Threads of Beginning: Vincent Over The Sink revisited and reissued


L to R: Chris Schueler, Matthew Hopkins

Vincent Over The Sink were a Sydney two-piece you’d sometimes see on experimental and punk line-ups in the mid 2000s. They were low profile, and in the beginning at least, responsible for overblown and formless guitar noise the likes of which didn’t stand out at the time. Their first 7 inch released in 2006 through a small Newcastle imprint called Shriek Sounds operated by Alps’ Chris Hearn. Then, a year later, or maybe in the same year, they released a CD-R split with Holy Balm. Both recordings sounded decent at the time, but didn’t strike a chord with me.

In 2008 I found the duo’s newly released third album, 22 Coloured Bull-Terriers, in a now-closed Camperdown record store. At the time I was surprised to find it, but I can’t remember why. I think most bands that orbited that scene – the types that played venues like Lan Franchis and Yvonne Ruve – released their handmade CDs into a less-than-receptive world. Unlike a lot of those recordings though, 22 Coloured Bull-Terriers felt like a proper album. It felt like more than a documentation or sketch. It sounded like something a band would want to draw attention to.

Listening to the record now, it’s easy to remember how it made me feel, but I can’t quite remember why it had such a powerful effect on me. I suppose there weren’t many bands doing gentle and cryptic lo-fi pop music at the time, especially bands willing to explore such a broad expanse of territory. Sydney’s underground at the time was a diverse one, but few had explored sounds like this, especially sounds that dabbled tentatively in traditional pop song structures. Songs like ‘Mrs S and Mrs H’ were unlike anything I had heard before, a tired and manic march tempered by ghostly vocals and piano melodies. The abrupt mid-verse end to ‘Waiting For Your Hair’ is one of the most poignant songwriterly decisions I’ve heard, while the somnambulant melancholy of ‘Heavy Gum’ is achingly sad. Even now I can’t figure out whether these songs are works of meticulous craftsmanship or accidents. That ambiguity is one of the special qualities of this record.

If these personal highlights paint a bleak picture for the album, then that’s my own taste speaking: a lot of it is funny, and bright, and modestly smart. Sometimes it’s really creepy. Vincent Over The Sink is not a band you turn to seeking one specific mood. Each song sounds like a new idea, and nothing sounds like an iteration on a former success.

Adding to the album’s allure was the fact that no one seemed to know anything about this particular recording. It felt like something beautiful that only I could see. The band played a launch show a few weeks before I bought it, but didn’t play again for years. There was nothing about the album on the internet. Their MySpace page had no important information, least of all about 22 Coloured Bull-Terriers. I’d Google them pretty much every day, to see if anyone else had found this strange transmission. Maybe someone else could make sense of it.

It wouldn’t have been hard to approach Matthew Hopkins at a show – his other band Naked on the Vague played regularly at the time – but what kind of answer was I hoping to hear? Aside from shyness on my part, I might have preferred to keep the band a mystery. I interviewed Chris Schueler for Cyclic Defrost eventually, and my purple prose serves to illustrate how obsessed I was with the band for a long time. I just wanted other people to know about the album and love it. I wanted it to be acknowledged because I thought it was the best Australian pop record ever made. That’s seriously what I thought. I listened to it every single day.

Though I know all the songs, segues and dead ends on this album intimately, I have no idea what any of it is about. When I listen to a song like ‘Threads of Beginning’ I hear something profound, though I’ve sculpted my own meaning. In reality, Hopkins and Schueler don’t provide much to hold onto, and that is a huge relief. These songs feel like puzzles in a way, and trying to understand them or glean meaning from them is part of the fun. The duo offer vivid images the listener must interpret according to their own needs. I think most of my favourite lyrics on this album are misheard anyway. 

As time has passed I’ve grown reluctant to make declarations about music, so I won’t write that 22 Coloured Bull-Terriers is essential, or an invaluable artefact, or a masterpiece or anything like that, though it’s all these things to me. I just think you really ought to listen to it. It’s not something that you should hear in order to ‘make sense’ of a particular period in Sydney’s music history, because it’ll lead you in the wrong direction – it’s an anomaly. Instead, you should listen to 22 Coloured Bull-Terriers because it’s a very beautiful and strange record, one that still prompts me to question its origin, its meaning, and its logic. 

Vincent Over The Sink had two releases after this: a 2009 cassette on Goaty Tapes called Bible Bashers, and Dust Studies, a Kye 7 inch released after Chris Schueler’s death and dedicated to his memory. A related group, The Bowles, featured the VOTS duo with fellow Sydney artist Mary McDougall. Nowadays, Hopkins records solo, as well as with Half High and Four Door. To usher in the new double vinyl reissue of 22 Coloured Bull Terriers through Melbourne label Another Dark Age, Matt was kind enough to answer some questions about the record below.

Cover for the original 22 Coloured Bull Terriers CD-R, released in 2009. No label.

Cover for the original 22 Coloured Bull-Terriers CD-R, released in 2008. No label.


Cover for the 2009 cassette reissue of 22 Coloured Bull-Terriers, released on Near Tapes.

Why was 22 Coloured Bull-Terriers so scarce when it released? How many copies did you print?
Scarce it was. I cannot recall exactly how many we made up, although I’d offer a guess at somewhere between 50 and 100 copies. It didn’t make sense to do a large amount, as we just needed enough to simply pass around to friends or whoever was interested. The idea was that we’d press a double LP ourselves, but it never happened, as our finances were miniscule at the best of times…

22 Coloured Bull-Terriers was quite different to the 7 inch and Holy Balm split that released earlier. What prompted you and Chris to move in this more pop, songwriterly direction?
Both the 7 inch and the tracks for the split documented an early sound we’d begun with around 2002, a process that was shackled to forms of punk and noise I suppose. These tracks represented a kind of ‘jaggedness’ we were trying to carve out, but it just didn’t seem right to continue down this path… did the world really need more young angry men making a racket? Plus, the early sound was excluding a whole lot of other influences and moods we wanted to indulge in, like ’60s/’70s pop/folk/psych sounds.

I do have a distinct memory of us both agreeing on moving towards a pop song-y type sound, and clearly remember us discussing Syd Barrett and Faust as chief influences for the Bull-Terriers album. We would enjoy late night discussions about deconstructing songs down to their bare essentials, which I think explains the brief, snippet style feel to many of the tracks. I think we wanted to simply suggest songs, rather than actually write whole ones most of the time.

It sounds like you’re both having fun on the record, even during the more reserved tracks like ‘Mektoub’ and ‘Heavy Gum’. Can you describe how the record was made? What were the circumstances?
We had fun, we had hell, and everything in-between. We spent about two years making this album, between Sydney and the Western suburbs of Sydney, the Blue Mountains, and Melbourne. Throughout its creation we were anywhere from 5 kms to 1000 kms apart. I remember on several occasions each of us taking the bus between Sydney and Melbourne to visit each other and record. Bus for 12 hours or so, a couple of days of recording and then a bus home – cheap air travel wasn’t an option at this time. I have fond memories of Chris picking me up in in his Toyota T-18 and us collecting tapes from $2 shops in Penrith on our way to record, and then feverish chatter in the car about our plans for the session. Early on we were both kind of stuck out west in the ‘burbs, but full of bohemian enthusiasm!

A large chunk of the album ended up being recorded in Melbourne at Chris’ headquarters on a rather deserted street in Abbotsford, at the Grosvenor St Manor as we affectionately named the house. This was an incredible old wooden shack, with no real neighbours and a huge backyard where we would have fires, late night rambles, and hours of recording at all hours. We did have much fun and silliness but it was also an incredibly tough time for both us, and at the risk of sounding like I’m trying to indulge some sort of redundant rock myth or mystery, the making of this album had it all: break-ups, breakdowns, mental illness, drugs, deaths of friends and family, poverty, run ins with the law and more.

But this is life, yeah? These things are the nuts and bolts of life for some, right? What to do, what to do… make brooding, harsh, angry music???? No, no, no. Instead we chuckled at the devil, and danced around the fire rather than let it engulf us. We were incredibly focussed on the band, very pious about Vincent we were. We attempted to channel all the above anguish, all the heavy, lived things, into the songs that make up the album.



How did you and Chris meet? What were the origins of your friendship?
The origins date back to teenage years. Chris and I became acquainted through riding skateboards. We were part of a large group of people that would hang occasionally around the mountains and Penrith skating. We didn’t really know each other that well then. Years passed, then we reconnected when I was studying at the University of Western Sydney, it was at a film night or exhibition or something. Chris’ partner at the time was also studying there, and we got talking and found we both had shared interests in art and were on the same page, so we hit it off and became incredibly close from then onwards. Music wasn’t a shared interest early on, we were meeting up and making visual art and discussing ideas around painting and drawing. One day I noticed a drum kit in Chris’ room, and I’d been mucking around with a bass guitar. We just sort of thought to ourselves ‘let’s have a bash’, and that was that.

How was writing with Chris different to say, Lucy [Half High, NOTV], or Jonathan [Four Door], or any of your other collaborators?
Writing stuff for Vincent Over the Sink, which was equally shared between Chris and I, was rather hard. It involved both of us writing whole, structured songs, with lyrics and various instruments. I’m untrained musically and suspect I’m tone deaf. I can’t tell one note from the next if truth be told, so me writing a song involves tons of clumsy trial and error. Writing music this way was a real challenge! But an interesting experiment nonetheless.

With various other projects I’ve done over the years, if they’ve not been improvised, other members have taken the lead with writing and programming. The solo music I’ve been concentrating on for the last few years employs a very different approach to the song writing Chris and I did. Pop songwriterliness is not something I currently work with at all now, and haven’t done so for many years. My music making these days is largely about gathering various source materials, musical and non-musical, and spending time shaping these into something that resembles electro-acoustic/ambient/tape composition. [I’m] currently less interested in songwriting and more concerned with feedback loops and electronic squeals, some piano, maybe a bit of wonky trumpet, tape, processed breathing and absurd descriptions of things.

Who’s Vincent?
The name Vincent Over the Sink was one we selected from a list of possible band names we both made. Chris came up with it, and I think it might have been a line lifted from a poem, although I can’t for the life of me remember! It may have been in reference to Van Gogh huddled over a sink after doing the chop on his ear, although maybe I dreamt that. Anyway, Vincent became like an invisible third person, a connective force, a shared identity. Vincent was not so much a product of Chris and I, but rather, us combined equally, a shared identity, us two merged as one.

How do you feel when you listen to the album all these years later?
Often I look back on things I’ve made and feel ambivalent, or sometimes I can’t understand why I did a particular thing, you know? But this album really hits the spot, even after all these years. Listening makes smiles form, sometimes tears on occasion. It still gives me a buzz. Like an actual buzzing feeling in my skin. Hands down one of the best things I’ve ever done with my life, no question.

22 Coloured Bull-Terriers releases November 27 on Another Dark Age.

Phantom Game: a brief chat with 100%

L to R: Chloe Baxter, Lena Molnar, Grace Stevenson. Credit: Chloe Alexandra

L to R: Chloe Baxter, Lena Molnar, Grace Stevenson. Credit: Chloe Alexandra

Earlier this year I saw Brisbane three-piece 100% play at the Rag Rag festival in Sydney. I don’t remember much about the show specifically. I arrived just as they started and, standing at the back of the room, forgot where I was.

It’s not that 100% make meditative music – it’s upbeat at the surface – but the synth, bass and drum machine blend into something amorphous. It’s like witnessing an energy, rather than feeling it. That mood is captured well on the group’s first independently released cassette demo. Released late last year, it sounds like a lonely city highway at night. Traffic pulses as the listener stands on the median strip, brushed by the forward momentum but not pulled into it. Rigid basslines are smeared by synths and the submerged vocals of Lena Molnar. It sounds like a synth-driven rock trio shrouded in a spectral fuzz.

That first demo was followed by another self-titled, Moontown-issued cassette earlier this year. Featuring three songs not featured on the debut, these newer tracks bring a greater sense of clarity to 100%’s sound.

I spoke to Lena, Chloe and Grace via email.

Who is in 100% and how did the group form? Have the members played in any other groups?
Grace: We are Chloe, Grace and Lena. 100% started with Chloe and I jamming in Chloe’s rehearsal space over the idea of cocktails. We then then asked Lena to join on bass and vocals, and things found their place over the early summer. This was about a year ago. Chloe drums in Cannon. Lena has played for Harriet, Tangle, Manhunt, Overrun and currently also plays bass in Heavy Breather. This is my debut band.

Why the name 100%?
Grace: Why not? We all have different ideas around the name and what it means at different times, but it came from a bottle of water. We like the name.

How did the three of you arrive at the group’s sound? Was it a conscious stylistic decision or something that came naturally?
Grace: There’s a particular vision in what we try to go for in writing and staying true to that. Our writing process is collaborative (I will make a beat, Lena or Chloe will have a melody and bass lines) and taking from our different backgrounds, the sound we’ve created definitely takes from the intersection of those tastes and abilities. As we keep working and writing and playing we’re getting stronger at pulling together that glittering intersection.

What was the particular vision you mention?
Grace: Our initial vision for synth direction was heavily influenced by the Drive soundtrack and when asking Lena to join we asked her if she liked the Eurythmics and other diva music like Kylie and Madonna. That “vision” is what we keep developing from.

There’s a drowsy energy to the tracks on the demo. Particularly ‘Prisoner’, which sounds like a submerged, syrupy dance track, though the bassline is very ‘rock’. What’s that song about in particular?
Lena: That feeling can be credited in part to production from that recording, which was a lo-fi production made in Sam W’s bedroom, which was quite relaxed and made the best sense at the time. The rocking bassline was to effect a kind of trance with the beat, something Chloe and I worked on. The feeling incidentally suits the lyrical content. I was thinking about the British TV show, The Prisoner, and how one may feel simultaneously stifled but also supported at times in their body, community, town or country. The lyrics reflect on this as an Australian feeling.

How is it an Australian feeling?
Lena: Well I mean my feeling or perspective of being an Australian, or from living here. I don’t think it’s necessarily one that’s shared nationally, or a feeling that only Australians have, but a common one. I don’t know what it’s like to be someone else or from somewhere else… I guess I felt like there is a parallel to the themes of Prisoner, to ideas anyone could form about national identity. It’s a beautiful country that is both your home but also a place you may want more from, and internalising that feeling of potentially being stuck or belonging there [is] a fairly parochial tension… These thoughts can come from being a part of something anywhere I guess, but here we are in Australia. I think the song feels like that tension.

When I saw you play at Rag Rag the group covered ‘I Can Never be Your Woman’ by White Town. What’s appealing about that song?
Lena: We agreed that ‘Your Woman’ was a banger of our youth, and we couldn’t help ourselves. It’s elusive and cool but also very funky, without seeming like an obvious choice until we started covering it.

What’s is planned for the band? Is there another release coming?
Grace: We’ve been working on new songs for a 7 inch we are recording for next month. We’ve been exploring some new avenues of performing too. Hoping to change it up a bit and creating a different atmosphere on stage with a bit more energy. We’ve recently been playing a new song where Lena puts down the bass and dances. It is lots of fun and great to watch. The song reminds me of something you would hear at the end of an 80s romantic comedy movie (even though the lyrics are about a spy movie!) Hopefully this new idea will be ready for our next show on November 7 with Multiple Man.

What’s important to you in a live show? What do you set out to achieve?
Chloe: At the end of the day ,100% is there to entertain the people. We’re all about the people. That’s our prime motivation. That’s our goal. That being said, we like to boogie, we like dance, we like to dress up. We’re part of the glamour revolution.

Lena: Right, We want to put on a show! And a memorable one that leaves you thinking about it, like the end of a movie. Mostly that’s about making ourselves comfortable to perform in front of whoever, enjoying each other musically and reflecting this in our dynamic. I think this definitely makes a better show. We want folk to feel a part what we give, 100%. We found it really inspiring to share this in Melbourne, which were some very special gigs.  The 100% vision is one that people can get amongst and engage with at a show, I think? So that means not just holding ourselves back too much as performers and hoping that the audience will be happy to let go of their reserve when they see us play.

Grace: Yeah, it’s much more rewarding for us when people engage (obviously) but it just makes for a happier, more enjoyable time for everyone. I think people need to loosen up and just have a groove, you’ll have more fun… trust me.

100%’s self-titled cassette is available through Moontown.
New Music

Interesting new music: V/A, X in O, T.Morimoto and more

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Various Asses – ‘Forever Baby’

Various Asses, or V/A for short, is another alias for Rachel Solier, better known as Fatti Frances. ‘Forever Baby’ is a brief instrumental with a drowsy and ruminative tone. It’s resonant and inviting, much like Fatti Frances’ more pop-oriented work, but without vocals the production sounds cavernous, almost ritualistic.

“V/A is a separate thing from Fatti – and I intend to keep doing both at this point,” Raquel Solier told me when I got in touch. Now a mother, Solier says she needs to go about making music a little differently now. “V/A has a small set of rules – quick decision making, delete at will, no vocals, use a secret sample of a song I love, and put things out there without thinking about it too much.

“[These are] all things I would love to do with Fatti but am to precious about it. In the end I think V/A is a clean slate where I can build more skills and experiment.”

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Craün Analysis

Craün is the work of Sydney-based artist Aris Hatzidakis. Analysis is his first album under this name, released earlier this year on Hush Hush Records both digitally and on cassette. It’s seven tracks of serene drone, reportedly drawing on field recordings of Sydney’s “industrial and natural areas”. There’s a lot of hushed, foggy drone music to choose from, but Hatzidakis is good at sustaining a cosmic, lonely mood across these seven tracks.

Get Analysis here.

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X In O – ‘Totally in a Blaze’

‘Totally in a Blaze’ is either about burning to death or getting high. It doesn’t sound like the ideal soundtrack for either experience, because it’s disorientating enough sober and un-ignited. If ‘Bucephalus Bouncing Ball’ were composed by a crazed circus ringleader, maybe it’d sound like this?

This track appeared earlier this year on a small run cassette called RAW, but Kat Martian, aka X in O, aka half of Brisbane duo Brainbeau, assured me it will turn up again at some point in the future. Whether that’s on a new record or a reissue of RAW is yet to be determined. “If my new stuff is drastically different I’ll just release the old stuff as it was on the small run of RAW,” Kat told me. That’s just as well, as RAW originally issued in a run of 15.

In addition to appearances at the Ladyz in Noyz showcases in Adelaide, Sydney and Newcastle (it’s happening in Melbourne this week), X in O is planning a release with Russian artist Fureon Nectarmoon by December. Brainbeau is likely to have a release out in early 2016 as well.


Gravy Baby – Tripped Out Mindstate

This mixtape released back in April but it’s worth drawing attention to now, because Gravy Baby is among the most interesting local rappers I’ve heard of late. I was introduced to the south-west Sydney rapper via the clip for ‘Tripped Out‘, a bleak jewel in a local scene terminally fixated on self-help platitudes and dull social observation. I don’t know much about Gravy Baby personally – I tried to organise an interview but he politely declined – but the tracks on Tripped Out Mindstate mostly speak for themselves, and bring together a bunch of other likeminded Sydney rappers including Sky High and Nter. If you follow their names down the YouTube / Soundcloud rabbithole you’ll find some great material.

Get Tripped Out Mindstate here.


T.Morimoto – Crit Reflex

T.Morimoto is an alias for Sydney’s Thomas William. According to Thomas, the T.Morimoto name is meant to separate this work from his more dance-oriented material, and it’s probably for the best as there’s not much in the way of a ‘beat’ on Crit Reflex. Instead, these are seven short excerpts from longer improvisations using two synths, mixer feedback and an MPC1000.

“With the tape, I just wanted to do something that was totally immediate, had no particular conceptual focus, and had nothing to do with computers,” Thomas said when I got in touch. “I never really intended to release this stuff but he [Ryan Lloyd of label Junk Mnemonic] was keen just from hearing a couple on Soundcloud.”

“I’d describe it as an attempt to escape both the DAW, and any sense of criticality or conceptual intent,” Thomas continued. “I suppose [that’s] still a concept of sorts. I started recording these improvisations without intending to ever release them – as a way of escaping premeditation in terms of genre and avoiding the decision making process involved in using this or that set of sounds, or trying to get it to sound this way or that. I suppose it was a way of suspending the constraints that one inevitably works within when making music for a particular social context or with particular technology.

“Of course it’s impossible to ever transcend those containers, so in that sense this mode of creating music is doomed to instant failure and is inevitably subsumed straight back into a broader musical conversation or has certain descriptors applied to it by other people.  But I suppose that ongoing attempt to do those undoable things is what these recordings are about, if they have to be about something.”

Get Crit Reflex here.

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New Grog Pappy tapes

Newcastle noise label Grog Pappy has five new cassettes after nearly a year of silence. They include Pluto, Cone Puncher, a split between ‘Crabby Bogman’ and ‘Moocockcowsafari’ (at a guess, Cooper Bowman and Cock Safari), Silly String and Sick Boy. Based on the samples embedded on the Grog Pappy blogspot Pluto is an early favourite, an eerie meeting point between Ashtray Navigations and The Caretaker. All five are on sale for $20 until the end of September, so you might as well buy them all.


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Destiny 3000 – ‘380D’

I first saw Destiny 3000 play at the Imperial Hotel in 2013. There was lots of ’90s-inspired indie rock in Sydney at the time – boofy, emotionally vague guitar music – so I didn’t pay close attention. Two years later, they’ve just released their first 7 inch through RIP Society (they released a live tape on Paradise Daily last year) and it’s as warming as lo-fi guitar rock gets. I don’t have anything interesting to say about this, other than it makes me feel good, but also sad, and that I think you should listen to it.

Get the Destiny 3000 7 inch here.


The Rangoons – A Postcard From Rangoon Island

Lots of people brave enough to go out in public have said The Rangoons are one of Sydney’s best live bands at present. That may be true, but there are some great moments on this Paradise Daily cassette EP, especially the heartbreaking ‘Lunatic / Shadow’, which captures the same wistful melancholy as Garbage and the Flowers at their most restrained. The three-piece are playing at Paradise Biannually 2 (aka the second Rag Rag Festival) in November at Marrickville bowlo.

Get A Postcard From Rangoon Island here.


Electric Shock: Shogun from Royal Headache interviewed


Left to right: Shogun, Shortty, Joe, Law | Photo: Douglas Lance Gibson

Back in June I interviewed Shogun about the then-forthcoming Royal Headache album High. We met in the beer garden of the Huntsbury Hotel in Petersham, where Top Gear was screening on the widescreen television. The interview was for another publication with a strict 500 word length, so a lot of our conversation could not be worked into that piece. This is the full conversation, with a few edits for clarity.

At the time I had not heard the record, but I had heard the song ‘High’. Little more needs to be written about the album, because everyone wrote about it. The Guardian even gave it five stars twice. It’s a well-documented album, but it wasn’t when we had the conversation below, and Shogun appeared a bit nervous about how it might be received.

Why did you put the Petersham water tower on the cover of the album?
I live really close to it and it’s something of an urban monolith that I’ve lived in the shadow of. I think I’ve had a lot of significant experiences beneath the tower. I’ve actually been in there and it’s really beautiful. It’s a weird tranquil glade around this ugly industrial structure and it seems to symbolise something about inner west life. Having lived around here for the last ten or 15 years, it’s become significant and oddly beautiful to me.

For me and probably a bunch of other people in Sydney who love Royal Headache, you’ll have soundtracked their life between 2010 and now, particularly in the inner west. How have things changed in this area between then and now?
[Things have changed] all over the world, but it’s always going to affect areas near city centres I think. Everybody wants to be bohemian now, which is killing the condition of having an affordable area for people who would rather focus on their art and music and work. We don’t have that anymore. Royal Headache was maybe an expression of that transition, because in my 20s I used to do lots of noise and obscure stuff, punk and hardcore, but it’s harder to get a gig now, and it’s harder to keep that somewhat sustainable. I think Royal Headache was about the transition from one kind of society to another, and what I saw was lacking in that transition. Something that I was afraid would be lost in music and probably humanity.

What’s the transition?
Probably from subjectivity to a society of pure surface.

Is that change more obvious in Sydney?
Yeah, I think Sydney is a city of surface and the music community at the time seemed to be obsessed with detached cool. I always had the idea that underground rock and roll was about being an outsider, not this sort of out-of-work model actor type person, this glamour shot type person. That was never me and I was confused to encounter a lot of these people. I’d want to say all these things to them but was unable to do so, and they didn’t seem to want to listen. So [Royal Headache] was an outlet for me to discuss things a bit more deeply, a bit more cathartically.

Royal Headache are by some measures a pretty successful band. You seemed pretty adamant that the band would be over last year, though.
No, I’ve changed my mind. I’ve got nothing else going on in life, you know what I mean? I’m done with that tantrum. I’m not a total idiot, I’m just 84 per cent idiot.

Was that tantrum initially triggered by what you were saying before, the fact that the world you had entered didn’t live up to your ideals?
I think I grew to be so angry with the pitfalls of the outsider rock and roll community and how high school the whole thing seemed, and I was suffering the same way I did in high school where I felt like I had no friends and no one wanted to talk to me because I didn’t look good and smell good and all that fake shit. I wanted to rupture things from the inside a little bit, and strip the skin away from things and remind people that it was okay to have a subjectivity, to have a conscious and an inner life, and not just be a drifty cool hologram.

Royal Headache pushes back against all of that.
I think so. I don’t know if everyone understood the simplicity of Royal Headache. It can be saccharine at times but it was actually a technique I used to try to bypass the rational mind, because I could tell that was making everyone really unhappy. It’s been the driving machine of civilisation for probably the last few hundred years, and I saw how little it was leaving us as human beings. I wanted to try to exercise something from beneath language a little bit, through just the texture of voice, and through melodies that’d come from the back of my mind and not leave me alone. I gave them a little bit of credence and thought they could be codes people might understand.

You’ve played in punk bands, and weirder bands, for some time. Where did your voice come from? Did you ever use it before Royal Headache?
I always wanted to sing but no one would let me because I wasn’t good looking or arrogant enough. But I always thought I’d do a good job. Since I was five, I’ve sung all the time. I was just waiting for people to work with who weren’t so arrogant that someone without swagger and a big fat bullshit story wouldn’t be able to sing. I had to wait until I was 27, 11 years, to find people humble enough to give me a chance.

Why did it work with the guys in Royal Headache? How did it all come together?
They’d already been together. They were humble guys and weren’t wheelers and dealers. In Royal Headache I feel like the black sheep but then, all the members are different. They’re humble and loving people, and as much as I’ve hurled abuse at them in countless drunken moments I’m so lucky to have them because they gave me a shot. In their own slightly shambolic fashion they play beautiful music and I’m lucky to have them.

Your voice, your singing, your input – that was the last thing to come along?
It was. They’d been rehearsing with another singer who was a friend of mine, but she had other commitments and maybe it wasn’t quite for her, I’m not sure. She’s done other bands that are quite good. Basically, I got involved with the songwriter as more of a talking head, and basically [the band] weren’t really able to write songs though they’d been practising for a while, maybe close to a year. They didn’t have tunes, just a bunch of riffs. I listened to their rehearsal tape and it was just really good, and it had something that I, as a cynical old fuckwit, didn’t have, which was naivety. Something you see in a little kid, just the pulse of life. I got inspired and I was supposed to just help them a little bit, but I ended up writing lyrics for all six or seven songs on the demo. I came to practice and started singing, and they seemed really into it. And you know, after an hour or two of singing with them I think it became pretty clear that maybe I was going to be doing more than being a ghostwriter. The only one who didn’t seem to like it was the first bass player who quit a couple of months afterwards. I think he said that I sounded like the Stone Temple Pilots. I think he was into that auto-tune emo thing.

You say you’re cynical, but that doesn’t shine through in the music at all.
Well it’s my only opportunity to believe in love, and to sing, and to… you know, have a boogie in a realm that’s a little bit sweeter. I think that’s a social function musicians need to provide. I don’t think it’s meant to be real. We already have real. The imagination and the dreaming mind is a real part of human activity and if we become too rational we lose everything and become a post-human society where computers are really the boss and we’re just statistics. What’s in that for us? What’s the advantage?

What makes you cynical? What are you cynical about?
Myself, just myself. I could be cynical about society at large but that’s arrogant, there was no written destiny for the world, and it’s no great surprise that it’s come to this. But I’m cynical about myself and my total inability to appreciate any of my fortunes, and to do anything that I promised myself that I would. I’m ashamed.

What did you promise yourself?
Just to be accountable, to be less emotional, to be more grown up. I have trouble with that stuff. I still have a teenage heart unfortunately. I’m doing everything I can to erase it, but I don’t know, maybe I have some kind of problem.

Do you think that’s what makes you a good rock singer?

So is it objectively a bad thing?
I don’t know. In that circumstance perhaps not. I should probably enjoy it while it lasts because I can already feel it waning.

I’m becoming arrogant because too many people kiss my arse, but I’m also becoming bitter because most of my real friends have abandoned me in jealousy, or disgust, or because there’s something easier going on. So the combination of those experiences is just turning me into a fuckwit.

Most people, when they see someone singing in a good band, think “well they’ve got their shit sorted, they’ve got a good band, a good outlet”.
They make a lot of assumptions.

So it’s not like that at all?
Well it is and it isn’t, but people shouldn’t make assumptions. You can safely assume that the harder a person sings the more shit they’re dealing with.

On that note, how come the vocals are so much more prominent on High? I’ve heard you weren’t happy with the official mix on the first record.
I just didn’t want to defeat myself. I was in a bad place when we recorded the first record, I was beneath the line of human functionality, and I felt really disgusting and had no faith in myself at all. But I thought the songs were nice: enjoyable and lively. So I thought I’d pull the voice back so people could hear the songs without hearing too much of me, or else they might cotton on to some detail in my voice that would show how much I was hiding, and how much pain I was in. Maybe they wouldn’t want to know me anymore. This time it’s a different record and I have more control, and I wasn’t so worried. You know the phrase: shit or get off the pot. It’s a disgusting American phrase, but you do it or you don’t do it. Don’t go into a studio and sing a track for an hour trying to get it right and then turn the fucking thing down. That’s fucking absurd.

Speaking of the pain that comes with singing that hard, there’s something about ‘High’ that’s really sad, but in a beautiful way. Certainly not in a terrible way. Is that something that you consciously channel, that mixture of emotions, or is that inherent?
It is conscious, there’s no way I’d want to write a purely saccharine tune, especially having to sing that song so many years after the event. That was a tough song to sing because it’s like a honeymoon song, a falling in love song, and having to sing it at the end of it all had a vicious irony to it. I never want to make something that’s purely saccharine. I think people judge me sometimes for writing melodies in major keys.

Do people really judge you for that?
I don’t know, people don’t really talk to me.

Do you think they’re just scared to ask you direct questions about your work?

And that annoys you.
Yes! (laughs)

What’s the song specifically about, then?
It’s about falling in love in a disastrous circumstance, putting your faith in something that might destroy you, and not being afraid because it’s one of the only things that ever felt good.

Love is a huge risk.
And no one knows whether it’s worth taking anymore, because we’re in this transitional phase of human development and we don’t know what kind of creatures we are.

What do you think prompted that transition?
The internet. Information overstimulation. Secondary sources instead of sensory experiences are making people schizoid, eternally paranoid, and we’re over-developing the mind to the point where it controls the body.

You did an interview with Doug from M+N a while back where you explained why you were leaving the band. How did the disenchantment after touring the first album come about?
Let me think about it. In my personal life it wasn’t anything too much to do with punk politics, and feeling guilty for being a success, it was more to do with being a fairly anxious, reclusive person who was suddenly being scrutinised. I felt that I’d revealed too much to my audience and I understood why everybody else was doing the shady-sunglasses-at-night cool thing, because they were preserving their dignity, whereas I completely pulled my pants down to the world.

Some people loved it and some people hated it. Initially the music press hated it, they thought it was puerile. We had bad review after bad review for our shows, but there were people at every gig singing along and it seemed like a really warm response, and then the next week in the press there would be a review saying we were hopeless and that we sounded like shit. I think there was a polarisation of how people received what we were doing. I was bypassing the boring, kicked-to-death snobbery of indie and punk music and trying to put some immediate humanity back into it, in spite of credibility and good aesthetics and everything like that. To me none of that matters at all, because music is just like oxygen. It’s like a chemical element. Aesthetics don’t really come into it for me.

Was that mainly from the punk-oriented press that you were getting bad reviews?
No, it was the big indie music press. They didn’t like it. And then the record came out and it got five star reviews everywhere and it became clear that what they didn’t like was me: because I was drunk, because I dressed like a fucking low life, because I ran around the stage and I was unsightly, and the way I sang and looked reeked of despair. They didn’t want that. They wanted a Brian Jonestown Massacre. To them, that second rate shithouse American shoegaze band was about as vivid as they wanted things to get.

Has that changed?
Yeah, it’s good. It is changing and people are opening up because people are so desperate now for joy in any way they can get it that they don’t need to pretend. People need music to be pure more now because it’s hard to find simplicity and purity. It can be a real oasis in today’s world.

How do you create these oases when you’re, like you say, cynical? Is it a concerted effort?
Not when I’m in the right mood and I feel like writing. I care about people and I don’t want to be isolated. I want to communicate, and I don’t want to be afraid as to whether what I’m saying is stupid or juvenile… though most of it is. I suspect people have that in them too, and I try to leap across a gulf and take a risk because when I started this band I honestly had fucking nothing. I pictured myself chain smoking in a mental institution for the rest of my life, so I thought I might as well be a little more truthful with everybody and see what happens. The results have been nice. It’s good for people to reciprocate that leap of faith.

Do you have any hobbies or pastimes other than music?
No, my other hobby is getting out of it.

For better or worse, that seems to come hand-in-hand with playing in a band sometimes.
It does.

Seems to me that all the things you worry about are possibly the reasons you’re such a good artist. On the one hand you sing powerfully about love – Royal Headache have so many great love songs – but they couldn’t have been this good without loss.
Yeah, I guess I got to a point where I chose to see my sadness as a resource rather than something that was going to destroy me, and I just thought I’d push it into the music. To try to make it worth something to other people rather than something that was ruining me.

Is it the easy option to make dark music?
It can be. I find it brave in a way, because I see it as a betrayal of your community. Maybe I’m conservative or a bit communist, but I feel like music should have a social function and that it should be uplifting, to a certain point. Otherwise it’s self-indulgent. We don’t need to be torn down. We already get that.

Is there value in dark music?
Of course. I wish I was brave enough to make it. I deride it sometimes but deep down I know that it’s a part of myself that I’ve found. A pitch darkness. I saw that it would destroy me so I ran away from it. I think it can be a bit of a luxury, really. I think you’ll find that people who’ve struggled don’t generally make really dark music. I could be stretching it.

Is that the reflexive thing to do? Does it take some kind of effort to acknowledge that going down that path and making explicitly dark music is not the right route for you? Or did you not overthink it?
I made a lot of dark music when I was younger, and then I got to a point where I saw that I was really going to need to fight my way out of a hole, and it made sense to do stuff that had vitality and up-ness to it.

And that was for your own personal benefit.
Yeah, to celebrate energy and life as the final salvageable piece of my humanity. The crudeness of a beating heart and a melody with power. It was never really an artistic endeavour for me, it was supposed to be a bit of a primal yell.

So when you were making less approachable music, how different was your philosophy then compared to now?
I was always secretly listening to pop music and honestly most of the dark stuff was just fun. It was about hanging out with your friends, getting loaded, and enjoying some naughty frequencies. I think people were really afraid to sing the gospel of life, afraid to get too close to the bone, and at the point where I lost everything that made me an agreeable or credible or well-liked human being I thought: well, it’s time to take care of this. I always knew that was what I wanted to do with my music – to say the most obvious thing that seemed to go unsaid in my rock and roll community.

You seem to have a strong determination to be a good person. That’s good, but is that common? Do you think that’s something most other people feel?
I need it because, in spite of what this autistic culture of technology tells us, I don’t think that we can survive and live a rich life on our own, and I really need other people. Without them I just kind of fall apart, and I think we all do to an extent. I wanted to make something that would remind people of togetherness and trust and shared joy.