Interview: ACTIVITY IN ISOLATION – BLOW BLOOD RECORDS LAUNCHES A LONG TIME ALONE

Words: James Frostick
Shove band image: Bad Band Pix

Even though Australia’s live-music scene has come to a halt in the wake of the coronavirus lockdowns, musicians haven’t remained idle. Melbourne/Naarm-based punk label Blow Blood Records has assembled a killer crop of musicians to contribute to A Long Time Alone – a new mixtape of tracks composed by members of Australia’s underground in isolation. The compilation dropped digitally this week, so we chatted with Blow Blood head honcho Christina Pap about the genesis of the release and how music can unite a socially-distanced community.

The colossal bummer that is the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown pumped the brakes on the country’s music industry at large, bringing the live-music/touring scene to a screeching halt and throwing album-production schedules into disarray. This nation-wide shutdown has impacted not only the entertainment sector, but many of the adjacent industries that musicians rely on for their primary source of income (hospitality and retail, for example). For the industry as a whole, the lockdowns and the ensuing recovery period present a series of challenges that could potentially result in a widespread re-shaping of the music landscape for years to come, but these circumstances have also become a fount of innovation for many artists and labels that continue to create in the interim.

Christina Pap – who operates Blow Blood Records and is also co-host of Teenage Hate on 3RRR – has been proactive during this period of time, assembling a mixtape of underground sound for newly released compilation A Long Time Alone. The mixtape boasts an eclectic and engaging collection of genres, showcasing the depth of Australia’s outsider music community across 30 tracks. A Long Time Alone encompasses everything from glittering synth-pop and abrasive hardcore to skin-crawling post-punk and off-kilter electro. Some of the names in the credits are established operators (Disco Junk, Greta Now, Alien Nosejob, Shove, Liquid Face), others are newly formed projects from members of groups such as Civic, Bitch Diesel, The Snakes, The Baby, Constant Mongrel and more.

Each track on A Long Time Alone is a ripper, and the compilation as a whole is indicative of the irrepressible and unifying spirit tethering musicians, labels and members of Australia’s underground-music scene, where ‘for the love of it’ mentality has always trumped dollar signs.

I fired off some questions to Christina about how the comp came to be and her thoughts on how it turned out.

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WW: At what point during the lockdown did you first decide to put together the compilation? Was there a specific impetus that compelled you to embark on the project?
CP: It was the end of March, so almost two weeks into lockdown. I lost my job, but from working in events I was accustomed to the lifestyle of working a lot and then having no work and needing to find ways to fill the time. Meaning I was looking for a few projects that didn’t involve much money and that I could do in isolation. A friend in New York posted that they were looking for contributors for their mixtape of isolation bands. I thought it would be a neat idea to do one in Australia for Australian artists so decided to undertake that, calling it A Long Time Alone.

When you started to conceptualise the direction of the compilation, did you have any guidelines as to what sort of genres you were keen to feature?
I had no ideas or expectations when I started it. I didn’t know who was going to send me songs and I didn’t know what style of songs were going to be contributed. I was prepared to be open to a broad spectrum and didn’t want to be the deciding hand based on my own personal tastes. There was only two songs where I really didn’t think they were going to work amongst everything else. There’s a wide variety of music on the mix – from synth-punk to proto-punk, “Music For Airports” to goth, to hardcore-punk and grind – and I think that is something that is really appealing about it.

Liquid Face

You’ve amassed a killer roster – what was the process like of approaching the featured artists?
I made a post on Instagram looking for contributors and then focused on the different pieces that needed to come together and how to guide those into place. I contacted a few people but wasn’t out scouting anyone in particular – just explaining what I was doing and if they’d want to contribute too. But as the deadline came up I had a whole lot of people send things through, I was super stoked! All the songs contributed to ALTA have been amazing and I’m humbled at a lot of the artists that trusted me to promote their work and put it to physical format.

Was one of the criteria of submission that the song had to have been written while in isolation, or did you give the artists free rein to submit something they might have already completed?
I know that a few of the songs submitted were written and recorded just before isolation, but I did request that the songs submitted for the most part be written and recorded during the isolation period. I didn’t want this mix tape to be some sort of free-for-all promo for bands with songs that they just had lying around. The isolation is reflected in the music and I think that is something that makes all these genres come together. You can listen back to the cassette post-isolation and it has an individual memory for everyone about what those months were for them.

I won’t go as far as to ask you to name your personal favourite track in the collection, but were there any submissions that you found to be particularly revelatory or that took you by surprise?
I definitely don’t have a favourite song on the ALTA mixtape – I think all the tracks took me by surprise in how great they are and I’m super stoked on the submissions and also to be working with such talented people (not trying to sound like a total kiss-arse). The songs that actually talk about or reference being in isolation have been an added bonus. Co. Inc. lyrics like “…going to get busy going to write you a letter, going to make a Greek salad with some olives and feta, going to get busy going to sort my collection…” is funny and quirky and catchy. Disco Junk did a song called ‘Quaranteens’. Calyx wrote a song about the body which I think it’s interesting to observe how your body reacts when we’ve had such drastic changes thrust upon us. There are a couple of covers too. Music is a source of comfort and for artists to work on covers I think is a way of them seeking personal familiarity in an uncertain time. It’s all been really nice.

Disco Junk

30 tracks/artists is a huge tally for any compilation – do you feel it’s a testament somewhat to the diversity of sounds and artists operating in the Australian underground and the health of the scene overall?
Definitely. The Australian scene is multi-tiered and layered with different social groups of different ages and communities overlapping and rippling out over each other and over time. I wasn’t sure what direction the sound of the mixtape was going to go – it turns out it didn’t really go in any direction, we got a little bit of everything instead. It’s interesting to think that this isolation period is the longest a lot of people in our community have gone in at least over a decade without going out to a live show, and I’m interested to see how things will have changed once they start again. I don’t think this time in isolation will have dampened an artists want to create and perform, however there are other factors regarding the health of the scene that will take time to recover such as the shutdown’s effect on live-music venues and even things like social distancing as shows do start again.

How would you say the current pandemic and associated lockdowns have affected bands and artists in your circle? Has there been any sort of saving grace or silver lining to the circumstances of the past couple of months?
I can only really talk for myself or from personal experience; everyone has been affected in so many different ways. The obvious one being the complete shutdown of the live-music scene. And on top of that, not even being able to meet up with a few friends to practice or record or just jam. People either had to get creative about how they collaborated with people outside their house or wait it out. Record releases got pushed back and if new product did come out there couldn’t be a show or tour to help push it. I think the silver lining will be more evident in hindsight, a few months and a few years from now. If there’s any right now I’d say just a newfound appreciation of each other and the community we create together.

Have a listen to A Long Time Alone below, or head to Blow Blood Records’ Bandcamp to pre-order a cassette copy, shipping in July.