Features

Deaf Wish: Back From The Brink

Deaf Wish’s Jensen Tjhung and Nick Pratt finish each other’s sentences while discussing recording techniques, their new album ‘Reality & Visions’ and their desire to stay together with TREVOR BLOCK.


Melbourne’s Deaf Wish formed a couple of years ago, mainly from the remains of the Tri-State Lovers. They played a bit, recorded a CD-R album that became an underground classic, and then promptly broke up for a while. Then they got back together for a while, released a single on VHS video cassette, then went quiet again – you get the picture. They are a band who can be shambolic without being stupid, and who can also be completely punk rock without any discernible political stance. Live, they veer from manic energy to semi-stoner jams. But in 2009 they managed to hang together long enough to record an album, Reality & Visions.

So, your new album was recorded in a warehouse?
Jensen Tjhung: A mate of mine has a big gang hangout, clubhouse type of place over in Clifton Hill [in Melbourne]. He stores a lot of his shit in there, a couple of people have studios in it. There are pinball machines and beer fridges everywhere too. We were going in there to rehearse and we thought we may as well set up some microphones and do some recording too.

Nick Pratt: They like a party, the people who use this place, so there’s always a PA and stuff set up.

JT: We got an eight-track reel-to-reel, and set it up near the drums so Dan [Twomey, drummer] could just lean over and press the ?record? button with one of his sticks. And then we got [Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s] Mikey Young to mix it all for us at his place. I don’t actually know how many tracks we did, probably 15 or 16.

NP: There were a few jams, a few new songs?

JT: ?and a lot of bullshit, some of which is on the record. [Laughter]

NP: I reckon there’s a lot of stuff that I wanted on the album, but that didn’t make the cut. A few songs that kind of came out of the moment?

JT: ?that came out of being stoned and standing in that room going, ?Oh yeah, that’s fucking great, man. Keep going.? And then you hear them later on. [Laughter]

So it was all done pretty much live then?
JT: ?Process-based? is what I like to call it. We’re not a band that really works on stuff, really finishes things off, and then goes and records them. We’ll have a bunch of ideas, and we just try to throw as many ideas as we can out there, get them on tape, as live as possible. But the actual songs may not have a set structure. What you hear on the album may not be exactly what you will get when we play live. And some of these songs were made up in the studio, some of them we’ve played live a few times, some of them we’ve had for about a year before we recorded them. And we had to figure out how they all went, how to play them so we could record them. That’s a process that we started to learn with the first album, when you have that rushed time to get everything done, to get it all down. You press ?record?, see the red light, and then start to think of the lyrics. Nick’s really good at that. But these are songs, not demos. Though to me there’s no real difference between a demo and a finished product.

NP: To me, a demo would be something done on one of those things, that you record interviews on [points at microcassette recorder on table], where you can’t hear anything on the tape at the end.

JT: But you could do that, and put it out as an album!

I think some people have, actually. And, you know, I’m not saying you don’t take things seriously, but Deaf Wish don’t seem to get too hung up on things that other bands agonise over.
JT: We try not to.

NP: I think that one of the greatest mistakes a band, any band, can make, is to take themselves too seriously. I mean, we’ve got some things to say, but it’s not like we want to change the world with the things we say. We just try and tell it how it is. And the band’s attitude comes from our personalities, as well. It’d be no good if we tried to make really intense music all the time, and to carry that intensity around with us. It wouldn’t be a fun life at all, that’d be a shit life. Well, anyway, he [waves in Jensen’s direction*] carries the intensity around for all of us, I think, all the time. [*Laughter] I couldn’t give a fuck.

JT: It’s a good balance. It’s a lottery, really. You don’t know what’s going to come out of the band. You just have to have faith in what everyone’s putting in, and then the faith to put out what the band makes of that, without trying to make sense of it too much. Not that we don’t make any decisions. It’s not like we just recorded this album and then threw it straight out there. Although maybe we should have if Nick’s not happy with what got left off it. Those songs will probably resurface in a couple of years and then we’ll realise that they were actually really good, and how foolish we were in the first place. [Laughter]

So now you’re worried you may have left the best stuff on the tape?
NP: No, it was important for the album that the ones I’m thinking of were left off. They probably didn’t fit with what we were trying to do.

Now seems like the time to ask: is ?LHC? about the Large Hadron Collider?
NP: It is, it is. It’s about a scientist who uses the LHC to destroy the world, because a girl doesn’t love him. He’ll smash the world into 10 different dimensions because of her. It’s a ballad.

JT: It’s a murder ballad. We don’t really play any other ballads. We played something quiet in rehearsal once, and Nick told me no one wanted to listen to my torch music [laughs]. And that was the end of that band meeting.

?There are so many moments of just pure joy when we play together; amazing emotions that I’ve never felt when playing with anyone else, and I think we all feel that. And that’s just too much for us to walk away from.?

On a scale of seriousness, between, say UV Race on one end of the scale and The Stabs on the other, where do you think you fit?
JT: We’ve played with both of those bands quite often. We went on tour with the Stabs back in May, which was really good in terms of seeing just what it is they really do, not just what they do on stage. And for all that stuff that gets put out there, about how they’re this evil kind of gang/band, they’re an actual professional unit these days. If you wanted a ramshackle bunch, that’s us, that’s Deaf Wish. The Stabs are such a pro outfit they could almost play the Inpress [Melbourne street press] Christmas party. And the UV Race are just great. We just feel very, very fortunate to be able to play with both of them. There’s certainly a difference between them, when you play shows with one or the other, and a completely different feel in the room too.

Are you planning many shows around the album?
JT: We haven’t got a big tour booked, but we are going to do something along the East coast, some launches and stuff, but that probably won’t be until February.

NP: With the record, we’d really like to give people a chance to have a listen to it first.

JT: Yeah, we really wanted to get it out there, and that’s probably not the smartest thing to do, from a marketing perspective, but for us, we just wanted to have it out, and maybe launch it here in Melbourne. And we wanted to get it all out of our systems. You have to sit around for a while, when it’s getting mixed and mastered – We wanted it done.

Well, it’s a real vinyl record, it takes a bit of time, not like knocking out 50 CD-Rs in a weekend. I was talking to someone recently about the delay in putting out the Tri-State Lovers? record No Love.
JT: Oh, the one Loki [Lockwood] did on Spooky? Yeah, that came out about two years after we recorded it. We’d broken up long before, though we did do that one show for it [full story [here](/articles/3827998)]. It’s good that it exists, it’s important for albums to be out in the public realm. This one, though, we did in April, and now it’s December, so that’s not too bad. It’s sort of standard I think. And, you know, Deaf Wish are kind of notorious for never having our shit together at the right time. Especially Daniel [Twomey], who has been in probably every band I’ve been in for the past eight or nine years, and me – but we’re trying to change. [Laughs] But if people like us put out our own records, with our organisational skills, there’d be 300 copies left under someone’s bed years later.

NP: I guess a lot of bands don’t have the right kind of marketing attitude, or nous. They know how to make music, but they don’t know how to distribute or sell CDs. They don’t know how to get them out to shops in Sydney, Adelaide or Brisbane.

JT: The first album we did was only a CD-R burn, but somehow it really found its way around to people. We even did shows in Sydney, based on having that as our first record. It’s still a legitimate way for a band to exist, but clearly it’s not ideal.


Some bands seem to think that handing out a few CDs of their MySpace tracks is all they need to do.
JT: It’s still all a bit of a mystery to me, that’s why it’s good to have a label [EXO] taking care of it for us. I wouldn’t know where to start. And, you know, it seemed like an impossible thing get done. But having gotten this out, it’s really not that hard. You go to a broker in LA, he puts you in touch with some guys in the Czech Republic, you pay them, and at the end of it, you get records in return. It really demystified the process, going through it this time.

NP: And you probably hope to sell half of them locally, and try and get the rest sent overseas.

With that in mind, do you plan to make Deaf Wish a long-term playing unit?
JT: We hammered it for a bit during the first half of the year [2009]. I liked the way some bands used to do it when I first moved to Melbourne, when a band like Hands Of Tyme would do a few months of gigs, then disappear, and come back for a while, then disappear. And Deaf Wish – we don’t spend a hell of a lot of time together when we’re not actually playing, everyone’s got their own priorities outside the band: kids, work, or whatever. At the moment unfortunately we can’t always say ?yes? to everything we get offered. So I think we may have to organise ourselves in blocks like that. We all love playing, that’s not the problem.

NP: It comes in spurts. And you can’t ask your friends to come and watch you every bloody week, either. [Laughter]

JT: Some bands you could maybe see every week or so, but with us, with the sound we have, you’d really belabour people if you did it every week in the same town. And for me, personally, I’d hate to be stuck playing every week here in Melbourne. [Laughs]

And you both have the advantage of usually being in a few other bands simultaneously.
JT: I’m in one other band at the moment, this experimental psychedelic thing called Sun God Australia, which rarely plays now, though we did a year-long residency last year at Bar Open, which was pretty much our entire existence.

But you, Nick, you were in heaps at one stage.
NP: I think the most I was in was five at the one time. I was in The Raylenes for a long time, they were like a twee indie-pop group. Then there was the Trophy Wives. The real Trophy Wives from North Melbourne, there’s a million bands called that now. Um, I was in Macaca Mulatta.

JT: Xavier from The Chinese Burns was in them too. And if you asked him if he had a gig on for the weekend, he’d go, ?Oh, yeah, with Muc – aaw, no, got nothing happening, actually.? [Laughs] They became a band that none of the members wanted their mates to go and see.

NP: And Xavier and I had a duo going, called Greedy Guts, as well. And all that time I was in Deaf Wish too. So yeah, that’s the five. Oh, and I played with Joey Backseat for a while, when the rest of her band Dollsquad quit. But going back to the first question, about the long term, there are so many moments of just pure joy when we play together; amazing emotions that I’ve never felt when playing with anyone else, and I think we all feel that. And that’s just too much for us to walk away from.

JT: I’d say Deaf Wish as an entity is too much to give up on in a hurry, because it’s just too much fun playing these songs. But the thing is, sometimes we just want to not do it for a while. [Laughs]?

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Reality & Visions is out now through EXO/Idget Child.