Housed in a snug bar and fuelled by an abundance of pizza, we spoke to Louis Forster, James Harrison and Riley Jones of The Goon Sax.

Surfacing back in 2016, The Goon Sax’s debut Up To Anything was a masterclass in creating something at once personal and transcendental. Deceptively simple (yet highly effective), it melded the emotional intensity of adolescence with a relatability and perceptiveness that transcended both their tender years and that belief the fact the album was written while the band were all in their mid-late teens.

In the same way Up To Anything had a worldliness that made it easy to forget that you were listening to a band who were dovetailing the making of the record with finishing their high school studies, in person they’ve a mature air of people of a far more advanced age, and possess an ever-present politeness (it would take the band being greeted at their show later that night by an audience cry of “WHAT IF THERE’S A FIRE?” for that politeness to briefly dissipate, Louis Forster turning away, clearly annoyed and muttering ‘for fuck’s sake’ and giving a riposte of ‘do you say that to everyone?’). Subtle comic moments abound during our time together though: Forster’s ability to lose lighters leads to the band’s tour manager to threaten to tie a series of them around his person, while James Harrison’s periodic and sudden burping during our mealtime chat comes from a place of strangely endearingly goofball naivety rather than overt obnoxiousness.

“I think dancing and crying are the two strongest ways that you can react to music so if you do either of those, that’s great.”

Housed in a snug bar and enjoying the impromptu pizza party our interview time has turned into, all three – Forster and Harrison being joined by drummer Riley Jones – are models of easy going affability that bely any pressure the buzz around them (in addition to the praise garnered for their debut, follow-up We’re Not Talking has already started receiving rave reviews by the time we meet up) might have induced. “It doesn’t really give you any confidence or any fear,” says Forster, in a baritone that has a natural tendency to carry and with a characteristic tone of gravitas “because when you’re alone and you’re writing or practicing it just feels very out of reach. You don’t really feel very involved with other people at that stage.” “I don’t think I felt anything other than a certain internal pressure to write as many good songs as I can, adds the softer-spoken Harrison “I don’t compare any of my new songs to my old songs, really.”

Watching them later that evening throughout that night’s gig, Harrison and Forster make for a striking duo. During a forceful rendition of album standout ‘Love Lost’ the pair stand side-by-side stomping and leaning into the song’s soaring chorus in unison with a purposeful air that makes them look like a guitar-toting firing squad. As Riley Jones comes out from behind the drum kit to take lead vocals on the pastoral, contemplative ‘Strange Light’ the pair stand either side by side, almost taking on the role of protectors and giving the group a near-tangible sense of unity and kinship.

It’s perhaps unsurprising to learn to learn that the group’s bond took shape early on, with Forster and Harrison eschewing the apathy of adolescence during the formative period of their friendship and riding the bus for the best part of an hour across Brisbane to visit each other. Ruminating on their unity and the benefit it’s has had on their ability to collaborate creatively Forster says “We’re very comfortable around each other and we’ve been comfortable playing with each other for a long time – I don’t think we could go on tour or something if we weren’t close and if we didn’t like each other.” It’s a point of view shared by Jones, who adds that “It also means we support each other in everything we do – I really believe in these guys as songwriters, and I like them being my friends so it all works out!”

But if the band’s two albums have been hewn from their shared experiences, then they’ve connected on a universal level that transcends the kind of demographic boundaries that young bands frequently struggle to break through. Their shows draw a mixed and varied crowd, and I tell them about the evening of our last encounter around the release of their debut and how it ended with me and a friend, both of us in our thirties, sitting up afterwards discussing the ways the topics discussed on Up To Anything – body image, the ongoing search for a sense of belonging – had resonated with us.

“I do think that all music is on that kind of universal level irrespective of how it tries – or doesn’t try – to get your attention, says Forster, adding as a caveat that “whenever you’re writing something and it’s about something that’s happening in your own life you never think about whether it could be relatable to someone else – it’s literally the last thing you could possibly be thinking about. It’s always somewhat surprising when someone says that they relate to something because while of course anything can be relatable or resonant it’s not a part of anything for us. Or it’s not a part of anything for me, at least. It just doesn’t matter.” Jones gives the impression of being less than surprised than her bandmates, stating philosophically that “I think that even if something’s not to my taste people are always writing on a universal level…” setting up Harrison perfectly to add cheerfully and with a beaming smile that “we all live in the same universal world, after all!”

Much of the commentary around both of The Goon Sax’s records centres around their worldliness and their ability to communicate feelings and sensations in a manner – and with a wisdom – that far transcends their tender years. Whether on record or in casual conversation, the trio carry themselves with a thoughtfulness and erudition that most people in their teens or early twenties would struggle to match. And yet, when pressed on how they’re viewed among their immediate peers, they all take a dim view of themselves. Forster candidly admits that he holds the view that “all my friends think I’m really stupid – I always feel that way, as though I’m he stupidest. I think it’s the one thing I’m really insecure about, I just feel really primitive.” Harrison quickly concurs, claiming that “I don’t think anyone thinks I’m particularly wise either – it’s not like we’re talking above things, we’re talking within things.” Jones, rather than disclosing how she’s viewed by her peers, hones returns to how their music resonated with a wide audience of people and says with a shrug “I think we’re emotionally quite in tune with ourselves and most people, and we’re maybe more open about it as well.”

That openness has permeated itself into the songwriting on We’re Not Talking, the resultant record ending up as the sound of a band constantly pushing forward full of dualities. There’s urgency aplenty on ‘She Knows’ (which deftly describes the joy of finding someone who understand what you’re going through) and the deceptively sunny ‘Get Out’, while ‘Strange Light’, ‘We Can’t Win’ and ‘Til The End’ see the band doing a musical about turn and delivering contemplative gems. Similarly, the lushness of ‘Make Time 4 Love’ and ‘Love Lost’ sits snugly alongside the minimalism of ‘Losing Myself’ and ‘Somewhere In Between’. Louis Forster is quick to dispel any notions that they purposefully set out to create such a wide-ranging record, describing the writing process as one where “have to be in a state where you’re working action by action and you don’t have the ability to look back on something. I’ve never thought about light and shade but the only thing that was important to me on this record was to try and not repeat ourselves or to do something purely because we’d done it before. I feel that on every song we tried a different theme and tried to say something distinctly different and go about it in a different way.”

All three admit that their records to date mirror their own technical development, with elements featured on We’re Not Talking being impossible to have done on Up To Anything. But they also admit that in both cases the records also offer snapshots of their lives at any given point, disclosing how their latest offering feels strange to them in places given that it features songs that they wrote while still in their late teens. “Some of the songs were about finishing school and not knowing what to do with your time,” says Forster matter-of-factly “I guess that could be associated with that age, but it wasn’t specifically about being that age – it was about the things that come with it.”

Reflecting on his own songwriting journey, Harrisons openly admits that he’d do things differently as he sets out how “in some ways some of the songs might be a teenagey. Maybe not wholly teenagey, but some of the things they touched upon – like unrequited things – that maybe I’d deal with or think about differently now. I think I was pretty young and pretty stupid about things like crushing and stuff like that.” With the same openness as her bandmates, Jones describes the disconnect she feels between the version of herself that wrote and played on the record and the one that now has to play it. “When were recording the album I had these really intense feelings and sometimes it was really hard to go through a whole song or something,” she says “and now I feel so far removed from that that it’s weird. I find myself looking back and thing ‘woah, who was this person?’ It’s so funny to think that that’s us – it almost feels like we’re in a bit of a time warp because the songs come out so much later than you write them and you have to try and connect the dots.”

Unsurprisingly the band is already looking to the future, trying out half a dozen new songs in soundcheck (and then reprising some during the show itself, some of which display a move away from their usual melodicism and toward a more angular post-punk direction). Forster talks of their stockpiles of ideas, leading to a brief bit of one-upmanship from Harrison and Jones as to who has the most; Harrison is quick to correct Forster’s guesstimated figure of 300, Jones mischievously chimes in to add that she’s twice that.

For Forster, the real boon isn’t the number of ideas, but the different ways that they work. He describes how he’s the perfectionist (“I get very obsessive and so I don’t like to look back at all, and there are no barriers or floodgates that periodically open it’s just constantly moving.”) whereas his bandmates are the prolific archivists. “If you go through James’ voice recordings on his phone,” he says “and compared them to mine or Riley’s, James would have 300 and I’d have 30 version of the same thing – extreme things like that. I’ll have 30 versions of one 15-second bit where I’m singing different lyrics with one word changed or one chord changed, and James will have hundreds of different things, some of which he’s never listened to – most of which he’s never listened to, I’d imagine…”

As our time starts to draw to a close – as much as we’re enjoying each other’s company, we’re all terrible multitaskers and the pizza that has been patiently waiting while we all lose ourselves in conversation has started to curl at the edges – the trio take the opportunity to reflect on their latest creation. “I think that my favourite part of the album is how sad it is. I think it’s great that something like ‘We Can’t Win’ is very sad, and we were talking earlier about how dramatic and how honest we were when we were writing.” Jones effervesces with laughter as she recounts how “We were so fatalistic!” and then mimicking the melodrama with a faux-wailed ‘THIS IS THE EEEEEEND!’ Forster stops just short of burying his head in his hands as he exclaims “Oh god, so fatalistic. I remember writing the songs and thinking ‘I may die, but I really hope these songs come out’. I was such a piece of shit. But I hope it makes people dance – that’s one thing we did try and do, was make it more danceable.”

“I think dancing and crying are the two strongest ways that you can react to music so if you do either of those, that’s great.”

We're Not Talking – The Goon Sax
September 14, 2018 – Buy | Listen