When I first made contact with what would become School Girl Report, the institution of Myspace.com was still the primary channel: I’m going to guess it was early 2010. So outta the super deep blue I requested an address re: shipping for a short run cassette by an artist called ‘Abortion Eve’. At the time, the turpitude of power electronics and noise freaks was definitely my wave, and preceded most things. I was riding high on these kinds of names: ‘Paedophile Flowchart’ (present day Amateur Childbirth) was another instant hit. I could not wait to press play and be satisfied by the impending hit of torture-boy catharsis (to get my anger on see) but both Abortion Eve and Paedophile Flowchart deceived my outsider-fanboy subcultural code. It was a bit of a ‘no mate, hold up’ situation.
Some reality: Abortion Eve’s first release was timid and twinkled little stylings of a lone hacked guitar, DIY rhythmic, repetitive and studied. Immediately it stuck as a first cab off the rank, the first exercise in a developing instrumentality or discography, but one that already had a pretty sure footing.
This was Samuel Mier’s solo act, the guitar that evolved into School Girl Report. It was something laid bare, stuffed with metal deelies and played like a Yamumogoto, folded right onto a dictaphone cassette that stressed warpage, because there were sudden declinations and accelerations in the pitch every so often, so that a sense of what the proper playback rate was, was shot. I’ve found this recently en-introduction to DJ Screw as well.
That is becoming less and less of a surprise too, as School Girl Report has a serious fucking chopped swag – see specifically ‘Suede Merit’s Doss House’ [embedded above], the duo being sock-punched by Sydneysider Merit himself. Batemans Bay-ers Samuel and Daniel ‘Oak’ Oakman [drums, Pioneer CD-Jays, etc] hold themselves well outputting the tones of 2-in-the-morning bedroom cassette play-sessions, Half Japanese rock-curiosity advancing towards a marching weirdo-psych intensity. There is so much groove bolting out of single-microphone back room/dead guitar skronk.
I first saw and missed them on their Brisbane visit in late 2011, their appearances during the singular Negative Guest List festival – there were no recordings to sport to their name, until this year’s Success Is Dating School Girl Report on Heavy Lows. Their Brisbane return was two months ago at the monthly ‘Guilt Retreat’ and the chairs of the theatre began bouncing pads for a sexy scrum. SGR are in a really strange place between the dictaphone of an intimate bedroom setting and the footwork of the no-inhibitions dancefloor: quasi-latent no-fi groove. Digging? This interview was done over a couple of beers, online chats and a Saturday night YouTube session with Samuel.
What’s the worldview of School Girl Report?
We are very excited by the rise of the black man: white people imitating black people, black rappers getting away with saying hectic-er things than white ones and white taxi drivers dropping Indian families off at the airport.
Tell me about instrumentation. Your guitar technique was most developed through your solo project Abortion Eve, true? Guitar prepared with many nail files, other objects, played with some mix of spontaneous zazz and meticulousness.
I approach the guitar the same in School Girl Report as I did for Abortion Eve, in that I tuck many of the closest objects to me at the time between the strings. I fiddle around with their position and angle while massaging the guitar in various ways until I start to hear a combination of sounds that I don’t understand. For me this process is like driving a boat along a remote coastline until you find a perfect wave that hasn’t been ridden before, then you surf it and make a film of it. The difference between SGR and Abortion Eve is that I can replay the SGR parts. I can’t play anything that sounds remotely like any Abortion Eve song again, even if I wanted to, a lot of the time there were around ten things among the strings vibrating and reacting to each other’s vibrations.
Our world seems to increasingly rely on its recent past to substantiate current trends and cultural cues. Has anyone tried to place SGR in a past decade or sound?
Michael Kasparis from Night School Records reckons we sound like Harry Pussy playing Harry Partch. The first time we played in Brisbane Bobby Wonderfuls said we were hesitation rock. I agree with both of those things, but we don’t feel a connection to any particular decade or sound.
Harry Partch, of course! Even when you raised him the other night I didn’t think to make the connection. Your microtonality is super directed, and it’s percussive too. There seems to be a need to expand a channel, and then to play within its confines exhaustively as Partch did. Where do you feel the borders of SGR are? Did anything need dismantling?
We are constantly deconstructing ourselves so we don’t feel any borders as a band. But certainly within the world of each song, because of my prepared guitar, there can be pretty tight borders. Our move onto CDJs and sampling/effecting purely our own music has made it possible to break those limitations.
When did you start playing up with the sounds you recorded – screwing them up on DJ equipment? Or did you start with other people’s music?
I just decided before the album launch in Melbourne that that is what we should do. We just like taking big risks all the time and doing things that we don’t think we could probably pull off. And that is when we are happy as a band. That is when the best stuff comes out. We know that there are weird rhythms in our rock music, and it was really nice to pull them out for a second and make loops of it and put stuff from our other songs in, over the top.
Coming from the treatment of material in some hip-hop, Daniel’s drums has that staccato rock stiffness about it, but still with a big rhythm in there.
Oak mainly listens to beat music, so his rhythms are kind of coming from there, from hip-hop and beats. And I don’t have much control over deciding what is going to come out from the guitar. I just tickle it until some kind of sound arrives and then I’ll go with my tastes. Once the tools are in a certain place, and it gets a certain sound, I’ll go with that. I’m not trying to find anything, just playing around until something special happens.
But you are still working on this particular guitar sound from Abortion Eve, so you are still preparing the guitar in that certain improvisatory way, but now you play songs.
Yeah, we wanted to play songs. Oak’s not really into improv. And I want to make every second of it serious business when we are playing. Always hot, all the way through.
Generating a whole lot of material and knowing what works.
When we play live, we’ve got more songs. For years we were playing the same songs, and we arrived at a point where we were just like ‘nah’. We’ve got to play new songs all the time or these songs upside down – where I’ll play another song to a beat from another song.
How did you record the album material?
That’s so much different material. Most of it was from the first two days that we jammed together. Three of the songs were recorded with Dennis Santiago from Absolute Boys. And another one with this Rambo guy. And this other one is an Abortion Eve song with Oak and my brother arguing over the top. And another one is Oak, my dad and my sister. My sister interviewing my dad 15 years ago. I found that one. Dad passed away five years ago just before I started doing Abortion Eve. I played with his recorder as well, and there was a tape in there, and it was Laura interviewing him from 15 years ago. I found that just before her 21st birthday and she hadn’t heard his voice since he had died. So I got her that tape for her birthday. So that was nice.
Throughout the whole album there are mementos of family or civic life. There are elements throughout of the mundane, domestic day-in-the-life references.
That’s a part of it, definitely. We wanted it to be very Batemans Bay. All the lyrical content is from Batemans Bay too. You know how artists a lot of the time try to reduce themselves to that childlike state to make art with no inhibitions or whatever? That’s kind of what we did. We went and took something back from when we were a kid, and took stories from when we were seven, and made them the songs. All the songs on the album are stories we wrote when we were seven or love letters from girls in high school. Stuff like that.
There have been so many movements, artistic or otherwise, that try to reach infantile states, or an undoing. But you have some really well formed music – even in the bedroom, the distorted Dictaphone kind of sound – and it’s getting really chopped up but still remains very tempered. There is a rhythm, songs, and an established dynamic. But it still results in a lot of tension.
It seems urgent. We’ve just known each other since we were three. We know each other’s taste – I love Oak’s taste. He tries to make a new drum genre every time he drums. I’m not interested in doing Abortion Eve anymore. There is just a soul he brings to it; I just want to do School Girl Report now. We’re only a little bit tighter than The Shaggs, but it is unique but also very fragile. A tool very easily falls out, and the song is gone. When we’re playing, I know it is close to falling apart at any second. If I make a mistake, it is very obvious, and that makes it exciting. I want it on the edge. I’m not interested in it being anywhere else.
What is a good example of beat music you share with each other?
We’re a big fan of that Mr. Ozio – have you heard that Half A Scissor album? This is like the first kind of beat music we ever heard. [Browses iTunes for the track, finds it]. We were looking at Daft Punk’s friends on Facebook and we found him there I think. He’s got the best snare sounds.
Do you think about the texture of your sounds or just what you can get out?
I feel the guitar just does it itself. We don’t add any layers other than the drums and guitar.
I can hear the SGR in this [Mr. Oizo track], there is a lot of sparseness. It gets frenetic but it knows to back off. It tries to give you a path but then throws you off.
[Puts on another Mr. Ozio song] I feel this is really slick as well.
The other striking similarity between contemporary beat/party tunes and Dictaphone recordings is the pronounced compression, all the elements are so compressed that the noise floor emerges, and that is where the more complex rhythms emerge. Everything is so flattened out and it all becomes a musical texture through repetition.
Totally. I like the Dictaphone adding these layers that are there but wouldn’t emerge without the recording. I always find compressors really amazing. When I used to have a radio show I loved bringing the volume down really low on the mixer and testing the compressor.
What was the radio show?
On Radio Valerie. I had one with Keegan Straylight. I did heaps of interviews in Europe I hadn’t played before so we played that with heaps of recordings. I did interviews with the Flying Lizards dude – David Cunningham – went to his house and interviewed him. Claudia Skoda, from Die Dominas. One of the guys from Kraftwerk. Who else… Raymond Scott’s son. He made a documentary about his father so we played that too.
School Girl Report’s debut album is available through Heavy Lows. Forthcoming tour dates:
Brisbane: Friday, September 27 ‘Red Mecca’ with Four Door, Native Cats and Multiple Man at the Alliance Hotel, Spring Hill.
Brisbane: Sunday September 29 at Audiopollen, West End.
Melbourne: Thursday October 3 with Dick Threats, Soma Coma and Cross Brothers at the Gasometer.
Hobart: Friday October 4 with Drunk Elk and Naked at the Grand Pooh Bar