Stepmother | Interview | New Album, ‘Planet Brutalicon’
Australian power trio Stepmother fronted by Graham Clise (Annihilation Time, Lecherous Gaze, Rot TV, Witch) are back with a new album, ‘Planet Brutalicon’.
A 12 song proto punk masterpiece chalked full of all the motor city-esqe nihilistic depravity and unsettling psychedelic bad vibes you could cram into one record. Stepmother would be equally at home on a Killed By Death volume as they would on a Pebbles comp. Real antisocial miscreant rock, sounds like leather jackets and switchblades.
“I just wanted to write straight forward psychedelic punk stuff”
It’s great to have you? How have you been in the last three years or so?
Graham Clise: Thanks for having me! Three years ago at one point the world was not at all rockin. In fact, it was probably the least rockin ‘it’s ever been for a bit. But Now rockin is back in a major way.
Stepmother is a fairly new band you started. What was the overall vision for the band?
I just wanted to write straight forward psychedelic punk stuff. Just some super focused songs that get to the point. Live, I was wanting it to be crazy loud with lots of feedback. You know how Blue Cheer is super fuzzed out, yet clean and ultra loud at the same time? That’s sort of what I was going for, but the tunes ended up taking on a life of their own and it’s really just morphed into its own ugly creature.
You have a brand new album out called ‘Brutalicon’ – I guess the title is connected to the world events happening?
It was kind of a joke. I said one day “planet Brutalicon,” and the Stepmother bass player Rob Muinos really liked it and said “that’s the name of the album!” I’m always making up words and I thought it was really stupid sounding at first, but then it grew on me. Especially after seeing the album art Chad did. It all kind of jelled together. The title and the artwork kinda have a foreboding futuristic sci-fi hellscape feel to it but also it’s a bit ridiculous. Kinda like the planet we live on I guess!
“The records have a pretty nihilistic theme to all the songs”
Tell us more about the concept behind it, its tracks and where was it recorded?
The records have a pretty nihilistic theme to all the songs. I will never write love songs or something blatantly political. Several of the songs are about the end of the world and that kind of thing. But they take a cynical / apathetic approach to the subject. Rather than a “let’s try to save the world” about it, it’s a more of a, “oh well, we’re fucked” kind of perspective. Some other subjects that get touched on are Richard Ramirez, an obligatory out psychedelic trip song, a song about WWII, one song about being abducted by goblins and a couple good ol fashioned teen angst “get off my case and don’t tell me how to live my life, man” songs thrown in for good measure. The bass player Rob recorded and mixed all the tunes at his studio in Collingwood called the Rat Shack. He really pushed me to do 90% of the album totally live with as minimal overdubs as possible. Even the solos were (mostly) done live. That was a bit intimidating for a player like myself who isn’t ultra proficient. But I am super pleased how the album came out thanks to his guidance and wizardry.
What kind of gear do you have in the band?
Lately I’ve been using three guitar amps for my sound. A late 60’s Marshall super bass 100 watt head into a 4×12 cab. Along with a mid 60’s fender showman head going into a 2×12 cabinet my friend Merro made me. As a booster amp I used a little Fender Pro Junior that’s only on for leads. I usually have the sound person chuck a mic on there otherwise it gets lost in the mix. My main sound comes from a low gain fuzz face clone I’ve had for ever made by analog man and a little bit of something here and there. The bass player’s rig changes periodically. Lately he’s been using a bass amp and Fender combo of some sort. Lately he’s just been piling up random amps, it looks like a swap meet up there. We both play guitars that I built from scratch called Biston Stingers. His bass is a copy of the old Fender Bass IV . My guitar is similar to a Fender Jazzmaster with single coil low output pickups.
How would you compare it to your previous Stepmother releases?
Well the only other release we have is a three song single we did before the LP. It’s got all three of those songs on the LP plus nine new ones. More of the same stuff more or less. If you dug the 7-inch then you’ll like the LP I’d guess. Tried to keep the LP fluff to a bare minimum, kinda feels like a singles collection. There’s just enough variation that you don’t get fried by 12 songs that all sound the same.
Are you planning to hit the road in 2024? What are some plans for you?
We are supporting Dinosaur Jr. in Australia in February so that’ll be good. We just played Sydney and Brisbane for the first time last month. I’m currently getting demos ready to record the second LP. Once the second LP comes out I wanna tee up US and Euro dates and start hittin the road internationally a bit.
Do you or any other member have any active side-projects going on?
I play in a few bands. Witch, Lecherous Gaze, Annihilation Time, and Rot TV. The other two guys do tons of session work / touring / producing. I honestly can’t keep up with all of Rob Muinos and Sam Rains’ projects; those are a couple prolific mofos, haha.
Would you like to share about your upbringing? Where did you all grow up? Tell us about daily life back in your teenage years.
I grew up in Southern California so I was just into surfing, skateboarding, punk and rock. I was big into 70’s and 80’s punk stuff like Blast, The Lewd, Fear, Germs, The Sex Pistols, The Damned, Black Flag, Adolescents, X et cetera. At the same time all the 60’s and 70’s stuff like Alice Cooper, Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, Blue Öyster Cult, MC5, Black Oak Arkansas, Blue Cheer, Grand Funk Railroad, The Amboy Dukes, Pink Fairies, The Stooges and all the nuggets / 60’s psych stuff. I moved up to Oakland in my mid twenties for a little over a decade and really got into gigging / touring as much as possible at that time. I’ve been lucky to have as much fun as I have throughout the years and only come out moderately damaged.
“Music really does rot your brain!”
Was there a certain scene you were part of, maybe you had some favourite hangout places? Did you attend a lot of gigs back then?
I’ve been going to shows my whole life and I still love going to gigs. My first real gig I ever saw was Neil Young when I was 12 which blew my mind. But a year later I saw D.O.A. and Nomeansno and that was it for me. From that point on I was obsessed with punk. I instantly stopped caring about school or sports or amounting to anything. See, music really does rot your brain! I was a decent kid until then. I just wanted to be gnarly and play in bands and go to gigs. I always really loved seeing old punk bands and old rock stuff in addition to friends’ contemporary bands. I got to see lots of killer gigs and I still get stoked to new stuff.
If we would step into your teenage room, what kind of records, fanzines, posters et cetera would we find there?
I was pretty obsessed with horror movies. I had my walls plastered with Fangoria gore posters and endless horror / sci-fi VHS’s I collected throughout the years. Lots of punk paraphernalia. Also I like lots of occult / esoteric stuff and ufo crap. It always smelled like stale bong water. Lots of knives and cool juvenile delinquent boy stuff that I still love. I basically haven’t changed much.
One of the first bands you were involved with must have been Eat Shit And Die and Uphill Battle. Tell us about it.
Actually my very first band when I was 14 was called The Molested, haha. We wanted to play shock rock kind of stuff like the Germs / GG Allin. We saw the movie Suburbia and that inspired us to write “TM” on our jackets instead of TR, you know… totally ridiculous! We also had arm bands with TM on them. The first song we ever played together was a cover of The Misfits song ‘Ghouls Night Out’. We used to play for hours in my friend’s garage and apparently the neighbour was on his deathbed dying of cancer and we drove him nuts. The cops used to show up all the time. We sounded atrocious. Poor guy. We had these jump suits splattered with real pigs blood. We played a couple backyard keggers. It was a great time. We’d just try to gross everyone out. The bass player in the band was this guy Mike, who would puke on command while he played. Then I was in a band called Eat Shit And Die and that was also pretty fun. We used to play this crappy laser tag place in Oxnard all the time called Laser Star. We really sucked so hard, but I met a lot of life long friends that I’m still in contact with from those days.
What about Knife Fight?
I played drums in Knife Fight for about a year or two, did a demo and a 7″s with them. It was fun and was kind of inspired by Negative Approach. That didn’t last long because that was around the time I started taking Annihilation Time really seriously. I was kind of over with playing drums and more focused on guitar. Also I started hating the hardcore scene. The early 2ks really weren’t a good time for punk in my opinion. The music was getting boring and it all started sounding like jock music to me. Unfortunately for me that kind of stuff is having a resurgence at the moment so I gotta see it all over again, ha! But that was around the same time some friends and I dropped acid and saw Hawkwind so my attention and inspiration went elsewhere!
What led to the formation of Annihilation Time?
In 1999 I saw Blast play and it completely blew me away. It was the perfect band. The show was terrifying. All these gnarly Santa Cruz surfer punks were there like beating the hell out of each other. A million fights broke out, even the bouncers were getting wrecked! It was complete chaos. There was a real sense of danger, similar to when I’d see Rich Kids on LSD play. It’s truly a Californian phenomenon I’ve never seen anywhere else. The band was like Black Flag reved up to the max. The singer Clifford looked the scariest missing member of the Manson cult. That really had a massive impression on me. Most of the bands at that time were either powerviolence, pop punk or tough guy hardcore crap. I wanted to be in a band that was like Blast meets The Stooges or Black Sabbath. So that’s how that started. I think we started jamming in 2000.
How did you enjoy being part of Lecherous Gaze?
Lecherous Gaze was so great! I’m really stoked on those times. I’m especially proud of the last Lecherous Gaze record called ‘One Fifteen’. Probably my favourite thing I’ve ever done musically. I think we had a really unique sound. We got to tour all over the world and went to some amazing places. Played all over south east Asia, tons of US tours, several Australian tours, Mexico, and hit Europe probably five times. We finally called it a day after I moved to Australia, but it was honestly time to take a break, we were all pretty fried from constant touring and always losing our asses financially. That being said, we’re are about due to play some gigs again!
What about Stinkward?
I was never in Stinkward but they were awesome Oakland crusty stuff.
So this brings us to the Heavy Blanket. What is working with J Mascis like?
J rules, besides being one of my best friends. He’s a total inspiration to me, both in playing and guitar tone. I learned shit loads from being his guitar tech for five or six years and watching them play hundreds of gigs. I really dig playing in Witch with him. The dude is as great a drummer as he is a guitarist. Kind of a punk Keith Moon off the cuff approach. Never play anything the same twice. I think it’s rare that you can hear a drummer, and instantly know who’s playing, he’s totally got that.
‘Moon Is’ is such a killer release. What was it like working on it?
Those were originally ideas me, J and Dave Sweetapple (also in Witch) were demoing for potentially future Witch tunes. Kyle Thomas didn’t like any of them so they all got turned into Heavy Blanket jams. I wrote a couple of them and J wrote a couple. Honestly I’m having trouble remembering all the details because we did the initial basic tracks probably about ten years ago. Years later J resurrected them and overdubbed some leads and there ya have it, a Heavy Blanket record, ha!
Another band from your extensive discography I really enjoy is ROT T.V..
Oh thanks! Yeah that’s a band with my wife Harriet singing! We had a blast doing that last record. Rob from Stepmother is also in it as well as Lee who plays with Stepmother sometimes. We started out playing BÖC covers before we wrote originals. We’re about due to do a new LP!
Let’s end this interview with some of your favourite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?
Blast, Germs, Alice Cooper, Nervous Eaters, Captain Beyond, The Damned, Black Sabbath, The Weirdos, Blue Öyster Cult, The Lewd, Love, Hawkwind, Thin Lizzy, Blue Cheer, Pink Fairies, The Stooges ….I could go on like this for pages! A great way to find some new bands is comps like Killed by Death, Nuggets comp, Pebbles and Back from the Grave to name a few. I’ve been on a big Flesh Eaters kick at the moment. Also my friend Dave just recently sent me down a huge Ink Spots rabbit hole. That’s some disturbing music. Check out Bishop Bullwinkle Hell To Da Naw,Naw,Naw With Da Bicycle for a laugh.
Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.
My pleasure, thanks for hitting me up to do this. I guess I’ll just say thanks to everyone that’s booked me a gig or let me crash on their couch or bought a record in the last 25 years or so! You’ve made an old goblin veeery ‘apee indeed.
Headline photo: Ben Hudson