New playlist for October is up now for your listening pleasure! This months features songs from screensaver, Dr. Sure’s Unusual Practice, Laughing Gear, Hearts and Rockets, Ausecuma Beats, Power Supply, Bitumen, Alien Nosejob, Springtime, and more.
Cook Craig returns with Pipe-eye release number four, Dream Themes. The record is adventurous and playful, crafting stories without needing words, in the tradition of the greatest soundtracks and Library Music, but with his own twist. Gimmie chatted with Cook in-depth for an hour about Pipe-eye’s beginnings, songwriting, his creative process, new passions that emerged in lockdown, finding a love of jazz in his “twilight years”, we get a little peak into his home life, and of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard touring. Today we’re premiering the song and clip for first single ‘Ancient 5G Aliens’ along with an extract of the chat; the full interview will appear in our next print zine, Gimmie Issue 5.
Where did the title of your new album Dream Themes come from?
COOK CRAIG: I had the idea that all of the songs on the new album would be theme songs, instrumental. I wanted to match them with the song titles, that they were weird dreams; they weren’t real TV shows. I thought it just sounded cool too.
It does have a nice ring to it—Dreeeammm Themmmes!
CC: [Laughs] Yeah! And, I googled it and there weren’t many things called dream themes.
Did this collection of songs come from dreams?
CC: Kind of. Just wacky day dreams. Day dreams about my cat and my dog [laughs]. ‘Detective Dogington’ is about my dog, Homer. He’s really snoopy and walks around investigating things. ‘Martina Catarina’ is about my cat, Martina. She’s real crazy, she’s like a kitten.
Are all of the songs on the album from something in your life?
CC: Yeah, or things like current events, like ‘Ancient 5G Aliens’ is about deadshit conspiracy theorists [laughs]. I usually write the music first and then try to think up titles and themes that I think match the vibe of the music. It’s what naturally comes out when I sit down. I wasn’t going for an overall theme or vibe for the album. In terms of the titles, they’re not particularly linked.
For you are the songs linked musically?
CC: Definitely. I pretty much wrote all of the songs at the one time, within a week. It was actually on my honeymoon.
Is that where ‘Let’s Get Married’ comes from?
CC: Yeah. We got married in our backyard the day before the very first Covid lockdown. We did that because we had an overseas wedding planned, but had to can it. We went to an Airbnb for two weeks and were locked down, and that’s when I wrote all of those songs. The Airbnb was really isolated in a costal country town, we didn’t really have that much to do, so I’d sit down for a couple of hours every day in the morning and wrote a song at a time.
I’m guessing just having got married and being on your honeymoon you would have been in a really great mood and that might have helped your creativity and productivity.
CC: I definitely had some gusto! Normally I’m not like that, I usually take ages to do anything. When I have an idea, it doesn’t take me long to write a song, but it takes me a while to get started and to get motivated.
Is there anything that helps you get motivated?
CC: I have to just sit down and force myself to do it sometimes, I’m so busy with my other bands, with Pipe-eye I find it hard to get the time to sit down and write a song, or I don’t feel like it because I’ve been at band practice all week and I’m mentally fatigued or musically fatigued. Sometimes I’ll just sit down for a week and write a bunch of songs, and that will last me for the next six months.
How did the song we’re premiering ‘Ancient 5G Aliens’ come together?
CC: I made a lot of the songs on the album to drum machines that I had programmed. Later on, I got Cav (Michael Cavanagh the drummer who plays in King Gizz) to drum on it. I was going for a fast afro-esque groove, looped that a heaps of times, and it turned into a song from there. The title was inspired by the History Channel, it’s really funny now. It’s all about Ancient Aliens [laughs], it’s all about that crummy, really trash kind of TV.
Ha! I remember watching the first couple of episodes of Ancient Aliens thinking, ok, maybe there’s a little something here, but then as the series continued on, it just really, really started to stretch things and make some wild claims.
CC: Yeah. I was sold on it! Still am I reckon! [laughs].
Was it a conscious choice to make this album instrumental (of course besides the song ‘Chakra’ that has the part where the word is said over and over)?
CC: I started it without any intention of doing that and as it went on, I thought a lot of the songs were strong without vocals. I thought it would be cool to take a different direction for a change and focus really hard on the music itself, rather than… I normally make songs then I write the lyrics, the vocals as an afterthought. I wanted to change it up.
Was there a freedom or relief that came from not having to write words for the songs this time around?
CC: A little bit. I like writing lyrics, but making the music is definitely my favourite part.
What’s the first song you wrote for this album?
CC: ‘Let’s Get Married’. I wrote it when I was engaged.
Awww. How did your partner feel when you showed her?
CC: She liked it. She likes it when I sing though, and I don’t think she quite got the whole instrumental thing [laughs]. She was still appreciative.
‘Oakhill Avenue’ was the last one I wrote. I wrote it to fill a gap in the songs in terms of vibe, another slow kind of chill vibe song. I wanted to do something in a different time signature that wasn’t in 4/4.
Most of the songs are fairly in my comfort zone. I feel like when I do Pipe-eye stuff it’s never that challenging, because I’m writing everything myself; I don’t’ necessarily write hard parts. In general, it was challenging to find sounds that I hadn’t used on albums before. I’ve done keyboards and synths a lot, I tried to push that a fair bit more on this record.
I noticed that. Do you ever bounce your ideas of someone else when you’re working on Pipe-eye material?
CC: It’s pretty much just me. Sometimes it’s good to get Michael, who drummed on it, I’ll send him a song and not really give him much instruction on what kind of drums to play, which is good because sometimes he sends it back and it’s completely different to what I would have thought of, and I’ll roll with that.
As the album progressed and evolved where there many other changes you noticed in the songs?
CC: The main one was just deciding to make it instrumental. I was halfway through when I decided to do that. I just plod along and slowly do things.
No stress! I assume with other projects you’re a part of it could get real hectic. With Pipe-eye you have control over everything yourself and no urgency to do anything, you can just take your time.
CC: Exactly! I don’t play live with Pipe-eye, it’s just a recording project. There’s less stress to do albums by deadline. It’s not like I have to do an album to do an album tour and promote it. I take my time and do it as it comes…
When I first listened to Dream Themes, I was wondering is you’d be listening to a lot of soundtracks and Library Music?
CC: Yeah, 100%, I always listen to that kind of stuff…
There’s also a film clip to go with ‘Ancient 5G Aliens’; what can you tell us about it?
CC: It’s made by a guy called Jake Armstrong, he’s from The States. I learnt about him because Ambrose hit him up for a Murlocs clip; he did the ‘Skyrocket’ clip. I hit him up out of the blue and he was keen. It’s animation. His stuff is pretty kooky and playful, but there’s an underlying vibe of darkness, I guess. With this clip, he’s never done anything like it before. He fully went animation, they kind of look like PlayStation 2 graphics! It’s real cool. It’s kind of got a storyline, there are these two aliens fighting and it’s in a cityscape. It looks like the old kind of not-quite-there graphics, that PlayStation 2 kind of graphics.
Yeah, I remember those and Sega and Atari and all the games!
CC: [Laughs] Yeah. I still game a bit. I got a PlayStation 5 recently! There’s not too many games out on it yet, so I haven’t got to play it too much. I was playing Ghost of Tsushima where you get to play a samurai, it’s a bit like playing open world. Pretty nerdy!
At Gimmie HQ we’ve been bumping the new Cong Josie album Cong! hard since it arrived in our inbox. We loved it so much that we ordered the hot pink limited edition vinyl version. The album is officially out Oct 22 on It Records (home of our favs – New War and Atom). It’s a fabulous high energy clash of minimal synth, EBM (Electronic Body Music), rockabilly-ish vocals, punk attitude with a whole lotta throb and thrust, along with some heart tugging surprises.
Today we’re debuting the electrifying song ‘Cong The Singer’ along with its video, a guerrilla D.I.Y. ode to the Naarm/Melbourne suburbs that spawned Cong! We chatted with the man, the myth, the legend himself, Cong Josie alter-ego of musician Nic Oogjes.
In your heat beat ensemble NO ZU you play instruments; now as Cong Josie you’re just singing?
CONG JOSIE: Yeah. It was a really deliberate choice, a really arrogant choice [laughs], that’s kind of what the song ‘Cong The Singer’ is about. Arrogant in that I’ve never been a singer. I love singing; I love singing in the shower. I’ve always loved singing along to Roy Orbison, trying to sing ‘Crying’. Very ambitious targets! All of the “Bobby Movement” like Bobby Darrin; there was a lot of guys called Bobby in the 50’s that did rock n roll ballads. Elvis. All that kind of stuff. It was a deliberate decision not to carry around instruments anymore.
I keep going through these things with each new project. After my first when-I-was-becoming-an-adult-and-start-taking-things-seriously band, I was like, ‘I don’t ever want to have to carry around a drumkit anymore!’ I would be up front playing some rototoms so that I could stand up, and that led into NO ZU. I was only going to carry standup percussion, but then it expanded. It grew to a point where I didn’t want to carry all this stuff around; trumpets, all sorts of stuff. There was lots of clothes for each band member too, I’d carry around to each gig. Our baggage loads on planes were crazy!
I was like, ‘I just want to be a singer!’ Even though I can’t sing. That’s really arrogant, but I have always had the belief that anyone is an artist and anyone can make something interesting if you have the drive and ideas. In fact, most of my favourite singers, that I just mentioned… even Roy Orbison, sings off key, which makes his voice really interesting and intriguing, where he often has to bend into a note. There are a lot of notes that aren’t quite right.
I love singers that are non-singers, I find their voices really interesting. There’s this Greek singer Márkos Vamvakáris, who was one of the biggest rebetiko stars; they call it the Greek Blues, it’s a lot about hash dens and sordid activities. It was real people’s music, real working-class music. His voice is like a chainsaw! It’s not good, but I love it, it has the most edge to it. Obviously, that throughout punk and post-punk as well, it’s like that. It’s from that background that I thought I could at least make something interesting. I can sing these two notes, kind of, if I’m in this register [laughs].
[Laughter]. What else is the song about?
CJ: It’s about playing with that idea of a singer. It’s a fantasy tale about being a hero of the suburbs. I’ve never really understood why everything has to be so city-centred, and why everything has to play into these references of what’s cool and what’s happening now. In my fantasy dreamworld, there would be pockets all throughout the urban sprawl of Melbourne and beyond, where amazing music is happening. And, there’s this one singer that plays around the Eastern suburbs, around the R.S.L. and chicken-parmigiana-pubs, that are actually really creative and great but for whatever reason in our culture (in the 80’s bands would go out and play those places), it’s just not a thing now. It’s about that, because it’s just an impossibility.
The other layer is that actual baring of childhood and real-life things. As I was saying before, it’s amazing to hear yourself in music. I haven’t heard other people mention the Eastern Freeway in a song before! It’s a pretty good road [laughs]. It also expresses that driving was a form of freedom when I was younger. Going to the city, to places for “culture” and discovering different kinds of music was really important to me. So, that road means a lot.
Even my suburb. I’ve actually moved back to my teenage house, that’s where I am now. I bought it off my mum, which was very strange. I remember living here when I was younger, I remember this Australian rapper called Bias B, he talked about the trainline here. Aussie hip-hop around 2000 was the first time I ever heard specific areas mentioned. He talked about the Burra to Eltham train! Growing up here in a leafy suburb having nothing to say, but it’s not true, hearing things like that, I loved it, and that’s probably how it fed into my work.
The video clip we’re premiering for ‘Cong The Singer’is really fun! What do you remember about filming?
CS: We only shot it two weeks ago, so I remember all of it [laughs]. And if anyone wants to know, we did do it Covid safe, I’m even wearing a mask in one part. I was actually saying this to Nick [Mahady] who filmed it with me…
He did your ‘Leather Whip’ clip too!
CJ: Yeah. This is kind of like ‘Leather Whip #2’. The first song was set in Greece because we happend to be there before Covid. Nick is a really great friend and talented artist; he did the portrait artwork for my releases so far and the Cong! cover. He’s an example of someone that is so open and creative and sensitive. We have a really great relationship, since I discovered more about myself and valued that aspect in people even more.
I was saying to Nick, that this video and ‘Leather Whip’ mean so much to me and are so close to me, because we literally went out with a camera and a few sketched ideas. We saw a rabbit, so we filmed a rabbit. We saw a bin chicken… or we decided to go to the river, which felt like minus thirty degrees! It was all very spontaneous over two days. It was nerve-racking also.
The first shot we did was Footscray Amphitheatre. We got there and it was so quiet. It was a Saturday morning, beautiful weather. A couple of people were sitting in their Northface jackets drinking coffee. There were two groups of people looking down at exactly where we were filming. There were people jogging. Being in a cowboy hat, add to this debaucherous music, which we knew was going to be loud for a moment; I had my little Bluetooth speaker to mime to. It was scary! We actually started talking to each other, “Oh maybe we can do this other shot” [laughs]. We started setting up and one of the people there made a joke to me, he said, “Are we going to get an organ performance?” Because he saw my pants underneath my long jacket I was wearing and that broke the ice. I was like, ‘Ok, this is alright’ [breaths a sigh of relief], and then I started performing. I was like, ‘This is the best grassroots campaign ever, I just made three fans!’ It was me and Nick, and Johnny Cayn(Cayn Borthwick) was there.
The clip is very direct and real. It’s very D.I.Y. This is going to sound really bad, but I can’t stop watching it. My band The Crimes that are in it, can’t stop watching it either. There’s so many funny bits. They’re like, “Why are you presenting the Westgate Bridge?” [laughs]. I’m like, ‘I don’t know?!’
Do you have a favourite moment from the video?
CJ: In one of the first musical breakdowns, I’m on the Coburg Lake stage and there’s people having picnics, bemused by what we were doing – I’m either clicking my fingers or combing my hair – and there’s a rollerskater behind me twirling. That was a guy we met while we were packing up. Initially there were two boxers on stage. They said they were happy to be in the video and they had the music cranked, they were big beefy guys; then they told us they didn’t want to be in it. As we were packing up one of the boxers were like, “Hey, get Tony! Tony is amazing. Get him in it.” We introduced ourselves and asked if he wanted to be in it. He said, “Ok.” Then he started doing spins and we pretended music was going on. It’s one of the most beautiful shots, because he’s really great. It’s a great juxtaposition.
That’s one of my favourite shots too! His leg movements are perfect, such finesse. It works so beautifully.
CJ: There’s another one second shot of us with a beautiful white dog.
That’s my other favourite shot!
CJ: There was a mum and daughter walking their dog. I was doing the shot where I comb my hair near the car, obviously people were looking at us a bit strange. I said ‘hi’ as they walked past and thought maybe I should ask them if we can get a shot with that big gorgeous dog. They were really happy to, and they gave me treats to keep the dog in the vicinity. You don’t get shots like that otherwise. I wanna keep doing it. Maybe it’s a great way to build my fan base [laughs], very slow and labour intensive.
[Laughter]. We’re so happy to be premiering the song and video, it’s right up our alley. We really love your whole album Cong! It fuses so many things we love together – it has a kind of rockabilly vocal and then it’s got an EBM feel and a punk spirit.
CJ: Yeah, cool! It has all of those things. I really dug into a world of the Norton Records label, they do some really great outsider rockabilly like Hasil Adkins. Those wild rockabilly/rock’n’roll/country fellas: Jack Starr, Stud Cole, Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Terry Allen are some of the sleezy cats that have been an influence. Also, a lot of the artists that The Cramps were inspired by, they called them wild men, and apparently some of them really were—that’s a big influence on who Cong is. Cong is the wild rockabilly artist but in a suburban Australian setting, so he’s also gonna be a bit different.
In terms of the electronics, I was never able to focus on the throb, as I call it, the throbbing rhythm. In NO ZU everything was still mechanical and awkward funk, a bit more danceable in a different way. It’s a big clash of those things.
I love Johnny Cayn’s guitar on the track. It’s probably the most slide-y, rockabilly thing on the record. It’s just wild and out of control.
Yes! It’s very cool.
CJ: I really love Simone aka Mona Reeves’ voice with the “Saturday night” part on there too, which is inspired by the Elton John ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ track. Just that idea of being really excited by a Saturday or Friday night is a musical trope that was really fun to explore!
Ed’s note: We spoke with Cong Josie for over a hour, this is a small extract from a more in-depth chat exploring the entire album, growing up in Melbourne, toxic masculinity, Nicolaas Oogjes musical evolution, creativity, getting through life’s challenges, and creating your own world to heal and grow. Read it in our next print issue (#5) we’re currently working on.
Dr Sure’s Unusual Practice are Gimmie favs (they were one of the first bands we chatted with when we started Gimmie). We’re thrilled to announce the new wave art-punks’ forthcoming full-length album Remember The Future?, which will be out on Marthouse and Erste Theke Tonträger, as well as premiering the entertaining video for song ‘Infinite Growth’. We love their blend of clever social commentary and politics with catchy well-written compositions and fun visuals. Gimmie spoke with guitarist-vocalist Dougal Shaw to find out more.
How have you been feeling? I know a lot has happened this past week in Naarm/so-called Melbourne with lockdowns still in place, protests and an earthquake!
DOUGAL SHAW: I’m actually surprisingly pretty good at the moment. The pendulum has swung back around to the positive end [laughs]. It’s been swinging back and forth pretty consistently. Today I’m feeling good. Yesterday I had one of those days where I was just, what’s the point? Why? [laughs]. Trying to find some motivation to keep pushing forward. In general, in the last month, I’ve been feeling pretty positive.
Good to hear. On the “why?” days like yesterday, do you just allow yourself that space and know that what you’re feeling will pass?
DS: Yeah. The last couple of years if it’s taught me anything, it’s taught me to listen to your body and mind if you’re having those down times. Maybe in the past I would have tried to push through those times and keep working on projects. I’ve realised now that, if I do try to work through those times it’s pretty shit work; you go back to it and it’s got this weight to it, you’re putting all this stuff onto it. I’ve learnt to give myself days off, which I’ve never really been good at giving myself days off—what’s the next project?
Same! Jhonny and I are like that too. This next print issue of Gimmie has taken longer to get together because we both deal with (as many people do) bouts of depression, anxiety, stress, heath problems and things of that nature. Even though it’s something you absolutely love doing and it’s fun, some days you still find it hard.
DS: Exactly. I feel like it can work both ways. In the past I have used my creative practice as a way of processing a lot of what’s going on in my world and the world around me. Potentially in those down times would be when I was more inclined to get in the studio and write music. Now maybe being removed from all of the good times, and being able to have that separation where you’re out in the world doing things and having a good time, obviously you’re not going to be doing creative things and writing in those moments, so when you have that quiet moment to yourself and you’re feeling introspective, those might be the times that I’ll go and create. Now being removed from the outside world and being stuck in my own little world, it’s made me a bit more conscious of those kinds of things. A bit more conscious of your emotional state and more intuitive when it comes to what I need for myself in each moment. Sometimes it will be that I’m not doing anything today, I’m just going for a really long walk and I’m going to try and clear these cobwebs out. The one positive, I guess, is that I have a lot more tools now to manage those things, in the past I may have found those bouts of anxiety and depression to be really overwhelming and not know how to deal with them; going out and partying used to mask those things. Without those vices to lean on, you’re faced with yourself and your like, ‘Fuck this is a lot!’ Being human is a lot to fucking handle [laughs].
There’s been a period where you haven’t been writing too many songs, especially not as many political songs, but writing more fun songs when you do write.
DS: Yeah. For a long time, I thought of my music as a vessel for change, to use my voice and privilege to start conversations. At the same time, I’ve always just written silly songs as well. I pretty much didn’t write anything for a year. I was working on other projects. I didn’t feel like I had anything to say.
I feel like you did say a lot before that, you had this run where you put out a lot, and everything was such a high quality.
DS: Thank you. Maybe that was part of it, feeling a bit empty. Being isolated from the community and from actually being able to engage with the world, I found it really hard to think about what I had to say, or I found what I had to say wasn’t worth documenting. Deciding to put this album out this year… it was floating around for a while, we finished it a couple of months ago and we didn’t feel like there was any rush, because we aren’t able to play shows for it.
By this album do you mean, Remember the Future Vol. 1 & 2 together?
DS: Yeah, that’s this one. It was a really drawn-out thing because of Covid that really felt like it was hanging over my head for ages. That was this big black cloud in my head as well. We recorded half of it at the start of last year and we were booked in to do another session in April, two weeks after we first went into lockdown. The whole idea with the record was that it was going to be the first full band recording, so I was kind of stuck on that for ages. Rather than moving on, finishing and getting it out, it was like, no, we gotta do this with the band. We finally finished it in May this year. It’s finally come together! It feels like a really weird one, because of the Covid stuff we decided to put out the first half last year. Our European label Erste Theke Tonträger, hit me up to do a record, he really liked Remember the Future Vol. 1, he wanted to do a full-length with that and then another of our EPs on the other side. I was like, well, this is half of a full record. That was the push to finish this record.
You recently had a song ‘Live Laugh Love’ on the Blow Blood Records compilation, A Long Time Alone.
DS: That was the first song I’ve written after this huge gap of not writing. The compilation was the kick I needed. I’d seen that Christina had been advertising for contributions for ages, and I thought, ‘I have to do a song for this.’ The deadline had come and I hadn’t done it, which was a Friday, so the next day, Saturday, I plugged everything in for the first time in ages and made this really dumb song.
Did it feel weird plugging everything in again after so long?
DS: Kind of. The song is funny in itself, I’m glad it has a home on the ALTA compilation, because otherwise it would have been another one on a dusty hard drive. It feels like a song after not having written a song in ages, it’s a silly song.
It has a fun title!
DS: [Laughs] I know! The concept came before the song. It’s about forgetting about how to live, laugh, love. I saw one of those inspirational infographic things that someone had posted. I’m glad it’s getting a home. I wrote that song, then in the week following it, I wrote one or two songs in a day, ten songs in a week. A week later I sent Christina a different song, and was like, ‘I actually made some decent songs now. Do you want to put one of these on?’ She was like, “It’s too late, I’ve already sent it off.”
A couple of days ago you released the song ‘Ghost Ship’ too.
DS: Yeah, that was another compilation [on Critter Records]. I wrote that one at the very start of the lockdown. It was inspired by… they were coming out with all these bail out packages, but they were going to big corporations and multi-million dollar companies [laughs]. It was a funny concept.
It’s crazy how all of these big companies received bail outs and then ended up making a profit and doing better than ever!
DS: Exactly! They didn’t actually lose any revenue; they gained all this government funding that was designed to help struggling people. That’s capitalism!
We’re premiering Dr Sure’s new clip for the song ‘Infinite Growth’. It’s a fun clip. What sparked the idea?
DS: A lot of the time when I’m doing visual stuff, I want it to be fun and playful, because a lot of the time I find the lyrical content to be pretty heavy. I liked to offset it with something a little more accessible. Potentially if you were to follow the narrative of the song then the clip would be pretty heavy—talking about mining, the destruction of the ecosystems. By taking a representation of these things, of people in suits, business men, which is a reoccurring motif in a lot of our visual stuff, and thinking about the result of their actions. For this one, they’re still pedalling their narrative of infinite growth, while the climate has heated up so much that their faces as literally dripping from their body.
Love the special effects!
DS: Yeah, really top of the line. We got the hair and makeup team… professional prosthetics! Nah. I looked up how to make prosthetics and the easiest solution that I came across was to just mix Vaseline and flour, then use coco to create different tones of it. It was pretty gross stuff to put all over your face, but it was worth it.
You wrote the song around the time that our government were talking about destroying sacred Indigenous sites.
DS: Yes, exactly. It was Djab wurrung Country. They decided to build a new highway that was going to take off two-minutes of drive time for people commuting into the city. To do so, they had to destroy these hundred-year-old sacred birthing trees. That was the spark, but at the same time, it felt like a real time of solidarity for people coming together to stand against those things. That’s where the duality in that song is trying to reframe this capitalist terminology talking about infinite growth and kind of reclaim it for the people and the ecology.
Nice. What else have you been up to?
DS: I’ve been collaborating with my partner Liv on some things, which is really nice. She’s an artist and really good photographer. We’ve worked on stuff before, a lot of the time our practices have been off in different directions. Having a lot of time together and being isolated from anyone else, we’ve been working on stuff. I spent this week making a zine to go out with the record. It’s a collaboration with Liv, she took all the photographs. It’s a zine of lyrics, photos, my art and poetry, all mashed up. She took a series of photos based around the concepts of the record and I mashed them up with my brain spew! [laughs]. We’ve been thinking about creative ways to put out this record.
Liv and I have been making some songs too. She’s been learning the guitar for the last couple of years. We’ve been putting down some of her ideas. With Liv’s limited knowledge of playing, it’s been good for me to teach her that a song can be really simple; it’s made me reassess my approach to songs. When you make a song that’s only two chords, you can leave all of this space for layering and making it interesting in other ways. It doesn’t have to have all of these chord changes for it to be engaging.
When Jhonny and I make music, I like to go for how does this feel, and keep trying things until eventually something fits and feels good to me and us. That’s when you come up with something that is unique to you, because you come with all of your experience or lack of, and that all comes out in those moments.
DS: Exactly. I feel like I’ve always approached music in a really similar way. I’ve purposely avoided learning too much. Sometimes I question if that has been the right approach? Most of the time, I stick by that approach, it’s more about feeling and how you react to it. To me, it’s always been about how you react to whatever it is you’re recording. Picking up the next instrument is a reaction to the last instrument. It’s about what feels interesting.
Forming just over a year ago, nipaluna/Hobart-based band RABBIT are releasing their debut 7 inch on Rough Skies Records (home of bands we love: Slag Queens, All The Weather, 208L Containers and The Native Cats) today. The quartet give us three high energy, power-pop gems. Overdriven guitars, catchy riffs, solid driving rhythms, and melodic vocals singing songs of love and heartbreak. Songwriter and guitarist, Bobby K, tells us about the band’s formation, recording the EP, and their inspirations.
RABBIT is inspired by forgotten power-pop groups and new wave punks; who are some of these inspirations and what is it that you appreciate about them?
BOBBY K: There’s a demo by Peter Case’s band The Nerves that I come back to a lot. I stumbled on a lot of these old power-pop songs because they were made popular by other artists. The first Cyndi Lauper record has a couple; Robert Hazard wrote Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, The Brains wrote Money Changes Everything. The Nerves wrote Hanging on the Telephone which I only knew as a Blondie song until I started sniffing around its roots like a truffle pig. There’s so many truffles underfoot hey, The Flamin’ Groovies, The Records, Vibrators, The Soft Boys, The Only Ones, Television Personalities, Buzzcocks, The Motels… plus all the Oz punk stuff like Celibate Rifles and Birdman and Saints. What ties the truffles together for me is sharp, simple songwriting – I’m always a lovesick fool for a pop song but rough it up a bit with overdriven guitars and demo-quality recording and you get me all buttery. Recently I got hooked on the Buffalo Springfield song Burned – prime example of perfect guitar pop, and coincidentally almost the same title as a RABBIT tune from the 7”.
You wrote and recorded the demos for the three songs on the Gone 7” yourself on a Tascam 4-track tape before forming the band. Who or what first got you into music?
BK: My Aunt Lou played me a tape of a Welsh choir when I was about 6 and I guess it got in there pretty deep, pretty powerful music. Neil Young taught me guitar, Bill Ward taught me drumming. I studied classical music at uni too, but it wasn’t much chop and crushed me into a tonal box from which I’m still trying to escape. Nahhh, I like tonality, it’s comforting. Anyway I’ve been in heaps of gross punk bands since I was 13, and one that was pretty good, and now I’m in RABBIT.
On your Instagram there was a vid of you playing guitar with the caption: upstrokes are for arseholes. Where does your love of the downstroke come from?
BK: It’s a worthy commitment! I got it from Dave Gibson (Funeral Moon/Spacebong/Ratcatcher). Dunno where he got it from but probably The Misfits or The Ramones or The Slayer [sic]. Have a look and a listen next time you watch a guitar band, upstrokes are so floppy and limp. There’s nothing worse than listening to limp floppy upstrokes, nothing, except like if you’re running back to your car because you’re two minutes overparked but as you get back the inspector is taking a photo and the ticket is there on your windscreen and you were too late, and you try to protest but the inspector just simpers at you, and then later you’re at the pub and there’s a band playing and IT’S HIM, THE INSPECTOR, and he’s playing third wave ska! That’s worse! But it’s the same thing! Also, the tone and attack of downstrokes rips.
How did the band come to be? How did you meet each band member: Maggie Edwards (vocals), Sean Wyers (drums) and Claire Johnston (bass)?
BK: I was living in a sharehouse with Magz around the time I was recording the demo. My singing voice sounds like Leo Kottke’s farts on a muggy day, so I asked Magz to sing on it. Even her retching is sonorous. I think I met Clairey at the Brisbane Hotel one night and she put her name in my phone as ‘CLAIREY MEGABABE’. She’d heard the demo and was super keen, so we tried to get a band together with her on drums. I went overseas for work and it fizzed, and then she kicked it back into life last year, she put the word out and pulled it together with Sean on the kit. I’d met him a year before when I showed up at a rehearsal space for a weekly blast beat practice and his metal band had muscled in on my slot. They went to the pub for an hour while I sweated it out over his snare, and eventually I moved into his spare room. That’s how Hobart works. Clairey is still MEGABABE.
Each of the songs on Gone speak to various aspects of love and/or relationships. Can you tell us about the writing of ‘Gone Gone Gone’? What sparked it?
BK: The songs on the demo came out of a singularly painful and traumatic breakup, sort of diversionary processing tactic or something, dunno what was going on upstairs but I chucked it all into writing loud pop songs. Somebody in France was very kind to me when I was low, dusted me off as I was passing through so I stayed with them for a few weeks and eventually got a flight to Dublin and drank a million pints with my Da and then BANG, wrote a song about it. It’s in G major and it’s got a bunch of suspended 4ths which try to convey the feeling of vomiting in the rain in the front yard of a BnB while your Da takes photos of you from the rental car. Berlioz for the 21st century or whatever. Actually, the lyric in the chorus came out of a dream I had many years ago and I never knew what it meant but now I sort of do.
You made a film clip for ‘Gone Gone Gone’ directed by Joseph Shrimpton; what do you remember most from filming it?
BK: Shouting SHRIMPTON a bunch. I’d just met Jo that day and was pretty excited. They’re really nice! It was an easy film shoot – mostly I just lay on a mattress and read a book about chess while Clairey had a bath. Magz and Sean had an argument about a lamp. SHRIMPTON!
The songs were recorded with Zac Blain (A. Swayze and the Ghosts) in a sharehouse on Muwinina Country. How did the collaboration come about?
BK: We just asked the guy because he’s a ripper. We more or less all knew one another, so it was an easy thing to organise. Sean and I were living in the old sharehouse on Warwick Street (where the video was filmed), the neighbour screeched at us like a bat, Zac was an absolute pleasure and he gets where RABBIT comes from. He’s got cool spectacles.
Can you share with us some details of the recording of ‘Burnt’?
BK: More room mic and less close mic in the drum mix, Bonham style for Seans. Two almost identical guitar tracks panned L/R – one through a Fender Bassman and one through an Orange Rockerverb II, same set up for every song on the 7”. Clairey’s bass guitar signal attended the Zac Blain School of Wonderful Works and graduated with a Certificate III, and Maggie just sings everything perfectly, every time. That’s what she does.
How did the song ‘Love Bites’ change from the original demo version to the final recording version we hear? We especially love the dual vocals!
BK: Well, Love Bites wasn’t on the demo that went up on bandcamp, it was a later song that I demo’d after we’d started rehearsing. I recorded it really rough for the band to hear and Maggie filled in a missing verse. It still changed quite a bit from my demo to the band recording… the dual vocals are more contrapuntal on the 7”, I think on the demo it was more of a straight harmony. Clairey reworked the bass part and made it more harmonically colourful. Sean and I are very different drummers, so the drums were bound to feel different. I’m an absolute slop-fest octopus while Sean is much more precise with his fills. The brief I gave to Sean for Love Bites was “play it like Mitch Mitchell, y’know, like just put shit everywhere”, but Sean hits ’em harder and more solid than Mitchell, so there ya have it!
Rabbit are nipaluna/Hobart-based; what’s the best and worst bits about living where you are?
BK: Worst bit is how the gaming industry dominates pubs all around the state and there’s relatively few venues to support live music and there’s not much we can do about it.
The best bit is how everyone drives 10ks under the limit and the sky always looks like an ice-cream cake.
What’s one of the most memorable local shows you’ve attended or played and what made it so?
BK: We recently played at Junction Arts Festival in Launceston and after our gig we went and watched a friend’s band Broken Girl’s Club, and I was standing on the grass in the dark with Sean and he taps me on the shoulder and shouts over the music ‘OI, BOBBY LOOK AT THIS’ and I look down and he’s holding a handful of wriggling worms.
Ohhhh, also there was one at Altar where the sewage backed up and flooded out onto the dance floor and The Bonus didn’t get to play because it was a public health emergency.
What do you love about making music?
BK: It’s the only thing in the world that I ever want to do, and I GET TO DO IT.
What else should we know about you? BK: I used to go for the dim sim but now I go straight for the corn jack.
After we missed a month, due to being super busy with the upcoming print issue, Gimmie Radio is back and we’ve made an extra long playlist full of killer new tunes! This edition features Mod Con, Heimat, Spllit, Power Supply, If So Why?, Zig Zag, Mindy Meng Wang, Amyl and the Sniffers, Smoke Bellow, and a bunch more! We hope you find your new favourite band amongst it.
Melbourne musician Steve Lucas has been making music for over four decades. In 1977 he co-founded early Australian punk band X, who gifted us one of Australia’s greatest punk records, their debut X-Aspirations. He’s also lived many musical lives since X genre hopping from post-punk to indie rock to acoustic folk to country to gospel and all kinds of things in between with bands and projects: Bigger Than Jesus, Double Cross and The Groody Frenzy, Empty Horses, The Acland St Booze Hounds, The Strawberry Teardrop, The Pubert Brown Fridge Occurrence, Armageddon Resource Management and more. Gimmie spoke to Steve in-depth, to get a real insight into his music and the man behind it. We talk about songwriting, mental health, depression, his early life, overcoming spine surgery, creativity, of making good choices and of life in general.
STEVE LUCAS: I have to learn a couple of songs for a recording session on the weekend.
What are you recording?
SL: Two originals that my wife wants to do and a cover of Deuce by Redd Kross.
How are you going with it all?
SL: The original ones are fine because I’ve been there hearing it since the concept but going back to Redd Kross is how I used to play forty years ago. I’ve got unlearn everything I’ve learnt so I can do the real grunge sort of underplaying. It’s underplaying but really in your face. I’ve got a little bit too good for my own good [laughs].
Do you think that the style you were playing back in the beginning was so raw and powerful because there was a naivety in your playing?
SL: Absolutely! You didn’t know what to do so you had to do anything that worked. Looking back it worked, limited knowledge meant maximum feel. It was all about the feel. I actually used to play a really clean sound which made it more awkward. But, now going back and looking at Redd Kross I can see, they’re a bit New York Dolls-y kind of thing, thirty or forty years ago I would have just done it but now it’s like, fuck, that’s not really that chord… it’s that chord now because I’m correcting it but it’s not a chord at all, it’s whatever it is.
When did you start playing guitar?
SL: I got my first guitar when I was fourteen, that didn’t last long, accidently setting it on fire and smashing it to pieces, very dramatic, almost burnt the house down.
Was there anything that inspired you to set it on fire?
SL: I was trying to… I had this grand idea that I was going to strip it back and have this cosmic kind of paint job on it. I was in the laundry at home and there was a gas heater, the pilot light is always on; I had the door closed because I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing and I was using tons of thinners and turpentine and the fumes kept building up and building up until the pilot light just ignited them! It went booooosh and blew the door off and blew me out of the laundry [laughs]. There was turps and thinners everywhere, all the shellac and stuff that was on the guitar was all molten like and running river. The more I tried to hose it out, the more it spread. In the middle of it all I saw my guitar and grabbed it and flung it out to save it but all the goo on the guitar sent molten globs of stuff onto the back wooden fence [laughs]. It was really, really traumatic. By the time I got all the fires out, I was looking at the smouldering guitar, I was so angry. I took to it and smashed it to pieces and thought—never again!
Wow! When did you start playing again and change your mind?
SL: It wasn’t that long after. I was always a much better singer than I was guitar player. I learnt how to play Bob Dylan kind of guitar, nice strumming and chords you could put under a melody, very folky, bluesy kind of stuff, that was totally relevant in 1977. I was just singing when X started, it was only after Ian Krahe died and a few other people didn’t fit that I was told I actually had to have an electric guitar, I had to have an amp, I had to learn how to play riffs… it was traumatic. Three months later we recorded X-Aspirations.
Have you always enjoyed singing?
SL: Yes, as long as I can remember. On my father’s side of the family, my grandmother was a chorus girl and my grandfather was vaudevillian, and he’d sing honky tonk piano, soft-shoe, magic tricks, all that kind of stuff. He would always be singing and if we stayed over with those grandparents he would sing us to sleep every night. I don’t remember when I started singing because I was too young to remember but being sent to Sunday School… my family wasn’t religious but they thought I should have some sort of religious experience, so I had to go to church on Sunday and I’d sing in the choir there. I did that up until I was twelve and when they said “Now if you want to go you can go, we’re not going to make you” so, I didn’t want to go and that was fine. By then I was into primary school and singing in the school choirs, doing choral concerts in Sydney Town Hall. I was always singing; singing along with the radio, with records—I’ve always loved singing.
Who was one of the first songwriters that first moved you?
SL: [Laughs] That’s funny… the answer I’d like to say is, when I was around thirteen or fourteen there were songs like, some very basic things like Don McLean or Dylan, really basic Creedence stuff… I loved to listen to Big Band music, I used to think that one day I might rather play the trumpet but it didn’t happen. Once I did actually have a guitar I really liked to “chunk” along to basic stuff. One of the first songs I learnt to play on guitar was something like “[Vincent] Starry, Starry Night” [laughs]. Cat Stevens was very big then, and again, very chord-y, easy songs. If you went to a party and there was a guitar sitting around you could pick it up and play Cat Stevens songs and girls would tend to like you more than if you sat there doing a Deep Purple song [sings opening riff to “Smoke On the Water”]; guys would love that but girls would be like, oh no. I made up my mind very quickly which direction I was going to go.
How did you discover rock n roll music?
SL: Mainly through Top 40 stuff but, when I was seven or eight my mother or my aunt took me to the cinema to see A Hard Day’s Night. Everyone was screaming so loud in the actual picture theatre that you couldn’t really hear very much at all. I got Beatle-mania like every other kid back then. They were accessible and covered songs by Little Richard. Then there were The [Rolling] Stones and between the two of them they opened the doors to my musical education, I suppose. Just really good RnB, soul-y kinds of ballads.
Was X your first band?
SL: It was my first real band. When I was fifteen I was in a school band and we did a gig for the sixth form’s farewell and we were never allowed to play again because we…. It was a big banquet and all the teaching staff was there and we were supposed to play stuff like Cat Stevens, we did play a couple of those to start but, then we broke into “Aqualung” and “Smoke On the Water”—that was the end of that! [laughs]. I changed schools again – I changed school a lot when I was younger – and met a bunch of other people and we used to play music together, I had my cousins and school friends playing bass and guitars and stuff and I was singing; we never had a name but one night a band was meant to play at a Police Boys Club but they didn’t and my cousin was in the Police Boys Club and told them he had a band, so we went and did that. It was fun! We did that one show and then maybe played at a party once. It was just something to do. X was the first band that we geared towards going out and playing to crowds in pubs, making money, the whole thing. We were gonna write great songs and get a record deal. Ian [Rilen] had left Rose Tattoo or had been discharged depending on who you talk to [laughs], so he had all that experience and the original drummer Steve Cafiero had plenty of experience, so we had a good chance of doing something if we played ball but we were a little bit… [pauses]. There’s ten years difference between Rilen, Cafiero and me and Krahe, Ian and and Steve were just hitting thirty and Ian and I were just about to turn twenty, our naivety and their experience was a great combination but it found us shooting ourselves in the foot quite often. We blew more chances than we actually embraced, by choice.
Are there any songs on X-Aspirations that really stick out to you or that has a special significance to you?
SL: No, because if I think of one I just think of another. The ones I would say I like least is easier to answer, “It Must Be Me” and “Turn My Head”. We weren’t sure of them when we recorded them, they were very much just off the cuff. When I used to take the records into record stores to sell, the first track I would always put on for the is “Delinquent Cars” because it had a nice steady pace, it had nice poetic lyrics, they always thought that was kind of good and they’d ask; what other song would you recommend? Then you’d play them “I Don’t Want To Go Out”. “I Don’t Want To Go Out” is the obvious one to say but I love them all. “Suck Suck” was great, and “Revolution”. “Dipstick” is so funny. “Waiting” is so tortured. They’re all very, very potent songs, which is why Lobby [Loyde] called it a concept album because it wasn’t an album that had two songs for a 7” single Top 40 hit… it was a collection of songs that stood well together but maybe not so well independently.
Do you remember writing “I Don’t Want To Go Out”?
SL: Yeah, I remember Ian would have brought that into the rehearsal room, it was predominately his song. I sing the riff ect. [hums the riff] and the first and second verse and it was like; where do we go now? I was sliding up and went to a C# or something and thought, that’s wrong! Then started moving down trying to find where he [Ian Rilen] was and he was following me, that ended up becoming the middle eight… we wrote the middle eight accidentally and then put in the last verse. He wrote the first two verses about me. I added the words to the middle 8 and I added the last verse about me and my friends preferring a beer to disco.
A lot of the time that’s how Ian and I would work, he’d have a blueprint for a song, he’d say it goes like this, do half and verse and then say that I can do the rest [laughs]. Sometimes I’d come in and do the same thing, like I’ve got this idea for a song but it needs a hook or something; he’d say, “How about this?” We were good like that from the beginning. I used to write with Ian Krahe as well. It was very organic in its original 4-piece format. Ian [Rilen] and I were obviously forced closer together when Ian Krahe died. We wrote a lot of songs together, maybe 120-130 songs!
Is there anything from that time with X that you learnt that’s stayed with you?
SL: Two things, OK… both the Ian’s were chronically late, that drove me mad! If anything I’m over punctual as a consequence. The big lesson that I’ve learnt that I’ve carried forever is one day Lobby explained to me how gigs worked. It sounds pretty dumb because you turn up, play, get paid and go home… that’s how you’d think about it but there’s more to it than that. Back then we had to hire our own P.A., you had to know the size of the room, whether it needed a single or double 4-way system, you’d have to hire the right rigging. You had to hire someone to operate it and then you had to hire people to lug it in. It was like running a small business, but it was called, being in a band!
As we got more and more popular and we could ask for more and more money, it got the stage where we were kind of pricing ourselves out of the market. Lobby said, “It all costs money. Pubs aren’t given alcohol to sell for free, they have to buy it and pay their staff, there’s overheads. You’re taking a percentage of the bar and door and there’s nothing left for anyone else.” He said “you have to understand that it’s very easy that you’re worth that but the most important thing to do is not believe the hype. People are paid to make that bullshit up! Don’t believe the hype!” He told me that and was about to walk away and turned around and said, “Especially your own!” That was it. I’ve lived by those rules ever since.
Do you like to create every day?
SL: No, no, no, ‘cause then it would be like a job. There are two kinds of camps, there are people that work at it and people that are sitting around waiting for a transmitted beam to be sent into your head and you go, ah! Thank you! Sometimes you dream of a song and if you’re really lucky you wake up and remember it and can figure it out before it fades away. Most of the time it falls into your hands. You’ll be playing it and as you’re playing it, sometimes the riff or progression will suggest words to you and then you latch onto them and you build. For me it’s always been a spate of songs, maybe ten or three or four that will come all at once and then they’ll be nothing for months. You don’t force it. I used to try and force it and I used to write shit, at least I thought it was and no one else would get to hear it; I’m not gonna say, hey, listen to this it’s shit! [laughs]. I’m not precious about it but, I just think if you want it to be a natural thing and really represent who you are, you can’t force it because, then you’re just tinkering with nature, I’m not a fan of that. Tin Pan Alley and the Big Think Tank, big songs of the ‘50s and ‘60s… I love some of those songs but they were obviously made under duress because they had to write hit singles.
Can you think of any songs that have been particularly challenging for you to write?
SL: Definitely. It’s weird because the song that made the most money in my whole musical life was a song that I wrote in about five minutes. It was a non-song almost. I wrote it because my daughter had a sleepover, a bunch of ten or eleven year old girl students, they’d all been picked up the next morning except for one that was left… I don’t know what my daughter was doing but, I was sitting in the lounge room waiting for this other girl’s parents to come and I was mucking around on the piano and she said “What’s that?” I said, I don’t know, I’m just mucking around. She said “Can you make that into a song?” I said, I don’t know, and I was looking around and saw a memo pad and it had written: thought of the day, make it happen! I looked at that and was like, yeah, I can make it happen! I just made up the song “Make It Happen”. I didn’t think much more of it until I was recording an album and needed an extra track. I thought it was pretty jaunty and threw it on. Thirteen years later it got picked up by Yoplait in America for a commercial. It was just like, wow! That’s one extreme of how lucky you can be.
On the other hand, my daughters favourite song that I’ve ever written, I had the music and arrangement in my head for twelve of thirteen years. I could never find the words that I thought belonged to the song. One day I was sitting the bus thinking about it and a line came to me and I thought it was perfect for that song. Once I had that it was like getting a key and unlocking a door and everything went booof and came tumbling out. I imagine that somewhere in my subconscious I had been thinking about it for all of that time, the lyrics wrote themselves in a matter of minutes, I was scribbling on bus tickets and whatever paper I could find it write it all down, this was obviously before mobile phones [laughs]. It can take forever.
What was the line in the song that came to you?
SL: I can’t sleep for loving you. It’s a nice tender little ballad, my daughter loves it. She loves it and says she’s going to cover it one day.
Aww that’s so lovely.
SL: Yeah, it’s for her. I think it’s a very beautiful song. I’ve demo’d it but never put it out. I think because I like the demo so much, I don’t want anybody to mess it up… I mean alter it by bringing their own feelings into it. Then again, the demo isn’t quite good enough to release, maybe one day on an anthology or something. I’m just leaving it there so if my daughter covers it, it can be hers.
I wanted to ask you about the song “Don’t Cry No Tears” it’s such a beautiful song and it’s become a bit of a signature song for you; can you tell me about writing that one?
SL: I remember it vividly. It was sometime, but not too long, after Ian Krahe had died. I was reading The World According to Garp [laughs], and I always associate that song with that book for some reason. I’d borrowed a 12-string guitar from someone and this C Major Seventh chord sounded beautiful on this guitar, I was mucking around with that. Of course in the end of the book Garp dies, I was thinking about that and then I was thinking about my friend that had died, I was thinking of how I never got to say goodbye and well, he never got to say goodbye either. I was having a conversation with him, representing him and myself talking to each other saying; this may have happened but it doesn’t change this. Wherever I go people want me to play it. I did a live stream for a mental health issue last night, it was the last song I played. I love the song, I’ll play it endlessly forever. It spoke the truth that just needed to be spoken.
Do you get emotional playing it?
SL: Sometimes I get very emotional. If a friend has passed away and someone asks if you can come to the funeral and sing it, it’s like, fuck! [laughs]. Yeah, I can. A couple of times I’ve really had to choke back the tears on it definitely, that’s what makes people like it—it’s real. I can’t do it without emotion. You can have the best or worst voice in the world but, it’s the emotion and the honesty of the delivery that moves people more than anything else.
I’ve found that throughout your catalogue of music that loss seems to be a prevalent theme; does music help you with healing?
SL: Yeah, it is. Music helps me sort out my feelings, absolutely. From my earliest memories there’s been issues around love, my parents split up when I was very young, then they got back together again and my sister came along, then they split up again. I went to live with my maternal grandparents. My mum was in and out of sanatoriums, she was manic depressive. Then she remarried, had my brothers and then that guy disappeared… love or the lack of love or the abuse of love, or the longing for love has been part of me for as long as I can remember, everyone wants to be loved. It’s so tricky because there’s so many kinds of love [laughs] and not all of them are healthy, not all of them are joyful. It is a powerful emotion. If you can sing about things like that people can relate to them, anger is another one. People loved X because of the satirical but very real anger in a lot of the songs, the critique, the social stuff. While I’m interested in social interactions and politics, I tend to address them through interpersonal relationships instead now. Love is love, you can apply it to anyone in any situation, having the same kind of joy and happiness or loss and sorrow; the politics of love is just as important as social politics. If you don’t have love within yourself, you’re not going to put it into anything else that you’re going to take out into the world; are you?
Absolutely. Did it take you a while to come to a place of self-love?
SL: Yeah, it took a while. I can’t remember when it happened [laughs]. One day I realised that I wasn’t so angry anymore; I wondered if that was a good thing or a bad thing? I decided it was definitely a good thing. When people say “Why don’t you write more songs like the classic X songs?” I say, it’s because I’m not that person anymore. I can’t go back and feel the way I felt then… people say “Times are so bad now, we need more songs like you and Ian wrote!” I’m like, they’re there. You can take songs like “Revolution” or “Suck Suck” or “Police” any of those songs, and they will apply to today, emotionally and politically. Nothing has changed, it’s just different labels and factions, people are still arguing about stuff that often doesn’t need arguing. People talk more about doing things than actually doing things because it’s much easier just to talk than take action. Nothing’s changed; why should I write another song? It’s there! [laughs].
I read on your blog a little while back about the power of naming things, songs, albums, etc. and how things can have a prophetic quality about them; have there been times you’ve felt you’ve done this?
SL: Wow! That’s going back a bit [laughs]. I’ve definitely had that, “Cry No Tears” is one. Now that you’ve mentioned it, it’s got me thinking… sometimes it can be a curse and you’ve got to be careful. Ian was always labelled with the [Rose Tattoo song] “Bad Boy For Love” thing and he hated it! It made him lots of money but it made him sick of people calling for him to play “Bad Boy For Love” especially at an X gig. The last thing he ever wanted to do was play that song again. It’s almost like a pre-destined, big clue to who you’re gonna be and what you’re gonna be for the rest of your life. For me, my two are “Moving On” which is the first song I ever wrote by myself; the other was “Don’t Cry No Tears”. The “Moving On” thing, I finally realised I didn’t think that I would remain rootless or without a real family for the rest of my life. I realised it was possible to build a home and a family and to be happy. With “Don’t Cry No Tears” it’s a nice resolution, it’s a song about closure but also about any parting, it reinforces that it can’t change your life, it can never be taken away, and sometimes you just have to be strong. When I think about it, I’m actually quite surprised that I wrote it.
Where do you get your strength from?
SL: That’s a complicated one. Partly sheer stubbornness [laughs]. The difference between my sister and I is about three and a half years, in the first few years of my mother and father being together when I was born they were happy for a while. I was too young to remember specifically but, I had a sense of that love. Later on when I was in my forties and my mother was permanently ill, she didn’t want to die in hospital, so I told her I would be her carer, you can die at home. During that time we got to talk about a lot of stuff. She said “Yeah, you know, I know it didn’t work out so well but when you were born, I really, really did like you”… I really needed to hear that. We weren’t the most communicating kind of family. My mother would say stuff like “You’re not much but I like you anyway, I suppose”. That was just her way. Anyway, her being able to tell me that made a huge difference, it reassured me about something that I had suspected on a subconscious level, that there was a golden time for me. It took a long time to get back to it.
I was also the eldest of the family so I did have to take care of my sister and my younger brothers. I had to be strong no matter what, it was expected of me. The quickest answer for your question is, it was firstly expected of me and secondly, because I’m incredibly stubborn. A third answer is that having suspected something had happened and having it confirmed, that was a very powerful moment.
I know what it is like to care for a parent, I spent sixteen years caring for my mum with Alzheimer’s and then my dad had mobility issues all for the later part of his life.
SL: That’s tremendous.
I had a similar moment with my father. He told me as a teen I wouldn’t be anything or do anything, that I was a no-hoper like the rest of my siblings… after my mum got sick and we were looking after her, our relationship changed and he told me that he’s always been proud of me and that he loved me. It’s the one and only time he said it to me. It really changed things for me.
SL: Yeah, if you hear it once and it’s honest and heartfelt, you only need to hear it once. I feel so sorry for people that don’t get that, because I do know people who have never felt loved by their parents and consequently never felt loved in their whole life—it’s terrible.
Are you a spiritual person at all? I know you went to Sunday School.
SL: Yeah, at the local Anglican Church, that was because my grandparents thought I should be introduced to some religion. Church of England is probably the most passive, it was back then. They thought it would be up to me to make up my mind. They weren’t particularly religious, no praying over meals or anything like that. For me, I’m pretty spiritual. When I was doing the stream last night I was talking about mental health issues and we were having a conversation and it came up; what do I believe in? I believe in something, it doesn’t have a name or a face but it is a faith. It comes from the necessity of me to carry on my daily existence, to think along the lines of basic science that energy cannot be destroyed it can only be transformed, we are made of energy. When you die, whatever you want to call it, a life spark or a soul or a neuron or whatever, I believe it goes somewhere else. I’ve heard some pretty funny ideas, Billy Connolly said, we all made up of atoms, molecules and can’t be destroyed, the body might die but you might become part of a teacup or a chair [laughs]. That’s one way of looking at it, you don’t have to necessarily be reincarnated or go to Heaven or whatever but, because we can’t figure out what happen afterwards doesn’t mean that nothing happens… it doesn’t mean anything happens either for that matter.
A long time ago, I was into Buddhism for a while, two Jehovah’s Witness knocked on my door, normally I’d say I’m not interested but back then they were using a different tactic [laughs]… there was the typical guy but an absolutely stunning woman; I was like, if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness I could be converted on the spot! [laughs]. I thought I’d talk to them because I was interested in what she had to say really, I’ll be honest. We were talking for a while and they said “You don’t believe in God?” I said, I don’t believe in god but I don’t necessarily not believe. I was into Buddhism and possibly being reincarnated, I said, maybe that’s what happens to you when you go to Heaven. They were like “What do you mean?” You’re reincarnated into another person or a better version of yourself then you get together but then you find that now you’re in Heaven and if you behave and do really good you might die and go to another Heaven that’s even better! That might go on for an eternity of eternities. They were like “Wow! We never thought of it like that!” I’m not saying it’s true but anything is possible. They said “Can you come to our chapter meeting next week and explain this?” [laughs]. I said, no, you can talk about it amongst yourselves. I’m not a spiritual leader, I’m just saying there are infinite possibilities, you believe in what you want to believe in and it’s fine with me as long as you don’t hurt me through your beliefs.
Outside of music what else are you passionate about?
SL: I love cooking! I was taught very young, as I mentioned I was brought up by my maternal grandparents and my grandmother had it in her mind that she didn’t want to be responsible for another stupid man walking this planet [laughs]. For her that meant, unable to look after themselves. She taught me to cook, sew, to do all the things she thought was important for a nice, comfortable day-to-day life. Cooking has always been a great comfort for me. I tried to get into art for a while but I’m no good at painting. I liked drawing for a while. There was a period where I felt very unmusical so I got into drawing a lot. It was fun for a while but it’s not the same… at the end of a drawing, people don’t clap and cheer. You don’t go to the pub and set up an easel and paint and at the end of it people go “That was fucking awesome! Can you do another one?!” [laughs]. There is an ego involved in creativity, it’s pretty hard to be creative I think if you don’t have an ego, I mean you might be very self-depreciating but it still makes you do whatever you need to do to… [pauses] process whatever it is that makes you feel that way. I’m not a psychologist though but I talk to all different kinds of people and when you do that you hear lots of different things that maybe you never considered yourself.
If I was lucky with anything… I remember someone interviewing Sean Connery once and they asked him; what’s the best gift ever given to you? He said “The ability to read”. I’m very passionate about literature, I love reading… to be able to listen, to be able to talk and write things; I like writing. I was actually really enjoying it until someone asked me to write a book. I started and then I thought, oh, now I’m doing this for the wrong reason. I was having fun before that and if I wrote something and someone liked it, it was great, if they don’t, so what. It’s not like my career depended on it. That was a bit odd.
Anything can hold my interest or catch my eye but how long it maintains my interest is a different thing. It depends if I can actually use it, like cooking, I can make a dozen bread rolls and people can come over and eat them and go “Oh my god, this is fantastic!” …back to the ego, if you do something and it gives you a positive return, you want to go back and do it again. Passion can manifest in many ways. I made leadlight windows for ten years. It was after my first wife and I split and I needed a job because I wanted custody of my daughter, I thought it was important to have a job. I needed a job that would be through school hours so I could pick her up after school and all that kind of stuff. A friend of mine said “Come and work for us”. I actually got really good at it and I enjoyed it but, I’m not in a hurry to make another one [laughs]. It was good while it lasted.
The things that are the most rewarding are the things that at the end of the day you can look back at and see it’s complete and finished, that you have a sense of accomplishment. That’s what’s good about writing a song… unless it takes thirteen years [laughs], then it’s not so good. I’ve been doing a few talks about depression and one of the big things with depression it seems is that people get that way because they’ve lost or never felt they had purpose, beyond the philosophical; why am I here? It’s like, literally; why am I here? I’m not doing anything for anyone, myself included. To have no sense of purpose, I can’t imagine anything more hellish.
When I was a kid I used to like making models because at the end there was something to look at. Even if that meant I’d blow ‘em all up with bungers! It was still fun.
Have there been times in your own life where you ever felt like you didn’t have purpose?
SL: Not really, because as I said, I was the eldest whether I had a purpose or not I had a responsibility, a responsibility is kind of similar. I’ve never felt like; why am I here? I’m lucky in that regard, I don’t know what I would have done if I had felt that way. You’d know having been through that carer’s situation, it’s a huge responsibility but, it’s infinitely rewarding when you get those breakthrough moments, they can make years of pain, if not necessarily evaporate, give it a sense of proportion where they’re no longer a millstone or albatross around your neck.
Before you were talking about playing a song for people and they clap and that being ego and then your friends coming around to eat the bread rolls you’ve made; maybe it’s more just coming from a place of connection?
SL: Yeah, absolutely. There’s the social aspect of it, which is important. I’m not going to pretend I don’t like it when people cheer or clap at the end of a song [laughs]. It’s very gratifying. I can play a song and have no one clap at all and still feel like I’ve done a good thing.
What’s next for you? You mentioned you were working on some songs for your wife.
SL: Yeah, she’s got a few projects going. Last year I lost a very close friend and one of the things he asked me to do before he dies was go to America and find some genuine Mexican musicians and record some songs with them, because he always thought I was wasting my time doing rock n roll. He always thought, in his words that “I had a beautiful voice for country music”. He said the Mexican people are so passionate, and he played me some stuff. I was going to do to Tijuana but the guy that was organising it for me just disappeared. My wife used some guys in San Diego, they fitted the criteria. When I recorded with them it was beautiful, it was fantastic.
That was the album By Request?
SL: Yes. Things come from all different corners and it comes back to; what do I believe in? I do believe in a certain amount of destiny. I had massive spinal trauma, my left leg was paralysed and they said I might lose the use of my right leg too. I had to wait a year for an operation. I asked myself; what am I going to do in that year? The doctor said “You’re a musician, if there was something you’ve always wanted to do, now’s the time to do it”. I said, I always wanted to tour America. He told me to go do that! [laughs]. I said, it’s not that easy! I can’t walk. He said, “Don’t let that stop you! It’s a thought!” I went home thinking, shove this thought up your bum! [laughs]. But, within weeks a guy sent me an email from America saying he loved X-Aspirations and that he wanted to do a run for his own little label on vinyl. I said, sure go for it! He told me he really wanted me to come to America and tour it. I said, I’d love to but I’m in a wheelchair at the moment, I’m having an operation on my spine. He said, “Don’t worry about it then”. I said, no, no, wait! My doctor said I should do something like this, there will be limitations. So I went and played.
I was in so much agony and had to take so many prescription drugs to manage the pain. I don’t really remember much. I’d get to a gig and they’d prop me up and as long as I didn’t move I wouldn’t fall over. I did twenty-eight gigs up and down the west coast of America. It was insane. I came back here and then after a bit had the procedures done. Gradually I got my left leg back. They recommended I do physio, which I wasn’t too keen on but, my wife bought me a drum kit. I set it up left-handed so I had to use my left foot to drive the kick pedal. They said you can train your muscles and nerves to work differently, the ones that aren’t working doesn’t mean you can’t stimulate the muscle, it’s like a detour, you’re rerouting things. I tried it and then the stubbornness kicked in and I worked at it and worked at it; even now if I’m walking down the street I take a cane because I get tired, but if I walk the way I used to I’m all over the place ‘cause the things don’t work anymore. It’s amazing what your brain can do if you let it. This could apply to anything pretty much. Being told you might not have feeling in your leg to doing what I am now, I thought that was an insurmountable thing and I’d never get over it, but I did!
A friend of mine who was a Buddhist said “You were given that pain for a reason, you have to love it for what it is” ….again my first reaction was, pffft! [laughs], you try feeling like this and tell yourself you’re gonna love it! Then I realised what they meant, it was an opportunity of sorts to deal with things. It was great! I remember waking up one day and being, that’s it, today it changes! I’m not going to be this person anymore, I’m not going to be dominated by my pain, I am going to dominate my pain! It didn’t just go biiiiing! It took a long time, that’s where stubbornness really comes in handy! [laughs].
I say to people, you always have a choice, no matter how shitty the choices are, you still have one and if you’ve got nothing but bad choices laid out in front of you, then you pick the less harmful or more palatable of those choices, take it. Once you get there you’ll see more choices, maybe equally as bad but maybe one that’s not quite as bad as that, so you go there. The further you go along taking the most positive steps you can take, even though they might seem like there’s no difference at all, you start to learn how to make better choices. Once you start to make better choices, you start to have a better life—to me it’s that simple. I’ve been through it. I still have to do it and make hard choices but I have learnt what is a good choice and what isn’t. It helped enormously. It is rewarding. As you know, it’s not always an immediate plus but you can look back and go, oh, I’m actually glad I did this because now I don’t have to worry about those ones, or you can look back and go, well now I’ve done this, I can face that and get over that hurdle too. I hate the words “empowering yourself” but it’s good to empower yourself to make good decisions for yourself that will benefit you mentally and spiritually, in health, in your relationships… but you don’t need to have a world dominating vision at the end of it [laughs]. You don’t need to be a CEO of a mega company to feel like you’ve accomplished something. I feel like I’ve accomplished way more than I could ever imagine I could. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that I have to stop doing things!
Pamplona band Melenas have released a beautiful sophomore album – Dios Raros – full of sweetness, melody, sparkle and shimmer. A perfect soundtrack for spending a carefree summertime with your best friends making memories that will last a life time. Jangly guitars, cascading vocals, a lushness and atmospherics make this an unforgettable album. Sung entirely in their native Spanish the LP transcends linguistic borders, the emotion and sentiment present in every note played. Gimmie recently spoke with guitarist-keyboardist-vocalist Oihana Herrera.
OIHANA HERRERA: I work as a graphic designer here at my place, so I’ve been working a little bit until we have the interview. My day is usually from here where you see me working at my computer. I have a set up with my guitar and keyboard so sometimes when I am bored or I want to rest a little bit I go and play. After I meet with the girls sometimes and we rehearse or I go out and drink something.
How did you first discover music?
OH: I remember because I have some videos to remember it, when I was two years or so or three, I already spent so much time singing and dancing on the sofa with all of the family around singing with them. I was super young when I felt this interest for the music. When I was three my parents decided that they were going to take me to violin lessons. I’ve been surrounded by a very musical family, kind of a classical music mood. Afterwards when I was a teenager I started looking into other styles. My father and mother used to listen to the Beatles and classical rock, after that by myself I started discovering other styles too.
Is Melenas your first band?
OH: Yeah, it is. After I started learning violin, I went to the Conservatory and I have a very classical background but, I really wanted to play in a band. I didn’t see how with the classical music I could have this experience that I am having now. One day a friend of mine leave me a guitar and I started messing around and learning by myself and I felt more free because I didn’t have various tricks or ways of learning it was free. I started composing and felt like I could start a band or something, then I met my bandmates in a place called, Nebula, which is the rock n roll bar in our city. We live in Pamplona it is a very small city. It was a very cool place and it has lots of shows there. We became friends because we used to go to the same shows. One day we decided with these songs I had started composing with a guitar for six months, we started rehearsing. Some of the girls had played in other bands. For me and Maria it was the first time we play in a band.
Can you remember what your first impressions of them was when you first met them?
OH: It is a small city so we spend time in the same bars, when we started talking to each other is when we first met. I remember us dancing in the first row to the bands that would come. I felt we had the same energy. From the bar Nebula you would see the same thirty to forty people in different bars; we nurture each other, we share a lot. I think that has created this burning thing that made us want to have our own band. We share the rehearsing space with another friend of ours, another friend has the recording studio where we play, so it’s kind of like a little community.
That sounds similar to the music community that I grew up in. What was the first concert that you went to?
OH: I can’t really remember but maybe it was some classical music show when I was young and I was surrounded by all of this atmosphere.
Can you remember a favourite rock n roll show you’ve been to?
OH: Nebula Bar has this basement where they have the shows, they were so cool. We saw a band called Holy Wave, they are from Texas, we become friends with them. There was no space to dance and the walls were sweating. There was this energy all together that was very cool. It was a very special show because of the energy, and the contact we had with the band afterward; the human experience, the knowledge and the sharing. I really like this a lot.
Melenas have a new album out Dios Raros; how long did it take to make?
OH: When we made our first LP, then we started playing a lot. When we were playing we were also composing but we didn’t have a lot of time to practice the new songs. It already start when we were touring the first album. Last summer we spent two months rehearsing a lot the songs and thinking a lot; how did we want them to sound like? Finishing all of this work that we started when touring. Mostly last summer was the time we spent really composing and finishing the songs, three months deeply doing that.
Is there a song on the album that’s really special to you?
OH: Yeah, I will say “El tiempo ha pasado”, it’s the fifth song. It has no drums. It talks about being in your bedroom remembering someone that you don’t have contact with anymore and you wonder what this person will be doing. In this space I am talking about a guy and what he will be doing, if he will be the same person or different, where will he live. With the music, the music for me is very heart-touching. Do you say that in English?
Yes.Even though I don’t speak much Spanish, I’m still happy that I can in a way understand your songs, I can still feel the sentiment behind it.
OH: I love that. That is very special to hear. Some other people tell us that too. I think that the music will represent what the lyrics talk about a lot of the time. The lyrics are usually the last thing we do and we try to relate it with the mood of the music; maybe that’s why you can feel it.
When you were making the album did you have any challenges?
OH: We have our level high always. We like to have some kind of quality. We have our limits, I know how I play but I want to do the best I can. It’s sounding better I think. Trying to find special sounds for each songs was the most challenging thing for us.
Why do you like writing songs?
OH: I love music so much, I am always listening to music. It’s another form of expression after that, playing it for me. I can start playing and spend so much time and I don’t even notice that, that time is going. It’s very relaxing for me. A lot of times doing a song is like, it cannot be from me somehow! I take this nervousness and whatever that is happening to me and filter it by the music I play.
I really love the seventh song “3 segundos” on the LP, which translates to “3 Seconds”. It talks about how things can change in just a few seconds; is there a moment in your life that something like that has happened that you could share with us?
OH: With the band I feel like that happens a lot. For example the last time I remember that happening is when we received an email to see if we wanted to go play New York Fashion Week! It didn’t happen yet but just the proposal is like, what?! It marks something very big in my life. There have been so many moments for me like this one that is just, WOW! It means something very big. The song talks about the power of some people to make some things change with their persons, someone who has that energy that makes you do things. They have some special energy, no?
Yes! Why did you decide on “Vals” for the last track on your record?
OH: We thought a lot about the order, we tried to keep our rhythm with the whole record. We thought that was a nice way to finish. Somehow I think this song makes you think a little bit about the rest of them and a little bit you let them go. I like that song because of that, it talks about spending time with a friend and just being together, not talking just being a companion and just sitting and the time go by. It’s a cool way to finish the album. It talks about strange days and days you were thinking about your own stuff in your bedroom and wondering things about the past or wishes about the future. This song is about being with a friend, time goes by and I’ll see you tomorrow. I like that.
Why did you call the album Dios Raros? Rare Days?
OH: Yeah, Rare Days or Strange Days, something like that; I don’t know the little differences in English. It talks about these days where you feel somehow disconnected to what is going on outside, you are in your bedroom in your world. This is what a lot of our songs talk about.
How has being in isolation because of the pandemic been for you?
OH: Our record has been released during isolation. We’ve been working a lot on the promotion not having to combine it with playing or rehearsing, which has been good and let us focus on that a lot. We are very happy because the record has worked very well. At the same time we have plans to play and we can’t play. That’s a little bit frustrating because you put a lot of energy into creating the album and all the work behind it, like the videos and promotion; you need that energy back from playing. Playing is what we love most! It’s good to have the feedback from the people, knowing it’s helping them and they’ve been happy because they could listen to it!
As well as music, as you mentioned, you also do art; what made you want to express yourself that way too?
OH: As a graphic designer?
OH: My father is an architect and I felt that I really like that world but I felt that it was too technical. I didn’t like all the technical part, I thought it was too hard for me [laughs]. One of the partners of my father had a son that was a graphic designer, I didn’t even know what one was! After he explained to me one day when I was trying to choose what I wanted to do, I thought this is what I want to do. It was something creative but I like the functional thing also. Graphic design is communication and it has function—I like that combo. I didn’t see myself creating art with no function, different parts of the brain, rationale and artistic.
You also mentioned before that you have a setup in your room with keyboards and guitar; have you made any songs lately?
OH: Yeah. I’ve been composing a little bit, so there are new songs on the way. We will be rehearsing the new record and preparing the new songs. Sooner or later we will do something with these new songs.
When you’re writing songs do you write more on guitar or keyboard?
OH: When I started I felt free when I started playing guitar, because I didn’t have to read notes; I never composed with a piano or violin, it’s difficult. When I played guitar with no teacher or reading notes I felt free. After I play it on guitar myself for a little while I start playing it on piano too, with the keyboard. I did something that I couldn’t do before, it was to compose with it. I spent five or six years learning piano after violin. On this record we’ve got songs composed with guitar and some with two keyboards and no guitar. It’s a different feeling in different songs, I love that. I love growing and experimenting with new stuff. I just got a new little synthesiser two days ago and I’m trying new things with that, experimenting and putting them in new songs and see what happens.