Party Dozen: “There’s no way we were going to give Nick Cave notes”

Grinderman lives on ‘The Real Work’, the third album by Party Dozen. The sax-and-drums duo from Sydney tell NME about the Cave co-sign, the new record and much more. Words: Mikey Cahill

It’s not every day you get Nick Cave’s personal mobile number and strict instructions on when to call him.

But that’s just a day in the life for Sydney-based duo Party Dozen, half-improvised, half-calculated, fully committed noiseniks.

“What a dream,” says drummer and Cubase wizard Jonathan Boulet. He’s joined by Kirsty Tickle who alternatively skronks, parps and bellows into both ends of her saxophone while Boulet gives his kit a right seeing to.

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The band were working on their third album ‘The Real Work’ – out today – and had a song titled ‘Macca The Mutt’ nearly ready for the tracklist. It just needed something: Nick Cave.

The duo shot for the stars and sent the song to him via some management derring-do. Somehow, his gatekeepers allowed the email through and the Baddest Seed of all liked what he heard.

“We phoned him and he said, ‘This is the idea that I have’ and he sang it down the line,” Boulet tells NME over Zoom.

That idea entailed yelping during the coda with increased intensity: “I’ve got a mutt, I’ve got a mutt, I’ve got a mutt, got a mutt got a mutt called Macca.

Not only does Cave effectively reintroduce his deranged Grinderman persona, there’s something quintessentially Australian about the way he sings that reminds us this 64-year-old rock icon was once a kid growing up in the dusty, wheatbelt town of Warracknabeal, 330 kilometres northwest of Melbourne.

Cave heard an undeniable truth in Party Dozen – and now because of his feature, it feels like the rest of the world are finally catching on too.

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Party Dozen
Party Dozen. Credit: Press

Boulet and Tickle met in 2009. The former came to tour Brisbane with his band Parades and through mutual music mates it was arranged Tickle and her sister (who were playing in indie-folk band Little Scout at the time) put the group up for the night.

Around that time, Boulet had a triple j crossover hit titled ‘Community Service Announcement’. Released by Modular Recordings in its heyday, the song was a euphoric call-to-arms for fans of Gotye and ecstasy. It was cool, but ultimately it wasn’t really him.

Boulet’s punk roots always threatened to burst from the ground and eventually they tore him away from being indie’s art-pop saviour. He really showed his hand when he opened his 2014 solo album ‘Gubba’ with a ferocious 30 second cut ‘Don’t Call Me Champ’. The album tanked and he went down the producer route.

Tickle, meanwhile, was a multi-instrumentalist music teacher releasing woozy, swirling music as Exhibitionist through Future Classic. Her ‘Let Go Of Love’ EP was made after she found herself single for the first time in her adult life.

“I didn’t expect to be in Party Dozen when I was younger. I didn’t have the same punk [background] that Jono had,” says Tickle. “But as soon as we started jamming and playing live, I thought ‘Yeah, this is pretty sick’.”

“Party Dozen are a force of nature” – Nick Cave

The two started a project, Top People, which Boulet describes as “sludgy, doomy stuff with crazy clarinet on top of it. It all funnelled into the making of Party Dozen.” After swapping out the clarinet for another woodwind instrument, the sax, they started gigging and had enough people intrigued. A fanbase was building, and most of the time they were well received.

“Except that one where we played in Melbourne and we cleared the room.”

NME guesses it was Yah Yahs’ infamous Friday night 2am slot. Bingo.

“Everyone was dancing to Michael Jackson then we set up and started playing and by the time we’d finished…” Tickle trails off into laughter. “It was the wrong crowd.”

This reaction is rare. Most of the time, jaws fall open as Tickle’s saxophone taps into some macabre Twin Peaks vibes of forbidden pleasures and unhinged revelry while Boulet unleashes sheer hell on the tubs.

One of their big live moments is turning out to be new song, ‘The Worker’, which as they found out recently while on tour in Europe (of their “glorious” outing at tastemaking Brighton festival The Great Escape: “Those industry shows are usually just crap… [But] it was just cranked and everybody was ready for it”). Tickle takes on a Kim Gordon femme fatale role as Boulet drills his fills. “Any time I have to shout into the sax bell is a lot of fun because people react really nicely to that.”

Party Dozen
Party Dozen. Credit: Jason Sukadana

‘The Real Work’ – very much a pisstake title – is in on the joke. It’s an album that alternatively nods to then head-butts the notion of improvised art-rock. Each song is its own mood, but they nevertheless all coalesce into a satisfying whole.

The album’s first single, ‘The Iron Boot’, opens the record with theatrical, ear-bleed metal motifs. It’s Party Dozen saying either you’re with us or you’re not.

“Yeah, that’s always the plan; you want to start with a punch. And what better way than sludge, doom metal?” asks Boulet. “I was playing with this guitar sound months ago and trying to make it as anti-social as possible… We took it down a notch so people could actually listen to it.”

Similarly, ‘Major Beef’ is a crazed, organ-led jam that sounds like The Horrors in front of a firing squad. “It’s based on an army guy who is falling over himself,” says Tickle. Prodded a little more, Boulet allows: “I guess it’s about the trauma that happens between friends, the unnecessary fights over the smallest things when people are bored.”

“You want to start with a punch. And what better way than sludge, doom metal?” – Jonathan Boulet

The subject matter must be fictional. Both in their early-30s, Boulet and Tickle have an air of hard-won contentment, both in relation to their band and their relationship with the world.

“They say you change your friends every five years. We’re playing shows and meeting lots of people. It’s fun being intrigued again,” Boulet says romantically.

One of those intriguing moments is ‘Risky Behaviour’, which closes the record out in the most unexpectedly cosmic way – and wasn’t supposed to be on the album.

“Jon did the heavy lifting on that one, it was already something that he’d been tinkering with, I don’t think he thought it would be on a Party Dozen record at all. We were trying to think of other moods,” says Tickle.

“He said ‘Hear me out!’ and pressed play on the sample and I was like ‘Absolutely! That is so sick.’ it’s so different to anything we’ve done.”

That’s the aim of their third record: to boldly go where they haven’t before. And that’s why Party Dozen are blowing up right now.

You can also put it down to maturity (they’ve perfected their squall-of-sound), hard graft and – let’s not beat around the bush – that thrilling vocal turn from Nicholas Edward Cave AO.

Cave speaks of the collaboration like a no-brainer. As he told NME: “Party Dozen sent me a song. They wanted me to sing on it. I listened to it. I had an idea. I sang on it. I tried not to fuck it up. Party Dozen are a force of nature.” The Cave co-sign has led to another win: Party Dozen have been added to the bill of All Points East in London in August, which is being headlined by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.

“We knew we wanted him on the ending and we’d already named the track ‘Macca The Mutt’,” says Tickle. “We didn’t expect lyrics, we just expected him to make some Nick Cave sounds. It was cool to get it with a melody.”

“The file came through the next morning and I spent the whole day mixing it as soon as I could. I was like ohhhhhh,” says Boulet, making happy-giddy noises.

“There’s no way we were going to give Nick Cave notes.”

Party Dozen’s ‘The Real Work’ is out now through GRUPO / Temporary Residence

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