PRESS CLUB // Talk Gentrification, D.I.Y. And Touring With The Smith Street Band

If you haven’t heard of Melbourne’s Press Club know this, they aren’t a band taking things in half measure. But even considering this characteristic overkill, 60 gigs in 2017? Must be a typo, right?

No, It’s true. Or so bassist Ian MacRae assures us. There might be a hint modest embarrassment in his voice but yes, he’s been keeping count. It’s no small feat, yet the group are well on their way to doubling the figure in the coming year, not the least is a 33-date stint touring with The Smith Street Band.

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Side by side these two acts make for interesting comparison, they’re not dissimilar, both are guided by two equally compelling vocalists. But whereas The Smithies rally behind working-class heroics of Wil Wagner, Press Club’s Natalie Foster operates with a more primal magnetism. Her stage presence is reportedly berserk, a hurricane of energy, It’s something even her bandmates are at a loss to explain.

But back to Ian, Press Club’s bassist is basking in a rare snatch of Melbournian sun and there’s a well-earned knock-off beer in hand.           

Hysteria: There’s not too many Press Club interviews out there so I’d like to ask a few questions just to give our readers a little bit of a feel for what the band is all about.

Ian MacRae: Totally!

H: When people talk about the group they throw out terms like punk and garage punk. Setting the record straight, what’s in the bands DNA? How do you see yourselves?

IM: I don’t really know. When we first came together to write I guess each of our individual influences determined what songs came out of the songwriting process. We were a bit like, “Let’s not call ourselves a rock band or punk band or an indie rock band or whatever! Let’s just see how the songs come out and then if we feel like it, if we’re desperate, we can put a label to it.

But we all listen to similar music like Hüsker Dü and the Misfits. Some of that shines through in the music, It comes from that sort of lineage I think.

H: Tell me about the songwriting dynamic in the band.

IM: We do everything collaboratively, someone might come up with a hook or a riff or something and then they’ll bring it to the table and we’ll get the ball rolling with that or work on it. Frank [Lees] our drummer will sort of create his parts and we’ll embellish the drums parts. Greg [Rietwyk] likewise on guitar and Natalie usually does almost improvisational stuff on top with lyrics. But sometimes she might have some ideas jotted down in her notebook that she leans on or she just slides down the seat of her pants.

H: In 2017 the group has been a really formative year—a big year—for the band. If your press can be believed you’ve played upwards of around 60 gigs. No small feat!

IM: Actually that’s 100% true! I um… I counted and got that put in the press release! [Laughs] It’s actually true.

H: Where do you see the band as being at right now?

IM: Doing more of the same, but hopefully reaching larger audiences. I mean we’re about to go on the road with The Smith Street Band and Bec Sandridge. That’ll be 30 odd dates in itself and all over the country. So it’ll be new audiences and fresh ears. I don’t know but, wouldn’t mind heading overseas at some point and getting some fresh ears maybe in Europe or the US. Wherever!

H: You also have the new album Late Teens coming out on the 16th of March and you’ve released three singles so far. Correct me if I’m wrong but the singles were all self-produced and self-released. Is there a D.I.Y. ethos underpinning the band or is it simply a matter of practicality? 

IM: At the outset, we tried to form as good of an idea as we could about what we are, what we want to be and how we want to be perceived by the rest of the music world. Doing things ourselves, besides from being the most cost-effective way of doing things, it’s something that we care pretty heavily about. It’s about not having any heavy producers or A&R people meddling with the product, the song. Being able to have our freedom.

We recorded the album entirely ourselves. We do all the artwork, we do absolutely everything ourselves. But I mean we outsource videos because we can’t do that, we’re not very good at that! [Laughs] But everything else you see is totally in-house.

H: And I’m sure you would do the videos if you could!

IM: Totally, it’s the next cab off the rank!

H: Is it an attitude going back to a punk or hardcore kind of thing?

IM: It more stems from the creative aspect of having control, If you really want to be happy with yourself and what you’re playing as a musician, you have to–I personally–have to be invested in something that’s 100% mine or 100% mine alongside my bandmates. That’s where the emotional kick comes from when I’m playing a song live. I want it to mean something to me y’know? If it’s been meddled with by some middle men or whoever then it doesn’t quite have that sheen.

H: For people who may have heard the singles or at least a few of them, what other musical else is on the record?

IM: There’s a dozen songs. I think we wrote 39 in total and distilled it down to about 15 and then down to 12. The way we thought about releasing the singles was that we wanted them to be a little bit indicative of the overall tone of the album. So there’s a lot of things that your readers would know if they’ve heard Headwreck or My Body’s Changing, but they’re also a little bit thrashier and faster numbers. There’s some other stuff that’s a little more melodious, a bit more dynamic, like Suburbia. That’s pretty much the pallet you can draw for the rest of the songs.

Press Club’s debut album Late Teens is out March 16, pre-order here.

H: How do you see a track like Suburbia? It’s pretty charged … Is it a protest song do you think or more stream of conciseness catharsis sort of thing?

I: We live in a part of Melbourne, Brunswick East, that’s been undergoing some pretty heavy gentrification. Physical change, that’s the kind of meaning that I take from it. The neighbourhood that I’ve grown up in for the last 26 years is getting overhauled. But when Natalie writes lyrics she either draws from experiences of herself or her friends or family. People that she knows. I’m not exactly sure what she was thinking there, but its definitely what it means to me.

H: You’ve characterised Natalie on stage as–obviously in the kindest way and most positive sense of the word—‘hysterical’.  

I: She’s a little bit rambunctious.

H: The live side of things is what people are really excited about. Can you expand on that for readers who haven’t had the chance to see the group perform?

I: The live side of things is what we’re really trying to sell. We love recording and love being in the studio, but the crux of what we’re doing–I mean it’s gritty rock ‘n’ roll. It’s all in the performance.

Natalie is about 95% of that. Everything is different, nothing’s scripted. She just kind of … I don’t know where the energy comes from, but she just carries on like a bouncy ball shot out of a fucking cannon! In a small room, she’s just bouncing off of the walls and interacting with the crowd. The rest of us just kind of go along.

H: You’ve already touched on the album and live side of things, but what’s coming down the tracks for Press Club in 2018?

I: The album’s our biggest focus at the moment. We worked real hard on getting that up and running ourselves and financing it.

H: Was it a long process from start to finish? 

I: We wrote the first songs in maybe June 2016 and then we put it all to tape in one week in January. We did it live which sped things up a little bit I reckon. You don’t mess around too much in the studio doing things live. But that’s the main focus. Get the album out there. Get it to as many people as possible. We’ll try to get as much out of it as we possibly can.

And yeah, this big tour, we’re hitting every town man! 30 dates, it’s over 30! It’s around 33 or somewhere around that and then we’ve got our own headliner in Melbourne on the 16th [of March] at The Grace Darling.

H: So you’ll be halfway through smashing last year’s record in just a matter of months!

I: I know! It’s like seven weeks we’re going to have played just under 40 shows.

H: Sounds like it’s going to be full on.

I: I can’t wait!

Press Club’s Album launch in on Friday March 16 at the Grace Darling Hotel, Melbourne. Tickets available here.

Also touring with The Smith Street Band from March 17, tickets available here.

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