Features

Sunbathed in Squalor: Taco Leg Interviewed

P1010715

Taco Leg were going to be called Brick Apples. Instead they settled for an equally idiotic name, lifted from Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life, a book about 13 US indie bands from the ‘80s who didn’t have much success of their own, but were influential to those who followed. If you’re at all familiar with the shabby punk three-piece, originally from Perth and now based in Melbourne, you’ll probably guess that front man and band core Andrew Murray would have read the book because of the chapters on Beat Happening and Black Flag.

Murray has an equally disdainful attitude toward technical skill and songwriting as the former Olympia band, and his preoccupations with broadcasting are embodied in the latter California band’s ‘TV Party’. But, alas, Taco Leg’s name comes from a chapter on the Butthole Surfers. Not that they’re fans or anything. It was just a serendipitous chain of events that lead Murray and original guitarist Simon Morrison to realise they were reading the same book, at the same time. They wanted a title with two incongruous words put together, and that one fit.

See, there isn’t much sense to the band trading on ineptitude, and that seems to piss a lot of people off. Local music forum perthbands.com went nuts when its dyspeptic members took offence to the announcement that Taco Leg won a government grant to tour the US in 2010. Even Crawlspace’s Shaun Prescott meant it when he called their self-titled album debut “the most superfluous work of art you’ll hear in 2012 and easily the year’s shittiest album”. Yet, there are still people who fucking love them.

Philadelphia punks Clockcleaner were instrumental in connecting Taco Leg with Baltimore’s Fan Death Records, who swiftly released their Freemason’s Hall / Sunbathing in Squalor 7-inch in 2009 and the LP this year, while Richie Charles Jr himself put out the Printed Gold EP in January. Even back home, local musician and Golden Staph producer Wil Hooper has a slightly embarrassing tattoo of a Taco Leg t-shirt design on his bicep because, in their own awkward and obnoxious way, Taco Leg are actually quite brilliant.

But let me clarify, if by brilliant you’re thinking skilled, organised and gifted then, no, they’re not brilliant. But if you imagine it as a band that distils the ordinary everyday into something equally as crude and banal, while singing (badly) about Gossip Girl, architecture and feeling hot, in an overpowering Australian accent, then Taco Leg is bloody genius.

How do you feel about people referring to you as a shitty band?
I refer to it myself probably as a shitty band. It’s like a shitty band, I guess, if you’re thinking about the concept of a band. But as an actual group of songs and as a band that performs music, I think we’re pretty good, if I say so myself [laughs]. You know, we don’t really practice and we rarely play now. We don’t really mind what instruments we’re playing and we’ll just do whatever. So, in terms of being a band that you tell your friends in high school about, they’d think we were shit. But I think we’re really good. I think the songs are good.

I was thinking a lot of people might interpret your sound as ironic. But that’s a bit gauche for you isn’t it?
It’s not really ironic, I don’t think. I spend a lot of time coming up with the songs; thinking about them and everything. It’s just simple. Having a band is nice: it’s good to hang out with your friends, it’s really fun to play music and I can’t be bothered spending that much time on it, plus all of us are really busy with other jobs and stuff so it makes sense to streamline everything. The lyrics, they’re just about whatever I think about. It’s not trying to tell anyone anything. We don’t have a political agenda or broken hearts. It’s just whatever I’m interested in or whatever I like.

Is there any element of being reactionary in the way that you behave?
Maybe to begin with. Because the Perth music scene, while good, was a little bit boring. It was like people would just stand there and play. I thought there were other ways to be a band. You can be a little bit more silly and have a bit more fun with it. It’s not like I’ve ever really reacted against anything. It’s more just like, “I really like the bands that play like this. This is what I like and this is what I can be bothered spending time on, so let’s do it. It’s great” [laughs].

But you also love Taylor Swift and you used to be a Lady Gaga fan.
Yes.

How do they figure in your music?
I think it’s just pop music. I just really like songs that have good… they’re just good song writing, they’re really catchy. I think I try to make Taco Leg songs pretty catchy or have a good memorable riff or whatever, something that I’d like to listen to. That’s probably where it comes from, the pop influence. It’s more like straight to the point. It’s mostly a hook that’s building up to something. That’s why I don’t like Radiohead or Throbbing Gristle, or something, because I just want to listen to good, solid music with fun hooks and melodies that you can sing along to.

tacolegphoto
So you’re not into electronic or experimental music?
I like some of it and I like seeing it but mostly I don’t listen to it. I’d prefer to listen to something fun, something happy, with a hook. If I wanted to spend a lot of time getting theoretical, exploring myself, I’d probably write better records.

So you’ve got no insecurities? It doesn’t sound like you’re doing much soul-searching.
I’ve got issues to deal with but they’re mostly not through song writing. I don’t know. I wouldn’t say I’m self-obsessed. I just have a good time and I like to be positive all the time.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on your self.
I’ve got nothing to complain about. I have a very comfortable, nice life with a lot of good stuff in it. I’m completely happy with who I am as a person and my upbringing.

But then you’re eschewing social norms by liking stuff that the majority might hate.
That’s just what I’m interested in. I don’t like it just because people hate it… I started thinking about it in terms of architecture [laughs].

That’s okay, go on.
Well, I was going to say the kind of architecture that I’m interested in tends to be maligned but I don’t like it because it’s bad. My favourite architect, he takes pride in the fact that in this review of his buildings, they were called ‘ugly and ordinary’. But his buildings aren’t ugly and ordinary, it’s just that maybe people are used to a different set of values, because actually these buildings are really good. They’re really well thought-out, they work well and they fit within their context. He tried really, really hard obviously but most people, like at my uni, are not into that architect. But then other people are – a lot of people. But a lot of people look at it and think that it’s horrible. So, I don’t know, I’m just making music that I like.



If suddenly everyone was like, “fuck yeah, Taco Leg” and started inviting you to massive mainstream events. How would you feel about that?

I’d love it! I think that’d be fantastic. It would be really good. Everyone loves it when people like the things that you do creatively and if someone was like, “hey I really like what you do, I want to put you on a Levi’s Jeans ad” or something, not that Levi’s even advertise… Nike! I would say yes. I’d be flattered.

You’re so confident in yourself as an artist, while so many people hate Taco Leg. With a postmodern sensibility how can you think that way? Because Your opinion is no more valid any one else’s.
I know there are people that really like my band and I know there are people that really don’t like my band. There are people that really like apples and there are people that really don’t like apples. I know that probably a lot of people won’t like our band because the music is very niche but I like it and I have fun doing it. We’re operating in a very small, insular world. Even someone like Fabulous Diamonds, their music is probably not listen-able to 99 per cent of the population but there may be a couple of thousand people in the world that are really into it, and love it. I know that most of the world is not into the music but like it.

Like wine connoisseurs.
Some people like wine. I hate wine. I really like Coke. Some people hate Coke. Some people are vegetarian. Some people are meat eaters. Some people really hate Bikini Kill. Some people think Bikini Kill is the best band ever. Some people really, really hate Taco Leg and some people think we’re pretty good and will buy our record.

Do you like Bikini Kill?
Yeah, of course, they’re sick.

***

Taco Leg’s self-titled LP is out now through Fan Death Records.

Standard
New Music

Listen: K Wilson – Trails

It’s not immediately appealing on paper: one guy with an electric guitar making ambient music. There are tonnes of guys doing exactly this all over the world, right this very moment, and Australia is home to a couple of legends in this field (Oren Ambarchi, Seaworthy, etc.) so it’s easy to be suspicious of newcomers. Noodling on an electric in the name of ambient is a common pastime.

So it’s surprising that this K Wilson fellow actually makes gorgeous music. He resides in Western Australia, and uses found sounds as well (wildcard!). He’s just released an EP on Wood & Wire, which you can download for free, and the track below opens proceedings. The template is a familiar one – a single repeated “riff” and some burgeoning ambience – but there’s a strange rhythmic ascent that renders the whole operation quite dramatic, quite eerie. Find out for yourself. It’s pretty good.

Standard
Reviews

Mental Powers – PRO BONO (LP)

PRO BONO is so cosmopolitan that it’s newly foreign. It evades classification. During the opening track ‘Europeanist’, vocalist Deni urges you to “give up your culture,” though as he repeats the line his promise changes. First he says you’ll “find your future,” but then he changes tack and, with barely a shift in tone, sings that by doing so you’ll “destroy your future.”

It’s the first song on the album, but it’s the last to (seemingly) chastise you. ‘Europeanist’ is laced with the aforementioned slogans, but amid the 8-bit synth and woodwork percussion the platitudes take on a new meaning, notwithstanding the loaded title of the song. These are impassively delivered suggestions which you can choose to either take or leave, but there’s a hint of the inevitable in Deni’s resigned delivery. The choice is an illusion. There is no future. Or at least, not one very different to now.

Mental Powers invest a lot of energy into not sounding invested at all. In their determination to never do the same thing twice, on PRO BONO they shirk an identity altogether, to the point where the record often sounds like a practice in hypothetical style compounds. While similarly hyperactive groups like Gang Gang Dance use a flurry of worldly aesthetic signposts to demonstrate this era’s cultural infidelity, Mental Powers are more subtle. Disney whimsy (‘Hopus’) is slotted between awkwardly regimented dance on the one hand (‘Club Foot’), and grand, gold dusk synth melancholy on the other (‘Mutual States’). What results is pop music that at first seems to work against itself: songs stampede the impressions created by others. Ugly sounds harass pretty ones. During each song, there’s usually one element that pushes back on the prevailing mood; that aims to sabotage it in some way. Always around the corner, a shock to the system awaits.

Mental Powers is a strange band, and PRO BONO is very close to being unique. And yet, for all its cerebral meshing of conflicting sounds, and despite its seeming desire to be “art” before “pop”, it’s an affecting record. You will grow to enjoy the canned beats, the morse code synths, the sudden high pitch incursions, the always slightly-off guitar lines. With time, you will process this data and understand. There are moments of immersive beauty, such as the aforementioned ‘Mutual States’, which recounts a kind of ceremonial human bonding via hands and eye. Then there are moments that are utterly facetious in their jarring dynamics, such as ‘Communicate in Code’.

The production renders these songs slightly clinical at times, accentuating sharpness over depth. But the lack of warmth, of sonic fingerprints, of evidence that it was performed, seems crucial here. They’re a band with limited means (instruments), but they sound determined to make pop music with an emphasis on modern texture despite these limitations. More importantly, they seem determined to sound like they’re from nowhere. This is world music in the modern digital Western sense of the term, a wide and deep net taking in sounds and inclinations from .zip files the world over. When Deni sings “Give up your culture, find your future”, maybe it’s this stylistic neutrality he’s talking about. Burn your badges, hang up your disco shoes, fold away your denims. Absorb it all.

Label: Badminton Bandit
Release date: October 2012

Standard
Reviews

Taco Leg – S/T (LP)

Taco Leg is a shitty band. There are people who hate them because they’re shit, and then there are people who genuinely like them because they’re shit. Whichever way you approach Taco Leg, they are definitely shit on some level.

‘Raiders’ is the shittest song of 2012. It is about Indiana Jones, but it gets the facts wrong. Indiana Jones never “left his whip under the door” as the song suggests. It was actually his hat. Similarly, when Jones fell into a pit of snakes, he never did so “with [his] mates”. Factual inaccuracies aside, ‘Raiders’ is the best song on this album, because within its three-note, two-chord melee lay a song that ensures that you will never feel dispassionate about an Indiana Jones film ever again, because you will remember this song and feel strongly about it. That’s the power of punk music for you. ‘Raiders’ is the best song about Indiana Jones ever written and also, completely by accident, the best rock song of 2012.

Here’s how Taco Leg operate: there’s a single, hopeless guitarist. There’s a vocalist who wants to let you into his very boring world. There’s a drummer who blithely takes all this shit seriously, or at the very least tolerates it, and so drums. This record is the least important work of art you’ll hear this epoch. Reckless stupidity can be liberating in punk rock music, in a clenched-fist, bloody minded way. But this record is drunk and incoherent. It doesn’t mean anything, and if it did, it’d mean you should go to bed. Just shut the hell up, and go to bed.

These songs are performed in a fashion that mocks your desire to find meaning in them. We’ve all been stuck in a conversation about the laundry, or about a film we don’t care about, or about a desire we neither appreciate nor even want to engage with. And that’s what Taco Leg is about: nothing that is interesting. It’s the most superfluous work of art you’ll hear in 2012 and easily the year’s shittiest album, but not in the sense that it will win an AMP award or something.

Label: Fan Death
Release Date: November 2012

Standard
New Music

Listen: Taco Leg – Raiders

“Technically inept” guitar playing, excruciatingly literal lyrics, and the best drummer in Perth? It must be Taco Leg. This trio have a couple of releases under their belt, most notably 2009’s ‘Freemason’s Hall’ single (which was awesome), but now they’ve gone and recorded an album, and Baltimore based label Fan Death have again agreed to release it. We’re reviewing the whole thing soon, but FYI: it features 12 songs and runs at just under 18 minutes. This is exactly what you want from a debut Taco Leg album.

The self-titled LP releases mid-November. You can order it through Fan Death but local retailers will get it in, no doubt. The track below is the opener, and it’s the reason you’ll have a song about Indiana Jones stuck in your head for the rest of the year. Good luck with that.

Standard