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.

Primo! on New Record Sogni: “Break ups, moving homes, starting new jobs and other life decisions. We focused on the theme of decision making”

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Violetta Del Conte-Race and Xanthe Waite of Melbourne band Primo! gave us an insight into new LP Sogni. This record feels fresh and finds Primo! building on their post-punk sensibilities, experimenting more – the record features saxophone, violin and sound created by dry beans being poured in a bowl. Listening to a Primo! album is like having a conversation with your best friend, you walk away feeling like you can face anything and that you’ve totally got this! Life’s a bunch of choices, make the right decision and buy this record.

Something I’ve always really loved in Primo’s music is the clean guitar; what inspired you towards this sound?

VIO: We enjoy experimenting with different guitar sounds including distortion, pitch shift and chorus, but the clean guitar is great because it contrasts with those harsher or stranger guitar sounds and provides a grounding for the song, particularly a clean rhythm guitar. 

What got you writing for your new record Sogni?

XANTHE: We had a burst of writing over the summer of 2018/19… from memory we kind of set a challenge to try and come up with some new songs because we had been tinkering away for a while without having anything particularly concrete. Most of the songs are really of a time for this reason. There were a lot of changes going on for all of us – break ups, moving homes, starting new jobs and other life decisions. We focused on the theme of decision making as a starting point for the songs … like how do people make decisions and why, acknowledging that there is not always a choice and external factors force change as well. Not all of the demos made it onto the album and it’s a loose theme but that is what got us writing.

Sogni is an Italian word and translates to “dreams”; where did the album’s title come from?

VIO: I was researching Italian words, looking up what certain English words translate to and the idea of dreams came up because of our song ‘Reverie’. When I saw the word ‘sogni’ I liked it because it also kind of looked like the word ‘song’ and I thought dreams really related to a lot of the themes on the record like decision making and matters of the heart because they are things you imagine, dream of or hope for.

This record was collectively written during rehearsals and developed further in a live setting; is there a particular song on the record that took an unexpected turn during that process from where it began that you can tell us about?

VIO: The song ‘Rolling Stone’ took a bit of an unexpected turn during recording. Towards the end of the song we hadn’t quite finalised what we would do, so Amy added the layers of saxophone and I think it really takes the song to a different place than where it starts. Love Amy’s saxophone playing! 

The vocal harmonies in Primo are always so frickin’ cool; how do you approach harmonising in your songs?

VIO: We all really like singing together and have a lot of fun trying out different harmonies or ideas for vocals. Often we sing the same thing in unison with slight differences but on this record we tried to work out harmonies in a bit more of a concrete way, which the recording process helped with as we could listen back to things to hear what worked.

What’s your favourite song on Sogni; can you tell us a little bit about it please?

XANTHE: I think ‘Comedy Show’ and ‘1000 Words’ are two of my faves, I like how they turned out. I like the composition of these songs especially the way the saxophone, keys/synths weave into Primo!’s normal instrumentation. 

Photos courtesy of Primo! Insta.

The final track on your album “Reverie” feels really intimate; what did you tap into to create that mood?

VIO: ‘Reverie’ does have a different mood than our other songs, I think we tapped into the moment of all being there together. From memory, it was the last song we recorded on the day, and I don’t think we had rehearsed it prior to the recording, it was just an idea I had demoed at home. We worked out our approach to playing it while we were in the studio, sitting around in a circle. Later on I added some keys and Xanthe overdubbed some beautiful violin. 

One of the themes that are broached on the record is practicalities of work and daily life; how do you balance your creative life verses the daily grind?

XANTHE: I find the tension of being busy with work and stuff is weirdly conducive to being productive creatively. If I’m working hard at a job or study I tend to value the free time I have more when and know what I want to do with it, which is usually to play, write or record music. Having said that I’ve never really done it any other way. It would be interesting to have a full year of just working on music without doing another thing such as work or study. Maybe we would write five albums or maybe we would struggle to write one… We may never know!

What’s one of your biggest challenges in regards to your creativity? 

XANTHE: I’m really missing being able to play music with Vi, Suz and Amy in person.  I am also doing a law degree at the moment which puts a bit more pressure on the balance I talked about in the question above, it’s a lot of work but I’m loving it and have music plans for the next Uni holiday… looking forward to that.

The world is in such a weird and uncertain place right now, it could be easy to feel a little down with everything that’s going on, isolation etc.; what’s something that never fails in cheering you up?

VIO: Going for a walk and seeing nature, even something growing in someone’s garden, really cheers me up.

Please check out: PRIMO! Primo! on Instagram. Sogni available now via Anti Fade Records.

Program’s Jonno Ross-Brewin: “We’re all about jamming in as many riffs and melody as possible”

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Melbourne’s Program play catchy as fuck power pop. The songs off their debut album Show Me get stuck in your head, so much so that later in your day after listening to them you’ll find yourself humming the melodies to yourself. We spoke to Program co-founder Jonno Ross-Brewin.

Program released their debut album Show Me in October last year; have you been working on anything new?

JR-B: Rory [Heane] and I have been working on stuff for quite a while now. We’re constantly working on stuff. We’re working on the next album, we’re in the early stages.

How long were you working on Show Me for? It took a while, right?

JR-B: It was because it was the first record for the band, we didn’t really mess around with demos or anything. You could say Rory and I were writing songs for a couple of years before it came out. We were in another band before this one for years, we were kind of a mathy-punk-emo-jam band. For a couple of years we started playing guitar, because neither of us played guitar that much. It probably took a year from when we formed the group.

What inspired you towards the sound you have now?

JR-B: How we were feeling about everything. I used to write much more angsty stuff when I was younger because that’s how I felt. Now that I’m older – I’m not sure if it comes across in the music though – there’s a resignation and acceptance and maybe even a slight comedy about stuff. I’m seeing things in a lighter way, I’m being a bit lighter about things. I still feel the same ways I did then but, I’m just better at dealing with stuff. I know what is useful and what to act on and what you can’t really change.

Lyrically Show Me is quite personal.

JR-B: Especially for me. The tracks that I wrote were pretty personal. There’s definitely a mix in writing but the ones that I sung on were ‘Tailwind Blues’, ‘Program’, ‘Unexpected Plans’ and ‘They Know’.

Was there anything in particular that you were going through in your life when you wrote them?

JR-B: Yeah. ‘Unexpected Plans’ and ‘Tailwind Blues’ are basically based on a failed romantic endeavour, where I flew over to the USA for somebody.

Awww man, that sucks, I’m sorry. Why did you decide to kick the record off with ‘Another Day’?

JR-B: That’s what we’re feeling at the moment, there’s elements of repetition and boredom of our lives, that kind of stuff.

I noticed the album has really bright sounding jangly guitars all over it.

JR-B: A lot of that is just from the guitar that I started learning to play guitar on, it’s an old Japanese Fender imitation thing. The stuff that we’ve been writing is definitely inspired by Big Star and more poppy kind of stuff like The Kinks, a lot of Replacements—a lot of heartfelt power pop.

What did you listen to growing up?

JR-B: Neither of us really came from musical families at all. Our parents are the kind of people that would just listen to The Eagles or Bob Marley. When we were kids Rory and I listened to a lot of stuff that I’m probably a bit too embarrassed to mention [laughs]. I was a massive Red Hot Chilli Peppers fan when I was a kid, and that’s what got me into music. Later on there was stuff like The Strokes, stuff like that has massively influenced us.

I’ve seen Red Hot Chilli Peppers live five times and every time they’ve totally sucked. I was so disappointed, because growing up I’d listen to them too.

JR-B: Yeah, I feel exactly the same way too. I only saw them once, when I was eighteen, and that was the last time I listened to them in a non-ironic haha sort of way. They came out for album Stadium Arcadium when they were well after their prime, I was very disappointed. I thought that I was watching little robot ants from a distance.

Pretty much everyone I talk to that’s seen them says they are boring live. You hear them recorded, see their videos and live footage of them overseas and I think, they might be great to see live, then you do and it’s boring! I actually fell asleep at one of their shows.

JR-B: Where was it?

At an Entertainment Centre like a big arena.

JR-B: That’s probably why, because the place was too big. I don’t really rate big venues. All my favourite moments of live music have always been pretty intimate, in bars and smaller settings… except The Pixies, they’re always amazing no matter where they are. I saw them at Golden Plains recently and I saw them ten years ago at Festival Hall, both times amazing!

What’s been one of your favourite musical moments in an intimate setting?

JR-B: Probably my favourite band, who we’re all mates with too, is Possible Humans—I LOVE seeing those guys. We played their launch at The Tote. Every time I see them I love it. They’re really lovely dudes, amazingly lovely dudes!

You and Rory started Program around 2016 but have known each other since the first week of primary school…

JR-B: Yeah, since we were five!

That’s pretty amazing to have a friendship for that long.

JR-B: It’s wild! We live together as well. It helps us make music, we understand what each other wants.

Can you tell us a little bit about the recording of Show Me?

JR-B: We recorded most of it live except the vocals and a few overdubs. We did that in a day down in Geelong, in Billy [Gardner]’s warehouse. Billy from Anti Fade has this little rehearsal studio down in these old army barracks in Geelong. We drove down to Geelong for the day.

What made you want to do it live?

JR-B: We just heard his Civic recordings and we thought that sounded amazing! I’m pretty sure they did most of it live as well, so we were really happy for him to do it. There wasn’t too much thought actually, we were like, let’s just do this! We weren’t even sure about it all to be honest until we heard it.

We would have officially formed the band in 2018, Rory and I had songs we were doing but we hadn’t officially got anyone together. We were probably just jamming for about a year because we didn’t even know what we were going to sound like and it took a while. We started playing a few shows, mainly house parties. Not long after that Rory bumped into Billy at a party and Billy said “I’d like to record you guys”. We were lucky. When Billy was mixing it, he got an idea of it and just asked if he could put it out. He seemed to really like it. Things just really worked out.

I love that there’s so much melody on the album.

JR-B: There’s a lot of that. We’re all about jamming in as many riffs and melody as possible.

What was the thought behind the album art?

JR-B: The idea was Rory’s but it was a group effort. We went through a lot of ideas of me trying to draw up stuff and it was getting close to the release date and Rory was like “What about kids playing Four Square?” I found a cool image of it and the album is called Show Me and the vibe is the idea of having a young view of the world, not knowing what to do. I did the little squiggly bits then our bassist James Kane came in – he does a lot of posters and stuff so he’s really good on the design perspective – we put it together. I did the drawings and James put it together on Photoshop and did the font.

It sounds like everything just happens really organically for you guys?

JR-B: Yeah, I think it’s because we’re all really old friends. Jessie [Fernandez] and the two James’ we’ve all known each other for ten years. It was all very low-key, let’s just get these dudes because we like them. Jessie saw our first show and told us she’d been playing keys and asked if she could play keys for us, and after six months we said, let’s do it! She’s not on the album because we recorded it before she joined. Hopefully keys are going to be really prominent on the next recording.

What kind of direction are you headed in now sound-wise?

JR-B: With the songs we’ve done we’ve set it up so there’s kind of different genres in each song – some songs are more punky, others are more poppy, some are even folky – I think we’re going to still run with that for a bit. We’ll keep doing this until it sounds shit and then we’ll probably try something else.

What’s the part of songwriting you find challenging?

JR-B: I find the details challenging [laughs]. I’m better at coming up with chords and a vocal melody. Rory is a much better musician than I am, he’s really good at all the technical stuff and riffs.

My lyrics are very direct and personal. I don’t like them to be too overthought. I like them being accessible and easy to hear but upon more analysis they mean more. I try to do that, I don’t know if that actually happens though [laughs].

I really like the track ‘Memory’ on the record I think it’s a good blend of Rory and I as writers. There’s not much effort put into it but I really like the result, it sees effortless.

Do you edit yourself much?

JR-B: Definitely. Usually I’ll write on my phone and then go over it and fine tune it over a period of months. It never ends up being anywhere near what I initially write. I always reduce it to all that’s needed. We definitely spend a lot of time on the tracks.

Who are the songwriters you admire?

JR-B: My gods are David Bowie and Neil Young. I like how epic Bowie is and how heartfelt Young is. There’s a lot I like though. Maybe Ray Davies as well, I like his tongue-in-cheek and catchiness.

What’s been influencing the songs you’ve been writing lately?

JR-B: The same everyday stuff and personal things.

What do you do outside of music?

JR-B: I work full-time as an Operating Theatre Technician. I set up for surgery. Most of my music just takes up everything around that.

What an interesting job.

JR-B: It is at the start. I work in a smallish hospital with the same surgeons, so you get to know each surgeon and what they’re like then it becomes pretty repetitive and dull. But in some ways it’s good because I’ll be sitting there and in my head can be coming up with lyrics. Rory does the same thing, we both work in the same place.

Wow! You guys are so linked.

JR-B: Yep, that’s it!

It’s pretty special to share so many things in life with someone.

JR-B: Yeah, I’m pretty grateful. It’s pretty amazing!

Anything else you want to tell me?

JR-B: I think at the end of all this isolation period there’s going to be so many people coming out with stuff. Rory and I are working on demos. We’re just trying to make good songs, nice songs. We’re on to the next one and excited about that!

Please check out: PROGRAM. Show Me out on Anti Fade Records. Program on Facebook. Program on Instagram.

Jake Robertson’s Alien Nosejob: “I wanted to make it sound like a mixtape that you’d make and give to your friends

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We love mixtapes! Alien Nosejob’s music reminds us of one. Its genre-less and fun and we never know what the next song might sound like; it’s exciting to listen to their releases unfold, especially latest LP, Suddenly Everything Is Twice As Loud out on Anti Fade. Alien Nosejob started as a bedroom recording project by Jake Robertson, who is one of the most prolific Australian songwriters we know. Rather than us trying to describe his creations we highly recommend that you check out his work for yourself and care about what you think of it! We believe there’s a little something for everyone. We interviewed Jake to get more of an understanding about what he does, why he does it and how he does it.

I wanted to start by asking you; how did you get into music?

JAKE ROBERTSON: My dad is extremely into music, into British Invasion stuff, blues whether it be Prewar or all the way up to your white boy Eric Clapton kind of stuff. He constantly had The Kinks and The Who playing when I was younger. My brother showed me AC/DC and the Sex Pistols when I was six or seven and I got into that for a little while. I can’t really lie, nu-metal had a huge influence on me when I was eleven or twelve, that’s where it really kicked off [laughs].

What was it that you loved about nu-metal?

JR: I found something that mum and dad didn’t like [laughs]… that was probably a big part of it. That then led into Nofx and Rancid and that led me to Dead Kennedys and that got me back to where I started at AC/DC and The Kinks.

Nice! I think it’s cool you can say “I grew up liking new metal” …a lot of people would lie and play it cool and say they were first into whatever the coolest band/s are. Everyone’s got to start liking something somewhere, if you like it, it shouldn’t matter what anyone else thinks.

JR: Yeah, one hundred percent! The thing is, even though I don’t listen to nu-metal anymore, I could put it on and totally see why I like it. I understand why it appealed to me so much as a youngin.

Why do you enjoy writing songs?

JR: That is something I ask myself and something that I haven’t been able to answer [laughs]. I think I like spending time doing something. I have a lot of hours to spend in the day, I could be punching bongs or I could be watching TV or I could be at home recording songs. I generally choose the third one.

You’re definitely dedicated to doing it, I think since 2012 you’ve had at least twenty releases that I know of.

JR: Yeah, I do it pretty frequently [laughs]. I think it’s just how I like to pass my time. I generally finish work, say “hi” to my partner and then lock myself in the studio for a couple of hours, then I eat dinner and so to bed pretty much. It’s all I do outside of work.

I did an interview a while back with Omar Rodriguez Lopez from At The Drive-In/Mars Volta and he was saying how, other people go out and party and socialise but for a lot of creative people, our party is at home making stuff, that’s our fun!

JR: Yeah, I definitely do find it fun. I do find it frustrating sometimes though but, then again I find going out and socialising frustrating as well, even though I like doing it. I think Mr Rodriguez is probably right.

What kinds of things do you find frustrating about making music?

JR: Making things fit. The things that I find frustrating are the things that probably draw me towards it as well. I’m a big fan of finding things that shouldn’t really go together and trying to make them fit together, quite often it’s frustrating. Naturally they don’t’ always fit together and I’m constantly questioning myself; why am I doing this? Which often sinks into a repetitive question with no answer. You kind get into a bit of an existential crisis; why am I doing this? Who am I doing this for? Am I doing it for myself? Obviously I’m doing it for myself, because most of my stuff I just have on my computer and I haven’t even released it. I guess I’m doing it for myself. This is the kind of stuff Bianca that my brain goes over and over and over! I’m always asking; why am I releasing this? What’s the point?

If you’re always questioning stuff maybe you’re never comfortable therefore you won’t get complacent and you’ll keep going, keep trying new things.

JR: Maybe. It’s not a matter of looking to write the perfect song or anything like that, I think my problem is that I have quantity or quality. I just like to shit things out and move on to the next thing straight away. Once it’s done it’s done!

How do you approach making a song? From what I know the writing is quite fast for you.

JR: Most of the time, it really depends. I don’t really write with any band in mind or any instrument in mind, I don’t write with any genre in mind either. I’ll pick up a random instrument and I’ll see what happens. Sometimes I’ll record as I make it up and that’s what ends up on the record, other times I’ll sing something in the shower, and record something into my phone while I’m driving or riding my bike like “do, do, do, do, do” or I’ll hum it and try to recreate it later.

I really love listening to Alien Nosejob because you are genre-less and your releases remind me of listening to a mixtape, you can hear bits and pieces of everything in there, which makes it really cool.

JR: Yeah, the record that Billy [Anti Fade Records] did recently Suddenly Everything Is Twice As Loud my aim was to try and make it sound like a mixtape.

It came through, I get it!

JR: Yeah. I wanted to make it sound like a mixtape that you’d make and give to your friends as a teenager.

We still make mixtapes.

JR: I still do as well! It probably been eight or nine months. I will get back to it thought, isolation is the perfect time for it.

I love with the Alien Nosejob HC45 EP that it’s done in the spirit of hardcore punk EPs, they’re usually traditionally released on a 7”.

JR: Yeah. That’s my favourite format. Originally with Alien Nosejob it was going to be one or two EPs, self-released and it would be done. None of the press releases said “Jake from these bands…” I made it so it was completely anonymous. I’ve lied and said I lived in Clunes which is where they filmed Mad Max! I just wanted to self-release a 7” EP completely void of labels or anything like that because thy majority of my record collections is 7”s done like that. I got bored and continued doing stuff though [laughs].

I also love how you did Buffet Of Love on a 12” in that italo-disco style and that’s how they used to release that genres singles on 12”.

JR: Yeah. That’s another genre that I absolutely love. With this Nosejob stuff, it flows to whatever I’m listening to at the time. When I recorded that I was listening to specific records – that I listed on the sleeve with the tracks – that I was loving at the time. Trying to replicate it a little.

What do you do to keep challenging yourself with your writing?

JR: Probably just form too many bands [laughs], that’s one way. From 2012 to 2017 I was playing way too many gigs per week with different bands; that was another reason why I just needed to do something hat was recording. I was getting exhausted. Now I’ve made Nosejob into a band as well. We’ve only played one show, we’ll probably only do one or two a year.

As a songwriter what are the things you value?

JR: Even though I’m guilty of it… I do value people that search for originality in songwriting… I’m trying to tread really lightly so I don’t say something stupid. I don’t really like when a band from a certain scene has a song that sounds the same as another band in that scene. I will try to look for some originality and hopefully it comes through in what I’m doing, I think though maybe I’m pulling my leg if I’m saying I don’t do that myself sometimes.

I think as part of culture everything is inspired by everything else.

JR: Exactly. I guess I mean the difference is inspiration rather than ripping off. Even if I am heavily influenced by something else I’ll put my own spin on things.

And that part right there is what makes it become original, taking things in a different direction from where you got them.

JR: That’s the aim. I have listened back to a couple of things I’ve done and I’ve been like, I didn’t put enough time into putting my own spin on this one [laughs].

Whatever you’re listening to at the time I guess can naturally filter into what you’re doing, sometimes without you even knowing.

JR: Yeah, it definitely does.

You recorded Suddenly Everything… by yourself, right?

JR: Yeah, I recorded everything all by myself.

I remember reading you explain that you’d have a ten second delay after you’d press record so you could get to the drum kit to play the track; was that process frustrating?

JR: Oh yeah, big time! I had to make a computer drum beat, if I was making it for a band I would make it with a computer drumbeat but I wouldn’t put any time into it so whoever plays the drums for it would give their own stamp to it; I pretty much do that with any instrument. I’ll do a simple version of bass or guitar or whatever and sing, then the band would learn it. With recording Alien Nosejob I had to get to that stage and then basically start again and record it properly one by one. I’d have to give a ten second count in at the start so I’d have time to press record and run to my drum kit. I’d play it and every time I’d make a mistake I’d have to start again, go walk that ten seconds to the tape machine and rewind to the right spot, and make sure I’m not recording over something else and do the whole process over again. Its very time consuming and very, very frustrating and annoying. It constantly makes you question why you are doing it.

With that album did you have songs you’d just written over time?

JR: Wait a second let me just get a copy of it, I can’t even remember what’s on it… [reaches for a copy of Suddenly… as his cat walks by] …oh “hey” it’s my cat!

What’s your cat’s name?

JR: Lumpi. She’s a little cute thing, if you want to see a picture of her, on the front cover of a 7” that School Damage did, she’s on that.

All of the songs written on Suddenly… were recorded at home in Thornbury in 2018, I’m pretty sure I just did all of these straight off the bat. Just by reading the songs titles I was listening to a lot of The Saints and a lot of Ramones at this point [laughs]. For that record I had a little studio set up in the house where my partner Carolyn has all of her print making stuff on one side of the room and I have recording stuff on the other side of the room. We would just sit back-to-back for hours a night on end making our end product.

Carolyn and Jake.

Nice! That’s like my husband and I, we have the same kind of set up. He has his little studio set up and we both have art tables, we sit there for hours and hours too.

JR: That’s cool. We just moved house and now we sit beside each other.

What are your working on now?

JR: [Laughs] It’s funny that you ask that. I feel like before I explain what I’m working on I should say that I recorded this during the Australian bushfires time in December—January, so this is not a COVID-19 record. It is a concept album about the end of the world. There’s one song in particular called “Airborne Toxic Event” and it’s about a poisonous gas destroying the world. I feel very odd about it at the moment, I’m currently mixing it. I’ve got my laptop on my lap in bed right now mixing this record. Every time I listen to it it’s like, oh god, the whole meaning of this record is just turned upside down now with everything that’s happening in the world and I feel odd about releasing it. It’s going to be called Once Again The Present Becomes The Past, it’s basically about how something very shit can happen in the world and it’s kind of like a snake eating its own tail… it’ll just happen again and again and again and again. Depending on how you look at it, it can be seen as a very negative thing or it can be seen as a positive thing like, hey, this has happened before and we’ve dealt with it. The styling is somewhere between Suddenly Everything… and the HC45 record. Also, one of my friends showed me this band, Sacrilege, that was a crust-punk band influenced by the first Metallica record—that had a little effect on me as well. If we have to stay isolating from a while it should be ready pretty soon!

Where did you learn to mix? I know that you’ve been mixing songs as far back as The Snoozefests.

JR: Wow, that’s the first time I’ve heard that name in a while! [laughs]. I did a crappy TAFE course the year I finished school. It taught me what to do and what not to do. There’s some things that I got taught to do that I didn’t like how it sounded so it taught me not to do things that way. I’ve dabbled in doing it but the first time that it was all me doing it was the Alien Nosejob stuff. The piece of advice that I got that helped me the most was from this guy in Perth, Luke Marinovich, who runs a blog Wallaby Beat which is all Australian custom pressed records in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Generally when I get close to finishing a record I always send it to a handful of close friends who I respect their music taste and ask them if they think I’m going about it the right way. When I sent it to Luke his response was, “There’s no mix like a bad mix!”. I thought about it and all of my favourite Australian punk records are not mixed at all. The guitar will be so much louder than everything else and you can’t hear the kick drum whatsoever. It’s so unconventional but it gives off a vibe that you don’t get with your records on Polydor or whatever. It has its own unique feeling, you have to stop overthinking everything—at least I have to stop overthinking everything! As you can probably tell with certain mixes or songs, overthinking is something that I don’t really do that much. If it’s close enough, I think that’s good enough, that’s what it is and I move on to something else.

How about with the Hierophants stuff?

JR: I guess because it’s a band it’s everyone having their own opinions. We got that mixed by Mikey from Total Contol and Eddy Current.

THE Mikey that mixes everyone who’s awesome in Australian music!

JR: Yeah, Mix Master Mike! [laughs]. He recorded the second Hierophants album. We got this Canadian guy who used to have a studio downstairs from my old townhouse named, Lucas; we had a crazy studio operating downstairs from me, we had the same backyard. There were constantly bands there – Tame Impala or Pond recorded there – we had to put up with noise all the time, they gave us really, really cheap rates so we recorded our record there. As far as mixing and putting time into, it was a project that we collectively passed off to Mikey and he got to put time into it and we just moved on to the next thing.

You’re self-taught with the instruments that you play?

JR: My dad and my brother showed me guitar when I was younger. In the style that I play, it’s pretty self-taught. You pick up little bits from friends. My girlfriend who plays keyboard in School Damage, she showed me some keyboard stuff pretty early on. I’m teaching her guitar in isolation at the moment, I’m finally paying it back. For the most part I’m self-taught, that’s what D.I.Y. music is really.

Do you have any songwriters you admire?

JR: A hundred! Ray Davies of The Kinks was the first one that I was blown away by at a younger age. Ed Kuepper from The Saints. Even just locally, I think Julia from J. McFarlane’s Reality Guest is a pretty great songwriter. All the people I play in bands with too like, Paris [Richens], Zak [Olsen], Billy [Gardner] and Albert [Wolski]. I’ve just fallen into a circle of friends that are really creative, they all come at it from a different angle but their end point isn’t that skewed from my interests. Australian songwriting has been pretty great in the last ten years!

Please check out: ALIEN NOSEJOB. Suddenly Everything Louder Is Twice As Loud out on ANTI FADE Records. HC45 out now on IRON LUNG records.

Melbourne punks The Snakes are: “An angular vortex of pain but you can dance to it.”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

The Snakes are one of our editor’s favourite bands. When we recommended their self-titled debut LP (on Anti Fade) on our Albums We Loved in 2019 list we described their music as early ‘80s underground L.A-style new wave punk. The actual underground though… The black market kind. You know, the “under the counter” kind. We interviewed The Snakes and found out they’re working on new music! Stoked much?!

How did you get into music?

LEWIS (vocals): Who has a choice? At some point some cunt’s gonna play some shit and you’re either gonna love it or hate it, I guess I liked it.

What have you been listening to lately?

CHARLOTTE (bass/vocals/harmonica): Ummm… Butch Willis, GG Allin, Roy Orbison, The Byrds, Rupture, Napalm Death, Traffik Island, Plantasia, Anohni, Ariana, X (Aus).

LEWIS: Death (from Florida), Extortion (aaaagain), The Kinks, Obituary.

JIMMY (drums): Jackhammers and my own inner dialogue.

STEPH (guitar/vocals): In the mornings we listen to ambient sounds such as the distant radio and twings and droplets from whatever James puts on the stereo. When we play cards we listen to hardcore and punk. And I like the start of the Exploding Hearts album so I listen to that in the shower. Same with The Loved Ones but that whole album is good. Could be in a musical rut… I like soul and country music a lot.

CHARLOTTE: You like Suzi Quatro, Steph.

STEPH: I like lots of things not mentioned. Loves Suzi but. Gets wild to Suzi!

When did you first know you wanted to make music yourself?

LEWIS: When I realised it was a piece of piss. It’s the socially acceptable way to be the loudest person in the room.

CHARLOTTE: I was in choirs my whole life but guitars were always for boys, I really just wanted the attention.

JIMMY: I didn’t, I was just jealous of my friend’s guitar when I was six.

STEPH: I got into music by being rejected from my family for not being as good a singer as my sister, and not being allowed guitar lessons like my brother cause I’m a girl. So I taught my damn self and now I rule the world!

Tell us the story of how you all got together. What inspired you to start The Snakes?

LEWIS: Three of us had on and off lived together for a while, two of us had planned to do a psychedelic proto-punk band called Giant Door (side note: Giant Door is one of the top three bands that never existed). We are two couples and at some point, Charlotte our bassist moved into a new house and we went over for a kind of house warming. We ended up jamming and writing about six songs that all pretty much ended up on the album. We had some shitty phone recordings and shared them with each other and realised we needed a drummer. It took us about two seconds to find him and that’s it.

STEPH: Jim completes us.

Photo by @sub_lation; courtesy of Snakes.

What do you feel are the key elements that make your sound?

CHARLOTTE: Jim’s drums swing, there’s no one like him.

LEWIS: Clearly the keys stands out, having James on them is a refreshing take. Flange plays a massive factor. It’s a mash of shit we listen to and shit we find fun. It’s an angular vortex of pain but you can dance to it.

How do you go about writing a song?

LEWIS: Charlotte generally comes up with the riffs with a few exceptions and we all just put our parts in from there. We’re natural, baby!

Photo by @sub_lation; courtesy of Snakes.

Last year you released your self-titled debut album on Anti Fade Records; can you tell us about recording it? Billy from Anti Fade recorded it, right?

CHARLOTTE: Yes, he did. We’d spent about a year playing together before our first show and he offered to record and put us out at that first show. Recording in Geelong was great but what was really fun was doing vocals and mixing with Billy. We had a lot of ideas, we had a vision, Bill helped us execute it.

JAMES (keys/vocals): Bully Gardner is our mentor and he wax trax layer to the max.

Cover art by Eve Dadd.

What’s your personal favourite track on the record?

LEWIS: We don’t play this one anymore but I really like singing “Drug Pig”. I came up with the lyrics on the fly and I love screaming “Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, smoke a gram of pure ice”. “Solid Income” too, it just kind of cruises.

CHARLOTTE: I hate “Drug Pig”, even though it makes me feel tough, there’s a part that makes me feel kind of sick. I love playing “Ugly Faces” it’s simple but it’s rude. I know Steph loves “Pop Song”.

When you finished the record; who was the first person you played the songs to?

CHARLOTTE: I think my friend Kieran, they frothed for it!

Eve Dadd did your album’s cover art; what’s the story behind it?

STEPH: Eve does art and is related to James. She is talented and a boisterous bitch that lives on the South Coast of NSW. We love and hate her at the same time.

CHARLOTE: She’s a Scorpio.

LEWIS: Me and Charlotte outright bought it, it’s on our wall.

Launch poster by Eve Dadd.

How do you feel when you’re performing?

LEWIS: Extremely confident and self-conscious at the same time. I just go for it, I don’t really give a shit.

CHARLOTTE: When I play, I’m singing my bass parts in my head. I like watching Steph solo and smiling at James.

What’s been the best and worst gig you’ve played? What made it so?

STEPH: Best show was one at One Year (in Collingwood). I had just discovered the beta blockers and dexie combo and I did not give a fuck and people could tell. Smiling is good when playing fun music. Worst show was that one with Bloodletter. Can’t remember why but I know it was bad.

LEWIS: Last Maggot Fest was great, it actually went off. Supporting The Stroppies was pretty dry, not The Stroppies, I love The Stroppies I just don’t think that that crowd was really down for us. I remember putting on a show and crawling on the floor and screaming but still there was a big gap between us and the crowd. Maybe we’re too high brow.

Photo by @sub_lation; courtest of Snakes.

Have you been working on new music?

LEWIS: Yes.

What would we find you doing when not making music?

LEWIS: Working like a dog.

CHARLOTTE: Watching telly. I just bought a keyboard too, been trying to figure out how to play “Everytime” by Britney [Spears]. Also pretty heavily into Tik Tok at the moment.

JIMMY: Drink, complain, bate.

Vid by VOGELS VIDEO. Check out more of what they do here!

Please check out: THE SNAKES. The Snakes on Instagram. ANTI FADE records.

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

Handmade collage by B.

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

Why is music important to you?

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

What inspired you to start making music yourself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did the albums opening track “Hobbyist” develop?

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

EXEK – Some Beautiful Species Left.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What sparks your lyrical imagination?

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

EXEK – Ahead Of Two Thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you ever go back and listen to your records?

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

EXEK – A Casual Assmebly.

What do you do to nurture your creativity?

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

What are you working on now?

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

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