Warrang/Sydney post-punk band Mere Women’s ‘Romantic Notions’: “It explores the idea that love can be used as a tool to control someone or can be used as a reason to make destructive life choices”

Original photo: Chris Polak. Handmade collage by B.

Mere Women are back with a divine new offering song ‘Romantic Notions’ the title-track from their eagerly awaited fourth album due 5 March 2021 via Poison City Records. Gimmie are excited to premiere the song’s clip directed and lovingly crafted by the band, shot on the land of the Kuing-gai and Eora Peoples. Vocalist Amy Wilson gives us an insight into the track, clip and the album.

This year has been a challenging one for everyone; how are you? How has things affected your creativity? What’s helped you stay positive?

AMY WILSON: I’m ok thanks. It’s been a rough year for lots of reasons and everything has changed so quickly and extremely. We managed to squeeze recording in just before lock down which was lucky but I feel that as a band we were ready for a little breather after that anyway. I’ve been playing around with ideas since then but have been really unproductive when it comes to music to be honest. 2020 has been very hard and every aspect of my life changed so much that I felt like I didn’t have space to be creative. That said, it was very fun to get together to make the ‘Romantic Notions’ clip and I’m finding more space to write music again now. It’s beyond exciting to finally be releasing music and looking to get on with things.

How have you felt about not being able to play live shows? Why is it important to you?

AW: I love playing live so it’s left a huge hole in my life. There’s something so special about playing to an audience and feeling like as a band we’re all interconnected and nailing it. It’s pure joy. I don’t get that feeling from anywhere else so I’m really missing it. I also miss meeting people at shows, seeing other bands and feeling like I’m part of a community.

What was the first concert/gig you ever went to?

AW: I travelled up from Wollongong on public transport with some mates to see The Living End play at the UNSW Roundhouse when I was 12 or 13. I was so excited to go and had my whole outfit planned out weeks in advance. Probably used up a whole eye liner pencil that day I reckon. 

You wrote record number four in March this year in a “special place”; what can you tell us about it at this point? Sound-wise where’s it headed?

AW: We wrote the majority of the record at our place on the Hawkesbury River where three of us live. It’s a stunning spot right on the water, surrounded by national park. The record has soaked up this place over the writing process and as a result is more spacious and considered I think. Living here has made me feel like more of an outsider and this really comes through lyrically. As an album it’s dark and self-reflective but hopeful.

‘Romantic Notions’ is the first song from Mere Women in almost a year; what inspired its writing? What was the process for this track?

AW: I’ve been spending lots of time with my grandmother and hearing her stories about the complicated relationship between her mother and father. I think that’s where the spark of the ‘Romantic Notions’ theme came from. It explores the idea that love can be used as a tool to control someone or can be used as a reason to make destructive life choices. As a band at that time we were inspired sonically by groups like TFS, White Hex and BAMBARA and wanting to create something that sounded sludgy and enveloping.

Can you tell us a little about recording the song?

AW: We recorded it along with the rest of the album at One Flight Up studios in St Peters. It was a really fun song to record because we were super confident with it and vocally it has this really frenetic energy which is great to play around with.

When and what was the last romantic notion you had?

AW: Oh I have them on a daily basis and they’re usually quite impossible and ridiculous. Today I was fantasising about living solely off my own vegetable garden as I picked a few measly grub-riddled peas off an otherwise-barren bean stalk.

I think living where I do now was a Romantic Notion too but surprisingly it seems to be working out.  

We’re premiering the video for your single; can you tell us about making it? Where was it filmed? Who made it? What feeling/mood were you going for?

AW: We were trying to create this sense of ‘becoming’ something new and leaving the old behind with the clip. It was filmed at our cottage and in the surrounding bushland by Flyn and Mac from the Band. Mac edited the clip and made the opening titles. Our friend Kim from White Lion Cosmetica got on board to do makeup and created this really cool monsteresque look that changes and grows throughout the clip. Considering we had no band money from shows in 2020, it’s a totally DIY clip and I think we did a pretty good job.

There’s some interesting outfits in the clip, especially the custom Mere Women blanket at the end of the clip; what’s the story behind it?

AW: Trisch [Roberts] our bassist and I do love to play dress-ups and wear ridiculous hats so we had fun planning out the costumes. It was designed and hand stitched by Arielle Gamble. Arielle has done the artwork for our previous two records.  Each little stitched icon on there represents one of the tracks from the upcoming album.

What’s something that has really been engaging you lately? What do you appreciate about it?

AW: I just read The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh and absolutely loved every minute of it. It’s about a family with 3 daughters who live alone on an island in an old hotel in a post-apocalyptic world. I enjoyed how it mushes all of this imagery of beauty and decay together and keeps you constantly guessing.

Previously when we’ve spoken you told me you were passionate foodies; what’s one of the most memorable meals you’ve ever had?

AW: Flyn and I were travelling in China and had this incredible noodle dish for breakfast every day we were in Guilin. It’s rice noodles with a spicy broth, pickles, peanuts and thinly sliced pork of some kind and it blew our minds! We’ve found a place in Sydney that does pretty much the same thing and whenever we’re in the city we always have to go.

What’s something else you’d like to share with us?

AW: Just that we’re so happy to be releasing again and getting back to playing music. Thanks for watching and listening to ‘Romantic Notions’ – it means a lot and we hope that you enjoy it. We hope that anyone reading this is also doing ok, especially those of you from Victoria who have had it so tough these last few months.

Please check out MERE WOMEN on bandcamp; on Facebook; on Instagram. Romantic Notions LP is available for pre-order at the Poison City Records store.

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

Handmade collage by B.

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

What have you been up to today?

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

Keeping fit in iso!

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

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

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

What do you get from singing?

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

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

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

Have you always been an anxious kind of person?

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

Photo courtesy of Bench Press bandcamp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What kind of work do you do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about the song ‘Take It Slow’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JS: Totally!

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

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

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

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

Good name!

JS: [Laughs] Yes, exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same!

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

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

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

Have you seen how Henry Rollins does his exercise?

JS: No, how?

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

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

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

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

 Have you ever had a real life changing moment?

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

‘Baby Steps’?

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

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

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

What are some things that help you relax?

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

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

JS: Thank you for including us and interviewing me.

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

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

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

JS: Yep.

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

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

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

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

Do it!

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

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

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

It’s very, very un-punk rock!

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

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

Cable Ties’ Jenny McKechnie: “I’m more confident to live my life according to the values of this band… existing in the world where you fight for the things that you believe in”

Original photo Spike Vincent. Handmade collage by B.

Melbourne band Cable Ties have released a new record, Far Enough. The album is a musical burst of joy while it’s lyrically introspective and vulnerable, reflecting on one’s place in the world. If their explosive debut album were a call to arms full of protest songs, follow up Far Enough is knowing who you are, being OK with that and linking arms on the frontlines of life, standing strong for your beliefs arm-in-arm with your community. We spoke to vocalist-guitarist Jenny McKechnie yesterday as she tried to stop her seven-month-old pup Barry from demolishing all the plant seedlings the household had recently planted in the backyard.

I know that community is very important to Cable Ties, especially the DIY Melbourne music community; when you first came to the music scene, did you know anyone? How did you start to get involved?

JENNY MCKECHNIE: I grew up in Bendigo and I moved to Melbourne for uni when I was nineteen. In uni I met a friend, Grace [Kindellan]. She was really into garage music and we both got into the local scene together and started a band a year later called, Wet Lips. So, just moving to Melbourne about nine years ago and going to The Tote, The Old Bar, got me into it!

How did you start playing guitar?

JM: I started playing guitar when I was twelve, my dad had a nylon string acoustic guitar that I picked up and learnt songs on. When I was a teenager I was in a bunch of bands that were playing Celtic folk music [laughs]. I used to like going to all the folk festivals and writing sweet folk songs on acoustic guitar. When I came to Melbourne I got more into the punk and garage scene; I first picked up the bass to start with and then with Cable Ties moved on to the electric guitar.

With your new record Far Enough, I understand that it came from a place where you were feeling really hopeless.

JM: Yeah, it did. The first record that we wrote is pretty much defiant protest songs. Making the sound we did was really liberating after playing softer folk music, which was all of my songwriting before. By the time we came around to writing this album I was feeling pretty hopeless and despondent about the world and unconvinced that I was able to have a positive impact on anything. I  was coming from a place where I was suffering from anxiety and depression at that time, going through a bit of a spot in my mid-20s where I couldn’t quite work things out and what to do next. In the songwriting process I started in that spot but always wanted to find a way out of it, to find something to cling onto to be hopeful about and keep fighting for.

So writing things songs did help you do that?

JM: Definitely. Songs like “Hope” especially came out of the process of a lot of journaling and a lot of time spent thinking and processing these things. I had a good psychologist too! Some of the songs on the album were really helpful and part of a bigger process that I went through generally about feeling better about myself and the world.

When you posted about the album online you mentioned that it was really challenging to make; in what way?

JM: It was challenging because it was part of that process we just talked about, the album was pretty honest and talks about the things that I was struggling with. A lot of that is turning things in on myself, I was experiencing a lot of self-criticism and a lot of self-hate about stuff like, “oh, you don’t do anything, you just play in a band and wander around playing these protest songs but, what’s the good of it? What have you got to show for it? What’s the point of all of this?” In the process of writing this album I was really doubting myself and really doubting whether I was actually meant to be in a band. I had to come out the other end of it finding some meaning in it—the purpose of my life. By this stage, I’ve dropped out of university postgrad twice, just keeping up with music commitments. I didn’t know what I was doing with my life or if any of this would work out, it was a process!

Why is making music important to you?

JM: That’s a great question. Music is the thing that I just keep coming back to all of the time and from that perspective it’s just something that feels cathartic to me. It’s the only thing that I’ve kept doing in my life, writing songs since I was twelve years old, because it helps me process that way that I’m feeling. It’s something that I can’t get away from, it’s something that I really need. It’s also my entire social community, all of my friends, it’s my entire life! I am so grateful that I have gotten to live out my 20s in this incredible music community in Melbourne. People aren’t just creating really interesting art but they also have a vibrant discussion of political issues and different ways people can live their lives outside of the common norms we’re told. It’s the most nourishing and exciting way to live my life and I’m very thankful that I have done this in the end.

Do you find it hard to open up to write your lyrics and to be so honest?

JM: No, not really. I think that’s one thing that I don’t find that hard. I’m a very earnest songwriter. I find it more hard to not be open and honest about things. Writing songs is the thing I have to do and the challenging thing comes afterwards, I have to put that out there into the world. I have to analyse what I have written down and be like; what does that mean? What is that honesty? And, where do you go from there?

Every member of Cable Ties is integral to your sound; what kind of conversation do you feel you were having musically between one another on the album?

JM: When we write songs we get into a room and someone will have a bass line or a drum beat, we’ll just play and play and play for hours, we really like to jam for a long time. We might not necessarily go many places with the jam, we might just sit in the one spot to see how that feels, and make sure it sits well on your body. That’s where everything starts from. Then we go; what does this song feel like? What is it evoking? The lyrics will come after we’ve written the music and we’ve created a musical emotion as a scaffold to work off. The one thing that we had for this album is that we all committed to doing it; jamming, practising and writing twice a week, and going away for weekend and locking ourselves in. We worked and worked and worked on things until we had it right.

We wrote “Sandcastles” when we went to a house out where Shauna [Boyle; drums] grew up as a kid. We spent the whole weekend trying to put together this song, it didn’t end up making it onto the record, it was not working and a bit convoluted. In the last two and a half hours of the weekend we were frustrated and were like, let’s just have a “hit out”! We started with a simple beat, from there we came up with most of the music for “Sandcastles” in those last hours. We were like, wow! …we felt like we had finally got through the slog of the convoluted song and the payoff was coming up with something simple and to the point.

What inspired the album title, Far Enough?

JM: It’s a lyric at the start of “Hope”. The lyric is: my uncle Pete is complaining about the Greenies, he said that they have gone too far but I say, Pete they don’t go far enough. We took it from that line but we liked it because it is somewhat ambiguous in its meaning. It can have many meanings, it can be a question like; have we gone far enough? Has the world gone too far? We think it spoke to a lot of the questions on the album.

You mentioned that your lyrics came from an introspective, questioning of self and vulnerable place; how did you grow while making the album?

JM: I became a lot more comfortable with being a musician. I became a lot more grateful for the life that I’ve had in the music community. I’m more confident to live my life according to the values of this band and that community and of looking after the people around me—existing in the world where you fight for the things that you believe in. Don’t do stuff because you want the “right” career or anything like that, it made me really, really commit to a life of activism, being in the music community and being a musician.

Photo: Spike Vincent.

On the track “Anger’s Not Enough” it takes over a minute before the drums kick in; what was the idea behind leaving the space at its start?

JM: Nick [Brown; bass] did that at the start. I have this pedal that was made by this guy in Newcastle that has this pedal company called, Beautiful Noise Effects. The pedal is named, When The Sun Explodes. It’s a reverb pedal and a feedback pedal. To make the sound at the start of that song Nick just had all of the pedals on my board on – Overdrive and two boost things that I have and that pedal – he was pressing the buttons on it. That song is quite sonically different to the one that comes before it, we wanted it to sit out on it’s on. By the time it comes in with harsh and loud bass and guitar we wanted people to really be listening after that beginning, that something a little unsettling.

That part gives you a real suspenseful feeling.

JM: Good! That was the idea.

You’ve said that “It’s an album that is supposed to get you out of bed when you don’t feel like you can face it any more”; what helps get you out of bed when life gets overwhelming and you’d rather stay in bed?

JM: My dog, Barry, I’m looking at him right now [laughs]. Apart from the dog, sometimes getting up when you really don’t want to is just putting one foot in front of the other and doing something simple. Some days it’s just get out of bed, make coffee, see what’s next. Often then I’ll see something in my day that I can be thankful for—my friends, the music I have in my life. Those are the things that I live for! They have a really positive influence on me. Also, when things are hard and the world looks like it’s turning to shit, just remember even if you’re an activist and going to protests and doing everything you can and feel like you’re losing the battle, the fight in itself is intrinsically important. The purpose of it is not just to win the battle but fight for the things you believe in, things that you think are important; that’s part of your identity and way of life. Things that can get me out of bed for the day can be different each day.

In the spirit of the album’s main theme; where do you find hope?

JM: Hope on the album is an active emotion, it’s something that you have to find out of necessity to keep going. What gives me hope sometimes is trying to logic my way out of things like, you wake up and there’s another instance of environmental degradation happening and you say, “that’s contributing to climate change and we’re losing this! What the fuck are we going to do? We’re all doomed!” And then just going, it might be true but what good is it for you to be despairing about this, it makes the problem worse and you feel worse as well. Even if you don’t logically think this fight can be won, if you give into that fear then of course it’s never going to be won! Hope for me sometimes comes from a little bit of going, ok this might be hopeless but that’s no good for anyone, so you better believe somewhere that the fight is worth it and you could do something. If you don’t believe it, it never will happen. For me that’s something that I fall back on a lot when I’m in the worst depths of feeling doom and gloom about the world.

What’s your favourite thing about the new record?

JM: I like the conversations that I’ve ended up having about it, they’re so interesting. It is vulnerable… talk about it, face it! The conversations we get to have are personal, interesting and let you connect with other people. My favourite track changes every day but right now it’s “Lani”.

Why that one?

JM: I can really sink into it. You can’t play that track right unless you relax into it. The guitar playing is really emotive and expressive. If I don’t feel those things, the emotions within myself, then I don’t play it properly. Sometimes it’s the scariest song for me to play! When I do it right though, it is so satisfying. It can also really turn around a gig, or when I get on stage and I’m feeling nervous or things aren’t going right.

What are you doing while locked down?

JM: The job I had before I was supposed to go on tour, working for a university, I can do it from working at home. I’m lucky I can still work, and that they took me back after I was “bye! I’m going on tour” [laughs]. Looking after my dog that’s barking at people right now, he’s seven months now so he’s taking up a lot of my time. I’m probably going to go back to uni if I’m being honest, because it’s probably going to be a little while before we get to go anywhere.

Do you write songs all the time or only when you have to write for an album?

JM: Normally I write all the time. I was writing one just before we were leaving for tour. At the moment I’m not playing because after everything that happened with the tour being cancelled – we’d been rehearsing in the lead up to that and doing a lot of playing – after it was cancelled I really felt like I needed a bit of a mental break before I started writing new stuff. I’ve put the guitar down for a few weeks. I’m feeling like picking it up again now. I have a loop pedal now, so the rest of isolation will be me playing with my loop pedal over and over again—I hope my neighbours are ready!

Please checkout: CABLE TIES. CT on Facebook. Far Enough out now via Poison City Records (AUS/ NZ) and Merge Records (Rest Of World).