Small Jewels: Anthony Guerra from Love Chants interviewed

second gig - serial space

Love Chants is a trio consisting Anthony Guerra, Michael Zulicki (Mad Nanna, Alberts Basement) and Matt Earle (Breakdance the Dawn). The trio, which is split between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, released their first vinyl record earlier this year in the form of a Quemada-issued self-titled EP.

That EP, and a preceding CD-R on Breakdance the Dawn, demonstrated a sensibility that few would have expected from the trio. While Guerra has experimented with soft, vocal-driven songwriting with his Empty Kingdoms project (discussed below), neither Zulicki or Earle have been involved in anything this unambiguously pretty before. While there are semblances of structured songs here, Love Chants’ determination to keep their music loose and impressionistic results in guitar music that sounds shaved from the edges of dreams.

Love Chants will play Melbourne’s Gasometer tomorrow evening (Saturday, August 3) as part of the first Crawlspace Presents show, alongside Wonderfuls, Woollen Kits and Flat Fix.

The songs of Love Chants sound deeply personal, but listening along to the recordings it is always hard to discern the lyrics. Are Love Chants songs more of a ‘feeling’, and if they did have lyrics, what kind of things would you say?
Actually every song has lyrics, but I think when I sing I use more breath than actual voice, plus I sing really quietly and sometimes the pronunciation is blurred. I might also be kinda protecting myself by obscuring the words, so I imagine it must be pretty hard to hear the lyrics. I do want the vocals to be quite loud but my voice tends to disappear even when it’s turned up loud.

Anyway, there are lyrics for every song. The songs are really personal but people might not notice even if I wrote them down. I have a sort of personal system of symbols which I use to code the people and events that inspire the songs into something that only has meaning for me. The symbols I come back to are colours, types of birds and flowers, jewels, cups, and I mix that with some more obvious descriptive phrases. Then, finally, most of the words I write are then fragmented or removed from the song, or just barely sung. So in the end most songs barely exceed ten words and are fairly abstract on the surface but the meanings are quite clear for me. Whether i could explain what they actually mean in words or not is another question.

I guess that sounds complicated but it all happens pretty naturally, especially as I usually write the lyrics late in the night or early in the morning in a dark room with a lot of whiskey or ginger wine in my stomach and with a bit too much incense burning.

There’s a fragile beauty present every time I’ve seen Love Chants play live, and it’s always different each time. How do you go about preparing for a show considering the band members live in three different cities? Is there a pre-show discussion on the ‘mood’ or energy of the performance or is it more free?
Yeah, it’s pretty free. We never prepare for our shows, we never rehearse, and we don’t have discussions about what we are gonna do. We just start playing. Me and Michael decide the set list as we play the set, and we don’t tell Matt what song is gonna be next. Me and Matt have been playing together for over ten years in different projects, so we know each other really well. We are playing songs I’ve written, so it’s not like free improvisation, but it’s open in terms of mood, tone, volume, dynamics and song lengths.  Those elements happen spontaneously, it just depends on us on the day, how we react to the room, the equipment, the audience, the day we are having and mostly how we react to each other. It’s the same with our recordings: all the songs on the first EP and the next EP were unrehearsed first takes and they reflect the mood of the specific day..

The only preparation for a gig or recording would be when I introduce a new song;  then I need to show Michael the chords, but that only takes about one or two minutes because he’s awesome. Easy!

I should probably also mention that all this is not the result of us living in different cities. if we were closer to each we would play heaps more often but we would still keep the same approach.


The name Love Chants makes perfect sense when considering the songs, but are all the songs ‘Love’ songs? Or is it something darker and we’ve all been tricked?
Well the lyrics are generally dark, negative, obsessive and sad: always about women and nothing else. That’s my policy, so yeah they are love songs. The best love songs are usually the evil ones and sad ones, right?

You run the record label Black Petal, which has released a whole bunch of great records lately including Cured Pink, Satanic Rockers, Southern Comfort. How do you discern what to release? Is it just music you dig? How has the operation changed since you moved from Japan back to Sydney?
I started Black Petal in about 2005. At that time I was also still co-running another label called TwoThousandAnd, which I’d been doing in London with a guy called Michael Rodgers from about 2001. That label was releasing a lot of improvised and experimental music and was doing pretty well. Over 2003-2005 I recorded a solo album called Empty Kingdoms, which was the precursor to Love Chants. Love Chants actually plays a track or two off this record. That album had singing and was more song-y and really personal in content, so I felt I should self-release it, separately from any other thing.

So with that I started Black Petal. Then I decided it would be a label with other people involved, and the idea was just to put out albums of singing and “songs”, however weird they were.  After a couple of my releases, I put out Muura as Black Petal #3. That was the first ever Muura release. Pretty quickly the label steered off course because people gave me recordings that didn’t having singing on them. That was okay with me. At some point my other label stopped because we were split between the UK and Australia and that made it hard to do it as a proper collaboration.

I don’t have much of a release policy at all: I ask friends to make something for Black Petal and I put it out. I trust the people I ask and I’ve never rejected a release. If they want, they can supply the artwork but mostly they ask me to do it. So the label kinda has a visual aesthetic but with a bunch of exceptions. And basically Matt Earle, Adam Sussmann and Peter Blamey all have an open invitation to give me stuff for Black Petal anytime.

Since coming home to Sydney, I made the move from CD-Rs to doing vinyl. I’d avoided vinyl before because of the cost, but I really like (and collect) vinyl so I thought I’d give it a go. Obviously it sounds the best. Also no-one cares about CD-Rs anymore. And I’m not into download labels and all that stuff, because I like the visual and physical aspect. Doing vinyl has slowed things down even more and has made me spend more money on each individual release. Actually, I’ve been kinda nostalgic for the “CD-R era” recently, because of the cheapness, the ease, the fact I could make them as I needed, and so on. I feel a bit more pressure now to sell things, when to be honest, I’ve never given a shit if something sells or not, or even whether something was easy to find or not.

I shouldn’t say it, but I’m kinda thinking of taking a long break or packing it in for good once I hit release number 50. I say I shouldn’t say it because I’ve said that kinda stuff so many times over the last 10 years.

You said that the best love songs are evil and sad, and I feel that I somewhat agree. In that sense, do all Love Chants songs relate to heartbreak? And after the feeling has passed somewhat, would you say that with the result being a creative product, there is a sense of it being ‘worth it’?
I don’t think many of the songs are about heartbreak specifically. I haven’t been heartbroken for many many years. But some of the songs we play were written a long long time ago (songs off Empty Kingdoms and others) and I guess there’s more heartbreak in those songs for instance ‘Blackest Little Eyes’. The more recent songs are either a bit more complicated and weird and evil or a bit more simple and pure.

But anyway, yeah, it’s definitely weird when you have written songs during bad or depressing times, then at the end you have these songs that outlast the feelings that created the songs.  The stories in the songs become more and more divorced from your daily reality and your memory as time goes on. Feeling fragile is definitely different from remembering feeling fragile. And memories are not reliable, they are sometimes like revisionist history and sometimes possibly completely invented.

What do you do years later to do these old songs about old feelings justice? I try to put myself back into those past states of mind and dredge up as much shit as possible out of my memories, then add in new spins on all the information floating around. So I’m really actively imagining things as I sing, and at the same time the music we are playing trances me out and makes me feel like i’m floating through it. The whole gig experience gets pretty freaky.

first gig - duo - the pharmacy

With respect to the live shows and always being different, have there been any standout performances? Maybe the weirdest, or the worst, or the one where you just felt it was perfect? And is a perfect live show possible?
I’ve been really happy with every Love Chants performance so far. The first show we played was just me and Michael in Newcastle at the Pharmacy. That one and the first one with Matt (at Serial Space) were special ones because it was awesome watching this group kinda immediately gel around the songs. The more recent shows have also been cool because we’ve been pushing the limits of the songs more, getting a lot more ragged at times, and getting these weirder ways of the three of us interacting around the skeletons of the songs.

I’m not sure what a perfect live show is, and I’m sure my definition of that would differ to that of a lot of the people we’ve played in front of. The most important thing a gig can do for me is separate me from reality. Like I mentioned before, when we play live we react to the space, audience and equipment but ultimately the thing is to be mentally in a weird amazing place floating through the music. So I guess actually ignoring the space, the audience and the equipment, etcetera, is one way we react and get somewhere else. Maybe I’m thinking too much now.

So yeah, the worst show will definitely be the one where our feet are planted firmly on the ground, thinking carefully about what we are doing.


Love Chants’ self-titled EP is available through Quemada Records. See them in Melbourne on August 3 at the Gasometer Hotel as part of the first Crawlspace Presents show.



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