Bushwalking: ‘I Have No Doubt That We’re Really Juvenile’
STEPH KRETOWICZ tries to get to the bottom of guarded Melbourne/Sydney trio Bushwalking.
Bushwalking don’t like to talk about their music. If it’s not drummer Nisa Venerosa responding to an email with “not aloud [sic] to talk about song lyrics/titles!!!!”, it’s bassist Ela Stiles declining to reveal which songs were hers before her solo project became a three-piece:
I don’t know. Do I have to reveal that?
You don’t have to, if you don’t want to.
OK, I won’t.
Then there’s Karl Scullin and his deafening silence after being applied to via an email address I’m warned he probably won’t reply to. This might sound like the band – consisting members of Songs, Fabulous Diamonds and KES – are being actively difficult. More likely it’s a musical endeavour that follows far too intimate a process to be explained away through stock press responses or critical abstractions. Instead, a reserved Ela is more interested in talking about an unrelated trip to India she’s taking with Nisa, or the pros and cons of collecting the dole. But when it comes to discussing the specifics of debut LP First Time, out in a limited run on Atlanta label Army of Bad Luck, then you’re on your own.
Can you tell me a bit about how the band started?
It originally started a few years ago. I met Karl in Melbourne because I was playing a show with my other band Songs. We just started talking and I wanted to record and he kind of said he’d be interested in helping me out. We just started doing stuff and Karl thought it would be good to ask Nisa if she wanted to help out. Then we recorded a few songs and decided to become a real band.
Were you originally called Zsa Zsa before or after you became a band?
We were called Zsa Zsa for a little but then we all decide that the name wasn’t right for us. We even played a few show as Zsa Zsa before we decided that we should change it.
Who writes the lyrics?
We all do.
There were a few songs on First Time that were written earlier though, right?*
Yeah, that’s right. A few of them were mine to begin with because I originally wanted to do a solo album but then it turned into this band. We started collaborating on the second half of the album, I guess.
How did Josh Fauver of [US label] Army of Bad Luck end up putting you out?
My other band Songs toured with Deerhunter a few years ago and we just became friends. Josh just said, “I’d love to hear any demos that you’ve done”, because I said I wanted to do something else. So I sent him the album when it was nearly finished and he was excited to put it out. He’s been pretty amazing since then and he’s done everything for us.
Do you hear a difference between the music you’re putting out and the other stuff on the label?
I haven’t heard that much of his stuff but I think, yeah. we are quite different to the other stuff. I feel like we’re less … punky? I don’t know. That sounds dumb.
That’s totally what I meant. What about the artwork? I interpreted the blue eye shadow as some sort of reference to our generational experience. Blue eye shadow was a big thing when I was in high school.
Yeah. It’s funny how people read into everything. A lot of people have been saying it’s a real teenage “coming of age” theme, or something and then other people say it’s really sexual. You just said that about the blue eye shadow, which I didn’t think about but it’s quite funny to hear other people’s perceptions.
I wasn’t necessarily implying it would have been conscious.
No, that’s just another element. It’s good.
If you’re not singing from some sort of coming of age point of view, do you then find it insulting that people are basically insinuating that you’re really juvenile?
Oh, I have no doubt that we’re really juvenile but it wasn’t intentional.
You’re currently split between states. Are you staying in Sydney? No plans to move to Melbourne?
I’d love to move to Melbourne but my whole life’s here. I’ve got a really good job and all that stuff. And Songs. I can’t abandon them, just yet. [Laughs]
So I imagine you’re more productive when you’re together, as a result of being apart?
Yeah, I think that’s true. We seem to make it work really well when I go down for three days, for instance. This weekend we got so many songs. We worked out a lot of stuff and made a lot of progress.
I think you take it for granted when you live in the same city and jam for a few hours here and there. But when you’re intensely practicing because you know you don’t have much time, it’s very productive. We don’t really leave the house very much. I think it’s a really great way of working, strangely enough. You’d think it would hinder us. I guess we can play shows to get my airfares.
Did Karl produce the record?
No. I think we all kind of produced it. Karl has lots of good ideas and he’s quite good at the recording process and mixing. But I don’t know. It’s a funny one because it started out as something different to what it ended up.
In what sense?
Oh, well, it was my thing and was basically finished. Then Karl added some ideas, obviously, and then with Nisa drumming, it’s going to have a different sound because she’s got such a distinctive drumming style. Then we just kind of became a real band, I guess. I don’t know. [Laughs]
Were you inexperienced on bass when you started playing with Songs?
I’d never played bass when I started with Songs. I was 19 and I’d never played in a band. I did play guitar a little bit but I was kind of pushed onto bass [laughs] and I ended up really enjoying it. I still play guitar every now and then but I think I’m better at playing bass.
I was reading that Songs interview in Mountain Fold and, it was either [bandmates] Jeff [Burch] or Max [Doyle] who said…
Oh, Max said that I was a shit guitarist? [Laughs]
Well, yeah, he did say that but I wasn’t going to bring that up…
Yeah, I remember that.
Were you aware of his feelings about your guitar playing at that point?
Oh, I wasn’t that great. I didn’t even think he was that great. He’s still not that great. This is my chance to say that Max is not amazing. [Laughs] He’s got his own style.
So you would have developed your own style because you’d approached it from a naive perspective.
I think I’ve always been better at singing than anything else.
But then Nisa was also self-taught through with Fabulous Diamonds.
Yeah, it’s the same kind of thing, I suppose.
What I was going to say about that interview was that someone [Max] made a good point, that the success of a band isn’t dependent on how well everyone plays but on their chemistry.
Yeah. I think we all do what we can do in Bushwalking, which I think is a cool way to be. I don’t particularly like people who can sing, like, in the classic sense; you know, really trained singers. I hate that. I just think working it out for your self a lot of the time gives people a really individual style.
Yeah. The way I think about Bushwalking is that it’s not like you’re doing something that has never been done before but it’s being delivered in a way that’s totally unique.
I think that’s a good thing to aim for. It’s a good way to think, to be trying different things. Just trying to do something that’s a bit more interesting than lots of stuff that’s around.
BUSHWALKING UPCOMING SHOWS
Sat, Aug 4 – The Tote, Melbourne, VIC
Fri, Aug 24 – Gasometer, Melbourne, VIC (w/Super Wild Horses + Safeway Cafe)
Fri, Sep 7 – Brighton Up Bar, Sydney, NSW (w/Model Citizen + Convent)