Interview: Papa Vs Pretty @ The Gaelic, Surry Hills – 16th October 2010.
It was a chilly night on Devonshire Street in Surry Hills when upcoming Aussie band Papa Vs Pretty took to the stage at The Gaelic Club; amoungst plenty of Carlton Draft and sweaty bodies, my wrist was plastered with an inky ‘G’ and I was set free.
I made my way to the back of the venue where I was to meet the charming Thomas Rawle, Gus Gardiner and Tom Myers for our highly anticipated interview. People were packing into the hall; one after another, and the other, and one more.
Despite the bands supporting status, I found that interviewing a band who is fast ‘on the rise’ in one of the worlds freshest musical cultures was far more intimidating than interviewing a band who is comfortable with their position and lead. I mean, I could be interviewing the very next Muse!
Thus, leaning up against a grubby, sandstone wall, the four of us began to chat…
As a relatively ‘young’ band and having come so far already, how are you finding life in the flourishing Sydney music culture and what keeps the energy flowing?
Tom R: It doesn’t really feel like we have come that far…
Tom M: We just started really young I guess.
Tom R: I think that we just really like what we do. I mean, touring can be really difficult – especially with not much money. We have to pay for our own flights and stuff, but we do get reimbursed by playing gigs. Touring Australia is so expensive, we have to think about Hotels, transport, the lot. Travelling to Perth was really expensive.
Tom M: But out of the whole tour, we end up coming out of it having made maybe only a $100 / $200 from the whole tour.
So has anyone asked for your autograph yet?
Tom R: Yea! It was really strange at first, although I’ve got terrible handwriting so I doubt they’d be able to recognize whose signature it is anyway.
Tell me about your new EP ‘Heavy Harm’ and the new-fangled sound you’ve built into it. I love it, but it’s quite different to your first EP. What made you guys take this EP somewhere different?
Gus: Well, in my eyes there are two things that really contributed to the new sound. Firstly, we didn’t really have enough money to incorporate all the sounds that were originally on our first EP; like keyboards. We used to have a fourth guy that played with us live, but again it’s really hard on the back pocket when there’s that fourth person; it’s more gear and just generally more expensive. You’re not really getting paid any more because of that fourth person either. Secondly, beforehand we were still trying a lot of different methods and variations of things. Our first EP had a bit of everything on it; even Electronic stuff.
Tom M: Yea, whereas now we’ve managed to funnel it down into one collaborative unit that’s become our ‘sound’. That’s what ‘Heavy Harm’ [new EP] is all about I guess.
So would you say that ‘Heavy Harm’ is completely organic in relation to your first EP? Or would you say that it has grown and branched out from it?
Tom M: I don’t think we’ve really taken it somewhere completely different. We’ve built on what we know and have done already. I mean, there are a few similarities between ‘Heavy Harm’ and our first EP.
Gus: I think that before we were stylistically wavering a bit, and now we’ve figured out what it is we’re all about.
Papa Vs Pretty has been quite fondly recognized by one of Australia’s most influential singer/songwriters; Paul Dempsey [Something for Kate Vocalist]. Paul actually helped you in the production of ‘Heavy Harm’. How did you find working with Paul?
Tom M: Yea! He’s a really great guy, and really easy to work with. I mean we had great fun; I’m generally the ‘cockhead’ of the band, and I think he was fairly tolerant – that’s always a good thing! But not only that, he was really open to all of our ideas so we felt really ‘at home’ with our music.
Tom R: He’s very tall, and really polite. He’s not as morose as everyone thinks he is.
I have got to say, one of the things that has really earned my respect is the fact that you are laced to your own ideas and sounds; quite the opposite to a lot of bands at the top of their game these days. You hear about bands ‘selling out’, and I can imagine that it would be quite tempting to incorporate sounds and ideas from bands who are making a lot of money so that maybe you would have the same sort of success. What has kept you so true to yourselves?
Tom R: Well thank you! But truly I think that part of it is that we realized that we were actually quite poor and could only travel with three instruments, so that probably has something to do it. We don’t really have that freedom to incorporate a lot of complex elements into our music.
Gus: I think that all three of us as individuals have the freedom of not liking trends, and not having that catalyst over our heads.
Tom R: Yea we’re not trendy. We don’t really care about being trendy.
Tom M: I mean, we just like being creative and making something out of what we’ve got. I think it’s sort of a challenge within a challenge that way.
Tom R: If you’re honest, then you’ll do fine! I mean, if you set out to be ‘XX’ then that’s what you’ll get, but you’re boxing yourself in that way, so we try not to do that.
I think that as people who make music, you are probably also quite partial to listening to music. So, without asking about the band’s ‘influences’ as such, who have been the artists that have impacted you as individuals that have in turn influenced who you are today?
Tom M: Well, it’s funny because Gus plays a lot of Jazz and listens to classical music, Tom [Tom R] listens to a lot of singer/songwriter stuff, and I’m more into the ‘heavy’ band scene like Tool, Deftones etc. So we’re all quite different when it comes to what we listen to as individuals. But at the same time, I guess that’s all thrown into the melting pot when it comes to producing music with each other. I know that with my drumming I like to play heavy / thrash beats, whereas Tom [Tom R] is really quite ‘fiddly’, and Gus is just – cool. It all mixes into one thing, there’s no particular style that we chase after.
Tom R: I’m listening to a lot of Nick Cave and Elliot Smith these days. I really love Jeff Buckley too – he’s great.
So when you think about your music as an all incorporating unit, what is it that you want to achieve with it?
Gus: I think that we’re all in it to just express ourselves and to produce the best music that we can. I mean, hopefully that coincides with some sort of commercial success, but more than anything else I think that all three of us just love what we’re doing. I guess that if our music never really ‘takes off’ then it’s just not meant to be, but we love where we’re at right now and we’re happy with how far we’ve come.
What are your goals for ‘Heavy Harm’, and what has the response from the crowd been like?
Tom R: I guess we would love for people to hear about us, and we’ve done quite a bit of touring as well which has been great.
Tom M: It’s pretty cool how people know our music. Like, we started with nothing and have managed to grow to the point where people come to gigs to see us – we’re not a support band anymore. It’s weird, but the response on the whole has been fairly positive, which is a really nice surprise.
Tom R: I mean it’s surreal to see people singing back lyrics to me that I thought up in my own mind. I just look at them weirdly. I think I get a bit conscious of myself at that moment and find myself wanting them to go get a drink from the bar or something; ‘just don’t listen to me, please’.
Tom Rawle writes most of the bands music and lyrics, so how is it for you two [Tom M and Gus] working with someone who has really taken the reins? How is Tom [Tom R] to work with?
Gus: It’s really great. We don’t fight…
Tom R: That’s a lie; we fight about the nature of reality…
Gus: Oh yea…
Tom M: I don’t really think about it [Tom R writing] that much. It’s just what works, so we role with it.
Gus: We have a really great dynamic going, and if that’s what works then that’s just how things go. We actually love it.
Tom M: I mean, Tom [Tom R] will come to us with 75% of a song written in his head, and then we’ll pull our [Gus and Tom M] parts together and by the end of it all we’ll have 110% of it done and dusted. It’s not all that weird or different, and I’m sure that a lot of bands actually do things that way.
Just to wrap things up, if you could turn back time and choose any gig in the history of time to attend, who and where would it be?
Tom R: Jimi Hendrix at Monterey, or maybe Elliot Smith at The Olympia playing with his band when he wasn’t f**ked
Tom M: Ahhhh – Led Zeppelin at Royal Albert Hall 1971, for sure.
Gus: Ah well, I’m a bit nerdy… probably J S Bach at Eisenach playing Preludes and Fugues or whatever.
Papa Vs Pretty are an incredible upcoming Australian band. Whilst remaining fairly true to the basic ‘rock’ principals, they incorporate a lot of different techniques and sounds. It is such a great thing to know that there is still some seriously decent music coming out of the Sydney local scene. They’re live show is unbelievable, and I would highly recommend you check these guys out!
You can reach them at www.papavspretty.com and see a mean live gig at the Oxford Arts Factory on the 2nd December 2010.