Perth indie four-piece The Reductors are set to celebrate the release of their debut album Caboose this Saturday, October 21, with a launch at The Odd Fellow in Fremantle, joined by The Community Chest, Big Orange and Hannah Smillie. BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with frontman Luke Nixon to get the story behind the album, complete with bike accidents, Roald Dahl, that album cover and the power of humour as a political message in songwriting.
Caboose has been a long time coming for the Reductors, who formed over five years ago and have so far only been able to treat fans to a series of singles leading up to Trouser Press, the first from the album which was released earlier this year. Caboose sees the band summarise their vision with the depth and imagination that only a full-length can, drawing from retro-influences like the Kinks, The Smiths and The Velvet Underground and turning it into something that is uniquely their own.
The first single from this album Trouser Press which came out earlier this year was the first release from the group since 2013. I know we’re all busy but why so long between drinks?
Ah yes… life happened! Not long after we went into the studio to start recording the album in 2014, Aidan (our lead guitarist) came off his bike and broke his arm. Then I got a nasty bout of laryngitis that put me out of action and, while I was recovering, I wrote some new songs that we also decided to record. By the time we’d done that, engaged in some obsessive tinkering with song arrangements, and finished mixing and mastering, almost three years had gone by! Although the initial delays were frustrating, they taught us to be philosophical about the process, and so we took our time and, we think, ended up with something better than we would have got if everything had gone to plan.
And how did you come together as a group in first place?
It was a process of evolution. In the early days, The Reductors was more of a loose collective, with band members coming and going. We were trying to be like The Brian Jonestown Massacre or The Blue Aeroplanes – I think we had eight members at one stage, most of who were playing guitars of one sort or another – but actually it was all just very loose and chaotic. As fresh faces appeared over the years, the primordial soup coalesced into a more conventional shape, and now we’re a tight line up of four.
I think a lot of us would recognise some of the guys from the Reductors from a number of bands around Perth. Does that make it challenging getting the group together in one place or is it more functional in that sometimes when you want something done you give the task to a busy person?
Currently, the band includes members of Will Stoker and The Embers (Gareth), The Tenderhooks (Aidan) and The Quivers (Ez). My experience is that when you are in a band with people whose company you enjoy and who have similar artistic goals, then you will find a way to make things happen. Inevitably they will have other commitments, and often that includes having other band projects. But so long as there is a genuine desire to be part of something fulfilling and fun, you work it out.
What were you hoping to capture lyrically on this release? It seems like there is a despondency disguising a deeper sense of humour and at times it feels like it’s the other way around…
In essence, the album is about how I think the norms and expectations in our society have really become a belief system that is isolating and damaging. Using humour is a useful method of undermining the credibility and legitimacy of the institutions that support that system because it moves the dialogue outside their control – it is more subversive, and more liberating, to be irreverent about something than to take it seriously.
You can tell you are making some deeper observations about people and society as a whole, but it’s largely expressed through observing some of the mundane moments of human existence. Do your writing influences reach beyond songwriters and into the realm of poetry or literature at all?
I’m a big fan of Dylan Thomas. The way that he examined complex themes using emotional language is uniquely sophisticated and effective. Roald Dahl is another influence. I love his use of humour to explore bleak or macabre scenarios. I also like Martin Amis’ novels for his sly humour and use of character to explore uncomfortable truths. Thematically, I am attracted to the work of Philip K. Dick, who has a wonderful ability to dissect a perceived reality to expose the layers beneath. The reason for adopting kitchen sink realism is to highlight the ordinariness of the struggle of individuals against being maginalised by institutional values. I think the damage done by isolation and rejection is something that, more often than not, happens as a result of persistent struggles with everyday life, rather than some cataclysmic event.
There also seem to be a lot of characters in the songs… Bettina, Marnie, Molly, Johnny and Jimmy just for starters. Are these fictional characters you made up as a poetic device or real people you’ve given an alias for fear of being too transparent?
The characters are fictional, though with aspects of real people in them. Inventing characters enables you to distinguish between the individual and the system that they are trying to negotiate. With a character, you can take your story out of the realm of abstract commentary and talk about their humanity at an intimate level. I think that having the facility to do that makes the audience’s connection with a song more emotional and more powerful.
What came about during the recording process that you weren’t expecting? With such talented musicians you surely gave them a bit of licence to work their magic?
Aidan breaking his arm wasn’t expected! (laughs). Working with talented musicians such as Aidan, Gareth and Ez, and a terrific producer Rob Grant, you want them to explore their own ideas to create that magic. When I listen to the songs now, I am still hearing new things that add to their texture and character. It’s really the sum of all those contributions in their final form that makes you realize how good they all are.
And almost apologetic for having to ask this one but I’m sure I’m not the first one to wonder… but how did the album photo come about? Is it a real photo you took yourselves?
Yes, it’s a photo that we arranged. We had fun doing the shoot and the models all loved the photo! I wanted something that would provide a contrast to the things I explore in the album and I felt that required an image of demonstrable liberation and, to a degree, provocation. I have admired the work of the visual artist Man Ray for a long time, and we worked on capturing in the artwork a flavour of his surreal retro style.
What’s unique about a Reductors live show that people can experience at your launch on October 21?
There’s always a brilliant atmosphere at The Reductors’ shows, and with Gareth’s witty banter, you can guarantee it’ll be unique! And, we are very lucky to have three top local indie bands supporting us at the show in Community Chest, Big Orange and Hannah Smillie (aka The Psychotic Reactions). I would totes pay ten bucks to see that line-up even if we weren’t playing!