Image: Ian Laidlaw

Violent Soho On Doing Things Their Own Way: “We Have Never Been On Trend, So We Don’t Have To Try And Move With It”

It’s fair to say that after 16 years of dishing out bangers tastier than those on offer at a Bunnings sausage sizzle, Violent Soho have more than earned the right to consider themselves a big fucking deal. With sold-out headline runs, number one albums, festival headline slots, enormous streaming numbers and a metric tonne of merch sales in the bag, not to mention a number four placing the Hottest 100 of the decade for ‘Covered in Chrome’, they could be forgiven for resting on their laurels as the 90’s revivalism running rampant in our culture retrospectively positions their life’s work perfectly on-trend.

Fortunately, for fans and the band alike, Violent Soho aren’t wired like that. Violent Soho do what Violent Soho want to do when Violent Soho want to do it. They always have. That’s why they started a 90’s grunge band during the peak MySpace/emo era. That’s why they felt comfortable to take a year off of music, at the peak of their popularity, against all rational financial and industry advice. That’s why they felt secure valuing their health, families and friendships ahead of any type of outside expectation of a traditional album cycle and that’s why they are backing up their ARIA #1 album Waco with the most adventurous, unusual and complete Violent Soho album yet, in the form of the ironically titled Everything is A-Ok.

Due to drop on April 3, in the midst of a global pandemic that will make any type of touring cycle significantly postponed, Everything is A-Ok is Violent Soho’s musical think piece, delivered at a moment in time, that by pure happenstance, means their fanatical fan base should have ample time to process it. In the lead up to the record’s release, guitarist James Tidswell got on the blower while in deep self-isolation mode, for an in-depth chat about Everything is A-Ok and the life and times of Violent Soho.

Music Feeds: Violent Soho are going to be bringing some much-needed joy into peoples lives on April 3 with the release of your fifth full-length, Everything is A-Ok, how are you feeling two weeks out from release?

James Tidswell: Not the way I was expecting to, that’s for sure! It’s pretty weird to be doing interviews, to be completely honest, because I don’t really know what to say, given everything that is going on right now.

After being in a band for 16 years, to keep that passion pure and real, we took a lot of time off to look after our own mental health and look after our families, as well as to reconnect with and reinvest in our music community. That break obviously and honestly was pretty detrimental to the old bank accounts, but we don’t view music like that and we don’t ever want to view music like that, so we worked really, really, really hard to create a record that we’re proud of, one that is genuine and real and that would propel us wholeheartedly and enthusiastically into touring and being a full-time band again.

We were all amped up and ready to announce our album tour, which obviously now we’re not able to do, and then we were off to do a quick run around the world in places like Amsterdam, Los Angeles and London, where we’d sold out a 2000 cap room, and then now that’s all been cancelled. To add to that, I got a call from NSW Health to tell me that I’d been in contact with a couple of people who tested positive for Coronavirus, so now I’m talking to you, while I’m in self-isolation! So to answer how I’m feeling, I guess the answer is I really don’t know, I’m feeling a lot of things! I’m still psyched for the album!

MF: That’s wild, man, what a rollercoaster!

JT: I know. For us, a big part of our band is conveying what those songs are, live. We really communicate and connect well with our crowd, and that connection adds something to the songs, it’s a big part of it for us, a huge part of the magic. We were all really looking forward to being able to play these songs live and were really excited to make those connections. Hopefully, we get the chance to still do that at some stage!

MF: A Violent Soho show really would be a mood lifter for a lot of people, right now, so I think you’ll find that your fans are feeling the same way.

JT: The whole world is experiencing this and feeling this, right now, so I don’t want this to come off like a self-pity party or anything, but it is a lot to take in and process.

MF: It’s pretty unique and wild timing for you, as a band, having this all happen now, and finding yourself in self-isolation as you’re doing an album release campaign, must just really hit home how big this whole situation is. You really are getting hit from multiple angles here and it’s having a detrimental impact on not just your life, or your band’s life, but also the livelihood of your crew, of the bands you work with via Domestic La La, the support acts you were taking on tour, your label team, your publicity team, management team and so on, there are so many lives that revolve around Violent Soho and this must be hitting them all where it hurts as well. The fallout from it is huge.

JT: I LOVE that you said the crew and I LOVE that you said the bands on Domestic La La, ‘cos you’re right, I have a lot on my mind and I’m trying to work out exactly what to do here. It’s not just let’s plan for the future, because today’s worries are enough for today at this point. I don’t know that many people would think of the crew, so it’s cool that you picked up on that, we have double the amount of crew as we do in the band, so it impacts them quite heavily, of course, they have to rearrange their lives completely. Of course, that’s true to an extent for the label and management staff too, and the support bands on the tour, who were all planning on launching stuff off of the back of the arrangement. So hopefully we can have them all back on when the world returns to some version of normalcy.

MF: I will say, it’s a pretty weird time to be releasing an album called Everything is A-Ok, but I do think it perfectly communicates the concept of what the title and the record is. Everything is NOT A-ok, and that’s very much the essence of the message. There’s this false mindset that is put upon us on TV, movies etc that everything is A-ok when it’s clearly not.

JT: The timing of everything is just so odd. For example When we released ‘A-Ok’ the country was on fucking fire and the lyrics to the song, which we’d written and chosen as a single, a long time before even the first fire, included the words, “hold my hand, don’t leave me here, I’m on fire”, then we put up billboards we set in place a year ago that said: “There’s a baby boomer across the street and it won’t stop staring at me” and they go up at the exact time that the “OK Boomer” thing kicks off, and THEN our album called Everything is A-Ok is due to come out at a time when the whole world has been shut down and put into isolation, because of a virus. So the timing has been VERY weird to say the least.

MF: I think you may find that the correlation between what’s going on in the world and the lyrical message, will help people’s responsiveness to the record. I personally feel that Violent Soho’s lyrics have always had more depth to them than some people may give you credit for, but that’s particularly true on this record and I think it’s going to be very obvious when people hear it in the current cultural context!

JT: That’s very kind of you to say because you’re right, the lyrics definitely have always had a layer of depth to them and even a layer of politicism, we’ve just never really pushed that aspect of the band directly, ‘cos we understand that people want to have a good time, and we want to have a good time with them too. If you scratch away at the surface of the band, there’s definitely depth and there always has been, just this time around it might be a little easier to understand.

MF: Have you given any thought to doing some live-streamed performances, once you’re out of isolation? We’ve seen a few bands doing that of late.

JT: We have, but we’re not really sure it’s for us. We’re not a ‘performance’ band in the sense that some other acts are.

MF: Yeah, it’s more four guys on stage, rock the fuck out and an audience loses its shit, type of setup, right?

JT: Exactly, the crowd is a very big part of our live show. We’re very aware of that. That’s why we don’t really have production, we leave it at a banner, us and the crowd because the crowd is more than enough. So we’re not really sure that we can channel that same energy.

MF: Hopefully we can get the full Violent Soho experience soon then. Let’s talk about Violent Soho in a broader context, because you really have achieved so much in the last 16 years. Case in point, I remember playing a show with you, in Brisbane, about 15 years ago or so, and thinking that it was so fucking cool that you were just ripping some ’90s-influenced bangers when that was as far from being on-trend as possible at the time. Now you ARE the trend that everyone else borrows from and follows. That’s pretty gnarly.

JT: It’s a funny thing man because we weren’t doing it in an ironic or nostalgic way, we just preferred it. I’m so glad you got to see that because a lot of people don’t realize that we’ve been banging away doing this for such a long time before anyone really noticed. That’s what’s important about this record, to us, is that it’s a little more fashionable to do that 90’s nostalgic style and so we’re not necessarily trying to participate in that. We could have had a record out way sooner, that would be more like everything else we’ve done, but with this one, we’ve really tried to push ourselves to do something different, while remaining true to ourselves, and continue to stay in our own world, instead of trying to be in everyone else’s. That’s always been one of the best things about it for us, the fact that we have never been on trend, so we don’t have to try and move with it or keep up with it.

MF: That makes complete sense, honestly, the proof is in the pudding, so to speak, I mean take the Hottest 100 of the decade, in which you placed multiple times, across multiple records, proving that, in an Australian context at the very least, those songs have a timeless quality to them, that really connects with people. That has to feel good. How does it feel to have ‘Covered in Chrome’, come in where it did?

JT: It’s pretty surreal, I mean my daughter listens to like Billie Eilish and Amy Shark, and I don’t live in a world where I think that we are or ever could be that popular, truly. I mean all the people that we surround ourselves with are the same people as when we played together all those years ago, so to an extent, to us at least, we still feel like that band.

We were all sitting at a friends BBQ, listening to it, and we’re just huge fans of most of this music. I think when I heard ‘Runaway’ by Kanye West, which was my personal number two, when I heard that come in, I was honestly just like “oh get fucked, if that is this high, then that’s us toasted”. There were a lot of people saying that ‘Covered in Chrome’ has the potential to be number one and stuff, but in my head, it definitely didn’t. I mean we’re not Flume or Arctic Monkeys, so I had just deleted that thought completely from my mind. Then when I heard my favourite song of the decade ‘King Kunta’ come in, I was in a mindset that “oh well, that was fun to think we’d get in”. Once we hit the likes of Lorde, Flume, it was surreal, I mean we are sitting there with our friends from school and all our kids, and then ‘Covered in Chrome’ hit at #4. It was pretty fucking awesome.

MF: What a wholesome way to experience things, I’m getting the warm fuzzies just listening to you describe it.

JT: Thanks man, that’s so nice for you to say. By no means did we expect it, ya know, but it speaks volumes to me of the people that support us, more than the song itself. That’s what stands out about it to me and that’s what I always say as well, the reason why we are the “little band that could” is because of the support that we get from Australia. When you go to our concerts, everyone is in one of our shirts, in line, waiting to buy another one of our shirts.

We feel more like a footy team, than a band, sometimes. People come to barrack for Violent Soho, more so than just to watch a show. That’s why the live-streaming might not be so much for us, because we’re in this unique position where the crowd is at least 60% of the power of what we do. We don’t just have fans, we have supporters, partners in Violent Soho.

MF: That’s such an awesome way to view things, and I absolutely concur with your read on your fanbase, I think it’s also likely to help with the response to Everything is A-Ok as well, because they’ll wait it out, they’ll continue to support you, save up all their energy for when the moment comes for you to play for them again!

JT: Well, we hope so. I think they will too, they’ve always got our back, and we don’t take that for granted.

MF: I hope so as well because the album is awesome. It takes everything that Violent Soho has done up until this point, and reworks and refines it into a complete album that plays back in a way that records in 2020 typically don’t do anymore. So the extra time to process it will make those shows even more special when they do happen.

JT: Oh dude! The way I’m feeling right now, with what we’re living through, what I’m feeling that is so nice of you to say, that really has blown me away a little bit, thank you for saying that. That’s the whole idea man, all of our other songs and our other records have been served up to you like a happy meal. There’s some nutritional value, sure, but it has always been served up fast, track after track, verse-chorus, verse-chorus etc. With this one, we’ve made it for ourselves and focussed on making it truly a band record. We’d like to think that you can hear the growth of the musicianship and the songwriting, never once did we stop and concern ourselves with writing anything specifically as a single.

For example, the first single, ‘Vacation Forever’, the structure to it is just so bizarre, it makes no sense at all, from the opening noise to the end vocal with a riff over and over, and at five minutes, not a typical single at all. We just wanted to make it clear that we went all-in on ourselves with no compromise, and made a record that we can all be proud of.

MF: I’d say that’s a mission accomplished then. Is this a sign of what fans can expect in the future from Violent Soho?

JT: Definitely. We want it to be obvious that we aren’t participating in the ‘machine’ of the music industry, so to speak. We’ll make a record when we want to, how we want to and put it out how and when we want to. I know that bands say that they do that, but we really wanted to show that we have no anxiety about who we are, that we are relaxed, confident in who we are and we’re excited for the future, on our own terms.

‘Everything Is A-OK’ is out this Friday, 3rd April. Pre-order and pre-save here

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