Billly Gardner of Naarm/Melbourne punk band Smarts: “It’s been a wild year”

Original photo by Jamie Wdziekonski. Handmade collage by B.

Smarts’ new album Who Needs Smarts, Anyway? is one Gimmie HQ’s favourite releases of 2020. Frenetic, fun, clever, tight songs to lift your spirits and make you smile as we close out a year that’s been challenging for most of us. Gimmie spoke to bassist (and person behind Anti Fade Records) Billy Gardner.

You were the first official person we spoke to for Gimmie!

BILLY GARDNER: Woah. Really?

Yeah, and at the time you’d just put out your 61st release on Anti-Fade.

BG: I think that was Living Eyes, maybe.

Yeah. And now you’re at release 73 with the new Smarts record, I think!

BG: Yeah, I’m putting at tape out [TB Ridge as the Director – Rock n Roll Heart – next week, that’s 74.

Nice!

BG: Yeah, getting there.

What kind of stuff have you been listening to lately?

BG: Um, honestly, not heaps of stuff. Like, nothing new, really. I haven’t listened to too much new stuff this year. I’ve been listening to lots of stuff that my Mum played me when I was growing up. Classics like Toots and the Maytals and Ike & Tina Turner and stuff, and at the same time I’ve been going through a bit of a Metallica wave over the last two weeks—that kinda happens every few months.

Rad! So, has Smarts had a chance to practice since the lockdown has ended?

BG: Nah. Not as a full band since maybe like May. So we’re pretty keen. I think we’ll be able to do it in the next fortnight or so. There’s a few new songs that we’ve all sort of like made up in our own time, if you know what I mean, to work with.

Oh, nice. Is there anything in particular you’ve found yourself kind of writing about?

BG: No, I actually haven’t written any lyrics yet. I’ve just been making lots of riffs. I feel like it’s been a really dry year for lyrics. I just have no new inspiration this whole year, you know what I mean?

Do you think everything that’s happened in the world has sort of affected that?

BG: Yeah, well I feel like I usually get heaps of ideas from travelling and doing stuff and just getting out of the house, which I kind of haven’t really done at all this year. It’s been a pretty wild year.

And you keep a lot of memos in your phone for song ideas and that kind of stuff?

BG: Yeah, totally. There’s a lot of like little, loose, 30 second to 60 second riffs in there.

Do you just sing them into your phone or do you just like actually play them?

BG: Ahh, depends. Usually play ‘em, but sometimes sing them; that’s just like maybe if I have a riff in my head and I’m not near a guitar or anything. I feel like they’re usually the better ones, and I have to learn them on guitar later.  

I know creative ideas kind of come from everywhere, is there times more often than not that you get them?

BG: Yeah, I feel like it usually goes in waves. And I haven’t really been on a wave like that for the last month, or even two. But maybe like six to eight weeks ago I had a bit of a wave and a whole bunch of things came at once, and I was playing guitar every night. But I’ve been busy with like the label and other stuff lately, so I haven’t been doing as much of that.

You play bass in Smarts, and I know your Dad used to play bass in Bored!, I was wondering if he kind of inspired you to play bass? Because I know you started playing drums, I think?

BG: He definitely inspired me to play music. But the whole bass thing sort of came later. I do get to play his bass. I love playing his bass! It’s an old Fender Precision from the ‘70s, he’s got a Rickenbacker too, which is very special, but I think I prefer the Precision. I don’t know where the bass thing came from, maybe it was just like something different. I feel like with this band a lot of riffs are made on bass and then we’ll bring in the guitar later. Where in other bands I’d make riffs on guitar and bring the bass in later. So it’s kind of just a natural way of doing things a bit differently to what we’re used to. I saw this band called Vodovo in Japan about three years ago and they didn’t have any guitar, they just had two bass players, and that was definitely a big influence on Smarts.

Cool. I heard that when you came back from Japan you had the idea of the band name Smarts, because you were in Japan one of your friends you were with kept saying everything was “smart”.

BG:  Yeah, yeah. So Ausmuteants toured Japan in mid-2017, and saw Vodovo for the first time, and was getting a bit restless to do something a bit different, and our friend Shaun was just saying everything was smart, like you’d say something and he’d say, “That’s smart!” It was like his term of the tour, and I kind of thought Smarts was a cool name.

When you started you were just a 2-piece, you and Mitch?

BG: Yeah, I felt like we’ll just start it like that and just make a couple song and then try and flesh it out in to a live sense, and then it grew a lot there once we brought four people into the mix.

And you and Mitch play in Cereal Killer and Living Eyes together as well?

BG: Yeah, and Wet Blankets. I’ve been playing in bands with him for years.

How did you guys meet?

BG: In high school, actually. He’s a year younger than me and I met him on his orientation day and he was about to go in to Year 7 and I was going in to Year 8. We had heaps of mutual friends. We sort of had heard heaps about each other already and both skated and stuff, and we just kind of kicked it off from there.

I figured you guys had known each other for ages, because as far back I could see you had worked together heaps.

BG: Yeah, we had this funny band before Living Eyes called Hideaways when we were 14. Pretty cute.

Did you play drums in that one?

BG: We all switched around. So I played drums on a couple songs, sang a couple songs. I did really play guitar or anything back then.

What did that used to sound like?

BG: Kind of like a way more garage version of Living Eyes. Living Eyes sort of came out of that, as the bass player for Living Eyes was in that band too.

Wow. It’s nice to find out about all the connection and everything.

BG: It was extremely like garage days of like jamming in garage, quite little.

Then with Smarts, you added Jake and Sally and Stella. How do you think, when those guys joined, your sound started to evolve.

BG: Um, yeah, well that’s when it became much more interesting, I think. Especially bringing Sally and Stella into it. Although they were never in the band at the same time. Sally was originally in it, and she had never been in a band before, so that was cool, seeing her get all excited about playing music and stuff, and she brought heaps of cool bits to it like the keyboard line in ‘Smart Phone’ is like huge and that’s her. And then Stella came later, Stella actually came in after we’d recorded the album and played saxophone over the top of everything and really made it shine.

I was going to ask you what you love about having saxophone in the mix.

BG: It’s the best, I love everything about it! I think it’d be cool to work on new stuff with Stella, because we haven’t written songs together yet but we will now.

And with Smarts it’s a real collaborative process?

BG: Yeah, Smarts is so collaborative! Although Jake’s written a couple songs where he’s brought it in pre-written, and we’ll learn them and maybe add a tiny bit or like do a bit  twice as long as in his version but not really change it. But all the other songs, me and Mitch’s songs, they’re all just brought to the band and we’ll extend it from there.

With the new album, Who Needs Smarts, Anyway?, four of the tracks were on your first release, Smart World, I wanted to ask what do you like about the re-recorded versions?

BG: Mostly the fact that they feature everyone. Because the first release is just me and Mitch, so like a few people asked us why we did that, and that was just like because this is the full band version, and it’s got sax and keyboard and we’re all on our designated instruments now instead of it just being me and Mitch messing around, so I feel like it’s a whole different thing!

When you recorded, you kind of recorded the bones of it over a weekend and then people came by your place and did overdubs and stuff?

BG: Yeah, we just recorded it real basic. Just me, Mitch and Jake over a day and a half. We got a space in Geelong from like 3pm one day and set up and started recording that night, and then just did a whole day the next day, and then just took it back to Melbourne and over the next couple weekends people took turns at coming over and doing overdubs and really didn’t rush that, we sort of did the overdubs very slowly and it was a lot of fun days. So it was very layered. We kind of double tracked everything on the album except the drums and bass.

What made the days so fun?

BG: Just like hanging out and taking our time with it and having a few beers and stuff. It was always very fun.

And you enjoy recording?

BG: Yeah, we’ll I’m actually doing less of it these days. I used to record way more bands than I do and just felt like it was taking a little bit out of music for me. So I’ve sort of just been doing much less of that and keeping to my own stuff and you know, I’ll still record a few things here and there, but I don’t really wanna do it as a job or anything.

I often find people do get that after a while, like a lot of people I’ve talked to get that feeling.

BG: Yeah, I think I’d rather spend time on my own music a bit more than recording other people’s bands. I like doing it but I don’t wanna do it all the time.

Do you have things outside of music that you like doing?

BG: Yeah, just general stuff like me and Mitch blew up this little blow-up dinghy and took it down the river the other day. That was funny. Nothing out of the ordinary, just hanging out with people, cooking food and stuff like that.

What’s one of your favourite things to cook?

BG: Probably Mexican.

Tacos? Burritos?

BG: Um, yeah, are both good. I guess they both have their pros and cons. Maybe I’ll say burritos, just because they’re a tiny bit less messy. But when it’s a good night for it, I love a good taco sesh!

I always find though, tacos tend to go soggy quicker.

BG: Are you a hard shell or soft shell taco kind of person?

I’m soft.

BG: Yeah, me too.

That’s what a real taco is!

BG: Yeah, I grew up with the hard shell ones, and now I’m all about the soft.

Yeah, totally, I always tend to cut my mouth on the hard shell ones, believe it or not.

BG: Yeah! [laughs] Have you ever put a soft one around a hard one?

I haven’t actually! I’ve heard of this, but never done it.

BG: I’ve heard of it too, it seems insane but it makes sense because then the hard shell doesn’t all break up in your hands.

Photo: Jamie Wdziekonski.

I wanted to ask you about the cover photo for the album. I noticed there’s lots of references to the songs.

BG: Yes! You did? Well, I’m glad someone noticed that because I wasn’t sure if we really got it, because a few people have asked about things and I felt like I had to explain that but you noticed it, so thank you!

Yeah, totally, like as soon as I saw the obvious thing, which is the Cling Wrap. You just see it and your just like; wait a second, that’s that song! and then it’s kind of like ‘Where’s Wally?’ or something and you’re moving around the picture and you’re like going this is this, and like the globe is ‘Smarts World’..

BG: Yeah, yeah.. Did you spot the Maccas wrapper in the bin?

I did! I had it up on the computer first and I was looking at it, and I was like, “that looks like a MacDonald’s wrapper” but then I couldn’t see if it was or not, so then I had to go get out the 12” LP copy that we’ve got and I’m like trying to look at it.. Because I’m thinking it has to be a MacDonald’s wrapper because of ‘Golden Arches’, but then I know you guys wouldn’t want that overtly out there on it, so it’s more subtle…

BG: Nah, yep, well, thanks for picking up on that! I’m glad you noticed.

What else can you tell me about it?

BG: Well, it’s like a rip off of a Fall record cover. Did you notice that?

No.

BG: It’s not like an album, or one of their covers you’d see quite often, but it’s a 12” single for ‘Couldn’t Get Ahead’. It’s got Mark E. Smith sitting at a desk, and on the desk there’s like a pack of Marquis biscuits and a few references there. But we thought we’d do it with no one at the desk, because it’s like ‘Who Needs Smarts, Anyway?’ and the chair’s kind of looking as if someone’s just got up and walked away from it.

Yeah, totally, and I noticed the PP Rebel sticker.

BG: Yeah, well, that’s my laptop!

We’ve got the sticker. We put it on a magnet. You know how in the mail you get magnets from Real Estate places and local businesses?

BG: Yeah, and plumbers and things..

Yeah, we just got one of them that was the right size and stuck it over one, and it became a PP Rebel magnet for our fridge!

BG: Ahh, that’s genius! I might have to do that. I’ll keep my eyes out for some magnets.

So is there anything else you’re looking forward to doing creatively in the future?

BG: Just making more music really. I kind of haven’t done much of that this year, so I’ve got some catching up to do. Maybe some more artwork stuff, but that’s not really my field, but I wouldn’t mind doing some cut and paste things here and there.

When you’re writing stuff, is it just you start writing stuff and then you decide what band they go to?

BG: Yeah, I ‘spose, yeah, and even sometimes switch it up later, like I might have a song in mind for a certain band, but that band won’t be doing anything for a long time, and I’ll use it for a different band.

Are any of your other bands looking to do anything soon?

BG: Umm, probably more Smarts. We’ve got a few songs on the go, none of them are finished but have like maybe 7 or so half done, like riffs and stuff that we’re gonna start piecing stuff together. I don’t know what else, maybe there’s a couple Living Eyes demos that have been sitting around for a long time, maybe we’ll get there one day and record them.

As far Anti Fade Records goes, we’re not going to see anything til next year now because Smarts was the last release of the year? Oh, and the tape…

BG: Yeah, TB Ridge As The Director, which is Tom Ridgewell’s solo project, that’s coming out on Friday, and then yeah, that’s the end of the year. Will have to start planning 2021!

Please check out SMARTS on bandcamp; on Instagram. Who Needs Smarts, Anyway? out now on Anti Fade Records.

London Sistah Punks Big Joanie’s Stephanie Phillips: “I really love The Ronettes, it was quite a big inspiration for the band when we first started”

Original photo: Liz Rose Ridley. Handmade Collage by B.

Big Joanie are a Black Feminist Sistah Punk band from London and one of the newest addition to the Kill Rock Stars label. To celebrate their signing they’re releasing a split 7-inch with on KRS with Charmpit and are working on a new album for release in 2021, following up their acclaimed 2018 record Sistahs. Gimmie’s editor interviewed guitarist-vocalist Stephanie Phillips for her book, Conversations with Punx – featuring in-depth interviews with individuals from bands Ramones, DEVO, X-Ray Spex, Blondie, The Distillers, The Bags, Bikini Kill, The Slits, Black Flag, Bad Brains, Fugazi, Crass, The Slits, Subhumans, Le Butcherettes, The Avengers, Night Birds, X, and more. Coming soon! Follow @gimmiegimmiegimmiezine for updates – we wanted to share some of the interview early here with you.

STEPHANIE PHILLIPS: I remember when I first found Poly Styrne, it was a really opening moment it was so weird to find out there was this Black girl doing all of this stuff in London in the ‘70s. Finding her when I was a teenager was really important for me.

Same! I had that same feeling all the way over here in Australia. You listen to the lyrics that she writes, she’s such an amazing writer and creative person.

SP: Yeah, yeah. I’ve spoken to her daughter [Celeste Bell] at Decolonise Fest. I really enjoy her work, it’s miles ahead of everyone else at that time.

Why is music important to you?

SP: It was always my first mode of expression, it always allowed me to connect emotionally with the world in a way that I couldn’t really get through other outlets. Music allowed me to envision an idea of myself that was based on the people that I really loved. I really loved Yeah Yeah Yeahs so I could imagine myself as Karen O, imagine myself having that kind of confidence. I loved The Distillers and wanted to be Brody Dalle. It was like living my dreams through these different frontwoman.

I think we all have wanted to be Brody Dalle!

SP: Yeah!

Did you grow up in a musical household? Did you always have music around?

SP: No, not really – my dad sometimes had some reggae CDs – it wasn’t really that musical. The only thing is that my brother could sometimes play the keyboard or play trumpet at school but he didn’t really pick those up. It’s really just the kind of thing that I was interested in and wanted to pursue on my own really, it was my own hobby. I would go through music magazines and look at new bands, find new CDs. Eventually I asked my mum to buy me a guitar for my sixteenth birthday and I started learning and playing Riot Grrrl songs on the guitar, that’s how I started.

When you found Riot Grrrl did that open up new stuff for you as well?

SP: Yeah, definitely because I guess that was my first introduction to feminism; that was my first introduction to using music as politics and enacting politics through your art. It was really important to have those kind of role models at that time because even though I was quite a shy teenager it was nice to have some place where I could find that outlet for expression and anger, everything like that. It reminded me that even though the world was a bit weird… growing up there was someone that thought like me somewhere in the world and there were other people that listened to the bands like me, it wasn’t that unusual at all.

What inspired you to start Big Joanie?

SP: When I started Big Joanie I was already in a feminist punk band. I was in the London punk scene but it felt very, very white at that time. There wasn’t really any conversation about race or racism or white privilege or anything around that. I was sick of being in punk spaces and having community there and then going to my Black Feminist meetings, different anti-racist meetings and having a community there but never having them meet up, never having them link up. A lot of what I’ve done over the years is working through finding community and creating community. I knew that there was no way that I was the only Black girl that liked punk, I thought there must be someone else. It was something that I wanted to do, to have a band that was of Black punks. I didn’t really envision how long it would last but I just wanted it to happen at some point.

When I saw an advert for “First Timers” on Facebook, which was a gig where everyone plays their first gig as a band and everyone has to be playing something different to what they’d usually play or playing a new instrument, it’s a great opportunity to start a new band. I put a shout out on social media and found our drummer Chardine [Taylor-Stone] and our original bassist Kiera [Coward-Deyell]. We got playing and we played First Timers and at that gig we got a second gig and we just keep going, that was in 2013, it was a long time ago.

First Timers sounds like a really cool thing. When you’re playing there, everyone is on the same level, like you said, everyone is starting a new band or playing a new instrument. It sounds like a really encouraging kind of space and concept.

SP: Yeah, that’s definitely the idea. They’re still doing them now. The idea is that the crowd is as welcoming for you as you would need them to be on your first gig. It’s trying to get more marginalized people to start bands and get involved in DIY culture. For our gig it was really welcoming and inclusive. People were ready to hear whatever you created because they knew you only just started a few months ago, it was meant to be quite haphazard and rickety, that was the whole point, you don’t really know what you’re going to hear. I still go to First Timers gigs when I can now, it’s always a really fun event and really heart-warming.

I wish we had one of those here.

SP: It’s one of those DIY punk things that someone starts it and then maybe someone will start its somewhere else, there’s no copyright on it.

Last week you were really busy; I’m assuming it was with Decolonise Fest that you do?

SP: Yeah, yeah. We’re part of the Decolonise Fest Collective. We had an online version of our annual festival last week, it was quite a new thing for us. We were busy trying to organise everything, get it all ready, because it was running for a whole week. It went really well and we really enjoyed working in this new format. It’s kind of weird to have a festival online, I guess that’s where we are today.

I imagine it would allow more people to participate in it as well?

SP: Yeah. It was more a global audience. People often have said they can’t always get to London or they’re in a different country but have heard about us but they’ve never been able to get to the UK. Having it online has shown a lot more people that Decolonise Fest exists and shown them what we’re doing.

For people that might not know what Decolonise Fest is; how would you describe it to them?

SP: Decolonise Fest is an annual festival based in London, England and it’s created by and for punks of colour. It’s a festival that’s created to recognise the history of punks of colour, recognise the input that we have made into the genre and to celebrate the punk bands that are around now so we can hopefully inspire more people to create punk bands of tomorrow.

That’s such a great idea. It makes me want to go out and do those kinds of things here in Australia, it would be amazing to have more of that kind of community here. So many times I’d go to a punk show and I’d be the only person of colour there and people would say things like, “It’s so good to have a Black punk or a Brown punk here” meaning me and I’d just be like, what?!

SP: That’s a weird thing to say. The good thing about Decolonise Fest is that we can create a community for punks of colour so you can talk about those weird interactions and create your own space. We want to create the idea that people can set up their own Decolonise Fest, hopefully take our idea and make it their own. Hopefully there could be a Decolonise Fest in Australia and different countries around the world.

I know there must have been many great ideas talked about and experiences shared at this year’s fest; was there anything that stuck with you or something important you learnt from the week?

SP: That people are really open to finding ways to connect and create community. I was worried that having things online would feel too impersonal but it felt like people really wanted to find different ways to chat and connect, and talk in the chat boxes when we stream video on Twitch, be able to start conversations in that way. It’s reaffirmed that what we are doing could create a support network and community for different people.

I wanted to talk about Big Joanie’s songs, your songs; I’ve noticed lyrically a lot of them seemed to talk about love, relationships and the human experience.

SP: Yeah, yeah, I guess so [laughs].

When you write; what’s your process?

SP: It depends, it’s everything in every way. You can start with a guitar riff and then try to find a melody for it and try to mouth words and see what fits. Sometimes I keep lyrics in my phone and sometimes I write them before I write the melody or have the guitar line. It happens in every way possible.

What is writing songs for you?

SP: It’s about the process of writing. I really enjoying not knowing what’s going to happening and surprising yourself—that’s one of the most important things. I don’t set out to write about a particular theme or an idea, you play and see what comes to your mind and circle around the idea and keep going deeper and deeper—you create a stream of consciousness piece of art in a song format.

Do you have any other creative outlets?

SP: No, not really [laughs].

I really love your song ‘How Could You Love Me’ it has a very Ronettes-feeling to it.

SP: Yeah, I was feeling very Ronettes-y.

I love your Ronettes poster on the wall that I can see. It’s the best. They’re the best!

SP: Yeah. I really love The Ronettes, it was quite a big inspiration for the band when we first started, of just really loving those Girl Group harmonies and that feeling and sensation that comes from that era. I guess it’s really hard to recreate because it’s the sensation of people being young and not having any cares really. It so invigorating and interesting, I always want to listen to it and hear what’s going on.

Same! I really love Sister Rosetta Tharpe too! I think people forget or might not even know that she was a pioneer and started playing electric guitar and rock n roll before rock n roll.

SP: Yeah, yeah, exactly! She’s such an interesting guitarist, she kicked that all off. People don’t always know the real history of rock and what was actually involved and going on, they think Elvis [Presley] just did something and the Beatles did something and that’s it.

[Laughter] Yeah! That’s why it’s important to have conversations about these people and to look into history. As well as making music you also do music journalism and interview people.

SP: Yeah. I’m a trained journalist, I started off in journalism first, I’ve been working as a journalist for over a decade.

What attracted you to journalism? Was it telling stories?

SP: I guess, yeah. Telling stories and having the ability to create a narrative is very important and interesting to me. Being able to communicate is really interesting, that’s why I centred a lot of things around writing in that way. I wanted to write music journalism because I was interested in music. I wanted to be involved in it in every way, that’s why I’ve done everything [laughs].

I know that feeling. I first had the feeling when I was a teenager and there were so many great bands in my area and all the music papers and magazines weren’t covering them and I got a zine from a friend and had the realisation I can do this! I went straight to my bedroom, started listening to music and started to write my own zine. From there it keep going and I haven’t stopped.

SP: That’s amazing! I haven’t made my own zine yet but I love the idea of zine culture, creating your own platform, surpassing the usual kind of press and publishing industry, it’s really interesting.

The way that the music magazine/publishing industry works, I hate it! I don’t really care for the music industry either. I like existing on the outside of that. I find things to be the most exciting not in there but on the fringes where people can totally just express themselves without censorship or compromise—creating your own community is far more exciting to me.

SP: Yeah, definitely. That’s where things start. There’s so much going on… I think about the scenes that I’ve been involved in in the UK, they’re hardly ever reported about but there’s just so much interesting music being created here, there’s so much interning music being created in what feels like predominately female and queer punk scene as well. If you looked at the average music press or what is being reported as the “band of the moment” you would think its all CIS straight white guys. That isn’t whose making the most forward-thinking music today… it’s not white men [laughs].

I’d love to read a zine made by you and hear all about what’s happening where you are.

SP: It’s a really interesting music industry here and there’s a lot going on. There’s so many different scenes even though it’s a small island, there’s so many different scenes in London; there’s multiple punk scenes that never actually intercept and never really know about each other. It’s hard to cover it all I feel.

What’s Sistah Punk mean to you?

SP: It was a phrase that we came up with to describe ourselves with for our first gig. They asked us what we wanted to describe ourselves as and we said, Black Feminist Sistah Punk, just because it’s a very literal description; we’re Black punk woman, we’re into punk. It can also be something that people can use to find other Black woman that are into punk and other Black Feminist punks. There weren’t too many women in punk bands in London at that time, we felt like we needed to specifically say that we are Black Feminists because it was important to us and we thought it would be to other people.

It’s still something important to you all these years later?

SP: Yeah. It’s still literal because we’re still Black woman and Black Feminists. It’s still important to declare who you are and who your identity in a world where being a Black woman and being a black Feminist and having an opinion is still not the done thing [laughs]. It’s still important, it’s still punk to be Black and female and opinionated!

Whenever I read interviews with Big Joanie you always get asked about feminism and race; do you ever get tired of speaking about these subjects?

SP: It all depends on the context of the interview. It could be from the context of someone not knowing about feminism and race and just wanting to ask the generic; what’s it like to be a woman in music? What’s it like to be a Black woman in music? That’s not really very interesting because the question is aimed at a white male audience in its nature; it’s trying to open up what’s it like to be a Black woman for people that aren’t Black woman. Is it’s discussing the inherent nature as who we are as individuals and why it’s important for us to talk about ourselves in the way that we talk about ourselves then I don’t mind. It’s about us taking the reins of the conversation and taking control, explicitly stating, what we do and why we do it.

You have a new release out ‘Cranes In the Sky’ a Solange song that’s on Third Man Records and I know as a young person you really loved The White Stripes; how did it feel for you to put out something on Jack White’s label?

SP: I really loved The White Stripes when I was younger, I guess everyone did! I can’t remember what the first record I had was, maybe it was Elephant. The last two years of Big Joanie has been a lot of strange happenings every day, bumping into people that you just read about in magazines and having to be normal people around them because you have to do a job [laughs]. We just bumped into Thurston [Moore] and Eva [Prinz], it was like, oh that’s Thurston from Sonic Youth [laughs] he looks like Thurston, in real life! …which is very strange, I can’t remember the first time I heard Sonic Youth because they were an omnipresent force around all the bands that I liked and listened to, people wrote songs about him. It was weird to imagine that he was a real person.

With Third Man it’s a strange connection between what raised you and what brought you up into the musician that you are today and circling back and meeting those heroes. It’s a really strange experience but we’re really happy that Third Man are interested in putting us out, that they liked the single!

It sounds so amazing! Why did you decide to do the Solange song?

SP: I don’t know if we ever discussed why we’d do it, we all automatically decided to do it one day [laughs]. It was a song that we we’re all listening to and that we loved, everyone we knew was listening to it and connected so deeply to it as an album, because it spoke specifically to the female experience. We thought it would be a fun song for us to cover. It took us a while to figure out what was going on in the song, it’s a weird jazzy song and we don’t do jazz we’re punks [laughs]. When we figured it out I think it became one of our best live songs and people always love it. It’s nice when people recognise it when it gets to the chorus.

Have you been writing new things while at home because of the pandemic and lockdowns?

SP: Yeah. As with most freelancers I didn’t get any furlough, there was a furlough scheme for people who lost their jobs in the UK, I’ve been working all since. I’ve been working on a book on Solange Knowles, I’ve finished that now and it will be out next year. I’ve been writing lots for different places, different music magazines, content writing, those kinds of things.

What’s something that’s really important to you?

SP: My morals [laughs] and sense of self. As you move into different arenas in life I think you can get tested maybe, there are some things that can through you for a loop. I guess it’s one thing that I’d never want to give up on is my idea of right and wrong and doing things for the best. That’s not always a good way to go into industries like the music industry because there’s going to be a lot of being tested and people trying to brand you and make money off of you; staying strong on that is what I would want to do and what I believe in.

That’s why I’ve stayed on the outside of things and why I’m putting my book out myself. So many times people try to change what it is or they’re only interested in the “big name” people or this or this… I’ve interviewed so many bands and it’s been the first interview they’ve ever done, sometimes that can be the most interesting interview and can have the most interesting ideas.

SP: Yeah, that’s true! You can get a lot from people that are just staring out and need that help or need that conversation with someone like you. That’s the thing, people always go up to people once they reach a certain level and they just forget about everyone underneath. The people coming up are the ones that need more help really.

Please check out: BIG JOANIE. BJ on Facebook. BJ on Instagram. Decolonise Fest. Big Joanie on Kill Rock Stars. Big Joanie at Third Man Records. Check out Stephanie’s writing work.

Massachusetts Punk Band Landowner’s Dan Shaw: “In the creative process you can just become paralysed because you have infinite choices… having restraints placed on what you can do, forces a really focused kind of creativity”

Original photo: still taken from video filmed by Ben Goldsher. Handmade collage by B.

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.

Please check out: LANDOWNER on bandcamp. LANDOWNER on Instagram. LANDOWNER on Facebook. Consultant out now on Born Yesterday Records.

*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.

Portland Punks Era Bleak: “Our songs are generally inspired by the sense of urgency we feel… anxiety, frustration and confusion… the fucked up state of the world”

Original Photos taken in isolation by Candy, Justin, Fawn & Samantha. Handmade collage by B.

Era Bleak play wild, raucous punk rock with angular guitars, driving rhythm and raw gut-level vocals, they remind us of our favourite ‘80s hardcore punk bands but are firmly planted in the now making music reflective of our uncertain times. Their music is both bleak yet optimistic. Gimmie interviewed them to find out more.

How did you first discover punk rock?

ZACH: It was 1991 and I was a junior high nerd into some serious nerd shit. My favourite bands were Oingo Boingo, They Might Be Giants, The Dead Milkmen and The Ramones. I had no idea that any of those bands were punk (I’m still on the fence about Oingo Boingo). A couple years later, my older cousin played me the brand-new debut Rancid album, and that was that.

CANDY: I was lucky to have had an older brother and sister that were each teenage rockers in the 70’s and a mom that was always listening to “oldies” radio. SNL and American Bandstand were favourite TV show’s in our house, each of which had numerous punk bands as guests.  I think those things helped steer me in the right direction. My sister was into the Rocky Horror Picture Show movement when it first started and she would bring her friends over dressed up for a show. They looked dangerous and weird and tough and it was something I found myself drawn to as a kid. So naturally when I would see and hear weirdos on TV. I paid attention. My sister encouraged my interest over the years and it really came to a head when she gifted me records for my 11th or 12th birthday. DEVO-Freedom of Choice, Adam and the Ants-Kings of the Wild Frontier and Cheap Trick-One on One (not their greatest I now). Over the next 5 years my interest slowly progressed to bat cave, skate rock and anything I heard on the local college radio station in Boise Idaho. The show was called Mutant Pop KBSU/BSU Radio. It pretty much changed my life. I would record the show onto my boombox and the rest is history!

CHRIS: I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. No scene. A cultural shithole. No older siblings to turn me on to cool stuff. No internet back then. I was way into metal but would see all these rad weird shirts in Thrasher magazine and would try to find those bands tapes at the mall, after I heard the Ramones and Black Flag it was over, me and my friends were so isolated, whatever we could get our hands on was a big deal. Devo, Butthole Surfers, the Urinals, Misfits (duh)….all the SST stuff

Photo: Darren Plank.

What are the things that you really enjoy or don’t enjoy about the punk community?

ZACH: The answer to both is “punks”.

JUSTIN: Ha! Exactly. I like the creative comradery and DIY dedication in the punk “community” but not some of the single minded attitudes of some punks, particularly to other kinds of music styles.

CANDY: I don’t enjoy the overabundance of blinding phone screens at shows. It drives me bonkers. I like that new ideas and new sounds still occasionally come out of some of the scenes here, some more than others. People support each other and look out for each other it seems.

CHRIS: Damn, couldn’t agree with Zach more.

Who or what motivated you to make music yourself?

ZACH: It’s the logical chain of events when you’re a punk!* One minute, you’re a wide-eyed 15 year old at a show, the next, you’re 38 and sleeping on a filthy mattress in an unheated squat in Leipzig surrounded by a surly Polish post-punk band. *Post script, I want to recognize my male privilege (and teenage male ego) on this response. The scene I grew up in was not as sexist as others I have come across (lookin’ at you, Germany) but was typically under-represented and under-supportive. 

JUSTIN: I got into playing music before I knew punk was a thing, due to my parents being in a rock cover band in the ‘80s. I started playing drums at an early age, and was exposed to punk through being around their band, who were mainly hippies, but played songs by new wave bands like Devo, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, The Pretenders. I found a cassette of the Repo Man soundtrack at one of their band rehearsals, and that kind of blew my mind into the right direction, punk-wise. I started playing in weirdo loser bands with my other weirdo loser friends right away in high school and never looked back.

CANDY: My motivation was having a basement, affordable equipment and a decent paying job that allowed me to buy what I was interested in trying. Bass, drums and years later “singing”. Friends that wanted to make noise for the first time and musician friends willing to teach me the ropes also helped.

CHRIS: Yeesh, where I grew up it was the only way to escape and keep some level of sanity, the need to connect with something bigger

What was your first introduction to D.I.Y.?

ZACH: Fortunately, my home town of Denver has one of the world’s greatest record stores, Wax Trax. I started going there religiously when I was 16, and was able to make the jump from shitty mainstream pop-punk to shitty local DIY pop-punk.

JUSTIN: I grew up in a small town near Seattle, Washington, and in the early 90’s the whole grunge thing was really everywhere. Me and my friends were already bummed on how mainstream alternative rock was really taking over and were looking for something of our own. Lollapalooza brought to you by Mt Dew and all that. The hardcore punk house show scene was where really the escape from all the bullshit for me. Going to gigs, networking, tape trading, and zine sharing introduced me to a whole way of operating autonomously from the mainstream, and how anyone can create their  own scene anywhere, even in a tiny town. This was pre internet, so you had to actually talk to people in person…but it was a good thing.

CANDY: I was dating the drummer of a band that would make all of their own merch. Stickers at Kinko’s, t-shirts in the garage, buttons at home. I helped in the t-shirt screen printing process a few times and it was fun and definitely made me realize that nothing is out of reach. Most things can be done by your own hand. In that same time period, the guitarist of the band Mikey (r.i.p) had crafted his own guitar with the neck off of an old guitar of his and a skate deck as the body. The thing was bad ass and smart as ever on his part.

Photo: Jeff Shwilk.

Era Bleak are from Portland, Oregon, we’ve been hearing/seeing the protests on the news over here in Australia; can you tell us a little about your experience of what’s happening where you are?

ZACH: It is pretty amazing. Tens of thousands of people have shown up to protest America’s racist policing practices. Not surprisingly, the police are not taking the criticism well, and ironically, seem intent to prove our point through egregious violence. It is worth noting that most of the violent police response has centred around a very small area near the “Justice Center” (aka court house) in a part of downtown that was already essentially shut down by the coronavirus. The media makes things look wild, but 99.9% of Portland still just looks like Portlandia. 

Members of Era Bleak are from bands Dark/Light and Piss Test; how did Era Bleak get together?

JUSTIN: We were all friends and fans of each other’s bands before we started. Candy and I had played in like five punk bands together, and thought of doing a side project to Dark/Light. We asked Chris and Zach to play, figured they’d both be too busy, but turned out you should never underestimate the hunger of punks to wanna punk out. Eventually the side project became more full time.

What inspired you to write your self-titled album? What influences your songs the most?

JUSTIN: I think most of our songs are generally inspired by the sense of urgency we feel all the time every day. That anxiety, frustration and confusion we feel from being on our phones all the time, and the fucked up state of the world. As far as the music goes, 90% of it is written together as a band, usually through spontaneous jamming. Zach likes to joke that we’re really a “jam band”…if only we smoked more weed.

Last month EB donated 100% of proceeds of your self-titled album sales to Black Resilience Fund and BLM Mutual Aid Resources; can you tell us a little bit about these funds/resources? Why was it important to you to support them?

ZACH: Black Resilience Fund is great because they funnel that money directly into the community. We also donated to the PDX Bail Fund to help get protesters out of jail.

JUSTIN: We felt like it’s very important for the BLM movement to continue to gain ground in the face of white supremacy and the rise of fascism in America. Especially living in a region (Oregon) with a shitty history of racism. Since we were not touring or playing live gigs, we were going to have to sell records online anyway, so why not generate some donations for a good cause? It was a no brainer for us.

On album opener Era Bleak the lyrics are: ‘Things get shittier every week / No hope for the future in this era bleak’; where are the places you do find hope when things seem rough?

JUSTIN: Well, I just deleted all my social media accounts, so that makes me feel a little better.

CANDY: I find hope in my backyard. It’s my safe place and I’m obsessive about observing the natural world. I guess I find hope in nature. I recently observed a small swarm of ants work together to move a dead bee about a foot away. They all had their individual jobs to do to make it work. It took an hour or more but it was fascinating to observe.

CHRIS: When I walk my dog with my headphones on drinking coffee.

What’s your favourite lyric on your LP?

ZACH: “Fire on the horizon” (though possibly because Oregon is literally on fire as I write this).

CANDY: My fave is from MRI: “they wanna see into my head, see what’s going on in there”. I think it’s witty, it flows and it’s the truth.

We really love the song “Struggle”; how did that song come together?

JUSTIN: That song makes my hand cramp up.

CANDY: Lyric wise the song is about my sister Sonia whom I mentioned earlier. If I remember correctly I had already written the lyrics before the music came together. Once the dudes started jamming on it I realized they would be a good fit and the feeling was there in the sound. It worked.

What was your favourite part of the recording process? Do you have a favourite moment on the album?

ZACH: The songs were very finalized before we got to the studio, so we were able to record the record in two days. We don’t fuck around! If I had to pick a favourite studio moment, it may be Justin doubling his vocals at the end of Mind Control Tower. It sounds cool and was hilarious to witness.

JUSTIN: What was hilarious was Zach’s keyboard part that we never used. Or when Chris wasn’t ready to start Tinderbox and you could actually hear during playback the sound of him picking up his sticks off the snare right as the song started without missing a beat!

CHRIS: We should’ve left that in! I worked nine hours that day and went straight to the studio and started playing, it was great.

What bands/albums/songs have you been listening to lately that you can’t get enough of?

ZACH: All Hits (new album on Iron Lung Records) and Francoise Hardy.

JUSTIN: Music is life.  Lately my favourite shit been Essential Logic, Norma Tanega, Delta 5, Subway Sect, Funkadelic, Can, (Hardcore) Devo, and new stuff like All Hits, Gimmick, Ben Von Wildenhaus III, Lavender Flu, Slaughterhouse, Sweeping Promises, Mr Wrong. Plus Greg Sage Straight Ahead and Wipers Land of the Lost is always in the stack this year.

CANDY: Tuxedomoon, Prince, Roky Erickson, Dead Moon, Nina Simone, DEVO (always).

CHRIS: Dead Moon , it’s fall, so lots of Dead Moon. I’ve also been rocking a lot of Zounds and Lilliput lately….and of course Husker Du.

What do you do outside of music?

ZACH: I am the Operations Director of a non-profit that provides Behavioural Health services and recovery housing, primarily for people involved in our (broken) criminal justice system.

JUSTIN: I lost my job as a restaurant manager due to the pandemic, and now I’m a full time Dungeon Master, basketball enthusiast and total slob.

CANDY: I grow stuff indoors and outside and do a lot of plant propagation. I observe birds and insects. I also talk to my cat Bessie all day, read and do crosswords. I’ve recently been getting into dot art designs. I got laid off from my job because of the pandemic so I have some time on my hands.

CHRIS: Warhammer 40k!

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

JUSTIN: Australia rules and we wanna come tour there.

CANDY: I second what Justin said. Thanks for interviewing us!

Please check out ERA BLEAK; EB on Facebook; EB on Instagram. Era Bleak album out on Dirt Cult Records.

Bad Brains’ HR On His Solo Album ‘Give Thanks’: “We put our heart and souls into it, we put our Mind Powers into it and it came to fruition”

Original photo: Jack Grisham. Handmade collage by B.

These days H.R. – known best as the frontman for Washington D.C. hardcore punk pioneers Bad Brains and the instigator and driving force of their Positive Mental Attitude (P.M.A.) philosophy – is really, really happy, living a life of love, overstanding, compassion and gentleness. His latest roots-reggae-rock album Give Thanks reflects a man very appreciate of life itself and has spent a lot of time “seeking within”. Gimmie caught up with H.R. to get an insight into the record.  

At the end of last year you released an album called Give Thanks; what are the things in your life that you’re thankful for?

HR: I’m thankful to be alive. I’m thankful to be able to have the strength to see the Lord and see the Lord’s work; I’m just so grateful and thankful for what he has done for us. I’ve been working on this new album very hard. I’ve been waiting for it to come together for ten years! I’m so thankful that it finally came out. We put our heart and souls into it, we put our ‘Mind Powers’ into it and it came to fruition.

You can really feel that on the record, as I said it’s very joyous, it’s very beautiful. The second track on the album is called “The Lord’s Prayer” and in the body of the song you actually say The Lord’s Prayer; where did the idea for you to do this come from?

HR: I got it from my mother. She used to sing it in church. She said, “One day when I pass away you can sing it to the world.” Last year she went to her transition and I just wanted something that would be in memory of her, and something that the whole world could grasp at the same time. I said, I’m going to do our Lord’s Prayer, I’m going to do it to some rock n roll music! [laughs]. That’s how it came to be.

Thank you for sharing that with me, hearing that made me teary. We spoke in 2008 when you released your album Hey Wella and you told me that when you first started singing you started singing in the church as a child; what feeling did it give you to praise the Lord through music?

HR: It gave me the fulfillment of what God is all about, what His works is all about and what we should do in His works; what destiny He has for each one of us in our own special way.

When you write songs and create things; how do they start for you?

HR: I would like to say that God’s love, Jah love, and happiness and the joy that it brings us, is the ability to put it down with pencil and paper. Sometimes it comes to you in the night, in a vision, sometimes it comes to you in a daze, or something that you’re trying to interpret that’s close to you. It’s all through God’s love, through Rastafari’s love!

Do you find sometimes when you write songs that you learn about yourself?

HR: Oh yes! Most definitely. Yeah Mon. [Sings] You love, you know you learn, about how you live. You learn about what you want to achieve in life. You learn about the love God has for you and other people, and how you can set an example for them to learn from.

Love is a big theme that comes through in your music; having your love, your wife Lori in your life must have helped you a lot?

HR: Yes, she’s been good to me. She’s been supportive. She’s a very big and special Queen. Without her I would feel separation and a big hole in my life. I wouldn’t be able to get what I want to get. She helps me to understand and to be able to have that heartfelt thoughtfulness—I need that so much in my life. It would be such a drag to know that she didn’t exist. Through God’s love and through God’s fulfillment of what He wants us to have, she is able to be able to interpret that.

At the start of your song “Steady Is Compassion” you repeat that line: steady is compassion; what does that mean to you?

HR: It means that we should have more compassion in our lives and be warm, and able to exist in a compassionate way to people, and be steady about that. We need to maintain the preparations for it and also a strong desire to hold on, we need to be steady in compassion, before hatred and violence. You have to hold on to what you’re trying to achieve and discuss the matter faithfully and rise above what it is we want to do. Hold on and give faith a chance and give yourself a chance to manifest compassion—to have compassion for your brethren and your sistren.

Another track off Give Thanks I really love is “Seeking From Within”, there’s a lyric that goes: seek from within, knowing from without; could you tell me about that?

HR: Yes, it’s about going inside your inner being and not letting things outside yourself bother you. To be able to know, what it is you want to do from within and look in your heart and let your heart guide you. To know that things outside of your heart don’t really matter so much. It’s what you do, and what you’re trying to do within that matters.

Please check out therealofficialhr.com + HR on Facebook; HR on Instagram. HR’s children’s book: I’ve Got the PMA. Give Thanks available via Hardline.

Melbourne’s Brick Head: “We’re seeing how important the local music community is to the character of this city. Live music really is cathartic. And the records that come out of this town are brilliant”

Original photo courtesy of Brick Head; handmade collage by B.

Deaf Wish’s Sarah Hardiman has written and recorded a new record – Thick As Bricks – under the name Brick Head! It’s a high energy, spirited and riotous lo-fi home recorded album making our ears happy and our hearts swell. The release features Carolyn Hawkins (Parsnip/School Damage) on drums. We interviewed Sarah to find out more about the punk project. We’ve also got Brick Head’s first clip for track “Deja Vu” to share with you!

How did you first get into music?

SARAH HARDIMAN: Through my mum and brother really. Mum blasted The Beatles, The Stones, Pink Floyd etc. and my brother plays bass, so he taught me guitar. My bro and his mates raided all the work sites in Melton at night time to find wood, insulation, plasterboard etc. and built a jam room in our shed. I spent hours out there. I was probably better on guitar during high school than I am now. 

What was your first introduction to the punk community? What attracted you to it?

SH: It was definitely going to Rock n Roll High School on Easey St, Collingwood. I had heard about it in fanzines and word of mouth. My band at the time called up and played a song live over the phone to Stephanie Bourke. She mustn’t have been able to decipher anything but she said we could come in and kind of ‘audition’ to rehearse at the school. Steph and other people that ran workshops there taught me how to book gigs and communicate with bands. They taught me how to act with integrity. I met a lot of people at the school and in the band scene, people I still know. I was so shy and nervous every time I left the house but I kept going because I knew I found something that made me feel good and understood.

What excites you about your local music community?

SH: You know, this has become much clearer under ‘lockdown’. It’s about the people. I miss the people. When you shake off the gossip and posturing (both things I’m guilty of), the community is strong and positive. We’re seeing how important the local music community is to the character of this city. Live music really is cathartic. And the records that come out of this town are brilliant. Record stores are a lesser talked about part of the fabric that help promote locals. Community radio is huge. They’ve been working their arses off, keeping things cool-headed and positive, keeping people connected. I miss gigs and real people. I miss the friends I’ve made from music.

We love both your new project Brick Head and your band Deaf Wish; what inspired you to do Brick Head? I understand that you made LP Thick As Bricks in three weeks during the first lockdown in Melbourne.

SH: Thanks. I guess being in one room for too long inspired it.  

Where did you get the name Brick Head?

SH: I had a list of juvenile sounding band names and Caz liked this one the most which helped me choose.

How did the songs get started? What did you write first? Did you have an initial idea of what you wanted to write about?

SH: I was at a friend’s house and he was playing the electric eels and I felt really in the mood for nasty guitars again. I went home and tried to rip a song off. Then Dave Thomas from Bored! died and I listened back to that band and it all kind of tumbled into this debauched bender at home alone in West Footscray trying to rip off iconic riffs. I didn’t want to write about anything in particular. I wanted it to be dumb and immediate. Scary. Tough. Unfeminine. The first song was ‘D.I.E.D’ which is written as an acronym although it isn’t one. I moved into this new flat and the neighbour said, “I’m really glad you’ve moved in”. I was like, ok, weird. Then he goes, “Let me explain that. The last two old ladies died in a row. And you’re young-ish, so you might break the curse”.  It is the only house I’ve broken a lease on.

Who are some of your favourite songs writers? What is it about their writing that you enjoy?

SH: I’m a huge fan of Molly Nilsson. I even wrote her a fan letter this year. I love the feeling of being a fan. It doesn’t happen often. Her songs are honest and deceivingly simple. They’re philosophical. I respect the atmosphere she creates. And the humour. I like it when artists take their art seriously but can see the bigger picture, y’know? Like, no one’s that important. Do your job and then knock off, you don’t have to be a star 24/7.

Your songs on Thick As Bricks have almost a live feel to them; can you tell us a little about recording them? You recorded them yourself, right?

SH: Yeah I did, it was really fun. I set everything up in my small living room and set out to write a song every couple of days, whether I was in the mood or not. I put a simple drum beat down, then would listen to records until I found a riff I wanted to rip off. I had neighbours on both sides so when I mic’d up the amp, I pulled my bedding over the whole thing to try and dampen the sound. I actually had the amp really low on 1-2 gain but I could hear their TV’s so I knew they could hear me. Then I put simple bass lines down. Lyrics were last but I didn’t fuss too much. If anything took too long or if I started thinking too much, I would dump it. Maybe that’s the live feel.

What was your set-up for this recording?

SH: My 50 watt MusicMan valve combo, my 1964 lefty Burns guitar tuned a whole step down, and GarageBand. This is the first thing I’ve recorded myself (for release) and the first time I’ve used GarageBand. I really love using plugins. I’m all about computers now. 

After you wrote and recorded all the material, you sent it to Carolyn to do the drum parts which Jake Robertson recorded (Alien Nosejob/School Damage/Ausmuteants etc.); what inspired you to have Caz part of this project? What do you appreciate about her drumming?

SH: Caz is a great drummer. She knows music. And she stylistically knows what suits. She makes it look effortless even though she clearly works hard at everything she does. She’s also really humble which makes her easy to work with. It’s a no-brainer. Caz rocks!

What’s your favourite album you’ve been listening to at the moment?

SH: There’s two I’ve been mad for lately, ‘Sweet Whirl – How Much Works’ and ‘Ryuichi Sakamoto – One Thousand Knives.’

Why is music important to you?

SH: It’s everything to me. It’s where I find inspiration, friends, solace, community, belonging, fun and excitement. It teaches me and is a reflection of how I change and the ways I don’t.

How have you been looking after yourself during this pandemic?

SH: Imagine a game of keepings off that goes for too long and you never get possession of the ball.

What do you get up to when you’re not playing, writing or recording?

SH: Human things. Robot things.

Please check out BRICK HEAD.

Kim Salmon: “In the creative process you do have to look inside of yourself and express things that are at the heart of you, which by their nature is primal”

Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Melbourne-based musician Kim Salmon has been creating art and music his whole life, over six decades. He tells engaging stories with both his visual art and musical endeavours. His work is passionate, adventurous, compelling, thought sparking and journey making. Each time he creates something, he starts from scratch and has an aversion to the formulaic. Gimmie had a thoughtful chat with Kim about his work, creativity, the new Surrealists’ double LP Rantings From The Book Of Swamp and of a new Scientists record that’s done!

How was your morning walk?

KIM SALMON: [Laughs] I’m still on my walk! I can walk and talk.

Have you always been a walker?

KS: No, I used to swim because I’ve got a dodgy back and years ago a doctor told me that it was the best thing to do, but you can’t really swim in these days so I try and stay in shape by walking—I’m trying to stay alive basically.

Besides the fitness aspect of it, do you get anything else out of it?

KS: Yeah. They’ve restricted it now, down here [in Melbourne], you can go a radius of five kilometres from your house. There’s plenty of stuff to see, I’m getting to know a lot of it. I did this crazy thing at the start of all this lockdown stuff, somebody gave me these postcards that were blank, the idea was to do little paintings on them. I thought, yeah, I’m never going to do that! Suddenly, I have all the time in the world and I started sending people little paintings in watercolour of these things that are around Northcote; things like little garden cherubs and strange looking topiary and bizarre things that you don’t usually notice when you’re walking around. When you do it every day, you see lurid detail.

Art by Kim Salmon

Nice! I love being out in nature. I walk around my neighbourhood a lot.

KS: It’s nice to do that. We’re near Merri Creek and Darebin Creek, those are nice walks to go on very close to nature, you wouldn’t think you were anywhere near a city.

What do you love about painting?

KS: I’ve always done it. Music was kind of like a highjack for me [laughs]. I’ve always loved painting. I was studying it but then I dropped out of art school and became a musician, which is the biggest cliché out; isn’t it? [laughs].

It’s all creativity! I’ve seen some of your paintings and really love them. There’s this one that’s a bedroom scene.

KS: I did that one when I was about sixteen.

Do you remember painting it?

KS: Oh, yeah. There’s a piano in it.

What’s the significance of the piano?

KS: It was in my room, that was my bedroom, that was basically it. There’s a pair of clogs in the middle of the floor because it was the ‘70s and people were wearing platform shoes, often clogs, that was a thing!

Did you learn to play piano before you learnt to play guitar?

KS: No, I persuaded my mum to buy the piano because she had learnt piano as a child and I wanted to maybe take it up, I thought I might learn some piano. I could already play the guitar. I figured out a few chords and had a muck around on it but I never really developed any real techniques for playing the piano.

Art by Kim Salmon

When you dropped out of art school that would have been around ’76? That was around the time you got into music more and you had the punk band the Cheap Nasties, right?

KS: That’s exactly right [laughs].

What attracted you to proto-punk and punk music?

KS: I was looking for my own thing, if you know what I mean? I had just met Dave Faulkner and some of his friends. I was hanging out with them and each of those blokes seemed to have a thing they were into. Dave was into Bob Dylan and Randy Newman, lyrically driven stuff; a lot of America stuff like Cosby, Stills, Nash & Young, that kind of thing. I didn’t really have a thing, my taste was really eclectic, I liked a lot of stuff, like King Crimson and a bit of prog and a bit of folk, there wasn’t really any kind of theme to it. I used to devour those trade weeklies like New Musical Express and Melody Maker. One day I saw an article about CBGB and the scene there attracted me, it was the way that the writer described everything, a netherworld full of people wearing leather jackets. It all sounded so different to everything where I was in Perth.

I read that from that article you went to track down some punk records and you came across The Modern Lovers?

KS: Yeah. I went on a quest to find what punk was! [laughs]. It was a word that was bandied about in the articles but we couldn’t work out what it was. The Stooges were mentioned, the Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls, I went looking for them all. I’d never heard of The Modern Lovers but I found them. It didn’t matter if they were punk or not as far as I was concerned, I loved it, so that was going to be punk to me!

Is there anything from the punk music community that you were involved with early on that was valuable that you learnt from it?

KS: A lot of friends I’m still friends with. That’s probably it you know, the people that I became friends with and still keep in touch with. [Laughs] It’s as simple as that really. We’ve all moved on along our travels, musically or in our career.

Why do you like making things?

KS: Good question! Why do people do that? [laughs]. So they can stay around after they’ve gone. It’s a way of communicating, it’s a way of being present in the world. For me I couldn’t explain it at all, I paint and draw because it gives me pleasure and I want to do it, it’s the same with music. Music is just another form of painting to me; I’m painting when I’m making music, if that makes any sense?

It does. What do you value as an artist?

KS: Some kind of originality if that’s even possible. I think everyone is unique and everyone is universal at the same time; it’s a strange thing that we can express some universal ideas through your own uniqueness.

It seems like throughout your career you haven’t ever really been motivated by money, it’s more about the process and making things.

KS: Oh yes, unfortunately for me and those around me [laughs]. Money doesn’t really drive me, money is a means to an end… it’s numbers, I don’t have anything against maths [laughs], it’s not really what drives me. Even in school, I was good at maths as far as the abstractness of it went but when it came down to arithmetic, I was hopeless [laughs]. I was good at geometry and trigonometry, I was OK with them things but… look, I think I lost ten grand in a bank I worked in one day! I’m not good at numbers.

Previously you’ve said that when you want to create something you need focus; what kinds of things do you do to help focus?

KS: It’s different for every particular endeavour. I’m one of those people that sometimes needs to set something up or I will sit around not doing anything forever [laughs]… out of inertia and fear, I suppose. Once I get going the inertia is there and I guess I keep going… it’s a big one for me. Like this pandemic, I think I’m OK, it’s kind of forced me to do something. I try. I stare at a blank piece of paper. I go down to the art shop and buy myself some nice inks and watercolours and then I come home and stare at the paper for weeks on end and finally I do something. Once it’s started I just go where the paints flows [laughs].

What kinds of things have you been painting lately?

KS: The last thing I painted was… I don’t know what you’d call it? It could be molecular size or nebula size. It’s these organic forms that I made up. I got this stuff that’s like masking tape but it’s like glue, you squirt it on the paper, it’s nice and blue and pretty and you can see where it is. You can do a painting with it and then paint over that and then you rub it all off and it leaves a white area. I did this thing that’s kind of inspired by a book of art forms in nature, done by one of those 19th Century scientist, philosopher-types who believed… it’s a book of drawings and diagrams of one-cell creatures like jellyfish and bats, birds and fungus. His point was that there are all these beautiful, symmetrical forms in nature and there was art at work.

It was my girlfriend Maxine who looked at one of my paintings with the masking thing and she came upon this book and ordered it for me. One day it showed up in the mail from New Zealand, she had to tell me it was for me [laughs]. I looked at this book and it inspired me. I put all this glue stuff over the canvas, it’s pretty big, maybe a metre across. I used a vivid ink. I just let it run and mix and carry on and paint forms around the masking material. I was really happy with what it ended up as, I couldn’t tell you what it was though [laughs]. I could see some strange monstrous forms, but I think they’re kind of beautiful. You can’t tell if it’s in deep space or at a microscopic level. It could be anything really!

Art by Kim Salmon

I can’t wait to see it. I hope you have another art exhibition.

KS: One day! If we come out of lockdown. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of Covid art out there! [laughs].

That’s OK though! When you talk about making art, I feel like it brings you so much joy!

KS: Oh absolutely! It really takes you somewhere. You really have a conversation with the paint and the paper and the canvas and the ink. It sounds a bit mad but I definitely finds it leads me somewhere—it’s quite an enchanted place.

You mentioned the book you got recently and that the guy that made it was into philosophy; do you get into much philosophy or anything like that?

KS: I try to, but I haven’t really made a big study of that. There’s so many things that I might do. There’s a lot of people around that time, when religion was being challenged by science. There were some shaman and crazy people and frauds and con-artists out there like Gurdjieff and Madame Blavatsky and Rudolph Steiner… I guess Steiner wasn’t really a con-artist, but what I mean is there were a lot of ideas out there being explored. It was an interesting time.

Are you a spiritual person at all?

KS: Not in any formal religious kind of way, no. I suppose everyone says they’re spiritual. I don’t know that my way of being that would seem particularly spiritual to someone else. I have my music and art and I guess that’s my spirituality really. I’m probably more scientific if anything about those things.

Why did you feel it was time to make a new Surrealists’ album?

KS: It has a funny story. The Surrealists have been playing forever, particularly this line-up, we always enjoyed playing, never rehearse, just play a gig every now and then. I thought the band deserved more than a few hundred bucks from just playing a gig, you can only do some many shows, we got a show before lockdown and I got this bright idea that we would do a show that was completely improvised and we’d record it, that would be the draw card for the show. It was Phil [Collings] the drummer’s idea actually to do a completely live album. I thought if you’re a band recording you need to have songs and stuff; how do you do that like that? Over the years I’d write lyrical things into my books that I’d read the lyrics out of but I hadn’t used them yet so I thought I’d use them, that’s what they were for this album.

We had the gig booked and lockdown occurred. We had to postpone it. A film producer that had done the Scientists… actually Scientists actually have an album in the can would you believe!

That’s great news!

KS: It’s on a US label, so who knows when that will come out. We did a film clip for the new album and he approached me about taking this idea that I had into a recording studio and it being streamed. We wanted it set up with lots of cameras in a proper studio, we eventually got that happening. We called it Rantings From The Book Of Swamp, basically because that’s what it is; it’s me singing things out of my books to have lyrical content to the things we were making up.

How did you feel in the moment when you were making it?

KS: Terrified!

Really?!

KS: Yeah, because when you do something like that… we all had ideas but didn’t consult with each other, we thought we’d just be able to flesh them out. Nothing went the way at the time that I thought it would go. Everything felt like it went wrong! It was about an hour’s worth of “oh no” and trying to fix it up. Stu [Thomas] felt the same. Phil was just eating it up, you could tell he was having the best time of his life [laughs].

It was done over two sessions, I couldn’t be convinced that it was any good. I thought, nah, that’s it, I’ve blown it! They said “no, no, it’s good!” I didn’t believe them. I ended up looking at it and thinking, nah, OK, that’s good. You can see Stu and I really concentrating and trying to make it work, and that’s what made it good, we thought about it every second of the way.  It was the most switched on I’ve ever been.

I remember hearing you mention a little ways back that it’s been a long journey and process for you to get comfortable with lots of things, being on stage, stuff like that; was there something that changed that made you feel more comfortable?

KS: I couldn’t tell you the answer to that. At some point now I couldn’t imagine being uncomfortable but I was. I’ve heard recordings of those times and I’m still the same person… that’s probably what was good about this last recording, it probably brought me back out of my comfort zone into somewhere strange, I think that’s what happens… things that aren’t in your comfort zone, as long as you can move out of them and explore them, eventually you’ll become comfortable with them. I think that’s the process. In a way this particular album is good because it’s a reminder of not being comfortable, of being lost [laughs]. I think there’s actually something good about being lost and not knowing what you’re doing.

It’s so cool that with all of your projects and records that the new one is a reaction to the previous one and you always evolve to do something different.

KS: Yeah, I think you have to do it. I remember Tex Perkins used to say the same thing too. He’d say that things do tend to be a reaction to what I’ve done before. I’m not alone in that. It’s probably a little bit more extreme in my case for some reason [laughs]. I’m a bit more of a random nut job! [laughs].

You mentioned that making the new record was terrifying but; what made it fun for you?

KS: That same thing! I look back and think it was terrifying but, in a good way. I can hear myself there and everyone that was watching it online can see me, I was making a joke out of it and trying to spin a yarn out of it [laughs], weaving a narrative.

Do you think you use your humour to deflect from the fact you are terrified?

KS: I think that’s a common trait in comedians and artists, people on a stage. I don’t think that’s unique.

A lot of your lyrics tend to be from a darker more primal place; why do you think that is?

KS: I just think that’s part of the artistic process really, in the creative process you do have to look inside of yourself and express things that are at the heart of you, which by their nature is primal. Things become a lot more elemental when you do that. Having said that, you can still do things that are the opposite of that, I don’t know that all of my stuff is like that. I’m sure I do things that are light-hearted and witty and pharisaical [laughs].

Talking to you, you seem like such an easy going person.

KS: Yeah, I am.

What’s the most personal song that you feel you’ve ever written?

KS: In a way a lot of songs are about things that are outside of myself. I often put myself in other people’s point of view… that can still make songs personal. I like all my songs for different reasons. Maybe there’s not one that’s more personal than another. In a way I probably write for other people in a strange way, even though I am expressing and doing things for myself… what I mean is that other people can look at something and project their own meaning onto it, I’m OK with that. The thing about writing songs or poetry and a lot of art as well, it’s full of ambiguity and symbolism, symbols mean different things to different people… in a way the loudness and ambiguity of words, simple words as in a song as opposed to dense literature, is the strength of it—that’s what makes it powerful and universal.

I know songs must come to you in all kinds of ways but, is there a way that they come more often?

KS: When we did this particular project, there were a couple of songs on the album that were things like walking around the neighbourhood. There’s a song “Did You Pick It Up In The Playground?” it is about; where did you get that language from? It’s about behaviour like; is that you? It also had a meaning to do with picking up Covid. I found that it was just a line that came to me, it came with a tune already. I had to try and sing it. I knew what the chords were that I was playing under the singing. The band could be on the same page as me, or not, and take it somewhere really strange. As it happened the melody and song that I had in my head was indestructible enough it was added to by what Phil and Stu did.

When choosing the words for the songs you were making in real time; did you turn to a random page in your notebooks?

KS: No, I had ones that I thought would be good. I looked at them and pored over them and had a few in mind. For instance I already had a bit of a tune for “Did You Pick It Up In The Playground?” and “Burn Down The Plantation” I had a form in my head of what it would be like; to me it was like The Rolling Stones around the 1970s, Sticky Fingers era. Whether it came out like that is another thing! [laughs]. I had lyrics that I’d written around January and doing something that was kind of Blues-based took me back to days of slavery and the Civil War. I wrote a few lines and thought “Burn Down The Plantation” was a cool line and it went with that kind of music. I was wonder if I should take it into the recording given that there is all of this Black Lives Matter protest going on. I was scared of it really, I thought, oh god, we’re just three white guys; what right do we have to go singing about plantations burning down? I thought, I’m not going to censor myself, we’ll do it.

I had a few other things that were on my mind. For the recording I put little post-it notes on the ones that I thought I’d use. I also knew that if I went scrambling and scurrying for pages I’d be very lost and it would be a waste of time. I picked ones I thought I’d be more at ease with.

With the notebooks you drew from, you mentioned that you’ve been collecting thoughts in them for a while?

KS: Yeah. Those books I have, even then there’s a story. I had set-lists and I put them in there and I have lyrics and I put them in there. I write in them in such a random way. One starts at the back of the notebook and then it starts upside down from the other way. Sometimes there’s drawings. It’s really random things, random expressions of thoughts that I have. Often set-lists though – set-lists to me don’t mean a set out list of a repertoire – I have lists of songs from my bands and I call them out to the other members.

Have you always kept notebooks like this?

KS: Yeah, but it’s kind of become more obsessive as I’ve gotten older. I have one from The Scientists’ days. It was halfway through The Scientists that I thought I should be a proper singer and have notebooks, like a proper artist [laughs]. Now I’m glad I did because then you find out about Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain and they’ve always got these books full of art and crazy things. I feel accomplished, that’s a good club to be in! [laughs].

Art by Kim Salmon

You mentioned there’s a new Scientists’ record?

KS: Yeah! We recorded it, because there was a bit of a renaissance with the band, we did a tour of Europe, two tours of the USA and two of Australia a few years back. It was all on the back of that Chicago archival label Numero releasing our back catalogue and a box-set. We did a few singles and me and the guitar player [Tony Thewlis] would send each other things, I would send him drum beats of all things [laughs]. I’d get Leanne and Boris down from Sydney and I’d show them what I had and they’d knock ‘em into shape. Tony came over here to be part of The Scientists’ getting inducted into the WAM Hall of Fame. We spent that time in Perth in a studio and knocked that album together. We’d been working on it for a long time. I got Tony to build me some riffs. I’d think up crazy drum patterns and send them to him and then he’d build riffs on that, I’d do melodies and words on top of that. I’d send that to Boris [Sujdovic] and Leanne [Cowie] and they’d be the final process.

We don’t’ know when it will come out though, it’s all ready, it’s got the cover art and we did a film clip for it. It’s very strange because the thing that The Surrealists have just done is probably a lot closer to where The Scientists were in 1983 and the new Scientists’ album has travelled somewhere different. I don’t know how people are going to take it. I’ve tried really hard to have enough elements that people accept it’s The Scientists but, we’ve taken it somewhere else. I’ve listened back to the lyrics of it and it’s not in the same place as Blood Red River.

That’s really exciting to me! Bands evolving and going somewhere new is super exciting to me. I grew up in the punk world and it was always about individuality and pushing things… your new record sounds like it’s those things to me.

KS: Yeah, we’ve done that! It’s a bit more crafted. I think that’s why The Surrealists thing got more closer, it’s more visceral… this Scientists thing has some visceral elements, it’s heavy, it’s got the brutality in sound but, it’s crafted as well because of the way we made it. It wasn’t a spontaneous process. It was put together because we thought we should do it and wanted to do it, that’s a different process to when a band is young and say “Oh yeah, let’s just do this” which is how we used to do it [laughs]. That’s kind of what The Surrealists just did! [laughs].

You said that your lyrics for Scientists now were in a different place; where are they?

KS: I was listening to it thinking, god it’s taken me to get this long to get where Dave Graney was in The Moodists [laughs]. That’s what it makes me think of. He had these songs that had bizarre stories to them; I was listening to it yesterday thinking it sounds like Graney. There is a song that references him called “The Science Of Swarve” and I talk about him and Lux Interior and Nick Cave and I kind of say that their threads, meaning their lyrical threads, their threads, their clothes being in tatters and no narrative could ever save [laughs]. That was fun putting that in there. It was all about being swarve, it’s a bit of a boast. I think it’s a storytelling yarn that Graney would have done in those days.

I’m looking forward to hearing it! You do a lot of stuff; where does your hard work ethic come from?

KS: That’s what everyone says. I sit around looking at blank paper and canvases. I sit around doing nothing and wasting my time—that’s what creativity is. Until you can’t stand it anymore and you have to do something and once you get started you can’t stop!

I know you teach people to play guitar; have you learnt anything from teaching?

KS: Yeah, absolutely. I had to get across a lot of theory that I didn’t have, things like modes for scales and various harmonic ideas that I knew about… I used to use them without knowing what I was doing. Now I know what I’m doing and it takes a bit of the mystery out of it. I’ve got a lot out of teaching. I know how songs are put together now, which I wouldn’t have had a clue before! [laughs]. I use to break the rules without knowing what rules I was breaking.

That’s funny to hear you’ve learnt how to put together a song after all this time doing it. Have you ever had a really life changing experience?

KS: Gosh! When I read an article about CBGB it was pretty life changing—it sent me on the journey.

The first one I can remember, I must have been about three and my mum always told me that I didn’t speak until I was three and then I spoke in complete sentences, she’d know what I wanted but I didn’t talk. I remember her one day showing me a watercolour set and explaining to me what it was. I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t have a clue. She got the water and a brush and she started using red and she did a little loop thing. I got the brush and started filling up the page with these little strange loops of red. I didn’t know that it was for me, I just thought she was showing this thing. I thought, wow, you can say stuff with this, this is fantastic! That definitely was a thing for me! I can still see it so vividly. That’s probably where art came from for me. That was life changing really early.

It’s so cool that you’re painting now, it’s like things have come full circle for you.

KS: Yeah, I love watercolour, there’s just something about it. You get to leave some of the paper blank, you can leave some bits alone and not disturb it, and some of it you use—it all becomes one big story.

Art by Kim Salmon

And coming across all the punk rock stuff in publications was life changing too?

KS: Yeah, yeah. I guess I was looking for a place to be in my music, for a starting point, I wanted something to bring in a focus and that became it. I think it was probably the same for a lot of people.

Is painting and making songs similar in any way to you?

KS: Yes and no. I’d go so far as to say that even every song is different to make. I try to look at everything from not having a formula, I don’t like formula as much, which is a bit funny for a guy in a band called The Scientists [laughs]. I like to think I’m starting from scratch every time that I do something and not knowing what you’re doing is part of it. Learning about music sort of takes away from that so; what do I do? What I just did with The Surrealists was a way of getting back to that thing… it’s that aspect, the mystery, that you don’t know where the hell you are and you’re lost, that makes the start of creating something, not knowing where it’s going to go or where it’s going to be. You might have an idea of what you’re going to do, but you don’t know what it’s going to be in the end. That mystery and not knowing is the thing that is the unifying factor.

Being open to all of the possibilities! A freedom in that?

KS: Yeah, I think so. Like when we were talking about philosophy before, being open to ideas and not fixed and to appreciate what life has to offer. To make the best of it and not just think, this is it, this is what I’m going to do!

I’ve heard you say before that looking after yourself and simply enjoying the day are important things to you; what does an enjoyable day look like to you?

KS: [Laughs] It’s a strange combination of routine and getting lost in something, that’s a good day for me. Going for my walk and seeing something new in it and going a different way every time, to just make something different about it. With all the border restrictions and other restrictions and parameters of late, I guess it has to be that.

I guess you need to use your imagination in doing things more and doing things differently, adapting; how can I get the most out of what I have and what’s happening now?

KS: Yes, you’re right.

Last question; what makes you really, really happy?

KS: [Laughs]. I think just my life now, there’s things about it that I’d hate it to be taken away from me. I have my partner Maxine and we have a really good thing going, it’s been a few years now. I have my kids that I have a really good relationship with. I’ll be talking to my son after this and giving him a bass guitar lesson; he’s really starting to find his way, he’s twenty. All those things make me happy. Making stuff, all of it! [laughs].

Please check out KIM SALMON; KS on Facebook; KS on Instagram. Rantings From The Book Of Swamp drops September 4th – LISTEN here.

Obnox’s Lamont Thomas: “The whole damn world is protesting right now! The whole world is tired of this shit!”

Handmade collage by B.

Cleveland musician Lamont Thomas creates an exciting clash of punk, hip-hop and everything in between, with his ultimately genre-defying experimental musical project, Obnox. Lamont’s been prolific in the underground for decades – Bassholes, Puffy Areolas, This Moment In Black History + more – latest release Savage Raygun, shows he’s still got vision, passion and message, all while making jams for listeners to make memories to. There’s a lot of powerful stuff on this double album. Gimmie chatted with Lamont about the new record, the recent BLM protests worldwide, of racism, Black Excellence and more as he picked up some Thai food and his car from the mechanic.

The new album you’ve recently released Savage Raygun is really, really cool.

LAMONT THOMAS: I really appreciate that, thank you.

Why is music important to you?

LT: [Laughs] That’s a really good question! The rhythm, the rhythm is the rhythm of life. I love to play and the energy, art, creativity, you can tell a story; just dancing, moving, and communicating, it’s all a part of it.

How did you first discover music?

LT: Church, my family’s record collection, these types of things. The neighbourhood and hanging out, hanging out with my cousins. It was always around. My folks had good records, my church kinda rocked.

Is there any records that you remember from your parent’s collection that have really stayed with you?

LT: Yeah, lots of them. Prince, Al Green, Bar-kays. Gospel stuff like The Hawkins Family.

What was the first music that you discovered that was your own, independent of your family?

LT: I got into hip-hop right when it was going down. I loved soul music—Black music. It really soaks into your ribcage.

How did you get into punk rock?

LT: Skateboarding and hanging with my buddies in high school. Watching skate videos you would hear a lot of independent punk that was used for the soundtracks. A couple of guys that I went to high school with would make me mix tapes, they kinda got a kick outta the fact that a Black guy was listening to rock n roll.

There’s a lot of parallels between punk rock and hip-hop; basement shows, flyer culture, vinyl releases.

LT: Yeah for sure. When I was young the idea was to not sell out, whereas now selling out is the goal [laughs]. Monetizing your image on the internet, all the crap you gotta do now. I came around at the right time, a different time. I can still be out here doing stuff and not be some internet phenomenon. People just focus on the music when it comes to me. I do have fun with online, keeping up with people and connecting with people feeling the music, we can talk instantly. But, waking up every day feeling like someone has to give a shit about me today, so I’ gonna take selfies and post tracks… ya’know what I mean? That’s most people’s get down and how they do things, whereas I’ trying to write a song, a riff, play some drums, listening to music, I’m just trying not to rip people off with things.

I feel you. It’s so weird to me what’s popular or what a lot of people pay attention to. I’d rather do good work, work on my craft than put selfies out there. I want the attention for my work not for what I look like etc.

LT: The internet is a great way for discovery of new music and art, but people get tired of the other. Even stuff I used to look at or follow on the internet, I don’t even care so much anymore, even though those people are still out there. Maybe it’s just me, but people tend to fall off after a short period of time, two or three years of that kind of popularity, then you better have something really crackin’ or people will forget about you.

People forgot about me before this record [laughs]. I thought I was over! I hadn’t toured in a couple of years, I hadn’t put anything out. Last year I thought; maybe people are just over me? There’s been such an incredible response for the new record! Shout out to Flash Gordon over at ever/never Records for keeping me in the conversation and for still believing in the music.

Who or what has really helped shape your ideas on creativity?

LT: I started out as a teenager skating and catching mix tapes and then you get to reading fanzines and you become aware of the network, the underground… most things that are underground – things that most people would call failure – those are the artists that I tend to gravitate towards. There are certain records where you just can’t believe that it wasn’t a big hit and more people heard it or were into it. I sympathize and empathize with those kinds of stories… or even records that become huge over time that nobody gave a shit about like Funkadelic, nobody gave a shit and now everyone gives a shit. Funkadelic you know are still pretty underground [laughs]. I think they are the greatest American psychedelic rock band to ever set foot out. It wasn’t like that stuff was flying off the shelves.

That was the same with a band like Black Flag. I’ve spoken with Keith Morris and Henry Rollins and they both say that when they were first around people never cared so much, even hated them, now you see so many Black Flag tattoos etc. out there and they’re really loved.

LT: They had to create the network and that influenced that whole scene basically as far as how and where you can tour… someone’s got a basement space or you’re in some weird strip mall and the locals are about to tear your head off.

As a creative person what are the things that matter to you most?

LT: You go from there to college, where I hung out with a lot of radio station guys, that leads to a lot of local shows. I had a little band in high school. I got used to playing then. In college I would see guys that were early influences, they had their little bands and t-shirts and they were good bands and dudes, which I’m still really good friends with a lot of them.

Eventually, I moved to Columbus and that’s when I started playing with Don Holland and The Bassholes when I was twenty-one. Then I meet Jim Sheppard and Ron House, all the guys, and there’s tons of great bands in town at the time like New Bomb Turks. It was a great scene and I really lucked out. There were a handful or indie labels and they were all doing 7-inches. We were real lucky.

The thing that matters creatively to me is not ripping people off. It’s just what I’ve been doing since I was a kid. I’ve worked a little bit of everywhere, I’ve worked for record stores, I’ve worked for the phone company, I’ve worked for General Motors, I used to build pedals for EarthQuaker Devices… I’ve always got a little hustle but music… let’s just put it this way, I could never go do that 9 to 5 thing very long. I’ve always had great jobs and there’s probably times when I should have quit playing music and focused on a career. I enjoy music that’s just it. I don’t have any money but I don’t feel poor.

I feel the same way. I work part-time in a library which pays the bills and then interviews, writing, music is what I do the rest of the time. Not having to pay the bills with my passions allows me to never have to compromise in what I do creatively. Any time I’ve tried to make a career out of those things I’ve always ended up having to compromise. I mean since I was a kid I wanted to write for Rolling Stone and I finally got there and was writing for them and then the editor told me to make my interviews less deep! I’m happy where I am now doing Gimmie, doing something that’s my own.

LT: Yeah, we need that perspective. I appreciate you. I’m trying to keep my music raw, that’s the basis of my art per say. Everyone these days has a laptop and can make beats or makes a video, but they’re just a motherfucker with a laptop and a video, you’ll be done in three years. To me an artist is someone that is in it, it’s just what they do, they don’t think so hard about artistry per say, they just in it and try to be creative and get that release. It makes them feel good, when it comes to music as far as I’m concerned, if it feels good it probably sounds damn good.

One thing that I’ve always loved with your music is that it’s always surprising me, you fuse so many genres into your music and when I’m listening to it I don’t know where it’s going to go and I keep listening to find out and hear it unfold. It’s never predictable.

LT: Thank you, I appreciate that. People listen to everything, Spotify shuffles and playlists, people listen to three or four different styles of music in a day, four different types of records—I do! I don’t want to do my beat-funk stuff here and then my noise stuff there or write some pop tunes over there. I’m like, fuck it, let’s put it all together and make the best sequence that we can. Find the best art and pack it up for someone to enjoy for a lifetime.

When you started making Savage Raygun did you have a vision for it?

LT: Yeah, I did. I had a bunch of ideas and I wanted to make something over four sides, I wanted to do a double album just in case I was over! Eventually, I tried to record some stuff digitally like what the modern dudes are doing but it didn’t work, I lost some files. I had beats from friends. I had to double back on all of the stuff that I had lost and staring pieces together stuff. My buddies would come by the studio a couple of days. I just kept going until I got a flow.

How do you know you’ve got the right sequence? Intuition? A feeling?

LT: You listen to it. Certain things don’t sound good back to back. Certain things should be left off of a record or redone. I don’t think about a lot of stuff that most dudes do, I just open myself up to creativity. Lyrically, I try to turn good phrases to see what makes it interesting. I’m recording in my friend’s living room for the most part. Here and there you might be running with Steve Albini or Jim Diamond, someone like that but, you go into those situations a little more well-rehearsed and thought out so you don’t blow a bunch of money in the studio. Those dudes aren’t cheap.

90% of my stuff was recorded in my buddy’s house. It gives you time to try things. When we first started a band, he and I used to record from three o’clock in the afternoon until one in the morning, just trying stuff. Things were coming out a lot more frequently and faster then, that wasn’t the point though—just doing what felt good was the point, just making stuff. I do what comes natural. I like to get stuff out faster so I can do more. I just want to do more, I love it. I’m not trying to impress people.

Do you ever impress yourself with what you create?

LT: I like it. It’s right up there with what’s out there. I can’t say I wish it was more popular, I don’t know what that’s like. When you start talking about popular acts, they have a lot more money and stuff to deal with… there’s different types of stuff to consider, I don’t have to worry about that.

I’ve interviewed many bands over their lifetime and if I’m being honest I’ve found that often with success and popularity their music becomes really boring.

LT: [Laughs] Maybe!

Artists on the fringes of things always seem to be more interesting and exciting. They’re not worrying about being liked, getting on the radio, fulfilling whatever obligations and expectations comes with being popular. Not having those things, you just have the freedom to create and you’re not believing your own hype.

LT: There’s no record business like there used to be now, like the old Tin Pan Alley model, with record advances and accounting and stuff like that. Depending on who I’m working with, I have to consider publishing and certain stuff, that’s me sitting around on a Saturday keeping track of things, keeping right with everybody. I’m not employed by anybody though, and neither is anyone else; these cats run through the music business like there’s still this industry standard that they have to live up to, this checklist of things they have to do before they become famous, it’s a giant myth. People spend so much time focusing on that shit that they never do realise their full potential, ya dig?

Totally! Why did you decide to kick your record off with the track “Super Dope”?

LT: That was just a jam session. We were jamming in Texas, I had a little 8-track machine running and I brought those songs from there and finished them up here. “Catbird” comes from that session and “She (Was about That Life)” does too. Just hanging out and having a good time.

How about “Supernatural”?

LT: There’s a lot of girls that are into witchcraft and astrology and energy and chakras and all that shit [laughs]. It’s like, everybody can’t be a witch! Everybody’s not intuitive. Everybody is not wired like that… c’mon, some of y’all are just trending out! [laughs]. It’s cool though… some people collect comic books, some people collect albums and some people collect personalities; ya know what I mean? Every now and again I’ll run into a girl that’s super witchy and I’m like, OK, I get it I understand, it’s wild out here ya know… collectively witching! [laughs]; watching the stars and the moon and you get your power… I understand but, I gotta write a song about it [laughs].

Are you a spiritual person?

LT: If you’re talking about Christianity and that kind of thing, no, not really. I think Jesus was my uncle! [laughs]. Spirituality for me, relates to being a Black man, I’m the original man, directly connected to God. Everything we’ve been through and everything we’re capable of, all of the innovations: traffic lights, heart surgery… I haven’t had a cold in twenty years, these types of things, these are divine qualities and I think a lot of brothers have them. I think there’s a lot of people working hard to make sure that these qualities don’t manifest, God-like qualities within every Black man—that’s my religion. I just got a copy of the Quran from my job the other day, I’m gonna start reading that to try to understand other ideas.

I’m having my own spiritual journey. Spending more time alone meditating, listening to jazz, trying to channel what made my people great from the beginning.

What kind of meditation do you do?

LT: It’s not any organized practice or anything, not like yoga or chanting, it’s more like prayer, just being silent and taking the time to not have to worry about what might be outside my door—really using the silence. It’s loud within itself though. That’s when I can think about other things that don’t worry me like; how do I want to carry myself? How do I want to atone for my walk in life and my path? How am I going to move forward in the future? How am I going to make the music better? To just stay up! Especially when someone tries to tear you down. They’re the things I think of in my own meditative state. I’m not some spiritual guru or expert on anything, I think a lot of people that say they are, are hustlers!

Black Excellence is my religion. When I need guidance I talk to my elders. I read someone like James Baldwin. I just curl up and read one of his books—it’s so strong. That feeds my soul as much as anything like God or whatever. Baldwin was a god. We get to enjoy this stuff and they figure out ways to sell it but, if you really look at the people behind it and take all of the production and administrative shit away, you’re dealing with some divine people with extraordinary talent. What happens when it’s untainted and it’s in its rawest form and you ain’t got to answer to nobody? If your life is improving on top of that and you’re helping others… I work at a church, I try to live in a way that my music will reflect the real person that I am, it ain’t always pretty but, shit, you put it all together, and it’s really powerful!

Your music is very honest. Life isn’t always pretty.

LT: Yeah, I’ve been through a lot in the last year or two. I’ve finally reckoned with everything. In your late forties you hope you’ll have your shit together, I feel like I’m starting to get things back together.

That’s great news!

LT: [Laughs].

Have you had a really life changing moment?

LT: Yeah. I was with my ex for twenty-five years! It takes time to really bounce back from something like that.

Is that what you were talking about when you mentioned you’ve been going through a lot the last couple of years?

LT: Yeah. She’s wonderful and we’re still cool, our daughter is great, that’s all I can ask for. Knowing that and still being able to make an indie record every now and again, I’m fine.

I’ve noticed through speaking with you and through your music, it really does seem like you want to touch people and inspire them. In interviews I notice you’re always encouraging young people, especially young Black people to explore and learn about punk rock and DIY; why is that important to you?

LT: That’s what music is—its communication! If you’re just sitting around only concerned with yourself and not with who the music is reaching… it’s to be shared. The record buying public isn’t just there to pat you on the back, its give and take. You want people to be able to smoke they joints and wiggle they feet and have fun—you want it to be the soundtrack for they life! I hope their life is turning out better because of the music, or I hope my music is what they making their memories to.

Is there a track on Savage Raygun that’s really special to you?

LT: “Return Fire” is an idea that you have a lot of gang members, a lot of shooters in America right now, everybody’s got a pistol and the Black community, brothers don’t hesitate to squeeze the trigger on another brother but, when the cops come down and terrorize the neighbourhood they have no fire power for these cops. The Black Panthers have already showed us that you can protect yourself from the police. Maybe it comes down to illegal weapons, or my stuff isn’t registered, I don’t go to the range or nothin’… if I got a pistol and someone’s choking a man for eight minutes, I’m not reaching for my phone, I’m going to pop his ass right in the shoulder! Just to get him off. “Return Fire” is an imaginary angle on that. You keep this shit up, you keep fucking with our people, we’re going to police you when you come around in our community. Nobody is asking how the Black community got this way? Now it’s all coming out.

You talk about looters, I talk about the Boston Tea Party. You talk about civil rights, and I talk about bringing many nations of people over here to build your country for free and then treating them like shit for centuries after that. That shit is not fair. “Return Fire” that’s basically what that is, the whole damn world is protesting right now! The whole world is tired of this shit! This is what Foundational Black Americans have been dealing with. People are socialised to not care about another Black man. Whether they’re an African guy in Paris or Barbados they’re not feeling me just because I’m an American Black man—it’s insane. They really did a number on our people, it’s global. Everybody knows who “they” are.

People rock with the money. I’m rockin’ with global unity! Everybody all over the damn world has some sort of colour and pigment. Everybody around the world has had they ass kicked to a certain extent. You can’t be out here invading small nations and calling them terrorists and enemies; what the hell can they really do to us? Blow they whole shit up with one missile and all of a sudden you want me to live in fear because somebody that you’re trying to take advantage of, like you took advantage of my people… I can’t rock with this shit! “Return Fire” is about that shit and “Avalanche Grave” is another one. Take your lawyer to the gun range and both of y’all get ready for this shit. What’s the shit? Civil war? I don’t know. Protest? Uprising? I don’t know.

I wanted to ask you about the song “Music Saves”.

LT: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s just like, one of those road songs. It’s a little pop that describes showing up at a venue and ultimately having a great show. There’s a store down the street from a club we play all the time called, Music Saves. The song is a little homage to the girl that used to run that spot. She’s wonderful. She was having a little trouble even before Covid and we wanted to put it out there so she knows we think it’s special.

You’ve been involved in the music community for decades and I know that you’ve never really cared for the industry side of things and you once said that, when you stopped giving a shit about any of that stuff, that’s when things got really fun for you.

LT: That’s right! That’s when the fun happens! The people around me really look after me, when you realise that you’re being treated better than some guy signed to some company, that is redemptive, it’s like, man… I’m doing better than someone that has to be on the internet all day. I can do what I like and I’m having fun with my friends but that guy might have to go rehearse with band members he doesn’t even like! [laughs]. The machine is rolling and they’re popular, its happening! I don’t give a fuck about that shit.

I know you have a beautiful little daughter named Mia; what’s fatherhood mean to you?

LT: She changed everything. She’s wonderful. She’s smart and healthy and happy. I’m just trying to live my life in a way that nothing messes that up. She’s on her way to great things. She’s something to live for! You don’t behave as recklessly as a young man, coming of age and understanding more about women, what they need from us. I falter here and there but I’m trying to get it together so she has everything she needs.

You’ve said that she inspires you when she’s around; how so?

LT: She’s smart and she’s into great music, just like every woman I ever loved! I’m proud of her. I try to match wits with her, she’s incredible. I have to stay up there! [laughs]. It’s a good gauge. She plays a little clarinet and she’s’ in the band now! [laughs].

At this point in your life; what are the things that matter the most to you?

LT: With everything that is going on right now, I hope that people aren’t just trending trying to seem socially conscious, I hope they are really trying to make changes. I hope this isn’t just another one of those things that in a few months people are just onto something else and talking about something else. I hope the election doesn’t supersede this movement and everyone gets… do you know what I mean?

I do.

LT: I wanna see equality. I’d love to see a new trend in music that ain’t even rock n roll. I deal with a lot of different people, white and Black—I’m just hoping for some understanding. I can dig where everyone is coming from. Let’s just level the playing field. Not just all this same political yip yap. I hope somebody does something for the Foundational Black community. I hope that people understand that women’s bodies are their own, ease off of the legislation and control and shit. I hope money and the economy and the Black man’s ability to take care of his family becomes easier. We’ve got 2.6% of the nation’s wealth, in the meantime 15% of white families have a million or more—that’s fucked up! Especially considering we built the nation. Real change! Not “oh, I was at the protest the other day! Did you see my photos?” Get your ass out of there! Put a mask on! You trying to look cute at the protest and take a photo! Get your ass out! We don’t need that. People always say they call out racism but we know that’s not true!

I’ve experienced so much racism in my life and there’s been so many times when I’m the only Black person in the room and no one stuck up for me when shit was going down. I really hope that we see real change and that things change in the everyday for us POC.

LT: People can grow. People need to keep things up. Hopefully we change the music game again too and things can get interesting again! We built it! This is my uncle’s shit! This is my family’s shit! Give me my shit back! [laughs].

Please check out OBNOX’s Savage Raygun via ever/never Records; OBNOX on Facebook; on Instagram; on Soundcloud.

Perth’s Anti-Fascist Punks Last Quokka: “Today Western Australia had the third Aboriginal death in custody in the last two months which brings the country to about 440 since 1991”

Original photo courtesy of Last Quokka; handmade collage by B.

Political punks Last Quokka are set to release album four, unconscious drivers (out September 4). Their music is urgent and timely, their lyrics conveying emotional, thought provoking social commentary.  Gimmie interviewed them to find out more.

Last Quokka are from Perth “the most isolated city on the planet”; can you tell us a little bit about where you live?

TRENT (vocals): Perth is pretty great… Love the sunshine and lots to do. It’s especially great being able to leave the house without a face-mask and go get a parmy at the pub. Isolation definitely has its perks. Personally I am really happy with the support and love we get from the close friends around us, we are surrounded by great people and I think sometimes that is more important than location.

RAY (bass): Perth is a really strange place. While it can be dominated by conservative yuppie assholes, there is also a really incredible local music and arts community that produces some of the most committed artists and activists in the country. We feel very lucky to be a part of such a rad community of folks doing what they can to make the scene and broader community a better place. It’s also just really beautiful, especially the forests down south.

KIRILL (guitar: Perth is a great place to live, we have forests and beaches, sand dunes, rivers, walking trails. We have an amazing park right in the middle of the city called Kings Park, it overlooks the city and swan river and makes for a great picnic spot. The weather is great too.

JOSE (drums): Perth it’s a strange place.

I know that everyone in the band is from different places – Jose is from El Salvador, Kirill from Russia, Ray from Fremantle and Trent from the northern suburbs of Perth; how did you each discover music? What were things like growing up for you?

JOSE: I use to listen to a lot of Latino music, get those hips to shake. And I Remember always listening to the same Frank Sinatra tape over and over again. As I got much older, I listened to a lot of hip hop, that’s actually where I think my love for drumming and music really started. I couldn’t break dance very well to the hip hop music so the next best thing was drums.

TRENT: My first ever album was John Farnham – Whispering Jack and my excellent music tastes cascaded from there. I used to love Rage Pop of the 90’s and early noughties. I still adore it actually, give me some Killing Heidi or Vanessa Amorosi, cover me in sparkles, put me on a dancefloor and watch me groove. I think my first movement into punk music was when I saw the video clip for Joy Division’s song ‘Atmosphere’ and fell in love with the feel of it. I was a pretty angry kid; the northern suburbs will do that to kids that don’t fit the pre-bogan mould – so I started journeying into punk music from there. For me, punk was a way to validate my anger of growing up surrounded by people that didn’t understand me and always feeling like an outcast. I connected online with a lot of people from all over the world in similar situations and I started to feel accepted.

RAY: I grew up listening to my mum and dad’s records, I don’t think I bought my own album until I was 17 when I also started playing in my first band with a bunch of much older hectic, drug-addled street punks. I grew up down south in Gracetown, what was absolutely incredible. I don’t have any siblings so just spent my childhood hanging with my dogs at the beach. I reckon the best thing about WA is the coastline, it’s why after moving away a few years ago I moved back.

KIRILL: I started playing guitar when I was maybe 13 or 14, I was playing Euphonium in high school band too. Worked a summer job at a metal fabrication shop and used the money to buy my first electric guitar and amplifier. After that it was the usual run of grunge and rock and playing at patries.

What are some of your all-time favourite bands? What do you appreciate about them?

TRENT: A Silver Mt, Zion – I find this band so inspirational on so many levels, especially politically and they have been blowing me away for decades. I can’t see myself ever growing out of love with them; Joy Division – there is an authenticity and darkness to their music that I find really honest and comforting; Death Cab for Cutie – they make cute music and have always kind of been there for me as a comfort, they often unlock a lot of emotion for me; Eddy Current Suppression Ring – because they’re fucking Eddy Current; Salary – a local band from here in Perth that hit me right in the feels all of the time; Propagandhi – they are the package deal.

JOSE: My taste changes so often, but I think what I’m currently drawn to is 60’s Garage Rock, like The Sonics or The Electric Prunes. Raw “Rock’n’Roll” with really nice melodies.

RAY: I am huge fan of the 90’s Washington D.C. Scene, bands such as Fugazi, Minor Threat, Fire Party etc. I’m really interested in what Ian Mackaye and others did with Dischord Records. That unwavering commitment to DIY has really inspired me.

KIRILL: I like oldies like ACDC, Metallica, Slayer, Pantera – there’s mad energy about those bands that seems to be lacking in most popular bands today. A while ago after watching the documentary “DIG” about Brian Jonestown Massacre and Dandy Warhols, I got into those bands too. There’s also a bunch of Soviet and Russian bands that I listen to as well.

What have you been listening to lately?

TRENT: I am actually completely obsessed with pretty much everything Phoebe Bridgers has ever done. She is phenomenal and will be with me for the rest of my life. Outside of listening to her on repeat every day, I just discovered an album by a band called Life Without Buildings which they released it in 2005 and it was their own ever album – but it’s excellent.

RAY: Speaking of Fugazi, I am really enjoying the new Coriky album (featuring members of Fugazi and The Evens). But I’ve also discovered Katiny Slezki from Yakutsk in Siberia and The Hu Band from Mongolia who are both amazing.

KIRILL: Been listening to a band from Greece called Villagers of Ioannina City.

JOSE: Allah-Las, Ty Segall…

What initially made you want to be in a band?

TRENT: It was a bit of a running joke in my friendship group for ages – “fuck Trent, you’re loud, have a lot to say and don’t shut up, you should be a vocalist”. Problem is, I couldn’t sing. But it turns out that doesn’t matter with Last Quokka.

JOSE: I just love make art and music. That’s why I wanted to be in a band.

RAY: I think I’ve always wanted to be in a band, ever since being a kid and flicking through music mags, there was always something so romantic about it, from the leather jackets to the tours and everything in between. But as I got older I thought more about the idea of being in a band as being a part of a community and creating a platform for ideas and action. And once I started playing I just got addicted to the catharsis of performing.

KIRILL: I just wanted to play music, the band thing is cause and effect type of thing.

Last Quokka are an anti-fascist punk band; why is it important for you to let people know this? What does it mean to you?

RAY: This is something we often discuss as we all share similar political values and are all united in our anti-fascist and broadly anarchist politics. But lately we’ve been debating whether it is necessary to describe ourselves as such or just let our lyrics speak for themselves. Personally, I think it is important to be openly anti-fascist as fascism is no longer a relic of the 20th century. We are facing the rise of very real and dangerous fascist movements, the world over. While it may not be significant if some random rock band in Perth is anti-fascist or not, for the sake of history and global solidarity, it’s still important to use any opportunity to declare our opposition to the forces of control, domination and exploitation… Also I guess I hope it inspires some local folks to take action.

TRENT: Look at the world we are living in at the moment. Abuses of power have become so commonplace that nobody even bats an eyelid anymore. We have such a small minority of people with all of the wealth doing whatever they can do grow that wealth and maintain power, and the people, largely, support them in that quest. It’s completely absurd, we have the working class hating their unions, we have disunity, and slowly our freedoms are being eroded away. Rather than uniting to resist, change and overthrow this toxic power, we are fighting with each other. Today Western Australia had the third Aboriginal death in custody in the last two months which brings the country to about 440 since 1991. Surely that’s enough to unite people to create change, but white Australia largely allows this to happen. The struggle against oppression is all of ours. Unfortunately, most of the population has fucking Stockholm Syndrome and have sided with their captors. I mean, it’s becoming an insult to be anti-fascist? The media is perpetuating divisive messages to prop up political parties of their choice and maintain their business interests. The world is a copybook of the 1930s and we saw how that turned out. And we have a huge recession on the way. We have to resist now. Fucking Bazil Zempilas is running for Mayor of Perth, surely now is the time to scream from rooftops.

Can you remember what it was the first got you interested in politics?

RAY: I grew up surrounded by political activism, with both my parents being active in environmentalism and other causes. But I clearly remember the moment I wanted to get involved in activism: I was living with my mum during the September 11th terror attacks and when the towers went down my mum was devastated. I couldn’t understand why she was so upset, but she said she wasn’t just crying for those who had died in the towers but because now America would invade Afghanistan, Iraq and eventually Iran and she was crying for the hundreds of thousands of people who going to suffer as the result of the US-led wars to come. Of course not not long after that the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and I got involved in the anti-war movement.

TRENT: Punk music started it… I was 13 years old when the war in Iraq started and that’s about the same time I started listening to punk. I started applying the critical lens that punk music was giving me to messages in my family, school, government, and on a global scale such as the invasion of Iraq. I started wanting to do something about it and started organising small actions at school which pretty much only I would attend.

I saw that you attended the Black Lives Matter protest rally in Perth. BLM is something that has very much been in the forefront of a lot of people’s minds especially of late and it’s stirred up a lot of thoughts, feelings, emotions, discussion and action in the community both locally and worldwide; what’s something important you’ve been learning?

RAY: It’s been incredible to see so many people organising and taking to the streets to demand justice. But I’ve been thinking a lot about how these kind of movements can escape the media cycle and the unfortunate online spectacle that seems to consume most contemporary movements. I’m not sure any of us have learnt the answer to that but it’s great to see people trying to build community that exists beyond one off events and rallies.

TRENT: I have been learning Noongar language on-and-off for the last couple of years – first at Langford Aboriginal Association with Merinda Hansen and now with Sharon Gregory at RePlants in Fremantle. I find it is important to listen and learn about injustice and act in solidarity, and it is also important to understand and learn. It’s great fun as well, you get to understand Noongar culture at a much deeper level and my love and appreciation for it continues to grow. Other than that, I have just been supporting those around me who have to cop racial oppression every day, being there in solidarity is hugely important. I have been trying to use my own privilege as much as possible to challenge the status quo.

JOSE: We need to listen and help those in need. Really Listen!

Your song “Colony” is a commentary on Australia colonialism; what inspired this song? Why was it important to you to write it?

RAY: To be honest despite being politically conscious people we don’t ever set out to write political songs and we’re not really a ‘political band’ or at least don’t try to be. The songs are usually just a reflection of whatever we are talking about or thinking about at the time. But I guess this issue is really important to all of us. Personally, I think that in order to address any social, economic or environmental justice issues in this country we must first deal with the ongoing effects of colonialism.

TRENT: We are on stolen land that was never ceded, it is quite simple really. The British Empire and the Nazi Party have too much in common for me to be comfortable with us not calling that out.

“Privilege” is about online trolling and macho right-wing keyboard warriors; what first sparked the idea for this song?

RAY: Pretty sure it was something to do with an uber annoying local facebook group here in Freo and Trent and I were arguing with a bunch of privileged yuppie dickheads…

TRENT: Haha, yeah Ray and I are part of a Facebook group called ‘Freo Massive’ and it is a breeding ground for neo-liberals to spout their privileged shit. We actually took a bunch of quotes from one of these privileged dudes and turned it into a song.

RAY: Actually I’m currently banned from the group…

Your latest release is a song called “Wake Up Geoff” which is about Western Australian premier Geoff Gallop; why did you chose to write about him?

RAY: We should probably make it clear that none of us are really fans of politicians and I think it started out as a bit of a joke… We don’t really ever think about what songs we’re going to write… But we’d been chatting about how bizarre it was that given how much shit has shifted to the right someone like Gallop seems like a radical lefty.

TRENT: Yeah he was just a long way better than the shit we have to put up with now.

You’ll be releasing your fourth album unconscious drivers in August; what’s the significance of the LP title?

TRENT: It has a couple of meanings and I think its best we let the people make up their minds on what they make of it.

Can you tell us about recording it?

TRENT: We recorded with Stu and Dave at Hopping Mouse Studios and it was mastered by Mikey ‘the dolphin’ Young. It was such a fun recording process; they were great people to work with and bought some great ideas and enthusiasm. It took one weekend and then a number of week nights… plus lots of beer.


RAY: It was such a joy recording this album with the guys at Hopping Mouse. Stu and Dave totally get where we are coming from and are just absolutely lovely people to work with. I think we all really wanted to get it sounding as swish as possible, being our fourth release and also I guess we’re really proud of these songs, so they deserved to be done right.

KIRILL: It was over two sessions about six months apart plus some overdubs. Most tracks are maybe third of fourth take I reckon. Definitely not a perfect record in terms of technical aspect and Stuart had to cut’ n chop a few mistakes I made here and there. In terms of energy and feeling I think it’s bang on. The last track we just made up on the spot, played once, then called Madeline in, she listened once to what we recorded and then just nailed the violin part first go – well I guess that’s what professional ‘mussos’ do!

What’s your favourite track on the new album? What do you love about it?/What’s it about?

RAY: That’s a hard one, I think with any songs you have favourites that change. I definitely enjoy playing “Colony” the most live at the moment. But i’d say my favourite track is “Punks in the Palace”. It’s all about the hope and despair we all find ourselves in and that maybe hope will win out. It’s just a real high energy and kinda emotional song, plus it’s a kinda nod to the 90s indie grunge stuff that we love.

Trent: Yeah “Punks in the Palace” is my favourite track on the album, I really love each element of the song a lot. Kirill’s guitar midway through the song gives me spine tingles.

KIRILL: “Conversations” starts off pretty slow n rocky but when it breaks it’s like “ohh wow ok, this is music now!”

JOSE: The “secret” track at the end.

Is there anything that you’d like people to know about that’s important to you or that you’d like more people to be aware of?

RAY: I think people are pretty aware of a lot of things these days. Our collective problem is one of organising, how we can project power and create alternatives to all of the capitalist bullshit. I’d personally love to see more physical community, DIY events, spaces, gardens, collectives etc and more thinking more about what unites us all, our common interests, passions and struggles rather than what divides us.

JOSE: Empathy.

KIRILL: There’s a bug goin’ around, wash your hands people and cover your mouth when you cough.

TRENT: Follow ‘Trent Steven’ on Spotify and follow my playlist that’s called ‘emotional regulation…’ it’s got some ripper tracks on there and is guaranteed to get any party started.

Please check out: LAST QUOKKA; on Facebook; on Instagram.