Don’t let their piss-taking attitude or self-appointed nickname of “Shittest band in Newtown” fool you, SCABZ are one of the best bands kicking around right now. Since forming over a Q Bar piss-up five years ago, they’ve released an EP and a string of singles – most recently Brett Lee’s Got No I.D (And He Can’t Get Into World Bar).
So as the band gear up to perform the new single at Marrickville’s Bad Friday, we caught up to chat about the evolving Sydney music scene, Girls Rock!, and how the lockout laws have impacted one of our nation’s greatest cricketers.
“When we first started, we were a needle in a haystack“: Before they play Marrickville’s Bad Friday Festival this April, SCABZ reflect on their experience in an ever-evolving Sydney music scene.
HAPPY: So if you are Newtown’s shittest band, who is Newtown’s best band?
SIOBHAN: At the moment or ever?
HAPPY: Let’s go with at the moment.
HAPPY: Good choice. How about ever? Best Sydney band ever…
SIOBHAN: That’s really hard.
LOZ: That’s a tough call.
SIOBHAN: I’m gonna go with Smudge.
LARA: Oh fuck yeah, that’s a good answer.
HAPPY: So your new single, Brett Lee’s Got No I.D (And He Can’t Get Into World Bar), is out now. Could you walk us through the story that inspired this track?
SIOBHAN: Yes, so it was a few weeks after the lockout laws came in, and I was working at World Bar. Loz was working with me, and Lara was coming in most weeks getting pissed. We had just got those I.D scanners, so if you didn’t have I.D you legit couldn’t come in, even if you look 100 years old. So this big group rock up from across the road. They were spending lots of money and they wanted to kick on. Everyone was saying “they’re a bit older, but if you set them up with a table down the side, they’re probably going to spend a lot of money.” So the whole group come in, and I get a call saying: “Siobhan, we need you at the door.” The door person says to me “Brett Lee’s here.” So I say “cool, let him in. What’s the problem? Line up the photographer.” And they say: “yeah, but he’s got no I.D.” It was his birthday, and he’d come over with all his mates. But I had to tell him that he couldn’t come in. I said to him: “I’m really sorry, but we’ve got these new machines, and you can’t come in without I.D.” It was the first person I had to explain that to too. He was actually super nice. He just got in a cab and went home.
HAPPY: Did all of his mates go in without him?
SIOBHAN: Yes, all of his mates went in without him.
HAPPY: Going back to before then, when you first formed, how did this band come together?
LARA: So Loz and I have known each other for a really long time. I won’t say our age, but we’ve known each other for about sixty years. We were in a band in high school, then we later became friends with Siobhan. One night we were all really fucked up and realised we all played instruments and decided to form a band.
SIOBHAN: It took us a while after that to actually get it together though.
LARA: It was a real drunk chat.
SIOBHAN: “I swear to god, I’m gonna pick you up at eight in the fucking morning and we’re gonna go to the studio.”
LOZ: “And Mum’s gonna make us sandwiches.”
LARA: It took months for it to happen, but it happened.
HAPPY: Since then, how have you seen the Sydney music scene change?
SIOBHAN: I think bands have to be a little more organised these days. There aren’t as many parties where you can just rock up, it’s free, and there are four bands. Bands have to be organised in finding little scenes, and finding other bands that they can play shows with and actually sell tickets. There’s so much going on, and I’m super over the “Sydney is dead” rhetoric, because it’s vastly untrue. But yeah, I think bands have to be a little more organised. You have to work a little harder to find your scene.
LARA: Also, I think there are a lot more female musicians forming bands. When we first started, we were in a spot where it was like: “oh you’re on the bill because you’re a chick band.” Whereas now, we need to find a band with a dude in it to fill the lineup. I’m not sure if it’s just because we’re in that space and we see it more, and our networks are filled with a lot of females who are musicians. But when we first started, we were a needle in a haystack. Just being a bunch of lesbian chicks, we were a bunch of fucking outcasts. But now, it’s super normal that half the bill are women.
HAPPY: What do you think the biggest force was that led to this?
LARA: People just not being dicks anymore? Just a lot of people speaking out about it and calling people out. You know, Camp Cope obviously and Courtney Barnett. It’s given a lot of women courage. Of course, we still run into a shitty comment from a dude, like: “you’re pretty good for a girl band.” But for the most part, it’s dying.
SIOBHAN: I think also, people talk a lot about gender diversity on lineups and how it’s all tokenistic. But even if it is tokenistic, it’s actually caused change. Now when people go to festivals and see girls on stage, it’s just normal. Now people will go spend $30 to see a female headline act. It’s become more normalised, even if it did come from a tokenistic place.
LARA: Yeah, book us for being female. I don’t give a fuck.
SIOBHAN: We’ve done underage shows where there have been girls who have never seen girls on stage before. They’re like “Woah, I can do this?”
LARA: It’s about breaking down the barriers.
SIOBHAN: There are more chick promoters as well. There are heaps more chicks working in the industry, booking gigs and putting on bands.
HAPPY: With the Sydney music scene more broadly, you spoke before how there’s this idea of the Sydney music scene being ‘dead’. But of course, it’s not. Why do you think there’s this disparity between what people think and what’s actually going on?
SIOBHAN: Laziness. It’s so easy to go along and say “oh this new article told me the Sydney music scene’s dead, so I may as well stay home, or go to Strike Bowling.”
LOZ: I do like bowling.
LARA: There was a lot of uproar about venues shutting down and Holy Moly opening up. People like bad news, so that stuff got more headlines than the cool bands who are putting on shows down the street.
SIOBHAN: I feel confident that if someone I knew from out of Sydney came here to visit, I could show them solid live music every night of the week.
LARA: Like Cobra Club on a fucking Tuesday.
HAPPY: Your music, a lot of the time is really funny, a lot of the time it’s political, and a lot of the time it’s both. When you first started out as a band, was there a general mission statement on what kind of band you wanted to be?
SIOBHAN: I think we were going for funny songs about Newtown. I’m pretty sure at that first piss-up we said: “yeah let’s write a song about the Marrickville Metro.”
LARA: The whole thing was a fucking joke for two years. We all thought it’d just be a good way to meet girls because we played in a band.
SIOBHAN: We were all at a particular bender time in our lives, and being in a band where you could get pissed and be funny seemed like a fun thing to do.
LARA: All of our first shows were like max $50 and free piss. We would play for two free middies of house beer. Happy days. We were loving it. It was just a joke. We didn’t take it seriously for ages. We just thought we could get into venues for free, and we thought people would think we’re cool. That’s why we say we’re shit.
SIOBHAN: The persona of me on stage as someone who talks a lot began at our first show. We were booked in for a 50-minute set and we had 15-minutes worth of music.
LOZ: We played the set twice.
LARA: Siobhan just had to talk for most of it. And we had this song called Scull, where we would encourage everyone to scull a beer, and I’d just do a big drum solo.
SIOBHAN: We should bring that back.
LARA: So that was how we started.
HAPPY: Was there a specific point in time where you decided you wanted to take the band more seriously?
SIOBHAN: I remember Lara played some shows in Europe with another band, and when she came back she was like: “yeah let’s do this properly. Let’s do SCABZ.”
LARA: That was my first ever proper tour, in a van, playing heaps of shows, not sleeping, doing heaps of coke. Shit, I hope my Mum doesn’t read this.
LOZ: Coca Cola.
LARA: I thought it was fucking cool, and that we were capable of doing it. So we tried actually recording something, and getting better gigs, and we made a fucking t-shirt. We didn’t do anything for ages, because it was all a laugh. At that point too we were practising heaps and gigging really hard, and people started thinking we were actually kind of good.
HAPPY: Recently, you were mentors in the Girls Rock! program, right?
HAPPY: Could you tell us a bit about that?
SIOBHAN: Yeah, so it’s all young girls, non-binary and trans. They come to camp every day for a week. They get split up into their instruments, they do an hour-and-a-half in the morning of instrument instruction, then they get broken up into a band, and then they spend the afternoon writing songs with their band. On the Saturday, they get up on stage at the Factory and they perform the songs they wrote.
HAPPY: That’s awesome.
SIOBHAN: Yeah, it’s actually really impressive.
LARA: I had some kids in there that had never picked up a pair of drumsticks. So in the space of an hour, I’m trying to give one-on-one coaching. Then, they get up on stage and it’s actually fucking amazing. They get up there, and the adrenaline starts flowing, and they kill it. On the Wednesday, some of them were saying “our band doesn’t have a song yet, and we’ve only got two days.” I said: “Dude, we’ve been a band for five years, and we only just put out an EP. You’re doing fine.”
SIOBHAN: It’s a really transformative week for a lot of the kids who are on the queer, gender non-conforming side of things as well. There’s a lot of emotion. It’s a big moment for a lot of them to prove to their parents that this is who they want to be.
LARA: It’s a really safe space as well. They all feel really comfortable.
SIOBHAN: There are a lot of kids who’d normally get bullied at school, but they come to this and everyone loves them.
LARA: And I had a student who said: “I think we’re gonna wear fishnets.” And I was thinking, as long as it’s alright with your parents, go for it! The weider the better. Be on stage, be you. That’s the shit we want to see.
HAPPY: Hopefully we see some of these bands playing around soon.
SIOBHAN: Yeah, there’s one band from last year called Part Time. They still play the occasional gig.
LARA: Bon’s band is Spoon Fed.
SIOBHAN: Yeah, Spoon Fed. They’re going places.
LARA: We should definitely get one of those bands for support at an all-ages gig.
LOZ: Yeah that’d be sick.
HAPPY: Wrapping up now, if Brett Lee were to show up to any of your upcoming shows, what would you say to him?
SIOBHAN: Brett Lee has a door spot with a plus-one-thousand to any of our shows.
LOZ: No I.D required.