If anyone, at the moment, wants to listen to some fresh, imaginative and original ‘true DIY’ music, the brand new self titled debut album by Bribane’s experimental three-piece Spirit Bunny is the one.
A unique creative and messed-up blend of fuzzy noise-pop, electronic rocking wizardry, like two circuit-bent Casio SK-5 keyboards, a buzzing Commodore 64 synths, weird toys’ sounds, and warped hip-hop beats.
In my huge ignorance about chipmusic, I‘ve nicely talked with the band about ‘circuit bending’, ‘grit-hop’ and much more.
Spirit Bunny’s self-titled debut is out on Detonic Recordings.
Thank you so much for the interview. Let’s, start from your early days, how and when did you meet each other and started playing together? How did the name and the idea for your project emerge?
Joel (J): I’d known Kate from university, and I’d known Cam from his alt-country band, that has since morphed into his now slow-core solo project St Augustus. Kate and I were playing in a free-improved project; Cam had played in this loose doom-hop ensemble with me that had members than it played shows. When we first got together we dragged all our tortured and modified instruments into Cam’s recording studio and progressively mashed out fractured hip-hop inspired noise pop. The name Spirit Bunny came from Cam’s head.
Kate (K): Before the improv. project Joel mentioned, there was another, more raucous and haphazard venture called Crazy Hearse. It was a band spawned to support Joel’s solo writing. Initially he put a call out for ‘backing dancers’ and it was this job that I applied for. Our first show together was in a small room in the Brisbane City Library – just me and Joel, a mic stand and an iPod. And a couple of witnesses to the spectacle.
Cam (C): For my part, I’ve always been in a number of bands at any one point in time, and when Joel got in touch about starting a new project – which ended up being Spirit Bunny – I’d just had a band finish where I was playing very frenetic, over the top drums, so I was looking for an outlet for that sort of energy. Spirit Bunny perfectly filled that hole.
Where do your musical roots lie, which are your first memories of music and when did you know you wanted to pursue it, more or less, seriously? Are there any particular bands or artists from the past that really made you think to yourself ‘this is what I wanna do’?
J: I grew up in a country town with friends borrowing CDs from the local library, and the occasional older sibling, burning them and photocopying the artwork for each other. Even back then we appreciated physical objects whilst pirating. I’d get CDs like Björk, Radiohead and Massive Attack. Simultaneously I was slowly downloading on dial-up internet American noise-pop and British shoegaze.
K: My earliest memories of music involve watching in rapture as my Mum played Christmas carols for us to sing along to on the family piano, and of my Dad belting out the lyrics along to Simon & Garfunkel records on a warm Saturday morning while doing chores around the house. I’ve never really taken music all that seriously. I get sort of, “worked up” about it sometimes, but that’s more in the realm of excitement than ‘serious’.
C: I’d always been around music, my family didn’t really play instruments but we always had music around. It wasn’t until I was sent off to boarding school that I picked up a guitar to alleviate the boredom and loneliness I was feeling and everything since has followed from there.
What do you mostly admire about each other?
J: Cam has this radio show, “Unnecessary Knowledge“, on our local community radio, 4ZzZ. That sums him up. He knows way too much about plants, bands, recording gear and AFL. He also drums like a monster. On the beat, loud, hard, and then all around it. He plays out of time on purpose, while I do it accidentally. Kate has a knack for melodies. We play in this free-noise-jazz-rock band, where Kate is constantly riffing ideas and melodies on her Commodore 64s. She brings the best ones along to Spirit Bunny.
K: I’ve always been fascinated by Joel’s sense of time/space and phrasing in music. He will often dismiss the outcomes of his efforts as being ‘‘accidental’’ or simply due to a lack of skill to actuate what he intended, but after playing with the guy for nearly 10 years I can say that there is much more to it than that. It’s like most people working in and thinking about music are working within a small rotation of ideas about the ‘‘right’’ way to play – on a really fundamental level. Things need to be in a grid (metrically), and only use selected pitches. I think Joel’s music is too dynamic and interesting for those kind of limitations, it just bounces out of that locked groove and explores other terrain all of its own accord.
I agree with Joel that Cam’s knowledge of AFL and plants is really impressive. I like that, when we’re on tour, I can point to the street trees in different cities and he knows what they are. My memory can be very selective and he’s quite patient with me asking about the same trees on every tour.
C: I’ve always admired Joel’s fearlessness. Both in terms of his artistic output and his ability to lose himself onstage and just put extreme amounts of energy into his performance, doing things that a lot of other performers might balk at doing out of self-consciousness. Kate is one of the most musically accomplished people I know. The number of really strong ideas she brings in for Joel and I to mash into shape and often subsequently obliterate is super impressive. She’s really the backbone of the band.
Your sound is surely not straightforward to pigeonhole, not a negative thing though, you describe it as ‘Grit Hop, Phat beats and twee melodies through a haze of circuit bent Casio noise and C64 synths’. Is it a sort of ‘mission statement’? And what about ‘Grit Hop’?
J: I suppose it is our manifesto. In many ways experimental pop music is more difficult or challenging to audiences than straight up noise or avant garde music. At least when listening to Merzbow you know what to do. People are confounded whether to fold the arms, stroke their chin, or dance. We’d suggest doing all three simultaneously. There is a wonderful world of noise-hop out there (Death Grips, clipping, Food For Animals etc). We aren’t that tough. Grit-Hop seems to better describe our bastardisation of hip hop.
K: I don’t listen to heaps of music, and I rarely read about it so trying to describe or explain…any music, including my own, tends to end within a few muttered words and some frustrated, unintelligible grunt. Next question please.
C: Basically, when we started out we were attempting to play a form of noisy, experimental hip-hop. We kind of failed at that, but in the process created something that we thought was equally worthwhile.
A big part of your music is heavily connected with the art of ‘circuit bending’; Could you explain to our readers its meaning and how it’s being handled by you three?
K: We’ve all had some experience with electronics, but I myself have dipped the smallest toe in that creek. I’ll leave it to the other two to enlighten you on the bending in Spirit Bunny.
J: The main circuit bending that occurs is my two keyboards. I play Casio SK 5 and 8 keyboards. These are smaller sampler keyboards from the mid-80s. They have something like 8 preset sounds that are crap, at best. Through circuit bending – joining parts of the circuit board together through switches in ways they never were meant to – you unlock a whole world of extra, beautiful sounds.
Why has it taken you so long for your debut LP? How does the recording process evolve? Is it the capturing of improvisation or is it more structured?
K: Why so long? Busy people, busy lives. This record was about capturing the songs. The improvisation happens as part of the writing process, but once we’ve got a few nice sections we tend to lock it down and that’s the song. As it’s our first full-length release, we wanted it to be fairly true to the live show, a bit of a general statement of who we are and what we do. Now that it’s done we’re looking forward to experimenting with our writing and recording process, perhaps making the albums projects that can stand independently of the live incarnations of the songs.
C: Plus my wife and I had a child in the middle of last year. We had pretty much finished the Spirit Bunny album by around April of 2016, but then there was a long gap of no activity until right at the end of the year while I was busy with that. Since I do all of the recording we had to wait until I had the time to finish off the final touches to the mixes and then do the master.
Let’s talk about about the equally weird and beautifully imaginative world of your lyrics: dadaistic titles, cut-up technique, social awareness, marshmellows, Battles…we definitely need a guide!
J: The democratic nature of the songwriting means that we write all of the songs pretty much before any lyrics are written. Vocals fit into the spaces where they fit, or are needed, not the other way round. The lyrics then needed to take a less personal, narrative focus, and a more communal feel. Some of the lyrics use random text generators (‘Disco Horseride Montage‘), found and/or text (‘Gold & Brown‘, ‘Living Entertainment‘, ‘Plan Z‘) as well as traditional methods. Despite this intentional obfuscation, the lyrics have ended up returning to themes that we are deeply passionate about, e.g.: consumption. It is both a celebration, and a critique.
Do you also draw on, or are you influenced by, any non-musical cultural resources as cinema, literature, etc.?
C: Not as far as I’m aware, at least not in a directly influential way. Music and everyday life are plenty inspirational on their own.
J: This is the first band I’ve used techniques more often used in modern poetry – found text and processed text methods. I read 90’s “Home And Garden” magazines, fashion magazines, Miranda Julia short stories, Whitney Houston songs.
I grew up following closely the Australian underground music scene of the 80’s, when the OZ bands were very popular in Europe, as always. Does that music heritage have any influence on your DIY ethos, where you have the creative control over everything? Which are your views on the enduring power of DIY in the internet era where music has increasingly lost its cultural relevance?
C: I think that DIY culture has continued through to today, especially in Brisbane where people are so proud of the fact that The Saints had such a big hand in the start of punk culture. Brisbane has always had a strong DIY venue scene, with our local music upbringing taking in venues like 610, The Hangar, Burst City, The Waiting Room and many more. For some reason there’s a bit of a lack of that style of venue right now in Brisbane, but maybe we’re just getting a bit old and out of touch.
J: We’ve still got (maybe more than ever) little DIY record labels, but, as Cam says, it has been a few years since there has been a regular, stable DIY venue.
What’s your view about the today’s Australian underground music scene? In particular is there in Brisbane a scene around any venues/clubs/record shop or any sort of community between bands and artists? What are your favorite Australian/Brisbane’s bands right now?
J: Brisbane’s scene is very healthy. We have some great noise rock and post-shoegaze bands like Leavings and Low Season (who played our LP Launch) as well as groups like Deafcult, Thigh Master, Glitter Veils, Bloodletter and FOREVR. Lots of groups sadly breakup as bands members move away – like Bent and Amaringo. Venues, particularly DIY spaces, come and go as issues with landlords continue to surface, and our supposed ‘entertainment precinct’ is overrun on the weekends with people who lack discernment. Thankfully we have venues still supporting amazing music, both in that area, and in the surrounding suburbs. Some of the most creative and supportive scenes in Australia exist outside the major cities – in Canberra, Adelaide and Woollongong we played with amazing groups in really supportive spaces.
You recently finished up an brief Australian album launch tour. What’s your favourite part about playing live and can you recall your 1st gig as a band? What’s your highlight or best memory so far? Any oversea tour plan?
J: Our first gig as a band was a train wreck. We didn’t communicate for a few months afterwards. It was a gig put on by our friend Pale Earth (who later remixed us) with Alexander Rishaug from Norway. Within 30 seconds the sheer volume of each of, and the energy of the sound enveloped us, and we were totally consumed and unaware of what our songs were. We ended up playing a 15 minute improvisation, instead of the four songs we’d been madly rehearsing for months.
C: I remember after the first show that I wasn’t sure if we were capable of actually playing Spirit Bunny music. I knew that it had been a long time since Joel or Kate had been in bands that played actual songs, instead having spent their past few years in mainly improvisational bands. I find pure improv kind of boring so I wasn’t interested in doing that. Lucky we persisted and after a little while it came together. We’re still a bit all over the place live even now, but sometimes that has its upside.
What kind of music and who are you personally listening to at the moment?
J: Right now I’m listening to Appalachian finger-picking guitar music. I’ve been listening a lot to Xiu Xiu’s ‘Forget’, older Mount Eerie, The Microphones albums and The Declining Winter, a project that came out of UK post-electronic-rock group, Hood.
C: I work in a recording studio, so after finishing work I often don’t really want to listen to music. I’d rather hang out with my wife and daughter, maybe do some gardening or go for a drive in the country. Most of the music I listen to is local stuff. Keeping abreast of all of that keeps me pretty busy, though. Brisbane is pretty active, musically.
Many thanks for being our welcome guest, just the last question: Is there anything I forgot to ask you and would you like to say to our readers?
Thanks heaps. We love thinking about/hearing each other’s thoughts on our music, which we don’t do often.
Photo credits: Murek Meringue (2nd one)