Redspencer are a chill band. Their new one, ‘Fuss’, is a chill song. Makes sense to me.
The band seemed to be on the back-burner for a little while, a time when members Aiden and Dave McMillan threw their efforts into Jesse McCormack’s Tourist Dollars EP, a severely under-appreciated release from earlier this year. Coal’s back in the furnace now though, and the engine purrs once more. It’s the kind of jangly, driven-but-not-too-quick kind of guitar pop that you’d recognise from their self-titled 2015 EP.
“It doesn’t matter too much / what they say about you / you’re flying up and above / over the fuss” sings frontman Dave McMillan. Absolutely dude, right fuckin’ on.
On new track ‘Look Around’, Hi-Tec Emotions are manic, un-subtle, and the most lovable form of tacky. On the music video you can check them grooving around under adornments of dollar bin Spotlight fabrics and fake flower petals. ‘Look Around’ is short and sweet: the only way is up, and Hi-Tec Emotions never really bother to slow down. Even vocalist Ema Dunstan has to catch her breath and take a sigh of relief at the end.
The whole thing is doused in this echoey production that makes it sound like you just ducked out of a gig for a cigarette, the band still freaking out just inside the doors. The bass and organ/synth leads are completely blown out of proportion, huge lumbering beasts grinding against your ears.
It’s also another great one from LISTEN Records, the fuckin’ awesome audio side of the broader LISTEN Collective. Recently they’ve been moving from strength to strength, giving exposure to the amazing music coming out of Australia’s various LGBTQIA+ communities. You’re probably also going to want to check out the shit hot roster for the upcoming ‘Feminist Futures’ LISTEN Conference.
If you’re out and about in Melbourne you’ve probably been touched by the ambition and grace of Em Gayfer in one sense or another; chances are you’ll recognise them foremost as the vocalist for the fearless Chelsea Bleach, but they’ve put their hand to their fair share of grassroots activism too. This brings us to Rock 4 Renewables, a micro-activism festival to push for renewable energy in Victoria. Far be it from me to explain the whole thing – instead, I spoke to Em recently about R4R’s upcoming gig at The Old Bar on 14 August.
What can you tell us about Rock 4 Renewables?
Rock 4 Renewables is a fundraiser event to raise money for Yes2Renewables – a Friends of the Earth collective. The group has been campaigning in Victoria for over four years to ensure legislation around renewable energy is fair in the state. We’ve been able to get the Daniel Andrews government to commit to repealing the worst of the state’s anti-wind farm laws, as well as commit to a Victorian Renewable Energy Target!
After some major wins, however, this grassroots organisation is running low on funds. We’re calling for Melbourne’s rock n roll community to support us in raising some much needed money so that we can keep working in Victoria to secure a 100% renewable future for the state!
The gig will feature some of Melbourne’s great musical talent, including Huntly, Elizabeth Mitchell (Totally Mild), Brat Farrar and Lalic. We’ll also have a raffle with some amazing prizes going on the night.
How did you get involved in the project?
I’ve been volunteering with Yes2Renwables for over two years. This event will be the second Rock 4 Renewables we’ve hosted – we called on the Melbourne music community to help us out a few years ago in raising some funds, so when we were having financial troubles, it was a good first place to start.
I’ve been volunteering with Yes2Renewables for over two years now and am pretty active in Melbourne’s live music scene. Combining two areas I’m really passionate about seemed like a great solution to me!
What can you tell us about the artists on the bill?
We’ve been lucky enough to secure an absolutely amazing lineup for the event, and just goes to show that Melbourne’s musos are ready to rally behind a great cause. We’ve got Huntly, who describe themselves as “doof you can cry to” and who recently released this amazing EP. Elizabeth Mitchell from Totally Mild will be playing a dreamy solo set, Brat Farrar will be bringing his fuzzy new wave style. Lalic will also be joining us with their experimental psych stylings. And we’ll have DJ Nature Girl playing tunes in between bands, so there will really be no reason to leave the dance-floor!
The event mentions the Victorian state government undertaking “ambitious renewable energy goals”, for the uninformed, can you tell us what these entail?
During Tony Abbott’s prime ministership, the renewable energy sector was dealt a harsh blow, with the national renewable energy target slashed by 20%. This meant that in Victoria, the renewable energy sector was stunted and no new projects were being built due to uncertainty over what would happen in the future.
In light of this, the Yes2Renewables campaign worked hard to ensure the Daniel Andrews government committed to renewable energy in Victoria. The main way to ensure this has been through a Victorian Renewable Energy Target. Recently, the Andrews government announced two renewable energy targets for the state: 25% by 2020 and 40% by 2030 – which is a great step towards transitioning to 100% renewables!
What kind of renewable energy mediums (or methods) is the state government supporting?
Plans for how the VRET will be implemented are still underway so we still don’t know exactly what the state’s renewable energy sources will look like. Their plans show so far that the targets will double the amount of wind energy capacity in the state by 2020 and triple it by 2025, not only increasing the amount of renewable energy but also creating 10,000 jobs which is pretty awesome.
Where to from here?
Victoria’s renewable energy targets are an important step in ensuring a clean energy future for Australia, but there are still a number of other steps to take. The VRET has set a strong baseline for Victoria, but across the country we need to see renewables growing. As well as this, across Victoria, communities have been calling for a permanent ban on unconventional gas (fracking) and are currently awaiting a decision from Resources Minister Wade Noonan, so there are still a number of other environmental threats outside of just increasing the amount of renewable energy in the state that need to be addressed.
“NEVER WILL I EVER KNOW” goes the cry on Shady Nasty’s hellfire post-punk debut single, ‘Upwardsbound’.
You’ll scream it into singer Kevin Stathis’ face sometime soon I reckon, mutual spit flying across the space between band and audience. Reminds me of going through my La Dispute phase, catching them play an under 18s show at Irene’s Warehouse in 2010, where 16 year olds slammed into each other like amateur wrestlers, basking in the cacophony of angst and noise and Jordan Dreyer’s hyper-poeticised versions of heartbreak.
This isn’t to compare those two bands on any musical level though – Shady Nasty are cut from a wholly different cloth. ‘Upwardsbound’ is scattershot in all the different things it tries to achieve, but it succeeds in every area. Stathis’ wry, knowing vocal delivery; that pin-prick guitar, ascending over the verses. It all converges in a stadium-sized tremolo freak out, over which Stathis cries “but I can’t not feel that I’m sick with envy”. While the sounds Shady Nasty are bringing through aren’t untapped, their delivery is something damn original.
The video going along with ‘Upwardsbound’ has its own sinister edge, but somehow it achieves this with fruit abuse, dry ice, and some liberal head wobble. The band tries to keep up appearances in a cute domestic setting, but the instrumentation makes it sound like the world is ending outside.
As someone comments on ‘Upwardsbound’ on the group’s Facebook page: “there’s tunes, and there’s top notch ridgey didge grungey inner west makeyathink classic tunes”.
Check out the video below, directed by Anna Philips and Sam Brumby.
As far as your standard set-up of guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards go, Tim Richmond Group is making some of the strangest music in Australia while still maintaining a pop edge. They skip playfully across time signatures and influences on their recent record What’s In The Middle, Richmond’s warm croak of a vocal delivery holding your hand the whole way. Nowhere is this more evident than on single ‘The Book’, for which there is now a brand new video, courtesy of Geoffrey O’Connor and his studio Vanity Lair.
What’s in the Middle? is out now on Lost & Lonesome. The album launch is at the Gasometer in Collingwood on Friday, 12 August, with a killer line up including Palm Springs, Roller One and Sarah Mary Chadwick, plus DJ sets from Dream Kit, Michael Goodfellow and VDKA CRSR.
I’ve met Lucy Roleff a little way down the road from Triple R studios. She’s finished up doing an in-studio performance of her song ‘Every Time’ on The Grapevine with Kulja Coulston and Dylan Bird, and now we’re sitting over our hot beverages of choice, picking through the last couple years of writing and travel that led to the release of her new album, This Paradise.
As someone to sit down and chat to, Roleff certainly doesn’t channel the crystal fragility that comes through on a lot of her records. Lively and seemingly constantly amused, she’s honest and self-deprecating about her musical career to the point where you could be tricked into thinking she isn’t making some of the best folk music around. She carries a small notebook and pen neatly tucked into a plastic sleeve, possibly a home for the many illustrations that find their way into watercolours and drawings on her blog, but today we’re together to talk about her new record.
This Paradise is a considered and deeply rewarding album, and while Roleff is clearly a passionate musician, a life lived through records and microphones in the traditional album cycle sense isn’t something she’s interested in being defined by. This Paradise is composed of songs of varying ages; the longest and most verbose on the record, ‘Two Children’, is around five years old, having been written around the same time as songs that eventually showed up on her 2013 EP, Longbows.
‘They just kind of trickled together over time, and then when I knew I was going to record the album that’s when I had to sit down and go, “which songs am I going to use?”. I think I had eleven songs all together…one of them was really recent; I wrote it when I was learning the harp. It was kind of a mix of years of songs, going back through the back catalogue.’
Roleff says she isn’t prolific, but later tells me a story about how she came across binders lying in some disused part of her closet, holding songs from different periods of her life. Songs about boys, ditched partly in an effort to create a stronger voice for herself, but also to stop getting teased; songs about esoteric concepts, songs about Dalmatians, even. This Paradise sounds like a consolidation of these binders (without the boys and Dalmatians, though). It skips through varying phases of life and the concerns held within. Whether or not the album is going to go the way of those dusty old binders – shuffled away within a closet, to be discovered later in life as a time capsule of these past few years – Roleff isn’t sure.
During the recording of This Paradise, Roleff and producer Tony Dupé (Holly Throsby, Jack Ladder, Sui Zhen) made use of an old hall built off a house Dupé once inhabited. Apparently it had been used as a kindergarten at one point or another, a bathroom to the side equipped with tiny basins and toilets for the little ’uns, which Roleff described as ‘really spooky’. Over the course of three days they recorded vocals and guitars, Dupé often pausing their focus so they could go for a walk to browse the local Salvos or watch YouTube videos.
Roleff says the space itself found its way onto the recording – ‘Especially on songs like ‘Haus’ and ‘This Paradise’, which are kind of meant to be lofty and enormous. We had a lot of mics set up around the room, getting the ambience.’ The use of the hall didn’t stop there; electronic guitar and bass were pumped into the room through an old amplifier and re-recorded by Dupé.
This Paradise is, in large part, carrying on the influences established on Longbows: European art and literature have a major influence here. Roleff says, ‘[its] the idea of tradition, I suppose. Or maybe because of my classical training I’m drawn to strange intervals or whatever. I never try, I’m never like –’ putting on her best stuffy musician-academic voice for effect – ‘I’m gonna make it really interesting and weird so people think I’m cool – “it’s so Motzartian, Wagner was a big fan of this method” or whatever’.
That European influence is homegrown, too. Sandwiched between a German dad who still bursts into operatic song at the kitchen table, and who Roleff describes as being ‘pretty damn German’, and a Maltese mother, Roleff says her upbringing in Melbourne’s Ferntree Gully didn’t expose her to the Anglo culture that dominates the childhoods of many Melburnians.
‘Growing up, family was our friendship group. My parents never really had friends outside of our family. My cousins and I are basically siblings; raised in each other’s households, that whole thing. That seems to be a European thing, especially when they’re immigrants.’
I ask whether a song off the record, ‘Haus’, is inspired by her childhood home, but its genesis was more a conceptual place than a lived one – ‘kind of the sense of being trapped in [an old house]. In the verses I talk about the decaying house and the lushness of the garden, but in the chorus it talks about there being a gate, so there’s a way out.’ Roleff’s style isn’t totally owing to Europe, though. She tells me that ‘Haus’ is also inspired by the 1977 Nobuhiko Obayashi film Hausu, a psychedelic horror freak-out in which a house tries to devour a group of Japanese schoolgirls.
Unlike her father, who still performs in choirs at the age of 82, Roleff doesn’t find herself inevitably drawn to the stage as a performer. ‘I just…don’t. I don’t wake up in the morning and need to go play a show. The music is the end goal for me. I like [performing], I definitely get a kick out of it, but I need to be pushed to do it. Maybe because I’d been doing it since I was a kid I got fatigued…When I think about that road-dog, rock-show kind of lifestyle, I get deeply despondent.’
This Paradise has roots in those burnt out and anxious feelings. On the title of the record itself, Roleff explains, ‘I went through a lot of anxiety, and when I was going through that I got confused about what “real happiness” was. The word “paradise” would get thrown around, and I would just think, “what does that even mean, I never feel that”. I think it was about touching on that and getting an idea of what it was, or a reflection of it. It’s elusive.’
In an interview on the excellent Weirdo Wasteland podcast, Cool Sounds bassist Nick Kearton gives a run down of the beginnings of the band that gives the impression that they could’ve easily faded into memory as a ‘one tape on a little known foreign label’ affair.
Talking about their first few efforts, Kearton comments that while there were definitely songs that he liked on efforts like Melbourne Fashionand Healing Crystals, ultimately the work Cool Sounds had been shopping around wasn’t as realised as it could’ve been. The band wasn’t really sure what it was even trying to be yet, which resulted in entire songs on Healing Crystals being based solely off of IMDb movie plot synopses.
The leap forward to Dance Moves, is huge. This record marks Cool Sounds’ debut on Melbourne label Deaf Ambitions, where they rub shoulders with groups like pop duo Zone Out and slacker pop quintet Crepes.
Cool Sounds aren’t new kids at school by any means, with plenty of the team hailing from the “incestuous, and ever prolific Ocean Party clique” (Deaf Ambitions’ hilarious description). The Ocean Party’s presence and influence is easily felt. From that band, front man Dainis Lacy has pinched a few; Zach Denton works the keys, Liam Halliwell is on sax, and Kearton is OP’s go-to replacement when Crowman can’t make a gig. But I digress; we’re talking about Dance Moves here, and its author is Lacy.
You could describe Cool Sounds as being guitar pop with synth rock chucked into a blender with a black and white photo of some urban street in the rain and you’d probably be correct – though, you’d also be really bad at describing things in understandable ways. The band likes to bandy around this genre term ‘jazz-gaze’ and I don’t know if they’re joking but if not I’d have to disagree. The saxophone embellishments on many of these songs are just that, embellishments. They don’t define the albums course or tone, more serving a greater purpose of smooth new wave/guitar pop jamming that many of the songs belong to.
Songs like ‘In Blue Skies’ are effortless masterstrokes of Cool Sounds’ version of this kind of guitar pop, it’s flamenco acoustic guitar bridge leading into a gorgeously harmonised outro. It’s also got a music video you can watch above where the Lacy makes out lovingly with a basketball, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Lacy’s song writing doesn’t sit in any one emotional ballpark; he’ll contrast vulnerable lines like “I begin to shake/stop looking my way” on ‘Shake’ with huge sweeping guitar and saxophone climaxes. Lyrically, Dance Moves touches on elements of vulnerability, distance, isolation, and the struggles of self control. On the opening track ‘Control’, Lacy admits “I keep dreaming that I’m cheating on you” in probably one of the most honest opening lines I’ve heard this year.
‘Heartbreak’ is a fantastic detour into all out synth pop, synthesizer arpeggios scattering about in the background whilst the drums and bass give the rhythm a work out and Lacy croons over the top, it’s also got one of the best lines on the album, “I’m a man, please justify me.”
It’s unfortunate that in certain instances Lacy’s vocals aren’t up to the task though – with the impressive production laid onto Dance Moves regardless of it’s bedroom recording roots (you can thank Halliwell for that too) Lacy struggles at times to match his voice to the hugeness of the instrumentation around him, not quite reaching certain notes and getting lost in the mix at times. This happens worst on ‘Runs Wild’, that song probably being the most undercooked on Dance Moves, ending in a really awkward way, something that betrays its speed. While Lacy’s voice might be an acquired taste, his tender and earnest vocal delivery often make up for it.
Lacy’s lyricism is his real strength. He’s not overtly self pitying or glorifying his own weaknesses. He deals with them in a manner that lays them bare and picks at them mercilessly like an out of body experience. In that interview with Weirdo Wasteland, Kearton mentions much of Dance Moves is built out of experiences Lacy had while holding together a long distance relationship that stretched across continents.
Dance Moves is an impressive feat. Lacy decided to bring together everything great that Cool Sounds was with a shiny new coat of paint, and Halliwell’s production ensures that everything sounds way better than a bedroom recording should. While it’s in need of some variation at times, the blueprint for Cool Sounds going forward is so compelling and infectious that Dance Moves sets very few steps wrong.