The rock star dream is dead. Ask anyone who packs themselves into cramped tour vans and spends weeks chewing on cheese and crisp sandwiches, hastily cobbled together in a dank and smelly dressing room, and they’ll surely tell you the same – the glory days of rock ‘n’ roll excess are long dead. Nowadays it’s all budgets and Berocca, early bedtimes and ear-plugs. Sydney punks These New South Whales know this better than most.
Formed in 2011 from the ashes of several other groups, the ragtag bunch took it upon themselves to learn from their past mistakes. Lesson one? Don’t take yourself too seriously. Cue These New South Whales, the TV series – a “semi-real” mockumentary tracking the day-to-day lives of “Sydney’s premier punk outfit” (in their own words, by the way, not ours).
Like People Just Do Nothing and This Is Spinal Tap before it, These New South Whales sends up the hand-to-mouth lifestyles and fingers-in-ears mentality of professional musicians to hilarious end, riffing on everything from a hapless manager to a frontman who thinks he’s a sex icon (but still has to do a runner when he gets his hair cut). Oh, and it’s executive produced by a member of The Cure. Obviously.
Unlike those two aforementioned mockumentaries, however, These New South Whales’ music is far from a joke. 2017 debut album ‘You Work For Us’ takes on everything from self-loathing to the government with its furious, sub-two-minute thrashes of noise. Combining that gritty punk output with the similarly DIY online web-series, the members of These New South Whales – ironically enough – found their greatest success yet, with Comedy Central picking up the show for its second series.
As a result, These New South Whales’ tone-shifting take on absurdist sitcom and nihilist punk is delightfully difficult to decipher. Is it a joke? Is it real? As it turns out, it’s somewhere in between. Ahead of a debut UK tour alongside DZ Deathrays – their first run outside of Australia, no less – we caught up with vocalist Jamie Timony and guitarist Todd Andrews, to attempt to unravel the curious case of These New South Whales.
When did the idea for the These New South Whales TV show come about? It feels like a bit of a pub idea…
Jamie: “Yeah, it kinda was! We always made videos when we were starting out, and we made this mockumentary once and we all thought it was really funny. We started dreaming, like, ‘Ah, what if we made it into a show…’ Like you say, a pub idea – but it was a balcony idea, if you don’t mind. We were on a balcony. Without thinking about how much work it would entail, we just kept on talking about it, and eventually it just got to the point where we had a show.”
Todd: “It was one of those things where you can talk about it on a balcony or at a pub forever, or you just actually do it – so we just did it.”
The life of a punk band isn’t exactly glamorous – did you want to send that up a bit and take the piss out of it?
Jamie: “We wanted to send up people in bands in general, ourselves included. In the past we’ve taken ourselves so seriously, and we wanted to send up the whole boy’s club thing in bands, as well – it’s a very masculine dominated area. We just wanted to send all that stuff up. Sometimes it’s cool to be in a band, but it’s also incredibly dorky to be in a band in a lot of ways.”
These situations you get into in the show, are they based in reality?
Jamie: “They are definitely based on experiences – some based on real experiences, some based on our worst nightmare, and others are based on other people that we’ve seen.”
Todd: “It’s fairly anecdotal, but some of them are anecdotes and some of them are things we’ve observed happen to others. There’s a character in season two that’s the record studio punisher – so basically, I’ve heard from lots of people, when they’ve been to a record studio that’s one guy that just talks too much at you while you’re trying to work. They’re very much based on people that we think are very common in the music industry.”
Have you had people come up to you and say they relate to these characters, then?
Jamie: “Oh yeah! Definitely. I think, particularly in the music industry, it’s struck a lot of chords – mind the pun. But also just with general punters. Like… we’re famous now.” [laughs]
Todd: “It resonates with people from the indie, DIY punk bands that These New South Whales is supposed to be, all the way up to big-time musicians like Roger O’Donnell, for example, from The Cure – he’s one of our executive producers on the show. He could relate to it – he could see dynamics between the characters and situations that he experiences in The Cure, to this day. It’s kind of really cool how it doesn’t really matter where you are in your career, it’s still pretty relatable.”
“We couldn’t make the show with authenticity that we feel it has without having experienced all the things we have” – Jamie
It must be quite mad to have someone like Roger take your balcony idea, and your experiences of playing around Sydney and Melbourne, and turn around and say, ‘Yeah, that’s what my life is like, too!’
Jamie: “It was really, to be totally honest, mind-blowing. Mind-blowingly cool. Roger was in Australia playing a big festival here called Splendour In The Grass with The Cure, and someone that we know knew him and introduced us. We told him about the show and all of a sudden we’re shooting an interview with him. After we finished the interview, we had so much fun that we asked him – thinking that he would never say yes – to come on board the show as an executive producer. And he said yes! We were all pretty amazed at that, really. We’d have all these Skype calls with him, and he was really useful in the writing process, because we were sending him our scripts and he was throwing in ideas, and experiences, and anecdotes, and we actually used a lot of them.”
Todd: :There’s one moment in episode five where we’ve got a day of press – which, for These New South Whales, is just one interview – and our manager Pelvis gives us the print-out of the press and Jamie says, ‘Oh, I’ll call this The Book Of Lies’. But that’s actually an anecdote that we got from Roger, because they call their schedules The Book Of Lies, because they always change.”
He must have a wealth of mad stories from his time…
Jamie: “Yeah, you can Skype with him for hours. He’ll tell you all about his helicopter…”
Todd: “All his Ferraris.”
Jamie: “Ugh, he just never shuts up about that shit!”
The Australian music industry is pretty small – have you had people turn around and go, ‘Hey man… is this about me?’
Jamie: [Laughs] “Yeah! Actually, we toured with DZ Deathrays recently in Australia, and there was this band on the tour called Clowns, and the singer from Clowns said, ‘I feel really embarrassed watching it, because I feel like the show’s about me.'”
Todd: “In Australia, we don’t use double-decker tour buses like we have in the show, so that’s a bit of a piss-take – there’s just no need for them here; everyone flies. So we decided to put the band in that because it’s just ridiculous, but this band in Australia called Gang Of Youths that we’re friends with actually used one of them once. One of them came up to me and was like, ‘Hey man, you weren’t making fun of us with that bus, were you?’”
Jamie: “Yeah, and they used that bus, so write that on your website! No-one’s off limits!”
Todd: “If it’s on us, we’ll take you down with us!”
Presumably a lot of this has come from learning experiences from your past bands?
Jamie: “It definitely has, man. We couldn’t make the show with authenticity that we feel it has without having experienced all the things we have as musicians – touring, recording musicians.”
Todd: “It’s good to be able to make fun of that, and get a lot of it out there. And then you do have those meetings that are a waste of time, totally deflating, and it’s nice to turn them into something positive by making fun of them in the show.”
Jamie: “When we first actually started the band back in 2011, it was as a reaction to playing in bands that no-one came to see. Our other bands would just play to 10 people, just our friends and other bands and stuff. We started These New South Whales as a band that we knew no-one would come and see, but we could just destroy ourselves on-stage and embarrass ourselves, and make a mockery of everything and everyone there… including ourselves.”
Todd: “I will say though, now, it is a good band.”
“It’s not hard, okay? Listen up – we’ve got a comedy show and it’s a real band” – Jamie
Jamie: “Oh – good save Todd, good save. Yeah, we started as a joke band but now it’s not a joke at all. If you come down to our show, you will have the haircut ripped out of your scalp. Honestly. Haircuts against the wall at the end of the night.”
Todd: “Assuming you’ve got one at the moment.”
Jamie: Oh yeah. I don’t mean to be baldist, if you’re bald.
What if I turn up wearing a hat?
Todd: “Then it better have a chin-strap.”
Jamie: “It’s not a joke album, it’s not a joke band live – that’s the one big thing that it’s been difficult to convey at times.”
Trying to find that balance must be quite difficult. You look at Spinal Tap or People Just Do Nothing, and the music is all part of the joke. How do you strike that balance?
Jamie: “We try to just give the audience as much freedom and credit to figure that out for themselves. It’s a bit hard to convey – we just try to put out good music, really! Our fans – we have really loyal fans here, and they get it. It’s more like people in the music industry trying to put it into a category. It’s not hard, okay? Listen up – we’ve got a comedy show and it’s a real band.”
What are your favourite moments from the show?
Todd:” One of my favourite moments is the [Silverchair frontman] Daniel Johns episode. For me, I was actually meeting him in real life for the first time, while my character was meeting him for the first time; legitimately being star-struck whilst also pretending to be star-struck. And then I’m also the producer and writer for the show, so I’m meeting him as a producer for the first time and trying to make sure we all say and do the right things. It was a pretty weird and special moment.”
How often do your character and your real-life persona cross over?
Jamie: “Not that often for me. I’m a lot cooler in real life. A lot cooler. I have, if you don’t mind me saying, swag. Girls are attracted to me…”
Todd: [Groans] “Not any more!”
Jamie: “Strike that one from the record!”
How much of this oddness has bled into the real-life band? You’ve got this slightly exaggerated version of yourselves going around, fans are confused, bands are confused…
Jamie: “For me, that is the funnest part of this band, and it always has been. Our live shows can be a little confusing, sometimes, for people; the tone’s not always consistent, so it throws people off. That space is something that we’ve always loved playing with in this band, and the show really adds to it. We’re able to completely blur what’s real – there is a lot of real stuff in the TV show. Sometimes we’ll have real family members playing themselves in the TV show, and other times we have actors playing other family members – there’s no set rules or guidelines to the world, which is really cool.”
Todd: “I also think it can give us a lot of scope to do things that often you’d like to do, but can’t do. In season two, we have this interview on the radio, and we have this whole scene where we’re going on about how the Australian music industry has been asleep and they’ve missed the boat and now it’s gonna cost you and all that. That’s just a bit of fun… but it’s definitely true at the same time.”
Jamie: “They’ve been asleep. We’ve been playing shows for fuckin’ seven years or some shit, and they’ve missed the boat. So write that in your website too!”
Todd: “That’s why we’re coming to the UK – don’t miss the boat!”