How a school group reunion revived a love for alternative grunge.
Fuelled by coffee, Good Mythical Morning, and a cathartic desire to use music to get over things, Beggar Man Thief have released a stellar 8-track album that captures the raw enigmatic tone of grungy alt-rock.
Hailing from a humble reunion of old schoolmates, John, Josh, and Paddy, this talented trio found their perfect rhythm when they welcomed Tom to the group, creating an alternative powerhouse that can’t stop churning out bangers.
There’s this guitar thing I’ve been working on for a while without much success. Lately I’ve been using some Jake Reed drum sample loops to inspire my playing. It has worked for a couple of demos.
Happy: Tell us about where you are from? What’s the music scene like in your neck of the woods?
Paddy: For a long time it was just me in Sydney and Josh, John and Tom lived in Wollongong but now Tom is in Sydney too.
I’m yet to watch his other band play, probably out of jealousy. I find it hard to describe what the scene is like here. I’m probably not involved enough. I do try to find local bands and support them.
I’ve been a fan of Johnny Hunter for a few years now, they’re lots of fun. And I enjoy seeing PEEL and their noise. Wollongong is ok – but our hair isn’t beachy enough.
Happy: Describe an average day?
Paddy: coffee, music on the train – I try to just listen and avoid distractions where possible, working for a low wage, music on the train home, dinner, Good Mythical Morning, sleep.
When my partner showers I usually will plug into my headphone amplifier and make some fuzzy noise – my Strymon Iridium pedal lets me play as if I was using my AC30 but so the neighbours don’t complain. There’s a baby downstairs.
Josh: I work a lot, but recently when I’m home I’ve been sitting on a beanbag in front of my record player and listening to one of the few albums I own on vinyl while I read.
I’m getting through Gudyarra by Stephen Gapps right now, about the Wiradjuri’s historical resistance to the settlement of what is now Bathurst.
But I also play a lot of video games and watch a lot of films. My partner is crazy about horror movies so I spend a lot of time sweating and holding her hand in fear when we watch films together.
Happy: What about your ultimate day?
Paddy: I think my ultimate day is a songwriting day. And that day can look like a lot of things. It might be a work day and I’ll write an interesting lyric on the train; or it might be a day spent with my partner and later on I’ll play a passage on the guitar that really excites me.
Whenever I write a song I feel inspired to write more and more. That’s when I’ll get a wave of three or four songs. But the ultimate day must have some rest and relaxation.
Everything is so fast now. I’ve been playing a lot of Minecraft lately with my partner and it is one of the most peaceful ways to wind down – despite the anxiety induced by Creepers.
Happy: How did the reunion between school friends John, Josh, and Paddy lead to the formation of Beggar Man Thief as an alternative band?
Paddy: When I was about to start high school, my guitar teacher that I travelled over an hour to said one of his other students would be starting at high school with me.
Within a couple of weeks of high school I think I went up to Josh and said something along the lines of, “are you Josh Milsom, and is your teacher Dave Crowden.” We weren’t in the same class or even friendship group initially, but pretty soon we became great mates.
Throughout the rest of our high school years we bonded over Arctic Monkeys and Radiohead. We started playing pretty seriously with John in year 10 music class I think and we would play a lot of Pink Floyd.
When I was eighteen I moved to Sydney without hesitation and kind of lost touch with John and Josh but they were always close to my heart. I tried to start a band in 2016 with Josh but he was studying and the trip from Wollongong just wasn’t really doing us any favours. That fizzled out.
In late 2019 Josh and I kind of got back in touch more frequently and by February 2020 we were practising some very simple songs I had been writing. We actually put an ad up for a guitarist to join us, and John got in touch with us which really excited us.
I thought he wouldn’t have liked what we were doing but we gelled really well again and he also brought Tom along, as they were friends from uni. The first practice with Tom I think we had about sixteen songs to get through and he nailed every one. It was just such a cool thing to be a part of.
Josh: Paddy and I both went through break-ups and realised we needed to sing songs together to get over it.
Happy: Can you tell us more about the influences that shape your sound, from the bleakness of the ’90s alternative scene to the aggression of the early 2000s post-punk revival?
Paddy: We all have slightly different tastes in music, with a few crossovers, and I guess that is why we identify with the alternative music scene. Sometimes we play with more aggression and sound more like a grunge band, and then we’ll get bored and try some new things.
I liked Green Day as a child, as well as the Beatles of course, and later I started to like Nirvana. One day mum told me to listen to Creep by Radiohead. Hooked.
But later that day we were driving somewhere and I had downloaded Karma Police – when that epic bridge entered I immediately had goosebumps, and I still get them on my arms when I listen to that song.
Radiohead definitely has informed my idea of what a band can be, and what it should be. There is definitely a sense of sadness to them, but I don’t think it is as sad as people say it is.
But I’ll call it bleak, because even when their music is talking about beautiful things it has a coldness to it that I think is a characteristic of music from the 90’s, at least what I listen to.
You hear it in My Bloody Valentine too and that’s one of the crossover bands for us I think.
When we were first playing together I was definitely listening to a lot of Interpol, and modern post-punk bands like Shame and Fontaines D.C. There’s a bleakness there too, but it’s also usually a bit more aggressively dealt with and not necessarily as nuanced or subtle – and that’s not a criticism.
So I think there’s a bit of that aggression within our music, but I think we’re trying to hold back on it and be a bit more subtle. I don’t really know what we are or where we’re going.
Josh: I think that we have such different tastes which all come together in our sound. While we all share the love of post-punk and alternative rock, I think a little bit of individual taste bleeds into everything we do.
I love folk music which definitely shines through in the way I write lyrics and even phrase basslines. I think that you get new and unique sounds when you try and experiment with blending ideas from different genres, and we all bring something slightly different to the table.
Happy: As you adopt a DIY approach, how has that influenced the creative process and the final outcome of your eight-track album?
Paddy: I’d always wanted to record music but I kind of forgot about it when I moved to Sydney and whenever I tried to use a DAW and a virtual instrument I would get a lot of latency and I could never work it out.
We recorded two songs in 2020. I was never really happy with the process of doing it. I felt rushed and ultimately am still not very happy with the end result, even though we released the tracks.
I took photos of some of the gear in this person’s home and I started to realise that I could probably just get some of my own gear. Some of the gear he used – there’s no way I could afford it, but I worked out the alternatives.
I also studied audio engineering from 2021-2023; what we released was my major project for my final subject. It was only meant to be 5 songs. But I felt like we were on a roll with recording and there were some loose ends I wanted to tie up so we could move on to new songs and sounds.
We were able to record the drums for the album at my university’s studios, but everything else was done at home, mostly my home – Park Street Studios – but Josh did acoustic guitar, bass and vocals at his house, and John did some lead work at his place.
We went DI and used amp simulators. I have microphones but I did a lot of guitar tracking early in the morning before leaving for work. That way I could listen back on the train and assess.
I think doing music with a DIY approach is a double edged sword. We were lucky in that we had a deadline as my assessment was due on a particular day in May. It allowed us to be the producer.
And it also allowed us to only be on our time. So if we wanted to redo the drums (which we did for four tracks) it wasn’t impacting anyone else.
However, with DIY, I think it’s good to restrict yourself in lots of ways. Sometimes I disable my MIDI keyboard so I can’t just spend an hour stacking synths in a chorus. Sometimes, I enable the MIDI keyboard though.
Happy: With an ever-evolving instrument collection and toolkit, how do you think this diversity will shape your future music and define your unique sound?
Paddy: Both Josh and I have been working on new tracks that all feature the piano in some way. I just got a Roland Juno DS61 which is such a cool piece of gear for a songwriter.
I can barely work out half of the functions, but I love just plugging my headphones in and finding new patches.
I finally have enough microphone preamps to do an 8 mic drum recording now which is exciting, but now we need a space to do it in. So next project I want to lean a little harder into the sound of the space we record in.
Josh: We want to do everything but are limited by money and time. I’d love to build a modular synth rack and make an entire album out of the sounds you could generate from it.
But we all work full-time jobs and live out of home, so we are definitely restricted. I think it provides a creative challenge to work within the confines of what we have available, but I think with each project we will slowly accumulate and add new instruments to our pool.
Getting there will probably be the interesting part, though.
Happy: The album “Satisfaction Without the Buzz” was written over a span of two years. Can you share the inspirations and experiences that influenced the songwriting process during this time?
Paddy: I think when we first started playing as a band we all had a lot more time. We were churning out songs. During lockdown Josh and I set a challenge for ourselves to write a song a day.
I am pretty sure I gave up after a month. But that was a fun period of time. Parts of songs I wrote in that period ended up forming parts of other songs.
I think the biggest influence for me when it came to writing the songs on the album was reflecting on past failures and how growing up changes how I perceive them, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. I think Spare Plate is maybe my most reflective song.
It really looks back at the excitement I had as an eighteen year old moving to the city. Looking at that eighteen year old was a weird experience because it feels so far away.
A lot of things happened in my life over the course of time between moving to the city and Beggar Man Thief, and I tried to capture that feeling with the spoken word lyric that is repeated throughout the song, “some are married, some are dead.”
Josh: I had some pretty life-shattering experiences over the last few years while I was writing for this album. Leave Me Out is about being put on a different path in life that’s different to everybody else.
Sometimes you make your own bed, but sometimes the game is rigged and things will not go the way you want them to.
But it’s never just about you, Over the Garden Wall is about what it’s like for a loved one to see you come close to the brink. Or at least, what I imagine it would be like.
Happy: With each band member handling different elements of the album, how did this collaborative process contribute to the final cohesion of the record?
Paddy: We’re all multi-instrumentalists, but we know where our strengths are. I foolishly will try to get Tom to play a part on the drums that I have in my head, but then he’ll do something even better which kind of puts me in my place. I think we’re still working out how to play and write together.
But for the album, I think we were just on the same wavelength. I can’t remember anything really being rejected as a part, or a sound. I think it helps being best friends. I am in awe of what the others can do musically.
When John laid the guitar solo down for Spare Plate we were all kind of blown away – it was just not what either of us expected, but it was so perfect.
The same can be said for when Tom first played the drums for Lately, Maybe, it just worked so perfectly. I think we were able to pull the album together easily because we back each other and respect each other’s vision and creativity.
Happy: What was the reason behind choosing to outsource the mastering process to Nick Franklin, and how did it enhance the album’s overall sound?
Paddy: Nick was one of my instructors at uni, so I’m lucky enough to have some of his wisdom ingrained in me. I was happy to mix the album but I knew it needed a set of professional ears on it to give it the final touches.
How did it enhance the overall sound? No idea. But it has his seal of approval on it, which was special for me particularly as it was my final university project. It was amazing to have him involved and without a doubt we’ll be using him again.
Happy: How does “Satisfaction Without the Buzz” reflect the transition from the far south coast of NSW to Sydney and Wollongong, and how do these locations influence the album’s themes?
Paddy: Moving to Sydney was really hard. Looking back now, it was really challenging to get started. I spent almost all of my summer savings in about a month, mainly on rent, Ikea and Manoosh.
It took me a long time to find friends here and form solid relationships outside of my family and family friends.
For me, Sydney represents a success and many failures, so I think as a place it has informed much of my songwriting as sometimes it reminds me of something good, and other times it reminds me of something hard and bad.
And I think across the album there are ups and downs. Somersault is kind of me talking to myself and reflecting on the innocence and isolation of where I grew up.
Josh: A lot of the songs feature the theme of a loss of innocence. It’s not a nefarious loss, rather, it’s the dawning realisation that being an adult and having freedom isn’t everything you’d imagined when you were younger.
Moving out of home and to the city is the fastest way to grow up, and maybe we weren’t as ready for it as we thought we were. I suppose we are now.
Happy: As you navigate through inner turmoil, breakups, and the challenges of young adulthood, what message or emotion do you hope listeners will take away from your music?
Paddy: I think there’s meaning to be found for everyone in our music. I don’t think there’s anything too specific that it isn’t able to draw resemblance for others.
I think everyone at some point is their own worst enemy, like in Easy Enemy, and I think everyone is scared of what’s happening to the environment.
So if there’s one message to take from “Satisfaction Without the Buzz,” I’d say, take the title of the album as literal as you can. It is ok to be just fine, there’s not always going to be fireworks. We’re just pushing on through.
Happy: What makes you happy?
Paddy: People who support our music. We have regular listeners which really amazes me. And there are people who support us by buying t-shirts. That kind of support really goes a long way.
There’s a chain reaction of happiness.
Another thing that makes us happy is when people buy tickets to our upcoming gig at Kelly’s on Saturday the 19th of August.
We’ve got a pretty eclectic lineup; music history buff Tom Hogan will be playing a solo set of his self described “chaotic-neutral” material, and then we’ve got fuzz-punk lizards, The Swells turning up the heat before us.
So buy tickets – that’ll make us happy. And buying a ticket to see small bands on a Saturday night goes a long way for supporting local venues, who in turn support local artists. It’s a win-win.
Josh: Feeling as though I’ve done enough work to take it easy.
Check out the new album, and keep your eyes peeled for any news from the Beggar boys.