Melbourne Disco-Punk Band Use No Hooks’ Mick Earls: “I was exploring anything that was outside the cultural mainstream…”

Handmade collage by B.

This year Chapter Music released The Job which is a collection of lost recordings from between 1979-83 of Melbourne post-punk-disco-funk band, Use No Hooks. We spoke to UNH bandleader Mick Earls to get an insight into the band and that era of the Melbourne music scene. They were part of the experimental Little Band Scene. UNH were pioneers and rule breakers, it’s no surprise their music has stood the test of time to finally become revered today.

We’re really big fans of your band Use No Hooks! The album – The Job – of previously unreleased recordings that Chapter Music released this year is really ace!

MICK EARLS: Thank you. Can I ask you what it is that you like about it?

Of course! There’s so much. I really love punk rock but then I really love people that take it further, like what Use No Hooks do. It’s almost like your music has no rules and that there is a real freedom on the record. If you think back to the time period that you made it in and what else was going on, you realise that what you were doing was very different back then as well as even now. The lyrical content is still relevant now too.

ME: Well, thanks a lot! You’ve made a couple of really perceptive observations there about the freedom of it. You mentioned punk and you mentioned taking it a bit further, doing the best I can to think back to what we were thinking then, if you play that record to a lot of people who have a certain idea of what punk was they would think there is no connection because it doesn’t sound like the [Sex] Pistols. What we thought punk did was clear the ground for pop music to start again from scratch, it wasn’t just a new musical style, category or genre; it made it possible for literally anyone again to start playing music without any preconceptions of what they ought to be capable of or what was expected of them.

Fairly soon punk started to think of itself as a particular image and style, which is perhaps modelled on the British bands or American bands like the Ramones, or even going back into the Velvets a bit, these were models for new artists to aspire to, once it started to think of itself in that way it started to lose contact with that enabling idea—that music can start again from scratch. What became post-punk took up that idea and recovered that enabling idea, without feeling obligated to sound like punk. It was quite the contrary to go right away from it while still honouring the aesthetic. That aesthetic was put to work in many ways on many fronts during that period of ’78 to roughly ’84 in inner Melbourne and Sydney too.

In Melbourne it was still really quite a small scene and there wouldn’t have been more than a couple of hundred people who were aware of this and attending gigs and playing in the bands. It was very vibrant! There was certainly a freedom about it. Audiences had had their ears blasted off and they were kind of ready for something that might extend their sensibilities beyond what punk had done, and beyond what punk had wiped away to some extent. There was almost a clear horizon, where people were prepared to accept anything. We were one of those bands together with the Primitive Calculators, with that idea of starting from scratch without preconceptions and musical training. It’s not really a new idea though. If you for instance listen to the early Johnny Cash records in the ‘50s, he and his co-musicians could barely play their instruments but they did it in a way that was unprecedented, very distinctive and completely compelling; they did what they could with what they had without any vision of where it might lead them in the end. That’s the kind of things we were doing with the ‘Calculators.

It must have been an exciting time!

Photo courtesy of Chapter Music.

ME: Yes, there was a real sense that anything is possible. Myself and Arne Hanna got Use No Hooks going with drummer Steve Bourke. We all had sufficient musical experience and knowledge, we weren’t punks or starting off having played for five minutes. We knew quite a bit more than three chords and a beat. We were able to draw on that idea of starting again and to do it in a way anything was possible. We could pull in a really eclectic mix of elements coming from different music like surf, soul, electronic drone music, American minimalism and jazz, which had been taboo during the punk period. There was also disco and eventually the funk and rap that ended up on this LP.

The three of us got going with very minimal approaches to things. We would do things like bring in tape recorders with pre-recorded sound on them like, the TV and news broadcasts, which we would operate through reel-to-reel tape recorders—we were sampling it effectively. Our first band was called Sample Only, that’s what we were doing before we even knew we were doing it [laughs]. This was the kind of experimental process we took but then we started adding more players and changing players. We pretty much devised new material for every gig; a lot of it worked, a lot of it didn’t. There were long-form compositions with blending different elements usually over some kind of pumping beat in parts, then it would drift away into other things. Every now and again we would craft some songs. We had a singer and that singer might disappear [laughs] and if somebody else came along and offered themselves we would usually bring them in in some way or another; that’s what I meant by anything is possible.

You can hear some of that material on the digital downloads that came with this LP, some of the early material. Not so much the audio-collage drone music stuff though, the audio quality isn’t good enough to be included. We had to patch the stuff up quite a lot.

It wasn’t until the final phase of the band, which is the phase that produced the material on this album, that we had anything like a regular set-list and even probably formed songs. It was still experimental, in the sense that I had never written rap lyrics before; I just came up with a whole heap of almost clichés, familiar expressions you’d hear around worksites and hearing people in the media talk about work or politics and so on, that’s where I drew all that from. I thought of rap as a sort of rhyming machine.

At the time we had been playing these long soul, funk, disco grooves with a four-piece. After our singer Cathy Hopkins left, and our saxophone player at the time Michael Charles left, we just decided to bunker down and try to play long grooves that were danceable. We all loved American funk. We acquired a fabulous bass player called Andre Schuster who could play in that style, like the band Chic for instance. Steve the drummer left and Arne switched to drums because we wanted a more basic drumming style with steady beats and good solid tempos, which he could do without having prior experience as a drummer. Here we were on the punk idea—just do the best you can with what you’ve got!  

Hearing that material now for me, after all these years, that’s what I notice the most, the drumming on that record. I notice it more than the vocals or guitar and even the bass playing, it’s just done so right. We ended up playing that material without any idea of where it would go but it started to acquire a bit of a following and we started to play outside of the smaller venues and inner city pubs where we had played previously.

The excitement was there! It was also right outside the music industry. There was no sense that we should build up a following and make ourselves famous and get on Countdown. We had no idea what we were doing but, it seemed to work and here we are! [laughs].

What first inspired you to pick up a guitar?

ME: This was when I was a kid when I was really young, I’m a bit older than most of the others involved in this, I heard guitar music in the 1950s. In those days there was a lot of instrumental music on the radio in the Pop Charts. Duane Eddy was an American guitarist and theme from Peter Gunn was his big hit and then there was an Australian guitarist called Rob E. G. and then there was The Shadows and the surf bands and groups and the rock n roll guitars like the Elvis Presley records. I had an older cousin that looked like a rocker and had an electric guitar… and then along came The Beatles and so on, which almost became obligatory if you were interested in music to start playing guitar. You could get guitars relatively cheaply and bang away without really needing any sort of tuition. There were books, I basically just learnt out of books and just strumming away in my teenage bedroom [laughs].

I read that in the mid-1970s you were exposed to non-narrative experimental films at the Melbourne Filmmakers Co-op in Carlton; did that influence your creativity?

ME: Yeah, oh yeah! I did! It’s a bit of a personal idiosyncrasy in a way, I was exploring anything that was outside the cultural mainstream at the time, there was a lot going on. In Melbourne there was the Carlton Filmmakers Co-operative and they use to screen a lot of that stuff but there was also a place in Flemington called The New Music Centre, which was a government funded facility in an old church. It was mainly run by electronic and experimental composers coming from the classical music tradition and sound poets and people like that there.

Around the same time I also attended something that was a festival of tape music, music that was composed purely for recording. That was in a run-down factory space, behind the Filmmakers Co-op. I was also interested in writing, I was interested in contemporary literature and poetry. I was open to almost anything! These ideas got into how we compose music. You wouldn’t necessarily start off with an idea of beginning, middle and end, and a progression to get from a verse to a chorus to a pre-chorus; we didn’t bother with those ideas so much.

The non-narrative film style that really caught my attention was the minimalist style using repeating images. There was an Australia filmmaker called Paul Winkler whose films I saw quite a lot of. He would have maybe an image of a brick wall with almost a jackhammer kind of sound going, filmed through a handheld camera that would be shaking back and forwards in time with the jackhammer sound—that synchronised sound and music. You couldn’t take a real lot of it but, it had a very powerful affect. This is what I first thought of when I saw The Primitive Calculators play. It was very much small repeating cels of music played with a lot of distortion and a relentless drive coming from the drum machine.

Experiences of seeing those early films gave me a bit of a sensibility that enabled me to appreciate some of the things I was hearing the punk bands do, even though I was never going to be a punk player myself. I was very appreciative of it though and that’s what went in to Use No Hooks a bit. We used noise occasionally but also the aesthetic of minimalist repetition was something that underlaid most things we did from the earliest to the funk period. We realised that the idea of minimalist repetition could be taken and just applied to different music material, soul beats (which we did in the earlier stages), then disco beats (which we used much later). We’d make up rhythmic parts that would interact and repeat in a way that might be sustainable indefinitely. These were the ideas that went into what we were doing.

Improvisation and experimentation are very important parts of Use No Hooks’ way of doing things; why was this important to you?

ME: Part of this was political, politically inspired, because this was a period it almost seems impossible to imagine now but, very large numbers of people, young people especially, thought that there was some prospect of a major revolution in the Western world. Not in the sense of the Soviet Revolution but something where people could take charge of their own lives to some extent and build some kind of new society that couldn’t be programmed, I suppose. These ideas were very prevalent at the time and very influential and very powerful. People in the Arts in general were pretty much seized by them. The experimentation in a way you could see, was sort of an attempt at modelling how a new world could be constructed. A new society could be constructed from first principles which is what people across the Arts were doing. I’d say that perhaps might help give some understanding of why we felt driven to do this rather than to follow the accepted path of working out of a particular style, or format an image you wanted to follow and getting a manager and trying to promote it through the industry; it’s not what we were remotely interested in doing. The Primitive Calculators too! There were a lot of people in the punk scene that were interested in those ideas! An element of despair had kind of come in by that stage though, it’s not going to happen so we’re angry just the same.

Is there a Use No Hooks song that has a real significance to you?

ME: Not really. There are some I like more than others for the groove really. The ones that have significance for me personally are more of the earlier material, some stuff that didn’t make it on to the record or download. Lyrically, see none of it really has personal significance because all of the material, the rap-based stuff, is all impersonal; they’re all bits of language expression that have come from elsewhere, that have come out of common usage. That was the idea at the time, I wasn’t going to try to write about personal experience or values or so on, that comes through to certain extent in the irony that infuse all of those lyrics.

The track I’m most pleased with lyrically is “In The Clear”. There’s an emotional tenor in those lyrics that I like. There’s a humour. The humour that’s in it all seems to work pretty well. In terms of the groove, the music, “The Hook” is the one I like best. That nice bassline of Andre Schuster! The bluesy, slightly dirty harmonic element in it!

I understand that in 1984 Use No Hooks took a bit of a break because you were going to write new material; what kind of stuff were you writing then?

ME: Yep. Arne and I had decided that we wanted to get into Afrobeat, the music of Fela Kuti was something that we both were taken by. I first heard of a Fela Kuti record in 1971 and gathered quite a few recordings over the next ten years or so, and they influenced us a real lot. We didn’t really have the technical capabilities to compose that sort of music. We wanted to get into it partly because the stuff that we were doing on the record wasn’t working so well in live performance for various reasons. We thought if we got into more Afrobeat stuff… music on the record was pretty much put together in layers and sometimes that wouldn’t work live, if the tempo wasn’t right the song wouldn’t work, this was a problem we were having… because we didn’t pay attention to foldback and couldn’t hear ourselves on stage. We thought if we could compose music that had more interlocking parts where all the various rhythmic components leaned against each other or sat in each other’s space a lot more it would work better. Then we discover we didn’t have the technical expertise to do that. Then I had to get a job.

I had a very high-powered job and others went off to do other things. It just sort of died and never got back together. Although Arne Hanna went to Sydney and did a music degree and computer technology degree. He got into Afrobeat music big time and had a couple of bands of his own playing that music. He also then became a mainstay of the Sydney jazz scene as a guitarist doing session work for people, and also as a producer.

Finally after Arne and I got back together in 2016, I hadn’t played music really since 1984, he’d acquired the necessary expertise to compose in that style… we’ve since done a bit of work using those ideas, plus more sophisticated musical ideas that come out of Latin music and funk. That’s what become of that particular band.

Will you be putting out any of the newer stuff?

ME: We’re working in it! We did a few gigs as a duo, using computerised backing tracks, pretty much all new material. Some of the old things we re-worked pretty quickly to get them ready for gigs. They sound quite different, you wouldn’t think it was the same people. I’ve been doing the vocals and I don’t sound like Stuart Grant [also frontman for Primitive Calculators] who’s on the record, I’d never done them before! The experimental approach continues! [laughs].

There are recordings of one of the gigs that could partly be released in time. We are thinking about getting around to posting up some of these tracks plus some of the early material. We have other things in our lives and getting around to doing that stuff takes time. We hope to be able to. Arne and I are working on some tracks we’ve recorded sections for. There’s a fair bit in the works!

What was it like for you to do vocals for the first time?

ME: Look, I found it strangely relaxing if you would believe. I never enjoyed performing, I was always too nervous and too introverted. To come back now, virtually as an old man, and start doing vocals, particularly with writing new material, I found it really helped in light of performance. It was completely unexpected. Vocalising those raps, I’m not a singer and I don’t sing anything in tune [laughs] but to recite rap lyrics I found it relaxing in the sense that you have so many syllables say to fit a bar or two bars, and it’s a bit like rhythmic improvisation, you can put those syllables where you like but you have to get them out. You’re concentrating on the next word like; where am I going to break this or put it? You do it and then it’s gone and you’re on to the next and then the next. You’re fully concentrating on what’s coming in much the way that would a guitar solo or something. You’re less concerned with; how am I feeling? Am I nervous? Can I do this? What are they thinking out there? How is this sounding? All of these things that go through live musicians heads and that can really get in the way of enjoying the experience of playing. That was a most unexpected discovery, quite weird in a way because I thought, there’s a lot of gall involved with me pretending to do this! Somebody my age getting up on stage and out comes these words! It seems preposterous. Someone had to do it though. Arne can actually sing and sing well but he didn’t want to do it in this case. He was too preoccupied with managing the computing side of things. He played guitar on some of these gigs. He would interject with singing when he had to, when I was reciting these lines. It was good to get a response out of him when performing. It was an unexpected, enjoyable discovery.

That’s so wonderful to hear.

ME: The other thing that some people who have heard these recordings of live gigs said was “Your age has helped give you a slight huskiness in your voice and it suits the lyric and material”. The strange paradox of it all is a lot of people work and work at the craft of singing and vocalising and all I did was get old! [laughs].

You mentioned that you stopped playing music in 1984 and you didn’t start up again until 2016; during that time did you miss it?

ME: No. I didn’t. It ended badly for me really. I wasn’t really happy with how things were going and where it might go. There were a lot of personal issues that came up, which just led me to think that I didn’t want to be part of it anymore. I was working full-time. I went and worked on Smash Hits magazine, which had just started up here. It had been going in England for a couple of decades and then I was part of a team that got an Australian edition started in 1984. I was running production on that. It was a huge, very stressful thing and didn’t leave time for much else. Then my guitar got stolen and that finished things off.

I never stopped listening to music. I got right into classical music, which I never done so much before. I found it such a rewarding thing to do, particularly 20th Century composition, then went backwards from there. I’d always listened outside of the box; for me that was out of the box at that stage. Then I expanded my collection of Afrobeat music and got into Washington Funk of the mid-‘80s, the Go Go scene like Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers and Trouble Funk, those influences stayed with Arne and I and found their way in to the newer material. I didn’t miss music.

Then I had a problem with my hand. Because I’d never been trained to play guitar properly, I never really had the right posture and I almost ended up with my fret board hand pretty much crippled! Dupuytren’s contracture, it’s a condition that involves a calcification of the tendons. The hand curls up. I had to have an operation on it to have it straightened, which meant that I’m left with hand that doesn’t have the strength it did originally. I thought I’d never play guitar again but when Arne and I started up, I had to play again. I can’t finger the fret board with same dexterity that I could before. I’m limited to mainly rhythm playing. There’s certainly nothing wrong with my right arm, I can still play rhythms reasonably well. I can’t do that much with the left-hand, I had to invent a new approach. I hit certain combinations of strings and move the hand around minimally between complex chords and play parts of them. I’ve got around it in that way and it’s still enjoyable but it’s prevented me from ever becoming a proper guitarist again like I was. That was a sad consequence of the early years, we did a lot of playing. Quite often I’d play for hours on end and be in pain but I thought it was part of it but I ended up stuffing my hand up!

I’m sure now playing guitar in your own way because of your hand, you can play stuff in a way that other people can’t. I believe that if you play guitar, you’re guitarist.

ME: [Laughs] Yes, point taken. I suppose I’m comparing myself to myself and how I was. As a guitarist I was the only guitarist and in some ways, not so much on that record but the early stuff, the guitar is quite prominent and I’m playing with a delicacy and speed that I couldn’t replicate now.

It’s a new guitar playing you!

ME: I guess I have made some advances! I’ve always been an experimenter, and I guess I can play in a way that’s appropriate for what we’re playing now.

I’m excited for new stuff!

ME: Thanks so much!

Why is music important to you?

ME: I’ve read a lot and thought a lot about music aesthetics, I’ve read a lot of philosophers’ writings on music which I could dip into but, that doesn’t get to what attracted me to it in the first place and before I had any theoretical perspective on it. What’s kept me listening to music constantly is its capacity to put you in a certain mood and ability to enable you to constantly modify those moods to what your desires might be or your needs might be in some cases. People that listen to a lot of music, particularly different sorts of music, know that if you’re in a really rotten mood there’s music you can put on that will most likely get you out of it. Alternatively if you’re feeling a bit flippant and light-hearted, frivolous, and you want to hear something more substantial, you know where to go to get that. This is something I learnt at a young age, that there’s a whole universe or feeling that can be generated through music. If you hear enough of it often enough you carry it with you internally without need to actually be hearing it through device, that’s been the experience of my life. There’s often some music that will come up in my head that suits the occasion I’m in, or even provides some sort of commentary on it. It can do that in a way that visual and verbal media can’t. It does it at such a basic level even babies seem to have an instinctive understanding of this; music makes me happy, if you take it away I feel unhappy and I want to hear more. Once you realise it’s actually possible for you to play some of this yourself, you’re on a bit of a road that you know other people are going to hear it and then you have a bit of a capacity to put them in certain moods.

Then there’s a technical element of music, because it happens in time you can put sounds together in a certain order and see where it leads to construct patterns and structures and things and combine elements—it’s a very, very intriguing, engaging process. You can never be sure of the outcome because it’s happening in time and there’s a compulsion to keep doing it. If you can do it well enough and you’re aware of your limitations and work within what you’re capable it can be really satisfying.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

ME: I think I’ve said enough but, I am fascinated and amazed with the interest that’s been shown for our music now. We never paid much attention to recording and putting out records then, these recordings on the record were done at a practice session in a single take. There was also a fellow Alan Bamford, who is not long deceased, he came to all of our gigs and recorded them all. We weren’t so interested and didn’t want to hear them but Alan had the foresight to realise that in years to come someone might be interested in this stuff. It’s intriguing to think why people of your generation is interested in this music.

Maybe part of is that… if you look at a lot of music now, everyone records themselves at home, very lo-fi and maybe in one take, and they make the most of what they have, they aren’t trained musicians, and it’s the rawness that they can relate to.

ME: The idea that it’s being pulled together in a way.

And it comes back to the no rules and doing things how you wanted without caring for commercial success. Lots of musicians Gimmie talks to don’t care about being popular of famous, they just love making music with their friends and making art for art’s sake. AND I’m sure people like it because it’s just a really, really cool record—that infinite groove! It makes me so happy and it makes me want to dance, it simply moves me!

ME: That’s a really pleasing thing to hear. If something makes you happy, that’s the highest praise really.

Your record also gets one thinking about the endless possibilities in music.

ME: That’s even more gratifying to hear. I think the female voices in there has some appeal too, they’re not trained, you’re not listening to The Pointer Sisters or anything [laughs]. Hearing them gets you thinking that, I could do that! That could be me!

Please check out USE NO HOOKS; The Job out now on CHAPTER MUSIC.

Melbourne’s Brick Head: “We’re seeing how important the local music community is to the character of this city. Live music really is cathartic. And the records that come out of this town are brilliant”

Original photo courtesy of Brick Head; handmade collage by B.

Deaf Wish’s Sarah Hardiman has written and recorded a new record – Thick As Bricks – under the name Brick Head! It’s a high energy, spirited and riotous lo-fi home recorded album making our ears happy and our hearts swell. The release features Carolyn Hawkins (Parsnip/School Damage) on drums. We interviewed Sarah to find out more about the punk project. We’ve also got Brick Head’s first clip for track “Deja Vu” to share with you!

How did you first get into music?

SARAH HARDIMAN: Through my mum and brother really. Mum blasted The Beatles, The Stones, Pink Floyd etc. and my brother plays bass, so he taught me guitar. My bro and his mates raided all the work sites in Melton at night time to find wood, insulation, plasterboard etc. and built a jam room in our shed. I spent hours out there. I was probably better on guitar during high school than I am now. 

What was your first introduction to the punk community? What attracted you to it?

SH: It was definitely going to Rock n Roll High School on Easey St, Collingwood. I had heard about it in fanzines and word of mouth. My band at the time called up and played a song live over the phone to Stephanie Bourke. She mustn’t have been able to decipher anything but she said we could come in and kind of ‘audition’ to rehearse at the school. Steph and other people that ran workshops there taught me how to book gigs and communicate with bands. They taught me how to act with integrity. I met a lot of people at the school and in the band scene, people I still know. I was so shy and nervous every time I left the house but I kept going because I knew I found something that made me feel good and understood.

What excites you about your local music community?

SH: You know, this has become much clearer under ‘lockdown’. It’s about the people. I miss the people. When you shake off the gossip and posturing (both things I’m guilty of), the community is strong and positive. We’re seeing how important the local music community is to the character of this city. Live music really is cathartic. And the records that come out of this town are brilliant. Record stores are a lesser talked about part of the fabric that help promote locals. Community radio is huge. They’ve been working their arses off, keeping things cool-headed and positive, keeping people connected. I miss gigs and real people. I miss the friends I’ve made from music.

We love both your new project Brick Head and your band Deaf Wish; what inspired you to do Brick Head? I understand that you made LP Thick As Bricks in three weeks during the first lockdown in Melbourne.

SH: Thanks. I guess being in one room for too long inspired it.  

Where did you get the name Brick Head?

SH: I had a list of juvenile sounding band names and Caz liked this one the most which helped me choose.

How did the songs get started? What did you write first? Did you have an initial idea of what you wanted to write about?

SH: I was at a friend’s house and he was playing the electric eels and I felt really in the mood for nasty guitars again. I went home and tried to rip a song off. Then Dave Thomas from Bored! died and I listened back to that band and it all kind of tumbled into this debauched bender at home alone in West Footscray trying to rip off iconic riffs. I didn’t want to write about anything in particular. I wanted it to be dumb and immediate. Scary. Tough. Unfeminine. The first song was ‘D.I.E.D’ which is written as an acronym although it isn’t one. I moved into this new flat and the neighbour said, “I’m really glad you’ve moved in”. I was like, ok, weird. Then he goes, “Let me explain that. The last two old ladies died in a row. And you’re young-ish, so you might break the curse”.  It is the only house I’ve broken a lease on.

Who are some of your favourite songs writers? What is it about their writing that you enjoy?

SH: I’m a huge fan of Molly Nilsson. I even wrote her a fan letter this year. I love the feeling of being a fan. It doesn’t happen often. Her songs are honest and deceivingly simple. They’re philosophical. I respect the atmosphere she creates. And the humour. I like it when artists take their art seriously but can see the bigger picture, y’know? Like, no one’s that important. Do your job and then knock off, you don’t have to be a star 24/7.

Your songs on Thick As Bricks have almost a live feel to them; can you tell us a little about recording them? You recorded them yourself, right?

SH: Yeah I did, it was really fun. I set everything up in my small living room and set out to write a song every couple of days, whether I was in the mood or not. I put a simple drum beat down, then would listen to records until I found a riff I wanted to rip off. I had neighbours on both sides so when I mic’d up the amp, I pulled my bedding over the whole thing to try and dampen the sound. I actually had the amp really low on 1-2 gain but I could hear their TV’s so I knew they could hear me. Then I put simple bass lines down. Lyrics were last but I didn’t fuss too much. If anything took too long or if I started thinking too much, I would dump it. Maybe that’s the live feel.

What was your set-up for this recording?

SH: My 50 watt MusicMan valve combo, my 1964 lefty Burns guitar tuned a whole step down, and GarageBand. This is the first thing I’ve recorded myself (for release) and the first time I’ve used GarageBand. I really love using plugins. I’m all about computers now. 

After you wrote and recorded all the material, you sent it to Carolyn to do the drum parts which Jake Robertson recorded (Alien Nosejob/School Damage/Ausmuteants etc.); what inspired you to have Caz part of this project? What do you appreciate about her drumming?

SH: Caz is a great drummer. She knows music. And she stylistically knows what suits. She makes it look effortless even though she clearly works hard at everything she does. She’s also really humble which makes her easy to work with. It’s a no-brainer. Caz rocks!

What’s your favourite album you’ve been listening to at the moment?

SH: There’s two I’ve been mad for lately, ‘Sweet Whirl – How Much Works’ and ‘Ryuichi Sakamoto – One Thousand Knives.’

Why is music important to you?

SH: It’s everything to me. It’s where I find inspiration, friends, solace, community, belonging, fun and excitement. It teaches me and is a reflection of how I change and the ways I don’t.

How have you been looking after yourself during this pandemic?

SH: Imagine a game of keepings off that goes for too long and you never get possession of the ball.

What do you get up to when you’re not playing, writing or recording?

SH: Human things. Robot things.

Please check out BRICK HEAD.

Kim Salmon: “In the creative process you do have to look inside of yourself and express things that are at the heart of you, which by their nature is primal”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Melbourne-based musician Kim Salmon has been creating art and music his whole life, over six decades. He tells engaging stories with both his visual art and musical endeavours. His work is passionate, adventurous, compelling, thought sparking and journey making. Each time he creates something, he starts from scratch and has an aversion to the formulaic. Gimmie had a thoughtful chat with Kim about his work, creativity, the new Surrealists’ double LP Rantings From The Book Of Swamp and of a new Scientists record that’s done!

How was your morning walk?

KIM SALMON: [Laughs] I’m still on my walk! I can walk and talk.

Have you always been a walker?

KS: No, I used to swim because I’ve got a dodgy back and years ago a doctor told me that it was the best thing to do, but you can’t really swim in these days so I try and stay in shape by walking—I’m trying to stay alive basically.

Besides the fitness aspect of it, do you get anything else out of it?

KS: Yeah. They’ve restricted it now, down here [in Melbourne], you can go a radius of five kilometres from your house. There’s plenty of stuff to see, I’m getting to know a lot of it. I did this crazy thing at the start of all this lockdown stuff, somebody gave me these postcards that were blank, the idea was to do little paintings on them. I thought, yeah, I’m never going to do that! Suddenly, I have all the time in the world and I started sending people little paintings in watercolour of these things that are around Northcote; things like little garden cherubs and strange looking topiary and bizarre things that you don’t usually notice when you’re walking around. When you do it every day, you see lurid detail.

Art by Kim Salmon

Nice! I love being out in nature. I walk around my neighbourhood a lot.

KS: It’s nice to do that. We’re near Merri Creek and Darebin Creek, those are nice walks to go on very close to nature, you wouldn’t think you were anywhere near a city.

What do you love about painting?

KS: I’ve always done it. Music was kind of like a highjack for me [laughs]. I’ve always loved painting. I was studying it but then I dropped out of art school and became a musician, which is the biggest cliché out; isn’t it? [laughs].

It’s all creativity! I’ve seen some of your paintings and really love them. There’s this one that’s a bedroom scene.

KS: I did that one when I was about sixteen.

Do you remember painting it?

KS: Oh, yeah. There’s a piano in it.

What’s the significance of the piano?

KS: It was in my room, that was my bedroom, that was basically it. There’s a pair of clogs in the middle of the floor because it was the ‘70s and people were wearing platform shoes, often clogs, that was a thing!

Did you learn to play piano before you learnt to play guitar?

KS: No, I persuaded my mum to buy the piano because she had learnt piano as a child and I wanted to maybe take it up, I thought I might learn some piano. I could already play the guitar. I figured out a few chords and had a muck around on it but I never really developed any real techniques for playing the piano.

Art by Kim Salmon

When you dropped out of art school that would have been around ’76? That was around the time you got into music more and you had the punk band the Cheap Nasties, right?

KS: That’s exactly right [laughs].

What attracted you to proto-punk and punk music?

KS: I was looking for my own thing, if you know what I mean? I had just met Dave Faulkner and some of his friends. I was hanging out with them and each of those blokes seemed to have a thing they were into. Dave was into Bob Dylan and Randy Newman, lyrically driven stuff; a lot of America stuff like Cosby, Stills, Nash & Young, that kind of thing. I didn’t really have a thing, my taste was really eclectic, I liked a lot of stuff, like King Crimson and a bit of prog and a bit of folk, there wasn’t really any kind of theme to it. I used to devour those trade weeklies like New Musical Express and Melody Maker. One day I saw an article about CBGB and the scene there attracted me, it was the way that the writer described everything, a netherworld full of people wearing leather jackets. It all sounded so different to everything where I was in Perth.

I read that from that article you went to track down some punk records and you came across The Modern Lovers?

KS: Yeah. I went on a quest to find what punk was! [laughs]. It was a word that was bandied about in the articles but we couldn’t work out what it was. The Stooges were mentioned, the Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls, I went looking for them all. I’d never heard of The Modern Lovers but I found them. It didn’t matter if they were punk or not as far as I was concerned, I loved it, so that was going to be punk to me!

Is there anything from the punk music community that you were involved with early on that was valuable that you learnt from it?

KS: A lot of friends I’m still friends with. That’s probably it you know, the people that I became friends with and still keep in touch with. [Laughs] It’s as simple as that really. We’ve all moved on along our travels, musically or in our career.

Why do you like making things?

KS: Good question! Why do people do that? [laughs]. So they can stay around after they’ve gone. It’s a way of communicating, it’s a way of being present in the world. For me I couldn’t explain it at all, I paint and draw because it gives me pleasure and I want to do it, it’s the same with music. Music is just another form of painting to me; I’m painting when I’m making music, if that makes any sense?

It does. What do you value as an artist?

KS: Some kind of originality if that’s even possible. I think everyone is unique and everyone is universal at the same time; it’s a strange thing that we can express some universal ideas through your own uniqueness.

It seems like throughout your career you haven’t ever really been motivated by money, it’s more about the process and making things.

KS: Oh yes, unfortunately for me and those around me [laughs]. Money doesn’t really drive me, money is a means to an end… it’s numbers, I don’t have anything against maths [laughs], it’s not really what drives me. Even in school, I was good at maths as far as the abstractness of it went but when it came down to arithmetic, I was hopeless [laughs]. I was good at geometry and trigonometry, I was OK with them things but… look, I think I lost ten grand in a bank I worked in one day! I’m not good at numbers.

Previously you’ve said that when you want to create something you need focus; what kinds of things do you do to help focus?

KS: It’s different for every particular endeavour. I’m one of those people that sometimes needs to set something up or I will sit around not doing anything forever [laughs]… out of inertia and fear, I suppose. Once I get going the inertia is there and I guess I keep going… it’s a big one for me. Like this pandemic, I think I’m OK, it’s kind of forced me to do something. I try. I stare at a blank piece of paper. I go down to the art shop and buy myself some nice inks and watercolours and then I come home and stare at the paper for weeks on end and finally I do something. Once it’s started I just go where the paints flows [laughs].

What kinds of things have you been painting lately?

KS: The last thing I painted was… I don’t know what you’d call it? It could be molecular size or nebula size. It’s these organic forms that I made up. I got this stuff that’s like masking tape but it’s like glue, you squirt it on the paper, it’s nice and blue and pretty and you can see where it is. You can do a painting with it and then paint over that and then you rub it all off and it leaves a white area. I did this thing that’s kind of inspired by a book of art forms in nature, done by one of those 19th Century scientist, philosopher-types who believed… it’s a book of drawings and diagrams of one-cell creatures like jellyfish and bats, birds and fungus. His point was that there are all these beautiful, symmetrical forms in nature and there was art at work.

It was my girlfriend Maxine who looked at one of my paintings with the masking thing and she came upon this book and ordered it for me. One day it showed up in the mail from New Zealand, she had to tell me it was for me [laughs]. I looked at this book and it inspired me. I put all this glue stuff over the canvas, it’s pretty big, maybe a metre across. I used a vivid ink. I just let it run and mix and carry on and paint forms around the masking material. I was really happy with what it ended up as, I couldn’t tell you what it was though [laughs]. I could see some strange monstrous forms, but I think they’re kind of beautiful. You can’t tell if it’s in deep space or at a microscopic level. It could be anything really!

Art by Kim Salmon

I can’t wait to see it. I hope you have another art exhibition.

KS: One day! If we come out of lockdown. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of Covid art out there! [laughs].

That’s OK though! When you talk about making art, I feel like it brings you so much joy!

KS: Oh absolutely! It really takes you somewhere. You really have a conversation with the paint and the paper and the canvas and the ink. It sounds a bit mad but I definitely finds it leads me somewhere—it’s quite an enchanted place.

You mentioned the book you got recently and that the guy that made it was into philosophy; do you get into much philosophy or anything like that?

KS: I try to, but I haven’t really made a big study of that. There’s so many things that I might do. There’s a lot of people around that time, when religion was being challenged by science. There were some shaman and crazy people and frauds and con-artists out there like Gurdjieff and Madame Blavatsky and Rudolph Steiner… I guess Steiner wasn’t really a con-artist, but what I mean is there were a lot of ideas out there being explored. It was an interesting time.

Are you a spiritual person at all?

KS: Not in any formal religious kind of way, no. I suppose everyone says they’re spiritual. I don’t know that my way of being that would seem particularly spiritual to someone else. I have my music and art and I guess that’s my spirituality really. I’m probably more scientific if anything about those things.

Why did you feel it was time to make a new Surrealists’ album?

KS: It has a funny story. The Surrealists have been playing forever, particularly this line-up, we always enjoyed playing, never rehearse, just play a gig every now and then. I thought the band deserved more than a few hundred bucks from just playing a gig, you can only do some many shows, we got a show before lockdown and I got this bright idea that we would do a show that was completely improvised and we’d record it, that would be the draw card for the show. It was Phil [Collings] the drummer’s idea actually to do a completely live album. I thought if you’re a band recording you need to have songs and stuff; how do you do that like that? Over the years I’d write lyrical things into my books that I’d read the lyrics out of but I hadn’t used them yet so I thought I’d use them, that’s what they were for this album.

We had the gig booked and lockdown occurred. We had to postpone it. A film producer that had done the Scientists… actually Scientists actually have an album in the can would you believe!

That’s great news!

KS: It’s on a US label, so who knows when that will come out. We did a film clip for the new album and he approached me about taking this idea that I had into a recording studio and it being streamed. We wanted it set up with lots of cameras in a proper studio, we eventually got that happening. We called it Rantings From The Book Of Swamp, basically because that’s what it is; it’s me singing things out of my books to have lyrical content to the things we were making up.

How did you feel in the moment when you were making it?

KS: Terrified!

Really?!

KS: Yeah, because when you do something like that… we all had ideas but didn’t consult with each other, we thought we’d just be able to flesh them out. Nothing went the way at the time that I thought it would go. Everything felt like it went wrong! It was about an hour’s worth of “oh no” and trying to fix it up. Stu [Thomas] felt the same. Phil was just eating it up, you could tell he was having the best time of his life [laughs].

It was done over two sessions, I couldn’t be convinced that it was any good. I thought, nah, that’s it, I’ve blown it! They said “no, no, it’s good!” I didn’t believe them. I ended up looking at it and thinking, nah, OK, that’s good. You can see Stu and I really concentrating and trying to make it work, and that’s what made it good, we thought about it every second of the way.  It was the most switched on I’ve ever been.

I remember hearing you mention a little ways back that it’s been a long journey and process for you to get comfortable with lots of things, being on stage, stuff like that; was there something that changed that made you feel more comfortable?

KS: I couldn’t tell you the answer to that. At some point now I couldn’t imagine being uncomfortable but I was. I’ve heard recordings of those times and I’m still the same person… that’s probably what was good about this last recording, it probably brought me back out of my comfort zone into somewhere strange, I think that’s what happens… things that aren’t in your comfort zone, as long as you can move out of them and explore them, eventually you’ll become comfortable with them. I think that’s the process. In a way this particular album is good because it’s a reminder of not being comfortable, of being lost [laughs]. I think there’s actually something good about being lost and not knowing what you’re doing.

It’s so cool that with all of your projects and records that the new one is a reaction to the previous one and you always evolve to do something different.

KS: Yeah, I think you have to do it. I remember Tex Perkins used to say the same thing too. He’d say that things do tend to be a reaction to what I’ve done before. I’m not alone in that. It’s probably a little bit more extreme in my case for some reason [laughs]. I’m a bit more of a random nut job! [laughs].

You mentioned that making the new record was terrifying but; what made it fun for you?

KS: That same thing! I look back and think it was terrifying but, in a good way. I can hear myself there and everyone that was watching it online can see me, I was making a joke out of it and trying to spin a yarn out of it [laughs], weaving a narrative.

Do you think you use your humour to deflect from the fact you are terrified?

KS: I think that’s a common trait in comedians and artists, people on a stage. I don’t think that’s unique.

A lot of your lyrics tend to be from a darker more primal place; why do you think that is?

KS: I just think that’s part of the artistic process really, in the creative process you do have to look inside of yourself and express things that are at the heart of you, which by their nature is primal. Things become a lot more elemental when you do that. Having said that, you can still do things that are the opposite of that, I don’t know that all of my stuff is like that. I’m sure I do things that are light-hearted and witty and pharisaical [laughs].

Talking to you, you seem like such an easy going person.

KS: Yeah, I am.

What’s the most personal song that you feel you’ve ever written?

KS: In a way a lot of songs are about things that are outside of myself. I often put myself in other people’s point of view… that can still make songs personal. I like all my songs for different reasons. Maybe there’s not one that’s more personal than another. In a way I probably write for other people in a strange way, even though I am expressing and doing things for myself… what I mean is that other people can look at something and project their own meaning onto it, I’m OK with that. The thing about writing songs or poetry and a lot of art as well, it’s full of ambiguity and symbolism, symbols mean different things to different people… in a way the loudness and ambiguity of words, simple words as in a song as opposed to dense literature, is the strength of it—that’s what makes it powerful and universal.

I know songs must come to you in all kinds of ways but, is there a way that they come more often?

KS: When we did this particular project, there were a couple of songs on the album that were things like walking around the neighbourhood. There’s a song “Did You Pick It Up In The Playground?” it is about; where did you get that language from? It’s about behaviour like; is that you? It also had a meaning to do with picking up Covid. I found that it was just a line that came to me, it came with a tune already. I had to try and sing it. I knew what the chords were that I was playing under the singing. The band could be on the same page as me, or not, and take it somewhere really strange. As it happened the melody and song that I had in my head was indestructible enough it was added to by what Phil and Stu did.

When choosing the words for the songs you were making in real time; did you turn to a random page in your notebooks?

KS: No, I had ones that I thought would be good. I looked at them and pored over them and had a few in mind. For instance I already had a bit of a tune for “Did You Pick It Up In The Playground?” and “Burn Down The Plantation” I had a form in my head of what it would be like; to me it was like The Rolling Stones around the 1970s, Sticky Fingers era. Whether it came out like that is another thing! [laughs]. I had lyrics that I’d written around January and doing something that was kind of Blues-based took me back to days of slavery and the Civil War. I wrote a few lines and thought “Burn Down The Plantation” was a cool line and it went with that kind of music. I was wonder if I should take it into the recording given that there is all of this Black Lives Matter protest going on. I was scared of it really, I thought, oh god, we’re just three white guys; what right do we have to go singing about plantations burning down? I thought, I’m not going to censor myself, we’ll do it.

I had a few other things that were on my mind. For the recording I put little post-it notes on the ones that I thought I’d use. I also knew that if I went scrambling and scurrying for pages I’d be very lost and it would be a waste of time. I picked ones I thought I’d be more at ease with.

With the notebooks you drew from, you mentioned that you’ve been collecting thoughts in them for a while?

KS: Yeah. Those books I have, even then there’s a story. I had set-lists and I put them in there and I have lyrics and I put them in there. I write in them in such a random way. One starts at the back of the notebook and then it starts upside down from the other way. Sometimes there’s drawings. It’s really random things, random expressions of thoughts that I have. Often set-lists though – set-lists to me don’t mean a set out list of a repertoire – I have lists of songs from my bands and I call them out to the other members.

Have you always kept notebooks like this?

KS: Yeah, but it’s kind of become more obsessive as I’ve gotten older. I have one from The Scientists’ days. It was halfway through The Scientists that I thought I should be a proper singer and have notebooks, like a proper artist [laughs]. Now I’m glad I did because then you find out about Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain and they’ve always got these books full of art and crazy things. I feel accomplished, that’s a good club to be in! [laughs].

Art by Kim Salmon

You mentioned there’s a new Scientists’ record?

KS: Yeah! We recorded it, because there was a bit of a renaissance with the band, we did a tour of Europe, two tours of the USA and two of Australia a few years back. It was all on the back of that Chicago archival label Numero releasing our back catalogue and a box-set. We did a few singles and me and the guitar player [Tony Thewlis] would send each other things, I would send him drum beats of all things [laughs]. I’d get Leanne and Boris down from Sydney and I’d show them what I had and they’d knock ‘em into shape. Tony came over here to be part of The Scientists’ getting inducted into the WAM Hall of Fame. We spent that time in Perth in a studio and knocked that album together. We’d been working on it for a long time. I got Tony to build me some riffs. I’d think up crazy drum patterns and send them to him and then he’d build riffs on that, I’d do melodies and words on top of that. I’d send that to Boris [Sujdovic] and Leanne [Cowie] and they’d be the final process.

We don’t’ know when it will come out though, it’s all ready, it’s got the cover art and we did a film clip for it. It’s very strange because the thing that The Surrealists have just done is probably a lot closer to where The Scientists were in 1983 and the new Scientists’ album has travelled somewhere different. I don’t know how people are going to take it. I’ve tried really hard to have enough elements that people accept it’s The Scientists but, we’ve taken it somewhere else. I’ve listened back to the lyrics of it and it’s not in the same place as Blood Red River.

That’s really exciting to me! Bands evolving and going somewhere new is super exciting to me. I grew up in the punk world and it was always about individuality and pushing things… your new record sounds like it’s those things to me.

KS: Yeah, we’ve done that! It’s a bit more crafted. I think that’s why The Surrealists thing got more closer, it’s more visceral… this Scientists thing has some visceral elements, it’s heavy, it’s got the brutality in sound but, it’s crafted as well because of the way we made it. It wasn’t a spontaneous process. It was put together because we thought we should do it and wanted to do it, that’s a different process to when a band is young and say “Oh yeah, let’s just do this” which is how we used to do it [laughs]. That’s kind of what The Surrealists just did! [laughs].

You said that your lyrics for Scientists now were in a different place; where are they?

KS: I was listening to it thinking, god it’s taken me to get this long to get where Dave Graney was in The Moodists [laughs]. That’s what it makes me think of. He had these songs that had bizarre stories to them; I was listening to it yesterday thinking it sounds like Graney. There is a song that references him called “The Science Of Swarve” and I talk about him and Lux Interior and Nick Cave and I kind of say that their threads, meaning their lyrical threads, their threads, their clothes being in tatters and no narrative could ever save [laughs]. That was fun putting that in there. It was all about being swarve, it’s a bit of a boast. I think it’s a storytelling yarn that Graney would have done in those days.

I’m looking forward to hearing it! You do a lot of stuff; where does your hard work ethic come from?

KS: That’s what everyone says. I sit around looking at blank paper and canvases. I sit around doing nothing and wasting my time—that’s what creativity is. Until you can’t stand it anymore and you have to do something and once you get started you can’t stop!

I know you teach people to play guitar; have you learnt anything from teaching?

KS: Yeah, absolutely. I had to get across a lot of theory that I didn’t have, things like modes for scales and various harmonic ideas that I knew about… I used to use them without knowing what I was doing. Now I know what I’m doing and it takes a bit of the mystery out of it. I’ve got a lot out of teaching. I know how songs are put together now, which I wouldn’t have had a clue before! [laughs]. I use to break the rules without knowing what rules I was breaking.

That’s funny to hear you’ve learnt how to put together a song after all this time doing it. Have you ever had a really life changing experience?

KS: Gosh! When I read an article about CBGB it was pretty life changing—it sent me on the journey.

The first one I can remember, I must have been about three and my mum always told me that I didn’t speak until I was three and then I spoke in complete sentences, she’d know what I wanted but I didn’t talk. I remember her one day showing me a watercolour set and explaining to me what it was. I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t have a clue. She got the water and a brush and she started using red and she did a little loop thing. I got the brush and started filling up the page with these little strange loops of red. I didn’t know that it was for me, I just thought she was showing this thing. I thought, wow, you can say stuff with this, this is fantastic! That definitely was a thing for me! I can still see it so vividly. That’s probably where art came from for me. That was life changing really early.

It’s so cool that you’re painting now, it’s like things have come full circle for you.

KS: Yeah, I love watercolour, there’s just something about it. You get to leave some of the paper blank, you can leave some bits alone and not disturb it, and some of it you use—it all becomes one big story.

Art by Kim Salmon

And coming across all the punk rock stuff in publications was life changing too?

KS: Yeah, yeah. I guess I was looking for a place to be in my music, for a starting point, I wanted something to bring in a focus and that became it. I think it was probably the same for a lot of people.

Is painting and making songs similar in any way to you?

KS: Yes and no. I’d go so far as to say that even every song is different to make. I try to look at everything from not having a formula, I don’t like formula as much, which is a bit funny for a guy in a band called The Scientists [laughs]. I like to think I’m starting from scratch every time that I do something and not knowing what you’re doing is part of it. Learning about music sort of takes away from that so; what do I do? What I just did with The Surrealists was a way of getting back to that thing… it’s that aspect, the mystery, that you don’t know where the hell you are and you’re lost, that makes the start of creating something, not knowing where it’s going to go or where it’s going to be. You might have an idea of what you’re going to do, but you don’t know what it’s going to be in the end. That mystery and not knowing is the thing that is the unifying factor.

Being open to all of the possibilities! A freedom in that?

KS: Yeah, I think so. Like when we were talking about philosophy before, being open to ideas and not fixed and to appreciate what life has to offer. To make the best of it and not just think, this is it, this is what I’m going to do!

I’ve heard you say before that looking after yourself and simply enjoying the day are important things to you; what does an enjoyable day look like to you?

KS: [Laughs] It’s a strange combination of routine and getting lost in something, that’s a good day for me. Going for my walk and seeing something new in it and going a different way every time, to just make something different about it. With all the border restrictions and other restrictions and parameters of late, I guess it has to be that.

I guess you need to use your imagination in doing things more and doing things differently, adapting; how can I get the most out of what I have and what’s happening now?

KS: Yes, you’re right.

Last question; what makes you really, really happy?

KS: [Laughs]. I think just my life now, there’s things about it that I’d hate it to be taken away from me. I have my partner Maxine and we have a really good thing going, it’s been a few years now. I have my kids that I have a really good relationship with. I’ll be talking to my son after this and giving him a bass guitar lesson; he’s really starting to find his way, he’s twenty. All those things make me happy. Making stuff, all of it! [laughs].

Please check out KIM SALMON; KS on Facebook; KS on Instagram. Rantings From The Book Of Swamp drops September 4th – LISTEN here.

Kosmetika’s Veeka Nazarova: “Every day is a challenge, trying to keep sane and at the same time trying to stay creative”

Original photo: Chelsea King. Handmade collage by B.

There’s a little mystery surrounding Melbourne-based pop band Kosmetika and Gimmie love them so much we wanted to learn more so we interviewed co-founder, Veeka Nazarova.

Veeka, you were born in born in Khabarovsk in south-eastern Russia; what was it like growing up there?

VEEKA NAZAROVA: I love my hometown! It’s was definitely a very interesting and quirky place to grow up in.  No doubt, it shaped me the way I am now and I have no regrets growing up in Khabarovsk! The ‘Far-East’ of Russia has a much tougher climate than the European side of our country and I reckon it definitely makes the Far-Eastern people stronger in some ways. When I was younger and growing up in Khabarovsk, we didn’t have much exposure to the Western world and the internet, so all the kids mainly listened to Russian or Russian-speaking bands/artists, watched Russian speaking TV-shows/films and sort of made up our own little sub-cultures! I mean… we definitely had pop punk and emo at the time [laughs]. It was a little bit of a blend, I suppose, but still predominantly Russian/Post-Soviet culture.  It’s a completely different place right now in terms of the music and arts scene, unfortunately a lot of the ‘new’ generation in Khabarovsk are too absorbed in the social media and don’t want to put much effort into creativity. A lot of cool creatives I knew at the time have left to study in big cities such as Moscow and Saint-Petersburg and now permanently live there, and I think there haven’t been many others who would follow their creative pathways in Khabarovsk. On the other hand, I’m still friends with some musicians and artists who stayed in my hometown, but there is a handful of them and they definitely don’t make living as artists.  I know it sounds grim but unfortunately in Russian culture, most of the time, you have to sacrifice your life to have a family and /or a ‘good job’ so a lot of people have given up their art/music dreams to 100% dedicate themselves to a family life or career. I really hope it can change one day.

When did you first discover music? How did you start playing music yourself?

VN: I first discovered music when I was seven. My parents brought a piano home and it was decided that I’ll be going to a special music school to learn piano, music theory and singing. It is very common in Russia for kids to go to music school, it’s a separate institution where you go after your ‘normal’ school hours. I guess I was always a musical kid singing here and there. My parents had a big music collection on CD and cassettes and that’s how I started getting into heaps of Soviet bands and weirdly enough they also had tapes of artists like Nirvana, Red Hot Chilli Peppers , Blur and Madonna and a lot of 80’s and 90’s disco music, so I was absorbing all these completely different influences [laughs].

How did Kosmetika come into being?

VN: Kosmetika is my first ever band and I always knew I will start or join one [laughs]. One day I decided to post on Facebook asking if anyone in Auckland wanted to start a group, half serious half joking, and suddenly Mikey [Ellis] responded asking me what I wanted to play. We started jamming every week and I got really into it and slowly we formed some solid ideas and Mikey recorded everything properly and mixed it all in his bedroom and vu a la the songs were ready! Then we both moved to Melbourne and asked Jake [Suriano], James [Lynch] and Dom [Moore] to join Kosmetika and have been playing together ever since!

Photo: Chelsea King.

Where did the name Kosmetika come from?

VN: The name ‘Kosmetika’ comes from one my favourite Soviet bands ’The Institution of Kosmetika-Nee Kosmetiki’, I am very inspired by this band. Also Kosmetika sounds like a cool word, sort of a mash up between ‘cosmetics’ and ‘cosmos’ …I don’t know, it is just my interpretation.

I understand your LP Pop Soap is lyrically about/themed on your experience of moving to New Zealand from Russia when you were younger; what was the catalyst for your move? Is there anything you vividly remember about your move?

VN: To be honest, I don’t think Pop Soap is about anything specifically or has a strong concept. It’s a collection of ideas. There is just one song that sort of talks about me moving to NZ but overall it highlights mine and Mikey’s experiences living in NZ and Australia and how we dealt with it. And yeah, back to your question about my moving to NZ. It was pretty hard and I couldn’t relate to a lot of things in their culture to start with, but now finally I consider it my home and miss it a lot, it’s a very precious place to me.

Another theme is of nostalgia and memories; is there anything particular that you get really nostalgic for?

VN: I can’t speak for Mikey, but as many people everywhere in the world, I get nostalgic about being a teenager or young adult and not having a lot of responsibilities. I think it’s the best time for creativity. I also get very nostalgic about 70’s and 80’s pop culture and style, it definitely has a special place in my heart, even though I can’t really explain why [laughs]. I guess it’s my ‘fake’ nostalgia.

Was there a song on Pop Soap that was particularly challenging for you to write?

VN: All the songs on our first album were written by Mikey and I, so whenever i would come up with an idea Mikey helped me to develop it further and vice versa. I guess it’s our process of writing music. I mainly have an initial melody or lyrics and Mikey just turns it into something much more solid and cooler. At the same time, heaps of the songs from Pop Soap were Mikey’s demos from ages ago, so it’s a bit of a mix. I can’t really emphasise any particular song that was hard for me to write because it’s a mutual process. I suppose the hardest part was to mix the songs that were recorded in a bedroom and Mikey did it all of it so, it was definitely hard for him in terms of a production.

I know that you had planned to release an EP of unreleased songs from your current live set; will we see it anytime soon? What inspired this idea?

VN: We have thought about releasing a small EP of the other songs but now we have a lot of ideas enough for another album or two, so we are currently deciding on what we are going to do with it [laughs]. We have recorded a bunch of songs with the band and without so just need to figure out how we would put it together, but something is definitely coming out soon so keep your eyes wide open!

Can you tell us about your favourite Kosmetika show you’ve played?

VN: My favourite Kosmetika show was probably when we played in Rebecca Allan’s kitchen at her house party. It was extremely loud and super hot but, I loved how packed the kitchen was and people going crazy trying to dance [laughs] great party!

How is not being able to play live because of the pandemic affecting both the band and yourself personally?

VN: Pandemic is very strange times for everyone for sure… At first I felt very productive and was coming up with many ideas almost every day and now since it has been dragging for so long, I have been feeling very jaded and quite frankly depressed. Every day is a challenge, trying to keep sane and at the same time trying to stay creative. It is very hard, but a lot of people are going through the same thing, so I know I’m not alone. It has definitely been super difficult to get together with the band. We had a few practices but unfortunately had to stop due to stage 4 restrictions. On the good side, Mikey and I live together and have a little studio set up in our room which is great for recording, so we are currently trying to finish off some ideas while we are in isolation.

Have you been working on anything new? Has anything been inspiring your creativity of late?

VN: As I said previously, we have been writing a lot of new music recently. I think a lot of inspo came from our imaginary worlds that we live in at the moment [laughs]. I personally have been getting inspired by a lot of 80’s Soviet music too. Being away from the Motherland makes me re-discover more things about my culture and turn it into the source for my inspiration I guess. But this is just my inspo things.

What bands/albums/songs have you been listening to lately?

VN: I have been listening to a lot of electronic 80’s music, more weird synth-y stuff [laughs]; a lot of European and Soviet music!

Outside of music what do you do?

VN: Outside of music I love to go for nature hikes, ride my bike around the city, take photos, read some old books and paint.

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Melbourne Early Punks X’s Steve Lucas: “Once you start to make better choices, you start to have a better life”

Handmade collage by B.

Melbourne musician Steve Lucas has been making music for over four decades. In 1977 he co-founded early Australian punk band X, who gifted us one of Australia’s greatest punk records, their debut X-Aspirations. He’s also lived many musical lives since X genre hopping from post-punk to indie rock to acoustic folk to country to gospel and all kinds of things in between with bands and projects: Bigger Than Jesus, Double Cross and The Groody Frenzy, Empty Horses, The Acland St Booze Hounds, The Strawberry Teardrop, The Pubert Brown Fridge Occurrence, Armageddon Resource Management and more. Gimmie spoke to Steve in-depth, to get a real insight into his music and the man behind it. We talk about songwriting, mental health, depression, his early life, overcoming spine surgery, creativity, of making good choices and of life in general.

STEVE LUCAS: I have to learn a couple of songs for a recording session on the weekend.

What are you recording?

SL: Two originals that my wife wants to do and a cover of Deuce by Redd Kross.

How are you going with it all?

SL: The original ones are fine because I’ve been there hearing it since the concept but going back to Redd Kross is how I used to play forty years ago. I’ve got unlearn everything I’ve learnt so I can do the real grunge sort of underplaying. It’s underplaying but really in your face. I’ve got a little bit too good for my own good [laughs].

Do you think that the style you were playing back in the beginning was so raw and powerful because there was a naivety in your playing?

SL: Absolutely! You didn’t know what to do so you had to do anything that worked. Looking back it worked, limited knowledge meant maximum feel. It was all about the feel. I actually used to play a really clean sound which made it more awkward. But, now going back and looking at Redd Kross I can see, they’re a bit New York Dolls-y kind of thing, thirty or forty years ago I would have just done it but now it’s like, fuck, that’s not really that chord… it’s that chord now because I’m correcting it but it’s not a chord at all, it’s whatever it is.

When did you start playing guitar?

SL: I got my first guitar when I was fourteen, that didn’t last long, accidently setting it on fire and smashing it to pieces, very dramatic, almost burnt the house down.

Was there anything that inspired you to set it on fire?

SL: I was trying to… I had this grand idea that I was going to strip it back and have this cosmic kind of paint job on it. I was in the laundry at home and there was a gas heater, the pilot light is always on; I had the door closed because I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing and I was using tons of thinners and turpentine and the fumes kept building up and building up until the pilot light just ignited them! It went booooosh and blew the door off and blew me out of the laundry [laughs]. There was turps and thinners everywhere, all the shellac and stuff that was on the guitar was all molten like and running river. The more I tried to hose it out, the more it spread. In the middle of it all I saw my guitar and grabbed it and flung it out to save it but all the goo on the guitar sent molten globs of stuff onto the back wooden fence [laughs]. It was really, really traumatic. By the time I got all the fires out, I was looking at the smouldering guitar, I was so angry. I took to it and smashed it to pieces and thought—never again!

Wow! When did you start playing again and change your mind?

SL: It wasn’t that long after. I was always a much better singer than I was guitar player. I learnt how to play Bob Dylan kind of guitar, nice strumming and chords you could put under a melody, very folky, bluesy kind of stuff, that was totally relevant in 1977. I was just singing when X started, it was only after Ian Krahe died and a few other people didn’t fit that I was told I actually had to have an electric guitar, I had to have an amp, I had to learn how to play riffs… it was traumatic. Three months later we recorded X-Aspirations.

Have you always enjoyed singing?

SL: Yes, as long as I can remember. On my father’s side of the family, my grandmother was a chorus girl and my grandfather was vaudevillian, and he’d sing honky tonk piano, soft-shoe, magic tricks, all that kind of stuff. He would always be singing and if we stayed over with those grandparents he would sing us to sleep every night. I don’t remember when I started singing because I was too young to remember but being sent to Sunday School… my family wasn’t religious but they thought I should have some sort of religious experience, so I had to go to church on Sunday and I’d sing in the choir there. I did that up until I was twelve and when they said “Now if you want to go you can go, we’re not going to make you” so, I didn’t want to go and that was fine. By then I was into primary school and singing in the school choirs, doing choral concerts in Sydney Town Hall. I was always singing; singing along with the radio, with records—I’ve always loved singing.

Who was one of the first songwriters that first moved you?

SL: [Laughs] That’s funny… the answer I’d like to say is, when I was around thirteen or fourteen there were songs like, some very basic things like Don McLean or Dylan, really basic Creedence stuff… I loved to listen to Big Band music, I used to think that one day I might rather play the trumpet but it didn’t happen. Once I did actually have a guitar I really liked to “chunk” along to basic stuff. One of the first songs I learnt to play on guitar was something like “[Vincent] Starry, Starry Night” [laughs]. Cat Stevens was very big then, and again, very chord-y, easy songs. If you went to a party and there was a guitar sitting around you could pick it up and play Cat Stevens songs and girls would tend to like you more than if you sat there doing a Deep Purple song [sings opening riff to “Smoke On the Water”]; guys would love that but girls would be like, oh no. I made up my mind very quickly which direction I was going to go.

How did you discover rock n roll music?

SL: Mainly through Top 40 stuff but, when I was seven or eight my mother or my aunt took me to the cinema to see A Hard Day’s Night. Everyone was screaming so loud in the actual picture theatre that you couldn’t really hear very much at all. I got Beatle-mania like every other kid back then. They were accessible and covered songs by Little Richard. Then there were The [Rolling] Stones and between the two of them they opened the doors to my musical education, I suppose. Just really good RnB, soul-y kinds of ballads.

Was X your first band?

SL: It was my first real band. When I was fifteen I was in a school band and we did a gig for the sixth form’s farewell and we were never allowed to play again because we…. It was a big banquet and all the teaching staff was there and we were supposed to play stuff like Cat Stevens, we did play a couple of those to start but, then we broke into “Aqualung” and “Smoke On the Water”—that was the end of that! [laughs]. I changed schools again – I changed school a lot when I was younger – and met a bunch of other people and we used to play music together, I had my cousins and school friends playing bass and guitars and stuff and I was singing; we never had a name but one night a band was meant to play at a Police Boys Club but they didn’t and my cousin was in the Police Boys Club and told them he had a band, so we went and did that. It was fun! We did that one show and then maybe played at a party once. It was just something to do. X was the first band that we geared towards going out and playing to crowds in pubs, making money, the whole thing. We were gonna write great songs and get a record deal. Ian [Rilen] had left Rose Tattoo or had been discharged depending on who you talk to [laughs], so he had all that experience and the original drummer Steve Cafiero had plenty of experience, so we had a good chance of doing something if we played ball but we were a little bit… [pauses]. There’s ten years difference between Rilen, Cafiero and me and Krahe, Ian and and Steve were just hitting thirty and Ian and I were just about to turn twenty, our naivety and their experience was a great combination but it found us shooting ourselves in the foot quite often. We blew more chances than we actually embraced, by choice.

Are there any songs on X-Aspirations that really stick out to you or that has a special significance to you?

SL: No, because if I think of one I just think of another. The ones I would say I like least is easier to answer, “It Must Be Me” and “Turn My Head”. We weren’t sure of them when we recorded them, they were very much just off the cuff. When I used to take the records into record stores to sell, the first track I would always put on for the is “Delinquent Cars” because it had a nice steady pace, it had nice poetic lyrics, they always thought that was kind of good and they’d ask; what other song would you recommend? Then you’d play them “I Don’t Want To Go Out”. “I Don’t Want To Go Out” is the obvious one to say but I love them all. “Suck Suck” was great, and “Revolution”. “Dipstick” is so funny. “Waiting” is so tortured. They’re all very, very potent songs, which is why Lobby [Loyde] called it a concept album because it wasn’t an album that had two songs for a 7” single Top 40 hit… it was a collection of songs that stood well together but maybe not so well independently.

Do you remember writing “I Don’t Want To Go Out”?

SL: Yeah, I remember Ian would have brought that into the rehearsal room, it was predominately his song. I sing the riff ect. [hums the riff] and the first and second verse and it was like; where do we go now? I was sliding up and went to a C# or something and thought, that’s wrong! Then started moving down trying to find where he [Ian Rilen] was and he was following me, that ended up becoming the middle eight… we wrote the middle eight accidentally and then put in the last verse. He wrote the first two verses about me. I added the words to the middle 8 and I added the last verse about me and my friends preferring a beer to disco.

A lot of the time that’s how Ian and I would work, he’d have a blueprint for a song, he’d say it goes like this, do half and verse and then say that I can do the rest [laughs]. Sometimes I’d come in and do the same thing, like I’ve got this idea for a song but it needs a hook or something; he’d say, “How about this?” We were good like that from the beginning. I used to write with Ian Krahe as well. It was very organic in its original 4-piece format. Ian [Rilen] and I were obviously forced closer together when Ian Krahe died. We wrote a lot of songs together, maybe 120-130 songs!

Is there anything from that time with X that you learnt that’s stayed with you?

SL: Two things, OK… both the Ian’s were chronically late, that drove me mad! If anything I’m over punctual as a consequence. The big lesson that I’ve learnt that I’ve carried forever is one day Lobby explained to me how gigs worked. It sounds pretty dumb because you turn up, play, get paid and go home… that’s how you’d think about it but there’s more to it than that. Back then we had to hire our own P.A., you had to know the size of the room, whether it needed a single or double 4-way system, you’d have to hire the right rigging. You had to hire someone to operate it and then you had to hire people to lug it in. It was like running a small business, but it was called, being in a band!

As we got more and more popular and we could ask for more and more money, it got the stage where we were kind of pricing ourselves out of the market. Lobby said, “It all costs money. Pubs aren’t given alcohol to sell for free, they have to buy it and pay their staff, there’s overheads. You’re taking a percentage of the bar and door and there’s nothing left for anyone else.” He said “you have to understand that it’s very easy that you’re worth that but the most important thing to do is not believe the hype. People are paid to make that bullshit up! Don’t believe the hype!” He told me that and was about to walk away and turned around and said, “Especially your own!” That was it. I’ve lived by those rules ever since.

Do you like to create every day?

SL: No, no, no, ‘cause then it would be like a job. There are two kinds of camps, there are people that work at it and people that are sitting around waiting for a transmitted beam to be sent into your head and you go, ah! Thank you! Sometimes you dream of a song and if you’re really lucky you wake up and remember it and can figure it out before it fades away. Most of the time it falls into your hands. You’ll be playing it and as you’re playing it, sometimes the riff or progression will suggest words to you and then you latch onto them and you build. For me it’s always been a spate of songs, maybe ten or three or four that will come all at once and then they’ll be nothing for months. You don’t force it. I used to try and force it and I used to write shit, at least I thought it was and no one else would get to hear it; I’m not gonna say, hey, listen to this it’s shit! [laughs]. I’m not precious about it but, I just think if you want it to be a natural thing and really represent who you are, you can’t force it because, then you’re just tinkering with nature, I’m not a fan of that. Tin Pan Alley and the Big Think Tank, big songs of the ‘50s and ‘60s… I love some of those songs but they were obviously made under duress because they had to write hit singles.

Can you think of any songs that have been particularly challenging for you to write?

SL: Definitely. It’s weird because the song that made the most money in my whole musical life was a song that I wrote in about five minutes. It was a non-song almost. I wrote it because my daughter had a sleepover, a bunch of ten or eleven year old girl students, they’d all been picked up the next morning except for one that was left… I don’t know what my daughter was doing but, I was sitting in the lounge room waiting for this other girl’s parents to come and I was mucking around on the piano and she said “What’s that?” I said, I don’t know, I’m just mucking around. She said “Can you make that into a song?” I said, I don’t know, and I was looking around and saw a memo pad and it had written: thought of the day, make it happen! I looked at that and was like, yeah, I can make it happen! I just made up the song “Make It Happen”. I didn’t think much more of it until I was recording an album and needed an extra track. I thought it was pretty jaunty and threw it on. Thirteen years later it got picked up by Yoplait in America for a commercial. It was just like, wow! That’s one extreme of how lucky you can be.

On the other hand, my daughters favourite song that I’ve ever written, I had the music and arrangement in my head for twelve of thirteen years. I could never find the words that I thought belonged to the song. One day I was sitting the bus thinking about it and a line came to me and I thought it was perfect for that song. Once I had that it was like getting a key and unlocking a door and everything went booof and came tumbling out. I imagine that somewhere in my subconscious I had been thinking about it for all of that time, the lyrics wrote themselves in a matter of minutes, I was scribbling on bus tickets and whatever paper I could find it write it all down, this was obviously before mobile phones [laughs]. It can take forever.

What was the line in the song that came to you?

SL: I can’t sleep for loving you. It’s a nice tender little ballad, my daughter loves it. She loves it and says she’s going to cover it one day.

Aww that’s so lovely.

SL: Yeah, it’s for her. I think it’s a very beautiful song. I’ve demo’d it but never put it out. I think because I like the demo so much, I don’t want anybody to mess it up… I mean alter it by bringing their own feelings into it. Then again, the demo isn’t quite good enough to release, maybe one day on an anthology or something. I’m just leaving it there so if my daughter covers it, it can be hers.

I wanted to ask you about the song “Don’t Cry No Tears” it’s such a beautiful song and it’s become a bit of a signature song for you; can you tell me about writing that one?

SL: I remember it vividly. It was sometime, but not too long, after Ian Krahe had died. I was reading The World According to Garp [laughs], and I always associate that song with that book for some reason. I’d borrowed a 12-string guitar from someone and this C Major Seventh chord sounded beautiful on this guitar, I was mucking around with that. Of course in the end of the book Garp dies, I was thinking about that and then I was thinking about my friend that had died, I was thinking of how I never got to say goodbye and well, he never got to say goodbye either. I was having a conversation with him, representing him and myself talking to each other saying; this may have happened but it doesn’t change this. Wherever I go people want me to play it. I did a live stream for a mental health issue last night, it was the last song I played. I love the song, I’ll play it endlessly forever. It spoke the truth that just needed to be spoken.

Do you get emotional playing it?

SL: Sometimes I get very emotional. If a friend has passed away and someone asks if you can come to the funeral and sing it, it’s like, fuck! [laughs]. Yeah, I can. A couple of times I’ve really had to choke back the tears on it definitely, that’s what makes people like it—it’s real. I can’t do it without emotion. You can have the best or worst voice in the world but, it’s the emotion and the honesty of the delivery that moves people more than anything else.

I’ve found that throughout your catalogue of music that loss seems to be a prevalent theme; does music help you with healing?

SL: Yeah, it is. Music helps me sort out my feelings, absolutely. From my earliest memories there’s been issues around love, my parents split up when I was very young, then they got back together again and my sister came along, then they split up again. I went to live with my maternal grandparents. My mum was in and out of sanatoriums, she was manic depressive. Then she remarried, had my brothers and then that guy disappeared… love or the lack of love or the abuse of love, or the longing for love has been part of me for as long as I can remember, everyone wants to be loved. It’s so tricky because there’s so many kinds of love [laughs] and not all of them are healthy, not all of them are joyful. It is a powerful emotion. If you can sing about things like that people can relate to them, anger is another one. People loved X because of the satirical but very real anger in a lot of the songs, the critique, the social stuff. While I’m interested in social interactions and politics, I tend to address them through interpersonal relationships instead now. Love is love, you can apply it to anyone in any situation, having the same kind of joy and happiness or loss and sorrow; the politics of love is just as important as social politics. If you don’t have love within yourself, you’re not going to put it into anything else that you’re going to take out into the world; are you?

Absolutely. Did it take you a while to come to a place of self-love?

SL: Yeah, it took a while. I can’t remember when it happened [laughs]. One day I realised that I wasn’t so angry anymore; I wondered if that was a good thing or a bad thing? I decided it was definitely a good thing. When people say “Why don’t you write more songs like the classic X songs?” I say, it’s because I’m not that person anymore. I can’t go back and feel the way I felt then… people say “Times are so bad now, we need more songs like you and Ian wrote!” I’m like, they’re there. You can take songs like “Revolution” or “Suck Suck” or “Police” any of those songs, and they will apply to today, emotionally and politically. Nothing has changed, it’s just different labels and factions, people are still arguing about stuff that often doesn’t need arguing. People talk more about doing things than actually doing things because it’s much easier just to talk than take action. Nothing’s changed; why should I write another song? It’s there! [laughs].

I read on your blog a little while back about the power of naming things, songs, albums, etc. and how things can have a prophetic quality about them; have there been times you’ve felt you’ve done this?

SL: Wow! That’s going back a bit [laughs]. I’ve definitely had that, “Cry No Tears” is one. Now that you’ve mentioned it, it’s got me thinking… sometimes it can be a curse and you’ve got to be careful. Ian was always labelled with the [Rose Tattoo song] “Bad Boy For Love” thing and he hated it! It made him lots of money but it made him sick of people calling for him to play “Bad Boy For Love” especially at an X gig. The last thing he ever wanted to do was play that song again. It’s almost like a pre-destined, big clue to who you’re gonna be and what you’re gonna be for the rest of your life. For me, my two are “Moving On” which is the first song I ever wrote by myself; the other was “Don’t Cry No Tears”. The “Moving On” thing, I finally realised I didn’t think that I would remain rootless or without a real family for the rest of my life. I realised it was possible to build a home and a family and to be happy. With “Don’t Cry No Tears” it’s a nice resolution, it’s a song about closure but also about any parting, it reinforces that it can’t change your life, it can never be taken away, and sometimes you just have to be strong. When I think about it, I’m actually quite surprised that I wrote it.

Where do you get your strength from?

SL: That’s a complicated one. Partly sheer stubbornness [laughs]. The difference between my sister and I is about three and a half years, in the first few years of my mother and father being together when I was born they were happy for a while. I was too young to remember specifically but, I had a sense of that love. Later on when I was in my forties and my mother was permanently ill, she didn’t want to die in hospital, so I told her I would be her carer, you can die at home. During that time we got to talk about a lot of stuff. She said “Yeah, you know, I know it didn’t work out so well but when you were born, I really, really did like you”… I really needed to hear that. We weren’t the most communicating kind of family. My mother would say stuff like “You’re not much but I like you anyway, I suppose”. That was just her way. Anyway, her being able to tell me that made a huge difference, it reassured me about something that I had suspected on a subconscious level, that there was a golden time for me. It took a long time to get back to it.

I was also the eldest of the family so I did have to take care of my sister and my younger brothers. I had to be strong no matter what, it was expected of me. The quickest answer for your question is, it was firstly expected of me and secondly, because I’m incredibly stubborn. A third answer is that having suspected something had happened and having it confirmed, that was a very powerful moment.

I know what it is like to care for a parent, I spent sixteen years caring for my mum with Alzheimer’s and then my dad had mobility issues all for the later part of his life.

SL: That’s tremendous.

I had a similar moment with my father. He told me as a teen I wouldn’t be anything or do anything, that I was a no-hoper like the rest of my siblings… after my mum got sick and we were looking after her, our relationship changed and he told me that he’s always been proud of me and that he loved me. It’s the one and only time he said it to me. It really changed things for me.

SL: Yeah, if you hear it once and it’s honest and heartfelt, you only need to hear it once. I feel so sorry for people that don’t get that, because I do know people who have never felt loved by their parents and consequently never felt loved in their whole life—it’s terrible.

Are you a spiritual person at all? I know you went to Sunday School.

SL: Yeah, at the local Anglican Church, that was because my grandparents thought I should be introduced to some religion. Church of England is probably the most passive, it was back then. They thought it would be up to me to make up my mind. They weren’t particularly religious, no praying over meals or anything like that. For me, I’m pretty spiritual. When I was doing the stream last night I was talking about mental health issues and we were having a conversation and it came up; what do I believe in? I believe in something, it doesn’t have a name or a face but it is a faith. It comes from the necessity of me to carry on my daily existence, to think along the lines of basic science that energy cannot be destroyed it can only be transformed, we are made of energy. When you die, whatever you want to call it, a life spark or a soul or a neuron or whatever, I believe it goes somewhere else. I’ve heard some pretty funny ideas, Billy Connolly said, we all made up of atoms, molecules and can’t be destroyed, the body might die but you might become part of a teacup or a chair [laughs]. That’s one way of looking at it, you don’t have to necessarily be reincarnated or go to Heaven or whatever but, because we can’t figure out what happen afterwards doesn’t mean that nothing happens… it doesn’t mean anything happens either for that matter.

A long time ago, I was into Buddhism for a while, two Jehovah’s Witness knocked on my door, normally I’d say I’m not interested but back then they were using a different tactic [laughs]… there was the typical guy but an absolutely stunning woman; I was like, if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness I could be converted on the spot! [laughs]. I thought I’d talk to them because I was interested in what she had to say really, I’ll be honest. We were talking for a while and they said “You don’t believe in God?” I said, I don’t believe in god but I don’t necessarily not believe. I was into Buddhism and possibly being reincarnated, I said, maybe that’s what happens to you when you go to Heaven. They were like “What do you mean?” You’re reincarnated into another person or a better version of yourself then you get together but then you find that now you’re in Heaven and if you behave and do really good you might die and go to another Heaven that’s even better! That might go on for an eternity of eternities. They were like “Wow! We never thought of it like that!” I’m not saying it’s true but anything is possible. They said “Can you come to our chapter meeting next week and explain this?” [laughs]. I said, no, you can talk about it amongst yourselves. I’m not a spiritual leader, I’m just saying there are infinite possibilities, you believe in what you want to believe in and it’s fine with me as long as you don’t hurt me through your beliefs.

Outside of music what else are you passionate about?

SL: I love cooking! I was taught very young, as I mentioned I was brought up by my maternal grandparents and my grandmother had it in her mind that she didn’t want to be responsible for another stupid man walking this planet [laughs]. For her that meant, unable to look after themselves. She taught me to cook, sew, to do all the things she thought was important for a nice, comfortable day-to-day life. Cooking has always been a great comfort for me. I tried to get into art for a while but I’m no good at painting. I liked drawing for a while. There was a period where I felt very unmusical so I got into drawing a lot. It was fun for a while but it’s not the same… at the end of a drawing, people don’t clap and cheer. You don’t go to the pub and set up an easel and paint and at the end of it people go “That was fucking awesome! Can you do another one?!” [laughs]. There is an ego involved in creativity, it’s pretty hard to be creative I think if you don’t have an ego, I mean you might be very self-depreciating but it still makes you do whatever you need to do to… [pauses] process whatever it is that makes you feel that way. I’m not a psychologist though but I talk to all different kinds of people and when you do that you hear lots of different things that maybe you never considered yourself.

If I was lucky with anything… I remember someone interviewing Sean Connery once and they asked him; what’s the best gift ever given to you? He said “The ability to read”. I’m very passionate about literature, I love reading… to be able to listen, to be able to talk and write things; I like writing. I was actually really enjoying it until someone asked me to write a book. I started and then I thought, oh, now I’m doing this for the wrong reason. I was having fun before that and if I wrote something and someone liked it, it was great, if they don’t, so what. It’s not like my career depended on it. That was a bit odd.

Anything can hold my interest or catch my eye but how long it maintains my interest is a different thing. It depends if I can actually use it, like cooking, I can make a dozen bread rolls and people can come over and eat them and go “Oh my god, this is fantastic!” …back to the ego, if you do something and it gives you a positive return, you want to go back and do it again. Passion can manifest in many ways. I made leadlight windows for ten years. It was after my first wife and I split and I needed a job because I wanted custody of my daughter, I thought it was important to have a job. I needed a job that would be through school hours so I could pick her up after school and all that kind of stuff. A friend of mine said “Come and work for us”. I actually got really good at it and I enjoyed it but, I’m not in a hurry to make another one [laughs]. It was good while it lasted.

The things that are the most rewarding are the things that at the end of the day you can look back at and see it’s complete and finished, that you have a sense of accomplishment. That’s what’s good about writing a song… unless it takes thirteen years [laughs], then it’s not so good. I’ve been doing a few talks about depression and one of the big things with depression it seems is that people get that way because they’ve lost or never felt they had purpose, beyond the philosophical; why am I here? It’s like, literally; why am I here? I’m not doing anything for anyone, myself included. To have no sense of purpose, I can’t imagine anything more hellish.

When I was a kid I used to like making models because at the end there was something to look at. Even if that meant I’d blow ‘em all up with bungers! It was still fun.

Have there been times in your own life where you ever felt like you didn’t have purpose?

SL: Not really, because as I said, I was the eldest whether I had a purpose or not I had a responsibility, a responsibility is kind of similar. I’ve never felt like; why am I here? I’m lucky in that regard, I don’t know what I would have done if I had felt that way. You’d know having been through that carer’s situation, it’s a huge responsibility but, it’s infinitely rewarding when you get those breakthrough moments, they can make years of pain, if not necessarily evaporate, give it a sense of proportion where they’re no longer a millstone or albatross around your neck.

Before you were talking about playing a song for people and they clap and that being ego and then your friends coming around to eat the bread rolls you’ve made; maybe it’s more just coming from a place of connection?

SL: Yeah, absolutely. There’s the social aspect of it, which is important. I’m not going to pretend I don’t like it when people cheer or clap at the end of a song [laughs]. It’s very gratifying. I can play a song and have no one clap at all and still feel like I’ve done a good thing.

What’s next for you? You mentioned you were working on some songs for your wife.

SL: Yeah, she’s got a few projects going. Last year I lost a very close friend and one of the things he asked me to do before he dies was go to America and find some genuine Mexican musicians and record some songs with them, because he always thought I was wasting my time doing rock n roll. He always thought, in his words that “I had a beautiful voice for country music”. He said the Mexican people are so passionate, and he played me some stuff. I was going to do to Tijuana but the guy that was organising it for me just disappeared. My wife used some guys in San Diego, they fitted the criteria. When I recorded with them it was beautiful, it was fantastic.

That was the album By Request?

SL: Yes. Things come from all different corners and it comes back to; what do I believe in? I do believe in a certain amount of destiny. I had massive spinal trauma, my left leg was paralysed and they said I might lose the use of my right leg too. I had to wait a year for an operation. I asked myself; what am I going to do in that year? The doctor said “You’re a musician, if there was something you’ve always wanted to do, now’s the time to do it”. I said, I always wanted to tour America. He told me to go do that! [laughs]. I said, it’s not that easy! I can’t walk. He said, “Don’t let that stop you! It’s a thought!” I went home thinking, shove this thought up your bum! [laughs]. But, within weeks a guy sent me an email from America saying he loved X-Aspirations and that he wanted to do a run for his own little label on vinyl. I said, sure go for it! He told me he really wanted me to come to America and tour it. I said, I’d love to but I’m in a wheelchair at the moment, I’m having an operation on my spine. He said, “Don’t worry about it then”. I said, no, no, wait! My doctor said I should do something like this, there will be limitations. So I went and played.

I was in so much agony and had to take so many prescription drugs to manage the pain. I don’t really remember much. I’d get to a gig and they’d prop me up and as long as I didn’t move I wouldn’t fall over. I did twenty-eight gigs up and down the west coast of America. It was insane. I came back here and then after a bit had the procedures done. Gradually I got my left leg back. They recommended I do physio, which I wasn’t too keen on but, my wife bought me a drum kit. I set it up left-handed so I had to use my left foot to drive the kick pedal. They said you can train your muscles and nerves to work differently, the ones that aren’t working doesn’t mean you can’t stimulate the muscle, it’s like a detour, you’re rerouting things. I tried it and then the stubbornness kicked in and I worked at it and worked at it; even now if I’m walking down the street I take a cane because I get tired, but if I walk the way I used to I’m all over the place ‘cause the things don’t work anymore. It’s amazing what your brain can do if you let it. This could apply to anything pretty much. Being told you might not have feeling in your leg to doing what I am now, I thought that was an insurmountable thing and I’d never get over it, but I did!

A friend of mine who was a Buddhist said “You were given that pain for a reason, you have to love it for what it is” ….again my first reaction was, pffft! [laughs], you try feeling like this and tell yourself you’re gonna love it! Then I realised what they meant, it was an opportunity of sorts to deal with things. It was great! I remember waking up one day and being, that’s it, today it changes! I’m not going to be this person anymore, I’m not going to be dominated by my pain, I am going to dominate my pain! It didn’t just go biiiiing! It took a long time, that’s where stubbornness really comes in handy! [laughs].

I say to people, you always have a choice, no matter how shitty the choices are, you still have one and if you’ve got nothing but bad choices laid out in front of you, then you pick the less harmful or more palatable of those choices, take it. Once you get there you’ll see more choices, maybe equally as bad but maybe one that’s not quite as bad as that, so you go there. The further you go along taking the most positive steps you can take, even though they might seem like there’s no difference at all, you start to learn how to make better choices. Once you start to make better choices, you start to have a better life—to me it’s that simple. I’ve been through it. I still have to do it and make hard choices but I have learnt what is a good choice and what isn’t. It helped enormously. It is rewarding. As you know, it’s not always an immediate plus but you can look back and go, oh, I’m actually glad I did this because now I don’t have to worry about those ones, or you can look back and go, well now I’ve done this, I can face that and get over that hurdle too. I hate the words “empowering yourself” but it’s good to empower yourself to make good decisions for yourself that will benefit you mentally and spiritually, in health, in your relationships… but you don’t need to have a world dominating vision at the end of it [laughs]. You don’t need to be a CEO of a mega company to feel like you’ve accomplished something. I feel like I’ve accomplished way more than I could ever imagine I could. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that I have to stop doing things!

Please check out: STEVE LUCAS; on bandcamp; on Facebook.

Sleeper and Snake on new LP Fresco Shed + first single ‘Flats’: “There’s all these people with power next to disempowered people… AND it’s all on Stolen Land. Everywhere you look is a little snapshot of this…”

Original photo Mia McDonald. Handmade mixed-media art by B.

Melbourne duo Sleeper and Snake, Amy Hill and Al Montfort, are set to release new album Fresco Shed via brand new independent Australian label Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club (from the folks behind Lulu’s record store) and the UK’s Upset the Rhythm.

Sleeper and Snake craft beautiful and delicate songs about tough matters, their songs are political without being overtly so, you have to dig deeper, they make you think. Al and Amy skillfully and uniquely tell stories observed from their local surroundings of trains, farmers, corrupt handshakes, of Pentridge prison and the Melbourne war memorial. Through laid back alto and tenor saxophone peppered lo-fi soundscapes and poetic words, Fresco Shed sparks imagination and charms the listener.

Gimmie chatted to Al and Amy about the forthcoming LP and song “Flats” which we’re doing the Australian video premiere for today. We also talk about their other projects in the works.

What initially inspired you to write a new Sleeper and Snake album Fresco Shed?

AMY: Good question! [laughs].

AL: Yeah.

AMY to AL: You’re just always writing music, endlessly… it’s gotta go somewhere.

AL: We were writing a lot of Terry songs together…

AMY: We just enjoy playing music together.

AL: I guess…

AMY: Some of it didn’t suit that.

AL: Yeah. We had saxophones so we were making a lot of music with them.

I wanted to ask you about using saxophone, because that’s kind of a less traditional instrument to write songs with; have you been playing for very long?

AMY: No, not really. Al got one…

[Laughter]

AL: Yeah, I got one. I got a tenor sax from EBay from a fancy rich suburb in Sydney for 200 bucks! [laughs] …maybe six years ago when Total Control were up there for a gig. I didn’t bother getting any lessons, in case you can’t tell.

AMY: I tried to play it once and I managed to get sound out of it and he pestered me into playing [laughs]. Georgia from The UV Race plays saxophone and she had babies recently so she wasn’t using her saxophone, I managed to borrow hers and that’s what I’ve been playing. We thought it would sound quite cool to have the tenor and alto saxophones together. It seemed like a fun thing to do.

AL: Yeah. Amy just picked it up and was way better. She was a total natural at it straight away.

What do you enjoy about making music?

AL: It keeps me sane-ish. I think any kind of creative outlet is really important for people. The process of writing lyrics is a really great outlet for me to get through the day, to make things compute and it helps this horrible place make sense.

AMY: I think it’s just fun!

[Laughter]

Making something from nothing is the most fun!

AL: Totally!

AMY: Yeah. It’s also been a real social thing for me, I get to hang out with my friends and we do music together. It’s always been what you do, go see bands and play music together.

How have you guys been dealing with not being able to be as social and do those things, especially play live?

AMY: It’s pretty weird. At first it was almost like a little bit of a holiday from it. By playing in numerous bands we’d find ourselves playing something like four gigs a week, which is quite insane when you’re also working fulltime [laughs]. The first lockdown it was kind of a bit of a novelty but it starts to just become quite odd, I feel a bit odd. There’s a lot of people that you don’t see anymore because you’re not going out to see live bands. Your life feels a bit like it’s on hold, I guess most people would be feeling that.

I think so. I’ve been going to gigs my whole life and this has been the longest I’ve gone without going to see live music. Right now in Brisbane a handful of venues have brought back a live shows but with a small capacity and it’s sit down at tables, socially distanced; you pay the ticket price and then you have to pay a minimum of $40 each extra on top of that which is redeemable in bar tab or venue merch. That means for my husband and I to go see a local live band it can cost around $120; we don’t drink and we’re not going to spend $80 on soft drink and we don’t need venue merch, so these new rules excludes us from going to do something we’ve done and supported our whole lives.

AL & AMY: Whoa!

I can understand venues are in a weird spot with having limited capacity and not having been opened for a bit but to basically enforce a alcohol minimum to see bands is really weird.

AL: That is really weird.

AMY: Someone was telling me that Cherry Bar here in Melbourne was trying to gauge interest, they want to do a gig where there’s some hotel and it must have a courtyard in the middle and the rooms have balconies that look down on it; they want to have the bands in the courtyard and then you book a room, so it’s a festival where you have to have your own room. It’s insane.

Wow! Totally.

AMY: You have to have money to be able to do that!

Same with the bands doing gigs at drive-ins up here. It’s something like $200-$250+ per car to go.

AL: Whoa!

Yeah, it puts going to a show out of the reach of a lot of people, especially with many people losing their jobs.

AMY: Do you think people do it because they think they’re supporting live music? But then it’s so inaccessible for so many, it’s so weird.

Yeah, the kind of crowd that end up being able to afford it are the ones that go to a festival like Splendour In The Grass just for the experience… its crazy to me that festivals like Splendour have a stall/tent you can go to and get your hair done and a nail bar! I mean, what the actual fuck?

[Laughter]

Is there anything that frustrates you about making music?

AL: Hmmmm [thinks for a moment]… dealing with promoters. I think there are a lot of good promoters that have their heart in the right place, but I think the money making, money obsessed side of it…

AMY: It’s a bit grim!

AL: It is pretty grim. Even what’s happening now with the shutdown, I know a lot of the venues are keen to open up because there’s people that work for them and the landlords need money from the venues, the business owners need money and they’re pushing this stuff more than the artists I feel. I feel like the artists and the fans are like, let’s respect this, it’s OK…

AMY: We’ll just have a break. There’s a real push from the business side because they’ll go under if they don’t have the chance.

AL: I feel like maybe there’s not that much interest in the cultural, artistic side of musicians/artists… it’s more about the bottomline. That can be frustrating.

AMY: Some people probably love it, if they’re in it to make money [laughs].

AL: Yeah, totally.

Photo: Mia McDonald

I grew up in the punk rock community so I’ve always been very wary of the music industry.

AL: Yeah. I went to a lot of punk gig growing up, there weren’t many at pubs, there were many at cafes during the day or DIY venues, house parties, and they went along just fine without these huge bars making a lot of money off of people drinking themselves to death… I’m not quite straight edge but…

AMY: I guess there’s that thing that musicians often get paid in their bar tab to a certain degree which… it’s a bit of a weird normality that that’s what you get.

I’ve been listening to the new Sleeper & Snake album Fresco Shed all afternoon since I got a sneak peek of it, it’s so cool. The opener “Miracles” is an instrumental and has a feel about it sonically that is kind miraculous and magical sounding.

AMY: Thank you.

AL: “Miracles” is inspired by Scott Morrison when he won the election and was like “it’s a miracle… I’ll burn for you” and he kept on saying all this stuff about miracles [laughs]. It was really upsetting.

AMY: [Laughs].

That’s like how in the US Donald Trump said that the pandemic will “disappear… like a miracle”.

AL: A miracle! Ugggh… Love that! [laughs].

I love how Fresco Shed has a real gentleness to it but then the themes are very political and serious.

AL: Yeah. It’s funny just making the music at home because we don’t play through amps very much with this project. Because we’re doing it like that and playing at home using saxophone and that, it does become gentle in a way.

AMY: You don’t have to be loud.

AL: Maybe it’s just sad and defeated?

AMY: Sad?! [laughs].

AL: It’s that side of politics… it’s the sound of defeat [laughs].

I saw press photos and there was an abstract hand-painted “fresco shed” in the pics; did you make it yourself?

AMY: We were getting quite crafty in lockdown.

AL: [Laughs].

AMY: Al’s always trying to make papier-mâché things. In Terry he made the papier-mâché Terry. He likes to get crafty.

AL: Yeah, I like to get crafty! I was really proud of the corrugated iron type roof.

AMY: We envisioned a real shed covered in fresco paintings but then all we could physically achieve was a cardboard box [laughs]. We like making the art and being hands on in that way. We had a lot of time on our hands.

We were nerds and zoomed in on the photos to check out the paintings better and we noticed that each picture correlates to song themes on the record, you have the V-Line country train, Pentridge prison, crooked handshakes…

AL: It’s conceptual but literal [laughs].

AMY: Al told me what to paint and I just painted it, that was the rule! [laughs]; I said I’d paint it if he told me what to paint. They all relate to the songs.

I really love the image of the “farmer full of feelings”.

AMY: [Laughs].

AL: That’s one of my favourites, I think. That person definitely looks defeated!

That image is related to the song “Lady Painter”?

AMY: Yep. The farmer full of feelings has just watched a Scott Morrison press conference [laughs].

That song even mentions the “fresco shed” right?

AL: Oh yeah.

AMY: That’s where the title comes from.

We’re premiering the video for your song “Flats”; what’s that one about?

AL: We moved to a different suburb a year and a bit ago, Richmond is an inner east suburb of Melbourne…

AMY: No one we know really lives here, everyone lives north side. We moved to a suburb that’s kind of wealthy…

AL: It’s diverse, it has a lot of public housing but it’s really rich as well, heaps of wealthy people. You really see gentrification at that umpteenth level, how extreme it can get…

AMY: All the apartments going up and stuff. It was during summer and we were going for walks and we were talking about ideas and things and that kind of came up and that turned into a song.

AMY to AL: Did you write it?

AL: I think we both wrote it while we were walking around taking Tramadols [laughs]. We were walking by the Yarra River, it runs through the whole thing and you really see the worst of Settler society here…

AMY: All the wealthy people have their houses on the river and all the wealthy schools row on the river.

AL: There’s all these people with power next to disempowered people… AND it’s all on Stolen Land. Everywhere you look is a little snapshot of this.

It’s always boggled my mind since I was a kid, the world always seemed to me to have enough for everyone but, then there’s some people that have so much that they don’t even need and then there’s people with nothing, no place to live. I remember observing that as a kid and thinking it was so weird and wrong.

AL: Yeah, totally. Moving to the suburbs that are much older, the juxtaposition between these two things are in your face. Another aspect of the song is about the privilege we have as white Australians, we don’t have experiences the same way… we might not even be from wealthy families or whatever but we benefit from it every single day. The “flats falling into the floor” lyrics is a reference to the Opal Towers in Sydney, all these apartment building falling down and such wealth being made from that stuff, it’s disgusting!

Totally! Do you have a favourite track on the new record?

AMY: I like playing the ones that we just play saxophone on together, they’re really good to play.

AL: They’re all good ‘ey! [laughs].

What do you love about playing saxophone together?

AMY: I think it’s just so new for me. To be playing a very different instrument than what I’m used to and having to work out how they sound good together… literally I don’t know some of the notes on it and have to figure it out [laughs]. Because it’s new it’s exciting to play. Challenging!

Musical experimentation must keep things creatively interesting for you; was there anything new you tried writing or recording this release?

AMY to AL: I don’t’ know if it made it on to the record but you were clanging on something, weren’t you?

AL: Oh, yeah. I was banging on a pot.

AMY: I don’t know if it sounded any good [laughs]. We just like to try weird things. We do that though with all of the bands to a different degree. Nothing ground-breaking.

AL: We recorded on the 4-track, which is what we usually do with Terry and Primo! too.

Photo: Mia McDonald

Toward the end of the song “Lady Painter” there’s some cool weird sounds that I couldn’t work out what was making it?

AL: That could be the organ, Nan’s old organ!

AMY: The Funmaker.

AL: Yeah, it’s called the Funmaker!

AMY: It has this one level of keys…

AMY to AL: Do you think it’s broken? Or is that just what it sounds like?

AL: That’s just what it does.

AMY: We didn’t even effect it, that’s just what it sounds like.

AL: I’ll plug it in… here we go! It’s pretty crazy.

[Al plugs in the organ and plays]

[Laughter]

I feel like fun is a really important part of what you both do?

AL: Yeah.

AMY: It’s sort of like a hobby, what we do to relax and blow off steam and hang out with our mates.

Did you start creating from when you first got together?

AL: It took a while. Maybe Terry was the first band that we wrote together for, that’s four or five years ago.

AMY: We’ve been together for ten years. It took us five years because we just had our own separate bands.

AMY to AL: You were pretty busy because you had ten bands or something like that.

AL Too much going on ‘ey! [Laughs].

What’s something you both do differently when writing songs?

AMY to AL: You remember them, that’s one thing.

AL: I remember more of the riffs than some other people in the band [laughs]. I rush, I’m always keen to get things done…

AMY: Whereas I work more slowly.

AL: Not slowly though, I think more thoroughly.

AMY: I like to think over things.

AL: Amy does things properly and I rush it [laughs]. That’s what the report card says! Maybe that’s from just being in bands that tour a lot for a while… UV Race and Total Control would write a record, finish a record… we’d jam a lot and write a lot to have a record for touring; maybe that has affected my song writing style?

AMY to AL: You want to churn it out…

AL: Yeah, I want to fucking churn it out!

AMY: I’ll think about something for three months. 

AL: Which I think is better! I listen back to stuff and I’m like errrrrr, I wish you told me to chill out on that.

AMY to AL: Yeah, like… you need to do those vocals again!

[Laughter]

Did you do the Sleeper & Snake stuff in a few takes?

AL: I’ll always be like, that first take was good!

AMY: He’ll tell me to put something on it and I’ll be like; this is a demo, right?

AL: I’ll be like, yeah it’s a demo. Then I’ll be like, OK, let’s send it away for mastering now!

[Laughter]

I love when you sing together on your songs; what kind of feeling do you get doing that together?

AL: It’s pretty fun!

AMY: I’m like, oh god! [laughs].

AL: Singing is so fun. I think we both love singing and we try to egg each other on.

AMY: I sing high on some songs on the record. I think I sing better when I sing high but I really don’t like singing high. I’m always trying to go low but it always ends up that, nah, I’m gonna have to go up. It’s all figuring out harmonies.

Is there anything else that you’re working on?

AL: We have a few demos in the can. We’re got most of the new Terry record done.

AMY to AL: You’re still working on that Dick Diver record?

AL: Yeah, there’s a Dick Diver record that’s been 75% recorded about two years ago…

AMY: Sleepless Nights have been working on another record but that kind of stopped with Covid. Our drummer just went to Perth, we were like; why did you go to Perth?! There’s a few things in the works but everything is a bit on hold.

AMY to AL: Truffle Pigs?

AL: Yeah, Truffle Pigs! That’s Steph Hughes from Dick Diver, Amy and myself. It’s more like Soakie, country Soakie…

AMY: It’s a concept album. We’re always doing bits and bobs. Al writes songs and we figure out which band it sounds like [laughs].

AL: You write so many songs too; what are you talking about? [laughs].

AMY to AL: Noooooo. I write a riff and play it for a little while and then I forget it and then you remember it and turn it into a song [laughs]. You’ll be playing and I’ll be like; oh what’s that song?

[Laughter]

What are the things you value in terms of your creativity?

AL: I value collaboration and maybe a level of improvisation, especially in a live setting.

AMY: I enjoy that. Performing is good as well. But, we don’t’ get to do that at the moment. I do get really nervous though, but I enjoy it a lot [laughs]. Sometimes my hands will be shaking so much that I can hardly play the organ.

You could never tell you’re so nervous. We watched the live Button Pusher performance recently, which was great!

AMY: It’s just a physical thing I guess, it’s so weird. I’ve been playing for so long and it just never goes away. I still get so nervous! I think it’s a good things though to have some nervous energy.

Please check out: SLEEPER & SNAKE. Fresco Shed out in September via Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club (AU, NZ and Asia) and Upset The Rhythm (UK) pre-order HERE now. S&S on Instagram. S&S on Facebook.

Naarm D-beat band Lái’s vocalist Alda: “It is very important for women living and growing in misogynistic cultures to take these shitty narratives back, to reclaim their own stories and destroy the toxic ones”

Handmade collage by B.

Naarm/Melbourne Swedish D-beat inspired band Lái (a Chinese Mandarin phrase meaning ‘to come/next’) play distorted, political hardcore punk with vocals ferociously and urgently delivered in both Bahasa Indonesian and English language. Their songs explore experiences with abortion, sex work, Southeast Asia and the diaspora, religion, queer rights and more, all given voice through vocalist Alda’s lyrics. Gimmie are looking forward to the release of Lái’s forthcoming LP Pontianak. We spoke to Alda about it and of her life growing up in Indonesia as well as her experience of immigrating here to Australia.

This interview will also appear in our editor’s soon to be released book, Conversations With Punx, along with in-depth chats with members from Crass, The Slits, Subhumans, X-Ray Spex, Black Flag and more from the worldwide punk community from its beginnings to today.

How did you first discover music?

ALDA: Before she went all extremely religious, my mom used to collect CDs like Queen, Backstreet Boys, Enya, Natalie Imbruglia, all time love songs, etc. That is the first time I discovered music, and English. Matter of fact those bands are how I start to learn English, from translating their lyrics as a 6-year-old having access to early internet in the net cafes, so I could sing-along at home and understand what it says.

You’re originally from Indonesia; can you please tell us a little bit about what it was like growing up there for you?

ALDA: Honesty it feels weird to be talking about myself right now, knowing that there’s so much more relevant matter…I can’t even fully put my mind to it, but I’ll give it a go.

I grew up in a Muslim household, and schooled in a Muslim-only school until I graduated Junior High school. After plenty of begging to my religious mom, she allowed me to have a public school experience at high school, with the condition that I have to wear a hijab, otherwise I’ll be kicked out of home. I hate being forced to look religious a lot. Even since I was at Muslim school, I always sneaked out with my trusted slutty closest friends to take it off, smoke and hook up somewhere. Turns out I strongly despise being forced to look religious in public school even more, because unlike my previous school, not everyone have to wear full hijab and I feel even more out of my element.

I went to Netherland for a scholarship for a year where I get to experience that double life again— but while free of my usual religious environment, so I get to think about what I wanted to do with my life without much peer coercion. When I’m back, I decided to take it off more and start being myself at school and in public. People suddenly called me a Satanist at school and made up surreal stories and rumours of my alleged “new behaviours” [laughs]. I pushed it more with talking about atheism and Indonesia’s communist background any time I got chances to, like in class presentations and stuff [laughs]. It was hilarious! I meant the things I said back then, but it was still funny to watch the impact.

Before that, I was one of the nerdy kids that got called to the front of school ceremony so I can give some short speech after winning some nerdy things like English debate competitions – I used to get into school competitions a lot because that was my excuse to get out of home. A lil’ bit of nerdy model student y’know [laughs]. But after I took off my hijab and stop giving a fuck about maintaining that “good image”, the teachers condemned me, most students tried to stay away from me like they can get infected with my godlessness, the school almost not letting me graduate because I didn’t graduate the religion class – it was mandatory to pass religion test for graduation – and I got kicked out of home. But it was probably one of the most important decisions I have made in my life so far, I’m so glad I stuck to that decision. I don’t wanna live this life any other way.

But yeah, I guess my feud with misogyny embedded in religions doesn’t really end there. As you might know, Indonesia is a religious country, so religion influences almost everything—starting from law making, social judgment, social punishment, etc etc.

All photos courtesy of Tessa Lost In Fog.

What was it like for you when you first moved to Australia?

ALDA: Life here is way easier than what I’ve ever experienced before. Here you can do things like dumpster diving, squatting etc. with way less risk, and there’s more ways to find out how to survive/make money. On the other hand, the rules of immigration to Australia is one of the hardest to go through, I believe, globally other than America. Especially if you come from a “third world country” like me (in quote marks because that outdated term is now a myth based on bullshit), and not come here loaded with trust-fund.

In the beginning, it was a bit hard because I was on student visa, paying it with working on the weekend (and occasionally after school when weekend & graveyard shifts is not enough). I couldn’t miss out on too many school days otherwise I will get kicked out from school (and therefore the country). I couldn’t pay the school fee late, otherwise, the same consequence. International students have to pay very high fee, and they try to make it near impossible for us to work (because they just want to take our money, not for us to make money from being in Australia; we’re just ‘cashcows’ with no rights and support back from this place, who will get dished out once we’re no longer bring the ca$h in).

I was in the cheapest school that I can find and that is still me having to pay $3,100 every 4 months. On top of my daily necessities and visa requirements. Anyway immigration rule is very classist, probably to avoid poor people from poor countries to move here. So yeah, I didn’t get to have much social life… but at least I still get to run away from fucked up shit that I would have to live with back at my hometown, so that was fine. It’s impossible to notice that the immigration rule is basically — if you are a person of color coming from a poor country, you have to go through so much more loop to stay here. My POC friends coming from America or Europe or even a rich Asian country like Singapore got their Visa waaay faster than I do, even when they have about the same amount of money in their bank account with me.

My white friends coming from those places? LOL …basically it seems like they barely have to prove anything, they get their Visa in no time, whether they have savings or not. It felt pretty shit to watch that. Treatment for white people in rich countries are like some “exclusive rich kids club” in my eyes, and maybe in the eye of “people like me”; like we had to prove so hard that we are worthy to enter the gate of this privilege. Getting our English tested every two years as if we can get worse at it while still living here—and being told that our English is not good enough, and got laughed at when it is not perfect; as if that proves that our intelligence is lower, despite that we can talk in over 5 different languages. Pfft.

In short, when I first come here I realized I’m now living in an awkward spot of getting more privileged than my friends/family back home; but definitely damn underprivileged economically here. My life quality gets better just because it was bad before, because my country is still ravaged by richer countries such as Australia, for our gold, land, farming produce, cheap labour, cheap productions of their fast fashion brands etc.; and once people like me managed to come here in a hope for a better life, we gotta give our fortunes (if we have any) and/or slaved away for many years here and give our “excess wealth”. So that maybe, maybe we can eventually move here and be less poor. So that one day we can awkwardly laugh with our peers at some party when they cringe how the countries that we are coming from are so poor, the food that we eat are so dirty etc. etc. so they can laugh at the poverty that their people enforced on us. Shit!

You didn’t come here to hear me bitch about your racist & classist immigration system LOL but here we are.

How did you first come to performance?

ALDA: In Australia? Lái is my first one. I was very lucky that Tessa, Nissa & Timmy needed a new vocalist. Before Australia I only performed a small handful of times with a band I made with my closest friends, but at those times (about a decade ago) we were wasted together more than we try to actually perform LOL so yeah I wouldn’t count that as much performance experience.

You sing in a blend of both Bahasa Indonesian and English; why is this important to you?

ALDA: Of course it’s important for me. I’m an Indonesian. I only moved here 5 years ago, I mostly grew up there. My body is in this land but all the experience I had while growing up has formed me, and is forever relevant to me. I chose to use both languages because if I only use English – other than the looming discomfort of using the global colonial language – my vocabulary will also be more limited; I don’t know how to express things in the same layers of meaning like I would in Indonesian. Not to say that I’m excellent at it but it’s a language where I know a bit more about the culture, literacy, the guttural and poetic expression. In the end, I decided to use both. I mainly use English for messages that I’d like to say more globally, and Indonesian words for things I mainly wanna express for Indonesian/Malay speaking listeners.

The way you sing is quite brutal (which I love); are you ever afraid that the message will get lost? Or is part of the way it’s delivered help reinforce what you’re saying?

ALDA: I guess the actual reason for me is because that’s the only way I know [laughs]. Or at least that’s how I feel I can respond to the kind of songs that we have…it ends up being some sort of noise/scream therapy, a way that I can channel how I feel when talking about the subjects that I’ve written in the lyrics. I realized this means most likely people won’t be able to understand what I’m talking about, so therefore sometimes I talk a little bit about the song, so the message wouldn’t get entirely lost. And if anyone would like to know more about it, they can just read the full lyrics online in our bandcamp or somth.

How did you first find your voice? Is confidence something you have developed over time (or are still developing)?

ALDA: My first band called Negasi (2009) but I sing in a different way back then…the first time I sing like this is with Assusila (in 2011); a crust punk band from Bandung, a few years later when I felt more angry and would like the chance for “scream therapy” in a band. I can’t afford a therapist, so playing with Lái has been helpful for my mental health actually. In real life I’m one of those opinionated socially reclusive introvert, so going on stage has been a fuckin’ challenge from day one for me. I don’t naturally feel comfortable under a spotlight. I’ve spent some portions of my life trying to hide from the spotlight too, and was raised under a culture that holds high values on playing the subtlety game, so taking that spotlight feels naturally counter-intuitive. To be on stage in a country where I don’t even know many people… If you’ve been to any of our shows, especially in the first year, woof especially the first show (!!), you’ll notice how awkward I am [laughs]. I mean, I’m still pretty awkward on stage these days, but I guess I’m developing a lil’ more self-confidence..?

When do you feel most powerful?

ALDA: I feel the most powerful when I manage to put all my mind noises aside, and just do things that felt natural for me. When I get lucky, it felt cathartic, and when I’m really lucky, it also felt spiritual.

What inspired Lái to start?

ALDA: I wasn’t there from the beginning, but what I know is… Timmy had a dream where they’re in a band with Tessa, Nissa and Annelise (the first vocalist) and it was awesome; so they asked these talented babes to join them in a band, and they’re all keen, so they started. I was excited when I heard that too—I mean they’re an awesome team! I’d definitely come to their show. But Annelise is a very busy person already, hence it’s hard to find time for practice, so eventually she quit…and then Tessa messaged me if I’m interested, and I’m like hell yeah! I got to scream my lungs out and make fun projects with these amazing peeps! Stage fright aside, I was very keen.

Later in the year once all the Coronavirus uncertainty has settled down Lái will be releasing LP Pontianak (it’s also the name of the first track from the album), from what I understand the Pontianak is a female vampiric ghost in Indonesian and Malay mythology/folklore; what was the significance to you of her appearance in your creation?

ALDA: I feel a lot of connection with Pontianak. When I grew up, one of the main scary folklore figure is Pontianak. Older people told me, if a women did an abortion/child birth and died—she will turn into Pontianak. She will haunt the neighborhood, trying to kidnap babies, because she has lost her baby, and that will be “the only thing that she wanted”. Other adults told me, Pontianak is also those women hangin’ outside past sunset, sometimes they hang around frangipani trees – the tree is associated with death, because in Java it is mostly planted in cemeteries for its nice fragrance – and they will try to lure men into their embrace. The men fallen prey to Pontianak will be killed after they hookup. Some adults also added that these men will be skinned alive, but I think they might confuse it with the myth of Gerwani (one of the propaganda spread in the military regime time, when they wanted to justify the massacre of communists but that’s another story!). Other adults also told me, “Pontianak (also called Kuntilanak in Indonesia) can be turned into an attractive women, very suitable to be married. But you will have to stake a nail on top of her head, and keep it there. As long as the nail remains there, she will turn into a beautiful, obedient women, and she will be a good wife.”

As I turn older, and survived some horribly dodgy illegal abortion practices in Indonesia, met other women who are going to do their abortion in those shady, overpriced, hidden abortion clinic;

I realized fully how fucked those stories are! Why does Pontianak become a demon after she failed giving birth? And, why the hell do they think having a baby would be the only thing she cares about? Hangin’ outside at night time, is that just a way to give shit to women that are still going out having a night life, and a way to scare people off them? Also WTF?? Lobotomizing her so she can become “a good, obedient wife”?? Fuck that! Fuck those stories! Her story needs to be retold. Reclaimed, by all other women who don’t think that these hateful stories does her justice. I draw Pontianak here and there before the album artworks too, just because, of course.

In 2015, Yee I-Lann from Malaysia also made a video art called “Imagining Pontianak” where she interviewed a bunch of girls covered with long black hair (as Pontianak usually is depicted), and I lived in  Kuala Lumpur at the time so one of them is me. The topic of our talk was about sex, abortion, and generally about being a women, the types of women that “Pontianak would be”. I thought her project was important and inspiring, as these topics needed to be brought up more often. We all have versions of ourselves, and therefore our own versions of Pontianak. But what she shouldn’t be anymore, is a feared folklore figure with a story told by misogynist men and women. I loved the fact that she made a cool art project out of our folklore (and I think you should check it out if you can), as I think it is very important for women living and growing in misogynistic cultures to take these shitty narratives back, to reclaim their own stories and destroy the toxic ones (or at least acknowledging how the toxic narratives affects people).

Art by Alda.

I really love the art work you did for the album too; how did you decide to draw her like that?

ALDA: Traditionally, Pontianak is depicted with long black hair… but I had a dream once where I got dragged down to a river, where the water was bottomless, and a particular Pontianak slowly swimming towards me, with all her white hair flowing gently around her face contrasting with the dark waters, and I get to watch in vivid details on how her entire looks were. Her dried up eyeballs, hollowed eye sockets, and enticing stare. Pontianak that I drew is based on her just because it feels more personal to me, although I did draw her in a way more comical version…hmm I don’t think my drawing style can do her justice to be honest, but I’m pretty happy with it.

Feminism and queer rights in South East Asia are themes that you explore in your lyrics; what has helped shape the importance of these themes to you?

ALDA: My main issue with everything surrounding my life in Indonesia since my forced-religious childhood until the demystifying moments of rape culture and sexism in the punk scene that I grew up in, can be concluded to mainly about the misogyny and rampant queerphobia. Although I’m trying to not make it define me in my current life, a bunch of traumas related to the subject have undoubtedly shaped me.

What’s your favourite moment on the record?

ALDA: Screaming (and punishing the ears of my lovely bandmates while they were having lunch LOL) without the music even playing loud at the recording, it felt funny.. There was also an attempt of recording group cackles with our mates that was hilarious and fun to do, even though we end up not using it [laughs].

Religion is another theme explored in your songs; are you a spiritual person at all?

ALDA: I’m somewhat spiritual, but definitely not religious… I think my resentment comes from being forced to practice religion that I don’t believe in, definitely put me off from being one.

Lastly, can you please share with us a really life changing moment you’ve had?

ALDA: I guess that moment in high school that I mentioned before was the main life changing thing. When I decided that being liked for what I’m not is not a good enough motivation to survive….you know, if I’m gonna try to stay alive, I might as well just do me, might actually try to make it worth the survival efforts. Even when it looks mundane, so what, right? Otherwise, what is really the point…? Self-discovery/exploration has been my constant reliable source of joy & sense of meaning. I think 2020 only makes this belief grow stronger for me [laughs].

Please check out: Lái bandcamp; on Facebook; on Instagram; demo available via Lost In Fog Distro; Pontianak will be out Spring 2020 on German label Ruin Nation Records.

Parsnip and School Damage’s Carolyn Hawkins: “You just have to tell that voice that doubts yourself to shut up!”

Carolyn Hawkins is a musician and visual artist from Melbourne. We love the art she creates! It’s imaginative, fun, whimsical and sentimental. She lovingly crafts album covers, gig posters, zines, videos and more as well as playing in two punk bands we adore, Parsnip and School Damage. Gimmie chatted with Carolyn about all this and more.

CAROLYN HAWKINS: I’ve been stuck in the studio today working on stuff that’s due this week.

What have you been working on?

CH: A stop-motion video. I’m glad we booked the interview for today because I feel like I’m starting to go crazy, I feel like I’m locked in a dungeon trying to get this thing done [laughs]. It’s good to break it up.

You also did a stop-motion animation for the School Damage song “Meeting Halfway”; is this new clip you’re working on similar to that?

CH: Yeah. It’s pretty similar. I’m still using paper cut-outs to do all of the images. I’m using a slightly better program. When I made the “Meeting Halfway” video I was using a $20 program and my computer didn’t have enough memory. I had to save it every time that I captured a frame, it was twelve frames per second. It would kick me out and I’d lose all of my work. I have a much better program now, which I’m glad I was able to save up for and get. It makes stuff a dream. It’s still really time consuming but it’s easier now.

I can relate! With my laptop at the moment I have to have it plugged into the wall all the time because the battery won’t charge and it has a dodgy port and if I just knock it slightly it shuts down and whatever I’m working on I lose. At the moment I’m saving after like every sentence I type!

CH: Oh no! That’s totally what this was like. It’s living on the edge way too much [laughs].

[Laughter] Totally!

CH: The “Meeting Halfway” video was a lot of fun to make. I don’t really do animation stuff, I didn’t really know what I was doing. My friend Alex gave me heaps of help in figuring it all out, I also borrowed a camera and a tripod off him. I still don’t really know what I’m doing, I guess that’s probably why I’m working in a similar style for this new one. I’m still getting my head around that way of doing things. I started using a green screen which is pretty exciting!

Nice! My husband’s made a few film clips with animation and using a green screen, he just uses a green sheet for the backdrop.

CH: Cool! I have a green bit of paper. It’s really fun! What videos has he made?

He made Regurgitator’s “Sine Wave” clip. What first got you interested in art?

CH: I’ve always enjoyed drawing and making things from as far back as I can remember. One thing that really stands out – I really don’t think that I probably would be into making things in quite the same way if I didn’t watch it – is watching Art Attack! When I was a kid I used to love that show so much! My mum used to tape it off the T.V. and I’d watch it on the school holidays. Someone gave me all the VHS tapes of that recently too. It’s just the most random projects and using all kinds of materials, just stuff you have around the house. It kept me entertained for so long. I’ve always enjoyed making things and using the materials that I have generally. It’s satisfying to start with nothing and then by the end of the day you’ve made this new thing. That was always just fun stuff. I don’t know what made me decide to go to art school and pursue it beyond doing art at school or in my own time. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else basically, there’s nothing else that I want to do more. It’s just a very satisfying thing to do to work with your hands.

It really can be the best fun that you can possibly have.

CH: Yeah, exactly. There’s so many surprises! When I left school I studied print making and a lot of that is about these unexpected things that can happen. When something doesn’t go right and you get these happy accidents, I think that’s probably the most exciting thing that can happen when you’re making anything whether it’s a song or a drawing or a print, something you’re working on. For me that is the most exciting thing about making anything.

Me too! I love when you’re making a song and you might play a “wrong” note or something but then it works, there’s a beauty in imperfection and making things work, that’s what makes stuff more interesting to me.

CH: Yeah, totally! I agree. With punk music it’s all about imperfections. When you’re recording something and it’s not a perfect take, I would probably prefer to use those ones. There’s no point in trying to control something so much that it squeezes the life out of it. You have to allow and encourage all of those things. It’s all part of the process.

Totally! When I spoke to Jake [of Alien Nosejob] he told me that he was teaching you to play guitar in iso; how’s that going?

CH: Oh yeah! [laughs]. Good. I’m still going with it. I practice almost every day and it’s been really good because, I think over the last little while I have found it harder to write songs. I’ve just gone through this period where… I’m not really sure what it is but I haven’t been writing as many songs but I’m still dong musical things.

It’s been really awesome to learn an instrument. I haven’t played anything like the guitar before, the last time I learnt an instrument would have been when I was getting drum lessons when I was a teenager or learning piano. It makes you realise that when you are an adult, as you get older you know what you like and you stick to the things that you know and that you’re good at and you keep doing those; the things that you’re not good at you don’t have to do anymore.

As a kid your parents encourage you to learn these things, play this sport, go to swimming lesson, stuff like that… you might not enjoy them but you just do them because that’s what being kid is about—people want you to try new things. It’s refreshing to push myself to do this thing that might be uncomfortable and have the satisfaction of seeing yourself get better at something. It’s been really fun.

It’s nice to play songs that I think are cool. If I learnt guitar as a kid I’d probably just be playing something like “Smoke On The Water” [laughs]. Maybe “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica or something like that! I’m so impatient with learning the guitar though, it’s like; when am I going to get better?! It reminds you that if you practice something you’re going to get better. If you put work into something you’ll get there. Fingers crossed I keep going with it.

I’ve read that in Parsnip you play the same drum kit you’ve had since you were a teenager.

CH: Yeah, I do. I’ve only ever had the one drum kit. I remember when I got it from this drum place that is still there in Richmond on Victoria Street. It’s served me really well and unless something bad happened to it or it broke in a way that it couldn’t be repaired… I never get new things, especially if I’m used to something. I’ll just keep using it until I can’t.

Same!

CH: Jake loves getting new things, I don’t really like getting new things [laughs]. I stay with my old stuff and I like repairing things until I can’t anymore and they just die. I’m really fond of my drum kit, it’s like my bike… I’m so comfy with them, they’re like old friends. I can’t let go of them!

Previously when talking about the gear you’ve used, you’ve mentioned that you feel like your sound more comes from how you play and not what gear you play; how would you say you play?

CH: That’s a good point, because a lot of the time I don’t even play my drum kit. It’s not like being a guitarist and having your own gear, often when you’re a drummer you just use what kit is there, which is fine, it means I don’t have to bring one.

For a long time I never really thought the way I played was particularly unique or anything, the way I play I always have the philosophy that less is more. Strip it back as much as you can to the core elements. I think it probably came from being in high school, I never played drums in a band because it was totally dominated by dudes, who honesty couldn’t play that well but were just really loud and they could do all these drum fills and stuff. I was too nervous to do that. It made me be really put off by these really over the top way of playing.

When I was a teenager I loved The Who and loved Led Zeppelin, I still really like those bands and that crazy drumming but, it’s not for me. I’d much rather play like Peggy from The Gories or Meg from The White Stripes, she basically made me want to be a drummer. I take from that school of thought, you don’t need to be over the top to have something that sounds cool and has personality, and is catchy and still has a good feel to it. People often come up to me and say they like how I drum and everyone always says that I play “really in the pocket” and I have never really understood what that means… apparently that’s what I do [laughs].

When Parsnip started you all had other bands; what was it like when you all started playing together?

CH: Honestly it just felt really natural. Me and Paris and Stella had spoken about it, we were at one of the Jerkfests and we were like, let’s make a band! The other two had been talking about it and they asked me if I wanted to be part of it. I messaged them the next day and I was like, I know we were all pretty drunk and getting excited about this but, I really, really want to do it!

When we finally did get together…. whenever you start a band I think it’s a bit awkward because you know each other as friends but you’re trying to suss out how everyone works when you jam, being in that band environment. Every band is so different. I feel like we figured it out really quickly, I feel like we just got our shit together!

We all had played in bands for so long… we probably all had the same experience playing in bands… I’d never played in an all girl before. We all had the same frustrations of being in this male dominated environment, it’s not like we talked about that though. The dynamic just worked instantly. It was fun. It’s just hanging out with your friends. It sounds corny but that’s how it really was. With our rehearsals still, almost 50% of it is just hanging out and chatting [laughs]. Which isn’t great if you’re paying for a rehearsal room. It’s good though, a lot of it is mucking around and catching up. It’s important to hang out outside of band things too, I think sometimes in bands friendships can suffer. We all hang out as buddies not just band stuff, which is really nice.

What inspired you and Jake to start School Damage?

CH: Me and Jake did a tape. Jake typically said something like – this was when we first started going out – “We’re gonna spend so much time together, we may as well start a band” [laughs]. Which was cool, I didn’t mind. I had never written a song before and he was really encouraging of that, which was good because it is pretty scary to do that. We recorded a tape at home. Jake was hanging out with Jeff at this record store, Title, that used to exist on Gertrude Street. Jeff joined on drums and then I’d known Dani since I was at RMIT – she was doing photography and I was doing print making. We were all just friends. Dani played guitar and I asked her if she could play bass and she turned out to be the best bass player I have ever heard, so incredible.

You mentioned that when you started writing songs, it was scary; what’s scary about it?

CH: I guess ‘cause I thought I couldn’t do it. It was nice being around Jake because I can kind of see how he writes songs, it demystified the whole process. I was still relativity new even to just having friends that played music. The whole idea of creating songs… I was playing with Chook Race and we just jammed, at the start we didn’t really write songs. I was always like; how does it happen?

I knew how to play piano and I had a keyboard so I just recorded stuff on my phone and Garage Band, not really knowing what I was doing; I still don’t know what I’m doing! It was a scary idea. You have to make yourself quite vulnerable. The thing that always freaks me out is; what am I going to write a song about? Everything sounds pathetic when I write, but you just have to get past that. If I was going to give in to that part of myself, which is: no one cares about that; no one wants to hear about your stupid romance troubles… I don’t even know. Why do you want to write a song about dumb online shopping? Who gives a shit?

I give a shit! I really love your song “Online Shopping”.

CH: That’s the one song that I am the most proud of! [laughs]. I really love that song, I don’t care that I wrote it… I really love it. It’s actually really relevant right now… anyway, whatever! You just have to tell that voice that doubts yourself to shut up! You know this. It’s not going to help you at all do anything. Maybe that’s why I haven’t written for ages? Because every time I go to write something I think it’s stupid.

Something that helps me when writing is that I think, well, maybe if I think this maybe someone else out there will. I just do it and have fun with it. Hopefully it connects with someone somewhere, and if it doesn’t I still had a really fun time making it.

CH: You’re 100 % right. It’s like maybe we’re just hardwired to doubt ourselves. You do have to get past it. You’re right, someone somewhere will resonate with it and if they don’t; what’s the worst that could happen?!

On the new Parsnip 7” Adding Up you wrote the song “Repeater”?

CH: Yes, I did. I wrote it really quickly because I was like, oh no, I have to try and write something for this! [laughs]. It was very quickly put together. This is what happens when you play in a band, you write some little demo with a little information in it and the rest of the members make it a hundred more times amazing! I wrote that and we ended up making it heaps like “I Can’t Explain” by The Who, obviously [laughs]. I didn’t realise until after that I’d totally ripped off a part in “Proud Mary” by Creedence [Clearwater Revival], but whatever! It ended up working though because the song is about patterns repeating themselves throughout your life, relationships and things. Maybe it doesn’t matter that those songs are repeating themselves in my song. At least I can justify it that way! [laughs].

Parsnip do a cover on the 7” too of “Treacle Toffee World”.

CH: I think it was Stella’s suggestion, I didn’t know the song beforehand. It’s off one of these ‘60s comps of garage music. The song is by a band called Fire. It’s such a good song. It’s so much fun to play. It’s fun to sing a song about sort of nothing. I really like the lyrics in it.

The film clip is really fun!

CH: That was obviously done in isolation. We were talking about what we wanted to do for a clip and then the pandemic happened. It’s done in iMovie and is pretty lo-fi. We all filmed ourselves at our own homes being idiots dancing to the song. Bec put it together in a day. It was nice to be silly with it. You’re not spending lots of money on it so there’s no pressure to make it perfect. It was nice to do something together even though we were apart from each other and isolating. Just talking to each other about band stuff and getting things done was nice.

I was so sad for you when the Parsnip Japan tour got cancelled.

CH: I know, it sucks. I’m sad about it as well. Everyone has had so many things get cancelled this year. Ordinarily, if I told myself at the start of this year that everything that was going to happen was going to happen, I’d be so devastated but I think as things got cancelled, the whole scale of this thing has put so many parts of my life into perspective. I had another trip that got cancelled to and I kind of didn’t mind ‘cause I was so freaked out about so many other things, I didn’t even want to go. I was fine to just stay here and be stuff. It would be really cool to go to Japan with Parsnip, it will happen. I’m staying optimistic.

In September/October last year Parsnip when to America, right?

CH: It was for three weeks.

You got to go hiking and swimming and explore some places; what was your favourite place you saw?

CH: Oh my gosh, we were so lucky! We got a bit of time to check out the local area and to do non-music related things which was so nice. The bush walk you were talking about was somewhere in Upstate New York. We went swimming in Richmond, North Carolina. The guys from Cement Shoes took us swimming in this wide river, I’ve never seen anything like it. We went to some really cool art projects in Detroit, they were outdoor art installations which were really cool. Despite Japan being cancelled I feel really lucky that we got to go to America when we did. Who knows when we’ll ever be able to go back there? It was the best tour ever! Tours can be such intense experiences. You can think it will be amazing and sometimes it’s not.

I wanted to ask you about one of your art pieces that I really love, it’s the Anti-Fade Records compilation New Centre Of The Universe Vol. 3. It’s really beautiful.

CH: Thank you! That front cover is really special to me. I was so stoked when Billy asked me to do it. It’s a gauche painting I did. I took a long time to finish. It’s from a photo I took four years ago on New Year’s Eve at a spot in Queen’s Park on the Barwon River. All the little people in the boats… one is Paris, the one with the two oars sticking out; one is Zak [Olsen] and some other Geelong friends. We used to go down to the Barwon river and swim, we’d go to K-Mart and get blow up dinghies for $20 and hang out there until it’s dark then go to someone’s house. When Billy asked me to do it I wanted to pick an image that summed up for me, Anti-Fade… when I think of Anti-Fade I think of Geelong and having fun with my friends. I know it’s branched out now and Anti-Fade is a lot bigger but I just wanted to pick something that was special to that scene. I think maybe Billy wanted something more about Melbourne than Geelong and I tried to just paint a pretty picture but it didn’t really work out. I don’t think I can just paint a pretty picture, it has to have some special meaning or concept otherwise it’s too boring to work on.

I had a feeling it was of Queen’s Park. I always remember the really beautiful trees they have there and that peaceful feeling you get, your cover reminded me of that and made me feel that.

CH: It’s a really beautiful spot. It sums up for me what I like about Geelong. It’s just a bunch of people getting drunk and having a swim in Queen’s Park [laughs].

Being a music and art lover; what’s some of your favourite album covers? What do you appreciate about it?

CH: I was talking to Billy [Gardner] about this recently, I love all The Fall 7” art, the illustrations and collages. I really love The Fall Totally Wired cover with the face on it with gritted teeth. Definitely EVOL by Sonic Youth, the cover looks exactly just the way the album sounds. I usually look through heaps of covers when I’m getting inspired to do my own work. I also get really inspired by artist David Hockney.

In February this year a book came out called Urban Australian and Post-Punk which you wrote a piece for.

CH: Yeah, I did. That was basically about a venue that used to exist here in Melbourne that was a house venue. It was run out of a terrace house and had really good shows, it had a limited capacity and the community that would attend those shows were really lovely. It was a really good set up, the sound was always good. The people running it were the most gorgeous angels ever! It held a special spot in my heart and I ended up writing this particular thing about it because I was doing a subject in Urban Planning at Melbourne uni… it was about how every week we’d watch a different movie and it would look at underground subcultures and how that subculture interacted with the urban environment. One week we watched Dogs In Space which is one of my all-time favourite movies and I ended up writing an essay for my final assessment comparing the house party experience and share house environment and how that could be compared to things that were or had happened in Melbourne.  My lecturer David Nicholas, who used to play drums in Cannanes and lots of interesting bands, asked if I wanted to contribute my essay to this book. It’s totally exciting! And nerve-racking! I’m in good company to say the very least. I felt weird having it out there because it’s weird to comment on culture. When you see something in a book bound up like that it’s giving my voice so kind of authority, I don’t know if I should have that. It’s just my perceptions of the whole thing.

Yeah, but you were there and you experienced it and your perceptive is just as valid as anyone else’s that was there.

CH: Yeah, I guess that’s true. I just feel it’s really important and these spaces deserve to be documented in some way otherwise they’re these ephemeral things, but that’s what makes them so beautiful, they come and go. I wanted to write it down, I got some good interviews with people. I’m glad that it’s out there. I hope when I read back over it when I’m older it will be a good thing to prompt my memory. It was really special to be able to do that.

Please check out: PARSNIP and SCHOOL DAMAGE. Parsnip on Facebook; on Instagram. School Damage on Facebook. Carolyn’s art. Carolyn on Instagram.

Matt Blach from Geelong Psych-Rock Band Beans: “We all listened to a lot of ELO and Slade and ‘70s music”

Original photo: Jamie Wdziekonski. Handmade collage by B.

Psych-rockers Beans are back sounding bigger and better than ever with sophomore album, All Together Now! We spoke with guitarist-vocalist Matt Blach (who also drums for The Murlocs) about the new record.

What first got you interested in music?

MATT BLACH: My dad played drums and he kind of taught me how to play drums. I’ve did it ever since I was a tiny kid.

When did you start playing guitar?

MB: That wasn’t until a bit later, I played drums first. I taught myself, I started playing when I was ten or eleven.

What were you listening to back then?

MB: A lot of the classics like Beatles and The Who and The Clash.

How did the new Beans’ record All Together Now get started?

MB: It’s our second album and we just wanted to make a bigger and better album from the first one.

Initially, did you have an idea of what you wanted it to sound like?

MB: Not particularly. We all listened to a lot of ELO [The Electric Light Orchestra] and Slade and ‘70s music and things naturally branched from there.

What have you been listening to at the moment?

MB: I’ve been listening to our label [Flightless Records] friends; Leah Senior. My friend Tim [Karmouche] just put out an instrumental album called Mouche [Live From The Bubble]. Another friend’s band called Smarts.

We love Smarts too! Lyrically was there any specific themes you were writing about with this record?

MB: Not particularly. It’s pretty scrambled really. We tried to match the lyrics with the aura of the song. Towards the last half of last year we tried to have at least one rehearsal a week as a group – three of us live in Geelong and two of us live in Melbourne – we took it in turns in terms of rehearsals and driving up and down each week. The host had to make dinner [laughs].

What did you make for dinner when it was your turn to host?

MB: Usually just pasta or tacos [laughs]. Communal food.

Song “Stride” on the record is about rediscovering your sense of self; were you going through that yourself when writing it?

MB: I guess so. It took me a while to write the lyrics to that song. I was going through that position in my life and that’s what made it come out.

The film clip for it is done in a Top Of The Pops style!

MB: Yeah, that’s what we were going for [laughs]. Over-exaggerated happiness.

What are some things that make you happy?

MB: Playing music [laughs].

What do you do outside of music?

MB: I do a bit of trade work. That helps me with the bills.

Do you ever find when you’re building something at work you’ll get song ideas?

MB: Yeah, definitely. I work by myself most of the time and I like being in my own head. I often don’t listen to music so I try and think of something or hum something.

Can you tell us a bit about the song “Street Troll”?

MB: “Street Troll” is a funny one [laughs]. I was on tour with Murlocs, we were in Belgium and we went out a bit later to get some takeaway beers and there was this big, drunk, scary Belgium dude that wouldn’t let us walk along the footpath. I called the song “Street Troll” and based it around that.

How about “Get It Right”?

MB: It’s a mixture of things. It’s basically about trying to do the right thing but sometimes it seems you’re not.

Is there a song on the album that was easy for you to write?

MB: I guess “Melt” came to me the easiest.

That one is about Climate Change, right?

MB: Yeah, and the government! [laughs].

Was there a song that was hard to write?

MB: I found it hard to put lyrics to “Montgomery”. It’s a busy song and there’s lots going on already so it was hard to find a neat little melody to put vocals in.

Do you demo first before you record?

MB: Yeah, I usually make a lot of demos at home and Facebook it to all the other guys and they get a bit of a vibe going before we get to practice.

Can you tell us about the recording?

MB: All Together Now was recorded in Geelong with Billy Gardner. We recorded it as four, everyone without Mitch the keyboard player. Jack did guitar overdubs, Mitch did the keys later and I did my vocals later.

Why did you call the album All Together Now?

MB: That was based on a private Facebook group I made with the boys to organise practices and jams. Three of us work and two of us do uni, it can be really difficult to get a practice together, especially with the hour and a half travel as well. I called it All Together Now because I was like, OK, everyone can you put down dates when you’re free. That’s how the album came together so we thought, why not call it that.

What is one of the biggest challenges of being in band for you?

MB: Self-doubt.

In what way?

MB: Personally. I guess that can be a good thing not to be overly confident and to doubt yourself and have that insecurity in a way [laughs].

The band were called Baked Beans, now it’s just Beans; does the name change mark new beginnings for you guys?

MB: Yeah, I guess we tried to approach it like that. A new album with a bit of a different name. The name wasn’t really a change for anything, we just didn’t really like the word “baked” and we just call it Beans anyway.

Once you finish an album do you go straight into writing new stuff?

MB: Yeah, exactly. Usually you follow up an album launch with a tour but we obviously can’t do that right now. Jack and I live together in North Melbourne, we have a little garage set up where we’ve been churning out demos. We pretty much write all the time!

Please check out BEANS; Beans on Facebook; Beans on Instagram; All Together Now out via Flightless Records.