This week has been pretty solid for new music: we finally got that enormous comeback from Lorde, Dear Seattle and Between You And Me both popped back into the spotlight, and we got new tracks from The Front Bottoms, Weezer, Manchester Orchestra and iDKHOW (among plenty others).
Also, Trophy Eyes announced some shows! I really wanted to get tickets for that Oxford Art Factory gig next month, but a) they were $60 each, and b) they sold out in like five minutes anyway. Ah, well. I might try to see if I can review it for someone. And there’s almost certainly going to be a theatre tour later in the year when LP4 lands.
I’m not really keen to talk about how my own week has been this time around – I might write a separate post about the day I spent with Milo at Ed Square yesterday, if I don’t immediately zonk out after I chew through some errands – so let’s jump straight into all the stuff I reported on for NME this week!
I think in general, the highlight for this week was the hotly anticipated return of Lorde. I don’t think “Solar Power” is her strongest work – not by a massive stretch (IMO it sounds like a half-assed rip of “Harmony Hall” by Vampire Weekend) – but it’s great to see the queen of pop back in action, and I’m extremely keen to get my hands on the full album, whenever it drops.
I figured the new Front Bottoms track would end up being my personal highlight, but the more I listen to it, the more it feels like a very generic, uninspired track from the band. They have a solid dozen other songs that sound pretty much exactly the same.
The new Skrillex, on the other hand, is great. I love the way it blends his old and new styles (which is no doubt mostly thanks to the input from Noisia), and what it adds to his recent slate of comeback singles – it’s definitely my favourite out of the three. Now I’m just waiting for the album announcement. It has to be coming, right!?
I’m also really stoked on the new Illuminati Hotties single. The album looks super promising, and I’m really hoping I can jump on the phone (or Zoom) with Sarah to vibe on it before October.
I’ve been waking up at ~6am every morning for the past week, which may seem pretty benign to most people, but has been a struggle and a half for me. I’m typically the polar opposite of a ‘morning person’ – even if I go to bed at, like, 10pm, waking up before 10am and not feeling like total shit is the epitome of miraculous. But over the years, I’ve come to realise that when I have been forced to wake up early (or y’know, in the morning at all), my productivity has thrived. I don’t know how to explain it, but for some reason I do my best work in the morning, and whenever I wake up early, by the end of the day I’ll have wound up with waaaaaay more done.
So for my first proper month as a news writer for NME Australia, I’ve been taking all morning shifts. I’m definitely still getting used to having a “normal” routine and adjusting my body clock to that routine (it has only been a week, though, so I can’t expect to have it 100% down-pat all of a sudden), but I think it’s been really beneficial. And I am loving this new job. People have always found it weird when I say I really enjoy writing news – including my new boss – but I genuinely do! It’s a cool thought that someone might see a news piece I’ve written about an artist they like, read it, and get excited over what that artist is up to. I like being able to have a hand in that narrative. I used to get in trouble all the time when I was in high school because I’d be aimlessly browsing Music Feeds instead of studying.
TLDR: Music news is awesome. Big fan.
I bundled all of my NME pieces from May in my last post dump, but came to realise after it went live that including them in those posts going forward might clutter them a bit too much. I did six shifts in May and wound up with 35 articles – I have a total of 22 shifts in June, so if I stuff them all into the next post dump, it’s going to be, like, 95% NME news articles. So I figure it’s a better look for the blog (and easier to manage) if I do these dedicated news roundup posts, and let them breathe on their own a little bit.
Also, I think I’ve come to the decision that every post on this blog (that doesn’t already have its own piece-appropriate header) is just going to lead with a photo of Bruno. His inclusion instantly makes the post 500% better by default, and really, how could you not want his adorable face to be the first thing you see every time!? The photo above is currently the wallpaper on my iPhone, and has been since the day I bought it (it was one of the first photos I took on it). The yellow lab he’s chilling with is my sister’s dog Louie – he’s a little shit, but I love him anyway. He and Bruno are inseparable – especially when there’s a pool and/or ball involved.
Anyway, here’s all the news I reported on at NME over the past week!
I think the highlight this week was that King Stingray performance for Triple J – those four new songs are fantastic, and I truly cannot wait to see them live for myself. And, of course, “Hey Wanhaka” and “Get Me Out” (the two songs they’ve released as singles thus far) sound incredible in their live versions. Fingers crossed thrice over for a proper, full-on headline tour when the plague dies down.
Also, I’ve heard that new Gang Of Youths single, and it is fucking phenomenal. Y’all are not ready.
Hello! It’s been a hot minute since I’ve been able to make a post like this (thanks to a lil’ delay in the system), but it’s officially here: the insanely overstuffed 143rd issue of Australian Guitar. I’ve had Rivers Cuomo on my “interview bucket list” since the day I started writing, and even though it happened a little over two months ago, it’s still completely surreal to me that I got to chat with him one-on-one for this issue. We vibed on Van Weezer and OK Human, the 25th anniversary of Pinkerton, and the four-album saga Weezer are (supposedly) going to drop throughout 2020.
I have to give Emilie at Warner the biggest shoutout known to humankind for this – we’ve been hustling hard to make this cover happen for over a year, and we finally made it happen! I am so, so, so, so, so, so stoked on how it all turned out.
When I started working on this issue, I was kind of worried I wouldn’t be able to fill the top end of it with enough features; the first few weeks were pretty scant on album/tour announcements, and I figured I’d end up having to syndicate a few pieces to fill in the blanks. But all of a sudden, the opportunities just came flooding in, and I even ended up having to cut a whole bunch of editorial that I’d otherwise consider priority material. Like, look at that lineup – that would be the sickest festival bill of all time.
I have literally no idea what AG #144 is going to look like right now, and that’s… Actually kind of exciting? It’s fun having a completely blank slate to run wild with. I know we’re going to do some massive, over-the-top Bluesfest special, which will be really cool. I’m wondering if we might do a non-artist cover story for the next one, too – our last one was the Signature Sizzlers feature in #139, so the timing is ripe. I’m gonna keep an eye on the release calendar for the next month and a bit before I make a decision.
For the moment, you can read all about what’s in Australian Guitar #143 over on the Guitar World site. Copies are on sale now at newsagents all around Australia, online via Techmags and iSubscribe, and digitally wherever great magazines can be downloaded.
So this time I actually have an excuse for leaving this blog out to gather dust – I have been keeping myself super busy lately! And I’m feeling all the better for it!
I’ve picked up a new job as part of the Australian news team for NME, I’ve been writing a bunch of editorial for BLUNT, and I’m still going strong with Australian Guitar. I’ve also teamed up with the absolute gems at UNFD to write for their new podcast series, showcasing highlights from their back catalogue in celebration of the label’s ten-year anniversary. You can check that whole thing out here.
Milo and I are planning to move in the next few months, too, so there’s been a lot of time spent hoarding bits and pieces, looking at places, and hashing out a game plan. We did the RSPCA Million Paws Walk this month, which was an absolute blast – as you can see above, Bruno was definitely the biggest fan between us. We raised over $1,000 for pups in need! Go us!!!
Anyway, here’s everything of mine that got published around the web throughout March, April and May of 2021 ☺️
Towards the end of the cataclysmic shitstorm that was 2020, a few weeks before TheSmashingPumpkins released their towering 11th album, CYR, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with the band’s notoriously enigmatic and elusive frontman, BillyCorgan. This was for the January issue of Australian Guitar (#141 – read more about that here).
We had a 15-minute phoner booked in, and knowing Corgan’s general reluctance towards the press and tendency to give tight, concise answers, I’d fully expected it to be a quick in-and-out type situation. But much like a good chunk of their discography, our call went on for way longer than it realistically should’ve. I think I caught Corgan on a good day – he was very animated, very friendly, and happily waxed lyrical about topics I thought he’d brush off entirely.
However, due to the pitfalls of print and the onerous word-counts we have to abide by, lest the magazine look like a crowded mess of crammed-in text, most of our chat wound up on the cutting room floor. Usually when an interview runs longer than it’s supposed to and I end up with a kilo or two of leftover copy, there are two routes I can take: I can either ditch what doesn’t make it to print (which I do when all the extra stuff is superfluous or waffly, or not interesting enough to justify bothering with), or I can scribble up a second feature to pitch to another publication.
I was really quite stoked with the 2,000 words of content I had left over from my call with Corgan, so I held on to it, my intention being to write a second article with it and sell that to a publication that didn’t have their own feature to plug CYR. And there ended up being a publication onboard to buy it!
The only thing is, the timing couldn’t have been worse. The editor I was in contact with wanted authorisation from the Pumpkins’ publicist to run the piece, and by the time that came though, we were both on our holiday breaks, and I missed the green-light landing in my inbox. By the time I came across it, CYR had been out for over a month, it was right after Christmas, and I’d just kind of accepted that our plans for the handover had fallen through the cracks.
I’d just been paid for the last issue of Australian Guitar, too, so I wasn’t super fussed about missing out on that extra payday. My plan was to wait until I’d started easing back into ‘writing mode’ at the start of the new year, and make this transcript the first thing I posted on my blog for 2021. But alas, thanks to the fact that I have the memory of a fucking tadpole, it ended up buried in a folder on my MacBook until five whole months later.
But, like, fuck it, right? I put effort into planning this interview, studying for it, doing it, transcribing it, and cleaning that transcript up – so I’m not letting it die.
So, in short, here is about half of a chat I had with Billy Corgan around the time The Smashing Pumpkins’ (unfairly maligned) latest album CYR came out. If you’d like to (see: please?) read the other half, you can clickthese few words of bold text right here to read it on the Guitar World website (or track down a copy of Australian Guitar #141 if you’re all about that physical mag life).
For a great deal of this record, it sounds like you’re using the guitar as a tool to complement the synthesisers, as opposed to vice versa. But at the same time, you’ve managed to maintain this very analogue, full-band sort of sound. How did you go about striking that balance? It’s just a lot of layering. I don’t talk about this stuff in public a lot, but I’m a big fan of layering sounds. When people listen to the record for the first time they assume there’s no guitar in there, which is not true. There’s actually a lot of guitar on this record, but it’s kind of hidden in the layers.
There’s a thing I call ‘masking’ – Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys used to do it a lot – where let’s say if you have a piano and a guitar, you have the guitar sound like one thing and the piano sound like another, but if you put them together in a certain way it creates a different type of instrument; you’re not quite sure what you’re hearing. That’s what I mean when I talk about layering – it’s this game of trying to put instruments together in a way that sounds unfamiliar, but tonally isn’t strange. It’s all familiar range, but you’re reacting to it differently because it’s not the typical sound you’re used to hearing. I’m really into a lot of boring stuff like that.
I’m curious about how that will translate to the live set, because there’s three guitarists in the band between James [Iha] and Jeff [Schroeder], but with a lot of these songs, you’ve got long stretches where the guitar is at most a minimal element. Well when we play live and we do songs like that from over the band’s 30 years – songs like “1979” and “Eye” – we just use backing tapes, and we kind of play the guitar intertwined. That’s been a really effective strategy. So in essence, we kind of do a variation of the song that’s more guitar-voiced for the stage, with the backing tapes filling in the blanks. And it sounds fine.
I feel like because of how much musical ground the Smashing Pumpkins have covered over the past 32 years, you are one of those few bands that can truly get away with anything without ever seeming inauthentic. Do you feel like you have that true creative freedom to do whatever the fuck you want? Pretty much, yeah. But it’s not been an easy thing to do, y’know? Because the music business is not set up for bands like us – the music business is set up for a band that does this and a band that does that. And those bands market those sounds, and consistently build on that marketing year after year, until people get bored. I, from the beginning, never wanted that – and it’s caused a tonne of problems. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but it’s definitely not been the easiest path to take.
Do you still have that attitude of wanting to rebel against the music industry, or the labels you were given by people like me? I think it’s more about rebelling against perception. I won’t include you in this, but I think throughout the years there’s been a lot of lazy takes about the Pumpkins. It’s like when people call Zeppelin a rock ’n’ roll band or Sabbath a doom band – it doesn’t really sum up all the nuance of those bands’ sounds. [The Smashing Pumpkins] is very much a product of its time, and we were always quite comfortable with being chameleonic.
I mean, I still have snippets of reviews we got from before our first album came out, where they said we sounded like The Black Crows, REM and The Cult. I like all those bands, but that’s not even remotely close to what we were going for. But they said that because they couldn’t figure out where we were coming from, and those were the closest names to lump us with. I don’t know how many studio albums we’ve released at this point, but y’know, we’ve always been a fairly dominant musical unit, as far as our ability to generate music in a bunch of ways for a bunch of different eras.
But the rap on the band tends to be about other stuff – mostly drama about me that isn’t reflective of who I actually am. So it’s kind of a weird thing – the best argument I can make is just to keep achieving musically; I could argue with you about how the media perceives me, but that’s kind of a losing argument because at the end of the day, you’re the one writing this article, not me. Y’know what I mean? I’m not saying this to you personally, but it’s like, I’ve lost the battle many times already – I’m not going to change anybody’s minds, especially if they already have some sort of bias against me – so the best I can do is just keep achieving musically.
And I believe that eventually, through streaming, through new generations of fans, and through a different world which is in many ways more beneficial to my way of doing musical business, it’ll just all sort itself out. But yeah, I still have a chip on my shoulder, y’know?
Well, I like that you’re able to approach that side of the argument with some optimism. I feel very lucky, y’know? I feel like I’ve had a great musical life. I was even thinking about it today, before I did all these interviews, that I don’t have anything to complain about. As a musician, I’ve lived every dream I’ve had and I’ve done everything I’ve ever wanted to do. There was one period in my life where I worked with Tony Iommi, I played a concert with David Bowie and I interviewed Eddie Van Halen. Those were all childhood heroes for me, and I got to put myself on their level. That’s an incredible life to live.
I think I’ve been mistreated many times, sure – but I’ve also been a part of the arguing, so that’s okay. I don’t feel like a victim. I have two healthy children, a lot of great fans… The fact that someone like you is interested in what we’re doing right now is great! And there’s no “dot dot dot”, there’s no asterisk – it’s been a great thing. It’s been certainly more great than bad.
So as the next chapter in the Shiny And Oh So Bright era, how does this record continue the story that you started telling with No Past. No Future. No Sun.? It’s a bit convoluted because when the band got back together with James, I wanted to do a musical, but there wasn’t a lot of energy in the band to do it. So I’d written some songs for the musical that ended up on No Past, and that kind of set me off on this narrative pace. It’s like the dream of the character versus the story of the character; right now, we’re working on a sequel album to Melon Collie and Machina, which is like a continuation of the characters’ stories that we explored on those albums.
But I think the Shiny And Oh So Bright story is ultimately more about the band’s journey… It’s going to be hard to talk about it until the third volume comes out. We’re three quarters of the way done with that, and I think once it comes out, it’ll explain why I did what I did. But right now, I think it would just confuse people if I tried to explain it.
How does the Shiny And Oh So Bright narrative continue past this album? Well y’know, we’re doing the Machina reissue soon, and when that comes out it’ll explain the whole narrative of that project. I’ve never explained the Machina narrative. The Melon Collie one is much simpler in the sense that it’s just the rise and fall of a star – it’s pretty simple rock ’n’ roll stuff – but Machina is way more convoluted and crazy. And I think once I explain the concept behind that, it’ll become more evident where [Shiny And Oh So Bright] is going. But it’s hard to talk about that before it’s done.
Y’know, we live in a clickbait world, so if I say one thing about it, it’ll be twisted into a million other things and everybody will expect something different to what was implied. I have a funny story about that, actually: when we were doing Adore, somebody asked me what kind of album we were making and I jokingly said, “We’re making a techno album.” Next thing you know, there were headlines all around the world like, “Pumpkins Announce Techno Album”. Then every interview was like, “So Billy, you’re making a techno album?” And I’d have to be like, “No!” I’ve been burned too many times by running my mouth early [laughs].
I suppose CYR would be the closest you’ve come to making a techno album. It just took a while! [Laughs] That’s a good point! The BPMs are a little too slow for techno, but we’re getting there.
What is it that you like about having these bigger, more expansive conceptual projects that span several albums, like Shiny And Oh So Bright or Teargarden By Kaleidyscope? I think it just engages my creativity at a higher level. Let’s say you’re in the band, right, and tomorrow we’re going to start a new Smashing Pumpkins album – the weight of expectation on that is too much for me to deal with. The expectations are usually in people’s minds – it’s not my version of The Smashing Pumpkins, it’s everyone else’s. So I need something to lean into that balances expectation, reality and my own creativity.
I have to allow myself a very wide berth to express myself. And generally speaking, if people let me do that and support me in that, they’d get more of me that they like. But if I’m stuck in a computational frame where I feel like I have to limit myself, I think I end up with records that are… Not my best. It doesn’t mean they’re not good, they’re just not my best.
Do you find that you get creatively wrapped up in those worlds like a method actor would with a specific role? I’m bad in that I go totally into it, and then I never want to hear it again. It’s a bit whorish, but it works for me.
Do you like when it takes a few listens for an album to really make sense? I do. People like to tell me that they don’t really understand my records until they smoke some pot, because it allows them to hear all the layers that are in there. That’s what I was talking about earlier with tonal stacking and layering and all of that. If you look closely at a great painting, you’ll see there’s a lot of depth in the work. You can look at it for five seconds and go, “Oh, it’s a lady on a couch,” but if you really look, you’ll see shades and tones and an emotional quality – and that’s the way I perceive music.
There should be a romantic quality that you have to peer into it to find. Unless it’s strictly primitive by design. I do like a lot of primitive music as well, but when it comes to my own music, I’m much more interested in exploring the other side of the spectrum: those highly produced, highly controlled, yet still organic atmospheres, of which I have a lot of control.
So when I rambled about Australian Guitar #141 on here, I noted that my number one pick for the #142 cover story was a giant long shot, and I’d probably have to syndicate it from international because there’d be no way I could score it locally.
But lo and behold, thanks to the absolute legends at Sony, we managed to pull it off, and Australian Guitar has an exclusive interview with a Foo Fighter for #142. Fuck. Yes.
This issue was an absolute joy to put together. I somehow managed to score almost every interview I pitched, and all the feature options I had from international were pure gold. The deadline rush was even surprisingly un-hectic; we approved the issue for print with like eight hours to spare on send day! That never happens!
#143 is deep in production now and I’m even more stoked about it than I am this issue. We already have our cover locked in (a band that’s been on my bucket list since day one) and a stack of A-plus features ready to go. This year really is shaping up to be a great one for AG.
For the moment, you can read all about what’s in Australian Guitar #142 over on the Guitar World site. Copies are on sale now at newsagents all around Australia, online via Techmags and iSubscribe, and digitally wherever great magazines can be downloaded.
At the start of the year, I told myself I’d be using this site a lot more frequently, and posting at least once a week. But alas, we’re ankle-deep in March and I have posted literally once – I’m sorry. Please accept the above photo of my adorable baby Bruno as a consolation.
Anyway, here’s everything of mine that got published around the web (see: one piece for BLUNT and the rest on the Guitar World site – I also need to up my freelancing game ASAP, I know) in February. Note: all the GW features are also printed physically in Australian Guitar #141, which is out now wherever great magazines are sold!
To see this one out, here’s a song I am absolutely obsessed with at the moment. It’s the new single by Norwegian alt-pop trailblazer Girl In Red, “Serotonin”, from her debut album if i could make it go quiet – which lands April 30th via AWAL. I’ve been stewing with an advance copy of the record for a couple of weeks now, and I’m still blown away by it all over again on every listen (I’ve probably played it cover-to-cover a solid 100 times by now). It’s my first 10/10 album for 2021. I’m dying to get my hands on the vinyl come April. “Serotonin” is definitely a highlight on the record, too; I hope you like it as much as I do.
Well okay, it’s the same mag, but there IS a new issue of it! We’re kicking Australian Guitar’s 2021 off with an epic double-length AC/DC cover story, featuring two in-depth interviews with Angus Young. Even for someone who admittedly isn’t that big a fan of the High Voltage rockers (sorry, dads of the world), I’d argue it’s a pretty solid read. We grabbed both interviews from the syndication system – if I’m not mistaken, they’re both from the UK – and honestly, this is the most stoked I’ve been about having access to Future’s massive stable of in-house content. I always want to make our cover stories unique and tailored to AG wherever possible, but I am really excited to bring Australian readers more awesome stories from that pile throughout 2021. I started working on #142 today and the cover artist on the top of my wishlist is extremely selective about who they grant interviews, so I’ll probably end up syndicating a piece for that one as well – but of course, I have my fingers crossed I can wrangle something up myself. Praying every night to the gods of rock ’n’ roll.
Anyway, #141! We’ve used this edition to backflip a bit on the approach to content that carried us through 2020 – where the last few issues were jam-packed with a whole bunch of small features spanning one to three pages, this one features a small amount of really big, in-depth features. There’s a beautiful deep-dive into the origins of the blues, celebrating the players that not only invented, but individualised the genre. There’s a piece that explores the women around the world who are shaking up the lutherie game – who are not only destroying the notion that only men can build great guitars, but taking real innovative leaps forward in the design sphere. There’s the ultimate guide to building the ultimate pedalboard, a ten-page technique bootcamp, and an intro to the world of podcasting (because let’s face it, are you really a musician in the 2020s if you’re not also a podcaster?).
And then there’s all the interviews – so many interviews! I had the incredible privilege of yarning with some absolute legends for this issue, like Billy Corgan, Orianthi, Julien Baker, Steven Wilson… I had a great chat with my all-time favourite musician, Laura Jane Grace (who is always such a fantastic interviewee, all fan bias aside), and had the time of my life talking shit with Heather from Pale Waves – who are about to drop a very easy contender for 2021’s AOTY.
So this is a good while late – exactly three weeks since release day, in fact! But in case you don’t already follow me on my personal social media channels, or keep up to date with all the minutia of niche lifestyle magazines distributed exclusively in Australia, then I have some news for you: there’s a new issue of Australian Guitar out! It’s available digitally and on newsagent shelves all around the country, and you can read about exactly what’s in it here: bit.ly/AustralianGuitar140