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Canberra is The Best City in Australia: A Chat With the Capital’s Busiest Musician

We tried to talk to Gus McGrath about his excellent EP but just talked about ‘Canberra Worship’ and it was better that way.
February 15, 2016, 10:06am

Image: Carmen Juarez

Gus McGrath is the hottest commodity in Canberra right now. The dude plays in a tonne of bands; like an actual tonne. If you weighed all the members of each band he plays in at once, it’d probably be around 1,000 kilos. As a solo artist, Gus goes by California Girls and he’s just released his first LP —a nine-track joint called Desire. It sounds a bit like if Morrissey wasn’t a dickhead and also really loved acid house.

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Given Desire is already a hot contender for hottest Aussie release of 2016, we thought it’d be well worth having a chat to Gus. We ended up talking less about the album and more about house shows, why Canberra is the best and whether or not Melbourne and Sydney can get fucked.

Noisey: I love Canberra. Obviously, you do too, because you still live there. Are there any limits to your love?
Gus McGrath: I think Canberra really works as a labour of love. Like, it's mad but you really gotta put the work in. I do really want a 24-hour noodle bar though. We don’t have one.

I think there's a really solid circle of people who consistently put that work in. You and Danny Wild, from Moontown Records, first spring to mind.
Oh thank you! Danny is a mad dog and not only puts out other people’s music all the time, but also makes heaps of his own music, puts on heaps of shows, and DJs heaps of stuff. Jordan Leekspin who runs Lacklustre Records always pumps stuff out—Lacklustre is always putting on shows and putting out releases. Jordan Rodger who does Cinnamon Records, too. He’s always helping with shows. Peter K and Eadie Newman are also total mad dogs who play in countless bands very often.

How many bands are you playing in at the moment?
I do California Girls solo, then I play synth, bass, and drum machines in Wives. I also play drums and vox in Primary Colours, plus my mate Liam and I are doing a minimal wave thing called Wet Dream. I had a short lived synth-hardcore Canberra-worship band called Lime Green, named after the Raiders and their milk flavour. I wanna revive it.

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Let’s talk about Cali Girls. I played some to a mate who thought you were British.
I got reviewed once and someone said I sounded heaps Manchester! I don't hear that. I try really hard to use my actual voice while singing. When I was in high-school bands I'd put on this stupid American voice cause I was scared of singing, so now I really want to sing in my real voice. Cali Girls is, I guess, my main project. I do it all myself, and I put the most stress and energy into it.

Were you a freaky child prodigy? I feel like you can play virtually every instrument.
I've been playing drums for ages so I'm comfortable saying I’m pretty good at drums, but everything else I just enjoy mucking around with. I don't play anything crazy complex, but I can make sounds and melodies I like.

In Canberra there’s this ‘fuck Melbourne, fuck Sydney’ sentiment floating around. Do you go in for that?
I think it's really funny. A lot of the time bands don't come here and people always write off Canberra, so that obnoxious worship of our under-appreciated small town is mad. I really hate that like big city jock attitude. Plus, Canberra just rules. When a Canberra show is good, it's off chops.

I think some people outside of Canberra don’t realise how much is going on there, so they get confused when people like you choose to stay.
I really like being in a small and dedicated group of people making really diverse and cool things. I’ve live here my whole life, so my whole family and most people I've ever known or loved are here. I kinda like the idea of people being really confused why I live in this town they perceive as heaps shitty. I do get fed up with the lack of venues and lack of synth bands though.

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What venues are holding it down?
The best shows are house shows. Easily the maddest spots are at Lacklustre HQ and Crossroads, which are both houses. Basically, that's where the best shows happen.

I like that Canberra is hard DIY at the moment.
Yeah, it's really cool. Every label I mentioned earlier has a heaps DIY vibe, everyone is putting on shows and putting out releases all by themselves.

Is it the best city in Australia?
YES. Shouts to Brisbane: under-rated and mad city, and shouts to Adelaide. I've never been there but there is heaps of incredible bands there.

Cheers Gus.

Upcoming California Girls dates:
Feb 20 – Canberra at Phoenix with Naked and Wives
Feb 23 – Melbourne at Howler with Bent, Heirophants and Waterfall Person
Feb 27 – Sydney at Botany View Hotel with Ensemble Economique, Ill Winds, Moth and Hard Hat