Even As We Speak. We Feel More Like An English Band from Australia

Even As We Speak were a mainstay of the UK Indie scene in the early nineties. Originally from Sydney they based themselves in Hove and spent their time zooming up and down the motorways to gigs and releasing what are now highly sought after records on the iconic Sarah Records label.

And now they are back! They have released a new EP Black Forest on Emotional Response Records and are about to fly to the UK for a run of headline shows with ex  label-mates Secret Shine, Action Painting! and Boyracer.

We caught up with Mary Wyer and Julian Knowles in Sydney and interrupted their suitcase packing for a chat.

BTA: Are you looking forward to returning to the UK and touring again?

Mary:"Yes. I am very excited to be back there with the band, It was such a full on time before, we were young and a bit inexperienced, but now it will be fun to go back with our mature relationships and hanging out with everybody out there."

Julian: "Twenty five years on we will be in exactly the same situation, going up and down the country playing gigs, and with Boyracer and Secret Shine. We did a lot of gigs with Boyracer back in 1993. The whole Boyracer connection is still helping us now, as when Stewie (Stewart Anderson) started his label Emotional Response, it was really easy to connect with him as as we were already friends. Its very Indie and non-corporate relationship."

Mary: Emotional Response have been so helpful in getting our records out there, pulling in Rough Trade who have also got behind the re-issues and the tour.  We are doing 2 in-stores at Rough Trade. Getting that affirmation from what really is a UK institution is just wonderful. We did an in-store with RT in 93 but that was in Covent Garden, and we are also doing the Bristol shop also. I am so looking forward to revisiting Bristol. We lived there for almost a year in 1988 in a small house in Horfield."

BTA: I imagine it will be a totally different experience than before. Then you were a band far away from home and trying hard to make it in the UK. 

Mary: "Well we are no longer struggling to make ends meet living in a shared house in Hove like we were in 1993. Although we may be struggling with five shows in a row and we are still driving all over the country, that was definitely easier when we were younger."

Julian: "We used do that every week for months on end. We covered a lot of miles in a little blue van."

Mary: "That was where the Yellow Food title came from for our recently released Peel Sessions record. We only really had enough money for two meals a day as we were touring around, and we were sleeping on whatever floors we could find. Usually with students, who were poor and had no heating or hot water.

Sometimes we would go to Aquatic centres to wash, they always had good showers, and ate a lot of food, which always seemed to be yellow, on the way back from gigs at motorway service stations.
At least this time we will have seat belts! It was a little old school bus and we used to sit on these little benches facing each other surrounded by all our equipment and there were times we did not like each other that much and we were just glaring across the back of the van."

Julian: "Rob, the bass player, was usually driving as he had this uncanny ability to stare at the white lines for hours on end, and there was always one other who would sit beside him, and we would take it in turns. Their job was the ensure Rob did not fall asleep, that was the rule."

BTA: Will Rob be driving this time?

Mary: "Yes. He will be driving one of the cars, although we have moved up in the world and will be having two vehicles!"

Julian: "We want real seats. We have gone all bourgeois."

Mary: "One of the best things was the way everyone would be amazed when we all piled out of this small van at a gig. I remember playing the Hull Adelphi with Medicine, the American band who were on creation records, and they pulled up in this monster black tour bus, which totally dwarfed us."

Julian: "In the 90's we all left Australia, gave up our jobs, left family and friends, and that put a lot of pressure on us to get as far as we could. Now it is a totally different context, we are not leaving our jobs, we are going to just play series of shows. We have  the privilege of an audience who buy our records, and come to our shows, and we are going to have as much fun as we can and make sure our fans have a good time too."

BTA: It is twenty five years since you last played the UK, is the next tour going to be in another twenty five years time?!

Julian: "With us in wheelchairs and with walkers!"

Mary:"Ha Ha. I think it will happen before then, we need to organise time off from work and from families, but we are really enjoying it again. There is talk of more tours to Spain, France and Ireland."

Julian: "While their is also a chance of gigs a bit closer to home in the Phillipines, Singapore and probably Japan."

Mary: "It would be great to tour a different country each year, play music and get a holiday!"

BTA: You were quiet for a long time after Feral Pop Frenzy was released and you moved back home from the UK. What kicked off the band again?

Julian: "Mary and Matt (Mathhew Love, main songwriter, guitars and vocals) had a joint birthday party."

Mary: "We were both turning an important number, something with a zero in it."

Julian:"Then then there was this renewed interest in Sarah records that was bubbling up, the NME named it one of the most important indie labels of all time in classic NME hyperbole, and then a documentary was made on the label, My Secret World by Lucy Dawkins followed by the Micheal White book Popkiss for Bloomsbury, both of which were interviewed for.

Soon after that we were approached by a number of people asking us to play again, in particular the New York City Popfest, where we were asked to play in 2015, but weren't really ready, but by the following year we were. We played with The Chills, Railway Children, and The Primitives. It was a great show and a real buzz for us.

Around the same time Stewart Anderson from Emotional Response contacted us if we wanted to release a new record, or even re-issue some of the back catalogue, and as we had really enjoyed playing together again we thought why not? We had to adapt to a more modern way of recording, particularly as Matt is up in Brisbane and the rest of the band is in Sydney.

It took quite a while for us to get it together to write and record the Black Forest EP but have since picked up the pace a little and are well on the way to recording a new album. We just spent 4 days in the studio, Matt flew down, and he brought some beautiful songs with him."

BTA: When will the new album be coming out?

Mary: "Next year sometime. We are thinking about some Japanese shows in 2019, and if we did those we would want to take a new album with us."

Julian: "We are aiming for quality rather than a frenetic stressful pace of releasing new material. What is important to us is how good the record is, rather than how long it takes to make. Music is the driver rather than a record company, and that's the way we like it.

It will be quite different from the records that have gone before. One of the things we have had time to reflect on is that what has always worked for the band is that element of the unexpected and surprise. On Feral Pop Frenzy we specialised in quite a level of subversion. It was made in 1993 but predates a lot of things that didn't happen until much later in pop music, smashing together different genres, taking wild experiments in production and sound. It wasn't just this straight ahead guitar based indie pop album.

When you come back to make records when you are older you don't want to replicate everything you have done in the past, it does not have to be a clone of a record what we made in 1994. We want it to offer something else. With Even As We Speak that something else is risk and the unexpected,
while still retaining a great pop base to it we will take you to places a little bit unexpected.
And Matt is a great pop song writer, even with Feral Pop Frenzy with all its wild mix of genres, at the core there remains good pop music.

We don't want to just reissue old material, sure its nice to make the old records that sell for stupid amounts on ebay available again, but we confident of moving forward with new ideas and material. We may lose some of the old Sarah records fans but we may well pick up new fans. We have no interest in becoming just a heritage band."

BTA: You are much more popular overseas than back in Australia. Why do you think that is? 

Julian: "To be honest we feel more like an English band from Australia. Although We did have a number of releases there prior to Sarah Records predominantly our audience is outside of
Australia, in the UK, and the US as well as in Asia. Indie pop seems really big in places like the Philippines.

It is unusual that so much interest in the band resides out of the country, traditionally Aussie bands had to make it here first, like Nick Cave or the Go-Betweens and The Triffids did, while we reversed that. We left Australia and I don't think we were being played on the radio then, or now!"

BTA: What do you most remember about the UK, apart from the delights of motorway service stations?

Mary: "Meeting John Peel. He was playing Goes so slow. which we had released on Phantom Records in Sydney. We have no idea how he got it, we didn't send it to him, and listening to the Peel show is how Sarah Records actually got to hear about us."

Julian:" Later he was DJ'ing at the Phoenix festival, and we got to meet him and give him a copy of our new single 'Blue Eyes Deceiving Me', and in between Sonic Youth and Julian cope he says 'I've got a new record here from a a band who should be playing this festival but aren't and then he played it.

After he invited us around for lunch at Peel Acres. I remember stringing his sons guitar. I look at that now, a bunch of twenty somethings from Australia rattling through England in a van and him, being a champion of underground bands, inviting us in. We really needed some encouragement at that time, we had no money, and life was proving to be pretty hard being in a band, and John Peel was there for us."

Band Photo by Joshua Morris
Live Photos by Pierre Benavente

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