The Murlocs’ Ambrose Kenny-Smith on new album, Rapscallion: “I was having a lot of fun reminiscing about growing up skateboarding”

Original photo: Izzie Austin. Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

The Murlocs’ upcoming new album Rapscallion sees them forging into new territory with a playful mix of drama and effervescence as they give us a loosely conceptual coming-of-age story of searching, love, loss, independence and belonging. There’s effortlessly catchy garage-rock groovers that we’ve come to love from The Murlocs, along with detours into chaotic heavy moments and unabashedly cool drifts into fruitful synth work that will pleasantly surprise listeners. Rapscallion has shown the band humbly continue to hone their songwriting craft, the writing even more precise and confident than previous outings. It’s an exciting and inspiring album. Gimmie chatted with The Murlocs’ Ambrose Kenny-Smith about the record. 

What’s life been like lately for you?

AMBROSE: I’m good . I’ve been home for two weeks. We had that tour in Europe cancelled. I went to Budapest and hung out with friends for a week and then came home back to the winter. Budapest is pretty fun, I found a couple of cool dive bars, went to some baths and went skateboarding. It was good to decompress after the shattering news of tour being cancelled. It was nice to avoid the Melbourne winter for longer. It’s been really cold, I guess I’ve just been acclimatised to the Europe summer for so long now [laughs].

Last we chatted, was for your album Bittersweet Demons and at the time I thought that was my favourite Murlocs record, but now I’ve heard your new record, Rapscallion, and it’s become my favourite Murlocs album. Congratulations! It’s an incredible album! I feel it’s stretched you guys into new territory; what do you think?

A: Sick, thank you. For sure it’s stretched us, it’s probably the heaviest thing we’ve done so far. I’m so proud of it. It’s been the easiest to talk about in interviews too, cos I actually have enough to talk about for once, rather than cringing thinking about my anxieties and shit. It’s nice to have something more conceptual that has a storyline. The music side of things has all come from our guitarist, Callum Shortal. It’s been the most seamless record we’ve had. 

Do you find it easier when someone else does the music and you just have to worry about arranging, adding things and the lyrics?

A: Yeah, but I’ve never had to do too much, over the years it’s gotten less and less. For the first time, I didn’t have to arrange or do anything, he’s just nailed it. He knows how our songs work. He knows when I’m supposed to sing and all of this, that and the other. For a while there, he would send me one-minute demos and had not really finished them off, but waited ’til we got together in a room and we’d piece it together. Because we were in the first lockdown here in Melbourne, he took it all on, did it himself and would send me tunes frequently. 

We finished Bittersweet Demons and that was 70% my songs written on piano. Cook [Craig] gave songs. Tim [Karmouche] contributed two songs and[Matt]  Blachy contributed. At the end, it was more half and half with the other guys song-wise. I wanted to try and step back and contribute more to King Gizzard, so I encouraged the guys to write. I told them I wanted to go back to focusing on lyrics. Callum had one song on that album, it was cut from Manic Candid Episode the album before. All of a sudden he got into a rhythm and was on a roll and would send me songs once a week or so. Before we knew it we had the whole record. We only cut one.

He’d quickly send stuff to me while I was working on Gizzard stuff, and I could sequence the album musically and write the storyline. I got the flow of the music and then it was like, cool, now I can conceptualise what this is going to be. I wrote lyrics as I went. The songs came in pretty much in order they ended up. It was a good flow. 

I read that the concept was inspired by Corman McCarthy’s book Blood Meridian. Where you reading that at the time?

A: Yeah. It was one of the first books that I had actually finished in the last couple of years. I connected with it, started riffing off it and channelling past experiences from my youth. It’s a lot more of a light-hearted version. 

In that book the main character is a teenager called “The Kid” and the story is of his adventures, He’s kind of an anti-hero.

A: Yeah, totally. Ours is a similar concept, but not as gruesome as the book. It’s that coming-of-age, outcast, ugly duckling-figure that runs away from home story. He has an attitude of, fuck trying to find his feet. As the album goes along, each song is a step by step progression into him going through all of these life changing experiences.

I enjoyed listening to it unfold. The book you were inspired by is a Western novel and I noticed easter egg references throughout the album, lyrically and musically. In the first song ‘Subsidiary’ there’s the lyrics: I’m leaving this one horse town.

A: There’s a bit of an urban cowboy vibe! [laughs]. 

The second song ‘Bellarine Ballerina’ sees the character hitchhiking and crossing paths with truckers and transient folk. I love fiction narratives (in my day job I work as a book editor), I really got into the story you were telling. There’s so many cool lines on the album. There was one in song ‘Bobbing And Weaving’: Last train departing on the platform for the unloved. 

A: [Laughs]. Yeah. I’m glad you like that one. There’s a lot of sombre people getting the train sometimes. That song is about him dodging ticket inspectors and trying to find the ropes of living independently. 

I got a sense as well, that the character has always been a fighter.

A: Yeah, it’s totally about that, and about trying to find a second family, a group he can connect with. While I was writing it, I was having a lot of fun reminiscing about growing up skateboarding. I thought about all the friendships that I’ve gained from those experiences, travelling interstate or just being around the city and sleeping on whoever’s couch that I made friends with that day. It was derivative of that stuff, real experiences, but taken to a more extreme level. There were definitely people that I grew up with who had similar upbringings, and skateboarding was acceptance for us, any shape or form was welcomed. 

Photo: Izzie Austin.

As the story unfolds I found that there’s elements and a sense of danger, transience and free-wheeling, which is all stuff that ties in with being young and skateboarding; being nomadic, being spontaneous. I think all of that translated well and can be felt on the album.

A: Great!  It was a good coping mechanism to escape when I was locked down and couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t write diary entires or personal experience at the time because there wasn’t really much going on. It was nice to reminisce. 

Another line I loved was from ‘Compos Mentis’: Chubby rain soaking heavy like cinder blocks. That’s such strong imagery. 

A: Sweet. It’s self-explanatory, especially when you’ve got some real soggy socks [laughs]. 

[Laughter]. Each song is like a scene in a novel or film.

A: That was the name of the game.

In ‘Compos Mentis’ the character seems to be reflecting on his life.

A: Reflecting and trying to navigate what route he’s going to take next. He’s taking things day-by-day. That was my thought process for a lot of my life until all of a sudden, now I’m thirty. It’s all about taking things as it comes. 

Compos mentis means taking control of your mind, right?

A: Yeah, that part of the album has him by himself for a while and he starts to question if he has a sound mind and is cable of continuing on his journey [laughs].

In the beginning of his journey his parents don’t really understand him or even really just believe in him. Taking it back to the song ‘Living Under A Rock’ it’s like his life started a little sheltered but then the character realises that there’s this big world out there.

A: Totally! It’s that small town syndrome and not really been aware of stuff beyond his street and the shops down the road. He’s trying to escape and make it to the big smoke to see what’s happening [laughs]. 

That’s what you do when you’re a skateboarder living out in the suburbs, you head into the city to meet your friends and skate spots.

A: You hang around the streets and you meet different kinds of people, some your own age, but a lot of the time, people older. I was always surrounded by older people and was corrupted. My character was built quickly, early on. I was streetwise from a young age. All those elements were thrown in there. 

Then in song ‘Farewell to Clemency’ he gets into a fight and there’s the great line: Toxic masculinity is dead. That was a powerful lyric.

A: That’s just him trying to crush that whole scenario. I feel it’s a good way to stamp that song at the end [laughs]. 

As the story continues there’s song ‘Royal Vagabond’. I feel like that song is about survival.

A: Totally. When I was listening to it when I would skate back and forth to the studio, I felt like in that song, he felt like he was on the up and he’s found a family that he can call home with a leader that’s larger than life; someone who can direct him and give him some words of wisdom. He can help steer him in a direction where he finally starts to feel confident within himself. It’s about him finding a gang under a bridge, they’re hanging around fires and shooting the shit. He finally feels like he’s become a part of something. 

‘Virgin Criminal’ is next and it reflects that he’s new to crime, but then  in the following song his life takes a little turn in ‘Bowlegged Beautiful’ and he falls in love with Peg.

A: Yeah! [laughs]. Peg is a member of the gang but doing her own thing as well. When I heard that bass line, I thought of someone strutting down the street in the city towards him and he’s fixated on this person that’s coming into his life. He’s overwhelmed and all he wants is this one person. 

It totally captures that feeling.

A: She’s the love of his life.

Yeah. ’Wickr Man’ sees them both go dumpster diving and they have a violent itch in common, like when they kick the rats. Then they’re waiting around for the guy up stairs so they can get drugs. 

A: It’s a ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ Velvet Underground rip. Each song is a new experience. He’s met this girl that’s in to dabbling in drugs. She teaches him a lot of things quickly and he grows up fast. By the end of that, it falls into tragedy with ‘The Ballad of Peggy Mae’.

You broke my heart with that song! I was so sad listening to it. I wanted them to win.

A: She didn’t last for long [laughs]. 

Like three songs! When she ODs you get a sense from both the music and lyrics that the protagonist feels guilty and grief-stricken. 

A: I’ve had friends OD before on the street, so it’s channelling that vibe. It’s a very broad daylight and in your face that song. That’s why I put the city sounds at the start of it. I wanted it to sound chaotic. I couldn’t imagine the song without it having a sad narrative. I even tear up a bit when I listen to that one too [laughs].

Awww. Well, that is the reality of that life, these things totally happen. You mentioned that you’ve experienced friends OD-ing. It’s a hard thing to see. Do you find it’s easier to write about these kinds of things in a fictional narrative?

A: Yeah, you can let your guard down and dive into it being something else and put a different light on it.

Last song is ‘Growing Pains’ which has another line I really dig: Highlander with a harrowing track record. Growing up in the 80s and 90s I grew up watching the original Highlander movies. I used to watch them with my mum.

A: [Laughs]. He’s already thinks he’s seen it all by this point now. He’s experienced a lot. He’s had a fast-paced life, and now he’s just trying to keep his chin up. He rides off into the sunset and the horizon is an open book! [laughs]. 

Do you think there could have been another song after the last one? Where might he have gone?

A: Nah, I think ‘Growing Pains’ was a pretty good way to wrap it up. You can picture him walking off down the highway to go hitchhike and start again. There wasn’t anywhere to go from there. It’s a perfect closer song. 

Agreed. It’s pretty cool how you initially just started listening to the musical tracks Callum sent and then you just started imagining everything.

A: I’m lucky because Cal can write such great, gritty, garage-y songs that work will with my tone of voice and the themes I go for. In the past he’s written more poppy song, but it still has a bit of grunt to it, which I really like, and that’s because quite a theme to our music. It was great to have it set out. It had a great flow and I could just tell what would happen. The last three or four songs he goes very extreme. Then there’s a nice little trot along to the finish. 

The garage-y elements of Murlocs that we love are still present on Rapscallion but then it goes into a more post-punk kind of territory. There’s lots of cool noise and synths on this record. 

A: We got synth heavy at times, that was to add textures throughout for once instead of being straight. I’m still wondering how we’re going to pull off some of those noises live, because there’s overlapping things going on. We’ll find a way to work it out and make some things squeal [laughs]. There’s definitely a lot of layers, but then some parts there’s not much at all. There’s a couple of moments in songs where there’s lots going on. It was so fun! We were messing around with a Behringer Poly D synthesiser. Tim bought one as well, so we can play with that live. It made it go down more of a post-punk prog way. 

It was recorded at your houses, sending songs back and forth?

A: In hindsight, it’s a record that I wish we would have recorded the beds together in the same room. As it went along, Blachy got better at recording his drums. Ultimately, when we gave it to Mikey Young to start mixing, he nailed it. Each track took him one or maybe two goes.

Cal was listening to a lot of Eddy Current [Suppression ring] as he always does. He was listening to Country Teasers. There’s even elements of Pixies on there. I even hear Neil Young. He listens to a lot of Doom metal as well; he was in metal bands before we started the Murlocs, so he’s always had a darker shade of things going on than the rest of us. It was great because I got to take myself out of my usual shoes and write from another perspective.

On song ‘Wickr Man’ there’s a spoken verse.

A: Yeah. In ‘Bowlegged Beautiful’ and ‘Wickr Man’ I do my tryhard breath-y Tom Waits voice [laughs]. The first time I started realising it could be something was when I did the King Gizzard ‘Straws In The Wind’ song, I sing it differently live. But with those songs it just felt like those parts needed to be more spoken word and less sing-y. They didn’t need any melody because they already had this badass feeling to it. I wanted to riff on some things rather than always just sing a tune. 

It took me a few listens to realise it was you doing that part, I was like, ‘Is that someone else?’ 

A: [Laughs} These bits do kind of sound like some husky dude that’s been sitting at the end of the bar for too long. The voice suited those tracks.

How did you come up with the title, Rapscallion?

A: [Laughs]. Well, we always name our album titles after songs. It’s hard to go out on a limb and name an album something completely random that just sounds cool or makes sense for the whole thing. This time, because it was more conceptual, it didn’t make sense just to name it after a track. 

I was visiting my dad, we were talking about the storyline of the album and that I wanted some kind of word for this feral kid protagonist, that didn’t have a name throughout the album. He said, “What about rapscallion?” There was another one like “curmudgeon” and a few other words that came up. He said “rapscallion” first. I thought it sounded a bit Pirates Of The Caribbean [laughs]. I think it fits perfect though. I think some of the guys were a bit [talks in a comedic voice]  “Rapscallion!” kind of in a Monty Python-type voice! It makes sense now, so I’m glad we stuck with it. 

It’s a memorable, fun word to say. 

A: Yeah. It has been used a whole bunch, Cal sent me a scene from The Simpsons the other day where someone says it [laughs]. 

The album art is by Travis MacDonald; was it made specifically for the album or was it an existing piece?

A: It was an existing piece, someone in Sydney owns the original painting. We’d been friends for a bit, and I was looking at a bunch of Travis’ paintings and I thought they would suit the vibe of a classic rock, 70s-sounding record that we were going for. I wanted to have a n album cover that could work without titles for once. I just wanted to make a statement that was timeless. I had a bunch of references of paintings I grew up with and a few other things, I set him some drawings and he started to sketch up what it was going to be and was going to commission me for that. But, I just kept going back to that painting we ended up using. I was already too hung up on it. It was perfect, that’s just Rapscallion, right there. 

Album art: Travis MacDonald.

The figure in the painting does look like a street tough. 

A: Yeah, someone said the other day that it looks like the cover of a novel that is a coming-of-age story, which I agree with. The original painting was called, Graceland. He said it was of a random weirdo-lurker out the front of Graceland. The way it’s come out with the street light lamppost and all of the colours and textures, it fits it perfectly. I didn’t want it looking all dark and gloomy, I think the painting is a good happy medium. 

After having listened to the album a lot and been immersed in the Rapscallion  world, I can imagine that when you came across that painting you would have thought, ‘That’s it!’ I know the feeling because sometimes with Gimmie we’ll come across something we love when making it, but then we’ll try other things and more often than not we end up coming back to what we first were drawn to.

A: Yeah, when you do art and creative things, even like writing songs, when you make demos, often you end up just going back to the original of what it was before it got too out of hand. I didn’t want to go down that road where I was just going to do a 180 and go back to the beginning anyway, so we stuck with it [laughs]. 

Is there a specific moment on the album that you really, really love and think is super cool?

A: There’s lots of different sections, they all have their moments really. I listen to softer music generally rather than heavier stuff, so I’ve probably listen to ‘The Ballad Of Peggy Mae’ the most more recently than the other songs. In ‘Growing Pains’ there’s some parts in there too. I like how the album starts and finishes with synth intros to album opener ‘Subsidiary’ and closer ‘Growing Pains’. 

We’ve finally learned to play ‘Bellarine Ballerina’ live and ‘Living Under A Rock’. I definitely have a lot of fun playing those two songs. ‘Bellarine Ballerina’ is a good one, it’s nice to have some more uptempo songs. We did ‘Subsidiary’ once at a gig, but I feel like it’s not quite there yet.

What have you been listening to lately in general?

A: Not a whole bunch really, that’s probably way I’m so understimulated. 

Is that because you’ve been so busy?

A: Yeah, I feel like I’m always too over my own head in shit that’s going on whether it’s with Gizzard or Murlocs. I feel like I’m always trying to keep up with things. I listened to the new Chats record [Get Fucked] this morning. R.M.F.C. is great, so is that new The Frowning Clouds [Gospel Sounds & More from the Church of Scientology] record on Anti Fade. Listening to that takes me back to being a teenager and hanging out with this guys and going to those gigs.

That was a great record. We’ve heard some of the new R.M.F.C. full-length that’s in the works, it’s sounding incredible. 

A: Sick! They’re great. 

There’s also a new Gee Tee album in the works that rules too!

A: Cool! I haven’t seen them play live yet but I’ve heard stuff and I’ve seen video snippets online and they’re sick!

Totally! What’s the rest of the year look like for you?

A: I’ve got four or five weeks rehearsing with The Murlocs, we’re going to start to learn this album on Wednesday. We’re going to do a test run of those songs at a show here in Melbourne, so we can get more confident with that. We’re going to rehearse a couple of nights a week forth month, but then I go to the States with King Gizzard for all of October, then the three Murlocs will come over and meet us towards the end of the tour and we’ll do three shows supporting Gizzard. At that point we wanted have played together for a month. I’m getting a bit nervous about that, rocking up to Levitation and Red Rocks hoping that our muscle memory will be enough to go off. Then Murlocs do the US in November. Then I’ll come home for December and we might do a Gizzard Melbourne show. That’s about it!

That’s all! Phew, that seems like a lot to me. 

A: [Laughs]. It is a lot, I’m just trying to play it down in my head, so I don’t stress too hard.

[Laughter]. Do you enjoy rehearsals? Is that fun for you?

A: Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it and how we’re going to be doing these new Murlocs songs. It’ll all come together. I haven’t played much guitar in a while. I’m going to have to play guitar pin a few of the newer ones, that’ll be a bit wonky [laughs]. I’m looking forward to just hanging out with the guys, we don’t get to hang out as much as we’d like. 

Do you have anything else other than music stuff happening?

A: I’ve been skateboarding a little. I had that week in Budapest skating with friends. I skated a few times since I’ve been home. It’s the classic I’m-starting-to-get-my-groove-back thing and I fell over on my wrist a few times and hurt it, so I have to stop again. I was getting too excited! [laughs]. I can’t risk hurting my hands or arms. When you don’t do it for a while, you forget how to fall. 

Do you still get the same feeling now that you had when you were younger skateboarding?

A: Yeah, totally. It’s really good for my mental health or for anyones. You get a nice release, a feeling of freedom. You’re out and about and you catch up with old friends. You get back on your feet and it’s a nice feeling—that feeling you get when you land something after trying for a while. It’s a nice rush of adrenalin. 

There is plenty in the pipeline. With Gizzard there’s always stuff, and we have another Murlocs record that’s done as well. I’m just trying to figure out the art for it now and trying to talk everyone into doing video clips, but everyone tells me to “chill out!” [laughs]. That’s all well and good, but I’m never home enough and I like to do things well in advance so I’m not scrambling to do things at the last minute. 

Totally! As this album is loosely a concept album with a narrative, is the next album different to that?

A: Yeah, the next one is less strings attached. It’s still a while off ’til it will be released, but I’m really pumped on this next release! Somehow we’ve maybe topped Rapscallion! It’s more poppy. I’m starting to think of the plan of attack for that one. Things seem to only be getting better and better. As we all get older we’re getting better and better at writing songs. It’s all good. 

Rapscallion is out September 16 –  pre-order HERE. Follow @themurlocs + The Murlocs on Facebook. Murlocs’ Bandcamp.

**Another in-depth chat with Ambrose can be found in the our print zine – Gimmie issue 3.**

Videographer-Animator-Photographer Alex McLaren: “I love the outsider weirdo people that are just doing their own thing”

Original photo: Hannah Nikkelson. Handmade mixed-media by B.

Naarm/Melbourne-based videographer-animator-photographer Alex McLaren is the man behind some of the coolest music videos that have come out of Australia in the past few years. He’s made videos for King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, ORB, Parsnip, School Damage, Bananagun, Sunfruits, Pipe-Eye, The Murlocs and more. His clips are vibrant, dynamic and psychedelic. We chatted with Alex about his creations, of making skate vids with his friends growing up in a country town and it’s influence on his work, the music video medium, claymation, collage, making a living as a creative, new projects in the works and more.

How’s your day been?

ALEX MCLAREN: I had to go to my mate’s house and feed their cat, that’s pretty much all I’ve been up to this morning.

Nice! Sounds like it’s been a cruisy one then.

AM: Yeah. How about you?

I’ve been easing into the morning. Yesterday my husband Jhonny and I went and picked up a box of 45’s (records) for $10, so that’s always a little exciting. We’ve been going through them this morning. We’re big record nerds.

AM: Cool. Sweet. Any good stuff in there?

There was a Hawkwind ‘Silver Machine’ picture disc and some AC/DC in there, and some funk and soul. The guy we got it off was interesting; he had all of this Elvis memorabilia, including Elvis’ dad’s electricity bill. We love all kinds of music and have music to suit every mood in our collection. We’ve both collected records since we were teens.

AM: Nice. It’s good to have a good mix!

I’m stoked to be talking with you. We love your work so much!

AM: That’s so sweet.

The film clips you make are really cool. We find that whenever an awesome clip comes up from a local band, you’re usually behind it.

AM: [Laughs] That’s cool. Thank you!

Have you always been a creative person?

AM: I suppose. The main way that I got into it was from being into skateboarding growing up. Watching skate videos; they have little animations and stuff, they’re almost arthouse in a sense. That stuff really triggered where I’m at now. Dad would have the family camcorder; I’d end up stealing it to film my friends skateboarding. Through that I got into editing the footage and tinkering around with it.

Do you have any favourite skate videos?

AM: Yeah, for sure. There are so many! Alien Workshop videos, they were kind of wild in the sense that they had a ton of animation, strange little stop motion things. That all influenced me to some degree, even subconsciously at the beginning. I definitely look back at that stuff occasionally and can see how it affected where I am now. Also, with skate videos how quickly they’re edited, all chopped up and short, flashing by really quickly; I think that informed some of how I edit videos. With the King Gizzard [& The Lizard Wizard] one, I’ll have a bunch of visual styles and things changing rapidly, that’s all part of it. Videos from Girl Skateboards company, had little skits and animations. I think Spike Jonze did a bunch of that stuff.

I made a bunch of skate videos with friends and a couple of people who make music, like Nick Van Bakel from The Frowning Clouds and Bananagun, we grew up together in Warrnambool; it’s funny how a lot of people that skated then make music, art and video stuff now. It’s cool to work with Nick occasionally making videos, it’s fun to think that it all stemmed from skating together back in the day. Music interests were pretty eclectic… it’s almost like having a big brother in a sense, opening up a world in terms of music and visual stuff, arthouse 16mm and 8mm animation. I feel like all of that stuff was the initial seed of inspiration and opening the doors to new sounds and visuals.

My brother and I had a skate shop in the mid to late-90s, he’s had skate shops since the 80s, we used to watch all the skate vids, so I can relate. My love of punk and hip-hop in part comes from those vids. What was it like growing up in Warrnambool? You mentioned listening to eclectic stuff; what kind of bands were you listening to?

AM: I guess eclectic, in hindsight it probably wasn’t. But at the time in a country town, skate vids were good exposure to punk, hip-hop and more obscure stuff than what you may get otherwise, playing footy or cricket. Living in a country town anything outside the norm is eye-opening and exciting.

Did you grow up watching the music video show Rage?

AM: For sure. That was a big part of it as well, having Rage, Video Hits, Channel V and all that stuff on Austar (if you can remember that? [laughs]). That stuff was always on in the mornings. There’d be clips where I wouldn’t necessarily grasp into the song and think, yeah, I might not like this artist, but I would be engaged in the video. Spike Jonze doing that Daft Punk clip ‘Da Funk’ with the dog walking around, things like that, that visually stick out.

I really liked Michael Jackson when I was really little. I remember hiring Michael Jackson VHS from the video store.

Same! I still have a bunch of MJ VHS tapes. I joined his fan club too.

AM: That’s so good [laughs]. I used to do drawings of him too, it’d be so funny.

Me too!

AM: Oh wow! I remember this real crap one that I had that I even framed, it’d be so funny to see what it looks like now looking back.

Back then he was one of the greatest artists in the mainstream that the world had ever seen. His artistry will always hold out, despite everything else that’s happened. He was always pushing things forward art-wise. His film clip premieres would be a big deal, remember here in Australia Molly Meldrum would premiere them in a primetime slot.  His 13-minute film clip ‘Thriller’ really changed the film clip game.

AM: Yeah, definitely. ‘Thriller’ is pretty wild. Back then and still to some degree now, people had huge budgets for film clips. It was such a new thing as well, there was such a burst of creativity in the medium. So much money was getting pumped into it and people were coming up with some really cool stuff. It’s pretty easy to go back to that stuff and reference it and think about it.

I read an interview with music video director Hype Williams (who did Tupac’s ‘California Love’ and videos with Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, Jay-Z, Outkast, Missy Elliott and more), he was talking about his career and said that in one year of his career he made forty-four videos and how it was such a golden time with big budgets in the hip-hop world.

AM: Yeah, that stuff was definitely playing a lot around the time I had Channel V and that stuff. In my early teens that stuff would be on all the time!

The other night I saw Outkast’s ‘B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)’ it’s so wild, visually; everything about it is nuts. It’s crazy cool looking back at it.

Yeah. The director had the edit shipped to India for individual painting of each frame, which gave it that psychedelic look.

AM: It’s just amazing!

How do you see music videos? What is their function in your eyes?

AM: The obvious thing is that they’re a promotional tool. It’s a weird time for music videos because there seems to be that bands have less and less budget but it’s still a promotional tool. If you can make it interesting enough, it’s another way into the artist you can grasp on to. Initially the music video may draw you in more than the song but you keep watching it and you might end up liking the artist more. It’s definitely happened for me. It’s a good accompaniment for the song.

It’s a similar thing with artwork, vinyl, albums—I really like having a visual. If you like the music, it’s nice to be a part of it and create a visual for how you interpret that music itself.

How do you first approach a song when you’re going to make a video for it?

AM: Usually artists will send me the song or a few songs and ask, what do you think? Which do you like? Most of the time they let me do whatever, which is a nice freedom to have. I don’t mind a little bit of direction as well. Usually they’ll send me the song, I’ll listen to it a bunch and whatever it evokes emotionally or visually, I’ll pretty much run with that initial thought. Certain sounds and instruments will remind me of other music or clips from the past and I’ll loosely get a vibe or style from that and go from there. I like when songs have different musical elements and changes, the verse and the chorus are really different or at the end of the song the song will just change completely. It gives you a nice chance to have a completely different visual go along with it. Half the time I end up doing practical stop motion things. Every time I finish a video, I’m like, I really have to not do that again because it’s so time consuming, it is fun though! I always think the next time I should do something I can finish real quick, like live action. I can do that in two weeks and not have to go through the roller coaster ride of being really excited and then thinking, what have I got myself into? Getting excited again. Then getting worried. It’s up and down until it’s done, then I can’t believe I actually finished that!

I noticed in a lot of your work you have the stop motion animation-style and then you also have a collage-style in there too. Where does the collage aspect come from?

AM: I reckon it must be something of growing up and the children’s television that had that style back in the day, and early music videos. I don’t’ feel like I’m technically that savvy when it comes to computers; doing the stop motion seems like a really obvious choice to me, you have something sitting there, you take a photo and then move it and keep doing that until it’s animated and alive. I thought, I can do that. It may seem like a long painful process but it’s doable. It’s an easy process that makes sense in my head. It’s probably a reaction to not feeling technically savvy with software. I use it a lot and I’m probably more adept at using it and animation techniques and computers now then when I started doing stop motion. I think there’s a lot of charm in it though and that’s why I keep going back to it. I like when things aren’t quite perfect, that’s where all the charm lies; things being off, things being handmade, things being human-made, errors, jumps and flickers—that’s where all the magic lies. I always make it feel like I’m doing something new and different, even if it might seem minor in the end product; little steps forward so I feel like I’m evolving. I need to keep things interesting for myself.

Did you have any formal training or education in visual arts or film?

AM: I went to RMIT and did a two-year course of film and television, that was in 2009 when I first moved to Melbourne. Before that, in high school I did stop motion for my Year 12 project, it was all claymation stuff. I would have learnt stuff at RMIT, perhaps more how to use [Adobe] After Effects and programs like that. At the same time, I think what I initially learnt was through trial and error and skate videos. I would have made four or five skate videos with my friends, filming and editing it. And using my dad’s 8mm camera and learning to use that as well. A lot of learning has been through just trying to make stuff. It’s hard to say though, because when I went to RMIT I had just moved to Melbourne, and I was like, oh I live in Melbourne now and I’m out of my parents’ house so I can do whatever I want! I don’t have to go to school if I don’t want to. I definitely learnt stuff at RMIT but most stuff I’ve learnt on my own.

A few years ago, I went back to study. I did a three-year Bachelor of Photography at Photography Studies College in Melbourne. I work in video production (corporate videos and market reports) that pays the bills and video clips I just do in my own time. Working in corporate video production got a bit dry and boring, my partner at the time went and studied photography; I saw what she was doing and heard about the teachers. It made me really want to go back and study photography. Even more so just for myself, not as a move to start a business in photography or anything like that. I thought it would be great to go back and learn as a mature student; I was twenty-seven at the time. It got me thinking of the history of photography, images and what they mean and represent, the eras they’re from, what they’re saying politically, as a response to what was happening in that time. That stuff made me think differently about visuals. Beforehand it was more about what looks cool and interesting and compliments the sound. It gave me more of an appreciation of the thought process behind what images I’m using and how they might communicate ideas.

I’ve always been a more learning through doing person as well. I think doing things that way helps you to develop your own style. Often when people go study, they lose that creative spark or that uniqueness in their work, it gets learned out of them and people start making stuff that’s all the same. Coming from punk and skateboarding, that world is very DIY. With all the art for Gimmie, that’s all handmade inspired by my background in making zines and love of punk art. If you look closely at some of the art you can see the corner of my art desk in the image or some imperfection. I like that you can see it’s physical as opposed to digital, it’s handmade.

AM: It’s great how you can see the edge of the frame in your art. There’s an energy to it, an immediacy you can see in the work, which is something that I respond to. That immediacy is something that I try to create in my own work.

I think that’s partly why I resonate with your work; I can totally feel that in your work. I think if you spend too long on something it can feel tortured and it becomes overworked. Not always, but often. The life gets sucked out of it.

AM: Yeah, for sure. That initial energy and spark is what attracts me to things. In doing something like stop motion, it’s such a long process, initially I’ll be excited about it but after a few days and you have a couple of seconds worth of video, that energy is so hard to sustain for months or weeks to finish the video. That’s the only struggle when applying that to something as tedious as stop motion, keeping that initial spark and energy.

I can definitely see that. Have you seen the stop motion work of Bruce Bickford who did a lot of the Frank Zappa videos?

AM: Yeah, yeah. He’s the best! His stuff is amazing.

Your clips reminded me of his work.

AM: I’ve done some work with Sean McAnulty, my friend who is also from Warrnambool, we discovered Bickford eight or nine years ago. That first ORB video that we did that was all Claymation, it’s very Bickford inspired. I love the outsider weirdo people that are just doing their own thing. Bickford seemed to be working constantly doing his own stuff, if it wasn’t for Frank Zappa exposing him to heaps more people, he probably would have still just been doing his own weirdo stuff in his garage. People like him are so amazing and influential.

That’s my favourite kind of people, the true originals that create art for art’s sake, because they have to, it’s like breathing for them.

AM: It’s important that if you get an idea that you should just go with it and not think too much about it.

Is there anything that you do to stretch the resources that you have to make something look better than what’s available to you?

AM: Everything I do is on a budget, a pretty shoe stringy budget. I think that’s why I like the collage style, it’s so easy to get magazines or go to op shops and get old books and use images from those—it’s cheap, visually effective and interesting. It can be fun to do more animation with my hand drawn cartoons, but I feel like it’s not necessarily my strong point. Using found images is a way around that to create something visually strong and easy. There was a weird magazine that I found in an op shop, a World’s Fair magazine from the early-90s, it had what they thought at the time futuristic-looking things; a lot of that stuff made it into the Gizzard clip. That mag cost me 80 cents and I turned it into this whole other thing.

There’s a real art in doing that. College art has become quite popular, I find a lot of collage artists cut things out and slap them together. The artists I enjoy make something new, make a statement, have a lot of thought behind what they’re doing, there’s layers of meaning.

AM: Yeah. It’s fun to take that stuff and mix it with footage of the bands. You can completely create a new world or fantasy worlds, which I think is really interesting just the juxtaposition between images, maybe something from the 50s against future technologies or really banal stuff. I like working like that. You move the images around and as you see things beside other things, you’ll see new things or a connection between things that you wouldn’t have ever thought of otherwise; that can form other ideas in the video. It’s a fun, open way of working; it keeps it loose and interesting.

Are you inspired by the Dada artists?

AM: I haven’t really delved into the Dada movement much; I have been meaning to. I went and saw an exhibition at NVG [National Gallery of Victoria] a few years ago and there was a small section of the Dada movement and I was really interested in the stuff they were creating, it resonated with me. I feel like I’ll definitely get a lot of inspiration from it.

What’s a video you really enjoyed working on or that was challenging for you?

AM: I feel like they’re all challenging in different ways. Every time I finish filming a video, I feel like I don’t have anything else to give, in terms of that being everything I was interested in at the time and I can’t even imagine what I would do for another video. Getting excited about something will be all the spark I need to get started on the next thing though.

I really loved the Parsnip ‘Rip It Off’ clip you made.

AM: Oh yeah? Cool.

It’s pretty magical!

AM: That was fun! It was the quickest video I’ve made in terms of turn around. We shot in a day pretty much. I went to Geelong and they had some spots, we went first thing in the morning. It was so nice to shoot live action with natural light. When I finished doing it I thought, I need to do more videos like that. It’s almost like making skate videos back in the day where you can film some tricks and it’s ready to go as soon as you edit it.

The U-Bahn ‘Beta Boyz’ film clip is really fun too.

AM: Yeah. I kind of forget all the clips I do [laughs], especially with the last year being so weird with lockdown. I really like the last ORB video; ‘I Want What I Want’ was fun to make.

How amazing is that song?!

AM: Yeah. They wanted me to do a different song before that one, then they released the song and I feel like it’s not as fun to do a clip for a song that’s already released. It’s more exciting for me if people see the song with the video; it gives it more punch. Everything is usually fun and stressful at the same time.

The new Gizzard clip [O.N.E.], being locked down at the time, it felt stressful but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. It’s got a big audience, so it’s nice that people get to see stuff.

What did you stress over?

AM: If it’s going to look good! [Laughs]. Is it going to work? Will the band think it’s good? There’s always that concern that they might think it just sucks! Because the process is working in slow motion, your brain has so much time to think, oh, this is good or this is so shit; how am I going to make this work? It’s a blessing working at such a slow process in terms of stop motion that if something doesn’t feel like it’s going right it might be a 24th of a second and then by the end of that second, you’ve corrected something that you didn’t really like and no one will ever notice; that’s a nice thing about stop motion, you can change something that isn’t going the way you like it.

How long did the new Gizzard clip take you?

AM: [Laughs]. A few months during lockdown, I definitely spent full days working on it.

Do you move on from things quickly that aren’t working out in the creative process?

AM: I usually get hung up on it. Most of the time because I spent so much time on it, I find a way to rescue it or still use it but recycle it and use it in a different way; I’ll cover it up a bit or use it with something else, layering it. Nothing kind of ever gets disregarded. Pretty much every mistake has made it in. I mask or change it, make it sit a different way or in a different part of the clip. If it was terrible though, I’d just face it and bin it.

What are you working on at the moment?

AM: I’m finishing up a Murlocs video in the next couple of days. It’s live action-based with a tiny bit of animation. Maybe a Pipe-Eye video. I’ve just started talking to him [Cook Craig] about it. I really like his stuff, it’s strange and interesting and lends itself to interesting visuals. He sent me the album the other week. He was like, “Any ideas?” There’s one song I really love and I sent him back a few ideas and he said he was thinking along the same lines too. Working with people like that and being on the same page makes it super exciting! I have to see what happens schedule-wise. After last year I wanted to hang out with people more and be more social again now that we can… but then you get ideas and you’re like, I really want to do this! Then you start doing stuff and you can’t go see anyone, you get obsessed with making it as good as you can. You want to get it to a standard where you can put it out into the world and not be embarrassed by it.

Last year was definitely a time to revaluate and think about how you can use that time. If anything, it gave me more time just to do what I was doing anyway, but not having to go to the office and do my more commercial stuff. Working in that commercial side of things, I think my video clip work is a reaction to that side of things; I want to get as far away from that world as I can. It’s nice after doing something boring and corporate at work to come home and do something that’s totally opposite; to take the banality of that work and add humour into my own work, to process and channel it and make it interesting. Does that make sense?

Yeah, for sure. My whole life I’ve pretty much had a day job and then done all the creative stuff for love in my own time. There are times when I have done creative stuff, like writing, as a job and I ended up hating it, it wasn’t fun anymore.

AM: It’s a funny thing trying to find the balance between worlds. It can keep you on your toes. Having that job that’s a drag can push you to pursue what you want in your own time and be more creative.

I always find myself at my day job thinking about what I’m going to make when I get home. At work my brain goes on autopilot sometimes and my creative mind is constantly going. When I get home, I’ll work late into the night or get up super early before work and do stuff because I’m so excited.

AM: Oh yeah! Totally. The only thing is hoping that your body doesn’t get too weary in the day that it can keep up with your brain’s excitement.

I get that!

AM: Yeah, it’s hard. Sometimes when I get home it’s like, I’m just going to chill out for five minutes and when I do that my body is like, this is good and you just take it easy. You have to keep chugging along and making it work.

Is there anyone you’d like to make a clip with?

AM: Yeah! It’d be cool to work with Cate Le Bon, Total Control, or Weyes Blood. I was excited to work with my friend Sean on a White Fence clip a couple of years ago, because White Fence, and Tim Presley as an artist, is a favourite. I’d love to keep branching out into different scenes and different genres. As long as it keeps feeling new and gives me a chance to try out different styles. It’s cool to work with new people.

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