Since releasing their debut album Daughter Of Sunshine in 2010, Melbourne’s Rat vs Possum have been slowly but surely creeping their way further and further into the popular consciousness. Their music, and ever evolving exploration of pop influences and experimental practices, is written completely democratically, with all members contributing ideas and building off each other.
With no set frontman, indeed no set instruments, the whole band switching gear around like it’s a game of pass the parcel, their album not even having any specific instrument credits, the term collective has been thrown around a lot in reference to them. More interested in letting their sound find its own form than squeezing it into a radio-friendly box, and connecting with their fans mainly through social networking as well as being very involved in the Melbourne music community, Rat vs Possum represent a breed of band to whom success comes second to satisfaction. Currently preparing to head into the studio to record their follow-up to Daughter Of Sunshine with a show at Miss Libertine for the I OH YOU Odd Future afterparty, we caught up with Matt Kulesza from the band for a quick chat.
Music Feeds: It’s been a big year or so for you guys; how does the band where it’s at now compare to back before Daughter Of Sunshine was released? Would you say you guys are still playing around with your style and sound?
Matt Kulesza: We’re constantly playing around with our sound, I really don’t know that we’ve even found it yet to be honest, maybe we never will, I’d be happy with that. We’ve definitely left behind that whole “tribal” sound that has just absolutely been done to death.
MF: Fair enough, is that part of the reason why you brought in Adrain (Tregonning) as a sixth member? How has having him on board affected the band?
MK: We mainly wanted to stop playing with loops and play more as a “live band.” We’re big fans of composition and a lot of the recorded songs had a lot going on in them, so an extra pair of hands was always an attractive idea. Adrian’s just ridiculously awesome, has impeccable taste and knowledge of lots of great music, rad ideas and is now a huge part of the band. We’ve got a new song that he sings lead vocals on, he’s a soulful chimp.
MF: Awesome, so he’s really slipped right into the band and the live show. The live show itself is quite intricate; how did you guys develop it? Was it a case of slow refinement or instant epiphany?
MK: It’s been a constant evolution of trial and error and experimenting with different ideas, instruments and set ups as well as massive amounts of weekly practice. None of us were particularly good at our chosen instruments when we started either, so we’ve all gotten more confident not only playing as a group, but also growing together with our respective instruments at a similar level.
MF: Cool! Would you say you work the same way in the studio?
MK: We’ve only worked in the studio once as a group, and it was before our songs, or even the band, were fully developed, so there was a lot of experimentation with the composition and layering of parts in the songs. Most of the tracks on the album have between 50-100 tracks on them, mainly because the songs were half written, so we tried out a lot of stuff while recording, coming up with parts, new parts, etc, etc… It wasn’t exactly a focused recording session and went on for way too long I think… A lot of the vibe is missing in some of the tracks listening back to it now. Our next recording will definitely be a lot more like the live version of the band today, i.e. the developed and more confident band I think we are now.
MF: Can you tell me a bit about the live set up? Was it a case of you coming up with a different way to set up to fit ideas you’d already had or did you play around with the set up first, with new ideas following on from that?
MK: A bit of both. When we practice we pretty much set up all our gear and just see what happens. We probably should give ourselves a few more restrictions because we cart way too much gear around with us, but it’s just really fun to play different instruments and have that amount of freedom to try different things. For our shows at the moment, I play guitar, bass, keyboard, sing and different percussive stuff including a big Brazillian drum at any given point in a 40 minute set.
MF: You guys are signed to Sensory Projects and have toured and worked with some great local acts. Do you find yourself often being inspired by other local acts and vice versa?
MK: For sure, they’re all our friends (and in some cases actual family members), Love Connection, Pets With Pets, Faux Pas, Children Of The Wave, Aa, etc… I love watching what everyone’s doing and watching our friends’ bands develop and grow over the years is cool. Touring with Aa recently was an actual dream come true. Those guys were one of our biggest inspirations when we started and one of my favourite bands of the last 10 years. It was a real shame there weren’t more people at the shows to see them. Hopefully they’ll be back soon though. Everyone should see them. Really.
MF: Yeah definitely, I saw them at the Melbourne show you guys didn’t play at and they kicked ass. It seems to me to be endemic of how difficult it can be to promote challenging music here in Australia. It seems to me as though locally we’re starting to produce some very exciting and interesting bands, band’s who are on the edge of what’s happening internationally and producing world class material but are still battling for attention in a market too small or too uninterested in what’s happening to support all the great artists starting to emerge. As an upcoming band who’ve been experiencing success, how do you feel about the future of the Australian music industry and your place in it? Do you have a long term strategy on how you plan to pursue your career or do you prefer to focus on the music and try and ignore the industry shit?
MK: You’re so true on saying that “…this country is producing some very exciting bands…on the edge of what’s happening internationally and producing world class material but are still battling attention in a market too small or too uninterested in what’s happening locally,” I’ve got so many sobering theories on the topic… I think it’s got to be mainly due to Australia just having a really small population where music and arts unfortunately isn’t that big of an emphasis for our country’s broader, mainstream culture and it’s just not worth the risk for the (major) Australian music industry – which seems to be falling on its arse anyway – to want get behind anything that’s not going to appeal to the masses and make them mega bucks. It’s business, baby! That’s totally cool too. Thankfully, we’ve got the internet and the shit storm that it’s created for the global music industry is funny as! There will always be great music being made by really talented people all around the world, and thanks to the internet, everyone will always be able to access literally more incredible music than you’ll ever be able to hear in one lifetime and if the artists are smart they’ll be able to make money out of their art via the internet and touring, major labels just won’t be able to make as much money from flogging crappy, lowest common denominator, prepackaged crap, and that’s a great thing!
I suppose the elephant in this rant is Australia’s “youth network,” something rarely discussed on this level because it’s kind of a touchy subject… ah fuck it, you know it, I know it, they’re called triple j. We all love to hate them and love them as soon as they’re on our side. Good on ‘em! Don’t get me wrong, triple j is a power house of support for Australian music, who surely know their market audience and do great things for bands, but it really frightens me – from an artistic point of view – when people very seriously ask me “is there a triple j-friendly song on the album?” and “you need to make sure you’ve got some songs that triple j will play.” The even scarier thing is that it’s so true!
If you want to get to that “next level” of playing music in this country (and I do) and reach a broader audience, which then leads to mainstream festivals and all of those holy grails, you kind of need to consider this radio station and their programming stylings, I really feel that unless bands and artists stop caring about that side of things and just make music without that restrictive factor in mind, we’re going to be stuck in this vicious cycle of safe music being promoted by safe people to a safe market. Don’t get me wrong, I would love for triple j to play our music and am well aware of the opportunities and audience that it can unlock for bands, but I’m not sure I’m willing to let it become a factor in our music-making like some people I know. I guess the goal is to make great music that you love with absolutely no restrictions and without pandering to outside forces, but still music that the good folks at triple j deem suitable and appropriate to their audience? Not as easy as it sounds!
As far as “our place in the industry” goes, we’re still self-managed and self-booked (potential managers out there can email us at email@example.com), so I guess we don’t really feel that big a part of it? Certainly we feel very much a part of the independent music community in Melbourne, and have a lot of friends in bands / music communities interstate, but without that “industry” and financial support it can offer, we heavily rely on the internet – sites like BandCamp and Facebook (bummer about Myspace, dudes…) to communicate with our “fanbase,” promote shows, and share our music, as well as all the local radio stations around the country who have been really supportive and enthusiastic up until this point.
In regards to a long-term strategy, I have no idea. Call it a cliché, but as long as I’m making music with my friends and we’re all enjoying it and able to play it to people who also enjoy it then I’m really, really happy. I have no expectations of making huge amounts of money from this “industry” with the attitude, ethics and principals I have towards creating music and art. The romantic ideas I had as a teenager of cleaning up at the ARIAs, being interviewed by Rove and headlining the Big Day Out are well washed away at this stage in my life! (Although I’m still secretly crossing my fingers) NO I’M NOT!!!!! (yes I am).
MF: (Laughs) Yeah it is a bit of a dilemma, for a lot of bands I think. Anyway it’s been a while since Daughter Of Sunshine dropped, have you started any work on material for the next one?
MK: We’ve had a few different versions of our next album written for the last year, but have been pretty prolific in our song writing of late so have written a bunch of new songs in the last two months that have definitely over-shadowed our earlier efforts, which we’ve since scrapped. We start recording in three weeks and I can’t wait. This will be us as a band, as apposed to us not knowing what the fuck we’re doing (as was Daughter Of Sunshine).
MF: Cool, how does the songwriting process work in the band then? Is there a main songwriter who brings ideas to the rest of the band or is more democratic?
MK: 100% democratic. Songs generally start from a riff, beat or more recently a bass line that we all work from, we discuss, debate, sometimes argue about structure, parts, lengths, etc, etc. We have no rules in who sings or who plays what instrument. I don’t know how or why you’d do things any other way really.
MF: Has it always been that way or has that process taken shape over time? If so are you still playing around with it now?
MK: When we started I wrote most of the songs, or at least was the “bring an idea to the table” guy that people would then work with. But then Kieran and Daphne started bringing really sweet ideas to the table too, and I’m not about to be all “no! this is my band!” or some ridiculous shit like that, and now that Adrian and Andrew are in the band and contributing ideas too we’re all 100% open to every idea that comes to anyone’s mind at any point.
MF: Your music strikes me as being very modern, yet familiar at the same time, was that something you set out to do?
MK: I guess… But not really. As much as I love devouring the history of music, I feel really strongly about making music that’s forward-thinking. Being aware and genuinely interested in what’s going on in modern music and being really interested in the evolution of contemporary music of all genres helps. It’s not something that’s really done on purpose, it’s maybe just a little bit second nature? If you’r reading this in five years time I hope our music still sounds okay.
MF: There is a strong pop element in what you do, but at the same time the way you approach it is quite experimental. Upholding that type of mix really requires you to undertake a careful balancing act between being too involved or technical, or too simplistic or cliched. Would you agree? Do you find that you have to go over the songs a lot to make sure they’re balanced?
MK: We’re definitely not technical players, so that doesn’t really factor into our equation, but as for checking ourselves on being clichéd, definitely, whether it’s predictable melodies, structure and sounds, or corny lyrics, or something that sounds too much like another band, it’s something we’re aware of. Basically I kind of think there’s an element of “pop” in just about anything that’s remotely melodic or has a beat.
MF: What’s next for you guys; what should we be looking out for?
MK: We’re not doing any shows for a few months while we record and get something new out because it’s getting a bit embarrassing to have “DOS” be the only thing that we’ve got to our name. But in the meantime we’re playing two shows, the first is this Friday 3rd June at Miss Libertine for an I OH YOU night for the Odd Future After Party also with our buddies and Sensory partners Pets With Pets for their album launch at the Tote on Saturday 18th June.
Rat vs Possum will be playing at Miss Libertine this Friday June 3rd as well as at The Tote on Saturday June 18th with Pets With Pets.