Interview: LOOKING BACK WITH ETERNAL SOUNDCHECK

Words: James Frostick
Meat Thump band image: Marriah Geles

Brisbane/Meanjin label Eternal Soundcheck has reached into the past to haul three unheralded projects into the present. The newest additions to the label’s catalogue include a compilation of EPs and unreleased tracks from dissonant no-wave band look!pond, a rediscovered live recording of outsider punk trio Meat Thump and a polished reworking of Liam Kenny’s 2016 solo album The White Man Is Oppressor. We chat to label head Matt Kennedy about the motivations behind releasing all three works in 2020, why he considers them special and what we can expect from Eternal Soundcheck moving forward.

If all you know of Matt Kennedy is his output under the downer-punk moniker Kitchen’s Floor, you’d probably think donning rose-tinted glasses is something that is outside of his wheelhouse. Kitchen’s Floor’s output to date spares little fondness for the past – to Matt the past is probably just as shit as the present and almost as shit as the future. That being said, Matt’s involvement in Brisbane’s underground music scene stretches back more than a decade, and his fingerprints can be found on a few of the city’s most vital (albeit downcast) recordings of the past 15-odd years. Regardless of his thoughts on nostalgia, his history is rich as far as involvement in Brisbane underground music is concerned.

Since 2009 Matt has been running Eternal Soundcheck – a project that started out as a resource of live-music footage from bands playing around Brisbane (everyone from locals such as Slug Guts, Blank Realm and Cured Pink to bands blowing through town like Chrome Dome, Super Wild Horses and Naked on the Vague). Eventually ES morphed into a label and distro service, which – as of 2020 – has been responsible for pushing out releases from Soot, Star Slushy, Sorry Golden State, Prefect, The Friendsters and Satanic Rockers. The latest batch of Eternal Soundcheck albums aren’t new compositions – they all come from the past. This winter Matt is embracing history, his own and his label’s.

Yesterday, Monday June 15, Eternal Soundcheck added three new albums to its catalogue – all of which are available digitally or on cassette. The first is I Don’t Want To Be Here,  a compilation of EPs and unreleased tracks from Matt’s pre-Kitchen’s Floor project look!pond – a collection of beat-to-shit no-wave dissonance imbued with a level of angst-fuelled aggression that Matt cultivated during his teenage upbringing on the Gold Coast. The social claustrophobia is palpable, one can envision Matt as a caged rat, forced to gnaw off his own tail as a distraction from the backwards banality of life as it was in 2005. The second release is Under The Bridge – a live recording of Meat Thump captured when the trio performed a set of bent-but-unbroken grog-rock underneath Brisbane’s William Jolly Bridge on July 2, 2011. The band, which at the time featured Matt, Bobby Bot (Wonderfuls) and the late Brendon Annesley (Negative Guest List) works through a beautifully ramshackle set, with Brendon’s unsteady drawl cutting through the mix just enough that you can catch fragments of his unique poetic lyricism. Finally, Eternal Soundcheck is reissuing Liam Kenny’s (Prefect, The Friendsters, Roamin’ Catholics, Peak Twins) 2016 solo album The White Man Is Oppressor – eight tracks (one of which is a cover) of scathing critique of Australia’s right-wing media and political system. Originally arriving just before Trump’s ascendency to the role of POTUS, the reissue (which boasts new cover art by Sam Hill and some spiffy new professional dubbing work) showcases how little has changed culturally in the four years between the album’s release and now.

I had a digital chat with Matt about the motivations surrounding these releases. 

WW: I’d love to focus on the next wave of releases individually to get your thoughts on them and the time and now, starting with look!pond, your pre-Kitchen’s Floor no wave project. Can you tell me a bit about your initial creative intent with Look!Pond and the process behind the creation of these songs?
MK: I had finished high school and was still living at home with my Dad in Helensvale, which is a nothing suburb off the highway on the northern Gold Coast.  At the time I was doing nothing, too – my grades weren’t good enough to do university, nor did I actually have any interest in doing it or a trade or going to TAFE.  I delivered pizzas for Domino’s and was basically the stereotype of the suburban late-teenage loser. What teenager doesn’t feel depressed, isolated, angry, and alienated around this period?  You have no idea what to do, yet there’s this immense pressure to become something constructive yet also socially acceptable. Classic teen angst.  As most teenagers that ain’t dorks would say – fuck that. 

I didn’t have many friends into music or even in general, and from their perspective I just seemed way too intensely into it, which pretty much made sure I was alone most of the time.  I was obsessed with music and that’s all I wanted to do – learn about it, listen to it, and make it. I was a bit isolated in the suburbs but I had still, by that point, been exposed to things like the No New York compilation, Big Black, and Brian Eno’s early solo albums which were all a big influence on look!pond – not to mention my constant weekly train trips up to Brisbane to see whatever show/band I could find and absorb.

There was an unused downstairs space at my Dad’s house which afforded me a little privacy, and after a while I amassed bits of cheap music equipment from op shops or classifieds, like old guitars, practice amps and bits of a shitty drum kit that I filled out with a cooking pot and other kitchen utensils.  Basically I had created a really crappy studio.  I had a Tascam 4-track tape recorder and would sit in this room for hours, playing each instrument individually while slowly layering them up into the form of a completed song – usually starting with the drums first and ending with vocals which I would record separately in a toilet because of this strange natural reverb that it had (the vocals on ‘Houses’ are a good example of it).  That’s how all the recordings on this tape were created. I would make cassette copies of the recordings and just hand them to friends or do trades via the mail with other musicians I had met on Myspace (the hip social-media platform of the time). That was the extent of releasing them, I didn’t really know how to go about it.   

I entertained the idea of remastering the tracks for this release to give it a bit of shine and polish but it has this weird lo-fi sound to it that is just part of what makes it what it is, so I’ve left everything basically as original as possible, including the artwork of which I used the same methods (aka the photocopy machine at the newsagent) to recreate.

More than 15 years on, what it is about this collection of work that made you want to revisit it with a reissue?
Soon after that period I moved to Brisbane and formed look!pond into a proper band with other members and we did all the usual ambitious rock-band stuff like constantly rehearsing and playing shows, touring, and eventually self-releasing a properly recorded studio album in 2006.  It contains the same songs from the original Gold Coast recordings with a few extra newer tracks.  I did not know anything about working in a real studio so there are no overdubs and the tracks were recorded live. Usually we just settled on the first or second take because the studio time was expensive and we were very poor.  For me personally, although I learnt a lot during this period, the album has not held up that well. It has this very mid-2000s rock flavour to it that makes me cringe and it’s a struggle for me to listen to the album the whole way through or really at all unless I am wasted. Not to mention my vocals just sound awful. The album is still heavy and noisy as fuck though, and I know some people really like it for that, but I got bored of it and moved on to Kitchen’s Floor which was more about the songwriting and the melodies than the zany guitar shredz etc. 

I guess the reason for revisiting the original look!pond recordings 15 years later is because I like the simplicity and purity of it. I like that it’s just one lonely person expressing themselves in a way that does not give a fuck how it’s being perceived or presented because the assumption was always that no one would actually care to listen to it. I just went nuts venting whatever was pissing off my teenager self as an emotional outlet. I miss that passion, enthusiasm and energy that I had back then to be able to be as prolific as I was to make all of that music. Releasing it now in 2020 is something of a way to properly consolidate that period of time for me so that I can move on to future projects while knowing this period has been adequately documented. 

Looking back in hindsight, what do you think were some aspects of this project that had the biggest impact on your creative practice from then on?
Throughout the time of look!pond I was basically able to learn in various degrees how to play every instrument that’s needed in a rock-and-roll band. I am tone deaf, and do not come from a musical family, but sit me down with a random assortment of instruments and things to to bang on and I’ll be able to create a tune or something out of that. That’s basically been my creative process ever since.

Next is the Meat Thump Under The Bridge cassette. How long have you been sitting on this particular recording and what compelled you to package it for a release now?
It’s a complete Meat Thump live recording that was made by Ben who does the Essential Minerals label. I knew the recording existed and had been asking him every now and then about it over the years with not much luck on either of us locating it. Finally it was found on an old hard drive and for me it was a bit emotional hearing the show in full for the first time, to be honest. That instant transportation in time back to July 2011 – hearing Brendon’s voice – and just the ambience of the show and the memories that it all elicits made this release the hardest to work on.  To my knowledge it’s the last Meat Thump set that was recorded in full, with some songs in the set only played at that show.  French artist Alex Ratcharge did the cassette artwork, who did a lot of Negative Guest List art back in the day and I reckon he nailed it.

For those that never got to experience the group in action, can you break down what you think was most exciting element of that band as a whole?
It was Brendon’s band and we followed his lead. Meat Thump had a constantly revolving membership as Brendon tried out different interpretations of Meat Thump to develop his own unique sound and vision for the band. That constant evolution during the 2 years or so of when Meat Thump existed can be a bit confusing to the uninitiated, but basically the early period of Meat Thump has been extensively documented and released by Coward Punch Records, like the Eat Prey Live LP and Metal Gun 7”, while this Under the Bridge release and earlier Mustard Gas release represent the latter era Meat Thump, which was a lot more mellow and lyrically driven than the early stuff, which was all about the RnR. Brendon was primarily a writer, and his main focus was always with Negative Guest List, as a zine and record label figurehead, but Meat Thump was always there as his musical outlet.   

What do you remember about the set itself? What elements of the band’s nature does the recording capture best, and also compared to the Mustard GasLive at Disembraining Machine 2011 Eternal Soundcheck released in 2016?
Well, it was part of a series of independent DIY events held in public under Brisbane’s William Jolly Bridge and used a generator for power.  The series was called ‘City In The City’ and this was the 9th one. Jamie Hume, Joel Stern and Gerald Keaney were the main organisers, I think.  It consisted of experimental bands like The Perfect Lovers alongside poetry readings and other speeches alongside harder teen punk bands like Cannibal.  Somewhere amongst this was Meat Thump.  I apologise if I have any of this information is wrong or I left out anybody who put it together, as it was a few years ago.

The Meat Thump performance itself shows the progression we had made as a band since the Mustard Gas show which was a few months earlier. While that show was an acoustic affair within the comfortable confines of Alchemix Studios and recorded with nice equipment, this bridge show was an electric generator show in an exposed public space without the approval or knowledge of authorities. We played very messy, as we had been rehearsing at my house all afternoon which also involved quite a lot of alcohol. Some of the songs were written that afternoon and Brendon semi-improvised a lot of the lyrics. A music-school theory tech nerd would be completely offended by the sheer lack of musicianship we display at this show, a thought which makes me smile.

The third release is a reissue of Liam Kenny’s The White Man Is Oppressor. It seems almost eerie that this tape remerges now. When did you and Liam initially discuss circling back around to the project?
It had been on my mind to reissue TWMIO for awhile.  It was Eternal Soundcheck’s first cassette release after the first three 7-inches and to be honest, I did not do a good job. In 2016 I was broke and basically bought a batch of blank tapes for as cheap as I could, dubbed the album myself on my home stereo one by one which, although it’s already a lo-fi album, really made the tape sound like shit. Likewise, I made the covers myself, printing them on cardboard at the newsagent near my house and individually cutting them out and folding them into the case. It was DIY in every sense of the word, but the quality just wasn’t there and I never felt good about the final result. Especially when it was released and the popularity of it exceeded my expectations to where I got overwhelmed and the whole thing was a bit of a stressful mess. Sorry to those who bought the original release and received dodgy tapes.  Liam is chill as fuck and I don’t think he really cared, but I’ve always thought it was a great album and wanted to do it again properly to give it the release it deserved the first time round. All tapes since have been professionally dubbed and printed at a production facility in Canada called Duplication.ca and they do damn good work. 

The messages on this tape are as timely/relevant as when it was released – was the need to reiterate the sentiments contained on the tape a motivator behind the reissue?
To be honest it’s a complete co-incidence concerning the reissue of this album and what’s currently happening in the world right now. I keep track of what’s happening here and abroad and a lot of it deeply depresses me. I’m just glad this comes out at a time where people can revisit it or hear it for the first time and find some solidarity or solace in it.

This winter seems to be a reflective period for Eternal Soundcheck – you’ve also popped the label’s first three releases up for free digital download. What are your thoughts on Eternal Soundcheck and its output as a label so far?
This year has been reflective for sure. Enforced isolation really reinforces that and reflects the current releases I’ve decided to do.  I’ll definitely be looking at focusing on releasing new and current music after these winter releases are done and dusted. Last year the Soot, Brick Brick and Sorry Golden State releases really felt special as far as demonstrating that Brisbane is a relevant place that produces relevant music outside of the usual mediocrity that dominates the music media. I’d like to keep releasing music like that but also embrace history and consolidate that side of things for Eternal Soundcheck as well.

Is there different levels of fulfilment involved in putting out the music of others compared to your own?
Sure. I get a kick out of being able to release my own music independently, reissuing the first Kitchen’s Floor album last year was a lot of fun with the associated launch shows and playing those songs again to people who weren’t necessarily around the first time.  I’m looking forward to doing the same thing with the look!pond release. It can be self-indulgent and a little lonely just focusing on my own stuff though, and the funnest releases have always been other bands. Working with the other bands, seeing everything progress to its final form and just seeing the excitement of the band themselves can be very fulfilling. I often don’t feel good about myself, so helping other bands release their music with whatever resources I can offer, especially when they’re good bands normally ignored by other labels or radio or whatever, is one of my favourite things to do.   

When it comes to Eternal Soundcheck’s future, what are your prime motivators?
I just want to put out more tapes of good, interesting music that challenges people. I’m always excited to hear new music from new bands and work with new people on these projects.  I’d like to move back to doing some vinyl releases at some point if my financial situation improves, but for now the humble cassette tape is fine with me and as long as people keep buying them and stay interested in what’s happening then good stuff will continue as it always does.

You can purchase all three albums digitally right now via Eternal Soundcheck’s Bandcamp, or place a pre-order for cassette versions, which are expected to arrive in late-June or early-July, pandemic permitting. 

ETERNAL SOUNDCHECK BANDCAMP