Children Collide: The Children Of The Evolution
With Children Collide the weird event or oddball moment is never too distant. Things just happen to Johnny Mackay and Heath Crawley, although they tend to disagree over whom they happen to more frequently. Right now the verdict appears to be leaning towards Crawley, if for no other reason than a thick white bandage is wrapped around his head, pushing his mop of disreputable curls up into some kind of elaborate tableau worthy of a Masai princess. It’s the first week of January and he’s plainly welcomed 2007 with some effort.
“It was New Year’s Day and I wasn’t drunk, although I had been the night before,” explains Crawley, propped up in the corner of his record company’s Melbourne office. “I’d been to a few parties and at the last one I met a few new people. The next day I hung out with a couple of them at a park in Carlton and we stopped to get some dinner. When the first spoonful went into my mouth of some chicken avocado dish I felt like I was going to be sick. I said, ‘I’m outta here’ and tried to find a laneway. Then I woke up lying in the gutter and then I woke up again crawling along the street. I’d just passed out and fallen into this big flowerpot. Apparently I was dehydrated.”
The cut in his head requires ten stitches, while the lack of fluids was solved by a night on a drip at nearby St Vincent’s Hospital. To his left in emergency was a dry retcher, to his right a snorer (“I don’t know what he was doing there”) and a few beds down was a very angry man who was about to have one of his feet amputated. When Crawley left the next day a young doctor was calmly explaining the procedure, noting that, “we can take it off just above the ankle.” The musician felt like he’d just escaped from the driller-killer flick Hostel.
“He’s always getting himself into trouble, that kid,” marvels Johnny Mackay, who ambles in to be interviewed once his bandmate is finished. “In London a few months ago we found him wandering down the street with two middle-aged commission flat women, carrying a broken shoe and a can of wine in his hand.” The only thing that surprises Mackay about this scene is the fact that you can get wine in a can.
"If we were both like me we wouldn't get a helluva lot done. If we were both Johnny we'd have chocked each other by now."
To be fair to Crawley, it should be pointed out that while he was in the emergency ward on January 1 Mackay was waking up at 7pm in a strange house. For the few days since, he admits, he’s been hiding in his bedroom, somewhat freaked out by the experience.
In short, Johnny Mackay and Heath Crawley are a fine pair. That combustible, unpredictable quality also informs the music they make as Children Collide, who after several years of possible Next Big Thing status have suddenly assumed a degree of national prominence with the release of their second EP, ‘Glass Mountain Liars’. The first fruits of their deal with the resurrected Flying Nun label, which now serves as a boutique imprint within the Warner Music group of companies, the six-track release – spearheaded by the belting lead track, the evolutionary-obsessed ‘We Are Amphibious’ – has crossed over from Triple J and Rage to being a prediction on Video Hits and drawing a favourable review in pap snap rag New Weekly.
“If you get played on Video Hits people start worrying about your cred and a lot of those indie kids who liked you in the beginning start to turn against you. That’s lame,” offers Crawley. “For us it validates the work we’ve done over the last two and a half years.”
Mackay was happy Video Hits aired the ‘We Are Amphibious’ video because it meant his mum got to see it. He doesn’t have a television so personally he’s not too concerned. “Snobby band fucks in Fitzroy think we’re a pop band and mainstream people think we’re weirdoes,” is his succinct appraisal of their position. All he wants to know is where the rent money might be found.
“Heath and I never have any money and we’re constantly putting the band’s priorities ahead of our own,” adds Mackay. “One of the many things I like about Heath is that he puts music above anything else.”
The two have enough in common where it matters – the creation of music – to negate the differences between them. Crawley is the more laidback and confident of the pair, while Mackay is excitable and occasionally uncertain. His propensity for inadvertently committing social faux pas means he identifies with Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm, a show he’s addicted to. When Mackay read Ben Gook’s pan of ‘Glass Mountain Liars’ on www.messandnoise.com he started a thread on the site’s forums to express his displeasure, an act he’s now apologetic about. “I don’t react too well to criticism,” he says somewhat sheepishly.
“If we were both like me we wouldn’t get a helluva lot done. If we were both Johnny we’d have choked each other by now,” explains Crawley with a laugh.
The two first laid eyes on each other in 1999, at university in the NSW regional centre of Lismore. Crawley was on the second year of an Arts degree, Mackay finishing up Media. At first glance Crawley though Mackay was the drummer from Magic Dirt, but they soon became friends, bonded by a belief that the prevailing music clique at the university – scales, jazz funk and fusion, dolphin tattoos – had got it wrong. Both had grown up on NSW’s Central Coast, with Crawley more interested in visual arts than his bass (he’d been shooting bands live as a freelance photographer since the age of 16), while Mackay hadn’t picked up a guitar until he was 17.
Their first adventure together came within two months of meeting. Mackay was finished with school and Crawley was failing – they decided to hitchhike to Melbourne, where they could stay with a friend, Lauren Hughes. It took them three days and two nights, with the trip enlivened by the sexual advances of the various drivers.
“There was a lot of weird stuff going on – there was a hint of sexual propositioning in at least 95% of our rides,” recalls Crawley. “You couldn’t be really sure because we had a lack of sleep and the drivers tended to have a lack of communication skills. We’d take it in turns sitting in the front seat – whoever was in the back seat sat behind the driver in case they had to gouge their eyes out. Whoever sat in the front seat was the meat.”
When they got to Melbourne they couldn’t stay with Lauren Hughes because her roommate’s mother wouldn’t allow it. They slept on the tiled public benches on Brunswick St. in Fitzroy and then, disheartened, started the return trip north. They got to the NSW border and then decided to give Melbourne another chance and came back.
Mackay stayed and Crawley soon went back to Sydney, where he became a leading printmaker for fashion photographers who eschewed the digital age. For three years Mackay would call him regularly, urging him to move to Melbourne and get involved with the music scene. Mackay was playing in various groups, including handling bass duties in Esh (that’s fire in Hebrew), a pop band fronted by two Jewish girls that was big on the Caulfield scene. He was also in Epiphany, an improvisational duo with a very intense cellist. Sometimes after a show Mackay would break down in tears because of the music they’d just created together.
When Crawley finally relocated in 2003 he and Mackay ended up in a share house with Lauren Hughes. After all three got home drunk one night in 2004 and fell into an impromptu stoner rock jam, with Hughes on drums, they decided to form a band. Crawley had already scrawled the name ‘Children Collide’ on a communal bill stuck up on the fridge and it was quickly adopted as their moniker.
At the time, according to Crawley, Mackay “was a quiet little mouse” who played guitar and composed music, but didn’t sing or write lyrics. In 2004 that changed.
“I had this year-long relationship with Missy Higgins when she used to live up the road [in Prahran]. She came and saw me with Epiphany and she came to a party at our house. She asked me to play guitar with her and we did a couple of shows supporting The Waifs. I was really shit at open chords at the time, so I had to learn how to play them properly,” Mackay remembers.
”We were in love, and then this horrible, horrible break-up happened. A combination of that and hanging out a couple of times with Evan Dando made me go, ‘Fuck this!’ and I just started singing, even though I was really bad at it. If those two could do it I could do it!”
Mackay retreated to his room and wrote 100 songs, but all he could hear – or see – was Missy Higgins. Her debut album, The Sound of White, was on its way to selling half a million copies. Lauren Hughes would play it at their share house, then Higgins’ brother moved in and started working on remixes. Mackay thinks half a dozen tracks on the disc are about him – “I should get muse royalties,” he says with an awkward smile. “I’d step into an elevator, she was on; walk into a shop, the album was on. Her face was on walls everywhere.”
Children Collide had a great first gig on Halloween in October 2004, a disastrous second effort soon after and by 2005 had released their first EP, ‘We Three Brave And True’, on indie label Reverberation after Mackay sent the finished track to Reverberation’s head, You Am I drummer Russell Hopkinson, with a note written on the back of his dole form.
Lauren Hughes was replaced on drums by Stephanie Hughes (no relation), who in turn left in 2006 when it became clear that she couldn’t go on a tour of England in October. Mackay and Crawley had decided they had to go, that they had to get out of Australia. When they made the decision they still hadn’t been signed, although they’d tracked ‘Glass Mountain Liars’.
The tour was not easy. There was only 10 shows in four weeks, although the last – headlining a showcase slot at Manchester’s In The City music conference – was the best. Drummer Jim Slattery, who plays with Mackay in cabaret freakout act The Amazing Phillips Sisters, filled in, although they’re still looking for a permanent new drummer. But when they returned they became a Flying Nun signing and acquired a new manager, The Living End’s long-time wrangler, Rae Harvey. When they go back shortly there will be stops at SXSW in Texas, as well as gigs in New York, Los Angeles and London.
“We’re about to do a lot of stuff,” Crawley enthuses. “We have momentum and Johnny and I aren’t about to stop. For a drummer we need someone who can get all the rolls, someone who is creative, someone who can whack the crap out of the kit and someone who is completely committed. There’ll be sleeping on the floor – but on four different continents!”
For now Mackay is sleeping in North Melbourne and Crawley in Brunswick. The lack of a permanent drummer makes jamming as a trio – Crawley’s preferred songwriting method – impossible. Mackay has been writing more by himself, using a loop pedal he calls Heath II to fill in for the absent bassist. Heath is not a fan of Heath II, although his biggest problem may be keeping Mackay focused on Children Collide. “I’d go nuts if Children Collide was all I did musically,” the guitarist claims. As well as The Amazing Phillips Sisters Mackay’s hopeful of a role within Damo Suzuki’s band when he next visits Australia.
Nor, despite their nouveau grunge tag, does Mackay see them as a rock band. He wants to hear Children Collide remixed by friends like Midnight Juggernauts and DJ Ajax. He’s more interested in getting to harness their creative energy than what genre the result sounds like. It’s the journey that matters, not the destination.