Angela Garrick is a member of Ruined Fortune, Straight Arrows and Circle Pit. She was also one third of Kiosk, a Sydney group many remember fondly as the Best Sydney Punk Group of the ’00s. With that trio, Garrick toured the US as a teenager along with Catherine Kelleher (Catcall) and Jack Mannix (Circle Pit, Drown Under), and released an EP through K Records.
Garrick released her first solo record late last year in the form of Turning: an eight song collection which demonstrated a less aggressive and more reflective aspect to her songwriting. She also makes short films as Ruined Films with Jay Cruikshank, and will release her first feature film in 2014 in the form of Garish Hearts, which joins a catalogue including filmclips for groups such as Blank Realm.
I spoke to Angie at the Union Hotel in Newtown last Sunday. The first Ruined Fortune LP will release through Hozac Records later this month.
Why did you feel like these songs were solo Angie songs?
These songs I’ve had for years and years in fragments, just some words or melodies. I didn’t know where they would go and I guess they were always in fragmented form: a certain guitar thing, or a melody in my head or a phrase I’d written down which I hadn’t consolidated into one document. They didn’t really fit Circle Pit because Circle Pit is more crazy, and Ruined Fortune is meant to be a more experimental band.
These songs just seemed a lot more personal, or girlie. I didn’t even want to make a solo album and I don’t really feel comfortable with it at all – even now it feels really weird – but that’s just how it happened, they just came together after thinking and making demos. I’m glad I did it, otherwise they’d get lost.
You sound a lot more sneering and aggressive in Circle Pit, but on this record you sound a lot more contemplative. I assumed Turning, the title, was meant to indicate that this was you coming to a turning point, and that the songs on the record mark the end of a distinct period of your life. Am I on the right track?
This sounds really weird, but I read this book on Alan Turing and I became obsessed with the name ‘Turing’. I’m really into science biographies. Turing was the coolest word I’d ever heard and I’d never heard a surname like that before [laughs], and I’m really fascinated by him in general. I wrote it down a few times and then Turning was the most common word that was similar. That sounds really weird but that’s just how I got the name.
It’s a bit dumb, the title. I knew it was going to be called that forever though, and I didn’t even have to think about it. I’ve spent the last week trying to help Owen [Penglis] think of a name for the next Straight Arrows name and it’s often so difficult to choose as the title defines so much. But my album was always going to be called that.
Despite the name being a bit arbitrary to begin with, has it established any meaning since?
Yeah, I guess it’s just that life goes on. That sounds really cheesy, but you just have to make do. You have to do what you can. Sometimes it’s a bit of a struggle and a half. The album is pretty dark, so I guess it’s subconsciously a reflection of that and a banner for the songs.
I noticed the album gets a lot darker as it proceeds. It starts as a rock record but the last four songs are much more abstract, not as rock-oriented. Is there any broad theme to the album?
You’re right, the first half is the rock side and the second half is kinda like… all the songs have no drums and they’re all more intense. I don’t think I really planned that, but I wanted to have a solid opening.
Each song is about different things but they’re all really vague and ambiguous, but as a whole… I guess it’s the same as what I said before: life’s always changing, you have to take the rough with the smooth.
I guess Circle Pit was about a lot of that stuff as well, and this could be a continuation of that, but this is from an extremely solitary point of view. When I put all the songs together I was at an extremely solitary point in my life where I’d lock myself in my room and never come out.
Why did you find yourself in that kind of mood?
I just get that way sometimes. I was feeling depressed and confused about my life. I guess as a natural flow from being in that headspace, as someone who is melodic and musical and has those sensibilities I would just naturally do something like this, put it into music, because when I sit at home that’s just what I do.
Your lead guitar has a habit of always moving away from the pitch of a note. You always pull the string in a way where the melodies are slightly off, not perfect. What appeals to you about this sense of roughness and imperfection?
I’m interested in all kinds of recording. I’m interested in lo-fi recording and extremely hi-fi recording, but I have no interest in music recording from a practical point of view. A lot of the time it’s just the situation I’m in and I’ll go with that: it’s less thought out.
But I want something to sound like it has personality. If I listened to the album now I’d be able to hear twenty things in each song that is completely wrong, but I think that’s really good because a song is always going to change: if you record a song every single day, twenty times, each will be different. And that’s the beauty of recorded music because it’s a document of a time that’s passed. That’s really special with our time. We didn’t have that [capability] once.
It’s like freezing a phenomenon that always changes due to human error.
Owen [Penglis] played drums [on the record] and I didn’t rehearse with him at all. I mostly improvised on the guitar parts. I had a rough idea of what they would be, but it was mostly improvised. I feel like all the time in music – not so much in independent music – that for a lot of musicians I’m exposed to, music has become almost like a sport. That’s fine, but I don’t think there’s any danger or excitement in music that is so well-practiced that it’s a repetition. I think that defeats the purpose of doing it in the first place.
Is it possible to deviate too far from what the song originally was?
Totally, you have to know where to stop [laughs], there’s a fine line. I don’t know if I know what that line is but I hope I do.
The best example of this roughness is the organ on the record during ‘Missing Out’. When I read there was organ I expected a sound cleaner than what I’m used to hearing from you, but it’s actually the roughest sound on the record, and it barely sounds like an organ.
[Laughs] I got really into mixing it. Lincoln [Brown, from Housewives] helped me with production, and he’s pretty obsessed with noisy stuff. I guess also Owen as well – all of them like dirty sounding things. I think it’s beautiful in the way it’s damaged, and how the organ sounds totally fucked. I get a shiver down my spine when I hear something that strange, or that dangerous sounding. I have other ideas about different aesthetic sensibilities with sound, but this really suits those songs, being so extreme. But it’s also embarrassing because it’s really intense.
That reminds me that Circle Pit released the Honey / Slave 7 inch, which was a very cleanly produced, sad synth record. How did that come about?
That came about because this guy who was helping us out financially bought us two days in a proper studio with two engineers. It was at Big Jesus Burger. As i think I’ve said before, and Jack has said before, if those songs had been done in a different environment they would probably have sounded totally different. We did choose to use drum machine and hammond organ and acoustic guitar, but otherwise it was a lucky break, I suppose.
I’m really into the way that sounds, and I definitely want to record like that in the future, but you can want things to sound a certain way and have them turn out a certain other way. A lot of the time people just don’t have the means. I’m as into that 7 inch as I am the other two [Circle Pit 7 inches], which are completely psycho sounding. I’m into all different kinds of recording and it’s nice to see the scope of bands who mix between both. It’s fascinating to see the way they change.
You’ve been making music for at least ten years now, that I know of. How old were you when Kiosk formed?
About 16 or 17?
You guys were quickly picked up by K Records and toured the US pretty young. How did that change things for you?
Yeah, we recorded an album with Calvin Johnson! That was so interesting and weird. When that happened I was the biggest brat of all time, I didn’t even care about anything. That’s what you’re like when you’re a teenager: you expect everything to go your way and you’re really brash and unashamed. Nowadays when I think about it, I think I’d be really nervous and take things a lot more seriously if it happened now. Back then I just didn’t care.
How was touring abroad for the first time?
I was so young that I couldn’t drink and I didn’t have an ID so I couldn’t go anywhere! I couldn’t buy beer or anything. I think it’s really good for young bands to tour overseas because it gives you this confidence. Not on your own level, but in the way that it shows you what’s out there, and that you’re just as good as everything else. It’s good for confidence and it helps you believe in yourself.
Sydney at that time, to me, was really male dominated and there was a lot of bland indie rock bands, so it was really good to go to America and see lots of girls in music and lots of really crazy – not necessarily good – music, and then come back and feel inspired to keep going.
You’ve stayed in Sydney since. A lot of Australian musicians move to Melbourne or abroad. I take it you like it here?
I spent five months of last year overseas, and I do leave a lot. I always think about leaving because Sydney is so small and intense at times. My family is from here, it’s where I grew up, and it’ll always be home forever no matter what.
I really believe in Australia. I went to Europe and South America last year and seeing what’s there… traveling always makes you appreciate what Australia has. Sometimes it seems like it has nothing but it actually has a lot, and it’s culturally very rich for its size. Sometimes it’s a challenging environment to be in – it’s really expensive, it’s hard to get a job in your field, people are sometimes dickheads – but there’s something about the isolation and the desperation of it that breeds this fertile creative climate.
There’s so much great music in Australia that it’s hard to believe sometimes. You notice that when you go around the world and see what’s there. That said, I really want to go overseas ASAP. I love being Australian, I love the Australian character and Australian sensibilities. Although I feel really embarrassed to be Australian right now.
In the press material it says you were traveling while you were writing this record.
I went to Europe about three years ago and a lot of the songs are themed around that time. I’ve got this journal from those travels, and they were extended travels where I was a bit cut off from everything.
That influenced the songs only in the sense that traveling gives you this magical way of reflecting on your life that you wouldn’t ordinarily have. The songs aren’t about travelling but they wouldn’t necessarily have come about if I hadn’t travelled away from my everyday life. I wouldn’t have had the time to think about them in the way that I did.
I think it’s important for everyone to do that, if they can. You get in this flux where you’re so glad to be away but you feel really listless and lost, and you’re thinking about all the relationships that you have.
There’s a loneliness when traveling which feels a little alienating while you’re abroad, but which you want badly when you’re back home.
It’s actually the best feeling in the world that money can’t buy. It is sometimes unbearable at the time, but you feel alive and all your senses are increased by ten. You’re really living.
There’s a Ruined Fortune album coming out soon. How did that band come about?
Jack went to Melbourne and I wanted to do a rock ‘n roll band, because the best thing in the world is being in a rock ‘n roll band [laughs]. I guess I’d been friends with Nic [Warnock] for a really long time and I was saying that to him on a phone, and he’s like “I’m the guy for the job” [laughs]. It’s a pretty amazing combination of people: Sam Chiplin who drums for Housewives [and plays in Teen Ax], and John Duncan from Silver Moon. They’re the most incredible guys and musicians.
I guess [Ruined Fortune] was bridging a gap, so to speak, because Jack was out of town. It’s a really different sound to Circle Pit though: it’s a bit darker and weirder and I guess that’s something I was always pushing for in Circle Pit which we never managed to get to. I think it’s something I’m really glad happened. A lot of the musical and thematic ideas I’d had for so long, I could finally use. It was a relief because they meant a lot to me.
You and Nic seem to have a combative dynamic on stage.
Our approach to making records, playing shows and making music is actually completely different. I mean it’s good sometimes, but sometimes it’s really annoying. I actually think the Ruined Fortune album is my favourite thing I’ve done ever, and it wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t had two thousand arguments with Nic to make it. So even if it wasn’t fun, it’s worth it if that’s what we get at the end of the day.
How does playing in Ruined Fortune differ from writing with Jack, who you’ve been in bands with for so long?
It’s different with Jack because we write songs together, and I’ve never really done that before with anyone else and I don’t think I will. It’s a different dynamic, we write together and it’s really strange. I don’t understand how that works. Even now I don’t really jam with anyone, I just work on music on my own. I love being in bands, but to have that dynamic where you can create together is really rare.
Is Circle Pit likely to do anything in the future?
We’re texting, we’re talking. We’re meant to have a record come out – which is my favourite thing ever. I really hope that it comes out eventually because it’s really good, and like I said before about wanting to be in a weirder and freer and more dangerous band — that album is the closest Circle Pit has gotten to that. The songs are really out there, and I’m glad that we managed to cement it at that time.
I’m not really sure what the future holds though. A lot of talking needs to be done before any action happens. If there was to be something new it would be really great, but if there’s not then I think what has been released has been enough. I don’t really know, I’m never going to say either way because I don’t know what will happen.
You make films as well. I’m so used to you as a musician in groups that share something in common, the film stuff seems to stand in contrast. Do similar impulses direct both music and film work?
I feel like images come easier than sound. It’s more ephemeral and intuitive and more an emotional reaction to something. That’s why it’s better for me, but it’s harder to pin down. If you’re making images – be it a painting, for film – it’s something that you can work on in a more mathematical, regimented way.
I love writing songs but it’s so hard. I can’t predict when it’s going to happen. Right now I haven’t written a song for six months and I feel like I couldn’t force it. That’s why I love animations, because you have this task that’s set ahead of you, and it needs no script but you can go and make it. It’s going to be amazing no matter what you do because you’re enacting magic; you’re making objects move by themselves. You don’t really need to feel inspired to do that because you just go and do it.
So I guess it’s a matter of balance: that’s something that balances out the times when you don’t feel musical. When you feel musical you take that and go with that and do what you can.
So you’re a songwriter and not an instrumentalist.
Actually, I have this keyboard that I write songs on all the time, but they’re really weird – they’ve hardly songs. It’s different. I want to write a really really great song. Sometimes I’ll be on a bus and I’ll get this melody in my head and I’ll record it into my phone, and it’s not something that comes if I sit and play guitar for four hours. Maybe it will for others, but in my case it’s something that just happens.
How do you know when you’ve written a good song?
It holds currency, it means something to you. It’s such a personal thing to do. It’s funny because I love weird experimental music which isn’t about anything, but then I love confessional songs. I love both those things but if you have a song that’s about something, it’s the best diary entry you could ever write, and if people can listen to that and feel something too, you can’t ask for better than that. That’s so amazing. It doesn’t really matter if that happens with one person or a thousand. It’s just connecting with people. It’s the best way. Oh my god, I’m so cheesy.
Angie’s Turning is available digitally through Rice is Nice and on vinyl through Easter Bilby. Ruined Fortune’s debut will be available through Hozac Records soon. Angie will launch Turning March 2 at Frankies in Sydney with Dead Farmers, East River and Nathan Roche.