Sunbathed in Squalor: Taco Leg Interviewed


Taco Leg were going to be called Brick Apples. Instead they settled for an equally idiotic name, lifted from Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life, a book about 13 US indie bands from the ‘80s who didn’t have much success of their own, but were influential to those who followed. If you’re at all familiar with the shabby punk three-piece, originally from Perth and now based in Melbourne, you’ll probably guess that front man and band core Andrew Murray would have read the book because of the chapters on Beat Happening and Black Flag.

Murray has an equally disdainful attitude toward technical skill and songwriting as the former Olympia band, and his preoccupations with broadcasting are embodied in the latter California band’s ‘TV Party’. But, alas, Taco Leg’s name comes from a chapter on the Butthole Surfers. Not that they’re fans or anything. It was just a serendipitous chain of events that lead Murray and original guitarist Simon Morrison to realise they were reading the same book, at the same time. They wanted a title with two incongruous words put together, and that one fit.

See, there isn’t much sense to the band trading on ineptitude, and that seems to piss a lot of people off. Local music forum perthbands.com went nuts when its dyspeptic members took offence to the announcement that Taco Leg won a government grant to tour the US in 2010. Even Crawlspace’s Shaun Prescott meant it when he called their self-titled album debut “the most superfluous work of art you’ll hear in 2012 and easily the year’s shittiest album”. Yet, there are still people who fucking love them.

Philadelphia punks Clockcleaner were instrumental in connecting Taco Leg with Baltimore’s Fan Death Records, who swiftly released their Freemason’s Hall / Sunbathing in Squalor 7-inch in 2009 and the LP this year, while Richie Charles Jr himself put out the Printed Gold EP in January. Even back home, local musician and Golden Staph producer Wil Hooper has a slightly embarrassing tattoo of a Taco Leg t-shirt design on his bicep because, in their own awkward and obnoxious way, Taco Leg are actually quite brilliant.

But let me clarify, if by brilliant you’re thinking skilled, organised and gifted then, no, they’re not brilliant. But if you imagine it as a band that distils the ordinary everyday into something equally as crude and banal, while singing (badly) about Gossip Girl, architecture and feeling hot, in an overpowering Australian accent, then Taco Leg is bloody genius.

How do you feel about people referring to you as a shitty band?
I refer to it myself probably as a shitty band. It’s like a shitty band, I guess, if you’re thinking about the concept of a band. But as an actual group of songs and as a band that performs music, I think we’re pretty good, if I say so myself [laughs]. You know, we don’t really practice and we rarely play now. We don’t really mind what instruments we’re playing and we’ll just do whatever. So, in terms of being a band that you tell your friends in high school about, they’d think we were shit. But I think we’re really good. I think the songs are good.

I was thinking a lot of people might interpret your sound as ironic. But that’s a bit gauche for you isn’t it?
It’s not really ironic, I don’t think. I spend a lot of time coming up with the songs; thinking about them and everything. It’s just simple. Having a band is nice: it’s good to hang out with your friends, it’s really fun to play music and I can’t be bothered spending that much time on it, plus all of us are really busy with other jobs and stuff so it makes sense to streamline everything. The lyrics, they’re just about whatever I think about. It’s not trying to tell anyone anything. We don’t have a political agenda or broken hearts. It’s just whatever I’m interested in or whatever I like.

Is there any element of being reactionary in the way that you behave?
Maybe to begin with. Because the Perth music scene, while good, was a little bit boring. It was like people would just stand there and play. I thought there were other ways to be a band. You can be a little bit more silly and have a bit more fun with it. It’s not like I’ve ever really reacted against anything. It’s more just like, “I really like the bands that play like this. This is what I like and this is what I can be bothered spending time on, so let’s do it. It’s great” [laughs].

But you also love Taylor Swift and you used to be a Lady Gaga fan.

How do they figure in your music?
I think it’s just pop music. I just really like songs that have good… they’re just good song writing, they’re really catchy. I think I try to make Taco Leg songs pretty catchy or have a good memorable riff or whatever, something that I’d like to listen to. That’s probably where it comes from, the pop influence. It’s more like straight to the point. It’s mostly a hook that’s building up to something. That’s why I don’t like Radiohead or Throbbing Gristle, or something, because I just want to listen to good, solid music with fun hooks and melodies that you can sing along to.

So you’re not into electronic or experimental music?
I like some of it and I like seeing it but mostly I don’t listen to it. I’d prefer to listen to something fun, something happy, with a hook. If I wanted to spend a lot of time getting theoretical, exploring myself, I’d probably write better records.

So you’ve got no insecurities? It doesn’t sound like you’re doing much soul-searching.
I’ve got issues to deal with but they’re mostly not through song writing. I don’t know. I wouldn’t say I’m self-obsessed. I just have a good time and I like to be positive all the time.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on your self.
I’ve got nothing to complain about. I have a very comfortable, nice life with a lot of good stuff in it. I’m completely happy with who I am as a person and my upbringing.

But then you’re eschewing social norms by liking stuff that the majority might hate.
That’s just what I’m interested in. I don’t like it just because people hate it… I started thinking about it in terms of architecture [laughs].

That’s okay, go on.
Well, I was going to say the kind of architecture that I’m interested in tends to be maligned but I don’t like it because it’s bad. My favourite architect, he takes pride in the fact that in this review of his buildings, they were called ‘ugly and ordinary’. But his buildings aren’t ugly and ordinary, it’s just that maybe people are used to a different set of values, because actually these buildings are really good. They’re really well thought-out, they work well and they fit within their context. He tried really, really hard obviously but most people, like at my uni, are not into that architect. But then other people are – a lot of people. But a lot of people look at it and think that it’s horrible. So, I don’t know, I’m just making music that I like.

If suddenly everyone was like, “fuck yeah, Taco Leg” and started inviting you to massive mainstream events. How would you feel about that?

I’d love it! I think that’d be fantastic. It would be really good. Everyone loves it when people like the things that you do creatively and if someone was like, “hey I really like what you do, I want to put you on a Levi’s Jeans ad” or something, not that Levi’s even advertise… Nike! I would say yes. I’d be flattered.

You’re so confident in yourself as an artist, while so many people hate Taco Leg. With a postmodern sensibility how can you think that way? Because Your opinion is no more valid any one else’s.
I know there are people that really like my band and I know there are people that really don’t like my band. There are people that really like apples and there are people that really don’t like apples. I know that probably a lot of people won’t like our band because the music is very niche but I like it and I have fun doing it. We’re operating in a very small, insular world. Even someone like Fabulous Diamonds, their music is probably not listen-able to 99 per cent of the population but there may be a couple of thousand people in the world that are really into it, and love it. I know that most of the world is not into the music but like it.

Like wine connoisseurs.
Some people like wine. I hate wine. I really like Coke. Some people hate Coke. Some people are vegetarian. Some people are meat eaters. Some people really hate Bikini Kill. Some people think Bikini Kill is the best band ever. Some people really, really hate Taco Leg and some people think we’re pretty good and will buy our record.

Do you like Bikini Kill?
Yeah, of course, they’re sick.


Taco Leg’s self-titled LP is out now through Fan Death Records.


Art and the Mining Boom: Mental Powers Interviewed

“This place isn’t very welcoming, especially for freaks.” So says ‘Deni Deni’, as he names himself, about the place he’s called home for the majority of his life. It’s one that, once you’ve reached a certain age, you’re bound to have lost a large chunk of your friends to the call of the wide world. A city terrorised by big money, little taste and what Deni describes as the ‘high vis nightmare’ that is the law and its enforcement making it pretty hard to do, well, anything.

It’s probably for that very reason that Mental Powers exists; a group of self-described ‘awkward individuals’ who’ve been playing town halls and lounge-room floors for the better part of a decade. They’ve released some limited-run hand-painted, live recordings and generated a cult following, all while rarely setting foot in an actual venue or learning what a sound engineer is. Now, with the release of their second LP PRO BONO on local label Badminton Bandit, Mental Powers have not only entered an actual studio, but they’ve recorded with a producer and expanded beyond whistle tubes and metal bowls to incorporate synthesisers, keyboards and song structure into their oeuvre. Here they generate a mantra-like repetition within the glitch-y though unprocessed electronics, still grounded in the organic sense of rhythm and interaction. Shared vocals flutter across nonsensical lyrics, while playful triple puns imbue songs like ‘Europeanist’ with a warmth and good humour you’re unlikely to hear anywhere else.

And, yes, Deni is a very weird person. Having myself lived in Perth well into my 20s, I can remember his imposing, awkward figure of a man rarely looking you in the eye, while being a fixture on the local house party circuit. He was older than most of us but no one ever really knew by how much and the only time I’d ever seen him without a baseball cap on his head was when he’d replaced it with a long black wig for the strikingly beautiful self-portraits of his art school graduate submission. In fact, the first time I’d met him, Deni revealed he worked at a mortuary and he wasn’t averse to going out in his ‘morgue pants’. So don’t be surprised when a conversation between the member and mouth piece of Mental Powers becomes a candid and cynical account of the hot mess that is the Western Australian ‘boom-town’ where he lives, while exploring what it means to be different there and how life in a state of unbearable civic restriction is conducive to creative inspiration.

This’ll be the first album you’re funding with a government grant. That’s a big part of being an artist in Australia, isn’t it?
Especially in Perth man, where it’s fly-in, fly-out or fly forward, or whatever they want to call it. Also to get a shitty meal it’ll cost you 25 bucks and you might get food poisoning or you might not. It’s hard to be creative in this town but I think it kind of separates the wheat from the chaff.

When I was back in Perth a few months ago, the first thing that anyone said to me outside my family was, ‘get a car ya bum!’ I was on my bike. There’s a real hostile energy there. It’s like you have to be tough to be alternative.
I think there are many tougher bands than we are [laughs] but I think it’s a resolve thing. If you really want to you will but the scene here will forever be, quote-unquote, ‘burgeoning’. There’s always more new people coming into it, bringing their sensibilities and their playing abilities to the whole idea of the Perth underground, indie music culture, or whatever. I think it’s a good thing. It’s a big melting pot… well, it’s a small-to-medium melting pot that’s trying to get bigger, which is a good thing.

It’s been quite a few years that Mental Powers has been a band and this is the most traditional release yet, in terms of format. Is being more accessible something that you’re thinking about now?
Not really. I think our circumstances have always come from an ‘art school’, quote-unquote, background. One of my big things is we’ve always said we don’t have a musical background but that’s bullshit. I’ve been listening to music ever since I can remember. So it’s always been ‘art in the shadow of music’ or ‘music in the shadow of art’. That line is not really an existing one, personally, and it’s experimental in this regard.

I’ve never owned a synthesiser and when you get your hands on one, you’re like ‘I don’t’ even know if I’m using it right. I can barely play the keyboard but I’m gonna give it a crack’. That’s kind of like a punk ethos thing, you know, ‘give it a go’. You can surprise yourself. We don’t really take drugs or are into bondage or sado-masochism or anything like that, so the music is a release for us from the shit job, or whatever’s happening locally in the music scene.

What’s happening in the music scene?
Currently what’s happening is they’ve just changed the partying laws. If you have more than 12 people at your house and there’s a noise complaint, they can come and shut down your party at any time and the owner of the house, or the person that hosts the party can be fined up to $12,000. We played Yardstock [a DIY festival spanning several private residences] two weeks ago. We played at this house in North Perth, it was 8:30 on a Saturday night and the cops came. They shut down the party and said ‘we’re going to confiscate gear unless you guys cease and um…’

Cease and desist, whatever. The party was as a total buzzkill [laughs].

Fucking hell. You can’t wipe your bum without getting permission to do it.
I know, hey. Colin Barnett [current Liberal Premiere of WA] is on an absolute warpath, it’s real’ funny. So, basically, if you have a niece or a nephew or something, if they’re having a clown or a birthday party you could get shut down with a $12,000 fine. It’s preposterous.

I think it depends on how many tattoos you have.
We are the ‘mining state’, so you’re just going to get obnoxious…

The mining boom isn’t going to last forever and then people are going to be fucked.
It’s actually currently pretty fucked. They’ve stopped a couple of massive projects and the money’s not rolling in anymore. Now they’re all pointing the finger at each other because the economic policy was basically based around ‘the good times will always be good’. Now that hasn’t happened and they’ve turned around to understand that they’re living in a city where the costs of living, for basic things like water, electricity, gas, is so astronomical and people are paying such unbelievably large amounts of rent that It’s really hard to even exist in this city.

So are there people that are actually just extraordinarily poor?
Probably. The reason they did this big blanket law change was there was a party in Butler [41 kilometres North of the CBD] for some kid’s 16th birthday party. He posted it up on Facebook and he basically said it’s an open house and all these super-northern gangs rolled up who hate each other and wanted to fight. There were a couple of burnouts and then some fuckin’ girls got involved and some dude got hit. Then the cops came and they were in riot gear, there were rocks being thrown and broken bottles… It’s pretty Rage Against the Machine kind of shit [laughs].

It felt like I was on the set of Mad Max or something when I was there. Riding around the new Entertainment Centre and someone telling me cage fighting will be the main event.
Yeah, well, you know, the UFC sell all their apparel in Big W and shit. It’s real’ fun.

So what’s it called? The ‘United Fighting Corp’ or something?
No, no, no. Ultimate Fighting Championship, I think it is. It’s like dudes fresh out of jail who are given vouchers to buy clothes and they’re just head-to-toe in satin boxers and stuff [laughs]. The UFC is the new HSV.

I feel bad, this has turned into another Perth-bashing.
Oh it’s okay. Originally I’m not from Perth, so my perspective is there is so much good here and it has the potential of being a really, really, really amazing place. It’s just that people have to believe it. I’m not saying that we need to re-brainwash people or something but there is a lot of good here that goes unrewarded or unpraised. Those people that are doing it, they know they’re doing it for the right reasons. It’s just a matter of time. I’m all for people from this place, like yourself, who get fed up to a point where you have to move away to another city, that’s fine, but part of me also wishes that people like you come back and really impact that.

Where are you from originally?
Victoria. Torquay. The coast.

How long ago did you move to Perth?
A long time ago. I still feel Victorian but I’ve probably spent way longer in WA. This place is not very welcoming [laughs]. I know what you’re thinking but it really does have the ability to ostracise you and make you feel like you’re not in or part of the broader community, at least. And that’s fine. I don’t really mind that but every time I go home, see the sites, smell the smells and taste the tastes it feels like home. But home is where the older parts of my family are, where they sleep.

I think I’m young enough to keep doing what I’m doing here. Tom [Freeman] is originally from Margaret River, Lewis [Waters] is from Manchester in England… actually, York. And Jamie [Doohan], I think he was born in Canberra and raised in Sydney, or born in Sydney raised in Canberra. One of the two.

We’re guys from different parts of the world, or at least the rock that we live on, and we all converged in this place. I don’t know if it’s serendipitous, or chance or whatever but I’m kind of glad. Or I think that it’s an interesting point that we’re not from here but we choose to be here, even though the cost of living is way more expensive and it would probably be easier living somewhere else. Maybe, if we lived somewhere else, we probably wouldn’t be doing it, ‘you know what I mean?


Mental Powers’ PRO BONO is available now through Badminton Bandit.


Total Control – Home Loan Records EP (12 inch)

If ever there was a personification of Baudrillard’s post-modern vision, Perth-born, Melbourne-based artist, producer and party-thrower Michael Ozone is it. His real name is Brad Wynne but that’s beside the point, because as the embodiment of ‘references without referents’, his private universe of recontextualised global imagery and unapologetic cultural appropriation reaches such levels of insensitivity that it transcends those quaint concepts of ‘morality’ and ‘truth’. An Islamic skullcap, a stylised Star of David, clapsticks and ‘90s public access TV are all fair game for creative inspiration. Hence, you have his label Home Loan Records –with its winking reference to something as mundane as personal finance –embarking on its maiden voyage with a 12-inch release of experimental house and maybe minimal techno from a band with its members’ roots in the ethical DIY and thinking-man’s post-punk. Go figure.

To be fair, Total Control abandoned boundaries long before they became the synth-driven five-piece as we now know it. Vocalist Daniel Stewart could’ve already alienated his hardcore audience by getting arty with The UV Race, while garage rocker Mikey Young donned a pair of fishnets, found a Lamborghini and spat out a brilliantly brazen electropop project, Brain Children. It was only downhill from there with Total Control’s italo-disco-sounding Paranoid Video 7-inch, followed by one the ugliest (and by that I mean, amazing) album covers of 2011 with Henge Beat. Featuring squiggles, distorted perspectives and an eye-of-the-storm simulation at its centre, it’s almost as if artist Rasmus Svensson is the point at which the Venn diagram of Michael Ozone and Total Control’s creative paths cross over.

Featuring another hypermodern Svensson work, this bizarre, though not actually that surprising record yields a lurid deconstruction of Henge Beat song ‘Carpet Rash’ by Total Control core, drummer James Vinciguerra and guitarist-producer Mikey Young. Stewart’s vocals are stripped of the fierce guitar energy of the original and fed along a focused industrial ebb; sequenced beats sashaying through a narrative of debasement and questionable hygiene. The previously unreleased instrumental tracks to follow also carry along a wonky tunnel of gyrating signals in ‘New Age’ and out-of-step polyrhythms in ‘Algorithmic Field’. But where the former track’s reference to a Western spiritual movement would send any self-aware, synth-fiddling new-psycher screaming, Michael Ozone thrusts it further into his oblivious world of zero-accountability culture by mincing said song and its title into the stuttering weirdness and Arabic vibe of ‘New Age Hop’. He even takes Stewart’s shaky, off-beat vocal and feeds it through a wobbly echo in ‘Carpet Club Crash’ to make it sound even more sleazy, while transforming the brilliantly melodic refrain into a cosmic synth line.

The result of all this production, reproduction and distortion? A fully compatible and oddly cohesive piece of work that criss-crosses time, culture and aesthetics to make a Total Control and Michael Ozone collab a densely packed bit of amoral fun with a head for diversity that knows no bounds.

: Home Loan Records
Release Date: October 2012


NO ZU – Life (LP)

It’s from a life lacking substance that Nicolaas Oogjes’ NO ZU hails. Those outer city suburbs where most private realities consist of staring into the HD void of LCD screens; a search for meaning in digitised illusions. Transcendental Meditation, Ayahuasca nights and Buddhist Dharma centre meetings play distraction from the emptiness of modern living. That’s no longer a compulsion just afflicting middle-class, middle-aged progressives but also an element of the bright young bourgeois, hip to the exotic beats that are somehow more valid than their own.

Life is just that kind of record: set to fill the spiritual void that community centres, surf clubs and supermarkets cannot. African and West Indian elements such as floor toms, conga drums and dub rhythms are present here, but they’re filtered through PiL, New Age Steppers and Dorothy rather than the clubs and dancehalls at their source.

The sports whistle on ‘Bust Body Move’ feels like Carnival, and a simulated steel drum conjures the water’s edge of a Carribbean port town in ‘Fa Foma Fi’, but they’re feelings that you can’t quite grasp for the lounge-room carpet underfoot. It captures the weirdness of suburban living with wavering sine waves during ‘100% Viscose’ and swaggers through a wobbly No Wave funk in ‘Telepathic Body’. There’s even the eerie keyboard vocal tracking and a synthesiser tone that is almost identical to the one used on that timeless X-Files theme song that no doubt played through many an Australian television when NO ZU were growing up, except that it would have featured in more UK and US households too.

I hate to harp on about ‘authenticity’ but as one of many hybridised Western-culture-meets-‘other’ bands gracing the dance floor in the wake of a trail blazed and left desolated by LA and Not Not Fun, it’s hard to see the creative or cultural relevance of NO ZU as a band in its own right. Even the tag ‘New Weird Australia’, as so lovingly applied to them (and also the label for 2011 EP release New Age) is a term first pinned to a US movement –‘New Weird America’. NO ZU even go to great lengths to ground their intentions in the disenfranchised urban drift of Melbourne’s outer suburbs in the 30-odd seconds of percussion on ‘Prstn F’ever’ (that’s a vowel-averse, partial pun on ‘Preston Forever’, for those who don’t know) or by declaring “Life’s a trip to the IGA” in their press sheets. Stylistically, though, there’s a distinct sense of re-appropriating the already appropriated; where native spirituality, musical tradition and hyperbole is trapped in a disintegrating loop of a fast encroaching global culture, devoured by it’s own disconnection from anything of purpose.

The thing is, I like this sort of music, all of it. I’d even play Life at my party. Once. Maybe twice. What I’m trying to say is, I like NO ZU’s style and I’d probably buy the record but that doesn’t mean I haven’t heard it all before.

: Sensory Projects
Release date: August 2012


Fabulous Diamonds – Commercial Music (LP)

Fabulous Diamonds have lost their innocence. Where their first album, let’s call it 7 Songs, was a mere extension of the elementary nonchalance of their earlier EP –drummer and vocalist Nisa Venerosa’s caustic observations offered up in lucid fidelity over a clumsy convergence of drums, synths and saxophone –the second, Fabulous Diamonds II, was more abstracted. Representative of the legendarily combative relationship between Venerosa and band mate Jarrod Zlatic, the tension of that album’s unrelenting forward-thrust was most succinctly prefaced by a pissed-off Venerosa reproaching Zlatic for counting time too soon on record. That volatility, whether it be between band members, their divergent stylistic preferences or with their chosen instruments, is an energy Fabulous Diamonds thrives on. So what happens when that energy fades?

Naming their latest album Commercial Music and christening the track listing with actual song-titles where they could (a ‘???’ standing in for where they wouldn’t) Fabulous Diamonds’ third full-length offers a powerful sense of eye-rolling dejection. Six tracks come to 40 minutes of trundling through a mire of eerily compressed reverb that obscures Venerosa’s sharp though ever-obtuse wit, and lowers everything else into a cumulus of sounds –synthetic and otherwise. But as the Proustian adage goes, “the beauties that one discovers soonest are also those of which one tires most quickly”, which certainly applies to Fabulous Diamonds’ evolving oeuvre. It’s no longer in the lumbering synthesis of two autodidacts still figuring out their instruments that one finds a gob of fleeting pleasure, but in the compositional subtleties of Commercial Music. These are harder to find but easier to hold on to once discovered.

Always keeping their audience guessing, Fabulous Diamonds instills it with a heightened sense of confused unknowingness from the outset. Seemingly freeform though fully-composed pieces generate an overpowering sense of evasive cynicism, as slow-burning album opener ‘Inverted Vamp’ casually churns out a feeling of mundane desperation, while closer ‘Downhill’ works itself into a final fit of anxiety over a 10-minute stretch. Meanwhile, synth samples linger atop a chasm of manipulated sounds and echoes through a half-arsed duet in ‘Lothario’, while unease wavers over the delayed drumming of ‘John Song’. That track’s shrouded lyrics, now captured, reveal the truly brilliant pop inversion Commercial Music is meant to be; Venerosa and Zlatic howling, “John can’t dance no more, he’s doing ‘the face on the floor’,” as if this were the drug binger’s ‘Macarena’, Fabulous Diamonds-style.

At first glance, it’s as if the band have given up altogether; falling in line with a simulation of what Fabulous Diamonds should sound like, rather than what they do. But having moved on to various other projects since starting in roughly 2005 –namely the more electronic leanings for Zlatic and organic ones for Venerosa –Commercial Music is the most fully realised account of the duo’s contrasting aesthetic (and Fabulous Diamonds’ core strength) yet. Because even as Venerosa makes a limp-wristed effort at emulating a drum machine to suit the in vogue trend toward a fully electronic set up, luckily for us, she fails spectacularly; a testament to apathy being one’s greatest asset.

Label: Chapter Music
Release Date: August 2012