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THE BASICS Some Country That We Used To Know

The basics
The Basics

Armed with a new EP, The Lucky Country, The Basics hit Mojos on Sunday, January 4. AUGUSTUS WELBY reports.

The Basics are back with a brand new vengeance. After taking a few years off, in late October the Melbourne three-piece – comprising Kris Schroeder, Tim Heath and Wally de Backer, AKA Gotye – released a new single, The Lucky Country

Lyrically, the song is a blunt assessment of contemporary Australia, which makes it the most outwardly political move of The Basics’ decade-spanning career.

Thanks to an anthemic backbone, The Lucky Country isn’t overbearing, but with lyrics that describe Australia as a place where ‘pockets are deep, but hearts are empty’, it certainly leaves a sting. X-Press caught up with The Basics’ bass player and vocalist Schroeder to find out what prompted this pointed political outbreak.

“I lived for three years in Kenya working with the Red Cross,” he says. “It had just started to come into the warm-up to election season (2013), where all of a sudden the media starts critiquing the current administration. I was looking at the vulnerable people struggling to get by in Africa and then reading this really petty shit that was coming second-hand from Australia and thinking, ‘Fuck, we just come across as such a bunch of spoilt brats’.

“We don’t appreciate what we’ve got,” he continues, paraphrasing the song’s powerful bridge. “Someone drops the ball once or twice and all of a sudden they’re out. That reminded me of that quote from Donald Horne’s book The Lucky Country, that ‘Australia is a lucky country run by second-rate people who share in its luck’.”

The Lucky Country could come as a surprise to long-time supporters of The Basics. The trio has never settled with just one style – past recordings encompass everything from British Invasion pop to atmospheric alt-rock, reggae, funk and country. But they’ve always opted for feel-good over forceful.

“I hadn’t written it as a band song by any means,” Schroeder says. “I wasn’t thinking, ‘I’m going to write this and I’m going to take The Basics in a new direction and it’s going to be political’. I kind of just wrote the song and sent it to Wally and Tim just to say, ‘I’ve written something, finally’, and they were like, ‘Yeah, this is fucking great’. When months later we decided to start playing again, people really responded to it in the live sense and we started looking at recording it.”

The Basics’ engagement with Australian politics didn’t stop at The Lucky Country. To coincide with the single’s release and an EP of the same name, the band announced the formation of The Basics Rock’n’Roll Party. Far from an episode of ineffectual egotism, the party actually contested November’s Victorian election, with actor Jamie McCarney up for the Lower House seat of Northcote and Schroeder and Heath having a crack at the Upper House.

The party’s parliamentary bid was unsuccessful, but it did strike a preference deal with the Sex Party, which is on course to win a place in the Upper House. “It looks like they actually got in,” says Schroeder. “Our votes were crucial to keeping them in the race, or else Family First would’ve won.

“We only got registered at 6pm on the very last day that you can get registered before campaigning starts,” he adds. “We just looked at how we can make the most effective change in the shortest amount of time. I think we did really well in trying to combine the momentum we had with another party of similar-ish values.”

The Labor Party took out said election by a hefty margin, which resembled Tony Abbott’s win over the hapless Labor in last year’s federal election. Within months of winning that poll, Abbott was already being labelled the most unpopular Prime Minister in a quarter of a century. One wonders, then, how he managed to win the election so convincingly. For starters, a pervasive societal apathy, mixed with tall poppy syndrome and media manipulation, might’ve had something to do with it.

“It’s always weird when people argue about the influence that the Murdoch media has at election time,” Schroeder says. “I’ll have people saying, ‘Yes, I read the Herald Sun, but I’m not influenced by his politics’. That’s bullshit. You might not be influenced by a singular message, but all of those papers and messages put together eventually eroded enough of the confidence in the Gillard Government, or Rudd Government, for you to go, ‘Maybe they are going to ruin our economy’.”

Given the Australian public’s swelling distrust and enduring apathy, right now it’s crucial that those in positions to make public broadcasts – such as musicians – stand up and voice their concern. The Lucky Country is a gutsy example of how to do this. However, the song hasn’t made the impact Schroeder hoped it would.

“This single has done okay. It should have done better,” he says. “It should have been one of those moments where the Australian media goes, ‘Yes, here’s an opportunity for us to make a statement’, but everyone’s a little bit chicken. If things like this are going to make a difference, it’s really up to the media to look at itself and go, ‘Whose side are we on? Are we going to get behind these kind of questions about how this country is run?’ It’s up to the media to take a chance with the message and start to engage the Australian public. We can only do so much.”