Classics: Pork Chop Party
Taking a holiday from our longstanding Citizenship Test, M+N are asking bands about classic Australian albums – both the idea of a classic and some prime examples – as well as posing a few other questions.
Answering this week is Randy Oldman (a.k.a Pinkyblue), half of Melbourne country-punk duo Pork Chop Party. The pair released a debut 7?, [The Suicidal Sounds of Pork Chop Party](http://porkchopparty.bandcamp.com/album/the-suicidal-sounds-of-pork-chop-party)*, in April through German label Off Label Records. Their debut album, *Illuminations for Jumpers, Chokers and Pokers*, is due out next week through band member A. Macaroni’s own Baboso label. For now, there’s *[Excess Debris](http://porkchopparty.bandcamp.com/album/excess-debris), a batch of four songs that didn’t make it on to the album. The band are playing three free afternoon and evening gigs in Melbourne this month.
Sat, June 8 – Standard Hotel, Fitzroy, VIC [7pm, free]
Sun, June 22 – The Catfish, Fitzroy, VIC [4pm, free]
Sun, June 29 – Yarra Hotel, Abbottsford, VIC [5pm, free]
a. What made you two decide to corner the market on horny suicidal music?
In all honesty, the themes for the first bunch of Pork Chop Party songs were purely circumstantial. In January 2014, there was a run of hot weeks over the summertime, and it was particularly hot and dry in northwest Victoria. Unable to leave the house due to the heat, we just started writing songs as a way of alleviating the boredom and frustration of being trapped in doors. And when you spend an extended period of time listening to Willie Nelson, Tammy Wynette, Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton, strange things start to happen. These songs are definitely biographical, and they reflect a certain feeling that we must have been channelling from old country music we were listening to at the time.
But rather than trying to corner a market, we quickly realised that our isolation was an asset; a way of framing and shaping ideas in a context that made sense to our status quo. There’s a certain openness and vulnerability in country music, which lends itself to introspection. Once you strip away the heavy layering of sound that is found in rock or pop music, it quickly becomes apparent that lyrics and words can take on a greater meaning; they can count for something more because the instrumentation is so minimal and plaintive. Rather than searching for a direction, we found a sort of homecoming in a genre we’d always admired; it suddenly seemed larger than life, something that just chimed with us and reflected the same themes and ideas. Existentialism, longing and sexual arousal are themes that can be found in any good country record, but you’ve just got to know where to look!
b. You guys are like two one-man bands live, playing a drum and a guitar at once and so forth. Are there any more instruments you’re hoping to add to the juggling act?
Yes, we’ve very recently started using a lap steel guitar on a few of the original songs and several new ones. Trying to play lap steel slide guitar and drums at the same time is quite a stretch, but it’s a sound that we think is crucial to the mix. Historically, country and western swing music was always awash with steel guitars and we like the forlorn, moribund and grief-stricken tone that it provides.
c. You seem to have written a lot of songs in a relatively short span of time. Is an utter lack of self-editing your dirty secret as a band?
Yes and no. A lot of these songs were probably sitting around in some latent form prior to the heat wave of last summer. We’ve always written songs in great numbers in the past and often ideas get aborted or amalgamated into a certain style or mood that you find yourself working in.
But once Pork Chop Party had a name and an idea, it was basically open slather; in some cases, the songs just wrote themselves very quickly. We play a lot of two-hour sets, and having 30-40 songs is kind of necessary. But it’s also an obsession with simplicity and finding something worthwhile to say with just a couple of chords. We see purity and basic arrangements as a genuine strength; it’s a way of stripping things down to the bare essentials of what a song can mean.
Our debut album could have had 25 songs on it, but we’re happier to release a concise, direct and thought-provoking entr’e rather than ruin the main course – which is cooking in the oven as we speak!
What Makes a Classic?
a. What are some defining qualities that make a classic record?
More than anything: clarity. I think a cohesive mood on a record is always important. And sometimes that mood is created through a particular tonal quality: in the instrumentation, room sound or dynamic range. Some records are instantly ?classic? because they arrive with a kind of self-contained authority, which can’t be ignored; other albums grow stronger over time – like wine, they mature with age and deepen in value. Some classic records are full of ?hits?, and others are more about setting an agenda. And, then there are classic records, which have no theme, argument or anything to say, but they still hold a sense of truth, simply by existing in a context that seems greater than the sum of its parts.
b. Name a recent Australian record that already feels like a classic.
[Creepy Coconuts](http://bjmorriszonkle.bandcamp.com/album/creepy-coconuts) by BJ Morriszonkle. This is one of those albums that you convince yourself will never exist again – a record in which a single person can put everything on the line, and then willingly go over the cliff. Morriszonkle is a musical chameleon, an unashamed maverick of invention, who never stops teasing you with the possibilities of song. This is one of those fine-wine, maturing ?classics?, which will burn longer and grown richer as time passes. This album reflects an Australian male identity in crisis: a confused, paranoid anti-paean for the modern, technological tardiness of today’s urban dreamers.
c. What was the first classic Australian record someone introduced you to?
Business as Usual – Men at Work. One of my uncles played this album on cassette in his brand new 1982 Mazda 323 until we all knew every word, every riff and every drum fill. The production was incredible, and the songs had such authority and precision to them. There was a richness to Colin Hay’s voice and a brilliant bedrock of great players and melodic instrumentation. It has that hungry sound of a real band that wanna show you every trick they’ve got. And it’s got the sonic clarity, which I mentioned earlier: each song fits like a brass cog in a perfect engine.
d. Is there a classic ?Australian sound?? If so, what is it?
To my mind, the classic ?Australian sound? of the ?60s, ?70s and ?80s was always about certain guitar tones: The Easybeats had a sound, AC/DC had a sound, The Birthday Party had a sound and The Church had a sound that was all unmistakably guitar-driven. ?Cattle and Cane? by The Go-Betweens has such an unassailable ?Australian? guitar sound; it blends acoustic and electric guitar tones together in a way that instantly evoke a spare and barren landscape. And when you marry those types of sounds to an Australian accent, you end up with something that is uniquely ?Australian?. Anyone who follows contemporary Australian music can see that guitars still dominate in almost all popular genres.
e. Who’s your favourite Australian producer, past or present?
That’s a toss-up between [Tony Cohen](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Cohen) and [Mark Opitz](/search/?q=Mark+Opitz). Both of those guys produced and recorded music with incredible clarity. Opitz was doing the more commercial stuff, whilst Cohen was slumming it with the independents; yet both of these guys brought their own signature sound to the albums and singles they worked on.
Tell us what these five classic Australian albums mean to you:
The Drones Gala Mill:
Weren’t they a late-?70s UK punk band from Manchester?
Jimmy Little Messenger:
Anyone that covers The Triffids is worth waiting up for.
Magic Dirt What are Rock Stars Doing Today?:
A modern recalibration of the Australian guitar sound for a generation who came of age in the 1990s. Joan Jett meets Sonic Youth. Male fantasies set alight by raging guitars. Brilliant album title that never answers the question it poses.
Beasts of Bourbon The Axeman’s Jazz:
An unquestionable Australian classic that was made for $100. Possibly the closest thing Australia ever got to a ?supergroup?. Greg Perkins doing Leon Payne’s [?Psycho?](https://www.youtube.com/watch’v=gk7pxBGLqaM) is worth the admission price alone. On this record, the Beasts distil everything that was good about early Stones LPs. Tony Cohen makes them sound just as raw and rough as they were onstage, but he’s wise enough to allow the individual personalities to bleed through. This is an FB Holden with a HR Holden disc-brake front-end: old-school, patriarchal themes welded together with an ?80s nonchalance.
The Scientists Blood Red River:
A gem from the post-Birthday Party vortex of the early ?80s. Toss in a healthy nod to Suicide (the band) and The Cramps, an ungodly bass sound and a palette of strangled guitars, and you’ve got a heady blend of sound. The film clip for ?Blood Red River? is just as good – if not better – than the whole mini-LP.