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Fortitude Valley, Brisbane

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this month

ISSUE 739: Wednesday July 4, 2018

what you’ll find inside…


EDITOR: Joseph Earp NEWS: Nathan Jolly, Tyler Jenke, Bianca Davino, Lars Brandle ART DIRECTOR: Sarah Bryant PHOTOGRAPHER: Ashley Mar COVER PHOTO: Ben Sullivan ADVERTISING: Josh Burrows - 0411 025 674 PUBLISHER: Seventh Street Media CEO, SEVENTH STREET MEDIA: Luke Girgis - luke.girgis@ MANAGING EDITOR: Poppy Reid Sub-Editor: Sarah McManus GIG GUIDE COORDINATOR: Allison Gallagher - gigguide@seventhstreet. media REGULAR CONTRIBUTORS: Arca Bayburt, Lars Brandle, Tanja Brinks Toubro, Alex Chetverikov, Max Jacobson, Emily Gibb, Emily Meller, Adam Norris, Holly Pereira, Daniel Prior, Natalie Rogers, Erin Rooney, Anna Rose, Spencer Scott, Natalie Salvo, Aaron Streatfeild, Augustus Welby, Zanda Wilson, David James Young Please send mail NOT ACCOUNTS direct to this NEW address Level 2, 9-13 Bibby St, Chiswick NSW 2046 ACCOUNTS RECEIVABLE: Carrie Huang (02) 9713 92692, 9-13 Bibby St, Chiswick NSW 2046 DEADLINES: Editorial: Thursday 5pm (no extensions) Ad bookings: Last Wednesday of the month 12pm (no extensions) Finished art: Last Thursday of the month 5pm (no extensions) Ad cancellations: Last Wednesday of the month 12pm Deadlines are strictly adhered to. Published by Seventh Street Media Pty Ltd All content copyrighted to Seventh Street Media 2017 DISTRIBUTION: Wanna get the BRAG? Email PRINTED BY SPOTPRESS: 24 – 26 Lilian Fowler Place, Marrickville NSW 2204





Laura Jean


Jack River

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Regina Spektor




Albert Hammond Jr.


Rebel Yell


The Frontline The Watcher The Bookshelf Sounds Like The Defender Game On Snaps Gig picks Drawn Out Giveaway

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The Eminem Shitshow: Or, Whatever Happened To Marshall Mathers?


A Family Is A Steel-Jawed Trap


How Dolby Changed The Way We Watch And Listen – Forever


A Tribute To Anthony Bourdain, Room To Dream

William Basinski




High Tension


‘Old French Love Songs’


Cry Club




The Unbearable Cost Of Wellness


Florence + The Machine


Kenny Wayne Shepherd


Jessica Says

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Superorganism photo by Steph Wilson, Regina Spektor photo by Shervin Lainez

“The two things that particularly fascinate me is where we are from and where we’re going.”

EDITORIAL POLICY: The views and opinions expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of the publisher, editors or staff of the BRAG.

“Approach things with gentle curiosity and fun and not with an agenda.”



Fri 6th July, Bloodhound Bar


Wed 12th July, Waywards


Sat 14th July, The Brewery


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the frontline

With Nathan Jolly, Georgia Moloney, and Geordie Gray

Stranger Things


STRANGER FICTION Get excited, Netflix bingers: Netflix and Penguin Random House are partnering together to release a collection of books based on the critically acclaimed series, Stranger Things. The first is a behind-the-scenes companion book titled Stranger Things: World Turned Upside Down: The Official Behind-The-Scenes Companion. But there’s also another as-yet untitled gift book forthcoming that will offer readers “advice, wisdom, and warnings from the Stranger Things world.” Excitingly, these books will be followed by a prequel novel revolving around Eleven’s mum and her life before she met the tyrannical Dr. Martin Brenner. The novel will be written by Gwenda Bond and is set to be released at the end of 2019. And that’s not all! Dark Horse comics revealed that they will be releasing a four-part comic book series based on the series in September. The story will take place during the first season and will explore what happened to Will whilst he was trapped in the Upside-Down.



If you’ve always wanted to go to a go kart track dressed as Princess Peach, then boy do we have the event for you! Mushroom Racing is coming our way. It’s a stellar event in which you dress as your favourite Mario Brothers character, collect stars, and possibly win money. From the organisers: “On the race day, you’ll be able to pick your favourite character, drive a custom go karting track dressed as them, and win prizes, including a $1000 cash prize if you complete the track on 40 seconds.” Tickets are rather limited. It all goes down on Sunday September 16 and Sunday November 11.

Let’s be honest. The thing you go to KFC for – aside from the ambience, obviously – is the 11 secret herbs and spices. Now vegetarians who desperately miss that delicious blend will be able to reintroduce it to their lives, with the happy news that KFC are trialling a fake chicken option – which will be coated in the aforementioned spices. They call it a trial, but as if this won’t catch fire quicker than your tongue after a Hot and Spicy wing binge. The intrepid folks at Munchies UK reached out to KFC for comment: “We are looking into vegetarian options in response to the latest changes in lifestyle and dining habits of our fans. The development of the recipe is still in its very early stages and so the options we’re exploring in our kitchen are still top secret … If all goes well, we hope to launch a new vegetarian option in 2019.”

In an attempt to save the native wuoll population, scientists have decided to drop sausages made from cane toads from the sky, with the sausages scattered above Western Australia’s Kimberley region. The wuoll population has been decimated as of late, and their demise is largely at the hands of the nefarious cane toad – when quolls eat cane toads they are killed thanks to the poison in the toad’s glands. But here’s where science comes in to save the day: a five-year study found that captive quolls can be trained to avoid eating cane toads. This practice has now been expanded to the wild, with helicopters literally hurling these revolting snags from the sky. Importantly, these sausages are stuffed with cane toad mince and laced with a chemical that’ll make the quolls temporarily ill. This will hopefully encourage them to stay away from the toads when they come marching in. It’s a promising plan: a trial found that between 40 to 68 per cent of quolls that took the bait subsequently developed a taste aversion to the toads.

FIRST I WAS DRINKING, NOW I’M DRIVING Getting home after a loose night out might well become a lot more difficult. Rideshare giant Uber has applied for a patent in the United States for software that will develop the ability to detect intoxicated passengers using machine learning. The software uses a special algorithm to determine a user’s state of inebriation: it will track user behaviour such as typos, how long it takes to request a ride, how accurately the user clicks buttons and even their walking speed. Once the algorithm is created for a user, the app will be able to detect unusual behaviour. The time of day the ride is requested and pickup location will also be factors in the final outcome. For example, if a user is ordering an Uber in the centre of a clubbing district at 3AM, and takes 10 minutes to order the ride due to typos, then the app may determine that said user is intoxicated, based on previously collected data. It makes sense – even though it does also feel a little dystopian.

YOU WANT FOOD OR A COURT CASE? The Fair Work Ombudsman is taking food delivery company Foodora to court for what they consider “sham contracting” which saw them underpay workers. The case is around the employment of three specific delivery riders, but will have larger implications. Foodora are alleged to have made employees sign an ‘Independent Contractor Agreement’, which the FWO deems illegal. They found the workers were in fact operating as Foodora employees and “entitled to minimum wages and conditions under the Fair Work Act or ‘independent contractors’.” This includes casual loading and penalty rates for evening and weekend work. The company has breaches numerous conditions, and faces penalties of up to $54,000 per contravention.

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Superor Belinda Quinn chats to Harry of Superorganism about the roots of creativity, the pros of lyrical abstraction


ut your mind in my brain and you’ll see / everything is better when you’re everything,” sings Superorganism’s Orono, her effortless, laconic tone oozing through sound that can be best described as organised chaos. Indeed, this lyric neatly describes what the band are about. The indie psychpop supergroup function as a hive mind; together the eight-piece build music that makes neither a utopia nor dystopia of our ever-growingly interconnected world. “[Technology] is an intense part of our lives for better and worse,” explains producer Harry (Christopher Young). In September last year, Superorganism released the debut single ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D’ with scarce information on its creators. That same month, they had their first rehearsal – it was the first time that Orono and backup singer Soul had even met. “We fully finished the album before we ever got in a room together,” says Harry. Just eight months after this initial release, they went on to play to over 5,000 people at Barcelona’s Primavera festival; performed on Jools Holland’s Later…; and now, they’re heading to Australia to play Splendour In The Grass later this month.

Superorganism photo by Jordan Hughes

Superorganism started finding their voice by brainstorming themes and ideas on forums from each of their corners of the globe. “Technology tended to dominate,” Harry says. “The internet shines this strong light on how everything is connected: there’s no disconnect between any action or any consequence. It all has this knock-on effect with everything around it, whether that’s socially or environmentally, or even scientifically and technologically,” he explains. Their lyrics detail everything from “curious camgirls” and “cruel and kind cherry boys,” – the latter being a Japanese euphemism for men who have no sexual experience – to the little-known sophistication of a prawn’s social hierarchy. They make nods to the cartoonist R. Crumb and feature a distorted recording of self-described “empowerment guru” Anthony Robbins.

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rganism and being your own weird self

“There’s an abstraction to some of [the lyrics] that I just find so beautiful,” explains Harry. “I find that the best lyrics for me are ones where you can project whatever you want onto them.” Due to just how many hands are on deck in their production process, each member is constantly finding new messages within Superorganism’s music. “It was only a few weeks ago that I realised that that soda jerk is a thing in America,” he says of the lyric in ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D’. “I just thought that that was just a cool play on words that Orono came up with. “We’re always finding these little layers. You get all these layers that you missed the first time around. I’m still hearing things in some of the songs that I hadn’t even noticed the first time around, because someone else had put that layer in there and I’m like, ‘Oh damn, that’s really cool’,” he says. Asked if the band have an interest in science fiction, he replies, “oh, absolutely.” He considers himself a history buff and recently geeked out at Roman architecture while they were touring in Maine, France. Harry explains, “I’d say the two things that particularly fascinate me is where we are from and where we’re going. They’re central to my way of thinking about art and the world, so I’m obsessed with history and scifi and futuristic things.” He notes a favoured film that the band recently watched: 20th Century Boys, a 2008 Japanese sci-fi adapted from the comics of the same name. “The events of the stories that they wrote as children start to happen and start to click in place. It’s this really crazy story about how ideologies can spread in the modern world,” he explains. While sci-fi might inform their taste, he says, “I don’t want to sound like we’re Muse though. When I think of sci-fi music I always think of Muse for some reason. I think that we’re not very comparable. We’re not singing about drones or anything. Well… not yet.” He laughs. Along with the scattering of cash register bells and sirens, their debut record Superorganism features recordings of rain pouring, waves lapping and crickets humming. While Harry was editing ‘Reflections On The Screen’, birds chirped outside of his window. “I listened back to

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the song in isolation with headphones on and without having that texture there it felt really empty,” he says of his decision to add them to the track. Field recordings were also made with contact mics on cups of water and pourers, and they also managed to capture backing vocalist B’s yawn for the track ‘Night Time’.

Superorganism turn chaos into a beautifully strange form of communication; their music is as tongue-incheek as it is made for pure amusement. “We started this band thinking that we were doing our version of pop music and then people have been like, ‘This is really weird’, and we’ve been like, ‘Oh is it?’” Harry breaks to laugh. “You don’t realise until people start to hold a mirror up for you and you see yourself back and the audience’s reaction,” he says.

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“[A sound] that we’ve all naturally come to is crossed between something as colourful and fun and in your face as teenage-era Katy Perry with something as strange and eccentric as the Magnetic Fields,” he says. “He just writes these amazing pop songs, but they sit in this weird area where it’s not really pop music, but you can tell in his mind that’s what he’s writing.” When it comes to what motivates Harry to continue experimenting with the boundaries of sound, it all boils down to curiosity and dissatisfaction. “I think those are the things that are at the root of all creativity,” he explains. “Curiosity in that I’m just always wanting to learn more, and that means learning more about the world around me; about music; about myself, and about my relationships with all of the people around me.”

And his dissatisfaction comes from a desire to experience what is yet to be. “Each time I make a song it comes from a place of wanting to will it into existence. I mean, before any of the songs on our record were written, I wanted to hear those songs,” he says. “There’s no point in trying to be something else or someone else or chasing someone else’s creative style, because you’re not going to be that person. You can’t be that person and all that you’re going to sound like is a cheap pastiche of that person if you try. So it’s better to just try and be your weird self, and do it to the highest standard that you can.”

What: Splendour In The Grass 2018 Where: North Byron Parklands When: Friday July 20 - Sunday July 22 With: Angie McMahon, Kendrick Lamar, Vampire Weekend, Safia, and many more Also: Superorganism play the Metro theatre on Tuesday July 24

Superorganism photo by Max Hirschberger

“I really the like the way that we can take sounds of nature or technology and then all those kind of things can become instruments in their own right. They’re not really sound effects … I can blend the sound of a siren with a synthesiser and get a really interesting sound,” he says. “It becomes this really fun, playful method of making music.”

Before they started writing Superorganism, they made a joint Spotify list of songs that inspired them: on the mainstream pop side of the spectrum were Katy Perry (the Teenage Dream and PRISM records), Miley Cyrus’ ‘Party in the USA’ and Bruno Mars, Michael Jackson, Prince, and The Beatles. And on the lo-fi/indie side were Daniel Johnson and The Magnetic Fields.






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On The Coast Belinda Quinn and Laura Jean talk growing up in rural coastal Australia and fantasising over your crushes as a teen

Laura Jean photo by Alex Gow


or years as a teen, Laura Jean – one of Melbourne’s finest folk gems, though a bit of a rare cut – made a point to never miss a Saturday at Froggy’s, her local roller-skating rink in Gosford. “Shamefully, I rollerbladed,” she reflects. “I was really into it. And there was this rollerskater there called Lincoln.”

And Lincoln, he was the best. “He was just like this little ratty kid with a shaved head who could jump over witches’ hats on his skates and I was obsessed with him for years. I never spoke to him – I just loved his energy,” she says. Saturdays at Froggy’s filled her with a whimsical joy. “Even though I never spoke to him, I think I had this weird bizarre relationship with him in my mind and it was probably much better than the real thing,” she says, her laughter ringing out over the phone. She’s sitting outside of a Melbourne café while her loyal kelpie-cross-blue heeler Dusty sits by her side.

Produced with John Lee (Beaches, Lost Animal) and featuring Augie March drummer David Williams, Jean’s album Devotion is filled with stories of her and her sisters’ youthful antics on the Central Coast. Raised by young single parents, she says, “We were vulnerable to things that people that live in stable families aren’t vulnerable to.” Originally composed on a cheap ’90s Kawai X120 keyboard, the record pays tribute to the pop artists she adores. It was inspired by ’70s disco, in particular the intelligent, detailed arrangements of Chic’s album Risque and the key changes and weird melodies of the Bee Gees. “Anything they wrote for Diana Ross,” she explains. Moreover, Jean was stirred by the sophisticated sound production and the simple, yet clever phrasing of lyrics in ’90s and early 2000’s RnB, as well as the earnestness of ’80s contemporary pop acts like Fleetwood Mac and Australian artists Wendy Matthews and Jenny Morris. “[They were] songs where someone like a single mum like mine could just listen to and bliss out to it,” she explains.

“[Surf] culture’s very macho and girls are supposed to be quiet and pretty, and you know, ‘get me a Chiko roll’ and all that stuff.” 14 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18


“I wasn’t the kind of girl who could have a romantic life in that culture.”

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“All those tiny, tiny moments [in a girl’s life], really they’re like drops on a rock – eventually they shape the rock.”

Despite these influences, folk’s storytelling provides the spine of the record. “I see myself as folk singer even though I’m using this different sound palette,” Jean says. Laconic and gentle, her songs are full narratives with morals to share with her listeners. ‘Press Play’ captures the boredom of youth when there’s no one to love and obsessive crushes turn to outlandish fantasies. “My crushes, I kind of used them in a weird way to inspire a world inside me that was exciting – really the person had nothing to with it,” says Jean. “It gave me a focal point for my energy, my teenage explorative energy.” This slow-unwinding, soft beginning to Devotion sees her sitting on the bus having a make-believe conversation with the boy next to her. “It says a lot about feminism and emotional labour; it says something about the repression of my sexuality and my feminine self because I felt I didn’t fit into the constructs,” she explains. A lesson Jean has learnt over the years is the importance of how seemingly insignificant moments in a girl’s teenhood begin to cumulate. “All those tiny, tiny moments [in a girl’s life], really they’re like drops on a rock – eventually they shape the rock.” While growing up in an isolated surfer town in the ’90s, Jean navigated being romantically interested in women and men. “I was a bit more scared with boys. I always saw them as very magical and mysterious beings and I would wonder what kind of girl I would have to be to be in a relationship with them. Because as I was, I didn’t really see it happening,” she explains.

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“The boys in my town were the surfers and they really liked what the media – what Quicksilver ads and Billabong ads – told them to like. And also, that culture’s very macho and girls are supposed to be quiet and pretty, and you know, ‘get me a Chiko roll’ and all that stuff. That was still pretty prevalent in the ’90s,” she says. She describes her teen self as funny and confident, opinionated and tall. “I wasn’t the kind of girl who could have a romantic life in that culture.” She moved to Lismore in the Northern Rivers at 18 to study music and a year later came to Melbourne to play at open mics and find a music community that suited her. “I developed my own voice here. It’s a place that welcomes experimentation. And there’s lots of venues where you can play to five people and try to start up,” she says. She began playing shows with gentle folk acts like Grand Salvo and Ned Collette, and indie acts Pikelet, Teeth & Tongue, and Jack Ladder. “I guess for all of those people what they have in common is they are devoted songwriters,” she says. Now 36, she’s had time to reflect on those years living on the coast. When asked if it was isolating, she says, “100 per cent. That’s the beauty of it too. “As much as I felt misunderstood and that I didn’t fit in, that really helped me create a strong vivid inner world, an internal world that in turn has actually given me a lot of gifts as an adult.” What: Devotion is out now through Inertia




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Freedom Through Nostalgia Holly Rankin, the brains behind the Jack River moniker, talks Bianca Davino through her own struggles and revelations

Jack River photo by Ash Schumann

“When I was 14, I lost my sister in a freak accident.” “I realised how free it felt to be not attached to anything.” “I guess to live that dream – that childhood teenage dream of playing Splendour – is a real achievement.” 18 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18


ack River – real name Holly Rankin – has come into her own. On her debut album Sugar Mountain, she unveils a world of sticky love-sick afternoons and endless starlit nights, offering up a narrative her adoring young audience are sure to find starkly relatable.

and threw myself into music and figured that was a way to heal myself because I could write another reality. So, once I realised what was happening – that I could write myself out of situations – that’s what I started doing. And now that has very much accumulated into what has become Jack River and this album.”

Named after Neil Young’s seminal 1964 track of the same name, nostalgia, loss, and hope blanket each fuzzy guitar line and bubbly synth hook. Yet above all else, much like the original Young track, Sugar Mountain is an ode to the bittersweetness of youth.

In that way, each tale shared on Sugar Mountain is a masterclass in vulnerability – especially on the track ‘In Infinity’, which Rankin describes as being the deepest song on the album. It was inspired quite openly by the need to find beauty in the darkest of times, and singing it even now gives Rankin strength.

Despite all that, the work never basks in melancholy – amongst the sombre lyrics and introspective musings, Sugar Mountain culminates in bright, psychedelic pop instrumentals. Paralleled by a vivid, all-encompassing aesthetic, it’s a shimmering, dreamlike experience. “I wrote the songs so naturally,” Rankin says. “They were all about things that never actually happened to me. I never got to grasp the subject that I’m talking about in so many of the songs, so I started to see a pattern that I [was] potentially reaching from the youth I didn’t have,” says Rankin. “I started to realise my attraction to the sounds of my early youth – stuff like No Doubt and the Pixies and even songs like ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ and ‘Stacy’s Mom’. The tones of music that I thought were kind of a bit silly in the beginning I realised had nostalgic power – a beautiful, teenage, free feeling.” Yet underneath its glittering veneer, Sugar Mountain was born from a place of great pain. “When I was 14, I lost my sister in a freak accident. She was my best friend and the closest kind of spiritual bestie I had, and that cracked apart mine and my family’s world for many years – and still does. “It happened across my teenage years, where everyone else was kind of stepping into this time of having fun and drinking and festivals and gap years and stuff, and I didn’t experience a lot of that. It all was quite dark for me.”

“That was probably the deepest song on the record to me. It’s one of the oldest songs and I did write it in a place where I felt so depressed and so detached from everything. I realised how free it felt to be not attached to anything. In a very dark way, I just feel it gave me this sense – a pure sense that comes when you’ve lost everything. There are actually so many places to go and so much opportunity when you grow attachment to everything.” To celebrate the release of Sugar Mountain, Rankin will be taking to a stage at Splendour In The Grass, which she describes as the moment where everything suddenly clicked for her. “Weirdly it was a moment where I actually took my music career seriously. It’s like, ‘Oh? I get to play Splendour?’ Until then, I was like, ‘Oh, is this working? Where is it going?’ I guess to live that dream – that childhood teenage dream of playing Splendour – is a real achievement.” What: Splendour In The Grass 2018 With: Angie McMahon, Kendrick Lamar, Chvrches, Albert Hammond Jr., and many more Where: North Byron Parklands When: Friday July 20 – Sunday July 22 And: Sugar Mountain is out now through Mushroom

Rankin takes a moment. “I was actually writing music


Regina Spektor Is Living Her Best Life By Geordie Gray

But to reduce Spektor to such cliches is to misunderstand the great power of her music. For decades now, Regina Spektor has written songs about resilience; powerful, titanium-strength odes about refusing to be anyone but yourself. That was apparent on her very first album, the dense and touching 11:11, and it’s just as apparent on her latest, Remember Us To Life, a glorious tribute to the power of empathy and of love. In conversation over a scratchy New York phone line, Spektor only reaffirms her commitment to these values. “I’m surrounded by really beautiful family and friends that I love very, very much,” she says at one point, her voice warm. “I feel like I have a lot of really good people in my life. I feel like if you have that, you have a lot.” The BRAG: You’re such a prolific songwriter. Could you tell me a bit about your songwriting process and what spurs your creativity? Regina Spektor: I think there are a few parts to it. Some of it is just expressing your inner-being: you feel compelled, you just want to express yourself. Other things are just processing what you come into contact with, within the world, through your lens. We are all lucky. We’ve been given unique things: unique bodies, minds, heritages, and families, and we’re all from different parts of the world. So we have so much to process through these things. It’s what compels me and inspires me to use my time here to engage the truest version of myself that I can, and just go from there. You still play songs live that were written upwards of ten years ago. Does playing them still evoke a kind of feeling or is their place to satisfy fans? Regina Spektor: I tend to pick my setlist based on what feels right at the time. In some ways I feel like shows are for other people too. It would be sad if no-one came to them, but they’re also

very much for myself. I pick songs that feel right to me in the moment.

“I feel like I have a lot of really good people in my life. I feel like if you have that, you have a lot.”

It’s like if you watch a cat in a backyard. They’ll go to a certain flower and one day they’ll nibble on it a bit and the next day they’ll go over and sniff it. Then they’ll say, “No, I don’t want that” and they’ll eat a bit of grass instead… It’s kind of like that with music.

Sometimes, I’ll think, “I haven’t played this song in a while, I’ll play this song!” and the words will feel so not me in my mouth. And I don’t want to sing the words or play the song. Other songs I’ll remember because someone would have mentioned it. Or I’ll read something online, or a journalist will mention a song. Sometimes, something will bring a song back and it’ll just feel right. Some songs kind of stay, they just never fall out. They always feel good to do. Others come and go. I don’t know why that is. Do you have a favourite song you’ve written? Regina Spektor: No, nothing like that. The way that I think about it is that we have these systems with a lot of range to them. Everything is a gambit of sadness or joy or euphoria or anger or sarcasm or whatever it is. All of these are dials; that dial can be turned up or down. I think a lot of the time, songs end up coming from a certain little trajectory within you. They have little coordinates inside yourself. They all come from such different places and different moods, pitting them against each other almost seems unfair. Is there anything you hope that people get or take away from your music? Regina Spektor: I would say that if I could influence anything at all, it would be to make people excited to be themselves. To do things as themselves: I find that very exciting about people. I’m excited for people to take a moment and be like “Wait, what is it that I want to do?” Or “Who am I? Why am I here? What’s a special aspect of myself that I haven’t been using at all? Because for whatever reason I thought that nobody would care.” I realised that my ideal show would be if, as the show went on, people thought

of all these things that they hadn’t done and would sneak out to do them. Like someone in the third row would think, “Oh, I haven’t called my grandmother, I’m going to get up and do that”. And somebody else would be like, “That short story I started three years ago and never finished, I got this idea for it now, I really want to finish it”. Or, “I want to start a band” or “that guy I never asked out, I’m going to call him up”. Then at the end of the show, there would just be a bunch of empty seats because everybody got so excited to do their own stuff. That is my imaginary ideal show.

What advice would you give to young creatives? Regina Spektor: I would say: be as playful as you can. Be about it. Approach things with gentle curiosity and fun and not with an agenda. It’s just human nature but a lot of the time, as soon as something is good enough we ask it, “What can you do for me? What can you get me? Oh, I have a little bit of talent, where can it get me? Oh, I have this idea! What can it do for me?” Very rarely we ask our talent or gift, “What can I do for you?”. “Oh, I have an ear for melody, should I take you out to listen to the ocean? What kind of music do you want to go on an adventure to listen to?” I think that a lot of the time we want to utilize it, and take advantage of it. I think that if you’re creative and young and developing, you just have to keep that playfulness and kindness around. I would say, don’t be too critical. I would also say, try not to put everything that you do as you’re growing, up online. Because then it becomes this feedback loop of you wanting a certain kind of approval. It’s almost like inviting people to help shape your art before you even have the chance to explore it yourself. I would treat it like a sneaky experiment and let it grow in privacy. Almost like the way a seed germinates underground so that by the time we see it, it’s done

so much work on its own, in privacy. I would just kind of cherish that aloneness. Where you sort of get to make up your own mind without having people weigh in. Especially because every single thing in the world, somebody likes and somebody doesn’t. And that could generate every kind of comment about the same thing that there could be. You know, “This is amazing! Or this is horrible! Or this is the worst thing I’ve ever heard! Or this is the best thing I’ve ever heard!” It doesn’t really matter what you do, you will generate the whole gambit. So you may as well allow yourself to figure out what the hell that is first without the world weighing in. If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing with your life? Regina Spektor: I probably would be a teacher of some kind. I very much love children; I love spending time with kids of all ages. From really little to about college age. I just find kids really inspiring and I love learning from them. I’ve never walked away from an interaction with a kid without hearing something surprising, or interesting, or a really cool take on something that I wouldn’t have thought of. What were you like as a child? Regina Spektor: I had a very big move in my life when I was a child. At the age of nine and a half, I moved countries. I went from the former Soviet Union to the United States. I had a unique experience of just, showing up somewhere at ten years old and not knowing the language. And being in a totally different culture. I was always very vocal about everything. I was really interested in everything being just. I didn’t like the injustice of the world. If I saw unfairness, or I saw someone being bullied when I was little

“I think a lot of the time, songs end up coming from a certain little trajectory within you. They have little coordinates inside yourself.” 20 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18

Regina Spektor photo by Shervin Lainez


eople can mischaracterise the music of Regina Spektor sometimes. Read her early press, and you’ll get the impression that she’s some kind of bucolic garden fairy – that her recorded output is dotted by a series of light, life-affirming ballads about nature, and heartbreak, and dappled sunshine.

“We are all lucky. We’ve been given unique things: unique bodies, minds, heritages, and families, and we’re all from different parts of the world.” I would just run up and intervene. It wouldn’t even enter my mind that this person is twice the size of me. I just felt kind of invincible. When I got to America, I experienced seeing certain things that kids don’t see till later. I saw that my parents had vulnerability. I saw that they were worried and they didn’t speak the language and they were struggling and they didn’t have money. All those kind of things. It made me really sympathetic towards adults. Very early on I thought that the “Oh I want this because everybody else has it” attitude that kids have was crazy. I was like, “Don’t you know?” but they didn’t know, they didn’t get to see behind the curtains. It was like going to Oz and being like, “Wait a minute! The wicked! Shit, nobody knows what the fuck is going on!” What is your proudest accomplishment? Regina Spektor: I think one of the things I’m trying to get better at is not beating myself up over everything. I never have an “I’m really proud of this” moment, I just kind of think “Oh, you really fucked that up!”.

“Approach things with gentle curiosity and fun and not with an agenda.” I think, if I could be proud of anything, it would be that I’ve tried hard to surround myself with really good people. I feel like that actually happened. I’m surrounded by really beautiful family and friends that I love very, very much. I feel like I have a lot of really good people in my life. I feel like if you have that, you have a lot. Just being able to pick people that are good, I think that’s a really good thing. And I did that, and I’m so happy. Where: Sydney Opera House When: Monday July 9

“I would say that if I could influence anything at all, it would be to make people excited to be themselves.”

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Stay Tender Brooklyn’s master of gospel, Serpentwithfeet, has a candid conversation about love with Belinda Quinn

“We don’t like when men are vulnerable or expressive or soft or sinuous.”


t the beginning of All About Love, bell hooks quotes a passage from the Gospel’s Song Of Solomon: “I found him whom my soul loves. I held him and would not let him go.” From these two powerful lines she writes an ode to knowing when “we can face one another as we really are, stripped of artifice and pretence, naked and not ashamed.” Formerly known as Josiah Wise, 29-year-old Serpent joined his family church’s choir in Baltimore at the age of six. “The biggest thank you that I can give to gospel music, even though I’m not a Christian, is by responding to those heavily devotional lyrics that I grew up on – on top on the fact that music was always big and tempestuous,” he explains. On the biblical poetry of Song Of Solomon, professor of Hebrew literature Robert Alter wrote these were “the voices of two lovers, praising each other, yearning for each other, proffering invitations to enjoy.” These notions of open sexuality, devotion, authenticity, and knowing when the love is right are integral to Serpent’s work. Asked if his approach to romantic love has changed over the years, he says, “Oh yeah, everyday really. Because I want to become less of a terrible person.” He laughs. Serpent’s voice has a kindness to it – he’s softly spoken, but speaks freely and with confidence, his tones marked by an empathic intelligence. He wants to be more trusting and less worrisome, “and that requires personal work,” he explains. After high school, Serpent went on to study classical vocal techniques at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts and soon moved to Brooklyn, where he was met with unemployment and unstable living. He says Get Out is one of his favourite films, because of the way it captures the unpredictable dynamics of life – an idea he wants to continue exploring in his music. “[It’s a good example of] dealing with this historical trauma of people not feeling safe in a white world, but then also there is a bit of comedy; there is a bit of irony. There are all these things happening at once. I think that’s actually the way life is – life is never all trauma.” While his 2016 debut EP blisters was “much more cerebral and much more concerned with matters of the mind,” his new record soil focuses in on the physical response to music, and was produced during a time in which Serpent spent his nights clubbing with strangers in Brooklyn. On the gospel and Baltimore club music that raised him, he says, “Before you even know what you’re listening to, you feel it. It knocks on your door and before you can answer it’s already in your bed,” he laughs. “And that sounds creepy but … it’s true.”

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“I’m not going to deal with people who practice meanness as a sport.” Serpent was raised by a Christian family who taught him about ritual baths, candle work, meditation, and spoke openly about witchcraft from a young age. “Talking to the dead was never a thing that was frowned upon in my house – the idea of communicating with those in transition was always respected with ancestral worship,” he says. He’s spoken before about death cult symbolism being a part of the black community. “It was never like, I want to do magic to be magical,” he says. Now, he has an inverted pentagon tattooed above his right eye, as well as a small blade, and the words ‘heaven’ and ‘suicide’. “Everybody in my life fucked with [my pentagon tattoo] at the time. I lost friends because of it and I’m glad I lost those friends because what might be healing for me might be deathly for somebody else. And I don’t think it makes either one of us wrong or right … but it makes me feel good as hell,” he explains. It wasn’t until Serpent turned 24 that he noticed a pattern. “I’d never gotten into arguments with friends. I was really non-confrontational,” he says. And he was dating insecure men while feeling insecure himself. “I just thought that if I was different, things would be better for me,” he explains. It wasn’t until Tony Morrison’s Song of Solomon fell from his shelf “like a lightning bolt” that Serpent begun opening up to his needs. “I picked it up and in the first fi ve pages, I was in tears,” he says. “The main character is a young black boy and it’s about his relationship to women, the way that he relies on women and uses them as emotional cushions and never has to do that work himself. She just read that boy. Like wow, she wrote this book about me, you know? “Reading that book was the first time that I realised what I was experiencing had less to do with me being gay, but it was about gender policing … I was incredibly

“What might be healing for me might be deathly for somebody else.” overwhelmed for most of my young adult life. [I felt] my expression of maleness was not enough. You know, we don’t like when men are vulnerable or expressive or soft or sinuous.” In the album’s fi nal track ‘bless ur heart’ Serpent sings of the importance of keeping himself tender. “A tender heart means you have to be able to say ‘there are certain things that don’t work for me’,” he explains. An example of this self-awareness is Serpent’s refusal to commit to lovers who have an overtly sarcastic sense of humour.

“I’m not going to deal with people who practice meanness as a sport … that’s something that I do so that I can kind of keep myself supple.” Perhaps that’s what soil gives. It provides the language to ask the questions, ‘what do you need from yourself?’ and ‘what do you need from your lovers?’ – as well, importantly, as the encouragement to honour the answers to those questions when you find them.

What: soil is out now through Inertia

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FEATURE 24 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18

“Success is a weird thing. I don’t know if success gives you confidence.” “It’s a mythology that’s died away in modern life, but I believe having a mentor is really important.”


“I’d done some dream exploring, and creating a different persona helped take me out of my comfort zone.”

Alter-Egos Natalie Rogers talks placentas, rebirth, and sobriety with Albert Hammond Jr. of The Strokes


t 38, and clean and sober, Albert Hammond Jr. is happily married and producing some of his finest solo work to date. But he’ll be the first to acknowledge he’s taken a particularly rocky path to become the man that he is today. His fourth album sees the accomplished musician adopt an alter-ego, a tribute to his twin brother, Francis, who was stillborn after complications in the first trimester of their mother’s pregnancy.

“I didn’t really realise it before but he [Park] made me into a man, and even though I will continue to make mistakes – because making mistakes doesn’t end – he taught me the tools to help me admit my wrongs and learn from them. So, when I reached the pinnacle and achieved a version of me that I wanted to be I couldn’t think of anyone else that I’d rather play [Hammond Jr.’s new album] Francis Trouble for than him,” he explains. “I guess the best I could do was dedicate it to him unfortunately.”

Although Hammond has always known about his brother, it was only last year while he was spending time with his family that it came to light that Francis’ fingernail was found amongst Albert’s placenta, and the revelation brought a lot of buried emotion to the forefront.

Francis Trouble is Hammond at his most dynamic yet. At just 36 minutes long (the same age he was when the truth about his twin was revealed), it is bursting with 10 sharp and succinctly produced tracks. The album opener ‘DvsL’ is a rollicking guitar-driven introduction to his new found larger-than-life attitude, and the fun continues with ‘Far Away Truths’, co-written with Tyler Parkford of Mini Mansions.

“The idea of using an alter-ego was a tool at first. I had done some shadow and dream therapy…” He stops for a moment. “Maybe therapy’s the wrong word. But I’d done some dream exploring, and creating a different persona helped take me out of my comfort zone. Then I found out about the true story of how I was born with a part of my twin and he became this fantastical, almost Marvel-esque superhero figure, you know? And embracing that character allowed me to take the weight off from my name.” As well as being the son of former model Claudia Fernández and celebrated singer-songwriter Albert Hammond, the musician’s name is synonymous with the success of indie rockers The Strokes. Founded by boarding school alum Julian Casablancas, with Hammond on rhythm guitar, the Strokes dominated the New York underground music scene and sparked a bidding war with the release of their debut EP The Modern Age (2001). Over time, they went onto become one of the most respected and influential bands of the decade. However, despite the critical praise the band continues to receive Hammond says he still struggles with self-confidence issues when it comes to the creative process. “Success is a weird thing. I don’t know if success gives you confidence: I feel like success can take it from you,” he says. “When you’re creating, you don’t wanna walk in the studio super cocky. Or I guess you can. There’s no rules; I don’t know what I’m talking about. I have zero idea!” he laughs. These days, the former roller skate champion isn’t afraid to admit he doesn’t have all the answers and he credits much of his personal growth to his former psychotherapist, the late Andrew Park. “He started as a therapist and became a second father, and a mentor, if you will. I grew so much with him and now that he’s passed I have to go and slay my own dragon and face life without him as part of ‘The Hero’s Journey’. It’s a mythology that’s died away in modern life, but I believe having a mentor is really important,” he adds.

“This is the first time I’ve ever had a co-writer on my solo stuff. Again, I was out of my comfort zone. I just get insecure about sharing ideas with unknown people, you know?” he says. “I always worried if I worked with someone else that I’d lose myself, but I guess this time because I felt more comfortable in who I was and what I could bring, I really enjoyed it. It worked out fantastically and it gives the record another point of difference or another angle.” The moodier-sounding ‘Tea For Two’ was also written with Parkford, as was ‘Muted Beatings’. However Hammond also invited Grammynominated songwriter and producer Jennifer Decilveo (The Wombats, Beth Ditto) into his inner circle for that one as well. “In the chaos of creation there’s a huge mess of bad ideas but sometimes there’s these little gems here and there and you just have to know when to pull them out.” Hammond will soon showcase Francis Trouble at Splendour In The Grass, followed by a sideshow at the Factory Theatre in Marrickville, and he promises a performance befitting his new lease on life. “There’s nothing like playing your own solo show. Sometimes in the beginning the crowd is a little awkward gathering with a bunch of people they don’t know, but it’s all on me to bring people together. That’s my ultimate goal,” he says. “I’m not saying I’m great at it. I’ve gotten a little better after my American tour – but it’s made me feel alive again.” Where: Factory Theatre When: Tuesday July 24 With: Clews Also: Hammond Jr. will appear at Splendour In The Grass 2018, taking place at North Byron Parklands from Friday July 20 to Sunday July 22

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A Synthetic Calling

realising your worth in ‘Toxic’. Her voice is droll, yet commanding, repeating phrases, “back off, don’t touch me, get off my stage.” “It’s about the music community and the vulnerability that you go through [while making music],” she says. “It’s okay to be vulnerable, but it’s also okay to be really tough and not let anyone mess with you,” This, to Stevenson, meant figuring out who she should be sticking up for and who has her back.

Belinda Quinn talks to Grace Stevenson, the woman behind Brisbane’s industrial techno act Rebel Yell

The Brisbane scene is small, meaning it’s difficult to call people out on bad behaviour without having a personal connection to them. “It’s literally so small,” Stevenson says. “Brisbane is so, so small. Everyone knows each other, everyone knows each other’s business and everyone gossips and it can be a bit toxic,” she laughs. A high school art and graphics teacher by day, she often finds herself flying in and out Melbourne and Sydney where warehouse parties are more prevalent and have an aesthetic suited to her experimental, industrial sound. When Stevenson first made the jump to playing solo live sets, she was feeling positive about inclusivity within music scenes. “When I first started playing with 100% I was like, ‘I don’t know why people are always complaining, I don’t see any problems’, and it was because I had two other women there that I felt so confident that we’d just back each other up,” she says. Asked her best and worst experiences playing as Rebel Yell, she starts laughing: “There’s so many bad ones.” Her experiences range from people setting up their gear while she’s in the middle of a live set – “that’s happened so many times it’s not funny,” – to men going out of their way to dance behind her while she’s performing – “if it were a friend it would be okay, but not just some random dude,” she says.

“I get to lash out a different side to what I’m usually like.”


rebel yell is a defiant cry: it’s a means of vocalising something that perhaps the majority wants to say – or needs to hear – but is fearful of expressing due to social repercussions. The industrial techno of Brisbane’s Rebel Yell has been described as being “as stylish as it is terrifying” by 4ZZZ and “confronting” by Indie Shuffle. The bio I’m sent by her label, Rice Is Nice, puts it even more simply. “Rebel Yell is a demonlike force,” it begins. So when the woman behind these seemingly demonic tunes picks up the phone, I’m somewhat surprised: Grace Stevenson is one of the most charming, giggly, and friendly artists I’ve spoken to. She apologises for the postponed call, explaining that a delayed plane, a broken conveyer belt and keyboard, and a particularly sleepless night are the cause. She details these experiences with frequent bursts of contagious laughter.

“Rebel Yell is a different person to me, Grace, as a person. It’s been really good to separate those two from each other,” she explains. “I get to lash out a different side to what I’m usually like.” Stevenson got her start in electronic sound production when her brother (who performs as noise act Yaws) gave her his synthesiser. Soon after, she joined an electro-pop three-piece called 100%. “We were very inspired by Kylie, Madonna and stuff like that, and these ’80s synths pop songs,” she explains. When she began writing music for herself, a darker musicality poured from her fingertips with ease. “I don’t know where the darkness side of it came from; it’s quite bizarre to me,” she laughs. Her solo project extracts elements of rave culture and acid house from the ’90s and early 2000s. “When you think about it, it was very fist-pumpy and a very high BPM, and I think maybe that has stuck really well

with me,” she explains. Her new eight-track album, Hired Muscle, features a nod to British dystopian romantic drama Never Let Me Go; the toxic behaviour that dwells within music communities; as well as the importance of letting go of the shit that holds you down. In the aforementioned 2010 film, children are cloned for the sole purpose of becoming organ donors – they exist purely to ensure that life continues for those who created them. “It’s confusing because they want to be chosen [for donations], but they also want to be free … it’s that whole idea and that confusion about what you want: whether you want to be successful in something or if you want to just be free,” she says. This idea informed her track ‘Human Transaction’, which explores “being chosen based an on exterior look. The song turns around and says, ‘if you haven’t been chosen that’s probably a better thing?’” she explains. Stevenson returns to ideas of

One guy even reached over her gear to flick her hat off while performing. “I play everything live and all of the timing is very specific. I have to know exactly when to press certain things, so that’s just a whole other intrusive element there,” she explains. “It’s basically in general men touching my stuff … maybe that’s why I need my hired muscle.” She’s noticed that bystanders don’t often see what’s going on and don’t know whether to step in. “I have a Facebook group for women in electronic music and I was thinking about making little zines and a guidebook of what you can do in certain situations – almost having scripts for people set out so you can feel in control of those situations,” she says. As for her will to keep writing heavy, propulsive techno, she says she loves the freedom synthesisers give her to build a sound from scratch. “I’m sometimes surprised that I know how to do this, and I’m proud of myself… It’s a release.” What: Hired Muscle is out through Rice Is Nice now

“It’s okay to be vulnerable, but it’s also okay to be really tough and not let anyone mess with you.” 26 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18

Storrytellers Wannted OPEN DAY Sat 11 Aug

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William Basinski And The Infinite By Joseph Earp


minutes into Under The Skin, Jonathan Glazer’s 2013 extraterrestrial psychodrama, Scarlett Johansson lures a hapless punter to his death. She’s an alien; he’s a Scottish chav she’s found roaming the streets. She walks ahead, through an alleyway, and he follows, stripping off his shirt and hopping out of his jeans in leery expectation. And then it happens, before you can really even process what’s going on. Suddenly, they’re not in Scotland anymore. They’re in this black space – pitch black, black as tar. And the punter isn’t walking; he’s wading, up to his nipples in some thick dark liquid that slowly, insistently, swallows him whole. That’s what it can feel like listening to the music of William Basinski. At first, you understand the experience. Basinski is an ambient composer, and you know what ambient music is about: you’ve listened to Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports, perhaps. And initially, nothing throws you. A record like The Disintegration Loops or Melancholia starts by meeting you where you live; gently, with a series of resonant, vibrating notes. But then it happens, just like that: you’re no longer walking. You’re wading. And then, all of a sudden, you’ve sunk. What Basinski does is craft these little infinities. His acclaimed tracks – humming, transcendent loops that are sometimes gentle, and sometimes as quietly distressed as tin foil being pulled across a filling – don’t so much span

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time as they seem to neatly sidestep it altogether. That’s why, no matter how long his records might be, they always seem to end abruptly. You can imagine a work like The Disintegration Loops spiralling off forever; a record like A Shadow In Time racing to fill up the rest of your very life, and then even further, outpacing you, and heading off towards the horizon. Which is somewhat ironic, given Basinski’s music is often – at least tangentially – about issues of the finite; of flesh degrading; of things aching towards their natural conclusion. As Slant’s Jonathan Wroble notes, A Shadow In Time is that most paradoxical of things: an infinite eulogy. A lot of Basinski’s tracks are, in their own way. Which maybe makes Basinski’s practice sound overly serious, or precious, which it’s not. For all the things his music does – for all the power that it has – it is birthed gently, almost by accident. “A tape loop is a piece of recording tape,” Basinski explained to the Louisiana Channel in a filmed interview. “You can take a piece of that tape and cut it, and tape it together, and then you have a loop … Sometimes a kind of eternal perfection happens, and you can’t tell the beginning and the end. It seems to create a timeless amniotic bubble that you can float in.” He smiles; his ringed hands shoot out, indicating this great, striking sense of scale. “When that happens, I’m [like], ‘This is a good one.’” This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

“Anohni’s new paintings are wonderful. I would like to acquire a couple more of those, but I have a mortgage and bills to pay now. So buy CDs y’all!”


“I am a mutant. I have webbed toes.” WB: They do what they do and I try to do what they tell me. You’ve said that you started out experimenting with tape with a Walkman and some Sellotape. What is it that fi rst drew you to using tape? WB: It was there and cheap. I read you used to do a lot of field recording when you worked at [his New York thrift store] Lady Bird. Do you still do a lot of field recording? WB: Not so much when I had Lady Bird – that was before (and after). But I do love to capture ambient sounds around me. My previous back yard had some nice airplane and freeway drones and supersonic private jet blasts from the Santa Monica airport, as well as occasional end of the world sounding convoys of enormous and loud military helicopters escorting the two presidential Air Force Ones when the President comes to LA. The new place is very quiet with lots of birds and a few planes at certain hours, but no freeway drones. I captured the amazing deep bass sound of a Cassowary getting up from a rest at an animal sanctuary in Brisbane the last time I was [in Australia] with Lawrence a few years ago. We sampled it and used it as the bass in a sick new track on the (maybe) upcoming jazzy/soundtracky/loungy/footwerky side project, SPARKLE DIVISION, I did with my young engineer, Preston Wendel.

The BRAG: Do you write music every day, or is your creative schedule more relaxed? William Basinski: What a romantic idea! I used to years ago when I was young and unknown. Now I have to spend a lot of time administering my label and catalogue, as well as dealing with email, interviews and my touring schedule. I also just moved house after being in one place for 14 years, [bringing] a lot of stuff from 30 years in New York, so that was quite a couple of months. But I’m crazy about my new home in Los Angeles. I am working on some new things. The new record for On Time Out Of Time is in production for an early 2019 release, and I have a new collaboration with Lawrence English coming out in the fall I’m quite excited about entitled Selva Oscura. The vinyl will come out on Temporary Residence LTD. Maybe a small pressing of CDs on 2062. We’ll see. Do your tracks change a lot over the writing period, or do they generally stick to how you first conceived of them?

“I miss my beautiful loft Arcadia [in New York], but those days are long gone.”

WB: I miss my beautiful loft Arcadia, but those days are long gone. We had a lovely dreamtime there for almost 30 years in the two lofts. That NY is gone now. I miss my friends there. But I love the weather in LA, and like I said my new house is a dream I never thought I could attain. Every time I think, ‘this is mine?’ My hair stands on end. I call my new home “The Swimming Pool Library” after the Alan Hollinghurst novel my friend Chauncy gave me years ago. Are there any painters you are very much into at the moment? WB: Roger Justice, a mostly unknown NY serious painter who is brilliant and has been a close friend of Jamie’s and mine since the ’70s. I collect his work when I can. He’s not online and has rarely shown, but he’s come back from some very tough years and is painting up a storm again. He’s indestructible! Of course, James Elaine [Basinski’s partner]. Jamie was just home from China to help with the move and before he left he hung a new art show from his nice little collection he has amassed over 20 years of curating emerging art first for The Drawing Center in NY, then at The Hammer Museum in LA. So we have a lovely new show up in the new house at the moment, but I’m bad with names and he didn’t have time to make me a list of the current pieces on the walls before he had to go back to Beijing to hang his next show at his gallery there, Telescope.

“We didn’t go out a lot; we couldn’t afford to. We stayed in and created and had a ball doing it.” You’ve also talked about capturing ‘eternal moments’ with your music. Is there a fixed way to capture eternal moments, or do they happen more accidentally? WB: Run tape. Record everything, cut it up and see what happens. A Shadow In Time uses a Voyetra 8 synthesizer. Where did you find the instrument? How quickly did you know that you were interested in using it to write a piece? WB: I first saw it demonstrated at Manny’s Music in Times Square in around ’82 when it first came out perhaps? I fell in love with the sounds but it was out of my budget. A year or so later Jamie [Elaine], my partner, inherited a little money when his Dad sold his business and he bought me a used one a couple of years old. I think it was $2000, which was a lot of money to us at the time. I was making $1.25 an hour, which was minimum wage in those days! So it took working six days a week to pretty much pay the rent and bills on our loft. We didn’t go out a lot; we couldn’t afford to. We stayed in and created and had a ball doing it. What is it like living in L.A.? Do you miss New York at all?

Anohni’s new paintings are wonderful. I would like to acquire a couple more of those, but I have a mortgage and bills to pay now. So buy CDs y’all! We are slashing prices on back catalogue CDs when I get home in July. Many of the prices are already slashed on the website We ship to the world. Unfortunately I can’t travel with LPs and CDs because I have to travel by myself and it’s too much weight and the LPs get damaged (TSA loves to open my luggage and repack it for me), so y’all have to order online. We pack very carefully and I ship to Australia all the time. And you get a signed letter and I’ll sign the merch if you ask. What are you reading at the moment? WB: Amazing book: The Flamethrowers by the brilliant Rachel Kushner. Highly recommended: [it’s got] motorcycles, NY art world in the ’70s, Italy in WWI and II and the ’70s, motorcycles… I shouldn’t say more. Her prose is delicious. Tell me something you’ve never told an interviewer before. WB: I am a mutant. I have webbed toes.

What: A Shadow In Time is out now through 2062 Records

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On The Purge Allison Gallagher learns new album Purge pushed Karina Utomo of High Tension into strange new territory


t’s been six years since High Tension formed in Melbourne. Some bands might slow down a little in that time, but on blistering new album Purge, the quartet sound as fierce and confident as ever. On tracks like ‘Bite The Leash’ and ‘Veil’, frontwoman Karina Utomo howls over dissonant guitar chords and a bone-rattling rhythm section – it’s the band at their most coherent and realised. It’s also the first High Tension album to feature guitarist Mike Deslandes and drummer Lauren Hammel, both of whom joined in 2015.

for a long time. I had a bit more fuel for the writing of this album.”

While previous album Bully was primarily recorded in Adelaide with James Balderston, for Purge the band took considerably more time to get everything right. “We definitely had more time, but we also approached it in a very different way because we had different members in the band”, says Utomo. “Mike being the main songwriter reset a lot of our methods; it made a huge difference.

For the uninitiated, it’s easy to perceive metal lyrics being an undecipherable scream. But heavy music has always been a powerful tool for reflecting on and articulating difficult emotions.

“I was really happy with the process, especially the fact that we were able to explore a lot of avenues. I feel like this record really pushed each of us – especially Hammel and I.” In order to dedicate the time the project needed, High Tension took a breather from performing. “For that entire year, apart from touring with Refused and Sick Of It All in January we didn’t really play a single show,” explains Utomo. “It was good to just focus on putting Purge together.” Growing up in Jakarta, it wasn’t until moving to Canberra that Utomo says she was first exposed to heavy music through going to punk and hardcore shows. “Because there’s very few bands in Canberra there’s always a lot of mixed bills,” Utomo explains. It was also in Canberra that Utomo formed noisy post-punk outfit Young and Restless with guitarist Ash Pegram. Following the band’s dissolution, the pair would go on to play in High Tension together until Pegram’s departure from the band in 2015. Utomo notes a particular inspiration in seeing 4 Dead; a legendary, now-defunct Canberra hardcore band known for their frenzied live presence. “I think if you know 4 Dead, you get it. They were quite affirming of that sentiment of what gets you into hardcore.” Indeed, there’s a similar level of intensity and aggression when High Tension perform live, and it’s unsurprising to hear that the band’s songs are written with the stage in mind. “Playing live and being able to do these shows is such a fundamental aspect of High Tension,” says Utomo. “If we weren’t writing for that realm I don’t know if it would feel right. I feel like we’ve always been writing for the songs to be played live.” Lyrically, Purge directly addresses the mass killings of 1965-1966 in Indonesia, an antiCommunist purge during which hundreds of thousands of members of the Communist party were murdered. It’s a topic that Utomo has addressed previously in High Tension recordings, but became the primary focus of this album after Utomo returned to Indonesia in 2017. “I feel like I’m at a point in my life where there’s been time to reflect and time to do more work and take action where I can, and it came at the writing of this album. After we toured with Refused I went back to Indonesia and spent a few days there documenting stories, something I’d wanted to do

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To that end, Utomo says that when recording Purge, she was unable to sing about anything else to get the same level of execution. “I got very emotional because I felt like I could only write about one thing, but it feels right for me. High Tension has this medium to talk about and confront things I’ve been reflecting on for the past ten years. It’s the most authentic way I could express myself.”

“Over the Every time I un

“I feel like I’m at a point in my life where there’s been time to reflect and time to do more work and take action where I can.” “I think I always had a bit of a fear of being assertive with these things,” says Utomo. “Having that outlet in metal, the medium is a really effective way for processing and analysis. I get so much out of it, not just from an emotional sense, but also having to do the work to be able to put it down into a song. You need to do work in order to be able to execute it in the way it should. “The really valuable thing is having these revelations. Through this process, and over the past 10 years I’ve had a few really rewarding moments. Every time I uncover new information it’s another piece of the puzzle.” Given the personal nature of the new work, Utomo says she had some concerns about how an Australian audience would react to the album – “it’s not like Collingwood. It’s so far away” – but has been pleasantly surprised by the response so far. For Utomo, who has been playing in bands since high school, finding a sense of purpose in the music has been pivotal to her sustained enjoyment. “There’s so many times when you feel exhausted. But you just have to do it – you keep going. “I think since I’ve gotten older, I make sure I enjoy the work and that the work has meaning. It’s also really important to be around people. It’s all collaborative; everybody’s working together and contributing. I’m still doing it because I feel like I haven’t done it all yet. There’s still so much to be done.”

“High Te

What: Purge is out now via Cooking Vinyl


past 10 years I’ve had a few really rewarding moments. cover new information it’s another piece of the puzzle.”

nsion has this medium to talk about and confront things I’ve been reflecting on for the past ten years.”

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FEATURE 32 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18

“Why can’t a pop musician be non-binary [in gender], dirty, raw, and in-ya-face?”


Tears For Ears Belinda Quinn talks to pop and post-punk duo Cry Club about Wollongong’s music scenes and why School Spectacular fucking sucks

“As I’ve grown as a music listener, I became aware of the gatekeeping behaviour of my teenage self and others within postpunk circles.”


ollongong two-piece Cry Club combine two genres that rarely meet eye-to-eye: in their sound you can hear post-punk’s dissonant, propulsive energy melting into pop’s tender yet strong vocals and catchy hooks. The duo share an affinity for music that’s as danceable as it is sad. “I think of LCD Soundsystem,” says guitarist Jonathan Tooke. “One of my favourite lyrics ever is in ‘Drunk Girls’. It’s a song about partying and stuff and there’s a line that’s like, ‘Love is an astronaut / it comes back but it’s never the same’.” Vocalist Heather Riley responds, “Ouch,” and Tooke erupts in giggles. In their teenhood, Riley and Tooke repressed their desire to listen to pop music. “As I’ve grown as a music listener, I’ve become aware of the gatekeeping behaviour of my teenage self and others within post-punk circles by thinking that if something was pop at all it held less value somehow, which is something I firmly disagree with now,” explains Tooke. Riley agrees. While they felt less pressure to be “perfect and marketable” in post-punk scenes, Riley was dissatisfied with the way people would de-legitimatise pop and its fans. “It’s just such a shame that a large part of that community label pop music as less sophisticated and not as valuable as what they like – and let’s face it, it usually comes down to misogyny,” they say. “I’ve always loved guitar-driven music, but I get turned off by that snobby attitude that it can’t be accessible or it’s worthless.” But the commercial world of pop doesn’t come without its own trials. “Why can’t a pop musician be non-binary [in gender], dirty, raw and inya-face? I’ve always loved a good pretty-ugly contrast,” Riley says. And this is where Cry Club are bridging the gap. “It’s there in our visuals with the glitter and sweat and in the music with these gorgeous catchy melodic lines [that are placed] over dissonant instrumentation,” Riley notes.

“I get turned off by that snobby attitude that it can’t be accessible or it’s worthless.”

Riley started acting from the age of five and started singing lessons a few years later, which eventually led them to government programs like the Talent Development Project. “They were just soul sucking. Like, the TDP, they run School Spectacular. They’d kick people out and be like, ‘You need to lose weight,’ ‘You need to cut your hair,’ ‘You need to do change this about yourself.’ It was a very industry industry,” they say. “They told me, ‘You’re not a good songwriter, but you’re also not a good dancer so you can’t do musical theatre. You can’t write your own songs, so you’re just going to be a cover artist.’ “And I was like,” – Riley makes an uncomfortable squeal – “‘okay!’ It’s somewhat shocking to hear this from a vocalist and songwriter who I’ve seen blow away audiences, but perhaps it’s understandable: music programs aimed at adolescents often push for perfectionism – and being pressured to reach for the unattainable leaves a mark.

“That’s why I get so anxious doing Cry Club stuff, because I honestly can’t tell when stuff is good or not – I just assume it’s bad,” they say. “It’s taken me a long time to get over that. I’m still not over it, but I’ll get there.” As for Tooke, he’s currently a guitar teacher, a sound engineer and plays in not one, but five Wollongong-centric bands, which range from the soft indie-rock of Jack Riley to the very silly math-rock of Basil’s Kite. Tooke first picked up a guitar at 14; considering his musical history and the fact he seems to be constantly producing the records of everyone I’ve ever met (including my own band), I’m almost shocked to learn he didn’t shoot out of the womb and bounce straight into a studio. “I didn’t grow up with music like, at all,” he says. “The point at which I clocked over to like, ‘music’s cool’ was the soundtracks to video games,” – in particular, Burnout Three. While Wollongong has a community-minded, supportive attitude towards its artists, and its scenes are constantly growing in diversity, Tooke also says, “Wollongong has for a long time been a very rock and roll kind of boys club. There’s a bunch of people I know who would be way more into going to gigs if it wasn’t just that.” We recently went to see a sold-out Raave Tapes show at Rad Bar on Kembla Street and dug the fact that vocalist Joab Eastley asks punters to look out for one another during their set. “It was good seeing Raave Tapes putting a lot of effort into making sure those spaces are safe, whereas other bands that I’ve seen at Rad deliberately thrive in the fact that it’s a dangerous thing, which pushes anyone who’s not ready for a rough and tumble out of the space.” The growing enthusiasm among bands to create spaces where punters feel looked out for is something Riley and Tooke want to champion for their own shows. Asked what they like most about crying, Riley replies, “It’s extremely portable: you can cry anywhere.” On a trip to Japan, the two bonded over shared spilt tears for the finale of Cartoon Network’s obscure fantasy series Over The Garden Wall. In the past people invalidated Riley for crying, but now they know it’s just a necessary emotional release. “Cry Club really fit in terms of owning these parts of me and inviting others to do the same,” says Riley. While crying isn’t off limits at their shows, you’re not in for a mopey performance. You can often catch Riley doing furious air kicks while Tooke bops around the stage. “People are always like, ‘Wow, you guys really go for it!’ What else would you do?” he says. And Riley explains, “I love being very physical. I’m like, ‘Get on the fucking ground, roll around – you can be weird, it’s okay!’”

What: ‘Walk Away’ is out independently Monday July 3

BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18 :: 33



“We’ve played at things like Unify Gathering just as much as we’ve played at things like Yours & Owls. I suppose it’s in the way that we market ourselves – we’ve never really been interested in giving ourselves a label. We’re not interested in being the next big black metal band. We don’t want to be the next Misfits or the next Sex Pistols. We don’t even really want to be associated with a genre. We’ve just moulded this band into just being something we all wanted to do.”

Pagan photo by Andrew Basso

Genre-defiant Melbourne natives Pagan spoke to David James Young about the difficult – but rewarding – process of recording their first studio album, Black Wash


agan don’t fit in. Never have. The quartet are straight-up insubordinate in regards to the rules and regulations of any particular genre one might hope to associate them with. They’re either the most accessible or melodic band on a heavy bill or the heaviest band on a mixed rock bill – there is never any inbetween. All the same, the band itself reasons that there’s no point being fence-sitters: why not go to the extremities of genre confines? “Some people honestly wouldn’t believe the different kind of audiences we’ve played to,” says Nikki Brumen, who serves as the band’s lead vocalist.

“When we were first starting out, we wanted to take ever 34 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18


“We’ve never really been interested in giving ourselves a label.” record reflects on her innermost self, and resembles a purge of sorts for the high-running emotions that were impacting her life at the time. “Writing this record was almost therapeutic,” she says. “I feel like my personal favourite albums are the ones that have directly spoken to me – ones that reflect on my own life and my own stories. That’s what I wanted to get out of making this album. It’s not linear by any means, and a lot of it is shrouded in metaphor, but it’s all there – where I was, what I went through and where I am now.” Brumen also notes that she’s come to be more comfortable with finding her literal voice as far as being a vocalist is concerned. Drawing primarily from screams and growls, there’s a ferocity to Brumen’s voice on Black Wash that is hitherto untapped – a sense that Brumen has realised her potential. “When we first started writing the album, I made a pact to myself to really start focusing in on dynamics,” she says. “I wanted to take more risks with that side of things. As a screamer, you do run the risk of sounding repetitive or having a comfort zone as to where your voice fits and sticking to that. I was really adamant about shaking things up.” Brumen goes on to praise producer Deslandes for his ability to bring out a different side of her in the confines of the studio. He did so, she says, by pushing her to the very limit. “Here’s the thing,” Brumen begins: “I’ve never recorded more than four songs in a day the entire time I’ve been a musician. “I told Mike straight up that, at a push, I’d be able to do five songs in a day. I don’t know how he did it, but he got me to do 10. I was an absolute mess by the end of the day – I was almost crying, and my stomach muscles had never felt so sore before in my life – but I couldn’t have been prouder of myself. To be able to do that, and not lose my voice, really showed how far I’ve come, and that I was in the right headspace to be making this album. Mike really knew what direction to take, and we pretty much got all the vocal takes done in a single day. I know for a fact that there’s no way I could have done that back when the band was first starting out.” Pagan are set to take Black Wash out on the road from the end of August on what will be their first-ever headlining tour. Ahead of the album’s release, Brumen has the usual nerves that go with such a big moment. She’s not afraid, however – and nor should she be. “I think we’ve found our truth on this album,” she says. “I’m far more interested in finding the truth in art than I am in following the rules. After all, we’re all outcasts in heavy music – aren’t we?”

Forming in 2015, Pagan is a reflection of the common interests that the band members share, as well as the individual tastes of each musician. You’ll find elements of hardcore, black metal, rock and roll, and even a splash of post-punk within their sound – it’s a multi-faceted element of the band that arose naturally over the songwriting process. “When we were first starting out, we wanted to take everything about ourselves into account,” explains Brumen. “Matt [Morasco, drums] loves French pop music, for example, so that’s where we got the idea to play around with dance beats. I love heavy music, so I wanted to incorporate death-growls and blast-beats. Really, it’s about the four of us being true to who we are. We didn’t want to waste our time pursuing something that’s categorically been done already.” This mentality and attitude persevered through the writing and recording of Black Wash, the band’s debut LP. With High Tension guitarist Mike Deslandes behind the boards across studio sessions in their native Melbourne, Pagan created an album that is as fierce and exploratory as anything they’ve done previously – indeed, probably even more so. For Brumen, the creation of this

“I feel like my personal favourite albums are the ones that have directly spoken to me – ones that reflect on my own life and my own stories.” Where: Lansdowne Hotel When: Friday August 31 And: Black Wash is out this Friday July 6

ything about ourselves into account.”

BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18 :: 35


High As Ever Cameron Colwell digs into the distinct pleasures of the brand new Florence + The Machine album, High As Hope


t’s been nine years since Florence + The Machine launched into mainstream success with the release of their debut album, Lungs, and lead singer Florence Welch’s subsequent iconic performance alongside Dizzee Rascal at the 2009 BRIT Awards, where she took home a Critics’ Choice award and performed a mashup of her cover of her ‘You Got The Love’ and his ‘Dirtee Cash’ that charted at number two by the end of the week. Since

then, she has released three albums, won a staggering number of musical accolades, and altogether expanded the possibilities of contemporary pop. Along the way, she has continually delivered heart-rending ballads and an oeuvre of extremely danceable bops that regularly feature lyrics about drowning, ghosts, and demons. The combination hit new heights in 2011’s unforgettable Ceremonials, a

baroque, balladic tour de force that saw Welch outdo the version of herself which created Lungs in every way. It heralded her incredible ability to lyrically step into any role required of her: she became a hungry witch-queen in the epic ‘Breath Of Life’, written for, of all things, a gritty modern take on Snow White, and then a plaintive, longing Daisy Buchanan in ‘Over The Love’, which was written for the soundtrack of 2013’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby.

In many ways, her latest offering High as Hope delivers her most mature and elegantly constructed album yet. It feels like a refined, stronger version of her third album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. That album promised, in its staggering amount of promotional material – which included a 47-minute short film/music video series called The Odyssey – a grand culmination of Florence’s trademark belting vocals, evocative lyrics, and danceable tracks

“The key to Welch’s success has been a new sense of restrained deliberation missing from her last album.” 36 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18


“Happiness no longer hits people like a train on a track, as it did in Lungs’ standout single ‘Dog Days Are Over’.” that it never really achieved. On High As Hope, it feels like Welch has tried to undertake a similar task and has succeeded entirely, with considerably less fanfare. The key to that success has been a new sense of restrained deliberation missing from that last album. Then, her signature, nigh-on-superhuman ability to hold a howling note was overly relied on, as she belted out a set of lyrics that occasionally tripped on their own maximalism. Here, Welch is very much continuing to project everyday, often romantic, woes onto an epic scale — the heavy, hypnotic ‘Big God’ has been described by Welch as about “an unfillable hole in the soul... but mainly about someone not replying to my text.” As a result, on this latest album, there’s a stronger balance between the mundane and the magical: one of the highlights, ‘South London Forever’, casts back to Welch’s art college days with not an angel in sight. Happiness no longer hits people like a train on a track, as it did in Lungs’ standout single ‘Dog Days Are Over’, but it is still the subject of ‘No Choir’, a reflective, intimate song about how hard it is to write about happiness. “No choir could come in singing about two people sitting, doing nothing,” Florence sings in the loving ode to serenity. Perhaps the new precision comes from a thinning down of the team who worked on the album: How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful had a total of nine producers, whereas High As Hope has five, a number which includes, for the first time, Welch herself. Welch has recently discussed quitting drinking, which could explain the pulling back from emotional extremes of agony and rapture and her new, focused emotional nuance.

“In many ways, her latest offering High As Hope delivers her most mature, elegantly constructed album yet.”

Also notable is the intense and stirring ‘Hunger’, which is inspired by Welch’s teenage eating disorder and the aforementioned unfillable hole, which preludes its intense beat and choir with a line about how Welch starved herself at the age of 17. It’s no creative drought that’s caused Welch to delve into the personal, but a specific emotional aim to write with resonance, as the songstress revealed to Rolling Stone. In a revealing interview, she revealed she wanted to be “more vulnerable in this song, to encourage connection because perhaps a lot

more of us feel this way than we are able to admit. Sometimes when you can’t say it, you can sing it.” Similarly capturing that spirit of connection is ‘Sky Full Of Song’, in which Welch reaches for a sense of solidness from a friend: “Grab me by my ankles, I’ve been fl ying for too long / I couldn’t hide from the thunder in a sky full of song.” This directness is carried in ‘Grace’, which feels like a more mature version of one of the ballads from Ceremonials, and the remarkably sassy ‘Patricia’, named in tribute for artist Patti Smith. ‘100 Years’ is a fierce and passionate love song that sees the pain inherent in love – a subject Welch has touched upon often before – and accepts it as part of the deal: “My heart bends and breaks so many, many times / and is born again with each sunrise.”

“It’s hard to fault High As Hope.” It’s hard to fault High As Hope. There’s never any boring or dreary moments, and the repetition and overblown melodrama that sometimes dragged out her previous records has been replaced by a constant dynamism and a sober, but electric, sense of theatre. With this latest album, Florence + The Machine have brought together the strongest qualities of their previous output and delivered their best album yet with striking poise, and in doing so have cemented their position as one of the most interesting and exciting popular acts of our time.

Where: The Domain When: Saturday January 26 With: Marlon Williams + Billie Eilish And: High As Hope is out now via Republic Records

BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18 :: 37


Master Of The Blues Bianca Davino chews the fat with the legendary Kenny Wayne Shepherd, a frenetic riff-master who has rocked out alongside Van Halen and The Rolling Stones


here’s something inherently raw, visceral, and romantic about blues. Whether it’s the folksy imagery of a wellworn and loved old red guitar it conjures, or the bleeding heart emotion it stirs, there’s a clear reason it continues to hold a special place in the heart of music fans both young and old. Indeed, although the blues is sometimes unfairly viewed as a kind of history project – an outdated and fossilized genre, beloved by boomers and math teachers – in truth, it is going through a fresh new renaissance, as a new legion of genre-pushers maneuver the form into exciting new territory. Why, just ask Kenny Wayne Shepherd, a modern blues icon, what he thinks about the future of the genre. “Once every ten years or so, blues will have an uptick in interest,” says the trail-brazing riff-maker. “People will go back and rediscover what made them love it, and new people will discover it. It’s an experience you can only have with such an enduring type of music like this. “Blues music has always had its core supporters all over the world. It’s had many surges in popularity over the last 100 years or so, but I think right now we’re experiencing another surge in the popularity of blues music. There’s a lot of interest in artists who are doing well in the genre. It’s an exciting time to be playing this type of music.” Over a career spanning almost 30 years, Shepherd has shared the stage with legendary acts like Van Halen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Rolling Stones. He’s also a prolifiic maker of music himself, having released eight albums, received five Grammy nods, and set a new standard for emotive guitar playing. Ultimately, his resume reads like a whimsical dream had by every kid who has spent hours a day practicing their six-string until their fingers bleed. “We’ve been doing this for 25 years,” Shepherd explains, his voice smooth. “That 25 years of working and recording gives you a lot of opportunities for experience; to better yourself as a performer and musician. “Playing in my room as a child for hours and hours a day helped me get my start, but what really catapulted me towards developing my own style was playing in a live environment where you interact with people on a human level.” It’s this human interaction that Shepherd believes drives the fascination with blues. As far as he’s concerned, a new legion of fans have been driven to the genre as a result of the mundanities and mechanical nature of popular music. People are searching for something real, he reckons – something fresh. And Shepherd’s latest album, Lay It On Down, released in 2017, only helps prove the romantic nature of blues; its raw, unfettered quality. “I think it has a lot to do with the state of the world and what’s popular in music at the time,” Shepherd says of his work’s enduring popularity. “I mean I think it seems to be synonymous music reaching a point of being blurred where popular music reaches a point sounds the same and more manufactured. I think people get tired of that and seek something that’s real, and I think that people will inevitably find that in the blues.” At the heart of that human element is the ability to engage with an audience – to feed off one another and transmit emotions through music. For Shepherd, the experience is so powerful, he cites it as the reason him and his band record albums. It is the driving force; the engine that powers his craft.

“There’s a lot of interest in artists who are doing well in the genre. It’s an exciting time to be playing this type of music.” “The live experience is where it’s at,” Shepherd explains. “We make records so we can go out and put on a good show and entertain. That’s why we’re so excited to come to Australia. It’s been several years since we’ve been there and we’re ready for people to experience this chapter of our live show.” Notably, a Kenny Wayne Shepherd show isn’t your average high octane non-stop rock spectacle. Like the blues itself, his live show parallels the music’s emotional highs and lows – it sings and screams in bouts of triumph. “It’s all about getting those ebbs and flows right – when to bring things way up, and when to slow things down dynamically. These are all different things you can pick up from artists when you’re watching them,” says Shepherd about perfecting the art of a visceral live show. “Any time you’re on tour with someone like Van Halen or The Rolling Stones, it’s inspirational – it inspires you to do the very best you can. The other thing is just watching them and the way they put on a show, to see what they do as great entertainers.” Despite having mastered his instrument, Shepherd admits he is “always looking for ways to expand on my craft.” Shepherd cites the greats like B.B. King, Albert King, and Albert Collins as his enduring inspirations. However, he happily admits that there are a multitude of players currently who “trigger something in me to try something different.” Although he’s never quite strayed from the blues, Shepherd understands how fickle audiences can be – but music itself will always be there as a security blanket. “Everyone has their own thing they wanna do,” he says, his grin audible down the phone. “Music and art is subjective. You just never know what will resonate with people and what won’t.” Where: Enmore Theatre When: Thursday October 4

“We’ve been doing this for 25 years. That 25 years of of opportunities for experience; to better yourself as 38 :: BRAG :: 738 :: 06:06:18

“Once every ten years or so, blues will have an uptick in interest.”

working and recording gives you a lot a performer and musician.”

BRAG :: 738 :: 06:06:18 :: 39

Jessica Says And What Music Can Mean By Joseph Earp

“I quickly discovered that as a girl, you’re already considered “old” by the time you’re 25, so why rush when you’re already considered irrelevant?”


ast year, Jessica Says – real name Jessica Venables – went big. Do With Me What U Will, the musician’s second full-length record, was a bright, shining thing; a velvet-drenched mission statement that seemed to draw equal inspiration from confessional literature, ’80s pop, and musical theatre. There had never been anything like it released in this country. Not only had no-one else ever succeeded at what Venables had done, no-one else had even tried. It was that rarest of things: a real original. Downers, Venables’ newest release, is a different proposition entirely. Rather than trying to replicate the wormy, distinct pleasures of that second record, she has gone smaller; quieter. If Do With Me What U Will was an epic – a musician carefully packing an album full of everything they love, fear, and desire – Downers is a short book of verse. Often armed just with a piano, Venables crunches down entire histories into these succinct, resilient, three-minute fragments. “So I let you go,” her voice swirls on lead single ‘Brand New Thing’, as hard as obsidian. “So I let you go.” But although the method might be different, the end result is similar. As was the case with Do With Me What U Will, Downers reaffirms Venables’ status as one of the most important and unique musicians in this country. Her music has the power to change and influence the direction of your life. And all it asks from you is that you listen. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. The BRAG: You’ve said you wanted to be a director when you were growing up – at what point did those dreams start to shift into wanting to write music? Jessica Says: I was the sickly type in high school, and spent a lot of time home from school watching movies. At that stage there was a wonderful pinkhued video shop on Smith Street called Video Busters which had a “10 videos for $10” deal and their videos arranged by director. Like many early noughties sad girls, I liked David Lynch, Truffaut and any “controversial French film” – especially [by] Catherine Breillat. After a few deflating camcorder experiments, I realised film was much more complicated than I ever imagined, so I settled back into my Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton rip-off teen poetry. At the same time, I’d always played cello, but felt like being in an orchestra was more like being an elite athlete than being an artist and creating something from scratch.

“Nursing can be quite idealism. I feel like I n 40 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18


“Song-writing is an attempt to exert control in this nightmarish world; to try to purify a feeling or a moment which somehow makes everything else bearable.” The first Joanna Newsom album came out when I was in year 12 and I was just enamoured – she was writing pop songs with an atypical instrument and her lyrics were exquisite literature. I immediately started trying to write songs and singing into my cassette recorder. When did you start writing Downers? Did you have an initial vision for the project as a whole from the outset, or did it emerge more organically? Jessica Says: After so long between my first and second albums, I wanted to make sure I didn’t fall into that trap again of overthinking things. I’d been listening to a lot of EPs, and liked how I tended to listen to the piece as a whole rather than just fixating on the couple of tracks I immediately loved. So, I just decided to try to write the best four songs I can, in sequence. Pop songs have always been about drugs, but illicit drugs tend to be prioritised. When I started writing Downers, I was still working on an adolescent ward, and we encountered paracetamol overdoses every week. Suicide remains the leading cause of death in Australia for 15 to 44-year-olds, and rates continue to increase. This is obviously linked to systemic oppression, welfare cuts, the housing crisis, the privatisation of universities, violence against women, and many other aspects of the current climate. The other songs are more about trying to retain moments of beauty and euphoria in this climate. I wrote ‘Boy Angel’ very quickly after returning from a trip to Seoul, because I didn’t want to lose the person I was at that time and I wanted that sense of wonder to last forever. How did you first meet Evelyn Morris? How did you know you wanted to collaborate with them? Jessica Says: Evelyn and I met through Geoffrey O’Connor in 2000. We actually both played our first solo gig together at the Old Bar in 2006. On reflection I’m not sure why they were kind enough to ask me to play that gig, because I was a very obnoxious 19-year old at the time. But I’m extremely grateful that they did, because after that I was asked to play more shows which led to my first album release in 2009. Last year I was talking to Geoff about wanting to record some piano-based songs and Geoff mentioned that Evelyn was now working at a studio with a grand piano. I knew that they were both highly skilled as a producer and a person that I trusted and admired tremendously. How long did Downers take to write and record? Jessica Says: Writing took a little while,

“Daniel Johns said hi and told me he liked my teeth and placed a Vogue cigarette in the gap.” mostly because I obsess a lot over lyrics. I was very preoccupied with timelines and productivity when I was younger, but I quickly discovered that as a girl, you’re already considered “old” by the time you’re 25, so why rush when you’re already considered irrelevant? In that way I’ve found ageing quite freeing. I prefer to take a bit longer, in the hope that the inevitable cringe factor isn’t quite so bad as time marches on. The recording was over two days. It was very beautiful and very simple. I played piano and cello, Evelyn played drums and my dear friend Tracy Chen, who was my housemate at the time, came in to sing some vocals. Did you approach Downers differently to Do With Me What U Will? Jessica Says: Song-writing wise – no. I always write about the same things. Mental illness, addiction, being a girly girl, lust. Recording and production wise – very much so. With Do With Me What U Will I wanted to do something “pop” with lots of production, but I just ended up overthinking everything and getting frustrated when I couldn’t make it match my fantasies. I had become quite devoted to K-pop, and when the G-Dragon Kwon Ji Yong EP came out in 2017 and the single was such a beautiful, breathtakingly sparse piano ballad it inspired me to return to very simple instrumentation, which was how my first album We Need To Talk was recorded.

Do you find it challenging juggling work with making music? Jessica Says: I do. Nursing can be quite consuming, but I try not to neglect my inner adolescent poet because she’s full of idealism and I feel like I need that because working in public mental health in these times can be very sad. That said, I made a terrible full-time musician. I find music festivals very anxiety provoking, and I’m not level headed or disciplined enough to make it work. I got much too caught up in all the junk surrounding the actual music part – wanting evidence that my work means something, backstage passes, being liked by people, Youtube views, thinking about my looks. How do you judge the success of an album/EP after you drop it? Jessica Says: I’ve never had any “success” in an external or tangible way, so I try to find my own sense of purpose. Song-writing is an attempt to exert control in this nightmarish world; to try to purify a feeling or a moment which somehow makes everything else bearable, or processes some of the horrible things. I’m constantly multitasking which means I get very out of touch with my emotions. If a recording can represent some kind of emotional truth, I will feel very happy. Do you find writing a record lonely? Jessica Says: I don’t. In the same way you never feel lonely reading a good

book. It’s that really yummy, immersive kind of solitude. What are you reading/watching at the moment? Jessica Says: I’m watching Produce 101 China. It’s a survival show where they are making a girl group. It’s totally phenomenal, the standard of the rapping, dance, and vocals is extraordinary. I’m reading A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin which was a birthday gift from Geoffrey O’Connor. I’m very very grateful to encounter this book, and you must read it too. Tell me something you’ve never told an interviewer before. Jessica Says: In 2008 on my 21st birthday I was in Sydney with Sally Seltmann at the APRA awards at the Hilton. Our job was to play a cover of ‘Straight Lines’ by Silverchair, which ended up winning song of the year. After the ceremony a man in a suit approached us and invited us up to Daniel Johns’ penthouse suite. I had been a crazy Silverchair fan circa ‘Ana’s Song’ and felt like I was being personally selected to ascend to heaven. It was quite an Almost Famous-type scene with models I recognised, drinks trolleys and everyone smoking inside. Daniel Johns said hi and told me he liked my teeth and placed a Vogue cigarette in the gap. It was all too overwhelming so we left very quickly. What: Downers is out Friday July 6

e consuming, but I try not to neglect my inner adolescent poet because she’s full of need that because working in public mental health in these times can be very sad.”

BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18 :: 41


The Marshall Mathers Shitshow:

By Lisa Dib

42 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18


don’t give a fuck, God sent me to piss the world off.” So said Marshall Bruce Mathers III – or Eminem, as most of us know him – in his breakout single, 1999’s ‘My Name Is’ from the The Slim Shady LP. To those coming of age in the new millennium, Eminem built a substantial empire making silly, crass rap for angry young kids. A musical troll of the highest order, his ‘return’ in 2017 received little fanfare; his ‘anti-Trump’ freestyle ‘The Storm’ was briefly shared around online, with opinions mostly erring on confusion and contempt, but it seems people have little time for one of the early 2000’s biggest names. So has the world moved on, or was Eminem’s career something we, to be perfectly frank, let get out of hand in the first place?


Eminem built his career on apparently saying the unsayable. He’d be the first to admit that his ribald riffs were meant to offend across the board, stirring up discussion on politics, social standing, and race. Throw a dart at the Eminem discography and you’ll find a plethora of sexual violence, misogyny, homophobia, ableism, and outright crappy behaviour: another 1999 track, a Dr. Dre collab called ‘Guilty Conscience’, has Eminem rallying a young man to rape an underage girl at a party, amongst other gross deeds. One of his best-known hateful screeds was 2000’s ‘Kim’ a song in which he confronts his apparently cheating wife and murders her, the chorus highlighting Eminem’s classic abuser “lovesick” stance: “So long, bitch you did me so wrong / I don’t want to go on living in this world without you.” Throughout his career, Eminem has unapologetically accepted his juvenile behaviour, as evidenced by 2000’s ‘The Way I Am’: “I’m tired of all you / I don’t mean to be mean but it’s all I can be, it’s just me ... The song ‘Guilty Conscience’ has gotten such rotten responses.”


ince he smashed into popular consciousness, Eminem has tailormade his music to upset, offend and ridicule. You’d think he’d have a field day in our current time, where one can go viral for their racism and end up with a cushy spot on some conservative talkingpoints show. But somewhere along the line, Eminem lost control of even his own persona, and as a result any coherent message he was trying to get out. For all the hideous and outlandish things Eminem has spouted, he has attempted to weight the scales with more ‘emotionally bearing’ numbers like ‘Cleanin’ Out My Closet’, ‘Stan’, and even these verses from ‘The Way I Am’ about how hard it is to be famous:

“Was Eminem’s career something we, to be perfectly frank, let get out of hand in the first place?”

“I’m so sick and tired of being admired That I wish that I would just die or get fired And drop from my label and stop with the fables. I’m not gonna be able to top on ‘My Name Is’ And pigeon holdin’ to some poppy sensations They cop me rotation at rock ‘n’ roll stations And I just do not got the patience To deal with these cocky Caucasians Who think I’m some wigga who just tries to be black … I can’t take it, I’m racing, I’m pacing, I stand and I sit And I’m thankful for every fan that I get, but I can’t take a shit In the bathroom without someone standing by it No, I won’t sign your autograph, you can call me an asshole, I’m glad.” Eminem has long attempted to show off his complexity; sure, he might rap nasty, but he’s got feelings too, you know. And he is a kind of mosaic, really, at least music-wise: on his 2002 album The Eminem Show, he throws around homophobic slurs (calling Moby a “fag” on ‘Without Me’) and, frankly, the entirety of Superman is one big misogynistic tirade, purportedly inspired by a relationship he had with Mariah Carey, one that Carey denied and later slammed him for on her track ‘Obsessed’ (“And I was like, why are you so obsessed with me?”). No doubt Superman gave credence to many jilted, lonely men’s hatred of women from inside their bunkers. The other side of Eminem shows itself on The Eminem Show, too. As mentioned, ‘Cleanin’ Out My Closet’ won a lot of people for its Emotional Seriousness™, though it’s hard to take Em seriously when he spouts lines like this: “Have you ever been hated or discriminated against? / I have, I’ve been protested and demonstrated against” On the very same album in which he spits out bars like this: “Don’t get me wrong, I love these hoes It’s no secret, everybody knows

The Marshall Mathers LP was the third album by Eminem, released in 2000 BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18 :: 43

FEATURE Eminem’s 2018 album Revival

“Eminem jumps wildly between earnest tales of trauma and abuse to puerile and often hateful immaturity propped up by his loathing of women and his desire to troll the listening public.” 44 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18

“Eminem is back in troll mode; he’s like every other MAGA-hat-wearing, Rick And Morty avatar’d dramatic milquetoast on Twitter.” Yeah, we fucked, bitch so what? That’s about as far as your buddy goes We’ll be friends, I’ll call you again I’ll chase you around every bar you attend … Not a jealous man, but females lie. But I guess that’s just what sluts do How could it ever be just us two? Never loved you enough to trust you We just met and I just fucked you” Eminem jumps wildly between earnest tales of trauma and abuse, namely at the hands of his mother, to puerile and often hateful immaturity propped up by his loathing of women and his desire to troll the listening public. Ultimately, whether he says such heinous things to ‘start a conversation’ or simply to get a rise from the listening public at large is not clear. Of course, the debate around whether or not white folk can or should rap the way performers like Eminem or Iggy Azalea do is fraught; on the angry ‘White America’ (2002), he acknowledges the powerful impact he had on young people at the height of his success: “So many lives I touched, so much anger aimed / In no particular direction, just sprays and sprays.” Eminem also mentions repeatedly throughout the song what happens to a predominantly black art form when a white man becomes the face of it. He himself understands that he became the face of ‘acceptable’ rap that white parents allowed their kids to listen to rather than the angry black men made famous before him. Indeed, Eminem was a silly white guy with peroxided hair who waved his butt around, and his look is deliberately white as white can be: he’s got those bright blue eyes, and his dark brown hair bleached to a sunny yellow. Eminem’s problem has never been his talent; even someone with no interest in hip hop can acknowledge that the man can rap well. His issue has been with identity – 2009’s ‘We Made You’, his first solo single in a few years, was a hodgepodge of the nasal trolling and celebrity-baiting that made him famous in his early years. His more ‘comedic’ songs seem to have, across his years, charted better than his ‘serious’ attempts, with the obvious exception of 2002’s ‘Lose Yourself’. Eventually, it became clear he would find better chart success as a featured artist, with the intervening years seeing him collaborate with artists like Rihanna, Sia, Beyonce, and Ed Sheeran. To put it bluntly, this may have been a way of keeping himself relevant: 2017’s ‘River’, his song with Sheeran, went to number 11 on the US charts, whereas his 2018 solo track, ‘Framed’, failed to chart.



he Storm’ showed Eminem taking a hard stance against Donald Trump, something that progressive audiences want in their artists nowadays. Trump’s politics, and his new fascistic government, are so radically tearing America apart that many people do not want to support artists that also support Trump’s terrifying regime.

Th is is a fair enough ask, and a conversation (the apparent need to ‘separate the art from the artist’) that is well-overdue. But although Eminem debuted the rap during the 2017 BET (Black Entertainment Television) Awards in what some people called a ‘no-holds barred’ spiel, many others considered it a case of far too little, far too late. A few takes from The Storm: “Racism’s the only thing he’s fantastic for ‘Cause that’s how he gets his fucking rocks off and he’s orange Yeah, sick tan.” “It’s like we take a step forwards, then backwards But this is his form of distraction Plus, he gets an enormous reaction When he attacks the NFL so we focus on that Instead of talking Puerto Rico or gun reform for Nevada All these horrible tragedies and he’s bored and would rather Cause a Twitter storm with the Packers.” And, sounding off, he ends with this:

“Since he smashed into popular consciousness, Eminem has tailormade his music to upset, offend and ridicule.”

“The rest of America stand up We love our military, and we love our country But we fucking hate Trump.” By the time Eminem dropped the track, it had been two years since Trump fi rst announced his candidacy for President (by the by, do you remember where you were on that day?) Eminem’s apparently ‘fierce takedown’ was released well after Trump had been spouting hateful nonsense against African-Americans, women, Mexicans, and the disabled. And many people started to wonder why Eminem hadn’t already been utilising his platform and fanbase to defend the black community against Trump’s slander. So there’s the million dollar question: why now, Marshall? Did it have anything to do, perhaps, with ‘Walk On Water, the new single he released with Beyonce only a few weeks later, his first in two years? Or that, a month previous, a company called Royalty Flow issued a public offering, promising to float Mathers’ song royalties on the stock market? Or the fact that the year before he was selling off his vast collection of ‘vintage’ Marshall Mathers memorabilia, including signed (!) bricks from his childhood home (for $350USD a piece) and old dog tags?


n radio station Sirius XM, in regards to the rap, Eminem said, on Trump: “I feel like he’s not paying attention to me. I was kinda waiting for him to say something, and for some reason, he didn’t say anything”.

Evidently, Eminem is back in troll mode; he’s like every other MAGA-hat-wearing, Rick And Morty avatar’d dramatic milquetoast on Twitter who refuses to allow you to walk away from a “debate”. He doesn’t want to start a conversation or use his – albeit dwindling – platform to improve the social climate that Trump, the alt-right, etc. are creating, especially for black Americans; he wants to be lauded and worshipped the way Kendrick Lamar or Donald Glover are, without having to put in the effort of making a feasible political point. And that’s fi ne, don’t get me wrong. You don’t have to be a political artist; you don’t have to make a comment about Trump, and you don’t have to come out against him to be a successful and much-loved performer. But times are dicey; if you’re going to come out for or against the new regime, you kind of have to go all-in, and people can smell disingenuousness. Eminem will never know the kind of fame he did in, say, 2000. And this is a deal of his own making; he decided to be the artist he became, one that rode in on bluster and exaggeration and hateful noise (not unlike Trump, really) without the stones to back it up. It was bound to be a short-lit flame.

“Eminem’s problem has never been his talent; even someone with no interest in hip hop can acknowledge that the man can rap well.” BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18 :: 45

arts in focus


A Family Is A Steel-Jawed Trap: Hereditary And The Legacy Of Trauma By Joseph Earp


owards the back end of Hereditary, Ari Aster’s extraordinary feature debut, a secret is discovered in an attic. That’s not particularly unusual for a horror fi lm, of course – movies as diverse as Bob Clark’s slasher classic Black Christmas and the more contemporary Sinister have cast the attic as a place to hide bodies and portents. But unlike those fi lms, in Hereditary, the secret is not a clingfi lm wrapped body, or a long-haired ghoul. It is a photo. Or, more accurately, a series of them, hidden in plain sight –

trapped between the distinctly ordinary leather bound pages of a family diary. Nor are these pictures haunted in the way we can sometimes use that word. They’re not of horror, or violence, or death. They are of a grandmother, smiling in that quietly malign way grandmothers can sometimes smile, her face caked in make-up so thick it looks to be hiding some disorder of the skin. I never met my maternal grandmother, except through photos tucked in albums eerily similar to the ones Hereditary’s haunted protagonist Annie (Toni Collette)

claws through, her face contorted impossibly wide. The photos were old; blurred. I couldn’t tell you a thing about what my grandmother looked like now. I haven’t seen those photos in years, and even when I first clapped my eyes on them, they barely registered. A grandmother is meant to give you the things your parents won’t; to spoil you; to slip you little sweets, and trinkets, and coins. To kiss you on the forehead and mutter “God bless” at night; to tuck you in, a cushion of their perfume looming up over you. That’s what my paternal grandmother did anyway, and

The spirits in Hereditary aren’t pale visions composed of smoke: they are bad memories; regrets; mistakes.” for me, she was the archetype of the elder. She was English, and she never swore, and she wore cardigans she would run the back of her liver-spotted hands against when she was worried about something, which was often. My maternal grandmother did none of these things. My maternal grandmother was a gaping absence. She had died very young, when my own mother was just 16. As I grew up, I learned a little more about her, but never very much. I learned that my mother didn’t always like her; that they fought often; that my grandmother had died angry at all of her three children, and at her husband, and at the world. But that was it. Once, when I was just 18, a new girlfriend asked me what my grandmother’s name was. I thought for a long time. I couldn’t answer.


ereditary is a film about ghosts as most of us know them. The spirits in the film aren’t pale visions composed of smoke: they are bad memories; regrets; mistakes. Paraphrasing Henry James, Guillermo Del Toro once said that

“Trauma drips downwards, through bloodlines, coursing over families. Sometimes, it skips a generation: someone is spared.” 46 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18

ghosts are representations of the past; that they are “impediments to us moving into the future.” This is the role they play in Hereditary. They are lingering, traumatic stains. As the film starts, Annie loses her mother. Within half an hour of the film’s run-time, she loses her daughter Charlie too. Her future is torn bloodily from her; and her past, the looming, bizarre threat posed by her over-possessive mother, won’t seem to leave her alone. Pain wells up against her on either side. How often trauma travels in this direction. It drips downwards, through bloodlines, coursing over families. Sometimes, it skips a generation: someone is spared. These survivors flee their childhood home and start some new life in some other part of the country, and only think about their families when they have to, with their teeth gritted. But even then, no-one ever really gets out. As in Hereditary, families are linked by traumas so allconsuming as to resemble bad spells. As much as Annie might try to fight, she eventually succumbs to the pain around her; to the great, terrible curse of lineage. By the film’s end, all her inherited suffering has rendered her agency meaningless. She’s nothing but her mother’s cruelty; a puppet, flying around the walls, her face frozen in an expression as lifeless as the ones she cuts into her miniature figures.

arts in focus

“A family is a steel-jawed trap. A family is the promise of a terrible thing.”


hen I was 18, I started drinking heavily. I had hated high school, and everything that came with being a teenager. I was ready to do the things people did when they became adults, which the movies had taught me meant drinking a lot, smoking Marlboro reds, and talking less. My mother couldn’t stand being around me while I drank. I didn’t like going out, so I’d do it at home, in the back yard, and it’d drive my mother mad. She would pour my whiskey down the sink when I wasn’t watching. She never really gave a reason why it annoyed her so much. I didn’t think about it often. I assumed she was irritated about the drinking for the same reason she was irritated with almost everything I did:

because she had wanted more for me. Which was a reason, certainly. It just wasn’t the only one. Over the next little while, things only got worse for me. I drank more; smoked more; spoke so rarely my voice would croak when I did. For long stretches of time I’d lie in bed, staring at the ceiling. For others, I would be insatiable – drinking two litres of whiskey a night and writing page after page of nonsense. Eventually, one evening, after two failed suicide attempts, and years of aching, paralysing depression, I decided to go for a walk. It was something I did almost every night. I walked up the top of my street, round the corner, and then stopped. I couldn’t go on. My body went all stricken. I felt

“Everybody hits their lowest point eventually.” a thousand pounds heavier, just like that. I didn’t know if I was having a seizure, or maybe a stroke. I looked, unnervingly, exactly like Peter at the moment of possession in Hereditary, my body contorted, my eyes very wide.

the bathroom when you wanted to clean yourself: the head of the shower only barely jutted out from the wall. It was only after a few days that I realised it was so you couldn’t hang yourself off it.

Everybody hits their lowest point eventually. That was mine. I called my parents. They sent me to a doctor; the doctor sent me to the hospital; the hospital sent me to the psych ward. And that’s where I stayed, for two weeks. There were bars on my windows. At night, the doctors would come around every hour to check I was still alive. You’d have to stand right up against the dirty white tiles of

less capable filmmaker would want to show you Annie’s mum. She is, after all, the seed of Hereditary’s horror: the point from where all its screaming, and pain, and burning blooms. But Aster never does. She is a perfectly curated absence, never present but somehow always present, leering out of photographs and unexpectedly surfacing in conversation with strangers like a shark’s fin.


I discovered that I had bipolar disorder in the ward. It made a lot of sense to me. It explained the alternating bouts of energy; the attachment to alcohol; the self-destruction. That was also when my mother told me that my grandmother had bipolar too: that she had spent a lot of time in and out of wards; that she would shoplift alcohol to keep up her habit; that her death was due to an accidental overdose of antidepressants. Realising that made a lot of sense to me too. By the end of Hereditary, the conspiracy that Annie

uncovers is the conspiracy of family. She is haunted by lineage; forced to watch as her children fi t the strange, terrible shape formed by her own mother. This, after all, is what a family is. A family is a steel-jawed trap. A family is the promise of a terrible thing. My grandmother is my ghost. I have spent some 27 years quietly and accidentally making my life resemble hers. She had a weakness for whiskey too; a penchant for self-destruction; an unstoppable, unswerving desire to make good things go bad. Bipolar disorder is an inherited illness. It moves downwards. Sometimes it skips a generation. Not, mind you, that the people that it skips – people like my mother – are spared. They suffer in different ways. They are victims too. None of us get away unscathed. We are all Peter, trapped in a house of mourning. This is how it ends for us all: our father burned to death in the living room, our mother tucked up in the corner like a spider, sawing off her own waxy head. Our worst horrors realised, hiding just there in the corner of a shadow-sick room. What: Hereditary is in Australian cinemas now

BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18 :: 47

arts in focus


By Joseph Earp


he screen is red. All you can hear is this odd rumbling; a kind of strange electronic echo, punctuated here and there by reverb-heavy drum blasts as abrupt and startling as the slash of a butcher’s knife. Slowly, out of this primordial soup of noise, something begins to emerge; something resembling music. You say ‘resembling’, because although there’s defi nitely flashes in the soundtrack that feel oddly familiar – maybe if you’re a classical music snob, you know parts have been lifted from Henry Purcell’s ‘Music For The Funeral Of Queen Mary’ – there’s also this distinct alien rasp to the melody. It sounds like music beamed at you from another planet.

“This is how A Clock This is how A Clockwork Orange starts; not with a bang, but with a detuned, crackly warble. Audiences in 1971 had never heard anything like it, in no small part because the distressing cult classic was the first film to be released with Dolby Sound Reduction, a cutting edge technology that reduced background hiss and made sounds crisper and clearer than ever before. Dolby Sound Reduction wasn’t just some nerdy development for tech heads then – it was a tool that Stanley Kubrick utilised with all the sheer blunt force of a sledgehammer. Dolby has long been that kind of company, a complex, multinational conclave of whizzes who open up new worlds for filmmakers and musicians alike. A British-American company founded by Mr. Ray Dolby in 1965, the business was conceived as a way of solving a very simple problem – namely the sound quality of early tape recorders, which, for want of a better word, was distinctly lacking. Crude instruments that they were, recorders produced tracks that were marred by constant, inescapable background hisses and crackles, noises as disquieting as a slowlyspreading headache. It was Dolby himself who developed the technology to reduce the hiss, producing the famous, threateningly bulky Dolby A machine. Though initially priced at £700 pounds – that would be almost $20,000 today – Dolby worked hard at reducing the cost of the technology. He knew that no development is revolutionary unless it is truly accessible, and had limited interest in making and marketing a

“Despite winning Oscars, Emmys, and countless other plaudits, Dolby has never 48 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18


work Orange starts; not with a bang, but with a detuned, crackly warble.”

machine that could only be purchased by music studios, or the wealthy elite. He wanted to transform sound quality for all, not just for the rich and powerful. Thus, two years later in 1978, Dolby dropped the Dolby B machine, a compact fi lter that could be fitted into a range of household recorders. And it was, en masse – as The Independent notes, by the late ’70s, Dolby was the norm in devices sold across the country. The success of the device gave Dolby the momentum they needed to turn their attention to the cinema. Luckily,

the boom in American fi lm-making tied in perfectly with the technological developments Dolby were cracking by the day, and by 1977, the company had mastered stereo sound. ’77 also just so happened to be the year that a little space opera from a fresh-faced 33-yearold named George Lucas was ready to be released: that year, Star Wars was the first fi lm to play with Dolby Stereo Sound. With the advent of stereo sound, fi lms became more immersive and engaging than ever before: it’s hard to imagine the blaring horns of John Williams’

impossibly famous Star Wars theme would have sounded half as impressive playing out of the speakers cinemas were fitted with before Dolby changed the game. Suddenly, audiences found themselves buffered by sound – enveloped by it. The cinema experience was forever changed. Still, for many people, Dolby are most famous for their adverts – those tensecond clips of glass balls dropping on an alien landscape, fi lled to the brim as they are with the rich sounds of birds’ wings flapping; with waves crashing. That strange, half-anonymity seems

to suit the company perfectly fi ne. Despite winning Oscars, Emmys, and countless other plaudits, Dolby has never drawn excessive attention to itself. Yamaha, the longest-standing and largest sound company in the world, utilises Dolby technology; so does pretty much every cinema on the planet. No. Dolby doesn’t need to scream its successes from the rooftops. It can just go about doing what it has done for over 50 years: subtly and insistently changing the very way we watch movies and listen to music. ■

“Dolby is a complex, multinational conclave of whizzes who open up new worlds for filmmakers and musicians alike.” drawn excessive attention to itself.”

BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18 :: 49


Anthony Bourdain Made The World A Richer, More Exciting Place By Augustus Welby


hen CNN confirmed Anthony Bourdain’s death on June 8 it registered as an almighty shock. Widely loved around the world for his multiple award-winning television series and his conversation-generating books, Bourdain’s fans tended to regard him as a close friend. He was that edgy and intelligent companion who influenced our lifestyle choices, bent our curiosity, and invariably showed us a bloody good time. Bourdain died at the age of 61, which also came as a surprise. No, he wasn’t blessed with an unblemished youthful visage – he carried a head of grey hair for the majority of his TV career – but 61 felt painfully soon. Of course, no one can accurately comment on what it felt like to be Anthony Bourdain, but from the outside he always appeared radiantly alive. It’s staggering to think then that his ascent from greasy obscurity cooking in NYC’s Brasserie Les Halles to being called the “best-known celebrity in America” by the New Yorker’s Helen Rosner all occurred after the age of 40. If ever there was a poster boy for the possibilities that await on the other side of 40, it was Bourdain. Celebrity chef was never an accurate title for the New York native, nor was culinary bad boy, as both unfairly undercut the scale and artistic merit of what Bourdain achieved. He preferred the term essayist, and his project was beguilingly straightforward.

“Whether in Gaza or Belfast, Libya or Detroit, Bourdain dismantled myths of pervasive deprivation and hopeless struggle by showcasing the resilience and vigour of the human spirit.” Bourdain’s shows made for riveting viewing, but he wasn’t inclined to crudely gloss over darker, more corrupt aspects of the world he explored. This is especially true in episodes focusing on the US opioid crisis and post-Brexit London, as well as scenes depicting the impacts of Colonialism in Sri Lanka and the Caribbean; increasing government regulation in Singapore and Hong Kong; and the aftershocks of American imperialism in Laos and Vietnam.

“We ask very simple questions,” Bourdain said when accepting a Peabody award for Parts Unknown in 2013. “What makes you happy? What do you eat? What do you like to cook? And everywhere in the world we go and ask these very simple questions, we tend to get some really astonishing answers.” Not only was he a gifted presenter, but he was also the writer and co-producer of his two definitive series, Parts Unknown (2013-2018) and No Reservations (20052012). His craft, both in front of and behind the camera, kept evolving all the way up to his untimely death (which was reported as suicide). The 11th and most recent season of the multi-Emmy winning Parts Unknown contains some of his richest insights and comprehensively entertaining sequences.

“Even on the rare occasions when you find yourself disagreeing with or questioning Bourdain’s stance, the implicit trust and respect for the man remains fully intact.”

50 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18

Episode two, set in and around the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo, depicts a man brimming with enthusiasm for the South American country and the chefs, musicians, filmmakers, fisherpeople, and other residents he meets there. It exemplifies one of Bourdain’s foremost distinctions – by immersing himself in local customs and showing a genuine interest in everyone he encounters, he explicates what home means to the local population and the kinds of things that regularly bring them joy.

arts in focus ■ BOOKS

David Lynch’s new hybrid biography-memoir will only deepen your love for the man By Doug Wallen


hatever you might expect from the filmmaker behind such hallucinatory touchstones as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive, David Lynch may just confound you again with his newly-released hybrid biography/memoir. Traditional and comprehensive on one side while whimsical and irreverent on the other, Room To Dream: A Life In Art manages to have it both ways.

His brilliance, however, was in dispelling narrow-minded presumptions about everyday life in disadvantaged or compromised places. Whether in Gaza or Belfast, Libya or Detroit, Bourdain dismantled myths of pervasive deprivation and hopeless struggle by showcasing the resilience and vigour of the human spirit. No Reservations and Parts Unknown are both supremely addictive and the nascent A Cook’s Tour (’02-‘03) and somewhat contrived The Layover (‘11-‘13) are also immensely watchable. There is indeed a lot of eating and drinking, plus weed smoking when local jurisdiction permits. There are gruesome scenes of animal slaughter, regular visits to live music venues and frequent jibes at vegetarianism, hipsters and the Kardashians.

“Bourdain’s death is a great loss, but his work survives and it serves as an enormous advertisement for pursuing a fuller and more curious existence.” But even on the rare occasions when you find yourself disagreeing with or questioning Bourdain’s stance, the implicit trust and respect for the man remains fully intact. After turning 40, Bourdain cultivated a life and legacy that’s impossible not to envy. I wanted to be him – I still do – and failing that, I wanted to meet him and try, in vain, to convince him of the virtues of veganism or just talk about books and music. The majority of his fanbase harboured similar such fantasies – he was a unique kind of public figure for how close he seemed, how tangible. His death is a great loss, but his work survives and it serves as an enormous advertisement for pursuing a fuller and more curious existence. It’s easy to feel a long way from anywhere living in Australia, and our isolation can provoke some pretty unsavoury attitudes towards the rest of the world. Although Bourdain’s TV shows specifically targeted an American audience, his fundamental mission statement is universally applicable. “If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move,” he said. “As far as you can, as much as you can, across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody.” ■

That’s thanks to a unique approach that alternates journalist Kristine McKenna’s chapters of fairly straightforward biography with Lynch’s own chapters reacting to those. Each approach, McKenna’s and Lynch’s, proves absorbing in its own right, and you could get plenty out of reading simply one or the other. But taken together, the twin narratives present Lynch’s singular world from the outside as well as inside. Given the staggering number of subjects that McKenna interviews, her chapters often read like meticulous oral history. If Lynch’s contributions then lean toward the conversational and digressive, it’s not so frustrating because we’ve already gotten the vital nuts and bolts from McKenna. She talks to Lynch collaborators as farflung as Crispin Glover and Mel Brooks, while also spending a lot of time relaying the valuable perspective of family members and Lynch’s inner circle. Of course, Lynch regularly steals the show, between his effusive air (expect plenty of exclamation marks) and zinging quotes. Sometimes he cuts against his image as a fringedwelling eccentric, explaining his love of The Beatles and how “filmmaking is just common sense.” Other times he leans into that reputation, whether waxing on the thrills of transcendental meditation or plumbing. But the more time we spend with Lynch, the less unusual and more rounded he seems. The book highlights his diverse work

outside of film and television, from painting and music to photography and building. It also grounds him as a painstaking student of cinema rather than some wild-eyed rebel. He fondly recalls spending time with influential directors like Billy Wilder and Federico Fellini as well as Hollywood heavyweights like Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor. Lynch even wound up bonding with Roy Orbison after using the singer’s romantic ballad ‘In Dreams’ to controversial effect in Blue Velvet. Some of the most striking revelations come in the form of casual asides, like “I feel like I’ll never shoot anything on film again” in regards to the digitally filmed Inland Empire, or “It wouldn’t matter if I explained my theory” about Twin Peaks, in regards to abundant fan theories about the show. Lynch spends a bit more time reflecting on the educational mistake of making Dune, calling his “selling out” nothing less than “pathetic.” He also examines his four marriages and to what degree he’s been an absentee father. Lynch does dodge certain subjects, such as his break-up with Isabella Rossellini, who provides her own balanced assessment. But McKenna more than picks up the slack as both writer and interviewer. She tells us everything we need to know about the actual process behind Lynch’s indelible work, freeing Lynch to riff his way towards an enthusiastic, contagious tribute to creativity itself.

“Sometimes Lynch cuts against his image as a fringedwelling eccentric, explaining his love of The Beatles and how ‘filmmaking is just common sense’.” BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18 :: 51



Solo is efficient, straightforward fun By Ella Donald n many ways, Solo is a realisation of many of the trends in movies right now. Star Wars is walking the dangerous line between popularity and oversaturation; ‘70s theming is all the rage; and a cocksure egomaniac (but one who is also charming and goodhearted, of course) converge in this origin story.


It’s only six months since we last saw this universe further expand

“It’s a relief then that this standalone, possibly the most cautiously anticipated movie of a major franchise in recent history, is a change of pace.”

– or in the case of The Last Jedi, have everything we thought about it until now be destroyed – meaning that Solo is the most vulnerable film in the series so far when it comes to being met with exasperation. It’s a relief then that this standalone, possibly the most cautiously anticipated movie of a major franchise in recent history, is a change of pace. It’s certainly not revolutionary, and is completely devoid of any kind of subtext or deeper commentary about the series: it’s basically a two-hour long throwback special of winks and gestures that will only resonate with a certain few. But it is fun and sure-footed, much more adept at playing to the trends it so cosily fits into. Telling the story of young pilot Han (Alden Ehrenreich of Hail, Caesar!), the film safely occupies the space of a callback purely due to when it’s set and what it wishes to do. Ron Howard is looking towards the Easy Rider, Bullitt, car culture thing here, plopping Solo back in the intergalactic version of around about our 1970, before Harrison Ford played him. The laidback, sleazy smokiness of the 1970s has been popular

“Without the crutches of retro music here, Howard is forced to think outside the box – and he does mostly succeed.” everywhere as of late, from dramas (American Hustle) to blockbusters (Guardians Of The Galaxy), with movies all aiming to tap into the same New Hollywood vibe of Scorsese and Coppola through a series of meaningless ELO needle drops and radical facial hair. And without the crutches of retro music here, Howard is forced to think outside the box – and he does mostly succeed, making a film that at times feel like a car culture odyssey in outer space. There’s a tactility to the universe that Marvel would only dream about, a lived-in playground feel to what we see that only further lends itself to some relatively lucid action scenes. Ehrenreich, helped by Woody Harrelson’s thief and out-charmed by Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian, does have the swagger for the job (not to mention relieving chemistry with both Glover and Emilia Clarke). The movie is certainly not experimental; nor does it have the same longed-for looseness

52 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18

it would’ve had under originally hired directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie, 21 and 22 Jump Street), but it is efficient fun, and somewhat mercifully subtext-free – not to mention straightforward. Movies are a code, now more than ever. It’s not narrative development but hat-tips that create emotional development, blatant nods always setting up the next instalment and taking us back to where we were before. It’s this reason that the stand-alone Star Wars movies, first envisioned as lower-stakes experiments at form, have become betweenepisode blockbuster interludes. This isn’t to say that the reboot of Star Wars since 2015 hasn’t

“Movies are a code, now more than ever.”

been fun and expectationdefying – Rogue One had a ruthlessness unseen elsewhere that I adored, The Last Jedi was excellently revisionist, and Solo is a sure-footed and entertaining two hours that moves well between its occasional mishmash of heist, comedy, and war movie. But two films into this experiment, when will the Star Wars standalones actually stand alone, without callbacks to other instalments? The moments that strain the enjoyment are the callbacks and forths: first meetings and name droppings, all deployed with a lack of unpredictability that begins to produce a ‘why are we watching this?’ annoyance at the lack of development. Here, connection is built on what already exists, not what can be imagined. We’ve watched Han Solo since 1977. We know how he got here. Now take us on a journey. What: Solo is in cinemas now

ew to stre n am s at’


W h

arts in focus


We’re heading into Winter, which means we’re all about to engage in the annual tradition of taking long, cold, unpleasant looks at our behaviour to decide whether we have somehow measured up to the impossible standards that we set ourselves at the beginning of this year. I haven’t. My plan for 2018 was to get swole, watch a film every single day, and learn to take better care of myself. And here we are in Winter and I am about as far from swole as it is possible to get, I’ve only watched 100 films so far, and I’m subsisting on a slow-drip diet of self-loathing and cheap whiskey. In the spirit of that cruel introspection, I’ve also realised that I have been somewhat disingenuous in the writing of this column. I love movies – I love talking about them, criticising them, and sharing them – and that’s what this column was initially designed to do. But I recently realised that my very writing of this column may seem like a tacit endorsement of the streaming world we have found ourselves slap bang in the middle of, and I just wanted to quickly make it clear that I fucken’ hate this shit. Streaming is bad. It hurts film literacy; it hurts preservation; it hurts cinemas.

“Streaming is bad. It hurts film literacy; it hurts preservation; it hurts cinemas.” These days, in order to access even half of the films you’d get by wandering into a brick and mortar video rental store, you have to sign up for a string of exorbitantly priced online streaming subscriptions. And even then, Netflix and its ilk skew towards the contemporary rather than the classic. We are losing a whole generation of films and filmmakers; a wealth of groundbreaking, fascinating films are being consigned to the dustbin of history, the DVDs genuinely rotting away. Lemme give you one quick example: recently, at the Sydney Film Festival, I watched the new film from Gaspar Noe, Climax. I’d gone off Noe recently: I felt like Love was a load of wank (quite literally), and Enter The Void was coated in this unpleasant film of cruelty and malice I couldn’t quite get myself to see past. But I loved Climax. It set my brain on fire, and suddenly had me missing those early Noe films I had seen as a young film brat – classics like Irreversible and I Stand Alone that I borrowed from my local Video Ezy, stepping up to the counter with those black plastic cases in my hands like they were manna from heaven.

What’s new to streaming?

“Hopefully there are people out there buying up dirt cheap DVDs and sitting on their perfectly curated stockpiles like Doomsday preppers getting ready for the A-bomb.”

Importantly, Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette has just dropped on Netflix. It’s one of the most exhilarating, heart-rendering stand-up sets I’ve ever seen, precisely because it’s not really a stand-up set. A brutal deconstruction of selfdeprecating comedy, the oozing toxicity of straight white male cultural gatekeeping, and Pablo Picasso, it will stop you in your tracks.


Also new to Netflix is Fargo, the Coen Brothers’ darkly spun comic crime caper. If you’ve only seen the insultingly pretentious show of the same name, now is your time to go back to the source. Anchored by an extraordinary performance by the rightly legendary Frances McDormand (wife to the film’s co-writer and co-director, Joel Coen), it’s a lean, vicious look at how violence begats violence, told as though it’s a lurid cross between a Bible verse and a knock-knock joke. You’ll never see a woodchipper the same way again.

“David Lynch is one of the most important American artists of the last six decades.” Oh and if, like me and the BRAG’s own Doug Wallen, you are currently reading David Lynch’s extraordinary biography-cum-autobiography, Room To Dream, now is an excellent time to go back over the career of one of the most important American artists of the last six decades. Course, you’ll never be able to chart his entire development as a filmmaker using subscription services, because apparently the brains behind Netflix have memories that only bend as far back as 2000, but you can still catch two of his masterpieces: Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. The former is a noiry, fable that is also an underrated dark comedy, while the latter is a considerably more difficult,

Mulholland Drive

unctuous thing. Indeed, with its three hour long running time, Inland Empire is probably not the best place to start for Lynch newcomers – but for devotees, a rewatch might well prove it to be the man’s masterpiece. Laura Dern and Justin Theroux in Inland Empire

Feeling nostalgic, I tried to find the films on a streaming service. No luck. Not a single Australian online library carries either. I couldn’t even find physical copies when I trekked over to JB Hi-Fi. For all intents and purposes, Noe’s early work has been wiped from the cultural slate – and those films aren’t even that early. What about films from the ’60s, ’50s and ’40s? Who will preserve those? Who will keep them intact so that a future generation of filmmakers and film nerds will be able to follow the cinematic lineage? Shit’s fucked, is what I’m trying to say. I don’t know if there’s really a solution, either. We’re all sliding towards homogenization and digitisation; who amongst us could fight against trends that big? Maybe, hopefully, there are enough people out there buying up dirt cheap DVDs and sitting on their perfectly curated stockpiles like Doomsday preppers getting ready for the A-bomb. Anyway. We’ve got 300 words of this column left, so I guess I better prove myself to be the spineless sap my high school maths teacher always claimed me to be and get to endorsing a service that I have just spent your valuable time on this Earth bemoaning.

BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18 :: 53


Old French Love Songs BY R YA N H OWA R D


t wasn’t really his fault, but if he hadn’t parked across my driveway, maybe it would never have happened. I can’t blame him for that. At the time it didn’t bother me. It was just after my daughter had committed suicide. Just after. I was driving back from the hospital. I hadn’t cried yet. It would be a long time before I did anything like that. I just pulled up in front of my house and saw his car there, right across my driveway. I wasn’t even mad. I just walked up to his house and asked him to move the car. He apologised and got the keys straight away, talking the whole time about how he’d been distracted and hadn’t really been paying attention to where he left the car. I told him that it was fine, but maybe I was acting a little strange, because he looked at me and asked me if anything was up, and I said, no, not a thing. And went back home. But he found out later, when my ex-wife came over to my place to pick up all of Sandra’s things she wanted to keep and my neighbour saw her and said, “how are you Martha?” And she looked over at him and said, “didn’t John tell you?” He found out after that. And then he started up with the flowers. Dropping over each night to apologise. He looked as though he was about to cry every time I opened that goddamn door. He was always so shaky around me, offering to make dinner, take me out to restaurants. He acted as though him parking his car across my driveway had been the thing that had killed Sandra in the first place. He kept going over that day in his head, asking me questions about it. “So when you came over that day,” he would say, “you had just found out she was dead? When you asked me to move my car?” And I would nod, and he would start shaking and just saying, “oh Christ, oh Christ.” That got on my nerves. He had always been alright before that, I guess. A nice neighbour. He had a stepdaughter who he tried to introduce Sandra to, but, even in those days, Sandra didn’t like playing with other girls. She just sat in her room and sulked. My ex-wife blamed me for Sandra. After that day she picked up my things and set my neighbour off she refused to come around. Didn’t even pick up my calls. She took everything of Sandra’s from my house. It was okay, I suppose. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it anyway. But even still, she could have left me something. She even took the drawings off the fridge. My neighbour kept offering to get drunk with me. As though that would cement some friendship between us. I guess he saw the bottles in my house. Knew that I drank a fair bit. He might have even known that was why my ex left me. She probably told him that as well. But I Ryan Howard is an author and journalist from Fitzroy. He describes Old French Love Songs as a story about shame.“I wanted to write about a date that went from bad to worse,” he explains.“I feel like everyone has those horrendous dating stories. This was me visualising just how bad they could get.”

54 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18

“It wasn’t really his fault, but if he hadn’t parked across my driveway, maybe it would never have happened.” hated having him over. He was always so goddamn nervous, and if I didn’t jump up and burst out in a grin every time he said something, he always acted like he’d said the wrong thing. One day, he really blew it. “You know I’ve got a sister,” he said. I shook my head. He fidgeted a little in his chair, and lit a cigarette. “Really beautiful, she is,” he said. “Just broke up with a guy. She’s a hairdresser. I think you might like her.” I shrugged my shoulders. “You could let me do this for you,” my neighbour said. “Set you two up. She’d really like to meet you. I told her all about you.” I looked at him. “What did you tell her?” I said. My neighbour started fidgeting again. “Oh you know, bits and pieces,” he said, and started picking his fingers with a used match. I don’t know why I said yes, but I did. I suppose I just wanted to shut him up. He looked like I’d saved his life when I told him I’d meet up with her. He broke out in this huge grin, and started laughing. “Christ. I thought you’d never say yes,” he said, and slapped me on the back. He said he’d call her, and so the next day, he came around to tell me the news. “She’s ready to meet you. She wanted to come over and have dinner or something. What do you want to do?” He asked. “She might as well come over here,” I said. He nodded. “Yeah, that’d be nice. How does tomorrow sound?” “Tomorrow sounds fine,” I said. “What time?”


“Well, she’s free all day. How about four?” “Four’s a bit early,” I said. His smile faltered a little. “Six then?” I said I guessed six would be fine. And so, the next day, at six on the dot, there was a knock at the door. I had been sitting around waiting for that knock from about four. Just sitting on the goddamned couch, trying to keep myself entertained. But I couldn’t relax. Not when I knew she’d be over. I never got this way usually. So, I was kinda glad when she arrived. I opened the door, and there she was. Beautiful, I suppose. At first glance. Her hair was long and blonde, and she had pretty good tits. She looked a little like my ex-wife. But then I looked a little closer and noticed the mole. It sat just on top of her lip, not very big, but black, and with a little hair coming out of it. I tried to make it look like I hadn’t seen it, but she noticed where my eyes went and how quickly they shot back up to look at her. She went red and shrugged her shoulders, as if trying to dismiss something I hadn’t said. “Hi,” she said, and her voice cracked a little. “Hi,” I replied. “Want to come in?” She sat on the couch a little awkwardly. I guess she was looking at all of the bottles on the floor.

“We sat around for about half an hour, talking about this and that. Mainly about her exboyfriend.” “Oh God. Simon told me you did.” Simon was my next door neighbour. I shook my head. “Damn,” she said. “I suppose I could take it back.” “No, that’s fine. I’ll keep it next to the fruitbowl. It’ll be nice to look at.” She smiled a little, gratefully. “Do you like Jacques Brel?” “I don’t know who he is,” I replied. Her grateful smile disappeared. “Oh. Simon told me you liked him.” She looked like she was ready to kill my neighbour. I think I was about ready to as well. We sat around for about half an hour, talking about this and that. Mainly about her ex-boyfriend. I just listened. She was a good talker. She didn’t really need me to say anything. I just nodded my head every now and then and tried not to look at her mole.

“I drank them all ages ago,” I said. “I haven’t had a proper drink in months.” It was true, I guess. For the last few weeks I had been drinking mixed drinks. You know, orange juice with a bit of vodka. I was weaning myself off the stuff. But that didn’t make the girl look any more comfortable. She just shifted a little in her seat.

Eventually, she mentioned the car and my daughter. I knew she was going to.

“Want a drink?” I asked her. She shook her head.

“I’m sorry,” I said, because I didn’t know what else to say.

“I’m fine, thanks,” she said. I smiled. I saw she was holding something under one arm – a big square thing, wrapped in black paper. She saw where my eyes went, again, and lifted the thing up a little.

“Simon was really cut up that he parked his car across your drive that day. He thought it was probably the last thing you’d want to deal with.”

“I heard about your daughter,” she said. “I’m really sorry. One of my friends was an anorexic. She died.”

“I told him it wasn’t a problem.” “It’s for you,” she said. I took it from her hands. It was quite thin, but hard. I opened it up. It was a record – a vinyl by some French guy called Jacques Brel. I didn’t even know who Jacques Brel was.

“I know. It was just on his mind. Simon’s like that.” I nodded. It felt like I was doing a lot of nodding.

“I don’t have a record player,” I said. She looked like she was about to cry.

“She went red and shrugged her shoulders, as if trying to dismiss something I hadn’t said.”

Eventually we went and got an ice-cream. I was going to take her for dinner, but she said she wasn’t hungry. I guess I wasn’t either. We went to the bottom of the road, and while we were walking, I spotted a pack of cigarettes on the floor. I picked it up. There were still two inside. “You smoke?” she said.

BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18 :: 55

Ol d F rench L ove Songs CONTINUED…

“I quit. But now, whenever I find a packet on the floor I always check if it’s got any in it. If it does, I smoke them. It was how I got myself to quit. It was a good way to do it. I never get lucky.” She looked at me as if it was the most interesting thing I’d said all night. She actually looked a little excited. We got two scoops each at the ice-cream place, and sat on the chairs outside. She didn’t look very comfortable. She kept looking around as if someone she knew was about to walk around a corner. “You sure you were okay with just ice-cream?” I said. “Sure. I don’t have much of an appetite.” I looked at her. She was skinnier than I had noticed before.

but she didn’t look any less concerned. She started talking even faster after that. About all kinds of things I couldn’t keep up with. She was much more intelligent than I was. She kept mentioning the books she was reading, written by all kinds of people with funny last names. I was trying to remember the last book I read when she looked up from the ice-cream she wasn’t eating and grinned. “So,” she said, “Simon says you worked in a morgue?” I felt ready to spit. I hadn’t been at the morgue for years. It was the kind of thing I tried my hardest not to mention at parties. Everyone wanted to know how it was – how the bodies looked. Did people play music when they were preparing the cadavers? Had I ever accidentally left a phone in the casket? Had I ever lost a ring inside a dead person?

The girl nodded. She opened her mouth a little, but closed it again pretty quickly. I don’t think I had any idea what to say either. We went back home after that. She sat on my couch again, and I asked her if she wanted a drink. This time she said yes. I poured her a tumbler of whiskey and handed it to her. “A bit strong,” she said. I nodded. She drank it, and I hoped that maybe that might mean she’d ease up a little. But her shoulders were still drawn so tight together. “What was your daughter like?” she said. She was still thinking about that. “Quiet. Never really talked to people.” “How...How did she kill herself ?” “Cut her wrists.”

I lit up the one of the cigarettes. I kinda had to now, since I had said all that about quitting. But the thing was in my mouth, not even lit, when this young guy came out. He worked at the ice-cream place. He had long black hair and a good body. The girl smiled at him when he walked over to us. “You’ll have to put that away, sir,” the guy said. “We don’t allow smoking.” “Oh. Alright.” I put the packet in my pocket. The ice-cream guy bowed a little at the girl and then walked back inside. I looked over at her. I knew what I looked like. Maybe that’s why I said what I said. “My wife always says an ex-addict is the only thing sadder than an addict.” She didn’t know what to make of that. “I didn’t know you’re married,” she said. “Oh. I meant ex-wife.” She nodded her head,

“It was a while ago,” I said. “It wasn’t really as interesting as you think. I only answered phones and that. I was essentially a receptionist. Talked to people as they came in. The guys who worked there didn’t like me very much. They never let me go and see the bodies. They took my daughter on a tour though.” She stiffened at the mention of Sandra, and I realised it was a stupid thing to have brought up in the first place. But then I started thinking about it more, and couldn’t stop. “Sandra always had a thing with morbid stuff. She wore black. Had this tall boyfriend with really long hair and tattoos. Nice enough guy, I suppose, but he used to wear these yellow contacts to make him look...I don’t know. Possessed or something. She brought him on this tour. I think one of the morgue guys had a crush on her. She saw everything. The bodies. The embalming fluid. Couldn’t stop talking about it for days.”

“I sat on my couch and made myself another drink. I felt worse than I had in a long time.” 56 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18

“God. Were you the one who found her?” “Yeah. She did it in my bathtub.” The girl moved the empty tumbler back and forth in her fingers. I wondered if that meant she wanted another drink. But when I asked her, she said she didn’t. In fact, she said she had to go. She stood up. I thought maybe I’d said something. But she was the one who had mentioned my daughter. “I had a really good night,” she said. “You’re really nice.” I thanked her, and walked over to the door. “We should spend some more time together,” I said, before I realised what I was really saying. She faltered for a second, and looked embarrassed. She nodded, hesitantly. It was terrible. We both knew what she was thinking. It was worse when she had seen me staring at her mole. “Well, sure.” She said. “Just talk to Simon.” I nodded.

arts in focus The BOOKSHELF:


“Well, night,” she said. And that was when I leaned in to kiss her. She looked a little scared at first. Like she didn’t know what I was doing. Then she moved a little so my kiss fell short of her lips. So I ended up kissing that goddamn mole. And that only made things worse. She pulled away and looked even more embarrassed than if I’d actually managed to kiss her on the lips. She nodded her head and worked backwards out of the door, saying goodbye over her shoulders. Christ. The door closed loudly behind her, and I wondered whether Simon could hear. I hoped he could. I sat on my couch and made myself another drink. I felt worse than I had in a long time. Probably worse than the day I saw Sandra floating in the water, and the way she had turned all the lights off in the house before she had done it. That was what I kept saying to my ex-wife, while we were in the hospital. The way she had made it dark, before she did it. So she could lie at the bottom of the bath and didn’t even have to close her eyes. I stood up and poured myself another drink. On the way back to the couch I saw the Jacques Brel record on the counter. I didn’t even know who he was. I tried to say his name out loud, but I couldn’t pronounce it right. It just sounded strange in my mouth. I thought about hurling the thing out the fucking window. But I just left it there. And drank my drink. And poured another. M

Each month, the BRAG reaches out to an artist we love and asks them to talk books. This month, we chatted to Alice Bishop. Bishop is a writer whose current work focuses on women’s stories set during the aftermath of Black Saturday. Her Manuscript, A Constant Hum, was shortlisted in the 2018 Penguin Random House Literary Prize. She was also recognised in the 2017 Horne Essay Prize, via Aesop and The Saturday Paper. You can find her latest essay ‘Coppering’ in the current winter edition of Meanjin. She tweets at @ BishopAlice.

“In her music, and writing, Patti Smith shows how to take notice.” What is the most prized book that you own? Can I have two? I probably can’t choose b/w Patti Smith’s Just Kids and Bill Hayes’s Insomniac City. Both books have given me hope, and a way to see the world. Also, both just happen to be set in New York City. I was lucky to see Patti perform at the Hamer Hall in April last year and her grace, passion and grit: it’s everything. In her music, and writing, Patti Smith shows how to take notice. How to live fully but respectfully. I love her. What was the first book that you bought? A book from the Saddle Club series. I was one of those cliché horseobsessed girls, with my bedroom walls plastered with horse pictures, ripped out from magazines. I’m not one of those writers who always knew they always wanted to write (and still sometimes have my doubts!); when I was 12 I was considering a career as an Olympic dressage rider: but that never quite worked out. I don’t think I had enough family wealth, a Pony Club Mum or, to be honest, the talent. I had a good horse though – a calm chestnut quarter horse called Clyde. What’s the last book that made you cry? Fiona Wright’s Small Acts Of Disappearance made me actually sob (not even being hyperbolic). I ended up writing a little about how much the book – an elegant, subtle account of her difficult eating disorder – affected me. You can read more in my latest essay ‘Coppering’ – out now in the latest winter issue of Meanjin. This line in Nayyirah Waheed’s Nejma also made me (almost) cry: ‘Some words build houses in your throat. And they live there, content and on fire.’ What’s the book you fell in love with when you were a teenager? We studied Richard Ford’s Rock Springs and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 in high school. Both books really changed me. Richard Ford’s pared-back, powerful writing about everyday things still haunts me – in the best way. Kurt Vonnegut showed me that a writer can be playful with structure and humour, but also be incredibly profound. Mum also had a big collection of Toni Morrison books. Reading Paradise and Love: both books were so important to me. What books do you have on your bedside table? I keep a stack, always. At the moment it’s Warsan Shire’s Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth, Robbie Arnott’s Flames, Lucia Berlin’s A Manual For Cleaning Women and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists. My partner also recently gave me Decolonising The Mind by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, which is at the top of the pile too. There’s also Pulse Points by Jennifer Down and another Patti Smith gem, Woolgathering. Also Staying by Jessie Cole. If you were trapped on a desert island, what’s the one book that you would want to have with you? Probably some kind of survival how-to – as I’ve come in to my 30s I’m finding a new love of learning practical things anyway (!) I actually have the health and patience to really sit with nonfiction now. What’s the last book that you hated? Hate is too strong of word maybe, but I recently bought Sam Shepard’s book The One Inside from Doncaster Readings and, though I loved the start, something about the female characters didn’t really sit right. I’ll probably go back and give it a second chance though; it might have just been my frame of mind at the time. What’s a book people might be surprised to learn that you love? Probably my Ottolenghi cookbook. Although I am a pretty ordinary cook I like to bookmark recipes and pretend that one day I’ll be the type to whip up some mashed purple sweet potatoes, or some Mont Blanc tarts. Who’s the writer that changed your life? I picked up a copy of Josephine Rowe’s Tarcutta Wake, years ago, during the aftermath of a pretty rough relationship break-up. Her work is like nothing else – and makes you see the beauty in disrepair and small, every day things. I also read her latest book A Loving, Faithful Animal without wanting it to ever end. Durga Chew Bose’s collection of essays Too Much and Not the Mood also opened up my world.

“Fiona Wright’s Small Acts Of Disappearance made me actually sob.”

BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18 :: 57


Water Fasting, Acceptable Anorexia & The Unbearable Cost Of Wellness By Phoebe Loomes

‘Why are you doing that?!’ I asked, genuinely concerned. “All the time we have fresh food, fresh water, everywhere,” she told me. “We take it for granted. It’s been hard, but I have learned a lot about being grateful for everything we have around us. I just used to take and take. I never even used to think about it.” It’s very easy to do a lot of cursory reading on the internet about ‘health’ and ‘wellness’. The content creators producing these listicles and long forms range from frustrated experts to the enthusiastic, glossy-eyed babe-in-the-woods types: the instagrammers, and the influencers. Health writing has become conflated with a brand new context that is full of a vivid sense of discovery and

exploration – trends are written about like they are revelatory and life changing. When you follow ‘Wellness’ and ‘Spiritual’ types on Instagram and other platforms, you see trends wash through the community. Some have staying power: fads that won’t go away like green smoothies, acai, body brushing, coconut oil, and drinking more water. Some are fleeting and funny, like when the Kardashians tried to sell everybody those unstable shoes for weight loss. Anyone can make an Instagram account and call themselves an expert, which is fi ne, I guess, but it can also be dangerous. Anyone can buy Instagram followers and buy likes the price point for this kind of social media manipulation is, frighteningly, not high. The legitimacy these numbers give an influencer is pronounced – a large following is seen as endorsement – and it’s difficult to see whose followers and likes are real. I know how easy it is to look for a quick fi x – I’m an ex-bulimic! Controlling your weight actually makes you feel quite vital and high. But quick fi xes eventually burn out, which leaves you feeling like a mega failure.

“It’s very easy to do a lot of cursory reading on the internet about ‘health’ and ‘wellness’.”


hen I came across #waterfasting in my yoga studio, I searched it as a hashtag on Instagram and was both horrified and morbidly intrigued. It was niche, but it was popular. This wasn’t a juice fast for techies worth hundreds of dollars – I had heard about it from legit yogis.

This seemed like some ancient monk-like secret of health and vitality. Nobody was paying anybody to promote water fasting, because, well, there was nothing to sell. It’s just… water and… nothingness. It appealed very deeply to my dual interests in Eastern mysticism and my own secret crushing and shallow insecurities. There are people on the internet who claim to regularly go for stints of like 10 to 20 days without consuming anything but water. I found one Swedish Youtuber in Thailand who not only doesn’t eat, but forgoes showering. I guess because if you shower, the water gets in, like through osmosis through your skin, like a frog? I don’t know. Notably, water fasters claim that going without food for extended periods of time can fix a lot of health problems. Let me list some of them for you:

• Weight Loss • Acne • Allergies and Asthma • Anxiety • Arthritis • Autoimmune illnesses • ‘Busting’ benign tumours • Chronic back and joint pain

58 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18

• Chronic fatigue syndrome • Colitis • Digestive disorders • Eczema and other disorders of the skin • Hayfever • Headaches • Heart disease • High blood pressure • High cholesterol

• Hyperactivity • I.B.S • Lupus • Migraines • Osteoporosis • PMS • Psoriasis • Recurrent infections • Sinusitis • Uterine fibroids

I did quite a lot of reading about water fasting on the internet, but honestly there didn’t seem like there was a lot to it. It just required you to stop eating. All the websites did say was that you should forgo your normal daily activities. That means if you want to stop eating, you need to stop working. And exercising. And you know, interacting with other food-eating human beings, because you’re probably going to start acting really weird. Apparently, you really need to just release into your downtime because of the extreme exhaustion that is about to beset you. I came across one website where a water faster admitted he definitely wouldn’t have been able to attain the deep spiritual liberation that comes from water fasting if it weren’t for ‘Netflix.’ Amazing stuff. I also came across a particularly disturbing personal account of one water faster who had attended an expensive and extended program in Costa Rica and – despite being monitored by medical staff – had come very close to actually dying. As horrific and harrowing as her testimony was, I focused on the good stuff. I decided I was ready for everything that water fasting had to offer me. Weight loss. Cleansing. Spiritual and personal insight. Weight loss. Weight loss. Weight loss. I would rock on with no food for five full days. Normal, right? I wanted the time, just me and my body and water, surviving! I felt like this was my chance to shake off a lifetime of bad baggage around eating, food, and my body. I read one somewhat deranged but still kind of inspirational post where somebody described overcoming hunger, aches and weakness. He said he ‘really felt the toxins leaving.’ Code: weight loss. I confided in some friends what I was doing, and all of them were horrified. “Phoebe, please no!” they all said, But I was entranced and hypnotised by the glowing eyes and tanned (or maybe it was jaundiced) skin of the community of silent water fasters I’d come to know and love littering my newly curated Instagram feed. We had the answer: it was Netflix and nil.

Pheobe Loomes photo by Georgia Moloney


first came across water fasting two years ago when a gorgeous, tanned yogi at my local studio told me she had not eaten for five days. We’d done a sweaty class together and I couldn’t believe she’d completed a vigorous 90 minutes of vinyasa flow with nada in her tank but… water? We’d been doing things like handstands and backbends; she hadn’t missed a beat.


“I did quite a lot of reading about water fasting on the internet, but honestly there didn’t seem like there was a lot to it. It just required you to stop eating.”

“When you follow ‘Wellness’ and ‘Spiritual’ types on Instagram and other platforms, you see trends wash through the community.”


f course, the first 24 hours were not that hard. I was high and excited on the adrenaline of all the enlightenment the internet had promised me. I was freelancing and had stockpiled some free time, so I didn’t have to really think in a complex way or problem-solve, or, importantly, have any normal conversations. I allowed myself herbal tea and the errant black coffee because, uhhh, I needed to write. 24 hours in, I started telling myself that it wasn’t that hard. It wasn’t that hard. A full day had passed and I drank three litres of water, which was a good effort. When it hit midnight on day two, I looked out my windows – which have security bars on them – and I could see a glinting and bright moon peeking through the trees. It was sparkling, and I felt like it was shining right on me, illuminating my face and everything in my bedroom. I felt so lucky to have turned my exhausted head at that time to see the moon. Wow, the moon! I decided I was mildly tripping. Then I fell asleep with Netflix playing Gossip Girl.

I woke up the next day with some kind of water hangover. My head was hurting. I was just over 48 hours in when a friend texted me and asked me if I was going to her farewell drinks that night. I had completely forgotten that I was supposed to be out,

socialising, seeing people. Eating. Drinking. I thought about making up some excuse so I could continue my fast. “I’m so sorry babe,” I texted. “I have food poisoning!” I sent the message and threw my phone across the room so I didn’t have to deal with the disappointed reply. I lolled around on my bed for what must have been three hours until I had enough energy to sip water and slap my hand on my laptop enough to get Netflix working. Intermittently I stood up and looked at myself in the mirror and found the experience confronting and weird. Here I was, lying in bed, not hungry at all, but too tired to do anything. I had Netflix playing episode after episode of Gossip Girl, which I had come to loathe, but I was far too exhausted to take it off autoplay. Blair Waldorf swanned on and off the screen in various states of rage, and I looked on at the Upper East Siders from my room in my share house in dull confusion. I started thinking about being on drugs, and relapse. I have been addicted to controlling my weight in the past, and here I was lying in bed too weak to move, thinking about cancelling plans so I could continue not eating. I mean, can you relapse into eating disorders?

“Anyone can buy Instagram followers and buy likes the price point for this kind of social media manipulation is, frighteningly, not high.”


hen I watched Gossip Girl at its time of airing, I remember reading a hot take that compared the soap opera to a constant state of repulsion at self, mired in one’s friendships, followed by redemption and rebirth. It said something like, ‘You can make mistakes, but you need to be able to look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day.’ When I talk to friends about my own spiritual practice, I find it hard to explain the concept of striving for enlightenment in the knowledge that I, and everyone around me, is so deeply flawed. This is dualism: it’s what you have to strive to reconcile.

a lot. I had clocked an embarrassing amount of Netflix hours. I had hallucinated a glinting moon smiling at me, because I was starving. A lot of the things promised to me had never seemed to happen though. I achieved no mental clarity or rushing euphoria. All I felt was guilty and shallow.

I had been successful in being able to give up food for about 60 hours, I guess, and I had been able to stop constantly thinking about food. But what had I done in this time? I had lay in bed, wandered around my house and looked at myself in the mirror

This is not what I got. I beelined out my my bedroom, with its prison bars, and went to my fridge, phone in my hand. I chugged apple juice and chewed on string cheese. A minute later, I was texting my friend. “I feel better,” I wrote. “I’ll be there soon.” ■

One thing I can say about detox and retreat is that the revelations you seek are never the ones you will be gifted. I wanted the water fast to cure me of my issues with food. I wanted freedom and happiness from my gnawing anxieties about about my body; I wanted to be more spiritual, less shallow.

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I first discovered Dilly Dally two years ago. I wasn’t in a particularly good place. I was drinking too much, and I’d frequently ditch the meds I take to manage my bipolar disorder. I wasn’t even really against medication. I’d just go off the pills for the hell of it.

Despite what people think about bipolar, I’ve always found my highs much worse than the lows. The lows are manageable; easy to anticipate. Back then, I’d just lock myself in my bedroom for two or so weeks with the lights turned down real low, watching bad television and old horror movies. I’m not saying those stretches of reduced mood were fun, of course. I’d think about how peaceful it would be to die a lot, and I’d drink and smoke till I felt sick. But at least they were predictable. The highs were anything but. I always know when a high is coming on because things smell better. I’ll step outside, take a deep breath, and I’ll just be filled up, from top to toe. It will be as though everything has this secret, hidden meaning, just waiting for me to uncover. But that’s the only staple of my highs. Everything else is horrifyingly unexpected. I’ll drink too much; I’ll put myself into danger, sometimes willingly, sometimes not; I’ll spend too much money. And worst of all, it’ll feel amazing. There are a lot of very pleasant ways to destroy yourself, and when you’re on a high, you seek out every single one. I first stumbled across Dilly Dally when I was on a high. I remember that, because a great deal of Dilly Dally’s first record, Sore, sounds like how it feels to be manic. Before she even knew that I had bipolar, my mum would sometimes say I’d go ‘frazzled’. That’s the word that best explains mania, I reckon.

“People have said that Dilly Dally sound like Hole and a host of other early ’90s touchstones, but really, they don’t sound especially like anyone.” When you’re high, you feel like pop rocks, or a fork jammed into a toaster – you have this buzz to you; this exhausting, gritty energy, as though you’ve been hollowed out and filled back up with gravel and static electricity. That’s what Sore is like. People have said that Dilly Dally sound like Hole and a host of other early ’90s touchstones, but really, they don’t sound especially like anyone. They make music that’s about ice cream and scraped knees; about being so fucking jazzed that you can’t even bear to sit still; about the vicious kind of intelligence that racks you when you’re horny, or high, or hurt. I became obsessed with the band. I trawled their live sets online; I listened to that record over, and over again. I dreamed of them coming to Australia. None of that was particularly unusual. It’s very common to develop these all-encompassing obsessions

“There are a lot of very pleasant ways to destroy yourself, and when you’re on a high, you seek out every single one.” 60 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18


The Defender B Y D AV I D J A M E S Y O U N G Each month, a BRAG writer comes out swinging for a pop culture figure or trend they feel has been unfairly thrown under the bus. This time around, David James Young makes his case for William Shatner – the musician.

“I loved Kamasi Washington’s very excellent, very long Heaven And Earth.”


when you’re on a high. While manic, I’ve taken up frenetic bouts of interest in Renaissance painting; in the work of Michel De Montaigne; in Final Fantasy; in the history of whiskey. What was unusual, was that Dilly Dally lingered. Usually, these obsessions last the length of a manic episode, leaving you as this strange, hodge-podge assortment of pieced-together scraps of knowledge. You’re not really a master at anything – you have these malformed, primitive interest areas, none of which are substantial enough to make you an expert. But for whatever reason, Dilly Dally stuck in my craw. I returned to the record all the time; listened to the ball of barbed wire that caps the whole thing off, ‘Burned By The Cold’, when falling asleep. And here’s the other weird thing that happened: my life got better. I started interning at this magazine. I quit my last job, which, for some five years, had been enabling my drinking, and smoking, and general recklessness. It was a weird fucken’ time. A lot of it was hard. There are some things that take a long time to sort out. But

then, suddenly, almost without me realising, there things were: sorted. So it was strange to wake up recently and discover that my journey seems to have been mirrored by Dilly Dally themselves. The band are back. Their return has been draped in themes of death and rebirth; of what happens after you get yourself on the right track. In the video for lead single, ‘I Feel Free’, lead singer Katie Monks digs up the bodies of her dead bandmates. Intercut is something resembling Heaven; a white room, filled to the brim with light, the band moving through it like oil blossoming in water. When you’re growing up, you think that the most punk rock thing you can be is dangerous, and angry, and fucked up. Then, slowly, you learn the truth – that kindness, and strength, and resilience have a crackling energy all of their own. That the really brave thing to be in an ugly, difficult world is the opposite. ‘I Feel Free’ is the sound of a band that have that all figured out. It’s the sound of a band renewed. Oh shit, also, we’ve totally fucken’ run out of room, but a bunch of other really great records came out this month. I loved Kamasi Washington’s very excellent, very long Heaven And Earth; I liked the earthy, unrelenting debut record from The Carters, AKA Beyonce and Jay-Z; and I got invigoratingly rattled by the Death Grips album Year Of The Snitch. Catch ya next month, yeah?

he last few years haven’t been particularly fun for fans of veteran Star Trek hero William Shatner. The 87-year-old is better known for running his mouth on Twitter and nonironically calling people “SJWs,” than he is for his acting work these days. The last major TV show he was seen in was the ill-advised Twitter-account-cumsitcom Shit My Dad Says, while the last major TV show he was heard on was My Little Pony.

Dud Of The Month: No duds here.

It took Shatner 36 years to follow up on his debut The Transformed Man, which gained notoriety as one of the worst albums ever. George Clooney, for instance, picked Shatner’s cover of ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ as one of his Desert Island Discs. His reasoning was that listening to it would make you want to “hollow out your own leg and make a canoe out of it to get off this island.”


However, there was a time when being a Shatner fan was exciting – he represented easy, uncomplicated cool. In 2004, William Shatner released his second studio album Has Been. Produced and arranged by piano-rocker Ben Folds, Has Been was one of the year’s – and, as time proved, one of the decade’s – most unexpected delights. The lead single was extraordinarily popular – a cover of Pulp’s ‘Common People’ with Joe Jackson taking the chorus – and rightfully so, too. It was a rousing, humorous rendition that found a home on alternative radio and scored a spot in the triple j’s Hottest 100. If anything, however, it was a red herring for what the album turned out to be – a painting of a vulnerable, frightened, grieving, and complicated man.

Shatner knows he’s achieved a lot, but it never feels like enough for him. After all, even an Emmy and Golden Globe winner feels like a failure sometimes. “I can get to the front of the line,” he opines in ‘It Hasn’t Happened Yet’, “but you have to ignore the looks.” He reaches out to an estranged daughter on ‘That’s Me Trying’, bleakly recalls the death of his third wife on ‘What Have You Done’, and finds warmth in new romance on ‘Familiar Love’. There are laughs to be had, sure – the Rollinsassisted rant of ‘I Can’t Get Behind That’; the male-gaze satire ‘Ideal Woman’ – but there’s genuine shock at how open and honest this record gets. Shatner acknowledges his faults and quite literally speaks his truth, all atop of Folds’ ingenious multi-genre arrangements. Most ignored or dismissed Has Been, maybe letting ‘Common People’ slide as a guilty pleasure. More fool them – Has Been remains one of the most singular

Highlight Of The Month: ‘I Feel Free’

and quintessential releases of the 21st century.

On its 50th anniversary, The Transformed Man is more fascinating than ever – it’s perhaps a novelty on surface value, but with so much more to it than meets the eye. Full of dramatic readings that carry over brilliant orchestral arrangements by the late Don Ralke, there’s a touch of other-worldly psychedelia and kitsch for listeners to indulge in. It’s the other side of the coin to Has Been’s humanity – it’s all about Shatner as a drama king and someone unafraid to step out of his comfort zone. There are other minor delights among Shatner’s musical history – his infamous 1978 TV performance of Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’, his space-themed 2011 covers album Seeking Major Tom – but if you really want a comprehensive idea of this side of Shatner’s creative spectrum, both The Transformed Man and Has Been are essential listens.

In his autobiography Up Till Now, Shatner tells the story of how he performed live shortly after the release of Has Been with Ben Folds and his band backing him up. When it came to performing ‘Lucy In The Sky’, Shatner stuck up his middle fi nger as he recited it. “That young audience got it immediately,” he wrote. “They started screaming and laughing. I performed the song almost exactly as I had done so many years earlier. This time, though, instead of being mocked we got a standing ovation.” This, perhaps more than anything, sums up William Shatner’s musical career better than anything. It’s weird, it’s unconventional, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But if you don’t like it? Fuck you.


game on Gaming news and reviews with Adam Guetti

JULY 2018

New Releases

While E3 gave us some tantalising looks at the games vying for your attention over the next year, there’s still plenty of good stuff to check out this month as well. First up on Friday July 6 is Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. The Nintendo Switch port follows the series’ hero, Adol, who finds himself on a cursed island. A few days later on Tuesday July 10, MXGP Pro races its way onto PS4 and XBO, and it promises to be an even more realistic representation of motocross.

Switch owners, meanwhile, need just hold out until Friday July 13 when both Octopath Traveler and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker land on the system. The former is a hugely expansive RPG following eight different protagonists, while the latter is a familyfriendly puzzler featuring Nintendo’s tiniest star. If you’d rather prefer something with a little more pace, why not check out Sonic Mania Plus for PS4, XBO, and Switch. The updated iteration features a new Encore mode, two new characters and more. You can find it on store shelves from Tuesday July 17.

The Last of Us Part II Jump ahead to Thursday July 26 and XBO gamers can fi nally take to the skies in the controversial No Man’s Sky, or alternatively, along with PS4 gamers, get strategizing amongst the exceptional Banner Saga Trilogy. Wrapping up the month on Saturday July 28 is WarioWare Gold for the 3DS. The brand new collection will utilise the handheld system’s touchscreen with over 300 mini-games, ranging from knocking away watermelons to picking a nose. No, you didn’t misread that.

reviewroundup By Adam Guetti

demo is anything to go by, it’s been worth the wait. The team If there’s one trailer that brought BEST behind the revered Witcher the house down, it’s without OF E3 series knows how to create a question the 10-minute spectacle 2018 giant, involving world, so it’s for Naughty Dog’s sequel to exciting to see what they can do The Last of Us. It was an equally with a futuristic dystopia. engaging, heartbreaking, and absolutely brutal rollercoaster of gameplay that shed some light on the game’s actual Super Smash Bros. Ultimate plot. Still no release date was given, so Every character ever. That’s the keep a close eye on this one. major feat headlining Super Smash Bros. Ultimate which is already Spider-Man looking mighty impressive before its Spidey fans have been clamouring for a December launch date. The addition decent video game since the PS2, and of the long-requested Ridley is only Sony’s exclusive certainly looks set to another plus. deliver. Movement through the city is seamless and smooth, and the variety Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice of classic villains should do well to keep Brought to you by the team behind you on your toes. Fingers crossed the the ruthless Dark Souls series, final product can swing success. Sekiro appears to present an equally

Cyberpunk 2077 Developer CD Projekt Red has been teasing Cyberpunk 2077 for years, and if the game’s gigantic 50-minute E3

Review: LEGO The Incredibles (PS4, XBO, Switch, PC)

challenging Japanese-inspired playground. The introduction of a grappling hook, however, should change the pace up considerably for a fresh experience.

Review: Vampyr (PS4, XBO, PC)

Review: Detroit: Become Human


avid Cage has made a career out of controversial cinematic endeavours and Detroit is no different. It’s also perhaps his most polished attempt yet, utilising excellent performances that do well to suck you into the lives of three separate androids. Before long you’ll be agonising over the decisions that ultimately seal each 4 character’s fate, then playing around with different approaches to discover some drastic changes.

f you’ve played any of the many LEGO games before, you know what you’re in for with The Incredibles’ iteration – playing through both of Pixar’s celebrated movies (although not in the order you might initially expect). You’ll spend most of your time smashing everything to bricks and swapping characters in order to progress through each stage. It’s pretty mindless fare, but definitely fun for the family and 3 an enjoyable co-op adventure.

ess Twilight and more Interview with the Vampire, Vampyr presents an interesting opportunity to control an acclaimed surgeon-turned-bloodsucker. Crafted by the team behind Life Is Strange, the narrative is expectedly engaging, as are many of the individuals you cross paths with, but combat does leave something to be desired. There’s still plenty to sink your teeth into though, so here’s hoping some of the wasted potential is capitalised 3.5 on with a sequel.


Review: Dark Souls Remastered (PS4, XBO, PC)

Review: Unravel Two (PS4, XBO, PC)

he unexpected release of Unravel Two brings with it a delightfully charming adventure that is admittedly more inventive than the original game due to the addition of a second playable character. It might not pack quite the same punch the first outing did, but there’s a lot to 4 enjoy with this well-refined sequel, especially if you play alongside a friend.


62 :: BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18


ark Souls fans should praise the sun that this remaster delivers in all the right areas – making long-requested changes without disturbing the core experience. Framerates are more stable, visuals are prettier and the whole adventure plays out much more smoothly. The base game, however, remains very much the same 4.5 beast, so if you don’t enjoy learning through repeated death, then this might not be the game for you.

s n a p s

niall horan

05:06:18 :: Qudos Bank Arena:: Sydney Olympic Park

29:06:18 :: Carriageworks :: Eveleigh

the presets


16:06:18 :: Metro Theatre :: Sydney

What we’ve been out to see this month. See full galleries at

st vincent

08:06:18 :: Enmore Theatre :: Newtown

BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18 :: 63

g g guide gig g Submit your gig and club listings, head to:


Bully Lansdowne Hotel, Chippendale. Thursday July 19. 8pm. $21.50. The last time I saw Bully at the intimate confines of the Oxford Art Factory, they played one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen – a frenetic set full of jagged postpunk riffs and deeply personal lyrics. They’re only playing a more intimate venue this time around, so make sure you catch ‘em.


WEDNESDAY JULY 4 J.D. Smith The Basement, Sydney CBD. 8pm. Free. The Devours Rad Bar, Wollongong. 8pm. Free.

Oxford Art Factory, Darlinghurst.

Angie McMahon 8pm. $22.85.

THURSDAY JULY 5 Aura Noir The Bald Faced Stag, Leichhardt. 8pm. $44.86. Jeff Martin Leadbelly, Newtown. 6pm. $45.65.

FRIDAY JULY 6 Cosmo’s Midnight Metro Theatre, Sydney CBD. 7pm. $29. Damien Leith Enmore Theatre, Newtown. 8pm. $77. Jaala The Bank, Newtown. 8pm. $15. Nina Simone Tribute Leadbelly, Newtown. 8pm. Free. Oscar Key Sung Oxford Art Factory, Darlinghurst. 8pm. $25.41.


Pale Waves Metro Theatre, Sydney CBD. Wednesday July 11. 8pm. $42.90. Carrying the post-punk/hardcore hybrid torch first lit by such luminaries as Chelsea Wolfe, Pale Waves make music to both thrill and devastate.

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Angie McMahon Oxford Art Factory, Darlinghurst. 8pm. $22.85. Jack Carty + Gus Gardiner Leadbelly, Newtown. 8pm. $31.75.

SUNDAY JULY 8 General Knowledge Rad Bar, Wollongong. 8pm. Free.

TUESDAY JULY 10 Justin Townes Earle Lansdowne Hotel, Chippendale. 8pm. $55.10.

WEDNESDAY JULY 11 Belle Haven Rad Bar, Wollongong. 8pm. Free. Pale Waves Metro Theatre, Sydney CBD. 8pm. $42.90.

THURSDAY JULY 12 Tesse Lansdowne Hotel, Chippendale. 8pm. $12.25.

FRIDAY JULY 13 Hatchie Oxford Art Factory, Darlinghurst. 8pm. $13.65. Lil Dicky + Yo Mafia Hordern Pavillion, Sydney. 8pm. $79.90.

SATURDAY JULY 14 Cat Canteri Stag And Hunter, Newcastle. 7pm. Free. Ian Moss Enmore Theatre, Newtown. 8pm.


Draw yourself

WITH GEORGIA MULLIGAN Georgia Mulligan’s music seems to come from some far-off place: though she writes of break-ups and breakdowns in a way that all can empathise with, there is something distinctly otherworldly about her iron-cast riffs, and her silk-cut voice. Luckily for all of us, she has a new single out now – it’s called ‘The Dark’, and it’s a thing of devastating beauty. We asked Mulligan questions; she drew us answers. 2.

$67.90. Polish Club The Factory Theatre, Marrickville. 7:30pm. $24.50. William Crighton The Northern Hotel, Wollongong. 8pm. Free.

WEDNESDAY JULY 18 Marmozets Lansdowne Hotel, Chippendale. 8pm. $21.50. Pnau Bar On The Hill, Callaghan. 7pm. Free.

THURSDAY JULY 19 Bully Lansdowne Hotel, Chippendale. 8pm. $21.50. Pete Murray Bar On The Hill, Callaghan. 8pm. Free. Pnau Enmore Theatre, Newtown. 7:30pm. $46.10. The Chats Rad Bar, Wollongong. 7pm. Free.

FRIDAY JULY 20 Dragon The Bridge Hotel, Rozelle. 8pm. Free. Machine Head Enmore Theatre, Newtown. 7pm. $89.90. Splendour In The Grass – feat: Alex The Astronaut, WAAX, Angie McMahon, MGMT, Kendrick Lamar, and so many more

Byron Bay Parklands, Byron Bay. All day. $454.84 Towkio Oxford Art Factory, Darlinghurst. 8pm. $32.50.

SATURDAY JULY 21 Abba Tribute Show Enmore Theatre, Newtown. 8pm. $42.51. Ed Kuepper Heritage Hotel, Bulli. 7:30pm. Free. Kasbo Oxford Art Factory, Darlinghurst. 11pm. $34.10. My Friend The Chocolate Cake City Recital Hall, Sydney CBD. 8pm. $76.26. Polaris The Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle. 8pm. Free. Tumbleweed Marrickville Bowling Club, Marrickville. 8pm. $12.51.

SUNDAY JULY 22 Chromeo Metro Theatre, Sydney CBD. 8pm. $42.10.

Superorganism Metro Theatre, Sydney CBD. 8pm. $35.10.

Yungblud Oxford Art Factory, Darlinghurst. 8pm. $52.50.

WEDNESDAY JULY 25 Camp Cope Sydney Opera House, Sydney CBD. 8pm. $34 James Bay State Theatre, Sydney CBD. 8pm. $45.


Draw your favourite musician of all time


Draw your ideal audience

Lewis Capaldi Oxford Art Factory, Darlinghurst. 7:30pm. Free.

THURSDAY JULY 26 Ben Howard Sydney Opera House, Sydney CBD. 8pm. $69.

FRIDAY JULY 27 Celine Dion Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney Olympic Park. 8pm. $269. Diesel Bowral Bowling Club, Bowral. 8pm. Free.

The Preatures + Alie Barter Beer Deluxe, Albury. 8pm. $22.15.

Tijuana Cartel University Of Wollongong, Wollongong. 8pm. Free.

Kendrick Lamar Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney Olympic Park. 8pm. $85.10.

Draw your ideal rider

The Wombats Hordern Pavilion, Moore Park. 8pm. $55.11.

Chvrches Hordern Pavilion, Moore Park. 8pm. $62.50.



Draw a scene from your new music video, ‘The Dark’

William Crighton 48 Watt Street, Newcastle. 8pm. Free.

SATURDAY JULY 28 BRAG :: 739 :: 04:07:18 :: 65

g g guide gig g Submit your gig and club listings, head to:

Have a gig or club listing to get in The BRAG? You can now submit your gig and club listings, head to


Hordern Pavilion, Moore Park. Sunday July 22. 8pm. $62.50. Glaswegian glassy synth legends Chvrches refuse to stay still – over their lifespan as a band, they have flip-flopped across genre, styles, and themes. Catch ‘em at the glorious confines of The Hordern, won’tcha?

Kendrick Lamar

Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney Olympic Park. Tuesday July 24. 8pm. $85.10. Kendrick Lamar is the most important musical artist of the last four decades. Period. But you knew that already. So why haven’t you bought tickets to his upcoming Sydney tour yet?

Celine Dion Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney Olympic Park. 8pm. $269.

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath The Bridge Hotel, Rozelle. 8pm. Free.

For our full gig and club listings, head to

SUNDAY JULY 29 James Morrison + Kate Ceberano State Theatre, Sydney. 8pm. $45.18.

free stuff head to:



We fucken’ love Superorganism here at the BRAG, as you can probably tell by the fact that we’ve gone and shoved them on the front cover of this here magazine. And for good reason – they beautifully combine the pop and the surreal, creating a sound and a style all of their own.

A Kevin Macdonald is one of the most DOUBLE acclaimed non-fiction filmmakers of PASS his generation: an auteur who has made feature-length docos about everything from mountain climbing disasters (Touching The Void) to the 1972 terrorist attack at the Munich Summer Olympic Games (One Day In September.) Now, he has turned his attention to the tragic, much too-short life of Whitney Houston in the uncompromising, beautiful doco Whitney.



If you love Superoganism too, why not enter our competition? We’re giving away three minor prizes – double passes to the band’s show on Tuesday July 24 – and one major prize – a double pass, a t-shirt, and the band’s debut on vinyl. All you need to do is head over to, and fill in your details there.

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An eye-opening look at addiction, success, and survival, it’s a mix of startlingly beautiful archival footage and tragic interviews, making this one a must-see for both Houston fans, and those yet to be fully across her story. We have ten double passes to give away: to enter, head over to freeshit.






Brag#739 SYDNEY’S FREE STREET PRESS Hitting the streets fortnightly, with the best music, comedy, food and gigs. This issue: • Su...

Brag#739 SYDNEY’S FREE STREET PRESS Hitting the streets fortnightly, with the best music, comedy, food and gigs. This issue: • Su...