Melbourne Noise-Punks Super-X’s George Ottaway: “Mechanical and wild sounding…”

Photos: courtesy of Super-X; handmade mixed-media by B.

Super-X’s debut self-titled album is full of aliveness, possibilities and risk. The Naarm/Melbourne trio walk the tightrope of balance of control and dissonance that’s beautiful and ugly at the same time. Gimmie interviewed co-vocalist-guitarist, George Ottaway.

Hi George! How are you? What did you get up to today?

GEORGE OTTAWAY: Hey Bianca! I’m pretty good, it’s the weekend, so I’m taking it pretty easy so far. My girlfriend is from Madrid so tonight we are heading to what’s meant to be one of Melbourne’s best Tapas bars. Will report more on this later!

What’s an album in your music collection that’s important for you?

GO: For me, it’s got to be Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92. It’s a really beautiful album and I find myself coming back to it again and again since first discovering it in my mid-teens. It evokes a lot of memories for me, including a really memorable solo trip I did to Iceland for All Tomorrows Parties Festival back in 2015, when I listened to it a lot. I also think it’s probably the most coherent and consistent Aphex Twin release, and maybe the only one where he isn’t intentionally trying to fuck with his audience!

How did you first get into music? Did you and your brother (Super-X’s co-vocalist-guitarist) Harrison get into music together?

GO: Growing up, music had a very important presence in our house. Our parents are both music fans and liked to fill every possible moment of silence with community radio or a CD from their collection. I remember hearing a lot of the Rolling Stones, Nirvana and Nick Cave. Our dad in particular made it his personal mission to impart his musical taste on us; by the time we hit primary school he was pumping The Stooges’ Raw Power on cassette in the car as he drove us to school! When we were teenagers, we both picked up guitar and formed garage bands with our friends. It was a pretty interesting, exciting time to be making music, websites like Myspace and programs like Garage Band were suddenly making it really easy and accessible for young kids like us to record songs and get them heard by a wider audience. This was also around the time we discovered the Melbourne underground scene! We got into bands like Kiosk, Bird Blobs, Sea Scouts, Circle Pit, Witch Hats, ECSR, Zond, the Nihilistic Orbs label and started going to a lot of shows.

When did you first know that you wanted to play music yourself?

GO: I think around the age of 13. I was pretty obsessed with music and just knew it was something I had to do. In primary school I had a pop-punk band that played to the other students in the school hall, which was pretty cute and my first taste at playing music.

What inspired you to start Super-X?

GO: I’d watched Harrison – he’s a bit older than me – play shows in different bands over the years and I was itching to get into it myself! We were both living together at home at the time and both of us playing guitar just made it easy. We were intrigued by each other’s styles – I’d say Harrison is more technically astute, while my own style is a bit more naive and abrasive. We both wanted to play in a band that was a bit grimier and more ferocious than what we had previously done, so we outlined a bunch of key influences that we both enjoyed and started jamming regularly. After a while Harrison wrote the guitar line for ‘Weapon-X’, which is where we found our sound. A little after that we recorded our first demo, with me playing drums – it’s still up on our Soundcloud!

Can you tell us a little bit about the writing process for your debut self-titled album? Do you write collaboratively?

GO: A lot of the time we just bring in a riff or even a drum idea to practice and see where it takes us. Super-X rehearsals are always really fun: we spend a lot of time just jamming and improvising together. Harrison, Kaelan [Emond ] and I have been playing together now for a while so we all know how to interact with each other, when to rise and when to tone everything down. After we have the instrumentation down then we usually work on our lyrics – often it just begins with a murmur and becomes more fully formed as the song grows.

The album was recorded over six months between August 2019 and February 2020 at Invention Studios in Footscray working with Ryan Fallis and Mathias Dowle. Ryan & Mathias are fantastic to work with – they are incredibly patient, contribute great ideas and have one of the most incredible guitar pedal collections I have ever seen, including a number of pedals from the former U.S.S.R that they let us use! They are also lovely dudes, highly recommended!

Was it intentional to take your time recording or was it a necessity because of other commitments?

GO: In 2019 we had actually hit a bit of a slump with the band. We were all beginning to lose a bit of interest and all had a lack of direction with what we wanted to do and had all considered breaking the band up. We had tried recording a year prior but were pretty disappointed with the results. With work and other musical commitments (Kaelen plays drums in Obscura Hail, and I play rhythm guitar in Future Suck) we were also struggling to find the time to devote to Super-X. It was at this stage we decided to take a gamble and head back into the studio with Ryan Fallis & Mathias Dowle at Invention Studios. We were pretty unprepared in a number of ways, a lot of songs were only 80% complete, but I think taking this risk definitely added a bit of vulnerability and excitement to the sessions. We weren’t really sure what was going to come out of it and we just dived in head first. The album was recorded as live as possible with very minimal overdubs. We’d been thinking about the structure of the album for a while: we wanted a strong narrative and a focus on ambient and sound pieces throughout. Figuring out the exact track listing and order of the album was really exciting – we experimented with it as the tracks started to take shape – and ultimately pretty satisfying.

What influenced your choice to go with a real bare-bones vocal?

GO: Harrison and I aren’t natural singers, and the focus of Super-X has always really been on instrumentation, with lyrics and vocals taking a bit of a backseat a lot of the time. I think a lot of our inspiration vocally came from a the early Iceage LP’s. We wanted a delayed sound on the vocals and to have them gritty and pretty low in the mix. I think lyrically we just wanted them to be direct and to the point as possible so they could pierce through all the distortion and effects.

The album came out right in the middle of lockdown because of the global pandemic; how did you feel about not being able to play shows for its release? Any plans to play shows soon?

GO: I was actually quite thrilled with the album coming out in 2020. It’s such an iconic year for all the wrong reasons, but with no shows on and everyone having a lot of solitude I think it enabled us to carve out our own space and get the interest of Spoilsports records and Polaks, who did a joint release for the album. I think a lot of people took the time to actually give it a spin who might not have given it the time of day in other circumstances. Friends and fans have always described our music and live shows as a bit dystopian so I think having it released in 2020 is sort of fitting funnily enough?

We’ve actually got two shows coming up! Thursday March 4th at the retreat with Crash Material and our official LP launch on Saturday March 27th at Old Bar. We will be revealing the full line-up a little further down the track for that one.

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had playing a show? Where was it? What made it a blast?

GO: I lived in a massive pretty run-down house with an enormous backyard in Caulfield from 2015-2020. A lot of the LP was written in that house and is based on that particular chapter of my life. We had a bunch of parties with my housemates and would get bands to play in the lounge room which would always go off. There’s something about seeing live bands outside of the normal constraints of a venue which gets people really fired up. We had over 100 people at one of the parties and set up smoke machines and strobes, we had a fire lit outside and a TV at the end of a dark corridor looping Clint Eastwood’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly on high volume. Super-X played with Tony Dork (who just released a brilliant LP on Legless last year!) and it went off! Both bands played well and I’ve got some pretty memorable photos from the night. After bands we had a bunch of techno sets going well and truly into the early hours. Someone put the smoke machine on full blast and the dance floor turned into a thick, smoky nightmare scene for an hour or so with people panicking and spilling out into the backyard. My neighbours wouldn’t look me in the eyes for months after! I went to a music festival a year later and a guy I swear I had never seen before in my life came up to me and was preaching to me about how it was one of the best parties he had ever been to haha. It was loose.

Travel has been off the cards for most people for a while now because of the pandemic but if you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

GO: I had plans to go to Brazil for a 6-8 weeks on my own but COVID of course fucked everything up. I’ve always loved hot weather, good food and to be as far away from anyone who’s first language is English as possible when travelling. In 2018 I travelled through the Balkans and wound up getting a bus from Athens to Gjirokaster in Albania. Its where the dictator Hoxce was born and has a pretty fascinating history. There’s loads of old Nazi war loot that the Albanian army kept after they defeated the axis in the castle, including old tanks and captured flags, weapons and a documentation on how they defeated the retreating axis armies, which is pretty interesting. Albania was definitely a highlight of recent years, beautiful country and off the beaten track.

You did the artwork and design for the album; did you study art? How did you decide on the imagery? What made you go with a stark black & white palette?

GO: Yeah, I did! I did a fine arts course at RMIT specialising in drawing, so I was glad to put it to use for creating the imagery for the album. I’ve always been a firm believer in that the imagery and aesthetics of bands are just as important as the music. It’s got to be strong, bold and to the point. I honestly think if the Germs and Black Flag didn’t have their great aesthetics (the four bars symbol and Germ’s circle one logo) they wouldn’t be anywhere near as popular as they are today. People want to feel cool when they wear your band t-shirt or buy your record so the aesthetics have got to hold up.

Locally HTRK have incredible design for every release they do, I’m a massive fan of them. Nigel Yang is one of my favourite guitarists.

With Super-X I wanted something equally as bold so I decided on an industrial looking electrical plug image. Super-X is pretty mechanical and wild sounding at times so I think it suits what we do. I think for a debut LP classic black and white can never go wrong. I also drew a lot of inspiration from Peter Saville’s design and techno/ambient LP’s from the ‘90s like Underworlds Dubnobasswithmyheadman and Autechre LP’s. A lot of musical groups the less you see of the artists themselves sometimes the better, it creates more mystique and intrigue.

I never want Super-X LP’s to be about my Harrison, Kaelan or myself, or the way we look or whatever or to have us pictured on the front or back cover. I want the experience of listening to a Super-X LP to be like putting on a film with narrative of beginning, middle and end. With a strong emphasis on visual bold aesthetics to suit. The less focus on us as individuals the better. I’m a firm believer in that.

Have you been working on anything new?

GO: We have! We’ve got a bunch of tracks we’ve started to develop and have been working on some ideas in terms of sound and aesthetics for the next piece. It’s going to sound a little bit different.

Who are some bands you love that we should know about?

GO: I think locally Romero – shit hot band that a bunch of our buds play in. I used to play drums in the guitarist Ferg’s post-punk band Eyesores years ago when I was cutting my teeth playing my first ever shows. These guys are working on an LP that I am very much looking forward to, it’s really fun rocking power-pop. I really dug the new TOL album, Justin Fuller has influenced me a lot, he’s an amazing guitarist and always creates a very intense atmosphere. It’s like gothic tinged hardcore? I’m really enjoying Snowy Band, beautiful gentle pop and the production is excellent.

What’s something that’s been interesting you lately that you want to share with others?

GO: I recently discovered Japanese cyberpunk metamorphoses films from the early ‘90s. 964 Pinnochio (check out the trailer on YouTube for an idea) is fucking wild, I guess you could describe them as industrialist-fetish films? and the soundtracks is an absolutely incredible mix of techno and ambient selections I’ve never heard. The director Shozin Fukui also directed Rubber’s Lover which is just as twisted as 964 Pinnochio. There’s also Tetsuo The Iron Man which is more well known by Shinya Tsukamoto. These films are very confronting! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Please check out SUPER-X on bandcamp; on Facebook; on Instagram; on Tumblr. Super-X’s self-titled debut album out via Spoilsport Records and Polaks Records.

Geelong Punk band Vintage Crop’s Jack Cherry: “The first big thing for me was listening to Eddy Current Suppression Ring…”

Original photo by Chelsea King. Mixed-media art by B.

Vintage Crop are set to release a cracker of an album! Serve To Serve Again captures sardonic, disenchanted, unromantic story telling from the grind of the day and observations of the world in a bold 12-song package. Gimmie spoke to vocalist-guitarist Jack Cherry.

JACK CHERRY: I’ve had a nice day so far, I’m on holidays from work and I’m just taking it easy.

What do you do for work?

JC: I clean swimming pools, clean and maintain I should clarify, little bit and bobs. It’s a funny kind of job.

It would be nice to be outside a lot for work.

JC: All day, which is great in summer and not so much in the winter [laughs].

When did you first become interested in music?

JC: I’ve always had an interest, I think most people probably do, it’s a part of everyone’s life when they’re kids. I don’t think it was until I was twelve or thirteen, my brother asked me what I wanted for Christmas one year, and he steered me in the direction of a drum kit. I was like, yeah, I’d love to play drums! I wasn’t very good at it for a while. I wasn’t into anything outrageous, maybe just The White Stripes or the Foo Fighters, that was probably the first kind of inkling.

What did your parents think about you playing drums?

JC: We lived on a farm and the drums were set up in a different shed from the house so it wasn’t really an issue for them, which was nice.

What was it like growing up on farm?

JC: It was cool. We were there since I was a baby and I didn’t leave there until I was twenty. For the first twenty years I could make as much noise as I wanted! We’d always practice at my place, it was easy.

Photo: Chelsea King.

What made you move to the city?

JC: I’m still in Geelong, just not on a farm anymore. I’m ten minutes down the road on the other side of town now. I’m in a block of units at the moment so I can’t make much noise here. Geelong is pretty laid back, as long as you’re in a house, I don’t think people make too much of a fuss. We practice at our drummer’s house now and do a couple of hours a night and no one seems to have a problem with it.

How do you go about approaching your song writing?

JC: I wonder if it’s normal or not? I just play around with the guitar for half an hour or something until something half descent comes from it. I’ll play that riff or chords for two or three days until some idea for words come along and then I take it to the band. I don’t write much down. I just play around until something cool happens and take it to the band and they do the structuring and adding their own parts. I find it hard to write for everyone, it’s hard to not only come up with the parts but it feels like a dick move to come to the band and be like; you’re playing this on bass; you’re playing that on guitar; you play this drum bit on the drums. I feel like everyone is happy if they write their own parts.

When did you start playing guitar?

JC: When I was about sixteen. I had three to four years solid of playing drums and then it got to the point where I can’t really play a full song on the drums. I can’t invite people to come listen to a song and just whack the drums for two and a half minutes. It’s more interesting learning how to play the song on the guitar.

You mentioned that you don’t really write stuff down when you’re making songs; do you ever forget something really cool?

JC: Surprisingly I remember most things. I might forget the phrasing of something or the song itself; like I’ll know what I’m meant to play but can’t remember how to play it. It’s so infuriating to have the base of it but to not remember the intricacies of how I used to play it, that sometimes weighs on me. If it’s really important I will record it but I try not to, I try to keep it free like that because maybe someone in the band might have an idea for it and they’ll change it again and make it even better. I try not to lock it in too strictly otherwise you could stop it from turning into something even better!

Do you feel the new album Serve To Serve Again has an overarching theme?

JC: I tend to look back on things and retrospectively apply things and go, oh, that’s what I was looking at with this. I’d have to have a real think about it to give you something. I know that there’s something there but I don’t consciously write to a theme. There’s probably a theme there but I haven’t really nailed it yet.

I find that a lot of Vintage Crop songs have a social commentary, observations of life in general, themes of entitlement, privilege.

JC: Yeah, that’s something that subconsciously finds its way in. I try not to be too loaded in my lyrics but sometimes things just come out that way and stay that way, and it just works. A lot of the time I’m not consciously attacking anything or poking fun at things, it just comes through. I figure that’s obviously what I must feel about things or what I must have intended to say or feel because, again I feel if it’s too edited it loses the flow. I keep it as it is and that’s probably a better depiction of how I’m feeling and thinking.

How long have you been working on the record for?

JC: We did the Company Man 7” in January of last year, that was recorded six months prior but we’d been working on that for six months. It was originally going to be a full album, we originally had a few ideas that we took off of it and we moulded those into new songs that we sat with for a year. We had three songs a year ago and we went on tour to Europe in April and came back and said, let’s take a break and we’ll come back with some ideas. We probably didn’t get flying until September when we really knuckled down and said, we’ve got half an album let’s finish it. We took our time with it. We got it through ‘til February and that’s when we recorded. Give or take it was about a year from start to finish.

Where did you record it?

JC: We recorded it Frankston in Singing Bird Studios with Mikey Young. We were just happy for him to record it so we thought we would accommodate him and go down to Frankston, it’s about two and a half hours from where we are. We thought if he’s agreed to do it, we’ll do it on his terms [laughs]. We thought he’s the best man to ask for, he’s done everything that is in our scene, he’s the man for the job.

We really love the song “Jack’s Casino” on the LP.

JC: That one is the last one we wrote for the album. I came in with the idea three weeks before we recorded the album. Because it’s pretty fast and it doesn’t take much, you learn the things and play them really fast. I think it’s one of everybody’s favourites because it feels so fresh. It’s maybe indicative of where we’re going after this album. It seems like there’s always a couple of songs an album that will sound like maybe what the next one will be.

What‘s the second one?

JC: “Serve To Serve Again” the title track. It incorporates synths into our sound, it’s a lot better than the other stuff we’ve done, I think it takes a lead. We’re all happy with it. It’s exciting to change and get a new instrument in there to sound new and fresh.

The whole record is so solid. The three songs I love the most – “Jack’s Casino”, “Streetview” and “Serve To Serve Again” all appear in the middle of the record.

JC: Track listing was something we did think a lot about. It’s interesting that the three in the middle were the ones that are your favourite, because we thought the middle songs would be a really strong core for the album. The first three or four songs are the more single worthy songs and then the second half of the album has “Gridlock” which is the lead single, we thought we’d put the lead single on the B-side just to even things out. It’s interesting that you’d pick out the strong core as your favourites, it means we did a good job I guess.

So often we love the songs that aren’t the singles. What can you tell me about “Serve To Serve Again”?

JC: We wanted something more… my vocal patterns tend to be say three or four words then break. Say three or four words then break, we wanted it to have a bit more flow in the words. I took a bit more care to ditch the style I usually work with and be a bit more consistent with the vocals, to fire the vocals off a bit faster and really think about the words themselves and fit them all to a theme and keep it strong. The song itself may be a bit repetitive but if the lyrics are firing over the top… it gives us a bit more to work with.

Do you have any vocal inspirations?

JC: I’m very conscious of trying to do too much with my voice. When we first started I had kind of an American accent thing going on. It just sounded weird to me to use my normal voice. I think the first big thing for me was listening to Eddy Current Suppression Ring where it’s his voice amplified, that’s pretty much what I’m doing with mine, not trying to sound like anyone else, just trying to make sure I’m capturing my own voice properly. My favourite vocalist are the ones that amplify their own voice like Sleaford Mods, The Fall. I think that’s where we’re at with the vocal stylings.

When did you start feeling more comfortable with your own voice?

JC: Just after TV Organs came out. With the band, I was doing it on my own for the first couple of years, 2013-2015 was just me doing bedroom recordings and putting it on Soundcloud. They’re definitely not available anywhere, they’re definitely all gone! [laughs]. That was me, and I was struggling with the vocal thing, the songs weren’t great. After we did TV Organs and people were interested and came to shows it was like, oh… the voice isn’t too much different from what I was doing but I figured if people like the music I’d be more comfortable with my voice. Someone told me once that people will forgive a slightly out of tune voice if the music is good. If people are interested in the songs than making my voice sound more like myself would only be a good thing.

I’m always drawn to unique voices rather than perfect ones that all sound the same, I like character.

JC: The more you try to make it perfect it loses quality, it loses feeling.

Is there a song you’re proud of writing?

JC: I like them all, I think they’re all good. Maybe “The Ladder” on the new album, I think it came out well because there’s lots of different parts, it sounds tough but it’s interesting. The chord we use in the song, I don’t even know what its’ called, it’s like a minor diminished chord, it’s a really unusual chord but we use it and it almost sounds normal. That might be the song I’m most proud of.

I really love all the Dragnet stuff you do too! What inspired you to start that?

JC: It was last year at some point. Because of the ways we write things in Vintage Crop, it’s collaborative. With the ‘Crop stuff everything is recorded and mixed and mastered and sent off, maybe over a six month period. With Dragnet I wanted something that was just done on the spot. I was recording demos on my own, I play all the instruments and I’d finish it and that was the end of the song. Once I had a bunch of songs I’d just release it. We did. I put out a cassette and it was six songs and I got friends to play the show and gave the tapes away for free. It was fun and we thought, maybe we should do it properly.

Polaks Records in Europe wanted to do a vinyl release of it. I don’t like to do things slowly so I had a couple of other songs that I didn’t put on cassette that I thought I’d include on the vinyl release. He’s got it pressed already. I think Dragnet for me is immediacy. Getting it done straight away as opposed to the process we go through with Vintage Crop.

There’s a song called “Networking” on the record; what’s it about?

JC: That one is… a comment about people in music scenes in general. Everyone is very self-aware, there’s a lot of judging of other people but also judging of yourself. A lot of times you can feel like people are saying things about you or feeling certain things about you but they’re really not at all. I think maybe it’s a depiction of insecurities around people who are essentially just copies of yourself. Someone in a music scene, a lot of the bands that sound the same is because they have the same influences and they do the same thing; everyone’s kind of the same and it can get really competitive. You feel like you have to outshine these people or you feel like these people don’t like you or you don’t like them… it can be pretty… phwoar… ugly! The lyrics work for that. I don’t know if it comes across but that was the feeling behind it. I don’t think that deeply about the lyrics but there is definitely feeling behind it. It’s a good way of summing up how I’m feeling.

That song then rolls into next track “Music Business”.

JC: Yes. That one is a bit of fun. I did a music business course a few years ago as a one year thing. I didn’t want to go to uni and didn’t have much of a job so I thought I should do that because it was better than doing nothing. The music business course was very pretentious. It wasn’t aimed at me. It really made me see what my ambitions were and it was not to be someone in the music industry. When I say “music industry” I mean more the mainstream in Australia. That song is silly and makes me laugh when I think about it all.

Very with you there. I went to do a music industry course and I started off going to a shorter-course of it to see if I liked it and the lady that was doing it was the absolute worst! I ended up getting an internship at a major label on my own merits and I later found out it was usually her full-time students that got those places… anyway, it came up in class that I’d gotten the placement and she started treating me horribly and said in front of the whole class “You’re just getting people’s coffee!” and some other things that were trying to demean me. I never went back to that class again and thought, if this is the industry I don’t want to be a part of it.

JC: Aww that’s terrible. When I was doing the course it was around 2016 and I started getting into the local scene. Anti Fade Records was from Geelong where I was from as well and all of the things I was learning at the course, I looked at what Billy from Anti Fade was doing and was like, he’s not doing any of that stuff I’m learning?! I learnt the class was more geared to people that care about stuff like Triple J or artist management. I don’t need that stuff. I’m just better off talking to Billy about stuff and doing things like he does.

By the end of the course I had properly got Vintage Crop going, we were playing a couple of shows and starting the recording process. I started my own little record label. I thought, all of this stuff is in spite of the course! I wanted to do it my own way and not how I was taught.

What does success mean to you then?

JC: Having fun! To be completely basic about it, it’s just enjoying it. Sometimes I have trouble when people want to make a career out of it, it’s traditionally not a career, it’s a hobby. I have a full-time job and music is the fun thing I get to do every weekend and sometimes after work, that for me is a success. Doing it for fun and not hurting anyone, I think the rest of the band feel the same way. You have to keep yourself in check with it sometimes, especially now with an album coming out and you have to practice, do press, to make sure everything looks good and sounds good… it’s like, yeah, but don’t get carried away. At the end of the day we’re happy with the songs, artwork and that Upset the Rhythm and Anti Fade are putting it out—that’s the success! We’ve already kicked the goal. Now we’re just enjoying it all.

What was your European tour like?

JC: It was amazing! We were there for four and a half weeks, we did 29 shows in 32 days, it was ridiculous. To meet people and hear new bands and see new things was incredible. We made so many connections with people. The only downside was that I got really sick, in the second last week I came down with glandular fever. We soldiered trough, we wouldn’t change anything. It was my first time overseas and I was really put out by it all, at least I was with friends. If I was on my own it probably would have been a different story.

Outside of music of music, what’s important to you?

JC: Family and friends. I’m really invested in the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ve been doing my part where I can. I don’t like to promote things by social media but, I do like to do things like donate money where I can and help people if I can. I go to rallies.

As a POC I find it’s more helpful for people to do things offline and just in their everyday life, like if you see/hear racism happening, call it out! If you see someone that looks uncomfortable, go stand beside them and say “hi” and make them feel comfortable. Having conversations with people and helping educating people and your self helps too.

JC: The more you post, the more you can perpetuate arguments. I think the actions you mentioned are more valuable than sharing something on Facebook.

Please check out: VINTAGE CROP; on Facebook; on Instagram. Serve To Serve Again is out on Anti Fade Records and Upset The Rhythm (UK) August 8.