1-800-Mikey: “I encourage everyone to stay true to who they are”

Original photo courtesy of Mikey. Handmade collage by B.

We love 1-800-Mikey the lo-fi bedroom garage punk project of Eora/Sydney musician Michael Barker, who also plays in the live line-ups of R.M.F.C. and Gee Tee. Latest album Plushy is “for all the cuties”, sunny, full of infectious hooks and features Kel from Gee Tee and Tee Vee Repairman (Ishka) sharing drumming duties. If you want an album to make you smile and brighten your day—this is it! We spoke to Mikey and got an insight into his super kawaii world.

How did you discover music?

MIKEY: I was initially introduced to music by my dad. As a young boy he would always be buying CDs and would crank rock n roll and blues through the sound system he had. Once I was a bit older the internet was my gateway to music. That’s when it took over my life. 

Youre from a musical family, your dad sang in a band in the 60s; tell us about that. A couple of years back you came across photos of him singing in Chile, right?

M: Yea, that’s right! My mother and I were cleaning the garage out and she handed me these photos of my dad when he was about 18. I had no idea that he was in a band and so I was literally speechless seeing these photos for the first time. I really wish I knew more about this, he passed away when I was in high school, but it’s really awesome to know that were more similar than I thought.     

When did you first start making music? Who or what initially encouraged you to give it a go yourself?

M: I started making music in 2014 when I was in year 11. I started to get into garage rock and I found this band called Surf Curse on Bandcamp, which then led me to find the lead singers solo project Tele/visions which is now more commonly known as Current Joys. I was absolutely obsessed with Nick Rattigan and he did everything at home with whatever he had lying around. This convinced me if he could do it then I could as well. From there I started to find more artists with the same ethos and thanks to Bandcamp I found further inspiration from Frankie Cosmos, Alex G and Porches who all did it themselves. 

You have a prized possession in an original art work drawn and painted by outsider, lo-fi musician Daniel Johnston; is he an inspiration for you? I feel 1-800-Mikey has some of the innocence, charm and playful qualities that DJ has?

M: Yes absolutely! I’m so grateful to own one of his drawings and I have to thank my partner who got it for my birthday. He is a massive inspiration, especially how his family didn’t approve of him being an artist, that really hit home. His story is really special and it makes me so happy knowing he just went for it because he loved it. His work definitely seeps through my creative process, I really love his honesty and simplicity. He’s an absolute legend. RIP Daniel ❤ 

Have you always lived in Eora/Sydney? How did you find your local music scene? When you were under 18 it was hard for you to find shows to go to, so you and your friends would have house shows or warehouse shows, didn’t you?

M: Yea, I’ve always lived in western Sydney my whole life and it was very hard finding a scene not living close to the city. I found that I never sat comfortably within a scene until just recently. It felt like I was jumping around scenes when I was younger which wasn’t bad at the time but it feels really nice to know I have a family and am part of a community now. The first show I played was a gig at my mother’s house in Blacktown. It was heaps random and we had friends from high school come around. Shortly after I played a show at the MCA for an all ages event where I met more people who would then introduce me to other warehouse/house shows happening in the inner west. To be honest, there weren’t to many DIY shows, but when they did happen it was super exciting, even still to this day.

What are the local bands you super love?

M: Two underrated bands in Sydney that I love to death are Shady Nasty and Cakewalk. Shady Nasty have been around for ages and they sound completely different to everything else that’s happening. They have gone through many different sounds and I love it all, especially their punk stuff. Definitely keep your ears and eyes out for Shady Nasty. Cakewalk is also another band I love who are super low-key and barely play any shows. They are another super interesting band who are doing something different who I encourage everyone to go and check out. 

Photo courtesy of Mikey.

Youve previously been in bands Bleeding Knees Club, Wax Witches, Neighbourhood Void and Dying Adolescence; can you tell us a little about your experience in each?

M: Dying Adolescence was my first project which I started in high school. This was my bedroom pop project and kind of like a diary where I wrote and recorded everything. 

Neighbourhood Void was the sister band to Dying Adolescence and that is led by Gio. I did some of the writing and recording here and there for NV but it was mainly Gio’s project. 

I played lead guitar in Wax Witches and Bleeding Knees Club and it was thanks to these two bands I got to play heaps of shows and tour Australia straight out of high school. I cant thank Alex enough for giving me the opportunity to do that. 

Your album Please Be Kind for previous project Dying Adolescence was about all the things that affected you and that you experienced in adolescence. 1-800-Mikey is your next musical chapter. Whats the new album Plushy about? Tell us about the writing process. It seems as though cute (kawaii)is a theme running throughout? 

M: I wanted to do something fun and less serious with 1-800-Mikey. The new album Plushy is a collection of everything I love since childhood and its nothing too serious. I really like all things cute and kawaii, so it made sense to me to make an album with these themes.  

What inspired the song Plushythat the album is titled after?

M: I guess I’ve heard lots of other songs based upon different perspectives from the songwriter and so I wanted to give it a go. During the time of writing, I was obsessed with claw machines which led me to the idea. I thought it would be cool to write a song from the perspective of a plush toy. I was surrounded by plushys from all the winnings I made from claw machines. After writing the song, I thought it would be the album title as it draws a clear line from the EP I did with the song claw machine. 

Song Pressureis about working 9 to 5; what do you do for a day job? Do you find it a challenge to work a day job and play music? 

M: I currently work at Relationships Australia as a Client Services Officer. I’m on the phones all day and I help people book in counselling or mediation when they are seeking support. I have always worked at a call centre which made me name the project 1-800-Mikey. I sometimes find it difficult working full time and playing music but my colleagues and managers find it really cool so they are heaps supportive and flexible about the whole thing. 

One of our favourite songs on the record is Snoopy; whats your connection to Charles M. Schulzs loveable cartoon beagle?

M: Oh man Snooooopy <3. My mother loves Snoopy. She would always get me Peanuts pyjamas, t-shirts and toys as a kid. He’s an absolute cutie and I wish Snoopy was mine. 

Kel from Gee Tee plays drums on five of the tracks and Tee Vee Repairman (Ishka) plays drums on two; what does each of their styles add to the songs? How do they differ?

M: Both of them are killer drummers. I’d say they are both quite similar but Kel’s got more of that budget home-style sound while Ishka’s got more of a tight garage sound. I reckon Kel adds more of a groove to the songs while Ishka drives the songs forward. Both of them are amazing and I thank them for helping me ❤ 

What was the recording process for the album? Kel lent you a 4-track, right? What was the setup for recording?

M: Kel lent me a 4-track in 2020 to record the EP. I’ve never recorded to tape before so it was a new way to get obsessed with recording again. After finishing the EP I got myself a 4-track for Christmas. The general setup is to record everything on tape then bounce it to GarageBand and complete the song there. It really makes recording drums a breeze. 

Who’s in the 1-800-Mikey live band?

M: At the moment the live band consists of Kel, Buz and Rohan. Kel is Gee Tee, Buz is RMFC and Rohan plays in a Grindcore and Hardcore band called Maggot Cave and Seethin. They are all sweethearts and I’m super lucky to have them in the live band.

On your Insta a few months back you sang your first song in Japanese Iggy Pop Fanclubby Number Girl; what inspired it?

M: Ahhh yes, I got obsessed with Number Girl and the lead singer’s second project Zazen Boys. I find that I get obsessed with different pockets of music around the world and so I wanted to little Insta cover. I’ve never sang in another language and I really love the melody to that Number Girl song so I gave it a go. It’s also motivating to see another Asian make rock music. Shutoku Mukai looks like a normal and nerdy guy and that is very relatable, which is heaps nice. 

You look like you had a lot of fun making the video for Claw Machine; what was one of the most fun or funny things that happened making it?

M: Yea, that was a really spontaneous one. Me and my long time friend Gio went into the city on a Thursday night to film a music video at the claw machines in Chinatown. The idea was that I’d leave with heaps of plushys as I would always win a couple. But this time around, I went in and I won nothing which was pretty funny as Gio didn’t believe I was heaps good at the claw. Also, the shop owner wasn’t impressed with us filming there after an hour or two. She asked if we wanted to continue filming that we would have to pay her. By this point we had enough footage so we bounced. 

Youve recently joined the live lineup of R.M.F.C. playing a 12-string guitar; whats the best thing about being part of R.M.F.C.?

M: I’ve never played 12-string before so that’s been very exciting. I’m very honoured to be able to play in Buz’s band. I think the best thing about being a part of R.M.F.C. is that I can pick Buz’s brain when learning his songs. It’s very inspiring to see how he writes songs and composes melodies. 

What’s next in the pipeline for you creatively? 

M: I’m definitely gonna have a little break while Gee Tee and R.M.F.C. are getting busy. I’ll be writing songs again soon, so keep an eye out. Also, I might be joining another band, which will be a secret for now. 

Anything else youd like to share with us?

M: I encourage everyone to stay true to who they are and do what they believe is right. Love Mikey.

1-800-Mikey is out now get it HERE. Follow @1800mikey.

Display Homes: “We started to draw more on influences from bands of the 80s like Delta 5, AU Pairs, Pylon, B-52s”

Original photo courtesy of Display Homes. Handmade collage by B.

Eora/Sydney 3-piece Display Homes are back with new music! The asymmetric guitars, bass grooves and dynamic drums we’ve come to love on their previous two EPs are all there brighter than ever on forthcoming debut album What If You’re Right & They’re Wrong?. It’s raw but sharp, minimalist and danceable. Their pop sensibilities make it accessible while their post-punk leanings make it exciting. We’re calling it now as one of our favourite albums of the year! 

Today Gimmie are premiering first single ‘CCTV’ with accompanying video shot via CCTV at a pub vocalist Steph King once worked at. We caught up with the band for a yarn.

We’re excited that you have new music coming out. The sneak peek copy of your debut full-length album, What if you’re right & they’re wrong? has been on high rotation at Gimmie HQ! It’s one of our favourite releases we’ve heard so far this year. How long have you been working on it and how does it feel to be releasing it into the world?

GREG CLENNAR: Thanks, glad to hear you are enjoying it! We recorded the album at the end of 2020 and the songs were written over the two years prior to that, so it has been a long time coming. To finally announce the album is very exciting to say the least. The delay caused by COVID and the subsequent delay with pressing plants has drawn it out as I am sure many other bands have experienced. It’ll definitely be a relief once it’s out.

What influences have shaped Display Homes’ sound?

GC: I’m not sure if there’s been any one collective influence for our sound, even though it may come across that way. At our first ever practice, none of us had any idea of what we wanted to do, except that Darrell had already declared our name was Display Homes, which Steph and I both wholeheartedly endorsed. We didn’t even know who was going to sing, which entailed a few failed attempts on mine and Darrell’s behalf before realising that Steph was clearly the best singer in the band. As we evolved and the sound started to make more sense, I think we started to draw more on influences from bands of the 80s like Delta 5, AU Pairs, Pylon, B-52s etc, who we all love.

How has the band grown from 2019’s EP E.T.A.?

DARRELL BEVERIDGE: In 2019 we all lived together in one of the most beautiful sharehouse in Marrickville. Seriously, this place was incredible, a true Display Home inhabited by us FRAUDS. It looked like one of those places that instagram bedsheet companies use to shoot their ads and people look at them and go, “If I get these pistachio coloured sheets, maybe I can live somewhere like that!”  Unfortunately the owner dogged us and kicked us out because they wanted to move back in. 

In terms of progression as a band, I think we’ve just tightened a few loose screws. When we were recording the album and I was doing guitar for one of the songs, Owen the producer stormed into the room on about the 38th take of a very simple guitar part and said to me, “You keep hitting that top string, do you even use it?” I replied, “I do not.” Owen: “Then take it out!” So now I only play with 5 strings (seriously).  So technically, I’ve regressed musically.

Where did the album title come from?

STEPH KING: I always find it hard to give anything a title. I couldn’t think of a title for one of the songs on the album and I asked Darrell and he named it ‘Neenish’– which was the name of his cat at the time, probably because he remembered he needed to feed her. It worked out surprisingly well as the lyrics very much matched the behaviour of a little kitty cat. 

I was struggling to think of an album name and was rewatching season 1 of Fargo during lockdown. What if you’re right & they’re wrong? is the quote on the poster in the basement that Lester reads moments before he loses the plot. It just stuck with me. I asked Greg and Darrell what they thought, and they liked it, so we went with it. I think if I asked Darrell for an album name he probably would have suggested ‘Beans’ – which is the name of his current cat. But cat names can only go so far.

Photo courtesy of Display Homes.

We’re premiering first single ‘CCTV’ as well as the video for it, which is your first music video. Tell us about the writing of ‘CCTV’.

SK: The lyrics were inspired by a game that I’d play when I was bored on long car trips using letters from number plates. Using the three letters I would add one more letter to make a word. I came up with a drum beat and brought it to practice and then Greg and Darrell added their parts. I think it was one of the quickest songs we have ever written. Over time I have found that if I bring an idea to practice that has the drums and vocals already aligned it makes it a lot easier. Playing both at the same time means they really need to work together, and if it isn’t written with that in mind, it can be a struggle to play live. 

The album was recorded and mixed by Owen Penglis; what brought you to working together? What was recording like? What was one of the most fun moments for you? What was one of the most challenging?

DB: I met Owen close to 10 years ago and was actually going to record one of my old bands EP with him (we were called Sucks) but we ended up going with someone cheaper for the same reason one would drink cask wine over bottled wine.  Sucks were cask-punk, Display Homes is more bottle-punk. It’s still cheap but it’s in a bottle at least. 

It was all fun except for this satanic devil dog in the studio that had it in for me and wanted to fucking bite me all the time. I find recording really difficult and uncomfortable and while I enjoyed the process as a whole, actually doing my parts made me pretty self-conscious on many levels.  Why am I self conscious? Why do I keep fucking these parts up? But Owen was great, he could really pull you out of your head. Just as you’d finish a song and convince yourself you had nailed it, you would look up and see Owen with a big smile and he would say, “Tune your guitar and do it again!” He really encouraged us to get the best out of the recordings.

The video was made using the CCTV cameras at the Cricketers Arm Hotel, a pub, that Steph used to work at. Steph, what were some of the best and worst bits about working there?

SK: The Crix is a very special place. It’s the best pub in Sydney! It’s like the clock stopped in 1995 and everything is the same. It was my first job when I moved to Sydney and the overwhelming sense of community with staff and locals was very welcoming. Worst bits – hmm, it’s near the SCG so maybe on game nights when rude men would buy three Jack and Cokes at a time. It always felt weird, kinda like the outside world was entering the pub for a few hours and then leaving again. 

What do you remember most about the day of filming ‘CCTV’?

SK: It was an interesting music video to ‘shoot’ because there wasn’t a great deal of shooting involved. As it was all done on the CCTV cameras, we would set up in front of one of the cameras with the help of our very good friend Luke Smith who brought along some lights and his handy cam to get some additional footage. I would yell out to our friends who we coaxed into coming along with a couple of free beers “Ok everyone we are doing it now”, often without anyone hearing me, and then one of the bartenders would start the song on the speakers so that we could try and play along to keep the footage in time. We couldn’t hear a thing and every take we would finish a couple of seconds before the recording ended. The whole day was very much an experiment and even by the end of it we didn’t know what was caught on the cameras. It wasn’t until we got home that we could really try and figure out how we would put it all together. 

What was it like putting together the downloaded footage for the clip?

SK: The first hurdle was downloading the footage. After we finished up for the day I was told by the pub manager that “the security camera guy is coming in the morning and last time he came he wiped all the footage from the system”. Panic mode kicked in at the thought of losing it all and involved me arriving at the pub at 7.30am the next morning and contacting several different people to get a hold of the key that opened the cupboard of the security system. I kid you not, there was about 10 seconds remaining on the last piece of footage as the camera guy was walking up the stairs at 10.30am. Then came sorting through the thousands of files of footage, which was very tedious, but also very fun at times. It was my first time editing and I obsessed over it for months – but we got there in the end and we are all really happy with it.

Which is a favourite from the album?

DB: I liked recording ‘Proof Read’. When Steph was doing the vocals, me and greg were standing in the other room looking through the window psyching her up to make her get as tough and intense as she could. Jumping up and down yelling “GO STEPH!!! FUCKING BELT IT OUT!!!!!! YESSS !!!! IT’S A HIT!!!!” Steph nails it in that song I reckon.

Album closer ‘Aufrutschen’ was on the E.T.A. cassette; how do you feel the album version has changed?

DB: Part of me didn’t want to do it, but then I remembered growing up hearing multiple versions of the same song from bands I liked – I really liked that. Like a live recording, EP version, and then an album version or whatever. I always thought there was no bad that could come from that.  If people like it they’ll listen to both, if they don’t they’ll listen to neither. It’s like if you put $5 in the pokies and got $10 credit, or put nothing in there and got nothing. Everybody wins! Or no-one wins! Take your pick!

We love the album art; who did it?

SK: We actually had a completely different cover that I did on lino. We were sitting on it for a while and I just wasn’t sold on it. I am studying architecture and almost every semester I always partnered up with my friend Allyson because we worked so well together. We always managed to produce our best work at the last minute. Five minutes before a presentation we both grabbed pastels and started scribbling our building on the page. I asked her if she would mind if I used it for the album cover and she said go for it (thanks Allyson!). It reminds me of a time when my studies and hobbies were at peak productivity. Sometimes it’s crazy how much you can get done in a day.

Can you tell us a fun fact about Display Homes?

GC: When we supported Real Estate at the metro the official run sheet said ‘Display House’. As Darryl Kerrigan of The Castle says, “It’s a home not a house”. 

What do you do when not making music?

SK: I think I can answer this one for all of us. We all work 9-5, enjoy swimming laps, and eating delicious charcoal chicken. 

What’s next for Display Homes?

GC: The record will be out on Erste Theke Tontrager this European Summer and then we will look to play some album launch shows. We have played Melbourne and Brisbane before but we are excited to play some other cities/towns this time round. We have started writing some new music too, so maybe another album!

Display Homes’ debut album What if you’re right & they’re wrong? out soon via Erste Theke Tontrager.  Follow @displayhomesband + DH on Facebook. DH on Bandcamp.

From Squats To Lots: The Agony And XTC Of Low Life

Original photo: courtesy of Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club. Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Low Life are back with third LP From Squats To Lots: The Agony And XTC Of Low Life! A rich and complex album, that has vitality and backbone with an air of cool and restraint. There’s spades of texture and unfiltered emotion on this shining record. Gimmie recently caught up with Low Life’s drummer Greg Alfaro.

How are you? What’s life been like lately for you? What did you get up to today?

GREG ALFARO: All things considered, pretty damn good thanks. No band stuff for ages though, which sucks, just busy parent life. I’m far from the perfect father/role model type but I’m still learning things every day. There’s lots of lockdown home-schooling, work from home, trampoline sessions, feeding chooks, storytimes, watering gardens, kicking footballs, Lego, enforcing screen time limits, peacekeeping, nurturing and yelling, Dad shit.

Today was chill though, got first Vax jab, so come what may. 

Low Life are from Warrang/Sydney; did you grew up there? What was your neighbourhood like then and how have you seen it change?

GA: I actually grew up in a housing commish suburb down the freeway in the Dharawal/Illawarra. It was rife with the type of intergenerational criminality and mental illness you’d find in pockets of struggle all over the land. It was the typical BMX, bush and beach childhood mostly, but I do remember lots of overt and casual racism towards us wogs and Indigenous folk from the, I suppose, terminal bogan kids (Westies to us then) who didn’t know any better, and their older, scarier (to me) generations. Some wised up, worked hard and moved on from all that, some even became cherished friends, but most didn’t. Fun childhood, just fraught with bit of paranoia. 

I do remember lots of family trips to places like Fairfield, Liverpool, Redfern, Bondi for South American festivals, functions and family friends sleep overs. My uncle had a band so music was central to those Sydney trips. 

Sydney skateparks, record stores and eventually gigs featured a lot as I got older. Shows around all the ‘live music mecca’ venues from the Annandale over to Selinas. For me this wasn’t in some classic yobbo, beer drenched, oz rock, heyday nostalgia terms (that vibe was still around). I was just out of high school, so heading up to watch proper weirdo local and overseas bands most weekends was a real eye and ear opener. The 90s were also way darker and more violent in my recollection than the pre-pandemic decade or so. Young and winging it with a lot of funny and heavy ‘firsts’ to discover. 

These days (or before lockdowns) there’s still the proper weirdo bands and characters, just seems everyones nicer to everyone’s faces. There’s no real pub circuit and its punch-ons (no great loss). More warehouses and DIY shows by dedicated fans and the odd friendly swindling scumbag. Still heaps of great young and middle aged bands too.

Recently on the LL Instagram you guys posted a photo of a “pseudo squat” on Shepherd Lane in Chippendale where LL was born; what do you remember about the place? 

GA: That was just before I joined Lowlife. I did work with Mitch & Cristian & was in a different band with them around that crazy time too(2009-ish?), so I was all too familiar with that energy. I just don’t remember personally ever going to that particular house. From what I’ve gathered it sounds just like places I’ve lived and squatted in(some with Cristian) where decadent, deviant behaviour festered and thrived. But also a special place where deep, lifelong friendships and grudges form and intensify.

How did you first discover music?

GA: Remember that ‘Moscow!Moscow!’ song? Where the blokes are doing the Fonzie dance? It’s wild.  That’s my first musical memory. 

When did you start playing drums and who or what first inspired you to play? Was there ever any other option for you?

GA: My uncle’s wog band had this exotic looking  drum with a proper black and white cow skin, looked like it had been violently hacked off its rump somewhere in the Andes and plonked straight on this big arse bass drum. This thing fascinated me as a kid and I would whack the shit out of it with gusto every chance I got. From there I was hooked and would tap out beats and make whimsical childish songs on and about anything and everything. 

I kept tapping away, absent-mindedly encoding lots of 80s metal, pop and hip hop I’d hear as a kid for many years before I properly started giving two shits about bands. I’m pretty sure it happened one day when my older bro and his mates must have been smoking some of that gold-stamped red-cellophane hash that was everywhere back then. Because the dodgy fuckers put on The Doors (as they do). With those vapours swirling around I remember zoning intently into the drums on ‘Peace Frog’, a simple beat doing some heavy lifting on the galloping rhythm. After that, they probably greened out,  and I started taking drums slightly more seriously. 

Punk & hardcore stuff got me going faster and more intense. Fuck, I even tried and failed those blast beats, but that shit is unnatural to me, more human torture ordeal than drumming. But hats off if you can be bothered learning it.

I’ve played different instruments in different bands over the years too,  but plodding along on drums is my favourite thank you very much. 

How did you find your local music community? What was the first local show you ever went to? 

GA: Kinda inevitable, music was so linked with our skating so much back then, but also a bit of blind luck. We just happened to grow up where some older friends were getting amongst the Sydney and Melbourne punk underground scenes, which spurred us on. We sputtered through attempts at various covers and line ups until we got it going for ourselves. Eventually we’d get our own songs and shows on the scene. Sometimes our friends would invite us onto their bills. Been at it ever since. 

Pretty sure first show was ‘Proton Energy Pills’ and ‘Social Outcasts’ at Thirroul Skating Rink/Skatepark around 1990-ish. They were our older mates and had 7″ records so were totally legit to us. I remember seeing old VHS copies of ‘Decline..’ some ‘Target’ vids, ‘Repoman’ & even ‘Thrashin’ and the cluster of punk clips on Rage. We were doing our post pubescent aping of all that action down the front. Pretty funny memory. One of the records was actually sponsored by the governments ‘Drug Offensive’ harm reduction campaign, which we all found utterly hilarious.  Holy shit, if only they knew the completely unhinged animals they’d sponsored. 

I understand that Iggy Pop’s albums Lust For Life and The Idiot were reference points sonically for Low Life’s new album, From Squats To Lots: The Agony And XTC Of Low Life; in what ways? What do you appreciate about those records?

GA: Probably were, but I just can’t remember anyone mentioning it or writing that in the album notes. It’s been ages and too much has happened since. I can really only remember Killing Joke’s name being tossed around somewhere in the haze. 

But so they should be reference points, they’re amazing albums. I think there’s definite nods to them, and I appreciate shitloads. 

I knew this duo had form because my younger self heard Bowie’s polarising mix of ‘Raw Power’ first. That hellride became an instant all time favourite.

I heard ‘Lust for Life’ next and that immediately raced for the title, just via different neural pathways. The famous usual suspect songs are lauded with good reason. They are perfect anti pop masterpieces that manage to spark the intellect and warm the genitals. Thats some feat.

But songs like ‘Sixteen’ ‘Some Weird Sin’ ‘Turn Blue’ ‘Fall in Love With Me’, they carved slow & sinister routes into my subconscious, they’re still carving. This record has often been a flaming torch in a dark cave for me. The cover alone should cheer any sad fuck up. 

I heard ‘The Idiot’ last. This record took longer to seep deep into my bones. Big departure from what I’d grown up on to that point, but I trusted their instincts. Before actually hearing it, I’d read in Iggys ‘I Need More’ book that they were mostly Bowie arrangements with Iggy chiming in his nihilistic poetry and ad libs. I thought I was ready for it. So when ‘Sister Midnight’ kicked in like the depraved evil twin of ‘Fame’, it was clear it was gonna be an awkward journey through Bowie’s coke-ravaged musical psyche, just with Iggy, fresh from the asylum, as the (mis)trusted co-pilot. I love how its cold monotony almost smothers it’s funk pulse (Low Life turf), but it’s there, as is Iggy’s, reanimated from his death tripping scumfuck years, just without all the mania pushing his voice to its limits. Yep, less was finally more here (more Low Life vibe too). The rest of the album stays icy, but with beautiful, fleeting hooks on ‘Baby’ and ‘China Girl’.

‘Nightclubbing’ still washes over like a heavily tranquillised cabaret number, squinting west through a glory hole in the old Iron Curtain at all the fake, sexy madness swanning around. Uncomfortable, but at peace, piling out in its own warm fluids. Great song.

‘Mass Production’ is an almighty closer. Building and writhing into almost David Lynch creep territory. An unnerving loop of self loathing & cruelty (LL anyone?) and oppressive, unrelenting head-in-a-greasy-vice synth that essentially does the job of squeezing any remnants of Dum-Dum-Motor-City guitar muscle out of Iggy (for some decades anyway) and any poor, unsuspecting, punker-wanna-be (young me included) who sat through a listen, axe at the ready, impatiently waiting in vain for some kind, any kind of ‘Extra’, ‘Rawer’ or ‘Furthermore’ fucking power. It’s brave. Glad I persisted with it. 

Each listen still astounds, and it’s still casting a long shadow over the rich post punk underground from mid 70s Berlin all over the anti mainstream music world & my feeble brain. I just can’t help but imagine influential bands like… ahem… Einsteurzende Neubauten, Tuxedomoon, Wire, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Boys Next Door, Warsaw, Big-blah-Black blah fucking blah etc, all having the initial fire cracker lit under their pimply post punk arses upon hearing ‘The Idiot’ back then. 

And so they should of, because despite Iggy’s penchant for self-sabotage back then, and Bowie’s possible own attempt on his careers life with ‘The Idiot’, it’s still an amazing fucking album. So yeah, shitloads. 

It’s up to each listener who gives enough of a flying fuck, to decide if we’ve summoned anything sonically from those records. I certainly won’t be dwelling on it, they poisoned my blood years ago. But from what I’ve heard so far of the new album, and remember making it, it definitely feels like they’ve been stirred through the LL cauldron of ideas. Mitch is a lifer, no hand-brake, always stirring. Next!

The album’s title borrows a little from the Irving Stone 1985 novel title, The Agony and Ecstasy, about Italian Renaissance artist, Michelangelo; how did it work its way into your title? 

GA: Hahaha, It does? Never read it. 

The boys may or may not have a deep appreciation for that book that they drew the inspiration from, I don’t know or care really. Sounds interesting though. I just figured it was a common enough relatable phrase that rolls off the tongue nicely? Innit? Triumph/Tragedy, Comedy/Horror, Pleasure/Pain, Mushrooms/Manure, it’s all part of the calm and the chaos. It all suitably applies to the Low Life saga over our lifespan that’s for bloody sure. 

What has been the most standout moment of both agony and ecstasy for you from LL’s journey so far?

GA: There are reams to draw from here, but I think the ill-fated USA tour some years back perfectly encapsulates both.

Imagine all that organising, booking, payment, anticipation, excitement & long arse flights. Only for poor Salmon to be detained in immigration limbo with Guatemalan gang bangers and unceremoniously shafted back across the ocean. After the initial confusion, stress & shock, and after it was clear he was home safe, we just accepted our cards. We were in America and we weren’t playing any gigs. So naturally we pivoted to glass half full mode. Met old friends over there and made new ones. Had a ball. 

Photo courtesy of Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club

How long did you guys spend writing for The Agony And XTC..? Is there a particular way that your songs often form/come together? 

GA: Maybe a year, Mitch had half the song ideas mostly worked out not long after Downer Edn came out. But different things stretched it out, and even standard band stuff like getting a jam locked in can take us ages. I remember getting a lot of these new songs started around practising sets for upcoming shows, then we’d run out of time. I really felt underdone before finally recording this one too. Covid wiped out heaps of preparation time. We only had a few proper band sessions where we got to write stuff, flesh out ideas and refine them where necessary. But I felt like I personally just needed a few more ahead of recording my drum parts. The guys, bless them, would sweetly reassure me it was sounding fine though. Liars. Normally we would have done just enough without over cooking it. 

What’s the song ‘Hammer & The Fist’ about?

GA: I’m so sorry but I haven’t even heard that song in ages. I still haven’t received the record, Cristian’s got ’em all. I only have scant memory of a slowish beat with a sombre bass run, no guitar or vox. So fuck knows what it’s exactly about yet. I do have my own suspicions about ‘Hammer’ & ‘Fists’, and they ain’t pretty. Mitch insists it’s all open to listener interpretation anyway, so choose your own misadventure I suppose, yeah sorry, maybe just ask Mitch?

How did song ‘CZA’ get started?

GA: I did hear a rough cut of this with some Samoh footage early this year. Dizzy started up that riff and it sizzled straight away. Yuta and I jumped onto it quick smart, not wanting to lag on the flavour he was frying up. Cristian rumbled in. I do remember pissing ourselves laughing at all the backing vox on this one, because Salmon had put on some suitably absurd, dark but hilarious lyrics to harden it’s crust.

Which song on the new record means the most to you? Why do you have a fondness for it? 

GA: So far ‘Collect Calls’. This tempo is right in my sweet spot and the mood kinda shifts gears quickly into some unexpected guitar twists. Like that Crossroads-Battle of the Hot Licks duel, but with Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Marr vs Greg ‘Yuta’ Sage. Sounds like the lyrics could be about a troubled soul who isn’t completely detached from family and friends, but possibly wanting to detach from a desperate reality? Your mate? I dunno, ask Mitch. But they are kinda harrowing and beautifully delivered by him and his sister Beth. 

 I only heard a mix of some songs together while my son was in a major surgery in October 2020, which was a welcome distraction. Then nothing for ages while dealing with all that in hospital. When we finally got him settled home in December 2020, the Passport video came out with ‘Collect Calls’. Hearing that song in that video really snapped me out the hospital reality that had been all consuming and all around grim. That song reminds now reminds me of starting a very different phase of life with great hope for his recovery & future. Ripping skating clip and a beautiful song. 

The album was recorded last year with Mickey Grossman (who also did your previous release Downer Edn and Oily Boys’ Cro Memory Grin); What was the process like for you? What can you recall of the recording sessions?

GA: Disjointed & gruelling, but fun. With no practice for months, I did about 10+ songs in about four hours and was exhausted, pretty out of it and just plain struggling. The vocal sessions were cool though, just back to clowning around with the gang again, yelling & hooting funny backing vox and improper dining. Mickey rules, he seemed to innately know what we were doing more than we did sometimes, and had more patience with us than we probably deserved. He is a treasure. Luv him. 

One of the overarching themes of the new collection of songs is the celebration of resilience. I know that personally you and your family went through a lot last year with your beautiful boy Vincent having an awful accident while bushwalking. How is everyone doing now? What are some things that have helped you with your resilience and helped you get through this challenging time? 

GA: Doing great now, just got the all clear for all physical activities again but the nature of a brain injury means possible future challenges. He is totally still the sweet, fun loving and mischievous little boy he always was. We were lucky on many different fronts with this outcome because it is clear that after a whole year that his selfless nature and bright personality are still all there. That is probably the biggest joy and relief to us all. Getting him and his brothers back to the school environment amongst friends is next in his recovery. 

His strength recharged my resilience when it got dark for me. I can still be a nervous wreck around him in some situations too, but having the family, friends and band behind me, random texts, big and small gestures, sympathetic smiles and hugs, lovely meals cooked and delivered, rides to and from the hospital, babysitting, was all so important. All this support from family, friends and even strangers will be appreciated for as long as I’m breathing. Thanks again gang..X

Can you share with us a funny Low Life-related moment that still makes you laugh when it comes to mind?

GA: Yuta the scooter rebooter cracking the public scooter code in Adelaide and shredding down the boulevard towards our show was hilarious. We ended up getting fed so much food off the venue before playing that it actually ruined us. 

That may sound silly, and it is, but it stands out to me because it happened in a heightened emotional time just after some close friends had passed, and just before Covid stopped everything. This bizarre inter-zone period in time and space also coincided with a super rare Low Life purple patch of gig momentum (about 3 gigs!) that was focused and fun, with plenty more on the horizon. 

That and the last Maggotfest featuring Coco-the astounding human kick pedal, that was funny. 

Turns out these were our last two real life, beer drenched, oz rock, sweaty gigs. 

Why is music important to you?

GA: Wow, again, reams.

Being preoccupied with Vincent’s recovery in and after hospital, Covid lockdowns, home schooling and the general pandemonium of family life within this whole shitstorm, has just meant that music hasn’t been important at all for so long now.

But this interview has brought it all home for me. I’ve dribbled on heaps, so I’ll try to keep it short.

It’s been a direct portal and a soundtrack to countless worlds, perspectives, memories, emotions and the odd nightmare.  Creating music with friends (and kids now), and expelling all the energy, good and bad, through it. That’s important and shitloads of fun for me.  Hopefully do it again ASAP. 

Low Life’s From Squats To Lots: The Agony And XTC Of Low Life out now on Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club (AUS) and Goner Records (US). Please check out lowlifebandcamp.com

A chat with Warttmann Inc, R.R.C., Set-top Box, Satanic Togas’ Ishka: “I have hope in the world!”

Handmade collage by B.

Sydney-based creative Ishka Edmeades is constantly in flux whether it’s working on one of his many musical projects: Research Reactor Corporation, Set-Top Box, Satanic Togas, G.T.R.R.C, Gee Tee, Australia Idol and more; independent punk label Warttmann Inc; zine, TV Guide; making art or writing graffiti. No matter the medium, the message is always one of humour, fun and honesty. Gimmie was super stoked to chat with Ishka!

An abridged version of this conversation first appeared in Issue 4 of the free mail-order music mag Streetview (@streetview.mag), which we love! It’s worth your while to get on their mailing list.

Hi, Ishka! What have you been up to today?

ISHKA: Hey, Bianca. I’ve just been hanging out.

Is it your day off?

I: Every day is pretty much a day off at the moment. When Corona [virus] hit, I was working in cafes, and since then it’s been hard to find a job. I’m enjoying the time off though.

Yeah, I found myself in the same boat. Like I said in our correspondence, I’ve been working in libraries for so long and when COVID-19 hit, there was no work for months. How’s lockdown been for you?

I: I feel bad to say it but, it’s been pretty good for me in a lot of ways. I’ve been recording music and just being creative. It’s been good having time to ponder different things. I feel bad because in one sense, Corona is a totally shit thing to happen!

I know what you mean. Creatively for me it’s been great too! During this time my husband and I made Gimmie zine and worked on my book. To be honest, most creatives I know, say it’s been great for them. Of course, there’s the downsides of no shows, losing jobs etc. but at least from a creative perspective many who I’ve talked to, worked on projects, learnt new skills and took the opportunity to make the best of the downtime.

I: Yeah, that’s the thing. For sure, you have to make the best of things. For me, I’ve been recording every day or making art—it’s been great!

Anyone I’ve interviewed or spoken to that knows you, they always have the loveliest things to say about you. One of the most common things people tell me is that they’re really inspired by you, you have a pretty prolific output and are in so many bands. I know for you that’s just what you do.

I: [Laughs] Oh, I don’t know… thank you. That’s really cool to hear; I’ve never really heard people say that before. Thanks. I guess because we’re all just good mates and hangout all the time, stuff like that never gets brought up.

Kel [from Gee Tee] is definitely a big influence on how I go about recording stuff. He moved down to Sydney from the Gold Coast into a house with me last year in June. I had my drums set up in my room and we just had a fun time recording. We did the Chromo-Zone stuff, I play drums on it. It was good to watch him record. I’ve always liked Gee Tee and Draggs. Watching him do stuff heled me heaps. I first met Kel when Draggs came down to play here.

Are you originally from Sydney?

I: Yeah, I’ve lived here all my life.

What scenes or communities did you grow up in?

I: My dad’s Māori. He moved to Bondi from New Zealand in the 70s, there was a big Māori community around there. I grew up in that area in the 90s then I moved out to the Inner West when I was nineteen. There’s still a Māori community but it’s fleeting, a lot of them have left. All the older guys in that community were into dub and reggae, I got heaps of influences from them. I still really love Prince Buster and the Blue Beat [Records] stuff.

I figured you were into that, on your Instagram a while back, I saw that you had a live video you took of Lee Scratch Perry.

I: My friend Harry, who plays in [Satanic] Togas as well, my friend Dion (we’re all old high school friends) and I got to see him live, it was great! He was pretty out there. It was pretty funny. Half of his set was him rambling.

So, dub and reggae were the first kind of music that you got into?

I: Yeah, it was the first music that I was exposed to. Where I was born, my dad’s house was the jam house, he had every kind of instrument and people would come over and jam all the time. From when I was born, I was always around people jamming. I’m sure they were just playing the “skank” one note [laughs] and that got lodged in my brain.

Is that how you started playing guitar?

I: I started playing drums first, because of Metallica. My friend and I really got into Metallica, he played bass, so we started jamming Metallica songs when we were ten. I got my dad’s old drum kit. After school every day, I lived close to the school, we’d just go home and jam Metallica songs with drums and bass, it probably sounded pretty horrible to all the neighbours! [laughs].

How old are you?

I: I’m twenty-two right now.

How did you get into punk rock?

I: After Metallica, I got into Nirvana. The first real punk memory I have is watching Decline Of The Western Civilization [a 1981 documentary on the Los Angeles punk scene]. It’s the usual story, Kurt Cobain would mention a lot of bands and you’d go check out some of the bands; that movie came up. The Germs was the one thing in it that was like, “Oh yeah! That’s awesome.” Darby Crash in the movie was a train wreck, at the time I thought it was pretty cool [laughs]. He was maybe putting on a persona in a way, I guess.

You did graffiti back then too?

I: Yeah, I still do. I actually went to court for graffiti a few days ago. It was terrible, I had to wait there for a while. It was good though, I got no conviction, I got a good behaviour bond. Happy days! I celebrated after. I was just drunk and not looking and being an idiot. Graffiti is great though.

How did you get into graffiti?

I: A mate used to do the loops every day. Two of my mates started doing it secretly. I found out and was like, “Let’s go stupid!” They took me to do loops after school one day, and I got hooked; “loops” like train rounds. I got pretty into it for a while. I stopped for a bit and then got back into it, I’ve been in and out all the time. Recently, I got super into watching Style Wars [a 1983 documentary on hip-hop culture with an emphasis on graffiti] again and it sparked my interest in it again.

That one’s a classic! I grew up loving hip-hop and that whole culture. When I was in primary school my mum brought me the book Spraycan Art, which was released just after…

I:  Subway Art?

Yeah! I thought graffiti was the coolest and tried to replicate it in my notebooks and learn about the writing styles I’d see in that book. I’ve always loved both the hip-hop and punk subcultures, and art; my husband Jhonny is the same too.

I: Yeah, they’re such cool subcultures. I was into punk rock at the time but all the writer’s I knew were into Aussie hip-hop, which wasn’t that bad but I was like, “Is there any punk writers?” I found out that there are a lot of good writers that are punk!

What were the early local shows you’d go to?

I: In Year 7, I’d go to metal-core shows. The first proper one was Parkway Drive; my mate and his brother were really into them. From there, I’d go to local shows at the Annandale Hotel.

I’ve heard some of the earlier music you’ve made and it’s quite different to the stuff you’re doing now; what was it that changed your music making direction?

I: I was into punk but I didn’t really know anyone that wanted to play that stuff. I started to get into garage rock and I started leaning more towards psychedelic rock more and wanted to do that. I used to jam with a friend called Jake, he went to some after school guitar school; I met Owen Penglis there of Straight Arrows, that’s where his studio was.

I ended up doing work experience at Owen’s studio, I went to a TAFE high school and you had to do work experience every Friday. It was pretty cool doing work experience there. Owen put me onto the Back From Grave and Killed By Death stuff!

What was it like working with Owen?

I: It was cool. I was a pretty quiet kid at the time. I was really interested in what we were doing at the time because I had already started to record stuff at home, real badly though [laughs]. I got to watch a few albums being made like the first Los Tones album [Psychotropic]. I was there the whole time plugging in stuff and setting mics up and all that stuff. It was cool, I used to have conversations with them but I felt so weird because I was so young and had no experiences yet, I was definitely an observer at some points just taking it all in. It was great!

You do a lot of different music projects – Research Reactor Corporation, Set-Top Box, Satanic Togas, G.T.R.R.C, Gee Tee, Australia Idol and more – they all have such strong identities; do you think that might be able to be tracked backed to early on seeing someone like Darby Crash, like we were talking about earlier, and how you thought his having a persona was a fun idea?

I: For sure. I feel like making a persona, making a character in a sense or characters, is fun. It’s cool to play something else, it’s kind of like acting in a sense. It can help song writing. I consider myself bad at lyrics, or at least it takes a while for me. Sometimes it’s random but mostly it takes a while. If I have a character to think about, I can write for it. For example, with the Set-Top Box stuff, I could always write about a movie or something like that.

I noticed in your zine TV Guide, you had movie reviews of 80s comedy/horror flicks.

I: Yeah, I love all of that stuff. Me and my housemates always watch those kinds of movies all the time. My housemate works at JB Hi-Fi so he always gets heaps of movies cheap.

Nice! What are some of your favourites?

I: I recently watched Wild Zero that Guitar Wolf movie, it was great, I hadn’t seen that for a while. I like TerrorVision, that’s one of my all-time favourite movies. I love humour in movies, I try to put humour into music.

That definitely shines through. I especially like the humour in Research Reactor Corporation’s songs.

I: Yeah. We like to paint a scene. Billy’s lyrics are actually pretty funny and great. You can’t understand them sometimes [laughs], but they’re really great. The movie [Class of] Nuke ‘Em High is pretty much the genesis concept for Research Reactor, there’s heaps of samples from it throughout the album.

We really love the new Satanic Togas record X-Ray Vision!

I: Awww, thank you.

I really love the song ‘Skinhead’!

I: [Laughs] That’s a pretty funny song. I wasn’t even going to put that on there but Billy [Research Reactor] made me! Well… convinced me.

It really does captures them well!

I: [Laughs] Yeah, not diss to anyone! It’s just a funny song. I was thinking about skinheads, like tough skinheads, and I thought it would be funny to write a song where there was a really small skinhead singing the song, a baby skinhead in a way. It was a stoned idea! [laughs].

When I heard the lyrics, I cracked up! “I’ve been listening to Blitz / I put my hand in a fist”. It’s so good!

I: [Laughs] Thanks! It makes me crack up too.

Hearing you say you wrote it from the perspective of a baby skinhead makes it even funnier! Total gold.

I: Kel loves that one too, it’s a lot of people’s favourite.

How many songs do you think you’ve written?

I: I don’t really know, maybe 100? There’s more to come! I’ve got lots more to record.

Awesome! Can’t wait to hear them. Do you have a process for writing your songs?

I: It’s pretty different all the time. I usually play guitar a lot and a riff will just come up. Sometimes the whole song comes out straight away. If I just have a riff, sometimes I might not finish it until ages after, or I’ll slowly build the idea. Sometimes it’s a synth line.

What interests you about writing songs?

I: I never liked learning other people’s songs, when I first started playing guitar, I wasn’t really into that. It’s just very satisfying at the end to have a song. Doing it always feels cool. It’s all fun.

I know that you have a lot of fun going down internet rabbit holes too; what’s an interesting one you’ve been down lately?

I: Oh yeah! I do. I’ve been watching heaps of monkeys on YouTube [laughs].

[Laughter].  You’re also a big music nerd and always looking for new music; is there any kinds of things in particular that piques your interest?

I: At the moment, stuff from the late 70s and early 80s, if stuff is around that time that’s been interesting me recently. I like releases that will have a weird saying on them or stuff like that.

Sometimes when I’m flicking through 45s at a record fair, I’ll come across titles of songs that sound really interesting or weird or cool that make me buy it.

I: For sure! There’s a few buzz words that I have in the back of my head and if I see them I think, “Oh, this has gotta be good!” [laughs].

I’m always drawn to things about space or dogs.

I: Space is a big one for me too.

So, what kind of set up do you record with?

I: A cassette 4-track, I just got a new one. I had two or three break on me recently, which sucked, all breaking around the same time. Most of the Togas record was recorded on my friend’s 4-track, he’s got a snazzy Tascam one with heaps of knobs! [laughs].

I love all the extra fun sounds you add into the mix and synth-y sounds.

I: A lot of that stuff can be a tape being slowed down or sped up, I love that stuff.

Before you mentioned that you record stuff after a smoke; is that how you record a lot?

I: Yeah, pretty much! [laughs].

Does it help your process?

I: It definitely does. It makes more ideas flow… maybe?

Maybe it’s because you’re more relaxed and more open to trying whatever?

I: Yeah, for sure. Recording at home helps too. I’ve done studios a few times and I don’t know… there’s a sense that you have to do it, right then and there! At home there’s no pressure.

Australian Idol released something not too long ago, right?

I: Yeah. We put out a tape. I can’t remember when we recorded it. We got together, we were seeing Dual Citizen at 96 Tears, which is a DIY venue that used to run for a bit. Everyone was there that night but I went home. I woke up in the morning to all these messages on my phone and a Facebook Group chat called ‘Australian Idol’. They had created a band and made me join without me being there, it was pretty funny. The tape came together pretty fast.

I noticed in your zine TV Guide that you like to ask people what their thoughts are on punk in the digital age; I’m interested to know what yours are?

I: It’s pretty cool. I grew up in the digital age. It can be good and bad in ways. It’s cool being able to access anything all the time wherever you are and discover things on your arse sitting at home [laughs]. On the other side, it can get overwhelming with too much stuff all the time. You have to learn when to step away from it. Not so much just punk too, being in the digital age in general. I think recording in my house is a great way to escape when I get really overwhelmed.

You often post videos of animals. There was one post that said something like “Animals are way better than most humans.”

I: [Laughs] Yeah. I do love myself a good animal! Right now, we have a pet rat, he’s been taking up most of my love at the moment! Animals seem to be a lot more caring than humans most of the time.

Totally. We have a little dog and all she wants to do is love and be loved, fuck around playing, eat and sleep. Humans could learn a lot from animals.

I: Yeah, totally! Having said that though, I have met some amazing humans—I have hope in the world!

Please check out: Warttmann Inc Records. Satanic Togas. Insta: @warttmanninc + @researchreactorcorp.

Sydney punk band ARSE’s guitarist-vocalist Dan Cunningham: “I was really frustrated with everything in my life…”

Handmade collage by B.

Sydney punk trio ARSE’s straight-forward, minimalist, and most importantly honest music, captures the daily grind of the modern world in all of its anxieties, pressures, stresses, and frustration. Gimmie spoke at length with guitarist-vocalist, Dan Cunningham.

How did you get into music?

DAN CUNNINGHAM: From a very young age my parents got me playing music as soon as I was old enough to do so. It’s been a lifelong thing for me really, it’s in my family as well, I have cousins, aunts and uncles that all play. There’s always been music in my life and it just made sense to go for it myself. When I got to high school, I started playing guitar and that’s where I met Jono [Boulet], who also plays in ARSE. He and I have been on the road musically, and literally, together for years; we’ve always played in bands together. I’ve always been in bands, ARSE is the most recent one.

I know you did bands Parades and Snake Face too! You’ve gone from doing Parades that sounds pretty indie pop to doing a punk band with ARSE. Often when people are younger and in their teens, they’re really angsty and the music is aggressive and as you get older you mellow out more, I feel like you guys have gone the opposite!

DC: Jono and I have always had a punk band of some kind or another going at all times, even during Parades we had Snake Face as the side thing. We’ve always bonded over that kind of music. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve even said it out loud, at this point we’re in our 30s now… it’s insane when you’re doing music and you get to that point, it feels a bit ridiculous to be doing a kind of indie thing, unless you do it really well and you really think about it and it’s coming from a really visceral, honest kind of place and you do it convincingly, then it works. For us, we’re just at the point where we want to keep playing music together. At the time we started this band, it just felt like the absolutely right thing to do, especially for where I was at in my life, to do the band I always wanted to be in. Jono has always been on the level. We just did it and it felt like a really natural thing to do. We had zero plans for this band, to be quite honest. We started it three years ago.

I understand at the time you started the band you were going through a real depressive period in your life?

DC: Yeah, somewhat. I was a bit wayward really… just, life never turns out the way that you want it to, which is a sad reality. At that point I was really frustrated with everything in my life… which is totally normal I think, anyone can relate to that. At that time there was a real lack of music in my life, at the bottom of it all I think that was the root of a lot of my problems. I just needed to fill that space, that void in my life, it was absolutely the thing that I needed to do—that’s how the band started really. That’s something I only realised much later though, maybe after a year of doing it.

Was there a reason why there was a lack of music in your life at that time?

DC: Circumstances. I was at university studying and I didn’t have the time to do it, there were other personal things going on, it was a tumultuous time. Doing what I was doing at university I was pretty conflicted about it taking up so much of my creative time. There were a lot of questions about whether I was doing the right thing? As you get older I think you’re more aware of time, how you’re spending it and if you’re being honest with yourself in that. That’s where I was. I’m still kind of there [laughs] in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of those questions still hanging around. At least music is more of a thing though, it’s a clear and present thing in my life. I feel a lot better about everything.

What is ARSE for you?

DC: It’s an outlet for a lot of stuff. I do it with two of my best and longest standing friends which is a huge thing, just getting to create something with them! We get to spend a shitload of time together. When we play shows we love to hang out, often playing a gig is an excuse to go grab dinner somewhere, for me it’s something to do—that’s’ the most important thing to me. I love playing out of Sydney. Before lockdown we’d spend a lot of time in Melbourne, last year [2019] we went down five or six times; every time we play down there it gets better and better. Melbourne is such a great place to hang out. They’re really going through it right now with the Coronavirus. Knowing the people I know down there through playing in the band, the cultural aspect of Melbourne is its greatest strength and right now they’ve completely lost it, it’s pretty devastating. ARSE for me is to make connections, that’s a really valuable thing in my life. The music is the most fun I think I could have, doing that, getting up there and turning everything up to 11! Really feeling it! When you play it’s really a bit of a heighted state that I can’t get any other way.

I saw the podcast you were on recently and you mentioned that playing live was almost like a meditative experience for you.

DC: Yeah, absolutely. I’m definitely not thinking about whatever is going on in my life when we play, that’s a hugely underrated thing. We also mentioned that in the world of music there is this innate relationship with music and substance abuse and all that sort of thing, we see that when we play ‘cause obviously we’re playing shows all the time and spending a lot of times out in the evening, playing pubs, venues, where there is alcohol everywhere – which is totally fine, do whatever you do. For me, after a few years of getting on stage with a few beers under my skin and feeling maybe not as present as I could have been, now it’s really valuable to me to really be present and to just take it all in—to really be there for the moment. If I want to have ten beers after, well, that’s a different story, but when I play it’s really important to me to take stock of the moment, because moments are fleeting, moments are all we have at the end of the day, experiences and things like that. It sounds new age or something but that’s just where it’s at for us. I don’t know if that’s a bummer for some people, because I think people want punk bands to be bit lawless and fucked up basically, there’s an image there that people really connect with. It’s not our thing, it’s not what we set out to do.

One of the reasons I really love ARSE is because music-wise you are very traditionally punk rock and what people may expect from a punk band but then your lyrics are intelligent, at times philosophical and there’s a lot more going on there then what it might seem at first though. I feel like you have a lot of deep thought happening there.

DC: Thank you! I think about what I’m writing, if for no other reason than… for me,  a lot of the band is writing the things that I would want to hear or that I would be stoked on if I was hearing the band for the first time, that’s always in the back of my mind. I’m a huge fan of music, music is my life! Even when I’m not playing it. I’ve been in bands where you’re not into the music that you’re making, which is a really weird thing to do. I reckon there’s so many bands playing right now that don’t love their own music, that they just do it for some other reason. For me the only reason to be in a band is to make the music that you want to hear—that’s all we’re doing. It’s definitely what I try to do with the lyrics. I really nerd out on the lyrics of all of my favourite artists and bands. The lyrics are half of the picture for me, music is one part and then if you’ve got the lyrical side happening as well, those are the things that make my favourite bands.

Same! One of the first songs of yours that I heard and that really resonated with me was ‘NRVSNRG’.

DC: Cool!

You have no idea how many times I’ve listened to that song, especially in the car on my way to work every day, I could so relate to what you were saying. The lyrics are so honest. I’m listening to it and I’m like, “yeah buddy, me too!

DC: Awww that’s amazing. Thank you for saying so.

What’s the story behind that song?

DC: That was a really easy one for me. Some of our songs you don’t want to know how long I’ve spent on the lyrics, it freaks me out. I definitely get stuck in a kind of feedback loop when I’m writing stuff, I’m in it big time right now because we’re using the downtime to try and put out new stuff. I’m working on lyrics to a whole bunch of things at the moment, it’s kind of a bit of a pain in the arse. That song was not one of those instances, I remember being surprised at how easy that one was to do. The music was really straightforward and I didn’t need to fit things in anywhere, I could just go for it. A lot of the time when I am playing guitar as well, a lot of the lyrical side of things has to fit in with how I’m playing because it’s too hard to do live, it’s got to be feasible for me to be able to sing and play at the same time. That one was really easy for me because I don’t really play anything in the verses in that song, I had a chance to do whatever I wanted.

What you’re singing, the lyrics, is that how you were feeling at the time?

DC: Absolutely! It was a really natural thing to put all of that down, I was surprised at how well it worked, that’s what you want. I always want to get a result where I feel like it wasn’t written by me, that it was written by someone else; that’s the mark of a great result, that is the pinnacle of that feeling for me. I don’t know who wrote that song [laughs], it hit all the beats for me.

How good is the bass line in that song!? It has such a groove.

DC: Yeah, that’s Jono. He brought that to the table. That whole song is a great example of every piece falling into place. I would say in a way that is our most well-known song. When we play it in Sydney, that’s the one that everyone knows, I think it’s because it’s probably the most relatable.

I’ve noticed that at your shows. You look around at everyone in the crowd when you’re singing it and it really feels like everyone is like: I get you! I feel it too.

DC: Yeah, that’s it.

I like how you guys have a real minimalist kind of drumming.

DC: [Laughs] Yeah, we do. There’s a few things going on there with the drums, the big one is that it’s a bit of a, I don’t want to say experiment… Tim [Watkins] our drummer is a really incredible drummer, very talented, we just wanted to see if we could focus his energy completely, we didn’t want him to have all these extra bits of the drum kit to play with; we wanted him to have three things to hit. It’s so tempting to be all over the drum kit, he is that guy, he’d be all over it if he could! There’s only three of us in the band and we wanted to have every element going at 100%. The best way to do that with the drums is just to give him a couple of things to do. It helps us write the most effective song if we only use a couple of things.

You mentioned the song ‘NRVSNRG’ was easy to write; what’s something that’s been hard to write?

DC: Probably the EP, Safe Word. That was definitely harder, because we were trying some stuff, we were seeing what we could do differently. There was a lot of trial and error in that. There were also some time issues. It was a bad time to try to write a record, in our lives there were a lot of things going on; there was a lot of juggling of things. Lyrically as well I was trying new things. We’re still happy with the end result, but it didn’t come together easily. The odds were against us.

It’s been really cool now to have the time to think about what we’re doing; that’s one upside to the lockdown pandemic situation we’re all in.

What kinds of things have you found yourself writing about now?

DC: I think I’m definitely trying to get to that place where things lyrically need to come from the heart, which sounds a bit wishy-washy but I’m really trying to connect with that and things I’m feeling and try to put that into songs where we can play with new ideas. Musically, we’re in the early stages. Jono and I are just trying to figure out how we can be the best version of what we do. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, we’re just trying to hone in on the things that we love about the band and try and do better. We’re chipping away. We hang out once or twice a week and throw ideas around. At the moment we have a lot of stuff to go through, we have a big pile of trash we’re working our way through [laughs]. We’ll pull one or two things out and finish them.

What do you love about writing lyrics?

DC: I’m a writer for my work. I write for websites, that’s my bread and butter. For as long as I can remember, even as a kid, I’ve always had music going and I’ve always had writing. I studied journalism at uni. Like I said before, I really nerd out on great lyricists and lyrics. Writing is something I can’t not do—it feels good to be doing this. I feel like it’s what I should be doing.

Do you have any favourite lyricists?

DC: Definitely. I hate to be obvious, but someone like Gareth Liddiard [Tropical Fuck Storm / The Drones] for me is one of the most underrated lyricists; he is rated but he could be rated better!

Totally! He is one of the best Australia’s ever had.

DC: Yeah, he’s one of the best Australian songwriters of the last thirty years. That’s not gushing either, that’s the truth. He’s kind of like the gold standard. I feel like what he does is uniquely Australian, I think only an Australian could do the thing he does really well.

The way he delivers the vocal as well, it can give you chills and make you feel. It’s really emotive and he’s really great at creating an atmosphere.

DC: Yeah. I’ve read a lot of interviews with him as well and he kind of brushes off his talents in a way like, “Oh yeah, I just wrote this thing.” You can tell there’s so much work went into what he does. It can’t be mistaken; you just know when someone has worked really hard at what they do. He may be blasé about what he does but he is way better than people realise.

I also really like Nick Cave, for all the reasons I just said before, an Australian songwriter that’s undeniably Australian in what they do. These are big figures to have looming over me as I’m trying to write [laughs]. I’m not saying I’m anywhere near the talent of those guys.

You’re very talented at songwriting. I can tell there’s a lot of thought behind your lyrics.

DC: Thank you. I’m really glad when we play that the thing people often approach us with after we play is that the lyrics really resonate with them. For me, that is the ultimate compliment. I really appreciate that.

You meditate, don’t you?

DC: A little bit. It’s something that I’ve dabbled with for a long time and Jono’s done a little bit here and there. I’m always trying things. I’m always trying to be healthier. I think it’s an age thing. I’m always trying to create habits that I can carry into my later years because there’s people in my family and people that I know that are close to me in my life that never cared about that stuff and now in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s they’re just fucked! I don’t know how else to say it. Just surviving and not living. It goes for mental health as well. We’re of the generation now where there is a huge focus on mental health, it’s being taken more seriously. There’s not a person out there that doesn’t struggle with some form of mental health. I’ve certainly had my share of issues. There’s no one I know that hasn’t. For me meditation – it’s not something I do as much as I could or should – is something that I’m mindful of and work on.

So, when you’re doing it it’s mindful meditation that you’re doing?

DC: Yeah, a real basic one. I got really into it for six months, to the point I was doing it almost every day. I look back on that time as a time of better mental health. I’m currently trying to steer the ship back to that period.

I’ve been doing it on and off for around twenty years now and I know for a fact that my life is always better when I do it.

DC: You can’t deny it’s impacts. What type do you do?

I’ve tried a lot, like you I like to try as much as possible. I’ve struggled a lot with mental health and my whole family has had most major health problems you can think of, so I can really relate to what you were saying before about loved ones being fucked. At different points in my life different styles of meditation have helped but I always come back to the mindful breathing in, breathing out, simple meditation.

DC: Yeah, that’s the one.

I’ve been doing the mindful breathing one lately but when I breathe in, in my mind I say, “I’m breathing in, I’m alive” and you acknowledge that you are alive and that you’re here now. When I breathe out, I say in my mind, “I’m breathing out, I smile” and that’s appreciating that I am alive and that I should make the most of that. It’s as simple as that.

DC: Amazing! That’s a great lesson for anything really. You just have to find the thing that works for you.

Exactly! And, everyone is different…

DC: Yeah, so it might not work for someone else but if it works for you, fuck, you’ve just got to do it, right?

Right!

DC: I never thought that something like music and my practice of music, that mindfulness, by extension meditation, could play into the musical part of my life. There’s a relationship forming there, which to me is something worth pursuing. It’s great! Anything that’s going to improve your existence and whatever time you have left—you just have to do it.

*More of this interview can be found in our editor’s up coming book, Conversations With Punx, alongside in-depth chats with Ian MacKaye, Martin Rev, Brendan Suppression, Keith Morris, spiderxdeath, Rikk Agnew, Geza X, Steve Ignorant and many more.

Please check out ARSE on bandcamp; on Facebook; on Instagram.

Warrang/Sydney post-punk band Mere Women’s ‘Romantic Notions’: “It explores the idea that love can be used as a tool to control someone or can be used as a reason to make destructive life choices”

Original photo: Chris Polak. Handmade collage by B.

Mere Women are back with a divine new offering song ‘Romantic Notions’ the title-track from their eagerly awaited fourth album due 5 March 2021 via Poison City Records. Gimmie are excited to premiere the song’s clip directed and lovingly crafted by the band, shot on the land of the Kuing-gai and Eora Peoples. Vocalist Amy Wilson gives us an insight into the track, clip and the album.

This year has been a challenging one for everyone; how are you? How has things affected your creativity? What’s helped you stay positive?

AMY WILSON: I’m ok thanks. It’s been a rough year for lots of reasons and everything has changed so quickly and extremely. We managed to squeeze recording in just before lock down which was lucky but I feel that as a band we were ready for a little breather after that anyway. I’ve been playing around with ideas since then but have been really unproductive when it comes to music to be honest. 2020 has been very hard and every aspect of my life changed so much that I felt like I didn’t have space to be creative. That said, it was very fun to get together to make the ‘Romantic Notions’ clip and I’m finding more space to write music again now. It’s beyond exciting to finally be releasing music and looking to get on with things.

How have you felt about not being able to play live shows? Why is it important to you?

AW: I love playing live so it’s left a huge hole in my life. There’s something so special about playing to an audience and feeling like as a band we’re all interconnected and nailing it. It’s pure joy. I don’t get that feeling from anywhere else so I’m really missing it. I also miss meeting people at shows, seeing other bands and feeling like I’m part of a community.

What was the first concert/gig you ever went to?

AW: I travelled up from Wollongong on public transport with some mates to see The Living End play at the UNSW Roundhouse when I was 12 or 13. I was so excited to go and had my whole outfit planned out weeks in advance. Probably used up a whole eye liner pencil that day I reckon. 

You wrote record number four in March this year in a “special place”; what can you tell us about it at this point? Sound-wise where’s it headed?

AW: We wrote the majority of the record at our place on the Hawkesbury River where three of us live. It’s a stunning spot right on the water, surrounded by national park. The record has soaked up this place over the writing process and as a result is more spacious and considered I think. Living here has made me feel like more of an outsider and this really comes through lyrically. As an album it’s dark and self-reflective but hopeful.

‘Romantic Notions’ is the first song from Mere Women in almost a year; what inspired its writing? What was the process for this track?

AW: I’ve been spending lots of time with my grandmother and hearing her stories about the complicated relationship between her mother and father. I think that’s where the spark of the ‘Romantic Notions’ theme came from. It explores the idea that love can be used as a tool to control someone or can be used as a reason to make destructive life choices. As a band at that time we were inspired sonically by groups like TFS, White Hex and BAMBARA and wanting to create something that sounded sludgy and enveloping.

Can you tell us a little about recording the song?

AW: We recorded it along with the rest of the album at One Flight Up studios in St Peters. It was a really fun song to record because we were super confident with it and vocally it has this really frenetic energy which is great to play around with.

When and what was the last romantic notion you had?

AW: Oh I have them on a daily basis and they’re usually quite impossible and ridiculous. Today I was fantasising about living solely off my own vegetable garden as I picked a few measly grub-riddled peas off an otherwise-barren bean stalk.

I think living where I do now was a Romantic Notion too but surprisingly it seems to be working out.  

We’re premiering the video for your single; can you tell us about making it? Where was it filmed? Who made it? What feeling/mood were you going for?

AW: We were trying to create this sense of ‘becoming’ something new and leaving the old behind with the clip. It was filmed at our cottage and in the surrounding bushland by Flyn and Mac from the Band. Mac edited the clip and made the opening titles. Our friend Kim from White Lion Cosmetica got on board to do makeup and created this really cool monsteresque look that changes and grows throughout the clip. Considering we had no band money from shows in 2020, it’s a totally DIY clip and I think we did a pretty good job.

There’s some interesting outfits in the clip, especially the custom Mere Women blanket at the end of the clip; what’s the story behind it?

AW: Trisch [Roberts] our bassist and I do love to play dress-ups and wear ridiculous hats so we had fun planning out the costumes. It was designed and hand stitched by Arielle Gamble. Arielle has done the artwork for our previous two records.  Each little stitched icon on there represents one of the tracks from the upcoming album.

What’s something that has really been engaging you lately? What do you appreciate about it?

AW: I just read The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh and absolutely loved every minute of it. It’s about a family with 3 daughters who live alone on an island in an old hotel in a post-apocalyptic world. I enjoyed how it mushes all of this imagery of beauty and decay together and keeps you constantly guessing.

Previously when we’ve spoken you told me you were passionate foodies; what’s one of the most memorable meals you’ve ever had?

AW: Flyn and I were travelling in China and had this incredible noodle dish for breakfast every day we were in Guilin. It’s rice noodles with a spicy broth, pickles, peanuts and thinly sliced pork of some kind and it blew our minds! We’ve found a place in Sydney that does pretty much the same thing and whenever we’re in the city we always have to go.

What’s something else you’d like to share with us?

AW: Just that we’re so happy to be releasing again and getting back to playing music. Thanks for watching and listening to ‘Romantic Notions’ – it means a lot and we hope that you enjoy it. We hope that anyone reading this is also doing ok, especially those of you from Victoria who have had it so tough these last few months.

Please check out MERE WOMEN on bandcamp; on Facebook; on Instagram. Romantic Notions LP is available for pre-order at the Poison City Records store.

Sydney Ethereal Experimental Bedroom Art-Pop romæo: “My music is exciting, its unexpected, its weird”

Original photo: Matt Sitas. Handmade collage by B.

We’ve fallen in love with romæo’s music—gorgeous shimmering electronics, lush sounds, dreamy melodies, hypnotic vocals and radio-ready hooks. Gimmie interviewed romæo to explore her world.

How did you first discover music?

ROMÆO: My parents are big music fans and always had the speakers blaring as I was growing up, so I was always singing along to a variety of artists. But the record that really made me want to be a musician was Missy Higgins’ The Sound of White. It came out when I was five and I was immediately sold – I started taking piano lessons and joined a choir.

When did you first start singing? We really love the harmonies and spoken word parts. Do you have any vocal inspirations?

R: Like I said, I was always singing along to the household high-rotation records. I still remember Sharon Jones’ Naturally and Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call back to front. I’ve struggled a lot with where I think my vocals sit and where I used to want them to be. I used to wish my voice was more powerful and mature, but as I’ve developed more confidence in my music, I’ve realised that I can do a lot with what I’ve got. My current vocal inspirations are Kacy Hill, Cecile Believe and Okay Kaya. They all deliver really vulnerable performances and aren’t trying to be anything they aren’t, and in that there is a lot of power. Their vocal melodies are also unusual and unexpected; I love when a melodic line continues further than you expect.

Your music is experimental bedroom art-pop; how did you first start making your own music?

R: I’ve been writing songs for a long time now, albeit most of them were iffy at best and a lot of them where much more indie singer-songwriter vibes. I started playing around with more electronic sounds over the last four years. I’ve always really loved pop but only really came across experimental pop in the last few years, so it’s been quite a recent thing in the grand scheme of things.

What’s your favourite instrument/piece of equipment to use right now when making your music?

R: I bought my first synth earlier this year – the Korg Minilogue XD (in white) so this has been a lot of fun, although every time I think I understand it something weird happens and I’m reminded I don’t.

So far you’ve put out a couple of releases and demos – monologue, revealed & iso demos; could you tell us a little about the progression of your work so far?

R: monologue details the period of time where I fell in love with ‘experimental pop’ and discovered my production potential. I’d always been afraid of trying to be a producer, and to be honest I still shy away from the term, but as I was working on those tracks I built up a lot of confidence. I guess I felt like I finally proved myself to myself. iso demos was thrown together in about a week right at the start of COVID-19. I’ve reconnected with the guitar after disowning it for a few years, so it was fun to combine that with my electronic production. Weirdly, I actually made revealed before any of the other stuff. I was really proud of this track and knew right away I wanted to ‘officially’ release it, so I’ve just been quietly sitting on it for about a year now.

I noticed on your bandcamp you’ve written “written/produced/mixed/mastered (lol)”; why the LOL? It sounds pretty fucking awesome to us!

R: Aaaaa you’re making be blush!!! I guess I’m just giving myself an out in case people think it doesn’t sound too good LOL. Confidence is a slow burn, but we’re getting there.

In November last year you were talking about the first EP you released and mentioned “I’m excited to finally have some faith in myself and my music, albeit unsteady and unreliable”; what changed for you to finally have faith in yourself and what you’re doing?

R: Hmm… I think what I finally realised is that what I’m making is solely my own. I think my music is exciting, its unexpected, its weird – it doesn’t sound quite like anything else. And that is what I look for when discovering new artists. So I kind of shifted my priorities and expectations. My music doesn’t have to be perfect or pristine, it just has to excite me. I still have to remind myself of that constantly though.

When you wrote song “don’t be so hard on yourself” was that a kind of note to self?

R: Oh gosh yes. That song is quite funny, because I listen to it and go ‘yikes that doesn’t sound too good’ but that is the whole point right!! I also laugh at myself for saying “don’t be so hard on yourself/be so hard on yourself”. I know I need to ease off on myself, but personal criticism is such a hard habit to break and can sometimes be valuable. This song was basically my Self pleading to my ego; pleading to be freed in a sense… for these two opposing forces I hear within me to make peace.

Your lyrics are very thoughtful and really honest; are you ever afraid to put yourself out there via your lyrics?

R: Definitely. I do have some unheard songs where I’m like ‘this could be a bit brutal’ for people who actually know me to hear lol. In terms of releasing stuff, I guess I’m conscious of coming off a bit ‘sad girl-y’ and being almost absurdly direct in my lyrics, but I don’t really know any other way. I can be very upfront in person so it is pretty natural for me. I also laugh at my own melodrama and don’t expect it to all be taken too seriously.

Has there been a song that’s been hard for you to write? Why?

R: revealed was actually really challenging to write. I wrote and recorded the first verse and then had no idea how to develop the idea / where to take it or what I even wanted from the song. I basically sat on it for a couple of months and hated everything I tried. Then finally one session, the chorus and bridge just flew out and came together almost insanely quickly. I think the best songs are the ones you can’t even remember writing; they just happen.

Musicians Paul Mac and Rainbow Chan have given you a little guidance with what you’re doing; what’s something you learnt from both of them?

R: Paul and Rainbow are so inspiring for soooo many reasons. What I admire about both of them is their versatility as both musicians and creative, artistic people. They each apply their skills to a variety of different artistic endeavours and kill it every time. Paul helped me learn how to make cool/wacky beats that are both disorienting but also keep the listener engaged. Rainbow has helped me realise how much you can do without overloading a song with different tracks and sounds. As in, we always want to over complicate and add different elements and ‘sparkles’ to a song, but you can also manipulate the same sound in so many different and weirdly wonderful ways. Sometimes less is more.

You use flowers in your artwork; what’s the idea behind that? What do they symbolise to you?

R: Flowers are the ultimate symbol of traditional femininity. Delicate and beautiful, they also allude to female genitalia. Flowers come in all different varietals, all of which are precious. I really struggle with how women in the media must brand themselves. We have to be bold and fierce, or soft and gentle. We are either sexually liberated or innocent and pacificist. But we are all these things, and none of them.

Have you been reading anything interesting, enthralling or great lately?

R: I was enthralled by Murakami’s Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage the other week. His writing is of course stunning – it is as simple or philosophical as you wish, and he hits you with the occasional deep cut. When discussing the unity of heart in relationships, Murakami notes “they are.. linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility”. That hurt.

I’ve also just started my honours thesis on music philosophy, so I’ve been reading a lot about music’s relationship to consciousness and time. Interesting, enthralling and great, it also is an absolute killer.

What’s a song that never ceases to make you happy/cheer you up when you hear it?

R: “Young Hearts Run Free” [by Candi Staton].

What are you working on next?

R: I’m gearing up to release my second ‘official’ single soon which is super exciting. I’m sitting on a number of tracks that I might throw together in a mixtape soon-ish. I’m a master procrastinator and perfectionist, but I think it will be sort of liberating to get these songs out there. It is really hard to stay creative and inspired right now, so I’ve really just been enjoying listening to music and playing around with little ideas. Who knows what’s next!

Please check out romæo; romæo on Facebook; romæo on Instagram.

Sydney Punks C.O.F.F.I.N on their new forthcoming LP: “The anguish of having things beyond your control controlling your life… music can be a really powerful therapy”

Original photo by Rhys Bennett. Handmade art by B.

From the Northern Beaches of Sydney come C.O.F.F.I.N with their loud rock n roll punk and wild shows putting the fun, danger and excitement back into punk rock. They’ve been in the studio recording their new record which is getting ready to see the light of day. Gimmie caught up with them for a chat.

How did you first get into music?

BEN (vocals-drums): Hard to tell, it’s been a key component of my life as far back as I can remember. My mum had really good mixtapes an old boyfriend of hers from NY had made. They were always playing in the car. Maybe that. Apparently I got loose from her when I was two at a benefit gig Midnight Oil were playing on Freshwater Beach. She found me side of stage captive and clapping along. So probably a combination of that and watching Video Hits with my old man at his place on the weekend.

ARTY (guitar-vocals): Whole family loves music. But when I was little my parents were still having parties and house shows and my dad was still always playing gigs in his bands (Crazy Legs Vermin, Knucklehead and others). CLV were out there punk with psychedelic and scientific themes and influences. My imagination went nuts every time the ol’ man had a gig. Probably didn’t even understand what gigs were but there was always a wanting of inclusion.

AARON (guitar-vocals): I listened to Big Willie Style by Will Smith.

I know you guys spin records at events/gigs from your personal collections sometimes; what is: the last record you bought? The most treasured record in your collection? A record we’d be surprised you own? A record that never fails to get the party started?

AARON:  Last I bought: All That Glue – Sleaford Mods. Most treasured: My dad’s original Beatles – Revolver. A surprise one: Wrestling Rocks – Real Rock ‘n’ Roll Sung by the World’s Greatest Professional. Party starter: Abijah’s copy of Eddie Murphy’s Party All The Time.

BEN: Last I bought: Greta Now – S/T. Most treasured: OG copy of Motörhead – On Parole. A surprise one: Enoch Light – Big Band Bossa Nova. Party starter: Three 6 Mafia – Mystic Stylez.

C.O.F.F.I.N all grew up together, bonding over a love of music and skateboarding; what initially sparked the idea to start the band?

BEN: We’d always be telling our folks we were staying at each other’s places and then just sneak out and skate, cause a ruckus, and go Shanti Hunting. Shanti Hunting was scoping out well enough covered areas like bin rooms or unit block fire escapes to sleep in for that night.

On the weekends when we did end up staying in we’d just jam anything for hours and talk about rock ‘n’ roll, and usually prank dominoes to con them into delivering free pizza.

We didn’t have any songs or a proper band name really, we’d always just improvise and start again the next time. This is where one of the really uncanny moments in our story takes place. We got our first gig in year 7 and were compelled to make an actual band because Loz who was in year 12 at the time was putting on a show with the Hard-Ons at our local youth centre (aka KANGA). Arty hearing this and being a major fan of the Hard-Ons lied to Loz and told him we had a punk band and really wanted to play. Loz let us open, and we had to get a set together in a month. Who would have known that a decade later Loz would end up joining the band he sorta spring-boarded into creation. 

Photo: Oisin Demony.

On a sidenote; who’s your favourite skateboarder? Why do they rule?

BEN: Well our favourite “blader” is Robert Grogan. And our favourite skateboarded is Rhys Grogan. They are both excellent shlonkers.

The band name stands for Children of Finland Fighting in Norway; were there any other names that you consider for the band? What made C.O.F.F.I.N the one that stuck?

BEN: Yeah it’s a fucked name. Well, the full version is at least weird, but C.O.F.F.I.N is a bit ordinary. I guess that happens when you’re 11 years old and naming your band.

Me and Arty had sorta played around with a couple other names (Leatherface, Val Halla) but they were kinda other projects going before the three of us (me, Arty, & Abijah) we’re fully jamming together.

We’d often go to these gigs that would happen at a heavier local rehearsal space in Brookvale called ‘Scene Around Sound’ or maybe ‘Rockafella’s’ because it was one of the only places we could see live music while being underage. The way I remember it was that Arty pleaded with one of the dudes running night to let us get up and play! WE HAD NO SONGS! The bloke said ‘sorry but there was no room’, yet he was intrigued by Arty’s forwardness, and that such young kids had a band. He told Arty that we could possibly do so next time and asked what the name of this young boy’s band was.

Arty being put on the spot for name answered ‘Children Of Finland!’ My only guess being because we were listening to lots of Scandinavian metal at the time. He came back to the couch we were squished in and recounted to Abijah & myself what had happened. We all agreed that was a shithouse name but stupidly felt it had to be kept because we announced to this guy that’s what it was. We decided to try and redeem it somewhat by turning it into an acronym and say that Arty hadn’t told him the full band name. C.O.F…COFFIN…’Fighting In Norway’ was the first thing that came out.

And here we are 15 years later still confusing folks and having Jerry Only implore us to trademark.

What was the inspiration behind having three guitarists?

BEN: Arty being stuck in an anarchist squat in Athens with no passport or idea of when he’d be able to return to Australia hahaha. Aaron filled in for the few gigs Arty missed and he ripped. He was already our best mate and at most of the shows. It seemed stupid to stop the fun he added and stifle his input so we told him he should stay. He’s got great taste and it just makes the sound and already odd setup more offensive and unique. In the new stuff it creates a wall of sound, but they’re different interlocking bricks. I really love Cuban music and how skits the layering is.

We’ve tried to make each guitarists’ part different but not so that it’s sounds obnoxious.

It’s sorta like when the Power Rangers make that one big Megazord or whatever it is.

Photo: Oisin Demony.

When C.O.F.F.I.N started out you were all underage and found it hard to get shows because of that fact; can you tell us a little bit about this time? How did you work around the situation?

BEN: We continued on playing countless shows at KANGA (Manly Youth Centre) and got heavily involved in the Manly Youth Council because of that. It kinda allowed you to put on or influence the shows that happened there, and the community projects proved to be pretty great too.

We did lots of creative collaborations with kids that had intellectual disabilities, and environmental awareness festivals. I was even a penguin warden for a while hahah. Basically I had to stop dogs from chomping fairy penguins at the wharf.

We played for free anywhere that would let us. Other youth centres (YOYOs), band comps, parties, rehearsal studio shows. We’d lie and say we had the same focus or theme as some public event just so we could play at that, and at around age 17 we all stared looking old enough to just tell a venue we were 18+ and hope no questions were asked.

As for going to shows we were pretty skilled at sneaking into places and staking out the shadowed corners or sitting under tables.

You have a new album in the works; what’s it called? When will we see it released? How did you challenge yourself while writing and recording it?

BEN: Not sure about a name yet, maybe S/T. Probably end up releasing it when we are able to tour it properly, hahaha sigh.

I think a major difference and intentional challenge for this one was to sorta just have the skeletons of the songs sorted and work the rest out while doing it – keep a bit of the looseness and spontaneity.

I remember once hearing someone say “an album is never finished, it just has a deadline.” We set a deadline.

You recorded vocals through a vintage mic; what difference did it make to the vocals? Did you experiment with any other interesting equipment?

BEN: The old home phone thing right? We actually recorded harmonica through that, it sounds sick! Antique, like an old Maurice Chevalier recording. Usually we do very little to the vocals but do really like messing around with a few uncommon things.

Some of the odd stuff we used that I can think of is: A lap steel guitar I got second hand in Austin that’s from 1947, heaps of hand percussion and random shit I tink ered together, a bullroarer, and as I mentioned before harmonica.

We met and became friendly with Briggs while recording because he was working on demos at a studio in the same building as The Pet Food Factory. We were going to record him thwacking the roller doors out front with this baseball bat we had for this new song called Dead Land. Unfortunately we didn’t end up at there at the same time again. But that would have been boss.

Photo: Grit Van.

During the creation of the new record, when was the point that you started to get really fired up about it?

BEN: About a month before we were booked in at the Pet Food Factory do it. But we are constantly scribbling notes and jamming riffs. It’s more just that the refined editing that becomes whipped into orbit as we get closer to that deadline.

What kinds of things are informing the new record lyrically?

BEN: Frustrations, depression. The stuff that probably keeps me grinding teeth at night. Holding people accountable for shitty behaviour. There are songs about the consequences of mistreating the land, how appalling domestic abuse against women in Australia is, dead shit abusers disguising themselves as artists…..and the pit gets deeper. The anguish of having things beyond your control controlling your life. But music can be a really powerful therapy for such grief and anger. If a song is done well it sorta becomes a timeless ‘fuck you’ or mirror to whatever it is you’re quarrelling with.

Last year C.O.F.F.I.N toured the country with T.S.O.L.; what did you take away from that experience?

ABIJAH (guitar-vocals): touring with a sober band is great because you get their rider.

ARTY: Been a fan since 13-ish, so stoked that they were all proper legends. Really nice, honest, funny blokes who were great to hang out with. They shared a lot of fucked up & insightful stories with us that’ll probably save our lives a few times in the future.

LOZ (bass-vocals): It’s really good hanging out with a band who have been playing together for so long and still loving it, even with a collection of so many fucked up stories as large as they have.

You guys have toured quite a lot; what’s be one of the most memorable places you’ve been? What made it so?

Ben: Hell, there are so many, a lot that probably can’t even be told yet…

LOZ: Let’s go with China, we were at the tail end of a tour that had gone through Japan and South Korea. Ben had a broken foot, Arty had 2 broken hands, and I shat myself on stage after drinking a bad shoe beer.

Language obstacles, sickness, travelling by public transport city to city, it was more charged than anywhere else we have toured. We witnessed some of most astoundingly beautiful scenery and conversely there some really stained sections too. Some gigs were the loosest and psycho shows we’d ever played and at others the police barged in, took over, and locked everyone in until each person had been drug tested. Just really felt like we never had a clue what was going on and that was awesome.

What do you all do outside of music?

ABIJAH: Snorkelling or diving whenever I get the chance and boring work shit in between

LOZ: I dedicate a lot of my time to music but I’ve also been a sign writer for the last 10 years

AARON: Uni and Radio Shack.

BEN: I also play in Research Reactor Corp and White Dog. I make jewellery, do video stuff, work construction, and sometimes assist my mum with her glass artwork. Essentially make money anyway I can so I can make more music and tour.

Photo: James Brickwood.

What’s something really important that C.O.F.F.I.N care about that you’d like everyone to be informed/aware of?

BEN: Inclusivity and equality, to respect those around you who deserve it, don’t waste it on those who don’t.

What’s one of THE best things you’ve experienced lately?

BEN: Recording with Jason Whalley at The Pet Food Factory, bush walks and the beach.

ABIJAH: You can get Ichi Ran Ramen in Australia!

AARON: I’d have to think about it, not much. Getting our US tour with Amyl & The Sniffers cancelled and staying inside for two months fucking sucked.

LOZ: Great K-hole last weekend.

ARTY: First and foremost is seeing my best mates since this big dumb brain freeze.

Please check out: C.O.F.F.I.N. on bandcamp; on Facebook; on Instagram.