Tag: ellie robinson

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).

Illuminate The River: an exercise in forced positivity

There’s a unique and enigmatic vibe that I’m pretty sure exists exclusively at free music festivals (and is only amplified when it’s one either hosted or funded by a Government body). 

At “normal” festivals, punters are usually some flavour of staunch – there’s a rigid itinerary of artists they want to see and/or activities they want to check out, and there’s this energy, driven by the atmosphere and the excitement and the fact that tickets cost a truly stupid amount of money, that makes it all feel spectacular. And I love that. I love big festivals like Splendour and Falls and Good Things (which is in less than two weeks!!!!) and UNIFY. But I love the inverse atmosphere at a free music festival – this youthful looseness and “whatever happens will happen” kind of spirit – equally so. It’s much more lowkey; crowds are a lot more diverse, settings are a lot more suburban, and the setups look (and sound) like they were put together by students and interns and members of local communities who wouldn’t normally be involved in events like music festivals. However, because government bodies tend to have government money, the lineups certainly don’t reflect the DIY energy.

Cue: Illuminate The River, a daylong “festival of music and light”, hosted collaboratively by the City of Moonee Valley and Creative Victoria (via their ‘On The Road Again’ initiative), taking place last Saturday at The Boulevard in Aberfeldie. The lineup looked too good to be true: Art Vs Science, Baker Boy, Something For Kate, Montaigne and Mia Wray (and Teenie Tiny Stevies, but seeing as though their target audience are no older than preschool-aged, they didn’t particularly appeal to me). It became even better when set times were released, with each act given a full hour to perform. Ancillary to that, the festival promised carnival rides, food trucks, a beer garden, and at the end of it all, “an extravagant laser and water show on the river.”

The festival’s team hit a major snag in the weeks leading up to it, when they were forced to pull the laser and water show because… Actually, I’m not sure. I can’t find any info online about it, but it might have something to do with the recent floods? Either way, the team soldiered on and remained devoted to putting on a killer festival (even if its title had become a lot more metaphorical than they’d initially planned) – the right move, I’d argue!

For myself, the biggest two selling points for Illuminate The River were Montaigne and Something For Kate. I missed out on both of the latter’s 2022 tours (they played The Forum four times in March, when they played both Echolalia and The Modern Medieval in full, and then the Northcote Theatre in August, when they played Elsewhere For 8 Minutes) because I’d been swept up in other events and bullshit deadlines, and I missed Montaigne on the Making It! tour last month because I’m a fucking idiot: I went to buy a ticket to their Melbourne show on Monday October 24th – four days before it was set to take place – only to realised I’d fucked the dates up when I put the show in my calendar; the show happened on the 20th. I’ve been absolutely rinsing Making It! since I got my copy in August (I reviewed it for NME) and wouldn’t hesitate to call it one of the best albums released in 2022 – and of late, Montaigne has been performing it in full. Keen was a massive fucking understatement

The day before Illuminate The River, Montaigne dropped off the bill for illness – a huge bummer, obviously, but not one without a notably shimmery silver lining: Sly Withers were stepping in to replace them. Their own third album, Overgrown, is also one of this year’s best, and on the Friday, I was set to see them play a headline show at the Northcote Theatre but got buckled in bed with a miniature depressive episode; so rather than force myself out and mentally drain myself further, I could just see the band play their full hourlong set at Illuminate The River. Again, a huge bummer on the Montaigne front, but a huge win everywhere else. 

I made it to the festival halfway through Mia Wray’s set, thanks in part to my own lack of planning (I couldn’t find a clean pair of pants lmao) and my Uber driver swearing erroneously that he knew a shortcut. I’m not calling this a downside, though: I still caught a very solid 30 minutes of Wray time, and she absolutely slayed. Her songs are emotive and melodic and slathered in colour, Wray herself always bang-on with her tonal and characteristic balance of gentleness and fervour. The skies were grey and the spittle grew as her set reached its end, but this felt more like a feature than a bug: Mia Wray in the (Mia W)rain. A collision of gloom and community. Poetic, given the Noosa-born singer-songwriter’s material.

With 30 minutes to kill, I took a lap of the setup – food trucks (including a Boost Juice and a Chatime!), stalls for markets and community initiatives, carnival rides, no less than three charity sausage sizzles, and plenty of dogs, young and old alike, just begging to be petted – all set along the idyllic Maribyrnong River. I copped four pairs of downright adorable earrings (handmade from polymer clay by the sweetest elderly woman) and a Caribbean Green juice from Boost (because it was the least calorific option, at 278 for a large) before strolling back to the main stage – a whole 40 metres away – for Sly Withers. The vibes, grey skies and spittle and all, were immaculate. 

The four pairs of hella cute clay earrings I bought. Shoutout to Pelican Crafts!

Expectedly, Sly Withers’ set was fucking magical. Their banter was on point (co-frontman Sam Blitvich started by apologising for not knowing any Montaigne songs, and a few times throughout the set, noted the band’s collective anxiety over missing their flight to Hobart layer that afternoon), their performance was as tight and sharp as the band have come to be known for, and the setlist itself was stacked from start to end with only their biggest and most belt-worthy bangers. They also played the rain away, quite literally: it was nigh-on pissing down when the set started, but but by the time it ended, we were all standing under baby blue skies with only wisps of cloud in sight – the power of pop-punk in action. Also noteworthy is Blitvich’s guitarsenal: old mate rolled through something like five Telecasters, each more beautiful than the last. 

And the juice, though chosen for its healthiness, was actually pretty great – just sweet enough to feel like a treat, with a nice ratio of tropical fruitiness (from the passionfruit, mango and banana), coconut-inferred silkiness (from the one-two punch of coconut milk and coconut water) and vegetal bite (from the spinach that, surprisingly, works in this application). Subtle and refreshing, it paired nicely with the band’s musical crunch and belly-strong energy. 

With another 30 minutes to kill, I perched myself under a tree on a hill leading down to the river, whipped out my Switch, turtle-shelled my arms and head into my shirt (for additional shade) and started beating the shit out of Golducks – Pokémon Scarlet came out on Friday, and in the pursuit of becoming the very best – like no-one ever was – the hustle never stops. Halfway through my Goldduck grinding sesh, this saccharine, pseudo-squealy toddler voice piped up from a few metres away: “is there a person in there!?” I popped my fat head up and two facepainted ragamuffins, no taller than two feet each – one a pretty pink butterfly and the other a glittery blue unicorn – giggled in unison. They were enamoured by Crocalor’s fiery breath on my Switch screen, and together we epically decimated two Goldducks – the girls feeding me instructions (“light him on fire!” and “do the spooky face!” being their main commands) and me executing them on the Switch – and taking on a Fidough in a Tera Raid Battle. They were very keen to tell me all about their own Fidough (a pug named Stevie) and show off the badges they’d drawn in crayons a few hours earlier.

The view I had to accompany my Pokémon sesh (when I wasn’t turtle-shelling it)

Hearing the hum of amplifier feedback cascading over the hill, I palmed the kids off to their parents and dashed back to the stage, where Something For Kate promptly launched into a punchy and hypnotic rendition of ‘Ain’t That A Kick In The Head’. Paul Dempsey’s vocal prowess was only matched in its butteriness and depth by his fretting hands, and on bass, Stephanie Ashworth (also Dempsey’s wife) brought a stunning richness to the mix. What followed was my favourite song from The Modern Medieval – ‘Come Back Before I Come Back To My Senses’ – and then a brief pause as one of the crew members darted out to whisper something in Dempsey’s ear. Seemingly flustered, Dempsey told the crowd he and the band would have to leave the stage (momentarily, or course) while the crew dealt with an electrical issue caused by the harsh winds. 

20 minutes passed without a glimpse of Something For Kate, and after some punters started shooting enquiries off to staffers on the ground, someone came out onstage to promise us the band would return and perform their full set. But at 5:30pm, 15 minutes after their set was supposed to finish, Dempsey sauntered out (cue: cheers) and informed us that, regretfully, the band wouldn’t be able to come back out because the winds posed a safety hazard. This feels like something the festival team should have planned for more in advance – it was windy, yeah, but it wasn’t windy (I’ve certainly been to windier outdoor festivals) – but I will not be one to question their moves: this was, at the end of the day, a decision made in the interest of punter safety, and for that I can only applaud them. Still: this fucking sucked.

Cut as I was, I’d told myself repeatedly in the mirror that morning that I wasn’t going to let my shitty mental health affect my enjoyment of the festival. The river trail looked beautiful, and the weather was perfect, so I went for a walk. It was something like four kilometres, shrubbery and bird songs and (obviously) a sprawling river to visually soundtrack the excursion. It was nice! I burned off the whole juice and then some! I came back to the festival grounds feeling refreshed and relaxed and ready for a big ol’ bop to Baker Boy… Until again, right at Baker Boy’s start time of 6:30pm, we were informed that the rest of the festival had been cancelled; the winds had only intensified (to reported gusts of 80km/h) and with most of the crowd now comprising families with young kids and pets, it wasn’t safe to roll on. Cue: crying children and dejected parents (and, fittingly, a return to grey skies and spittle). 

Try as we might to avoid it, the mood shifted well into dourness. It was a bit of a shit end to an otherwise solidly nice day – and again, at no fault of the promoters or staff or anyone else involved in Illuminate The River – and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bummed out. But I kept my stride going and took myself on a little tour of suburban Aberfeldie. It’s a quaint little area – I’m sure houses there cost like $10 million and the souls of your extended lineage, but they’re pretty, and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters. 

If nothing else, Illuminate The River was, for me, an exercise in forced positivity – a test to see how high up I could keep my chin in the face of repeated blows to my excitement and expectation. This is one test I’d never been great at passing; I am, at my core, a giant fucking Debbie Downer. But that’s something I’m actively trying to change, and this trainwreck of a Saturday gave me the perfect opportunity to make a cogent effort doing so. And I think this alone – that I have the perspective outlined above – shows I’ve succeeded. 

I still had a bloody great time at Illuminate The River: Mia Wray and Sly Withers both played phenomenal sets, and the two songs Something For Kate played were similarly stellar. I enjoyed every last sip of my juice – one I’d’ve never thought to order at an actual Boost – and I had a blast playing Pokémon with those future Champions-in-the-making. I love my new earrings, too, and that walk along the river was exactly what my stale soul needed that day. If given a chance to relive the day exactly as it was, I wouldn’t hesitate – I would certainly temper my expectations (and leave early enough to see Wray’s full set) but fuck, sure, I’d do it all again… 

I mean… It was free, anyway. 

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.

I’m not dead (just a little burnt out)

A photo of my dog, Cadbury, a medium-sized Pitbull-Staffie cross, enjoying a little scratch on the chin during a road trip from Naarm to Warrang.

So, like… Hey.

It’s wild to me that my last post on this blog was last November – just shy of a year ago, and just shy of two weeks after I moved into my apartment with Milo. To be honest, for a good while, I did what every writer with full-time work and a regular adult schedule does eventually: I forgot I even had a blog. I think with everything else going on in my life, the idea of regularly setting time aside to maintain a curricular accessory that I didn’t need to just got squeezed out of my mind. Because as brutally short as it’s felt, 2022 has been a year. Since the last time I checked in here, I:

  • Got a new dog! He’s the big doofus you see above: a four-year-old staffie/pitty cross named Cadbury, who never fails to make me feel some type of way (whether that’s love or frustration or sheer bewilderment). He’s a big cuddly sook who loves to play and sleep and chew things, and he is not a replacement for Bruno in any way whatsoever, but he does kind of fill the Bruno-size hole I’ve had in my heart since I moved to Naarm. 
  • Changed my name! I’ve been going by Ellie to close friends since 2016, but earlier this year I bit the bullet and came out with it as the baseline thing. So yeah, my name is Ellie now – woo! I’m writing under the name Ellie Robinson, with Robinson being my mum’s maiden name. There’s a bunch of reasons for both parts, a bunch of reasons why I changed my name and a bunch of reasons why it took me six years to make it official, but this isn’t the right post to get into those. Maybe later.
  • Wrote a bunch! I’m working in the NME newsroom pretty much full-time at the moment, and writing features more regularly for them too. I’ve also shifted my role at Australian Guitar – I’m now the magazine’s editor-at-large, steering the ship on its local/in-house slate of editorial. It is technically a demotion, but… not really? It’s more money for less work and it’s a role I feel much more comfortable in; I have the freedom to write whatever I want, but I don’t have the burden of coordinating and producing an entire magazine around that. I’m super happy with the current setup.
  • Did a bunch of other stuff! I’ve made some huge strides in getting my shit together as an independent adult who is taking care of theirself and balancing their needs with their wants. I don’t know if I’m quite there yet. I think I have a long ways to go before I am the person I want to be (and the person I need to be), but I’ve been trying real damn hard and taking those scary first steps, and I’m hella proud of myself. I’ve also started collecting enamel pins, teaching myself how to play guitar (I know) and cooking a bunch.

I will admit that I’m pretty burnt out at the moment. I’m not sleeping as much as I need to be or spending as much time with Milo and Cadbury as I should be. But I’m figuring out how I can remedy that; I’m learning what my limits are and where I need to draw the line when it comes to a healthy work-life balance. I’m teaching myself that it’s okay to switch off when I need to, and that it’s not a sign of failure to admit defeat, but a sign of success to acknowledge when I’ve pushed myself too far and take a step back. I’m certainly not going to force myself to maintain a blog or a presence on social media, or really do anything that I don’t absolutely need or want to. 

I think that’s probably why most writers ditch their blogs when they hit their twenties or establish themselves with regular work and independence in their personal lives – at a certain point, a writer’s active blog no longer implies a passion for their craft, but a lack of success. Good writers don’t keep blogs because they don’t need to. They have nothing to prove or sell, they’re too busy writing “real” stories and doing “real” things. 

But that’s not true. No writer is “too good” or “too professional” to have a blog – whether that’s just for themselves, as some kind of pseudo-personal diary into which they can vomit their lingering thoughts, or as a loose portfolio-of-sorts for their professional output. I don’t give a shit if blogs stopped being trendy in 2013 – they’re cool. I have thoughts I want to express that wouldn’t fit – or make sense – to put in a feature. I have things to say that none of my editors would ever commission a story about; I have things to say that I want to say in the first person, goddammit! Sometimes I just want to ramble into the void and get shit out of my head without the pressure of needing it to read concisely or tell a straightforward narrative, or even make sense to anyone but myself. And I want to show off when I do write a cool feature for NME or Australian Guitar or whatever other publication takes an interest in my work.

Am I trying to justify, for myself, the viability of a blog? In a blog post? Violently embarrassing myself in the process? Absolutely. But that’s the great thing about having this blog to do that on: I don’t have to give a shit about that. 

So anyway, hi, my name is Ellie, I’m a 25-year-old music journalist / pop-culture writer and editor from Benkennie (Camden), currently based in Naarm (Melbourne). I write news and features for NME and lead the in-house editorial in Australian Guitar. My partner is named Milo and my dog is named Cadbury. I like road trips and music and dogs and pineapple doughnuts. I am perpetually tired and I don’t know why I’m writing any of this. 

Welcome to my blog? 

I guess?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯