We love 1-800-Mikey the lo-fi bedroom garage punk project of Eora/Sydney musician Michael Barker, who also plays in the live line-ups of R.M.F.C. and Gee Tee. Latest album Plushy is “for all the cuties”, sunny, full of infectious hooks and features Kel from Gee Tee and Tee Vee Repairman (Ishka) sharing drumming duties. If you want an album to make you smile and brighten your day—this is it! We spoke to Mikey and got an insight into his super kawaii world.
How did you discover music?
MIKEY: I was initially introduced to music by my dad. As a young boy he would always be buying CDs and would crank rock n roll and blues through the sound system he had. Once I was a bit older the internet was my gateway to music. That’s when it took over my life.
You’re from a musical family, your dad sang in a band in the 60s; tell us about that. A couple of years back you came across photos of him singing in Chile, right?
M: Yea, that’s right! My mother and I were cleaning the garage out and she handed me these photos of my dad when he was about 18. I had no idea that he was in a band and so I was literally speechless seeing these photos for the first time. I really wish I knew more about this, he passed away when I was in high school, but it’s really awesome to know that were more similar than I thought.
When did you first start making music? Who or what initially encouraged you to give it a go yourself?
M: I started making music in 2014 when I was in year 11. I started to get into garage rock and I found this band called Surf Curse on Bandcamp, which then led me to find the lead singers solo project Tele/visions which is now more commonly known as Current Joys. I was absolutely obsessed with Nick Rattigan and he did everything at home with whatever he had lying around. This convinced me if he could do it then I could as well. From there I started to find more artists with the same ethos and thanks to Bandcamp I found further inspiration from Frankie Cosmos, Alex G and Porches who all did it themselves.
You have a prized possession in an original art work drawn and painted by outsider, lo-fi musician Daniel Johnston; is he an inspiration for you? I feel 1-800-Mikey has some of the innocence, charm and playful qualities that DJ has?
M: Yes absolutely! I’m so grateful to own one of his drawings and I have to thank my partner who got it for my birthday. He is a massive inspiration, especially how his family didn’t approve of him being an artist, that really hit home. His story is really special and it makes me so happy knowing he just went for it because he loved it. His work definitely seeps through my creative process, I really love his honesty and simplicity. He’s an absolute legend. RIP Daniel ❤
Have you always lived in Eora/Sydney? How did you find your local music scene? When you were under 18 it was hard for you to find shows to go to, so you and your friends would have house shows or warehouse shows, didn’t you?
M: Yea, I’ve always lived in western Sydney my whole life and it was very hard finding a scene not living close to the city. I found that I never sat comfortably within a scene until just recently. It felt like I was jumping around scenes when I was younger which wasn’t bad at the time but it feels really nice to know I have a family and am part of a community now. The first show I played was a gig at my mother’s house in Blacktown. It was heaps random and we had friends from high school come around. Shortly after I played a show at the MCA for an all ages event where I met more people who would then introduce me to other warehouse/house shows happening in the inner west. To be honest, there weren’t to many DIY shows, but when they did happen it was super exciting, even still to this day.
What are the local bands you super love?
M: Two underrated bands in Sydney that I love to death are Shady Nasty and Cakewalk. Shady Nasty have been around for ages and they sound completely different to everything else that’s happening. They have gone through many different sounds and I love it all, especially their punk stuff. Definitely keep your ears and eyes out for Shady Nasty. Cakewalk is also another band I love who are super low-key and barely play any shows. They are another super interesting band who are doing something different who I encourage everyone to go and check out.
You’ve previously been in bands Bleeding Knees Club, Wax Witches, Neighbourhood Void and Dying Adolescence; can you tell us a little about your experience in each?
M: Dying Adolescence was my first project which I started in high school. This was my bedroom pop project and kind of like a diary where I wrote and recorded everything.
Neighbourhood Void was the sister band to Dying Adolescence and that is led by Gio. I did some of the writing and recording here and there for NV but it was mainly Gio’s project.
I played lead guitar in Wax Witches and Bleeding Knees Club and it was thanks to these two bands I got to play heaps of shows and tour Australia straight out of high school. I cant thank Alex enough for giving me the opportunity to do that.
Your album Please Be Kind for previous project Dying Adolescence was about all the things that affected you and that you experienced in adolescence. 1-800-Mikey is your next musical chapter. What’s the new album Plushy about? Tell us about the writing process. It seems as though ‘cute (kawaii)’ is a theme running throughout?
M: I wanted to do something fun and less serious with 1-800-Mikey. The new album Plushy is a collection of everything I love since childhood and its nothing too serious. I really like all things cute and kawaii, so it made sense to me to make an album with these themes.
What inspired the song ‘Plushy’ that the album is titled after?
M: I guess I’ve heard lots of other songs based upon different perspectives from the songwriter and so I wanted to give it a go. During the time of writing, I was obsessed with claw machines which led me to the idea. I thought it would be cool to write a song from the perspective of a plush toy. I was surrounded by plushys from all the winnings I made from claw machines. After writing the song, I thought it would be the album title as it draws a clear line from the EP I did with the song claw machine.
Song ‘Pressure’ is about working 9 to 5; what do you do for a day job? Do you find it a challenge to work a day job and play music?
M: I currently work at Relationships Australia as a Client Services Officer. I’m on the phones all day and I help people book in counselling or mediation when they are seeking support. I have always worked at a call centre which made me name the project 1-800-Mikey. I sometimes find it difficult working full time and playing music but my colleagues and managers find it really cool so they are heaps supportive and flexible about the whole thing.
One of our favourite songs on the record is ‘Snoopy’; what’s your connection to Charles M. Schulz’s loveable cartoon beagle?
M: Oh man Snooooopy <3. My mother loves Snoopy. She would always get me Peanuts pyjamas, t-shirts and toys as a kid. He’s an absolute cutie and I wish Snoopy was mine.
Kel from Gee Tee plays drums on five of the tracks and Tee Vee Repairman (Ishka) plays drums on two; what does each of their styles add to the songs? How do they differ?
M: Both of them are killer drummers. I’d say they are both quite similar but Kel’s got more of that budget home-style sound while Ishka’s got more of a tight garage sound. I reckon Kel adds more of a groove to the songs while Ishka drives the songs forward. Both of them are amazing and I thank them for helping me ❤
What was the recording process for the album? Kel lent you a 4-track, right? What was the setup for recording?
M: Kel lent me a 4-track in 2020 to record the EP. I’ve never recorded to tape before so it was a new way to get obsessed with recording again. After finishing the EP I got myself a 4-track for Christmas. The general setup is to record everything on tape then bounce it to GarageBand and complete the song there. It really makes recording drums a breeze.
Who’s in the 1-800-Mikey live band?
M: At the moment the live band consists of Kel, Buz and Rohan. Kel is Gee Tee, Buz is RMFC and Rohan plays in a Grindcore and Hardcore band called Maggot Cave and Seethin. They are all sweethearts and I’m super lucky to have them in the live band.
On your Insta a few months back you sang your first song in Japanese ‘Iggy Pop Fanclub’ by Number Girl; what inspired it?
M: Ahhh yes, I got obsessed with Number Girl and the lead singer’s second project Zazen Boys. I find that I get obsessed with different pockets of music around the world and so I wanted to little Insta cover. I’ve never sang in another language and I really love the melody to that Number Girl song so I gave it a go. It’s also motivating to see another Asian make rock music. Shutoku Mukai looks like a normal and nerdy guy and that is very relatable, which is heaps nice.
You look like you had a lot of fun making the video for ‘Claw Machine’; what was one of the most fun or funny things that happened making it?
M: Yea, that was a really spontaneous one. Me and my long time friend Gio went into the city on a Thursday night to film a music video at the claw machines in Chinatown. The idea was that I’d leave with heaps of plushys as I would always win a couple. But this time around, I went in and I won nothing which was pretty funny as Gio didn’t believe I was heaps good at the claw. Also, the shop owner wasn’t impressed with us filming there after an hour or two. She asked if we wanted to continue filming that we would have to pay her. By this point we had enough footage so we bounced.
You’ve recently joined the live lineup of R.M.F.C. playing a 12-string guitar; what’s the best thing about being part of R.M.F.C.?
M: I’ve never played 12-string before so that’s been very exciting. I’m very honoured to be able to play in Buz’s band. I think the best thing about being a part of R.M.F.C. is that I can pick Buz’s brain when learning his songs. It’s very inspiring to see how he writes songs and composes melodies.
What’s next in the pipeline for you creatively?
M: I’m definitely gonna have a little break while Gee Tee and R.M.F.C. are getting busy. I’ll be writing songs again soon, so keep an eye out. Also, I might be joining another band, which will be a secret for now.
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
M: I encourage everyone to stay true to who they are and do what they believe is right. Love Mikey.