Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fucked Up interview with Damian 'Pink Eyes' Abraham

Never to be labelled as anything near conventional, it’s a strange concept to see Toronto punk kings and queens Fucked Up touring the world with Foo Fighters. It’s not an irony that lost on ferocious vocalist and basically most-punk-man-on-the-planet-right-now Damian ‘Pink Eyes’ Abraham – yet he maintains there are strong links between each member of the now stadium rockers and his punk rock upbringing. “When we first met the Foo’s on Toronto, we’d heard from our friends The Bronx who’d opened up for them, that they are the coolest people you will ever meet, prepare to be shocked,” he says. “And so I was like, yeah, how cool can they be? Let’s be honest, I’ve met some cool people.

“Nate [Mendel] from the band was in Brotherhood, one of the greatest hardcore bands of all time. They were one of the bands that got me through high school, I loved that band to death... Basically all of the band – with [members of] Sunny Day Real Estate and The Germs – played in a band that was so pivotal for my musical awareness.”

To backtrack, Fucked Up are now ten-year veterans of the punk rock scene. In that time they’ve delivered over sixty releases (mostly singles and odd-length 7”s and 12”s) including three studio albums. Their second full-length, The Chemistry Of Common Life, scored much critical acclaim and won them the Polaris Music Prize. Their live shows are notoriously brutal and their onstage antics have garnered respect and disdain in equal measures (MTV won’t be calling them back in a hurry). They famously played a 12 hour set at the Bowery in New York City in 2008 to celebrate the Chemistry... release and were joined by members of Vampire Weekend, Dinosaur Jr, Les Savy Fav and others on stage. They’ve (unsuccessfully) sued Rolling Stone Magazine and Camel Cigarettes, they’ve played ATPs and pretty well every other major festival in the world, they’ve just released their third album – an 18-track rock opera set in Thatcher’s England called David Comes To Life, for which they’re apparently penning a prequel – and they’ve even covered Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas for a fund raiser with members of Yo La Tengo and Broken Social Scene, along with Tegan & Sara, Bob Mould, Kyp Malone, GZA and more.

There’s no doubt they are a big fucking deal, yet Abraham’s warmth and modesty is disarming down the phone line. When I suggest the new record had me reaching for the liner notes like I was 14 again, he recalls a similar youth. “The best thing you can hope for in a band or for anyone who’s trying to do anything creative is that something you make is engaged with by other people... We live in a world now where you don’t necessarily have to engage with music, there’s not necessarily any cost to it so you can go and listen to it and process it and then move on. There was a time where I would pore over the liner notes and where I knew the lyrics to every single song.”

Though their roots run deep into the American hardcore of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Fucked Up express a variance in song constructs that suggest wider influences. Abraham confirms that his musical upbringing was as much Sonic Youth as it was Black Flag, and elaborates that it was more the idea of punk that moved him more than any particular sound. “A lot of the stuff that’s perceived as punk these days runs against what I perceive punk to be,” he continues. “But there’s always been a legitimate beating heart to the scene and y’know, you can’t stop an idea. The idea of DIY punk is a very powerful one if you’re a kid and a fan of music. You don’t really wanna be a cast from the heavens rock star, you just wanna be someone that plays music because you love it. DIY punk is a great way to make music and be involved in music because you just do it yourself and you literally take complete control of a situation. As a kid you have very little power in your life and here you’re given power. You don’t like the music you’re hearing then start your own band; you don’t like the bands that are coming to your town then book another band; you don’t like the records that are coming out then put out a record. It’s just so awesome that this idea never really died. And I don’t think it ever will die. It will continue getting co-opted and bands will keep ‘selling out’ and moving on but it’s gonna stay pure because there’s always a kid who’s gonna say ‘fuck that band in the mainstream, I want a band like this’.”

The early stages of Fucked Up saw distributors refusing to carry their material as it did not adhere to the usual confines of what a ‘release’ should be. They found like minds in Deranged Records who were happy to carry whatever they produced. The albums came slowly as the band grappled with the gravity of stringing a group of songs together in some sort of continuum. But after the success of Chemistry... they were confronted with an entirely new pressure. “After the last record we felt that we had an insurmountable amount of hype on us y’know. I really felt like we had hit a point where we were like ‘where the hell are we gonna go with this record?’ Chemistry... really felt like, it was really flattering, but it felt like they’d painted us into a corner in a way.”

Thankfully this external pressure played a large part in the development of the concept of David Comes To Life. “We thought we’d do this record that we wanted to do anyway and we were kinda like if people don’t like it, they don’t like it. So we made it a concept record with this idea we’d been playing around with for a long time.”

There has been much conjecture in recent weeks over the band’s future after Abraham was quoted as saying that he is sick of touring and needed a break. At least during this interview there is little indication of the band’s imminent demise, though he talks of an altered course. “I have a feeling this will be the last full LP with me as the sole vocalist of the band,” he says. “I’m pretty sure that’s the direction we’ll end up going in and that’s for a variety of reasons. Number one, I don’t wanna get the band to a point where it gets stale and you can’t really dial it back from a concept record. Where do you go? I guess a quadruple live record’s the logical progression [laughs]. We’re at that stage now where there’s gonna have to be some changes. And that’s not gonna happen tomorrow, but definitely down the line.” He adds that they’ve just completed The Year Of The Tiger and that they’re planning a prequel EP to the new record surrounding Veronica – the album’s leading lady. Diehard fans fear not... It doesn’t seem likely they’ll be tossing it away just yet.

Samson McDougall

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.”

Dick Diver Interview With Alistair & Rupert

Dick Diver didn’t so much burst onto the scene so much as sneakily weasel their way under the music radar. They’re the kind of band that you hear once and they’re instantly recognisable. The only way to describe their sound is that it leans in obscure angles. There’s a familiarity in their poppy rock tunes, but their guitar tones feel like they’re sloping off to the bar and their vocal harmonies feel like happy accidents. They are a four-piece band made up of tonally identifiable individuals – they mix and match these unique voices in playful and interesting ways.

They arrived a couple of years back and have played a few shows. They managed to get an EP, Arks Up, out at some stage and it was a cracker. Then we waited and we waited and they seemed like they’d all but disappeared. In fact, if it weren’t for the odd live performance and the fact that a couple of them play in other bands around the traps, you could’ve sworn they’d dropped off the planet all together.

Then, as if from nowhere, they finally drop an album. The thing is better than good. It captures all of their tonal slackness and packs a real sense of humour outside of the, often narrative-ly straight up, Australian stories it tells. Founding member Alistair McKay explains it was the writing of these songs that caused the hold up. “Both Rupe [Edwards] and I write pretty slowly,” he says “We write a lot of songs but we’re not happy with most of them. This is the first record that we’ve done with Steph [Hughes] and Al [Montfort] doing stuff as well. We recorded a bunch more that we had but we settled on ten that we wanted.

“I reckon Rupe probably throws out about 90 percent of the stuff that he writes, I write fewer songs. Al writes heaps of songs but he’s in six bands; Steph’s in three at the moment and it was just a matter of going up, recording a bunch of things and having the time to sit back and think relatively critically about it and pick out which songs we thought fit together.”

Of the large amount of material that Rupert Edwards discards, he puts much of it down to his own belief in the songs more than the stock of audience or those around him. “I don’t really worry about or care about whether people can relate to it or not – if that happens, that’s great,” he says. “I’ve gotta be happy with being able to sing something. I’ve gotta be happy and feel good about singing it. Not because it’s all autobiographical, it’s all pretty made up, but some stuff just feels OK to sing and other stuff just doesn’t.”

The songs paint a picture of inner-suburban life. Numbers like New Start Again paint a pretty grim portrait, whereas Flying Teatowel Blues or Seagulls offer snippets of daily life and Head Back slaps a cheeky grin across the arse end of the record. It’s accomplished, without being self conscious or arrogant. The songs string together like a wee narrative all of their own – albeit a brief one. “Pretty good,” answers Edwards when questioned how he feels about the record now that it’s finally on the shelves. “I guess it’s been so long in the making and it feels like it’s been so long since we recorded it to now. This is a pretty common thing with bands I guess, but I feel pretty over it in terms of waiting to have it out. I’ve listened to everything so much now that it’s just weird that everybody’s just hearing it for the first time. So I’m feeling good about it but it’s just a weird thing that there’s been such a delay I guess.” He still reckons he’ll be able to bring some enthusiasm to their launch, “Playing them live is still heaps of fun, I’m not at all over that.”

New Start Again marks the group’s first attempt at shared writing duties and the rewards are plain. The calibre of songwriting is bolstered by the use of vocal pairings that alternate through the listen – it’s never a bombardment or four-way vocal harmony, but the changing selections of vocals to songs right through lends the thing freshness and light. “Maybe the way the band formed, Rupert and I had played together for a long time with just us two,” continues McKay of the band’s incorporation of shared writing and singing duties. “So when we formed for the first bunch of shows that we did and for the EP, we had a bunch of songs that we’d written and so naturally it sort of came as a top down kind of thing. But now that we’ve played together more and spent more time together as a band, it’s just developed organically into a more collaborative thing, which is great. It’s much more enjoyable for everyone; I think you get the four different voices a lot more, I enjoy it a lot more personally.

“It’s never been a very laboured process. Put it this way: I don’t think many of the song pairings that we’ve done on the record have been done other ways. They either started with someone singing and then someone joining in at practice and the rest saying yeah that sounds cool. Or when we’ve recorded, someone will jump in at the last minute and try things. Actually we tried a couple of extra over dubs and that kind of stuff in terms of vocals. Generally we tried to sort of cut back. We didn’t want to end up sounding like the Beach Boys or something. Even though we all like the Beach Boys.”

The recording took place in the outer suburbs of Melbourne and the thing was captured by producer/musician about town Mikey Young. There is warmth to the album that smacks of a bunch of people having fun and not taking the process too seriously. They recorded the album in a couple of days, largely live in the living room of a house in The Dandenong’s. Sound kind of intense? Not at all says McKay.

“I wouldn’t use intensive,” he laughs. “It was really great. It was really relaxed and just a lot of fun.” The set up was pretty simple; their gear, Young’s “very impressive preamps”, some mics and a laptop. McKay agrees the vibes achieved are a lot about the chemistry of all recording in the same room. “We’ve never tried it that way with Dick Diver,” he says of attempting to capture their sound in separate booths. “Rupe and I have done recording in a studio separate, and it was just awful, I didn’t enjoy it at all. Especially with Dick Diver being a vibes band, for want of a better word, we just kind of, y’know feed off each other and I guess we’re a bit loose and sloppy as well and you lose that if you’re playing by yourself or playing to a click track or if you’re even in different rooms.”

Royal Headache (gig review)

Curtin Bandroom

There’s a bloody line out the door when we rock up outside Melbourne’s most underused venue, the John Curtin Bandroom. It’s surprising that a not-often-seen-in-Melbourne Sydney band, Royal Headache, can pull such a crowd for their belated album launch, yet we’re informed that the room is near sell-out despite the doors having just opened. And this has happened regardless of the fact that Useless Children – you’d expect for many, an enormous drawcard – have (apparently due to a health emergency) vanished from the bill.

With the reshuffle, Woollen Kits start a little late and move us through a crash course in pretty straight-up garage rock. Their stuff is toe-tapping good, catchy as all hell and they hold a large majority of the room in their hands despite a shitty mix. We jostle for a decent spot and explore each sonic corner of the room and find that front of stage is the only area that sounds any good. With a rapidly filling space, this does not bode well for the headliner.

Royal Headache burst onto the stage and thrash out songs – one, two, three, four – without even breaking a sweat. Their live tunes feel faster and the instrumentation is gloriously sloppy. Said mix is as poor as the opening act so we again flank the crowd and power for front centre. There’s a decent contingent of moshers in close and we’re forced to play along.

Vocalist Shogun pleases the audience on removal of shirt revealing the physique of a whippet and too-high pants. Such is the nature of Royal Headache; there is purity of spirit, truthfulness to (collective) self that transcends the hip-ness of their soul/garage appeal. They plough through most the album and further – Really In Love, Eloise etc; though sadly no Honey Joy – oblivious that a large proportion of the audience are experiencing their sound through a kind of muffled vacuum afforded by the room. There was a risk of sameness creeping in to this bill once the dynamic Useless Children were removed, but Royal Headache stand and deliver proof that they’re worthy of any hype that’s preceding them.

Samson McDougall

Dick Diver

‘New Start Again’ Chapter Music (A
(Album review previously published on ArtsHub)

There’s something instantly recognisable about the music of Dick Diver and it’s not just carried through the vocals. It’s a tonal thing – a sort of lilt in the guitars and fluidity of sound – and it somehow reacts with my brain chemistry in a pleasant way, making each song likeable and memorable. They’re the kind of band that you see once and their tunes remain with you. The great thing about this is that whenever you see Dick Diver again, you recognise your little song buddies and you actually feel part of it somehow – you connect.

Dick Diver have an amazing tune called ‘Tender Years’ which they released on their EP ‘Arks Up’ in 2009. The song was a regular show closer for the band from the early days and I felt slighted that they omitted it from an all-too-brief ten-track album. Initial reservations aside, ‘New Start Again’ ambles ever so slightly through the first number ‘Through The D’ and I’m wondering whether the wait for a debut has been worth it. It has all the trademark slack tones and tangled guitars, but as an opener it fails to grab. Second song, ‘Hammock Days’ however, rights the ship and from here on in the album takes shape as a collection of Melbourne stories structured around fab lyrical passages and fine guitar work.

The exploration of vocal harmonies pays off here. A double-fronted unit (Alistair McKay and Rupert Edwards), they have the luxury of leaning on the vocal support of bass player Al Montfort (also of Straightjacket Nation, UV Race and, more recently, Total Control) and drummer Steph Hughes (Boomgates, Children Collide) – no slouches in their own rights. Rather than saturating the album in four-part vocals though, they subtly dot pairings through the recording to fantastic effect.

The album’s nexus comes in the form of sixth track ‘Flying Teatowel Blues’. The almost talked vocal is cut by the most unforgettable and simple chord progression and ripping solos, the thing is so understated and perfect it feels like they’re not even trying. Coupled with Twerp’ self-titled debut (also out this month), ‘New Start Again’ has summer barbecue written all over it, yet both records convey this shadow of sadness that lingers in around the edges of their songs. It’s thinking people’s barbecue music, and is in every way well worth the wait.

Samson McDougall