Dear Chester, I only realised a few days ago that it’s nearly been a year …
Straight up, Nikki Brumen is not what you’d expect from the frontwoman of Pagan, the Melbourne outfit invoking the darkest sides of rock ‘n’ roll with dank sarcasm and jabs at their Italian heritage.
She sounds so sweet, like butter wouldn’t melt. It’s a far cry from the boisterous tones that strip away the flesh on your skin when she sings. She laughs, “It’s really funny, a lot of people say that to me. People say, ‘I can’t imagine it, I don’t get it.’ They have to see it to believe it.”
Pagan are … Well, there’s no good metaphor for what these guys do, just know they’re cleaning up in all areas. All year long Pagan have dominated–in March they released their single Death Before Disco, in April they gathered followers to their own kind of church at their Holy Communion event and in May, they announced the release date for their debut album, Black Wash. People are going crazy for their sound, for their entire mantra. “It is nice to have the hard work pay off,” says Brumen. “When we started Pagan we made a pact that we wanted to do something that would take off, you know? That’s why we really went so full force with the theme, even the merch matches the pagan thing, the look, everything we write is all pagan.”
The extent that Pagan fall on this polytheistic almost goes beyond a gimmick. Calling their event Holy Communion was their way of saying come to church, praise be to Pagan. The rate at which fans have succumbed to this approach has created blurred lines, becoming harder to discern cult from band. “Doing what we do, it really says something,” says Brumen. “To me it’s really important.
“I think so many people in hardcore, metal, punk music, they find that music because they feel like they’re a part of a community but the irony is, so many bands adhere to these rules when it comes to that kind of music, when it’s about being an outcast and going against the grain, being a bit of an anarchist or whatever.
“That’s why it’s important that we do what we do, that we don’t play the rules, we’re like, ‘why the hell shouldn’t we get everybody to wear white to a gig? No one else has done it before.’ I think that’s a pretty punk thing to do and it definitely intrigues people, it draws them in. The cult is definitely working, or at least, I hope!”
Brumen’s sentiments about rules in music and unspoken structure are an interesting point. “Not everyone,” she clarifies, “But I think there are lots of bands that do. A lot of bands in this day and age want to be the next Misfits, or the next Sex Pistols or whoever, and they don’t do what’s true to them.
“If you’re just creating something that’s already been done, there’s no truth in that, and for me, being honest and truthful is the most important thing in music and at the end of the day, the results should be something people can relate to. I’ve always made that my mantra.
Pagan’s event Holy Communion was a testament to the truth they have among themselves and with their fans. Off the back of only two singles, Imitate Me and Death Before Disco, their call for congregation pushed Melbourne’s Northcote Social Club close to capacity, Pagan laying down rules for the evening like the ten commandments. “Holy Communion was our first headline show in Melbourne,” says Brumen, “It was amazing.”
“If you’re just creating something that’s already been done, there’s no truth in that, and for me, being honest and truthful is the most important thing in music.”
“It was weird to see a room of goths in white, it was so cool! It exceeded all of our expectations. We thought because nobody’s done anything like that before, people were really drawn to the idea and wanted to have fun with it and see what it was all about, it was such a great night!”
With such an intense and volatile album to tease at Holy Communion, it was only natural Brumen would have some challenges in delivering throat-ripping songs outside the singles the crowd had already heard. “ Because people don’t know the songs yet, in terms of performance I felt I needed to overcompensate so they would engage, so it was a tiring performance but it was amazing, the longest we’ve ever played as well, the turnout was amazing, people loved the idea.”
There are many intricacies, and many personalities, to Pagan, and those faces are revealed in the debut album Black Wash – in fact it’s much like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation – with so many depths to what they do in terms of the music, the stage, the cult. But, as Brumen says, in order to keep their heads around it all, Pagan remain grounded in truth. “Truth and the end result, she says. “From the start we didn’t know how the album would turn out, all we knew was we wanted to create music we like.
“With the writing process, I had gone through a pretty gnarly breakup so it was weirdly perfect timing and I think that’s where the dark, intense sounds come from, but there are little sprinkles of Italian [heritage] stuff in the songs, I wanted to make it Pagan so some lyrics are religious symbolism…”
Yeah, that’s a point – Italians are largely Catholic, right? “Absolutely! We were always Catholic,” Brumen laughs, “That’s why I hate the church, because I know what it’s like. I’m not religious at all, but Pagan, we really play on that! A pagan theme in the album, something very truthful to how I was feeling at the time, the writing was very therapeutic.
“My favourite albums are ones that tell a story and can help you through a hard time, so I really hope that somebody out there will listen to it, and it helps them through their own struggle.”
PAGAN hit the road this August :
Sat 11 Aug // Crown & Anchor // Adelaide
Sat 18 Aug // Crowbar // Brisbane
Fri 24 Aug // The tote // Melbourne
Sat 25 Aug // Brisbane Hotel // Hobart
Fri 31 Aug // Lansdowne Hotel // Sydney