INTERVIEW

Daniel Dylan Wray Australia’s most patient band, and ATP’s most recent signing

newwar

As I walk alone along the vast beaches and coastline of Camber Sands, I soak in what a strange place it is around this time of year. The dilapidated buildings look even more weathered and worn, the flakes of paint flapping from buildings take on a lugubrious presence, loose snags of rope and debris whip up in a gale that blows harshly and the surrounding cafes and ice-cream parlours remain deadly quiet, like ghostly faded postcards of the 1960s. If you then factor in that during ATP it becomes a place in which middle aged men in leather trousers and sunglasses walk hand in hand with the early-bird metal detectors, and where young men and women who stagger with last night’s can of lager glued to their hands are confronted with the bounding energy of morning dog-walkers and winter-wrapped children, it becomes even more strange.

On my headphones as I take this long walk is New War, a band I have been struggling to get a comprehensive grasp on. They have an evadable characteristic that always wriggles away from me. Yet whilst absorbing my odd surroundings, a loose parallel takes hold: perhaps the appeal and unexplainable guts to New War is much like what’s in front of me right now: a fusion, a bizarre, seemingly conflicting meeting of components that on the surface might not work but when placed together find a coherence and energy that melts and flows – it bonds.

New War’s debut LP is imbued with forceful post-punk snarl, dub-heavy grooves, isolating ambiance and eerie, wired keyboard sounds that not only fill the hole of having no guitar but reach such baffling pitches and tones that one questions the need for the instrument at all. “I don’t see daylight,” drummer Steve Masterson tells me when trying to put a finger on the perfect environment to take in the foursome’s gloom-soaked debut. “I definitely don’t see daylight.”

The strange but alluring unification of sounds, textures and tempos found on the album is a result of a varied backdrop of musicians within the band and one, collectively, that has been around the block a few times. Chris Pugmire (vocals) and Melissa Lock (bass) played in Kill Rock Stars-signed Shoplifting, who put out a single LP back in 2006, a project Lock describes as a “psycho feminist rock-band”, while current keyboardist Jesse Sheppard’s roots are in a Gainsbourg-esque outfit with Masterson dealing in some “back-end of Australia swamp-rock”, and that just scratches the surface. Pugmire ditched his hometown of Seattle, one in which years before his departure he had spent ensconced within the Riot Grrrl and Grunge movements. “I wanted a change,” he says. “There wasn’t a lot going on. It hit one of those lull patches.”

“America wasn’t exciting,” confirms Lock. “There wasn’t much going on for me music-wise. It was things like Death Cab for Cutie.” The band then took their time. They have been together for four years now, and holed-up in Melbourne they waited it out until the right members worked, then hammered away for a further year before even playing their first show. “We just wanted to be really good,” Pugmire offers, while Lock gives a glimpse into the politics of the Melbourne scene.

“It’s so small you only get one shot,” he says. “Then it’s like, ‘nah, I’ve checked them out, they’re rubbish, don’t bother coming back’.”

“You find that’s why people change bands a lot,” says Shepard.

That said, New War’s waiting paid off and as we sit around the Queen Vic pub at the final ever ATP (of which they played both final weekends) they also find themselves currently signed to the festival’s label, spearheading the institution into a new period of its existence.  All has been going well at ATP so far, “except for that guy in the audience yelling out ‘impress us,’” says Lock. “He was like an angry old punk dude, so I found that really amusing. It was really funny because he was dead serious.”

Taking their time over their output, aside from being creatively motivated, is perhaps also indicative of the group’s collective maturity, as the band are all in their thirties, while Lock admits she sometimes wishes she wasn’t. “I keep saying I wish this had happened in my twenties,” she says. “I was a waitress in a shared house, ready to go and now I’ve got kids and responsibilities and I can’t just go on tour like I would have in my twenties, but then again I don’t think I would have been the same musician then.”

The band recall simpler times too.

“In our twenties it was just a big party,” adds Lock. “It was pre-Internet and nobody thought about being a rock-star or getting bigger or anyone ever hearing you outside of Australia. Who’s going to pay to fly you all the way from out here? So it was like this little community. It was just a lot of fun, which is maybe different motives from what American or English kids felt because we were just so far away, so it was like party time. It was great.”

“We didn’t have those TV shows that they do now, where they suck all these kids into thinking that being an artist or a musician is about impressing judges and being judged on those performances,” says Masterson, while Pugnire notes that “it seems like people now have to prostrate themselves; it’s really weird.”

And yet, for a band content on taking things slowly, who are more settled into their age-bracket now and remember fondly movements based around communities, ideologies and friendships rather than money, fame and desperation, New War’s resulting (self-titled) LP is far from lacking in urgency or grit. It surges and thrashes as frequently as it glides and bounces, and again, this is a balance that age has helped develop. “You can focus your energy into being insane,” Pugmire tells me, “like, controlled insanity. You can put that into the project and not let it spill over into the rest of your life, but I guess in your twenties, everything is insane.”

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