Bench Press’ vocalist Jack Stavrakis: “Bench Press has helped me come to grips with who I am”

Handmade collage by B.

Melbourne post-punk band Bench Press released an album to shout about last year, their sophomore LP, Not the Past, Can’t Be The Future was motivational, thoughtful and witty power-punk. As vocalist Jack Stavrakis was working on himself, the band was working on the album, the transition and transformation that came in ‘Baby Steps’ sounds good on the band, they’re still angry but that energy is more focused. Jack spoke to Gimmie about all this as well as dealing with anxiety, how Bench Press came into being, songwriting, doing better and working in “the industry”.

What have you been up to today?

JACK STAVRAKIS: I watched the final episode of Better Call Saul for the season, then I exercised.

Keeping fit in iso!

JS: Not so much keeping fit but getting fit for the first time in a long time ‘cause I got nothing else to do.

How did you end up being the vocalist for Bench Press?

JS: Originally Bench Press formed from two bands. Me and the original drummer used to be in band called Bowel Movement, which I sung for, and then the bassist and guitarist used to be in the band, Luna Deville—they were both crappy pop bands really. Pretty shit stuff. We played a couple of shows together. Bowel Movement broke up first then Luna Deville broke up pretty soon after. For their final show they were doing a B-52’s cover and they had a female singer and they wanted someone to do the male part because none of them could sing. We didn’t really know each other all that well, but they asked me to do it and it went really well. It was a lot of fun! After the show Morgan and Lewis awkwardly asked me, “so, we’re looking to start a new band, it will sound nothing like this. We like Shellac and Jesus Lizard”. I wasn’t sure if they were asking me to sing or not? I was really drunk and I left the conversation and went home. I asked my girlfriend; were they asking me to join the band? She’s like, “I don’t know just ask them! If they say ‘no’ and they’re not interested then you never have to see them again anyway!” I asked them and they were interested, we trialled one other drummer and I was like; what about Jordan from Bowel Movement? He came on-board and I guess that’s how all of that happened.

What do you get from singing?

JS: I can’t play an instrument and I love, love music! I started singing because I couldn’t play an instrument well enough and I really wanted to play in a band; no one I knew could play, I figured if I could rope some people in who could play, I could just figure out singing. At first it was a way for me to play music without having to practice anything, that’s how I used to see it. As time has gone on and I’ve taken it a lot more seriously, the big thing for me is that it’s a way to get my opinion and my views of things across, it’s also a bit of a cathartic release. I guess a lot of people that would yell like I do would say that. I’m a fairly anxious and awkward guy and being able to talk about that and hopefully help some people that feel the same way understand it better.

I’ve seen you play live and you would never tell that you’re awkward or anxious.

JS: No, not on stage, I suppose not. The pacing is me feeling anxious and an extension of that, and me just feeling really self-conscious. It’s the only thing I know to do! I guess it’s not so obvious when I’m on stage. People who know me say that when I’m on stage it’s a different version of me, it’s still me but an extroverted version of myself, more out there and a little more in your face.

Have you always been an anxious kind of person?

JS: I’ve always tried to figure that out and look back on how I used to be as a kid and figure out if I was. I’m not sure that I have always been. I think it’s important to say, I don’t think I’m the most anxious and awkward guy in the world, I think what I go through is fairly mild compare to lots of people I know that go through something far more serious. It still feels real to me though.

Photo courtesy of Bench Press bandcamp.

Totally! It doesn’t matter what degree others see it as, because to the person that’s experiencing it, it can be so debilitating and the worst thing in the world when you’re in it; at least that’s how I’ve felt suffering severe depression and anxiety at times in my life.

JS: Exactly! That’s why I want to normalise that more mild thing, because I think it’s something that does affect a lot of people. People can be a little afraid to talk about stuff. We all have friends that have friends who suffer from various sorts of mental illness and there’s no point comparing yourself to what others are going through, it’s all very valid and it’s important for people to understand those things and feel normal about them in order to feel better and to start improving. Bench Press has helped me come to grips with who I am and what I’m like and how I deal with situations, how I react to certain things.

The second album the title Not the Past, Can’t Be the Future was a reference to the fact that I don’t always think I was like this, I wasn’t always anxious about things. The title of the album and the album itself was trying to bookend certain feelings that I have about myself; I wasn’t always like this in the past and I want to move past this and not be like that in future, how I am now.

I wanted to ask you about the title, the way I interpret it is, it’s not the past or the future that matter or define us but it’s right now, the present, because that’s when we’re truly alive and it’s the only moment in which we can really work on ourselves and take action!

JS: Yep, yep! For sure! That’s a perfectly good application of the title as well. Everyone has their own ideas about it, anyone who talks to me about it has pretty much been in the same ball park. I’ve never seen the singer or the person who is trying to get the message across as necessarily the holder of the truth of it. Whoever looks at it and takes something from it, that’s how they interpret it and how it’s meant to be taken. Art is up for interpretation. It’s really cool that everyone has different ideas and gets different meanings from what I am saying—that’s the great thing about art and music in general.

Where does the song ‘Old. Self. Doubt.’ come from?

JS: The gang vocals are meant to be me saying, I’m so unsure about these things and saying, no, that’s actually not what’s happening… work is where I get most anxious and I second-guess myself all of the time. I really struggle with various aspects of my job and how I feel about myself. It’s sort of meant to be me telling myself that everything I’m thinking in those times is not the reason these things are happening. It’s a reference to a particular job that I had in the past where I used to just put everything on myself, like everything was my fault if things were going terribly, when it wasn’t necessarily the case. I took a bit of distance from there and my friends were looking at it going “no, that’s not the case, it isn’t your fault! These things can’t be controlled”. I guess it’s a play on how I felt in the moment at the time and a more realistic, objective way of looking at it, which came from my friends and the people around me and the distance.

What kind of work do you do?

JS: I work in the music industry. I’m a venue booker.

Ah, ok. I could see how that could be stressful. I’ve always loved music my whole life, since I was a kid I always thought I might work in the music industry so I could work around the thing I love the most all day, music. I wanted to be a part of it so bad, when I finally got there – I saw the workings of major labels, touring companies, mainstream press, PR companies etc. – I found out the reality of the music industry and I hated it!

JS: Yep, yep! It was exactly the same for me. The way I got into it, my dad was always involved in the music industry and he ran a publicity company and that company booked a venue. One of the bookers of the venue left my dad’s business and he didn’t want to re-hire someone to book the venue—I was twenty and begging him to let me do it! There was no way I should have gotten the job at the time, I was not remotely ready. I begged him every single day, eventually he said “yes, but it was my funeral!” Nine years on and I’m still doing it. I guess I did a good job, which is why I’m comfortable telling that story; originally, I thought everyone would judge me for it but, I feel better about my role now and that I deserve it. It definitely isn’t the idealised dream that you have as a kid. You think that you’ll book all the most amazing bands and you’ll see the most amazing stuff ever and that you’ll do this and that! It’s not quite like that. I still love it though, I do get to sit around and listen to music a lot, that is the best thing in the world to me. There are definitely negative aspects of the industry that are there and strong.

I have met some very good people in the industry though, that are doing great things. Having them and someone like you in the position that you are there is opportunity to change the negative things and how things have always been done.

JS: 100%! The longer that I’ve been in it, the more great people I have found. You choose who you have around you, you can choose who you like, respect and work with. I’ve stumbled into incredible, incredible musicians and people. You distance yourself from the aspects you don’t like, that’s the key.

I think the majority of people get into it because they truly do love music but then because of the industry and having to treat art as a product—the bottom line being money—can make people lose sight of why they loved it and got into it in the first place. Then it just becomes a job as opposed to a passion.

JS: 100%! It can be hard as a venue booker, at least when the venues are running. I book nine shows a week, it’s my full-time job. There’s no way you’re going to like all the bands on the shows, three bands per shows, that’s twenty-seven bands through the venue each week. I used to find that a lot harder to deal with but it’s also allowed me to find a lot more good music. I like applying that to Bench Press, Bench Press is my excuse to book every single band that I love. Every show we play has bands that are a reflection of what we like as a band, that’s the fun part! I love booking my favourite bands and helping people get a leg up.

It was so cool how you came up here and toured with Dr Sure’s Unusual Practice!

JS: It was so lucky and the best experience ever ‘cause that band is truly, truly mind-blowing and special!

Absolutely! Dougal from Dr Sure’s is one of my favourite Australian songwriters. Your album Not The Past, Can’t Be the Future to me is almost like a notes-to-self kind of record.

JS: 100%! It’s a reminder. The album is going to exist as a reminder of how I can be and how I should try to be.

The songs on the record ‘Baby Steps’, ‘Take It Slow’, ‘Better Mirror’, ‘Good Guy’ and ‘Enough’; there seems to be a bit of a theme there.

JS: Yes! That’s how I wanted it to be: what I am? What I could be? How I should be? I wanted to touch on all of those things. I hope I did it?

Totally! It’s really inspiring, especially the song ‘Baby Steps’: exhale, stand up!

JS: I’d just seen a psych for the first time and they were like “take a deep breath, all the stuff is so obvious and it doesn’t always work but these are the things you have to do”.

What about the song ‘Take It Slow’?

JS: ‘Take It Slow’ is about… you know when you’re in high school and they’re like you have to do this and you have to do it well and you gotta go to Uni and do this and that… they make you feel rushed. Even now I look around at some of my friends – we’re all in our late 20s now – people still feel that; I feel it stays with everyone. I don’t think necessarily moving so quickly and panicking into things is the right way to do it. It’s a reminder to be slow and that if I carefully do everything, then I or anyone can achieve what they want to. Sometimes I think the idea of taking things slow is a little bit privileged, I have the ability to take things slow and ease my way into things to make sure everything is right but not everybody has that opportunity.

I really love your lyrics, I feel like they’re really thoughtful.

JS: Thank you. I try really hard to write about something that I care about, everything has to be about something I care deeply about. I can’t bring myself to write a song that doesn’t mean anything to me or potentially someone else. I can’t write silly, I’m not going to sit around and write about chugging on beers and smashing bongs! I love drinking beer but I don’t think it’s something important that I have to sing about; I’d feel frivolous like I am wasting an opportunity.

Every song is a chance to get a point of view across and hopefully trying to impact someone. They all impact me and change me in a certain way and gets me thinking about different things more, but it’s all about trying to help someone else and to try and help them change in some positive way—that’s one of the most rewarding aspects of Bench Press. I occasionally will get someone come up to me and say “Thank you so much, your song helped me” and inside I’m like, what the fuck?! That’s so crazy I could help them. I think it’s the most important thing that a lyricist can do. I don’t want to waste my time writing frivolous songs.

When writing and making the record; what was one of the biggest changes that you saw within yourself?

JS: It was a real moment of transition for me from the beginning of the album. The previous album was angry, it was me feeling upset about various things. When we started writing for the new album, the first song we wrote was ‘Respite’ and that was turning point for me because I was actually starting to get help and I was actually starting to open up to my friends. People in my circle started opening up about all these things, it was a moment of transition of looking and seeing a problem and trying to find a solution; the first album was seeing problems and the second was trying to find solutions to problems.

It started with ‘Respite’ then one of the last songs would have been something like ‘Old. Self. Doubt.’ Which were the last lyrics I finished. I could see the problems and tell myself that that’s not the way things are and that things can be better—that I can change them!

It’s a really cool thing when you finally realise your own power, your strength and resilience and your ability to change things!

JS: Totally!

Was there anything that happened in your life that sparked the changes?

JS: [*Takes a big breath*] Yeah. My work life was improving, that was one thing, but to be honest the big thing was me and my partner was approaching ten years together and I was having problems. Problems which stemmed from my own problems; I saw myself as the problem and that I had to fix it because otherwise I was going to lose the most important person in the world to me. That was a really big catalyst, to start realising that I needed to work on myself and to not just be upset and angry all the time.

I totally understand. My husband and I, we’ve been together over 11 years – how cool is it when you find that forever person?! – and there’s been a lot of things that I’ve had to work on within myself too. Sometimes you don’t see how your behaviour is hurting the one you love most, facing those truths are hard. 

JS: Congratulations! It’s incredible, and realising that if things are going to work it has to come from changes that I make or in your case, that you make. These things were all happening round the time of our album. ‘Home’ is about my life with my partner, Bianca.

Good name!

JS: [Laughs] Yes, exactly.

Where do you think your writing will go now? Have you started working on anything?

JS: Yeah, we’ve started working on new songs. We’ve got one finished that we’ve played a couple of times. We have a whole bunch of ideas on the go, it’s been a bit hard without prac[tice]. I’ve always liked the idea of writing something political, but I’m always really scared about writing political because so often it can be cliché and obvious. I wanna start moving down that road, I don’t know how well it’s going though. It’s more political but still to do with identity and self-help, exploring it in a bigger way is what I’d like to do.

Cool! Whenever I listen to your last album I feel like I have my own personal cheer squad!

JS: [Laughs] Excellent! That’s awesome!

What kind of things would we find in your music collection?

JS: Oh heaps of stuff! I’m a massive, massive nerd when it comes to music! I’m a hoarder and I’m a digger!

Same!

JS: I saw the interview you did with Matt from Shepparton Airplane and he talked about Fugazi a whole bunch—Fugazi are my all-time favourite band! Anything to do with that scene, Rites Of Spring, Happy Go Licky, Bad Brains and Teen Idles, all that stuff are at the heart of my collection. I really love this Japanese band called CHAI that toured here last year…

I love CHAI! [*sings*] You are so cute, nice face, c’mon yeah!

JS: [Laughs] Yes! They’re just the best. They are the happiest thing ever, so I play a lot of that! I listened to Melt Banana this morning, which is great while I exercised.

Have you seen how Henry Rollins does his exercise?

JS: No, how?

Well, you know how much he is fanatical about music? Well, he’ll play a 7” and while the side’s playing he’ll see how many push-ups or whatever exercise he’s doing he can do, then when that side is finished he gets up and flips the record then does another exercise. That’s the best interval training circuit idea I’ve ever heard of!

JS: That’s so great! [laughs]. A couple of years ago we found out that a friend of my dad’s has a record store, I think it’s in Newcastle, and Henry Rollins came in to buy records – right after our first album came out – apparently Henry was asking for recommendations. The guy pulled out our record and Henry asked, what it sounded like? He said “sort of like Fugazi” and Henry was like, “nope, not interested” [laughs]. I just love that. Apparently since then he has listened to the record.

I was a late bloomer with music, I was around seventeen when I started figuring it all out and stopped listening to crap. I was listening to The Saints and the Sex Pistols, really obvious things like that and my dad gave me Fugazi’s In On the Kill Taker. I remember watching a YouTube clip of ‘Last Chance For A Slow Dance’ and just seeing Ian and Guy play with so much passion, that was one catalyst for getting me into music.

The other one was, I’m a massive Pavement fan as well, I read an interview with Stephen Malkmus and he said: I think anyone can sing as long as they can fit a tune to a song and that they’ll make it work no matter how terrible their voice is essentially. I was like—I can do that! Ian and Guy made me want to be in a band. Steven Malkmus made me realise I can sing, badly! [laughs].

 Have you ever had a real life changing moment?

JS: I don’t necessarily think of things like that, I think of things as tiny incremental changes over a long period of time.

‘Baby Steps’?

JS: [Laughs] Exactly! That’s just it and how I’ve always seen change in myself. When I was in high school people always said that they couldn’t live without music and I hated that and thought, you fucking idiot, of course you can live without music! Thinking that then, I feel hypocritical in saying it now but, music as a whole has been the thing that has impacted my life the most. It’s been where I’ve spent the last ten years of my life, working. I’ve been playing music since I was seventeen. These are the things that I base my life around and these are the things where I’ve met everyone that I know and love, it’s also influenced everything… stuff like Fugazi doing cheap shows and benefits, had me thinking about those things when I was younger. I guess music over time, in incremental ways has helped shape me rather than one big moment.

What’s something that you’re working towards changing now?

JS: I started this year with different goals to what I have now, I’ve been planning on going back to Uni and doing counselling or social work. It was going to be a big year for the pub I book, the first three months were incredible. Now that that is gone for the foreseeable future, I’m just trying to relax, I’m trying to feel calmer and lose the panic that I get when I’m in a situation I don’t’ want to be in. I’m trying to improve my overall health, physically and mentally. Figuring out what I want to be.

What are some things that help you relax?

JS: There’s the good and bad thing of pot [laughs], that helps me relax or sometimes it does the total opposite! Exercise. I’m trying to see isolation as having this time to completely relax and decompress and make sure that when I do get back to work that I will be in the best mental shape of my life. I’m trying not to do too much and not freak out about things. I’ve been playing a lot of video games. I’ve been trying to read. Just really, small, basic things. I just want to be the best that I can be.

That’s so great. Thanks so much to speaking to us.

JS: Thank you for including us and interviewing me.

It was wonderful to finally get to chat with you. As a fan of Bench Press I’ve read a couple of other interviews with you and the things you get asked always annoys me; you write such great songs and music I’ve always wanted to know more about that… not an answer to some novelty question you’re being asked so the writer gets to feel clever about how funny they can be!

JS: I think part of that is having a publicist hit someone up to do something on your band and the publication may not necessary know us or really give the album a listen beyond once if that and do it as a job and not a passion.

I’ve had bands tell me that they wanted to get press in different Australian music magazines and street press and they were told it would be $200 for a review and $400 for an interview in one particular publication! Having interviewed Creatives and written for all kinds of publications and making my own zines for the past 25 years, I found this absolutely crazy! It’s a terrible practice, very dishonest to your readers accepting money for a feature and not telling them it’s been paid for.

JS: Yep.

At least now I know why there is rarely anything good in those publications!

JS: Yes, it’s one of the most upsetting things to me. We got hit up by a publication and they said they would love to interview us. I thought that was cool and said we’d love to do that. Then they sent us their rates! Like c’mon! Why would anyone do that? Not everyone knows that happens and is privy to the fact that bands have paid for this stuff. Once you know you can’t unsee it, and when you read interviews in the publication you know someone paid for it—where’s the care? Where’s the love?!

Exactly! I can’t believe people pay for that shit. Just like that that bullshit pay to play or in some cases pay for the possible chance to play on shows scam! And application fees for bands for an “opportunity” to play showcases that are already getting money from sponsors and grants. It’s sad that it’s often younger, upcoming bands that do this because they think that’s what you do! This is where I see the industry exploiting bands. I may be old school and an interview purist but shouldn’t you interview a band because you like them? You’re a fan? Don’t you simply want to share ideas and get an insight into what they do? Put that out into the world to document culture now? Inspire others?

JS: Anyone asking you to pay money to interview you is taking advantage of you. I find it really ill. I’ve actually thought about writing a song about this!

Do it!

JS: Every time I try, it comes out too obvious, like how earlier I was telling you that happens when I try to write political stuff. I want to wait ‘til I have that perfect ammunition, that perfect phrase—it will be easy then and all the annoyance will fall out of me! [laughs].

And like I was saying before, paying to support bands is wrong too. They should be paying you to play! And paying you a reasonable amount too, especially if it’s a bigger band/show/tour. I understand people really wanting to support bands they love and get in front of bigger crowds, but at what price to everything else? It sets a bad standard.

JS: We got offered a fairly big support slot late last year, they’re one of my all-time favourite bands. The money that was offered meant that we would have lost money to do the show! In my mind they were one of the bands that helped bring punk to the fore, I couldn’t understand it, so we said ‘no’ to the show. That’s actually what our new song is about! [laughs]. We were asked to play and we would have lost money, I just can’t wrap my head around that. Maybe the band had no idea how much we were being offered? It made me ill. It’s taking advantage of people and it’s totally, totally unfair.

It’s very, very un-punk rock!

JS: It’s the most un-punk rock! [laughs].

Please check out: BENCH PRESS. Bench Press on Facebook. Bench Press on Instagram. Bench Press records out via Poison City.

Maq of Melbourne punk band The Faculty: “All snappy dressers… just people with a lot of heart and soul and warmth and love to give”

Photo courtesy of The Faculty. Handmade collage by B.

We love The Faculty! Punchy and fun, and punk and fun, and explosive and fun, and cheeky and fun, and really rock n roll and FUN!; did we mentioned fun enough yet?! Next month the Melbourne punks are set to release new EP, Here’s To Fun. We spoke to Maq from The Faculty to get the low down!

You’re currently laid up recovering from back surgery; how are you doing? How have you been passing your recovery time?

MAQ: I’m doing really well thank you for asking! I collapsed on a walk to A1 bakery and ended up having an emergency discectomy on my spine, crazy shit but feeling all the better for it! Recuperating at my mum’s house on the coast and getting there slowly but surely. I had my staples taken out yesterday so I’m no longer a cyborg but I’m able to go for very middle age style strolls along the beach and take photos of the sunset. To pass the time I’ve been watching Tik Toks, reading about celebrity scandals (Heidi Fleiss & yachters) and giving the Stan account a good rinse haha.

What first got you interested in music?

MAQ: My parents had me and my brother when they were fairly young and they were avid RRR listeners. When mum was pregnant with me she went and saw Fugazi play in Geelong, nothing could stop her. On our yearly holiday to Cactus Beach in SA we’d listen to a selection of tapes over and over that were really eclectic and reflect both my parents all-over-the-shop taste to this day – Supergrass, Kraftwerk, Smashing Pumpkins, The The – all big favourites in the car. I think I gained musical sentience when I discovered The Ramones though. That was when everything changed.

Growing up in Torquay for the first part of my life, my brother and I were into skateboarding and we got into a lot of music through skate videos. There was one skate video Sorry that had John Lydon as the narrator and it was the first time I heard The Stooges and it set off a firecracker in my ass. From there on I met a bunch of skaters in Geelong who shared a lot of music with me. When I was about 13 my first boyfriend was Zak from Traffik Island and he had the coolest music taste I’d ever heard. He still does now I reckon. I knocked around with that crew with my best friend Hanna and every party was soundtracked by Johnny Thunders and The Sonics and shit. Basically thankyou to my young horny-for-skaters self ‘cause that got me into the good shit.

What was the first show you ever went to? What do you remember about it?

MAQ: I don’t know what came first – Robbie Williams at Vodaphone Arena or Area 7 at St Kilda Fest. I remember Robbie covering Kiss or Nirvana or something and all the old birds really getting hot for him – I remember just thinking he was a bit “bad” and I wanted to be like that myself. Like he’s naughty but he’s still a bit of a dork, I can relate to that. Area 7 was the first time I’d ever been in a moshpit. Watching people skank and stuff really tripped me out and set me on a little ska phase. We’ve all had a ska phase. Embrace your ska phase.

Photo : Jamie Wdziekonski

What was it that drew you to making music yourself?

MAQ: When I was a kid I had a drumkit and I’d practice along to punk and try and emulate it. My dad’s mate who was in a cover band was my drum teacher and he’d teach me like paradiddles and stuff and I’d be like “ok Elvis Costello when are we gonna learn the good shit? I wanna know how to play like I’m in the Ramones” – I was never any good. I kind of let it go for a long time and got into DJing and doing radio. It was only with The Faculty that I decided to finally fulfil a lifelong fantasy of being in a band. A real Riff Randall complex.

What inspired The Faculty to get together?

MAQ: All the other members of The Faculty are incredible musicians and have been in some absolutely unreal bands – Meter Men, Franco Cozzo, and Whitney Houston’s Crypt. I’d never been in a band I was just a wannabe but I think I was feeling bold one day and chucked a status on Facebook “Who wants to start a band”. James who plays guitar and I had known each other since we were about 13 and used to DJ underage at Streetparty events haha, Tommy I’d known vaguely from going to gigs, Lorrae and I worked together. They were the people who replied. A total motley crew. After our first practice I asked the gang if we could add a fella in who had really good hair and a cool cross earring and that was Al who then took it up to the next level on second guitar. The band works because it shouldn’t – we are all really different but somehow that makes us, us. There’s something for everyone in The Faculty.

What’s something you can tell me about each member of the band?

MAQ: Lorrae (bass) is a legit witch and powerhouse of a woman. She is the most inspiring, strong and badass woman I’ve ever met. She runs the label Our Golden Friend amongst a myriad of other things and she has next level psychic energy. James (guitar) is in like 1 billion bands and is an absolute workhorse both physically and spiritually. I think he is powering half of Melbourne on his rock n roll energy. Tommy (drums) loves WWE and being naughty but in the best way like teehee naughty, he also looks better than any of the fellas who take their top off when he takes his top off. Fellas love taking off their top don’t they?  Al (guitar) is a superstar. He is training to be a hairdresser and is like one of those freakish people who can pick up any instrument and be like rreeeeoooowdiddleydooo. All snappy dressers too and just people with a lot of heart and soul and warmth and love to give. For a punk band were all quite sensitive and in tune to each other’s needs and vibe.

In June The Faculty are getting set to release new EP Here’s To Fun, in the spirit of the title; can you tell us about one of the most fun The Faculty-related times you have ever had?

MAQ: I think every time we hangout is pretty funny. We do chip reviews on our Instagram and we all love memes a lot. But the funniest Faculty moment was when we were recording, Tommy took off his clothes and James hosed him down in the backyard. I think we got it on some kind of camcorder. I think Al Montfort who recorded us was probably like…. Dr Evil voice: Riiiiiiiiiiight.

The first single from the EP is called ‘Chrissy Moltisanti’ is inspired by the character from The Sorpranos, right? What sparked the idea to write this track?

MAQ Sure is! Christopher is my love-hate character from the show. You wanna root for him but he is an orboros. The song is about having someone in your life who wants to be a “made man” like Chrissy, someone super aspirational to the point where it’s kind of endearing but they just keep getting in their own way and behaving like a derro. A lot of the EP is lyrically related to a breakup but I wrote that before that even happened so maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think men should really consider ethical non monogamy before they go and fuck people’s shit up. There’s also vague themes of the Moreland Hotel because I like the decor and I wanted to put Metallica lyrics in a song and try and get away with it. I also wanted an opportunity to really yell at fellas who are total dickheads and stare them dead in the eye and pretend I’m just singing a fun little ditty about The Sopranos. It’s nice to have the protection of being in a band to be a bitch although I did tell a fella I hope his dick falls off recently ‘cause I heard he’d been a drongo so maybe I’m just a regular bitch haha

When did you start writing for the EP—how did it come about?

MAQ: It’s funny because the songs are quite old now – a couple of them have been in our set since day dot (P2P, The Locks) so the stuff I was writing then I have probably either dealt with those emotions or forgotten about whatever was pissing me off. We have a nice process I reckon.  We all kind of collaborate together at practice, people will bring riffs and ideas musically. Often I’l have a bunch of fragmented ideas in notebooks and my phone and then the band will jam out the song and I’ll just fill in the blanks with the lyrical themes and jigsaw the themes or little bits of writing I have to fit the patina of the song were writing. The way I write songs is usually to have two themes going at once, one might be something personal and the other just some bullshit I fancied in an action movie. We are all pretty busy in our day to day so the EP was pretty much the only songs we had going so it was quite easy to put it together ‘cause it’s all we had haha.

Can you tell us a little bit about the recording of your new EP? I know it was recorded and mixed by Al Montfort and mastered by Mikey Young.

MAQ: We were so lucky to have Al record the EP for us. That man is worth the lore. He set up his gear at Tommy’s house in Coburg and we recorded it live in the room we always practice in. Al made us all feel really comfortable and had a few tips but was never overbearing or like that producer from 24 Hour Party People, he was a gentleman. We also introduced him to bubble tea and got him in on a chip review.  It was pretty special for us that he agreed to doing it, I’ve been a fan of basically everything he’s ever done. I went to a Lower Plenty show on my own once when I was like 19 and he and his partner Amy chatted to me for ages and were such rippers and I think so many of your heroes you can meet and be like disappointed but those two were the most warm and beautiful people and that extended to Al’s process as an engineer. Mikey did a fantastic job as always and put up with our daggy old questions and made the EP sound even better than we thought possible. There’s a reason these blokes are the Kings.

Is song ‘Alexis Texas’ about the porn actress? How’d this song get started?

MAQ: HAHAHA. Kind of. Its only when someone holds a mirror up to you that you realise some of the stuff you spout off is so silly haha. I was really obsessed with this other porn star’s Instagram where she would post herself getting these like skin treatments where they’d cryogenically freeze her in a tank thing and I wanted to write a song about that but her name didn’t sound as good as Alexis Texas’. It’s a good litmus test that song, shows you who in your audience is a horny bugger. One of my good friends like blushes whenever we play that song which has become a running joke. #Teamtexass

What’s the song ‘Mr. Sardonicus’ about?

MAQ: Ooh, it’s about this really unreal movie Mr Sardonicus which was directed by this legend William Castle. Castle was like a kind of Kmart version of Hitchcock but made films that I think are just as compelling. It’s about a man who becomes a ghoul and I wanted to write about it and when I was trying to beef up the lyrics I just kept thinking ghoul…Misfits…Danzig!! So I then turned it into a song about how I wanted to see Danzig and Nick Cave have a death match. Like Celebrity Death Match. Remember that show? I remember watching that on Foxtel at nanna’s and loving the Gallagher brothers episode. And it’s also about how I didn’t want to clean my room. Slice of life, y’know? LOL!

What music/bands/songs have you been loving lately?

MAQ: Contrary to the music I play, I don’t listen to a lot of punk outside of the fabulous gigs my peers play. I am usually listening to country music or something I found on a YouTube vortex. I reckon I have the music taste of a Mojo Magazine reader, always waiting for a new Roxy Music bootleg or B sides ahha. But lately I’ve been gagging for Mink Deville, Levon Helm’s solo albums, this song On The Road Again by Rockets, Amanda Lear, Spotify playlists my friend Charlie makes me that jump from like Yes to Killing Joke and the Delta Goodrem Megamix on Youtube from her Mardi Gras performance. I think a lot of what I listen to is symbiotic, whoever I’m around and what they like fascinates me. My housemate loves that Delta Megamix and at first it shit me how much he wanted to chuck it on now I’m like mouthing the bits where she’s like “How am I guys” along with him.  Locally my favourite band is Bitumen. They are the sexiest, coolest and most interesting band in the world. Pure sex magic. I’m gagged for that new band Shove I think they are formidable and I always listen to Constant Mongrel like over and over again and love seeing Future Suck live. Parsnip rock too – virtuosos, we’re so lucky to have them! Moth rip and anything and everything Union Jerk records. I keep up with the Lulus-wave stuff with fellas singing songs about men in companies and shit like every man and his dog but amongst the mix there’s some real standouts that are mostly hot chicks making hot shit.

Outside of music what are some things important to you?

MAQ: I love movies big time. I have a film night ‘Top Of The Heap’ which is on hiatus at the moment due to the current situation but the energy of that is being kept alive in a movie group chat I’m in Movie Magic with some nears and dears and most of my life is consumed by watching De Palma movies and screenshotting hot dudes in blue jeans in neo noirs. I’d like to think I have two lives. One as a big mouthed psycho fronting me band and wearing latex and mouthing off about horny shit and then my truer self which is a celibate straight edge nerd who is a meme farmer and obsessed with videos of people stepping on cakes in TNs and shit.

Why don’t The Faculty put out?

MAQ: You’ll have to watch the movie Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains to find out.

Please check out: THE FACULTY. The Faculty on Instagram.

Melbourne Jangly-Reverbed-Indie-Pop band Swim Team: “Sarcasm and self-deprecation is embedded in our personalities and sense of humour – we certainly don’t take ourselves too seriously”

Original photo by Kalindy Williams. Handmade collage by B.

From the first jangly-twang of song ‘Everyday Things’ that we heard while watching Rage one morning last year, the Gimmie team have been addicted to Swim Team. Their infectious sweet melodies, hypnotic harmonies and catchy hooks reel you in. We interviewed Sammy to talk about their debut LP Home Time, their beginnings, self-care and more.

How did Swim Team first come together?

SAMMY: I had been thinking about starting a new band for a while. At the time Krystal was playing in Bad Vision and I was playing tambourine with the Pink Tiles, and we were gigging around a lot and I was really into the scene and the kinds of garage pop bands that were popping up. In 2016, Krystal moved in with me and we had already been friends since we worked together in Perth back in 2005. Back in those days she was playing in punk garage bands and I was playing in twee indie bands. I suggested that we should start a new band together with both of us on guitar and so we both just started jamming at home.

I asked my friend Esther to join – I really wanted her to be in the band even though she had never played the bass, and Krystal recruited TJ even though she had never played drums. We built our band based on how we thought the dynamics would work with the four of us hanging out together, not for how technically good a player or songwriter anyone was. It was kinda like building our own fantasy football team or something, and luckily they were both keen to give it a red hot go haha.

We got together in a rehearsal room and the first song we played together was ‘Green Fuzz’ by the Cramps. Eventually I booked us our first gig which was with Girl Crazy at their Tote residency, and that meant we had a deadline to write a few songs and get our shit together. If there’s one thing that Swim Team are collectively good at, it’s working under pressure!

We love the jangly guitars in Swim Team’s music; what inspired you to choose this sound?

SAMMY: A combined love for bands like The Clean and Go-Betweens, a tendency to lean towards Fender and a penchant for chorus pedals haha.

I think that given mine and Krystal’s backgrounds in music and the kinds of bands we were both used to playing in and listening to, when we brought them together we ended up with this kind of sound naturally. It’s kinda a combination of my pop background, Krystal’s punk background, and both of us meeting in the middle, then evolving together.

Last year you released your LP Home Time which was written over the course of a couple of years, one of the main themes of the record being change; over the time of writing what do you think was one of the biggest changes you went through in your own life that helped colour the songs you were writing?

SAMMY: Oh boy, there was a lot of change during that period for us all, not to mention that in the time it took us to start writing the songs, recording and then releasing it, we had three different bass players.

Krystal and I are the main songwriters in the band and we both had a lot going on over the course of a couple of years. Krystal’s dad sadly passed away while we were writing the album and so there is some really personal grieving there. There are relationship breakdowns for both of us, whether it be family or friendships or just simple observations. For me, at the beginning it was the end of a long-term relationship, and then by the end of the writing process it was meeting someone new. So yes, it’s quite the rollercoaster thematically!  

Many of your songs can be self-deprecating; where does this come from?

SAMMY: Haha you might have to ask my therapist that! At the end of the day, I think that sarcasm and self-deprecation is embedded in our personalities and sense of humour – we certainly don’t take ourselves too seriously most of the time.

Your songs are deeply personal but written ambiguously so listeners can imagine themselves in the song story; who are the songwriters that you admire? What is it about their songs you love?

SAMMY: I have a deep appreciation of many different styles of songwriting, whether it’s poetic and metaphorical or literal story telling. One of my favourite songwriters is Mara Williams from the Pink Tiles. If you want deeply personal but ambiguous and completely charming, she is the queen of it!

What’s the significance of the album’s title, Home Time?

SAMMY: Aside from being one of the tracks from the album that we thought tended to sum up the entire vibe pretty well, it’s also a play on the title of our first EP ‘Holiday’. We went from ‘Holiday’ to ‘Home Time’ with these releases which is kinda symbolic of us growing as a band as well as our own personal situations.

Why did you decide to kick your record off with the track ‘Grown Up’?

SAMMY: We wanted something with a bit of an intro to kick things off sonically, but we found ‘Grown Up’ set the tone for the rest of the album in terms of context. It’s kinda a proclamation of this feeling of never really quite achieving those expectations that we set for ourselves as adult humans, and then bam – the rest of the album runs through and it’s a continuation of those general musings. Thematically we write about all aspects of life, whatever takes our fancy at the time: our crushes, our bad habits, our ex’s bad habits, our dysfunctional families, our grievances – both serious and silly.

The song ‘Everyday Things’ is an ode to first world problems; what first sparked this song idea?

SAMMY: Basically one long complaint about all the things that didn’t go right in a single day. They’re all a part of daily existence and not ‘actual’ problems. The song is laughing at the way we tend to complain about everything when in all reality the scenarios mentioned are trite and trivial.

What’s your favourite track on Home Time? What’s it about?

SAMMY: For me it’s probably a tie between ‘Time and Sacrifice’ and ‘New Year’. ‘Time and Sacrifice’ I feel has a different vibe to it than the rest of the album. The subject matter is far more complex and I think it ended up that way musically too. It’s also the one we experimented with the most as far as production goes, which was really fun. ‘New Year’ has been a favourite for a while, I have always loved what everyone has brought to the song in terms of parts and the feel – Anna really brought this to life for us!

Could you tell us a little about recording the record please?

SAMMY: We were lucky enough to have our dream team for our album recording. We had Anna Laverty produce and engineer it at our favourite studio in Melbourne, Audrey Studios. We tracked the majority of it live, all four of us in the room playing our parts, and then afterwards we did a few guitar overdubs and vocals. Working with Anna is always a real pleasure. We were lucky enough to have a bit of extra time to play around, and some of the songs had parts that were written on the spot which was something I’ve never had the privilege to experiment with before.

You’ve mentioned online that there’s been “a bunch of personal and health stuff that’s gone down since late last year” which has made you take a little break from making music. I hope everything’s alright? During the downtime what do you do to take care of yourself? Self-care is so important!

SAMMY: Thank you! Yes, self-care is super important for both our physical and mental health. For us it means eating well, exercising, doing things that make you calm and happy (for me it’s things like listening to music, pottering around the house, cooking and tending to plants), and not being too hard on yourself or having unrealistic expectations of yourself (that part is hard sometimes!) We had a really busy year with the release of the album and then with the personal stuff happening on top of that it felt like we needed to just step back and look after ourselves and put a priority on those things. We are actually really close friends outside of music so we have a really strong support network in each other – we are really lucky to have that level of support and understanding from one another I think.

Other than making music do you do anything else creative?

SAMMY: Krystal has a podcast that she hosts with her friend Ruth called ‘First Time Feelings’ that you can check out here. TJ is a tattoo artist and when there’s no pandemic you can find her at her shop Heart & Soul Tattoo in Melbourne CBD. Our original bass player Esther is a designer and owns the label Togetherness Design. Our newest member and current bass player Jill is involved in a bunch of comedy and fringe festival shows, but is known best for her role in co-founding the iconic Shania Choir. I don’t have many creative talents outside of music, but it keeps me busy enough for now.

What’s something – band, album, song – that’s really cool you’re listening to at the moment?

SAMMY: RVG’s new album Feral, and patiently anticipating the new Dianas record Baby Baby.

Please check out: SWIM TEAM. ST on Facebook. ST on Instagram. Home Time out on Hysterical Records.

Melbourne Heavy Hitters Dead: “We enjoy melody as much as we enjoy brutality”

Handmade collage by B.

Dead are a band that don’t fit neatly into the heavy music community, their sludge metal goes beyond the rules and pushes the parameters incorporating lighter melodies and interesting elements. Every facet of this band is thoughtful and well-crafted, even right down to their album packaging which is illustrated by guitarist-vocalist Jace and laid out and screenprinted by drummer-vocalist Jem. They’re the deep feeling and thinking person’s heavy band. Today we’re premiering the homemade clip for song ‘Grifted Apart’. We spoke to Jem about it and their new album Raving Drooling out on their own label We Empty Rooms Records.

What do you love about playing the drums?

JEM: [Laughs] It’s a very physical instrument and that probably brings with it endorphins from exercise, it’s a happy side effect from playing the drums. I didn’t really actively seek out the drums in the beginning, I started learning because my older brother was getting some lessons through a family friend that happened to be a drum teacher and they owed my dad a favour… [pauses] …oh my god there’s an enormous kangaroo about a foot away from me [laughs nervously].

It’s an accompanying instrument really. For the first time ever, yesterday I started recording some solo stuff which is kind of a result of this isolation stuff. Drums in general means that you’re playing with someone and that’s something I’ve always loved about music, the interaction with the other human beings that you play with. That’s probably why I’ve played in a lot of two-pieces, like this conversation now, it’s easier to have a conversation with two people than it is with six or seven.

How did you and Jace first meet?

JEM: He’s from all over the place, but he was living in Lismore when I first met him. He was playing in a band from there and he needed some shows down in Melbourne. I have no idea how he discovered my band then, it was in the MySpace days. I booked some shows for him and shortly after he moved to Melbourne, he had some music that he wanted to play with people. I found myself for the first and only time in my life since I picked up a pair of drumsticks not really with a band. I agreed to do some demos with him. Honestly I wasn’t super jazzed in the beginning but he was such a lovely dude. I wanted to just get back on the horse. It’s like someone going “I should get back into dating because I’ve just broke up with my long term partner” [laughs].

Really quickly that turned into a band called Fangs Of… a three-piece that proceeded Dead. Very quickly that band became really active and productive. We literally have not stopped playing since then, that was 2007. That band lasted a few years, Mikey the other guy in it didn’t really have the passion that we had, the drive to keep going; you have to drive long distances and might get abused by people or shut down by venues, stuff like that—it can be hard work. Dead just ended up forming out of necessity because we were the only two left that shared the desire that we wanted to keep touring and releasing stuff.

You mentioned that you weren’t so jazzed when you guys first started playing together; when did you start to feel excited?

JEM: Probably within a couple of hours [laughs]. What was strange to me is that I never in my life have had to seek out people to play music with; I started really young, I started gigging when I was fourteen. I did at least two shows a week in Melbourne from the age of fourteen to somewhere into my 20s really. I’ve always just played with the people around me, I guess I’m a bit lucky that I knew really great people and played in bands that were very democratic, sometimes painfully so. When I said I wasn’t so jazzed, I come from an improvisational background, I never learnt covers or never learnt to play in the style of others; my brain struggled with even basic song structures. I struggled to compute Jace’s songs because I hadn’t had a part in writing them. It was more I just didn’t think it was my strength, I’m not good at playing a verse, chorus kind of thing. Really quickly Jace just started to write music that more suited the style of the players, it’s a real strength of his.

Is improvisation important now when you guys are creating?

JEM: Yeah, it’s hugely important to me. Because there’s the two of us it’s mostly unwritten, we don’t have to verbalise because we tend to be in the same frequency as each other. For me, I’ve never played a song the same way twice, I just have that in me. When we practise it’s not as improvisational as I would naturally be. I think Jace is always up for elaborating on something or changing it. Usually he’ll bring in something solid and we’ll start from there. There’s no rules though, we can write music any way we want.

What music were you listening to growing up?

JEM: I was born in ’85 so I pre-date streaming and readily available music by a far bit. At about five I really got into music and became obsessed with it. I was lucky I have an older brother ahead of the game and that was aware of what’s being pitched at teenagers. I just remember really liking music, it almost wouldn’t have mattered what kind, just the actual medium was exciting and you had to take what you could get.

Early on I was drawn to things like Metallica, Megadeth, The Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana but, I always thought none of those bands were good at executing this as much as stuff from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Having a six-year-old mind I probably didn’t have the language for it but I remember listening to The Beatles on a pair of headphones and thinking it was amazing and so exciting! I felt like the music that was coming out now at the time wasn’t quite as exciting. I just wasn’t aware there was great music going on at the time, as a kid I didn’t have access to the Butthole Surfers. I remember hearing Ministry as a six-year-old and being a bit scared but the song ‘Cannibal Song’ stuck in my head for so long that it wasn’t until I was in high school that I ended up being able to get a copy.

When I was in primary school I bought the second Mr. Bungle album on CD and was so mortified, I thought I wasted so much money on something unlistenable. I bought it because there was a connection to Faith No More. Three of four years later, I got to see them live at an under 18’s show and it was mind blowing and I went back and listened to it. I realised the album was incredible but it’s really hard work to listen to. I didn’t have the language to understand it as a kid. A lot of my favourite records I can’t listen to too often because they take a lot of energy to listen to. I’m not going to put on the last Harvey Milk album if I’ve got really important work to do, because I’ll be too distracted with trying to understand the music; I’ll happily put on a Beatles record because it’s really familiar or trashy pop stuff because it doesn’t take much effort for me to understand it.

In April you put out your latest record Raving Drooling, it’s really heavy to it but still has a lightness and humour.

JEM: Coming from the improvising background, I genuinely take a lot of pleasure in playing very light and dynamic stuff in Dead. Playing with Jem he challenged me as a player to work on my strength of endurance of playing heavy for extended periods of timer rather than going up and down all the time. We don’t just want to do the same thing that’s been done before, a lot of that heavier stuff that’s kind of like us, alternative metal, is often lacking melody or humour or dynamics—those are the areas we like to explore. We just do what we like. We enjoy melody as much as we enjoy brutality. Melody in heavy music is a rarity because there’s a vulnerability to it, people don’t want to admit that or talk about that. If you get up there and just sing gruff, gruff, gruff stuff – that’s fine I’m not canning it – you don’t have to reveal yourself as much. We like the challenge and the exhilaration that comes with playing live and being a bit more vulnerable. We’re used to it because we’ve spent a long time playing music in often hostile environments, we’ve built up a tolerance for that [laughs].

Where did your album title Raving Drooling come from?

JEM: ‘Raving and Drooling’ was the original name of the Pink Floyd song ‘Sheep’ off the album Animals. I just always loved that album. We’re quite big fans of Pink Floyd, they had kind of the same habit that we do, they’d go tour and playing all the material that they hadn’t yet recorded, meaning the audience would sit through a few hours of material they’ve never heard. We do that a lot, our fans are always willing to go with it. Our fans are never upset that we don’t play this hit or that hit, because we don’t have hits. We always have themes to our records vaguely, as we were making this record to I said it Jace, “This is going to be our Animals” whatever that means. As an album it’s a bit more aggressive than the last one we made, that came from that Roger Waters kind of cynical vibe he has.

We’ve premiering the clip for song ‘Grifted Apart’; can you tell me a little bit about that song?

JEM: I don’t really know what ‘Grifted Apart’ is about, it’s more of an energy to us. That whole side of the record that it’s from is our version of heavy metal. Jace just made that clip last week, as far as I know he shot it on his phone and edited it on his home computer. He’s done stop motion stuff for us before, this time he said it would take too long though. We never really play the song live. Most of the lyrics would be written and sung by Jace. We make things vague so we can give credit to the listener and they can interpret it in their own way. It also allows the song to evolve as we grow. We’re a very 50/50 split it down the middle band with writing. If you want to do something more specific you just need to be a solo artist.

Will you be writing specific stuff for your solo stuff then?

JEM: It’s all ambient percussion. Our friend from New Zealand is putting together a compilation and he wants people to only record in this isolation time. Jace and I both try to leave things open to interpretation, so they can mean different stuff to different people.

One of my favourite songs on the record is ‘Follow The Breathing’.

JEM: I’m really happy with how that turned out. That whole first whole side of the record is really just heavy rockin’ tracks and one of the problems with recording stuff like that is well, we can play stuff like that very well live – that’s our bread and butter – there’s a lot of energy and it can be hard to capture when you’re in the studio. With a song like ‘Follow The Breathing’ it’s the complete opposite, we composed it with the purpose of recording it rather than playing live. There’s two different ways of playing: the live way that’s a bit more aggressive and rougher on the edges; then there’s the studio way which is a bit more considered. At the end when the synths come in you have Joe Preston of the Melvins, High On Fire, Harvey Milk fame. He’s on one side playing the synths then our friend Veronica Avola is on the other side, in the other channel, reacting to him. She plays synths with us when we’re in the US.

Creston Spiers from Harvey Milk is also on your album on the song ‘Nunchukka Superfly’.

JEM: It was heaps of fun and a learning experience. The fun thing about being a two-piece is that we have a lot of room if we want to involve other people. Creston was an interesting one, I worked with him on releasing his solo record, we had gone back and forth and spoken on the phone a bit; we had a good understanding of where we were at. It was a bit challenging for me because I thought he’d do anything he wants but he wrote back to me and said I needed to give him direction. It was such a weird feeling having to direct someone who I think is by far a superior musician to me and someone I look up to. He was making incredible records when I was still in primary school! I had to give him a briefing on how to do the solo. He emailed me back and said he was just going to do it then, so he did and sent it back. It took him half an hour.

The art on the new album is pretty cool.

JEM: Jace has done the art for every record we’ve ever done. I do the layout and screenprinting. On this particular record we got our friend Simon from the band Pissbolt to do the colouring. One of his jobs is that he is a professional colourer of comic books. We gave him a briefing of the colours we wanted him to use and he went for it. In the heavy music world it’s nice to play something brutal but make sure there’s always something pink, because it’s such a world that’s dominated by how everything has to be black and dark—that’s not really how we are as people.

Please check out: DEAD. Raving Drooling out on We Empty Rooms. Dead on Facebook. Dead on Instagram.

Traffik Island, ORB and Hierophants’ Zak Olsen: “If it’s not memorable, it’s just not going to have a connection with anyone”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Melbourne-based musician Zak Olsen is one of those musical wizards. He has a natural talent for songwriting, doesn’t tie himself to one genre, and somehow magically has a knack for them all. He works his magic in heavy psych power-trio ORB, with new wavers Hierophants and as Traffik Island, a project that jumps style from one album to the next. He’s one of our favourite songwriters. We spoke with him last week to get an insight into his world.

ZAK OLSEN: I’m just at the studio right now, saying studio is a bit of a stretch but, I have a room that’s not my house that has some of my music gear in it [laughs]. It’s really close to my house so I just come here most days. I spend all day and all night in here usually.

Where did you grow up?

ZO: I grew up in New Zealand, I grew up in a few places because we moved every year. I mainly grew up on farms in New Zealand and moved to Australia in the year 2000.

What were you like growing up?

ZO: Most of my youth I grew up on a farm, which was really good. My parents had that school of parenting where they just let you go and make your own mistakes. We had lots of space which was good, my dad would say “Just go and do whatever you want just be back before its dark”. I spent heaps of time outside by myself when I was younger. My dad also played in a few heavy metal bands so he would always have huge parties and there’d be all these metalheads around. That was the first music that I got into when I was really young, like five years old. Its’ pretty appealing to a five year old. My dad would have all these heavy metal VHS tapes, I particularly remember the Megadeath one! I loved it so much.

How did you discover music for yourself?

ZO: I’ve always had an interest in it because my dad did. In high school I heard the Sex Pistols and had one of those light bulb moments! Megadeth also did a Sex Pistols’ cover. I remember watching SBS one night and the Sex Pistols being on there and they played ‘Anarchy In The UK’ and I remember the Megadeth song of it from back when I was a kid and it sort of all came back around again. I got into it from there, I decided that I wanted to play guitar and that was that.

Why is music important to you?

ZO: Just the actual act of making it, is the most fun I could ever have. Once it’s made it’s never quite as good, I still love playing live and all that stuff but for me personally the most fun that I can have in music is writing things—making noises! [laughs].

Is there a particular album or albums that’s helped shape your ideas on music?

ZO: Yes. Besides the obvious stuff like ‘60s pop – I got really into that in high school – just the simple things that are catchy that still have an effect that aren’t intimidating; stuff that involves everyone, simple music like The Beatles and The Kinks. That stuff is always with me. I remember the first time I heard R. Stevie Moore, that was a big influence because he didn’t stick to any genre. I know a lot of people claim they don’t stick to one genre but he really, really pushed that, he really went for it. I remember seeing an interview with him and he said that you can just make any noise, it’s still a song, not every song has to be your magnum opus. That allowed me to open up and make any noise.

I really like with him too that people go “you’re the king of lo-fi!” and he tells them something like “It doesn’t matter if it’s lo-fi or hi-fi or whatever-fi, I’m DIY-fi”.

ZO: Yeah, exactly! I’m definitely not going for a lo-fi thing, it’s just out of necessity. If I could make big grand exotica Martin Denny kind of albums I would. I don’t have that kind of money or resources though [laughs].

How did you first start making music yourself? You were in The Frowning Clouds; were you making stuff before that?

ZO: Nah, no. I was barely playing guitar before that, we just decided to start a band. I couldn’t really play at the time, we learnt as we went. I was a really slow learner with music but we all just kept going and here we are [laughs]. I’m still a slow learner!

When you make music then, is it mostly through feeling and intuition for you?

ZO: Absolutely. I don’t read music or know any of that kind of stuff. It’s 100% intuition for me.

The first Traffik Island LP Nature Strip that you put out – I know there was a split tape before that too – sounded kind of Beatles-y and Kinks-y and a little Bonzo Dog Band-ish and Syd Barrett-esque now with your new release Sweat Kollecta’s Peanut Butter Traffik Jam it’s kind of like a DJ Shadow beat tape, they’re such different sounds…

ZO: It goes back to the doing different things like R. Stevie Moore doing whatever you want. I wanted to do that to the max! I just wanted to make something as different from the first one. I was worried about it once it was made and I thought, oh shit, people that liked the first one probably aren’t going to like the new one. Nature Strip is the album that I always wanted to make ever since I was really young, being an obvious Syd Barrett fan, I just wanted to make an album on an acoustic guitar—that was the mission statement.

For the next one I wanted to do the total opposite and make it more computer-based and not write anything before; every one of those songs are made up just as I’m making it, it wasn’t prewritten.

So when you play them live you’ll have to teach yourself how to play them again?

ZO: Well, yeah. The band haven’t learnt any of those live yet, whether I’ll play them in front of an audience is yet to be seen [laughs].

I really hope you do!

ZO: There’s so many ways to do it that I’m just not sure yet. Hopefully one day… if venues open up again!

I really liked the Button Pusher live stream you did the other night!

ZO: Yeah, that was a test of maybe how we can do it live.

Dude, that test went really well, we super impressed. Just how you walked into the room rolled the tape machine and then started playing was so cool! The lighting and mood really added to it all too.

ZO: That’s good! That’s something I’m working on with a couple of other people at the studio too, we’ve started a YouTube channel live stream for performances and sorts of things. We have a few more coming up soon.

On your first release the split tape Sleepy Head/Traffic Island I noticed there’s Hierophants and Sweat Kollecta’s songs on that from back in 2012.

ZO: Yeah, my friend Danny who ran that label Moontown was doing a split with Nick, another Frowning Clouds member, he was doing the A-side. Danny called me asked me if I had any demos laying around to fill up the B-side of the tape. I said, yes, but I didn’t have any at the time. Lucky it was around the time I heard R. Stevie Moore so I had a real jolt of inspiration and just went out the back for two weeks and did all those songs for the tape. Some of them ended up going into Frowning Clouds or Hierophants after the fact.

I really love Hierophants! Spitting Out Moonlight was one of our favourite LPs of last year! We’re big fans of your other releases last year too, it’s so cool when you can find an artist that makes such different things but they’re all incredible. That’s not an easy thing to pull off.

ZO: That’s nice to hear. Thank you. It all has to do with collaboration with people and letting things just happen the way they do between people. You’re not really pushing an aesthetic or an agenda when you’re collaborating, that’s hopefully when more interesting things come out. I think Hierophants lean into that, we purposely do things that maybe sound ugly or we think we shouldn’t do. That’s the most collaborative band, especially in the sense that no idea gets rejected, we do everything. It’s really warts and all, sometimes good, sometimes bad [laughs].

I wanted to ask you about the Hierophants song ‘Everything In Order’; what inspired that one?

ZO: That was nearly going to be a Traffik Island song. That was inspired by, I broke my arm quite badly and had surgery. I spent a couple of weeks doing demos one-handed, that song was one of the one-handed songs [laughs]. Jake [Robertson] heard it and asked if Hierophants could do it. I was trying to do a show tune-y kind of thing [laughs]. Someone told me that the hook is the same from a song from a Disney movie [laughs]. I was trying to do something Robyn Hitchcock-y, when he does these ridiculous sounding show tunes.

I love the lyrics in it: you don’t need friendship anyway / you don’t need family anyway.

ZO: [Laughs] Don’t quote me on that one, it’s a character who is wrong, because you do need family and friends.

What about the song ‘Limousine’?

ZO: It’s about the obvious, but the funny thing about it is that I think I subconsciously took that from watching a Paul Simon interview. He was on the Dick Cavett Show from back in the ‘70s and he was talking about writing a song about someone that’s trapped by fame and they’re riding around in their limousine. Subconsciously years down the track I just wrote that! I re-watched that interview recently and realised I took it [laughs]. The song is original, I promise! The seed of the song maybe I took from Paul Simon.

Do you have a favourite track on the new Traffik Island Sweat Kollecta’s LP?

ZO: I like ‘Rubber Stamps’ it’s the least beats/DJ Shadow-y one. It’s a short instrumental, sort of exotica, ‘60s kind of sounding, crappy Beach Boys instrumental one. It came out the easiest.

I notice though different lyrics or song titles there’s a humour and lightness to your music.

ZO: Humour is always good, it takes the edge off. Frank Zappa had a humorous side or Devo did too, they had a real sense of humour and both had been big influences on me. It’s not too conscious for me. It is a bit easier if you put a sense of humour on things, it’s easier to put it out into the world because… I’m kind of lost for words…

Because it’s too personal? And you’re not overtly putting yourself out there?

ZO: Yeah. I think if people put irony in their music it protects them from criticism. People don’t criticise things, they just say that I’m being ironic. That’s not why I’m trying to be funny in the songs though, I guess it just makes it more enjoyable. I don’t think anyone wants to be yelled at [laughs].

I wanted to ask you about one of my favourite ORB songs, ‘Space Between The Planets’…

ZO: Oh nice! That’s mainly Daff’s song, it took us ages to do that one, we got a bit lost in the riffage [laughs]. It turned out well in the end. There’s no secret with the ORB songs, everyone brings riffs and we smash ‘em together and hope they turn out good—it’s that boneheaded! [laughs].

It’s fun to have that too.

ZO: Yeah, the goal was just to have a fun band and just turn it up! We wanted to make it fun live and be nice and loud, because a lot of our stuff was never like that.

Do you write every day?

ZO: Yeah, in some sense. I haven’t done any acoustic guitar writing in ages. I come to the studio every day I can. I make noises in some sense but I’m not like Randy Newman on the piano every day, as much as I wish I was!

Do you have a particular way you go about writing songs?

ZO: At the moment, because I’m working on remixes and I’m trying to do a hip-hop thing with a friend from America, all the stuff is very beat-based. I’ll start that by just finding cool drum loops. It’s totally different from writing song songs on the guitar, proper songs I guess, is that I usually try to hum a melody first in the shower or something, the catchiest bit, the bit everyone usually remembers about the song. If I can come up with a line or a chorus without any instruments first and then I’ll go to the guitar or the piano and work out what the chords are and go from there. That usually works.

Where did your interest in hip-hop come from?

ZO: It’s always been a faint interest. I grew up skateboarding so there’s lots of great songs in skateboarding videos…

Like A Tribe Called Quest!

ZO: Yeah, heaps of that and even stuff like DJ Shadow. A lot of new release hip-hop came out last year that I really liked.

What kind of stuff?

ZO: Quelle Chris had this album called Guns. There’s another guy I like too called Billy Woods he did an album called Hiding Places. They don’t give into the tropes of hip-hop and the beats are a lot weirder, psychedelic is the only way that I could describe it. There’s FX on the vocals and lots of echo. It’s not focusing on the tropes of gangsta stuff, they’re not rapping about cash or cars, it’s more introverted and weird. It kicked off my interest in it more. Obviously things like Madlib and MF Doom; I was late to the MF Doom thing but when I got into it, it was all I listened to for a year.

I love his Danger Doom project and the song ‘Benzie Box’ is an all-time favourite.

ZO: Hell yeah!

My brother and I owned a skateboard shop in the late ‘90s, he had one in the ‘80s too, and I loved all the skate vids with the hip-hop and punk soundtracks.

ZO: That’s cool. It’s such a good way to get into stuff. I’m very thankful for all those movies they really got me into stuff that I still listen to now.

Do you have a song of yours that stands out as one of the quickest ones to write?

ZO: ‘Looking Up’ it’s a song on Nature Strip. I never write songs in one sitting but that one was written in an hour, the whole thing; that’s never ever happened to me before. I said, ok, I’m going to sit down and write a song and then that came out really quickly.

What do you find challenging about songwriting?

ZO: Trying to be too tricky! It’s really a problem that you can get lost in that. I’ve been trying to make songs for around ten years now and you think that progressing with songwriting, you should have more complex melodies and complex chords, but it’s not necessarily the case. You have to try to remind yourself of that all of the time. There’s been times where I try to make the craziest song that I can and have weird chords and a fancy melody but it just turns out shit! If it’s not memorable, it’s just not going to have a connection with anyone. Instinct and when it comes out naturally and quickly, that usually resonates with people more and is more memorable.

When you’re working on things and they’re not working do you try and push through that or do you give up and move on to something else?

ZO: Usually I move on to something else. Sometimes I do just sit there banging my head against the wall for aaaaaages! That never works usually.

Is there anything you do in those times like go for a walk or something?

ZO: I should! [laughs]. But, nah. I really fucking just try to get something out of it. The only other thing that does work is before I go to sleep, when I’m lying in bed; that’s usually the best time for it. You’ll be thinking about your songs and that’s usually when things happen.

Do you think it’s because you’re more relaxed?

ZO: It must be, it has to be.

Do you do anything else creative outside of music?

ZO: Not really. I do some painting every now and then. My dad is a really good drawer and tattoo artist, so I kind of did that before I was doing music. I used to make poems all the time as a kid and that turned into songs. Making music is my main creative outlet, unless you count cooking! I try and cook more frequently now. My girlfriend is a really good cook.

What’s one of your favourite things to cook?

ZO: Lately I’ve just been going for all the different kinds of roasts and trying to master each one [laughs]. Cooking is just really good in general though, especially if you put aside the whole night and take your time. I love doing that!

I love cooking too, I find it really relaxing.

ZO: Yeah, totally.

You mentioned before that you’re working a hip-hop project; are you working on anything else?

ZO: I’m just trying to collaborate as much as I can this year. Because of the situation in the world right now, a lot of my friends that make music are staying inside right now and we’re all just sending music between each other right now and making things together. I was starting another Traffik Island one but I just ended up sending all of those ideas to friends to put stuff over the top. I’m working on things right now but I don’t know exactly what it is right now. I definitely just want to get into doing more collaborative stuff.

Why do you like working collaboratively so much?

ZO: Them bringing something to it that I could never possibly conceive. Just them adding something to it, some of my friends can come up with melodies that I would never imagine! Some people are just better at certain things.

What’s a song you’ve collaborated on that you were totally surprised where someone took it?

ZO: The first song on Peanut Butter… [Bits and Peace (Bullant Remix)] it was remixed by my friend Joe [Walker]. That one is basically the only song on the record made up of samples. I played some of my favourite records into my computer and gave him all the bits, they weren’t in time or anything like that and I told him to make a song out of all those noises—he sent me that! Impressed.

The film clip for your song ‘Ulla Dulla’ is pretty fun.

ZO: My friend John [Angus Stewart] made that, I know everyone says their friend is talented but, he IS insanely talented. He did some other clips, some King Gizzard [And The Lizard Wizard] ones. He asked me if he could make a clip for me. I said, sure. We wanted to try to really go above and beyond and to really try and push through the boundary. We did the clip and it was so tiring, we started at midday and I got home at one in the morning. We were driving all around the city, I think only two or three locations made it into the final clip but there was six. I had to do that dance to that song hundreds of times, I reckon [laughs]. Then it sat around for a couple of months because the album got pushed and of course in that time I started freaking out about it and got real paranoid. I was just so scared of being so open and vulnerable like that. I saw him at a party a few weeks before it came out and went up to him and told him that I don’t think I could go through with the video. He was not having a bar of it. He was like, “Don’t give me that stoner bullshit! It’s coming out.” [laughs].

What was it about it that made you freak out?

ZO: It was just so much of me! I didn’t want it to be The Zak Olsen Show… that kind of shot started getting to me. In the end I’m glad it came out. It definitely elevates the song a bit more. I’m really glad.

You did a lot of touring with ORB last year, right?

ZO: We did an Australian tour with Thee Oh Sees, then we went to America and Europe, so lots of moving around.

How do you find travelling so much?

ZO: Personally, I love it. There’s this weird thing about touring this feeling that… where people can feel like bands are running from responsibility… we were touring with King Gizzard and those guys work, it’s like seven James Browns! …it’s not the case with them, they work way harder than any other band I’ve ever met! If you’re into the second month of touring and you haven’t really made much and there’s not much time to make songs you can kind of get in a weird limbo mode where you think; what am I doing every day? I’m just playing the same songs!

It’s sort of like the movie Groundhog Day?

ZO: Yeah. But it’s still better than any other job you could have. You have to be careful of getting into the bad habits of drinking every day and eating shit food all the time.

Where do you get your hard work ethic from?

ZO: Probably my dad, he’s a little bit of a hard arse [laughs]. I can’t stand the feeling of not thinking I’m doing enough or giving enough. Having said that though, I do love staying in bed all day on Sunday! For me the guilt of not doing enough is way worse than just getting up and doing it.

Please check out: Traffik Island. ORB. Hierophants. @traffik_islanda on Instagram. Button Pusher.

Primo! on New Record Sogni: “Break ups, moving homes, starting new jobs and other life decisions. We focused on the theme of decision making”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Violetta Del Conte-Race and Xanthe Waite of Melbourne band Primo! gave us an insight into new LP Sogni. This record feels fresh and finds Primo! building on their post-punk sensibilities, experimenting more – the record features saxophone, violin and sound created by dry beans being poured in a bowl. Listening to a Primo! album is like having a conversation with your best friend, you walk away feeling like you can face anything and that you’ve totally got this! Life’s a bunch of choices, make the right decision and buy this record.

Something I’ve always really loved in Primo’s music is the clean guitar; what inspired you towards this sound?

VIO: We enjoy experimenting with different guitar sounds including distortion, pitch shift and chorus, but the clean guitar is great because it contrasts with those harsher or stranger guitar sounds and provides a grounding for the song, particularly a clean rhythm guitar. 

What got you writing for your new record Sogni?

XANTHE: We had a burst of writing over the summer of 2018/19… from memory we kind of set a challenge to try and come up with some new songs because we had been tinkering away for a while without having anything particularly concrete. Most of the songs are really of a time for this reason. There were a lot of changes going on for all of us – break ups, moving homes, starting new jobs and other life decisions. We focused on the theme of decision making as a starting point for the songs … like how do people make decisions and why, acknowledging that there is not always a choice and external factors force change as well. Not all of the demos made it onto the album and it’s a loose theme but that is what got us writing.

Sogni is an Italian word and translates to “dreams”; where did the album’s title come from?

VIO: I was researching Italian words, looking up what certain English words translate to and the idea of dreams came up because of our song ‘Reverie’. When I saw the word ‘sogni’ I liked it because it also kind of looked like the word ‘song’ and I thought dreams really related to a lot of the themes on the record like decision making and matters of the heart because they are things you imagine, dream of or hope for.

This record was collectively written during rehearsals and developed further in a live setting; is there a particular song on the record that took an unexpected turn during that process from where it began that you can tell us about?

VIO: The song ‘Rolling Stone’ took a bit of an unexpected turn during recording. Towards the end of the song we hadn’t quite finalised what we would do, so Amy added the layers of saxophone and I think it really takes the song to a different place than where it starts. Love Amy’s saxophone playing! 

The vocal harmonies in Primo are always so frickin’ cool; how do you approach harmonising in your songs?

VIO: We all really like singing together and have a lot of fun trying out different harmonies or ideas for vocals. Often we sing the same thing in unison with slight differences but on this record we tried to work out harmonies in a bit more of a concrete way, which the recording process helped with as we could listen back to things to hear what worked.

What’s your favourite song on Sogni; can you tell us a little bit about it please?

XANTHE: I think ‘Comedy Show’ and ‘1000 Words’ are two of my faves, I like how they turned out. I like the composition of these songs especially the way the saxophone, keys/synths weave into Primo!’s normal instrumentation. 

Photos courtesy of Primo! Insta.

The final track on your album “Reverie” feels really intimate; what did you tap into to create that mood?

VIO: ‘Reverie’ does have a different mood than our other songs, I think we tapped into the moment of all being there together. From memory, it was the last song we recorded on the day, and I don’t think we had rehearsed it prior to the recording, it was just an idea I had demoed at home. We worked out our approach to playing it while we were in the studio, sitting around in a circle. Later on I added some keys and Xanthe overdubbed some beautiful violin. 

One of the themes that are broached on the record is practicalities of work and daily life; how do you balance your creative life verses the daily grind?

XANTHE: I find the tension of being busy with work and stuff is weirdly conducive to being productive creatively. If I’m working hard at a job or study I tend to value the free time I have more when and know what I want to do with it, which is usually to play, write or record music. Having said that I’ve never really done it any other way. It would be interesting to have a full year of just working on music without doing another thing such as work or study. Maybe we would write five albums or maybe we would struggle to write one… We may never know!

What’s one of your biggest challenges in regards to your creativity? 

XANTHE: I’m really missing being able to play music with Vi, Suz and Amy in person.  I am also doing a law degree at the moment which puts a bit more pressure on the balance I talked about in the question above, it’s a lot of work but I’m loving it and have music plans for the next Uni holiday… looking forward to that.

The world is in such a weird and uncertain place right now, it could be easy to feel a little down with everything that’s going on, isolation etc.; what’s something that never fails in cheering you up?

VIO: Going for a walk and seeing nature, even something growing in someone’s garden, really cheers me up.

Please check out: PRIMO! Primo! on Instagram. Sogni available now via Anti Fade Records.

Program’s Jonno Ross-Brewin: “We’re all about jamming in as many riffs and melody as possible”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Melbourne’s Program play catchy as fuck power pop. The songs off their debut album Show Me get stuck in your head, so much so that later in your day after listening to them you’ll find yourself humming the melodies to yourself. We spoke to Program co-founder Jonno Ross-Brewin.

Program released their debut album Show Me in October last year; have you been working on anything new?

JR-B: Rory [Heane] and I have been working on stuff for quite a while now. We’re constantly working on stuff. We’re working on the next album, we’re in the early stages.

How long were you working on Show Me for? It took a while, right?

JR-B: It was because it was the first record for the band, we didn’t really mess around with demos or anything. You could say Rory and I were writing songs for a couple of years before it came out. We were in another band before this one for years, we were kind of a mathy-punk-emo-jam band. For a couple of years we started playing guitar, because neither of us played guitar that much. It probably took a year from when we formed the group.

What inspired you towards the sound you have now?

JR-B: How we were feeling about everything. I used to write much more angsty stuff when I was younger because that’s how I felt. Now that I’m older – I’m not sure if it comes across in the music though – there’s a resignation and acceptance and maybe even a slight comedy about stuff. I’m seeing things in a lighter way, I’m being a bit lighter about things. I still feel the same ways I did then but, I’m just better at dealing with stuff. I know what is useful and what to act on and what you can’t really change.

Lyrically Show Me is quite personal.

JR-B: Especially for me. The tracks that I wrote were pretty personal. There’s definitely a mix in writing but the ones that I sung on were ‘Tailwind Blues’, ‘Program’, ‘Unexpected Plans’ and ‘They Know’.

Was there anything in particular that you were going through in your life when you wrote them?

JR-B: Yeah. ‘Unexpected Plans’ and ‘Tailwind Blues’ are basically based on a failed romantic endeavour, where I flew over to the USA for somebody.

Awww man, that sucks, I’m sorry. Why did you decide to kick the record off with ‘Another Day’?

JR-B: That’s what we’re feeling at the moment, there’s elements of repetition and boredom of our lives, that kind of stuff.

I noticed the album has really bright sounding jangly guitars all over it.

JR-B: A lot of that is just from the guitar that I started learning to play guitar on, it’s an old Japanese Fender imitation thing. The stuff that we’ve been writing is definitely inspired by Big Star and more poppy kind of stuff like The Kinks, a lot of Replacements—a lot of heartfelt power pop.

What did you listen to growing up?

JR-B: Neither of us really came from musical families at all. Our parents are the kind of people that would just listen to The Eagles or Bob Marley. When we were kids Rory and I listened to a lot of stuff that I’m probably a bit too embarrassed to mention [laughs]. I was a massive Red Hot Chilli Peppers fan when I was a kid, and that’s what got me into music. Later on there was stuff like The Strokes, stuff like that has massively influenced us.

I’ve seen Red Hot Chilli Peppers live five times and every time they’ve totally sucked. I was so disappointed, because growing up I’d listen to them too.

JR-B: Yeah, I feel exactly the same way too. I only saw them once, when I was eighteen, and that was the last time I listened to them in a non-ironic haha sort of way. They came out for album Stadium Arcadium when they were well after their prime, I was very disappointed. I thought that I was watching little robot ants from a distance.

Pretty much everyone I talk to that’s seen them says they are boring live. You hear them recorded, see their videos and live footage of them overseas and I think, they might be great to see live, then you do and it’s boring! I actually fell asleep at one of their shows.

JR-B: Where was it?

At an Entertainment Centre like a big arena.

JR-B: That’s probably why, because the place was too big. I don’t really rate big venues. All my favourite moments of live music have always been pretty intimate, in bars and smaller settings… except The Pixies, they’re always amazing no matter where they are. I saw them at Golden Plains recently and I saw them ten years ago at Festival Hall, both times amazing!

What’s been one of your favourite musical moments in an intimate setting?

JR-B: Probably my favourite band, who we’re all mates with too, is Possible Humans—I LOVE seeing those guys. We played their launch at The Tote. Every time I see them I love it. They’re really lovely dudes, amazingly lovely dudes!

You and Rory started Program around 2016 but have known each other since the first week of primary school…

JR-B: Yeah, since we were five!

That’s pretty amazing to have a friendship for that long.

JR-B: It’s wild! We live together as well. It helps us make music, we understand what each other wants.

Can you tell us a little bit about the recording of Show Me?

JR-B: We recorded most of it live except the vocals and a few overdubs. We did that in a day down in Geelong, in Billy [Gardner]’s warehouse. Billy from Anti Fade has this little rehearsal studio down in these old army barracks in Geelong. We drove down to Geelong for the day.

What made you want to do it live?

JR-B: We just heard his Civic recordings and we thought that sounded amazing! I’m pretty sure they did most of it live as well, so we were really happy for him to do it. There wasn’t too much thought actually, we were like, let’s just do this! We weren’t even sure about it all to be honest until we heard it.

We would have officially formed the band in 2018, Rory and I had songs we were doing but we hadn’t officially got anyone together. We were probably just jamming for about a year because we didn’t even know what we were going to sound like and it took a while. We started playing a few shows, mainly house parties. Not long after that Rory bumped into Billy at a party and Billy said “I’d like to record you guys”. We were lucky. When Billy was mixing it, he got an idea of it and just asked if he could put it out. He seemed to really like it. Things just really worked out.

I love that there’s so much melody on the album.

JR-B: There’s a lot of that. We’re all about jamming in as many riffs and melody as possible.

What was the thought behind the album art?

JR-B: The idea was Rory’s but it was a group effort. We went through a lot of ideas of me trying to draw up stuff and it was getting close to the release date and Rory was like “What about kids playing Four Square?” I found a cool image of it and the album is called Show Me and the vibe is the idea of having a young view of the world, not knowing what to do. I did the little squiggly bits then our bassist James Kane came in – he does a lot of posters and stuff so he’s really good on the design perspective – we put it together. I did the drawings and James put it together on Photoshop and did the font.

It sounds like everything just happens really organically for you guys?

JR-B: Yeah, I think it’s because we’re all really old friends. Jessie [Fernandez] and the two James’ we’ve all known each other for ten years. It was all very low-key, let’s just get these dudes because we like them. Jessie saw our first show and told us she’d been playing keys and asked if she could play keys for us, and after six months we said, let’s do it! She’s not on the album because we recorded it before she joined. Hopefully keys are going to be really prominent on the next recording.

What kind of direction are you headed in now sound-wise?

JR-B: With the songs we’ve done we’ve set it up so there’s kind of different genres in each song – some songs are more punky, others are more poppy, some are even folky – I think we’re going to still run with that for a bit. We’ll keep doing this until it sounds shit and then we’ll probably try something else.

What’s the part of songwriting you find challenging?

JR-B: I find the details challenging [laughs]. I’m better at coming up with chords and a vocal melody. Rory is a much better musician than I am, he’s really good at all the technical stuff and riffs.

My lyrics are very direct and personal. I don’t like them to be too overthought. I like them being accessible and easy to hear but upon more analysis they mean more. I try to do that, I don’t know if that actually happens though [laughs].

I really like the track ‘Memory’ on the record I think it’s a good blend of Rory and I as writers. There’s not much effort put into it but I really like the result, it sees effortless.

Do you edit yourself much?

JR-B: Definitely. Usually I’ll write on my phone and then go over it and fine tune it over a period of months. It never ends up being anywhere near what I initially write. I always reduce it to all that’s needed. We definitely spend a lot of time on the tracks.

Who are the songwriters you admire?

JR-B: My gods are David Bowie and Neil Young. I like how epic Bowie is and how heartfelt Young is. There’s a lot I like though. Maybe Ray Davies as well, I like his tongue-in-cheek and catchiness.

What’s been influencing the songs you’ve been writing lately?

JR-B: The same everyday stuff and personal things.

What do you do outside of music?

JR-B: I work full-time as an Operating Theatre Technician. I set up for surgery. Most of my music just takes up everything around that.

What an interesting job.

JR-B: It is at the start. I work in a smallish hospital with the same surgeons, so you get to know each surgeon and what they’re like then it becomes pretty repetitive and dull. But in some ways it’s good because I’ll be sitting there and in my head can be coming up with lyrics. Rory does the same thing, we both work in the same place.

Wow! You guys are so linked.

JR-B: Yep, that’s it!

It’s pretty special to share so many things in life with someone.

JR-B: Yeah, I’m pretty grateful. It’s pretty amazing!

Anything else you want to tell me?

JR-B: I think at the end of all this isolation period there’s going to be so many people coming out with stuff. Rory and I are working on demos. We’re just trying to make good songs, nice songs. We’re on to the next one and excited about that!

Please check out: PROGRAM. Show Me out on Anti Fade Records. Program on Facebook. Program on Instagram.

Nellie Pearson From Melbourne Brat-beat Punk Band Ubik: “We’re all sitting at home getting weird because of the global pandemic. Instead of being at all productive… I wear soft pants and play video games”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

We love Melbourne’s Ubik with their brat-beat anarcho-punk stylings. They’re inspired by sci-fi & horror films as well as politics; who can tell the difference between the two right now though, with politics in Australia feeling like a sci-fi dystopian horror movie. We interviewed bassist-vocalist Nellie Pearson.

How did you discover music?

NELLIE PEARSON: I grew up with my parents being obsessed with classical music, and being forced/being privileged to learn classical instruments. As soon as I had any independence I started obsessing about modern music, reading old Q magazines at the library as a tween, buying Oasis cassingles etc.

How did you first get into making your own music?

NP: My first band was over a decade ago in Wellington; me and some other young women decided to all give it a go for the first time since we were a bit sick of seeing a heavily cis-dude hardcore scene. Thought it couldn’t be that fucking hard. It wasn’t! mostly.

What’s a record that had a really big impact on you; what was it about it?

NP: Honestly I’m a bit of a song magpie; I listen to my personal greatest hits of every band so often don’t go deep into a full album anymore (since it became an Online Streaming World). I refuse to apologise for this. The two DiE 7”s I was obsessed with for ages. I’m also a huge fan of ’90s British sort of stuff, so the Stone Roses self-titled has certainly had a huge impact on me. Definitely honed my ears for how a rhythm section can work together.

When you first started Ubik everyone had other bands – Masses, Red Red Krovvy and Faceless Burial + more; what inspired you to start Ubik?

NP: Tessa and Ash had plans to do like… an oi band I think? Then I inserted myself and suggested my friend Chris as a drummer. It was his first time in a band and Tessa’s first time playing guitar/writing. We sort of just went from there, had fun and ran with it.

You’ve had a couple of line-up changes; what’s something you can tell me about each person in your current line-up?

NP: Only one line-up change; Max has been the drummer for over 3 years, and we’ve been a band for less than 4. Ash and Tessa own two fluffy weird cats each. Max has a giant young dog and I have a tiny old dog. 

What’s your favourite song you’ve written? What’s it about?

NP: My favourite is ‘Sleep’. It has equal doses of dumb head bang and fiddly fun bits for me to play, personally. And good dynamics within the structure. I think it’s just about anxiety induced insomnia, which is something most people can identify with. 

Vid by PBS 106.7fm.

On the Ubik/Cold Meat split release each of you have a homage to amazing women in punk, Siouxsie Sioux and Exene Cervenka of X; why did you chose to cover X’s “Nausea”?

NP: We supported Cold Meat when they visited Melbourne (the first time but not the last time that happened, I think?), and we were all fans of each other. The singers of both bands are redheaded childcare workers called Ash so we were drunk and like hurhurhur Ash and Bizarro Ash (I still don’t know which is which). The split idea happened, and they had done their Banshees cover that night so we thought we’d get matchy-matchy.

Last year Ubik released Next Phase MLP; what sparked the idea to write the songs ‘John Wayne (Is A Cowboy (And Is On Twitter)’?

NP: This is one of my favourites, Ash-lyrics-wise. I believe it’s directed at internet right-wingers, trolls, MRAs, and other general digital filth. Skewering the misunderstanding of “free speech”, and pointing out how “free thinking” doesn’t often overlap with critical thinking.

What about “Peter Dutton Is A Terrorist”?

NP: Peter Dutton IS a terrorist. Music-wise, Tessa wanted to do another very anarcho song, so I always picture myself in a ‘80s squat playing this one. The lyrics that Ash wrote do a great job of expressing the shame and sadness regarding Australia’s offshore concentration camps, and the horrifying treatment that Peter Dutton and other potato-headed fascist stool samples think is justified in regards to refugees and asylum seekers. Just an utter lack of the basics of humanity.

Mikey Young recorded and mixed Next Phase MLP and your self-titled EP and mixed and mastered the Cold Meat split; how did you come to working with him?

NP: The self-titled EP was actually recorded by Adam Ritchie in the same session as the Cold Meat split. Max and Mikey go way back both personally and musically, so it was a great choice. It was very quiet and laid-back, and we were doing it all in one day (minus box) so we all just put our heads down and worked. He was, as usual, impeccable.

Who in the band has a love for sci-fi and horror films? You had song “The Fly” and one of your shirts featured Debbie Harry when she was in Videodrome; can you recommend anything else cool we should check out?

NP: I’m pretty sure all of us are sci-fi and horror fans. Genre stuff definitely goes with the punk territory in general. Me and Ash in particular are big on Cronenberg. Most of it has naturally stemmed from the name (evidently the Phillip K Dick book), and Ash’s specific interests, since she writes all the lyrics. I’ve been watching a lot of ‘90s movies with their visions of futuristic virtual reality; very pretty, very silly, very fun. Apart from the obvious Johnny Mnemonic, recently I really liked Virtuosity, where Russell Crowe plays a virtual reality murderer who crosses over into the real world. 

Have you been working on new music?

NP: Both me and Tessa have scraps of stuff, and we had one or two songs almost ready by the end of the Next Phase recording session. However we’ve all been madly busy, then we toured Japan, and now we’re all sitting at home getting weird because of the global pandemic. Instead of being at all productive while staying at home, I wear soft pants and play video games.

Other than making music do you do anything else creative?

NP: Most of my time is taken up with bands. I used to write but I realised I hate it.  Give me two more weeks of social distancing/isolation and I’ll probably start a podcast, just to make 2020 even worse.

Please check out: UBIK. Ubik demo on Lost In Fog Records/Distro. Ubik’s self-titled EP via Aarght Records. Next Phase MLP via Iron Lung Records. Ubik/Cold Meat split via Helta Skelta Records.

Shepparton Airplane’s Matt Duffy on new LP Sharks: “People are often ‘sharks’… it touches on the darker side of humanity… particularly men are the worst sharks of all”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Melbourne’s Shepparton Airplane are about to unleash their best album yet into the world. Sharks sees the band stride confidently into a more noisy and in moments more punky and shoegaze-y territory than previous efforts that were rooted firmly in ’90s post-punk and ’80s oz-rock. This is a mature evolution garnered from years of playing together and the synthesises of true mateship. We spoke to guitarist-vocalist Matt Duffy to dive deep into the making of Sharks, and we also discovered his deep seated love for band, Fuagzi.

We’ve been listening to your new record Sharks a lot since we got the sneak peek a week or so ago, it’s almost time for it to be released into the world; how are you feeling?

MATT DUFFY: We’re really happy with it. We went to a bit more effort than we have with the last two [Self-titled and Almurta]. We’re happy with how it sounds, especially since we got the test pressings back and can actually listen to it on vinyl—it sounds awesome!

Did you have an idea for what you wanted it to sound like from the beginning?

MD: Yeah, we did. We recorded a lot of stuff. Before we recorded that album we had twenty-something songs, some were finished, some not. We went through all of our recordings from rehearsals and the ten that we picked for the record just seemed to work together really well as a full experience rather than a bunch of songs just slapped together.

The record seems a lot more shoegaze-y and noisy and punky as well compared to previous releases.

MD: Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff going on. In one way it’s all over the shop but somehow it all makes sense. The two albums before have certain feels throughout them and didn’t jump around a lot like this one. We jam a lot and come up with all kinds of things.

I think I like this one the best out of all of your albums.

MD: [Laughs] I think we do too! I know the band always likes their latest thing the most though! [laughs]. The first two albums we did all ourselves but this time we thought we should go to a really nice studio [Sing Sing Recording Studios] and get some cool sounds, record on tape and put it in someone else’s hands to get an outside perspective. I think that helped a lot doing something different.

You worked with producer Anna Laverty.

MD: Yeah, she’s awesome! Most of us have worked with her before, half the band is in The Peep Tempel and she’s recorded all of their albums. I did some stuff with them too even though I’m not in that band. We’ve got a good working relationship with her, she’s great to bounce ideas off and tell us when we’ve done something good or not good [laughs]. She’s really, really, really good at what she does and she’s a good friend. It made sense to do it with her.

I love album opener ‘Citrus’ it’s a beautiful song.

MD: That song came out of nowhere. Most of our songs come from the four of us bashing it out in the rehearsal room. We work on things on our own too though, that was one that Steve [Carter] our drummer brought in. He had it half-formed, he did a recording at home on this electronic drum kit and a bunch of synths and we just added guitars to it. Once the whole band gets into a song it usually changes into something even better. That song took on a few different forms, it morphed from a weird electro thing to a shoegaze-y thing. When we recorded with Anna she said it had an indigenous-feel to it, she said it sounded like percussion with sticks. We never had really thought of it that way. It had an English ‘90s shoegaze-feel to an Australian desert touch to it.

I put it on first thing this morning and it’s actually a really nice song to start your day.

MD: I think so too. It does get a bit chaotic though [laughs]. It was always going to be the first song on the album, it’s a cruisy instrumental.

What were the songs that you worked on by yourself and brought into everyone?

MD: The second one [‘Say What Again’] was one that I had started about a year ago just messing around. When I record something on my own I don’t necessarily think it’s going to be a Shepparton Airplane song, I just do stuff for fun. I had all the music done and thought it could work well with the band; someone always brings something new to stuff and it really brings it to life! It’s quite exciting when that happens. There’s been a few on the album that was someone’s throw away song but together we’ve moulded it into something cool. The lyric ideas sometimes come from one of us just shouting things freeform and then someone else might get an idea for the lyrics. It’s great having freedom in the band where no one is calling the shots, we’re all in together.

Another track I really loved on the album is ‘No Stars’.

MD: That was an epic jam that came out of nowhere. At one point it was 16 minutes long, we kept chopping it down. Longer it was a little bit too self-indulgent [laughs]. We eventually got it down to eight and a half minutes.

What’s the song ‘Fear’ about?

MD: That just came together from jamming it out. Myself and Stu the bass player were both at the time talking about a bunch of documentaries we’d been watching on cults. We both had written a bunch of lyrics on that topic, we put them together and realised we’d written the same song! Music-wise it came together so organically, we didn’t labour over it too much. There’s bits in it… though it may not totally sound like it but, to us we can hear influences in it, there’s a Slayer bit, a guitar part that sounds like it, or an AC/DC part. Lyrically you may be talking about cults but you may as well be talking about government. We never try to write too topical though because stuff can often become dated. We don’t want to do what everyone else is doing too.

What kind of feeling do you get when you play?

MD: That’s a good question. There’s a lot of adrenalin, even in the quieter moments. The way we feed off each other works well. There’s a really good chemistry between us and I feel that’s infectious with the punters too, we all feed of each other. We have a party but it’s also dark and joyous too.

The new album is very much a journey.

MD: I’m glad that you said that, I’ve been trying to write bios and stuff and I started writing and used that word but thought it sounded naff coming from me but, I’m so glad you’ve said that because we truly do feel that! [laughs].

It so is! You put it on and your start with ‘Citrus’ and then you go through the rollercoaster of emotions in each song before ending with ‘Fleeting’.

MD: I’ve felt it too. We really made sure we captured that when we chose the songs, put them together – there’s three short, loud punk songs we chucked in the middle – to take you places. We thought the two instrumentals were perfect to bookend it all. It’s all really beautiful. We didn’t want to take things too far though and put on it everything we’ve ever liked; we all love hip hop but were not going to do a hip hop song on this record. We couldn’t pull it off convincingly.

We were just talking about how there’s lots of cool guitar moments throughout the record; what’s your favourite?

MD: ‘No Stars’ because there’s so much going on. We had a scratchy recording of it and we turned it around and created a Yo La Tengo sounding song and turned it into an epic journey. We had to learn it again because we just made it up on the spot. The guitar in that is a highlight of the album for me. It’s probably the cleanest guitar we’ve done too, a lot of our earlier stuff is driven and distorted. We don’t usually use loads of effects too, that song is a guitar plugged straight into an amp.

Until you guys got to this album I don’t think I ever would have used the word beautiful to describe your music.

MD: [Laughs] I certainly wouldn’t have either!

The album has a really nice feel.

MD: Yeah. Because we’ve been playing for a few years now we’re able to do a lot more things, we’ve developed and we sincerely mean what we’re playing—we own it and play it convincingly. We really wanted to make the album move around, some of my favourite bits are the most pleasant bits!

Anna has worked with Lady Gaga and Florence and the Machine who are poppy and have a really slick sound; do you think she helped in getting you to the sound on this record too?

MD: Yeah, she’s done all kinds of stuff. One of her biggest qualities is that she gets what we’re doing. She saw us live a few times and always said she’d love to work with us. She worked well in terms of not getting in the way of anything, she let us do everything we wanted. She’s great for positive reinforcement. It was a pleasant experience.

Where did the album title Sharks come from?

MD: Steve threw that out one day, I was immediately “I’m in” because I’m obsessed with sharks [laughs], they’re incredible. There’s so many different ideas you can draw from the word sharks. People are often “sharks”. If there is an underlying theme on the record it’s that it touches on the darker side of humanity. Sharks are seen as big fearsome creatures whereas in real life they’re not. But people sharks, particularly men are the worst sharks of all. The art work plays into that too, people hunting a shark, this is the fucked up things that people do.

How did you first come to playing guitar?

MD: When I was a little kid around eight, my sister who is ten years older than me had a crappy acoustic guitar. She was learning it at school but didn’t do anything with it so I got it and when I was twelve I got my first electric guitar. I really got into it in my teens. I spent about ten years playing bass in bands then came back to the guitar. I’m not a virtuoso but I’m happy with that because it lends itself to more creativity. If you don’t know if things you’re playing is wrong, all you have to do is care if you think it sounds good. You can give yourself nightmares or you can bliss out! [laughs]. I love having the freedom to do whatever.

Anything else to tell me?

MD: A lot early on we were more conscious that we didn’t want to sound like anyone else. We’d come up with something we’d think sounded really cool and then listen back to a song and be like, that sounds exactly like Fugazi! We love Fugazi but we can’t sound exactly like them, otherwise people are going to think we sound like Fugazi [laughs]. This time around we were like, oh, that sounds like Hüsker Dü or that sounds like Sonic Youth and we’re like, fuck it who cares what anyone else thinks! We love those bands, why pretend we’re not influence by them. Freeing ourselves up from that was a real turning point for us.

Did you see Fugazi when they came to Australia?

MD: I did! They’re pretty much my #1 favourite band ever, still to this day! They’re incredible live. I can’t deny their influence on everything I have ever done really [laughs]. They’re one of those bands that are four people playing together that really feed off each other and improvise a lot and there’s a real connection that goes beyond people writing songs. It was in the late ‘90s more than 20 years ago! I saw them twice, two nights in a row. Steve our drummer and I went. I just remember being totally blown away. I have the recordings of those shows, because they recorded all of their shows over their career.

Yeah, you can buy them from Dischord.

MD: Yeah. I have a bunch of those, all the shows I’ve seen, you get to relive it! They were playing songs they hadn’t recorded yet – they played all my favourite songs off of all my favourite albums – I was like, what is all of this?! There was an interlude in the middle of the show and they were playing all this kind of stuff that I’d never heard them do. I was blown away. It was cool with everyone being there to see a band they love and hear all the songs they know but then Fugazi playing all this unheard stuff. I guess they just had the confidence to throw completely new things at us that was a real departure from their other stuff. I remember being completely impressed by that. Everything about them is incredible—there’s very few bands you can say that about.

Please check out: SHEPPARTON AIRPLANE. Sharks out April 17 on Wing Sing Records. SA on Facebook.