Violent Soho is a group of four high school friends from Brisbane, Australia. They grew up jamming together in a garage, playing songs inspired by ’90s bands ranging from Nirvana to The Pixies to Blink 182. Their name comes from Rancid’s punk rock classic “Ruby Soho” and their overall enjoyment of the word “violent.”
At a time when most indie 20-somethings want to play in bands that sound like the 1980s, the Pentecostal-schooled Aussies are one of the few to keep it ’90s. Watching them live and listening to their music is like a being in a time warp, traveling back to an era when Doc Martens, plaid flannel shirts and long flailing hair were the norm. For Generation X-ers, grunge fans and those looking for something fresh amongst all the same hipster bands, Violent Soho may be the band to restore your love for straightforward rock ‘n’ roll again.
In February 2009, the group caught the ear of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and signed a record deal to his label, Ecstatic Peace! Records. Their self-titled debut on Ecstatic Peace!, or second debut as one band member calls it, was released in March of this year. The lead single, “Jesus Stole My Girlfriend,” hit Billboards’ Alternative Top 40 chart earlier this spring. Now the group is finishing up their U.S. tour before heading back to Australia and returning in August to play this year’s Lollapalooza Festival in Chicago.
This year, you guys played your first SXSW. What did you make of all the madness?
Michael Richards (drums): We had a pretty good time. It was pretty fucking fun. One day we did about three shows. It was pretty hectic but fun.
James Tidswell (guitar/vocals): The idea was to do as many shows. We did enough to stay busy, but not enough to kill ourselves as we had just come off a tour with Mariachi El Bronx. During South By, I tried to watch as many bands as I could, really.
Luke Boerdam (guitar/vocals): We were staying by the airport because we booked everything so late, so it was either see bands or do nothing.
So where does this style of music come from? Bands in their young twenties aren’t typically playing ‘90s style alternative grunge rock.
James: The style basically comes from growing up in the ’90s, and that’s that mid-90s when it was all punk rock or pop-punk, whatever you call it. Eventually all that turned into just glamorized people with their pretty tattoos and pretty clothes. Goodness knows it was like a cross between Guns ‘N Roses and I don’t know what.
Michael: I was in grade one when Nevermind came out but my older sister listened to that kind of music. When I started to listen to music, I listened to Blink 182 and The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. We grew up listening to that kind of music. Then the bands that comae out of that style in the late nineties and the early two thousands just became like these jock bands, like the jocks took it over. It became music of these jocks that had these rich parents that paid for their three thousand dollar tattoo sleeves and what not.
Is this in Australia that you are referring to? Where these “jocks” as you call them took it over?
Michael: Yeah, pretty much in Australia is where we saw this happen. Then this whole screamo thing came up. So when we first started playing together when we were in high school, we wanted to do a band that represented the music that we thought was good before they stuffed it up on us.
Luke Henery (bass): It wasn’t really a conscious decision. We just played.
Michael: Right. It was the natural thing for us to play because we weren’t jocks or anything.
James: We never thought we’d be playing music outside of Brisbane. We started listening to that sort of music again where as other people continued on. We went back to music that was around when we were twelve or younger and getting into it. We started listening to Nirvana again. We were just playing in our garage and five years later, Thurston Moore just heard it somehow. We ended up signing to his label.
What did he say exactly? “You sound like my band, this is great.”
James: [laughs] No he didn’t say that.
So is there a scene in Australia for this kind of music? I mean someone must have heard you and came to your shows.
Henery: Brisbane is really good that way. You can play on a bill one night and all four bands will be completely different. Apart from the punk scene, where that is all connected, everyone works together. In the scene where we came from it is just a bunch of friends where everyone plays music and everyone is really accepting of what everyone else does. So there isn’t a scene of just our type of music, but rather a scene where people support each other.
James: There are bands doing similar stuff to what we’re doing around the whole world. There’s the Japanese Voyeurs who we are going to play with in London. There’s bands coming out of our city like Butcher Birds and there are bands in Melbourne like Daddy Long Legs. The Vivian Girls you can hear are somewhat influenced by the early ’90s with what they’re doing. It’s happening all around.
Is it surprising to you guys that you are referred to as throwback? I don’t think alternative is referred to as classic yet. It’s like a weird in-between.
Michael: Totally. I mean like people have gone from The Strokes doing the whole Velvet Underground ’60s thing. Then you have Jet and Wolfmother doing the whole ’70s thing. The Killers are doing the ’80s. It’s funny because people are like, “They’re doing the ’90s because they want to keep it going.” Not really, you know. Why would we intentionally try and copy something that is not even 20 years old yet?
James: We wouldn’t put ourselves through this much shit if it wasn’t something we didn’t want to play.
Luke: For like three years we got teased. I guess it wasn’t like bad teasing because everyone was accepting of it and all. They were just like “what kind of weird shit are these guys doing?”
James: It’s just we could do really. Henery and I chose our instruments to play in this band. We had never played in band before. We were like Henery is going to play guitar and I’ll play bass”. It was that simple. Now on tour and everyone has all these questions.
Didn’t you get the memo down there that bloggers only like the same indie bands? Hello?
Henery: We definitely got that memo.
Michael: I knew that epidemic had been going on for a while but I thought they would be sick of them yet. Perhaps it is time for maybe some people to cross over? Eh, maybe some people will.
Well you guys will be in front of a lot of that indie crowd this summer when you play Lollapalooza. It should be interesting because there aren’t any other bands on the bill that sound anything like you. Have you absorbed that yet?
Michael: I saw that there weren’t any other rock bands on the bill besides Soundgarden. I don’t think we’ve really thought too much about the indie audience that will be there because we’ve always played in front of indie audiences. I mean, we have to because we hate modern rock. We’re just stoked to be playing that festival and don’t about it any further than that because there’s no reason for us to care.
Luke: If a ton of people actually watch us it will be pretty good. I don’t know anything yet about what stage time we have.
James: I’m stoked to play it. It’s one spot taken away from a shitty new indie band or something.
Are you caught by surprise by all the people who have caught on to you and do like your music?
Henery: Yeah definitely. Obviously you start a band and you want people to like your music. It’s the whole reason you put it out there. Still, coming over from Australia and playing in front of American bands and people is slightly intimidating.
What’s intimidating about playing in front of American audiences?
Henery: You guys are the ones who have seen it all before. You saw Nirvana and all those bands. We’re not trying to be those bands or anything but we get compared to them a lot. When people genuinely get into it and drive for hours to come to our shows and stuff it is surprising.
James: It definitely blows our minds. When we started, we didn’t even have a Facebook page coming to America.
Michael: What gets me is all the people that live in regional places that come so far to see us. We did a show in L.A. and there were people there that drove four hours from Fresno to the show. When we see that, we know there are people everywhere that our going to get into our music. It’s encouraging and means a lot to us.
I wanted to ask now about the current album. Why were there so many re-releases or different versions of it?
Luke: You’re the first person to ask that. Thank you very fucking much. The reason why is we wanted to tour the U.K. and the U.S. We needed a CD to tour off of. We didn’t have enough time to write a bunch of new songs. We would have had to wait another year to start touring and we really wanted to tour.
Now you had the Pigs & TV EP. I couldn’t get my hands on it anywhere and it is not even on the internet to illegally download. Are they any of the same songs that appear on your new album or other EPs?
Michael: That’s the difference. It is not available to other people so of course we want to make our best songs available to people in America when we’ve got our first chance to do that.
James: There are two songs that were on Pigs & TV. When we signed with the label, we were originally just going to be putting out “We Don’t Belong Here” in America. The thing is, his record label works through a major. When they heard it, they gave us the opportunity to go and record with someone. We thought we were just going to rerelease it. The list of producers they gave us included Gil Norton, who we ended up working with, just blew out minds. To be able to record with someone who has recorded my favorite album and probably some of the others favorites as well, is just ridiculous. We were like “yeah let’s do that”. In the time we had to record and get to touring there was not a chance for that.
Who is the primary song writer for you guys?
James: Luke writes all the songs. There wasn’t another chance at that time for Luke to write another twelve songs in a matter or three months. We were working full time jobs too, so we put out an album. W e put out We Don’t Belong Here, which is only a thousand pressings. We stopped pressing it after it sold out, which in Australia took something like fifty days. We didn’t do more because we all had to get back to work and we were still putting out our own music. That’s when Thurston (Moore) contacted us and people in America wanted us to come over. We came over. Next minute we were back home still working. It was constant “re-record the album this, you’re going, here it comes, what songs you got”. We tried to put in as many new ones as we had at the time. Plus they were only demos anyway.
Luke: Actually We Don’t Belong Here was recorded in a space of like six to eight months in like three different studios.
When did this all start again?
James: Since 2005.
Michael: Some of the songs were written when Luke was in high school. They are just songs we’ve had around for a really long time. It also has to do with we never released anything outside of Australia. We wanted to do our best songs that we’ve ever done and so we consider this a second debut really.
James: We only signed a record deal in Australia after coming over here. We never advertised our band. All we had was a MySpace. We never did any blogs or a band bio.
Henery: We all worked full time jobs and played in this band on the weekends. It wasn’t a serious thing. We never expected to be touring the U.S.
So this album has been almost four years in the making?
That’s an amazing journey for one album. A lot of people, including myself sometimes, don’t always get how these things happen.
Michael: It is long process. We obviously have other songs up our sleeve but for our introduction to America we wanted to use our best songs.
James: I think we counted something like thirty two songs that we got over that amount of time playing together. Out of those thirty two songs we basically just chose our ten favorites because no one’s ever heard of us before. We put it out and then people are asking “what is this? Where is this other album?” It was because of the internet.
Luke: A lot of people in America started asking why we released them same songs. I was like “How did you even get the first one?” There were only a thousand copies in Australia. We didn’t know you had it.
There is this thing called the “internet” that will blow your minds when you learn how to use it.
James: That’s the part we didn’t work on. If we had only known.
Michael: I can only imagine the number of people that download records as opposed to buying them. There’s probably like ten thousand people who downloaded it or some shit.
James: I hope so.
Maybe they’ll come to shows if they did. If they stole it, that’s the least they could do. While we are on the subject of stealing, let’ talk about your single “Jesus Stole My Girlfriend.” What was behind the decision to push that as your first single versus any of your other songs?
Luke: We just thought it was the strongest song on the record. I think the religious theme of it and the strong sound of the song is a really good introduction to the band.
It is starting to show up on charts here and there. Did you expect that or did that take you by surprise?
James: We’ve never been on any charts, let alone radio. That is definitely surprising. We sort of chose it because a lot of themes of our songs are based on growing up in a Pentecostal Church environment. We went to a Pentecostal school, Luke and I, for twelve years. There is no better classic story of a Pentecostal school love story than a chick breaking up with a dude because she’s going to be Christian. It happened to Luke when he was dating my sister and then he wrote the song. It summed up the introduction to hating Pentecostal life.
Do you know of any kind of back lash or negative publicity you have received because of the song’s religious inference? I suspect there would be because anytime you throw the word “Jesus” in a non-Christian song, someone gets pissed off.
Luke: There was this blog in Texas but it wasn’t really negative. Someone sent me the link and I don’t even know how they knew I was based in Texas. It said something like “Jesus Stole My Girlfriend-theme song for those rejected by The Almighty.” He wrote this big thing about how you shouldn’t use God as an excuse to break up a relationship and this is what happens when you do, people get burned.
Michael: People in the South are the ones that get the song actually. It makes sense because it is the religious Bible belt of the country and it is sort of like where we’re from, a religious community.
Luke: Once we played in Lubbock (Texas) and we played this big radio show with Three Days Grace. They had their twenty thousand people and we had seven people wearing their Slayer shirts. I think that goes to show how we go up against a Christian audience.
James: That is the worst music in the world. That is what our band is a reaction against.
Luke: man, I thought we had bands to hate in Australia, then we come to America and you have a word of bands to hate.
So that being said, what do you think is wrong with music today?
Michael: Rock and roll is not fresh for anyone anymore. People just want to be entertained and get drunk.
Luke: Sometimes bands put things like MySpace friends and doing things labels want to see before good music.
Henery: In regards to the Nickelback and rock radio, if there is anything I’ve learned from my Christian upbringing is that money is the root of all evil.
James: And if your mum likes it, it is definitely gay.
Do your mothers like your music?
Luke: Our parents hate our music and we’re fucking proud of it.