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Constant Mongrel interview with Tom

Australia has been killing it recently.  After decades of neglect from here in the states people are not only taking the Aussie scene seriously again, they’re literally frothing at the mouth for the next best thing to explode out of the jaw-dropping scene.  Constant Mongrel are one of those completely simplistic bands, caveman drumming, minimal guitar and frantic bass, which are completely necessary for the continued existence of rock ‘n’ roll.  We need people out there that are willing to just go for it, to not over think things and not release every belch and whistle that they record, people with more integrity than fidelity; for all these reasons and more, the world needs Constant Mongrel.  Other than some YouTube videos and a couple of streaming songs on Bandcamp there really isn’t much music to share with you but rest assure when I tell you, you need to check this out.  There’s some serious dark-wave influence from the 80’s, teamed with a dash or distorted garage rock and all rolled into one furious punk rock package that’s proven more than ready to pounce.  Last year’s Heavy Breathing was a serious follow-up to the amazing Everything Goes Wrong from 2012, but Heavy Breathing seems to be a far more coherent album and shows some real growth in the band.  I decided it was time to talk with Constant Mongrel and managed to get guitarist Tom to fill me in on the details.  So kick back with a brew and take in some sweet tunes and imbue yourself with some constant knowledge about these mongrels…

What’s the lineup of the band currently?  Is this your original lineup or have you gone through some changes?

Constant Mongrel is Hugh, Amy, Andrew and Tom.  The Original lineup is Tom and Hugh on guitar and drums.  Amy (bass) came into the band after two years and Andrew joined on second guitar about a year ago.  No changes, just special additions!

Are any of you in any other bands at this point?  Have you released any music with anyone else?  If so can you tell us a little bit about it?

I’m in Woollen Kits, we released some singles, tapes and two LP’s on RIP Society, Trouble in Mind and Fan Death Records, Amy is in School Of Radiant Living who’ve self-released a single and an up-coming LP, Andrew is in Taco Leg which released some singles, a few tapes and an LP on Richie and Fan Death Records, and Hugh is in NUN who have a single and up-coming LP on Nhilistic Orbs and No Patience Records as well as Velvet Whip who have a tape on Cool Death Records).

Where are you originally from?

Tom and Hugh are Melbourne born and bred, Amy is from Auckland, New Zealand and has lived in Melbourne for a long time now and Andrew moved to Melbourne a year and a bit ago from Perth, Western Australia.  So really, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 3000. 

Were your households musical growing up?  Were either of your parents or any of your relatives musicians or extremely interested/involved in music?

I can only answer for myself really.  I grew up as a Presbyterian Minister’s son, so Church music (Hynms and Worship songs) were a big part of my childhood.  Dad loved Credence and Cream as well and Mum always played Bob Dylan and sixty’s pop music.  I was trained to play classical cello when I was young and my parents persistence to make me continue with it, when I really didn’t want to, probably helped form the way I think and feel about music now.

What was your first real exposure to music?

I would say listening to music in the car when traveling to my Grandparents house in Northern New South Wales.

When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music?

The end of High School I decided I wanted to make original rock music.  I started a few bands, nothing ever special.

How and when did you all meet?

Hugh and I met through a mutual friend Chris, just through going out to shows etcetera.  Amy was in a band we liked, School Of Radiant Living, and we just saw her at shows all the time and we met Andrew through interest and involvement with Taco Leg.

What led to the formation of Constant Mongrel and when was that?

2010?  I had an old laundry space in my house in Fitzroy at the time, Hugh was always coming over, we were both listening to some punk/no wave music at the time and one day we thought we’d try it ourselves!  Boom, we had ten songs before you knew it.  It was very dumb, cocky and naïve. 

What does the name Constant Mongrel mean or refer too?

Constant Mongrel is in reference to a Mongrel which is a half erect penis.  Constant is having one all the time.  It also may refer to a person always being annoying.  It’s a smutty name really.

Where’s the band currently located at?

We are all living in Melbourne right now.  Hugh lives in Fitzroy, Andrew in Thorbury, Amy in East-Brunswick and I live in Kensington; all inner North/West suburbs of Melbourne where all the hip cats live.

How would you describe the local music scene there?

Interesting.  I suppose there are a lot of bands, there are a lot of people to tell these bands they are good with the aim of hoping that they will in turn tell them that their band is good too.  That is until they don’t care anymore and either give up or make really good music that isn’t unhinged by their perception of what other people think of their style.  The scene is supported by a few very dedicated non-musicians I think bookers, festival people, record labels, distributors, etcetera.

Are you very involved in the local scene?

Yes we are personally, although as a band not so much.  We just all have some other boxes in life to tick before we seek validation from other musicians.  Like what?  Being cool and making sure other people know that by dressing well and staying reasonably distant socially.  Painful modesty also keeps us cool.

Has it played a large role in the sound, history or evolution of Constant Mongrel?

Yes it has, because at first we wanted to follow trends, then we wanted to hate on those who did, then we wanted to write good songs, then we wanted to make them sound interesting and finally we hope we did.  This all came from looking at others and seeing what was amazing/good/average/horrible about them but maybe that’s just the life of any artist.  Some do it better than others and some bluff their way up.

There are some extremely interesting sounds kicking around inside of your music!  Can you tell our readers about who some of your major musical influences are?  What about the band as a whole rather than individually?

As a band we all listen to different music.  I know for sure that Amy and I love country music to the core and listen to a lot of that.  Andrew loves early K and Riot Grrl along with some old and contemporary Hardcore stuff.  Hugh loves his Hardcore and punk too, as well as listening to a lot of jazz, synth punk and new wave stuff.  Bands I think that influence us on the whole are The Fall, Townes Van Zandt, Sun Ra, Ornette Colman, Eno, Cluster, Scott Walker, Emmylou Harris, Swell Maps, The Ramones, Blitz, Urban Waste, Vom, Velvet Underground, Void, Crazy Spirit, Puffy Areolas, Porter Wagoner, Springsteen, Beat Happening, Black Flag, Tom Petty, The Screamers and Homostupids.

I’m awful at labeling and describing music and I just don’t espouse the notion that it fits into these convenient pre-defined little boxes.  Can you describe your sound to our readers who might not have heard Constant Mongrel before?

Punk songs with an effort to sound a bit different, is that post punk?  That already happened though…  I find when bands don’t want to label their music it tends to make them sound stupid.  So yeah, post-punk I suppose. 

Can you tell us a little bit about Constant Mongrel’s songwriting process?  Is there someone who comes to the rest of the band with a riff or somewhat finished product to work out with the rest of the band or is there a lot of jamming and throwing ideas around in the practice space amongst the band?

On the whole, guitar parts are made first usually by myself, although Hugh’s been making some recently, and then we just play with them and work a vocal part, either Hugh or me and once or twice Andrew, in somehow.  Lyrics are often written after the song.  I think that’s letting the music speak first?

Do you all enjoy recording?  Being a musician myself I think that we all really love the end product, there’s not a lot that beats holding a record in your hands knowing it’s your music and you made it.  Getting into the studio though, it can be a little rough on a band to say the least.  A lot of people breakout into a cold sweat or hives at the mere mention ha-ha!  How is it in the studio for you all?

I usually hate recording but for this record, and even the other, it was pain free!  We went to Hugh’s family beach house, set up with our mate Tom H. and played live, recorded VOX and drums and mixed over the next month.  We had a great time over there, the weather was nice and we went to the beach on our breaks.  Taking time out to record really makes you feel like you’re a real band, not just some weekenders.  That might affect the way we play and the effort that goes into everything.

Do you do a lot of preparatory work before you enter the studio or is it more of an organic evolving dynamic where things change and morph where they might need to?

Nothing hardcore just working it all out so we can play them well first go, instead of dicking around when recording. We want to make sure the band sounds good and tight, but on the whole that’s a practice or two before. 

Let’s take a moment and talk about Constant Mongrel’s back catalog a little bit.  Your first release was the self-titled Constant Mongrel tape on Hidiotic.  What are you memories of recording that first album was it a positive experience for you all?

That tape was just me and Hugh.  We set up with Tom. H and played into four microphones with live vocals and the lot; really quick and easy that one!  Hidiotic is some of the dudes from the UV Race.  They put some money in and dubbed the tapes for us.  It was a pleasure working with Georgia.  

When was the material for that self-titled cassette recorded?  Who recorded it and where was it recorded?  What kind of equipment was used in the recoding?

Same as above.

I know that the Constant Mongrel cassette was limited right?  How many copies was it limited to?

Don’t know actually!  Maybe eighty?  I don’t even have a proper copy of the thing!  If anyone that reads this has some lying around please contact me because I want one!

After the self-titled cassette there was the split on Wuss Tapes with Taco Leg.  How did that collaboration come about? 

Hugh and I loved the Taco Leg stuff we had heard.  We literally messaged Andrew on Myspace and asked him.  He said yes.  Done!

Did you record the untitled song for that album or was it something that you had previously recorded and had lying around?  Can you tell us about the recording of that song?  When and where was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

Not sure about that song, it was a long time ago!  We recorded that on a boom box in Hugh’s lounge room one afternoon with some mates.

There were two pressings of the cassette both with different covers and both limited but I couldn’t find out how many copies the pressings were limited to.  Do you know how many copies that split was limited to?

I think about sixty of each pressing was done on that one.  Hugh did the first cover and then Andrew from Taco Leg and Constant Mongrel, adapted that cover with help from his girlfriend Clare.

Then in 2012 you released the Everything Goes Wrong 12” via R.I.P. Society and 80/81 Records.  Was the recording of that album very different than the session(s) for your previous releases?  Where and when was that material recorded?  Who recorded it and what kind of equipment was used?

Recording that record was the first proper band effort for Constant Mongrel and the first with Amy on bass as well.  We did Everything Goes Wrong toward the end of 2011 with Alex McFarlane at Bakehouse rehearsal rooms in Melbourne.  We used a 12-track interface straight into a computer.  We recorded the instruments live and then completed the rest over a month or so.  You know thinking about what Constant Mongrel was before that record, we probably could have changed our name and it would have made sense, it was a new band basically.

Was Everything Goes Wrong a limited release?  As far as I can tell it’s out of print as of earlier this year.

Yep, from memory five hundred were pressed.  It was a split release with a record label from California called 80/81 and the Sydney based label RIP Society.  Two hundred and fifty were sent to Australia and two hundred and fifty were left with Matt from 80/81.  As far as we know the USA part has sold out but there may still be a few left around in Australia.

You recently released the Heavy Breathing album 12” on Siltbreeze and the CD version on R.I.P. Society earlier this year (2013).  Did you try anything radically when it came to writing or recording this new album?  What can listeners expect from the new album?

The new album is interesting.  We recorded it easily and quickly from songs we had been playing live for months before, except for one or two we made up on the day.  So we had a good idea of the content but less maybe of the way we wanted it to sound.  In the recording we set out to make sure we had a really strong backbone in terms of the guitars and drums.  The songs I think are a little more developed than previous releases and hopefully heading toward a more individual sound though what that is I’m not sure, maybe darker, maybe more depth with the second guitar.

Where was Heavy Breathing recorded?  Who recorded it and when was that material recorded?  What kind of equipment was used in the recording process?

Heavy Breathing was recorded at the end of 2012 in Hugh’s beach House on the west coast of Victoria.  Tom Hardisty recorded it with an 8-track interface into a Mac desktop, that was hard to lug.

Does Constant Mongrel have any music that we haven’t talked about?  If so can you tell us a about it?

Not really, one demo was made after the first three or four practice sessions.  We gave some CD’s for free at the first few shows.  A rare tidbit now!

Are there any plans for any other releases coming up on the horizon or in the works, maybe a single or an EP to follow up the recent full-length?

Hopefully something will happen in the next year or so…  We have about three or four new songs.  If we keep up at this rate the next chance we get to record again we might have a full-length record ready!

Where’s the best place for our U.S. readers to buy copies of your music?

Well I know Permanent Records in Chicago and LA stock it.  Umm, I’m pretty sure Revolver distributes the record through Siltbreeze so I’m hoping most decent record stores will have it floating around!

With the completely mad international postage rate increases where’s the best place for our international and overseas readers to buy your music?

Try online, if that’s an issue go to your local independent record store and demand they do a Revolver order and get some other Aussie or Siltbreeze stuff too!  Tell ‘em they’ll save on postage and that the stuff is actually good.

Are there any plans to make any of the earlier out of print material available via digital distributors in a reissue at this point?

Actually not right now, we don’t have any interest in getting stuff up right now.  Gotta let sleeping dogs lie.  That being said I think 80/81 put Everything Goes wrong up on Bandcamp to download for five dollars.

Does Constant Mongrel have any goals or anything you’re trying to accomplish in 2013?

We will be playing local shows for now, possibly trip to Sydney or Brisbane toward the end of the year, maybe some recording and just saving money for some bigger things in 2014; USA maybe?

Where’s the best place for our readers to keep up with the latest news like upcoming album releases and shows at?

Well we just made a Facebook account under the name Constance Mongral.  It is a personal Facebook page so you have to add as a friend to follow.  Follow RIP Society and Siltblog to get some stuff if you are anti-Facebook!

What do you have planned as far as touring goes for the rest of the year?

Like I said local shows, maybe Sydney and Brisbane but that’s all for Australia, maybe a U.S. tour?  Just have to wait and see in terms of money etcetera.

You’ve played with some really cool bands, who are some of your personal favorite that you’ve had a chance to share a bill with?

Heaps!  UV RACE, Bed Wetting Bad Boys, Home Blitz, Blues Control, Raw Prawn, Destiny 3000, Miss Destiny, Mad Nana and Dribble.

Who are you on tour with… in your dreams?

Blues Control.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live shows or performances that you’d like to share with our readers?

One time Hugh was playing drums and a drunk dude he used to be friends with, but who owed Hugh money, came on stage during the set.  He started yelling that Hugh’s cymbals were his and they kinda were, but they were given in grace of the money owed.  He started to try to take the cymbals off while we were playing, Amy got really pissed and kicked this dude in the back of the legs and he crumbled.  Bad.  The song finished and Amy was yelling, “Give Hugh his money or get the fuck outta here”.  That’s the thing, Amy’s the hardest person in the band by far, and Andrew swears he did something but I didn’t see, I had to sing so I couldn’t touch the poor guy.  Anyway, he got some poo change and threw it on the stage at Hugh.  So Amy pointed to her boyfriend Alistair, he came up and pushed the guy off of the stage and escorted him to the door as Amy started playing the riff to “Under Collar”.  Pretty funny for all of us really.  Don’t think he’s paid Hugh back yet…?  Shit, you know I kinda like him.

With all the various methods of release available to artists today I’m always curious why they choose they ones that they do.  Do you have a preferred medium of release for your music?  What about when you are buy or listening to music?

We all like to buy our music but format isn’t the most important thing. I prefer records and CD’s because I like the whole package and the artwork, etcetera.  Everything Constant Mongrel has done has been available on tape, download, CD or vinyl, keeping the punters happy.  The reality is that we aren’t in any zone to make cash off selling our music, it’s more at the stage that if someone wants to front their own money to release what we do and make something for themselves we’re happy.

Do you have a music collection at all?  If so can you tell us about it?

I’ve got a small record collection.  It used to be bigger but I culled a whole lot recently with the question of “will I listen to this in ten years?”  I mainly collect country, 70’s to 80’s punk, early synth/noise/ambient, post punk and hardcore but there’s some contemporary stuff too.

I’m a pretty avid music collector, I don’t have the amount of money that I’d like to pick up the amount of stuff I would but I’m passionate about it despite a modest collection.  There’s just something magical about holding an album in your hands.  Having artwork to look at, liner notes to read, it allows a brief glimpse into the mind of the artists that made it and makes for a more complete listening experience; at least for me.  Do you have any such connection with physical releases?  I love my music collection and I love being able to hold my music but I can’t deny that I love the ease of digital music and the fact that it allows me to take so much more stuff on the go and listen to so much more music.  Digital music has exposed me, via the internet, to a whole world of music that I otherwise wouldn’t have ever been privy to.  On the other hand it’s undermining decades of infrastructure inside of the music industry and may prove to be the nail in the coffin for major labels if they don’t learn to role with the punches soon.  As an artist during the reign of the digital ear what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

Ok, to be honest with you I feel like this debate is pretty much over with.  The music industry has fully embraced the digital format.  Bands pop their music up on Bandcamp, YouTube or Soundcloud and then the old stuff is on iTunes or Spotify.  As long as the prices are reasonable and the artist is supported in whatever way I think it’s a really positive thing.  That being said, from my experience I think that underground or small indie record labels are doing hard copy with success at this point.  I don’t know why 12” and 7” records have made such a resurgence in this underground world as opposed to CD because size, cost and postage are the negative factors to vinyl.  Sound quality does come into play with this stuff although it really is a minor difference anyway due to fact that most people play their records on poor quality turntables and sound systems.  Why I still like LP’s I don’t know.  I think as an artist maybe the idea of having a solid and large size version of your music gives you a tactile sensation that a CD can’t give?  Also the fact that it costs more money to press gives us a good feeling too.  So that’s that, I think that maybe its artists and their ego’s running the vinyl revolution right now.  It’s a way of saying, “Hey I’m special, or at least others think I am, enough to have a 12” piece of plastic that plays my music to hold onto, what have you done today?”  Maybe I’m full of shit?

I try to keep up on as much good music as is literally humanly possible ha-ha!  Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I might not have heard of that I should be listening to?

All the bands I listed before!  The Gutter Gods album is going to rule and I think the Ruined Fortune Record should be great as well.  I saw a band called Flat Fix recently and really got into that.  I hope to hear more recordings soon!  Mob from Sydney are really great.

What about nationally and internationally?

Folded Shirt and Andrew Chalk.

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview I know it took some serious time to get through this behemoth!  Is there anything that I missed or that you’d just like to talk about?

Thanks I’m spent.

(2010)  Constant Mongrel – Constant Mongrel – Cassette Tape – Hidiotic (Limited Edition)
(2010)  Constant Mongrel/Taco Leg – Constant Mongrel/Taco Leg split – Cassette Tape – Wuss Tapes (2 Limited Editions exist each with a different cover)
(2012)  Constant Mongrel – Everything Goes Wrong – 12” – R.I.P. Society / 80/81 Records
(2013)  Constant Mongrel – Heavy Breathing – 12”, CD – Siltbreeze (12”)/RIP Society (CD)

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
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