Children Collide: a new chapter, eight historic years in the making
For Children Collide’s Johnny Mackay, the last eight years since the release of Monument have been eventful, to say the least. From playing in Dominican mansions to near homelessness in New York, the Melbourne-local has encountered a tapestry of experience like no other. His latest project is the perfect epilogue.
Returning to Australia and enlisting long time collaborator and friend Chelsea on bass, the new offering from Children Collide is a shimmering adventure back into low end growling bass hooks and drum grooves that swagger like Jagger at three-quarter speed.
Fresh from the studio, we sat down with Johnny and Chelsea to chat through the last few years and their upcoming new record.
HAPPY: So, we had a bit of a listening party the other night and listened to your record in its entirety. The heaviness to it reminds me of The XX meets Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, and even Blur’sself-titled but through the looking glass of now.
JOHNNY: Yeah, we’ve always had this real ‘90s thing with our band. Would you call it a sonic aesthetic? When we went to make this record; me, the producer Loren Humphrey, and Ryan, we thought about that. I personally don’t like a lot of bands that try and sound ‘90s and I think that’s because they’re listening to ‘90s bands and trying to replicate that on modern equipment. But what we thought about is, what were those bands listening to, to sound like that? And we realised it was The Stooges and it was Black Sabbath and I got really obsessed with that point in music where it was still psychedelic but punk, heavy rock, and metal were sort of emerging. It was still kind of the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. So, we listened to a lot of that music-making the record. We tried to go for tones that were more from the era, which ended up making it sound ’90s.
JOHNNY: We played it live for years, we all loved it. It was just one of those songs that was burning a hole in my hard drive and made me want to do another album actually. I wrote it on a Roland RC-40 or whatever they are… pretty sure I was listening to lots of Sonic Youth at the time.
HAPPY: Yeah that’s cool. It sounds like a recreation of what ’90s music should sound like in a decade from now.
JOHNNY: Cool, that’s good. Yeah, we’ve always made records that feel like these 12 points on a clock or 12 different points on a compass, all pointing in different ways. And for it to feel like something’s bringing it together like that, I guess that’s what a producer is for. The producer we worked with is fucking amazing. He took us to upstate New York to do pre-production and funnily enough, this house we were in, we were in the basement jamming in the day and then at night we’d go up for dinner. There was a really old reel to reel machine. There was a Black Sabbath album, there was The Stooges, there was Dark Side of the Moon, all these original old, I think they’re quarter-inch tapes that they take. So, we’re like listening to all that old music on these reel to reel machines every night while we were doing pre-production, which was kind of good prep for it as well.
HAPPY: That was with Heath as well or was it with the original members?
JOHNNY: No. So, what happened was, a few years ago I came back and Ryan and Heath and I had a couple of reunion shows. It was really fun, we jammed. It was sort of thrown around in the rehearsal to do another record and didn’t come to fruition, but Ryan and I bonded more and more. It got to the point where I had a bunch of songs that felt like they should be on a Children Collide record and we started talking about it. But, Heath just got really busy with his new life, which is running a vintage store with his girlfriend on the Central Coast. It’s not an easy leap to make sometimes, to go back to potentially sleeping on couches and whatever. He gave us his blessing to do it without him. And so, I was trying to think who would be good to take Heath’s place. What I always loved about Heath, besides his excellent taste in music, was his kind of punk vibe that he brought to it. Also, the fact he was a really good dancer, I don’t know if anyone noticed.
HAPPY: Watching you and Heath perform back on the first couple of records was electrifying. It was like a dance, like two Japanese fighting fish more than Children Collide.
JOHNNY: Well that’s what I had to consider. It was like, how the hell do you replace someone like that? You don’t really replace them, you make a new chapter. It’s weird to think of it as replacing. The first person that popped into my head was one of my oldest friends, Chelsea. Because, when we were coming up, she was always playing on the scene in Melbourne in a punk band called The Gingers. Now, she does a pop-dance act where she has all this choreographed dancing in it. She’s an amazing dancer and it came together in my head straight away. I’m like fuck, it’d be so good if I could convince Chelsea to do it. I called her up and she was keen.
JOHNNY: I prefer not to be on tour with someone all the time unless I know I fucking love them. It’s weird, so to me, to have someone that I know is a good friend and I know I can travel with, I know that we can give each other shit, you know? I know she’s toured lots, she gets it, and it just makes it so much easier. So yeah, it was just the logical choice and it was amazing it worked out. But then yeah, our schedules got fucked up with the recording. She ended up being in Bali, so we got my good friend from New York Jaie Gonzalez, who is from Sydney originally, to play bass on it. He’s so great and we’ve done loads of shit together over the years actually, a lot of parties and whatnot. He was just a dream to work with, an amazing bass player. He was even going and doing little edits for us because he’s also a producer. Which helped free up the actual producer Loren, who I’ve now worked on three records with, and is a god damn genius.
JOHNNY: He’s a real nerd.
HAPPY: The bass sound, that just blew me away.
JOHNNY: Yeah and he really likes working out how people did something. Like, yeah. I met him through Kevin Parker actually.
JOHNNY: Yeah, in East Village one night.
HAPPY: How did you end up meeting these Perth-a-nalities, that whole scene of Perth musicians? Nick Albrook, Kevin Parker?
JOHNNY: Yeah, so years ago, they would play underneath us at festivals. I remember Kevin once threw a pair of boxer shorts at me on stage.
HAPPY: What did he do?
JOHNNY: We used to all hang out with each other at festivals and I remember one time, he was putting grass in everyone’s drinks and he threw undies onto the stage. That was fucking forever ago. I’ve always been such a fan but then fast forward to, you know, ten years’ later, I was in New York and they’d come through and Jodie, their manager, would just say oh, you were so nice to us back in the day. Then, I was going through probably the hardest time in my life. I went through a breakup, I was basically homeless, I was sleeping on couches, I had no money. I was doing Fascinator and they let me support Pond in New York at the Bowery Ballroom and then Jodie offered to manage me and that kind of saved my life. I was at such a low point, I wouldn’t say… I don’t know. I wouldn’t say suicidal, but I was hopeless, I wasn’t eating properly, and I was just heartbroken. I’d kind of moved on from the idea of a career and I’d just be a weird artist I guess. But, I had no money, I had no hopes and Jodie came along and started managing me, really pulled me out of the doldrums.
HAPPY: Amazing. I did read about that particular gig with Pond, you were playing just air guitar, right?
JOHNNY: Well not me… see, Fascinator was this reaction to Children Collide really. I just wanted to be everything Children Collide wasn’t. Children Collide was an amazing experience but it had gotten so serious, we go to the point where… and rightly so, I guess, but no one was allowed backstage before or after and people couldn’t just jump up on stage and jam with us. It’s all fair enough but when I started Fascinator I was like, I want this to be the opposite. I would meet a Japanese flute player on the street and she’d jump up with me that night. So, for a while, I had an airband and I would get whoever; like, a friend would be in New York, I’m like have you ever been on stage before? They’re like nup, I’m like do you want to play the Bowery Ballroom tonight? And so, they’d be my band. I’d have an air drummer and I’d have an air bass player and an air keyboard or whatever.
HAPPY: I do love that idea that it’s just anyone’s band, the village band with a rotating door of members.
JOHNNY: Yeah, it’s anyone’s band. There’s been, I reckon, one to two hundred people in it over the years.
HAPPY: That’s amazing! Just shifting the focus back to Children Collide, I totally understand that hanging out with three dudes for months on end can get tiresome. You must be really excited about starting this new phase with Chelsea & Ryan, it must be nice for everything to feel a little more co-ed.
JOHNNY: Children Collide started with Lauren and Heath, our first two drummers were girls. I mean yeah, I try not to really think about that, that part of it. But it what it is. It’s three people who have their own projects who are really happy to be there and are really good friends. That’s what’s cool about it now. Because, we all do our own thing. Although I have to say, those two motherfuckers: we did an interview for another publication last year and we finished it and they didn’t fucking say anything. We finished the interview and they were both like, oh it’s so good not having to talk. I’m like you guys can fucking talk too!
HAPPY: Who was this?
JOHNNY: Chelsea and Ryan.
HAPPY: Oh really?
JOHNNY: They were like, oh it’s so good not having to talk in this band. I’m like, you guys can fucking talk.
HAPPY: I mean, it’s worth noting that Chelsea is well established and loved for her own projects, you’ve created a bit of a supergroup here.
JOHNNY: Oh yeah, she’s big in the North.
HAPPY: She’s big in the North?
JOHNNY: In fact, Ryan’s band too. His songs would have had more plays than anything that Children Collide or Fascinator’s done. So I mean, they should be the ones talking.
HAPPY: Yeah, I love that.
JOHNNY: Yeah and I think also, there’s nothing more humbling than fronting your own thing, in a weird way. As much as it takes an ego to do it, and I think the three of us all get that coming together for this, it’s nice.
HAPPY: Yeah that’s cool. Finally, what’s next for, for Children Collide?
JOHNNY: We thought 2020 would be a really good year to bring back a band that is known for its live shows because no one can play live shows. I don’t know, wait until you can play gigs again and then play some shows?
HAPPY: You mentioned earlier some interactive projects?
JOHNNY: Oh you mean the video thing?
JOHNNY: So, the Funeral For a Ghost video will come out the first week of September and then, because we couldn’t play live shows, I want to just try and capture our live energy with a video. Sort of like a TV special. There’s a show called Beat Club from the ’60s and ’70s in Germany, you can look up Can and MC5 and all kinds of cool shows they did. So, I sort of wanted to take that vibe and make music videos. I’ve made a three-song TV special with three of the tracks off the record, including the single. You’ll be able to watch that, that’ll be up for like a week streaming, so you’ll be able to preview the record visually leading up to the release. It’s going to take forever.
HAPPY: Awesome. Well Johnny, it’s been an absolute pleasure, thanks for coming in.
JOHNNY: Thank you.
Funeral For a Ghost is available on all streaming platforms.