Photo: Maclay Heriot

Dune Rats Talk ‘Too Tough Terry’, Their Weird AF 2020 & Why They Got Into The Music-Making Business In The First Place

After starting the year out in hot form by dropping their second ARIA chart-topping album Hurry Up And Wait and smashing out a tour in support, Dune Rats look set to be THE band of 2020. Then, just as the tour was wrapping up, COVID-19 hit and everyone’s favourite slacker-punks Dune Rats found themselves feeling a bit like the rat in a wheel on the album’s artwork. All hyped up and ready to go, but not really getting anywhere.

Now with COVID-19 restrictions slowly lifting (depending on where you live) and shows starting to return, Dune Rats are gearing up to give Hurry Up And Wait the victory lap it deserves, starting with the musically diverse This That festival in February. With lighthearted new single ‘Too Tough Terry’ copping a flogging on triple j and Hurry Up And Wait still kicking goals, we caught up with drummer/songwriter BC Michaels to have a chat about This That Festival, ‘Too Tough Terry’, the album, what it’s like having two number one album’s in your 20s and Dune Rats’ weird AF 2020.

MF: Hey BC how’s life?

BC: Absent from touring this past year! Other than that, not bad mate, how are you going?

MF: Well I live in Melbourne, so I’ve barely left my house in about 9 months but I have a gig on Friday, which is dope, so we’re slowly getting back to normalcy! 

BC: Oh man, that’ll be sick, I’m jealous!

MF: Well I’m jealous too man because Dune Rats have just been announced for This That Festival! Are you stoked to get back on the festival stages? 

BC: I’m excited! I just want to play, so I hope that it goes ahead! I’m feeling pretty optimistic about it. I do have to go and relearn all the songs though because we haven’t played in about a year or it’ll have been just on a year at that point.

MF: The last time you were able to play shows was following the release of the rather appropriately titled  ‘Hurry Up and Wait’ at the start of the year.  Did you have any idea the impact that COVID-19 was going to have on your 2020 at that point?

BC: We were the last band to tour in support of an album pretty much, so we were really lucky in that way. We did five shows in the last two weeks before they brought in the lockdowns and the reduced caps. Three of those shows had people crammed into these venues, jumping and sweating all over each other, while the news is just full of these reports about COVID-19 and we’re kind of all just hoping no one at the shows has it. So that part of it was all a little bit spooky. The day after the last show, which was the Sunday of a public holiday, they shut down all of the gigs, so that was in March and we haven’t played since.

MF: That’s pretty wild, a bit fortuitous in terms of timing, coz you got those show done, safely, but still I’d imagine it probably ruined the rest of your plans for the year?

BC: Yes. On one hand, we were lucky because we got to play the shows and we didn’t have to go through the process of constantly rescheduling tours and pushing releases back, but on the other, it has still totally sucked. We came out of it looking pretty lucky in comparison to other bands, especially if you consider someone like Violent Soho who had just put out a record and were set to go on tour in support of it and still haven’t been able to do so. We feel so bad for bands like that.

MF: If 2020 had an epitaph it would just say ‘it fucken sucked’.

BC: There’s nothing else that needs to be said really. That sums it up.

MF: On the bright side, you have a new single and video clip in the form of ‘Too Tough Terry’ out right now. What can you tell me about the release of ‘Too Tough Terry’ was this a song you recorded in the pandemic remotely or was it one you had ready to go from the album sessions?

BC: We had it sitting ready to go, we recorded it with the last album. It was never going to be a B-side because we thought it was too good of a song, but it also didn’t quite fit on the album. We’ve been working on a lot of new music this year and it doesn’t look like it’ll fit in with that either. So it would have been a weird pimple on the end of the album if we had put it on either of them, so we had a really good video for it and decided to just release it. It’s been really cool because it has breathed a lot of excitement into the track for us, seeing it go out and we can’t wait to play it.

MF: That’s rad, tell me a little bit about this fictional friend of yours ‘Too Tough Terry’. What’s his vibe? Where does he come from? What’s his origin story?

BC: We live in different cities now, so to write music we have to meet up at a studio space. So we’d all got together at a studio here in Brisbane and we were trying really hard to write all of these other songs and we decided to have a bit of a break from trying to write and just fuck around with this song as a joke. It just ended up making the day more fun, we’d just be trying to crack each other up constantly. The song probably took 30 mins to write. It was the opposite of all of these other songs we’d spent hours on. That seems to be a bit of a trend in Dune Rats, the songs where we stop trying so hard and just have fun and let our instincts guide us tend to turn out to be the ones that come out the best and people connect with. As long as we’re having fun and we enjoy it, then it is probably a good Dune Rats song.

MF: Very true, you can hear it on your records as well man, that excitement and joy really cut through. Hurry Up and Wait had been the first record of yours to properly connect overseas.

What type of impact has this COVID-19 era had on your overseas touring plans?

BC: We’d had overseas releases before, but we’d never really had a label properly push our records and on this one we finally did. We were about to go on tour with Millencolin in the USA and then do some festivals like Punk Rock Bowling and head out on tour with The Flatliners and then we were meant to play Reading and Leeds. So we really excited for all of that.

We’ve toured the US and the UK and Europe like 6 times off of our own backs, just playing with whoever would have us on and it was fun as, but we didn’t really get anywhere with it. We’d done some alright stuff like a tour with FIDLAR in the USA and Subways in the UK, but there was never much of a push or much support around it at the same time. I hate to be that guy that says “oh we were about to take off” or something, because what does that even mean? But there was some exciting stuff coming up that I would have loved to have experienced, just to live it. I would have LOVED to have played with Millencolin and then do the Reeds and Leading, but it is what it is and the minute we’re able to, we’re going to head back overseas and tour in whatever way we can.

We love traveling, we love playing pretty much anywhere to anyone who is willing to come and watch. We never started the band to play to the number of people we do now. Our goals were basically to make $150 a show so we had enough to add to our Centrelink to make a living at the start. So if it turns out that after all of this is over, the fanbase isn’t there anymore, well that’s not going to stop us from continuing.

MF: That’s a really refreshing and healthy attitude you have, especially in 2020. If you’re treating everything good in your life as the bonus and the exception that they are, then when it is taken away, it’s not as big of a bummer. It seems to me as if you never let yourselves become entitled?

BC: That’s it isn’t it. You hear of so many bands who have made it big, who break-up the first sign of a drop-off or decline in their popularity or the money they’re making. To us, if that’s the reason why you’re doing it in the first place, to be famous or to make a certain amount of money, then you probably should break up, because you don’t mean it anymore. A lot of bands lose sight of why they started in the first place, they lose touch with the joy of the process and it becomes an ego race.

MF: I don’t think Dune Rats are at any risk of falling into that trap, personally. One thing I’m a big fan of is the way that your merchandise is perfectly suited to the band’s style and energy. A perfect example is a recent line for ‘Too Tough Terry’ which is pretty much all ‘must have’ for fans. How much thought goes into creating a total package of art and merch for each release?

BC: We tend to make the music first, then we try to establish the underlying themes of the record, once we’ve figured that out, Lee, the artist who does all of our art, starts working on something that ties in with those themes. For example, with Hurry Up and Wait, he drew a little rat running in a wheel, so even though he’s running super fast, he never really gets anywhere, which we thought was perfect. Lee has done the artwork for our last few releases and now we’re pretty comfortable with letting him do what inspires him and his work suits what we do so well, and we trust his vision so much that he now feels like an additional member of the band. Which is really. cool.

With ‘Too Tough Terry’, Reid McManus – the uni student who made the clip for his final grading at University through a partnership our label has with his uni – he came up with the whole video concept himself. He spent six months on it, and what he created has really given the song and the character a sense of life that it didn’t have as a song alone. Since then we’ve started collaborating on an extended series.

MF: Those sounds like really good partnerships man, very refreshing and inspiring to hear. Does it still spin you out when you see people on the street wearing Dune Rats merch?

BC: It does, a bit of a funny story on that. My Dad lives near me and he was walking out of the front of his house the other day when a kid asked him if he was the Dad of one of the guys in Dune Rats. He said yes, and the kid said “oh, local legend”, and he’s still not sure if he was calling him a local legend or me, but he’s taking it to mean him.

MF: 100% he’s a local legend, I mean, even if it was about you, it’s about him, after all.

BC: True! He’s been in our video clips and things too, like just taking a shit for example in one, which ended up causing a pretty funny moment at the ARIAs a few years ago because the little clip they showed during the entries package was the part where he’s just taking a shit. I’d taken my parents with me and so throughout the auditorium, every 30 secs or so there’s just this giant video of my Dad taking a shit. To answer the question though, yeah it does spin me out still, same goes for people getting Dune Rats tattoos of our logo or lyrics, which honestly probably isn’t the best idea. Hopefully not too many of them find themselves thinking “of fuck this tattoo” and covering them up.

MF: I wonder how many Terry’s now have ‘Too Tough Terry” tattoos? 

BC: Ahhh….hopefully none, haha.

MF: I am slightly curious, what’s it feel like having a number one album? I mean you’ve got two! 

BC: I was joking the other day that because I’m the youngest guy in the band and I had two number one albums in my 20s, I’m like the prodigy of the group. The child star. Now I’m about to hit my 30s, it’s nice to really hang it on the guys about that.

MF: Hahahahaha, you’re the resident Daniel Johns of Dune Rats!

BC: When we got the first one, it was cheeky. Not ever did we think that would be even in the realm of possibilities. It’s cool at the time when you get the trophy and you’re drinking champagne, even though it tastes like shit. It does feel awesome for a couple of weeks during that build-up, but in the end, it doesn’t really define who you are or change things up too much.

My two trophies are sitting on the windowsill of my toilet next to my little athletics trophies! But yes, it’s fucking awesome and that fact that people ever got behind our music to the point that that could happen, is so awesome. I’m super stoked on and appreciative of that. It’ll be fun to tell my kids, or my brother’s kids that back in the day we had two number one albums twenty years ago.

MF: Let’s talk a bit about This That. If you had to make a selection out of every artist who is playing This That, who would you say is the IRL ‘Too Tough Terry’?

BC: I was going to say James from Violent Soho, but they’re not on it.

MF: He can be ‘Too Tough Terry’ for all of Australia, but what about for This That? Is it going to be one of The Chats?

BC: Pretty much, or actually, probably me, I’ll be it!

MF: I’m sure people will be pretty hyped to see you play on what is a pretty varied lineup. If you had to do a ‘Like a Version’ of any of the bands on the line-up, what would you do?

BC: Probably Confidence Man ‘Don’t You Know I’m In A Band’?

MF: Hahahaha YES! That’s perfect, hey triple j overlords make this happen! Anyhow man, thanks for taking the time to chat, I’ll let you get back to your beer plans. Good luck with the festival and I can’t wait to see you next time you make it to Melbourne!

BC: No worries, thanks for the chat and congrats on being out of lockdown!

This That Festival is set to take place in Queensland’s Sandstone Point and in Newcastle in February 2021. Head here for details.

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