The Drones combusted and forth sprang Tropical Fuck Storm. A new and iconoclastic outfit born from the blazing chaos. Well, not exactly true, guitarist Erica Dunn corrects. Yes, Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin have thrown themselves headlong into a new project. But the way she sees it The Drones are just taking a break.
TFS is possessed by a different alchemy. It’s a combination of the four distinct personalities, each responsible for fuelling the visceral sounds of Palm Springs, High Tension and of course The Drones. But whatever the differences between groups, this venture operates along its own internal logic. As Erica puts it “four insane brains cooking away”. While this musical personality may have only recently been negotiated, it’s one tapping into a rare creative charge.
Debut long-player A Laughing Death In Meatspace arrives grim, dissonant and damaged – if not verging on the outright apocalyptic. These four minds set the festering truths of the mundane to dark and dissonant sonics. Laughing’s narrative begins with a ram raid in Sunshine and ends behind prison walls. They’ve also covered Stayin’ Alive.
So, the music is powerful, but how did it all come about? Where is it all heading and why can’t we let that Bee Gees out of our heads? Fear not. Dunn is here to explain.
MF: Mod Con and TFS seem to be firing off with full force right now! How are you feeling?
Erica Dunn: I’m feeling good! I think that the energy that’s coming from being busy is making me feel, ah, pretty charged. I’m sure it’ll fall a heap afterwards, but I feel pretty good right now.
MF: It feels like The Drones ended somewhat abruptly following Feeling Kinda Free. How did TFS come about? Was it something you guys were thinking about for a while?
ED: Well speaking on behalf of Gaz [Gareth Liddaird] and me, I’m pretty sure The Drones haven’t ended. You know I’m pretty sure that given the right circumstances they’ll be playing again. There’s no animosity there.
There were no circumstances that were bad that caused the band to break up. I just think that, for the time being, the people involved are very busy in other sorts of things going on in their various lives. Gareth has said they were just at a point where they thought it was maybe a chance for him, taking advantage of a period of busyness for everyone else, to go ahead and try something new. They decided they just wanted to roll the dice, try out something different. Gaz had a bunch of songs sort of cooking and realised they weren’t really Drones songs. So I basically got a call saying, “Hey, you wanna come play guitar? Just have a jam…and also we’ll go on tour in The States in a month or two!”
We were lucky enough to get to get jamming, get energised and get a few things going that were encouraging. Then we went on tour in The States. We had a run of shows that really enabled us to cut our teeth. It’s just grown into a great project. I think that all of us are having a hell of a lot of fun with it and therein lies the endurance test. If you’re enjoying it and it’s exciting it’s going to keep going.
MF: Ahead of the album you’ve been dropping a few singles [to be collected on debut record A Laughing Death In Meatspace] but also some B-sides as well. The most recent of which is a cover of ‘Staying Alive’ with you on vocals. It has some great gender inversion going on at the start! Can you tell me a little about the choice in song?
ED: For sure! It’s a bit tongue in cheek. We set ourselves a task of recording four 7-inches which was another really great mechanism to get the band rolling. Doing covers is a great way for a new band to find out what role everyone’s playing and how we jam together. A fun way of getting up to speed as a live act. So we thought it’d be a fun thing to chuck on a cover as the B-side for each single and we thought of the idea of choosing Australian songwriters. Those that we loved or were good for us to work up our live performance through. I think ‘Stayin’ Alive’ was the last one, the last in the set.
It was a tricky one to choose, we’d already covered two local bands that we love. We covered a Divinyl’s classic. The main impetus for doing ‘Stayin’ Alive’ I think was just – we definitely made the decision while laughing a lot! But then when we jammed it, it was kind of psychotic! It fit in with our love of things that are dark but also kind of funny.
‘Stayin’ Alive’ is obviously a disco jam. But I kind of have a vision of it being like we’re the last band in the world in the last pub playing it while the apocalypse happens outside. You can have a dance but it’s also kind of insane and weird. So it suits us!
MF: Talking apocalyptic tracks some epics like ‘Rubber Bullies’ and ‘You Let My Tyres Down’ on the album proper. These two, in particular, seem like a great meeting point between say Palm Springs and The Drones’ dystopic lyrical bents and High Tension’s caustic edge. I guess it leads to the question of now that you’ve all jammed a little bit how are all these personalities hanging together in the group?
ED: We’re having a ball! I fell like it’s been a pretty insane year. We are being given some amazing opportunities which have given us the chance to, as you’ve described, start learning about each other live. I think that’s the most import thing for a band you know?
It’s all well and good to get things cooking in the studio and be creative. That’s one part of it. But live performance is definitely where you put all your cards on the table. You can’t bullshit that. We’ve been having a ball. Every gig new things happen. It’s been good. We’ve left the recording pretty fresh. Some of our live performances have really informed what’s been put on the record. Particularly in terms of say backing vocals and other stuff that’s really jammed well live.
And yes, Palm Springs and other bands I’ve been involved [in] have definitely informed this project. But this project has the alchemy of the four of us. It’s been a really different thing.
MF: A lot of great art remains marginal and nowhere does that seem truer than in Australian music. TFS is a very defiant individualistic project both in music and message. What’s pushing you as an artist, your biggest motivator?
ED: My biggest motivator? I don’t know. At the moment, I just feel a lot of freedom to be creative. It’s really amazing to work with people like Gareth and Fi [Fiona Kitschin]. Obviously, both are very incredible artists, career artists, in their own right. They’re really inspiring in the fact that they’re ready to flip it all of it on its head and start something new. It’s given a sort of space and freedom to the project that’s made everyone involved really excited about it. Whatever baggage might be with a different project, there’s no sense of being jaded or trying to prove something.
A big motivator is that we’re all really into it! It’s like a new rock band. I don’t know, that’s a weird analogy but there’s only excitement. It’s just like torrents of ideas which I feel like in the creative world can be rare! You’ve just got to keep on when that sort of intensity and excitement is there. To make the most of it.
MF: It definitely sounds like you’ve captured some of that energy on the record. A Laughing Death In Meatspace is arriving soon and there’s also big Australian tour kicking off shortly too. What’s coming next for TFS? I get the impression that you still have a lot of ideas banging about!
ED: Well yeah! Man, there’s four insane brains cooking away! Our band email and group chats just read like the most ridiculous saga. But I guess a giant milestone will be to get this record out and tour it. To have it reach ears that it resonates with.
And I think there’s no sense of it being just the one album. I’m pretty sure that we’re going to spend the winter tapping into more of what we’ve already started. I think the next plan is to write as well as reach out and do more touring internationally. But also, just to play gigs with likeminded bands and build on what we’ve done thus far.
MF: Right on!