Billy From Sydney Weirdo-Punk Band Research Reactor Corp: “A theme we talk about is nuclear war, without us being a fucking crust band”

Original photo by Timothy Williams. Handmade collage by B.

Research Reactor Corp. play super fun, goofy, cartoonish, weirdo-punk. We spoke with the Reactor’s Billy and he gave us the goss on a new RRC record, a new band called Mainframe, his new label, a new G.T.R.R.C release and more.  

BILLY: I’m just playing with two naughty kittens in my lounge room right now.

What are their names?

BILLY: We got them two weeks ago, we thought it would be a good time to adopt them. One looks like a sweet potato so we just call him Sweetie or Spudboy. The other one we called Dee Dee, lil’ Dee Dee Ramone.

That’s my favourite Ramone.

BILLY: Mine too, he was bad arse! He’s the only one that had an offshoot hip-hop record. He’s the coolest Ramone, which is a big call. Johnny is a big Conservative and I’m not too into that.

We got that Dee Dee King record as a wedding present. I walked down the aisle at our wedding to the Ramones.

BILLY: That’s awesome! I just love how his vocals are just so rat shit on it [does a Dee Dee impression] I’m Dee Dee Ramone! [laughs]. He sounds like a frog or something.

What have you been up to today?

BILLY: I am lucky enough to still have a fulltime job. I’m a screen printer and in a team of three people. I’ve been printing hi-vis vests for a supermarket all day that say: stand 1.5 meters back. Exciting stuff! [laughs]. Apart from not being able to go to shows, which is driving me insane, because of all this COVID stuff… I’m ADHD, I don’t really like sitting around too much and I’m going a little bit stir-crazy in my house. I have two little cute kittens running around and a girlfriend I live with so things are good. It would be a real lonely time for a lot of people, it’s a weird time to be alive!

We’ve been doing the Zoom thing, which is pretty funny. We’ve been playing this game called Quiplash which is kind of like Cards Against Humanity. Kel who does Gee Tee lives on my block and he has been the guy organising that and streaming it off his computer, it’s pretty funny. I’ve just been checking in with everyone. It was my thirtieth birthday on the 10th of April. R.M.F.C. and Gee Tee were going to play in my lounge room but we had to call it off. I had an ice-cream cake delivered, that was pretty bad arse. Other than that I didn’t do too much.

All live photos by Timothy Williams; courtesy of RRC.

How’s it feel to be thirty?

BILLY: Kind of exactly the same! I feel like a big giant baby! I feel like I’m fifteen. It’s not the end of the world [laughs]. In the two days leading up to it I was like, oh cool, I’m a real adult now! I said that when I turned twenty as well though [laughs]. I still feel like a big kid.

Totally know them feels dude! I’m still sitting on my floor listening to records, doing interviews and making zines, the same thing I was doing when I was fifteen.

BILLY: That’s bad arse! My friend Sam just moved house and he found a skate punk zine we did when we were fifteen called, World Up My Arse. We interviewed some power-violence bands off MySpace [laughs]. We only printed like ten copies and gave a couple away. It was pretty fucking cool, I can’t believe he kept it.

Nice! I have boxes of zines, I’ve been collecting them for around twenty years.

BILLY: I have a lot as well. I’ve just moved into a bigger place than I was in, I live in Petersham in Sydney’s Inner West. My zines are all in boxes too, some are at my parents’ house. I have every one of those Distort zines that DX does periodically. I have a lot of graffiti ones as well, I was into that for a bit.

Same! I was really into graffiti and hip-hop as a kid. You were born in Sydney?

BILLY: I was born in Manly Hospital in Sydney in 1990. I grew up on the north side of Sydney in a place called Narrabeen. When I was eight, I moved to the Gold Coast of all places for my stepdad’s work and was there for a couple of years and then came back to Sydney. No matter where I’ve visited in the world, I always say that Sydney is my home and it’s great to come back to. I have lots of time for Sydney! I don’t know why grumps in Melbourne always go “Yuck! You’re from Sydney?!” It’s weird. I was born and bred in Sydney.

What made you want to play music?

BILLY: It’s a weird one for a kid, but I think the first CD I got was the South Park Chef Aid one. I remember thinking it was so funny because they were singing about balls! [laughs]. My dad has always been into music and goes to gigs, he grew up seeing bands like The Riptides, The Scientists and stuff like that. I was lucky enough to have a dad that had a pretty decent record collection. It’s a bit disappointing that he kind of sold his record collection about fifteen years ago to go on a trip to Europe, so I missed out on that.

I got a Limp Biscuit CD… and the first CD I bought with my own money other than the South Park one was Elvis Costello; my dad drilled stuff like that into me. Then I got into NOFX and things just went from there. Music is the only thing I’ve ever really given a shit about, besides my family, and maybe skateboarding at some points in my life. I just spend all of my money on records and sit in my house listening to them. My friends and I constantly send music to each other too.

Even as a little kid I loved music, my mum always tells this story of when I used to put on ‘Cake’ which is a Crowded House song—I fucking hate Crowded House as an adult!

When did you first start making your own music?

BILLY: I did the whole booking in the music room in high school thing and tried to rip off bad hardcore bands when I was fifteen. My uncle is a professional soloist drummer so I was lucky enough to have the hook up for cheap drum equipment. I started playing drums when I was ten. As soon as I was fifteen I worked out that I don’t want to play drums in a hardcore band or a punk band because it’s too tiring, you have to bring gear!—I know that’s lazy though [laughs]. I played in some really cringe-y garage and hardcore bands in high school that didn’t make it past playing a few shows at youth centres.

I didn’t really play music for a while and then with the Research Reactor stuff… Ishka the other dude that does it, it’s just him and I, we make all the stuff and then do it as a live band. We have an LP coming out E.T.T. [Erste Theke Tontrager] in Europe and Televised Suicide is doing it in Australia soon; we’ve got it all mocked up and the tracks are done… it just depends how long it’s all going to take with all the pressing plants being blocked up because of Coronavirus.

What’s it going to be called?

BILLY: The Collected Findings Of The Research Reactor Corp. It’s basically our first two tapes and then a couple of new songs. Ishka who I make the music with, it’s just us doing it in our bedrooms, all home recording stuff. He’s a wizard at that stuff, I fucking suck at it! He plays in a thousand bands: Set-Top Box, all of the recordings are just him; Satanic Togas, all of the recordings are just him; on the last Gee Tee Chromo-zone record he does half of everything on the recording. Ishka is a big ol’ powerhouse! He’s awesome, he’s such an inspiring dude. It’s so cool that he is one of my best mates and that I get to make music with him.

I saw his band the Satanic Togas play, I had heard them online but didn’t know anything about the guys. They blew my mind and straight after the set I walked right up to Ishka and was like “Hey man, that was awesome! I’d be willing to beat money that you’re into The Gories and The Mummies” and he was like “Whoa! Shit! They’re my favourite bands!” We exchanged numbers and found out that we both wrote graffiti and were familiar with each other’s words and stuff. It turned out that he was living in the same suburb that I was working in, so we just started hanging out together. We just get in the lab, smoke some reefer and see what happens [laughs]. It’s super funny!

The first Research Reactor tape, the first song on it, Ishka just recorded everything and I basically just one-shotted the vocals! It’s good ‘cause we’re into a lot of similar music, we see eye-to-eye. It just works. If Ishka has a day off and feels like making a song, he’ll send me the recording, a demo, while I’m at work and I might duck off to the bathroom and think of a cool line or idea for the song and just jot down notes in my phone. When I get home I’ll write the song and Ishka is a five minute walk away so I’ll go around and record it. He’ll then do some mixing on it and we’ll take it to practice or to the band and put it on our Facebook chat and ask them if they like it and we all just learn to do it as a live band from there. It’s a cool way of doing it. The new LP we have coming out, the two new songs on there are written with everyone playing on it; it takes longer to record that way though.

What are the new songs about?

BILLY: [Laughs] Well, one of them, it’s actually a bit of a debate, I wanted to call the new song ‘Frog Willy’ or ‘Frog Penis’ but it has no relevance to the lyrics whatsoever! I think it’s ended up being called ‘Shock Treatment’ and it’s about eating heaps of eels until you explode and sticking a fork into an electrical outlet and basically zapping your brain.

What inspired that?

BILLY: [Laughs] We’re definitely a goofy band! Which I guess it’s why it’s so fun to write and play the stuff. Obviously we take a lot of influence from Devo and The Screamers. Without trying to be too much of a theme band and flog a dead horse with the same idea all the time, initially we thought we’ll create a story for it and pretend it’s a corporation. A theme we talk about is nuclear war, without us being a fucking crust band, we’re more like ‘The googles do nothing!’ off The Simpsons [laughs]. We’re like a goofy the-world-is-ending-but-who-cares thing. It’s like we’re a cartoon or like Toxic Avenger or [Class Of] Nuke ‘Em High! We’ll see a scene of like a guy’s face melting and think it would be funny and use it like, oh your boss’ face is melting because you threw a chemical on them, and we’ll run with that and write a whole song about it [laughs].

We take little shreds, little elements of bands we like and make it our own. Me and Ishka are big fans of a lot of the goofy stuff coming out of the Midwest of America. The Coneheads are obviously a big one or CCTV or Goldman Sex Batalion, Big Zit, a lot of the bands that Mat Williams and Mark Winter from Coneheads are associated with. We just make music we like and it turns out we like goofy, silly music [laughs].

It’s nice that people come and watch us play but I think we’re more outskirt-ish in comparison to your bigger Sydney punk and hardcore bands. I love cranky punk and hardcore but it all just seems a bit serious, a whole bunch of people standing around in a room with their arms crossed looking pissed off is just really weird! It’s nice that people just come to our shows and just dance and be a goofball. We’re lucky that all of our best friends play in bands and they are all such cool people like Gee Tee and R.M.F.C., ‘Togas, Set-top Box. I find it really flattering when people say we’re all “the weirder Sydney punk bands”. I feel like no one from Sydney ever says that though…

That’s so often the case with a lot of bands, they’re unappreciated in their own town or country but people in other places, people all over the world super dig them! Look at a band like King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard, they play sold out huge shows all over the world and then they’ll play somewhere here in Australia and sometimes don’t fill the room.

BILLY: 100%! I didn’t realise how huge they were until recently, it’s mental. Now days you can just get in contact with pretty much anyone, you just DM their Instagram. I try to get a conversation rolling with bands overseas that I’m listening to. It’s cool that a lot of Midwest American goofy bands and the guys from R.I.P. Records and Lumpy Records know who we are.

We were supposed to be touring America, Gee Tee and R.M.F.C. were too, on a touring festival that was meant to happen – I think it still will down the track – in July with a lot of our favourite bands but the big Corona did a big shit on that! I guess it just gives us time to hang at home and record. I have a full band room set up in my house at the moment. I’m trying to teach myself how to play the drums fast again, I’m sloppy as at that right now.

We’ve been doing an “email band” like if you know someone that has a home recording set-up, even if it’s someone overseas, you just message and send each other bits of songs for the other to do stuff over. We’ve been doing that and so have some of our friends which is pretty of the time. We just did four songs with this guy Sean Albert from the Midwest who plays in bands like Skull Cult, QQQL and Dummy. We want to put it out as a 7”. We did a new band with that guy with me singing. It’s pretty fun!

Cool. Do you have a name?

BILLY: Yeah, Mainframe. Hackin’ the mainframe! [laughs]. We’ll probably put it online soon. We still have to do synths on one track. It’s just me, Ishka and Sean.

What’s it sounding like?

BILLY: I’ve played it to a couple of people and they said it’s kind of fast Gee Tee, which isn’t much of a stretch. Sean is a fucking drum machine wizard! He’s so good at getting drum fills in, kind of like that guy from Urochromes. He’s a drum machine Don! I don’t know how he does all the crazy shit.

We had a 7” come out on Goodbye Boozy from Italy in February at the start of the year.

That was the split with The Freakees?

BILLY: Yeah! In the same drop of 7”s that he did, Belly Jelly had a 7” we really dug, there’s a Nervous Eaters cover on the 7” that was fucking awesome! I followed him on Instagram and because we can’t really play shows now, I thought let’s just hit him up. He sent us two tracks the next day and then two days later he sent another two. Just on the cusp of all this Covid stuff happening Ishka came over with all this recording stuff. It’s sounding really good. We’ve actually been pretty fucking productive lately.

We do this thing called G.T.R.R.C. where we do all of these goofy covers, it’s half of Gee Tee and half of Research Reactor. We put out a tape about a year ago on Warttmann Inc. and now we’ve just recorded the second one. I’ve done vocals for three covers on it but it’s kind of turned into a comp[ilation] now. Adam Ritchie of Drunk Mums, Grotto and Pissfart Records did a couple of covers, so did Drew Owens from Sick Thoughts, Kel Gee Tee did vocals on some and Jake from Drunk Mums did some too.

What were some of the covers?

BILLY: One of them was ‘Job’ by The Nubs and I did ‘Trapped In The City’ by Bad Times, a band Jay Reatard sung in. I thought they were both appropriate covers to do given the times. It sounds a bit farfetched but I kind of want to cover ‘Karma Chameleon’ by Culture Club at some point. In our live set we used to cover ‘Rock & Roll Don’t Come from New York’ by The Gizmos and ‘I Don’t Know What To Do Do’ by Devo; we had those cover in our set because we didn’t have enough of our own songs at the time. I’d love to cover – sorry for biting this off you Drew Owens, he’s doing in on the G.T.R.R.C comp – ‘Killer On the Loose’ by Thin Lizzy. I love Thin Lizzy a lot, they’re the most bad arse rock n roll band going!

Is there anything else that you’re working on?

BILLY: I’m setting up my own little label at the moment it’s called, Computer Human Records. I’m about to pay for my first vinyl release. I’m putting out a 7” by a band called Snooper that are from Nashville, they’re relatively new but if you like Devo, CCTV or Landline or Pscience you might like them.

That sounds totally up my alley!

BILLY: Cool. They only have a couple of songs online. Blair the singer is a school teacher and she’s really great at video editing. She has a real wild style where she makes everything look like a children’s show or like Pee Wee’s Playhouse!

Also, we’re on a 4-way split 7” with Nick Normal, he recently just toured Europe and Lassie was his backing band. The split is months away though!

Please check out: RESEARCH REACTOR CORP at Warttmann Inc. RRC on Instagram.

R.M.F.C.’s Buz Clatworthy: “Trying to find a balance between my place in the dumb social hierarchy and my individuality which I’ve always strongly valued”

Handmade collage by B.

From his bedroom in a town on Australia’s East Coast called Ulladulla, Buz Clatworthy, creates some of the coolest lo-fi garage punk around. At seventeen he released two brilliant record’s Hive Mind Volumes 1 & 2 plus a split 7” with Set-top Box and later this year he’s set to release another 7” on one of our favourite labels, Anti Fade. We interviewed Buz yesterday about all this and more.

How did you first discover music?

BUZ CLATWORTHY: I first discovered music through my dad who always had something playing on the stereo at home. I recently watched Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels for the first time and realised a fair few of the songs on rotation during my childhood came from that soundtrack which is mostly really good. Dad also played a key role in my discovery and interest in playing instruments from sitting in the shed and watching him play guitar when I was little.

You started out playing drums; what inspired you to take them up?

BC: Funny story: I took guitar lessons for a short period of time while I was in primary school and my guitar teacher had a drum kit set up in the room where he did his lessons. When I tried playing it I just found it heaps easier and it felt more natural to play than guitar at the time so my Mum bought me a pink ‘70s Mapex drum kit which I still have. I eventually lost interest until Dune Rats came to town when I was 11 (before they got famous and started sounding like Smash Mouth). I was one of about 15 people watching and after their set the drummer BC [Michael Marks] gave me a jumper and a shirt which I would go on to wear every day for the next year or so. BC really encouraged me to pick up drumming again & here we are 7 years later, Dune Rats sound like Smash Mouth and I have a band called Rock Music Fan Club.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

We really admire the fact that you write, record and do everything yourself; how did you get started?

BC: I got started when my Mum bought me a little Tascam digital recording desk and a couple mics two/three years ago. I didn’t do much with it until I saw Gee Tee and Concrete Lawn at a tiny DIY venue in Marrickville called Monster Mouse, later called 96 Tears (R.I.P), I think it was one of Concrete Lawn’s first shows. That show opened my eyes to the idea that maybe I could do it too.

I live in a conservative but relatively nice coastal town called Ulladulla about 3.5 hours from Sydney and there are no good venues or bands here + no one was interested in what I wanted to do at the time so I sorta had to do it by myself.

Are there any challenges doing things this way?

BC: The way my recording set up works I have to record all the tracks from the very beginning of the recording to avoid having to line the individual tracks up later when mixing which is hard to get right and makes the process heaps less efficient. This is annoying when you wanna record parts that come later in a song or if you nail a track but then fuck it up toward the end and have to start again. I also don’t like playing to a metronome and can’t figure it out on my recording desk anyway so I have to memorise the song and record drums first while I play through the song in my head. Apart from that, and Brinley who plays bass in my live band getting all the praise for the basslines I write L, I enjoy doing it alone.

Can you remember the first song you ever wrote? What was it about?

BC: I think the first actual song I ever wrote was “Hive” which is on the first tape I did under R.M.F.C. It’s basically about the hive mentality in high school which I was having trouble dealing with at the time trying to find a balance between my place in the dumb social hierarchy and my individuality which I’ve always strongly valued.

Can you tell us a little bit about your songwriting process?

BC: I usually start with a bassline I’m happy with and build from there. Once I’ve figured out what I wanna do for the verse and chorus on all the instruments I record a demo and figure out what needs changing etc. I usually write the lyrics after when I’m happy with the instrumental except for sometimes when I’ve been playing cod mobile late at night and the free drug that is sleep deprivation gives me an idea for a cool chorus which I then sing into my phone to remember it.

Do you see any reoccurring themes in your work?

BC: There is definitely a reoccurring theme throughout Hive Volumes 1 & 2 ‘cause I was going for a concept album sorta thing. Pretty much all of those songs follow similar themes regarding the hive mentality in different branches of western society. These themes still play on my mind a lot but I’m steering away from that and exploring different themes and ideas in new R.M.F.C songs.

Where do you have your best ideas?

BC: In my room between 12am and 2am after a nice COD [Call Of Duty] mobile session. If anyone reading this plays COD mobile add me on there, my name is: megapiss2001

In January you released the Racer R​.​M​.​F​.​C / Set​-​top Box split 7” on Goodbye Boozy Records. I know you’ve been a fan of Set-top for ages; you covered their song “Worker” on the split; what made you choose this track?

BC: Aside from it being one of my favourite Set-top Box songs I just felt like that song worked best for the R.M.F.C sound and I liked the way it sounded with double time drums.

Set-top chose your song “Television” to cover on the split; can you tell us about this song?

BC: Television was sort of a last minute song that I wrote before the “dead line” for the Hive Vol. 1 release and I think it ended up being the best on that EP and one of the better songs I’ve released so far. I think it was a subconscious attempt at ripping off Le Tigre’s “Deceptacon” which I actually didn’t realise until a DJ played it before our set at the Lansdowne one time and Television was first on the set list.

You have a 7” coming out on Anti Fade records in June; what can you tell me about it? What inspired the songs on it?

BC: The A side is one of my favourite R.M.F.C songs. The lyrics in it are pretty strongly informed by a concept that I found to be helpful in a book I read a few years ago based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The idea is basically to think about and remind ourselves of death on a daily basis in order to normalise and accept it given that death itself is inevitable for all beings. For most of us that have grown up in western society, death is something that has been ingrained in our minds as something to avoid the thought of at all costs which can be very detrimental to our grieving process and ability to accept the loss of someone we love. I recently lost a second uncle to cancer after losing another from the same disease 4/5 years ago, losing them definitely inspired that song.

I have to ask you, as we LOVE dogs here at Gimmie zine; on R.M.F.C’s Hive Vol. 2 album cover, who’s the dog?

BC: That’s my second oldest dog Dorje he’s a “Poomba”.

We always love finding new music too; what have you been listening to lately?

BC: Lately I’ve been really into the solo catalogue of Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt who both played in Soft Machine. Ayers’ best work is sorta spaced out and hidden between his albums from 1969 through to around 1976 whereas I think Robert Wyatt really used all his best juice on his 1985 album Old Rottenhat. I’ve also been really enjoying Snakefinger’s album Greener Postures (I thank Brinley for that). Billy Gardner (Anti Fade Records) showed me Chrome during our last Melbourne visit and I’ve been obsessed with them ever since. Their album Red Exposure rules.

Lastly, what’s something you’d like everyone to know about R.M.F.C?

BC: I’m famous!

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Please check out: R.M.F.C. Anti Fade Records (Australia). Erste Theke Tontraeger (Germany).