Melbourne post-punk band screensaver have released their debut album Expressions of Interest. Its a synth-laden cornucopia of electronica infused with an early 80’s vibe. The metronomic beats and melodic basslines are layered with a vocal reminescent of Siousixe Sioux.
I took the opportunity to have a chat with screensaver about the debut album, recording during lockdown, body odour, their musical influences and how the pandemic is impacting the music scene in Australia.
Welcome screensaver and congratulations on the release of your debut album Expressions of Interest out now on Heavy Machinery (Australia) and Upset the Rhythm (UK). Can you describe some of the challenges of creating and producing the album during lockdown?
Giles – It was pretty much the same as without the lockdowns, the challenges of making a record were not too different to the pre-pandemic era, we just had more time to sit with it. Staying socially distant from the others during recording was a blessing in disguise however, because we all stink. So the masks and restrictions helped ease the vicissitudes that come with suffering each other’s presence in mouldering meat space. Not gigging is a total bummer, though. I had a baby instead.
Krystal – Trust Giles to answer this question with a joke about body odor. For the record, me being the only woman in the band, I smell like flowers at all times. But yes, boys stink.
James – Thank you! I think we’re lucky in that we got most of the studio sessions complete in the moments between lockdowns. If memory serves me correctly, we got a few songs down before the OG wave of Covid in March 2020 but then we had to halt the recording process entirely once that happened. Our first singles ‘Strange Anxiety‘ and ‘Living in an Instant‘ were produced by proxy though, and I think we’re really lucky as a band that we each have the capacity to produce solo, so we were able to send each other stems and do a lot of cutting and pasting to get those tracks done. A lot of listening to tracks at home, making notes etc. So overall, across singles and albums it’s been a very stop/start process, but we made it work!
You released single ‘No Movement‘. Can you tell us a little about your creative process? How are the songs created and where does the inspiration for the lyrics come from?
Giles – That particular number was whipped up in the rehearsal space. We often improvise between running through our existing songs, before a gig or just on weeknight jams. That song is clearly playing on the odd incommensurability of being restricted in what we could do but knowing that everyday, essential movement was carrying on unconstrained. Capital flows. I was thinking of ESG on the rhythm section and we layered and structured the track around the bass line, essentially. Krystal can speak to the lyrics, but I remember around that time the Federal government telling Australia: “if you have a job, you are an essential worker,” which made the pandemic response a restriction on being unproductive only. Seeing and spending downtime with friends and family was made illegal, basically. For “The Arts” in Melbourne, that was devastating—we’re the people maintaining the bad vibrations while you’re noodling with your loved ones at the pub. That’s essential in my mind. But of course the health crisis is real, and so we just closed up shop: no movement.
Krystal – ‘No Movement‘ feels like an anthem for the times, but I will say that a lot of people are commenting that my lyrics really speak to state of the world right now, and they do – and yes some of the songs were definitely written during lockdowns but I was already writing about the themes of isolation, alienation and shared human frustrations of life in the modern world. In a way the state of the world started to match the themes already present in my writing, not a surprise really when punk and post-punk has always veered towards the aforementioned themes. ‘No Movement’ was actually a very a stream of consciousness piece of writing that began we with the scene of agoraphobic shut in type character unable to move forward in life. The scene of a person alone in a monotone world came into my mind and I built a song around how this person felt, their frustration from being unable to escape their dreary and colourless life. Perhaps, that person does represent how we all feel at one time or another, whether due to restrictions of a lock down or just barriers that hold us back from fully living.
James – ‘No Movement‘ was conjured in the jam room, one of those songs which clicked into place pretty quickly once the basic ingredients were locked in. We had a lot of fun with the drum breaks, giving the song a bit of a Gang Of Four and ESG flavour. Krystal is a very insticutual lyricist, and is able to channel the vibe of a jam into the vocals whilst incorporating the vibes and experiences of being in a seemingly never-ending cycle of lockdowns. I like the contrast of the title with the music itself – the song is constantly moving and is equivalent to about 3 days of solid cardio for me.
The music of 1977 to 1982 is an influence on screensaver including Siouxsie and the Banshees.
How did you become aware of music from this era and what other bands do you enjoy?
Giles – I was pretty late coming to The Archive of Popular Music so when I moved into a share-house in North Melbourne in my early twenties, fresh from the Eastern suburbs, I was exposed to a record collector housemate whose musical tastes and eclecticism I’d not witnessed before or since. He gave me access to his hard-drives where he’d been storing music for years—from the Napster era through to bootlegs he’d make of local shows on his own, standing in the audience with a Zoom recorder—as well as listening to vinyl and holding long, drunken chats with people visiting the house. I remember when Ricky Maymi from The Brian Jonestown Massacre was staying at our house and he was really impressed that I’d just be cueing up like one-hundred songs every day, mainly using iTunes. I had to listen to everything. I drove him to the Melbourne airport and he had bought a CD copy of Bowie’s Low for the trip; it was one of his favourite records. He was like “check this out” and when the synth arpeggio played on ‘Breaking Glass‘ he was so enthused that he gesticulated in a way that made him seem possessed. I was into that. That song only plays for less than two minutes but it absolutely fucked me up. Needless to say growing up my parents didn’t get too eclectic with their music, Springsteen, Phil Collins and Carly Simon was about as deep as it went. Still, I love that music too don’t get me wrong – ‘You’re So Vain‘? No, actually her song ‘Why‘ from the soundtrack to Soup For One is killer. I think we owe Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards for that one.
Krystal – I remember putting this on our bandcamp, the word count was quite limited with what you could write. We were being frivolous, but also that particular period in music was extremely fertile.
Chris – I’d probably include quite a bit of influences from the early 70s as well, anything Conny Plank was involved with as well as the Eno-sphere. My gateway to that world was listening to a lot of Stereolab in my 20s. I remember seeing Wire On the Box: 1979 playing at the Vulcan Video store in Austin, Texas around the same time and that being a major recalibration, everything about that band was immediately hypnotic. Swell Maps’ Jane From Occupied Europe had a similar effect. Had a pretty good run with the Flying Nun catalogue from that era as well, The Gordons, The Stones, and Pin Group come to mind.
James – I am a huge fan of this era and consider it to be my biggest musical influence. I think I got into Joy Division when I was 15 after seeing Donnie Darko at the local arthouse cinema in Perth. From then, I went as hard as early 2000’s internet would allow researching Factory Records and post-punk/new wave and underground 80s electronica. I have been described as a “Joy Division and New Order tragic”, and that’s a vibe I carry across all of the musical projects I’ve been in. JD/NO, Section 25, ACR, The Wake, Bowie, Iggy, Eno, Siouxsie, Kraftwerk all big sources of inspiration, as well as 80s RnB groups like 52nd Street, The Cool Notes and The Loose Ends to name a few.
You are based in Melbourne, Australia. Can you tell us a little about the current music scene in Australia and the impact of the pandemic on the music industry?
Giles – The scenes around the country are hanging on by a thread, I feel. Everyone has been pretty isolated, is my sense. There is support from good people like Miles at Heavy Machinery (and in the UK from Chris at Upset the Rhythm). And as the curator of musical instruments for the City of Melbourne, Miles has almost singlehandedly guided us, and I’m sure a number of other artists, through the pandemic in Melbourne. Otherwise, not much has happened, or could have happened, with all of the city’s venues closed. Sure, you can record music, but what is the point if you can’t play it live with people and lights? As with everything else in the pandemic response, the rich got richer and the poor people lost out, everything was consolidated and engagements were retracted, property prices have risen 20% since last year—musically it feels like the established and major label artists got a lot of attention at the expense of no-name, and interdependent scenes like ours. Miles saw all of this happening in advance and moved very quickly to act and provide opportunities for musicians without labels or resources. The result was Flash Forward, which was how we recorded the album during a period where we’ve played live only once or twice in nearly two years: we won’t even be able to debut the record live until 2022, it seems!
James – To echo Giles, I do feel like the music scene and the arts and entertainment sector in general in Australia is on thin ice, and a lot of us feel completely demoralised by the experience. Having said that, there are still good people doing good things, and one can only hope that there is a bit of a rubber band effect going into 2022 with venues reopening and capacity limits increased. As a band we are extraordinarily grateful for the opportunities we’ve had to complete the album as part of the Flash Forward initiative, and so a big shout-out to Miles Brown from Heavy Machinery and Chris from Upset The Rhythm for supporting us and making this happen!
Do you have plans to tour in Australia and overseas?
Giles – Of course.
Krystal – We’re all hanging to get out of Australia for a spell!
Chris – Definitely, we’d love to do both UK/Europe and the States as soon as it’s feasible, hopefully looking good for 2022 doing one or the other.
James – Yes, absolutely. I suppose in an alternate timeline where covid wasn’t having it’s way with the world, we might have done this already. So once things clear up a bit more, I hope we can get on the road and make up for lost time.
If I looked in your fridge right now what would I find?
Giles – A single can of Stingrays Finest left over from a six-pack made locally here in Abbotsford, the suburb where I live, and a $13 Macedonian sausage that is smoked with leeks and spices, called Lukanici, which I just purchased from the Preston Market. Also, an assortment of cheeses.
Chris/Krystal – As we’re still locked down at the time of this writing we’re fully stocked and on a pretty ongoing health kick, lots of fresh produce and homemade leftovers. We’ve been doing blue corn tortillas from scratch, babaganoush, and there’s always a couple beers kicking around. Some Goat at present.
James – Plenty of spinach, mushrooms,eggs, and I’m currently very fond of the bottle of cold pressed carrot/apple/ginger/turmeric juice. Might need a top-up, thanks for reminding me.
Krystal – Look at us, bunch of connoisseurs.
screensavers debut album Expressions of Interest is out now via Heavy Machinery (Australia) and Upset the Rhythm (UK). For more information on screensaver please check out their instagram and bandcamp.