1-800-Mikey: “I encourage everyone to stay true to who they are”

Original photo courtesy of Mikey. Handmade collage by B.

We love 1-800-Mikey the lo-fi bedroom garage punk project of Eora/Sydney musician Michael Barker, who also plays in the live line-ups of R.M.F.C. and Gee Tee. Latest album Plushy is “for all the cuties”, sunny, full of infectious hooks and features Kel from Gee Tee and Tee Vee Repairman (Ishka) sharing drumming duties. If you want an album to make you smile and brighten your day—this is it! We spoke to Mikey and got an insight into his super kawaii world.

How did you discover music?

MIKEY: I was initially introduced to music by my dad. As a young boy he would always be buying CDs and would crank rock n roll and blues through the sound system he had. Once I was a bit older the internet was my gateway to music. That’s when it took over my life. 

Youre from a musical family, your dad sang in a band in the 60s; tell us about that. A couple of years back you came across photos of him singing in Chile, right?

M: Yea, that’s right! My mother and I were cleaning the garage out and she handed me these photos of my dad when he was about 18. I had no idea that he was in a band and so I was literally speechless seeing these photos for the first time. I really wish I knew more about this, he passed away when I was in high school, but it’s really awesome to know that were more similar than I thought.     

When did you first start making music? Who or what initially encouraged you to give it a go yourself?

M: I started making music in 2014 when I was in year 11. I started to get into garage rock and I found this band called Surf Curse on Bandcamp, which then led me to find the lead singers solo project Tele/visions which is now more commonly known as Current Joys. I was absolutely obsessed with Nick Rattigan and he did everything at home with whatever he had lying around. This convinced me if he could do it then I could as well. From there I started to find more artists with the same ethos and thanks to Bandcamp I found further inspiration from Frankie Cosmos, Alex G and Porches who all did it themselves. 

You have a prized possession in an original art work drawn and painted by outsider, lo-fi musician Daniel Johnston; is he an inspiration for you? I feel 1-800-Mikey has some of the innocence, charm and playful qualities that DJ has?

M: Yes absolutely! I’m so grateful to own one of his drawings and I have to thank my partner who got it for my birthday. He is a massive inspiration, especially how his family didn’t approve of him being an artist, that really hit home. His story is really special and it makes me so happy knowing he just went for it because he loved it. His work definitely seeps through my creative process, I really love his honesty and simplicity. He’s an absolute legend. RIP Daniel ❤ 

Have you always lived in Eora/Sydney? How did you find your local music scene? When you were under 18 it was hard for you to find shows to go to, so you and your friends would have house shows or warehouse shows, didn’t you?

M: Yea, I’ve always lived in western Sydney my whole life and it was very hard finding a scene not living close to the city. I found that I never sat comfortably within a scene until just recently. It felt like I was jumping around scenes when I was younger which wasn’t bad at the time but it feels really nice to know I have a family and am part of a community now. The first show I played was a gig at my mother’s house in Blacktown. It was heaps random and we had friends from high school come around. Shortly after I played a show at the MCA for an all ages event where I met more people who would then introduce me to other warehouse/house shows happening in the inner west. To be honest, there weren’t to many DIY shows, but when they did happen it was super exciting, even still to this day.

What are the local bands you super love?

M: Two underrated bands in Sydney that I love to death are Shady Nasty and Cakewalk. Shady Nasty have been around for ages and they sound completely different to everything else that’s happening. They have gone through many different sounds and I love it all, especially their punk stuff. Definitely keep your ears and eyes out for Shady Nasty. Cakewalk is also another band I love who are super low-key and barely play any shows. They are another super interesting band who are doing something different who I encourage everyone to go and check out. 

Photo courtesy of Mikey.

Youve previously been in bands Bleeding Knees Club, Wax Witches, Neighbourhood Void and Dying Adolescence; can you tell us a little about your experience in each?

M: Dying Adolescence was my first project which I started in high school. This was my bedroom pop project and kind of like a diary where I wrote and recorded everything. 

Neighbourhood Void was the sister band to Dying Adolescence and that is led by Gio. I did some of the writing and recording here and there for NV but it was mainly Gio’s project. 

I played lead guitar in Wax Witches and Bleeding Knees Club and it was thanks to these two bands I got to play heaps of shows and tour Australia straight out of high school. I cant thank Alex enough for giving me the opportunity to do that. 

Your album Please Be Kind for previous project Dying Adolescence was about all the things that affected you and that you experienced in adolescence. 1-800-Mikey is your next musical chapter. Whats the new album Plushy about? Tell us about the writing process. It seems as though cute (kawaii)is a theme running throughout? 

M: I wanted to do something fun and less serious with 1-800-Mikey. The new album Plushy is a collection of everything I love since childhood and its nothing too serious. I really like all things cute and kawaii, so it made sense to me to make an album with these themes.  

What inspired the song Plushythat the album is titled after?

M: I guess I’ve heard lots of other songs based upon different perspectives from the songwriter and so I wanted to give it a go. During the time of writing, I was obsessed with claw machines which led me to the idea. I thought it would be cool to write a song from the perspective of a plush toy. I was surrounded by plushys from all the winnings I made from claw machines. After writing the song, I thought it would be the album title as it draws a clear line from the EP I did with the song claw machine. 

Song Pressureis about working 9 to 5; what do you do for a day job? Do you find it a challenge to work a day job and play music? 

M: I currently work at Relationships Australia as a Client Services Officer. I’m on the phones all day and I help people book in counselling or mediation when they are seeking support. I have always worked at a call centre which made me name the project 1-800-Mikey. I sometimes find it difficult working full time and playing music but my colleagues and managers find it really cool so they are heaps supportive and flexible about the whole thing. 

One of our favourite songs on the record is Snoopy; whats your connection to Charles M. Schulzs loveable cartoon beagle?

M: Oh man Snooooopy <3. My mother loves Snoopy. She would always get me Peanuts pyjamas, t-shirts and toys as a kid. He’s an absolute cutie and I wish Snoopy was mine. 

Kel from Gee Tee plays drums on five of the tracks and Tee Vee Repairman (Ishka) plays drums on two; what does each of their styles add to the songs? How do they differ?

M: Both of them are killer drummers. I’d say they are both quite similar but Kel’s got more of that budget home-style sound while Ishka’s got more of a tight garage sound. I reckon Kel adds more of a groove to the songs while Ishka drives the songs forward. Both of them are amazing and I thank them for helping me ❤ 

What was the recording process for the album? Kel lent you a 4-track, right? What was the setup for recording?

M: Kel lent me a 4-track in 2020 to record the EP. I’ve never recorded to tape before so it was a new way to get obsessed with recording again. After finishing the EP I got myself a 4-track for Christmas. The general setup is to record everything on tape then bounce it to GarageBand and complete the song there. It really makes recording drums a breeze. 

Who’s in the 1-800-Mikey live band?

M: At the moment the live band consists of Kel, Buz and Rohan. Kel is Gee Tee, Buz is RMFC and Rohan plays in a Grindcore and Hardcore band called Maggot Cave and Seethin. They are all sweethearts and I’m super lucky to have them in the live band.

On your Insta a few months back you sang your first song in Japanese Iggy Pop Fanclubby Number Girl; what inspired it?

M: Ahhh yes, I got obsessed with Number Girl and the lead singer’s second project Zazen Boys. I find that I get obsessed with different pockets of music around the world and so I wanted to little Insta cover. I’ve never sang in another language and I really love the melody to that Number Girl song so I gave it a go. It’s also motivating to see another Asian make rock music. Shutoku Mukai looks like a normal and nerdy guy and that is very relatable, which is heaps nice. 

You look like you had a lot of fun making the video for Claw Machine; what was one of the most fun or funny things that happened making it?

M: Yea, that was a really spontaneous one. Me and my long time friend Gio went into the city on a Thursday night to film a music video at the claw machines in Chinatown. The idea was that I’d leave with heaps of plushys as I would always win a couple. But this time around, I went in and I won nothing which was pretty funny as Gio didn’t believe I was heaps good at the claw. Also, the shop owner wasn’t impressed with us filming there after an hour or two. She asked if we wanted to continue filming that we would have to pay her. By this point we had enough footage so we bounced. 

Youve recently joined the live lineup of R.M.F.C. playing a 12-string guitar; whats the best thing about being part of R.M.F.C.?

M: I’ve never played 12-string before so that’s been very exciting. I’m very honoured to be able to play in Buz’s band. I think the best thing about being a part of R.M.F.C. is that I can pick Buz’s brain when learning his songs. It’s very inspiring to see how he writes songs and composes melodies. 

What’s next in the pipeline for you creatively? 

M: I’m definitely gonna have a little break while Gee Tee and R.M.F.C. are getting busy. I’ll be writing songs again soon, so keep an eye out. Also, I might be joining another band, which will be a secret for now. 

Anything else youd like to share with us?

M: I encourage everyone to stay true to who they are and do what they believe is right. Love Mikey.

1-800-Mikey is out now get it HERE. Follow @1800mikey.

Jorge Tichbon of Gold Coast Punk Band Debt Cult: “Skating and music grounds me when I don’t feel great”

Original photo: Jhonny Russell; handmade collage by B.

Debt Cult play high energy punk! Their live sets are always riotous and fun. Guitarist-vocalist Jorge Tichbon visited Gimmie HQ to have a chat about the band, their debut EP dropping this week, as well as his time living in Texas, skateboarding, Aussie larrikinism and art.

You’re originally from the Gold Coast?

JORGE TICHBON: Yeah. I was living on the Gold Coast until I was seventeen.

How did you first discover music? You have an older brother that was into it, right?

JT: Yeah, I have an older brother who was playing guitar when I was growing up. I wanted to do anything that he was into. I started off listening to old metal bands like Slayer and Metallica, thrash metal brought me into punk rock.

Same with me. I had a big brother that I thought was the coolest person ever, who was into music too and he got me into Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies, D.R.I., stuff like that. I wanted to be like my big brother as well. He got me into punk, hip-hop and skateboarding. Other than your brother; who what inspired you to want to make your own music?

JT: It was just lack of interest in learning other people’s songs once I learned to get around a guitar, I lost interest in playing covers. It was easier to write my own music. I’ve been playing since I was thirteen.

I heard that you tried starting a punk band when you were thirteen?

JT: No, not really. My first bands I started playing in, I was eighteen or nineteen, that was in South Texas in McAllen. I left the Gold Coast when I was seventeen to go live with my mum in Texas. I started playing music with people there. I was playing bass in a band and I realised then that I wanted to write my own music and start a punk band.

The Texas bands – Hevy Majic and Wax Pink – that you were in, were psychedelic surf-punk kind of bands?

JT: Hevy Majic was the first band I was in, in South Texas, with Eric Echo. I was hanging around Ramiro Verdooren of The Rotten Mangos, who is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. We would go up from the South Texas town to Austin Texas, which is the music hub.

Yeah, home of SXSW (South by Southwest) music conference.

JT: Yeah. Those boys showed me around and I ended up staying there for a bit. I started a new band called, Credit Card. Debt Cult is kind of a run off of Credit Card, that style of music. I chose to leave Texas when Corona virus hit.

Ah, so that’s how you ended up back here.

JT: Yeah. South by… was cancelled for the first time in fifteen years. I was like, alright this is getting serious! I have an opportunity to go home. So, I did. I was looking for a reason to move home for a really long time though.

Why is that?

JT: Leaving at seventeen I never really got to grow into an adult in Australian culture. I left at the end of being a teenager. I romanticised larrikinism, being from Queensland; I had this idea of what it was to live in Australia as an adult and wanted to use that in my music, but I couldn’t because I didn’t have a grasp on it, because I was so young. Coming back and doing this band, we have songs about Loganlea and Southport—I wanted it to sound real bogan and straightforward.

What was it like growing up in the America?

JT: I got the culture shock when I came back because I realised how different it was. Growing up over there, I think I was a little bit disappointed that I had to wait another few years to drink at a bar. I spent my eighteenth birthday crying on the floor listening to the Velvet Underground thinking, why am I here? Now that I think about it, it’s a really good way to spend an eighteenth birthday! [laughs].

I remember on my 21st birthday I was in Las Vegas. It was the day before and I went to go to a punk show and I showed the bouncer my ID and he said, “Your birthday isn’t until tomorrow so you’re not 21 yet, I can’t let you in.” and I told him that I was born in Australia and it was my birthday there already so technically I’m already 21! He laughed, told me that was a good one and let me in. You spent a lot of time skateboarding in the US as well?

JT: Yeah. In the little town where my mum was working there was nothing going on, so people got really good at music, art and things like skateboarding. There was a really small skatepark and there was this insane amount of talent with the skaters; there was Majer Crew. They ended up taking me around the country for a couple of years, they were probably the reason I stayed in America. I jumped in the van and they took me up and down both coasts a couple of times, I had a blast with those boys. Unfortunately, that group ended though and I moved to Austin to start doing the music. It was a great time.

Previously, you’ve mentioned that skateboarding pretty much saves your life every day; in what way?

JT: It’s such a release. It’s so tied to music too. I can just chuck my headphones in and not talk to anyone for a couple of hours and get some exercise and get those endorphins going. It’s a creative outlet too, I get to do what I want to do. It’s so interwoven into my personality, who I identify with. Skating and music grounds me when I don’t feel great. I won’t feel good if I haven’t skated for a couple of days. It’s definitely pulled me out of the sludge, which I’m really grateful for.

You started recording yourself while still at school?

JT: When I started recording my own music, was when I first moved to Texas. I would be in my room and I couldn’t really go out anywhere and I was in a new country, I’d be trying to teach myself to record and write songs. Those couple of years there, was when I got a grasp of it. When I was in high school, I wasn’t really recording much, it was more about just learning to hold a guitar.

Who are the songwriters that you enjoy?

JT: A notable one would be Devendra Banhart. I don’t play music like him, but I enjoy listening to his stuff. It’s always been more what my friends were playing in their bands. Right now, I listen to a lot of Gee Tee and Research Reactor Corp. I listen to the local bands that play at Vinnie’s, just my friends’ bands.

Photo: Jhonny Russell.

You started Debt Cult at the end of last year?

JT: Yeah. I met Lindsay who plays bass, I was like, let’s start a band! I met Michelle at the skatepark, she roller skates; I saw her play the piano at Vinnie’s one night, again I was, let’s start a band! It took off from there. Ryan was our first drummer; he grew into an adult and is a bit too busy to be in a band [laughs], he comes and plays tambourine sometimes when he feels like it. Eli is our drummer now, he’s doing all the mixing and recording for us, which is cool cos we can save a bit of money on studio time. We like doing it ourselves so we can make it how we want to make it.

Your bass player Lindsay has to be the happiest bass player I have ever seen in my life, he is all smiles! In fact, your whole band smiles heaps and you look like you’re having the best time while you play and I think that’s infectious. It kinda lights up the whole place.

JT: That’s amazing! I catch Lindsay doing that out of the corner of my eye and I make mistakes because I start laughing. He’s just lovin’ it!

Debt Cult have a 5-song EP coming out. You recorded that at Vinnie’s?

JT: Yeah. I do a lot of closing shifts during the week. When there’s no shows, I have the keys to go in there, we do our practices there sometimes. All the drums are mic’d up already, we just go plug in.

Did you record in that space because you wanted the same feel as when you play there live?

JT: We’ve only ever played at Vinnie’s. I hope the recordings sound the same as our live show because it is recorded in the same room.

There are parts on the EP that have talking in the background and it feels like it has a live, party vibe.

JT: That’s on the song ‘Ca$ino’. We went down to the Cecil Hotel and had a slap until I got a feature and we recorded the feature on the machine [laughs].

What are you going to call the EP?

JT: We’re still trying to figure it out. Maybe Debt Cult EP 1. Everyone is so busy with full-time work and full-time study. Michelle’s about to be a Sparky [Electrician] and she also works. Lindsay is doing horticulture and working. I’m doing Community Services and working at Vinnie’s when I can. I don’t know what Eli is doing, he’s a bit illusive that fella. Eli is coming over to my place this afternoon and we’re going to make the covers for the EP, we both do collage stuff. The title might end up being one of the track names like ‘Southport’s Sharpest Weapons’.

That was one of your earliest songs?

JT: Yeah. We all live down the street from Vinnie’s. We wrote that song walking to Vinnie’s after a couple of beers.

Write what you know, right?

JT: Yeah. It was kind of taking the piss about gang mentality and street violence, it’s pretty abundant in Southport. We’re a bunch of soft, friendly people singing this song [laughs]. There’s a pretty gnarly homelessness and drug problem in Southport right now. I don’t know what the council is doing about it. I know there’s some free clinics around, but if you don’t want to get help you won’t.

I’ve definitely had friends that have decided to take that route in life and they seem happy with it, but it’s not sustainable, you’ll hit ten years from now and go “what have I done?” To each their own though. What I’m going to do with the community care thing I’m doing is I’m going to go into the drug and alcohol-side of things. I’ve had a lot of friends who have burnt out on it. I definitely had a party over in The States as well, that’s part of why I wanted to come home too, to get out of it. It’s too easy to do it over there, you can get everything so cheap. Over here you can’t go out and get $2 whiskeys.

Alcoholism is the symptom of the problem, it’s not the problem, the problem often has to do with having a low self-esteem. People in the situation of addiction often don’t know that there’s something else there that they need to fix. Especially around punk rock and rock n roll, it’s cool to do drugs and burn out, but it really isn’t because you never get anything done. It’s definitely a trauma response for some people, there can even be multiple traumas you repress and don’t even realise.

How did the song ‘Anna Seedy’s Graveyard Party’ come about?

JT: Lindsay’s alter-ego is Anna Seedy. There’s a story of him being at a party and disappearing and then having his own party in a graveyard. He told me about the story and I decided to write a song. It used to be a longer song but we cut it down, we made it almost like a nursery rhyme. It’s one of our favourites from the EP.

What about ‘IDK Where My Legs Went?’

JT: When we play it live, we play it straight after ‘Southport’s Sharpest…’ and it’s kind of like, you go out on the weekend and you lose your legs! [laughs].

Do you write most of the songs?

JT: Yes, for the EP I did. For the next one Michelle is stepping up. I wrote ‘[Do You Love Me?] Logan Lea’ for Michelle to sing. She’s got some new songs we’re trying to play. I’m trying to get everyone involved. Lindsay has a song we’re going to try to play too. I’m trying to get everyone excited about doing it, because I don’t want to be “the guy”! I don’t want to be the frontman. I want it to feel like everyone’s project, not like they’re just helping me.

Does everyone have different influences that they bring?

JT: Yeah, I just want it to all melt together. Lindsay likes a lot of post-punk. Michelle likes Amyl & the Sniffers and country music. Eli listens to a lot of alternative stuff. We all like the same music but have different styles of playing.

When you started doing Debt Cult did you have an idea of what you wanted it to sound like?

JT: A lot of my bands have been reverbed-drenched and surf-y. With this new project it’s reverbed-drenched and fast with keyboard leads. Sonically I left everyone’s role for them to decide how it sounds, I don’t tell anyone else what to play. Everyone writes their parts and that makes the sound.

What’s one of your favourite aspects of making music?

JT: Seeing the finished product and having something to be proud of. Having something to be involved in with my friends creatively. I love performing! Each show we play we try to do something different. The Dicklord show we played we decided to dress as cowboys and I cut my jeans into arse-less chaps! [laughs]. It was so much fun.

Debt Cult have played five shows, all at Vinnie’s. Can you remember the first show you played?

JT: It was with Headlice. Having Vinnie’s as the homestead is the cherry-on-top to moving back to Australia. It gives us the space to practice and record, it’s everything that I was trying to do over the last four years. I tried to do it in Texas but it was oversaturated there. On the Gold Coast there’s a few good bands but not 400 trying to do it. It feels amazing to be back in Australia doing this. I’m really stoked on the energy.

You also make collage art; when did you start doing that?

JT: I did a design course in Texas but I dropped out.

Why did you drop out?

JT: The gun laws over there are cooked, especially in Texas. There’s mass shootings going on, one happened the day before I had class. I was sitting in algebra and the alarm staring going off and I chucked all my stuff in my backpack and I was halfway out the window. It was the projector turning on or off and the whole class was looking at me like what-the-bloody-hell-is-going-on? I was like, you guys are so desensitised! There’s shootings happening every bloody couple of days, and you think I’m weird for jumping out of a window when an alarm goes off! So, I dropped out of college for fear of getting shot. You can open-carry AR-15’s in Texas. Most of my friends had guns over there. I was against guns when I first got there, but then their government is cooked so maybe people should have guns.

When I was last in Los Angeles, I was walking around with a friend and there were some dodgy people hanging around and my friend was like, “It’s all good. If anything happens, I have a gun in the glove box of my car!” I was like, whoa! What the fuck? I’m from Australia, that idea to me is foreign and weird. It freaked me out that that’s such a normal thing for people.

JT: When I first got there, I was so adamant about no guns! I was having a conversation with someone who was very pro-guns. I stopped having the conversation because you can’t win. I was like, people can be irresponsible with them. A couple of weeks later he got drunk and accidentally blew his friends leg off with a shotgun!

Whoa! That’s intense.

JT: He’s not pro-gun anymore. He thinks they’re bloody dangerous! When I would try to explain to people over there, I’d be like my grandfather is a sugarcane farmer, he has a gun in a safe and the ammunition is separate and he has it because there’s a big bloody carpet python at the creek and he doesn’t want it to come to the house, that’s a reason to have it. For 21-year-old kids to just have a gun in the glove box of their car, it’s pretty cooked.

So, you mentioned you dropped out of college; how did you get to making collage?

JT: I tried to quit smoking cigarettes and I just started cutting up magazines, to keep my mind busy pretty much. I saw a country compilation LP at a thrift store and I really liked the design on the front and thought it would make a good collage. I started piling books up, within minutes I had a bag of books and I knew I was going home to cut them up so I wouldn’t buy a pack of smokes. I still do collage now, but I started smoking again! [laughs]. I really like that medium of art, it’s almost like sampling music. It’s sustainable too.

Photo: Jhonny Russell.

Please check out: DEBT CULT on bandcamp; DC on Facebook; and DC on Instagram.