It’s been a hot minute since I made my last post dump on here (roughly a year and four months? or something like that?) and I’ve written a decent handful of features for NME Australia since then! Here are all of them:
QUICK LIL’ CONTENT WARNING: This post openly discusses suicide and gender dysphoria. If either of those might be triggers, I recommend giving this one a skip. It’s all good if you gotta, I still love you!
Hey, hi, hello!
I wanna try to do a little recap thing every month for this year; I feel like 2022 kind of just zoomed by and I didn’t take the time to stop and reflect, or appreciate, all the beats I hit. And I’ve never had the best memory – we can chalk that down to my tendency to repress both emotions and general everyday thoughts, my ADHD and my complex PTSD – so I think journalling regularly will be healthy for me. And I already have this blog so like, why not make it all public? It’ll be rough and sloppy and very word-vomit-y, but I think I like that about it?
Anyway, I tried to kill myself on New Year’s Day. December 2022 was one of the roughest months I’ve ever lived through, mentally, and I lost hours every day to spiralling thoughts and multifaceted crises – most relating to gender dysphoria, isolation and hopelessness. Those last couple weeks of the year, I was sleeping maybe 2-3 hours a night, 3-4 if I was lucky. I would struggle to make it through shifts at work or day-to-day chores/errands because all I could think about was cutting or getting high or just straight-up killing myself.
I made it to January 1st and… I don’t know, I kind of just lost control? I was high and I was sad and I was just not in a good place – I succumbed to the voices in my head, that’s the vaguest way I could explain it. I tried to overdose on amphetamines. Milo saved me. I spent a few days in physical agony and a few more in mental agony, and then after about a week, it properly dawned on me that I’d lived and I couldn’t keep trying to shove my dark thoughts to the side. I had to address them and address what was causing them and try to fix the issues head-on. I booked in to see a psychotherapist and stopped taking the meds I’d started right before my mental health began slipping (y’know, more than it usually does).
And then on Monday January 9th I went to my great grandmother’s funeral; she died on December 29th last year. I could spend hours writing about her – how much of an icon she was, how much she meant to me, how much she meant to literally hundreds of people – but I think for my own mental safety, that stretch of time needed to be a blip on my radar, lest I spiral again. I will most likely write something in-depth about the legendary Olive Robinson in a separate thing. But that trip to Whittlesea felt like a turning point of sorts – I saw family I hadn’t seen in years and felt like I was doing so behind a mask that I’d really grown sick of wearing.
On the drive home I decided I wanted to stop presenting as masculine. It became clear that the masc-leaning enby aesthetic no longer represents me; I don’t feel connected to androgyny like I did a hot minute ago. That’s a revelation I’d been inching towards for pretty much all of 2022. We got home on Tuesday morning and I shaved my beard. I bought a bunch of skincare and makeup products, jewellery and a whole new wardrobe of feminine clothes, and then a wig that I felt comfortable wearing almost all day, every day. On Friday January 13th, for the first time in about three years, I had exactly $0 to my name (in fact I actually owed Milo a couple grand). But I drained my savings on shit I needed… shit I needed to survive.
I do not pass. I don’t even look like a cute non-passing trans woman; I straight-up just look like a man in a dress, the kind TERFs and Tory types tout in tweet threads to “prove” why trans people are evil and disgusting. I look like I should be on a sex offender registry. I make the transvestite bartender in Shrek look hot. I am disgusted by myself every time I look in a mirror, and I know my family and friends are when they see me too. But I’d rather look like a grotesque caricature of a woman than any kind of man – inflamed five-o’clock-shadow, boxy nose, quadruple-chin and all.
I am learning to be confident in myself. I am taking and posting selfies and not caring that they’re more embarrassing than anything else. I am noticing every curious glance and side-eye, double take and grimace I receive and choosing to parse them as empowering rather than callous – I am being perceived and I am making people think critically about what they consider to be acceptable displays of femininity. I don’t care that I disgust them. I just hope their disgust morphs into reflection; “Why am I disgusted when I see someone that looks like that?”
In attempting to present more femininely, I’m allowing myself to connect more with my femininity. That seems obvious, writing it out, but there’s layers to it. I’m not hiding away from my gender dysphoria or trying to brush it aside when it shows; I’m confronting it and learning why it never settled after I started living openly as non-binary; because I don’t exist on the spectrum where I thought I had for the past five, six, however many years. We can unpack that later on, for now I’m just really enjoying wearing more feminine clothes and practicing makeup, diving into voice training and just generally living more freely with my gender expression.
I stopped biting my nails so I can grow them out and paint them – that’s been a really tough habit to kick. But it’s been a few weeks and I’ve only caved a few times, so… We’re getting there! I bought a fidget spinner and started picking up some new stimming techniques that don’t fuck with my fingers or teeth. And then on January 31st I got them done professionally for the first time, with hard gel extensions, at Miss Jay’s in Thornbury – a queer-run and -inclusive salon that I could not recommend more. I had a wonderful experience there, left feeling high as hell on gender euphoria, and I adore my new nails.
Milo and I drove to Tharawal on January 16th. We spent most of our time at my parents’ house just enjoying some R&R but we did go to the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo to see the Unpopular exhibit (small, but very, very cool) and we went to Donut Papi in Redfern (also small, but also very, very cool) to finally annihilate the doughnuts I always see on Instagram and wish I could annihilate… Is it possible to have a crush on a doughnut? I might have a crush on Donut Papi’s strawberry milkshake doughnut. That may be the fattest sentence I’ve ever written out. Anyway, 10/10 on those ‘nuts. The trip as a whole was pretty solid. We saw Bruno and caught up (a bit) with my parents and got to spend a few days away from the city… It was nice. I do miss home a little. But the trip also made me realise how much of a home Naarm has become for me over the past year. I love it here a lot more than I love Tharawal.
This month I interviewed six* people for Australian Guitar (Eric Gales, Bonnie Raitt, Tony Perry of Pierce The Veil, Isaac Hale of Knocked Loose, Jordan Finlay and Connor McLaughlin of Teenage Dads, and Javier Reyes of Animals As Leaders) and one for NME (Tim Nelson of Cub Sport). I finished a ~5,000-word profile that I am so proud of and happy with, for an artist I think is doing amazing things both in and outside of her professional life; I also wrote a bio for an incredible up-and-coming indie artist named Leo (whose new single ‘Half Unconscious’ is STUNNING and you should absolutely pre-save it!) and I started working on a few other little freelance-y bits and pieces. Work in general is going good, I think. I’m optimistic for the rest of the year and how my career will progress over it. I am very keen to pick up a lot more work in 2023 – swing me an email if you wanna do something together?
Milo and I saw Remi Wolf play the Forum on January 5th. That was my first real “outing” after the suicide attempt. Milo isn’t a fan of Remi’s music but they came with me because they were too worried to have me go alone. We ended up having a super great time and although they still haven’t been able to get into Remi’s studio material, Milo conceded that she absolutely fucking served on that stage. I also saw Montaigne play a free corporate gig at District Docklands on January 28th; it didn’t scratch the itch their headline show last year would’ve (but as I wrote about in this post, I’m a fuckhead and got the dates mixed up for that) but it was a very solid show nonetheless!
Milo has been championing my feminine overhaul wholeheartedly, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have them in my corner. Since “the incident” we’ve been a lot more open about our feelings and what’s going on in our heads. It’s been difficult to open up but it’s been great, too. I feel more connected to them than I have in ages. And we’re fucking more often than we have in ages, too, so that’s cool.
In terms of other media I consumed this month, I finally started watching the second season of Euphoria (great), I finished reading None Of This Rocks by Joe Trohman (decent) and I read Kisses For Jet by Joris Bas Backer in one marathon binge-read (meh). I finished collecting the colour editions of Scott Pilgrim and finally started re-reading those – I’ve mowed through book one and half of book two so far – and I started reading Sellout by Dan Ozzi (so far, really solid). I am absolutelyobsessed with the HBO adaptation of The Last Of Us – I can’t believe they knocked it out of the park so perfectly? I was really worried they’d fuck that up. I will definitely write something about it when the season is finished.
It feels like it’s been a huge month. February is looking even more stacked – especially gig-wise, I went to two (2) shows in January but I have 18 on the itinerary for this month (SO FAR) – and I’m… actually really looking forward to everything?
Anyway, this blog has been dead since I published those Good Things interviews because of all my mental health struggles and gender-reckoning shit. I really need to focus on getting some paid work under my belt right now (my bank account has a total of $1.62 in it and I still owe my partner like $400) so I probably won’t have much up on here for a little while, buuuut I have a stack of content in the backlog – I just need to find the time to edit/tidy up/do all the furniture for it all. Soon!
Until then, I hope y’all are keeping safe and feeling groovy like a smoothie!
All the love in the world, Ellie 💖
Here are some songs from this month that I’m vibing a whole bunch:
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!
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.
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:TheCrow. 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.
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…”
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?
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…
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.
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.
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  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!
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.
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 – includingan 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).
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.
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.
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…
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 justhow 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.