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TEQUILA MOCKINGBYRD – Josie O’Toole

TequilaMockingbyrdMelbourne trio Tequila Mockingbyrd bring their powerhouse melodic rock n’ roll to WA for two special gigs this weekend: they’re playing The Indi Bar Friday, 29th July with Legs Electric and Dirtwater Bloom; and Bunbury’s Prince Of Wales Hotel Saturday, 30th July with Crash Rat, Shots Fired and Silent Deeds. SHANE PINNEGAR got drummer Josie O’Toole on the phone to get the full story – and that we did, in a blur of enthusiasm and excitement.

To say it’s been a busy year for Josie O’Toole and bandmates Jess Reily and Estelle Artios (bass and drums, respectively) is a massive understatement. Fight And Flight, the bands debut album, has been released to fantastic reviews; the trio played to Australian troops in the Middle East; they released a couple of self-made video clips; tour Australia; locked in a huge tour of Europe with fellow Aussies Massive and Black Aces; and finally committed to move the band there indefinitely.

“It’s been a very hectic few weeks – we’re mid-tour at the moment, so it’s the old, ‘juggle the full-time job while doing three gigs a week, with filming the video clip on our one day off,’ kind of thing!” Josie explains when I ask how things are going.

Tequila Mockingbyrd formed in 2012, releasing their solidly entertaining debut EP, T-Byrds Are Go, in 2014. Fast forward two years and it looks like things got a lot more serious in the past six months.

“Well, you say six or so months,” O’Toole counters, “But it was actually probably about 18 months ago that we all sat down and thought, ‘what do we want from this? Is this a hobby band and are we happy just playing at local pubs every other Saturday or whatever for the rest of our lives?’ We had just got some really good feedback from early gigs. Some people said to us, ‘if you want to take this all the way, if you work hard at it, there’s no reason why you can’t.’

“We had a few people say that to us and by the time the third or fourth person had said it to us, I think we kind of… we have a band ‘parma’ meeting every now and again and we just catch up and have food and talk about shit. It was at one of those, we were like, ‘what DO we want from it?’ I think we all just agreed that we wanted to give it the best shot we possibly could. From that moment onward, our attitude towards it changed a bit and it was a bit less about trying to slot in gigs between people going on holiday, and save to do recordings between people buying other things with their money, to a bit more of a focus on what does the band need to do next, and how do we adjust our lives to make sure that we can do what the band needs to do next – that kind of a thing.”

The result is debut album Fight And Flight, which has received unanimously glowing reviews.

“Yeah, we’ve been absolutely blown away by the response,” she admits. “I haven’t seen a bad review yet – I’m sure one will come, but we are staggered by how much people like it. Half of those songs we’ve been playing for probably two years, so we’re kind of, not sick of them, but we’re like, oh, they’re not that good. We’re just thinking about the next album. We’re like, oh, we can do better than that! It’s very encouraging that people are digging it and enjoying it.”

When it was all done and you listened to it in playback, you must have known you had something pretty damn good.

“Yeah. Ricky Ray is an absolute genius at what he does,” she says, generously. “I could not recommend him enough in terms of how he works with bands. It’s not just about the sound he gets, it’s also about the suggestions he makes that are not things that are going to completely change your song. Just those extra one percenters here and there that take a song from good to that next level. Also the way he talks to people just makes you want to listen to him, and you’re happy to take his feedback on board. He’s just a lovely guy to work with. I loved working with him because he’s a drummer, so it was really handy to be recorded by a drummer and have his little inputs and takes on things.”

The trio first met at an audition for an all-girl covers band. Josie was helping the singer out on drums, even though she wasn’t going to be part of the resulting band, and Estelle and Jess tried out.

Josie – who says the band are all mid-to-late twenties “ish”, but would prefer I write “mid-20’s” – may be from England originally, but that doesn’t mean it was an easy decision to leave friends, jobs and in the case of Jess and Estelle, family, behind to move to the other side of the world.

“Well, it was actually really quite strange, because it was not really something … It turns out it wasn’t really ever on the cards. We always had this thing which was, ‘how long can we keep doing this for,’ because we can’t keep doing what we’re doing at the pace we’re doing forever. We will burn out. We are working full-time jobs and then touring every weekend. Then, every night of the week we’re doing something, whether it’s designing a poster, booking a line-up, whatever it is. God forbid we want to rehearse sometime.

“We would always have this conversation which is, ‘how are we going to do this forever?’ We just always had this attitude [that] things fall into place and work themselves out. One of the questions we always asked was, ‘how are we going to know when it’s time to quit the jobs and take the plunge [to be a full-time musician]?’ Do you have to take that plunge before you’re even at a place where you can afford to? Obviously, being in a band is not a very profitable activity at all.

“So, slowly, things fell into place. We got offered a show over there in November – the first show we got offered was Hard Rock Hell. We got offered that one show and we all were like, ‘yeah, fuck it – let’s do it.’

“So we started a PR campaign over there and we got more love over there in three days than we’ve got in three years over here. I hate to say it, you’ve got to go where the people are digging it. It’s so hard in Australia in terms of touring because, obviously, the distances are just absolutely epic.

“We love Australia and will always. Whatever happens, we’ll be back and we’ll always want to tour here but touring Australia and even breaking even when you’re a band trying to break is absolutely impossible. You have to work. We’re going to Perth this weekend and we’re spending $1,200 just on airfares. To put that in perspective, a ticket, the three of us between us spent $2,100 to go to England. $2,100 for our flights to England versus $1,200 to go to Perth.”

It’s a problem that we in Western Australia are all too aware of.

Fight And Flight – and Tequila Mockingbyrd themselves – embody the spirit of rock and roll in all its raw and raucous glory, head-shaking, taking no prisoners, having a drink, having a laugh. That seems to be missing from a lot of music nowadays.

“Yeah! If you listen to what’s going on Triple J and stuff, it’s not really rock and roll,” agrees Josie. “It’s all much tamer and sometimes I can’t really tell where the line between what’s supposed to be rock and pop is these days. We just play the music we enjoy listening to: we play the way we play. We’re not trying to pander to a trend or try and write music that will impress certain people. We literally just play because we enjoy playing what we play. The fact that other people enjoy it is awesome. Even if they didn’t enjoy it, we’d still play it. We just probably wouldn’t play as many gigs.

“We wouldn’t ever change our style, because we’re pretty honest. We’re very bad liars! So this is what we sound like.”

With such a down-to-earth attitude, it’s no surprise that the girls of Tequila Mockingbyrd are level headed and more sensible than some rockers we could name. Don’t let the Jagerbomb slamming video clips fool you: these are sensible girls with (until recently) real jobs and busy lives.

“To be honest, I’ll let you in on a secret, we are probably the most un-rock and roll band you will ever meet in your life,” Josie whispers conspiratorially. “We’re so rock and roll in some ways – to me, rock and roll is just doing what the fuck you want to do and not giving a shit about what other people might think about it.

“We’re not the band that’s propping up the bar, all three of us, ‘til 6am every night. We’ll have a drink, don’t get me wrong. We’ll have a laugh. We have a great time doing what we do – but we’re definitely not stuck in the ’70s or ’80s or anything, getting up to all sorts all the time. We get up to our mischief, but you know… we filmed a video this weekend of us. I love my Jagerbombs – I’m not going to lie. We filmed the video this weekend and we were driving around the city filming it so we couldn’t get drunk. We were making Jagerbombs out of apple juice and Coca-Cola!

“I’m not afraid to admit that,” Josie says bluntly, “because I’d rather do that than drink-drive. We’re not the rock and roll stereotype, I don’t think, but we are in the way that we just do what we want and if anyone’s got a problem with it, they can go suck a dick.”

Tequila Mockingbyrd are the real thing: catch them on one of their last Australian shows for now. They may not be back for a while.

Originally published at 100% ROCK MAGAZINE.