a cool looking word, has a great meaning and I felt like it connected with what I do lyrically. It seemed to fit.

What got you into playing chess?

JC: I went to a friend’s place and he asked me for a game. I haven’t played since I was ten or eleven playing with dad. It was horrible playing with dad because he would not let anyone else win. I threw it away and never wanted to play chess because it is so hard. When I played against my friend, about two years ago, I was like ‘This is a really interesting game.’ I got carried away with all the different strategies and techniques, it was really engaging. I don’t play as much any more, it was really just a hot minute where I really got into chess, and some of the ideas really stuck around.

That would explain the album art work as well.

JC: Yes! We had a different idea for the album art that was literally a chess board but we thought it was a bit obvious and it didn’t click with what we were doing, so we didn’t use it. There’s definitely visual themes of chess as well. We had Robin Roche do the art again, they did Serve to Serve Again for us. We always love his work. He makes things look simple but there’s so much detail in them, that’s how we feel about the songs as well; simple sounding songs but there’s a lot in there when you listen to it. We think his artwork matches the songs.

Album art by Robin Roche.

How long were you writing this collection of songs for?

JC: As with anything we do, it starts pretty much right after the last one finishes. The first couple of ideas happened towards the end of 2020, we had two or three solid songs that we were happy with. Then it took all of 2021 to write another seven that we were happy with. So, there was the initial push. We didn’t really record the album until November 2021. Two of the songs were finished just the week before. 

Do you find your songs change very much during the process?

JC: To be honest, I think they change after even longer. We have songs from the first two records that we still play live and we find those songs have morphed a lot since we first recorded them but a lot of the newer stuff feels a bit more finished. We took that lesson from the first two albums of, well, we’ll make sure that we really investigate these songs and make sure we have all the parts that we want to play. I feel like with New Age in particular we went in and recorded it straight away without developing the songs to their fullest extent. We’re able to now write a song and finish it, really finish it earlier.

The new album sounds a lot more melodic to me.

JC: Yeah, that was conscious as well. Tyler our drummer had said to me, maybe eight months before we were set to start really writing the album, ‘This time let’s get a producer in and get someone to really push us to do different things.’ I was so deeply offended… in a nice way, that he would suggest that. Out of spite I started to write melodies and tried to actually sing a bit to prove that I could do it and we don’t need a producer [laughs]. It’s a good push for us. Three albums of doing the same thing, it’s nice to have the fourth one where we branch out a bit. Same with the trumpet on a few of the tracks, we really wanted to play with some new tools. 

I noticed that on Kibitzer you almost sing! 

JC: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s scary to fully let go but it’s nice to have a go. I’d rather it be a flop and those sort of songs not hit as well but have tried it, then do the same thing and get the same result.

They totally did hit though! Your singing and the trumpet were things that got my attention.

JC: Thank you, that’s the reaction we’re looking for. Glad it worked! I think it keeps it fun for everyone, not just us. 

You mentioned having a producer for this record; it was Jasper Jolley?

JC: Yeah, Jasper recorded it. Jasper is in Bones And Jones. He is a friend of ours, he grew up in Geelong as well, we’ve been friends for ten years or so. We’ve always been in similar circles but because Bones And Jones’ music is a little different to ours we thought recording with Jasper might make us sound like them, which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just we have our own sound and we don’t want to mess with it too much. Recording with him was a treat though, everything sounds amazing, he was so patient. I think we want to work with him again because it was so good. He didn’t really produce, he didn’t offer a whole lot of advice but he was a good set of ears and a good set of hands. 

Everything was recorded in one session?

JC: Yeah, we set up and started recording at 11am and was finished doing vocals by 7:30pm. It was eight and a half to nine hours in total and we had everything done. 

Was that out of necessity? Was it because you wanted it to capture a spontaneity? Or the vibe you have live? Sometimes I see bands I love live and they’re amazing but then I hear the same songs recorded and it disappoints me because it feels pretty lifeless.

JC: Because they’ve spent seven hours choosing a guitar sound [laughs]. I think for us, it’s not to capture anything in particular, but we like to record together. None of us have the patience to do it over more than one day [laughs]. We have the songs ready, we just want to go in, get them done and get the ball rolling cos there’s not much we can do after the initial recording, we do it all at once and then there’s only vocals and keyboard left. We don’t want to muck around adding too much to it because anything else we add we probably can’t play live and tonally it’s a very simple sound, it’s not like we have to find the right tone or tune the snare a certain way; it’s just going to sound like us because it’s us playing it. 

Lyrically, themes on the album have to do with resilience, acceptance, accepting your own limitations; were these things written from things you were experiencing in your own life? Often your songs are commentary and observations of other people’s experiences.

JC: Yeah, I find that with themes for albums, I develop them after I’m finished. I don’t try and dissect anything I’ve written a whole lot. Now it’s all finished I can look back and really figure out what I was trying to say. I think that looking inwards is more so a reflection of all of us settling in to full-time work and branching out, Tyler just bought house, my partner and I live together and we’re looking at buying somewhere as well—it’s a get-on-with-it attitude. 

Everyone else is in the same boat and it’s just how you react to things, if you can try your best to be positive and just keep on going, because that’s really all you can do. A lot of times you don’t have too much control over life, the best way is to roll with it. That’s a lot of what I’ve been thinking about at the moment. 

Maybe I will be in this job for fifteen or twenty years, or if I leave this job I’ll be in another job for fifteen or twenty years, thirty years or fifty. While it’s crushing to think that I’ll never be a rock star playing stadiums around the world, at least I have a job, somewhere to be and something to do, that’s all I can do.

I work another job as well as doing all the Gimmie stuff as well. My job pays my bills and then doing Gimmie we never have to compromise, we can keep it advertisement free and do whatever we want with it. It’s a wonderful thing not having to compromise on your art.

JC: For sure. With the band we’re paying for pretty much everything and we’re in control of everything, it’s our outlet. That’s the way that we can express those feelings, through the band. It makes it worthwhile in the end. Working 40 hours a week doing something you don’t really want to do, but the rest of your time you do get to spend doing what you want to do and you can afford to do it and it’s comfortable. It’s great. 

We’re premiering the song and clip for ‘Double Slants’! I love the first line of the song especially: He’s got the keys to the universe / and they’re hanging from his belt loop. It’s such strong imagery.

JC: I thought it was a really good fusing of reality and fantasy. “The keys to the universe” is the funniest thing to say at the start of a song! If you take those abstract thoughts and ground them in reality somehow it makes it hit a bit more. 

The whole song isn’t about anyone in particular, it’s an adversarial song. It’s nice to be able to poke fun at someone that everyone can relate to, everyone’s got that sort of person in their life. That’s all I can really give you; it just happens.

As Vintage Crop songs are often about everyday kinds of things, having that fantasy element in there was another unexpected surprise. Being surprised by music and art is one of my favourite things.

JC: That’s true. The belt loop part was a play on… that seems to be the trend, that for some reason people hang their keys on their belt loop, which is a little dig; to me, I just don’t get it. 

Being sardonic in lyrics is also another Vintage Crop signature. 

JC: Yeah! [laughs]. 

We love the clip for ‘Double Slants’! In it you get kidnapped; what do you remember from shooting it?

JC: We filmed most of it on the road out the front of the house I grew up in – which was totally coincidental! We just needed somewhere with a quiet road and no house, it just happened to fit the bill. It was actually a pretty painful day for me in the end; I was manhandled, thrown around and rolled down a few hills. But Leland [Buckle] did such a great job with it that it was worth it! 

We’d previously worked with him on the clip for ‘The North’, so we were naturally pretty keen to work with him again. We really like a lot of his reference points for filming and editing, he’s got great taste and a bit of an unusual eye which is something that you just can’t put a price on. We spoke briefly about a rough concept for the video and then by the end of the day he had taken the ball and run with it. We trust him with the vision and pretty much everything you see in the video is straight from his brain.

What’s your favourite moment from the clip?

My favourite moment of the clip is probably the woman in the front seat of the car smiling back at the camera in the front seat. A brilliant piece of irony and it just makes me laugh every time. 

Vintage Crop’s new album, “KIBITZER” is out June 24th through Anti Fade Records (AUS) – pre-order HERE – and Upset! The Rhythm (UK).

Duo Modal Melodies’ debut single ‘Occupants’ – “I was hoping for a positive outcome or something good to happen after a difficult time.”

Photo: Danielle Hakim. Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Modal Melodies is a collaboration between Violetta Del Conte-Race (Primo!/The Glass Picture) & Jake Robertson (Alien Nosejob, etc.) made in the spirit of fun and experimentation without rules, they found in each other their biggest inspiration. 

Gimmie are premiering album opener ‘Occupants’, a joyful electronic synth-pop romp, with Vio’s vocals welcoming, intimate and daydreamy. We chatted with Jake and Vio.

How did the project get started?

JAKE: I approached Vio at Jerkfest 2021. I’ve always been a pretty strong admirer of her songwriting and ability to play and sing said songs. I had a bunch of songs that I was struggling with, this was around the last time I was speaking to you, I felt like all of my songs were sounding the same. So, I thought I’d hit up Vio and see if she could give us a hand with some stuff and if I could return the favour. I don’t know if it was ever intended to be a full album, it just panned out like that because the workflow was so languid. It was so smooth, I felt like it was no effort whatsoever to do this, probably because Vio and I work in a similar method.

VIO: Yeah, it was really easy to work together. It got even easier as it went along. We started out with a couple of ideas then started adding more ideas and realised that any ideas we could use; everything we shared with each other we were like, ‘We can do something with that!’ 

JAKE: We had very limited restrictions. There was no wrong answers.

You told me that the only rule for Modal Melodies is that it was only going to be a recorded project and that you’ll never play live.

JAKE: [Laughs] You know, rules can be broken. I always do this, where I go to record with someone and it turns into a live thing.

So Modal Melodies might play live?

JAKE: [Laughs] I’m going to say, no.

VIO: We haven’t talked about it. The cool thing with having the idea of not playing live meant that we could just play as many instruments as we wanted, add as many layers and not have to worry how we would actually do it if we wanted to play it live. It freed us up in that way. That meant that we could push ourselves. There was a song that we did two key changes in; I don’t think I’ve ever done a key change in a song ever. That was really fun! Just trying new things out.

JAKE: The way that we put the songs together was how I put demos together when I’m by myself. I’d never really shown anyone that process before. It felt a little bit weird recording it like that, it felt like demos the entire time, which made me more a little bit loosey-goosey with stuff [laughs]. Did you feel like that Vio? 

VIO: Do you mean adding stuff?

JAKE: Adding stuff. Or even just the writing. I guess because it was so free-flowing there literally wasn’t a single ‘No, let’s not put that in there.’ There was a couple of ‘Hey, we should take out that guitar or put in this guitar’ – the editing that goes with every recording. Because there were no rules or restrictions, I felt like I was in a demo process the entire time. It wasn’t until listening to the song back that I was like, ‘Whoa, this is the whole finished song!’

You mentioned you have a process; what is that process?

JAKE: We recorded the Modal Melodies stuff in the same way that I would write a song, where I would do it in loops of bits and pieces and layer different parts over the top of each other as opposed to when I would rerecord those demos into a album for a different project and do everything live or as live as possible, if it’s Alien Nosejob. So, I play drums along to the entire song. Or if it’s a three-minute guitar song record the entire three-minute guitar, whereas a lot of the songs Vio and I did were looped-based. Some songs we’d play the entire song on guitar or both of us have guitars plugged in, play an entire three-minute song then cut up little bits and pieces, like use the the 20 second or 30 second mark of Vio’s guitar and then the 40 second mark of my guitar. I’ve never done that with another person before, it was very easygoing and a free-flowing was of doing things. 

What’s your usual process Vio?

VIO: With Primo! a lot of the songs start with Xanthe or I bringing in an idea and we’ll learn it together or expand on it, maybe if there’s a verse and no chorus. Or maybe do a demo. Before this I was just using GarageBand demos and would send them to everyone. 

With Modal Melodies, like Jake was saying… I think that’s why it came together so fast because there wasn’t that extra step of taking it in to a group of other people and trying to make that live. It’s done already and you’re sort of shocked it’s already finished [laughs]. 

JAKE: A lot of this was done during lockdown when we couldn’t see each other, so we would email each other being like, ‘Let’s try and have a part that sounds like this or this song.’ It’d be, ‘I really like how this song from the 80s has a whistle in it.’ That’s a bad example though because there is no whistling, but something like that. 

Vio, how do you inspire each other musically? Last time I spoke with Jake he told me that one thing he really admired about what you do musically, is that you give things space, you know where things can breathe as opposed to when he makes stuff and it’s really jam packed. You’re the opposite in that way?

VIO: Yeah, I would agree with that. It was cool for me because I always feel that I work quite simply. I often repeat things a lot. If there was an idea that I initially brought in, I was always amazed by how much we could expand on it. I really loved what he added to all of the songs; I never would have thought of those things myself. All of the songs became better through our collaboration. 

I really love your singing on this album.

VIO: Thank you!

There’s so many really beautiful moments. I love how sound-wise it has an 80s feel but then I can totally hear elements of what each of you do in your other projects shine through. It definitely has it’s own sound though.

JAKE: Each of us had three or four half written songs we brought in. Before we got in the room together (it was a lockdown before we could actually meet up) there was so many emails back-and-forth, with each email having a YouTube playlist; we were sending each other different songs, different influences, so many songs I’d never heard of before. When Vio sent them to me I was like, ‘I’ll try and make something in the style of this.’ 

There was one song that we did instrumentally here that we recorded, we had no vocals and we went for a walk and then Vio went home, three hours later she sent me the recorded words and it was about the tawny frogmouths that we saw a couple hours before on our walk. I feel like you should talk about this Vio, because your lyrics are so much more of a large percentage than mine. It was really cool, I felt like the next day I was reliving the previous day from the words that Vio had written, which was real nice. 

What’s that song called?

JAKE: ‘Clearer Path To Hutton Street’, which is the street I live on.

VIO:  I think it’s ‘Fourth Stage’ Jake!

JAKE: It is? Oh, it is! It’s ‘Fourth Stage’. 

VIO: ‘Clearer Path…’ is another reference to your house, although the lyrics weren’t about your house but somehow the title ended up being about your house [laughs]. 

JAKE: I think it might have been one of the things where you record something on an iPhone and it says the location. I think it said ‘Clearer Path’ then the location was Hutton Street and I sent it to Billy [Gardener – Anti Fade Records] as a demo. He was like ‘Damn – A Clearer Path To Hutton Street – what a title!’ So, I kept it. 

We’re excited to be premiering Modal Melodies debut single ‘Occupants’!

JAKE: That’s one of Vio’s.

VIO: That was the first song that we ever worked on. It was an idea that I had on keyboard and I had some singing for it already; very minimal keys and vocals. I wrote it with my friend in mind, who is also my housemate. That’s where the title came from, we live in the same house…

JAKE: And, is your bandmate [in The Glass Picture]!

VIO: Yes, she’s also my bandmate Lucy [Emanuel]. I wrote it when we were coming out of lockdown at the start of last year. It’s really just me trying to write something to look forward to, my idea was to write something where I was hoping for a positive outcome or something good to happen after a difficult time.

It definitely has that feel and it’s a really cool way to kick off the Modal Melodies album.

VIO: I feel that was really musically interesting, to see what Jake came up with on the software synth; we worked on that a lot. 

When you were sending songs back-and-forth to each other over email was there anything that surprised you?

VIO: I found the song ‘Driving’ quite surprising because it was supposed to be a surprise, we did a bit of an experiment where Jake wrote all the music for that, he had a whole track with no singing and we were like, ok, let’s email each other vocals but not listen to the other person’s vocals until we’d done our own. It was interesting to see how different they would be or how different the melodies would be that we’d come up with. The only lyrical guideline is that it would be about driving, because it’s reminding me of it.

It sounds like you had a lot of fun making the album and there was a lot of experimentation. 

JAKE: It was super fun! Not to continually talk about lockdown, but we’d basically spent a year not seeing anybody and being locked in our rooms. Then it was our choice to lock ourselves in the room to do this, it was almost like a liberating thing [laughs]. It was experimental. It’s a hard one because I feel like it’s each of our ideas completely unfiltered and neither of us said no to the other person. What’s the style of writing called that probably [Jack] Kerouac did where it’s just continuous typing? Stream of consciousness kind of thing. Did you feel that Vio?

VIO: Yeah, I reckon, just because it flowed really easily that lends itself to that stream of consciousness approach. It already feels like you’re in it and it’s just a continuation. 

You mentioned that you were sending songs by other artists to each other inspiring your songwriting; what were some of them that you really enjoyed?

JAKE: The first email that Vio sent me was a Saâda Bonaire track. Our song ‘Starting Point’ was written after Vio sending me that. And what was that later era Wire song? I’m one of those people that only listen to the first three Wire records. 

VIO: It’s on the album with the purple cover… A Bell Is A Cup.

JAKE: Yeah, yeah. ‘Follow the Locust’! Vio sent me so many things I’d never heard of.

VIO: The songs Jake sent have become some of my favourite songs, like ‘Double Heart’ by Robert Rental. 

JAKE: Oh yeah, that’s amazing!

VIO: And that Vivien Vee song ‘Higher’ is so good. 

JAKE: That was kind of in my mind for the slow disco song… with the Italo disco Eurodisco-thing in mind. We wrote a few uplifters on there as well as a rocker, which surprised me. 

Because several of the songs were done from each of our houses, songs like ‘Clearer Path…” and ‘The Sun’ has that arpeggio in it… I was surprised at that when first hearing it, even though it was 50/50 my album. It was just exciting. For me to hear what Vio was coming up with. 

Vio, you did the artwork for the album?

VIO: The painting has sheet music on it, and I can barely read sheet music. I was inspired by the Modal Melodies text which Jake came up with. He wanted to put a lot of clefs and notes in it, we didn’t end up doing that but the painting was inspired by that. Jake sent me a drawing on my phone and I redrew it and put it into illustrator. I guess that was collaborative as well. 

Where did the name come from?

JAKE: The first demo that I did had the name Modal Melodies, then Vio suggested it as the band name instead. We changed the song name to ‘Changing Lights’ which is the closer on the album. I called it Modal Melodies because it was the first song that I wrote on paper first, I tried to write it using my bodgey music writing skills, which is very minimal. I came up with the name before I came up with the song. 

Jake mentioned earlier that you write a lot of the lyrics, Vio?

VIO: Yeah. I wrote all through the process. Usually I’m really slow with lyrics but for some reason this time it didn’t happen. Often if Jake sent me a demo I would instantly get an idea, or even with just what it sounded like, with ‘Driving’, I think ‘Modal Melodies’ as well… I’ve never really experienced that before, writing to something that is already made, the music being made like that. I think it changes how you write. It’s challenging as well. You might not do what you naturally do when you’re just sitting down with an instrument and singing along with it. 

That’s something we both talked about as well, where we were both maybe stuck in a rut with our songwriting, just doing the same things that were quite instinctive, not knowing how it get out of that. 

JAKE: Before I approached you I felt the same as when I used to teach guitar. When I tried to write a song I would often find myself putting in little bits of ‘Layla’ [Eric Clapton] or whatever the student wanted to learn. I found myself doing that with my own songs because it’s all I ever tried to write. When I approached you, I was in desperate want of collaboration with you! 

VIO: I’m glad it worked out! [laughs].

JAKE: Me too! [laughs].

What’s your current favourite song from your record?

JAKE: I tend to like the ones that I had the least to do with, like ‘In The Rain’ and ‘The Sun’. I would say ‘Driving’ was the most 50/50 song I’ve ever been a part of, especially the process of recording it as well—it felt real special. That’s a favourite.

Why did it feel special?

JAKE: As Vio mentioned before, we wrote several parts of the songs without the other person hearing it and then put it all together when we were in the same room, hearing it for the first time together when we played it back. I’m not sure if other people will have the same feelings when they hear it but it makes me think of how we wrote it and what we were doing that day. 

VIO: Yeah, that’s one of mine too. It was cool because it could have been the first time that we both played guitars at the same time. We both just improvised some stuff. It was a really fun experience. I also like the songs that Jake sings on, because I do sing a lot.

JAKE: My voice is all like UUUGH! [laughs] and Vio is like [makes an angelic sound] Aaaaaah!

VIO: [Laughs].

I like the parts where you sing together. 

JAKE: Yeah, Vio kept trying to get me to do that… Vio, I apologise for how difficult I made that for you [laughs]. We’ll have to do it on album two!

Anything else you want to tell me about this project?

JAKE: We did a clip! I was watching a lot of Secret Life Of Us and me and Vio shot a clip in St. Kilda where they shot SLOU. Looking forward to that one coming out!

VIO: It features dancing by us [laughs].

JAKE: Yes, we made up a dance routine! [laughs].

MODAL MELODIES debut full length, self-titled album from May 13th, 2022 on Anti Fade Records (AUS).

Alien Nosejob’s Jake Robertson on new record, Paint It Clear: “Hopefully it will mean something to somebody.”

Original pic by Carolyn Hawkins. Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

One of our favourite creators, Jake Robertson (you might know him from Ausmuteants, Hierophants, School Damage, Swab, Drug Sweat, SMARTS and more) is back with a new album for his solo alter-ego project Alien Nosejob. Paint It Clear is ANJ’s fourth full-length. 11 brilliant tracks mixing post-punk with 80’s new wave and even a little disco. Recorded by Mikey Young, the record has ANJ sounding more dynamic and brighter than ever. Gimmie loves Jake’s quirky, humorous and wry observational lyrics and skilful songcraft. We’re excited to share with you, the first track released from the ANJ camp in thirteen months ‘Leather Gunn’ along with our chat with Jake, a sneak peek insight into the forthcoming album.

JAKE ROBERTSON: I’ve been working a lot, it’s taken a toll, I’m basically always tired. I still have a job, which half of my friends don’t since Covid, so I’m pretty lucky in that respect. It’s hard to come home and be motivated to do anything.

When we spoke the other day, you mentioned that you’ve been having a little bit of a break creatively, and that you’ve spent most of your spare time just chilling watching TV and reading.

JR: Yeah. I’ve been reading a bunch, and watching heaps of TV. Kerry my housemate, when he moved in, he brought a giant TV with him; we’ve been going to town on it. It’s the first time that I’ve had a television in ten years—I’m lovin’ it! [laughs]. It’s so good. I’m still writing heaps; I’m constantly writing in-between watching The Righteous Gemstones or whatever.

I feel like maybe a year ago, when I was working a little bit less, I’d finish work, come home and do music for a bit, then go see some mates. Since lockdown has happened, I can’t really see friends, and sometimes can’t be bothered doing music. It’s weird, like I’ve kind of got extra time, but I don’t [laughs].

I feel like you’ve been pretty prolific and released a lot over the last few years though.

JR: Yeah, I have. But everything I’ve released, even the album you’re interviewing me about, most of that was written a while ago. I probably would have recorded it around the time the last Gimmie interview happened.

Yeah, it was around November 2020.

JR: Yeah, that was when I recorded it, but some of the songs were written around 2015, at least the embryonic versions. I’ve just touched them up a little bit.

Having a bunch of songs you’ve written over a long period of time, how did you decide which ones to use for this record Paint It Clear?

JR: The majority of the stuff that I do under the Alien Nosejob name was written with other bands in mind. One or two of them were potentially going to be an Ausmuteants song back in the day. One of them was going to be a Leather Towel song. I have a little log of all my half-finished demos that is written up and pasted on my wall. Every now and then I’ll listen back to something and go, yeah, I could do something with this.

It’s interesting that you said a few of the songs were written with other projects in mind, I had wonder that, because I got that feeling from listening to the album. Jhonny and I were talking about how it doesn’t have one particular sound like other Nosejob releases. I commented that tracks sounded like a Ausmuteants track or even Hierophants or even reminded me of the Nosejob Italo-disco album. The album feels a little like an amalgamation of all the stuff you’ve done.

JR: Yeah, kind of. When I was putting it together, I was trying to be conscious of not making it sound like it’s being too influenced by something else, even though there’s definitely a couple of songs where I’m like, ‘Oh, I was listening to a lot of The Cure’ [laughs]. I haven’t listened to it since I got the test pressing in February. It’s like The Cure with a crappy singer, not Robbie Smith [laughs]. Those two songs are ‘Clear As Paint’ and ‘Duplicating Satan’, which is the Italo-disco-sounding one you were talking about; I remember trying to make it sound like ‘The Walk’ by The Cure, one of their singles from 1983-ish. Hopefully it doesn’t actually sound like it, but I was definitely going for it.

I can totally hear the in there. What can you tell us about the album’s title Paint It Clear?

JR: [Laughs] I literally just jumbled the words of the song ‘Clear As Paint’ around. That song and the title, it was an amateur attempt of a contranym, like painting something clear. If you painted something clear it could be see-through, like glass.

Nice. You mentioned you’ve been watching a lot of TV and films. I love movies, I have since I was a kid. I’d go to the video shop with my mum and we’d get out twenty VHS is $20 for the week. What have you been watching?

JR: We had a very similar upbringing, Bianca. We’d get seven weeklies for $7; you’d pick them up on a Thursday, spend the week watching them and then pick up another seven when you brought those back the following week. I did that from when I was about eight until I was eighteen. It would be a weird week if I didn’t get out at least three videos.

Rad! Whenever I look at those 1001 movies you have to see before you die or 100 best movies of the 80’s and 90’s lists, I’ve seen most of them except for a small handful of titles.

JR: In that 1001 movie list there’s probably another 800 I’d need to see! [laughs]. I’d watch and lot but also rewatch a lot.

Pic by Carolyn Hawkins.

What are some of your favourite movies?

JR: One of my favourite movies lately, because I’ve just rewatched it is, Blue Murder, the mini-series. I created a Letterboxd account the other day, so I was actually thinking about this. I really like the movie The Vanishing, it’s a Dutch one. It’s good if you’re a fan of eerie-ish horror movies. It’s so good. Not the remake with Kiefer Sutherland, but the original. I watched Blood Simple with my housemate, it was awesome, I’ve never seen it before. Movies! Woo! [laughs]. I love Mean Girls and stuff like that as well.

We were talking about comic books before too; I was a really big fan of Ghost World growing up and still am now.

I love ­Ghost World too, and the Mean Girls movie is a classic!

JR: You have to mix up the arty ones with the blockbusters.

For sure. I can’t watch too much of anything at once, mixing things up is essential. For example, if I’ve watched a run of horror movies or true crime, I have to watch something nice and fun and not dark and brutal.

JR: Yeah, it’s time for a Pixar movie! [laughs]. Pixar know how to rip your heart out more than anything else. I feel like the only time that I shed a tear is when I’m watching a Pixar movie [laughs]. The last time I got on a plane, which seems like a long time ago now, I thought it would be a good time to watch the Pixar movie Up. I feel very sorry for the person that was sitting next to me because I was crying, slobbering all over them [laughs].

Awww [laughter]. So, the first single for your album will be ‘Leather Gunn’…

JR: Yeah, it is. When Billy [Anti Fade], Sam [Feel It Records] and I were thinking of what the first single off the album should be, we were like, we’ll each say our top three. That wasn’t in mine, but they both had it in theirs, they have the outsider perspective. To me, all of the songs, I just shit them out and I’m done with it [laughs], I don’t think about them anymore. They both had that song first, so I was like, ok, let’s do that one first.

What was happening when you wrote it?

JR: John Douglas who plays in Leather Towel with me, he was moving back to Australia from New Zealand and we were talking about doing a new Leather Towel album. I was trying to come up with something that sounded different to the first album; that was the only song that I wrote for it. We played two or three gigs, then Covid happened and he went back to New Zealand. We didn’t even get to try that song as a band. It seemed at the point where it probably wouldn’t happened, so I made it a Nosejob song. I kept the ‘Leather’ in there as a nod to that, and the ‘Gunn’ was because the original demo of it, the guitar was single note surfy, like a Peter Gunn da na da na da na na na. Lyrically, it’s about people not doing what they’re told no matter how minuscule and pointless or petty the thing they’re not doing is.

What are the songs the you really love on the album?

JR: I really like ‘Duplicating Satan’.

Was that one of the songs on you top three list?

JR: My list was ‘Duplicating Satan’ and ‘King’s Gambit’ (which will be the second one released, I wrote it in 2015 but never put lyrics to it) that was probably my best written song on the album, it took me ages to write it. The other song is the last one ‘Bite My Tongue’. I get why that wouldn’t be a not-released-before-the-album-comes-out one. That’s another one that took me ages to write. It took me ages to learn how to play it too. ‘Bite My Tongue’ and a few songs that I have, are about… you know when you have a thought or a way of feeling about a certain situation but you can’t find the words to get it out. It’s almost like a block and you just can’t say your mind. It’s a feeling I have sometimes, I can’t even tell myself what it is. Basically, it’s about a mental block and not being able to get your words out properly.

I get that, it makes sense.

JR: Kind of, I think I was trying to make sense of it in the song. Hopefully it will mean something to somebody.

I really love the song ‘Jetlagging’ on the album.

JR: That one was originally written with Ausmuteants in mind, I wrote the lyrics on an Ausmuteants tour, travelling 400kms a day and just eating the same meal over and over again. It’s a very my-first-tour, Tours’R’Us or Tours For Dummies lyrics! [laughs]. I really love that song too.

Also, I love ‘The Butcher’ which is before ‘Jetlagging’ in the album sequencing.

JR: A couple of years ago, I was getting obsessed with Terry Hall and Fun Boy Three. I was trying to write something a little bit from that camp, and The Zombies’ song called ‘The Butcher’ as well; it was definitely an influence on it, but I didn’t mean to call it the same song [laughs]… I’m kind of noticing that now.

I got Mikey [Young] to record the drums; he recorded the drums, bass and guitar for the album. Except for ‘Duplicating Satan’ which I recorded at home, and ‘The Butcher’. I couldn’t work out what I had played in the demo, I had to drag the demo out and stretch it over the drums that I played. I don’t think anyone else will notice this, but if you listen closely the drums and the rest of the music keeps on going out of time because of that. I tried to relearn how to play it, but after a while I was like, I can’t be bothered! [laughs].

Is it weird sometimes listening back to your songs and being able to remember what was happening in your life or what you were doing at the time of writing or recording it? Kind of like having a sonic diary.

JR: Yeah, it is. I might think something is not about something, but it will be. I’ll generally listen to an album that I’ve done when I get it on record, and that’s it. I actually listened to an Ausmuteants album, Amusements, the other day, it was the first time since we recorded it. It was a nice feeling; I definitely like it more than I thought I would. It was good to have an eight-year distance of not hearing it, it was recorded in 2012 or 2013. I won’t rush to listen to it again [laughs], but I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I did.

Album art by Nicky Minus.

Who did the album art for Paint It Clear?

JR: How good is it?!

Really, really good! That’s why I was asking, it’s very cool.

JR: It was done by Nicky Minus. They grew up in Hornsby in New South Wales, but they’re living in Melbourne now, and does a lot of work for the Worker’s Art Collective doing a lot of work for Union. I got onto them by following Sam Wallman who is a comic book artist/cartoonist.

Is that the same Sam who has done artwork for you before?

JR: Yeah, he did the first Ausmuteants 7 inch in 2010. I’ve been following his stuff before then, he’s besties with Nicky, I saw their stuff through that and was blown away by it. I just bought some of their art for my wall, and because I look at it every day, I was like, it could suit this album. They were into it, they wanted to make something from scratch. I’m glad they did and am super happy with the way it turned out.

What else have you been up to of late?

JR: I’ve been doing some home-recording with Vio [Violetta DelConte Race] from Primo! I’ve loved her songwriting for ages, she has a good idea of space, if it doesn’t need to be played, she won’t; the way I play is the opposite of that [laughs]. It’s kind of inspired by Michael Rother, and sounds basically like School Damage and Primo! If I could sound half as good as Primo! I’d be happy. It’s called Modal Melodies. The only rule of the project is that we’re not allowed to play live, it’s just a recording thing.

Cool! I can’t wait to hear that. I love Primo! too. They’re all such incredible songwriters.

JR: There’s a new Swab album around the corner too coming out on the label Hardcore Victim in around January or February. And, I’m playing drums on the new Ill Globo album!

Alien Nosejob’s Paint It Clear is out November 12. Pre-order now: Anti Fade (AUS) and Feel It Records (USA).

Anti Fade are also offering a bundle deal, including Paint It Clear on vinyl, the last record Once Again The Present Becomes The Past on cassette and a t-shirt and a ANJ shirt! Get it HERE.

Read another Gimmie interview with Jake: Alien Nosejob: “I wanted to make it sound like a mixtape that you’d give to your friends”

Please check out: aliennosejob.bandcamp.com

Power Supply: In The Time of The Sabre-toothed tiger

Photo: Matt Weston. Handmade collage by B.

Power Supply have come together to bring us an inspired record for grim times. The Naarm/Melbourne group features Leon Stackpole (The Sailors), Richard Stanley (Drug Sweat), Per Bystrom (Voice Imitator) and Mikey Young (The Green Child). In the Time of the Sabre-toothed Tiger packs a one two punch with its bright melodies and first-class songwriting. An invigorated, yet chilled and charming style of garage rock, that will have you smiling; the sincere and entertaining lyrics a highlight.

Gimmie are excited to premiere first single ‘Infinity’! We chat with vocalist-guitarist Leon about the track and forthcoming album, out October 22, a co-release between Anti Fade and Goner Records.

We’ve been listening to the new Power Supply album In the Time of the Sabre-toothed Tiger on high rotation all week. It’s such an incredible record. It has a really bright feel to it and it’s made us really happy. In grim times, like the world has been experiencing of late, it’s nice to have something like your record to lift the mood.

LEON STACKPOLE: That’s really nice to hear. It makes me feel happy too.

When I recently spoke to Billy from Anti Fade Records (who is putting the record out) he told me that you’re one of the funniest guys he knows. How important is humour in your life?

LS: It’s through everything really for me. I really like music that has a sense of humour. I also like music that is serious too, but I think that some of my favourite stuff has that extra little bit, that humour, in it. I gravitate towards those sorts of things.

One of the things that I really love about Power Supply is your lyrics. There is a comedy in there, but then there is also introspection and a lot of thought behind it.

LS: I think you could say that… [pauses]. Sorry, I’m just walking past my wife in the garden.

Lovely!

LS: There is humour. The lyrics that are on there are probably no particular theme, yeah?

I feel like it’s a real collection of thoughts, from everywhere, just from living life.

LS: Yeah, there is. I made up all of the album pretty much. Probably the ones that get on there are the ones that are the least ridiculous [laughs]. Some of the songs I’d take to rehearsal to play to the guys and they’d just go, “Oh my god, what is that?” [laughs]. They may consider it to play live once in a while, but other than that they just go, “All right, it’s a bit too absurd.”

[Laughter]. I understand that when you got back into the shed to write the record that “jams became songs, jokes became lyrics”; what is one of your favourite jokes that became a lyric?

LS: I think the ‘Time of the Sabre-toothed Tiger’ one makes me laugh. It comes from the concept of when people talk about anthropology and evolution, these sorts of concepts, and how all of our behaviours go back to early humans, back in the time of the sabre-toothed tiger. When my wife and I are talking about things, we’d be like, ‘what would they have done back in the time of the sabre-toothed tiger?’ That crept into the lyrics to the point where I suppose you hop into a time machine and go find out. To me, that’s funny! I don’t know if it is to anyone else though [laughs].

[Laughter] It is. I totally get that. There are a lot of moments lyric-wise on the record that had me smiling in amusement and laughing.

LS: I think ‘Infinity’ is funny as well. That song is completely absurd. I haven’t actually talked about these songs to anyone, you’re the first person I’ve spoken to. It’s funny you’re asking me these questions because I was just out in the bush taking the child for a ride, feeding the guinea pigs and things, it was getting closer to the time for us to chat and I thought, aww sheezus those songs, I have to talk about those songs! [laughs]. I called up Per and said, Per, what do you think are the themes of the songs on this album? He said, “It’s kind of like all these songs that you made up before lockdown that kind of predicted lockdown. Fuck, we’re soothsayers or something like that!” [laughs]. I don’t know if I honestly believe that, but it’s interesting to hear his perspective on it.

I love how the opening lyrics for ‘Infinity’ literally say that Mikey sent you an MP3 and the title was ‘Infinity’.

LS: [Laughs] That’s exactly how it happened.

Did you ask Mikey about why he called it ‘Infinity’?

LS: I never did ask him about it. My son became a but obsessed by that song. With the last verse about lying on your deathbed, he’s like, “What’s a deathbed, dad?”

Wow. That’s a big question.

LS: [Laughs] Yeah. Then he became obsessed with the concept of infinity as well. I pinched all of his little phrases that he says for the other song… what’s it called?

Photo: Raven Mahon

‘Infinity and 90′?

LS: Yeah. ‘Infinity and 90’.

I was going to ask you if there is a connection between the songs ‘Infinity’ and ‘Infinity and 90’?

LS: Yeah, there’s a connection… I’ve never really thought of this before. So, since hearing ‘Infinity’, my son was obsessed with the concept and we were driving along in the car and he’s like, “Daddy, I think I know the biggest number ever! Infinity and 90!” [laughs]. I wrote it down and when it came time to write the song, I thought they made good lyrics, so I threw Archie’s lyrics on there.

That was one of the songs that had me amused by the lyrics. I also love the line: Does the mountains make the mist or does the mist make the mountains?

LS: I love that one too. We were driving to Melbourne passed Mount Macedon, it was covered in cloud. My son was contemplating that and said that, that’s how that lyric came.

The next line too, about there being a bee in the car; that was real too?

LS: We were in the car and there was a panic. In absolute terror and fear he’s like, “There’s a bee! There’s a bee in the car!” But actually, it was a piece of dust [laughs]. I don’t know how he confused dust with a bee, by the way.

It’s funny because as a listener who has no idea of the backstory of the song, you could listen to the lyrics and it could sound like an abstract metaphor and you could read really into it like, oh this is such a deep concept! In reality though, it comes from the everyday ordinary life stuff you experience.

LS: Yeah, for sure. I love that.

The way you deliver the vocal for ‘Infinity and 90’ is almost whisper-like; what inspired that?

LS: I’d been listening to a lot of La Düsseldorf that day and somehow or another that voice ended up on that song.

I think the vocal delivery really suits it. I also love how every song on the record sounds different. I don’t want to sound too wanky, but the cohesiveness of the album feels like a journey.

LS: Yeah, yeah. There’s nothing wrong with a good journey here and there.

Are there any lyricists that you really love?

LS: Yeah. It’s funny, this morning the local radio station was asking people about that, to text in and say their favourite lyricists. People were writing in fairly regular things. I thought, what would I do? I’ve been listening to Kate Wolf lately, a lot. I ended up texting in and saying, Kate Wolf. Some of her lyrics, songs like ‘Green Eyes’, I love that song. It’s beautiful, just so perfect and genuine.

When did you first start singing?

LS: I used to sing in bed when I was a kid, until I’d finally fall asleep. I didn’t really sing that much until we started a band with some friends of mine called, The Sailors. It was a good band because we’d all jump in and have a go. With Power Supply, I’m trying to get everyone to do backing vocals. I think Mikey is finally coming around to the concept [laughs]. I like to hear backing vocals, I love them.

Same! I’m a big fan of backing vocals. The band No Doubt have some really cool backing vocals that Gwen Stefani does. They’re actually really interesting and have some cool harmonies.

LS: Yeah, right. I haven’t really listened to their records except for the hits and a bit of her first solo record [Love. Angel. Music. Baby]. I kind of like that record.

That record rules!

LS: I like the big hit off of that one. The one where she’s basically struggling to come up with new songs.

‘What You Waiting For?’?

LS: Yes! That’s a classic that song. I do like that record. When the harmonies are done really well it’s just wonderful.

Totally! Do you ever get self-conscious doing vocals?

LS: Not so much anymore. I remember the first gig that us guys played, I didn’t really have any lyrics [laughs]. I was driving to the gig trying to make them up; that was probably a bit nerve-racking.

How did the gig end up going?

LS: Well, it’s amazing what you can get away with! [laughs]. The gig was fine.

Art by Mark Rodda

How did a Mark Rodda painting end up becoming the album’s cover?

LS: That was Per’s research. How it went about it, I’m not sure. We did look at a few different things and a few different artists’ styles. Per looked at all that stuff and we discussed a few. In the end he said, “This is the one.” And, we all agreed.

When you look at the album cover, what do you get from it?

LS: I haven’t seen it for a little while, but it makes me feel warm inside.

[Laughter]. Awww.

LS: It probably looks a little desolate. I’m living in Central Victoria right now, so everything is a little like that sort of a landscape, which I feel pretty comfortable with. How about you?

I get more of a lush feeling from it. The tree gives me ancient forest vibes. I think it ties in with Time of the Sabre-toothed Tiger theme too.

LS: I do recall us making that connection. I do guess that’s why Per suggested it.

What’s one of your favourite things about the new album?

LS: I love the sound; I think it sounds amazing. We recorded it at The Tote in the front bar. We did a residency in September two years ago; we played each Sunday afternoon. We left our gear there on the last night and came in on the Monday and recorded it there, cos we were pretty well-practiced. You’ve got the traffic out the front, I thought it was all going to come through the windows, but it’s fairly well insulated and you couldn’t really hear anything else. In fact, the beer fridge was making more noise than anything else and we had to turn the beer fridge off.

What did recording at The Tote add to the songs or experience?

LS: It made it feel more comfortable because we’d just played there. It’s been hard for us to get together to play. I’ve been in Castlemaine, Mikey is down on the Peninsula, the other guys are in Melbourne. We have to make an effort. We played five gigs in a row over five weeks and recorded, we were hoping that we would feel comfortable, relaxed and well-practised. We do have fun together. We recorded in one day. We’ve added some overdubs and things in since; a few years for some overdubs! [laughs].

How does it feel to finally have the album coming out in October?

LS: A relief really. Just last year I was saying, oh, let’s just put this out on Bandcamp and be done with it. It kind of felt like that for me [laughs].

I’m glad you didn’t just release it digitally. It’s such a beautiful album and deserves a physical release. The album is too special for it to only be digital!

LS: It’s been such a long time since we recorded it all.

Have you listened back to it recently?

LS: Nah, but I probably should. We have been talking about playing some gigs, but I don’t think it’s going to happen for a while.

When we jam and it’s Mikey, Richard and Per just playing away, it’s the best thing for me, I just sit back and listen to those guys.

We’re excited to be premiering ‘Infinity’ the first single from the new album!

LS: That’s so great!

There’s a lot of stuff around water and the environment that seeps into the music.

I know that you work in environment protection roles, so obviously you have a passion for doing that.

LS: For sure. It’s probably the sub-theme in the whole sabre-tooth-tiger-thing—environmental change.

I totally got that. It’s interesting how a lot of the world seems so divided right now and people get so hyper-focused on particular things and who is right and wrong, but they also forget that there’s crazy stuff going on with the planet, climate change, depletion of land and resources. If we don’t have a planet then we’re not going to have anything! It’s pretty much the number one base thing we should be concerned about.

LS: Yeah. It’s pretty fundamental [laughs]… that’s just trying to add some humour to it, because it is fundamental.

Photo: Matt Weston

**Note: This interview is an extract. The entire chat where we talk more about the album, Sun Ra, turning every day occurrences into song, and more, will appear in the October print issue of Gimmie**

Here’s the first sneak peek at ‘Infinity’ from Power Supply’s forthcoming album, In the Time of the Sabre-toothed Tiger:

Available for pre-order HERE at Anti Fade and HERE (in the US) at Goner Records.

Constant Mongrel’s Tom Ridgewell: “TB RIDGE AS THE DIRECTOR is a comfortable place for me.”

Original photo : Sophie Woodward. Handmade collage by B.

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.

Please check out TB Ride As the Director. Rock n Roll Heart EP out on Anti Fade Records 20 November.

Billly Gardner of Naarm/Melbourne punk band Smarts: “It’s been a wild year”

Original photo by Jamie Wdziekonski. Handmade collage by B.

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.

You were the first official person we spoke to for Gimmie!

BILLY GARDNER: Woah. Really?

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.

Nice!

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.

Tacos? Burritos?

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?

I’m soft.

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.

Photo: Jamie Wdziekonski.

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?

No.

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!

Please check out SMARTS on bandcamp; on Instagram. Who Needs Smarts, Anyway? out now on Anti Fade Records.

Geelong Punk band Vintage Crop’s Jack Cherry: “The first big thing for me was listening to Eddy Current Suppression Ring…”

Original photo by Chelsea King. Mixed-media art by B.

Vintage Crop are set to release a cracker of an album! Serve To Serve Again captures sardonic, disenchanted, unromantic story telling from the grind of the day and observations of the world in a bold 12-song package. Gimmie spoke to vocalist-guitarist Jack Cherry.

JACK CHERRY: I’ve had a nice day so far, I’m on holidays from work and I’m just taking it easy.

What do you do for work?

JC: I clean swimming pools, clean and maintain I should clarify, little bit and bobs. It’s a funny kind of job.

It would be nice to be outside a lot for work.

JC: All day, which is great in summer and not so much in the winter [laughs].

When did you first become interested in music?

JC: I’ve always had an interest, I think most people probably do, it’s a part of everyone’s life when they’re kids. I don’t think it was until I was twelve or thirteen, my brother asked me what I wanted for Christmas one year, and he steered me in the direction of a drum kit. I was like, yeah, I’d love to play drums! I wasn’t very good at it for a while. I wasn’t into anything outrageous, maybe just The White Stripes or the Foo Fighters, that was probably the first kind of inkling.

What did your parents think about you playing drums?

JC: We lived on a farm and the drums were set up in a different shed from the house so it wasn’t really an issue for them, which was nice.

What was it like growing up on farm?

JC: It was cool. We were there since I was a baby and I didn’t leave there until I was twenty. For the first twenty years I could make as much noise as I wanted! We’d always practice at my place, it was easy.

Photo: Chelsea King.

What made you move to the city?

JC: I’m still in Geelong, just not on a farm anymore. I’m ten minutes down the road on the other side of town now. I’m in a block of units at the moment so I can’t make much noise here. Geelong is pretty laid back, as long as you’re in a house, I don’t think people make too much of a fuss. We practice at our drummer’s house now and do a couple of hours a night and no one seems to have a problem with it.

How do you go about approaching your song writing?

JC: I wonder if it’s normal or not? I just play around with the guitar for half an hour or something until something half descent comes from it. I’ll play that riff or chords for two or three days until some idea for words come along and then I take it to the band. I don’t write much down. I just play around until something cool happens and take it to the band and they do the structuring and adding their own parts. I find it hard to write for everyone, it’s hard to not only come up with the parts but it feels like a dick move to come to the band and be like; you’re playing this on bass; you’re playing that on guitar; you play this drum bit on the drums. I feel like everyone is happy if they write their own parts.

When did you start playing guitar?

JC: When I was about sixteen. I had three to four years solid of playing drums and then it got to the point where I can’t really play a full song on the drums. I can’t invite people to come listen to a song and just whack the drums for two and a half minutes. It’s more interesting learning how to play the song on the guitar.

You mentioned that you don’t really write stuff down when you’re making songs; do you ever forget something really cool?

JC: Surprisingly I remember most things. I might forget the phrasing of something or the song itself; like I’ll know what I’m meant to play but can’t remember how to play it. It’s so infuriating to have the base of it but to not remember the intricacies of how I used to play it, that sometimes weighs on me. If it’s really important I will record it but I try not to, I try to keep it free like that because maybe someone in the band might have an idea for it and they’ll change it again and make it even better. I try not to lock it in too strictly otherwise you could stop it from turning into something even better!

Do you feel the new album Serve To Serve Again has an overarching theme?

JC: I tend to look back on things and retrospectively apply things and go, oh, that’s what I was looking at with this. I’d have to have a real think about it to give you something. I know that there’s something there but I don’t consciously write to a theme. There’s probably a theme there but I haven’t really nailed it yet.

I find that a lot of Vintage Crop songs have a social commentary, observations of life in general, themes of entitlement, privilege.

JC: Yeah, that’s something that subconsciously finds its way in. I try not to be too loaded in my lyrics but sometimes things just come out that way and stay that way, and it just works. A lot of the time I’m not consciously attacking anything or poking fun at things, it just comes through. I figure that’s obviously what I must feel about things or what I must have intended to say or feel because, again I feel if it’s too edited it loses the flow. I keep it as it is and that’s probably a better depiction of how I’m feeling and thinking.

How long have you been working on the record for?

JC: We did the Company Man 7” in January of last year, that was recorded six months prior but we’d been working on that for six months. It was originally going to be a full album, we originally had a few ideas that we took off of it and we moulded those into new songs that we sat with for a year. We had three songs a year ago and we went on tour to Europe in April and came back and said, let’s take a break and we’ll come back with some ideas. We probably didn’t get flying until September when we really knuckled down and said, we’ve got half an album let’s finish it. We took our time with it. We got it through ‘til February and that’s when we recorded. Give or take it was about a year from start to finish.

Where did you record it?

JC: We recorded it Frankston in Singing Bird Studios with Mikey Young. We were just happy for him to record it so we thought we would accommodate him and go down to Frankston, it’s about two and a half hours from where we are. We thought if he’s agreed to do it, we’ll do it on his terms [laughs]. We thought he’s the best man to ask for, he’s done everything that is in our scene, he’s the man for the job.

We really love the song “Jack’s Casino” on the LP.

JC: That one is the last one we wrote for the album. I came in with the idea three weeks before we recorded the album. Because it’s pretty fast and it doesn’t take much, you learn the things and play them really fast. I think it’s one of everybody’s favourites because it feels so fresh. It’s maybe indicative of where we’re going after this album. It seems like there’s always a couple of songs an album that will sound like maybe what the next one will be.

What‘s the second one?

JC: “Serve To Serve Again” the title track. It incorporates synths into our sound, it’s a lot better than the other stuff we’ve done, I think it takes a lead. We’re all happy with it. It’s exciting to change and get a new instrument in there to sound new and fresh.

The whole record is so solid. The three songs I love the most – “Jack’s Casino”, “Streetview” and “Serve To Serve Again” all appear in the middle of the record.

JC: Track listing was something we did think a lot about. It’s interesting that the three in the middle were the ones that are your favourite, because we thought the middle songs would be a really strong core for the album. The first three or four songs are the more single worthy songs and then the second half of the album has “Gridlock” which is the lead single, we thought we’d put the lead single on the B-side just to even things out. It’s interesting that you’d pick out the strong core as your favourites, it means we did a good job I guess.

So often we love the songs that aren’t the singles. What can you tell me about “Serve To Serve Again”?

JC: We wanted something more… my vocal patterns tend to be say three or four words then break. Say three or four words then break, we wanted it to have a bit more flow in the words. I took a bit more care to ditch the style I usually work with and be a bit more consistent with the vocals, to fire the vocals off a bit faster and really think about the words themselves and fit them all to a theme and keep it strong. The song itself may be a bit repetitive but if the lyrics are firing over the top… it gives us a bit more to work with.

Do you have any vocal inspirations?

JC: I’m very conscious of trying to do too much with my voice. When we first started I had kind of an American accent thing going on. It just sounded weird to me to use my normal voice. I think the first big thing for me was listening to Eddy Current Suppression Ring where it’s his voice amplified, that’s pretty much what I’m doing with mine, not trying to sound like anyone else, just trying to make sure I’m capturing my own voice properly. My favourite vocalist are the ones that amplify their own voice like Sleaford Mods, The Fall. I think that’s where we’re at with the vocal stylings.

When did you start feeling more comfortable with your own voice?

JC: Just after TV Organs came out. With the band, I was doing it on my own for the first couple of years, 2013-2015 was just me doing bedroom recordings and putting it on Soundcloud. They’re definitely not available anywhere, they’re definitely all gone! [laughs]. That was me, and I was struggling with the vocal thing, the songs weren’t great. After we did TV Organs and people were interested and came to shows it was like, oh… the voice isn’t too much different from what I was doing but I figured if people like the music I’d be more comfortable with my voice. Someone told me once that people will forgive a slightly out of tune voice if the music is good. If people are interested in the songs than making my voice sound more like myself would only be a good thing.

I’m always drawn to unique voices rather than perfect ones that all sound the same, I like character.

JC: The more you try to make it perfect it loses quality, it loses feeling.

Is there a song you’re proud of writing?

JC: I like them all, I think they’re all good. Maybe “The Ladder” on the new album, I think it came out well because there’s lots of different parts, it sounds tough but it’s interesting. The chord we use in the song, I don’t even know what its’ called, it’s like a minor diminished chord, it’s a really unusual chord but we use it and it almost sounds normal. That might be the song I’m most proud of.

I really love all the Dragnet stuff you do too! What inspired you to start that?

JC: It was last year at some point. Because of the ways we write things in Vintage Crop, it’s collaborative. With the ‘Crop stuff everything is recorded and mixed and mastered and sent off, maybe over a six month period. With Dragnet I wanted something that was just done on the spot. I was recording demos on my own, I play all the instruments and I’d finish it and that was the end of the song. Once I had a bunch of songs I’d just release it. We did. I put out a cassette and it was six songs and I got friends to play the show and gave the tapes away for free. It was fun and we thought, maybe we should do it properly.

Polaks Records in Europe wanted to do a vinyl release of it. I don’t like to do things slowly so I had a couple of other songs that I didn’t put on cassette that I thought I’d include on the vinyl release. He’s got it pressed already. I think Dragnet for me is immediacy. Getting it done straight away as opposed to the process we go through with Vintage Crop.

There’s a song called “Networking” on the record; what’s it about?

JC: That one is… a comment about people in music scenes in general. Everyone is very self-aware, there’s a lot of judging of other people but also judging of yourself. A lot of times you can feel like people are saying things about you or feeling certain things about you but they’re really not at all. I think maybe it’s a depiction of insecurities around people who are essentially just copies of yourself. Someone in a music scene, a lot of the bands that sound the same is because they have the same influences and they do the same thing; everyone’s kind of the same and it can get really competitive. You feel like you have to outshine these people or you feel like these people don’t like you or you don’t like them… it can be pretty… phwoar… ugly! The lyrics work for that. I don’t know if it comes across but that was the feeling behind it. I don’t think that deeply about the lyrics but there is definitely feeling behind it. It’s a good way of summing up how I’m feeling.

That song then rolls into next track “Music Business”.

JC: Yes. That one is a bit of fun. I did a music business course a few years ago as a one year thing. I didn’t want to go to uni and didn’t have much of a job so I thought I should do that because it was better than doing nothing. The music business course was very pretentious. It wasn’t aimed at me. It really made me see what my ambitions were and it was not to be someone in the music industry. When I say “music industry” I mean more the mainstream in Australia. That song is silly and makes me laugh when I think about it all.

Very with you there. I went to do a music industry course and I started off going to a shorter-course of it to see if I liked it and the lady that was doing it was the absolute worst! I ended up getting an internship at a major label on my own merits and I later found out it was usually her full-time students that got those places… anyway, it came up in class that I’d gotten the placement and she started treating me horribly and said in front of the whole class “You’re just getting people’s coffee!” and some other things that were trying to demean me. I never went back to that class again and thought, if this is the industry I don’t want to be a part of it.

JC: Aww that’s terrible. When I was doing the course it was around 2016 and I started getting into the local scene. Anti Fade Records was from Geelong where I was from as well and all of the things I was learning at the course, I looked at what Billy from Anti Fade was doing and was like, he’s not doing any of that stuff I’m learning?! I learnt the class was more geared to people that care about stuff like Triple J or artist management. I don’t need that stuff. I’m just better off talking to Billy about stuff and doing things like he does.

By the end of the course I had properly got Vintage Crop going, we were playing a couple of shows and starting the recording process. I started my own little record label. I thought, all of this stuff is in spite of the course! I wanted to do it my own way and not how I was taught.

What does success mean to you then?

JC: Having fun! To be completely basic about it, it’s just enjoying it. Sometimes I have trouble when people want to make a career out of it, it’s traditionally not a career, it’s a hobby. I have a full-time job and music is the fun thing I get to do every weekend and sometimes after work, that for me is a success. Doing it for fun and not hurting anyone, I think the rest of the band feel the same way. You have to keep yourself in check with it sometimes, especially now with an album coming out and you have to practice, do press, to make sure everything looks good and sounds good… it’s like, yeah, but don’t get carried away. At the end of the day we’re happy with the songs, artwork and that Upset the Rhythm and Anti Fade are putting it out—that’s the success! We’ve already kicked the goal. Now we’re just enjoying it all.

What was your European tour like?

JC: It was amazing! We were there for four and a half weeks, we did 29 shows in 32 days, it was ridiculous. To meet people and hear new bands and see new things was incredible. We made so many connections with people. The only downside was that I got really sick, in the second last week I came down with glandular fever. We soldiered trough, we wouldn’t change anything. It was my first time overseas and I was really put out by it all, at least I was with friends. If I was on my own it probably would have been a different story.

Outside of music of music, what’s important to you?

JC: Family and friends. I’m really invested in the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ve been doing my part where I can. I don’t like to promote things by social media but, I do like to do things like donate money where I can and help people if I can. I go to rallies.

As a POC I find it’s more helpful for people to do things offline and just in their everyday life, like if you see/hear racism happening, call it out! If you see someone that looks uncomfortable, go stand beside them and say “hi” and make them feel comfortable. Having conversations with people and helping educating people and your self helps too.

JC: The more you post, the more you can perpetuate arguments. I think the actions you mentioned are more valuable than sharing something on Facebook.

Please check out: VINTAGE CROP; on Facebook; on Instagram. Serve To Serve Again is out on Anti Fade Records and Upset The Rhythm (UK) August 8.

Traffik Island, ORB and Hierophants’ Zak Olsen: “If it’s not memorable, it’s just not going to have a connection with anyone”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Melbourne-based musician Zak Olsen is one of those musical wizards. He has a natural talent for songwriting, doesn’t tie himself to one genre, and somehow magically has a knack for them all. He works his magic in heavy psych power-trio ORB, with new wavers Hierophants and as Traffik Island, a project that jumps style from one album to the next. He’s one of our favourite songwriters. We spoke with him last week to get an insight into his world.

ZAK OLSEN: I’m just at the studio right now, saying studio is a bit of a stretch but, I have a room that’s not my house that has some of my music gear in it [laughs]. It’s really close to my house so I just come here most days. I spend all day and all night in here usually.

Where did you grow up?

ZO: I grew up in New Zealand, I grew up in a few places because we moved every year. I mainly grew up on farms in New Zealand and moved to Australia in the year 2000.

What were you like growing up?

ZO: Most of my youth I grew up on a farm, which was really good. My parents had that school of parenting where they just let you go and make your own mistakes. We had lots of space which was good, my dad would say “Just go and do whatever you want just be back before its dark”. I spent heaps of time outside by myself when I was younger. My dad also played in a few heavy metal bands so he would always have huge parties and there’d be all these metalheads around. That was the first music that I got into when I was really young, like five years old. Its’ pretty appealing to a five year old. My dad would have all these heavy metal VHS tapes, I particularly remember the Megadeath one! I loved it so much.

How did you discover music for yourself?

ZO: I’ve always had an interest in it because my dad did. In high school I heard the Sex Pistols and had one of those light bulb moments! Megadeth also did a Sex Pistols’ cover. I remember watching SBS one night and the Sex Pistols being on there and they played ‘Anarchy In The UK’ and I remember the Megadeth song of it from back when I was a kid and it sort of all came back around again. I got into it from there, I decided that I wanted to play guitar and that was that.

Why is music important to you?

ZO: Just the actual act of making it, is the most fun I could ever have. Once it’s made it’s never quite as good, I still love playing live and all that stuff but for me personally the most fun that I can have in music is writing things—making noises! [laughs].

Is there a particular album or albums that’s helped shape your ideas on music?

ZO: Yes. Besides the obvious stuff like ‘60s pop – I got really into that in high school – just the simple things that are catchy that still have an effect that aren’t intimidating; stuff that involves everyone, simple music like The Beatles and The Kinks. That stuff is always with me. I remember the first time I heard R. Stevie Moore, that was a big influence because he didn’t stick to any genre. I know a lot of people claim they don’t stick to one genre but he really, really pushed that, he really went for it. I remember seeing an interview with him and he said that you can just make any noise, it’s still a song, not every song has to be your magnum opus. That allowed me to open up and make any noise.

I really like with him too that people go “you’re the king of lo-fi!” and he tells them something like “It doesn’t matter if it’s lo-fi or hi-fi or whatever-fi, I’m DIY-fi”.

ZO: Yeah, exactly! I’m definitely not going for a lo-fi thing, it’s just out of necessity. If I could make big grand exotica Martin Denny kind of albums I would. I don’t have that kind of money or resources though [laughs].

How did you first start making music yourself? You were in The Frowning Clouds; were you making stuff before that?

ZO: Nah, no. I was barely playing guitar before that, we just decided to start a band. I couldn’t really play at the time, we learnt as we went. I was a really slow learner with music but we all just kept going and here we are [laughs]. I’m still a slow learner!

When you make music then, is it mostly through feeling and intuition for you?

ZO: Absolutely. I don’t read music or know any of that kind of stuff. It’s 100% intuition for me.

The first Traffik Island LP Nature Strip that you put out – I know there was a split tape before that too – sounded kind of Beatles-y and Kinks-y and a little Bonzo Dog Band-ish and Syd Barrett-esque now with your new release Sweat Kollecta’s Peanut Butter Traffik Jam it’s kind of like a DJ Shadow beat tape, they’re such different sounds…

ZO: It goes back to the doing different things like R. Stevie Moore doing whatever you want. I wanted to do that to the max! I just wanted to make something as different from the first one. I was worried about it once it was made and I thought, oh shit, people that liked the first one probably aren’t going to like the new one. Nature Strip is the album that I always wanted to make ever since I was really young, being an obvious Syd Barrett fan, I just wanted to make an album on an acoustic guitar—that was the mission statement.

For the next one I wanted to do the total opposite and make it more computer-based and not write anything before; every one of those songs are made up just as I’m making it, it wasn’t prewritten.

So when you play them live you’ll have to teach yourself how to play them again?

ZO: Well, yeah. The band haven’t learnt any of those live yet, whether I’ll play them in front of an audience is yet to be seen [laughs].

I really hope you do!

ZO: There’s so many ways to do it that I’m just not sure yet. Hopefully one day… if venues open up again!

I really liked the Button Pusher live stream you did the other night!

ZO: Yeah, that was a test of maybe how we can do it live.

Dude, that test went really well, we super impressed. Just how you walked into the room rolled the tape machine and then started playing was so cool! The lighting and mood really added to it all too.

ZO: That’s good! That’s something I’m working on with a couple of other people at the studio too, we’ve started a YouTube channel live stream for performances and sorts of things. We have a few more coming up soon.

On your first release the split tape Sleepy Head/Traffic Island I noticed there’s Hierophants and Sweat Kollecta’s songs on that from back in 2012.

ZO: Yeah, my friend Danny who ran that label Moontown was doing a split with Nick, another Frowning Clouds member, he was doing the A-side. Danny called me asked me if I had any demos laying around to fill up the B-side of the tape. I said, yes, but I didn’t have any at the time. Lucky it was around the time I heard R. Stevie Moore so I had a real jolt of inspiration and just went out the back for two weeks and did all those songs for the tape. Some of them ended up going into Frowning Clouds or Hierophants after the fact.

I really love Hierophants! Spitting Out Moonlight was one of our favourite LPs of last year! We’re big fans of your other releases last year too, it’s so cool when you can find an artist that makes such different things but they’re all incredible. That’s not an easy thing to pull off.

ZO: That’s nice to hear. Thank you. It all has to do with collaboration with people and letting things just happen the way they do between people. You’re not really pushing an aesthetic or an agenda when you’re collaborating, that’s hopefully when more interesting things come out. I think Hierophants lean into that, we purposely do things that maybe sound ugly or we think we shouldn’t do. That’s the most collaborative band, especially in the sense that no idea gets rejected, we do everything. It’s really warts and all, sometimes good, sometimes bad [laughs].

I wanted to ask you about the Hierophants song ‘Everything In Order’; what inspired that one?

ZO: That was nearly going to be a Traffik Island song. That was inspired by, I broke my arm quite badly and had surgery. I spent a couple of weeks doing demos one-handed, that song was one of the one-handed songs [laughs]. Jake [Robertson] heard it and asked if Hierophants could do it. I was trying to do a show tune-y kind of thing [laughs]. Someone told me that the hook is the same from a song from a Disney movie [laughs]. I was trying to do something Robyn Hitchcock-y, when he does these ridiculous sounding show tunes.

I love the lyrics in it: you don’t need friendship anyway / you don’t need family anyway.

ZO: [Laughs] Don’t quote me on that one, it’s a character who is wrong, because you do need family and friends.

What about the song ‘Limousine’?

ZO: It’s about the obvious, but the funny thing about it is that I think I subconsciously took that from watching a Paul Simon interview. He was on the Dick Cavett Show from back in the ‘70s and he was talking about writing a song about someone that’s trapped by fame and they’re riding around in their limousine. Subconsciously years down the track I just wrote that! I re-watched that interview recently and realised I took it [laughs]. The song is original, I promise! The seed of the song maybe I took from Paul Simon.

Do you have a favourite track on the new Traffik Island Sweat Kollecta’s LP?

ZO: I like ‘Rubber Stamps’ it’s the least beats/DJ Shadow-y one. It’s a short instrumental, sort of exotica, ‘60s kind of sounding, crappy Beach Boys instrumental one. It came out the easiest.

I notice though different lyrics or song titles there’s a humour and lightness to your music.

ZO: Humour is always good, it takes the edge off. Frank Zappa had a humorous side or Devo did too, they had a real sense of humour and both had been big influences on me. It’s not too conscious for me. It is a bit easier if you put a sense of humour on things, it’s easier to put it out into the world because… I’m kind of lost for words…

Because it’s too personal? And you’re not overtly putting yourself out there?

ZO: Yeah. I think if people put irony in their music it protects them from criticism. People don’t criticise things, they just say that I’m being ironic. That’s not why I’m trying to be funny in the songs though, I guess it just makes it more enjoyable. I don’t think anyone wants to be yelled at [laughs].

I wanted to ask you about one of my favourite ORB songs, ‘Space Between The Planets’…

ZO: Oh nice! That’s mainly Daff’s song, it took us ages to do that one, we got a bit lost in the riffage [laughs]. It turned out well in the end. There’s no secret with the ORB songs, everyone brings riffs and we smash ‘em together and hope they turn out good—it’s that boneheaded! [laughs].

It’s fun to have that too.

ZO: Yeah, the goal was just to have a fun band and just turn it up! We wanted to make it fun live and be nice and loud, because a lot of our stuff was never like that.

Do you write every day?

ZO: Yeah, in some sense. I haven’t done any acoustic guitar writing in ages. I come to the studio every day I can. I make noises in some sense but I’m not like Randy Newman on the piano every day, as much as I wish I was!

Do you have a particular way you go about writing songs?

ZO: At the moment, because I’m working on remixes and I’m trying to do a hip-hop thing with a friend from America, all the stuff is very beat-based. I’ll start that by just finding cool drum loops. It’s totally different from writing song songs on the guitar, proper songs I guess, is that I usually try to hum a melody first in the shower or something, the catchiest bit, the bit everyone usually remembers about the song. If I can come up with a line or a chorus without any instruments first and then I’ll go to the guitar or the piano and work out what the chords are and go from there. That usually works.

Where did your interest in hip-hop come from?

ZO: It’s always been a faint interest. I grew up skateboarding so there’s lots of great songs in skateboarding videos…

Like A Tribe Called Quest!

ZO: Yeah, heaps of that and even stuff like DJ Shadow. A lot of new release hip-hop came out last year that I really liked.

What kind of stuff?

ZO: Quelle Chris had this album called Guns. There’s another guy I like too called Billy Woods he did an album called Hiding Places. They don’t give into the tropes of hip-hop and the beats are a lot weirder, psychedelic is the only way that I could describe it. There’s FX on the vocals and lots of echo. It’s not focusing on the tropes of gangsta stuff, they’re not rapping about cash or cars, it’s more introverted and weird. It kicked off my interest in it more. Obviously things like Madlib and MF Doom; I was late to the MF Doom thing but when I got into it, it was all I listened to for a year.

I love his Danger Doom project and the song ‘Benzie Box’ is an all-time favourite.

ZO: Hell yeah!

My brother and I owned a skateboard shop in the late ‘90s, he had one in the ‘80s too, and I loved all the skate vids with the hip-hop and punk soundtracks.

ZO: That’s cool. It’s such a good way to get into stuff. I’m very thankful for all those movies they really got me into stuff that I still listen to now.

Do you have a song of yours that stands out as one of the quickest ones to write?

ZO: ‘Looking Up’ it’s a song on Nature Strip. I never write songs in one sitting but that one was written in an hour, the whole thing; that’s never ever happened to me before. I said, ok, I’m going to sit down and write a song and then that came out really quickly.

What do you find challenging about songwriting?

ZO: Trying to be too tricky! It’s really a problem that you can get lost in that. I’ve been trying to make songs for around ten years now and you think that progressing with songwriting, you should have more complex melodies and complex chords, but it’s not necessarily the case. You have to try to remind yourself of that all of the time. There’s been times where I try to make the craziest song that I can and have weird chords and a fancy melody but it just turns out shit! If it’s not memorable, it’s just not going to have a connection with anyone. Instinct and when it comes out naturally and quickly, that usually resonates with people more and is more memorable.

When you’re working on things and they’re not working do you try and push through that or do you give up and move on to something else?

ZO: Usually I move on to something else. Sometimes I do just sit there banging my head against the wall for aaaaaages! That never works usually.

Is there anything you do in those times like go for a walk or something?

ZO: I should! [laughs]. But, nah. I really fucking just try to get something out of it. The only other thing that does work is before I go to sleep, when I’m lying in bed; that’s usually the best time for it. You’ll be thinking about your songs and that’s usually when things happen.

Do you think it’s because you’re more relaxed?

ZO: It must be, it has to be.

Do you do anything else creative outside of music?

ZO: Not really. I do some painting every now and then. My dad is a really good drawer and tattoo artist, so I kind of did that before I was doing music. I used to make poems all the time as a kid and that turned into songs. Making music is my main creative outlet, unless you count cooking! I try and cook more frequently now. My girlfriend is a really good cook.

What’s one of your favourite things to cook?

ZO: Lately I’ve just been going for all the different kinds of roasts and trying to master each one [laughs]. Cooking is just really good in general though, especially if you put aside the whole night and take your time. I love doing that!

I love cooking too, I find it really relaxing.

ZO: Yeah, totally.

You mentioned before that you’re working a hip-hop project; are you working on anything else?

ZO: I’m just trying to collaborate as much as I can this year. Because of the situation in the world right now, a lot of my friends that make music are staying inside right now and we’re all just sending music between each other right now and making things together. I was starting another Traffik Island one but I just ended up sending all of those ideas to friends to put stuff over the top. I’m working on things right now but I don’t know exactly what it is right now. I definitely just want to get into doing more collaborative stuff.

Why do you like working collaboratively so much?

ZO: Them bringing something to it that I could never possibly conceive. Just them adding something to it, some of my friends can come up with melodies that I would never imagine! Some people are just better at certain things.

What’s a song you’ve collaborated on that you were totally surprised where someone took it?

ZO: The first song on Peanut Butter… [Bits and Peace (Bullant Remix)] it was remixed by my friend Joe [Walker]. That one is basically the only song on the record made up of samples. I played some of my favourite records into my computer and gave him all the bits, they weren’t in time or anything like that and I told him to make a song out of all those noises—he sent me that! Impressed.

The film clip for your song ‘Ulla Dulla’ is pretty fun.

ZO: My friend John [Angus Stewart] made that, I know everyone says their friend is talented but, he IS insanely talented. He did some other clips, some King Gizzard [And The Lizard Wizard] ones. He asked me if he could make a clip for me. I said, sure. We wanted to try to really go above and beyond and to really try and push through the boundary. We did the clip and it was so tiring, we started at midday and I got home at one in the morning. We were driving all around the city, I think only two or three locations made it into the final clip but there was six. I had to do that dance to that song hundreds of times, I reckon [laughs]. Then it sat around for a couple of months because the album got pushed and of course in that time I started freaking out about it and got real paranoid. I was just so scared of being so open and vulnerable like that. I saw him at a party a few weeks before it came out and went up to him and told him that I don’t think I could go through with the video. He was not having a bar of it. He was like, “Don’t give me that stoner bullshit! It’s coming out.” [laughs].

What was it about it that made you freak out?

ZO: It was just so much of me! I didn’t want it to be The Zak Olsen Show… that kind of shot started getting to me. In the end I’m glad it came out. It definitely elevates the song a bit more. I’m really glad.

You did a lot of touring with ORB last year, right?

ZO: We did an Australian tour with Thee Oh Sees, then we went to America and Europe, so lots of moving around.

How do you find travelling so much?

ZO: Personally, I love it. There’s this weird thing about touring this feeling that… where people can feel like bands are running from responsibility… we were touring with King Gizzard and those guys work, it’s like seven James Browns! …it’s not the case with them, they work way harder than any other band I’ve ever met! If you’re into the second month of touring and you haven’t really made much and there’s not much time to make songs you can kind of get in a weird limbo mode where you think; what am I doing every day? I’m just playing the same songs!

It’s sort of like the movie Groundhog Day?

ZO: Yeah. But it’s still better than any other job you could have. You have to be careful of getting into the bad habits of drinking every day and eating shit food all the time.

Where do you get your hard work ethic from?

ZO: Probably my dad, he’s a little bit of a hard arse [laughs]. I can’t stand the feeling of not thinking I’m doing enough or giving enough. Having said that though, I do love staying in bed all day on Sunday! For me the guilt of not doing enough is way worse than just getting up and doing it.

Please check out: Traffik Island. ORB. Hierophants. @traffik_islanda on Instagram. Button Pusher.