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Escape Velocity

Dust & Deadpan Humour: An Interview With Bushwalking
Steph Kretowicz , July 10th, 2012 07:15

Australian interstate three-piece Bushwalking root their dreamy, folk-leaning songs in the realities of everyday life, keeping their debut album First Time an enticingly earthy proposition. Steph Kretowicz chats to them about how their home country is expressed in their music

A lesson in Australian vernacular: a doona is a duvet, a mullet is a haircut and a bogan is the uncultivated local archetype that sports them (its grammatical usage interchangeable between noun and adjective). That is a necessary preliminary to understanding the vocabulary, the attitude and, importantly, an interview with a band like Bushwalking.

An alliance formed of members already noted for their work with a range of Australian bands based across Victoria and New South Wales, the interstate three-piece are a natural mutation from what was originally a solo side project. Aptly titled album debut First Time is out on Josh Fauver of Deerhunter’s label Army of Bad Luck, and is a delirious musical excursion into a provisional personal folklore. You might compare it to Warpaint’s The Fool, even Prince Rama’s Shadow Temple, if it weren’t for the unrefined, earthy edge that keeps Bushwalking forward-left of dreamy new folk, instead firmly rooting it in the realm of ‘other'. Meditative album closer ‘Warmth’ mirrors the ritualistic mantra of opener ‘Doona’, while seemingly mundane lyrics like “My world is wrapped up, in this doona I have not washed, it smells similar to me,” keeps First Time grounded in the stark realities of daily emotional life, rather than the pseudo-spirituality of Prince Rama’s New Weird America.

It helps that co-vocalists Nisa Venerosa and Ela Stiles have developed their own unique playing styles as self-taught musicians. Venerosa’s clunking, stripped-back drumming, the result of half a decade as the skeletal rhythm section for Melbourne compositional force, Fabulous Diamonds, Stiles’ pared down basslines, the product of being the youngest autodidact of Sydney jangle-pop band Songs. Then there is the inimitable method of Karl E Scullin, whose slightly offbeat guitar rhythms are the result of years of zealous local interactions, from roadie to the late Rowland S Howard to producing some of the most exciting Australian releases under his KES moniker.

As any Aussie expat will tell you, their British and North American counterparts relish the opportunity to remind them of Australia’s convict history and – although a reductive appraisal of the country’s demographic, to say the least – there’s something to be said for the crude sense of humour, raw intensity and stoical attitude of its general character, something doubtless born from its history and harsh physical environment. The results are bands like Bushwalking: equal parts familiar and strange, as they interact with the country to which they are inextricably bound.

How are you?

Nisa Venerosa: Yeah, all right. Yep. Just finished a weekend of jamming with Bushwalking… which is relevant.

How did it end up that Army of Bad Luck is putting out the record?

NV: Um… I’m probably not the best person to interview, by the way.

Should I be talking to Ela?

NV: I was being very lazy at the beginning of Bushwalking, so she knows Josh. I think Songs played with Deerhunter. I mean Fabulous Diamonds played with Deerhunter too but I don’t know if I talked to any of them. I think Ela maybe mentioned something to him, I don’t know. He just liked us somehow and asked if we wanted to do it and we were like, ‘Yep, sure, why not?’

Do you have much involvement in the actual writing process then?

NV: Not so much for the first album because I kind of came in as it was still going to be Ela’s solo album, with Karl co-writing it or whatever and I was coming in to record drums on some songs. As you can see on the album ‘Visual Jam Doughnut’ and ‘Seventeen Once’, ‘Natural Vagina’ as well, are kind of really different to the other songs because that happened afterwards. So it kind of evolved into a band, I guess, and we’re currently trying to record a new album.

‘Natural Vagina’ is one of favourites. Can you explain a bit about the subject matter, Nisa?

NV: Um, can I decline?

You can if you want to.

Yeah, cool.

It’s just it seems like there’s a strong sense that it is quite a literal profiling of a particular person.

NV: [laughs] There’s not as much to it as you’d think.

Not the title itself, I mean the lyrics.

NV: Yeah okay… the lyrics. Why? Do you think you know who it’s about?

No, it just feels like you have a specific person in mind.

NV: Yeah, yep. Well, that’s what you do, generally. [laughs] I’m really bad because all I can ever sing about is, like, boys or girls who have done me wrong or something. It’s all very simple.

So was the band called Zsa Zsa when it was still Ela’s solo project?

NV: No. It started out as Ela Stiles. Then it became Zsa Zsa, but none of us were really into the name and we had trouble coming up with another one. Then Karl thought of Bushwalking, we all liked it and it didn’t make me cringe to say it.

How long ago did you start as a band?

NV: I could be really wrong on this, I’m totally guessing, but maybe the end of 2010. Yeah. We had a little jam and then there are really big gaps in between, as well. So even though we’ve technically been together for a while, there were like six months where we didn’t do anything.

Is the band going to be more of a focus now that you’ve got he first record out?

NV: Yeah. We’ve just got more of a vibe going and we’re more of a band now. Ela’s coming down three times in the next couple of months and were going to try and get her down once a month to Melbourne, because she lives in Sydney. Financially, it’s not the most viable band but she’s willing to do it.

Do you think she’d move to Melbourne?

NV: No. She likes Sydney and she suits Sydney. I also think there’s something good about us living apart because we get more done when we’re together. So she comes down for three days and we just jam heaps. It’s the most productive band I’ve even been in. [laughs] But that’s not saying much.

She’s coming down for a bit before we go to India, which is what I really want to talk about.

Wow. Why are you going to India?

NV: I don’t know, we just want to go on a holiday and we booked our tickets on the weekend when she was here. So we’re going to India for five weeks. Meeting in Bangkok and staying in a luxury hotel for two days and then flying to Mumbai and travelling through the whole of India. Going to the Himalayas and Rajasthan and yeah...

So did you know Ela from before the band started?

NV: No. We met through Karl. He said, ‘I know someone who would be good for drumming for you’ and we met and then fell in love I guess.

Do you think that, with Bushwalking, there’s a really Australian sensibility about it, that only seems to be growing in the alternative scene? Embracing their Australian-ess, in a way?

NV: Yeah, but I think that really comes naturally to everyone. I don’t think that whole ‘Australian sound’ is consciously an influence. Obviously the environment and other bands influence other Australian band’s sounds, whatever that means.

When I was back there about a month ago, I got the sense there’s a real alternative ‘bogan’ vibe happening right now… Like, people with mullets.

NV: Oh yeah. There’s this whole new trend of mullets. Yeah, bogans are cool at the moment. But I don’t think we’re trying to be bogans. [laughs] Do you think we sound bogan?


NV: I think Ela and I are similar, in that our voices come through with a very thick Australian accent, in a way.

Having been away for a while, I’ve started to see things from a different perspective and I’ve noticed the slightly crude, very deadpan sense of humour in Australia, which seems like a recurring theme in a lot of bands too.

NV: Yeah, I’d agree with that. So do you get that sense of that sense of humour from the song titles or something?

Yeah, the disparity between the sincere sound of the album and the song titles, sometimes the lyrics, that sense of irony.

CV: Well, Nick Warnock [founder of DIY label R.I.P. Records] actually texted me the other day and was like, ‘Woah, it sounds like the new Butthole Surfers record, from the song titles’. So maybe it’s a really Australian humour that comes across as really bad joke titles in another context, or another country - because they’re not joke titles.