Chicago Musician NNAMDÏ: “Everyone should use their skills in order to help people”

Original photo by Jess Myers. Handmade collage by B.

Chicago musician NNAMDÏ dropped two powerful releases in the last few months. The latest being EP Black Plight – which raised over $10,000 for not-for-profit organizations and And the other being LP, BRAT (released in April), an exploration of needs and wants as a human being and of reaffirming life purpose that brings you joy while helping others. Both are timely releases, both just might have you taking a look at your own place in the world and remind you to ask; how I can help those in a place with less privilege? Good art engages and entertains; great art changes you—NNAMDÏ’s genre-bending, breaking and blurring songs – fusing math-rock, hip hop, pop, R&B and more – definitely did this for us.

How are you?

NNAMDÏ: I’m doing OK, Bianca. I just got home, I was at this food drive and we were giving out meals and food to people.

That’s wonderful, I love how there has been so many positive things happening in the community of late, it’s been a rough, crazy time.

NNAMDÏ: It is a crazy time. It’s really been putting into perspective the things that are important. During all this community building, donating groceries is important, especially now, so many people are suffering and can’t go to work or haven’t gone to work for a long time, it’s intense. It got me thinking, there’s always people going through it, this community building energy needs to continue even after all of this. I’m really trying to check myself so I keep the momentum going after things start to look up in the future.

You’ve mentioned that lately you’ve been learning a lot and seeing a lot of community building and positivity amidst all the turmoil that’s been happening right now; what are some of the things that you’ve been learning?

NNAMDÏ: I feel like I’ve always been for the reform of law enforcement… when you grow up in it, I think a lot of people have ingrained in their brain that it just is the way it is, which is not a great way to live. I’m learning from people that have always been pro community based programs and teaching. Especially in Chicago, there’s a lot of conflicting views where the money goes towards police departments, almost half of the city’s budget is spent towards police. There was couple of years ago where they were planning on building a $90 million cop academy and everyone that I met were against it. There’s been a lot of people in Chicago that are police and law enforcement abolitionist so I’m just learning from that; it’s always been a part of my mindset but I was never actively involved. I’m trying to learn from people that have been doing it for a long time.

Last week you released the ‘Black Plight’ EP with sales raising $10,297.78 with proceeds split between eatChicago and Assata’s Daughters and 2K of the total going directly to people in the community that are in immediate need of food and housing assistance; why was it important for you to make this EP now?

NNAMDÏ: There’s a lot of anxiety going on in my mind and it was forming into physical stomach aches, everything has been piling on for a lot of people this year and like most people, I just didn’t know how to handle it. I feel like it just needed to be done, I forced myself to finish it the week that all the shit went down. I’d gone to one protest but I get a lot of anxiety in those situations. I felt this was my best opportunity to use the skills that I have to help anyone. It felt really important so I pushed myself, I went pretty deep down the rabbit hole trying to finish this; it was going to be five songs but I realised that wasn’t going to happen. I did what I could and made sure it got my point across. I think everyone should use their skills in order to help people, music is one skill that I have.

I can relate with getting anxiety when going to protests. I used to go to them all the time but it started to get so overwhelming for me to the point of panic attacks.

NNAMDÏ: It’s wild to me that so many people can just chill in that situation, there’s so many different sounds, especially in something like this protesting violence; there’s horns and people on megaphones and people honking and chanting. It’s very intense. At any moment I’d look around and be like; is this person yelling a chant or are they yelling at some other person? Or is this person honking because they’re in agreement with what’s going on or are they honking ‘cause they’re mad at something? Also, just being engulfed in a huge crowd of people is never something I’ve really been into.

Same! Was there any significance in having the first song ‘My Life’ on the EP kick off with a drumroll?

NNAMDÏ: No. Musically it just happened how it happened honestly. It all just came together. I didn’t really put that much thought into how the music was being placed or where things were going, I just did exactly what felt right to me and felt like it needed to sound like. It’s very much a projection of emotions felt at that point in time.

Last week was also your 30th birthday, Happy Birthday! What did turning 30 mean to you? Did you get reflective?

NNAMDÏ: Aww thank you! I feel like I was too distracted with everything going on in the world to care. A lot of people think of 30 as this crazy benchmark but it never really felt that way to me. It never really felt old to me. People are like, oh thirty is over the hill; but it’s never really felt that way to me at all. It’s such a crazy thing for people to think. I feel like the situation that a lot of people are in made me realise that I have it really good, I live in a comfortable house and can afford groceries. There was no room for any sort of conflict or crisis because I feel I’ve lived a very privileged life compared to a lot of people that are doing a lot worse off than I am right now. It feels the same being 30 [laughs].

I had a “milestone” birthday last year and I didn’t feel any different either, I’ve been doing all I do, things like doing interviews and making zines for over 25 years since I was fifteen and now I just feel like I do everything better than I ever have and I have a better perspective on the world and things; you can totally rule things at any age.

NNAMDÏ: Yeah, you’re kind of settled into most of the things that you’re into, there’s always room for surprises and improvement but, I feel like most people should be comfortable with themselves by this point, hopefully. Luckily I think I’ve reached that point a few years back.

Speaking of surprises, that’s something I love about your music – I love listening on headphones so I can hear everything that’s going on – there’s always so many surprises in your songs and I never know where it’s gonna go! It’s exciting.

NNAMDÏ: Thank you.

What is the importance of music and art in your life?

NNAMDÏ: It’s the most important thing, it’s pretty much all that I think about [laughs]. It’s so interesting just getting into people’s brain and witnessing the world through other people’s eyes and you can present things in whatever way you want—it’s a maximum expansion of people’s imagination and emotions. It teaches people in a way that is very different from what we learn in school and through teachers. It teaches people a different emotional connection and appreciation for humanity. It’s engulfed in everything that I think about [laughs]. It’s pretty much everything to me.

Totally! I know the feeling. Did you have a moment when you realised music is what you were meant to be doing with your life?

NNAMDÏ: Yeah, I still think I’m having that moment [laughs]. I feel anything involving entertainment, I wanted to be a comedian or actor when I was little – I still do – music has been the medium that has allowed me to express myself in the broadest form. I get real silly with it a lot, I can get real serious with it, I can also make happy fun songs. It’s allowed me to most comfortably express myself and a range that I wasn’t able to do through any other medium. It’s definitely something that I’m going to do until I can’t do it anymore.

Yay! That makes me so happy. You’ve mentioned that putting out your latest album BRAT was very therapeutic for you; how so?

NNAMDÏ: A lot of it has to do with the way I was thinking as I was going through the recording process and learning what’s really important to me. If I had to stop everything, if I couldn’t do music anymore; what’s important to me? Interestingly enough, I feel a lot of musicians are feeling that because of the [Corona]virus and not being able to tour, they have to really focus on; what will I do if I’m not working? What is the thing that actually brings me joy outside of what I have to do all of the time? It’s a lot about that. Also, realising that making art is not a selfish pursuit, even though it can feel like it when you have bigger problems in the world, it doesn’t feel like as an immediate solution. I feel like I’m constantly reminded of how important it is. It always shows itself in a different way like—no, this is important! Even after I put on the EP I’m like, OK, art is important! I don’t really need a reminder anymore but I feel any empathic artist goes through that, where they’re like; am I doing enough? Is this just gassing myself up? Does this mean anything to anyone else or am I just doing it because I want to do it? Both are important, you should do things that you want to do and do things for other people. That was a lot of what I was thinking while making this album and it helped me realise what else is important in my life. Things like making time for people that make time for me was a big thing on that record and doing whatever was in my ability to reach people.

BRAT has such a cool flow to it; how did you go about arranging the run order? Did it take you a while?

NNAMDÏ: It didn’t really take a while. The order just falls into place once there’s chunks of songs written. It wasn’t really a task it was more fun, like a Sudoku puzzle [laughs]. I feel like that’s such an important part of records, the flow of it, you can have all great songs and you can put it in a different order to have a different effect. It’s very important.

I love how with your album if you listen closely you realise that each songs is connected to the next whether in theme or sounds etc. It takes you through all these emotions and unfolds, it’s kind of like a movie in a way.

NNAMDÏ: Yeah, thank you.

In regards to BRAT I’ve read that you were stubborn in some of your decisions regarding it; what were they?

NNAMDÏ: I think I’m just stubborn in general when I’m working on my own music, that’s part of the reason I make solo music. I was in a bunch of bands for so long, and I always need an outlet to be solely in control of everything. This was the first record that I mixed with someone else, I mixed it with my bandmate – I play in this band Monobody – he has a studio, it’s where we recorded everything. I think there was a couple of moments where he wanted me to re-record a couple of things and sometimes I was like, no, we’re just going to keep it like that. Other times I was like, he’s absolutely right! I could do this better. I wasn’t stubborn the whole time [laughs] but I think it’s important to be stubborn with your art sometimes. I feel like a lot of people start a project with a specific intention in mind and then the more people they add to the mix the less their original intention shines through. I never want that to happen!

I wanted to ask you about the song ‘Really Don’t’, at the time of writing that you’ve said that you weren’t feeling that great; what was getting you down?

NNAMDÏ: [Laughs] Everything about life. Shit is hard and sad and things are fucked up a whole lot. Sometimes things feel out of your control. It was one of those times that I was in a dark place and I was letting my thoughts get the best of me.

Following that track there’s the song ‘It’s OK’ and its theme is that, it’s OK not to feel OK. That’s something I feel is important to talk about, ‘cause often people feel that they have to be happy all the time. When you are feeling down; what are the things that help you?

NNAMDÏ: Music a lot! Lately though it’s been less music and more funny shows, I watch a lot of Netflix shows, that’s been what cheers me up lately. I’m really into comedy. The beautiful thihng about comedy is that a lot of it comes from pain [laughs]. I feel that’s a good way to escape if you’re feeling down, because you can see the humour in your situation even if it’s not a humorous situation.

Where did the name of your album BRAT come from?

NNAMDÏ: It came from my brain! [laughs]. It wasn’t the original name, it wasn’t the first name that I thought of. As the songs progressed I realised that more and more songs were talking about my wants and my needs as a human… that’s where the humour comes in, I was like, all these songs are about me, me, me! I’m gonna call it BRAT [laughs].

What was the idea behind the cover image?

NNAMDÏ: That was another thing that came pretty quickly, it was the first image that came into my head when I thought of the name BRAT, me wearing a tiara on a blue background. That stuck with me through the recording of the whole album. Sometimes I’ll have an idea and it will evolve over time, it’ll be like, maybe the first idea wasn’t great but I think it’s really cool when an idea stays with you the whole time, then it’s like this is what it definitely needs to be!

One of my favourite tracks on the album is ‘Semantics’. I love how that song really builds. There’s a line in the song: fuck the world in every language…

NNAMDÏ: Yeah [laughs]. That song is like a giant puzzle. I tried to make a bunch of lines that could be perceived in different ways like, I remember I did the full line where it could mean something completely different, every syllable. It will be interesting to explain one day, maybe someone will go and digest it and be nerdy and figure out some of those lines.

You’ve set me a challenge now!

NNAMDÏ: [Laughs] Oh yeah!

Do you have a favourite track right now?

NNAMDÏ: Honestly, I like them all. I feel like they all stand on their own. The only song that isn’t meant to be a song by itself is ‘Really Don’t’. ‘Really Don’t’ without ‘It’s OK’ is complete insanity. It’s so depressing beyond the point of redemption which is not something I want to put out in the world but, the two of them together is a good combination.

Do you write songs or do something creative every day?

NNAMDÏ: Yeah, more or less. I would say I do two days of being creative and then one lazy day [laughs].

Do you find when you’re trying to have a lazy day that your brain is still thinking of creative things?

NNAMDÏ: Oh, yeah. My thoughts don’t stop. I’m still always taking notes and will write little things down, so it never really stops. I guess sometimes it’s just me trying to actively do a song.

I wanted to end by asking you a question that you asked people online not too long ago; comment one thing you’re grateful for?

NNAMDÏ: I’m really grateful for health, being healthy is a big blessings. I’m grateful for people. I feel like there’s so many beautiful people that have beautiful minds. I feel like we can do anything if we really try and that’s pretty amazing!

Please check out: NNAMDÏ bandcamp to get Black Plight EP and BRAT LP via Sooper Records. NNAMDÏ on Facebook. NNAMDÏ on Instagram.

Brisbane’s The Stress Of Leisure: “Seeing music that moves you is an incredible experience… there’s something that happens inside your head, it really shifts your way of seeing or experiencing the world.”

The Stress Of Leisure are one of Brisbane’s hidden gems of post-punk, indie, new wave excellence. Their shows are one big party, fun and engaging – frontman Ian Powne’s stage banter always witty – as are the group’s lyrics. They’ve shared the stage with Kid Congo, Dave Graney, Regurgitator, Shonen Knife, Custard and more. TSOL’s Ian and Pascalle (Burton) dropped by the Gimmie office to chat about their love of music, where the band’s been and where it’s headed next, the importance of community and artistic longevity! TSOL may very well be your new favourite band as they are ours.

Why is music important to you?

IAN: Music is important to me because I value culture in general, I’m interested in the expression of community or society. I think music is the one form I can grasp of that expression, of a place, of a time. For me, that’s from a punter’s perspective of a love of music, I get into the time and place of it and how it interacts with the environment that I’m in. On a musician level I really love the immersive experience that it gives, the physicality of the performance, of listening to the drumming or the guitars or the keyboards or whatever the thrust of the music is, I imagine myself in it—I don’t get that feeling from a lot of other art forms that’s probably why music feels, I’m moving when I say this because, it feels… I’m interacting with it on a physical level. Apart from all of that community, I get a physical response.

PASCALLE: I think I have to agree with that in terms of, when the band is playing together, something is coming together from all of us and you feel it, here [motions to heart] and here [motions to head]. It is amazing. Seeing music that moves you is an incredible experience as well because it’s not only as a live… or in a time and space that you are in and you’re being moved by it, but there’s something that happens inside your head, it really shifts your way of seeing or experiencing the world. It’s a very broad approach to why I like music, I also do the poetry stuff and often in that poetry journey when I’m making a piece, sometimes that lends itself to making soundtracks and stuff like that as well. I often think it’s a very isolating experience for me, but when we play it, it’s really a bringing together of all of us, and the audience, and all the other layers of it.

IAN: There’s great value of music in society, depending on how people value themselves, it’s always an important element that’s there. I’m involved in radio as well as being in a band, I just love… for me, because of the radio perspective but also being part of a band community it just comes back to that word of community, it’s communal, that’s what I love about it. It’s not just us it’s a whole community of people experiencing the same thing, getting a thrill from the same thing. That’s why it’s important to me because I find likeminded people that have that same communal experience as I do, that’s why I keep going back to music because it means so much more than all the other art forms.

I know that when you first started doing Stress Of Leisure stuff, around 2003, you would do it by yourself in the afternoons after work…

IAN: Yeah, I did it by myself. I actually performed at poetry gigs, it wasn’t really conventional. All the gigs I did were part of a book launch, or poetry gigs, to a lot of writers essentially [laughs]. It was just me on an acoustic guitar. There was no congruence to what the project was, how it was recorded to how it was being delivered. It was just me going, this is The Stress Of Leisure, I want to be a band but I don’t know. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the whole thing. I was just fumbling in the dark. What I know now is, I was probably aiming for that community.

PASCALLE: The collaboration.

IAN: Yes, the collaboration and being part of a gang. I had no gang it was just me.

PASCALLE: Your song writing was prolific before you even started doing gigs.

IAN: Lots of people in music produce music over a long period of time trying to discover who they are through music. They have this vision that they can never quite capture, that’s what keeps them going. They’re like, this next album is going to be great, and you do that album and it’s not quite right and they keep going…

PASCALLE: They’ve got more to do.

IAN: Yes. At that beginning stage, I’m at the beginning spot and not really having the full realisation. Starting from there I think songs had to start to live on a solo performance aspect rather than a band. A lot of them are me, me, me, Ian, Ian, Ian! That’s really what broke me in terms of wanting to get to the band level, I wanted to escape that reality [laughs]. Dave Graney maintains that if you play with an acoustic guitar you have to tell the truth, maybe that was the issue I had… if you play electric guitar you don’t have to tell the truth [laughs]. Maybe I just wanted to get from the acoustic guitar to the electric.

You mentioned that in the beginning you weren’t confident, seeing your shows now, you seem so confident, times have changed.

IAN: Yes, well that’s part of the great journey.

PASCALLE: I remember seeing you in those early days and you were terrified.

IAN: Yes. The first time I ever played in a band Pascalle was part of it, that was 2009, when we finally became a full band. That first gig was one of those Sunday afternoon Powerhouse gigs. Jo Bell who was Brispop set it up, it was in conjunction with this movie that got made, Crooked Business. One of the songs off the first album was called “Rooster” and “The Rooster” was on the Crooked Business soundtrack, Chris Nyst wrote this character that was called The Rooster. That show was our first gig and it was terrifying.

PASCALLE: There was a statement in the contract for the show that said something about delivering quality, rehearsed music, or something like that. It was really funny. I remember Ian saying something about that and thinking, oh, well we’ve gotta be pretty good then [laughs].

IAN: That really added to the terror I think. That was my first ever band performance and it was more of a relief when I finished it rather than enjoying it. The more you play, obviously the more confidence you get. The confidence thing has taken a while, also doing a radio show has helped, being jokey and thinking of stuff to say, banter.

PASCALLE: I love watching Ian perform. I have seen him from being a terrified performer to just owning what he does. It didn’t take forever but having the band to back you gives you a lot more confidence and you can have a lot more fun now.

IAN: The present makeup of the band – Jessica Moore on drums, Jane Elliot on bass, Pascalle Burton on keyboards and myself – that’s been since 2015, the longest version of The Stress Of Leisure; that in itself gives a lot of comfort. You know that we’ve played the songs and we know what we’re doing, the more you play with people the more confidence you have in stretching it out a bit and having fun. It’s not a worry to play the wrong notes, everybody is on the same page.

One of the things I love the most about when I see you play is that you look like you’re having so much fun!

IAN: Thank you, we do. There was something before that made me think of this anecdote, we play a couple of shows for Deaf QLD, we played to people that were deaf. They designed it so it had to be a place with floorboards so you could feel the vibration and interact with it, but also they had balloons for the vibration. They had a signer, we had a signer that does it for the Premier, she signed for us in those couple of gigs we did. We got asked back the second time because Karen Lantry was the CEO, she’s deaf herself and she said she liked us because we felt good! That was one of the best compliments we’ve ever had—we feel good!

PASCALLE: You don’t have to be able to hear our music to get some sense of what it’s about. As you get further into the relationship to the band you know each other better, what direction you want to go in. When we come up with new songs, if Ian’s not happy with it, he’ll put it to the side. Every song we play is fun for us, that’s an important part of it.

I read somewhere that you feel with this line-up of the band it feels more collaborative; you’re used to writing the songs yourself Ian, right?

IAN: It feels like the start of the band was 2012, in 2011 we released a song called “Sex Time” that was the first song where each element of the band is doing something to contribute to the whole. What I mean is, the guitar is doing this, the bass is doing this, the drums are doing this pattern and the keyboard is doing something… it’s not all the same note. It’s not all coming in and the drums are fitting in with it, I’s not C, G, C, F, G… everything is playing something different. If you took one of the elements out, it doesn’t work, you have to have all of those four elements; that was the genesis to where we are now. It’s like early DEVO where their sound sounds a lot bigger because all the elements fit together, once you take one of those elements out there’s something missing…

PASCALLE: There’s a gap.

IAN: Yes, from there, that was what started the spirit of collaboration. The Cassowary album had a few collaborative songs, from then on I wanted the band to be more collaborative. The last album, half the songs are written by the band and the other half by me. I think the best music is created when people work together and contribute different ideas, it’s not about one person, it’s about interaction. It makes for a more interesting dynamic.

I love working with other people, because often someone will have a totally different idea that you might not have ever thought of.

IAN: Yes. I think you tend to devalue your own stuff. Some of your own stuff might go, oh it’s like this, then someone else will go, “That’s great, we should do something with that.” You can come up with an accidental pop song or something accidental that you never would of thought because you had that collaborative model.

How important are lyrics to you? Often your songs seem really fun and humorous but when you look deeper there’s a lot more going on.

IAN: Getting back to the philosophy of lyrics, the intent behind it is the important thing I think. People enter music for a whole lot of reasons, whether they want to be famous, whether they want to make a lot of money, whether they want to have sex with a lot of people, or they just want to sound like their favourite band, there’s another element which comes into it which is a certain ideology, you have a certain ideology you’re pushing… I think that’s where I think I’m focused with a lyric. I have a little bit of history in that my first degree was in Marketing, I’m fascinated by advertising. My fascination is that I see it as a monster, I see it as what’s behind the whole ills of our society at the moment. You see this constant sort of hyper-consumerist cycle which we’re all part of and enjoy to a certain extent. I think that’s the kind of conflict that I find in the world, being made to feel that we’re not quite enough. That’s what advertising does—you could be a whole lot better than you are. That’s the driving ideology of our music and a lot of what capitalist society is pushing. The whole album Achievement was so tongue-in-cheek about that. Aim high, get high. No Idea is the new idea. “Girl On A Lilo” is an acronym for GOAL [laughs].

PASCALLE: The reason I was very happy to be a part of the band was the lyrics, I think they’re fantastic. One of the things I appreciate about Ian is that he will get all those ideologies but put them in a certain kind of a snapshot of a narrative, he’s a storyteller. He doesn’t just spell it out for people, we have to get the ideologies from the story. I think it’s always fun.

IAN: Yeah, it’s not straight forward it’s metaphoric. A whole lot of stuff is going on. That’s why I got away from that stuff of me on guitar, me, me, me, I, I, I! A little bit of earnest and feelings and stuff. No more feelings in terms of me, it’s feelings about the community. There’s a little bit of me but it’s going more towards an ideological approach, we’re writing from the perspective that we’re told we’re not good enough. That’s’ where “the stress of leisure” is! [laughs].

PASCALLE: When we rehearse – there’s not too many people that can probably improvise over music but Ian does – he generates words easily off the top of his head. A lot of times we’ll be working on a song, and I’m glad we record a lot of the rehearsals because there will be a line that comes out that will be really good.

IAN: Some lyrics are easy but a lot are hard. I put them off for a long time and just revel in the thought of what it is. I’ll be like, ‘This is a great song but it doesn’t have any words yet’ [laughs], one day it will have words. That’ll be the boring part because I’ll have to sit down and really work at it. I really love the thought of the song before it gets to the lyrics, the lyrics are usually the last part of the song. A lot of the time we have unfinished songs, often they won’t be finished and we’ll play them live and I’ll just be improvising words. I’m just saying stuff but not saying anything. I’m just finishing off words. You think I’m saying a sentence but I’m not. [Laughs].

PASCALLE: There was one song that we were playing on the Regurgitator tour that was unwritten at that point and Greg Jard who does the sound – he was really great in giving us life experience of being on the road – in a soundcheck we decided we wanted to do this unwritten song and Ian who going “blah, blah blah” whatever over the music and Greg was like, “I can’t hear what you’re saying, you’ve gotta pronounce your words.” Ian was like, “It hasn’t been written yet!” [laughs].

You mentioned before that you studied marketing, I know at the start of The Stress Of Leisure you didn’t do much promotion; was that intentional?

IAN: It was just confidence really, and not having a band and not being confident, as a solo thing it didn’t really fit. I had friends that helped me out, who were really great in encouraging me but it wasn’t an easy fit because they didn’t live close to me. I didn’t have any idea of how it would happen until I started getting gigs.

PASCALLE: I sometimes say to Ian, you have a Marketing degree surely you would know what would make us better known!

IAN: When it comes to the business side of things…

PASCALLE: He hates it!

IAN: Yeah, I really hate it but it’s so important as an independent musician that you have to be across it. I find that when I’m working with other people and helping them…

PASCALLE: He’s a champion!

IAN: I know what to do and can hook them up with the right people; the networking brain comes on. Whereas the networking brain for myself is, ‘we’re just chumps don’t worry about us!’ I’d probably talk us down or not even talk about us. I’m just happy to meet people on whatever terms that may be.

PASCALLE: I think Ian has an idea that he would like everything to happen organically. This has happened. Our experience so far has been organic. You meet people, like we met Ben Ely (Regurgitator) and you just become friends with each other. It’s a nice feeling because it feels authentic. Whereas the rest of the machine of promotion doesn’t seem like it’s authentic, you have to work it and schmooze and all of that. I don’t think anyone in our band wants to do that! [laughs].

IAN: When people start talking industry stuff with us… when people suggest, “oh, you should tour with that band” and we’re like, we don’t have anything in common with that band, that would be horrible! We’ve only toured with bands we like, Custard, Regurgitator, Dave Graney and we’ve played with The Gin Club. That keeps it positive! It’s kept it on a level. If you start getting into the industry side of things… there’s always been a mercenary aspect to it, but when it becomes too focused on what someone in the industry thinks, it’s horrible—nobody really knows! [Laughs].

PASCALLE: It’s a challenge because there’s that part of putting yourself forward and saying we have a good band and want to play… and if we don’t, it’s almost apologising for what we do—I don’t like that either. I like the idea of standing by what we do. There’s a fine line of selling out and kissing arse…

IAN: The facts are you have to sell what you do, there’s no way around it. You have to get out there, say you’re great and that you can play.

I was really stoked for you guys when you got to play with Kid Congo!

PASCALLE: Oh my god! That was the best! It was so fun!

IAN: That was a nice feeling because they had been told about us. Before we played with them in Brisbane they told us that they were told to check us out! That was the best thrill. Meeting Kid was amazing! He told us that someone in the band, The Scientists, told him to check us out. I was like, really?! Dave Graney and Clare Moore are big supporters of us too, I’m sure they probably mention us too. They played with the Pink Tiles girls, we know them too… there’s always lovely connections. In the real world you have people talking about you, that’s what good managers do, they set it up for the band to succeed; we don’t have anybody like that though. We don’t have the hype machine.

PASCALLE: It was such an amazing show! They were such lovely people, great people. I love that when it comes along, that people you admire are also really nice.

I know that feeling, Kid was really lovely to me too. We met him after his show and he remembered the interview he did with me. People do a lot of interviews so the fact that he remembered it was nice. That was such a heavy week, my father passed away, seeing Kid Congo play on the beach in my town really helped. I guess rock n roll really does have power.


It was a really special show for me, it reminded me that there still are good things in the world. At the time I was really struggling, but seeing Kid up there in his sequinned cape play music really helped and brought me back to life.

IAN: That’s one of the great things about playing in bands, you get to meet other people and you get to see their world. You can touch it, it’s as easy as that. People have worked hard to get where they are.

I love such a variety of music. I love moving between the different worlds and maybe seeing something I love in one world and taking it to a new world and giving it a new interpretation and life.

PASCALLE: With my keyboard lines, not that you would say they sound like it, but I will see a band and go, I love what they did with that sound and I’ll see what would happen if I brought it to a synthesizer. We have a new song called “Beat The Tension” it doesn’t sound like it but it’s completely inspired by Xylouris White, Jim White and George Xylouris new band. We saw them play Woodford [Folk Festival] and they were just so inspirational. There was a song they were playing and I remember thinking that I really want to bring that into the synthesizer. I often do that, the last line I came up with that Ian liked was…

IAN: Was that from a Crete Lute? [laughs].

PASCALLE: “Beat The Tension” was basically something that George was playing.

IAN: I’ll have to listen to that line again and think of Crete [laughs]. This is what’s good about collaboration.

PASCALLE: Jane Elliot is a classically trained musician. I often play really discordant lines and you just see her face go, argh, do you have too? [laughs]. She’ll come around to it eventually. She’s like, “You can’t play a B flat with that!”

I love when people make things that sound different and that breaks rules. I find often people are like, I love this band and I love this other band because they sound just like the other band I like; people are often limited in the things they like.

IAN: It’s like the sound de jour is everywhere and you want to escape the sound de jour ‘cause you now things are already turning.

Things always work in cycles and often if something’s been popular for a while, the next thing that’s popular is the opposite. How do you guys inspire each other?

IAN: I’m restless creativity, so scientifically I tell everyone we’re coming up with new songs, bring ideas. Once you get everyone together you can try your idea and your idea together and see if they work, or go with one idea. The first couple of ideas we come up with after having a bit of a break, are really electric! There’s something about it, they really work. There’s a science. Everyone gets energized by it, that’s what keeps us bubbling along. If you’re playing the same set all the time it can get a little tough. Coming up with new stuff is important, it’s like regrowth.

PASCALLE: There was a time when you’d make mixtapes for us. You’d be like, “I think the album is going to take these kinds of sounds in.” We’d listen to that and come up with ideas. That was really good.

IAN: We’ve all got different ideas. We work with titles. “Achievement” was the overall title and we worked towards that. If I can just coast on the top of all the other ideas [laughs] that’s a perfect scenario, I can come in and my guitar can just fit amongst everything that’s already laid out.

PASCALLE: That’s what I’m thinking too! [laughs]. I’m just like, ‘You just all do your thing, I’ll work myself into the space’. We’re all probably thinking the same thing! We live together, Ian is always playing constantly, he has guitars in several rooms. He’ll just pick one up and start riffing on something.

IAN: I’m mainly just playing scales and stuff

PASCALLE: That’s not true [laughs]. You play all the time and I find that inspiring. I think, ‘wow! He’s so dedicated’ [laughs].

IAN: I like to work out corny songs like “Under The Bridge” (Red Hot Chilli Peppers) or “Money For Nothing” (Dire Straits) [laughs]. I look up guitar tablature online. You get ideas form everywhere. You go into somebody’s song book and you cop a few of their moves and you see if some of those moves work in another context. It’s important to keep ideas coming, that’s what gives the band sense of purpose. That’s what can be troublesome for some people in the industry, they get in this cycle of, they’ve got this album and they’re still on the same album… you need the regrowth, you need to burn that and grow something new! You might get a lot of satisfaction out of the live moment, but you keep needing to move forward creatively. We’re in a position where we can, and we do.

I know that TSOL is working on new stuff; how far are you into that?

IAN: We’ve tried four songs out live, we’re happy with how they worked and how they felt. We’re kind of road testing things a bit more than we have. We’ve probably got another four on top of that…

PASCALLE: That made the cut, we have more songs on top of that.

IAN: We’re pretty harsh judges…

PASCALLE: He’s the harshest! [laughs].

IAN: Out of twenty ideas, maybe six work. If you’re going to be playing them a lot you want to make sure they tick all the boxes going forward. Will they fit the album? How fun will they be to play? If you play it live and someone goes, “I really like that new song of yours,” you remember that and go tick.

TSOL used to wear matching outfits but you’ve moved away from that and want no rules; what was the thought behind wearing matching outfits? Is it ‘case you’re a gang?

IAN: Yeah! [laughs].

PASCALLE: I think when we didn’t have a unified uniform our clothes were really shooting off in different tangents, we wanted to be a gang. We had a winter and an autumn palette. We played at Girls Rock Camp and we were wearing our autumn look and after our set they threw it to the audience to ask questions… one of the questions was; would you ever think of wearing a uniform?

IAN: This ten-year-old girl smashed us [laughs]. It takes a 10-year-old girl to go, “Hang on, your idea is not defined enough” [laughs]. That’s the focus group we needed to have.

PASCALLE: Jane actually answered the question and said, “We’re actually wearing it right now.” Then from that point we thought, if we really want to get across the message that we’re a gang we probably have to start wearing the exact same thing, so that’s where that came from.

IAN: A lot of bands that stick in your psyche have a look. We choose a very simple look.

You guys had the shirt that said “Product”.

PASCALLE: We liked the idea of that one, we just used t-shirt transfers. We also wore shirts from Seth Bogart’s label Wacky Wacko.

“100% Fruit”?

PASCALLE: Yeah. We also wore a condom shirt, it’s just a shirt that has a whole heap of condoms on it. A lot of people didn’t realise they were condoms, they’d come up to us and go, “Oh, you look so great!” [laughs].

IAN: We played with Regurgitator throughout August last year and that gave us time to reflect…

PASCALLE: Are we ready to go beyond that uniform?

IAN: Yes. We’d been doing this for a while. Pascalle and I were having a chat whether we liked the uniforms or not and what the idea might be going forward. I don’t know where the tipping point was. We just wear what we want just as long as we’ve got a style that meshes.

PASCALLE: The point of agreement was, the idea of wearing lots of clashing patterns instead of block colours; it sets up a challenge for everyone to find something that’s bold.

IAN: We just didn’t want to be, wear whatever you want… come out in a Freddo t-shirt…

PASCALLE: And jeans…

IAN: Yeah, black jeans or something.

PASCALLE: We want to elevate it a little bit. Not too comfortable.

IAN: The band uniform was to distinguish us in the crowd. I’m noticing a lot more bands, a lot more younger bands, doing the uniform. I like it. Now we’re moving beyond though.

Do you have any themes you’ve been writing to for the new material you’re working on?

IAN: We had a title, but I can’t really giving it out and jinx us. There’s no overriding theme other than we’re continuing on from Eruption Bounce. Eruption Bounce was the first album where we were all together, recorded, toured it, I want the same thing to happen with this one. It’s like Part two of this line-up. This album and the last should sit beside each other as companion pieces. The songs are different obviously, the song structures with the last album were kind of tight whereas this one is a bit more elastic. The influences are a little bit more, Eruption Bounce was more American post-punk, this new one is a bit more English post-punk.

PASCALLE: A little more like The Fall.

IAN: Yeah, there’s more ranting in there. It’s more collaborative than ever, so it’s probably going a lot more weirder and some of it’s going more poppy.

PASCALLE: It’s fun, I like what we’re doing. Now is a really fun time in the making of it.

IAN: We sit down to write songs together…

PASCALLE: Then there’s fighting [laughs]…

IAN: Couples must fight, that’s how it works [laughs]. When I write with Pascalle it usually hardens my reserve as to where the song will go, it’s very helpful, even though it must be very frustrating for Pascalle a times.

PASCALLE: Again, it’s another way to work out of you knowing the songs more, what works, what’s easier.

IAN: Yes, Pascalle is a springboard into being productive, essentially. There won’t be anything out this year [2019] but hopefully next year.

PASCALLE: We have some unreleased songs we might put out in the meantime.

IAN: There’s about seven songs we might do a digital release for. We have to get them mixed.

What are you both listening to at the moment? What’s exciting to you?

IAN: Because I do a radio show I’m always listening to stuff [Brighten The Corners on 4ZZZ FM]. I’m not talking whole bands or anything, I’m hearing ideas; I’ll be listening to bands and hearing ideas that I like. There’s a whole lot of stuff.

PASCALLE: We’ve been to a lot of the same gigs; Nun is amazing. We saw a band supporting Angel Olsen in Seattle called, Hand Habits, that were great. I’m stuck on that Destroyer album, Ken, it’s a beautiful album. There’s a few song that if I’m feeling down I’ll go to straight away like a Bonnie Prince Billy song.

IAN: I’m really impressed with Tropical Fuck Storm. It’s a great capture of their band’s name what they do. The lyrical depth and breadth of what Gareth Liddiard does is probably…. I have a different style but I can see a similarity with how he approaches… I’m not as dystopian as that. There’s a lot of inspiration in the way that he attacks it. Nun for the energy, Jenny [Branagan]’s performance, and just the clever way that music interacts. I’m always inspired by seeing older musicians play! Seeing someone like Neneh Cherry play, they don’t get worse, they get better! People that keep playing, I get inspired by that… they describe it as heritage acts…


IAN: Yeah, they call someone like Ed Kuepper a heritage act.

PASCALLE: That’s what Australia is like, it dismisses older acts.

IAN: I’m inspired by the facet of how people just stick with it, work with it and get better. You see Kim Salmon, Dave Graney and Ed Kuepper, any of the older artists…

PASCALLE: Even though they’re not that old, bands like Regurgitator and Custard, still producing really great music.

IAN: I think that’s the big thing that Australia misses, it’s so catered to the youth market, which fits in with that hyper-consumerist model, churn out the new act… but there’s really a depth to our scene. Because there’s not a big demographic of support, due to the bean counters, there’s that lost scene. That’s what I see as a big opportunity for Australia to embrace more of their older musicians rather than just the young ones, which is what a lot of industry effort goes into. I get inspired by longevity essentially, in whatever form. Bands that stick together and keep playing is inspiring.

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