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Shovels interview with Adam Camilleri, Peter Warden and Michael Beach

© pregnantagain

I don’t usually fuss too much over where a band’s from, there’re a few places that are buzz words with me the last couple of years though, and San Francisco and Australia are at the top of that tiny list.  Combine those two elements in one band and I was instantly intrigued.  With members split between California and Australia, Shovels are not only a band that straddles the globe, but genres as well.  Fussy psychotic fits of reverberating distortion pierce and then shatter the veil of clamoring drums and thunderous bass glimmering out of a smoky fog in the desolate landscape of a bleak apocalyptic cosmos.  Putting an exact label on what Shovels is doing is a little bit difficult for me, there’s equal parts psych, insane noise rock and tightly honed garage rock, all comingling and interbreeding to birth the twisted mass of sound and coordinated fits of psychosis that is Shovels.  Their debut offering, the self-titled full-length Shovels for Homeless Records, is nothing short of a brash, dissonant masterpiece of confrontational distortion and gnarly fuzz.  Equal and heavy helpings of garage, psychedelia and punk fusing into an unholy union of sound, I’m not going to dwell on trying to describe exactly how Shovels grabs you by the balls and feverishly drags you along for the thirty minute ride of your life, though.  How it sweeps you off of your feet, envelopes you in this warm cozy blanket of utter chaos and then sends you along on your way, seemingly no worse for the wear despite the fact you feel like you’ve just been shot out of a cannon at a brick wall.  What I will do, however, is urge you to click the link below and discover one hell of a band for yourself.  There’re plenty of details below for the inquisitive mind, the important thing though, is that you check out some tunes and cop yourself an album because being limited to only 350 copies this thing is not going to be around long…  Don’t live life in regret.  I know I’m not.
              - Listen while you read:

What’s the lineup at this point for Shovels?  Is this the original lineup or have you all gone through some changes since you started?

Mike:  It’s a three piece:  Adam Camilleri (bass), Peter Warden (drums), Michael Beach (guitar).

Adam:  This is the original lineup for Shovels.

Are any of you involved with any other active bands or do you have any side projects going on at this point?  Have you released any music with anyone in the past?  If you have, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Mike:  I play bass in Meercaz (Northwest blue-collar rock), guitar in Colossal Yes (70’s AM tunes), and perform as Michael Beach as well.  All of those projects have multiple records.  Meercaz has put out records with Tic Tac Totally and Burger, Colossal Yes has put out records on Ba Da Bing and Jackpot, and Michael Beach has put out records with Twin Lakes Records. 

Adam:  We previously played and toured together as Electric Jellyfish.  That band went through a few lineup changes and the last lineup of the band evolved into Shovels.

Pete:  I also play in a weirdo percussion project called Onion Engine.

Mike:  Plus Adam runs Monday Night Mass in Melbourne, which has a sterling reputation for promoting the best underground music in the city. 

How old are you and where are you originally from?

Pete:  Ancient and wise.  I’m from Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.

Adam:  Gordon, Victoria, Australia.

Mike:  I’m from Merced, California. 

What was the local scene like where you grew up?  Where you very involved in that scene growing up?  Did you see a lot of live shows or anything?  Do you feel like that scene played an integral part in forming your musical tastes or the way that you perform at this point?

Adam:  Gordon was a very small town, with no live music venues and only one pub.  Pete and I went to high school in Ballarat, which is around twenty four kilometers away.  I spent most weekend nights of my final year of high school hanging out at the local live music venue, the Bridge Mall Inn, and convincing my parents to come and pick me up drunk.

Pete:  Ballarat was alright, there were a few wonderful and inspirational people that kept the community alive.  We also got some oddball Melbourne bands through every now and again.  We all grew up in rural or regional towns...  I don’t want to go through the cliché of romanticizing isolation, but I’m sure it had some kind of impact.

Mike:  Merced was divided between Christian radio stations and Mexican radio stations.  There was no scene, no venues, and no record shops. 

What about your home when you were younger?  Were either of your parents or any of your close relatives extremely involved or interested in music?

Adam:  My dad used to DJ at a disco club in the western suburbs of Melbourne in the late 70s, so he had quite an extensive collection of disco records growing up, mostly from 1979.  My personal favourite was the Giorgio Moroder E=MC2 record, which featured Moroder on the front cover wearing a white disco suit with a robot chest.  My mum was more into stuff like Roxy Music and Harry Nilsson.  Dad later went through a phase of listening to a lot of John Williamson who’s about the musician equivalent of Steve Irwin or Crocodile Dundee.  I’m not sure how much of an influence that was.

Pete:  Nah, my family aren’t particularly musical.  I had an uncle that was into The Stooges and The Saints; that probably trickled down.  When I was real young, I didn’t really like music that much.  I was mostly into eating cheese and watching bees.

Mike:  I remember my grandfather playing lots of 50’s dance music, and my parents loved popular late 70’s/early 80’s radio hits, but there wasn’t much other than that.

What do you consider to be your first real exposure to music?

Pete:  My old man reckons I was quite affected by Jethro Tull while still in the womb, and I must admit a lingering fondness for “Aqualung”.

Mike:  I’m not sure what ‘real’ means here, but living in Melbourne was the first time I was actively participating in a music scene, both playing and going to shows.

Adam:  Seeing bands in the local scene in Ballarat when I was in high school.  I moved to Melbourne after high school and got heavily into going to noise and experimental shows.

If you were to pick a moment, a moment that seemed to change everything and opened your eyes to the infinite possibilities of music, what would it be?

Pete:  Probably too many to mention here, I reckon.  Seeing the boredoms in full swing was pretty special for me.  Seeing the Sun City Girls in Berlin really busted open my head as well. 

Mike:  Same...  Too many to list.  The first time I saw Cult Of The Placenta Head definitely stretched what I thought was possible in a musical performance, though. 

Adam:  I saw The Melvins play a small club in Melbourne twelve years ago and the intensity of it blew me away.  I have seen them around ten times since and they have not lost any of that power.

When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music?  What brought that decision about for you?

Pete:  I started in noise and experimental bands.  I’m not really sure how it happened; it wasn’t really a conscious decision.  Sometimes you drink too much coffee and find yourself on a stage in your underwear, with a tin foil crown, grunting into a ten dollar microphone.  It felt like a pretty natural progression.

Mike:  I think I had always wanted to write and perform.  It was just a matter of meeting the right people.  That happened pretty early on when I moved to Australia the first time.

Adam:  I had a mate in high school that was writing riffs and recording them on his computer under the name Captain Supermarket.  I was told to play bass and join the band, as he and another friend already played guitar.  We jammed having only “played bass” for a few days.  I was kicked out of the band not long after that.

What was your first instrument?  When and how did you originally get it?

Pete:  I picked up the drums quite late.  About three or four years ago, right before then I was mostly playing with homemade cassette loops and banging on metal percussion, living the amateur dream.  I was given my first and only drum kit about a year ago.  It’s falling to pieces and I’m very fond of it.

Mike:  I bought an acoustic guitar when I was eighteen.

Adam:  I bought a bass off the same mate when I was sixteen.  It was black with a dragon carving.  This bass was stolen from our tour van in Las Vegas a few years ago.

How did you all originally meet?  When would that have been?

Mike:  I met Camo (Adam) at a friend’s house in 2005.  I probably met Pete that same year or just after, at a party in Ballarat. 

Pete:  Seems like a fair guess.  One of us was probably providing a couch for the other. Adam and I met in school, but we didn’t really start hanging out until much later.

Adam:  All I remember about Pete in high school is that he wore a lot of oversized metal shirts.  I think we ended up going to a lot of the same shows at some point, and eventually started playing in bands which played shows together.

What led to the formation of Shovels and when was that?

Mike:  Adam and I played together in Electric Jellyfish with another drummer.  When he stopped playing, we started playing with Pete.  Even though Pete played on the last Electric Jellyfish record, the band had a different sound by that point, and we felt it deserved a new name and to move on as a new project.

Is there any sort of creed, code, ideal or mantra that the band shares or lives by?

Mike:  I wouldn’t say it’s a creed or code, but we have an unspoken idea of an aesthetic that seems to come out when we play.  We also work with the idea that the music will be totally collaborative.

Pete:  Yeah, no mantra, that’s our mantra, we kind of figure that our collective tastes and limitations in technique provide enough of a container to allow shit to ferment.  If it feels right, then we roll with it.

Adam:  Yep, what those guys said.

What does the name Shovels mean or refer to in the context of your name?

Pete:  You know that Marcel Duchamp piece, “In Advance of the broken arm”?  The snow shovel?  Yeah...  It has nothing to do with that.

Where’s the band located at this point?

Adam:  Mike lives in Oakland, California.  Pete and I live in Melbourne, Australia.

How would you describe the local scene where you’re located at these days?

Adam:  Pretty good.  Melbourne’s a great city for live music.

Mike:  Oakland’s also pretty good.

Pete:  I agree.

Do you feel like you’re very involved in the local scene?  Do you book or attend a lot of local live shows or anything?

Mike:  Yeah, I work at a venue in San Francisco called Hemlock, which is a great band room with a great booker.  Just saw Magik Markers there, and it was great.

Pete:  Yeah, it’s a good reason to catch up with mates.  The large quantity of music is what makes Melbourne worth hanging out in.  Adam books a lot of shows which I regularly check out.  There’s a cluster of fairly solid pubs.

Adam:  As Mike mentioned earlier, I run a night called Monday Night Mass, at Northcote Social Club in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne; free shows every Monday.  I also see a lot of live music on other nights of the week, and for years worked behind the bars of various music venues in Melbourne.

Has the local scene played a large or important role in the sound, history or evolution of Shovels?  Or, do you feel like you all would be doing what you’re doing and sound like you do regardless of where you were at or what you were surrounded by?

Pete:  You are your environment, whether you like it or not.  I’m sure it’s influenced us in many ways we’re not even aware of.  Australian DIY, punk, noise, whatever has left an undeniable impact, but so has Japanese Psych and we didn’t grow up around that…  So who knows?  The invention of the Aeroplane has certainly helped us.  Things were really difficult before then.

Adam:  I think our sound is influenced by a lot of Melbourne bands, but I don’t think it’s easy to pinpoint specific bands that we’re influenced by, or ripping off.  Like Pete said, I think it’s more of an unconscious influence.

I love the combination of sounds that’s going on in your music!  Who are some of your major musical influences?  What about influences on the band as a whole rather than individually?

Pete:  Cheers!  We all listen to heaps of different music.  There’s definitely an overlap in interests, some things you might expect: The Stooges, Branca, Beefheart, X, feedtime, Silver Apples, Dead C, Les Rallizes Denudes, etcetera.  But we’re not really consciously putting any of these things in our songs.  You need to like some of the same music, otherwise it would be impossible to spend such long periods in a tour van together.  For me, things get more interesting when we bring our differences to the table and then beat them into a shape we’re all happy with.  I’d hope the differences in our tastes loom larger in the creation process than our similarities.

How would you describe Shovels sound to our readers who might not have heard you before?

Pete:  I’m normally pretty poor at this.  It is what it is.

Adam:  The noisier elements of our music were once described as sounding like “dying cattle in a tar pit”.

What’s the songwriting process with Shovels like?  Is there someone who usually brings in a riff or more finished idea to practice to work out with the rest of you, or do you all just kind of get together and kick ideas back and forth until you refine a song from the exchange?

Pete:  The songwriting process is entirely democratic.  All members contribute ideas to all songs.  Without ever consciously setting out rules or a defined approach, it’s felt important that the band doesn’t become a songwriting vehicle for any one individual.

What about recording?  I’m a musician myself and I think that most of us can appreciate the end result of all the time, hard work and effort that goes into making an album when you’re holding the finished result in your hands.  But getting to that point, getting everything recorded and sounding the way you want it to, especially as a band, can be extremely difficult to say the least.  What’s it like recording for Shovels?  Do you all enjoy recording?

Pete:  I enjoy writing the most, but recording and playing are also both incredibly enjoyable.

Mike:  I enjoy recording with Adam and Pete.  We record things live, all at once, and are usually done within a day or two. 

Adam:  We usually can’t afford any more studio time, so we’ve gotten used to working fast and recording quickly.  We don’t see the point really labouring over pedantic shit, the recordings sound like we sound live.

Do you all prefer to take a more DIY approach to recording where you handle most of the technical aspects so you don’t have to work with, or compromise with someone else?  Or do you head into the studio to record and let someone else handle that side of things so you can concentrate on getting the best performances as possible out of yourselves?

Pete:  Somewhere in between?  We recorded Shovels in a studio.  We might change this in the future, though, as I enjoy a more DIY approach.  We have a reasonably good idea about what kind of sound we want, and we take a hands on approach to mixing, but it’s nice to have someone who knows how to work things and nice microphones.  I’ve never felt like we needed to compromise for another individual.  We just couldn’t work like that.  The larger compromises are with time, geography and resources.  Working against these limits produces its own rewards though.

Mike:  I agree with Pete.  I enjoy recording bands, but I also like letting someone else add their skill to a record.  I don’t think either way affects performances much.

Do you all spend a lot of time working out every nook and cranny of a song before you record them, where every part of the song is meticulously planned and worked out before hand?  Or do you all get a good skeletal idea of what a song’s going to sound like while allowing for some room for change and evolution during the recording process?

Adam:  We definitely leave room to experiment in the studio.

Pete:  We tend to beat something into a loose shape and then hammer it out.  The performance is much more important than getting every note right.  It’s fresh produce.  Most songs are newly born when we record.  This means you get a few weird looking potatoes in the batch though.  We like to let things contract and expand, and I like the sound of things breaking down a little.  Despite time constraints, we like to keep some spontaneity in the process.  You’re creating, not documenting when you record, I think.

In October of last year you all released the self-titled Shovels album for Homeless Records.  Can you tell us a little bit about the recording of the material for that record?  When and where was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?  Was that a fun, pleasurable experience for you all?

Pete:  We recorded Shovels in Melbourne with Paul Maybury and got it mastered in Chicago by Bob Weston.  It was a rapid process.  We wrote and recorded in between shows during a 2013 Australian tour.  So, we’d travel and play on the weekend, work day jobs during the day, then go to the studio at night.  I don’t really know anything about the gear, but Paul is a gent.  He’s flexible and knows what we’re after.  He listens to, and translates, obtuse metaphors when we don’t know how to explain ourselves, and in between takes he drinks wine and shows us dated aftershave ads.

Mike:  HomelessRecords released the album on vinyl in June 2014.  Everyone involved, from the recording to the release, was a pleasure to work with.

Does Shovels have any music other than the self-titled album, maybe a song on a compilation or a demo that I might not know about?

Pete:  Nope, that’s it!

With the release of the self-titled album last year does Shovels have any releases in the works or on the horizon at this point?

Pete:  We’re sending things back and forth.  Something will get born soon, I’m sure.

With the completely insane international postage rate increases that have just kept going up and up over the last few years, I try and provide our readers with as many possible options as I can.  Where’s the best place for our US readers to pick up copies of your music?

Shovels:  Stores/distros such as 1-2-3-4 Go, Florida’s Dying, Goner and Permanent have taken copies and as Homeless is distributed by Revolver in the US, the album should be readily available, but it is limited to only 350 copies.

What about our international and overseas readers?

Shovels:  Homeless is distributed by Forte in the UK and into Europe, and has great distribution via Don’t Buy Records in the Netherlands, and X-Mist in Germany always have copies of Homeless titles, as does Born Bad and La Silence de la Rue in Paris.  Check the “Stockists” tab on the Homelesswebsite for more options, the above list is far from complete.

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

Shovels:  Facebook.

Are there any major goals or plans that Shovels are looking to accomplish in the rest of 2014 or 2015?

Pete:  We’ll get in another Australian tour late this year, write some new material and then hit the States in 2015.

Do you all spend a lot of time out on the road?  Do you all enjoy being out on tour?  What’s life like out on the road for Shovels?

Pete:  A friend, who’s also in a band, once described touring as “waiting around to get drunk again”.  While this isn’t always the case, there certainly is a lot of waiting.  Playing shows and meeting other folks making music is about as good as it gets though.  Mike loves driving.

What, if anything, do you all have planned as far as touring goes for the rest of the year (2014)?

Mike:  We’ll be touring Australia in November/December of this year.

Adam:  We’re aiming for a USA tour in 2015.

Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you all have had a chance to play with over the past few years?

Pete:  feedtime, Gunslingers from France (Interview here) and Pony Bones.

Adam:  Those ones for sure.  Last year we played with Tyvek and Blank Realm in Brisbane which was a great show.  Camp A Low Hum in New Zealand earlier this year was wild.  Some of our favourite Aussie bands like Bone, Bare Grillz and Kangaroo Skull played.  The Clean also played a mind-blowing set after a brutal day of non-stop rain.

Mike:  Definitely all of the above, plus Useless Children and Apache Dropout.

In your dreams, who are you on tour with?

Adam:  Ya Ho Wah 13 and George Brassens.

Pete:  The Raincoats transported from 1979, The Urinals, Pumice and Milford Graves.

Mike:  Coloured Balls.

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

Pete:  We’re pretty much Mötley Crüe.

Adam:  A couple of times we’ve played DIY house shows where we’ve turned up in the afternoon and a free keg has been provided, and haven’t actually performed until 4am.  Those have been some interesting shows.

Do you all give a lot of thought to the visual aspects that represent the band to a large extent like designs for logos, shirts, fliers, posters, covers and that sort of thing?  Is there any kind of meaning or message that you’re trying to convey with your artwork?  Do you have anyone that you usually turn to in your times of need when it comes that sort of thing?  If so, who is that and how did you originally get hooked up with them?

Adam:  Pete?

Pete:  I do most of the art for the band.  I wouldn’t say there’s a meaning or message, art and music should function as an end unto themselves.  Drawing and making things, goes hand in hand with making noises for me.  I’d hope my drumming and my drawings are coalescing into a blurry whole.  So, no.  No message, no meaning.  But that doesn’t mean no content.  I think the imagery suits the noises we make.

With all of the various mediums of release that are available to musicians today I’m always curious why they choose and prefer the 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 you do have a preference, can you tell us a little bit about why?

Pete:  I like tapes to look at.  I like the way they move and they’re a good size, as well as this: electromagnetism is a fascinating thing.  Have you seen Joseph Henry’s early electromagnets? As great an act of visual creation as any artwork I’ve seen!  Look at this shit:

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

Adam:  Yeah, I own records. 

Pete:  Mine is pretty fragmented; tapes, records, CDs.  I’m not really a collector.

Mike:  I have a record collection, but it’s pretty small in comparison to most.  Some prized records I got for $1: AC/DC Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Warren Zevon Excitable Boy, and Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly soundtrack.

I grew up around my father who really encouraged me to listen to anything that I wanted to when I was younger.  He would take me out and pick me up random stuff from the shop and I would hurry home, kick back with a set of headphones, read the liner notes, stare at the cover art and just let the whole thing carry me off on this trip.  Having something physical to hold and experience along with the music always made fro a more complete listening experience for me and in my growing age it’s become a bit of an obsession to say the least, ha-ha!  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?

Pete:  Sure.  It’s a ritual hey?  Like grinding your own coffee, or building your own chairs.

Like it or not it seems that digital music is here to stay.  While on it’s own it may have provide innocuous, when teamed with the internet you have something revolutionary on your hands!  Together they’ve exposed people to the literal world of music that they’re surrounded by, eliminated geographic boundaries that crippled bands as little as a decade ago and provided the groundwork for an unparalleled level of communication between bands and their fans.  On the other hand though, while people are being exposed to a lot of new music they’re not necessarily inclined to pay for it and a lot of people are beginning to see music as this kind of disposable experience to be used and then discarded when you’re done with it.  As a musician during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

Pete:  I’m not sure that the digital era cares what I think of it!

I try to keep up with as much good music as I possibly can but there’s not enough time in the day to keep up with even a percentage of the amazing stuff that’s going on right now.  Is there anyone from your local scene or are that I should be listening to?

Pete:  I really like Mad Nanna and Ghost Gums.  Homeless, the record label we’re on, puts out some ace shit, Sewers and Cuntz in particular.  Heaps more than I can remember, Scrabble, Cured Pink, Dead, Blank Realm, Bone, Exhaustion, Useless Children, Dead, Tax, Native Cats…

Mike:  I like Legs from Oakland, as well as Pang, Meg Baird, Violence Creeps, CCR Headcleaner, Scraper, Cold Beat, Baus, and a bunch more.

What about nationally and internationally?

Pete:  I’m really hoping for a chance to see Bill Orcutt.

Mike:  I like the whole northeast crowd: Pete Nolan, Spectre Folk, Magik Markers, Chris Corsano, MV+EE, and Ben Chasny/Six Organs.  I also heard Tashi Dorji recently and really enjoyed his music.

Thanks so much for doing the interview!  It was awesome getting to learn so much about the band and I hope that you all had at least a little bit of fun looking back on everything that you’ve managed to accomplish as a band.  Before we sign off, is there anything that I could have possibly missed or that you’d just like to take this opportunity to talk to me or the readers about?

Pete:  Cheers!

(2014)  Shovels – Shovels – digital, Cassette Tape, 12” – Homeless Records (Smoky Haze 12” limited to 100 copies, Black Vinyl 12” limited to 350 copies, Cassette Tape limited to 100 copies)

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
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