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There was a defining moment during Triple J’s 2014 One Night Stand concert in Mildura for Brisbane 4 piece grunge-punksters Violent Soho. The band had released their second album Hungry Ghost six months prior to the gig and up until then, they’d developed a small but enthusiastic following. The youth radio network really latched onto the band and so did their audience. One song in particular appealed to the larrikin nature of Australia’s music loving public, ‘Covered in Chrome’. When the band played that song at One Night Stand, it’s fair to say that the large crowd lost its shit. Not only had Violent Soho officially ‘arrived’ but Australia had found a new champion, a band out of the wilderness that was rockin’ but real, speaking to the people in a language they could relate to. Fast forward to March 2016 and Violent Soho have delivered a third album, Waco, with several tracks already on their way to becoming new arena-friendly anthems. It’s an album which took longer to make and was more of a haul than the band would have liked but if you like your rock ‘n’ roll raw, honest and lyrically engaging, then Waco fits all sizes. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips caught up with lead singer and main songwriter Luke Boerdam to discuss the making of Waco.

Was there a discussion prior to making album about what you wanted it to be sonically or was it more just dealing with a bunch of new songs?
I think the latter. We have never really been that kind of band that sits around and discusses how an album needs to sound, not beforehand anyway. It’s usually a process of finding the songs first, throwing out what we don’t like and then organically working on the sounds in the studio. That’s when the discussion takes place, after the songs have been written and then hours and hours of experimentation just finding the exact right pedal, that right amp. That’s why Soho will take embarrassingly months in the studio compared to all my mates bands who seem to take a few weeks, which blows my mind. We will always go for a cheaper studio where we can literally book it out for  few months so we are not stressing about working on a guitar part for half a day and not freaking out about every hour costing a hundred dollars.

Did you have some leftover song ideas from Hungry Ghost?
Yeah one or two. Funnily enough, a song like ‘Soda’ was an actual leftover idea, not so much the riff but lyrically and it just didn’t find a home on Hungry Ghost. Album to album there’s definitely two or three ideas that didn’t get there in time or we didn’t get around to working on.

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Luke in studio

Reading the album press release, it says you took a 9 to 5 approach with the writing. How did that work for you?
It didn’t work at all (laughs). I had this stupid delusion. When we did Hungry Ghost it was like  moonlighting, working jobs and writing at night, or during any spare time and not really going to the studio until the songs were ready. Whereas this time around, having the label behind it, we had more time. I thought sweet, for the first time I can treat it like a job. I can wake up, sit on the couch and just write. I even stupidly told the band and management and label, oh yeah I will have this thing wrapped up in four months. I’ve never had so much time to write. Four months later when I was meant to deliver ten demos, I had like two! It was just a failure. It was a reminder that music doesn’t work like the rest of the world. It’s funny because I started out in a bedroom. I even moved house so I could have my own bedroom and have a computer set up for recording and I ended up just back on the couch with an acoustic guitar. What a wasted exercise. I found that by sitting there with the guitar while watching some Ken Burns documentary on the civil war, that was when the best ideas happen. It is so odd, the best ideas, even lyrically I have got from watching TV, while I wasn’t even trying to write or on a bus trip. You have to be prepared to grab your iPhone and write it down or hum it into your phone recorder. You forget how random some of that inspiration is. So I was like, that’s right I can’t plan any of this. It might take two years doing it this other way, so I went back to the label and told them the problem I was having. But it worked out. We wanted to get an album out by a certain time because we wanted to tour and keep Soho going. The reality is, if we took another 2 or 3 years to get a record out, it would be a lot more work to keep it going and start up again.

It also says in the press release, and I’m not too sure how much trust to put into those things, that songs on Waco were inspired by all sorts of things such as your wife mentioning an auction, sitting at a bowls club, looking at paintings. Is that the way your songwriting mind has always worked or did you deliberately open it up to more consciously look at the world in a different way this time?
I think there was definitely a switch. This is our 4th record now and the first two, which were really similar anyway … there was a switch where I looked at songwriting, in terms of lyrics anyway, really differently. The first records were really personal stories. I look back and think they’re pretty immature, naive. I guess it comes with growing up too, getting older but I just got excited about song writing  again when I tried to paint a different vision of the world. Not to be profound or anything but it’s just how I look at it … looking at the world around me and just pulling pieces from it and analysing it and painting it in a different light, that’s what I usually do when I write a song. Especially when you’ve got this wall of sound that is pretty heavy and sometimes quite epic, it also kind of aesthetically matches it as well. I think it was when we were touring America back in 2010 and had a whole year living there and picked up so many influences, it gave me a more mature outlook on what songwriting could be and what you can do with songs, how powerful they can be and the type of stories you can paint with them. Whereas before I was like … fuck it, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a bunch of teenage drivel and that’s all this punk  or garage rock can be. But you look at a band like Sonic Youth, you realise it can be so much more. But yeah, I haven’t read that press release but that’s my style, I just like Australian suburbia obviously and any random occurrences during the day. I’m a big You Am I fan and ‘Hourly Daily’ is one of my favourite songs lyrically and that’s exactly what Tim Rogers does. He paints a scene and I think that songs that take you somewhere are the best songs.

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How do you stop yourself from writing the same song? Have you learned any tricks to prevent that?
Yeah, just throw out the ones that sound too similar. That’s pretty much it dude! Seriously, you can write and write and write and for every record there is a trash can with 20 songs that you’ve thrown out because they are too similar. That’s a good thing though, it’s healthy. It means you are naturally moving forward. Some interviewers have said that they’re surprised that you didn’t go really soft and add electronics and synths and stuff and I’m like, what the fuck? You can still progress and have a record that sounds different sonically and lyrically even without completely changing the whole band. So many hardcore bands I have noticed in the last few years flicked the switch and started introducing shoe-gazing elements. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s usually the ones who make a natural progression that are better. But I just think it is that gut feeling in terms of trying to protect it from being the same, it’s the gut feeling of going, no that is too similar and being willing to just throw shit out. It’s tough because you might do a lot of work on a song but you get to a point where you say, no we’ve done this before and you throw it out.

You stopped recording the album and went on tour to NZ. Did the break have any affect on the album at all?
It was weird. I’ve never done that before. I don’t think many other bands do it either, where you record half a record, go off on tour then come back and finish it. It was a bonus because I got this time out period where I could reflect on what we’d done and go, well I think this is missing. We had about 8 tracks done and I think 7 of those ended up on the record. So it was a time think about what was missing and how to round it off. I think it definitely helped but I must admit, if we went for another record in 2 years, I’m not sure I’d do that whole stop and take a break thing. It really elongated everything.

James Tidswell in studio

Let’s talk gear. Was it mainly your Tym guitar which you used on the album?
My nickname for it is the Tym mongrel because it is this beast of different guitars. It’s got Les Paul Junior hardware thrown on a Tele body, with a Strat neck, so it’s pretty odd. The coolest thing about it is that it has 2 input jacks. Tim (Brennan) custom-made that for me back in 2007. The only reason I remember that is because I had to take off the face plate in the studio because one of the pickups was playing up and it said ‘Fuck Violent Soho from Tim 2007’. I kind of didn’t know what I wanted but I told him I want something simple. I’d prefer to complicate the pedals but keep the guitar simple. At the time we were literally plugging straight into JCM800s . This dude from Adelaide makes these Brierley pickups and they are late 50s style P90s and they’re super wound. They’re really hot, it’s hard to get a clean tone out of these things, so Tim used one of those and it’s just gold. I haven’t gone back since. All I have done is hyped it up even more, so I plug that into two amps, a Fender Twin is one, which has so much headroom and it’s crispy clean. If I play it soft enough I can get this dark, clean tone from the guitar which is really cool. When we punch into a chorus, I turn a Marshall on and duck the Fender. It’s funny, I have looked at changing guitars from time to time but nothing matches it because the output is so hot. In the studio you have to change some of the pre’s, turn them down a bit because it just red lines it. I actually need a better back up for it, so I need to try to rebuild it somehow with something generic. I’ll probably just get a Fender signature series and hunt down one of those Brierley pickups and see how that goes.

James Tidswell laying down guitar track
James Tidswell laying down guitar track

With these new songs, will you be changing your pedal board at all when you go on tour?
Not as much as I thought I’d have to but I want to get more into looping and layering so I am thinking of getting one of those Pigtronix Infinity pedals. Every time you record there’s always a pedal you find. For Hungry Ghost it was an Eventide Space pedal, which added this layer of sheen for the reverb swells, just using it on bits and pieces. It’s the kind of pedal that can tie a record together sonically if you use it in snippets throughout songs. I first used this pedal ten years ago on our first EP with same producer and he pulled out of this box an old  EHX deluxe Memory Man, an 80s one where they don’t have the same magnets anymore I think. I need to add one of them because it is all throughout the record, the modulation from that.  I’m going to add a tremolo for some lead parts. I like to fuck around with the wah and then do this weird thing where you flick a really hard tremolo that’s virtually cutting the signal up into pieces. It’s probably one of my most favourite parts of being in the band. It’s like, yes, the record is done… now I get to rebuild a pedalboard. If the band ever finished that would be one of things I’d miss the most, building pedalboards.

What’s happening for the rest of year?
Touring for the record here in May. Hoping to tour the US later. We want to get back over there. Kids are on Facebook saying come to San Fran or wherever. We have a label over there who are supportive so we’d like to do that.

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