“What did you say, you watched Speed, went to bed at seven? I took speed and went to bed at seven.”
We’re sitting in a Fitzroy café and Gareth Liddiard is feeling decidedly less rested than Erica Dunn, his bandmate in Tropical Fuck Storm. However, considering that during the past year the pair have conceived of a band, released four 7” singles with accompanying B-sides and videos, taken part in two high profile tours of the US, and written and recorded their debut album, which was completed mere weeks ago, a little weariness is understandable.
“It’s been a really intense year of learning to be a band,” muses Liddiard. “It’s pretty funny. Like, ‘Shall we do a bunch of gigs here?’ ‘Yep’. ‘Have we got time to rehearse?’ ‘Not really’. ‘Have we got enough songs?’ ‘…No’. And we just fuckin’ do it anyway. You’ve just gotta start—you could spend six months rehearsing and getting good, or just ‘fuck that, just do it’, that’s what we did, it’s more fun.”
“It’s very caution to the wind, we’re sort of making a lot of decisions and laughing,” agrees Dunn. “It’s a pretty funny way to approach a band, but in a good way, it’s really energised.”
Tropical Fuck Storm began in order to provide Liddiard and bassist Fiona Kitschin a creative outlet outside of their other band, The Drones. Having laboured under that banner for 20 years, and the increasing domesticity in the lives of his bandmates making the organisation of tours and recordings seem arduous, the idea to do something different was clearly a refreshing one. “It had never occurred to me I could just do something else,” he says, in the same drawl in which he sings. “I said to Fi ‘do you think people would come to gigs if we did something that wasn’t The Drones?’, and she said ‘we’ll give it a razz, yeah’. And then Fi said ‘Do you think it’d be okay if it wasn’t a band full of boys?’ ‘Yeah, we’ll give it a razz.’”
Dunn was a natural choice, having toured with The Drones alongside the other members of her band Harmony, and sung on their most recent album, 2016’s Feelin’ Kinda Free. Completing the lineup with High Tension’s Lauren Hammel on drums, the quartet threw themselves into the project head first, playing just three local shows under different pseudonyms before embarking on a run of shows across the US in support of The Band of Horses and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.
For an untested group, these largely sold-out theatre shows were a trial by fire, helping to whip TFS into shape, before they returned to record their debut album, A Laughing Death in Meatspace. Having dedicated themselves to releasing the four singles in the seven months leading up to the album, TFS have had strict deadlines to meet, something which they have approached with a typically laid-back, no-holds bared emphasis on creativity and the enjoyment of the process.
However while attempting to shoot the video for ‘Soft Power’ after a show in Little Rock, Arkansas, things went momentarily wrong for the band, and they almost went very wrong. Dunn becomes animated telling the story, her eyes widening as she shifts in her seat attempting to communicate the nightmarish scene, whilst beside her Liddiard nods in bemused affirmation. “You wouldn’t read about how fucking weird this place is. It is in the middle of nowhere in the woods, like a big old couple of airplane hangers together and in one of them was a concert with 2000 people,” she says.
“And then we were kind of just drunk and walking around backstage and we found some locals had made their own haunted house. No one was around, it was like, is this old?”
“There was a whole costume department, so we were just putting costumes on and shit,” interjects Liddiard.
“And halfway through we heard these terrifying, full-on yokel voices behind us like ‘Why the fuck are you touching our stuff?’ And they were fully agro, with guns,” says Dunn.
“Everyone had a mask on except me,” says Liddiard.
“And eventually we gave them all our rider, and they turned it all on and we got to use it, we filmed our clip there,” says Dunn.
Having solidified their sound as a band, now comes the album. A Laughing Death in Meatspace moves further away from the comparatively traditional rock of The Drones to explore odd-timings and sonic textures, while still within a rock/pop format, with the fingerprints of each member clearly audible. Citing Kuti, George Michael, James Brown and Captain Beefheart, and dropping, much to Dunn’s disapproval, the descriptor ‘funky’, Liddiard remains undecided of how to describe TFS’ sound, with the album only weeks removed from completion. “For me it’s just doing something I haven’t done yet,” he says.
“The main thing I would do was just plan a rhythm section bit. You know when it’s good if the guitars can stop and it still sounds good. I’m deliberately trying to write shorter, and more sort of pop. In The Drones it’s a savoury thing, but this it’s trying for something sweet and savoury, more like Talking Heads—it’s a minor chord thing but you can dance to it. It’s like a disaster movie. Small budget disaster movie.”
“Like Speed?” asks Dunn.
“Like that. There’s a sense of fun, a playfulness,” says Liddiard.
There is also, however, a decided sense of foreboding that permeates the album’s lyrics and ties in with the disaster movie analogy, only the apocalypse is happening incrementally and every day, on the streets of Sunshine, the hospitals of Papua New Guinea and the algorithms of social media. “It’s so polarised now, everyone’s got an ideology and anyone who doesn’t share that is just fucked,” says Liddiard.
“I think you should be critical of bad behaviour, but what the Internet has done, it’s made people behave differently. You got a right wing-er and a left wing-er going at it, but they’re not even talking to each other, they’re talking to these weird ideas of each other that they’ve formed. I think they’re signalling to other primates using ideas the way football teams use colours on jerseys. And I think people underestimate the importance of those social bonds—they’re paramount. People die in trenches for social bonds, they don’t die in trenches for food.”
With the album being launched with a national tour throughout May, TFS plan to stay busy, with Liddiard asserting that he’ll start writing for their next album in June/July. Which begs the question that many have pondered since the name of The Drones’ social media pages were changed to TFS Records last year, what does this all mean for the future of that other band?
“From the outside you would think, people like The Drones so there’d be a reason for them to play, but ultimately we’re DIY so it’s us who has to organise the fuck out of it,” says Liddiard.
“We need a kick in the arse and it’s generally me and Fi that kick it in the arse. I can’t be fucked doing that for a while. Until I feel like doing it—and I will—but that could be next year, it could be in ten years, I dunno. I don’t really care at the moment either, I’m having fun.”
Versions of this story originally appeared in Beat Magazine and Mixdown Magazine.