View: SUNSCREEN AT BIGSOUND 2017

For a week in September, Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley becomes the focal point for the Australian music industry as the BIGSOUND Festival kicks off. Hundreds of industry members, punters and musicians assemble to see the next wave of acts perform live across several official and unofficial showcase performances.

Weirdo Wasteland, in conjunction with photographer Jeff Andersen Jnr. and Jet Black Cat Music, put a call out to some BIGSOUND artists we admire to enlist them for a series of portraits taken at Bloodhound Bar throughout the week.

The latest in the series is Sydney’s Sunscreen. The band came up to Brisbane to play a series of sideshows throughout the week, and we took the opportunity to chat to Sunscreen members Sarah Sykes and Alexander McDonald about the band’s beginnings and a forthcoming EP.  Check out the chat and gallery below.

***

First things first – tell me how Sunscreen originally began!
Alex: Sunscreen began with Sarah showing me some songs she had written. We began meeting up every week and playing in her garage in Newtown. Before that we had just been people who hung out at parties and shows. Our drummer Hugo quickly became involved and we took it from there.

Sarah: Sunscreen began one day when I invited Alex and Hugo over for a jam about two years ago. Though at first we had no plans of starting a band, and we definitely didn’t know it was going to be called Sunscreen. We just wanted to see what we could come up with. I showed the boys a few of my songs that I hadn’t shown anyone else due to nerves, and we took it from there. About six months later we played our first gig,  and about six months ago our bass player Jett joined.

When would you say it became a fully formed project in its own right?
Alex: When we started coming up with songs in that sweaty garage. We’ve just been rolling on from that ever since.

Sarah: For me, it was when we recorded our first song ‘Now I’ve Got Your Heart’. And shortly after that, when we got our first 20 minute set together, and played our first gig. It was for about 15 people at 3:00 pm in the afternoon, opening up a stage at Sydney’s King St Crawl.

Over time what has Sunscreen become an outlet for emotionally and creatively?
Sarah: The project has become an outlet for our emotions, period. Or at least mine. What we feel, whether it be frustration or excitement, happiness or sadness, translates into the musical ideas we have, as dramatic as that sounds.

Having a jam once a week also acts as a kind of therapy for all four of us, I think. It calms us down from whatever else might be going on in our lives. It’s really cool to combine our ideas, and we always surprise ourselves with what we can come up with all together. The addition of Jett has been awesome too, as it brought such fresh vibes to the table. When she first joined, of course she had to just learn the songs we’d already written. But now we’re writing things with her as well, and she’s bringing some songs to the band as well, which are great. It’s exciting.

In terms of the sound you’ve cultivated, are there any inspirational touches that have textured your music?
Sarah: Absolutely. I’ve always been really inspired by PJ Harvey her her powerful, yet figuratively simple songwriting and for her artistic bravery. The rawness and emotiveness of her earlier albums like Dry and Rid Of Me didn’t only inspire my songwriting, but also taught me to not be afraid of being emotional. I’ve always felt that women are conditioned to be hyper aware of not coming across as too emotional, so when artists like PJ Harvey are totally unapologetic about the emotions they feel – about darkness and angst – and loss and love, things like that, it really speaks to me on that level. I’ve also been hugely musically inspired by Elizabeth Fraser from the Cocteau Twins for her unique melodies and the chances she took musically. The way her songwriting brain is wired is something that’s so fascinating to me.

I know Alex is inspired by a lot of Australian music like The Go-Betweens, Paul Kelly, Midnight Oil and The Triffids, and I feel like that reflects through when you listen to our music and in particular his guitar playing. Alex has gotten me into a lot of ‘80s bands lately like The Sound, and I feel like they have influenced the songs we write together. We all take influence from different things. Jett grew up listening to punk bands like The Clash. Hugo has introduced me to a bunch of old rock ‘n’ roll like Led Zeppelin. It all contributes to the the textures of the songs we write together.

As a band we go through phases of being obsessed with other bands… it’s really fun, albeit a little creepy. We’ll listen to albums together when driving in the car. You can’t help but be influenced by what’s going on around you. Bands we play shows with with really inspire and affect us. Our current obsessions include Gold Class and The Ocean Party, both whom we’ve supported (though shhh, don’t tell them how much we love them!)

I hear you’ve got an EP in the works – what sort of topics and concepts have shaped that batch of songs?
Sarah: Yep! The EP is coming out on the 10th November, as a split release between Spunk Records and Dinosaur City Records. The split is something we’re so happy about.

The EP is a collection of songs that reflect our early beginnings as a band. ‘Tide’ – the first track off the EP that we’re releasing as a single next week – is the first instance of Alex and I co-writing a song together. The lyrics to most of the songs on the EP were written over a year and a half ago – they’re about things and romantic affairs that seem like a million miles away from where my life is today. The songs on the EP work together as a collection, however we also chose them to keep things chronological, so now we can focus on making the album with the new songs we’ve been writing since. So we’re very relieved it’s finally coming out!

Lyrically, most of the songs are about romantic confusion, if we’re going to categorise them. Though we have one song on the EP called ‘For My Brother’ that is about losing a friend. The EP is a lot darker than ‘Voices’, and I think that’s obvious.

What are some of the things fans are responding to most about Sunscreen’s work?
Sarah: Hugo’s mullet. He has amazing hair. Sorry, now for a serious response! People seem to really enjoy our songwriting, which in turn gives us a really nice feeling. Lately people have come up to me after gigs and told me they’ve had one of the songs we play live stuck in their head. Which gives me confidence about the EP we’re releasing next month, because the song is on it! One of our favourite audience comments was in Wollongong when this guy said he loved Alex’s ‘tasty licks’.

I also get a lot of females telling me it makes them feel happy to see two girls on stage. Which is a huge deal, still, sadly. I grew up in a town where I had next to no female role models in the local live music scene, so it really means a lot to me to know that Jett and I might be inspiring other women to get on a stage with an instrument.

Until BIGSOUND you hadn’t played many gigs outside of Sydney. How do you all feel as a live unit now?
Alex: We feel very confident coming out from the shows we did in Brisbane. Playing lots of shows over the four days we were up there really gave us a boost.  

Sarah: The BIGSOUND week was really good for us. From my experience in other bands, sometimes I think you get better at touring in the same way that you can run for a longer distance if you do fitness training. It was good for our stamina to play five shows in four days, in the crazy, busy BISGOUND atmosphere. We definitely feel a lot tighter and a lot more calm about the process of rocking up to a show, and putting on a decent show even if you feel tired. Though I only speak for myself, everything is about practice for me, including nerve control.

***

SOUNDCLOUD / BANDCAMP

VIEW: CLEA AT BIGSOUND 2017

For a week in September, Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley becomes the focal point for the Australian music industry as the BIGSOUND Festival kicks off. Hundreds of industry members, punters and musicians assemble to see the next wave of acts perform live across several official and unofficial showcase performances.

Weirdo Wasteland, in conjunction with photographer Jeff Andersen Jnr. and Jet Black Cat Music, put a call out to some BIGSOUND artists we admire to enlist them for a series of portraits taken at Bloodhound Bar throughout the week. The latest in the series is of Brisbane’s Clea. Check out the gallery below.

***

CLEA SOUNDCLOUDWEBSITE

Premiere: PISS FACTORY – ‘THE DAY AFTER THE NIGHT BEFORE’

Weirdo Wasteland is stoked to premiere a new track from Melbourne punk trio Piss Factory. ‘The Day After The Night Before’ is the first glimpse of the band’s forthcoming EP, which features a collection of driving compositions that encapsulate the duality of life in Victoria’s capitol – equal parts romantic, delirious, and disenchanting.

Continue reading Premiere: PISS FACTORY – ‘THE DAY AFTER THE NIGHT BEFORE’

VIEW: RVG AT BIGSOUND 2017

For a week in September, Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley becomes the focal point for the Australian music industry as the BIGSOUND Festival kicks off. Hundreds of industry members, punters and musicians assemble to see the next wave of acts perform live across several official and unofficial showcase performances.

Weirdo Wasteland, in conjunction with photographer Jeff Andersen Jnr. and Jet Black Cat Music, put a call out to some BIGSOUND artists we admire to enlist them for a series of portraits taken at Bloodhound Bar throughout the week.The latest shoot from that week features Melbourne group RVG.

Earlier in the year RVG released its stellar debut LP A Quality of Mercy, which is getting a re-release on October 20 through Our Golden Friend. You can pre-order the vinyl here. We spoke to singer and songwriter Romy Vager about the album’s creation and the band’s overall process and inspiration. Check out the chat below, followed by the image gallery.

***

Take me through the process of writing A Quality of Mercy! I read a lot of the songs started as demos and were built upon by the whole band. How long had you been working on these concepts before they became fully formed?
Most of the songs on the album come from little demos I made on Soundcloud. I wrote most of them in the space of an hour or so and I’d try to record them and put them online as quickly as possible in case I started to hate them. The demos definitely have the intention in them, but sonically they sound pretty sketchy. When we started playing as RVG, we only had a couple of rehearsals until we started to work out how the songs should naturally sound with a band. It was a lot more raw but we kind of knew what we wanted from the beginning, which is a blessing.

What was the difference between the early concepts of RVG’s songs and material you had written for different outfits?
I used to be in a band called Sooky La La. There’s a few things on the internet. It’s good for a kinda grunge band but it doesn’t sound like me too much anymore. I used to have a big defensive wall up, and used to scream a lot more. There’s none of the introspection that RVG has. For lack of a better word it’s quite ‘masculine’ music. When I started the demo’s that made up AQOM it was aiming to be a lot more accessible and poppy. I also promised myself that if was gonna write an angry song about someone it also had to be a bit about me as well.

 I thought A Quality of Mercy was interesting in terms of the complexity of its story telling – part cathartic introspection and part empathetic narrative. What sort of ideas resonated and informed the work in a noticeable way?
I guess at the time I was coming to terms that I was trans, and what I was going to do about that. I was rearranging and changing how I felt about everything around me and what kind of person I was, The songs on AQOM were very much like: Well what exactly do I believe in? What is an inherent part of me?

Making those demos were about working that out through the process of songwriting itself. I didn’t want to write another song where I already knew what I believed in and tried to justify it by throwing a bunch of words together.

On that note, would you say there are some core thematic philosophies in your song writing overall?
I’m always interested in exploring the ways that people treat each other. That seems to be a recurring theme. Sometimes it’s a big picture thing or sometimes it’s really small but it seems to appear again and again in the songs I write.

People have had a few months to digest the album now – what are a few things you put down on record that you hope listeners have picked up on?
I hope people appreciate the quirkiness of some of the songs. I hear a lot of people talk about the catharsis and emotion of the record but I hope they get the one or two little jokes that are in there. Maybe I’m not very funny though, I don’t know..

You’ve said in other interviews that the process of writing/recording/releasing the album was akin to shedding old skin. How do you feel as a musician/creative entity and as an individual after this process?
It’s felt really good! I guess it’s a normal thing that people do when they complete a ‘thing’. I’d never gone through the process before so it’s quite new to me. It’s also pretty scary because you finish something and then you’ve gotta think about the next one.

Looking towards the future, are you currently working on new material?
We’ve got about 3/4 of an album that we’re ready to record. We’re holding off on starting the next one until we work out if we can afford to change it up and go into a studio or if we’re gonna just record an album at The Tote again. I’m not super prolific so I wanna get a few more good songs together before that happens

How is it coming together? Are there some discernible differences in process, sound or concepts at this stage?
We did a few demos the other month and they sound much more lush and powerful than the first album material. AQOM was very much us still working out what we’re doing in a lot of ways. We’re a lot more confident and stronger now and i think the next album will reflect that.

What are you finding stimulating creatively these days?
Any strong femme presence in rock music.

Check out the gallery below:

RVG will be touring to support A Quality of Mercy’s re-release. Catch the band at the following dates:

Friday 20th October @ Howler, Melbourne
Thursday 26th October @ Karova Lounge, Ballarat
Thursday 2nd November @ Oxford Arts Gallery, Sydney

VIEW: DARTS AT BIGSOUND 2017

For a week in September, Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley becomes the focal point for the Australian music industry as the BIGSOUND Festival kicks off. Hundreds of industry members, punters and musicians assemble to see the next wave of acts perform live across several official and unofficial showcase performances.

Weirdo Wasteland, in conjunction with photographer Jeff Andersen Jnr. and Jet Black Cat Music, put a call out to some BIGSOUND artists we admire to enlist them for a series of portraits taken at Bloodhound Bar throughout the week. Melbourne’s DARTS took part in the project, and guitarist, singer and songwriter Ally Campbell Smith was also kind enough to answer some questions about their newest bunch of music. Read the Q&A then check out the full gallery below!

***
To start, take me back to just after the release of Below Empty & Westward Bound. What were your thoughts on how that record was received? Was there anything that surprised you about the response?
I think we were really in our own world at that point. We had pored so long over the album, and finally releasing it was something we were really nervous about. I guess, once it’s out, it’s a waiting game. Thinking back to the launch of that album, we’d hosted it in a place that was a little out of the way, we had no other bands supporting, it was just us in this big empty space and just hours before we performed we weren’t even sure anyone was going to come, but it packed out, completely. People were there, wall to wall, they’d been waiting, they were interested, and they’d come for only us. That was a big hooray moment for all of us, and following the release we were given opportunities to play bigger venues alongside bigger acts than ever before.

In terms of growth and evolution, was there anything that you were interested in experimenting with post-BE&WB?
We have definitely experimented since then in all aspects. We’ve expanded our sound, our songwriting technique, and the dynamics of our songs is a big focus. Sometimes it works, and sometimes we end up too far from where we want to be. We wrote a catalogue of material so far from the genesis of DARTS that didn’t feel authentic or honest, so it’s been a process to learn to channel all of our ideas and keep fluidity throughout our new material. Having five members all with insane talents is like having an endless supply of Lego, but you still need to be selective about what pieces you choose to make the masterpiece.

What are some key distinctions between your process and sound during the writing and recording of BE&WB and the material you are working on now?
Looking back to when we were writing BE&WB, we’d not long had Paige on keys and Jessie was flung straight into the studio so they, in particular, didn’t get an opportunity to really be involved in the song development process, so we’re more well-rounded when it comes to each instrument’s intention now than before. Angus and I have written almost all of the bones of the new material together, whereas before we’d just bring tracks in we’d done solo, so learning to write together and have all five of us developing the songs together has matured our soundscape infinitely.

‘Distance = Infinity’ and ‘Cinder Bloc’ are two tracks that boast different sonic forms. What was the reasoning behind dropping the two at once?
We’d actually recorded a whole bunch of tracks that we intended to be an album but we weren’t entirely happy with the feel of it as an album. These two songs were quintessential Darts to us, and we wanted to have them out there. It was an idea that had to be sold to us, particularly because we see ourselves as an album band, so we had to let go a little in that respect. It was also partly a gift to ourselves, releasing the tracks, because we’d put a lot into the whole process.

Tell me a little bit more about these tracks. How did they come about and what would you say is the inspirational context behind each?
‘Distance=Infinity’ actually came really easy. Angus and I laid out most of it in a couple of hours one afternoon. He was in the middle of a really hard situation, having a long distance relationship, and all of the feelings that come with that. We’d been talking through it that day and the lyrics naturally stemmed from those emotions and exorcising them. Cinder Bloc was solely Angus, so I can’t speak for what he was feeling at the time, but it was around the same time. He writes really visually, and draws a lot from old westerns, so he has a unique way of putting you into a particular setting.

Does the variation in tone and intensity signify an element of duality in your next long-form recorded work?
It’s something I think we’ve always had. Angus and I can vary so much in terms of our sound so you can probably ascertain which of us has written which song, and it’s definitely a contrast that we’ve played on. As I mentioned, we consider ourselves an album band, and we want to have those differences throughout the album because we view it it’s a story with characters, situations, emotions, and landscapes.

Without giving too much away, can you give us an insight into the themes and concepts that are shaping your new music?
In terms of a particular concept, we use an overriding feeling of solitude. With BE&WB we used a kind of “lone cowboy” concept. Vast nothingness. We’re using those same emotions in a different setting. I think it’ll make more sense alongside the artwork of the album, but consider a modern journey to an endless place.

You performed numerous shows across BIGSOUND. Was it a good opportunity to road test the new material in a live setting?Absolutely. We weren’t sure initially, I mean, BIGSOUND is such a great opportunity to showcase your best, and we had to make the decision to play a mix of older songs and the singles, or offer up songs that were super fresh. One of them we’d only tied up three days beforehand. We went with the latter, which was a big thing considering how meticulously we consider what we perform, based on how well we can pull it off live, our vocals, etc. but we relished showcasing current Darts. It was a breath of fresh air for all of us.

Check out the gallery here:

Musical endeavour – in depth. Underground music from Australia and New Zealand. Contact: weirdowasteland (at) gmail.com