Features

The Lost Years: TV Colours interviewed

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TV Colours is the solo project of Canberra-based artist Bobby Kill. Kill started releasing material in mp3 form on the Dream Damage website from around 2009, which eventually culminated in a split 7 inch with fellow Canberra group Assassins 88, which Kill also played in before the band’s demise last year.

Purple Skies, Toxic River is TV Colours’ debut LP. Kill explains below that it took six years of false starts to get the final product finished, which we described in our review as “genuinely beautiful more frequently than you’d think possible for a rough punk band from Canberra”.

The interview below is conducted by Angela Garrick and Yarran Gatsby. TV Colours is playing Sydney’s Red Rattler on Saturday night with The Native Cats, Ruined Fortune and Four Door.

The songs on the LP are traditional rock songs, but there’s strange echoes of other things weaving in – unusual textures and sound samples. I heard that some of them were recorded in and around Canberra, specifically at the Dickson shops? To me they sound very slick – almost cinematic in a sense. How did you decide what to put in, and were you trying to tell a ‘story’ with them?

Yeah I guess I just wanted visual cues as far as the concept of the album goes. I just wanted to place whoever was listening in the physical locations the songs were about. They had to be real basic and almost tacky though, so for ‘The Neighbourhood’ it was just lawnmowers, birds chirping and a few dogs barking. When I starting doing those interludes and soundscapes it was definitely a turning point in recording and I actually really enjoyed making them, but when I showed them to people they were a bit like “eh what is he doing now” and they really didn’t make much sense until the thing was finally finished.

I didn’t end up using the ones I recorded myself at all. They were fine and all, but I recorded a bunch of supermarket stuff at Dickson Woollies for ‘Livin After Midnight’, but that song, for me at least, was about a supermarket in a city. [Dickson is an inner-Canberra suburb – ed] I knew it would always annoy me if I knew it was just plain old Dickson Woollies on there. So I scrapped it. In the end I got most of them from wherever I could, mainly the internet. I was trying to tell a story, I wanted the whole thing to have a narrative.

The thematic references to the neighbourhood and the city speak of a frustration of being in places both old and new. Were the geographical influences more ephemeral, or specific to a time and place? Would you call yourself a ‘band from Canberra’?

Yeah, I guess it was sort of specific to a time and place for me, and the second version of the album was really specific… too specific, like there were songs that were named specifically after places. But in the end, with this final version, I sort of made it as something I could relate to as opposed to being a personal thing all about me, so ‘The Neighbourhood’ was just any neighbourhood, and ‘The City’ was just any city.

We’re definitely a Canberra band. It started when I lived in Sydney but the whole momentum of TV Colours existing outside of my bedroom to where it is now was pushed along by opportunities to play shows back in Canberra, and then the opportunity to put out a 7 inch on Dream Damage. It’s a large part of the reason I eventually moved back.

I know the record took about five years to make. Why? Are you a perfectionist or was there other reasons for the delay? Is the final record something you can say you’re happy with?

I feel like this question would be a bit more definitively answered if you were to ask the people who were around me when I was doing it. To me looking back at the whole thing, it was just a real mess of so many different things going on that led to it becoming this momentous task that just went on and on. For the vast majority of time it never seemed like it would end. It’s really hard to explain without ranting and confusing myself.

One of the things that does root it in the whole six year period is the concept and the artwork. I came up with it a long time ago and I guess it was quite a grand vision for someone who was basically a zero as far as music goes, but back then then I was a lot younger and full of confidence so I guess it felt achievable. I mean, I had been playing guitar for years but I had never been in a band and never really written a song. You could count the amount of times I had played a show on one hand. I was always waiting for the perfect band to come along and sort of considered that to be the time when I would actually start writing songs.

So anyway, I think from the beginning some very counter-productive thought patterns came into [the recording of the LP] which dragged everything on forever. It was mainly that I wasn’t really prepared to work as hard as I ended up having to, nor was I prepared to fail at all, all while having this truly unfounded high expectation of myself.

As far as I was concerned an album is at its best when it is from this creatively fluent small period of time, and I still think that to a large degree. If you start slaving over it you’re just gonna burn yourself out and screw it up, and working against that belief was so frustrating. That fluent period just never happened, it was always so arduous and so mentally draining. I think maybe around 20 per cent of the time it was me just lying on the floor staring at the ceiling thinking about how easy it would be to just stop, and it just got harder and harder the longer it went on. I hated working on it, and by 2012 it had just gone on too long, so I would set aside these periods of about five days to just “finish” it. It was just like cramming for a test, and for the first say, three days, I would be really productive, then my mood would dive and that would be it, I had to just close the laptop screen and not work on it for about two weeks. Then I would repeat that process again and again. Fuck it was brutal. It wasn’t fun and it was hard work, and all of this on top of real work. I feel like I could go on forever about why it took so long.

The thing that finally got the thing done, and I shudder a little bit at the thought of it not existing, was finally having a deadline. I had made so many of them myself and never stuck to them, but finally I decided I was so burnt out on it that I wanted someone else to mix it, and when I booked that in I finally had a real deadline. Working towards something without a deadline just gives you too much freedom to go on and on. They’re really important to have.

But it is something I am happy with. I mean, the thing I am most stoked about is that it’s finished and finally out. It’s a relief – a new chapter sort of thing – but I can’t really listen to it. Not for a long time. I got so neurotic about it that it’s just a bit too much to handle. The last time I listened to it was on a trip to Sydney to play a Danger Beach show and it left me in this inconsolable state of catatonia, it was weird.

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So the songs are about specific events or places, but you’ve kinda ‘broadened’ them out in the interest of mutual understanding and relatability. Would you say this is a necessary approach when songwriting, or did you just want some creative distance for your own benefit as well as the listener?

Creative distance definitely. I’m not a very extroverted person and the whole personal-creative-expression-for-the-whole-world-to-see thing (that’s a thing) still makes me very uncomfortable. I really had to do whatever I could to separate myself in order to be productive. Making the songs as relatable as possible is something I try to focus on when writing a song, because I personally have always felt that this was what I was best at, as far as the whole product goes.

I first saw you perform live in Canberra about four or five years ago as a solo performer with a backing track, and then more recently in Canberra as a four-piece band. How does TV Colours translate from your bedroom to a live band? Is it very similar or is what you have in your head very different?

It was time to let go of the whole solo thing, for the songs’ sake. I added so many layers while recording that there was no way I was even going to come close to reproducing it live all by myself. I could have used backing tracks but I never had in the past, it was always samples and loops that I used and it would have gotten way too complicated.

But yeah, playing with the band has really brought those songs back to life from how tired they had become in my head. While recording I listened to them all so many times, over and over again, and I inevitably got very sick of them. [Forming the band] has also been pretty important in order to give the whole thing a lot more momentum. When I was by myself it was pretty hard to get me to play a show. It seemed like the best option was just to put me on the bill without asking me. It seems a little easier now.

There appears to be a linear narrative throughout the album, almost like the plot of a film. Would you agree?

Yeah definitely. It was always based largely on the same concept as [Husker Du’s] Zen Arcade. I always thought it was one of those universal stories that you could retell over and over again. But it’s weird to define it in words because it’s about so many things: unfulfilled dreams, running away, wasting time, growing up, depression, mental illness. All this placed against the basic narrative of the kid leaving home for the city where it all goes wrong. I guess its different to Zen Arcade in that it didn’t end up being a dream.

Can you draw any direct parallels from the album with your own memories and experiences, particularly of your own adolescence and feeling restless and displaced?

Oh yeah, for sure. I mean, a lot of it is directly based on personal experiences of mine, but you know, I wanted people when they listen to it to feel like it could be about them, in the same way I did when I first heard Zen Arcade. There are things in that album that are things that happened. For example at the end of ‘The City’, there is someone crazily singing “It’s all a matter of time”, which is a reference to one night when I was outside Hungry Jacks on Oxford Street [in Sydney] and there was this homeless guy just singing this line over and over again. It was just sort of a long-way-from-Kansas moment I had looking at this guy, out his mind, singing and clapping along.

Things like that are all through the album, but they’re mainly meant for me and no one else, It’s for a bit of a laugh really. The whole thing is about being restless and displaced. I have never been happy about where I am living: Canberra sucks, move to Melbourne. Melbourne sucks, move to Sydney. Sydney sucks, it never ends.

The scene surrounding the Dream Damage label seems very male dominated, with bands such as Assassins 88 and The Fighting League receiving a lot of attention. How do you relate to the boisterous male aggression present in these bands? Would you say there is a prominent female voice within the Canberra music scene?

Well I can only really speak for Assassins and TV Colours, but I would hope that the whole boisterous-male-aggression stigma never got attached to our bands. We’re just loud, it’s not meant to be aggressive. It was a massive sigh of relief about a year ago seeing this Canberra band called Sex Noises mainly because I was seeing a Canberra band I liked that had a female member. It’s created some much needed balance that was sorely lacking.

The fact of the matter is that Canberra is a very small place and there just hasn’t been that many females around who have played music in the same vein that would suit Dream Damage. It’s been a bit more about chance rather than being able to be selective, and by chance it just happened that is has been a largely male scene, but in saying all that I feel it is the wrong thing to focus on. Canberra is a place which I am sure is like many other places in Australia, where everyone grows up and leaves, which is fair enough because you just run out of opportunity here.

I think for music especially, it is a place that is constantly devolving because bands or projects are constantly ending. There’s no real longevity here because at any second someone’s gonna leave and move to Melbourne or Sydney. And I think considering that, Dream Damage has done remarkably well existing in such an environment and also inspiring everyone to put something together and put it out. It might seem like a small catalogue but it’s massive for something coming out of a very small place. It is definitely something I am very proud to be a part of.

Your pseudonym is ‘Bobby Kill’. Why the choice to remain somewhat anonymous? Is the distance it generates helpful for your own productivity or artistic intentions, or are there other motives?

Ha, well, Bobby Kill came from this band I was in when I was 18 called Hate. It’s hard to explain, but it wasn’t a real band, it was just a big joke among our friends that reflected how angsty we were at that stage in our lives. Franky Moron, who now plays drums in Cat Cat and also co-wrote and played drums on ‘Run with the Creeps’, was the other main member.  Bobby Kill just stuck to a point where some people didn’t even know my real name. It’s definitely helped putting it out there under a pseudonym as far as remaining detached and anonymous from it, I remember when we were doing the liner notes I felt really uncomfortable with my real name on there. Somewhere along the line I remember a friend telling me that he thought the character in the album was Bobby Kill, and I liked that, so that was another reason to stick with it. It has all become quite confusing, but I don’t know. I like it that way.

TV Colours is about to tour Europe, and with this full length LP eliciting such a positive response, would you say that your expectations are still too high?

Ah, nah. It’s weird. I’ve never had high expectations of other people liking TV Colours, it’s always been a bit of a surprise to me. The fact it has come out over there and we can even put a tour together is just really exciting and I’m looking forward to getting over there and having a good time.

by Angela Garrick and Yarran Gatsby

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TV Colours’ Purple Skies, Toxic River is available through Dream Damage.

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Reviews

The Kids Are All Grown Up: TV Colours’ Purple Skies, Toxic River reviewed

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This record reminds me of Edward Furlong’s character in Terminator 2. John Connor was the quintessential early ‘90s Kid With Attitude, with his asymmetric bowl cut, deadpan barks and precocious world-weariness. It’s impossible to overstate how cool John Connor was in the first half hour of Terminator 2. The rest of the film paled in comparison to this stealthy Hollywood how-to guide for 1990s preteens.

The John Connor association comes tangentially via the album’s cover art, which is reminiscent of the setting for the famous storm water chase scene in Terminator 2, the one where the T-1000 antagonist emerges unharmed from an explosive truck crash. This is the moment when Connor realises this thing pursuing him cannot be stopped: he’s powerless and it’s immortal. From this moment on, Connor loses his cool while simultaneously becoming cooler, because his life is important and endangered.

Look at the gaudy, 1980s sci-fi action typeface on the album cover and the lightly distorted VHS veneer of the storm drain photo, and it’s easy to draw conclusions about this debut TV Colours record before you’ve heard it, ie, that it’s just more zeitgeisty nostalgia. You know, half heard pop culture rememberings committed directly to tape. Don’t let it mislead you, it’s important, but not in that way.

When you actually listen to the songs, Purple Skies, Toxic River reveals itself as a kind of paean to the receptiveness and interiority of adolescence. Everything about TV Colours is exaggerated: the colours are rich, the sentiments are instinctive, and the album itself — its structure, its moody interstitials, its crests and troughs — is unreservedly overblown. But it’s nonetheless very comfortably provincial and suburban: its interpretation of punk rock sounds close in spirit to ‘90s pop punk, reflecting a world of staunch teenage self-regard and a mood of utterly unashamed introspection, where the rest of the world is circumstantial at best and an annoyance at worst. The world is just you and your bleeding heart. This record is common teenage plight as epic narrative or set-piece laden ’80s sci-fi action.

The unusual thing about Purple Skies, Toxic River is that its mood is very specifically ‘90s, but formally it’s far from a period piece. It’s a loud, melodious rock record with indecipherable lyrics, punctured by moody and melodramatic synth instrumentals. The drum machine lends a precision and sense of commercial rock professionalism that is very rare in punk music this inherently rough around the edges, especially in Australia right now. It gives the album a pre-digital cinematic quality. Meanwhile, the songs are forthright odes to youthful anxiety: shitty situations, beautiful untouchable girls, rote hatred of authority and having to go to school. The instrumentals are grandiose and cinematic passages swollen with meaning: wedged between the louder songs, they translate as periods in which to learn, to cogitate. They’re eye-openers. They lend colour to the grainy, guitar-oriented songs that surround.

The record isn’t miserable or petulant. It has an air of reverence for those hugely consequential lessons and rawest of experiences, because inherent to these is a receptiveness which experience and adulthood can permanently neuter, and those aesthetic references to ’80 and ’90s popular culture are a byproduct of having experienced them at the height of that openness.

Yet it’s a pretty good-natured record. Amiable, hummable and cathartically loud, TV Colours manages to be genuinely beautiful more frequently than you’d think possible for a rough punk band from Canberra, from a scene that birthed Assassins 88. The exaggerated sonic qualities of Purple Skies — its surplus of feedback and distortion, its refusal to rein anything in — mirrors the interminate drama of being young, when every sensation was sharply and punishingly felt, when all the colours were richer. This whole record feels like learning from regularly made mistakes for the first time ever.

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John Connor in Terminator 2 was the luckiest teenager alive. His life was legitimately epic. If you felt your world was falling apart as a teenager, John Connor’s world was genuinely falling apart and better still, he was undeniably at the center of it. He was deserving of his angst. it truly belonged to him. This cool teen hustler who hacked ATMs, was permanently flanked by a brick shithouse bodyguard, his narrative enriched by Guns N bloody Roses. John Connor was a model, a legend, a modern James Dean for 1990s teenagehood.

TV Colours acknowledges that actually, being a teenager felt exactly as epic as being John Connor. To those who experience teenagehood as an objectively bland series of universally relatable anxieties, a kind of decade long limbo of ennui and unknowing, then the desire to have these feelings validated and rendered truly important is both kinda pathetic and kinda gratifying. That’s what Purple Skies, Toxic River is: a validation of the friction of teenagehood, a tribute to its redness and grandiosity, a retreat into its drama.

In ‘Bad Dreams’, Bobby Kill sings about being 17, sitting in a friend’s parents house, staring at some posters on the wall. This, he says, is a bad dream. This absolute nothingness, this inconsequentiality, this inert existence that fails to make you, precisely and only you, the most important person in the world. Most teens are tragically unlike John Connor from Terminator 2, but experience comparable tumult nonetheless. This record is about raw, unmitigated receptiveness. It’s about how greyer the world becomes, how less radiant and surprising it is, when life sinks its teeth in. As inevitable and seemingly inconquerable as T-1000 emerging from the fire.

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TV Colours’ Purple Skies, Toxic River is out through Dream Damage in Australia and Eighteen Records in Europe.

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New Music

Listen: Jonny Telafone – Only Temporary Things

jonnytelafoneOriginally from Canberra but now based in Melbourne, Jonny Telafone first came to the wider public’s attention via the Dream Damage label/blog, where several of his cassettes were sold and then digitally distributed. He’s always been a hard guy to pin down: back in 2010 his songs (‘Doomed in Love’ for instance, released in 2009) seemed to fit nicely next to that other Dream Damage luminary Horse MacGyver (what’s that guy doing nowadays, anyway?). It turned out that wasn’t the case at all, because whichever way you try to spin it, Jonny Telafone is all over the shop. Certainly not in a bad way, though.

Later material like 2010’s Wherever the Wind Blows demonstrated a more conventional, confessional approach to songwriting, echoing some of the songs he wrote as far back as 2007.  Most recently, he’s released a 7 inch through Nihilistic Orbs called Ceremony. It’s a pretty confusing state of affairs for anyone with an interest in the guy, so it’s lucky that Chapter Music has compiled a Jonny Telafone best-of, which collects various tape and digital releases. It’s packaged as a CD and 7 inch package, with the 7 inch featuring four new tracks. We’ve chosen to embed something a bit older: a track called ‘Only Temporary Things’. It’s easy to run hot and cold with Jonny Telafone, but for mine, this is one of his stand out moments.

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