Packing more into their two years than many bands achieve in a lifetime, Sydney rockers Strangers are showing no signs of slowing down. Emma Dean chatted to lead guitarist (and self-proclaimed porn connoisseur) Mark Barnes about their debut album, heading back to BigSound and hybrid sleeping bag men.
By Emma Dean
How did the band get started?
We’ve only been a band for two years, but I’ve known Benny B and Clav for about 12 years and I’ve known of Benny K for as long. We all met through the local music scene, our previous bands had played together and we’d all go out to see bands together. I can’t actually remember not having them as mates but it took a long time before we played in a band together. Timmy was a mutual friend that came around to have a few jams with us later on down the track and almost instantly it was like we’d known him our whole lives. It’s like he’s always been part of the crew.
It’s not all the time a rock band sounds as powerful as you guys – who are your main influences?
We all grew up listening to really different styles and I guess all developed our own styles accordingly, so I think now our main influences on the songs come from each other, because there’s always someone in the room ready to play something really differently to how the rest of us would write it. But in the tour van, what we would listen to would be Zeppelin, Queens of the Stone Age, Fleetwood Mac, Dr Dre, it’s relatively limitless [laughs]
What inspired you to start writing music?
Music always fascinated me growing up and from memory when I was about twelve I was really bored with school and starting to really discover all the music that was out there besides the shit you heard on the radio or TV, and at the same time I started learning guitar. After a while of trying to mimic everything I heard I started to realise that there were songs I loved and songs I hated that musically were very similar to the point that their parts were interchangeable. It was the underlying content that made the songs so different and it was probably this that made me understand that anyone with something to say or a feeling to express could use music as a medium.
What does everyone do outside the band?
Not a lot [laughs]. We all have little jobs here and there, stacking shelves in department stores, working in bars, unloading containers, bumping musical gear in and out. Just your run of the mill musician jobs.
Congratulations on getting signed to Permanent Records! How’s the collaboration going? How has it changed the way you go about things? What difference has it made to touring/recording?
It’s been great so far. For us nothing has really changed, [although] our management may disagree and be able to answer this question differently. We get along really well with the permanent crew, they’re going for a real family vibe with the label, they don’t want to have this clinical, business only, “Major Label” feel, and that’s one of the reasons we were so keen to work with them. We love having the extra personalities in our contact list to bounce ideas off as well, they’re usually keen for the weirder things we want to do as well.
Playing BigSound last year was a big turning point for the band – what advice would you have for other bands playing there this year? Are you looking forward to heading along to the event this year?
Cannot wait to get back this year. Last year was so much fun, just like kids in a candy shop. I don’t know that we’re in any position to be dishing out advice, just have some fun, talk to everyone, and check out as many bands as possible. Take full advantage of any open bar/bar tab you come across because it will probably be the last one you come across until the next BigSound.
Are you thinking about heading overseas and hitting up SXSW or something similar in the near future?
Absolutely. Travelling overseas with the band is one of the ultimate goals for us. As soon as the offer comes in for anything and it’s doable we’ll be on the first plane… or boat.
Tell us about writing and recording your debut album – what can you tell us about it?
It was an extremely lengthy and gruelling process from start to finish. We wrote about fifty ideas and went down to Tom’s studio ‘Studios in the City’ and we went through every idea, picked out the bits we liked and scrapped everything else, I think we got it down to about fifteen and for a week or two Tom sat there with a red pen and a microphone and we nutted out the parts and structure for ‘Persona Non Grata’. The drums were tracked in a few days and then we developed all the music in the studio in the following months. Pretty much the core of every track was written it was more the lead and the colour of the music that had to be nutted out. Tom and Ben Ehrenberg (assistant engineer) were amazing help with that. We had the luxury of time, being a new band, and we really took full advantage of that, much to management’s distress.
How was working with Tom Larkin (Shihad, Calling All Cars)?
It was amazing experience, he’s been in the industry for so long and he’s had the opportunity to take the best of every experience he’s had, which is extremely fortunate when you look at the calibre of producers he’s had the chance to learn from. He’s an amazingly talented producer and engineer which makes him a very inspirational and frustrating person to work with, but he knows exactly what music does and doesn’t need and I cannot even begin to fathom what this album would sound like without his input.
You’ve also just released the music video for single ‘Persona Non Grata’ – talk us through filming and the story behind it.
This one is courtesy of the very talented Natalie Van Den Dungen. She is so much fun to work with; she’s so quirky and is really good at making obscure ideas seem normal. She came up with the whole concept, sourced the location and actor (Rich who was a bloody legend) we really just rocked up, played for a while and then spent a couple of minutes working out a yoga routine, which I’ve recently been informed was nothing like yoga, apparently. It’s a story about the journey of a hybrid sleeping bag man and the reformation between him and his people.
You’ve toured with some impressive bands – Grinspoon, Unwritten Law, Shihad and Closure in Moscow just to name a few – who would you love to tour/work with?
We did a one off show with Redcoats a few weeks back and they are not only an amazing band but they’re awesome guys. We had heaps of fun, it’d be great to do a full tour with those boys and really let loose.
What are your goals for the rest of 2012?
Well there’s not long left, we’ve got a residency lined up for Cherry Bar in Melbourne and the Lansdowne in Sydney over the next few months, so I guess have some fun with those and build up enough momentum to keep touring when the album comes out in October.
What has been your best gig so far?
My favourite show would probably be Newcastle Panthers with Grinspoon on Anzac Day 2011. It was packed, everyone was loose, spirits were high, it was just a really fun gig all round. It had all the elements to be a real loose rock and roll gig and it didn’t disappoint.
Is there an awesome local band you’d like to give a shout out to?
It’s hard for me not to mention Closure in Moscow or Calling all Cars, they’ve been some of our closest friends for a long while now, we’ve been lucky enough to tour with them and everyone needs to check them out and support them.
How have you changed as a band since you began?
Physically, mentally, alcoholically, financially, I guess excessively is what I’m trying to say. Our musical style is constantly changing, not drastically but enough that every time we get together and play it keeps it interesting for us.
What can people expect from your live shows?
We always just try to put on a cohesive rock and roll show that connects with every single person in the crowd. We like to have some fun, there’s usually something quirky or alcohol induced going on before we play, you’ll find us out front, near the bar or at the merch desk. We’re just five guys that love playing, partying and meeting new people so we’re lucky enough that we get to do all three for every show.
So what’s next on the agenda?
The album comes out on the 12.10.12 so get that out, play a whole ton of shows for our residency at Cherry Bar and the Lansdowne over the next few months and then hopefully by the time that’s over we’ve picked up some more shows and we can keep busy.
‘Persona Non Grata’ is out 12 October 2012. To check out the music video and the album launch tour dates go to:www.strangers.net.au
Strangers play at BIGSOUND Live 2012! With 120 killer bands on 12 stages taking place over two nights in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, the festival has become one of the most widely varied and highly regarded festivals in Australia. Tickets are available through oztix ( http://tickets.oztix.com.au/?Event=27717 ) for $45+booking fee (one night) or $69+booking fee (both nights).