Kim Salmon: “In the creative process you do have to look inside of yourself and express things that are at the heart of you, which by their nature is primal”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Melbourne-based musician Kim Salmon has been creating art and music his whole life, over six decades. He tells engaging stories with both his visual art and musical endeavours. His work is passionate, adventurous, compelling, thought sparking and journey making. Each time he creates something, he starts from scratch and has an aversion to the formulaic. Gimmie had a thoughtful chat with Kim about his work, creativity, the new Surrealists’ double LP Rantings From The Book Of Swamp and of a new Scientists record that’s done!

How was your morning walk?

KIM SALMON: [Laughs] I’m still on my walk! I can walk and talk.

Have you always been a walker?

KS: No, I used to swim because I’ve got a dodgy back and years ago a doctor told me that it was the best thing to do, but you can’t really swim in these days so I try and stay in shape by walking—I’m trying to stay alive basically.

Besides the fitness aspect of it, do you get anything else out of it?

KS: Yeah. They’ve restricted it now, down here [in Melbourne], you can go a radius of five kilometres from your house. There’s plenty of stuff to see, I’m getting to know a lot of it. I did this crazy thing at the start of all this lockdown stuff, somebody gave me these postcards that were blank, the idea was to do little paintings on them. I thought, yeah, I’m never going to do that! Suddenly, I have all the time in the world and I started sending people little paintings in watercolour of these things that are around Northcote; things like little garden cherubs and strange looking topiary and bizarre things that you don’t usually notice when you’re walking around. When you do it every day, you see lurid detail.

Art by Kim Salmon

Nice! I love being out in nature. I walk around my neighbourhood a lot.

KS: It’s nice to do that. We’re near Merri Creek and Darebin Creek, those are nice walks to go on very close to nature, you wouldn’t think you were anywhere near a city.

What do you love about painting?

KS: I’ve always done it. Music was kind of like a highjack for me [laughs]. I’ve always loved painting. I was studying it but then I dropped out of art school and became a musician, which is the biggest cliché out; isn’t it? [laughs].

It’s all creativity! I’ve seen some of your paintings and really love them. There’s this one that’s a bedroom scene.

KS: I did that one when I was about sixteen.

Do you remember painting it?

KS: Oh, yeah. There’s a piano in it.

What’s the significance of the piano?

KS: It was in my room, that was my bedroom, that was basically it. There’s a pair of clogs in the middle of the floor because it was the ‘70s and people were wearing platform shoes, often clogs, that was a thing!

Did you learn to play piano before you learnt to play guitar?

KS: No, I persuaded my mum to buy the piano because she had learnt piano as a child and I wanted to maybe take it up, I thought I might learn some piano. I could already play the guitar. I figured out a few chords and had a muck around on it but I never really developed any real techniques for playing the piano.

Art by Kim Salmon

When you dropped out of art school that would have been around ’76? That was around the time you got into music more and you had the punk band the Cheap Nasties, right?

KS: That’s exactly right [laughs].

What attracted you to proto-punk and punk music?

KS: I was looking for my own thing, if you know what I mean? I had just met Dave Faulkner and some of his friends. I was hanging out with them and each of those blokes seemed to have a thing they were into. Dave was into Bob Dylan and Randy Newman, lyrically driven stuff; a lot of America stuff like Cosby, Stills, Nash & Young, that kind of thing. I didn’t really have a thing, my taste was really eclectic, I liked a lot of stuff, like King Crimson and a bit of prog and a bit of folk, there wasn’t really any kind of theme to it. I used to devour those trade weeklies like New Musical Express and Melody Maker. One day I saw an article about CBGB and the scene there attracted me, it was the way that the writer described everything, a netherworld full of people wearing leather jackets. It all sounded so different to everything where I was in Perth.

I read that from that article you went to track down some punk records and you came across The Modern Lovers?

KS: Yeah. I went on a quest to find what punk was! [laughs]. It was a word that was bandied about in the articles but we couldn’t work out what it was. The Stooges were mentioned, the Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls, I went looking for them all. I’d never heard of The Modern Lovers but I found them. It didn’t matter if they were punk or not as far as I was concerned, I loved it, so that was going to be punk to me!

Is there anything from the punk music community that you were involved with early on that was valuable that you learnt from it?

KS: A lot of friends I’m still friends with. That’s probably it you know, the people that I became friends with and still keep in touch with. [Laughs] It’s as simple as that really. We’ve all moved on along our travels, musically or in our career.

Why do you like making things?

KS: Good question! Why do people do that? [laughs]. So they can stay around after they’ve gone. It’s a way of communicating, it’s a way of being present in the world. For me I couldn’t explain it at all, I paint and draw because it gives me pleasure and I want to do it, it’s the same with music. Music is just another form of painting to me; I’m painting when I’m making music, if that makes any sense?

It does. What do you value as an artist?

KS: Some kind of originality if that’s even possible. I think everyone is unique and everyone is universal at the same time; it’s a strange thing that we can express some universal ideas through your own uniqueness.

It seems like throughout your career you haven’t ever really been motivated by money, it’s more about the process and making things.

KS: Oh yes, unfortunately for me and those around me [laughs]. Money doesn’t really drive me, money is a means to an end… it’s numbers, I don’t have anything against maths [laughs], it’s not really what drives me. Even in school, I was good at maths as far as the abstractness of it went but when it came down to arithmetic, I was hopeless [laughs]. I was good at geometry and trigonometry, I was OK with them things but… look, I think I lost ten grand in a bank I worked in one day! I’m not good at numbers.

Previously you’ve said that when you want to create something you need focus; what kinds of things do you do to help focus?

KS: It’s different for every particular endeavour. I’m one of those people that sometimes needs to set something up or I will sit around not doing anything forever [laughs]… out of inertia and fear, I suppose. Once I get going the inertia is there and I guess I keep going… it’s a big one for me. Like this pandemic, I think I’m OK, it’s kind of forced me to do something. I try. I stare at a blank piece of paper. I go down to the art shop and buy myself some nice inks and watercolours and then I come home and stare at the paper for weeks on end and finally I do something. Once it’s started I just go where the paints flows [laughs].

What kinds of things have you been painting lately?

KS: The last thing I painted was… I don’t know what you’d call it? It could be molecular size or nebula size. It’s these organic forms that I made up. I got this stuff that’s like masking tape but it’s like glue, you squirt it on the paper, it’s nice and blue and pretty and you can see where it is. You can do a painting with it and then paint over that and then you rub it all off and it leaves a white area. I did this thing that’s kind of inspired by a book of art forms in nature, done by one of those 19th Century scientist, philosopher-types who believed… it’s a book of drawings and diagrams of one-cell creatures like jellyfish and bats, birds and fungus. His point was that there are all these beautiful, symmetrical forms in nature and there was art at work.

It was my girlfriend Maxine who looked at one of my paintings with the masking thing and she came upon this book and ordered it for me. One day it showed up in the mail from New Zealand, she had to tell me it was for me [laughs]. I looked at this book and it inspired me. I put all this glue stuff over the canvas, it’s pretty big, maybe a metre across. I used a vivid ink. I just let it run and mix and carry on and paint forms around the masking material. I was really happy with what it ended up as, I couldn’t tell you what it was though [laughs]. I could see some strange monstrous forms, but I think they’re kind of beautiful. You can’t tell if it’s in deep space or at a microscopic level. It could be anything really!

Art by Kim Salmon

I can’t wait to see it. I hope you have another art exhibition.

KS: One day! If we come out of lockdown. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of Covid art out there! [laughs].

That’s OK though! When you talk about making art, I feel like it brings you so much joy!

KS: Oh absolutely! It really takes you somewhere. You really have a conversation with the paint and the paper and the canvas and the ink. It sounds a bit mad but I definitely finds it leads me somewhere—it’s quite an enchanted place.

You mentioned the book you got recently and that the guy that made it was into philosophy; do you get into much philosophy or anything like that?

KS: I try to, but I haven’t really made a big study of that. There’s so many things that I might do. There’s a lot of people around that time, when religion was being challenged by science. There were some shaman and crazy people and frauds and con-artists out there like Gurdjieff and Madame Blavatsky and Rudolph Steiner… I guess Steiner wasn’t really a con-artist, but what I mean is there were a lot of ideas out there being explored. It was an interesting time.

Are you a spiritual person at all?

KS: Not in any formal religious kind of way, no. I suppose everyone says they’re spiritual. I don’t know that my way of being that would seem particularly spiritual to someone else. I have my music and art and I guess that’s my spirituality really. I’m probably more scientific if anything about those things.

Why did you feel it was time to make a new Surrealists’ album?

KS: It has a funny story. The Surrealists have been playing forever, particularly this line-up, we always enjoyed playing, never rehearse, just play a gig every now and then. I thought the band deserved more than a few hundred bucks from just playing a gig, you can only do some many shows, we got a show before lockdown and I got this bright idea that we would do a show that was completely improvised and we’d record it, that would be the draw card for the show. It was Phil [Collings] the drummer’s idea actually to do a completely live album. I thought if you’re a band recording you need to have songs and stuff; how do you do that like that? Over the years I’d write lyrical things into my books that I’d read the lyrics out of but I hadn’t used them yet so I thought I’d use them, that’s what they were for this album.

We had the gig booked and lockdown occurred. We had to postpone it. A film producer that had done the Scientists… actually Scientists actually have an album in the can would you believe!

That’s great news!

KS: It’s on a US label, so who knows when that will come out. We did a film clip for the new album and he approached me about taking this idea that I had into a recording studio and it being streamed. We wanted it set up with lots of cameras in a proper studio, we eventually got that happening. We called it Rantings From The Book Of Swamp, basically because that’s what it is; it’s me singing things out of my books to have lyrical content to the things we were making up.

How did you feel in the moment when you were making it?

KS: Terrified!

Really?!

KS: Yeah, because when you do something like that… we all had ideas but didn’t consult with each other, we thought we’d just be able to flesh them out. Nothing went the way at the time that I thought it would go. Everything felt like it went wrong! It was about an hour’s worth of “oh no” and trying to fix it up. Stu [Thomas] felt the same. Phil was just eating it up, you could tell he was having the best time of his life [laughs].

It was done over two sessions, I couldn’t be convinced that it was any good. I thought, nah, that’s it, I’ve blown it! They said “no, no, it’s good!” I didn’t believe them. I ended up looking at it and thinking, nah, OK, that’s good. You can see Stu and I really concentrating and trying to make it work, and that’s what made it good, we thought about it every second of the way.  It was the most switched on I’ve ever been.

I remember hearing you mention a little ways back that it’s been a long journey and process for you to get comfortable with lots of things, being on stage, stuff like that; was there something that changed that made you feel more comfortable?

KS: I couldn’t tell you the answer to that. At some point now I couldn’t imagine being uncomfortable but I was. I’ve heard recordings of those times and I’m still the same person… that’s probably what was good about this last recording, it probably brought me back out of my comfort zone into somewhere strange, I think that’s what happens… things that aren’t in your comfort zone, as long as you can move out of them and explore them, eventually you’ll become comfortable with them. I think that’s the process. In a way this particular album is good because it’s a reminder of not being comfortable, of being lost [laughs]. I think there’s actually something good about being lost and not knowing what you’re doing.

It’s so cool that with all of your projects and records that the new one is a reaction to the previous one and you always evolve to do something different.

KS: Yeah, I think you have to do it. I remember Tex Perkins used to say the same thing too. He’d say that things do tend to be a reaction to what I’ve done before. I’m not alone in that. It’s probably a little bit more extreme in my case for some reason [laughs]. I’m a bit more of a random nut job! [laughs].

You mentioned that making the new record was terrifying but; what made it fun for you?

KS: That same thing! I look back and think it was terrifying but, in a good way. I can hear myself there and everyone that was watching it online can see me, I was making a joke out of it and trying to spin a yarn out of it [laughs], weaving a narrative.

Do you think you use your humour to deflect from the fact you are terrified?

KS: I think that’s a common trait in comedians and artists, people on a stage. I don’t think that’s unique.

A lot of your lyrics tend to be from a darker more primal place; why do you think that is?

KS: I just think that’s part of the artistic process really, in the creative process you do have to look inside of yourself and express things that are at the heart of you, which by their nature is primal. Things become a lot more elemental when you do that. Having said that, you can still do things that are the opposite of that, I don’t know that all of my stuff is like that. I’m sure I do things that are light-hearted and witty and pharisaical [laughs].

Talking to you, you seem like such an easy going person.

KS: Yeah, I am.

What’s the most personal song that you feel you’ve ever written?

KS: In a way a lot of songs are about things that are outside of myself. I often put myself in other people’s point of view… that can still make songs personal. I like all my songs for different reasons. Maybe there’s not one that’s more personal than another. In a way I probably write for other people in a strange way, even though I am expressing and doing things for myself… what I mean is that other people can look at something and project their own meaning onto it, I’m OK with that. The thing about writing songs or poetry and a lot of art as well, it’s full of ambiguity and symbolism, symbols mean different things to different people… in a way the loudness and ambiguity of words, simple words as in a song as opposed to dense literature, is the strength of it—that’s what makes it powerful and universal.

I know songs must come to you in all kinds of ways but, is there a way that they come more often?

KS: When we did this particular project, there were a couple of songs on the album that were things like walking around the neighbourhood. There’s a song “Did You Pick It Up In The Playground?” it is about; where did you get that language from? It’s about behaviour like; is that you? It also had a meaning to do with picking up Covid. I found that it was just a line that came to me, it came with a tune already. I had to try and sing it. I knew what the chords were that I was playing under the singing. The band could be on the same page as me, or not, and take it somewhere really strange. As it happened the melody and song that I had in my head was indestructible enough it was added to by what Phil and Stu did.

When choosing the words for the songs you were making in real time; did you turn to a random page in your notebooks?

KS: No, I had ones that I thought would be good. I looked at them and pored over them and had a few in mind. For instance I already had a bit of a tune for “Did You Pick It Up In The Playground?” and “Burn Down The Plantation” I had a form in my head of what it would be like; to me it was like The Rolling Stones around the 1970s, Sticky Fingers era. Whether it came out like that is another thing! [laughs]. I had lyrics that I’d written around January and doing something that was kind of Blues-based took me back to days of slavery and the Civil War. I wrote a few lines and thought “Burn Down The Plantation” was a cool line and it went with that kind of music. I was wonder if I should take it into the recording given that there is all of this Black Lives Matter protest going on. I was scared of it really, I thought, oh god, we’re just three white guys; what right do we have to go singing about plantations burning down? I thought, I’m not going to censor myself, we’ll do it.

I had a few other things that were on my mind. For the recording I put little post-it notes on the ones that I thought I’d use. I also knew that if I went scrambling and scurrying for pages I’d be very lost and it would be a waste of time. I picked ones I thought I’d be more at ease with.

With the notebooks you drew from, you mentioned that you’ve been collecting thoughts in them for a while?

KS: Yeah. Those books I have, even then there’s a story. I had set-lists and I put them in there and I have lyrics and I put them in there. I write in them in such a random way. One starts at the back of the notebook and then it starts upside down from the other way. Sometimes there’s drawings. It’s really random things, random expressions of thoughts that I have. Often set-lists though – set-lists to me don’t mean a set out list of a repertoire – I have lists of songs from my bands and I call them out to the other members.

Have you always kept notebooks like this?

KS: Yeah, but it’s kind of become more obsessive as I’ve gotten older. I have one from The Scientists’ days. It was halfway through The Scientists that I thought I should be a proper singer and have notebooks, like a proper artist [laughs]. Now I’m glad I did because then you find out about Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain and they’ve always got these books full of art and crazy things. I feel accomplished, that’s a good club to be in! [laughs].

Art by Kim Salmon

You mentioned there’s a new Scientists’ record?

KS: Yeah! We recorded it, because there was a bit of a renaissance with the band, we did a tour of Europe, two tours of the USA and two of Australia a few years back. It was all on the back of that Chicago archival label Numero releasing our back catalogue and a box-set. We did a few singles and me and the guitar player [Tony Thewlis] would send each other things, I would send him drum beats of all things [laughs]. I’d get Leanne and Boris down from Sydney and I’d show them what I had and they’d knock ‘em into shape. Tony came over here to be part of The Scientists’ getting inducted into the WAM Hall of Fame. We spent that time in Perth in a studio and knocked that album together. We’d been working on it for a long time. I got Tony to build me some riffs. I’d think up crazy drum patterns and send them to him and then he’d build riffs on that, I’d do melodies and words on top of that. I’d send that to Boris [Sujdovic] and Leanne [Cowie] and they’d be the final process.

We don’t’ know when it will come out though, it’s all ready, it’s got the cover art and we did a film clip for it. It’s very strange because the thing that The Surrealists have just done is probably a lot closer to where The Scientists were in 1983 and the new Scientists’ album has travelled somewhere different. I don’t know how people are going to take it. I’ve tried really hard to have enough elements that people accept it’s The Scientists but, we’ve taken it somewhere else. I’ve listened back to the lyrics of it and it’s not in the same place as Blood Red River.

That’s really exciting to me! Bands evolving and going somewhere new is super exciting to me. I grew up in the punk world and it was always about individuality and pushing things… your new record sounds like it’s those things to me.

KS: Yeah, we’ve done that! It’s a bit more crafted. I think that’s why The Surrealists thing got more closer, it’s more visceral… this Scientists thing has some visceral elements, it’s heavy, it’s got the brutality in sound but, it’s crafted as well because of the way we made it. It wasn’t a spontaneous process. It was put together because we thought we should do it and wanted to do it, that’s a different process to when a band is young and say “Oh yeah, let’s just do this” which is how we used to do it [laughs]. That’s kind of what The Surrealists just did! [laughs].

You said that your lyrics for Scientists now were in a different place; where are they?

KS: I was listening to it thinking, god it’s taken me to get this long to get where Dave Graney was in The Moodists [laughs]. That’s what it makes me think of. He had these songs that had bizarre stories to them; I was listening to it yesterday thinking it sounds like Graney. There is a song that references him called “The Science Of Swarve” and I talk about him and Lux Interior and Nick Cave and I kind of say that their threads, meaning their lyrical threads, their threads, their clothes being in tatters and no narrative could ever save [laughs]. That was fun putting that in there. It was all about being swarve, it’s a bit of a boast. I think it’s a storytelling yarn that Graney would have done in those days.

I’m looking forward to hearing it! You do a lot of stuff; where does your hard work ethic come from?

KS: That’s what everyone says. I sit around looking at blank paper and canvases. I sit around doing nothing and wasting my time—that’s what creativity is. Until you can’t stand it anymore and you have to do something and once you get started you can’t stop!

I know you teach people to play guitar; have you learnt anything from teaching?

KS: Yeah, absolutely. I had to get across a lot of theory that I didn’t have, things like modes for scales and various harmonic ideas that I knew about… I used to use them without knowing what I was doing. Now I know what I’m doing and it takes a bit of the mystery out of it. I’ve got a lot out of teaching. I know how songs are put together now, which I wouldn’t have had a clue before! [laughs]. I use to break the rules without knowing what rules I was breaking.

That’s funny to hear you’ve learnt how to put together a song after all this time doing it. Have you ever had a really life changing experience?

KS: Gosh! When I read an article about CBGB it was pretty life changing—it sent me on the journey.

The first one I can remember, I must have been about three and my mum always told me that I didn’t speak until I was three and then I spoke in complete sentences, she’d know what I wanted but I didn’t talk. I remember her one day showing me a watercolour set and explaining to me what it was. I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t have a clue. She got the water and a brush and she started using red and she did a little loop thing. I got the brush and started filling up the page with these little strange loops of red. I didn’t know that it was for me, I just thought she was showing this thing. I thought, wow, you can say stuff with this, this is fantastic! That definitely was a thing for me! I can still see it so vividly. That’s probably where art came from for me. That was life changing really early.

It’s so cool that you’re painting now, it’s like things have come full circle for you.

KS: Yeah, I love watercolour, there’s just something about it. You get to leave some of the paper blank, you can leave some bits alone and not disturb it, and some of it you use—it all becomes one big story.

Art by Kim Salmon

And coming across all the punk rock stuff in publications was life changing too?

KS: Yeah, yeah. I guess I was looking for a place to be in my music, for a starting point, I wanted something to bring in a focus and that became it. I think it was probably the same for a lot of people.

Is painting and making songs similar in any way to you?

KS: Yes and no. I’d go so far as to say that even every song is different to make. I try to look at everything from not having a formula, I don’t like formula as much, which is a bit funny for a guy in a band called The Scientists [laughs]. I like to think I’m starting from scratch every time that I do something and not knowing what you’re doing is part of it. Learning about music sort of takes away from that so; what do I do? What I just did with The Surrealists was a way of getting back to that thing… it’s that aspect, the mystery, that you don’t know where the hell you are and you’re lost, that makes the start of creating something, not knowing where it’s going to go or where it’s going to be. You might have an idea of what you’re going to do, but you don’t know what it’s going to be in the end. That mystery and not knowing is the thing that is the unifying factor.

Being open to all of the possibilities! A freedom in that?

KS: Yeah, I think so. Like when we were talking about philosophy before, being open to ideas and not fixed and to appreciate what life has to offer. To make the best of it and not just think, this is it, this is what I’m going to do!

I’ve heard you say before that looking after yourself and simply enjoying the day are important things to you; what does an enjoyable day look like to you?

KS: [Laughs] It’s a strange combination of routine and getting lost in something, that’s a good day for me. Going for my walk and seeing something new in it and going a different way every time, to just make something different about it. With all the border restrictions and other restrictions and parameters of late, I guess it has to be that.

I guess you need to use your imagination in doing things more and doing things differently, adapting; how can I get the most out of what I have and what’s happening now?

KS: Yes, you’re right.

Last question; what makes you really, really happy?

KS: [Laughs]. I think just my life now, there’s things about it that I’d hate it to be taken away from me. I have my partner Maxine and we have a really good thing going, it’s been a few years now. I have my kids that I have a really good relationship with. I’ll be talking to my son after this and giving him a bass guitar lesson; he’s really starting to find his way, he’s twenty. All those things make me happy. Making stuff, all of it! [laughs].

Please check out KIM SALMON; KS on Facebook; KS on Instagram. Rantings From The Book Of Swamp drops September 4th – LISTEN here.

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.

PASCALLE: Yes!

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…

What?!

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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