Sydney punk band ARSE’s guitarist-vocalist Dan Cunningham: “I was really frustrated with everything in my life…”

Handmade collage by B.

Sydney punk trio ARSE’s straight-forward, minimalist, and most importantly honest music, captures the daily grind of the modern world in all of its anxieties, pressures, stresses, and frustration. Gimmie spoke at length with guitarist-vocalist, Dan Cunningham.

How did you get into music?

DAN CUNNINGHAM: From a very young age my parents got me playing music as soon as I was old enough to do so. It’s been a lifelong thing for me really, it’s in my family as well, I have cousins, aunts and uncles that all play. There’s always been music in my life and it just made sense to go for it myself. When I got to high school, I started playing guitar and that’s where I met Jono [Boulet], who also plays in ARSE. He and I have been on the road musically, and literally, together for years; we’ve always played in bands together. I’ve always been in bands, ARSE is the most recent one.

I know you did bands Parades and Snake Face too! You’ve gone from doing Parades that sounds pretty indie pop to doing a punk band with ARSE. Often when people are younger and in their teens, they’re really angsty and the music is aggressive and as you get older you mellow out more, I feel like you guys have gone the opposite!

DC: Jono and I have always had a punk band of some kind or another going at all times, even during Parades we had Snake Face as the side thing. We’ve always bonded over that kind of music. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve even said it out loud, at this point we’re in our 30s now… it’s insane when you’re doing music and you get to that point, it feels a bit ridiculous to be doing a kind of indie thing, unless you do it really well and you really think about it and it’s coming from a really visceral, honest kind of place and you do it convincingly, then it works. For us, we’re just at the point where we want to keep playing music together. At the time we started this band, it just felt like the absolutely right thing to do, especially for where I was at in my life, to do the band I always wanted to be in. Jono has always been on the level. We just did it and it felt like a really natural thing to do. We had zero plans for this band, to be quite honest. We started it three years ago.

I understand at the time you started the band you were going through a real depressive period in your life?

DC: Yeah, somewhat. I was a bit wayward really… just, life never turns out the way that you want it to, which is a sad reality. At that point I was really frustrated with everything in my life… which is totally normal I think, anyone can relate to that. At that time there was a real lack of music in my life, at the bottom of it all I think that was the root of a lot of my problems. I just needed to fill that space, that void in my life, it was absolutely the thing that I needed to do—that’s how the band started really. That’s something I only realised much later though, maybe after a year of doing it.

Was there a reason why there was a lack of music in your life at that time?

DC: Circumstances. I was at university studying and I didn’t have the time to do it, there were other personal things going on, it was a tumultuous time. Doing what I was doing at university I was pretty conflicted about it taking up so much of my creative time. There were a lot of questions about whether I was doing the right thing? As you get older I think you’re more aware of time, how you’re spending it and if you’re being honest with yourself in that. That’s where I was. I’m still kind of there [laughs] in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of those questions still hanging around. At least music is more of a thing though, it’s a clear and present thing in my life. I feel a lot better about everything.

What is ARSE for you?

DC: It’s an outlet for a lot of stuff. I do it with two of my best and longest standing friends which is a huge thing, just getting to create something with them! We get to spend a shitload of time together. When we play shows we love to hang out, often playing a gig is an excuse to go grab dinner somewhere, for me it’s something to do—that’s’ the most important thing to me. I love playing out of Sydney. Before lockdown we’d spend a lot of time in Melbourne, last year [2019] we went down five or six times; every time we play down there it gets better and better. Melbourne is such a great place to hang out. They’re really going through it right now with the Coronavirus. Knowing the people I know down there through playing in the band, the cultural aspect of Melbourne is its greatest strength and right now they’ve completely lost it, it’s pretty devastating. ARSE for me is to make connections, that’s a really valuable thing in my life. The music is the most fun I think I could have, doing that, getting up there and turning everything up to 11! Really feeling it! When you play it’s really a bit of a heighted state that I can’t get any other way.

I saw the podcast you were on recently and you mentioned that playing live was almost like a meditative experience for you.

DC: Yeah, absolutely. I’m definitely not thinking about whatever is going on in my life when we play, that’s a hugely underrated thing. We also mentioned that in the world of music there is this innate relationship with music and substance abuse and all that sort of thing, we see that when we play ‘cause obviously we’re playing shows all the time and spending a lot of times out in the evening, playing pubs, venues, where there is alcohol everywhere – which is totally fine, do whatever you do. For me, after a few years of getting on stage with a few beers under my skin and feeling maybe not as present as I could have been, now it’s really valuable to me to really be present and to just take it all in—to really be there for the moment. If I want to have ten beers after, well, that’s a different story, but when I play it’s really important to me to take stock of the moment, because moments are fleeting, moments are all we have at the end of the day, experiences and things like that. It sounds new age or something but that’s just where it’s at for us. I don’t know if that’s a bummer for some people, because I think people want punk bands to be bit lawless and fucked up basically, there’s an image there that people really connect with. It’s not our thing, it’s not what we set out to do.

One of the reasons I really love ARSE is because music-wise you are very traditionally punk rock and what people may expect from a punk band but then your lyrics are intelligent, at times philosophical and there’s a lot more going on there then what it might seem at first though. I feel like you have a lot of deep thought happening there.

DC: Thank you! I think about what I’m writing, if for no other reason than… for me,  a lot of the band is writing the things that I would want to hear or that I would be stoked on if I was hearing the band for the first time, that’s always in the back of my mind. I’m a huge fan of music, music is my life! Even when I’m not playing it. I’ve been in bands where you’re not into the music that you’re making, which is a really weird thing to do. I reckon there’s so many bands playing right now that don’t love their own music, that they just do it for some other reason. For me the only reason to be in a band is to make the music that you want to hear—that’s all we’re doing. It’s definitely what I try to do with the lyrics. I really nerd out on the lyrics of all of my favourite artists and bands. The lyrics are half of the picture for me, music is one part and then if you’ve got the lyrical side happening as well, those are the things that make my favourite bands.

Same! One of the first songs of yours that I heard and that really resonated with me was ‘NRVSNRG’.

DC: Cool!

You have no idea how many times I’ve listened to that song, especially in the car on my way to work every day, I could so relate to what you were saying. The lyrics are so honest. I’m listening to it and I’m like, “yeah buddy, me too!

DC: Awww that’s amazing. Thank you for saying so.

What’s the story behind that song?

DC: That was a really easy one for me. Some of our songs you don’t want to know how long I’ve spent on the lyrics, it freaks me out. I definitely get stuck in a kind of feedback loop when I’m writing stuff, I’m in it big time right now because we’re using the downtime to try and put out new stuff. I’m working on lyrics to a whole bunch of things at the moment, it’s kind of a bit of a pain in the arse. That song was not one of those instances, I remember being surprised at how easy that one was to do. The music was really straightforward and I didn’t need to fit things in anywhere, I could just go for it. A lot of the time when I am playing guitar as well, a lot of the lyrical side of things has to fit in with how I’m playing because it’s too hard to do live, it’s got to be feasible for me to be able to sing and play at the same time. That one was really easy for me because I don’t really play anything in the verses in that song, I had a chance to do whatever I wanted.

What you’re singing, the lyrics, is that how you were feeling at the time?

DC: Absolutely! It was a really natural thing to put all of that down, I was surprised at how well it worked, that’s what you want. I always want to get a result where I feel like it wasn’t written by me, that it was written by someone else; that’s the mark of a great result, that is the pinnacle of that feeling for me. I don’t know who wrote that song [laughs], it hit all the beats for me.

How good is the bass line in that song!? It has such a groove.

DC: Yeah, that’s Jono. He brought that to the table. That whole song is a great example of every piece falling into place. I would say in a way that is our most well-known song. When we play it in Sydney, that’s the one that everyone knows, I think it’s because it’s probably the most relatable.

I’ve noticed that at your shows. You look around at everyone in the crowd when you’re singing it and it really feels like everyone is like: I get you! I feel it too.

DC: Yeah, that’s it.

I like how you guys have a real minimalist kind of drumming.

DC: [Laughs] Yeah, we do. There’s a few things going on there with the drums, the big one is that it’s a bit of a, I don’t want to say experiment… Tim [Watkins] our drummer is a really incredible drummer, very talented, we just wanted to see if we could focus his energy completely, we didn’t want him to have all these extra bits of the drum kit to play with; we wanted him to have three things to hit. It’s so tempting to be all over the drum kit, he is that guy, he’d be all over it if he could! There’s only three of us in the band and we wanted to have every element going at 100%. The best way to do that with the drums is just to give him a couple of things to do. It helps us write the most effective song if we only use a couple of things.

You mentioned the song ‘NRVSNRG’ was easy to write; what’s something that’s been hard to write?

DC: Probably the EP, Safe Word. That was definitely harder, because we were trying some stuff, we were seeing what we could do differently. There was a lot of trial and error in that. There were also some time issues. It was a bad time to try to write a record, in our lives there were a lot of things going on; there was a lot of juggling of things. Lyrically as well I was trying new things. We’re still happy with the end result, but it didn’t come together easily. The odds were against us.

It’s been really cool now to have the time to think about what we’re doing; that’s one upside to the lockdown pandemic situation we’re all in.

What kinds of things have you found yourself writing about now?

DC: I think I’m definitely trying to get to that place where things lyrically need to come from the heart, which sounds a bit wishy-washy but I’m really trying to connect with that and things I’m feeling and try to put that into songs where we can play with new ideas. Musically, we’re in the early stages. Jono and I are just trying to figure out how we can be the best version of what we do. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, we’re just trying to hone in on the things that we love about the band and try and do better. We’re chipping away. We hang out once or twice a week and throw ideas around. At the moment we have a lot of stuff to go through, we have a big pile of trash we’re working our way through [laughs]. We’ll pull one or two things out and finish them.

What do you love about writing lyrics?

DC: I’m a writer for my work. I write for websites, that’s my bread and butter. For as long as I can remember, even as a kid, I’ve always had music going and I’ve always had writing. I studied journalism at uni. Like I said before, I really nerd out on great lyricists and lyrics. Writing is something I can’t not do—it feels good to be doing this. I feel like it’s what I should be doing.

Do you have any favourite lyricists?

DC: Definitely. I hate to be obvious, but someone like Gareth Liddiard [Tropical Fuck Storm / The Drones] for me is one of the most underrated lyricists; he is rated but he could be rated better!

Totally! He is one of the best Australia’s ever had.

DC: Yeah, he’s one of the best Australian songwriters of the last thirty years. That’s not gushing either, that’s the truth. He’s kind of like the gold standard. I feel like what he does is uniquely Australian, I think only an Australian could do the thing he does really well.

The way he delivers the vocal as well, it can give you chills and make you feel. It’s really emotive and he’s really great at creating an atmosphere.

DC: Yeah. I’ve read a lot of interviews with him as well and he kind of brushes off his talents in a way like, “Oh yeah, I just wrote this thing.” You can tell there’s so much work went into what he does. It can’t be mistaken; you just know when someone has worked really hard at what they do. He may be blasé about what he does but he is way better than people realise.

I also really like Nick Cave, for all the reasons I just said before, an Australian songwriter that’s undeniably Australian in what they do. These are big figures to have looming over me as I’m trying to write [laughs]. I’m not saying I’m anywhere near the talent of those guys.

You’re very talented at songwriting. I can tell there’s a lot of thought behind your lyrics.

DC: Thank you. I’m really glad when we play that the thing people often approach us with after we play is that the lyrics really resonate with them. For me, that is the ultimate compliment. I really appreciate that.

You meditate, don’t you?

DC: A little bit. It’s something that I’ve dabbled with for a long time and Jono’s done a little bit here and there. I’m always trying things. I’m always trying to be healthier. I think it’s an age thing. I’m always trying to create habits that I can carry into my later years because there’s people in my family and people that I know that are close to me in my life that never cared about that stuff and now in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s they’re just fucked! I don’t know how else to say it. Just surviving and not living. It goes for mental health as well. We’re of the generation now where there is a huge focus on mental health, it’s being taken more seriously. There’s not a person out there that doesn’t struggle with some form of mental health. I’ve certainly had my share of issues. There’s no one I know that hasn’t. For me meditation – it’s not something I do as much as I could or should – is something that I’m mindful of and work on.

So, when you’re doing it it’s mindful meditation that you’re doing?

DC: Yeah, a real basic one. I got really into it for six months, to the point I was doing it almost every day. I look back on that time as a time of better mental health. I’m currently trying to steer the ship back to that period.

I’ve been doing it on and off for around twenty years now and I know for a fact that my life is always better when I do it.

DC: You can’t deny it’s impacts. What type do you do?

I’ve tried a lot, like you I like to try as much as possible. I’ve struggled a lot with mental health and my whole family has had most major health problems you can think of, so I can really relate to what you were saying before about loved ones being fucked. At different points in my life different styles of meditation have helped but I always come back to the mindful breathing in, breathing out, simple meditation.

DC: Yeah, that’s the one.

I’ve been doing the mindful breathing one lately but when I breathe in, in my mind I say, “I’m breathing in, I’m alive” and you acknowledge that you are alive and that you’re here now. When I breathe out, I say in my mind, “I’m breathing out, I smile” and that’s appreciating that I am alive and that I should make the most of that. It’s as simple as that.

DC: Amazing! That’s a great lesson for anything really. You just have to find the thing that works for you.

Exactly! And, everyone is different…

DC: Yeah, so it might not work for someone else but if it works for you, fuck, you’ve just got to do it, right?

Right!

DC: I never thought that something like music and my practice of music, that mindfulness, by extension meditation, could play into the musical part of my life. There’s a relationship forming there, which to me is something worth pursuing. It’s great! Anything that’s going to improve your existence and whatever time you have left—you just have to do it.

*More of this interview can be found in our editor’s up coming book, Conversations With Punx, alongside in-depth chats with Ian MacKaye, Martin Rev, Brendan Suppression, Keith Morris, spiderxdeath, Rikk Agnew, Geza X, Steve Ignorant and many more.

Please check out ARSE on bandcamp; on Facebook; on Instagram.

Sydney Post-Punk band Loose Fit are “focusing on the little victories for the moment”

Photo courtesy of Loose Fit. Handmade collage by B.

We love Loose Fit’s rhythm-heavy groove-driven post-punk no-wave sound. Their self-titled debut EP  was released as a limited cassette run in 2018, but was recently put out on 12” vinyl by UK label FatCat Records. We spoke to them about the release, their beginnings and more.  

How has your day been? What did you get you get up?

MAX: I’m currently ‘working’ from home. I’m waiting for the phone to ring so I can help someone with their issues using Zoom, as I am apparently an expert since two months ago.

Outside of music what do you do?

KAYLENE: I run a little knitwear label called WAH-WAH Australia and work as a design consultant.

MAX: Just the boring normal stuff. I work a normal job, enjoy socialising on the weekends etc. I’ve been enjoying cooking a lot more recently.

ANNA: I make art, illustration, painting and other. I also freelance as a social-systems designer and right now I’m doing work as a Speculative Futurist, which is basically a dream come true where I get to make sci-fi artefacts and tell people they have been sent back to us from the future.

RICHARD: I’m a video editor.

Photo by Zafiro.

What’s an album that you’ve listened to more than any other? As a music fan what do you appreciate most about it?

KAYLENE: Naughty Boys – YMO. It’s the perfect pop album. It manages to do that thing where it makes you happy and nostalgic at the same time, and such cool synth sounds!

MAX: Too hard to be completely definitive, but one I’ve been obsessed with in recent years and keep returning to is Arthur Russell – Calling Out Of Context. It’s mentioned briefly in the AR doco how he loved riding the ferry and being on the water, and that feeling often filtered into his music somehow. I love that feeling in these songs, how they just kinda meander and float by with this kinda pleasant wistfulness. They’re also still super catchy somehow! He’s a master.

ANNA: Animal Collective archive I have been revisiting for years. When I feel boxed in, I listen to them and I feel myself again.

What was your first introduction to D.I.Y. world?

KAYLENE: I grew up playing trumpet in brass bands and orchestras, which was not in line with what I was listening to, or wanted to play, but it was a great musical training. When I was in year 11, I saw an advertisement on the Wollongong Music Scene online forum looking for a trumpeter to play some mariachi style trumpet on a rock album. After my debut in the rock and roll world, I joined a local band of misfits called The Nice Folk.

MAX: I had a couple of bands during and just after high school, so I guess we were ‘doing it ourselves’ back then? Not because we were super aware of DIY as an ethos or a musical subculture, we were just entertaining ourselves.

ANNA: Tangentially to music….My D.I.Y sensibilities came through my love of fashion and making things. When I was 10 I started designing and making my own outfits and accessories. In high school my friends and I had heaps of little fashion businesses and sold things at music festivals and all ages gigs and markets. We even made swing tags and brand labels.

Pic courtesy of Loose Fit.

I understand that Kaylene and Anna first met at fashion school and bonded over a mutual love of experimental music; what were some of these bands/artists? What was your first impression of each other?

KAYLENE: Fashion school was so all consuming that we didn’t really get a chance to bond over shared musical interests until after we graduated. That was almost a decade ago now, but I remember Anna introduced me to some cool artists like Anna Meredith and Blues Control. We went to a Holy Balm gig together and that really got us talking about synthesisers, and what music we could potentially make with the electronic music gear my brother had given me.

First impressions of Anna? Charismatic, good dancer and intensely creative.

ANNA: I knew Kaylene had an entire room in her house dedicated to records, and at fashion school she also had a vintage designer handbag and a pair of Ann Demeulemeester lace up boots. So I knew she was FRESHHHHH. She is such a clever designer. I had crippling social anxiety during fashion school, it was hard to make friends properly. During fashion school I used to go to gigs by myself at Black Wire and this artist run experimental spot in Chippendale called Serial Space and a grimy stinkhole under an escalator in Chinatown called The Square. I saw the most inspiring stuff at those places, especially Serial Space.

What inspired you to start Loose Fit?

KAYLENE: Until forming Loose Fit, I’d always found myself playing in other people’s bands as the trumpeter. It was satisfying in the sense that playing music with others is always (usually) a fun experience, but it wasn’t necessarily the music I felt I wanted to be making.

ANNA: I felt angry.

Can you describe Loose Fit in a sentence please?

RICHARD: No instrument more important than any other instrument.

ANNA: I still feel pretty angry.

Loose Fit started out with Kaylene and Anna doing lo-fi bedroom recordings; did you have an initial idea of what you wanted to sound like? How did you get started?

KAYLENE: Loose Fit is actually the coming together of two half formed musical projects. Anna and I knew we wanted to make music together, but we only really got as far as learning how to program beats on Ableton, and how to integrate analogue synths and old drum machines and record on a somewhat archaic 8-track mixer that we couldn’t export the audio from. Not long after, Max and I started throwing around the idea of making some music together. Our first attempts involved synthesisers and experimental trumpet, before I jumped on the drums and decided that’s where I’d like to sit. So I guess we started out thinking we were going to be more experimental than where we ended up.

ANNA: I used to joke with my friends that I was going to quit my job, go art school and join a rock band. And then eventually all those things happened. And lucky, because otherwise I’d still be recording videos of myself lip-syncing to Brian Ferry and posting them on the internet.

How’d Richard and Max get involved in the band? How did you meet?

RICHARD: Max was (and is) Kaylene’s boyfriend, I was a friend of Kaylene’s. The first time we were all in a room together was our first rehearsal.

Your self-titled EP was released in 2018 and in April this year UK label Fat Cat Records put it out again; have you been working on anything new? What can you tell us about it so far?

RICHARD: We’re working towards an album and recorded a bunch of tracks but it all got put on hold (like everything else) back in March. We just started rehearsing again and have been working on new stuff so we might try and get back into the studio soon.

ANNA: New songs, many new songs. I really like the new songs. So fun! I really miss playing them at gigs.

How do you write? Is it collaboratively? What’s your process?

RICHARD: A lot of our songs come from stuff that just happened in rehearsal and we liked it. We’ll often just start playing until we hit on something that feels cool. We try and come up with interesting places to take it, and then edit pretty hard to turn the bits into a tight song. Sometimes someone will come in with a bit – like Max came up with Pull The Lever’s main bassline. But nobody brings a completed song and plays it on an acoustic or anything gross like that.

ANNA: Yeah and we tried to do long distance Covid songwriting over email but it sucks.

Can you share with us one of your favourite moments from writing and/or recording your s/t LP back in 2018? I read that you recorded it in one weekend.

MAX: I can’t really think of a particular moment, but the whole process was a real delight. I’m sure everyone who’s been in a band can relate to that intense burst of energy and excitement when you first get together, write your first few songs, play your first handful of shows and make your first recording. It was a blast. Also, Anna had never played in a band before and Kaylene had never played drums. We approached the EP more or less just as a document of what we had achieved in that first 6-8 months.

ANNA: Playing our first shows!!!!!!!! I was so nervous we’d play to an empty room, but all my friends caught the train up from Thirroul to Petersham Bowling Club to see us play! What a buzzzzzzzzz though. Every time someone invites us to play a show I’m still flattered.

RICHARD: We did the EP with Jono Boulet, it was a pretty fast and furious session in his little studio in Marrickville. There wasn’t much overthinking, they were all songs we knew pretty well and we just smashed through them.

The album art features details of “Lost In Highway” a painting by Botond Keresztesi; how did you first find their work? What attracted you to using it for your cover?

ANNA: I discovered Botond through Nick Santoro I think. They have a similar language in their art. It’s one of those things. You see an image it is just obvious that it is perfect for the sound of the music and the mood. I can’t explain it. But I do love the post-internet hyper-real style of Botond’s art, and the sort of awkward non-spaces of the scenes he paints. Objects floating and existing, somewhere kinda vacant and artificial, in no particular time or place.

In regards to song writing, what is one of your biggest challenges?

MAX: Sometimes it’s just hard! Sometimes we’ll stumble upon something and end up with a song an hour later, but other times ideas are just less forthcoming.

RICHARD: Everyone in the band listens to a pretty wide variety of stuff. I think we’re all interested in exploring lots of different territory stylistically. Maybe the challenge is doing that while making sure we retain the band’s own style and personality.

ANNA: Being able to retain the same off-the-cuff natural energy of jamming and chaotic improvised lyricism in the final refined song.

A couple of months ago you released a film clip for song ‘Black Water’; can you please tell us a bit about the day of shooting it?

MAX: It was a really fun day! Two of my friends from work helped us out behind the camera. Solomon directed/shot it and Gabe helped out ‘on set’ and shot some great photos. One of the dancers, Cait, is an old school friend of mine that I called upon when we needed a couple of ballroom guns. So it was just a whole lot of fun. I think it turned out really great too. We’d sort of had the basic idea rattling around for a while but when we pitched it to Solomon he really brought the final thing together and made it look super schmick. Total pro.

ANNA: It was pouring with rain and the roof of this heritage listed hall we rented was leaking. Gabe had to mop the floor between every take so the dancers wouldn’t slip. Kaylene and I spent most of the day applying makeup and fake nails. Richard brought one of his attractive vintage speaker systems for set dressing. All our costumes were from charity shops and we were aiming for daggy-glam but we kind of ended up looking like a rip off Gucci campaign.

What’s next for Loose Fit?

MAX: Hopefully we can finish the album soon! Just focusing on the little victories for the moment I guess.

ANNA: Bringing heaps of hand sanitiser to band practice.

Please check out: LOOSE FIT. Loose Fit on Instagram. Loose Fit’s self-titled LP out on FatCat Records.

Pray For Party Dozen is on the way: “Party Dozen is a band that no one asked for, so I think it’s funny, the idea of praying for us”

Handmade mixed-media + still life collage by B.

Sydney’s Party Dozen is the dynamite combo of Jonathan Boulet and Kirsty Tickle. They’re one of the most interesting and exciting bands around with an experimental musical fusion of saxophone, drums and electronics to create a unique, fierce sound. They’re getting set to release their highly anticipated sophomore LP Pray For Party Dozen. We interviewed them, getting to know them a little better and hearing more about the awaited release, out May 22 on their own label Grupo Records. Get on your knees and start to pray, the second coming is almost upon us!

Party Dozen is a project loosely based around improvisation; what appealed to you about taking this approach?

JONO: I think all live forms of music conjure some kind of energy, sometimes it’s a familiar energy and sometimes it’s not. Audiences aren’t stupid and they can sense when you’re checked in to your performance. For us, keeping our performances unhinged and untethered not only keeps shows fun for us but I think it brings a sense of danger and if we want to project more energy we simply play harder and faster. And even though there’s a lot of songs we now generally play structurally the same, there’s always room for spontaneity and expression if we’re feeling it.

You’ve known each other for over a decade; how does that familiarity help when playing music and writing songs together?

JONO: Obviously knowing each other’s tendencies and even subtle physical cues can help immensely when it comes to performing as a unit. I guess at the same time we’re always developing as players and not being too familiar with someone’s playing style can lead to surprises and new paths. Sometimes I think we’re dead on the same page but it’ll turn out we are on opposite ends of the book! A welcome surprise as there are no mistakes when you’re “making it up”.

How did each of you first get into music?

JONO: It started for me when I was 10. I tended to be a little on the hyperactive side but instead of opting for drugs, my folks bought an old drum kit from a country town that used to belong to a Jazz guy that was in the war but never came back.

KIRSTY: My start in music was pretty run of the mill. Bullied my parents for piano lessons age 4, because I was the youngest and my siblings were all having them already. Music was the only thing that ever really held my interest for a long period of time.

All photos courtesy of @partydozen Instagram.

How did you first come to creating music yourself?

JONO: When I hit high school my parents got me a keyboard. It had this looping arranger function on it where I could layer up 5 or 6 instruments. I would get home from school and play it every day, recording loops that I liked on to floppy disks.

KIRSTY: I started writing songs when I was around 13, just keyboard and vocal kind of stuff. But I didn’t get into experimenting until I met Jonathan. He really pushed me to think about music differently and follow my own path with creating it.

I understand that Party Dozen started while you were overseas and that you started out playing the reverse – with Jono on saxophone and Kirsty on drums – of what the band formation is now; firstly what inspired you to be a two-piece with these instruments? Why did you first experiment by switching instruments?

KIRSTY: Yeah, we did one jam like that. I think Jono really wanted to play sax and I’ve always wanted to play drums. But it was dogshit, so we went back to the ones we’re good at. My memory is that we spoke about making a band in Berlin, but recorded our first song while living in London. We started taking it seriously when we moved back to Sydney. Coming back to Australia was this real lightbulb moment for both of us – we love living here, we love creating here and we love the community here.

Party Dozen’s music has quite an aggressive vibe and has an edge to it that can push the parameters of what makes people feel comfortable both as a listener and as a live experience; was that an intentional goal when crafting your sound?

KIRSTY: For sure. We always want to push the boundaries of how much sound two people can produce, and then extend on that. For me Party Dozen is also an experiment in how to utilise our instruments in more interesting ways, and appreciating that that sometimes isn’t going to be “nice” or “pretty”. There’s a real strength in that for me.

You’ve previously mentioned that with Party Dozen you wanted to “form a band that could help us grow as musicians”; in what ways do you feel you’ve grown since starting PD?

KIRSTY: When we started this band I couldn’t really use effects pedals. So I’ve really grown in that department. I also feel like we’ve both gotten so much better at playing our instruments in a live setting – still plenty of room for improvement though.

JONO: Yeah with the current format of this band, the better we get on our instruments the more options we have for exploration. This band has forced me to play harder better faster stronger.

Where did the title of your forthcoming sophomore LP, Pray For Party Dozen, come from?

KIRSTY: I think it sort of started as a bit of a joke…

JONO: Party Dozen is a band that no one asked for, so I think it’s funny, the idea of praying for us.

What inspired the new record?

KIRSTY: Film Noir, cults, 1960’s rock, conversations about dead friends.

How did you record it? Jono you record, mix and master Party Dozen’s songs, right?

JONO: We recorded it in our little 15sqm box in Marrickville, Sydney. Generally we’ll improvise to a loop a couple times and pick the best one. We run the sax through an amp with a DI and generally use 4-6 mics on the kit. We mix and master in house because we’re possessive and greedy.

I know when writing songs that you like to experiment and that you like to play a few different takes over loops to find what sounds best; how important are feeling and intuition in your process?

KIRSTY: The writing process is very improvisational, so I’d say feeling and intuition makes up about 90% of it. If it feels good, we’ll explore. If we like the vibe, it’ll normally make the record.

JONO: You can tell pretty quick if a song is coming together and whether it’s worth pursuing. Once we’ve made a loop, you can envision the song and if that sounds good in your mind, it’s likely to sound good in reality. There’s only ever been a couple of jams that got to the jam phase and didn’t make it.

Were there any risks you feel you took while making the album? Or any happy accidents from the process that made it on to the album?

KIRSTY: There’s a song with no loops! Which is the first time we’ve done that, and we didn’t go into the recording aiming for that either – so I guess that’s a happy accident!

JONO: Nothing too risky. We were more focused on expanding our sonic palate. More colours to play with in the Party Dozen world. There was definitely an intentional focus on aesthetic and vibe this time around.

What gear really helped shape the sound of, Pray For Party Dozen?

KIRSTY: On my set up, I got some new pedals. A wah, a new fuzz and a couple of new delays.

JONO: I run all my loops off of a Roland SP-404, I use one crash, tighten the fuck out of my snare and try to hit everything as hard and consistent as possible.

What was one of your favourite moments of recording the new record?

KIRSTY: The opening track “World Prayer” is probably the most challenging track to listen to on the record. It was also the most fun, rule-free, throwing-shit-at-a-wall noisey tracks I’ve ever recorded.

JONO: Some songs you know just don’t feel right while you’re playing them, so it takes a few goes to get it right. But there are some songs, eg. “The Great Ape”, that feel right every time you play it. When it feels right the first time, you get this rush of excitement or a hit of some highly addictive drug.

What keeps music exciting for you?

KIRSTY: I get excited to just keep making. And trying different things. It’s not hard to keep excited with a band like PD… we can do whatever we want next.

JONO: Touring is what keeps it exciting for me. When there’s heat in the room and you can feel people’s energy on stage, nothing beats that.

As artists what are the things that you value most?

KIRSTY: I value time. Time to tour, practise, make records, hangout with friends who give me tonnes of inspiration. The more time we have as Party Dozen, the better.

JONO: I value a sense of humour, originality, and people with a sense of vision.

Please check out: PARTY DOZEN. Pray For Party Dozen out May 22 on Grupo pre-order here. PD on Instagram. PD on Facebook.

Concrete Lawn on their forthcoming LP Aggregate: “Drums and bass are hench as fuck”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Sydney punk band Concrete Lawn will be releasing their new LP Aggregate May 1st on Urge Records. They first came to our attention in 2018 when they put out a killer cassette tape, DEMO. We interviewed CL about the new forthcoming album, recorded, mixed, and mastered by Jono Boulet from Arse/Party Dozen.

How did you first discover punk?

CAMPBELL (guitar): I first discovered punk when I found The Stooges’ “Fun House” in my dad’ s CD pile when I was 14 and it blew me away from the moment I listened to it.

JACK (bass): Going to see shows at Black Wire Records (R.I.P).

What are some of your favourite punk records?

CAMPBELL: Some of my favourite albums are The Saints – Eternally Yours, Ausmuteants  – World In Handcuffs, Devo – Q: Are We Not Men?, Anaemic Boyfriends – Fake ID 7″, Radio Birdman – Radios Appear, The Cure – Boys Don’t Cry, Gee Tee – Live And Dangerous, MC5 – Kick Out The Jams, XTC – Drums And Wires, Gangajang – Sounds Of Then (I know it’s not punk but who cares!) and too many more to name.

JACK: All Bagged up by The Bags, as well as some of those early X records, also The Urinals. That Decline Of Western Civilisation doco really had a huge impact on me. Then also more angular stuff like No Trend was big to be honest, probably the only punk band I regularly listen to at home I think. In terms of locals: Nasho, Canine, Morte Lenta and Robber are my favourite punk bands.

MADDISON (vox): Can easily say Fuckheads by Gauze and Pick your King by Poison Idea but in terms of current punk/hc records, I would definitely say Binasa EP by Sial, Anxiety’s self-titled and Perfect Texture by Geld, mostly everything from Static Shock’s record label is simply sick. 

Photo by Dougal Gorman (courtesy of CL’s Insta).

Who or what made you think, ‘hey, I wanna make music!’?

JACK: Seeing small DIY bands and spaces and people doing things on their own terms, again, Black Wire Records; but also Paradise Daily Records, Sexy Romance, Dispossessed, Monster Mouse, Beat Disc, Sex Tourists, Pink Batts, No Refunds (remember those shows LOL?), Orion are all things that stick in my mind as like, things that made me want to do this. 

ALEX (drums): In high school a lot of my friends were in bands and I always wanted to do that. There was this show on at school like for the end of the year and I thought to myself, I could do that mad easy!

I know that everyone in the band grew up going to heaps of shows; what was the first show you went to?

CAMPBELL: First show I went and saw was AC/DC when I was about 15, it was pretty boring it was a bunch of 70 year old men on stage playing for 3 hours practically the same song. There was a heap of aggressive bikies there too LOL. But, the first proper show I saw was The Pinheads and some random indie bands. Pinheads pretty much blew the other bands out of the water with their wild spontaneous energy.

JACK: First show I ever went to was My Chemical Romance in 2007 and it is still the best show I’ve ever been to LOL.

MADDISON: For my 15th birthday, I got given my eldest sister’s ID. First time I officially used it was at the Lord Gladstone for this shit Violent Soho-like band. Got kicked out in the first 10 minutes LOL… maybe due to the fact that I was wearing a Grateful Dead tie-dye t-shirt, and purple gumboots.

You’ve about to release your new LP Aggregate; what’s your favourite thing about it?

CAMPBELL: The drum sound, that’s all I’m sayin’.

JACK: Drums sound great on the record, they often sound like break beats which is sick. Alex taught themselves drums via jazz I think, very cool.

ALEX: I like hearing how we’ve come together as artists, and how like everything has come together and it sounds tight.

MADDISON: Drums and bass are hench as fuck, especially in “Milk”.

You recorded with Jono from Arse; how did you come to working with him? What was it like working with him?

CAMPBELL: Jack just slid into his DMs that simple. Jono was super easy to work with and he was super patient with us, for example he sat down with me for like an hour to help me try and find a good guitar tone and he stayed back with Madz until late into the night doing vocal tracks.

JACK: Sent him a text message because we liked his recordings, that Top People EP [Third World Girls] is great.

MADDISON: Simply Jono’s chicken pillow, I want one.

What’s one of your fondest moments from recording?

CAMPBELL: Watching old blokes out of the studio window play lawn bowls, while we were trying to record.

JACK: I think I was really stressed about life stuff at that point so it was nice having three days or something to not really have to do real life things.

While writing for the record what kind of place where you writing from? What emotions were you tapping into?

JACK: Dissolution, boredom, hatred, I guess. Also, obligation, because people keep asking us to play shows LOL.

MADDISON: To be honest, this whole album has been written over a period of almost two years so I can’t remember what frame of mind I was in whilst writing the lyrics but probably anger/frustration LOL. It’s hard for those emotions not to arise as frequently as they do considering most of the population are clueless clowns.

What’s the title song “Aggregate” about?

MADDISON: Most of my lyrics touch on the issues of systemic oppression/abuse, although, this song in particular focuses on ecocide, land dispossession, and the lingering injustices of colonialism. Title itself is just a bunch of elements combined to form a solid. Needed in concrete mix I think IDK thought it was cute.

The cover art by Maxine Booker is beautiful; what was the idea behind it?

CAMPBELL: I’m not sure what the idea behind the art work is but, we all just thought the art work look really good. Sorry if that sounds super shallow but LOL.

JACK: Max is one of our dear friends and they made great art work what the fuck more do u want lad.

MADDISON: It’s a DIY artwork that evolved into an inverted wood block print. Concept surrounding the artwork is open to the audience’s interpretation.

Art by Maxine Booker.

What’s been one of the best shows you’ve ever played?

CAMPBELL: Playing at the Marrickville “Bowlo” early last year, it was super sweaty and it was a Sunday arvo so no one was being super serious.

JACK: My favourite live show was NAG NAG NAG 2019, we were playing wayyyy too late in the night and we just played super sloppy and I kept hitting Campbell with my bass. At some point he tried to hit me back and I tripped over the power cord for the whole stage!! I don’t really remember but it was nice to have fun in front of a crowd of serious punk people. This is may be contentious, though I think Mad wasn’t happy with that show LOL.

ALEX: I really liked the show we played with Pinch Points and Surfbort at the Croxton a couple months back. We played mad tight and I had met a bunch of people the night before and they came through it was lit.

Vid by Gummo.

Have you ever had an embarrassing moment on stage?

CAMPBELL: We were opening for Straight Arrows and playing a good set but then realising I had my fly undone throughout the whole entirety of the set.

JACK: I felt really sick one time on stage.

What’s one of the biggest challenges your band faces?

CAMPBELL: Old gronks!

JACK: Being organised enough to practice, coming up with interesting riffs, being treated as novelty teenagers by an aging scene of men in their 30s.

Besides music what are some things that are important to you?

CAMPBELL: Anti-gentrification.

JACK: Community and forms of care which don’t replicate broader systems of power.

ALEX: Not allowing wack shit to keep going on. I want to write plays one day.

MADDISON: DIY culture, solidarity, and my darling dog, Zeus.

Please check out: CONCRETE LAWN. CL on Facebook. CL on Instagram. Pre-order Aggregate on Urge Records.