Radio BurgerFuel

Interview: Violent Soho

Posted by Lee Densem

A soundtrack for when shit's not OK.

A bunch of lads who got together in Brisbane have created one of Australia’s iconic rock sounds of the last decade. Violent Soho has just returned with their fifth album 'Everything Is A-OK'. Apparently it's supposed to be ironic, but given the Covid-19-filled world we currently inhabit, it seems pretty bloody bang on.

The last time we spoke with Violent Soho was amongst the vinyl at the 'original' Real Groovy Records site in Auckland in 2015, just before their first-ever NZ show. This time we caught lead singer Luke Boerdam at his home in Brisbane, Australia. Because that's where every musician around the world is hanging out at the moment.


"We’d usually be...getting together for a beer when the record comes out, so we can’t do that which sucks!"

RADIO BURGERFUEL: So are you actually locked down at the moment?

LUKE BOERDAM: Yeah, not as harsh as you guys in New Zealand, but it’s pretty much locked down now. I know friends who have gotten yelled at by the cops a few times now – not on purpose – just for like running down to the shops and the cops drive past and yell at them. So it’s pretty interesting times we live in. Hopefully we can get through it and everyone can start touring again and getting on with our lives as we usually know it, hopefully at the end of the year. Hopefully.

As a musician, that’s probably the biggest thing that everybody has lost at the moment, that ability to perform live in front of fans right?

Yeah, obviously it’s a really odd feeling for us because this is when we should be our busiest. I mean we can still do interviews and still do stuff online, but we’d usually be going around the country and visiting record stores. Or at least getting together for a beer when the record comes out, so we can’t do that which sucks! And the big one, touring. I think it really sucks for bands. As an Aussie band you probably have a few tours per year. I guess it really sucks for the people like our crew and friends that own venues who are doing it tougher in regards that they literally have no way to keep their place open or keep their business going. Because what can you do – there’s no bands touring. I just hope it doesn’t last more than six months or whatever they’re saying, then we can get back to it. So yeah, weird times.

It is, it’s kind of hard to imagine what it will be like coming out of it. What does the other side look like? Nobody really knows at the moment right?

Yeah, I keep imagining it’s like the end of World War II or something where everyone is allowed out into the street again. And then there will be so many bands touring in October/November that there’s shows on every single night. Like this renaissance in people going out to see live music. That would be kind of cool. I think the reality is, I guess it will be slower than that. I think we’ll be very wary of how these things can destroy the world economy, so it’s a scary world.

Did you guys have any plans to tour internationally this year as well?

Yeah, we were meant to be leaving now. We were going to do a short international tour just before we started all our Aussie touring. London, New York, LA and then come back, do Darwin and the whole country. And then Splendour [In The Grass] in the middle of the year and more festivals out the back of that. And it’s literally all wiped. The annoying part is, because no-one can see a very clear end, we can’t even rebook it. So I’m hoping when we get back in we can actually get our tour for this album done before the end of the year – that would be the best case scenario. That would be awesome. This album was recorded middle of last year so we’re just dying to tour it. We’re just ready to go. The thought of waiting another year just kills me. I’d love nothing more than to play these songs live but we’ll get there. We’ll get there!

"it just took time to find a reason to put out a record"

It’s about four years since the last one, since Waco dropped is that right?

Yeah that’s about right. We definitely took our time with this one. The previous two records were closer to each other, they were pretty closely related. Our album Hungry Ghost took us from playing small venues and doing jobs on the side to actually getting out there and doing this full time. From Hungry Ghost we ran straight on to Waco. There was a good six years of work there, we never stopped or looked around and asked what the hell we were doing. We just kept going, throw a show at us and we’ll do it. For ten years we were used to working our butts off, so when we got those opportunities we just jumped at everything.

Off the back of that, we felt a bit deflated, felt tired. So we took our time. There was one year in that gap I literally wrote three songs. So yeah, it just took time to find a reason to put out a record. I went through some stuff personally which wasn’t great, but it was a good seed to find a reason to write music again. And that was a great kick-off to start writing songs for this record. Then we slowly started getting together, and once we could see an album forming shape it got really exciting. So we hit the studio and three years later we stopped.

When you were worn out, was that something that you guys had experienced as a band before? That need to take time off?

Nah, I think we’ve definitely been in a place of feeling deflated and tired before. I’ve been in this band more than half my life and I always remember these kind of moments when we had to take pause. We toured America and toured our butts off in 2009/2010. We lived in Brooklyn, played over 200 shows, toured in a van and we slept in the same motel room every night. Once that was over, once we landed back home we didn’t even talk for a while. It’s just what happens.

It’s hard with music, but we’re also lucky because the core of this band has always been ‘we put our friendships first, we put our families first’. There’s never, ever, ever pressure. We don’t buy into this crap that you better get a record out in that year or you’ll start losing money or you better get it done or your fan base will disappear. It’s just all a load of shit. We’ll just do it on our own terms. When we get to it, we’ll get to it. There’s no formula for this stuff, I don’t think. Yeah, it was a good break and a good pause.

"what the f**k happened to the studio? It’s gone, the whole studio’s gone!"

Speaking of the new album ‘Everything is A-OK’, is it right that the old studio you had recorded a couple of albums in doesn’t exist anymore, so you had to completely move this recording somewhere else?

Yeah, the studio we worked in at home was called The Shed. Appropriately, it was like a shed in an industrial area as a lot of studios are. It kind of just got knocked over one day.

Like, literally knocked over?

Yeah, my friend was the owner and one day he sent me this text message and said ‘look what happened to my studio’ and he lived there. He was leasing it, and got 3 months notice and whatever but we just weren’t keeping in touch. He sent me a photo and there’s just a flat cement foundation for a new building. And I was like ‘what the f**k happened to the studio? It’s gone, the whole studio’s gone!’. Yeah it was pretty funny, sorry, it wasn’t funny, it was shocking.

So we thought let’s go record in a house. We found this studio called The Grove, it was built by the bass player from INXS – Garry Gary Beers. It was kind of lush surrounded by forest and there was a big house there so we could live together. We did it there and it ended up being awesome. We think this record is way more laid back, way more mature for us. There’s some slower songs on there and we’re stoked with it.

That slower, softer sound. Did you go into it with that mindset, or did it just appear through the process?

I feel like 'Hungry Ghost' and 'Waco' were more inspired by heavy bands like The Bronx or Title Fight or Basement. Those newer hardcore bands really pushed a lot of influence into our band. But this time once we started jamming the songs together, we were really happy with how naturally we could kind of emulate bands we were massive fans of. Bands like Built To Spill who we met when we toured America ten years before.

The way we work is I write the songs, then I demo crappy demos with electronic drums and stuff. And then we get together and play them, and really yay or nay whether they are decent. This was the first time that we actually felt like we could do it naturally and it was actually us. When we jammed it out, we were like ‘this is great, we’ve never been able to do this’. Every time we tried to do softer songs like Canada or Slow Down Sonic, it’s always been a bit of tug of war between how heavy do you push it. It just wasn’t a problem this time, we just knew where to take it. I think it comes with being in a band for 17 years, you just naturally grow into that.

Well you’ve all grown up over that time haven’t you…to a certain extent?!

Yeah exactly, definitely. You get that. With age you look back at the first record you’ve done and think…f**k I sound young, I sound juvenile, I sound angry. You know, I love those old records. But I definitely think this new record is obviously way more reflective of where we are now as people.

"it’s the first time I've put a record out and don’t have to explain anything. Just have a look around you. Look at the context that you’re listening to this record in"

Is that reflected in the title, did that come from that?

Yes [sighing]. It’s odd because the whole title came from the song itself. It’s a personal record, but the song itself is probably the least personal on the record. It’s about a humans ability to look above. It kind of feels like there’s a sheet and underneath the sheet is all the anxieties and problems in the world, and we’re very good at pushing it down. You kinda feel like he was just so good at pushing down and looking up as if nothing’s wrong. So just hopelessly hopeful that everything will be OK. And regardless of what the signals are around us, regardless of what facts prove about climate change, about politics. It’s just amazing at how good we are at doing that as a society. That’s really the seed of that song.

But it was interesting because when we came to name the album, the title, everyone kind of felt like we all had been through personal stuff and there’s also a side to that title where it was like we came through the other end of like – catharsis. Making the record was cathartic, not just for me, but for everyone. So it felt eerily the right thing to do. After making the record, that’s how I feel. It’s so funny, because the song is blatantly ironic. It’s odd that it’s coming out while the world’s in isolation because this week I thought I would have to do all these interviews and explain the title of the album. And I think it’s the first time I've put a record out and don’t have to explain anything. Just have a look around you. Look at the context that you’re listening to this record in.

"after ten minutes they were like piss off, we just don’t want you here"

The last three videos you have put out all have you guys playing live in some form or another. Was that intentional?

To be honest I hadn’t thought of it that way. No one made a decision that every song needed to be live or that we had to be in it. We like to play in our videos because we just feel like it gives more energy to that song. Yeah, I didn’t even think about that! Lying On The Floor and Vacation are songs that are hard to…when a song is hard to articulate through a decent video what the song’s about or what we’re trying to evoke, it’s always better, we feel, to just put the band up front. I mean you can see for yourselves.

In the 'Pick It Up Again' video, were there any actual fans when you knocked on the doors, or were people surprised?

It was weird because we knocked on these doors and a lot of people who said ‘no’ already knew we were coming. We didn’t realise there was a Facebook group that this whole community was on. Once we’d showed up on the streets with these camera people and walking around it had gone out on Facebook, and it was frustrating because the surprise was kind of ruined. They were like ‘oh yeah, I knew you were coming’. OK well, do you like music, do you want us to play? They were just like ‘nah, it’s all good’. I thought there was going to be more slammed doors in faces and piss offs. It would have been a weird sight if you didn’t know what was going on and you get these four weirdos coming to your door and one of them is holding on to a guitar.

There’s a behind the scenes video coming soon and you’ll see us going and knocking on all the doors and some of the awkward situations. The weird one was we went to a sixteen-year-old birthday party and we thought ’oh easy, we’ll play in their back yard and this will be a good setting’. It was towards the end of the day and we thought ‘f**k yeah this will be the last one’. It ended up being these kids who were just into computer gaming/LAN gaming and they just wanted us to leave. The Dad wanted us to stay and play, he’s like ‘come in, this will be awesome’. We went to the kids and knocked on the door – essentially after ten minutes they were like ‘piss off, we just don’t want you here’. We were like OK, see you later. It was pretty funny!

And you did have a very cute old couple in their backyard?

We did know them, that’s the cover of the album. That was Ken. He’s lived there all his life, he told me about the history of it, and it all used to be housing commission, how that house was built and everywhere else around it was dirt. He’s been there so long that my parent’s house that I grew up in, that was just dirt. He was there 10 years before my parents' house was even built. His whole house was just such an awesome aesthetic representation of the album - the blue house, the flag and stuff. We lucked out and he ended up being a legend and let us play on his lawn.

I know it was the end of 2015, start of 2016 since you guys were last here in New Zealand. Is there a chance you’ll make it back here once the world is back to normal?

Of course, I think we’ll have an insatiable thirst to get this record out and tour everywhere we possibly can. I guess there’s that feeling now that it can be taken away from you. I mean, what time in our lives have we been in a world where you can have all the money you want, you could sell the rooms out, but you’re not allowed to, you’re not allowed to go tour. I’d love to hit New Zealand in 2021. Maybe attached to a regional tour of Australia and then work in Christchurch, Auckland. I’d love to do a proper New Zealand run, because even when we were there last time we just ducked in for one show, then came back for Laneway. I’d love to hit a proper tour through New Zealand, it would be awesome. I love New Zealand.

Violent Soho's new record 'Everything Is A-OK' is out now via I OH YOU.