Today It Thing release EP Syrup into the world. Bold, loud, with hook ramming into hook, It Thing deliver 9 tracks that zip by at the speed of light with an inspired cleverness and simplicity. Syrup gives us rebelliousness with a smile, while lyrical tongue firmly planted in cheek. Gimmie caught up with frontwoman, Charlotte Gigi to get the scoop.
Hi Charlotte. How’s your day been?
CHARLOTTE GIGI: It’s been really relaxed today. I just cooked up a pot of mapo tofu and now I’m in bed doing a drawing, so a pretty good day!
It Thing are from nipaluna, have you always lived there? how did you first find your local music community?
CG: I was born & raised mostly in nipaluna (Hobart), lived in Naarm for like 8 years or something then moved back there when I was 17. I just recently relocated back to Naarm again, so a bit all over the place, but nipaluna will always be my home.
I’ve always loved live music so it just felt like a natural progression to start going to gigs. When I was 18 I started religiously going to the Brisbane Hotel on Fridays and Saturdays to see any bands I could and found a total wealth of great punk music coming out of Hobart’s scene. That was pretty much the most thrilling thing ever.
What’s one of your favourite albums?
CG: I think whatever comes into my head first is the best answer, so I’m going to say Life’s Too Good by the Sugarcubes. That album changed my whole perception of what makes a good vocalist. The balance between the two vocalists (Björk and Einar Örn) is delightful, one moment it’s dreamy and melodic and the next it’s super goofy and humorous. It’s genius. The guitar riffs and bass lines are so bouncy and delicious, it just makes me smile.
Who or what first inspired you to make music?
CG: Chrissy Amphlett from the Divinyls. I must have been 7-years-old when I found a copy of What a Life! in my dad’s CD collection. The album cover alone already had me, probably because Chrissy looks a bit like my mum [laughs]. I put it on my Discman and listened. I just thought, wow! This is the coolest thing ever! She was relatable to me, the songs are tough as—she’s been with me since.
Have you ever had a moment where you doubted yourself in relation to making music? What helped you move through that?
CG: Yeah, I have moments like that on and off. I’ve struggled with health problems for pretty much my whole life, so yeah, sometimes I have a crip moment and get discouraged, but then I rise from the ashes ‘cause there’s nothing else i’d rather be doing. Quitting’s for quitters.
What brought the band together in 2019 in the Brisbane Hotel beer garden?
CG: The Bris was 100% the gravitational centre of music in Hobart, so we all met there one way or another and had a jam. We wrote a bunch of songs straight away and like two weeks later we were gigging. I can’t believe they used to sell $2 pints, that just seems like a total joke now. I love that place so much.
What initially influenced It Thing’s sound? Do you feel it’s changed over the course of writing together more?
CG: Hmm… I guess I can only really speak on the vocals side of things, for me it was the Ramones. I wanted to write short, straight to the point songs, because all my lyrics are based off like, one sentence prompts. I never have a good idea that lasts for more than two minutes. The Ramones do that well, so for me that was a huge inspiration. I don’t really feel like the process has changed on my part, I’m not sick enough of doing it that way to branch out just yet [laughs].
What do you remember about It Thing’s first show?
CG: Oh man, I was really crook. I had like, walking pneumonia or bronchitis or something. My friend Molly Turner told me to eat a clove of garlic to help clear me up, which I misunderstood as “head of garlic”! Before that gig I was sitting around eating like fourteen cloves of garlic. I will never forget that [laughs].
It Thing have a new release. Where did the EP title Syrup come from?
CG: I just think that the word is super textural, it makes you think of thick, sticky, sugary liquid, which is how the music sounds like to me.
How long has Syrup been in the works for? What did you love about the process of making it?
CG: Since mid-2019 it’s been in the works. It was originally just going to be four songs but I guess we feel like we had more to bring out right now. The best part of making it was writing the songs! Nothing beats the feeling of leaving a band practice feeling like you just levelled up. We all write our own parts, so when you all end up on the same wavelength it’s real special.
Which track was the most fun to write?
CG: I feel like writing ‘Rocket Song’ was particularly fun. I remember not really being in a good mood but then Clab just whipped that riff out and it was like, what the hell was that?! [laughs]. That just brought me up onto his level instantly. That song is so chaotic to me, the recording is funny too because Jmo, our original drummer, had just had a blood test that morning so the ending is just super urgent because his arm felt all wriggly and weak and it influenced us all. It sounds like a car accident, so we went with it.
What’s the most personal song on the EP? Can you tell us a little about it please?
CG: Probably ‘Borrowed Time’ or ‘Pet Snakes’.
‘Borrowed Time’ is about visiting my friend’s home town to go to his funeral.
‘Pet Snakes’ is about how alienated I felt when I was a kid. It’s about having no autonomy, getting in trouble a lot and nothing good happening—just grim 2000s low-income suburban realness. Booo.
We really enjoy the tongue-in-cheek qualities in your lyrics; who are the lyricists that you enjoy?
CG: [Laughs] Thank you! I think Scott Walker, David Byrne, HR from Bad Brains and Beastie Boys are all pretty crackers. I love witty lyrics and I love lyrics that don’t always literally make sense, just abstract ones that somehow make a point.
Where did the lyric ‘I lost my cool / I’m so uncool’ come from? (It’s one of my favs on the EP).
CG: I dunno, just keeping it real to be honest [laughs]. Nothing wrong with being a weirdo or feeling like one.
We love the cover art which is hand-sewn patchwork by Molly Turner (you mentioned her earlier) representing each of the nine tracks on the EP; what drew you to Molly’s work? Which is your personal favourite patch?
CG: Molly is like, the realest person out there and her art is purely unpretentious, and that’s the most special thing ever. Her art is sophisticated, warm and nostalgic but still very playful and colourful. I couldn’t be more stoked with having her art on the cover. I think my favourite patch is the leopard, I think it looks like Clab [laughs].
Last question, what’s the best part about being a creative?
CG: If the world had a net-happiness percentage, being an artist would be adding happiness points into circulation instead of like, being a real estate agent.
Dr Sure’s Unusual Practice are Gimmie favs (they were one of the first bands we chatted with when we started Gimmie). We’re thrilled to announce the new wave art-punks’ forthcoming full-length album Remember The Future?, which will be out on Marthouse and Erste Theke Tonträger, as well as premiering the entertaining video for song ‘Infinite Growth’. We love their blend of clever social commentary and politics with catchy well-written compositions and fun visuals. Gimmie spoke with guitarist-vocalist Dougal Shaw to find out more.
How have you been feeling? I know a lot has happened this past week in Naarm/so-called Melbourne with lockdowns still in place, protests and an earthquake!
DOUGAL SHAW: I’m actually surprisingly pretty good at the moment. The pendulum has swung back around to the positive end [laughs]. It’s been swinging back and forth pretty consistently. Today I’m feeling good. Yesterday I had one of those days where I was just, what’s the point? Why? [laughs]. Trying to find some motivation to keep pushing forward. In general, in the last month, I’ve been feeling pretty positive.
Good to hear. On the “why?” days like yesterday, do you just allow yourself that space and know that what you’re feeling will pass?
DS: Yeah. The last couple of years if it’s taught me anything, it’s taught me to listen to your body and mind if you’re having those down times. Maybe in the past I would have tried to push through those times and keep working on projects. I’ve realised now that, if I do try to work through those times it’s pretty shit work; you go back to it and it’s got this weight to it, you’re putting all this stuff onto it. I’ve learnt to give myself days off, which I’ve never really been good at giving myself days off—what’s the next project?
Same! Jhonny and I are like that too. This next print issue of Gimmie has taken longer to get together because we both deal with (as many people do) bouts of depression, anxiety, stress, heath problems and things of that nature. Even though it’s something you absolutely love doing and it’s fun, some days you still find it hard.
DS: Exactly. I feel like it can work both ways. In the past I have used my creative practice as a way of processing a lot of what’s going on in my world and the world around me. Potentially in those down times would be when I was more inclined to get in the studio and write music. Now maybe being removed from all of the good times, and being able to have that separation where you’re out in the world doing things and having a good time, obviously you’re not going to be doing creative things and writing in those moments, so when you have that quiet moment to yourself and you’re feeling introspective, those might be the times that I’ll go and create. Now being removed from the outside world and being stuck in my own little world, it’s made me a bit more conscious of those kinds of things. A bit more conscious of your emotional state and more intuitive when it comes to what I need for myself in each moment. Sometimes it will be that I’m not doing anything today, I’m just going for a really long walk and I’m going to try and clear these cobwebs out. The one positive, I guess, is that I have a lot more tools now to manage those things, in the past I may have found those bouts of anxiety and depression to be really overwhelming and not know how to deal with them; going out and partying used to mask those things. Without those vices to lean on, you’re faced with yourself and your like, ‘Fuck this is a lot!’ Being human is a lot to fucking handle [laughs].
There’s been a period where you haven’t been writing too many songs, especially not as many political songs, but writing more fun songs when you do write.
DS: Yeah. For a long time, I thought of my music as a vessel for change, to use my voice and privilege to start conversations. At the same time, I’ve always just written silly songs as well. I pretty much didn’t write anything for a year. I was working on other projects. I didn’t feel like I had anything to say.
I feel like you did say a lot before that, you had this run where you put out a lot, and everything was such a high quality.
DS: Thank you. Maybe that was part of it, feeling a bit empty. Being isolated from the community and from actually being able to engage with the world, I found it really hard to think about what I had to say, or I found what I had to say wasn’t worth documenting. Deciding to put this album out this year… it was floating around for a while, we finished it a couple of months ago and we didn’t feel like there was any rush, because we aren’t able to play shows for it.
By this album do you mean, Remember the Future Vol. 1 & 2 together?
DS: Yeah, that’s this one. It was a really drawn-out thing because of Covid that really felt like it was hanging over my head for ages. That was this big black cloud in my head as well. We recorded half of it at the start of last year and we were booked in to do another session in April, two weeks after we first went into lockdown. The whole idea with the record was that it was going to be the first full band recording, so I was kind of stuck on that for ages. Rather than moving on, finishing and getting it out, it was like, no, we gotta do this with the band. We finally finished it in May this year. It’s finally come together! It feels like a really weird one, because of the Covid stuff we decided to put out the first half last year. Our European label Erste Theke Tonträger, hit me up to do a record, he really liked Remember the Future Vol. 1, he wanted to do a full-length with that and then another of our EPs on the other side. I was like, well, this is half of a full record. That was the push to finish this record.
You recently had a song ‘Live Laugh Love’ on the Blow Blood Records compilation, A Long Time Alone.
DS: That was the first song I’ve written after this huge gap of not writing. The compilation was the kick I needed. I’d seen that Christina had been advertising for contributions for ages, and I thought, ‘I have to do a song for this.’ The deadline had come and I hadn’t done it, which was a Friday, so the next day, Saturday, I plugged everything in for the first time in ages and made this really dumb song.
Did it feel weird plugging everything in again after so long?
DS: Kind of. The song is funny in itself, I’m glad it has a home on the ALTA compilation, because otherwise it would have been another one on a dusty hard drive. It feels like a song after not having written a song in ages, it’s a silly song.
It has a fun title!
DS: [Laughs] I know! The concept came before the song. It’s about forgetting about how to live, laugh, love. I saw one of those inspirational infographic things that someone had posted. I’m glad it’s getting a home. I wrote that song, then in the week following it, I wrote one or two songs in a day, ten songs in a week. A week later I sent Christina a different song, and was like, ‘I actually made some decent songs now. Do you want to put one of these on?’ She was like, “It’s too late, I’ve already sent it off.”
A couple of days ago you released the song ‘Ghost Ship’ too.
DS: Yeah, that was another compilation [on Critter Records]. I wrote that one at the very start of the lockdown. It was inspired by… they were coming out with all these bail out packages, but they were going to big corporations and multi-million dollar companies [laughs]. It was a funny concept.
It’s crazy how all of these big companies received bail outs and then ended up making a profit and doing better than ever!
DS: Exactly! They didn’t actually lose any revenue; they gained all this government funding that was designed to help struggling people. That’s capitalism!
We’re premiering Dr Sure’s new clip for the song ‘Infinite Growth’. It’s a fun clip. What sparked the idea?
DS: A lot of the time when I’m doing visual stuff, I want it to be fun and playful, because a lot of the time I find the lyrical content to be pretty heavy. I liked to offset it with something a little more accessible. Potentially if you were to follow the narrative of the song then the clip would be pretty heavy—talking about mining, the destruction of the ecosystems. By taking a representation of these things, of people in suits, business men, which is a reoccurring motif in a lot of our visual stuff, and thinking about the result of their actions. For this one, they’re still pedalling their narrative of infinite growth, while the climate has heated up so much that their faces as literally dripping from their body.
Love the special effects!
DS: Yeah, really top of the line. We got the hair and makeup team… professional prosthetics! Nah. I looked up how to make prosthetics and the easiest solution that I came across was to just mix Vaseline and flour, then use coco to create different tones of it. It was pretty gross stuff to put all over your face, but it was worth it.
You wrote the song around the time that our government were talking about destroying sacred Indigenous sites.
DS: Yes, exactly. It was Djab wurrung Country. They decided to build a new highway that was going to take off two-minutes of drive time for people commuting into the city. To do so, they had to destroy these hundred-year-old sacred birthing trees. That was the spark, but at the same time, it felt like a real time of solidarity for people coming together to stand against those things. That’s where the duality in that song is trying to reframe this capitalist terminology talking about infinite growth and kind of reclaim it for the people and the ecology.
Nice. What else have you been up to?
DS: I’ve been collaborating with my partner Liv on some things, which is really nice. She’s an artist and really good photographer. We’ve worked on stuff before, a lot of the time our practices have been off in different directions. Having a lot of time together and being isolated from anyone else, we’ve been working on stuff. I spent this week making a zine to go out with the record. It’s a collaboration with Liv, she took all the photographs. It’s a zine of lyrics, photos, my art and poetry, all mashed up. She took a series of photos based around the concepts of the record and I mashed them up with my brain spew! [laughs]. We’ve been thinking about creative ways to put out this record.
Liv and I have been making some songs too. She’s been learning the guitar for the last couple of years. We’ve been putting down some of her ideas. With Liv’s limited knowledge of playing, it’s been good for me to teach her that a song can be really simple; it’s made me reassess my approach to songs. When you make a song that’s only two chords, you can leave all of this space for layering and making it interesting in other ways. It doesn’t have to have all of these chord changes for it to be engaging.
When Jhonny and I make music, I like to go for how does this feel, and keep trying things until eventually something fits and feels good to me and us. That’s when you come up with something that is unique to you, because you come with all of your experience or lack of, and that all comes out in those moments.
DS: Exactly. I feel like I’ve always approached music in a really similar way. I’ve purposely avoided learning too much. Sometimes I question if that has been the right approach? Most of the time, I stick by that approach, it’s more about feeling and how you react to it. To me, it’s always been about how you react to whatever it is you’re recording. Picking up the next instrument is a reaction to the last instrument. It’s about what feels interesting.
We’re big fans of Darcy Berry’s creative work, post-punk band Moth and rockers Gonzo, as well as his graphic design work from various bands. Moth have recently put out EP Machine Nation a slice of “discordant robot rock”. We spoke with Darcy to hear more about the EP, his art and a new Gonzo record in the works.
Hi Darcy! What have you been up to today?
DARCY BERRY: Not much, it’s my day off. I was working on a little demo this morning but now I’m just sitting in the sun.
Nice! I wanted to start by asking you; what do you personally get from making stuff?
DB: It’s just not being bored and having something to do really. I get really happy from being productive and not just sitting on my arse doing nothing.
Same! I know that you’ve grown up with a real passion for rock n roll; where did this start?
DB: When I was younger, my brother that was eight years older than me, showed me a lot of music. I was into Rage Against the Machine when I was ten years old, which I think is pretty funny. My parents love Aussie rock n roll as well. My dad’s a big AC/DC fan and loves Rolling Stones and the Beatles. I just got introduced to it, I guess.
When you fourteen I understand that’s when you really started getting into music?
DB: Yeah. I’d met Jack Kong, who I play in the band Gonzo with. We realised we lived a few doors down from each other and he played guitar and I played drums. I’d never really played music with anyone before, it just went from there. Playing with him, we’d show each other different things; he showed me a lot of ‘60s music and I showed him a lot of punk, we met in the middle. I became really obsessed with music from there.
Was drums the first instrument you played?
DB: Yeah, it’s the only instrument that I’ve actually learnt to play and taken lessons for, everything else I’ve taught myself. I started playing drums when I was ten years old.
You moved to the city, the Melbourne/Geelong area; where were you before that?
DB: Ocean Grove, its right down the coast near Geelong and Torquay. I was a surf rat growing up.
How did you find new music?
DB: There was a cool little scene going on in Geelong with The Frowning Clouds and Living Eyes. I started getting into Melbourne bands, I didn’t even know there was a Melbourne scene! I got into Total Control and thought they were an American band [laughs]. I was at a party and some dude told me “they’re from Melbourne”. I thought, I’ve gotta get to Melbourne and check more of these bands out!
Did you also move to Melbourne for school too? I know you’ve studied art.
DB: Yeah, yeah. Uni was up in Melbourne but I was still living down the coast at that point. I stayed at my friend’s house and then I moved up myself and realised you could go to a good gig any night of the week. It was an overload of music, which was great!
Why did you choose to study graphic design?
DB: It was one of the only things that I was good at, at school. I dabbled in that and art and at uni I could do a sub-major as well, my sub-major was art. I wanted to blend art with graphic design. I became more passionate about it.
Do you have any art influences you could share with us?
DB: I really like the whole Dada movement. I really, really respect lots of different painters but, I’m not very good at painting or drawing. I really just appreciate good art.
A lot of your art and design work is digital?
DB: Yeah. It’s mainly digital. I always try to do other stuff like drawing and collage, photography but it always ends up coming back to the computer and just messing things up digitally.
Is there something that you find challenging in regards to making your art?
DB: Trying to just do it more and more. Sometimes I can get real lazy with it and not be in the mood, that’s why it’s good when I get hit up to do a poster or an album cover for someone—it makes me do it and makes me not be lazy!
It’s funny how with things that we love we can sometimes get lazy with it and procrastinate.
DB: Yeah, definitely. Even with writing songs, if I’m not in the mood, I don’t want to be anywhere near a guitar or anything. I have to really be in the mood, I have to really want to do it to make something.
Is there a piece of art you’ve made that has a real significance to you or that’s special to you?
DB: The album cover I did for Vintage Crop’s album New Age. Everyone really seemed to like it, I got praised for it, which was really weird. I thought it was a bit of a fluke! Since doing that it gave me more confidence.
Do you remember making it?
DB: Yeah. I remember I did an initial idea and it really sucked so I just started all again. I feel like when I do something good, that it just happens really quickly. I’m like, ah, cool, it’s done! I try not to spend too much time on one thing because then I start getting in my own ear like, oh, that’s shit, you shouldn’t have done that! I like to just do it and get it out of the way.
Yeah, I get that. I do that with the interview art for Gimmie. I come from a punk background and I love punk art, flyers etc. and if you look into the history of that, a lot of stuff is photocopied and taken from elsewhere and reused and they’re typically done quickly using the resources you have on hand. I like the spontaneity, get it done, resourcefulness.
DB: Yeah. That’s it. I like using my computer because I don’t have to buy another one and it doesn’t really cost me anything to use it.
Are you working on any art pieces at the moment?
DB: Not really. I’ve set up a little screen printing studio in my shed. I’m going to get some t-shirts done. That’s been good because it’s more hands on, trial and error, and messy, which is fun!
You have your band Moth, and play in Gonzo and U-Bahn, as well as make art for bands, you do a zine…
DB: I was working on a new zine but I’ve just kicked it to the curve, I will do another one eventually though.
I feel like you’re really immersed in the creative community but, it wasn’t always the case for you and a few years back you were really struggling with things and felt isolated and didn’t want to be part of a scene; what was happening?
DB: Yeah, just some personal things happened. I was in a place where I didn’t really want to talk to anyone and I didn’t really have any friends around, they were all travelling and I broke up with my girlfriend at the time… I was like, OK, I’m just going to lock myself in my house. A lot of art works and songs came from that period though, it’s classic, cliché… I think Kurt Cobain said it: thanks for the tragedy I need it for my art. It does make sense I guess. Your influences don’t have to be sad though or bad things that have happened to you, these days I try to be influenced by different things.
Do you find it harder to write from a happier place?
DB: Yeah, definitely [laughs]. I’ve always wanted to write a really nice, beautiful, happy song. I guess it’s really hard for me though.
What was it that brought you back from that darker period and got you back into doing stuff again?
DB: When I joined U-Bahn. I knew one of the dudes in the band but didn’t even really know him that well. I met Zoe and Lachlan in it and they were great. We started playing a lot of gigs and people really started liking the band. That really threw me back into everything. I think playing in a new band is exciting and fresh. That was the same thing with starting Moth, it was good not to be a drummer for a change.
I heard that U-Bahn had a new record recorded?
DB: Yeah, I’m not in the band anymore. I know they were recording with the same guy that Gonzo recorded our new album with. I don’t know what they’ve done with it or if it’s coming out or not.
You started doing Moth as a solo thing and now you’ve expanded into a full band… I noticed on your bandcamp you had the Russian word “мотылек” which means motility…
DB: Yeah. Veeka [Nazarova] who plays synths in the band, she also sings one of the songs on the 7” [Machine Nation] in Russian.
The song “Jealousy”?
DB: Yeah. That all came from a lot of the lyrics I was writing was just gibberish and didn’t make sense, I was like; what if Veeka sang in Russian? Then it’s going to sound like gibberish to people but there will actually be meaning behind it. She’s writing some more Russian lyrics for new songs too. The whole point of the band was to do something completely different, new and weird. I feel like no one really sings in Russian in Melbourne, so we just rolled with that.
Did you get the title of your new EP Machine Nation from the Richard Evans book of the same name?
DB: No, I haven’t even heard of him.
He writes sci-fi and his book Machine Nation is about developing biological robots, it’s got a real modernised society/sci-fi theme and I thought because your release has a modernised society kinda theme through it, it may have been influenced by it.
DB: I’m going to check it out, it sounds cool! The title actually came from the word “machination”. I’ve forgotten what it means, but I think it’s doing things or making things with an evil push behind it [laughs]. I read it in a book once and thought it sounded like “machine nation”. A lot of the songs I was writing revolve around the modern world, the digital aspect of everything and of humans becoming machines.
I understand you’re inspired by writers’ like Henry Miller and JG Ballard?
DB: Yeah. I really like Henry Miller, I like how the way that he speaks about himself is quite honest. You read his books and it’s just him telling you the story. JG Ballard’s books has a lot of weird subjects. Reading stuff like that makes me want to write stuff that’s honest but weird as well—it’s about embracing your inner weirdo! [laughs].
Recording-wise I know you like learning different techniques and that changes the style of the way you write, with your new EP; what techniques did you use?
DB: With this one I recorded it with my friend Matt Blach who plays in The Murlocs and Beans. He’s trying to get into the whole recording world and I was talking to him about it. He wanted a guinea pig, someone to play music so he could fiddle with the controls and work all that out. I’m comfortable with him and thought it would be much easier to do it with someone other than myself. It turned out way better than I thought it could. I bought him a slab of beer for it [laughs].
Is there a song on the EP you’re especially loving right now?
DB: Maybe the last one “Indulgent Indeed” because it was the newest out of all of them; some of the songs I wrote two years ago. I wasn’t getting sick of them but, I guess it was more exciting for me to have a newer one. It was also maybe going in more of a refined direction from the other songs.
What’s it about?
DB: [Laughs] Ahhh… it’s about people. Maybe specific people that have wronged me. It’s about back stabbing and wanting to be successful and doing anything to be successful and just leaving your friends behind.
What does success mean to you?
DB: Being content and happy with what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter if you’re praised for it or not. The whole Moth thing wasn’t meant to be enjoyed by others, my indulgence was just playing it, not putting it out or being praised for it. I just wanted to enjoy it. I feel like success is just enjoying what you do and doing it for yourself.
Just making art for art’s sake!
DB: Yeah, that’s it!
I feel like you seem to be in a really happy place with all the stuff you’re doing now.
DB: I’m pretty satisfied, I couldn’t really ask for much more.
What’s happening with Gonzo right now?
DB: We’ve finished recording the new album, it’s been done for ages, we just haven’t mixed it yet. We have plans for doing a little instrumental thing, we’re also going back to garage roots and just doing a real classic garage rock album. We’ve been starting to write new songs for it.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell me or that you’re working on?
DB: I’ve just really been trying to keep my sanity during this crazy time.
What’s helping with that?
DB: Getting drunk and doing karaoke with house mates is good! [laughs]. Dancing. I’ve gone back to work this week which has been nice, ‘cause I was getting really cooped up. I’m a graphic designer for a fashion brand, I make t-shirts and it pays the bills.
The fashion world is just a whole other world unto itself!
DB: Yeah, I never had any interest in that world but then I got offered this job and thought, I should take it, even just for an experience thing. It’s been great to learn how that whole world woks. It’s pretty crazy!
Melbourne band Dr Sure’s Unusual Practice play raw, angular, new wave-ish, post-punk delivering an intelligent, thoughtful perspective on hot topics in our society’s increasingly uncertain landscape. Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Dougal Shaw, chatted with Gimmie a few days ago about his musical beginnings, the challenges he’s gone through to do what he does, of the importance of having purpose in life and gives us an insight into his songwriting.
When did you first start playing music?
DOUGAL SHAW: It started when I was about eight years old, a bit of violin. Then I jumped on the trumpet for a couple of years, I was in the school band back in Central Queensland. I started out with the more classical instruments then it wasn’t until I was eighteen that I really got into playing the guitar. When I was twenty-three, when I first moved here [Melbourne], I started my first band.
Previously you’ve mentioned that Rowland S. Howard changed the trajectory of your guitar playing; how so?
DS: I reckon, yeah, for sure. Growing up in Central Queensland the only real source for alternative music outside of my parents’ record collection was Triple J, so you’re kind of reliant on the major broadcasters to give you alternative tunes [laughs]. In my early teens I got a lot more into punk and hardcore music, then worked my way back a bit from there. When I moved to Melbourne I was exposed to stuff like Roland S. Howard, The Birthday Party and that early ‘80s Melbourne vibe—that was a huge influence for me.
You lived on the Gold Coast for a little while?
DS: Yeah. When I was fifteen I moved from Rockhampton down to the Gold Coast. I did a solo mission. We’d talked for years as a family about getting out of Central Queensland [laughs]. I feel like it was something that was always on my radar, some kind of pipedream about getting out of Central Queensland and going to places that seemed like, from afar, they had so much going on—surfing and music, things I was really interested in. When I was fifteen I reached a point and I was like, I’m going with or without you! I bailed up there. My dad and my brother followed a year later.
I did my last two years of high school at the Gold Coast. The Gold Coast is where I fell into the hardcore scene, a real cool D.I.Y. community that were putting on shows in sheds, warehouses, community halls. It’s where all the misfits and outcasts, people that didn’t feel like they had a place, got together. Coming from Central Queensland, really not knowing anyone or not having a support network, which was a huge thing for me. All these people were just making really raw tunes and having a good time, jumping off balconies into crowds below, moshing—it was a real eye opener, a whole new world that have never before existed for me.
I spent a lot of time going to punk and hardcore shows on the Gold Coast too, we were probably at a lot of the same shows! I remember that shed venue, Shed 5.
DS: Yeah, true! That’s classic. Awesome!
There’s still a little scene, places like Vinnie’s Dive has really helped a little scene flourish.
DS: Yeah, we played there last time we were up. I think it’s the first time I’ve been to Southport in years since I used to go to the Southport Community Hall shows. It’s cool you were around the same scene.
How did you end up in Melbourne?
DS: I went to live overseas for a couple of years after high school, did a bit of travelling. I came back to the Gold Coast after living in the UK, I came back for my dad’s 60th! He ended up having a stroke the day after I got back. I ended up caring for him for a year and a half while he learnt to speak and stuff again. During that time, I was pretty much a full-time carer; I had a lot of time on my hands to play my guitar. In a way even though it was a really tough time it was also what lead me to where I am now. I had heaps of time to develop my art and music, all the things that I may not have had the time to commit to otherwise.
I’d been to Melbourne a couple of times during that period and my brother had moved there, a few friends too. A good friend and I were trying to get music stuff happening at the Gold Coast, we were trying to get a band together. That was where I really started hanging out with Jack Mccullagh, who plays guitar in Dr Sure’s now. He had moved to Coolangatta from the Sunshine Coast and we were going around doing open mic nights and random shit like that. It got to a point where we were like, fuck it, let’s move to Melbourne! That’s where everything is happening! That’s where the music scene is! The catalyst really was, chasing the dream! [laughs]; to move somewhere where I thought being a musician was actually a sustainable way of life.
How crazy is it now with all this COVID-19 stuff that so many people in music and arts sectors are effected and who knows if/when things will be sustainable again! Like, what do we do? You can’t play shows!
DS: Yeah, it’s wild! It’s a pretty scary time. Being a musician and making that lifestyle choice, it’s scary and uncertain at the best of times. When something like this happens it puts a lot of people in a really tough position. Everyone is pretty much living week to week, most of my friends and peers in the music scene are already working other jobs. People that make music generally have jobs that are around the music scene that’s sustaining them, whether it’s recording or doing live sound or printing merch for people, doing artwork and posters—all those things stop when these kinds of things go down. I feel like it’s also an unprecedented event, it’s hard to say what the long term effect is going to be in terms of people continuing to chase the dream, as I put it earlier.
You’re a visual artist as well as a musician, I wanted to ask you about the art on your album cover for your debut LP, The West; where did the inspiration for it come from? You studied art?
DS: I did study fine art but it was specialising in sound. My art degree was all sound stuff. I am a tattooist by trade. I do a lot of art work in my life. That design, it’s funny because I made the design for that album cover before I even had a band to play the music. I just drew it one day and thought it would make a good album cover [laughs]. It felt appropriate for the songs I was writing in that it’s got a little bit of a surrealist element to it, it’s also raw and got the little “yee boy” in the middle which is a reoccurring theme of my tattoo work, the little blob character dude, it’s almost like a little compass in a way; with The West it was so appropriate having that directional element.
When you were writing the songs that would become The West you were writing by yourself and you set a personal challenge of writing and recording a song a day…
DS: Yeah, in a way it was an extension of that fine arts degree. For my major project of the last year of my arts degree, I was developing a process which I called “reactionary composition”. It was basically a way of composing music or sound, it was reactionary and taking a lot of the thinking out and more or less just doing. I was trying to develop a new language around composition that makes it less exclusive. I can’t read music. A lot of the way music is written can be quite exclusive, with this reactionary composition it was designed around being more inclusive and interactive in that anyone can participate in this process no matter what your musical knowledge. I took that idea and applied it to the way I was making music. I started making these things with the idea of not thinking and not rewriting and picking things apart. I’d sit on the drums for two minutes and lay down a beat and then I’d pick up the bass and lay down a bass line that was a reaction to the drum part, and so on and so forth layering instruments. Having some restrictions in the way of saying, ok, there can only be two guitar parts, one vocal take or whatever. Having it as a fluid process and not going back over songs too much to perfect them, letting it be this raw thing.
So it’s like a stream of consciousness thing?
DS: Exactly! Letting the conscious mind flow.
Having a spontaneity as well?
DS: Yeah! It was the same with the lyrics, just a stream of conscious spew of whatever was at the top of my mind. A lot of the time it was taking “the feed” and turning it into some kind of spew of words, filtering the news of the day into song form.
A lot of your songs tend to have bleak themes but the way you deliver it has hope and humour in it; how important is it for you to have humour in your music?
DS: Totally! It’s something that I was subconsciously putting across. It wasn’t until I brought it to the band and I had to pick it apart more and you could see the threads running through it. I feel like it’s important to have some kind of light at the end of the tunnel because a lot of what we see in the world today is pretty bleak. Being able to find some glimmer of hope or being able to laugh about things, to not take yourself or the world too seriously is important… because if you don’t, you may as well find the nearest cliff, that’s how I feel a lot of the time! It’s a daily struggle to stay present and not dwell too much on the negativity you’re surrounded by. I’d pretty much lose my mind otherwise or end it!
I guess that’s why we make stuff though… we view the world and might not enjoy what we find and want to express our dissatisfaction, and through creating things we get to do this and make our own world. We have the ability to create our own happiness.
DS: Yeah, totally! Maybe that’s why I write a lot, because when I sit down to write a song it’s usually because I’m not happy [laughs]. I’m sitting down writing, alone in a room, and I’m processing everything. It makes me feel happy that you can get hope and humour out of my songs, you’re taking the positive elements out of it. I do sometimes feel like I dwell on the negative too much. It’s important to try and find some light in the dark.
Absolutely! After you wrapped up your tour for The West you took a trip to Bali and you started writing for your new album. I remember at the time you were stoked because you had such a productive time and you were happy with what you’d written then you came back home and your house was broken into while you slept. They stole your laptop with your new work on it as well as thousands of dollars worth of musical equipment. Obviously you would have been feeling bummed; tell us about that time.
DS: Yeah. It was a very strange time for sure. My dad and a couple of his buddies were going on a Bali trip and randomly the week of, I decided to jump on-board and go for a little mission. I was in this tropical paradise, way out of the west side of Bali away from all the chaos. It was an idyllic location, so far removed from where I’d usually be creating in a converted shed out the back of my house in Melbourne; which is often a bleak city to be in except from the couple of months a year where the sun comes out and the parks get packed out, people are more happy and bubbly [laughs]. It was funny to jump into that environment and try to write. I was writing all these happy songs about finding your centre and being balanced [laughs], all these things that since I’ve been writing songs I haven’t written. It’s been a little bit comical in a way that those songs got stolen and destroyed by the universe [laughs].
Were you able to write them again?
DS: Yeah. There was a couple of songs that I “bounced” out and sent to the band while I was overseas, that was cool. One of them was the song we just put out “Super Speedy Zippy Whipper”. That was the first song I wrote when I got over there. That song feels super appropriate to over there because when you get to Kuta you enter absolute chaos, there’s a million super speedy zippy whipper bikes cruising around. Going from there to the other side of the island where I was writing was the exact opposite of that. You can hear that in that song, a feeling, a juxtaposition of chaos and calm.
From the experience of losing your songs how did you bounce back so quickly creatively?
DS: I just got straight back into it, the fact that I lost those songs it made me want to get in there and see how much I could remember. Pretty quickly I just gave up on trying to remember the parts and just tried to make something else. I think I’m pretty much constantly writing, I get antsy if I don’t get my ideas down. My brain is constantly ticking over, I feel it’s my brain’s way of processing the world, if I don’t’ get it out it just builds up inside and turns into anxiety and it manifests itself in different uncomfortable ways. I always try to make time to get it out, to unleash the demons within! [laughs].
You have new 7 inch EP; what can you tell me about that?
DS: That one is four tracks that we recorded in December. We were initially working towards an album but everyone got super busy mid-year so we decided to put out these four now and another four in a month or two, then combine them. It’s called, Remember The Future? Volume 1. We’re working on Volume 2 at the moment.
Do you have a favourite song in that collection of songs?
DS: I feel like they work together super well as a four track thing. It’s really cohesive. It’s 11 minutes. It feels nice and snappy. They all quite different but there’s a common thread running through them.
What’s the common thread?
DS: With title, Remember The Future?, there are all these things which feel to me are talking about the future but, it’s all very present. It’s kind of a feeling that we’re living in this dystopian future, we all talk about it likes it’s in a future time. To me it feels like it’s already here, it’s upon us. It’s a common theme in a lot of things I’m writing at the moment, I have been for a while.
Like the book George Orwell book, 1984!
DS: Yeah, yeah, exactly! It’s not a new ground breaking idea. When I’m filtering the daily news it feels really dystopian—this is now! It’s a surreal feeling that I can’t quite grasp, I’m trying to explore it and articulate it in my songs. The absurdity of the present. [Laughs]
There’s a lot of unknowns right now, none of us know what will happen.
DS: Yeah, there’s an uneasiness in the air. It’s all a little bit comical though [laughs]. It’s a little bit ridiculous. We can either laugh or cry about it.
That’s right. Before my mother passed away, her thing was always that when things get tough or rough in life, you just gotta laugh! You gotta take a step back, realise you’re still alive and just do your best to keep moving forward.
DS: Yeah, that’s a great approach!
Why was it important for you guys to write the mini album, Scomo Goes To Hawaii?
DS: Again it was me processing this absolutely ridiculous scene that we found ourselves in, where the guy who’s meant to be leading up through this disaster unfolding, decides to go on a luxury holiday to Hawaii! It flowed out really quickly and easily, I wrote it over two days. I wrote it and released it within the time that he was in Hawaii! He cut the trip short because everyone was like, “what the fuck are you doing dude? You’re meant to be steering the ship”. It was all falling apart!
It was really pissing me off that the government had the power and position to support these fire fighters who were trying to stop our country from fucking burning and they weren’t. I thought, what can I do? I had these five songs and I thought I’d put ‘em up for a fundraiser and hopefully be able to help someone at least. It was born out of some feeling of hopelessness, that I was sitting here feeling useless. I thought it was something I could do to feel useful in this terrible situation.
I think it’s really important when there are hard times happening in the world that we ask, what can I do to help? Community is important. I believe we can all do something no matter how small to bring positive change. You can always find a way to help, your contribution does matter!
DS: Exactly, that’s so true. With the power of the internet… like people were saying, why don’t’ we do this more often? Record stuff, master it ourselves and put it up on bandcamp – that process is super easy and quick – and we can help different important causes. We made around $800 by selling that release on bandcamp. The technology we have at our finger tips makes it super easy for anyone to contribute in whatever was they can. What skills do you have? My skillset is that I can write a song and make some art and videos. Think about how you can take what your skillset is and use it to make a positive difference. As a human living in this anxiety riddle reality we find ourselves in, you need to find some way to make yourself feel useful. If I don’t find a way that makes me feel like I’m doing something useful, the walls start crumbling for me [laughs].
It’s important to have purpose!
DS: Yeah, that’s it.
What’s next for Dr Sure’s?
DS: We have a tour we were set to announce, right now it’s all hanging in the balance. We’re doing video clips at the moment, just trying to continue that theme from last year making surrealist video clips to go along with the tracks. I’ve just been writing heaps. I wrote a follow up of Scomo Goes To Hawaii called While Australia Burns. It’s sitting on my Google drive, I probably should have just put it out like the other one.
Do it! Do it!
DS: [Laughs] Yeah! Scomo Goes to Hawaii was written from his perspective just sitting in Hawaii. While Australia Burns was written from the perspective of me driving three and a half thousand kilometres from Central Queensland to Melbourne and seeing all the damage form the fires. I have way too many songs backed up that we just can’t keep up with. I made the call after putting out The West that I really wanted to do the next album with the band, we’ve been playing together for a while and I really love that energy that comes with playing with a full band, that power that doesn’t come across when you’re one person layering up the instruments. With that comes patience, I keep trying to work with everyone else’s schedule because everyone else had lots of other things going on in their life and different projects.
I have to find a balance right now of doing the band stuff and also releasing things that I’m doing. I don’t want it to get to a point where songs aren’t relevant anymore. Doing that Scomo one was important because it opened that up a little. I was stuck on the idea of doing an album with the band and that release has broken down that barrier in my own head, where I can just put things out and it doesn’t all have to have a tour and everything that goes with it. I’m letting go a little bit of all those processes.
Yeah. There’s no rules in punk rock!
DS: That’s it! Exactly. When I did the Scomo one it didn’t take months so I didn’t feel it owed me anything. Sometimes you get in a thing where you spend six months on a record or a year and you feel like you need to put a lot of energy behind releasing it, so that year wasn’t in vain. It’s easy to get caught up in all the bullshit! I just need to rely on myself to be present and create and not overthinking all this other crap that you can get sucked into.
I’ve released a lot of stuff now over the years and the more that you’re in the music industry the more you see the “proper” way of people doing things. There’s people paying for marketing campaigns and PR, all these things that were never really a part of my world. You kind of start to think, is that how I’m supposed to do it? Am I doing it wrong? Then you remind yourself, fuck all of that! I don’t want to conform to some process. I go to and fro with that, it’s a yin and yang tug of war between my punk non-conforming self and the ego-self going, I’m putting so much of myself into it and it would be nice if people heard it and the radio played it.
I think it’s natural for artist to want to share their work with people, a lot of people. Connection is also a part of the creative process and the human process. You go on tour, you play your songs, you connect with people; someone hears your song on the radio, they connect with it. It might spark something creative in their own life. We’re all in this together!
DS: Yeah! That’s the most important stuff. That’s why I’ll sit down and spend a month booking a tour, sending a million emails that suck the life out of me—because I love that! I love going to new places, seeing new bands, connecting with people and seeing what you do has some positive effect. All the hours spent in a dark room making stuff, the payoff is that connection, seeing it out in the real world.