Red Red Krovvy were born in Cairns, a tropical city on the Far North Queensland coast. It's a place where summers are humid, winters dull and tourists constant.
Ben Warnock, Adam Ritchie and Ash Wyatt met at Cairns High School. It was in Year 9 art class – where free reign of the CD player meant judgement was cast on whether you played silverchair or Daft Punk – where the three formed a friendship over a mutual appreciation of punk music.
From early on the band took a direct and raw approach to rock that fell in line with early 80s Aussie punk. Led by Ash's frantic vocals, the three blasted crude and often sparse songs that were barely held together by the drumming of Adam and Ben's guitar work.
With Ben now based in Sydney, and Ash and Adam in Melbourne, jamming and recording has been difficult, but in the last ten years, the three – who also play in Bed Wettin' Bad Boys, Drunk Mums, UBIK and Masses – have released a couple of seven inches and demo tapes and played shows when they can.
Their debut album Technical Ecstasy, to be released in March, on Helta Skelta Records comes just in time for their ten year high school anniversary and gives them a great response to the awkward, "So what have you been up to?"
Listen to the track "Rembrandt Tourist" and read a chat we had with Ben.
Noisey: What was Cairns High like when you were there?
Ben Warnock: It was at this weird crossroads. It's the largest public school in the city, and when my older cousins and brother attended it was known as being a bit progressive, a weird art/hippy school. I guess there was pressure to try and get some international student money so all of a sudden they started cracking down on hair colour, jewellery, shoe colour. They brought in the formal uniform that we had to wear in 30 degree heat. It was pretty brutal.
How has it changed?
It's bigger. From an outsider, that's all I can tell when driving past now. Cairns has started building upwards, but it was hit pretty bad by the GFC. Now you see all these empty apartment blocks towering over the old skyline. Heaps of shops don't exist anymore. The support of One Nation completely makes sense because of the socioeconomic climate. I'd hate to be a person of any marginalised background living there. Every time I go back I think how beautiful it is, then by about day three realise how ugly the people are.
Compared to earlier releases the new album seems more thought out and the production and songwriting improved.
It's always been based on circumstances with Red Red Krovvy. The first two "7s were rushed. The first with Alex Macfarlane [The Stevens/Tyrannamen] and the second with Lincoln Brown [Housewives] were done quickly. With the record I wasn't working, so I was like, "Yeah, I'll spend a week in Melbourne, we'll practice for two nights and play a show, so we get a bit of money, and then record all weekend." And it ended up dragging out for fucking ages. Every time I was back in Melbourne, instead of practicing, I'd go record and mix and stuff.
Having the luxury of Adam's recording and jamming space must have helped.
Yeah, we don't really write songs very often and maybe like we recorded something and I'll just be walking down the street and be like, "Oh! Maybe that's another guitar part for this song, maybe I'll do an overdub." I reckon a live performance and a record should be a little bit different. It should be a bit added on, if you're able to. You should make it as huge as you can or it's like what you're trying to put out, something that's a bit bigger and a bit of a statement in a way.
Ash's vocals are clearer. It seems her confidence as a vocalist has improved.
I agree. Having two days practice before recording was helpful and gave her time to figure out what she was doing. And she is more confident.
I'd rate her and NUN's Jenny Branagan as two of the most powerful vocalists across any music that I've heard in the last little while. And away from stage they're both quite chilled and unassuming.
I'm just trying to catch up with what I'm playing on guitar and just focusing on not fucking up, so I don't really see what she's doing too much. But I know what you mean both Ash and Jenny are fairly mild-mannered or not really that in your face, but it gets a bit more confronting, and I think that, maybe as performers, them being able to let loose a little bit and actually go for it. I think most of the better bands I've been into now or from the past, their stage presence is an extension of something they're channelling. They're not doing a big, different person - a different character - just more of what they wanna go for.
In 2017 what issues do you guys care about? Do you write about that stuff in the music or is it more just bored on the train type stuff?
I think there's a common, recurring theme of being frustrated, either inwardly about things you're doing that you could be doing a bit better or outwardly at the world and other people. I think it's kinda interesting and think it's kinda wanky to try and twist that into a song where it's not really saying anything, but neither is most of your existence.
Most music that's been produced in the last five years doesn't say much to be honest.
Maybe that's why some songs are written like that. If you're not really going to say anything, have a song about a man walking through an art gallery looking for one particular painting when there's a whole gallery of incredible shit.
Like "Rembrandt Tourist" Is that a metaphor for basic life?
I guess it is. Or it's about narrow-mindedness. The song is based on a true story of a person walking through MONA in New York looking for one Rembrandt. Like, maybe if you slow down and just stop thinking so much, you might enjoy shit a bit better.
After ten years does an LP help justify and legitimise the band's existence?
We've got a ten year high school reunion so we can go back and be like, "Yeah, we did it. We put an album out. We're a legitimate band. Now let us play at the high school reunion."
Are you going?
Ah, I'm tossing up. I think I'll go if the others do, because we're fairly separated from Cairns now and there's not many people who still live there that I wanna see. It seems that the people who still live in Cairns are really excited about the reunion and not many others are.
How many of your classmates do think would enjoy the record?
There's maybe a few. And that's probably saying, there's probably also maybe a few people in the whole of Cairns who would enjoy that kind of sound. But there were a few bands in Cairns that went to my school that were maybe influential to me as a teenager, getting more into punk. There was a kid that was like, two or three years younger than us and taught me about powerviolence when he was thirteen. That's not meant to happen in Cairns!
Is "Decrepit City" in reference to any particular place?
I was in Japan and noticed that once you are on the train outside Tokyo there are all these towns and small cities that are now just shit holes. Everything's covered in moss and after maybe the 80s or 90s, when there was a huge economic boom in Japan, their population is decreasing and everything's falling to waste. In a way, it's a bit like Australia. The decline of the small town or the rural town. It's good to see these places though.
It would be like coming to Australia and thinking everything revolves around Smith St or Newtown.
Yeah or visiting Sydney but not catching the train to the Blue Mountains or the Central Coast or South Coast, which all show you what Australia is like a little bit of a way. You get turned back to a time when Crocodile Dundee characters still exist, and there are animals that can kill you. The only animals around my apartment are daddy long leg spiders and cockroaches. They're just a nuisance. They're not gonna do shit.
Sydney is producing some really good music at the moment and a lot seems to be more than your standard guitar rock music.
Yeah, I've been in Sydney almost ten years and everything goes in waves. Five years ago, no one would want to hear a garage band and maybe that's the reaction, people saying "fuck this, let's do the opposite." And it'll get to the point where you'll see… I don't know what the equivalent of an electronic project of Dune Rats would be but in a couple of years, you'll see that. As long as people are pushing it, good music is gonna be good music. It doesn't matter what instruments are being played. I'm into it. Some people are good at doing some things. I'd be horrible at programming anything, so I'll just stick to playing really simple shit on guitar and see what happens from there.
'Technical Ecstasy' is available March 8 through Helta Skelta Records.