Gravel Samwidge has been around since 1989 in one form or another, morphing out of one band and becoming a force of nature that would withstand the test of time, weather twenty-five years and come out standing stronger than ever before! The last five years have seen a flurry of digital releases, cassette tapes, CDs and vinyl, the band finally opening their vaults up and releasing some of the massive amount of material that they’ve amassed over the years. The story of Gravel Samwidge isn’t a short one, but thankfully founding member Mark Spinks has been along for the entire journey and was more than willing to sit down and share the tale, along with bassist Ash Jenkins and drummer Alex “Sleepy” Morrison. The Gravel Samwidge I know is a somewhat unhinged post-punk, apocalypse that reminds me a lot of a ramped up version of The Stooges left to brood in their own insanity in the middle of the outback. More than capable of crafting harsh and abrasive lo-fi masterpieces of dystopian nihilism, they’re just as skilled at a diabolically heavy stews of psychedelic noise that thrash and melt into themselves, before scattering bomb shrapnel to the wind like wounded animals lost in the forest. These songs are looking for a place to die though, they’re looking for a place where they can be kings, masters of their respective realms. Every song seems to have a life of its own, influences and genres seamlessly blending and weaving from edgy, lo-fi, noise on an epic level, to manically well-made downbeat psych-soul blasts; what more do you want? Waves of fuzz and distortion are consumed by the tape hiss and rumbling bass, but this band isn’t what you think. Coming from the massive Australian scene where so many bands are one trick punk-ponies, Gravel Samwidge is more than capable of a wide gambit of genres, sounds and even sounds for that matter as I’ve mentioned before, but they seem firmly planted in the ideals of experimental, lo-fi, psychedelic rock. Whatever you call it, however you label it, whatever. I love it. 2013 saw the release of Medicinal Requirements a 12” EP on the, quickly becoming legendary, Swashbuckling Hobo Records and 2014 is looking like it’s going to offer up some more great stuff from the ever intriguing group, so dig in and get a bite of some Gravel Samwidge – just remember, we ain’t paying the dental bills folks
Listen while your read: http://gravelsamwidge.bandcamp.com/
What’s the band’s current lineup? I know that there as at least one track that was released as far back as 2002, has there been any changes to the band since that time?
Mark: Yes. The current line up for the band is
Mark Spinks – Guitar / Vocals
Ash Jenkins – Bass
Alex Morrison (Sleepy) – Drums
Matt Kennedy – Guitar
The rhythm section solidified in 2008 with the addition of Ash on bass and Sleepy on drums. It happened accidentally, but we got into a situation where we would have guests that would play with us for however long they wanted to. Usually it would be a second guitarist, such as Shan Corrigan from Sewers and Melanie Jade Simpson from Shooga, but sometimes we include people on other instruments like percussion, violin, saxophone and various electronics (we even had a Theremin player one night) as well as other vocalists. It's only in the last year or so that Matt has taken on a more permanent role in the band, gigging consistently with us and playing on the last two releases.
Sleepy: I used to jump off the drums and play synth and effects for the song “Get Something From the Scene”. Which is a lot noisier live than it is on the record!
Mark: Oh yeah, I forgot about that... And we've had Glan from Per Purpose and Sarah from Sky Needle play for a gig or two as well.
Are any of you currently in any other active bands at this point? Have you released any music with anyone else in the past? If so, can you tell us about that? I do love playing musical connect the dots but I have to admit I like cheating at it even better ha-ha!
Mark: I play bass in another band called Scrabbled. Scrabbled includes Bek Moore from avant-pop punk group Clag.
Sleepy: I have my side project called Mutanteer. It's experimental, improvised, noise, sometimes featuring Australian noise legends Matt Earle of XNOBBQX, Love Chants etcetera and Adam Sussman from Xwave, Sun of the Seventh Sister, etcetera.
Where are you originally from?
Mark: We’re originally from Sydney. Then we moved to Townsville, Queensland. Then Melbourne. Now Brisbane.
How would you describe the local music scene where you grew up? Did you go to a lot of shows when you were younger? Do you feel like the local music scene played an important role in the forming your musical tastes or on the way that you play currently?
Mark: The Sydney black-eye scene in the 80’s was fiercely independent, outrageous and original. I was young and it made a major impression on me. I later found out it had a big impression on Seattle bands in the 90’s as well. We recently just supported Mudhoney, whose bassist Guy Maddison is from the Sydney scene and played in the seminal Australian band Lubricated Goat. I saw The Scientists play in 1987 and Tony Thewlis, the guitarist, pulled the lead out and stood on it. The chaotic sound it made inspired me because I realized that music had no boundaries. Searching for that boundary of musical creation influences Gravel Samwidge to this day.
Was your home very musical when you were growing up? Were either you parents or any of your relatives musicians or extremely involved or interested in music?
Mark: No, my parents weren't. My sister and I used to watch Countdown, a nightly Australian music program, a bit like MTV but before MTV and with more local content.
Ash: My next door neighbour was a few years older than me. He used to record heaps of heavy metal and punk cassettes for me... Not that I'm that influenced by either of those genres, but I appreciated the influence of underground music.
Sleepy: Not really. My dad was in a bag pipe band when he was younger. I used to write music on the computer before I could play anything. My friends in high school were all learning guitar and needed a drummer to make a band, so I obliged and became the only one who stuck with it.
What was your first real exposure to music?
Mark: The first band I obsessed over was KISS... But then my first real exposure to music would be have been seeing The Scientists on their Human Jukebox tour in 1987.
Ash: As a young teenager, I used to sneak into the local pub to watch bands who were playing psychedelic music and breathing fire on stage, causing waves of fire to roll across the ceiling of the bar. I was speechless as I had never been exposed to anything so strange in my life. I just loved it!
Sleepy: The first band I obsessed on was Pink Floyd. I loved their early bootlegs with all the improvised sections.
If you had to pick one defining moment of music from your lifetime, a moment that changed things, opened your eyes to the infinite possibilities of music and altered your perception of the world around you, what would it be?
Mark: Hearing The Birthday Party album Junk Yard. It took me a few weeks to wrap my head around it, but then nothing has been the same since.
Ash: At the beginning of high school, my teacher played “Tupelo” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The class hated it. I thought it was incredible for reasons I can't describe.
Sleepy: When I was seven, my mum bought a Jimi Hendrix cassette. “Voodoo Child” changed my life. I was gonna say Paul Kidney Experience when I was twenty... But really, that was where I got my second wind, getting into the noise scene more after that.
When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music? What brought that decision about?
Mark: I was in a Townsville punk band called The Nappy Hackers in the 80’s. I had some songs written, but they didn't really fit in with that band because they were a bit more primal sounding. So I started my own project Gravel Samwidge, with the Nappy Hackers drummer, Paul Curran. Paul was very enthusiastic about the songs, so we started Gravel Samwidge together. Paul was the second guitarist though.
When and how did you all originally meet?
Ash: Mark was living with my sister. He was rehearsing with his band, using saturated distortion and a slow tempo and I was taken at first listen.
Sleepy: I was playing in another band called The Purgatories. After the show I was approached by Ash and Mark to play in Samwidge.
What led to the formation of Gravel Samwidge and when exactly was that?
Mark: Gravel Samwidge really started because Paul and I were growing dissatisfied with the direction The Nappy Hackers were going. We were both interested in a dirtier, more primal sound. So, in 1989 we started Gravel Samwidge with those songs I had written. Songs like “Sallyanne”, “Leatherface”, “Couch Potato” and “Captain Meatpie”. We recorded a bunch of demos, including all of those songs, in '89-'90 in Sydney and Melbourne. The only song that saw the light of day at the time was “Leatherface” which was featured on Plucked From the Bowels of Mediocrity, a tape that came with Blunt Fanzine written by Bob Blunt who subsequently went on to write the seminal book, A Biased history of Australian Rock.
However, the complete compilation of demo recordings finally, only twenty years late, had a limited release on Ern Malley records and is now available on our Bandcamp page.
I really like your name, it just puts a smile on my face when I say it for one reason or another! What does the name Gravel Samwidge mean or refer to? Who came up with it and how did you go about choosing it?
Mark: John McManus came up with the name. He was the drummer for the band for many years before he moved to Taiwan in 2002. We were trying to come up with a band name that described something that was 'hard to digest'. There wasn't really any choice involved. He came up with it straight away and we all liked it. In recent years, I’ve thought about changing the name but realized that it's a name no one will forget in a hurry.
Is there any shared creed, code, ideal or mantra that the band shares or lives by?
Mark: No. Over the years, there was a general sense of apathy and nonchalance, hence the Turkeyneck release title of 2009. These days, with the current line-up, we at least try to see things through.
Where is Gravel Samwidge located at these days?
Mark: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
How would you describe the local music scene where you’re at now?
Sleepy: Commercial venues suck. The underground music scene is much better, and seems to linger in disused public spaces; under bridges, warehouses, car parks and other abandoned public spaces etcetera.
Ash: Yeah, those are the best shows. They're free, you bring your own booze... A lot of it’s organized on the net and by word of mouth/sms.
Mark: The Brisbane music scene, despite venues coming and going and the ridiculous notion of venues charging bands to play, is still somehow thriving. Brisbane still suffers from 'small town syndrome' which seems to create great music, perhaps due to a significant counter-culture forming.
Are you very involved in the local scene? Do you book or attend a lot of local shows? Do you help to record and or release any local music at all?
Mark: Yes, heavily involved. I attend a lot of shows and we often book shows, especially if we’re bringing bands up from Melbourne, and to a lesser extent Sydney.
Sleepy: Yeah, I play occasional shows as Mutanteer and I help with recording local bands sometimes. At the moment I'm engineering/producing the local band Gerald Keaney & The Gerald Keaneys.
Do you feel like the local scene has played a very large role in the history of Gravel Samwidge or the way that you all sound or do you think you could be doing what you’re doing and sound like you do regardless of your location or surroundings?
Ash: Yes and no. We’ve retained our own sound/musical integrity while definitely picking up local influences in recording production as well as performance style.
Mark: It's only recently, the last two years? That we became involved in the thriving underground scene of Brisbane. It’s definitely influenced the band... Bands like Sewers, Per Purpose, Kitchen's Floor, Gerald Keaney & The Gerald Keaneys... But also noise acts such as GIRLSGIRLSGIRLS, Wardenburger and Stasis Duo.
I love discovering new music and I really love sharing it with people but I am awful at describing music to people. I come up with these really weird analogies for how the music makes me feel, or these little diatribes of images that the music conjures in my mind but I always end up confusing people more than I end up informing them. Rather than me taking some awkward stab at talking about Gravel Samwidge, how would you describe the band in your own words to our readers who might not have heard you before?
Mark: Good friends of ours from the Paul Kidney Experience often describe their own music through colour. While their music may be improvised, I still think I can apply the same system to a Gravel Samwidge set... Or we'll try anyway. I would describe Gravel Samwidge as being purple with smudges of green.
Sleepy: A dark, strong urine colour washed over a black and white, coarse slab of concrete.
Mark: Actually... Gravel Samwidge are noisy, outsider-rock. Sometimes simple is the best.
Sleepy: I like to think that the songs are catchy, but I wouldn't call us a pop band by any means.
While we’re talking so much about the history and composition of the band I’m really curious who you would cite as some of your major musical influences? What about influences on the band as a whole rather than individually? You all have a really intricate sound and it seems like the more that I dig the more that I take away from you music and the more I can hear creeping around beneath the surface.
Mark: For me personally The Scientists were a major influence, as well as Lubricated Goat. As a band, all the members have different tastes but it seems to be working. I've heard people say that we sound like The Fall and even Rage Against the Machine, but I think that's purely to do with my vocal style. We were before Rage Against the Machine anyway!
Sleepy: Since I've joined the band it's definitely gotten more chaotic and noisy... I'd say this is due to us mingling in different local scenes in Brisbane and Melbourne. I think there's even some influence from Black Sabbath. When I first joined, Mark told me to use Bill Ward's drumming style as a reference point on how I should play drums for the band initially. A lot has changed since then, though.
Can you tell us a little bit abut he songwriting process with Gravel Samwidge? Is there a lot of jamming and free exchange of ideas between band members that gets worked into a song or is it more of a situation where one person will bring a riff or more finished product to the rest of the band to finalize and finish up with the rest of the band?
Mark: In the past it was purely me that wrote the majority of the songs. Nowadays, Sleepy and I live together so we end up song-writing and jamming together a fair bit. Although, I'm really not much of a jammer... More recently, I'll often present a riff or unfinished song to Sleepy and we’ll work on it together.
Sleepy: Every now and then, when we bother to get together and practice as a band, we might come up with a riff or an idea for a song with all of us together. We'll try to record it, so Mark and I can listen to it again later to work on it further in our song-writing sessions... Not that we really need to have song-writing sessions, since we live together anyway.
Do you all enjoy recording? I know that the end result, holding that album in your hands know that it’s your and you made it, is completely amazing. Getting to that point though, getting stuff recorded and mixed, especially when it comes to having to do that as a band, can be very trying to say the least. How is it recording for you all?
Mark: I do enjoy recording and don't mind the process once we've started. We're all more or less on the same page and know what kind of sound we're going for. That wasn't always the case in the past... For instance, the Nonchalance recording was never actually finished. Ash provided the impetus to put the damn thing out.
Sleepy: I did all the recordings and mixing for both Trough and Home Brand, which we did at home and relatively quickly. I also mixed Gas Girls Funeral, which was recorded at my university when I was studying music technology. Recording is the one area where we don't procrastinate once we've started. I was surprised how well the Home Brand recordings came out for something done in the lounge room.
Do you all record in studios or is it more of a guerilla DIY, on your own time and turf kind of situation?
Sleepy: It's a fairly even mix. It really depends what opportunities arise when we plan recording sessions. I like recording at home because there's no time limit and I feel more in control of the process. Having said that, half of the Old Tape was done in a studio and Nonchalance too. Medicinal Requirements was done at a friend's home studio, but he's got a hell of a setup with all vintage, analogue gear and it sounds amazing. Whenever I hang out there, I feel like a little kid in a candy shop.
Does gravel Samwidge do a lot of preparatory work before you record getting arrangements and compositions all worked out and the songs sounding just so-so? Or is there some breathing room where things have room to change and evolve a little bit during the recording process?
Sleepy: It's always pretty loose. We definitely try to keep things open for serendipity. We'll try to work out basic things like drum beats, bass lines and guitar riffs, but when it comes to lead breaks, if you could call them that, sound effects and often even lyrics, we generally leave that to the day of recording. I think deadlines are very important.
Mark: Yeah, we can pretty much write shit on the spot. We sometimes come up with new bits for songs while we're recording. For example, Home Brand we recording in a weekend. Even though I had the initial core of the songs done, we got Matt Kennedy and Bek Moore to add their own parts how they wanted.
Let’s take some time and talk a little bit about your back catalog. The first release that I know of from you all is 2002’s 4-way split on Area 52 Records, Area 52 Split Release #001 with Trumans Water, Penthouse and I’m Being Good which was a good seven years before your next release Nonchalance. What brought about the long break between releases? Do you consider that early single a real part of your discography or did things change a lot between the release of this split and the Nonchalance album? You contributed the track “What You Need”, where and when was that song recorded? Who recorded it? What kind of equipment was used?
Mark: The majority of Nonchalance was actually recorded back in 2000. It didn't get released at the time, because we couldn't afford to put it out and then two of the members moved overseas. It took me years to get around to finally releasing it. It was really Ash who pushed for the release of Nonchalance, even though I didn't think some songs were fully finished. For that reason I do consider the 4-way split as part of our discography, because that recording of “What You Need” came from the Nonchalance session. Nonchalance was recorded at Zero Interference Studios in Brisbane by Bryce Moorhead. Back then, he was still operating from home but the gear was digital and pretty new at the time. I don't really remember the exact equipment used though, I guess that’s no real surprise as I can be a bit of a Luddite in the band anyway.
Seven years later you followed up the Area 52 split with the Nonchalance album for Turkeyneck Records in 2009. Can you share some of your memories of recording that first album? Was the recording of that material very diffident than the session for “What You Need”? When and where was the material for Nonchalance recorded? Who recorded it? What kind of equipment was used?
Mark: See above. In relation to the memories of it... I just remember being happy to get those songs documented. While they were never truly finished, there's lots of people who look back fondly on those tracks.
While 2010 not have seen any physical music from Gravel Samwidge, you all digitally self-released Gasgirls Funeral. I normally don’t pester people about it but I really like the name of the album, it conjures these really cool images of ephemeral, smoky ghosts from times long forgotten or something. What does the name mean to you all as a band? Was the recording of the material for Gasgirls Funeral a fun, pleasurable experience for you all? Who recorded that material and where was that at? When was it recorded? What kind of equipment was used?
Sleepy: I think recording Gasgirls Funeral was a fun, positive experience. I was in my second year studying at the Griffith Conservatorium of Music. My colleague Jack Gilespie and I borrowed some recording equipment from the university and recorded the band playing live at his house in a day. We tracked it all using Pro Tools and overdubbed vocals later in a small recording booth at the Conservatorium. Jack engineered and produced it, while I did the mixing for it all later. It was great, because we both got to use the project as one of our assessment pieces! We had to document it all and do an extensive write up about it, so it felt like a great learning experience for me as well.
Mark: For me personally, the name actually came from a one off gig Samwidge played in Newtown, Sydney under the title Gasgirls Funeral. Mark Guthrie from Nunbait was playing in the band at the time and he bauked at the idea of using the name Gravel Samwidge, it was our first gig back after a year or two. The name actually came from a Sydney Morning Herald newspaper headline about the death of a female gas meter reader who died under bizarre circumstances. I found Gasgirls Funeral enjoyable to record, but I personally wasn't overly happy with the sound. It came out too clean and didn’t really capture the live sound, which has a more chaotic and noisy edge. It's still a good recording with some strong tracks on it, though. Here's a link to aYouTube film clip for the song “Tell Mum” which is from Gasgirls Funeral.
Sleepy: The recording was done with the band playing the songs live though, so I think it kind of reflected our live sound at the time. We've developed our sound quite a bit in just the last couple of years, but it seems like longer.
Two years later in 2012 you followed up Gasgirls Funeral with a really cool, well I wouldn’t really call it a “concept album” or anything but a really cool album with an interesting concept, behind its release at least! You released one song a week to make up for third full-length The Old Tape. I really like the idea behind the release, it’s something cool that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else try before. Who came up with the idea to release the tracks like that? Were those tracks all recorded together with the intention of assembling them to make an album or was The Old Tape kind of a grab-bag of recordings? Can you tell us a little bit about the recording of the material for The Old Tape?
Sleepy: The idea actually came from a friend of mind Thomas Oliver who has a website called Something From the Scene, documenting the Brisbane music scene; funnily enough he got the name for his site from the Gravel Samwidge song. Here's a link. Mark, Tom and I were discussing the best times to release recordings online to max the impact out, and then the idea of releasing it one track at a time for sustained interest could help. People are generally in the habit of listening to the first few seconds a track or two on a release now and deciding if they like it or not. Releasing it one track at a time made it more likely that people would check out every track even if they didn't listen all the way through.
Mark: Six of the tracks off The Old Tape were originally recorded in Townsville in 1989 on a 16-track desk, using reel-to-reel tape. The rest of the recordings were done on an 8-track Tascam, in Melbourne at the house I was living in the next year during 1990. The name The Old Tape came from the fact that I had them all together on a cassette tape that I had been keeping in the cupboard for years.
2013 was an extremely busy year for Gravel Samwidge, up to that point you guys had sparsely released material and you put out four releases last year, the first of which was the Home Brand digital release. I know those tracks were recorded at “home in 2013” but that’s about it. Can you share a little bit about the recording of the material for Home Brand?
Sleepy: It was recorded at the house where Mark and I live. We decided it'd just be easier and cheaper if we did it ourselves at home. We were also running on a deadline and had to have it done in four days! I used my laptop with an mBox2, a couple of borrowed microphones and Audacity. We re-amped some of the vocal tracks through a battery powered mini-Marshall amp and only used small 10watt amps for the guitars. Mark has this small 10watt Epiphone practice amp, but I noticed it has a real spring reverb which I used when re-amping some other vocals through it. We also got some guest performers in for it too. I even played a guitar track on the song “Sunday”. Bek, from Clag, came in and did vocals on “Waiting” and “Sunday”. She picked Matt Kennedy from Kitchen's Floor, up on the way over to our house for recording. I decided not to use real drums on the recording, mostly because I didn't want to deal with noise complaints at our house. I played the drums live on my midi-controller keyboard for all the songs instead. Doing it that way allowed me more control over the drum sound in some ways. The album really wasn't mixed, I just set levels and let the performances dictate the dynamics.
Mark: From my perspective, Home Brand was a really pleasant surprise. Even though we had a time constraint, it seemed to work in our favor. I believe the songs on Home Brand are the strongest set of songs we've ever written. A couple of labels have shown interest in releasing a hard copy, I think it'd be great on vinyl. Here's a link to “Sunday” from Home Brandfeaturing Bek and Matt.
There was also the Self-Titled Gravel Samwidge CD-R that was available exclusively at your Melbourne shows on March 29th and 31st of 2013. How many copies was that album limited to? Can you talk about the recording of the material for Gravel Samwidge? Where and when was that material recorded? Was it done as part of continuous sessions or were those tracks around for a while and found a home on this release? Who recorded that material and where was that at? When was it recorded and what kind of equipment was used?
Mark: There were 50 copies done up originally. In saying that, there's no real number limit on it. It was from a set we performed in early 2013; April I think. There should still be copies available through the Breakdance the Dawn label. Breakdance the Dawn is a DIY noise/experimental label run by Australian noise music legend Matt Earle from XNOBBQX, Love Chants, Muura, XWAVE, Club Sound Witches, Craft Bandits and heaps more. Matt runs a venue which doubles as his residence, called Real Bad Music. There’s a permanent recording setup so he can record bands performances.
Sleepy: Real Bad Music has to be the coolest underground, DIY venue probably in Australia. It's the kind of place where international acts playing at The Institute of Modern Art, will do a second set at Real Bad the following night for free. Its reputation certainly precedes it. Here's a link to Breakdance the Dawn’s website.
Mark: Breakdance the Dawn mostly release live recordings from performances at Real Bad Music. They're generally left unedited, but Samwidge was a rare exception. In this case he had a couple of performances where he really liked certain parts, so he edited them together to get all the best bits.
You put out your sophomore album Trough on cassette last year through Long Gone Records as well. Was the recording of the material for Trough very different than the session(s) for Nonchalance? Did you try anything radically new or different with the recording of the material for Trough? Was that release limited? Is that still in print?
Sleepy: Ha-ha! We had to google what the fuck sophomore meant for a start! Although I wasn't there for Nonchalance they were a lot different, I think. I guess there might be some similarities in that Nonchalance has music from two different sessions and Trough was pieced together from multiple sessions as well. The first three tracks on Trough were mostly done using my rough old 4-track, a Yamaha MT-100 II. I played keyboard drums again, but because we had more inputs we actually tracked the guitar, bass and drums live. We overdubbed vocals later using that mini-Marshall, re-amping technique used on Home Brand. “Get Something From the Scene” has programmed drums though and I played the synth for it instead. We recorded that with the mbox though and overdubbed guitar, bass, vocals. Whereas the other electronic track, “What You Need”, is a kind of electro reworking of a song from Nonchalance. I recorded all music for that on keyboard and only overdubbed Mark's vocals.
On the B-side for the tape, we took a couple of tracks from the Gasgirls session and added some guitar overdubs.
Mark: Nonchalance was done all live and on a 16-track I think, with a few overdubs... Not sure from memory. While Trough was completed relatively quickly at home. As Sleepy explained before, we used a 4-track for the first three songs and deliberately went for a more dirty, lo-fi sound. Unfortunately this only applies to the first three songs, as the other tracks were cobbled together from various sessions. Here's a link to a film clip for the song “Ferris Wheel” which is on Trough.
You all finished off the year with the awesome Medicinal Requirements EP on Swashbuckling Hobo Records. What was the recording of that EP like? Do you feel like you all’ve learned a lot since the recording of Nonchalance? Where and when was this material recorded? Who recorded it? What kind of equipment was used?
Mark: Medicinal Requirements was a pleasure to record. Sean Tracey and Liam Cusack from the Swashbuckling Hobo crew were a real delight to work with. All the analogue gear was really exciting to work with. I've always been an analogue lover. I'd like to think that I've learned something from the initial early recordings. I've always felt that Gravel Samwidge has suffered in the recording studio, where it can be hard to convey that same powerful live feeling and rawness that comes with a live gig. I think Medicinal Requirements is the first record to accurately capture the intensity I've always been aiming for.
Does Gravel Samwidge have any music that we haven’t talked about yet, maybe a song on a compilation or a single that I might have missed?
Mark: We've just recently recorded a new track that's going on a compilation for WFMU radio in New Jersey. The song's called “Long Distance Drive” and it's probably the most intense song we've ever done.
There's the very first Triple J Unearthed series, which went around Australia in 1995. Our song “Drinking With a Dead Man” features on the first Triple J Unearthed Compilation. The other two tracks we recorded with Triple J were “The Indian Song” and “The Train Song”. All three of those recordings are on Nonchalance.
With the release of Medicinal Requirements and Trough not too long ago last year (2013) are there any other releases in the works or on the horizon at this point? You all have several digital only and out of print releases at this point, are there any plans to compile and release any of those out-of-print releases or put any of the digital material out physically?
Mark: We definitely want to put more vinyl out. With the release of Medicinal Requirements there seems to be much more interest in our output, especially in the United States. There's interest in Home Brand being re-released on vinyl, but we’d rather re-record the tracks if possible. We've had feedback from people saying it's a shame with the strength of the songs on Home Brand, that there hasn't been a physical release for it yet.
Sleepy: We have no plans for a Best of Samwidge compilation as of yet, ha-ha!
With the completely batty international postage rate increases this last year I try to provide our readers with as many options as I possibly can for picking up imported releases, not being able to afford the shipping on an album I can afford drives me crazy! Where’s the best place for our US readers to pick up copies of your music?
Mark: Bruce Saltmarsh (Easter Bilby Distro) is the man to talk to about Gravel Samwidge records in the US. Easter Bilby Distro. Easter Bilby Records.
(Editor’s note: Easter Bilby only does wholesale, they’re products are usually distributed by Revolver, Midheaven and GONER Records)
What about our international and overseas readers?
Mark: Most of our music you can get through our Bandcamp page. No Magic Man Records in England has Medicinal Requirements, EternalSoundcheck has Trough and Medicinal Requirements, Long Gone Records also has Trough, Neumusak has Home Brand and Swashbuckling Hobo has Medicinal Requirements.
And where’s the best place for fans to keep up on the latest from Gravel Samwidge like upcoming shows and album releases at?
Mark: The best thing is to just look at our facebook page, and like us too. We just supported Mudhoney and Feedtime in Brisbane which was fantastic for us! You can see some photos from the night on our Facebook page.
Are there any major goals that Gravel Samwidge is looking to accomplish in 2014?
Mark: We've got an Australian East coast tour to launch Medicinal Requirements coming up very soon. We'd love to have some more vinyl output by the end of the year. It'd be great to get some international interest in releasing something, so we could possibly tour internationally.
What was the first song that Gravel Samwidge ever played live? Where and when was that?
Mark: The first time ever was The Journos Club in Sydney on a Wednesday night in early 1989… Unless it was late '88... But I'm gonna put '89. We were supporting legendary sludge rockers, Kingsnake Roost who were members of Grong Grong and Lubricated Goat. There were about ten people there... Ha-ha.
Do you all spend a lot of time touring? Do you like life on the road? What’s it like touring with Gravel Samwidge?
Mark: We love touring, so as much as we can! Of course, it's not logistically possible all the time. I actually love road trips and because we’ve all known each other a long time, it doesn't become strained in any way.
You all have played with some seriously sweet bands! Who are some of your personal favorites that you’ve had a chance to share a bill with?
Mark: Some of Tex Perkins’ early bands, such as The Butcher Shop and Thug. Kim Salmon and The Surrealists, The Scientists, Venom P Stinger, Lubricated Goat, Monroe's Fur. More recently Sewers, Encounter Group (Satantic Rockers), Per Purpose and XWAVE.
Sleepy: The Paul Kidney Experience, Mad Nanna, Extra Foxx, Scrabbled, Kitchen's Floor and Sky Needle.
Ash: Mudhoney, Feedtime. Gerald Keaney & the Gerald Keaneys, Mutanteer, Faspeedelay and Zond.
In your dreams, who are you on tour with?
Mark: Oh baby, myself of course. I wanna take a whole tour of my body with Celine Dion and Michael Bolton. In those surround stadiums only. Seriously though, I would have loved to have toured with The Damned during their early period. It's cliché for an Australian band, but I really would have loved to have played with The Birthday Party... Oh, and Current 93.
Ash: Yeah, and Roland S Howard.
Sleepy: Ooh, how about Serge Gainsbourg, John Cage, The Berzerker and Little Richard all on the bill with Gravel Samwidge? No but really, I would have loved to play with Grey Daturas and Supersilent.
Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live shows or performances that you’d like to share here with our readers?
Mark: One of first gigs in Brisbane, a bunch of skinheads turned up. For some unknown reason they took a liking to us. I can look back on it and laugh, but at the time it was quite scary. They were an excitable bunch, half of them yelling for Screwdriver songs and the other half of them wanting to kill us. One skinhead in particular grabbed the microphone stand and smashed it against my mouth while I was singing. It felt like he had knocked my two front teeth out, but I didn't wanna show any weakness so I soldiered on for the rest of the set despite feeling like I'd had major dental surgery without anesthetic. It wasn't till I got off stage that I realized I had blood all down the front of my shirt. They doesn't really sound like a funny story, but looking it back now, it was. I think it must have been the blood that won them over in the end.
Do you all put a lot of thought into the art that represents the band like flyers, posters or cover art? Do you have a go-to artist for that kind of thing? If so how did you get hooked up with them originally?
Mark: We don't really have a go-to artist. We ask people around in the scene locally sometimes.
Ash: I do up some of the art work. We also do a lot of it collaboratively.
Sleepy: I've done up dozens of posters for Mark using MS Paint. We try to put some thought into it, but I don't consider it a focus. Amongst the people we play with, a lot of people still make handmade posters. We're pretty lazy though nowadays and often do them up in Paint. Glan Schenau from Per Purpose, has done up handmade posters for us.
With all of the various mediums of release available to musicians today I’m always curious why they choose and prefer the various methods that they do. Do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music? What about when you’re listening to and or purchasing music? If so, why?
Mark: Vinyl is always a favorite. I've definitely noticed over the past five years there has been a resurgence and they've become collector’s items. There's also the obvious difference in sound quality.
Sleepy: Digital is fine. I think it's cool when bands release all of their music online because you can access it really easily. Of course I love vinyl too, it sounds nice and warm... But it’s expensive and inconvenient.
Ash: I love vinyl. I love the sound, it's much richer. You also get better artwork.
Do you have a music collection at all? If so can you tell us a little bit about that?
Mark: Yeah, it ranges from all different types of genres. I'm definitely interested in music that has a certain edge to it. I like crazy guitar stuff, but also ambient electronic music. Early on. I was quite patriotic to Australian underground music. My collection was mostly bands from the 80’s on vinyl. Stuff like Scientists, The Moffs, Thuga nd Beasts of Bourbon to name a few… But there's plenty more where that comes from. I always had an interest in American music with bands like Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth and Swans. Other European bands too, like Throbbing Gristle, Current 93 and Coil. I'm a big fan of the kraut-rock era of the 70’s. It really made a big impact on me... Bands like Sand, which David Tibet Current 93's maestro, re-issued as a double album because the original was so rare, Amon Duul (I and II), Kraftwerk, Can, Neu, Klaus Schulze and Cluster.
Sleepy: I from a different era from Mark. I don't really collect music because I can just get it from the internet whenever I want; legally of course. American bands Caustic Resin, Built to Spill and Drunk Horse. Recent Australian bands Grey Daturas, The Gruntled, Dead Ants Rainbow and it's different incarnations like Dead Ants Process and Dead Ants Orchestra, Paul Kidney Experience. My first gig with Gravel Samwidge in Melbourne was playing with Paul Kidney Experience (PKE). I was only nineteen and it changed my life.
I grew up around a pretty large collection of music and I was encouraged from a pretty young age to listen to whatever I wanted to. I would just wander up to the shelves, which seemed endless to me as a kid, pick something completely at random up, stick it into the player, kick back, read the liner notes, stare at the artwork and let the music transport me to another place. As a result I developed a pretty deep appreciation for physically released music from a fairly young age and I doubt that I’ll ever fully shake my obsession with music. Do you have any such connection with physically released music?
Mark: Yes, I identify a lot with this question. I used to do the same thing, although I'd have to find my own music since my parents didn't have a large vinyl collection. Of course physical releases are the best for the overall listening experience, and if we could have released all of our music on vinyl that would be the most satisfying, but as I'm sure you're well aware, on our level it's quite difficult due to the cost.
Sleepy: I agree also, there's something special about sitting down and listening to a physical release. I didn't have a working record player growing up but I started collecting some vinyl from second hand stores around where I lived anyway and I eventually convinced my dad to go buy a new stylus so I could listen to the records I had bought. Some people like songs, other people like bands. I find I'm an album person.
As much as I love my music collection there’s always been one major issue for me, portability; and I don’t mean having to take it with me when I move! Ha-ha! I was never able to take enough music with me on the go to keep me happy when I was out on road trips and stuff even after the advent of CDs and cassettes but digital music has all but eliminated that problem overnight. And when you team digital music with the internet, that’s when you start seeing the real magic happen. Its exposed people to an entire world of music that they otherwise would never have had access to, it’s provided artists who are willing to promote and harbor an online presence a voice and maybe even levelled the playing field somewhat for independent artists trying to get noticed today. On the other hand illegal downloading is running rampant and decades of infrastructure inside of the music industry is collapsing and the face of the music industry as I know it is likely to be no more in a few years. As an artist during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?
Sleepy: One must remember the difference between the music industry and the record industry. While the record industry may be collapsing, the music industry isn't dying at all. It's thriving. It's harder to make money off record sales now, but musicians have rarely ever made money off record sales anyway.
The record industry has always been crying out about “the death of the music industry” every time technology improves and makes it easier for people to copy music illegally. The flip side of the playing field being leveled, is that there’s an incredible glut of music that we'll never get round to listening to. A lot of it sucks too because there's no filtering process, like talent scouts and so on to stop anyone from just getting some free music software out of a Corn Flakes box, clicking a few presets, pasting some loops together and posting it online for world-wide consumption. It definitely is a double-edged sword. I guess one's stance would depend on whether you're trying to make money or not. The power is being handed back to the artist, but artists generally aren't good businessmen.
Mark: But talent scouts are half the problem, Sleepy. They're the people responsible for the commercial trash we have to put up with on most radio stations. Of course that’s dependent on their agenda (marketing to teenagers and so on) but that is invariably making as much money as possible. One problem that Gravel Samwidge has always had, is that we always have trouble promoting ourselves. I've always found it difficult to promote the band and we do need someone more business minded to make things happen. I totally understand people downloading music illegally, because if you don't have a lot of money you would never get a chance to hear some great artists. That includes our music too of course. The sooner the major record labels collapse the better. If it wasn't for the internet and digital music you probably never would have heard of Gravel Samwidge and we wouldn't be doing this interview now... So it's a bit of a catch 22. Viva la revolution, whatever that is...
I try to keep up with as much good music as I possibly can. Its 2:27 A.M. as I write this now and I have to be up for work at 8:30 but I’m sitting here on the couch working on this interview and listening to some band a buddy has recommended me, who needs sleep anyhow!?! With the advent of the internet and the ease of recording there is so much music out there that I couldn’t even hope to keep up with one-percent of it on my own, and I rely on tips from folks such as yourselves as a result. Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening to that I might not have heard of yet?
Mark: Yeah. Some of the bands that I've already mentioned come to mind. Keep in mind that all our tastes vary somewhat. In Brisbane, we recommend bands such as Wonderfuls, Kitchen's Floor (Matt Kennedy our guitarist’s band), Scrabbled who I play bass for, Mutanteer (Sleepy's project), Gerald Keaney and the Gerald Keaneys, Sewers, Per Purpose, The Wrong Man and Dreamtime.
What about nationally and internationally?
Mark: In Melbourne, Go Genre Everything, Encounter Group, Satanic Rockers although they don't really play anymore, Mad Nanna, Map Ends. To be honest, I haven't actually been following any international acts recently... But, bands that come to mind are Swans, Einstürzende Neubauten and The Dead Sea.
Sleepy: Melbourne bands Paul Kidney Experience, The Gruntled, War Pigs and Dead Ants Rainbow.
Thanks so much for finishing this monster, I know it had to have taken you a while and I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me about the band. I hope it’s at least been somewhat fun to look back on the history of the band, what you’ve accomplished and where you’ve been through the crazy journey music has taken you on. Before we sign off and call it a day though, is there anything that I might have possibly missed, that you’d like to discuss with me about or you’d simply like to take this opportunity to talk to you readers about?
Mark: I'm pretty impressed with the comprehensiveness of this interview. I can't think of anything you missed. There possibly could be, but I think you would find it before I did... Oh, if anyone digs this music, get in touch with us! If someone internationally is interested in putting our next record out, they should definitely contact us on Facebook! Ha-ha
Sleepy: Yeah, we have a whole bunch of new songs that haven't even been recorded yet and have only played live a couple of times. Thanks to everyone for all the support. Maybe we can come to the states someday soon!
(2002) Gravel Samwidge/Trumans Water/I’m Being Good/Penthouse – Area 52 Split Release #001 – digital, 7” – Area 52 Records (Limited to 500 copies, contributes the track “What You Need”)
(2009) Gravel Samwidge – Nonchalance – digital, CD – Turkeyneck Records
(2010) Gravel Samwidge – Gasgirls Funeral – digital – Self-Released
(2012) Gravel Samwidge – The Old Tape – digital – Self-Released (1 track a week released digitally)
(2013) Gravel Samwidge – Home Brand – digital – Neumusak
(2013) Gravel Samwidge – Gravel Samwidge – CD-R – Breakdance The Dawn (Limited to 50 copies. Only available at their Melbourne gigs 29th and 31st March 2013)
(2013) Gravel Samwidge – Trough – digital, Cassette Tape – Long Gone Records (Limited to ? copies)