Radical Kitten are a rrriot post-punk, queer feminist band from Toulouse, France. We caught up with RK’s Marin (bass-vocals), Marion (drums) and Iso (guitar-vocals. Très bien!
ALL: Hi! We’re Radical Kitten, a post-punk-rrriot band from Toulouse! We formed two and a half years ago and we just released our first album Silence is Violence.
How did you first discover music?
MARIN: I was very young, my uncle played guitar really well and even sang with his dog (and it also sang!), I think it marked me.
ISO: very young too, I come from a family of classical musicians and started playing an instrument at an early age.
MARION: As a child, I was surrounded by my father and his sisters who played folk songs and sang together at family gatherings. We had instruments at home: violin, piano, drums, banjo, auto-harp…
What did finding the underground Riot Grrrl feminist punk movement mean to you?
MARIN: It was really nice to discover a scene with people I could identify with. I think the Riot Grrrl movement showed me that women could also play music on their own, to have this kind of insurgent energy, these powerful personalities at a time when the pressure of the codes imposed on women was very important, it opened the field of possibilities and it was an important discovery for the teenager I was, even if musically I always remained much closer to hip hop.
ISO: As a teenager, I listened a lot to Nirvana, and that brought me to the Riot Grrrls (and to many other excellent bands by the way!). I always liked raw and/or energetic music, most of the time with women singing, and hated rock bands of old macho guys! Even if I didn’t identify myself directly with the Riot Grrrls musicians because I didn’t consider myself as a girl (without putting then the word trans on my identity) I was, obviously, very touched and concerned by their words and their rage (which are still completely up to date!)
MARION: I actually don’t identify too much with the Riot Grrrl movement as I never really listened to it. But I admire those women who, at one point, even in underground music circles, had to shout out loud that they were able to make music as well, put their rage on the table and took the space they deserved and needed. It surely inspired other women until now to make music the way they want, not necessarily with a sensual aesthetic or whatever, just to be musicians.
What inspired Radical Kitten to get together?
ALL: We don’t pretend to do more than just enjoy making music together, we are lucky to have this musical and friendly/human connection, it’s hard to find!
You’re from Toulouse, France; what’s it like where you live? Is your song ‘I’m Bored’ about where you live?
MARIN: In fact, this song wasn’t about Toulouse but about the city where I come from even if to tell the truth in France at the moment with the confinement, I imagine that we’re really starting to get bored everywhere!
Recently you released your album Silence is Violence; where did the album title come from?
MARIN: The title refers to the silence that invisibilizes social problems. It’s also a nod to the album that is anything but silent!
ISO: The title of the album can be understood in many different ways, that’s also what we liked. When we chose it, last February, we didn’t yet know that it was starting to be one of the slogans of the Black Lives Matter movement…!
What kinds of things did you find yourself writing about for the new album? Do you have a process for writing your lyrics?
MARIN: The lyrics come spontaneously after the instrumental part. I compose them like a musical instrument, my approach is more rhythmic than literary.
For the subjects I am very often inspired by personal stories, dramas. It has often been a good way to move on. We also deal with political subjects: coming out (‘Blind’), fed up with work (‘Say Shit’), transphobia (‘Shitty Questions’) of which Iso also wrote the lyrics etc…
Songs ‘Say Shit (to your boss)’, ‘Sorry’ and ‘Full Circle’ were originally on your demo Contre nature han that came out last year; how do you think the songs changed from being on your demo to being on the full-length album?
MARIN: Clearly…. the tempo!
MARION: Those songs were released just a few months after we started to play together. That was the very beginning, so since then, we improved in lots of ways. For the full album, we knew better what sound we wanted, and had a much better look at the whole thing.
Can you tell us about recording Silence Is Violence? You recorded at La Grange Cavale with Manuel Duval, right? What was one of your favourite memories from making it?
MARIN: Recording in socks next to the wood stove that was heating with the view at the field and of course spending time with the kittens and our great hosts!
MARION: When we recorded the voices at the end, it was funny (and a bit sadic, I admit) to hear Marin singing with her raw (nude?) voice, without any effect and no music. It was a bit like a little kitty trying with all his strength to be a tiger. I also loved to watch how the whole recording was driven by Manuel, see how to use the software, and all the technical parts.
ISO: I very much appreciated those moments when we prepared the meals all together with our adorable hosts, and enjoyed them together (the French side!). The emotion on the last day to hear for the first time our compositions with such a sound, and also a huge laugh when that same evening we listened again to our very first rehearsals with notably the song ‘I’m Bored’ in an embryonic state and at a ridiculously slow tempo!!!
Who did the cover art for your album? It’s really beautiful! What can you tell us about it?
MARION: Thank you! Anne Careil did the cover art for the album. We actually recorded the album at her house and we got along well. We learned that she was a great graphist and drawer, she made the cover arts for Rien Virgule (her band with Manuel) for instance and it’s very cool. Her website can be found here. We asked her to make ours, she was very thrilled at this idea, and paid close attention to our “expectations” while keeping her own style.
What have you been listening to lately? Is there any other cool bands in your area we should know about?
ISO: I’m currently looking back at the Raincoats’ discography, which I really love! For more recent stuff: Sweeping Promises, Cheap Meat, Special Interest, Immigranti, Lithics, Romain de Ferron.
Cool bands from Toulouse: Docks – a great shoegaze slow-core instrumental duo, in which plays Manon, from Hidden Bay Records, super cassette label.
Petit Bureau – a post-punk duo that has just released a great first album.
The Guilty Pleasures – a very cool surf post punk band which has also just released its first album, and in which Emily plays, from the very cool label Dushtu records (and who had recorded the demo for us too!).
BooM – super power-violence noise band, in which some friends from the Pavilions play, the place where we rehearse.
For the Riot Grrrl style, there is Trholz from Toulouse, and from Bordeaux, Judith Judah and LKill.
To finish, it is not a Riot Grrrl band but we recommend you very strongly to listen to La Chasse de Marseille!
What’s something that is important to Radical Kitten?
ISO: Having fun playing together.
MARION: Getting famous!
MARIN: [Laughs at Marion’s answer]!
ALL: What is really important for us is… cats!!
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us or tell us?
ISO: We dream of doing a tour in Australia, I’m just saying!
MARIN: As Iso said.
MARION: Here is a very nice recipe I’d like to share with you, it’s a Turkish soup or “mercimek corbasi” very easy. In a big saucepan, you sear with olive oil, a big onion, a big potato, 2 regular carrots, tomato pulp, some garlic. Add some spices: cumin, curcuma, paprika, chilli. Then, you put 500 grams of coral lentils and water. If you find dry mint to add, it’s perfect. Mix it and eat it. Bon appétit bien sûr!
Creatives Amber Sermeńo and Andy Jordan (from beloved Oakland band, The World) are behind Naked Roommate—a project with punk spirit, a dance heart and progressive post-punk thought. The band also features Michael Zamora (from Bad Bad) and Alejandra Alcala (Blues Lawyer and Preening). Their record Do The Duvet is on our list of most played releases at Gimmie HQ for 2020. We interviewed Amber and Andy.
Naked Roommate are from Berkley, California; what’s it like where you live? Can you tell us a bit about your neighbourhood?
AMBER SERMEŃO: We got a high walk score of 91, 8th highest houseless population in the country and great sandwiches.
ANDY JORDAN: We live right on the border of Oakland/Berkeley, so we have both NIMBYs and regular people.
How did you first find music?
AJ: Or how did music first find me, right? I’ll say that the first music I was into was The Wild Tchoupotoulas, an LP of medieval Andalusian music and Mekons, or so my parents report. That’s when I was three, in 1983.
AS: For me, it would have to be cruising in L.A. with my ma. There’d always be C&C Music Factory, Ace of Base or Prince on the radio.
What excites you the most about making music?
AS: When something that could’ve just been a fart in the wind gets caught and turned into something that makes people dance. Seeing that is incredibly gratifying
You both started the band; how did you first meet?
AJ: On a deserted dance floor in San Francisco, surrounded by unsavoury types.
AS: Haha, oh god… Yeah that was back in 2007. Anyway, that was silly. Years later we bumped into each other at a bookstore his dad worked at. I guess he was a little more charming in that setting. That’s when we really started hanging out.
What’s the best thing about making stuff together?
AJ: I guess the question answers itself, or I’d rephrase it to say: the best part about making music is doing it together.
AS: I’m not gonna lie and say it’s a wonderful experience. It’s pretty hard sometimes. We’re both hard headed so it’s a process. When barriers break and he sees what I see or vice versa it feels well worth it. A more permanent manifestation of our struggles and growth. I think it’s special to have somewhat of a record of that.
I know you had band The World; how was Naked Roommate born?
AJ: I had been working on a bunch of recordings at home and rather than contaminate them with my confused vocal approach, I had Amber sing over them.
What’s the story behind the band name, Naked Roommate?
AJ: No story. It was as simple as might be expected: we were the naked roommates one day, and upon referring to ourselves as such, we paused and said, “ha ha”!
Can you tell us about the recording of your album Do the Duvet? You recorded over few months, right?
AJ: We took our time. We recorded where we practice, in the studio behind Michael’s house. Our bunker-clubhouse. Although now we practice outside the bunker, in the bricoláge garden. To record, we used analogue tape plus digital. The initial performances were done in a few takes, ‘(Re)P.R.O.D.U.C.E.’ was just an improvised thing we did while the tape was rolling. We liked it so it ended up on the record, with a few overdubs and some editing here and there. The recording and overdubbing process helped us form the songs. We experimented with everything, figured out what worked and went with it.
AS: Clubhouse is a good word for it. It got filled with books and various objects to prompt ideas and we got into our habits. That being everyone forming songs while I hung out outside with Michael’s partner Katie smoking cigarettes. Once they had something I’d hop in there, riff some gibberish, and sometimes even words. Then we’d have a song.
What were some things that you tried doing on this album while recording that you think worked really well?
AJ: Knowing when to stay minimal and when to get maximal.
Amber, can you tell us about writing the lyrics for the LP; what’s your writing process?
AS: I just “bleee blahhh blooo” until words start forming over the song. What comes out is sometimes surprising but often not. I know my brain fairly well by now. Interesting though, how gibberish and non-sequiturs can form a solid theme and you’re like, “oh so this narrative has just been waiting to come out of me from somewhere in there. Had no idea.” Sometimes it works out well. But my favourite lyrics have happened when the rest of the band helped form them too, like in ‘We are the Babies’. And you know Andy wrote the lyrics to a couple of songs on there. ‘Repeat’ and ‘(Re)P.R.O.D.U.C.E.’. I think he has the opposite approach to mine but it all works.
How did you approach the vocals on the record? Did you have an idea of how you wanted it to sound before you started?
AS: I’m better at knowing what I don’t want to sound like and avoiding it. Whatever else comes out I’m open to. I guess what I admire more is honesty, at least in a vocal delivery. You know, embracing idiosyncrasies rather than striving for technicality. So yeah, I’m not scared to show my weaknesses as a vocalist. What would be more terrifying is sounding bluesy.
What feeling do you get from playing live? Do you miss it (since everything’s been locked down with the pandemic happening)?
AJ: When things go well, it feels great. I just saw a YouTube video of us performing in February, it feels like much longer ago. That made me miss playing very much indeed.
AS: I’m actually a pretty anxious person when it comes to public speaking. But I must like the torture or else I wouldn’t find myself fronting bands so often. So, I’d say the tension and relief. Having the endorphins and calming them outside with a smoke. Am I turning this interview into a Marlboro commercial? Well now I have. But really the best is seeing a crowd move. That’s elating. So, when shows become a thing again y’all better get movin’. It’s about the only payment we get besides a couple of drink tickets.
What bands/albums/songs have you been obsessing over lately?
AS: Chronophage is one of my favourites right now and Chano Pozo’s percussions are timeless
AJ: I’m 40 now, so I only listen to Jazz, Dylan, and the Velvet Underground. As far as new stuff goes, I haven’t been paying enough attention but Natalie from Nots has a new band called Optic Sink, and I dig that.
Do you have any other creative outlets? When not making stuff what would we find you doing?
AJ: I’ve been known to do some origami. I have four different dragons and three dinosaurs memorized. I also draw and design the records I make. When not making stuff, I’m reading stuff. Or biting the Big R, which is beatnik slang for working.
AS: Yes, the house is FILLED with origami. I for one do everything, half completed in my corner. So yeah, I really need the discipline of collective projects to make things happen. You’ll actually find some clay sculptures I did for First World Record in the insert and on the cover. That’s one thing I completed besides music.
Last week Brisbane band The Stress Of Leisure released their exciting new album Faux Wave. Recorded in Melbourne by John Lee (who has recorded many Gimmie favs: Bananagun, Gordon Koang and Lost Animal) it captures the band’s live wild energy that lights up the dancefloor—they might just be the world’s greatest party band. Gimmie caught up with them to chat about the LP; a hot contender for our Album of the Year!
What is one of the most exciting things for you about your new album Faux Wave?
JANE (bass): I really feel we knew the songs well before we went and recorded them, so all of the performances felt strong and confident. I can listen to it now and say ‘Yeah!’ It’s all solid and great. I am excited by the impressive efforts of my bandmates, and I’m excited for interested members of the public to check it out.
IAN (vocals/guitar): I’m excited for the genre of faux wave. I think this could be a thing!
PASCALLE (synths): I feel excited that the album even exists! I’m aware of how close to the line we were in getting it recorded — in the way we wanted to — and the pandemic’s impact on everything we do now.
JESS (drums): This album makes a great companion piece to our previous album Eruption Bounce. It’s exciting hearing us grow as a four-piece.
I understand that this album was written as your most collaboratively one yet; can you tell us a bit about writing the record and collaborating?
IAN: We record all our ideas, and we had up to 60 sketches of songs in the bank for this album. Recording the ideas we produce at rehearsals also means we can capture golden moments that can be hard to remember. What I’ve found more and more doing The Stress of Leisure is that the songs where Jane, Pascalle and Jess bring something in (an idea) is way more exciting than what I come up with. I feel when I have an idea it tends to dictate too much how things turn out. A song like Banker On TV literally came out fully formed in one jam — Jess had a beat she wanted to try out, Jane had a bassline written down she married to it and then Pas and myself did our stuff on top. Individually, none of us could’ve come up with this song.
PASCALLE: I really love how Ian challenges us to come up with lines but we also had to constantly remind him that his lines are very fun for us to play along with. One way he was convinced to drive the song was in Spiralling, which has Ian’s power pop synth line, Jane’s enormous bassline and Jess’ unconventional drums.
What’s one of the most challenging things for you in regards to your creativity?
JANE: Speaking for myself, I sometimes find it hard to carve out time to make creative things happen. But that is pretty much on me, I think I need to try harder.
JESS: Coming up with rhythms that sound fresh, and like Jane, finding the time to get creative in modern life. I generally don’t practise so I’m composing beats in my head and then trying them out at rehearsal. Nothing is out of bounds or too weird to bring to rehearsal and I think that vulnerability is where magic happens.
PASCALLE: Yes, I think it mostly comes down to time… we’re all just waiting to win the lotto so we can make music as often as we want!
IAN: I find my bandmates sell themselves too short. They’re always bringing in great ideas, regardless of outside pressures. It comes back again to the fact that we record the jams. Creative inspiration strikes when you least expect it, so it’s important to always document. Like panning for gold, you can’t expect a high success rate. We’re only challenged by timelines, not creativity.
We’ve always loved the wit, social commentary and humour in your lyrics; what’s your personal favourite song and lyric in this new collection of songs?.
JANE: I particularly like Ian’s lyric in the song No Win No Fee, where he intones ‘Mission accomplished, for the rich and the foppish’. The song has a sort of sleazy, lazy groove to it, but it goes along at a slightly quicker tempo than you would normally expect for such a groove, which makes it compelling to me.
JESS: My favourite lyric is ‘Everybody wants to tell you how you’re doing it; Everybody loves to tell you how you’re doing it wrong; Everybody seems to know just where you’re coming from’ in Connect to Connected. It’s an astute observation of the countless daily interactions between humans courtesy of the internet.
PASCALLE: I feel a sense of achievement that we incorporated the line ‘no quid pro quo’ in a song.
IAN: If you read the lyrics of Your Type of Music and Beat The Tension with a John Cooper Clarke accent in mind they really work! I’m delighted by that. I played a solo gig earlier in the year with Seja, and during the set I recited them, so I can attest to it.
Faux Wave was recorded in Melbourne with John Lee at Phaedra Studios over five days at the beginning of the year; what drew you to working with John? What was it like?
IAN: John Lee’s name came up in a lot of Australian independent music I was listening to and liking — starting with Lost Animal, Laura Jean through to Brisbane/Melbourne act No Sister. Everyone I inquired of really rated John and said he was great to work with. We wanted to record an album outside Brisbane too, to get out of our comfort zone. It’s one of the best decisions we’ve made as a group I think. The reports rang true, John is a total gentleman, but he also challenged us with this recording, in a totally positive way. Recording the ten songs over five days was a real buzz and my feeling is that as a group, we’ve all connected with this experience. It was like recording a debut album all over again.
PASCALLE: Yes, John’s the absolute best!
What’s one of your fondest memories from the sessions?
PASCALLE: This was the first time we recorded an entire album in one go — usually we’d go into the studio on sporadic weekends and record two or three songs until the album was done. Going down to Melbourne for a solid week felt like we were at camp and, from my perspective, we had a whole new level of togetherness. From the get-go, John was a kindred spirit and made the whole week memorable, too. Favourite things about recording were not using click tracks, listening to Ian record his vocals and getting to play with John’s vintage synths.
JESS: Like Pas, getting to spend a whole week together recording was a luxury! No click tracks and a live recording setup really captured the energy. For me, anymore than three or four takes starts to sound forced and contrived. Having that week also meant we could sample the gastronomic delights that Melbourne had to offer and catch up with friends.
PASCALLE: Yes, we really explored Melbourne’s food and beverages, and we even managed to see Dave Graney and the mistLY play Memo Music Hall, too. Great times.
What inspired the album art?
IAN: We thought it was important to go back to the collage style we’d previously utilised on the Sex Time and Achievement artworks. It rang more true to who we are as a band. The imagery we’ve chosen feels like Faux Wave for some reason — the crowd in a fervour and the rubbish pile. The disposable aspects of modern day hyperconsumerism comes to mind — the shiny new thing that gets people excited, quickly replaced by something even shinier and newer. It’s disconcerting.
PASCALLE: This is also the first time we’ve included the song lyrics on the back of the vinyl, too, so you can follow along if you like.
What have you been listening to lately?
JESS: Billy Nomates’ debut album, Fontaines D.C’s A Hero’s Death and Blake Scott’s Niscitam. Despite all that has happened in 2020, fantastic and exciting music is still being made.
PASCALLE: Have you seen Sampa the Great’s Planet Afropunk performance Black Atlantis? Incredible! I’m also listening to Blake Scott like Jess, as well as Chloe Alison Escott’s Stars Under Contract.
JANE: I have been listening to the Scratch and the Upsetters album Super Ape, though it is not a recent release by any means. I really enjoy the space in it, from top to bottom, and front to back.
IAN: The Music in Exile label is releasing some great stuff. I particularly love the Gordon Koang album Unity.
2020 has been a challenging year for pretty much everyone; how has it affected you and how have you stayed positive?
IAN: Making my own coffee is a nice ritual I’ve developed during 2020. Also smelling the roses in New Farm Park has been a highlight. When we were allowed to rehearse again as a band — I felt that was a big moment of positivity. We’ve been writing more songs, languid and slow types of songs.
PASCALLE: It’s been a year where each of us has had to learn who we are in this situation. There’s been an unavoidable wave of planetary depression — whether we explicitly feel it or not — and coming up for air amongst it all has been an effort, I think, for many of us. Art and a kind community helps.
JANE: When I was able to return to fitness classes and band rehearsals that helped me heaps. I’ve joined the video streaming revolution. Drinking heaps of Malbec has also been very good.
Anything else you’d like to tell us or share with us?
IAN: Community radio in Australia has been a big support to us. Support community radio wherever it finds you by subscribing. 4ZZZ, our local station in Brisbane, has been an absolute champion over 40 years plus in pushing local and Australian music and we’d be severely diminished in Brisbane as a music community without it. There’s never been a more important time to support local independent media and arts.
PASCALLE: It’s also heartwarming to see all our fellow bands emerge from the Covid hibernation. I hadn’t realised how much I missed seeing live music!
Mere Women are back with a divine new offering song ‘Romantic Notions’ the title-track from their eagerly awaited fourth album due 5 March 2021 via Poison City Records. Gimmie are excited to premiere the song’s clip directed and lovingly crafted by the band, shot on the land of the Kuing-gai and Eora Peoples. Vocalist Amy Wilson gives us an insight into the track, clip and the album.
This year has been a challenging one for everyone; how are you? How has things affected your creativity? What’s helped you stay positive?
AMY WILSON: I’m ok thanks. It’s been a rough year for lots of reasons and everything has changed so quickly and extremely. We managed to squeeze recording in just before lock down which was lucky but I feel that as a band we were ready for a little breather after that anyway. I’ve been playing around with ideas since then but have been really unproductive when it comes to music to be honest. 2020 has been very hard and every aspect of my life changed so much that I felt like I didn’t have space to be creative. That said, it was very fun to get together to make the ‘Romantic Notions’ clip and I’m finding more space to write music again now. It’s beyond exciting to finally be releasing music and looking to get on with things.
How have you felt about not being able to play live shows? Why is it important to you?
AW: I love playing live so it’s left a huge hole in my life. There’s something so special about playing to an audience and feeling like as a band we’re all interconnected and nailing it. It’s pure joy. I don’t get that feeling from anywhere else so I’m really missing it. I also miss meeting people at shows, seeing other bands and feeling like I’m part of a community.
What was the first concert/gig you ever went to?
AW: I travelled up from Wollongong on public transport with some mates to see The Living End play at the UNSW Roundhouse when I was 12 or 13. I was so excited to go and had my whole outfit planned out weeks in advance. Probably used up a whole eye liner pencil that day I reckon.
You wrote record number four in March this year in a “special place”; what can you tell us about it at this point? Sound-wise where’s it headed?
AW: We wrote the majority of the record at our place on the Hawkesbury River where three of us live. It’s a stunning spot right on the water, surrounded by national park. The record has soaked up this place over the writing process and as a result is more spacious and considered I think. Living here has made me feel like more of an outsider and this really comes through lyrically. As an album it’s dark and self-reflective but hopeful.
‘Romantic Notions’ is the first song from Mere Women in almost a year; what inspired its writing? What was the process for this track?
AW: I’ve been spending lots of time with my grandmother and hearing her stories about the complicated relationship between her mother and father. I think that’s where the spark of the ‘Romantic Notions’ theme came from. It explores the idea that love can be used as a tool to control someone or can be used as a reason to make destructive life choices. As a band at that time we were inspired sonically by groups like TFS, White Hex and BAMBARA and wanting to create something that sounded sludgy and enveloping.
Can you tell us a little about recording the song?
AW: We recorded it along with the rest of the album at One Flight Up studios in St Peters. It was a really fun song to record because we were super confident with it and vocally it has this really frenetic energy which is great to play around with.
When and what was the last romantic notion you had?
AW: Oh I have them on a daily basis and they’re usually quite impossible and ridiculous. Today I was fantasising about living solely off my own vegetable garden as I picked a few measly grub-riddled peas off an otherwise-barren bean stalk.
I think living where I do now was a Romantic Notion too but surprisingly it seems to be working out.
We’re premiering the video for your single; can you tell us about making it? Where was it filmed? Who made it? What feeling/mood were you going for?
AW: We were trying to create this sense of ‘becoming’ something new and leaving the old behind with the clip. It was filmed at our cottage and in the surrounding bushland by Flyn and Mac from the Band. Mac edited the clip and made the opening titles. Our friend Kim from White Lion Cosmetica got on board to do makeup and created this really cool monsteresque look that changes and grows throughout the clip. Considering we had no band money from shows in 2020, it’s a totally DIY clip and I think we did a pretty good job.
There’s some interesting outfits in the clip, especially the custom Mere Women blanket at the end of the clip; what’s the story behind it?
AW: Trisch [Roberts] our bassist and I do love to play dress-ups and wear ridiculous hats so we had fun planning out the costumes. It was designed and hand stitched by Arielle Gamble. Arielle has done the artwork for our previous two records. Each little stitched icon on there represents one of the tracks from the upcoming album.
What’s something that has really been engaging you lately? What do you appreciate about it?
AW: I just read The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh and absolutely loved every minute of it. It’s about a family with 3 daughters who live alone on an island in an old hotel in a post-apocalyptic world. I enjoyed how it mushes all of this imagery of beauty and decay together and keeps you constantly guessing.
Previously when we’ve spoken you told me you were passionate foodies; what’s one of the most memorable meals you’ve ever had?
AW: Flyn and I were travelling in China and had this incredible noodle dish for breakfast every day we were in Guilin. It’s rice noodles with a spicy broth, pickles, peanuts and thinly sliced pork of some kind and it blew our minds! We’ve found a place in Sydney that does pretty much the same thing and whenever we’re in the city we always have to go.
What’s something else you’d like to share with us?
AW: Just that we’re so happy to be releasing again and getting back to playing music. Thanks for watching and listening to ‘Romantic Notions’ – it means a lot and we hope that you enjoy it. We hope that anyone reading this is also doing ok, especially those of you from Victoria who have had it so tough these last few months.
The Shifters from Melbourne are a prolific lo-fi DIY band that put a post-modernist spin on punk. Gimmie interviewed vocalist-guitarist Miles Jansen and keyboardist-vocalist Louise Russell to chat about their 2020 releases Live In Gaul recorded from shows played in France, 7-inch Left Bereft/Australia and Open Vault a compilation of 26 unreleased studio material, early demos, live 4-track, live iPhone, covers and solo home demos. We also explore their musical discovery, touring Europe and a double LP in the works!
Tell us a bit about yourself.
MILES: I am a Musician from Melbourne, Australia. I lost my job in hospitality at the beginning of COVID and now studying programming and cybersecurity at VU.
LOU: I am a musician and a chef in Melbourne. I’m originally from Cairns. I’ve just finished my second year of primary education at La Trobe University and can’t wait to finish and get a real job!
How did you first get into music?
MILES: My Grandparents, parents and older brother all had a big musical influence on me growing up. My Grandparents always had Bach and Pachelbel blasting from a custom set of speakers in their house. Mum and Dad were kids of the ’60s, so a healthy dose of all the classics, including interesting additions like [Captain] Beefheart and Lou Reed’s ‘Transformer’.
My brother Liege introduced me to stuff like Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep and Dr Octagon. My little ears did not really relate to what was being said, though I really dug how the music sounded. The loops and samples Wu-Tang use on 36 Chambers was what I liked most. They were young geniuses. Liege also had a good guitar-based musical influence on me through stuff like Sebadoh, Nirvana, Sonic Youth and then skateboarding. Skating for me, like so many others, was a major eye-opener for music. We would religiously watch skate videos that would have some really eclectic soundtracks, then dub the music and make mixtapes with skate noises in the background. Gang of Four’s Entertainment! was probably my biggest ‘lightbulb’ moment. Sometime after hearing that I started to meet musicians at local punk shows in Brisbane. There was a great little scene happening back then.
During that time, James Kritzler (White Hex, Slug Guts /author whom I lived and played in a band with at the time) gave me a CDR with The Fall’s ‘How I Wrote Elastic Man’ on it! I’d never heard such an interesting use of language in ‘Punk’. I was mesmerized. As the late, great MES said himself, “real head music”. I was thereby sold and my love for them still trumps all of the fantastic music I’ve been made aware of since. The band with James was called ‘On/Oxx’. It was a strange concoction of sounds but it was through that I got into the Liars album ‘Drums Not Dead’, the drums on that record are really great and we were just kinda rhythmically ripping them off. It featured saxophone, which James called “skronking”, two drummers- ‘Butthole Surfers’ style and sometimes James would bang on bits of metal with contact mics attached. He is the very smart, charming and talented ringmaster of sorts. I pretty much did as I was told. It was a great first band to be in. We toured in Australia two or three times, released a 7” and an LP, then it suddenly all ended after the bass player Lachlan moved to NZ to join ‘Die!Die!Die!’.
LOU: I guess my initial introduction to music was playing the piano. My parents refurbished a 1901 upright piano they found at an antique store and I started learning on that at age 7. We lived in middle-of-nowhere Far North Queensland and I had some pretty weird piano teachers. One was obsessed with porcelain dolls and another used to take her false teeth out and put them on top of the piano before each lesson. I only learned classical pieces but always had an affinity for anything in a minor key. I loved gettin’ a bit spooky.
Mum and Dad listened to a lot of music from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Mum was a fan of Alanis Morissette and Savage Garden whilst Dad loved The Clash and Radiohead. I remember my dad having a copy of Beck’s album Odelay from 1994 and it was my favourite. That was probably my introduction to music that differed from Britney Spears and Spice Girls.
I had atrocious taste in music as an adolescent. I think the first cd I ever bought was the first Panic! At the Disco album. I listened to it on this old Walkman mum found at the tip shop. I knew every word and had a massive poster of them above my bed. Probably alongside Pete Wentz or something.
Like a lot of people from my generation, I went through that whole emo/scene/hardcore phase. In that progression, too. We didn’t get a lot of acts up in FNQ and when we did they were those all-ages hardcore shows. I think the first band I ever saw was either The Amity Affliction of Parkway Drive. If I hear them now I cringe. Things kinda just got darker as I got older and I started getting into black metal and death metal. I remember someone showing me Cradle of Filth’s album Midian in year 8 and I thought it was so sick. I’d never heard music like that before. An older kid at my school let me borrow his Children of Bodom in Stockholm 2006 DVD and I remember being hooked after that. Watching these dudes with long greasy hair and camo pants, one shredding a keyboard faced the wrong way around and another coking sausages over barrels of fire. Loved it.
My parents were always super supportive of all the music I listened to – even if they didn’t understand it – and I think that’s what’s allowed me to be so diverse in what I enjoy musically. Moving to Melbourne in 2011 opened my eyes to the punk scene. I had a lot of older friends from Queensland that were musicians down here and I would tag along to shows. I remember seeing a lot of Drunk Mums, Eddy Current Suppression Ring and Total Control. I don’t even know what kind of music I’d be into if I didn’t move to Melbourne and be immersed in this scene. Being in The Shifters has definitely influenced my taste in music a lot. These guys have introduced me to a lot of crazy and cool stuff.
What are some things that you are really good at?
MILES: The ability to sit for very long periods, playing ‘mini headbutts’ with my cat, ranting about bygone nonsense and pointing out all of the mistakes in war films.
Honestly, I don’t think I’m REALLY good at anything, maybe I’m just ‘good’ at a few things? and bad at most other things. If I had a barometer that measures how useful individual citizens were for the betterment of the current order, I would fare pretty poorly.
LOU: I wouldn’t say I’m ‘really’ good at anything. More than I’m adept at some things. I’m getting good at barbecuing. My partners calls me The Pitmaster. I like making things. I’ve been making little models out of balsa wood and I think I’m alright at that. For my teaching course I have to make a lot of arts and crafts type things so I’ve been getting pretty good at that. I’ve also become quite the gardener. It’s super cute watching plants grow and I find gardening therapeutic.
What influences culminated in creating The Shifters’ sound?
MILES: A mutual love for similar ideas and sounds. For example, Tristan has always loved the sound of live Velvet Underground recordings. I just messaged him to ask what age he got into them and he sent me this:” Dad showed me the Velvets when I was 8, and it ruined my life”. I feel we were on a similar musical path. The Shifters are avid fans of the weirder side of rock n roll and a cocktail of differing lifestyles, habits and dependencies.
LOU: I think a combination of everyone’s varying music tastes and history. I’ve always been attracted to weirder, askew types of music and I The Shifters’ music fits that mould. Tristan, Miles, Ryan and Chris all knew each other from yonks ago and share a lot of common interests. I was a newer recruit so I’m not sure if I have directly influenced our music but it’s definitely a mix of everyone’s eclectic tastes in music.
What contributes to your raw, jangly Shifters’ guitar tone that we love so much?
MILES: Listening to too much John Cale and Swell Maps, not really knowing how to play the thing is a good start, not using any pedals also helps. When I started getting into this kind of music as a teen I would look at photos or watch footage and like a sound and see where their hands were placed. All the guitarists thus far in the group have been self-taught (to my knowledge).
When I lived in London I played in a Cramps cover band and that was really handy in terms of learning classic chord progressions or shapes. They asked me to play with them as they knew I played a little guitar. They laughed so hard at me during first practice as I didn’t know an A from a C and still don’t really. I know I can play all the chords but I don’t know which ones I’m doing. Sorry Shifters.
LOU: Probably just always being a little bit out of tune. Somehow, no matter how much we tune up, someone, or all of us, is slightly out of key. Someone – usually me – forgets what notes to play and sometimes that can work in a dissonant way but a lot of the time it doesn’t. We don’t really use any pedals or effects and always try to strip it back a bit. I guess that’s what gives us that ‘jangly’ sound.
You recently released a Live In Gaul recording from shows you played in France early last year. It was recorded on Tristan’s iPhone; can you tell us a bit about your time in France? What was it like? What did you see? Did anything surprise you?
MILES: We went over not knowing what to expect. I knew that we had been selling a few records over there but had no idea the level of support we were to receive. There were people who knew the words to songs and were singing along at shows and asking for autographs every night. I was gobsmacked. I don’t remember signing anything in Australia. Moreover, it wasn’t like they were all Shifters fans, but they were just really psyched to see a somewhat ‘weird’ band from the other side of the world come to their small University town or Industrial city during the end of winter. We played to over 500 people in Paris. For a band like ours, that’s pretty wild. I think it’s the biggest crowd we have ever played to. I was shocked. We were rolling in cash from selling out of all of our merch and being paid pretty well for shows. Especially Paris. As far as tours go, we couldn’t have asked for more. I think I can speak for all of us here and say it was probably one of the best times we have ever had. There were fights and tears but that is to be expected existing as we were. We did not sleep much, we smoked a million cigarettes a day and drank ourselves silly partying with all of our new-found friends. We ate fantastic food. I love France and the French. I wish we could have done some more sightseeing but it doesn’t quite work like that. It’s the ultimate escapism. No work, no worries really, just get back into the van and do it all over again. We all got sick as dogs! Merci to our friends in France and Belgium. We shall be back whenever we are able.
LOU: Oh man, France was sick. We honestly thought we’d be playing to empty rooms but the crowds were amazing. We hadn’t experienced the calibre of hospitality in Australia compared to France. We were fed every night, given as much booze as we wanted, had parties thrown for us and made to feel comfortable in other people’s homes. We are eternally grateful for those that looked out for us. I knew the cheese and wine would be good but holy dooley, I wasn’t prepared for just how good it was. Especially in Bordeaux *chef kiss*. Have to say, the croissants in Melbourne are way better though so I guess that surprised me. Sorry France.
We made some really rad friends and got to see some cool places. I spent my 25th birthday on a boat in Lyon which is an experience I will never forget. The show in Paris was incredible. We played on another boat on the Senne River to 500 people and that was mad.
I don’t know about the other guys but I got really good at sleeping in the van. I felt really bad for Chris though, who ended up driving us around throughout the UK leg of the tour. We’re all a bunch of babies that can’t drive except for Chris. Tristan kept us entertained with a comic series he called Cucumber Man. He even came up with a theme song. He started singing “I’m a cucumber man and I do what I can” during sound checks and it almost brought me to tears every time.
I think we ate our weight’s worth of servo sandwiches and learnt that European McDonald’s don’t do all day breakfast which was a bummer on our rock dog schedule.
The combination of being so sleep deprived, hungover, excited and wired made for some pretty funny and memorable moments. It was a really great experience and something we will look back on in awe for the rest of our lives.
In March this year you released Open Vault a compilation of 26 unreleased songs including studio material, early demos, live 4-track and live iPhone, covers and solo home demos recorded between 2016 and 2019; what inspired you to put these out into the world? Often bands are shy to share their demos. Did you have a process for choosing what was included?
MILES: I just like them. Aside from the studio-recorded stuff, to me, it sounds like Daniel Johnston met up with John Cale, got really hammered, then tried to make their own White Album on GarageBand only using the inbuilt mic on an old MacBook. Whether they were successful or not is another question. I also just wanted to put SOMETHING out as releases were all put on hold due to COVID.
It turns out some other people rather liked it and we have recently been approached by a German label that wants to release it as a double LP late in the year or early next. Danke Kamerad!
Your Left Bereft 7-inch has just come out also; how did the A-side title track come into being? Lyrically it seems to talk to the current frustrations with our society’s systems and the information we’re bombarded with from news etc. in our daily lives.
MILES: Well I feel things are a bit different now as these were all written pre-COVID, but still valid as it seems the new federal budget is a welfare package for the bosses of the country and the Liberal party is back on track making the poor suffer. It came about when we returned from our European tour. I made a point throughout the yomp to talk to as many people as possible about what was going on in their respective countries politically and socially. At the end of it all I was left with the impression that everyone felt in a similar way to myself about their own Governments and fracturing communities. ‘Left Bereft’ is an overly simplified rabble-rouser that people who maybe use English as a second or third language can understand and maybe feel a bit of solidarity. I like to imagine drunk students in France listening to it whilst wrestling on the kitchen table, which we witnessed in Rennes, but the soundtrack was ‘Constant Mongrel’.
Can you explain to us what the 7-inch B-side Australia is about?
MILES: It’s more or less in the same vein as ‘Left Bereft’ but more localised. I think only those familiar with Australian happenings would know what the hell I’m on about. To be honest, I think I was just in a fairly grumpy mood writing both of them. I love Australia and wouldn’t swap my passport for any, BUT saying that I think this country has been an absolute embarrassment in terms of turning into free-market capitalism’s wet dream. I would happily see many Liberal and National party politicians get life sentences in prison for crimes against humanity, the environment and the general erosion of 90% of the population’s best interest. Nepotism and corruption are rampant within the Liberal party but your average Aussie does not give a toss as it’s not reported in the major outlets as the news is dictated by the Liberal party, who is dictated by Mr Murdoch, who owns all of the major outlets, aaaaaaand Bunnings is still open. Instead of watching a horror movie tonight, just watch Sky News Australia on YouTube!
Australia is not the benevolent, all welcoming, sun-bleached, forward-thinking country that the media likes to portray. We may have had some of those attributes in the past, but sadly they have been slowly pulled from under us. Shame, as we have all of the ability and necessary attributes to sustain a far better standard of living for all people today and tomorrow.
Is it important for you to tell a story in your songs? They often have some kind of social commentary thematically.
MILES: No, I don’t think so. I don’t sit there and think “I need a story for this song” It just falls to what interests, amuses or bemuses me at the time. I have noticed something that does seem important to me, and that is to use words that have multiple meanings wherever possible so it can be adjusted by your own interpretation of the content.
LOU: Miles writes most of the lyrics and I don’t think he’s ever purposely trying to tell a story in the songs, but they usually become some sort of history or politics lesson. Which is cool, ‘cause learning is fun!
What’s the hardest thing The Shifters’ have ever had to do as a band?
MILES: Probably the Euro tour?? We are all pretty quiet and reserved people most of the time and that tour kicked the shit out of us. In many ways.
LOU: Definitely the Europe tour. We were all so sick. Except for Ryan. Lucky dude. That man has an iron immune system. When I came back I had bronchitis and felt like absolute death. I also looked about 10 years older. That’s what no sleep, high adrenaline and endless partying will do to you. We all had our grumpy moments and I think just being around each other in those bad times was pretty hard.
What’s coming up for The Shifters?
MILES: We have the double LP compilation to look out for. Hopefully, we can get together again soon as a band to write/record a new LP. We have not been able to get together since March as Melbourne has been under strict lockdown.
LOU: I just wanna see everyone! We haven’t jammed in months and I miss my dudes. Can’t wait to go to the pub, have a bunch of beers and reminisce. We were really keen to go back to France at some point this year but then life got cancelled because of COVID. Hopefully we can tour again at some point. At the moment we’re all just keen to see each other and write some new stuff! We are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully, we can meet soon.
What are you most excited about right now?
MILES: I’m unsure about using the word excited, but I’m very intrigued right now by the general collapse of the Nu Roman Empire. Electing Trump was a Rubicon moment, of sorts. Though I think they had their ‘Pax Romana’ a long time ago. The fall of the Western Roman Empire was a gradual decline in the upkeep of state administration and the inability to pay its troops holding the borders of a bloated and fracturing empire in a time of famine and crop failure. Landowners and senators slowly ‘left out the back door’ so to speak, and started hiring out-of-work soldiers to protect their own interests in volatile provinces left in a vacuum of post-Roman centralised authority. Thus, began sowing the seeds of European feudalism. Trump = Commodus. History can be screamingly interesting.
LOU: I’m excited to make money again! I haven’t had a job since June. I never thought I’d say that I miss the stress and pressure of a kitchen environment but I honestly do. I feel like I don’t have a purpose at the moment and I’m becoming too much of a hermit. I’ve become a full-blown gamer during lockdown and I’m getting a new PC soon. I guess that’s pretty exciting too!
Gimmie interviewed Krystal Maynard and Christopher Stephenson from Naarm/Melbourne post-punk, synth-heavies, screensaver. Last year they released demos with a lot of heart and promise and this year as well as featuring on two essential compilations – A Complication for Edgar – a fundraiser for Edgar’s Mission Sanctuary providing, shelter and care for homeless, abused, injured, or abandoned animals and the latest Blow Blood Records ALTA2 compilation – they released a new single ‘Strange Anxiety’.
How did you first meet?
CHRISTOPHER STEPHENSON (guitar/synth): We first met in 2014 in Berlin when our bands Spray Paint and Bad Vision played together. The following year Spray Paint travelled to Australia and played with Krystal’s band Polo.
KRYSTAL MAYNARD (vocals/synth): Yeah, our first official meeting was at some heinous hour of the morning on the very last night of Bad Vision’s tour at the kick on at some bar in a suburb of Berlin that I remember very little detail of.
I understand that you both started collaborating musically over the internet beginning in 2016 with Chris in Austin, Texas and Krystal here in Melbourne, Australia; what kinds of songs were you making back then?
CS: At the time I had a great 4-track in my share house bedroom, I didn’t have any real drum machines or great synths, so I tapped beats out on a thrift store Casio into a loop pedal and ran keyboard sounds through enough guitar pedals to sound somewhat synth-y. The project started as me sending over instrumentals and Krystal doing vocals.
What inspired you to go for a synth-punk, new wavey, gothy sound for screensaver?
CS: After I moved over we decided to expand into a full band format where Krystal played keys and I added guitar. Once we brought in bass and drums with Giles and James the sound naturally settled into where we’re at presently.
KM: It wasn’t really a conscious decision, Chris’s original demos really lent themselves to the sound and vocally it made sense for me to go down that path. We’ve both played in a variety of different sounding bands over the years and I was enthused to do something I hadn’t dived into before but actually was core to my musical origins. When I was a teenager I was super into The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division as well as the 77 punk stuff. So for me, it’s been like tapping back into my origins but whilst having had many years of developing a broader palette to take those influences but ( hopefully) not just reproduce their sound but incorporate more wide ranging sounds. I find genre discussions both interesting and tedious. As a band you can’t really escape using genres to describe your music which is frustrating but unavoidable!
What’s the story behind the band name?
CS: I recall coming up with the name as we drove together to Office Works in Coburg in our black Volvo station wagon. I think I had to print a certified copy of my passport that day.
Your debut single ‘Strange Anxiety’ that’s about to come out was recorded remotely in isolation; what sparked the idea for this song?
CS: Krystal had a garage band demo with the initial low keyboard and then sent it to James who programmed the beat. She’s amazingly quick with lyrics and vocals in general, so by the time I started working on it as a session the structure was all there.
KM: I’m pretty sure that this song began as me teaching myself how to program drums in Garageband and having a play with making music that way, it could have easily been a throwaway practice session of mine that nothing happened with. When our drummer James got his hands on it he turned my basic beat into something super dynamic which brought the bass line to life and we built from there.
What’s something that we might be surprised to know about your writing or recording process?
CS: I suppose we’re still getting to know our process ourselves! In an otherwise normal year I doubt we ever would have seen a song through from start to finish without going into a studio to amplify guitar or bass at the very least.
KM: Covid-19 and the restrictions in Melbourne have meant that we’ve had to reinvent our processes completely, it’s enabled us to stretch out into sounds we may not have if we were just jamming as a four piece is a room, the method of making (mostly) in the box music over the last six months has had a lot of positives for us and developing our sound.
The video for the song is a collaboration between screensaver’s bass player Giles Fielke and animator Juliet Miranda Rowe; can you tell us about making it?
KM: We filmed the video using our bass player Giles’ Super 8 camera at his apartment back in June when the restrictions were briefly lifted. Giles riffed off the simplicity of Andy Warhol’s screen tests for the black and white shots of the band members and he edited the foundation of the clip. Juliet came in afterwards and animated over the top of the footage to give it even more movement, working with the songs rhythm’s to give it punch in all the right places.
In 2019 you started playing gigs locally and then did a short run of shows in the US opening for Wiccans and Timmy’s Organism; besides playing, what was one of your favourite moments on the trip?
CS: Personally it was good to be back in my former hometown and reconnect with bandmates and friends in Austin.
KM: My first instinct is to say the breakfast I had in New Orleans! I still find eating food in the USA such a novelty, the diners and greasy spoons and the really regional foods. But yes, the shows were great too, tour is always fun, sometimes the best moments are just being juvenile in the van and flogging the tour joke until it’s got no life left in it.
screensaver are featured on the Blow Blood Records ALTA2 compilation (a comp of Australian bands who have made music whilst in isolation); how did the song you contributed to this get started?
CS: That one started as some Michael Rother worship I put over a terrible sounding beat on a cheap machine. James improved the rhythm track immensely and Krystal belted the vocals out in our apartment.
KM: I’m positive that our neighbours think we are crazy, because I am always laying down vocal tracks in headphones really loud, so all they are getting is vocals sans music which we all know sounds pretty bizarre/not very good. I’m now at peace with it. We hear things we don’t wanna hear in the apartment block all the time, so I guess its payback.
ALTA2 is a really impressive compilation and such a great idea to put out songs of artists who have continued to produce music during this lock down. It’s a big reminder of how much talent we have in own backyard, we highly recommend you pick up a copy and discover a whole bunch of new artists.
You also had a live track “Meds” on A Complication for Edgar – a fundraiser for Edgar’s Mission Sanctuary featuring 20+ punk bands; why was it important for you to be a part of it?
CS: In addition to supporting a great cause it actually happens to document our first live show at the Last Chance. Max Ducker did a great job with the live sound and making it sound great on tape.
KM: Max Ducker is a really old friend of mine so we couldn’t say no! But honestly we are happy to support an organisation that is looking after the welfare of animals.
What’s something that has really engaged your attention lately?
CS: I thoroughly enjoyed Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta.
KM: I am very enamoured with Miles Brown’s album The Gateway released early this year, it’s so danceable, moody and evocative and the theremin works it magic to replace any desire you might have for vocals.
At Gimmie we’re big fans of Landowner! We love their clean guitar, repetitive rhythms, and sharp, socially conscious, thoughtful lyrics. They’ve taken punk and stripped it down to its barest bones making for an impactful, unique twist on the more traditional sound listeners expect from punk. We chatted to vocalist Dan Shaw about latest album Consultant, his journey into music, job as a Landscape Architect and his exploration of the similarities of designing landscapes and of making music—interesting stuff!
How did you first discover music?
DAN SHAW: I have parents that are really musical. Growing up they listened to classical music mostly, that’s how they met, and they bonded over that. My older brother is twelve years older than me and he’s also a musician, he got into industrial and grunge. When I was a little kid I was hearing Skinny Puppy and Nirvana, more kind of rock music that my parents weren’t listening to. I ended up hearing a big diversity of stuff. Later in middle school, getting into music on my own and learning how to play guitar was kind of planting my little flag in the ground and saying, this is what I’m into! This is my thing that I’m all about! It took me a little while to discover it and to be doing it on my own but once I did, I never turned back—it made a lot of sense to me. I’ve been obsessed with making music ever since.
What kind of music did you find that was your own?
DS: What I first started paying attention to, which I think a lot of people do, is the stuff that is easiest to hear with little effort because it reaches you. Like I mentioned before, the grunge bands like Nirvana, they were my favourite band in 8th grade. It didn’t take too long to seek out the stuff that influenced them, the more obsessed I got with that band the more I started to learn what influenced Kurt Cobain. Luckily he was really vocal about all the underground stuff from the ‘80s that inspired him. By the time I was in high school I was discovering The Meat Puppets and Fugazi, who quickly became, and still to this day is, my favourite band. Once I discovered that Washington D.C. and Dischord Records scene, that’s when I really started to find music that resonated with me a lot, that post-punk thing. Then I started learning about the British post-punk bands too like Wire, the Fall and Gang Of Four. Those were big discoveries that got me the most excited and that have stuck with me to this day.
The next major step shortly after that or during that, was discovering local underground music right around me. Going to shows as a teenager and discovering that, oh, you don’t have to be a big famous person on T.V. to be doing this. It could be that I’m in a basement and the person standing next to me turns out to be the lead singer in the punk band that’s about to play, that basic thing just blew my mind the first time I went to a basement show.
I had a similar kind of revelation when I discovered my local scene. It gives you a sense of, hey, I could do this too! I think that’s part of the beauty of punk rock, that anyone can do it.
DS: Yeah! As a result of that I kind of put aside the idea of needing to be a big famous musician that “makes it”. I achieved my goal the first time I played music in front of twenty people at a house show. It’s like, there, I did it! It’s great! I’m grateful every time I’ve got to do it again.
Was your first band Health Problems?
DS: I was in a few other bands before but Health Problems was my first band that started touring more seriously and really released albums. I’d always been striving for something like that, it took until my mid-twenties when I started that band to really link up with the right people and circumstances to get out there a little better.
As well as playing music, you’re also a Landscape Architect and you design public spaces as well as other urban planning; what got you interested in doing that kind of work?
DS: Initially it was the creativity aspect of it. I was in college, in my first year doing general education, then I had to pick a Major. I learnt about Landscape Architecture and it seemed like a good way to do something creative that requires artistic skills but was also a safe practical thing. The more I got into it, the more I fell in love with it and realised you can make a difference in the world around you, in society, by doing public work; that’s why I’ve worked with public sector clients in the professional sector—working with communities and helping them envision the future in places where they live. It’s very fulfilling.
I know that fulfilling feeling of working in the public sector, I work in a community service in my city’s libraries. I prefer a job helping people rather than selling them something they don’t need.
DS: Yeah, this work can give you a sense of purpose. It’s still a job at the end of the day and can be frustrating sometimes certainly but, for me it’s a good path to be on.
I understand that you did your thesis in grad school on similarities between the creative process in designing landscapes and composing music as an analogy, for better understanding your own creative process;I’m really excited to hear more about this and to hear of what you found out about your creative process exploring this?
DS: I did a graduate degree in Landscape Architecture and for my thesis project it occurred to me, really no one reads your thesis except you and your advisors, so I decided to take a more personal deep dive on what makes me tick as a creative person. Because I think musically and I work as a Landscape Architect; could the two creative processes inform one another? If they could that would be a pretty cool, productive thing in my own little way that I operate. I ended up looking at a lot! The nature of music, how it’s different, every time it’s performed, the performance is different from last time and in the case of jazz, where it’s improvised off of a rough basic composition, that to me is more similar to how I design landscape, compared to something like architecture.
To make a musical analogy, designing a building is a very engineered predictable thing, that would be like a composer writing a score of sheet music and it’s all done very precisely to a tee… something that makes designing landscapes so fascinating and challenging and interesting is how the designer isn’t fully in charge of the outcome of a design landscape. You’ll design a park in your neighbourhood and in thirty years the vegetation that I planned is going morph and evolve into its own ecosystem; the way people use the park is going to be hard to predict and it’s going to take on its own ownership by the community. The designer’s role is to nudge it in the right direction and then the improvisation takes over, with society, with ecosystems and things like that.
A lot of my thesis used musical sketches to diagram the process and change over time that landscapes all have. To better understand what the role of the landscape designer is, it’s like the jazz composer that comes in with the basic theme but then the group improvises on it and takes it in a new direction from there.
What were the things that you found out about your own creative process exploring that?
DS: I’ve found that adapting to unpredictable circumstances is really a core, important thing. When I was doing that thesis project I had a practice space where I was making my rough musical sketches and I was trying to make sense of it all… I spent more time making the last Landowner album then I did on this thesis, it was really just a capstone on my schooling. I’m trying to cram in all these ambitious, burning questions in a short amount of time, in the middle of it my practice space got shut down and we all had to leave because the building closed. I suddenly had to adapt my way of working in this thesis project to a new circumstance where I didn’t have access to my music space anymore. What I ended up doing was, I had the jams that I had made, hours of stuff that I had recorded earlier in the semester and I turned to editing those sound files and creating sound diagrams and improvisations out of what I had previously recorded. Adapting to the circumstance is something that I have carried forward… the band Landowner exists because it’s something a lot like that.
A few years later where I lived in an apartment in Massachusetts, I had landlords right through the wall and I couldn’t rock out really loud, I was like; how can I make music that sounds really cool without the space to be loud? I was like, I know! I’ll make this clean, dinky-sounding version of punk with a drum machine and a practice amp, and that lead to Landowner’s sound. I deliberately embraced the creative constraint that I found myself faced with. That’s something I was forced to reckon with during the thesis, utilising a creative constraint that was forced upon me. Ever since then I’ve always found that that really yields focus and deliberateness. In the creative process you can just become paralysed because you have infinite choices, I’ve found that actually having restraints placed on what you can do, forces a really focused kind of creativity. That’s usually more consistent and satisfying to me.
Previously you’ve mentioned that when doing your thesis you felt kind of crazy; why?
DS: Because of what I alluded to a second ago of how, I was in my early-twenties, I went to grad college and I had this feeling that I was just going to crack the code, I’m going to figure it all out… I was trying to connect all the dots at once in the way that I operate. When you’re in grad school and you’re doing a thesis, it ultimately is a pretty limited time in your life, you can’t necessarily tackle the most grandiose ambitious things in a thesis. I’ve learned in retrospect that a thesis is the thing that kicks you off to bigger and more ambitious projects that you’ll do more long term. At the time I was trying to condense it all into one action-packed, nutrient dense two months! I almost felt like I had lost my mind doing it just because the students around me were pursuing more button-down “here’s an innovative way of harvesting stormwater in landscape architecture” and it was very concrete; then here I was saying that maybe music and landscape architecture is somehow creatively the same if you really look at it from a certain way. Once I had committed to it and I was half way through the project I couldn’t turn back. I was like, god, now I ‘m forced to make sense out of this madness… and I did. I felt like I had bitten off more than I could chew though [laughs]. A little bit over-ambitious, hopeful and grandiose!
I like the idea that you were exploring between creating a physical environment and then making a place you mentally inhibit with music.
DS: Yeah and that is a conclusion that I came to when doing that project. I thought maybe I could make a representation of the park I’m designing, musically. But then I thought that wouldn’t make sense. I could draw a picture of the park or a diagram, visual media, or I could make a soundscape representation, I could take a field recorder and record what the birds and traffic sound like, that could represent it in a literal way… but then I realised that music and creating a physical real space that’s built with shovels, concrete and plants and sticks, in reality are two completely different things and I had to accept that. I realised that I cannot represent Central Park with my piece of music better than any other park can represent Central Park, they’re just different places. Then I was like, ah-ha! Music is a place mentally, it’s a space. If I think of it that way, that by composing music I’m designing a space that people mentally inhabit… that might yield clues of how the creative processes are linked but it’s not that music represents landscape. We’re getting really, really deep into the tunnel here of the particulars [laughs].
I’m fine in the tunnel, like I said, I found the ideas you were exploring fascinating. Since I was a kid I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about music. When you record a record and your music gets pressed onto vinyl and then I buy it and put it on my turntable and then the energy you made the record with fills my room and transfers to this space I’m in—that just still blows my mind. I love that in Landowner’s music there is a lot of repetition, then all of a sudden you’ll get a transition that’s kind of jarring…
DS: I’m fascinated by repetition in music. My other favourite band is Lungfish and they’re pure repetition. With a Lungfish song you’ll hear the first riff and then that’s all you’ll hear for the next four minutes except the lyrics change continuously throughout the song. The idea of music being a place you inhabit, that comes especially to me with repetitive music because you start to trust that the repetition is going to continue after a few passages have been the same, in the space that is created there I find that the only things that’s actually changing is my own thought patterns during the passage of repetitive music and brings a kind of self-awareness to the forefront—it’s meditative. It feels like an environment for the listener to be themselves, instead of trying to keep up with spazzy changes in more busy music, which can be good too, that’s a whole different thing. There is a hypnotic aspect to repetitive music that I really like.
You just said something too, which is important to me, if music is really repetitive it brings all of this attention to places where there are transitions, those transitions become all the more important because of that—all the more striking. You put your trust in the music when it’s repetitive and then when something happens it catches you off guard, it wakes you up! I like being surprised by music and waking up several times during the course of a band’s set during a show or during the course of listening to a record… like as soon as I have it figured out something a little bit surprising happens.
There’s a punk band here in Australia called Arse, when they play live there’s this one song they do and there’s this part in it where they just play that one note over and over and over for a really extended period; after a while it’s almost as if it makes people in the crowd feel uncomfortable and uneasy because they’re not used to that, they’re waiting for a change. It’s really cool to watch the band do it, they have the biggest smiles on their faces.
DS: My old band Health Problems used to do stuff like that. We didn’t have a rule of using repetition all the time per se but, we would try to be aware of the psychology of watching a show and how to mess with what makes it interesting. We’d do stuff like that, one note ‘til it makes people feel uncomfortable and right when you find that limit, you change it. One of my very favourite bands that opened the doors to me of the power of repetition was an Australian band called My Disco. Have you ever seen them?
I have. I’ve interviewed them many years ago.
DS: Cool. Their stuff from the 2000’s. Their recent stuff has departed in a more experimental direction, their first three albums though were a big revelation to me when they came out.
Lyrically there always seem to be a lot going on in your songs, there’s a lot of layers to them. When you’re writing lyrics, do you have an idea of what you want to write about and then build around it? Or do they come in other ways?
DS: Most successful times I have writing lyrics is when I‘m carrying around, almost all of the time, a pocket sized spiral bound reporter’s notebook. When an interesting little phrase just pops into my head, I might not even know what it potentially means, I just write it down. At the end of the month the notebook is full and I read through the composite of interesting, evocative phrases. Some will be more developed lyric concepts too. I develop things into lyrics for a song or draw on those. I try to be ready to catch ideas during the day that are inspiring to me. The other half of it is work, time spent sitting in front of the laptop with a word document opened trying to type it all out into an arrangement that means something and makes sense. It’s a balance between the mysterious inspirations of an evocative phrase that has some potential coupled with then trying to tease out some real world meaning from it.
I’ve hit my head against the wall trying to sit down and write a song from scratch about a topic, for me that’s a lot harder and it ends up sounding preachy and annoying; I’m usually not as satisfied with those efforts. If I trust the mysterious lyricism of words and follow the trail of things that seem intriguing to me, that usually leads to something more worthwhile. With the Landowner stuff I try to resolve it into something that does has some kind of statement about the world that we live in.
A lot of phrases that I pick up on are little expressions you hear people say and the musicality in speech and refrains in conversation; things that sound ordinary that we hear over and over again catch my ear. Something like that might spark an idea for an entire song.
Is there a song on new album Consultant that has a real significance to you?
DS: I was thinking about this today, the lyrics that are the most concise and satisfying to me on the new LP are the song ‘Being Told You’re Wrong’ [laughs], which is so ridiculously brief. It captures a lot of what I’m trying to say in such a short, ripping little song. The lyrics are basically saying that; if you’re such a tough guy, why can’t you handle being told you’re wrong, without kicking a tantrum like a child. The sound of Landowner’s music is trying to tease the idea of what tough music is, instead of being all thick and heavy with distortion it’s clean and dinky-sounding but still aggressive and fast. The lyrics to the song also call out what it means to be big and tough and strong, if you’re a big muscly tough guy but then you dissolve into a childish fit if someone questions your opinion about something and you can’t handle being told you’re wrong! It’s expanding the idea of toughness that it needs to include self-reflection and critique, which it so often doesn’t. “Being told you’re wrong” is a phrase I’m really satisfied by, it’s one of my favourite ones.
What about the song ‘Stone Path’?
DS: I like the lyrics to that because it is about something in particular but I let myself be a little loose with the writing in it. The song is basically about racist housing policy in mid-20th century United States where Blacks weren’t able to own property, they were denied mortgages… that’s multiple generations of people of colour that could only rent and couldn’t capitalise on selling it. The first lyric on ‘Stone Path’: now that it’s on your radar, you recognise it everywhere; that’s the culture becoming aware of the messed up dynamic of something like that more and more. A hand tipping the scales, that’s the hand of law makers sixty years ago, eighty years ago, unfairly tipping the scales in the favour of whites arbitrarily just inherited out of hatred. The song is about, my belief is, when we inherit the results of racist policy we can’t undo those injustices by trying to be colour-blind and turn a hopeful blind eye to it, deliberate racism can only be undone with equally deliberate justice. That idea is at the core of the lyrics of ‘Stone Path’. The title has nothing to do with the lyrics, that was my working title when the song was an instrumental and it just stuck. In this case it’s almost suggestive of what the song is talking about, the idea that we get stuck in these grooves in society, it sounds like it’s a well-trodden path that no one questions that they have just been on for such a long time.
Like I was saying before, sometimes I don’t worry if I don’t know the meaning of the words right away, it can all come together by just modifying some of the words here and there, just pointing things in a consistent direction. Things can make sense after the fact. That song title is a fun example that.
On the song ‘Confrontation’ your good friend and your bandmate from Health Problems,Ian Kurtis Crist does guest vocals!
DS: Yeah. When we play the song live the bassist of Landowner Josh Owsley normally sings that part. It was a mistake in the studio when we were recording ‘Confrontation’ with the band all together, I gave Josh the wrong note. I asked him to sing the backup line in a ‘C’ but it was supposed to be a ‘G’, he recorded the whole thing an octave below my lead vocal. I listened to it after and realised I made him do the wrong thing, it was a little too late to go back in and set up the microphones and redo everything, and maybe it’s a fun opportunity to send it to Ian and get him to do it. He’s one of my best friends, I like the sound of his voice and thought it would be well suited to the song. He recorded it in his home studio and we mixed it in and it sounded really good.
Is there anything you find challenging about song writing?
DS: The most challenging thing for me has been writing lyrics, I get hung up on lyrics. Since words really mean one thing or another in the brains of human beings, whereas the meaning of music is a little more forgiving, it’s a more abstract thing. Words are so loaded, if you chose just the wrong synonym or express it a little different then how you meant it, people are going to interpret it differently. I feel bothered by the drafts of the lyrics until I know they’re just right and they resonate in me. I spend the most time on the lyrics. One of my goals is for it to sound spontaneous and conversational, with a few exceptions, it’s the part of the song that takes the longest.
The last song on the album ‘Old Connecticut Money’ I think I wrote 90% of those lyrics in one go. My pen was moving, I was at work on a break, I had this idea and I wrote it all down. I could almost read it out of the notebook and it just fell into the song, but for me that’s pretty rare. Lyrics are something that I toil over.
On Landowner’s previous album Blatant there’s a song called ‘Significant Experience’; have you had a really significant in your life that you could share?
DS: That song is another good example of where I wasn’t writing about one particular thing, I was trusting the overall mood of lyrics and ability to evoke thoughts with that combination of words.When I was putting those lyrics together, I was thinking about how the most significant, moving experiences that people live through in their lives tend to be those things that shape their political outlooks and beliefs in the world. When you come to an impasse in a political argument let’s say, usually the reason you can’t get through to the other person or the other person starts to shake and get in a rage and can’t even get words out, it’s usually because there’s some really significant thing that they lived through that’s welling up, it’s important to realise that all people carry things like that around with them. That’s what’s often behind dysfunction in how we communicate. Right now, that’s the most I’ve intentionally thought about those lyrics or put it into words like that. I just let the lyrics be the lyrics and just try to get them across, I’m not decoding them most days.
*NOTE: more of this interview can be found in our editor’s upcoming book, Conversations With Punx. Featuring in-depth interviews with individuals from bands Ramones, DEVO, Black Flag, Bad Brains, Fugazi, The Stooges, Crass, Misfits, Bad Religion, The Clash, The Slits, Subhumans, Descendents, PiL, X-Ray Spex, Adolescents, Agnostic Front, Operation Ivy, At the Drive-In, The Avengers, Youth of Today, Night Birds, Cro-Mags, Gorilla Biscuits, X, and more. Coming soon! Follow @gimmiegimmiegimmiezine for updates.
Meanjin/Brisbane musicians Kelly Hanlon (Deafcult/Terra Pines) and Chris Preindl (Apparitions/Leavings/Vestiges) take us on a sonic sci-fi expedition exploring ancient, ceremonial drumming together with shoegaze dream pop and cosmic themes to create a band that’s outta this world, Ancient Channels.
How did you two first meet? What were your first impressions of each other?
KELLY: I first met Chris through the Brisbane music scene. Our other bands have played multiple shows together over the years so we’ve been in each other’s orbit for a while. I’ve been consistently blown away every time I’ve seen Chris play with any of his bands whether its Apparitions, Leavings or Vestiges. He’s all over the kit with such deft and precision, technically brilliant but also insanely creative, I swear he’s got an extra set of arms hidden away somewhere. I remember thinking that I’d like to work with him sometime soon after seeing him play, and here we are! Dreams do come true!
CHRIS: Our first meeting is hard to pinpoint because Brisbane often feels tiny. I do feel like my first impression of Kelly is one-and-the-same with what would be the most prevailing impression, that she’s an incredibly talented songwriter and musician, and a really cool, calm and compassionate person.
You both play in multiple other bands. Kelly plays in Deafcult/Terra Pines and Chris plays in Apparitions/Leavings/Vestiges; what inspired you to start Ancient Channels?
KELLY: I had wanted to start a project a little more pop-centric and beat orientated. I was also watching a lot of Ancient Aliens at the time (for pure entertainment, I don’t actually believe Ancient Aliens built the pyramids) which resulted in the idea of combining elements of ancient, ceremonial drumming with more contemporary style song structures and the aesthetics of dream pop, shoegaze and post-punk. I wrote a few demos and sent them to Chris and asked if he’d be keen and lucky he was. We didn’t practice together before recording just winged it on the day and Chris wrote and executed his drum parts with such energy it was beautiful! The drums are really the forefront of this band in my opinion, almost like a lead guitar or something, well and truly up front.
CHRIS: Kelly reached out about starting a new project together in early-mid 2019 and I didn’t deliberate much; sometime after my band Leavings played with Terra Pines (for something like the third or even fourth time around Southeast Queensland) Kelly had written some incredible demos and after hearing them I was very excited at the chance to collaborate. She suggested it’d be more of a studio project from the outset which was super ideal for my other band commitments and life schedule. Dates were then set for roughly six months later to record with Cam Smith at Incremental Records.
You’re into sci-fi soundtracks of early film and television; what’s one of your favourites? What do you appreciate about it?
KELLY: Film soundtracks, particularly sci-fi soundtracks are so evocative and they overtly convey tension in a way that I love. The 1950’s had some really great film soundtracks full of creepy theremin tones that make my skin crawl in the best possible way. It Came From Outer Space 1953 is a favourite, also The Day The Earth Stood Still 1951. I tried to get a theremin-ish like tone in “Orbital Dance” with one of the synth lines, it’s not exact but it’s the best I could do with the tools that I have haha. I also love the original Dr Who theme 1963 by Delia Derbyshire and Ron Grainer. It’s such an iconic piece of music, “Carpe Noctem” was an attempt to do something big and dramatic in that vein. There is a great doco on Delia Derbyshire called The Delian Mode on YouTube that everyone should watch for a bit of backstory on her. I’m also big into Vangelis like everyone else under the sun.
CHRIS: I think this is more Kelly’s realm, at least as far as direct influences on this project go, but for me I can’t go past such iconic scores as: Blade Runner (Vangelis), Akira (Geinoh Yamashirogumi), 2001: A Space Odyssey (Richard Strauss), and more recently the scores of Drive, Ex Machina and Good Time… although some of those absolutely aren’t sci-fis.
You’ve recently released Moments In Ruin; what inspired the writing of this album? It seems pretty cosmic!
KELLY: It all comes back to Ancient Aliens haha I feel like I was thinking about it for a year or so before we even started writing, but mainly the idea was to just have a collection of songs that draw from many influences both concrete: Shoegaze, Dream Pop and Post-Punk and Abstract: Time, Space, Ancient Worlds etc… I think there was also talk about writing a record full of singles. The idea that every song on a record could be a single is a bit of a novelty but thought it would be a fun challenge.
CHRIS: Other than a partial embracing and full appreciation of engineer/producer Cam Smith’s drumming (in specifically Terra Pines), and the desire to serve Kelly’s demos sufficiently I embraced influences stemming back to when I first started playing drums. Essentially bands like Metric, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and pretty much any DFA/New York City band from the mid-2000s.
I’ve heard that drums and percussion are the foundation of your sound; how do your songs form most often? Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?
KELLY: All the songs were written using Garageband to demo initially , and then Chris rewrote the shitty Garageband drum loops and made the songs infinitely cooler and more interesting. All the songs were written with the same approach though, built from the ground up, rhythm section, then guitars and synths (textural) and vocals last. The vocals took the most amount of time to write because melody was really important, most of the songs on the record have alternate versions of the vocal melodies and harmonies. I think “She-Rise” had about 8 different versions.
CHRIS: Up until now it has been part recreating the beats mapped out by Kelly and part improvisation in the studio environment. The intricate layers that formed the first versions of the songs that became “Moments In Ruin” afforded me a lot of room for inspiration and, to a degree, experimentation so it’s been quite a thrilling and fun process; the approach with Ancient Channels is different to the more jam-based process of other projects I’m involved with.
We really love the song “She-Rise”; what sparked this song?
KELLY: From memory it was one of the last songs written for this project, there was a feeling the record needed something a little more driving and immediate. I’d read an interview with Grimes about her writing process, that she’d often write songs to scenes from films. I kinda liked that idea and thought I’d give it a go. I picked the Bride vs The Crazy 88 scene from Kill Bill Vol1 and tried to write with that scene in my mind and often playing in the background on silent. Thematically I guess I projected myself into the role of the bride and sexist sound guys in the role of the crazy 88 (metaphorically speaking of course). It’s a clusterfuck, I’m not sure it works as a score to the scene but I was happy with how the song turned out.
CHRIS: For my part I really wanted the rhythms to be straightforward and blunt, as the song seemed to me to be one of the most propulsive and pounding. It embodies what is probably the most intense, menacing and bold energy and so I thought a rigorous and sweatily performed dance beat would serve the song best. An undoubted influence for me for “She-Rise” is the music of U.K. post-punk band Savages.
What most excites you about your new album?
KELLY: I’m excited that it’s out and we can move onto the next one.
CHRIS: Recreating the songs live, with additional members: Elise Clark, Imogen Kowalczyk, Kelly Saunders & Joel Saunders. We haven’t yet brought all the songs to life: as is the case for a lot of other bands (local and nationwide/worldwide) it’s been a difficult year to effectively showcase new music. Fingers crossed for the remainder of 2020 and the start of 2021…
I know that you love recording and being in the studio; was there anything you tried or experimented with while recording?
KELLY: Most of the experimentation came with the drums (different beats that Chris wanted to try and varying types of accompanying percussion. Everything else was locked in by the time we got to the studio as we had Garageband demos with sounds and tones finalised etc…
CHRIS: Percussive layering felt like the most immediate example of studio experimentation. Usually I’m quite hesitant to contribute or sign off on drum parts that aren’t in the realm of possibility to perform live, but we both agreed that we could maximise some of the songs with overdubbed drum hits and cymbal swells. It also helps that Elise is also a drummer!
We love the vocals on the album, very ethereal, haunting and atmospheric; how did you approach doing them?
KELLY: I would say that we wanted vocals to sound that way for sure, ambience and atmosphere were important but also melody. A lot of time was spent trying to make the vocal melodies as infectious as possible, as mentioned before they were rewritten a hundred times over and vastly different from their first incarnation.
CHRIS: I can only dream of having had a hand in the vocal process, though it’s fun to watch agape and in awe from the sidelines for this aspect. I guess there’s always the possibility to harmonise live!
Your music is a collage of genres and I love how your artwork for your releases is also collages; where did the idea for this style of artwork come from? You do the art Kelly, right?
KELLY: My friend Jason Cahill (who did our video for “Footprints In The Dark”) is a great visual artist and filmmaker and he sends me art all the time that he thinks I might enjoy. He had an idea once of doing a collage film clip for one of our songs by animating a collage and in doing research for that idea I came across the collage hashtag on Instagram and fell in love with the otherworldly nature of it. It’s a format that seems like it has no rules and so much possibility.
CHRIS: I think Kelly’s collage art precedes Ancient Channels! I love how effective and evocative it is.
Is there anything else you’ve been working on that you’d like to tell us about, Ancient Channels-related or otherwise?
KELLY: Stay tuned to our socials for show announcements and news, we’ll probably start thinking about the next record soon-ish. Both my other bands Deafcult and Terra Pines have new records coming out next year and I believe Chris has a bunch of exciting stuff up his sleeves too which he can tell you about.
CHRIS: We’re excited by the prospect of working on new music as a six-piece band. In the meantime Kelly’s other bands Deafcult and Terra Pines are working on new material. My other band Apparitions will be launching its album in roughly a month’s time with Deafcult as well, so I’m really excited for that!
A perfect soundtrack for our time of upheaval, Girls In Synthesis, present a fresh approach to noise-punk, going well beyond, with their long-anticipated debut album Now Here’s An Echo From Your Future. Emotionally intense, urgent, relentlessly questioning, thoughtful, self-aware and highly conscious observers of the world around them, GIS put everything they’ve got into this quintessential album of 2020! Gimmie caught up with bassist-vocalist, John Linger.
Why is it important to you to make music?
JOHN LINGER: Partly because it is an outlet that enables us to direct our aggression and focus into our music and lyrics. Maybe it’s just our chosen form of self-expression…? On the surface of it, it isn’t important that we create music at all. For most, music is purely a form of entertainment, but when you connect with an audience who feel they identify with what you’re putting across, it validates your reasons for projecting your emotions and feelings through music.
How did you first discover music?
JL: My dad was very much into music, so I had that around me growing up. He’s not a musician, but he loves music, and took me to see lots of groups during the early-mid 1990s, despite only being about 12/13 years old. They were really important events for me, I remember them like they happened yesterday. The buzz of waiting for a gig to start was incredible.
Nirvana were probably the first band of my generation to speak to me in the early 1990s, then Blur, then a huge amount of obscure 1960s music and 1970s post-punk. It’s led on from there, really. I’ve never stopped discovering music. I think that’s the same for the three of us, it’s a never ending journey.
When you formed Girls In Synthesis I read that the band wanted the music to “be intense because life is intense” and that The Fall were a foundation in the formation of GIS – the attitude and work ethic more so than the sound; can you tell us a little bit more about these ideas?
JL: The Fall made it clear that a strong work ethic was important, and that dedication to the cause is paramount. The days of sitting around waiting for a record deal to drop through the letterbox are well over, and you can’t wait for other people to start the wheels in motion for you. We work fucking hard, if you can’t do that for yourself and think pissing about in rehearsal rooms and playing a show every 6 months is acceptable, then try another outlet.
The Fall were, alongside Swell Maps, Crass, disco, dub etc, a foundational pillar that spurred us on, but I don’t think we really sound like any of those groups. They’ve all been chewed up and spat out as part of the sound and identity that is GIS. That’s the key to having influences, you have to draw out what you like and absorb it into the fabric of your life. Otherwise, you’re just copying someone.
I know that you had a very strong vision for how you wanted GIS to be, an aspect of that was knowing you wanted a female drummer, which you found in Nicole Pinto; why did you specifically want a female drummer?
JL: I’m not sure, really. We didn’t question it, it was just something that felt right. It’s important to use your instinct and we do a lot, it’s rarely wrong. We also wanted to have a different input and to offset some of the masculine edge to the sort of music we play. All in all, I guess it wasn’t really as important as it seemed, as Nicole was the right drummer for us, the first that we tried out, so it fell in our laps.
We love your new album! What is the story behind the title, Now Here’s An Echo From Your Future? It’s a line from your song “They’re Not Listening”, right?
JL: It is, yeah. I think the phrase has a context in the song, which is about the government’s disregard for the general public and also the inability to learn from previous mistakes. In a wider term, and as a title for the album, I guess it could apply to our music which is informed by the past, but sounds nothing like anyone else, really. It’s also about our tendency to repeat the same mistakes in our lives, as people. Aside from that, it just scans amazingly.
How do you feel the album cover represents the title? Where was the photo taken?
JL: The photo was taken just after New Year in January by our photographer Bea Dewhurst. Jim [Cubitt] works on most of the photographic ideas with her, and we knew we wanted a wide shot that we could wrap around the front and back of the LP cover.
It pans across the whole of the Thames at Surrey Quays, so you see the both the North and South bank of London. The fact that its London doesn’t have any great significance, we just knew we wanted an external shot that was visually arresting, and not reliant on a bloody band photo or some abstract pattern.
I think it links in with the title really well, but that was quite circumstantial. On the right of the shot, you’ve got ‘the future’, with the new office buildings and skyscrapers. On the left, you’ve got the older, 1970s/1980s housing and flats. So the bulldozers haven’t quite got to those yet. Most of central London is being decimated of any history and culture, and becoming another faceless city of glass and shops.
Overall, again, the photo is just amazing. There’s that to consider, too.
You wrote the songs for the album over the course of about three to four months; what was happening in your life or what were you observing happening in the world that inspired your writing? I feel like this album feels more introspective than your EPs.
JL: Yeah, I think it is more introspective. I think when you form a band, you’re full of the wrongs and rights of the world, and that energy that you’re an amorphous machine that can tackle anything head on. But when everything ramps up, and you’re playing live more, there’s more people coming to shows, there’s more expectation…. well, I think that can cause some internalisation.
I wouldn’t say our lives changed hugely over that period, not more than anyone else in the world, but I guess it’s us taking the task to hand a bit more seriously, maybe? Realising that the scope has to widen a little to stay fresh and appropriate. Having said that, there are still some songs that are tackling politics and external issues, so I’d say there’s a nice balance.
You released zines of your collected lyrics and poems called Beyond The Noise; how did this come into being? Why was it important for you to get your lyrics down on paper? Do you feel they sometimes get lost in the noise of the music?
JL: I think sometimes, yes. Also, I’ve got quite a slurred, Thames estury-esque accent at times, so maybe it’s tricky for people to latch on to? I think my diction is clear as a bell, though! Haha. I think the meld of mine and Jim’s voices work so well, so we tend to double up on choruses and parts where we want to hammer the point home. I quite like the lyrics being a bit hard to work out, though. It gets people’s brains working. Everything shouldn’t just be on a plate, you need to put some effort in to stick with it.
We started creating the books early on, though, as we just felt that the aesthetic of them is another part of the puzzle, and it also enabled us to maybe put lyrics and prose out there that didn’t make it into songs. People really seemed to enjoy them, in fact we’ve printed a compendium of them, including the full lyrics of the album, and they look amazing.
Who are the lyricists that you admire? What is it about their words, approach or technique that resonates?
JL: I think Mark E Smith is essentially an unparalleled lyricist, there’s a lot of absurdism and word play in the best of his lyrics, but also lightning-bolt clear realism at times. Lots of room for interpretation, I think, too. I really enjoy the sheer amount of words fit into Crass songs, if not always what they’re saying. Ian Dury’s humour, and again, word play…
On the whole, though, I can’t enjoy lyrics without enjoying the music, too. Probably why I can’t stand Dylan. They go hand in hand for me. I mean, the following is as fucking poetic and important as any cerebral, intellectual nonsense, and set to the music it’s hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff:
When you feel lost and about to give up / ‘Cause your best just ain’t good enough / And you feel the world has grown cold / And you’re drifting out all on your own / And you need a hand to hold: Darling, reach out
The Four Tops – “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”
Could you talk a little of your own writing process?
JL: For me, I write at home and I complete demos up to about 80% of being finished, then we add our own elements in the rehearsal room. Ideas might stem from lyrics, or I’ll sit down and try to write music in some form or another. Jim works similarly, although more often he sparks off really exciting ideas which we then complete as a duo.
We don’t write very consistently, but I would say we write 25-30 songs a year, that then gets whittled down for releases. Sometimes the tunes that didn’t make it will be used for something, often not, though. We’re not precious, if something doesn’t work, we discard it. We’re not a ‘jamming’ band, we don’t wait for months and months for something to develop. If it’s not happening in the first 10-15 minutes, we get rid.
There’s a few surprises on your new album; which is your favourite? What influenced it?
JL: I love “Human Frailty” the most. It’s a really, really fucking strange song. And not even just by our standards. I mean by anyone at the moment. The horns on that are incredible, as are the strings (props to funkcutter and Stanley Bad, for those). I also really like “Tirades of Hate and Fear”, that’s a really menacing tune. It’s an amazing album closer, too.
I think broadening the scope of the album, but also making it concise and direct, was at the forefront of our minds when choosing material and getting the arrangements together. We wanted to push the envelope for ourselves a little, and also give some signposts of where we could go in future. We really achieved that, in my opinion. The horns and strings, plus the dub at the end of “Set Up To Fail” have been something nearly everyone who’s listened to the album has mentioned.
The album was recorded over four to five days; do you find it hard to capture the intensity you play the songs live in on recording? How do you capture that spirit? I know you record yourself.
JL: It is difficult. Your immediate thought would be to record live, warts and all, and thrash the living hell out of the songs. But that would kill them stone dead. Although the music is intense and quite confrontational, there’s actually a lot of subtle, but key, things going on UNDER the music. It’s getting that balance right of an aggressive performance but also leaving space for other things underneath.
We do record ourselves, up until now that’s been for time, financial and control reasons, but something will have to change soon. It’s getting too stressful now that the pressure is slightly higher, so it might mean we’ll have to add another outsider to our tiny, creative bubble… perish the thought!
You’ve described your live shows as “unique” and said that doing things the way you do – not playing on a stage and being set-up so you face each other rather than the audience – has “laid some important groundwork”; in what way? What interested you in playing this way?
JL: Really, it was to connect to an audience. We wanted to take the show to them, not drag their attention to us. There’s a good portion of old-fashioned performance and drama to it, too, but on the whole it breaks the barriers down a little and enables the audience to be part of the show. It literally has the opposite effect of the audience you’d think it would. They don’t feel uncomfortable, they loosen up and then THEY want to perform. It’s amazing, really.
What feeling do you get from playing in the crowd?
JL: Elation, anxiety, energy, a closeness I’ve never felt playing music live before… you get every feeling under the sun. There’s always a chance someone will take umbridge and thump you, but they haven’t. I think people know we’re not invading their space, we’re sharing ours with them.