Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Royal Headache interview with Joe Sukit by Samson McDougall

“It’s hard to explain the way that it’s just changed over the last three or four years,” says Royal Headache bassist Joe Sukit of his base of Sydney and the resurgence of live music. “It started out as a very, at least when I moved to Sydney, as a really DIY warehouse kind of space thing. Bands couldn’t play at pubs, that was pretty much it, there were no pubs to play. But over the years, there’s all these bands and kids that couldn’t really play their instruments being forced into this situation where you make it happen however you can. But it feels like in the last couple of years at least they’ve just evolved into these really great bands and everyone’s writing really great songs and making really great records. It’s really an inspirational place to be and it’s exciting because everyone’s behind each other – and y’know, if you don’t support each other what have you got? We’re on our own, so we make do.”

As a definition of the punk ethos, the above statement reads about as conclusively as I’ve ever heard it put. Through venue closures and the might and power of the Australian Hotels Association that reigns supreme in New South Wales, emerging musicians were forced into a situation of creating their own realm, completely independent of any existing structures, which had become more suffocating than supportive. And waddaya know, the music is coming out on top.

A sweet product of this transition are Royal Headache. A mish mash of members of established Sydney bands, they converged in the garages and warehouses of the city to produce something unique, untried and ultimately satisfying. “Every person in the band is obsessed with music and not just one type of music either, but everything,” continues Sukit of the sonic thrust of the band, which sits somewhere between the realms of punk rock and soul. “Essentially, at the core of every single kind of music that we like, there’s a rawness and a realness to it. Whether it’s hip hop or whether it’s punk rock, you’ve gotta believe what they’re saying. And also you’ve gotta sound authentic and real otherwise what’s the point? That’s the main thing that we try and get across; definitely that’s the main thing that inspires us to do real shit.”

They dropped a self titled debut album earlier this year and it was jumped on by independent radio. Though they haven’t been regular visitors to Victoria thus far, their few shows will remain etched in the minds of anybody lucky enough to have caught them. The quality of the shows they’ve played here speak for themselves – Flip Out and Golden Plains before they even released an album – but their first full-length release and subsequent release party visit this weekend, have been a hell of a long time coming. “We actually recorded it about a year and a half ago,” Sukit continues. “We recorded it in one day and then it was just a process of... Shogun wasn’t happy with a couple of vocal tracks so he was back in for another couple of gos, going back and recording with a couple of different people and then... Ultimately it was about us going to America and our trip over there for Goner Fest that sort of kicked our arses and we thought all right, we’ve gotta get this thing mixed and ready and out. If it wasn’t for that, we probably still wouldn’t have the record out. It was just a matter of getting the record to sound the way that we’d sort of envisioned and do the songs justice really.

It has been worth the wait. The album is dripping in this old world soul built out of solid straight-up garage jams. “It worked out for the best in the end. It was a bit dumb that we laboured over it for so long in the end, but to tell the truth we spent a lot more time just not talking or thinking about the record, so it just sat there doing nothing. To eventually get it out was just a huge relief. It was taking a huge toll on us, y’know, we weren’t able to just get out and do what we wanted to until we had that gone. We just had to get past it I guess. The aim is by next year to have a completely new set and never have to play these songs again until the reunion tour in 2020 or something.”

On the band’s recent US tour, they drove the interstates on a steady diet of fuck all – sleeping on floors and hangin’ in bars until gig time. Sukit was not overly convinced of many of the bands they caught on the tour, and he tells me that apart from Goner Fest, a lot of the music they experienced while there was less than inspiring. But if there’s a positive to be drawn from the experience, it’s the reinforcement that Royal Headache are on the good path. “We went over there with no expectations and just figured that we’d go over and have a holiday and take the band so we could make enough money to make it to the next city on the map,” he continues. “We didn’t really expect to go over there and do anything or for people to come to shows, so every single night was a different thing and a surprise. It was fun; we spent a lot of time in the van just looking at highways and stuff. Then you get to the city and sit in the bar for four hours before you play. That side of things, after a month of doing that, and going back to stay with the two people in the club that want to put you up for the night – so you’d go back to their ghetto apartment and sleep on the kitchen floor – after a month it can get draining, but we had fun. America’s a weird place.

“You’re going around and most of the bands that we played with each night, it’s like they’re afraid to show themselves or be themselves within their music or as a band. It’s like a show. They’ve gotta come up with a character or have a gimmick and this is what they are, but it’s not actually who they are as people. There’s something really confronting or ugly about Royal Headache when they see that. To go and watch a bunch of people pretend to be someone else is not exciting to me, I don’t find that interesting. We’d rather just get up there and do our thing. It was a strange thing, the type of thing they’re used to... Like even the punk bands, it’s like they’re this kind of band and they sound like this band and they’re influenced by this sort of band. I don’t think Royal Headache are really like that at all. I think that was a little confusing and confronting for them.”

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