Rich Hobson speaks to Press Club about breaking the UK, and their latest record. Then, two months later, he speaks to them again about another UK tour and, can you believe, another new record???
by Rich Hobson
Photo: Ian Laidlaw
Press Club are living The Dream. After all, what band doesn’t dream of someday hopping on a plane and playing to rooms full of adoring fans in a place that is worlds away from their own? It’s just not often that those exotic locales happen to be England (amidst a particularly grey and miserable April no less). “It’s all very exciting,” enthuses bassist Iain Macrae, chatting in a beer garden at the back of The Frog and Fiddle in Cheltenham, ahead of the band’s first ever European show. “The majority of us haven’t even been to Europe before. This is incredible – travelling to foreign countries blows my mind, and to be able to do it with music is even better.”
A popular student bar, The Frog and Fiddle is a relatively unremarkable location to host the first ever show for an independent band all the way from Australia, particularly one that has already managed to land press buzz from the likes of the NME and BBC Radio 1 Rock Show. But then, they probably said that about The Blue Moon Club just up the road – a club which famously hosted the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. And to Press Club, even the fact they are able to get booked onto a bill and have people turn out has its novelty.
“Every band has to pay their dues,” Macrae says knowledgeably. “You play to half-empty rooms and smaller venues starting out and when you start going to foreign territories overseas you find yourself doing it all again. We don’t have any right to come to Europe and play to anyone, so I’m flattered that people want to come see us.”
Modest as that is, it seriously underplays the hype that Press Club have managed to wrack up thus far. Hailing from Brunswick – a suburb which doubles as a creative hub in Melbourne – the band came together as the drifting of four disparate musicians who were united in the vision of creating a band that wasn’t concerned with fitting in specifically with any particular scene or subgenre. “Frank [Lees, drums] and I started out playing in a terrible y-rate ska punk band when we were in second or third year of high school,” admits Macrae. “But then he moved on to studying music at a place called MMIT where he did jazz and contemporary. I saw how much he got out of that, so I enrolled the following year and I met Nat [Foster, vocals], so we played in a couple of outfits with Greg [Rietwyk, guitar] as well. We took stock of everything we were doing and decided to start a project where we’d just let the music dictate style, rather than imposing limits on it. We wrote about 40 songs in my mum’s living room, whittled that down to 12, then kicked one out to get the 11 you hear on the LP.”
The LP Macrae is referring to is Late Teens, the band’s debut which was originally released back home in March 2018. It didn’t make its way to the UK and Europe until January this year, when it was picked up by indie distributor Hassle Records, kick-starting the process for getting the band out here. “To be honest it was kind of a chicken and egg situation,” admits drummer Frank Lees. “We’ve wanted to come to the UK and Europe for a while and we actually had people reaching out to us. But we also had to think about the fact we don’t really know the industry here very much –”
“It’d be the blind leading the blind,” Macrae finishes.
Even so, the band’s deal with Hassle enabled them to get the record out and pretty soon glowing reviews were pouring in. Soon they were stacking their calendar with a heap of European dates, including sold-out shows in Edinburgh and London. Simply put: now they’re here, they’re here for the long-haul. Their initial European run saw them land in the UK, play a host of shows, leave for Europe then return almost a month later to pick up again. Similarly, at the end of August they return for another run, topped off with their spots at Reading & Leeds festival (and a few headline shows either side just to be safe). This isn’t just a band paying their dues – it’s a band making and seizing their own opportunities whenever possible. So much so, in fact, that they even managed to sneak a surprise second record into the pipeline. Wasted Energy takes the crown for most incongruous title of the year, from a band who don’t waste a single second.
Attribute it to their punk leanings, to a love of hardcore or just the recognition that you don’t get anywhere without a fuck-tonne of work, but whatever Press Club are doing, it’s working. Their initial run of UK shows seems to be demonstrative of how the band have operated thus far; they play, word gets out and the crowd just grows. It doesn’t hurt any that their sound is in the nebulous territories between punk and indie, rock and hardcore, uniting those sounds to create a pick n mix type crowd that filter in from all over.
“In Melbourne there is a really, really good live music scene that encompasses a wide variety of genres – punk, indie, alternative, electronica…” starts Lees. “There’s a wide variety of scenes going on and we can play with a lot of those, which we love.”
“There’s a lot of musicians we’re friends with that make up this big community in Melbourne,” adds Macrae. “[Places like that] are where the barriers between genres get broken down. Because you’re all in it together – in it for being musos rather than because you specifically want to be a punk artist or whatever. Not boxing ourselves in creatively – not thinking ‘we are this kind of band’ – allows us to write lots of different things and so we let that dictate what we are.”
While this fluidity suggests that Australia may have done away with the inherent tribalism of music scenes (a move the UK is starting to embrace), the truth is more that Australian musicians seem to band together out of a sense of necessity, facing the lack of full touring infrastructure in the country. While by no means isolated from the international music community, it’s hard to overstate just how massive Australia is. With literal days driving between shows and no towns for hundreds or thousands of miles, it’s not hard to see why a lot of bands just stick to the big cities to get their start. Which makes the fairly standard set-up of a regular small-town working venue like The Frog and Fiddle something of a dream to most Australian musicians.
“We do try really hard to hit as many regional centres back home as we can,” Lees says. “A lot of the time those gigs are the best gigs and those fans are the best fans. People in regional towns tend to appreciate new music more, where in cities they can be a bit… spoiled, I guess.”
“Australia is a funny country when it comes to touring and cities,” Macrae goes on to explain. “You can drive the east coast, drive to Brisbane and Sydney and do some shows along the way, but ultimately if you want to do an all-encompassing Australian tour you’d be looking at forking out thousands and thousands on flights to get to South Australia and Adelaide; I don’t think anyone makes it as far as Perth, they’re starved for music there.”
“Promoters aren’t really a thing in Australia in general,” Lees agrees. “They’re becoming slightly more popular now, but as far as we’re concerned the only real things any band would need is a manager and a booking agent.”
“The booking agent liaises with the venue and you arrange your own support acts,” finishes Macrae. “There’s no promoter curating nights because it doesn’t really exist as far as our experiences go. I was dumbfounded when I found out that role exists in the UK and Europe on such a wide scale.”
Knowing this, it’s not entirely surprising that they should choose to forge their own path in breaching the music industry. Taking the DIY approach feels like a natural conclusion when facing a band as earnest and potent as Press Club, upholding the same kind of work ethic that powered the likes of Minor Threat, Black Flag and Bad Brains before them. “DIY is exactly that; you have to do literally everything yourself,” says Lees. “It’s an all-encompassing job and we’re lucky that we have a wonderful manager who pulls a lot of weight,” adds Macrae. “We’ve also got four people on board who all pull equal weight – that’s the only way we could ever get everything done in-house. We’re not DIY just to prove a point.”
Nothing Press Club do feels anything less than authentic. Live, the band communicate with an earnest sense of emotion that shifts between the burning indignation of Camp Cope and the emotional detachment of The Menzingers. Late Teens crystallises this perfectly. Much as its title suggests, the record is an emotional rollercoaster of melodrama, vulnerability, bravado and excitable nervousness. We close out our initial chat in Cheltenham with the resolution to talk again after the tour, giving the band time to decompress and reflect on what this first tour has meant to them. Which takes us to early June – and the surprise revelation that the band are ready to release their second record in August.
Press Club’s initial run of shows can be considered nothing less than a roaring success. Filling rooms throughout Europe, the band seem to have done better than some acts that have been going for years, sold-out shows heralding the fact they are onto something very special. Even within the span of a few shows, Press Club have grown enormously – barely a month passes between that first Cheltenham show and the band’s arrival in Birmingham towards the end of the run, but they seem like a band utterly transformed – a snowball picking up enough traction to become an avalanche.
“We didn’t have any idea how we’d do on that first tour,” admits Macrae, speaking to me on the phone after getting back home to Australia. “We just had to go off ticket sales and engagement on social media, but that’s all 17,000 kilometres away. Some shows were definitely going to be good; London and Edinburgh had sold out well before we arrived which was very flattering, but there were some we expected to be empty that ended up rammed. We played in Zurich and had no idea what to expect, but it was great once we got there.”
Wasted Energy picks up the baton from Late Teens and runs even further, capturing the nous of isolation and abandonment on opening track ‘Separate Houses’, expanding out into a record which feels more aggro without fully succumbing to the band’s clear punk influences. Flying in the face of the notion of ‘the death of rock’, Press Club have been picking up steady momentum in 2019. The band’s August return could herald some seriously exciting things for the band, not just seeing them arrive to play new headline shows, but take a spot on a major mainstream music festival that could catapult the band into the mainstream consciousness. But then, what would you expect of a band that didn’t just release the best debut of 2019, but also the best follow-up?