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One of the first of the new wave of Australian bands I heard post-ECSR were Sydney's Straight Arrows. I think their split with Creteens hit me first and I worked back to their debut single. I sought out the Juvenile label online and found it was run by Owen from the band and worked something out to get a copy. My memory is hazy on the details (this was almost five years ago, jeeeez), but aside from getting a copy of a great and trashy garage single from Down Under it allowed me to correspond with Owen over the past years and pester him for details/info on not just Straight Arrows but the numerous other bands he's recorded and done stints in, from Circle Pit to Ruined Fortune (and as a side note he also hooked me up with the Rice is Nice label whose Miniature Submarines 7" is an overlooked post-Stabs Aussie killer). Along with Distort and Negative Guest List, Owen has been one of the major reasons I've been able to stay abreast of happenings on his continent. His involvement in the the scene seems to be steadily increasing for good reason - he's an honestly nice guy and entusiastic about his country's bands and music. I've narrowly missed him on both Straight Arrows and Circle Pit tours, so with the Straight Arrows second LP being readied for release we did this interview via e-mail earlier in the year...
TB: Owen, where are you from in Australia and where are you now? What was it that originally
got you into punk/DIY music?
Owen: The band pretty much started because I'd been booted out of every other band I'd been playing in and I figured the only way to stay in a band was to start my own that I wrote the songs in. It was probably about December 2006 or so? Yeah, it would've been a few months before we put out that first 7". Plus I couldn't get a girlfriend or employment and I had a bunch of spare time and a spare room so I borrowed a four track from a friend. Al and Angie were in as soon as I asked them, and Adam was my friend's housemate who had a drumkit in his room. I figured that meant he could play so I asked him. Turns out he couldn't, so I used to go around to his place to teach him how to play drums, but not like some arsehole drummer. I showed him how to hit the drums as hard as he could, and not dick around too much with cymbals. I think they're the basics for not screwing up drumming. It's still the same line up, but occasionally for the 7"s we'll use demo tracks that are just me, and sometimes the other guys too if they're around that day. TB: Are you a trained recording engineer or did you learn on your own? Is it your steady job when not rocking out?
Owen: When I first got out of school I went to university and learnt a bit about recording but I hated everything involved with the whole computer recording/Pro Tools "don't peak the levels" shit so I completely gave up on recording music until a couple of years later when I borrowed a four track off someone and figured out how to make stuff that I actually liked the sound of, rather than a bunch of sackless university garbage. I was so turned off I only recently started using a computer for mixing. I wouldn't really consider it to be a job. I reckon if I wanted to make a go of it, maybe I could, but I'm not really interested in having to rely on something I really enjoy doing to make money if it takes away from writing and playing. And if it means having to record stuff I don't like just to pay the rent. TB: So what other bands are you technically a member of these days along with Straight Arrows?
Owen: At the moment Straight Arrows is the only one. When I record people I'll usually fill in if anything's missing or they need a drummer or bassist or something. That's enough for me at the moment I reckon. TB: What are some of the bands/records you recorded in the past year?
Owen: Let's see - the Ruined Fortune 7", Palms upcoming LP, Gooch Palms upcoming LP, The Knits tape, a bunch of tracks on the Australian Nuggets record, I produced a Frowning Clouds 7", plus I'm always working at a bunch of my own stuff/Straight Arrows. I'm mixing the Sulphur Lights LP at the moment for them, and Angie's coming over to do a solo LP in a couple of weeks. And I've been doing a fair amount of mastering too, although that's not so much a creative role. Plus there are always a recordings that never come out or people don't get around to finishing.
TB: Can you tell us a bit about your involvement with the Australian Nuggets CD?
Owen: Pretty much, I got a call one afternoon from a guy called Mark at Warner Brothers who'd just started as an A&R guy and for his first project he wanted to assemble a bunch of local bands to cover songs off of the original Nuggets comp. He asked if I'd want to record and produce a bunch of it and help choose a few bands. I figured it'd never go ahead but sent him a list of all the current Australian bands I'm into that I thought wouldn't mangle it. About a month later he came back to me with agreements and contracts and all that kind of stuff you imagine major label guys fool around with all day. Turns out they do! Anyway, I pretty much got to choose a studio (we went to our friend Tim's studio, Hanging Tree, same place we recorded our first LP...plus I didn't want to have six bands hanging out in my house for a week while my housemates and neighbours suffer, although I ended up doing one session here and all the mixing), and they paid me real wages which was an interesting proposition. TB: Is Juvenile Records your label?
Owen: That's me and my buddy Jules' label. She's an old friend who also runs a label here called Rice Is Nice that actually manages to get by. About six-ish years ago we decided we'd try and start a singles label to put out the first Straight Arrows 7". Since then we've sporadicly put stuff out, but at the moment having a label is not really something I want to put the time into, except as a home for the occasional Straight Arrows release. It's a lot of hard work and financial hassle to release small runs of records, and sure, you have the satisfaction of releasing records you like and sending packages around the world (I really like mailing packages), but there's also the part where you have to front a thousand dollars and slowly regain it over the next two years after you finally send enough hounding e-mails to pry it out of the registers of "consignment only" stores, or at least the ones that are still in business. At the moment I'd much rather be recording folks and working at my own stuff. TB: Tell us a little about the Ruined Fortune record/session and how it came to be. It's you, Angie and Nic from RIP Society, right? Was it just a one-off thing or will there be more? Great record!
Owen: The Ruined Fortune stuff is Angie's current project - she asked if I'd record a few songs for her and showed up and she told me I'd also be playing drums on it. Sure thing! Nic ended up playing bass and having a bit more input when we were mixing and overdubbing and now its become a joint project for the two of them. She recorded a full album about six months ago up in Brisbane with a bunch of friends playing on it (Blank Realm and Cured Pink members), and now she's got a full band with Nic and a couple of other mates that plays out occasionally. She's gonna record a "solo" record here in a couple of weeks too that I'm supposed to play drums on and she'll play everything else. So far the demos are sounding pretty good. TB: You filled in on drums for the recent Home Blitz tour of Australia, how was that experience? Did you guys get much practice in or did you try and learn the songs before they came over? Any good stories from the tour?
Owen: That was really fun - they're really great guys to hang out and tour with. Daniel, Theresa and Jason all came. Apparently it's hard to get a working visa for someone under 18 so Henry couldn't make it out and I got asked if I wanted to fill in. We'd just finished a Straight Arrows tour too...actually, we played together at a festival in Newcastle; it was our last show for the tour and the first on the Home Blitz tour, literally an hour apart. It was cool to go back and see the same cities and pals again a week or two later.
We managed to get in a little practice in my room before Jason got here with just two guitars and drums, then he arrived and we had about three hours to practice at a friend's place and then the tour started. I had this page of notes I had to read before every song, because the structure of their tracks is so convoluted. Listening to them you don't notice at all but trying to play them, they're pretty, uh, unconventional. By the end of the run of shows I pretty much had it nailed.
They're all loveable kooky people. I don't think anything too notable happened beyond sneaking them into the aquarium. It's kinda funny 'cause about six years ago when Daniel was initially searching for a drummer I emailed about it...I'd decided I was through with everything and was gonna leave the country. Fortunately it took him months to respond that he'd got Sarim from VCR playing with him, and I'd already started my own band in the meantime.
GO HERE FOR MORE. TB: Also, I never really got to talk to you about the Straight Arrows US tour? Was it a "success"? Any favorite shows/memories? What's your favorite thing about the States that you don't have in Australia?
Owen: Touring the USA was amazing! It's so strange, cool, and sometimes frightening, all at the same time. In Australia you can't tour like you can in the States...the drives here are MASSIVE and there just aren't that many cities to play. As for highlights, Goner Fest was definitely a favourite. It was also the only time we got days off so it was great to see a whole heap of excellent bands, visit Elvis' house and Stax, and party with the Memphis locals and everyone else who was in town for the festival. But everywhere we went was great - everyone looked after us, shared their stashes and partied, and we got to see most of your wild country. Rattlesnakes, awful truckstop food, weird religious shit, taxidermied animals, guns, Walmart, cactuses, Chocovine (who drinks that? children?), Clamato/Chelada (beer, tomato juice AND clams?) and cheap records EVERYWHERE. Your supermarkets are full of the strangest stuff...it gets to a point where you're actually excited to find a Whole Foods and eat a couple of vegetables. TB: Were you in an early line-up of Circle Pit or am I just imagining that?
Owen: I recorded the first 7" and played drums on it and ended up in the touring band for a while. Then one day they ditched the entire band and secretly recorded the album with some new guys who became the new touring band. About a year later they were supposed to tour the US but the drummer wasn't allowed into the country so I got asked to come tour. When we got back to Australia I played with them for a little longer but then the whole thing kinda imploded.
TB: It seems like there was a long time between the Straight Arrows LP and the single on Goodbye Boozy. Was the band on hold for awhile there? Where do the recordings from the single come from, is it full band or just you? Is "The Hilton Bomber" a Thought Criminals homage?
Owen: The band's never really been on hold, I guess we just all got busy doing stuff that wasn't recording. We've toured pretty consistently here, and did a month driving around the US. Organizing those things really kinda takes it out of you too, but it's never a chore. I've been getting pretty caught up in recording stuff for other people too. It's kind of hard for me to say no sometimes...I don't have a consistent job so I'm used to taking whatever opportunities that come forth. The recordings on the Goodbye Boozy record are all full band. "All The Time" was done in my place on a big 8-track, and "Hilton Bomber" was a leftover from the LP. The only thing it's got in common with the Thought Criminals is the title - it's a pretty fascinating Australian crime mystery. TB: How many copies did you do of that first 7" - there was the Juvenile pressing, the RIP Society repress and then the "First Two 7"es" version - around 800? Thats a pretty decent number in today's game.
Owen: Let's see - the Juvenile pressing was 200, the RIP/Juvenile (aka Juvenile Society) was another 200, and the Antifade was 300. I reckon that's fairly reasonable for a 7" I played nearly everything on, on a four track in my house when no one was home. TB: What's in the future for Straight Arrows then? A new LP in the works? Other records/recordings?
Owen: We've got a new LP on the way and I reckon it'll be out in the second half of the year - just gotta record a few more new tracks and it'll be ready. I just started my own legitimate-ish studio space (i.e. not in my house) so I guess we'll be finishing it off over there. Oh yeah, and 'It's Happening' is getting a proper release in the UK on Agitated Records in a couple of weeks, so I reckon we'll be heading over there to tour. We did a single as part of the Hozac singles club that should be out now, and I reckon that's a pretty good indication of how the new album's shaping up. TB: Do you have a label for the new LP or will you release it on your own?
Owen: I reckon we'll do the Australian LP release on our own label, Rice is Nice will do the CD/digital thing, and we're currently sorting out all the overseas stuff. Either way it looks like it'll be coming out here the UK and Europe, and the USA. TB: I was thinking about whether Aussie bands on Aussie labels are selling more copies of their records in the USA or Australia these days? What do you think based on "It's Happening"?
Owen: As far as I know we definitely sold more copies of the LP in Australia, but the lovely Bruce of Easter Bilby has done a really good job distro-ing the record in the US for us, as he has for a whole lot of Australian bands over the last few years. So many of those groups would have hardly any exposure without Bruce's help. And then he let us (and about four other Australian bands) sleep on his floor over Gonerfest. TB: I always have to ask this dumb question when I interview Aussie bands: So, I've been fascinated with Aussie punk since very early on in my music fandom, as there always seems to be something more primal or rugged or perhaps just non-bullshit to the punk music that comes from Australia. Someone once told me that's just a fantasy I have, being attracted to the exotic - bands are just bands wherever you go. What do you think as a native Australian? Is there something different about the music there to you, or something that American or Euro punk has that Aussie punk does/doesn't?
Owen: It's a pretty hard question and revolves around a lot of cultural stereotypes I suppose, but I reckon Australian culture has a fairly low propensity for bullshit and that comes across in some of the music, especially the stuff you mentioned. You don't really have people here inflating your egos in the way that we've come across in other places, at least not in the world of the type of music that we're playing. No one's telling you you're "gonna make it" or any of that garbage. There's only one national radio station here that plays rock and roll (college radio doesn't exist here), and it mostly plays garbage but very rarely they'll pick up something good (like Eddy Current, or Royal Headache, or even our stuff...at 4:00am!). I guess the isolation plays into part of it, and the fact that touring here is pretty difficult - it's ten hours at the least to drive between capital cities, so if you wanna play in a band and tour you kinda need to be prepared for that and to be ignored and/or disliked by a fair amount of the "public", so I suppose that goes some way into the upbringing, so to speak, of some of the better bands that come out of this country.
Interview by (RK), 2013. To read other TB interviews, go here.
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