Sydney band C.O.F.F.I.N live at Vinnies Dive, Gold Coast, Queensland (28/05/2021)
Photos by Jhonny Russell
All photos by GIMMIE ZINE.
Sydney band C.O.F.F.I.N live at Vinnies Dive, Gold Coast, Queensland (28/05/2021)
Photos by Jhonny Russell
All photos by GIMMIE ZINE.
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.
Branko Cosic is one of the hardest working people in Brisbane’s music community. He plays in alt-rock band Tape/Off, punk band Total Pace, indie-rock band Gold Stars, organises shows including Sonic Masala Fest and does a show on 4ZZZfm radio. We recently chatted to Branko about his love of music and all he has going on.
What first got you into music?
BC: Earliest memory I have of liking music is seeing the video clip for “Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight” by Models on TV. It blew my mind. I think I kept begging my parents to hear the song again, so Mum went down to Woody’s Music down in Woodridge and grabbed the 12” single of it. I’ve still got the record.
I also had older cousins that had cool tastes in music, so I remember digging through their collections and hearing things like The Cure, Devo, Public Enemy, Ice-T, N.W.A, Stone Roses before turning the age of 10.
You play the drums; how did you first start? What drew you to them?
BC: A family friend had a drum kit setup in his garage, and I was enamoured by all the parts that went together to make it up. After that, every time I would see performance clips on Rage, I’d be mesmerised by the drummers and their setups. I got my first drum kit at 15. The first song I attempted to play was Powderfinger’s ‘D.A.F’. It had a really tricky hi-hat pattern in the chorus, and before I acquired a kit, I had practiced air drumming to it (with my mum’s old makeup chair as the “snare drum”) and was adamant that was going to be the first thing I tried.
What was your first introduction to DIY?
BC: Watching Fugazi’s ‘Instrument’ documentary was the turning point. It seemed like a subconscious roadmap on how to start a band. It was the most honest document of being in a band and everything that went along with it (recording, releasing, touring, etc).
A few years later, I went with a friend to this place in Red Hill called ‘Lofly Hangar’. It was a DIY space that had parties once a month and was filled with people with the same interests as me that I never thought anyone else in Brisbane shared. It was like an epiphany when I found it. That place was my church. I learned so much during those short-lived years. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the existence of Lofly Hangar.
You’re in band Tape/Off and Total Pace; how are they musically different from each other?
BC: They’re slacker rock bands in their own way, which are both loud, but have different intensities. TP has it’s foot on the gas 95% percent of time, T/O dynamically weaves through the gear changes. T/O listens to a lot of Pavement, Slint, Sonic Youth, Fugazi… and TP listens to a lot of The Replacements, Cloud Nothings, METZ…
What sparked each to start?
BC: I started T/O in 2008 and was my first go at starting a band from scratch. I had been in bands before that, but they never got off the ground. I was initially going to play guitars, but had more fun playing drums. Simon, Matt and [Luke] Henery had started putting TP together when they asked me to join. We’ve all been buds for years, so it was exciting to start something new.
The last release Tape/Off had was song ‘Work Xmas Party’ towards the end of last year; have you been working on anything new? What can you can tell us about it?
BC: Yep, we’ve been working towards a new album. It’s about half-written at the moment. We seem to be travelling to more intricate and quieter passages in the new songs. We’re challenging ourselves to not be so loud and introduce more warmth into them. I would love to get it out in the next year or so.
‘Work Xmas Party’ was something that we just needed to get off our chest. It came together quite quickly in the practice room and it was super quick to record. So rather than sit on it, we thought we’d get it out before the end of the year to coincide people’s favourite/least favourite time of year when they have to congregate with their fellow worker outside company time to mostly shameful results.
Does Total Pace have anything new in the works?
BC: This is also true. We have a new EP coming soon that we’re currently putting artwork together for. We released the first single off it ‘Stay In’ just two weeks ago on the internet. Most of the songs got their live debut when we played with Mclusky* in January. We’ve also been playing a cover of ‘Shopping’ by Pet Shop Boys which has been awesome to play. A recorded version of that should surface sometime in the future.
As well as playing in bands you also do radio show Unnecessary Knowledge with Tape/Off band mate Cam [Smith]; what’s some of your favourite songs and bands you’ve been playing lately?
Turnpike is probably the most played artist on our show. The most brutal music from the most humblest humans on earth. Requin is also another favourite and also sits in the humble basket. Party Dozen, Good Boy, Bushing, Majestic Horses, Local Authority, Good Morning, PYNES, Cable Ties are bands we’ve been playing lots of lately.
I love playing anything from Bearhug, Batrider, Can, Slayer, A Tribe Called Quest, Screamfeeder, Aphex Twin, OVLOV, Flying Lotus whenever I get a chance.
How did you get involved in community radio? What inspired you to do it?
BC: My good friend Rachel Tinney was my conduit into Community Radio. I met her at The Hangar in 2009 and when she started volunteering at 4ZZZ, she was the first one to start playing Tape/Off. She had a graveyard shift show called ‘Theme Me Up, Scotty!’ from 12am-2am on Wednesday nights. I used to finish work around midnight so she invited me down to the station to check it out. I’d keep her company whilst she was doing the show and would marvel at the CD library.
Six months later, she was offered a daytime show and asked me if I’d like to be her official co-host, which I completely jumped at. It was Rachel that called it Unnecessary Knowledge because she thought I knew too much of it and it has stuck ever since.
She moved interstate in 2013 and I then asked Cam if he’d like to jump on board. The rest is history.
You also have interviewed bands yourself; who’s been a highlight and what made it so?
BC: Too many to count, but talking with Conrad Keely from …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead about their magnum opus ‘Source Tags And Codes’ was pretty special. That album is in my top 5 of all time.
The Kashmere Stage Band was another highlight. You should check out the documentary about them called ‘Thunder Soul’. Rachel and I interviewed them when they came out to promote the doco and could’ve talked for hours about all of their stories.
What’s something that you’re really, really excited about?
BC: I’m working to start a new musical venture that is equal parts terrifying and exciting at the same time. It’s going to combine my love for music, graphic design and film all into one. It’s the new record label that launched a few weeks ago, called ‘Zang! Records’ and I run it with Jack McDonnell, who is a fellow 4ZZZ-er. You can check it out at: Zang Records Facebook and Zang Records Instagram.
I also play in a band called Gold Stars with Ben from Tape/Off and Phil from aheadphonehome/Lofly Hangar which is for fans of Guided By Voices. Look out for our debut album that will drop sometime this year.
Agency’s new post-punk, post-hardcore, noise rock record is both vulnerable and staunch, there’s chaos yet a cohesive groove that drives the album along. Pretty guitars and melancholy melodies seep into the psyche, leaving it imprinted on your mind for days. We interviewed Sia and Tom from Agency to talk about their latest, Wild Possession. The album’s cover designer Adam J Bragg also gives us an insight into the art.
How’s your day been and what have you been up to?
SIA AHMAD (guitars-vocals-etc):Busy looking after my two young kids during the holidays at the moment while working from home, it’s been a juggling act I was never prepared for so learning on the job as they say.
LUKE ROBERT (bass-vocals): It’s school holidays here in the A.C.T, I’m fortunate to be able to work remotely, so I’m balancing work with building couch forts – this morning the fort morphed into a submarine and we were attacked by a colossal squid.
We love Agency’s style of noise rock; what are some things that have helped shape your sound?
SA: Lucky for me, I got to see Hew and Luke play in their previous bands (A Drone Coda and Hoodlum Shouts respectively) a lot, even work with them when I was doing the hellosQuare label so I always respected them and loved their musicality.
I didn’t really ever play in a ‘rock’ band until Agency so the bond was really over ‘90s indie and math rock beforehand and then showed each other our other interests that lead us to fill the gaps in each other’s styles to end up where we have. I see us as a venn diagram of influence and aesthetics that make up our mess of sound.
LR: I’d say from the start we tried to not to smother the personality of each member’s playing. We had an inkling that our individual styles of playing would complement each other – it’s turned out to be the case. Songs develop fairly quickly as a result.
Agency have come back from a few years of inactivity; what was everyone doing in this period?
SA: We all seemed to be busy with our own personal stuff over the last few years – be it familial, work etc. In my case, I was juggling family time with the whole “quiver” journey for a long while. This also coincided with my last couple of years in the band Tangents, which was also full on with releases and touring.
LR:It was clear as soon as we heard her demos that Sia’s solo record was going to be special and a journey in personal growth. Both Hew and I wanted to respect that and give Sia room to explore her solo record and see where it took her. There was that and the Spinal Tap drummer situation.
The EP Wild Possession was recorded three years ago; why did it take so long to come out?
SA: Time kinda just flew by and with us maybe prioritising other things in our lives, we parked it on ice but always in the back of our minds until the time was right.
LR:It doesn’t feel like three years to be honest. The recordings sounded great to us and I don’t think we ever thought that we wouldn’t release them. Initially we thought we might record another session and then have a full length but time got away from us and it made sense to release the songs as a document of where the band was at, at that time.
What brought you all back together to release the record? Why is now the time to release it?
SA: We parted ways with our first drummer at the end of 2016 and then we worked with Hayden Fritzlaff from Moaning Lisa for 2017 – including recording Wild Possession – but then he moved on so we didn’t even have a drummer, let alone think about doing something else.
As Luke says, we didn’t stop thinking about the recordings so as we slowly got back moving on the shows front (with New Age Group’s Peter Krbavac on the drum stool), we started thinking that we should wrap it up with Jonathan Boulet and do something with them.
We’re all generally active with our politics and want for social justice so the real impetus to finalise a release ended up being that we could use these recordings as a fundraising exercise and talk about the causes we believe in.
LR:Like most, every band I’ve played in has been a collective, bigger than the sum of its parts type deal. An extension of that notion is using the platform no matter how big or small the scale to contribute to causes the collective believe in. I don’t take for granted being able to contribute in this way – a privilege awarded to musicians who, in our world anyway, aren’t looking to benefit or to pursue monetary rewards.
Do you have a different relationship to the songs now than when you wrote and recorded them years ago?
SA: I had to relearn so much when we played our first show in years in 2019, it’s pretty embarrassing to write a song and then forget about it so easily but I think it’s great that the songs still have the energy and power for us as when we were first played them out. It’s a shame that lyrically, so much of the things sung resonate a little too clearly with the current climate.
LR:Before recording we’d just finished a run of shows and were probably the tightest we ever have been. Listening to the songs now reminds me of a time when the band was clicking – that we could get the band to a level we were all stoked on feels like an accomplishment.
What’s the significance of the EP’s title Wild Possession?
LR: I liked the turn of phrase, the metaphor. Life is a number of wild possessions. It’s up to you to negotiate each possession however you see fit. There’s no right or wrong way but most people do so within a construct set of or sets of societal values. I like to find the humour, happy accidents, the absurdities in those constructs. By zeroing in on these things in each wild possession of life is a way of turning a potential cynical outlook on life into a positive one.
We love the EP cover by Canberra artist Adam J Bragg! I know Sia and Adam have collaborated on various projects for over a decade or more. Where was the EP cover photo taken? What emotion do you feel it conveys?
ADAM J BRAGG (artwork/design): The photo was taken sometime in 2012 on my parents old 35mm ricoh camera. My partner and I went out to visit a winery, Brindabella Hills, North West of Canberra. It’s directly west of Hall so the photo was taken around there.
It was taken out the car window. I have a bunch of photos of the landscape. I don’t think there was any thought put into it. I remember always loading up 400 iso film and taking photos on sunny days to get that blown out look.
When it came time to do the Wild Possession cover I really wanted to do something different, I haven’t painted in a while and nothing felt interesting. I was playing with some old paintings and it just wasn’t clicking.
A band called Regional Justice Center just put out a 7″ with a cover that was a homage to a No Comment cover and I thought it was a cool nod, especially for a smaller release.
I was listening to a ton of Lungfish at the time and knew that they are a big influence for Luke, so pitched him the idea of doing a homage to Walking Songs for Talking with an Aussie looking vibe. He texted back and said he actually kept having a dream that Agency was playing Friend to Friend in Endtime, a song from Walking Songs for Talking.
That was it, we couldn’t not do it after that point. Like, he independently had a dream about a song off an album, that I decided to rip… how does that even happen?
SA: Adam’s actually known Luke for longer than I’ve known both of them, Adam and I met when he cold called me to do some design work for hellosQuare and we hit it off to start the partnership. I 100% trust him when it comes to visual aesthetic and he nails it every time!
We placed that trust in Adam to listen and respond with the cover and while we certainly didn’t think of ‘rural punk’ when we thought of the music, I couldn’t stop thinking how much sense that phrase made to me when he showed us the cover.
I think people don’t want to acknowledge us here in Ngunnawal Country as both city or regional folk, we’re the outsiders in between and the hazy blur of the image suits that thinking too, musical outsiders.
The EP was recorded by Jonathan Boulet; tell us about working with him? What did you learn?
SA: We met Boulet when Party Dozen did an early show with Agency in 2015 or 2016 and we got along really well. I loved the music he had made and that he had both a good hi-fi aesthetic when it came to recording along with a compatible DIY ethic too. He understood what we were about, was a great listener and very giving during the process (I mean, REALLY GIVING since we were dragging our heels to finish things off!) so just working through recording without having to monitor anything and concentrate on playing was great. We did everything mostly live but he got us so tight during the recording session, more so than we’d even been I think.
What’s each of your favourite track on the record; what’s it about? What do you appreciate about it?
SA: Buffaloes could be the most ambitious thing we’ve done. Luke’s initial words, my response and then getting Hew to do the lead vocal threw ego straight into the bin and then the music came together in parts but really quickly too. We joke about Creative Adult just wanting to sound like Oasis but I think the second half of Buffaloes is us channelling our garage-y psych-pop secrets too. Personally, I had a sore throat for the recording session so I sung on the end section of Buffaloes and went super low comfortable (imagine in between Barry White and Ian Curtis). The others and Jono thought it was great but I’d say it probably took me the best part of the last three years to be comfortable without and use it to completely strip out those perceptions of the gendered voice within myself too – another journey among the others.
What was the thought behind getting Tom Lyngcoln from Harmony and The Nation Blue to deliver a monologue on track “Sensitive”?
SA:If I recall right, I had a grand idea of doing a pair of tracks that complement one another so Sensitive was supposed to be the twin of Senseless but in reality, I manipulated the music out of a Hew outtake from a longer jammed out version of Senseless and then sat on a longer version for a while. I wrote the monologue separately but it seemed to make sense over Sensitive. I wanted my voice out of the mix. Not sure why but it just seemed like he’d be able to convey the resignation well.
LR:Tom’s been a big supporter of us in our previous bands. We played a show w/ Pale Heads and on the drive back to Canberra we talked about having Tom on something. He’s a terrific guitar player so of course we asked him to do a vocal!
Sidenote: Hew and I saw TNB play Tuggeranong Skate Park in the rain in front of us and three others – I think it was for Protest Songs. The kind of magic moments that can only happen in the nation’s capital.
Have you been writing anything new? What kinds of themes are coming to the forefront lyrically?
SA: There were a whole heap of things from before the Wild Possession recording session that was so close to done but not quite finished so I think even revisiting those with current moods will be nice, when we get there. The one luxury of Agency for me is that Luke tends to roll things out that I can respond to in some kind of fashion too.
LR:I think I’m sitting on enough songs for another release. I was inspired by Sia and her solo record and the candid interviews surrounding the record’s release. I’ve written some more direct lyrics as a result.
Agency have toured Malaysia; can you tell us a bit about that? What were the best and worst parts?
SA: I always had a special connection with that part of the world and touring so it was nice to be able to do this with Agency and meet good people at each show. There’s a nostalgia for the energy and vibes at the shows, which don’t seem to be the same for us here a lot of the time.
A lot of memories from that whole trip:
We played Sonic Masala Fest and a Tyms Guitars in-store in Brissy the weekend before flying to Malaysia; Owen from Terra Pines drove us straight from Tyms (after a Bens Burgers lunch) to Gold Coast Airport.
Fitting in a one day recording session in Kuala Lumpur before our first show and eating like demons at the hawker stall around the corner.
Our tour van driver Adam and his bud Chap taking us all over the country including a late night round trip to Malacca and being stuck in an epic 2 hour traffic jam on the outskirts of KL! (Also probably the ultimate low of the whole trip).
Getting my Scottish free jazz sax friend Raymond McDonald to join us at the KL show for a noise blast improv during Stillness track On The Loop and seeing our Killeur Calculateur buds at the show.
Lovely hospitality from the Dunce crew in Singapore including the best dim sum you can imagine.
LR: So many incredible meals w/ kind accommodating people who went out of their way to show us and accept us in their community. Discovering Malay and SG bands. Watching Malaysia compete for a Commonwealth medal in badminton was a highlight. The restaurant was jammed packed and teeming w/ anticipation and excitement. Playing in a shopping mall and then walking through downtown SG to catch an outdoor set by OG Singapore hardcore legends was another.
What have you been listening to lately?
SA: I’ve bought a lot during iso – records by William Onyeabor, Party Dozen, HTRK, Stereolab reissues. Also really excited for the June of 44 album!
LR:Ancient Channels, The Meanies, The Dammed, Sonic Youth bootlegs, Screamfeeder.
Agency are from Weston Creek, ACT; what’s it like where you live?
SA: It’s the edge of suburbia before heading into National Park, quite lush in some respects but also just very suburban. It’s nice not to be so close to CBR inner-city hipster colonies though.
How did you first get into music?
SA: New Kids On The Block and Kylie on Video Hits baby! I found my own way much, much way later on into what you can unpick now.
LR:I found my Dad’s cassette draw with dubbed versions of Kiss Alive, Blue Oyster Cult, and ZZ Top. I was a silverchair/Nirvana kid.
Can you share with us some of your personal favourite albums, bands or songs of all-time?
SA: So hard…say without early Something For Kate, I would never have even thought about Fugazi and Slint so there’s a thought! Unwound, Alice Coltrane, Deftones, Low, The Slits…all faves for sure but so much harder to pinpoint something.
LR:All time CBR bands Henry’s Anger, Old Ace, Hard Luck, Falling Joys, Koolism, Looking Glass, Voss, Babyshakers, Cough Cough.
What’s something that’s really important to Agency?
SA: We started off as a dad’s band and I think that oddly enough, that element of friends hanging out to just hang is probably more at the core of our existence as a band now than it was in the first place? Even if we’re not in the same room, we’re still texting or sliding Insta DMs with all kinds of nerdy discussion points that align with the heart of the band.
LR:Boring drummers with constant stories of ‘90s musical ephemera.
What’s next for you all? Anything you’re working on you’d like to tell us about?
SA: There’s some interesting things on the boil outside of Agency that are interesting but really, life is very slow for me at the moment. I’ve made a whole lot of new solo music between bushfire season and current iso-era so that’ll show up at some stage but also keen to see what Agency might turn out in the future too.
LR:We’re due a band and extended families catch up. It’d be nice to come out of the hibernation of bushfires/Covid/Canberra winter with a new batch of Agency songs.
New York art-punk band Guerilla Toss make fun, interesting, super cool, cosmic, synth-pop post-punk! They recently released two new songs – “Human Girl” and “Own Zone” – as part of the Sub Pop Singles Club. Gimmie chatted to vocalist Kassie Carlson from her home on a farm in Upstate New York as they work on new music.
How have you been Kassie?
KASSIE CARLSON: I’ve been good, I’ve just been quarantining here. I don’t live in New York City, I live in Upstate New York, which is two hours away from the city. I’m on a bunch of land, I’m able to not be around people. New York City is pretty crazy right now!
The area you live in has a lot of woodland, a lot of countryside, right?
KC: Yeah, wilderness and farmland. I live on a 260-acre farm, but it’s not a farm anymore it’s kind of… mow the grass and make hay. There’s a lot of open space, we go hiking a lot up here.
You go hiking with your Chow Chow dog, Watley?
KC: Yes, definitely [laughs]. He’s actually outside with me right now as I chat to you.
Do you have a favourite spot you like to go?
KC: There’s lots of different places to go. The other day we hiked to a place called the Balsam Fir Fire Tower, which is an old fire tower that they used to go up to the very top and look over the whole forest to see if there was any fires. That was really cool. It was a really warm day and we hiked all the way to the top of the mountains and at the top there was snow and all of these Balsam Fir trees, it looked like a fairy tale!
That sounds beautiful. I love natural places and just being outside in nature.
KC: Yeah, me too.
Do you ever get inspired creatively from nature?
KC: Yeah, definitely, how could I not!
Have you been doing anything creative lately?
KC: Always, every day I’m doing something… working on music, some days it doesn’t always pan out… just working, writing, reading, stuff like that.
Why is music important to you?
KC: Oh, I don’t know? I guess I’ve always been a fan and then I started making music. I started off young singing in choirs and playing violin, but I was always really into rock music. My brother was a musician in punk rock and metal bands, I thought that was kind of cool. Haphazardly it happened for me, it didn’t happen right away, it happened when I was older. As a teenage girl I was kind of just observing music but then as I got older I became a part of it.
It’s great when you can finally get the confidence to give something a go yourself.
Is there anything that’s helped shaped some of your ideas about art and creativity?
KC: When I say I entered the music world being in a band, it was kind of because the entryway was easy, it was paved out… I don’t know if they have these in Australia but, here we have a lot of underground shows, basement shows; I lived in a house that had basement shows every night. It was easy to just try something out, the atmosphere was very supportive. I hung out with a lot of people that went to art school and music school. There was a lot of room to experiment in a way that I think a lot of people don’t necessarily have, I was lucky in that sense. I had a really supportive audience.
I read that when you were younger you liked to listen to Mariah Carey, TLC and Destiny’s Child…
KC: Yeah, of course! [laughs]. Did you?
Yes, sure did! I grew up liking those artists and then punk and hip hop and all kinds of things, I had four older siblings that all liked different music and my mum and dad too, I kind of just absorbed everything. I love stuff from doo-wop all the way through to noise stuff.
KC: Yeah, same.
I saw a photo of Watley online and there was a big record collection in the background; is that yours?
KC: They weren’t my records, they’re the drummer from Guerilla Toss’ records. We have a lot of records in the house that’s for sure.
Is there an album that you’ve listened to more than any other?
KC: I’m all over the place. I’m always listening to a million things. I’ve been trying to find new things lately, I’ve been going through things and just picking random shit to get my creative ideas flowing. I have a lot of cassette tapes too.
I used to find a lot of new music through trading tapes with my friends.
KC: Yeah, I feel like that’s how I discovered a lot of new music too. I grew up in Cape Cod, which is kind of like a beach town in Massachusetts. They have these swap shops there at the dump so it’s basically like a free store and you take whatever you want, sometimes there’s really good stuff there; I got my first guitar amp there and a bunch of cool clothes. I got my very first cassettes there too, they were mixtapes that somebody had made.
That’s awesome! I love going to thrift stores and the dump shop near where I live here too. It’s good for the environment too reusing items rather than putting them in landfill; people can be so wasteful.
KC: Oh yeah! People don’t want to take it to the second-hand shop and they just leave them at these places and it won’t just go to the trash. So much clothing gets thrown away.
Totally! Basically my whole wardrobe is made up of clothes from thrift stores. You find so much cool stuff, and its stuff that not everyone else is wearing. I find it so hard to go the regular shops/mall to buy stuff. Before you started playing in a band; did you express yourself creatively in any other way?
KC: I’ve done some painting but nothing major really. [Laughs] Sewing, I guess.
You mentioned that you started singing in choirs; did you jump into bands from there or were you making music yourself?
KC: It was kind of like hot and cold, off and on. I didn’t really play in bands until I was in my twenties. I’d mess around on the keyboard and make little guitar songs… I was kind of in a metal band! Then I made my own music.
Your solo stuff was the Jane La Onda stuff, right?
KC: Yeah [laughs].
I understand that you have a real love for words and enjoy reading; what are you reading at the moment?
KC: I’m reading a lot of magazines. I’m reading Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino. They’re really cute, interesting, whimsical Italian folktales with a cerebral twist. I really like the way he uses words and meaning. I started reading The Water Dancer [by Ta-Nehisi Coates].
One of your favourite books is Siddhartha by Herman Hesse?
KC: Yeah, yeah. I like him a lot. I like the way he uses words and perception. He takes you on a journey with words.
I wanted to ask you about your writing; do you ever have a vision for a song before you sit down to write it?
KC: Not usually. Usually I’ll be listening to sounds that could become a song and those sounds have a meaning in them that I like after listening to it over and over. Sometimes I write little things before but it’s more that I hear the music and the words are already in there, the pattern is in there somewhere and I have to find it by listening to it over and over again.
What kinds of things have you been finding yourself writing about lately?
KC: Honestly, I’ve been writing a lot of political stuff in a way. Coronavirus isn’t as crazy in Australia, right?
That’s right, we’ve been pretty lucky compared to a lot of countries.
KC: New York is crazy. I haven’t worked for a whole month because I have a heart condition. I’m usually working a lot and keeping busy being out and about talking to people, but I haven’t really gone out much. It’s interesting writing in this time.
Do you feel lonely living away from your band members Upstate?
KC: Oh definitely! The drummer is up here and the guitar player is up here right now too, we’ve been working a new music. It’s kind of like a reprieve though, we played over 100 shows last year and toured all over the country as well as going to Europe. To be in a city too is really taxing too.
I feel that when I go into the city too, I live in a costal beachside town that’s really laidback. I’ll drive to the nearest capital city that’s an hour away from me and after being there a half hour I’ll get too overwhelmed!
KC: Yeah, it’s like chaos!
Previously you’ve mentioned that when you play live it’s like a deep meditation for you; do you do meditation in any other areas of your life?
KC: Yeah, walking meditation when I’m walking through the woods with Watley. Anytime really, doing anything. Even washing dishes, like feeling the warmth of the hot water on your hands or pausing in any way; looking at a plant; or even driving is a meditation in a way, I think.
So for you it’s having an awareness of what you’re doing and being in the moment?
KC: Yeah, awareness and a pause, remembering that you’re in a body. It can be resting for a second.
In isolation do you have a typical day or a routine you do?
KC: Yeah. I wake up around 9 or 10am and then I make some oatmeal and coffee. I take a shower. Then I’ll work on music from 11 to 7. Maybe have a snack somewhere in there at around maybe 2pm. At 7 I’ll make dinner. After that I’ll work on music again until 10pm. At 10 I’ll watch a movie. That’s what I do every day. Maybe in the middle of the day I’ll take a hike or two.
Do you learn things about yourself when making music?
KC: Definitely. Writing lyrics is like going; what’s happening in my brain? How am I feeling? What is my current experience? What do my past experiences mean? Even the lyrical process beyond writing the lyrics initially, when I’m performing, the meaning of lyrics singing them over and over again for many years, eight years now in some cases, the meaning of the lyrics change. I feel like I’m constantly learning about myself, it’s like a constant self-awareness and the awareness of people around you and what’s happening on the Earth and how you interpret that. I’m a pretty high anxiety person, so the profession of being a frontwoman in a band is a weird choice; it’s also not a weird choice because it’s a process, the process of me coming out of my shell and me interpreting my anxieties and dealing with them and dealing with trauma. I would definitely say that I am always learning about myself and other people [laughs] and those interactions.
So by your showing those parts of you and you trying to work yourself out, because it’s honest and really looking at things, that resonates with others and might help them in their life?
KC: Yeah. I hope someday you can see us perform because I think our performance brings the music to a different level. I can act things out and you can see different accents on things. The music recordings are great but I hope you can see us perform.
KC: When I first started touring we would be the only band with a girl on it on the bill. It was crazy and so weird. Now there’s a lot more women and all different types of people. It felt like; do they just like us because I’m a girl? I want people to like us because it’s good music.
Another thing I love about Guerilla Toss is the art work for your albums, I’s always so colourful!
KC: Yeah! [laughs].
Is there any thought behind making it so colourful?
KC: I guess to make it fun and interesting. We’re doing a release for the Sub Pop Singles Club and that one is actually not colourful.
What songs will be on that release?
KC: It’s actually two new songs that no one has heard.
I love that Guerilla Toss’ music is all so different.
KC: I always think it’s weird when someone’s like, ‘I like your older stuff’; if we were to make stuff that sounds the same all the time that wouldn’t be very genuine.
Is sharing your music with others important to you?
KC: Yeah. I hope people listen to it and have fun or have some kind of experience, even if it’s, ‘oh god, this is intense!’ and they think it’s awful… at least they had some sort of reaction and experience with it [laughs]. Or if they see us and go, ‘oh, that was really harsh’ or ‘wow! That was softer than I thought it would be’.
Ok, last question; have you ever had a really life changing moment?
KC: Yeah. So many. When I had heart surgery, is an easy thing to say. I had open heart surgery two years ago. I had an infection in one of my heart valves. It was crazy, really intense. For the first time… I usually feel my whole life that I’ve been kind of like a tank: I’m super strong, I don’t really get sick, I feel strong-willed and do what I want. I was really floored by this sickness. I didn’t really feel right until kind of recently. It took a long time to recover. The recovery was so abstract that I didn’t really feel like I could relate to anyone. It was a multi-faceted recovery. I felt alone in it but I really am glad that I am where I am right now—in a beautiful place in nature and still writing music and still alive! It’s cool to have Watley too, he’s a great dog!
Is there anything that you’d really love to do creatively or in life in general right now?
KC: I really just want to travel more. That’s probably my favourite thing about touring. It wasn’t until more recent years of touring that we started to be more tourist-y, like going to national parks. We went to Yellowstone National Park! That was always my dream to go there. I remember having a National Geographic magazine when I was a kid and seeing all the geysers in it and the buffalo—I love animals and nature! Another time we were in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and we went to this amazing place and went on a river raft ride. In San Diego we went on this kayak ride, we were ocean kayaking through these sea caves. It was super epic! That’s what I really want to do with the rest of my life, I don’t need to be super rich or super popular with my music, I just want to see the world and see amazing shit!
Dianas dropped a beautiful, dreamy sophomore album Baby Baby last month, it twists and turns through tracks as polyrhythms unfold, and their melodic interplay and charming vocal harmonies build around them. It’s dream pop, but it’s no nap, it’s a wild and energetic lucid dream. We caught up with them to explore their Perth-based beginnings, their move to Melbourne and the crafting of their new LP.
How did it all begin? How did Dianas get together?
CAITY: Nat moved into my house something like nine years ago and soon after broke up with her partner so we started hanging out a lot. Nat had been playing acoustic guitar for a while and writing songs, and I had stolen my brother’s electric guitar with the intention of learning to play but hadn’t got very far. We kind of just started playing together and tentatively writing songs whilst drinking a lot of cheap wine and generally annoying our neighbours. It’s kind of funny because I remember that as a really good time and Nat remembers it as one of the worst of her life, but either way that cocktail of boredom and heartbreak was essential to get us started because we’d probably have been too shy and awkward otherwise.
NAT: That story pretty much sums it up! It was definitely one of the worst times of my life but also the best, and the absolute best thing in my life has come out of it so it all balances out. Some of my fondest memories are learning how to play Best Coast, The XX and other extremely indie covers on bass and guitar together and just thinking it was the coolest. Also Caitlin taught me how to play bass!
What’s the story behind the name?
CAITY: We don’t have a good story behind the name. I’d love to say it came from the goddess Diana, of hunting and the moon, but actually it came from an op shopped Princess Diana portrait that had been tastelessly defaced for a party and was lying around our lounge room.
NAT: We were literally sitting in our lounge room naming stuff we could see so it was either Dianas or Sofabed. Fun fact we were originally called Undead Dianas but thankfully dropped the Undead before our first show.
What kind of musician would you say you are?
CAITY: A lazy one. I never had enough motivation to learn to play anything properly – despite the fact my mum is a music teacher who tried repeatedly to teach me piano – until Nat and I started playing together and writing songs. So maybe I can say a collaborative or a creative one – I’m never going to be a great guitarist but I love the process of turning ideas into songs especially when the input of other people makes it into something bigger than the sum of its parts.
NAT: That’s a hard one! I’m all over the shop. I really enjoy trying to fit in with other people and what or how they’re playing, move with them while still trying to fit in whatever it is that I want to do or hear. I think similarly to Caity I’m not really the kind of musician who gets great joy out of being totally technically proficient, but can take pleasure in playing with others and for others, trying to make something out of nothing.
Dianas are originally from Perth; what prompted the move to Melbourne? Nat wanted to pursue sound engineering, right? Was it a hard/big decision to move the band there?
NAT: I was always staunchly against the idea of moving to Melbourne, cos it just seems like the ‘classic’ Perth thing to do, but I also really wanted to get into sound engineering, and Melbourne was the best place for it. I didn’t really admit to anyone at home for ages that I’d moved out of embarrassment for totally flipping, and I planned to only come for 5 months but still here 5 years later! Caity and I initially did a long distance thing, flying between cities to play shows, but eventually she missed me too much and followed me over here
CAITY: I was staunchly for leaving Perth at some point so yes, I followed Nat here. I guess I figured I’d have at least one friend and something to do even if I couldn’t get a job!
What do you think of Melbourne now you’ve been there for a little? How is it different to Perth?
CAITY: It’s colder – I do miss the sun and the beach. But there’s a bit more going on culturally (sorry Perth) and in terms of the music scene there’s a lot more venues to play at and local festivals and things going on.
NAT: Quite a few winters in and I’m still not used to how goddam cold and dark it is. But I’ve also really loved getting involved in the music scene here, although there’s some similarities, it’s pretty different to Perth I think, obviously way more bands and venues, but there’s also this collective feeling of experimental space. Also being able to explore up the coast and make new friends all over this side has been amazing.
You recently released your sophomore album Baby Baby into the world; what do you love most about the record?
NAT: I just love how ‘us’ it sounds. We’ve put so much of ourselves into every aspect of it, from obviously the writing and playing together, but then the whole recording and mixing process to all the design and videos and releases. I’m not sure how I’ll feel in the future but I’m just honestly really proud of this thing that we made.
Can you tell us a bit about the writing of it; what was inspiring it lyrically? Do you feel there’s an overarching theme? I picked up on love, relationships, self-love and a mood of sadness.
CAITY: I think those are themes that are always present in our music and how they show up just shifts and changes depending on where we’re at personally at the time. The lyrics are usually pretty simple and direct but hopefully capture a specific mood or feeling that other people can relate to. The inspiration is mostly just our own little lives; trying to navigate our way through life and love and defining ourselves as people, the sadness and hope in growing up.
One of my favourite tracks on the LP is closer ‘Learning/Unlearning’; what sparked this song?
CAITY: ‘Learning/Unlearning’ was just me trying to tell myself not to have regrets about the past – a self-help song! I think a lot of women especially can look back and see that the way they thought about themselves and allowed themselves to be treated was ill advised and damaging, and it’s hard sometimes not to see that as wasted time. There’s a lot of bad ideas we internalise that take a lifetime to unlearn, so it’s really about going easy on yourself and allowing for the fact that you have to go through things to learn from them.
I also really love the piano, drums and bass combo in song ‘Jewels’; how did that song get started?
CAITY: ‘Jewels’ started with just the piano and vocals, which Nat and Anetta then added their parts to. We had a song on our last album that was just piano, bass and drums that we really liked so I suppose we were going for something similarly simple, but then we ended up adding lots of different vocal layers to the second part in the recording and it became a bit of a different beast. We really like this song though, possibly because it’s the newest and we’re not sick of it yet. We actually only had a chance to play it live once before all our shows got cancelled!
You recorded the record at Phaedra Studios, Nat recorded it; why did you decided to self-record? Can you tell us about the sessions? What were the best and most frustrating bits?
NAT: It sort of started off from a place of necessity, I’d dipped my toes into half recording us on our last EP, as the result of another tumultuous breakup leaving us without our usual recording engineer halfway through the recording process. I was a bit hesitant at first that I’d be able to do it but Caitlin said I should and I just do what she says. (Caity’s edit: not true)
Having the space in the sessions just by ourselves was really amazing. There was no pressure to try and fit in with anyone else’s views or notions, we could just be ourselves and get down and do it. In the past we’ve maybe struggled with communicating what we want or how we feel, but I think that we’ve learnt and grown a lot over the years and there were only minimal tears this time – a record! I think the hardest part was just trying to keep up the confidence and objectivity that what we’d done sounded good, I guess the flip side to doing it ourselves is we then only had ourselves to look to. I just had a really fun time mixing it too, I learnt a lot and had a lot of space to experiment. I think there was only one thing in the end that we had to compromise on (too many delays in a chorus vs not enough!), and I’m real happy and content with how the album sounds as a whole.
Dianas harmonies are really cool; how do you approach making them?
CAITY: Usually one of us just starts singing and the other one joins in when they feel like it. We’ll keep going over things until we find something we like, but it’s not really planned out. At this point it’s just kind of assumed that we’ll both sing in one way or another on a song, rather than have a single vocalist. At least I’ll usually make Nat sing along with me because my voice is kind of weak on its own!
How did you first find your voice? Is confidence something that’s come to you over time? Do you really have to work on it? Are you still working on it?
CAITY: I don’t know if I would ever have got up onto a stage if Nat hadn’t encouraged (forced) me to – or even maybe sung at all. I tried to make her be the front person and just sing the songs I wrote herself but she refused, which I’m now thankful for because I really enjoy it. We’ve definitely become a lot more confident on stage than we used to be, which has just come from time and practice, but we are shy people by nature and can tend to be a bit too self-effacing at times. I think we’ve learned to own our voices a bit more and have hopefully stopped with the “what I don’t even know how to play a guitar hahahah” interview style/stage presence. But it is something we are constantly working on yes.
Baby Baby’s cover art is by artist Tamara Marrington; how did you come to her work?
NAT: We’ve known Tammy for a while (I guess since Perth days!) she’s one of those artists who just elicits a complete emotional response from me, I don’t think there’s been an exhibition of hers I’ve been to where I haven’t had tears streaming down my face. She was very patient working with us and our often indecisive natures, and we’re just so happy with how the record looks
You’ve made videos for the tracks off your LP (people can watch them all over at Baby TV) ‘Weather Girl’ is a favourite; what was the thought behind that one? I really love the fullness and chaotic-ness of this track!
CAITY: I just wanted to make a video about witches, but the kind of less cool TV witches of my childhood from shows like Charmed or Sabrina. The track was always pretty chaotic and only got more so when we recorded it so it seemed like a good fit for a narrative music video involving love potions and a stabbing (sorry spoilers).
As well as doing Dianas Nat does Blossom Rot Records; what’s one of the coolest and hardest things about doing your own label?
NAT: It’s been really cool to just do things on our own terms, in our own way, and on our own time – not having to stick to anyone else’s schedule or run anything by anyone. I think the hardest thing has just sorta been having to write about my own band and trying not to sound too wanky. Definitely looking forward to working on some other releases! It’s also great working with Sophie, I feel like we balance each other out perfectly, she’s the boot to my scoot.
What’s next for Dianas?
NAT: I’m not sure about the others but it’s actually been a bit of a relief for me to be able to slow down, and not get too wrapped up in the constant next step motion. Having said that it will be really really nice when we’re able to play again, we’d love to reschedule the tour we had booked at some point but I’m not in a massive rush to do so until its super safe and would be enjoyable. I think for now I’d love to get back to our roots and sit at home together with some cheap wine and write some more songs 🙂
CAITY: Personally I have not found this time to be a relief at all, and I’m definitely looking forward to that tour. Looks like we’ll be waiting out the winter though so revisiting our roots sounds good – I think I’ll splurge on some nicer wine this time around though.
Brisbane’s post-punk, ethereal, goth rockers Pleasure Symbols levelled up and really came into their own with last year’s release Closer And Closer Apart, a moody dream-pop affair. We’re excited to see where they go next, the band have been writing new material. We interviewed bassist-vocalist Jasmine Dunn.
How did you first discover music?
JASMINE DUNN: Slowly, it was always more of a background noise in my earlier years with some significant moments of discovery thrown in. I remember watching my parents dancing to Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ in the living room and realising that people can have sentimental attachments to music. On the flip side to that, I grew up in the 90’s so there was a lot of really cringe worthy pop music on the radio and on TV. I learned to dig deep!
How did the creative process begin with your first full-length, Closer and Closer Apart?
JD: I reached out to Steven to see if he would be interested in helping me record what I originally anticipated to be a solo body of work, we had only met once prior to that conversation so the direction for everything was still very unknown. The idea of a solo record quickly moved into talks of a collaboration between Pleasure Symbols and his project Locust Revival, which then evolved again into having him come on board as a guitarist to work on a Pleasure Symbols album, so we began writing and getting to know each other from there.
Sound-wise Closer and Closer Apart is quite different from your first self-titled EP, you’ve gone from a more synth-based dark-wave style to a more guitar-orientated dream-pop, shoegaze style; what influenced this evolution?
JD: Four years between writing and then bringing in Steven on guitar meant Closer and Closer Apart was never going to sound like anything previously released under the Pleasure Symbols name. The EP is very primitive overall and I was keen to push the sound further to better represent our influences and songwriting capabilities. We still have a lot more to learn and a lot further to reach, but we’re getting there!
‘Image Reflected’ is one of our favourite tracks on C&CA; can you tell us a little about writing it?
JD: On the weekends I’d drove over to Steven’s place and we’d start with nothing, maybe a very loose idea and have a song or two close to completion in just a couple of hours. It was kind of surreal how easily we were writing together and I kept wondering if these songs were going to turn out horribly because of how easily they were coming together! I’ve never had such ease in songwriting before and I think a lot of that comes down to the trust and respect we have for one another. For ‘Image Reflected’ Steven had programmed the drums the day before I had come over and a good portion of the song really wasn’t changed much from the first take we did.
Do lyrics come easy for you? Who’s one of your favourite songwriters?
JD: Unfortunately not, I hesitate because I want the lyrics to perfectly articulate a feeling or a mood that’s driving each song. Sometimes there’s too many thoughts or it’s a lost moment in time and trying to catch those fleeting moments can be difficult. When it happens though, it’s an incredibly satisfying feeling. I mostly read to inspire lyrics and to get myself into the right headspace and I was pouring through a lot of Roland Barthes in particular while writing for the record. I came across a very well loved, second-hand copy of Colin Wilson’s The Outsider and my best friend had lent me Lorrie Moore’s Self-Help. Both of these books also ended up proving to be great influencing texts for me at the time.
We love the Closer… album cover; what’s the story behind the cover image?
JD: The photograph was taken by a friend of mine Haydn Hall who would hide out inside this restaurant on the Lower East Side in New York. The photo resonated with me as writing had already begun for the record so I had some idea in which direction we were heading sonically. It’s simple and unassuming with a soft focus. It feels like the calm before the storm.
Multiple Man did a remix of the song ‘Endless’; how did that collab come about?
JD: Chris Campion is an old friend from when we both lived in Brisbane, plus he recorded and mixed the very first Pleasure Symbols demos so there is a bit of history there! He asked to do a remix a while back but it took a little while for me to bounce it across to him in New York.
Last year PS toured Europe; what was one of the coolest things you saw in your travels?
JD: We drove the whole leg so we were exposed to a lot, but we saw so much and loved our time spent there, it’s hard to narrow it down! We hope to be back as soon as we can.
Is there anything you’ve been listening to a lot lately? We love finding new things to listen to!
JD: There’s some new Locust Revival tracks that more people should hear, as well as the new SDH record I’m really enjoying too. Still spinning the latest Tempers record too, that’s an incredible album.
Have you been working on anything new lately?
JD: Yes! We’re currently writing for the new record.
Lastly, what do you love most about making music?
JD: It’s a love/hate relationship for the most part, but it’s a vessel to create and a compelling medium to capture a moment in time and that has to be worth something.
We spoke to New Zealand musician Peter Ruddell from Sulfate and Wax Chattels in iso from his home studio. He shared with us a little about his band noise-rockers Wax Chattels’ new record that’s finished, new work from solo project Sulfate that’s in progress, writing and recording a song in 48 hours and songwriting in general plus more.
The most recent track that you’ve released into the world is ‘Song For Ruth’…
PETER RUDDELL: Where is Ruth at? [*looks around the room for his cat*].
I thought Ruth was your cat!
PR: It’s my partner’s cat originally. She is the best little thing. She comes and sits next to you when you’re working in the studio and hangs out, she’s kind of like a dog and sits next to you or on your lap and is always super affectionate; I wanted to acknowledge it. I made that track thinking that I needed to block myself away from all the social media and news, because I was finding myself sucked into it. I’m sure you’re the same.
PR: I thought of making a song all about her.
Nice! What effect has being in isolation had for you?
PR: For me, it hasn’t been that bad. I know a lot of other people have been struggling quite a lot financially and mentally. I’ve got a really great set-up here where I get to keep my day job, I get to work from home. I have a great little bubble here, its two apartments next to each other and we share a deck together; me and my partner in this house and then another couple of artists and musicians in the next one. A person over there has been decorating the rooftops, he’s been climbing over and painting faces on the satellite dishes with the receiver as a microphone, all these happy faces. It really lightens the mood. He’s been a source of much admiration, keeping everyone’s spirits up.
That’s awesome! I love hearing stories like that.
PR: He changed an air conditioning unit on a bar next door into a Marshall amplifier!
Cool. Over the last weekend you’ve locked yourself away for a 48-hour song writing thing?
PR: Yeah, it’s this thing called ‘Two Daze’. It’s a compilation of New Zealand artists who write and record a song in 48 hours. It’s going to come out for music month which is May. There was something like 20 artists who have written songs for the compilation. It was nice to have a really strict deadline. I feel like everyone needs that every now and then.
What did you find yourself writing about?
PR: The state of living in isolation, which I feel is going to be the theme of the compilation. It’s not a particularly positive take on it. Sonically it’s pretty different to the songs I’ve released both as Wax Chattels and Sulfate up until now. If you compare this track to the song I recorded two weeks ago ‘Song For Ruth’ it’s night and day. That was a real positive stay-calm-everybody kind of tune whereas this one is more guttural. It finishes with a ripping sax solo! [laughs].
Nice! Did you find the 48-hour thing challenging?
PR: Yeah, it was tough. You know when you’ve got a song and you think, this might sound good or that might sound good, but you have no time to pick which version is the best way to go. It’s just about, ok, that’s it! Let’s move onto the next thing. Then drums, ok, that’s a drum sound, awesome, I guess that’s the drum sound! It was kind of nice, ‘cause you know when you use computers, with so many variables. Have you played around with Ableton?
PR: It’s just a black hole, right? Limit yourself with time, which means limit yourself with everything else, it actually means you produce something which is a finished thing. Its punk shit man, it’s putting stuff together and your ability to do it; you yield something which is hopefully going to have an impact on others, which is the whole point of music, right?
Yeah. You’ve been making music for quite a while now, so it’s you relying on your skill, instinct and believing in yourself to do it.
PR: I guess. I’m really curious to see, there’s a bunch of pretty big artists on this list for the compilation and it’s going to be really amazing to see what they create.
Do you learn anything about yourself when you write?
PR: I guess you learn limitations, I learn limitations. I try to go into writing things phonetically with a very clear perspective. I don’t know if it’s the content that comes before the music itself in most cases; the learning about yourself would potentially be evaluating your thoughts and evaluating what you want to write a song about. That kind of yields what you think about the world.
I remember when we were writing lots for the next Wax Chattels record, there was a lot of… I don’t know if this is particularly what I want to say or feel comfortable portraying, especially to the wider community, it’s a tough one sometimes.
Where did you learn to write songs? The members of Wax Chattels all met at a jazz school, right?
PR: We did. You had to write original compositions there. I’ve been writing stuff since I was at school though, with bands all through high school. I feel like coming out of jazz school gave you a lot of options and ideas to create interesting variations on time signatures or variations on form. I feel like a lot of the stuff that I have been producing lately, has been pretty much very stripped down to its barest.
The Sulfate record that I made, it reminds me of… do you know Jim O’Rourke? He talks about how there’s no simple songs, only simple people. I was like, hell yeah! Let’s make some songs that are super simple and see if we can make them interesting in ways that are captivating. For all the craziness of jazz school, I kind of went off all of this technical prowess, I find it limits the effectiveness of what you want to say sometimes.
I wanted to ask you about the Sulfate release, specifically songs there’s a ‘Cyclone Pt. 1’ and ‘Cyclone Pt. 2’; what was the thought behind those? The first one seems kind of calm, like the calm before the storm or even being in the eye of the cyclone where it’s calm, then you have the next track which feels maybe like it’s the storm.
PR: It was written as one song really. I figured they should be spread out on the record so that you could have… I think the reason I did it was for radio play. It was going to be difficult to get radio to play this 7-minute epic, whereas if you can just cut to the heavy bit people will be like “Hell yeah!” It does feel like two distinct songs in a way, Part A and Part B, so I thought why not just separate it into two tracks.
Who are the songwriters that you admire?
PR: Jim O’Rourke is definitely one. Prior to the Sulfate release I was listen to a lot of Yo La Tengo and Dirty Three. Swans is a big touchstone; Michael Gira has this side project too called, Angels Of Light, which is again going back to simple songs. A lot of the simplicity in that material was very inspiring. I’m currently in a place where I’m trying to strip things back and make them as effective and as simple as possible to make them hit even harder. Artists I think can do that well are really onto a good thing.
What inspired that change?
PR: Possibly frustration, frustration at my technical abilities. I just found myself listening to music that was simpler with fewer changes.
Is there a specific way that you wanted to differentiate between Sulfate and Wax Chattels?
PR: If I sit down and start writing something, I feel it goes in one of two ways. It either goes in the noisy, fast, angular stuff that is Wax Chattels – in that case I’ll take it to the band and we’ll work on it, we’ll chop it up and take an idea from Tom and take an idea from Amanda – or it goes in another direction; I wanted to have a separate outlet where it’s more beautiful and I had a clear idea of where I wanted the song to go in its entirety and it suits the Sulfate idea of simplicity and often slowness temp-wise. I feel like I’ve been making a call early on in the writing process which camp it fits into.
What’s a song that always cheers you up?
PR: Oh shit, I don’t know. I don’t do any DJ-ing for this very reason. I go through this playlist on my phone and go, oh yeah, that’s sad, oh that’s sad too, and that’s so sad—it’s a difficult question for me to answer [laughs].
Sad songs can make you happy too.
PR: True. There’s some catharsis in it. I like to think there’s a lot of catharsis in the music that I make, none of it is particularly happy or inspiring I don’t think but, maybe there’s some catharsis in it.
What was the first concert that you went to that made a real impact on you?
PR: I remember it very clearly. I went to the Big Day Out when I was fourteen and I remember walking in and seeing the band Die! Die! Die! play, you know that band?
I do, I’ve interviewed them before.
PR Cool. This was after they just won Rock Quest when they were still in Dunedin, I remember walking in and seeing this band that wasn’t much older than me – they would have been about nineteen – I thought shit this band is incredible! It was a fuck yeah, I should be doing this moment.
They’re amazing live!
PR: Yeah, so good. I’ve seen them five or six times.
What are you going to start working on now?
PR: Well, with this isolation it’s all about songwriting, right? You can’t get together with bands, it’s limiting and challenging and how we react to that. We’ve just finished recording a Wax Chattels record, we’ve wrapped up the recording… who knows when it will be released.
PR: I think right now my focus is on the next Sulphate record. My goal for the foreseeable is to have an alternating year, this year should be a Wax Chattels year and next year will be a Sulphate year, I’ll just start working on some stuff there. When we do end this lockdown I’ll hit up my mate David and we’ll make the next Sulphate record.
What direction has the new Wax Chattels record taken?
PR: It’s heavier.
Heavier?! Is that possible?
PR: [Laughs]. We spent quite a bit of time in the studio finding sounds this time. The previous record we wanted to keep as live as possible, this record maintains that live element but we spent a lot more time thickening it up, making the keyboards thicker and the bass more intense. Sonically it’s much more a step up.
Any particular themes you were writing about?
PR: It’s not too dissimilar from the doom and gloom we’ve been talking about [laughs]. I feel the world has changed so dramatically in the last month though, it’s going to be interesting to see what comes out of it, how people interrupt it post this crazy change in the world. All of the songs were written last year, we tracked it towards the end of last year and just got mixes back. The world is a different place.
You said you were exploring a lot of sound in the studio; did you have a favourite sound that you really love?
PR: Personally, my keyboard sounds more and more like a guitar every time [laughs]. Check this out [*holds up an effects pedal*]. There’s a guy in Dunedin called Pepper’s Pedals who makes this thing called “The Satanist” which is black metal distortion in a Wax Chattels box. It’s the most straight in your ear trebly distortion, I love it! It’s all over the record.
What’s one of your favourite songs to play live?
PR: We have a new track on the new record it’s called ‘Mindfulness’. It’s all about how we shouldn’t just try to use the techniques the mindfulness to deal with the shit that we’ve got going on because that’s actually a way of not changing anything, it’s a way of just accepting the status quo rather than kicking up a fuss and actually seeing some real change. That song to play live is so challenging. Me and Tom have to lock in insanely tightly, there’s a whole bunch of aggressive vocals. It’s a thrill to play.
Any other favourites on the new album?
PR: There’s one we’ve been playing live for maybe a year now, it’s called ’Glue’. I can’t wait for the record to come out really. It’s taken a while. I’m going to be excited when it finally does come out.