Police choppers swarm overhead, demonstrators shout abuse, cop cars zoom by.
It’s all kicking off. “The problem is, I’m not allowed to leave the house to watch,” says Blake Scott, block-jawed, 38-year-old frontman of The Peep Tempel and now emerging solo artist.
“We’ve got the COVID lockdown protest next to us at Queen Victoria Market,” he explains. “The helicopter is driving me fucking mental.”
Scott is trying to chat while ignoring the commotion and dodging booby traps set by his one-year-old son Vivian. “I like to pace when I do an interview. This place is like an obstacle course.” A T-Rex, unicorn and ladybug are all vying for the most tender part of his foot. “The Triceratops has been confiscated,” he deadpans.
Scott has two expressions: stern resting face or cheeky chappy smile. He is a carpenter, a partner, a new dad and now a solo musician who can’t recoup the costs of making a studio album by touring due to coronavirus restrictions.
The juggle is real.
Through perseverance, he’s given us one of the most savagely uncomfortable and compelling rock ’n’ roll records of 2020, his debut ‘Niscitam’. “The songs have a sense of foreboding about parenthood, climate change, anxiety,” he says. Muffled chopper-blades whir in the background, phut-phut-phut.
‘Niscitam’ was recorded in two goes with producer John Lee at Phaedra Studios in Coburg and musicians Jacey Ashton (drums) and Nick Finch (bass). There was a lot to contend with: Missed studio deadlines, sick parents, his first baby on the way, a pandemic just around the corner…
“Another hurdle would have been it,” Scott exhales. “I wouldn’t have had it in me to go again.”
Blake Scott grew up in Narrogin, a wheat and sheep town in rural WA. After getting beaten black and blue at school one day, the puffy-eyed teen turned up to his job at a Glass Factory. “My boss looked me up and down, ‘Talkin’ when ya shoulda been listening’.” Real nice.
Scott moved east and formed The Peep Tempel in West Melbourne in 2008 with mates Steven Carter (drums) and Stewart Rayner (bass). They worked their guts out gigging around Victoria, put out a self-titled album in 2012 and followed it with ‘Tales’ – best known for minor hit ‘Carol’ – in 2014. It was shortlisted for the $30,000 Australian Music Prize.
They were again shortlisted for the AMP for third album, ‘Joy’, in 2016 and reached a level where The Peep Tempel were officially giving The Drones a run for their money as Australia’s premier punk rock cultural commentators. Scott’s lyrics of wayward rural policemen (‘Constable’), miscreants (‘Big Fish’) and intolerant media organisations (‘Rayguns’) gave fans an ocker raconteur to root for.
The Peep Tempel rocked The Tote, The Corner Hotel, Howler and snared a booking every band craves: Meredith Music Festival in 2015. ‘Carol’ received royal dispensation from the crowd: The Boot. For those playing at home, that’s when the crowd spontaneously take off their footwear in unison. It was quite a sight, 10,000 punters in the Supernatural Amphitheatre, shoes aloft, screaming the villain’s name as Scott attacked his white Epiphone Sheraton guitar like he was bashing dust out of a WELCOME mat: “I don’t think Trevor is good for you, Carol!”
Aunty Meredith asked The Peep Tempel back to play Golden Plains in 2017, but something had changed. Scott was starting to get anxiety in the lead-up to shows. And he was experiencing something many an artist has endured: impostor syndrome.
“I had a moment when I was on stage at Golden Plains: ‘What am I doing up here?’ You don’t forget those feelings, I felt incredibly exposed. Energetically I wasn’t where I needed to be.”
“Just before The Forum Theatre show in 2017 we had a discussion [whether] we were going to make another record… and we didn’t really think we were,” he says.
“Once we were able to say we were gonna give the band a rest it really brought life back into it. The Forum was incredible. We felt like the little engine that could,” he beams.
“To us the ascension had got to the apex, we didn’t want to start slogging it, we wanted to go out close mates and be able to love and enjoy each other,” he says, adding, “which is not to say we’d never do anything again.”
“Once we were able to say we were gonna give the band a rest it really brought life back into it”
Scott, a poet who happens to play rock’n’roll, chipped away at ‘Niscitam’ by setting up a microphone in his hallway with recording gear. “I’d just put down a few lines or work on bassline or something.”
Sounds easy? It wasn’t. Recording ‘Niscitam’ was “a fucking nightmare,” he texts me. There was gnashing of teeth when he had to head off to record the album at Phaedra Studios. “I was asking myself, ‘Should I be leaving my partner at home while her dad is terminally ill and we have a new baby?’”
For a brief period, Blake Scott was set to name his debut LP: ‘No Friends’. But he landed on ‘Niscitam’ after his partner misheard a line in the demo of lead single ‘Fever’. “It’s pronounced Nish-ee-tum. [My partner] Kundi is very into tantric philosophy, she’s a yoga teacher. It means ‘confidently’. It’s an affirmation for me to go forward and put the record out.” Kundi’s dad passed away not long after ‘Niscitam’ was finished.
Lead single ‘Fever’ has the make-you-feel-cool riff of the year. “I’d been playing ‘Maggot Brain’ by Funkadelic and getting the dirtiest fuzz guitar sounds I could,” Scott says. “The song is about me being a bit of a piss-wreck really, my on and off relationship with alcohol. It’s also about Australia as a society, our attitude to binge-drinking. That’s the line ‘I’m like a pig in shit.’ We’re basting in beer, marinating in it.”
He investigates an even darker aspect of the Great Southern Land on ‘Kalashnikov’: toxic masculinity. It has shades of Stella Donnelly’s ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, but sung from the male perspective. In the chorus Scott adopts the tone of a sex tourist in Cambodia. Later he switches character and snarls, “One a week, as we speak, women killed by men in this country… anyway, how good’s the UFC!?”
At first, “I didn’t really wanna have a track like ‘Kalashnikov’ on the record,” he says. “I want the listener to feel shocked, confronted and a little bit helpless. ‘You can do what you like with them,’ is a line I heard someone say. It always bugged me how I dealt with it at the time – it caught me off-guard. I tied it into the violence against women in Australia.”
But ‘Niscitam’ also has other kinds of catharsis: Scott’s first love song, titled – wait for it – ‘Love’.
“Triple cheese,” he says, a conspiratorial smile sneaking across his face. “I was trying to articulate this new feeling of love I got from having a son. Viv is an important part of the record; ‘Bone Heavy’ [with backing vocals by Olympia] is an intense song about his impending arrival and ‘Love’ is the happiness of his birth.”
“I wanted to really have that sense of triumph. The affirmation in the middle: ‘Love yourself, forgive yourself, forget yourself’,” he offers. The chorus transmogrifies late in the song with an all-in choir: “Just keep it together.”
The self-help line picks up where ‘Neuroplasticity’ from The Peep Tempel’s ‘Joy’ left off: “Don’t stress, think about it less, don’t count the cracks appearing up ahead.”
Still, Scott is in a pickle. After all, the road to “COVID normal” is particularly bumpy for musicians.
“Financially, it’s an issue,” he admits. “I’ve made a record in a studio and it’s an expensive thing to do and the way you make the money back is [you] tour it… and that is not available. I don’t wanna be a doomsdayer but I can’t see [touring] being available for quite some time,” he trails off, becoming quiet.
phut phut phut
Blake Scott gathers himself and picks a crying Viv up off the couch with one arm. “We’ll do a live show online as a band so we get some closure or some sort of celebration.” Then, he adds: “Fuck. We’ll do it for our sanity more than anything.”
Blake Scott’s album ‘Niscitam’ is out now