Features

Electric Shock: Shogun from Royal Headache interviewed

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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?
Yes.

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.

How?
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?
Yes.

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.

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Features

Room For Error: Ill Winds interviewed

image Born in Berlin, Jack Dibben and JF (Ill Winds) have been making music together since their respective moves to Europe in 2011. Calling on sombre sounds from the Belgian coldwave fold of the early ’80s spliced with hints of the Neue Deutsche Welle, Ill Winds’ music is both uniquely electrifying and terrifyingly isolating.

Despite being largely comprised of old material, Ill Winds’ latest cassette release on Hidiotic Records represented a maturation in sound for the former duo, now trio. Adding a synth to their new recordings brought a new element to their sinister brand of post-punk and signified a willingness on songwriter Jack Dibben’s behalf to embrace electronic sounds and instruments. Now situated back in Australia after a 3-year stint abroad, Jack Dibben discusses the musical landscape of Berlin and the future of Ill Winds.

When and how did Ill Winds come about?

Ill Winds came about at the beginning of 2011. At first we were going under the moniker 3D Meat, but we changed it pretty quickly. JF and I had just moved to Berlin under completely unrelated circumstances; JF in pursuit of his studies and myself in pursuit of an Austrian woman who happened to be moving to Berlin to undertake studies. My eldest sister knew JF, twigged and sent us on a blind date. It all followed from that. Marijn (Denegaar, synth) came into the picture later.

Much like the Post-Punk and Coldwave of Belgium and Germany in the early ’80s, Ill Winds music sounds similarly sinister with analogous music arrangements. Did you find that you were better placed in Berlin/Europe musically?

Well yes and no. I found a lack of band culture in Berlin and Vienna particularly. In that sense it’s pretty different from London, Barcelona, Melbourne and Sydney. It seems like everyone in Berlin is making or listening to techno, and that’s where the vast majority of the musical energy is channelled. It’s like at some point in the ’90s most Berliners decided that actual instruments were archaic and moved into the electronic/digital realm, never to return. However Berlin is certainly much more strategically located and in that sense more conducive to playing in a band. The geography of Europe and the ease of getting to so many major cities naturally lend itself to touring and thus opportunities to play with and to different people.

Do you feel the city influenced or shaped your music in any way?

Naturally, being in Berlin shaped my music; that’s the nature of music, it’s shaped by your surroundings and state of mind. The weather, the feeling of being a part of something bigger, political tension, culture shock, living day-to-day, no security, the threat of having nowhere to turn. It also very much instilled a love of techno. I was hesitant for about two years, attending the odd CTM Festival event, trying to keep an open mind, but really just turning my nose up at a majority of what I heard; possibly based on the on the precedent that it was electronic. Just dipping my foot from time to time. Then out of nowhere; BAM. I was at Berghain every other weekend. Shirt off, cap backwards, pumping my fist and losing brain-cells.

Many artists/musicians move to Berlin to hone in on musical pursuits. What’s the city like in terms of a musical community? Could you rely on the support of other bands for gigs and such?  Do you feel Berlin as a city lives up to its romantic ideals?

It’s odd. Berlin doesn’t really have a music scene like what exists here in the big Australian cities. But this Argentinian band Mueran Humanos – who, from what I could tell, were one of the only worthwhile bands based in Berlin – always encouraged us in a positive way. Our good friend, life coach and guru Olle Holmberg, who produces music as Moon Wheel, has also been closely involved in everything we have done, from putting on shows to recording. We were getting gigs from our either our label Noisekölln, other club or party nights or shows that we’d put on ourselves or through friends who just liked the band. And there was always an interesting touring act from one place or another that was mulling around looking for a show on their way through which I could pick up. Regarding romantic ideals: God no. I urge anyone with any romantic ideals regarding this place to dispel them unless they constitute any or all of the following: ubiquitous expat culture, 30¢ beers, good cheap beer, techno, 6 months of grey skies and dull weather, seasonal affective disorder, Currywurst, Käseleberkäse, scrimmaging through abandoned buildings, East German and Nazi memorabilia, “street art”, FKK (naked Germans), Schlager, etc…

It seems as though Ill Winds shows are few and far between. Do you enjoy playing live? How do you feel the recordings translate into a live context?

We love it. But it can be tricky. There’s not that many parts to the whole band, and in my mind’s eye that should make it all easy to execute, but when push comes to shove is proves exceedingly tricky at times. We all live in different cities these days as well, which doesn’t make it any easier to organise and play shows.

You’ve just released a tape on Hidiotic. Most of the songs on the tape are old songs that have been recorded a few times. Do you feel as though these tape versions are the perfected product? Have you written new material?

We released a cassette in 2012 with that Berlin label Noisekölln, which was limited to a run of 50 copies. 30 of which were sent magazines, a handful of which we got reviews from. However I feel that these latest recording are for that matter much more true to form, or moreover ideally what we’d like to sound like live. If what you’re getting at in the second part of this question is trying to ask me why are the older songs on here all I have to say is I have no idea in slightest. Stupid ain’t it? JF and I are working on new material and a new release at the moment, which will not include any of the older songs. I swear it.

There is some great synchronization between bass and drum machine, coupled with interesting guitar interplay and synth layering. What does an Ill Winds songwriting session usually consist of? Is it a solo venture or does JF weigh in too?

The thing that I’ve found with song writing is that it’s always different, so that’s almost impossible to answer. I never know where the idea is gonna come from, and rarely where it’s going to go, at least initially. I have to just go by gut instinct. But this is most definitely a band where everyone gets to contribute to the composition of a song. Everyone writes their own parts, but at the same time everyone gets their say whether those are used or not.

A lot of the songs on the tape feature a repeating lyrical phrase or motif. Is there any unifying theme/s or notions that runs throughout the lyrics in your music?

To start: hysteria, anxiety, solitude, occultism, paranoia, ideology, iconography are all themes that come to mind.  We might jam and I might just chant this mantra of whatever would come to my head or notes I had made over whatever we were playing at the time. However this was an experiment for me when I started doing it or at least as experimental as I was willing to go at that time. I didn’t care so much about the actual contents of lyrics themselves, rather it was just another instrument, and that repetitive nature became a stylistic motif in what can only be called our “sound”.

Tell me about your new project ‘Subterranean Rain’. Does it provide a different outlet for you than that of Ill Winds?

Yep. And I think that it’s solely for that purpose. I tried making JF play ideas I would come up with in my own time. And it’s not like he would outright refuse. He just wouldn’t play them. Ideas I might add that that I enjoyed the idea of working on. So i just kept working on them and over time it has become a distinct project.

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Features

A Purple Study: Ruin Films on its feature-length debut Garish Hearts

garishheartsIn the lead up to the Sydney premiere of Garish Hearts at the Dendy Theatre in Circular Quay this Thursday night, we caught up with Ruin Films’ Jay Cruikshank. Cruikshank makes up one half of Ruin Films alongside Angela Garrick, and Garish Hearts is the duo’s first feature film. They describe it as “a purple study in conscience, desire and madness in the face of chaos, shot entirely on location in the suburbs of Sydney.”

Pre-sale tickets can be purchased here.

I’ve read the script for Garish Hearts but have yet to see the film. I believe the script was a collaboration?

Angie and I both separately had the impulse to make films. We had concepts which it seemed best to express through this medium, and in 2012 we met up after not having seen each other for several years. It was just the right time. Angie and I come from somewhat different perspectives and backgrounds when it comes to film-making but that has only strengthened our partnership. I feel often that we complete each other. For instance Angie is far more practical than I am and is very good at moving the story along, knowing when to end a scene or if the scene is too long. So we just met up and started writing, just like that. That’s the funny thing, we just came together like that and had a pretty strong vision right from the start, a vision which seems to have been conjured up out of nowhere.

While writing Garish Hearts, we also made two shorts : Ressurecion Fixation (sic) which was a sort of art-prank made as an opener to the U.V. Race’s film Autonomy and Deliberation, and also Desert Planet which is a weird thriller. But Garish Hearts was our first project, the short films were like little tests in a way, leading up to the feature. We did everything ourselves for those shorts, and every aspect of our films is a collaboration to some degree, not just the script.

 

Why did you want to make this film? What does it mean to you?

I never really thought I’d end up making films but for several years I’d been thinking in terms of cinema. Making up characters, pushing them into all kinds of situations, watching it come alive in front of you, visual ideas, all these things. I watch a lot of films, so the desire probably comes from there. Especially from trashy b-films, they showed me how much is possible with so little. For working on a budget you can’t have a better mentor than Herschell Gordon Lewis.

In my case the film captures various things that were floating around in my head at the time. For instance, the lead character Maude Le Monde, played by Carole Sharkey-Waters, comes partly from my obsession with films like Sunset Boulevard and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, although she’s more benevolent than Norma Desmond or Baby Jane.

What does it mean to me? Every time I watch the film I feel something else. The film is perhaps a self-reckoning. All the characters are coming to grips with their shattered dreams through the grotesque self-expression of their Garish Hearts, and through strange games with each other involving deception, self deception and the deception of others. It’s a melodrama, it takes place in a highly exaggerated version of the world we live in, and in most of the characters I see grotesquely exaggerated facets of my own personality (something I was not conscious of at the time while writing it) and I hope to some extent the audience reacts in a similar way. It’s a very funny film of course, but it’s humour is borne of despair.

ruin2 ruin3How did you decide who to cast in the film? I notice there are several musicians involved.

We called on our friends to help us make the film. Both Angie and I make music so a lot of our friends are musicians, hence the high percentage in the cast and crew. There are quite a few supporting characters in the final scenes of the film and we actually weren’t sure who was going to turn up, so I wrote some of the dialogue on the day based on who showed and what they ended up wearing.

For two lead characters, Maude Le Monde and the cult leader Algernon Scavener, we sought out professionals from the start as the roles are rather complex and also call for something more theatrical. From the moment we saw her casting photo, Carole Sharkey-Waters seemed perfect and I can’t imagine anyone else playing the role now. Then when we went to go and meet her in person we were blown away by her presence and her outrageous dress sense. That day she was wearing something like a leopard print leotard with a red raincoat. She is a phenomenal character. Her daughter Jade also appears in the film.

As for Algernon, we chose Joseph Taylor because of his background in Shakespeare and because he looked right – he had the right cheekbones. His lines were only half finished when we casted him because I wanted to complete them based on the person we chose. He added so much to the part and was totally up for making his diaolgue an ever more garish shade of purple!

Jim Shirlaw’s character we would have had to cast also, were it not for a strange coincidence : I was discussing the film with some strangers and they said “Oh, you should ask this performance artist Jim Shirlaw, he spends days in a glass room talking to himself” and I thought great! Then it turns out he was a friend of Angie’s so we brought him in and he was perfect. Jackson Kite was one of the people Angie had in mind before the film started, she’d met him on tour I think and we wrote that character for him not even knowing if he’d say yes. The character Violet was the same: she was based on a real runaway girl who’d turned up in St. Peters and we were actually going to ask her to play herself, unfortunately she declined (or rather her parents did) but that doesn’t matter because at the eleventh hour Ela Stiles stepped in and gave her performance with only two weeks to rehearse! Christopher Short from Royal Headache really wanted to act, that was all, he came to us a complete greenhorn and I’m really proud of the star performance I was able to get out of him. Or performances, I should say.

Is there a strong independent film community in Sydney?

No idea really, so far we’ve been pretty hermetic and also have yet to enter into any film festivals – 2015 is going to be an interesting year for Ruin Films in that regard. All I can say is there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a strong community in Sydney or anywhere else because nowadays film-making is open to all thanks to digital film and you could make a film every week if you wanted to. And that’s coming from an avowed technophobe! Having said that Angie and I are very much doing our own thing and aren’t too concerned with what else is going on.

 

What kind of satisfaction do you get from creating films that you don’t from making music?

They are totally different. To put it simply, film to me is more about creating an illusion and manipulating it from behind the curtain, whereas being on stage singing is a raw, direct communication with an audience. I wouldn’t give up one for the other.

 

Is there something distinct about independent Australian cinema? What is the appeal?

It will be very interesting to see how foreign audiences react to this film. The appeal I think is largely the strangeness of the landscape, not just the outback and all that but even things like a colonial building, some old Victorian thing, with fern trees growing out the front. And suburbia, very different to that in the U.S.A. or the U.K.; this environment, the way the streets look, the houses, the way the people talk, is very stimulating to me, a great place to film with many strange images. My favourite local films capture this, for instance V for Vienetta by Micha Couell, an absolutely beautiful film.

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Garish Hearts will premiere at Dendy Theatre Circular Key on Thursday, June 26. Buy pre-sale tickets here.

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Features, Reviews

Ignorance is For Toys: Eastlink’s Mullum Mullum Reviewed

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This country is headed in a bad direction. Let no amount of boredom distract you from that truth. Eastlink’s new record Mullum Mullum could be depressing but is inspiring instead. It’s that rare LP that sounds like it has conviction. The first notes of ‘What a Silly Day (Australia Day)’ come on like a lot of guitar bands you’ve heard before – the difference is what it locks into. This is ‘hip shaking’ music. It has ‘swagger’. It sounds like the drummer plays the snare with a shaker – you can’t not nod your head. A few bars later someone fills in the major chords. It’s not all new but it’s being done a lot better. The first lyric arrives from Al Montfort’s familiar voice: “They busted up your brain for an idea.” Later: “What a silly day”. What an understatement from one of the masters of that art. “You’re supposed to have fun – what a joke” / “I’m supposed to get down”. No one will ever write a better song about this disgusting day.

The other perfect song on this record starts the B-side, sung by Johann Rashid. Don’t let the video clip for ‘Overtime’ stop you from hearing the tune. Again it’s the groove, it’s the boogie. It’s the feeling that this group believes their own rhetoric, is behind their own message and inside their own sound. “It’s cement and fuckin’ plaster”. It could go for half an hour without changing. “Overtime is justified.” As with the line, “what a silly day,” it’s not really the words that are the key, it’s the space between them. It’s what they don’t need to say. To fill in those spaces, read the lyric sheet, look at the pictures in the sleeve. Read your tabloid. See the pictures of Hawke and Keating – the “sellouts,” according to Eastlink. I don’t know if I fully agree with that one, but maybe I should.

The opinions and convictions and sentiments of this record are an inspiration. This is a protest record, whether the group would want to call it that or not. It’s a humanist record. It’s that rare record that seems to care about what happens to people. It’s about the things that have gone wrong and the things that will keep going wrong. It doesn’t have solutions; it’s just one of the best sounding lists of the problems I’ve ever heard. Four of the tracks don’t have lyrics. The five that do aren’t exactly essay length, but it’s all there. “You’re supposed to have a little bit of fun […] you paid for the gun / I paid for the baton.”

I can’t think of many other groups that work with the dance rhythm Eastlink does. That drum sound on ‘Spring St’ reminds me of glam. It all sounds like T-Rex to me, but it also sounds like a group of young Australian people who don’t like much of what they see around them. There’s real power in this record. There’s power in the sentiments that plug into the practice amps inside it. It’s also relentlessly clever. Smart people made it; people with a sense of humour and with a sense of right and wrong. The sound of the young man screaming, the delay on the four guitars. Tom Hardisty has done another service to the community in watching over this LP – recording another group the way they truly sound.

Eastlink has done a service to Australia with this album. It’s a milestone in the ‘culture’. If there’s a message, it could be to pay attention to what goes on. Just because you can’t fix it, doesn’t mean it isn’t hideously broke. As Montfort recently put it in a piece for Mess & Noise, “Yes we need to get on with it… but ignorance is for toys.” Mullum Mullum isn’t.

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Mullum Mullum is out now through In the Red Records.

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Photos: RIP Society 5th Birthday @ Sydney Opera House

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