Category: Interviews

Those Who Dream’s Hazel Meyer is the beam of trans light Australian pop needs right now

It was on November 30th, 2022 that Hazel Rue Meyer – one half of Perthian alt-pop powerhouse Those Who Dream, and one of the Internet’s most underrated shitposters – came out to the world as a transgender woman. For most of her fans, this was not entirely surprising: Hazel spent much of last year performing in feminine clothes, her hair growing longer and her makeup becoming bolder and more ambitious with every new photoshoot. As one commenter so elegantly put it, the closet for Hazel was made of glass.

My Spidey senses first tingled back in April, when I saw Those Who Dream open for Short Stack in Naarm/Melbourne. Hazel played in a twee green sweater – the kind a Disney Channel magnate in the mid-2000s would flip her shit over – with her cheeks soft and tinged with blush in the unique way estradiol seems to make them in the first few months of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I remember writing my review of that show and feeling stumped when it came to the paragraphs recapping the duo’s set: I wanted to spotlight Hazel by name because she absolutely stunned with her performance, but it felt wrong to use masculine pronouns or prefer to she and singer/guitarist Josh Meyer as “brothers”. At the time, the drumming Meyer had not identified herself as anything other than a cis man – but it was very obvious the person onstage thrashing up a storm alongside Josh was not a cis man.

Though Hazel hadn’t yet told anyone she was trans (aside from the care providers that facilitated her HRT), she’d been on hormones for roughly three months. It was also then that she started road-testing the name Hazel. She tells me: “I was in Melbourne for a couple of weeks, and I went to Starbucks every day. So when they asked for my name, I would say, ‘Hazel,’ and they were like, ‘Yeah, cool, Hazel’ and write it on the cup. And I was like, ‘Nice. That looks great, sounds great… I like it.’”

Hazel’s egg-cracking came at the turn of her 20s, immediately after she’d watched an episode of Euphoria and inadvertently connected to Hunter Schafer’s (openly trans) character Jules Vaughn. “I walked away from the TV,” she says, “and then my jaw just dropped and all the explosions started happening. I was like, ‘Wait a damn minute!’ And then chaos ensued.”

The subsequent reckoning was “a layered explosion”, Hazel says, noting that “so much of [her] life started to make sense” after being walloped by the bombshell revelation that she was a girl. “I always assumed there was something fruity going on,” she says of her budding sense of self as a child, “but I just didn’t know what it was. For so long, I was thinking, ‘Am I queer in some way?’ And the answer was, ‘Yes, but in what way?’ And then eventually, I came to the realisation that [my queerness] had nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with gender… One of the first things I thought [when I realised I was trans] was, ‘Oh, that explains my literal whole life. That explains why I only ever got along with girls. That explains why I always wanted to wear women’s clothes, but not in a boy-wearing-women’s-clothes way, like in a woman-wearing-women’s-clothes way.’”

Reflecting on her earliest memories of gender as a concept, Hazel says she spent the bulk of her youth feeling “confused”, and quickly learnt to repress her wandering thoughts about a possible life outside the masculine binary. While the Meyer household itself wasn’t conservative, Australian society at large had (and still has, to a slightly lessened degree) a palpable repulsion to visible queerness – particularly when masc-coded people show any kind of femininity. “When I would like things that were feminine,” she says, “I would be called ‘gay’, and I saw that as an insult, so I just started repressing [my femininity]. And every time the questions came up in my head, I would ignore them and be like, ‘No, that’s not what’s happening.’”

As a time-honoured coping mechanism for a litany of traumas, repression served Hazel well in her youth… Until, of course, it didn’t. “Something I learned about repressing things is that you don’t really have a choice when it comes to the surface,” she says, explaining that her metaphorical pipes started leaking metaphorical backwater at the literal age of 14. “Little bits were coming out,” she continues, “and I was going, ‘Well, maybe this is a sexuality thing. Maybe I’m bi or something?’ And then I thought, ‘No, that can’t be right,’ and just kept ignoring it. I thought, ‘This is a journey I will get to someday, but right now I cannot be bothered doing the self-work it would take to understand this.’

Hazel was a newly minted adult when those metaphorical pipes burst and flooded her brain with metaphorical debris. Jules Vaughn was not the first transgender character she’d seen represented onscreen; that was Laverne Cox’s Sophia Burset in Orange Is The New Black. But especially in earlier seasons of the dark-dramedy, circa 2014 when Hazel’s egg had taken its first hairline fractures, the character of Burset (and by proxy, Cox herself) was not exactly celebrated as the trans heroine she was. As Hazel puts it: “The representation was like, fine – it was good, but there was also a lot of negativity that came with it, so my takeaway from that was, ‘Okay, being trans is bad and you will be bullied and beaten up for it.’ So I definitely wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh, that could be me’ – I just thought like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting…’”

Euphoria, meanwhile, handles Jules’ transness with incredible tact – not even in contrast to OITNB, but (mostly) just in general. Most crucial is that her identity is very rarely used as a narrative device, and when it is, it’s because it’s relevant to the overall story and her admirably dense, multi-faceted character arc; like virtually every character in the show, Jules endures a seemingly unending ream of trauma – but never explicitly at the expense of her transness. She laughs and fucks and hangs out with her friends – thrives – as a girl first and a trans girl second – and seeing this opened Hazel’s eyes to the fact that transness does not, by default, equal ostracisation. Cue, the aforementioned pipe-burst.

“It felt like I was having a conversation with my brain,” she says of that formative moment. “My brain said, ‘You’re a girl,’ and I said, ‘No I’m not.’ And then my brain said, ‘Yeah you are.’ And I said, ‘Oh? Oh! Oh shit!’ And then my brain was like, ‘Yep… Have fun with that.’ And I was like, ‘Wait, doesn’t society, like, hate trans people? …Fuck. I’m fucked. My life is about to be really bad – I don’t think I want this.’ And then over the next few days, I was just trying to rationalise why maybe I wasn’t trans; I was like ‘No, there’s… There’s got to be something else going on! This can’t be true! This is not where I saw my life going!’”

What followed was a few weeks of veritable agony, followed by gradual acceptance – “I thought, ‘Well, this is my reality. I can’t choose to not be trans, and if I repress it, I think my life will be even more horrible’” – and then a spiral into dysphoria when she “looked in the mirror and realised that how I felt about myself [didn’t align with] what I was seeing”. That lingered once she’d eventually learned to embrace her womanhood – when she “realised I had to live in a body that didn’t reflect that [womanhood]” – but after “a few months of pain and dysphoria”, Hazel took a forcible step forward to kick her feelings of self-hatred. “I sort of had to learn to love myself,” she says of the process, “and be comfortable with a lot of things that I’m not necessarily happy with, but have to live with for now. I could change what I could, and do little things like book doctor’s appointments and buy cute clothes… I could give myself little bits of joy to hold on to.”

One of those little bits of joy, as noted earlier in the anecdotal mention of her crippling Frappuccino® addiction, was her newly adopted name: Hazel Rue Meyer. She initially planned to transition under her given name, because the prospect of eschewing from it – something so innately linked to her identity (or at least the first 20 years of it) – was a “total culture shock”. She explains: “It was another thing that was really hard for me to get my head around: ‘Not only am I a different gender to what I thought, but I have to go by a different name too?’ I didn’t think I was going to do it. But my [birth] name started giving me a lot of dysphoria, and I started feeling less and less connected to it.”

Names are a fickle thing: sometimes our parents give us certain names because they hold a deep personal meaning or have rich familial ties – and sometimes we’re named random shit just because it sounds nice. Sometimes it’s a mix of both. Equally variable is the process of choosing a new name for yourself. Some trans people spend years mulling over potential options, backups and spellings – I, for example, spent about a year on mine, and road-tested one other name before landing on ‘Ellie’ (a name with ties that are deeply significant for myself, but in short, comes from The Last Of Us). Some fans of Hazel’s have linked her new name to her features – she has warming brown eyes and luscious brown hair – and her middle name could nod towards her love for Euphoria (Rue being the name of the show’s Zendaya-played protagonist); truth be told, though, both ‘Hazel’ and ‘Rue’ actually came from baby-naming websites.

The ‘shortlist’, as it were, started at a solid 100 names – “I’m a perfectionist,” Hazel quips. “But then I narrowed it down to like 50, then to about ten, and then about three. I tried a few different names – just saying them out loud and writing them down on paper – and my two favourites ended up being Hazel and Rue, so I decided to make Rue my middle name and Hazel my first name. And once people started calling me that, it just felt right.”

Next came the medical aspect of transitioning – the importance of which, it should be stressed, is entirely subjective and not at all essential to “the trans experience”. It was and is for Hazel, though, as she beams that HRT has given her “everything I could have wanted and more”. She says of the journey thus far: “It was never really a question for me, if I was going to do it or not – it was just a given – but I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t expect nearly as much of the emotional turbulence. I mean, you’re pretty much going through a second puberty, so you’re just a hormonal mess. And I really wasn’t prepared for that, because I was also going through so much else – you know, getting ready to come out, and just transitioning in general, it’s a whole mental mindfuck – so to have the hormones going crazy on top of all that… It was a lot.”

Because she’d started HRT before she told anyone she was trans, Hazel’s coming-out timeline was not something she had complete control over. Playing in a band with her brother, for example – someone who knew Hazel better than virtually anyone – it was inevitable that Josh would eventually grow suspicious of his sister’s physical evolution. He and their sister Ashleigh were the second and third people Hazel came out to (following her girlfriend at the time), and she tells me that Josh in particular “wasn’t very surprised”. She chuckles: “I told him and my sister at the same time, and both of them said they knew something was coming. I mean, look, I was on hormones for a long time, and it was getting pretty obvious. But they were happy for me!”

Having always been so close with his sister, though, Josh went through somewhat of a reverse metamorphosis: though he was strictly “amazing and supportive” at first, Hazel says, her brother’s perspective shifted slightly as he fully processed it. She elaborates: “We’ve always told each other everything, so he was just taken aback by the fact that I kept this from him for so long. But that led to us being more open with each other than we ever had been, and I think the whole experience has strengthened our relationship so much more.” 

After telling her (now ex-)girlfriend and siblings Josh and Ashleigh, the obvious next step for Hazel was coming out to her parents – the “scariest” step in the journey, she says, but one that her siblings “hyped [her] up and gave [her] the courage” to take. “Josh literally had to start the conversation for me and fill in the gaps where I couldn’t get my words out,” she says, assuring me that her parents have been “very supportive” of her transition, but noting that she “didn’t really take into account that it would be a very emotional [process] for them as well”. 

“There was a lot of mourning and just coming to terms with it all,” she elaborates, “which is totally fair enough. I didn’t really predict how tough it would be for all of them, or that it would bring a lot of turbulence to my relationships as everyone processed it in different ways. It’s almost like I needed to reintroduce myself to all of them – to let them know that I’m still the same person… But also that I’m not? It’s a really difficult thing to put into words.”

As a public figure, Hazel knew that at some point, she’d need to come out to tens of thousands of people at once – a prospect so daunting that most of us couldn’t begin to comprehend its gravity. But in the weeks leading up to November 30th, Hazel’s prevailing emotion was “just eagerness”. She did endure a brief cycle of catastrophising (naturally), but admits that after a few weeks of wading through those mental rabbit holes, “I was just like, ‘Oh my God, can I do it already!? I’m so bored of being closeted, I just want to be myself!’”

There was no real significance to the date on which Hazel came out publicly – the only prerequisite, she notes, was that she did it before heading out on the Good Things tour at the start of December: “I had packed my suitcase and it was full of dresses and skirts, and I couldn’t turn back.” She says of that turning point: “I was ready to be onstage as myself. And then it got to about three days before the first show and I still hadn’t come out, so I was like, ‘…Dammit, I guess it’s time.’ I had the photos ready. I drafted the caption – the first draft just said ‘am girl lol’. But the moment itself… I was in an Uber, I clicked ‘send post’, and then I dropped my phone and just turned it off, and didn’t look at it for like an hour – and then I got back to where we were staying in Melbourne and had a big cry. I meditated a little bit – I put some headphones on and just did some breathing – because I was just so fucking… It was a lot. It was a lot of emotion.”

Once her adrenalised surge of emotions settled, Hazel felt “just so fucking relieved” to be out. It helped that her friends, family and (of course) fans all rallied around her with rapturous aplomb: “I expected people to be nice, but not that nice,” she says, still a little shocked by the unremitting wholesomeness her coming-out attracted. “I expected at least a couple hate comments, but I didn’t get any. I knew that most of our core fanbase is queer, so I didn’t have any doubts about them [being receptive to the news], but we also have a lot of casual listeners and people who aren’t necessarily super-fans, who I know would be less experienced with this kind of thing.”

Particularly daunting was the crowd at Good Things – a festival of predominantly hard-rock, punk and metal-adjacent bands, where Hazel would be one of nine women on the bill (contrasting 121 men), and one of just two non-cis people. Hazel was understandably terrified by “all the metal dudebros” she’d be surrounded by all weekend, but quickly found that they “were actually some of the sweetest guys” she met on the trek (citing members of The Gloom In The Corner and Polaris as notable legends). To boot, all the festival’s crew – some of the toughest-looking motherfuckers in the industry – were nothing short of lovely. “It made my heart happy,” she says, describing her overall stint at Good Things as “such a special experience”. 

As for Those Who Dream’s sets themselves, Hazel considers them some of the best she and Josh have ever played. Her cheeks crease with the weight of her big, dorky smile, growing more as she reflects on the “incredible” euphoria she felt upon darting out onstage. “I knew it would be special,” she says, “but it definitely exceeded my expectations. Just seeing actual people in the crowd, seeing them seeing me for the first time, it felt so good. It kind of felt like a press tour, re-presenting myself to the world and being like, ‘Hello, look, it’s me! I’m wearing a skirt!’ I can’t wait to keep doing it.”

I didn’t get to see Those Who Dream play at Good Things, but I did see approximately 2.8 million Instagram Stories from their set, all of which showed a band in their truest, most energised form. Especially life-affirming was how the bulk of those focussed on Hazel and championed her in those moments, celebrating that she was finally able to perform as her true self. It was no small moment for this legion of young Australian music fans – most of whom identify as queer themselves – because they’re able to connect with Hazel on a unique level. This “scene” does have a healthy cohort of transfeminine idols, but Hazel’s character makes her stand apart from her peers: she’s a role model for Gen Z’s class of shitposting alt-pop fanatics, and she adores having that role.

“I get to be the representation that I didn’t have growing up,” she beams, tearing up when she notes: “People have messaged me to say I’ve helped them on their journeys to discover who they are, or given them the confidence to come out.”

Like most in her position, Hazel wasn’t briefed on the ins and outs of being a perfect role model – “I’m a little scared,” she admits – but that’s part of the process in helping her fans figure themselves out: she, in realtime, is figuring it all out for herself. “I will absolutely take that torch [as a role model for trans women in pop music],” she says proudly. “I mean, role models usually say a lot of amazing things, and that feels like a lot of pressure – but I will happily take it on, because I just want to be that [role model] for people so badly. And I think it’s okay to be imperfect as a role model, and just live your life authentically and publicly; I just want to show people that you can be trans and have a great life.

“I guess the only way I can do that is just be vulnerable and honest, and not hide any parts of myself. I think I wasn’t a very good role model for a long time, because I wasn’t honest, and I wasn’t showing my true self… It’s hard to be a [prominent figure on] social media and post everything about your life. But I know I appreciate it when other people do that, so I think other people will appreciate it when I do that.”

In the way of her own role models, Hazel cites Hunter Schafer, Kim Petras and the late Sophie as three notable trans women who showed her it was possible to live authentically and thrive at the same time. She has a particularly strong love for Schafer, who she admits, blushing, “became [her] comfort person”.

“She just seems really happy,” Hazel says, “and she’s just living her best life. She has a poppin’ modelling career, a poppin’ TV career, and she gets to date Dominic Fike – she just makes me very happy and gives me a lot of hope. And her modelling career is just about her being a beautiful woman; it’s not like all these brands are going, ‘Look, we got a trans model!’ I think that’s really cool.”

For her formal coming out last November, Hazel (directly influenced by Schafer) organised a photoshoot to “debut” herself as both a trans woman and a model. “I’ve always loved modelling,” she says, “but I always struggled with knowing that I was meant to give off a masculine vibe, because that wasn’t something I wanted to do. In a lot of our earlier band shoots, when we had a makeup artist, I’d whisper to them and be like, ‘Do your worst.’ Like, ‘Glam me the fuck up – give me all the lipstick and stuff.’ So I got to dabble in it. But to fully be myself and do a photoshoot that is fully, like, ‘divine feminine’, embracing everything about that… It was really special. It was a really important project for me. It was just me, a makeup artist [Amelia Hart] and a photographer [Jarrad Levy, who is also queer], and there was just a lot of beautiful energy between us. And when I saw the photos, I just felt like I was me, you know? I’m really excited to do lots more of it.”

In those photos, Hazel has this celestial, pseudo-angelic glow to her; she doesn’t look into the camera, but keeps it peripheral – she knows it pines for her attention and relishes in teasing it. Herself fixated on something just out of reach, she occupies this grey zone between innocent and sensual, hovering ethereally and teetering on the edge of the bridge between fantasy and reality. Above all, she looks feminine. She’s delicate and tender and pretty and soft; she “passes” flawlessly, the way most trans women only ever dream they could. But the topic of “passing” brings a pause to our conversation – it’s a loaded topic for most trans people, and one Hazel is still dissecting the minutia for in her mind.

“I naturally want to pass,” she says, “like, I have a natural urge to want to. But I can kind of unpack that a little bit and understand that passing doesn’t have to be the goal. I do think the idea of ‘passing’ is kind of toxic to trans people, because it perpetuates the idea that cis-ness is the standard, and you should just blend in and look exactly like a cis person. But I love trans beauty, and I love seeing weird, alien-looking people. I think it’s really cool. I wouldn’t want everyone to just look cis, and I’m glad a lot of people can embrace being outside the binary in that way. For me, I do naturally just feel like I would like to pass… But I don’t think it’s healthy [to think that way], and I’m trying to work through that.”

Internalised transphobia is something Hazel struggles with in many ways – as most trans people do. “I didn’t expect that to be a thing,” she admits. “I don’t think anyone does. Because you’re like, ‘Well I’m trans, how can I be transphobic?’ But our brains are just hardwired that way, from how we were brought up and how the media treats trans people, to have certain thoughts.” 

In order to reckon with and process those thoughts, Hazel developed a mental exercise whereby they’re allowed to materialise, but not take hold of her perspective: “When I have thoughts that I don’t necessarily resonate with,” she says, “I can choose to keep them, or I can choose to let them pass by. And sometimes when I have those moments of internalised transphobia or misogyny, I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting… Okay, goodbye.’ And I just kind of unpack it a little bit and let it float away, because I know it’s not how I truly feel.”

At 23, Hazel’s relationship with gender has blossomed into something beautiful. She’s no longer fighting with the binary, or trying to mathematically decipher her place within it. “I love gender,” she laughs, another genuine smile breaking through. “I was confused by it for my whole life, and I had a very, like, ‘Fuck gender’ kind of mindset. I was like, ‘I don’t like gender, because the one I have isn’t something I like. I just don’t like the concept of gender, I don’t like anything to do with the binary.’ But now that I’m so in touch with my womanhood, it’s kind of amazing to me. I love the binary. I love everything about being a woman… I mean, I still have so much respect for people who still say, ‘Fuck gender,’ and I still feel that on some level – but for me, personally, I’m very… Woman. Everything about it makes me really happy, and it just feels really true to me.”

As a career musician, Hazel’s personal life is intrinsically linked to her art; she and Josh have long used Those Who Dream as an outlet for their formative ruffles with mental health. Josh has long been the duo’s main songwriter, but as they earnestly chip away at new music, music videos and a short film, Hazel is “feeling more creative than ever”. As for how her transness will inform the project’s narrative, she says: “Our lyrics tend to mostly deal with identity and mental health struggles. I’ve always loved music that doesn’t shy away from talking about real shit… So yeah, I can definitely see us sprinkling some of my experience as a trans woman into our writing.”

That narrative itself, too, is set to expand with “some crazy shit”. Hazel teases an ambitious future for Those Who Dream, noting that she and Josh currently have “about 100 demos just sitting in a folder”, and a growing eagerness to share the fruits of their labour – first with a rip-roaring single called ‘Apology’ (which features an unexpected detour into thrashy mosh-pop territory) and then a follow-up to their 2017 EP Life In Cyan. “I think we’re just going to try and drop way more music and be way less perfectionist about it,” she says. “We haven’t really done that in the past, and we have so much music just sitting there – I think it’s time we just released a bunch of it. And our music videos, as crazy as they are, are only going to get crazier. The narrative we’re telling is going to come to a head, like the end of a season of Stranger Things.”

I watched Those Who Dream play their debut Melbourne headline show on Sunday February 5th. It was a powerful experience, partially for the band’s enthralling set – where Josh and Hazel bounced off and charged each other’s buoyancy, shining with the kind of ironclad chemistry that only siblings can – but also for how gratifying it was to be surrounded by so many other trans, gender-diverse and otherwise queer people, soaking in and igniting this eruption of celebratory emotion. There was a moment where Josh gassed up his sister’s recent coming-out – “Let’s hear it for trans women in 2023!” – and the crowd cheered louder than they had for any song. Hazel blushed and wore a 24-carat grin, but that wasn’t too notable – she spent virtually the entire set beaming, visibly enthralled to be living out her dream, trashing out onstage before a sea of adoring fans, as her true self. It was the happiest I’ve ever seen her. 

As a fellow trans woman in the very early stages of her transition, that gravitas cannot be overstated. Those early struggles in tackling dysphoria, getting your head around things like aesthetics and clothes and makeup, and societal pressures to pass a certain threshold of femininity – to say nothing of the confidence needed to be yourself in public, and the strength to weather seemingly endless pushback from the public… It can be a lot. But seeing Hazel thrive and live her best life, truly in her element and celebrated for it, assured me that I’m on the right path; that it’s more than worth braving those initial storms because what lies on the other side of them is more gratifying than any kind of safety “the closet” might offer.

That’s not to say Hazel’s journey is over, or even close to. Those Who Dream’s future, as it stands, is much clearer than Hazel’s individually – but that’s part of the fun, she notes in closing: there is no one definitive ‘trans experience’, and Hazel is making the most of hers. “For the first time in my life,” she says, “I’m actually excited for the future. I actually want to get out of bed, put on a cute little outfit, and present myself to the world. And that’s a crazy development for me, because I used to just want to hide away all the time. Suddenly I’ve gone from being too afraid to plan for the future, to having so much to look forward to. Sure, there’s a whole load of hardships and struggles that come with being openly trans in a world that is largely unaccepting – but I’d be lying if I said those weren’t outweighed by the absolute euphoria and sense of self-assuredness that comes with finally being myself.”

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Sleeping With Sirens at Good Things 2022: “The key to music in general is that it should be fun”

Credit: Press/Supplied

Sleeping With Sirens roared to life in 2010 with their pummelling debut album, With Ears To See And Eyes To Hear, and have since held steady as staples of the Hot Topic “emo” scene. With their first few records aimed primarily at angsty, black-sheeped tweens hopped up on Monster and mid-transition from primary to high school (and more importantly, MySpace to Facebook), there’s a good chance that, should you have found a seat on the hype train in time, Sleeping With Sirens have been with you for half your life. 

Much like ourselves, Sleeping With Sirens have grown exponentially over the last 13 years. Our social circles shifted as friends came and went, and they similarly cycled through guitarists and drummers; we filled our résumés with jobs, some lowkey and fun and others impressive but gruelling, and they similarly hopped from label to label (first Rise, then Epitaph, then Warner and now Sumerian); we found new passions and hobbies, and eventually got nostalgic for our teenage obsessions, and they, too, tried new things (see: Madness and Gossip) but ultimately fell back in love with the punchy, colour-drenched metalcore they cut their teeth on.

On the cusp of 2023, having just released their seventh album – the prismatic and powerful Complete Collapse – with a full year of touring ahead, Sleeping With Sirens stand tall as their strongest, most energised and invigorated selves. The album is reflective of that: another parallel between them and the average late millennial is that they too were pushed to the brink by adversity, but clawed their way back and, galvanised by the experience, were met an immediate jolt of adrenalised optimism. 

For the Kellin Quinn-fronted band, this journey started with 2015’s Madness, a confident dive into the open seas of pop-rock – something they’d toyed with, but never fully committed to on records prior – that led to them being sucked into the riptide of major label chaos with its follow-up, Gossip, two years later. Chewed up and spat out by the pop radio monolith, Sleeping With Sirens almost didn’t make it to the end of the 2010s. They’d been singed by the industry and burnt out on the road, and as strongly as their artistry translated to that shiner, more saccharine pop sound – Quinn’s chops in particular were primed for Top 40 hitmaking – the band didn’t get as much out of it, personally speaking, as they did from metalcore.

What followed was a complete 180: Sleeping With Sirens ditched Warner for Sumerian – another indie label à la Rise and Epitaph – and swung back around to their old-school sound, keeping their newfound slickness intact but wholeheartedly embracing the riff once more. Their 2019 album, How It Feels To Be Lost, is explosive and defiant, at once an unapologetic nostalgia trip and a fierce leap into the future. But like any great comeback, the initial “fuck yeah!” was inevitably followed by the daunting question of what would come next. Where would Sleeping With Sirens head when their trajectory was no longer guided by sheer adrenaline?

With touring off the table, the pandemic gave Quinn and co. a chance to gather their bearings – a forced micro-hiatus of sorts. This proved to be incredibly beneficial: after reflecting deeply on everything they’d been through over the course of making and touring six albums (and an EP, and a couple errant one-offs), Sleeping With Sirens had – perhaps for the first time ever – a crystal clear vision for the future. That involved ambitiously swinging from their highest highs to their lowest lows, fusing their grittiest riffs with their most shimmering melodies, and committing to a mindset that no idea was too unseemly to consider. So paved the way for what is, in my own opinion, Sleeping With Sirens’ best album yet.

Complete Collapse has been out for (just a few days shy of) two months now, so when Sleeping With Sirens touched down for this year’s Good Things festival, I caught up with Quinn and guitarist Nick Martin to vibe on how the album has been coming to life onstage (particularly in Australia) and how it brought the band to a new peak. Have a listen to – or read – our chat below.

elcome back to your home away from home. How’s the trip been so far?

Kellin Quinn: It’s been good! 

Nick Martin: I’m loving it. I missed Australia so much, so it feels very, very good to be back here. It feels very familiar.

Quinn: Yeah, it’s been really nice. The weather’s been really nice. It’s been light jacket weather, which is great, but it’s not too cold. [We’ve] got sun today, so I’m gonna wear my sleeveless shirt and let my BB guns out.

Martin: Wow, your BB guns!

Quinn: My BB guns, I’m gonna let my BB guns out!

So before kicking off the fezzie run today, obviously you’ve already played a couple of sideshows – Melbourne yesterday, and then Adelaide on Wednesday?

Quinn: Correct. Did you say ‘side’ or ‘sad’ shows?

I guess the main question is, what’s it like playing in clubs again? Because it’s been a fucking while.

Quinn: I like playing in clubs.

Martin: I do too. It’s tough – I wouldn’t say it’s, like, what I prefer, but yeah, it feels good to be back in in some clubs. I’m enjoying it.

Quinn: He’s not much of a clubber. I am though, I like to go to the club.

Martin: You love the club.

Well of course, you’ve got plenty of new tunes to show off – two albums’ worth since the last time you were here. Of course the big talking point is Complete Collapse – how will these new songs been coming to life onstage?

Quinn: We were talking about this in rehearsal. So, I like playing new songs, like, a year into them. I don’t like playing them right away. Because it takes a while to, like, find your footing with the whole live experience, you know, playing songs off a record. So yeah, we have a lot of albums, we have a lot of songs, and so we’re kind of slowly getting into the new record. We haven’t played a lot of… Well, I don’t think we’ve actually played anything off of our last record here, so… Lots of tunes! But yeah, we’re having a good time with them. 

Martin: Yeah, it’s crazy that you say that, because it doesn’t hit me until it’s brought up [that] we have two albums’ worth of material that we [are] yet to play over here, so it’s nice to finally play new songs. But I mean, for me, I enjoy playing the nostalgic hits from the catalogue. I like a good mix of it. I think it’s important for us to not play too much new material – it’s important for us to have a nice mix of the catalogue. There’s a lot of songs.

I feel like the live show is the real test, right? Like, a song can sound killer in the studio, but if it doesn’t work live, it doesn’t work, right?

Quinn: Yeah, that’s true. 

Martin: Which happens to us.

Quinn: Yeah, there’s a lot of songs that we don’t play live because they don’t sound good live.

Martin: Yeah, really. It’s true.

When I spoke to Nick a few months ago, we were talking about how this record really represents Sleeping With Sirens in its strongest form, and that the band has kind of been rejuvenated by Complete Collapse. How did this record push you guys to that level?

Quinn: I think a huge thing was being able to have some time at home and rest. I think that our band was just kind of touring non-stop and into the ground, and we were just burnt out. And I think we didn’t realise that until we had time to reflect on it. So we were charged up and energised when we back into the studio, and we just had fun making songs again. And I think that’s, like… The key to doing music in general is that it should be fun. And if it’s not fun, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it anymore, you know?

Is it safe to say that before this record, things weren’t so rosy in the band?

Martin: I think there was… 

Quinn: It was on its way up. It was pretty bad before the last record. [The] last record was great, and then I think that the extra time at home definitely helped cement us, like, being in a better place as people.

Martin: Yeah, I think we’re in a much better place now. But we had definitely gone through rough patches as a band, but also just individually, so it’s nice to come out on the other end of that and be where we’re at now, for sure… As opposed to many years before, where it was really tough for us.

I think that vibe of, like, pushing through the boundaries – [and not even] musically, but just personally – I think that’s very palpable on How It Feels To Be Lost. And I know [that] after Gossip, you know, being thrown through the wringer with Warner Bros. and being burnt out on touring, that was like… You guys were pretty close to the brink. That album, How It Feels To Be Lost, was that sort of like a chance to find your footing as a band again?

Quinn: Yeah, I think so. Look, I think that as much as it’s a rough situation to go through – making a record that you’re not really that proud of – the benefit to it is humbling yourself to kind of get back to square one and finding your roots again. And I think that’s [what] How It Feels To Be Lost [was] for us – finding our roots and going back to, like, where we began. And this record that we just put out, Complete Collapse, it’s kind of a continuation of that, but just a more mature sound.

And obviously a cornerstone of Sleeping With Sirens, from LP1 to now, is that emotional intensity – in both the lyrics and the music. And again, it’s so palpable, how you pour so much of yourselves into both of those aspects. In the process of doing that with Complete Collapse, what did you learn about yourselves?

Quinn: I learned that I can take naps in the studio, no matter how loud the music is. If there’s a comfortable couch, I can do it. And I didn’t know that about myself!

Martin: [Laughs]

Quinn: I feel like every answer has been serious! I had to break the ice, dude, I can’t be serious [for] that long.

Martin: What was question? Like, what did we learn about ourselves?

Quinn: Yeah, through the process of making our new record, what did you learn about yourself?

Martin: I don’t know if this really answers it, but I think there was a bit more of a newfound confidence for me, personally. I think I was going through some rough patches personally for a long time, and during this recording process, it definitely allowed me to open up a bit more and be more confident in myself as a musician, but also as a person. So it’s a very, like, therapeutic process for me.

Quinn: Great answer.

Huge shoutout to Janine Morcos and Amy Simmons for making this happen!
Complete Collapse is out now via Sumerian Records. Check it out here.

Thornhill at Good Things 2022: “I would fucking love to do a song on the ‘Batman’ soundtrack”

Credit: Jon Pisani

Cut from the same cloth as bands like Northlane, Architects and Periphery, Thornhill fast made a name for themselves making colourful prog-laced metalcore, blending thick and gnarly guitars with soaring and melodic vocals. They’ve largely kept committed to that alloy of dark and light, but with their debut album, 2019’s The Dark Pool, they started leaning more on the latter – those brighter and more widescreen soundscapes that didn’t need the aggression typical of metalcore to convey bold, gripping emotion. 

The album’s follow-up, Heroine – which arrived back in June of this year – is a fitting continuation of that ethos, all but eschewing the band’s metallic edge altogether. It sees them instead favour flavours of grunge, industrial and alt-rock à la Nine Inch Nails and Alice In Chains, at points nodding to wider-ranging influences like Radiohead and The Smashing Pumpkins, and in some moments even The Cure. The album’s accompanying visuals – like the cover art, press shoots and film clips – all make it clear that the band were inspired most by the gothic uprising of the late ‘90s, and the band have been open about how songs were directly inspired by such cultural phenomena as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Twin Peaks.

Earlier this year, I interviewed Ethan McCann for Australian Guitar, and he told me that Heroine was effectively a multi-layered concept album; the aesthetic influence is one layer, thematic links comprise another, and one comes in how each song was written “to soundtrack a different movie or TV show, or fit a different aesthetic”. Think one of those old-school movie tie-ins where a stack of hot topic scene bands would write songs vaguely referencing the plot or themes of the film it was commissioned for, except every song is written for a different film… But they all link together as the same body of work… And it also has its own set of themes. 

Convoluted as its concept may sound, Heroine in a resoundingly consistent (and consistently resounding) effort from Thornhill, and as their set at this year’s Good Things festival proved, the songs sound especially exceptional when they’re performed live. So after they wowed a packed early-arvo crowd at the Melbourne edition, I reconnected with McCann, as well as bassist Nick Sjogren, to dive a little deeper into the backstory of Heroine, reminisce on their recent tour in support of it (where the album was played in full), and explore what’s next for Thornhill. Have a listen to – or read – our chat below.

How’s the day been so far? How was your set?

Nick Sjogren: The set was really fun – really, really fun. The crowd was a lot bigger than I was expecting, to be honest, and yeah, people were going from the start. Pretty crazy, honestly.

So Heroine came out exactly six months ago – well, it will have as of tomorrow. Considering how much passion and energy you put into it, how does it feel to have this record in the rearview, so to speak?

Ethan McCann: It’s kind of bittersweet, to be honest, because it was like… We were really proud of that record, we did lots of things that we wanted to do, I guess. But at the same time, we wrote it in lockdown, so it was a pretty traumatic experience. So there’s lots of good memories and lots of bad memories connected to that record, but we’re keen to, like, move on and get the next one out.

I know that when you’re gearing up to release a record – and recording it as well – things can be so stressful and hectic. But now that it’s been out for a hot minute and you’ve toured it a bunch, are you able to look back and really appreciate what you made?

Sjogren: Yeah, it’s a really funny one, because when it first came out, there [were] a lot of loud people on the internet, who weren’t as stoked [on Heroine as they were on The Dark Pool] because it wasn’t, like, riff-y metalcore style. But we’ve had a lot of people like around to it [and] say that they get it a bit more, so to speak.

McCann: I think it was also kind of nice… Obviously, like I said, we wrote a lot of those songs – if not all of them – in lockdown, [so] to then take them to the stage, we sort of learned what we enjoyed and what we didn’t enjoy playing, which I think will be really cool to apply to new music.

Obviously there was that tour in July, where you [performed] the album from cover to cover. What was it like to celebrate Heroine as a standalone body of work like that?

McCann: It was pretty ideal, I would say, because I think we sort of wrote that album with the intention [that people would listen] to it cover to cover. Because we’re very much so, like, an “album band”. I know the general public, I think these days, is much more into singles and, like, rapid releases – but I think we all really enjoy listening to albums [from] cover to cover, still, so that’s sort of how we wanted people to hear it. So yeah, it was really cool to do that.

Is that something you see yourselves continuing in the future? Making concept albums, and…

McCann: 100 percent, for sure. And if people don’t get it, fuck it.

There were, of course, those couple shows in Canberra and Hobart where you had to play [Heroine] instrumentally because Jacob was not doing so great. What was it like to really celebrate the musical side of it?

Sjogren: I was surprised [by] how much people liked it. Because Jacob is such a good frontman – he’s such a powerful frontman, and his voice has so much character, [so] a lot of the personality behind the music seems to [come] from him. But playing it instrumentally, it was really cool to see people actually appreciate all the surrounding elements, too. It was just a good crowd for both shows in general – not just a good for an instrumental set.

And of course, I’m sure some of them stepped up to the plate with the karaoke vibes?

Sjogren: A bit, yeah.

McCann: My least favorite part was actually having to, like, make banter with the crowd. Because that’s usually Jacob’s job, and I’m not a very talkative guy. So I was like, you know, “Get up!” But it’s not my thing.

Everyone is like, “The singer has the easiest job, they don’t have to play an instrument,” but man, banter – fuck, that’s…

McCann: Banter’s hard. But I mean, they don’t have any gear, so they don’t have to load out [laughs].

Something we touched on a little while ago was, obviously, this record being such a conceptually ambitious and artistic vision – knowing how cutthroat this scene can be at the best of times, were you worried that people wouldn’t rally around Heroine the way they did?

McCann: I wouldn’t say we were worried, we kind of knew what we were doing. And like, by dropping ‘Casanova’ as the first taste of that album, it was kind of intentionally [released] to stir the pot – as childish as that sounds. It’s just like, we knew it was going to mess with a few people, and it’s what… We were really proud of that song, so we were just like, “Eh, let’s just throw them in the deep end from the start and see if they enjoy it or not.”

Well, the album was a wild success – Number Three on the ARIA Charts [and] you got the nomination at this year’s awards for Best Hard Rock… How did it feel to get that kind of response?

Sjogren: I was always pretty confident. ‘Cause I don’t write the music, personally – Ethan and Jacob do 99 percent of all the music, if not 100 – so I was always pretty confident that it was going to be received well, because I really liked listening to it. It was really fun to see it progress, from the first demos – just after [The] Dark Pool came out – to where it ended up getting to. There was a lot of thought behind it that made it all make sense. So I figured that even if people didn’t like it at first, they’d get it eventually, because it’s just really good.

Has inspired you to go even more ambitious, or step even [farther] into the unknown on album #3?

McCann: Yeah, very much so. I think even though it sort of split the crowd for us – like we knew it would – just the fact that we enjoyed writing something different and pushing [the] boundaries so much, I think it’s something we’ll always do with our music and our albums. I think Childish Gambino talked about it, where he’s just like, he opens and closes a world with each album, so you sort of, like, progress and do new things every time – and I think that’s such a cool way of looking at it.

Is that third album something you’ve started talking about now that Heroine has been out for a hot minute?

McCann: Yeah, for sure. We’re chipping away at a few ideas. [We’re] still figuring out the general vibe – it usually takes, like, one or two sort of full songs to then have the direction. Now we’re sort of just, like, playing in the shallow end for now.

What are these vibes you’re playing around with?

McCann:[It’s] hard to explain. Definitely rock-ier; I’ve been listening to nothing but, like, Arctic Monkeys and Queens Of The Stone Age for the past year. So yeah, [I’m] hoping for a sort of  UK rock-y sort of sound – but I don’t know, we’ll see. It’s too early to tell. 

That’s really interesting, because Heroine has that more grungy, almost like ’90s Britpop-y feel – so I feel like that kind of sound is definitely a good natural progression from from Heroine.

McCann: Yeah, we’re hoping so. And it’s like, it’s kind of funny because I think we’re gonna look back in, like, 10 years, and look at all these albums as just different phases of things we’re into. Because obviously, like, our tastes change pretty rapidly, you know, you don’t listen to the same thing a couple of years later.

Well taste in general, like… And this is kind of circling back to Heroine – I know that this record was written as almost like a score to a lot of the film and TV you were inspired by. What kind of titles are we looking at?

McCann: We’re talking Buffy The Vampire Slayer. We’re talking American Beauty. We’re talking She’s All That

Sjogren: The Crow.

McCann: The Crow. We’re talking The Craft… Just lots of, like, ’90s goth-y teen movies. I really love that aesthetic, and the colour palettes are always really cool. And it’s just like, I really like the sort of nostalgia that it made me feel – because I was born in the late ’90s, so I sort of grew up with a lot of those movies. And I think that was kind of comforting in lockdown, that sort of nostalgia, so it’s something we wanted to push into the music as well.

Are there any other movies or TV shows that you think you could write a banging Thorny track to in the future?

McCann: The Batman! I would love to do a fucking song on the Batman soundtrack, 

Which one? The new one?

McCann: The new one. Give me, like, the Rob Pat number two Batman – give me that soundtrack, oh my God, I will go to town.

Have you thought about the possibility of doing any scoring or soundtrack work in the screen industry?

McCann: I would love to. I don’t think I’m quite there yet. But even just like… You know how bands in the early 2000s used to do, like, music videos, or just songs on album soundtracks, and it would just be like a one off? I really want to do that, because I feel like they don’t do it anymore.

How fucking good were, like… Even as late as the Jennifer’s Body soundtrack with Panic! At The Disco…

McCann: Yeah, shit like that! And there’s, like, little snippets of the movie in the music video. I love that shit so much. 

Sjogren: ‘Little Things’ by Rob Thomas… Wait, no ‘Little Wonders’.

McCann: And that Nickelback song from Spider-Man.

Sjogren: Linkin Park’s discography for Transformers.

Are there any filmmakers in particular that you’d be keen to link up with, or franchises? Other than The Batman, obviously.

McCann: I’d love to do a David Lynch movie, that’d be sick. That’d be really sick. I’m sure there’s a list – I can’t think right now.

Sjogren: We need Jacob right now.

McCann: Yeah. Jacob will say someone like Baz Luhrmann, but I’ll pass on that.

I guess in general, we know you’re kicking around some vibes– you’ve got touring lined up for the next… Fucking eternity. Which is 2023 have in store for Thorny?

Sjogren: It’s funny – we don’t have much locked in, but we have a lot of things nearly there. It’s looking like it will be busy – very, very busy, all over the place. So yeah, we are definitely going to be playing shows. We’re gonna we playing hella shows.

McCann: Yeah, I think if all goes to plan, we’re going to be home for all of about three and a half months next year. So, [the year is] pretty stacked.

Huge shoutout to Janine Morcos and Amy Simmons for making this happen!
Heroine is out now via UNFD. Check it out here.

Nova Twins at Good Things 2022: “People come to our shows to be whoever the fuck they want to be”

Credit: Federica Burelli

No amount of shitty, crowd-shot iPhone footage could ever do Nova Twins’ live show justice. The genre-bending Brits made their Australian debut last week, playing a one-off headliner in Sydney before they tore Stage 5 to shreds at the Good Things festival. Second to none, they were the best band I saw at the Melbourne edition; they made Bring Me The Horizon and Deftones look like amateur pub bands, and even fighting a storm of technical mishaps, their musical prowess shone not a beam out of place.

Particularly mind-melting was the technicolour wizardry that Georgia South inflicted on her bass guitar – a super rare Westone Thunder 1, as she told me when we chatted recently for Australian Guitar – shredding and slapping wobbles in the vein of Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites-era Skrillex using only analogue effects. Her secret weapon, I found out after diving down no less than four internet rabbitholes, is a Hot Hand MIDI ring. By way of motion sensors, it allows South to modulate bass frequencies when she moves her hand in patterns close to her guitar’s pickups… I think. Admittedly I have no fucking idea how it works – I just know it sounds cool as hell.

It’s impressive, too, because almost any other band would simply lean on tracks, or at least use Kempers to emulate their digital elements. But Nova Twins spent years not just honing their sound – an idiosyncratic hybrid of punk, dubstep and hip-hop – but finding ways to authentically replicate it live. It’s this ethos that sets the duo, rounded out by vocalist and guitarist Amy Love, apart from their peers: there may well be other acts that sound similar to Nova Twins, but none are as fiercely devoted to embracing their inner chaos.

So too is this true in the ways they operate outside the music itself. They encourage individualism, even at shows where crowds are united by their affinity for one band, genre or “scene”. When they play ‘Parcels’, an ode to both melodic hardcore and ‘90s R&B, they call for pits where moshers and twerkers go ham in harmony. Even at a festival like Good Things, where Nova Twins were one of 32 acts performing – with a daytime slot on a side-stage, at that – they brought together a crowd entirely unique to their set: easily the most diverse, and very easily the most aesthetically ambitious.

Nova Twins are the risk-taking champions of inclusivity that punk needs in 2022. So, after experiencing a full-blown religious awakening during their set, I sat down with South and Love to learn more about their modus operandi. Have a listen to – or read – our chat below.

So this is your first time in Australia – how have we all been treating you so far?

Amy Love: Very nice. Everyone’s really cheery, got good spirit, good energy…

Georgia South: Super nice. The crowds are awesome – we just played our first festival here, so it was… Yeah, amazing.

Yeah, I just saw your set, on stage five… I don’t know why I’m hyping it up, it’s happened – but I’m still processing what I saw, and all I know is that it was, like, the best fucking thing I’ve seen – hand on my heart – in literally years. What was it like from your perspective?

Love: Well, there was a lot happening in our ears, so…

South: We had a few technical issues, but it was honestly so amazing, seeing women at the front and, like, everyone looked so colourful and amazing. And the fashion was insane, and the vibes were ten-out-of-ten.

Yeah, I feel like in-between every song I would just glance around the pit and be like, “Fuck, there are some fits in here!” First of all, with the set: Georgia, whatever fucking witchcraft you’re pulling with that bass… I have to know, how were you getting that analogue wobble when you were moving your hand over the pickups?

South: So I’ve got a magic little ring – that’s my, like, little special toy that I like to play with.

Love: That sounded really, like…

South: [Faux-sensually] “I love my toys…”

Love: “”

So my theory is, like… It’s magnets, right?

South: Could be! Y’know, it’s a secret…

Okay! How long did it take you to develop the sound that you have?

South: I think it’s been growing for a few years. We’ve been a band for a while now, so our pedalboards grew over time, and over the lockdown we had so much fun experimenting with new sounds. And we really had the time over Supernova to get into [those] kind of sonics as well. 

Love: Yeah, it just grew. We sound more like we did at the beginning, and then we went down quite like a punk route, and then we came back again, full-circle. So it’s been quite fun.

I know, Georgia, you play with a Westone Thunder 1 – is that integral to your sound?

South: Oh, yeah, it’s so integral. It’s amazing. I love them. And they actually don’t make them anymore, so it’s a nightmare trying to find them on eBay and places like that – I also love playing Fender Precisions too, but I love my Westone.

And [Amy], you play… Is it a Mustang? 

Love: Mustang, yeah, P-90 pickups.

Huge, huge sound – shoutout to the P-90.

Love: Shoutout to the P-90! 

As far as the set itself goes, one thing I have to address is the absolute fucking calamity that is a combined mosh pit of moshers and twerkers. How does one come up with such a revolutionary concept?

Love: I think because when we wrote the song [‘Puzzles’], we were such big lovers of, like, ’90s R&B [and] ’00s R&B – like Destiny’s Child, Missy Elliot, you know, Snoop, Pharrell, all of that – but at the same time, we loved heavy music; we grew up on the punk scene, you know, we’re in a rock band for fuck’s sake. But we wanted a song that married the two loves and the two worlds, and all the different types of people who enjoy them type of things… 

We do have a lot of non-male people at our shows who want to twerk as well, who don’t always want to mosh. So it’s like, “Well if you do want to twerk, this is your moment too – you can exist here and do that – but if you want to mosh, join in and, like, become a family.

‘Puzzles’ – it’s like the anthem for the entire Nova Twins fanbase, right?

Love: Yes!

Let’s talk about the record as a whole, because later this month, we’ll be exactly half a year out from the release of Supernova. I know when you’re gearing up to release a record, it can be super stressful, and just like a fucking rollercoaster. But you’ve kind of caught up on the buzz a little bit, played a bunch of shows… How do you look back on the record?

South: I think it’s been quite an emotional year for us, because… Just so much has happened. We’ve toured more than we’ve ever toured, we’ve been places we’ve never been – like here. We’ve played in America and Europe and the UK, so it’s been incredible, thinking [about] how far Supernova has kind of taken us. And it meant so much to us, this album, so for it to get the Mercury [Prize] shortlist and things like that… It was just… Yeah, [it’s been] an incredible year.

Have you started thinking about album three yet? Or is it a little too early?

South: Yes, we have!

Love: We’ve been thinking about it.

Yeah? What’s the vibe?

South: We don’t want to give much away. But we’re definitely thinking about it, and we’re excited.

Do you see the Nova Twins project – this sound and character… Are you going to kick it up to a different level, or…?

Love: I think we’ve never put any kind of boundaries or pressure on what’s going to come out. I think we just let ourselves do and if it comes out… It could be anything. And if it feels good and it feels like us, then we’ll just go with it. I think that’s the best way to keep it fresh, and also, like, discover things that you might not ever have thought you’d go down. If you just let yourself do it, it will come. So we’re just like, “Whatever happens, happens.”

There is a power in spontaneity, right?

South: Exactly. There [were] moments when [we were] writing Supernova, where we were like, “This sounds different to us!” But we’re like, “We like it, so why not?” And we just went with that feeling.

Without trying to blow smoke, my all-time two favorite genres are punk and drumstep. And I think what made me gravitate towards Nova Twins is like, the driving force is that raw, visceral aggression – that punk – but like, there’s that belting synth bass… It’s kind of like an In Silico-era Pendulum vibe. What is your history with bass music? Was that a big thing for y’all, growing up?

South: Yeah, I love my electronic music. Especially Timbaland’s production or Missy tracks, or like, N.E.R.D – love them – and even Skrillex. I love that kind of like, gnarly electronic synth bass sound. So I just wanted to emulate that onto [my] bass guitar with completely analogue pedals and stuff like that. So I love electronic music.

Outside of the music itself – and I think this was definitely evident in your crowd – I know it’s really important for you both to fuck with the status quo and challenge the binary of punk and rock as what has been a very traditionally white, straight, male-dominated scene. Being such an active force in the movement against that, have you noticed a shift towards a more inclusive scene and more inclusive crowds?

Love: Yeah, 100 percent. I think so much has changed since we’ve [started the] band. And obviously, for the people before us, it must have been completely different. But when we first started, we used to be the only women there sometimes – definitely the only people of color there – And you used to look around and think, “Fuck, this is quite…” 

It was never, like, a “bad vibe” – people were always really nice and respectful, but it wasn’t good enough in terms of the promoters and who they were booking. It was lazy, you know, and people got used to just regurgitating the same headliners, the same acts – and it was like, “But what about all these new people that are coming through? What about diversity?” The genre nearly went slate for a bit! But now you can see, it’s kind of making [a comeback] – especially in the UK and the US. 

I don’t know about here, but it’s a whole revival right now. I mean, we’ve played on our main radio station, which would never have been the case years ago. But it’s coming back, and it’s so exciting because we’re allowing for diversity, and fresh ideas and fresh takes, and new artists to come through. So it’s a super exciting time.

It is incredible to see this carving out of a space that is very important – and frankly, well-overdue. Obviously, that’s something you must have yearned for when you were coming of age?

Love: I think when we were younger, we didn’t really… Because we were young, we didn’t know, we just thought, “We just want to be in a band!” And then when it came to being the band, we got faced with all these different kinds of challenges and hurdles, and we thought, “Hang on a minute, is something wrong with us?” And it wasn’t us, it was the industry, not accepting us doing the type of music we do and the way we looked with it. 

It was all very long and tedious, but you know, we just kept going [on doing] what we love. We took our own route, we were an independent band – we still are, you know, we’ve found an independent label that are really good to us [Marshall Records] and we’ve got a great team now – but yeah, we just fucked off everyone else and [were] just like, “We’re just gonna keep doing it our way.” And then it paid off eventually!

I think something that really ties into that in a big way is how you always push to get your fans involved – like the mosh-twerking pit and things like that – and make these people feel like they’re a part of something. What made you want to be, for lack of a better term, or more “interactive” band?

South: I think it just comes naturally to us. The people that support us, we call them our Supernovas, and they’re just amazing. They’ve been there, some of them, since day one – and when we just played our London headline show, we felt so emotional because we’ve been seeing these people that [have] been coming and coming… When we’d been playing to ten people, they were there, and people just really support us. So we always want to give back to our community, and you know, open the door and let people through – because that’s just what it’s about.

Are you very inspired by your fans?

South: Completely! They’re super talented, and like, the most badass, amazing people ever.

Love: And really loving. What’s really lovely about our fans – especially seeing our Discord group and things like that – is that they take care of each other. They see them in the queues, like, if someone’s come on their own, we’ll see certain fans – like our proper everyday fans – take them under their wing and show them around the area. Or if they need to get home, they’ll take them home. If someone’s fainted, or… You know, it’s really amazing, the community that they are – they’re just really lovely people. And they’re so open – I love that people come to our show and they feel safe and accepted to be whoever the fuck they want to be.

I fucking love that vibe. And just to wrap up – because I’m gonna get in so much trouble – at the very end of the set, Amy, you mentioned that Nova Twins will be coming back to Australia soon… Are we talking 2023? Headline tour?

Love: [Slyly] Maybe! I don’t know…

Come on!

Love: I don’t know! You’ll have to ask our [tour manager].

We need, like, the 40-date regional tour…

Love: We will be back! This won’t be the last time you see us.

Nova Twins will be back.

Love: We will be back.

That is a promise, we’re holding you to that.

Love: Yeah, of course. If it goes well at Good Things, we’ll definitely be back!

Georgia: My grandparents were Australian, so I feel like this is my calling, to be back here.

Huge shoutout to Janine Morcos and Sose Fuamoli for making this happen!
Supernova is out now via Marshall Records. Check it out here.

Kisschasy at Good Things 2022: “We’ve got a whole unreleased album sitting there”

Credit: Press/Supplied

Today was a holy day for emo Australians aged 25 to 40: riding on the high of their comeback at the Good Things festival, Kisschasy announced that their return to the spotlight would last a little longer, slating a theatre tour for next May.

At the festival – which ran over the weekend in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane – the band performed their 2005 debut album, United Paper People, from cover to cover. According to bassist Joel Vanderuit, it was a long-belated celebration of the record’s 15th anniversary, picking up where they’d left off on their 2015 farewell tour (on which they also played UPP in full). 

Last Thursday – two days before the Melbourne edition of Good Things, where Vanderuit and I caught up – Kisschasy played a semi-secret floor show at The Gem, a cozy pub in Collingwood. I wasn’t able to head along, but judging by the dozens of Instagram Story clips I saw, the gig was batshit crazy and all kinds of life-affirming. The setlist, too, was unexpectedly stacked: in addition to a full run-through of United Paper People, the band performed a solid dozen other songs, with cuts pulled from 2007’s Hymns For The Nonbeliever, 2009’s Seizures, and even their 2004 EP Cara Sposa

There was never any potential of these making it into Kisschasy’s Good Things setlist: their billing gave them 45 minutes, and United Paper People clocks in at 42. Surely, if they’d put the effort in to rehearse all those other tracks, there must be another tour on the cards…

And, lo and behold, there is! Confirmed this morning, Kisschasy will embark on a tour of theatres – with no “X album in full” billing or other gimmicky caveat – across nine cities in May. They’ll be hitting all the main stops along the east coast, as well as Adelaide and Perth (thank fuck, those comment sections can chill out for once), and with no restrictions or prerequisites imposed on them, we’re sure to see the band at their absolute peak.

In announcing the tour, frontman Darren Cordeaux said: “We’re really excited to breathe new life into these songs that we remain very proud of. It’s humbling that our fan base endures almost a decade after we hung up our instruments and it’s reminded us that we created something very special together; a body of work that has managed to stand the test of time. This tour is for those who still hold our songs dear and have been waiting since we closed that curtain in 2015. We can’t wait to see you again.”

But what does Kisschasy’s future hold between now and May? And what does it hold beyond then?

We know that after they dropped Seizures in August of ’09, Kisschasy kept writing material, and came ever-so-close to committing they fourth album to tape before scrapping it altogether. Having spent the last seven years on the bleachers, do the band still feel as though their “new” material is below par? Has the potential of new new music been floated in the jam room? Have they kept writing?

These are the questions I, as a hopeless romantic for the golden age of Australian emo (2004-2009), was desperate to find the answers for. So at Good Things, I sat down with Vanderuit to pose them to him. Worth noting is that I only found out about the upcoming tour a few days ago – after I’d spoken to Vanderuit. I would have asked so many more questions if I’d known about it beforehand, and tinkered with the main angle a fair bit. Nevertheless, Vanderuit offered some great insight into the past, present and future of Kisschasy.

Have a listen to – or read – our chat below, and grab tickets for the May tour here.

First of all, welcome back – the year is 2022 and Kisschasy are an active band, I still can’t believe it. Is it surreal for you guys as well?
A little, yeah! It’s been a long time, and when we finished up [in] 2015, we honestly believed that that was sort of where it was going to be. We all have different things going on now, so to get a call-up, and enough interest from all of the guys, was really exciting. And yeah, it’s a little surreal still, but it’s cool to be back in the mix.

Well you did say that when you broke up in 2015, the general consensus was [that] that was it. Was there that kind of thought, that like, “Yeah, you know, we’ll dust off the kit and have a jam again one day”?
I don’t think so, at the time. We were all heading in pretty different musical directions at that point, so it was just like, “You know what? This isn’t going to come back to a good place, so…” Personally, it was all fine, but from a musical perspective, I think we pretty much felt like we’d done what we wanted to do. So yeah, [it was] just a surprise to come back.

How did it happen? Was it something you were pitched by Good Things?
It actually started a little bit before Good Things became involved. 2020 was the 15-year anniversary of our first record, and a different promoter had actually asked us if we wanted to tour the record. So we had a conversation and though, “Eh, this kind of sounds cool.” Had dates booked in… Obviously what happened, happened over the last couple of years – and during that time, instead of ditching the tour, Good Things sort of reached out and said, “Hey, we still want to see this album live, so come along.” And yeah, here we are.

Was it pure keenness across the board, or was there anyone that needed a bit of convincing?
Nah, everyone was pretty into it. I reckon if it’d been two or three years earlier, it would have been a bit more tricky, but yeah, everyone was keen to hang out as mates and have a bit of fun on the road again.

I want to know what it was like [when you had] that first rehearsal back – did you all kind of slip back into “Kisschasy mode” super easily?
Yeah, surprisingly easy! So we all did a little bit on our own at home, playing along – I bumped up my Kisschasy Spotify plays, trying to remember a few of the songs – a few we haven’t played since probably 2006 or ’07. But a lot of it just came back pretty organically, and once we all got together, it just sort of clicked straight away. So yeah, it was great.

And the first show back, a semi-secret show at a club in Collingwood – what was that like?
It was fun! It took me back to the very early days. It was a very small little venue, it was absolutely heaving – they filled it out, a little 100-seater in Collingwood – and yeah, it was great. I had a guy so close [that] I kept hitting him with the guitar… Yeah, it really reminded me of the early shows that we had,

Especially after seven, eight years: you’re walking out onto a stage for the first time as Kisschasy—
—A floor. It was a floor show. Proper DIY.

What’s going through your heads [when the show begins]?
We were just amazed people turned up, to be honest. We announced at eight o’clock that morning, and yeah, by the time we went on it was full. It was a good way to sort of just make sure that we knew that we could do it in front of people, before doing on a much larger scale here.

That selling point of “United Paper People in full”, for this entire comeback – because you did that for the farewell run, that was the ten-year anniversary thing – what made you want to do that record again when you came back?
They just pitched it to us because [of] the anniversary of it. And obviously when we did that [2015] tour, we were a self-touring band, so we were able to do whatever set we wanted and we chucked in a whole second set of all the other songs. So to do it [on] its own, start to finish, was kind of special, I think – and finishing with that last song, and being able to walk offstage to it.

Do you personally consider UPP to be the best Kisschasy album?
No… Ohhh… I like Hymns a lot. I actually like a lot of our really old stuff a lot, too – the really old stuff, the pop-punk stuff. But I think Hymns – as a whole piece, for me – is probably slightly ahead.

I promise, no bullshit – I have it on my [cheat sheet] to mention that Hymns is the best Kisschasy album. But honestly, just objectively, Seizures is so fucking underrated. Every time I revisit that album, it pains me that it doesn’t get the love it deserves.
Yeah. It was a bit of a departure from what we were good at, I think, and what people expected from us. So look, those songs have a place for us, but they’re certainly not quite… They didn’t quite get the recognition that some of the earlier stuff did get.

Do you reckon at some point, you’ll revisit those and maybe do a Seizures tour?
I don’t see a Seizures tour coming. I don’t think so.

Maybe like a one-off floor show?
Yeah, maybe, yeah.

Well, seven years is obviously a decent chunk of time. What have you all been up to since the first death of Kisschasy?
A couple of guys have got growing families. We actually had the kids here today – not mine, I don’t have kids, but two of the guys had their kids, they came up onstage and the crowd gave me a little wave, which was great. And we’re all basically… Karl [Ammitzboll, drums], Sean [Thomas, lead guitar] and myself, we’re still in Melbourne – I run a business, Karl runs a business and Sean runs a business, so we’re all sort of self-sufficient businesspeople now. And Daz lives in LA these days – he’s been there [for] five or six years, I think, and he manages a couple of bars and events over there. So yeah, very different.

Do you want to hype up the business? Is that something that’s public-facing?
No, it’s not, it’s a wholesale business – I do a lot of work to keep it hidden from the general public.

That’s totally understandable. So is this Good Things run just a little one-off nostalgia trip, or is it safe to say that Kisschasy is back in full swing?
We’re working on something. [I’m] not at liberty to discuss [it] just yet, but it won’t be far away.

Is it touring or is it musical?
Touring. I don’t know if there’ll be any new music – never say never, but yeah, there’s nothing being discussed on that front.

I spoke to Darren before the farewell tour in 2015, and he’d mentioned that since Seizures came out in 2009, you’d all still kept writing, but nothing had ever really, like—
We’ve got a whole album sitting there.

Like a whole album written, or finished?
All the demos are recorded. So there’s recorded music.

Why did that never come out?
After that was written, we sort of decided that we probably weren’t going to meet in the middle, musically, anymore. And instead of pushing through it, [we] decided just to shake hands and reflect on what we had done.

Do you still feel that way?
Yeah, I’m glad we pulled the pin when we did. Me personally, I didn’t want to sort of… We sort of went out and a bit of a high, which is always a nice thing to do if you’re able to do it. If [I] have the choice, that’s the choice I would make every time.

And is that just in regards to the record you made, or is that the general sense now as well?
To be honest, we have not discussed it since we broke up. I tried to convince Daz just to release a song or something in the lead-up to Good Things, but I couldn’t bend his arm. He’s very proud, and they are just demos, so he didn’t really want to do that. But look, as I said, we might even have [a] discussion whilst we’re all together again at the moment – Darren is staying down for another week after the festival, so see what comes up. But yeah, look, everyone’s got pretty intense lives these days, with other commitments, so…

Do you still jam just for the fun of it?
I had to find my guitar – it got closed in a case from the last show in Melbourne, 2015, and it did not see the light of day until three weeks ago.

I saw the set – it was fucking fantastic. Just the fucking… Kisschasy’s back. I saw Kisschasy in 2022…
Nostalgia is a powerful drug.

I feel like this has been a good year for it – we got Faker, Sunk Loto…
There’s heaps of it going on! I think it’s great.

I’m manifesting the Operator Please comeback – and then I want, like, a huge tour of all the 2000s bands that [made those] comebacks.
I think that would be a great festival. Absolutely. I saw… Ah, just heaps of bands have been popping back up – and [are] planning to over the next 12 months as well, so… I think people are hungry for live, real music again – especially after the last couple of years. I think all the bands are like, “Well, if they want it, let’s fucking give it to ’em.”

Huge shoutout to Janine Morcos and Sose Fuamoli for making this happen!

NOFX’s Fat Mike on Australia, ‘Double Album’ and the power of pegging

Credit: Susan Moss

It’s around 4pm on a Wednesday when Michael “Fat Mike” Burkett hops on our Zoom call, visibly sweating. The iconoclastic NOFX leader has just finished moving into his new digs – an almost jarringly lavish manor in Las Vegas – where he and Get Dead singer Sam King are slaving away on the logistics for their latest passion project, the world’s first-ever Punk Rock Museum. There’s a lot for us to talk about – not the least of which being his band’s fast-approaching Double Album – but having just learnt that this writer is non-binary, Mike’s first port of call is to address his own (perhaps intentionally) murky relationship with gender.

“I think I’m binary,” he muses, taking a long pause as thoughts visibly flood through him, “but I identify as a boy-girl. I spend half of my life very feminine.” He walks us through hallways of unpacked boxes and lounging punks to inspect his three (3) wardrobes of lacy pink dresses, ruffled skirts and high heels (and of course, bondage gear – this is Fat Mike, after all). “Laura Jane [Grace, transgender frontwoman of Against Me!] came to my house the other day, and I was wearing a blue latex dress. And she was like, ‘Oh my God, what are you wearing!?’ I was just like, ‘Oh, you don’t know? I’m a transvestite.’ And she said, ‘You mean crossdresser?’ And I was like, ‘I’m a sweet transvestite, Laura. I identify how I want to.’”

Mike opts to label himself a “transvestite” – with “boy-girl” being a more nuanced sub-identifier – in part as a tribute to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which he proudly says “changed [his] fucking life” and spurred him on to get a brash tattoo down his forearm reading ‘DON’T DREAM IT, BE IT’. Last April, he explained in an interview with Inked: “Those words have always stuck in my head. I wasn’t a public crossdresser until I was 45. I really felt like such a coward that I wasn’t living my life the way I wanted to live it. I’d hear that song and it would make me sad. I got that tattoo because those words really pushed me.”

Ten years on, Mike has gradually come to be more open with his gender expression. Notably, in the song ‘Fuck Euphemism’ – a standout cut from last year’s Single Album – Mike delivers two bold lines that speak to his ever-evolving identity: “I’m not a cis, I’m a sissy,” and, “Call me ‘per’ for the night.” The latter refers to a neopronoun – a third-person identifier that eschews from the eponyminal standards of ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘they’ – that Mike asserts to us is now how he wants to be referred to exclusively (hence why, from this point onwards, this article will use the pronoun ‘per’). 

“I’m sick of people getting it wrong,” Mike says. “My pronoun is per – short for person. ‘I love per’. ‘Per is great’. ‘I slept with per last night’. When you say, ‘I slept with them last night,’ it sounds slutty. But per is so sweet – and it works in every fucking sentence! Because I am a person. Binary, non-binary, trans – whatever – I’m a person, call me per.”

As it tends to with Mike, the conversation shifts to sex. Unprovoked, per declares: “I’m not bisexual, but I love fucking fake cock.” Per beams at a casual mention of pegging – which also gets a shoutout on ‘Fuck Euphemism’ (where per asks a dive bar dweller to “cis butt fuck my cis clit”) – raving that “pegging is the fucking best! I just think real cocks are gross. It’s like… The money shot? Cock barf. Eugh.”

Pegging is often viewed as demasculinising – an emulation of gay sex, even if the pegger were a cishet woman – which Mike argues is laughably absurd. “If you’re a real fucking man,” per says (with no pun intended), “you can do whatever the fuck you want. You can suck a cock, you can take a cock up the ass… Guys are always saying, ‘Oh, I could never take a cock up my ass!’ But you like a finger, right? Everyone likes a finger. But do you like taking a finger-sized shit? No, that doesn’t feel good in the morning – you want a fucking cock-sized shit in the morning! And that’s what getting pegged is, right? It’s just a great shit, in and out for 20 minutes.”

Pegging is incredibly relevant to this discussion, Mike assures us, because on December 2 – the day NOFX play the Melbourne date of this year’s Good Things festival, directly coinciding with the release of Double Album – per will celebrate the monumental occasion with Mistress Tokyo, one of the most renowned dommes in Australia’s BDSM scene. Mike implores us to “look her up”, declaring her to be among the cream of the crop for corporal punishment. And there’s certainly no shortage of options along the Australian east coast – “there’s a great dungeon in every city,” per notes, however those hoping to bump into per at one over the week of Good Things (again, pun not intended) will be disappointed. “I’m not going to any clubs,” per chuckles slyly. “The shit I do is illegal in clubs.”

At the festival itself, NOFX are billed with the sidenote that they’ll perform their iconic 1994 album, Punk In Drublic, in its entirety. The band have done that just once before – in June of 2015, when they played it to 4,000 fans in Birmingham, England – and being their all-time most successful album, local punks are expectedly hyped to see Punk In Drublic played in full on Australian stages. But Mike is apathetic towards them. “We’re not gonna do it,” per says boldly. When its pointed out that “Punk In Drublic played in full” is billed as one of Good Things’ key selling points, per notes: “I know. I don’t care. They asked us to do it – or they asked someone in our [camp] – but we never agreed to do it.”

Mike is unable to let us know what NOFX will perform at Good Things, because not even per knows. The band don’t believe in traditional setlists – “we play different songs every night,” per says, noting that song choices are often pooled together within hours of the band’s showtimes, if not during the shows themselves. This has long been one of NOFX’s own biggest selling points, and something that’s made them nigh-on iconic amongst their peers. Mike tells us of the time one of per own personal idols, Brian Baker (of Minor Threat and Bad Religion fame) tailed NOFX on every date of the 1998 Vans Warped Tour: “He poured himself a drink, sat himself down on the speakers and watched our entire set, every single say. 

“And he’s fucking Brian Baker – Minor Threat was a band I grew up on, and I fucking love Bad Religion – and he’s just off to the side, rocking out with us for the whole Warped Tour. One day he came up to me and he was like, ‘Man, I never know what’s gonna happen with you. You always play different songs, you always do different stuff… There’s no way I could miss it.’ And that really pushed me [to go as hard as possible] at every show we played after that. Because it matters to us, what our peers think about NOFX. What the kids think of us? [Scoffs]. Last thing on the list. But people like Brian fucking Baker…”

Seemingly out of nowhere, Mike starts to tear up. Like a tonne of bricks, it hits per that these memories are finite – and for NOFX, they’ve only got another year or so to make them. At the start of September, Mike revealed – in an off-handed Instagram comment, of all things – that NOFX would embark on a farewell tour in 2023. The plan, per confirms to us, is for the band to play 40 shows across the US, where in “every city we play, we’re gonna be doing 40 songs a night, and they’re all gonna be different. We’re playing two-hour sets, playing through every song we’ve ever recorded, and it’s going to be very fucking special… And very fucking emotional.”

Midway through that tour, Mike says, NOFX will release another new album. “It’s called Everybody Else Is Insane, and it’s fucking good. I challenged myself a lot on it. One of the songs has 54 chords in a row, and it’s everyone’s favourite track on the album. The melody stays the same – it’s kind of like ‘Eat The Meek’, where people don’t understand how complicated ‘Eat The Meek’ is, but every verse has a different chord progression.”

Before we can get too wrapped up in the hype of NOFX’s 16th album, there is the small matter of its predecessor. Mike is relieved to finally have Double Album out in the world; it was written and recorded at the same time as Single Album, per says – and the two records were originally intended to be released as one two-disc epic – but if that were to be the case, “it would’ve sucked”. Per elaborates: “I think Double Album is perfect as it is, and I’m glad we’re putting it out. But if they came out together, this one would have made Single Album look bad. It would have minimised the impact that Single Album has.”

Even during the promotional cycle for Double Album, Mike can’t help but gush over last year’s release – which, by a fair margin, remains NOFX’s most ambitious and considered effort. “It’s a special album,” per asserts. “Critics loved it so much – we’ve never had an album reviewed so well – and it means so much to me because I really do love that album. Like, ‘The Big Drag’ – that song is just epic, and there’s no other song like it. Every chord progression is in a different time signature; it doesn’t make any sense, but goddamn, it’s fulfilling. And ‘Birmingham’ – I mean, those lyrics are fucking heartbreaking.”

After 40 years of punk-rocking havoc, NOFX are much more excited by the songs that push them outside of their comfort zones. And although their touring days are almost over, Mike says the band will continue to thrive behind closed doors. “I would say it’s probable that we keep recording [after the final tour ends],” per says, revealing that even after they drop Everybody Else Is Insane, the band have two more albums in various stages of post-production. Beyond them, per says per has “something like 240 songs written”. 

Per explains: “I’ll always keep writing songs. That’s just what I do. I mean, I’m definitely on the spectrum – my brain just does not turn off. But [NOFX is] not going to play again after this tour. We’re not like Mötley Crüe, we’re like The Beatles… There’s just one problem we haven’t been able to figure out.”

As tempting as it is to leave Fat Mike of NOFX hanging (per’s long had a turbulent affair with the press, so goddamn, what a power move it’d be), we have to bite: what is the band’s one lingering roadblock?

“What to do with Australia.”

Though Mike and co. are eagerly counting the seconds until they touch down for Good Things, per is bitter at the prospect that it might be the last time per ever performs here: “It’s not fair that our last shows in Australia are at this fucking festival,” per says, wiping back more tears. “It’s not fair. It’s not our shows, some other band is coming on after us… Fuck that shit. I want to fucking play for hours and thumb-wrestle with every fucking person in the front row… I want to say goodbye to everybody. I want to say goodbye to everybody.”

A run of headline shows is far from guaranteed, but Mike swears to us that per’ll “figure something out”. Good Things sideshows are sadly off the cards – “I’m gonna be too busy with the dommes,” per clarifies – but per is adamant that “playing this festival isn’t good enough [of a send-off] for what Australia has given us for so many years”. Per apologies for crying, conceding: “I’m really emotional about the whole thing. I just want people to know that it’s not a joke. I want to say goodbye to everybody. I want to give our best performance, and our worst performance, and let everyone know how much they mean to me…

“We should come back and do four shows. I think we have to. There’s no way around it.”

Huge shoutout to Dave Jiannis for making this happen!
Double Album is out now via Epitaph Records. Check it out here.

Note: this article was also published on the Australian Guitar website.

Aaron West And The Roaring Twenties, or “professional wrestling, but make it emo”

A promotional photo of Dan Campbell, taken to promote his project Aaron West And The Roaring Twenties
(I couldn’t find a photographer credit for this, sorry!)

Hi, hey, hello!

Issue #151 of Australian Guitar hit shelves yesterday. The first third of it, as always, is full of cool shit I’ve scribbled up (or coordinated) over the past three months – including an interview I did with Dan Campbell of The Wonder Years, Aaron West And The Roaring Twenties, Clear Eyes Fanzine, and probably like 30 other projects that are yet to materialise (he also has a really cool solo project where he writes love songs for couples that commission them).

Our interview ties in to the promo cycle of The Wonder Years’ just-released seventh album, The Hum Goes On Forever. As such, that’s all you’ll be able to read about in the Australian Guitar feature (linked above, if you didn’t notice). But word counts be damned, because I caught Dan at the very end of his phoner block, he was gracious enough to give me a little over half an hour of his time – which I’m especially thankful for because he’d just finished a super busy day and very clearly needed some sleep – so I wasn’t going to just sit there and not ask about Aaron West.

I think Aaron West might be my favourite Dan Campbell vehicle – it has all the cerebral grit and raw emotion of The Wonder Years, but a bendier and more colourful, folk-tinged musical palette that allows Dan’s lyrics to really shine. Routine Maintenance was absolutely one of the top five best albums of 2019 – so, as we come up on its four-year anniversary next May, I’m naturally curious about what Dan has planned for album number three (if he even has one planned).

He was hesitant to give me any concrete details or expound on his concepts, lest they shift in the months to come, but he was happy to chat about his vision for the project.

There was a five-year gap between Routine Maintenance and the first Aaron West album, 2014’s We Don’t Have Each Other, but I’m truly hoping that isn’t the case for the next record. It may well be – 2023 is shaping up to be a huge year for The Wonder Years (with an Australian tour on the cards, to boot), and Dan has a bunch of other really cool shit in the pipeline, like a graphic novel, in addition to being a dad for his pair of toddlers.

Whatever the case, there is a future for the Aaron West project, and I’m excited to see it. If you’re reading this, you probably are too. So, just for you, here are the offcuts from my interview with Dan, where we chatted about Aaron West 3: The Revenge Of Rosa & Reseda. (not the actual title… unless?)

Have you started chipping away at Aaron West LP3 yet?
Not quite yet. I was supposed to start over the summer, but I got really busy with another project. I’ve had this idea for a graphic novel for, like, almost a decade now. And I was on tour with Aaron West, playing a show, and suddenly, in the middle of the set, the third act [of the novel] – which has eluded me for years – kind of just hit me all at once. So I was like, “I’m gonna work on this all summer!” I put in a bunch of work on that, and then I had to stop because we were getting closer to album time [for The Wonder Years] and I had a lot of other responsibilities.

That’s a long-winded way of saying, “I have some ideas for Aaron West LP3, but I don’t think I’ll be able to sit down and start writing them out in earnest until… Probably December.”

So where do you see the project – and the story – heading next?
Well, I don’t want to give too much away about the story, but I think [Aaron West And The Roaring Twenties] is a really interesting thing because it’s almost a singular art form – which I know sounds very up-my-own-ass, but here’s the thing: it is a band, yes, and it’s telling a story – a narrative story – and other bands have done that, sure. But I do the live show in character too, which makes me think, “Okay, well, maybe this is musical theatre.” Think about it: you’re performing music in character, the monologues are in character too… It’s basically a play at that point, right? But it’s not musical theatre because musical theatre is static – the story is the story, it’ll be performed the same way every night, and that’s it. 

If on a Friday night, one of the cats from CATS dies… Which might be a part of the musical? I actually don’t know… My wife is going to kill me, she loves CATS… But you know, if one of the cats dies in the show, the next day, the story resets and that cat is alive again. But that’s not the case here, right? The story is dynamic because of what happens on stage. And in that way, I think it’s more like professional wrestling – that’s the only art form I can think of where it’s performed live in front of an audience, and what happens on one night furthers the story for the next night. Can you think of a different type of art that would be corollary to that?

No, which makes it a really interesting comparison! How does that inform your songwriting process?
When I started the project, it was only supposed to be one record – but then people liked it. So if you listen to Routine Maintenance, there are references to all these things that happened on the first record’s tour. I took calendars and I highlighted dates, like, “This is when I was on tour here, this is when I played that one show here,” to make sure that if Aaron West was standing on a stage in St. Louis, Missouri on a particular date, then on the record – in the canon of the story – that’s where he was on that date. 

Things have happened [since Routine Maintenance came out] that are obviously going to be a part of the story going forward, because they are as they happened on stage. Like, “Aaron’s sister Catherine has joined the band to play piano” – that actually happened at a real show, in front of people! And that obviously has to be part of the story going forward. But the only thing I know for sure about the next record is that I want to make it with the biggest band I’ve made a record with. I think I’m looking at a 14- or 15-piece band.

I love that the narrative is informed by the band’s actual trajectory, too – I didn’t know that. I feel like I’m going to have so much more appreciation for Routine Maintenance when I revisit it now. Thank you for that!
Yeah, you’re welcome. There’s a few moments on it where I had to, like, zhoosh some things around because they weren’t supposed to happen the way they actually happened. I wasn’t supposed to make another record to begin with, so I had to retcon a few things to make it work. But yeah, it’s all there. And there’s actually a few little inside jokes in there – I’ve never told anyone what they are, but I want people to find them someday. 

The most fun thing about doing Aaron West is that the people who play in the band with me are not people that are, like, touring professionals. They’re just my friends, from home or from school or whatever, that are really talented and great performers, but never got a shot in the industry – for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which being this is a very difficult and cutthroat industry. But I get to be like, “Hey, you guys want to come and tour England with me? Wanna come play all over America?” And when I’m onstage and I look to my right and left, and I see the joy on their faces, stoked to be out and playing and hearing people sing along, it’s really fucking awesome. That’s why I just want to bring more people in – more and more and more!

You’re not worried about it getting too cluttered?
Well you know, not everybody would be playing all the time. Right now when we play live, it’s myself playing acoustic guitar and singing, and then we’ve got people on electric guitar, bass, drums, piano, accordion, trumpet, saxophone and trombone – so that’s nine. Sometimes we play with a lap steel, which is ten. The 11th instrument that gets played live is a banjo, but we usually have the sax player or the trumpet player on it – but if we were doing it as a 15-piece, I would have a separate banjo player. So that’s 11. And then if we bring in a string quartet, that’s 15 right there.

So like, say you’ve got a 30-date Wonder Years tour lined up, and there’s a block where you got four days off – will you go, “Hmm, I’m bored, and I’ve got the energy… I’ll do an Aaron West show!” Or is that not possible with the setup you have?
I’ve done it. But you know, it’s very rare that we’ll ever have that many days off on a Wonder Years tour [laughs]. It’s happened a few times. It happened in the UK once and we played an Aaron West set as a four-piece, because Nick [Kennedy] from The Wonder Years plays drums in Aaron West; and LJ, The Wonder Years’ guitar tech, plays guitar in Aaron West; so Casey from The Wonder Years filled in on bass and we played as a four-piece. It also happened once in in Australia – that wasn’t even an off-day, we just had time to kill before the show so I played a set in a record store in Melbourne. That was really cool. And once on the West Coast, I did a couple of solo shows… So yeah, it can happen. But my preference is to do shows with the band, the way that it is intentionally structured.

You should bring that to Australia.
I would love to! But [the band] is one of the many things that makes it so challenging – I looked at The Wonder Years and said, “Hmm, not enough members!” Like, it is so fucking expensive for The Wonder Years to tour Australia. We were about to lose a bunch of money to play at the Full Tilt festival – which we were fine with, because we fucking love coming to Australia – but like, the flights are crazy right now. So to be like, “Yeah, I’m gonna bring this minimum-seven-piece band to Australia…” I’ve gotta find someone who’s willing to pay for that!

P.S. You can also read my Wonder Years interview with Dan here, or in Australian Guitar #151 (which is available here).

L.S. Dunes: Travis Stever’s yang to Frank Iero’s yin

Image credit: Mark Beemer

Travis Stever talks a lot.

That’s not an insult – the 43-year-old New Jerseyan just has a lot to say, and virtually all of it is fantastic. He’s impressively storied: most would know him as the lead guitarist in Coheed And Cambria, but he’s popped his head through many a musical window over some three decades: side-projects include Fire Deuce, The English Panther, Davenport Cabinet and Zero Trust (per Wikipedia, but I’m certain there’s more out there), and he also played lap-steel on My Brother’s Blood Machine, the 2006 debut from The Prize Fighter Inferno, the solo folktronica project of Coheed frontman Claudio Sanchez.

Stever’s latest project is L.S. Dunes, a post-hardcore supergroup* I can only accurately describe as “every mid-to-late 2000s emo fan’s wildest pipe-dream come true”. Stever plays guitar alongside Frank Iero (of My Chemical Romance, and his own mountain of side-projects), while Anthony Green (Circa Survive, Saosin) sings, Tim Payne (Thursday) plays bass, and Tucker Rule (also Thursday, but for a short time, Yellowcard too) plays drums. I write “supergroup” with an asterisk because although L.S. Dunes are a supergroup, etymologically, when I interviewed Stever for Australian Guitar #151, he fucking hated that I called them one. 

Nevertheless, we got along like a house on fire, and I had a blast chatting with him about his new band and their debut album, Past Lives (out now on Fantasy Records). It was hard not to be engaged with everything he said: watching him wax lyrical about his impenetrable love for music, even over Zoom with our video link presenting him at approximately three pixels per inch, the glimmer in his eyes and wideness of his smile made it clear, Stever is living his dream. He’s just a kid that fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll, started jamming out for the hell of it – not to make bank, but simply because it was fun – and somewhere along the way, wound up turning it into his full-time gig (no pun intended). 

It doesn’t seem to have gotten any less fun for him since then, either. Usually artists with careers as weighty as his appear at least a little burnt out on the music industry. You can tell when someone’s passion is genuine, and Stever’s certainly is.

The proof in the pudding, for me, was just how goddamn much Stever had to say about any and every topic. Our interview in Australian Guitar #151, spanning five questions across a hair over 1,000 words, was cut down from a transcript about four times as long. His unedited answers to those questions ran a solid 600-850 words apiece – well over 1,000 for the first – and there were still a few topics that we had to shave off for page space. One of those was actually my favourite from the entire chat: the creative chemistry that L.S. Dunes unlocked between Stever and Iero.

I opted not to run with that in the printed story because what did make it to the page is a lot more relevant to the origin story of L.S. Dunes and how that led to Past Lives shaping up in the way it did – which is ultimately the story I wanted to centre. But I think what Stever said about his creative dynamic with Iero – and how they each pushed the other to venture outside their comfort zones – adds a lot to the narrative surrounding L.S. Dunes. It also adds a twinge of contextual colour to songs like ‘Blender’ and ‘Sleep Cult’, which makes for a more gratifying listen when you really stop to soak in and digest Past Lives.

Ultimately, I think one of the coolest things about the “supergroup” concept is how idiosyncrasy can germinate when two artists of similar mind collaborate. Both Stever and Iero come from backgrounds of punk, rock and post-hardcore – even if their writing and playing styles are quite dissimilar – but when they joined forces to form L.S. Dunes, they started writing music that neither ever thought they would. And that’s so fucking cool.

So below is Stever’s commentary on his chemistry with Iero, as well as a couple of other offcuts from my interview with him. I’ve included those as well because at a base level, as a fan of music at the end of the day, I love reading about my favourite artists’ plans for the future – even if they never come to fruition – and about how they feel in the lead-up to a major release. I know that latter topic is now entirely irrelevant, because Past Lives came out a week ago, but, like, fuck it, it’s my blog, I make the rules.

You should read the Australian Guitar piece before you hit the jump, because it offers some solid context on exactly what L.S. Dunes is, how their collective ethos plays into everything, and why Stever and I were even talking to each other in the first place – and because the latter two of the three questions here were asked after the ones printed in AG, and some lines might be a bit confusing without that context.

So we’re about a month away from getting our hands on Past Lives. How does it feel to be here in the home stretch?
You know, you’re always going to feel a little on edge when you’re about to release something that you poured your heart and soul into, no matter how much you believe in it. It’s exciting, but at the same time, you can feel the the vibes of danger – the danger of exposing the art that you created with your brothers, you know? And knowing that people are going to judge it. But that’s the gig, right. That’s the game. You know people are going to receive it however they choose to – but I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback from everybody I’ve showed it to, so that’s a good sign!

Being the two guitarists in L.S. Dunes, how did you and Frank coalesce in the creative process?
It goes back to what I was saying before, how there was no expectation. It’s really intriguing, because we communicate with each other through the guitars. And we were doing it over streams, online, through email [and] text – and we just knew, as soon as we started sending each other ideas, that it was going to work. And then, you know, it was just as relieving to get into an actual room together and be able to know that the spark was there [in real life], too.

I’ve got to be honest, after working with Frank [on this record], I had to go back and revisit a lot of the things he did in My Chem, and even a lot of his solo stuff – not that I didn’t fully respect everything he does before, but you know, after you see a person in a new light, you understand their musical language more. And I am so honoured to be in this band with him. He comes up with these riffs that are completely different from anything I’ve ever heard before. They’re all over the map – because you can say, “Oh, he comes up with these, really awesome, like, edgy punk riffs,” but that’s not true. 

There’s a song at the end of the album that he wrote, ‘Sleep Cult’, where Anthony’s vocals almost have a doo-wop kind of feel. Frank had written that chord progression – that fingerpicking kind of thing – and I heard it while I was working on other guitars; we were in pre-production, getting ready to go over to Will Yip’s, and it was at the end of the session, we’d been working all day, and all of a sudden, he started playing this really beautiful chord progression. And so we recorded that, just as a rough little idea, but we wound up rolling with it. I just added some lap steel and some really delicate chords to it, just to give it a little nuance. 

There are numerous parts on the album like that, which I think are probably the best parts of it. Another one that started out with Frank – which is probably my favourite [track] on the album right now – is ‘Blender’. I don’t want to get too dorky about it, but you know, that song is a really good example of what it was like to work with him. I sent him the guitar parts, and he really liked them – I think he was already fine and excited with everything I’d laid down… Because you know, that can always be a touchy thing. I mean, he pretty much had a hole-in-one with the ideas I would send him, and I always loved what he was playing – but I was open to him switching whatever he wanted.

In this case, I had written all the guitars that I was going to play, which was based on what he was playing and what Tim was playing. There were no vocals yet. And I’m so glad that we took our time with that song, because at the very last minute, I just switched it up completely, and I wound up harmonising a lot of the guitars [Frank] was playing instead. It was a completely different approach. That’s one of the things I loved about working on this record – the amount of time we were able to take to really think about it.

I’m not going to speak for Frank, but I think he was probably able to step out of his comfort zone [on this record]. Because there’s things he played on it where someone would probably be like, “Wow, I’ve never heard him play like that!” And for me, that feels really special because I got to [work with him] on those songs. And the same goes for me – there are a lot of [parts] on the record that are very different to [the parts] I would usually write.

We’ve already gone way over time, but I want to wrap up by looking to the future: what are your plans for Australia, and what’s the vibe on a second L.S. Dunes album?
Believe me, we want to tour everywhere we can. I can only hope that we’re able to bring [L.S. Dunes] over to Australia – that would be amazing. As for other material… I mean, like I said, there’s just been an endless flow of material. There’s no shortage of stuff that we’ve been sending back and forth, and we already have a lot of surprises up our sleeves. But I just want to pay my respects to the album we’ve already created before we move on to the next thing, you know? I think it’s important that we get out there and show people what we can do on the live end… When everybody’s able to! And if we were able to bring that over there to Australia… I mean, yeah, of course we will!

Past Lives by L.S. Dunes is out now via Fantasy Records – click here to check it out.
The print edition of Australian Guitar #151 is out on November 28th – keep an eye out for that here.

A heaps rad chat with Tim and Craig of LOSER


Okay, so I’ve been staring at this little WordPress CMS text module thing for like 20 minutes at this point, and I still can’t think of anything to write here. It is a Sunday afternoon and I’ve just finished a bullshit hectic week, and my brain is just totally caramelised. My writing skills are definitely not in tip-top shape right now.

Y’know what is in tip-top shape, though? Melbourne-based alt-rock band LOSER.

Yeah I know, that segue was shit.

Y’know what’s not shit, though? Melbour-NO DON’T CLICK AWAY, I’LL STOP!!!

But yeah, the new LOSER record – All The Rage, due out September 10th on Domestic La La, the label I’m pretty sure is just physically incapable of putting out a bad release – slaps so hard. Thematically, it hits super hard and cuts straight down into the soul; but musically, it’s just so much fun. It’s like an amalgamation of everything great about ‘90s and ‘00s pop-rock – there’s a little Weezer in there, a bit of the Pumpkins, a dash of Nirvana – all spun through an ultra-crispy, tightly produced web of modern slickness.

In short: ‘s’a pretty fuckin’ good time, eh.

I got to write the official bio for the record, too, which was really cool. I really enjoyed listening to it approximately 600 times in the span of a week (I know that reads as sarcasm, but it honestly isn’t), and I especially enjoyed getting down to the wire about it with vocalist/guitarist Tim Maxwell and bassist Craig Selak. I only wound up using about 200 words from our chat in that bio, so there existed about 4,000 words of their wisdom just gathering dust on my harddrive…


The band (and their absolute legend of a publicist, shoutout to Abbey!!!!) said they were cool with me posting the full transcript here, so… Here we are ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

It honestly feels like it was just a few months ago that Mindless Joy came out. How did All The Rage come together so quickly for you guys?

Tim: It didn’t, really! We’ve been writing this for… What, like a year and a half now? I mean, the first song and the next single, they were literally written in 2018. So we’ve been working on it for a while. We pretty much wrote another album before we wrote Mindless Joy, and most of those songs just didn’t really fit, or we thought they would be too far removed from what we were doing at the time.

We figured that people wanted to hear something a little bit more simplistic and more like Weezer – stuff in that pop-punk sort of vein – rather than jump straight into the stadium rock sort of thing. So we held off on that and we chose a few songs that we wanted to work on, and then we wrote some more, and so on. I mean, during COVID, what else could you do?

In my honest opinion – and I’m cautious about this coming off as an insult, but I mean it in a totally positive way – I think on this record, your influences are a little less forward-facing, and you guys really come into your own as a band. A song like “Generate” on Mindless Joy, for example – I dig it a lot, but I listen to it and I’m like, “Yeah, this could 100 percent be a Weezer song!” But every track on this album is just… It sounds like LOSER. Do you agree that you’ve sort of galvanised your own identity more on this record?

Tim: Yeah, I feel like the way I’d explain it is that Mindless Joy was like our trendy ‘90s record – y’know, I was listening to all of those bands like Weezer, The Smashing Pumpkins… I actually didn’t grow up listening to all of that, that was Craig’s bread and butter, but I got into that at a later stage and that’s what inspired me to start LOSER. 

But for this record, I went back more to the 2000s, I started watching Video Hits and all that, and I was listening to all the bands that I know and love. And I feel like a lot of that shows in [All The Rage]. It’s still a good combination of all that ‘90s stuff, but with a bit more of the 2000s.

Craig: Yeah. We definitely didn’t take any offence to that comment, by the way – it’s totally true. I remember, there were a couple of moments during the writing and recording of Mindless Joy where we would be like, “This part reminds me of Alice In Chains, let’s go more down that path,” or, “This is kind of Weezer-y, let’s put some more of that energy into it.” But this time around, it was much more about what we were feeling personally and what felt good to us, and a bit less of a focus on any of that stuff. 

Which I guess is probably a combination of having grown into our own as a band, and the fact that having been a band for longer, and having Mindless Joy on our belts already, we feel a bit less worried about how it’s all going to come across. We’re more comfortable in expressing ourselves.

Did that confidence lead to you feeling more inspired?

Tim: Yeah, we definitely felt more inspired. The last band I was in was like instrumental, ‘70s rock sort of stuff. And I guess I’ve always sort of been… Not really a frontman, but writing the songs and sort of leading the band and stuff. So yeah, it was cool to come into our own.

What is it about those big, anthemic ‘90s and ‘00s rock bands that you wanted to channel? Or what is it about that style that resonates so much with you?

Tim: I think it’s the catchiness – it’s universally pleasing to everybody. I feel like the 2000s are coming back pretty strong at the moment, y’know what I mean? I basically wanted to give the kids of 2021 an opportunity to feel what I felt back in the day, when I would hear bands like Green Day for the first time and just lose my mind. 

There’s a lot of bands out there who are just trying to jump on what’s trendy at the time, and we’re pushing something that’s not really trendy at the moment. And, like, it takes longer, y’know? Not many people want to listen to guitar solos and stuff – songs have to be under three minutes long, they need to be short and simple… And don’t get me wrong, we did a lot of that – I mean, there’s not a one song over three-and-a-half minutes long on this record, I’m pretty sure.

Craig: I think some of the inspiration, too, just comes from those full-circle moments. It might be different for Tim, but as I get older, I’ve started to become a lot more relaxed in who I am, and anything I got into when I was 11 to 14 years old is now just sacred. Each year seems to become more and more influential. 

The first live gig I saw was Silverchair, Magic Dirt and Something For Kate, and it was like, I’d gone from Queen to that, and then straight into the grunge stuff, and then once I started meeting friends at school and playing in different bands, I got into more punk and ska and everything like that. And that’s where all the Bennies stuff came into it – which was just great, I mean, playing with those guys was amazing, they gave me some of the best moments in my life – but then you get to a point where Tim sends you a song called “Phase Me” and it sounds exactly like the first things you ever loved, and you’re like, “Woah!” 

It was like I was plugging back into the source, y’know what I mean? And I think the more you indulge in that, the more it just fills you up… It’s all about the love we have for this kind of music, and wanting to push forward with it in our own way.

You want it to be so that if 15-year-old Craig could hear this record, he’d be fucking stoked!

Craig: Exactly! You want to write a song that you would have liked, y’know?

With “On The Edge”, Tim, you noted that you wanted to write a song that would have a universal impact. Do you reckon you achieved what you set out to do, or tick the boxes you wanted to?

Tim: Totally, yeah, I think I did! I mean, it’s been played on the radio every day, and I didn’t think that song would be picked up to begin with, so that’s fucking awesome. I literally spent weeks and weeks just watching Video Hits and going, “Alright, cool, so I want a Ben Folds, ‘Rockin’ The Suburbs’ sort of verse, and then this weird, almost rap-ish verse, and then the chorus has to be real simplistic, but still punches you in the face…”

So in terms of the lyrical themes you guys explore on this record, I could be totally misreading it all here, but it feels like there’s an overall theme of self-affirmation and overcoming adversary – whether that’s inflicted by other people or by your own mental headspace. Was there an intentional theme of optimism you wanted to embrace, or was the goal to write an album that people could listen to as a tool of encouragement?

Tim: It was mostly about how bad my mental health was going – especially that song, “On The Edge”. Mindless Joy hid away a lot of those things, and I wasn’t being as sincere when I was writing those songs. Whereas [on All The Rage] there’s some really deep lyrical moments. Especially the song “So”, too, where I’ve written it like a storyteller-songwriter thing, where it’s just like, “He could not be any more obvious about what’s going on in his life.” 

When Craig and I were tracking, I think it was two songs – “On The Edge” was one of them – and it was like… That’s the first time I’d ever broken down in the studio. I didn’t know what was wrong with me – I felt like half my body was numb. And I think you can really hear that through a lot of the vocal tracking and the lyrical content.

Is it important for you to maintain the human side of it, and allow yourself to get to that point where it can be very cathartic?

Tim: Totally, yeah, that was mostly the point of it – being real open and honest. And y’know, hopefully people can relate to that and feel the same way, and the songs can be cathartic for them too.

Craig: I feel like when the songs were written, there wasn’t a cohesive theme in mind. It wasn’t until we put them all together that we realised what was going on with the album. And coming up with the name All The Rage – it felt really fitting for what we were saying, and what Tim was saying, because it was a response to being in an environment where there’s a lot of rage. 

It was less about the pandemic and more about just being a young person in an environment where people are rewarded for outrage, and it actually makes people more popular and more wealthy; the more they can bring rage out in people, the more engagement they receive. And these songs the a reflection of somebody looking inward, whilst also being inside a larger environment where it’s all about stoking the fire.

I think it was cool when we sort of picked up on that. It was like, “Wow, each song has kind of got this thread running through it! This is what’s happening, but this is how I’m feeling, and I want to talk about how I’m feeling, not what’s happening.” Y’know what I mean?

I guess it comes down to that authenticity of, like, when you’re putting all of yourself into a record and you’re not trying to force anything, there can end up being an overarching theme that runs through all of the songs subconsciously. Because that’s how life itself works, and a good record about one’s life is just a snapshot of a period of time in that life.

Craig: Absolutely. And this was a really clear snapshot, so I’m glad that’s come across. Because yeah, there were definitely moments where y’know, Tim was super vulnerable – particularly in tracking it. I think a lot of the writing is subconscious and emotional, and then when you get down to going, “Alright, let’s nail this part, how are you feeling? Let’s track it!” That’s when it becomes real. And then I’m sitting there while Tim’s singing and I’m just like, “Shit, man! He’s pouring into it!” That was a nice thing to try and capture.

Speaking of the tracking, what was it like building Restless Noise Studios from the ground up?

Tim: Yeah, it was awesome! My parents were just super supportive and awesome, and they were like, “Hey, we’re buying our old house, and there’s a six-by-six metre shed, and we want to turn that into a studio for you. We’ll pay for it.” And basically, I had a mate from Tassie come up and help me build that, and we built it over, like, two or three weeks. When do you think we started actually working in there, Craig? It would have been a while after we finished building.

Craig: Yeah, we did the first round of tracking for the album a year ago – it would’ve been May. So when we started, the first drum tracks were recorded via satellite, because at that point we were still in lockdown. So the studio kind of fired up and had a warm release, with Tim in there by himself and me in this exact room, sending bass parts and tracking vocals. 

And then there was that mid-year period where everything opened up again for about a month and a half, and that’s when we really got in and the studio and really came into its own, and we started pounding out the rest of the songs because we thought things might lock down again – and they did, so then we couldn’t really finish the album until late last year, early this year, once everything had opened up again. 

So we had to take a couple of runs at it, but in that whole time, Tim was just working away on the record. Because he was basically living at the studio during lockdown, just adding bits and pieces and working it through. And it was a really strange and awesome experience – I’d never recorded an album over such a long period of time. 

Tim: We’d be on Facetime with each other for hours. Because me and Craig produced it; we had a lot of input on Mindless Joy as well, but we were under the guidance of somebody else, and the whole band was in the room. But this one was mostly just me and Craig, and y’know, we’d pull apart the songs and play around with them. 

There were so many songs that had to be faster and so many songs that had to be slower, and we were like, “Ah, this is boring,” and, “Ah, here’s a fresh song” – we had so much time to work on it, and we took advantage of every second.

Craig: But then by the end, we got to the point where we were just like, “Okay, let’s not overthink it now!” We’d done so much overthinking that we came full circle and went, “Let’s just vibe it!” And then we ended up just flowing right to the finish line. It was a pretty strange way to do an album, but I feel so proud of how it came out, and pushing through all that weird stuff.

So you spent months and months working on this record, but you were still just going with the flow and maintaining that essential looseness.

Craig: Yeah! We’d just put out an album, so we didn’t feel pressured to rush it. But also, we didn’t want to just wait for that – for everything to happen again, y’know? There was no finish line at this time last year, for when things were going to happen again. 

So we were like, “Well, [Mindless Joy] has come out, that’s happened, that’s great – but we’re still feeling this itch we’ve gotta scratch, so let’s keep going.” And then we just kept pushing, and it ended up blowing out, y’know? It’s funny – you think about some of the classic albums that were recorded over a year or something like that, but this was not like that!

Tim, did you find that having your own studio to work in gave you more freedom to experiment, or explore your ideas in more depth?

Tim: Totally, yeah. Because most other times, we’d work with this guy named Sam Johnson, who’s an absolute legend. But y’know, when you’ve got someone else’s workflow, things happen a certain way, and you have to sort of do everything their way to keep the family happy together. Whereas this was just like, “Alright, cool, I can work on whatever song I want, whatever part I want, whenever I want.” 

But that also didn’t help in a way, because we were still in lockdown, and I’d have to be tracking this stuff by myself, there’s no one else there to jam out with, and I’m just like, “Is… Is that good enough?” I don’t know, y’know what I mean? Like, you can spend as long as you want on something, but it’s still gotta be sincere and not over-produced.

Was there anything you learned from making Mindless Joy with Sam that you were able to adapt to your production techniques on All The Rage?

Tim: Yeah. Mindless Joy was all heavily doubled and tripled, vocal-wise, and we learned a lot more about, like, having a signature character to make the songs flow a lot better. Other than the choruses and things like that, there’s just the one voice running through the whole thing. So we tried to put a lot of attitude and character into that, and really push for that. 

I think it was while we were working on “Upside Down”, we were watching all these Max Martin interviews about tracking vocals, and we spent probably six hours on a 30-second intro, and it was so shit. We got the intro out, and I was like, “Yeah, let’s not track the vocals like that, man, that’s gonna suck!” 

Craig: Like you say, we did learn from our time with Sam. It’s funny how we talk about keeping the family happy, because that worked both ways; Sam definitely compromised his own style for what we wanted to do, and we really did want those double-tracked, triple-tracked vocals on the last album. And that’s not always the way Sam works, as you will have heard with The Smith Street Band or Camp Cope or stuff like that, where he really lets the vocal hang out. 

We were coming at it from a totally different perspective, and I do think that when it was just us and there were no training wheels from Sam in the producer’s chair with us, we were able to really embrace what we learned from him. And I’m glad we did, y’know? We took it to the places where we felt comfortable, and it was really cool.

What was the most fun you had making this record?

Tim: One of the moments I remember, which we’ve got on video, was when we recorded the song “Skyward”. We did one practise take, and then that whole song was sung in one go. I think that was one of the moments where we were just like, “Holy shit! This is awesome!” We were all high-fiving… And other than that, probably when we were making “Wrong”. 

That song came pretty late to the party. I was listening to a lot of Max Martin and Taylor Swift, and I was just like, “Alright, I’m gonna write this poppy-as-fuck melody!” I kept throwing these wild ideas to Craig – I’m like, “Yeah, I want radio vocals, backups doing this, and then this pop-punk thing!” And he was like, “Really? Do you actually want this? …SICK!” 

It was like we were finally coming into one and moulding this big ol’ pop-punk baby, y’know what I mean? I think those were my two favourite moments for sure.

Craig: I love the drum track for that opening song, “Head First”. During the recording process, Chris Cowburn left the band, and then our guitarist, Jake [‘Cutter’ Farrugia], became our drummer – and that was the first song he drummed. So there’s four tracks that are Cutter, and the rest are Cowburn. And I mean, we love Chris too, that was very much an amicable… Like, he’s a dad now, he’s a label manager, and when the pandemic hit, he was just like, “I need to step back from performing, I think I’ve had my time.” 

But we were lucky, we we had another, superior drummer just waiting to step in. The first drum fills he tracked were for this song “Head First”, and I think he just ripped it up. I felt really proud and excited for him, to see him switch roles and not miss a beat – no pun intended – and just dominate it. 

Tim: I remember Craig in the studio, when Cutter was doing that outro – like, Pumpkins-as-fuck snare rolls at the end of “Head First” – and he was like, “Our drummer can do that! That’s our guy! He plays hyper-speed!”

Craig: I always just love any time there’s a guitar solo in a song, too. I love being in the room when Tim and his Brother Will – a.k.a. Dragon – are playing guitar together. The solo in the song “Meant To Be” was like Tim’s “Slash out the front of the chapel, ‘November Rain’ guitar solo” kind of moment. And I just love that shit, y’know? Anything with a guitar solo in it.

I don’t know if I can think of any other questions, is there anything else you think people should know about this record, or anything else you wanna say about it?

Craig: I hope there’s something on this album that people feel like they can relate to. Even a song like “Skyward” – I mean, it’s about aliens, but it’s also about feeling like when shit’s hitting the fan, you can step out and just focus on yourself.

I think that’s the overarching theme of the album: you don’t have to step away and hide from the world, you can look within and find something that makes you feel more comfortable. And that really sums up the personal growth we all went through in trying to record this album, learning not to overthink things, and Tim’s personal journey with his mental health over the pandemic. 

I hope people feel at home in these songs, and that it’s reaffirming on some level… And, also, I like the guitar solos [laughs].

All The Rage is set for release on September 10th, 2021 via Domestic La La. Click here to pre-order.

AFI: Keeping The Flame Alight (an interview with Jade Puget)


Good morning! I went to bed at 2am last night and woke up at 6am, but for some strange reason, I feel incredibly well-slept. Coming from someone who can sleep (and has slept) 18 hours straight and still feel tired, that’s pretty fucking phenomenal – especially considering I am so far behind with AG #144 and I really could use every second I’ve got. 

But ANYWAY, last month I had a really nice chat with Jade Puget of AFI. I found him incredibly insightful and very bubbly, easy to riff off of and carry the interview along. I’d shopped the story around for a few weeks before their latest record Bodies came out, but I sadly couldn’t get an outlet to bite on it. The record has been out for a hot minute now (it streeted on June 11th), so I figure it might just work best to throw this piece up here and let it shine on its own merit. 



When they formed in the hazy Californian winter of ’91, AFI were nothing if not enthusiastic. None of the four wide-eyed ragamuffins knew how to play an instrument (no, literally – they didn’t even own any), but that hardly stopped them from thrashing away to their hearts’ content, in time making their full-length breakout with 1995’s Answer That And Stay Fashionable. Co-produced with Rancid members Tim Armstrong and Brett Reed, the record was, by and large, your stock-standard hardcore punk affair: loose, gnashing guitars, scatter-paced drum fills, and scratchy yelled vocals dripping with venomous teen angst. 

Looking back on the record in 2021, it’s… Well, it’s something. It’s hard to believe Answer That And Stay Fashionable was bashed out by the same AFI that made Bodies – the band’s kinetic and kaleidoscopic 11th LP, due June 11th on Rise Records. On the new record are glimmers of the crunchy, mosh-ready mania that AFI cut their teeth on, but there’s also a tinge of the seedy, soul-gripping emo they dipped their feet into on 2003’s Sing The Sorrow, and a solid dose of the effervescent new-wave vibes they’ve explored in recent years. There are also tracks that sound unlike anything else AFI have ever done before; it’s a triumph of the band’s storied past, but also a defiant charge ahead in their eternal pursuit of innovation – it feels purpose-built to celebrate AFI’s 30th anniversary.

Except according to guitarist Jade Puget, the impending milestone never even grazed his mind until last month. As far as he’s concerned, every AFI record is the debut effort from a new incarnation of the band. Reinvention is crucial, he stresses, lest they lapse into a soul-sucking cycle of half-assed insipidity. As Puget ruminates to [insert outlet name here], Bodies is a snapshot of AFI in the present day, and there’s no telling where they’ll go – let alone who they’ll be – from here.

One of the really exciting things about being an AFI fan is that you never know what’s going to come next. You’ve gone from hardcore to goth-rock, to pop-punk, to indie-rock… You’ve been everywhere, man. How much of that creative process is just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks? Do you see a value in experimentation?
I do! As a songwriter – and y’know, as a musician and an artist in general – I think stagnation really is the death of creativity. If we were to just remake our most popular albums, or try to replicate the formula that sold us the most records, I don’t think we would still be a band. Because sure, you might make more money or sell more records, but it’s just so soul-crushing. Even if you fail or people don’t like it, to strike out in a new direction is still more artistically rewarding. 

Has there ever been a time where you’ve done something and then stepped back and gone, “Okay, shit, we might have taken it a bit too far here”?
I mean yeah, all the time [laughs]. I actually brought this up to Davey the other day and he doesn’t even remember it, but when we were writing for this record, we somehow ended up with a reggae song. Y’know, obviously AFI is not known for its reggae – and it certainly wasn’t what we set out to do – but that’s just the way the song happened. And at the end of it, we were just kind of looking at each other like, “…How did this happen!?” But it was a good song! I actually ended up finished it after the fact, and I really like it! I don’t think it’ll ever see the light of day, but y’know, it’s fun to explore those paths less travelled when the opportunity comes up.

So where did the inspiration for this album’s thematic palate come from?
There wasn’t any particular thing where it was like I went through some traumatic experience, or had a bad breakup, or anything like that. It’s more just that at this point, I’ve been writing songs for a long time, so I just take everything in. It could be the weather, or a movie I just watched, or a book I’m reading… Y’know, you just kind of internalise everything that’s happening in your life, and then it somehow comes out in the music.

The stylistic ebb and flow on this record is truly something else. You’ve got tracks like Dulceria” and Tied To A Tree”, which are really deep and atmospheric, but then you’ve got tracks like Begging For Trouble” and Looking Tragic” which are really bright and energetic – and the way they all gel together is magical. Is the dynamic of mood something you were very conscious about?
I’m glad it happens that way, but when we sit down to write, we really have no plan for what we’re going to write. At the end of that process, it’s just like, “Okay, what are the ten best songs we have here?” But with a song like “Tied To A Tree”, you can’t write too many of those in a row or you’ll just be incredibly depressed. So you have to write something like “Begging For Trouble” to sort of cleanse your palate.

Is that diversity a testament to your creative chemistry as a band?
Yeah, even though I write all the music, I don’t try to take over it with all these crazy guitar theatrics. In fact if you listen to our records throughout the years, you can actually hear that I’ve become less and less interested in making my guitar any sort of focal point. To me, the guitars have just become another tool in my arsenal of songwriting techniques, and it just needs to be in its place and have its time. You don’t need to have these giant stacks of guitars constantly assaulting you. If you let the guitar have one cool moment in a song, that will be more impactful than having it hit you over the head for the entire song. So now I can create space for Hunter [Burgan, bass] to have his moment, for the vocals to have their moment… For everyone to have their moment. 

Is that something you’ve found has come more naturally to you with time? 
Yeah. I think as I’ve become a little more adept at songwriting, I’ve realised that making a good song isn’t about having everything sounding huge all the time. I think on this record especially, you can see that those spaces in the music can be just as impactful and as powerful as 13 layers of guitars.

Do you ever trawl through the catalogue and reflect on AFI’s evolution, or is your focus always set on the next chapter of the journey?
I’m always just trying to move forward – and I think Davey feels the same way. Y’know, sometimes I’ll sit down with my guitar and I’ll try to be like, “Okay, I’m gonna write a fast song!” Or, “I’m gonna write a song that sounds like something from The Art Of Drowning!” But when you try to force something like that, it never tends to work. It feels inauthentic. It feels uncreative. Now if that was to happen naturally – if I was to write some fast old-school punk song because that’s what I had stuck in my head – I would be all for it. And sometimes we do write that kind of stuff, and it’s okay, because it came to us naturally. But I’m not really one to reflect on our past; I’m certainly not one to throw on an old AFI record and rock out to my own music.

Do you have any plans to celebrate AFI’s 30th anniversary this year?
Yeah, we’re trying to figure that out at the moment. We’ve gotta do something cool, right? It is a big milestone – I don’t think very many bands get to 30 years – so we’re trying to think up something cool for the fans, a way that we can celebrate the whole history of the band and all the records we’ve put out. 

How strong would you say the band is right now? Could you see AFI kicking on for another 30 years?
I mean, I hope to die well before that [laughs]. But if it does happen, I won’t be complaining. I think as long as we’re able to make music that excites us, we’ll keep it going. That’s really the key to everything. If at some point there’s nothing left in the tank and we start retreading old stuff or it’s just not fun anymore, that will be when we call it a day.

I like that vibe. Sometimes you’ve just gotta go with the flow.
Yeah! I mean, that’s how we started. When we were kids, we never had any master plan – we were never looking forward to the ten-year anniversary or thinking about a five-album plan, or going, “What are we going to do after this record?” It’s always just been about taking it one day at a time.

Is that harder to do when you’ve got label contracts and expectations to meet?
No, because strangely enough, I really feel like all four of us still operate on the same wavelength; we still have the same approach [to AFI] that we did when we were a DIY punk band. We’re not going to do anything because we owe it to a label, or because we need to make money. It’s never going to be about that. Whenever we go to make a record, we have to ask ourselves, ‘Is this real for us? Is this authentic? Are we having fun?’

Well if the energy isn’t there for an AFI record, you’ve all got side projects to channel your creativity into.
Yeah, exactly. Blaqk Audio is my main side project, and that’s always a fun escape. In fact, Davey and I are writing a new Blaqk Audio record right now, so we’re hoping to record that soon!