Blasting out of Australia come THE CRITICS, a four-piece that combines the burning hyperblast of BAD RELIGION with the musical muscle of HOT WATER MUSIC to create a stunningly melodic, intensly powerful and politically motivated Punk Rock sound. This is an interview with vocal powerhouse Andy conducted late-December 2003.
..OK, before we start, just tell us what kind of mood you are in as you sit down to answer this interview - happy, sad; angry, jubilant; bored, excited; frustrated, chilled; any of these, all of these, something else?
..Andy) Bored I suppose. I work from home so things tend to get a bit monotonous most days. Other than that probably excited as weíre recording our first single in a few weeks so thatís always something to look forward to.
..As THE CRITICS is no doubt a moderately new name to readers - can you just tell us a bit about how, why, where and when the band got together. The basic early history kind of stuff.
..Andy) We first got together in 1999 to start jamming some ideas Iíd had for years. Basically we didnít really now what we wanted or what we were doing. I myself had not played in a band before. We all new each other from school and lived in relatively the same area. From there we refined what songs we did have (as a three piece at this stage), wrote a few more together and after probably six months or so we played our first show. After a while we started to think we needed another guitarist, as I was and still am a 'bar chord bobby.' So having been rehearsing in the same place as GYROSCOPE and being friends with them, we pulled Zok on board as they weíre having a six month break so their drummer could travel. But then after his return Zok went back to GYROSCOPE and we were left looking for a new guitarist. Macca, our drummer, had previously been in a band with Matt and we thought weíd ask him to have a go! Since then weíve been writing and playing tirelessly in Perth before deciding to move to Melbourne for six months to get our name around a bit and play to some different crowds. Itís been almost a year in Melbourne now. The response weíve had and the friends weíve made have just been too good to go home. At this stage weíve moving back to Perth in February to record and hopefully get our old jobs back.
..Of the current band members, two were formerly in a Folk band yeah? How did those two members find the transition from Folk to Punk? Were there any problems with the pace of the music, the volume or the Punk crowd in general? Do you think that their experience playing Folk - which is practically a completely opposing polemic to that of Punk - has had any positive effect on THE CRITICS? Is the current line-up settled now - do you feel it is the best the band has ever had?
..Andy) Yeah Macca and Matt were in a Folk band together. Macca didnít have any problems when we started as heís always played rock - I think he played some Folk so he could lay back, get pissed and not have to play anything too complex!!! Matt I suppose did have a few early problems, not with the music but - just as you said - the pace and probably the simplicity of the majority of our music. And yes the volume change would have been a big shock to Matt at first Iíd imagine! But yeah, I think their experience in a Folk band has had a positive influence on us as a band. I wouldnít say that itís influenced any songwriting or anything like that, it just hasnít been a bad thing! Yeah, the current line-up is working well. Weíre all living together at the moment so itís a full-time band pretty much. Sometimes thatís a good thing but not others, especially when you just want to unplug and take your mind off it. Iíd have to say itís the best line-up so far, especially because when we had Zok it was always gonna be a temporary thing and being a three-piece sucked. The songs weíve written for the next EP are by far the best to date so there is definitely something going right.
..You released the mini-album, ĎThe Incentive...í on Australian label Rabbit Records. How did you get hooked up with Matt and the guys there? Have you tried any other labels? Any other labels offered to release ĎThe Incentive...í abroad?
..Andy) We knew Matt Rabbit cuz he was the drunken fool that used to come to our shows and heckle us. I think he offered to put it out and having not released anything properly before we thought it was a really good option. But, having done so, weíve never been happier. Matt is an awesome guy that really looks after us and basically is keen to do whatever we want to do and help wherever he can. We havenít really tried any other labels as weíre pretty happy doing it on an independent label with no major strings attached!
..Where do you stand on the major label issue? Letís say Fat Wreck wanted to sign the band - is that something you would go for? And if Sony came a knocking?
..Andy) Personally it would have to be a pretty good offer with shit loads of freedom for me to even consider a major. Iím not going to say anything bad about Fat Wreck, but I really doubt theyíd be interested in us. We donít tell enough dick and fart jokes! As for Sony!! They should write a book titled "How To Ruin A Band In One Release". Iíd fucken hate that kind of pressure and manipulation on my songwriting based on them wanting you to sell to a particular target audience! We got a target audience somewhere in the world - we just have to find it!
..ĎThe Incentive...í has an incredibly clear yet intense, powerful sound - the vocals especially - you must be happy with the way it came out. Did you have a set sound in mind as you went to record, or was it a sound that progressed naturally with the aid of a studio engineer? Does this release vary much when compared with your earlier demo?
..Andy) Yeah, we are really happy with 'The Incentive...' We wanted a pretty live sounding release that captured what we were about live! It is exactly how we wanted it, which is a result of Dr Alien Smith from Bergerk Studios - our engineer - that helped us get that. That's why weíre getting him to do our next recordings. It sounds ten times better than our demo which surprisingly sold and was received well. That was rushed and all the sounds were crap basically! 'The Incentive...' has had an awesome response in reviews around the world and in Oz as well. Sales are doing great too.
..If we can just talk about a few of the tracks on the record, starting with the opener ĎOne More Starí. The lyrics make it abundantly clear you are not happy with the direction Australia is heading in via its Americanisation. What are the faults that you see within Australia to declare "Weíre the 51st state of the USA." Do you not think the UK has more of a right to that title?
..Andy) Anything I write is an expression from me and itís my point of view. I donít try and be one of those preachers that say if you donít agree with me then youíre fucked. 'One More Star' is a result of growing up, watching kids around me getting sucked in more and more to American culture. Iím not trying to say some massive anti-American Imperialism statement, more an observation of what I see around me. Yeah, fair enough, Iím not happy about it - why would you want to be part of a culture with such ignorance and disrespect for each other and anyone outside where you live? I think we have the best culture anywhere. As for the UK, it has problems of its own and maybe does have the right to be called the 51st State, but as I said, itís my opinion. I have never been there so it wouldn't be fair to judge.
..Lyrics such as, "Fragments of the story told," "You don't give a fuck about the outside world," "Painting pictures in black and white," and "Just a story you made to suit," suggest 'Hard Pressed' is an attack on the news media - is that correct? What are your views on the mainstream media there in Australia? What about your former fellow countryman - Rupert Murdoch? Do you feel that he has too much media power, considering some of his dubious opinions on just about all matters?
..Andy) Yeah, Iím not a big newspaper reader. I canít actually remember the last time I read one. Iím better off going to a library and looking in the Science Fiction section for something with a bit more truth in it!! Unfortunately the media does have a lot of power because there is a lot of people that believe every word they read and hear on the telly. People like Mr Murdoch know this and use this angle to make money and manipulate peoples' views to suit themselves, or provide a particular opinion on a matter or person based on the presentation of the information.
..Your lyrics in general tend to reflect a serious political/social conscience. Do you feel that as the very nature of Punk is confrontational, lyrics should set out to challenge, inform and question? What's your opinion on the 3-minute love song? You ever see yourselves going down that road?
..Andy) Punk is the most overused, misunderstood genre that gets chucked around these days where bands are concerned. I agree with some of the Punk ideals. It depends which era or whose version of what Punk is about, you believe! Thereís a lot of new bands around at the moment that are classed as Punk bands that have just ripped off the exact sound theyíve heard on old records which really shits me, cause last year they were new metal or some crap. Now the low fi sound is popular they jump into that and try and tell everyone theyíve been doing it for years! How many? 26? Thatíd make them a lot older than 20. I donít think thereís anything wrong in taking influences from past bands, but emulating them to the point of almost being that band again is insulting to the band and people listening.
I just write about things that affect me. Itís unfortunate that the world is in this much trouble at the moment that the majority of inspiration comes from such serious topics. I do try to be socially and politically conscious as there are too many people that donít give a shit. At the end of the day, Iím a sucker for melody. Iíd like to think that people read my lyrics and go, "Yeah, I agree with that," and feel like theyíre not the only one thinking that way. If I felt that I wanted to write a 3-minute love song Iíd do it. Itíd have to be pretty rocking still though. I think you could safely say we wonít be going down that road.
..Youíve just released the 7" single, ĎPull Your Head Iní - another track that appears to have quite a volatile message. This was recorded at the same session as ĎThe Incentive...í I assume? Why hold this track back for a single release?
..Andy) That song was recorded at a later date specifically for a 7" release. Ray from OUT OF THE LOOP wanted us to do something so we did it. We jumped at the chance to release a 7". It still may appear on the next EP so more people get to hear it as the 7" was a pretty limited run and a lot of people donít buy records anymore. Why I have no idea! I think it is a really good song with good ideas that people definitely relate to.
..I see thereís a cover of the SUNNYBOYS track, ĎTunnel Of My Loveí. Do you do any other covers in a live environment? I did read an interview with you in ĎTMTí zine where you stated you never did any covers in the early days of the band - why was that? And why do you now feel it suitable to record and release a cover?
..Andy) We used to play some covers a few years ago!! We used to do some JAWBREAKER and some RAMONES and BAD RELIGION. Iíve always loved that SUNNYBOYS song. I heard it on a surf video years ago and it stuck since then. I think the question in TMT referred to the fact that we didnít start off doing covers in rehearsals when we first got together in order to develop a sound and identity, otherwise I misread the question at the time and heaps of people will say Iím a liar otherwise.
..I understand you have a track on an Asian Man Recs compilation too. How did you get involved with them?
..Andy) I think Matt Rabbit had had some correspondence with Mike Park and I just sent a CD in when they had an unsigned band comp as I liked a few bands on Asian Man and the Asian Man ideals. Maybe through Mike having heard the CD before helped us get on that one. Weíre on 'Punk O'Clock 3' and a comp coming up called 'Helltrack' which is out sometime soonish with a whole heap of Oz and overseas bands.
..Let us just focus on Australia itself a little. You mentioned you are currently residing in Melbourne instead of your native Perth. What differences are apparent between life and society on the west of Australia as represented by Perth, and that on the east as represented by Melbourne?
..Andy) I donít really think there are any major differences to tell ya the truth! Melbourne is obviously bigger and probably just as culturally diverse as Perth so it wasnít really a big change. Of course Perth is a bit more relaxed and Melbourne has its arty thing, but on the whole Australian people are the same wherever you go. Otherwise this would have been an awesome question to answer.
..Australia has a rich Punk heritage, from RADIO BIRDMAN and THE SAINTS, through SCIENTISTS, CELIBATE RIFLES, VICIOUS CIRCLE, SICK THINGS and HARD-ONS and onto H-BLOCK 101, BODYJAR and Sony-signers FRENZAL RHOMB. Do you feel this kind of quality Punk heritage has played an influence on you as a band? Is the influence of these bands still felt throughout Australiaís Punk scene in general?
..Andy) I think that a lot of this heritage has been lost or forgotten about. Especially the older bands. They paved a path for a lot of bands and made Australia known for good honest music around the world. Bands like H-BLOCK 101 or the HARD-ONS keep this alive though, which is why if youíre not at a H-BLOCK101 show any time they play, youíd want to be dumb or just stupid, cause the energy those guys create is unbelievable and gives me hope that there is still some substance left in whatís becoming a very shallow and false industry!
..Do you feel the fact that Australia, being the Ďisland continentí it is, has hindered the progress of Aussie bands when compared with their European and American counterparts? Could this ostracism be seen as a positive - in the sense that Aussie bands are maybe that much less influenced by the outside world and form a tighter unit within Australia itself?
..Andy) I definitely think that Australia has a level of music that is on par - if not better - than the rest of the world. Generally Aussie music comes across more honest with less bullshit and gimmicks. I think that the so-called isolation is a good thing. Thereís less competition so you donít get a lot of similar bands doing the same old shit. It seems to provide a lot more freedom and diversity on each scene - and nationally as well.
..What are your views on being a member of the Commonwealth? Are you happy with having the Queen as a Head of State, or would you prefer a totally independent Prime Minister/President?
..Andy) Personally Iíd go with the independent Prime Minister/President.
..And what are your views on your PM, John Howard? He has had a lot of accusations of racism placed upon him - do you feel they are justified? What do you feel about his stance regarding the war in Iraq?
..Andy) Iím not a big fan of Mr Howard. Iíve always been a Labour Voter due to being brought up in a Labour voting house and generally not being rich, which is who the Liberals generally govern for. As any leader weíve had in the past, they are all just puppets any way. If anything, the whole Party is to blame for actions taken by the government. I wouldnít say he was Racist - just a bloody idiot. I think Mr Howard saw the war as a chance to make a name for himself by having a major association with George.W. and the US. Unfortunately it reflects on our country, having him support some irrational and ignorant actions that put our people and country under threats that really shouldnít be there..
..How do you, as an Australian, view the rights of the Aborigines? Should they have more rights and power? Do they ever get involved with the Punk Scene?
..Andy) I think Aboriginals have the same rights and power as everyone else. As usual the media will manipulate this to make them seem a lot worse off than they are. I have some good friends that are Aboriginal and just as involved in society as everyone else. I donít know why they arenít involved in the Punk scene though.
..What are the best and worst aspects of being a citizen of Australia? If you could change one thing about Australian culture, what would it be?
..Andy) I absolutely love being an Australian and love our culture. If I could change anything it would be as I said before - the effects of other cultures on ours. I'm not saying I hate being multicultural, I just think that we should try to hang on to the lifestyle that we are known for and not let, especially the younger generation, get caught up in the Americanisation caused on by the TV and video games that they rot their brains in front of everyday. When I was young it was fishing and cricket and footy. Not running around yelling in American accents, imitating the latest movie. But I have to stress, I donít hate America or American people, I just hate the effects they have on our culture.
..One aspect of Australasian life - at least from the perspective we get in Britain - is the desire to travel. Did any of you ever take a year out to travel? How important do you feel the act of travelling is when placed within the whole experience of life? Any favoured places you have visited, or wish to visit?
..Andy) I havenít traveled outside of Australia. I havenít had the opportunity to do it. Also I pretty much finished school, went to Tafe, got a job and started a band, so I havenít had the time or money to travel as yet. I would like to travel as mates I know who have the travel bug say you have to do it. Hopefully I can get to travel with the band so I'll get the best of both worlds. I think that people who I know who have traveled come home a lot more knowledgeable on dealing with people and overcoming tight situations. I would love to get to the UK and Europe mainly. I think our music would be appreciated the most there. Also Japan cause bands Iíve talked that have been there say itís an awesome place and really great people.
..So, what are the immediate plans for THE CRITICS? You playing overseas at all - New Zealand, Asia, USA, Europe even? Anymore releases lined up? What about new songs - are they following a similar direction as those on the CD and 7"? Any plans yet for the follow-up to 'The Incentive...'?
..Andy) We are just concentrating on touring Australia at the moment as we moving back to Perth soon, so we want to be able to tour the East Coast in the future and play to people who actually know who we are. Weíre recording our next single in a few weeks and the 2nd EP in February next year. The songs that we have written for the new EP are still unmistakably our sound, but probably a little more thought out and I think our best songs yet, lyrically and musically. I would love to get overseas but itís pretty expensive unless weíre getting some sort of assistance. Hint hint.
Dion Waterman, 706/166 Wellington Pda, East Melbourne, Victoria 3002, Australia