This Saturday, the brilliant all ages music and arts initiative, XraySpex returns for its second installment. In collaboration with Oxford Art Factory and I Oh You, the initiative is designed and booked by high-school students and once again boasts a top notch line up. We got two of the stellar acts from the line up, Jack River and The Belligerents, together for an Artist v Artist chat ahead of the festival.
JACK RIVER V THE BELLIGERENTS
Jack River: What’s your favourite science fiction film/thing/character?
The Belligerents: That’s a tough one! I’ve always had a bit of a thing for Yoda? He’s super woke. I’ve also always really liked Spock, Vulcans seem quite interesting. They also have a great catchphrase.
Jack River: What goes through your brain when you’re playing the new album on stage?
The Belligerents: It’s kind of a mixture of being really excited to be playing the new songs and trying really hard not to fuck up any of my parts. We only learnt how to play the record a few weeks back and some of the parts are definitely the most challenging things I’ve ever had to play with Belligerents. We’ve definitely put the most amount of effort into this live show out of any show we’e ever played so we’ve been trying really hard to get it right when we’ve been playing.
Jack River: Whenever I’m producing my songs I am constantly seeing landscapes and trying to build them into the music. If you could write a scene – wtf would your new album look like?
The Belligerents: I reckon Ventral Is Golden totally nailed the album artwork, I’d like to imagine it would be something along the lines of that. Lots of vibrant colours, some kind of city/landscape floating in the sky.
Jack River: What’s growing up in Brisbane like? Where did you go to get free/dream up the Belligerents?
The Belligerents: Only Andy grew up in Brisbane, the rest of us grew up in different places. I grew up in Berlin, Lewi and Jim on the Sunshine Coast and Stag in Canberra. The Belligerents only started happening when we all started hanging out together and deciding that we wanted to be in a band together. I think Brisbane definitely played a part in the shaping of our initial sound though, you’re always bound to be inspired by the things that go on around you.
Jack River: The album is full of so many elements I’m in love with. Mostly the fact that it doesn’t follow the rules, and builds its own other world. What artists do you love who did this?
The Belligerents: Thank you! There’s definitely a few artists we all love and appreciate for constantly changing things up. Projects like Radiohead, Caribou, Metronomy and Ariel Pink are always super interesting, both songwriting and production wise.
Jack River: And since this is an all ages show we’re playing together.. what would you tell your younger selves about your life now? Did u imagine you’d be doing what you’re doing?
The Belligerents: I would tell our younger selves to be persistent and stick to it, even if you might not have much success at the start. I’m not sure if any of us imagined we’d be doing what we’re doing at the moment, we’re incredibly lucky to be able to continue to make make music and play to so many awesome people.
Jack River: I keep thinking about the little skills I had as a kid that I didn’t know were so useful. Like organising SRC events is kinda the same as organising a festival or band rehearsal. Did you all always play music? What other weird things did you love as a kid?
The Belligerents: Most of us played music from an early age and I definitely think all of that helped immensely once we started playing in a band together. Lewis rides horses a lot to get inspiration, he’s been obsessed with horses since he was a little boy. I think a lot of the inspiration for Belligerents songs actually comes from his love of equestrianism. At the start we all thought it was a bit strange but we’ve come to understand it over time.
Jack River: What dreams of the band are yet to be a reality. List 10. (Sucked in haha)
The Belligerents: Oh sheet!
1. Performing over sees!
2. Having people like our music.
3. Playing live on KEXP.
4. Developing a killer live set.
5. Opening my daddy’s eyes to one day liking our music.
6. Winner Queenslander of the year.
7. Having a handful of records under our belts.
8. Being Australia’s next top model.
9. I would love to have our music bring someone out of a depressed mental state.
10. If we could stop all closed-mindedness (world peace) through our tunes
11. Co-write a children’s album w/ the yellow wiggle
12. Write a Christmas album.
THE BELLIGERENTS V JACK RIVER
The Belligerents: I absolutely love the production on your songs. How firm are your production ideas before you head into the studio to record? Do songs tend to completely change once you’re in the studio or do they stay close to the original ideas in your head/your demos?
Jack River: Thank youuuu. With the current album I’m making, each song was very formed in my head before I took it into the studio. I try to infer some basic themes in my demos and I’ll make a bunch of tripper notes but they prob wouldn’t make any sense to anyone else. Themes like ‘candy pre chorus’ or ’90’s teen dream chorus’ or ‘Springsteen drive’, or notes of movies or other songs. Once I’m in the studio though, I’ll stay completely open minded to new elements roaming into the song ‘cause that way they always turn out way cooler than what I imagined. Leaving the song open to the gods is a hugely important part of the process – getting caught up on old ideas sucks .
The Belligerents: You were saying that you always try to incorporate landscapes into your songwriting. What was the landscape you were picturing for Fool’s Gold?
Jack River: I guess landscapes in terms of scenes. I usually start with lyrics & they’ll quickly inspire the scene in my head, then I draw production ideas from that scene. Eg. the lyrics ‘You don’t like rollercoasters/how could you ever love a girl like me’ and ‘My bones were cut with a promise to you/our stars came in a packet of two’ felt like two kids in a sunset lit street in the 70s making a blood brother promise standing next to their bikes (lol) so the bass line became a school yard, pumped up kicks thing, and the kick clap felt like MGMT.. Or the pre-chorus is like an arcade game candy dream world where there are millions of dream girls walking toward somebody you love. Xavier (co-producer) and I used layered, compressed vocals & then teenage engineering arcade samples to emulate this scene in my head. So yeah, Fools Gold is a mix of sunset youth, a candy-like arcade game world & then a gritty, emotional, glistening party where you’re trying to walk away from Fools Gold.
The Belligerents: Have you seen the romantic comedy movie Fool’s Gold with Matthew McConaughey (pre critical acclaim Matthew McConaughey)? If so, please review the movie in 20 words or less and give it a score out of 5 stars. If not please review any other Matthew McConaughey movie.
Jack River: Hahah I have, I fucking love Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson. Review: The best of tropical rom-com cinema ft. a hawt and golden onscreen romance with Hollywood’s most infectiously tanned couple. 5/5. Also just for the record.. How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days = 6/5.
The Belligerents: I always find it interesting to see how artists write their songs. Do you tend to write the original ideas on an acoustic instrument (acoustic guitar/piano) and then flesh it out later? Or do you jump straight into a fuller kind of production?
Jack River: I usually hear lyrics and melody in my head, then I’ll swiftly find my guitar and lay down basic chords and melody. Then I literally let my imagination take over and let the song just grow parts in my head for a couple of weeks or months. If its strong enough I’ll call up Xavier and record it within a week of getting the idea. For me (right now), demoing too much is a buzz kill, I like to capture the first legit take and all the emotion in it with the intention of keeping that take as final..Along with all that, lyrics drive everything for me so I literally write down evvvveryythinnng and draw from that bank of words whenever I need them. When I was younger I would stress over demoing, and try to formalise the song purely for other people to hear. But now I let the song live in my head only until I get to the studio – its fucking cool how deeply you can imagine something before it’s real.
The Belligerents: What inspires you most to write songs? If you’ve ever experienced writer’s block, what has helped you to get out of it?
Jack River: I write them when I’m overwhelmed by an emotion or so annoyingly obsessed with an idea that I need to turn it into something physical to let it go or understand it. I’ll usually love an idea if its a way of looking at an emotion that hasn’t been articulated by another song yet. If I am experiencing writers block I just don’t write or write about not writing (in my diary). If its super bad, I’ll go spend extra time at the ocean – or the most powerful thing of all is just taking myself out of my context, like go get ice cream and spend time with my teenage cousin or go ice skating. Something that trips your brain out of its stupid routine loops. I think writers block symbolises that there’s something you’re not understanding about yourself/current reality, so that is pretty inspiring in itself. I never really get worried about not writing songs, and never try to push it (I definitely used to). I just bail asap if I find myself pushing up against a wall. There’s enough other things to do on Earth haha.
The Belligerents: When did you realise that music is what you wanted to do as a career? What was the big moment for you?
Jack River: Cool question. I think it’s a continual snowball effect for me. When I was going through a crazy tough time as a teenager music was literally what I turned to heal – and it did heal me every time I needed it to. I have written all the time since I was a kid, and naturally used this to also heal myself – so the realisation that my writing could accompany people through hard times is super cool. I was interested in politics and international studies @ school and always thought I would go into that kind of field, but over time I’ve realised how music is an international, borderless communication system of healing and strangeness and emotion – based on real feeling, not superficial ideas that take forever to complete. Big moments happen 4 me when I see massive concerts, I get that ‘this is your destiny m8, keep going’ feeling. Tame Impala, Springsteen, Tay Tay. Music in the air connecting to thousands of people, transfixed – it’s just so fucking beautiful!
The Belligerents: I absolutely loved your EP. Can we expect a full length soon and if so what can we expect from your debut album?
Jack River: Yesss, my album is almost done. Have been working on it and dreaming it up for a couple of years so it’s well-built + ready to roam. The songs get stronger and weirder and there is more space for me to express background thought and deeper feels that there’s little time for in buzzy internet land.
The Belligerents: There’s been a lot of discussion around inclusiveness/diversity for festival line ups recently. Do you feel like it’s inherently harder for women to succeed in the music industry due to pre-existing power structures? In your opinion, where are the main areas that the music industry (especially in Australia) could improve?
Jack River: Yes and no. I don’t think it’s harder, cause ‘hardness’ is almost an individual choice of experience. But there are preconceptions built into the industry that might unconsciously obstruct the path, where a male’s path may be less obstructed. Eg. the destruction of the ‘females are competition to each other notion’ in label signings, playlists and on line ups needs to happen – this obstructs the odds for women to succeed. & ‘women have to be #hot’ in music/entertainment – this obstructs young women from focusing on artistry, and distracts from their artistry (sometimes). Shit like this happens in every industry + just needs to be exterminated asap. I reckon the best things the music industry could do to quickly improve would be to have equality on their mind whilst making every decision. If we make this a priority for a good 5-10 years whilst booking line ups, signing bands, writing songs, writing articles, we will change history forever! Also the industry/media should stop focusing on the problem and spend their energy on solutions. Political buzz chat kills time that could be spent actually doing something about it.
The Belligerents: What are your top 6 records of all time? (I know this question sucks sorry)
Jack River: Such a cruel question but now I’m gonna have a rad day with all my favourite albums.
Surf’s Up – The Beach Boys
On The Beach – Neil Young
Lonerism – Tame Impala
Joni Mitchell – Blue
MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
Blood Sugar Sex Magic – Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Belligerents: If you could work with any artist living or dead who would it be?
Jack River: Brian Wilson.
Get your tix to XraySpex here!