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5: HTRK's Jonnine Standish discusses Rowland S Howard and Blue Hills

MONT sits down with Jonnine Standish, one half of Australian duo HTRK. Jonnine discusses her friendship with Rowland S Howard and the power of dream diaries on her solo project 'Blue Hills'.

Episode Transcript

MF = Mahmood Fazal

DX = Daniel Stewart

JS = Jonnine Standish

DX: In this episode of Mont Icons, we speak with Jonnine Standish. Jonnine, welcome.

JS: Thankyou, thankyou so much.

DX: Tell us about what you've been up to?

JS: Hmm, well, I'll start in the moment. Because there's a lot, there's quite a lot to cover.

DX: There is.

JS: I came out of a really really good jam with Nigel yesterday, like one of the best on record. That's put me on a bit of a high. Then it was one of those things where we've been working on a track. And you know when you know that something's got potential to be really good, but you haven't cracked it? I hadn't been able to work out what I was trying to say for this whole year with this song. I had all these different parts that weren't really talking to each other. And then everything came out in a really fluid way. Everything is just kind of linked and all the puzzle pieces fit together. And it was just one of those kind of unusual moments where it came from another place and it sorted itself out. We couldn't have pushed it. It had to take the time it needed to take to unravel some of the mysteries. So I’m on a bit of a high from that yesterday. Me and Nigel had some really great flow together pre lockdown, too. And then we couldn't see each other, like none of us could see each other. We've been really kind of sloppy and a bit shit until yesterday, But yeah, we're back. We're back. We had this great, great thing going on, and then it got ripped apart. That's just taken, maybe what, have we been out about three weeks?

MF: Yeah. It's interesting that the unlocking of the city kind of coincided with your mutual energy coming back together.

JS: It was just getting back into communicating with someone and playing music with someone when I had been this isolated being, and I forgot how to bounce off someone else. And I think Nigel was like that with me. But yeah it was kind of strange. You know, it's gonna come back, but it just has to come back in its own time. And so I think I'm sure Nigel than a high today too.

MF: Most people I've spoken to said the same thing that yeah, that they really are energized by other people. But you know that the cliche, or the trope is that the artist returns to solitude to be creative, but I don't think that's a sign of our times.

JS: I don't think that is a sign of our times. However, this year is the first year that I did isolate myself and make a solo piece completely in isolation.

DX: I wanted to ask about that. I would love to hear about the contrast between that and hate rock for you.

JS: Nigel's just way more fun. That's not really describing what you think with Nigel. For the listeners out there; if you meet Nigel, he's just very cool. And quite considered when you don't know him. But when you get to know him and you break through the barrier, he's really fun. And I have so much fun making music with Nigel. So that's stripped away when I'm on my own and it's very different. It is maybe more like a play with the demons when you're on your own, rather than being in a band. Which is so much you know, it's cool. I love being in a gang. Yeah, so you're not in a gang on your own. Like, I like to feel a bit you know, hey I'm, we're bad. We're a gang. And I think I think we play off that feeling a bit and mess around with that kind of gang cult band rock band. Really get into that. So when I'm on my own, it's like, you know, it's like, hey, you're loser. Hey, you're a genius. You know? The kind of devil and angel on the shoulders like in a cartoon?

DX: When did I start talking to you? The devils in the angels? Was it pre-locked down?

JS: Well, come on, definitely pre. We’ve all got the devil. However, locked down, really sat with my shadow side, like maybe never before and went into huge periods of fear. Fear of death. And then surrendered to death. And then I was able to create some music. But before that, I was quite scared of dying. I think I already have a predisposition to having a fear of death. For sure. In fact, my psychologists can back that up if I call her.

MF: We'll verify that after this.

JS: I know people that don't have a fear of death, I don't think Nigel has a fear of death. And I just had to surrender to that. And you can really hear the surrender in that tape called Blue Hills. It is a surrender into death by the last track, I'm welcoming the Grim Reaper into my actual recording studio with, now's the time to come, now's the time to know, give me honesty with the violence of let the waves roll. So I was, it was really whatever will be I can take it. And I'll probably try and kick your ass as well. But I and I worked with a psychologist on Zoom too.

MF: How did that change the dynamic? Because I avoided my psychologist.

JS: For the first minute, it's a bit of a drag. For me personally, it's a bit of a problem. I'm sure you're like this too but I try and charm my psychologist. So you don't have as much charm on Zoom. But once I get over that, I forget that there's a computer there. I have a really good one, though. She's great. And I could just natter on for hours. And yeah, it just really feels like she's in the chair, like a leather chair. And I just kind of set myself up in the chair and you forget, it's like you're both in a chair in the room. And my cats jumping all over me and purring and kissing me and I'm pushing it away. And then sometimes I grab my computer and I'll go make a cup of tea and I show her my house. I actually spoke to her just before I came here. And I showed her the garden. And it's kind of different. It's more like you're talking to a friend. Because I'm like, hey here's here's my life. And she actually said that she's been getting a lot out of seeing people's homes and making added notes about their wellbeing or whatever it might be.

DX: So did you record this in the same space that you're talking to psychologist; this is your space? Tell us about it. Give it give us some insight into it.

JS: Yeah, I was making Blue Hills in the studio. What that looks like: it’s a large dark red room with a big red Persian carpet, books everywhere. A big manic painting. Huge, it's on Pomalone. And just a kind of a lot of broken instruments and broken electronic things everywhere. It's a really nice setup. However, usually, especially, you know, with Nigel or when I had done some previous solo work, it had all been enableton. I hadn't actually picked up physical things until well, not as much until this album actually got off the computer almost entirely other than to record and edit. But I was picking up a bass guitar and playing synth. I was having such a great time I was trying to get out of my head and out of the computer and off the news. I wanted to be on my computer as little as possible so I didn't go to CNN or whatever. So I found myself just jamming for a day, you know, on a synth or a bass or trying to make sounds on the guitar. Although I’m such a bad guitar player. I was in my own little fairytale world. Yeah, escaping the news. And the room used to be a library. So it's got a lot of windows, but they're quite skinny so not much light comes in. So you have to kind of take breaks and get some vitamin D or you feel like you've been at Bakehouse or something for too long.

DX: What's the biggest contrast in the way that you approach the writing of your words between writing in a hang and writing alone?

JS: That's such a good question. It's something that I have nearly got the language for, because I have been thinking about it a lot. With Hate Rock and with Nigel. Wow, there's so much to talk about here. So when I first started Hate Rock, like 17 years ago, or something like that. I used to write my lyrics down in notebooks. And I was just one of these people that had posted notes falling out of my pockets and notebooks everywhere. And I would start in the middle of the book and then the end and couldn't really find anything.

MF: And just on that note, how did you start Hate Rock?

JS:  That's a funny story, too. I was actually in Prahran; I was around the corner from here. So my flatmate, I was in a sharehouse in Prahran and my flatmate John, he used to manage the bar at Orange. And I was there every day, and night, and morning. Our sharehouse backed onto the bar, pretty much so I just kind of walk out the back door, and then roll in. And then John would slide a glass of red down the bar. And I think I did that for a year. But one of these nights, Sean Stewart was in a booth or he was sitting at one of the tables. And it'll you know, he's like 22, and in a linen gray suit with a really thick laptop -you know, like, Dad laptop or whatever. And, you know, everyone's kind of getting rowdy and drunk, and he's looking like he's doing some coding or something. And he was so beautiful. And I said to John, like, who is that guy? And, and John's like, I don't know, I've got to be his friend. And so I got a bit of Dutch courage at this point. And I went over to Sean, a bit sassy. And I was like, hey you're really beautiful from the side profile, and then kept walking. And then we got talking and we were hanging out all night. And at the end, he did say he was a Coder. He said, and I don't know if this is true, but he said that he helped invent the PDF. Anyway, me and Nigel used to call him PDF and JPG. But he had a very technical coder brain in this like, funky sexy bass player. He's also a Composer. He's an amazing, talented musician. And that night, Sean said that he was in a band called Hate Rock Trio. And I wasn't in a band or anything like that. I was a designer. And I was Hate Rock Trio, that sounds kind of cool. So it's you and who else? And he's like, Oh, it's me. And one other guy Nigel. And I just thought it was so funny. And he was just so odd. And his, he said, I was like, okay, so it's a Hate Rock Trio, but it's two of you. And he's like, well, maybe maybe you could be the third and I was like, Okay. And then I had to meet Nigel. That's a whole other story for another time but I had to meet at Nigel. I think Nigel had to give approval or something like that. But Sean and Nigel had been in the band for a month or so.

MF: Was it like a job interview?

JS: No. Nigel didn't really speak back then. He was very shy. I don't think I'm an extrovert but I'm not shy. And in navigating Nigel with some was quite challenging at the beginning like I used to kiss Sean hello. Sean was super social and cute. And I remember I would try to give Nigel a friendly kiss on the cheek before rehearsal, and he's like, that's not necessary; hello is suffice. But in a really short amount of time, even though Nigel was a man of very few words back then, when he did say something, I laughed so much and for so long. His wit is super sharp. I'm really attracted to people like that. My husband Comrad is like that, too. And, in fact, you're both like that too. But yeah, that's how Hate Rock started. It was a random meeting in the bar that I spent well, I guess, if you're at a bar every night for a year, you're probably going to meet someone very interesting. Like the whole year. And that’s where I met Sean.

So yeah, so we didn't know what I was going to do in the band. Actually, I was messing around on the 808 to begin with. And Sean did give me a CD that I played like the following day, or some instrumental, kind of messy, very long jams. And I really flipped. It was this crazy feeling that I felt like it was fate. I didn't know what I was going to do. So I was messing around with different kinds of things hitting things; hitting things like a toy hammer. I got silly. I was trying to write beats on an 808. But I really, really sucked and so I picked up a microphone and I was just making the first ever sounds, which were probably just like, toning. And really, just the breath Then we wrote Ha and we wrote Disco in what felt like a couple of weeks. And I mean, the lyrics are so basic. You know, ‘Ha’, here we are at a disco. But I was writing about the present moment and really getting it out and just feeling lighter. And I also felt so invigorated that I had a voice where no one could interrupt. I think especially as a girl, knowing that if there are ever times when you know, when you walk away from a party or something you're like, Ah if only I said this, if only I said that. Finally I said that I could get all of this out. I could get everything out the way I wanted it to be through lyrics and I could explain my side of the story. Things were really different back then. Everyone was a real nightmare, it was really dramatic back then; jealousies and affairs and competition. And all the bands were kind of men-

MF: Who were the other bands at the time?

JS: That's a good question. There was Bird Plots with like, you know, lots of tough boys and one with my ex. Though we were really good friends but this you know, always a bit of sparring.

DX: Well the first time I saw you guys play was at Pony with Devastations and Rowland This Out.

JS: Oh, wow. Was that really the first show? That show was so much fun.

DX: That show I watched, there was a top booth and I had to climb up and look around the corner and hang off the wall while I was watching. Because there was so many people there that was absolutely insane. It's the only time I ever got to see Rowland.

JS: Really? Wow. I don't think we met him that night either. We supported Rowland a couple of times and the Devastations. But he never caught our show. He played an amazing show and then you know we wouldn't see him again. Or he'd would have missed our show and not be interested. But we were so besotted with him, of course my god.

MF: Do you remember the first show you saw him play live? Was it at that show?

JS: It wasn’t that show. Um it would have been a small show that we played at because I'd only seen him almost like a man bat. Like you’d scoot past in St Kilda and everyone's like, there’s Rowland, there’s Rowland, there’s Rowland. test. It could have been that show. I don't think I ever saw the birthday party or anything like that.

DX: I remember distinctly one thing about that show was feeling quite ambivalent about him before that like always having a bit of distrust for the member that goes on to do solo stuff kind of thing at the time being very distrustful of any of everyone.

JS: Reality? Reality? That seems so interesting.

DX: Then when he did White Wedding, you know, the Billy Idol song?

JS: Of course, such a great cover.

DX: And I got super super scared, because I knew the song but I couldn't figure out what was going on. Yeah, having this like, almost like this anxiety overload. He turned this kind of like, really like glorious pop song into something with with so much evil and menence. And it, that's when everything that he's doing, like, up to that point, and he started, everything made sense. For Rowland, that was that was the moment for me.

JS: Yep, I’m with you there. Yeah, I wonder if that's so we could have been watching that at the same time in the same room. That's amazing.

DX: Yeah, I think I'd love to talk more about Rowland but I'd also like to get back to the post-it notes and the difference between Hate Rock lyrics and your own.

JS: Okay. So yeah, I think I've worked this out because I've actually been thinking about it all lockdown. It's, it's completely different ways of working. And they're completely different lyrical personalities. But so yeah, back then post-it notes are falling off me and things like that. But what would happen is I would get really attached to- oh, my god, there's so much to tell you actually. So I’d get so attached to lines like poetry. And then I'd be trying to jam them into you know, Sean's bass and Nigel's guitar. I'd end up subtracting words or adding words. And sometimes they'd be slightly clumsy. There's a couple of clumsy lines in Memory Tonight that I've kind of jammed in, just like getting there. That's how I would write lyrics back then. And then with Psychic Nine to Five Club, I had nothing written. And Niegal and I collaborated with Nathan Colburn in New Mexico, and I just arrived like, no notebook, nothing. No notebook, I mean, and I was just playing with pure melody. And that was the first time I would actually come up with a melody first, and then back fitted with, with lyrics. And I was really delving into a subconscious state, rather than a conscious state, where you would know this experience where a word that will come from the portal, you know, the shadow, and it will slip into your melody, and you don't really judge it. And then the next thing you know, you know, another word will come in, and then you've got a theme and then you can write to that theme. And since then, I've, I, I hardly write anything down other than my dreams. And most of the lyrical work for Hate Rock comes from my dreams. It's always like an idea or something that happened that mimics real life and, and that's how I write. So with Nigel, it's melody first and then the lyrics are coming from the subconscious. But they're also the lyrics and the melodies are coming very soon in the writing process. So Nigel's on guitar, sometimes we don't even have a beat. Sometimes he's playing an acoustic guitar. And I'm kind of lounging around sitting on the floor on a sofa, patting a cat looking out the window, and we're just playing off each other like two melodic beings, his melodic guitar, my melodic voice without lyrics. And then once these patterns start to merge, or once we start to gel with each other, then I’ll into the portal and find what the themes are. But then we write around it and we bring in all the other instrumentation but the guitar and the lyrics So, the, the, I guess the first pieces of the puzzle, but with my, with my recent solo work, the voice is the last thing to hit the composition. And I'm really just filling a space at the moment with a flourish. And so I'll play usually a baseline first. And then from there, once I've got a bass line that I like, and that can take a week, the rest can come together in about three hours. Then I feel the bass, the space of the bass with a beat if I want one since and then synth then I go into the voice last. And the instrumentation has already created a theme. And I already know pretty much what to say. And I'm less heavy lyrically in my solo work because I'm trying to have a difference and be more playful and a bit more silly in my solo work and have different voices that are playing off each other in almost comical way. And with Hate Rock I’m storytelling. And I there's like a beginner, a beginning, a middle and an end a lot of the time where there's sometimes there's just a middle, either in the solo work or an end. So did did any of that make any sense?

DX: It did. And I'm interested to hear about how this fitted with your experience yesterday while you were jamming? So we can tie it into that because it seems you're on a high from that.

JS: Hate Rock lyric work is much harder. And when you finish a song in Hate Rock, I feel a sense of it's come out of me and I never have to think about it again. Especially every musician say this, like when it goes public, It's yours, not mine, but it's really true. Fortunately, so I said it okay. And yeah, I listened to our demos, like a super psycho freak until the moment it is live for the public. And then I don't revisit, revisit our work at all. And I think that's just completely normal. And the way everyone is as a musician, however, what were we talking about? Oh, so it's yeah, lyrically, Hate Rock is much harder, because maybe I'm putting more pressure on myself to create a scene and also have something to say, I'm not so worried about what I'm saying in my solo work. It's more decorative. But even though I say that, years later when I hear something, I'm like, I actually had quite a deep message there. I didn't know it at the time. But, um, with Hate Rock, I actually am trying to be deep. I want to say something and I wouldn't go as far as saying change people's lives, but I would like to enhance their lives for sure. And not just with sound and beauty and things like that, like also with a message. So I put a lot of pressure on myself. And I'm quite a perfectionist with, you know, what stays and what goes. And at the same time. I want crazy melodies that stay with you in the shower and drive you crazy. So I want a lot. Yeah.

DX: Can you talk a little bit about, well gave you had a period of without dreaming? And how did that affect Hate Rock.

JS: I’ve never had a period without dreaming.

DX: Has this ever happened to you? Like Have you ever entered a phase of not dreaming?

JSL Oh, my god, I could play my recorded dream from the morning.

MF: Oh, please do. Yes. Oh my god.

DX: So you voice record then?

JS: Yeah I do. I've only just started. I did write them down. But this is so funny that I have this. I don't I haven't actually listened back to it myself so I’m a bit embarrassed. And this could be a terrible idea. Let’s try it. I mean, we can always cut it out can’t we?

MF: There's probably only five people listening to this so you have to be fine.

JS: Okay, so 4:19am. I'm probably gonna call Conrado these embarrassing pet names or something because he was leaving for work.

JS [voice recording]: Dream diary. 4:19am. Was it a wedding? And I yelled out into the crowd. And one lady did so I went up to her to talk to her at the reception and I had to squeeze past people who were very slouched in their seats. And I couldn't get past them. And then I said to the lady, you look lovely. And then she sat up with a bit of spark.

JS: I can’t listen to this.

MF: I could listen to that all day.

JS: Oh it’s all coming back to me. I yelled out, does anyone else have the middle name Forbes? And the bride-to-be did. And that’s all I can remember.

DX: I find it so amazing you just did that.

JS: I'm pretty mortified. But I don't either. I'm like I surrendered to death. So yeah, whatever. Yeah. Yeah, that was kind of talking like the queen. I know. I'm really confused.

DX: I love the idea of sitting up for your dream diary and putting on this person or the very profit.

MF: Yeah, I had a few moments.  I mean, maybe when I was abusing drugs really hard. I had blanks like, I wouldn't dream and then when you stop, you kind of have this intense influx of dreams. And I think that's something to do with you fucking with your sleep pattern. I found that when coming off gear. I would have like insane dreams and nightmares. Yeah, really brutal nightmares.

JS: Do you remember what kind of nightmares?

MF: I didn't record them. I should have worked. Yeah, but often, yeah, that that would happen to me. Yeah, I kind of anticipated it. I can feel like I knew it was coming in. And it's something to do with a lack of REM sleep.

JS: Is it really? Yeah that makes a lot of sense to me. Yeah, I've had periods of nightmares usually after. Usually that coincides with grief.

MF: Right? Yeah.

JS: And it's just a thing that you've got to get through. But yeah, my dreams are always quite stressful. But I get so much out of them. I get so many ideas and songs.

DX: Pretty much every Total Control song comes from a dream. Your process is pretty much exactly the same as mine. It was really interesting to hear.

JS: Can you tell me yours?

DX: It’s almost exactly as yours.

JS: Do you start off with the notebooks and then change?

DX:  I started with Straightjacket. I would write pretty much to the rhythm of the symbol. And the words had to be monosyllabic. Just like very vicious. They had to just like, hit you. Right? So yeah, but I would always come to it with some words already planned. And then I'll just try and get them to hit each syllable. And then try to control part of the ambition when Mark and I wanted to do that was to do something completely different in process to what we're doing with Eddy Current and Straightjacket. And that meant, like for me, it was like, I came to it with no notebook. Nothing. I just listened to it. And like you're saying, use the melody to kind of craft the words out of it. But though it will always be motivated by a dream, like and it just be like a dream image, like something simple. Like one of the songs came out of it, like a very strange nightmare of like, children in a production line, with like these syringes in their back to kind of keep them working. And just like that, just like, stay with me all day. And then when I had to write the lyrics, because I usually wait until I'm at the stage where I have to actually record them for the lyrics to kind of come together. Like I'll have little ideas of melodies and stuff, but for the lyrics, like, it's always the moment that I give it over is like the last very last moment. So that really resonated with me.

JS: Yeah I feel you I know.

DX: Yeah, I get everything that you've gone through. So yeah, the times when I'm not dreaming. I definitely like software creatively and I'm very curious about how much my actual intellectual development has been provoked by dreams. Like, that's my earliest memory.

JS: Yeah, me too. Wow, I feel. Yeah, that's crazy to hear. And I had never considered that you might do some intellectual processing through all of this, but of course you would. That's why we're so you know, onto it.

MF: I find with my writing, I get all of my ideas before I go to sleep, like in that weird Limbo, just as I'm drifting to sleep, and it's never images. It's always like phrases like, I'll get infected with like a phrase.

JS: Do you write it down?

MF: Yeah, write it down.

JS: Where?

MF: Like my phone. Yeah so that’s where I differ because that drift asleep and I get this influx of sentences and phrases. It just glitches in my head like a voice in my head that keeps repeating. It’s really weird. But yeah I get nothing from my dreams.

JS: I wonder, you get it all. And you hear it- is it you talking to you?

MF: Yeah I think it’s me repeating it in my head over and over as soon as it comes.

JS: And how long after this do you fall asleep? I’m just trying to work it out, like a computer shutting down.

MF: Yeah I shut down like I give it to the iCloud; I’ve given myself to the iCloud and I sleep.

DX: Can you talk a little bit about your creative relationship with Rowland? I know it reallys flip this in a whole other direction because you were in a band him, but I really want to hear about that because you did that song with him.

JS: Oh yeah he’s such a big influence of mine. Yeah, so crazy. Even this demo from yesterday. I can hear Rowland influence, I kind of lost some of Rowland’s influence, perhaps within the Hate Rock album, Psychic Nine to Five Club. But I feel like it's definitely coming back for the one we're writing at the moment. Probably lyrically, because and also, where Nigel's on guitars. It’s more psychic and more electronic, but the Roland influence in a way, and the way we work together was kind of like two cats. It was just super cute. We had such a cute friendship. He was really endearing, really funny. And he really liked me. And even though you know, he's just someone I really admire musically, but not just musically. I just love the way he held himself and the way he looked and the way you know, his side profile, the way he talks, it's just a very, very strange and amazing person. But more importantly, he really liked me and you always you know, that's so nice when you really like someone and I really like you back and he wanted the best for me, genuinely. And so he's just a proper friend. And that's a really nice feeling. And we all make loads of friends, but he was, yeah, just kind of a special mentor for me. And it was never patronizing or giving me any advice or anything like that he always treated me as an equal. I think he was like that with a lot of people. So we would kind of, you know, gossip talk about Brittany, you know, we had a really great normal relationship, like any of your friends. And he really liked my phrasing and subject matter and could see a lot more humor in Hate Rock than most people at the time could and a lot, he saw a lot of humor and a lot of pop in what we were doing. And I think he found me quite funny. And I found him really funny. And, and it was quite kind of a romantic friendship as well, without the cliched version of romantic that's why I feel like we were two cats, you know, kind of, and after he produced Marry Me Tonight, we had a really good time, and I learnt so much from him. And I got we, all myself, Sean and Nigel, we got so much confidence with Rowland just champions are championing us, we were really on a high, and he was great for us, because we were going into my first studio album. And we were all kind of being perfectionists, and Roland got us out of that mode and got us into the mode of Do you feel anything, when you when you hear this piece of music or when you and don't, it took it's taken years and years to realize, like, the more you over produce something, you lose the soul of it. But we were lucky to learn that really quickly through Rowland. And it would always be do three takes, take one or take two. Don't even bother trying to do it anymore. Because you're not storytelling anymore. You are in your head and you're not in your body. And so we really smashed that out really quickly. And you know, when you hear your early stuff you like, Oh, we could have done this, we could have done that. But it really is just a piece of feeling that captured a time. And, and then because we were mates then you know, and he was also really really good friends with some Conrad who I started going out with and Conrad was in Rowland’s band, a bass player in his band, and also Conrad had gone out with Genevieve McGucken for four years. And that was also Rowland’s ex. So there was no like kind of competitiveness or jealousies and all these kind of like intermingling of relationships. We were just all such great mates. And Genevieve became a really close friend of mine still is. And the fact that she dated Conrad was awesome. It's just not a thing. And, um, and Rowland had asked me, he actually asked me to make an album with him over email. Wow. And I was just like hell to the Yes. Yeah, that would be great. But at this point, we had moved to London but I said big yes to that. But I'd come home for Christmas every year from living overseas and obviously hook up with Rowland and have a coffee have a cigarette and rollin was like, hey, let's do I'm finishing up, you know, pop crimes or, you know, three quarters of the way through, let's do a duet Johnny and I was like, that'd be great. But I was like, Oh my God, because he's like, you bring ideas and I'll bring ideas and we'll and we'll we'll meld them all together and we'll meet you know at Pelican in St Kilda over coffee and cigarette and we'll chat ideas. So I'm writing all this stuff, you know. And feeling the weight and the pressure of like, suddenly my friend it's like suddenly he's now rolling this Rowland S Howard and I'm feeling like, Oh, I don't know if I'm if I'm worthy of this. And I did feel my own insecurities. But when as soon as I hang out with Roland and we talk ideas over coffee, it was always over coffee and I'd always pay. He was just Yeah, he just made me feel like Sean and Nigel made me feel that we were all on the same, you know level and it's all cool and fun and, and then but one particular time Rowland had the neatest handwriting and he'd written out out a song, and his parts of the song with like, little gaps for me to fill, which I filled later. And it was I and I've still got the piece of paper he gave me like this, um, you know, immaculately written. I know a girl called Johnny by Rowland S Howard. Yeah, he'd been writing notes like that since he was 15 or 16. It's like, he knew that they'd be in a museum or something, you know, he probably didn't know that. But he was just so considered in this way and charming. Anyway, the lyrics had everything in order in the structure. You know, I know a girl called Johnny. You know, she's villainous, you know, she's a disastrous, like, he had all the different verses. And the chorus, she puts his fingers in his mouth- yeah that's the chorus and, and then a little gap with like, you fill in here, and you fill in here with your two verses about me. Cool. And I was super kind of blushing. Like, this is a little bit risk-ay. But I thought that I should act, you know, like, hey, that's no big deal, man. Yeah, totally. And then I filled in my little, you know, he's a pin-up poster, high school crush business. And then we went to Birdsland and yeah, we knocked it out in a day. And then yeah, he wrote me such a cute email when it was all mixed and everything. He was like, get your silky little ears over this little milky treat. Yeah, that's how we kind of used to, you know, talk to each other kind of Yeah, in a cute way. And yeah, he was so happy with the song and yeah, it's a great thing to have existing in the world.

DX: It's so nice to hear the backstory of that. I would like to also just hear what Rowland S Howard had to say about Britney?

JS: Oh, he loved Britney. He really liked Britney and so did I. And this was, you know, there was always um, Rowland was really into popular culture.

MF: Wait, are we talking about Britney Spears?

JS: Yeah, we're talking about Britney Spears. Yeah, is that the Brittany you were talking [DX]?

DX: Yeah I assume so.

MF: I was thinking about Britney like the place in France or some shit.

JS: Oh my god.

MF: Like, yeah, you know, his dandy-ish look.

JS: I feel like I can hear him laughing, sitting across from us. He’d find that so funny. But anyway, who did we like at the time? So we both quite liked Britney Spears voice, including (and I can't believe I'm gonna say this) but even her vocal fry. Which I hate on any other voice that tries to put on a vocal fry. But Brittany's is cool. And he really liked the song Toxic, he really liked and Hit Me Baby One More Time. He probably wanted to cover Hit Me Baby One More Time that in a way I can imagine. He never said that. But I can imagine it would have been pretty cool. And he also really loved Japanese anime and he had lots of little plastic toys around the house which was kind of unexpected.

DX: Yeah I wouldn’t have expected that. I still remember going with the Britney Britney kind of thing. Like goblets with like, yeah, candlesticks with like, melted candles.

JS: It was a bit of that too.

MF: Gothic literature.

JS: Yeah, there's a lot of Gothic literature out there. Ravens. There were bats and lots of ravens in amongst Japanese anime and you know, glossy lip gloss pop culture. He had all of that, it was really fun.. Because living with Genevieve McGuckin at the time and, you know, there's always a raven and a bat and a black cat around with Genevieve. I don't know if you've met Genevieve. She's so wonderful. And yeah, so they definitely still had all the literature and books piled up everywhere and ashtrays with cigarettes overflowing with a raven on them. But in amongst you know, I'm probably Rolling Sneaky and New Weekly. He really liked pop TV and, you know, very similar to me and Conrad.

DX: What can you tell us about the pop culture breakthroughs you've had during the last few months? You've had some time to sit down and soak it all in?

JS: Ah, there's so many. Only yesterday, there was a meme video of someone pretending they're like the leader of the galaxy accepting Earth into the group. And they say, I can't believe you turned a wolf into a pug. And I'm like, what does that mean? And then there's a whole world of every bit of memes about the wolf been turned into a pug. It was like the wolf, this beautiful majestic dog, humans have turned into, over 10,000 years, this. And it's like a pug’s face with its tongue hanging out. And so that I feel like that was some pop culture that everyone seems to know about. But you both don't, I can tell.

DX: Yeah we’re both dreadful with pop culture. We really depend on conversations like this.

JS: Okay yeah, wolf to the pug. You can even just drop that in party conversation. They'll be like, Yeah, man. Great.

DX: Yeah, very out of touch.

JS: Um, what else? Um, but there hasn't been extreme amounts of pop culture. In a way other than everyone since the pandemic, I've been really proud of the human race in a lot of ways. For the humor, especially on Twitter.

MF: There’s real humor on Twitter?

JS: Yeah, I really think that are. and I think I'm following a bunch of comedians that’s helped.

MF: Yeah okay okay,

JS: Those kind of front-facing comedians where they're playing different roles, like Meg Stelter. I don't know if you've come across her? That's a bit of pop culture. She's so fantastic. And how people are dealing with death, and the humor that I've seen come out of that. And TikTok exploding like crazy, you know, everyone dancing. It's just been so fascinating for me to see that everyone is doing crazy dances on TikTok and the front-facing comedy, to just to get by. I thought that was really beautiful. Amongst all the politics and so much grief and turmoil more than any year that maybe we've lived through perhaps.

MF: Yeah, DX mentions this quite often. We wonder how our city is gonna change as a result of this trauma that we've collectively experienced?

DX: Yeah, what do you kind of see as the effects? Because you [JS] work in fashion. There’s already been effects, in terms of lots of runway shows going online. What can you see happening in Melbourne fashion, for instance, as in the next kind of year?

JS: It sounds funny. Fashion. I know fashion. Hello. But yeah, I’ve worked for Melbourne Fashion Week for the last four years as a posh creative consultant. But I have motives behind what I'm doing. Because I'm actually quite anti-fashion, which I tell everyone openly. I like clothes, but I don't like fashion.

MF: That's fascinating. Unpack that a little bit. What do you mean, when you say that?

JS: It sounded really cool, don’t make me.

MF: Alright alright, okay.

JS: I can’t elaborate. But I do I really like clothes, but I don't like a lot of clothes. I get really depressed by the idea of a woman's wardrobe and/or how it used to be, and how I could see it going. And I fell into this role. I always fall into strange roles. I never know where I'm going when it comes to this to that design and art director side of my life or creative side, creative director side, I just fall into things.I haven't had a CV or even a folio in 10 years, I just made friends and they give me work. And the next thing you know, I'm the creative consultant for Fashion Week. But I have enjoyed this so much. Because I've been able to bring in some of my political agenda into Fashion Week, in a kind of stealth way, but not let anyone feel like they're being pressured into anything because it is the city of Melbourne. The whole idea of this particular fashion week is for designers to sell. But I guess my agenda has been more to make it more of a cultural event of ideas for Melbourne, that's on the side. That's kind of a no brainer, but also make people buy less, has always been the agenda. I couldn't get my head around seasons and trends. And hey, you know that now this is in fashion, your whole wardrobe is obsolete. So just by increments, and by working with people that trust me, it's been really enjoyable to say that. Now they're proudly taken on, and I'm so proud of them, like a whole buy less. And not just buy less but by less expensive, local, transparent fashion or clothes. And it's like, buy less, be weird, be don't buy basics, that you'll just end up in landfill, you know, like Uniqlo t-shirts or whatever. Buy some crazy jacket that will define you and you will identify with and then have more emotional attachment to it. And you're less likely to want to sell it on Facebook. All of these recycled culture initiatives, really just in my mind making us feel less attached to our clothing, whether it's marketplace on Facebook. A lot of, hey this has never been worn. You're buying brands because you know, they'll sell. Just trying to eradicate all of that and get everyone to feel that your clothes might be sentient beings.

MF: What do you make of all this like fetishization of exclusivity? Like, 1000 runs of these sneakers or something?

JS: Oh it’s so stupid.

MF: And then suddenly, they become a commodity?

JS: It's definitely not for me. There's some, I think I call it the knob limit. And every item of clothing, like if you wear a pair of jeans, and they're over $300, you've gone over the knob limit. And trainers, like I've got all the different prices for trainers is like, can't go over $250. Jeans can't go over $300. They'd have to be a pretty special reason. And even then you would still be a knob. Or the douche limit. There's all these different terms for it. But yeah, I don't like exclusivity, I hate exclusivity. Sorry, I just really, really don't like it. At all.

DX: Yeah, full stop.  We were talking to our friend Spider who hand cuts and makes records at his house; this really kind of arduous process of making them. The subject kind of came up and Mahmood was just like, why? Why records? And similar to the idea of clothing; like records of experiences, where they've gone from being something you adore, and it's yours, and you listen to it. And now it’s something that kind of passes through you. And it's kind of part of this general trend, where all the physical things in our lives become facilitated through our phones as much as possible. Like music. We don't need a record because music can go through our phone now. But clothes- you can’t download a shirt.

JS: Well, you can. There was a real thing about what you're wearing on Instagram. And you could have a CGI wardrobe. Oh and because so many influences- even though influences feels like a post-COVID word. I feel like they aren't any influences anymore. But that's a whole other thing, really, but they're just so lame. Anyway, they would wear something once and then as long as they documented it on Instagram, it was done. You know, they never needed to see that beautiful piece of clothing again, because it's done. But people were trying to come up with more sustainable ways because of this, like, Instagram culture and CGI wardrobe was one of those ideas so you can have your clothing on your phone.

DX: Well, I didn’t even consider that.

JS: Our phone is just a portal for it's just another brain. That’s just what it is now. None of us can, or well I can't work now without Google Maps and I can't spell at all anymore. I can't get anywhere. I've just compartmentalized all these things and put it on my phone. I imagine it's worse with you know people in their teenagers and early 20s would just be completely cooked.

MF: I’m fascinated by that. For you, like I always found that I find that my best inspiration comes to me when I'm walking through, like secondhand bookshops. It's it seems like one of those old school thing. Like you actually look at the shelves and sometimes a book will just scream out to you and you don't know why it could be the cover, it could be lit by a ray of light. It could be something. But now with our phones, the algorithms give us inspiration in different ways. Have you found that’s changed your music?

JS: No, I don't really get anything musically off my phone that I can think of. If it's happening, I'm not aware of it. I'm sure there's something. I'm like you- everything's physical. It’s yeah, secondhand bookshops is a big one. But it's also interaction with physical people and the way those people make me feel whether it's good or bad. And then that filters into my dreams. I'm really not getting anything musically off my phone, I think out everything I get off my phone would be visual. I mean although Nigel and I, around Psychic Nine to Five club, we used to keep a private Tumblr for each other. And we would just throw a lot of reference in there that was all from Tumblr, and visual, and then that informed the mood of our music. So I take it back, I take it all back. Nigel is as visual as I am. And one image can spark the whole vibe of an album. And it could come from online, the more I think about it. However, personally I love reference books that just are like an old book that just might be on one particular seashell, or a book of Persian rugs. Rather than a lot of design books that try and be the best of everything. I like really specific reference books that got a lot of dust on them. I've got like great books on one particular type of fern, and they're all black and white and weird. And or, yeah, just quite specific subjects. I get way more ideas from that.

DX: Could you tell us about some of the images that you would use to kind of orient us to prepare for this new Hate Rock record? What images might put us in the space?

JS: We're more than halfway through. And it's just at the point where like five or six tracks in. And only yesterday - it's really amazing you ask this- we said this yesterday, is the first time I put everything together as a group. You know, some things will stay, some things will go and will obviously add a lot more. It's the first time that I allowed myself to see what theme was talking to me. So we're actually at the image point right now the second from yesterday. And the only thing that has come to mind is this one idea of being in double limbo. And we don't really know what that means. But there's definitely some there's an idea of waiting and time. That some themes that are coming forward but no colors and no imagery. We haven't got the mood board yet. But it's happening.

MF: Hmm. Was there any images that particularly surprised you on previous records?

JS: Mm hmm. There's still one that's quite haunting. I felt like I was in the dark web or something. So Nigel had posted this really creepy doll's head, that was really darkly lit, and I think it actually came from one of Dennis Cooper's scrapbooks.

MF: Wow.

JS: And that kind of stemmed from there; this kind of very creepy, kind of dark wavy kind of vibe. We went into pastel colors instantly. And that Psychic Nine to Five club really was built on images first of pastel colors and nightclubs from the 80s in California were their alcohol-free nightclubs, like the first water bars. And the images of that were really passively lit. And very cool kind of Gothic, like, hip, people drinking water and listening to music. And we really dive deep on this idea because Nigel has never really been able to drink. He's kind of allergic to alcohol. And at that point, I was really giving it a break, because I'd really given it a push for 10 years previously. So I was having a little timeout. So whenever we change what we're into health wise, we have to back it up with really beautiful aesthetics. So it seems like we're doing it for artistic reasons, rather than just, I'm an alcoholic. So I went deep into the idea of like, not drinking or getting wasted when you're listening to music and like hooking up with people is super feminist because it's women usually who are making bad decisions and getting themselves hurt more than I guess, you know, men are also getting hurt too. But it was the idea that really taking control of your physical space as a woman when you're going out and making good decisions and making, rather than just some hook up that you might regret, actually making long lasting friends that will die in your arms. And bonding over music and that's where the high idea of like psychic like you're meeting the people you're meant to meet. You're not just being kind of blurry visions and, and being charmed in the moment or fooled. You actually have heightened senses and you're listening. We were like what music would we make in that club? And then we made the Psychic Nine to Five club.