There isn’t a band today that can fuse rock, hip hop and conspiracy theories quite like Tropical Fuck Storm.
Through their third studio album, Deep States, Tropical Fuckstorm create an eclectic fusion of vocals and melodies inspired by bizarre experiences.
Happy sat down and spoke with lead singer Gareth Liddiard, who took us on a whirlwind adventure, where history, hip hop and politics were used to explain the method behind the glorious madness that is Deep States.
HAPPY: So, you’ve been announcing a live national tour across Australia, but I’m guessing that’s going to maybe have some holdbacks. Am I correct about that?
GARETH: Yeah, probably. I think so. I mean, the New South Wales gigs have been postponed. There was one we were going to do a Carriageworks visit, so that’s postponed. Yeah. I don’t know, we’ve been doing this for a year and a bit – postponing, postponing, postponing. Just a pain in the ass.
HAPPY: Well, that’s the thing. I’ve heard that your live shows… I’ve never actually come and seen you guys live, which is to my disgrace. But I hear your live shows are incredible. I guess I’m wondering, what can people expect in the future, perhaps?
GARETH: Um, I don’t know. We’re a bit out of practice. I’ll probably have a heart attack on stage or something. I’ve got to start exercising again.
GARETH: It’ll be fun to be back. Just fucking… You know, I miss it. I didn’t think I would, but I do. Yeah.
HAPPY: Why didn’t you think you’d miss it?
GARETH: Just because we do it so much. I mean, you know, it’s not like I didn’t want to do it, but you get to a point when you’ve done it so much, you can take it or leave it. When it comes showtime, it’s always great. But before that, I don’t know. Yeah, but then I sort of… I’ve been more neurotic than usual. And, you know, and that’s not just… it’s not just the pandemic. It’s kind of just not being able to jump up and down like an idiot every night for a year.
HAPPY: I mean, fair. So I wanted to ask about “New Romeo Agent”, just because it’s incredible. And I can’t really sort of put into words. And I know it’s got this sort of apocalyptic backstory with amnesty, but I just was wondering if you could maybe give me a bit more context just because lyrically and sonically, I’m overwhelmed.
GARETH: Well, Erica wrote that one. But it’s sort of based on… it’s like a sci fi thing, because when we first made it up, we made up the music first, and it had a really, kind of a UFO alien kind of vibe. So we called it… its working title was “Alien Love Spy”. Then I think Erica was reading about the Romeo agents, like in East Germany and stuff back in the Cold War days, which is something I’d heard about as well. It’s fascinating. It was usually men, but they’d train women too as spies, to be really good at flirting. And they also taught them to be really good lovers, like they would take the guys to a brothel where some old madam would teach the guys how to how to do it, you know what I mean? And so, then their job was to go out and seduce people who worked in embassies and other agencies from other countries. So the East Germans who are, you know, working for the Russians, they would seduce, say, a man would seduce a secretary who worked at the English embassy. And they would kind of get secrets from them. And when the Cold War ended, a lot of these spies left the victim, and a lot of them married their victims as well and came truthfully out with what was happening. It’s just wild. So Erica sort of made up a story with that in it. But then in a more kind of Blade Runner sci fi, you know, future dystopian sense. And yeah, I mean, it’s a really good song. Great lyrics. And in the end, she and her Romeo agent spy lover get killed by, I think, an alien or so. Yeah. So there you go.
HAPPY: Yeah. On the press release, it just says they get murdered at the end. It’s like, OK, tea!
GARETH: That’s what I thought.
HAPPY: Okay. But I also think, like sonically, it’s so interesting. I’ve never heard that idea of like ambient, rock, hip hop brought all together. I guess, how the fuck did that happen?
GARETH: Oh, it’s funny. People ask a lot… The last bunch of interviews I’ve done, they’ve asked a lot about the hip hop thing. And it’s like, you know, a lot of people I’ve talked to are around your age and they’re like, ‘You’re doing hip hop?’ I’m forty-five. And when I was in primary school, things like Ice T, you know, NWA, Public Enemy, that were huge. I saw Ice T for the first time on TV. I would have been 12.
GARETH: So we’ve always been into hip hop. And in high school, we were listening to WuTang, stuff like that. It’s just a part of my kind of musical vocabulary like Led Zeppelin or Black Flag. So when you turn a drum machine on, it kind of wants you to do that. In a sense, it becomes hip hop. It’s like if you turn an electric guitar on, you kind of get a rock and roll tape. It’s very natural, and we just roll with the punches. We just turn a bunch of gear on and whatever comes out, we try and just go with the flow. So it’s got the hip hop thing, it’s got like an Ethiopian electric piano in there, like the old 60s French recordings of Ethiopian sort of jazz bands and stuff.
GARETH: I really like it.
HAPPY: Yeah, I really like it too. So I also wanted to talk about the fact, I haven’t been able to listen to the whole Deep States album, but from what I’m gathering, it’s taken a lot more sort of a paranoid approach this time around. And I think that’s really interesting, especially considering that the world’s gone to complete shit.
HAPPY: But I’m just sort of wondering, is that something that you always wanted to go on in a creative direction, or is that something that sort of happened in response to what was happening around you, or am I completely projecting?
GARETH: No, the latter. Yeah, just the world’s… all the misinformation going around and all the almost quasi-religious rejection of facts and stuff like that. Like, I mean, the shit that happened in Sydney the other day and in Melbourne, you know, the lockdown protests. And I’m reading people saying, well, you know, ‘Black Lives Matter are allowed to do it.’ Like, they’re not allowed to protest, but they do. But the difference between a bunch of anti-vaxxers and a bunch of Black Lives Matter people is that Black Lives Matter, their thing is based on fact. Racism is fact and fucked, whereas anti-vax is just bullshit and based on lies. You know, just like the Trump stolen election protests. So it’s just everywhere. And it’s just really interesting, because it is like a religious rejection of just the facts that are staring you in the face. Like, the pandemic is real. Trump did lose the election. Hillary Clinton isn’t rating babies in a pizza parlour in Washington, D.C., right? We’ve seen all that.
We were actually into QAnon a lot earlier than most people, because about two years ago, we were going to play at a place I didn’t actually know about it called Comet Ping Pong. It’s like a venue… it’s a pizza restaurant during the day. It’s really nice. So it’s family pizza restaurant. It’s got bar with, you know, really great cocktails and stuff, some pizza for the kids. And then a big section of this restaurant is like a bunch of ping pong tables – all the kids do that – and at night, they pack up the ping pong tables and turn it into a venue and bands playing. So we were coming into town into D.C. and the day before we got on our Instagram and Facebook and whatever, and sort of said ‘Tomorrow night, Comet Ping Pong, come down to the show.’ And I woke up the next morning to hit the road and check the comments in all these posts. And people are going, ‘oh, so you like pedophile’s, do you?’ And we were like, ‘What the fuck is this? What are you talking about?’ So we did a bit of research and we found out, yeah, Comet Ping Pong is the home of Pizzagate where apparently, you know, the Illuminati, Obama and Hillary and fucking the guy who owns Microsoft had a basement full of child sex slaves. Anyway, so we got to the venue. And it’s like, ‘where is the basement? Let’s have a look.’ And they were like, ‘There is no basement.’ And they had a guy come in a few months prior with a machine gun who shot the joint up, like while moms and dads and their kids were eating pizza.
HAPPY: Fucking hell.
GARETH: He said, ‘show me the basement’. And then amazingly, the staff, the poor staff. You know, it’s a regular bar and restaurant. Yeah. The poor staff managed to talk him down and managed to get the gun off him and say, ‘there is no basement’. And they showed him, you know, just every nook and cranny of this place. And he went, ‘oh, shit, sorry, I’m wrong.’ But then it took off from there. It took off and it became what it is today. So, I mean, it’s just everywhere. So when we come to write songs… how are you not going to write a song about something that freaky?
HAPPY: No. And you’re definitely speaking from experience.
GARETH: Yeah, It’s weird, right? Yeah, it’s very odd.
HAPPY: So I’m guessing you’re not into pedophile cult leaders or misinformation about them.
GARETH: What’s that?
HAPPY: I said, I guess you’re not into pedophile cult leaders. Or misinformation about them.
GARETH: Sorry, you broke up.
HAPPY: I said, I guess you’re not into pedophile cult leaders.
GARETH: No, no. You know, it’s just crazy. Like the QAnon thing and all that anti-vax stuff, I’m fascinated in it because my background is English and, you know, Anglo English and all my grandparents did World War I and World War II. And, you know, there’s this like generational intergenerational trauma? There’s, you know, my family are just a bunch of alcho’s because of that, and our granddad’s are all fucked up – they did the trenches and did all this. And it was caused by these of course quasi-religions of Nazism and Communism. You know, like these things after the Industrial Revolution, they replaced, you know, your regular churchgoing kind of religion with something which is the same, in a way. Like Nazism has a figurehead, it has blasphemies, heretics. It has a doctrine. It doesn’t care about the facts, you know. It has it’s own mythology. And yeah, QAnon it’s the same thing again, but just packaged differently, and it’s been helped along by the Internet and by Trump, and idiots like that. I’m definitely not into it, but it’s fascinating, and it’s funny to write songs about it because no one else does. Like, come on. This is happening man.
HAPPY: Yeah. So in that case, I don’t know, does that also hold the same with “G.A.F.F”? Just because I was trying to listen to the lyrics on that and I couldn’t quite piece it together.
GARETH: Yeah, that’s sort of based on, again, the same sort of thing where you’ve got the two extremes – the extreme right, the extreme left. I’m talking about mega extremes, and just that the Internet, the way it’s… something like Twitter is designed in a way that if you use it, it demands that you have an opinion on absolutely everything, you know? And I think that’s fuelled this sort of polarisation and the way that the two poles moved apart so much, and they’ve really given each other life. You know, you’re required in this internet age to have an opinion on a whole bunch of shit that you’re not qualified to talk about. Like people that say anti-vax, which is a huge left-wing thing, when you’re talking about Byron Bay or Mullumbimby, most people are left-leaning. They reject science and that. And then on the opposite side, on the far right, they reject that shit, too. They reject climate science and yet you’re required to have an opinion on everything and you’re stuck in the middle between these two sets of freaks, and it’s exhausting. I think people are a bit frightened to see… people sort of feel like they can’t say, ‘I don’t know, man. I don’t care. I’m just trying to pay the rent.’ You know what I mean? So that song’s just about exhaustion, empathy exhaustion, something like that. But it covers both sides.
HAPPY: I think that brings me to my next question, just because this seems like an inherently political album. I guess, talking to you as well, I think you’re aware… hyper aware of the environment that you’re in – as I think everyone should be – but I guess, would you call this then… I don’t know. I think it’s interesting, this idea of new ways of protesting, especially new forms of protest music. You know, we have this sort of like wave in the 60s and 70s of protest singers and protest artists. But I think that sort of died out. And I’m just sort of wondering, like, would you say that this is sort of a protest album in a way?
GARETH: Yeah, in a sense. I mean, it’s not didactic or it’s not just trying to hit you over the head with a particular position. It’s more a kind of observation on everything. You’re saying about the 60s protest music, it was really earnest and really serious, and I mean, there was some great songs that came out of that – there were a lot of shitty ones too – but it was always earnest. It was never funny. It was never kind of ridiculous. But now, it’s almost like what we do is almost like what the Gagaists did or what the Surrealists did back in the day before World War II, when the world was going absolutely bonkers. And to respond to it, you just had to be bonkers too, you know what I mean? So, we do a lot of stuff that’s more tongue-in-cheek and it’s more satirical and, there’s more fun in what we do. It’s more laughs – black humour, you know, gallows humour. Yeah. So, it is protest, but not didactic and not you… I don’t profess to have all the answers. I’m not… I’m a musician, I’m not qualified to do anything except play guitar and record albums. You know, I’m a human being. This is my species. So, I’m allowed to sit back and just point things and go, ‘That’s weird. That’s weird. What the fuck’s he on about? What’s he on about?’ Everyone’s just fucking crazy, man. Everyone is fucking crazy. And yeah, with this pandemic, fuck me.
HAPPY: Yeah. I don’t know the amount of times I’ve had conversations with people with like centrists slash right leaning people who are so convinced that Western ideology is in a constant state of decline. Just so convinced that the West is going to crumble beneath them, as transgender people get rights or if…
GARETH: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. It’s crazy. I mean, the world, you know, I’m a pessimist, just I think by nature. But at the same time, there’s so much to be happy about and optimistic about, because the world’s slowly… and it’s always too slow, but it is getting better. I mean if you’re a… you know, black dude or someone from Pakistan or, if you’re gay or trans, I mean, if you have a choice to jump in a time machine and go back in time, you wouldn’t want to, you’d go ‘no fucking way’, because it’s better now. Even though it’s not perfect, things are improving. I mean, that’s the upshot of the internet. I think people… you know, they fight a lot, but I think there’s a lot more understanding too, and that’s the way it should be because the way I see it… we’re all just little pieces of the universe. You didn’t mean to be born and you don’t get to choose how you’re born. You know, if you did, who would give a fuck anyway? We’re all here together for a moment, for a moment in time, you know, so I think just get along. People are interesting, people are cool. And if everyone was a fucking white man, it would be so boring. If everyone was like that fucking Ben Robert Smith guy, that SAS guy who’s getting cooked, is that the way everyone’s meant to be? Like, fuck off. He’s got a rod up his ass.
HAPPY: I’m going to quote you on that. Well, thank you for the chats about, you know, the rise of cultural neo-Marxism and whatnot. I don’t have any more questions otherwise. Is there anything that you want to add in or anything that I’ve not touched upon that you think is important?
GARETH: Um, I don’t know. I mean, we should just have a good time. We’re here for a good time, not a long time – that’s our motto *chuckles*. Everyone should get along.
GARETH: Oh, there’s a bug in my coffee.
HAPPY: Oh no. Eat it. Protein.
GARETH: All right.
HAPPY: Thank you so much. Have a good day. Be safe.
GARETH: You, too. Take it easy!
HAPPY: Thank you. Bye.
Deep States is out now on all streaming services, chuck it a listen!
Interview by Mike Hitch!