Desperation Hasn’t Even Begun: The Friendsters Interviewed


Sydney’s The Friendsters play something between bubblegum guitar-pop and stylised country music. Their lyrics are ridden with persistent depressions and stained by a struggle to cope with the First World. They’re a pop band through and through, but there’s a hesitance that the band later refutes in this interview, a saccharine veneer that covers songs that are often emotional downers. At the surface, The Friendsters are catchy and enjoyable, but they’re also deeply affecting, and something about them seems to divide an audience.

The band consists of Roberta Stewart (Beautiful), Sally Pittmann (Convent) and Liam Kenny (Bitch Prefect), all of whom – until recently – lived together in a Redfern sharehouse. Being so close has resulted in the Friendsters becoming an extension of their personalities, where surface irony covers personal revelations, all voiced with a self-aware earnestness that is as charming as it can be uncomfortable. I sat down with the band at the Carlisle Castle Hotel to discuss their unique take on pop music.

Having seen the Friendsters play a few times, it feels like there are a fair few people who don’t like the band. It seems strange to me, because it’s not like you play a confronting type of music. I’m interested in why you think that might be the case?

Roberta: People don’t like us? What are their names? I genuinely thought that it just didn’t resonate with some people, or that people didn’t care. I didn’t think it was a case of people not liking it, I just thought it wasn’t their thing. I didn’t think there were people actively disliking it.

Sally: I thought they were very poppy and catchy songs. People like that, right? Maybe not.

With the droning vocals and backing vocals, the lack of polish, it feels like you almost smudge the pop aspects down at times. Are you attracted to approaching pop music in that way?

Roberta: I don’t think we’re attracted to it; it’s just the way it sounds.

Sally: Roberta and Liam can harmonise really nicely. I might smudge it down, especially live, but it’s not on purpose.

Roberta: It’s something that maybe happens organically. I’m sure that if we really wanted to, we could have sat down and had choir practice every morning when we used to live together and sounded a little bit more polished. I suppose it’s a little bit too hit and miss.

Sally: We recorded the tape [UP2] really fast, which might be misleading.

Roberta: Liam brought his 8-Track to Sydney for the day and he had to leave the next morning. We were all really hungover to the point where I was having a panic attack, so I started taking valium to calm my nerves down. I know what you mean when you say there’s an unpolished or smudged thing, but I don’t think we intended for it to be that way. But [the tape] paints a picture of that day. So certainly it was smudged, but it was never intentional. I didn’t go, “Hey guys, let’s go for the smudged sound. Don’t you dare not smudge it up!”

The reason I ask about the smudged aspect is that your other bands Convent, Beautiful and Bitch Prefect, are all quite unpolished also, but you’ve said it wasn’t intentional. They’re poppy to an extent, but they also touch on kind of an ugliness or dreariness, as if you’re not allowing it to get somewhere. There’s also a line between something really happy and really sad. If that’s not intentional, what are you trying to create with this band?

Roberta: I’ve never heard the link between those bands intellectualised like that, so I’ve never really thought about it. But that’s interesting. I’m not sure.

Sally: I think The Friendsters sounds just like mine and Roberta’s relationship, how we talk and the things we’re interested in.

Roberta: A lot of our lyrics are born out of conversations that me and Sally have. We don’t sit down to write a song; they come from a conversation. Something like ‘Every Street’ comes from us being interested in the David Bain case, watching it on TV and talking about it. I feel like the way we work creatively is like kicking a football around, and that’s why I like it, because it’s fun. When the three of us get together it’s not like we’re shooting for the goal, it’s literally just having a laugh.

I didn’t pick up on the humourous aspect of the Friendsters at first, it’s like a self-deprecating, kicking-yourself-while-you’re-down thing. Do you think there’s humour to the Friendsters?

Liam: In the lyrics sometimes, definitely in ‘Desperation’.

Roberta: I don’t think it’s really “ha, ha, ha,” though.

Liam: It’s not trying to be a joke.

Roberta: But of course there’s some irony there; we’re not teenagers. I suppose there’s a touch of irony to the sadness or anxiety, but that’s not to take anything away from it. There’s got to be a point where anxiety and depression becomes so overwhelming that you’ve got to take the piss. You can’t always take it really seriously, but we don’t just touch on those subjects. We have songs about love, David Bane, revenge… which is sort of ironic, because none of us are really vengeful. Maybe it’s one of those things where it’s a fantasy where you wish you could be that way, but as if any of us are gonna be vengeful. We’re typical guilt-ridden Catholics.

Which songs are the vengeful ones?

Sally: Mostly ‘Revenge is the Best Revenge’.

Oh yeah, that’s a bit of a giveaway.

Roberta: I’m a little bit shy now that you’ve said there are a lot of people who don’t like us.

Sally: I just thought people used us for a chance to go outside, have a cigarette and talk to that guy they like.

Roberta: I thought that people were neither here nor there. I suppose there’s something about us that’s not exactly attractive.

Liam: Good.

Roberta: No one wants to hear the bottom of our heart. That’s why I think it’s fun. I think it’s perfectly innocent. The idea that people don’t like us…it’s like, are you kidding? Don’t you like Home and Away? That’s just a break between the news and the cartoons. But I don’t think I’m begging for people to like us, if anything I’m begging people to like my outfit. That means a lot to me.

More so than people liking your band?

Sally: It’s equally as important.

Roberta: For me and Sally, we do our hair and our outfits and shit and we’re all about it. We’re not like, “I woke up in some shed, then smoked a bong then headed to band practice.” I think we’d like to be more like Dolly Parton.

That’s your aspiration?

Roberta: Well, we’re not aiming that high.

When I saw you at Black Wire, I remember watching the sound guy for a while and he looked so upset, maybe even repulsed. I just found that so impressive, that these bubblegum pop songs could repulse someone.

Sally: I didn’t want to say it on tape, but I think it’s a fair enough thing to say. I think that maybe because it’s two women who aren’t really unassuming, dressed up to the nines, singing love songs that are intense… that’s uncomfortable for some people. We’re not 19. We’re 29, and we’re singing songs like ‘Sane’ and ‘Desperation’ which is just intense I guess.

Liam: It’s not cute.

Roberta: It’s not cute, it’s not charming, it’s not sexy: it’s intense. And I suppose people might look at the way we present ourselves and think that we might not know the first thing about heartbreak or desperation, but we do. And we want to tell people about it. So maybe that does unnerve people.

Sally: You hear a lot of bands where the lyrics are a bit under the music or are ambiguous, whereas ours are very clear.

Roberta: It’s not like we’re singing vaguely.

You think someone might not like it because it makes them uncomfortable?

Roberta: Well, we never intended to endear people with our emotions. We’re so close that when we make these lyrics, we’re making them to amuse each other. It’s very daunting to then go sing those lyrics to all these people who I know want to hear something that’s a bit more chilled out or less confronting, so that does unnerve me in a live setting.

Sally: But it’s not confronting in that it’s shocking…

Roberta:  …it’s not like I’m gonna headbutt the fucking microphone.

Sally: Maybe as well it’s that people have never wanted to hear these things from women. Not just in music, but in life in general.

Roberta: We’re meant to be submissive, we’re meant to keep our mouths closed and assume subservient emotions and roles, and that’s a little bit boring. We’re not like, “hey man,” we’re like, “oh-my-god-I’ve-had-the-worst-day-I’m-gonna-rip-my-hair-out-and-rock-back-and-forth-like-an-orphan.” I suppose the linguistics that we use are heavy-handed and that may come across as offensive to people who do actually feel extreme emotions. So it’s almost taking it a bit for granted, using such heavy handed phrases and terms. I suppose it’s one of those weird little cultural things where we say extreme things flippantly.

Sally: ‘Desperation,’ for example, we wrote that because we were sitting in the kitchen and I said to Roberta that I felt like desperation had set in. And she said, “You think desperation’s set in, but desperation hasn’t even begun.” That’s a song now, but that was a conversation between us which might have meant I went to the mental hospital.

Maybe it’s hard to pick up on that the first few times you listen to it. It took a while for it to sink in for me personally, but a song like ‘No Surprise’ was pretty deeply affecting for me. I’m not sure that they’re emotions that are really put to tape that often any more.

Roberta: In saying that, I think we’re really influenced by Morrissey. Everyone’s got their reference points, but I feel like whether we intentionally do it or not, that Morrissey is a bit of one. And Dolly Parton. Me and Sally and Liam all love country music, and it probably has a similar aesthetic, where you talk unapologetically about saying, “I’m really broken hearted and down and out.”

Sally: Definitely, I feel a connection to Morrissey or The Smiths, and Billy Bragg. I think ‘No Surprise’ is a bit of a Billy Bragg song.

Roberta: I think Morrissey is your quintessential lapsed Catholic living in a modern world. He’s grappling with being a self-loathing, very conscientious Catholic, but at the same time grappling with the real world. Those conscientious platforms don’t actually fit into the modern world, so when you’re taking those emotions and thoughts and putting them within the context of the modern world you’re only going to end up beating yourself up. I think that’s actually a really common way of thinking for perhaps anyone who comes from any sort of background where you’ve got some sort of religious aesthetic. Those behaviours you’re set to think in don’t fit into the modern world.

Is that an angle where the three of you come from?

Roberta: I think so. Sally, me and Liam were born in a 1750 sensibility. If someone born in 1750 was picked up and placed in 2013, maybe that’s how we are emotionally.

Sally: That’s not to say we’re not progressives, because we are. It’s more of an emotional thing.

Roberta: It’s just a conscience thing. It’s kind of a juxtaposition, because I’m spending half my time getting fucking drunk, hitting people in the head and sending abusive emails. But then I’m going into my room, holding my chain with a saint on it and praying that I’ll do well in my job interview the next day. That’s just an example of trying to find some ground between these two worlds. It’s a contradiction and it’s difficult.


The Friendsters’ UP2 is available now through Heavy Lows.


Very Batemans Bay: School Girl Report interviewed


When I first made contact with what would become School Girl Report, the institution of Myspace.com was still the primary channel:  I’m going to guess it was early 2010. So outta the super deep blue I requested an address re: shipping for a short run cassette by an artist called ‘Abortion Eve’. At the time, the turpitude of power electronics and noise freaks was definitely my wave, and preceded most things. I was riding high on these kinds of names: ‘Paedophile Flowchart’ (present day Amateur Childbirth) was another instant hit. I could not wait to press play and be satisfied by the impending hit of torture-boy catharsis (to get my anger on see) but both Abortion Eve and Paedophile Flowchart deceived my outsider-fanboy subcultural code. It was a bit of a ‘no mate, hold up’ situation.

Some reality: Abortion Eve’s first release was timid and twinkled little stylings of a lone hacked guitar, DIY rhythmic, repetitive and studied. Immediately it stuck as a first cab off the rank, the first exercise in a developing instrumentality or discography, but one that already had a pretty sure footing.

This was Samuel Mier’s solo act, the guitar that evolved into School Girl Report. It was something laid bare, stuffed with metal deelies and played like a Yamumogoto, folded right onto a dictaphone cassette that stressed warpage, because there were sudden declinations and accelerations in the pitch every so often, so that a sense of what the proper playback rate was, was shot. I’ve found this recently en-introduction to DJ Screw as well.

That is becoming less and less of a surprise too, as School Girl Report has a serious fucking chopped swag – see specifically ‘Suede Merit’s Doss House’ [embedded above], the duo being sock-punched by Sydneysider Merit himself. Batemans Bay-ers Samuel and Daniel ‘Oak’ Oakman [drums, Pioneer CD-Jays, etc] hold themselves well outputting the tones of 2-in-the-morning bedroom cassette play-sessions, Half Japanese rock-curiosity advancing towards a marching weirdo-psych intensity. There is so much groove bolting out of single-microphone back room/dead guitar skronk.

I first saw and missed them on their Brisbane visit in late 2011, their appearances during the singular Negative Guest List festival – there were no recordings to sport to their name, until this year’s Success Is Dating School Girl Report on Heavy Lows. Their Brisbane return was two months ago at the monthly ‘Guilt Retreat’ and the chairs of the theatre began bouncing pads for a sexy scrum. SGR are in a really strange place between the dictaphone of an intimate bedroom setting and the footwork of the no-inhibitions dancefloor: quasi-latent no-fi groove. Digging? This interview was done over a couple of beers, online chats and a Saturday night YouTube session with Samuel.

What’s the worldview of School Girl Report?
We are very excited by the rise of the black man: white people imitating black people, black rappers getting away with saying hectic-er things than white ones and white taxi drivers dropping Indian families off at the airport.

Tell me about instrumentation. Your guitar technique was most developed through your solo project Abortion Eve, true? Guitar prepared with many nail files, other objects, played with some mix of spontaneous zazz and meticulousness.
I approach the guitar the same in School Girl Report as I did for Abortion Eve, in that I tuck many of the closest objects to me at the time between the strings. I fiddle around with their position and angle while massaging the guitar in various ways until I start to hear a combination of sounds that I don’t understand. For me this process is like driving a boat along a remote coastline until you find a perfect wave that hasn’t been ridden before, then you surf it and make a film of it. The difference between SGR and Abortion Eve is that I can replay the SGR parts. I can’t play anything that sounds remotely like any Abortion Eve song again, even if I wanted to, a lot of the time there were around ten things among the strings vibrating and reacting to each other’s vibrations. 

Our world seems to increasingly rely on its recent past to substantiate current trends and cultural cues. Has anyone tried to place SGR in a past decade or sound?
Michael Kasparis from Night School Records reckons we sound like Harry Pussy playing Harry Partch. The first time we played in Brisbane Bobby Wonderfuls said we were hesitation rock. I agree with both of those things, but we don’t feel a connection to any particular decade or sound.

Harry Partch, of course! Even when you raised him the other night I didn’t think to make the connection. Your microtonality is super directed, and it’s percussive too. There seems to be a need to expand a channel, and then to play within its confines exhaustively as Partch did. Where do you feel the borders of SGR are? Did anything need dismantling?
We are constantly deconstructing ourselves so we don’t feel any borders as a band. But certainly within the world of each song, because of my prepared guitar, there can be pretty tight borders. Our move onto CDJs and sampling/effecting purely our own music has made it possible to break those limitations.


When did you start playing up with the sounds you recorded – screwing them up on DJ equipment? Or did you start with other people’s music?
I just decided before the album launch in Melbourne that that is what we should do. We just like taking big risks all the time and doing things that we don’t think we could probably pull off. And that is when we are happy as a band. That is when the best stuff comes out. We know that there are weird rhythms in our rock music, and it was really nice to pull them out for a second and make loops of it and put stuff from our other songs in, over the top.

Coming from the treatment of material in some hip-hop, Daniel’s drums has that staccato rock stiffness about it, but still with a big rhythm in there.
Oak mainly listens to beat music, so his rhythms are kind of coming from there, from hip-hop and beats.  And I don’t have much control over deciding what is going to come out from the guitar. I just tickle it until some kind of sound arrives and then I’ll go with my tastes. Once the tools are in a certain place, and it gets a certain sound, I’ll go with that. I’m not trying to find anything, just playing around until something special happens.

But you are still working on this particular guitar sound from Abortion Eve, so you are still preparing the guitar in that certain improvisatory way, but now you play songs.
Yeah, we wanted to play songs. Oak’s not really into improv. And I want to make every second of it serious business when we are playing. Always hot, all the way through.

Generating a whole lot of material and knowing what works.
When we play live, we’ve got more songs. For years we were playing the same songs, and we arrived at a point where we were just like ‘nah’. We’ve got to play new songs all the time or these songs upside down – where I’ll play another song to a beat from another song.

How did you record the album material?
That’s so much different material. Most of it was from the first two days that we jammed together. Three of the songs were recorded with Dennis Santiago from Absolute Boys. And another one with this Rambo guy. And this other one is an Abortion Eve song with Oak and my brother arguing over the top. And another one is Oak, my dad and my sister. My sister interviewing my dad 15 years ago. I found that one. Dad passed away five years ago just before I started doing Abortion Eve. I played with his recorder as well, and there was a tape in there, and it was Laura interviewing him from 15 years ago. I found that just before her 21st birthday and she hadn’t heard his voice since he had died. So I got her that tape for her birthday. So that was nice.

Throughout the whole album there are mementos of family or civic life. There are elements throughout of the mundane, domestic day-in-the-life references.
That’s a part of it, definitely. We wanted it to be very Batemans Bay. All the lyrical content is from Batemans Bay too. You know how artists a lot of the time try to reduce themselves to that childlike state to make art with no inhibitions or whatever? That’s kind of what we did. We went and took something back from when we were a kid, and took stories from when we were seven, and made them the songs. All the songs on the album are stories we wrote when we were seven or love letters from girls in high school. Stuff like that.

There have been so many movements, artistic or otherwise, that try to reach infantile states, or an undoing. But you have some really well formed music – even in the bedroom, the distorted Dictaphone kind of sound – and it’s getting really chopped up but still remains very tempered. There is a rhythm, songs, and an established dynamic. But it still results in a lot of tension.
It seems urgent. We’ve just known each other since we were three. We know each other’s taste – I love Oak’s taste. He tries to make a new drum genre every time he drums. I’m not interested in doing Abortion Eve anymore. There is just a soul he brings to it; I just want to do School Girl Report now. We’re only a little bit tighter than The Shaggs, but it is unique but also very fragile. A tool very easily falls out, and the song is gone. When we’re playing, I know it is close to falling apart at any second. If I make a mistake, it is very obvious, and that makes it exciting. I want it on the edge. I’m not interested in it being anywhere else.

album launch

What is a good example of beat music you share with each other?
We’re a big fan of that Mr. Ozio – have you heard that Half A Scissor album? This is like the first kind of beat music we ever heard. [Browses iTunes for the track, finds it]. We were looking at Daft Punk’s friends on Facebook and we found him there I think. He’s got the best snare sounds.

Do you think about the texture of your sounds or just what you can get out?
I feel the guitar just does it itself. We don’t add any layers other than the drums and guitar.

I can hear the SGR in this [Mr. Oizo track], there is a lot of sparseness. It gets frenetic but it knows to back off. It tries to give you a path but then throws you off.
[Puts on another Mr. Ozio song] I feel this is really slick as well.

The other striking similarity between contemporary beat/party tunes and Dictaphone recordings is the pronounced compression, all the elements are so compressed that the noise floor emerges, and that is where the more complex rhythms emerge. Everything is so flattened out and it all becomes a musical texture through repetition.
Totally. I like the Dictaphone adding these layers that are there but wouldn’t emerge without the recording. I always find compressors really amazing. When I used to have a radio show I loved bringing the volume down really low on the mixer and testing the compressor.

What was the radio show?
On Radio Valerie. I had one with Keegan Straylight. I did heaps of interviews in Europe I hadn’t played before so we played that with heaps of recordings. I did interviews with the Flying Lizards dude – David Cunningham – went to his house and interviewed him. Claudia Skoda, from Die Dominas. One of the guys from Kraftwerk. Who else… Raymond Scott’s son. He made a documentary about his father so we played that too.


School Girl Report’s debut album is available through Heavy Lows. Forthcoming tour dates:

Brisbane: Friday, September 27 ‘Red Mecca’ with Four Door, Native Cats and Multiple Man at the Alliance Hotel, Spring Hill.
Brisbane: Sunday September 29 at Audiopollen, West End.
Melbourne: Thursday October 3 with Dick Threats, Soma Coma and Cross Brothers at the Gasometer.
Hobart: Friday October 4 with Drunk Elk and Naked at the Grand Pooh Bar


Summer Flake – Where Do I Go? (Cassette)

summerflakeAn exercise in divine despondence, Summer Flake’s Where Do I Go? is one for the brokenhearted. A cracked portrait of a daydream written and recorded by veteran musician, Steph Crase, it’s the second solo EP of introspective melodies from the ex-Batrider, Birth Glow and No Through Road performer. As a core player in what you could loosely call an Adelaide ‘sound’ – listless and disheveled guitar music from the city’s slacker community of the past decade – her EP comes across accordingly. A sense of place is unmistakable, not least because Batrider’s Sarah Chadwick contributes the artwork and No Through Road’s Matt Banham lends vocals to ‘Race Car’, a song credited to Birth Glow. In fact, Crase’s very pseudonym, Summer Flake, is a moniker used along with Ellen Carey’s ‘Raven Blue Winter’ and Nick Carey’s ‘Dried up Leaf’ during the dusty hallucinations of the aforementioned band.

What exactly a Summer Flake is, is anyone’s guess and also beyond the point. Because whether it stands for doomed snow, an absentminded sunbather or, more likely, a meaningless combination of words, there’s certainly a funny, nonsensical quality to Crase’s lyrical and melodic stream of consciousness, however downbeat and self-deprecating. Presumably, the recording process has evolved from last year’s self-titled EP -assembled piece by piece and cobbled together on cracked software -even if the magic still happened at home. But then, it feels as if the very essence of Summer Flake comes from a comfort zone given to inducing the kind of ennui that late nights alone at home only can.

It’s a record that meanders along a flowing, searching guitar line, culminating in an almost wordless final track ‘Through the Window’, with its evocative echoes of dreamy first light. Presenting a cosy contemplation no doubt specific to a physical and emotional isolation and boredom, Where Do I Go? is a languorous trundle along distant vocals and instrumental echo. Even before hearing the undulating rhythms of songs, like ‘Talked Me Round’ and ‘Known All Along’, there’s a sense of someone coming to terms with regret and being dealt a dud hand, which can only be remedied by a sense of self, reflected in the persistent mantra of “I will never give up” in ‘Racecar’.

That’s because Crase is sincere, not as some kind of reaction to the vapid contempt of modern culture but because, musically at least, she always has been. And for that Where Do I Go? is a welcome escape into the wistful romance of music as it should be; a clarity of mind that leaves behind a residue, not so much of hopeless gloom but of a mute melancholy that found peace in a song.

Label: Heavy Lows
Release Date: January 2013


Fatti Frances – Sweaty (Cassette)

fattifrances1Sweaty sounds like lust viewed through a fractured lense. On ‘My Man’, Melbourne’s Fatti Frances offers a series of set pieces suggestive of common and very human desire, yet the productions they accompany are cold and steel-coloured: impenetrable and inhuman. This six track cassette – a series of the producer’s more “experimental” takes – vendors dread even while it yearns for warmth and contact. At times the productions sound predatory in their skittishness and refusal to succumb.

There are plenty of precedents to this: Fatti Frances’ approach is reminiscent of some of Rhythm and Sound’s vocal-driven productions, but also the anxiety-stricken love songs heard on King Midas Sound’s 2010 LP Waiting For You. Frances’ productions aren’t as precision-engineered (the bass sometimes feels less assertive than it could be) but the compositional nous is here, and so are the narcoleptic textures and hallucinatory noir shades. Smoke, rain, and tobacco orange skylines at 4am in the morning.

Most fascinating is Frances’ vocals. Always on the verge of a whisper, they tease quiet avenues through the network of forbidding sound, even while in their soulfulness and humanity they’re totally at odds with it. ‘So Bad’ is the one instance where the two elements sound in harmony: a strong desirous refrain supported by an ambivalent bass pulse; an unrequited desire imprisoned in a metal cube. That seems to be the prevailing theme across these six tracks: advances shrugged away, soft gazes met with blank stares. Steely, mechanical detachment in the face of warmth.

This is one of the strangest and most alluring pop records of 2012, so it feels like an injustice that thousands of people won’t hear it due to its format. At a time when Australian music is widely regarded as a paradise of middle class whimsy and jangle, the fact that our air is capable of cultivating music like this is reassuring. If Sweaty is indeed just a cast-off collection of experiments in the lead up to a full-length LP next year, then hopefully the world doesn’t end next week like the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar has predicted. That would be lame.

Label: Heavy Lows
Release date: November 2012

New Music

Listen: Fatti Frances – Sweaty EP

Fatti Frances‘ promised 2012 cassette release is upon us, via new Melbourne label Heavy Lows. Fatti Frances (her real name is Raquel Solider) has played in bands ranging Oh! Belgium through to The Ancients, but this sounds like neither of those groups, nor anything else she’s (to my knowledge) been involved with. Sweaty is crisp and tormented future r’n’b: the textures are luxurious but the beats sound restless and anxiety-ridden. These productions are genuinely, beautifully frightening in their alien erraticness, conjuring a kind of lonely urban ennui that makes me want to get in the car and drive the city’s back streets all night.

For all the foreignness of the productions though, Frances’ vocals are very soulful. I can imagine this fitting nicely on UK label Hyperdub, maybe somewhere between Cooly G and King Midas Sound. Whatever the case, listen to the whole EP below. Review coming soon.