Words: James Frostick and Julian Teakle
Artist image: Wil Moon
Cover art: Brendan Boucher
Julian Teakle of iconic Nipaluna/Hobart two-piece The Native Cats is pivoting from TNC’s signature throbbing bass-heavy post-punk sound on his brand-new solo album. Via his own interpretation of stripped-back (but still punk-influenced) jangle, New Hobart (out today via Rough Skies Records) sees Julian exorcising his frustrations with the more aggravating aspects of modern living, delicately balancing the airing of grievances with personal musings on mental health, perseverance and living without regrets. We’re extremely privileged to be giving the record its debut spin, which we are sharing alongside a Q&A with the artist himself.
“We’re living in a golden age / but our invitations got lost in the mail”
New Hobart starts with us on the outside looking in. We’re standing next to Julian Teakle as he looks at his surroundings and marvels at how much has changed. It’s clear that he wasn’t always on the outer, but over the years the city has evolved so rapidly that he didn’t realise he’d been pushed to the fringe until it was too late. It’s a complaint Julian shares with a lot of Nipaluna/Hobart residents who are witnessing an influx of cashed-up interlopers from interstate looking to secure a piece of the city’s lauded small-city charm – wreaking havoc on the local housing market, which wasn’t overly large to begin with. The same thing is happening where I’m at in Meanjin/Brisbane, as similarly wealthy individuals flee north in the wake of recent lockdowns. Now they’re snapping up properties left and right, house prices are soaring and now there’s 50 desperate people at every rental inspection. This aspect of 2021 existence is just one protestation featuring on Julian’s debut long-form solo effort. That being said, it’s not wholly representative of the work at large, which catalogues five years of thought collection – both intimate ponderings and gear-grinding gripes.
After years sewing sonic mayhem has one half of underground heavy hitters The Native Cats, Julian is now shifting gears to a slower speed. New Hobart sees the artist drawing inspirational fodder from the Flying Nun and C86 scenes of generations past, putting his own spin on the comparatively congenial music of, say, the Dunedin scene. New Hobart is nine songs that soundtrack mounting dissatisfaction, mental unease and loss, as well as continuance in the face the former. Although wrought from an economical array of instrumentation, Julian wields pre-programmed drum-machine snaps and his shimmering and springy strum to great effect. His buttery vocals add gravity to each syllable – I catch the frustration in his voice when we waxes lyrical about the oppressive conservative elite, his disgust when denouncing misogynistic and racist humorists, and the pain when fondly remembering a departed family member, who was undoubtedly a major figure in his life. The balance of Julian’s own introspection and perspective helps make New Hobart feel like a solo record in more than just name. That the expression comes from a real place is clearly evident, and despite Julian’s sobering sardonic decree that we’re all living in a golden age, it’s not hard to fathom that, maybe, Julian’s in the midst of one – at least creatively.
I pitched a few questions at Julian about the release. I encourage you to read his responses below before getting comfy and settling in with New Hobart (which you can stream at the bottom of the page).
WW: Your catalogue of work extends back almost three decades – did the urge to create something under the solo guise strike at any point prior to the beginning of the New Hobart sessions? What would you say was the catalyst for you to finally start piecing together something entirely of your own devising?
JT: When I started playing in public at age 18, it was playing solo, I didn’t have the best time. I wanted to be in a band, but wanted to get out and play. With my first band forming I was all like “so long lonely solo guy”. I like collaborating, and being in a “gang” of like-minded musical comrades. I’m reminded of that quote from the Beatles about Elvis, how they coped and grew together because they had each other, but Elvis, even with his entourage, was alone. I would still play solo occasionally over the years, but it was never central to my musical existence.
I’ve written a lot of music over the years, bits and pieces, recorded on cassettes, mini-discs, CD-Rs, phones and hard-drives. Some of it feeds into my current bands, but a lot just sat there. I’d gotten pretty sick of playing guitar at the end of the Bad Lucks Charms, probably a big push for me taking up bass with the Native Cats. A few years into the ‘Cats I bought an Epiphone Casino guitar with some money I got
from my grandmother Christiana when she passed away. It really changed my approach to guitar, and composing. I’d also bought a Zoom H6 portable recorder, to replace my cassette 4-track, gotten a bit more confident with drum machines and drum apps through writing for the ‘Cats.
After a few years of doing this I realised there was something there, initially it was an idea to make demos for a new band, but then thought why can’t this be an album? I’d go for months, sometimes years not listening to these pieces, then come back to them and realise I didn’t hate them.
I’m always curious about an artist’s intent when they begin a solo project – what they aim for and what they envision it will become. Was there a conscious approach taken to New Hobart’s sound and thematic content / did you set out with any specific goalposts in mind?
I guess to do something distinct from what I’m currently known for, to do a body of work I guess I would to like to have done when I first started doing music but didn’t have the skills/gear at the time, maybe this makes it some mid-life crisis vanity project, but hopefully more enjoyable to other people than me getting hair plugs and a Ferrari.
I didn’t set out to write as many songs with socio/political themes, but it’s always been there in my lyrics and I wanted to really work through these ideas rattling around my brain. I didn’t want to write any relationship songs. My last living grandparent Kath (who the album is dedicated to) had passed away, she had a pretty profound impact on my life and political leanings, so I wanted to express something about her life, and the broader experience of losing family members of that generation, which a lot of my friends were going through. I also wanted to try to extrapolate some ideas that my friends and I had about growing up and currently living in Tasmania. For a lot of things that have progressed here, a lot of things have really gone backwards. What’s the point of a so-called “Golden Age” if not everyone is enjoying it. I should clarify that I’m not speaking about MONA, that there’s bigger things in play here.
Sonically I wanted to explore something beyond the usual post-punk I am known for. Or rather go down another branch of the post-punk tree – more melodic, guitar based stuff, hardly groundbreaking but real core stuff for me – Television Personalities, Housemartins, “classic” Flying Nun and bits of the C86 scene.
Did these tracks evolve over time / did you revisit them often until they were fully realised, or was it a process of sifting through a stockpile of thoughts / ideas before actualising them as whole via a concentrated stretch of work?
Basically all of this, some pieces the music was written and recorded in 20 minutes and left for a couple years until I’d come up with a definite lyrical or melodic idea. Some had to be re-worked several times, parts changed but looking at the track listing a fair chunk of the songs is literally a first or second take after coming up with a chord progression. Lyrics are tougher, my career is littered with clangers. There’s a reason I formed a band with Chloe, she is one of the best lyricists I’ve encountered. Which also forced me to up my game. We approach words very differently but Chloe is really inspiring. Words and phrases were gathered through notes on my phone and bits of paper, pretty rare that a song would be finished in one sitting, hence taking so long to get them done in finished form.
In a band setting, I’d imagine there’s a fair bit of give and take / back and forth during the songwriting process before a track is ‘okayed’, so to speak. What is the process/mindset when it comes to reaching a sense of satisfaction with your own material
Probably when the lyrics were in some form that I didn’t feel embarrassed by, ha. Or rather actually meant something to me, that they had some emotional heft. Without having others to bounce stuff back and forth with was a pretty alien experience for me. Lisa Rime, who did backing vocals and I played with in BLC, gave me some good support and feedback. Mikey made some great calls with the mixes.
There are some undeniable grievances being aired on this record, particularly regarding your observations on Hobart’s evolution, the mind-numbing slog of working in customer service (and dealing with abhorrent customers), the country’s abundance of conservative-minded control freaks and shitheel ‘edgy’ comedians. I’d imagine you could fill an album with such songs – how do you find a balance between the tender reflective moments and these more vociferous outspoken passages?
In my head they loosely make sense, combining what I learnt from my Nan’s socialist, humanist leanings. Rejecting and questioning selfish and intolerant ideas, which includes working on my own biases. It’s all a work in progress. Sometimes I would question the vociferousness of some of the ideas, was I being too harsh? But then I’d see something in the news, or overhear some comment, or something someone would post on social media, and think the guillotine could be too good for these punishing fart-fuckers. So I stand by my words now, and hope to be proven wrong in years to come.
Songs like ‘Holiday From My Head’ and ‘Things Don’t Always Work Out The Way You Wanna’ feel linked, at least in the way they speak to overcoming insecurity, grappling with doubt and persevering. Something that can relate to day-to-day existence and also, perhaps on some level, the songwriting craft. How would you say the New Hobart process has impacted/improved your craft and also your confidence in fearlessly expressing ideas?
‘Holiday’ deals with more of the feeling of helplessness and drifting during bad mental health times, and the various ways people cope. ‘Things’ deal with those issues you mention, specifically with being
in a band, running a label, doing music stuff at a DIY level, but at any level I guess? I feel like I have a bit more faith in myself, that this can be done and I have another creative outlet that I can approach in a different but complimentary manner to my other music projects. I compose melodies on guitar more often than I used to, that then get used for vocal lines. For me it all feels differently to other stuff I’ve done, but to other folks it could sound like the skronk I’ve always done? I don’t think fearless is quite right? I probably give less of a shit about what certain people think – it’s a nice spot to be in.
At the end of the day, what aspect of this record are you most proud of and what do you hope listeners take away from their time with it?
That I finally got this thing finished, ha. That I’ve hopefully laid out some concise ideas and maybe some people will connect and relate.
Listen to New Hobart here:
Julian Teakle’s New Hobart is out today digitally and on cassette, available via Rough Skies Records.