Make Way is a regular series of interviews and reports that aim to document, highlight and celebrate often marginalised voices that make valuable contributions to Perth’s music community. Nerve Quakes are set to play the WAMAwards tonight, Thursday, November 2, plus RTRFM and Perth Theatre Trust’s Courtyard Club this Friday November 3, during an epic weekend of music thanks to WAMFest. Ahead of their set, XANTHEA O’CONNOR spoke to Caleb and Heather from the band about their debut album A New State, dream gigs, murders, murderers and bridging the perceived dichotomy between punk and parenthood.
Lyrics ranging from the old, unsolved local murder of brothel madam Shirley Finn in the 70s, to galaxy collisions (“It’s what NASA doesn’t tell us,” Heather warns), I was interested in knowing how important the specific location of Perth is to the music you make?
Heather – What other place can you write from, except where you are? So, it’s about locating that personal experience in a place, but looking at it as an external experience. Something like the Shirley Flynn murder; those things happen everywhere, but it’s reflecting on what’s personal in our space and then looking at it in a bigger way. While Perth and indeed Australian culture or identity still often seems to be paired with self-effacement, Caleb says “I don’t think we should be ashamed of being Australian and writing about Australian events,” but it’s hard to shake that.
Caleb – There is a cultural cringe element when talking about Perth-based things, but the internet makes every single story applicable now. When you have people like Maximum Rock n’ Roll or Unbelievably Bad write about Shirley Flynn for instance, we just sent a page of what they needed to know about her and they had the story immediately. Twenty years ago, we probably wouldn’t be as relatable but using the internet, you can access our stories.
Heather – I think it’s about documentation as well. It’s not just up to historians and journalists to document what happens in a place. It’s up to artists too.
Given that Nerve Quakes have such strong connections to Perth in their songwriting, where would you like to play most of all?
Caleb – As pretentious as it sounds, I’d say (Perth) Concert Hall. I haven’t played there since I was 17 and I’d like to go back again with a full setup behind us… that’d be great. I played there in 1991 and I’ll never forget how awesome it sounded. If that opportunity ever came up, I would certainly do that.
Heather – I danced some very bad ballet at the Concert Hall when I was like, five. That’s my experience of the Concert Hall. Someone was talking up Freo Prison… I don’t know what’s going on with that, but I’ve heard rumours and I’m intrigued. That’s an intriguing space. Have you ever done the night tour there? Tension is a good way to describe it. And it smells! You can still smell the shit in the walls, literally. It stinks. They had such terrible conditions, you can’t even believe that it was still open in the 80s. I can’t believe that.
Caleb – I change my answer, let’s just go with Freo Prison. We wondered for a while about RTRFM’s live broadcast and how really, their next set could be listened to anywhere, even the old Fremantle Prison. Freo Prison would be quite appropriate because Eric Edgar Cooke [the last man in WA to be given the death penalty in 1964] was hung there and Heather’s grandfather was the chaplain that spoke to him before he died.
Heather – Yeah, he spent the last few hours with him and was at his burial because they don’t invite the family. The family weren’t notified, so he was the one who gave him his last rites. He’d known him from when he was a kid, so it was very intense. That experience changed my grandfather. He went on to advocate for prisoners’ rights because obviously, it had really affected him. He was the one that had to go tell his widow that he’d been hung and it was all over. So, there’s a family connection to that place. That story, just like the Shirley Flynn story, is something that has affected the culture in Perth in a big way. It’s fascinating how it’s changed the way people think and feel about this city.
Caleb – The city went from naive to grown up overnight. Before, everyone left their houses and cars unlocked but after Eric Edgar Cook, everyone got scared that these things they would’ve heard about in Hollywood movies were happening in their neighbourhood.
[At this point of the phone interview Heather points out “we have a two-month-old here by the way”, alluding to the gurgling noises and little shrieks of laugher I’d been hearing intermittently for the last fifteen minutes….]
Caleb – Yeah, neither of us are making those noises…
Heather – I was about 4 or 5 months pregnant with him when we recorded the album. When we were in the studio – we um – “studio”…I guess we could call it a studio? It was in our granny flat, which was awesome – I was set up right next to the drums and I kept on saying to Oli, “if this baby turns out to be a drummer, it’s all your fault.”
A band making an album while half of them are busy making room for a baby in their lives at the same time is not something attempted often, what helped through that time?
Heather – I got a lot of help. I think that makes a big difference. The band was supportive.
Caleb – Almost familial in a way…
Heather – Yeah, he’s the band baby. We had a few complications and things and for a lot of bands, it could’ve been a very different story. People could’ve been a lot less patient perhaps?
Caleb – It could’ve been over.
Heather – It could’ve been finished being other people, you know? But they were very patient and almost gave me maternity leave for a few months there, which was amazing. Kyle filled in for me, who’s a legend from Territory. It was a lot of help and a lot of patience from people. Also, our families have been really helpful because of course, every time we rehearse or play, we have to find someone to look after him. Having that kind of help… you can’t rate it, because without it, what could you do? When we were recording the album, it was just an exciting thing to do and we were so determined to get it done. And Caleb’s a champion so really, what can I say. He’s been a really supportive partner and all the planets lined up. I don’t imagine it’s something that lots of people do.
Caleb – The support of Holly, Katie and Charlotte was just amazing to adjust and look at other options. To play shows or to not play shows, or to wait for me to build the studio at home so we can just go straight in with the band’s gear already set up. I think their patience and understanding has allowed us to be a family and still create music and for Kai, I think it’s an awesome environment to grow up in. He has a supportive family that make music and for him – music’s going to be like breathing.
Heather – We have been driving to gigs together though on occasion going, “Who does this? Who the fuck does this?” We’ve just got home from work, we’ve fed the baby, we’ve got changed, we’ve loaded our gear, we’re driving to some show and we’ve got to unload and we’re like, “who the fuck does this? This is insane”.
Caleb – When you have people to look after Kai and they want to do it, which is lovely and we get the three or four hours to actually go and play a show, the five minutes before we go on is still one of the best things ever for me. To play live and to play live with these four people. It’s still incredible.