I discovered Reliqa a few months ago. I was looking up the acts I didn’t know ahead of attending Monolith Festival in Melbourne, which featured some of the best prog and post-rock bands that Australia had to offer. Reliqa was new to me, but I was floored straight away. Energetic, innovative alt-prog with an incredible singer. It’s by no means their heaviest, but the song “Earthbound“, was a fast favourite, full of moody gravitas.
Reliqa have been on high rotate ever since. I just can’t get enough. They’re only young – all being in their early 20’s – but their songwriting and playing abilities are truly outstanding. It’s a bit of a given – seeing that they are a prog band – but their ability to draw from a variety of genres and experiment with sounds and styles makes their music exciting and enticing. And just as I’d hoped, Reliqa killed it when I saw them play live. A good portion of their set was yet-unreleased material from this EP, and even though nobody knew those songs, it still garnered a great reaction from the audience.
I Don’t Know What I Am, kicks straight into it on the eponymous opening track. Vocalist Monique Pym’s delivery is direct and aggressive, backed by distorted guitar. This juxtaposes abruptly against a floating ethereal passage before launching into another rocky section. The crazy glitchy breakdown in the middle is one of the stand out moments on this EP. An effect kicks in, causing Pym’s vocals to stutter, falling away for the solo. I’m not sure which instrument is responsible but it sounds like a drum solo on synthetic boomwhackers, leading into a ripping guitar lead. The sheer weirdness of the tones and timbres make my ears prick up and notice. What is that sound? How did they pull that off? The guitar playing is reminiscent of their Monolith festival co-players Plini – extremely technical sounding, heavy and metallic, yet still very articulate and accessible.
“The Bearer of Bad News” takes us to exotic lands before crashing back to reality with frenzied riffing and playing. Pym alternates between singing and rapping, showing some diverse ability with her power voice. One moment her singing soars high, the next she’s whispering with menace. You know how System of a Down sometimes use scales that aren’t often found in traditional Western music? I have a feeling that Reliqa may be doing something along those lines to give sections of this song an different flavour. Listening to some of those guitar lines makes me conjure images of snake charmers.
“Safety” was an obvious choice as a single. For one, it features Make Them Suffer vocalist Sean Harmanis. Reliqa have been touring with and opening for an impressive selection of bands – a who’s who of premiere Australian alternative acts – so it’s cool to see them making the most of some of the contacts they’ve made by getting Harmanis to guest on this track. It’s also a heavy track, and the chorus is a real ear worm. Good luck getting it out of your head after a few listens.
“Second Nature” is the ballad of the EP, in the sense that it’s slow and powerful. It commences with serene guitar picking and spacious halftime drumming, revving up for the the chorus and a breakdown. Doublekick drumming fills the beat, giving the song some oomph. Throughout the song we feel an elastic tension with the tempo, pulling and pushing as the energy comes in waves. A soft cut out preludes a big build up, with lots of layered harmonies that create an anthemic final chorus and a juicy riff-laden outro. This powerhouse track shows Reliqa as masters of dynamic songwriting.
“.blip” is an interlude, an instrumental track that gives the Miles and Benjamin Knox a chance to show off how in sync the rhythm section is. They lock in, tight drums and warm running basslines, while guitar helps to flesh it out tastefully. This leads into “The Ritualist”, which also has a tight djent feel, with dense stop/start chugging..
True to its name, I Don’t Know What I Am EP is all over the show, never staying true to a set style or sound. But this eclectic dynamism is what I find so alluring. This music demands your attention, showcasing the immense talents of the four musicians responsible. Monique Pym’s singing is the true star of the show (and will earn Reliqa inevitable comparisons to Spiritbox), but the other three players are also incredible. Despite the technical nature of the music, I don’t consider it challenging or pretentious. Perhaps it’s because they explore a whole array of concepts within each song, but condense them into a standard length, unlike many other prog bands who are known for writing long songs. This keeps it sounding fresh, at any rate. It’s just great music, played by musicians who are talented beyond their years.
I Don’t Know What I Am drops on Friday 16 September 2022
feat. Karnivool, Cog, Ocean Grove, Plini, sleepmakeswaves, Reliqa, Yomi Ship
Saturday 26 August 2022
Australia hits well above its weight when it comes to excellent prog-rock and post-rock bands. Belgium does well, possibly because dunk!records is based there. Japan has an incredible scene, especially with the math-rock offshoot. America is obviously well represented, but that’s a given because America is huge and is there anything that they don’t dominate at? But honestly, give me the choice, and I’d most want to see Australian post/prog bands.
Monolith Festival was my chance. When I first saw the announcement I was almost too scared to hope. The lineup seemed too good to be true. Karnivool AND Cog? I’d consider coming over for either one of those acts, let alone both of them together. But this is the time of covid. A time of ruined dreams and cancellations and postponements and lockdowns and all those nasty things a pandemic can cause. It was too risky.
And sure enough, the gigs were postponed. But this worked for me. It meant that it took us to a time beyond extreme border restrictions and mandatory isolation. Travel was viable again. I could afford a glimmer of hope.
I’ve come to Melbourne for gigs a few times in the past: Into It. Over It. and Download Festival. Both were amazing, truly treasured memories. It was time for a hat-trick. Monolith Festival, here we come!
I arrived at PICA with my friend Francie half way through Yomi Ship’s set. Navigating Melbourne’s public transport had proven more difficult than anticipated, with some train services being closed for maintenance. PICA – Port Melbourne Industrial Centre for the Arts – was a cool spot. As the name suggests, it was in the port area. It used to be a warehouse of some sort, that had been repurposed as a venue. A bunch of old shipping containers had been converted into bars, and there were a few bars spaces that didn’t look quite so industrial. It was covered in corrugated iron and the walls didn’t come down far, giving it a half open-air feel – like an industrial gazebo of sorts. There was a designated area with picnic tables and an assortment of food trucks, and the obligatory merch tent and portaloos. It was a great set up.
Perth’s Yomi Ship – named after a Yu Gi Oh card – were a trio playing very technical-sounding post-rock. It was fairly laid-back, despite some time-signature changes that bordered on jarring. Melbourne had put on an unexpected beaut of a day, and this dreamy music was wonderful as we enjoyed the sun.
Reliqa is one of the acts I hadn’t heard of before seeing the Monolith line up. I figured I better check out all the acts about a month ago, and was blown away with how much I loved their music. They’ve been on very heavy rotate ever since.
I came in with high expectations, and Reliqa more than delivered. They draw from a range of styles, with elements borrowed from prog-rock, metalcore, djent and and similar alternative styles. They’re a young band, but showed great mastery as musicians and songwriters. Frontwoman Monique Pym stood out especially with her powerful pipes.
Mikey from local metalcore band Gloom in the Corner came on for a guest spot on their latest single “Safety”, with some pretty heavy hardcore vocals. After that the band previewed unreleased material from their forthcoming EP: I Don’t Know What I Am. I tell you what: it’s great music. Uplifting passages, thunderous breakdowns, infectious riffing – I was absolutely lapping it up.
I was very impressed with their set. Note Reliqa down as a band to watch out for.
Back in 2017 I tagged along with Montana post-rockers Ranges on a two week tour across America. I saw a lot of post-rock bands during those two weeks, especially because the tour involved a few days in Vermont at the inaugural dunk!USA festival. I remember discussing with Ranges guitarist Joey Caldwell what it took for post-rock bands to stand out in a live context. They need either memorable melodies or great energy. Anything less, and they’re just not up to par.
sleepmakeswaves have both. Delicious riffs, interesting effects, great dynamics. And energy! Such energy! I’d seen them open for This Will Destroy You when they came to Wellington in 2015, hot off a three-month long tour. They, well, destroyed TWDY. Their energy was incredible. I’ve long awaited the chance to see them play again.
Sound check for their set had me giggling. Certain frequencies had the corrugated iron on the roof of the venue rattling sympathetically, like the wire snares on a snare drum.
Right from the opening notes of “Tundra”, I was transported into my happy place. Pure euphoria. It reminded me just why Made Of Breath Onlyis one of my favourite post-rock albums. As I already mentioned, they are an incredibly energetic band. And that energy was contagious. The three string players were bounding all over the stage, leaping up and off the foldbacks. I could tell there were some issues with the bass guitar because a roadie kept coming up to adjust the pedal board and swap out the lead, but I couldn’t hear anything wrong.
They dismissed their music as mere “interlude songs”, but honestly, their set was the highlight of my day. It has been a tough few years. I wouldn’t usually consider myself a happy person and life is often a struggle. But sleepmakeswaves made me experience such elation that I struggle to remember when I was in such joyful spirits.
The sun had set by this stage, so the lights finally looked effective onstage. It was quite comical how much stage smoke was deployed, with the band often engulfed in clouds.
Like sleepmakeswaves, Plini plays guitar driven instrumental music. But I’d call Plini technical guitar metal, rather than energetic post-rock. I’d seen Plini play in Wellington once at a sold-out gig, in many ways reminiscent of the Intervals gig that had taken place maybe 6 months before. It was a great night.
I don’t have too much to say about his music. It’s a lot of widdly widdly wizardry. Once you’ve heard one of his songs you’ll have a fair idea what the rest will sound like. Very tappy and technical, bridging the gap between melodic and heavy.
One of the reasons that I love the prog/post styles of music is that the artists are often pushing their abilities as musicians. Plini doesn’t put on much of a show – he’s quite unassuming and self-deprecating – but he is a phenomenal guitarist. And his band members also have to be incredible as well. This was an act that you just stand and watch, mouth agape, in awe of their talent.
Now you have to understand that I am from New Zealand. The internet does wonders for connecting us all, but some big Australian bands just don’t have a presence over the ditch. I’d never heard of Ocean Grove. But based on their streaming stats, and the of bands they’ve opened for, I’d wager they’re pretty big here in Australia.
I gave them a few listens online leading up to Monolith. And to be honest, I never lasted long before switching to something else. I didn’t really get the appeal. But they made sense live. Their music was definitely more commercial sounding and catchy, something I could easily imagine gaining radio play. And they had great presence. They’re local to Melbourne, so I imagine that many people in attendance had seen them plenty of times.
Their sound reminded me of Limp Bizkit and Sum 41, switching from rapping to hook laden choruses. Their visuals weren’t exactly cohesive, but you can tell they’d put some thought into their image. The singer wore a boiler suit, and the lead guitarist had a skeleton hoodie and sequined jeans.
They encouraged everyone to get up on shoulders and crowd surf, with singer Dale Tanner jumping out into the crowd rows of the audience himself.
Cog are incredible. How can a mere trio be such a powerhouse act? One of my mates put my onto them a when I started university and I was instantly hooked. Cog were old news by that stage, and inactive. There was the wonderful side project from The Occupants that they released around that time, but I thought Cog was over. Thankfully after a few years, Cog reunited, released a few singles, and I was able to see them play on a trip to Sydney. It was everything I wanted and more. I even caught one of Lucius’ drum sticks that night, but regretfully left it in the hotel room when I returned to NZ a few days later.
They were obviously a huge drawcard for tonight. Looking around, you could see most people singing along to most songs. Guitarist Flynn Gower mentioned that they’d been coming down to Melbourne for close on 25 years, and felt that Melbourne was a musical home for the band.
As is the case with every band on the bill, the musicians in Cog were amazing players. All three of them sang. I was especially in awe of drummer Lucias Borich. He had a huge DW kit, flanked by sample pads with a huge Zildjian gong at the rear. And splash cymbals for Africa. He seemed like an octopus at times, utilizing so many different percussive elements in his playing.
Some of the mix wasn’t quite right. Flynn had two microphones with slightly different effects (I’d seen Faith No More’s Mike Patton do this in the past too) and the secondary one wasn’t working for the start of the set. And the samples from the drum trigger pads were a lot louder than the band at times, but all in all, none of this really detracted from the gig.
Everyone knew the songs so well, so it was neat to see how the band gave these songs live treatment. The song “Open Up” (A Leftfield/Public Imaged Ltd cover) stood out somewhat, having a more dancy/electronic feel. I loved the handful of songs which had extended jams, with “No Other Way” having an especially big build up.
Bassist Luke Gower was having the time of his life. You could see him dancing and grooving onstage, even between songs. You could even see how much fun he was having as he sang some of the non-lyrical vocal parts, playing with what his voice could do. I chatted to him briefly after his set and he said to me “oh yeah, you could tell that tonight was a great set”. I have to say I agree with him.
I dreamt of becoming a music journalist as a teen. Imagine being given albums to review, getting passes to concerts, interviewing rock stars. I never managed to make a career of it, but I did start this music blog so I’ve had a taste of it. My favourite magazine at the time was Rip It Up, a long standing NZ music mag that was celebrating its 30th birthday around the time I started reading it. Annual subscriptions worked out cheaper than buying each issue, and you’d get a free CD too. From memory I got a Velvet Revolver album the first year. The second year I got a CD from a band I hadn’t heard of: Sound Awake by Karnivool. I’m so grateful for that. I wonder if I would have ever discovered Karnivool if not for that chance subscription bonus?
That album was a game changer. As a teenage bogan, I was dutifully a huge Tool fan. This was a band who came incredibly close in terms of musicianship and feel, yet didn’t feel derivative. I loved the moodiness, the emotion. As a beginning drummer, I was in absolute awe of the drumming. There are plenty of brilliant drumming moments found within, but the intro to “The Caudal Lure” stood out, because Steve Judd plays around the beat. I couldn’t comprehend it.
I was even more fortunate to see them play at Big Day Out the following year. It was amazing, but criminally early in the day, and not a very long set. That was 12 years ago. I’ve craved more live Karnivool ever since.
Sound Awake remains one of my favourite albums. Now and again I meet someone who is a fellow Karnivool fan and it feels like we instantly form a special bond. I remember chatting to some of the guys in OHGOD (who opened for Karnivool in South Africa) at dunk!fest 2018, who share my reverence for the Vool. And my mate Josh (Tides of Man) talks about touring with Karnivool, and just being completely floored as he got to watch them from side of stage every night on tour. They’re on another level.
Tonight was the night. I would have come over just for Karnivool. I couldn’t miss Karnivool AND Cog, along with the other incredible bands.
They’d hung a huge transparent curtain in front of the stage during set up and sound check. I couldn’t tell what the point of this was from where I was to the side, but I assume it added a theatrical element, dropping to the floor half way through their first song.
As I said before, Sound Awake is a huge album for me, so songs like “Simple Boy” and “New Day” were big highlights. But they treated fans to works from throughout their catalogue. Their encore was their newest song, “All It Takes”, followed by “Fade” – one of their oldest.
It had seemed like most of the crowd had been singing along to Cog’s set when they played. Well for Karnivool, it seemed like that number had doubled. It was a sight to behold, seeing everyone mouth along to the words, arms in the air. One of the best moments was the outro to “We Are”, which the band slowly faded out to. It felt magic, everyone singing along in unison at the last notes lingered in the still night.
Monolith Festival was a huge success. Incredible bands, great venue, sold out show.
Karnivool guitarist Mark Hosking to summed it up well: “If there is one thing that this tour has made abundantly clear, it is that Australian music is alive! And here! And relevant!”
The pandemic stole a lot from us. But it didn’t defeat us. And tonight was a testament to that. Great music unites people, and reminds us what we have to live for.
Let’s do it again. Add Meniscus to the lineup. I’ll come back to Australia for that in a heartbeat.
Adoneye are one of the best bands in Wellington. Certainly one of my favourites, at any rate. I proclaimed my excitement for this forthcoming release in my end of year reviews for both 2020 and 2021, and it’s finally here: a five track EP called Sessions.
Like almost every amazing band, Adoneye are greater than the sum of their parts. I know drummer Jignesh Jasmat from local prog-rock band Ovus, so clearly he has some great chops. He’s that guy that has twice as many cymbals as I do on his drum set-up, along with the skills to actually make use of them. I actually used to work with bassist Jesse Hill, and have been to countless jams at his house. He played in Opium Eater, which are hard to describe (I’m going to go with avant-garde prog-metal), but he’s an absolutely outstanding musician with the capability to play any genre. And then you’ve got Dean on guitar, that weird skinny stoner guy you see at parties who blows you away when he starts playing guitar. Dean is a phenomenal songwriter, and you can see the passion when he starts to sing.
Adoneye onstage. Image: Supplied
One reason I love Adoneye so much is because they straddle a variety of styles that I love, and pull it off with such talent. Take opening track “Beautiful Aliens”, for example. It’s bookended with beautiful, tender fingerpicking. Dean coos into the mic and Jesse’s vocal harmonies add just the right boost. It’s sweet and serene, but segues into a grungy anthem. Dean is borderline shouting, and the fingerpicking has switched to hard strumming. And before you know it, we’re back to the calm as is nothing ever happened. Such brilliant dynamics!
Jig is a monster on the drums. It’s borderline criminal how well he pulls off some of his fills and flourishes. Tumbling down the toms, adding a choked accent on a splash here and there, it adds such flavour, but sounds so subtle and feels effortless.
Jignesh Jasmat with Adoneye at Newtown Festival 2022. Image: Will Not Fade (Originally taken for The Mousai)
“I Eat Foxes” is the song that always sticks in my head the most, not least because of its interesting title. There’s this little repeating pause they’ve written into the bridge that lasts for slightly longer than feels comfortable. Just to throw you. Or to add an extra challenge. It reminds me of the crazy intro to “Living is a problem…” from Biffy Clyro’s Puzzle – almost written just to show off how tight they can be as a band. This is music for musicians.
Also, the lyrics “I’m like a stone, you show me how to live” are definitely Audioslave references right?
I think one thing that gives Adoneye a point of difference is that they’re a rock band with an acoustic guitar. How many rock bands can you think of like that? I’m not talking about switching it up for a token ballad. This contributes to the homely feel of the music. Even if Dean is screaming (as he does when he gets into it), Adoneye’s music just feels nice.
The mix and levels are great. We hear Jesse’s fingers travelling up and down the fretboard with basslines only a freak like him could pull off so casually. We hear Jig’s wee flourishes and snare rolls. We hear Dean plucking each string. But it’s all balanced, and none of the elements overpower the others.
Sessions is an outstanding debut offering, one that the members of Adoneye should be proud of. It showcases their fantastic skills as songwriters and musicians. And it just feels great. It’s chill, it’s driven, it has a comforting warmth that hits the spot for me every single time. Highly recommended.
It’s no secret that I’m a big Shihad fan. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen them play, but the figure is near 20. I’ve got all their albums on CD, as well as bunch of special editions, a live DVD and a handful of EPs and singles. They never quite “cracked America”, but to me, they embody the dream of a NZ rock band who have achieved the dream of making a successful career from their music. They’ve toured the world, shared the stage with rock heavyweights such as Faith No More, AC/DC, Pantera, Motorhead and Black Sabbath; and have just released their tenth album, Old Gods.
The band has changed a lot throughout their 30+ years. Their debut Devolve EP features blistering speed-metal and a Black Sabbath cover. The first time I heard one of the tracks I honestly thought it was a cover of a Metallica song I wasn’t familiar with.
Churn beckoned a more industrial sound, thanks in part to Killing Joke front man Jaz Coleman in the producer’s role. Killjoy was less metal, but still raw and heavy, boasting some of the band’s most enduring riffs.
The self titled record (known by many as the fish album) introduced a more radio-friendly rock which the band honed and perfected with the commercial alt-rock giants The General Electric and Pacifier.
Pacifier was derided by many fans and critics who viewed it as evidence of the the ultimate sin: selling out. I’ll always remember reading a passage written by Grant Smithies, in which he stated he’d prefer to rub himself raw with a cheese grater and throw himself into shark-infested waters than listen to Pacifier. Harsh words, but fantastically evocative writing.
I personally loved Pacifier. I was a teenager obsessed with bands like Linkin Park and Foo Fighters so I couldn’t understand how anyone could find fault with the music.
Love Is The New Hate was considered a penitent return to form, and although much of it was angry, there was a lot of sadness and mellow moments to be found. Beautiful Machine, by comparison, was very much leaning towards the pop side of things. It’s a lot softer, almost 80’s feeling at times. I enjoyed it, but it was more Foo Fighters than AC/DC.
Ignite was the most forgettable album of Shihad’s catalogue. “Sleepeater” was a hit when played live, but the rest of the album seldom gets a mention. When looking at an overall trend, it feels like the quality and “rockiness” of the band’s output had been in decline since the beginning of the 2000’s.
Shihad’s last album FVEYcame out in 2014. It’s the first album review I wrote when I started this blog. I raved about the album and how it felt like a return to form with the sheer heaviness of it all. Admittedly, I did tire of it when the new songs featured so heavily during the band’s ensuring tours. It felt a bit too chug-heavy and I wanted more dynamics. But I’ve given the record a few spins recently and I stand by what I wrote seven years ago: it’s a killer album.
The Adults at Meow, Wellington. Image: Will Not Fade
Front man Jon Toogood has a side project called The Adults. Their second album Haja stands among my favourites. I was fortunate enough to catch that iteration of the band at their first show in Wellington, and they even used one of the photos I took to promote that tour [although they didn’t even credit me for my photo, naughty!]
The Adults revealed a different side to Toogood. Stemming from when he married his wife in Sudan, Haja is a feminist pop/hip-hop album featuring contemporary NZ musicians and Sudanese drumming. A real departure from the hard rock of Shihad. And I learnt something else new about Toogood last year that arose from his marriage – he has become a Muslim.
I don’t wish to come from a place of judgement, I think it’s great that he has found a faith. It just came as a surprise. Look at this list of Shihad songs: “Missionary”, “Sport and Religion”, “The Bible and the Gun”, “Waiting Round for God” and “The Prophet”. I don’t claim to understand everything that these songs are about, but they are certainly anti-religion to an extent. And that’s fine that Toogood could write those songs, and then later change his beliefs. People are allowed to change. But I do find it interested that Shihad would name their new album Old Gods after hearing that Toogood has found a faith. To be fair, it sounds like the title track is aimed at those who have traditionally been in positions of power, rather than an attack on any specific religion. But Shihad are still taking potshots at churches, with one song on the album, “The Hill Song” taking aim at a group that shouldn’t be hard to figure out.
FVEY came from a place of unrest. There was never any doubt that the songs were written from a space of defiance against corrupt governments and world powers. I found it really amusing to see that National MP Chris Bishop featured on a podcast about Shihad recently. Bishop is allowed to enjoy whatever music he choses, but I certainly see an irony, considering that Shihad’s last album had songs that were essentially a middle finger directed squarely at his political party.
Old Gods comes from the same space. Sure, world governments have changed over the past seven years, but there’s still a lot to get angry about. If anything, people feel even more oppressed. One big movement from recent years is #blacklivesmatter. The movement sparked international demonstrations against racism and police brutality.
Another occurrence that sparked the rage was in 2019 when a scumbug came from Australia to New Zealand and went on a shooting spree at two mosques in Christchurch. This horrifying event shook us a country and highlighted how New Zealand as a nation is more racist than many would like to admit. Toogood played a number of gigs to raise money to help those affected by the attacks, coming public with his recent conversion to Islam.
In a recent conversation with Grant Smithies (the same guy who wrote the scathing Pacifier review), Toogood shares how he was watching footage of an English crowd tear down the statue of an historic slave-trader. He wrote a song about it. To quote the interview: “That song is about the fact that many of us aren’t prepared for such people to be portrayed as heroic anymore, especially in the middle of the streets where we live.”
I live in Shihad’s hometown of Wellington, New Zealand, and a lot of streets here are named after wealthy colonials who first settled here. It sounds like a lot of these men were not good people. (Here’s a funny song about Wakefield, by local band Housewitches) I’ve got a magazine sitting on the table in my lounge. The magazine is called Massive – the Massey University student rag – and the main head line of the cover is about how former prime minister William Massey was a racist. They’re outing their own namesake. I think that gives a pretty clear example of how far some elements of society have come. So-called heroes are being scrutinised and some of us have decided that we don’t want to glorify people who were responsible for atrocities.
“Tear Down Those Names” is a thunderous cry to action. Sonically, it’s extremely similar to FVEY, with dense, downturned riffing.
My personal favourite, “Feel the Fire” harkens back to Beautiful Machine, with an synth-drenched uplifting feel. I love it so much. It makes me happy and I can happily play it on repeat. It stands out on an album of heavier tracks. There’s still that omniscient bass tone from Kippenburger, but there’s a lot more treble in the guitars, and the song exudes vibes of hope.
“Empire Falling” is also one of the better tracks, with interesting palm-muted rhythmic strumming and a lighter feeling chorus. It’s about how Toogood is kept awake at night worrying about raising his children in a world dominated by so many bigots.
Maybe I’m being a bit dismissive, but some of the themes in FVEY came across as overly paranoid. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that the government needs to be held to account more than they are. But naming the album after a collection of spy agencies gives of vibes of conspiracy theories. I leveled the same criticism at Killing Joke in my review of their last record. There’s distrusting authority figures and then there’s going full-blown antivaxer. Head too far down the conspiracy route and people just aren’t going to take you seriously. I’m trying to say is that the themes of Old Gods seem more realistic than they did in FVEY. Complaining about governments spying on us sounds a bit too James Bond-fantasy. But it’s harder to deny racism when we’ve recently witnessed extreme nationalism under Trump, Brexit, #blacklivesmatter, mosque shootings and so on… And I think that makes more sense given Toogood’s personal situation. Toogood has a Sudanese wife and two bi-racial children and now he’s witnessing forms of discrimination such as racism in a different light. Suddenly the message seems a bit more targeted than ‘sticking it to The Man’.
In an 2014 interview with NZ Musician, drummer Tom Larkin discussed the impact of Green Day’s American Idiot, and how it was a vehicle for planting dissenting ideas in the minds of a demographic of Americans who may not have otherwise been questioning the status quo. Lead guitarist Phil Knight namedropped Rage Against the Machine as a big influence on the new album in a Guitar World profile too. I’m not sure how much I buy into the whole message. I’m not opposed to the message of fighting the bankers and the politicians, but it seems a bit futile. “Eat the Rich” is a great sentiment (Motorhead and Aerosmith both have songs with that name), but not sure it’s so great in practice. Look at America, where the last president organised an attack on his own government. Nothing appeared to changed for the better or worse.
Voting doesn’t appear to make much of a difference – neither of the two big political parties in NZ appear interested in making changes to improve the lives of their citizens. And governments have refused to acknowledge what the people have voted for in a majority of the referendums we’ve had over the past few decades. Maybe I’m just cynical. Maybe we need more bands like Shihad spreading the fire of discontent so that the population don’t become as jaded as I am.
I went through Shihad’s albums earlier and explained how the band have continually evolved throughout the years, changing their sound as they progressed. Each record had a unique sound. This has earned them accusations of selling out every step of the way, but it has also meant that they’ve never felt stale.
Interesting then, that after their longest break between releases, Shihad haven’t altered their sound. In many ways, Old Gods feels like an updated version of FVEY. I’d argue that the topics seem more relevant with this album, but the sound and themes are very similar. The gang vocals outro of “Kill! These! Old! Gods!” may as well take the place of the “GCSB!” cry from the previous album.
Remember how I said I got a bit tired of FVEY being so chug-heavy? It does feel a bit more like more of the same. It’s weird, I would have found the premise of an album’s worth of “My Mind Sedate” very exciting as a teen. But I’ve since learnt that too much heavy riffing gets old. Variety and dynamics go a long way. Old Gods is a good record, but could use a few more tracks like “Feel the Fire” .
I’ve got a ticket to see Shihad play next month. It was originally going to be in November but had to be postposed. I just hope that the concert actually takes place, because I could sure use something to make me feel amped up for once.
Mina Perniskie (lead signer of Wellington’s own Secrets of the Sun) chats on the phone with the indomitable DONITA SPARKS of LA band L7. Mina is a longtime fan of L7, first hearing them as a teenager. Her 14 year old self was fan-girling hard during this interview.
Having formed in 1985 with raucous genre defying blend of metal, punk and pop, L7 are back with new album Scatter The Rats. L7 are in their element as a live band, and have a tour of Australia and New Zealand lined up for May. Make sure to get along to one of the shows to get your face ripped off.
Mina Perniskie: I was really excited to see that L7 were coming to NZ, and I believe this is your first time coming to NZ with L7 is that correct?? I know you have been to Australia in the past.
Donita Sparks: I think we were in NZ in either 1992 or 1993, we’ve been there once.
It’s been a while obviously, are you excited to be coming here?
We’re very excited to be coming to NZ. We were really disappointed that last time we went to Australia, we did not come to NZ, and we thought you guys hated us! We were like, why aren’t we playing Auckland at least? So we’re happy to be playing there now.
And you have two shows, Wellington and Auckland! After a long hiatus you’ve been playing together again now for about 6 years?
I think we reformed in 2016, yeah those were our first reunion shows so this will be our fifth year back, which is crazy!
You are obviously a very influential band, so how does it feel over the last couple of years in particular to be able to write new music, get out a new album Scatter the Rats and tour again after kind of a long hiatus? Do you feel that this is a great climate for a comeback if you will? With your legacy as well?
Well, it’s been amazing. There’s a documentary on us that’s out called Pretend We’re Dead. That was coming out, and then we were thinking about doing some reunion shows, and then that kind of happened. And then we were thinking about well let’s do some new music, because if we want to keep touring, none of us wanted to be like an ‘oldies band’ or something, you know what I mean? You can’t just keep on doing a reunion tour forever, you know! So that’s why last year we put out Scatter the Rats and we’re super happy about the way it came out. And it’s great, because we’re still touring that record, and there are spots in the world that we haven’t hit yet with it. It’s exciting again.
You can probably find new fans as well as reminding your older fans that you’re around as well with new music, so that’s great. Your music has always been great and to me really aggressive but in a fun way. It’s soo heavy hitting and I think in the current political and general climate of the world it’s great to have L7 back out there and touring.
We’ve always been heavy hitting and we’ve always had melody in our heavy hitting as well so we’re not just a metal band, we’re not just a punk band and we’re not just a pop band, we’re like all three combined you know? (laughs). We like a good catchy melody, and we also like aggression and we also like to slow it down every now and then too and play something a bit more introspective maybe.
Absolutely. It’s quite hard to pin down L7 down to one genre, it covers multitudes. Do you like talking about genre, or is it kind of annoying? I personally hate talking genre, it’s like people have to pin you down to one box. Alternative rock kind of covers it but people want something more specific.
Well I suppose it’s important if your readership or your listening audience has never heard the band. Most bands that I love are sort of genre defying. You might think “oh you may think they’re this, but then argh there’s this curveball and I never expected them to do this kind of a song”! Those are the most interesting bands to me. So we’re cool if people wanna talk about it. Listen some people think we’re a heavy metal band you know? But we’re actually from the art punk scene in mid 80s Los Angeles. So we are not even from a metal scene So we’re cool discussing genre and all that stuff. It’s a valid train of thought I suppose
With having multiple style and taste and influence as a band, you’re quite a collaborative band with all of you contributing to the music. Is that kind of fun, do you all have different tastes and things that that you bring into the music?
What brings us together is the music, and I think that we all like the different corners and pockets of our band musically. So any one of us can bring in a song that’s gonna sound like L7. As long as we’ve got Dee playing drums, and us with distortion.. just the way we play is very L7. It’s almost like anything that comes in is gonna sound like an L7 song. So it works you know. And If we have to make some additions or changes to it we’ll do that too. But we’re not afraid to play any genre of music. We’ve played songs that just have reverb guitar, no distortion at all. I’m a sucker for hand claps, and for bongos! Some people think we’re just metal but it’s like what are bongos then? I like surf music. So..there’s that.
True. I was listening to one of your songs and noticed it has a surf element, I think it was “Mr Integrity”.
Yeah and that has bongos! And hand claps. And surf guitar. So it’s like you know (laughs).. and it rocks.
I think that’s what makes L7 fun. Because you do all these things and it’s surprising and interesting, you know?
I think we feel pretty free to kind of just throw in whatever elements. I think maybe some bands are afraid to do that, because they are in a very tight narrow genre. And my God if they fucking break that genre well they’re fucked! Because their fans will not forgive them. But with us it’s like ‘OK whatever, you’re not gonna forgive us you don’t have to be our fan anymore’. OK fine, you don’t dig it? Go listen to…whatever’.
There’s plenty of stuff out there and they don’t listen to you …but hopefully they do! My next question.. so this is around the whole gender issue and you guys probably get sick of talking about this to a point, but I’m gonna ask the question. And quoting from the documentary as well, you said you ‘wished the whole gender thing would go away’ and ‘please recognise us for our rock’. Do you feel that you’ve achieved this on the whole or is this still an issue today? I feel as women in rock we have achieved some measure of respect now, it’s not as bad as it used to be. But I still think it’s a thing. What’s your view on that?
Well, we had respect from the get go, from our peers and from rock audiences. Pretty much. It was sort of the guys with the power, the money guys, the business suit guys who were really kind of for whatever reason afraid to let go of the power. I think we’ve always transcended our gender. I don’t think anybody really fucking cares.
My objective with the band when we started out, I didn’t want a name that revealed our gender. I was like ‘L7’. I didn’t want The ‘blah blah blah Girls’ or anything like that. I was just like No. I want people to hear our music and not be able to tell what gender we are. And we definitely achieved that. So yeah I feel great. Listen, if you were a Doctor 100 years ago, you were a ‘Lady Doctor’..it didn’t matter if you were the best doctor on the fucking planet. So you know, it’s all growing pains and its all you know, somebody’s gotta be the fucking avant garde, in terms of you’re out there first, or second, or third..whatever. I think in the rock circles we hold our own, and yeah.
I definitely think so. I’m really looking forward to the show. When I heard that you were coming and there were tickets I was like, I’m in there! Done! It’ll be a great show. I’m sure you rock just as hard as ever. Watching the documentary I was just like…the raw power, the fun..it’s soo rock. So I’m really looking forward to seeing that in person, with my own eyeballs and my own ears!
I feel and I think the whole band feels this way too, that we’re a better live band than on record. We’ve had producers and engineers spend like a month on one of our records and then they go see us live and they say ‘What the fuck have we been doing for the last month!?’. Because there is this connectivity when we’re on stage together and you feel the power of the band that you just can’t capture sometimes in a recording studio. So if you want to see us in our element, come see us live.
See you live. Absolutely. Excellent. Well I think that’s about our time up isn’t it?
Hey, I do wanna tell you one thing though. We did a collaboration with Joan Jett. We did a cover of her song ‘Fake Friends’ and she’s on our version, singing and playing guitar. We’re going to be releasing that just for the Australia & NZ tour. So that’s gonna be available just in that market as a single. So you can throw that out there!
Oh wow! Awesome, I will definitely be throwing that out there. That’s a little tidbit just for Kiwis, I guess. And Australians. That’s awesome news!
That’s exactly right. Cool!
Was great to speak with you, thank you so much. I’m really really looking forward to the show when you’re here!