After releasing their worldwide, critically acclaimed debut LP, A Laughing Death In Meatspace, Aussie rock supergroup Tropical Fuck Storm are back to do it all again. Featuring members of The Drones, High Tension and Harmony, TFS are on the eve of the release of their new album Braindrops and subsequent European and Australian tours to celebrate. With the tour bus about to leave, MICHAEL HOLLICK caught up with the band’s lead singer and troubadour, Gareth Liddiard to discuss the new album, telepathic Nazis, and selling artwork to Celine Dion.
You’re set to release your sophomore LP, Braindrops. Are you able to compare how you feel about this record compared to how you felt prior to release of your debut, A Laughing Death in Meatspace?
It’s very difficult for me to say having just made the record because I never really know what an album is till a year after its release. I think people, and this is us included, expect each new record to be what the last one was. But as time passes, it turns out it’s not. And then you realise what it is and go, “well that’s kind of interesting isn’t it?”
So you think songs require space and time to move and develop into their own entities?
Yeah, because you kind of judge by the standards of the last one. And by standards, I mean styles, like the techniques used on the album, the kind of song-writing or the production. So you use the last record as a kind of benchmark, but as the record develops, you realise that it’s its own kind of thing.
We’re a year on from Meatspace then, what can you tell me about the experience of how that record developed after its release and your touring?
With any album I kind of go “that’s what it is, I don’t know.” I’m never really sure when I put it out as I’ve been in and making it. With Meatspace, I finished it and thought “is this any good?” That’s what I was thinking. And in the year since then, having played a bunch of the songs, I realise “ah okay,” because I was trying to do something on a certain song but then something else happened and I didn’t notice it. I just felt bad about it. But now I notice what actually happened and say with Soft Power – that’s a good song you know? I listen to that now and go “fuck, that’s really good,” but I didn’t realise at the time. I just used to think, “ah I fucked it up!” (laughs)
Have the dynamics changed in the band since you first started out?
This time round it’s in the pocket. It’s no longer up to me to farm out work and everybody knows what they’re good at in the context of TFS so everyone had a crack (at song writing). Rico sang the words and wrote Eugene, and I got a fair bit of help from Rhys and Fi with the lyrics here and there. Usually I do most of everything, that’s just the way. But we kind of had to make everything in a hurry so did whatever worked.
Does that mean the song creation process has changed for you?
Not really. Generally things come out of my head, and I factor the individuals in the band into the space where my brain has landed. I always remember this great Miles Davis quote “that’s not a saxophone, that’s a drum kit, that’s not a bass, that’s Pete, John and Mike,” you know what I mean? That’s what you should be thinking, where others can fit in, best suited.
Who did the artwork for the new record?
That is Joe Becker. He did the first record too but that was a painting that he had done five years prior and we asked to used it, but for this record it’s a custom job. We got him in and told him about the themes and characters on the record and he banged that (the cover art) up for us. We also told him “no dicks” as there were like eighteen hard dicks on one of the previous albums’ singles but he still did sneak a dick pic into the album cover without telling us.
He sounds like a pretty cool guy.
Oh he’s cool, he does crazy stuff. He was telling me the other day that Celine Dion nearly bought a heap of his stuff. He had a done a series of paintings set in caves. They’re based on these paintings from like six hundred fucking years ago where John the Baptist is in a cave, so he did a run of that. And Celine Dion nearly bought them all, but around the same time Joe painted a picture of a balloon face taking a shit and, oh boy, Celine Dion didn’t like that, so the sale was off. Easy come, easy go I guess.
What inspired first single, Paradise?
I can’t remember which Shakespeare sonnet it was. I thought that was interesting as it was this weird, multi-layered thing and then I read this Lord Tennyson thing too. With that in mind and lofty aspirations I set about writing and it ended up a lot shitter than those people’s works. It’s a dichotomy as it’s someone begging someone to stay but also giving them an ultimatum about leaving and that’s the tension in there and I had to write it really quick. It will probably take me about a year to work out what it means myself.
There is a “fake news” song on the album, Maria 63. What can you tell me about that?
Maria 63 is a really convoluted song vaguely based on Maria Orsi. Well, it’s based on alt-right conspiracy theories about Maria, this apparently immortal telepathic Nazi witch from the 1930s and 40s who gave the fucking plans for flying saucer crafts to Hitler which she had received telepathically from aliens. I thought it was just so hilarious that this is even an idea.
And so the song is utter bullshit. It’s a sort of love song on the surface, and when you dig deeper, and then in between it, the contradictory, weird bullshit, in a sense, is fake news.
What does Gareth Liddiard like to Google?
It does have redeeming features but I always forget them, it’s so easy to forget. It’s such a great resource for anything you need to know. Say music theory, it’s really great to learn about super complicated jazz shit.
What do you think about song meaning sites like Genius? I couldn’t help but notice that the lyrics for your new single, Paradise have already been uploaded and annotated.
Ah yeah, but it’s probably all wrong. I guess sites like Genius are kind of good but it’s kind of a pain in the arse too. Like if I don’t do anything then that shit will stay wrong forever. Nothing more frustrating than seeing some little twerp criticising a lyric that he thinks I wrote but it’s just someone else misquoting me. They’ve misquoted a line in the song, it’s not my line, and someone else is saying “that’s a shit line” and it’s like “no shit, I didn’t write it.” So I don’t know, it’s a weird fucking thing.