“Everyone’s thinking about it – ‘When will the world explode?’”
Not to put too fine a point on it, but we’re all going to die. The apocalypse is everywhere. If not in name, then in everything but; a premonition of the coming fire and fury flickering between the lines like subliminal advertising. Are artists making a conscious choice to square up to it or is it just that the pervasiveness of the topic leaves no other option but to claim it?
“It’s hard to avoid,” says Tropical Fuck Storm’s singer and songwriter Gareth Liddiard. The band slump around a table in a time-capsule of an East London pub having already been jokingly told off by the barman for moving the curtains (“untouched by human hands they were, and then you Australians come in here…”). He tosses the question over to bassist Fiona Kitschin. “What do you think?”
Fiona shrugs, then jokes, “I never listen to the lyrics.”
“Lots of [the first album] was, we were recording and then having drunken chats around the fire,” says guitarist Erica Dunn, “and those ideas came out in some of the songs, just weird things we were talking about at the time.”
The result was A Laughing Death in Meatspace; a caterwauling maelstrom of sound that takes on Gareth and Fiona’s psych-punk tendencies from their days as influential Aussie outfit The Drones, and pushes it into something new and almost frightening, inspired in part by Captain Beefheart and “using techno gear to make rock and roll”.
“Everyone’s thinking about it – ‘When will the world explode?’” Erica says.
“Yeah. But it won’t,” says Gareth.
Erica sits up straighter. “It could! Someone showed me a very detailed video yesterday of what happens when an asteroid hits the earth. It was very slow and detailed – all the mountains and then all the trees and eventually the entire world’s on fire.”
Tropical Fuck Storm tend to do things at high speed; doing everything and doing it now. This is how they have come to release their second album a year after their first.
Braindrops takes the oldest tale in the book (the love story) and mutates it. Lead single ‘Paradise’ is a love letter-slash-ultimatum, while elsewhere we find odes to Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s crooked psychiatrist Eugene Landy (‘Who’s My Eugene?’), the ‘other’ Richmond (‘Braindrops’) and fictional Nazi telepaths (‘Maria 63’).
“It’s the same old shit, but more subversive I guess. If that’s possible,” says Gareth. “They’re love songs but… there’s a love song about Maria Orsic, who’s this made-up woman who was apparently Hitler’s oracle. It’s all bullshit, it was made up in the 1990s.”
“It’s a conspiracy theory,” says Erica.
“It’s a conspiracy theory,” Gareth nods. “But now all sorts of neo-Nazis and conspiracy theorists believe it’s true and so the love song is to her, but not. It’s actually someone killing her. It’s kind of difficult to explain… It’s fake news!” he decides. “It’s the first song that’s fake news. In the world.”
“Calling it!” Erica says.
We’ll come back to the murdered Maria later. But this is not the first time Tropical Fuck Storm have seemingly drawn inspiration from such a dark corner of the internet. A Laughing Death in Meatspace’s deceptively peaceful instrumental track ‘Shellfish Toxin’ was inspired by the CIA research program MKNaomi, the little sister of the MKUltra mind control project. Between the 1950s and 1970s MKNaomi agents worked on biological weapons designed to incapacitate or kill test subjects. Then, in 1975, five years after Nixon banned American use of biological warfare and ordered any non-living toxins to be destroyed, a CIA scientist was found to have made off with 11 grams of – no bonus points for correct guesses here – shellfish toxin.
“It’s a weird thing to do, to give your enemies food poisoning. They’re the enemies you’re not very cross at. You don’t kill them, you just make them a bit sick… for 48 hours,” Gareth says.
The others laugh. “A mild bout of food poisoning,” says Erica.
It sounds like a tinfoil hat theory, but MKNaomi was all too real. Once upon a time, we could be at least a little more sure of things like that. That kind of distinction – the strange-but-true versus the did-not-happen – is getting harder to draw these days.
“I mean, everything is a conspiracy now,” says Gareth. “Truth decay and all that shit. Everything is a conspiracy, yeah. Post-truth. People are just gonna do what they want and think what they want, and they’re gonna make up their reasons, whether they’re denying the climate’s changing or they wanna be a neo-Nazi, or anything. There’s no logic. And it’s just going to end up like it did, which is millions of people pick up a fuckin’ machine gun and sort it out that way.”
But then, we might get killed by an asteroid in the meantime.
“Yeah, that would be weird.” He muses: “Imagine knowing that was coming. 5pm tomorrow.”
“Again, we’d just be here,” Erica points out. “Going mudlarking and having some Guinness.”
Gareth cackles. “Mudlarking! I found another pipe!”’
He imitates the sound of an explosion, as Erica faux-screams “What’s it all for?”
The band laugh.
If it seems like Tropical Fuck Storm have a capital-S Statement that they are making – a comment on the state of things and our place in a rapidly declining society – then it is important to note that the flipside is just as true. While the band are sharp and conscious, they are also making music simply because making music is what they do. The point of writing songs, as Gareth has said before, is for the band to have something to play on the weekend.
“Yeah, that’s still true,” he says, surprisingly earnest.
“Nothing happens without a deadline,” Erica says, “and we’ve been very busy so it’s been great to have certain things to kick us up the arse.”
Gareth makes a face. “We’ve been busy as fuck. I’ve never been so busy. I hate it.”
“Where is the freedom?” asks Erica.
“I’m gonna go and get a job in Tesco. I’m moving to London,” says Gareth.
Erica glances across the table. “We’ve just finished the [album] mix today,” she explains.
“We came here a week ago and we’d been mixing it up until then but we didn’t quite finish it, so we’ve been sending mixes back and forth to Australia which has been stressful.” says Fiona. “But today we finished it.” The band all applaud. “Everyone had a little cry because we’ve been doing it pretty much every day for the last four months.”
“We were recording it while on tour in Australia,” says drummer Lauren Hammel.
I say that that is possibly the least ideal time to be starting a new project.
“It was fucking stupid,” says Gareth. “But what else can a band do?”
“We could write a novel,” Erica suggests.
“We should’ve made a movie at the same time,” says Gareth. “We should have made like, A Hard Day’s Night as well.”
If Tropical Fuck Storm were really going to make their own hometown film, it would look how the title track of their new album sounds. ‘Braindrops’ is like ‘A Day in the Life’ on a massive comedown, with Gareth singing about a day on the streets of Richmond, Victoria, buying sunglasses and “not making eye contact with Pikachus or money cats”. Or, “having a fuckin’ existential crisis,” as Erica puts it.
“It’s not like the Richmond here,” says Gareth, referring to the upper class, rugby-loving south west suburb on the edge of London. “It’s the other way.”
“It’s the Melbourne doppelganger.” Erica says.
“There’s a street called Victoria Street,” says Gareth, “and you can get smack and drugs but also…”
“It’s a Vietnamese area,’ Fiona adds.
“…Yeah, it’s also a Vietnamese scene. So there’s really great restaurants and just the hardest work ever being done in history, and then you can pick up some smack and fuckin’ gak and whatever else you want. So it’s a mess, but it’s great.”
In its own way, ‘Braindrops’ is another one of Tropical Fuck Storm’s messed-up love songs. Which brings us back to Maria. Or rather, Marias. There’s quite a lot of them, as Fiona discovered.
“There’s so many songs called ‘Maria’ that we” – she indicates Lauren across the table – “went on a research mission and tried to find them all, and there were 61.”
How do you even begin that task?
Lauren grimaces. “Just scour the internet.”
“There were 61 songs we came up with that were called just Maria, so we called ours ‘Maria 62’. And then ‘Maria 63,’” says Fiona.
‘Maria 63’ is mournful and murderous; a twisted lament from a victim turned predator to an immortal who never existed.
“It’s about Maria Orsic,” says Gareth. “Apparently she could telepathically talk to aliens, and she got the blueprints for interstellar rocket engines from these aliens and gave them to Hitler. And then he bolted the rockets onto U-boats, and flew them around Jupiter and shit like that.”
“Also one of the pictures of her is Kate Moss’s face,” Erica says. “It’s really weird.”
Gareth laughs. “Yeah, it’s like, ‘dude… that’s Kate Moss’.”
“And the bottom part of her is Hitler,” adds Lauren.
‘There’s another one with a kind of ’90s model. They’ve just Photoshop’d a ’30s hairdo onto her. But then all these hardcore neo-Nazis think it’s real, and that she disappeared at the end of World War II and went to [the star] Alderbaran.” Gareth says. “On a Nazi UFO.”
“Kate Moss, in the past,” Erica says.
Maybe it was Kate Moss.
“Maybe it was,” says Gareth. “You should talk to her.”
“Ring her up,” says Erica.
“Interview her tomorrow,” says Lauren.
“Is this you?” says Gareth, tapping an imaginary photograph on the table.
They’re joking, of course… but then, ‘what if’? This is the Tropical Fuck Storm M.O.; to make believe that reality (and love) are a little more twisted than they appear.
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