There’s a little mystery surrounding Melbourne-based pop band Kosmetika and Gimmie love them so much we wanted to learn more so we interviewed co-founder, Veeka Nazarova.
Veeka, you were born in born in Khabarovsk in south-eastern Russia; what was it like growing up there?
VEEKA NAZAROVA: I love my hometown! It’s was definitely a very interesting and quirky place to grow up in. No doubt, it shaped me the way I am now and I have no regrets growing up in Khabarovsk! The ‘Far-East’ of Russia has a much tougher climate than the European side of our country and I reckon it definitely makes the Far-Eastern people stronger in some ways. When I was younger and growing up in Khabarovsk, we didn’t have much exposure to the Western world and the internet, so all the kids mainly listened to Russian or Russian-speaking bands/artists, watched Russian speaking TV-shows/films and sort of made up our own little sub-cultures! I mean… we definitely had pop punk and emo at the time [laughs]. It was a little bit of a blend, I suppose, but still predominantly Russian/Post-Soviet culture. It’s a completely different place right now in terms of the music and arts scene, unfortunately a lot of the ‘new’ generation in Khabarovsk are too absorbed in the social media and don’t want to put much effort into creativity. A lot of cool creatives I knew at the time have left to study in big cities such as Moscow and Saint-Petersburg and now permanently live there, and I think there haven’t been many others who would follow their creative pathways in Khabarovsk. On the other hand, I’m still friends with some musicians and artists who stayed in my hometown, but there is a handful of them and they definitely don’t make living as artists. I know it sounds grim but unfortunately in Russian culture, most of the time, you have to sacrifice your life to have a family and /or a ‘good job’ so a lot of people have given up their art/music dreams to 100% dedicate themselves to a family life or career. I really hope it can change one day.
When did you first discover music? How did you start playing music yourself?
VN: I first discovered music when I was seven. My parents brought a piano home and it was decided that I’ll be going to a special music school to learn piano, music theory and singing. It is very common in Russia for kids to go to music school, it’s a separate institution where you go after your ‘normal’ school hours. I guess I was always a musical kid singing here and there. My parents had a big music collection on CD and cassettes and that’s how I started getting into heaps of Soviet bands and weirdly enough they also had tapes of artists like Nirvana, Red Hot Chilli Peppers , Blur and Madonna and a lot of 80’s and 90’s disco music, so I was absorbing all these completely different influences [laughs].
How did Kosmetika come into being?
VN: Kosmetika is my first ever band and I always knew I will start or join one [laughs]. One day I decided to post on Facebook asking if anyone in Auckland wanted to start a group, half serious half joking, and suddenly Mikey [Ellis] responded asking me what I wanted to play. We started jamming every week and I got really into it and slowly we formed some solid ideas and Mikey recorded everything properly and mixed it all in his bedroom and vu a la the songs were ready! Then we both moved to Melbourne and asked Jake [Suriano], James [Lynch] and Dom [Moore] to join Kosmetika and have been playing together ever since!
Where did the name Kosmetika come from?
VN: The name ‘Kosmetika’ comes from one my favourite Soviet bands ’The Institution of Kosmetika-Nee Kosmetiki’, I am very inspired by this band. Also Kosmetika sounds like a cool word, sort of a mash up between ‘cosmetics’ and ‘cosmos’ …I don’t know, it is just my interpretation.
I understand your LP Pop Soap is lyrically about/themed on your experience of moving to New Zealand from Russia when you were younger; what was the catalyst for your move? Is there anything you vividly remember about your move?
VN: To be honest, I don’t think Pop Soap is about anything specifically or has a strong concept. It’s a collection of ideas. There is just one song that sort of talks about me moving to NZ but overall it highlights mine and Mikey’s experiences living in NZ and Australia and how we dealt with it. And yeah, back to your question about my moving to NZ. It was pretty hard and I couldn’t relate to a lot of things in their culture to start with, but now finally I consider it my home and miss it a lot, it’s a very precious place to me.
Another theme is of nostalgia and memories; is there anything particular that you get really nostalgic for?
VN: I can’t speak for Mikey, but as many people everywhere in the world, I get nostalgic about being a teenager or young adult and not having a lot of responsibilities. I think it’s the best time for creativity. I also get very nostalgic about 70’s and 80’s pop culture and style, it definitely has a special place in my heart, even though I can’t really explain why [laughs]. I guess it’s my ‘fake’ nostalgia.
Was there a song on Pop Soap that was particularly challenging for you to write?
VN: All the songs on our first album were written by Mikey and I, so whenever i would come up with an idea Mikey helped me to develop it further and vice versa. I guess it’s our process of writing music. I mainly have an initial melody or lyrics and Mikey just turns it into something much more solid and cooler. At the same time, heaps of the songs from Pop Soap were Mikey’s demos from ages ago, so it’s a bit of a mix. I can’t really emphasise any particular song that was hard for me to write because it’s a mutual process. I suppose the hardest part was to mix the songs that were recorded in a bedroom and Mikey did it all of it so, it was definitely hard for him in terms of a production.
I know that you had planned to release an EP of unreleased songs from your current live set; will we see it anytime soon? What inspired this idea?
VN: We have thought about releasing a small EP of the other songs but now we have a lot of ideas enough for another album or two, so we are currently deciding on what we are going to do with it [laughs]. We have recorded a bunch of songs with the band and without so just need to figure out how we would put it together, but something is definitely coming out soon so keep your eyes wide open!
Can you tell us about your favourite Kosmetika show you’ve played?
VN: My favourite Kosmetika show was probably when we played in Rebecca Allan’s kitchen at her house party. It was extremely loud and super hot but, I loved how packed the kitchen was and people going crazy trying to dance [laughs] great party!
How is not being able to play live because of the pandemic affecting both the band and yourself personally?
VN: Pandemic is very strange times for everyone for sure… At first I felt very productive and was coming up with many ideas almost every day and now since it has been dragging for so long, I have been feeling very jaded and quite frankly depressed. Every day is a challenge, trying to keep sane and at the same time trying to stay creative. It is very hard, but a lot of people are going through the same thing, so I know I’m not alone. It has definitely been super difficult to get together with the band. We had a few practices but unfortunately had to stop due to stage 4 restrictions. On the good side, Mikey and I live together and have a little studio set up in our room which is great for recording, so we are currently trying to finish off some ideas while we are in isolation.
Have you been working on anything new? Has anything been inspiring your creativity of late?
VN: As I said previously, we have been writing a lot of new music recently. I think a lot of inspo came from our imaginary worlds that we live in at the moment [laughs]. I personally have been getting inspired by a lot of 80’s Soviet music too. Being away from the Motherland makes me re-discover more things about my culture and turn it into the source for my inspiration I guess. But this is just my inspo things.
What bands/albums/songs have you been listening to lately?
VN: I have been listening to a lot of electronic 80’s music, more weird synth-y stuff [laughs]; a lot of European and Soviet music!
Outside of music what do you do?
VN: Outside of music I love to go for nature hikes, ride my bike around the city, take photos, read some old books and paint.
Melbourne duo Sleeper and Snake, Amy Hill and Al Montfort, are set to release new album Fresco Shed via brand new independent Australian label Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club (from the folks behind Lulu’s record store) and the UK’s Upset the Rhythm.
Sleeper and Snake craft beautiful and delicate songs about tough matters, their songs are political without being overtly so, you have to dig deeper, they make you think. Al and Amy skillfully and uniquely tell stories observed from their local surroundings of trains, farmers, corrupt handshakes, of Pentridge prison and the Melbourne war memorial. Through laid back alto and tenor saxophone peppered lo-fi soundscapes and poetic words, Fresco Shed sparks imagination and charms the listener.
Gimmie chatted to Al and Amy about the forthcoming LP and song “Flats” which we’re doing the Australian video premiere for today. We also talk about their other projects in the works.
What initially inspired you to write a new Sleeper and Snake album Fresco Shed?
AMY: Good question! [laughs].
AMY to AL: You’re just always writing music, endlessly… it’s gotta go somewhere.
AL: We were writing a lot of Terry songs together…
AMY: We just enjoy playing music together.
AL: I guess…
AMY: Some of it didn’t suit that.
AL: Yeah. We had saxophones so we were making a lot of music with them.
I wanted to ask you about using saxophone, because that’s kind of a less traditional instrument to write songs with; have you been playing for very long?
AMY: No, not really. Al got one…
AL: Yeah, I got one. I got a tenor sax from EBay from a fancy rich suburb in Sydney for 200 bucks! [laughs] …maybe six years ago when Total Control were up there for a gig. I didn’t bother getting any lessons, in case you can’t tell.
AMY: I tried to play it once and I managed to get sound out of it and he pestered me into playing [laughs]. Georgia from The UV Race plays saxophone and she had babies recently so she wasn’t using her saxophone, I managed to borrow hers and that’s what I’ve been playing. We thought it would sound quite cool to have the tenor and alto saxophones together. It seemed like a fun thing to do.
AL: Yeah. Amy just picked it up and was way better. She was a total natural at it straight away.
What do you enjoy about making music?
AL: It keeps me sane-ish. I think any kind of creative outlet is really important for people. The process of writing lyrics is a really great outlet for me to get through the day, to make things compute and it helps this horrible place make sense.
AMY: I think it’s just fun!
Making something from nothing is the most fun!
AMY: Yeah. It’s also been a real social thing for me, I get to hang out with my friends and we do music together. It’s always been what you do, go see bands and play music together.
How have you guys been dealing with not being able to be as social and do those things, especially play live?
AMY: It’s pretty weird. At first it was almost like a little bit of a holiday from it. By playing in numerous bands we’d find ourselves playing something like four gigs a week, which is quite insane when you’re also working fulltime [laughs]. The first lockdown it was kind of a bit of a novelty but it starts to just become quite odd, I feel a bit odd. There’s a lot of people that you don’t see anymore because you’re not going out to see live bands. Your life feels a bit like it’s on hold, I guess most people would be feeling that.
I think so. I’ve been going to gigs my whole life and this has been the longest I’ve gone without going to see live music. Right now in Brisbane a handful of venues have brought back a live shows but with a small capacity and it’s sit down at tables, socially distanced; you pay the ticket price and then you have to pay a minimum of $40 each extra on top of that which is redeemable in bar tab or venue merch. That means for my husband and I to go see a local live band it can cost around $120; we don’t drink and we’re not going to spend $80 on soft drink and we don’t need venue merch, so these new rules excludes us from going to do something we’ve done and supported our whole lives.
AL & AMY: Whoa!
I can understand venues are in a weird spot with having limited capacity and not having been opened for a bit but to basically enforce a alcohol minimum to see bands is really weird.
AL: That is really weird.
AMY: Someone was telling me that Cherry Bar here in Melbourne was trying to gauge interest, they want to do a gig where there’s some hotel and it must have a courtyard in the middle and the rooms have balconies that look down on it; they want to have the bands in the courtyard and then you book a room, so it’s a festival where you have to have your own room. It’s insane.
AMY: You have to have money to be able to do that!
Same with the bands doing gigs at drive-ins up here. It’s something like $200-$250+ per car to go.
Yeah, it puts going to a show out of the reach of a lot of people, especially with many people losing their jobs.
AMY: Do you think people do it because they think they’re supporting live music? But then it’s so inaccessible for so many, it’s so weird.
Yeah, the kind of crowd that end up being able to afford it are the ones that go to a festival like Splendour In The Grass just for the experience… its crazy to me that festivals like Splendour have a stall/tent you can go to and get your hair done and a nail bar! I mean, what the actual fuck?
Is there anything that frustrates you about making music?
AL: Hmmmm [thinks for a moment]… dealing with promoters. I think there are a lot of good promoters that have their heart in the right place, but I think the money making, money obsessed side of it…
AMY: It’s a bit grim!
AL: It is pretty grim. Even what’s happening now with the shutdown, I know a lot of the venues are keen to open up because there’s people that work for them and the landlords need money from the venues, the business owners need money and they’re pushing this stuff more than the artists I feel. I feel like the artists and the fans are like, let’s respect this, it’s OK…
AMY: We’ll just have a break. There’s a real push from the business side because they’ll go under if they don’t have the chance.
AL: I feel like maybe there’s not that much interest in the cultural, artistic side of musicians/artists… it’s more about the bottomline. That can be frustrating.
AMY: Some people probably love it, if they’re in it to make money [laughs].
AL: Yeah, totally.
I grew up in the punk rock community so I’ve always been very wary of the music industry.
AL: Yeah. I went to a lot of punk gig growing up, there weren’t many at pubs, there were many at cafes during the day or DIY venues, house parties, and they went along just fine without these huge bars making a lot of money off of people drinking themselves to death… I’m not quite straight edge but…
AMY: I guess there’s that thing that musicians often get paid in their bar tab to a certain degree which… it’s a bit of a weird normality that that’s what you get.
I’ve been listening to the new Sleeper & Snake album Fresco Shed all afternoon since I got a sneak peek of it, it’s so cool. The opener “Miracles” is an instrumental and has a feel about it sonically that is kind miraculous and magical sounding.
AMY: Thank you.
AL: “Miracles” is inspired by Scott Morrison when he won the election and was like “it’s a miracle… I’ll burn for you” and he kept on saying all this stuff about miracles [laughs]. It was really upsetting.
That’s like how in the US Donald Trump said that the pandemic will “disappear… like a miracle”.
AL: A miracle! Ugggh… Love that! [laughs].
I love how Fresco Shed has a real gentleness to it but then the themes are very political and serious.
AL: Yeah. It’s funny just making the music at home because we don’t play through amps very much with this project. Because we’re doing it like that and playing at home using saxophone and that, it does become gentle in a way.
AMY: You don’t have to be loud.
AL: Maybe it’s just sad and defeated?
AMY: Sad?! [laughs].
AL: It’s that side of politics… it’s the sound of defeat [laughs].
I saw press photos and there was an abstract hand-painted “fresco shed” in the pics; did you make it yourself?
AMY: We were getting quite crafty in lockdown.
AMY: Al’s always trying to make papier-mâché things. In Terry he made the papier-mâché Terry. He likes to get crafty.
AL: Yeah, I like to get crafty! I was really proud of the corrugated iron type roof.
AMY: We envisioned a real shed covered in fresco paintings but then all we could physically achieve was a cardboard box [laughs]. We like making the art and being hands on in that way. We had a lot of time on our hands.
We were nerds and zoomed in on the photos to check out the paintings better and we noticed that each picture correlates to song themes on the record, you have the V-Line country train, Pentridge prison, crooked handshakes…
AL: It’s conceptual but literal [laughs].
AMY: Al told me what to paint and I just painted it, that was the rule! [laughs]; I said I’d paint it if he told me what to paint. They all relate to the songs.
I really love the image of the “farmer full of feelings”.
AL: That’s one of my favourites, I think. That person definitely looks defeated!
That image is related to the song “Lady Painter”?
AMY: Yep. The farmer full of feelings has just watched a Scott Morrison press conference [laughs].
That song even mentions the “fresco shed” right?
AL: Oh yeah.
AMY: That’s where the title comes from.
We’re premiering the video for your song “Flats”; what’s that one about?
AL: We moved to a different suburb a year and a bit ago, Richmond is an inner east suburb of Melbourne…
AMY: No one we know really lives here, everyone lives north side. We moved to a suburb that’s kind of wealthy…
AL: It’s diverse, it has a lot of public housing but it’s really rich as well, heaps of wealthy people. You really see gentrification at that umpteenth level, how extreme it can get…
AMY: All the apartments going up and stuff. It was during summer and we were going for walks and we were talking about ideas and things and that kind of came up and that turned into a song.
AMY to AL: Did you write it?
AL: I think we both wrote it while we were walking around taking Tramadols [laughs]. We were walking by the Yarra River, it runs through the whole thing and you really see the worst of Settler society here…
AMY: All the wealthy people have their houses on the river and all the wealthy schools row on the river.
AL: There’s all these people with power next to disempowered people… AND it’s all on Stolen Land. Everywhere you look is a little snapshot of this.
It’s always boggled my mind since I was a kid, the world always seemed to me to have enough for everyone but, then there’s some people that have so much that they don’t even need and then there’s people with nothing, no place to live. I remember observing that as a kid and thinking it was so weird and wrong.
AL: Yeah, totally. Moving to the suburbs that are much older, the juxtaposition between these two things are in your face. Another aspect of the song is about the privilege we have as white Australians, we don’t have experiences the same way… we might not even be from wealthy families or whatever but we benefit from it every single day. The “flats falling into the floor” lyrics is a reference to the Opal Towers in Sydney, all these apartment building falling down and such wealth being made from that stuff, it’s disgusting!
Totally! Do you have a favourite track on the new record?
AMY: I like playing the ones that we just play saxophone on together, they’re really good to play.
AL: They’re all good ‘ey! [laughs].
What do you love about playing saxophone together?
AMY: I think it’s just so new for me. To be playing a very different instrument than what I’m used to and having to work out how they sound good together… literally I don’t know some of the notes on it and have to figure it out [laughs]. Because it’s new it’s exciting to play. Challenging!
Musical experimentation must keep things creatively interesting for you; was there anything new you tried writing or recording this release?
AMY to AL: I don’t’ know if it made it on to the record but you were clanging on something, weren’t you?
AL: Oh, yeah. I was banging on a pot.
AMY: I don’t know if it sounded any good [laughs]. We just like to try weird things. We do that though with all of the bands to a different degree. Nothing ground-breaking.
AL: We recorded on the 4-track, which is what we usually do with Terry and Primo! too.
Toward the end of the song “Lady Painter” there’s some cool weird sounds that I couldn’t work out what was making it?
AL: That could be the organ, Nan’s old organ!
AMY: The Funmaker.
AL: Yeah, it’s called the Funmaker!
AMY: It has this one level of keys…
AMY to AL: Do you think it’s broken? Or is that just what it sounds like?
AL: That’s just what it does.
AMY: We didn’t even effect it, that’s just what it sounds like.
AL: I’ll plug it in… here we go! It’s pretty crazy.
[Al plugs in the organ and plays]
I feel like fun is a really important part of what you both do?
AMY: It’s sort of like a hobby, what we do to relax and blow off steam and hang out with our mates.
Did you start creating from when you first got together?
AL: It took a while. Maybe Terry was the first band that we wrote together for, that’s four or five years ago.
AMY: We’ve been together for ten years. It took us five years because we just had our own separate bands.
AMY to AL: You were pretty busy because you had ten bands or something like that.
AL Too much going on ‘ey! [Laughs].
What’s something you both do differently when writing songs?
AMY to AL: You remember them, that’s one thing.
AL: I remember more of the riffs than some other people in the band [laughs]. I rush, I’m always keen to get things done…
AMY: Whereas I work more slowly.
AL: Not slowly though, I think more thoroughly.
AMY: I like to think over things.
AL: Amy does things properly and I rush it [laughs]. That’s what the report card says! Maybe that’s from just being in bands that tour a lot for a while… UV Race and Total Control would write a record, finish a record… we’d jam a lot and write a lot to have a record for touring; maybe that has affected my song writing style?
AMY to AL: You want to churn it out…
AL: Yeah, I want to fucking churn it out!
AMY: I’ll think about something for three months.
AL: Which I think is better! I listen back to stuff and I’m like errrrrr, I wish you told me to chill out on that.
AMY to AL: Yeah, like… you need to do those vocals again!
Did you do the Sleeper & Snake stuff in a few takes?
AL: I’ll always be like, that first take was good!
AMY: He’ll tell me to put something on it and I’ll be like; this is a demo, right?
AL: I’ll be like, yeah it’s a demo. Then I’ll be like, OK, let’s send it away for mastering now!
I love when you sing together on your songs; what kind of feeling do you get doing that together?
AL: It’s pretty fun!
AMY: I’m like, oh god! [laughs].
AL: Singing is so fun. I think we both love singing and we try to egg each other on.
AMY: I sing high on some songs on the record. I think I sing better when I sing high but I really don’t like singing high. I’m always trying to go low but it always ends up that, nah, I’m gonna have to go up. It’s all figuring out harmonies.
Is there anything else that you’re working on?
AL: We have a few demos in the can. We’re got most of the new Terry record done.
AMY to AL: You’re still working on that Dick Diver record?
AL: Yeah, there’s a Dick Diver record that’s been 75% recorded about two years ago…
AMY: Sleepless Nights have been working on another record but that kind of stopped with Covid. Our drummer just went to Perth, we were like; why did you go to Perth?! There’s a few things in the works but everything is a bit on hold.
AMY to AL: Truffle Pigs?
AL: Yeah, Truffle Pigs! That’s Steph Hughes from Dick Diver, Amy and myself. It’s more like Soakie, country Soakie…
AMY: It’s a concept album. We’re always doing bits and bobs. Al writes songs and we figure out which band it sounds like [laughs].
AL: You write so many songs too; what are you talking about? [laughs].
AMY to AL: Noooooo. I write a riff and play it for a little while and then I forget it and then you remember it and turn it into a song [laughs]. You’ll be playing and I’ll be like; oh what’s that song?
What are the things you value in terms of your creativity?
AL: I value collaboration and maybe a level of improvisation, especially in a live setting.
AMY: I enjoy that. Performing is good as well. But, we don’t’ get to do that at the moment. I do get really nervous though, but I enjoy it a lot [laughs]. Sometimes my hands will be shaking so much that I can hardly play the organ.
You could never tell you’re so nervous. We watched the live Button Pusher performance recently, which was great!
AMY: It’s just a physical thing I guess, it’s so weird. I’ve been playing for so long and it just never goes away. I still get so nervous! I think it’s a good things though to have some nervous energy.
Australian-based Wergaia/Wemba Wemba woman Alice Skye crafts beautiful, hopeful and shimmery, introspectively themed yet relatable pop songs. She wears her heart on her sleeve as she explores identity, family and personal growth, reflective in latest singles ‘I Feel Better But I Don’t Feel Good’ and ‘Grand Ideas’ taken from her forthcoming album. Gimmie spoke to Alice about ‘Grand Ideas’ just before it dropped, she also gave us a little insight on what’s to come.
How’s your day been?
ALICE SKYE: Pretty nice, it’s really good weather where I am. This morning I’ve just been doing some songwriting sessions with a couple of young people, which is not something that I usually do. It’s been a pretty good day, a productive one! What about you?
I’ve been doing other interviews. I spend most of my days listening to new music and researching.
AS: It sounds pretty good.
I wanted to start by asking you; why is music important to you?
AS: I feel like I should know the answer straight away to this… as a kid it was a way that I figured out you can express feelings through it, that’s why I find it soooo important. I guess sometimes it’s hard to do that communicating… or it helps you identity a feeling you’re having by listening to a song like, aww yeah, I feel those things! Also, it can be the opposite thing and be an escape and you can listen to something that takes you out of your mind or you can listen to something that puts you in your mind, which are two great things to be able to do just by listening to something.
Totally. I understand that a little while back you were going through a phase of listening to ‘90s music from No Doubt, The Breeders, Garbage…
AS: Aww yeah. I always return there every so often, seasonally. Being in isolation and spending a lot more time on my computer, I’ve just been going down rabbit holes like that again and listening to heaps of early Silverchair. I love that time in music, I think a lot of people do, especially because I was born in the mid-90s, it was in my sphere.
I grew up listening to that stuff as well.
AS: Yeah, pretty formative years.
What is it that you love most about singing?
AS: It’s a weird thing. I have a pretty up and down relationship with it. Sometimes I love it and sometimes I don’t want to do it, it’s like anything I guess. I feel most happy when it’s using it as a cathartic thing… I’m not really a thrill seeker or anything but, singing gives me that release I guess people get from other things, that’s why I love it.
You’re set to release new single ‘Grand Ideas’. What I’ve got from it is that thematically it’s an escape from one’s self and the ideas we build to break from our thoughts within; what led you to this idea?
AS: It’s really nice when a song comes together all at once, it was one of those moments where the lyrics and the chorus: everything I have is too heavy to hold / everything I do feels out of my control… it was like, saying that and feeling that. Feeling really overwhelmed by things and ideas, hopes, different things we carry with us a lot from childhood or now, pressures you put on yourself. I was feeling a bit crazy and I just wanted to write about it. I feel lucky I can use that to get through those feelings.
You’ve said that songs from your last album Friends With Feelings was you trying to work out your identity; what’s your forthcoming album about?
AS: I’m hoping that it will show growth since I wrote my first one, maybe a bit more of an idea of who I am and what I want to say. I think a lot about identify still, it’s just something that I’m going to gradually get to know more and that’s constantly changing, there’s still themes of that in the next album. More of an up-to-date version of it because they’re more recent and feel more relevant to me. There’s a lot of different things on there but all from the same year. They feel like they belong together.
In relation to your identity; what are the things that you’re dealing with?
AS: There’s themes of that in ‘Grand Ideas’ because I wrote it when I was on my way home from seeing a new therapist and like… I’m going to work on myself and do the things that people do, and then people can put labels or give those diagnoses and things that you’re not too sure if it fits you. Learning more things about yourself and having other people pitch in on that and trying to grapple with that and like; how do I see myself as compared to how other people see myself. Sorry that’s such a strange answer.
Nah. I see a therapist myself… I think a lot of people do. I think it’s good to talk about these things and normalise them a bit more. Getting help is a good thing!
AS: Yeah, absolutely. It feels weird to talk about it but its fine, honestly it’s great! A lot of my friends and I talk about it. I wrote that song around that time because I’d just seen one of those therapists that you don’t necessarily get along with too well and you think, actually that’s not me… also, though trying to take in some of the advice.
I know that for me finding my identity – my family is Indigenous as well and I’m mixed-race – I’m dealing with sometimes not being black enough for the black kids or white enough for the white kids, you’re in that weird in between place…
AS: Yeah, totally! For First Nations People in this country, and the world, it’s hard enough figuring out who you are as a person but also having an identity where people publicly question, whether in the news or politicians or whatever, that’s a whole other thing to navigate that can be really hard and really confusing. In my first album I was really beginning to understand that and talking about it more, now I feel a lot more confident in who I am as an Indigenous Person. It’s hard when people are discussing it that don’t even know you.
Absolutely! Was there anything that helped you develop that confidence?
AS: Talking about it. Having songs out there and having to talk about the songs got me to do that more. Growing up in a small predominately white town, it wasn’t something that I talked about outside of my family really because I felt I couldn’t or I didn’t have ownership over that. It’s really different now that I’m having conversations about it a lot more. The more you say it the more you feel it and now it’s not such a big unknown in my life, I guess.
Is there a core theme to the new album?
AS: I don’t know. I feel like it’s something that I sometimes wish I had going into recording but I really just write from what’s happening at the time. It’s the last year and a half for me and what’s been going on. There’s a lot of different things in there.
Were there any particular moods or emotions you were writing from?
AS: Lots! Sometimes frustration, sometimes sadness, but sometimes comfort and content as well. Even at the moment with everything going on with Covid-19, I think I’ve been feeling better and worse at the same time about not being able to do things… feelings like that—things being better but worse! [laughs].
Previously you’ve commented that with writing this album you’ve been thinking about music differently; in what ways?
AS: I recorded this one with my band that I’ve been touring with for the last four or five years. I didn’t do the first one with them, I did that alone. It was a different approach to the recording having people with me and being able to bounce ideas off each other… also, I think because how I naturally approach songwriting, it’s usually quite stripped back and sparse and moody, it was fun to play with different options; to play with different elements of different genres rather than sticking to just one.
Nice! Do you write most of your music on guitar or piano?
AS: Mostly on piano. I play with a guitarist and a drummer so sometimes they’ll help me in how to figure something out if I don’t play that instrument.
Is there a song on the new album that has a special significance for you?
AS: Quite a lot of them [laughs]. There are quite a few about my family and relationships with family. Those songs are quite important to me because family are great and also a tricky thing. It’s nice to be able to write through those things. There’s a few songs on there about my family, I wrote them down in the Grampians where I am now. Those ones feel quite special, the ones that were written at home.
That’s where you grew up?
AS: Yeah, yeah.
You’ve won so many awards already including, the Emerging Artist Award at the 2019 Australian Women in Music Awards and the inaugural First Peoples Emerging Artist Award; what award has meant the most to you?
AS: It always feels nice to get the support and recognition from different people and different things whatever it is. A few years ago, the International Women’s Day Award got me a lot of opportunities, with Bakehouse Studios in Melbourne and that’s still a relationship that I have now, it essentially introduced me to the label that I’m on now. A lot of things came from that, I feel really grateful to have kept that relationship.
It’s awesome that you’re on the Bad Apples Music label now!
AS: Yep, I feel very well looked after!
What do you like to do outside of music?
AS: At the moment, because I haven’t been travelling around much, which has been kind of nice, I’ve just been indulging in that extra spare time. Trying to pick up things I used to do, making some clothes and printmaking at my mum’s place; not super successfully but it feels nice to tap into old hobbies again.
The art for your album was done by artist Aretha Brown; how did you feel when you first saw the large piece she did for you?
AS: Aww so special! I was so grateful that she said “yes” when I asked. She took a lot of care to ask me what I hoped for it. I love it! I can’t wait to release the next portion of it. The one that’s out so far is a quarter of it… there’s a whole other image around it. I can’t wait for the whole thing to be out, it’s beautiful!
You’re releasing a bit at a time with each single, right?
AS: Yeah. She’s so talented. Very grateful.
[The title of the first single ‘I Feel Better But I Don’t Feel Good’] That’s probably the main theme [of the album] really.
When you’re not feeling so great is there anything that you do to lift your mood?
AS: Yeah, different things work for different days. I love… it’s probably terrible, I wish I was someone that meditated but I don’t, I just throw myself into being distracted, that’s either playing music or watching shitty TV or doing something outside—sometimes good, sometimes not so good.
What’s something you’ve seen lately that’s been really beautiful?
AS: A lot of my friends have really shown up and done amazing things during this time. I have friends that have a restaurant in Melbourne and they’ve been doing meals for free for people that need it or making boxes of groceries and donating them to people and delivering them to those that can’t get out or can’t work. It’s nice when you see people from your community doing things, it makes you feel like we’ll be ok, even if things or the government aren’t looking after us. We have good community around us!
Thao Nguyen is an Oakland-based musician that is about to drop the most honest, beautiful and self-healing record of her life. Temple finds Thao comfortable in her own skin and sees her finding the courage to finally publicly come out as her whole self, confronting the shame, grief, division and silence she has felt in her life, making for a collection of powerful songs. The album is in essence pop but goes beyond that with elements of hip-hop, funk, folk, with punk roots. Temple is a celebration of living life on your own terms!
THAO NGUYEN: I’ve been screen printing in our garage. I took a screen printing class because I had this idea to offer a tea towel as part of our merch bundle – this was pre-pandemic – I would screen print a tea towel for them. It’s reclaiming my name because kids used to call me “Towel” when I was younger and it was really traumatic. I’ve been screen printing all day.
Nice! It’s cool that people will get to have a handmade little piece of you in their kitchen.
TN: Thank you so much for saying that! I hope they turn out OK. I hope it’s just enough that I’m doing it myself. It’s harder than I thought it would be [laughs].
My husband and I do screen printing in our garage, hand-making things is so much more personal and special.
TN: Totally! It’s been so fun. Do you have trouble with the ink drying up sooner than you think it will and then it gets hard to have a clean print?
Yes! Parts of the screen can get clogged a little, we still haven’t worked out how to combat that, we just try to do the prints as quickly as possible.
TN: [Laughs] Yes! I gotta move faster. It’s getting hotter here, that thickens the ink up too.
I noticed that during the song writing period for your new LP Temple you spent a lot of time in the kitchen baking sourdough bread.
TN: [Laughs] I did. Song writing can be so painful and take you to such dark places, also there can be very little return on a lot of effort. It was so nice to do something tactile and to see your work result in something, besides a song that you don’t know whether it’s good.
With bread I think it’s a food that can be really comforting too.
TN: Oh yeah! It’s been remarkable. Luckily I had already stockpiled a lot of flour from the song writing time, rolling into the pandemic we do have enough flour to keep baking.
What does your new album Temple mean to you?
TN: Temple was the creation of a space in where I can exist as my whole self. It’s the culmination of a whole life that I’ve lived in a very divided way. It has a lot to do with claiming my own life and still belonging to my family, and trying to find out how to still belong to my family and culture while being publicly out. I got married in the process! It was a real culmination of life and a celebration of that.
Congratulations on getting married! I can definitely feel that celebratory vibe on the album. There also seems to be a real feeling of freedom on it.
TN: Yeah, there is. It was like a bloodletting! [laughs]. There are moments of heaviness but also lightness and shedding a lot of the past and ghosts.
On your last album A Man Alive you were talking about your father, and on this record the first song, the title track, is celebrating your mother.
TN: Yeah. They have had drastically different influences on my life. My mom has always been so steady and consistent but, she has her own complex life. I wanted the chance to honour that and make her refugee story to be beyond that, to give her a fuller humanity.
Was it scary to put all of these thoughts and feelings out there?
TN: Oh, terrifying! Absolutely! It took years to make this record, it took probably a year and a half just to get the gumption to write the songs that I knew I had to write. Now it feels almost surreal like it was someone else’s turmoil and toil. It took a lot! I said that I didn’t know if I would make another record because it was such a herculean task to me to confront all these things.
I think sometimes listeners don’t quite get how intense it is for some artists to tap into their pain to write a song. Writing things from an honest place you have to confront yourself and what’s happening in your life, it can be scary.
TN: Yeah. It’s the artists own decision to do that, it was mine. There wasn’t another option for me. It’s the type of work I am drawn to. You hope that people will spend some time with it but it connects how it connects and it finds who it needs to find.
Have you always been creative?
TN: I think so. Growing up I didn’t have a lot of resources. When I started playing guitar that’s when I felt I could tap into creativity, I was about twelve. Before then I watched lot of television [laughs].
I know that some of your favourite writers inspire your lyrics, this time around it was James Baldwin, Octavia Butler and Yiyun Li; what was it about each?
TN: James Baldwin, his language and his eloquence and succinct manner is so remarkable. He’s such an incredible, incisive writer, whenever I reference him it’s the present tense, he is such a presence for so many people. The way he wrote about injustice and abuse of power and systemic inequality, the way he wrote about race, about being queer—it was all inspiring. A real source of courage for me.
Octavia Butler, the way she imagines and created these dystopic realties; this near future dystopia that we have actually been living in now. That was before all of this was happening though, there was already so much to work with as far as the corruption in the world and destruction of the environment and society. She’s a luminary, a prophet.
Yiyun Li, the way she has an incredibly powerful, very potent style of writing that isn’t dramatic at all but it’s devastating to me. The way she writes about families and familial relationships. She writes about Chinese families. I found a lot of similarities and commonalities that resonated with me and my Vietnamese family.
I’ve always liked how in Octavia’s stories she always has fascinating, strong female characters.
TN: Yes. ‘Phenom’ the song that draws the most from Octavia, the narrator of that is the voice that I imagine as one of her strong characters that leads the army of the scorched Earth to come back and bring to bear.
Have there been any books that have had a profound impact onyou?
TN: So many, yeah. I love panoramic, cross-generational, sweeping narratives. The first one that I read like that was The Grapes Of Wrath or East Of Eden. More recently, Grace Paley, all of her short stories. I discovered her in college through my roommate; she influenced my song writing a great deal when I was starting to song write more seriously. Her economy with words is something that I have always admired. She’s a general influence.
For the last record, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, oh man there’s one passage in it where the son is getting on the bus and leaving… that influenced the creation of A Man Alive. There were a few sentences within that that just broke me. From there I could access the emotions that I needed to write the record.
Sonically when you started out writing this record, did you have a vision for it?
TN: Not so much. I knew that I would produce it, and produce it with my bandmate Adam [Thompson]. Whatever happened sonically it would be represented in a more truthful was, a more accurate way than any other, because we were doing it. I wanted to be creating more beats. I knew that there would be a strong rhythm and prominent groove and beats. I wanted a lusher soundscape.
I really love the song ‘Marrow’ on the LP; can you tell us a little about it?
TN: ‘Marrow’ I wrote leading up to marrying my partner. The songs aren’t necessarily chronological but they do follow things that lined up with what was happening in my life at the time. ‘Marrow’ is about saying: here I am, you know all these things about me and you accept me still [*gets teary*].
There’s a couple of songs on the album that make me cry every time, one is ‘Marrow’ and the other is ‘I’ve Got Something’. I like ‘Marauders’ too because it’s the most sincere, whole-hearted love song I’ve ever written.
Were those songs hard for you to write?
TN: They were! Especially ‘I’ve Got Something’ it deals with basically getting to a place where I had to be willing to no longer be a part of my family in order to have my own. There are a lot of scenarios that can end up in estrangement, fortunately that wasn’t mine. It’s really hard! How do you belong to where you come from? How do you belong to yourself? And, what are you willing to risk? How much can you deny of your own life?
Last question; what are some things that make you really, really happy?
TN: I love that question! I really love cooking. I love baking bread. I’ve been really into growing vegetables, I know that probably sounds really, really cliché at this point. The only solace I’ve been able to find is really getting into growing our own food. I spend most of my day trying to figure out how to keep the seedlings alive [laughs] and trying to figure out how to make compost. Just this morning the mint had this rust kind of fungus thing, I have to figure that out. It’s a whole other world of being in tune with the food we grow and eat. It’s so awesome! It’s something that I always wanted to do but I’ve always been so busy with tour. Even if I tried I wouldn’t be fully focused on it and I’d come back from tour and it would be dead.
Sydney’s G2G sound somewhere between the Raincoats and Kleenex. They’re an inviting listen of freewheeling riotous music inspired by their “mums” and “Dolly Parton”. Despite currently living in different parts of Australia they’re still keeping in touch and working on new ideas which, if we’re lucky will materialize into their first LP.
How did G2G come together?
GEORGIA: Well it happened pretty quickly. I had lots of – I wouldn’t call them demos – but phone recordings of strange melodies, and Greta had lots of ideas too so we spent a couple of afternoons in her studio fleshing these parts out. It was obvious that we needed to get Australia’s’ best bass player (Gel) involved to make the songs truly work… We probably had one rehearsal together before our first show, which was Paradise Daily’s Fourth Birthday Party.
GRETA: Georgia and I met at a Body Type show and Gel and I met randomly through a mutual friend. Neither were particularly memorable occasions, I think only brief introductions, but we all slowly grew on each other. That’s the way I think real best friendships happen.
GEL: Greta showed me some demos in the car once of two songs that her and Georgia had written and I loved them so much! Our first show we played for about 10 minutes and it was a very fun 10 minutes- we all got together lots after that and kept writing. And yeah I think so too Greta!
What is the band’s biggest inspiration?
GEL: Dolly Parton, Nicholas Cage, our mums!
GEORGIA: I think we all have a similar sense of humor, and I think we are a curious group… We have an A3 sheet that lives above Greta’s bed with all of the things we love. Dolly, Nicholas and “our mums” are definitely on that, also on that list: Dixie Chicks, Brian Eno, Leah Sales, Terry…
GEL: Yeah I think curious is a good word for us! Curiosity is a big driver I think for us all.
GRETA: I’m currently in isolation in Melbourne but if I had a photo of that piece of paper it would show you… our kindergarten teachers are on there too. Our pets. I think our biggest inspirations are the people (and animals) that made the biggest positive marks on our lives. G2G is a happy band! We are celebratory humans and we like to sing about that.
We found it!
Growing up, how did you discover music?
GEORGIA: Family. Perth’s’ 1080 radio station had a fair bit to do with what I discovered.
GEL: Also family. In primary school I played in a two person Delta “Goodrum” cover band with my friend Claudia. We played exclusively Delta [Goodrem]. I think maybe being given a Destiny’s Child CD for my birthday one year provided a gentle push toward discovering other music!
GRETA: The first CD I ever owned myself was Ali G’s single “Julie” which I used to spin the shit out of on my walkman. I think my godparents gave it to me. The first way I liked to discover music was by going to HMV in Hurstville and picking a random CD from the top 10 section. I was pretty gutted when it shut down.
When did you first realise you wanted to play music?
GEORGIA: I won a guitar from the local video shop at the age of eight after writing a paragraph on why I loved Josie and the Pussycats. That was the instigating event but I didn’t realise I wanted to make music until I was in my twenties.
GRETA: I always wanted to play music, I can’t really remember when I realised! I used to love playing my dad’s bass when I was small and then he bought me a little Casio keyboard and I would just press play on the demo songs and make my own words and dances up to them so probably then.
GEL: My Mum played in a few bands when I was young. I liked that there were often people over playing and it was normal for it to be noisy and lots of kids running around and it felt fun! I think I have always liked the idea of having music as a part of day to day life in a similar way.
G2G are from Sydney; what’s it like where you live?
GEORGIA: G2G was born in Sydney but at the moment I’m in Perth, Gel is in Wombarra and Greta is in Melbourne. So we are living all over. The sun sets over the ocean where I live.
GEL: Where I am it’s nice, extra isolated during this shutdown but there’s a very empty beach and lots of nice places to walk.
GRETA: I am from Hurstville, St George. It’s a quiet, suburban place. I live there with my mum, dad and my grandmother. We are a super close family and St George has many things to offer us. Paul’s has the best burgers, Tom Ugly’s bridge is the best fishing spot and Mr Chow’s is the best BBQ Pork.
You released your first song “No Kid No Angel” in June last year; what’s the song about? Was it the first song you wrote?
GEORGIA: Um, the anxiety and repetition of loss. How about that.
GRETA: Yeah, that sounds about right G.
In January this year you released your first EP as a 7”; what’s your favourite song on it?
GEL: I think my favourite song on the EP is “Animated Satisfaction”. I like that it’s freewheeling and frantic but also kind of condensed.
GRETA: That’s so hard… Obviously I love all of the songs but I really love playing and listening to “Animated Satisfaction” too Gel. We sound tuff in the recording and it brings back really funny memories.
Are you currently working on anything?
GEORGIA: We are working on making a movie together, which is proving a little difficult as we are all in different states and self-isolating, but we are figuring it out. We also have a few songs we want to record so hopefully an album will happen when we are next together.
GEL: Sending each other phone recordings and lyrics and song ideas is something we’ve always done, so even though we’re in different places we’ve kept this up. There’s definitely an album there in our combined voice memos.
GRETA: In conclusion, we’re working on staying in touch with each other, making sure we call, check in, Facetime where we can. We miss each other A LOT!
What’s the most interesting thing someone’s said to you about your music?
GEL: Someone once described G2G as “like a chainsaw to the face, if that chainsaw was made of nails and sharks.” I definitely appreciated the creativity of this depiction of us… haha!
What do you love most about making music?
GEORGIA: I love making music with Greta and Gel because it’s quite chaotic and intuitive and filled with feelings that I like being inside of and communicating.
GEL: Yeah, me too. Georgia and Greta are the best to make music with. I like the way we build on and run with each other’s ideas. Writing songs together is supportive and fun and honest, and that feels good.
GRETA: I love making music with Gel and Georgia because we laugh SO MUCH. And there’s an amazing sense of freedom that comes with writing with these two. Ideas are never shunned because nothing is lame or repetitive or shit. We embrace all of each other’s ideas and we just work really well together.
What are the bands, songs or albums you’re listening to right now?
GEORGIA: Solo Career and Greta now. The song “This Kiss” by Faith Hill and the song “This Is Not A Dream” by Dadamah. The Lydia Lunch podcast.
GRETA: Creedence Clearwater Revival, Burial, Brian Eno, The soundtrack to Animal Crossing.
GEL: I’ve been listening to More Fun In The New World by X heaps, somehow it sets the right kind of mood during this weird time of shutdown/ isolation! Also the song “No Romance” by The Fates, the new Primo! song “Machine”. And band Girls at Our Best! and my friend Mardi’s Country Christmas album.
Where are you happiest?
GEL: In the bath.
GEORGIA: In the bath with Gel and Greta.
GRETA: In the bath with Gel and Greta and Georgia.
Retro-futurist pop duo Mystery Guest from Melbourne have just released their first album – Octagon City – on Tenth Court Records. The album is an interesting electronic, minimal-synth record, born out of a genuine curiosity to explore sounds in the studio. Throughout the record we are given heavy doses of a Bene Gesserit, ADN’ Ckrystall, SSQ type 80’s vibe (with the monologue on the album’s opener and title track reminding us of Algebra Suicide), though updated with their own style, clearly informed by post-80’s club culture. We interviewed Mystery Guests’ Patrick Telfer and Caitlyn Lesiuk to learn more about their LP and creative journey.
Can you tell us about your creative journey; how did you first come to playing music?
PATRICK TELFER: I was always interested in the process of music making, but only started doing this after school: I got hold of a Roland hard disk recorder—a VS880—which was really,really cool. I would make silly music with friends as a form of entertaining ourselves, call it “experimental music” and never show it to anyone.
CAITLYN LESIUK: I had piano lessons as a kid, but really started getting excited about music when I got my first guitar. There was something fascinating about not knowing what the “notes” were in the traditional sense: I loved learning shapes and experimenting with them.
Did you have any favourite bands or musicians growing up?
PT: The Beatles is the one that I always come back to! Also Wu-Tang Clan.
CL: My most enduring musical obsession has been with ABBA.
How did Mystery Guest come to be?
PT: It was a project based entirely on a curiosity about the potential of using a studio – it was our first experience of a proper commercial recording studio and we had a lot of fun playing with different sounds and methods of production.
CL: We had played in bands together before, and were both interested in creating music outside the traditional “bass/drums/guitar” format.
What kind of headspace were you in writing and recording your new record, Octagon City?
PT: It was just pure clarity and bliss.
CL: I was somewhat trepidatious because I’d never recorded my own songs before, but it was an overwhelmingly positive experience.
What was the vision you had for the record?
PL: The vision I had for the record was completely surpassed by my incredible collaborators. There’s so much talent in everyone and I feel really lucky to have collected this much of it around me for enough time to make music out of it.
CL: I wanted to explore the idea of making a “musical manifesto” in the vein of albums like Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis. I felt inspired by Sun Ra and the musical output of cults like The Source Family in the ’70s.
You’re a duo; can you tell me about your dynamic and how you work together? What’s your songwriting process?
PT: A lot of the time I think of a song I like and say ‘let’s make that’. I’ve always had this idea that even if you set out to directly replicate something, the end product will be far enough away from the original that you can truly say it’s a new thing. It’s an interesting way to work – there’s nothing new!
CL: Aside from “The Day Lou Died” and “Moon Moon”, Pat would send me a beat and I’d take that away and start thinking about lyrics and melodies, and the song would start to take shape as we passed it back and forth. I hadn’t ever written songs like that before (or since), but it was an interesting process.
When do you feel most creative?
PT: When I’m happy. I find that my mental health is a little too linked to the quality—as I perceive it—of my current work.
CL: I’m only creative when I have to be, when there’s a deadline… whether that’s self-imposed or coming from somewhere else. I guess I’m still waiting to be touched by the muse.
I love all the electronic sounds in your music; what’s one of your favourite sounds?
PT: White noise has it all! Every frequency is represented. I have a friend who taught me the healing qualities of white noise when it is filtered to sound like the ocean.. like a perfectly symmetrical ocean.
CL: The Mellotron (an early 70s version of a synth made using tape). It’s such an amazing hybrid of old and cutting edge technology of the time.
Do lyrics come easy for you or do you have to work at it?
PT: I don’t ever even try any more!
CL: I try not to get too hung up on lyrics: if I can’t think of anything, I’ll look for an interesting reference in a book or image, and write about that. I wouldn’t say they come easy, but I’m mindful of spending too much time slaving over them.
What inspired the song “The Day Lou Died”?
CL: The Day Lou Died is riffing on a poem by Frank O’Hara about Billie Holiday called “The Day Lady Died”. The lyrics—taken literally—are quite dramatic I suppose: they’re about killing pop stars because it provides the opportunity to reminisce with an old love on the music that you shared. I was also trying to emulate the form and melodrama of songs by The Shangri-Las.
How did you feel when in the middle of creating the record? Were there any challenges?
PT: Knowing when to stop is a challenge! There’s always one more thing you could add…
CL: Because we’d never played the songs live, and were writing a fair few of them in the studio
What’s the most unexpected thing that’s happened on your music-making adventures so far?
PT: Caitlyn Leisuk.
CL: For want of anything else to do, I often walk around off stage when performing with a double mic lead. I never anticipated I’d perform in such an ostentatious way.
As well as doing Mystery Guest you also both created, Little Music Lab, a program for children 4 – 12 years old with a focus on learning and play through music technology; what inspired this?
PT: I’ve always worked with kids, for a long time in childcares and kindergartens. I find it to be so rewarding to engage with really young people. There are so many interesting perspectives and ideas that emerge when you enter into a conversation with a child with a really open mindedly. They can be so creative and weird and crazy.. I’ve always got along well with them and music is such a powerful language to communicate with.
Electronic, technological music opens up even more interesting avenues as this can level the playing field in terms of creating music without the need for years of disciplined rehearsal of theory and technique.
CL: I was interested in giving the kids instruments that were thoughtfully (diatonically) tuned, to avoid the kind of cacophony you get when you have a whole class haphazardly playing xylophones and ukuleles in regular tuning. If you set them up for success, even the youngest, least dexterous humans among us can make cool music.
What’s your best non-musical skill?
Why is music important to you?
PT: Music is important because it opens up new ways to communicate with people. It’s a really good vessel for expression – and it’s so suppressed in our culture – we’re all dying to sing but we almost never do. I mean aren’t we? Or is that just me?
CL: Because it creates community. That was one interesting aspect of exploring a fictional cult: in the absence of organised religion, music is a forum for bringing people together in a shared experience.
Melbourne-based singer and multi-instrumental Zoë Fox has released her debut album Clockwerks, an out of this world collection of intergalactic pop! It’s exciting, it’s fun, and it’ll make you dance. Zoë’s album launch was postponed due to the global pandemic we’re all living in right now, she took her music to live streaming via her Instagram stories and totally killed it!—she does live stream like no one else does. We chatted this week to get the lowdown on her LP and found Zoë to be warm and charming, funny and a fellow book lover! Maybe Zoë’s next project should be an online book club! We’d sign up for that!
How did you first get into music?
ZF: We always had a music room in our house when we were growing up, we were so lucky. My mum was in a bunch of different bands, so I was surrounded by it from a very early age. All of my favourite children’s entertainers when I was a kid were my biggest influences. I started writing songs and poems as experiments, it just evolved. I was never really a good singer when I was growing up, but did it anyway because I enjoyed it.
Do you think you can sing now?
ZF: I don’t really care anymore [laughs].
When did you first start playing guitar?
ZF: I started playing guitar when my mum gave me a few lessons when I twelve. When I was fourteen I had a friend in high school that could play and we got back into it together. I started playing songs from The Sound Of Music in her bedroom [laughs].
You originally started out doing covers; what put you on the path to writing your own songs?
ZF: I guess I always wrote my own stuff, even when doing covers. I thought people just wanted to hear songs that they already knew [laughs]. I thought no one wanted to hear the songs I was making up. When I started doing gigs I thought, maybe I can just slip a couple of originals into here.
Your debut LP Clockwerks came out last week; how are you feeling now it’s finally been released into the world?
ZF: It’s a relief! I feel like it’s not only released into the world but it’s released out of my body and my entire system, which is so good because often projects just build up inside you. Releasing it is releasing it from you and actually clearing space for new creative ideas to flow in. It’s bizarre circumstances to release your debut album in right now in the middle of a global pandemic [laughs]; selling it on bandcamp for the price of a brunch! I’m so relieved it’s out. I feel like I can cross that off my list: make an album, done!
How long were you working on it for?
ZF: I’ve been writing those songs for years. “Perfume” I probably wrote that maybe six years ago. I was just writing songs and I didn’t know that they were going to be an album until very recently and it all fell together really quickly. It was all recorded in the space of two weeks.
What was it that made you think, I have an album now?
ZF: I don’t know actually. I guess when I was recording it and I was choosing songs I just picked ones with a similar theme. I realised the whole time I’ve been writing about this relationship between humans and technology. I pulled songs that I thought would be a good family together, out of their little pockets and put them into one nest together and went, yeah, that’s an album!
What’s the significance between the album title Clockwerks?
ZF: It’s got so many meanings, so many things have lots of meanings. Initially when I first decided I wanted to call it Clockwerks I was reading Even Cowgirls Get The Blues by Tom Robbins.
I know that book!
ZF: Yeah! Well, you know how he talks about the clockworks all the time?
ZF: Throughout the whole book he is just harping on and on about the clockworks. My interpretation of it was… you know how there’s all those caves that go into the middle of the Earth and the clock people maintain the clockworks and the Earth time is different from our constructive time, it was measuring a countdown until the end of man. I’ve been fascinated by time and space forever, it’s just so wild! I was reading that book and I thought the clockworks were perfect… it’s all about time and space and this notion that there might be something bigger going on.
I interviewed my grandad for the “Earthling Interludes” and he’s a massive clock collector, he’s like the clock master in a way; my grandparents’ house was like a clockworks of their own [laughs]. They had clocks all over the walls and every hour the whole entire house would ring and chime and tick and tock and cuckoo and ding and dong! It was the most magical thing in the whole world. All of that combined created the name Clockwerks.
Could you give us a little insight into one of our favourite songs on your LP “Tiny Little Robots”?
ZF: It got started, I picked up this tiny little robot earrings from a garage sale for $2 or $1. Every time I went over my friend’s house I’d take off my jewellery and put it on the table. I’d always forget them and I’d lose those earrings everywhere. I got a text from my friend and it said: you’ve left your tiny robots here again and they’re taking over the world! [laughs]. We started a text war in the style of Graeme Base’s Animalia. Like, “Someone needs to stop these mindless metal-heads from making such a mess!” He’d send me little pictures of them doing really naughty things like smoking a cigarette. He said they were being too naughty and they had to put them to bed, he put them to bed in a little matchbox with cotton wool. I took some of our alliteration text history and combined it with the mental image I had of all these tiny little robots in tiny little rowboats coming over to take over the city and with their technological ways making their ways into the minds of everyone and taking over from the inside.
That’s so fun! That’s one thing I love about your music—it’s so much fun!
ZF: I have a lot of fun writing it and playing it!
What about the song “Mr Gravity”?
ZF: Ohhhhhhh [laughs]. That was inspired by a relationship gone wrong, I found myself getting completely worn down. I don’t know why I always seem to date men like robots? [laugh]s. Maybe that’s something I need to look into! I was just frustrated. I created this thing where he was like “Mr Gravity” bringing me down like gravity, keeping everything down. I want people to interpret it the way they want to. I had someone go “I thought it was about being brought down to Earth and it was really grounding!” I was like, that’s great! It’s good it can be different things for different people. I was frustrated with boys that were judgemental, that would make comments about my appearance. In one of the verses – I was also learning about the war on waste at the time as well, so it was all paired in – I say: ‘you’re like a supermarket with high standards for cosmetics / disregarding nature’s fruits and all their imperfect genetics / I am a crooked house complete with feelings, thoughts and fears / three eyes, two hearts, too many ears for hearing.’ I was just saying, hey, stop bringing me down! Don’t judge me on how I look or how I am. I ended up getting out of that relationship and breaking up with him, and said: my mechanical friend I’m sure our times come to an end [laughs].
I’m sure a lot of people could relate to that! I know I do, I once dated a guy that was always complaining about how frizzy my curly hair was, it’s like, dude, it’s humid, my hair curls, hair gets frizzy, deal with it!
ZF: Yeah, or having hairy armpits. It’s like, come on dude, take me as I am. Sometimes you might be so deep in it that you don’t see that it’s happening. That was me breaking free of that! It’s a powerful song for me, I don’t feel run down by it, I feel empowered by it now. That song was my empowering breakthrough, where I rose from the ashes as a phoenix.
Was there any song that you wrote on the album that surprised you?
ZF: Probably the way the “Shiny Car” and “Tin Can Man” ended up sounding. They weren’t finished songs when I started recording but I went, nah, these are going on the album. I sat down with the producer and we used as many descriptive words as possible. I had written the main song but I didn’t know how it was going to sound, what style it was going to be. We worked on it so much and it really surprised me how it came together. I was so pleased.
I know you love to use descriptive words in your lyrics; do you have any favourites?
ZF: It’s one of those things that you can’t think of it until you’re saying it.
I was asking ‘cause I’ve worked in libraries my whole life and I’m a big book and word nerd, being a writer my whole life too, I’m just in love with words and sentences and how things go together, how things sound. I love fashion magazines because of the descriptive words they use, they can be describing an item of clothing, something that’s just made out of fabric and stitches and they make it sound like this magical thing! It can be so poetic. Words are the best.
ZF: Incredible! Yes! They are the best. I studied English Literature at uni actually, I majored in it; I write children’s books on the side.
That’s so cool!
ZF: So I’m so on-board with what you’re saying, I love it. I love when people describe the world in a different way…. Like I received a letter from my friend Archibald the other day, I was sitting in the garden and I noticed that it had been pegged to the clothes line, there was an envelope with my name on it – I guess my housemates were trying to disinfect it because of what’s going on in the world right now. He wrote: Dear Lady Fox, in my isolation I’ve been writing letters and I just wanted to write to you and pick your brain. Here’s a letter “Z”… it’s not my best but it will do. He had just written the letter “Z” and I love it when people talk about words in that way, like saying “here’s a letter” and then writing a big letter “Z”! [laughs]. It was so genius.
Have you read the The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster?
ZF: That is my favourite book of all-time! The way they talk about words, like you can taste a letter “A” in your mouth and see how it feels on your tongue! Or you can spill over a bucket of words and then your sentences become jumbled! I love that. It’s so genius. I think I read it like every year.
Nice! You wear really fun costumes when you play; did you see someone growing up wearing an amazing costume and were just so in awe of it?
ZF: Bands who I grew up with that had a common theme, I guess the Beatles did and Devo did it, they just had a look. That’s how I want to see bands. I thought what would I want to see? I want to see a show, I don’t’ want people to just stand there and play their instruments! I want costumes and dancing! Another band that does it that I saw that I love is, Sugar Fed Leopards. That’s Steph Brett, she’s in Empat Lima.
I love Empat Lima!
ZF: They had fluffy pink costumes and I thought, that’s another band that’s doing what I want to be doing!
Do you have a favourite track on the album yourself?
ZF: It changes every day. “Perfume” the first track, it’s the oldest track… I wrote that one years before the others. I’d just been reading the book Perfume: The Story of a Murderer I went into that world, I won’t’ explain it too much because I don’t’ want to spoil it if anyone’s reading it. I was reflecting on humans’ search for happiness in that song. I was feeling sad when I wrote that song…
Lastly, why is music important to you?
ZF: It is the way that I process all this information that is coming in from the world. Without it I would just overflow like a bath full of information and colours and ideas and sensations—music is me pulling the plug on that bath and letting it out! Letting it flow out in any way it wants to!
Awww that’s lovely! Thanks for doing what you do!
ZF: That you for what you do too! Writing is so important.