nipaluna/Hobart garage-punks 208L Containers release their fascinating and entertaining concept album, A Night At The Mirage, which tells the entangled story of corrupt millionaire businessman Christopher Skase, and Australian TV personality Andrew Denton and his ill-fated attempt to raise enough money to hire a bounty hunter to capture him. 208L Containers’ Richie Cuskelly gives us an insight into the record.
How did you first come to playing music? Before 208L Containers you were in Bu$ Money, right?
RICHIE: That’s right. You wouldn’t know it from Bu$ Money, but I had one year of guitar lessons in Year 8. Though I was too anxious to play in front of anyone apart from Nan’s ashes until my mid-twenties.
Max, Dave and Steve were the opposite – they were all in high school bands that would headline assemblies. Max’s high school band was called The Cancellation.
Since moving to nipaluna/Hobart ten years ago I’ve finally started to enjoy playing in front of people – thanks to a small and supportive community fostered by the Arts Hall in Fern Tree, the Brisbane Hotel (R.I.P.), Peter Pit and Andrew Wilkie MP’s 70%+ approval rating.
208L Containers formed as a Hobart Little Band (an idea borrowed from the Melbourne Little Bands scene of 1979 where temporary, side-project bands are formed to play no more than two gigs, for no more than 15 minutes and share each other’s equipment). What inspired the band to keep going beyond Hobart Little Bands?
RICHIE: We’ve kept playing because we’re all best buds and it’s a lot easier on the back than going to the cricket nets.
Georgia Lucy started Little Bands down here about 7 years ago. She sought the blessing of the Melbourne originators to adapt it. (You’d have to ask her directly how that went but she did make a great short doco called hobart little bands which is easy to find on internet.) It’s been such a boon for people who want to play and listen to wobbly music in this nippy little town. It has brought lots of joy. I reckon about 75% of new bands formed since then have come out of Little Bands in some way.
Sorry for all the numbers in my answers so far. I’ll stop making everything about numbers*.
What’s something that you’d like us to know about 208L Containers?
RICHIE: We all lived in and around Lismore in the early 2000s (*No I won’t). Max, Steve and I knew each other at the time but I don’t remember Dave. He remembers me though; after I tried to back down his driveway in Ballina whilst on my L’s and veered off into his garden bed, squishing the majority of his geraniums.
What’s the story behind your band name?
RICHIE: We were first thinking of the name Perfect Whip – stupidly assuming we were the only Westerners who had ever visited Japan and thought the skincare company would make a good band name.
For our Little Bands show we were called Sex Pistols II, but after learning Johnny Rotten blew over $17K on iPad apps we knew we couldn’t keep that one up.
We landed on 208L Containers after Steve mentioned his uncle told him it was the exact metric equivalent of the 40 gallon drum.
It isn’t by the way.
Your new album A Night At The Mirage is a concept album about Christopher Skase and Andrew Denton; how did you come up with the idea for your third album? And, for those that don’t know anything about either of the album’s subjects, what can you tell us about them?
RICHIE: I think the idea just stemmed from being perpetually annoyed at morally-deficient billionaire fuckwits. Then – not having any decent narrative arc come to mind about contemporary ones like Palmer or Rinehart – latching onto this story.
Skase was a wealthy and corrupt businessman in the 80s and 90s. He lived large and had the moral compass of an actual compass. He had stakes in Mirage Resorts, Channel 7 and even the Brisbane Bears AFL team. Then after his company Quintex collapsed he did a runner with all the shareholders’ money to the Spanish troppo island of Majorca where he lived the rest of his naughty days.
Denton is a media personality who is hilarious, smart and brave. Both irreverent and serious. Like in 1988 he hosted the anarchic ABC show Blah Blah where Lubricated Goat played live butt-naked; then a couple of years later he did a one-off show on disability that won the United Nations Media Peace Prize. I really think he’s great.
How much research did you do to write this collection of songs? What did you find most fascinating about the story of Andrew Denton’s plans to hire a hitman to kidnap Christopher Skase?
RICHIE: Yeah, a fair bit haha. I’m not old enough to remember any of it happening at the time so it was fun to delve into. I didn’t watch that Let’s Get Skase film though. I think it would have turned me off the whole idea.
The most interesting part is that about $250 000 was pledged in the crowd fund! Good on you: left-leaning members of the Australian public.
What was the trickiest part about writing for a concept album?
RICHIE: Knowing that I’d probably have to write standalone songs again! It’s very fun. I’d recommend it to anyone under the age of 65. Two of my favourite Australian albums are concept albums actually: Gertrude by David Blumberg & The Maraby Band and Jersey Flegg by You Beauty.
Can you share with us one of the most memorable moments from recording the record?
RICHIE: We do our recordings on Steve’s tape machine thingy and it broke mid session. He and Milnesy (our engineer who looks like Patrick Stewart) somehow managed to fix it with some chewing gum and saved the day.
Also memorable was the Elmo doll that seemed to stare directly at me in the small wood house where we recorded. It had a sinister yet inspiring energy.
A painting of Andrew Denton by nipaluna-based artist Maria Blackwell is the album’s cover art; how did you come to work with Maria and what’s your favourite thing about the art?
RICHIE: The way all people come to work with each other in Tasmania: nepotism.
Haha no I mean apart from being my lovely partner, Maria is a fine painter and portraitist and I knew she could paint a great Denton. She also works in stop animation and video – making beautifully subtle and vulnerable art. Plus we live together so could claim the whole thing as a tax exemption.
It’s hard to pick a favourite part of the art. I gave her a rough brief of ‘Denton in a surreal hotel room’ and a few motif ideas and she just went for it. I love the Brisbane Bears team colours on the pillowcase and how she turned the ceiling into a shimmering resort swimming pool.
I understand that as a courtesy, Andrew Denton was contacted about your album and he said that it’s, “Possibly the album of this – or any – year.” Did you have any preconceived thoughts or feelings about letting him know you wrote an album relating to him?
RICHIE: Yeah, Julian Teakle from Rough Skies did some sleuthing and found a couple of possible email addresses to try, which I did. (Before we met him, Me and Max would refer to Julian as the Godfather cos he’d be at every gig giving his full attention to the bands and having people approach him intermittently with offerings of frankincense and demos.)
I was eager to let Denton know about it because I had a feeling he would get a kick out of it and likely respond if the email reached him. After a few weeks had passed I assumed nothing would come of it but then he wrote a very nice and funny and gracious email. He was bemused at the fuss but also chuffed and said he loved the artwork – how the cool pink jacket was “perfectly set off by his triangular head”.
I was so happy haha. We even got into an email riff about Tony Abbott eating that onion plus the Tasmanian DJ Astro Labe “nutting the cunt”.
We’re posting Andrew a record as a gift, which means I also now have his home address and will likely turn up there drunk and unannounced when I’m next in Sydney.
What part of the Christopher Skase/Andrew Denton story is the first single ‘Holograms’ about? We especially like the lyric: Throw in some onions / Into the laughing stock.
RICHIE: Oh thanks. Over Skase’s final years in Majorca he had different versions of himself being thrown out there in the media – nearly all of them justifiably bad. ‘Holograms’ is more about the couple of nimrod sycophants peddling the ‘good’ version: his son-in-law who wrote a book called Skase, Spain and Me, who was close to him and somehow got convinced of his innocence, and the shit local English ex-pat journo who also got conned.
Useful fact: the son-in-law worked as a film grip on Crocodile Dundee.
We enjoyed the video for ‘Holograms’ that’s directed by Georgia Lucy from band All The Weathers. The onion eating made our eyes water! Also, Gimmie are big dog fans; what can you tell us about the doggo that’s featured in the clip?
RICHIE: Georgia is my favourite artist and one of a kind human. Art is everywhere with her. She hand-made all the props for the video and directed, shot and edited it.
The beautiful pooch’s name is Lucy. She lives at the Arts Hall with her human comrade Krystle.
Tell us about making the video? What do you remember most from shooting it?
RICHIE: It was a ball! Lots of lols. Felt a bit like what I imagine being in a Wiggles clip on ketamine might feel like.
I remember the onions I ate most, because I can still taste them 4 months later. Flicking mayonnaise on your friends and pretending it’s seagull poo is also fun and recommended.
Your first two releases Knitted Family Helmet and Horseland were on cassette. A Night At The Mirage will be the bands’ first on vinyl. How do you tend to listen to music most?
RICHIE: Bandcamp! I bloody love that website. Though I heard they were bought recently by a computer game company? Steve is probably happy about this because he is currently obsessed with an Eastern European truck driving simulator game called Mudrunner and has been seeking out the EDM soundtrack.
What’s an album in your collection of music that has had a big impact on you? Why was/is it a big deal for you?
RICHIE: Oh what a fun question to be asked. Punters On A Barge by Spray Paint from 2015 is one that had a big impact. Though it might be a tad cynical for me to love now, the bleak whimsy, tension and groove hit me in the right spots (heart and kneecaps) at the time.
Which song from your new album are you looking forward to playing live most and w’hy?
RICHIE: We’ve actually been playing them live for a while now! I think ‘Cowboy In The Sky is the one we all enjoy the most. It shouldn’t work, and it doesn’t. But that’s okay – we think it’s hilarious.
I do also find screaming ‘Sunburnt in Brisbane’ over and over very cathartic.
What’s next for 208L Containers?
RICHIE: Probably another concept album.
It could be called ‘Jura’ and be about Albo and Adern falling in love and absconding from their public and private responsibilities; moving to the Hebrides of Scotland to convert the hut where Orwell wrote 1984 into an AirBnB.
Thank you for the interview and wonderful mag.
208L Containers’ A Night At The Mirage out now on Rough Skies Records.