Tropical Fuck Storm have become one of Melbourne’s most subversive exports. Formed by Gareth ‘Gaz’ Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin while on a creative hiatus from The Drones, the band’s jazz-infused, noise-meets-punk-meets-whatever sound sees their erratic instrumentals being paired with howling vocals which spurt tales of how our minds are being controlled by modern technology. “We’re the most fucked-up band there is that’s not some outrageously unlistenable current concept thing,” Gaz says. “I just reckon what we do now is more fun than what we were doing before.”
Chatting to NME after landing in Dublin for a string of shows in the UK and Ireland, Gaz has a kind of laid-back coolness to his manner — which is in sharp contrast to the outlandish lyricism he’s woven into Tropical Fuck Storm’s most recent LP ‘Braindrops’. Over the course of our conversation, he reveals how conspiracy theories, social media and political unrest all fed into the creation of the band’s second album, which centres around the idea of mind control in the digital age.
After the 2018 release of the band’s first project, ‘A Laughing Death in Meatspace’, the four-piece — made up of Gaz, Fiona, Lauren Hammel and Erica Dunn — signed to Flightless Records. They’re a label that will already be familiar to fans of Amyl and the Sniffers, Babe Rainbow and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, who The Drones took on their very first tour as a support act. “They just put a fucking album out every week and they leave us in the dust feeling so guilty for being lazy,” Gaz marvels about King Gizzard. “They came up to our studio and recorded an album [‘Fishing for Fishies’] in like three days. Then two weeks later I talked to them and they’d already recorded ‘Infest the Rats Nest’.”
Gaz reckons that, currently, “it [feels] like everybody who plays [music] in Australia lives in Melbourne.” However, Tropical Fuck Storm don’t sound like anything else coming out of the city, and ‘Braindrops’ is one of the major things that sets them apart from the rest. Explaining how the project became centred around the human psyche, Gaz says: “In an indeliberate way, you sort of coalesce. With the internet and everything that was going on while we made it, mind control became a certain outcome.
“I think a really beautiful example of that would be at the end of George Orwell’s 1984: there’s an appendix talking about all the Big Brother language and how it controls your mind,” he adds. “I mean, things like Twitter don’t necessarily control the language but it definitely controls how you think about stuff, and gives you limitations with blinkers on.”
One TFS song that really centres around the worrying power of social media is ‘The Planet Of Straw Men’, which has an extended metaphor running throughout the track. Lyrics such as “their only purpose is to disagree and do it publicly” seem reminiscent of those agitators we’re so used to seeing fill up our timelines.
“It’s a performance,” Gaz observes about the scourge of social media. “It’s about impressing your tribe, and tribes are now global because the internet has put everyone in touch. The whole irony is I was there when the internet started and everyone was so optimistic about it, but it’s a bit depressing now. It was gonna be so good, and then now it’s turned out to be horrid. I would turn that fucking thing off if I could.”
Nevertheless, the world wide web has provided plenty of creative inspiration for the frontman, as have a few good conspiracy theory TV shows that seem like a bit of a guilty pleasure. This was how, for instance, he discovered the tale of Maria Orsic, who inspired the song ‘Maria 63’. “It was a complete bullshit myth about a witch in the Nazi era,” Gaz explains. “She was telepathic and immortal, and basically Hitler had some plans for some silly UFO rocket drive that was bolted onto a submarine, and she had the blueprints for it… I just thought I’d write a love song about her because it would be the stupidest thing in the world.
“I thought, I’d get a Mossad agent to kill her because I don’t know whether the cataclysm is coming or not, but everybody has this sort of feeling of impending doom,” Gaz adds with a chuckle. “Whether it’s the climate crisis or the left-wing versus right-wing thing, or Trump saying there’s gonna be civil war. This song’s just basically a Mossad agent is gonna kill Maria and it’s a big metaphor for the cataclysm that’s gonna come — and it’s a love song. So it’s kind of proving that it’s the biggest bunch of bullshit ever written in a song.”
This tongue-in-cheek humour is part of what makes the band so interesting, especially when paired with their erratic sonic mix of screeching guitars, fast-paced drums and intense 80s-style saxophones. ‘Braindrops” title track is a fine example of the band’s frantic style of arranging, and has been described by Gaz as “Fela Kuti on acid”.
Taking inspiration from a place where he used to live in the Australian state of Victoria, Gaz paired the mania of these instrumentals with comedic lyrical images of someone messed up after a night out, staggering around town in search of a pair of sunglasses. “There was that sort of scientific theory or theoretical physics theory that the universe is a computer simulation,” he explains. “I guess that song, at the end, the sunglasses thing is: why buy a real pair of Ray-Bans when we’re living in a in a simulated universe? You may as well just buy the cheap knock-offs because even real Ray-Bans are fake.”
With plans to stay on tour for the remainder of the year, it may seem like there’s not much time for the band to lay down songs for another project — but Gaz expresses a want to keep writing more in the near future. As a new decade promises more technological advancements, further political unrest, and, inevitably, even more conspiracy theories, Tropical Fuck Storm certainly won’t be at a loss for inspiration.