One of the best albums of 2019 was ‘Wasted Energy’, the second from Melbourne punk outfit Press Club. From the guttural strain of ‘Separate Houses’ to the tempo-bending tension of ‘Get Better’ and the fiery cool of ‘I’m In Hell’, it takes listeners on a visceral journey through a labyrinth of emotion and sound… Which is especially wild because it was written and recorded in just six days, before the band’s debut had even been released.
Press Club had plans to maintain their insane work ethic for album three; when this writer spoke to guitarist Greg Rietwyk before ‘Wasted Energy’ arrived, he teased that he already had a full record worth of viable ideas for its follow-up. The band started writing in earnest around December 2019, with studio time in Berlin lined up to coincide with a break on their mid-2020 tour of Europe. Of course, we all know what happened next.
With what seemed like all the time in the world, Press Club began to surgically deconstruct their creative process, treating each new song with thrice the care they’d given both their first two albums combined. “We analysed every note and lyric,” frontwoman Natalie Foster tells NME, “to the point where I was just in tears so many times towards the end of it. I’d be like, ‘Nah, the song’s finished!’ And then we’d pull the entire thing apart and start over from scratch.”
Foster admits the process took a toll on the band, rounded out by bassist Rufio MacRae and drummer Frank Lees. “To be so critical of yourself and your art, it’s not an easy thing to do without taking it really personally,” she says. “We had all the big ups and downs of feeling we weren’t good enough – telling ourselves that something could be better, even if it was perfect – but we always pushed through those barriers in the end and went, ‘There it is!’”
Those barriers never existed before for Press Club. Bursting on the scene in May 2017 with their insta-classic debut single ‘Headwreck’, they became fast favourites for their loose and intense performances, where Foster spends most of the time belting her heated yet heartfelt reveries from among the crowd. Their creative spontaneity stems from staunch independence: everything was – and still is – written, recorded, produced, released and promoted by Press Club themselves (and they’re not above packing and shipping out their own records).
Always aiming to capture lightning in a bottle, the band would never spend more than a few days hashing out a song. Thanks to Rietwyk’s masterful production, Foster’s sharp tongue and the band’s hermetic chemistry in a jam room, that fierce-and-fast approach always worked in Press Club’s favour. The songs, too, were shaped by the way they’d translate to rooms full of sweaty, moshing punks – so the idea of stepping back and mellowing with their art, separated and behind closed doors, understandably intimidated them.
Press Club’s third album is titled ‘Endless Motion’, to reflect how a pandemic and several other global crises never stopped their pursuit of their dreams. A few stragglers from the band’s pre-COVID writing sessions did make it onto the record, including ‘Coward Street’. The oldest song on the album, it was written in the wake of Foster’s solo performance at the Sydney Opera House on New Year’s Eve 2019, when she was invited to sing for the ABC’s ‘Party Of The Decades’ gig.
“Immediately after that show,” Foster says, “I started getting relentlessly trolled on the internet by this one particular guy. No-one else really cared, but one particular man was so livid that he had to see me on his TV for four minutes. It was so horrible – a bit of a shit finish to what was the one of the most incredible experiences for me, musically.”
Foster opted to ignore the troll – “an old greyhound racer from some backwater town” – and instead poured her rage into song, palpable as she spits on the track: “I’m getting caught in your vortex / You’re a disgrace and I’m coming down heavy on the Harbour Bridge / So get my message clear.”
Another older cut is ‘Untitled Wildlife’ – arguably the most poignant song in Press Club’s catalogue, being their first (and probably final, Foster quips) attempt at writing a “political” anthem. On its hook, written during the peak of Australia’s Black Summer bushfires, Foster sings: “This sunburnt country’s getting burnt to the ground!”
“I’ve never really wanted to write any sort of ‘politically charged’ things,” she says of the song’s origin, “But it was pretty hard to not write something about it – I rode my bike to the studio that day and all I could see was smoke.”
“Every day was the same, so after a while, I was just like, ‘Shit, I’ve got nothing to say anymore.’ What do you draw inspiration from when there’s nothing going on around you?”
At first, Foster struggled to express her frustrations. “We were so furious at our leaders for not doing anything, but that’s not my space – I don’t think that’s something I’m qualified to write about. But in the end, we just got into the room and the band started playing, and I just threw the words out there. It was a lot less ‘writing lyrics’ and a lot more ‘randomly stringing my thoughts together’.
This stream-of-consciousness model of songwriting would save Foster’s sanity during the pandemic. While her bandmates were cranking out new ideas on a daily basis, she was stumped with “fuck all to talk about” – which, as the band’s lyricist, was a problem. “Every day was the same, so after a while, I was just like, ‘Shit, I’ve got nothing to say anymore.’ What do you draw inspiration from when there’s nothing going on around you?”
The solution came when, during a gap between Melbourne’s punishing stints in lockdown, Foster caught up with a mate who introduced her to “subconscious journalling”. And so Foster would wake up at 5am every morning, hazily grab her phone and just type away, “one word into the next, into the next, into the next – my brain was working at the same speed as my typing”.
The effort paid off in spades. “Every time I was struggling to come up with something for a song, I would pull my phone out and scan through the last few days of stuff… Turns out I write really well when I’m not thinking in the slightest!” ‘Afraid Of Everything’ and ‘Less These Days’ are two songs entirely comprised of lines from Foster’s improv digital diary. The singer says she “fucking loved the experience”, and quickly went from “feeling so down on [herself]” to “so invigorated and free”.
“To be so critical of yourself and your art, it’s not an easy thing to do without taking it really personally”
Unsurprisingly, Press Club have already started thinking about their fourth album. But with a full year of touring for ‘Endless Motion’ ahead, they’re in no rush to smash it out like they might have in the old days. Just days after just wrapping up a eight-date run of gigs on home soil, they’ll fly out to Europe.
Press Club found new facets of themselves as artists when they were deprived of life on the road, but you couldn’t keep them away from it forever. When she talks about touring, Foster has the biggest smile plastered on her face. “During the pandemic, we definitely all realised that this part of our lives – the live performance aspect – was a crucial part of our being. The release that we get from a show is unlike anything… There’s no possible way I could take performing for granted ever again.”
Press Club’s ‘Endless Motion’ is out now via Inertia Music