Bed Wettin? Bad Boys: ?We Were An Obnoxious Band
Sydney’s self-loathing power-pop scamps have come a long way from KISS covers and punk prickliness. Their debut album is surprisingly grown-up and the band are following suit, finds MAX EASTON.
It’s 41 degrees at 7pm in Sydney, and at Enmore’s Duke Hotel the Bed Wettin? Bad Boys are crammed around the only table available in the beer garden. We’re all wearing shorts, and around us are a crowd that’s either taking advantage of the pub’s air conditioning or pre-drinking for the nearby Enmore Theatre show that’s to host Hot Chip. The setting couldn’t be any less appropriate, but as guitarist Nic Warnock says later in this interview, it’s these kinds of contradictions that make rock ?n? roll what it is.
The Bed Wettin? Bad Boys are Nic Warnock (R.I.P. Society label head, also of Ruined Fortune) his younger brother Ben (also of Red Red Krovvy,) Joe Sukit (also bassist of Royal Headache) and Doug Gibson (former director of the Mountain Fold Music Journal and makeshift drummer.) They’re a tight-knit unit that talk openly and freely with each other, making fun of each other’s choice of shorts or retelling stories about drunkenly pissing in a house-mate’s room whilst asleep. Soon after they’re discussing, in intimate detail, the fashion choices of the label heads Nic Warnock was in the presence of when presenting their new album to triple j’s Richard Kingsmill for airplay consideration that morning.
[Ready for Boredom](/releases/2001161)* is the band’s first album and follows the two 7?s ?Nobody Else? and *Best Band in Sydney/Worst Band in Sydney, a title that plays on the divisiveness that their brand of unapologetic classic-rock revivalism triggers within the city’s music scene. The LP shows no signs of the sloppy, half-figured sound that the band has been unfairly associated with from their early shows. Instead, the album is a focused and considered approximation of rock history, brimming with cocksure arrogance, but revealing songs that are thematically tragic and desperate. It’s an extraordinarily honest record that, like the members of the band, hides its emotional core under the veil of big, dumb fun.
In oppressive heat over a half-dozen rounds of beers (?I’ll get this one, I’m a rock star, I’ve been played on triple j twice,? Gibson jokes,) the Bed Wettin? Bad Boys opened up about their penchant for self-deprecation, the already strong critical acclaim for their record and the people who hate their band.
Nic told me last week that you all really exerted yourselves on this record. Was the process of recording Ready for Boredom much different to how you recorded the first two EPs?
Nic: I don’t think we exerted ourselves any less this time. If anything, I actually think we exerted ourselves most on the KISS covers cassette that we only made 15 of. We aimed to make a really good rock ?n? roll record through equal parts intuition and pushing ourselves. There’s never been an idea brought to the band that we’ve just been OK with and rolled with, we’ve always had to feel positive about it.
Ben: I think that’s why it took us so long to actually make a record.
Nic: We probably ditched about 15 songs pre-Doug joining that never made it to record.
?Instead of drawing the slacker card or being a good-time punk rock band, we actually wanted to make a good record.?
They’re all dead now?
Nic: Yeah. Joe found a practice recording that I listened back to and it was bizarre; it didn’t sound like us. I think when we started, I had more of a pre-conceived idea of the band being kind of cool – not like talk-of-the-town cool, but what I thought was cool of an underground rock band. I wanted to be a bit more of a confrontational, subversive punk band. I also didn’t know how to write a song, but maybe I had more ideas where I was trying to be a lot more ?fuck you,? which maybe in reality didn’t fit with the human being I actually am. I feel like the songs that Ben and Joe were bringing were a bit closer to the idea of what we eventually would become. But in terms of exerting ourselves this time, instead of drawing the slacker card or being a good-time punk rock band, we actually wanted to make a good record.
Doug: We did buckle down really hard though. We made the decision to not play many shows so we could rehearse twice a week for a couple of months before we went in to record.
Nic: The American tour was what made us – not a tight band, but an intrinsic thing. It created the energy that flowed between us.
Joe: But it’s not like we were a bad band on ?Nobody Else?. We were a pretty good band. We just weren’t a band in a proper format. If we had a proper drummer and we had two guitars, we would have been a lot more palatable to a lot of people, but even being the retarded band that we were when Doug joined [when he was still learning to play drums], the first gig we played together [after that] people were saying, ?That’s the best show you’ve ever played,? just because it sounded right. We were too ambitious for just the three of us.
Nic: We just knew ages before that if we were going to be around for a while, we were gonna have to get a drummer, and if we were going to get a drummer, we were going to have to work hard. I guess we made a new drummer out of the band.
How did that happen? You needed a drummer to make the band, but you found someone who couldn’t play drums instead?
Doug: I went into the shop [Repressed Records, where Nic works part-time] to drop off a copy of Mountain Fold Music Journal and said, ?If you can’t find anyone else, then I’ll play.?
Joe: Yeah, and we searched real hard, then didn’t find anybody. We went, ?Shortty [drummer of Royal Headache], Steve [Uren, from Songs] – who else drums in Sydney? Uh, guess we gotta go to Doug.? And Nic said he had drummed all the way through college.
Doug: Where I had just mucked around at college because no one wanted to play drums, then I didn’t touch a drum kit for seven years.
Joe: It’s the best thing we could ever have done.
Ben: Any other choice and we couldn’t have moulded this drummer into the machine that Doug is.
Nic: We jammed with Shortty for a one-off show, and Shortty’s drumming was very on the left-hand side of the kit and very agitated and fast. For the existing material we had, it didn’t gel with his style. If we had asked him to join the band at the start, we would have been a completely different band. Me and Joe were playing in a band with David Akerman [Dead Farmers] and Steve Uren called Carburetor. One day we had a sneaky practice behind David’s back because he never wanted to practice; we were more into the band than he was and it was the band that he formed! So we went and had a sneaky jam with Steve and we showed him some ideas and it was pretty good, but even though he was into it, he just went, ?I’m 30, I’m married, I can’t be in a band.?
Joe: Then two months later he told me it was the worst decision he ever made.
Nic: I think it came down to him saying, ?How can I go to work and tell them that I’m in a band called the Bed Wettin? Bad Boys??
Doug: That’s what I have to do every day!
Nic: Yeah, me too – but I go into work and say, ?It’s Bed Wettin? Bad Boys, you should buy it.?
It feels like you guys have always taken the piss out of yourselves and the band, or talked it down even though it’s clear that you take the band seriously.
Nic: Well, we have fun. Rock ?n? roll is equal parts the greatest thing of all time?
Ben: Alongside true love and Italian food.
Doug: Can we say Mexican food as well?
?If you sit around and take yourself seriously, you end up a complete fuckhead. We don’t do that.?
Nic: Yeah – okay, true love, rock ?n? roll, Italian and* Mexican food, the greatest thing of all time. You know, it’s this huge part of our lives, but then on the other hand it’s also *only rock ?n? roll. In one sense there’s always this self-deprecating, humourous, cheeky lad element of rock ?n? roll, because rock ?n? roll reflects life, so therefore?
Joe: It’s got nothing to do with rock ?n? roll, it’s just us. If you sit around and take yourself seriously, you end up a complete fuckhead. We don’t do that.
Doug: The songs are serious, but we don’t take ourselves serious. We don’t have a serious front.
Nic: I think the difference between big rock bands now and those back in the ?70s, is like – don’t The Rolling Stones, as the biggest band in the world, still feel like a bunch of blokes at the pub? It’s like these contradictions are what make rock ?n? roll, firstly, the most open and accessible platform for unremarkable people to try and express themselves. But secondly, those contradictions are just what make it awesome.
Joe: People forget that you can be a human in a band. People in bands now go, ?We’re like this,? and that’s the way they act. Why can’t you just be a person who sometimes feels like shit and sometimes feel good, sometimes you’re taking the piss, sometimes you’re not?
Nic: I just feel like it’s a reflection of us.
But at the same time, it can feel like you’re consciously trying to be self-deprecating, like you’re obviously proud of the band, but you talk it down anyway. Is it a humility thing?
Nic: Yeah, it’s keeping yourself humble, like I’m not doing anything – well, I am doing something special and I’m really proud of this, but so can you. All I was being was true to myself and trying hard, exerting myself, wanting to write music that I would want to listen to, extending my ability. I don’t mean it in a Joe Satriani manner; I mean thinking about the language of music and stuff. And basically I had this idea that if you try to do something, try to do it well, but don’t try to be like a god.
Which I guess is reflected by the whole Best/Worst title of the EP?
Nic: Yeah, that’s what makes a lot of music I like really appealing – there are generally elements that a lot of people would see as undesirable. Kids these days – I mean people younger than I – don’t realise that The Stooges were not Led Zeppelin. The Stooges were not accepted by the music press or almost anyone. Nobody liked The Stooges. They were considered an embarrassment and a failure, and it’s that outsider, underdog mentality that creates most good culture.
But a lot of people really don’t like the band. There are actually people who outright hate it. Do you have any idea where that comes from?
Nic: I don’t understand why people hate us; we don’t have any presence or hype. I think that people who hate the band probably have the dumbest ideologies on what a band should be. Honestly, they would probably rather see another half-baked, shitty Black Lips band, or an Alpine kind of thing that projects this idea of sophistication. People who were overly offended by us, even at our worst, probably have an approach to listening to music which is the same approach to judging a friggin? architecture contest or some shit.
Ben: I think that’s a really pig-headed way of looking at things. It’s simple: there’s so much music, there’s so much stuff you have access to. You look at something for 10 seconds and you go, ?Nah, that sucks.? Then every time you look at something similar to that thing for 10 seconds, you decide it doesn’t agree with your ideologies or sensibilities?
Nic: Yeah, but what I’m saying is that the sensibilities of the people who adamantly hate our band are inferior to the people that like our band. [Laughs]
Doug: Are there actually that many people who adamantly hate the band?
I have friends who do, yeah. They’ll walk away when the band starts, and are in disbelief that I like the band.
Nic: I feel like they’re probably lying to themselves. Some people have an idea of what a band should be, like otherworldly artist types or sophisticated poetic types where the artist is above the audience and that is, in a sense, something we have been adamantly against.
Doug: Do these people identify themselves with the working class, Max? Do they? We work!
Nic: I think the thing is that, maybe not so much now, but we were an obnoxious band.
Ben: And clearly we’re obnoxious people just based off that answer before.
Nic: I think the first couple of years we definitely had this unnecessary ?fuck you? thing. I liked something from that realm of trying to be annoying and maybe, in a sense, being reactionary to the overtly serious kind of shit that was going on. I guess that had to end and we had to move on to something else.
Ben: I think we just grew up. It didn’t have to end. When I joined this band, when we started, I was only 18.
Nic: But it did feel really good bumming people out at the [Fugazi bassist] Joe Lally show. It was like, ?Look at all these stiffs that think you’ve got to be this really deep, epic, emotive, sophisticating thing.? But no – rock ?n? roll is about getting drunk.
So far a lot of the feedback I’ve seen from the critics who’ve heard advance copies of the album has been really gushingly positive. When I’ve spoken to [Nic] about it, though, you’ve seemed really bemused by it all.
Doug: I would hope that most of those critics would get better at being critics, and then they would realise that we’re shit.
?Hearing The Soft Boys and Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, it made sense to what we were doing. It made it work.?
Nic: It was shocking only as to how enthusiastic they were about it. I thought they were going to be somewhat enthusiastic about it, or surprised maybe. I guess people just have different agendas when it comes to what they think is valid in music, and somehow we are valid and saying something that maybe other people aren’t. Chris [Sammut, store owner of Repressed Records] was saying that he doesn’t feel that there’s anyone else who sounds like this in this day and age, and that’s really cool because all ideas are in this never-ending cycle. Even if you’re a strange, avant garde, experimental project, you’re probably still recycling some idea. It might be very obscure, but you’re still in debt to that. But the reason you might be a worthwhile thing to listen to is because maybe no one has tampered with or extended upon those ideas for years. I feel like the things we’re referencing are things that other bands haven’t really tried to extend upon.
Doug: But it’s not like we’re going after those influences because other people haven’t. We didn’t go, ?Ah, that’s how we get popular. What aren’t the kids listening to??
Nic: But I think, really, the important bands since say, 1984, have all been referential but, unknowingly to them, have been tapping into an idea.
Joe: Bands have always been referential.
Nic: But they went, ?Here’s a set of musical ideas and values that are unrepresented in the present.? When you look back in hindsight, the good bands have been filling this void that didn’t exist. Even in good ?90s hardcore, it doesn’t sound like dudes in basketball shorts; they sound like the Italians or Japanese, and even now, good hardcore punk is reactionary to the atypical branding in hardcore. The same with The Ramones and The Dictators, or Guided By Voices.
Doug: It’s not even so much the influence or what you’re referencing, but the honesty in which you can convey it.
Well yeah, you’re pretty honest about the bands who have influenced you, and they’re not necessarily cool influences. They’re kind of the bands that a lot of people would shy away from. I’ve never felt like you’ve attempted to hide anything.
Ben: It’s going to sound like something anyway, so it might as well sound like something that you like.
Joe: Something like ?Nobody Else? ended up being really close to The Replacements, so it was almost like a bit of a joke to write a riff that was that close to ?Bastards of the Young?. But even while it’s a similar style, it doesn’t have anything to do with The Replacements. You hear riffs and when you play, sometimes it sounds like something else. So writing songs becomes more about feelings than trying to be something in particular. You can’t think too technically about it. You just go with how it feels – even though that sounds really [emotional].
Nic: Don’t use that word in the interview, though. We don’t support the casual use of that word.
I’ll put something else in square brackets. Is that kind of how the riff to ?Bite My Tongue? ended up being identical to Guided By Voice’s ?Sot??
Nic: No, with that one, I hadn’t heard that song before I played it. I actually hadn’t heard it?
It’s not like it’s an overly technical or adventurous riff, so if it happened by chance?
Nic: Yeah, they’re just obvious notes that went together.
Ben: Well, that song was just a dual guitar line that was supposed to sound like Thin Lizzy.
Joe: What we were actually doing there was trying to rip off Thin Lizzy. That’s the best way to write songs – rip them off and be so bad at playing that nobody recognises it.
Nic: It was weird writing parts for the record: it was almost like, instead of having influences for a lot of points, I would hear bands and be like, ?This makes what I’m trying to do myself make a lot more sense.? Hearing The Soft Boys and Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, it made sense to what we were doing. It made it work. That was more of a revelation than anything I knew before writing music. We were still discovering rock ?n? roll bands; none of us have ever been rooted in an era or style or scene of music.
Ben: Wrong. ?80s. That’s my favourite genre. WSFM. That’s my favourite genre.
Nic: So that exploration of rock music was still happening. While we were a three-piece, that’s when we all got classic rock. I feel a big part of this was the recession and records being friggin? expensive. Also, I was getting sick* of being duped [*The band mocks Nick’s stabbing of the table with his index finger] by fucking American bands and this whole, ?Oh my god, you gotta hear this new band, they’re so fucked up brah? shit. I was really wanting to be into these ideas before realising that some of them actually weren’t that friggin? good, that they were fashions that ended up being something like Best Coast when the new trend came along.
Ben: Half of it was also being cheap and going into op shops and buying $2 records just to have something to listen to as well.
Nic: It was also hearing The Melvins and The Replacements covering KISS, or The Minutemen doing Creedence songs. It was like, ?Alright, I’m gonna think of these bands as bands now.? Back then I just wanted to listen to Pussy Galore and those ultra teenage-y, subversive bands. It appealed to me as a teenager who wanted to be into the most extreme, out-there music, way before I ever listened to Van Halen or Thin Lizzy. There are so many people around who think they’re so cool for listening to weird, antisocial, underground music, but I think, ?Dude, this music is totally for you. There’s no way you’re not going to get into that stuff.? So I started listening to classic rock around that time when I was getting dissatisfied by contemporary music. then I went, ?Fuck it, what’s rock ?n? roll got to offer??
Pretty much all of your songs are about heartbreak and loneliness and rejection. You don’t have that ?kicking against the pricks? anthem that your band sounds like it should. They’re all very personal in that way.
Nic: I guess a bunch of the songs that were going to be on this record that started off as ?yeah fuck you? ended up being a lot more personal. Sometimes I think the songs that I’ve written haven’t been about an actual feeling that I’ve had, but about longing, about a feeling that I wish I had or something. Being a straight white male [who can be] pretty repressive with those emotions – this band has helped me get a little more open and in tune with myself. It’s been great to be self-reflective. This band has been a sort of therapy that I would never have subscribed to unless I was in a rock band.
Joe: For me, when we first started writing songs, the band was all I had. All I did was work and play in a band. Now it’s – you get a girlfriend and all of a sudden touring is harder, so you evaluate your feelings and all of a sudden losing somebody is a lot more important than being in a band. It’s a lot easier to write about something that means something. I mean, people hated our band for four years anyway, so it’s not really that important.
Ben: When you write out that response, can you mention that Joe was doing a loving smirk when he mentioned his girlfriend?
Nic: When the band formed, I think I was a lot more of a quiet person; I was definitely a more polite, nicer person. I really wanted to be someone I wasn’t.
Joe: You weren’t as [emotional.] You had to get more [emotional.]
Nic: Yeah, I wasn’t as [emotional.] In the process of the band, I couldn’t really be bothered feeling embarrassed or ashamed about anything anymore. I really couldn’t be bothered about caring what people think, or having a feud forming. I just want to be open about everything. I would prefer to reveal something about myself, just being all out there, because I’ve got no time to deal with the idea of embarrassment or self-consciousness. Really, fuck it; I don’t care how people perceive me anymore.
Ben: Maybe you should.
Nic: Honestly, I probably should a little bit more. I can be a little bit blunt or rude.
Joe: You’re pushing them away before you give them a chance.
Ben: Like Larry David, maybe you wouldn’t be divorced if you were nicer.
Nic: Well that’s what ?Bite My Tongue? is about. Larry David, if he learnt to bite his tongue, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a divorce. But he didn’t, and that’s what makes Curb Your Enthusiasm a good show.
##?Ready for Boredom? is out now on R.I.P. Society. Tour dates below.
Fri, Jan 25 – John Curtin Bandroom, Melbourne, VIC [w/Lower Plenty + Leather Towel]
Sun, Jan 27 – The Metro, Adelaide, SA [w/Constant Mongrel, Wireheads + Bruff Superior]
Fri, Feb 1 – The Square, Sydney, NSW [w/Camperdown & Out, Legendary Hearts &+ Snotty Babies]
Sun, Feb 3 – TBC, Newcastle, NSW [w/Blank Realm]