Benny Walker | Change the date

It’s January 26th, and social media is raging with two kinds of rhetoric regarding the significance and appropriateness of the public holiday.

It’s a sombre, but pertinent, day to talk to Benny Walker. The musician is one of the many Indigenous Australians for whom Australia Day is a day of mourning, of invasion and survival. It is these people, one of whom is me, whose pain is at the centre of this debate.

Without question, Walker, a member of the Yorta Yorta clan of Echuca-Moama, wants to see the date of this national holiday changed.

“Changing the date, it’s quite a simple gesture to be made towards the first Australians in this country to show them that people are at least trying to understand. I think it can go a long way towards reconciliation in Australia,” Walker says, as he reflects on the back and forth that has dominated mainstream and social media alike in the prior days.

“It’s changed before, you’ll still get your long weekend, and you can do it in a way that’s not throwing it back in the face of the first Australians.

“To have this kind of resistance against it, [the date] obviously means a lot to Aboriginal people. As far as us asking for a change, and there being rallies and marches held today, and festivals anti-Australia Day, or pro-Survival Day or Invasion Day.”

But Walker is also keen to note progress. Though 2018 saw no official change in the date, it, of course, marked the first year that triple j moved their inaugural Hottest 100 from January 26, to the last Saturday of January, after a vote was put to their listeners on the matter.

“It’s so significant because they’re influencing the youth of Australia. Whether they like it or not, they have a powerful voice, and it gets heard really broadly, and for them to make a change like that and stick to it even after they would’ve copped a lot of backlash, speaks volumes of what they’re about,” Walker says of the move, which although praised by many, was met with resistance from others.

“The change is going to help educate people that may have been initially frustrated with the change, and help them look a little deeper and try to understand why the decision to change the date on triple j’s part is really important,” Walker says.

The extremely talented singer-songwriter has music pulsing in his veins. His grandfather Archie Walker is renowned in their region as a guitar player. Archie’s son, and Benny’s father, Rob, has played guitar in bands for much of his life.

“I’m lucky in the fact that I was born with Aboriginal heritage. I’ve had the opportunity to travel and interact with mobs in different communities, and do workshops and play in festivals, and experience that in a way that a lot of people wouldn’t be able to,” Walker says.

One such opportunity is his upcoming appearance at the Yalukut Weelam Ngargee festival, an annual celebration of Indigenous Arts and Culture festival.

Celebrating its 13th year, the free, family-friendly festival takes place in St Kilda’s O’Donnell Gardens, a significant meeting place in Aboriginal culture.

“I’ve been lucky enough to play there a couple of times, and was happy to play in the middle of the afternoon among a group of amazing artists,” Walker says, reflecting on his evening slot that will finish the festival.

“I love playing this festival. There are worse places in the world to perform than in a park down near the beach at St Kilda.”

Walker sits comfortably among a huge lineup of Indigenous Australian talent for the festival, including Emily Wurramara, and Hottest 100 charting Baker Boy, to name but a few. Festivals like this one are a humbling experience, Walker says, and a great reminder of all that Indigenous Australia has to offer.

“I get to see new artists just about every time I do a festival like Yalukut Weelam Ngargee. It reminds you and hits you in the face with just how much talent there is among Aboriginal people in Australia. You could easily put together mainstream festival lineups just with Aboriginal acts.

Originally published in Beat Magazine. 

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Vance Joy | Quietly considering album number two

In a time where gender expectations are being broken down, and heteronormative masculinity is no longer a universally glorified commodity, it’s reasonably powerful to speak to the nearly two metre tall, ex-footballer James Koegh – who you might know better as Vance Joy – about his gentle elegance in his approach to his new album.

“When I would play guitar at the footy club, maybe an opportunity to sing covers, I found that was always me in my natural state. Even though I was playing Fuel’s ‘Shimmer’ and Foo Fighters, playing to the market,” Koegh says.

“I don’t think I’m a particularly blokey guy, except playing football. I don’t really speak the language. So when it comes to banter, and hanging around the club, it was never my comfortable place. I love football and I love the sport, and when I played at school the connections where very strong, but doing [music] feels natural, and I like that I feel comfortable in my own skin,” he says.

There’s no more appropriate title for Vance Joy’s sophomore album than Nation of Two. The album is so very intimate and contained, that it’s easy to feel like a fly on the wall in this pair of lovers’ bedroom.

“I’m glad that’s the feeling you’ve got, that was the desired effect,” says Keogh. “I didn’t set out intentionally to write a gentle, intimate song. I was just writing, and there’s a few songs that were calling out to be recorded in that way.”

The thread of a relationship that ties the album together, inspired by many of Keogh’s romantic experiences, is his favourite kind of narrative to weave.

“It’s the kind of story that grabs me when I’m listening to music or reading books. The songs that penetrate me emotionally are love songs,” Keogh says.

It’s capturing this emotional response that drives him to continue creating. Though many of the lines he croons throughout the record are pained and filled with heartbreak and rich with love, tapping into this emotion is something that Keogh derives a great deal of joy from.

“The most difficult thing for me isn’t the emotional thing, or ‘Oh this is hurting me to sing,’ because I know that happens to other artists, I’ve heard it described that way. But I’m so happy I find something I want to sing my heart out to, even if it’s a sad song, I’m happy that I’ve tapped into something that feels authentic,” Keogh says.

“The difficult part of songwriting for me is finding those little melodies and the right sequence of words that make it feel like a thing, that make it feel more substantial than all those other ideas that don’t even get off the ground.”

With a hugely impressive to-do list, including touring as a support for Taylor Swift, the time between his debut – 2014’s Dream Your Life Away – and his follow up has been a huge learning curve for the 30-year-old. Though he couldn’t find much time to write on the road, he wrote bits and pieces of songs that would eventually create his second record.

“Now, having compiled a bunch of songs that I’m proud of, I feel good about that. You finish touring for an album and see there’s an expanse of time to fill up, and having done that I feel good. I had my head down and focused on that, and it’s a milestone,” Keogh says.

“With this album, compared to the first, every song is special and has its own life. There are songs on the first album that I still love, and I still think they’re some of the best songs I can do, but I think on this new one, there’s a consistency to the lyrics. There’s some real flavour and juiciness to it.

“I feel like I’m repeating lines less so, but I do like to repeat lines. I did some songwriting sessions, but I learned there is no rulebook. And the songs that I’m most proud of are generally the songs I wrote on my own.”

Originally published in Beat Magazine.

Matt Okine | The Hat Game MICF 2018

In the quest to avoid complacency, Matt Okine has worn many hats. The last few years have seen him move between mediums, from radio airwaves, free to air television, and subscription streaming service, Stan.

Although he’s conscious to never get stuck doing one thing, comedy keeps drawing him back. The Hat Game is his seventh stand up show, and he’s got no plans to hang up that particular cap.

“[Performing comedy] is just something that I continue to look forward to, every night, over and over. It’s so exciting to go up on stage and just talk shit to audiences from all over the world,” says Okine. “Radio, it just sort of goes out into the world, and really you’re just two idiots in a room talking rubbish. With standup, you’re still one idiot in a room talking rubbish, but at least there’s 300 other people that are going along for the ride as well.”

All that Okine loves about stand up comedy is a stark contrast to the qualities of radio, a medium through which many may have first discovered Okine’s voice. Alongside Alex Dyson, Okine presented Triple J’s prestigious breakfast slot from 2014 to 2016, before leaving at the height of the show’s popularity. “I don’t want to get stuck in one place; it wasn’t because it stopped being fun. Alex and I felt like the show was in a really good place and we didn’t want to lose that spark.”

That being said, Okine is quick to point out he’s not ruled out the possibility of jumping back in the booth alongside his on-air partner. “Alex and I talk about it all the time. I think it’s more a question of when rather than whether we will. But who knows, I might end up in LA working in a coffee shop as another failed actor.”

So far, however, his acting career is far from a failure. Okine co-wrote and starred in the Stan series The Other Guy, an adaption of his award-winning semi-autobiographical stand up show of the same name. The experience of creating a show that pushed the boundaries with its approach to sex and relationships has coloured his latest stand-up show in a way that he admits is a little more risqué than his usual style.

“I talk about doing my first sex scene, which is a terrifying thing. You have to pretend to cum in front of a room of film and TV people. There’s a camera guy there, and sound guy and a makeup lady. And I’m standing there pretending to cum. What if the way that I cum was fucking weird? And I thought it was normal?”

These changes are what drive him, living and dying by his own sword – even if that sword is simulating orgasm on stage.

“I wanted to make a show this year that feels like a Matt Okine show, but doesn’t at the same time. There are people that have seen every single show – there’s this girl, Dani, who comes every year with her mum, and when I’m writing a show I always think about someone like Dani…because I don’t want her to feel like she saw this show three years ago. I feel there’s a real ability for comics to do that, to basically rewrite the same recipe using slightly different ingredients.”

Originally published in Beat Magazine.

Australian Music Vault Talks | The value of fandom

“As soon as you get music lovers together, they start talking and networking and coming together, and amazing things come out of it.”

The Australian music industry is fuelled and built upon beautiful, personal connections. That spark when music lovers come together, as described by Amy Bennett, the Creative Learning Producer at Arts Centre Melbourne, is what ignited Australian Music Vault to launch a series of talks to run at Arts Centre Melbourne over the course of 2018.

“At the moment, we’re really in a time of conversation and the public contributing to discussions instead of just observing from the outside,” Bennett says.

“I think the music industry are really keen to have a forum where they can present these issues from the general public side. It gives the public a front row seat to the inner workings of the industry, because it can be a bit hard to understand how it works.”

The Australian Music Vault Talks will tackle what it means to be a music fan, roping in mega-fans of the likes of Nick Cave, Crowded House and Kylie Minogue to talk about their obsessions.

But the first talk will see a panel of women from all facets of the industry come together to talk about gender representation in the Australian music industry.

The panel will focus on the path to change the gender imbalance, and the challenges that stand in the way of such a thing. Facilitated by journalist and author Jenny Valentish, the panel features Grace Kindellan of Wet Lips, Mohini Hillyer of Habits, Dr Catherine Strong, who is conducting APRA approved research into gender inequality in the Australian music industry at RMIT University, and Tracee Hutchison from the Music Victoria’s Women’s Advisory Panel.

“It’s a really big one,” says Bennett of the inaugural talk. “There has been a lot of discussion on it. It’s really important to us, to the Australian Music Vault, to make sure there’s equal representation, and we felt we had a role to play. It’s really moving forward at a rapid pace.

Bennett, who is a musician in her own right, is happy to report that she’s definitely seeing a shift in gender representation within the industry. “There are more female mentors available for younger musicians. There are more women who want to be leaders, and show younger women that this can happen,” she says.

“That being said, you still go to gigs and 15 out of 16 people are dudes, so in the music industry, it really needs to stay active. That’s why some of these young musos like Grace (Kindellan) are so important, because they’re actively choosing lineups based on this.”

The Australian Music Vault was launched at Arts Centre Melbourne in 2017. Set to run for three years, the free exhibition is a celebration of the past, present, and future of the Australian music industry, and an insight into the history that has shaped it.

“The idea is to celebrate Australian contemporary music, there’s such a rich history and there’s so many amazing people involved in the history and the present, and obviously the future, but it’s been something that the Victorian Government and us at Arts Centre Melbourne, the music industry, and major stakeholders like Michael Gudinski, have wanted to celebrate for a long time,” Bennett says.

The vault, and these talks, are there to remind the audience that it’s not just musicians who make up the scene, it’s every audience member, and the stories they have to tell.

“When it was announced that Festival Hall would become apartments, that was a change in the city, a change in infrastructure. But what it did, whether or not it’s bad or good, is it made everyone tell their stories of Festival Hall. That’s what we want to encourage,” Bennett says.

We all have stories of Festival Hall, of our youth, no matter how recent that was. “The members of the music industry are really passionate about a lot of issues that are a massive part of their everyday lives.

“Having these talks helps to give wider context for these issues. We want it to generate discussion, to excite people who then give back their stories. It’s a two way street.”

Originally published in Beat Magazine. 

First Aid Kit | Subverting expectations set for women

It’s been nearly a year since First Aid Kit released ‘You Are the Problem Here’ for International Women’s day. The single was written in response to the lenient sentencing of Brock Turner, following his very public trial for rape and sexual assault at Stanford University in California.

The band, which comprises sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, wrote the song out of anger and frustration towards rape culture, but also in an entirely pre-#metoo world. The swell of support for women, and the rise of Time’s Up, is something that the sisters never anticipated.

“As a woman, we’re used to thinking that [gender inequality] is never going to change. I mean no one’s ever cared before so why would they now? But it’s amazing that change is finally happening. It feels crazy that it’s happening now and not a million years ago,” Klara says.

“We do have a super long way to go, but personally I feel so much stronger after the Metoo movement. I’m not afraid of speaking up anymore when I’m uncomfortable. Myself and Johanna, we’re not going to let the little things fly. Because that’s what really gets to you. That’s what leads to these big things happening, because we always let these big things fly,” Klara says.

In the year that has passed since releasing that record, the Swedish duo wrote and recorded their highly anticipated third album, Ruins. But before getting there, they had to make a lot of big changes, and step away from the band that had consumed the entirety of their adult lives.

“We couldn’t go on the way we had. We’d worked so hard, and it was really fun, but we got to a point where we needed to stop,” Klara says.

“We needed to take time away from each other, and from the First Aid Kit world. Because that had basically been our whole lives. I was 14 when we started the band, and everything was so exciting that it got to the point where my body was spent, and I couldn’t do it anymore. I was so exhausted.”

Klara’s body and mind, which had been through a huge amount of physical stress over the decade of being in First Aid Kit, began to falter.

“I remember we were on tour in Europe and we were talking about making a music video, which would mean we wouldn’t have as much time at home between tours, and I started crying. And I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t imagine just one day of work, I couldn’t do it,” Klara says.

It was, of course, a confusing time for the young woman, who struggled with balancing her need to rest and desire to work.

“It’s tough, I felt a lot of guilt for feeling that way, because I thought I was doing what I always wanted. And why wasn’t I appreciating it, what was wrong with me. Now I understand that better, that it wasn’t strange because I had been working so much, but also because it was our whole lives. I needed to figure out who I was outside the band, and if it all falls apart, that I’m still going to be a person who has other things,” Klara says.

“I think we’re all trying to figure that stuff out. I felt so much better in my own skin, and just the feeling that if this doesn’t work out for some reason, I’m still going to be a fully formed person. I have friends outside of this. And I think that’s a good thing to have, so you don’t feel so dependent on it.”

The sisters agreed to take a six-month break, with zero pressure to write or work in any capacity. During that time, her relationship of five years ended. Moving back to Sweden from the UK, Klara was struck by the inspiration that would shape the record.

“I’d had all these ideas about where my life was going, and then all of it changed very quickly. But I got to write about it, and now I can share it. And people say they can relate to the songs, and they’re in the exact same situation now that I was in, and it’s such a beautiful connection that we have with people,” Klara says.

As a new chapter of her life outside of the band, Klara is keen to continue challenging and expanding what First Aid Kit can do.

“As women, people expect us to be a certain way. There’s an expectation that we’re the Swedish, bohemian sisters who make beautiful folk music. And, well, yes. But we also do other stuff. We don’t want to limit ourselves,” Klara says. But just in the way that they empowered so many women, singing “I hope you fucking suffer” to any and all men who have abused their positions of power on ‘You Are the Problem Here’Klara says they continued to be empowered and energised by the movement across the globe pushing women to the front.

“I feel such a sisterhood, we’ve come together. We need to change how we raise children. I feel there’s more and more people every day are realising it. That change will be better for everyone. But it’s going to take a long time, but I think we’ll get there.”

Originally published in Beat Magazine.

Cable Ties Ball | The Corner Award

“It’s a bloody bleak scene if you’re only in this for yourself,” says Jenny McKechnie of the Melbourne music scene. “The music community is everything to us. It fosters interesting music, meaningful friendships and creative relationships. The music community in Melbourne is our life. I’d be so empty without it.”

McKechnie is certainly a well-functioning part of Melbourne’s music community. When she’s not fronting punk outfit Cable Ties, she’s strumming guitar in Wet Lips, while also running things over at Hysterical Records – an inclusive label she founded with Wet Lips comrade Grace Kindellan, and Amanda Vitaris of boutique booking agency Future Popes.

But at least for today, the focus is Cable Ties. The three-piece punk outfit has experienced a quick ascent to acclaim and a cult following since their inception in 2015, something that McKechnie, drummer Shauna Boyle, and bassist Nick Brown didn’t anticipate, but rightly deserve.

“When we started, we had all been in bands or were already in bands in the Melbourne music community, so we were well supported from the start to play gigs and make music,” McKechnie says.

They played their first show at the inaugural Wetfest, which humbly began in the backyard of McKechnie and Kindellan’s share house, and the support of this DIY punk community is what the band attributes their successes to thus far.

“We got to play a heap of shows with our mates because Joel booked us at every Old Bar show possible. This set us up pretty well to record and go on to everything else.”

From Old Bar and beyond, the past year saw the band signed to Poison City Records, release their self-titled debut LP to critical acclaim, earn triple j rotation, a place on the Meredith festival lineup, and support the Kills on their Australian tour.

So hardworking is the trio, that pinning them down for the interview for this article proved a struggle. Their hard work is palpable and was suitably acknowledged by their Corner Award win.

The Corner Hotel’s Corner Awards began in 2016 as a way to acknowledge and support Melbourne’s musicians who work so hard year round and push the boundaries of the scene. Alongside $2000 cash, the pressing of 150 limited edition 7” vinyl singles and rehearsal time at Bakehouse Studios prior to the big show, the winner’s prize includes the opportunity to put on a show at the iconic Corner Hotel. For Cable Ties, their winning show all comes back to honouring and supporting their community alongside them.

This February will see the first ever Cable Ties Ball, a multi-stage event with a huge lineup featuring the titular winners themselves, Miss Blanks, Habits, The Dacios and more. “The lineup is made up of bands or artists that inspire us in our creative practice or political ethos,” McKechnie says.

“Being able to put on the show is very exciting for us. We got to ask all our heroes to play on the lineup and somehow they all said yes. We can’t believe it.”

The band’s vision for the ball took inspiration from an event Cable Ties put on alongside Wet Lips at Gasometer last year to mark the release of their split single. “We put in a lot of effort to ritz up the place and make it a special event and it felt like a big party for everyone involved rather than just another gig.

“We wanted to take that idea but make it an even bigger thing at The Corner. We hope everyone gets in their glad rags and makes a proper night of it,” McKechnie says.

Originally published in Beat Magazine. 

Rise Against | A space dangerous for injustice

“It would’ve been very easy to bitch about Trump, and have a negative overtone, but we didn’t want that.” Rise Against has always been a politically-charged, punk-rock outfit – so it’s no surprise that when Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, it had a big impact on the work.

“It definitely changed the direction of the record,” the band’s bass guitarist and co-founder, Joe Principe says of Trump’s win. “We started writing the record pre-election, and we were in the studio when Trump won, when we found out he was the president-elect. And Tim, who writes all of our lyrics, he took a step back and rewrote some things.”

What the record would’ve sounded like in the event of a Clinton administration is a mystery to everyone except Tim McIlrath. The lyricist had shared very little of his work before the album, and world, shifted.

“Musically, it was the same, the music was there, but lyrically, I’ll be honest, I’m not sure. I heard two songs pre-election, ‘House on Fire’, which is about Tim’s daughter, and ‘Bullshit’, which both have nothing to do with the election.”

Though not usually a band to shy away from melancholic political statements, Rise Against’s seventh record, Wolves, developed into a more uplifting narrative than the initial change of politics inspired.

“We didn’t want a doom and gloom record – just wallowing – we wanted a sense of hope, we wanted to feel a sense of empowerment,” Principe says.

The bassist points to the record’s title track for the best example of Wolves’ tone and themes. “It’s a song of empowerment, that our voice needs to be heard, and that there’s strength in numbers. That sums up the record, not every song is political, but the songs that have a positive spin.”

Rise Against have their roots firmly in the punk scene, starting out in the ‘90s and early 2000s, yet they’ve always had a knack for bleeding their very political work into the mainstream. It’s something that Principe attributes to the hard grind of starting out as a band, and the work ethic that develops from that kind of lifestyle.

“Playing in people’s basements and sleeping on people’s floors, it made us have thicker skin, and it helped us form valuable relationships in the music scene. There are people I met 25 – 30 years ago that I’m still friends with because of music,” Principe says.

It’s a lifestyle that’s less common as time goes on, and Principe argues that this is to the detriment of musicians. “Generally speaking, I feel like more and more bands are missing that experience of starting from the ground up. They have the internet at their disposal, some bands are signed before they even go on tour. We would’ve imploded if that had happened to us.”

Tapping into the joy of being a punk hardcore kid prompted the band to be mindful of those core, basic values that make the punk scene so adored and unique. Encouraging inclusivity and kindness, all members of the band have been vocal about the zero tolerance they have for hateful and toxic behaviour at their performances.

In the lead up to the release of the record, McIlrath said “In many ways, a Rise Against show is a safe space for our fans. But I want to create dangerous spaces where misogyny can’t exist, where xenophobia can’t exist. I want to create spaces where those sentiments don’t have any air, and they suffocate: where those ideas die. Wolves isn’t about creating a safe space, it’s about creating a space that’s dangerous for injustice.” It’s a sentiment that Principe echoes. “The whole reason why I got into the punk rock scene was because I felt like I was an outcast in the mainstream world, and when I found that scene and went to those shows, I felt I was with like-minded people, that this was a safe haven,” Principe says.

“If you’re going to bring homophobia, xenophobia, there’s no place for it. It’s not welcome. This is a safe haven. And we want that to be known. It’s 2017, we want to make sure people know it’s a safe haven, people can be who they want to be. Gender, faith, it doesn’t matter.”

 

Originally published in Beat Magazine.