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NXNE interview: The Aves

text: Michael Raine | photography: Brian Patterson

Maybe it’s because they’re dry Australian sense of humour, or maybe they’re just funny people, but be careful what you believe when speaking with The Aves (pronounced aye-ves). As the Adelaide, South Australia band’s lead guitarist, Thomas Williams, explained to me, they once said in an interview they met at a butcher shop and bonded over a love of feathers and blood.   Unfortunately the gullible journalist took them seriously. I’ve been warned.

Sitting down at the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Toronto during the North by Northeast Festival, the band members – Williams singer/guitarist Lucy Campbell, bassist Tasman Strachan, and drummer Claire O’Boyle – discuss their (real) origins, what it’s like to play North America for the first time, a weariness of getting too political, and what the hell “guerilla-squonk-punk-garage” music is.

They’re first EP, Panic, is out now and it’s getting very positive reviews. Just don’t call it “indie”.

Michael Raine: When did you guys form The Aves and how did it come about?

Lucy: We formed a few years ago and I was just looking for a band and I played, kind of, shitty guitar. I was just looking for people and we didn’t know each other before hand and we actually had a different drummer at the time. I turned out that Tasman and I knew each other from childhood and we ended up getting together. To be honest, I was pretty desperate these guys were the only people that answered the ad.  Like, I hated them quite a lot and I was like, “oh, you know, god I hate these guys but I’m going to have to deal with it.” No, I’m joking [leans to into the recorder and repeats, “joking!”].

Tasman: Actually, it was kind of like that. There wasn’t much waiting at all, was there?

Lucy: No waiting, it was just like, “I don’t care. I’m just happy.” My peak of happiness will have been reached if we can be in a band. That’s all I care about. So yeah, then we decided to go to London for a couple of months and when we came back the drummer left and we got Clair and we’ve been really happy. That was about a year and a half ago or so and now we’re here.

M: Because of the way you came together, was there any conflict musically?

Thomas: I think we all like different music and play different music and I think that’s what we sound like. I don’t think we sound cohesive at all, but apparently we do, we get told we do so that’s alright. I don’t think we even sound like anything that we would listen to.

L: Yeah, we do sound different and we don’t have any one band that we sound like. We all like very much different things, totally different things, and sometimes contradictory things and I think it works out well because we come out sounding like nothing [in particular] and we don’t try and force each other’s influences on one another, although we have influenced each other.

MR: Is there a common song writing process?

TS: Lucy does most of the riffs and lyrics and melodies and she brings it in and we jam it.

L: It’s always very spaced out and sketchy when it first comes. Thomas and I do a lot of stuff together now. I write the lyrics, although Thomas has written some of the lyrics, and then Thomas comes up with a lot of the chords or the general gist of it. It started off more with just me with the songs that I already had and now it’s become more of a collaborative thing.

MR: Is there a large music scene in South Australia?

L: Yeah, there is a bit of a scene there. It’s a really small scene because Adelaide is a small place and there are a lot of bands. They tend to be click-y and in the same circles so we tend to play with friends of ours. The scene tends to be pretty insular and it tends to be hard to get out of that small town mentality of just play in our own town and being a little bit shit but your friends come and see you every Saturday night. It’s really hard to get out of that and it’s something we’ve being trying to do from the beginning.

MR: In that case, do you think you’ll move the band to a more cosmopolitan place like Melbourne or Sydney or even leave Australia?

L: Probably not. Adelaide is a really great place to base yourself. The good and bad things about being in a small town are sort of the same things in a way. It’s good to be insular and stuff like that in some ways because Melbourne is a big place and there’s a lot of bands and it’s really competitive. We’ve played there a couple times and people are real nice over there but it is much more competitive.

MR: Are you guys still working jobs or in school and while pursuing music?

TS: I’m working odd jobs. I haven’t studied in a while.

CO: I’m doing social work in university and plan to be a social worker, hopefully, if I’m not famous. If I’m famous than I don’t really think I need to.

L: Yeah, no social work for you. No longer care about the people. I do a little bit of studying but I’m more into not much [laughs].

TH: I’ve done a bit of university and done a few jobs and nothing’s really stuck.

L: We’re all a bit wondering, a bit vacant, really. I think it’s quite easy to do in Adelaide, actually. It’s an easy lifestyle there. Very cheap rent, very cheap to be and exist.

MR: You mentioned that you were in Europe and I noticed you kept a travel log while you were there. Why did you go? Did you go to “break” Europe or for the sake of a trip?

L: When I think back on it, I have no idea why we went there.

TH: If we had broken Europe then we would’ve told people that’s why we went [laughs].

L: In all honesty, it was mostly a holiday and I think I always really liked London and stuff like that and we just went over there because it was cheaper if all four of went than if only me went, I guess [laughs]. I can’t remember. We played a few gigs in London and met a cool London band and stuff like that.

MR: Lucy, I noticed in one of the entries you took issue with the British government trying to shut down the protest that were going on at the time. Also, you list your influences as band like The Kinks and Velvet Underground; bands that could be quite observational or political. Is that something you could see becoming part of your songwriting?

L: I don’t know. Political is such a fine line, it’s such a hard thing. I think we’re all political in our own way and political in different ways. We have quite a few discussions about stuff. Claire and I had a discussion about feminism the other day; it was pretty cool [laughs]. I think outward politicism is being preachy and puts people off and is not very interesting. But some of the lyrics, like we have a song called “Tony Macaroni” which is, lyrically, a bit of a silly song about a politician, an opposition leader in Australia called Tony Abbott, for those of you at home.

So yeah, we do have a few political songs but I don’t like the overt, sort of Bob Geldolf-politicism, or Bono or whatever. It’s kind of too far.

tehavesMR: Why did you decide to make your first trip as a band to North America at this time?

L: North by Northeast. We were so happy that anybody would want us to play anywhere else that we immediately jumped on a plane. Not really, we didn’t have the money to do that quit yet. North by Northeast was kind of the catalyst and we ended up playing some more shows and stuff like that. Playing some shows in New York and stuff but it’s all been kind of a do-it-yourself kind of thing for us.

MR: I’d heard you’re going to do some recording while you’re in New York?

L: Yeah, we’re booked to do a single in New York so we have something to go home with. Then when we go home we’ll probably be looking at doing another EP because we only have the one EP [“Panic”] that’s our one and only recording really. It’ll be exciting. I think we have the songs that we want to do; I think we’ve decided on that. I can’t remember anymore.

MR: Are there plans for a full LP?

L: If there was some money there as well, yeah.

TH: We’ve probably got enough songs to do that, really, but it’s an investment that we can’t really afford quite yet.

L: It’s kind of like weighing, you know, what do you spend your money on? We’re at the point where we don’t have a lot of money to do much so it’s, what do you spend your money on? Do you spend your money to do an album, or do an EP and then be able to do the publicity for an EP with that extra cash. It kind of comes down to stuff like that.

TS: I don’t know if we’re ready for an album yet, either. We’ve got a bunch of songs written over a three year period but it doesn’t, to me, feel like one big collective album. EPs are pretty appropriate at the moment.

L: EPs are great. They’re a great little tool. An album, I think, needs to be very cohesive.

Claire and I were talking about writing some songs for a cohesive EP rather than just recording the songs that we have, our best songs, that are always a little bit different or not about the same things or whatever. [We’re talking] about having a more conceptual ideas.

MR: I read that you’ve shunned the term “indie” in favour of “guerilla-squonk-punk-garage”. What’s that about?

L: [laughs] Yeah, that was Thomas.

TH: I read that word [“squonk”], I read it somewhere and I thought, “Oh, I don’t know what that is so I would say that’s what we are.” I think that’s genuinely what happened. We don’t like indie, I personally don’t like indie music and I don’t think any of us particularly do. Since we find it pretty hard, given all of our different interests, to describe what we sound like it just seemed appropriate to just give a throw-away line instead.

L: Yeah, I think indie’s a bit of a catchall. Right now I have no idea what it defines. Like, indie hip-hop, indie… there’s all these different things that it’s kind of like, “Who knows?” I don’t know whether it’s based on the music or the fashion or whatever. I’ve got no idea. “Indie” is a shitty term, basically.

TS: I feel like it’s embraced a bit more over here. In Australia it’s a bit more “stay away”. Whereas over here people throw it around more casually and are pretty happy to use it. In Australia it implies that you’re a bit of a follower or something.

L: A hipster

MR: You’re right that is has become a catchall term for any band with guitar, bass, and drums.

L: Yeah, pretty much. It does end up becoming a little bit like that and the “hipster” label is kind of a weird one and I don’t really understand it.

MR: Have you noticed a difference in the audiences between the shows here and your shows in Australia?

L: Here they’re kind of younger, generally. In Australia we get a lot of old men that come to shows. [laughs]. Which is nice and they’re big fans and they come to a lot of shows and they buy the t-shirts and stuff like that, which is kind of really weird. It’s interesting that’s it’s an older bunch in Australia and here it tends to be people of a kind of generic age group. You know, 18 through to 35 or whatever. So far we haven’t got so many of the 50-year-olds here at North by Northeast but we’re waiting.

TH: I think people have been more receptive here as well. It’s been more fun interacting with the audience here. That might just be that there a lot of people who come to see us that haven’t seen us before. But yeah, I’ve enjoyed playing here.

L: They’re also more willing to come up to you afterwards and have a chat. Not just a “well done” or whatever, but they’ll sit down and have a chat. Even people on the street will just talk to you for no reason. Everyone seems much more outgoing, confident, and confident in themselves. Whereas in Australia it’s more of a British vibe, people are embarrassed about everything.

MR: Lastly, is there a long-term plan for the band?

L: I think the game plan is a little bit sketchy but it tends to be along the lines of making good music, music that we enjoy and hopefully music and that someone else enjoys and keep evolving as you go. Don’t just stay the same and just do what other people want you to do. And travel, traveling is always a good time.

We were just talking to someone the other day about doing South by Southwest and doing various festivals and stuff. So yeah, the U.S. would be an interesting place for us to explore more properly.

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