“We’re playing ourselves. We’re our own muse”: we chat with These New South Whales

These New South Whales are trailblazers and trendsetters; they’re the punk underdogs who have blurred the lines between reality and fantasy, leaving audiences the world over unsure of what the fuck is going on.

With their mockumentary series on one side taking the piss, and their music on the other side discussing government issues and themes of self-reflection, These New South Whales always leave you a little unsure of where you stand.

So before they embark on a three-date national tour, we caught up with members Jamie, Todd and Will to find out what’s real and what’s a joke, international audiences, and house-painters with huge egos.

Photos by Dani Hansen

By the time we’re finished they’re all asking for autographs and photos“: We caught up with Sydney’s premier punk outfit These New South Whales for a chat.

HAPPY: Alright, first thing’s first. What’s Pelvis up to at the moment?

JAMIE: Well he’s probably on a train on his way to the city, because he’s performing on Tonightly with us tonight. I think maybe he’ll introduce the band or something.

TODD: We’ll let him ad-lib a little bit. He can just talk over the song.

HAPPY: Let him run free. How did Pelvis come to get involved in the show? Is he a paid actor?

JAMIE: Well I was working at a burger shop in 2012 I think, and he was a regular customer there… at the burger shop. And we got chatting, and he told me that he was an Elvis tribute artist, and he ended up supporting us at Oxford Art Factory one weekend. And so when we wrote the show and came up with the character of the manager, we thought Pelvis would be the perfect person to play it. Mind you, he’d never acted before in his life… he’s a bus driver.

HAPPY: That’s great.

JAMIE: Yeah! And we had this feeling that he’d be able carry it off, and he did.

TODD: He’s a natural born performer, isn’t he?

HAPPY: How many people in this show are actors and how many are not? I’m never sure what’s real…

JAMIE: It’s about half half. We like to keep a mix of people who are actors and people who aren’t. I dunno, I feel like it creates a nice energy. And in our show for some reason, people turn into Oscar Award winning actors.

HAPPY: I always watch thinking “how the fuck is this so good?”

JAMIE: Well I don’t know how Pelvis acts so well for someone who has never acted before…

TODD: He really does, hey…

JAMIE: Yeah, and these two here, Will and Todd, they’ve never acted before and they’re smashing it.

WILL: Thanks mate.

JAMIE: It’s true.

HAPPY: I find your show really interesting… because it first aired a few years ago now, and since then, you’ve started taking the band a lot more seriously but the mockumentary is still there taking the piss. Is your goal to blur the lines of what’s real and fake, and leaving people not knowing what’s actually going on?

WILL: Exactly, yeah.

JAMIE: Yeah it kind of has just turned out that way… where we’ve got these two projects that are as separate as they are… what’s the word?

TODD: One.

JAMIE: Yeah, they’re as separate as they are one. And they’ve both got different tones, and that’s just the way it’s played out. So it does play to this sort of disparity… there’s always two things going on, and it has been really fun to play with.

HAPPY: Do you ever look out into the audience and see a bunch of confused heads, just not sure what to make of you guys?

JAMIE: Oh for sure.

WILL: All the time.

JAMIE: It’s always a bit like that… and we love that. So we always play into it.

HAPPY: You just came back from a tour of Europe and the UK with DZ Deathrays… was the crowd over there more or less receptive than the Aussie crowd?

JAMIE: I would say that they were the same as when we first started playing in Australia. We were putting people on the back foot… because they were like “who the fuck are these guys and what the fuck are they doing? ” But we enjoy the challenge of trying to win a crowd over.

TODD: Then they’re all asking us for autographs.

JAMIE: Yeah, by the time we’re finished they’re all asking for autographs and photos. We’re also just selling so much merch. We flog ’em for all they’re worth… these idiots.

WILL: It’s good cash.

TODD: We come back with twice as much money.

JAMIE: Paper money.

HAPPY: Do you find that, with the mockumentary in particular, a lot of the jokes are specific to Australia? Or do you think they’re translatable to an international audience?

JAMIE: I think they translate the same. I think it’s about people with big dreams and big egos… and they’re everywhere in the world. And not just musicians, but lawyers, painters, or whoever… it’s a universal thing.

HAPPY: Painters?

JAMIE: Painters have huge egos. I don’t know if you know any painters?

TODD: Even house-painters?

JAMIE: Oh yeah, house painters too. Seriously, massive egos on those guys. They’re obsessed with themselves.

TODD: Yeah I don’t think I know any.

HAPPY: We mentioned before that you’ve started to take the music side of the band a bit more seriously.

JAMIE: Yeah well we just started to see joke bands as a bit passé. And you know, we started the Australiana genre.

HAPPY: Of course.

JAMIE: And then we abandoned it once everyone started climbing on the ship.

HAPPY: You’ve got to stay ahead of the curve.

JAMIE: You’ve just got to. It got really boring. It got lame. It got boring playing in a joke band.

TODD: Ironically, it’s become a very big genre now. We start a scene, then get out of it before it becomes huge.

HAPPY: What’s going to be the next genre you pioneer?

TODD: Well, we’ll probably just stop doing the mocko once it starts blowing up…

HAPPY: As soon as other people start latching on…

JAMIE: Yeah that’s right.

HAPPY: Was there a specific point when you decided you were going to take the music side more seriously?

JAMIE: I don’t if there was… but there was definitely a distinction at some point where the music stopped being about Kookaburras and celebrity chefs, and we got started on issues that were a bit more important to us. Or at least a sound that had a bit more intensity.

WILL: We started putting a bit more intention to it, didn’t we? First with the songwriting, then the lyrics followed.

HAPPY: Going back to when you very first started… what idea came first, the idea for the web-series or for the band?

JAMIE: Very much the band. We started playing gigs around Sydney venues to no one for years… and years and years and years.

HAPPY: Back when you first started, what was your initial mission statement?

JAMIE: Well we had a big mission statement actually. I don’t know if many bands do, but we certainly did. It was to go out and write songs as quick as we could, play a song no matter how shit it is – that’s kind of a form of punishment.

WILL: It was a low maintenance band. We didn’t want to spend too much time deliberating over how it looked or how it sounded.

JAMIE: I know personally, that back then, I set out to embarrass myself and shame myself on stage. It was just a self-depreciating sort of thing for me personally… I don’t know if you guys were feeling the same sort of thing?

WILL: Well, no. I never set out to embarrass myself. I probably did, but just didn’t realise it at the time.

HAPPY: With satire, it seems that punk music gets let off the hook a little… but you’ve really driven it home. Were there any particular aspects of punk music that you set out to satirise?

JAMIE: Well I think the whole concept of a punk band is something that I find pretty funny. As much as I love the genre and love playing music of that type, the whole idea is kind of funny…

TODD: Taking it seriously…

JAMIE: Taking it seriously is a funny idea. I don’t think there was anything specific about punk music that we set out to satirise specifically, but there’s so much available for parody in that genre… and in every genre.

HAPPY: Do you ever find yourself writing or performing a joke, and thinking “fuck I’m guilty of this too”?

JAMIE: Oh all the time. Definitely.

WILL: 99% of the time man.

JAMIE: We’re playing ourselves. We’re our own muse.

Catch These New South Whales live on their upcoming No Bridge Left To Burn Tour. Dates below:

Sydney – Sat 6 Oct – Oxford Art Factory w/ Party Dozen, Rebell Yell, Greenwave Beth

Melbourne – Fri 12 Oct – Howler w/ Party Dozen, Rebell Yell, V

Brisbane – Sat 13 Oct – Wooly Mammoth w/ Party Dozen, Rebell Yell, Leixcon

More info here.