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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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: 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].
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.
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].
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!
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?
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].
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.
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.
Melbourne musician Steve Lucas has been making music for over four decades. In 1977 he co-founded early Australian punk band X, who gifted us one of Australia’s greatest punk records, their debut X-Aspirations. He’s also lived many musical lives since X genre hopping from post-punk to indie rock to acoustic folk to country to gospel and all kinds of things in between with bands and projects: Bigger Than Jesus, Double Cross and The Groody Frenzy, Empty Horses, The Acland St Booze Hounds, The Strawberry Teardrop, The Pubert Brown Fridge Occurrence, Armageddon Resource Management and more. Gimmie spoke to Steve in-depth, to get a real insight into his music and the man behind it. We talk about songwriting, mental health, depression, his early life, overcoming spine surgery, creativity, of making good choices and of life in general.
STEVE LUCAS: I have to learn a couple of songs for a recording session on the weekend.
What are you recording?
SL: Two originals that my wife wants to do and a cover of Deuce by Redd Kross.
How are you going with it all?
SL: The original ones are fine because I’ve been there hearing it since the concept but going back to Redd Kross is how I used to play forty years ago. I’ve got unlearn everything I’ve learnt so I can do the real grunge sort of underplaying. It’s underplaying but really in your face. I’ve got a little bit too good for my own good [laughs].
Do you think that the style you were playing back in the beginning was so raw and powerful because there was a naivety in your playing?
SL: Absolutely! You didn’t know what to do so you had to do anything that worked. Looking back it worked, limited knowledge meant maximum feel. It was all about the feel. I actually used to play a really clean sound which made it more awkward. But, now going back and looking at Redd Kross I can see, they’re a bit New York Dolls-y kind of thing, thirty or forty years ago I would have just done it but now it’s like, fuck, that’s not really that chord… it’s that chord now because I’m correcting it but it’s not a chord at all, it’s whatever it is.
When did you start playing guitar?
SL: I got my first guitar when I was fourteen, that didn’t last long, accidently setting it on fire and smashing it to pieces, very dramatic, almost burnt the house down.
Was there anything that inspired you to set it on fire?
SL: I was trying to… I had this grand idea that I was going to strip it back and have this cosmic kind of paint job on it. I was in the laundry at home and there was a gas heater, the pilot light is always on; I had the door closed because I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing and I was using tons of thinners and turpentine and the fumes kept building up and building up until the pilot light just ignited them! It went booooosh and blew the door off and blew me out of the laundry [laughs]. There was turps and thinners everywhere, all the shellac and stuff that was on the guitar was all molten like and running river. The more I tried to hose it out, the more it spread. In the middle of it all I saw my guitar and grabbed it and flung it out to save it but all the goo on the guitar sent molten globs of stuff onto the back wooden fence [laughs]. It was really, really traumatic. By the time I got all the fires out, I was looking at the smouldering guitar, I was so angry. I took to it and smashed it to pieces and thought—never again!
Wow! When did you start playing again and change your mind?
SL: It wasn’t that long after. I was always a much better singer than I was guitar player. I learnt how to play Bob Dylan kind of guitar, nice strumming and chords you could put under a melody, very folky, bluesy kind of stuff, that was totally relevant in 1977. I was just singing when X started, it was only after Ian Krahe died and a few other people didn’t fit that I was told I actually had to have an electric guitar, I had to have an amp, I had to learn how to play riffs… it was traumatic. Three months later we recorded X-Aspirations.
Have you always enjoyed singing?
SL: Yes, as long as I can remember. On my father’s side of the family, my grandmother was a chorus girl and my grandfather was vaudevillian, and he’d sing honky tonk piano, soft-shoe, magic tricks, all that kind of stuff. He would always be singing and if we stayed over with those grandparents he would sing us to sleep every night. I don’t remember when I started singing because I was too young to remember but being sent to Sunday School… my family wasn’t religious but they thought I should have some sort of religious experience, so I had to go to church on Sunday and I’d sing in the choir there. I did that up until I was twelve and when they said “Now if you want to go you can go, we’re not going to make you” so, I didn’t want to go and that was fine. By then I was into primary school and singing in the school choirs, doing choral concerts in Sydney Town Hall. I was always singing; singing along with the radio, with records—I’ve always loved singing.
Who was one of the first songwriters that first moved you?
SL: [Laughs] That’s funny… the answer I’d like to say is, when I was around thirteen or fourteen there were songs like, some very basic things like Don McLean or Dylan, really basic Creedence stuff… I loved to listen to Big Band music, I used to think that one day I might rather play the trumpet but it didn’t happen. Once I did actually have a guitar I really liked to “chunk” along to basic stuff. One of the first songs I learnt to play on guitar was something like “[Vincent] Starry, Starry Night” [laughs]. Cat Stevens was very big then, and again, very chord-y, easy songs. If you went to a party and there was a guitar sitting around you could pick it up and play Cat Stevens songs and girls would tend to like you more than if you sat there doing a Deep Purple song [sings opening riff to “Smoke On the Water”]; guys would love that but girls would be like, oh no. I made up my mind very quickly which direction I was going to go.
How did you discover rock n roll music?
SL: Mainly through Top 40 stuff but, when I was seven or eight my mother or my aunt took me to the cinema to see A Hard Day’s Night. Everyone was screaming so loud in the actual picture theatre that you couldn’t really hear very much at all. I got Beatle-mania like every other kid back then. They were accessible and covered songs by Little Richard. Then there were The [Rolling] Stones and between the two of them they opened the doors to my musical education, I suppose. Just really good RnB, soul-y kinds of ballads.
Was X your first band?
SL: It was my first real band. When I was fifteen I was in a school band and we did a gig for the sixth form’s farewell and we were never allowed to play again because we…. It was a big banquet and all the teaching staff was there and we were supposed to play stuff like Cat Stevens, we did play a couple of those to start but, then we broke into “Aqualung” and “Smoke On the Water”—that was the end of that! [laughs]. I changed schools again – I changed school a lot when I was younger – and met a bunch of other people and we used to play music together, I had my cousins and school friends playing bass and guitars and stuff and I was singing; we never had a name but one night a band was meant to play at a Police Boys Club but they didn’t and my cousin was in the Police Boys Club and told them he had a band, so we went and did that. It was fun! We did that one show and then maybe played at a party once. It was just something to do. X was the first band that we geared towards going out and playing to crowds in pubs, making money, the whole thing. We were gonna write great songs and get a record deal. Ian [Rilen] had left Rose Tattoo or had been discharged depending on who you talk to [laughs], so he had all that experience and the original drummer Steve Cafiero had plenty of experience, so we had a good chance of doing something if we played ball but we were a little bit… [pauses]. There’s ten years difference between Rilen, Cafiero and me and Krahe, Ian and and Steve were just hitting thirty and Ian and I were just about to turn twenty, our naivety and their experience was a great combination but it found us shooting ourselves in the foot quite often. We blew more chances than we actually embraced, by choice.
Are there any songs on X-Aspirations that really stick out to you or that has a special significance to you?
SL: No, because if I think of one I just think of another. The ones I would say I like least is easier to answer, “It Must Be Me” and “Turn My Head”. We weren’t sure of them when we recorded them, they were very much just off the cuff. When I used to take the records into record stores to sell, the first track I would always put on for the is “Delinquent Cars” because it had a nice steady pace, it had nice poetic lyrics, they always thought that was kind of good and they’d ask; what other song would you recommend? Then you’d play them “I Don’t Want To Go Out”. “I Don’t Want To Go Out” is the obvious one to say but I love them all. “Suck Suck” was great, and “Revolution”. “Dipstick” is so funny. “Waiting” is so tortured. They’re all very, very potent songs, which is why Lobby [Loyde] called it a concept album because it wasn’t an album that had two songs for a 7” single Top 40 hit… it was a collection of songs that stood well together but maybe not so well independently.
Do you remember writing “I Don’t Want To Go Out”?
SL: Yeah, I remember Ian would have brought that into the rehearsal room, it was predominately his song. I sing the riff ect. [hums the riff] and the first and second verse and it was like; where do we go now? I was sliding up and went to a C# or something and thought, that’s wrong! Then started moving down trying to find where he [Ian Rilen] was and he was following me, that ended up becoming the middle eight… we wrote the middle eight accidentally and then put in the last verse. He wrote the first two verses about me. I added the words to the middle 8 and I added the last verse about me and my friends preferring a beer to disco.
A lot of the time that’s how Ian and I would work, he’d have a blueprint for a song, he’d say it goes like this, do half and verse and then say that I can do the rest [laughs]. Sometimes I’d come in and do the same thing, like I’ve got this idea for a song but it needs a hook or something; he’d say, “How about this?” We were good like that from the beginning. I used to write with Ian Krahe as well. It was very organic in its original 4-piece format. Ian [Rilen] and I were obviously forced closer together when Ian Krahe died. We wrote a lot of songs together, maybe 120-130 songs!
Is there anything from that time with X that you learnt that’s stayed with you?
SL: Two things, OK… both the Ian’s were chronically late, that drove me mad! If anything I’m over punctual as a consequence. The big lesson that I’ve learnt that I’ve carried forever is one day Lobby explained to me how gigs worked. It sounds pretty dumb because you turn up, play, get paid and go home… that’s how you’d think about it but there’s more to it than that. Back then we had to hire our own P.A., you had to know the size of the room, whether it needed a single or double 4-way system, you’d have to hire the right rigging. You had to hire someone to operate it and then you had to hire people to lug it in. It was like running a small business, but it was called, being in a band!
As we got more and more popular and we could ask for more and more money, it got the stage where we were kind of pricing ourselves out of the market. Lobby said, “It all costs money. Pubs aren’t given alcohol to sell for free, they have to buy it and pay their staff, there’s overheads. You’re taking a percentage of the bar and door and there’s nothing left for anyone else.” He said “you have to understand that it’s very easy that you’re worth that but the most important thing to do is not believe the hype. People are paid to make that bullshit up! Don’t believe the hype!” He told me that and was about to walk away and turned around and said, “Especially your own!” That was it. I’ve lived by those rules ever since.
Do you like to create every day?
SL: No, no, no, ‘cause then it would be like a job. There are two kinds of camps, there are people that work at it and people that are sitting around waiting for a transmitted beam to be sent into your head and you go, ah! Thank you! Sometimes you dream of a song and if you’re really lucky you wake up and remember it and can figure it out before it fades away. Most of the time it falls into your hands. You’ll be playing it and as you’re playing it, sometimes the riff or progression will suggest words to you and then you latch onto them and you build. For me it’s always been a spate of songs, maybe ten or three or four that will come all at once and then they’ll be nothing for months. You don’t force it. I used to try and force it and I used to write shit, at least I thought it was and no one else would get to hear it; I’m not gonna say, hey, listen to this it’s shit! [laughs]. I’m not precious about it but, I just think if you want it to be a natural thing and really represent who you are, you can’t force it because, then you’re just tinkering with nature, I’m not a fan of that. Tin Pan Alley and the Big Think Tank, big songs of the ‘50s and ‘60s… I love some of those songs but they were obviously made under duress because they had to write hit singles.
Can you think of any songs that have been particularly challenging for you to write?
SL: Definitely. It’s weird because the song that made the most money in my whole musical life was a song that I wrote in about five minutes. It was a non-song almost. I wrote it because my daughter had a sleepover, a bunch of ten or eleven year old girl students, they’d all been picked up the next morning except for one that was left… I don’t know what my daughter was doing but, I was sitting in the lounge room waiting for this other girl’s parents to come and I was mucking around on the piano and she said “What’s that?” I said, I don’t know, I’m just mucking around. She said “Can you make that into a song?” I said, I don’t know, and I was looking around and saw a memo pad and it had written: thought of the day, make it happen! I looked at that and was like, yeah, I can make it happen! I just made up the song “Make It Happen”. I didn’t think much more of it until I was recording an album and needed an extra track. I thought it was pretty jaunty and threw it on. Thirteen years later it got picked up by Yoplait in America for a commercial. It was just like, wow! That’s one extreme of how lucky you can be.
On the other hand, my daughters favourite song that I’ve ever written, I had the music and arrangement in my head for twelve of thirteen years. I could never find the words that I thought belonged to the song. One day I was sitting the bus thinking about it and a line came to me and I thought it was perfect for that song. Once I had that it was like getting a key and unlocking a door and everything went booof and came tumbling out. I imagine that somewhere in my subconscious I had been thinking about it for all of that time, the lyrics wrote themselves in a matter of minutes, I was scribbling on bus tickets and whatever paper I could find it write it all down, this was obviously before mobile phones [laughs]. It can take forever.
What was the line in the song that came to you?
SL: I can’t sleep for loving you. It’s a nice tender little ballad, my daughter loves it. She loves it and says she’s going to cover it one day.
Aww that’s so lovely.
SL: Yeah, it’s for her. I think it’s a very beautiful song. I’ve demo’d it but never put it out. I think because I like the demo so much, I don’t want anybody to mess it up… I mean alter it by bringing their own feelings into it. Then again, the demo isn’t quite good enough to release, maybe one day on an anthology or something. I’m just leaving it there so if my daughter covers it, it can be hers.
I wanted to ask you about the song “Don’t Cry No Tears” it’s such a beautiful song and it’s become a bit of a signature song for you; can you tell me about writing that one?
SL: I remember it vividly. It was sometime, but not too long, after Ian Krahe had died. I was reading The World According to Garp [laughs], and I always associate that song with that book for some reason. I’d borrowed a 12-string guitar from someone and this C Major Seventh chord sounded beautiful on this guitar, I was mucking around with that. Of course in the end of the book Garp dies, I was thinking about that and then I was thinking about my friend that had died, I was thinking of how I never got to say goodbye and well, he never got to say goodbye either. I was having a conversation with him, representing him and myself talking to each other saying; this may have happened but it doesn’t change this. Wherever I go people want me to play it. I did a live stream for a mental health issue last night, it was the last song I played. I love the song, I’ll play it endlessly forever. It spoke the truth that just needed to be spoken.
Do you get emotional playing it?
SL: Sometimes I get very emotional. If a friend has passed away and someone asks if you can come to the funeral and sing it, it’s like, fuck! [laughs]. Yeah, I can. A couple of times I’ve really had to choke back the tears on it definitely, that’s what makes people like it—it’s real. I can’t do it without emotion. You can have the best or worst voice in the world but, it’s the emotion and the honesty of the delivery that moves people more than anything else.
I’ve found that throughout your catalogue of music that loss seems to be a prevalent theme; does music help you with healing?
SL: Yeah, it is. Music helps me sort out my feelings, absolutely. From my earliest memories there’s been issues around love, my parents split up when I was very young, then they got back together again and my sister came along, then they split up again. I went to live with my maternal grandparents. My mum was in and out of sanatoriums, she was manic depressive. Then she remarried, had my brothers and then that guy disappeared… love or the lack of love or the abuse of love, or the longing for love has been part of me for as long as I can remember, everyone wants to be loved. It’s so tricky because there’s so many kinds of love [laughs] and not all of them are healthy, not all of them are joyful. It is a powerful emotion. If you can sing about things like that people can relate to them, anger is another one. People loved X because of the satirical but very real anger in a lot of the songs, the critique, the social stuff. While I’m interested in social interactions and politics, I tend to address them through interpersonal relationships instead now. Love is love, you can apply it to anyone in any situation, having the same kind of joy and happiness or loss and sorrow; the politics of love is just as important as social politics. If you don’t have love within yourself, you’re not going to put it into anything else that you’re going to take out into the world; are you?
Absolutely. Did it take you a while to come to a place of self-love?
SL: Yeah, it took a while. I can’t remember when it happened [laughs]. One day I realised that I wasn’t so angry anymore; I wondered if that was a good thing or a bad thing? I decided it was definitely a good thing. When people say “Why don’t you write more songs like the classic X songs?” I say, it’s because I’m not that person anymore. I can’t go back and feel the way I felt then… people say “Times are so bad now, we need more songs like you and Ian wrote!” I’m like, they’re there. You can take songs like “Revolution” or “Suck Suck” or “Police” any of those songs, and they will apply to today, emotionally and politically. Nothing has changed, it’s just different labels and factions, people are still arguing about stuff that often doesn’t need arguing. People talk more about doing things than actually doing things because it’s much easier just to talk than take action. Nothing’s changed; why should I write another song? It’s there! [laughs].
I read on your blog a little while back about the power of naming things, songs, albums, etc. and how things can have a prophetic quality about them; have there been times you’ve felt you’ve done this?
SL: Wow! That’s going back a bit [laughs]. I’ve definitely had that, “Cry No Tears” is one. Now that you’ve mentioned it, it’s got me thinking… sometimes it can be a curse and you’ve got to be careful. Ian was always labelled with the [Rose Tattoo song] “Bad Boy For Love” thing and he hated it! It made him lots of money but it made him sick of people calling for him to play “Bad Boy For Love” especially at an X gig. The last thing he ever wanted to do was play that song again. It’s almost like a pre-destined, big clue to who you’re gonna be and what you’re gonna be for the rest of your life. For me, my two are “Moving On” which is the first song I ever wrote by myself; the other was “Don’t Cry No Tears”. The “Moving On” thing, I finally realised I didn’t think that I would remain rootless or without a real family for the rest of my life. I realised it was possible to build a home and a family and to be happy. With “Don’t Cry No Tears” it’s a nice resolution, it’s a song about closure but also about any parting, it reinforces that it can’t change your life, it can never be taken away, and sometimes you just have to be strong. When I think about it, I’m actually quite surprised that I wrote it.
Where do you get your strength from?
SL: That’s a complicated one. Partly sheer stubbornness [laughs]. The difference between my sister and I is about three and a half years, in the first few years of my mother and father being together when I was born they were happy for a while. I was too young to remember specifically but, I had a sense of that love. Later on when I was in my forties and my mother was permanently ill, she didn’t want to die in hospital, so I told her I would be her carer, you can die at home. During that time we got to talk about a lot of stuff. She said “Yeah, you know, I know it didn’t work out so well but when you were born, I really, really did like you”… I really needed to hear that. We weren’t the most communicating kind of family. My mother would say stuff like “You’re not much but I like you anyway, I suppose”. That was just her way. Anyway, her being able to tell me that made a huge difference, it reassured me about something that I had suspected on a subconscious level, that there was a golden time for me. It took a long time to get back to it.
I was also the eldest of the family so I did have to take care of my sister and my younger brothers. I had to be strong no matter what, it was expected of me. The quickest answer for your question is, it was firstly expected of me and secondly, because I’m incredibly stubborn. A third answer is that having suspected something had happened and having it confirmed, that was a very powerful moment.
I know what it is like to care for a parent, I spent sixteen years caring for my mum with Alzheimer’s and then my dad had mobility issues all for the later part of his life.
SL: That’s tremendous.
I had a similar moment with my father. He told me as a teen I wouldn’t be anything or do anything, that I was a no-hoper like the rest of my siblings… after my mum got sick and we were looking after her, our relationship changed and he told me that he’s always been proud of me and that he loved me. It’s the one and only time he said it to me. It really changed things for me.
SL: Yeah, if you hear it once and it’s honest and heartfelt, you only need to hear it once. I feel so sorry for people that don’t get that, because I do know people who have never felt loved by their parents and consequently never felt loved in their whole life—it’s terrible.
Are you a spiritual person at all? I know you went to Sunday School.
SL: Yeah, at the local Anglican Church, that was because my grandparents thought I should be introduced to some religion. Church of England is probably the most passive, it was back then. They thought it would be up to me to make up my mind. They weren’t particularly religious, no praying over meals or anything like that. For me, I’m pretty spiritual. When I was doing the stream last night I was talking about mental health issues and we were having a conversation and it came up; what do I believe in? I believe in something, it doesn’t have a name or a face but it is a faith. It comes from the necessity of me to carry on my daily existence, to think along the lines of basic science that energy cannot be destroyed it can only be transformed, we are made of energy. When you die, whatever you want to call it, a life spark or a soul or a neuron or whatever, I believe it goes somewhere else. I’ve heard some pretty funny ideas, Billy Connolly said, we all made up of atoms, molecules and can’t be destroyed, the body might die but you might become part of a teacup or a chair [laughs]. That’s one way of looking at it, you don’t have to necessarily be reincarnated or go to Heaven or whatever but, because we can’t figure out what happen afterwards doesn’t mean that nothing happens… it doesn’t mean anything happens either for that matter.
A long time ago, I was into Buddhism for a while, two Jehovah’s Witness knocked on my door, normally I’d say I’m not interested but back then they were using a different tactic [laughs]… there was the typical guy but an absolutely stunning woman; I was like, if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness I could be converted on the spot! [laughs]. I thought I’d talk to them because I was interested in what she had to say really, I’ll be honest. We were talking for a while and they said “You don’t believe in God?” I said, I don’t believe in god but I don’t necessarily not believe. I was into Buddhism and possibly being reincarnated, I said, maybe that’s what happens to you when you go to Heaven. They were like “What do you mean?” You’re reincarnated into another person or a better version of yourself then you get together but then you find that now you’re in Heaven and if you behave and do really good you might die and go to another Heaven that’s even better! That might go on for an eternity of eternities. They were like “Wow! We never thought of it like that!” I’m not saying it’s true but anything is possible. They said “Can you come to our chapter meeting next week and explain this?” [laughs]. I said, no, you can talk about it amongst yourselves. I’m not a spiritual leader, I’m just saying there are infinite possibilities, you believe in what you want to believe in and it’s fine with me as long as you don’t hurt me through your beliefs.
Outside of music what else are you passionate about?
SL: I love cooking! I was taught very young, as I mentioned I was brought up by my maternal grandparents and my grandmother had it in her mind that she didn’t want to be responsible for another stupid man walking this planet [laughs]. For her that meant, unable to look after themselves. She taught me to cook, sew, to do all the things she thought was important for a nice, comfortable day-to-day life. Cooking has always been a great comfort for me. I tried to get into art for a while but I’m no good at painting. I liked drawing for a while. There was a period where I felt very unmusical so I got into drawing a lot. It was fun for a while but it’s not the same… at the end of a drawing, people don’t clap and cheer. You don’t go to the pub and set up an easel and paint and at the end of it people go “That was fucking awesome! Can you do another one?!” [laughs]. There is an ego involved in creativity, it’s pretty hard to be creative I think if you don’t have an ego, I mean you might be very self-depreciating but it still makes you do whatever you need to do to… [pauses] process whatever it is that makes you feel that way. I’m not a psychologist though but I talk to all different kinds of people and when you do that you hear lots of different things that maybe you never considered yourself.
If I was lucky with anything… I remember someone interviewing Sean Connery once and they asked him; what’s the best gift ever given to you? He said “The ability to read”. I’m very passionate about literature, I love reading… to be able to listen, to be able to talk and write things; I like writing. I was actually really enjoying it until someone asked me to write a book. I started and then I thought, oh, now I’m doing this for the wrong reason. I was having fun before that and if I wrote something and someone liked it, it was great, if they don’t, so what. It’s not like my career depended on it. That was a bit odd.
Anything can hold my interest or catch my eye but how long it maintains my interest is a different thing. It depends if I can actually use it, like cooking, I can make a dozen bread rolls and people can come over and eat them and go “Oh my god, this is fantastic!” …back to the ego, if you do something and it gives you a positive return, you want to go back and do it again. Passion can manifest in many ways. I made leadlight windows for ten years. It was after my first wife and I split and I needed a job because I wanted custody of my daughter, I thought it was important to have a job. I needed a job that would be through school hours so I could pick her up after school and all that kind of stuff. A friend of mine said “Come and work for us”. I actually got really good at it and I enjoyed it but, I’m not in a hurry to make another one [laughs]. It was good while it lasted.
The things that are the most rewarding are the things that at the end of the day you can look back at and see it’s complete and finished, that you have a sense of accomplishment. That’s what’s good about writing a song… unless it takes thirteen years [laughs], then it’s not so good. I’ve been doing a few talks about depression and one of the big things with depression it seems is that people get that way because they’ve lost or never felt they had purpose, beyond the philosophical; why am I here? It’s like, literally; why am I here? I’m not doing anything for anyone, myself included. To have no sense of purpose, I can’t imagine anything more hellish.
When I was a kid I used to like making models because at the end there was something to look at. Even if that meant I’d blow ‘em all up with bungers! It was still fun.
Have there been times in your own life where you ever felt like you didn’t have purpose?
SL: Not really, because as I said, I was the eldest whether I had a purpose or not I had a responsibility, a responsibility is kind of similar. I’ve never felt like; why am I here? I’m lucky in that regard, I don’t know what I would have done if I had felt that way. You’d know having been through that carer’s situation, it’s a huge responsibility but, it’s infinitely rewarding when you get those breakthrough moments, they can make years of pain, if not necessarily evaporate, give it a sense of proportion where they’re no longer a millstone or albatross around your neck.
Before you were talking about playing a song for people and they clap and that being ego and then your friends coming around to eat the bread rolls you’ve made; maybe it’s more just coming from a place of connection?
SL: Yeah, absolutely. There’s the social aspect of it, which is important. I’m not going to pretend I don’t like it when people cheer or clap at the end of a song [laughs]. It’s very gratifying. I can play a song and have no one clap at all and still feel like I’ve done a good thing.
What’s next for you? You mentioned you were working on some songs for your wife.
SL: Yeah, she’s got a few projects going. Last year I lost a very close friend and one of the things he asked me to do before he dies was go to America and find some genuine Mexican musicians and record some songs with them, because he always thought I was wasting my time doing rock n roll. He always thought, in his words that “I had a beautiful voice for country music”. He said the Mexican people are so passionate, and he played me some stuff. I was going to do to Tijuana but the guy that was organising it for me just disappeared. My wife used some guys in San Diego, they fitted the criteria. When I recorded with them it was beautiful, it was fantastic.
That was the album By Request?
SL: Yes. Things come from all different corners and it comes back to; what do I believe in? I do believe in a certain amount of destiny. I had massive spinal trauma, my left leg was paralysed and they said I might lose the use of my right leg too. I had to wait a year for an operation. I asked myself; what am I going to do in that year? The doctor said “You’re a musician, if there was something you’ve always wanted to do, now’s the time to do it”. I said, I always wanted to tour America. He told me to go do that! [laughs]. I said, it’s not that easy! I can’t walk. He said, “Don’t let that stop you! It’s a thought!” I went home thinking, shove this thought up your bum! [laughs]. But, within weeks a guy sent me an email from America saying he loved X-Aspirations and that he wanted to do a run for his own little label on vinyl. I said, sure go for it! He told me he really wanted me to come to America and tour it. I said, I’d love to but I’m in a wheelchair at the moment, I’m having an operation on my spine. He said, “Don’t worry about it then”. I said, no, no, wait! My doctor said I should do something like this, there will be limitations. So I went and played.
I was in so much agony and had to take so many prescription drugs to manage the pain. I don’t really remember much. I’d get to a gig and they’d prop me up and as long as I didn’t move I wouldn’t fall over. I did twenty-eight gigs up and down the west coast of America. It was insane. I came back here and then after a bit had the procedures done. Gradually I got my left leg back. They recommended I do physio, which I wasn’t too keen on but, my wife bought me a drum kit. I set it up left-handed so I had to use my left foot to drive the kick pedal. They said you can train your muscles and nerves to work differently, the ones that aren’t working doesn’t mean you can’t stimulate the muscle, it’s like a detour, you’re rerouting things. I tried it and then the stubbornness kicked in and I worked at it and worked at it; even now if I’m walking down the street I take a cane because I get tired, but if I walk the way I used to I’m all over the place ‘cause the things don’t work anymore. It’s amazing what your brain can do if you let it. This could apply to anything pretty much. Being told you might not have feeling in your leg to doing what I am now, I thought that was an insurmountable thing and I’d never get over it, but I did!
A friend of mine who was a Buddhist said “You were given that pain for a reason, you have to love it for what it is” ….again my first reaction was, pffft! [laughs], you try feeling like this and tell yourself you’re gonna love it! Then I realised what they meant, it was an opportunity of sorts to deal with things. It was great! I remember waking up one day and being, that’s it, today it changes! I’m not going to be this person anymore, I’m not going to be dominated by my pain, I am going to dominate my pain! It didn’t just go biiiiing! It took a long time, that’s where stubbornness really comes in handy! [laughs].
I say to people, you always have a choice, no matter how shitty the choices are, you still have one and if you’ve got nothing but bad choices laid out in front of you, then you pick the less harmful or more palatable of those choices, take it. Once you get there you’ll see more choices, maybe equally as bad but maybe one that’s not quite as bad as that, so you go there. The further you go along taking the most positive steps you can take, even though they might seem like there’s no difference at all, you start to learn how to make better choices. Once you start to make better choices, you start to have a better life—to me it’s that simple. I’ve been through it. I still have to do it and make hard choices but I have learnt what is a good choice and what isn’t. It helped enormously. It is rewarding. As you know, it’s not always an immediate plus but you can look back and go, oh, I’m actually glad I did this because now I don’t have to worry about those ones, or you can look back and go, well now I’ve done this, I can face that and get over that hurdle too. I hate the words “empowering yourself” but it’s good to empower yourself to make good decisions for yourself that will benefit you mentally and spiritually, in health, in your relationships… but you don’t need to have a world dominating vision at the end of it [laughs]. You don’t need to be a CEO of a mega company to feel like you’ve accomplished something. I feel like I’ve accomplished way more than I could ever imagine I could. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that I have to stop doing things!
Naarm/Melbourne Swedish D-beat inspired band Lái (a Chinese Mandarin phrase meaning ‘to come/next’) play distorted, political hardcore punk with vocals ferociously and urgently delivered in both Bahasa Indonesian and English language. Their songs explore experiences with abortion, sex work, Southeast Asia and the diaspora, religion, queer rights and more, all given voice through vocalist Alda’s lyrics. Gimmie are looking forward to the release of Lái’s forthcoming LP Pontianak. We spoke to Alda about it and of her life growing up in Indonesia as well as her experience of immigrating here to Australia.
This interview will also appear in our editor’s soon to be released book, Conversations With Punx, along with in-depth chats with members from Crass, The Slits, Subhumans, X-Ray Spex, Black Flag and more from the worldwide punk community from its beginnings to today.
How did you first discover music?
ALDA: Before she went all extremely religious, my mom used to collect CDs like Queen, Backstreet Boys, Enya, Natalie Imbruglia, all time love songs, etc. That is the first time I discovered music, and English. Matter of fact those bands are how I start to learn English, from translating their lyrics as a 6-year-old having access to early internet in the net cafes, so I could sing-along at home and understand what it says.
You’re originally from Indonesia; can you please tell us a little bit about what it was like growing up there for you?
ALDA: Honesty it feels weird to be talking about myself right now, knowing that there’s so much more relevant matter…I can’t even fully put my mind to it, but I’ll give it a go.
I grew up in a Muslim household, and schooled in a Muslim-only school until I graduated Junior High school. After plenty of begging to my religious mom, she allowed me to have a public school experience at high school, with the condition that I have to wear a hijab, otherwise I’ll be kicked out of home. I hate being forced to look religious a lot. Even since I was at Muslim school, I always sneaked out with my trusted slutty closest friends to take it off, smoke and hook up somewhere. Turns out I strongly despise being forced to look religious in public school even more, because unlike my previous school, not everyone have to wear full hijab and I feel even more out of my element.
I went to Netherland for a scholarship for a year where I get to experience that double life again— but while free of my usual religious environment, so I get to think about what I wanted to do with my life without much peer coercion. When I’m back, I decided to take it off more and start being myself at school and in public. People suddenly called me a Satanist at school and made up surreal stories and rumours of my alleged “new behaviours” [laughs]. I pushed it more with talking about atheism and Indonesia’s communist background any time I got chances to, like in class presentations and stuff [laughs]. It was hilarious! I meant the things I said back then, but it was still funny to watch the impact.
Before that, I was one of the nerdy kids that got called to the front of school ceremony so I can give some short speech after winning some nerdy things like English debate competitions – I used to get into school competitions a lot because that was my excuse to get out of home. A lil’ bit of nerdy model student y’know [laughs]. But after I took off my hijab and stop giving a fuck about maintaining that “good image”, the teachers condemned me, most students tried to stay away from me like they can get infected with my godlessness, the school almost not letting me graduate because I didn’t graduate the religion class – it was mandatory to pass religion test for graduation – and I got kicked out of home. But it was probably one of the most important decisions I have made in my life so far, I’m so glad I stuck to that decision. I don’t wanna live this life any other way.
But yeah, I guess my feud with misogyny embedded in religions doesn’t really end there. As you might know, Indonesia is a religious country, so religion influences almost everything—starting from law making, social judgment, social punishment, etc etc.
What was it like for you when you first moved to Australia?
ALDA: Life here is way easier than what I’ve ever experienced before. Here you can do things like dumpster diving, squatting etc. with way less risk, and there’s more ways to find out how to survive/make money. On the other hand, the rules of immigration to Australia is one of the hardest to go through, I believe, globally other than America. Especially if you come from a “third world country” like me (in quote marks because that outdated term is now a myth based on bullshit), and not come here loaded with trust-fund.
In the beginning, it was a bit hard because I was on student visa, paying it with working on the weekend (and occasionally after school when weekend & graveyard shifts is not enough). I couldn’t miss out on too many school days otherwise I will get kicked out from school (and therefore the country). I couldn’t pay the school fee late, otherwise, the same consequence. International students have to pay very high fee, and they try to make it near impossible for us to work (because they just want to take our money, not for us to make money from being in Australia; we’re just ‘cashcows’ with no rights and support back from this place, who will get dished out once we’re no longer bring the ca$h in).
I was in the cheapest school that I can find and that is still me having to pay $3,100 every 4 months. On top of my daily necessities and visa requirements. Anyway immigration rule is very classist, probably to avoid poor people from poor countries to move here. So yeah, I didn’t get to have much social life… but at least I still get to run away from fucked up shit that I would have to live with back at my hometown, so that was fine. It’s impossible to notice that the immigration rule is basically — if you are a person of color coming from a poor country, you have to go through so much more loop to stay here. My POC friends coming from America or Europe or even a rich Asian country like Singapore got their Visa waaay faster than I do, even when they have about the same amount of money in their bank account with me.
My white friends coming from those places? LOL …basically it seems like they barely have to prove anything, they get their Visa in no time, whether they have savings or not. It felt pretty shit to watch that. Treatment for white people in rich countries are like some “exclusive rich kids club” in my eyes, and maybe in the eye of “people like me”; like we had to prove so hard that we are worthy to enter the gate of this privilege. Getting our English tested every two years as if we can get worse at it while still living here—and being told that our English is not good enough, and got laughed at when it is not perfect; as if that proves that our intelligence is lower, despite that we can talk in over 5 different languages. Pfft.
In short, when I first come here I realized I’m now living in an awkward spot of getting more privileged than my friends/family back home; but definitely damn underprivileged economically here. My life quality gets better just because it was bad before, because my country is still ravaged by richer countries such as Australia, for our gold, land, farming produce, cheap labour, cheap productions of their fast fashion brands etc.; and once people like me managed to come here in a hope for a better life, we gotta give our fortunes (if we have any) and/or slaved away for many years here and give our “excess wealth”. So that maybe, maybe we can eventually move here and be less poor. So that one day we can awkwardly laugh with our peers at some party when they cringe how the countries that we are coming from are so poor, the food that we eat are so dirty etc. etc. so they can laugh at the poverty that their people enforced on us. Shit!
You didn’t come here to hear me bitch about your racist & classist immigration system LOL but here we are.
How did you first come to performance?
ALDA: In Australia? Lái is my first one. I was very lucky that Tessa, Nissa & Timmy needed a new vocalist. Before Australia I only performed a small handful of times with a band I made with my closest friends, but at those times (about a decade ago) we were wasted together more than we try to actually perform LOL so yeah I wouldn’t count that as much performance experience.
You sing in a blend of both Bahasa Indonesian and English; why is this important to you?
ALDA: Of course it’s important for me. I’m an Indonesian. I only moved here 5 years ago, I mostly grew up there. My body is in this land but all the experience I had while growing up has formed me, and is forever relevant to me. I chose to use both languages because if I only use English – other than the looming discomfort of using the global colonial language – my vocabulary will also be more limited; I don’t know how to express things in the same layers of meaning like I would in Indonesian. Not to say that I’m excellent at it but it’s a language where I know a bit more about the culture, literacy, the guttural and poetic expression. In the end, I decided to use both. I mainly use English for messages that I’d like to say more globally, and Indonesian words for things I mainly wanna express for Indonesian/Malay speaking listeners.
The way you sing is quite brutal (which I love); are you ever afraid that the message will get lost? Or is part of the way it’s delivered help reinforce what you’re saying?
ALDA: I guess the actual reason for me is because that’s the only way I know [laughs]. Or at least that’s how I feel I can respond to the kind of songs that we have…it ends up being some sort of noise/scream therapy, a way that I can channel how I feel when talking about the subjects that I’ve written in the lyrics. I realized this means most likely people won’t be able to understand what I’m talking about, so therefore sometimes I talk a little bit about the song, so the message wouldn’t get entirely lost. And if anyone would like to know more about it, they can just read the full lyrics online in our bandcamp or somth.
How did you first find your voice? Is confidence something you have developed over time (or are still developing)?
ALDA: My first band called Negasi (2009) but I sing in a different way back then…the first time I sing like this is with Assusila (in 2011); a crust punk band from Bandung, a few years later when I felt more angry and would like the chance for “scream therapy” in a band. I can’t afford a therapist, so playing with Lái has been helpful for my mental health actually. In real life I’m one of those opinionated socially reclusive introvert, so going on stage has been a fuckin’ challenge from day one for me. I don’t naturally feel comfortable under a spotlight. I’ve spent some portions of my life trying to hide from the spotlight too, and was raised under a culture that holds high values on playing the subtlety game, so taking that spotlight feels naturally counter-intuitive. To be on stage in a country where I don’t even know many people… If you’ve been to any of our shows, especially in the first year, woof especially the first show (!!), you’ll notice how awkward I am [laughs]. I mean, I’m still pretty awkward on stage these days, but I guess I’m developing a lil’ more self-confidence..?
When do you feel most powerful?
ALDA: I feel the most powerful when I manage to put all my mind noises aside, and just do things that felt natural for me. When I get lucky, it felt cathartic, and when I’m really lucky, it also felt spiritual.
What inspired Lái to start?
ALDA: I wasn’t there from the beginning, but what I know is… Timmy had a dream where they’re in a band with Tessa, Nissa and Annelise (the first vocalist) and it was awesome; so they asked these talented babes to join them in a band, and they’re all keen, so they started. I was excited when I heard that too—I mean they’re an awesome team! I’d definitely come to their show. But Annelise is a very busy person already, hence it’s hard to find time for practice, so eventually she quit…and then Tessa messaged me if I’m interested, and I’m like hell yeah! I got to scream my lungs out and make fun projects with these amazing peeps! Stage fright aside, I was very keen.
Later in the year once all the Coronavirus uncertainty has settled down Lái will be releasing LP Pontianak (it’s also the name of the first track from the album), from what I understand the Pontianak is a female vampiric ghost in Indonesian and Malay mythology/folklore; what was the significance to you of her appearance in your creation?
ALDA: I feel a lot of connection with Pontianak. When I grew up, one of the main scary folklore figure is Pontianak. Older people told me, if a women did an abortion/child birth and died—she will turn into Pontianak. She will haunt the neighborhood, trying to kidnap babies, because she has lost her baby, and that will be “the only thing that she wanted”. Other adults told me, Pontianak is also those women hangin’ outside past sunset, sometimes they hang around frangipani trees – the tree is associated with death, because in Java it is mostly planted in cemeteries for its nice fragrance – and they will try to lure men into their embrace. The men fallen prey to Pontianak will be killed after they hookup. Some adults also added that these men will be skinned alive, but I think they might confuse it with the myth of Gerwani (one of the propaganda spread in the military regime time, when they wanted to justify the massacre of communists but that’s another story!). Other adults also told me, “Pontianak (also called Kuntilanak in Indonesia) can be turned into an attractive women, very suitable to be married. But you will have to stake a nail on top of her head, and keep it there. As long as the nail remains there, she will turn into a beautiful, obedient women, and she will be a good wife.”
As I turn older, and survived some horribly dodgy illegal abortion practices in Indonesia, met other women who are going to do their abortion in those shady, overpriced, hidden abortion clinic;
I realized fully how fucked those stories are! Why does Pontianak become a demon after she failed giving birth? And, why the hell do they think having a baby would be the only thing she cares about? Hangin’ outside at night time, is that just a way to give shit to women that are still going out having a night life, and a way to scare people off them? Also WTF?? Lobotomizing her so she can become “a good, obedient wife”?? Fuck that! Fuck those stories! Her story needs to be retold. Reclaimed, by all other women who don’t think that these hateful stories does her justice. I draw Pontianak here and there before the album artworks too, just because, of course.
In 2015, Yee I-Lann from Malaysia also made a video art called “Imagining Pontianak” where she interviewed a bunch of girls covered with long black hair (as Pontianak usually is depicted), and I lived in Kuala Lumpur at the time so one of them is me. The topic of our talk was about sex, abortion, and generally about being a women, the types of women that “Pontianak would be”. I thought her project was important and inspiring, as these topics needed to be brought up more often. We all have versions of ourselves, and therefore our own versions of Pontianak. But what she shouldn’t be anymore, is a feared folklore figure with a story told by misogynist men and women. I loved the fact that she made a cool art project out of our folklore (and I think you should check it out if you can), as I think it is very important for women living and growing in misogynistic cultures to take these shitty narratives back, to reclaim their own stories and destroy the toxic ones (or at least acknowledging how the toxic narratives affects people).
I really love the art work you did for the album too; how did you decide to draw her like that?
ALDA: Traditionally, Pontianak is depicted with long black hair… but I had a dream once where I got dragged down to a river, where the water was bottomless, and a particular Pontianak slowly swimming towards me, with all her white hair flowing gently around her face contrasting with the dark waters, and I get to watch in vivid details on how her entire looks were. Her dried up eyeballs, hollowed eye sockets, and enticing stare. Pontianak that I drew is based on her just because it feels more personal to me, although I did draw her in a way more comical version…hmm I don’t think my drawing style can do her justice to be honest, but I’m pretty happy with it.
Feminism and queer rights in South East Asia are themes that you explore in your lyrics; what has helped shape the importance of these themes to you?
ALDA: My main issue with everything surrounding my life in Indonesia since my forced-religious childhood until the demystifying moments of rape culture and sexism in the punk scene that I grew up in, can be concluded to mainly about the misogyny and rampant queerphobia. Although I’m trying to not make it define me in my current life, a bunch of traumas related to the subject have undoubtedly shaped me.
What’s your favourite moment on the record?
ALDA: Screaming (and punishing the ears of my lovely bandmates while they were having lunch LOL) without the music even playing loud at the recording, it felt funny.. There was also an attempt of recording group cackles with our mates that was hilarious and fun to do, even though we end up not using it [laughs].
Religion is another theme explored in your songs; are you a spiritual person at all?
ALDA: I’m somewhat spiritual, but definitely not religious… I think my resentment comes from being forced to practice religion that I don’t believe in, definitely put me off from being one.
Lastly, can you please share with us a really life changing moment you’ve had?
ALDA: I guess that moment in high school that I mentioned before was the main life changing thing. When I decided that being liked for what I’m not is not a good enough motivation to survive….you know, if I’m gonna try to stay alive, I might as well just do me, might actually try to make it worth the survival efforts. Even when it looks mundane, so what, right? Otherwise, what is really the point…? Self-discovery/exploration has been my constant reliable source of joy & sense of meaning. I think 2020 only makes this belief grow stronger for me [laughs].
Carolyn Hawkins is a musician and visual artist from Melbourne. We love the art she creates! It’s imaginative, fun, whimsical and sentimental. She lovingly crafts album covers, gig posters, zines, videos and more as well as playing in two punk bands we adore, Parsnip and School Damage. Gimmie chatted with Carolyn about all this and more.
CAROLYN HAWKINS: I’ve been stuck in the studio today working on stuff that’s due this week.
What have you been working on?
CH: A stop-motion video. I’m glad we booked the interview for today because I feel like I’m starting to go crazy, I feel like I’m locked in a dungeon trying to get this thing done [laughs]. It’s good to break it up.
You also did a stop-motion animation for the School Damage song “Meeting Halfway”; is this new clip you’re working on similar to that?
CH: Yeah. It’s pretty similar. I’m still using paper cut-outs to do all of the images. I’m using a slightly better program. When I made the “Meeting Halfway” video I was using a $20 program and my computer didn’t have enough memory. I had to save it every time that I captured a frame, it was twelve frames per second. It would kick me out and I’d lose all of my work. I have a much better program now, which I’m glad I was able to save up for and get. It makes stuff a dream. It’s still really time consuming but it’s easier now.
I can relate! With my laptop at the moment I have to have it plugged into the wall all the time because the battery won’t charge and it has a dodgy port and if I just knock it slightly it shuts down and whatever I’m working on I lose. At the moment I’m saving after like every sentence I type!
CH: Oh no! That’s totally what this was like. It’s living on the edge way too much [laughs].
CH: The “Meeting Halfway” video was a lot of fun to make. I don’t really do animation stuff, I didn’t really know what I was doing. My friend Alex gave me heaps of help in figuring it all out, I also borrowed a camera and a tripod off him. I still don’t really know what I’m doing, I guess that’s probably why I’m working in a similar style for this new one. I’m still getting my head around that way of doing things. I started using a green screen which is pretty exciting!
Nice! My husband’s made a few film clips with animation and using a green screen, he just uses a green sheet for the backdrop.
CH: Cool! I have a green bit of paper. It’s really fun! What videos has he made?
He made Regurgitator’s “Sine Wave” clip. What first got you interested in art?
CH: I’ve always enjoyed drawing and making things from as far back as I can remember. One thing that really stands out – I really don’t think that I probably would be into making things in quite the same way if I didn’t watch it – is watching Art Attack! When I was a kid I used to love that show so much! My mum used to tape it off the T.V. and I’d watch it on the school holidays. Someone gave me all the VHS tapes of that recently too. It’s just the most random projects and using all kinds of materials, just stuff you have around the house. It kept me entertained for so long. I’ve always enjoyed making things and using the materials that I have generally. It’s satisfying to start with nothing and then by the end of the day you’ve made this new thing. That was always just fun stuff. I don’t know what made me decide to go to art school and pursue it beyond doing art at school or in my own time. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else basically, there’s nothing else that I want to do more. It’s just a very satisfying thing to do to work with your hands.
It really can be the best fun that you can possibly have.
CH: Yeah, exactly. There’s so many surprises! When I left school I studied print making and a lot of that is about these unexpected things that can happen. When something doesn’t go right and you get these happy accidents, I think that’s probably the most exciting thing that can happen when you’re making anything whether it’s a song or a drawing or a print, something you’re working on. For me that is the most exciting thing about making anything.
Me too! I love when you’re making a song and you might play a “wrong” note or something but then it works, there’s a beauty in imperfection and making things work, that’s what makes stuff more interesting to me.
CH: Yeah, totally! I agree. With punk music it’s all about imperfections. When you’re recording something and it’s not a perfect take, I would probably prefer to use those ones. There’s no point in trying to control something so much that it squeezes the life out of it. You have to allow and encourage all of those things. It’s all part of the process.
Totally! When I spoke to Jake [of Alien Nosejob] he told me that he was teaching you to play guitar in iso; how’s that going?
CH: Oh yeah! [laughs]. Good. I’m still going with it. I practice almost every day and it’s been really good because, I think over the last little while I have found it harder to write songs. I’ve just gone through this period where… I’m not really sure what it is but I haven’t been writing as many songs but I’m still dong musical things.
It’s been really awesome to learn an instrument. I haven’t played anything like the guitar before, the last time I learnt an instrument would have been when I was getting drum lessons when I was a teenager or learning piano. It makes you realise that when you are an adult, as you get older you know what you like and you stick to the things that you know and that you’re good at and you keep doing those; the things that you’re not good at you don’t have to do anymore.
As a kid your parents encourage you to learn these things, play this sport, go to swimming lesson, stuff like that… you might not enjoy them but you just do them because that’s what being kid is about—people want you to try new things. It’s refreshing to push myself to do this thing that might be uncomfortable and have the satisfaction of seeing yourself get better at something. It’s been really fun.
It’s nice to play songs that I think are cool. If I learnt guitar as a kid I’d probably just be playing something like “Smoke On The Water” [laughs]. Maybe “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica or something like that! I’m so impatient with learning the guitar though, it’s like; when am I going to get better?! It reminds you that if you practice something you’re going to get better. If you put work into something you’ll get there. Fingers crossed I keep going with it.
I’ve read that in Parsnip you play the same drum kit you’ve had since you were a teenager.
CH: Yeah, I do. I’ve only ever had the one drum kit. I remember when I got it from this drum place that is still there in Richmond on Victoria Street. It’s served me really well and unless something bad happened to it or it broke in a way that it couldn’t be repaired… I never get new things, especially if I’m used to something. I’ll just keep using it until I can’t.
CH: Jake loves getting new things, I don’t really like getting new things [laughs]. I stay with my old stuff and I like repairing things until I can’t anymore and they just die. I’m really fond of my drum kit, it’s like my bike… I’m so comfy with them, they’re like old friends. I can’t let go of them!
Previously when talking about the gear you’ve used, you’ve mentioned that you feel like your sound more comes from how you play and not what gear you play; how would you say you play?
CH: That’s a good point, because a lot of the time I don’t even play my drum kit. It’s not like being a guitarist and having your own gear, often when you’re a drummer you just use what kit is there, which is fine, it means I don’t have to bring one.
For a long time I never really thought the way I played was particularly unique or anything, the way I play I always have the philosophy that less is more. Strip it back as much as you can to the core elements. I think it probably came from being in high school, I never played drums in a band because it was totally dominated by dudes, who honesty couldn’t play that well but were just really loud and they could do all these drum fills and stuff. I was too nervous to do that. It made me be really put off by these really over the top way of playing.
When I was a teenager I loved The Who and loved Led Zeppelin, I still really like those bands and that crazy drumming but, it’s not for me. I’d much rather play like Peggy from The Gories or Meg from The White Stripes, she basically made me want to be a drummer. I take from that school of thought, you don’t need to be over the top to have something that sounds cool and has personality, and is catchy and still has a good feel to it. People often come up to me and say they like how I drum and everyone always says that I play “really in the pocket” and I have never really understood what that means… apparently that’s what I do [laughs].
When Parsnip started you all had other bands; what was it like when you all started playing together?
CH: Honestly it just felt really natural. Me and Paris and Stella had spoken about it, we were at one of the Jerkfests and we were like, let’s make a band! The other two had been talking about it and they asked me if I wanted to be part of it. I messaged them the next day and I was like, I know we were all pretty drunk and getting excited about this but, I really, really want to do it!
When we finally did get together…. whenever you start a band I think it’s a bit awkward because you know each other as friends but you’re trying to suss out how everyone works when you jam, being in that band environment. Every band is so different. I feel like we figured it out really quickly, I feel like we just got our shit together!
We all had played in bands for so long… we probably all had the same experience playing in bands… I’d never played in an all girl before. We all had the same frustrations of being in this male dominated environment, it’s not like we talked about that though. The dynamic just worked instantly. It was fun. It’s just hanging out with your friends. It sounds corny but that’s how it really was. With our rehearsals still, almost 50% of it is just hanging out and chatting [laughs]. Which isn’t great if you’re paying for a rehearsal room. It’s good though, a lot of it is mucking around and catching up. It’s important to hang out outside of band things too, I think sometimes in bands friendships can suffer. We all hang out as buddies not just band stuff, which is really nice.
What inspired you and Jake to start School Damage?
CH: Me and Jake did a tape. Jake typically said something like – this was when we first started going out – “We’re gonna spend so much time together, we may as well start a band” [laughs]. Which was cool, I didn’t mind. I had never written a song before and he was really encouraging of that, which was good because it is pretty scary to do that. We recorded a tape at home. Jake was hanging out with Jeff at this record store, Title, that used to exist on Gertrude Street. Jeff joined on drums and then I’d known Dani since I was at RMIT – she was doing photography and I was doing print making. We were all just friends. Dani played guitar and I asked her if she could play bass and she turned out to be the best bass player I have ever heard, so incredible.
You mentioned that when you started writing songs, it was scary; what’s scary about it?
CH: I guess ‘cause I thought I couldn’t do it. It was nice being around Jake because I can kind of see how he writes songs, it demystified the whole process. I was still relativity new even to just having friends that played music. The whole idea of creating songs… I was playing with Chook Race and we just jammed, at the start we didn’t really write songs. I was always like; how does it happen?
I knew how to play piano and I had a keyboard so I just recorded stuff on my phone and Garage Band, not really knowing what I was doing; I still don’t know what I’m doing! It was a scary idea. You have to make yourself quite vulnerable. The thing that always freaks me out is; what am I going to write a song about? Everything sounds pathetic when I write, but you just have to get past that. If I was going to give in to that part of myself, which is: no one cares about that; no one wants to hear about your stupid romance troubles… I don’t even know. Why do you want to write a song about dumb online shopping? Who gives a shit?
I give a shit! I really love your song “Online Shopping”.
CH: That’s the one song that I am the most proud of! [laughs]. I really love that song, I don’t care that I wrote it… I really love it. It’s actually really relevant right now… anyway, whatever! You just have to tell that voice that doubts yourself to shut up! You know this. It’s not going to help you at all do anything. Maybe that’s why I haven’t written for ages? Because every time I go to write something I think it’s stupid.
Something that helps me when writing is that I think, well, maybe if I think this maybe someone else out there will. I just do it and have fun with it. Hopefully it connects with someone somewhere, and if it doesn’t I still had a really fun time making it.
CH: You’re 100 % right. It’s like maybe we’re just hardwired to doubt ourselves. You do have to get past it. You’re right, someone somewhere will resonate with it and if they don’t; what’s the worst that could happen?!
On the new Parsnip 7” Adding Up you wrote the song “Repeater”?
CH: Yes, I did. I wrote it really quickly because I was like, oh no, I have to try and write something for this! [laughs]. It was very quickly put together. This is what happens when you play in a band, you write some little demo with a little information in it and the rest of the members make it a hundred more times amazing! I wrote that and we ended up making it heaps like “I Can’t Explain” by The Who, obviously [laughs]. I didn’t realise until after that I’d totally ripped off a part in “Proud Mary” by Creedence [Clearwater Revival], but whatever! It ended up working though because the song is about patterns repeating themselves throughout your life, relationships and things. Maybe it doesn’t matter that those songs are repeating themselves in my song. At least I can justify it that way! [laughs].
Parsnip do a cover on the 7” too of “Treacle Toffee World”.
CH: I think it was Stella’s suggestion, I didn’t know the song beforehand. It’s off one of these ‘60s comps of garage music. The song is by a band called Fire. It’s such a good song. It’s so much fun to play. It’s fun to sing a song about sort of nothing. I really like the lyrics in it.
The film clip is really fun!
CH: That was obviously done in isolation. We were talking about what we wanted to do for a clip and then the pandemic happened. It’s done in iMovie and is pretty lo-fi. We all filmed ourselves at our own homes being idiots dancing to the song. Bec put it together in a day. It was nice to be silly with it. You’re not spending lots of money on it so there’s no pressure to make it perfect. It was nice to do something together even though we were apart from each other and isolating. Just talking to each other about band stuff and getting things done was nice.
I was so sad for you when the Parsnip Japan tour got cancelled.
CH: I know, it sucks. I’m sad about it as well. Everyone has had so many things get cancelled this year. Ordinarily, if I told myself at the start of this year that everything that was going to happen was going to happen, I’d be so devastated but I think as things got cancelled, the whole scale of this thing has put so many parts of my life into perspective. I had another trip that got cancelled to and I kind of didn’t mind ‘cause I was so freaked out about so many other things, I didn’t even want to go. I was fine to just stay here and be stuff. It would be really cool to go to Japan with Parsnip, it will happen. I’m staying optimistic.
In September/October last year Parsnip when to America, right?
CH: It was for three weeks.
You got to go hiking and swimming and explore some places; what was your favourite place you saw?
CH: Oh my gosh, we were so lucky! We got a bit of time to check out the local area and to do non-music related things which was so nice. The bush walk you were talking about was somewhere in Upstate New York. We went swimming in Richmond, North Carolina. The guys from Cement Shoes took us swimming in this wide river, I’ve never seen anything like it. We went to some really cool art projects in Detroit, they were outdoor art installations which were really cool. Despite Japan being cancelled I feel really lucky that we got to go to America when we did. Who knows when we’ll ever be able to go back there? It was the best tour ever! Tours can be such intense experiences. You can think it will be amazing and sometimes it’s not.
I wanted to ask you about one of your art pieces that I really love, it’s the Anti-Fade Records compilation New Centre Of The Universe Vol. 3. It’s really beautiful.
CH: Thank you! That front cover is really special to me. I was so stoked when Billy asked me to do it. It’s a gauche painting I did. I took a long time to finish. It’s from a photo I took four years ago on New Year’s Eve at a spot in Queen’s Park on the Barwon River. All the little people in the boats… one is Paris, the one with the two oars sticking out; one is Zak [Olsen] and some other Geelong friends. We used to go down to the Barwon river and swim, we’d go to K-Mart and get blow up dinghies for $20 and hang out there until it’s dark then go to someone’s house. When Billy asked me to do it I wanted to pick an image that summed up for me, Anti-Fade… when I think of Anti-Fade I think of Geelong and having fun with my friends. I know it’s branched out now and Anti-Fade is a lot bigger but I just wanted to pick something that was special to that scene. I think maybe Billy wanted something more about Melbourne than Geelong and I tried to just paint a pretty picture but it didn’t really work out. I don’t think I can just paint a pretty picture, it has to have some special meaning or concept otherwise it’s too boring to work on.
I had a feeling it was of Queen’s Park. I always remember the really beautiful trees they have there and that peaceful feeling you get, your cover reminded me of that and made me feel that.
CH: It’s a really beautiful spot. It sums up for me what I like about Geelong. It’s just a bunch of people getting drunk and having a swim in Queen’s Park [laughs].
Being a music and art lover; what’s some of your favourite album covers? What do you appreciate about it?
CH: I was talking to Billy [Gardner] about this recently, I love all The Fall 7” art, the illustrations and collages. I really love The Fall Totally Wired cover with the face on it with gritted teeth. Definitely EVOL by Sonic Youth, the cover looks exactly just the way the album sounds. I usually look through heaps of covers when I’m getting inspired to do my own work. I also get really inspired by artist David Hockney.
In February this year a book came out called Urban Australian and Post-Punk which you wrote a piece for.
CH: Yeah, I did. That was basically about a venue that used to exist here in Melbourne that was a house venue. It was run out of a terrace house and had really good shows, it had a limited capacity and the community that would attend those shows were really lovely. It was a really good set up, the sound was always good. The people running it were the most gorgeous angels ever! It held a special spot in my heart and I ended up writing this particular thing about it because I was doing a subject in Urban Planning at Melbourne uni… it was about how every week we’d watch a different movie and it would look at underground subcultures and how that subculture interacted with the urban environment. One week we watched Dogs In Space which is one of my all-time favourite movies and I ended up writing an essay for my final assessment comparing the house party experience and share house environment and how that could be compared to things that were or had happened in Melbourne. My lecturer David Nicholas, who used to play drums in Cannanes and lots of interesting bands, asked if I wanted to contribute my essay to this book. It’s totally exciting! And nerve-racking! I’m in good company to say the very least. I felt weird having it out there because it’s weird to comment on culture. When you see something in a book bound up like that it’s giving my voice so kind of authority, I don’t know if I should have that. It’s just my perceptions of the whole thing.
Yeah, but you were there and you experienced it and your perceptive is just as valid as anyone else’s that was there.
CH: Yeah, I guess that’s true. I just feel it’s really important and these spaces deserve to be documented in some way otherwise they’re these ephemeral things, but that’s what makes them so beautiful, they come and go. I wanted to write it down, I got some good interviews with people. I’m glad that it’s out there. I hope when I read back over it when I’m older it will be a good thing to prompt my memory. It was really special to be able to do that.
Melbourne pub punk band Amyl and the Sniffers need no introduction. We recently chatted to bassist Gus Romer to find out about the progress on new music, how he came to join the band and about their travels all over the world.
When we were teeing up this chat you mentioned that you’re a late sleeper; have you always been one? Is it because you’ve played so many shows – I think around 250 or so in the last year – that contributes to you keeping late hours?
GUS ROMER: In the past two years we’ve played a lot of shows. I’ve always been like that though, I’ve always cherished a good lie in [laughs].
How did you first discover music?
GR: From a young-ish age my mother always had an emphasis on my brother and I learning an instrument, doing something musical.
Why do you think she pushed you guys towards something creative?
GR: She’s an art teacher, so we’ve always done creative stuff from the start. It’s a good outlet to always have, something to do and something to work on.
You’re originally from Tasmania?
GR: Yep, yep.
What was it like growing up there?
GR: It was great! I love Tassie a lot. Super small. Super beautiful. Pretty cold [laughs].
What kind of stuff were you into as a kid?
GR: Mainly music, bits and bobs, that came in and out of my interest because I spent most of my childhood and teens just skateboarding, I was really into that!
What bands were you listening to?
GR: At the very start when you’re really young it’s just listening to the radio and whatever is around you. I got really into the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Led Zeppelin and Rage Against The Machine. I fell off for a while and got really into hip-hop for a few years in my teens, that’s all I listened to, I wasn’t into too much else at the time. Later on I got back into punk rock.
What hip-hop were you listening to?
GR: I was really into Big L and MF Doom and Wu-Tang.
Did you start off playing bass? Was that the first instrument you learnt?
GR: What got me into playing bass was that in primary school we had a strings program where you could get out of class for an hour a week and this person would come around and teach a few kids how to play. I played the cello. When I finished primary school and went into high school, I obviously couldn’t do that anymore, so I got a bass for my birthday. I joined this band with my friends.
Was that the band Bu$ Money?
GR: No, that was way later. This is when I was younger. I got into playing bass initially from that transition from playing the cello.
Did you have a bunch of other bands before Bu$ Money?
GR: Bu$ Money was when I started listening to more local music and shit around in my scene in Hobart and what inspired me to get back into it and have a crack. Even though I didn’t play bass in Bu$ Money, I played drums.
How did you first get into your local scene?
GR: There’s not a great deal of places to go out and drink in Hobart. The Brisbane Hotel was where me and my friends always went ‘cause there wasn’t a bunch of dickheads there. There was alternative people, more like-minded people. I started going to drink with my friends, I started going to more shows from that and really started getting into it. I thought, this is pretty good! I’m gonna have a crack. I got one of my friends and a guy I worked with and pretty much forced them to start and be in a band with me! [laughs].
What local bands were you listening to and seeing live?
GR: Treehouse were a big one! I’m a big fan! The Dreggs, are a great, great Hobart band. There were a lot of bands that came and gone. Native Cats are a great, great Hobart band!
How did you end up being in Amyl and the Sniffers?
GR: I was already good friends with the band, I met them when Declan’s old band, Jurassic Nark, came to Hobart and Bu$ Money supported them. So that’s how I met him and then I went to Melbourne soon after and hung out with everybody else; I was good friends with them and a big fan of the band. When their old bass player parted ways with the band they called me one day and said, “Move to Melbourne and join the band”. I thought, sweet! I quit my job and moved to Melbourne.
Did you have to give much thought to it?
GR: I’d already been toying with the idea of moving to Melbourne for a while but it would have taken me even longer to do if they hadn’t asked me, it was a nice little push. It got me going and got me moving. I was already such good friends with them and a really big fan of the band so it wasn’t too much of a decision. It was super natural, cool, let’s do it!
In around March 2017, I think, is when you played your first show with them?
GR: I don’t even know ‘ey? [laughs].
Do you remember anything about that first show with them?
GR: Yeah. It was the band’s second tape launch. It was at the Curtin. I was so, so nervous! I couldn’t really play bass that good. At the time I hadn’t played bass in seven years! [laughs]. I got my friend to teach me all the songs. We had one practice. I remember being really nervous and didn’t think I played that well. I was like, oh god! I blew it! I blew! They said, “Nah! That’s great!” No one was looking at me anyway [laughs]. It was a good time. A couple of drinks loosened me up a bit and I just got up and it was fine.
Do you ever get nervous now playing shows?
GR: Not at all. Being filmed makes me really nervous though and feel uncomfortable [laughs], doing an in the studio kind of thing. We played on Jools Holland last year.
I saw that!
GR: I was off it before that, I was losing my mind, I was so nervous. It’s insane. I hadn’t experienced anything like that before.
You guys have got to do all kinds of interesting things. I saw photos from when you did a Gucci campaign and walked in their Fall 2019 show and there was a photo shoot at an Archaeological Park.
GR: It was at these ruins in Sicily. It’s pretty crazy. The first time doing that and going into that it was the first time I’d ever experienced anything like it, the level of the production, the money and effort that goes into that stuff is just mind blowing! The scale is insane. For one campaign there was over 100 staff there, everyone running around doing this, that and everything. It was crazy! It was an hour out of Palermo the capital of Sicily. There were all these old, old buildings, these ruins on the coast.
Is there something else cool that you’ve seen in your travels that sticks out to you?
GR: Too much! There’s always something crazy going on somewhere. Having the opportunity… we’ve played in Russia before, stuff like that sticks out, we were only there a day and a half. Getting to play places like Russia and Istanbul, is pretty mind blowing! I never thought I’d get the opportunity to do anything like that.
What was Istanbul like?
GR: It was so cool! Definitely the coolest place I’ve ever been, we were only there for a day though. We flew in and out. I got to walk around for two hours but it was so cool. Everything was so cool, the vibe, the architecture, it was super, super beautiful.
What was Russia like?
GR: Russia was pretty, pretty crazy. We went to Red Square. It was pretty insane, the drive from the airport to our hotel was an hour, hour and a half, and on the outskirts of the city it seems like there’s really intense poverty, in the city there is so much money! On the outskirts you see massive, massive apartment blocks that look so run down and dilapidated; in the city centre it’s so clean and there’s so much money everywhere, sports cars everywhere!
What was it like playing shows in places like that? Is it similar to here?
GR: The show in Moscow was for a festival, that was the very first show we played in Europe. We played a festival to a relatively small crowd, they were getting it though and a few people even knew all the lyrics! It’s always pretty wild because you go in not expecting much and then you have people singing your lyrics back to you. It’s mind blowing!
Have you got to see many beautiful nature spots in your travels?
GR: Driving through America is always really, really cool, the diversity of the landscape; you drive through the hills of Oregon and then drive through the desert. That stands out in terms of nature to me.
What’s one of the coolest things that you’ve seen in America?
GR: It’s all a blur to be honest [laughs]. There’s a lot, a lot of driving and a lot of drinking!
You’ve been working on a new Sniffers album?
GR: Yep, at the moment we’re trying to get some songs together to become an album at some point.
In December I think you guys mentioned you had around 12 songs?
GR: Yeah, November last year we had a fair long slog of trying to do it, trying to get something going—we got a lot of good stuff. Now we’ve just hired a little unit at a storage place near our house, which has been great. At the start of lock down we were bumming around doing nothing for the first six to eight weeks. We’ve set up in the storage unit and we’ve been hitting that up quite a bit, which has been really good. We’re trying to write new stuff and trying to do stuff that we’re all super happy with.
You all live together?
GR: Yep, yep. It’s cool. Because we’ve toured so solidly for the past two years, we’ve pretty much spent 24-hours a day with each other, we’ve been overseas together for months at a time so, it’s a pretty smooth transition for us. We all know how each other rolls.
Was it weird for you at the start of isolation not being able to tour?
GR: Kind of. It was a nice break though. We were meant to be in the States for a month, not too long after it all started. We’ve been so busy the past few years, this past six months has been the biggest break that we’ve had, the most time we’ve spent in Australia in such a long time. I’ve just been enjoying being home.
With the new stuff you’re writing have you been trying anything different to previous work?
GR: Yeah, there’s a couple of tracks that are heavier and faster, on the other spectrum there is some different stuff. We’re not trying to limit ourselves too much to a particular sound or style, just playing around and seeing what we like. Most of the time either Declan, Bryce or myself will bring a riff and we’ll jam it out. Most of the time we just try to finish it, get something and then talk about it afterwards, see what we like about it and if we keep it or don’t.
When you’re making your own music do you listen to other people’s music much?
GR: Always, I always have something going. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Dick Diver and Low Life, Vertigo—I’ve been pumping all them recently. There’s always good stuff!
Previously, just after the Sniffers debut album came out, you mentioned that you felt a really big sense of relief that the album was done and it was nice to not have to stress and worry about it; what kind of things do you stress and worry about when making an album?
GR: Well, with that, that was in the thick of us touring like crazy… when we recorded it we had come off of four months non-stop touring overseas; we flew to Sheffield in the UK and recorded the album there. We’d been away for too long, we’d work so hard non-stop touring—we just wanted to be home, we were so over it! It was definitely not the greatest time and was really stressful.
What were you tired of?
GR: We were pretty happy with what we had but we were happy to get the album out of the way. A lot of the songs, we’d already been playing for a couple of years, we just wanted to record it and get it out and never think about it or listen to it again.
Do you have a favourite Sniffers song to play?
GR: I’d probably say “Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled)”. That’s my favourite. Usually we play it last. I like the build-up, it’s fun to play.
What was the last band you saw live before lockdown?
GR: Just before everything went to a halt we were in the middle of an Australian tour, we played Sydney and Newcastle, they were the two last times I went out. I got to see Gee Tee and R.M.F.C. supporting us in Sydney, that’s always, always a great time! Concrete Lawn are a Sydney band who we are really good friends with us played in Newcastle. They were the last live shows I got to see before everything stopped.
Do you have plans yet for the rest of the year or is it too hard to plan with all the uncertainty around?
GR: There’s always stuff. We’re hoping to do an Australia tour before the end of the year, it just depends. We’re hoping to get overseas again from the start to the middle of next year. It’s a guessing game though and no one is too sure how it will go.
What have you been doing in isolation to keep sane?
GR: Now that we have the practice space we’ve been utilising that a quite a bit, other than that we haven’t been doing much… bumming around watching dumb shit on the internet and movies. The boys bought an Xbox, so they’re playing a lot of FIFA [laughs].
Last question; what inspired you to get your mullet haircut?
GR: I was really, really into the Cosmic Psychos. I was watching a lot of old footage and the doco Blokes You Can Trust and decided I wanted to look like Ross Knight! [laughs]. It’s pretty funny! I love the Cosmic Psychos.