BYO’Connor is the fabulous name of The Fruity Whites’ debut album, a local supergroup of sorts featuring members of punk outfits Shit Narnia and Mining Tax. With a launch set for tomorrow night Wednesday, December 13 at The Bird, JESS COCKERILL caught up with Alex Griffin to find out how this drawn-out interstate feat has finally come to, err, fruition. Pool Boy and Soda Eaves are in support from 8pm.
As the hot weather in Perth stagnates for another long summer, we inevitably find ourselves sitting in a mate’s backyard, drinking box wine at a beat-up glass table and slapping mosquitos off our arms. It was on a similar evening in late 2013 that elusive folk-pop group The Fruity Whites were conceived. Hugh Manning (Shit Narnia) and Alex Griffin (Mining Tax) realised they’d each written a song about their beloved cask wine, and so Goon Songs, the first Fruity Whites single, was recorded at Alex’s family home in Kenwick.
But four years have passed since then – Hugh’s gone sober and Alex moved to Melbourne. All things considered, it’s a miracle that what started as a joke band dedicated to cheap wine and a distinctly Perth ennui has aged into a rich vintage with a rather belated yet finally complete album, BYO’Connor.
Both you and Hugh are singer-songwriters. You’ve got pretty distinct styles, but they’re somehow complementary. How is a Fruity Whites song put together?
Hugh would have an idea for a lyric or something, and I’d pick up a tune, chords, an arrangement. Then we’d finish the words together. We’re both very different people, with extremely different perceptions of what is good. But I feel like this album actually sits in the middle of that, as much as anything could.
Hugh’s got this very post-emo sincerity, he’s very lyrical, very much about the rhythm and the metered verse. Me, I’m much more imagistic and I want that bit of detail. The song Transit Fines, for example, came out of this dream I had, of the melody with the chorus. I just woke up with it…. [but] the whole narrative came from Hugh, and the sing-song rhythm of the song.
While you and Hugh are permanent fixtures, it’s pretty hard to put a finger on exactly who else is in the band. Who else has featured in this pseudo-jam band so far?
It’s different every time, it depends on who’s around. I’ve sent chord charts to like 15 or 20 people over the last couple of years… In 2014 Alby [Pritchard] started playing drums for us, a few people filled in playing bass, my brother [Brad Griffin] came in, Axel Carrington, Sam Rocky, Mitch [Henderson-Miller] started playing keyboard, then Ella [Vervest] joined in on violin one day and she pretty much rewrote one of our songs for us and made it sound much much better.
That’s what country music is, in one sense – if you know the key, and you know the feeling, then you can play it. Hopefully the melodies are strong enough that people feel like they can join in. It’s such a joy when we’ve played gigs, that people do sing along.
That cacophony of voices is a trademark sound for The Fruities. What’s the motive behind that?
It’s not just one person speaking, it’s a group of people speaking about something collective… if any of these songs just had one voice on it, they wouldn’t belong there. For me, the two models I always had were The Pogues and The Mekons, particularly their record Fear and Whiskey, which no-one sings in tune on. But there’s violin, there’s guitar, there’s scabrous country songs, there’s a real sense of what it is to be in Thatcher-era Manchester in 1985.
It’s the idea of an album not being this individual revelation, but people coming around a core and putting it out. That’s really essential to me, and I’ve never had the opportunity to do that outside this band, so I’m really grateful that this record has happened.
You guys recorded your debut single back in 2013. That’s a really long wait to record an album. What took you so long?
I moved town, because I didn’t want to be in Perth any more, and I wanted to do my career. The album came from me flying back to Perth a few times, twice actually, to do the recordings with Jordan Shakespeare in Hugh’s house… me playing guitar, Alby on drums, Sam Rocky on bass, and Hugh singing along without being recorded. We did that all in the living room, and we did the vocals in the front bedroom. And then after that it was just lots and lots of overdubs, which somehow took 18 months, which I don’t take any responsibility for.
Most of these songs were written before mid-2015. Do you feel like this album is outdated?
This record’s two and a half years out of date. That goes with a few different ideas I have about rock and roll music, and nostalgia. The idea of having a country/folk/pop/punk album written in 2015, coming out in 2017, relates to all these different ideas of the past. It would feel wrong to me to put this music out if it was straight up to the emotional minute.
I don’t think I wanted someone to hear some of those sad songs on this record maybe the month after they were written, because I still didn’t understand what they meant, Hugh didn’t understand what they meant. But now, they’re kinda covered in a film of mutual acceptance and regret and sadness and joy.
Some of these songs deal with pretty dark themes: substance abuse, toxic masculinity, mental health issues. What do you hope people will get out of this album?
The songs are written about and for our friends. Someone who I sent the record to said this sounds like a group of friends who like, got through the worst bits together, and now they’re on the other side of it.
It’s very much about that period between being 15 and 20, I think. Being confused about how to fit into a world where you can’t find a role for yourself… just being like, yeah, we had no idea what we were doing, because we weren’t men in the way that we were told to be men, and we couldn’t figure out a way how to do that.
There’s that Bob Evans album, Suburban Kid, and he’s just singing emotional songs about how much he loves his girlfriend, and I think Hugh and I never related to that. He’s from Albany, I’m from the Armadale/Kenwick area. And it’s very hard to kind of feel welcome or sure of who to be there when I’d get beat up coming home from the train station. So I think for me, it was trying to unpick that. I feel this with anything I ever make, if the work can be like a template for how other people come to understand things about themselves, then that’s the whole point.
This is music about people getting it together, figuring it out, haphazardly. Two steps forward, four steps back, but getting there eventually. I hope it can reach whoever it will be useful to, that’s all I can really hope for.
What’s next for The Fruity Whites?
I’m tempted to say this feels like a full stop on the band. There would have to be something which makes us write songs together again. I know it would be so easy if we sat down to do it, because we’ve got so many ideas that we haven’t really opened up or touched, but if this is it then I’m OK with it. I’m really proud of the album.
Hugh’s become a teetotaller: does that leave you to hold up the goon bag from hereon in?
I’m also goon-free now. The Fruity Whites are goon-free. Actually, I can’t speak on behalf of the other 20 members. I still drink, I just don’t drink goon. Yeah. It’s safer that way.