Last week Brisbane band The Stress Of Leisure released their exciting new album Faux Wave. Recorded in Melbourne by John Lee (who has recorded many Gimmie favs: Bananagun, Gordon Koang and Lost Animal) it captures the band’s live wild energy that lights up the dancefloor—they might just be the world’s greatest party band. Gimmie caught up with them to chat about the LP; a hot contender for our Album of the Year!
What is one of the most exciting things for you about your new album Faux Wave?
JANE (bass): I really feel we knew the songs well before we went and recorded them, so all of the performances felt strong and confident. I can listen to it now and say ‘Yeah!’ It’s all solid and great. I am excited by the impressive efforts of my bandmates, and I’m excited for interested members of the public to check it out.
IAN (vocals/guitar): I’m excited for the genre of faux wave. I think this could be a thing!
PASCALLE (synths): I feel excited that the album even exists! I’m aware of how close to the line we were in getting it recorded — in the way we wanted to — and the pandemic’s impact on everything we do now.
JESS (drums): This album makes a great companion piece to our previous album Eruption Bounce. It’s exciting hearing us grow as a four-piece.
I understand that this album was written as your most collaboratively one yet; can you tell us a bit about writing the record and collaborating?
IAN: We record all our ideas, and we had up to 60 sketches of songs in the bank for this album. Recording the ideas we produce at rehearsals also means we can capture golden moments that can be hard to remember. What I’ve found more and more doing The Stress of Leisure is that the songs where Jane, Pascalle and Jess bring something in (an idea) is way more exciting than what I come up with. I feel when I have an idea it tends to dictate too much how things turn out. A song like Banker On TV literally came out fully formed in one jam — Jess had a beat she wanted to try out, Jane had a bassline written down she married to it and then Pas and myself did our stuff on top. Individually, none of us could’ve come up with this song.
PASCALLE: I really love how Ian challenges us to come up with lines but we also had to constantly remind him that his lines are very fun for us to play along with. One way he was convinced to drive the song was in Spiralling, which has Ian’s power pop synth line, Jane’s enormous bassline and Jess’ unconventional drums.
What’s one of the most challenging things for you in regards to your creativity?
JANE: Speaking for myself, I sometimes find it hard to carve out time to make creative things happen. But that is pretty much on me, I think I need to try harder.
JESS: Coming up with rhythms that sound fresh, and like Jane, finding the time to get creative in modern life. I generally don’t practise so I’m composing beats in my head and then trying them out at rehearsal. Nothing is out of bounds or too weird to bring to rehearsal and I think that vulnerability is where magic happens.
PASCALLE: Yes, I think it mostly comes down to time… we’re all just waiting to win the lotto so we can make music as often as we want!
IAN: I find my bandmates sell themselves too short. They’re always bringing in great ideas, regardless of outside pressures. It comes back again to the fact that we record the jams. Creative inspiration strikes when you least expect it, so it’s important to always document. Like panning for gold, you can’t expect a high success rate. We’re only challenged by timelines, not creativity.
We’ve always loved the wit, social commentary and humour in your lyrics; what’s your personal favourite song and lyric in this new collection of songs?.
JANE: I particularly like Ian’s lyric in the song No Win No Fee, where he intones ‘Mission accomplished, for the rich and the foppish’. The song has a sort of sleazy, lazy groove to it, but it goes along at a slightly quicker tempo than you would normally expect for such a groove, which makes it compelling to me.
JESS: My favourite lyric is ‘Everybody wants to tell you how you’re doing it; Everybody loves to tell you how you’re doing it wrong; Everybody seems to know just where you’re coming from’ in Connect to Connected. It’s an astute observation of the countless daily interactions between humans courtesy of the internet.
PASCALLE: I feel a sense of achievement that we incorporated the line ‘no quid pro quo’ in a song.
IAN: If you read the lyrics of Your Type of Music and Beat The Tension with a John Cooper Clarke accent in mind they really work! I’m delighted by that. I played a solo gig earlier in the year with Seja, and during the set I recited them, so I can attest to it.
Faux Wave was recorded in Melbourne with John Lee at Phaedra Studios over five days at the beginning of the year; what drew you to working with John? What was it like?
IAN: John Lee’s name came up in a lot of Australian independent music I was listening to and liking — starting with Lost Animal, Laura Jean through to Brisbane/Melbourne act No Sister. Everyone I inquired of really rated John and said he was great to work with. We wanted to record an album outside Brisbane too, to get out of our comfort zone. It’s one of the best decisions we’ve made as a group I think. The reports rang true, John is a total gentleman, but he also challenged us with this recording, in a totally positive way. Recording the ten songs over five days was a real buzz and my feeling is that as a group, we’ve all connected with this experience. It was like recording a debut album all over again.
PASCALLE: Yes, John’s the absolute best!
What’s one of your fondest memories from the sessions?
PASCALLE: This was the first time we recorded an entire album in one go — usually we’d go into the studio on sporadic weekends and record two or three songs until the album was done. Going down to Melbourne for a solid week felt like we were at camp and, from my perspective, we had a whole new level of togetherness. From the get-go, John was a kindred spirit and made the whole week memorable, too. Favourite things about recording were not using click tracks, listening to Ian record his vocals and getting to play with John’s vintage synths.
JESS: Like Pas, getting to spend a whole week together recording was a luxury! No click tracks and a live recording setup really captured the energy. For me, anymore than three or four takes starts to sound forced and contrived. Having that week also meant we could sample the gastronomic delights that Melbourne had to offer and catch up with friends.
PASCALLE: Yes, we really explored Melbourne’s food and beverages, and we even managed to see Dave Graney and the mistLY play Memo Music Hall, too. Great times.
What inspired the album art?
IAN: We thought it was important to go back to the collage style we’d previously utilised on the Sex Time and Achievement artworks. It rang more true to who we are as a band. The imagery we’ve chosen feels like Faux Wave for some reason — the crowd in a fervour and the rubbish pile. The disposable aspects of modern day hyperconsumerism comes to mind — the shiny new thing that gets people excited, quickly replaced by something even shinier and newer. It’s disconcerting.
PASCALLE: This is also the first time we’ve included the song lyrics on the back of the vinyl, too, so you can follow along if you like.
What have you been listening to lately?
JESS: Billy Nomates’ debut album, Fontaines D.C’s A Hero’s Death and Blake Scott’s Niscitam. Despite all that has happened in 2020, fantastic and exciting music is still being made.
PASCALLE: Have you seen Sampa the Great’s Planet Afropunk performance Black Atlantis? Incredible! I’m also listening to Blake Scott like Jess, as well as Chloe Alison Escott’s Stars Under Contract.
JANE: I have been listening to the Scratch and the Upsetters album Super Ape, though it is not a recent release by any means. I really enjoy the space in it, from top to bottom, and front to back.
IAN: The Music in Exile label is releasing some great stuff. I particularly love the Gordon Koang album Unity.
2020 has been a challenging year for pretty much everyone; how has it affected you and how have you stayed positive?
IAN: Making my own coffee is a nice ritual I’ve developed during 2020. Also smelling the roses in New Farm Park has been a highlight. When we were allowed to rehearse again as a band — I felt that was a big moment of positivity. We’ve been writing more songs, languid and slow types of songs.
PASCALLE: It’s been a year where each of us has had to learn who we are in this situation. There’s been an unavoidable wave of planetary depression — whether we explicitly feel it or not — and coming up for air amongst it all has been an effort, I think, for many of us. Art and a kind community helps.
JANE: When I was able to return to fitness classes and band rehearsals that helped me heaps. I’ve joined the video streaming revolution. Drinking heaps of Malbec has also been very good.
Anything else you’d like to tell us or share with us?
IAN: Community radio in Australia has been a big support to us. Support community radio wherever it finds you by subscribing. 4ZZZ, our local station in Brisbane, has been an absolute champion over 40 years plus in pushing local and Australian music and we’d be severely diminished in Brisbane as a music community without it. There’s never been a more important time to support local independent media and arts.
PASCALLE: It’s also heartwarming to see all our fellow bands emerge from the Covid hibernation. I hadn’t realised how much I missed seeing live music!
Melbourne-based musician Zak Olsen is one of those musical wizards. He has a natural talent for songwriting, doesn’t tie himself to one genre, and somehow magically has a knack for them all. He works his magic in heavy psych power-trio ORB, with new wavers Hierophants and as Traffik Island, a project that jumps style from one album to the next. He’s one of our favourite songwriters. We spoke with him last week to get an insight into his world.
ZAK OLSEN: I’m just at the studio right now, saying studio is a bit of a stretch but, I have a room that’s not my house that has some of my music gear in it [laughs]. It’s really close to my house so I just come here most days. I spend all day and all night in here usually.
Where did you grow up?
ZO: I grew up in New Zealand, I grew up in a few places because we moved every year. I mainly grew up on farms in New Zealand and moved to Australia in the year 2000.
What were you like growing up?
ZO: Most of my youth I grew up on a farm, which was really good. My parents had that school of parenting where they just let you go and make your own mistakes. We had lots of space which was good, my dad would say “Just go and do whatever you want just be back before its dark”. I spent heaps of time outside by myself when I was younger. My dad also played in a few heavy metal bands so he would always have huge parties and there’d be all these metalheads around. That was the first music that I got into when I was really young, like five years old. Its’ pretty appealing to a five year old. My dad would have all these heavy metal VHS tapes, I particularly remember the Megadeath one! I loved it so much.
How did you discover music for yourself?
ZO: I’ve always had an interest in it because my dad did. In high school I heard the Sex Pistols and had one of those light bulb moments! Megadeth also did a Sex Pistols’ cover. I remember watching SBS one night and the Sex Pistols being on there and they played ‘Anarchy In The UK’ and I remember the Megadeth song of it from back when I was a kid and it sort of all came back around again. I got into it from there, I decided that I wanted to play guitar and that was that.
Why is music important to you?
ZO: Just the actual act of making it, is the most fun I could ever have. Once it’s made it’s never quite as good, I still love playing live and all that stuff but for me personally the most fun that I can have in music is writing things—making noises! [laughs].
Is there a particular album or albums that’s helped shape your ideas on music?
ZO: Yes. Besides the obvious stuff like ‘60s pop – I got really into that in high school – just the simple things that are catchy that still have an effect that aren’t intimidating; stuff that involves everyone, simple music like The Beatles and The Kinks. That stuff is always with me. I remember the first time I heard R. Stevie Moore, that was a big influence because he didn’t stick to any genre. I know a lot of people claim they don’t stick to one genre but he really, really pushed that, he really went for it. I remember seeing an interview with him and he said that you can just make any noise, it’s still a song, not every song has to be your magnum opus. That allowed me to open up and make any noise.
I really like with him too that people go “you’re the king of lo-fi!” and he tells them something like “It doesn’t matter if it’s lo-fi or hi-fi or whatever-fi, I’m DIY-fi”.
ZO: Yeah, exactly! I’m definitely not going for a lo-fi thing, it’s just out of necessity. If I could make big grand exotica Martin Denny kind of albums I would. I don’t have that kind of money or resources though [laughs].
How did you first start making music yourself? You were in The Frowning Clouds; were you making stuff before that?
ZO: Nah, no. I was barely playing guitar before that, we just decided to start a band. I couldn’t really play at the time, we learnt as we went. I was a really slow learner with music but we all just kept going and here we are [laughs]. I’m still a slow learner!
When you make music then, is it mostly through feeling and intuition for you?
ZO: Absolutely. I don’t read music or know any of that kind of stuff. It’s 100% intuition for me.
The first Traffik Island LP Nature Strip that you put out – I know there was a split tape before that too – sounded kind of Beatles-y and Kinks-y and a little Bonzo Dog Band-ish and Syd Barrett-esque now with your new release Sweat Kollecta’s Peanut Butter Traffik Jam it’s kind of like a DJ Shadow beat tape, they’re such different sounds…
ZO: It goes back to the doing different things like R. Stevie Moore doing whatever you want. I wanted to do that to the max! I just wanted to make something as different from the first one. I was worried about it once it was made and I thought, oh shit, people that liked the first one probably aren’t going to like the new one. Nature Strip is the album that I always wanted to make ever since I was really young, being an obvious Syd Barrett fan, I just wanted to make an album on an acoustic guitar—that was the mission statement.
For the next one I wanted to do the total opposite and make it more computer-based and not write anything before; every one of those songs are made up just as I’m making it, it wasn’t prewritten.
So when you play them live you’ll have to teach yourself how to play them again?
ZO: Well, yeah. The band haven’t learnt any of those live yet, whether I’ll play them in front of an audience is yet to be seen [laughs].
I really hope you do!
ZO: There’s so many ways to do it that I’m just not sure yet. Hopefully one day… if venues open up again!
I really liked the Button Pusher live stream you did the other night!
ZO: Yeah, that was a test of maybe how we can do it live.
Dude, that test went really well, we super impressed. Just how you walked into the room rolled the tape machine and then started playing was so cool! The lighting and mood really added to it all too.
ZO: That’s good! That’s something I’m working on with a couple of other people at the studio too, we’ve started a YouTube channel live stream for performances and sorts of things. We have a few more coming up soon.
On your first release the split tape Sleepy Head/Traffic Island I noticed there’s Hierophants and Sweat Kollecta’s songs on that from back in 2012.
ZO: Yeah, my friend Danny who ran that label Moontown was doing a split with Nick, another Frowning Clouds member, he was doing the A-side. Danny called me asked me if I had any demos laying around to fill up the B-side of the tape. I said, yes, but I didn’t have any at the time. Lucky it was around the time I heard R. Stevie Moore so I had a real jolt of inspiration and just went out the back for two weeks and did all those songs for the tape. Some of them ended up going into Frowning Clouds or Hierophants after the fact.
I really love Hierophants! Spitting Out Moonlight was one of our favourite LPs of last year! We’re big fans of your other releases last year too, it’s so cool when you can find an artist that makes such different things but they’re all incredible. That’s not an easy thing to pull off.
ZO: That’s nice to hear. Thank you. It all has to do with collaboration with people and letting things just happen the way they do between people. You’re not really pushing an aesthetic or an agenda when you’re collaborating, that’s hopefully when more interesting things come out. I think Hierophants lean into that, we purposely do things that maybe sound ugly or we think we shouldn’t do. That’s the most collaborative band, especially in the sense that no idea gets rejected, we do everything. It’s really warts and all, sometimes good, sometimes bad [laughs].
I wanted to ask you about the Hierophants song ‘Everything In Order’; what inspired that one?
ZO: That was nearly going to be a Traffik Island song. That was inspired by, I broke my arm quite badly and had surgery. I spent a couple of weeks doing demos one-handed, that song was one of the one-handed songs [laughs]. Jake [Robertson] heard it and asked if Hierophants could do it. I was trying to do a show tune-y kind of thing [laughs]. Someone told me that the hook is the same from a song from a Disney movie [laughs]. I was trying to do something Robyn Hitchcock-y, when he does these ridiculous sounding show tunes.
I love the lyrics in it: you don’t need friendship anyway / you don’t need family anyway.
ZO: [Laughs] Don’t quote me on that one, it’s a character who is wrong, because you do need family and friends.
What about the song ‘Limousine’?
ZO: It’s about the obvious, but the funny thing about it is that I think I subconsciously took that from watching a Paul Simon interview. He was on the Dick Cavett Show from back in the ‘70s and he was talking about writing a song about someone that’s trapped by fame and they’re riding around in their limousine. Subconsciously years down the track I just wrote that! I re-watched that interview recently and realised I took it [laughs]. The song is original, I promise! The seed of the song maybe I took from Paul Simon.
Do you have a favourite track on the new Traffik Island Sweat Kollecta’s LP?
ZO: I like ‘Rubber Stamps’ it’s the least beats/DJ Shadow-y one. It’s a short instrumental, sort of exotica, ‘60s kind of sounding, crappy Beach Boys instrumental one. It came out the easiest.
I notice though different lyrics or song titles there’s a humour and lightness to your music.
ZO: Humour is always good, it takes the edge off. Frank Zappa had a humorous side or Devo did too, they had a real sense of humour and both had been big influences on me. It’s not too conscious for me. It is a bit easier if you put a sense of humour on things, it’s easier to put it out into the world because… I’m kind of lost for words…
Because it’s too personal? And you’re not overtly putting yourself out there?
ZO: Yeah. I think if people put irony in their music it protects them from criticism. People don’t criticise things, they just say that I’m being ironic. That’s not why I’m trying to be funny in the songs though, I guess it just makes it more enjoyable. I don’t think anyone wants to be yelled at [laughs].
I wanted to ask you about one of my favourite ORB songs, ‘Space Between The Planets’…
ZO: Oh nice! That’s mainly Daff’s song, it took us ages to do that one, we got a bit lost in the riffage [laughs]. It turned out well in the end. There’s no secret with the ORB songs, everyone brings riffs and we smash ‘em together and hope they turn out good—it’s that boneheaded! [laughs].
It’s fun to have that too.
ZO: Yeah, the goal was just to have a fun band and just turn it up! We wanted to make it fun live and be nice and loud, because a lot of our stuff was never like that.
Do you write every day?
ZO: Yeah, in some sense. I haven’t done any acoustic guitar writing in ages. I come to the studio every day I can. I make noises in some sense but I’m not like Randy Newman on the piano every day, as much as I wish I was!
Do you have a particular way you go about writing songs?
ZO: At the moment, because I’m working on remixes and I’m trying to do a hip-hop thing with a friend from America, all the stuff is very beat-based. I’ll start that by just finding cool drum loops. It’s totally different from writing song songs on the guitar, proper songs I guess, is that I usually try to hum a melody first in the shower or something, the catchiest bit, the bit everyone usually remembers about the song. If I can come up with a line or a chorus without any instruments first and then I’ll go to the guitar or the piano and work out what the chords are and go from there. That usually works.
Where did your interest in hip-hop come from?
ZO: It’s always been a faint interest. I grew up skateboarding so there’s lots of great songs in skateboarding videos…
Like A Tribe Called Quest!
ZO: Yeah, heaps of that and even stuff like DJ Shadow. A lot of new release hip-hop came out last year that I really liked.
What kind of stuff?
ZO: Quelle Chris had this album called Guns. There’s another guy I like too called Billy Woods he did an album called Hiding Places. They don’t give into the tropes of hip-hop and the beats are a lot weirder, psychedelic is the only way that I could describe it. There’s FX on the vocals and lots of echo. It’s not focusing on the tropes of gangsta stuff, they’re not rapping about cash or cars, it’s more introverted and weird. It kicked off my interest in it more. Obviously things like Madlib and MF Doom; I was late to the MF Doom thing but when I got into it, it was all I listened to for a year.
I love his Danger Doom project and the song ‘Benzie Box’ is an all-time favourite.
ZO: Hell yeah!
My brother and I owned a skateboard shop in the late ‘90s, he had one in the ‘80s too, and I loved all the skate vids with the hip-hop and punk soundtracks.
ZO: That’s cool. It’s such a good way to get into stuff. I’m very thankful for all those movies they really got me into stuff that I still listen to now.
Do you have a song of yours that stands out as one of the quickest ones to write?
ZO: ‘Looking Up’ it’s a song on Nature Strip. I never write songs in one sitting but that one was written in an hour, the whole thing; that’s never ever happened to me before. I said, ok, I’m going to sit down and write a song and then that came out really quickly.
What do you find challenging about songwriting?
ZO: Trying to be too tricky! It’s really a problem that you can get lost in that. I’ve been trying to make songs for around ten years now and you think that progressing with songwriting, you should have more complex melodies and complex chords, but it’s not necessarily the case. You have to try to remind yourself of that all of the time. There’s been times where I try to make the craziest song that I can and have weird chords and a fancy melody but it just turns out shit! If it’s not memorable, it’s just not going to have a connection with anyone. Instinct and when it comes out naturally and quickly, that usually resonates with people more and is more memorable.
When you’re working on things and they’re not working do you try and push through that or do you give up and move on to something else?
ZO: Usually I move on to something else. Sometimes I do just sit there banging my head against the wall for aaaaaages! That never works usually.
Is there anything you do in those times like go for a walk or something?
ZO: I should! [laughs]. But, nah. I really fucking just try to get something out of it. The only other thing that does work is before I go to sleep, when I’m lying in bed; that’s usually the best time for it. You’ll be thinking about your songs and that’s usually when things happen.
Do you think it’s because you’re more relaxed?
ZO: It must be, it has to be.
Do you do anything else creative outside of music?
ZO: Not really. I do some painting every now and then. My dad is a really good drawer and tattoo artist, so I kind of did that before I was doing music. I used to make poems all the time as a kid and that turned into songs. Making music is my main creative outlet, unless you count cooking! I try and cook more frequently now. My girlfriend is a really good cook.
What’s one of your favourite things to cook?
ZO: Lately I’ve just been going for all the different kinds of roasts and trying to master each one [laughs]. Cooking is just really good in general though, especially if you put aside the whole night and take your time. I love doing that!
I love cooking too, I find it really relaxing.
ZO: Yeah, totally.
You mentioned before that you’re working a hip-hop project; are you working on anything else?
ZO: I’m just trying to collaborate as much as I can this year. Because of the situation in the world right now, a lot of my friends that make music are staying inside right now and we’re all just sending music between each other right now and making things together. I was starting another Traffik Island one but I just ended up sending all of those ideas to friends to put stuff over the top. I’m working on things right now but I don’t know exactly what it is right now. I definitely just want to get into doing more collaborative stuff.
Why do you like working collaboratively so much?
ZO: Them bringing something to it that I could never possibly conceive. Just them adding something to it, some of my friends can come up with melodies that I would never imagine! Some people are just better at certain things.
What’s a song you’ve collaborated on that you were totally surprised where someone took it?
ZO: The first song on Peanut Butter… [Bits and Peace (Bullant Remix)] it was remixed by my friend Joe [Walker]. That one is basically the only song on the record made up of samples. I played some of my favourite records into my computer and gave him all the bits, they weren’t in time or anything like that and I told him to make a song out of all those noises—he sent me that! Impressed.
The film clip for your song ‘Ulla Dulla’ is pretty fun.
ZO: My friend John [Angus Stewart] made that, I know everyone says their friend is talented but, he IS insanely talented. He did some other clips, some King Gizzard [And The Lizard Wizard] ones. He asked me if he could make a clip for me. I said, sure. We wanted to try to really go above and beyond and to really try and push through the boundary. We did the clip and it was so tiring, we started at midday and I got home at one in the morning. We were driving all around the city, I think only two or three locations made it into the final clip but there was six. I had to do that dance to that song hundreds of times, I reckon [laughs]. Then it sat around for a couple of months because the album got pushed and of course in that time I started freaking out about it and got real paranoid. I was just so scared of being so open and vulnerable like that. I saw him at a party a few weeks before it came out and went up to him and told him that I don’t think I could go through with the video. He was not having a bar of it. He was like, “Don’t give me that stoner bullshit! It’s coming out.” [laughs].
What was it about it that made you freak out?
ZO: It was just so much of me! I didn’t want it to be The Zak Olsen Show… that kind of shot started getting to me. In the end I’m glad it came out. It definitely elevates the song a bit more. I’m really glad.
You did a lot of touring with ORB last year, right?
ZO: We did an Australian tour with Thee Oh Sees, then we went to America and Europe, so lots of moving around.
How do you find travelling so much?
ZO: Personally, I love it. There’s this weird thing about touring this feeling that… where people can feel like bands are running from responsibility… we were touring with King Gizzard and those guys work, it’s like seven James Browns! …it’s not the case with them, they work way harder than any other band I’ve ever met! If you’re into the second month of touring and you haven’t really made much and there’s not much time to make songs you can kind of get in a weird limbo mode where you think; what am I doing every day? I’m just playing the same songs!
It’s sort of like the movie Groundhog Day?
ZO: Yeah. But it’s still better than any other job you could have. You have to be careful of getting into the bad habits of drinking every day and eating shit food all the time.
Where do you get your hard work ethic from?
ZO: Probably my dad, he’s a little bit of a hard arse [laughs]. I can’t stand the feeling of not thinking I’m doing enough or giving enough. Having said that though, I do love staying in bed all day on Sunday! For me the guilt of not doing enough is way worse than just getting up and doing it.
One of our Brisbane-based favourites The Stress Of Leisure are premiering the song ‘Interesting Times’ along with its DIY made in isolation video here on Gimmie today. The track is a mix of post-punk and new wave goodness with hypnotic keys, a stomping drum beat and Tina Weymouth-ish bass line. We spoke to guitarist-vocalist Ian Powne about the track.
The Stress of Leisure are premiering a song today “Interesting Times” which was recorded during the sessions for your album Eruption Bounce; why was the time right to release this track now?
IAN POWNE: Jessica Moore (drums) had been lobbying hard for this song ever since it didn’t fit Eruption Bounce. Subtle representations were made again at the start of March. I’d kind of forgotten about it. Jessica is smarter than me, so here we are.
Can you tell us a little bit about writing the song?
IP: We wrote the music for this song at the end of a rehearsal from memory, very quickly, most probably in 2016. My memory of this song is quite blurry but I remember spending a lot of time on the lyric and really hollowing it out to it being very non-specific subject matter. It feels like kind of a response to modern ‘tough guys’ like [Donald] Trump and [Jair] Bolsonaro, but then again strangely, it also feels aligned with the present pandemic.
You’ve made a real DIY clip for it while in isolation; how did you go about making it?
IP: DIY is the word. Pascalle Burton was the creative force behind this. She had assembled a whole lot of Prelinger footage. Coupled with that, was her idea to have a social media feed. We set up a green screen in our living room and I was the difficult talent in the end performing to the song. Pretty much like training a cat. I find it hard to watch, but I’m trusting my bandmates’ judgement on this one.
How have you been faring during these interesting times currently happening in the world? Other than making videos, what else have you been doing while in isolation?
IP:Observing all the health systems and people struggling around the world, it’s not hard to feel vulnerable. Both Pascalle and I are working from home so we’re very lucky. I’ve become an infectious disease armchair expert in the meantime.
Recently you went to Melbourne to record for a new record; what can you tell us about it at this point? What is it sounding like?
IP:We recorded it just in time it seems, and have mixed it now. It feels like a great capture of who we are, all the idiosyncrasies of what makes us tick. John Lee who has recorded and mixed it for us, ‘got us’ pretty much straight away and has really drawn out our punkier side. There’s something a little No Wave-ish about the spirit of it. It’s our most political album too, a lot of discontent in the lyric. We’ll release it later this year, Scomo will be trembling.
Can you recommend something we should check out?
IP: Have really enjoyed the release of Use No Hooks The Job that Chapter Music just put out. Basically it’s a collection of songs this funky Melbourne art band recorded in 1983, but had never put out. Lots of fun, and smart. We’ve played with Cable Ties before and am excited for their new album Far Enough which I’ve just started listening to.
The Snakes are one of our editor’s favourite bands. When we recommended their self-titled debut LP (on Anti Fade) on our Albums We Loved in 2019 list we described their music as early ‘80s underground L.A-style new wave punk. The actual underground though… The black market kind. You know, the “under the counter” kind. We interviewed The Snakes and found out they’re working on new music! Stoked much?!
How did you get into music?
LEWIS (vocals): Who has a choice? At some point some cunt’s gonna play some shit and you’re either gonna love it or hate it, I guess I liked it.
What have you been listening to lately?
CHARLOTTE (bass/vocals/harmonica): Ummm… Butch Willis, GG Allin, Roy Orbison, The Byrds, Rupture, Napalm Death, Traffik Island, Plantasia, Anohni, Ariana, X (Aus).
LEWIS: Death (from Florida), Extortion (aaaagain), The Kinks, Obituary.
JIMMY (drums): Jackhammers and my own inner dialogue.
STEPH (guitar/vocals): In the mornings we listen to ambient sounds such as the distant radio and twings and droplets from whatever James puts on the stereo. When we play cards we listen to hardcore and punk. And I like the start of the Exploding Hearts album so I listen to that in the shower. Same with The Loved Ones but that whole album is good. Could be in a musical rut… I like soul and country music a lot.
CHARLOTTE: You like Suzi Quatro, Steph.
STEPH: I like lots of things not mentioned. Loves Suzi but. Gets wild to Suzi!
When did you first know you wanted to make music yourself?
LEWIS: When I realised it was a piece of piss. It’s the socially acceptable way to be the loudest person in the room.
CHARLOTTE: I was in choirs my whole life but guitars were always for boys, I really just wanted the attention.
JIMMY: I didn’t, I was just jealous of my friend’s guitar when I was six.
STEPH: I got into music by being rejected from my family for not being as good a singer as my sister, and not being allowed guitar lessons like my brother cause I’m a girl. So I taught my damn self and now I rule the world!
Tell us the story of how you all got together. What inspired you to start The Snakes?
LEWIS: Three of us had on and off lived together for a while, two of us had planned to do a psychedelic proto-punk band called Giant Door (side note: Giant Door is one of the top three bands that never existed). We are two couples and at some point, Charlotte our bassist moved into a new house and we went over for a kind of house warming. We ended up jamming and writing about six songs that all pretty much ended up on the album. We had some shitty phone recordings and shared them with each other and realised we needed a drummer. It took us about two seconds to find him and that’s it.
STEPH: Jim completes us.
What do you feel are the key elements that make your sound?
CHARLOTTE: Jim’s drums swing, there’s no one like him.
LEWIS: Clearly the keys stands out, having James on them is a refreshing take. Flange plays a massive factor. It’s a mash of shit we listen to and shit we find fun. It’s an angular vortex of pain but you can dance to it.
How do you go about writing a song?
LEWIS: Charlotte generally comes up with the riffs with a few exceptions and we all just put our parts in from there. We’re natural, baby!
Last year you released your self-titled debut album on Anti Fade Records; can you tell us about recording it? Billy from Anti Fade recorded it, right?
CHARLOTTE: Yes, he did. We’d spent about a year playing together before our first show and he offered to record and put us out at that first show. Recording in Geelong was great but what was really fun was doing vocals and mixing with Billy. We had a lot of ideas, we had a vision, Bill helped us execute it.
JAMES (keys/vocals): Bully Gardner is our mentor and he wax trax layer to the max.
What’s your personal favourite track on the record?
LEWIS: We don’t play this one anymore but I really like singing “Drug Pig”. I came up with the lyrics on the fly and I love screaming “Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, smoke a gram of pure ice”. “Solid Income” too, it just kind of cruises.
CHARLOTTE: I hate “Drug Pig”, even though it makes me feel tough, there’s a part that makes me feel kind of sick. I love playing “Ugly Faces” it’s simple but it’s rude. I know Steph loves “Pop Song”.
When you finished the record; who was the first person you played the songs to?
CHARLOTTE: I think my friend Kieran, they frothed for it!
Eve Dadd did your album’s cover art; what’s the story behind it?
STEPH: Eve does art and is related to James. She is talented and a boisterous bitch that lives on the South Coast of NSW. We love and hate her at the same time.
CHARLOTE: She’s a Scorpio.
LEWIS: Me and Charlotte outright bought it, it’s on our wall.
How do you feel when you’re performing?
LEWIS: Extremely confident and self-conscious at the same time. I just go for it, I don’t really give a shit.
CHARLOTTE: When I play, I’m singing my bass parts in my head. I like watching Steph solo and smiling at James.
What’s been the best and worst gig you’ve played? What made it so?
STEPH: Best show was one at One Year (in Collingwood). I had just discovered the beta blockers and dexie combo and I did not give a fuck and people could tell. Smiling is good when playing fun music. Worst show was that one with Bloodletter. Can’t remember why but I know it was bad.
LEWIS: Last Maggot Fest was great, it actually went off. Supporting The Stroppies was pretty dry, not The Stroppies, I love The Stroppies I just don’t think that that crowd was really down for us. I remember putting on a show and crawling on the floor and screaming but still there was a big gap between us and the crowd. Maybe we’re too high brow.
Have you been working on new music?
What would we find you doing when not making music?
LEWIS: Working like a dog.
CHARLOTTE: Watching telly. I just bought a keyboard too, been trying to figure out how to play “Everytime” by Britney [Spears]. Also pretty heavily into Tik Tok at the moment.
Devo are one of our all-time favourite bands! They were punk before punk. Staring out in 1973, the band was born out of the transformative effects of a historic tragedy, the Kent State Massacre Shootings – Kent State being the university where Gerald Casale, soon-to-be Devo co-founder, was in attendance. Four students were shot during the protest against the Cambodia Campaign (US military operations, including the illegal bombing of Cambodia). Gerald was there on the front line and saw “exit wounds from M1 rifles out the backs of two people” that were friends. The Ohio National Guard fired 67 rounds at unarmed demonstrators in 13 seconds! Witnessing this changed the course of Gerald’s life, he took the anger, frustration and disappointment in the powers that be – he saw “clearly, and horrifically, how everything really works, and how the truth doesn’t matter” – and channelled that into music and visual art, thus creating Devo, one of the most original bands that ever was.
Our editor interviewed Gerald in-depth for her book on punk, creativity and spirituality that will be out later in the year. The following is just a short extract from the larger chat.
Have you always been a creative person?
GERALD CASALE: I guess I have been, you don’t think of it that way but in retrospect, yes.
What attracted you to taking that path?
GC: I don’t think creative people choose to be creative, personally. I think that they are and they can’t help it. Furthermore, I think that so many young people as they grow up are innately creative, but they are somehow socialised to quit being creative and to quit trusting their instincts and their intuitions and they lose that ability. Whereas people that end up being called creative, all they did was stay true and in touch with their ability.
What has fuelled your creativity?
GC: I’m not sure about that in the beginning… as children we have all these dreams and intuitions and fantasies and epiphanies that the human complex brain, even in a child first making connections, you’re unfiltered then and uncensored, so you start writing things or drawing things, whatever you do. What you’re doing is externalizing your thoughts. If you become “artistic” or the other people in society in your group of humans decides you are artistic, you start doing things consciously because you’re getting rewarding for “oh, that guy can draw” or “wow! That’s a great short story he wrote”—we all want to be accepted and find a reason to be part of a society where you’re rewarded. So the artist finds out that they can still be accepted and still be true to themselves.
Have there been times in your life when you haven’t been creative or maybe doubted your abilities to create?
GC: [Laughs] Anybody that would say that hasn’t happened would be lying. As you get older and the pressure mounts and the forces of conformity and survival basically attack your freedom and your creativity, you go through periods of course where you give up or question what you’re doing. So, yeah, it’s cyclical.
What’s been one of the biggest challenges for you in regards to your creative life?
GC: Opportunity. I have no shortage of ideas and insights and plans but of course so much of what an artist does depends on opportunity, mostly financial but also distribution. Here’s an idea… how does the world see that idea? Well, someone has got to let them see it, there’s all these gatekeepers, all these middle management censorship kind of people and they don’t share your vision, your originality, they don’t share your ability to create, but what they’re there to do is to decided which creative people get seen and heard. That’s what you read about all the time, that’s why people feel so disenfranchised, as minorities, as disenfranchised people because of their sexuality or whatever, they’re not getting the same opportunities; certainly historically they have not gotten the same opportunities as “insiders” the people that are embraced as the ruling class.
Was it hard for you to balance expressing yourself and being an artistic band and then when you got really popular and broke into the mainstream; was it hard to balance these things?
GC: Certainly, but not consciously. DEVO was “an art band”. We became popular for doing exactly what we wanted to. We didn’t change what we wanted to do to become popular. Suddenly here’s an artist doing something nobody cares about that everyone is making fun of, everybody is putting you down then suddenly that same exact thing hits a moment in the cultural zeitgeist where people go, “oh, these guys weren’t clowns, they were right” and now you’re popular. Now the only challenge is to stay relevant and keep doing what you do rather than letting your popularity stop you from doing what you were doing. In other words the artist is ultimately responsible, you’re always going to have your enemies, you’re always going to have people trying to thwart you and block you and bring you down but finally, the artist is the only one that can bring themselves down.
Read the full interview soon in book, Conversations with Punx.