Ausecuma Beats are a Naarm/Melbourne-based ensemble that have come together from all parts of the globe – Gambia, Guinea, Mali, India, Senegal and Cuba – to explore the idea of transplanting cultural heritage into a contemporary city through the universal language of music and community. Ausecuma Beats is a melting pot of their rich experiences, languages, craft, heritage and cultures. Their mission is to learn from one another and uplift people with their art. Gimmie caught up with bandleader and master djembe player, Boubacar Gaye to find out more about debut self-titled album, out now on Music in Exile (home of another Gimmie fav Gordon Koang).
Hi Bouba! I understand that you are from Senegal in West Africa; what was it like growing up there?
BOUBACAR GAYE: Senegal is a rich country in the west of Africa and there is a strong French and Arabic influence. I was born in Senegal and grew up there as well, so I had the chance to learn Arabic music and culture and also a chance to speak French too. It is a rich culture because there are so many different tribes there. Each region has their own instrument and I had the chance to learn different instruments of each tribe.
What is one of your favourite things about Senegalese culture?
BG: Food! My favourite is a fish and rice dish.
I know that both your father and uncle influenced you with the music they listened to; what would you listen to together?
BG: My uncle liked jazz music like Miles Davis and my father liked old music called tango, so I listened to those styles. I get the jazz and afro flavour from what they used to listen to. My uncle used to go to parties and he would wear a suit, he would dress well, and I would watch how he would dress. You have to dress up good to go to the nightclub and listen to good music! His influence on me was in clothes as well as music!
What instrument do you like to play the most? What do you love about it?
BG: I like to play a bass drum called a Dum Dum. I’m a djembe player professionally though, but I like both high and low pitch so I can’t just pick one! They both have energy!
Why is music important to you?
BG: Music is everything. It educates me, it gave me the opportunity to leave Africa and to experience different cultures and different worlds. I think if I was not a musician, I don’t know what I would be. My family says that I was born for music and I believe so. Good music takes me out of the street and makes me not take the wrong way in life. When I was young, not everyone takes the right track. Thanks to music, I have found my path. Music is my life.
How did you first feel when you came to Australia? Why did you decide to come to Australia?
BG: I was in Japan for 8 years living there. I came to Melbourne for 10 days visiting a friend who said that Melbourne was a beautiful city and I should come. Japan was already far from home but Australia is also very far! I came to Australia for music and because of curiosity. My friend introduced me to an African drumming company; the boss was very welcoming to me and he introduced a big community to me. There is a strong drumming community here which made me feel that this is a place I can adopt. I was scared to make the move to come here, I already moved to Japan! My visiting holiday was fun but thinking about living here was not easy. There was stress! Was I making the right choice and decision to do this? There is always something I trust – don’t worry, you have the music! The music will lead you to make your own community! Go for it and don’t look behind. Let it go and move forward. Making a move can be a big decision, but be patient and have your goals. It will not be easy but as long as you keep working on it it will be ok.
I visited and did the tour things, I like the design of Melbourne, you can see the sky. It’s great! In Japan it is very hard to see the blue sky because there are so many buildings. In the winter it feels like there is no day time because there isn’t too much light, so much shadow from the buildings.
Throughout your debut self-titled album there flows messages of love and respect; what inspired this?
BG: I think respect is an important thing for us as Ausecuma Beats members because we are all different – sometimes language is difficult as the tone can be interpreted in the wrong way for members of the group who are not fluent in English. We need to be careful – the respect needs to be there. We always need to respect each other even if we have different ways of speaking English. We don’t always agree on everything, but we all have to share music and music is love.
Your latest single ‘Cherie’ speaks about the importance of equality in relationships, especially in marriage; what inspired you to write about that?
BG: Cherie is a French word – you can use ‘cherie’ to make the relationship very nice, “oh my cherie, oh my love, my darling.” This word, ‘cherie’ is for caring and loving someone who is your daughter, wife, or husband.
The track is based on a traditional song which is a true story from an older storyteller. The storyteller donated his music to the world and many musicians reinterpret his songs. He was singing about his wife; “you carry my children, you make me proud as a man, I don’t know how I can thank you, if i go first i will wait for you, if you go first wait for me, my cherie we are together for everything.” This story is quite old, not from my Mum’s generation but from my Grandma’s generation!
Each track on the album displays the different talents of each musician; what do you feel are your talents?
BG: The groove! I always make sure we are tight. My role is always to control the volume when we are recording or performing. We all have a role and we have to give the same energy, but there needs to be space to solo. There are so many members, we also need to control all of the instruments and make space. I think in Ausecuma Beats, there is no leader in our music because all instruments have space and are equal. My role is to make sure that there is an equal role in the music.
Why is improvisation an important part of Ausecuma Beats’ creativity? Can you tell us a bit about your song-writing process?
BG: We want to do something beautiful and unique and to do that you have to let there be space for that, space for creativity and composing music. When you’re improvising, sometimes it can be good, but sometimes it can be good and then crash! When we’re improvising, we’re cooking and everyone brings their own ingredients!
Auseucma Beats music always starts from the engine – the percussion. After this, we compose the melody, sometimes with the belafon, kora, or sometimes from the percussion. The voice always comes on after we have built the road; when the road is smooth the voice comes in.
What is something important you’ve learnt from your journey as a creative person that you’d like to share with us?
BG: What I have learnt is that it is beautiful to build a community. You feel you’re all on the same page, it’s great! The best things I’ve achieved in my musical career is to build community. Not only with Auseucma Beats but also drumming. We’re sharing the same passion. If you listen and you want to come and dance, you’re part of our community!
Ausecuma Beats’ debut LP out now through Music In Exile.
We’re very excited that Eggy are getting set to release new album Bravo! on November 13 on Spoilsport Records! It’s been on high rotation here at Gimmie HQ since they sent us a sneak peek a few weeks back. We loved their 2019 EP Billy. Bravo! delivers more of the garage-surrealist-pop that we’ve come to love from the free form expressionists yet takes it even further with oodles of lyrical wit, charm and musical experimentation with a water cooler, glass bottles & glockenspiel! Eggy’s debut full-length is a delight. We interviewed keyboardist-bassist-vocalist, Zo Monk to get an insight into the new LP.
What inspired Eggy to first get together?
ZO MONK: Friendship and gags.
Did you initially have an idea for how you wanted to sound? What informed the creation of your surrealist-pop sound?
ZM: It was kind of a running gag at the start that we could never figure out what kind of songs we wanted to make. We weren’t sure what we were going for, but we were going for it haha. I think over time though, we’ve all developed more as songwriters and have a better grasp on how to bring things together. I think the surrealist pop sound just comes from having more confidence in what we’re doing.
What’s one of the best things you do to get your creative juices flowing when you set out to make something?
ZM: Make a big cup of coffee.
You have a new album Bravo! coming out in November; where did the album title come from?
ZM: The title is very sarcastic and I hope people don’t think we’re serious. It conjures such an exaggerated image for me of standing ovations and rose throwing. It makes me laugh with its over the topness. One time I went to the ballet and people actually shouted bravo at the end – it was a big culture shock for a girl from Dandenong. We’re just trying to live our high art form fantasy.
What intention did you have for this record going into it? Was there things you wanted to do differently from last year’s EP Billy?
ZM: When we recorded Billy, we were all so new to recording and didn’t have a great grasp on how to actually make a record. I think with Bravo! we were a bit more confident, and had a better understanding of the process itself. So there was a lot more attention to detail with the ideas, but also just a push out of the comfort zone. Taking a few more creative risks and letting that momentum drive itself.
I’ve heard that the process for writing this album was quite varied, to give us an idea of this variance and your process; could you tell us a bit about the first song that was written and the last most recent one?
ZM: ‘Another Day In Paradise’ is the last song we recorded, which we wrote all together on the last day of recording. It started with a 5 minute piano loop, and then 3 or 4 misc percussion tracks – after that everything was pretty much just done in one take. Big improv energy. HAL 9000 is one of the first songs we ever wrote, and definitely the most senior song on the record. Dom [Moore] had his guitar part and lyrics, and then we all just jammed it in rehearsals. Actually when you remove the context, they don’t sound that different haha. I guess one was being written as it was recorded, and the other jammed out over time.
I understand that on this record you were more interested in and focused on capturing the expression of an idea rather than getting it technically perfect; what were the things that helped you in doing this?
ZM: Trusting your gut. If you hear something and it sparks joy, then roll with it.
There’s also a lot of experimentation on Bravo using things like a glockenspiel to a water cooler; how did the water cooler idea come into play? What other things did you experiment with?
ZM: The water cooler was Fabian’s idea I think! Nothing was sacred anymore. Other things we experimented with were a Space Echo, glass bottles, and sometimes too much caffeine.
Fabian Hunter recorded this album and also added additional guitar and drums; what were some of the best things working with Fabian?
ZM: He was keen to roll with whatever idea we had, always had tea and coffee, has a really cute dog, and would tell us when we weren’t quite hitting the notes haha. He’s a really kind and supportive person to work with, who makes an effort to make sure everyone in the room is comfortable. Do recommend!
What was one of the most fun moments you had while making this record?
ZM: I know it’s tragic to say, but the whole thing. Sue me.
What was the idea behind going with the minimalist, exclamation point album cover design by Ashley Goodall?
ZM: Ash is such a master. When she came up with that exclamation point design we just knew it was the one. I love that it’s all wrapped in itself, but with bold simplicity.
How has not being able to play live over the last few months due to the pandemic and lockdown affected you?
ZM: Playing live isn’t really my favourite part about being in a band or making music, so it hasn’t hit me super bad not being able to play shows. But I reallllllly miss seeing shows, and the community aspect of that. I miss cheering for my friends.
Anything else you’d like to tell us or share with us?
Gimmie interviewed Krystal Maynard and Christopher Stephenson from Naarm/Melbourne post-punk, synth-heavies, screensaver. Last year they released demos with a lot of heart and promise and this year as well as featuring on two essential compilations – A Complication for Edgar – a fundraiser for Edgar’s Mission Sanctuary providing, shelter and care for homeless, abused, injured, or abandoned animals and the latest Blow Blood Records ALTA2 compilation – they released a new single ‘Strange Anxiety’.
How did you first meet?
CHRISTOPHER STEPHENSON (guitar/synth): We first met in 2014 in Berlin when our bands Spray Paint and Bad Vision played together. The following year Spray Paint travelled to Australia and played with Krystal’s band Polo.
KRYSTAL MAYNARD (vocals/synth): Yeah, our first official meeting was at some heinous hour of the morning on the very last night of Bad Vision’s tour at the kick on at some bar in a suburb of Berlin that I remember very little detail of.
I understand that you both started collaborating musically over the internet beginning in 2016 with Chris in Austin, Texas and Krystal here in Melbourne, Australia; what kinds of songs were you making back then?
CS: At the time I had a great 4-track in my share house bedroom, I didn’t have any real drum machines or great synths, so I tapped beats out on a thrift store Casio into a loop pedal and ran keyboard sounds through enough guitar pedals to sound somewhat synth-y. The project started as me sending over instrumentals and Krystal doing vocals.
What inspired you to go for a synth-punk, new wavey, gothy sound for screensaver?
CS: After I moved over we decided to expand into a full band format where Krystal played keys and I added guitar. Once we brought in bass and drums with Giles and James the sound naturally settled into where we’re at presently.
KM: It wasn’t really a conscious decision, Chris’s original demos really lent themselves to the sound and vocally it made sense for me to go down that path. We’ve both played in a variety of different sounding bands over the years and I was enthused to do something I hadn’t dived into before but actually was core to my musical origins. When I was a teenager I was super into The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division as well as the 77 punk stuff. So for me, it’s been like tapping back into my origins but whilst having had many years of developing a broader palette to take those influences but ( hopefully) not just reproduce their sound but incorporate more wide ranging sounds. I find genre discussions both interesting and tedious. As a band you can’t really escape using genres to describe your music which is frustrating but unavoidable!
What’s the story behind the band name?
CS: I recall coming up with the name as we drove together to Office Works in Coburg in our black Volvo station wagon. I think I had to print a certified copy of my passport that day.
Your debut single ‘Strange Anxiety’ that’s about to come out was recorded remotely in isolation; what sparked the idea for this song?
CS: Krystal had a garage band demo with the initial low keyboard and then sent it to James who programmed the beat. She’s amazingly quick with lyrics and vocals in general, so by the time I started working on it as a session the structure was all there.
KM: I’m pretty sure that this song began as me teaching myself how to program drums in Garageband and having a play with making music that way, it could have easily been a throwaway practice session of mine that nothing happened with. When our drummer James got his hands on it he turned my basic beat into something super dynamic which brought the bass line to life and we built from there.
What’s something that we might be surprised to know about your writing or recording process?
CS: I suppose we’re still getting to know our process ourselves! In an otherwise normal year I doubt we ever would have seen a song through from start to finish without going into a studio to amplify guitar or bass at the very least.
KM: Covid-19 and the restrictions in Melbourne have meant that we’ve had to reinvent our processes completely, it’s enabled us to stretch out into sounds we may not have if we were just jamming as a four piece is a room, the method of making (mostly) in the box music over the last six months has had a lot of positives for us and developing our sound.
The video for the song is a collaboration between screensaver’s bass player Giles Fielke and animator Juliet Miranda Rowe; can you tell us about making it?
KM: We filmed the video using our bass player Giles’ Super 8 camera at his apartment back in June when the restrictions were briefly lifted. Giles riffed off the simplicity of Andy Warhol’s screen tests for the black and white shots of the band members and he edited the foundation of the clip. Juliet came in afterwards and animated over the top of the footage to give it even more movement, working with the songs rhythm’s to give it punch in all the right places.
In 2019 you started playing gigs locally and then did a short run of shows in the US opening for Wiccans and Timmy’s Organism; besides playing, what was one of your favourite moments on the trip?
CS: Personally it was good to be back in my former hometown and reconnect with bandmates and friends in Austin.
KM: My first instinct is to say the breakfast I had in New Orleans! I still find eating food in the USA such a novelty, the diners and greasy spoons and the really regional foods. But yes, the shows were great too, tour is always fun, sometimes the best moments are just being juvenile in the van and flogging the tour joke until it’s got no life left in it.
screensaver are featured on the Blow Blood Records ALTA2 compilation (a comp of Australian bands who have made music whilst in isolation); how did the song you contributed to this get started?
CS: That one started as some Michael Rother worship I put over a terrible sounding beat on a cheap machine. James improved the rhythm track immensely and Krystal belted the vocals out in our apartment.
KM: I’m positive that our neighbours think we are crazy, because I am always laying down vocal tracks in headphones really loud, so all they are getting is vocals sans music which we all know sounds pretty bizarre/not very good. I’m now at peace with it. We hear things we don’t wanna hear in the apartment block all the time, so I guess its payback.
ALTA2 is a really impressive compilation and such a great idea to put out songs of artists who have continued to produce music during this lock down. It’s a big reminder of how much talent we have in own backyard, we highly recommend you pick up a copy and discover a whole bunch of new artists.
You also had a live track “Meds” on A Complication for Edgar – a fundraiser for Edgar’s Mission Sanctuary featuring 20+ punk bands; why was it important for you to be a part of it?
CS: In addition to supporting a great cause it actually happens to document our first live show at the Last Chance. Max Ducker did a great job with the live sound and making it sound great on tape.
KM: Max Ducker is a really old friend of mine so we couldn’t say no! But honestly we are happy to support an organisation that is looking after the welfare of animals.
What’s something that has really engaged your attention lately?
CS: I thoroughly enjoyed Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta.
KM: I am very enamoured with Miles Brown’s album The Gateway released early this year, it’s so danceable, moody and evocative and the theremin works it magic to replace any desire you might have for vocals.
Naarm/Melbourne synth-pop duo Syzygy – Bec Maher and Gus Kenny – are one of the brightest new electronic bands we’ve heard this year. Their debut release The Pendulum is full of spirit, charm and very danceable drum machine driven, hook laden bangers.
How did you first start making music?
BEC MAHER: I was actually kinda late to the game when it comes to making music. I have always been a little obsessed with music and have loved singing in particular. I remember as a kid I would take my mum’s dictaphone and record my favourite songs from movies and listen back, writing out all the lyrics and learning to mimic the singer. Then when I started getting into punk as a teenager I spent most of my weekends going to all the shows I could and have kinda kept that up since.
However playing music myself always seemed out of reach. I’m not sure if it was because there weren’t many women playing live music as I was growing up and therefore I struggled to see myself in it, to understand the path from punter to participant. Or if it was that I revered music so much, it felt overwhelming to imagine myself making it. But in my late 20’s a group of close friends (which included Gus, the other half of Syzygy), some of which were in the same position as me where they have never played before or wanted to try new instruments, were starting a band and I decided to play bass. So I learned a few Ramones songs, an Au Pairs and Nots cover and that was the start of my first band Spotting.
We love your previous band Spotting! Both you and Gus make up Syzygy; how did you first meet? How did Syzygy come about?
BM: Gus and I met through some mutual friends in 2006 going to shows around Melbourne and have stayed close friends ever since. We’ve done a lot together in the past 14 years; lived together, travelled together and one of the most significant was probably Spotting. Gus was pretty integral in helping me learn to play bass, as well as the basics of arrangement and how instruments fit together as he had a bit more experience than me and a lot of patience.
We really loved working on music together, perhaps because we both have the same somewhat obsessive love or approach to it. We have really similar tastes but also, sometimes quite different tastes too. So talking about music and the way we experience it, and how that can differ, has always been a part of our friendship.
I think Gus was looking to make something more on the synth pop side of things, so when Spotting ended he started writing. By the time he approached me to see if I wanted to sing, he already had quite a few songs pretty much fully written. It took a little bit of thought on my behalf as although I loved singing, I actually had never really done it before. I had been doing punk vocals a bit here and there, but I knew this was going to push me and honestly I was pretty terrified. But I just loved the songs Gus had written so much and we had worked so well together in the past that I knew that we’d figure it out along the way. It was also a good way to hang out and spend time doing something fun and fulfilling.
What was it about the name Syzygy that you like so much to call yourselves that?
BM: So first things first, Syzygy is a strange name and we do realise now that it’s going to be difficult for people to try to say and spell. A simple definition we have been using to explain it is a syzygy is the conjunction of any two related things, either alike or opposite. It’s often used in astronomy to describe the alignment of bodies such as an eclipse but has uses in psychology, philosophy and mathematics.
When we realised the looming day was coming where you have to name your band, possibly one of the worst times in a new band’s progress haha. Everything sounds cheesy and weird until you say it enough. So we started trying to think of concepts that represented us or the music.
We kept coming back to this idea of our relationship as friends and as band mates as being mutually beneficial or a mutual exchange. We are very different people in some ways. The way we see, experience and react to the world can be different and we both have quite contrasting strengths when it comes to making music and the wider elements of being in a band.
But these different and at times, opposing personalities are really complimentary. It helps us create balance when we make music as we have a huge amount of respect and trust in what the other one brings to the table. Balance was also something that was also coming through as a common theme in the lyrical content.
At the time Gus was reading a book called The Three-Body Problem and the word syzygy is used in that and it stuck with Gus as an interesting word that was fitting to the themes we’d discussed and reflected some of the genre conventions of electronic music.
In July you released a limited edition cassette The Pendulum; how did it get started? What was the first song you wrote for it?
BM: So Gus wrote the music to the title track ‘The Pendulum’ first out of those 4 songs. However he sent me a few at once to start putting vocals to and I chose (I’ll Just Be) Unfulfilled as I absolutely loved that opening melody and I thought I could take a shot at that repetitive hook at the end.
I’d never really done vocals for pop music before so I listened to melodic pop music I admired like The Go-Go’s, Eurythmics and Tom Petty and thought about which is the part in the song that pulls you in and makes you just want to rewind that 15 seconds over and over. That part that you feel like you are waiting for the whole song. That hook is sometimes the most satisfying part of the song when it comes to the vocals.
So if I prioritise that bit and make sure it’s something I’d want to hear if I was listening to it, the rest can follow. We ended up with 3-4 songs with half written vocals where I had gotten excited about a particular part and then moved on to the next haha. I think ‘Social Fence’ was the first one that was completely finished.
What were the things that were inspiring the writing of The Pendulum?
BM: I’m going to answer this just about the lyrical content as I can’t really speak for Gus’ inspiration when it comes to writing the music. When I write lyrics I have usually spent a few weeks prior researching concepts I find interesting that can work as a wider metaphor for what I am trying to convey.
For example, ‘Social Fence’ is a term used primarily in psychology to describe when an individual’s short sighted or avoidant behaviour leads to society as a whole, suffering. At the time of writing it I was feeling frustrated with lazy individualist choices (including my own, I’m definitely not perfect either) to do the easy thing, not the right thing and the effect I felt that was having on the community around me. It felt to me that the people setting the tone for the community were unaware of the power they hold and what they could do to transform it into a place we all wanted to be. So it’s perhaps a little comment on the music scene but also I think it can extend to interpersonal relationships too.
‘The Pendulum’ as a song is based on a joke that I had with an old friend of mine about the frustrations of having, let’s say, somewhat fluctuating mental health and that the goal is to try and have more of a balanced approach to life instead of being so 0 or 100. For me, structure and staying busy is the key to that so I think this song is a reminder to stay centred instead of being so up and down.
I guess in general the songs are comments, reminders or pep talks to myself to help me understand who I am, accept or criticise the way I see the world and process my relationships and experiences. I’ve tried to write songs without the first person perspective and I am just terrible at it. So I’ve just decided to commit to them being pretty personal with this thinly veiled metaphor over the top haha.
I often like to put a little reference or nod to something that Gus and I have spoken about, as well as its intended meaning. In 14 years you develop quite the repertoire of in-jokes so that’s nice a layer to it as well.
Can you tell us about recording this collection of songs?
BM: The songs start out being written on computer, but the software synths that Gus has access to are not very sophisticated, and they come out sounding a bit like “MIDI versions” of the songs they are supposed to be. So, once the songs are written, he records the MIDI through a couple of different analogue synths to make it sound a bit less clinical. This means that each instrument is effectively recorded twice, and that helps to fill out the sound a bit.
Then we send all the stems to our friend and I guess we’ll call him our producer Julian Cue. He has a studio so I went over there and recorded the vocals with him. I often refer to him as almost the third member of the band as he really helps it go from sounding like a DIY bedroom project to something much more polished with lots of dynamics and depth. He also is great to work with so he helps me get more comfortable when recording vocals and get a better outcome.
What might people be surprised to know about your music making process?
BM: I don’t know if it’s surprising but it’s definitely different for me coming from bands, but that we essentially write and make all the music separately. Gus comes to me with the songs pretty much written and recorded, often he even has an idea of how and where the vocals will sit, as they are almost like another synth line or layer. Then I take it and write my parts and record some demos at home. When we can work around COVID restrictions, we get together and combine everything and maybe play with the arrangement. It’s actually the perfect project for the pandemic because we can keep making music without each other. However we do text A LOT. Sometimes when we are working on something it can be 100s of messages a day haha.
We actually managed to make an entire film clip for the title track ‘The Pendulum’ last lockdown in April without ever seeing each other. I grew up watching Rage every weekend, recording my favourite clips onto VHS and I would watch them over and over. It felt like you got to engage with the band and the song on an extra, almost intimate level which I loved. So I’ve always wanted to make a film clip and Gus had made this video synth a few years earlier. He had been waiting to use it again for something cool.
So we created a little storyboard so we knew what to do and I would film myself lip syncing with an iPhone taped to a mirror or with the help of my housemate and then send them to Gus. He would run them all through an analogue video synth he made himself to get all the effects. Then he edited it all together with some stock footage. It was really awesome to see us being able to work together and adapt to the restrictions and still get to make fun and interesting projects.
The lathe cut release on Wintergarden Records is super cool! Where did the idea for the “moving picture” cover design come from?
BM: That was an idea that Gus has been wanting to try for a long time, and when the Wintergarden Records 7” came up, it was the perfect opportunity, because we could be so involved in its production. It is an example of a Moire pattern, which is a type of interference pattern that happens when two similar patterns with transparent gaps are overlaid on each other. The four frames of the animation are split up into vertical lines and the transparent gaps in the plastic expose each frame as they move across it, making it look like its moving.
Spider from Wintergarden loves things that are unique and collectable and as these are small run 7s, individually pressed, he was fully on board with the idea and let us go for it.
What either excites or frustrates you about the local music scene?
BM: If you had asked me this nine months ago I think I would have had a lot to say in regards to the way it approaches representation or access. Or talked about the bands and labels which are really interesting to me. However post-COVID, I actually have no idea what the music scene will be or how it is going to adapt. I think that I honestly just want to wait and see what emerges from this, particularly as I’m from Melbourne and we are still very much in strict lockdown, and re-evaluate from there.
What was the last gig you saw before lockdown?
BM: The last gig I saw was a punk show I was playing with my other band Vampire supporting Cream Soda from Sydney on the 7th of March. It was actually one of the most fun shows I’ve played with that band and although I didn’t know at the time it would be the last one for what could be a whole year, it was a really great send off.
What’s next for Syzygy?
BM: We are finishing up some songs and getting ready to record them when restrictions ease in Victoria and the plan is to combine them with the cassette to make an LP. The songs were always designed to be an album, but COVID made that plan pretty unviable so we had to go about it all a different way. We will hopefully have them recorded and mixed by the end of the year.
Zines are really important! Good ones burst with life and can capture a culture, a scene, community, document a time, and share ideas and stories in a way that conventional publications can rarely, if ever; they offer an alternative narrative to the mainstream. There’s a genuineness, imperfection and sometimes awkwardness on their pages we resonate with. They’re written with unfiltered voices and self-expression of someone finding themselves (aren’t we always?), navigating the world and exploring their local creative community, likes and dislikes. They spread music, art, thoughts, feelings, information and perspectives. Anyone can make a zine. Making zines hones your skills or teaches you new ones you might not have known you had! Making one can sometimes save your sanity. A zine gives creative freedom. It can help you use your voice. A zine most importantly connects people.
A few weeks back Gimmie’s Editor Bianca sat down for a chat with Billy, they did an interview collaboration! Billy interviewing Bianca can be found in the new issue (#7) of Magnetic Visions, which also features interviews with Alien Nosejob, Lassie, Girlatones, Cool Death Records and more! Bianca interviewing Billy is below.
It’s important to support each other! The more people making interesting, unique rad stuff and expressing themselves creatively the better!
How did you first discover zines?
BILLY: A while ago Strangeworld Records had a flood and they needed to get rid of a lot of the water damaged 7-inches so I went in there and bought quite a few. Richie who runs Strangeworld Records threw in a couple for free. One of them was Meat Thump which is the band ran by Brendon Annesley who made Negative Guest List zine. I ended up contacting Matt who put out the Meat Thump 7-inch to ask if he had another cover for it, because it was completely destroyed from water damage. When he sent the cover, he sent a few copies of Negative Guest List. I remember being completely blown away by them, the journalism and the whole formatting of zines. I developed a curiosity about them and I’d find a couple at Lulu’s and eventually I discovered Sticky Institute in Melbourne. From there I learnt about zine culture. I’ve probably learnt the most since doing Magnetic Visions because it’s put me in contact with a lot of people that know a lot more than me.
Nice. I used to have my earlier zines stocked at Sticky back in the early to mid-2000s.
B: It’s a really great place! I don’t think I’ve asked to stock there but maybe post-pandemic I should see if I could get a few put in there.
Totally! Do it. What inspired you to take the plunge and start making your own zine?
B: Initially it was just meant to be a one-off thing. I’ve always wanted to do a comp tape with a zine, so I put together five or so of my friends’ bands; I interviewed them and I put an exclusive track on a cassette. I put it out and I found that it was a really freeing process because it allowed me to be connected to music without actually making music. I sat on it for a bit and I started working on issue two during February, as that turned into COVID time, I plunged completely deeper into zine making, making it properly, properly publishing it and trying to put in as much effort as possible as I can to make it as good as I possibly can.
What are the zines that you really enjoy?
B: Negative Guest List is the main one, which ended in 2012 when Brandon died. I absolutely love Distort from the issues I’ve been able to get, there aren’t that many. There’s a zine in Europe called Rat Cage which is starting up at the moment that I really like, it’s focused on European hardcore and post-punk. Of course I love Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie zine! A friend of mine runs a zine called DST that I really like that’s based in the US, its half writing like short stories and half interviewing bands.
Do these zines have any similar qualities?
B: I like really good interviews, I like interviews that are very conversational and have good graphic design. I’ve always loved the visual appeal of a zine, making it as visually appealing as possible because you are paying for that physical visual aspect.
Is there a difference for you reading a zine digitally vs. reading print?
B: Digitally I have less of an incentive to read it. If I buy a zine I’m more inclined to read it because I’ve spent money and there’s an investment in there so I might as well get as much out of it as I can. I also find I’m able to get more value or enjoyment out of something on paper because I put more of myself into it.
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of making a zine?
B: I’ll start with least favourite, it can be very intense trying to put something together that you think you’re truly proud of, hoping people will buy it, that’s not particularly fun. I’ve had a lot of trouble dealing with that and at times the zine has been quite taxing on me. I think I’m a lot better at it now. I’ve figured out the main parts.
The best part is being able to be involved with so many music scenes around the world and being able to talk to artists that I absolutely adore, in a somewhat conversational way is absolutely fantastic!
Yeah, it’s pretty cool getting an insight into people who make stuff that you admire and appreciate.
B: Yeah, I did an interview with Jake from Alien Nosejob for the next issue. Even though I’ve talked to him a bunch this was the first time that I think I felt really comfortable really talking to him and it was absolutely incredible!
Amazing! I can’t wait to read it.
B: It’s really good. It’s a good issue, I’ve also done an interview with Lassie and Silicon Heartbeat—awesome bands.
I love all the zines, they’re all really good.
B: Thank you, it’s good that people are actually seeming to enjoy them. I didn’t really know there was much of a zine market until I started doing it, I had no idea that people would actually consume and enjoy them.
For me growing up in the ‘90s zines were such a normal thing, there were lots of them and there was a vibrant zine culture.
B: Yeah, back then I guess it was more essential to have zines. That was the only way to publish things on somewhat of a budget.
Yeah. I used to have friends that would have access to photocopiers and I’d get to photocopy my zines for free a lot of the time.
B: That’s what I’ve been trying to do at the moment. I started off printing them at school but they put the hammer down on that so at the moment I’ve had to go through Office Works.
Here in Brisbane there’s a really great place in Fortitude Valley called Visible Ink, it’s a Youth Arts Hub and you can go in there and photocopy your zines for free. They have lino printing resources and a badge maker you can use too. Do you stand there and photocopy it yourself or do you leave it with them and get them to print it and come back later to pick it up?
B: When I’m printing the final version that’s what I do but when it comes to designing it and all that, I’m usually just there getting specific things or trying to get a specific paper stock that will stick better to the background and all that.
I’ve been there! I love doing zines with a coloured paper cover, I’ve done full colour and A3 folded and A4 folded sizes.
B: I think right now at the moment doing just A4 black & white is the best for me because colour printing is so expensive. For this issue I might do colour covers just for fun, I like the way it looks.
It’s always good to keep trying different things and evolving.
B: Plus colour covers stand out more when everything else is in black & white.
Yes. What’s something that making zines has taught you?
B: I don’t know? I guess it’s taught me how to put together a complete artistic product. I’ve done albums before but I feel like putting together a zine is a lot more than just releasing an album because you’re involved in every aspect, asking every question, cutting out everything, paying or the printing and all that. I hadn’t really had much experience doing that until making a zine. I’d done tapes but some part of them I was able to rely on other people, this one, a zine, was all me. The main thing it’s taught me is to create a completed product.
Do you set deadlines when making zines?
B: No, not at all but they’ve all somehow been finished! Since issue three they’ve all come out, one a month or at least thirty days in between them. I sort of want to slow down but no matter how many brakes I put on like, I’ll only do one interview a week, or don’t work on it during this time period, I always manage to at least finish one by the end of the month. There’s no deadline but one forms naturally, I guess.
That’s how I felt when we started doing Gimmie, it’s been six months now and I’ve done over 100 interviews up on gimmiezine.com, I think there’s 113 maybe at this point.
B: That’s pretty fantastic!
Yeah, I just started and kept going. I love interviewing so much and I like making the art that goes with each interview. I love sharing new bands and music with people.
B: Yeah, it seems to be going pretty well so far.
One of the things I love about your zines is when you write your personal pieces; are you every scared of putting your thoughts out there, committing them to paper? Do you ever censor yourself?
B: Not really, I’m not really self-conscious of putting out my actual thoughts. I often find that I’m just not able to put them in words. There isn’t very much of it in issue six, because mainly when I would write about something I wouldn’t be happy with it, it would feel show-off-y or not correct. I’ve put the brakes on it for issue six but issue seven will have a lot more of it. I’ve been doing some writing on bands I like. I’m doing a big piece right now on probably one of my favourite bands right now, Bis.
I love Bis!
B: I don’t get why more people don’t talk about them. I don’t know if you’ve heard the new TOR single, but TOR is basically my love letter to Bis—I love that band so much!
I’ll have to check TOR out. I’ve seen Bis live!
B: Did they ever tour Australia?
Yeah, they did. I have the ticket stub somewhere here.
B: That’s awesome! I have an old poster I was able to get on eBay that I have in my room, it’s a promo poster for The New Transistor Heroes; it’s probably the coolest piece of art that I own. Mandarin’s art is fantastic!
Agreed! We have a lot of art on our walls here.
B: I’ve got a lot of posters from gigs or prints that I’ve bought from photographers, or flyers.
That sounds like our place. We have a pretty big collection of posters some from the ‘70s through to the ‘80s and ‘90s to now.
B: That’s awesome!
How do you choose what bands you’ll feature in your zines?
B: I pick bands that I’m listening to at the moment or that I think could give an interesting interview. I don’t like to just pick bands that have a record coming out, but that sometimes helps because they have a reason to talk, things to talk about and they’re in that mindset of sharing it. I really just try to pick people that I think are interesting. I don’t try and pick from one particular scene or a particular area of music to follow, I just pick what I find interesting. Issue six has a mish-mash of a bunch of different things: Toeheads, are from Detroit, they’re an amazing garage rock band; there’s an interview with two of the members of Meat Thump and we were able to talk about Brendon Annesley, it was fantastic. I interviewed Jack from Vintage Crop and that went really well. Even Mark Vodka who is this obscure Canadian artists who is probably the closest thing to a second Ramones we’re ever going to get.
Is there anyone you’d like to interview that you haven’t yet?
B: A lot! Usually it’s because I don’t feel comfortable asking them. The dream interview, the one I’ve always been desperate to do is someone from Razar, the Brisbane punk band—that’s the dream! I’ve never been able to find a single interview with them. I consider them to be pretty close to being the most important Australian punk band of all-time. I’m still on the chase for it so if anyone knows any of them send me a message!
ABC put out a punk compilation, I bought it because it had Frenzal Rhomb on but I heard ‘Task Force’ on it and [Psychosurgeons] ‘Horizontal Action’ and it set me on the path towards what I’m doing now.
What’s been one of your favourite interviews you’ve done so far?
B: Issue one I was pretty proud of the one I did with CB Radio and Glue Eater, I think they both turned out really well. Issue two, Mikey Young I was really happy with, same with the one with Spoil Sport Records. Issue three, I think I did a good one with Drunken Sailor and Dr Sure’s Unusual Practice, those were ones I was really proud of. Issue four is where I think I start to get it down and I’m more or less happy with every single one in there, Research Reactor Corp, I was really happy with. Issue five, I was really happy with my interview with The Ghoulies and Hearts & Rockets. The one I did with Australian Idol I was extremely proud of and I still think that tape is the most underrated thing released this year. I’m really happy with everything in issue six, all of those are pretty good.
What makes an interview good for you?
B: It’s having a conversational feel and revealing interesting information. The interviews I really like I feel they show the artist’s personality really well and they’re interesting to read. Not every interview I read is with a band I like but, if the person is interesting to talk to I can get something out of that.
Naarm garage-psych rockers Easy Browns are about to release a new record – Down On The Farm – that features ten clever animal-themed songs. We interviewed Easy Browns’ Zak Brown and Shelby Wilton to find out more about the release.
We’ve heard that you grew up in regional Victoria; how did you find music?
ZAK BROWN: Early days were spent digging through my parents CD collection, it was mostly Australian rock like Hoodoo Gurus, Cold Chisel, ACDC with some ABBA and Shania Twain thrown in there, but the folks were always buying new CD’s. In Grade 6 a friend showed me Gorillaz Demon Days album which changed me, I couldn’t stop listening to it, the sounds on that record are so unique.
I remember when my Dad started listening to Triple J mid-2000’s because “Delta Goodrem got cancer” and they were playing a lot of sad Delta G on pop radio, he started buying the Hottest 100 compilations and I loved the wacky mix they had on there, that introduced me to some contemporary alternative tunes.
I just pilfered through whatever I could get my hands on really, which was still quite limited, we didn’t really have computer access for a lot of years because my siblings and I destroyed our first computer with virus’ from downloading shit so that put my parents off getting another one for quite a while and took us back to the stone age in terms of music discovery.
How did you start making music?
ZB: My friends and I played guitar hero together every day after school together and with basic music knowledge started jamming Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls” every day in the music room at school, much to the annoyance of our music teacher (he still let us come in every day and jam). It soon transformed to playing every day after school when one of us got a drum kit and boom! Music.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how Easy Browns came to be?
ZB: I moved to Melbourne to study sound engineering and missed playing live, my late teens were spent playing in local bands, skating and subversive missions throwing rocks at KFC and I wanted to re-live the glory so I started Easy Browns Truckstop Chicken Jam Band with my housemates at the time.
I know Easy Browns are influenced by artists like Frank Zappa, Dead Kennedys and CAN; what do you appreciate about them?
ZB: I love how sardonic Frank Zappa is, and the music is so manic and silly. Dead Kennedys are so potently political and the music is quick and catchy, makes you want to throw yourself violently around in a sweaty mass. CAN takes the cake for interesting repetitive grooves, Jacky Liezbeit is my favourite drummer but all the members have a lot to offer, Holger Czukay was one of the first people to start sampling (by laboriously cutting and gluing magnetic tape) and when Damo Suzuki was in the band he bought such an interesting personality and unparalleled moodiness.
There’s often themes of environmental issues in your songs; what’s something happening in the world that more people should give a shit about?
ZB: I grew up in Morwell, a town surrounded by coal mines and lived through the Hazelwood Mine fire in 2013 which was quite an eye opener. Expansion of the fossil fuel industry is a huge issue, one example of MANY is the Adani coal mine at Abbott Point, one of the biggest coal projects in history; undertaken at such a time as this? Not only does it disrespect the land ownership of the Juru people, but carves a hole straight through the Great Barrier Reef (which is already being adversely affected by coral bleaching from rising ocean temperatures) and destroys local wetlands and habitats.
Easy Browns’ new record Down On the Farm comes out in September and features ten animal-themed songs; what inspired you to write songs about animals?
ZB: I feel remorse for injustices against the animal kingdom. Exposure to wild and agricultural creatures was frequent in my upbringing and I love the base nature of beasts, that being said humans can be base and beastly too, rational thought has not completely separated us. We should be living in harmony with creatures not abusing them.
We had also spent time on our friend Dougal’s (from The Sunken Sea) parents’ farm while touring in Lutruwita/Tasmania, and it seemed a funny idea to do a themed album. Animals are great for use in analogies, I think that’s one of the things that made the titles fun to come up with.
Were any of them particularly fun to write?
ZB: I think “Hog Wild” triumphs for me; there are so many fun parts to it. It’s meant to feel like a motorbike roaring down the highway, plus I get to scream like a demon and flute-to-boot. I always sing to myself on the motorbike because it’s one of the only times I feel like no one can hear me being silly.
How do you stay motivated and interested when making songs?
ZB: I enjoy writing songs at my own pace, I don’t see the point in trying to push shit uphill so I do it when inspiration strikes. Being able to make the gang (the rest of Easy Browns) giggle is a bit driver for me too, if I can make them laugh that’s when you know it’s a winner.
Can you share with us some of your all-time favourite lyrics?
ZB: Here’s a few tracks:
“Maggie” – Alien Nosejob: Complain about the front bar, complain about the main-stage / Complain about the people, complain about the line-up. And ends with a huge: And get an Uber hooooooooommmmeeeeeee. Utterly delightful, Shelby and I always sing it to each other and makes us miss The Tote.
“The O-Men” – Butthole Surfers: (go listen!)
“Pay No Mind” – Beck: Give the finger to the rock ‘n’ roll singer /As he’s dancing upon your pay check / The sales climb high through the garbage-pail sky / Like a giant dildo crushing the sun.
“Electricity” Captain Beefheart:High voltage man kisses night to bring the light to those who need to hide their shadow deed / Go into bright find the light and know that friends don’t mind just how you grow.
This is your third LP; what would we be surprised to know about your recording process?
ZB: We always track live as a band, I think that’s the best way to convey the energy we create as a team, but there’s always a lot of overdubbing outside of that.
The artwork Shelby did for your record is really cool, there’s a lot going on, there’s a little more than meets the eye; what can you tell us about it?
ZB: I’ll let Shelby take the reins on this one.
SHELBY WILTON: Hahaha yeah there is a lot happening. All of the nine animals mentioned in the album are around the edges in the comic strip, with the classic “down on the farm” illustration in the middle. It’s my own interpretation of Zak’s lyrics and ideas, which are already quite hefty in themselves. The concepts I come up with surrounding them become abstracted and made sense in my own sort of way and bam it’s a recipe for a lot of fucked stuff. I put a bunch of little stories, characters, and concepts hidden in there as well, they have their own narrative in my own brain but I feel part of the fun looking at it is coming up with your own ideas, though it’s all definitely thought out in a way where everything is connected.
What are you doing when not doing band-related stuff?
ZB: I like to garden and learn about plants, read novels, cook for the house family (which includes Brodie and Shelby) and ride my bicycle.
What helps you feel better when the world gets you down?
ZB: Hanging out with Shelby, listening to The Kinks, sitting in the sun, watering plants and watching The Simpsons.
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.
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).
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].