Alien Nosejob’s Jake Robertson on new record, Paint It Clear: “Hopefully it will mean something to somebody.”

Original pic by Carolyn Hawkins. Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

One of our favourite creators, Jake Robertson (you might know him from Ausmuteants, Hierophants, School Damage, Swab, Drug Sweat, SMARTS and more) is back with a new album for his solo alter-ego project Alien Nosejob. Paint It Clear is ANJ’s fourth full-length. 11 brilliant tracks mixing post-punk with 80’s new wave and even a little disco. Recorded by Mikey Young, the record has ANJ sounding more dynamic and brighter than ever. Gimmie loves Jake’s quirky, humorous and wry observational lyrics and skilful songcraft. We’re excited to share with you, the first track released from the ANJ camp in thirteen months ‘Leather Gunn’ along with our chat with Jake, a sneak peek insight into the forthcoming album.

JAKE ROBERTSON: I’ve been working a lot, it’s taken a toll, I’m basically always tired. I still have a job, which half of my friends don’t since Covid, so I’m pretty lucky in that respect. It’s hard to come home and be motivated to do anything.

When we spoke the other day, you mentioned that you’ve been having a little bit of a break creatively, and that you’ve spent most of your spare time just chilling watching TV and reading.

JR: Yeah. I’ve been reading a bunch, and watching heaps of TV. Kerry my housemate, when he moved in, he brought a giant TV with him; we’ve been going to town on it. It’s the first time that I’ve had a television in ten years—I’m lovin’ it! [laughs]. It’s so good. I’m still writing heaps; I’m constantly writing in-between watching The Righteous Gemstones or whatever.

I feel like maybe a year ago, when I was working a little bit less, I’d finish work, come home and do music for a bit, then go see some mates. Since lockdown has happened, I can’t really see friends, and sometimes can’t be bothered doing music. It’s weird, like I’ve kind of got extra time, but I don’t [laughs].

I feel like you’ve been pretty prolific and released a lot over the last few years though.

JR: Yeah, I have. But everything I’ve released, even the album you’re interviewing me about, most of that was written a while ago. I probably would have recorded it around the time the last Gimmie interview happened.

Yeah, it was around November 2020.

JR: Yeah, that was when I recorded it, but some of the songs were written around 2015, at least the embryonic versions. I’ve just touched them up a little bit.

Having a bunch of songs you’ve written over a long period of time, how did you decide which ones to use for this record Paint It Clear?

JR: The majority of the stuff that I do under the Alien Nosejob name was written with other bands in mind. One or two of them were potentially going to be an Ausmuteants song back in the day. One of them was going to be a Leather Towel song. I have a little log of all my half-finished demos that is written up and pasted on my wall. Every now and then I’ll listen back to something and go, yeah, I could do something with this.

It’s interesting that you said a few of the songs were written with other projects in mind, I had wonder that, because I got that feeling from listening to the album. Jhonny and I were talking about how it doesn’t have one particular sound like other Nosejob releases. I commented that tracks sounded like a Ausmuteants track or even Hierophants or even reminded me of the Nosejob Italo-disco album. The album feels a little like an amalgamation of all the stuff you’ve done.

JR: Yeah, kind of. When I was putting it together, I was trying to be conscious of not making it sound like it’s being too influenced by something else, even though there’s definitely a couple of songs where I’m like, ‘Oh, I was listening to a lot of The Cure’ [laughs]. I haven’t listened to it since I got the test pressing in February. It’s like The Cure with a crappy singer, not Robbie Smith [laughs]. Those two songs are ‘Clear As Paint’ and ‘Duplicating Satan’, which is the Italo-disco-sounding one you were talking about; I remember trying to make it sound like ‘The Walk’ by The Cure, one of their singles from 1983-ish. Hopefully it doesn’t actually sound like it, but I was definitely going for it.

I can totally hear the in there. What can you tell us about the album’s title Paint It Clear?

JR: [Laughs] I literally just jumbled the words of the song ‘Clear As Paint’ around. That song and the title, it was an amateur attempt of a contranym, like painting something clear. If you painted something clear it could be see-through, like glass.

Nice. You mentioned you’ve been watching a lot of TV and films. I love movies, I have since I was a kid. I’d go to the video shop with my mum and we’d get out twenty VHS is $20 for the week. What have you been watching?

JR: We had a very similar upbringing, Bianca. We’d get seven weeklies for $7; you’d pick them up on a Thursday, spend the week watching them and then pick up another seven when you brought those back the following week. I did that from when I was about eight until I was eighteen. It would be a weird week if I didn’t get out at least three videos.

Rad! Whenever I look at those 1001 movies you have to see before you die or 100 best movies of the 80’s and 90’s lists, I’ve seen most of them except for a small handful of titles.

JR: In that 1001 movie list there’s probably another 800 I’d need to see! [laughs]. I’d watch and lot but also rewatch a lot.

Pic by Carolyn Hawkins.

What are some of your favourite movies?

JR: One of my favourite movies lately, because I’ve just rewatched it is, Blue Murder, the mini-series. I created a Letterboxd account the other day, so I was actually thinking about this. I really like the movie The Vanishing, it’s a Dutch one. It’s good if you’re a fan of eerie-ish horror movies. It’s so good. Not the remake with Kiefer Sutherland, but the original. I watched Blood Simple with my housemate, it was awesome, I’ve never seen it before. Movies! Woo! [laughs]. I love Mean Girls and stuff like that as well.

We were talking about comic books before too; I was a really big fan of Ghost World growing up and still am now.

I love ­Ghost World too, and the Mean Girls movie is a classic!

JR: You have to mix up the arty ones with the blockbusters.

For sure. I can’t watch too much of anything at once, mixing things up is essential. For example, if I’ve watched a run of horror movies or true crime, I have to watch something nice and fun and not dark and brutal.

JR: Yeah, it’s time for a Pixar movie! [laughs]. Pixar know how to rip your heart out more than anything else. I feel like the only time that I shed a tear is when I’m watching a Pixar movie [laughs]. The last time I got on a plane, which seems like a long time ago now, I thought it would be a good time to watch the Pixar movie Up. I feel very sorry for the person that was sitting next to me because I was crying, slobbering all over them [laughs].

Awww [laughter]. So, the first single for your album will be ‘Leather Gunn’…

JR: Yeah, it is. When Billy [Anti Fade], Sam [Feel It Records] and I were thinking of what the first single off the album should be, we were like, we’ll each say our top three. That wasn’t in mine, but they both had it in theirs, they have the outsider perspective. To me, all of the songs, I just shit them out and I’m done with it [laughs], I don’t think about them anymore. They both had that song first, so I was like, ok, let’s do that one first.

What was happening when you wrote it?

JR: John Douglas who plays in Leather Towel with me, he was moving back to Australia from New Zealand and we were talking about doing a new Leather Towel album. I was trying to come up with something that sounded different to the first album; that was the only song that I wrote for it. We played two or three gigs, then Covid happened and he went back to New Zealand. We didn’t even get to try that song as a band. It seemed at the point where it probably wouldn’t happened, so I made it a Nosejob song. I kept the ‘Leather’ in there as a nod to that, and the ‘Gunn’ was because the original demo of it, the guitar was single note surfy, like a Peter Gunn da na da na da na na na. Lyrically, it’s about people not doing what they’re told no matter how minuscule and pointless or petty the thing they’re not doing is.

What are the songs the you really love on the album?

JR: I really like ‘Duplicating Satan’.

Was that one of the songs on you top three list?

JR: My list was ‘Duplicating Satan’ and ‘King’s Gambit’ (which will be the second one released, I wrote it in 2015 but never put lyrics to it) that was probably my best written song on the album, it took me ages to write it. The other song is the last one ‘Bite My Tongue’. I get why that wouldn’t be a not-released-before-the-album-comes-out one. That’s another one that took me ages to write. It took me ages to learn how to play it too. ‘Bite My Tongue’ and a few songs that I have, are about… you know when you have a thought or a way of feeling about a certain situation but you can’t find the words to get it out. It’s almost like a block and you just can’t say your mind. It’s a feeling I have sometimes, I can’t even tell myself what it is. Basically, it’s about a mental block and not being able to get your words out properly.

I get that, it makes sense.

JR: Kind of, I think I was trying to make sense of it in the song. Hopefully it will mean something to somebody.

I really love the song ‘Jetlagging’ on the album.

JR: That one was originally written with Ausmuteants in mind, I wrote the lyrics on an Ausmuteants tour, travelling 400kms a day and just eating the same meal over and over again. It’s a very my-first-tour, Tours’R’Us or Tours For Dummies lyrics! [laughs]. I really love that song too.

Also, I love ‘The Butcher’ which is before ‘Jetlagging’ in the album sequencing.

JR: A couple of years ago, I was getting obsessed with Terry Hall and Fun Boy Three. I was trying to write something a little bit from that camp, and The Zombies’ song called ‘The Butcher’ as well; it was definitely an influence on it, but I didn’t mean to call it the same song [laughs]… I’m kind of noticing that now.

I got Mikey [Young] to record the drums; he recorded the drums, bass and guitar for the album. Except for ‘Duplicating Satan’ which I recorded at home, and ‘The Butcher’. I couldn’t work out what I had played in the demo, I had to drag the demo out and stretch it over the drums that I played. I don’t think anyone else will notice this, but if you listen closely the drums and the rest of the music keeps on going out of time because of that. I tried to relearn how to play it, but after a while I was like, I can’t be bothered! [laughs].

Is it weird sometimes listening back to your songs and being able to remember what was happening in your life or what you were doing at the time of writing or recording it? Kind of like having a sonic diary.

JR: Yeah, it is. I might think something is not about something, but it will be. I’ll generally listen to an album that I’ve done when I get it on record, and that’s it. I actually listened to an Ausmuteants album, Amusements, the other day, it was the first time since we recorded it. It was a nice feeling; I definitely like it more than I thought I would. It was good to have an eight-year distance of not hearing it, it was recorded in 2012 or 2013. I won’t rush to listen to it again [laughs], but I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I did.

Album art by Nicky Minus.

Who did the album art for Paint It Clear?

JR: How good is it?!

Really, really good! That’s why I was asking, it’s very cool.

JR: It was done by Nicky Minus. They grew up in Hornsby in New South Wales, but they’re living in Melbourne now, and does a lot of work for the Worker’s Art Collective doing a lot of work for Union. I got onto them by following Sam Wallman who is a comic book artist/cartoonist.

Is that the same Sam who has done artwork for you before?

JR: Yeah, he did the first Ausmuteants 7 inch in 2010. I’ve been following his stuff before then, he’s besties with Nicky, I saw their stuff through that and was blown away by it. I just bought some of their art for my wall, and because I look at it every day, I was like, it could suit this album. They were into it, they wanted to make something from scratch. I’m glad they did and am super happy with the way it turned out.

What else have you been up to of late?

JR: I’ve been doing some home-recording with Vio [Violetta DelConte Race] from Primo! I’ve loved her songwriting for ages, she has a good idea of space, if it doesn’t need to be played, she won’t; the way I play is the opposite of that [laughs]. It’s kind of inspired by Michael Rother, and sounds basically like School Damage and Primo! If I could sound half as good as Primo! I’d be happy. It’s called Modal Melodies. The only rule of the project is that we’re not allowed to play live, it’s just a recording thing.

Cool! I can’t wait to hear that. I love Primo! too. They’re all such incredible songwriters.

JR: There’s a new Swab album around the corner too coming out on the label Hardcore Victim in around January or February. And, I’m playing drums on the new Ill Globo album!

Alien Nosejob’s Paint It Clear is out November 12. Pre-order now: Anti Fade (AUS) and Feel It Records (USA).

Anti Fade are also offering a bundle deal, including Paint It Clear on vinyl, the last record Once Again The Present Becomes The Past on cassette and a t-shirt and a ANJ shirt! Get it HERE.

Read another Gimmie interview with Jake: Alien Nosejob: “I wanted to make it sound like a mixtape that you’d give to your friends”

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Boston Post-Punk Band Sweeping Promises: “Dreaming of a future where shows and traveling and hugs are a thing again”

Original Photo: Caufield. Handmade collage by B.

Sweeping Promises may just be the coolest band we’ve found so far all year! If you follow us at @gimmiegimmiegimmiezine you’ll know how much we love their debut album Hunger For A Way Out—we’ve already declared it our favourite release of 2020! Their music is raw, simple, yet spirited and absolutely thrilling. From the bouncy and urgent title track opener with its angular guitars to moody, slower tempo closer “Trust” this record is from go to whoa solid! The vocals alone are so right on that they made our editor cry. Gimmie interviewed Sweeping Promises’ bassist-vocalist Lira Mondal.

How did you and Caufield first meet? Can you tell us about your creative partnership please?

LIRA MONDAL: I met Caufield when we were both undergrads. I was in the basement practice room of the music building playing with some other music majors when I noticed this very tall lanky blond guy peeking in through the tiny window in the door. His first words to me were, “Are you in a band? Can I play in your band?” Soon after that we were writing together exclusively, and have been for over a decade now.

Our creative partnership is rooted in total trust in and respect for one another, something that only comes with having worked together for years. For instance, I used to be very guarded about writing lyrics and would absolutely destroy myself laboring over them for fear that they weren’t good enough to show anyone. But when you’re working with just one other person, there’s no room to be coy or shy. Not if you want to get anything done.

We’ve cobbled together a pretty efficient songwriting method where I’ll play something on bass and he’ll drum along, and then I’ll work out a melody to put on top, and once we’re satisfied, we’ll track it and he’ll put guitar on it while I work on words. We both offer up suggestions to one another – change the riff up here, draw out a vocal part or change some words there. It’s intensely collaborative. Not only is Caufield a hyper-talented multi-instrumentalist, but also a consummate engineer and producer. He’s mixed and mastered everything we’ve worked on, as well as a bunch of other projects. I’m extremely lucky and grateful to have him as a collaborator!

When and how did you first discover music?

LM: It was all around me, constantly. My parents immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh in the late 70s/early 80s, so I heard Lata Mangeshkar mixed in with lots of ABBA and Madonna. I listened to a lot of radio, and as an older Millennial I was one of those kids who would vigilantly post up by my boombox which was always loaded with a blank cassette tape, my finger quivering above the “record” button and ready to strike should the deejay demigods mercifully heed my song requests.

As a solitary kid who was glued to my computer, I spent countless hours trawling through, a pre-Pandora/pre-YouTube Internet radio and music video site. Later in high school, I discovered music magazines like Tokion and Under the Radar, which really expanded my horizons. Music magazines were a big source of education and inspiration for me, and I cherished the ones that occasionally came with compilation CDs.

Speaking of compilations, another absolutely vital part of my musical upbringing came in the form of a highly influential mix CD my older brother and sister-in-law made for me when I was 12. It featured a bunch of Mazzy Star and Portishead and Björk, and it changed my life, most notably by curbing my (troubling) Red Hot Chili Peppers habit.

How did Sweeping Promises come into being?

LM: We were jamming one night in this abandoned science lab-turned-art/gallery space that Caufield miraculously had access to through his grad department; it was sometime in late 2019, and we ended up writing “Hunger For a Way Out” in about 20 minutes. It wasn’t like anything we’d written up to that point. Since it didn’t fit into any of our existing projects, we decided on the spot to create a project around that song, because we couldn’t just leave it. The next night we were in the space, we wrote “Blue” and “Out Again”, and then we just kept on writing.

I know that you also have the bands Mini Dresses, Splitting Image and Dee-Parts; what did you want to do differently in Sweeping Promises?

LM: We wanted to capture the exhilaration of writing songs in the moment, of irrepressible energy and things just barely holding together. A lot of our other projects featured very in-depth production efforts; we wanted Sweeping Promises to work fast n’ loose.

The band is from Boston, Massachusetts; what can you tell us about living there?

LM: It’s a compact city, but it’s awfully charming. We miss it already, and the neighboring cities of Somerville and Cambridge where we also lived and worked. I personally happen to love the cold, so the snow and single-digit winters suited me just fine.

As for music, it’s very expensive and increasingly becoming hostile to anyone who isn’t in the tech or finance sectors. That said, there is a passionate population of incredible musicians, artists, organizers and promoters, studio engineers, activists, and scene folks who are trying their best to unify the fractured musical landscape of the city, and we are beyond grateful to call a bunch of those people our friends. There’s formidable talent and creativity in Boston and the surrounding areas, and it’s a shame that no one seems to care or notice beyond the music community itself; with venues shuttering left and right to make way for more and more condos that no one can afford to live in (even pre-COVID), it remains to be seen what the musical landscape’s going to look like there. I have hope, but it’s looking pretty grim now.

Your debut record Hunger For A Way Out was recorded using a “single mic technique”; can you tell us a little about this technique and what made you decide to record this way? You record at home don’t you?

LM: With this project we wanted to capture the action of the space we were in, this cavernous concrete subterranean lab. Because it was so naturally reverberant, we didn’t want to have to sort through the sludgy frequency layering that would’ve occurred if we’d mic’d everything individually. And we were riding high on the spontaneity of the songwriting process and wanted to capture that. So we put our one Shure KSM32 in the middle of the space facing the drums, and then I plugged in my bass amp and had it also facing the mic, and we recorded the basic tracks that way.

There are overdubs, of course! There’s no way we could have done the whole thing live just the two of us. But most of those overdubs are all with that same Shure mic, usually keeping it in the exact same position after tracking the drums and bass. It’s on the guitar amp, it’s on my vocals (with the monitor on, so there’s quite a bit of bleed to make them crunchy and ultra-saturated).

Lyrically what kinds of things were influencing your songwriting for this record? I understand that you usually write from an immediate source of inspiration like books and movies. Was it that way this time? Or did you feel you had something to say yourself?

LM: These songs emerged out of feelings of frustration, dissatisfaction, alienation – an acknowledgment that life in late capitalism is harmful and destructive, and a summoning of strength to be defiant in the face of it. Whereas in earlier projects I would tap into some external source like a book or a film for a perspective to write from, these songs are very much my impressions and feelings at the time of writing. I was pulling from everything: my experience in the restaurant industry, the need to “hustle-ify” your creativity, self-care culture.

What do you personally get outta making songs?

LM: I love performing, which for me is the culmination of making music. Songwriting gets me there. One of the hardest parts about quarantine, which I know so many other musicians can relate to, is not being able to perform live and feel the thrill of getting up on a stage and engaging with other people in that immediate and visceral way.

I also love going back to songs we wrote or projects we did years ago, and hearing how much our sensibilities have changed. It’s like a time capsule: I’m immediately transported back in time, and I remember what the recording session was like, where I was at in my life, the mood I was trying to conjure. I cherish that aspect of songwriting – that diaristic, transportive quality.

Hunger For A Way Out’s artwork is by D.H. Strother; can you tell us a little about the symbolism?

LM: David was in complete control of the art for the album, actually! We sent him the record and told him he had free reign, and he came up with these utterly dazzling visuals. They remind me of the experimental visual music films of Mary Ellen Bute and John Whitney with their bold colors and hypnotic, kinetic lines.

I know that you’re very inspired by Ari-Up from The Slits; how did you first come to her music? Why is she an inspiration?

LM: I think it was sometime in high school; I heard “Typical Girls” and “Instant Hit” and fell in love with her vocal delivery, dripping with attitude and playfulness and killer wit. I love how free her singing was, like she was making it all up on the spot, but it’s still very focused and rhythmic and sharp. She, along with Poly Styrene, Exene Cervenka, Vanessa Briscoe Hay, and Cindy Wilson, possessed a kind of no-holds-barred expressivity and confidence that really resonated with me, and still does.

When did you first start singing? How did you feel when you first started doing it? How do you feel now?

LM: Honestly, I don’t remember! I’ve been singing pretty much all my life. I started singing in choirs when I was in grade school, and it definitely became a defining part of my nerdy persona. I loved it. I loved being part of a large group of people, weaving our individual voices together to create a rich, dynamic tapestry of harmony and unity. It’s a precious connection.

In college I studied music with a concentration in vocal performance. I remember bristling at the techniques my instructor employed, feeling extremely self-conscious about the goofy warm-ups and physical exercises meant to strengthen my breath control or develop my whistle register. After I graduated, I enthusiastically unlearned everything I was taught in an effort to bring more instinct and intuitiveness into my singing. Now that I’ve been away from classical repertoire for almost a decade, I’ve noticed a growing urge in me to sing that way again. Funny how that works.

What have you been listening to lately?

LM: Caufield showed me the new Kate NV record the other day. She’s amazing! We admire her other project Glintshake. Earlier in quarantine I came across The Techniques and fell head-over-heels for their song “Travelling Man”. I’m also a huge fan of Erika Elizabeth’s show on MRR called Futures and Pasts, which is a veritable treasure trove of obscure and insanely catchy post-punk from all over the world. Highly recommended listening! Her band Collate also rules.

Outside of doing music, I’ve read that you’re a pastry chef! What interested you about pursuing that line of work? What’s one of your favourite things to make?

LM: It began purely as a hobby/distraction from applying to graduate programs in musicology. Once I realized I was more interested in looking at recipe blogs than theories of music and meaning in Romantic art song, I figured I might as well pursue a career in baking and pastry. It’s one of the most fulfilling and pleasurable ways I can think of spending time. Every small act – measuring ingredients, mixing a batter, kneading dough – is a ritual, imbued with the tantalizing possibility that something sweet lies just within your grasp. It’s tactile and meditative, alchemical. I particularly took to chocolate and spent a glorious year as a chocolatier at a small women-owned chocolate and confectionery shop; now that we’ve moved, I’m learning how to make chocolate from bean to bar, with the goal of starting a modest savory chocolate project. Let me just say, the aroma of cocoa beans roasting in the oven is otherworldly.

How has all the uncertainty in the world due to the pandemic been affecting you?

LM: For the most part I’m able to keep my worries and anxieties at bay, but it’s hard. It’s hard to live in a country where there is no leadership, where our “president” wilfully denies the existence and severity of the pandemic and loses no sleep at night as the death toll climbs above 180,000. It’s hard to see our news cycle portray protesters of racial injustice as “violent mobs” when cops get away with shooting Black people in the back and teenagers can buy automatic assault weapons and shoot activists with impunity. It’s hard to live in a world where millions upon millions of people are living in uncertainty because they’ve lost their livelihoods to the pandemic and are desperate to make sense of a senseless situation. Making music and connecting to other people through music…that helps.

What cheers you up when you’re feeling down?

LM: Writing and recording new music with Caufield. Sharing something I cooked or baked with the people I love. An ice-cold seltzer on a hot day. Watching my sourdough starter grow. Dreaming of a future where shows and traveling and hugs are a thing again.

Please check out SWEEPING PROMISES; SP on Instagram. Hunger For A Way Out out now on Feel It Records.