Interview – My Disco
February 11, 2010 § Leave a comment
Published: The Vine, February 11, 2010.
Since emerging from the city’s underground in 2003, Melbourne trio My Disco have built one of the city’s most enviable reputations for their serrated, gauntly economical take on post-punk abstraction and condensed, highly rhythmic rock. Earth-shattering live shows aside, the band’s recorded material has left an inimitable stamp on Australian landscape. The assaulting frequencies of 23-minute debut album Cancer (2006) and the visceral, hard-edged minimalism of follow-up Paradise (2008) are revered as genuine signpost releases.
Perhaps most remarkable, however, has been My Disco’s unaffected, downright utilitarian ethic. Self-booking and self-funding tours, playing warehouses and sleeping on floors, the trio – bassist/vocalist Liam Andrews, elder brother and guitarist Ben and drummer Rohan Rebeiro – have traversed the US, Japan, western and far eastern Europe on little more than their own meagre savings accounts.
Ben Andrews took some time out in the lead up to the launch of their expansive new 12” Young (which comes replete with B-side remix by local electronic auteur Qua) to chat minimalism, jazz, the late 90s Melbourne hardcore scene and the band’s upcoming third record.
Hey Ben, what’s been happening?
We’ve just been rehearsing actually.
Nice. I just got the 12” the other day and I found it really interesting. It follows that kind of reductive path that a lot of your work does – that idea of sustaining the one, relatively unpadded set of elements – but unlike your other stuff, it’s really quite long.
Yeah, true. But I reckon that song is pretty full. People bandy around the minimal word a lot, but I reckon it’s going pretty full-on most of the way through the track. It’s just that the structure is pretty simple. That song to me is really in two halves – the kind of full-on intense stuff at the start of the song and then kind of mellowed out drum solo section – but initially we had it different before we stripped it back. I don’t know, I think it’s still pretty full sounding.
Is that sort of jam-like quality of the song, just riding that one groove, kind of reflective of how it was written? Or was it more a case of throwing a lot more at it and then gradually stripping those elements away?
No, we always just write in the rehearsal room. We don’t bring any pre-conceived notions to room; we basically sit on something for a while and if we like it we’ll do something with it, and if we don’t we’ll shelve it. This song kind of came about by jamming on a bass and drum groove and I was able to muck around with more chords than usual. Originally it sounded a little more grungy and Sonic Youth-y, just because we don’t usually do all those jangly chords in quick succession. So we were really excited by it.
But it all came about pretty naturally and it kind of almost structured itself. We mucked around with a few more mellow ideas and then just decided to bring it down. Originally it was kind of up to me how far the song went.
Because you had to stand out twiddling your thumbs for the second half of the track?
(Laughs) Yeah, something like that. But no, it just kind of happened and kind of suited what we were trying to do. With these newer songs, it’s just kind of like we’ll have a jam and then it will all kind of fall into place over a series of months. We’ll even just play them live before they’re really well formed and they’ll just form themselves, which I kind of like. It’s good to just throw around ideas and not be too precious with them and see what happens as they naturally develop.
I think what really works about ‘Young’ is its kind of duality. It’s a really accessible, listenable groove in a sense, but just the sustained nature of it and how subtle the shifts are, especially in the last half of the song, means that it becomes quite challenging in that way. You kind of wonder where it’s going to go and what might happen and just how long it’s going to go for.
Yeah, yeah, it’ll be interesting to see from a listener’s point of view. When we’ve played it at festivals and stuff, where people might not have heard us before, they’re still nodding their head because, like you say, it’s a pretty accessible four/four groove. But I reckon listening to the version that we’ve recorded, there are a lot of subtle changes for the more astute listener.
A lot of people talk about jazz as if it’s a dirty word, but that idea of sitting in the pocket, which is associated with more freeform, improvised jazz, seems to really apply to you guys. Do you ever think about what you do in those kinds of terms?
We’re all really big fans of some of the classic stuff and some of the weirder stuff, within the free-jazz scene anyway. But we’ve never really thought of our music that way though. We’re just a rock band. Even though that’s a massive, broad term, that’s still how I see us.
I guess you could see songs like ‘Young’, with its different movements and so on, being more of a jazz composition than a rock composition. But we never really delve that deep into the theoretical side of things. That’s for other people to do.
What’s in the title?
I don’t know really. Liam made it up. We just ignore the names of the songs, especially since most of our songs are mainly instrumental with just a bit of vocals here and there. We were calling this track ‘Australia’ for a while, and then we were calling it ‘Welcome to Yamagata’, which is a town we played in Japan, so it went through a few names. ‘Young’ just seems to fit. I think it will look really good on vinyl anyway (laughs).
I really like Qua’s remix.
Yeah, it came about really quickly, because we knew we wanted to do something like that, but we weren’t sure who we to do it with. We went to a few people overseas, but they couldn’t do it within the timeframe. We’ve played with Qua a bunch of times and knew that he had a studio down in South Melbourne and he knocked it out in literally a couple of weeks.
Literally the first pass that he did was the one we went for. We got him to extend a couple of bits here and there, but 95 per cent of what he did initially was awesome and we just went with it.
It was quite cool, we weren’t sure whether he was going to do some three-minute slamming version of it or what. So it’s pretty cool that he’s kind of made it with these extended passages and how it drifts through these different sections and then goes into that really industrial part at the end. We were really happy with it. We didn’t give him much time and he just did an awesome job. We’re doing the launches with Qua, so that will be kind of cool.
It’s pretty much exactly the same length as the original isn’t it?
Yeah, two seconds the difference. I don’t know if he intentionally did that because originally it was one or two minutes shorter and we extended the end section. But yeah, it’s pretty cool that it’s kind of as much a challenging listen as the A-side.
Does the remix sit on the same rhythmic signature as the original? I swear it has a faster beat in parts.
That’s a good point, I’ve never listened to them one-on-one, but yeah I’m sure he’s done all sorts of things. I’ve only really listened to them separately and not really thought about it. We definitely didn’t record it with a click-track or anything, so he’s probably just used the bass line as a rough grid, I guess. It’s definitely not metronomic, but it sounds cool to me anyway!
You guys came up in the hardcore scene at the end of the ’90s, going to those rehearsal space shows at places like Thunderfield and Troy Balance, yeah?
I went to a lot of those shows in my last years of high school…
No way! Yeah, it was such a cool little scene, just being able to check out a bunch of bands. It just seemed so distant from everything else that was going on. I used to go to Pushover and these shows at Prahran Town Hall, but when you were underage and you wanted to see heavier stuff or more punk orientated stuff, you’d just find a flyer on the old Missing Link wall – when it was in Flinders Lane – and you could always find something to check out.
Yeah, it was a good time. I don’t know if it’s just because we grew up and grew out of it, but it seems like those sort of smaller scenes don’t really happen like that anymore. I know a few kids who are in bands and just want to do all-ages, and I think it’s increasingly difficult. There wasn’t much in it for the rehearsal rooms, that’s for sure.
Like the shows at Troy Balance were always on a Sunday and apparently the guy who ran it didn’t tell the owners. He just worked there doing the rehearsals and charged bands $100 or $150 and just pocketed the money, until one time his boss actually found out what he was doing and fired him. And that was the end of that.
Yeah, I remember some dodgy stuff going on there. Once we were at a show with Mindsnare and that vegan band Ultimatum…
I remember them!
Yeah and we were locked out of the space because Dave Graney and Claire Moore were using it to rehearse. I remember them coming out to be confronted by about thirty grotty, snarling little hardcore kids…
Do you see My Disco as informed by that scene? I’ve always thought of you guys in that way.
I suppose I do. I mean, what we’re doing these days is pretty far removed from that scene, but at the same time we’re always doing things of our own accord, in the sense that we haven’t been the kind of band who sits around waiting for people to book us shows or to get a deal. I think we’ve taken that DIY element from that early hardcore scene.
Touring America and stuff you get to see just how many bands go out and hit the road and end up building a fan base, whether or not they’ve got some sweet label or booking agent or whatever. On paper it kind of looks like you need this, this and this, but in reality all you need to do is play and that’s all we ever did. I don’t think that if we started now and just kind of sat around, I don’t think we’d achieve anything. Essentially we just made it ourselves – everything – from booking our own shows to playing our own shows, and that whole element we definitely took from the hardcore and punk culture.
I guess the world really wasn’t so open then – it was kind of pre-internet as a mainstream thing anyway – so you really relied on direct community building.
Yeah, it was so small and you would never read anything about it in any of the street press. It was just kind of the poster wall at Missing Link (laughs), which is pretty crazy when you think about it.
Is this 12” the starting point for a bunch of new material?
Yeah, we’ve got a new album coming out this year as well. We’re recording it in mid-March at Electric Audio with Albini again.
Yeah, we’re not mixing it there this time; we’re tracking it and then bringing it back and mixing it in Sydney at BJB, where we did the 12”. We really liked it there and we’ll be able to spend a bunch more time on it and we’re hoping it will be out by August or September.
What informed that decision to record with Albini again?
We just had a great time. Everything is really easy, everyone’s really friendly and it’s just kind cool hanging out there. It’s a really quick process. If you can play your songs, then everything else happens really quickly. You don’t have to wait around for a drum sound or something; basically anything that you want to do can be done in a matter of minutes. I can totally understand how bands can go in and bust out an album in a weekend with him, or even a day and then take it away. It’s so relaxed. You don’t have to be all tense and stressed and stuff. You can just go in there and play your songs.
Tell me about the new material.
It’s definitely freer and there’s a bunch of songs, like ‘Young’, that are pretty lengthy and pretty loose. But then there’s some weirder stuff and some mellower stuff. But yeah, it’s definitely our largest amount of material. It’ll probably clock in at around forty-five or fifty minutes.
Shit! That’s long for you!
Yeah (laughs), Cancer was under twenty-five and Paradise was like thirty-eight or something, so it’s pretty crazy.
Young is out now via Mistletone/Inertia
My Disco launch Young with Qua and New War:
SYDNEY: Friday, Feb 12, Oxford Arts Factory$18+bf, moshtix.com.au
MELBOURNE: Saturday, Feb 13 and Sunday, Feb 14, The Toff$18+bf, moshtix.com.au