New playlist for October is up now for your listening pleasure! This months features songs from screensaver, Dr. Sure’s Unusual Practice, Laughing Gear, Hearts and Rockets, Ausecuma Beats, Power Supply, Bitumen, Alien Nosejob, Springtime, and more.
Meanjin/Brisbane indie-folk alt-country five-piece Full Power Happy Hour’s songs have beauty and depth. Their self-titled debut album is sublime. Gimmie interviewed guitarist-vocalist Alex Campbell.
Last time we spoke was almost ten years ago! You were doing punk/riot grrrl band Gunk, and Slubs zine. Your latest band Full Power Happy Hour’s alt-country/indie-folk is quite the departure from Gunk’s sound; can you tell us a little bit about your evolution as a musician and towards this different sound? I know that folk and country were your first musical loves when you were growing up.
ALEX CAMPBELL: So long ago! I suppose I ended up in a punk band then, really just because two of the coolest people, Canna and Laura asked me to be in a band and I probably would have said yes whatever genre it was. But it came at the right time, I was learning to be a feminist and was pretty angry at the world so punk/riot grrrl was a good vehicle for that.
When my sister bought me my first guitar when I was fourteen, I started off playing folk songs, they were the first songs I learned on guitar, and I was in various choirs as a youngster, we sung Jazz, folk and country. I have always loved a lot of different types of music, so I like writing in different genres. I’ve been wanting to start a folk band for years, and it’s finally happened yay! It’s nice playing gentle reflective music now.
60s folk songstresses like Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Peggy Seegar are inspirations; what is it that you appreciate about them?
AC: They are all great song-writers who often got overshadowed by dudes, same old story. I think also, it was because they wrote protest songs, I mean folk and punk have a lot in common in that way, I guess they were just sort of subtle about it sometimes, because maybe they had to be in order to get a platform in the first place in the 60’s as women. I suppose I was just really into their music at a formative time in my life and so they were big influences.
Full Power Happy Hour have recently put out a debut self-titled full-length, with the songs having been written around eight years ago, many first as poems and then played solo before you had the band together; how did it feel at first playing solo after being in Gunk?
AC: I used to busk at the markets on the weekends when I was teenager so I’d had some experience performing by myself, but then playing gigs solo as Alekka, it was always pretty scary, and it took me a long time to feel ok with being vulnerable and alone up on stage, singing about personal things… it’s much better having the rest of FPHH with me up there now!
What was it like making the transition back to a band and hearing your songs really fleshed out with FPHH?
AC: It was the best feeling. I’d been trying to get a band together to perform and record these songs for years, so it was kind of a relief. I’m bloody ecstatic that I’ve found a group of deadset legends who just got what I was going for, and are passionate about the music as much as me.
How do you go about capturing various moods and emotions in your songwriting?
AC: Hmm, I write the songs as poems usually, so lyrics first, and that comes about from like writing in a diary, getting my feelings out, and then I just play around on guitar and see what chords and melody I can put to the lyrics and it just goes from there…
Lyrically on the record, mental health is a theme that comes through; are these written from personal experience? Why do you think it’s important that we have conversations about mental health whether that’s in a song or via everyday conversation?
AC: I’ve only really just got to a point in my life where I’m ok with talking about my mental health with people other than my close friends and family. I used to just write cryptic lyrics about it haha, because like many artists I use songwriting as a coping strategy for making sense of feelings and experiences, dealing with trauma. Art has always been great for that, and that’s also why people consume art, because when you can relate to a song, it can make you feel better because the song seems to be about what you’re going through so then you don’t feel so alone. It’s essential that we have conversations about mental health for that reason, to make sure people know they aren’t alone in their struggle, and to get rid of the shame surrounding it.
As a teacher I see my job being a lot about making sure the kids I teach grow into compassionate critical thinkers that will always ask questions about society and the world in order to make it a better place. Learning about other people’s experiences helps people to see different perspectives and realities. I feel like we’d be a much more compassionate society if we all listened to each other a little bit better and understood a bit more about mental illness, and the societal and political issues surrounding it. So many people waste their lives, and struggle to have healthy relationships with themselves and other people, because they don’t know how or are too scared to take care of their mental health. We need to talk about it so we can grow as a society in a regenerative and restorative way. That’s my two cents.
The album was recorded over a few weekends with Nell Forster at The Moon Room in Meanjin/ Brisbane. I understand that she gave you a lot of coaching during that time; what’s some helpful things you learnt from her guidance?
AC: I suppose we learned a lot about the recording process from Nell, and just got some really good music writing advice. She just gave us guidance about how songs would sound better with or without certain vocal or instrumental parts, or like when we wanted to go for a certain sound or mood in a song, she had a pair of fresh ears to listen to our songs and give us suggestions, she was so generous with her advice and support.
Can you tell us about the day making the video for ‘Old Mind of Mine’? Where was it shot? What is your fondest memory?
AC: The clip was filmed on Turrbal, Jaggera, Jinibura and Kabi Kabi country mostly at Loop Growers and lake Samsonvale. Finn made some curried egg sangas, I made some fairy bread, we got dressed up and got to hang out in the countryside being silly. Marnie and Nathan were so patient with us, and did an amazing job capturing this wholesome feeling that we have as a band, because we are all just a bunch of good friends, and so the fact that it looks like a holiday home video of friends is super authentic because that’s what it was.
‘Old Mind Of Mine’ expresses the importance of getting away from the city and having nature in your life; have you always had a strong connection to nature? What’s your relationship to it? Did it grow even greater during lockdown?
AC: Being in natural spaces calms me down but I haven’t always felt this way. My Dad grew up in the bush so we were a very outdoorsy family and were going camping all the time but I had a bit of insect and snake phobia so was always kind of reluctant on these trips. But as an adult that’s really changed, and I’m lucky to live near an area of bushland with a creek that’s really well looked after by the community. Being near any body of water really just re-sets me, when it rains, the creek is majestic. I try to walk down there every day, and during the lockdown I definitely valued it even more.
What kinds of things are influencing the most recent songs you’ve been writing?
AC: On the next record, there’s a big theme of friendship and family, I think I’ve now written a song about every one of my friends (they don’t know which ones though!), but I have a few new songs dealing with past traumas and the relief of getting clarity and growing and making peace with all of that. There may also be a couple about climate justice and shitty politicians…
What’s something you’ve been interested in lately that’s had you really engaged that you’d like to share with us?
AC: I’ve been obsessed lately with Sydney band “Sunscreen”, The Weather Station’s latest album, Little Simz latest album, and Electric Fields has gotten me through my final prac at Uni. Also, two podcasts I’ve loved over the last few months are Oh My Dog, a locally made dog appreciation podcast, and a podcast called Nothing Much Happens, which has helped me improve my sleep so much this year.
Tangled Shoelaces were an alternative-pop band, formed in 1980 in Capalaba (a suburb 20-minutes from Brisbane City’s centre). The band centred around three siblings Stephen, Lucy and Martin Mackerras, with neighbour Leigh Nelson on drums; ranging in ages from 10 to 14. Their music captures the innocence and magic of youth while their experimentalism is testament of imagination and fearless self-expression. Before the age of 18, they recorded at the legendary studios of Sydney label M Squared, supported the Dead Kennedys and John Cooper Clarke. Recently, Chapter Music has released a collection of their recordings: Turn My Dial – The M Squared Recordings and more, 1981-84. To celebrate, Gimmie spoke with bassist Martin Mackerra.
I’m very excited to be speaking with you. We love Tangled Shoelaces. We collect a lot of zines and came across Bruce Milne’s cassette zine Fast Forward, there was a Tangled Shoelaces song on their that we absolutely love. That’s how we first heard your band.
MARTIN MACKERRA: That would have been the song ‘World’ on Fast Forward. Those cassettes are great. I remember them.
We’ve always wanted to find more of your songs, and now Chapter Music is releasing a TS album of collected works, Turn My Dial – The M Squared Recordings and more, 1981-84. The album comes out tomorrow (23 April); how do you feel about it?
MM: Oh, great! It’s that thing of, you never know what’s around the corner [laughs]. We were happy with what we did all those years ago, we were always proud of it, but never in our wildest dreams did we think someone would want to put it out and make a proper release of it. Especially, someone like Guy [Blackman], Chapter [Music] is such a renowned label. I’ve played with [Chapter artist] Laura Jean a few years ago. Being involved with the label is just amazing! I’d always admired Chapter, not just for all the local artists they put out, but also that they do release old recordings, especially things like Essendon Airport; they’ve always had that interesting aspect to the label. It’s exciting.
When Tangles Shoelaces started you were around ten-years-old; did you have any hesitation joining your older siblings in a band at such a young age?
MM: No, never. You don’t think about those things. You don’t ask questions; you just do it. It’s, this is the normal thing, you play music in a band. That’s the interesting thing about being young.
Did you find your peers, other kids your age, being supportive? Or did they not believe that someone their age could be in a band?
MM: It’s interesting we were talking about Capalaba school before, on the record there is a picture of us playing at Capalaba Primary. To be really honest with you, I don’t remember anyone saying anything, they just starred like, oh, you’re the weird guy that plays music. That was basically it, it was strange. But, when I went to Villanova [College] in Coorparoo (that’s where I started high school, catching the bus all the way there) and there were kids there that had heard about us and knew about us. We had an article about us in The Courier Mail [newspaper]. There was more interest, because there were kids there that were actually interested in music; that might be the age too though, we were twelve and thirteen. I remember having kids come up to me, who later became my friends, and they’d be like, “Oh, I read about you. You’re that guy in Tangled Shoelaces!” There were kids that listened to 4ZZZfm. So, there was a little bit more support then. We played a few things for school. It was something I didn’t talk about that much; it was another world that we kept to ourselves. I was always involved with music in school though.
What bands did you first find growing up that were your own bands you loved listening to?
MM: Oh god! There were so many. They weren’t necessarily like Tangled Shoelaces. I was just obsessed with music from a young age. I’d listen to early Split Enz, the B-52’s. We went and saw the B-52’s, a long time ago [laughs], I was in Grade 5. It was at Festival Hall. We were so blown away by that concert, we went crazy dancing! Our mum took us and a friend of our mum who was in her 60’s, she was a photographer and took photos of all the amazing people there, the punks with their coloured hair; all the people that went got so dressed up. It was around ’80-’81 just after ‘Rock Lobster’ came out. It completely blew me away! We also listened to 4ZZZfm. We were completely obsessed with music. Always listening.
Why has it always been such an important part of your life?
MM: There’s musical blood in the family. We have an uncle who was a conductor, my dad is obsessed with classical music; I went on to do classical music too. They say you don’t choose music; music chooses you. I’ve always had a life in music.
What inspired you to play bass?
MM: Purely, I did what Stephen asked me to [laughs]. He said, “Right, I’m the guitarist and you’re the bass player!” That was it. I was just a little brother that did what my big brother told me.
Where did the name Tangled Shoelaces come from?
MM: I really don’t know; it was probably Stephen who thought of it. It was almost like anything, it just happened naturally and you didn’t question it. It could have been Stephen just said, “The band is called Tangled Shoelaces” and we just went, “Ok, yep!” That’s it. It all just flowed.
It’s such a great name. It has a nice flow to it, sounds great and is really fun to say.
MM: Yeah, I agree. I’m very objective about all of this now though too, it’s almost 40 years later. It is a fun name. It’s one of those great names that tells you what the music is in away, it’s kids making music.
You’ve mentioned that 4ZZZfm was big for you; do you remember hearing your band on the radio?
MM: Yeah, yeah. They were supportive of us. There were a few DJs that really liked us that we sent tapes to and they played them. We put out an EP too, there’s a bit of an evolution of the band. There are photos of us at the Primary School, that’s very early stages, I was ten. At about thirteen, fourteen and fifteen we were still playing, by then we had put out an EP on vinyl, 4ZZZ were supportive of that. 4ZZZ has always been integral, they put on gigs and you’d hear all these different bands, they’d interview us. They’ve always been so supportive of bands and are a great network for Brisbane music. I listened to them constantly, I had a radio beside my bed—4ZZZ all of the time!
It was the same for me growing up. I was a teenager in the ‘90s and I’d have the radio beside my bed and listen to 4ZZZ, that’s how I found out about all the local bands and shows and that we had a scene and music community here. You start going to local shows and you realise there’s people just like you that have bands, then you really get excited.
MM: [Laughs] Exactly! Its’ true. You would have heard of XERO?
MM: John-e Willsteed, he went on to play with the Go-Betweens, he took us under his wing a little bit. Then there was Peter Pit [from The Pits]. We’d meet them, maybe through 4ZZZ, and they’d say, “Come play a gig!” It’s the connections that you make. Things are still the same today with community radio, down here there’s 3RRRfm.
4ZZZ had some really great people, there was a guy called Andy Neal, he told us, “This is great. This is wild. You kids, this is far out.” He told us to send it to M Squared. He said, “They’ll love it!” And, they did. They wrote back and told us to come and record. We’re very lucky.
I understand that when you were recording at M Squared Studios you would catch the bus down to Sydney on the weekends to record; what things stick out to you from that experience?
MM: It was just the normal, just what you do. It was like, ok, we’re going down to Sydney to record at M Squared, great, let’s book the tickets. Stephen organised it. We were lucky because we had relatives in Sydney who we could stay with. Being in Brisbane and having family in Sydney, it wasn’t that unusual to go to Sydney. Having grandparents in New South Wales and cousins living in Sydney, we’d go visit them. It was no big deal, Mum dropped us off and we just caught an overnight bus. By the time we were going to Sydney we were a little bit older, we were thirteen and sixteen (being younger than Stephen, I saw him as an adult).
So much cool stuff has come out on M Squared! Australian post-punk artists like Systematics, Scattered Order and Ya Ya Choral.
MM: Oh yes, I love M Squared.
You mentioned the local Brisbane band XERO; what other local bands were you into at the time?
MM: The Pits; Peter Pit. Pork, they’d put on gigs in halls in Coorparoo (Peter lived around there)… Wooloongabba and those inner city suburbs, there were lots of bands like, This Five Minutes.
I was just up in Brisbane and there’s this exhibition of all of these old music posters from all of these bands. Have you seen it?
Yes! The Cut Copy: Brisbane music posters 1977-87 exhibition. That’s at my work, I work at the State Library of Queensland.
MM: Great! Half of those bands on the posters, I saw so many recognisable names. There were so many bands I loved, but the ones that stand out is John-e Willsteed from XERO (who we played a lot of shows with) and Peter from the Pits; we ended up becoming good friends. He came down to Sydney with us and sings on the record.
Looking back at the record now, which are the most interesting songs for you?
MM: The very early ones. ‘I Need A Stamp’ is just a bizarre and amazing song, Stephen’s voice is really high. ‘Little Bear’ that’s Lucy singing on it, I love that one. And, ‘What Do You Want From Me Now?’ They’re the ones from the very beginnings of Tangled Shoelaces. I don’t know where they came from, they just happened. I love all of them though. As Stephen matured, he started to write some really, really great songs. ‘Just For You’ I always find that really touching. There’s some extra ones that aren’t on the vinyl, like ‘Beware Of Falling Objects’. It gets a bit experimental. I like ‘Bordumb’ because that’s my song, it’s a bit of a snapshot of being in Brisbane at the time and being ten-years-old. I’d be playing Space Invaders, riding my bike down to Capalaba Park shopping centre [laughs]. I love all the songs but I especially think ‘Little Bear’ and ‘I Need A Stamp’ are amazing because we are very young there. Stephen’s voice hadn’t even broken, he was around eleven or twelve and I was nine or ten.
‘Little Bear’ and ‘I Need A Stamp’ along with ‘What Do You Want From Me Now’ were all recorded at Capalaba Primary School, right?
MM: Yes. Huge thanks to our teacher Steve Colbourn. Guy wrote up a great thing about it all in the album’s liner notes. Steve was also a professional musician as well as our teacher, he played gigs and did lots of things. Without him we wouldn’t have made those recordings and without those recordings we wouldn’t have had something to send to M Squared. It was a 4-track, he set it up in the school library for the holidays. I’m incredibly grateful. He’s passed away now, sadly. He organised the show for us at Capalaba school too. He helped us do everything. We didn’t know how to plug in a microphone, we didn’t know what a P.A. was even [laughs].
You might not have known how to put it all together but you sure did know how to play!
MM: [Laughs] Yes! It’s not that hard to play a bass, for me I just picked it up, I never had a lesson. I did have clarinet lessons though. We practiced and worked at it though. Mr Colbourn showed us what foldback is and how to plug in a P.A.
It must have been such an exciting time for you!
MM: It was! People ask about my recollections and I don’t know how school fitted in! We had the weekends to work on music. I never took school too seriously; I was much more interested in music. I knew from an early age and through Tangled Shoelaces that I just wanted to do music. I played clarinet in the Queensland Youth Orchestra.
I was the same with school. My mum would drop me off at the front gate and I’d walk out the back gate, change my clothes, catch a bus to the city, find whatever bands were in town or local ones and hang around, eventually interviewing them for my fanzine.
MM: Fantastic! Isn’t that brilliant.
All these year’s later, I’m still making zines.
MM: It’s so great! It’s lucky if you can find what you want to do while you’re at school when you’re young. If you find what your passion is and what you love doing, you’re a lucky person.
Totally! I know that Tangled Shoelaces supported the Dead Kennedys when they came to Australia in the early ‘80s!
MM: Yes. We did some crazy things! That was a funny one because, somewhere in there is a joke, someone was thinking wouldn’t it be funny if we got Tangled Shoelaces to play with Dead Kennedys, let’s do it! We did it. It was scary, there were some pretty scary characters there—they didn’t like us. We were not a punk band [laughs]. We wanted to get out of there pretty quickly after we played, we thought we’d get picked on. It was a funny little episode.
We also supported John Cooper Clarke! It was one of the first ever gigs. People there loved us. You know how with popularity it comes and goes?
MM: That point seemed to be the time, at least for a few months, we were the flavour of the month. Whenever we played people would cheer, but then that dissipated and we got on with things. A big thing that happened, one gig, we were offered to support Public Image Ltd at Festival Hall. It would have been incredible. It was last minute, they rang us on the afternoon of the gig that as on a Friday night because someone pulled out, but our drummer had gone away and we couldn’t get in touch with him, long before mobile phones. To say I played at Festival Hall, that would have been amazing. We did do other stuff that was great.
Do you remember meeting Jello Biafra or John Cooper Clarke?
MM: No, none at all. I was aware of the Dead Kennedys but I wouldn’t have known who Jello Biafra was. Often support bands don’t meet the main act because they’re tucked away in their room or they’re not even there yet when the support act play. It’s a hazy memory.
Can you tell us the story behind the album cover image please?
MM: Yes. Being from Capalaba, you would know about Leslie Harrison Dam.
Yes! It’s supplies the water for the area.
MM: We lived there (my parents are still there), literally two minutes’ walk from the Leslie Harrison Dam. We weren’t supposed to, but we spent a lot of time there and went swimming there all of the time. We grew up there, it was our back yard, you can see it from our house. You can see the spillway, it’s all fenced off now but it wasn’t then, that was our playground. Stephen put it all together. He did photography at school and had a camera. It was all his ideas.
Is there something really important that you learnt from Stephen that has stuck with you all these years?
MM: Heaps of things! He was a mover and a shaker, so I’ve taken that on myself. You really have to make things happen. You have to do the work first; you have to write the songs and then people might cotton on to it. You have to practice. He was always very motivated, that taught me a lot. I’ve carried on with music.
Tangled Shoelaces went on to become Wondrous Fair?
MM: Yes, that’s right. I don’t know all of the details of why Tangled Shoelaces didn’t continue. When you’re kids, I guess it’s natural to move on. Leigh became a born-again Christian, he went on to play in Christian bands, he’s an excellent drummer. Lucy went to uni, she moved out, she had her own interests. We didn’t think, oh we have something interesting here, we should keep it going. You just went along with whatever. Oh, this girl Deborah [Cavallaro] wants to have a jam with us at her house, it was all fun and great, let’s form a band from this! [laughs]. You didn’t think about things, you just went along with things, what felt good. Wondrous Fair evolved from another friend of mine who did play in Tangled Shoelaces from maybe one rehearsal.
Stephen eventually went away because he was more into film. After he left school, he went down to Melbourne. He was very motivated, he wrote to [director] Paul Cox and said, “I’m really interested in film, can I just come and help on the set of your next film?” He got invited down to Melbourne and helped with Paul Cox.
MM: Stephen’s that kind of person. He’d just write to people and ring people and ask to help them.
You mentioned that you’re still making music now.
MM: Yeah, I am. I’m a composer and songwriter. I absolutely continue to make music.
Has there ever been a time in your life when you didn’t make music?
MM: No! I live and breath music. There would never ever be that. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant.
No, not at all. I get it.
MM: It is my life. Music is the life force; it’s how I live. I teach music, that pays my bills but I always make music. After Tangled Shoelaces. it was Wondrous Fair. I moved to Melbourne and formed about three different bands. I have a band currently called Maya-dreamer & The Future Happiness Orchestra. They have not been popular; I haven’t had that sort of success but that’s not necessarily what I want in a way—I just want to make the music that I love. I’m working on a third album now. I compose avant-garde music, more obscure music. It’s weird, very experimental music [laughs]. (You can find it at martinmackerras.com). For me, it’s about the experience of making music, getting in a room with five other people and singing together. We have a lot of fun! Music is always there. I can’t live without it.
Meanjin/Brisbane trio Adele & The Chandeliers play jubilant pop with post-punk energy, full of charm, playfulness and sparkle. Before forming the group, vocalist-bassist Adele Pickvance was a member of The Go-Betweens plus solo work with Robert Forster & Grant McLennan, and did multiple albums with The Dave Graney Show. Gimmie interviewed Adele about moving to Brisbane from the UK as a teen, beginnings as a musician, a love of Pete Shelley, the band’s debut LP First Date and of what the future holds.
You first moved to Brisbane from Bury in Lancashire as a teenager; what were your first impressions of Brisbane? What was the music scene like? Was it an exciting time for you?
ADELE PICKVANCE: I was 15. The smells of Brisbane’s flora and the bugs and creatures… and the heat and humidity really threw me. There were a lot of changes to get used to. My school uniform for one… suddenly I could, and everyone else could, see my white hairy legs. They seemed to glow in the sunlight. My parents promised me a pony in our back garden so I could ride to school, but it ended up being a bicycle to ride to Sandgate High and that was bloody hard work as we lived at the top of a hill.
I think we all watched too much Skippy The Bush Kangaroo as prep for immigration.
In England, I was listening to music by Depeche Mode, Visage Fun Boy 3, etc and anything on Top Of The Pops and sometimes The Old Grey Whistle Test if I stayed up late enough. My world was BBC radio and TV. The only experience of Aussie music I had was Men At Work. At the time, I had heard of The Go Betweens, but I thought they were a punk band from Germany, not Australia, probably because they were spending a lot of time touring there.
When we landed in Brisbane, it was Radio 10 and commercial radio again. Cold Chisel, etc… I didn’t quite get it… so I was happy to continue to listen to my old mix cassette tapes.
I know that you come from a musical family, both your father and grandfather were musicians. Early on you played violin, who or what inspired you to switch to playing bass guitar?
AP: My dad used to play in the clubs in England as organist and generally with a 3-piece band. One morning I woke up and found a Vox bass guitar on my bed, he told me it fell off the back of a truck! Bass guitar has 4 strings, like the violin, but the other way round, so I jumped onto it quickly. When we arrived in Brisbane, I had left behind my violin teacher, the youth orchestra and my grandad, who I adored, as we would play violin duets together. There was no music at Sandgate High so the violin stayed in the case and my bass guitar became my instrument.
Can you please share with us an album that has had a really big impact on you? How did it effect you?
AP: At the time, I was soaking bass lines and had a nice set up in the Granny flat underneath the house in Brisbane with the record player and bass amp. Kissing To Be Clever by Culture Club hit me. At the time I didn’t understand my attraction to the album, I just loved it and learnt the bass parts. I’d come home from school, switch on the record player and turn on my amp and play along to it on repeat. Now on reflection, it was the gathering of different types of styles like soul, reggae, pop and calypso. Each song had the magical taste of Soho, London, which was something I was being drawn to. And of course, Boy George and his gender bending was appealing to me.
You’ve had long stints as a member of The Go-Betweens plus solo work with Robert Forster & Grant McLennan, and four albums with The Dave Graney Show; why was it finally time for you to do your own thing with your band Adele & The Chandeliers?
AP: I moved to Sydney in 2010, after playing with recording and touring Robert’s The Evangelist album, and made a record with Glenn Thompson called Carrington Street of which the two of us toured, and I suddenly then realised I wasn’t getting offered the gigs as a bass player that I used to get so frequently and easily. I moved back to Brisbane in 2017 and still the phone didn’t ring, and so thought if I wanted to continue making music and performing music, I would have to form my own band and do it myself.
How does it feel to be the person up the front singing the songs now? Is it ever scary for you? What feeling do you get from playing live?
AP: I might be in denial, but I still feel like I’m not the centre of attention. And there’s something about being a wee older and wiser. It’s never been scary… more exciting and a wee bit nervous which helps me play better. My bass guitar gives me superpowers too! It is a different headspace and I’ve had to come to terms with being the one who is responsible for the maintenance of the band/ keeping it going/ planning, etc… That’s all new to me. I love playing live, I’ve gigged since I was 17. My comfort zone is plugging the jack in to the bass, switching the amp on, testing the microphone and being on stage. It’s not the glory of being on stage, it’s the making of music that’s the thrill for me. I think the audience picks up on the energy and excitement.
One of the first things your band released was recorded during one of the group’s first ever sessions in the studio, the Buzzcocks’ song ‘Love You More’; has this song got a special significance to you? What do you appreciate about Pete Shelley’s songwriting?
AP: I was in a cover band when I was 21 called Torn Sweaters, three girls, guitar, bass and drums, and we did a version of that song. It’s a song that’s always stuck with me, it’s such a great song to play and you have to be a bit brave to sing it, you almost shout it out. When Pete Shelley had passed away, I did a really big deep dive back into Buzzcocks.
The Chandeliers’ original drummer, Ash Shanahan loved to play fast and I believe we ended up recording the song quicker than the Buzzcocks version, which I was shocked about… as that feels really quick.
The connection I have with Buzzcocks is of course Pete Shelley. I think of him as a queer guy in a 70’s/80’s DIY punk band singing love songs that aren’t about specific genders and I really like and admire that. I like to think my songs are similar… And of course, he’s from around Manchester.
At the end of last year Adele & The Chandeliers released your debut LP First Date; where did the album title come from?
AP: Our album name comes from a band discussion with Scott Mercer and Ash Shannahan when we first started. We felt like we were on a first date of sorts with all those similar questions of: do we want to hang out together? Do you want to commit to turning up to rehearsals? Do we have a connection? And of course, when considering touring: does anyone snore?
The album’s cover photo features your parents, Bill and Alma, at Manchester United Supporters Club, Deansgate, England 1965; was this their first date? Is this why you chose it as the cover image?
AP: The older I get the more I see the nostalgia and hip coolness caught in their black and white photos. They were bohemian types. The First Date cover photo was the first photo of them together. Dad had just finished his gig with his jazz band and mum brought her girlfriend with her as she knew she wanted to chat up the pianist as she had seen him and his band play before. I love this moment where everyone is having a good time sitting on the edge of the stage, you can see there’s a sparkle happening.
How did First Date get started? Tell us a little bit about writing the record. Were many of the songs in your notebooks for a while beforehand?
AP: Two of the songs are from an early solo EP recorded at home in Sydney called My White Rabbit. I released that around 2017. The other Chandeliers’ songs were formed from riffs or chords on the guitar that I record onto my phone, and I make sure I write in my notebook any line or idea I have…. then the two meet. I record roughly into my home studio then send off to the band for us to have a crack at the next rehearsal. We then record the songs at band rehearsal, then listen back and try again next week. When I write, I try to make the songs come quickly. II don’t like to spend a lot of time overworking the words and the music. I try to maintain the initial spontaneity and the guts and vibe of a song in the final result. There’s a chance to think about keyboards and extra guitar parts after the sessions in the studio, when we get the songs home.
How does a song most often come to you?
AP: I generally start with a predicament or a thought and I write notes in my book. I come up with catchy riffs and I play them on my bass and record into my phone and then try to get the two to meet. Generally, in my bedroom. That’s where the good songs come from.
There’s a universal theme of love that runs through each track on the LP; what inspired you to write about love in its many different forms?
AP: Writing about love isn’t intentional. I used to write a lot of miserable love songs with the acoustic guitar in my 20’s and 30’s. I wasn’t miserable, it’s just what I did. As I’ve aged, I’ve turned it around with the Chandeliers to be up and pop… bright, and I guess that’s where the Chandeliers come from – light and bright. Nothing miserable there, up and fun, but I’m still thinking about the curly things about love and the wayward adventures I get myself into. I like to play with it.
Cam Smith at Incremental Records record First Date; what was one of your favourite moments from recording?
AP: Cam creates a relaxed environment in his studio and nothing is too difficult, which encourages everyone. I like to work fast. My favourite moment was when we invited Karin Bäumler to sing her response to the song German On My Mind in her native tongue of Bavarian. Ive known Karin for many years, since 1995 and it was the first time we had sang together. We planted the microphone in the middle of the room so we could both sing into it, face to face. I had no idea what Karin was responding/saying… but it sounded great and we had a ball!
What’s next for you?
AP: I’m writing in my notebook, sitting on my bed, there’s new songs in the pipeline for Adele & The Chandeliers. We’ve been gigging a little, and we’re always looking for shows. We don’t mind if it’s in a back garden.
We’ve had a change of drummer. My brother Jonny Pickvance has joined us and he’s bringing a new energy to our songs. I feel like we’re going to make some great new work because of the familiarity Jonny and I have, even though we come from different styles of music… Scott, myself and Jonny all have a playful sense of humour. I have a feeling the next record will be even more playful, with a little more splash of old rock’n’roll.
Conjuring a heady mix of primal rhythms, atmospheric guitar and moody vocals Brisbane’s It’s Magnetic are spellbinding. This year manifested their debut self-titled release. Gimmie caught up with bassist Ben Ely, vocalist Mia Goodwin, guitarist Jamie Trevaskis and drummer Black Prizm.
How did you first discover music?
BEN: Through my older brother listening to his Midnight Oil tapes. His excitement about the band and the first time I saw them blew me away.
JAMIE: I grew up in a tiny country town and would listen to the radio to fall asleep every night- the music was strange to me, it was mysterious.
MIA: Video Hits for me. I used to just love watching it all morning as a young girl.
What was the first concert you went to?
BEN: Haha, Midnight Oil at Boondall Entertainment Centre. I rode there on the back of a friends motor bike. He rode like a total psycho so my adrenaline was already up when I got there. The show absolutely blew me away…
JAMIE: The Cure at The Entertainment Centre.
MIA: It was the musical Phantom Of The Opera. Quite gothic really.
How did It’s Magnetic get together?
BEN: Jim put together the track ‘Leaving Is Neon‘ [it’s on the album] with Mia and he invited me up to play bass on the track… then we decided to do some more tracks and it led onto the band taking it seriously.
Where did your band name come from?
BEN: Jamie came up with the name and it was in context to everything just being – magnetic.
The It’s Magnetic sound has a real 80’s goth vibe to it; is that something you’ve consciously worked to curate? Or is it just a natural progression of your interests and influences?
BEN: I feel we are all fans of that kind of music and general vibe. I feel naturally drawn to darker sounds when I’m writing…I personally consume really a really downer style of music when I’m at home… I’m a massive Joy division, New order, Peter Hook fan, Jamie found The Cure at the age of 15, and Mia sang on the recent Twin Peaks tour so… I guess it all happened naturally…
You recorded your debut album at Jamie’s Wild Mountain Sound Studio (a tape-based studio), Mt Nebo set in a natural subtropical eucalypt forest setting; did the environment inspire your creativity/music? What was it like recording away from distractions?
BEN: Yes, it does have an alienated feel when you’re up there. We rehearse up there also. When I hit the forest-y part of the road heading up the mountain it does feel as though you are travelling through a portal of some kind. It is another world. Having that peaceful place to create is really great.
I understand that the record was recorded in a night; tell me about it. What was the first song you created? How did you feel when writing it?
BEN: The first song we wrote together as a band was ‘Heatwave‘. It all flowed very naturally. I feel all our best songs just fall out. Most of the album was done live in a few hours one Monday night. We went in with the intention of just recording ‘Heatwave‘… the second take was great… we kept it… then just kept going until most of the album was finished. We did do a couple of overdubs and mix it later. It surprised us all.
One of our favourite tracks on the record is ‘Heatwave’; what inspired it?
BEN: I feel our band works well when there is a lot of space in the sound. If we create a sound that’s minimal then there is a lot of room to hear all the parts. I like that.
MIA: I wrote the lyrics coming into summer. That kind of oppressive Brisbane heat- you can feel it coming. And I was thinking about late nights when you can’t sleep, and the city, and small apartments, and lovers in those small apartments, hot together, uneasy together, anxious together.
Can you tell us a bit about making album closer ‘Disallowed The Past’?
MIA: It was a instrumental drum and noise guitar piece that Jamie recorded. Ben came up and put his bass part on and it just sounded like the closer for an album so that’s where it went.
Mia, your vocals are very emotive; is there anything that you tap into to give that kind of vocal performance?
MIA: I just love to sing- and I love to sing strong- and I feed off the guys and all the emotion that is coming out of them and their instruments, and I think of the emotion behind the lyrics. There’s usually a pretty emotive story or feel driving the songs.
We saw you play live a couple of weeks ago at your album launch with Adele & the Chandeliers; how did it feel to finally get to play your album live?
BEN: Oh man… we practiced a lot for the launch and put a lot of work into setting up the stage… planned costumes etc.. so when it finally happened it was very exciting and felt really special to us. It did feel as though time flew by very quickly though.
It’s Magnetic use a drum machine, was that out of necessity or did you want that kind of sound?
BEN: I feel it allows a lot of space for the guitars and vocals to stand out. We also love the cold hard evening hand our drummer provides. We did name our drummer to give him a human quality. His name is BLACK PRIZM.
JAMIE: It was always intentional for me for sonic reasons and I don’t really like cymbals.
What do you feel was the value of working to tape?
BEN: Tape does have a lot of character with tape hiss etc, though I feel it is very forgiving when it comes to vocal performances. Any slightly weird note doesn’t sound as obvious on tape. It’s some kind of witch craft I think…
JAMIE: I always record to tape for everybody else’s projects so it’s my most natural way to capture music and I love what it does to the sound. It does something whether you like it or not, and we like it.
There seems to be a witchy-occult-ish kind of theme to, It’s Magnetic; where does that come from?
BEN: We are all very superstitious people and have varying beliefs. Also I think Jim performs some kind of rituals before he plays. his guitar sound is not of this world, it’s from another realm… No one makes a sound like that…
Why do you feel that you work so well together?
BEN: I think we are all sensitive people who are conscious of the parts each of us play in the group. We allow space for each other. I think that’s the reason I love playing in the band so much.
What have you been listening to lately?
BEN: Danzig Sings Elvis. [its actually an amazing record], Trees Speak, Lost Animal, Gong, Spaceman 3, Crack Cloud.
JAMIE: Steve Von Till, Danzig sings Elvis, SWANS, Wet Taxis.
MIA: Chelsea Wolfe, Brendan Perry’s Songs Of Disenchantment:Music From The Greek Underground. The Blue Nile- Hats.
What’s next for It’s Magnetic?
BEN: We are about to go back into the studio on the Mountain and record a follow up album. We probably won’t do this one in one evening. We plan to take a lot more time and create a broader range of sounds. It’s very exciting…
Meanjin/Brisbane dream pop shoegaze quartet Ultra Material are getting set to finally play live in support of their Ep 3 which was released in May this year. It’s both energetic and dreamy at the same time; a powerful and lovely release. Gimmie caught up with drummer Matt Deasy.
How did you first find music?
MATT DEASY: My earliest memories of music are of listening to records on my Dad’s turntable stereo. I used to love sitting next to the player with headphones on listening to 7-inch singles. I guess it was my earliest exposure to the idea of DJ’ing as I was more taken by individual songs than listening to full length albums. I loved listening to the radio and watching The Rage Top 40 on a Saturday morning. I would attempt to tape songs from the Rage Top 40 onto my little portable cassette player, this of course resulted in a lot of shouts and breakfast table talk from family members in the background.
What was the first concert/gig you ever went to?
MD: My very first ‘live gig’ or more accurately ‘live band experience’ was on a trip to Bristol in the UK with with my Dad to when I was 14. My English cousin, (who I’d met for the very first time that trip and became the absolute coolest person in my world) took me to her boyfriend’s band rehearsal at a share house. They were a ska/skate punk band who went on to make a few waves locally and nationally. It was an inspiring first experience actually seeing how a band functions in their own environment. I also met them all afterwards and we were all both equally intrigued by each other geographically.
Who or what inspired you to make music yourself?
MD: I wanted to play drums from an early age. The only thing was that I didn’t have a drum kit, so I use to just tap on things and eventually started entertaining the other kids in my class by playing wipeout on the top of desktops or whatever other surface might create enough of a tone to get the class moving (this resulted in a lot of detention from memory). I’m not even sure how I learnt to play the wipe out, but I spent a lot of my childhood tapping out rhythms on any available surface I could find. The idea of making my own music came much later in high school when I bought an electric guitar from a friend and decided to start chipping away at that. I became fully engrossed in styles of music that were not popular with my peers at all, bands like Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth and the grittier side of the Seattle scene. Then after high school finished, I started making tapes of me just playing guitar. Slowly these formed the basis for the first songs I wrote which turned out to be the foundation of my first band.
What brought Ultra Material together?
MD: Sarah and I met Nick and Zuzana at a Do the Robot show (which was our previous band).
They were fans, so of course we immediately became friends. Nick and Zuz had been writing their own music under the name Monochrome and had just started a band with fellow architect friends Jonathan and Veronica Kopinski called Sunshine State. We all instantly hit it off, playing double bills together across Brisbane for a couple of years. After Sunshine State and Do The Robot dissolved in 2012 we decided to start a new project which quickly morphed into Ultra Material.
What draws you to making a combo of shoegaze and dream pop sound-wise?
MD: I think it’s the music that comes most naturally to us. All of our previous bands had at least some elements of shoegaze and dream pop to them and once we’d started Ultra Material those kinds of sounds became the main emphasis of the band. In a lot of ways dream pop and shoegaze is a mood to us, a constant and shared feeling we have about life in general and that obviously influences our song writing process quite a lot.
Ultra Material are known for really beautiful all-encompassing live shows; how has not being able to play live over the past few months affected you?
MD: It’s been a little tough as we had to cancel our EP launch show originally scheduled in May. Since Nick and Zuz had twin bubs last year we’ve had to become a bit more selective in what we take on, so we were already looking to only play 2 or 3 times a year before the shutdown happened. Our routine over the last few years has usually been to write and record within a few months followed by a couple of shows to promote the release then have a break for a while. It’s likely we’ll continue this way, but hopefully we can make the few shows we do play really worth it.
On your latest release Ep 3 there’s a bit of a garden/flower theme via the art and songs like ‘Marigold’; what inspired this?
MD: The idea for the ep artwork came from some polaroid photos Sarah and I took on our travels through Ireland and the UK last year. Our approach was to find a wild flower garden and use the polaroid camera to create a soft-focus look to the photographs, with Nick and Zuzi providing accompanying illustrations of native flora from their home garden. The four of us have been working on our own gardens over the last few years, and it’s another thing we bond over – we all live on main roads and it creates our own little sanctuaries.I think generally nature plays a big part in our artwork, and whether it’s planting some new natives or just daydreaming in the garden, it can be quite cathartic.
Can you tell us a bit about the recording process for Ep 3? We love how you layer sound!
MD: Our last two releases we’ve recorded with Marly Luske at Alchemix Studio in West End. I think Marly is a bit of a mind reader with translating what we want into reality and is always open to ideas and experimenting. He’s also a genius and whizz when it comes to editing and mixing as we keep a pretty tight schedule when it comes to recording. Generally, we try to have all the songs down beforehand so we can come in and record everything together in one room over a couple of days, and then record vocals and overdubs throughout the mixing process to create the layered sound. With Ep 3 we actually recorded in February 2019 but didn’t get back to mix it until the end of that year, so it was an opportunity to return after some time away with fresh ears and add additional layers.
We love the extra love and care that you always put into the packaging of your physical releases!EP 3 had a handmade screen-printed gatefold jacket with bonus fold out screen printed poster with two versions a white card and kraft version of the jacket; why is it important to you to give us something special? Can you tell us about the thought behind the latest packaging?
MD: My work at No.7 print House gives me the opportunity to be thinking about and planning physical releases, sometimes months before we’ve even written and recorded the songs. We’ve always approached each release as a new art project, and factoring our budget and time frames usually decides what physical format will be best suited to that particular release. All 4 of us have some kind of design background but we are pretty democratic about everyone having a chance to have creative input into a release – it helps that we all love each other’s work. Being able to build these super deluxe packages all in house, creating accompanying artwork for inserts or fold out posters, making each release something special and different from the last one, I think it’s all a natural extension of our music. We’d been dismissive of CDs for years in favour of vinyl or cassette, as they just seemed a more interesting physical product. But lately we’ve been getting back into CDs in the car (the only place any of us have CD players) so it was nice to change things up and with CDs being so compact and affordable it was just perfect for this release.
This year’s been a challenging year; what’s something important that you’ve learnt about creativity or making stuff in 2020?
MD: I felt some pressure to take advantage of the lockdown and subsequent quiet periods this year to focus on art, although having large amounts of downtime to work on art alone can have the opposite effect on me as far as productivity goes. I’m very much used to working within small pockets of time that become available in and around my regular work schedule. The downtime did however prove to be very handy for the actual making and construction side of art projects especially when it came to the screen printing. If we are ever to have another year or period like 2020, I only hope I’ll be better equipped to deal with the potential that comes with large amounts of downtime.
What’s something that’s really engaged you lately? What did you appreciate about it?
MD: Lately and especially during lockdown music by Roy Montgomery, Seefeel, Windy & Carl, Pink Moon by Nick Drake, Julee Cruise’s The Voice of Love, locals Mckisko and Ancient Channels’ new albums. These have all made up this year’s soundtrack and kept me company during the best and the worst of this year.
What’s next for Ultra Material? Have you been working on anything new? What can you tell us about it at this point?
MD: We have our second (and final) show this year on the 5th of December at The Cave Inn with Ancient Channels. Unfortunately, the show is only 30 capacity, so all tickets are sold but it will be a nice end to what was a really dark and insanely bizarre year. We’re also writing songs for what will most likely become our next EP, so I think that will be our main focus for the next few months.
Last week Brisbane band The Stress Of Leisure released their exciting new album Faux Wave. Recorded in Melbourne by John Lee (who has recorded many Gimmie favs: Bananagun, Gordon Koang and Lost Animal) it captures the band’s live wild energy that lights up the dancefloor—they might just be the world’s greatest party band. Gimmie caught up with them to chat about the LP; a hot contender for our Album of the Year!
What is one of the most exciting things for you about your new album Faux Wave?
JANE (bass): I really feel we knew the songs well before we went and recorded them, so all of the performances felt strong and confident. I can listen to it now and say ‘Yeah!’ It’s all solid and great. I am excited by the impressive efforts of my bandmates, and I’m excited for interested members of the public to check it out.
IAN (vocals/guitar): I’m excited for the genre of faux wave. I think this could be a thing!
PASCALLE (synths): I feel excited that the album even exists! I’m aware of how close to the line we were in getting it recorded — in the way we wanted to — and the pandemic’s impact on everything we do now.
JESS (drums): This album makes a great companion piece to our previous album Eruption Bounce. It’s exciting hearing us grow as a four-piece.
I understand that this album was written as your most collaboratively one yet; can you tell us a bit about writing the record and collaborating?
IAN: We record all our ideas, and we had up to 60 sketches of songs in the bank for this album. Recording the ideas we produce at rehearsals also means we can capture golden moments that can be hard to remember. What I’ve found more and more doing The Stress of Leisure is that the songs where Jane, Pascalle and Jess bring something in (an idea) is way more exciting than what I come up with. I feel when I have an idea it tends to dictate too much how things turn out. A song like Banker On TV literally came out fully formed in one jam — Jess had a beat she wanted to try out, Jane had a bassline written down she married to it and then Pas and myself did our stuff on top. Individually, none of us could’ve come up with this song.
PASCALLE: I really love how Ian challenges us to come up with lines but we also had to constantly remind him that his lines are very fun for us to play along with. One way he was convinced to drive the song was in Spiralling, which has Ian’s power pop synth line, Jane’s enormous bassline and Jess’ unconventional drums.
What’s one of the most challenging things for you in regards to your creativity?
JANE: Speaking for myself, I sometimes find it hard to carve out time to make creative things happen. But that is pretty much on me, I think I need to try harder.
JESS: Coming up with rhythms that sound fresh, and like Jane, finding the time to get creative in modern life. I generally don’t practise so I’m composing beats in my head and then trying them out at rehearsal. Nothing is out of bounds or too weird to bring to rehearsal and I think that vulnerability is where magic happens.
PASCALLE: Yes, I think it mostly comes down to time… we’re all just waiting to win the lotto so we can make music as often as we want!
IAN: I find my bandmates sell themselves too short. They’re always bringing in great ideas, regardless of outside pressures. It comes back again to the fact that we record the jams. Creative inspiration strikes when you least expect it, so it’s important to always document. Like panning for gold, you can’t expect a high success rate. We’re only challenged by timelines, not creativity.
We’ve always loved the wit, social commentary and humour in your lyrics; what’s your personal favourite song and lyric in this new collection of songs?.
JANE: I particularly like Ian’s lyric in the song No Win No Fee, where he intones ‘Mission accomplished, for the rich and the foppish’. The song has a sort of sleazy, lazy groove to it, but it goes along at a slightly quicker tempo than you would normally expect for such a groove, which makes it compelling to me.
JESS: My favourite lyric is ‘Everybody wants to tell you how you’re doing it; Everybody loves to tell you how you’re doing it wrong; Everybody seems to know just where you’re coming from’ in Connect to Connected. It’s an astute observation of the countless daily interactions between humans courtesy of the internet.
PASCALLE: I feel a sense of achievement that we incorporated the line ‘no quid pro quo’ in a song.
IAN: If you read the lyrics of Your Type of Music and Beat The Tension with a John Cooper Clarke accent in mind they really work! I’m delighted by that. I played a solo gig earlier in the year with Seja, and during the set I recited them, so I can attest to it.
Faux Wave was recorded in Melbourne with John Lee at Phaedra Studios over five days at the beginning of the year; what drew you to working with John? What was it like?
IAN: John Lee’s name came up in a lot of Australian independent music I was listening to and liking — starting with Lost Animal, Laura Jean through to Brisbane/Melbourne act No Sister. Everyone I inquired of really rated John and said he was great to work with. We wanted to record an album outside Brisbane too, to get out of our comfort zone. It’s one of the best decisions we’ve made as a group I think. The reports rang true, John is a total gentleman, but he also challenged us with this recording, in a totally positive way. Recording the ten songs over five days was a real buzz and my feeling is that as a group, we’ve all connected with this experience. It was like recording a debut album all over again.
PASCALLE: Yes, John’s the absolute best!
What’s one of your fondest memories from the sessions?
PASCALLE: This was the first time we recorded an entire album in one go — usually we’d go into the studio on sporadic weekends and record two or three songs until the album was done. Going down to Melbourne for a solid week felt like we were at camp and, from my perspective, we had a whole new level of togetherness. From the get-go, John was a kindred spirit and made the whole week memorable, too. Favourite things about recording were not using click tracks, listening to Ian record his vocals and getting to play with John’s vintage synths.
JESS: Like Pas, getting to spend a whole week together recording was a luxury! No click tracks and a live recording setup really captured the energy. For me, anymore than three or four takes starts to sound forced and contrived. Having that week also meant we could sample the gastronomic delights that Melbourne had to offer and catch up with friends.
PASCALLE: Yes, we really explored Melbourne’s food and beverages, and we even managed to see Dave Graney and the mistLY play Memo Music Hall, too. Great times.
What inspired the album art?
IAN: We thought it was important to go back to the collage style we’d previously utilised on the Sex Time and Achievement artworks. It rang more true to who we are as a band. The imagery we’ve chosen feels like Faux Wave for some reason — the crowd in a fervour and the rubbish pile. The disposable aspects of modern day hyperconsumerism comes to mind — the shiny new thing that gets people excited, quickly replaced by something even shinier and newer. It’s disconcerting.
PASCALLE: This is also the first time we’ve included the song lyrics on the back of the vinyl, too, so you can follow along if you like.
What have you been listening to lately?
JESS: Billy Nomates’ debut album, Fontaines D.C’s A Hero’s Death and Blake Scott’s Niscitam. Despite all that has happened in 2020, fantastic and exciting music is still being made.
PASCALLE: Have you seen Sampa the Great’s Planet Afropunk performance Black Atlantis? Incredible! I’m also listening to Blake Scott like Jess, as well as Chloe Alison Escott’s Stars Under Contract.
JANE: I have been listening to the Scratch and the Upsetters album Super Ape, though it is not a recent release by any means. I really enjoy the space in it, from top to bottom, and front to back.
IAN: The Music in Exile label is releasing some great stuff. I particularly love the Gordon Koang album Unity.
2020 has been a challenging year for pretty much everyone; how has it affected you and how have you stayed positive?
IAN: Making my own coffee is a nice ritual I’ve developed during 2020. Also smelling the roses in New Farm Park has been a highlight. When we were allowed to rehearse again as a band — I felt that was a big moment of positivity. We’ve been writing more songs, languid and slow types of songs.
PASCALLE: It’s been a year where each of us has had to learn who we are in this situation. There’s been an unavoidable wave of planetary depression — whether we explicitly feel it or not — and coming up for air amongst it all has been an effort, I think, for many of us. Art and a kind community helps.
JANE: When I was able to return to fitness classes and band rehearsals that helped me heaps. I’ve joined the video streaming revolution. Drinking heaps of Malbec has also been very good.
Anything else you’d like to tell us or share with us?
IAN: Community radio in Australia has been a big support to us. Support community radio wherever it finds you by subscribing. 4ZZZ, our local station in Brisbane, has been an absolute champion over 40 years plus in pushing local and Australian music and we’d be severely diminished in Brisbane as a music community without it. There’s never been a more important time to support local independent media and arts.
PASCALLE: It’s also heartwarming to see all our fellow bands emerge from the Covid hibernation. I hadn’t realised how much I missed seeing live music!
We love Meanjin/Brisbane Grit Hop trio, Spirit Bunny, a joyful explosion of noise from multi-instrumentalists Kate Thomas, Joel Saunders and Cam Smith. We’re super excited to bring you the premiere of first single ‘Paper Handshakes’ from their upcoming sophomore album on new independent label Zang! Records. Spirit Bunny’s sound is a perfect storm of circuit bent Casio noise and C64 synths with phat beats and whimsical melodies.
Firstly, congratulations on signing with Zang! Records. We’re really excited that Spirit Bunny has new music to share with us. We’re really digging your new song ‘Paper Handshakes’! Where did the song name come from? I’ve heard that Spirit Bunny songs often start with a title before music and lyrics are written.
SPIRIT BUNNY: Thanks! We’re super happy and excited to be able to share some new stuff again. ‘Paper Handshakes’ actually had a different, working title until right at the last minute. That’s pretty normal for us – a lot of our songs start off with working titles that are related to how the songs sound or what they remind us of. A good example of that is ‘Gold & Brown’ from our first album, which in its very early stages of being written reminded us in mood of the song ‘Golden Brown’ by The Stranglers. Sometimes those working titles then inform the lyrics and themes, which are almost always the final part added to the song. So it almost always goes music, working song title, lyrics, and then sometimes a proper song title if we decide the working title is no good (or embarrassing). This song had an embarrassingly mundane and meaningless working title.
What inspired it both musically and lyrically?
SB: Musically we wanted something that was upbeat and really punchy. We started the writing of the album with a couple of more downbeat or weirder songs, and thought we should perhaps write a pop song. Which is what we did, or at least it’s what we consider to be a “pop song”. It was one of the first songs for the record where we started experimenting more in-depth with dual and duelling vocals, something we tried a little bit on the last record. Lyrically it’s about the sway that people with money hold over decision makers, and how that doesn’t always benefit the greater good.
How much did the song change from its beginnings to what we hear now?
SB: This is one of the songs that just kind of came out and didn’t need a whole heap of tweaking, it came together pretty easily (which can’t necessarily be said for the some of the other songs from our forthcoming album). The only significant change came right towards the end of recording, when we invited our friend Keeley Young (of Claude and Requin) to play saxophone on it. That’s something we experimented with on the new record, getting our friends in to replace our parts but playing them on an instrument that we don’t normally use, to try to get some new and often more organic sounds into the mix. So on this song, Keeley multi-tracked her saxophone to replace some of the chordal parts that Kate plays on Commodore 64.
What interests each of you in what you create as Spirit Bunny? I know you’ve all had many other bands and projects.
SB: It’s probably the most democratic and collaborative band any of us have been in, which can be challenging but also very much worthwhile. It’s definitely a project where if you were to replace any one of us you’d end up with a completely different thing. When we first got together we had an idea of what we wanted to sound like, but ultimately what came out is Spirit Bunny. It really pushes each of us in different ways, both technically and in what we’re comfortable with in terms of our roles in the band. For example, Kate is kind of the musical core of virtually every Spirit Bunny song and that’s not something she’s done in her other projects.
It’s also very different from any of the other projects we’re involved with. Some musicians like to play in a bunch of bands that are all of a kind, but that’s not something we’re overly interested in.
Spirit Bunny shows are pretty special, there’s an amazing synergy between you; do you ever have trouble capturing the spirit you play with live in recording or do you see live and recording sound-wise as two different things?
SB: The first record was definitely a pretty close representation of the live version of the band. The new album is perhaps very slightly less so, although the majority of the record was still built around the way we would play the songs in a live context. We did try a few new methods of writing and recording this time, with a few of the songs being partially constructed in the studio instead of extensively hashed out in the rehearsal room. We also tried to incorporate a few more textures this time, and to give some of the songs a bit more space than on the previous album. We definitely try to capture the energy of our live shows, though. That’s really important, and I think both albums go pretty close to achieving that.
What’s something surprising that people might find interesting about the way you write or record?
SB: We’re all multi-tasking in this band, each playing multiple instruments at the same time. Kate plays two Commodore 64s, Joel has two of his unique circuit-bent Casios plus a bunch of noise boxes, and Cam has his looped beats alongside the acoustic drums. So everything can get pretty layered and dense for a trio, but that’s what we actually sound like. It was a bit of a focus on this record to strip that back a bit sometimes and give the songs some room to breathe.
You use circuit bent keyboards/Commodore 64 synths; where did your interest in using these come from?
SB: We like repurposing obsolete or outdated technology in a creative fashion, giving it a second life that’s perhaps outside its original purpose. It’s cool to make something that’s somewhat futuristic and hopefully forward-looking with elements that could sometimes be considered somewhat ‘retro’. Also, these instruments have inherent limitations and we like that those limitations can force us to come up with novel solutions. An interesting example of that is that the Commodore 64 has virtually no dynamics, and Cam came to Spirit Bunny from bands that were highly dynamic so he had to rethink the way that his drums were going to function in this new context, where if he played quietly he was going to be drowned out but if he played loudly he would drown everyone else out. The answer ended up being adding dynamics to the drums via the density of the playing, rather than playing softer or louder.
What can you tell us at this point about your sophomore album you have coming up?
SB: Firstly that we’re really happy with it. There’s been a lot of work to get to this point. It’s been good to welcome some new people into the fold to help us get the record to the finish line, whether it’s been various friends of ours adding their own flavours to the record sonically, or teaming up with Zang! to get the record out into the world. Listening to it now, it seems like real growth from the first album. The songs are simultaneously more extreme and also more accessible, more dense and also more spacious. It’s been a journey of discovery for us as much as it is for anyone else, perhaps more so. From within the band, everything we come up with seems to be greater than the sum of its constituent parts.
What bands/albums/songs have you been obsessing over lately?
SB: We’ve been listening to Deerhoof’s two new records a lot, always listening to lots of Deerhoof. We love the new Party Dozen album, in a way we feel like they’re kindred spirits in the Australian music community. Similarly with the new Wax Chattels. Angel Olsen’s All Mirrors is a record that weirdly influenced some of the sounds on this album, in terms of some of the mellotron arrangements and a kind of chamber-pop sound we attempted to incorporate in parts (with varying success).
We also listen to lots of local stuff, and there’s been heaps of really good local releases lately. The new Ancient Channels is fantastic, which some of us are involved with in some ways (Cam recorded it, and Joel now plays in the live band). Zang! labelmates Gold Stars have a fantastic debut album. Local Authority, Ultra Material and Relay Tapes all put out some great shoegaze and dream-pop records recently. Nathan John Kearney put out a lovely solo record, It’s Magnetic have a wonderful debut album. There’s new Grieg. We’re looking forward to the new Apparitions record. There’s so much stuff.
What’s something that’s important to Spirit Bunny?
SB: Musically we just want to make something that excites and challenges us. On a more important note, we feel strongly about diversity and social responsibility, supporting community and grassroots art and initiatives. We delved into some of these issues lyrically on the new album, which we also did on the first one but often in a more oblique way – this time we were a bit more overt in the presentation of some of these themes.
Meanjin/Brisbane musicians Kelly Hanlon (Deafcult/Terra Pines) and Chris Preindl (Apparitions/Leavings/Vestiges) take us on a sonic sci-fi expedition exploring ancient, ceremonial drumming together with shoegaze dream pop and cosmic themes to create a band that’s outta this world, Ancient Channels.
How did you two first meet? What were your first impressions of each other?
KELLY: I first met Chris through the Brisbane music scene. Our other bands have played multiple shows together over the years so we’ve been in each other’s orbit for a while. I’ve been consistently blown away every time I’ve seen Chris play with any of his bands whether its Apparitions, Leavings or Vestiges. He’s all over the kit with such deft and precision, technically brilliant but also insanely creative, I swear he’s got an extra set of arms hidden away somewhere. I remember thinking that I’d like to work with him sometime soon after seeing him play, and here we are! Dreams do come true!
CHRIS: Our first meeting is hard to pinpoint because Brisbane often feels tiny. I do feel like my first impression of Kelly is one-and-the-same with what would be the most prevailing impression, that she’s an incredibly talented songwriter and musician, and a really cool, calm and compassionate person.
You both play in multiple other bands. Kelly plays in Deafcult/Terra Pines and Chris plays in Apparitions/Leavings/Vestiges; what inspired you to start Ancient Channels?
KELLY: I had wanted to start a project a little more pop-centric and beat orientated. I was also watching a lot of Ancient Aliens at the time (for pure entertainment, I don’t actually believe Ancient Aliens built the pyramids) which resulted in the idea of combining elements of ancient, ceremonial drumming with more contemporary style song structures and the aesthetics of dream pop, shoegaze and post-punk. I wrote a few demos and sent them to Chris and asked if he’d be keen and lucky he was. We didn’t practice together before recording just winged it on the day and Chris wrote and executed his drum parts with such energy it was beautiful! The drums are really the forefront of this band in my opinion, almost like a lead guitar or something, well and truly up front.
CHRIS: Kelly reached out about starting a new project together in early-mid 2019 and I didn’t deliberate much; sometime after my band Leavings played with Terra Pines (for something like the third or even fourth time around Southeast Queensland) Kelly had written some incredible demos and after hearing them I was very excited at the chance to collaborate. She suggested it’d be more of a studio project from the outset which was super ideal for my other band commitments and life schedule. Dates were then set for roughly six months later to record with Cam Smith at Incremental Records.
You’re into sci-fi soundtracks of early film and television; what’s one of your favourites? What do you appreciate about it?
KELLY: Film soundtracks, particularly sci-fi soundtracks are so evocative and they overtly convey tension in a way that I love. The 1950’s had some really great film soundtracks full of creepy theremin tones that make my skin crawl in the best possible way. It Came From Outer Space 1953 is a favourite, also The Day The Earth Stood Still 1951. I tried to get a theremin-ish like tone in “Orbital Dance” with one of the synth lines, it’s not exact but it’s the best I could do with the tools that I have haha. I also love the original Dr Who theme 1963 by Delia Derbyshire and Ron Grainer. It’s such an iconic piece of music, “Carpe Noctem” was an attempt to do something big and dramatic in that vein. There is a great doco on Delia Derbyshire called The Delian Mode on YouTube that everyone should watch for a bit of backstory on her. I’m also big into Vangelis like everyone else under the sun.
CHRIS: I think this is more Kelly’s realm, at least as far as direct influences on this project go, but for me I can’t go past such iconic scores as: Blade Runner (Vangelis), Akira (Geinoh Yamashirogumi), 2001: A Space Odyssey (Richard Strauss), and more recently the scores of Drive, Ex Machina and Good Time… although some of those absolutely aren’t sci-fis.
You’ve recently released Moments In Ruin; what inspired the writing of this album? It seems pretty cosmic!
KELLY: It all comes back to Ancient Aliens haha I feel like I was thinking about it for a year or so before we even started writing, but mainly the idea was to just have a collection of songs that draw from many influences both concrete: Shoegaze, Dream Pop and Post-Punk and Abstract: Time, Space, Ancient Worlds etc… I think there was also talk about writing a record full of singles. The idea that every song on a record could be a single is a bit of a novelty but thought it would be a fun challenge.
CHRIS: Other than a partial embracing and full appreciation of engineer/producer Cam Smith’s drumming (in specifically Terra Pines), and the desire to serve Kelly’s demos sufficiently I embraced influences stemming back to when I first started playing drums. Essentially bands like Metric, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and pretty much any DFA/New York City band from the mid-2000s.
I’ve heard that drums and percussion are the foundation of your sound; how do your songs form most often? Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?
KELLY: All the songs were written using Garageband to demo initially , and then Chris rewrote the shitty Garageband drum loops and made the songs infinitely cooler and more interesting. All the songs were written with the same approach though, built from the ground up, rhythm section, then guitars and synths (textural) and vocals last. The vocals took the most amount of time to write because melody was really important, most of the songs on the record have alternate versions of the vocal melodies and harmonies. I think “She-Rise” had about 8 different versions.
CHRIS: Up until now it has been part recreating the beats mapped out by Kelly and part improvisation in the studio environment. The intricate layers that formed the first versions of the songs that became “Moments In Ruin” afforded me a lot of room for inspiration and, to a degree, experimentation so it’s been quite a thrilling and fun process; the approach with Ancient Channels is different to the more jam-based process of other projects I’m involved with.
We really love the song “She-Rise”; what sparked this song?
KELLY: From memory it was one of the last songs written for this project, there was a feeling the record needed something a little more driving and immediate. I’d read an interview with Grimes about her writing process, that she’d often write songs to scenes from films. I kinda liked that idea and thought I’d give it a go. I picked the Bride vs The Crazy 88 scene from Kill Bill Vol1 and tried to write with that scene in my mind and often playing in the background on silent. Thematically I guess I projected myself into the role of the bride and sexist sound guys in the role of the crazy 88 (metaphorically speaking of course). It’s a clusterfuck, I’m not sure it works as a score to the scene but I was happy with how the song turned out.
CHRIS: For my part I really wanted the rhythms to be straightforward and blunt, as the song seemed to me to be one of the most propulsive and pounding. It embodies what is probably the most intense, menacing and bold energy and so I thought a rigorous and sweatily performed dance beat would serve the song best. An undoubted influence for me for “She-Rise” is the music of U.K. post-punk band Savages.
What most excites you about your new album?
KELLY: I’m excited that it’s out and we can move onto the next one.
CHRIS: Recreating the songs live, with additional members: Elise Clark, Imogen Kowalczyk, Kelly Saunders & Joel Saunders. We haven’t yet brought all the songs to life: as is the case for a lot of other bands (local and nationwide/worldwide) it’s been a difficult year to effectively showcase new music. Fingers crossed for the remainder of 2020 and the start of 2021…
I know that you love recording and being in the studio; was there anything you tried or experimented with while recording?
KELLY: Most of the experimentation came with the drums (different beats that Chris wanted to try and varying types of accompanying percussion. Everything else was locked in by the time we got to the studio as we had Garageband demos with sounds and tones finalised etc…
CHRIS: Percussive layering felt like the most immediate example of studio experimentation. Usually I’m quite hesitant to contribute or sign off on drum parts that aren’t in the realm of possibility to perform live, but we both agreed that we could maximise some of the songs with overdubbed drum hits and cymbal swells. It also helps that Elise is also a drummer!
We love the vocals on the album, very ethereal, haunting and atmospheric; how did you approach doing them?
KELLY: I would say that we wanted vocals to sound that way for sure, ambience and atmosphere were important but also melody. A lot of time was spent trying to make the vocal melodies as infectious as possible, as mentioned before they were rewritten a hundred times over and vastly different from their first incarnation.
CHRIS: I can only dream of having had a hand in the vocal process, though it’s fun to watch agape and in awe from the sidelines for this aspect. I guess there’s always the possibility to harmonise live!
Your music is a collage of genres and I love how your artwork for your releases is also collages; where did the idea for this style of artwork come from? You do the art Kelly, right?
KELLY: My friend Jason Cahill (who did our video for “Footprints In The Dark”) is a great visual artist and filmmaker and he sends me art all the time that he thinks I might enjoy. He had an idea once of doing a collage film clip for one of our songs by animating a collage and in doing research for that idea I came across the collage hashtag on Instagram and fell in love with the otherworldly nature of it. It’s a format that seems like it has no rules and so much possibility.
CHRIS: I think Kelly’s collage art precedes Ancient Channels! I love how effective and evocative it is.
Is there anything else you’ve been working on that you’d like to tell us about, Ancient Channels-related or otherwise?
KELLY: Stay tuned to our socials for show announcements and news, we’ll probably start thinking about the next record soon-ish. Both my other bands Deafcult and Terra Pines have new records coming out next year and I believe Chris has a bunch of exciting stuff up his sleeves too which he can tell you about.
CHRIS: We’re excited by the prospect of working on new music as a six-piece band. In the meantime Kelly’s other bands Deafcult and Terra Pines are working on new material. My other band Apparitions will be launching its album in roughly a month’s time with Deafcult as well, so I’m really excited for that!