Features

Stars and Dust: Angie interviewed

IMG_4220IMG_4215Photos: Sam Chiplin

Angela Garrick is a member of Ruined Fortune, Straight Arrows and Circle Pit. She was also one third of Kiosk, a Sydney group many remember fondly as the Best Sydney Punk Group of the ’00s. With that trio, Garrick toured the US as a teenager along with Catherine Kelleher (Catcall) and Jack Mannix (Circle Pit, Drown Under), and released an EP through K Records.

Garrick released her first solo record late last year in the form of Turning: an eight song collection which demonstrated a less aggressive and more reflective aspect to her songwriting. She also makes short films as Ruined Films with Jay Cruikshank, and will release her first feature film in 2014 in the form of Garish Hearts, which joins a catalogue including filmclips for groups such as Blank Realm.

I spoke to Angie at the Union Hotel in Newtown last Sunday. The first Ruined Fortune LP will release through Hozac Records later this month.

Why did you feel like these songs were solo Angie songs?

These songs I’ve had for years and years in fragments, just some words or melodies. I didn’t know where they would go and I guess they were always in fragmented form: a certain guitar thing, or a melody in my head or a phrase I’d written down which I hadn’t consolidated into one document. They didn’t really fit Circle Pit because Circle Pit is more crazy, and Ruined Fortune is meant to be a more experimental band.

These songs just seemed a lot more personal, or girlie. I didn’t even want to make a solo album and I don’t really feel comfortable with it at all – even now it feels really weird – but that’s just how it happened, they just came together after thinking and making demos. I’m glad I did it, otherwise they’d get lost.

You sound a lot more sneering and aggressive in Circle Pit, but on this record you sound a lot more contemplative. I assumed Turning, the title, was meant to indicate that this was you coming to a turning point, and that the songs on the record mark the end of a distinct period of your life. Am I on the right track?

This sounds really weird, but I read this book on Alan Turing and I became obsessed with the name ‘Turing’. I’m really into science biographies. Turing was the coolest word I’d ever heard and I’d never heard a surname like that before [laughs], and I’m really fascinated by him in general. I wrote it down a few times and then Turning was the most common word that was similar. That sounds really weird but that’s just how I got the name.

It’s a bit dumb, the title. I knew it was going to be called that forever though, and I didn’t even have to think about it. I’ve spent the last week trying to help Owen [Penglis] think of a name for the next Straight Arrows name and it’s often so difficult to choose as the title defines so much. But my album was always going to be called that.

Despite the name being a bit arbitrary to begin with, has it established any meaning since?

Yeah, I guess it’s just that life goes on. That sounds really cheesy, but you just have to make do. You have to do what you can. Sometimes it’s a bit of a struggle and a half. The album is pretty dark, so I guess it’s subconsciously a reflection of that and a banner for the songs.

I noticed the album gets a lot darker as it proceeds. It starts as a rock record but the last four songs are much more abstract, not as rock-oriented. Is there any broad theme to the album?

You’re right, the first half is the rock side and the second half is kinda like… all the songs have no drums and they’re all more intense. I don’t think I really planned that, but I wanted to have a solid opening.

Each song is about different things but they’re all really vague and ambiguous, but as a whole… I guess it’s the same as what I said before: life’s always changing, you have to take the rough with the smooth.

I guess Circle Pit was about a lot of that stuff as well, and this could be a continuation of that, but this is from an extremely solitary point of view. When I put all the songs together I was at an extremely solitary point in my life where I’d lock myself in my room and never come out.

Why did you find yourself in that kind of mood?

I just get that way sometimes. I was feeling depressed and confused about my life. I guess as a natural flow from being in that headspace, as someone who is melodic and musical and has those sensibilities I would just naturally do something like this, put it into music, because when I sit at home that’s just what I do.

Your lead guitar has a habit of always moving away from the pitch of a note. You always pull the string in a way where the melodies are slightly off, not perfect. What appeals to you about this sense of roughness and imperfection?

I’m interested in all kinds of recording. I’m interested in lo-fi recording and extremely hi-fi recording, but I have no interest in music recording from a practical point of view. A lot of the time it’s just the situation I’m in and I’ll go with that: it’s less thought out.

But I want something to sound like it has personality. If I listened to the album now I’d be able to hear twenty things in each song that is completely wrong, but I think that’s really good because a song is always going to change: if you record a song every single day, twenty times, each will be different. And that’s the beauty of recorded music because it’s a document of a time that’s passed. That’s really special with our time. We didn’t have that [capability] once.

It’s like freezing a phenomenon that always changes due to human error.

Owen [Penglis] played drums [on the record] and I didn’t rehearse with him at all. I mostly improvised on the guitar parts. I had a rough idea of what they would be, but it was mostly improvised. I feel like all the time in music – not so much in independent music – that for a lot of musicians I’m exposed to, music has become almost like a sport. That’s fine, but I don’t think there’s any danger or excitement in music that is so well-practiced that it’s a repetition. I think that defeats the purpose of doing it in the first place.

Is it possible to deviate too far from what the song originally was?

Totally, you have to know where to stop [laughs], there’s a fine line. I don’t know if I know what that line is but I hope I do.

The best example of this roughness is the organ on the record during ‘Missing Out’. When I read there was organ I expected a sound cleaner than what I’m used to hearing from you, but it’s actually the roughest sound on the record, and it barely sounds like an organ.

[Laughs] I got really into mixing it. Lincoln [Brown, from Housewives] helped me with production, and he’s pretty obsessed with noisy stuff. I guess also Owen as well – all of them like dirty sounding things. I think it’s beautiful in the way it’s damaged, and how the organ sounds totally fucked. I get a shiver down my spine when I hear something that strange, or that dangerous sounding. I have other ideas about different aesthetic sensibilities with sound, but this really suits those songs, being so extreme. But it’s also embarrassing because it’s really intense.

That reminds me that Circle Pit released the Honey / Slave 7 inch, which was a very cleanly produced, sad synth record. How did that come about?

That came about because this guy who was helping us out financially bought us two days in a proper studio with two engineers. It was at Big Jesus Burger. As i think I’ve said before, and Jack has said before, if those songs had been done in a different environment they would probably have sounded totally different. We did choose to use drum machine and hammond organ and acoustic guitar, but otherwise it was a lucky break, I suppose.

I’m really into the way that sounds, and I definitely want to record like that in the future, but you can want things to sound a certain way and have them turn out a certain other way. A lot of the time people just don’t have the means. I’m as into that 7 inch as I am the other two [Circle Pit 7 inches], which are completely psycho sounding. I’m into all different kinds of recording and it’s nice to see the scope of bands who mix between both. It’s fascinating to see the way they change.

You’ve been making music for at least ten years now, that I know of. How old were you when Kiosk formed?

About 16 or 17?

You guys were quickly picked up by K Records and toured the US pretty young. How did that change things for you?

Yeah, we recorded an album with Calvin Johnson! That was so interesting and weird. When that happened I was the biggest brat of all time, I didn’t even care about anything. That’s what you’re like when you’re a teenager: you expect everything to go your way and you’re really brash and unashamed. Nowadays when I think about it, I think I’d be really nervous and take things a lot more seriously if it happened now. Back then I just didn’t care.

How was touring abroad for the first time?

I was so young that I couldn’t drink and I didn’t have an ID so I couldn’t go anywhere! I couldn’t buy beer or anything. I think it’s really good for  young bands to tour overseas because it gives you this confidence. Not on your own level, but in the way that it shows you what’s out there, and that you’re just as good as everything else. It’s good for confidence and it helps you believe in yourself.

Sydney at that time, to me, was really male dominated and there was a lot of bland indie rock bands, so it was really good to go to America and see lots of girls in music and lots of really crazy – not necessarily good – music, and then come back and feel inspired to keep going.

F1000003F1000008Photos: Jack Mannix

You’ve stayed in Sydney since. A lot of Australian musicians move to Melbourne or abroad. I take it you like it here?

I spent five months of last year overseas, and I do leave a lot. I always think about leaving because Sydney is so small and intense at times. My family is from here, it’s where I grew up, and it’ll always be home forever no matter what.

I really believe in Australia. I went to Europe and South America last year and seeing what’s there… traveling always makes you appreciate what Australia has. Sometimes it seems like it has nothing but it actually has a lot, and it’s culturally very rich for its size. Sometimes it’s a challenging environment to be in – it’s really expensive, it’s hard to get a job in your field, people are sometimes dickheads – but there’s something about the isolation and the desperation of it that breeds this fertile creative climate.

There’s so much great music in Australia that it’s hard to believe sometimes. You notice that when you go around the world and see what’s there. That said, I really want to go overseas ASAP. I love being Australian, I love the Australian character and Australian sensibilities. Although I feel really embarrassed to be Australian right now.

In the press material it says you were traveling while you were writing this record.

I went to Europe about three years ago and a lot of the songs are themed around that time. I’ve got this journal from those travels, and they were extended travels where I was a bit cut off from everything.

That influenced the songs only in the sense that traveling gives you this magical way of reflecting on your life that you wouldn’t ordinarily have. The songs aren’t about travelling but they wouldn’t necessarily have come about if I hadn’t travelled away from my everyday life. I wouldn’t have had the time to think about them in the way that I did.

I think it’s important for everyone to do that, if they can. You get in this flux where you’re so glad to be away but you feel really listless and lost, and you’re thinking about all the relationships that you have.

There’s a loneliness when traveling which feels a little alienating while you’re abroad, but which you want badly when you’re back home.

It’s actually the best feeling in the world that money can’t buy. It is sometimes unbearable at the time, but you feel alive and all your senses are increased by ten. You’re really living.

There’s a Ruined Fortune album coming out soon. How did that band come about?

Jack went to Melbourne and I wanted to do a rock ‘n roll band, because the best thing in the world is being in a rock ‘n roll band [laughs]. I guess I’d been friends with Nic [Warnock] for a really long time and I was saying that to him on a phone, and he’s like “I’m the guy for the job” [laughs]. It’s a pretty amazing combination of people: Sam Chiplin who drums for Housewives [and plays in Teen Ax], and John Duncan from Silver Moon. They’re the most incredible guys and musicians.

I guess [Ruined Fortune] was bridging a gap, so to speak, because Jack was out of town. It’s a really different sound to Circle Pit though: it’s a bit darker and weirder and I guess that’s something I was always pushing for in Circle Pit which we never managed to get to. I think it’s something I’m really glad happened. A lot of the musical and thematic ideas I’d had for so long, I could finally use. It was a relief because they meant a lot to me.

You and Nic seem to have a combative dynamic on stage.

Our approach to making records, playing shows and making music is actually completely different. I mean it’s good sometimes, but sometimes it’s really annoying. I actually think the Ruined Fortune album is my favourite thing I’ve done ever, and it wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t had two thousand arguments with Nic to make it. So even if it wasn’t fun, it’s worth it if that’s what we get at the end of the day.

How does playing in Ruined Fortune differ from writing with Jack, who you’ve been in bands with for so long?

It’s different with Jack because we write songs together, and I’ve never really done that before with anyone else and I don’t think I will. It’s a different dynamic, we write together and it’s really strange. I don’t understand how that works. Even now I don’t really jam with anyone, I just work on music on my own. I love being in bands, but to have that dynamic where you can create together is really rare.

Is Circle Pit likely to do anything in the future?

We’re texting, we’re talking. We’re meant to have a record come out – which is my favourite thing ever. I really hope that it comes out eventually because it’s really good, and like I said before about wanting to be in a weirder and freer and more dangerous band — that album is the closest Circle Pit has gotten to that. The songs are really out there, and I’m glad that we managed to cement it at that time.

I’m not really sure what the future holds though. A lot of talking needs to be done before any action happens. If there was to be something new it would be really great, but if there’s not then I think what has been released has been enough. I don’t really know, I’m never going to say either way because I don’t know what will happen.

You make films as well. I’m so used to you as a musician in groups that share something in common, the film stuff seems to stand in contrast. Do similar impulses direct both music and film work?

I feel like images come easier than sound. It’s more ephemeral and intuitive and more an emotional reaction to something. That’s why it’s better for me, but it’s harder to pin down. If you’re making images – be it a painting, for film – it’s something that you can work on in a more mathematical, regimented way.

I love writing songs but it’s so hard. I can’t predict when it’s going to happen. Right now I haven’t written a song for six months and I feel like I couldn’t force it. That’s why I love animations, because you have this task that’s set ahead of you, and it needs no script but you can go and make it. It’s going to be amazing no matter what you do because you’re enacting magic; you’re making objects move by themselves. You don’t really need to feel inspired to do that because you just go and do it.

So I guess it’s a matter of balance: that’s something that balances out the times when you don’t feel musical. When you feel musical you take that and go with that and do what you can.

So you’re a songwriter and not an instrumentalist.

Actually, I have this keyboard that I write songs on all the time, but they’re really weird – they’ve hardly songs. It’s different. I want to write a really really great song. Sometimes I’ll be on a bus and I’ll get this melody in my head and I’ll record it into my phone, and it’s not something that comes if I sit and play guitar for four hours. Maybe it will for others, but in my case it’s something that just happens.

How do you know when you’ve written a good song?

It holds currency, it means something to you. It’s such a personal thing to do. It’s funny because I love weird experimental music which isn’t about anything, but then I love confessional songs. I love both those things but if you have a song that’s about something, it’s the best diary entry you could ever write, and if people can listen to that and feel something too, you can’t ask for better than that. That’s so amazing. It doesn’t really matter if that happens with one person or a thousand. It’s just connecting with people. It’s the best way. Oh my god, I’m so cheesy.

**

Angie’s Turning is available digitally through Rice is Nice and on vinyl through Easter Bilby. Ruined Fortune’s debut will be available through Hozac Records soon. Angie will launch Turning March 2 at Frankies in Sydney with Dead Farmers, East River and Nathan Roche.

Standard
Features

2013 in review: artists and Crawlspace editors

Welcome to the Crawlspace 2013 in review. Similar to last year, we don’t have a list. Instead, we’ve compiled a series of reflections and lists from contributors and artists. The list of contributors is not exhaustive, but we hope you enjoy what is here.

Because it’s an unwieldy length we’ve split the article into a page per contributor in order to prevent your computer from crashing. It is not a cynical grab for clicks. See the contents section below and click from there, or read them in order with the page number links at the bottom of the page. Thanks to everyone who contributed and thanks for reading. See you next year.

Contents:

Introduction by Shaun Prescott

Brainbeau’s Kat Martian
Circular Keys’ Dennis Santiago
Max Easton
Lawson Fletcher
Lawrence English
Fatti Frances’ Raquel Solier
Flat Fix’s Cooper Bowman
Love Chants’ Anthony Guerra
Four Door’s Matthew Hopkins
The Friendsters’ Roberta Stewart
Gardland’s Mark Smith
Half High’s Lucy Cliche
Housewives’ Lincoln Brown
Kitchen’s Floor’s Matt Kennedy
Melodie Nelson / The Singing Skies’ Lia Tsamoglou and Kell Derrig-Hall
The Native Cats’ Peter Escott
RIP Society’s Nic Warnock
Rule of Thirds’ Freya Zaknich
School Girl Report’s Samuel Miers
Standish / Carlyon’s Conrad Standish
Video Ezy’s Del Lumanta
Thomas William

Introduction

Having the opportunity to list a series of records and songs in a specific order is an indulgence that a lot of people who write about music look forward to. The reason for this is because it probably feels, to them, as if they’re sealing the cap on the year and what it meant. For some people it’s important for a year to mean something specific, but I don’t think this year meant anything in particular. It was a horrible year by some measures and a tolerable year by others.

This is the nature of every single year that has ever come to pass. Maybe remarkable things happened which musicians and songs were involved in, or maybe things happened which musicians and songs inadvertently or purposely reflected or represented. But it’s never guaranteed, and nothing is broadly true on these terms.

During the course of this year it became obvious to me that music doesn’t operate in the manner I previously expected it to, as someone who enjoys writing about music. There were definitely occasions when other music writers sought to attach a particular sound or artist to a mood purportedly specific to 2013, but none of this applies to any of the music I care about. Music is not a story or a timeline. It’s easy to expect that it is, because that’s how music has been packaged for longer than many of us have lived. In its most potent form, popular music is definitely something which has come to pass. It is definitely something which was once very important but is not so much anymore.

The music I like is never going to be considered a crucial part of an era, because it simply does not reach enough people, and when it does people just write pithy lists about it on the internet. This definitely annoys me. But when I’m sober I know it doesn’t matter, and I’m especially adamant that history and music need not be so intertwined. Popular music is diseased by this belief that it must be considered important to thousands of people at the same time. This is the opposite of the truth.

For example, when I listen to the Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys record, my instinct is to apply the logic of these songs and their lyrics to the difficulty of balancing certain innate instincts of mine with the pressures of what others seem to expect of me. This is a theme I expect many people will identify in this record. It seems to me impossible that no one should feel the same way, and yet the reason this record meant a lot to me is not scientific. It is an accident. If I had not seen this band play in various venues in my hometown I would not have given them a second thought. In fact I would have ignored them because they have a stupid name and I’m normally a very serious person.

To me, and maybe several hundred others, a band called Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys perfectly captured what it’s like to live in Australia’s largest city in 2013.

By contrast, the reason Teen Ax’s cassette Useless was one of my favourite recordings of this year is not something I could ever hope to share with anyone else. There was a point in 2013 when I felt this city was especially ugly and this record seemed to agree with me. I was horribly depressed. It might not have been a healthy relationship but it was one that I established anyway. Now I know this record very intimately, and I cannot help but bundle it with the Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys record even though one is a rock ‘n roll record and the other is a harsh noise tape. I could write at length about why they’re similar and maybe I will one day, but it would take a very long time.

Then there are the records by Lakes and Angel Eyes which I cannot turn into a story. I cannot rationalise their appeal. I listened to the Lakes and Angel Eyes records repeatedly – almost daily – during 2013, and yet neither mean something that I can articulate. I feel like records like this are the closest I will ever get to spirituality, where the logic is innately understood and there’s no desire to question. I have a lot of fun thinking about music but I’ve never achieved very much trying to think about the music of Lakes or Angel Eyes, but I love them both.

All of the above may sound like I’m trying to discredit the act of thinking critically about music, but that’s definitely not what I want to do. Thinking critically about music is important but above all else it is fun. When I listened to albums by Gardland and Standish/Carlyon this year, I enjoyed them as much for what they helped me imagine and anticipate and question as much as the way they sounded and the way they made me feel.

I’ve always rooted for progress and pushing the envelope. I seek it everywhere, and it’s probably because I live a very common life. I go to work, then I write of an evening, then I play video games, then I read books and then I get drunk at the weekend. I rarely do anything other than these things.

I still value moments when I hear something that shocks me, but in 2013 I saw a band called Woollen Kits at a pub in Melbourne and it put so many things into perspective. I just want there to be something at stake. I know that sounds like a silly thing to say in relation to a charming guitar pop band like Woollen Kits, but this show was so unexpectedly bracing and beautiful and meaningful to me. None of these three feelings are mandatory but each was offered with the power of several tonnes of brick on this night, and it shocked me.

 That’s what’s interesting to me. It’s not interesting to me why these bands – which very few people in the world listen to – are ‘important’, but why they are capable. Why does their music have this power. That’s interesting. That’s what I think is important to talk about. Every other framework or formula we have to assess the worth of music seems utterly meaningless right now. How can music make us feel strongly in any way at a time when we seem to be encouraged to simply ask how it will properly represent us, at our age, at this time.

The album I listened to and enjoyed the most in 2013, from 2013, is Angel Eyes’ Final Fare, and I still haven’t figured out why. I wrote about it in February and I’m embarrassed. I’d remove it from this website for the sake of my dignity but that would seem dishonest.

Then there are all the records and songs I never got to write about, and then there are all the records and songs I didn’t even hear.

Overall, Pet Shop Boys is my favourite band of 2013.

Wonderfuls’ Salty Town was my other favourite album of the year, but it was my favourite album in 2012 too.

That’s all I have to say on this matter.

Standard
Features

Sound Summit 2013: the only music festival

1464787_523739747709975_385192899_nPhoto by Jack Mannix

The Sound Summit festival is the only music festival which takes place in the state of New South Wales in the nation of Australia. There are other events in Australia which are nominally ‘music festivals’, but these usually focus on activities peripheral to the enjoyment of music including getting high on drugs and lining up.

Media corporations like Tonedeaf, AJ Maddah’s Twitter, Wikipedia and The Sydney Morning Herald always mention these non-Sound Summit events as examples of music festivals, but the truth is much darker. These events are simply amusing ways for rich old people to get young people to line up all day.

It’s the industry’s biggest secret. AJ Maddah sometimes invites Michael Gudinski and the editor of Tonedeaf to his house just to watch surveillance cam footage of Soundwave attendees lining up. Michael Chugg has also been known to attend these excited yet sedate occasions, and the reason AJ Maddah is now involved with the Big Day Out is because he and Ken West share a deep appreciation – or fetish – for watching young people line up for everything in unpleasant weather conditions.

The reason Homebake was canceled this year is because the new venue situation would not result in queues sufficiently exciting enough for New South Wales ‘festival’ promoters to continue with their plans.

Sound Summit is a proper music festival though because it is festive. You never have to line up for anything. I didn’t attend everything, in fact I barely scraped the program’s surface, but here are the moments I think are worth making note of.

image(1)Sarah Spencer performing

Intense Nest

On Saturday at 1pm I walked straight into 107 Projects in Redfern and was not frisked, nor did the venue smell like dagwood dog and belch. It was intense, but not for bad reasons. There were drunk people but they did not seem angry. Instead, the event consisted mainly of people standing in a dark room and listening to music by artists including Lucy Cliche, Video Ezy, Sarah Spencer and Red Belly Black Snake.

I should offer some details about these artists. Sydney duo Video Ezy played strange electronic music using a synthesizer and drum machine and created a positive yet sleepy atmosphere in the room. Red Belly Black Snake is Emma from Holy Balm playing the saddest music I have heard for a long time. She stood facing visual projections of otherworldly settings and it looked like she was shaping them with her synth. Lucy Cliche played her mysterious pop songs and then some excellent goth club dance tracks reminiscent of ‘90s darkwave compilations from Germany, while Sarah Spencer from Blank Realm played gentle and sentimental pop music. None of these words are very sufficient because all artists involved played in tiny realms between more distinct genres.

image(2)Lucy Cliche performing

photo(1)Red Belly Black Snake performing

Intense Nest was the most focused event that I saw at Sound Summit. While there are a lot of differences between the dystopian pinball house pop of Video Ezy and the spiritual transcendence of Red Belly Black Snake, all suited sharing an event because they explored the frayed and illusory edgelands of pop music. All sounded like sonic phenomena you may accidentally dream about and then wonder how such unearthly sounds managed to burrow into your subconscious. It was difficult to let go of Intense Nest when it ended. It felt very special.

Here’s a friendly looking photo of all the artists who performed at Intense Nest:

image

It wasn’t in Newcastle

Newcastle is one of the most interesting cities in Australia from a musical perspective, yet many people I spoke to were relieved the festival happened in Sydney this year because they didn’t feel like they were going to get bashed.

Everything is important

Sound Summit is less focused on strictly experimental music nowadays, and is more a practise in trying to collect many of Australia’s fringe scenes in one place. It’s an important development because most of Australia’s interesting fringe music is not experimental broadly speaking. Instead, we have distinct communities in different cities searching for new ways to express ideas and present sounds that are deemed at that time to be important, both by the artists themselves and the small group of interested people who listen to them.

There are international artists at Sound Summit but they seem to supplement the local ones, rather than vice versa. Real Numbers is a new garage-influenced rock group that mirrors similarly inclined rock groups in our communities. Heatsick and Container have many parallels in Australia at the moment and their presence represented the current universality of punkish electronic and techno music.

These parallels can encourage you to think about why certain styles are being explored right now while others are starting to recede. None are new, but they’re recurring in slightly new ways now and why is that exactly? The audience is given the opportunity to realise that maybe there is some greater and invisible tide of feeling among independent artists globally which they had never identified before. Maybe there is something about this world at present that makes this happen. You are allowed to have fun speculating about this.

994035_523739834376633_1392707637_nPhoto by Jack Mannix

School Girl Report

This Bateman’s Bay duo offered the most bracing band experience across the weekend. The first half of the set was heavily manipulated electronic renditions of their own songs, looped and warped beyond recognition. The second part of the set was a drum and guitar affair, except Sam Miers’ way of playing guitar was unlike any of approaches you may have tired of throughout rock music’s long history, chiefly because it didn’t sound like a guitar yet it wasn’t heavily treated.

Sometimes when you see a man pick up a guitar you expect them to perform certain very showy actions that are so ingrained in the playing of the instrument that the instrumentalist probably doesn’t even notice they’re doing them. You expect a flick of the hair, or for them to nurse the neck in a certain fashion, or to do cute things with their fingers on the fretboard to signal their adeptness. I loved School Girl Report both as an electronic and rock duo because none of these signposts were visible. The duo played like they were inventing something. They seemed tentative about it all, like they were wondering how exactly these strings and drum surfaces were meant to result in sound.

Housewives

Unlike School Girl Report, Sydney punk band Housewives sound almost exactly like a certain type of punk band you have heard before. They are not worried about changing anything about music. Housewives represents a certain demeanor among a certain type of young person in Sydney so perfectly that I think people will remember them for this above all else, and I don’t mean that to be insulting. Sometimes I feel like they’re a Sydney version of Melbourne’s UV Race because there is a smartness about them that they are very eager to hide, or to leave unannounced, and so they move in the opposite direction. I’ve seen Housewives before and listened to their 7 inch a couple of times but their performance at the weekend made me more curious about a guitar based punk band than I have been for years. They’re the perfect band for the mood in this city at the moment.

photoAngel Eyes performing

Other Bands

Reading about a band’s performance via long strings of adjectives is very dull, so I’ll keep this brief. Angel Eyes played a set of new material which incorporated ghosts of his older songs. I am predisposed to all the components that make up Angel Eyes’ music, and as a result have felt in the past unqualified to explain why I love it so much. On Saturday afternoon his set had a very different mood to his first three albums. Something is about to happen.

Matthew Brown played a set of unfussy yet subtlely complex techno music accompanied by images of old Japanese monster movies, and it was matched in stark beauty only by Gareth Psaltis’ set later that night as part of the Hunter-Gatherer showcase.

Why

It’s impossible to see everything at Sound Summit. I didn’t go on Thursday night because I was busy, and I didn’t go on Friday night because I was feeling anxious about being around people.

That’s the good thing about Sound Summit though. No matter how anxious you may be there is always someone to talk to about music that no one else in the world seems to understand. Talking about music is a lot more fun than writing or reading about it, because you look people in their eyes.

As time has passed I’ve become increasingly reluctant to make broad diagnoses about Australia’s underground music cultures. I’ve become even less inclined to opine about music because opinion is neither very interesting nor in demand. Speaking to Joel Stern from Sky Needle about this on Saturday, he acknowledged that it must be difficult to do so at a time when many musicians are willing to provide the context themselves. Speaking on a panel with Nic Warnock about “the continual evolution of independent music culture” reinforced Joel’s words, because he and the three other musicians on the panel were not oblivious to many of the factors music writers think they’re independently discovering through writing about them. Music culture, the way it evolves and the way we engage with it, is not very mysterious. All the phenomenons are identifiable by anyone with a vague interest in it. There is a lot that is mysterious about music, but not these things.

And that’s why Sound Summit is the only music festival in New South Wales, Australia, because you can get drunk on Saturday night and dance to Four Door then talk coherently about the same performance for hours the next day between sets at the Red Rattler. Music is enjoyed and then discussed by several communities in one place. The conclusions and opinions that each person gleans from each band or artist or discussion is liable to change dramatically. What’s important is that the opportunity is there in the first place, and that’s what Sound Summit provides. It is definitely a music festival and it is very important.

***

Thanks to Jack Mannix and Intense Nest for allowing us to use their photos.

Standard
Features

True Tales of Half Time: The Stevens interviewed

IMG_5541MID-610x406

The Stevens is the Victorian guitar-pop brainchild of Travis McDonald and Alex McFarlane. Combining their respective bedroom-based projects, they began writing music together in 2009 under a series of different guises. Their lyrics, while seemingly introspective and self-referential, are often based on the droll perceptions of two guys in their early twenties, their oddity fueled by the irreverence of the unthinking rock idols they once looked up to during puberty. Their general demeanour may be centered on a satire of their early influences, but their unique pop intuitions are infallible: The Stevens have produced some of the most refreshing pop music to come out of the Melbourne Flying Nun-inclined fold.

Their first self-titled EP was self-released initially in 2012 on cassette/CD but later re-released as a 7 inch this year by Chapter Music. It’s pop music that stands on its own hind legs – brilliantly crafted songs that resonate contextually across decades. In the lead up to the release of their debut LP A History of Hygiene, Travis McDonald discusses their approach to recording, teenage pipe dreams and forlorn rock gods.

It’s been over a year since you released the Stevens EP on cassette. The songs seem to be indicative of a particular time in both yours and Alex’s lives, in that the EP feels unified through points of self-realisation and ‘quarter-life crises’.  Do these comments align with your own perceptions?

In ways, yes, but most of the words or lyrics are more observational anecdotes about friends, not so much our lives. Alex’s songs are almost exclusively journalistic. They’re often about other people, but at same time are very personal. My songs probably don’t make a hell of a lot of sense to people a lot of the time, because I mostly just mash together conversations or things that I overhear… things like random science facts or oracle and news events seem to come up quite often. With the new record there are definitely aspects of that on there: the processes for writing lyrics are still the same. I guess the real difference on the LP is in the way it sounds.

How do you feel your songwriting has evolved over time? Have you had any significant new influences that weren’t there on the EP?

I don’t think my songwriting has really evolved much at all. I’ve been writing music and playing in bands since I was about 13. I think there was a period when I was about 18 when I felt the pressures of the avant-garde looming over me. I was trying to make music which, at the time, I thought was quite clever. I let all these electronic influences take over my songwriting. Now I feel as though I’ve almost reverted back to my 13-year-old self, [now that I] mostly write songs now on guitar and piano.

What was it like growing up in Elphinstone? What sort of a place is it and how did you source your influences and inspiration for writing music? 

Elphinstone is small. It has a population of only a couple hundred. As a kid I was able to make a lot of rowdy noises and stupid recordings without anyone complaining. There were no record stores or any access to Internet most of the time so writing songs was an easy way to hear new music. My dad had a few CDs including some Flying Nun comps. I made a band when I was 13 with Matt our current drummer, which was called The Kites. We tried to sound like the Velvet Underground and Jimi Hendrix and used to play a cover of ‘Billy Two’ by The Clean. That lasted till I was 15.

The new single ‘Hindsight’ has a seemingly thicker, more layered aesthetic than that of previous recordings. In what ways do you feel your sound has developed?

The previous recordings were done mainly with Alex (McFarlane, of The Stevens). I sort of pushed him around and told him what to do some of the time, but really it was pretty straightforward. Half of the new album was recorded with Mikey Young at the Town Hall and the other half is made up of home recordings of Alex’s or mine. It’s pretty much a collection of songs from the past couple of years. The first EP was once going to be a 20-song album, but we decided to cut anything we thought was half cooked.

We’ve basically done something similar for this release but with more than 50 recordings to choose from. So again, it’s a best-of/mixtape type deal. Where it really differs is that we have the additional help of Mikey Young, Tex Houston and Noel McKenna for superior results. It was also written over two different line-ups, and it isn’t written as 50/50 like the EP. I wrote a fair few of the songs this time round, so there is a lot more filler in between Al’s songs on this one. Plus Alex and I recorded just over half of it at Alex’s house. It also features a bit more keyboard too.

Did you ever consider re-recording those home recordings?

Nah, not really. We operate on this idea that each song should be treated differently, some of the songs sounded better just recorded acoustically, or with just one person playing. With Tam and Callum leaving the band about a year ago, the different configuration of members meant that there were different punctuations on each song. It was definitely a conscious decision to leave them as they were.

What effect did the departure of Tam and Callum have on the band at the time? Did you ever contemplate calling it quits?

Well the immediate effect was that it made us very sad. I remember at the time messaging Alex asking if he wanted to quit, and that if he wanted to he should let me know now. He replied with “nup”, so we’ve never really considered quitting or anything. Alex and I have both had our own recording projects dating back to when our testicles hadn’t dropped yet. We committed to merging the two before we ever had any other members. We seem to work pretty well together, so we decided to stick it out.

How did Gus and Matt fit in initially? I know you guys are all old friends, so I guess I mean musically more than anything.

It definitely brought different flavours in, for lack of a better word. Matt comes from quite a jazz-heavy background. He’s sort of a Gene Krupa kind of drummer, which is really interesting because he’s incredibly technical, so it’s given us a lot more opportunities to explore different rhythms. Gus as well is just a wizard, a really multitalented musician. It was a pretty seamless transition, but the band still definitely has a different feel about it now.

You’ve did the artwork for the first Stevens EP and seem to be quite a keen artist. Do music and visual art provide different outlets for you creatively?

Yeah, they do totally. I think music is one of those art forms that definitely has a more immediate, more enjoyable outcome, and it’s definitely the one that makes the least sense. You don’t have to really ever think about it or consider it in the way you do with an artwork. Painting is an art that’s really a bit of a mindfuck, in that it’s much more intentional and cerebral, but I think they still do feed into each other a lot of the time.

Is that why The Stevens often adopt the approach of only doing one take for each song and not dwelling on the recordings too much?

Yeah. A lot of the time it is just one take and if we ever redo a take – which come to think of we actually do a couple of times on this record – it’s mostly about just having fun and fiddling around with it. There’s still a very little amount of planning or thinking or intention behind any of the recordings. I suppose it’s like improvised recording in a way.

Your love of bands like Guided By Voices and Devo really shows in your live shows and stage presence. Alex’s dance moves are very reminiscent of Mark Mothersbaugh and at times there’s a sense of nerdish, self-aware comedy that shines through. You guys don’t seem take to yourselves too seriously, almost comically undermining the sentiment of each song. Is this something you’re aware of?

Yeah, for sure. No matter what we’re singing or writing about, it’s always undermined by the fact that we’re on a stage trying to live this teenage dream of ours in a really kind of contrived way. The biggest influences that we have are your classic kind of rock idols. So I guess we’re all fed by this mindless teenage rock obsession. All of us grew up separately listening and watching The Who, Hendrix, Kiss, The Beatles, and other classics. I think rock is some kind of fundamentalist religion you are forced into at an early age without really knowing it. You grow up paying tribute to rules, historical moments, prophets and dress codes etc. I used to design fake band logos and crafted a front man’s jacket. I would always plan ultimate band line-ups of friends for weird different sub genres.

You guys don’t play outside of Melbourne much – has there always been a solid Melbournian support base for The Stevens?

Yeah definitely more than any other band I’ve been in. I guess that’s the joy of playing in a band with Alex, he’s always known a lot of local people in the music scene. I only moved to Melbourne when I was 18 and didn’t really know many people. I’d played in bands before I made the move and we were always playing to two or three people at best. I guess any show we’ve played has had at least double that.

Playing overseas is the dream, it’s one of the boxes we want to be able to tick on the teenage dream list. You know, to be in a sick rock band that goes on tours. I’d definitely like to go to America and New Zealand, but of course we’ll be playing in Brisbane and Sydney in support of this record.

Your latest track ‘Hindsight’ was written up on AdHoc and Pitchfork the other day. A lot of the releases on Chapter, like Twerps and Dick Diver, seem to be getting a lot of praise in the States.

Yeah, that was surprising. I guess Chapter has stuck around with these kinds of bands for long enough, so it’s good that they’re getting some stuff on websites like Pitchfork. It’s a very fashionable sound at the moment, and it was inevitably going to be fashionable at some point. The fact that they’ve [Chapter Music] been around for 21 years now has meant that they’ve become a very influential force in Melbourne independent music. Both Guy and Ben keep a very close eye on whatever goes on in the Melbourne scene. They saw us play at a couple of smaller gigs a year or two ago. They definitely are invested in putting out records, rather than focusing on the business side of things and are very well trusted and respected for that reason.

There really is a daunting proliferation of bands in Melbourne. Where do you guys place yourself in Melbourne Music?

There are probably more bands and scenes than people, but the music scene here is smaller than it looks. A lot of the guitar bands share members and that determines where they play, who they play with and what they sound like. It’s a good group; the only thing is that it can become a bit hard to tell who is writing for who sometimes. Because it can be so blurred, there have been a few Melbourne music writers coining these scenes. There’s the garage, the jangle, the anxiety pop, the slacker pop, the dole wave, the chill mate etc. I still can’t tell what the difference is. Its hard to know where we are placed, we like too many things that aren’t those names. We’re also still a fairly new band too.

***

The Stevens’ A History of Hygiene is out now through Chapter Music. The band play Sound Summit next weekend. Full details here. The group will also launch their record in Melbourne on Friday December 20 at the Tote, with Lower Plenty and Nth Wheel. $10 on the door.

Standard
Features

‘The Only Rule Is Cool’: Cool Death Records and Dribble

DribbleGasoUpstairs - Jess D

Dribble is a Melbourne five piece. The band features Texas Tom on vocals, Slimy Williams on lead guitar, Brenton on guitar and Silent Bob on drums. Tom Bradford plays bass with the group and helps operate punk tape label Cool Death Records along with Alessandro Coco (Gutter Gods / Leather Lickers) and Moses Williams (Soma Coma / UV Race).

Released in April, The first Dribble tape is putrid. Pop songs beaten against the wall by the tail and then thrown into the road. The songs are excellent, but they’re generally beaten into barely recognisable shapes before they reach your ears. The Dribble debut was the second release for Cool Death following the debut Gutter Gods tape 2015 Since then, the label has issued the first Velvet Whip tape and will issue a Gutter Gods LP later in 2013.

I spoke to Bradford over a series of emails about the Cool Death ethos and what it takes to keep hardcore and punk music from becoming boring these days. He’s currently helping out with the annual Maggot Fest festival in Melbourne, which takes place this weekend across several venues including the Gasometer Hotel and the Northcote Social Club. Bands include Straightjacket Nation, Lakes, Oily Boys, Multiple Man and tonnes of others. Full details here. It’s pretty much the flagship Aussie hardcore and punk festival so you should go.

I love the first Dribble tape. How did the band form?

I’d known Texas and Brenton for years: we cut our teeth together at all age youth centre gigs watching unity bands. I watched the demise of a band they were doing called Slow which had real punk potential in its simplicity and stupidity. Me and Nathan were playing in Gutter Gods, which may have been called Kicked In at the time, and we were both living south east of the city. The other fellas were out that way too and I reckon we probably were just talking shit at a show about going over to their house and playing some musak with them. We ended up doing it. They had two cool songs and we were sucked in from there.

What other bands are you in?

Gutter Gods, and I have played a couple of shows with a band called R.I.P Snorta – an Ocker-punk band with songs about AFL, shitty Melbourne landmarks and mates. More of a house-party band for a laugh.

The first Dribble tape – under what circumstances was it recorded? It sounds disturbing.

No extraordinary circumstances there other than Texas’ Dad Andy recording it, who is a real affable bloke that had previous experience engineering Live Aid concerts in the ’80s. Was real cute with him behind the booth and Texas talking to him in the studio through the mic saying “hey Dad, this song’s about Blade Runner” – to a mute response. I think we recorded into a desk and then out to a reel-to-reel. Andy cut a first mix which I never heard that was canned by the others for not being raw enough -Texas cut a second mix and absolutely fucked it. There’s pure glory in those riffs that gets buried amid the fuzz. We’re recording for an LP or 2×7” this week and will be re-doing them in the hope that the demo isn’t the first and final recorded representation of those songs.

There’s a song on your first tape called ‘Leather Lickers’. There’s also a tape under that name coming soon on Cool Death. What’s the story there?

‘Leather Lickers’ was the first song Texas wrote and was actually gonna be the name of the band. I jokingly suggested the name ‘Drivel’ for the band which got misheard as ‘Dribble’, and stuck. A new band in our circle formed a couple of months ago, and they snatched it. Alliteration is the key to any punk’s heart – think of the lineage.

Are all the Cool Death Records bands (Gutter Gods, Dribble, Velvet Whip) related?

We’re certainly all related in that we’re all chums. Gutter Gods and Dribble share me and Nathan. Velvet Whip is the first band we’ve put out that doesn’t have a member of the Cool Death Board within it. They’ve proven to be the crown jewel in our small roster.

What’s the ethos of Cool Death Records?

Our mantra is ‘The Only Rule Is Cool’ which is elementary and happens to rhyme yet still holds weight. The intention wasn’t for Cool Death to be a strictly hardcore/punk label and we didn’t want it to be strictly just a record label either. If we think it’s cool, we’ll do it or release it. Ethos relates heavily to aesthetic and our aesthetic in an overarching loose term is ‘cool’. Bands have gotta play hard and loud, challenge audiences not nurture them, don’t use the internet as your only way of spreading the word, flyers have gotta look good, you don’t complain that there’s no one to play with or anywhere to play – you build it yourself, you gotta be down to play in a drain, you gotta be a music fan – everything from Hawkwind to Muddy Waters to United Mutation is a goer, you gotta keep it cheap and nasty and you’ve gotta believe in what you’re doing.

That’s what we think is cool and we try and follow this ethos as best we can. We were sick of watching hardcore bands crawl their way through weak originals and Agnostic Front covers with no distortion or conviction, golf claps after songs, polite apologies and thank yous from vocalists and people moshing with chains with zero intention of collecting anyone. We sat on the sidelines for a long time and now it’s time for us to take what we learned from the great local bands (Straightjacket Nation, Pathetic Human, Taipan etc) and do the opposite of the plethora of boring bands.

Jamie Whiteman

As you say, a band shouldn’t rely solely on the internet to get the word out. What are some other methods that you value?

This is conflicted in that since Maggot Fest organising has ramped up I’ve spent day and night with email and Facebook open going back and forth with all sorts of people. I don’t want to understate its power and the dependency we have on it but if you’re using it exclusively I reckon you illegitimise your art and cheapen it. Is it fanciful and backward for us to believe that a physical street presence is important? I dunno.

What I was mainly referring to in that thought is flyering. Flyering isn’t only important for getting your bold and maybe offensive art out there so a punk will see it and go “oh cool” and attend your show. It’s also important to create a wider ‘presence’, it’s so the general public knows there is a seething underbelly of savages doing something different outside of the status quo. But again, maybe I’m dreaming if anyone picks up on it? I think the main point is whether these methods work or not is to never let things become too easy. You’ve only gotta read one tidbit of information about SST records to realise that punk for them wasn’t fun, it wasn’t easy, but they did it anyway. I wouldn’t dare liken what we do to what they did but reading what they went through can be grounding and a real source of inspiration.

You mentioned a more sedate or polite hardcore crowd before. What kind of response has Dribble or other Cool Death bands elicited from crowds thus far?

Dribble gets good responses, we’ve realised that being just drunk enough before playing isn’t enough, our best shows have been when we’re too drunk. When Texas is lubed and baiting the crowd people have no issues beating him up whilst he’s singing, he’s an easy target. Nathan fucks with him too, smashed a pint glass on his back the other week. Gutter Gods is varied, responses were better when we were transitioning from Kicked In to Gutter Gods playing a straighter style, I think now we’ve probably gone too far into the unknown and bewildered a lot of people.

People will catch on with Velvet Whip. I think the main thing is that the people who’ve stuck around and kept attending our shows must be masochists and like to be punished. I can’t imagine seeing any of the Cool Death bands being a ‘good’ time as we’re all selfish and don’t care what the crowd has to endure. I feel crowds of other ‘hardcore’ scenes I’ve alluded to are there primarily for a social experience and to feel safe.

Is that pretty central to hardcore, the turnover of artists / scenes based on a reaction to staleness?

Absolutely. It’s always been a reactionary, idealistic form of youth expression and still is. Because hardcore is such an easy form of music to play and execute, I feel it’s always just some little shit like myself going ‘that’s boring, I’m gonna take that pap and make it interesting’. I certainly wouldn’t limit that argument to hardcore though – Stooges against the hippies, the whole Swedish death metal movement against the clean-cut metal of the late ’80s, Coloured Balls playing louder/harder/faster than anyone else of their time etc.

Punk rock is always kicking in Australia. Why did you get into it?

Locally, Straightjacket Nation was responsible for getting me into punk rock and changing my course down the left hand path. I’d like to thank Chosen Few, Radio Birdman and Razar for being mad cunts for sustaining that interest.

What bands did you want to have play at Maggot Fest that couldn’t?

Rose Tattoo, Sonic Attack (Australia’s only Hawkwind tribute, now broken up), Mercyful Fated (tribute, duh), Mindsnare, Flesh World and The Zingers. Maybe we’ll nab a few of those next year.

***

Dribble will play on the dozens-strong Maggot Fest line-up this weekend in Melbourne. Full details here, or look at the poster below.

maggot

Standard