East Brunswick All Girls Choir emerged in the last 2000’s amidst Melbourne’s strong music scene and promptly marked themselves out from the crowd. We spoke to band member Marcus Hobbs about the release of their new album, Teddywaddy.
The world of East Brunswick All Girls Choir is one built on dualities and contradictions – darkness and light, fury and poignancy, reflection and frustration, space and sound. On Teddywaddy (an album named after a rural outpost 150 miles North West of Melbourne) it’s a concept that carries right the way down to the record’s cover art, with a single raised shack sat among seemingly endless fields at once pointing towards the appeal of tranquillity and the oppression of isolation.
It’s a shrewd way to introduce a record that at its heart burns with the complicated facets of regional life, the expansive and cinematic moments echoing the inherent beauty and the angrier moments reflecting the frustration and the desire to escape felt by anyone with larger ambitions. Lead single ‘Essendon 1986’ and album track ‘Cicada Chirps The Chicane’ fall into the latter track, concentrate bursts of incandescence that echo The Birthday Party at their most menacingly feral, the contrast coming from the minimal lament ‘Exile Spree’ and Teddywaddy’s contemplative final third that culminates in its title track.
The one constant is Marcus Hobbs’ vocal style, impassioned yowl that adds an extra dose of theatre to his songs. Here, he talks about the record’s use of place, the reconciling of its inherent contrasts, and his own artistic development over the making of a record that will resonate with anyone who harbours a complex relationship with their surroundings.
“I grew up in a rural environment and instinctively tend to lean that way in story telling.”
From the title to the cover shot to the video for ‘Essendon 1986’ regional Australia’s at the centre of the album’s aesthetic. Do you feel that it’s almost an extra character and if so is there a certain mystique to that backdrop that made you want to have it permeate the record?
I grew up in a rural environment and instinctively tend to lean that way in story telling. It just comes naturally and I find that’s there’s a lot of quirks, humour and dark tales floating around in those parts. Truth be told the album was originally to be called DOG FM and we were going to have our dogs on the front cover. Once it was recorded and I started looking into the songs as a whole it didn’t make any sense to do this, without really intending to I had been writing about the same themes throughout. Exile, place, belonging.
In a way, it almost feels like you’ve captured the inherent contradictions of small town life – the record’s more reflective moments reflecting the slower pace of life and attendant opportunities to take stock, and the more incendiary moments mirroring the aural equivalent of the frustrations of someone trying to escape. How do you feel about that summary and what underlying themes do you feel underpin the record?
Small town life for me was really polarising, I liked the slow pace at times but the levels of boredom once you reach an age where there’s more things to do than eat dim sims on a dance floor and deliver pizzas during the week kicks in. There’s still one thing that fascinates me about [regional city 90 miles North-West of Melbourne] Bendigo and I still don’t think I’ve figured it out exactly. But if you go there on a weekend it’s mental, people everywhere, thugs in the taxi rank and a bit of controlled chaos. But through the week you never see these people anywhere, it’s like they’ve been locked up in their factory for the week killing chickens and the weekend is there chance to go bananas. It’s definitely for some people, just not for me.
From the driving, almost post-punk menace of ‘Cicadas Chirp The Chicane’ and ‘Essendon 1986’ through to the soulful, wistful songs that dominate the record’s final third Teddywaddy feels very much like an album of contrasts and shade. Is that something you’d agree with and was it something you purposefully tried to build into the record during its creation?
I’ve always enjoyed albums with some contrast regardless of the style. You need to capture and hold the attention, even for yourself. You could argue that a lot of our songs are pretty similar but if they were all like Essendon or conversely all like Teddwaddy or Rounds I’d probably not enjoy playing as much and I can only imagine that the listener would probably get tired. I don’t write songs with listeners in mind, I write them for myself, but when putting together an album and listing the tracks it’s vital to consider the whole story.
By extension, while the record has featured some of the most soulful music you’ve done to date, it also features some of the angriest and most feral. In regard to the latter, was there a specific trigger that made you explore that side of songwriting and if so did it prove to be an especially cathartic experience?
Well you need to sweat a little right? It’s always fun playing filthier tunes and tones. A lot of the bands I was in when I was younger tended to be on the heavier side and a lot of the songs that do sound quite filthy and loud on the record were originally not written that way. It just naturally occurs over time, you can’t help it. Also I’m not the most technically gifted guitarist in the world so it let’s you hide a little behind the mess. Rob [Wrigley, guitar] is great though, covers my tracks. As do Rie [Nakayama, bass] and [drummer Jen] Sholakis.
Even by your usual standards Teddywaddy has this cinematic quality running through it. Is that something you intentionally tried to develop further from Seven Drummers, and where do you think you’ve developed as a songwriter and a s a band in general from record to record?
I think we just had a bit more time on this record to piece it together in that way. We tried a lot of ideas that ended up on the scrap heap too but we had the time to try them this time. Seven Drummers was not rushed per se but our focus was more on trying to sonically put something together because I wasn’t sure how we’d sound in a good studio. Knowing that with Teddywaddy that was less of a concern. It could be a combination of that and the band being more confortable with each other. Sholakis was relatively new on Seven Drummers and we’ve learnt to play with each other a bit more now, it all adds up. Also I think Rob has being going deep on some of the Jonny Greenwood sound tracks but that may just be a coincidence.
Your music in general – and Teddywaddy in general – often feels like listening to a sonic tightrope walk between theatre and restraint playing out. Is that something you feel permeates the record and if so are they two difficult elements to try and reconcile?
I like to play with the dynamics a lot. Between soft and loud, hideous and pretty. There’s nothing stopping you from being soft and hideous or loud and pretty either. It’s hard to get these onto tape sometimes, get the intention of the sound. I feel it’s there though. I think if you asked most bands or songwriters about these kinds of things most would agree that it is just how they naturally put things together. That’s how it works for us at least.
I remember watching you play Melbourne University while I was in town last year and enjoying watching the songs take on a whole other level when played live. As a band with a reputation for their live shows does the way they carry over in that setting influence your writing process?
Not particularly, I think it’s important that there’s always an intensity to music regardless of genre that needs to help carry it in a live setting. But I also think that some bands just naturally have this quality about them. We’re not sitting around going “Ok, we want a circle pit, let’s write some riffs”. We’re just figuring out how to make a song work and flow in and around itself more than anything. Nothing irks me more than watching bands live and mid song the pace or style completely changes up. Never made any sense to me, can really ruin a moment even if you think that both parts are great sometimes they shouldn’t be put together.
“I think it might be more of a reflection on how unaware I am within my own mental state and that you can perhaps just idle through a section of your life”
Your voice is often cited as the centrepoint of EBAGC’s sound – is that how you view it and write around it accordingly, or do you just view it more holistically and as just another element of the band’s wider sound?
It’s an important element but I wouldn’t want to weight it against any of the other elements. I usually write a song by sitting at an instrument and finding some chords or sounds that work together then will sing a nonsense melody over the top. I then have to massage lyrics into the melody which is a task. In answer to your question though, if you removed Rob, Rie or Sholakis’ style then the whole thing wouldn’t work and whilst the vocals may get more attention they wouldn’t have the same effect without the way in which the others play.
With the benefit of hindsight, do you feel you made the album you initially set out to when you started writing it and if not what do you think has changed the most
As I mentioned earlier I didn’t really know that I was writing about so many specific themes when I went into the studio. There was a fair idea or realisation during the rehearsal process that a lot of the songs were about place but I didn’t really think too hard on that at the time. I think it might be more of a reflection on how unaware I am within my own mental state and that you can perhaps just idle through a section of your life unsuspecting that a part of you is focused on something in particular.
I’ve started writing some new songs with a distinct direction at the moment though so I’m interested to see how that differs.
If there was one thing you hoped people took away from the album – be it an emotion or sensation or message – what would you hope that would be above all else?
I’ve been doing a few interviews around this album and the questions are sometimes coming from left field and I feel that people’s interpretations of what is happening differ from one to the next. I’m quite into that. I’m quite into people making their own interpretations of songs, taking lyrics that make sense to them and finding it relatable. Also if anyone can spot my poor attempts at humour trickled throughout that would be a bonus.