Post-Punk Rave-Up Wild Man Cong Josie: “I have always had the belief that anyone is an artist”

Original photo by Nadeemy Betros. Handmade mixed media art by B.

At Gimmie HQ we’ve been bumping the new Cong Josie album Cong! hard since it arrived in our inbox. We loved it so much that we ordered the hot pink limited edition vinyl version. The album is officially out Oct 22 on It Records (home of our favs – New War and Atom). It’s a fabulous high energy clash of minimal synth, EBM (Electronic Body Music), rockabilly-ish vocals, punk attitude with a whole lotta throb and thrust, along with some heart tugging surprises.

Today we’re debuting the electrifying song ‘Cong The Singer’ along with its video, a guerrilla D.I.Y. ode to the Naarm/Melbourne suburbs that spawned Cong! We chatted with the man, the myth, the legend himself, Cong Josie alter-ego of musician Nic Oogjes.

In your heat beat ensemble NO ZU you play instruments; now as Cong Josie you’re just singing?

CONG JOSIE: Yeah. It was a really deliberate choice, a really arrogant choice [laughs], that’s kind of what the song ‘Cong The Singer’ is about. Arrogant in that I’ve never been a singer. I love singing; I love singing in the shower. I’ve always loved singing along to Roy Orbison, trying to sing ‘Crying’. Very ambitious targets! All of the “Bobby Movement” like Bobby Darrin; there was a lot of guys called Bobby in the 50’s that did rock n roll ballads. Elvis. All that kind of stuff. It was a deliberate decision not to carry around instruments anymore.

I keep going through these things with each new project. After my first when-I-was-becoming-an-adult-and-start-taking-things-seriously band, I was like, ‘I don’t ever want to have to carry around a drumkit anymore!’ I would be up front playing some rototoms so that I could stand up, and that led into NO ZU. I was only going to carry standup percussion, but then it expanded. It grew to a point where I didn’t want to carry all this stuff around; trumpets, all sorts of stuff. There was lots of clothes for each band member too, I’d carry around to each gig. Our baggage loads on planes were crazy!

I was like, ‘I just want to be a singer!’ Even though I can’t sing. That’s really arrogant, but I have always had the belief that anyone is an artist and anyone can make something interesting if you have the drive and ideas. In fact, most of my favourite singers, that I just mentioned… even Roy Orbison, sings off key, which makes his voice really interesting and intriguing, where he often has to bend into a note. There are a lot of notes that aren’t quite right.

I love singers that are non-singers, I find their voices really interesting. There’s this Greek singer Márkos Vamvakáris, who was one of the biggest rebetiko stars; they call it the Greek Blues, it’s a lot about hash dens and sordid activities. It was real people’s music, real working-class music. His voice is like a chainsaw! It’s not good, but I love it, it has the most edge to it. Obviously, that throughout punk and post-punk as well, it’s like that. It’s from that background that I thought I could at least make something interesting. I can sing these two notes, kind of, if I’m in this register [laughs].

[Laughter]. What else is the song about?

CJ: It’s about playing with that idea of a singer. It’s a fantasy tale about being a hero of the suburbs. I’ve never really understood why everything has to be so city-centred, and why everything has to play into these references of what’s cool and what’s happening now. In my fantasy dreamworld, there would be pockets all throughout the urban sprawl of Melbourne and beyond, where amazing music is happening. And, there’s this one singer that plays around the Eastern suburbs, around the R.S.L. and chicken-parmigiana-pubs, that are actually really creative and great but for whatever reason in our culture (in the 80’s bands would go out and play those places), it’s just not a thing now. It’s about that, because it’s just an impossibility.

The other layer is that actual baring of childhood and real-life things. As I was saying before, it’s amazing to hear yourself in music. I haven’t heard other people mention the Eastern Freeway in a song before! It’s a pretty good road [laughs]. It also expresses that driving was a form of freedom when I was younger. Going to the city, to places for “culture” and discovering different kinds of music was really important to me. So, that road means a lot.

Even my suburb. I’ve actually moved back to my teenage house, that’s where I am now. I bought it off my mum, which was very strange. I remember living here when I was younger, I remember this Australian rapper called Bias B, he talked about the trainline here. Aussie hip-hop around 2000 was the first time I ever heard specific areas mentioned. He talked about the Burra to Eltham train! Growing up here in a leafy suburb having nothing to say, but it’s not true, hearing things like that, I loved it, and that’s probably how it fed into my work.

The video clip we’re premiering for ‘Cong The Singer’ is really fun! What do you remember about filming?

CS: We only shot it two weeks ago, so I remember all of it [laughs]. And if anyone wants to know, we did do it Covid safe, I’m even wearing a mask in one part. I was actually saying this to Nick [Mahady] who filmed it with me…

He did your ‘Leather Whip’ clip too!

CJ: Yeah. This is kind of like ‘Leather Whip #2’. The first song was set in Greece because we happend to be there before Covid. Nick is a really great friend and talented artist; he did the portrait artwork for my releases so far and the Cong! cover. He’s an example of someone that is so open and creative and sensitive. We have a really great relationship, since I discovered more about myself and valued that aspect in people even more.

I was saying to Nick, that this video and ‘Leather Whip’ mean so much to me and are so close to me, because we literally went out with a camera and a few sketched ideas. We saw a rabbit, so we filmed a rabbit. We saw a bin chicken… or we decided to go to the river, which felt like minus thirty degrees! It was all very spontaneous over two days. It was nerve-racking also.

The first shot we did was Footscray Amphitheatre. We got there and it was so quiet. It was a Saturday morning, beautiful weather.  A couple of people were sitting in their Northface jackets drinking coffee. There were two groups of people looking down at exactly where we were filming. There were people jogging. Being in a cowboy hat, add to this debaucherous music, which we knew was going to be loud for a moment; I had my little Bluetooth speaker to mime to. It was scary! We actually started talking to each other, “Oh maybe we can do this other shot” [laughs]. We started setting up and one of the people there made a joke to me, he said, “Are we going to get an organ performance?” Because he saw my pants underneath my long jacket I was wearing and that broke the ice. I was like, ‘Ok, this is alright’ [breaths a sigh of relief], and then I started performing. I was like, ‘This is the best grassroots campaign ever, I just made three fans!’ It was me and Nick, and Johnny Cayn (Cayn Borthwick) was there.

The clip is very direct and real. It’s very D.I.Y. This is going to sound really bad, but I can’t stop watching it. My band The Crimes that are in it, can’t stop watching it either. There’s so many funny bits. They’re like, “Why are you presenting the Westgate Bridge?” [laughs]. I’m like, ‘I don’t know?!’

Do you have a favourite moment from the video?

CJ: In one of the first musical breakdowns, I’m on the Coburg Lake stage and there’s people having picnics, bemused by what we were doing – I’m either clicking my fingers or combing my hair – and there’s a rollerskater behind me twirling. That was a guy we met while we were packing up. Initially there were two boxers on stage. They said they were happy to be in the video and they had the music cranked, they were big beefy guys; then they told us they didn’t want to be in it. As we were packing up one of the boxers were like, “Hey, get Tony! Tony is amazing. Get him in it.” We introduced ourselves and asked if he wanted to be in it. He said, “Ok.” Then he started doing spins and we pretended music was going on. It’s one of the most beautiful shots, because he’s really great. It’s a great juxtaposition.

That’s one of my favourite shots too! His leg movements are perfect, such finesse. It works so beautifully.

CJ: There’s another one second shot of us with a beautiful white dog.

That’s my other favourite shot!

CJ: There was a mum and daughter walking their dog. I was doing the shot where I comb my hair near the car, obviously people were looking at us a bit strange. I said ‘hi’ as they walked past and thought maybe I should ask them if we can get a shot with that big gorgeous dog. They were really happy to, and they gave me treats to keep the dog in the vicinity. You don’t get shots like that otherwise. I wanna keep doing it. Maybe it’s a great way to build my fan base [laughs], very slow and labour intensive.

[Laughter]. We’re so happy to be premiering the song and video, it’s right up our alley. We really love your whole album Cong! It fuses so many things we love together – it has a kind of rockabilly vocal and then it’s got an EBM feel and a punk spirit.

CJ: Yeah, cool! It has all of those things. I really dug into a world of the Norton Records label, they do some really great outsider rockabilly like Hasil Adkins. Those wild rockabilly/rock’n’roll/country fellas: Jack Starr, Stud Cole, Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Terry Allen are some of the sleezy cats that have been an influence. Also, a lot of the artists that The Cramps were inspired by, they called them wild men, and apparently some of them really were—that’s a big influence on who Cong is. Cong is the wild rockabilly artist but in a suburban Australian setting, so he’s also gonna be a bit different.

In terms of the electronics, I was never able to focus on the throb, as I call it, the throbbing rhythm. In NO ZU everything was still mechanical and awkward funk, a bit more danceable in a different way. It’s a big clash of those things.

I love Johnny Cayn’s guitar on the track. It’s probably the most slide-y, rockabilly thing on the record. It’s just wild and out of control.

Yes! It’s very cool.

CJ: I really love Simone aka Mona Reeves’ voice with the “Saturday night” part on there too, which is inspired by the Elton John ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ track. Just that idea of being really excited by a Saturday or Friday night is a musical trope that was really fun to explore!

Ed’s note: We spoke with Cong Josie for over a hour, this is a small extract from a more in-depth chat exploring the entire album, growing up in Melbourne, toxic masculinity, Nicolaas Oogjes musical evolution, creativity, getting through life’s challenges, and creating your own world to heal and grow. Read it in our next print issue (#5) we’re currently working on.

Pre-order Cong! HERE. Follow @congjoise

ATOM’s Harry Howard: “Universally in art, death and sex and love are the big themes… I’m constantly writing songs that mention death”

Handmade collage by B.

Melbourne trio ATOM made one of the best records of last year that you may not have heard. In Every Dream Home is a dark synth-punk outing in an apocalyptic world, their music is primal yet futuristic at the same time. On Sunday, guitarist and co-vocalist Harry Howard chatted to us from his Melbourne home while eating chocolate. FYI, there’s a new ATOM record in the works!   

You’ve been making music for a long time; what keeps things fresh and interesting for you?

HARRY HOWARD: It’s just endlessly fascinating really. Having a creative outlet is just such a great thing, it’s worth going through all the little doldrums that you go through for the breakthroughs and for the good times—the good times are just so good!

As an artist what are the things that you value the most?

HH: What I value is when people put their own personal input into things. It’s very hard to be original in this world. I think it’s completely fine to borrow ideas from people, that’s what culture is, a pool of shared ideas and as long as you put something new into it it’s fine to borrow things. When people put something into it that really comes from them then it becomes unique. It’s hard to explain, but all of my favourite artists seem to be… they might not even be well on a mental health level, but perhaps that helps them put more of themselves into what they’re doing.

They also may interrupt the world in a different way and give us a unique, unfiltered new perspective.

HH: Exactly! For some people things come out of them more directly than other people, some people are very filtered. That’s the stuff that I like, when you really get personality.

Same! What inspired you to start ATOM?

HH: Meeting Ben Hepworth. I met him on a video shoot we did with NDE [Near Death Experience], we got on really well and had a lot of common taste in music and we shared a perspective about music. He told me about his band Repairs that were playing live at that time, we went and checked them out and we got them to play with the NDE. I was invited to do a project for the Little Band…

The late Alan Bramford’s Little Band Scene?

HH: Yes. It was Stuart Grant [Primitive Calculators] too, I was invited to take part in a Little Bands night at The Old Bar. I had to make up something new and I thought, god if I go along with my songs it’s just going to sound like a solo NDE show. I thought to ask Ben to do something with me. I knew anything that I did with Ben would really sound different, with him doing beats and synths. I thought it would be such a huge change for me and it was something I wanted to explore, that was a few years ago now. It just worked from the start. Edwina [Preston] joined as well. Whenever we work it’s very quick and pretty easy. It took a while to get the live shows together though. We don’t do work that often but when we do it’s great. I credit Ben as the missing link we needed to create the whole project.

ATOM’s also a new way for you to say things musically?

HH: It is. More than that it inspires me in different ways, to do things differently, because of the mood of those instruments, it is so distinct and then there’s the references that it brings up in your mind. For me it’s taken me back to all these early electronic bands that came out at the start of new wave after punk, there was quite a bit of interesting experimental stuff and then it developed into that synth-y pop, some of which I like as well. With punk and after and before there was Suicide – Alan Vega and Martin Rev – all of those things it just brought out those influences. Synthesisers have this futuristic thing about them, the sound, even though it’s not quite old it still references some kind of made up idea about the future that we have, it gives you an opportunity to write about different things like how the world’s going.

Where did you get the album title In Every Dream Home? Is it from the Roxy Music song “In Every Dream Home A Heartache”?

HH: Yes it is. It’s also a kind of pop art reference, there’s an English pop art painting that has something about a dream home in it, it has that kind of ‘50s isn’t-everything-marvellous-in-our-dream-home vibe—of course though, it never is!

A lot of the themes on the album are things that I feel are happening right now in the world, like us all running out of stuff.

HH: I know, I know. It’s weird because some of the songs that I wrote since then and after that are even more relevant. It’s like people would think I would have written them lately. There’s one song called “Teenage Saviour” about how a teenager inspires everyone to change their way, politically. That was before the movement of the teenagers coming up about the shootings in America. I thought, oh god everyone’s going to think it’s about that! Then Greta Thunberg came out and I thought, oh my god, this song is about Greta [laughs], this is ridiculous. That might be on the next album. I think sometimes when you write about the future you’re going to get it right [laughs].

You’re prophetic!

HH: [Laughs]. I think it just happens.

How did In Every Dream Home start? Does Ben, Edwina and yourself write collaboratively?

HH: We do, overall it’s collaboratively but some of the songs, I would have music and words and I’d bring it along and they’d make up their parts and things would develop from that. The other option is that Ben would bring in a track of music and either me or Edwina would add vocals or another instrument. Everything is getting quite strongly effected by what the other members bring in. Everyone gets a credit in the end. You come up with some of the best ideas on your own but you can still collaborate on those and make them better.

How do you go about writing songs? Do you have any rules you like to follow?

HH: No, not really, it’s good not to have rules about anything and go for what works at the time. Sometimes I’ll write music and I’ll try to put words to it, sometimes I’ll write words then try to make up music for the words; sometimes you just get a bit of both, you’ll be banging away and a phrase will come to mind then it will turn into a song.

I really like how in ATOM songs there’s a lot of repetition.

HH: Yeah, yeah [laughs], I know. I thought that was something that suited it, I really love the way it was so minimal, reusing versus of words. Part of it was expediency, I will admit. It was also though that it suited the robotic quality of the music to be like that. It helped create a comic book quality to it… do you think?

I do. I also think that the album artwork by Darren Wardle lends itself to creating that comic feel. As the tracks unfold it is almost a journey through a comic, a story.

HH: I like that. It’s different for me. I think we’ve all really enjoyed that aspect of it, it feels really quite cool when we can make stuff like that—it’s a good feeling.

Cover art by Darren Wardle.

Something else that I have noticed in your song writing is that you often write about the theme of death; where does that come from?

HH: Yes, yes. I can’t help that, I’ve always done that to some extent I’ve always been a dark writer. Universally in art, death and sex and love are the big themes. It’s such a big thing. I was very sick, for a while it was quite touch and go, for over a year with my own health. My brother Roland died after I started getting better, and my parents have died… it’s a good way to deal with these things, making songs about it and stuff. It’s hard to talk about things like that, but if you put it into this framework of song lyrics, you can take any attitude you want and be quite playful with it. I don’t know though, I’m just attracted to doing it. I’m constantly writing songs that mention death.

Like you said, I guess it’s just processing stuff.

HH: Exactly. Even if you’re not thinking about them, these things are there in your mind, you know them and you can’t ignore them. Whatever you say about them can be useful, it doesn’t matter what attitude you take with them, if it’s some sort of dialogue it’s going to be useful.

Absolutely. I’ve lost both of my parents as well… I don’t know if you ever get to deal with things like that, for me anyway, like you said, it’s always there. It sucks that you can’t just simply hug a loved one anymore once they’re gone. Making stuff helps.

HH: Yeah, they’re the things you can’t change; what can you do about them? [laughs]. Not much! You have to have a release for it in some way.

I even noticed with your band names, ATOM is the building blocks of life, The Near Death Experience is death, then you have These Immortal Souls that’s life after death or eternal life.

HH: [Laughs]. There you go, it’s all about death.

Yeah, the whole cycle of life!

HH: I hadn’t thought about that! Things are strange how they work out, they can start making sense after a while. It’s very odd. For example when you write words and you have no idea of what you’re writing about and then you realise after, oh that make sense now.

Where did the ATOM song “I Used To Win” come from?

HH: Ahhh, well… that’s a good question. I was actually trying to write something a bit dark and a bit negative, I’m a big fan of film noir, that’s almost like a celebration of things going bad in a way. I wanted to do something along those lines and I just came up with that phrase and I thought it was evocative because it implies so much. “I Used To Win” is a more interesting way of saying that you lose or that you’ve lost a great deal. It’s got nothing to do with the Ollie Olsen song “Win/Lose” but it somehow clicked ‘cause I was doing a thing and writing about winning and losing, it was a personal reference for me. That’s a side thing that sometimes you might be influenced by people but you’ll have a reference from wherever and it encourages you. There’s a connection to Ollie’s song but I was just doing my own thing. I thought Simon Grounds did a good production job on that song, it turns into an apocalypse of noise!

I love that the album has a lot of atmospheric sounds.

HH: Synths are very atmospheric. They have such a strong personality.

It’s interesting that you’re in a band with synths now, I remember reading an interview with you from a while ago and you mentioned that as kids your brother and sister was enrolled in piano lesson but you dodged them.

HH: [Laughs] Yeah, I did! When I think of synths now, the keys are like a way into the sounds. I can’t play keyboards, I can only play rudimentary riffs on the keyboard, it takes me ages to work things out. So, I should have gone to more lessons! [laughs].

A lot of the music you write is quite dark; where do you find joy and happiness in your life?

HH: Just in the silly things [laughs]. There is an awful lot about life that is dark, e.g. the fact that you die and everyone you love that’s around you dies. There’s a lot of misfortune and there’s a lot of people that never get to be as one bit lucky as we are in Australia, being one of the richest countries in the world. There’s lots that you could describe as dark that goes on, on top of that I’m a bit of a sceptic about happiness, I don’t think we’re meant to be happy all the time. I don’t know if we’re designed to do that, I think it’s a bit of a high ideal. If you’re going to really look at things realistically I don’t think you can be happy all of the time. People use mind-altering substances because it’s easy to forget about why you’re not feeling happy at a particular time. I don’t want to be grim about it, I think life is really great, there’s so much to enjoy. I’m dubious about optimism, of always looking on the bright side, ok, but the dark side is alright sometimes as well, I don’t think we should block that out completely. It’s quite enjoyable when you embrace it in the way of film noir or look at all of the literature, film and music that is dark and how incredibly life affirming it can be—it can inspire you.

I get you. Sad songs often make me happy.

HH: Yeah and it can be a quite useful way to get out your own emotions. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of sad.

That’s been a big lesson for me in the last year. I was one of those I-should-be-happy-all-the-time people until my husband pointed out that it’s insane to try and live like that.

HH: I agree. You’d have to make yourself really shallow to live like that, we have many sides; I don’t want to be like that.

Same! What are you working on now?

HH: At the moment we’re working on a new ATOM record.


HH: We’re doing it in isolation. Ben told us today that he was working on some updated beats and things we’ve got going. Ed and I will work on them here. We’ve got songs on the go, about half the record is written, it just needs to be arranged. We have three writers and things happen pretty quickly with us, everyone really wants to get their stuff in so we can be quite competitive; there’s no shortage of material. So there’s the next ATOM album, ATOM 2, and then I’ve got all this solo stuff I keep working on. I’ve just been in touch with Dave [Graney] and Clare [Moore] – Dave has a lung condition and he will be isolating quite seriously for a while – I thought we might try emailing stuff back and forth for a potential NDE project. I work in a hospital, so I’m in this lull before the storm too! Which is taking up a bit of my mind right now, it’s very stressful.

It’s scary what’s happening in the world right now?

HH: It is! It’s like the future is here now!

The ATOM record has come true!

HH: I know! All those shows we’ve watched on Netflix about the dystopia has come, it’s really arrived.

We’re very excited that you’re still creating throughout it all!

HH: Thank you!

You’ve made our day that a new ATOM record is coming! It was such an underrated record, when I first heard it I thought it was so cool and different; sonically it was like a punch in the face in a good way!

HH: [Laughs]. I wish it had punched more people in the face, not many people I think have heard it.

That’s why we’re having this chat with you! It was one of our favourite records of last year!

Please check out: ATOM. Get In Every Dream Home out now on IT RECORDS.

Claire Birchall’s Running In Slow Motion: “It’s a nightmare song. A waking nightmare, or a blurred line between reality & a dream… you’re trying to escape your demons or run away from monsters, but you can’t scream”

Melbourne musician Claire Birchall is set to release album Running In Slow Motion April 24th through It Records. It’s a moody, emotive, darkwave synth-pop collection of songs that Claire wrote and recorded herself on a 4-track, and is a departure from her usual indie rock exploits. Today we’re premiering the album’s title track which sounds somewhere between UK band Broadcast, France’s Marie Davidson and the Australian cult classic “Cold Café” by Karen Marks. We chatted with Claire about Running In Slow Motion and her musical journey.

Tell us a little bit about your music journey.

CLAIRE BIRCHALL: I grew up in a musical family down the coast, just outside of Geelong. Dad and Mum both played guitar and sang, and they bought a piano when my sister Bec and I were quite young, so we got lessons. Dad also taught us both how to play guitar, which quickly became our favoured instrument. By high school, I was already playing guitar constantly, joined my first band, and also did some busking in the Geelong mall in the summertime.

My high school music room had a cassette 4-track that I was fascinated with. I borrowed it once, and was completely smitten.  I ended up buying one myself at age 17, and got hooked on home recording, churning out tapes that I would swap with friends. Through recording, I started trying out as many different instruments as I could get my hands on, and ended up picking up a bit of drums, bass, mandolin and other things. I finally properly released my debut album, the acoustic based Captain Captain in 2001, which I played most of the instruments on.  The album did pretty well on community radio, and got some great support from RRR and PBS in particular.

I formed my own band, Paper Planes, which started out playing the songs from Captain Captain.  I’m not sure how, but we gradually morphed into a full tilt rock band. We got some decent support slots over the years, Magic Dirt, Catpower, Ed Kuepper, Band Of Horses….  We also released a self titled album, and two 7” singles (all recorded at the legendary Birdland Studios) which were all quite well received. Also around the same time as Paper Planes, my partner (Matt Green) and I, formed country rock band the Happy Lonesome, which I still play in today.  Though I started out on guitar in that band, then moved to keys and mandolin, and back to guitar, these days I’m the drummer!

After Paper Planes I released two solo albums, both recorded on the 4-track (PP and Electricity), then formed another band, Claire Birchall the Phantom Hitchhikers, to launch Electricity.  Though it wasn’t properly discussed or intended to be a full time band, we really hit it off, and we’ve been playing ever since.  We released our debut single, “All That Matters (it’s Christmas time)” in 2016, then our debut album Nothing Ever Gets Lost in 2017, and we’ve played a hell of a lot of shows. Also unintentional, was the small break the Phantom Hitchhikers ended up having towards the end of 2018, which unusually took me to this synth pop place I’m in now.

You’re more known for your rock, guitar-based music; what inspired you to make a synth record Running In Slow Motion by yourself on 4-track in your bedroom?

CB: It was a bit of an accident really. My band mates (the Phantom Hitchhikers) were pretty busy with various things at the time, and it was getting hard to get everyone together. I got an idea for a song one day, and decided to get out my old 4-track and demo it, for something to do.  Using my Casio keyboard for drums, and laying down a simple keyboard line, it somehow didn’t feel like it needed much guitar. The song was “Dead Air”, which turned out being the first single from the album. I liked the relative sparseness of the recording compared to my usual wall of sound, fuzz rock stuff, and it kicked off the inspiration for more writing and recording.

I wasn’t planning on making an album, but I got more and more addicted to experimenting with the new sound and returning to my roots of recording on the old 4-track.  It was really refreshing to step away from the guitar and sit there at my Casio, get a beat and a keyboard line going and write a song.  It completely changed my way of writing, and got me away from using the same old guitar chords/rhythms etc. Before I knew it, I was programming beats on a drum machine, scouring my collection of dinky little keyboards for cool sounds, and recording at every spare minute.  I ended up writing and recording the entire album in just a few months (plus a few songs to spare!).

What vision did you have for the record?

CB: It just happened.  But as I got further into recording, things started to take shape. I felt like the Casio keyboard drums weren’t sounding punchy enough on a few songs I’d already recorded, and maybe sounded a little too lo-fi. So I re-recorded a couple of them with programmed drum machine instead, and it really gave the songs the kick they needed. I instantly got hooked on programming my own beats, it’s so much fun. I then started digging the idea of getting the most hi-fi sounding recordings out of my lo-fi 4-track.  And I liked the idea of minimal tracks, minimal instrumentation, to let the songs talk without clogging them up with a million overdubs. I wanted to write the sort of songs that’d get stuck in your head. Pop songs.  I agonised over the track list for ages, cutting quite a few that weren’t up to scratch to make the poppiest catchy album I could muster. I can’t help that it’s pretty dark too, I’ve always had a little of that in my songwriting.

We’re premiering the third single, title track, “Running In Slow Motion”; what’s the song about?

CB: The song came together super quickly, and I used a little old cream coloured Yamaha keyboard for the drums. I still think the song’s got one of the best drum sounds on the whole album. It sounded kind of eerie, and I guess that inspired the eerie lyrics. It’s kind of a nightmare song. A waking nightmare, or a blurred line between reality and a dream, where people’s faces become distorted and turn into something/someone you don’t know. And you’re trying to escape your demons or run away from monsters, but you can’t scream, and you can only manage to run in slow motion.  It’s crazy how fitting it is to be releasing such a nightmarish song right at this point in time, when the whole world is truly living in a nightmare.

What was the best things about working alone on your new collection of songs?

CB: As much as I adore my band and bandmates and what they bring to my songs, there’s something to be said about being able to completely follow through with your sole vision for a song. When I write, I often instantly get ideas for multiple instrument parts, not just guitar or vocals, so it’s interesting to try and lay it all down just as I hear it in my head.

Also, I just love recording on the 4-track. Time absolutely flies by. I forget to eat, to drink water, anything. I just get so engrossed and obsessed. Often I’d write and record the whole song in one night, and end up with a tangle of leads and equipment all over the floor. I really love getting into that headspace, where the inspiration is positively flowing and you don’t want to waste time packing up anything, you’ve just got to keep going. I love the no bullshit simplicity of recording on the 4-track, it allows me to be completely spontaneous.

What was the most challenging?

CB: Definitely the mixing. I lost track of how many hours/days/months I spent doing that! I mix down from the cassette 4-track onto the computer, and then occasionally I’ll add some extra bits and pieces there.  Some of this involved tedious synching up and cutting/pasting individual tracks loaded in from the 4-track.  Plus, I’m so used to doing more lo-fi stuff, where the vocals are a little more buried. I had to work really hard on getting the vocals to stick out and sound more present and poppy. This involved double tracking, FX, and plenty of other little “secret” tricks. 

As a songwriter how do you feel you’ve grown while continuing to evolve, making a different kind of album than what your listeners are used to? Do you feel you took a risk?

CB: Even though I hadn’t made a synth-pop album before, I don’t really feel like I’ve strayed too much into the unknown. Every album I’ve ever done has been different from the previous one. I’ve experimented with all kinds of different sounds, instruments, and recording techniques over the years. Being a multi-instrumentalist really lends itself to experimentation. Plus I’ve got a pretty diverse taste in music. My first album, Captain Captain was a real acoustic guitar based album, totally different to my next one, which was the debut full tilt rock album with my band, Paper Planes. There’s also hints of my keyboard/programmed drums leanings throughout all of my solo albums. That being said, this is a very different sounding album, sure. It’s the first one that is a dedicated synth/drum machine album. But I think it still sounds like me.

What are some things you do to nurture your creativity?

CB: I absolutely always carry a notebook with me. It’s so great having an abundance of snippets of ideas to flick through when I’m stuck for ideas/lyrics.  I’ve pieced together many a song from individual lines I’ve written in that book.

I also think it’s also incredibly important to not force creativity. I try not to get too worried if I have a dry spell and don’t get inspired to write any new songs for a while. Sometimes it’s good to have a break, clear your head. The songs come when they’re ready.

You’ve played with Kim Salmon; what’s something you’ve learnt from working with him?

CB: You know, I was really quite scared that I wasn’t going to be capable of playing the stuff that I needed to be able to play with Kim. Some of the guitar stuff I felt was completely out of my league!  He really is an incredible guitarist.  I couldn’t believe he was trusting in me to pull this off!  But I worked my arse off, rehearsing by myself at home. I rehearsed more than I’d ever rehearsed for anything in my life. And incredibly I got it together. I surprised even myself. And it goes to show, you really shouldn’t write yourself off and think you’re not capable of something that looks hard and scary, cause it can turn out totally fine and you can have so much fun!

Kim’s taught me heaps. He’s the ultimate professional, but doesn’t like to over-rehearse to the point where you’re “wasting it all up” and losing the spark. I love that, I really agree with that. I love being kept on my toes when I play with him.  It keeps it super exciting and fun. I’m always grinning so much on stage with him. He’s a super lovely guy, he’s great to his fans, talks to everyone, signs stuff, all that. It’s no surprise that people really love him.

Why is making music important to you?

CB: I’ve been doing it for so long, I don’t know how not to do it!  It’s essential for my soul, my wellbeing.  I feel incredibly lucky to be able to write songs, especially when they feel like they’ve simply fallen out of the sky like a gift from the gods. You can’t ignore that shit, you’ve got to see it through. Music has also allowed me to play with and connect with so many wonderful and talented people over the years. I’m currently playing in multiple bands/projects, two of which I play drums in (The Happy Lonesome, and Teresa Duffy-Richards & the Fifty Foot Women), plus the Phantom Hitchhikers, my solo synth thing, and Kim’s band. It’s hectic, but I wouldn’t give this up for the world.  My life would not be the same without it.

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