Kim Salmon: “In the creative process you do have to look inside of yourself and express things that are at the heart of you, which by their nature is primal”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Melbourne-based musician Kim Salmon has been creating art and music his whole life, over six decades. He tells engaging stories with both his visual art and musical endeavours. His work is passionate, adventurous, compelling, thought sparking and journey making. Each time he creates something, he starts from scratch and has an aversion to the formulaic. Gimmie had a thoughtful chat with Kim about his work, creativity, the new Surrealists’ double LP Rantings From The Book Of Swamp and of a new Scientists record that’s done!

How was your morning walk?

KIM SALMON: [Laughs] I’m still on my walk! I can walk and talk.

Have you always been a walker?

KS: No, I used to swim because I’ve got a dodgy back and years ago a doctor told me that it was the best thing to do, but you can’t really swim in these days so I try and stay in shape by walking—I’m trying to stay alive basically.

Besides the fitness aspect of it, do you get anything else out of it?

KS: Yeah. They’ve restricted it now, down here [in Melbourne], you can go a radius of five kilometres from your house. There’s plenty of stuff to see, I’m getting to know a lot of it. I did this crazy thing at the start of all this lockdown stuff, somebody gave me these postcards that were blank, the idea was to do little paintings on them. I thought, yeah, I’m never going to do that! Suddenly, I have all the time in the world and I started sending people little paintings in watercolour of these things that are around Northcote; things like little garden cherubs and strange looking topiary and bizarre things that you don’t usually notice when you’re walking around. When you do it every day, you see lurid detail.

Art by Kim Salmon

Nice! I love being out in nature. I walk around my neighbourhood a lot.

KS: It’s nice to do that. We’re near Merri Creek and Darebin Creek, those are nice walks to go on very close to nature, you wouldn’t think you were anywhere near a city.

What do you love about painting?

KS: I’ve always done it. Music was kind of like a highjack for me [laughs]. I’ve always loved painting. I was studying it but then I dropped out of art school and became a musician, which is the biggest cliché out; isn’t it? [laughs].

It’s all creativity! I’ve seen some of your paintings and really love them. There’s this one that’s a bedroom scene.

KS: I did that one when I was about sixteen.

Do you remember painting it?

KS: Oh, yeah. There’s a piano in it.

What’s the significance of the piano?

KS: It was in my room, that was my bedroom, that was basically it. There’s a pair of clogs in the middle of the floor because it was the ‘70s and people were wearing platform shoes, often clogs, that was a thing!

Did you learn to play piano before you learnt to play guitar?

KS: No, I persuaded my mum to buy the piano because she had learnt piano as a child and I wanted to maybe take it up, I thought I might learn some piano. I could already play the guitar. I figured out a few chords and had a muck around on it but I never really developed any real techniques for playing the piano.

Art by Kim Salmon

When you dropped out of art school that would have been around ’76? That was around the time you got into music more and you had the punk band the Cheap Nasties, right?

KS: That’s exactly right [laughs].

What attracted you to proto-punk and punk music?

KS: I was looking for my own thing, if you know what I mean? I had just met Dave Faulkner and some of his friends. I was hanging out with them and each of those blokes seemed to have a thing they were into. Dave was into Bob Dylan and Randy Newman, lyrically driven stuff; a lot of America stuff like Cosby, Stills, Nash & Young, that kind of thing. I didn’t really have a thing, my taste was really eclectic, I liked a lot of stuff, like King Crimson and a bit of prog and a bit of folk, there wasn’t really any kind of theme to it. I used to devour those trade weeklies like New Musical Express and Melody Maker. One day I saw an article about CBGB and the scene there attracted me, it was the way that the writer described everything, a netherworld full of people wearing leather jackets. It all sounded so different to everything where I was in Perth.

I read that from that article you went to track down some punk records and you came across The Modern Lovers?

KS: Yeah. I went on a quest to find what punk was! [laughs]. It was a word that was bandied about in the articles but we couldn’t work out what it was. The Stooges were mentioned, the Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls, I went looking for them all. I’d never heard of The Modern Lovers but I found them. It didn’t matter if they were punk or not as far as I was concerned, I loved it, so that was going to be punk to me!

Is there anything from the punk music community that you were involved with early on that was valuable that you learnt from it?

KS: A lot of friends I’m still friends with. That’s probably it you know, the people that I became friends with and still keep in touch with. [Laughs] It’s as simple as that really. We’ve all moved on along our travels, musically or in our career.

Why do you like making things?

KS: Good question! Why do people do that? [laughs]. So they can stay around after they’ve gone. It’s a way of communicating, it’s a way of being present in the world. For me I couldn’t explain it at all, I paint and draw because it gives me pleasure and I want to do it, it’s the same with music. Music is just another form of painting to me; I’m painting when I’m making music, if that makes any sense?

It does. What do you value as an artist?

KS: Some kind of originality if that’s even possible. I think everyone is unique and everyone is universal at the same time; it’s a strange thing that we can express some universal ideas through your own uniqueness.

It seems like throughout your career you haven’t ever really been motivated by money, it’s more about the process and making things.

KS: Oh yes, unfortunately for me and those around me [laughs]. Money doesn’t really drive me, money is a means to an end… it’s numbers, I don’t have anything against maths [laughs], it’s not really what drives me. Even in school, I was good at maths as far as the abstractness of it went but when it came down to arithmetic, I was hopeless [laughs]. I was good at geometry and trigonometry, I was OK with them things but… look, I think I lost ten grand in a bank I worked in one day! I’m not good at numbers.

Previously you’ve said that when you want to create something you need focus; what kinds of things do you do to help focus?

KS: It’s different for every particular endeavour. I’m one of those people that sometimes needs to set something up or I will sit around not doing anything forever [laughs]… out of inertia and fear, I suppose. Once I get going the inertia is there and I guess I keep going… it’s a big one for me. Like this pandemic, I think I’m OK, it’s kind of forced me to do something. I try. I stare at a blank piece of paper. I go down to the art shop and buy myself some nice inks and watercolours and then I come home and stare at the paper for weeks on end and finally I do something. Once it’s started I just go where the paints flows [laughs].

What kinds of things have you been painting lately?

KS: The last thing I painted was… I don’t know what you’d call it? It could be molecular size or nebula size. It’s these organic forms that I made up. I got this stuff that’s like masking tape but it’s like glue, you squirt it on the paper, it’s nice and blue and pretty and you can see where it is. You can do a painting with it and then paint over that and then you rub it all off and it leaves a white area. I did this thing that’s kind of inspired by a book of art forms in nature, done by one of those 19th Century scientist, philosopher-types who believed… it’s a book of drawings and diagrams of one-cell creatures like jellyfish and bats, birds and fungus. His point was that there are all these beautiful, symmetrical forms in nature and there was art at work.

It was my girlfriend Maxine who looked at one of my paintings with the masking thing and she came upon this book and ordered it for me. One day it showed up in the mail from New Zealand, she had to tell me it was for me [laughs]. I looked at this book and it inspired me. I put all this glue stuff over the canvas, it’s pretty big, maybe a metre across. I used a vivid ink. I just let it run and mix and carry on and paint forms around the masking material. I was really happy with what it ended up as, I couldn’t tell you what it was though [laughs]. I could see some strange monstrous forms, but I think they’re kind of beautiful. You can’t tell if it’s in deep space or at a microscopic level. It could be anything really!

Art by Kim Salmon

I can’t wait to see it. I hope you have another art exhibition.

KS: One day! If we come out of lockdown. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of Covid art out there! [laughs].

That’s OK though! When you talk about making art, I feel like it brings you so much joy!

KS: Oh absolutely! It really takes you somewhere. You really have a conversation with the paint and the paper and the canvas and the ink. It sounds a bit mad but I definitely finds it leads me somewhere—it’s quite an enchanted place.

You mentioned the book you got recently and that the guy that made it was into philosophy; do you get into much philosophy or anything like that?

KS: I try to, but I haven’t really made a big study of that. There’s so many things that I might do. There’s a lot of people around that time, when religion was being challenged by science. There were some shaman and crazy people and frauds and con-artists out there like Gurdjieff and Madame Blavatsky and Rudolph Steiner… I guess Steiner wasn’t really a con-artist, but what I mean is there were a lot of ideas out there being explored. It was an interesting time.

Are you a spiritual person at all?

KS: Not in any formal religious kind of way, no. I suppose everyone says they’re spiritual. I don’t know that my way of being that would seem particularly spiritual to someone else. I have my music and art and I guess that’s my spirituality really. I’m probably more scientific if anything about those things.

Why did you feel it was time to make a new Surrealists’ album?

KS: It has a funny story. The Surrealists have been playing forever, particularly this line-up, we always enjoyed playing, never rehearse, just play a gig every now and then. I thought the band deserved more than a few hundred bucks from just playing a gig, you can only do some many shows, we got a show before lockdown and I got this bright idea that we would do a show that was completely improvised and we’d record it, that would be the draw card for the show. It was Phil [Collings] the drummer’s idea actually to do a completely live album. I thought if you’re a band recording you need to have songs and stuff; how do you do that like that? Over the years I’d write lyrical things into my books that I’d read the lyrics out of but I hadn’t used them yet so I thought I’d use them, that’s what they were for this album.

We had the gig booked and lockdown occurred. We had to postpone it. A film producer that had done the Scientists… actually Scientists actually have an album in the can would you believe!

That’s great news!

KS: It’s on a US label, so who knows when that will come out. We did a film clip for the new album and he approached me about taking this idea that I had into a recording studio and it being streamed. We wanted it set up with lots of cameras in a proper studio, we eventually got that happening. We called it Rantings From The Book Of Swamp, basically because that’s what it is; it’s me singing things out of my books to have lyrical content to the things we were making up.

How did you feel in the moment when you were making it?

KS: Terrified!

Really?!

KS: Yeah, because when you do something like that… we all had ideas but didn’t consult with each other, we thought we’d just be able to flesh them out. Nothing went the way at the time that I thought it would go. Everything felt like it went wrong! It was about an hour’s worth of “oh no” and trying to fix it up. Stu [Thomas] felt the same. Phil was just eating it up, you could tell he was having the best time of his life [laughs].

It was done over two sessions, I couldn’t be convinced that it was any good. I thought, nah, that’s it, I’ve blown it! They said “no, no, it’s good!” I didn’t believe them. I ended up looking at it and thinking, nah, OK, that’s good. You can see Stu and I really concentrating and trying to make it work, and that’s what made it good, we thought about it every second of the way.  It was the most switched on I’ve ever been.

I remember hearing you mention a little ways back that it’s been a long journey and process for you to get comfortable with lots of things, being on stage, stuff like that; was there something that changed that made you feel more comfortable?

KS: I couldn’t tell you the answer to that. At some point now I couldn’t imagine being uncomfortable but I was. I’ve heard recordings of those times and I’m still the same person… that’s probably what was good about this last recording, it probably brought me back out of my comfort zone into somewhere strange, I think that’s what happens… things that aren’t in your comfort zone, as long as you can move out of them and explore them, eventually you’ll become comfortable with them. I think that’s the process. In a way this particular album is good because it’s a reminder of not being comfortable, of being lost [laughs]. I think there’s actually something good about being lost and not knowing what you’re doing.

It’s so cool that with all of your projects and records that the new one is a reaction to the previous one and you always evolve to do something different.

KS: Yeah, I think you have to do it. I remember Tex Perkins used to say the same thing too. He’d say that things do tend to be a reaction to what I’ve done before. I’m not alone in that. It’s probably a little bit more extreme in my case for some reason [laughs]. I’m a bit more of a random nut job! [laughs].

You mentioned that making the new record was terrifying but; what made it fun for you?

KS: That same thing! I look back and think it was terrifying but, in a good way. I can hear myself there and everyone that was watching it online can see me, I was making a joke out of it and trying to spin a yarn out of it [laughs], weaving a narrative.

Do you think you use your humour to deflect from the fact you are terrified?

KS: I think that’s a common trait in comedians and artists, people on a stage. I don’t think that’s unique.

A lot of your lyrics tend to be from a darker more primal place; why do you think that is?

KS: I just think that’s part of the artistic process really, in the creative process you do have to look inside of yourself and express things that are at the heart of you, which by their nature is primal. Things become a lot more elemental when you do that. Having said that, you can still do things that are the opposite of that, I don’t know that all of my stuff is like that. I’m sure I do things that are light-hearted and witty and pharisaical [laughs].

Talking to you, you seem like such an easy going person.

KS: Yeah, I am.

What’s the most personal song that you feel you’ve ever written?

KS: In a way a lot of songs are about things that are outside of myself. I often put myself in other people’s point of view… that can still make songs personal. I like all my songs for different reasons. Maybe there’s not one that’s more personal than another. In a way I probably write for other people in a strange way, even though I am expressing and doing things for myself… what I mean is that other people can look at something and project their own meaning onto it, I’m OK with that. The thing about writing songs or poetry and a lot of art as well, it’s full of ambiguity and symbolism, symbols mean different things to different people… in a way the loudness and ambiguity of words, simple words as in a song as opposed to dense literature, is the strength of it—that’s what makes it powerful and universal.

I know songs must come to you in all kinds of ways but, is there a way that they come more often?

KS: When we did this particular project, there were a couple of songs on the album that were things like walking around the neighbourhood. There’s a song “Did You Pick It Up In The Playground?” it is about; where did you get that language from? It’s about behaviour like; is that you? It also had a meaning to do with picking up Covid. I found that it was just a line that came to me, it came with a tune already. I had to try and sing it. I knew what the chords were that I was playing under the singing. The band could be on the same page as me, or not, and take it somewhere really strange. As it happened the melody and song that I had in my head was indestructible enough it was added to by what Phil and Stu did.

When choosing the words for the songs you were making in real time; did you turn to a random page in your notebooks?

KS: No, I had ones that I thought would be good. I looked at them and pored over them and had a few in mind. For instance I already had a bit of a tune for “Did You Pick It Up In The Playground?” and “Burn Down The Plantation” I had a form in my head of what it would be like; to me it was like The Rolling Stones around the 1970s, Sticky Fingers era. Whether it came out like that is another thing! [laughs]. I had lyrics that I’d written around January and doing something that was kind of Blues-based took me back to days of slavery and the Civil War. I wrote a few lines and thought “Burn Down The Plantation” was a cool line and it went with that kind of music. I was wonder if I should take it into the recording given that there is all of this Black Lives Matter protest going on. I was scared of it really, I thought, oh god, we’re just three white guys; what right do we have to go singing about plantations burning down? I thought, I’m not going to censor myself, we’ll do it.

I had a few other things that were on my mind. For the recording I put little post-it notes on the ones that I thought I’d use. I also knew that if I went scrambling and scurrying for pages I’d be very lost and it would be a waste of time. I picked ones I thought I’d be more at ease with.

With the notebooks you drew from, you mentioned that you’ve been collecting thoughts in them for a while?

KS: Yeah. Those books I have, even then there’s a story. I had set-lists and I put them in there and I have lyrics and I put them in there. I write in them in such a random way. One starts at the back of the notebook and then it starts upside down from the other way. Sometimes there’s drawings. It’s really random things, random expressions of thoughts that I have. Often set-lists though – set-lists to me don’t mean a set out list of a repertoire – I have lists of songs from my bands and I call them out to the other members.

Have you always kept notebooks like this?

KS: Yeah, but it’s kind of become more obsessive as I’ve gotten older. I have one from The Scientists’ days. It was halfway through The Scientists that I thought I should be a proper singer and have notebooks, like a proper artist [laughs]. Now I’m glad I did because then you find out about Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain and they’ve always got these books full of art and crazy things. I feel accomplished, that’s a good club to be in! [laughs].

Art by Kim Salmon

You mentioned there’s a new Scientists’ record?

KS: Yeah! We recorded it, because there was a bit of a renaissance with the band, we did a tour of Europe, two tours of the USA and two of Australia a few years back. It was all on the back of that Chicago archival label Numero releasing our back catalogue and a box-set. We did a few singles and me and the guitar player [Tony Thewlis] would send each other things, I would send him drum beats of all things [laughs]. I’d get Leanne and Boris down from Sydney and I’d show them what I had and they’d knock ‘em into shape. Tony came over here to be part of The Scientists’ getting inducted into the WAM Hall of Fame. We spent that time in Perth in a studio and knocked that album together. We’d been working on it for a long time. I got Tony to build me some riffs. I’d think up crazy drum patterns and send them to him and then he’d build riffs on that, I’d do melodies and words on top of that. I’d send that to Boris [Sujdovic] and Leanne [Cowie] and they’d be the final process.

We don’t’ know when it will come out though, it’s all ready, it’s got the cover art and we did a film clip for it. It’s very strange because the thing that The Surrealists have just done is probably a lot closer to where The Scientists were in 1983 and the new Scientists’ album has travelled somewhere different. I don’t know how people are going to take it. I’ve tried really hard to have enough elements that people accept it’s The Scientists but, we’ve taken it somewhere else. I’ve listened back to the lyrics of it and it’s not in the same place as Blood Red River.

That’s really exciting to me! Bands evolving and going somewhere new is super exciting to me. I grew up in the punk world and it was always about individuality and pushing things… your new record sounds like it’s those things to me.

KS: Yeah, we’ve done that! It’s a bit more crafted. I think that’s why The Surrealists thing got more closer, it’s more visceral… this Scientists thing has some visceral elements, it’s heavy, it’s got the brutality in sound but, it’s crafted as well because of the way we made it. It wasn’t a spontaneous process. It was put together because we thought we should do it and wanted to do it, that’s a different process to when a band is young and say “Oh yeah, let’s just do this” which is how we used to do it [laughs]. That’s kind of what The Surrealists just did! [laughs].

You said that your lyrics for Scientists now were in a different place; where are they?

KS: I was listening to it thinking, god it’s taken me to get this long to get where Dave Graney was in The Moodists [laughs]. That’s what it makes me think of. He had these songs that had bizarre stories to them; I was listening to it yesterday thinking it sounds like Graney. There is a song that references him called “The Science Of Swarve” and I talk about him and Lux Interior and Nick Cave and I kind of say that their threads, meaning their lyrical threads, their threads, their clothes being in tatters and no narrative could ever save [laughs]. That was fun putting that in there. It was all about being swarve, it’s a bit of a boast. I think it’s a storytelling yarn that Graney would have done in those days.

I’m looking forward to hearing it! You do a lot of stuff; where does your hard work ethic come from?

KS: That’s what everyone says. I sit around looking at blank paper and canvases. I sit around doing nothing and wasting my time—that’s what creativity is. Until you can’t stand it anymore and you have to do something and once you get started you can’t stop!

I know you teach people to play guitar; have you learnt anything from teaching?

KS: Yeah, absolutely. I had to get across a lot of theory that I didn’t have, things like modes for scales and various harmonic ideas that I knew about… I used to use them without knowing what I was doing. Now I know what I’m doing and it takes a bit of the mystery out of it. I’ve got a lot out of teaching. I know how songs are put together now, which I wouldn’t have had a clue before! [laughs]. I use to break the rules without knowing what rules I was breaking.

That’s funny to hear you’ve learnt how to put together a song after all this time doing it. Have you ever had a really life changing experience?

KS: Gosh! When I read an article about CBGB it was pretty life changing—it sent me on the journey.

The first one I can remember, I must have been about three and my mum always told me that I didn’t speak until I was three and then I spoke in complete sentences, she’d know what I wanted but I didn’t talk. I remember her one day showing me a watercolour set and explaining to me what it was. I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t have a clue. She got the water and a brush and she started using red and she did a little loop thing. I got the brush and started filling up the page with these little strange loops of red. I didn’t know that it was for me, I just thought she was showing this thing. I thought, wow, you can say stuff with this, this is fantastic! That definitely was a thing for me! I can still see it so vividly. That’s probably where art came from for me. That was life changing really early.

It’s so cool that you’re painting now, it’s like things have come full circle for you.

KS: Yeah, I love watercolour, there’s just something about it. You get to leave some of the paper blank, you can leave some bits alone and not disturb it, and some of it you use—it all becomes one big story.

Art by Kim Salmon

And coming across all the punk rock stuff in publications was life changing too?

KS: Yeah, yeah. I guess I was looking for a place to be in my music, for a starting point, I wanted something to bring in a focus and that became it. I think it was probably the same for a lot of people.

Is painting and making songs similar in any way to you?

KS: Yes and no. I’d go so far as to say that even every song is different to make. I try to look at everything from not having a formula, I don’t like formula as much, which is a bit funny for a guy in a band called The Scientists [laughs]. I like to think I’m starting from scratch every time that I do something and not knowing what you’re doing is part of it. Learning about music sort of takes away from that so; what do I do? What I just did with The Surrealists was a way of getting back to that thing… it’s that aspect, the mystery, that you don’t know where the hell you are and you’re lost, that makes the start of creating something, not knowing where it’s going to go or where it’s going to be. You might have an idea of what you’re going to do, but you don’t know what it’s going to be in the end. That mystery and not knowing is the thing that is the unifying factor.

Being open to all of the possibilities! A freedom in that?

KS: Yeah, I think so. Like when we were talking about philosophy before, being open to ideas and not fixed and to appreciate what life has to offer. To make the best of it and not just think, this is it, this is what I’m going to do!

I’ve heard you say before that looking after yourself and simply enjoying the day are important things to you; what does an enjoyable day look like to you?

KS: [Laughs] It’s a strange combination of routine and getting lost in something, that’s a good day for me. Going for my walk and seeing something new in it and going a different way every time, to just make something different about it. With all the border restrictions and other restrictions and parameters of late, I guess it has to be that.

I guess you need to use your imagination in doing things more and doing things differently, adapting; how can I get the most out of what I have and what’s happening now?

KS: Yes, you’re right.

Last question; what makes you really, really happy?

KS: [Laughs]. I think just my life now, there’s things about it that I’d hate it to be taken away from me. I have my partner Maxine and we have a really good thing going, it’s been a few years now. I have my kids that I have a really good relationship with. I’ll be talking to my son after this and giving him a bass guitar lesson; he’s really starting to find his way, he’s twenty. All those things make me happy. Making stuff, all of it! [laughs].

Please check out KIM SALMON; KS on Facebook; KS on Instagram. Rantings From The Book Of Swamp drops September 4th – LISTEN here.

Parsnip and School Damage’s Carolyn Hawkins: “You just have to tell that voice that doubts yourself to shut up!”

Carolyn Hawkins is a musician and visual artist from Melbourne. We love the art she creates! It’s imaginative, fun, whimsical and sentimental. She lovingly crafts album covers, gig posters, zines, videos and more as well as playing in two punk bands we adore, Parsnip and School Damage. Gimmie chatted with Carolyn about all this and more.

CAROLYN HAWKINS: I’ve been stuck in the studio today working on stuff that’s due this week.

What have you been working on?

CH: A stop-motion video. I’m glad we booked the interview for today because I feel like I’m starting to go crazy, I feel like I’m locked in a dungeon trying to get this thing done [laughs]. It’s good to break it up.

You also did a stop-motion animation for the School Damage song “Meeting Halfway”; is this new clip you’re working on similar to that?

CH: Yeah. It’s pretty similar. I’m still using paper cut-outs to do all of the images. I’m using a slightly better program. When I made the “Meeting Halfway” video I was using a $20 program and my computer didn’t have enough memory. I had to save it every time that I captured a frame, it was twelve frames per second. It would kick me out and I’d lose all of my work. I have a much better program now, which I’m glad I was able to save up for and get. It makes stuff a dream. It’s still really time consuming but it’s easier now.

I can relate! With my laptop at the moment I have to have it plugged into the wall all the time because the battery won’t charge and it has a dodgy port and if I just knock it slightly it shuts down and whatever I’m working on I lose. At the moment I’m saving after like every sentence I type!

CH: Oh no! That’s totally what this was like. It’s living on the edge way too much [laughs].

[Laughter] Totally!

CH: The “Meeting Halfway” video was a lot of fun to make. I don’t really do animation stuff, I didn’t really know what I was doing. My friend Alex gave me heaps of help in figuring it all out, I also borrowed a camera and a tripod off him. I still don’t really know what I’m doing, I guess that’s probably why I’m working in a similar style for this new one. I’m still getting my head around that way of doing things. I started using a green screen which is pretty exciting!

Nice! My husband’s made a few film clips with animation and using a green screen, he just uses a green sheet for the backdrop.

CH: Cool! I have a green bit of paper. It’s really fun! What videos has he made?

He made Regurgitator’s “Sine Wave” clip. What first got you interested in art?

CH: I’ve always enjoyed drawing and making things from as far back as I can remember. One thing that really stands out – I really don’t think that I probably would be into making things in quite the same way if I didn’t watch it – is watching Art Attack! When I was a kid I used to love that show so much! My mum used to tape it off the T.V. and I’d watch it on the school holidays. Someone gave me all the VHS tapes of that recently too. It’s just the most random projects and using all kinds of materials, just stuff you have around the house. It kept me entertained for so long. I’ve always enjoyed making things and using the materials that I have generally. It’s satisfying to start with nothing and then by the end of the day you’ve made this new thing. That was always just fun stuff. I don’t know what made me decide to go to art school and pursue it beyond doing art at school or in my own time. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else basically, there’s nothing else that I want to do more. It’s just a very satisfying thing to do to work with your hands.

It really can be the best fun that you can possibly have.

CH: Yeah, exactly. There’s so many surprises! When I left school I studied print making and a lot of that is about these unexpected things that can happen. When something doesn’t go right and you get these happy accidents, I think that’s probably the most exciting thing that can happen when you’re making anything whether it’s a song or a drawing or a print, something you’re working on. For me that is the most exciting thing about making anything.

Me too! I love when you’re making a song and you might play a “wrong” note or something but then it works, there’s a beauty in imperfection and making things work, that’s what makes stuff more interesting to me.

CH: Yeah, totally! I agree. With punk music it’s all about imperfections. When you’re recording something and it’s not a perfect take, I would probably prefer to use those ones. There’s no point in trying to control something so much that it squeezes the life out of it. You have to allow and encourage all of those things. It’s all part of the process.

Totally! When I spoke to Jake [of Alien Nosejob] he told me that he was teaching you to play guitar in iso; how’s that going?

CH: Oh yeah! [laughs]. Good. I’m still going with it. I practice almost every day and it’s been really good because, I think over the last little while I have found it harder to write songs. I’ve just gone through this period where… I’m not really sure what it is but I haven’t been writing as many songs but I’m still dong musical things.

It’s been really awesome to learn an instrument. I haven’t played anything like the guitar before, the last time I learnt an instrument would have been when I was getting drum lessons when I was a teenager or learning piano. It makes you realise that when you are an adult, as you get older you know what you like and you stick to the things that you know and that you’re good at and you keep doing those; the things that you’re not good at you don’t have to do anymore.

As a kid your parents encourage you to learn these things, play this sport, go to swimming lesson, stuff like that… you might not enjoy them but you just do them because that’s what being kid is about—people want you to try new things. It’s refreshing to push myself to do this thing that might be uncomfortable and have the satisfaction of seeing yourself get better at something. It’s been really fun.

It’s nice to play songs that I think are cool. If I learnt guitar as a kid I’d probably just be playing something like “Smoke On The Water” [laughs]. Maybe “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica or something like that! I’m so impatient with learning the guitar though, it’s like; when am I going to get better?! It reminds you that if you practice something you’re going to get better. If you put work into something you’ll get there. Fingers crossed I keep going with it.

I’ve read that in Parsnip you play the same drum kit you’ve had since you were a teenager.

CH: Yeah, I do. I’ve only ever had the one drum kit. I remember when I got it from this drum place that is still there in Richmond on Victoria Street. It’s served me really well and unless something bad happened to it or it broke in a way that it couldn’t be repaired… I never get new things, especially if I’m used to something. I’ll just keep using it until I can’t.

Same!

CH: Jake loves getting new things, I don’t really like getting new things [laughs]. I stay with my old stuff and I like repairing things until I can’t anymore and they just die. I’m really fond of my drum kit, it’s like my bike… I’m so comfy with them, they’re like old friends. I can’t let go of them!

Previously when talking about the gear you’ve used, you’ve mentioned that you feel like your sound more comes from how you play and not what gear you play; how would you say you play?

CH: That’s a good point, because a lot of the time I don’t even play my drum kit. It’s not like being a guitarist and having your own gear, often when you’re a drummer you just use what kit is there, which is fine, it means I don’t have to bring one.

For a long time I never really thought the way I played was particularly unique or anything, the way I play I always have the philosophy that less is more. Strip it back as much as you can to the core elements. I think it probably came from being in high school, I never played drums in a band because it was totally dominated by dudes, who honesty couldn’t play that well but were just really loud and they could do all these drum fills and stuff. I was too nervous to do that. It made me be really put off by these really over the top way of playing.

When I was a teenager I loved The Who and loved Led Zeppelin, I still really like those bands and that crazy drumming but, it’s not for me. I’d much rather play like Peggy from The Gories or Meg from The White Stripes, she basically made me want to be a drummer. I take from that school of thought, you don’t need to be over the top to have something that sounds cool and has personality, and is catchy and still has a good feel to it. People often come up to me and say they like how I drum and everyone always says that I play “really in the pocket” and I have never really understood what that means… apparently that’s what I do [laughs].

When Parsnip started you all had other bands; what was it like when you all started playing together?

CH: Honestly it just felt really natural. Me and Paris and Stella had spoken about it, we were at one of the Jerkfests and we were like, let’s make a band! The other two had been talking about it and they asked me if I wanted to be part of it. I messaged them the next day and I was like, I know we were all pretty drunk and getting excited about this but, I really, really want to do it!

When we finally did get together…. whenever you start a band I think it’s a bit awkward because you know each other as friends but you’re trying to suss out how everyone works when you jam, being in that band environment. Every band is so different. I feel like we figured it out really quickly, I feel like we just got our shit together!

We all had played in bands for so long… we probably all had the same experience playing in bands… I’d never played in an all girl before. We all had the same frustrations of being in this male dominated environment, it’s not like we talked about that though. The dynamic just worked instantly. It was fun. It’s just hanging out with your friends. It sounds corny but that’s how it really was. With our rehearsals still, almost 50% of it is just hanging out and chatting [laughs]. Which isn’t great if you’re paying for a rehearsal room. It’s good though, a lot of it is mucking around and catching up. It’s important to hang out outside of band things too, I think sometimes in bands friendships can suffer. We all hang out as buddies not just band stuff, which is really nice.

What inspired you and Jake to start School Damage?

CH: Me and Jake did a tape. Jake typically said something like – this was when we first started going out – “We’re gonna spend so much time together, we may as well start a band” [laughs]. Which was cool, I didn’t mind. I had never written a song before and he was really encouraging of that, which was good because it is pretty scary to do that. We recorded a tape at home. Jake was hanging out with Jeff at this record store, Title, that used to exist on Gertrude Street. Jeff joined on drums and then I’d known Dani since I was at RMIT – she was doing photography and I was doing print making. We were all just friends. Dani played guitar and I asked her if she could play bass and she turned out to be the best bass player I have ever heard, so incredible.

You mentioned that when you started writing songs, it was scary; what’s scary about it?

CH: I guess ‘cause I thought I couldn’t do it. It was nice being around Jake because I can kind of see how he writes songs, it demystified the whole process. I was still relativity new even to just having friends that played music. The whole idea of creating songs… I was playing with Chook Race and we just jammed, at the start we didn’t really write songs. I was always like; how does it happen?

I knew how to play piano and I had a keyboard so I just recorded stuff on my phone and Garage Band, not really knowing what I was doing; I still don’t know what I’m doing! It was a scary idea. You have to make yourself quite vulnerable. The thing that always freaks me out is; what am I going to write a song about? Everything sounds pathetic when I write, but you just have to get past that. If I was going to give in to that part of myself, which is: no one cares about that; no one wants to hear about your stupid romance troubles… I don’t even know. Why do you want to write a song about dumb online shopping? Who gives a shit?

I give a shit! I really love your song “Online Shopping”.

CH: That’s the one song that I am the most proud of! [laughs]. I really love that song, I don’t care that I wrote it… I really love it. It’s actually really relevant right now… anyway, whatever! You just have to tell that voice that doubts yourself to shut up! You know this. It’s not going to help you at all do anything. Maybe that’s why I haven’t written for ages? Because every time I go to write something I think it’s stupid.

Something that helps me when writing is that I think, well, maybe if I think this maybe someone else out there will. I just do it and have fun with it. Hopefully it connects with someone somewhere, and if it doesn’t I still had a really fun time making it.

CH: You’re 100 % right. It’s like maybe we’re just hardwired to doubt ourselves. You do have to get past it. You’re right, someone somewhere will resonate with it and if they don’t; what’s the worst that could happen?!

On the new Parsnip 7” Adding Up you wrote the song “Repeater”?

CH: Yes, I did. I wrote it really quickly because I was like, oh no, I have to try and write something for this! [laughs]. It was very quickly put together. This is what happens when you play in a band, you write some little demo with a little information in it and the rest of the members make it a hundred more times amazing! I wrote that and we ended up making it heaps like “I Can’t Explain” by The Who, obviously [laughs]. I didn’t realise until after that I’d totally ripped off a part in “Proud Mary” by Creedence [Clearwater Revival], but whatever! It ended up working though because the song is about patterns repeating themselves throughout your life, relationships and things. Maybe it doesn’t matter that those songs are repeating themselves in my song. At least I can justify it that way! [laughs].

Parsnip do a cover on the 7” too of “Treacle Toffee World”.

CH: I think it was Stella’s suggestion, I didn’t know the song beforehand. It’s off one of these ‘60s comps of garage music. The song is by a band called Fire. It’s such a good song. It’s so much fun to play. It’s fun to sing a song about sort of nothing. I really like the lyrics in it.

The film clip is really fun!

CH: That was obviously done in isolation. We were talking about what we wanted to do for a clip and then the pandemic happened. It’s done in iMovie and is pretty lo-fi. We all filmed ourselves at our own homes being idiots dancing to the song. Bec put it together in a day. It was nice to be silly with it. You’re not spending lots of money on it so there’s no pressure to make it perfect. It was nice to do something together even though we were apart from each other and isolating. Just talking to each other about band stuff and getting things done was nice.

I was so sad for you when the Parsnip Japan tour got cancelled.

CH: I know, it sucks. I’m sad about it as well. Everyone has had so many things get cancelled this year. Ordinarily, if I told myself at the start of this year that everything that was going to happen was going to happen, I’d be so devastated but I think as things got cancelled, the whole scale of this thing has put so many parts of my life into perspective. I had another trip that got cancelled to and I kind of didn’t mind ‘cause I was so freaked out about so many other things, I didn’t even want to go. I was fine to just stay here and be stuff. It would be really cool to go to Japan with Parsnip, it will happen. I’m staying optimistic.

In September/October last year Parsnip when to America, right?

CH: It was for three weeks.

You got to go hiking and swimming and explore some places; what was your favourite place you saw?

CH: Oh my gosh, we were so lucky! We got a bit of time to check out the local area and to do non-music related things which was so nice. The bush walk you were talking about was somewhere in Upstate New York. We went swimming in Richmond, North Carolina. The guys from Cement Shoes took us swimming in this wide river, I’ve never seen anything like it. We went to some really cool art projects in Detroit, they were outdoor art installations which were really cool. Despite Japan being cancelled I feel really lucky that we got to go to America when we did. Who knows when we’ll ever be able to go back there? It was the best tour ever! Tours can be such intense experiences. You can think it will be amazing and sometimes it’s not.

I wanted to ask you about one of your art pieces that I really love, it’s the Anti-Fade Records compilation New Centre Of The Universe Vol. 3. It’s really beautiful.

CH: Thank you! That front cover is really special to me. I was so stoked when Billy asked me to do it. It’s a gauche painting I did. I took a long time to finish. It’s from a photo I took four years ago on New Year’s Eve at a spot in Queen’s Park on the Barwon River. All the little people in the boats… one is Paris, the one with the two oars sticking out; one is Zak [Olsen] and some other Geelong friends. We used to go down to the Barwon river and swim, we’d go to K-Mart and get blow up dinghies for $20 and hang out there until it’s dark then go to someone’s house. When Billy asked me to do it I wanted to pick an image that summed up for me, Anti-Fade… when I think of Anti-Fade I think of Geelong and having fun with my friends. I know it’s branched out now and Anti-Fade is a lot bigger but I just wanted to pick something that was special to that scene. I think maybe Billy wanted something more about Melbourne than Geelong and I tried to just paint a pretty picture but it didn’t really work out. I don’t think I can just paint a pretty picture, it has to have some special meaning or concept otherwise it’s too boring to work on.

I had a feeling it was of Queen’s Park. I always remember the really beautiful trees they have there and that peaceful feeling you get, your cover reminded me of that and made me feel that.

CH: It’s a really beautiful spot. It sums up for me what I like about Geelong. It’s just a bunch of people getting drunk and having a swim in Queen’s Park [laughs].

Being a music and art lover; what’s some of your favourite album covers? What do you appreciate about it?

CH: I was talking to Billy [Gardner] about this recently, I love all The Fall 7” art, the illustrations and collages. I really love The Fall Totally Wired cover with the face on it with gritted teeth. Definitely EVOL by Sonic Youth, the cover looks exactly just the way the album sounds. I usually look through heaps of covers when I’m getting inspired to do my own work. I also get really inspired by artist David Hockney.

In February this year a book came out called Urban Australian and Post-Punk which you wrote a piece for.

CH: Yeah, I did. That was basically about a venue that used to exist here in Melbourne that was a house venue. It was run out of a terrace house and had really good shows, it had a limited capacity and the community that would attend those shows were really lovely. It was a really good set up, the sound was always good. The people running it were the most gorgeous angels ever! It held a special spot in my heart and I ended up writing this particular thing about it because I was doing a subject in Urban Planning at Melbourne uni… it was about how every week we’d watch a different movie and it would look at underground subcultures and how that subculture interacted with the urban environment. One week we watched Dogs In Space which is one of my all-time favourite movies and I ended up writing an essay for my final assessment comparing the house party experience and share house environment and how that could be compared to things that were or had happened in Melbourne.  My lecturer David Nicholas, who used to play drums in Cannanes and lots of interesting bands, asked if I wanted to contribute my essay to this book. It’s totally exciting! And nerve-racking! I’m in good company to say the very least. I felt weird having it out there because it’s weird to comment on culture. When you see something in a book bound up like that it’s giving my voice so kind of authority, I don’t know if I should have that. It’s just my perceptions of the whole thing.

Yeah, but you were there and you experienced it and your perceptive is just as valid as anyone else’s that was there.

CH: Yeah, I guess that’s true. I just feel it’s really important and these spaces deserve to be documented in some way otherwise they’re these ephemeral things, but that’s what makes them so beautiful, they come and go. I wanted to write it down, I got some good interviews with people. I’m glad that it’s out there. I hope when I read back over it when I’m older it will be a good thing to prompt my memory. It was really special to be able to do that.

Please check out: PARSNIP and SCHOOL DAMAGE. Parsnip on Facebook; on Instagram. School Damage on Facebook. Carolyn’s art. Carolyn on Instagram.