Words: James Frostick
Band image: Danielle Hakim
It’s been almost three years since Ausmuteants gifted the world with new music, but now the Melbourne-based rabble-rousers are back with a particularly idiosyncratic new record. Ausmuteants … Presents The World In Handcuffs is the brainchild of guitarist Shaun Connor, a collection of tracks that explores the mind of an unhinged police officer.
It was August 2016 when Ausmuteants last put forth a record. That’s a considerably long time between drinks, especially for a crew that was popping out recorded material at a reasonably quick clip up to that point. Each member’s interests outside the band has understandably necessitated a slower pace, but our patience has been rewarded in the end. In April the band will officially release their newest record Ausmuteants … Presents The World In Handcuffs through Anti Fade Records. This record is different from what has come previously – it isn’t so much a concept album as it is just a departure from Ausmuteants’ typical process, one that retains the band’s haywire punk sound and tongue-in-cheek approach. It’s an album of songs crafted by one member only – guitarist Shaun Connor – who assembled the collection of tracks and saw it through from concept to composition. Although this methodology and process seems like a bit of a deviation from the band’s M.O., the origins of … Presents The World In Handcuffs actually goes back a few years.
On 2014’s Order of Operation, Ausmuteants included a track called ‘We’re Cops’, a speedy slice of punk that placed listeners in the chaotic mindset of a bent law-enforcement officer. It was a playful, albeit quick, exploration of authority and the corruptible nature of power, examined within a genre that has a long history of anti-authoritarian sentiments. Ausmuteants’ signature taking-the-piss approach was perfect for conveying the absurd mania of police on the loose, an irreverent take on a group of individuals tasked with keeping the peace.
… Presents The World In Handcuffs takes the conceptual foundations set by ‘We’re Cops’ and expands upon it. Yes, this album is entirely about cops, and not the idealistic heroic type committed to helping enforce the law in a fair and equitable way. The record portrays the ugly, corrupted side of law enforcement – the systemic abuse of power, the immunity they have from the laws they enforce, and the way such a position can rapidly warp the morals and integrity of those wearing the badge. It’s a record that comes at an interesting time – there has been a discernible loss of faith in police officers around the world, and for good reason. The image of goons in uniform engaging in government-approved suppression is becoming more and more widespread, leading to a crisis of faith for those police are empowered to protect. Ausmuteants don’t try to tackle the socio-political factors surrounding the issue, but their vivid take on a cop engaging in repugnant behaviour under the guise of ‘law enforcement’ is enough of a pointed barb that you can understand where the band, and Shaun in particular, is coming from.
Listen to lead single ‘Forever Cops’ here:
To get into the nitty gritty of ... Present The World In Handcuffs and its conceptual origins, I flung some questions towards Shaun and he was kind enough to fling back some enlightening responses:
One of the biggest points of difference from the outset is that this record is written entirely by you. I take it this isn’t how things usually operate for the band?
If you see us playing live, we usually sing the songs that we individually write. It’s very rare for Ausmuteants to jam a song out and write it collaboratively – we usually arrive with demos that we record individually that are 90% finished. Not too much changed personally for the writing process behind these songs – I write entirely in Fruityloops and I try and finish songs within about half an hour so that they don’t get cluttered. I never play my guitar at home so sometimes the songs are awkward to play with real instruments. I’m into it.
Was this set of tracks initially started with the intention of becoming an Ausmuteants record or did it begin as more of an experimental exercise?
The whole concept of “We’re cops” was around before I even joined Ausmuteants. I think even before I moved to Melbourne, I’d keep talking about the lyrics “We’re cops/we see the crime and it stops” over and over with Jake, and we talked about how cool a punk song from the perspective of a violent cop would be. I think writing sequels for songs is funny, and think the fact that there are three Unforgivens totally rules.
After writing ‘Forever Cops’ and calling it ‘We’re Cops 2’, I thought I’d just kind of run with it. ‘Your Favourite Cop’ followed soon afterwards, and with the whole schtick we were running it was just an idea that I felt like I could keep extending to its conclusion. The intent was always Ausmuteants.
… Present The World In Handcuffs is entirely about police officers – a group of individuals that stir up divisive sentiments in most countries. Before getting into what these songs say about cops, what drew you to the idea of penning a collection of songs about law enforcement personnel in particular?
I just found it a really compelling concept and easy thing to write lyrics about. The tradition of punk songs about hating cops also kind of informed me. It’s such a standard thing, but the only time I’ve seen the script flipped a few times , like The F.Us and that single ‘The Nails’. Punk has always kind of flirted with authoritarian imagery, so I think a lot of the album is just doing a punk thing as much as possible.
Throughout the record you hone in on an inherent ugliness that seems to come with the badge. A lust for control, the tendency to abuse power, a general disgust at the world and a massive superiority complex. What drove you to focus on the degenerate aspects of cops? Is it born from a personal disdain you have for them?
I find people’s response to authority and power interesting in a way that I can’t really quantify. I’m sure if you asked that Death in June dude why he loves Nazi stuff he couldn’t really give you a satisfying answer – it has a lot more to do with the kind of affect and aesthetic impression left by images of power and systemic abuse. Everybody is attracted to power and force.
I’m really obsessed with far-right political movements and the kind of humour that they use. See: the similarities between the very intentional lighthearted goofiness of the recent alt-right movement and the early days of the KKK. I think some parts of Pynchon express this thought – fascism is fun, a giant party and release of energy for those that are the chosen ones. Police brutality is fun for the police.
The thoughts of cops portrayed in these songs are objectively vile. Do you feel like a career in law enforcement attracts a particular kind of person, or does the system and institutional mentality warp them as they progress up the ranks?
That’s such a difficult question to answer. I’ve only known two people who have considered being police. One person was doing transcription work for the AFP, in a really deep depression, and saw it as the only logical progression from that job. The other was this beefy boy in my Community Services TAFE course with alt-right leanings who had been through a long history of poverty and abuse.
I think a lot of people are attracted to the police force for a lot of the same reasons that people are attracted to things like social work – they see inequality, vulnerability and want to do something that can be tallied up as virtuous at the end of the day. I can imagine that having force and coercion as your only tools would change your relationship to those things quickly.
It can be really intoxicating to think about power as this corrupting force that inevitably leads to abuse, but I’m scared that might be kind of an oversimplification.
These songs seem to chronicle a twisted duality as well – a pride in their work, a sense of righteousness in what they do and a belief they’re fighting for good, in a twisted way. You do feel there are any redemptive aspects to police work?
I used to do disability support work with an individual who was fixated on the police – he would collect police uniforms, anything high-vis and police related, and was obsessed with walkie-talkies and CB radio. He had a bit of a history of impersonation. For example, on one shift he wore some Blue Ribbon clothes and walked around the park speaking into his CB radio non-stop, looking like an uncanny, bizarro-world police officer.
This person had a long history of assaults, and a lot of his staff suspected him of sociopathy because he wouldn’t really show empathy or remorse after these events. There is a long history of sociopaths being obsessed with authority, and the police specifically, because of the power that they wield. Being a cop is the easiest way to kill somebody and get away with it. This is both scary and cool.
I guess whenever this dude would try to assault me the police would get tagged in because they could use force to manage the situation. I guess that was cool. The problem is all those behaviours would get reinforced, because this dude was guaranteed to see police by assaulting people. This happened consistently.
Most police I met through this job were kind of dumb – slow at typing, usually sporting a thousand-yard, stunned mullet stare. We would have these repetitive conversations where they just wouldn’t listen to me. I hope that cops are doing okay.
Like a lot of Ausmuteants records, I sense there’s an element of ‘taking the piss’ – you’re creating a persona that exists at the very extremities of humanity. That being said, cops are a connecting thread in a lot of acts of injustice. What do you hope to convey to listeners with this exaggerated characterisation?
The central concern is making a cool punk record – I’m not sure I had any kind of didactic intentions. I’m also not really sure how exaggerated the depiction is. It probably only seems cartoony because it’s a punk record.
I really love Paul Verhoeven’s 90s Hollywood run, because those movies work both as subversive political statements as well as straight up dumb action movies. They can be read as critique, but the option is still there for you to sit back and revel in the violence and mayhem.
In terms of the music, it’s wild, propulsive, immediate. How would you say this record differs stylistically from other AUSMUTEANTS releases?
I’ve always been hugely into hardcore, and if you listen to rock ‘n’ roll music but have never had a period of intense engagement with hardcore you are a huge poseur for sure. It probably leans heavily towards stop/-start, riff-based stuff because of the subject matter. I’m not really able to write catchy pop anthems, or when I do it’s a fluke.
As a songwriter, what did putting this record together teach you about your own capabilities?
It’s taught me that I really like thinking of dumb rhymes and that I really like tri-tones. Music has always felt kind of like a gag – there is no way that I could ever write anything confessional or personal, and I don’t even try. I am very bad at writing vocal melodies and all the riffs on the album are basically the same, but hopefully nobody notices.
Ausmuteants … Present The World In Handcuffs is out worldwide on Anti Fade Records from April 26th 2019. Get your pre-orders in ASAP.