Two Steps On the Water’s 'Emotion Punk' Leaves No Sentiment Unexplored
The Melbourne band continue their sonic representations of trauma, anxiety and transness.
Image: Naomi Lee Beveridge
As we shed skins from a gloomy winter into the start of spring, Melbourne's favourite emotion punk outfit Two Steps on The Water release their new album Sword Songs, an appropriate soundtrack to watch days teeter between sunshine and thunderstorm.
For the past three years, Two Steps on The Water have been creating sonic representations of trauma, anxiety and transness. Emotionally driven by singer and guitarist June Jones' chronicles about identity, dysphoria and self-empowerment, each song is an overload of moods varying from shameless teenage angst to witty, confessional and often heartbreaking lines.
Accompanied by Sienna (violin/vocals), Jonathan (drums/vocals), and now Ellah on bass and keyboards, Two Steps On the Water explore these complex themes with compositions that unapologetically fluctuate between agitation, momentum and rhythm, leaving no sentiment unexplored.
We had a brief chat with June about the new album, the symbolism behind swords and making a living from being a musician.
Noisey: Slightly dumb question to start with, but does your guitar have a name?
June Jones: I don't have a name for my guitar. I love my guitar – I bought it on the day that Leonard Cohen died, but I try not to get too attached to objects because they always break or get lost. I try to avoid heartbreak as often as possible.
Two Steps on the Water is self-described as 'emotion punk' - is that sort of like a sophisticated, grown-up version of emo-punk ?
I call our music "emotion punk" because I like how it sounds and it's not a pre-existing genre. I think we'd be misleading fans of the genre if we called ourselves an emo band, even though I think we kind of are. Lots of people call us folk punk because of the instrumentation but I feel like folk punk is a whole other thing entirely. I don't think we're any more sophisticated than emo or punk. I just like the term because it opens up space in people's minds for us to be doing something new.
Was the title for the new album 'Sword Songs' inspired by your love for video games?
I don't think that the album title was a direct result of my love of video games, but I'm sure both things can be traced back to me being a goddamn nerd. While I've never had the patience for fantasy novels, my interest in medieval imagery probably started with children's history books, and continued through Warhammer and Magic the Gathering in primary school, World of Warcraft and Slayer in high school, and nowadays I spend a lot of time playing this really frustrating video game called Dark Souls.
What's the meaning behind the title then?
The title references two songs on the album, "Sword I" and "Sword II" (originally there was a "Sword III" but it didn't make the cut in the end), and it also refers to the figurative swords that traumatised and marginalised people face in the world, and the swords that we make and acquire to keep ourselves safe.
What have been the main inspirations - outside of musical influences - for Sword Songs?
We'd never have made it to our second album if we didn't love playing together. It's a real joy to play with Sienna and Jonathan, and now Ellah. For me, my main inspiration has been my desire to prove to myself that I can actually do something, and hopefully do something well. I find it very easy to get caught in a spiral, thinking that because I'm trans and mentally ill, I'll never achieve anything in my life. Now I get to say, "Bitch, I helped make Sword Songs." lmao.
Your songs are so intimate and confessional I wonder if you ever feel like strangers treat you like they know who you are before they've met you?
I think it's inevitable that people who listen to someone's songs – especially ones with really honest and confessional lyrics – are gonna feel like they know that person, and in a way they totally do. I express some pretty raw stuff about myself. Not just in music, but on social media too. I think deep down I'm probably desperate to feel like people know and understand me. I have little to no interest in being an enigma. That being said, I'm not always up for a D&M (deep and meaningful conversation) straight after I play. The honesty that I do on stage is different from the honesty I do elsewhere.
Do you consider yourself a full time musician these days?
For the last three years, playing music has been a full time job (well, maybe 20-30 hours) most weeks. I would love to get to a point where I can sustain my frugal lifestyle through music. I feel like there's a sentiment in local music of not expecting to be paid, and definitely not trying to get to a point where it's your sole source of income. But I dunno, when you're trans there's like a lot less opportunities for work. I'd much rather sit in my bedroom writing music and answering a million emails than work at a bar and deal with strangers calling me "dude" while asking for another round of Jager bombs for the boys.
What has been the most heart-warming moment for you as a musician over the past year?
My heart-warming highlights of the past year are: playing to a packed room of perfect angels at the NGV in June, and finishing the album that we worked on with the talented and patient Geoffrey O'Connor. Special mention to playing solo with Julien Baker and Adam Torres on four legs of their Australian tour three weeks after having facial surgery.
'Sword Songs' is available now.