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PART 3: Remission & Other Songs – Interviews with Australian Musicians in Healthcare

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Anna Davidson

Illustration by Geoffrey A Thorsen


When you really think about it, there are so many distractions to forget how limited we really are. On a day-to-day basis, the incentives to participate in or manipulate the environment from which we find ourselves are often fairly daft. Anna Davidson‘s cartoonish drawl is mostly straight to the point and as a sufferer of chronic illness; her perspective as an artist is intertwined with her experiences as a consumer of health services.

“After slitting my wrists and taking lots of drugs my housemate dragged me to the car and drove me to the hospital, where they stitched and bandaged me up. I had to wait in a weird courtyard with some kid who had drunk an entire thing of goon and a whole packet of Panadol. Waiting there for an entire day and did not help my situation at all. Once I got into the hospital 12 hours later, my really crazy roommate was screaming all the time and it was really stressful. I would go and tell the nurses that I felt uncomfortable and they just didn’t give a shit.”

Considering some of the difficulties she has experienced within the health system, Anna’s her artistic output is not terrifying or depressing for the matter.

She recently relocated to Melbourne from Brisbane, where the rest of her primary outfit, Major Leagues still resides. On the day of the interview, Anna and Fergus Miller (Bored Nothing) had just completed their self-titled EP for their outfit Revenge SurgeryA Lennon/Yoko-esque project, the EP was self produced and written and recorded by the pair in six-days.

MS: Have you met any other creative people in hospital?

ADDefinitely. On the day that I was committed for the first time, I had been bandaged up and stuff. You have to go into a waiting room and I was there all day, just waiting for a temporary bed or whatever. I barely remember it, but that day this other guy, who overdosed on purpose, was being committed too and he ended up going to emergency to get his stomach pumped. We were in hospital for probably a month together. He was a really great artist. Mostly graphic stuff. He was extremely talented. There was another guy who was an indigenous painter and he gave me a little canvas.

They have art sessions, once a day usually, so you could do drawing and stuff. They have a guitar but you could only use it with someone watching you for an hour or something. The second hospital I was allowed to use a guitar, but yeah same kind of deal. I didn’t have to have supervision but I had to return it and sign a thing.

Do you think most people who work in mental health have a mental illness? Like they got into it because they were trying to solve their own issues?

I never thought about that. My first psychiatrist was just really clinical and cold and it was stressful. It made me more anxious having to talk to him. Lots of the nurses in the public health system seem not to care about the patients very much. Some of them weren’t very nice at all or understanding. But in the private hospital, the second psychiatrist I had was super lovely.

I guess it depends on the person, but I’ve had both ends, like this person actually cares about my mental health and this person shouldn’t be doing this job.

Do you ever think playing a live rock show is kind of absurd?

Yeah, of course. I feel like that about everything.

How do you deal with that?

I guess I get some kind of enjoyment out of it, which I don’t get from other things in life. Drawing and playing music is all I really enjoy doing and lots of the time I don’t really enjoy either of them.

[The illness] is part of my personality and my personality is obviously a part of what I create. So many of my experiences have just been being really depressedI’ve thought I just want to stop music so many times, but I just get bored. I guess now its just habit as well. I think I feel pressure from my family to do something with my life and luckily they are very supportive with my music stuff. I question why I continue to do it. So, I guess this is me quitting music right now [laughs]. 

Who wrote the songs on Revenge Surgery? Did you write them collaboratively?

Fergus wrote two of the songs, but the other four I wrote the skeleton and then Fergus added guitar and wicked cool drums.

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How does doing something like Revenge Surgery differ from your other band Major Leagues?

It was definitely more fun. I thought about quitting Major Leagues because everything can be so stressful. We are looking at tour stuff at the moment and we’ve come to point where we are supposed to play with bands that will pull the most people, so we can sell the most tickets but I don’t really want to play with those kinds of bands. I just want to play with bands that I like, who I want to watch play three times on a tour. That side of things is difficult.

(Read the full interview below.)


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PART 2: Remission & Other Songs – Interviews with Australian Musicians in Healthcare

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(Read Part 1 of the interview series here.)

Djarmbi Supreme

 Illustration by Geoffrey A Thorsen


Tensions can arise when a young professional also wants to try their hand at art, especially when that art is their “outlet for all the dodgy shit [they] would love to be able to say everyday but they know isn’t politically correct”. Djarmbi Supreme is the pseudonym of a 29 year-old Aboriginal health education officer, who writes lyrics that would make most of his colleagues cringe, or at least reconsider whether this closet “sociopath” should remain in their email network. Although, that’s only because they view Djarmbi Supreme within the hospital that they work in and not from within the parallel universe where the self-described “cage rattler” exists.

“I’m a new-school version of Barry Humphries. Djarmbi Supreme is like Sir Les Patterson. He’s a concentration of all my sleaze-bag, outspoken instincts that I actually have. It’s an extension of me. It’s not me, but just an outlet for me to be able to produce exactly what my instincts are telling me to do and not wonder if it’s somehow going to affect me personally…”

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MS: So you do the Djarmbi character so it doesn’t clash with your professional life?  DS: Yeah, that’s one of the big reasons I’m fairly anonymous. I try to make it clear that it’s just a stand-alone entity. Because of the work that I do I have to be able to retain a certain amount of respect socially, in the community and professionally. When I’m at work, I’m someone who people are supposed to listen to and trust my words and actions. I’m an educator. If they heard the music that I’m making as Djarmbi it would be really hard to retain any respect. It’s a technique of being able to have this outrageous personality as well as have this sensible professional career at the same time.

Professional wrestlers are not at home in costume smashing their kids over the couch. They are just regular people when they are off duty. That’s what it’s all about. Finding out how you can be an authentic artist or entertainer and just keeping it there. I still dip in and out of it. I’m on Twitter all day as Djarmbi Supreme but I’m still at work doing my stuff. I kind of get a thrill out of thinking I’m getting away with something. It’s an indulgence. I’m pretty vain in that regard.

You seem to want to elicit anger through the character Djarmbi Supreme. Where does your anger come from? 

There was a lot hard shit in my youth and teen years. I sort of battled a bit. I suppose I learnt how to express all that through other avenues instead of lashing out. I’ve seen my role models being not very good at doing that, which made me better at it.

Can you tell me about what happened with Andrew Bolt?

[Andrew Bolt] went to court and was found to be negligent in his journalism and was found to be a racist by law. Since then he has been attacking people and perpetuating the Darwinist theory that light-skinned Aboriginal people aren’t authentic and we’re sponges on welfare. Through his careful choice of words, he has basically got a whole army of ignorant people thinking that he is true and everything he says is gospel because it makes so much sense to them because they haven’t got enough education to know any better. He is sort of like Davros or something. He has all these little Daleks running around aiming their lasers at light-skinned Aboriginal people but they don’t have brains of their own to actually stand back and learn. They refuse to learn. So I wrote a fake open letter to him. It was a play on the fact that lots of people in the community were writing open letters to him and feeling like they had to elevate their language to reach his level. I was trying to make a point that we should be lowering our intelligence to communicate with him because he is such a fucking bottom-feeding, shit cunt. I took it down to the street level.

He’s trying to label me as a sponge because the work I do is government funded. Well, fuck. He is funded by Gina Rinehart. What’s worse? How can such extreme conservative thinking be mainstream and accepted? You asked me before about what makes me angry. That’s it. How does that get through the gates? People think they are scared and sitting in danger so they think we need to freeze Australia the way it is.

I’m interested. You are seemingly misanthropic at times but you also work in healthcare.

Well, I don’t hate humans. I’m just a fucking snob.


(Read the full interview below) (more…)

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PART 1: Remission & Other Songs – Interviews with Australian Musicians in Healthcare

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“Djarmbi Supreme is like Sir Les Patterson. He is a concentration of all the sleaze-bag, outspoken instincts that I actually have. It’s not me, but just an outlet for me to be able to produce exactly what my instincts are telling me to do and not wonder if it’s somehow going to affect me personally.”

Living within the health system can be grounding, but it can also derail. I interviewed three musicians, all who’ve had significant exposure to our health system as both practitioners and consumers. Peter Emptage from Paddock spoke to us about about improvising everything – including landing an artist residency in Taiwan, while Aboriginal Health Education officer / rapper Djarmbi Supreme who describes himself as the “new school version of Barry Humphries” recalls the time he took on Andrew Bolt. The final interview in the series comes from Anna Davidson from Major Leagueswho had some interesting experiences making friends in the emergency department. 


Peter Emptage Paddock by Geoffrey A Thorsen

Illustration by Geoffrey A Thorsen


“I’m really lucky to have a job. I think it’s really good to have your bills covered and not necessarily make a living off music. It’s pretty murky waters when you’re setting out with the sole intention of cashing in on your arts and crafts.”

I’m caught off guard by Pete’s positive aura. He’s worked in disability for 8 years and is delighted by that. Unlike most of the burnt out health professionals I’ve met, he seems spiritually revitalised by living.

On the other hand, Pete’s primary band Paddock is often devastatingly intense and visceral, only interspersed with a big grin when he isn’t delivering lines. In fact, everyone who attends a Paddock concert sits glued to the performance, like they just might learn something. The controlled vocals sound unmistakably ‘Australian’.

MS: So, is the rest of the Paddock improvising a lot of the time?

PE: They mostly make up what they are doing. It’s a largely a go-for-it affair. If it really fucks up, it can often turn out better than what I came up with. They are good at fucking things up, in a pleasant way.

And how do the songs come to life?

For Paddock I write the words, but there is no formula set in stone of where songs go. So far, I’ve come up with the words and things are built around that.

The song writing process is varied, really varied. It’s different depending on where the impetus to write a song came from. It may come from some garbled melody or it could come from some rhythm slapped on your thighs. I feel like that’s the exciting parts of coming up with songs, it’s not necessarily a clear route to anything in particular, so as long as you’ve got the impetus to make something, the end point will. That’s the beauty of it. It’s an infinitely exciting craft. It’s something you can chip away at.

So why do you continue with songwriting?

Something I feel like could be interesting to work on in songwriting is to blow up a little bit of the structures that singer-songwriter material often has embodied in it; verses, choruses and bridges – but the bands are freed up to improvise because people feel more fluent and less inhibited. Outside the form of rapping or spoken word or poetry, I guess you don’t often hear singer songwriter material changing from gig to gig, that’s the one part of the music that is cemented in. I would love to be able to write in a way that words or sounds of the voice could be the same quality dynamic and engaging in the present moment as the music. I’ve also just been getting back into Public Enemy. Chuck D is the king.

I hear your lyrics and think there are sometimes parallels between your work in healthcare and your words?

I guess it’s a part of my lived experience, so there’s definitely influences had on my life. It’s similar to music, there’s a real human element to it. Its a community based job, you get to work closely with people and hear where they’re at.

For words, its nice just hearing how people speak and people’s stories. That’s one part of the craft of writing words I really love – just narrative, abstract writing that plays more with sounds like ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ or something like that. Its got intention but it’s not always clear what it’s driving towards. It’s more working with big picture stuff or a mood. I don’t think you need to always set out knowing where you’re trying to get to….

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