Traffik Island’s  Zak Olsen is back with A Shrug Of The Shoulders

Original photo by Ashley Goodall. Handmade collage art by B.

Since Gimmie last spoke with Zak Olsen he’s been working on Traffik Island album number three (and four), and moved out of Melbourne into the country. 

Album A Shrug Of The Shoulders feels effortless and is a sheer delight, giving the listener a sense of sitting in a lounge room as friends make music together—in a word it’s, joyful. There’s a naturalism and realism along with beauty, nuance and humour revealed as the collection of songs unfold. The songs are stripped down to their essentials, influenced by 60s music but with a modern sheen. Zak’s sincere expression and ability to turn lyrical gut-punches into catchy psychedelic folk-pop riffs is truly charming. Today we’re premiering second single, ’You Do, Don’t You?’

It’s great to be talking with you again today, Zak.

ZAK OLSEN: It’s nice to be back! I’ve just moved out of Melbourne, I live out at South Gippsland now in a small dairy farm area called Wattle Bank.

What made you want to get out of the city?

ZO: It was more, what was making me want to stay in the city? That was more the question I was asking myself. I couldn’t answer it. Obviously I have lots of friends in the city, and I miss seeing them frequently. For me personally, Melbourne wasn’t really the ideal place for me to be at the moment.

What’s moving out into a more rural area given you?

ZO: Lots more time outside and plenty more of the colour green, which feels good. There’s heaps more space, the house is a lot bigger than the one I was living in. There’s lots of room to set up instruments. We have chickens! I’ve been enjoying spending time with the chickens.

I saw them on the Traffik Island promo vid for the new record! In the video you were baking something; what was it?

ZO: Yes, that’s the chickens in the video. I was baking a Lemon cake. It was a basic one. I thought I’d put some eggs to use.

Last time we we spoke you mentioned that you love cooking things and that you were trying to master the art of cooking different kinds of roasts. Is there anything in particular that you’ve been working on in the kitchen lately?

ZO: [Laughs]. Maybe “master” is a bit of a strong word to use. I made my first pumpkin soup last night, which isn’t too hard to master. It’s good out here because there’s a lot of less options for takeaway food, cooking is a necessity, and there’s great farmers’ market, so everything is really cheap. Everyone is really friendly too, it’s really nice.

I know that where you were in Melbourne you had a studio around the corner from your home. Do you still have it?

ZO: At the moment I’m still renting it. It’s nice to have when I go into the city, but for the most part I do everything out here.

Are there many other people around near where you live, or are you on acreage?

ZO: We live in a little cut-de-sac with four different farms on it. The house I live in is owned by the couple next door, they’re an old school Dutch farmer couple. They give us some of the food that they grow. 

That sounds nice. It seems like you have a real little community around you.

ZO: It’s great getting to know the neighbours, everyone has different skills. If shit hits the fan, they can help you out [laughs].

So, you mentioned you have a lot more space to set up your instruments; is it kind of a jam room or do you have a little studio there?

ZO: We have construction happening at the moment, there’s builders there, so our house is in a bit of disarray. Eventually one of the rooms that are being built will have my music stuff in it, but at the moment I just have mobile setups around the house whenever I can. 

My dad is here. The plan was that I was going to move in once he moved out, but because everything is the way it is at the moment he can’t exactly go anywhere. He was going to Western Australia. I’m living with him now. It’s been good, we’ve been jamming together. He hasn’t played music in a long time; he was playing all the time when I was growing up. 

Because of the harsh lockdowns in Victoria, you didn’t get to see your family for quite a while, right?

ZO: No, I didn’t get to really.

There seems to be a sense of new beginnings for you right now.

ZO: It does feel like that. It’s also my thirtieth year! It was my birthday at the end of August.

Happy (belated) Birthday! Did it feel like a milestone for you?

ZO: No. I’ve sort of felt thirty for ages [laughs]. It was more a feeling of, finally!

What were the things that made you feel thirty already?

ZO: [Laughs]. I’ve always just been rounding up since I was around twenty-six. I thought I started looking thirty!

[Laughter].

ZO: Let’s hope it stays at thirty [laughs], even when it gets to forty, I’ll just stay here at this age.

I know that feeling. For me as I’ve gotten older, I kind of stopped counting the birthday number and focus on doing the things that I love and hanging out with the people I love, spending my time on the things that bring me a lot of joy.

ZO: That’s exactly it. I get to do a lot more of that out here, which I’ve been really, really enjoying. It’s nice taking things slow, but at the same time I’m still making and playing more music. The days feel like they go a lot longer. It can get a bit suffocating or claustrophobic in the city. Once you add social media on top of that, it can get a bit much.

Photo courtesy of Zak Olsen.


I definitely feel that. You sound so much lighter, happier and brighter. I feel like your new record A Shrug Of The Shoulders has that feeling too.

ZO: That’s good, I’m glad to hear.

Of course there is still your humour and sardonic-ness in there.

ZO: Yeah. I feel like it’s a strange one. It’s the longest one I’ve ever done. It’s the first album that I’ve made in the last decade that doesn’t have a synthesiser on it. It’s a backlog of guitar songs that I had for ages. I wanted to record them in an instant manner with the band. I’m not unhappy or happy with the way that it turned out, the name really is how I feel about the album. It’s not to say that I am indifferent about it, I still put effort into it. I wanted it to be a bit more rough around the edges. I didn’t want it to be all glossy and Hollywood-feeling, I wanted it to be the opposite.

So, you wanted it to be a bit more understated?

ZO: Yeah, that’s the word I’m looking for, thank you. Understated, and there’s nothing sort of punk about it, but I just that more DIY-feeling. With me, the more you make the more you feel like you have to be of a certain standard or fidelity, I wanted to throw a spanner in the works for myself so I could clear the plate again. If that makes sense?

Yeah, it totally does. After doing a record like Peanut Butter Traffik Jam that was more glossy, it makes sense to want to go the other way and do something opposite. 

ZO: It had started turning out that way, that I do a synth-y one and then a guitar one, then a synth-y one. The one that I’m working on now for Traffik Island is a synth-y one again.

You’re already working on the next one?

ZO: With A Shrug Of The Shoulders some of the songs are quite old. I am working on the next one, but it’s not like I’m a workaholic, I just slowly work away. That’s the good thing about having guitar songs and then synthesiser songs, there’s always stuff there to go. 

What’s the difference between the two for you?

ZO: With the guitar songs, I’ll sit there with a guitar and write lyrics and work lyrics out with the chords. It’s a straight up and down old way of writing songs. The synthesiser stuff, I don’t have anything written before I start making it, I make it as I’m going in the music program.

Do you look for different sounds or start with a loop?

ZO: Yeah, I might have a drum loop that I like or I might just keep fishing around until a sound sounds cool and sparks an idea. The synthesiser stuff is good in that way because I never really feel like I’m running out of ideas with it. 

It’s totally endless. When I sit down at our synths we have set up, I can be there forever. You could sit there for days, weeks, and forget to eat cos you’re down a rabbit hole of sounds. There’s the sounds and then the variations you can make to the sound. 

ZO: Exactly! [laughs]. It really is. It’s probably what I enjoy doing the most out of the two styles. The guitar stuff is much more rewarding though to me because it takes more planning, effort and time.

Do you think part of it is that you’re more comfortable with doing acoustic music, having done it for so long?

ZO: I’m not sure. I go through stages of being comfortable with the guitar stuff. Sometimes I’m not very comfortable doing it.

Wow. Really?

ZO: Yeah. Especially when I play solo acoustic shows—it’s like a bad dream [laughs]. 

I guess being on stage with just your voice and an acoustic guitar might make you feel a little more vulnerable than if you had a band with you.

ZO: Yeah. It is really naked. There’s good things about it, if you make a mistake sometimes you can cover to up easier and it doesn’t matter if you miss a verse. Other times, if your voice breaks or something, it can feel like the most embarrassing thing in the whole world [laughs]. I know when I see bands, I do like to see the human touches.

That’s one of the things that I love about your new album Shrug… there’s little fragments and character touches, things like the background chatter and crack of a beer. What was the thought behind including these things?

ZO: 40% of the songs, I’d written lyrics first without any music. I wanted to work backwards. I was, for lack of a better word, scoring the lyrics. It was great doing it that way, some of those songs are the most enjoyable for me, the more lyrical ones. Along with that came the background effects and noises compliment the lyrics as well. I wanted to have it all in there so it would be like sitting in a room with us at a rehearsal—all the chatter, all the beer cracking or there’s cars driving by in the background of the songs. Leah [Senior] is talking at the end of the album.

I thought it was Leah! At the end of ‘New Leaf’ there’s a female voice saying, “I thought that was good.” 

ZO: Leah sang the harmonies on that one.

Nice! You mentioned before that you wanted to do the songs pretty instantly when you recorded them. I understand that they were learnt on the day by the band and you played them five or so times before recording them. Did you do it like this to capture a spontaneity or have that fresh sounding spirit for the listener?

ZO: Not the whole album was learnt on the day, some songs we had been playing for a little bit. Lots of it was quite fresh when we learnt it. It was mainly because of necessity. All the stuff with Traffik Island is always out of necessity. I’m super blessed to have those guys playing with me, I love how they all play and they bring so much to it. We all came together and started playing out of necessity and living together. I was going to play a solo gig and realised that I didn’t want to beforehand, so I asked Myles [Cody] and Jack [Kong] to play. A year later, I moved in with Jesse and he had a day off work and I asked him if he wanted to sit in on piano at a practice. Every thing I do with Traffik Island isn’t mega planned ahead. Again, I’m not complacent with it, I like things to be spontaneous; it’s the nature of the project.

Can you tell me about the joy of playing with everyone again?

ZO: It’s always a real pleasure. The song ‘Papers’ on the album is improv, but it’s actually four or five different takes of the same same motif we jammed on and I stuck them all together in a collage style. That song, as ridiculous as it is, was the most fun for me on the whole album because there were no plans and everyone played what they liked; we were having fun and laughing while we were doing it. It’s always a real pleasure to play with those guys.

Photo by Jamie Wdziekonski.

What song on the album was a little trickier to do?

ZO: For whatever reason, the second song ‘Do You, Don’t You’. We’ve been playing that one for a while live, but it’s just one of those things, sometimes when you go to record something on the day you can’t do it. It took us a while.

We’re premiering ‘Do You, Don’t You’.

ZO: That one is quite old. I wrote it just after Nature Strip, before even starting any of the Peanut Butter album. I did those two chords at the start, liked it. I wanted to make one with lots of chords, a garage-rock opera [laughs]. 

Because it had this obviously sixties inspired old dusty garage-y sound, lyrically I went down the typical path; all those sixties garage songs are about teenage relationships [laughs]. That was the natural thing that I felt like singing about. The words on that one was more of an afterthought, it was more of an impression of the music that I grew up listening to.

You mentioned before that the album wasn’t really punk, but I think a lot the songs have that spirit, like ‘F.T.U.’ Rather than fuck the world, it’s fuck the universe!

ZO: [Laughs] Yeah. That one was written on a Monday morning, I wasn’t feeling too crash hot that day and I thought about, what is the most angry thing that I could say? That was one of the ones where I wrote down all of the lyrics first and made music around it. 

I feel like that’s a song a lot of people will be able to relate to, we all have those kinds of days! You took it that next level with ‘fuck the universe’! [laughter].

ZO: [Laughs]. I’ve always felt a bit iffy about that song and wasn’t sure if I’d put it on there.

I’m so glad you did. It made me happy hearing someone else gets those thoughts sometimes too.

ZO: Aww thank you. That’s good!

I love the piano on that song.

ZO: That’s Jesse, the piano master. It’s amazing, he’ll play some chords and just do all of these beautiful things and flourish and bring all of this colour out in a song.

It’s so emotive. I guess moments like that also speaks to the joy about collaborating with other people. 

ZO: Yeah, especially Jesse [Williams]. He really, really is a master. I didn’t really know Jesse or Leah before moving in with them. They had a room up for grabs and I was blessed enough to be chosen [laughs]. Those guys are just super talented musicians. It was a nice house to live in, it was always inspiring and encouraging to make things. Jesse has been a big help with Traffik Island. He recorded all of Shrug… and the majority of Nature Strip in his backroom, which was nice. 

Other than piano flourishes, what else does he bring to the recording?

ZO: He plays guitar all over the album too. He was that missing piece, without him we were jamming as a three-piece. It was a lot more raw then. I remember the second that he started playing with us at rehearsal, the rest of us looked at each other and it was like, “Whoa! We sound so much more like a real band now!” [laughs]. He glued it all together. It was really something. He’s a master recorder as well; he really knows what he’s doing and really takes the time. I was wondering how it would come out after the last album, being so different. I’m happy with it and I’m glad that I’m going to have it out and I’m able to move onto another one.

The song you mentioned before ‘New Leaf’ is a really great song. It feels really introspective. I love the lyric: Turning over a new leaf, what does that even mean?

ZO: [Laughs].

Was that another day where you were like, why life? Why?

ZO: There were a couple of “why?” moments with writing these songs. It was written over a long time, some would be from 2019, even end of 2018, and some were written this year—it spans a lot. I’ve obviously gone through a lot of things in that time. 

What kinds of things?

ZO: Nothing crazier than anyone else. A lot happens in three years. It feels like a strange one to me, it doesn’t feel super cohesive, but it also sort of does, I guess because I made them all [laughs]. Usually I’d do overdubs into oblivion, typically there would be synthesisers on it, for this one I didn’t want to do that, so it’s pretty raw to my ears.

Album art by Jamie Wdziekonski

We love the album art that Jamie Wdziekonski did!

ZO: Yeah, he nailed it. 

I was speaking with Jamie the other day and he told me a little about making it. The whole concept of it is really cool—33 photobooth strips taken in consecutive order.

ZO: It took a fair bit of planning because we wanted to be able to take the photos and lay it out on the table and have the album cover there. We were going to do it individually and make it up on the computer, but we though we’ll go the whole nine yards and do it the way we did. 

Jamie mentioned that it was a funny and hectic shoot.

ZO: It was! We went there at night time to avoid as many people as possible. It was a busy night though, so it was hard, we had these giant letters with us and all our stuff. We did one shoot of it and then took the slides upstairs, there was a couple of letters that weren’t ideal, we had to run back downstairs and take some more. We had hundreds of dollars in gold coins. It was crazy. I was very happy how it turned out. It was this old photo booth that had been there a long time. The same guy services it, so we got to show him the album cover, which was cool; he was really happy that we used it.

Besides the next Traffik Island album you mentioned you were working on is there anything else in the works?

ZO: There is that one in the works, which is back to Peanut Butter… there’s going to be singing all over it this time. I want to try and blend the more song-iness of the guitar songs and have the production of the synth-y ones. 

What song have you most recently been working on?

ZO: This morning I was doing a remix for a band from Melbourne called Mug.

We love Mug!

ZO: I’d actually never heard them until I got an email asking me to do the remix. I really enjoyed them so I was more than happy to give it a go.

I know that you’ve done a few remixes now; how do you approach doing them?

ZO: It’s different every time. One thing I do try to do though, is that I won’t listen to the original song more than once or sometimes I won’t even listen to the whole song. In the past I have listened to the song too much and the remix I ended up with, wasn’t as different as I would have liked it to be. A lot of the times people like to use the stems when doing the remixes, but I don’t like doing that; I like getting the final mix of their song, listen to it once or half way through and then go from there. I never want to make it too similar. 

What have you been listening to lately?

ZO: I finally set up my record player again, my records have been away for a little while. I’ve just been going through them. With my dad around, he’s keen to go through my records and listen to stuff. I’ve been showing him lots of things that have been my favourite things and trying to get him used to those sounds. He hated jazz a few weeks ago, and now he is coming around to it [laughs]. I first played him Can on my thirtieth birthday and he was not interested, but the other night it was his birthday and we listened to the again and after twenty minutes he was like, “wow! This is really good!” He’s fallen in love with Hawkwind all over again; he hadn’t listened to them in over twenty-five years. He wants to listen to them all the time now again, while he’s driving trucks, that’s his job.

That would be perfect driving music!

ZO: That’s what he said! He said he wanted to get Space Ritual and put it on USB so he could listen to it in the truck and just drive all day to it [laughs]. 

You mentioned there was always music around growing up; did your dad get you into music?

ZO: Yeah. When I was really young we lived on a farm in New Zealand. He played in a thrash metal band. When you’re a little kid, there’s nothing cooler than pointy guitars and thrash metal riffs; everyone had skull t-shirts. He definitely inspired me to want to be in a band. We grew up with [Black] Sabbath on all the time, passively I had no choice but to like Sabbath [laughs]. Who doesn’t like them? It’s very likeable music.

How did you make the jump from Sabbath to 60s folk music?

ZO: [Laughs]. I grew up around lots of heavy metal. Megadeath do a cover of ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’, I always remember that from my youth, pre-school and primary school. One day in high school I was watching a documentary on SBS and the Sex Pistols came on and did ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’ and I was reminded of the Megadeath version. From that I got into 70s punk and you keep going back and you find The Kinks, once you get into that the 60s opened up, especially 60s garage. I got into a lot of 60s stuff though garage music. My grandma bought me Beatles CDs; people are lying if they say they don’t like Beatles songs [laughs]. Personally I think a lot of garage stuff from the 60s is more punk than what actually got called punk in the next decade. Any genre or sub-genre that exists has it’s roots in the 60s; you can trace everything back to there. As far as I can tell, it’s all there. 

Anything else you like to share with us about your new album?

ZO: It’s coming out in November, around the same time as Jake [Alien Nosejob] is releasing his album. The last two Traffik Island albums came out at the same time as Alien Nosejob albums, which is nice. 

Shrug Of The Shoulders is out November 19 on Flightless Records. 

Please check out traffikislandbandcamp.com.

Pipe-eye’s Cook Craig on new album Dream Themes plus new song and video premiere

Original pic courtesy of Flightless Records. Handmade mixed-media art by B.

Cook Craig returns with Pipe-eye release number four, Dream Themes. The record is adventurous and playful, crafting stories without needing words, in the tradition of the greatest soundtracks and Library Music, but with his own twist. Gimmie chatted with Cook in-depth for an hour about Pipe-eye’s beginnings, songwriting, his creative process, new passions that emerged in lockdown, finding a love of jazz in his “twilight years”, we get a little peak into his home life, and of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard touring. Today we’re premiering the song and clip for first single ‘Ancient 5G Aliens’ along with an extract of the chat; the full interview will appear in our next print zine, Gimmie Issue 5.

Where did the title of your new album Dream Themes come from?

COOK CRAIG: I had the idea that all of the songs on the new album would be theme songs, instrumental. I wanted to match them with the song titles, that they were weird dreams; they weren’t real TV shows. I thought it just sounded cool too. 

It does have a nice ring to it—Dreeeammm Themmmes!

CC: [Laughs] Yeah! And, I googled it and there weren’t many things called dream themes.

Did this collection of songs come from dreams?

CC: Kind of. Just wacky day dreams. Day dreams about my cat and my dog [laughs]. ‘Detective Dogington’ is about my dog, Homer. He’s really snoopy and walks around investigating things. ‘Martina Catarina’ is about my cat, Martina. She’s real crazy, she’s like a kitten. 

Are all of the songs on the album from something in your life?

CC: Yeah, or things like current events, like ‘Ancient 5G Aliens’ is about deadshit conspiracy theorists [laughs]. I usually write the music first and then try to think up titles and themes that I think match the vibe of the music. It’s what naturally comes out when I sit down. I wasn’t going for an overall theme or vibe for the album. In terms of the titles, they’re not particularly linked.

For you are the songs linked musically?

CC: Definitely. I pretty much wrote all of the songs at the one time, within a week. It was actually on my honeymoon.

Is that where ‘Let’s Get Married’ comes from?

CC: Yeah. We got married in our backyard the day before the very first Covid lockdown. We did that because we had an overseas wedding planned, but had to can it. We went to an Airbnb for two weeks and were locked down, and that’s when I wrote all of those songs. The Airbnb was really isolated in a costal country town, we didn’t really have that much to do, so I’d sit down for a couple of hours every day in the morning and wrote a song at a time.

I’m guessing just having got married and being on your honeymoon you would have been in a really great mood and that might have helped your creativity and productivity.

CC: I definitely had some gusto! Normally I’m not like that, I usually take ages to do anything. When I have an idea, it doesn’t take me long to write a song, but it takes me a while to get started and to get motivated. 

Is there anything that helps you get motivated?

CC: I have to just sit down and force myself to do it sometimes, I’m so busy with my other bands, with Pipe-eye I find it hard to get the time to sit down and write a song, or I don’t feel like it because I’ve been at band practice all week and I’m mentally fatigued or musically fatigued. Sometimes I’ll just sit down for a week and write a bunch of songs, and that will last me for the next six months.

How did the song we’re premiering ‘Ancient 5G Aliens’ come together?

CC: I made a lot of the songs on the album to drum machines that I had programmed. Later on, I got Cav (Michael Cavanagh the drummer who plays in King Gizz) to drum on it. I was going for a fast afro-esque groove, looped that a heaps of times, and it turned into a song from there. The title was inspired by the History Channel, it’s really funny now. It’s all about Ancient Aliens [laughs], it’s all about that crummy, really trash kind of TV. 

Ha! I remember watching the first couple of episodes of Ancient Aliens thinking, ok, maybe there’s a little something here, but then as the series continued on, it just really, really started to stretch things and make some wild claims. 

CC: Yeah. I was sold on it! Still am I reckon! [laughs].

Was it a conscious choice to make this album instrumental (of course besides the song ‘Chakra’ that has the part where the word is said over and over)?

CC: I started it without any intention of doing that and as it went on, I thought a lot of the songs were strong without vocals. I thought it would be cool to take a different direction for a change and focus really hard on the music itself, rather than… I normally make songs then I write the lyrics, the vocals as an afterthought. I wanted to change it up. 

Was there a freedom or relief that came from not having to write words for the songs this time around?

CC: A little bit. I like writing lyrics, but making the music is definitely my favourite part. 

What’s the first song you wrote for this album?

CC: ‘Let’s Get Married’. I wrote it when I was engaged.

Awww. How did your partner feel when you showed her?

CC: She liked it. She likes it when I sing though, and I don’t think she quite got the whole instrumental thing [laughs]. She was still appreciative.

‘Oakhill Avenue’ was the last one I wrote. I wrote it to fill a gap in the songs in terms of vibe, another slow kind of chill vibe song. I wanted to do something in a different time signature that wasn’t in 4/4. 

Most of the songs are fairly in my comfort zone. I feel like when I do Pipe-eye stuff it’s never that challenging, because I’m writing everything myself; I don’t’ necessarily write hard parts. In general, it was challenging to find sounds that I hadn’t used on albums before. I’ve done keyboards and synths a lot, I tried to push that a fair bit more on this record.

I noticed that. Do you ever bounce your ideas of someone else when you’re working on Pipe-eye material?

CC: It’s pretty much just me. Sometimes it’s good to get Michael, who drummed on it, I’ll send him a song and not really give him much instruction on what kind of drums to play, which is good because sometimes he sends it back and it’s completely different to what I would have thought of, and I’ll roll with that.

As the album progressed and evolved where there many other changes you noticed in the songs?

CC: The main one was just deciding to make it instrumental. I was halfway through when I decided to do that. I just plod along and slowly do things.

No stress! I assume with other projects you’re a part of it could get real hectic. With Pipe-eye you have control over everything yourself and no urgency to do anything, you can just take your time.

CC: Exactly! I don’t play live with Pipe-eye, it’s just a recording project. There’s less stress to do albums by deadline. It’s not like I have to do an album to do an album tour and promote it. I take my time and do it as it comes… 

When I first listened to Dream Themes, I was wondering is you’d be listening to a lot of soundtracks and Library Music?

CC: Yeah, 100%, I always listen to that kind of stuff…

There’s also a film clip to go with ‘Ancient 5G Aliens’; what can you tell us about it?

CC: It’s made by a guy called Jake Armstrong, he’s from The States. I learnt about him because Ambrose hit him up for a Murlocs clip; he did the ‘Skyrocket’ clip. I hit him up out of the blue and he was keen. It’s animation. His stuff is pretty kooky and playful, but there’s an underlying vibe of darkness, I guess. With this clip, he’s never done anything like it before. He fully went animation, they kind of look like PlayStation 2 graphics! It’s real cool. It’s kind of got a storyline, there are these two aliens fighting and it’s in a cityscape. It looks like the old kind of not-quite-there graphics, that PlayStation 2 kind of graphics.

Yeah, I remember those and Sega and Atari and all the games! 

CC: [Laughs] Yeah. I still game a bit. I got a PlayStation 5 recently! There’s not too many games out on it yet, so I haven’t got to play it too much. I was playing Ghost of Tsushima where you get to play a samurai, it’s a bit like playing open world. Pretty nerdy!

Pipe-eye Dream Themes out November 26th through Flightless Records.

Melbourne rock n rollers Civic’s bassist Roland Hlavka: “Sounds someone recorded seventy years ago can make you want to punch a wall or cry yourself to sleep.”

Photo: courtesy of Flightless. Handmade collage by B.

In November last year beloved Melbourne rock roll band Civic put out their first release 7” Radiant Eye on new label home Flightless Records; powerful and exciting with a muscular sound and caveman groove, flourishes of psychedelic apocalyptic guitar meltdown, cutting through fire hooks. As we eagerly await their debut full-length, slated for early this year, we caught up with bassist Roland Hlavka.

What did you get up to today?

ROLAND HLAVKA: I went to work for a few hours moving furniture. It was hot!

When Civic first started, around 2016/2017, I know your concept was to simply play good rock n roll; what embodies good rock n roll to you?

RH: I think it was more to just make music we collectively listen to and like. Which happened to be rock n roll at the time. The type of music we play, I personally think just needs to be loud, catchy and have a fairly even mix of not caring and caring too much. A lot of what we do is very thought out. But you need to balance that with some naivety, or you just end up sounding like what’s been done.

Why do you think rock n roll matters?

RH: It’s pretty obviously influenced popular culture for the last 70 years, be it in music, fashion, art etc… countless sub-cultures have come from “rock n roll”. It has changed and morphed over the years. But I think what hasn’t changed is its sentiment. Doing or making something because you think it’s good and it conjures a feeling. And doing it regardless if it’s well received or not.

What’s one of the staple records in your collection that you always keep going back to? What do you appreciate about it?

RH: This is going to be pretty obvious coming from us but The Stooges first three albums. I still listen to them heavily to this day. What always fascinates me is hundreds, if not thousands, of bands and musicians have used them as a point of reference and no-one in my opinion has even come close to making something in their era that has been so widely accepted as “cool”.

What have you been listening to lately?

RH: Over the last few months I have been enjoying a lot of compilations put together by people I like.

One to note has been Sad About The Times a 12″ compilation by Mikey Young. It features a bunch of weird outsider artists and one hit wonders. Lots of great tracks.

Outside the context of this interview… I’ve also been listening to a lot of Westside Gunn and his affiliated acts. Very talented rappers.

There’s often a bunch of sneaky references to both Australian and international bands you love in your music; what’s an Australian band you love that you feel is totally underrated? Why do they rule?

RH: I’m not sure how underrated they are but definitely The Celibate Rifles have been a big influence on us, more so in the early days. As I said early… loud, catchy and a good middle ground of self-consciousness.

In November last year you put out a new 7” and your first release on Flightless Records, Radiant Eye. We’re really digging the brass on the track; what inspired you to add it into the mix?

RH: We had played the song live a handful of times before recording it. And had said to each other it could be cool to have some horns. We are all fans of The Saints and Ed Kuepper in general. Not that this is a nod to them. But the mix between what we were doing and some brass obviously sounds great. So, we called up Stella Rennex [Parsnip/Smarts] while we were recording and got her to come up with a part. We have her playing on a few tracks from the upcoming album too.

On the b-side you covered The Creation’s 1966 hit ‘Making Time’; how’d you come to choosing this song to cover?

RH: That was Lewis’ idea. We liked the idea of having a cover on the b-side. So, we started listing tracks we thought would work. Had a few run throughs at practice and it was sounding good. We recorded it, and it sounds good.

Civic’s full-length debut is coming out early 2021. We’re super excited for it! What can you tell us about it at this point?

RH: It’s twelve tracks. We’ve been working hard on it. There was an idea to make it sound more like an ‘album’ rather than slapped together songs that sound exactly how we sound live. I don’t like this phrase at all, but we wanted it to ‘feel like a journey’. I think there is a pretty diverse group of songs on the album in my opinion. Some of which we may never play live. But as I said, we worked hard. I like it. Hopefully you will like it.

How do you feel your collaborative relationship has grown since first EP New Vietnam?

RH: We’ve always had somewhat of the same format for a lot of our songs. Someone comes up with a few parts that we piece together at rehearsal. Or, someone will bring a fully finished song to the table and not much, if any tweaking needed. This upcoming album is no different. We all work well together and aren’t afraid to tell each other if something is terrible.

All your artwork thus far has had a red, black & white colour palette; was their much intention behind this? There’s also a one-eyed face both on your Radiant Eye and Those Who No releases; what’s the story with that?

RH: The intention behind the colour choice was somewhat sub-conscious. They are about as bold and contrasting as you can get. Endless bands, brands and companies have used them. Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Ferrari, Supreme… the list goes on and on. I’ve always like labels and bands that keep a similar aesthetic across their releases. Sacred Bones Records have their border and lay-out the same on every release as an example. Your colour choice becomes your brand after a while. This doesn’t work for everyone and every band… and who’s to say our next release will have any of those colours on it. But I think this far it has served us well. And narrows down the decisions on what colours things should be.

In relation to the one eye… people say when one sense is lost the others get stronger. We view this eye as an eye of judgement. Everyone more so now than ever is being watched and documented. If I say deodorant too loudly around my phone, when I open an app all of my targeted ads are for deodorant. If I use my credit card to buy something from a website. That information is stored, sold and marketed back at me. As technology advances, so does the eye watching us. We use this eye to our advantage. We have taken away the second eye and have put all the focus on the one, powerful, beautiful eye. Do you see what I mean?

What do you love most about music?

RH: That you can use something to change your mood just by listening. No pills needed. Sounds someone recorded seventy years ago can make you want to punch a wall or cry yourself to sleep.

What’s something you learnt in 2020 that you’re taking into 2021 with you?

RH: If you think something is good you should just do it. Worry about it later, because as we’re seeing now more than ever… you could become completely irrelevant very quickly.

Please check out: CIVIC on bandcamp. Radiant Eye 7″ out via Flightless Records.

Matt Blach from Geelong Psych-Rock Band Beans: “We all listened to a lot of ELO and Slade and ‘70s music”

Original photo: Jamie Wdziekonski. Handmade collage by B.

Psych-rockers Beans are back sounding bigger and better than ever with sophomore album, All Together Now! We spoke with guitarist-vocalist Matt Blach (who also drums for The Murlocs) about the new record.

What first got you interested in music?

MATT BLACH: My dad played drums and he kind of taught me how to play drums. I’ve did it ever since I was a tiny kid.

When did you start playing guitar?

MB: That wasn’t until a bit later, I played drums first. I taught myself, I started playing when I was ten or eleven.

What were you listening to back then?

MB: A lot of the classics like Beatles and The Who and The Clash.

How did the new Beans’ record All Together Now get started?

MB: It’s our second album and we just wanted to make a bigger and better album from the first one.

Initially, did you have an idea of what you wanted it to sound like?

MB: Not particularly. We all listened to a lot of ELO [The Electric Light Orchestra] and Slade and ‘70s music and things naturally branched from there.

What have you been listening to at the moment?

MB: I’ve been listening to our label [Flightless Records] friends; Leah Senior. My friend Tim [Karmouche] just put out an instrumental album called Mouche [Live From The Bubble]. Another friend’s band called Smarts.

We love Smarts too! Lyrically was there any specific themes you were writing about with this record?

MB: Not particularly. It’s pretty scrambled really. We tried to match the lyrics with the aura of the song. Towards the last half of last year we tried to have at least one rehearsal a week as a group – three of us live in Geelong and two of us live in Melbourne – we took it in turns in terms of rehearsals and driving up and down each week. The host had to make dinner [laughs].

What did you make for dinner when it was your turn to host?

MB: Usually just pasta or tacos [laughs]. Communal food.

Song “Stride” on the record is about rediscovering your sense of self; were you going through that yourself when writing it?

MB: I guess so. It took me a while to write the lyrics to that song. I was going through that position in my life and that’s what made it come out.

The film clip for it is done in a Top Of The Pops style!

MB: Yeah, that’s what we were going for [laughs]. Over-exaggerated happiness.

What are some things that make you happy?

MB: Playing music [laughs].

What do you do outside of music?

MB: I do a bit of trade work. That helps me with the bills.

Do you ever find when you’re building something at work you’ll get song ideas?

MB: Yeah, definitely. I work by myself most of the time and I like being in my own head. I often don’t listen to music so I try and think of something or hum something.

Can you tell us a bit about the song “Street Troll”?

MB: “Street Troll” is a funny one [laughs]. I was on tour with Murlocs, we were in Belgium and we went out a bit later to get some takeaway beers and there was this big, drunk, scary Belgium dude that wouldn’t let us walk along the footpath. I called the song “Street Troll” and based it around that.

How about “Get It Right”?

MB: It’s a mixture of things. It’s basically about trying to do the right thing but sometimes it seems you’re not.

Is there a song on the album that was easy for you to write?

MB: I guess “Melt” came to me the easiest.

That one is about Climate Change, right?

MB: Yeah, and the government! [laughs].

Was there a song that was hard to write?

MB: I found it hard to put lyrics to “Montgomery”. It’s a busy song and there’s lots going on already so it was hard to find a neat little melody to put vocals in.

Do you demo first before you record?

MB: Yeah, I usually make a lot of demos at home and Facebook it to all the other guys and they get a bit of a vibe going before we get to practice.

Can you tell us about the recording?

MB: All Together Now was recorded in Geelong with Billy Gardner. We recorded it as four, everyone without Mitch the keyboard player. Jack did guitar overdubs, Mitch did the keys later and I did my vocals later.

Why did you call the album All Together Now?

MB: That was based on a private Facebook group I made with the boys to organise practices and jams. Three of us work and two of us do uni, it can be really difficult to get a practice together, especially with the hour and a half travel as well. I called it All Together Now because I was like, OK, everyone can you put down dates when you’re free. That’s how the album came together so we thought, why not call it that.

What is one of the biggest challenges of being in band for you?

MB: Self-doubt.

In what way?

MB: Personally. I guess that can be a good thing not to be overly confident and to doubt yourself and have that insecurity in a way [laughs].

The band were called Baked Beans, now it’s just Beans; does the name change mark new beginnings for you guys?

MB: Yeah, I guess we tried to approach it like that. A new album with a bit of a different name. The name wasn’t really a change for anything, we just didn’t really like the word “baked” and we just call it Beans anyway.

Once you finish an album do you go straight into writing new stuff?

MB: Yeah, exactly. Usually you follow up an album launch with a tour but we obviously can’t do that right now. Jack and I live together in North Melbourne, we have a little garage set up where we’ve been churning out demos. We pretty much write all the time!

Please check out BEANS; Beans on Facebook; Beans on Instagram; All Together Now out via Flightless Records.

Leah Senior on new LP The Passing Scene: “I went through a really long period of not being able to write, this album is rediscovering play in creativity”

Original pic: Jamie Wdziekonski. Handmade collage B.

Melbourne-based musician Leah Senior writes philosophical, thoughtful, joyous songs. New LP The Passing Scene explores impermanence, acceptance, the natural world and the freedom of simply being. Gimmie spoke to Leah about her new record.

Right now you would have been finishing up a US tour with King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard but due to the pandemic it was cancelled. You decided to go ahead and release your album; what inspired you to put it out now?

LEAH SENIOR: I don’t think the pandemic holds that much sway, from my perspective it was always going to come out now and it doesn’t matter if I’m touring or not, it’s a totally separate thing. Now is as good a time as any to put out music, if not more so.

The title of the album The Passing Scene is taken from the song of the same name on the album; as the title of the album what did you want it to represent?

LS: Looking back on all of the songs on the album there’s a real theme I suppose and it’s just acceptance of transit, that nothing ever stays the same. I just started reading a book by Pema Chödrön who is a Buddhist writer. I was reading this morning about the idea that everything falls apart and then comes back together and then falls apart. I think that “The Passing Scene” the song is about tuning into nature but at the same time accepting that nothing stays the same.

Impermanence?

LS: Yes, impermanence is the word I’m looking for.

I love the moving cover of your record, it’s pretty incredible!

LS: Yeah, it’s the same idea, that impermanence or that the passing scene is always changing. It was a way to visually express that idea.

Jamie Wdziekonski did the cover, right?

LS: Yeah, Jamie did it, yep.

Photo/album cover: Jamie Wdziekonski.

Was it his idea or yours?

LS: It was his idea to have it lenticular. I would never have thought of that.

Going into the album did you have a vision for it?

LS: No. This album has been recorded at home over the last few years. It’s taken a long time, I’m a slow song writer. It gradually was a piecing together of a record. I’d have a few songs that took it in one direction so I’d follow that and then I’d have songs that took it in another direction, so I’d cut songs; it was a real process of slowly piecing together the puzzle.

It’s a little bit of a departure from your previous work.

LS: Yeah. It comes out of trying to change my approach to creativity, I suppose. After my second album I went through a really long period of not being able to write, this album is rediscovering play in creativity. I was trying to relax a bit more, the songs come from play rather than anguish.

Often an artist’s work reflects or correlates with what’s going on in their life; were you writing from a happier place?

LS: Absolutely. It’s having stability.

You mentioned you recorded in your lounge room over a long period of time; how did this help shape the record? It feels more intimate.

LS: That’s good. Me and my partner Jesse Williams worked on it. He recorded the album. It affected the way it sounds so much. I have a really strong vision of how I like things to sound and for better or for worse having my partner record it means that I can really get it exactly how I want it. Having total control over how it sounds has affected it. It’s definitely intimate and relaxed and it’s meant that I haven’t been on anyone else’s time when I’ve been making it. I think the relaxed approach has translated to the sound.

I get that from the record, I also get that it’s hopeful and joyous.

LS: That’s good, I hope so.

Photo: Jamie Wdziekonski.

Can you share with us a fond memory from the recording process?

LS: I love doing full band stuff, again it’s just being relaxed and getting to play with all of your friends in the lounge room, it’s the best possible way of recording;  studios can be cold and scary and impersonable. It’s great to be able to just sit in my pyjamas and record [laughs].

I really love the last song on the record “Time Traveller”; what’s it about?

LS: That one I wrote about my niece Eleanor, she was a baby at the time. It’s about being frightened to look into the future. There’s a line in there: see the smoke hanging over the city… that was like a prediction for the summer [bush fires], I guess. It’s about being scared to look into the future and feeling that we never seem to learn from our mistakes.

What were you like growing up?

LS: I guess I was a lot of things. I grew up in the country. I was always really obsessed with music. My dad would sing me Beatles’ songs and my mum would sing me folky songs; she’s Swiss, and would sing me folk songs. From there I really just went on my own discovery expedition. I would work at a shop blowing up balloons on a Saturday morning and then go to the shop next door and look at the covers of CDs and buy the ones I liked trying to find new music.

Nice! I know that Howard Eynon performed in your living room not too long ago; did you learn anything from watching him play?

LS: Yeah, absolutely. That was a really powerful night! He can teach us all a lot. I felt a lot of the themes that I’ve been feeling on the record I made, he embodies that stuff; trying to relinquish ego and accepting impermanence. His presence is so joyous and free and youthful. He’s a perfect example of a way to live a life, I reckon.

Another song I really love on your album is “Jesus Turned into a Bird” it’s really pretty, especially the piano; how did that one come together?

LS: That song was written from being up really, really late one night and looking around me and seeing the sun come up and feeling so profoundly disconnected from nature. I wrote it the very next day. I constantly feel that way, I feel like we are so, so far away from nature the way that we live our lives.

Is there any songs on the album that hold a special significance for you?

LS: I feel like “Graves”… I really like playing that one still, even though we released it a little while ago. My partner Jesse and I wrote that one together. I’ll never not feel like I felt, what I was expressing, in that song. They’re all genuine expressions, they’re all real.

Jesse is from the Girlatones?

LS: Yep.

Is it nice having a partner that is also creative?

LS: Yeah, it’s great. I don’t think I couldn’t not have a creative partner. It’s especially nice working on my music with him. He can play anything on anyone of my songs and it sounds like how I would envision it. He has a total musical understanding of my emotions or something. I feel very lucky to have that.

The video for your song “Evergreen” was shot at a castle?

LS: Yeah. Kryal Castle.

Where did the idea for that come from?

LS: My friend Jess who shot the video we were talking and she was envisioning some kind of fun medieval thing. It was her idea. We were scouting out places and that place was perfect.

Do you have any other film clips coming up?

LS: Nah. I have a live clip… I’m not sure. Not at this point in time.

How has not being able to play live affected you?

LS: It’s been fine. It’s actually been pretty good. It’s freeing and fun for me. I’m not an extrovert, I don’t get my kicks from that sort of thing. I like trying to make things. For me, it’s been fine.

Have you been making anything lately?

LS: I’m always making things here and there. I haven’t been writing that many songs. One day I’ll do a tiny bit of poetry and the next day I’ll do a tiny bit of painting—I’m bad at settling and focusing on things.

What have you been writing about with your poetry?

LS: The last poem I wrote was about this idea that we are attracted to nature because nature can only be itself. It’s not my own idea, it was inspired by John O’Donohue. He was saying that a crow doesn’t wake up one day and go “oh, I wish I was a crow” it can only be itself, and there’s something really beautiful about that. We spend our time trying on new outfits and constantly trying to become, whereas birds don’t sing the song of becoming, they’re not song writers, they’re song singers.

Why is music important to you?

LS: That’s a huge question. It speaks the language of nonsense, the reality of the world is all nonsense—music is in tune with that. Music expresses so much more than we ever could express without it.

Vid: Button Pusher more here.

Please check out LEAH SENIOR; on bandcamp; on Facebook; on Instagram; Get The Passing Scene via Flightless Records.

Amyl And The Sniffers’ Gus Romer: “I was losing my mind, I was so nervous. It’s insane. I hadn’t experienced anything like that before”

Original photo Jamie Wdziekonski. Handmade collage by B.

Melbourne pub punk band Amyl and the Sniffers need no introduction. We recently chatted to bassist Gus Romer to find out about the progress on new music, how he came to join the band and about their travels all over the world.

When we were teeing up this chat you mentioned that you’re a late sleeper; have you always been one? Is it because you’ve played so many shows – I think around 250 or so in the last year – that contributes to you keeping late hours?

GUS ROMER: In the past two years we’ve played a lot of shows. I’ve always been like that though, I’ve always cherished a good lie in [laughs].

How did you first discover music?

GR: From a young-ish age my mother always had an emphasis on my brother and I learning an instrument, doing something musical.

Why do you think she pushed you guys towards something creative?

GR: She’s an art teacher, so we’ve always done creative stuff from the start. It’s a good outlet to always have, something to do and something to work on.

You’re originally from Tasmania?

GR: Yep, yep.


What was it like growing up there?

GR: It was great! I love Tassie a lot. Super small. Super beautiful. Pretty cold [laughs].

What kind of stuff were you into as a kid?

GR: Mainly music, bits and bobs, that came in and out of my interest because I spent most of my childhood and teens just skateboarding, I was really into that!

What bands were you listening to?

GR: At the very start when you’re really young it’s just listening to the radio and whatever is around you. I got really into the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Led Zeppelin and Rage Against The Machine. I fell off for a while and got really into hip-hop for a few years in my teens, that’s all I listened to, I wasn’t into too much else at the time. Later on I got back into punk rock.

What hip-hop were you listening to?

GR: I was really into Big L and MF Doom and Wu-Tang.

Did you start off playing bass? Was that the first instrument you learnt?

GR: What got me into playing bass was that in primary school we had a strings program where you could get out of class for an hour a week and this person would come around and teach a few kids how to play. I played the cello. When I finished primary school and went into high school, I obviously couldn’t do that anymore, so I got a bass for my birthday. I joined this band with my friends.

Was that the band Bu$ Money?

GR: No, that was way later. This is when I was younger. I got into playing bass initially from that transition from playing the cello.

Did you have a bunch of other bands before Bu$ Money?

GR: Bu$ Money was when I started listening to more local music and shit around in my scene in Hobart and what inspired me to get back into it and have a crack. Even though I didn’t play bass in Bu$ Money, I played drums.

How did you first get into your local scene?

GR: There’s not a great deal of places to go out and drink in Hobart. The Brisbane Hotel was where me and my friends always went ‘cause there wasn’t a bunch of dickheads there. There was alternative people, more like-minded people. I started going to drink with my friends, I started going to more shows from that and really started getting into it. I thought, this is pretty good! I’m gonna have a crack. I got one of my friends and a guy I worked with and pretty much forced them to start and be in a band with me! [laughs].

What local bands were you listening to and seeing live?

GR: Treehouse were a big one! I’m a big fan! The Dreggs, are a great, great Hobart band. There were a lot of bands that came and gone. Native Cats are a great, great Hobart band!

How did you end up being in Amyl and the Sniffers?

GR: I was already good friends with the band, I met them when Declan’s old band, Jurassic Nark, came to Hobart and Bu$ Money supported them. So that’s how I met him and then I went to Melbourne soon after and hung out with everybody else; I was good friends with them and a big fan of the band. When their old bass player parted ways with the band they called me one day and said, “Move to Melbourne and join the band”. I thought, sweet! I quit my job and moved to Melbourne.

Did you have to give much thought to it?

GR: I’d already been toying with the idea of moving to Melbourne for a while but it would have taken me even longer to do if they hadn’t asked me, it was a nice little push. It got me going and got me moving. I was already such good friends with them and a really big fan of the band so it wasn’t too much of a decision. It was super natural, cool, let’s do it!

In around March 2017, I think, is when you played your first show with them?

GR: I don’t even know ‘ey? [laughs].

Do you remember anything about that first show with them?

GR: Yeah. It was the band’s second tape launch. It was at the Curtin. I was so, so nervous! I couldn’t really play bass that good. At the time I hadn’t played bass in seven years! [laughs]. I got my friend to teach me all the songs. We had one practice. I remember being really nervous and didn’t think I played that well. I was like, oh god! I blew it! I blew! They said, “Nah! That’s great!” No one was looking at me anyway [laughs]. It was a good time. A couple of drinks loosened me up a bit and I just got up and it was fine.

Do you ever get nervous now playing shows?

GR: Not at all. Being filmed makes me really nervous though and feel uncomfortable [laughs], doing an in the studio kind of thing. We played on Jools Holland last year.

I saw that!

GR: I was off it before that, I was losing my mind, I was so nervous. It’s insane. I hadn’t experienced anything like that before.

You guys have got to do all kinds of interesting things. I saw photos from when you did a Gucci campaign and walked in their Fall 2019 show and there was a photo shoot at an Archaeological Park.

GR: It was at these ruins in Sicily. It’s pretty crazy. The first time doing that and going into that it was the first time I’d ever experienced anything like it, the level of the production, the money and effort that goes into that stuff is just mind blowing! The scale is insane. For one campaign there was over 100 staff there, everyone running around doing this, that and everything. It was crazy! It was an hour out of Palermo the capital of Sicily. There were all these old, old buildings, these ruins on the coast.

Is there something else cool that you’ve seen in your travels that sticks out to you?

GR: Too much! There’s always something crazy going on somewhere. Having the opportunity… we’ve played in Russia before, stuff like that sticks out, we were only there a day and a half. Getting to play places like Russia and Istanbul, is pretty mind blowing! I never thought I’d get the opportunity to do anything like that.

What was Istanbul like?

GR: It was so cool! Definitely the coolest place I’ve ever been, we were only there for a day though. We flew in and out. I got to walk around for two hours but it was so cool. Everything was so cool, the vibe, the architecture, it was super, super beautiful.

What was Russia like?

GR: Russia was pretty, pretty crazy. We went to Red Square. It was pretty insane, the drive from the airport to our hotel was an hour, hour and a half, and on the outskirts of the city it seems like there’s really intense poverty, in the city there is so much money! On the outskirts you see massive, massive apartment blocks that look so run down and dilapidated; in the city centre it’s so clean and there’s so much money everywhere, sports cars everywhere!

What was it like playing shows in places like that? Is it similar to here?

GR: The show in Moscow was for a festival, that was the very first show we played in Europe. We played a festival to a relatively small crowd, they were getting it though and a few people even knew all the lyrics! It’s always pretty wild because you go in not expecting much and then you have people singing your lyrics back to you. It’s mind blowing!

Have you got to see many beautiful nature spots in your travels?

GR: Driving through America is always really, really cool, the diversity of the landscape; you drive through the hills of Oregon and then drive through the desert. That stands out in terms of nature to me.

What’s one of the coolest things that you’ve seen in America?

GR: It’s all a blur to be honest [laughs]. There’s a lot, a lot of driving and a lot of drinking!

You’ve been working on a new Sniffers album?

GR: Yep, at the moment we’re trying to get some songs together to become an album at some point.

In December I think you guys mentioned you had around 12 songs?

GR: Yeah, November last year we had a fair long slog of trying to do it, trying to get something going—we got a lot of good stuff. Now we’ve just hired a little unit at a storage place near our house, which has been great. At the start of lock down we were bumming around doing nothing for the first six to eight weeks. We’ve set up in the storage unit and we’ve been hitting that up quite a bit, which has been really good. We’re trying to write new stuff and trying to do stuff that we’re all super happy with.

You all live together?

GR: Yep, yep. It’s cool. Because we’ve toured so solidly for the past two years, we’ve pretty much spent 24-hours a day with each other, we’ve been overseas together for months at a time so, it’s a pretty smooth transition for us. We all know how each other rolls.

Was it weird for you at the start of isolation not being able to tour?

GR: Kind of. It was a nice break though. We were meant to be in the States for a month, not too long after it all started. We’ve been so busy the past few years, this past six months has been the biggest break that we’ve had, the most time we’ve spent in Australia in such a long time. I’ve just been enjoying being home.

With the new stuff you’re writing have you been trying anything different to previous work?

GR: Yeah, there’s a couple of tracks that are heavier and faster, on the other spectrum there is some different stuff. We’re not trying to limit ourselves too much to a particular sound or style, just playing around and seeing what we like. Most of the time either Declan, Bryce or myself will bring a riff and we’ll jam it out. Most of the time we just try to finish it, get something and then talk about it afterwards, see what we like about it and if we keep it or don’t.

When you’re making your own music do you listen to other people’s music much?

GR: Always, I always have something going. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Dick Diver and Low Life, Vertigo—I’ve been pumping all them recently. There’s always good stuff!

Previously, just after the Sniffers debut album came out, you mentioned that you felt a really big sense of relief that the album was done and it was nice to not have to stress and worry about it; what kind of things do you stress and worry about when making an album?

GR: Well, with that, that was in the thick of us touring like crazy… when we recorded it we had come off of four months non-stop touring overseas; we flew to Sheffield in the UK and recorded the album there. We’d been away for too long, we’d work so hard non-stop touring—we just wanted to be home, we were so over it! It was definitely not the greatest time and was really stressful.

What were you tired of?

GR: We were pretty happy with what we had but we were happy to get the album out of the way. A lot of the songs, we’d already been playing for a couple of years, we just wanted to record it and get it out and never think about it or listen to it again.

Do you have a favourite Sniffers song to play?

GR: I’d probably say “Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled)”. That’s my favourite. Usually we play it last. I like the build-up, it’s fun to play.

What was the last band you saw live before lockdown?

GR: Just before everything went to a halt we were in the middle of an Australian tour, we played Sydney and Newcastle, they were the two last times I went out. I got to see Gee Tee and R.M.F.C. supporting us in Sydney, that’s always, always a great time! Concrete Lawn are a Sydney band who we are really good friends with us played in Newcastle. They were the last live shows I got to see before everything stopped.

Do you have plans yet for the rest of the year or is it too hard to plan with all the uncertainty around?

GR: There’s always stuff. We’re hoping to do an Australia tour before the end of the year, it just depends. We’re hoping to get overseas again from the start to the middle of next year. It’s a guessing game though and no one is too sure how it will go.

What have you been doing in isolation to keep sane?

GR: Now that we have the practice space we’ve been utilising that a quite a bit, other than that we haven’t been doing much… bumming around watching dumb shit on the internet and movies. The boys bought an Xbox, so they’re playing a lot of FIFA [laughs].

Last question; what inspired you to get your mullet haircut?

GR: I was really, really into the Cosmic Psychos. I was watching a lot of old footage and the doco Blokes You Can Trust and decided I wanted to look like Ross Knight! [laughs]. It’s pretty funny! I love the Cosmic Psychos.

Please check out: AMYL AND THE SNIFFERS; on bandcamp; on Facebook; on Instagram.

Traffik Island, ORB and Hierophants’ Zak Olsen: “If it’s not memorable, it’s just not going to have a connection with anyone”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Melbourne-based musician Zak Olsen is one of those musical wizards. He has a natural talent for songwriting, doesn’t tie himself to one genre, and somehow magically has a knack for them all. He works his magic in heavy psych power-trio ORB, with new wavers Hierophants and as Traffik Island, a project that jumps style from one album to the next. He’s one of our favourite songwriters. We spoke with him last week to get an insight into his world.

ZAK OLSEN: I’m just at the studio right now, saying studio is a bit of a stretch but, I have a room that’s not my house that has some of my music gear in it [laughs]. It’s really close to my house so I just come here most days. I spend all day and all night in here usually.

Where did you grow up?

ZO: I grew up in New Zealand, I grew up in a few places because we moved every year. I mainly grew up on farms in New Zealand and moved to Australia in the year 2000.

What were you like growing up?

ZO: Most of my youth I grew up on a farm, which was really good. My parents had that school of parenting where they just let you go and make your own mistakes. We had lots of space which was good, my dad would say “Just go and do whatever you want just be back before its dark”. I spent heaps of time outside by myself when I was younger. My dad also played in a few heavy metal bands so he would always have huge parties and there’d be all these metalheads around. That was the first music that I got into when I was really young, like five years old. Its’ pretty appealing to a five year old. My dad would have all these heavy metal VHS tapes, I particularly remember the Megadeath one! I loved it so much.

How did you discover music for yourself?

ZO: I’ve always had an interest in it because my dad did. In high school I heard the Sex Pistols and had one of those light bulb moments! Megadeth also did a Sex Pistols’ cover. I remember watching SBS one night and the Sex Pistols being on there and they played ‘Anarchy In The UK’ and I remember the Megadeth song of it from back when I was a kid and it sort of all came back around again. I got into it from there, I decided that I wanted to play guitar and that was that.

Why is music important to you?

ZO: Just the actual act of making it, is the most fun I could ever have. Once it’s made it’s never quite as good, I still love playing live and all that stuff but for me personally the most fun that I can have in music is writing things—making noises! [laughs].

Is there a particular album or albums that’s helped shape your ideas on music?

ZO: Yes. Besides the obvious stuff like ‘60s pop – I got really into that in high school – just the simple things that are catchy that still have an effect that aren’t intimidating; stuff that involves everyone, simple music like The Beatles and The Kinks. That stuff is always with me. I remember the first time I heard R. Stevie Moore, that was a big influence because he didn’t stick to any genre. I know a lot of people claim they don’t stick to one genre but he really, really pushed that, he really went for it. I remember seeing an interview with him and he said that you can just make any noise, it’s still a song, not every song has to be your magnum opus. That allowed me to open up and make any noise.

I really like with him too that people go “you’re the king of lo-fi!” and he tells them something like “It doesn’t matter if it’s lo-fi or hi-fi or whatever-fi, I’m DIY-fi”.

ZO: Yeah, exactly! I’m definitely not going for a lo-fi thing, it’s just out of necessity. If I could make big grand exotica Martin Denny kind of albums I would. I don’t have that kind of money or resources though [laughs].

How did you first start making music yourself? You were in The Frowning Clouds; were you making stuff before that?

ZO: Nah, no. I was barely playing guitar before that, we just decided to start a band. I couldn’t really play at the time, we learnt as we went. I was a really slow learner with music but we all just kept going and here we are [laughs]. I’m still a slow learner!

When you make music then, is it mostly through feeling and intuition for you?

ZO: Absolutely. I don’t read music or know any of that kind of stuff. It’s 100% intuition for me.

The first Traffik Island LP Nature Strip that you put out – I know there was a split tape before that too – sounded kind of Beatles-y and Kinks-y and a little Bonzo Dog Band-ish and Syd Barrett-esque now with your new release Sweat Kollecta’s Peanut Butter Traffik Jam it’s kind of like a DJ Shadow beat tape, they’re such different sounds…

ZO: It goes back to the doing different things like R. Stevie Moore doing whatever you want. I wanted to do that to the max! I just wanted to make something as different from the first one. I was worried about it once it was made and I thought, oh shit, people that liked the first one probably aren’t going to like the new one. Nature Strip is the album that I always wanted to make ever since I was really young, being an obvious Syd Barrett fan, I just wanted to make an album on an acoustic guitar—that was the mission statement.

For the next one I wanted to do the total opposite and make it more computer-based and not write anything before; every one of those songs are made up just as I’m making it, it wasn’t prewritten.

So when you play them live you’ll have to teach yourself how to play them again?

ZO: Well, yeah. The band haven’t learnt any of those live yet, whether I’ll play them in front of an audience is yet to be seen [laughs].

I really hope you do!

ZO: There’s so many ways to do it that I’m just not sure yet. Hopefully one day… if venues open up again!

I really liked the Button Pusher live stream you did the other night!

ZO: Yeah, that was a test of maybe how we can do it live.

Dude, that test went really well, we super impressed. Just how you walked into the room rolled the tape machine and then started playing was so cool! The lighting and mood really added to it all too.

ZO: That’s good! That’s something I’m working on with a couple of other people at the studio too, we’ve started a YouTube channel live stream for performances and sorts of things. We have a few more coming up soon.

On your first release the split tape Sleepy Head/Traffic Island I noticed there’s Hierophants and Sweat Kollecta’s songs on that from back in 2012.

ZO: Yeah, my friend Danny who ran that label Moontown was doing a split with Nick, another Frowning Clouds member, he was doing the A-side. Danny called me asked me if I had any demos laying around to fill up the B-side of the tape. I said, yes, but I didn’t have any at the time. Lucky it was around the time I heard R. Stevie Moore so I had a real jolt of inspiration and just went out the back for two weeks and did all those songs for the tape. Some of them ended up going into Frowning Clouds or Hierophants after the fact.

I really love Hierophants! Spitting Out Moonlight was one of our favourite LPs of last year! We’re big fans of your other releases last year too, it’s so cool when you can find an artist that makes such different things but they’re all incredible. That’s not an easy thing to pull off.

ZO: That’s nice to hear. Thank you. It all has to do with collaboration with people and letting things just happen the way they do between people. You’re not really pushing an aesthetic or an agenda when you’re collaborating, that’s hopefully when more interesting things come out. I think Hierophants lean into that, we purposely do things that maybe sound ugly or we think we shouldn’t do. That’s the most collaborative band, especially in the sense that no idea gets rejected, we do everything. It’s really warts and all, sometimes good, sometimes bad [laughs].

I wanted to ask you about the Hierophants song ‘Everything In Order’; what inspired that one?

ZO: That was nearly going to be a Traffik Island song. That was inspired by, I broke my arm quite badly and had surgery. I spent a couple of weeks doing demos one-handed, that song was one of the one-handed songs [laughs]. Jake [Robertson] heard it and asked if Hierophants could do it. I was trying to do a show tune-y kind of thing [laughs]. Someone told me that the hook is the same from a song from a Disney movie [laughs]. I was trying to do something Robyn Hitchcock-y, when he does these ridiculous sounding show tunes.

I love the lyrics in it: you don’t need friendship anyway / you don’t need family anyway.

ZO: [Laughs] Don’t quote me on that one, it’s a character who is wrong, because you do need family and friends.

What about the song ‘Limousine’?

ZO: It’s about the obvious, but the funny thing about it is that I think I subconsciously took that from watching a Paul Simon interview. He was on the Dick Cavett Show from back in the ‘70s and he was talking about writing a song about someone that’s trapped by fame and they’re riding around in their limousine. Subconsciously years down the track I just wrote that! I re-watched that interview recently and realised I took it [laughs]. The song is original, I promise! The seed of the song maybe I took from Paul Simon.

Do you have a favourite track on the new Traffik Island Sweat Kollecta’s LP?

ZO: I like ‘Rubber Stamps’ it’s the least beats/DJ Shadow-y one. It’s a short instrumental, sort of exotica, ‘60s kind of sounding, crappy Beach Boys instrumental one. It came out the easiest.

I notice though different lyrics or song titles there’s a humour and lightness to your music.

ZO: Humour is always good, it takes the edge off. Frank Zappa had a humorous side or Devo did too, they had a real sense of humour and both had been big influences on me. It’s not too conscious for me. It is a bit easier if you put a sense of humour on things, it’s easier to put it out into the world because… I’m kind of lost for words…

Because it’s too personal? And you’re not overtly putting yourself out there?

ZO: Yeah. I think if people put irony in their music it protects them from criticism. People don’t criticise things, they just say that I’m being ironic. That’s not why I’m trying to be funny in the songs though, I guess it just makes it more enjoyable. I don’t think anyone wants to be yelled at [laughs].

I wanted to ask you about one of my favourite ORB songs, ‘Space Between The Planets’…

ZO: Oh nice! That’s mainly Daff’s song, it took us ages to do that one, we got a bit lost in the riffage [laughs]. It turned out well in the end. There’s no secret with the ORB songs, everyone brings riffs and we smash ‘em together and hope they turn out good—it’s that boneheaded! [laughs].

It’s fun to have that too.

ZO: Yeah, the goal was just to have a fun band and just turn it up! We wanted to make it fun live and be nice and loud, because a lot of our stuff was never like that.

Do you write every day?

ZO: Yeah, in some sense. I haven’t done any acoustic guitar writing in ages. I come to the studio every day I can. I make noises in some sense but I’m not like Randy Newman on the piano every day, as much as I wish I was!

Do you have a particular way you go about writing songs?

ZO: At the moment, because I’m working on remixes and I’m trying to do a hip-hop thing with a friend from America, all the stuff is very beat-based. I’ll start that by just finding cool drum loops. It’s totally different from writing song songs on the guitar, proper songs I guess, is that I usually try to hum a melody first in the shower or something, the catchiest bit, the bit everyone usually remembers about the song. If I can come up with a line or a chorus without any instruments first and then I’ll go to the guitar or the piano and work out what the chords are and go from there. That usually works.

Where did your interest in hip-hop come from?

ZO: It’s always been a faint interest. I grew up skateboarding so there’s lots of great songs in skateboarding videos…

Like A Tribe Called Quest!

ZO: Yeah, heaps of that and even stuff like DJ Shadow. A lot of new release hip-hop came out last year that I really liked.

What kind of stuff?

ZO: Quelle Chris had this album called Guns. There’s another guy I like too called Billy Woods he did an album called Hiding Places. They don’t give into the tropes of hip-hop and the beats are a lot weirder, psychedelic is the only way that I could describe it. There’s FX on the vocals and lots of echo. It’s not focusing on the tropes of gangsta stuff, they’re not rapping about cash or cars, it’s more introverted and weird. It kicked off my interest in it more. Obviously things like Madlib and MF Doom; I was late to the MF Doom thing but when I got into it, it was all I listened to for a year.

I love his Danger Doom project and the song ‘Benzie Box’ is an all-time favourite.

ZO: Hell yeah!

My brother and I owned a skateboard shop in the late ‘90s, he had one in the ‘80s too, and I loved all the skate vids with the hip-hop and punk soundtracks.

ZO: That’s cool. It’s such a good way to get into stuff. I’m very thankful for all those movies they really got me into stuff that I still listen to now.

Do you have a song of yours that stands out as one of the quickest ones to write?

ZO: ‘Looking Up’ it’s a song on Nature Strip. I never write songs in one sitting but that one was written in an hour, the whole thing; that’s never ever happened to me before. I said, ok, I’m going to sit down and write a song and then that came out really quickly.

What do you find challenging about songwriting?

ZO: Trying to be too tricky! It’s really a problem that you can get lost in that. I’ve been trying to make songs for around ten years now and you think that progressing with songwriting, you should have more complex melodies and complex chords, but it’s not necessarily the case. You have to try to remind yourself of that all of the time. There’s been times where I try to make the craziest song that I can and have weird chords and a fancy melody but it just turns out shit! If it’s not memorable, it’s just not going to have a connection with anyone. Instinct and when it comes out naturally and quickly, that usually resonates with people more and is more memorable.

When you’re working on things and they’re not working do you try and push through that or do you give up and move on to something else?

ZO: Usually I move on to something else. Sometimes I do just sit there banging my head against the wall for aaaaaages! That never works usually.

Is there anything you do in those times like go for a walk or something?

ZO: I should! [laughs]. But, nah. I really fucking just try to get something out of it. The only other thing that does work is before I go to sleep, when I’m lying in bed; that’s usually the best time for it. You’ll be thinking about your songs and that’s usually when things happen.

Do you think it’s because you’re more relaxed?

ZO: It must be, it has to be.

Do you do anything else creative outside of music?

ZO: Not really. I do some painting every now and then. My dad is a really good drawer and tattoo artist, so I kind of did that before I was doing music. I used to make poems all the time as a kid and that turned into songs. Making music is my main creative outlet, unless you count cooking! I try and cook more frequently now. My girlfriend is a really good cook.

What’s one of your favourite things to cook?

ZO: Lately I’ve just been going for all the different kinds of roasts and trying to master each one [laughs]. Cooking is just really good in general though, especially if you put aside the whole night and take your time. I love doing that!

I love cooking too, I find it really relaxing.

ZO: Yeah, totally.

You mentioned before that you’re working a hip-hop project; are you working on anything else?

ZO: I’m just trying to collaborate as much as I can this year. Because of the situation in the world right now, a lot of my friends that make music are staying inside right now and we’re all just sending music between each other right now and making things together. I was starting another Traffik Island one but I just ended up sending all of those ideas to friends to put stuff over the top. I’m working on things right now but I don’t know exactly what it is right now. I definitely just want to get into doing more collaborative stuff.

Why do you like working collaboratively so much?

ZO: Them bringing something to it that I could never possibly conceive. Just them adding something to it, some of my friends can come up with melodies that I would never imagine! Some people are just better at certain things.

What’s a song you’ve collaborated on that you were totally surprised where someone took it?

ZO: The first song on Peanut Butter… [Bits and Peace (Bullant Remix)] it was remixed by my friend Joe [Walker]. That one is basically the only song on the record made up of samples. I played some of my favourite records into my computer and gave him all the bits, they weren’t in time or anything like that and I told him to make a song out of all those noises—he sent me that! Impressed.

The film clip for your song ‘Ulla Dulla’ is pretty fun.

ZO: My friend John [Angus Stewart] made that, I know everyone says their friend is talented but, he IS insanely talented. He did some other clips, some King Gizzard [And The Lizard Wizard] ones. He asked me if he could make a clip for me. I said, sure. We wanted to try to really go above and beyond and to really try and push through the boundary. We did the clip and it was so tiring, we started at midday and I got home at one in the morning. We were driving all around the city, I think only two or three locations made it into the final clip but there was six. I had to do that dance to that song hundreds of times, I reckon [laughs]. Then it sat around for a couple of months because the album got pushed and of course in that time I started freaking out about it and got real paranoid. I was just so scared of being so open and vulnerable like that. I saw him at a party a few weeks before it came out and went up to him and told him that I don’t think I could go through with the video. He was not having a bar of it. He was like, “Don’t give me that stoner bullshit! It’s coming out.” [laughs].

What was it about it that made you freak out?

ZO: It was just so much of me! I didn’t want it to be The Zak Olsen Show… that kind of shot started getting to me. In the end I’m glad it came out. It definitely elevates the song a bit more. I’m really glad.

You did a lot of touring with ORB last year, right?

ZO: We did an Australian tour with Thee Oh Sees, then we went to America and Europe, so lots of moving around.

How do you find travelling so much?

ZO: Personally, I love it. There’s this weird thing about touring this feeling that… where people can feel like bands are running from responsibility… we were touring with King Gizzard and those guys work, it’s like seven James Browns! …it’s not the case with them, they work way harder than any other band I’ve ever met! If you’re into the second month of touring and you haven’t really made much and there’s not much time to make songs you can kind of get in a weird limbo mode where you think; what am I doing every day? I’m just playing the same songs!

It’s sort of like the movie Groundhog Day?

ZO: Yeah. But it’s still better than any other job you could have. You have to be careful of getting into the bad habits of drinking every day and eating shit food all the time.

Where do you get your hard work ethic from?

ZO: Probably my dad, he’s a little bit of a hard arse [laughs]. I can’t stand the feeling of not thinking I’m doing enough or giving enough. Having said that though, I do love staying in bed all day on Sunday! For me the guilt of not doing enough is way worse than just getting up and doing it.

Please check out: Traffik Island. ORB. Hierophants. @traffik_islanda on Instagram. Button Pusher.