CEREBRAL ART, ANALYTICAL THOUGHT
Words: James Frostick
Glen Schenau of Per Purpose talks about transforming thought into art and art into music.
I was little unsure of what to expect when I met with Glen Schenau to talk to him about Per Purpose. I had no reason to think the interview would be an arduous ordeal or anything but in my mind I was preparing for my questions to be met with some measure of sceptic derision or nonchalance. Liaising with Glen by email was a ‘to the point’ affair so I was expecting our chat to go along the same lines. I was wrong, of course.
Glen and I ended up chatting for much longer than most of my interviews simply because we got carried away talking about different elements of music, music journalism and Brisbane music history. From this discussion I noticed that Glen has a very cerebral thought process that could possibly come through as very direct, but not impolite. His encyclopaedic knowledge of the Brisbane scene as it was and now is dwarfs my own – something I found out early during our chat.
His current brainchild, Per Purpose, is the spiritual successor of Marl Carx – Glen’s first band that ended some years ago. Both bands differ greatly stylistically yet I say they are linked simply because they are products of Glen’s eccentric thought process. Both bands were unconventional in the sense that they possibly represent some irreverent mindset through their harsh sonic arrangements and mild aggressive undertones. Glen is far from aggressive in person, yet his music seems to fit snugly with the underground movement that is discordant with the run of the mill, indie-darling, club-night heroes.
Per Purpose seems to be the more layered offering of the two projects – maybe simply because there are more musicians involved – but the denser sound is also what makes Per Purpose feel like a more composed outfit, mature even – although Glen doesn’t like the term ‘mature’ (Sorry Glen!). While Marl Carx favoured the youthfully influenced ‘2 minute or less song’, Per Purpose look content with something a bit more prolonged and textured. Maybe the change was an age thing, regardless, when Marl Carx ended Glen went searching for something that could jump-start the creative fire again.
“I couldn’t really write songs in that format anymore,’ says Glen. “That really aggressive frustrated teen rock – that kind of petered out. After about six months I got an idea of what I wanted to do, during that time I was playing in Kitchen’s Floor, so I was playing around, touring around, got a lot of ideas from bands I saw interstate.”
“Per Purpose started out as a three piece, with Joe Alexander on drums, myself playing guitar and singing and Harry Byrne on bass, but now we have Mitch Perkins on second guitar. It’s my first band that has had two guitars so its proved very interesting to flesh out guitar parts I’ve come up with between the two and letting Mitch come up with stuff to contribute as well.”
Per Purpose are preparing for the release of a 7-inch release of the song Warburton in July with plans for more releases later this year. Since their inception the band has produced their fair share of songs and earned a following, the band hasn’t been around forever but has shown a considerable amount of growth musically.
“There was a first year period that was all teething and a real ‘terrible two’s’ -like phase where there was a lot ideas that were struggling for space, and some of the songs from that period were flopping like fish out of water,” says Glen. “Looking back on it now it’s all been delivered in a way that will show progress in the future, which is something I try to convey with my art. I respect that, when an artist shows progression in their output.”
As the sole inspirational and artistic creator behind Per Purpose, Glen has the first and final say of the product that is released by the band. This is an ok situation for all involved as each member has a project of their own that they can use as an artistic release. Mitch is also involved in Psy Ants, Harry with Loomer and Loose Grip and Joe runs the Brisbane based label Bedroom Suck, which Per Purpose release their recordings with.
Being responsible for the creative output and direction of the band would indeed be challenging. For Glen, his music is simply an extension of his artistic mind frame and his desire to experiment with the thoughts he puts to paper in his writing. The sound of his music seems to correlate with the growth of his writing and artistic vision, which has shown serious creative potential as his instrumentation improves.
“Marl Carx was the first band I played in,” says Glen “It wasn’t so much about songs being writ it was ideas being exercised. A lot of the initial Marl Carx songs, expressions, were like poetry being turned into musical experiments. Beyond that with Per Purpose where it started off in the same kind of way, with my poetry as kind of expressions but then turned into a serious song writing thing.”
Glen tells me that originally Per Purpose was an experiment that had self-set limitations. Perhaps as a guide for things that he wanted to avoid this time around or simply as an idea to do something new; the initial experimentation laid the groundwork for the ideas to come – even though the some of the methods were ditched after the initial trial and error phase.
“Initially it was all exercising ideas,” says Glen. “I wanted to do something interesting; I had a lot of ideas, sort of like rules. It was like ‘no first person, no second person, no third person in the lyrics’, ‘no effects pedals on the guitar, standard tuning, and no bass kick drum’ but those are all rules I’ve expelled now. That was a long time ago, but I still like to think what the 18 year old me would think when I write. So I do like to stay minimal on the first person, second person, especially – because everyone is guilty of that one. Try listening to a song where they don’t use first person. ‘I’ is often the first word in most songs.”
The product of Glen’s thought process is an intensely visceral and primeval display of unconventional musicianship and deconstructed thought. Glen admits that he never really learned to play conventional chords nor did he think that it was necessary. Along with several other Brisbane bands in the underground corner of the music scene, the signature element of the Per Purpose sound is its unsettling, confronting vibe. Per Purpose fills that niche of contorting, abrasive guitar rock that could be thematically linked to a band like The Drones, yet Per Purpose does seem to have a progressive edge that keeps you hooked and proves that the band is a lot more musically proficient than they first seem.
Glen confides early that his introduction to music coincides with his parents’ divorce. I can’t comment on the effect this had on his outlook on life or personal development, though I am informed that it helped start his connection with music.
“Around that time my dad gave me a copy of The Offspring’s Ixnay on the Hombre on cassette,” says Glen. “Looking back on that that was a pretty important moment in my musical development; I’d say even outside of music, I’d say artistic development.”
So perhaps the early affinity with anti-authoritarian snot-punk (Ixnay on the Hombre could be translated as ‘fuck authority’) helped shape the artistic worldview that spawned the ideas behind Per Purpose, although, like I said before, Glen doesn’t strike me as the aggressive type personally. Perhaps his writing is his outlet for such feelings.
“I like to think my music reflects my life, yeah, I write the songs and the lyrics and it’s all my own histrionics that I’m expelling,” says Glen.
“It helps a lot, initially it was challenging and that’s why I had all those rules, that really comes down to an emotional context. People resort to first person terminology because it’s easy to convey a personal reach out to whatever audience there is. That is something I was trying to clash against with Marl Carx, but I’m using those terms now, and I like to think what I’m doing now is more emotionally affecting than (Marl Carx) was then. I know it is. I like to think it because I know it is true.”
Although there is a sizeable market and a large fan base for music like the kind Per Purpose is releasing, their ‘scene’ if it could be described as one isn’t something that subscribes to current musical trends. Look at the bands listed in the Bedroom Suck catalogue and you could probably count the Triple J plays shared by them on one hand. During my conversation with Glen he refers to this group of bands as the ‘dark corner’ of the Brisbane music scene, separate from the shiny indie-darlings and the dirtier yet still popular garage scene. Everyone is entitled to their own tastes, so I asked Glen what it is about the local bands in this corner that he admires.
“There are a lot of bands that I like, making music that I am very passionate about, says Glen. “Even outside of the local level – high-fiving friends under the table – any musicians playing music. I have been thinking about qualities I subconsciously look for in bands, I kind of get together a list of ‘go-to’ qualities. It must be raw and reflecting, unpretentious, has to come off as honest – among other things.
I then asked if Glen tries to emulate these bands or incorporate those qualities into his own musical art.
“It all an extension of your own personal endeavours, you know you see people listening to bands that they love and in a way they love them because it’s a reflection of their own musical output and because Per Purpose is a personal one from my perspective then yeah I am subconsciously and consciously describing my music when I list the qualities that I look for.”
So Per Purpose has the raw and reflecting qualities down pat and through talking to Glen it seems the pretention is minimal – although admittedly personalities differ, therefore pretention is usually subjective. So does Per Purpose reflect honesty as well? I have no reason to believe they don’t, Glen is one of the most upfront and forthcoming speakers I have interviewed to date, and his thought process provides some amazing insight into his mind so by extension his music would logically be honest, if a little hard to penetrate – but that’s ok.
So, his music fits into the lesser explored area of Brisbane music. Perhaps if all of them subscribe to the same qualities as Per Purpose then there is a treasure trove of forward-thinking, progressive bands that are creating music that’s perhaps a little bit off-beat but altogether thoughtful – this is something Glen identifies with.
“It comes down to wanting to do something progressive,” says Glen. “I wanted to write songs that I could be playing in the future. This is what I want to do really, I can see now I have learned that to have some longevity you need to put work in. I guess this is growing up.”
Per Purpose has a lot to offer, so they shouldn’t be branded as weird outsiders and cast into the dark corner. There is a lot there to appreciate and by the looks of things there will a lot more to appreciate soon. Despite the dense, cerebral and intimidating vibe that Per Purpose exude, it’s well worth the effort of listening to find just how much Glen and Co. have to say.