Australia Goes Pop: Interview with Strange Talk
Lately bands have begun to evolve the concept of ’80s pop into the sort of music that sounds intellectually vintage as well as pogo-y fun.
One of the bands that takes this style to heart is Strange Talk, hailing from Melbourne, Australia with their latest album Cast Away. Fresh off a New York City tour and ready to return for the CMJ Music Festival, we had a chance to sit down with the whole band to talk about music, Michael Hutchence, and rave-cows.
Patrick Emmel: So, in getting to know all of you, state your name, your role in Strange Talk, and where you were when Michael Hutchence [of INXS] passed away in ’97.
Travis Constable: My name’s Travis, I play drums for Strange Talk, and I can’t exactly remember where I was but I was in year 7, my first year in high school. I remember hearing about it, but I can’t remember where I was when I first heard he passed away. It was pretty sad, I remember.
Steve Docker: I’m Steve. I’m the vocalist and keys player for the band. When Michael Hutchence passed away, I may have been in grade 6 or something in art class or something.
Gerard Sidhu: I’m Gerard. I’m the bass player in the band. I think I was at home because I remember seeing it at home on the news, hearing about the weirdness involved in the hotel and how they found him. It was pretty bizarre.
Travis: What year were you in high school?
Gerard: I think I was 30 at the time.
Gillan Gregory: You were born 30.
Travis: He was teaching Steve’s art class.
Gillan Gregory: I’m Gilly-G. I play guitar. I would have been kicking a goal playing Australian rules football…
Gerard: Which was your passion…
Gilly: (laughs) …which was my passion back in the day before music. I won the game. So I was happy, and then I found out what happened and I wasn’t happy.
Patrick: So what were you guys listening to back then, when you were younger?
Steve: I was a bit of a gangster. I used to listen to hip-hop like The Notorious B.I.G. …
Travis: Grade 6?
Steve: Yeah. I really loved that stuff growing up. Obviously, Michael Jackson I was a big fan of, but I went through a hip-hop, gangsta rap phase.
Patrick: Why didn’t you get into rap, then?
Gilly: Next album?
Gerard: For me, growing up, it was Michael Jackson. Dangerous was the first CD I ever bought. I was heavily into Michael, and then I got into the whole grunge period like Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Don’t listen to that much anymore, but still listen to Michael Jackson.
Gilly: Funny enough, Michael Jackson’s Dangerous was my first CD as well. My first cassette tape was Salt-N-Pepa Greatest Hits. I used to dance in front of a mirror, create my own moves.
Gerard: What song?
Gilly: Um, “Push It”, you know, “push it good.”
Gerard: Did you do the dance routine?
Gilly: (Laughs) Yeah. I remember the different moves I did, because I had older sisters that listened to all that stuff.
Travis: ’97, I was getting into Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine pretty heavily because I just started playing drums. But I found out about Dave Matthews Band, too, which was sort of a big influence at that time, especially the drummer.
Gilly: I was just thinking, Salt-n-Pepa isn’t very manly.
Travis: I’m imaging you in grade 6, running around the football field listening to Salt-n-Pepa.
Gilly: Yeah, I was playing football! I was playing sports!
Patrick: I was interested in what you guys were listening to because, when I was younger, I was listening to metal, hip-hop, punk, and grunge all the time. Then when I got into college, I started listening to a lot more ’80s pop rock. What’s interesting is that I’ve seen music genres get into a sort of cycle. Like, last decade, we had The White Stripes, The Strokes, they styled themselves to the 70s. Now, in this decade, so much music is based on ’80s pop and euro-pop. How did you guys make that move and decide this style of music fit you best?
Steve: I guess a lot of it was influenced by what we were listening to at the time that we sat down to write the record. It seemed fresh.
Gerard: It was never a conscious decision to be like ’80s-influenced pop. It was just what we started writing because of our influences, like Queen and Michael Jackson and The Police.
Steve: We wore leggings during the creative process…
Gilly: Bright colors…
Steve: Yeah, and head-bands and stuff to get into the vibe.
Gilly: We used to do Jazzercise just to warm up.
Patrick: Keeping up with the ’80s feel, I watched your video for “Eskimo Boy” and…
Travis: You liked it.
Patrick: Oh yeah. I watched it about 10 times in a row. You guys don’t sound like ’80s hair bands, but the first thing I thought about, with the one guy and all these women running around half-naked was, this is the perfect video for a hair band to do. How did you guys decide you wanted to go that route for a video?
Gerard: That was Chris [manager] over there. They put it together and sent us the draft and we were just, like, “Nice choice in girls. Can we go?” We were very upset. I think he was trying to get over there to check it out, you know, “supervise”…
Patrick: Ah, so you just wanted to see a bunch of women, so you were like, “We’re going to make a video based on this!”
Travis: It was shot in New Zealand, I think. It wasn’t even in Australia. It was shot by a New Zealand director. He must have had a bit of an idea. It was a big controversy. We had some comments come back from women about it being degrading to the women and people saying, “Oh what does that have to do with ‘Eskimo Boy’ when you’re on a beach.” It was pretty interesting. The male population didn’t mind it as much.
Patrick: Yeah, I didn’t mind it at all. The first thing I saw from you guys was that video, so I thought, “Well, alright, let’s go interview these guys!”
Gerard: I think we need to go back and do the Robin Thicke version where all the chicks are just naked…
Patrick: How does the song “Eskimo Boy” play into that video? Not that I really care because I love looking at beautiful women, but what was the parallel?
Steve: Well, as far as the film clip and the lyrics, we just wanted something fun. It just suited the vibe of the track.
Gerard: Well, it’s about a boy going out into the world, and the director took that idea and kind of ran with it. He’s walking through the bushes and the beach by himself and finding the group of girls…
Travis: Yeah, a little boy goes out into the world and finds something…amazing. It just works.
Gilly: It’s about Gerard. It’s what happens in real life to him.
Gerard: “I go into the bush, and I just find groups of girls.”
Steve: The thing about that song is people have their own interpretations of it. Someone said to me that they thought it was about having a massive night out and walking out of the club at, like 7am, still completely smashed and not knowing where you are.
Patrick: It was mentioned that you guys were laying down tracks in Victoria [Australia], just outside of Melbourne. How does that work? When I think of pop and electronica, I don’t think of looking out a window and seeing a cow…
Travis: …or a kangaroo bouncing around…
Gilly: In Australia, we have rave-cows…
Travis: They stand outside the window doing this [Travis does the ‘raise the roof’ dance]
Travis: They give good feedback on stuff.
Gerard: It was more about us getting out of the normal, four walls that we work in, getting into a new environment and getting away from everything, having no distractions and being able to work around the clock non-stop.
Travis: It’s definitely stress-free. The country in Australia is pretty quiet so you can clear the mind and have a better train of thought in writing. And since it’s quiet you can play as much music as you want.
Gerard: Yeah, we could play really loud all the time.
Gilly: To the rave-cows…
Patrick: If you guys had the choice to have the popularity of Justin Bieber or the respect of LCD Soundsystem, which direction would you guys want to go?
Gerard: (with no hesitation) LCD Soundsystem.
Travis: It’s one of those things… Fame is just being out there in the public eye. Respect, that’s the highest thing you can attain, especially in the music industry. Getting peers’ respect. In any sort of industry, I guess.
Gerard: Their music’s way better.
Steve: We’re not saying Justin Bieber is not talented.
Travis: Yeah, he’s a talented kid, but I guess he’s structuring it to be like an empire. He’ll be bringing out watches, colognes and stuff that has his name on it.
Gilly: Travis is also a fortune-teller…
Travis: Well, it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen, either that or he’s going to go off the rails…
Patrick: I brought that up because the promo picture I saw of the band was just you guys lined up. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. I thought I was going to be dealing with an Australian boy band.
Gilly: Well… we were mistaken as One Direction the other night…
Patrick: Oh! Good or bad mistake?
Travis: We went with it for a bit until we saw they were serious.
Gerard: We got a few free drinks out of it!
Patrick: How was playing Brooklyn Bowl?
Gerard: Very cool venue.
Travis: We played a few lanes after the gig, which was interesting.
Patrick: Who won?
Gerard: Stand up, Chris. Stand up.
Gilly: Our manager.
Chris: Thank you.
Gerard: He cheats, though.
Patrick: Did you guys have bumpers?
Gerard: (pointing to Chris) He did.
Chris: I use an enormous ball.
Patrick: So what’s next for you guys?
Steve: Travis is going to go back home and Gerard, myself, and Gilly are going to relocate to LA for a while. End of October and into November we’ll be coming back here to do CMJ and then we’ll be doing a more extensive US tour.
Patrick: (to Travis) Why are you going home?
Gerard: We don’t want him here.
Travis: I’ve got a girlfriend and we’re looking into buying a house. I’ll be coming back. Gotta go feed my cat and stuff.
Gilly: The cat hasn’t eaten for a month…
Patrick: (to Travis) So you’re the guy hanging out at the hotel after the show while everyone else goes out partying?
Travis: We’re pretty much all like that.
Chris: You guys were out til 3am last night getting s#*t-faced…
Travis: You were dragging us around, wanting to play pool all night!
Gerard: you were hustling me!
Steve: Yeah, last night… There is the odd night.
Patrick Emmel‘s doesn’t consider ’80s music as a guilty pleasure. He blares “Your Love” by The Outfield in his car whenever possible, with no ironic intent. You can see more of his work at www.theineptowl.com or heckle him on Twitter @Patrick_AE.
Patrick last interviewed a more current member of Nine Inch Nails, drummer Ilan Rubin, on his new project The New Regime, and helped comedian Doug Stanhope make some beef stroganoff while interviewing him about dark comedy.