TFS (abbreviated for word count, not censorship let it be known) are hitting the UK this May for their debut tour. The new(ish) band features Gaz Liddiard and Fi Kitschen who have spent the last 20 years in revered Australian rock act The Drones.
Exit_International frontman Scott Lee Andrews talks to the four-piece, completed by Erica Dunn and Lauren Hammel, about THAT name, the band’s now year-old debut full length A Laughing Death In Meatspace and more.
There’s a white elephant in a very dark room. Fi, the band’s business head dims the lights in the coffin of a dressing room at the rear of The Croxton Bandroom in North Melbourne. The band have barely walked offstage having made it nigh on impossible for headliner Kurt Vile to follow. This last minute show acts as a warm-up before they shortly head to Europe. This dimming is not for mood. A request to avoid the distracting glare of the fish-tank-like window spilling into the main band room during the headliner’s performance.
They file in, introductions are made and on shaking hands I notice Gaz’s Einstürzende Neubauten tattoo on his wrist, possibly hinting at his preference for Fender Jaguars a la Bliza Bargeld and the unconventional approach to TFS’s musical ‘constructions’. The band wrapped up the final mixing session on their as yet untitled second album a few hours ago, coupling that the post-show high everyone is still riding, the excitement is palpable.
So….That name. I jokingly introduce myself as a ‘polite Brit’ and tease that choosing a name like ‘Tropical Fuck Storm’ must have been an intentional, cutting off the nose to spite face action. Whenever I have seen the name here in Australia it appears sans any red-pencilling. However, the U and C are expunged on the UK/European Tour poster.
Gaz: I just don’t think it matters. To a bunch of soft cocks who have gotta put a bunch of asterisks on it, they are irrelevant anyway. The internet has changed all that now….
Fi: Well, yes and no because we have Facebook and everything, and that was very difficult to get past. It’s a good/shit name, it’s a terrible/great name.
Far from being crass for effect, a matter of fact Gaz adds: “Why do people care? There’s terrorism, people chopping heads off, massacres and all that shit….You can film the massacre in Christchurch on Facebook, but you can’t say ‘Fuck.’ It’s like the end of apocalypse now when Marion Brando is saying they won’t let a fighter pilot write ‘Fuck’ on his aeroplane but they will let him burn a thousand children with napalm” and is instantly backed with a chorus of “HYPOCRISY” from his band-mates in solidarity.
I exemplify my point using noughties post-punks Selfish Cunt and the issues that occur when a name creates a glass ceiling, yet they still managed to end up one of the ‘top 40 bands in Britain’ list published by The Guardian in 2004. That said, In December 2018, barely existing for 2 years, TSF took home 3 wins at the inaugural Australian National Live Music Awards. Best Hard Rock Live Act, Best New Act and Gaz for Guitarist of the Year. On watching live feeds of the announcements, the ‘fucks’ just fly. Topped off by the fact they are certainly not an easy listen. Thoughts on the accolades? Fi appears indifferent before conceding “Unless there’s a financial reward, they mean heaps. We need the money!”.
The band head up a 20 strong presence at The Great Escape 2019 as part of the ‘Australian Barbeque’ afternoon. I’m just about to query whether there is any pressure attached to being featured as one of the top-billed examples of the Antipodean contingent when my Welsh accent derails the conversation onto Gaz’s heritage. Born in Australia of English parents, with grandparents hailing from Swansea, Gaz moved back to the UK only to return to settle in Perth when he was just 5 years old. The accent he brought back subjected him to some classic schoolyard alienation, resulting in the now broad Australian accent he sings in today.
The band’s sold-out debut UK show falls just shy of a year to the day since the release of TFS’s debut ‘A Laughing Death in Meatspace’. I propose my first impression on hearing ALDIM was how ‘alien’ the record sounds (Hear the concupiscent slither of ‘Antimatter Animals’ or the disquieting stomp of ‘Chameleon Paint’ to start with) a geographic anomaly that struck me as having a more ‘European’ flavour compared to their Australian peers.
Gaz: “European class, it’s our European classiness…I’m half Welsh, half Yorkshire….”
The clash of accents again leads the conversation off-road. Gaz picks up the feeling that my current base of Geelong (An hours drive South East of Melbourne) is the ‘Merthyr of Victoria’ in terms of being a ‘not the greatest place to start an ‘out-there’ band’. Fi chimes in – ‘I thought it (Wales) was gentle?’ to which Gaz responds ‘No it’s fucking not – The only place I’ve seen someone punch a baby was in Wales’. I did manage to get a promise for the band to play Wales next time!
Reigning the clearly excitable and mischievous ramble back on course, I reel off a collective of superlatives applied to their debut, ‘unhinged and feral’….’messy and acidly funny’…’hot with anger and full of ugly truths’ and my personal pick ‘nightmarish, demented psychedelic noise fronted by an Australian slasher on cocaine’, as perfectly demonstrated on the single, ‘You Let My Tyres Down’.
That ‘Tyres’, the album’s opening song, acts somewhat as a musical red herring, with each track progressively getting more obtuse as it rolls along. The band hint towards the hasty constructions, with drummer Laurel Hammel claiming “We didn’t know each other that well when we wrote the first album, but now we love each other”.
TFS dropped 4 singles prior to the release, as the band were still finding their sound with Gaz acting as producer at their own recording ‘laboratory’ in rural Victoria. While not directly obvious, much of the album’s ideas stemmed from toying with cheap drum machines and synths, before applying a Frankenstein-esque cut and paste method which helped force them to learn how to perform the songs in a live setting, after they were actually written and recorded, as opposed to the more traditional ‘test them live then record’ method.
There have been a further two singles since the debut album was released, ‘The Happiest Guy Around’, a split release hand-picked by fellow Aussie Angus Andrews of Liars, and most recently ‘The Planet of Straw Men’. I call the band’s bluff on a possible bait & switch, both tracks strut and jerk and are more playful than the violent, menacing laconicism that seeps through the debut album. They sense this musical shift must illicit a thumbs down to the new material, causing me to jump to my own defence. I announce sonically and lyrically they sound sexier and more absurd… dare I say FUN?
Fi: “Sexy? Fuck yes, because we ARE. You called it! Both those songs are on the new record but they are not indicative of the album as a whole. They stand apart”.
Gaz: “Well I personally feel the first album is all political n’ shit, but the politics are so nuts now, it’s surreal…just let reality be entertaining. It’s like in 1919, Dadaism, art just got stupid and absurd, because they couldn’t compete with the real world. The heaviness in the world that time, we are there again…It’s just how can you say, ‘smash the system’ when the system is already smashed? You can’t compete, so it’s time to get weird and fucked up. Well, most of the songs on the album are love songs”.
Fi cuts in: “REALLY fucked up demented love songs!”
A few months after the tangible, meteorological ‘Storm Gareth’ battered the UK, another kind storm is coming The the fact ‘a’ Gareth is involved is purely coincidental. Fuck the summer, this is the kind of storm you absolutely have to allow yourself get caught out in.
Catch Tropical Fuck Storm on in May:
May 8th – Dingwalls, London
May 10th – Coalition, Brighton (The Great Escape)
May 11th – The Aussie BBQ At The Great Escape, Brighton Beach
May 12th – Hoxton Kitchen Bar & Grill, London
May 14th – Phase One, Liverpool
May 15th – The Sound House, Dublin
May 17th – The Hug & Pint, Glasgow
May 18th – Cobalt Studios, Newcastle Upon Tyne.
Words by Scott Lee Andrews. You can check out Scott’s band Exit_International at their official Facebook page.