The Frowning Clouds: “We’re like brothers, we did everything together.”

Original photo by Jamie Wdziekonski. Handmade mixed-media collage by B. 

The Frowning Clouds’ Gospel Sounds & More from the Church of Scientology is a great record. They unabashedly wear their 60s influences on their sleeve. The songs are sunny, folksy, at times wild and nostalgic; it has a homespun quaintness, their charm and the group’s chemistry coming through loud and clear. In 14-tracks the band captures the beating heart of why we love music, why we make music, and why we try to express ourselves and find ourselves, and our need to connect with each other. It’s all here, raw, flawed and honest, exploring love in its various forms, longings and infatuations. 

The Clouds are an important Australian band that were under-appreciated while active, but over time ignited a garage-rock scene in Djilang/Geelong and beyond, influencing countless creatives. Clouds’ members went on to evolve their craft, innovate and continue to inspire in bands Bananagun, Orb, Traffik island, Ausmuteants, Alien Nosejob and more. Gimmie chatted with Frowning Clouds’ guitarist-vocalist Nick Van Bakel to get an insight into the band and release what you could view as the Clouds’ sophomore album that never came out… until now. Over a decade after it was recorded it still feels fresh and rousing.  

What’s your earliest memory of The Frowning Clouds?

NICK VAN BAKEL: My earliest memory is probably just me and Zak [Olsen] playing a couple of originals, some Velvets & 13th Floor Elevator songs in my bedroom and our friend Danny recording it on his video camera. We took the audio off it for our first recordings [laughs].

I know that the band was very much inspired by the 60s, specifically the period 1964-1967, as well as the Back From The Grave series and Nuggets compilation; when did you first get into that kind of music and what is it about that period that resonated so strongly?

NVB: Probably about 16 or so, we’d heard some more obvious stuff like The Kinks and The Stones etc., but the deep garage comps were like even more outlaw than that. The attitude and spirit of it all. We were real young and those comps are mostly all teen bands, so it was what we wanted to do. Also they’re just amazing songs played with high energy.

How did you learn to write 60s-sounding songs? Previously you’ve told me songwriting for you back then was very much about craft. What kinds of things catch your attention in songs? 

NVB: Well, that was our introduction to playing/writing, so we just did what they we’re all doing. Seeing documentary Dig! just showed that you could go DIY. The crafty bit is like all the girl group stuff of the 60s and pop. There’s a billion 60s songs that all have the main chords and motifs, and that’s where you can get creative and bend your idea into this little 3-minute song. Like the professional writing teams going into a room and making five songs a day.

The Clouds have a new release coming out on Anti Fade, Gospel Sounds & More from the Church of Scientology, which is predominately songs from the 2013 Frowning Clouds European tour tape called Gospel Sounds For The Church Of Scientology, with a handful of singles and unreleased tracks; what do you remember most about that tour?

NVB: A Spanish label called Saturno released our first stuff and organised the tour; the best part of that was going to Nacho and Dario from Saturno’s home town Seville. Seville is a medieval city. Star Wars has been filmed there. It’s where Flamenco was invented. We just loved the lifestyle of having siestas, meeting all their friends in the park in the afternoon, having a relaxed beer and tapas. They were adults to us, so it was cool to see that you could be an adult and have a job and family, but not have the weird Aussie thing of all the milestones like getting married, a house, having kids etc.

During the tour you record in Berlin with King Khan; tell us about the experience. 

NVB: It was fun because he’s also, another big kid [laughs]. He came to one of our shows. We were hanging out at a bar and he invited us to record the next day. We had this super legend, but super regimented, tour driver who was like “C’mon guys we gotta go!” Then Arish being like “Oh, you know what? We should actually do a whole album!” He’s real lightning in a bottle, just having new ideas every five minutes and changing directions. We recorded four songs or so just in the lounge room live with a toy kit and practice amps.

That’s so cool. I’ve seen videos online. There’s a western instrumental you guys did during those sessions that Khan released on an album Let Me Hang You that features spoken word by William S. Burroughs; what do you think of it?

NVB: It was fun to do and it’s funny to have a song credited to me and William s. Burroughs!

What’s it like for you to revisit these songs on the new release now?

NVB: Over lock down I had some good nights getting drunk like an old man listening to all the stuff we did when we were young. Only good memories. I feel proud overall, that we didn’t half ass it.

We’ve been listening to Gospel Sounds & More from the Church of Scientology heaps, we’re really excited the songs are seeing the light of day. What do you like most about the release?

NVB: Well, it’s mostly stuff at the time, we thought we’d leave out and I still feel the same way, but not so precious now after some time away from it.

I also love the art that Millar Wileman (who plays percussion in Bananagun) did for the cover. He’s got a pretty distinct style, he uses a lot of old world-y stuff and has a Monty Python Flying Circus kind of vibe.

Album art by Millar Wileman.

What was the earliest song you wrote in this collection?

NVB: That’s hard to say exactly, maybe ‘Open Your Eyes’? Or probably ‘Stick Fight’. That was about me challenging this guy that my ex left me for to a stick fight [laughs]. Tender days!

I know that a favourite song of yours from the album is ‘All Night Long’; what do you love about it?

NVB: There’s always something about a recording or performance that bugs me, little mistakes, but I think we really nailed it with that take. It’s the band in a nutshell really—raw teenager energy.

I think it’s probably the best performance we ever did. It was the best vibe. We recorded it with Owen [Penglis].

Do you remember writing it?

NVB: I remember Jake [Robertson] came over to work on some songs together and I had the riff for ‘All Night Long’ and we made headway from there. I don’t remember all the details but I remember sitting in my room and writing it. I remember riding around on my bike with it in my head and doing little monos and banging the front tyre down getting real pumped! 

That’s how I think creativity emerges, just when you’re relaxed, like in the shower or washing the dishes. I’ve been running a lot and I get a lot of ideas running.

A lot of the songs (like ‘If Youre Half Then Ill Make You A Whole’, ‘Thought About Her’ & ‘Not the Fool’…) are love songs, yearning for love, breaking up etc. How do the songs reflect you as a person?

NVB: I guess it says I’m a sucker for love [laughs]. Love songs are pretty universal and eternal.

Most things that most people do deep down are trying to find themselves some love. I like emotional content, I can’t get into things as much on an intellectual level, or clever use of language is impressive but what is the transfer? What’s the communication? Besides being wordy usually. Mostly though, I was just trying to make stuff like my heroes, Ray Davies or John Lennon. Lots of genuine expression.

Yourself and Zak were the primary songwriters in The Clouds; what are the differences and similarities you see in both your writing?

NVB: Hard to answer, we both started writing together and grew up together and influenced each other and wrote together. Zak’s definitely more of a poet than I am and more collaborative, but I’m physically stronger and a faster runner, and could easily take him down with a single fly kick!

What do you feel each member brought to the Clouds?

NVB: There’s been member changes, but for the most part I’ll say:

Jake, brings chords, scales and proficiency, punk vibes.

[Jamie] Harmer, allowed us to write in more open terrain because he had a broader pallet. (Both Jake and Harmer were like phase two, the best bit).

Daff [Gravolin] is like a studio player, he can do anything in any style, but you can still tell it’s him. There’s only one Daff!

Zak is the researcher, finding all the awesome records and writing awesome tunes. 

We’d really need all night to cover this properly cos we’re like brothers, we did everything together. Everyone brought their own little things to the party. They are all super funny too.

The Frowning Clouds really inspired a lot of other bands that came after you; what are you feelings about this?

NVB: Can only be a good thing! We really got so lucky with our friend circle. We got a bit territorial sometimes which is kinda funny and fine for teenagers to do. 

When we first started, Geelong had just punk and hardcore gigs that we used to go to. The first one that I went to, I remember getting punched in the head in the mosh pit [laughs]. I was just like, ‘Fuck these guys!’ Heaps of them had big brothers and they were just these big punk bully dudes. We all just got bitten by the 60s bug because it was the coolest thing that we had heard. It does seem like we got the ball rolling for people to follow suit. 

Is there anything that you didn’t appreciate back then that you do now?

NVB: I have to give huge props to Katie Jones who saw us play when we’re underage and volunteered to drive us around Australia for four years; five rude, stinky kids basically. She was beyond generous to us. Did so much for us and never asked for anything in return. The real Queen of The Barwon Club, always will be.

The Frowning Clouds seem like they were a really tight knit gang; tell us about a funny Clouds moment.

NVB: I remember opening for Little Red at the Toff and we got so drunk in the green room and started throwing crates of wine bottles out the 4th story window [laughs]. We’d honestly get canceled so fast nowadays. It felt like actual family though, thick n thin, and The Living Eyes were our little brothers.

Are you going to play any shows for the album?

NVB: We’re hoping to! Bananagun are moving overseas to Portugal for a bit to do a bunch of touring, but we haven’t bought tickets yet. I’m hoping we can squeeze The Frowning Clouds stuff in before that happens. I’m working on album number two for Bananagun. 

Awesome! What have you been listening to lately?

NVB: I’ve been listening to a lot of Beach Boys this morning, it’s been a while. I gave Pet Sounds a spin. I’ve been listening to a lot of Sun Ra and spiritual jazz stuff. I’ve been listening o a lot of Gamelan music and Indonesian folk. I’ve been listening to a lot of 60s garage again over the last few months because putting together this release has reawakened my fire for it! 

Gospel Sounds & More from the Church of Scientology is out August 5th, 2022 on Anti Fade Records. PRE-ORDER HERE.

Power Supply: In The Time of The Sabre-toothed tiger

Photo: Matt Weston. Handmade collage by B.

Power Supply have come together to bring us an inspired record for grim times. The Naarm/Melbourne group features Leon Stackpole (The Sailors), Richard Stanley (Drug Sweat), Per Bystrom (Voice Imitator) and Mikey Young (The Green Child). In the Time of the Sabre-toothed Tiger packs a one two punch with its bright melodies and first-class songwriting. An invigorated, yet chilled and charming style of garage rock, that will have you smiling; the sincere and entertaining lyrics a highlight.

Gimmie are excited to premiere first single ‘Infinity’! We chat with vocalist-guitarist Leon about the track and forthcoming album, out October 22, a co-release between Anti Fade and Goner Records.

We’ve been listening to the new Power Supply album In the Time of the Sabre-toothed Tiger on high rotation all week. It’s such an incredible record. It has a really bright feel to it and it’s made us really happy. In grim times, like the world has been experiencing of late, it’s nice to have something like your record to lift the mood.

LEON STACKPOLE: That’s really nice to hear. It makes me feel happy too.

When I recently spoke to Billy from Anti Fade Records (who is putting the record out) he told me that you’re one of the funniest guys he knows. How important is humour in your life?

LS: It’s through everything really for me. I really like music that has a sense of humour. I also like music that is serious too, but I think that some of my favourite stuff has that extra little bit, that humour, in it. I gravitate towards those sorts of things.

One of the things that I really love about Power Supply is your lyrics. There is a comedy in there, but then there is also introspection and a lot of thought behind it.

LS: I think you could say that… [pauses]. Sorry, I’m just walking past my wife in the garden.

Lovely!

LS: There is humour. The lyrics that are on there are probably no particular theme, yeah?

I feel like it’s a real collection of thoughts, from everywhere, just from living life.

LS: Yeah, there is. I made up all of the album pretty much. Probably the ones that get on there are the ones that are the least ridiculous [laughs]. Some of the songs I’d take to rehearsal to play to the guys and they’d just go, “Oh my god, what is that?” [laughs]. They may consider it to play live once in a while, but other than that they just go, “All right, it’s a bit too absurd.”

[Laughter]. I understand that when you got back into the shed to write the record that “jams became songs, jokes became lyrics”; what is one of your favourite jokes that became a lyric?

LS: I think the ‘Time of the Sabre-toothed Tiger’ one makes me laugh. It comes from the concept of when people talk about anthropology and evolution, these sorts of concepts, and how all of our behaviours go back to early humans, back in the time of the sabre-toothed tiger. When my wife and I are talking about things, we’d be like, ‘what would they have done back in the time of the sabre-toothed tiger?’ That crept into the lyrics to the point where I suppose you hop into a time machine and go find out. To me, that’s funny! I don’t know if it is to anyone else though [laughs].

[Laughter] It is. I totally get that. There are a lot of moments lyric-wise on the record that had me smiling in amusement and laughing.

LS: I think ‘Infinity’ is funny as well. That song is completely absurd. I haven’t actually talked about these songs to anyone, you’re the first person I’ve spoken to. It’s funny you’re asking me these questions because I was just out in the bush taking the child for a ride, feeding the guinea pigs and things, it was getting closer to the time for us to chat and I thought, aww sheezus those songs, I have to talk about those songs! [laughs]. I called up Per and said, Per, what do you think are the themes of the songs on this album? He said, “It’s kind of like all these songs that you made up before lockdown that kind of predicted lockdown. Fuck, we’re soothsayers or something like that!” [laughs]. I don’t know if I honestly believe that, but it’s interesting to hear his perspective on it.

I love how the opening lyrics for ‘Infinity’ literally say that Mikey sent you an MP3 and the title was ‘Infinity’.

LS: [Laughs] That’s exactly how it happened.

Did you ask Mikey about why he called it ‘Infinity’?

LS: I never did ask him about it. My son became a but obsessed by that song. With the last verse about lying on your deathbed, he’s like, “What’s a deathbed, dad?”

Wow. That’s a big question.

LS: [Laughs] Yeah. Then he became obsessed with the concept of infinity as well. I pinched all of his little phrases that he says for the other song… what’s it called?

Photo: Raven Mahon

‘Infinity and 90′?

LS: Yeah. ‘Infinity and 90’.

I was going to ask you if there is a connection between the songs ‘Infinity’ and ‘Infinity and 90’?

LS: Yeah, there’s a connection… I’ve never really thought of this before. So, since hearing ‘Infinity’, my son was obsessed with the concept and we were driving along in the car and he’s like, “Daddy, I think I know the biggest number ever! Infinity and 90!” [laughs]. I wrote it down and when it came time to write the song, I thought they made good lyrics, so I threw Archie’s lyrics on there.

That was one of the songs that had me amused by the lyrics. I also love the line: Does the mountains make the mist or does the mist make the mountains?

LS: I love that one too. We were driving to Melbourne passed Mount Macedon, it was covered in cloud. My son was contemplating that and said that, that’s how that lyric came.

The next line too, about there being a bee in the car; that was real too?

LS: We were in the car and there was a panic. In absolute terror and fear he’s like, “There’s a bee! There’s a bee in the car!” But actually, it was a piece of dust [laughs]. I don’t know how he confused dust with a bee, by the way.

It’s funny because as a listener who has no idea of the backstory of the song, you could listen to the lyrics and it could sound like an abstract metaphor and you could read really into it like, oh this is such a deep concept! In reality though, it comes from the everyday ordinary life stuff you experience.

LS: Yeah, for sure. I love that.

The way you deliver the vocal for ‘Infinity and 90’ is almost whisper-like; what inspired that?

LS: I’d been listening to a lot of La Düsseldorf that day and somehow or another that voice ended up on that song.

I think the vocal delivery really suits it. I also love how every song on the record sounds different. I don’t want to sound too wanky, but the cohesiveness of the album feels like a journey.

LS: Yeah, yeah. There’s nothing wrong with a good journey here and there.

Are there any lyricists that you really love?

LS: Yeah. It’s funny, this morning the local radio station was asking people about that, to text in and say their favourite lyricists. People were writing in fairly regular things. I thought, what would I do? I’ve been listening to Kate Wolf lately, a lot. I ended up texting in and saying, Kate Wolf. Some of her lyrics, songs like ‘Green Eyes’, I love that song. It’s beautiful, just so perfect and genuine.

When did you first start singing?

LS: I used to sing in bed when I was a kid, until I’d finally fall asleep. I didn’t really sing that much until we started a band with some friends of mine called, The Sailors. It was a good band because we’d all jump in and have a go. With Power Supply, I’m trying to get everyone to do backing vocals. I think Mikey is finally coming around to the concept [laughs]. I like to hear backing vocals, I love them.

Same! I’m a big fan of backing vocals. The band No Doubt have some really cool backing vocals that Gwen Stefani does. They’re actually really interesting and have some cool harmonies.

LS: Yeah, right. I haven’t really listened to their records except for the hits and a bit of her first solo record [Love. Angel. Music. Baby]. I kind of like that record.

That record rules!

LS: I like the big hit off of that one. The one where she’s basically struggling to come up with new songs.

‘What You Waiting For?’?

LS: Yes! That’s a classic that song. I do like that record. When the harmonies are done really well it’s just wonderful.

Totally! Do you ever get self-conscious doing vocals?

LS: Not so much anymore. I remember the first gig that us guys played, I didn’t really have any lyrics [laughs]. I was driving to the gig trying to make them up; that was probably a bit nerve-racking.

How did the gig end up going?

LS: Well, it’s amazing what you can get away with! [laughs]. The gig was fine.

Art by Mark Rodda

How did a Mark Rodda painting end up becoming the album’s cover?

LS: That was Per’s research. How it went about it, I’m not sure. We did look at a few different things and a few different artists’ styles. Per looked at all that stuff and we discussed a few. In the end he said, “This is the one.” And, we all agreed.

When you look at the album cover, what do you get from it?

LS: I haven’t seen it for a little while, but it makes me feel warm inside.

[Laughter]. Awww.

LS: It probably looks a little desolate. I’m living in Central Victoria right now, so everything is a little like that sort of a landscape, which I feel pretty comfortable with. How about you?

I get more of a lush feeling from it. The tree gives me ancient forest vibes. I think it ties in with Time of the Sabre-toothed Tiger theme too.

LS: I do recall us making that connection. I do guess that’s why Per suggested it.

What’s one of your favourite things about the new album?

LS: I love the sound; I think it sounds amazing. We recorded it at The Tote in the front bar. We did a residency in September two years ago; we played each Sunday afternoon. We left our gear there on the last night and came in on the Monday and recorded it there, cos we were pretty well-practiced. You’ve got the traffic out the front, I thought it was all going to come through the windows, but it’s fairly well insulated and you couldn’t really hear anything else. In fact, the beer fridge was making more noise than anything else and we had to turn the beer fridge off.

What did recording at The Tote add to the songs or experience?

LS: It made it feel more comfortable because we’d just played there. It’s been hard for us to get together to play. I’ve been in Castlemaine, Mikey is down on the Peninsula, the other guys are in Melbourne. We have to make an effort. We played five gigs in a row over five weeks and recorded, we were hoping that we would feel comfortable, relaxed and well-practised. We do have fun together. We recorded in one day. We’ve added some overdubs and things in since; a few years for some overdubs! [laughs].

How does it feel to finally have the album coming out in October?

LS: A relief really. Just last year I was saying, oh, let’s just put this out on Bandcamp and be done with it. It kind of felt like that for me [laughs].

I’m glad you didn’t just release it digitally. It’s such a beautiful album and deserves a physical release. The album is too special for it to only be digital!

LS: It’s been such a long time since we recorded it all.

Have you listened back to it recently?

LS: Nah, but I probably should. We have been talking about playing some gigs, but I don’t think it’s going to happen for a while.

When we jam and it’s Mikey, Richard and Per just playing away, it’s the best thing for me, I just sit back and listen to those guys.

We’re excited to be premiering ‘Infinity’ the first single from the new album!

LS: That’s so great!

There’s a lot of stuff around water and the environment that seeps into the music.

I know that you work in environment protection roles, so obviously you have a passion for doing that.

LS: For sure. It’s probably the sub-theme in the whole sabre-tooth-tiger-thing—environmental change.

I totally got that. It’s interesting how a lot of the world seems so divided right now and people get so hyper-focused on particular things and who is right and wrong, but they also forget that there’s crazy stuff going on with the planet, climate change, depletion of land and resources. If we don’t have a planet then we’re not going to have anything! It’s pretty much the number one base thing we should be concerned about.

LS: Yeah. It’s pretty fundamental [laughs]… that’s just trying to add some humour to it, because it is fundamental.

Photo: Matt Weston

**Note: This interview is an extract. The entire chat where we talk more about the album, Sun Ra, turning every day occurrences into song, and more, will appear in the October print issue of Gimmie**

Here’s the first sneak peek at ‘Infinity’ from Power Supply’s forthcoming album, In the Time of the Sabre-toothed Tiger:

Available for pre-order HERE at Anti Fade and HERE (in the US) at Goner Records.