Interview: New War

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A few months ago, I managed to catch New War in a strange little club in Melbourne. It almost didn’t happen though – it was getting kinda late, I’d downed a deadly amount of $5 bloody margaritas, and Deaf Wish had obliterated my senses to fried microchips, meekly bleeping blood through my vessels in an effort to stay alive.

I’m really glad I stuck around – watching New War was like being hit in the face by an Old Testament God whilst being stuck in a never-ending vortex of existentialism: confusing, looming, never ending power.

New War will be heading to Sydney for the first time in three years next week at the Lo-Fi //Sci-Fi mini festival at the Chippo Hotel, with SPLASHH, Green Buzzard, Buzz Kull and more . Before they head up, I sent along a few questions to their vocalist Chris, in which we discussed gentrification, record stores, and their new album:

R: Next week will be your first time back in Sydney for three years – from the safety of Melbourne what can you see having changed since you last came here?

C: From down here, it seems like gentrification is even more out of control than 3 years ago. The few times I’ve been to Sydney since I’ve lived in Australia (8 years now) already felt ‘expensive’. Gentrification’s insane in Melbourne, but it seems like Sydney’s another level. I’ve seen some of the effects just loosely paying attention – like Stephanie McCarthy being assaulted in Newtown. It’s outrageous transphobia & there’s the class element too: rich white boy gets no jail time. Which to me is gentrification in a nutshell: rich people push their perceived lowers out of their new rich space, violently if need be. 

 There’s a similar problem where I’m from (Seattle). When I was home earlier this year the changes were shocking. The traditional weirdo enclaves systematically destroyed, swept aside by what genuinely looked like a giant frat party stretching for blocks, with limos, hosted by the Romans. Sydney obviously (& similarly to Seattle) has problems with venues staying open, which besides gentrification is due to shitty government policy that favours shitty landlords, developers & NIMBYs.

So yeah, like most large metropolitan cities, people that actually make cities worth living in, that make & are themselves interesting culture, are pushed to the margins, if not off the map. And so you see a lot of shitty, ‘tasteful’ upper-middle class ‘art’ clogging up everything & boring everyone to death. That being said, I still hear great music out of there – any of the post-Kiosk projects – especially Angie’s, any of the post-NOTV projects like Lucy Cliche or Half High, Scattered Order, Low Life, etc. More power to them, it’s a feat to keep going in a city that’s trying to get rid of you.

R: From a quick scan of my memory, there don’t feel like there are too many bands in Sydney that do anything remotely similar to what New War do (with the exception of MAKING), that eerie minimalist post-punk, but there’s a lot of it in Melbourne, like My Disco, Little Desert and Exhaustion. Why do you think that is?

C: I really like all those bands but think we all sound pretty distinct from each other, maybe that’s because I live here. If I had to make a half-educated guess as a half-educated outsider, Sydney seems like it’s more aesthetically separate – like bands that could be considered ‘rock’ bands don’t stray outside formalism as much. & the experimental groups are more strictly experimental. Whereas bands like the ones you’ve mentioned seem more ok with existing in, but still tunnelling out of, a rock idiom.

R: I saw Steve’s comment on how people should get as much out of instrument as possible, and learn the most they can from it in order to become the best musicians they can. What was the first instrument that forced you into that zone of commitment?

C: A cassette 4-track & a no-name digital delay/reverb rack unit. About 10, 12 years ago I lived in a couple different punk houses with Mel & I’s old bandmate Devin & he had all kinds of weird & wonderful treasures, some of which you could only squeeze one idea out of – but it made that idea bubble up. He also had one of those 60s school record players that played all speeds & we’d listen to Sade at 16rpm & sing along. Anyway, I learned from all that stuff to manipulate my voice, try on different voices & spent many hours recording. I never released any of it, it was more an exercise in learning, doing & trusting my ideas. Which I think (hope) has served me well since.

R: You’ve worked with such a broad range of labels, both with New War and previous projects,  and I always find it interesting to hear people’s opinions on the label front. Has working with so many boosted your egos or character as a band? Has working with those labels changed your opinion on the necessity or general character of record labels?

C: It’s flattering when someone likes your band enough to offer to put out your record. I can’t say I’ve ever had a truly terrible experience with anyone, I’ve had some not ideal experiences & some pretty good ones. I think labels are often run by people that genuinely love music, especially the music they put out, but aren’t necessarily invested beyond their initial enthusiasm if the record doesn’t catch fire straight away. Because, hey, 600,000 bands. That’s possibly a better case scenario, we haven’t been dragged through the latrine like some bands & I’m not working in the salt mine with a toothpick. 

R: New War came out on Polyester Records – What importance do record stores, or at least that particular record store, hold for you?

C: Yeah it was a co-release between Fast Weapons, Sensory Projects & them. Then All Tomorrow’s Parties (ATP Recordings) reissued it about a year later. Record stores, when done well, are all about sharing information & a communal energy that people rightly crave. When not done well, well, let’s not get into that, it’s depressing. A record store is a more slippery concept than most small business because they usually get you when you’re young, like a tobacco company. Record stores are cool & I like buying records & I wish there something like a record store for radical politics. Maybe the next artisan trend will be standing on an actual soap box & speaking your mind. 

R: Have you been to many of their famous instores? If you do, what’s your take on an instore vs. a normal gig (there ain’t too many in Sydney)

C: I have been to some. I think a good thing about them is their informality, no one expects a band to sound as good or perform as well as a normal gig. It seems much harder to summon a ‘mood’ in a shop. Without that pressure bands either relax & sound great, or are totally flat & that can be entertaining too.

R: It was the anger that attracted me to your first record so much – do you reckon you’ve retained that for this follow-up album?

C: That’s interesting, I don’t think of it as an angry record, I think of it as pretty considered overall. I can see how some of the themes of, say, history & violence, could lead to thinking it’s angry but if anything it’s feeling the totality of human foolishness & cruelty over the last couple hundred years. You know, easy listening. That’s not to say I don’t feel anger about some of these things, of course I do, but the perspective on that album is more observing than reacting. The new record will be nastier & funnier – hopefully. The big difference is going to be the drumming, Steve’s got some tricks up his sleeve.

R: Another thing was that sort of tribal repetition, both within the music and the way you sing – is that a conscious thing? What draws you to that sort of style?

C: Probably because we play everything together rather than having a songwriter come in with a set structure. Repetition allows you to lose yourself & leads to mutation – changes come naturally &/or unconsciously & may lead to structure, but are usually more interesting than something that’s been imposed from above. I think we’re conscious of whether we continue to be interested in a piece after playing it over a few weeks & if not, we move on. What draws us to our style is that it works often enough to keep us interested in playing together.   

R: You’re going to go in and record after you’ve performed at Lo/Fi/Sci/Fi – what’s the plan with that? Are you doing it with anyone/anywhere in particular?

C: We’ll be recording with Lachlan Wooden, who’s been our live engineer for a few years now & is a good friend. The idea is that this record will be more live-sounding than the last one but there’s no real knowing until you actually go in and do it. How cliche is that? You never know until you know. So why not just go with the flow. For all rivers run to the sea. Yet the sea is not full. Hahaha!

R: Finally, I saw that new mixtape of songs you put together – it’s pretty diverse, with Robert Forster and Kiosk and Fabulous Diamonds in there. How much of that translates into your own music?

C: That’s a small representation of just Australian underground music – which we all love, of course. Mel & I’s old band played some shows in the U.S. with Kiosk, for instance, & through them we found out about Fabulous Diamonds. Overall our tastes are pretty broad. I think everything you listen to filters through you – your music is a composite of your experience & if you’re honest that’s going to include other music. If your music stands on its own two feet it’s because your essence is more visible – or stronger – than your influences. Sorry, I’m really sounding like a hippie today.

New War play the Lo-Fi // Sci – Fi Festival next Saturday, the 19th of December at the Chippendale Hotel. Tix go from $15 and you can grab ’em here.

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