We sat down for a backyard chat with Sydney’s most underrated band, The Dolphin Show, about their highly anticipated second EP.
I found myself in the backyard of a brick and fibro Petersham house on a settling Tuesday afternoon. Hailing from the Northern Beaches of Sydney, The Dolphin Show‘s Will and James now call this place home. There isn’t an ocean down the road for them anymore. Instead, the duo have come to an inner-west compromise, purchasing an inflatable pool between acts of debauchery over the heat of the long weekend.
Known for their live wire performances, the band play an unpretentious set that’s raw and fraught with discord. They’ve been relatively quiet on Sydney’s live scene lately, in part due to the pandemic, but mainly because they’ve been busy fine-tuning their highly anticipated second EP, Thick Black Brain Blood (TBBB).
“Wanna beer or a cup of tea or something?” James asks me before we begin our chat.
Crack! We’re drinking Reschs straight out of the can. “These were really popular like fifteen years ago,” James explains. “[Sips] A kind of beer cult was established to get them back in the cans. People used to call them the silver bullets. I read all this on this Reschs Appreciation Society (RAS) website the other day.”
HAPPY: Your second EP, Thick Black Brain Blood (TBBB), has been a long time coming? Can you tell us a bit about the recording process? When and where was it recorded?
WILL: Well, we’ve been sitting on this one for a while. When we got into the studio and decided we were actually gonna do this, it was probably the first time we semi took ourselves seriously. I think we started recording it in 2018.
JAMES: I think it was in September, so it was a good two years ago.
WILL: It was early and we had grand plans of getting it out and just really writing, but we just didn’t get there, did we?
JAMES: No, we did the first two songs. We recorded 24hr (Quality Dining) and Fuck Off Dad first, in a two day hit. I don’t think we were ever even gonna do an EP. We were just gonna do those songs but then we thought, “Fuck it, that was really easy. We may as well do the others.” We got them mastered and then we mastered them again, cause they were going on the EP.
WILL: We finished recording all the songs by about April 2019. In regards to the process, I mean, it was our first time, we were just going off the back of our engineer, Lee McDonald, and he showed us what we could do. From there, we just felt like kids in a candy shop.
HAPPY: You’ve gone through a few recent lineup changes. Did this ever feel like a time of turbulence for the band? How’d you meet the new blokes?
WILL: I mean, it was a bit of a spanner in the works when the other two left but we completely respect their decisions. They’re still our best friends and they still spend a lot of time with us, so it hasn’t impacted anything like that. We’ve actually been lucky in finding the two new guys cause they are both exceptional musicians.
HAPPY: The drumming is really tight on the EP.
WILL: Yeah, Max is a fucking good drummer. He’s as good as they come.
JAMES: The way we met Max is pretty good actually. We used this app called BandMix, which has been described as the Tinder for musicians. He was basically the only dude who wasn’t a dad, so I flicked him a message.
HAPPY: Is that why you wrote Fuck Off Dad?
JAMES: [Laughs] Maybe! Mitch is in like, six other bands. They’re into it and they’re keen. We were rehearsing at Factory Studios in Mona when we recorded TBBB and Mitch was also rehearsing with one of his other bands. The dude that runs the joint told him we were looking for a bassist and it took off from there.
HAPPY: Thick Black Brain Blood sounds polished and tighter than ever. It marks a transition away from your surf rock roots into more abrasive punk. How did you develop this niche in sound?
JAMES: I think we were always into it. The surf rock thing was just by accident. We wrote Get Pitted and it was funny at the time.
HAPPY: So you kinda slipped into that in the beginning?
WILL: The thing is, when we got started, we were clueless as to what we were even trying to create. We were just literally in James’ garage fuckin’ about and that’s what came out. Since then, we’ve been able to be way more selective. James and I will always say to each other if something sounds like shit, tell us that it sounds like fucking garbage. We’re both okay with that cause we trust each other’s judgement and opinion.
HAPPY: Are there any recurring themes in the lyrics? Is there a particular concept or is it all super versatile?
WILL: On the songs that I sing, I would say that it’s pretty random. I don’t ever hear the lyrics and know what I wanna write about. I’ll be about to go to bed or something and an idea will come to my head. That’s the way I write a song usually. Especially in 24hr Quality Dining, that was written in about 10 minutes.
HAPPY: You must’ve been hungry! Where did the name Thick Black Brain Blood come from?
JAMES: I think I came up with the name. I don’t really know why, but it was just in my fucking head. I was seeing Thick Black Brain Blood everywhere. When I’m driving around, cause I work running deliveries, I’ll just see a word and that’s how I usually write songs.
WILL: It kinda matches well cause TBBB is a real thick sludgy song.
JAMES: What I’m singing in that chorus is that feeling of being really, really hurt. You know, when you jump off something and you think you’re gonna die? Just that feeling that nothing’s gonna be okay and you’re actually fucked. I wanted to capture that feeling in the chorus and that’s when I thought, “imagine seeing your brain blood on the ground? That would be pretty weird.”
HAPPY: The cover art definitely captures that feeling you’re trying to get across. It literally looks like a mangled brain oozing an explosion of minced meat. Did you give the artist creative freedom to do whatever he wanted with that or did you give him some sort of direction?
JAMES: We’ve known Billy (Bain) for a long time cause he’s done all our art since the beginning. We met up with him at the Ary and we thought he was just gonna do a drawing, but he wasn’t too keen on the idea.
HAPPY: Oh fuck…
JAMES: He told us he was more into doing sculptures now. It’d definitely been a while since we’d put anything out, so he’d obviously developed his artistic style as well during that time. When he told us he wanted to do a sculpture, I think we just kinda sat on it for a bit. We thought, what the fuck can we do with a sculpture? Then I remembered that one of our songs was called TBBB already. I knew he was really good at doing heads and faces, so I thought, maybe he could sculpt something of a dude with his head busted out? Billy just took it and ran with it. He did everything himself. He just showed us the finished product. We gave him the idea and that was it.
WILL: He’s a fucking good artist. He made it look so real and even put real hair on it.
JAMES: They’re actually Badger’s pubes.
HAPPY: Ahh, so it’s really authentic then [laughs]. You’ve got an upcoming gig this weekend. Can you fill us in on that one?
JAMES: It’s at Petersham Bowlo (October 10th) which is actually our local now. It’s gonna be a hoot! Well, I don’t know, only 40 people can come and it’s all seated. That could be weird. But in a way, it could be a good thing cause it means everyone has to actually watch and listen.
WILL: It’s the first time we’re gonna play live with Mitch and Max. People are gonna hear all this new shit we’ve been writing which will be sick to get out there!
HAPPY: How’s the inner west move from The Beaches been for you guys? What aspects do you potentially miss from home and prefer in the city?
WILL: I can say for me, personally, that I moved out here to focus on my music. This area’s like the cultural hub of Sydney and, when this virus stuff has finished, we’ll be able to use this location to our advantage.
HAPPY: Where to from here? Have you guys been writing much lately, what can Dolphin Show audiences expect next?
WILL: We’ve been able to start a new chapter where we can say goodbye to those surf rock days. Everything’s happening at a way faster rate with the new members and we’re constantly moving now. We’ve got an influx of new songs and I’d say the next goal for us is to release an entire album. I don’t think we’re far off.
JAMES: I’d say we could almost start recording by the end of this year, early next year.
HAPPY: Well, how ’bout we wrap it up on that. One last thing. Tell me, what’s your favourite beer?
JAMES: Reschs refreshes.
WILL: Reschs, if you’re out there, sponsor us! We need help.
Pre-order Thick Black Brain Blood here.